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:: :: :: :: ::
Sunday, 21 January, 2001
The sun was high in the sky when Draco woke up. He sat up very carefully, expecting to feel a rush of pain to his forehead, even a bit of nausea.
He felt nothing. In fact, he felt rather well. The hangover would hit him soon, he thought. Sometimes it took a while.
Half an hour later he stepped out of the shower, and he still felt fine, which was strange considering how very drunk he'd been the night before. He frowned at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and decided he should go back to bed just in case. He turned the corner and nearly cried out in surprise – a house-elf was standing next to his bed, beaming at him.
“Good morning, Master Draco,” it said, unfazed by the fact that he was completely naked. “I is here to deliver a message from Master Malfoy.”
“How did you find me?” Draco asked, shielding his groin with a hand. Not that he cared what the grubby little creature thought, but it was at crotch height.
“Ebby is good at finding things,” the elf replied, nodding its head. “Ebby is finding Master Draco to deliver a message.”
“Message, yes,” Draco said, scanning for something to cover himself. He spotted a pair of boxers on the floor, accio'd them wandlessly, and pulled them on. “What's the message?”
The elf straightened up to its full height and produced a roll of parchment seemingly out of thin air. Draco unrolled it to see his father's elegant handwriting.
Draco paused to glance at the elf. It was smiling stupidly at him. He had neither desire nor use for a house-elf in these circumstances – and he was fairly certain its real task was to spy on him for Lucius.
“We have a country estate in Scotland ?” Draco murmured.
“Oh, yes,” the elf squeaked. “It is a grand castle!”
Draco re-rolled the scroll and gave it a harsh look. “I've no use for a house-elf here. There are Muggle servants.”
The elf's eyes bulged. “Master Draco does not wish Ebby to serve him? Filthy Muggles are better servants than a loyal house-elf?” Tears brimmed.
Draco rolled his eyes. They could be such melodramatic creatures. “Look around you. There's no space for you here. This is a hotel room.”
“Ebby doesn't need space, sir,” the elf sobbed. “Ebby can sleep behind the toilet, in a rubbish bin–”
“Shut up, will you?” Draco spat. Having a house-elf underfoot would certainly put a damper on his sex life. Perhaps that was just what Lucius had in mind. “I won't have…” he began, but paused as an idea struck him. “I have much more important things for you to do, Ebby. I want you to go to the country estate and wait for me. Do not let my father know you are there. When I need you, I will call for you.”
The elf brightened at this. “Oh, yes, Master, yes! Ebby will go and will be very quiet. Ebby will wait for Master Draco to call.”
“Very good,” Draco said, turning away. “You may leave.” He rolled up the scroll and heard the elf disapparate.
:: :: :: :: ::
He spent much of the morning lazing about his room. He unpacked his bag and sorted through the clothes he'd brought, almost immediately deciding he'd have to go shopping as soon as possible. He opened the envelope that had come with the pigeon post the morning he'd left New York , which turned out to contain a copy of an academic paper about a spell he'd never heard of, along with a handwritten note.
Draco read the abstract, then flipped through the paper. He vaguely remembered meeting Dr. Padilla at a party at his new supervisor's apartment. He'd been quite drunk that night, and she'd done most of the talking. He'd always been good at charming important people, but he must have impressed her quite a lot for her to have sent him this.
The telephone rang. He stared at it before answering, wondering who could possibly be calling him.
“Good morning, Mister Malfoy. This is Jeshira at the front desk. There's a gentleman in the lobby asking for you, sir – a Mister Potter.”
“Oh,” Draco replied. “Yes.”
There was a pause and a rustling sound, and then Draco heard Potter's voice. “Hi. Uh… We seem to have exchanged coats last night.”
“Did we?” Draco asked. He glanced across the room – sure enough, Potter's leather jacket was hung over the back of a chair. How had that happened? “I suppose you'll be wanting it back then?”
“Well, yes – it's sentimental. I'm in the lobby at the moment. Obviously. Could you bring it down?”
“I'm not dressed yet. Could you give me a few minutes?”
“Well… I could come up. I'm in a bit of a rush.”
“Sure,” Draco replied. “Room 928.”
He hung up the phone and crossed to pick up the jacket. It was distressed and old, with stains in odd places. Draco wondered how he hadn't noticed he'd picked it up instead of his own wool coat. “I must have been blottoed,” he mumbled. Yet more proof.
He put the jacket on and stared at his reflection in the mirror. It was a little big on him, but not unwearable. The lining felt good against his bare skin. He turned sideways, admiring his reflection. He looked good in this jacket. He ought to–
The knock on the door startled him, and he pulled the jacket off as he crossed to open it. Potter was standing in the corridor, staring at him.
“What?” Draco asked, holding out the jacket.
Potter took it and handed Draco his wool coat. He looked uncomfortable. “Sorry. I thought you'd be dressed before I came up.”
“I am dressed,” Draco replied, glancing down at his boxers. “Everything is covered that's legally required to be.”
Potter looked away, his cheeks turning pink. “I sent you a message this morning, but I never heard back from you, so I figured I'd just drop by. Sorry for the trouble.”
“No trouble.” He kept forgetting about the message box.
Potter looked a little pale. He folded his jacket over his arm and ran a hand through his hair.
