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Sunday, 29 February, 2004
The owl preened its dark feathers, as it had been doing since the sun rose. It was sleepy, but it wasn't time to leave. Not yet.
It paused to glance at the street below, tilting its head to the side for a better view. A cat slinked into an alley, sticking close to the buildings. The owl blinked once and looked away. Its belly was full. It settled back against its perch under the eaves.
People occasionally strolled past: a woman with children; an elderly couple; a man carrying a sack. The man paused outside the building's door and looked both ways, then lit a cigarette. He leaned back against the brick, exhaling smoke in a steady stream. He clutched the sack tightly to his side, raised the hand holding the cigarette to brush brown hair out of his face, then returned the cigarette to his lips.
A few more long drags, and then the cigarette was dropped to the pavement. The man stepped on it firmly and looked around again. He started for the doorway to the building, reached into a pocket and produced a set of keys – and froze.
He was very still for several seconds, and then he looked up. The owl shifted on its perch, tilting its head. The man's eyes looked beady from so far away, but he was staring right at the owl. The owl stared back, unblinking.
The man looked away and pressed the key into the lock, and opened the door.
:: :: :: :: ::
A whooshing sound emanated from the fireplace. Draco looked up just in time to see Harry step out, holding a small child in his arms.
“Can we do it again?” the child asked, arms twined about Harry's neck.
“Later, Harley. This is Draco. Say hello.”
The child stared at Draco for a moment, then buried his face in Harry's neck. Draco forced a smile.
Another whooshing sound announced the arrival of Hermione with another child in tow. She stepped out of the fireplace and smiled in greeting, shifting her daughter on her hip. “Cally, I need you to– ow!” Hermione winced as the child tugged at her hair.
“Mummy, I'm hungry.”
“We'll eat soon.” Hermione set the girl on the floor and brushed the ash from her clothing. She looked up at Draco and smiled. “Good morning.”
Draco smiled in return, though his stomach was twisting in knots; he'd been dreading this brunch all weekend.
“Need help?” Hermione called into the flat's small kitchen.
Manny's head popped around the corner. “No, it's all under control.”
“Manny!” the twins chorused, running to cling to his legs.
He gasped at them, as if surprised to see them there. “Oh, I forgot you two were coming! I have to cook more broccoli.”
The children giggled. “We don't eat broccoli for breakfast,” Cally chided.
“Oh, that's right,” Manny replied, grinning down at them. “Spinach, then.”
“Children,” Hermione groaned, prying Harley's arms off of Manny's thigh. “Let him cook, or we'll never get to eat.” She herded them to the sofa and rifled through the bag she'd brought along, producing a coloring book and some crayons.
“Mummy, we aren't really having cauliflower, are we?” Cally's eyes were large and blue. Harley giggled again and picked up a crayon.
“Even if we are, you'll eat it,” she warned, then turned to Draco. “Good morning.”
Draco grinned. “You already said that.”
“I did, didn't I?” She shrugged, and with an embarrassed grin, slipped into the kitchen.
“Good morning,” Harry said. He was standing so close that his breath brushed against Draco's ear. It tickled and Draco reached up to scratch it, fingers brushing the jade stud in his ear – the one Harry had given him a few weeks ago, just before they had shared their first kiss. Draco felt a twinge of pleasure at the memory and smiled. Harry's eyes followed Draco's fingers, and he smiled back. Just as Harry leaned in to kiss him, Draco remembered he'd not cleansed his mouth after sneaking a cigarette.
“Coffee?” Draco asked, ducking away.
“Um, sure,” Harry replied, a quizzical expression on his face.
Draco headed to the kitchen, cursing himself. He'd have to find a moment he could get away to wash his mouth out. Harry'd been so pleased that he was trying to quit – and he was trying, really. But the thought of this morning's breakfast, after the tension of the last few days, had nearly done him in. It had only been one cigarette. Each way of the walk to the grocer's.
He returned with two mugs. Harry was sitting next to Cally, acting as if he were impressed by the child's artistic skill.
“Yes, it's a lovely… er, tree. And so very purple, too.”
Cally beamed at him. “An' that's you,” she said, pointing at a squiggle of crayon. She pointed to another larger squiggle. “An' that's Mummy and Uncle Manny.”
“All run together?” Harry asked.
“They're kissing,” Cally replied with a giggle.
“Ah,” Harry said. He frowned at the paper and tilted his head, as if that would afford a better perspective.
“Coffee?” Draco offered. Harry smiled at him and took the cup.
“Uncle Harry…” Harley had appeared next to Harry and was tugging on his shirt. Draco smiled down at the child, and Harley returned a suspicious stare.
“What is it?” Harry asked.
“Who's he?” Harley was still staring at Draco. They'd already been introduced, but it was as if Harley had just noticed him.
“That's Draco,” Harry replied. “He's… my boyfriend.”
“Oh,” Harley replied, blinking. To Draco's surprise, Harley reached up and took Draco's hand.
