“What brings you ‘ere?”
Biting back a snort, Harry finished wiping away the water rings from the bar's scuffed surface. He slung the rag over his shoulder as he looked up at the man speaking with an amused smile.
“Believe it or not, I work here. What can I get you, sir?”
Before he could get an answer though, the door to the pub opened and beams of sunlight drenched the dimly lit space. Harry squinted against yellow to see three new customers settle down at the other end of the bar.
“I’ll be right with you,” he called. When he turned back to face the now leering bloke in front of him, Harry's guard flew up.
With a predatory gleam in dark eyes and a flashing grin of stained teeth, he leaned in closer. He must have been fifty or so. Bony and not particularly tall, with ratty, graying hair.
“How much do you cost?”
Harry set his jaw.
Five years of working in his best friend’s family-owned pub had taught Harry how to spot this type of drunk. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d been hit on by men and women alike. As long as there was enough liquor in the world to fuel the drunken bums, it probably wouldn’t be the last time he had to deflect against lewd slurs and blatant requests for blowjobs.
Bracing both hands on the counter, Harry stared at the man evenly. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to order something or leave. This pub is for paying customers, only—and I’m not for sale.”
“Gimme a moment to think,” the man growled at him irately.
“Of course, sir. Let me know when you’re ready,” Harry told him stoically. Some days went smoothly and some days left him with a bad taste in his mouth. It wasn’t even four o’clock yet, and it was already shaping up to be the latter.
He walked to the end of the bar where the trio of suits sat. He wasn’t a stranger to the businessman-type of customer either, though they weren’t as common around here.
They were pristinely dressed in suits so fine that Harry would’ve bet a days’ worth of tips that they weren’t purchased off the rack from a department store. They were all tall and good-looking; but they carried an air that screamed arrogance. He had never been impressed by men who walked around like they were superior.
The one in the middle, however, stood out the most; he was…sharp. Sharp and pale, in contrast to the two other men. His jaw and cheekbones were so chiseled that they probably could cut the diamonds on his flashy cufflinks. He was fair skinned and his hair was an unnatural shade of blonde that it was nearly white.
The two men sat on either side of him, ramrod straight and wearing what appeared to be ear pieces. Harry had to suppress a snort. Like spies out of some clichéd film, he thought wryly. Either that, or the start of a really bad joke…two brunettes and a blonde walk into a bar…
“What can I get you gentleman?” Harry asked them, forcing the corners of his lips not to twitch.
The blonde surveyed him with light grey eyes. “Scotch. Neat…please.”
Harry nodded once, his eyes flitting back and forth between the silent men on either side of ‘Mister Scotch-Neat’.
“They don’t drink on the job.” Mister Scotch-Neat informed him smoothly on their behalf. Harry’s eyebrows raised at that but he opted not to say anything else as he accepted the money for the drink and set a glass on the counter.
“Hey! Pretty boy! I’m ready for ya!” the old man to his right jeered at him. Harry gritted his teeth, poured some of the amber liquid into the whisky glass and pushed it toward the man gently.
“Let me know if I can get you anything else, sir,” he murmured before sidling down the length of the bar.
“What can I get for you?”
“Budweiser, it is,” Harry repeated. He grabbed a tankard and poured the man a beer from the tap. He set the glass down before the man. A calloused hand seized his wrist before he had a chance to withdraw from the handle.
“You’re going to have to work for your tip, ya know?” the man growled lowly. Harry jerked his hand back firmly to no avail. The pub was relatively empty at this time of day, but there were still customers seated at the tables in the back having a late lunch (or an early supper), and he didn’t want to cause a scene. This kind of rowdiness was bad for business. Especially when it came to the older crowd that had been coming to Weasley’s pub for years out of loyalty. He’d heard many of them griping over the neighborhood going downhill already.
Not like the neighborhood had ever been flourishing to begin with.
“Let go,” he hissed through his teeth.
Harry felt irritation spread through him. He tugged his arm again and opened his mouth to finally give the perv a piece of his mind. However, before Harry could threaten to call the police, Mister Scotch-Neat’s statues finally showed their first indications of life. They were flanking the scraggly old man, pulling him up by his arms and effectively disengaging his death grip on Harry’s wrist.