Draco felt a little twinge in his stomach. Damn hangover. “Are you feeling it this morning too?”
Potter looked back up at him. “What?”
“I think I had a bit too much to drink last night,” Draco said, leaning against the doorframe. “I hope I wasn't horribly obnoxious.”
Potter shrugged. “You weren't. And I'm fine. It was only a few beers.”
Draco frowned. Was he that much of a lightweight after all? He looked back at the leather jacket in Potter's arms. “Well, sorry about the jacket, anyway. Sentimental, is it? It looks old.”
“It was my…” Potter began, and then hesitated. “It belonged to someone I knew.”
“Ah.” Draco ran through a list of possibilities in his head.
Potter stepped back from the door. “I should be going. See you tomorrow?”
“Sure. Are you going to swing by and pick me up again?”
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Potter said, digging into a pocket and pulling out something that looked like a Muggle business card. Across the top were printed the words Find-it Quick! He handed it to Draco. “It's been charmed to give you directions. Just give it a tap and say ‘help' and it will tell you which way to go.”
“I thought the office was unplottable.”
“It is. This will take you to the pub down the street. I trust you can find your way from there?” With that, he turned and walked down the hall, putting his leather jacket on as he did.
Draco watched him walk away. The man looked entirely too good in jeans. Too bad he was straight.
:: :: :: :: ::
They settled into a pattern over the week that followed.
Draco showed up right at 10:00 every morning, as he'd been told that was the starting time – but he usually found Potter and Weasley already there and working. The Find-it Quick card proved useful, if annoying, with its admonitions of Your OTHER left! and No, no, turn around!. He was looking forward to ripping it into tiny pieces once he'd learned the way.
On Monday, he'd come in with a plan. It was nothing terribly sophisticated, something he'd just thought of while shopping for new clothes on Sunday afternoon, but Potter and Weasley seemed more than happy to spend several hours talking it through. They ultimately decided it was unworkable, but Draco was pleased they'd taken his suggestion seriously.
In fact, Draco had been made to feel welcome in nearly every way. He'd expected a certain level of tension to exist between them, but it simply wasn't there. Weasley and Potter had accepted his presence as if they were all old friends. Which they weren't, of course – but Draco didn't see any point in dwelling on that.
They kept short hours, working 10:00 - 12:00 in the mornings, taking a long lunch, and then finishing up around 5:00 in the afternoon. Mornings were spent brainstorming and talking through ideas, and afternoons were spent working on individual research.
Weasley and Potter usually went for a long run at lunchtime. They had invited Draco the first day, but he'd had the impression it was just out of courtesy. He wasn't much of an athlete these days anyway; he spent his lunch breaks shopping or sipping coffee in a café around the corner. They had agreed it was best if his presence was kept quiet, so he cast glamour charms on himself before venturing out – something he found entertaining, to say the least.
By Wednesday, Draco began to wonder how seriously Potter and Weasley were taking this whole enterprise. They seemed to get very little done, despite the fact that they were always in the office and working before he arrived every morning. They were just reading up on something they'd thought of that morning, they'd say, but neither of them ever had any ideas that were better than Draco's own. It almost seemed like they weren't terribly worried about how all of this was going to work out.
Draco met Potter for dinner every night that week. Weasley had drinks with them on Wednesday before heading home, but otherwise it was just the two of them. Each night, Draco drank a little more than was wise, and each night he found himself staring into Potter's eyes like a lovesick schoolgirl.
Fortunately, Potter was too dim to notice. They talked about many things, though they both avoided anything related to their last few years at school. Neither of them talked about their personal lives either, which was fine with Draco.
He began to entertain himself by flirting with Potter in subtle ways. It happened mostly when they were alone – mildly suggestive comments, a brush of arms, a touch that wasn't strictly necessary. By the end of the week, Draco grew bold enough to brush his thigh against Potter's under the table while they worked with Weasley.
He wasn't sure if Potter knew what was going on, but he seemed to enjoy the attention. In his own way, Potter even returned it, which gave Draco plenty of material for masturbation fantasies. Most surprising of all, Potter seemed to enjoy Draco's company. And on Thursday night, after four pints of Stella, Draco had enough liquid courage to ask him about it.
“Why have you been so nice to me this week? Not that I'm complaining, but–”
Potter shrugged. “Why shouldn't I be? I didn't ask you to come all the way here so I could abuse you.”
“Maybe I like to be abused,” Draco replied with a wink. Potter snorted and took a sip of beer. “I'm serious, though. Why did you ask me to come?”
“You were the only one we thought we could trust.” Potter stared into his glass. It was difficult to tell in the dim light of the pub, but he might have been blushing.
“Because I did year one of Auror training with you?”
Potter nodded. “Lucius wanted one of his own. With you, we knew what we were dealing with, at least.”
Draco frowned, uncertain if he should take offense at that remark or not. “But that doesn't explain why you've been hanging out with me this week. Surely you have friends you're neglecting nightly to have dinner with me.”
“Not really. Ever since school, I've really only had Ron and Hermione. And they've always had each other. And now they have the twins, so...”
“I suppose it's all they ever talk about.”