Draco didn't know whether to be more pleased that Harry had acknowledged him or that Harley seemed to have accepted him so easily.
Cally began humming to herself and picked up another crayon. Harley tugged Draco's hand, pulling him away from the couch. Draco cast a questioning glance at Harry, who just smiled at him and looked back to Cally's drawing. Harley led Draco to the kitchen. Hermione and Manny were standing over the stove, conversing quietly.
“Mummy, I'm hungry!” he announced.
Hermione turned toward them and seemed genuinely surprised to see Draco standing there. He shot her a helpless look. “Not much longer,” she replied.
Harley made a whining sound and turned, pressing his face right into Draco's crotch. Draco jumped back in surprise.
Hermione laughed. “He's worse than a dog that way.”
Draco blushed, not sure how to respond.
“Draco is Uncle Harry's boyfriend,” Harley announced, now hanging from Draco's hand.
Hermione smiled. “Yes, he is. And who's Mummy's boyfriend?”
“Uncle Manny!” Harley chimed. Manny turned from stirring eggs to beam at him.
“Let's not bother them,” Draco said tugging Harley's hand. “Let's go and… er, color, shall we?” He winced; he was terrible with children.
Harley dropped his hand and dashed back to where his sister was coloring with Harry.
Hermione tilted her head and smiled at him. “You're doing fine,” she said.
Draco snorted. “Am I?”
He returned to the living room to find Harry with a child in his lap and another waving a paper in his face.
“Look, Uncle Harry, look!”
“Yes, Cally, that's very nice. Ouch! Watch your foot, Harley.”
Harry shot Draco a grin. He was clearly enjoying the attention. The thought of being covered with small children made Draco's skin crawl.
“It's you and Draco, see?” Cally grinned at Harry and Draco in turn.
Harry took the paper and examined it. As far as Draco could tell, it was a multi-colored squiggle.
“Oooh,” Harry replied, casting a conspiratorial glance at Draco. “We seem to be kissing in this picture.”
Cally and Harley both giggled. Harry smiled, and for a moment, time nearly stood still. Draco felt something in his belly melt.
“Uncle Draco,” Harley said, tugging his hand. Draco glanced down at him. Wasn't it confusing for these children to think they had so many uncles?
One of Harley's hands was squeezing his crotch. “I haff to wee.” He craned his neck up to stare at Draco, expectantly.
“Erm… all right,” Draco replied. “The toilet's through that door over there.”
Harley blinked at him, not looking at where Draco was pointing.
“He wants you to help him,” Harry said.
Draco's jaw dropped. “What?”
Harry's lips twisted into a smile. “Come on, Harley.” He stood and took Harley's hand, and led him to the toilet.
Cally started singing to herself again, intent on covering her entire drawing with pink squiggles. Draco settled against the sofa's arm, feeling uncomfortable at having been left alone with her, even though other adults were mere meters away. He'd never spent time with small children, even when he was one himself.
A loud giggle from the direction of the toilet preceded the reappearance of Harley – naked from the waist down and sprinting around the room. Cally burst into laughter, which only seemed to increase Harley's speed. Hermione stepped around the corner and just missed colliding with her son. She shook her head in mock frustration, but she seemed to be trying not to laugh.
Draco wondered why no one else seemed bothered by the commotion.
Harry's head popped through the doorway of the toilet. “Harley, get back here!” Harley did one more lap, then dashed back into the toilet. Harry gave Draco a pained look. “Sorry – is it okay if I just spell away the mess?”
“Mess?” Draco repeated. He crossed to the bathroom and stood in the doorframe. There was a puddle by the toilet, suspiciously yellow in color.
Harry was kneeling in front of Harley, trying to get him to step into a pair of small underpants. “Come on. You can't appear in front of ladies with your willie flopping about, now can you?”
Harley snickered and let Harry put the underpants on him. Harry helped him finish dressing, then paused to press a kiss to his forehead. Draco bit his lip – Harley looked so very much like Ron. He hadn't realized it until now, seeing him close to Harry like this. Harley's red hair was longish, curling at the edges, like Ron's had done those last few years of school. As much as he'd hated him back then, Draco hadn't been able to help noticing his boyish good looks. As had a good many of the girls at Hogwarts -- and Harry, of course. Draco swallowed.
“That's a good boy,” Harry said. “Run along.” Harley zipped past Draco and disappeared. Harry sighed. “Sorry. They have a little step stool at home to make it easy to reach the toilet. I had to hold him up and… well, he still needs help aiming, obviously.”
Draco wrinkled his nose and summoned his wand from his coat. Harry stood back while Draco muttered a cleaning spell. After a moment's thought, he followed it with a disinfecting one as well. Harry leaned against the wall and smiled at him.
Draco spun his wand through his fingers. “You're fantastic with them.”
Harry shrugged. “I'm just used to them.”
“No, I mean… you really care about them, and they aren't even your children.”
