April 12th, 2000.
Dear Mr Potter,
You are cordially invited to the Twentieth Annual Charity Gala for the War Orphans Trust, which will be held at Malfoy Manor on May 25th, 2000. As I am sure you know, this is a very important event on the charity calendar, and it would give the W.O.T. great pleasure if you would attend as our guest of honour.
Your speedy reply is greatly appreciated.
D. A. Malfoy, Vice President, W.O.T.
April 17th, 2000.
Dear Mr Potter,
I write with reference to my letter of April 12th, in which your presence was requested at the Twentieth Annual Charity Gala for the War Orphans Trust, which will be held at Malfoy Manor on May 25th. The aforementioned Trust would like you to attend this important event for a worthy cause as their guest of honour.
As our owl failed to return from her delivery, I can only assume that you never received the letter. Please accept my apologies. You will, of course, understand that a prompt reply is extremely helpful due to the arrangements that need to be made.
D.A. Malfoy, Vice President, W.O.T.
April 21st, 2000.
Dear Mr Potter,
I write with reference to my letters [plural] of April 12th and April 17th.
As this owl did, in fact, return without a letter, I can only conclude that you have, in fact, received it. Short of hand-delivering the blessed thing myself and watching you open it, I can see no way of ensuring that the message reaches its destination and ascertaining whether or not the contents are in some way confusing.
Though it pains me to repeat myself, I shall reissue the original invitation:
The War Orphans Trust requests the honour of your presence at their Twentieth Annual Charity Gala. This will be held at Malfoy Manor on May 25th, which, as I am sure you will appreciate, is getting a bit close now. Your esteemed presence will more than likely help us to raise a lot more money for a very good cause.
Please reply by return.
Yours in desperation,
D.A. Malfoy, Vice President, W.O.T.
April 23rd, 2000.
I write with reference to my repeated and gracious pleas for your attention and your complete refusal to act like the adult you supposedly are for even the one and a quarter minutes it would take to read and reply to any one of these letters. Hard though it is for me to believe some days, I know that you can both read and write, and there’s really very little excuse for your behaviour. None at all, in fact, although I find myself kindly making allowances for the fact that you were dragged up by Muggles.
And now, to the point of this infuriating, one-sided correspondence: you have, as I am certain you will know by now, been invited to the Twentieth Annual Charity Gala of the War Orphans Trust, who, by a near-unanimous vote, have decreed that your presence as the guest of honour is, in fact, what our event truly needs in order to raise lots and lots of money for sweet little children with no parents. It’s a good cause—you know that, Potter.
Your reply by return would be just peachy.
D.A. Malfoy, Vice President, W.O.T.
P.S. I’d like my owl back, please. The first one. Intact.
April 26th, 2000.
I can only assume that you desire my blood on your hands, because, let me tell you, your absolute refusal to reply to a single one of my letters means that I am rapidly drawing close to a messy and sadistic death at the hands of the President of the W.O.T. She is one hundred and twelve years old, Potter, and she is terrifying.
Come on, now. This isn’t about me. It’s about those sweet little children I keep mentioning. So, if you could possibly pull your sanctimonious thumb out of your uncouth backside and scrawl me a few lines, that would be marvellous. The event is on May 25th, this year, not next. If not, I’m seriously thinking of actually coming around there and shoving—
—Draco breaks off midsentence as a rattling, wheezing presence announces itself in his office. Janice, his ageing secretary, shuffles past his desk, bringing with her a waft of freesia-scented perfume and a silver tea tray, which she dumps unceremoniously in front of him. He watches the delicate china sugar bowl wobble alarmingly for a moment and sighs, setting down his quill.
“Well, haven’t you got a face on you this morning!” Janice opines, plumping up the tapestried cushion that sits on her desk chair and allows her to see over the piles of paperwork that litter it.
Draco pulls a face at her and runs a distracted hand through his hair. “I haven’t... got a face on me,” he mumbles, copying Janice’s phrase even though the words taste foreign in his mouth.
Janice snorts and settles herself in her chair. She shoots Draco a doubtful look that only serves to remind him that she, just like everyone else here at W.O.T Headquarters, isn’t afraid of him at all. As though he needs reminding. Sometimes he struggles to remember why he took this thankless, maddening, unpaid job at all, but it only takes a brief reflexive glance at the photograph on his desk to bring it flooding back with heavy clarity.
He hates the photograph, if he’s honest, because it captures the Malfoy family—himself and his parents—in happier times. Before the whole Dark Lord thing really became serious again, and before he thought it would be a good idea to get that mark on his arm, and before the war that tore everything apart. Before his parents took their unexpectedly light sentences and fucked off to France, leaving Draco behind with a Manor to run, a fortune to manage, and a plea-slash-directive from his mother to restore the Malfoy name to its former glory.
Draco likes to think that he’s doing his best on that front, but he’s also more of a realist than most would give him credit for, and he knows that cleaning up something so tarnished is going to take a lot of work, and that reclaiming the polish that used to make the so-called ‘ordinary folk’ bow and scrape may just be beyond the reach of a nineteen-year-old ex-Death Eater with a sharp tongue and a dislike of working with other people.
Still, he’s here, and he’s talked his way into the upper echelons of the premier charity organization of the wizarding community. It’s taken him less than twelve months to wangle the VP position, his own office, his own grumpy secretary, and his own obscene workload. Organising mass altruism is hard work.
“Thanks for all the help,” he mutters darkly at the photograph, and his mother and father beam gracious, regal smiles back at him from inside their silver frame.
“Talking to yourself again?” Janice calls.
Draco looks up sharply, having almost forgotten he wasn’t alone in the office.
“It’s a bad sign,” she adds, without waiting for a response. She never does. Draco sighs.
“Everything’s a bad sign, according to you.” He lifts an eyebrow and simultaneously tries to blink away his headache.
“Are you winking at me?” she demands, coral-lipsticked mouth pursed.
Draco shudders and immediately ceases his blinking. “No, Janice,” he says, pouring tea that is over-stewed and orange like it always is, and realising as he raises it to take a sip that, like everything else in this new and disturbing life, he’s getting used to it. “I wasn’t winking at you. Your virtue is safe for another day.”
She snorts again and slurps obnoxiously from her own teacup, which is enormous and covered in moving pictures of cats. After a moment, she grimaces and Accios the sugar bowl with a vicious flick of her wand; it narrowly misses Draco’s nose and he glares at her.
“Mind out, love,” Janice says, apparently as an afterthought. She adds four lumps of sugar to her vat of tea and smiles broadly.
Draco lifts an eyebrow and rests his chin in his hand, elbow propped up on his parchment-strewn desk. He looks at the list of letters he has yet to write, invitations to chase up, and various eminent organisations he needs to contact in relation to this sodding Gala thing. He looks at his badly made tea and the ink spots on his hands. At his small, crowded, old lady-scented office. At Janice, her grey curls and her dispassionate attitude toward him.
He supposes it could be a lot worse. She isn’t impressed or scared or even particularly respectful of him, but neither is she hateful or judgemental. She doesn’t startle when he stretches and his shirt sleeves slide down to reveal the ugly mark on his skin, and as far as he’s been able to ascertain during their months working together, her main concerns are his sanity—or lack thereof—and that he doesn’t eat enough.
As the thought occurs to him, Draco hurriedly grabs a biscuit from the tea tray and stuffs it into his mouth. He’s not hungry, but it’s not worth another lecture or another one of Janice’s godawful sandwiches that smell like cat food.
“Have you had breakfast?” Janice says suddenly.
Draco averts his eyes and coughs. Wipes biscuit crumbs from his mouth and picks up his quill, rustling papers and scouting around for a distraction. Letters. Ah, yes.
“Why is it that I have a secretary and still have to write my own letters?” he asks, looking up.
“Well, love, I think it was because you said my handwriting was ‘deeply disturbing’,” Janice says, affecting a refined accent which does not become her.
Draco snorts. “That’s right. What on earth do I pay you for?”
“You don’t pay me. No one does, remember?”
Draco rolls his eyes and glances down at the topmost parchment. The letter—the fifth such letter to Potter, of all people—in which Draco has been reduced to begging for his attendance at May’s Gala, an event which is quickly becoming the bane of his existence. And it’s not just because of Potter, but really, the world-saving little sod is being extremely rude. At one time, Draco would have loved a completely silent, invisible Potter, but right now his disappearing-off-the-face-of-the-earth routine since the end of the war is nothing but an inconvenience to him.
He supposes that’s just the way of things. Potters have been inconveniencing Malfoys since way before his time, but that doesn’t negate his right to be infuriated about his own particular Potter and his... ways.
“Fucking Potter,” he says to the letter, giving it a severe look and Vanishing the ink blot at the end of the last unfinished sentence.
“Language,” Janice admonishes. “Nice young men didn’t swear in front of ladies in my day.”
“I’m not a nice young man, Janice,” Draco says mildly, knowing better than to cast any aspersions regarding her ladylikeness.
“Are you writing to Mr Potter again?” she says.
Draco looks up, surprised. “Yes, since you ask. For the fifth time. He seems intent on ignoring me, which I suppose is nothing new.”
Janice sighs, stares at him hard for long seconds, and then sets down her teacup. Draco watches as she scrapes back her chair and leans down awkwardly to retrieve a stack of something from her bottom desk drawer.
“Here,” she says, sending the bundle careering through the air and into Draco’s lap. “You might as well know he’s been sending them back. I wasn’t going to tell you, but...” Janice shrugs and wraps wrinkled fingers around her cup once more, lapsing into silence.
Draco’s fingers splay across the smooth, creamy parchment that’s covered in his own handwriting. Eyes narrowed in disbelief, he flips through the letters to find every single one of his missives to Potter present and correct. The letters have been opened—likely read—and returned to the office. And, apparently, intercepted by Janice, for reasons unknown.
“What the hell?” Draco demands, meeting cloudy blue eyes across the room. “How long have you had these? When did he send them back?”
“I’ve had them since Thursday,” Janice admits, and it’s the first time that Draco has seen the harsh features arranged in something approaching a guilty expression.
“It’s Monday!” Draco cries, almost knocking his teacup over.
“Well, I thought it was better not to upset you. You’re very highly strung, especially when it comes to the letters to Mr Potter.” Janice sniffs and creaks around in her chair, trying to find a comfortable position.
“Not to... upset me?” Draco repeats, righteous indignation tightening his chest and making his voice sound high and strained. He is not highly strung. “What in the name of all that is sacred is wrong with you?”
“Not my fault if he doesn’t want to talk to you, is it?” Janice says, sounding wounded. “P’raps he’s too busy. International celebrity, isn’t he? Too busy for the likes of us, that’s why no one ever sees him, I expect.” She nods knowledgably to herself and licks her finger, collecting ginger biscuit crumbs on the tip.
Draco wrinkles his nose as he watches the mad old bag, rage subsiding somewhat. It’s not her fault, not really. For a moment, he buries his head in his hands, allowing the cold, silky strands of hair to slide through his fingers. The action is almost soothing until he remembers the roasting he’s in for if he doesn’t have a positive RSVP from Harry Potter before the end of the week. He groans.
He needs this stupid job, and as such, he needs Harry bloody Potter. To communicate with him. Or else.
As he continues to silently catastrophise, Draco catches sight of one of his letters, in particular, an idle and mostly sarcastic threat about turning up at Potter’s residence and forcing a response out of him. Ignoring Janice’s white-noise prattling from the other side of the room, Draco takes a deep breath, smiles grimly, and rises, gathering the letters—including the last, unfinished, one—and heading for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Out,” Draco snaps, deciding he’s still not too happy with her, after all.
Janice lowers her teacup and frowns. “Put your coat on.”
Draco eyes his heavy black overcoat on the stand and looks out of the tiny window. “It’s April.”
“It’s cold. Put your coat on.”
Draco scowls. “Stop being bossy.”
“You’re too skinny; you’ll catch your death,” Janice opines, looking him up and down with obvious disapproval. “Put your coat on.”
“I am slender,” Draco says defensively, crossing his arms over his chest. “All Malfoys are. We’re just built that way.”
Janice stares at him. “Put your coat on.”
Draco puts his coat on.
Despite the face he makes at Janice’s floral-patterned back as he leaves, Draco is grateful for his coat as he stalks out of the building and heads for the nearest suitable Apparation Point. He won’t, of course, be telling Janice that she was right. The wind is sharp and cold, despite the bright April sunshine, and Draco turns up his collar and pulls the heavy wool coat tightly around himself, feeling the chill right down to his bones. And if he is a tiny bit underweight, it’s only because he hardly ever feels like eating these days, and is liable to forget. It doesn’t help that the only house-elf his parents thought to leave him is as useless in the kitchen as Draco himself, and almost as bad as Janice.
The familiar silver circle of the Point in sight, Draco quickens his pace. The streets of North London are crowded, as they always are on a Monday morning, and equally inevitable are the disapproving glances from some passers-by when they recognise him. The glares make up the minority, though, and most of his fellow pedestrians don’t appear to see him at all.
To notice him.
It certainly never used to be like that, and Draco isn’t really sure how he feels about it. He can’t shake the feeling, however, that if only he can make a name for himself as a doer of good deeds—a Malfoy doer of good deeds—that everything will somehow be alright. That everything else will fall into place.
“Watch where you’re going, Malfoy,” someone snaps, and Draco turns to look over his shoulder at the sandy-haired young man hurrying away from their almost-collision, and thinks he might’ve been an old classmate. Finley, or Ferguson, or something.
It seems stupidly long ago, and Draco rolls his eyes, whispering a dry, “Sorry,” into empty air. Reaching the Apparation Point, he takes a moment to concentrate on the old Black House before attempting the jump; if he’s honest, he doesn’t really expect to be able to gain access to the house at all, but he’s out here now and at least if he tries, he won’t have to hit his head quite so hard on his desk for the rest of the afternoon.
Deciding that caution is the best approach here, Draco aims for the pavement outside Number Fourteen. He’s heard enough about Unplottable locations to know that the resulting botched jumps can be unpleasant and messy, and though he lands on the stone flags safely enough, the sudden strong reverberation of repelling magic makes him stumble and realise that he’s arrived on the edge of some very powerful Anti-Apparation wards. He shakes his head, attempting to dislodge the unwelcome ringing in his ears, and looks up at the towering, imposing shape of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place some distance to his right.
He can see it. Interesting.
The street is deserted and the biting wind slices at Draco’s face and fingers. He tucks his hands into his coat pockets and grips the roll of letters with grim determination. A ripple of anxiety passes down his spine and, not for the first time in his relatively short life, he wonders what the flying fuck he’s actually doing. He suspects something ill-advised and pointless, but still.
“Gala,” he reminds himself grimly, trying to think of orphans. Failing, thinking instead of Potter and the South of France and ‘Watch where you’re going, Malfoy’ and Mrs... President Cholmondely and her wrath, and Potter and the war and how he should have worn gloves, even if Janice did give them to him for Christmas and even if they do have ducks on them. “Gala, gala, gala,” he repeats, thinking that he really ought to stop talking to himself.
Snorting aloud and disturbed to see that his breath is visible in the chilly air, Draco steels himself and strides along the pavement and up the steps of Number Twelve, where he raps smartly on the door and waits. And waits. And waits, becoming impatient, allowing the wind to lift his hair from his forehead and definitely not feeling curious about Potter at all. Or maybe just a little bit.
Suddenly, the door flies open and a weary female voice cuts through the air. “I wouldn’t bother if I were you, he never opens the—oh. Malfoy. What do you want?”
Draco takes an involuntary step back as he meets harassed brown eyes. “Granger. Oh... this is Potter’s house, isn’t it?” He pauses, and it only takes him a moment to realise sharply what must be going on. “Of course. I didn’t realise you were...” He gestures vaguely, withdrawing a hand from his pocket.
“For goodness’ sake, Malfoy. We’re not...” She mimics his gesture with obvious exasperation. “I don’t live here. Now, seriously, what do you want?”
Draco stares. He hasn’t seen Granger since... well, for almost two years, at any rate. She looks nice—stressed out, but nice. She’s wearing smart robes that, while on the cheap side, are nicely cut, and her hair hangs in neat waves to her shoulders. Distractedly, he wonders if she’s always been pretty.
And, that even though she is, he’s almost relieved that she and Potter aren’t a couple; he thinks they’d make a very strange pair. Almost as strange as Potter and the she-Weasel did back at school, but not quite as strange as himself and Pansy, though he knows that was more about his lack of straight than it ever was about Pansy’s... about Pansy.
Draco blinks. Looks at Granger again, who now has both eyebrows raised pointedly and is holding onto the edge of the door like she wants to slam it in his face. She might, he thinks; she did slap him once, though there’s been rather a lot of water under the bridge since then.
“Right, yes. S... hello, Granger,” he says stiffly, biting down on his apology.
“We did that part, I think,” she says, and if it weren’t such a ridiculous notion, Draco would swear there was a flicker of humour in the dark eyes. “What is it you want? Only, I have to get back to work now, and Harry’s not a big fan of... er, visitors.”
This time, there’s no mistaking the implication in Granger’s tone and her expression; both are practically glacial, and every inch of pureblood decorum he possesses goes into the politely bland expression he pastes onto his face, and the ramrod-straight posture that has him towering over Granger. As though it will help.
“I wanted to talk to him about the War Orphans Trust,” he says at last, and Granger’s face softens unexpectedly.
“Is this about the letters?” she says.
Surprise forces a small, uncontrolled sound from Draco that he’s too numbed by cold and confusion to suppress. “You know I’ve been writing to him?”
Granger rolls her eyes. “Yes. And look, I’m not saying this because I like you one little bit, I hope you know that, but he really should have just replied. I’m sure you’re just trying to do your... job,” she finishes haltingly, as though the words don’t quite want to escape from her throat.
“Thank you, Granger,” Draco says, and his words stick, too. He coughs lightly. “May I come in?”
Granger bites her lip. Hesitates. “I have a meeting in ten minutes,” she says, and for the first time Draco notices the Ministry insignia sewn into the collar of her robes. Twenty years old and working for the Ministry—he really doesn’t want to be impressed, but it’s difficult.
Suppressing his instinctive acid remark about Potter needing a chaperone, Draco merely lifts an eyebrow and withdraws the sheaf of returned letters from his coat pocket so that Granger can see them. He watches irritated comprehension settle over her features, and then:
“You know what? Come in. I give up.”
Draco nods, satisfaction warming him from the inside. He follows her into the house, glancing covertly around at the large, wood-panelled hallway, the old but serviceable furniture and the gaping hole in the wall directly opposite him.
“Don’t ask,” Granger says, and Draco says nothing; he doesn’t need to ask. He remembers the portrait that used to be there all too well from his rare visits here as a small child. It used to give him nightmares. He wonders how Potter managed to prise it from the wall, but Granger’s warning expression compels him to keep his mouth shut for once.
“Malfoy’s here!” she yells up the stairs, and then, gathering up her coat and bag, goes for the door. Vaguely panicked, Draco follows her.
“Can you—” he begins, but she interrupts.
“You can’t Apparate in or out of here, and he’s disconnected the place from the Floo Network.”
Draco sniffs and pretends he wasn’t going to ask anything of the sort.
Granger smirks as she shrugs into her coat. “Weren’t you knocking on the front door like a Muggle? Or was that some other Draco Malfoy?”
“Shut up, Granger,” Draco shoots back, wounded. “I didn’t come here to be verbally abused.”
Something interesting flashes in Granger’s eyes, something very much like amusement. “Well, good luck with that, then. I imagine you’ll need it.”
Draco’s earlier anxiety resurfaces at her words and speeds his heartbeat in ways he would never admit to. There’s something odd going on here, and it’s not just the all-too-surreal fact that he’s in Potter’s house. Wanting to speak to Potter.
“Wait.” He grabs her arm and she turns back to him, eyebrows raised. “Is there... something wrong with him? Is he... ill?”
“He’s fine, Malfoy. He just doesn’t like you. Remember?”
Draco scowls. A sudden scuffling issues from a floor above, and for a moment both he and Granger tip their heads back to look pointlessly at the ceiling.
“I thought this place was under Fidelius,” Draco says eventually, stalling for time.
One hand on the door handle, Granger sighs, looking as though she’s calculating exactly how late he’s making her for her meeting.
“It was. The whole thing got screwed up during a Death Eater attack after the end of the war, someone followed him home and used a—you know what, Malfoy? It’s a long story. But you’re here, so let’s just say that Harry chooses other methods of protection these days.”
“Protection from what?” Draco presses, intrigued. There are no Death Eaters left, he knows that. No proper ones, anyway.
Granger opens her mouth to reply, then closes it again.
“Oh, fucking hell, ’Mione, I thought you were joking,” comes a slightly raspy but familiar voice behind Draco, accompanied by the creak of the stairs, and Draco turns slowly to see Potter, one hand skating the balustrade and the other scrubbing at his messy hair.
Narrowed green eyes meet his for perhaps a second, but the disregard burning in them is painfully obvious. Draco returns the glare, partly out of habit and partly because of the letters that are slowly being crumpled in his fist. Somehow, he’d forgotten how irritable and out-of-sorts Potter has always made him feel, and the sensation shakes him a little.
“Joking? No,” Granger says brightly, and yanks the door open. “I’m late for work. Harry, I found Mrs N, she’s hiding in the downstairs bathroom. Just so you know,” she adds intriguingly, and grants them a vague wave before slamming the front door behind her and clattering down the steps.
Potter sighs and turns to Draco. He looks tired. “Make it good, Malfoy.”
“Who’s Mrs N?” Draco says before he can help himself. Potter rolls his eyes and folds his arms, and Draco resigns himself to the fact that there’s something about Harry Potter that incinerates his ‘think before you speak’ function, and there always has been. He scowls.
“Malfoy. What. Do. You. Want?”
Draco gathers himself and throws the bundle of letters down onto a convenient side table. Mirrors Potter’s arms-folded posture. “I want to know why you can’t honour a simple request. I want to know why you failed to respond to a single one of my letters. I want to know why you think it’s acceptable etiquette to return said letters without a simple ‘Yes, Draco, I’d be delighted to attend your lovely charity gala’ or even a ‘Go and fuck yourself, Malfoy, I’d rather Crucio myself—”
“A normal person would’ve taken my lack of response as the second option,” Harry cuts in.
“—and I would like to know where my good owl is,” Draco continues, carried along by his stirring, seething anger, “unless you’ve gone into professional owl-napping now that you’re done with saving the world.”
Breathing hard, he falls silent. Potter just stares at him from the third step up, eyes unreadable. Draco bites his tongue and listens to the soft ticking of an antique Grandfather clock in the hall, the only sound in the hush, and ignores the little part of him that’s wondering if perhaps he couldn’t have chosen a more softly-softly approach. He supposes it’s too late now.
“Professional owl-napping?” Potter says after what feels like a long time.
There’s an odd tone to his voice that makes Draco feel silly, childish, all of a sudden. He shrugs. Not awkwardly, because Malfoys are never awkward, but his usual poise seems to have run away screaming in the face of Potter.
“I didn’t steal him, Malfoy,” Potter sighs, apparently content to sidestep the entire letter-gala-rudeness issue. Draco decides that perhaps it would be prudent to allow him to do so for the time being, that playing the long game might be the thing here. Lord knows, if a shred of prudence shows itself, he’s going to hang onto it for dear life.
When Draco says nothing, Potter uncrosses his arms and descends into the hallway, turning and disappearing through a door without a word. Draco only hesitates for a second before following him, finding himself in a long corridor behind Potter. And he looks, because there isn’t anything else to do, and given that this is the longest sustained ‘conversation’, if you could call it such, that they have ever managed, he’s not about to push it.
He’s surprised to note that Potter looks much the same as he did the last time Draco saw him, when he spoke at the Death Eater trials shortly after the end of the war. Unlike Granger, who now radiates health and success, Potter looks disturbingly like he just cannot be bothered. He’s thin, but he’s always been thin, and there have apparently been no late growth spurts for the Saviour, who is still an inch or two shorter than Draco, and his slouching posture makes it look like more.
When Potter leads him out into a light-drenched morning room, Draco can’t help but notice that Potter’s skin is almost as pale as his own these days. The sunlight catches and shimmers over the square, wire-rimmed glasses, the belt buckle holding up worn jeans and the numerous scratches—some old and some fresh—on nicely shaped hands with bitten nails.
The floorboards in this room are bare and creak sharply beneath their steps. Draco bites his lip, the almost-silence weighing heavily upon him and preventing any words from escaping, not that he can find any. This room smells oddly musty, and it’s a familiar scent that takes him right back to a time when Harry Potter certainly did not walk like he had already been defeated. Draco breathes in sharply, wanting to shake off this tension, wanting to pull his coat even more tightly around him, even though it’s warm in the house and he can’t breathe properly.
There’s a scraping sound, and he watches Potter lean to push up an ancient sash window and perform a complicated whistle. Seconds later, his good work owl—the one that Janice calls ‘Esmeralda’, even though it’s a male—swoops in through the window and lands on Potter’s shoulder.
“Esme, you sodding little traitor!” Draco gasps, watching the owl nibble at Potter’s ear and then turn his head to regard Draco reproachfully.
There’s a rough bark of laughter from Potter that startles Draco more than it should. “You called your owl ‘Esme’, Malfoy?” He raises his eyebrows and amusement lights his tight face again, just for a split second. “You do know it’s a boy, don’t you?”
For no good reason that he can see, a gentle flush begins climbing up the side of Draco’s neck and he only hopes his upturned coat collar hides it from Potter’s view.