Potter nodded, then gave a strange laugh. “I sound rather pathetic, don't I? It's not as bad as that, but yeah. There's only so many descriptions of how bad this morning's nappies smelled that I can take without wanting to strangle Ron.”
It was about then that Draco finally admitted to himself that he had a crush on Potter.
:: :: :: :: ::
Friday, 26 January, 2001
“Bowtruckle,” Draco said to the door of the abandoned green grocer's, and then stepped through. The shop was empty – Potter and Weasley must not have come back from their daily run yet.
Draco settled behind his desk and pulled a book from his shoulder bag. He'd headed to the London Library of Magic after a quick lunch, having learned that morning that Weasley had a membership, courtesy of his wife. The card even looked well-used, to Draco's surprise.
He had just started taking notes from a chapter about Chinese entrapment spells when Potter and Weasley walked through the boarded-up door, panting. Draco frowned at their appearance – they usually were back and changed before he returned from lunch, so he hadn't seen them looking so thoroughly sweaty before.
“I'm starving,” Weasley said, crossing to his desk. “What did you bring us to eat, Malfoy?”
“You could eat me,” Draco quipped, and grinned when Weasley flipped him off.
“No respect at all,” Weasley said, his voice tinged with mock exasperation. He laughed and pulled his shirt over his head – and Draco couldn't help but stare in surprise. Weasley was built very well, broad through the shoulders with a sprinkling of red hair on his muscled chest.
And then Weasley stripped out of the rest of his running gear, right there in the middle of the office. Draco felt the smirk fade from his face. He tried not to look, but he couldn't help it, especially when Weasley turned to face him. The man was hung.
Draco heard a snapping sound beneath his fingers, and realized he'd pressed his quill against the parchment so hard that he'd crushed the tip. He found his wand and cast a non-verbal reparo , feeling himself blush. He glanced at Potter, hoping he hadn't been caught.
Potter had taken his shirt off as well, but he'd paused in mid-dress to look at Weasley. Draco blinked – was he seeing things, or was Potter staring at Weasley's arse? Potter caught Draco's eye and turned away, cheeks a bit pinker than they'd been a moment before.
Well, Draco thought. How interesting. He let his eyes wander over Potter's form. He was smaller than Weasley, but still more muscular than Draco would have guessed. Potter shed his trackie bottoms, and Draco couldn't help a snort at the sight of his bare arse.
Weasley and Potter turned to look at him.
“Does this look like a changing room? I hope you boys know some showering spells.” He turned back to his book, and was hit in the back of the head a moment later by a balled-up pair of sweaty underwear.
He made a rude gesture over his shoulder without turning around and heard Weasley and Potter laugh. Draco grinned.
:: :: :: :: ::
Lucius had sent the address of the ‘country estate' along with Ebby in response to Draco's query. At 6:45, he apparated to a spot just outside the village of Maybole , which the concierge had pulled up on an internet map for him, and found himself standing at the end of a long drive that curled up a hill to a castle. The air was damp and chilly and the sky was dark, so he apparated closer, as close as he could get before the wards bounced him back. He walked up the stone steps and hesitated before a large ornate door, uncertain if he should knock.
He opened the door and stepped into a large entryway, almost like the lobby of a hotel. It was so different from his childhood home that he spent a moment staring about in shock. There were tapestries and paintings on the walls, but they were clearly of the Muggle variety. The furniture seemed to be of several different styles – a decorator had not been consulted. It was remarkably gauche.
“Good evening,” he heard, and turned to see his father standing in a doorway. Lucius was dressed in elegant robes, his long hair tied back at the nape of his neck.
Draco straightened his posture without thinking about it. “Father,” he said, nodding his head.
“We're waiting for you in the parlor.”
Lucius turned and walked through another door. Draco followed, already wondering who the ‘we' might include.
Seated on mismatched ornate chairs around the fireplace were two faces he recognized instantly – Snape and Avery. They nodded at him as he entered, but didn't stand.
“Gentlemen,” Draco said, stopping before them and giving a slight bow.
Snape nodded his head in response, but Avery just stared at Draco, his dark eyes narrowed.
“Brandy?” Lucius asked, waving his wand at a decanter by the fireplace. Draco found a glass in his hand before he had a chance to respond. Lucius waved his wand again and the parlor door closed. He gestured to a chair that had just appeared next to Snape. “Make yourself comfortable, Draco. We have much to discuss.”
:: :: :: :: ::
It was nearly 11:00 when Draco apparated directly into his hotel room. He shed his robes and changed into more casual attire, then dashed out the door. After days of prodding, Potter had finally agreed to go out to a club with him, and they'd planned on meeting around 11:00 that night. Draco hadn't expected the dinner with his father to go so late.
He hadn't expected there to be other guests, either. Snape and Avery were just two of a group of Death Eaters who were conspiring with Lucius to bring the Dark Lord down – a concept that made Draco's head hurt just to think about. He had listened carefully as they explained how they had come to this point, how the Dark Lord's behavior had grown increasingly erratic over the last two years, how he'd grown physically weaker in the last six months. Voldemort had always led by intimidation and fear, but his wrath was unpredictable and irrational now. Draco gathered from the conversation that his father had been the victim of one of these incidents.