Harry's smile became a bit sad. “But they are, really. They're the children of the two people who meant the most to me for so much of my life. And they may be the closest I'll ever get to having children.” He ducked his head and studied the spot Draco had cleaned on the floor.
“Perhaps,” Draco said, stepping forward. “They're very lucky to have you in their lives.” Harry said nothing, and Draco sighed. This was an uncomfortable turn in the conversation. “Unusual names,” he said at last.
Harry smiled. “Cally is named after Hermione's grandmother. And Harley… they wanted to name him after me, but I wouldn't let them.”
Harry shrugged. “No child should be saddled with that.” He studied Draco for a moment, then reached out for him and pulled him close. Just as Harry went to kiss him, Draco tensed. Harry sighed. “I know you've been smoking, you know. I can smell it on your clothes.”
Draco winced. “You can?”
“Yes, and it's horrid. But I forgive you.” Harry's lips cut off Draco's protest.
:: :: :: :: ::
“Taco, taco, taco,” Cally repeated, mouth full of said food.
Draco kept his eyes on his own plate, appetite long gone. Had he ever been so horribly behaved at the table? He doubted it.
“Cally,” Hermione warned, just before taking a bite of her own taco.
Harry was helping himself to yet another, holding an egg-filled tortilla in one hand and spooning some chorizo onto it with the other.
“Where did you find fresh tortillas?” Draco asked. He pushed the salsa jar towards Harry before he had a chance to ask for it.
“It wasn't easy,” Manny said, watching Harley shred his tortilla and eat each bit separately. “I finally went to the Texas Embassy and got in good with one of the cooks, who gave me some tips.”
“Texas has an embassy in London?” Harry asked.
Manny laughed. “It's a restaurant. Texas isn't actually a country.”
Harry blushed. “I knew that.”
After Harry had consumed his fourth taco, the children became more interested in playing with their food than in eating it. Hermione took them to the toilet to wash up while Draco and Harry helped Manny straighten the kitchen.
Harry's washing spells were not up to Draco's standard, however, which resulted in some competitive maneuvering for dirty dishes. After two plates had been broken – and subsequently repaired, as Draco pointed out – Manny banished them from the kitchen.
They wound up on the couch, watching Hermione get the children settled in a corner with some toys. She rummaged through her bag and walked over to them, a look of apprehension on her face. “I've been putting this off as long as possible,” she sighed, and held out a newspaper.
Harry sighed. “And here I'd managed to stay out of the papers for months.”
“Yes, well…” Hermione chewed her lip and glanced at Draco.
Draco felt a small twinge of foreboding. He took the paper from Hermione and began flipping through it. On page four, the headline read, “HARRY POTTER IN GAY LONDON ROMP”. He winced.
“Shit,” Harrry said. “That's… oh god.”
Draco forced himself to look at the page. There was an old picture of Harry from a few years ago smiling and laughing for the camera. It fit the headline shockingly well.
Harry sank down into the cushions of the couch. “I can't read it,” he moaned. “I don't want to know.”
Hermione and Draco exchanged a glance. Draco sighed and began to read the article aloud.
“Harry Potter, former boy-hero and widely regarded as a key player in the disappearance of You-Know-Who three years ago, has been spotted out and about on the London club scene of late. But rather than returning to the Muggle pubs and discos he so scandalously frequented after the War, Mr. Potter has apparently decided blokes are more to his fancy.”
Harry pulled a pillow over his head. Draco cleared his throat and continued.
“This reporter has it from several sources that the former star auror, now an employee of the Ministry's Investigative Services division, has been hitting gay clubs every night with a shocking variety of young men on his arm.”
Draco paused to glance at Harry, whose face was still hidden. If that wasn't proof that his glamours had been working, he didn't know what was.
“Friends confirm that Mr. Potter has come out of the closet. ‘He's playing the field and enjoying it,' one source said. ‘He pulls some right fit blokes.' Another source suggested Mr. Potter has even been spotted cozying up with none other than Draco Malfoy, son of the convicted Death Eater Lucius Malfoy, who is currently at large.”
“Who are these ‘friends'?” Hermione spat.
“Does it matter?” Harry's muffled voice replied.
“My presence hardly appears to be a secret,” Draco said with a sigh. He thought of his recent conversation with Tonks. “Those ‘sources' could be any number of people.”
“Keep reading,” Hermione sighed.
“More recently, the 24-year-old was seen in a compromising embrace in public with a male Muggle pop star. While Mr. Potter is enjoying himself nightly, friends say his estranged wife, Ms. Cho Chang, is distraught. ‘She's shattered,' a close friend reports. ‘She still loves him, and of course she's hurt by all of this.' ‘Their marriage had been rough for a while,' another source says. ‘Now we know why.' Ms. Chang, who works for the Ministry of Magic in an undisclosed capacity, was unavailable for comment.”
Harry made a snorting sound and tossed the pillow aside.