“Yes. Of course. My secretary is—never mind that, Potter. I demand that you give him back to me at once. Get your own owl,” Draco snaps, barely controlling the sudden urge to stamp his foot.
“I do have my own owl,” Potter says, indicating the large, tawny specimen hidden away in the corner behind Draco, currently sleeping with its head tucked under one wing. “It’s not my fault if yours didn’t want to go back to you. It’s definitely not my fault if you mistreat your owls,” he adds darkly.
“I certainly do not!” Draco bristles. “And anyway, this isn’t about owls.”
Dubious green eyes blink slowly. “Right.”
Potter Summons a smallish cage from across the room with what looks like a lazy flick of his hand; Draco watches him, equal parts impressed and stung. He gently pokes Esme into the cage and shuts the door, handing cage and double-crossing owl to Draco.
“Only, it seemed like it was about owls,” Potter says, stretching lightly and wrinkling his nose as though he’s about to yawn.
“No. It’s about letters. Letters, Potter.” Draco can’t help feeling he isn’t in control of this situation at all, and whilst that is certainly nothing new, he knows he’s in the right here and that should at least count for something.
Sighing, Potter rubs at his face and fixes Draco with a probing look, before appearing to think better of it and turning away without a word, striding out of the room with at least a little more purpose than with which he had entered it.
Draco stares at the empty doorway for a moment or two. He wonders if Potter treats all of his guests this way, expecting them to just follow him about the house in silence. Awed, adoring silence, Draco muses. Snorts out loud. Hefts the cage up to wrap his arms around it and goes in search of Potter.
“Did you even read them?” he demands as he finds Potter in the kitchen, determined to get in first this time. The art of debate, argument, is one of the few useful things his father has taught him, and it’s an art in which he excels—usually. Potter, as fucking always, is a special case.
“Read what?” Potter doesn’t even turn around from the counter, where he is depressing the plunger on a shiny silver cafetière. Beside it sits one cup, and Draco suspects it’s not for him.
“Read what,” he murmurs under his breath, infuriated. His fingers grasp hard at Esme’s cage and the metal bars dig into his skin. “Good grief, you’re annoying.”
“Then feel free to leave,” Potter snaps, pouring his coffee and filling the warm kitchen with the rich, bitter smell of something fresh and—Draco suspects—single estate. “You’re the one interrupting my day with your accusations, and you’re the one standing in my house without an invitation. No one’s forcing you to be here, Malfoy. I don’t like you, and you don’t like me, and there’s really no use—”
“Someone is forcing me,” Draco cuts in, politically deciding to say nothing about their mutual dislike. It’s true enough, but it’s not going to help him to acknowledge it nor attempt to deny it. “President Cholmondely is quite insistent that you attend this function, and as it’s fallen to me to secure your attendance...” Draco pauses, shifting the heavy cage once again, eyes boring into the back of Potter’s grey t-shirt. “You know, it’s extremely rude to stand with your back to someone when they’re talking to you, Potter. And do you know what else is rude? Failing to reply to—”
“Your letters?” Potter puts in, turning around. He looks Draco up and down, apparently taking in his frown and his coat and his awkward grip on the cage now containing a hooting Esme. It takes Draco a moment to realise that the steaming cup is being held out to him, the solicitous gesture completely at odds with Potter’s irritable expression.
Puzzled, Draco gives up and sets down the cage. He takes the cup and wraps his cold hands around it, fighting down the urge to cast a couple of Detection Spells, just to check that it’s safe to drink.
“It’s fine,” Potter says, rolling his eyes. “I don’t poison people, even people I don’t like. Even people who wear poncy winter coats on sunny days.”
“It’s cold out,” Draco says, a little more defensively than he’d have liked. He doubts if even Potter would bother to argue with Janice on the subject of coat-wearing.
Potter shrugs. “I don’t go out.”
Draco blinks. The hot cup is burning his fingers now, but he can’t quite bring himself to put it down and look away from Potter. “You don’t go out?”
“No, Malfoy, are you deaf?” Potter crosses his arms again. “Now, either drink that fucking coffee or give it back to me, because it’s good stuff and you’re not wasting it.”
Startled, Draco takes a cautious sip. It’s black and slightly sweetened, and tastes wonderful, slipping down effortlessly, warming his insides with a smooth, cocoa-like aftertaste. He sighs appreciatively and just for a moment, he forgets that he’s in Harry Potter’s kitchen, he forgets that Harry Potter stole his good owl and he forgets that he’s still furious about the whole letter-not-answering fiasco.
Until there’s a soft creaking sound and Draco looks up just in time to see Potter scowling and shooting up a hand to close the cupboard that’s slightly open above his head. He leaves his hand there for several seconds before withdrawing it with a couple of sharp taps to the heavy mahogany door. It’s almost like a conversation, and if Draco didn’t know better, he’d swear it was. Perhaps Potter really has gone mad; it wouldn’t be beyond Granger to lie to him, after all.
Draco stares across the kitchen at Potter, who is now gazing calmly back at him with his hands in his pockets, as though nothing strange has happened at all. And then he remembers.
“You seriously don’t go outside? At all?”
“You know what, Malfoy? Let’s talk about the letters. You can say your piece, and then you can take your owl, and your... personality, and leave me alone,” Potter says, rubbing wearily at his face once more.
“Why did you make me coffee?” Draco asks, once again before his usual filters kick in. He can only blame this ridiculously good coffee, and the intent way that Potter is staring at him.
“S’good manners,” Potter mumbles into his hand.
“Why the fuck do you care?”
The green eyes are blazing now, and Draco doesn’t know whether to retreat or fight. In the end, he does neither. He pulls himself together with some effort, and speaks.
“Potter, I’m going to talk about the Gala now. And the lonely little children. And a little about the letters. And then, you are going to tell me you’d love to attend, and you’re going to tell me what kind of coffee this is, and then I’m going to leave, and you can get back to stroking your cupboards in peace.” Draco pauses. “How does that sound?”
“Just get on with it, Malfoy,” Potter says, leaning against the counter and yawning again.
Twenty-five minutes later, Draco steps out into the crisp April morning with an owl, the address of a Muggle coffee shop in Knightsbridge, and a lingering feeling of confusion. Despite having argued, manipulated and practically pleaded with Potter, he has achieved no more in person than he had with the damn letters, and he’s buggered if he knows what he’s going to do next.
Potter, it seems, is still an immoveable object when it comes to things he doesn’t want to do. And when it comes to Draco, which is no surprise at all. More of a surprise is Potter himself—his irritability and worn appearance and strange, closeted lifestyle. Were anyone to ask, Draco would lie, but inside the privacy of his own head, he has to admit he’s intrigued.
Esme hoots and ruffles his feathers importantly inside the cage. Draco sighs, Disapparates, and then drags himself and his owl back through the crowds of shoppers to Trust HQ.
“Now, see, aren’t you glad you put your coat on?” Janice says smugly, the second he enters the office.
“It’s not all that cold,” Draco says, knowing he sounds petulant and not caring. He dumps the cage on his desk and flexes his cold-bitten fingers surreptitiously.
“Esmeralda!” Janice cries, shuffling out from behind her desk to unlock the cage and ferry the owl to his perch with obvious delight.
For a minute or two, Draco watches her coo incomprehensibly to the bird and pet his ruffled feathers. He rolls his eyes. Thinking that she’s sufficiently distracted for the time being, he makes for the door and the kitchenette they share with Cholmondely’s assistants down the hall. Until:
“I’m guessing you didn’t get anything out of Mr Potter, as regards the Gala?”
Draco stops, one hand resting on the doorframe. “What makes you say that, Janice?”
She tears herself away from Esme and looks at him, head on one side. “I know you think I’m daft, sometimes, young man, but I notice things. And since you’ve still got your face on, I have to assume that it didn’t go quite as you planned.”
Draco lifts an eyebrow and then gives the shrewd old witch a grudging nod. “He’s still not coming.”
Janice’s mouth twists into a rueful smile. “Thought as much,” she says hesitating for a moment. “Her highness came in while you were out. Wants to see you in her office ASAP.”
Draco’s stomach drops, and Janice’s expression only deepens his dread. He knows it’s only been a matter of time before President Cholmondely demanded another ‘progress meeting about the Potter issue’ and as usual, her timing is perfect.
“Better get on that, then,” he says, taking his coat off and hanging it up, unable to shake the feeling of doom that has settled over him.
“Sleeves,” Janice calls as he’s turning to leave, and he follows her gaze down to where his rolled-up shirt sleeves clearly expose the Mark on his left forearm.
“Thanks,” he replies, almost in a whisper, as his stomach lurches slightly. In silence, he unfurls his cuffs and buttons them neatly, hiding the reminder of his past that his boss cannot bear to see. He exhales slowly through his nose and forces himself to meet Janice’s eyes with a grim smile.
“Go on, then,” she says briskly, and Draco obeys, feeling weary. “Esme and I will make you some tea for when you get back,” she adds, voice following him out into the corridor and lifting him just a fraction.
Draco enters the fifth floor office to the cry of “Yes, yes, come in, for goodness’ sake” that follows his knock.
“I’ll keep this short, Mr Malfoy,” says President Cholmondely before Draco has even had chance to sit down. Visibly impatient, she waves him into a seat and folds her pudgy, jewel-decked hands on the desktop. Idly, Draco finds himself wondering how many precious war orphans could be helped by just the contents of her chubby fingers, but then he supposes he has no room to talk.
“There is less than a month to go before what I need not remind you is the most important event of the entire year for this organization. For this cause, Mr Malfoy. And I have yet to receive a word from you regarding the attendance of our guest of honour. Tell me something, and tell me something now.”
Draco concentrates on keeping his posture straight and tries not to fiddle with his cuffs. The problem here—despite the obvious Potter problem—is that he doesn’t have an ounce of respect for this melodramatic, overdressed, undereducated woman with an obvious superiority complex and an unforgiving nature, but his position demands he bow and scrape like everyone else. Vice President or no, he has to answer to this person, and one way or another, the Malfoy name depends on his ability to feign respect for her.
Unfortunately, he has very little to tell her that will please her, and it’s certainly no secret that she barely tolerates him as it is. Some enterprising board member had managed to convince her that allowing Draco his position showed tolerance and inclusiveness on the part of the W.O.T., and Draco is fully aware that that position is, at all times, dangling by a thread. He sighs inwardly. Fucking Potter.
“Mr Potter and I are... negotiating at present,” Draco says eventually, granting Mrs Cholmondely his blandest smile. “Having started our discussion via correspondence, I felt a more face-to-face approach was necessary, and we had a meeting this morning.”
It’s not a lie, none of it is, and yet Draco almost wants to laugh at the yawning chasm between his smooth words and the awkward reality.
“And what is the outcome of this... meeting?” she demands.
“I really feel I made some progress,” Draco lies, through his teeth this time. “Mr Potter is certainly considering our event.”
Mrs Cholmondely’s eyes narrow and she leans closer to Draco across the immaculate desk. She smells overpowering and harshly, artificially sweet, which Draco thinks is appropriate.
“I have been very tolerant, Mr Malfoy. I have been very patient. This is my Gala and I will not have you ruining it for me. It is essential that Harry Potter attends. Essential.” She pauses, wiping spittle from her lips with a white handkerchief.
If it’s so essential, why don’t you do it yourself? Draco wonders silently, keeping his bland smile in place even though his heart is racing with the implication that is nothing new—the implication that he is a nuisance and a pointless human being, and that it’s only President Cholmondely’s good nature that keeps him employed.
Oh, yes. Draco knows his place.
“I know, Ma’am. I promise you that I’m working on it. You’ll have your guest of honour,” he adds with false confidence, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she says slowly, then waves a hand, dismissing him. “Close the door behind you.”
Outside the office, Draco leans for a moment against the wall until the cold starts to seep through his thin shirt. He shivers, and runs both hands through his hair, tousling it beyond all hope. A little voice, right in the back of his head, urges him to walk back in there and tell her highness where she can stick her Gala—it’s an unpaid position; he works his arse off for no thanks whatsoever and he doesn’t need this—but he drowns the voice out.
He needs this. And as such, there’s only one thing for it—he’s going to have to talk Potter out of his grumpy old man solitude and into dress robes by the twenty-fifth of May.
Draco groans out loud and pushes off the wall, heading back down to the office. Head is going to meet desk, and he doubts that all the tea Janice can make will be able to persuade him otherwise.
That night, Draco sits in his huge, unwelcoming dining room, picking at his stringy mystery meat and slightly blackened potatoes, and attempts to hatch a plan. A Potter-catching plan. He’s always prided himself on his plotting abilities, but by the time his meal has gone cold he still has no idea how he’s going to persuade a person who has always hated him to attend a function that he doesn’t want to attend. Frustrated, he summons Klinky and procures a large glass of Ogden’s Special, almost amused that his review of the meal as ‘About as good as usual’ seems to please the elf.
It isn’t a compliment.
In the end, Draco goes to work as usual, still devoid of anything approaching a plan. He spends a good portion of the morning doodling tiny dragons and knights on his good letter-writing parchment, ignoring Janice and making faces at his tea. If he knows anything, it’s that he has to return to the Black house, and so he makes the executive decision to wait until mid-morning; Potter definitely doesn’t seem like a morning person, and neither is Draco, and it only seems sensible to play the odds.
“Into the fray, then,” he mutters to himself, rising and putting on his coat before Janice can say a word. He winds a long green scarf around his neck for good measure. “Wish me luck.”
Janice looks up and eyes him critically. “Good luck. Put your gloves on.”
“I don’t have them,” Draco lies, making a show of checking his pockets for his money bag.
“Don’t lie to me, young man, it doesn’t become you. They’re in your desk drawer.”
Draco doesn’t know whether to worry about her knowledge of his desk drawers, or insist that lying does, in fact, become him very much. When he looks up, though, her expression is such that he closes his mouth and fishes around in his desk drawer until he retrieves the gloves.
He waves them in the air and sighs heavily. “Bye, Janice.”
“Bye, love. Don’t take no for an answer.”
Draco doesn’t intend to. After all, he thinks grimly as he hurries to the Apparation Point and makes the jump to Potter’s place, who can say no to a man wearing lime green duck-pattered gloves?
Apparently, the answer to that particular question is a man who refuses to open his front door.
Draco quickly realises that he was simply lucky yesterday that Granger had been there to let him in. Today, he has no such good fortune. He knocks until his knuckles are sore, despite the gloves, and then he waits for ten minutes and begins knocking again. He tries yelling, too, but no combination of ‘Potter!’, ‘Potter, let me in, for fuck’s sake, I just want to talk to you!’ or ‘Potter, quickly, the Minister for Magic’s here and he’s mad’ has been fruitful. His ill-advised attempt at casting his way in results in a belch of flames from the door handle and temporary deafness, and Draco has the feeling it could have been a lot worse. Potter has always known how to defend himself; there’s no arguing with that.
Finally, feeling defeated, cold and fuzzy-headed, Draco turns away from the Black house and wanders in the direction of sustenance. After all, he’s going to need it—there’s no way he’s giving up.
As he approaches the house almost an hour later, bearing coffee in a paper cup, he notices that all the curtains are drawn, even though it’s almost noon. He half-wonders if Potter’s out, but of course he’s not. He doesn’t do that, apparently. Resignedly, Draco repeats the previous programme of yelling and knocking, but doesn’t bother drawing his wand this time, probably wisely.
When, as he expected, nothing happens, Draco tucks his long coat underneath him and sits down on the top step. He wraps his gloved hands around his steaming paper cup and looks at his immaculate leather shoes. His mother always used to say that the details were the making of a man, and that a man in good shoes would go a very long way. Three hundred Galleon Italian loafers aren’t going to help him with this, though, and now he wonders if all this time she was being sarcastic. He sighs and buries his head in his scarf for a moment.
This is where desperation gets a person, he supposes. Desperation and a lot of bad decisions. Wanting to impress people, that’s where the Malfoys have always gone wrong. People like the Dark Lord. Lucius Malfoy. Harry Potter.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Draco mumbles into his coffee steam. “I’m cold. I’m miserable. This is ridiculous.” He sighs, willing inspiration to come, and hums gently under his breath. As he sits there on the freezing step, his humming picks up the tune of a song that Janice likes to sing to him when he’s in a particularly morbid mood.
“Heaven knows I’m miserable now,” he sings, feeling every inch of the pathetic irony and finding it difficult to care. “I was looking for a job and then I found a job, but heaven knows I’m miserable now.”
A man in a purple cloak walks his Crup along the pavement in front of Draco and shoots him a very odd look indeed. Draco pauses. It might be the simple fact that it’s him, or it might be the gloves, but equally, it might be the singing. Resolve strengthened, Draco almost smiles.
“In my life, why do I give valuable time to people who don’t care if I live or die?” he sings, kicking the volume up to an obnoxious level and dragging cold air into his lungs to help him belt the words tunelessly. “Two lovers entwined pass me by, and heaven knows I’m miserable now!”
Draco revises his earlier assertion—this is where desperation gets a person. Singing maudlin Muggle songs on Harry Potter’s doorstep. Draco doesn’t sing well.
“What she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed,” Draco bellows, and behind him, the door flies open. He smiles into his coffee, and continues as he struggles to his feet. “You've been in the house too long, she said, and I—naturally—fled.”
He turns slowly, buoyed by triumph, and gazes into the flashing eyes of Harry Potter. Something in the hard line of his mouth and the hands curled into fists at his sides tells Draco to be quiet, but he feels light for the first time in days. He’s forgotten just how good it feels to annoy Potter.
“In my life,” he bellows theatrically, coffee-wielding arm thrown out to the side, “why do I smile at people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?”
“Malfoy,” Potter growls, and Draco lets his arm drop to his side.
“It’s a good question, though, don’t you think?” Draco asks, taking a cautious step closer to the door.
“I don’t know, Malfoy, I’ve never seen you smile,” Potter says, eyes narrowed, and some little shoulder-demon compels Draco to flash him a split-second all-out beam for no good reason at all. Potter scowls even harder. “You’re a horrible singer. What do you want, apart from disturbing my neighbours?”
“That’s not very nice,” Draco says lightly. “And if you let me in, I’ll tell you.”
Potter looks like he wants to bang Draco’s head against the doorframe. Draco knows how he feels.
“... the upshot of all of this being that we need you to attend this event, and as such, I shan’t be taking no for an answer,” Draco finishes, feeling as though he’s finally out of persuasive words. He spins his empty paper cup between his hands and glances at Potter, who is once again leaning against his kitchen counter with his arms folded.
“’We need’ me to attend this event?” Potter says, making air quotes. “Or you need me to?”
“What difference does it make?” Draco huffs, exasperated.
“Plenty. It’s the difference between whether I’m saying no because I’m not interested in big, glitzy galas that cost almost as much as they make for their cause, or whether I’m saying no because I don’t like you.” Potter shrugs and scuffs his socked foot against the floor tiles.
Draco suppresses a groan and congratulates himself at the small show of self-control in the face of this infuriating man. “Look,” he begins in what he hopes is a controlled tone, “I realise that I’ve done things in the past that are...” he trails off as Potter shakes his head and turns away. “What?”
“I can’t believe I’m even having this discussion with you, Malfoy. In my own kitchen, no less.” Potter tips back his head and rubs both hands over his face for a moment, leaving Draco to absently admire the way his threadbare t-shirt clings to his back. Draco blinks and looks away. “The thing is,” Potter continues, sounding weary, “I’m fully aware that we’ve both done our share of shitty things to each other over the years. I’m not keeping score, and I’m not saying that with everything I know, I’d have swapped my life for yours at any point.”
He pauses and Draco swallows dryly, surprise making his heart race, just for a moment. “Oh,” he says at last, and Potter sighs without turning around.
“But you know... even with all of that taken into consideration... I’m going to be totally honest with you, here, Malfoy. I don’t like you. You’re arrogant and rude. You have no idea about other people, and all you care about is yourself. And the funny thing is, now you’re just like everyone else out there—you want a piece of me to make your life better, and I’m not interested. Alright?”
Finally, Potter turns around to face Draco and the expression on his face is startlingly impassive. For what feels like far too long, there is silence in the kitchen, and all Draco can hear is the sound of his own controlled breathing. Unable to look away from Potter, his insides are oddly dull and heavy and he grips the paper cup hard enough to squash it. There’s something all-at-once logical and completely bonkers about his former enemy’s logic, and Draco has no idea how to proceed; if nothing else, it’s never nice to be disliked, however much he always pretends he doesn’t care.
“Well,” he says at last with false brightness, “while I’m glad you got that off your chest, I’m afraid I’m still going to need you at that Gala.” He sets his jaw and wonders if Potter’s going to hit him, or hex him, or something worse.
Instead, Potter groans, swears, and jumps up to sit on the counter, elbows resting on his knees and head in his hands. “Malfoy, if you have a shred... the tiniest shred of human decency left in you, please fuck off and leave me alone,” he mumbles from between his fingers.
Draco almost feels sorry for him, but he squashes the unhelpful sympathy and presses on. “I think we’ve already established that I have no such thing, so what I thought I’d do is keep coming back here every day until you accept the invitation.”
“What?” Potter’s head shoots up from his hands and he regards Draco, wild-eyed, from beneath his mop of dishevelled dark hair. “No! You’ll do no such thing!”
“Well, in that case, I’m sure your neighbours will appreciate my singing instead. I thought I’d come a little earlier tomorrow morning... how does six o’clock grab you?” Draco says innocently.
“You... I’ll use a Silencing Charm,” Potter says triumphantly, slapping both hands against his thighs. Above his head, the cupboard flaps twice and then falls silent.
Draco snorts, taking a step closer and gesturing with his cup. “You’re rubbish at Silencing Charms. And you always forget them when you’re angry!”
Potter blinks. Frowns. “How do you know that?” he demands, and immediately Draco wants the words back. He needs them back. How has he somehow forgotten that the only person oblivious to his six years spent watching Potter’s every move was... Potter?
Feeling hot, thinking quickly, Draco says the first thing that comes into his head: “How do you know how I take my coffee?”
Green eyes widen momentarily and Draco grins inside. He’s not certain what kind of a game they’re playing here, but it doesn’t matter, because he’s winning.
“I just know. I’ve seen you at the breakfast table enough times over the years,” Potter mutters.
Potter flushes slightly and scrubs at the frayed denim that half-covers his knees. “Look, if you really must talk about your stupid Gala some more, go ahead, but I’m still not coming. If you want to waste your time, then I—are those ducks?”
“Ducks. On your gloves,” Potter repeats, pointing to Draco’s left hand, which is brushing the hair out of his eyes, and Draco freezes. “You’re wearing gloves with ducks on them. Draco Malfoy is wearing duck gloves,” he says faintly, and there’s no mistaking his mocking tone, or the way his mouth is twitching upwards at the corners. The way that, despite his embarrassment and irritation, makes Draco want to smile, too.
“You leave my ducks alone,” he asserts, knowing that Potter has won this one. Or perhaps Janice has. “At least my ducks have been outside today, have you?” He lifts a challenging eyebrow at Potter and the smile immediately fades.
“No, I haven’t, and there’s no way on this earth I’m getting into that with you. Forget I said anything about it. Seriously.” Potter chews on a ragged thumbnail and scowls. “Or else you and your ducks can fuck off back where you came from right now, Gala or no Gala.”
Knowing when to leave well alone, at least for now, Draco shrugs. He sets down his cup and carefully, finger by finger, removes his gloves. “Her highness would certainly love that.”
“Your boss? Mrs Chondley-whatsit?” Potter enquires from around his thumbnail.
Draco wrinkles his nose. “President Cholmondely, yes. She’s got her tiny, black little heart set on you.”
“Why can’t she do it herself if it’s so important?”
My thoughts exactly, Draco agrees silently. “It’s important, but not top level important, apparently. It’s VP important. Aren’t you glad you know exactly how important you are?”
Potter snorts and drops his hands to wrap around the edges of the counter, and to Draco’s utter astonishment, the almost-smile is back. “Yeah, I’ll sleep tonight now, Malfoy.”
Draco smirks, and, when after a moment or two, Potter still looks relatively relaxed, he very cautiously begins unbuttoning his coat. The kitchen is warm, and he’s relieved to be rid of the heavy wool garment; he hangs it over the back of a wooden chair and unwinds his scarf from around his neck. Seconds later, there’s a scuffle and a clatter from the doorway; Draco looks up in time to see Potter’s cringe, turns around in the direction of the sound and trips over something furry, landing on his backside on the kitchen tiles.
The green scarf is yanked out of his hands and falls to cover something that is now sprawled across his lap, a moving something that digs many pointed claws into Draco’s thigh and makes him yelp in pain, and a little bit in confusion.
“What the...?” Draco reaches out a hand, hearing Potter’s “Don’t!” just a little too late.
The something under his scarf bites him and then leaps onto the floor and runs away, dragging Draco’s scarf with it for several feet like a banner, until it slides into a pool of green silk on the tile, revealing the scraggy brown fur and whisking tail of the retreating creature. Draco watches it disappear out of sight before glancing down at the small but very real puncture wounds on the sensitive skin between his thumb and forefinger. He moves his hand carefully and the bitten flesh stings. He scowls.
“What the fuck was that, Potter?”
No longer cringing, Potter’s face is caught between sympathy and amusement. He slides down from the counter and crosses the kitchen to stand over Draco. For a moment, Draco thinks he’s going to offer his hand to help him up, but instead he just holds out both hands for Draco to see, turning them over to display the myriad cuts and scratches Draco had noticed yesterday—now they make sense, and Draco is oddly relieved. Though the psychotic cat will take some explaining.