They had pressed him for details on Potter's plans, and with both Snape and Lucius there, Draco couldn't lie. He'd told them there wasn't a plan yet, but that the three of them were working on it every day. That satisfied none of them, and Draco had left shaken and considerably more worried about what he'd got himself into. Weasley and Potter barely seemed to be taking all of this seriously, and he'd got caught up in their carefree attitude in the last week. He'd almost forgotten what they were up against, and he couldn't afford to do that again.
It was exactly 11:00 when he closed his door to rush down to the lobby, his coat in hand. He cast a spell on his hair in the lift after a frightening glance in the mirror, and stepped out, expecting to see Potter there waiting for him.
The lobby was full of people sitting around the piano bar, sipping drinks and talking – but Potter was nowhere to be seen. Draco felt a bit relieved; he preferred it when others were later than him, of course. He settled into an empty chair to wait.
Ten minutes later, he ordered a drink from a server who'd come by. Twenty minutes later, his glass was empty – and he'd apparently been stood up. He waited a few more minutes, until his watch read 11:30 , and then he walked out the back door and down to the Tube Station.
Screw Potter, he thought as he stood by the platform waiting for the Bakerloo train. He probably hadn't wanted to go in the first place and had only agreed so Draco would stop talking about it. He stewed all the way to Picadilly Circus Station, then scowled at the swarms of drunken Muggles who jostled him in the corridor as he headed for the Picadilly line. He had no idea why he'd expected Potter to show up anyway. Draco had promised to take him to one of the dance clubs in Leicester Square , expecting that Potter would pull some Muggle girl and drag her off to a toilet for a quick shag. It wasn't as if he was going to take him to a gay club, after all.
He finally emerged onto Charing Cross Road and headed up towards Soho . The club scene there had changed surprisingly little from his teen years, and he soon found a spot that looked promising. He got past the doorman with a charming smile and worked his way towards the bar.
Within fifteen minutes, he found what he'd been looking for: a young man with pale skin and dark hair, dancing with a group of friends. Draco slung back his drink and headed towards him.
It was ridiculously easy to pick up men, he'd always thought. He didn't consider himself particularly good-looking, but he'd learned confidence was often as important as appearance.
Half an hour and several drinks later, they were in a cab, heading back to the Hilton.
:: :: :: :: ::
Saturday, 27 January, 2001
Draco was having an oddly erotic dream about owls when he awoke. He blinked up at the ceiling for a moment before he realized someone was knocking on the door. He groaned – he must have forgotten to put up the ‘Do Not Disturb' sign. He sat up and squinted at the clock beside the bed. He frowned. It was a bit early for housekeeping to be coming around.
The knocking sounded again. Draco pushed the duvet off himself and stood, surveying the room. The boy he'd brought back was still sound asleep; only his hair was visible at the moment. He'd been exactly what Draco needed, it turned out – young, hot, horny, and practically insatiable. Draco had come three times before he'd convinced the boy to let him go to sleep.
The knocking turned into pounding, and Draco crossed to the door. “What?” he shouted at it. “It's fucking early.”
“Malfoy?” he heard. It was Potter.
Draco was surprised to feel his anger from the night before returning full force. He unlatched and opened the door to see Potter was standing there, looking a bit disheveled.
“What the fuck do you want?” Draco spat.
A couple walked by the open door and gave Draco an odd look.
Potter glanced at them and back at Draco. “Can I come in?”
“No,” Draco told him. He hesitated a moment before adding, “I'm not alone.”
“Which would explain why you have no clothes on,” Potter retorted, looking away again.
Draco felt a flush creep over his skin. He was completely naked – in his anger, he hadn't even noticed. He stepped back through the door and reached into the bathroom to grab a towel. By the time he had it wrapped around his waist, Potter had come into the room and closed the door behind him.
“Look,” Potter began, “About last night–”
“I don't really give a fuck about last night. It was no big deal. I went out on my own.”
“I'm sorry, okay? I got tied up with… with something else and–”
“Excuse me.” Draco turned to see the dark-haired boy from the club standing behind him. “Can I get to the toilet please?”
Draco stepped back and the boy passed between them. He was naked as well – and quite fit, Draco couldn't help but notice as he passed. It had been dark during most of their activity the night before. The door closed and Draco looked back at Potter.
He was staring at the closed door, an expression of shock on his face. Draco watched him for a moment, then sighed and scratched the back of his head. So Potter really hadn't known before. This was a hell of a way for him to find out.
“Like I said, not alone.” Draco made a vague gesture at the bathroom door.
Potter opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He stared at the door for several more seconds and then turned back to Draco. He looked completely flustered. “Erm…”
They heard the sound of a toilet flushing, and the bathroom door opened again. The boy looked back and forth between them, eyes lingering on Potter's face. “I'll just be going then,” he said and ducked back between them, disappearing around the corner.
Potter shook his head as if to clear it. “I'm sorry – I have fucking horrible timing. I'll… I'll come back later.”
“Sure, whatever,” Draco replied. He tried to sound casual, but he doubted Potter missed the stiffness in his tone.