Draco took a deep breath before continuing. “While Mr. Potter is shamelessly gallivanting about, flaunting his new lifestyle, his friends and former loved ones are left to suffer. This reporter is left wondering if he has no shame or sense of responsibility? He may no longer be the hero of our world, but he remains a role model for our children and should behave accordingly.” Draco winced. “Ouch.”
Harry's eyes were tightly closed. The room was silent for a long moment.
“What a crock of shit,” Manny said. Draco looked up to see him standing behind them. Manny ruffled Harry's hair affectionately.
Harry leaned forward, face in his hands. “I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later, but… god.”
“It's horrible, Harry.” Hermione slid an arm around him and he leaned into her.
Draco pursed his lips, willing himself not to be jealous. He wanted to touch Harry too, but he was the cause of all this, wasn't he? Perhaps it was best if he gave him a little space. He looked down at the article again.
“I can't believe they make it sound as if you were the one who ran around on her,” Hermione snorted, leaning her forehead against Harry's. “And she's done nothing to correct the impression.”
Ms. Chang, who works for the Ministry of Magic in an undisclosed capacity, was unavailable for comment.
Draco frowned. “What does Cho do, anyway?”
Harry snorted. “I've no idea. I've barely spoken with her in the last six months, despite the fact that she apparently misses me so desperately.”
“I think she's an Unspeakable,” Hermione said.
Draco's head popped up. Harry didn't respond; he was still snuggling against Hermione for comfort. “An Unspeakable?”
“I think so,” Hermione replied, forehead wrinkling in thought. “Wait – that can't be right. She works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department, or…” A strange expression came over her face. “I just knew it, but now I can't put my finger on it.”
It was the lingering effects of the smothering spell, of course – which meant that any of her answers could be correct, or none. “Let me know if you remember,” Draco said.
A squeal from across the room caught their attention. Cally started to cry, and Harley was pouting in advance, a guilty look on his face.
Hermione sighed. “I suppose it's time to take these two back for a nap.”
“I'll help,” Manny said. He squeezed Harry's shoulder, and crossed the room to comfort Cally.
“Call me later, okay?” Hermione said, leaning forward to kiss Harry. He nodded.
They gathered the toys and flooed away one at a time, each holding a crying child. The house was left eerily quiet. Draco sighed and turned to face Harry, who was still slumped into the sofa.
“You okay?” Draco asked.
Harry made a face. “Not really.”
“Do you… want to watch a film or something? I imagine we've got the place to ourselves for a while.” He was rather proud of his impressive home theater set-up, and he'd had little opportunity to use it here.
Harry sighed. “Actually, I have some work to catch up on this afternoon. Maybe later?”
“Dinner?” Draco suggested. “There's a Moroccan restaurant around the corner I've been wanting to–”
“No, not… I don't feel like going out. Go ahead and eat something, and come over later, if you feel like it.”
Draco could not suppress the wave of irritation that overcame him. “You mean if I feel horny?”
Harry turned to look at him for the first time since the newspaper article had been read. “What?”
“I'm good for a fuck, but you want to cool the public appearances for a while, right?”
Harry sighed. “Draco–”
“No, I understand,” Draco continued, standing. “It's hard to deal with being outed like that. I should know. After all, I've only had to deal with it for half my fucking life.”
“You've no idea what it's like. Taking abuse from random strangers is bad enough – getting called every name in the book – but to hear it from your family as well?”
“Draco, stop.” Harry's hands were over his face again.
“Oh, for– That article was hardly homophobic. They called you a slut and implied you fucked around on your wife, but that's not what you're upset about, is it? Now the whole world knows you're gay, and it's such a fucking tragedy!”
“Stop it!” Harry shouted, on his feet now. “Don't presume to know what I feel! You always think the worst of me, don't you? You didn't even ask if that was what bothered me; you just assumed.”
Draco froze. He wanted desperately to stand his ground, to argue back, to prove he was right and Harry was wrong. But what would it accomplish?
“I'm so tired of dealing with your insecurities,” Harry spat. “It's like you're waiting for me to leave, at any moment. Nothing I do seems to reassure you. It's making me crazy.”
Draco opened his mouth to reply, but he could think of nothing to say. He ran a hand through his hair and looked away. Was it that obvious he was insecure?
“And even now, you won't admit that I'm right,” Harry continued. “I don't know what I can do! Do you want to hear that I love you? Would that make you feel better?”
“Don't!” Draco said, feeling real anger now. “Don't patronize me, Harry.”
Harry gaped at him for a second before his frustration bubbled to the surface again. “I'm not patronizing you! Fuck!”
The urge to run away was strong. Draco wanted to get away from there, to close himself off, to lock Harry out. There was a long silence, and neither of them looked at the other.
“I'm sorry I shouted,” Harry said at last, his voice an odd mix of tension and defeat. “I just… need some time to absorb this, all right?” Draco opened his mouth to respond, and Harry held up a hand. “Please, let me finish. I know it's nothing compared to some of the shit you've been through, but I've been through quite a lot myself. This isn't the first time I've been smeared in the papers, you know.” Harry paused for a moment, and turned to look at Draco. “Of course you know – you were responsible for a few of them.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Must we drag our schoolboy fights into this as well?”