“I believe the barman told you to let go of him,” the blonde murmured, taking a sip of his scotch calmly. The two men dragged the bum from the bar. He kicked and shouted loud obscenities at them as he was hauled from the pub and out of sight.
So much for not making a scene, Harry thought jadedly. His eyes darted back to the man with a frown on his face. “Thank you, but I could’ve handled him myself. He’s not the first drunk I’ve ever dealt with,” Harry told him.
“Occupational hazard?” Mister Scotch-Neat asked mildly.
A huff of a laugh blew passed his lips before he could stop it. “Something like that,” he said. “Where are they taking him?” Harry looked out the window where he could no longer see the bum or the statues.
“I didn’t specify. They were just told to remove him from the property,” the man drawled, polishing off his drink before reaching into the inside pocket of his suit. Something along his shoulders stopped Harry in his tracks.
A gun holster…
The man was armed.
Harry’s spine grew rigid with apprehension.
“Who are you?” he asked, hoping his bluntness wasn’t mistaken for rudeness as well, because. Guns. Around here, guns were never a reassuring sign. The man didn’t seem phased by his question. His face was perfectly serene as he pulled out a piece of paper and pen and scribbled something on the back. “Are you a businessman?” he continued uncertainly.
The man smirked, stowed his pen away—another glimpse of the holster—and slid the paper against the wooden counter in his direction.
“Something like that,” he told him, using Harry’s own words. “Come to this place if you ever get tired of having toothless old perverts hitting on you. I’ll give you a better job.” With that, the man rose from his barstool, set down some money beside his empty glass and strode out of the pub.
Harry stared at him through the window, but Mister Scotch-Neat never looked back at him. Instead, he climbed into a black, BMW with tinted windows. It was definitely unusual to see this kind of ride in their neighborhood.
People all around were watching him retreat into the vehicle with wonderment.
Beside him, his best friend Ron Weasley had come into work, tying an apron around his waist and watching the car disappear with wide eyes.
“Mate, don’t tell me that bloke was in here,” the ginger haired man asked, bewildered.
“He was,” Harry told him with a small frown. “Why? Do you know him?”
“Blimey, Harry, he’s the Malfoy heir! Like Malfoy Industries? Couldn’t you tell? He looks just like his father,” Ron shook his head, “Wonder what he was doing in here. You’d think his sort wouldn’t be caught dead in this neighborhood.”
Harry stared at the now empty street. A Malfoy?
The Malfoy family practically owned half the city. They were billionaire entrepreneurs; one of the wealthiest families in all of England, really…So what was Malfoy’s heir doing here?
“Well, I hope he doesn’t come back here,” Ron muttered uneasily to Harry under his breath. “I don’t want trouble with the bloody mob.”
“That’s speculation, Ronald.” Harry jumped. Hermione Granger, his other best friend and Ron’s girlfriend whispered as she swooped in on Harry’s other side. “Sorry, Harry,” she apologized for startling him before continuing, “there’s no proof that the Malfoy family is linked to the mafia, though. You cannot simply make those kinds of accusations without having proof.”
Ron scoffed in disbelief, reached over and waved the money on the counter that Malfoy left behind in front of their noses. Malfoy had left behind two fifties. Harry’s tip.
Harry’s jaw dropped.
“You don’t make this kind of money without getting your hands dirty,” he stated somewhat smugly. He tucked the money into Harry’s apron pocket before he retreated into the kitchen with his girlfriend admonishing him every step of the way.
Honestly, Harry had never seen two people more perfect for each other.
Harry had known the Weasley family since he was eleven. He and Ron had been put in the same class and hit it off right away. Both coming from humble backgrounds, he and Ron had similar outlooks on life. Though the Weasley’s had seven kids of their own and little money, they’d took Harry in as one of their own throughout the years.
His parents died tragically when he was an infant; a car accident that, by some miracle, only Harry had survived with nothing more than a jagged scar across his forehead. As a result, he’d been sent to live with his only living relatives, his Aunt Petunia, her husband Vernon, and their whale of a son Dudley.