“That was Mrs N,” Potter says, expression suddenly sheepish. “She can hear a silk scarf at fifty paces, or so it seems. That, along with a whole list of other things that upset her delicate sensibilities... I’m still finding them out myself. Hence the scratches.”
Feeling suddenly small and ridiculous sitting in a heap on the tiles, Draco hauls himself to his feet and attempts to process this information.
“Why would you keep something so unpleasant?” he says, brushing down his trousers with his uninjured hand. The floor is surprisingly dusty. “Or is she part of your elaborate ‘none shall pass’ routine?”
“No. Filch died about six months ago, and nobody else wanted her. Hermione ended up with her at first; you know how she is,” Potter says, shrugging and examining his hands. “That didn’t last long, though; Ron’s a bit touchy about cats... long story,” he says eventually, when Draco continues to stare at him.
“Filch? You mean to say that’s... the Mrs Norris?” Draco almost whispers, feeling irrationally as though the cat might hear him and go running for... oh. “What happened to Filch?” he asks, genuinely interested in spite of himself.
“Spattergroit,” Potter says, pulling a face that Draco can’t quite resist mirroring.
“Yes,” Potter agrees, turning to rinse out his cafetière.
“So is that cat,” Draco adds, looking at his hand again and casting a quick Cleaning Charm, just in case.
“Yes,” says Potter. “I still don’t like you, by the way.” He pauses. Points. “Cups are in that cupboard, there.”
Draco leaves the Black house just before two pm, when he’s unceremoniously kicked out on the grounds that it’s breakfast time, and Potter is “damned if he’s going to cook for you, Malfoy.” Despite pouring all the disdain in his possession into reminding Potter that civilised people do not eat breakfast in the afternoon, Draco still finds himself walking slowly back toward his office by five past two, duck gloves shoved into his coat pocket and examining his scarf for claw holes.
He’s made virtually no progress on the Gala front, and he thinks he should feel defeated, downcast. He thinks he should, but he doesn’t; he feels... he feels very strange indeed. Pensive. So much so that Janice has to repeat his out-of-office messages to him three times before the contents sink in. Alarmed at this sudden preoccupation, he pushes the whole Potter-Gala-Coffee-Mrs-Norris intrigue to the back of his mind and applies himself to lesser tasks for the remainder of the afternoon.
The weather continues to be unseasonably cold, and as he prepares to leave the office for Potter’s place the following morning, Draco puts on his coat and gloves. Having determined that his green scarf seems to have survived the cat episode unscathed, he tucks that around his neck, too, and presents himself sarcastically for Janice’s inspection.
She clicks shell-pink nails against her cat cup. Her eyes glitter. “What about a hat?”
“No. Just no.”
“You’re worrying about your hair, aren’t you?” Janice speculates. “No wonder you haven’t got a girlfriend, love, you’re far too vain.”
Draco stares at her witheringly. “I don’t want a girlfriend.”
Janice looks at him for a long time, and then her wrinkled face creases up as she laughs and laughs and laughs.
“Bye, Janice,” Draco sighs, and exits the office, hatless. It’s not as though it’s a secret, anyway; he wouldn’t be surprised if even Potter knew he was gay. Even so, Janice, the sadistic old bag, is still the absolute limit. Draco can still hear her cackling all the way down the corridor, and he rolls his eyes.
“How is it that I go to all this trouble to keep everyone out of here, and yet I’ve had you standing in my kitchen three days in a row?” Potter demands, standing before Draco in yet another washed-out fitted t-shirt, old jeans and mismatched socks ensemble, and looking somewhat sleep-deprived.
“I don’t know. I’m surprised you haven’t hexed me by now. I don’t think you’re really trying very hard,” Draco opines, sinking into a chair and resting his elbows on the kitchen table despite not having been invited to sit.
Potter sighs and sits down opposite him. “What would be the point? You’d only come back anyway.”
“True, Potter. True.” Draco sips his hot coffee and inhales the steam appreciatively; it really has no business being so cold outside in April. “Where’s your horrible cat?”
“Hiding.” Potter quirks a brief half-smile. “She doesn’t really like people.”
Amused, Draco smiles back but hides the evidence in his cup. “They do say that people begin to resemble their pets, don’t they? I’m trying to remember who was this antisocial first, but it’s a close call.”
“I told you I don’t want to talk about that,” Potter snaps, face shutting down immediately.
“Alright, let’s talk about something else,” Draco says, unsure why he’s pushing the point, except for the undeniable fact that he has to get Potter out of the house one way or another, or else the chances of actual Gala-attending will become very slim indeed. “We could go for a walk in the park. It’s a lovely day... sunny with a chance of frostbite.” Draco smiles appealingly, suspecting he’s dead. He really must stop speaking. “You could borrow my duck gloves,” he adds helplessly.
“Fuck off, Malfoy,” Potter mumbles, green eyes narrowed and hair everywhere from running his fingers through it, and just for a moment he looks rather... interesting. Draco’s stomach tightens entirely against his will and he glares back. “I don’t want to be your project, so just stop it.”
“You know what, Potter? Not everything’s about you.”
“This is my house! Or had you forgotten? You certainly seem to have made yourself at home,” Potter snipes, eyeing Draco’s position at the table, his coat and scarf slung over the back of a spare chair and his gloves strewn across the kitchen counter.
“I’m not doing this for the good of my health, you know,” Draco shoots back, in no way prepared to admit that Potter has a point. “It’s a necessity. In that it is necessary for you to attend this Gala, so that I might keep my position at the Trust, which is also... necessary.” Draco frowns, thinking that his father would throw a fit if he could hear his son’s hesitation and awkward sentence structure right now.
“Necessary for what? You don’t need a job. I might’ve given up reading the Prophet a long time ago, but I know enough to know you’re not exactly skint, Malfoy.” Potter stretches and leans closer across the large table, folding his arms and resting his chin on top in a comfortable, lazy posture, eyes still fixed on Draco.
Draco sighs and sets his cup down. “It’s not about the money. It’s about... let’s call it damage control, for the Malfoy name. My parents are in France, so it’s quite literally left to me. Don’t think that I haven’t exhausted every other option over the last two years,” Draco says, looking at his hands intently. “Unfortunately, it turns out that charitable work for little children is the only thing that garners any respect for a Malfoy these days, and believe me, it’s grudging.”
“So, you don’t really care about the poor little kiddies?” Potter prods, and there’s a mocking tone to his voice but it’s gentler than Draco thinks he probably deserves. He’s being ridiculously honest, too, and that’s quite disturbing.
“No more so than anyone else,” he admits, looking up at last. He and Potter regard each other in silence for a moment or two, and then the dark eyebrows knit together in a frown.
“Hang on, so, your parents left you on your own and buggered off to another country... and yet you’re putting in all of this effort to fix everything for them? Why?”
“Because they’re my family, Potter,” Draco says quickly. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
As the words sink in, Potter’s eyes flash hurt, and Draco realises that, despite his harsh tone, he hadn’t actually meant to upset him by clumsily pointing out his lack of parents. Regretful, he scrambles to fix it, all too aware the weight of this first ever apology, even an implied one, after all these years.
“I meant that... well, literally. Not as an insult. I don’t expect you to understand. You didn’t have the same sort of upbringing I did. It’s no one’s fault,” he says softly.
“Except Voldemort’s,” Potter mutters darkly, picking at his sleeve.
Draco winces at the name. “Must you?”
A strange smile curls Potter’s lips. “Yep.”
On the fourth day, Potter opens the door almost straight away, sighs when he sees Draco, and turns around, disappearing back into the house and leaving the door open for Draco to slam behind him. Which he does. With relish.
“Good morning to you, too, Potter,” he calls, divesting himself of his cold weather garments and making his way along the corridor whilst keeping a careful eye out for a prowling Mrs Norris.
“You know, when you call me Potter, it makes me feel about thirteen,” comes the voice from the kitchen, and Draco follows the rich smell of fresh coffee to find Potter standing at the stove looking exasperated.
“When you call me Potter. No one calls me Potter. No one’s called me Potter since I was at school. I feel like I’m about to be called on to answer a question about Shrivelfig extract or given detention,” he elaborates, scrunching up his nose in a way that makes his drawn face come to life temporarily.
“Please tell me you’re not asking me to call you by your first name,” Draco says, accepting the steaming cup without a word and balancing it on the palm of his hand, “because that’s all kinds of weird.”
“I don’t see why I should have you invading my privacy and using my own name to make me feel uncomfortable,” he insists. “You always manage to make it sound like something rude. Potter,” he adds, in an over-the-top imitation of Draco.
Draco sips the scalding coffee as he searches for a retort. “You still call me Malfoy,” he points out, “and if you don’t mind, I’d prefer it if you—this coffee tastes weird.” He frowns.
“This one’s a Sumatran, the other one was a Guatemalan,” Potter explains, and then: “You are a Malfoy. You are Malfoy. That’s your name. You’re the one obsessed with it, anyway.”
“I’m not calling you Harry,” Draco says stubbornly, gulping at the smoother, lighter-tasting coffee. He supposes it’s alright.
“No problem, Draco,” Potter says, drawing out his name and smirking.
“Stop that, it’s weird!” Draco grimaces, and Potter’s sudden grin takes him by surprise.
“So, we’re agreed.” Potter nods and, looking satisfied, wanders out of the room with his coffee.
Draco can’t be sure what exactly they’ve just agreed, but he suspects he’s just been outmanoeuvred by Harry Potter. By the Gryffindor to end all Gryffindors. He sighs and tries not to jump when Mrs Norris slinks past the kitchen door, huge yellow eyes turning accusingly upon him.
“Harry my arse,” he mutters to the empty kitchen, and when the cupboard flaps three times in succession above his head, he almost has a heart attack. Shooting a dark look at it, he exits the kitchen, steps over Mrs Norris and goes looking for Potter. Harry. Potter. As he does so, he has the sinking feeling that the cupboard is mocking him.
On the fifth morning, Granger is back. She opens the front door and stares at Draco with her eyebrows in her hairline for far longer than is strictly decorous.
“Hello, Granger,” he says eventually, affecting a little wave. He thinks he can pinpoint the very second that she catches sight of his duck gloves.
“Yes,” she says, looking both confused and amused, and Draco’s not quite sure what to do with that.
“Who is it, ’Mione? Someone nice, or Malfoy?” drifts through the house and Draco snorts.
“Malfoy,” she calls back after a moment.
“Well, let him in, for fuck’s sake, before he starts singing!”
Draco does his best to bite down on his smile, but as he looks at Granger’s baffled expression as she steps back to let him in, there’s no getting away from the fact that he’s just shared a ‘private joke’ moment with Harry Potter. On the one hand, it’s very worrying. On the other, he thinks his Gala prospects are starting to look a little brighter.
Deciding to focus on the second option, Draco sits nicely and drinks his coffee at the table while Potter and Granger conduct a spirited discussion about a strange-sounding book they have recently read, and then spend at least fifteen minutes gossiping about an unfortunate someone named Franklin who is apparently about to lose his job at the Ministry.
As he has no opinion to offer on either subject, and isn’t asked for one, Draco examines the rough grain of the kitchen table and hums silently to himself. There’s no use pretending this isn’t seventeen shades of surreal, so he doesn’t.
Still, he’s starting to feel rather at home in this kitchen. He wonders if Janice misses him.
Creak-flap, goes the noisy cupboard, and Draco looks up cautiously. Potter and Granger are seated at the opposite end of the table, rather a long way from the cabinets, and their conversation is undisturbed.
Creak-flap, the cupboard repeats, and uncertain intrigue spikes in the pit of Draco’s stomach.
“Are you talking to me?” he whispers, feeling ridiculous.
Flap. Flap. Flap, the cupboard says slowly. Says. Definitely. It’s definitely speaking, ludicrous though Draco knows that is, but he doesn’t know what the message is.
“I don’t understand,” he whispers, frowning. “I don’t speak... cupboard.”
Creak. Flap. BANG. This time, the sound reverberates around the kitchen and Potter and Granger fall silent, both fixing Draco with enquiring stares.
“Carry on,” Draco says, smiling sweetly and sipping his coffee with what he hopes is an innocent expression on his face. Cheeky fucking cupboard, trying to get me into trouble, he grumbles silently. It’s not so much Potter he’s worried about; Granger is a scary lady.
“So, anyway, he was called into the office yesterday...” Granger begins, and Draco tunes them out.
“You are a pain in the arse,” Draco whispers out of the corner of his mouth. “And I still don’t understand you.”
Flap, flap, flap, flap, says the cupboard softly.
“Well, apologies are all very well,” Draco hisses, irritated, and then stops. Frowns. Shakes his hair out his eyes and looks up at the mahogany cupboard door, which is now waving silently back and forth. Alive with a strange new sort of delight, Draco grins at his sudden comprehension.
The door creaks slowly and Draco sighs, still smiling. “Alright, so maybe I wasn’t listening properly before. There’s no need to rub it in my face.”
Thoughtful, he glances back at Potter and Granger, who are still deep in conversation, all but unaware of his existence for the time being. He can cope with that; he coped with it for several years at school, after all.
“So,” he whispers, pulling his chair slightly closer to the cupboard, “give me all the dirt on Harry Potter.”
The next day, Draco doesn’t bother going to his office at all. He knows that Janice won’t be there and, more importantly, he knows that Mrs Cholmondely won’t be there. Draco doesn’t know what his boss does at the weekends, and he doesn’t think he wants to know; something must be keeping her alive—very much alive—at her age. Something grim.
Klinky provides an alarming breakfast of rubbery kippers and a questionable apricot Danish, which Draco pushes away the second the elf is out of the room. He’s feeling particularly charitable today, and he’s not sure why. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that he has weekend plans for once. No bleak, yawning-empty Saturday for Draco, no wandering around the Manor until he folds and goes to the office on his own; today he’s going to wind up Potter. And he’s actually looking forward to it.
“Evanesco,” Draco murmurs, idly flicking his wand and verbalising the incantation just to break the silence of his dining room. His breakfast plate disappears and he tucks his wand away.
Rising from the table, he remembers Potter’s effortless wandless magic and pauses. Tilts his head on one side. Concentrates very hard on his empty mug and holds out a hand, incanting the very first charm he ever learned at Hogwarts.
“Wingardium Leviosa,” he says firmly, focusing all of his energy and power on lifting the cup from the surface of the table.
The cup doesn’t move. Draco frowns and tries again, narrowing his eyes and giving the cup a very severe look indeed. “Lift, damnit! Wingardium Leviosa!”
On the fourth attempt, the cup turns green and shatters into several pieces. Draco snorts and stalks out of the dining room, footsteps echoing in the cavernous space. So, Potter can do wandless magic. Draco can... go outside.
And so he does, and even though there’s no Janice to tell him to wrap up warm, he does it anyway.
“Oh, come on,” Potter groans as he opens the door after a lot of knocking on Draco’s part. The singing had been only seconds away.
“What?” Draco squints against the freak hailstorm that has been battering against his face for the last five minutes or so. He knows better than to try any magic too close to Potter’s front door, and it’s starting to hurt.
“That’s right,” Draco says, prodding Potter out of the way and taking refuge in the hallway. He shivers and shakes the tiny ice balls from his coat and hair. “Saturday the first of May. You know what May is, don’t you, Potter?”
“Er... too late in the year for hailstones?” Potter says, half-covering his mouth to yawn as he slams the door shut and leans heavily against it. “And it’s Harry, remember?”
“No, it’s Gala month.” Draco flashes Potter a bright smile, amused to see him startle at the sight of it. “And you’ll always be Potter to me,” he says, and realises that he’s teasing far too late.
Potter snorts. “Blanket ban on the ‘Potter’ while you’re in my house, Draco,” he returns, smirking and pushing off the door. “Don’t think I can’t hear you thinking it, too,” he adds.
Alarmed, Draco watches him wander out of sight, hands shoved in the pockets of yet another worn-thin pair of jeans. Beneath the trailing frayed hems, he notes that today, one sock is blue and the other has black and white stripes. Draco doubts that people who can’t even match their socks can read minds, but one never knows. A clairvoyant Potter is a very frightening prospect.
“You can’t really,” he says, following Potter into the kitchen and hoping the words come out as more of a statement than a question.
The smile that greets him is brief but unexpectedly warm. “No, of course not. But you should have seen your face.”
Draco scowls and strips off his gloves so he can take the coffee from the smug sod’s outstretched hand. The coffee that he’s already made, despite his protests at the door, Draco is oddly pleased to note.
“Fuck you, Potter.”
“Harry,” he corrects. “Don’t you think you’d know if I was a Legilimens? I’d be using it to find out all your secrets so I could make you leave me alone.”
“Maybe you already know all my secrets,” Draco says irritably, balancing the hot cup on his palm and relishing the familiar sting of the heated ceramic.
“I doubt that,” Potter says quietly. He sighs, scratches at his untidy hair until it sticks up everywhere, and meets Draco’s gaze with eyes that are suddenly very unguarded and bright and ordinary, and just for a second, he looks like a Harry.
Draco swallows hard, and then Harry opens his mouth to speak, and he can’t help but feel that some incredible revelation is about to be granted, right here in the kitchen.
“D’you have to hold your cup like that?”
Draco blinks and the strange tension that had been holding him in place snaps with it. Hold his cup?
“What are you talking about?” he snaps, leaving out the instinctive ‘Potter’. The unguarded expression is long gone, but Draco can’t quite expel it from his mind.
“Your cup. Can’t you hold your cup like a normal human being?”
Draco frowns at the plain white cup that’s currently balanced on the palm of his left hand. “I’ve always held my cup like this.”
“I know!” Potter cries, sounding puzzlingly exasperated. He shakes his head and hoists himself up onto the counter.
Something strange prickles on the back of Draco’s neck and he can no longer remember any of the things he wanted to taunt Potter with today. He frowns at the window, watching and listening to the hailstones still battering the glass, and he leaves his cup where it is in silent defiance.
Potter sighs. “I thought I might get a reprieve since it’s the weekend,” he admits, yawning again.
“Have you just got up?” Draco demands, turning to him again and taking in his ruffled appearance.
“I don’t sleep well.”
Draco arches an eyebrow. “Maybe that’s because you never go anywhere. You don’t have chance to get tired properly.”
“Not this again,” Potters mumbles, dropping his head into his hands.
“I’m going to need you well rested in time for the twenty-fifth, you know.” Draco drains his cup and steps closer, leaning against the counter next to Potter. Bitten and scratched fingers part momentarily and green eyes regard Draco balefully from behind glass. “Which means you should probably stop wandering around the house in the middle of the night.”
“Your cupboard says otherwise,” Draco interrupts. “...Harry,” he adds, insides squirming.
“You’re right, that is weird,” Potter-Harry says, emerging from behind his hands. “And I can’t believe I just said you were right. And... what? My cupboard’s been talking to you? My cupboard’s been telling tales on me to you?!”
The cupboard flaps noisily several times in succession, and Draco laughs. The indignant expression on Potter-Harry’s face at the creaking excuses just makes him laugh harder. Which just causes Harry to look even more indignant.
Finally, grinning hard and breathless with genuine, warm amusement, Draco gets a hold of himself and falls silent, all but holding up his hands in surrender.
“I guess it’s a Black thing,” Potter says eventually, tearing his eyes away from the cupboard to look at Draco with another possibly-Harry wry smile. “Sirius left this house to me, so I’m its master, so to speak. You’ve got Black blood, so it must recognise that, too. Weird.”
“I thought perhaps it would speak to anyone who bothered to actually listen,” Draco admits.
Potter snorts. “No. Hermione’s tried enough times, believe me. Typical that you should be the only other person who can understand it, now I’ll never get rid of you.”
“That’s not true. You know exactly what to do to get rid of me,” Draco says, ignoring the anxious flapping above his head and the cold jolt of reality that his own words evoke.
Oh, yes. Gala. For a little while, he had managed to forget that his primary concern here wasn’t having a snarking contest with Harry Potter. It’s a shame, too, as he’s getting rather good at it.
“I’m not coming to your stupid Gala, Malfoy.”
“I hope my bitter disappointment isn’t too upsetting for you,” Draco snipes, fighting a tiny, unruly smile. “Potter,” he adds.
The insistent tapping on Draco’s bedroom pane wakes him as the Sunday morning sky is still turning from pink to orange and filtering through his half-open curtains. Opening one eye, he feels around for his wand and casts a weak Tempus.
Draco sighs and drags himself out of bed to accept the letter from the waiting owl. He knows without looking that it’s from his mother, but he unrolls it anyway and stares blearily at her sombre words and looping handwriting.
“Hope you’re taking care of yourself, hope you’re working hard, hope you’re behaving in a respectable manner, hope you remember you’re a Malfoy... et cetera,” he paraphrases to the empty room and sighs heavily, trying to remind himself that with that one-hour time difference, it’s a slightly more reasonable hour where his mother is. Slightly.
As he approaches the antique dresser, he catches sight of himself in the large mirror that sits on top and pauses. He knows he’s not bad looking; at one time he might’ve said attractive, but now? Draco narrows his eyes. His pale skin and sleep-dishevelled hair glow in the forgiving light from the sunrise but Janice is right, and he’s too thin these days. Everything is just a little more angular than it should be, and it’s hard to ignore when he’s standing here in nothing but a pair of loose-fitting pyjama pants.
As if motivated by his subconscious, Draco’s stomach issues a low growl and he stares at it severely. He’s determined it’s not his fault this time—he managed to spend most of Saturday afternoon at the Black house and has yet to see Potter put anything beside coffee in his mouth, and Klinky’s recent efforts have been even more dismal than usual.
Ignoring his hunger, Draco glances once more at his mother’s letter. She’s written the date at the top in large letters, though it’s not as though he’s likely to forget. Two years since the end of the war. Two years of freedom, apparently. And it isn’t as though he’s ungrateful, but he doesn’t feel much like celebrating, not while he’s still... waiting.
He sighs, wishing his mother didn’t insist upon marking pointless dates by trying to make him feel guilty, but he folds the letter neatly and stores it in the top drawer with all of the others.
It’s earlier than usual when he sets out for the Black house, though the sun is at least up. The cold air lifts Draco’s hair from his face and catches his nostrils with a fresh, earthy scent; it smells hopeful somehow, and yet he can’t quite subdue the feeling of trepidation that winds around him as he Apparates onto the pavement outside number fourteen.
He has no idea how Harry marks the day, or if he does so at all; he’s all too aware that despite his many years of Potter-watching, there’s little to no use predicting how he’s going to behave in a given situation. Perhaps Granger and the Weasels will descend upon him to celebrate. Perhaps he’ll be looking for lost friends in the bottom of a bottle.
Either way, Draco doubts that he’ll welcome another snark-off-slash-Gala-canvassing-session. And yet, here he is. Not for the first time, Draco wonders if it’s true, and that he really does have no clue about other people.
Taking a deep breath, he lifts his gloved hand to knock on the door, but it is yanked open before knuckles can connect with wood.
“What the hell time do you call this?” Potter demands, and he looks terrible. “In, Malfoy.”
It’s not a request. Anxious, unstable energy is crackling around Potter as he stands there and Draco doesn’t feel much like arguing. He has the strangest feeling that Potter—and this person is definitely Potter—hasn’t been to sleep. And has been waiting for him.
Stepping inside, Draco strips off his outer garments and looks surreptitiously around for empty bottles or broken furniture but finds nothing. As he follows a rapidly-striding Potter past the staircase, though, he finds something else—a scruffy paw shoots out from between the banisters and, before Draco has time to react, swipes him across the face.
He hisses in pain, hand coming up to cover his eye, and Mrs Norris hisses back, exposing sharp, yellowing teeth.
“I found your horrible cat,” he calls from between gritted teeth, watching her bound away up the stairs.
“What do you want, a medal?” Potter yells back from the kitchen, voice scratchier than usual.
Draco pulls his hand away from his face. There’s no blood to mar the lime-green wool of his glove, but it still really fucking hurts. For a moment, he stands there in the hallway, motionless. Breathing slowly and deliberately, heart pounding from the shock and feeling the throbbing sting of the scratch between his hairline and eyebrow. Listening to Potter’s rapid-fire mumblings, presumably to his cupboard, and... yes, the answering flaps and creaks. Wondering, he thinks reasonably, what person in their right mind would put themselves into this situation and stay in it.
“Insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” he mumbles to himself as he trails into the kitchen. He can’t remember who said that, but whoever it was probably had a very good point. And it isn’t until Potter answers him that he realises he’s spoken out loud.
“Having a little epiphany there, Malfoy? ‘Cause you know... I could’ve told you that years ago.”
He doesn’t turn from the stove, where he’s poking at something sizzling in a frying pan, and Draco’s mouth waters as he registers the savoury smell of bacon for the first time. Potter’s movements are uncomfortable, slightly manic, and there’s no doubt that he’s been up all night. There’s probably more caffeine than blood in his veins right now, and yet there’s a fresh pot in progress on the counter.
“Shut up,” Draco says without feeling. “Look what your cat did to me.”
He does turn this time, and... fuck, the shadows under his eyes are frightening. Definitely no celebrations for Harry Potter, Draco realises, and the ache inside him feels suspiciously like empathy.
Potter winces. “Sorry. She’s in a really foul mood today. Already got me twice,” he says, barely pausing for breath, and turns back to his pan. He holds out his arm so that Draco can see several fresh scratches, the angry red lines standing out against his pale skin.
“Perhaps she’s picking up on your... tension,” Draco says, drawing his wand and cleaning the scratch on his face.