“It was meant to be a joke,” Harry replied, half a smile teasing his lips.
“I'm going to go now, and I'm going to do what I usually do when something like this happens, which is to become a recluse and bury myself in work until I'm too tired to think about it anymore.” Harry wandlessly summoned his coat from where it hung in the corner. “If you want to come by later, I would like that. No expectations. Okay?”
Draco nodded, feeling his stomach churn. He didn't want Harry to leave. He wanted Harry to stay, so they could cuddle on the couch and watch a film to take Harry's mind off of things.
But that wouldn't comfort Harry. It wasn't enough. He wasn't enough. Draco felt emotion rise in his throat.
Harry paused, as if trying to decide if he should kiss Draco goodbye. Draco looked away.
“All right then,” Harry sighed. “I'll see you later.” He crossed to the fireplace and dipped his fingers into the dish of floo powder. He stepped into the fireplace and looked at Draco. “4C Warwick Court .”
In a burst of green flame, he was gone.
:: :: :: :: ::
Draco stared at the ceiling, bored out his wits. He'd smoked half a pack of cigarettes while drinking several coffees in the bistro downstairs, watched an entire film, done some light housework, and cast cleaning spells on dirty clothes until his eyes began to cross. He'd finally set the telly to BBC World and half-listened, letting the events of the last few days organize themselves in his mind. His thoughts kept drifting back to Cho Chang, no matter how hard he tried to force them aside.
Ms. Chang, who works for the Ministry of Magic in an undisclosed capacity, was unavailable for comment.
The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that Hermione's first response was correct. If Cho really was an Unspeakable – and considering that she appeared to know quite a bit about events Draco himself couldn't recall – it added a touch more credibility to Draco's theory that Unspeakables were somehow complicit in Death Eaters' involvement in the government.
He laughed aloud at the idea. It sounded ridiculous, and he knew it. No one would believe him. And that was precisely why he wasn't going to tell anyone until he had more evidence – not even Harry.
The BBC reporter began talking about the latest trouble Prince Harry had got himself into, which only reminded Draco of the trouble he was having with his own Harry. He scowled at the ceiling. Here it was, a perfectly lovely Sunday afternoon, which he ought to be spending with his boyfriend. Instead, he was lying on his own sofa, too irritated even for a proper wank.
Harry was working, or so he said. Draco frowned. What if Cho decided to pay Harry a visit at home this afternoon? His stomach curdled at the thought. He'd kept by Harry's side for most of the weekend, but Harry was alone now, vulnerable to her – well, lies wasn't quite the right word, now was it?
He pressed a palm against his forehead. This was ridiculous; Harry was angry at Cho at the moment. Even if she did muster the nerve to go to his flat, he wouldn't see her.
Probably not, at least.
Draco sat up and ran a hand through his hair. He had to do something. Sitting here all day was going to make him insane.
:: :: :: :: ::
His desk was cluttered; he'd left it in frustration on Friday after Harry and Manny had proven to be so surprisingly uncooperative. Draco scanned the reports Harry'd sent, looking for something in particular. A local wizard had been interviewed after the Durham incident, but his name had been blacked out from the report.
“Aha,” Draco whispered, sifting the correct sheet of parchment to the top.
[Missing name] claimed to have been witness to the blast that destroyed the farmhouse, though he later contradicted himself and said that he had no memory of the event. His behavior was consistent with that of someone who had been intimidated. A surreptitious sweep was done, and there was no evidence a memory charm had been performed on him in the previous 12 hours.
Draco chewed the end of his quill. The man was described as squat and in his mid-fifties, with a squashed nose. It sounded very much like someone Draco knew.
He hesitated a moment longer, then pulled up the latest map of UK Apparition points on the computer. He could make it to Durham and back before nightfall – if he left right away.
:: :: :: :: ::
After five apparition skips and a long walk, Draco found himself standing atop a hill just outside of town. The rubble from the destroyed house had been cleared away; no other detectable evidence remained of the attack that had taken place. No magical residue, no scorch marks, not even a bit of Muggle police tape.
Draco pulled his cloak more tightly about himself and considered. There were several houses nearby. He could cast a glamour charm on himself and interview the locals. Perhaps some would have information not contained in the reports he'd read.
That seemed unlikely, though; Tonks had done quite a thorough job before their memories were modified and she'd not learned much. Draco recast his concealment spell and pulled the cloak's hood over his head. There was another place where he could get information.
The sun was setting when he arrived back in town. The entrance to Durham 's wizarding district was a dingy pub on Gilesgate called The Harpy's Foot. Draco stood across the street from the entrance, watching the door. It was a quiet Sunday evening; the occasional group of Muggle students passed, but none noticed the doorway. He didn't see any wizards enter or leave, either.