Potter made no move to leave, however. He seemed rooted to the spot. “I just wanted to tell you I was sorry. I didn't think… I mean…”
Draco groaned. “Let's just get it out on the table, shall we?” He turned to gesture toward the boy from the club, who was stepping into his shoes. “I picked him up last night, brought him here, and fucked him until the wee hours of the morning. That's what I do, okay? I'm sorry you're finding this so shocking.”
The boy tried to sneak past Draco toward the door, but Draco pulled him back and kissed him. “Thanks,” he said.
“Anytime,” the boy replied with a smug grin. It faded when he saw the expression on Potter's face. “It was just a fuck, all right?” he said, shrinking away. “He's all yours now.” Potter gaped at him in response. The boy stepped around him and opened the door.
They both jumped when it slammed shut.
“I just… I didn't know you were gay,” Potter said. He looked confused.
“You always were slow. This doesn't bode well for the task we're trying to accomplish.”
“Why didn't you tell me before?”
“Why didn't you ask, if it was so important? Am I supposed to wear a name tag, or something? Hello, I'm a queer!” Potter looked extremely disturbed, and Draco felt his heart sink a bit. He sighed. “Look, if it bothers you that much, I won't mention it. And if you don't barge into my hotel room at odd hours, you won't see anything distasteful.”
“It's not like that,” Potter said, pressing a hand against his forehead. “I just… I thought… Oh hell, it doesn't matter.”
“No, I think it does. If you have a problem with me being gay, then say so.”
“I don't have a problem with it,” Potter said, almost sounding tired. “That's not it at all. Never mind.” He made a helpless gesture and turned towards the door. “Sorry to have disturbed you. And I'm sorry about last night.” He opened the door and stepped through it, then turned back. He seemed to steel himself. “I don't suppose you'll let me make it up to you?”
Draco blinked at him. “What do you mean?”
“Dinner? And if you still want to drag me out dancing… well, I owe you one.”
Draco wasn't sure what to say to that, so he just nodded in response.
“Send me a note to let me know what time.” Potter disappeared down the corridor, leaving Draco feeling oddly empty.
:: :: :: :: ::
Potter picked at the samosa on his plate, and Draco sighed. Dinner had been an uncomfortable affair so far. The events of the morning seemed to have changed something between them, and Draco was surprised how much he was disappointed about that.
“Snape and Avery were at dinner last night,” Draco said. Potter looked up, his expression unreadable. “I was surprised to see Avery, to be honest. I've never known Father to consider him a confidant.”
“Avery's nephew was killed by Voldemort a few months ago,” Potter said, fingering the stem of his glass.
“I didn't know.” It was surprising news, since Avery's family had been close to the Dark Lord for half a century. “Anyway, Father said–”
The waiter arrived with their main courses. Potter had cast some sort of spell that made their conversation difficult to understand by others, but they still had to be careful. A dish of rice and several small bowls of curry were placed before them, nearly overwhelming the small table. The waiter began to describe each dish in more detail than was required, taking so long that Draco began to grow agitated. Potter seemed patient, though – even relaxed. It only irritated Draco further.
“Father said that the Dark Lord has been behaving more and more erratically,” Draco continued when the waiter finally left. “His remaining allies are beginning to isolate him from those they find suspicious. Father hasn't seen him in a month – Lestrange won't let him anywhere near.”
“Really?” Potter asked. He seemed mildly surprised, but he continued spooning aloo matar onto his plate.
“And Snape has been doing some research, trying to figure out why Voldemort is deteriorating. He says he can't find any possible cause.”
Potter nodded, as if he were absorbing this information but not thinking very hard about it.
Draco sighed when he realized Potter wasn't going to say anything. “So what do you think?”
Potter had just taken a bite of naan, so there was another long pause. “Do they think it's going to be harder for us to get to him now?”
“Well, if they're having a hard time, yes. But I meant the deterioration. Doesn't it seem like something we should look into?”
Potter shrugged. “If Snape hasn't made much progress, I doubt we'll be able to learn anything.”
“Are you kidding? Snape is stuck at Hogwarts much of the time, teaching courses. We can spend a good deal more time on this than he can.”
“We need to focus on our own task, on finding a way to trap him,” Potter replied between bites.
“And understanding why he's deteriorating could help us. Besides, trapping him is only part of it. We've not thought at all about how we're going to incapacitate him.” He shivered at the thought – the man was still the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the world. They had a good chance of getting killed, which Draco preferred not to think about at all.
“We'll worry about that later,” Potter said, his tone dismissive.
“Much later, at the rate we're going,” Draco grumbled. He looked up, but Potter was still focused on his food. Draco began to push his own food around on the plate, trying not to let his frustration show.
They could talk about work on Monday, he told himself. He wanted to have fun tonight, and arguing with Potter when things were already tense between them wasn't going to help matters.
“This is lovely,” Draco said at last. He took a bite of a creamy chicken curry, which turned out to be quite good, and scanned the colorful tapestries that hung on the restaurant's walls. “How'd you find this place?”
“I just walked by one day,” Potter replied. “They do a good lunch business.”
“And it's convenient to where we're going next.”
Potter's smile seemed forced. “I promised to go, but I didn't promise to dance.”
“You can't go to a dance club and not dance,” Draco retorted. “I'll just have to find someone to dance with you, won't I? Someone you won't be able to resist.” A look of panic flitted across Potter's face and Draco laughed. “Come on, trust me. I could even get you laid tonight, if you want.”