He wasn’t a welcome addition to their family. Estranged from her sister, Petunia could barely stand to look at him. Vernon loathed his very existence and Dudley used him as his personal punching bag. He grew up as just another mouth to feed, a nuisance, a burden. Nevertheless, he did his part for them. He wasn’t ungrateful; he worked for what he had. They gave him a roof and he cooked and cleaned, and did more chores around there than anyone else.
When Harry was sixteen, Dudley had caught him holding hands with a boy in the park and ratted him out to his aunt and uncle. For the Dursley’s Harry being a ‘fag’ was the final straw. He was kicked out that very same day.
He'd spent a couple of weeks sleeping in alleyways instead of going to school. When Ron eventually discovered the reason for Harry’s absence from school, he dragged Harry home with him. Never one to impose, he politely declined the Weasley’s offer to move in.
He just couldn’t do that to them. They struggled enough to make ends meet.
Instead, he crashed on their couch on and off for a couple of weeks until Harry managed to secure an after-school job at a coffee shop, and on the weekends, he pulled two-twelve hour shifts at his favorite bookstore to help pay the rent on a small studio flat. He didn’t have much, but he worked hard for what he did have.
It was enough.
Harry arrived to his flat at eight o’clock feeling dead on his feet. Yawning loudly, he wrestled the door open and bolted it shut behind him. He toed off his trainers and went to the cupboard closest to the refrigerator to retrieve a small can.
“Hedwig,” he called out softly. A white ball of fur leapt onto the counter and glared at him reproachfully. “Don’t give me that look,” he told the white feline, “I stayed late to help Ron with dishes. He’s got an early class in the morning. Look, tuna.” He set the can of fish on top of the counter for her. She permitted him to scratch behind her ears briefly before digging in.
He shirked out of his jeans down to his boxer briefs and a black tank, and picked up the old guitar in the corner and plopped down on his futon with it. He was self-taught, of course, but between music and books, was where his solace was found. He strummed idly, playing nothing in particular, but wanting to hear the sound in his ears all the same.
Two Weeks Later…
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Harry groaned and rolled over to glance at his alarm clock. The glowing green digits told him it was ten minutes after midnight. He’d only fallen asleep an hour ago but his body still protested when he forced himself to sit upright.
“Coming! I’m coming…” he called out tiredly.
Disentangling himself from his sheets Harry stumbled over to the door, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He undid the deadbolt and pried open the door to reveal the freckled-face of his friend. He paused, taking in the sight in front of him.
“Ron? You okay there, mate?” Harry asked, an arm outstretched to steady the swaying man. “Are you smashed?”
“'Lil bit,” Ron slurred, looking desolate.
“Here, come in. Sit,” he helped the redhead to the futon and guided him down onto it carefully. He ran to the sink to retrieve a glass of water. “Here, drink this,” he offered the glass.
After Ron complied, Harry sank down on the futon next to him. “What’s going on?”
Ron shook his head miserably. “Heard mum and dad talking,” he began, blinking blearily, “They’re going to lose the pub.”
Harry’s heart stopped in his chest.
“That’s their livelihood, Harry. They’ve sank everything they’ve got into runnin’ that place,” he added, scrubbing a hand down his face.
“Why are they going to lose it?”
“They can’t afford both the house and the pub anymore. Pub’s just not generating enough profit to keep it afloat and keep a roof over our heads. I was thinking maybe I could drop out of school and get a second job to help pay the bills, ya know? I’m twenty-one, I shouldn’t be living at home still, anyway.”
“You can’t. God, Ron, you mother would kill you. Hermione would kill you,” Harry protested, squeezing Ron’s shoulder. “Plus, if you stick with it, you’re going to be a brilliant architect one day. You don’t want this life, Ron, struggling to pay bills, living paycheck to—well, four days before paycheck.” He grinned half-heartedly. “Maybe I can chip in. Work for free at the pub and see about getting my old job back at Flourish and Blotts to pay the bills.”
“Mum would kill you, for even suggesting that, Harry,” Ron told him seriously. “She and dad wouldn’t allow that. Plus, what about Anthony?”