Draco considered his options. He was concealed at the moment, but he still couldn't enter the pub without attracting some attention. He couldn't be sure a glamour would protect him, either. He'd been avoiding contact with other wizards as much as possible for nearly a year now, for good reason.
But he needed information, and he needed it now. He stepped off the curb and walked across the empty street towards the pub, whispering the words to drop the concealment spell as he did.
He was standing in front of the door when he heard it: a low whistle coming from the alley nearby. He turned his head slowly, heart in his throat.
A man stood in the shadows, face hidden. Draco stared at him for a long moment, and the man jerked his head toward the alley and disappeared from view. Draco took a steadying breath, and followed.
The man was leaning against the wall at the end of the alley. Draco's fingers traced the length of his wand as he walked forward, senses on high alert. It didn't appear to be a trap; there was a doorway at the end of the alley, but it looked to be the delivery entrance for the pub. The man's back was to it, allowing Draco to stay on his guard. Strange how easy it was to slip back into operative mode.
The man stepped forward and a beam of light from a window above illuminated his round face.
“Avery,” Draco said. Just as he'd thought.
Avery folded his short arms across his chest and stared hard at the spot where Draco's face would be if he could see it.
Nervous, Draco thought. Avery took a few steps forward, and Draco gripped his wand beneath the cloak. The man was going to get as close as he could in order to see him, a thought that made Draco more than a little uncomfortable. He pulled the hood back a bit, enough to reveal his face, and Avery started.
“Lucius said to expect someone soon, but I had no idea it would be you.”
Draco let the words wash over him without feeling anything. He had to play the part now. “Surprise,” he replied, injecting as much sarcasm into his tone as he could manage. “Must we do this in an alley?”
Avery took a step back, eyes darting about like a rat's. “No, no – into the pub.”
“The pub?” Draco snorted in response. “Are you certain it's secure?”
“Oh, yes,” Avery replied, opening the door. He cast a meaningful glance at Draco before slipping inside.
Draco didn't stop to think – he pulled his hood back down over his face and followed.
The pub was fairly empty. Avery secured a table in a dark and secluded corner, and waited by a chair as if uncertain whether to sit before Draco or not. Lucius always had that sort of effect on people. It had been a while since Draco had needed to cultivate it himself.
Draco let his eyes slide over the room once before sitting. It was the sort of place his father always disliked but regarded as a necessary aspect of doing business. Avery sat after Draco did, hands folded together on the table in front of him. He seemed to want to look anywhere but at Draco.
Draco cast a conversation screen around their table with a wave of his hand and settled back in his chair, waiting.
Avery swallowed. “It's been, what – three years since I've seen you? You look different.”
Draco didn't reply, maintaining a mask of disinterest.
“I didn't know you were back from America . Had a good run there, from what I heard.”
Draco clenched his jaw. “I didn't come here to make small talk.” Of course, he had no idea why Avery thought he was there, but if he was patient, Avery would tell him. Some people were stupid like that.
“Right. Of course.” Avery's hands clenched. “Would you like a drink?”
“Right. Well. I'm afraid I've no good news to report.” Avery sighed, almost shrinking in his seat as he did. “Our allies here are getting restless. I've done what I can, but we're losing support.”
“My father will not be pleased to hear that,” Draco replied. Lucius was rarely pleased, so it wasn't a stretch.
“I know, but I'm telling you, that's the situation. We made a deal with the devil, Draco, and we knew it could be our downfall.”
Draco let his eyes narrow, watching Avery squirm. “Not doing your job will certainly bring about our downfall,” he said. “What should I tell Lucius?”
Avery looked frightened and exhausted at the same time – an expression that revealed much more than he likely knew. “I don't know. Tell him… he's losing support here, and something must change. We need… we need a demonstration of his conviction, perhaps.” Avery's eyes caught Draco's then, as if he'd just had a brilliant thought. “Yes, that's it. He only needs to remind the faithful that he's still in control.”
Draco maintained his stony mask, thinking quickly. He wasn't completely sure what Avery was talking about. “Recent events weren't enough?”
Avery groaned. “That wasn't my fault. I didn't know security had been compromised until it was too late.”
So apparently Lucius wasn't behind the explosion, but an intended victim of it. “Isn't it your job to know?”
“There was a time when I could have assured your father the loyalty of every Death Eater in the county, but that time has passed. Things are complicated now. People are beginning to ask questions.”
“About the Dark Lord,” Avery replied, his voice lowering to a reverent whisper.
“And here I thought they might be questioning Blair's foreign policy.”
“They think Lucius Malfoy manipulated them! They haven't seen any of the rewards that were promised, and they are tired of waiting.” Avery paused, paling a bit. “And many are afraid of what the Dark Lord will do when he returns. They suspect your father betrayed him, and that they will suffer for it.”
“You are afraid too,” Draco remarked. “Perhaps my father's trust in you is misplaced.”