“I’m not tense.”
Draco snorts. “Mm-hm, and I might believe you if you could look at me or stop moving for a second. Or if you didn’t look like you haven’t slept for a week.”
“You don’t look too hot yourself, Malfoy,” Potter shoots back, practically growling the words.
Draco pauses, listening to the hiss of the bacon. Knowing that Potter couldn’t possibly be aware of his critical self-examination this morning doesn’t make the remark sting any less.
“I look fantastic, as always,” he sniffs, putting on his bland, impervious, dealing-with-the-world face. Because he wants to, not because he gives a flying fuck what Harry Potter thinks of him. He ignores the snort from by the stove and changes the subject. If Potter wants to pretend he’s fine, then that’s what they’ll do. Draco can pretend; he’s brilliant at it. It just means more time for Gala talk, after all. “What on earth are you doing with that pan?”
“Cooking, Malfoy. It’s one of those strange and primitive arts that we peasants are expert in.”
“Hilarious. I meant what are you cooking, and why are you cooking while I’m still here? You usually have to kick me out first,” Draco points out, realising as he does that he and Harry now have a ‘usually’. He frowns, pushing up his green sleeves and crossing his arms. A ‘usually’. Friends have usually-s.
“I’m making you breakfast,” Potter says, and Draco has to lean back against the counter, hands finding the smooth, hard edges to hold onto in his astonishment. Potter doesn’t turn around.
“Well, that’s disturbing. You won’t sign one little piece of paper to say you’ll attend a Gala because you hate me, but you’re cooking for me?” Draco demands, kicking his foot out at Mrs Norris, who has apparently been attracted by the smell of bacon. She runs away, tail waving, and Draco feels no remorse.
“I’m sick of seeing you hanging around my house looking half-starved. I’m going to make you a proper breakfast and you’re going to eat it. Is that clear? Do you like eggs?” Potter demands, all in a rush.
“Who do you think you are, my mother?” Draco snaps, caught halfway between indignation at the implication and amusement at the delivery. “And anyway, you’ve no business telling me I need to eat, have you seen yourself?”
“Do you know how annoying it is when you answer questions with questions?”
“I don’t know, do I?” Draco smirks.
Potter throws his spatula over his shoulder with impressive accuracy and Draco only just ducks in time, turning to watch it skittering harmlessly across the tile and coming to a stop against the wall.
Draco sighs. “Yes, it’s clear, and yes, I like eggs,” he says sweetly.
Full for the first time in a long time, Draco sets down his knife and fork and sighs gently. It’s only when he feels the prickling on the back of his neck that he looks up from his plate and realises he’s being watched. Potter is sitting at the opposite side of the table in his now-familiar position, half-stretched across the surface with his arms folded and his chin resting on top. He still looks horrifically tired and the fingers drumming against the table give away his restless tension, but as he watches Draco, he looks almost pleased with himself.
He has only picked at his own food, but Draco is too warm and satisfied and unnerved to call him on it. The breakfast was delicious, there’s no denying that, but this whole thing is weird. The second of May is obviously upsetting enough for Potter to eschew sleep, shaving, and sanity, so... where are his friends? Draco wonders. Why is the most popular wizard in the country sitting here, watching Draco Malfoy eat breakfast?
“Where’s Granger today?” he says lightly, poking at his coffee with his wand to make it warmer and ignoring Potter’s visible wince.
“I don’t know. At home, probably.” Potter examines a knot on the table in front of him with undue intensity.
“I know what you meant.”
Draco pushes his plate away and, for a second, considers mirroring Potter’s flat-to-the-table posture, but resists. Instead, he props his chin up in his hand and stares down at the mop of messy black hair. His tolerance for pretending appears to have been stretched too thin already, because it’s about ready to snap. All over Potter.
“Look. I can no longer be arsed pretending that there’s nothing different about today. Two years ago, a couple of great things happened, and a lot of fucking awful, senseless things happened. I know that, Harry. You know that. And I’m just confused about why your so-called friends aren’t here with you, because you’re not fine,” Draco says, his tone softening at the last. There’s no use pretending he’s not at least a little bit concerned, because he is, and it yanks at him. “Or are you just pulling your self-sacrificing hero act?” he adds, forcing a sneer, needing the edge.
“Are you done?” is almost a whisper.
“Probably,” Draco says.
Harry snorts softly and it’s a long time before he looks up. “Ron and Ginny are with their family—their brother died, remember? And ’Mione... well, she does enough already. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one person. You know all about that, don’t you?” he says, and just for a second the green eyes blaze, and then turn dull once more. “That’s why I don’t use the Fidelius any more. Hermione told me you asked about it.”
“Forgive me for being surprised that you’d re-plot an Unplottable location,” Draco sighs, reaching for his coffee. “Especially now I know how paranoid you are. Anyway, what’s pressure got to do with anything? I thought you loved all that,” he says, ignoring Harry’s pointed remark about himself.
“Not pressure for me, idiot. Pressure for the Secret-Keeper.”
“You don’t have people to trust?” Draco clarifies. He understands that one at least.
“Of course I do. It’s not that. It’s the idea of the pressure that secret puts on a person. It can make them... make crazy decisions. Dangerous decisions.” Harry falls silent and presses his mouth against his forearm as though to stop himself saying another word.
But he doesn’t need to. Something cold passes down Draco’s spine as the memory falls into place. The memory of nights spent sitting up, keeping watch, unable to sleep, and that creep Wormtail beside him. Telling stories from the past. Boasting about the things he’d done for his Master. Things like betraying Lily and James Potter and then setting up their former Secret-Keeper for a lifetime in Azkaban.
“I know about Sirius Black,” he says, struggling against the dryness of his throat.
The messy black head shoots up and Harry’s dark-ringed eyes are wide. “How?”
“Do you really want to know?”
They stare for a long moment, and then Potter drops his head back onto his folded arms. “He never forgave himself, you know. I don’t want to do that to anyone.”
His exhausted melancholy laps at Draco, and he sighs, closing his eyes.
“Who the hell wants you dead, Potter?” he snaps before he can censor himself. In the seconds that follow his words, he wonders if he just wants a response. Any response. Any emotion. And he gets one.
“Shut up, Malfoy. You insensitive prick.”
“That’s better,” Draco retorts, folding his arms crossly. “I was worried you were far too mired in self-pity to get angry with me.”
“Self-pity?” Potter grips the edge of the table hard and glares daggers at Draco. “How fucking dare you? You know nothing about what happened that day. Nothing. So just shut the fuck up.”
“Fine, so I don’t!” Draco concedes, adrenaline rising as he glares back, just willing something to break; he doesn’t even know why any more, why it’s so important, only that it is. “How is anyone supposed to help you if you don’t fucking tell them? How do you expect me to—”
“I don’t expect you to do anything, Malfoy; I don’t want your help! I never asked you to come here! I don’t want you! Today is hard enough without having you sitting here and asking me stupid questions!” Potter yells, control starting to fray.
He scrambles to his feet and kicks his chair away, standing there in the middle of the kitchen, looking down at Draco and breathing hard. Looking like shit and still looking ready to take down ten times the man Draco knows he is.
“Then stop pretending everything’s fine!” Draco hisses, rising and pressing his miniscule height advantage. “People died. Let’s talk about that, shall we?”
“I died,” Potter rasps, meeting Draco’s eyes as panic floods his face. Lifting both hands to rake through his hair.
“What?” Draco lets his arms drop to his sides as something lurches inside him, stealing his breath.
“I... “ Potter hesitates, breathing so ragged that it seems deafening in the silence. “Like you said, a lot of people died that day. One of them was me.”
“We’re not talking... metaphorically here, are we, Potter?” Draco presses, suddenly feeling cold and slipping his hands into his pockets. He never does that. “Because if we are, I think I’ll...” Draco hesitates. Mind racing, he searches in vain for the end of that sentence.
“No.” Potter rubs a hand over his weary face and sighs, all the energy drained from him.
The atmosphere in the kitchen quietens until the air is no longer charged, and Draco breathes. “Er, good.”
There’s a snort from the other side of the kitchen as Harry—definitely Harry now, if only for the moment—sinks to the floor and sits with his knees drawn up and his back against the wall. His eyes are soft as he asks: “Did you just ask me if I died metaphorically? Only you, Malfoy.”
“Well,” Draco says, and then he’s out. He looks at the tiles warily, knowing just how dusty they are, and then he looks at Potter, slumped in a heap of denim and pale, scratched limbs on his own kitchen floor. Potter, who apparently died two years ago today. He has a lot of questions about that, and he supposes he can risk his clothes to hear the answers.
Once arranged on the floor, he leans back against the stove, seeking out its residual warmth like a cat.
“You died,” he murmurs, tracing a pattern in the dust with his finger.
“Yes,” says Harry.
“And came back.”
“Care to elaborate?” Draco says, twisting his head to gaze at Harry across the six or seven feet of floor that separates them. “I know it’s me and everything, but it rather seems like a good opportunity. And I shan’t lie to you, I am curious.”
“In a minute, Malfoy,” Harry sighs softly and tips his head back against the wall, eyes closed.
For a moment or two, Draco watches the slow rise and fall of his chest and the fading of the angry flush that has crept across his neck and cheekbones. Then he turns away, pressing his cheek to the warm metal of the oven door, and waits.
The warmth and the peace and the dull thud of the rain that has started to beat against the window wrap around Draco like a blanket, and despite his anticipation, he’s starting to drift when Harry finally speaks again.
“It isn’t as frightening as you’d think, dying.”
Draco opens his eyes and lifts his head, blinking the blurriness away as he turns to regard Harry. He’s still sitting in the same position, resting his arms on his knees and looking at the floor. “I try not to think about it,” Draco admits.
Harry snorts softly. “I thought you wanted to know what happened.”
“I do. As far as I’m concerned the whole thing is shrouded in mystery, but curiosity hasn’t exactly served me well in the past.” Draco pauses, wrapping his arms around his drawn-up knees. “Bugger it, tell me anyway. Caution is for peasants and Hufflepuffs.”
There’s an odd sound from Potter’s side of the kitchen and he looks up to meet Draco’s eyes. “You know, Malfoy, you can be quite funny when you want to. Shame you have no idea when’s an appropriate time for it.”
There’s no edge to his tone, though, and Draco shrugs. “’Appropriate’ is a horrible word. So much condescension and control and pettiness all squashed into four little syllables.”
“You’d know,” Harry says lightly.
“I would,” Draco agrees. “Now come on, you were telling me about your death.”
“After he killed me...”
“The Dark Lord?”
“Voldemort,” Harry corrects pointedly, and Draco cringes, though not quite as much as he once had.
“Yes, him. I’m not saying it. Continue.”
“It’s just a name, Malfoy. I’m the one he murdered. Anyway, the point isn’t the grisly details. The point is... the train station,” Harry says, lacing his hands together and exhaling messily.
“You’ve lost me. And it wouldn’t be—”
“Shut up.” Potter scowls and looks away, as though the legs of his kitchen table are suddenly of great interest to him. “After I died, I found myself at King’s Cross station... only not... and then Dumbledore was there, and I had to... decide what to do.”
Drawn in by his soft, halting words, Draco can’t think of a sarcastic remark this time. “Decide?”
“Whether to stay there... to stay dead... or to go back and try and save more people.”
“You were given the choice to come back from the dead?” Draco presses, taken aback.
Harry yanks off his glasses and rubs his eyes with his sleeve, then looks right at Draco. The intensity of that green without the shield of glass is enough to make Draco catch his breath, and, more than that, Potter seems to be reading his mind: “Forgive me if I don’t go into details, Malfoy, but don’t worry, it was a one-time, circumstantial kind of thing. I’m not immortal, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Glad we got that cleared up,” Draco says faintly, and he’s the one who looks away this time. “So, you came back. You saved lots of lives. You defeated the Dark Lord. I’d say you made a good call.”
Expecting Potter to be ready with a comeback or at least a derisive snort, Draco is surprised when he only sighs heavily and shifts on the floor, denim scuffing against the tile.
“And there’s the thing, Malfoy. I’m not sure that I did,” he says after a moment, and so emotionlessly that a small shoot of panic unfurls in Draco’s chest, reaching out cold tendrils to squeeze his heart; if Potter means that he wishes he were dead, Draco is in so far over his head that they’re both going to drown. He swallows hard.
“What exactly do you mean?” he demands, voice strained to breaking point.
“Chill out, for fuck’s sake,” Potter snaps, and casts something silent that doesn’t hurt Draco but startles him and forces him to make eye contact. Potter, chin propped in his hand and elbow on his bent knee, sighs. “I’m not saying I want to die now. I’m not suicidal, alright? You can stop looking like you want to make a run for it, although you know I wouldn’t stop you.”
“Well, excuse me for... ” Draco coughs lightly, unable to find a satisfactory end to that sentence, and then coughs several more times, just for good measure. “Go on.”
“Right,” Potter says, fixing Draco with a very strange look before thankfully replacing his glasses. “The point is, that place... that place where I was dead... where I was waiting... it was peaceful and full of light and... calm, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. And Dumbledore said ‘pity the living’ and did all that stuff that he does to make you do the right thing... you know. And I came back, and I did the thing that everyone expected me to do, that everyone needed me to do. And...” Harry pauses and lets out a long, messy breath, eyebrows drawing down. “And it never stopped. Everyone wanted something. Everyone wanted to know something, every minute of every day, and all the light and the peace and the calm was gone, and my life belonged to everyone I saved and everyone I didn’t and I never fucking asked for any of it.”
Draco exhales carefully and rests his chin on his knees. The distress and frustration and weariness is rolling toward him in waves, and he wants to tell Potter to stop being a child and get on with it, but he can’t find the words.
“That’s why you don’t go outside,” he says instead, more to himself than to anything. “This is your... what is it? A sanctuary? A hiding place? A waiting room?”
Harry grants him a tired wry smile. “Waiting is a good word.”
“Waiting for what?” Draco asks, heart thudding at the silent connection that he has no intention of sharing.
“I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it, though.”
Draco doesn’t know how to argue with that, so he nods. “Alright. And I’m guessing you’re fully aware of the irony of confessing all of this to one of those awful people who wants something from you... something that you’re qualified to give because of everything that happened two years ago today?”
“I didn’t plan on confessing anything, Malfoy. You irritated it out of me.”
“Well, if your friends had been here—”
“My friends don’t know,” Harry interrupts, pale face colouring slightly. “The only people that know what I’ve just told you are in this room.”
Draco lifts his head so quickly that it collides with the oven door with a dull clang. Ignoring the pain, he stares at Harry. “Are you out of your mind?” he demands hotly.
“No more so than usual,” Harry mutters, and then: “Actually, a little more so than usual. I’m not depressed, you know. I’m not like this every day, as you may have noticed, seeing as you’ve spent more time with me this week than everyone else put together. It’s a bad day today. It’s a hard day. On this day, I spend more time than usual debating the wisdom of that decision... the rest of the time, I just live with the consequences.”
“Or avoid them,” Draco points out, lifting his hand now to check the back of his head for a bump. “You never go outside. You never see anyone. Except for me, and we both know there’s very little point talking about the Gala today.” Draco pauses. No bump. “I shall resume that topic of discussion tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, good,” Potter mumbles, rolling his eyes. “I’ll look forward to that. And anyway, I see people. Hermione comes round every couple of days, Ginny and her mum if there’s some special occasion. Ron... well, he’s pretty busy with Auror training these days...”
“I’m sure,” Draco says, not bothering to hide his distaste for the Weasel. It hasn’t escaped his notice that he’s been present at nearly every confrontation Draco has shared with Potter over the years, present and making things worse. “So, your only social interaction is with Granger and a crack team of Weasels? No wonder you’re turning into such a misanthrope.”
“Said the pot as he called the kettle black,” Potter says under his breath.
“I am not a misanthrope, Potter, I have dozens of friends,” Draco says airily, but it doesn’t take him more than a second or two to realise that his closest friend is, in fact, Janice, and he wonders just when that happened. Probably around the same time that Potter gave up on the world, now he thinks about it; all his friends, the ones from his old life, are either dead, in Azkaban, or have pulled the same disappearing act as his parents.
Funny, he’s always managed to convince himself that he’s some sort of Malfoy trailblazer, but perhaps in reality he’s just... alone.
“Hmm?” he enquires, shaking himself and realising that Potter has spoken.
“I was just saying that I don’t believe you. If you had dozens of friends, you wouldn’t have spent every day this week and most of your weekend with me.”
Stung, and knowing his work-related excuses won’t hold water here, Draco doesn’t respond. He watches Harry pick at one of the scratches on his arm, bottom lip caught in his teeth in concentration, and Draco wants to slap his hand away from the healing wound for no good reason.
“So, where are all these journalists that are supposedly baying for your blood?” he says, changing the subject abruptly.
“Too many jinxes on this place for them to dare knocking at the door... at least, more than once,” Harry says without looking up. “It’s clever magic.”
“It let me pass.”
“Not clever enough, then, apparently. And anyway, I’m not really newsworthy unless I actually step outside and do something for them to report on.”
“They don’t camp outside your door,” Draco says, shifting on the floor. He’s starting to get cold, and doubts that all of this sitting on the floor can be good for anyone. “I thought they would.”
“They used to,” Harry admits. “They gave up. You don’t really have dozens of friends, do you?” he adds, changing the subject back just as sharply as Draco had.
Draco sighs. “I don’t suppose it’s as though you can tell anyone, is it? I have one mad old bint who thinks she’s my mother, one incompetent house-elf, and... well, you.”
“I’m not your friend, Malfoy,” Harry sighs, but he almost looks amused.
“I know. I just wanted my list to sound longer. In fact, two things aren’t even really a list,” Draco says.
“How many of them left the country?”
“So, they all ran away from their problems,” Harry says, sounding angry. He continues his picking.
Draco shrugs. “Yeah. Just like you’re doing.”
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s true, though.”
Harry makes an impatient sound and levers himself to his feet. “I’m making coffee.”
“You do that.”
“Do you want some?” Harry asks, rubbing a hand over his stubbled chin and watching Draco drag himself stiffly into a standing position without offering to help.
“What do you think?”
When Harry’s reason for ejecting Draco from his house that evening is “I need to get some sleep, Malfoy”, Draco doesn’t bother hiding his feeling of satisfaction. It’s wet and cold, and night is beginning to fall, but he still walks a good distance into London before heading home, rain soaking into his hair and clothes and Harry’s words swimming around in his head.
‘All the light and the peace and the calm was gone. Waiting is a good word. I’ll know it when I see it.’
Draco wraps his arms around himself as he walks, ostensibly to keep out the cold wind, and kicks at a discarded can on the pavement. Thinking.
There hadn’t really been anywhere to go after discussing Potter’s death and everything surreal that had surrounded it, so Draco had instead taken the almost comfortable silence and filled it with rantings about everyone at the Trust, Klinky, and his mother’s habit of sending him letters at five-thirty in the morning. When Potter had been taken by another urge to prepare food, Draco had watched over his shoulder and generally made a nuisance of himself, as is his specialty.
Yes, he concedes, growing tired of the elements and Apparating into the grounds of the Manor, it’s been a very strange day all round, but he has the nagging feeling that something has shifted. That something is different.
In spite of himself, he hopes so.
When Harry opens the door without a barbed remark on Monday morning, Draco’s suspicions are heightened, and when he turns around from removing his coat to look at him, they are confirmed.
Granted, he still looks scruffy; his fashion sense is beyond help and his socks still don’t match, but he appears well-rested. The shadows are all but gone from under his eyes, he has shaved, and there is more colour in his face than Draco remembers seeing in years.
“You look... healthy,” Draco mutters, leaning close enough in his scrutiny to notice that he smells like coffee and something fresh, tangy, like the ocean.
“Gosh, thanks, Malfoy,” comes the dry response, and Draco steps back. Coughs.
“I meant in comparison to how terrible you usually look,” he snaps. “Let’s proceed directly to coffee, shall we?”
“Who died and left you a superiority complex?” Harry says, and Draco’s eyes snap to his at his use of the word ‘died’.
For a long few seconds they stare, and Draco searches for some hint of the previous day’s melancholy, but finds none. Finally, one corner of Harry’s mouth lifts in a cautious smile, and he shrugs.
“I think it’s only tasteless to joke about a death if it’s... well, permanent,” Harry says.
Draco snorts. “As if I’d worry about offending your delicate sensibilities. Seriously, coffee?”
“Seriously,” Harry mocks, pushing past him to get to the kitchen. “I’ll give you the whole pot if you don’t mention the word ‘Gala’ all day.”
“Poor bargaining skills,” Draco mutters to himself and ducks out of the way of a marauding Mrs Norris as he passes the staircase. He thinks that might be useful for future reference.
And it is.
Draco quickly finds that coffee itself is a very efficient bargaining tool when it comes to this man. Making a pot—according to Harry’s very specific directions—buys him half an hour of canvassing, persuading and nagging about the sodding Gala, a deal which Draco abuses until he himself can barely stand to think about the godforsaken event any more. Never mind convince Potter that it’s a good idea.
Still, his campaign to prod Harry out into the real world goes on, and Draco suspects that it’s not as much about President Cholmondely’s wrath as he tells himself it is. Harry is being completely irrational, and it’s driving Draco to absolute distraction.
As the second week of May wears on, Draco is mildly alarmed to realise that they are developing a routine. Harry’s initial protests that his own ‘schedule’ is being upset by Draco’s constant presence are, Draco thinks, feeble, and are ignored as such.
“Do whatever you’d normally do, then,” Draco says, carrying the coffee pot and cups into the worn-but-comfortable living room to which they now decamp in the afternoons now that the kitchen has been declared “too cold in this ridiculous weather.” “I’m intrigued to see the thrilling programme that is a day in the life of Harry Potter. Or do you think it might be too exciting for me?”
“I don’t know, Draco, I wouldn’t want to over-stimulate you. Who knows what could happen?” Potter snipes, taking his cup from Draco and slumping into his favourite chair, the one nearest the fire.
“Funny. I don’t need to be entertained,” Draco sniffs. He settles himself in Harry’s second-favourite seat, a squishy velvet armchair, and reaches for the shiny magazine that he’s halfway through reading. He only began reading it in the first place to irritate a particularly grumpy Potter, but he guiltily enjoyed the gossipy articles and the pictures of pretty people with red rings drawn around their physical flaws.
“My arse,” Harry snorts. “I’ll ask Ginny for some more of those magazines, shall I?”
Draco ignores him, dragging his chair closer to the fire. He gets comfortable, crossing one ankle over the opposite knee, balancing his magazine against his leg and his coffee cup on the palm of his hand. Partly because he hadn’t lied—he has always held his cup this way—and partly because Harry hates it.
“Give me a minute, Potter. It’s Gala time as soon as I’ve finished my coffee, and I know how much you enjoy that. Janice has made me some lovely visual aids today, too,” Draco says absently, examining an advertisement for revolting dress robes at fifty percent off.
“Will you just use a fucking coaster?” Harry explodes, and Draco looks up.
Instinctively, his fingers curl more tightly around the cup, pressing fingertips against the ceramic until it almost hurts. “What? Why?”
“Because you’re going to burn your sodding hand,” Harry grinds out, crossing his arms and looking into the fire.
“Didn’t know you cared, Potter,” Draco says, mouth twitching at the corners.
“I don’t. Shut up. And I’m not coming to your Gala, so tell Janice I’m sorry she wasted her time.”
“Why not?” Draco asks, partly because he gets a different answer almost every time, and partly because this is just his line, his part, in the little play that he and Harry perform every day.
“Because it’s not safe.”
“Any of it. The people. The places. You can’t make me.” Harry scowls, looking—just for a second—like a five-year-old. Draco snorts.
“As if I would.”
“Just saying. Hermione’s been trying for the past twelve months and she’s a lot smarter and nicer and stubborner than you are.”
“I don’t think ‘stubborner’ is a word, you know,” Draco points out, just for the hell of it.
“Oh, god. Will you fuck off?”
“I was only trying to read my magazine,” Draco says mildly, knowing he’s winding Potter up something rotten, and it feels wonderful. He heaves a contented sigh and turns the page, stretching his free hand closer to the fire and letting the licking flames warm it.
“So, this is your plan? If you practically move your snarky, infuriating arse into my house, then I’ll want to go out all of a sudden? Is that your master-plan? Annoying me into socialising?” Harry grumbles. Draco doesn’t need to look up properly to know that he’s scratching at his hair and sighing and practically inhaling his coffee. It’s all part of the routine.
“It is if it’s working,” Draco says. “Now be quiet, unless you’d like to hear about how Grendel from the Weird Sisters ‘got her look’.”
“I hate you, Malfoy.”
Draco smiles. “Apparently, it’s all about layering. Isn’t that fascinating?”
“Thrilling. You may have just out-gayed yourself.”
Startled, Draco looks up cautiously; Harry has never made a single reference to sexuality, and if Draco’s honest he was beginning to worry that he was completely sexless. Now, he’s not looking at Draco but at the ceiling, an odd little smile on his face.
“You may be right,” Draco says at last, heart racing. “Now, would you like to see Janice’s visual aids or would you like to hear about Celestina Warbeck’s tragic childhood?”
Harry throws a cushion at him. Draco reads him the article.
Early on Tuesday morning with two weeks to go until the dreaded event (and still no capitulation from Potter) Draco hums to himself as he compiles a list of tasks for Janice that don’t require legible handwriting.