Anthony Goldstein had been Harry’s first and only boyfriend. They had started dating each other when they were sixteen and carried on for two years until he cheated on Harry with some other guy. Since then, Harry had little urge to give his heart to anyone else. Aside for a few flings, he hadn’t been with anyone else exclusively. Truthfully, the thought of seeing his ex-boyfriend again was nauseating; he had boycotted his favorite bookstore to avoid the man, after all. That had only added to the heartbreak.
“Good point. Somewhere else, then,” Harry conceded, laying down on the futon. Ron followed, flopping down heavily beside him. There was little room for them both but they made do.
“Do you wish you could’ve gone to Uni with ‘Mione and me?” Ron mumbled after a moment.
Harry sucked in a long breath and let it out slowly. “Sometimes, yeah. But it just wasn’t in the cards for me right now. Maybe someday.” He knew, even as he said those words, that him going to college was highly improbable. “I didn’t even know what I wanted to study, anyway.”
“I thought you wanted to do something with music.”
Harry shook his head and sat back up, propping himself back onto his arms as he stared down at his drunken mate. “Can’t make much money from something like that. Stop stressing over me, okay? I’m fine…I’m more concerned about your parents right now. How much longer can they stay open?”
“Dad said something about paying the bank fifteen grand in the next six months or they’ll have to close the doors.” Ron sighed. “Blimey…that place has been home away from home. I can’t—I can’t imagine life without it. Remember when we used to sneak in the back and steal beer from the tap after hours?” he added with a sleepy laugh.
Harry chuckled. “Yeah, I do. Remember our freshman year when Bill caught us drinking?”
“Fuck, who could forget that? My arse still stings from the walloping he gave us for that.”
“He did us both a solid. Better him than your parents and the Dursley’s knowing. We would’ve gotten so much worse.”
“True, that.” Ron yawned loudly and rolled over onto his stomach, snuggling into Harry’s lumpy pillow. “…I don’t know what to do, Harry,” he whispered, a tear rolling down his dirt-smudged face. Man, Ron must’ve been really drunk to be weepy. Harry wiped it away briskly before covering them both up with the blanket.
“I wish I had an answer, Ron,” Harry murmured sadly, “but just know whatever happens, I’ll be there, okay?”
Ron smiled weakly, eyes finally too heavy for him to keep open. “Dunno how you do it, ‘Arry. You’ve always been there. You’ve always ha’ it worse than any of us, but you’ve still always been there…” Ron mumbled before passing out.
Harry laid in bed, eyes fixated on the ceiling. In six months’ time, his best friend’s family would be out of business, out of work completely. His heart felt like someone tied an anchor to it and let it sink down to the floor. It ached.
Ron snored loudly in his ear and Harry jerked his head sideways to avoid being blasted by the stench of alcohol on his breath. He couldn’t blame Ron for feeling so helpless. Harry felt helpless too.
Hedwig jumped up onto the end table to pin him with an unimpressed glare. “Be nice,” he told her quietly. “I know he snores but he’s having a rough day. I don’t know why you hate everyone.” She flicked her tail moodily, sending something dark fluttering to the floor. Harry slid out of bed to retrieve it, fingers stopping in the tracks and hovering over the silvery business card.
In bold, emerald green cursive were only three words.
He picked it up gingerly, flipping it between his fingers to read the words on the back written in an elegant scrawl that was an uncommon skill for most guys Harry knew.
Show this to the bouncer at the door.
Ask for Draco.
Mister Scotch-Neat had penned his signature beneath the message. Harry ran a finger over it thoughtfully as he recalled the blonde man with soul-piercing eyes. Harry grabbed a ripped pair of jeans from the closet and slipped into them. He yanked a black tee over his head and then slid his arms into his denim jacket. His hair was messy but that wasn’t unusual whatsoever. Combing his fingers through it to work out the knots, he shoved his feet into his shoes.
He leaned over the counter to find a stray pen and old receipt to scribble a note to Ron incase his friend woke up looking for him.
Went out for some air.
Be back soon.
Stay hydrated. That means water. Not soda.
Harry picked up the card again and pocketed it, along with the two, fifty pound (now wrinkled) notes the man had left as a rather ostentatious tip a couple weeks prior. He glanced back at his best friend sound asleep on his futon one last time. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to protect those he loved.
He left quietly, locking the door behind him.
Ask for Draco.