“No!” Avery whispered, eyes snapping up to meet Draco's. “You know that isn't true! But things are… difficult. I need to know what the plan is, what I can tell the ones whose faith is drifting. I'm working in the dark. You must understand how difficult this is.”
Draco stifled a snort. “Of course I do. But I am not at liberty to reveal anything.”
Avery nodded, but his expression was defeated.
“What went wrong last week?” Draco asked. It was a bit of a chancy question to ask – after all, Lucius was here when it happened.
“There was a leak.” Avery's expression became pained. “They're gaining followers, you know. Every time something like this happens, more people join them. There aren't many of the Core left.”
The Core – Lucius's name for his own inner circle, the elite amongst the ranks of Death Eaters. “Who do you trust?”
“Goyle, Nott, Snape… Not many, not anymore. The others disrupt our meetings, leak false information to the bumbling idiots at the Ministry, intimidate those who remain faithful–”
“Do you know who they are?”
“Can't you guess?” Avery snorted. Draco's eyes bored into Avery's, willing him to continue speaking. He didn't, though; he wrung his hands and dropped his gaze to the table top instead.
“So there was a leak,” Draco continued, hoping he wasn't pushing his luck. “What are you going to do about it?”
Avery's eyes darted up again. “It's been taken care of. The Unspeakables saw to that.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “Did they?”
“I'm not always comfortable with this arrangement, but their efficiency is admirable.” Avery's face split into what could be best described as a sneer. “You can tell Lucius that.”
“I will,” Draco replied, mind already spinning. “Anything more to report?” He was ready to leave, before Avery's real contact appeared.
“That's all for now. I'm glad you're back, Draco. You ever get married?”
“No.” Draco gritted his teeth.
Avery grinned. “My boy Charlie's like that. Different bit of skirt every night. Enjoy it, son. You'll miss it when one ties you down.”
“So I hear,” Draco said. “I'll be in touch.” He pushed his chair back from the table as he stood, then left through the back door that led to the alley. He disapparated the second the door closed behind him.
:: :: :: :: ::
Draco stood in front of the fireplace in his flat for ten minutes, staring into the flames. What if Harry didn't want to see him? What if he'd thought about their fight and decided he'd really had enough?
Draco scowled. Harry was right: his own insecurities were to blame, and if he didn't rein them in, he'd lose Harry for certain. He reached for the dish of floo powder and took a deep breath.
He stepped out of Harry's fireplace into a nearly dark room. His eyes adjusted after a moment, and he realized Harry was curled up on the couch, watching telly. He didn't look up at Draco.
Draco crossed to the couch and sat. Harry had wrapped a blanket around himself; all Draco could see of him was his head. Draco tugged at a corner of the blanket and Harry released it, letting Draco pull part of it over himself. Draco hesitated a moment more, then slid an arm around him. To his relief, Harry leaned into him, letting his head fall onto Draco's shoulder.
They remained that way for a long time, watching a plotless subtitled French film, not speaking or even looking at each other. Harry was shirtless; his skin radiated heat from beneath the blanket. Draco closed his eyes, bizarrely content.
Harry shifted, and a hand wormed its way beneath Draco's shirt. It slid over his chest, fingers combing through the fine hair there. Draco looked down at the top of Harry's head, to the spot where his hair was already showing signs of thinning. It made Draco smile, for some reason. He kissed the spot, imagining himself talking a balding Harry out of a horrible combover at some point in the distant future. He'd keep his hair, of course. All the Malfoys had done.
“Thank you for coming,” Harry said. His voice was unusually small.
Draco said nothing and kissed the top of Harry's head again. Harry tilted his face up; the television was reflected in his glasses, obscuring his eyes. Draco took them off and set them on the coffee table, not breaking Harry's gaze.
Harry's expression was intensely sad, as if he'd not smiled all day. As if he'd been in this very spot since brunch, mulling over his problems. Draco kissed his forehead.
He should have come earlier, that afternoon, perhaps. Harry'd told him to stay away, thinking that was what he needed, but it wasn't. He'd needed Draco, and Draco had been too stubborn to see it.
Harry pressed his face into Draco's chest and sighed, and Draco wrapped both arms around him. The sense of protectiveness that washed over him was overwhelming. People seemed determined to hurt Harry every chance they got, and Draco had done nothing to prevent it.
Until tonight. He'd finally done something tonight. He was going to fix everything, and then nothing would get in their way again.
Harry shifted in his arms, looking up at him. “Come to bed?”
Draco smiled. “Of course.”
Harry switched off the television and led him through the darkness to the bedroom. Ambient light from the streetlights outside cast stripes across the duvet, stripes that painted Harry's skin when he stretched out across it. He'd been naked under the blanket, which surprised Draco.
“Were you waiting for me, then?” Draco asked, unfastening the buttons of his shirt with deliberate care. Harry watched the movements of his hands and nodded. “Naked on the sofa, waiting – I think I like that.” He let the shirt slide from his shoulders, and then reached for the fastening of his trousers while Harry watched him silently. “Touch yourself,” Draco whispered.