He’s feeling surprisingly good-natured for this time of the morning and has eaten two ginger biscuits and a fig roll without being asked. Now that he’s eating at least one and often two proper meals a day, he finds that he’s actually ravenous by the time he gets to the office, and while his clothes still fit, Janice hasn’t remarked upon his weight for well over a week, which can only be a good thing.
Even so, Draco’s high spirits make very little sense. With the twenty-fifth approaching rapidly, the task of trying to organise the fucking thing at his own house is sending his stress levels through the roof, and he can no longer recall why he volunteered the Manor in the first place. Trying to curry favour with bitch-face Cholmondely, no doubt. Draco casts a glance at the photograph on his desk and sighs.
Whenever he goes home there are workmen and decorators and elves everywhere, which is a good enough excuse for spending even more time at Potter’s place. Not that he needs an excuse. Obviously.
“Mr Malfoy!” bellows her highness as she shuffles past the office door. She stops and wraps her glittering, liver-spotted hand around the doorframe. Draco stops humming immediately.
“Yes, Ma’am?” Draco says, schooling his features and looking up. His sleeves are rolled up, and he instinctively flattens his palms to the desk, hiding his left inner forearm from view.
“Do we have a confirmation?”
Draco grits his teeth, meets her piggy eyes, and smiles. And lies. “Ever so close now, President Cholmondely.”
“You are skating on very thin ice, Mr Malfoy. Very thin ice indeed,” she rasps, showering the doorframe with saliva. Draco cringes inwardly. “Get it done.”
Draco watches her leave, leaning in his chair to peer out of the open doorway until she’s out of sight.
“Very thin ice, Mr Malfoy,” he mocks, making a face at his list. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“That you look very happy for someone who’s just been told off?”
Draco looks up slowly. Janice, who is sitting behind her desk and slurping from her cat cup, has been watching everything without a word.
“That wasn’t an actual request, Janice,” he says.
“So you were talking to yourself again, then.” She scrunches up her face, disappointment written into every wrinkle. “I thought you were getting better, actually. Thought Mr Potter was good for you.”
Draco’s eyebrows shoot up. “What on earth gave you that idea?”
“I don’t think you need me to tell you that,” Janice says mysteriously, abandoning her cup and heaving herself out of her chair so she can cross the office and pet a restless Esme.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Draco retorts. Scandalised, he scribbles a couple of particularly nasty jobs at the bottom of the list, leans over his desk and thrusts it into her hand.
Janice sighs and shakes her head. Esme hoots. “I know,” Janice says, and Draco doesn’t think she’s talking to him.
Though he stubbornly denies head-space to his secretary’s unhinged speculations, Draco knows how it must look. And there’s no denying that he and Harry are incorporating one another into their respective routines. He’s never considered himself a creature of habit, but now his day includes Lunch Time and Reading Time and Gala Time and a regular rhythm of coffee and arguing that feels so familiar, he’s not sure how he ever got along without it.
When Granger comes round, he’s mostly quiet, particularly as he’s no longer required to be sneaky about talking to the cupboard. In fact, he especially enjoys the look of jealousy and indignation on Granger’s face that he can do something and she can’t.
‘I also know that he died,’ the bitter, petty part of him wants to taunt her, but he squashes it. He feels proud of himself for doing so, and he surprises himself by feeling even prouder when it’s obvious she’s starting to get used to him. The first “What do you think, Draco?” stuns him into silence, but not for too long.
On a drizzly Thursday morning, Draco yanks open Harry’s door to find her on the doorstep, shielding her hair with a stripy umbrella. Her dark eyes are puzzled, and Draco stares at her for a moment, coffee cup balanced in hand, as a flash of roles-reversed déjà-vu strikes him.
“Hello, Granger. Nice umbrella.” He steps back and lets her in. Watches her eyes stray to the exposed Mark on his arm, the one that Harry hasn’t even commented on, and tenses. After a moment, she shrugs and returns the greeting, and Draco breathes.
“He’s upstairs,” Draco says, wrinkling his nose as he thinks about why. Harry is changing his t-shirt after an unfortunate Mrs Norris-related incident that Draco would rather not revisit, and he doubts that Granger would relish the details so close to lunchtime.
“Draco? Is that ’Mione? Tell her I’ll be down in a sec, OK?” Harry bellows down the stairs.
Granger’s face is wonderful. Warmed inside, Draco rolls his eyes and yells back: “What did your last slave die of, exactly?”
“Some wanker from the Miserable Little Children’s Foundation talked him to death,” Harry says as he traipses down the stairs, still pulling his down his clean t-shirt as he joins them.
Draco watches as the last couple of inches of flat, pale belly and angular hipbones disappear under dark red cotton, and then looks hurriedly at Granger, who couldn’t look more curious if she tried.
“I’m hurt,” he snarks, but his heart isn’t really in it.
“Poor Draco,” Potter says dramatically, and then turns away from him. “Come on, ’Mione, I’ve got a lovely story about feline projectile vomiting to tell you over coffee.”
Draco lets them go, gazing at the front door and realizing that he never closed it. The pitiful drizzle has made an impressive puddle in the hallway. He Vanishes it and slams the door shut.
“It was your turn to finish this coffee, Draco, you miserable bugger!” comes the grousing from the kitchen. “Would it have killed you to push the fucking plunger?”
Draco sighs. He’s not sure if Harry calls him ‘Draco’ to wind him up, or if he has other, covert reasons, but either way, he’s doing it a lot more these days. Draco doesn’t really mind any more. Even when he realises that by virtue of both of them using one another’s given names, Harry has won.
By mid-May, Draco has given up fighting, at least for the most part. He’s given up fighting the routine, and he’s given up fighting Granger’s bizarre and sometimes clumsy attempts to be his friend. He’s given up arguing with Janice and her frequent insinuations about how much time he’s spending at the Black house. He’s also given up fighting the urge to get to Harry’s place that little bit earlier each morning so that he doesn’t miss breakfast.
And that’s the reason, despite anything Janice might have to say for herself. If doing so makes him ‘worryingly happy’, then so be it. The thought that Harry himself might be the thing that’s actually putting the smile on his face is a scary one, so Draco pushes it away.
Still, he finds himself knocking on the door of the Black house at somewhere between nine-thirty and ten every morning, and that’s just the way things are. Until the day that Mrs Cholmondely has what Draco can only surmise is some kind of funny turn, and spends almost the entire morning in his office, yakking away to a baffled-looking Janice.
Trapped, Draco simmers quietly behind his desk, making nonsensical additions to his myriad to-do lists and despising the horrible old bugger more than ever. Now his office smells like old lady, and not the cats-and-over-stewed-tea kind of old lady that he’s grown to accept, but the cloying aroma of floral perfume and entitlement and self-importance. Draco doesn’t really know exactly what that smells like, but he knows it’s here in his office and he hates it.
And this is where not running away gets him, apparently. It gets him frightened to move in case a horrible old woman steps on his life and squashes it, and it gets him out of a delicious breakfast cooked by Harry Potter.
By the time she finally leaves with a warning to Draco that he barely hears (though he does pick out the words ‘Gala’ and ‘trouble’ a couple of times), it’s after eleven.
“Go on, then,” Janice urges, jerking her head in the direction of the door. “Hurry up.”
Draco doesn’t need to be told twice. Janice smiles to herself and doesn’t even scold him when he leaves without his gloves and scarf.
“You’re late,” Harry says accusingly as he lets Draco inside. A strange little frown creases his forehead, forming a line between his eyebrows. “Mrs N and I had to eat your bacon.”
“Sorry,” Draco says, flooded with hot irritation and prickling guilt. He takes off his coat and follows Harry into the kitchen, searching for a conciliatory remark and then remembering what he’d seen during his extra-long wait on the doorstep. “But, hey, your next door neighbour’s painted his house purple, did you see?”
“Really?” Harry asks, turning around, coffee pot in hand, and Draco’s stomach flips over.
Fuck. It’s nothing; it’s a nothing moment, but he looks so open and relaxed and genuinely interested to hear whatever mundane or bizarre excuse Draco has to offer him, and it’s just... right. And he wants. He wants so badly that he can’t think of a single word to say, even though Harry is staring at him now, green eyes narrowed, and if that’s concern on his face then Draco thinks he might cry.
Dully, Draco wonders whether it’s possible that his voice has stopped working. And his brain.
“Oi, fuckface!” Harry shouts, waving a hand in his face, and he snaps out of his panic with a jolt, dragging great gulps of air into his lungs and holding tightly onto something in his hands—ah, his coat—and meeting Harry’s eyes with exaggerated composure.
“Fuckface?” he repeats, lifting an eyebrow. Cool on the outside, racing and crackling on the inside, as is the Malfoy way. “There’s no need for that.”
“I was just trying to get your attention,” Harry shrugs. “You looked like you were having a seizure.”
The words are so matter-of-fact that Draco wants to laugh. Try as he might to suppress it, a reluctant smile breaks through, and Harry returns it, shaking his head slowly.
“I’m fine,” Draco says, and pulls up a kitchen chair. For some reason, he doesn’t quite trust the integrity of his legs right now.
“You’re fucked in the head,” Harry mutters, heating oil in the frying pan and tossing in bacon.
Draco watches his movements, watches his slight sway as he stands there at the stove, as though he can never quite stand still, watches one green sock and one argyle scuffle across the tiles. Watches his own palm approach his face and connect, hard, hoping to bash in some sense.
“Fucked... in the head,” Harry sings to himself, poking at the bacon and tilting his head on one side.
“Not going to argue with that,” Draco mumbles, giving in and continuing to watch him through the gaps in his fingers.
Over the next couple of days, Draco tries his utmost not to notice just how fucked in the head he’s actually becoming. Best practice, he decides, is to carry on as normal, and that might have worked, had he any idea what ‘normal’ looked like any more.
When he’s alone, he strains to remember what his life used to be like before Potter sent the letters back and somehow became the centre of his universe, but it’s no good.
When he’s with Harry, he holds tightly onto those terrifying feelings, keeps them secret, but he knows it’s only getting worse. The only thing keeping him sane is the certainty that Harry doesn’t have a clue, and it’s a flimsy barricade between Draco and the horror of admitting that he might be falling in love with Harry Potter.
Because somehow, worst of all, they’re friends now. Not in so many words, of course, but Draco knows it’s true. Their routine is unchanged—they snipe and drink coffee and read to one another, Harry from dusty old books and Draco from his fresh supply of glossy magazines, and Draco harangues and wheedles and prods at Harry to leave the house, but they both know it’s not about the Gala any more.
In fact, Draco thinks as he strides along the corridor to his office, he hasn’t mentioned it in two whole days, despite having spent most of his daylight hours in Harry’s company. And despite everything he’s been trying not to think about, that is the moment that he realises he’s in trouble.
In more ways than one.
Of course, there’s the issue of developing inconvenient feelings for a bad-tempered, probably straight shut-in, Draco supposes, but there’s also the issue of the bulky, fuchsia-draped behemoth that’s currently bearing down on him from the direction of his office. Hoping against hope that maybe she hasn’t seen him, Draco flattens himself against the wall, unbuttoned coat flapping around him.
“Mr Malfoy,” her highness booms, stepping right into Draco’s personal space. So much for blending into the wall, then. “Why is it that you have an office, and yet you are never in it?”
“Sorry, President Cholmondely,” he says, gritting his teeth and renewing his efforts to become one with the wall in an effort not to choke on her perfume as she steps closer, boxing him in. “On my way there now, if I could just...”
“This is your last chance, young man,” she interrupts, and the familiar address—out of context here—lacks all of Janice’s rough warmth. “We have seven days to go. Seven. I have been more than patient. You will tell me what I want to hear, or you can go into your office and pack up your things. And believe me,” she adds, spraying Draco’s face with a light shower of saliva, “I will make sure that you never work in the charity community again.”
Draco closes his eyes, not daring to raise a hand to wipe his face. Taking a second, he reins in his instinctive shudder and clamps down all of the words that want to explode out of his mouth and attack the old woman. He knows he could cut her down with a few well-chosen phrases, and his fingers scrape at the polished stone with the effort of not doing so.
He’s small, he’s expendable, and he has someone else’s spit on his face. Draco thinks of all the people he used to know, and what they’d say if they could see him like this, and then he thinks of Harry. Of what he’d say.
In Draco’s mind, in that split second, he imagines Harry with a look of painful disgust on his face. Draco wishes he knew who it was for.
“Speak, Mr Malfoy, or have you forgotten how?” she snaps, breathing all over him, and he opens his eyes.
“He’s coming, Ma’am. Harry Potter. He’ll be there.”
The president’s little eyes narrow in consideration, and then she nods, mouth twisted into her approximation of a smile. It’s a bloodless, self-satisfied one at that, and Draco keeps his face expressionless.
“As you were, Mr Malfoy,” she says briskly, stepping back and resuming her journey toward her own floor and her own office.
Draco exhales messily and slumps against the wall, searching his pockets for a bit of parchment which he distractedly Transfigures into a handkerchief. He wipes his face and lets his arms fall to his sides. When his eyes sting, he closes them. It doesn’t help.
“Want a cup of tea, love?” Janice calls, and Draco laughs painfully, eyes still closed.
“I’m an idiot,” he says, and shuffling footsteps tell him she has stepped into the corridor.
“He didn’t say yes yet, did he?”
Draco shakes his head. “What am I going to do?”
“Opening your eyes might be a good start,” Janice advises, and when Draco obeys, he finds her clutching her cat cup in one hand, while the other holds out a chocolate biscuit to Draco.
He takes it, sighs, and pointedly nibbles around the edges under her watchful gaze. The chocolate actually makes him feel a little better, but it’s going to take more than that. “Thanks, Jan.”
“You should go and explain.” She purses her lips and Draco snorts, watching a fat tortoiseshell wind itself lazily around the handle of her cup. “Mr Potter’s a reasonable man. He’ll understand.”
Draco’s eyes snap up to meet hers. “And if not?”
“He’ll understand,” Janice repeats stoutly.
“And if not?”
“I know a place in Knockturn Alley where you can get Polyjuice for a very reasonable price,” she offers.
Draco’s mouth twists in distaste, panic momentarily forgotten. “Janice!”
The old lady smiles and gives him a rough pat on the arm. “He’ll understand.”
“Why would you do that?” Harry rages, pacing back and forth across the kitchen tiles.
Draco leans against the counter, fingers laced into his hair as he tries to squeeze his headache into submission with the heels of his hands. He can’t be sure how long this argument has been going on for, but it feels like he’s aged several years in the process.
Harry Potter, ‘reasonable man’, does not understand. Draco – one, Janice – nil.
“Because I’m fucking desperate, Potter! You know how important this is. I panicked, alright?”
Harry turns at the end of the kitchen and resumes pacing. “No, not alright! I’m not coming. I can’t!”
“What the hell am I supposed to do, then?” Draco demands, feeling sick.
“Tell her you lied. Tell her you made a mistake. Tell her you were on drugs. I don’t care, just fix it,” Harry rambles, panic-stricken. Eyes fearful and hands everywhere, he looks simultaneously like something Draco wants to shake and something he wants to protect, and his head throbs harder.
“I can’t,” he says for what feels like the hundredth time. “I’ll lose my job.”
“Why is your stupid job more important than my safety?” Harry stops, just feet away from Draco, hands on hips.
“It’s not,” Draco snaps. “You’re such a drama queen. I know you don’t like it... and I’m sorry. I don’t like it either. But I...” Draco sighs and rubs a hand over his face before letting both fall to wrap around the edge of the counter. “I suppose I thought we could work something out. I thought we were friends, and...” he shrugs wordlessly, knowing the risk he’s just taken, and equally knowing that it’s only half the truth.
Harry’s face, so much more expressive of late, shifts rapidly between astonishment, shame and finally irritation. “You can’t guilt me into this, Draco. If you think I’m holding out on you just to punish you, then you’re more self-centred than I thought. I can’t do it, OK? I can’t.”
The plea in his voice hooks into Draco’s chest and pulls hard. Closing his eyes for a second, he takes a deep breath and tries another tack. “It’s at my house. I can set up a direct, secure Floo connection, just for the night. Or we can Apparate right into the Manor grounds. You’d only have to step fifty feet out of your front door. As for the Gala itself, all you’d have to do is—”
“No.” Harry shakes his head, jaw set.
Groaning out loud, Draco presses a calm tone into his voice. “You can’t build a life around being safe and calm all the time. That’s not how it works.”
“It can work that way if I want it to.”
“You’re a wanker, do you know that?” Draco says, glaring, and knowing that nothing he feels for Harry will ever change that.
“Have to be,” Harry snarks, sitting down heavily on the table. “Call-girls get kind of boring after a while.”
“Oh, ha ha.” Draco forces a sneer and looks away. His gut wrenches at the very idea, and the last thing he needs is for Harry to see it written all over his face. Aching, and without a better idea, he kicks out: “Doesn’t the she-Weasel service your every need any more?”
“Don’t talk about her like that, Malfoy.” Harry’s voice is cold, and Draco doesn’t look up.
“So, you are still...”
“If you must know, we haven’t been together since school,” Harry snaps, and there’s a creak as he props up his feet on a chair. “Why the unhealthy interest in my love life all of a sudden? Or are you just trying to divert attention away from the incredibly presumptuous thing you did this morning?”
Flooded with the cold fear that he knows somehow, Draco looks at him now, but as soon as they make eye contact, he knows that his fear is unfounded. There’s nothing there but anger and hurt, as though that’s any better.
As he opens his mouth to speak, a sudden yowling from the hallway makes both of them turn. Raising his eyes to the ceiling, Harry gets up and finds a glare for Draco before stomping off to find out what fresh havoc Mrs Norris is wreaking this time.
“Well, this is going well,” Draco says to the empty kitchen. He rubs his eyes.
Flap, flap, flap, says the cupboard.
“Thanks for that,” Draco mutters, not finding the interjection in any way helpful.
There’s silence for a long moment, and then the cupboard swings wide open and begins flapping in earnest, making the most intolerable racket and swinging so violently that it yanks at its hinges. Alarmed, and with his headache intensifying rapidly, Draco steps away from the counter and watches with a vague sense of horror as the topmost hinge gives way and the heavy door tilts with an awful, thin creaking sound.
Finally, the flapping ceases. Draco can still hear yowling and spitting from some room beyond the stairs, but he doesn’t feel like throwing himself in front of a moody Mrs Norris right now.
“What was all that about, then?” he murmurs, watching as the cupboard creaks pitifully, as though searching for its missing hinge.
Another creak, and Draco laughs shortly. “While I appreciate your efforts to diffuse the tension, I think you may have gone a little too far. Now stay still,” he instructs, searching for the misplaced hinge on the floor and finding it somewhere near the door.
Draco sighs and hoists himself up onto the counter, one hand braced against the cool marble. Kneeling up, he heaves the still-protesting door back into place and draws his wand. He’s far from expert at Construction Charms, but this looks simple enough. It barely occurs to him to wonder why he’s bothering and when he does, he shakes the answer away because it hurts.
“There,” he says, a small smile tugging at his lips as he sits back on his heels on the counter several minutes later.
Hinge mended and replaced, the cupboard flaps cautiously back and forth.
“I should think so,” Draco says.
A sound at the kitchen door makes him turn. Harry stands there, face unreadable, with his arms full of a struggling, spitting Mrs Norris.
“No surprises that you’re good at fixing cabinets, eh, Malfoy?”
Draco stares at him, feeling as though he’s been punched in the stomach. Harry’s whole manner—his eyes, his tone, his posture—is so devoid of expression that it’s like that very first day all over again. That Potter, who openly admitted to disliking him. Hurt, really hurt this time, Draco slithers down until he’s sitting on the counter with his legs dangling and his hands in his lap.
“Thought you weren’t keeping score,” he says softly, and the green eyes flicker.
For a moment, Harry looks as though he wants to speak, but then he sighs and walks back out of the kitchen without a word. Mrs Norris jumps down from his arms and bounds up onto the counter beside Draco. She sits, wrapping her scruffy tail around herself, gazing at Draco. He knows she’s not allowed on the counter, but he doesn’t care. Rashly, he reaches out a hand to scratch her head and she lets him.
Draco waits. Above him, the cupboard flaps gently and Mrs Norris, apparently pleased by his emboldened stroking, purrs in a soothing rhythm. And he waits. Waits for Harry to come back and say he didn’t mean it, so that Draco can apologise again about Mrs Cholmondely and they can finish their argument. But Harry doesn’t come back.
Finally, Draco slides down from the counter, takes his coat, and walks out of the house into the afternoon sunshine, angry and confused and scared. When he stalks into his office, sits down, and drops his head against the desk, Janice just lets him.
He half-listens as she moves around the office and murmurs to Esme, unsticking his forehead from the desk and pillowing it on folded arms instead. Taking a deep breath, he pretends he’s somewhere else and, steeling himself, takes down the barricade that’s just about holding him together. In amongst the pain and dread which floods him immediately, washing around his insides, is an out-of-place thrill of excitement that just makes Draco want to curl up under his desk and hide from the world.
From Potter... no, from Harry. Potter is a familiar entity, one he can deal with, but Harry is something different entirely, something unexpected. Something that’s difficult, but not difficult in the tiresome, lonely, swimming-against-the-tide way that he’s accustomed to. Because of Harry, he’s lost his discipline, his walls, and his untidy heart. Harry is everything that Draco has always known Potter to be, but he’s more than that, more than the front.
He’s warm and clever and thoughtful. He’s a bit mad, too, but then maybe so is Draco. Whatever he is, Draco’s world has colours in it now, and he doesn’t want to let them go.
But... he’s let Harry down. And yes, what Harry said was hateful; it was constructed to hurt, and it did hurt. It does hurt. But perhaps he’s right, and Draco hasn’t really changed that much after all and he does only care about himself. The trouble is, Draco thinks, pressing his mouth against the soft wool of his coat sleeve, the trouble is that that just isn’t true any more. He cares very much indeed for someone at least as idiotic as himself.
And he’s so incredibly fucked.
When he lifts his head, the first thing he sees is the steaming cup of tea sitting on the edge of his desk. Despite the dull ache in his chest, he smiles across the room at the one person on whom he can always rely, however this madness with Potter ends.
“I’m guessing that the only real crisis occurs when we run out of tea,” he says, hating how rough his voice sounds.
Janice clutches her cat cup more tightly, aghast. “Don’t even joke about it, love.”
“Sorry.” Draco pulls his cup closer and warms his hands on it.
“He didn’t take it well?”
Draco shakes his head dully. “No. He says he won’t come,” he offers, wanting to tell her the whole story but thinking better of it just in time.
“And that’s it. My career is over; her highness will make sure of that. My parents...” Draco trails off, glancing at the photograph with renewed guilt.
“Your parents aren’t here,” Janice says briskly. “Never mind that. What about Mr Potter?”
“Nothing about him,” Draco mutters.
“Oh, nothing,” Janice mocks, coral lips twisting into a sardonic smirk. “Because it’s funny... usually you come in here after you’ve seen him and you’re humming, and smiling, and glowing—”
“Glowing?” Draco interrupts, both eyebrows shooting up in disbelief.
“Yes, don’t interrupt. In my day—”
“In your day, nice young men didn’t interrupt?”
“No, they didn’t. Shush. And today, you walked in, banged your head against the desk and stayed there for the best part of an hour. Did you upset him or did he upset you?” Janice enquires as though she’s asking Draco whether he wants custard creams or shortbread fingers with his tea.
Draco sighs, feeling suddenly exhausted. “Well, I upset him... and then I upset him some more, and then he upset me. Quite badly, if you must know.”
“Did you apologise?”
“Yes,” Draco snaps, hoping that glaring at Janice will make her go away, or at least make her less of a busybody.
“Did you let him?”
“What the fuck is this, Janice, twenty questions?” Draco explodes, knowing that no, he didn’t really let Harry apologise.
“Language. Drink your tea,” she says, swinging back and forth in her chair. “And then go over there and sort this silly thing out before I do it for you,” she adds darkly.
“That’s a terrifying thought,” Draco says, and it is. The idea of Janice turning up on Harry’s doorstep and barging her way in gives him the horrors, although there is a small and interesting chance that she’d want to adopt Mrs Norris. “And it’s not a silly little thing.” He scowls.
Janice snorts. “Feelings are always extremely silly. That’s just how it is.”
Draco flushes. “He certainly doesn’t—”
“I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about you. Stop arguing with me, young man,” she adds, and her watery blue eyes gleam with pure challenge.
As Draco sits there, attempting to stare her down, that spark of anticipation makes itself known once more, and he folds. “Fine. But if I don’t make it out of there alive, it’ll be on your conscience.”
Janice merely gives him a look, and he pushes back his chair and makes for the door.
“Why have you got your coat on?” she says suddenly.
Draco turns to fix her with a withering glance. “Seriously?”
“It’s a lovely spring day, what’s the matter with you?”
Draco glares, takes off his coat, and throws it at her.
The light is fading as Draco makes the familiar journey to the Black house, and Janice, as usual, is right; it’s a lovely spring day and he doesn’t need his coat. The last of the sun’s rays filter warmly through his thin shirt and cast a long shadow in front of him as he stands on the pavement outside Harry’s place.
The door flies open almost immediately after he knocks and the relief in Harry’s eyes at the sight of him is painfully obvious. Draco’s heart leaps to see it, and he suddenly has no idea what to say. He’s never cared so much about falling out with a friend—because that’s what they are, whatever that ache in his chest is insisting—and he’s ill-equipped to deal with the situation.
“Draco,” Harry says simply.
“Indeed,” he says pointlessly, lifting an awkward hand to rub at the back of his neck.