Potter snorted and rolled his eyes.
Draco's smile was wry. “And you need it, I think.”
:: :: :: :: ::
The club was just starting to get busy, from the looks of things. The dance floor was full of smartly-dressed people who moved together in same-sex clumps. Most held drinks and conversed with each other over the music, occasionally turning to cast meaningful looks at opposite-sex clumps of people. Nondescript house music blared, colorful lights flashed – and Harry Potter looked miserable.
“Drink,” Draco said, handing him one of the shooters he'd purchased at the bar. “It'll help.”
“I'll get in the spirit,” Potter replied. He downed the drink and inspected the empty glass. “I'll need a few more of these, though.”
They spent the next half hour watching the scene and drinking more shots than Draco suspected was wise. He watched Potter's gaze flit around the club, trying to see if anyone caught his eye, but it looked as if Potter was more interested in watching than participating.
Draco elbowed him when a curvy blonde walked by. “What about her? She's cute.”
“How would you know?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “I'm gay, not blind. She's hot. You should go talk to her, get her to dance with you.”
Potter watched her walk over towards the bar and shook his head. “I dunno. She's a bit out of my league.”
“Are you mad?” Draco retorted.
He stared at Potter for a moment, wondering if he had any idea how he looked. He was wearing his standard uniform of well-fitting jeans and a vintage rock t-shirt, his hair hanging down to his shoulders in artful disarray. His leather jacket was draped over one arm and he leaned casually against the wall, looking sexy and aloof. Draco had seen a dozen women and even a few men cast him looks of interest tonight, but Potter didn't seem to have noticed.
“Right. Excuse me for a moment.” He handed Potter his half-empty glass and walked towards the bar.
“What are you–?” Potter began to ask, but Draco ignored him.
He stopped just behind the curvy blonde and touched her shoulder. She turned to look at him, and he smiled. “Sorry, but I just had to come right over here and ask you where did you get that shirt?”
She blinked at him for a moment, as if she couldn't remember what she was wearing. It wa s lovely – a red sleeveless spandex shirt with a dragon embroidered over the chest. Her enormous breasts made the sides of the dragon look a bit warped, Draco thought, but it was nice all the same.
“Oh, I've had it for years,” she replied, grinning.
“I love it,” Draco said, “and it looks so lovely on you. I was just telling my boyfriend how much I wanted a shirt with a dragon like that, and you go strolling by, looking good enough to eat.”
She laughed and flipped her long hair back over her shoulder. “Oh, you're sweet, aren't you? Where's your boyfriend?”
Draco turned and pointed at Potter, smirking at the expression of surprise on his face. “That's Harry over there. He's a bit shy, though.”
“Oh, he's adorable,” she said, waving at Potter. Potter blushed and returned a weak wave.
“He's a doll, but he hates to dance. He's embarrassed, you know, to look gay in public.”
“Oh, he shouldn't be,” she cooed. “Not here.”
“Well, he is. We're going to leave soon, I think.”
“Oh, no!” she said, and then scrunched up her face – apparently thinking. “Do you think he'd dance with me?”
“Would you?” Draco asked, winking at Potter. “He just might do, if you ask nicely.”
She grinned and started to make her way through the crowd toward Potter, who seemed frozen to the spot at the sight of her. Draco watched as she whispered into his ear and then tugged him towards the dance floor.
It turned out that Potter really was a terrible dancer. He was stiff and self-conscious, and became even more so when the girl placed his hands on her hips and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She was talking to him as she gyrated against him, and after half a song he relaxed visibly, which helped – he improved quite a bit.
She whispered something to him and he laughed, then pulled her a little closer. Draco leaned against the bar and sighed. What a waste, he thought.
“Hi,” he heard, and turned to see a man standing next to him. The man's smile gave him an uncanny resemblance to Ewan McGregor.
Draco smiled back. “Hi.”
They stared at each other a moment more, and then the man nodded toward the dance floor and raised an eyebrow. Draco grinned in response.
The man turned out to be a great dancer. They barely spoke, just stared at each other as they moved, arms and legs brushing more and more frequently until their bodies were pressed tightly together. In a haze of alcohol, music, and hormones, Draco hadn't realized how much time had passed until the man leaned in to whisper into his ear.
“This is about the time I would usually ask you if you wanted to go back to my flat, but I don't think your boyfriend would like that very much.”
It took Draco a moment to process the words. The man was looking across the club to where Potter was standing, alone and glaring daggers at Draco.
“Shit,” Draco said, and stepped back from the man. “He's not my boyfriend, though. It's just–”
“Whatever he is, I don't want to be in the middle of it,” the man said. He pressed a card into Draco's hand and smiled. “If it doesn't work out, ring me up.” With that, he turned and disappeared into the crowd.
Draco took a deep breath and turned towards Potter. He had no idea why he was so irritated – after all, wasn't this why they'd come? Potter didn't look at him as he approached. He'd acquired another drink at some point; he slung the rest of it back when Draco stopped before him.
“What?” Draco asked.
“I can't believe you told her I was your boyfriend!” Potter said, his words slurring a bit.
“Well–” Draco began.