“About what I said... I didn’t... it’s just...”
“It doesn’t matter,” Draco interrupts, even though it does, because all of a sudden he doesn’t think he can stand to hear the apology.
“Well, it does, but... alright.” Harry shuffles in place, eyes repentant, and Draco finds a small smile for him. The one he receives in return warms him so much that he has to look away. “I’m glad you came back,” Harry forges on. “I wanted to show you something.”
Draco lifts an eyebrow, but follows Harry into the house without comment. When Harry starts up the stairs, his fragile composure almost breaks, and when Mrs Norris barrels out of nowhere and claws viciously at his leg, he loses it and fills the air with a barrage of increasingly creative expletives.
“And after we were getting along so well earlier,” he grumbles, rubbing his calf and stumbling after Harry along the landing. “Fucking cat. She’s mentally ill, Harry. Either that or she just particularly enjoys toying with me.”
“I really wouldn’t take it personally,” Harry says without turning around.
“She hates me!”
“She hates everyone, Draco.” Harry pushes open a door at the end of the landing and motions for Draco to follow him.
“No, she hates me. I can tell. She’s obnoxious. What is it with you and taking in stray animals?”
“Well, I took you in, didn’t I?” Harry mutters, kicking the door shut and looking exasperated. “Now shut up and lie down.”
“Lie down?” Draco tries to smooth down the spike of excitement-slash-terror the instruction evokes, but the amusement in Harry’s eyes isn’t helping one little bit. “Lie down where, anyway?” he asks, frowning and looking around at the bare green carpet.
“Here.” Harry walks into the centre of the room and lowers himself onto the carpet. When Draco continues to hover by the door, he rolls his eyes and pats the floor next to him. “Sit the fuck down, Malfoy.”
“All this time you’ve been trying to convince me you’re not insane,” Draco mutters, but he relinquishes the safety of the door and drops obediently to the carpet beside Harry.
“Shut up. Now lie down, and just look.” Harry flops onto his back, pillowing his arms behind his head.
Heart racing, Draco affects his best ‘there is something desperately wrong with you’ look and stretches out beside Harry. The carpet is thick and surprisingly soft, and he sinks his fingers into it as he waits for this to make sense.
“Look at the ceiling, not at me,” Harry murmurs.
Unaware he’d been staring, Draco feels his face heat. Biting the inside of his mouth hard, he turns his eyes to the ceiling and forgets to control the gasp that escapes. He’s only ever seen anything like this once before, and that was at Hogwarts. In place of the usual white, moulded ceiling is a stunning blue sky, littered with softly moving clouds and streaked with the orange and gold fingers of the setting sun, and Draco knows instantly that he’s seeing an exact representation of the sky outside.
The sky that Harry hasn’t really seen for well over a year.
“Speechless, Draco? I never thought I’d see the day,” comes Harry’s voice from just inches away, and Draco laughs softly.
“I might be a little bit impressed,” he admits, tilting his face up into the evening sun. He’s not sure if the feeling of warmth is real or imagined, but he relishes it all the same.
“You said you wanted to go to the park.”
Draco catches his breath. “Did I?”
“Yep. And this is the best I can do. You should know, I don’t usually let anyone else come in here... except ’Mione, when she helped me with the ceiling,” Harry admits.
“I’m honoured,” Draco says, trying to inject a note of sarcasm into his voice with limited success.
“You should be,” Harry says, and Draco hears his smile. He keeps his eyes fixed upon the sky-ceiling, but when Harry fidgets next to him and somehow ends up closer, almost close enough to touch, his clean-coffee-ocean scent catches Draco’s nostrils and it’s impossible not to look at him, just for a moment.
“What?” Harry asks, almost in a whisper. The soft light makes his pale skin glow and his hair flops across one eye.
Draco clears his throat and sweeps his fingers through the pile of the carpet. “I bet we could Transfigure some proper grass. You know... if you really wanted to go all out with pretending you were in the park.”
Harry grins. “Aha. Did it once. The carpet was sticky for a week afterwards.”
Snorting, Draco stops stroking the carpet and folds his arms over his chest, pulling his knees up and resting his feet flat against the floor. “Isn’t your own backyard safe?”
“Yeah, of course.” Harry shrugs beside him. “But there’s no grass. This is central London, remember?”
“I have grass. Lots of it,” Draco points out.
Draco sighs, the last vestiges of the almost-forgotten argument prickling at him. “We did that one, I think.”
Beside him, Harry makes a soft sound of understanding. “Oh, yeah.” He pauses. “I was joking... about the call-girls, you know?”
“I’d never have guessed,” Draco says drily, still a tiny bit relieved.
“I know you don’t understand, you know... about the going outside. You don’t have to pretend.”
Draco frowns at the golden light stretching across the ceiling. “I want to, though.”
“Oh.” Harry shifts again, settling his arms by his sides, and Draco knows he’s being stared at but he doesn’t trust himself to meet Harry’s eyes. “Why?”
Draco sighs heavily and shakes his head. Before he knows what he’s doing, the arm nearest Harry is dropping to the carpet, and he doesn’t need to look to know that their hands are dangerously close. The hammering inside his ribcage is so violent that he thinks it must be audible. And then, and he doesn’t know which of them shifts that fraction of an inch, but one of them does, and their fingers are brushing, and it’s more frightening than anything Draco can think of in that moment.
“How much of it will I need to do so that your boss doesn’t kill you?” Harry asks, and when an astonished Draco forces himself to look, he’s staring fixedly at the ceiling with his features arranged in an expression of grim determination. The fading sun highlights the angles of his profile and he looks magnificent.
Seizing his tattered courage, Draco brushes his fingertips lightly over the back of Harry’s hand. When there’s no resistance, he lets them rest there and looks back at the ceiling, mind racing.
“I don’t know... a short speech, dinner, perhaps a bit of mingling with some of those important rich people. You wouldn’t have to stay the whole night,” he says, hardly daring to hope.
“I hate giving speeches,” Harry mutters. He taps his fingers gently underneath Draco’s as though in contemplation, but doesn’t pull them away. Finally, he sighs. “OK. But that’s it. I’m not staying for the whole thing. And I hate Flooing, but... that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Flooded with giddy relief, Draco closes his eyes and lets the smile stretch across his face. When he opens them, Harry is gazing at him from only inches away, and just for those few seconds, Draco feels more at peace than he’s ever felt in his life.
“Really? You really will?” he presses, needing confirmation.
“Yes, Draco, I really will attend your horrible fucking Gala. I must have gone mad,” Harry laments, lifting his free hand to slap over his face. “You’ll owe me big time, of course.”
Draco laughs and wraps his hand around Harry’s on the carpet, squeezing hard and not caring. He has no idea what they’re doing here or what it means, but it feels crazy and wonderful.
“Fine. No problem. Harry, I really—” Draco breaks off, startled, as something flies almost straight into the window. There’s a soft whump and a scrabbling sound and both he and Harry sit up, hands still entangled.
“That’ll be your owl,” Harry observes, withdrawing his hand so that he can stand up and get a better look. “The one with the gender issues.”
Draco curls his fingers against his own palm, taking a moment to shake his hair into place and his brain into gear. With a sigh, he rises and opens the window to admit Esme, who goes straight to Harry to be fussed as soon as Draco has removed the letter from his leg.
The note is short and in Janice’s drunken-spider-in-the-inkpot handwriting, but Draco can just about make it out. He has the impression that she’s actually made an effort to write more neatly than usual.
“Cholmondely wants everyone on the Gala committee in her office in ten minutes,” Draco sighs, glancing up at Harry. “I’m going to have to go.”
Harry rakes a hand through his hair. “Right. Well, at least you won’t have to lie to her now,” he says lightly, mouth curving into an odd little smile.
“Thank you,” Draco says, not quite knowing what to do. He wonders if he should say goodbye, because he can’t really pretend he has an excuse to be here now that he’s solved the Gala issue, and the thought dampens his good humour quite effectively.
Harry mutters something to Esme, who nips at his finger and takes off out of the window, then turns to Draco.
“Fuck off, Malfoy.” He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The subsequent action meeting is the first Draco ever remembers enjoying. He arrives just in time, slightly breathless, and is too late to secure a chair, so he leans on the back of Janice’s and half-listens to President Cholmondely’s harsh criticism of the assembled members of Team Gala and their subsequent desperate excuses. For once, he’s out of the line of fire, and it’s a strange feeling, but he thinks he could get used to it. There’s still a lot to do over the next few days, but the way he’s feeling right now, he suspects he could handle just about anything.
Alight with success, he turns up at Harry’s door the next morning in shirtsleeves, lugging a bulky briefcase containing all of the information that Harry will need, plus all of his parchments and lists and charts. Now that he’s secured Harry’s attendance, he knows that her highness won’t be checking on him nearly so often, but there’s so much still to co-ordinate that he’s decided to move his office into Harry’s kitchen.
He suspects Harry might have something to say about it, but then Harry has something to say about most of the things Draco does. It’s good for him to have something to complain about. Janice’s expression as she’d watched him sweep the contents of his desk into the briefcase had been a gratifying mixture of smugness and alarm, and Draco had simply smiled at her.
“What the hell is that?” Harry asks now, leaning on the doorframe and pointing at Draco’s case.
“Gala stuff. I’ve made you a list of irritating rich people so you know which ones to be nice to and which ones to avoid. All manner of crap published by the Trust for your speech—statistics are always a crowd pleaser... that sort of thing,” Draco says, trailing off at the dry sound of Harry’s laughter.
“Thanks, Draco... always be prepared, eh?”
Draco blinks, puzzled. “Er, yes, I suppose so?”
He follows Harry into the kitchen, taking a moment to glare down at Mrs Norris, who has appeared from nowhere and is now winding around his legs, either being confusingly nice or attempting to trip him up.
“And there’s me thinking there’d be no more Gala talk now that I’ve given in,” Harry sighs, pouring the coffee.
“Well, perhaps now I’ll work on getting you to stay for the whole evening,” Draco says, settling himself at the kitchen table. “And anyway, I have work to do. You wouldn’t believe the amount of hassle I’m getting from the Freed Elves Catering Union. I’ve got a bone to pick with Granger when I see her,” he adds darkly, and Harry laughs again. Draco bites his lip but the smile escapes anyway.
By the time Harry turns around and approaches the table, Draco has spread out all of his parchments and is examining a disturbingly long to-do list.
Harry heaves a dramatic sigh, hands Draco his cup and sinks into a chair, dropping his chin to his forearms. Draco watches over the top of his list as Harry surveys the mountain of parchment and glossy leaflets with distaste.
“Why is this Gala taking over my life?” he demands, words muffled by his sleeve.
“Because it’s taken over mine and I’m all about the sharing?” Draco suggests, glancing at Harry and trying not to notice that he’s obviously just showered and both looks and smells delicious. “Read that one, it’s thrilling,” he adds, poking a W.O.T publication toward Harry with one finger.
“’Two decades of compassion—the history of the War Orphans Trust’,” Harry reads from the cover. “Wow, Draco, you really know how to excite a man.”
Instinctively, Draco pulls a disdainful face at him, but faced with the damp, floppy hair and warm, clean smell of right now, and the memory of the golden light and definitely-not-accidental hand-touching of the day before, he fails to produce a sarcastic retort in time.
Harry’s grin lights his whole face. “And then there was silence,” he whispers, and flips open the booklet.
As doomsday approaches, Draco continues to plan and co-ordinate and negotiate the last minute details from Harry’s kitchen table. Harry, despite his grumbling, reads everything Draco tells him to and provides a steady stream of coffee, bacon sandwiches and cakes that Draco suspects he has made himself. And, though he’s tempted to tease Harry, the cakes are good and he doesn’t want to interfere with the supply.
Draco is well aware that he’s not the only person responsible for planning this event, but it’s starting to feel like it, and it doesn’t help that he’s in charge of both the guest of honour and the venue. Still, slowly, everything starts to come together, and by the time he’s getting ready to leave the Black house on Monday evening, he’s actually beginning to believe that the whole thing might not yet be a complete disaster.
The weather, too, has fallen into line, and at last it feels like May and not the depths of winter. The night is dark but mild as Draco hovers in the hallway, hanging onto his re-packed briefcase and the handle of the open door, relishing the light breeze on his face.
Harry sits on the bottom step of the staircase and watches him. He looks tired, but a real, healthy tired, rather than the flat, colourless malaise of a month ago, and it’s a vast improvement. He’s wearing dark green, along with the usual clashing socks and faded jeans, and it looks good on him. Really good.
Draco goes to speak, hesitates, and falls silent. There’s been no mention of that almost-moment in the room with the enchanted ceiling, and though he doesn’t expect an in-depth discussion of what it might have meant, he wishes he knew all the same.
“Draco, whatever you’re freaking out about, just stop it,” Harry says, lifting his hand to cover a yawn. “It’s all going to be fine. You’re too anal for it not to be fine.”
“Charming,” Draco snaps, recovering himself. “What about you?”
“I’ll be fine, too. The Floo connection’s all set up, you’re going to be at the other side of it, my dress robes are washed and pressed and Mrs Norris is probably going to wreck the place while I’m away,” Harry sighs, ticking off the points on his fingers.
“Are you sure?” Draco says suddenly, the words spilling out before he can stop himself. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Harry laughs softly, and Draco is horrified at himself. He hadn’t meant to give Harry an out, he really hadn’t. If he takes it, everything is ruined. And yet he can’t stop himself from worrying about the neurotic bugger’s welfare. Draco grips the door handle harder.
“I’ll be there, alright? I said I’d be there, and I’ll be there.” Harry shrugs and fiddles with a trailing thread from the hem of his jeans. “I’m sure I don’t want to at all, but I’m sure I’m going to do it anyway.” He looks up and his eyes burn fiercely into Draco’s, daring him to disagree.
“You’re mad,” is all Draco can think to say.
“Yes,” Harry agrees.
Aching and frustrated, Draco closes the door behind him and looks at the stars.
“Well, don’t you scrub up well?” Draco murmurs, genuinely impressed as he regards his date for the night.
“I was about to say the same thing, love,” she says, wheezing slightly from her journey through the Floo Network.
Draco smiles and offers her his arm, which she refuses, to help her from the fireplace and through the Manor’s entrance hall to the ballroom where many illustrious guests have already begun to congregate. He will be collecting Harry from another fireplace later, one that leads into a private, secure room, but before he does so, Draco takes a moment to admire his friend and colleague.
Having spent most of the day receiving ice sculptures and supervising caterers and dashing around the Manor with the rest of Team Gala, Draco and Janice have had very little time to make themselves look smart, but he’s impressed. Her grey curls have been tamed into a smooth knot, a cluster of opals sparkle at her neck, and the usual coral lipstick has been replaced by a dark red that exactly matches her velvet dress robes.
After a quick glance in the mirror in his bedroom, Draco thinks he looks alright in his new black dress robes with the silver stitching, but his aim for the evening is to look respectable whilst blending into the background. He wants to be seen here, but he doesn’t want the attention of everyone in the room, and it’s strange to remember a time when that was so important to him.
Janice is peering around the ballroom from the doorway, where they still stand, and Draco has the strangest feeling that she’s looking for a cup of tea.
“Come on, Jan,” he sighs. “Let’s get this over with.”
She draws herself to her full height and takes his arm. “That’s the spirit.”
Draco slips away from the glittering, chattering crowd in the ballroom some half an hour later and walks into the locked parlour to find Harry waiting for him by the fireplace. He looks supremely uncomfortable in stiff black dress robes and a pristine white shirt, and he’s clearly made some futile attempt to flatten his hair, but it looks almost as unruly as always. Draco smiles.
“You look pleased,” Harry says, anxiety speeding his speech. “Did you think I wasn’t going to come?”
“No,” Draco says, unable to tear his eyes away from Harry. “I’m pleased you did... although you look very strange indeed.”
And he does, but like Janice, Harry apparently scrubs up very well. Unlike Janice, the way he looks makes Draco want to press him against the wall and kiss him until he stops looking so worried.
“I feel very strange indeed,” Harry admits, and Draco knows that the non-stop anxious fidgeting with his collar and cuffs and hair is far more about stepping out of his safe place than it is about uncomfortable formalwear.
Draco takes a deep breath, hoping Harry will do the same. “Your speech is the pre-dinner one, so you can say your piece, make awkward conversation with her highness while you eat your steak, and then you can bugger off if you want to.”
“I know that, Draco, I memorised my schedule as instructed.” Harry shoots him a pointed look. “And you’ve got to stop calling her ‘her highness’ or I’m going to do it to her face by accident.”
Seeing the pained expression on his face, Draco tightens his control; his fingers itch to reach out, touch, reassure, but the last thing either of them need now is that kind of confusion. Instead, he nods and reaches for the doorknob.
“I really hate you,” Harry whispers, fingers curling against his palms as he stares at the door.
Draco pulls the door open and immediately the mingled cacophony of voices drifts toward them. He knows Harry doesn’t mean it, but he’d give almost anything to know what he does mean.
When they enter the ballroom, Draco sticks by Harry’s side and doesn’t say a word. Instead, he watches the suspicion in the narrowed green eyes give way, if only temporarily, to admiration as Harry looks around at the many tables with their pure white linen and sparkling silverware, the wealthy guests draped in dark and jewel-coloured silks and velvets. Everyone is talking and laughing and drinking as thousands of tiny, glittering lights hover in the air and trail over the walls like ivy, making everything glow and shimmer beneath them.
“It’s really beautiful,” Harry says quietly after what seems like a long time. The room is noisy but he’s close enough for Draco to hear every word. “I mean, it’s probably cost a disgusting amount of money, but it looks really nice.
Accustomed by now to Harry’s backhanded compliments, Draco tries to stop himself from glowing with pride. “Thanks.” As he follows Harry’s gaze across the room, he catches sight of an approaching Mrs Cholmondely, draped tonight in emerald green and pearls. Behind her, puffing slightly, is Janice. “She looks like she’s coming this way,” Draco mutters, elbowing Harry in the ribs, “which means it’s time for your speech. And I should probably get back to my date.”
Harry’s anxiety at the prospect of his speech suddenly melts into something that looks very much like disappointment. “Your date?” he repeats, almost dropping the set of note-cards he has withdrawn from his robe pocket.
Draco’s heart leaps and he flashes Harry a lazy smile. “Behind Madam.” He points discreetly.
Harry frowns, cranes his neck, and then, to Draco’s astonishment, he laughs. “That’ll be the infamous Janice?” he asks, and just for those ten seconds between his realisation and Mrs Cholmondely’s “Mr Potter! Delighted you could make it,” he looks rather happy.
Harry’s speech is short, although longer than Draco expected it would be, and Draco doesn’t hear a word of it. He thinks he hears some of those statistics from the W.O.T literature he has forced on Harry, and he’s vaguely pleased, but most of it sails right over his head. Instead of concentrating, he sits halfway down the top table—because he is the Vice President, whatever her highness might think about it—with Anita from the Daily Prophet on one side of him and Janice on the other, and he plays with the stem of his wine glass, and he watches.
And the funny thing is that while Harry’s discomfiture is plain to see in the tight facial expression, the rigid posture and the constant fidgeting with the edges of the lectern, his presence is no less compelling. Every eye in the place is trained upon him, and Draco knows he’ll be hating every minute of it, but he doesn’t blame a single one of them for looking; he doubts their fascination right now is anything to with how many Dark Lords Harry has slain.
When Harry finishes to rapturous applause, though, he blinks, nods, and looks—just for a moment—like the sometimes-awkward, frequently-neurotic teenager he actually is. He descends from the stage, allowing Mrs Cholmondely to shake his hand, and his eyes seek out Draco’s across the room. Draco smiles at him and hopes he doesn’t imagine the fact that Harry seems to relax at the sight of him.
During dinner, Harry sits reluctantly but graciously at the head of the table and spends most of the meal nodding as he has his ear bent by Mrs Cholmondely, murmuring the occasional ‘Yes’ and ‘Of course’ into the meagre gaps in her rhetoric. Draco watches them covertly, absent-mindedly sliding forkfuls of food into his mouth, and it isn’t until his teeth close over the bare tines of his fork for a third time that he frowns and looks into his dessert bowl. It’s empty.
“S’rude to stare,” Janice scolds through a mouthful of apple tart.
“It’s ruder to talk with your mouth full,” Draco whispers, setting his fork down without looking at her.
She snorts. “Ooh, look, they’re bringing coffee round. Do you think—”
“You are not going to ask for a cup of horrible, over-stewed tea at a formal dinner,” Draco hisses, though he doesn’t much care about the breach of etiquette; he just likes needling Janice.
“Know what, love? I think I will.” Janice pats him on the arm and levers herself out of her chair. Conscious of his own social graces and knowing they will be under scrutiny, Draco sighs and stands also, pasting a gracious smile onto his face.
At the end of the table, the movement catches Harry’s eye and his mouth quirks upward at one corner. “Absolutely, President Cholmondely,” he says distractedly, eyes fixed upon Draco.
Draco lifts an eyebrow, but his heart is hammering in a way it has no business doing. He looks around, seeing Janice gesticulating wildly as she appeals to one of the waiting-on staff, and sinks back into his chair. Around him, others are abandoning the table with their cups of coffee and beginning to mingle once more. Draco tips back his head and gazes at the sparkling lights, or at least he does, until:
“So lovely to finally meet you, Mr Potter! I’m Janice Wrigglesworth, Draco’s secretary. You know Draco, of course... I’ve heard all about you...”
Draco’s head snaps up so quickly that it’s painful. He almost doesn’t want to look at the end of the table, but he does, and sure enough, Janice—who has successfully procured a cup of tea from somewhere—is clasping Harry’s hand and beaming at him. He’s going to fucking kill her.
Startled, Harry stares up at her from his chair until he remembers his manners and rises, allowing Janice to retain custody of his hand.
“Hello, Ms Wrigglesworth, I’ve heard a lot about you, too,” he says eventually, and Draco closes his eyes, wanting to bury his face in his hands but not daring to in present company.
“Janice, please,” she demurs, sounding just a little bit starstruck.
Unfortunately, Anita from the Prophet takes that moment to lay her hand on Draco’s arm and engage him in conversation. Agonised, he glances once more at Janice and Harry, who seem to be chatting away like old friends, and then turns to her with a polite smile. He doesn’t want to talk about circulation figures and he certainly doesn’t want her hand there, creasing up his new robes, but he knows better than to mess around with people who can make or break his public profile.
The woman seems pleasant enough, but she certainly can talk, and by the time Draco manages to politely extricate himself, Harry is nowhere to be seen, and Janice is listening to one of Mrs Cholmondely’s stories with a look of barely-suppressed boredom on her face.
Deciding she deserves all she gets, Draco sends a light Stinging Hex in Janice’s direction. She yelps, clutching at her velvet robes, and her highness doesn’t even seem to notice. Glaring, Janice glances at him and mouths, ‘What?’
‘Where is he?’ Draco mouths back, holding out his hands illustratively.
‘Outside,’ she responds, pointing, and then, “Well, how clever of you, President Cholmondely.”
“I highly doubt that,” Draco mutters to himself, and Janice shrugs.
Anxious, he weaves his way through the ballroom and into the entrance hall. He pauses, allowing the noise of the crowd to fall away, and there he is. He’s not outside, of course he’s not, but he’s pretty damn close. Both doors have been bolted open for the evening, allowing the entrance hall to lead right out onto the portico, and Harry is standing right on the boundary between the two, where marble meets stone.
He stands with his back to Draco, arms at his sides, apparently looking out at the spectacle of the Manor grounds as the sun slips below the horizon.
“Enjoying the view?” Draco says softly.
Harry twists around, anxiety written all over his face. Seeing Draco, he sighs and turns around again.
“I needed some air, oddly enough,” he says as Draco joins him in the doorway.
“It’s good air, I assure you,” Draco offers, inhaling deeply. The familiar, almost smoky sweetness of the grounds on the edge of summer is soothing and evocative of many nights like this. Standing out here like this in the fading light, at least—not standing here hoping to calm a ruffled Gryffindor with a fear of the outdoors.
“Don’t show off, Malfoy. Air is air.”
Draco laughs and shakes his head. “No, it’s not. It’s cleaner here. Purer. And anyway, I hardly think you can call yourself an expert on fresh air.”
“Very cutting, I’m impressed.” Harry pulls a face and then his eyes dart to Draco’s, searching.
“What did Janice say to you?” he demands, folding his arms.
“Nothing much... that I’m a very nice young man,” Harry shrugs, and then he kicks the edge of Draco’s shoe lightly. “I’d like to know what you’ve said to her; she seems to know all about me.”
“Nothing much,” Draco echoes weakly. “You could probably slope off now if you wanted, by the way. The dancing’s going to start soon, and I suspect you’d hate to not miss that.”
Harry looks at him askance for a moment, and then flashes a dry smile. “You suspect correctly.”
Draco watches as he turns away to gaze at the sunset once more. “You’re almost outside. Just a couple of steps and you’d be in the grounds... it’s probably safer out there than it is in here, listening to sinfully boring old people telling you how they made their fortune in the insurance business.”
“Behave, Draco,” Harry says. He gestures with a lazy flick of his hand. “Look at that. I can’t remember the last time I could see such a long way; it’s incredible.”
Draco looks, tries to see the grounds he’s seen a million times through Harry’s eyes, and he’s right. Beyond the lawns and trees, the countryside stretches as far as the eye can see in a patchwork of fields, fences and hedges. He has to squint in the rapidly-falling dusk, but it’s all there and absolutely nothing like London. It’s calm, quiet, peaceful.
“Yeah,” he says eventually when Harry turns to look at him. “It’s clear tonight.”
Draco doesn’t realise quite how close they’re standing until the clattering of footsteps and the sound of voices in the entrance hall shatters his fragile calm. Hurriedly, he steps back and somehow almost trips over Harry in the process. He turns to see two women, paused mid-conversation, staring back at him. His heart sinks, but when he scowls at them, they hurry away.
“Great. Now they’ll have something to talk about,” Harry mutters, turning away from Draco and rubbing his face. “I’m going home.”
“Fair enough,” Draco concedes. “You know where to go, and I’ll cover for you if anyone asks where you are.”
Harry shoots him a grim little smile and strides back across the entrance hall, leaving Draco alone in the doorway. He doesn’t think there’s much point telling Harry that one of those women was Anita from the Daily Prophet.
By ten o’clock, he’s had enough, but of course he has no option but to stay to the bitter end. And so, forcing thoughts of his parents and his reputation to the front of his mind, he puts on his polite mask and makes a circuit of the room. He listens, smiles, and generally acts like everything he thinks a Malfoy should be. It’s exhausting.
Jaw aching and head banging, he retreats back to his safe little alcove and watches everyone wearily, willing them to go home. It’s coming up for midnight and the dancing is still in full swing. Scowling, Draco tries to remember who was in charge of the music, because it’s terrible.
“So, Harry and I were talking,” comes a conspiratorial voice from somewhere to Draco’s left.
“Harry now, is it?” Draco enquires, turning to Janice with his arms folded.
“He’s a very nice young man,” Janice sighs, slightly off-balance. She frowns and leans against the wall of Draco’s alcove.
Draco sighs. “I know he is, Jan.”
“And he likes you,” Janice mumbles, struggling to focus on Draco.
“He... likes you. He looks at you... you know, love. You know,” Janice says vehemently, and Draco might believe her, were she not squinting and slurring and clutching what is at least her fifth little glass of sherry.
“Janice, you are drunk.”
“You know,” she begins, closing one eye and speaking very deliberately, “in my day...”
Draco leaves her talking to the wall and stalks off in search of a drink, preferably not a little glass of sherry.
Draco walks back into his deserted ballroom as the ornate clock on the wall chimes for half past one in the morning, and he sighs. His home is now his own once more but it looks like a war zone; there are used plates and glasses and bits of parchment everywhere, and there won’t be anyone to clean it up until the morning, thanks to the likes of Granger and those dratted unions.
Still, he knows they’ve raised a lot of money tonight, and that’s the main thing. In theory.
He’s exhausted, and yet something tells him that sleep will not come easily tonight. Draco hesitates only for a moment before giving in to the urge that seizes him. He turns and strides out of the ballroom, through the silent house, and just seconds later he’s stepping out of the fireplace in Harry’s living room, relieved that Harry hasn’t thought to cut the connection to the Floo Network the second he got home. Still, he takes the extra few seconds to secure the grate behind him.
He makes his way to the kitchen but hangs back in the doorway, watching Harry, who doesn’t seem to have noticed him yet and is swaying gently back and forth as he rinses out his cafetière in the sink. That much about the picture is familiar, but everything else is somewhat incongruous—he is still wearing most of his formal attire; the outer parts of his dress robes have been discarded, exposing smart black trousers and an untucked white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Both socks are black, which is rather unsettling.
Draco hesitates, breath caught tightly, suddenly very aware that he has just walked into Harry’s house in the middle of the night and without an invitation, but then the cupboard flaps in greeting and ends his indecision for him. Harry turns, splashing water over himself, and the calm expression on his face makes Draco think he’s been expecting him.
“You look fed up,” Harry observes, looking Draco up and down slowly. “Everyone cleared off?”
Draco nods, suddenly grateful there’s no mirror nearby to tell him exactly how tired he looks. He leans against the counter and watches Harry, allowing himself to be soothed by the ritual of coffee-making. They don’t speak, at least not until Harry stands up on tiptoes to retrieve a bottle of Ogden’s from the cupboard and inexpertly sloshes a liberal amount into the finished coffee.
“Irish,” Draco remarks, taking his cup and sniffing at it; the smell of the alcohol is strong enough to make his mouth water, and completely overpowers the coffee Harry is usually so particular about.
Harry nods, takes a gulp, and coughs. “Indeed.”
For long seconds they regard one another in silence over the tops of their cups. The kitchen is cold and dark, the sweet, bitter liquid is warm and befuddling, and the distance between them suddenly seems very small. Draco wonders what fresh hell awaits him if he just unsticks one hand from his cup—held tightly in two hands for once—and wraps it around the back of Harry’s neck. If he drags him close and gives up scrabbling for useless words. If he just lets this frustration, this want, pour out until it stops hurting.
His pulse races as his fingers slide on the hot ceramic. Harry bites his lip, and it’s so...
“I’m going upstairs,” he says, and Draco swallows his mouthful of coffee and whisky very carefully. “The park looks pretty cool at night.”
Puzzled, Draco watches as he grabs the open bottle and leaves the kitchen without another word.
Flap-flap, offers the cupboard, and Draco realises that he is, in fact, an idiot. Flap-creak.
“Yes, alright, thank you,” he mutters, making his way back out into the hallway in search of the staircase.
In the pitch darkness, he almost steps on a furry something which spits and yowls and runs away. Casting Lumos just to be safe, Draco climbs the stairs slowly and with the feeling that life as he knows it is on very shaky ground indeed. There’s no way that getting drunk with Harry Potter is a good idea, but he’s going to do it anyway.
“On the plus side, I didn’t... die,” Harry says, inspecting his empty cup and then sinking back onto his elbows on the carpet.
Beside him, Draco laughs a little more unreservedly than usual. “Did you expect to?”
“I ‘spect all kinds of horrible things these days. Safer that way,” Harry says very seriously. He frowns at Draco and holds out his cup.
“Nothing bad happened, you lunatic,” Draco mumbles, rolling his eyes but complying nonetheless, pouring firewhisky into Harry’s coffee cup in a somewhat haphazard fashion. He’s not drunk, but... well, he is, but Harry’s drunker. Drunkerer. More drunk. It’s his own fault for not eating properly all day, the stupid, lovely idiot.
“You say that now... but...” Harry gulps at his drink, splutters painfully, and then turns to fix Draco with a conspiratorial expression. “People... took pictures of me,” he whispers, making an incomprehensible hand gesture and sending a splash of whisky onto his white shirt.
Draco watches the stain spreading across the fabric; Harry’s shirt is brightly white under the night sky-ceiling and, in fact, so is Draco’s. Shirts and skin and eyes, all glowing softly and it’s rather beautiful. Draco lowers himself onto his back and stares at the millions of stars in the clear sky until he starts to feel dizzy with the idea of scale and infinity, even though it’s only a ceiling. Harry’s ceiling.
“You knew they’d take pictures,” he says, balancing his cup on his chest and steadying it with one hand. “It was a... you know. A gonefore conclusion.”
“You’re a gonefore conclusion,” Harry mutters darkly. Gulps. Coughs. Splutters.
Draco’s not sure what that might mean, but he knows that Harry smells really good, like he usually does but more dangerous somehow. Perhaps it’s the firewhisky. He also remembers that someone from that gossip rag caught them... what? Talking in a doorway? Standing a bit close? Draco doesn’t know, but he only hopes for Harry’s sake there aren’t any unfounded leaps of logic in tomorrow’s papers.
“You’re making no sense,” Draco says at last, draining his cup at an awkward angle and flopping down flat again to revel in the warm, soft sensation of wellbeing that’s creeping through his veins and making everything a bit blurry. Everything except Harry.
“I’m not very good at drinking,” Harry admits, and the disappointment in his voice squeezes Draco’s heart. “Did you un-network me?” he adds abruptly, turning to Draco.
“Did I...? Oh. No, I just put some wards on the... er...” Draco frowns, remembering the word ‘fireplace’ after a moment but losing it within the whirl of his racing mind. “Anyway, don’t you want to be able to use it again? Now you know you can?”
“Nope. Nooo. No thank you.” Harry’s so close that Draco can feel him shaking his head beside him.
Draco sighs and absently holds out his hand for the bottle, which is just a few inches out of his reach on the carpet. After a moment he feels the cold glass colliding with his palm, which is strange, but he drowns his confusion in a raw swig of burning liquid straight from the bottle.
“So, nothing’s changed?” he rasps, wiping his mouth.
“Why would it?”
“Because... because you didn’t die,” is all Draco can manage, disappointment and frustration tangling inside him. He looks again at the stars, arms flat at his sides.
“S’not really about dying or not dying,” Harry whispers, changing position yet again and curling onto his side. When warm fingertips graze over Draco’s inner forearm he jumps; he hadn’t expected a touch and he certainly hadn’t expected one there. “Did that hurt?” Harry wants to know.
Draco’s stomach twists at the memory and the question and the fact that Harry Potter is asking it, and that he’s the only person who has ever asked it. “Yes.”
“Oh.” Harry withdraws his fingers and rolls onto his back, leaving Draco open and aching. He looks so stupidly good in the light from the stars in their pretend park and Draco almost can’t stand it.
Did yours? he wants to ask, glancing at Harry’s forehead. Did yours hurt, hmm? But he doesn’t. He just looks, because he’s an idiot and a coward, and it’s probably all over anyway; he has no reason to come back here after tonight, and Harry’s as fucking stubborn as he’s always been.
Draco sloshes more Ogden’s into Harry’s cup at his silent request and then empties the last of the bottle straight into his mouth. He wants to believe it’s helping, but all it’s doing is making the room spin and making him want so fucking much that it hurts.
Harry sprawls on the floor now, back arched, knees bent. His shirt is half open now, revealing more skin that demands to be touched, and he smiles now and looks at Draco through the damp, dark hair that flops across his forehead. Alcohol is making him tactile and relaxed and almost... kittenish, and Draco’s hard and wanting and so stupidly in love. Stupidly is the right word, but then feelings are always silly. Draco wishes he could remember who said that to him, not that it will help.
“What?” Draco can’t tear his eyes away from Harry’s mouth, not even for a second.
“You’re looking at me.”
“Yes,” Draco whispers, and he definitely thinks he should look away now, but he doesn’t; he just shifts onto his side and props his chin up in one hand.
“You look at me a lot,” Harry says, and though his pronunciation is still a little too deliberate, he sounds... less drunk, somehow.
Something cold passes down Draco’s spine but he’s racing all over and forcing himself to meet Harry’s eyes, finding something so intense there that the ache in his chest and his stomach and against his hip spreads all over, right out to his fingertips. Waiting.
“It’s polite to make eye contact,” he whispers pointlessly.
Harry grins, shakes his head, and drags himself into a seated position, legs curled around himself. “No, no, no. You look. It’s different.”
“What’s your point, Potter?” Draco manages, and he’s lost, so he has no idea how it’s going to help to be so defensive. He just feels so fucking vulnerable, lying there and looking up at amused, intoxicated green eyes. Unsteadily, he sits up and wraps his arms around his knees instead.
“My point is... that I don’t mind. That I want...” Harry stops, seeming to run out of words.
Instead, he leans over, grasping Draco’s wrist, and pulls hard.
Position awkward and balance compromised, he stumbles, and for a confusing moment they are nothing but a tangle of limbs on the carpet, but then Draco’s scrambling onto his knees and Harry is pressing tightly against him and fingers are twisting into hair and shirt collars and holding steady, and their mouths find one another, and all is still.
The kiss is messy and urgent and Draco holds on, raking his fingers through Harry’s sweat-damp hair as they slide hot, slick, sour-tasting mouths and tongues together. Relief, exhilaration and pure fear spirals through him, and it’s yes, yes, this is madness and don’t stop.
Harry slides his hands out of Draco’s hair and grips his hips, dragging them closer and allowing him to feel the delicious hot hardness that strains at his smart trousers. Flooded with desperate heat, Draco pushes back, making them both groan out loud, and kisses Harry with renewed intensity.
“Can’t... need to lie down,” Harry pants, pulling back, bright-eyed and flushed. He looks decidedly unsteady.
“We can manage that, I think,” Draco manages, equally breathless.
Harry nods and drops to his hands and knees before curling on his side. Draco drops down beside him, reaching out, not wanting to waste a moment of this... whatever it is, because fuck, it feels good, and then...
“Oh... seriously?” Draco narrows his eyes and stares very hard at Harry, but it’s no good. His eyes are closed beneath his glasses and he’s breathing gently. Steadily. He’s sleeping. Or passed out, more like, Draco thinks mutinously.
Frustrated, he pokes at Harry several times, hoping he’ll wake, but he sleeps on.
“Now what?” he asks of the room, but there’s no answer. Finally, aroused and grumpy and still somewhat unsteady himself, Draco gets to his feet and goes to retrieve a multi-coloured woollen blanket, which he lays over Harry’s motionless form. He doesn’t know what’s worse—that he’s covering Harry Potter with a blanket, or that he knows where the fucking blankets are kept.
Despite his awareness that his continued presence really isn’t required by the now-snoring Harry, Draco doesn’t want to go home to his cold, messy Manor, so he slides down against the wall and slumps onto the floor, head tipped back to watch the glittering ceiling. Were it not for the sleeping pile of just-kissed, too-drunk Harry, and the soft fibres of the carpet under his fingers, Draco thinks he could pretend he was in the park.
He’s willing to bet the proceeds of tonight’s Gala that things are simpler in the park, too.
As Draco stirs into consciousness, the first thing he notices is the dull, pounding pain in his head that makes him think twice about opening his eyes. Sensing the light in the room, he keeps them tightly shut and reaches out a hand to his bedside table for his wand. His fingers meet nothing but thick carpet and it only takes a split-second of crashing realisation before he remembers where he is.
“Fuck,” he mutters, and his tentative stretch sends shockwaves of pain through his body. He’s far from accustomed to sleeping on the floor and he doubts he’ll be doing it again any time soon. He opens his eyes cautiously and the obnoxious morning sun from the enchanted ceiling sears his corneas, forcing him to drag a protesting arm up to shield them. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Nauseous, jittery, and beginning to panic now, Draco pulls himself up on his elbows and looks around the empty room. Something warm and heavy slides over him and he startles before he recognises the knitted blanket he had used to cover Harry after he’d passed out.
After they’d... after they’d consumed an obscene amount of alcohol and kissed like that. Like two people who wanted each other and couldn’t wait—two extremely intoxicated people, Draco concedes, but he doesn’t think the want was imagined on either side. An unhelpful twinge of arousal passes through him at the memory and he scowls, willing it away.
He stares at the blanket. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but now Harry is nowhere to be seen, and he is underneath it. And oh, fuck, he feels disgusting. The inside of his mouth is arid and tastes foul, and the Cleansing Charm he hurriedly performs is ineffectual, so he casts it again. Carefully, he gets to his feet and tries not to notice how crumpled his clothes are, or that they have bits of green carpet fluff all over them.
Tries and fails. He hopes they can be saved, but he has about as much faith in Klinky’s clothing-cleaning ability as he does in his culinary skills. Sighing, he folds the blanket and tucks it under his arm so he can stuff it back into the hallway cupboard from whence it came.
Draco stares at the closed door and attempts to ruffle his hair into submission. A hurried Tempus tells him that he’s about to be late for work, but he lacks the energy to care. Far more important is what’s waiting downstairs and what sort of mood it’s in.
He supposes there’s only one way to find out. Heart hammering, Draco makes his way downstairs, taking each step delicately in an attempt to keep his head in one piece. He finds Harry leaning against the kitchen counter, head in his hands. When he looks up, Draco’s insides twist, partly in empathy because Harry looks as rough as he feels, and partly because those eyes, the ones that had burned so openly into his just hours ago, are now shuttered and defensive.
“Any chance of a coffee?” Draco attempts, keeping his tone light. “Without firewhisky in it?”
Harry winces and indicates the cafetière on the counter. “Help yourself. You know where the cups are.”
Draco pours himself a cup, knowing as he does so that the tension is back, and were it not for the lack of glaring and ‘What do you want, Malfoy?’-s, he’d think he had somehow travelled back in time to the end of April. Harry folds his arms awkwardly and looks at the floor, out of the window, anywhere but at Draco.
“You know,” Harry says, failing to sound casual, “I was pretty drunk last night. Probably talking a load of rubbish, I usually do. Not that I get drunk very often, but... yeah. Anything I did was just really... you should probably just ignore anything I said, or did, because—”
“—because you were drunk?” Draco finishes sarcastically. Message received, loud and clear. He sets down his coffee even though there’s more than half of it left; he doesn’t feel like it any more.
“Yeah.” Harry scuffs a turquoise sock with a hole in it against the tiles.
“So... that’s it?” Draco asks, hating the distress that creeps, unbidden, into his voice.
Harry hesitates, just for a second, and then nods slowly, biting his lip hard. “Yep.”
The hesitation slices at Draco. He wants so much to push the point, to ask why, to ask what the hell Harry thinks he’s playing at, but he has his pride. Malfoy pride. That’s what this has all been about, anyway, hasn’t it?
The part of Draco that’s crushed and hurting at the dismissal doesn’t believe it for a second, but Draco has always been skilled at denial. He pulls himself together with some effort and shows Harry his blandest smile.
“Thank you... for last night. For the Gala, I mean. I really appreciate it,” he says, and he means that much.
“I know. I didn’t have a completely awful time, you know,” Harry says, still staring at the dusty floor.
“Good. I’m late for work, so...” Draco doesn’t know how to finish that sentence, so he doesn’t. Taking what he knows will be his last look around the kitchen, he goes to leave. The cupboard flaps sadly and Draco feels silly and over-emotional when he gives it a little wave and hopes it notices. Hopes it doesn’t think he’s leaving without saying goodbye.
At the kitchen door, he hesitates. “Harry?”
Harry looks up. For a split-second, his face is defenceless and open, but just as quickly, Potter is back and Draco knows it’s useless.
“I’ll see you,” Draco offers, because he won’t, and the irony makes him feel better.
He doesn’t wait for a response, and just walks quickly down the corridor, past the staircase and across the hallway. He flings open the door and hurries out onto the street, shielding his eyes against the sun. That’s it, then, he thinks. He can return to his grey life and Harry can return to his stubborn solitude. That’s fine. Restoring the Malfoy name is a difficult enough task without Potter-shaped distractions, and Draco doesn’t need silly feelings anyway.
Of course he doesn’t.
Still, he supposes the Malfoy name can wait a little while longer. At least while he walks into Muggle London and buys some coffee that he can drink without being stared at by anyone he’s kissed the night before.
Draco shrinks down his outer robe and stuffs it into his pocket, brushes the worst of the fluff from his trousers, and starts walking. It takes him the best part of half an hour to realise that he’s being followed, and only then because the thing that is following him runs right into his legs when he turns to cross the road.
“What? What do you want?” he demands of the malevolent cat, ignoring the curious glances of passers-by.
Mrs Norris merely blinks, whisks her tail and sits down on the kerb.
The cat doesn’t move, but her ragged ears twitch as she looks around with apparent interest at the trees and cars and identikit Muggle houses, and Draco has the feeling that, like her reluctant owner, she hasn’t been outside for rather a long time. It could be the hangover or the fresh rejection addling his brain, but Draco finds himself starting to feel sorry for her.
“I do not feel sorry for a cat,” he insists under his breath. Yellow eyes narrow and Mrs Norris hisses at him for no reason at all, and his sympathy dissolves to be replaced by irritation.
He considers scooping her up and returning her to Harry, but only for a moment. It’s hardly going to do him any good to turn up there less than an hour after he walked out with such finality. No, returning will only look... well, it won’t look good, and that’s the important thing now. Heavily, Draco squashes his concern for the stupid cat and his thoughts of whether or not she’ll get herself run over.
“Bugger off, I don’t want you!” he insists, flinging out an arm and pointing back in the opposite direction.
She opens her mouth in a plaintive, rusty miaow, and Draco sighs. Maybe he should take her to the office with him and figure out what to do with her later; Janice would be delighted.
“No,” he sighs, head pounding in earnest now. “What’ll I do, send you back to him in a box? Just go home! Stop following me.”
With a stern glance, he turns his back on her and continues his walk into Muggle London, trying to resist turning around to see if she is still trotting along behind him. He doesn’t care. Potter’s cat is not his responsibility, and he’s not going back. It’s too hard. He can’t do it. He’s never lost himself like this and it’s horrifying; his hard-won control is in shreds and all he can do now is stop this before it damages him in a way he can’t recover from.
As he stalks along the pavement, head down and sleeves carelessly pushed to his elbows, he registers that people are looking at him, and it rankles. They’re strangers, of course—Muggles at that—and he knows they’re probably looking because of his scowl and his rumpled clothes and in all likelihood because he’s being followed by a cat, but he still hates it.
Maybe it’s time to give up waiting. He could pack up the Manor and join his parents in France; apparently, the weather is lovely at this time of year. They’d be disappointed, and they’d be hypocrites. They’d get over it, he thinks. He knows his mother misses him, and she says that his father has just bought himself a vineyard, which should be... interesting.
The dark-haired man in the coffee shop winces when he sees Draco. They know one another by sight by now, and Draco supposes he’s pretty distinctive-looking, even to a Muggle.
Draco snorts and fishes through his pockets for the strange paper money he now has in his possession at all times in order to feed his new dependence on Harry’s ridiculous coffee. “Something like that. I’d like the usual, please. A very large one.” Draco lifts a hand illustratively.
“We’re all out of the Guatemalan, today, I’m afraid,” the man says with an apologetic smile.
Draco sighs. “Doesn’t matter, then. Give me whatever flavour you’re being forced to push this week, just make it strong. It’s fine,” he assures, even though it feels very much not fine. He breathes in deeply, hoping the warm, bitter-scented steam will soothe him.
Behind the counter, the dark-haired coffee man is staring at him as though he’s said something very strange. “Are you... feeling alright?”
Draco lifts an eyebrow. “I’m fine. Why?”
“Because usually when you come in here, you’re really specific about what you want,” the man says, pausing to squash himself against the counter to allow a harried colleague to pass. “You argue with me. The last time I told you that you couldn’t have something because we’d run out, you made me show you the empty canister. Today, you... you know what? I’m going to just stop talking and get you your coffee.” He clamps his mouth shut in an apparent attempt to prevent any further observations from escaping, and smiles grimly at Draco.
He listens to the hiss of steam and the chatter of the other patrons and stares at his hands as they rest on the marble counter. He thinks that perhaps the coffee man is right. He never has been good at accepting that he can’t have things he wants. It’s never been the Malfoy way.
‘People do not deny you, Draco. They simply need more persuasion.’
The words are so clear in his memory, and he really needs to get his father’s voice out of his head; it’s not as though his advice has ever been particularly helpful in the past. Still, Draco isn’t sure when he became quite so...
“You’ll like this one,” the coffee man says, holding out a cup with one hand and taking Draco’s paper money with the other. “It’s got a kick like a mule.”
“Is that a good thing?” Draco lifts the plastic lid and sniffs the coffee tentatively.
The man grins and drops several small coins into Draco’s hand. “Trust me on this. Probably not so much on the armchair psychology.”
He turns to the next customer in line and Draco heads for the door, puzzled. He’s not always sure what the coffee man is talking about, but he’s probably right that Draco doesn’t have nearly enough fight in him today. Perhaps the coffee will help.
When he tries it and his first thought is ‘Harry would like this’, he thinks he’s probably going to give in. Go back. Talk to Harry. Do something. Anything. Before he goes mad with it. When he turns slowly, inevitably, and sees Mrs Norris waiting for him outside the shop, he knows.
She whisks her tail in greeting and indicates the large, dead spider underneath her paw.
“Did you kill that for me?” he asks, strangely touched. “I’m feeling a bit delicate right now, why don’t you eat it?”
The yellow eyes blink disdainfully but Mrs Norris dips her head and picks up the dead offering. Draco watches the spindly legs disappear into her mouth as she crunches slowly on the spider, and he makes a mental note to never again underestimate the amount she understands.
“Come on, then,” he sighs, and she licks her lips with obvious satisfaction.
He sets out in the direction of the Black house, and when he turns around to check, she’s trailing behind him once more. He reflects that the world seems to be conspiring to make him return, and if so, who is he to resist? Deep down, though, he knows that’s just an excuse, and he’s doing it because he’s not quite ready to walk away.
The return journey seems to pass in no time, and by the time he reaches the corner of Harry’s street, he has walked off the worst of his hangover and the morning sun is no longer making him cringe.
The front door is half open and Draco pauses, a little tingle of alarm rippling down his spine. Perhaps he left it open by mistake and that’s how Mrs Norris escaped, or perhaps it’s something worse. Uneasy, he quickens his pace along the pavement, and it isn’t until he’s halfway up the steps that he sees the two string bags bulging with groceries and propping the door open. He relaxes, and Mrs Norris bounds past him, over the bags and into the house.
“Diagon Alley was insane this morning, Harry! Don’t suppose you feel like coming down here and helping me put all this stuff away?”
The voice that carries through the house is unmistakeably Granger’s. As are these bags, he supposes, and he wonders if she realises that she’s left them on the doorstep. Draco bends to pick them up, feeling conflicted; he can’t quite decide whether he’s relieved or annoyed that Harry isn’t alone.
He listens to the familiar rhythmic creaking as Harry descends the stairs and heads for the kitchen.
“Can you not yell, ’Mione? I’ve got a splitting headache,” Harry mumbles as his footsteps recede.