“And then you go and wrap yourself around Obi-Wan Kenobi there, leaving me in a bit of a spot. She tried to convince me to leave with her and her friends.”
“You should have done,” Draco replied with a snort. “You could've played the whole ‘I hate men, so maybe I should give women a try' angle.”
Potter looked horrified. “Is this the sort of person you are, really? Do you go around lying to people to get them to sleep with you?”
“I don't have to lie,” Draco retorted, almost laughing. “I can get laid whenever I want.”
“And you think I can't? Is that what this was about? You feel sorry for me, is that it?”
“I don't feel anything for you!” Draco said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Fuck, I just wanted to have a good time. Forgive me for thinking you might as well.”
“This is your idea of a good time? I think I feel sorry for you.”
“How can you be so fucking pretentious? What I do is my own fucking business, so fuck off!”
Potter rolled his eyes. “Could you swear a bit more? I don't think enough people are staring at us.”
Draco glanced around to see that most of the people standing near them were indeed watching them curiously. He snarled another expletive and stalked towards the door. He stepped out into crowded Leicester Square , shivering in the January weather.
Potter was right behind him, shouting, “Hang on!”
Draco kept walking. He was angry, angrier than he could remember being in a long time. He would find a dark alley and apparate straight back to his hotel room, where he would smoke a fag and have a drink from the mini-bar and forget all about Potter.
He felt a hand grasp his arm, and he whirled around, glaring. “Just forget it, all right? Go home and do whatever it is you do on Saturday nights. I won't drag you out again.”
“Will you just stop, please?” Potter said, his expression one of exasperation. “Can we talk for a minute?”
Draco scowled at him and gestured at the crowd around them. “Here?”
“Come on,” Potter said, walking towards one of the side streets leading out of the square.
They stopped when the sound of the square had receded and stepped off the street into a dark alcove. Draco leaned back against the brick façade and glared at Potter. “Well? Going to tell me what a fucked-up life I lead? Still trying to pretend you aren't homophobic?”
Potter grimaced. “Will you shut up about that? I don't have a problem with it. It isn't that at all!”
“Then what is it?” Draco asked, unable to keep the sarcasm from his tone.
Potter's jaw clenched and he shook his head. He opened his mouth to speak, but made no sound. He just stared at Draco.
And all at once, Draco understood: Potter was attracted to him, and he didn't know what to do about it. Draco wondered why he hadn't seen it before, but it all made sense – the flirting, the way he looked at Weasley, his reaction to seeing Draco with men, his utter lack of a proper sex life – Potter was in the closet, and he was fighting it.
Draco felt something flare in his chest, something he hadn't dared to let himself hope for. He stared back at Potter, knowing his own face was half-lit by the streetlight, softening his expression to something he hoped was inviting. Potter's face had softened as well, and he had leaned closer. Draco wet his lips and kept his eyes locked on Potter's.
“Go on,” he whispered. “It's all right.”
Potter caught his breath and stepped back, shaking his head. “I'm sorry,” he replied, pressing a hand to his forehead. “I'm being a complete prick, and I apologize. It isn't you–”
“If you say ‘it's me' I will strangle you,” Draco said. He sighed and wrapped his arms around himself. “Look, I–”
“Don't,” Potter interrupted, stepping out of the alcove. “We've both had a lot to drink, and… and things are a bit weird, but it will be fine in the morning. So I'll just…” He waved his hand and sighed. “Good night.”
He disapparated, leaving Draco alone.
:: :: :: :: ::
Sunday, 28 January, 2001
Draco stared at his reflection in the mirror, straightening the clasp of his robe and smoothing down his hair. His mother wouldn't have liked it so short – she'd have kissed his cheeks and told him he should wear it long like his father.
Draco turned away from the mirror and disapparated.
He was standing in a spot he hadn't visited many times before, despite it being on the grounds of his family's estate. He searched the stones until he found the one he was looking for, a relatively new one engraved with his mother's name.
He stared at it for a moment, feeling chilled. He'd known she was dead for a while now, but something about standing here made it more real than it had been before.
He knelt by the stone, trying to think of something to say or do. He didn't know what one was supposed to do when visiting a grave. He'd only been to this family cemetery a few times in his life, usually when his mother had made him come. His grandparents and great-grandparents were buried here, along with many generations of Malfoys whom no living person could remember. They had scowled down at him from their portraits when he walked down certain corridors as a child, frightening him.
He picked at the dry grass beneath his fingers, wishing he'd paid more attention to those visits. He wished a lot of things, of course. His throat tightened, and he swallowed against it. What good would crying do him now?
His mother had always brought flowers when she came here. He transfigured a clump of grass into a bouquet of wildflowers and set them against the stone. He frowned at them. He didn't even know what sort of flowers she would have preferred.
“Good afternoon,” he heard behind him.
He wiped at his eyes and stood, turning to acknowledge his father. “How did you know I was here?”
“I didn't,” Lucius said, stepping forward. He looked down at the stone. “I come every Sunday afternoon.”
“Oh,” Draco replied. They stood together in silence for several minutes, both staring down at Narcissa's name carved into granite. Below the name was carved her birth and death dates. “I didn't know when she died,” Draco whispered at last. “I heard about it a few months after.”