“If it’s self-inflicted then I’m tempted to continue yelling,” comes the cheerful reply, and Draco smiles in spite of himself.
Suddenly aware that he’s still standing out on the doorstep, he gives himself a mental shake and steps into the hallway, pushing the front door closed with his hip. He’s beyond uncertain about how this is going to go, but he hopes Harry won’t start a fight, at least not while Granger is present.
“Where’s Draco?” Granger asks. Halfway to the kitchen, Draco freezes.
There’s a very long pause, and then: “He doesn’t fucking live here, you know.”
“He might as well do, Harry,” Granger says softly. “Where did he go?”
Draco stands very still in the middle of the hallway and grips the handles of the heavy bags until the string cuts into his palms. Apprehension quickens his breath as he waits for Harry’s response. He has no idea why he’s listening, other than the fact that right now is clearly an inopportune moment for his entrance.
“He left. He went to his office. Or home. To his house. His Manor. Where he lives. As opposed to here, where he does not live.”
“Why?” Granger’s voice is soft and almost drowned out by the loud crashes of cupboard doors and drawers as someone—presumably Harry—puts his shopping away with unnecessary vigour.
“Because I asked him to. What’s this about, ’Mione?”
She sighs. “Have you seen the Prophet?”
“You know I haven’t,” Harry snaps, voice tight with tension.
Draco hasn’t seen it either, and his stomach tightens at the prospect; he doesn’t think they can have fabricated anything too awful from the evidence provided, but anything’s possible. Janice will have a copy, no doubt.
“No need to be like that. There’s a really nice picture of the two of you, that’s all, and I was going to ask how it went—stop that!” Granger suddenly cries, exasperated, and Draco isn’t at all surprised to see Mrs Norris streaking out of the kitchen seconds later. “I was going to ask, but obviously someone there upset you.”
“No, it was fine.”
Granger’s sigh is so heavy that Draco hears it easily in the hallway. “It is Draco, then. I knew it. I should always trust my instincts,” she adds, seemingly to herself.
“Hermione, just leave it alone.”
“I will not. You were happy, Harry, and I can hardly believe it myself, but it was because of him,” Granger says quietly, and Draco holds his breath. “And I’m not going to watch you make yourself miserable over him when it’s obvious that you both feel—”
“I don’t feel anything,” Harry interrupts. “I don’t want him here. I never wanted him here in the first place and now that fucking Gala is over, I can have my life back the way it was. That’s all I want.”
In the hallway, Draco closes his eyes.
“Right. Well, I left some bags by the door, so...” Granger’s defeated voice moves closer to Draco and he knows that in about five seconds she’s going to walk right into the hallway and see him, but he can’t quite unstick himself from the spot.
She’s shaking her head and frowning as she rounds the corner and almost walks straight into Draco. Her eyes widen as comprehension dawns, and she looks as though she’s about to speak, but Draco has never felt less like having a conversation.
He thrusts the string bags into her hands and takes a step back, shaking his head.
“But...” she attempts.
Draco holds up his hand, silencing her, and takes several more steps backwards toward the door. Her dark eyes are pained and she bites her lip, but doesn’t speak again. Draco lets his hand drop as he turns his back on her and walks out of the house.
He turns out of Grimmauld Place and just keeps walking, barely noticing where he’s going. The last thing he wants to do is go home and oversee the mammoth cleaning operation. He doesn’t want to go to work, either, but the pathetic thing is, there isn’t really anywhere else to go. When he finds a convenient hedge, he ducks behind it, pulling out his wand and doing the best he can with his hair and clothing. The results are far from immaculate, but they’re going to have to do.
Taking a deep breath, he Disapparates, hoping Janice isn’t in a talking mood.
Three hours later, the idea of mass house-elf supervision is starting to become very appealing. Mrs Cholmondely, apparently oblivious to his lateness and sub-par appearance, is refusing to rest on her laurels and has already assigned task lists for the Trust’s summer fundraising programme, and it’s with a strange mixture of relief and regret that Draco purges his office of anything Gala-related.
They’re moving on. He can do that. Even if it does involve planning a Quidditch-themed picnic for two hundred children by the end of June.
He is, however, struggling with the fact that Janice—still on a high from making friends with Harry—refuses to shut up for more than thirty seconds at a time.
“Mm,” he says for the tenth time in as many minutes, no longer bothering to glance up from his list of possible celebrity picnic attendees. He thinks she’s asked him a question, but he doesn’t much care either way.
“... looked ever so smart, as well. And you don’t expect famous people to be so normal, do you? The thing about Harry is...”
But Draco doesn’t get to discover what the thing about Harry is because he has tuned her out. He doesn’t want to hear another word about Potter, he really doesn’t. And yet he can’t seem to stop his eyes from straying to the newspaper that he has borrowed from Janice. There’s a huge article about the Gala, complete with page after page of pictures; charity, apparently, is a circulation-booster, or at least so says Anita from the Daily Prophet.
Idly, Draco wonders if Granger will show Harry the article. He’ll hate it. There are, unsurprisingly, many pictures of Harry: one of him delivering his speech, one of him shaking hands with Mrs Cholmondely, one of him making polite conversation with someone very boring and important. The one that draws his eye, though, is the one of the two of them together. It’s nice, just like Granger had said. They look natural, leaning against the wall and surrounded by tiny lights; photo-Draco is smiling softly and then elbowing photo-Harry in the ribs until he smiles, too.
The caption reads simply: Harry Potter with Draco Malfoy, Vice President of the War Orphans Trust.
That’s all. Draco can hardly believe it, and he reads it over and over. He’s combed the article thoroughly but there’s nothing even remotely gossip-worthy about himself or Harry. He thinks that perhaps the picture speaks for itself, and considering Janice’s smug reaction, it does, but there isn’t anything he can do about that.
And really, it’s perfect. A photograph of himself and Harry Potter together at a high profile charity function, elegant in dress robes and looking like the oldest of friends. This photograph represents everything he’s been working so hard for all these months, and now he has it... nothing is different. The expected feeling of accomplishment is drowned, washed away, and Draco feels cheated.
“Are you going to tell me what’s the matter or not?” Janice demands, looming over his desk. She doesn’t appear to have any recollection of her inebriated ramblings about Harry, and Draco is thankful for small mercies.
“You look sick,” she presses.
Draco grimaces. “I feel sick.”
“Have you eaten anything?” Janice demands, picking up his empty cup and cradling it against her floral bosom. She doesn’t wait for him to reply. “I’ll make you a sandwich, shall I?”
Knowing the question is rhetorical—he’ll be getting a horrible sandwich whether he wants one or not—Draco watches her shuffle out of the office and feels strangely comforted.
He takes one last long look at the photograph in the Prophet and sighs.
“He doesn’t want you,” he says out loud, hoping it will help. Esme looks up at the sound of his voice and ruffles his feathers before settling back down to sleep. “He doesn’t want you, and that’s fine.”
Draco scowls. Apparently, lying out loud isn’t any more effective than lying inside his head, and the ridiculous dull pain in his gut remains. That photograph can go, though, he thinks, and with a vicious flick of his wand it is reduced to a pile of smoking ashes. After a moment, seized by guilt, he takes five Knuts from his pocket and places them in a pile on the edge of Janice’s desk.
Then he returns to his own desk, pulls the photograph of his parents into a more prominent position, and throws himself into his work. He wonders if Viktor Krum likes picnics.
By the time he leaves the office on Friday evening, Draco has achieved more (organisationally) than he has in a long time. His desk is once more buried under a flurry of lists and he has started negotiations with the agents of several international Quidditch stars. Almost as impressively, he has managed to resist Janice’s appeals for information and, for the most part, ignore her remarks about his mental state.
Tired but accomplished, Draco returns to his newly-cleaned home and insists both out loud and in his head that he will not be going to the office over the weekend. He can find something to do that doesn’t involve work; he doesn’t need an invitation from Harry Potter, that’s for sure.
When he wakes up on Saturday morning, though, and sees the grey sky and the hard, stinging rain slashing against the window pane, his resolve flickers and dies. The grounds are soaked, windswept and miserable and he thinks it’s one of those days when being indoors should feel wonderful, but it doesn’t. The Manor is silent and his bedroom feels cold, despite the roaring fire that Klinky has lit in the grate. Draco doesn’t know why that is, but it’s certainly nothing at all to do with Harry Potter.
He throws on a warm bathrobe over his pyjama pants before abandoning his bedroom and locating coffee and the newspaper. He’s grimly unsurprised that the Prophet journalists are still talking about Harry; he supposes they will wring every last drop from that one appearance in case there isn’t another one. There are different pictures this time, including one that makes his mouth turn dry: the Harry in the photograph looks around nervously and then suddenly looks straight at the camera as though seeing someone he knows, face relaxing in relieved recognition.
Draco knows exactly who Harry was looking at when that picture was taken, and now he hates it. Can’t stand to see it. He snaps the paper shut, drops it onto the table and folds his arms on top of it. He heaves a deep sigh, suspecting he’s being melodramatic, but there’s no one here to judge him.
Pushing the bleak thought away, he gulps at his coffee and groans, no longer concerned about the evils of melodrama because it’s terrible. This is the good stuff, too, from the shop with the good coffee and the bad advice, but Klinky has somehow managed to massacre it.
Temper rising, Draco seizes the cup, stalks out of the dining room and goes to make his own. Klinky squeaks in alarm at the sight of Master Draco in the kitchen, and hides in the pantry. Draco ignores him; he’s in no mood to reassure. He has just assembled the necessary components of the coffee-making ritual when a soft tinkling sound makes him look up.
Someone is at the front door. Which is impossible, and not only because no one ever visits.
The bell rings again, somehow sounding more urgent this time. Fear prickles on the back of Draco’s neck and he tries to remember where he left his wand—and of course, it’s in the dining room, exactly where he was when he decided to throw a fit. Draco spares Klinky a quick glance, but the pantry door simply slams closed all the way, leaving Draco completely alone to face fuck-knows-what in his bathrobe.
As he sprints through the house to retrieve his wand, he tells himself that potential attackers probably wouldn’t bother ringing the doorbell, but it doesn’t help much. Adrenaline-jittery, he skids into the entrance hall and spells the door transparent. And skids to a stop.
He’s not sure what he’d been expecting, but it’s still safe to say that Harry is a surprise. Standing back from the door and shielded from the rain by the portico, Harry is dripping wet from head to toe, hair dripping into his face and sodden jeans half-covering old running shoes. He’s shivering and clutching a long coat around himself, and he’s standing at Draco’s door, staring back at him through the now-transparent wood.
Draco’s first reaction is a tide of relief, but it’s quickly chased away by fury. He yanks open the door and glares at Harry.
“How did you get in here?” he demands. “The wards...”
“Er, I took them down,” Harry admits, managing to look sheepish. “And put them back!” he adds hurriedly, swiping at his dripping hair. “I didn’t think you’d let me in.”
“I would have, if you’d just waited at the gates like a civilised person,” Draco snaps.
“You would not,” Harry snorts. Shivers.
Draco hesitates, wanting to argue but knowing Harry has a point. He has a point, and even though it still hurts to see him, Draco is glad he’s here. And, oh, he looks good like this, soaked and windswept and... outside. “You’re outside,” he observes pointlessly.
“Yes. I walked up your drive and everything,” Harry offers and flashes a smile that catches Draco somewhere raw.
The wind blows a flurry of raindrops into the portico and Draco pulls his robe more tightly over his bare chest. “Why?” he asks, and he hates that it sounds hopeful.
“I wanted to tell you... something.” Harry shifts from one foot to the other.
“Well, tell me, then, before we both freeze to death,” Draco says, forcing himself to arch an eyebrow and fold his arms, even though the feigned indifference is a massive effort.
Harry stares at him. Bites his lip. And then blurts: “That I see it.”
“I said I was waiting for something that day... and I said I’d know it when I... well, I wanted to tell you that I see it. And I know it. I saw it, anyway. It was in my house, lying on my carpets and drinking my coffee and reading my—Ginny’s magazines and torturing my cat,” Harry says all in one breath, eyes fixed on Draco, who can’t quite force his mouth to work. “And I... was a bit of an idiot.” He pauses.
“You were a lot of an idiot,” Draco rasps, finding his voice.
“Probably. And after I was an idiot and it left—the something—I thought it was better, I thought I didn’t need it, but... fuck, this is harder than I thought it would be,” Harry admits, frowning and rubbing at his wet face. “I talked to Hermione—”
“I know. I heard you,” Draco interrupts, unable to stop himself, and his heart lurches at Harry’s stricken expression.
“I brought your cat back, and... it’s not important.” Draco shakes his head.
“It’s not?” Harry’s frown softens into one of confusion.
Draco takes a step out onto the freezing portico, light with anticipation. “It’s not.”
Harry’s lips quirk into an almost-smile and he tries again. “So the point is, Draco, even though I’m completely useless at this, I think you’re the something and I’d like it back, please. And walking up your drive was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, so the least you can do is let me in for a bit,” he finishes, breathless, and takes a step closer to Draco and the door.
“If I’m the something then everything changes,” Draco says softly. He doesn’t move.
“Yes, it does,” Harry agrees.
“No more waiting,” Draco adds, needing to say it. Needing to hear it.
“Is that a statement or a question?” Harry takes another step closer, close enough to reach out and wind the belt of Draco’s robe around his fingers. The simple, possessive gesture spikes arousal in the pit of Draco’s stomach, reigniting that seething need, and he lets it.
“Why the fuck does that matter?”
Harry laughs suddenly, a soft, dry sound, and his eyes are warm on Draco’s. “It doesn’t. I’ve just missed arguing with you.”
“You’re insufferable,” Draco whispers, closing the distance. Reaching out and letting wet hair slide through his fingers.
“Thanks, you too. No more waiting,” Harry whispers back, and then there are no more words.
There are cold fingers on Draco’s face and he can’t suppress a shudder but it doesn’t matter because Harry is laughing at him again and he doesn’t mind at all, because he wants this and Harry wants him, and there’s no doubt this time. Those eyes are so green and so certain now, and knowing he’s going to be looking at them as he loses himself incinerates the remains of Draco’s patience. He smirks and wraps his hand around the back of Harry’s neck, pulling him into a kiss that’s slow and deep and just a little bit desperate.
Harry’s lips are cold but the inside of his mouth is hot, and Draco groans, seeking out the heat and the taste that is all at once familiar and new and conspicuously fresh, as though Harry has been expecting this. Perhaps he has.
Draco slips a hand inside Harry’s wet coat and under his t-shirt, digging his nails into Harry’s back and dragging him close, gratified to hear the caught breath and the way Harry gasps into the kiss. Painfully hard now, all he can think is ‘inside’ and ‘more’ and ‘now’. Harry pulls gently at Draco’s bottom lip with his teeth and he stops thinking.
“In,” he manages, pulling back from Harry’s mouth for only a fraction of a second.
“Hm,” Harry offers, sliding his fingers further into Draco’s hair and kissing him harder. Which isn’t helping.
Motivated by the temperature and the desire to stay dry, Draco gathers himself with some effort and pulls away. Harry blinks darkened green eyes slowly and Draco sighs, doing his utmost to ignore the way the needy expression jolts straight to his cock. He seizes Harry’s freezing cold hand and drags him inside, kicking the transparent door shut behind them.
His half-formed plan of Apparating them both into his bedroom is derailed when Harry stops in the middle of the entrance hall, drops both hands to the loosened belt of Draco’s robe and pulls it open. Breathing hard, Draco allows him to slip his fingers onto his shoulders and push the robe away until it falls to the marble in a heap. He feels painfully exposed as Harry’s eyes flick over his bare skin, his pale, marked skin, and he reaches out for his control, finding some in Harry’s belt-loops and hanging on.
“Sorry,” Harry mumbles, not sounding it at all. He stares at Draco’s obvious erection as it strains at his thin trousers, biting his lip, breathing ragged. “I wanted to see you,” he confesses, and when he touches Draco, trailing his fingertips over his cock, it’s almost too much.
“Fuck,” he hisses, pushing helplessly into the touch. He untangles his fingers from the damp belt-loops and returns the touch, needing to feel that heat, that hardness that he remembers from under the pretend stars, needing to hear that sound that Harry makes and... oh, yes, needing to see the spread of moisture on denim under his fingers as Harry responds to his touch.
When Draco lifts his head, Harry looks shaken, almost vulnerable, and it’s going to be now. Here.
“No waiting,” Draco asserts, and presses his mouth to Harry’s.
In a blur of tangled limbs and breathless, messy kisses, they stumble across the slippery floor of the entrance hall. Draco yanks at Harry’s waterlogged coat until he’s free of it and between them they peel away Harry’s damp t-shirt, and then it’s just Harry’s mouth against his, and cold, damp skin against warm, and they’re collapsing onto the marble of the main staircase. It’s hard and uncomfortable but it’s there and so are they and it will have to do.
It’s not so bad, Draco thinks, pressing Harry back against the steps and kneeling over him. He takes a second or two to admire the picture he makes as he sprawls there, flushed and panting and bare-chested with jeans unbuttoned, hard and leaking against his belly. Needing the control right now, Draco holds him there, pinning his wrists to the marble, and Harry doesn’t even flinch.
Draco applies his mouth to Harry’s neck, collarbone, chest and everywhere he can reach in a desperate, haphazard pattern, breathing him in deeply and feeling ridiculously alive when Harry whimpers and twitches beneath him. By the time Draco slides his mouth over his cock, it’s almost over for both of them. He slips his tongue against the salty leak, wanting more of it, and Harry’s uninhibited groan sparks his own in an inexorable vicious circle.
Aching, desperate, and wanting Harry’s release as much as his own, Draco releases Harry’s wrists and presses his hands into service, wrapping one around Harry’s cock and sliding the other into his pyjama pants, gripping himself tightly. He’s close, just from the friction and the unexpectedness of it all and the fact that Harry is arching his hips and pushing into his mouth and gripping his shoulders hard enough to hurt. He looks up and meets Harry’s eyes.
“Draco... fuck,” Harry mumbles. “Selfish bastard... want to see.”
The meaning is lost on Draco for moments only. Harry wants to see, and the heat is already beginning to curl tightly around the base of his spine; it won’t be long. Hurriedly, he yanks at his waistband and gasps around Harry’s cock as the cold air hits his hard, heated flesh. Harry wants to see, and despite his sudden self-consciousness, he wants Harry to see. Wants Harry to see him come.
Frantic, hot, close now, he slides his mouth over Harry’s cock and his hand over his own in rhythm, never breaking eye contact; when hot pleasure rips through him and he comes all over his hand with a muffled groan, the green eyes darken instantly. Harry’s nails cut into his shoulders and with a low, broken cry, he empties himself into Draco’s mouth.
For several minutes, neither of them moves an inch. The hard marble is hurting Draco’s knees but he doesn’t care. He likes it here. Eventually, growing cold, Draco pulls away and scrambles to sprawl on the steps beside Harry, debauched and sticky and breathless.
Harry leans back, supporting himself on the step behind him, and opens his eyes. Quirks a lazy smile.
“Well, I’ve never done that before,” he offers, amused.
“Which part?” Draco asks, mildly alarmed but too sated to do more than prod Harry and lift an eyebrow. “Sex?”
Harry rolls his eyes, but shifts close enough on the step to press his mouth to Draco’s shoulder in an oddly intimate gesture. “I’ve had sex, Draco. But not with a man. And not with you. And not on a staircase.”
Relieved, Draco smiles. “You haven’t lived.”
“I know. I’m working on it, see?” Harry points out, gesturing vaguely at their replete, half-naked sprawl and at the clothing littering the entrance hall.
Suddenly very conscious that he’s wearing nothing but slightly sticky pyjama pants, Draco shivers. He’s really not sure what he’s done with his wand this time, but it’s out of reach at any rate.
Harry sighs and narrows his eyes in concentration. One idle flick of his hand later, Draco is both warm and clean.
“You’re a terrible show-off,” he says, because he doubts he’ll ever stop envying Harry’s wandless talent.
“You’re welcome.” Harry leans heavily against him and suppresses a yawn. “Hermione would kill me for this but I don’t think I can get up yet, so do you think—”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Shut up. Do you think your house-elf could get us a decent cup of coffee?”
Draco snorts. “I’m afraid that if you want anything done properly around here, you have to do it yourself.”
Harry shifts on the step and looks up at Draco through his dishevelled fringe. “That doesn’t sound very Malfoy,” he observes.
Draco exhales slowly, looking around the grand entrance hall and through the transparent front door at the rain-slicked grounds.
“Well, perhaps not. But I’m thinking that it’s time to reconsider what is and isn’t ‘Malfoy’,” he says slowly and when, after a moment or two, he hasn’t turned into a pillar of salt, he allows a cautious smile to spread across his face. It feels rather good.
“Sounds like a plan,” Harry says, reflecting the smile back to him. And then: “Did I really just have sex on your staircase?”
Draco laughs, pressing his thigh full-length against Harry’s. “Would you call that sex?”
Harry frowns. “Would you?”
“Probably not, but it’s certainly a start,” Draco says, getting reluctantly to his feet and stretching. “Come on,” he urges, prodding Harry with his foot, “let’s go down to the kitchen; you can make some decent coffee and I’ll see if I can persuade Klinky that the danger has passed and he can come out of the pantry.”
“I’m not going to ask.”
“This is really weird, Draco,” Harry says, stepping very cautiously down from the portico and out onto the lawn.
“My grass is not weird. Get on with it.”
It has taken Draco until Sunday afternoon to persuade Harry back out into the Manor grounds, but he can’t say he minds too much about Harry’s preferred indoor activities. And at least now the rain has stopped, although it’s still bitterly cold and they are both wearing coats and gloves—in Harry’s case, one red glove and one lime green. With ducks on it. Draco isn’t quite sure how he has managed that.
“You’re not helping, you know.” Harry makes a face and starts toward Draco, who is already standing in the middle of the lawn.
“You’ve already walked all the way up the drive,” Draco points out.
“That was different. I wasn’t thinking about it. I was thinking about... something else,” Harry says, smirking and turning away to look out over the fields.
Despite the cold, Draco feels his skin warm pleasantly. “If you want, I can help you think of something else now, too.”
“Still not helping, Draco.” Harry frowns and scrubs at his hair. “No, this is no good. It has to be the park, or it doesn’t count.”
“Ever heard of taking things slowly?” Draco teases, trying and failing to cover his concern with sarcasm.
Harry grins. “Nope.”
“Thought not. There will be people in the park, you realise that?”
“Helping: something you are not,” Harry mumbles, fidgeting with his coat sleeve. “Which is strange, considering that you’re the one who wants me to do outside stuff. I know there will be people. I know they’ll probably be talking about me. I know.”
Draco sighs heavily, knowing there is very little use in arguing. He looks away from Harry’s appealing eyes and examines his gloves. Both are black, and he suddenly feels rather dull.
“Anyway,” Harry adds with a knowing smile, “I’ll have to get used to it, otherwise how am I going to come to your bizarre Quidditch picnic?”
Astonishment speeds Draco’s pulse and he frowns, causing Harry’s smile to widen. “How do you know about that?”
“I have my sources,” Harry murmurs, looking away. Draco doesn’t need to ask.
“With me, then.” He holds out his arm and Harry grasps it, looking put out. “If you want to splinch yourself, be my guest. You can’t Apparate out of here... at the moment,” he adds.
“Go on then,” Harry urges, face set. “No more waiting.”
Draco nods and Disapparates.
As they walk through tall, wrought-iron gates side by side, it becomes apparent that they are not the only ones who have been drawn into the park by the crisp, bright afternoon. They are, however, the only ones being stared at. At Draco’s side, Harry stiffens immediately, but they both resist the urge to touch or stop walking. Draco wonders which of them is drawing more stares and whispers, and though it must be Harry, he doesn’t imagine his incongruous presence is helping matters.
Of course, they could have chosen a Muggle park, but Harry didn’t want that, and Draco suspects that Harry’s particular brand of logic will always be a mystery to him.
At his side, Harry is kicking at gravel and looking rather pale. Draco has the feeling that it’s going to be a long road, but surprisingly, he’s alright with that. He looks at the fountain up ahead, and the two girls sitting on the edge of it, staring openly at them. At the old men on the benches—staring. At the woman hurrying across the grass toward them, clutching a bit of parchment and what looks suspiciously like a camera.
“What should we do?” Harry whispers out of the corner of his mouth.
Draco shrugs, startled at the question. He feels as though he has lost all concept of what will repair his image, what will destroy it, or even if he cares. Harry will be gossiped about and noticed and revered, no matter what, and he’ll hate it, no matter what, but Draco supposes that’s just life without waiting.
So, fuck it. Fuck it all.
Draco looks at Harry again and squashes the ‘I have no idea’ before it can escape. Instead, he takes a deep breath and wraps his fingers around Harry’s wrist. “Let’s give them something to talk about.”
Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I'll keep checking the horizon
I'll stand on the bow
And feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down, down, down on me
And you say, "Be still, my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in."
Don't you understand?
I already have a plan
I'm waiting for my real life to begin
When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened
But in my dreams I slew the dragon
And down this beaten path
And up this cobbled lane
I'm walking in my own footsteps once again
And you say, "Just be here now
Forget about the past
Your mask is wearing thin."
Let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I'm waiting for my real life to begin
On a clear day, I can see, see a very long way.
--Lyrics from ‘Waiting for my Real Life to Begin’ by Colin Hay. Draco sings ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ by the Smiths. Clearly I own none of this stuff. If I could write songs, you’d know about it by now.