“I tried to find you,” Lucius replied. “It took me two months to learn where you'd gone. You disappeared without a trace.”
Draco folded his hands into the sleeves of his robe. “It didn't occur to me that I'd need to be found for that reason.”
Lucius took a deep breath, then hesitated a moment before saying, “She asked for you that last week.”
Draco's throat tightened again. He closed his eyes. “I heard it was a lingering illness.”
“No,” Lucius said, his voice barely audible. “It was a curse.”
Draco turned to look at him then, shocked. “A curse?”
Lucius clenched his jaw and stared off into the distance. “A terrible curse, one that no one could reverse. Severus worked for weeks, but there was nothing he could do for her. We brought in a specialist from St. Mungo's, but he was baffled as well.”
“Who did it?” Draco asked, his voice barely more than a whisper.
Lucius didn't answer. He continued to stare off into the distance.
Draco felt his stomach churn – there was only one wizard who could and would cast such a horrible curse. “But why?” he asked. Even as he said the words, he knew the answer.
“To punish me,” Lucius said, looking back down at the headstone.
:: :: :: :: ::
Tuesday, 30 January, 2001
Potter hadn't shown up to the office on Monday morning. Draco had spent the day reading through a stack of materials he'd borrowed from the London Library of Magic and making detailed notes. Weasley had kept himself busy as well, alternately writing on rolls of parchment and casting spells on objects scattered across his desk, and had barely acknowledged Draco's presence. When noon had approached and Weasley got dressed for his daily run, Draco asked about Potter. Weasley had said he didn't feel well and wouldn't be in that day.
Potter didn't come in on Tuesday either.
Draco waited for an explanation, but Weasley didn't offer one. After an hour of silence, Draco leaned back against his desk and stared at Weasley, willing the man to look up.
“I don't know where he is,” Weasley said after ten minutes.
Draco sighed. “If he's out sick, wouldn't he be at home?”
Weasley plastered a smile on his face and looked up. “Probably. I haven't heard from him. He could be in hospital for all I know.”
“And you call yourself his best friend?”
Weasley gave him an odd look, but he didn't reply. Draco shook his head and began ruffling through the stack of notes he'd made the day before.
Two hours later, to Draco's surprise, Weasley invited him out to lunch.
The conversation over their sandwiches was polite, if insubstantial. In half an hour, Draco learned more about infant care than he'd ever wanted to know. He could see why Potter was so desperate for companionship. By the time their coffee arrived, Draco couldn't bear it any more.
“I know you know where Potter is,” he said, staring into his coffee. “And I'm not asking you to tell me. I just want to know why I'm being kept out of the loop.”
Weasley gave him a quizzical look. “Out of the loop? Aren't you being a bit paranoid?”
“With good reason. I was with him Saturday night and he was fine. It seems odd that he'd have fallen very ill that quickly.”
“Saturday night, eh?” Weasley asked. This was clearly new information for him. “What did you do?”
“Dinner and a club, but that's not important. I–”
“You two have been spending quite a lot of time together,” Weasley said. His eyes crinkled a bit, and Draco couldn't tell if it was due to humor or suspicion.
Draco's eyes narrowed. “And if we have?”
“None of my business.” He took a sip of his latte.
“He's your friend.”
“Yes. And if you hurt him, I'll kill you.”
Draco nearly laughed. “It isn't – are you implying–”
“I'm not blind,” Weasley said, his eyes blazing into Draco's. “And I know Harry better than anyone. I see the way you two look at each other.”
Draco gaped at him for a moment. How had Weasley seen this, when he hadn't seen it himself until Saturday? “I don't… Nothing has happened.”
“And as I said, it's none of my business,” Weasley said, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “I don't want to know. Really.”
Draco stared into his coffee. He'd thought about Potter a lot in the last few days, which had left him feeling confused and frustrated, for the most part. He didn't want to get involved with anyone right now, let alone someone who wasn't even sure if he was gay.
He didn't do boyfriends, anyway. And he had the impression Potter was the relationship sort.
“Well, I've got to fly,” Weasley said, standing. “I'm taking the rest of the day off. Going to surprise the wife.”
“Tell her hello for me,” Draco said, and immediately felt awkward. It wasn't as if he'd ever really known her, after all.
Weasley pressed his lips together. “I can't. She doesn't know you're here. In fact–” he scratched the back of his neck, wincing “–she doesn't know what we're doing.”
Draco was momentarily stunned. He'd always thought Potter and Weasley couldn't make a move without Granger. “Why not?”
“She'd be worried sick. This is going to be horribly dangerous.” Weasley sighed and studied his hands. “Besides, she'd want to come along, and it's too big a risk. Children need a mother.”
“They need a father as well,” Draco said, but Weasley only shrugged. “So what does she think you do every day?”
Weasley smiled. “The same thing I did before – spell development and research for the Ministry. And I still work for them, of course. This is just a special assignment.” He handed Draco some Muggle bills and pulled on his coat. “I'll see you in the morning, then.”
It wasn't until he'd disappeared from view that Draco realized Weasley had never answered his original question.
He frowned into his empty cup. The more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed that there was something going on that Potter and Weasley weren't telling him. And he would bet his new house-elf that Potter's two-day absence was related to it.
:: :: :: :: ::
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