Harry's eyes widened, but his hand slid down his chest and across his belly to stroke his growing erection.
“Slowly,” Draco said, eyes fixed on the movement of Harry's long fingers. He pushed his trousers down and stepped out of them.
“No pants?” Harry quipped. “I think I like that.” He smiled, and it seemed genuine for the first time that night.
“No point in putting them on if they were just going to come off again.” He stood next to the bed and leaned against the mattress between Harry's knees. Even his cock was striped in the light. Harry's fingers continued their lazy strokes, and Draco watched for a few more seconds before climbing onto the bed and straddling his hips. He nudged Harry's hand with his own erection and Harry's fingers wrapped around that too, pressing hot, hard lengths together.
“That's nice,” Draco said, letting his hands smooth over Harry's chest.
Harry's smile was beckoning, and Draco couldn't resist leaning down for a teasing kiss, lips just brushing Harry's before darting away again. Harry's arms slid around him to pull him down, but Draco resisted, grinning.
“So impatient,” he whispered, and traced Harry's lower lip with the tip of his tongue.
“Sorry,” Harry replied. “It's just… I've been thinking about this all day.”
“Have you?” Draco sucked in that bottom lip and released it, then moved to Harry's ear, where there was a spot that particularly liked being licked.
“What were you thinking?” Draco's whisper was so soft he wondered if Harry'd heard it at all.
Harry shifted a bit and exhaled. “That I want to do something for you. I want to make you feel good.”
“You always do.”
“I… I want you to fuck me.”
Draco paused, settling his weight on Harry's torso and looking down at him. “Why?”
“What do you mean, why?”
“I mean, why? Why do you want me to fuck you?”
Harry looked confused. “Because… I want to do something for you. You always let me, and… I know you want to.”
“You ex-straight boys,” Draco sighed. “You think it's all about penetration. Worse, you think being penetrated is some sort of sacrifice you can offer up.” Harry opened his mouth to reply, but Draco cut him off. “It should be something you do because you want it. I pushed you before, and you weren't ready. Are you really ready now?”
Harry sighed and looked away.
“I'll take that as a ‘no',” Draco replied. “And it's okay. There are plenty of other things to do in bed, you know.”
Harry met his eyes again. “Like what?”
Draco grinned, then rolled off of Harry and sat up. He turned and stretched out in the opposite direction.
“Oh,” Harry said, grinning down at Draco. He was probably blushing, though it was too dark to tell. “I hadn't thought of this.”
Draco's reply was to lick a stripe down Harry's cock. Harry caught his breath in response, which made Draco smile. Harry was nothing if not responsive.
Draco felt a warm mouth close around his own cock. Harry was getting better at giving head, and what he lacked in technique he certainly made up for in enthusiasm. Draco propped himself on one elbow and wrapped his fingers around the base of Harry's cock, giving it a few strokes before swirling his tongue around the tip. Harry groaned around Draco's cock, which made Draco groan in response.
He forced himself to focus, though, and pulled the foreskin back and closed his lips around the head. Draco liked this part, the soft-hard feeling of a cock against his tongue. He liked the salty taste of Harry's skin and the musky-sweaty scent of his groin. He sucked Harry's prick in as far as he could, enough to feel hairs tickling the tip of his nose.
He felt Harry swallow him in return, followed by a small cough as Harry's gag reflex activated. Draco would have grinned had his mouth not been full. He grasped the base of Harry's cock again and began sucking softly, wriggling the flat of his tongue against the head.
Harry did the same, and Draco realized he was mirroring Draco's actions. It was easy enough to direct Harry to where Draco wanted him: if he wanted Harry to lick in a particular spot, he just licked that spot on Harry. A moment later, Harry would reciprocate.
The act of sucking Harry off became a bizarre sort of masturbation, and Draco became so focused on what he wanted Harry to do to him that he was caught off-guard when Harry suddenly came. He rarely had much warning, but this time it was just a brief tension in Harry's body and the feeling of his mouth going slack around Draco's dick – and then Draco's mouth was full and Harry was gasping.
Draco laughed and, nearly choking on come, coughed. Harry rose up on his elbows and gave Draco a quizzical look.
“Sorry,” Draco grinned, wiping his mouth. “I didn't see that coming. So to speak.”
Harry smiled in return and turned to face the same direction as Draco. “Should I continue?”
Draco rolled onto his back and stretched his arms over his head. “Please.”
He felt Harry's breath against the skin of his cock. “What do you want me to do?”
“What you were doing was fine,” Draco replied, closing his eyes. “I was rather enjoying it.”
“You were?” Harry asked, then licked up the underside of Draco's prick. “I never know. You're so quiet, and it… it takes a while, sometimes.”
Draco opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. “I do like it. And I hold back because I don't want it to stop.”
“Oh.” Harry tried a few of the tricks he'd just learned, each in succession, and Draco tried to remember to make enough noise to let Harry know which ones he liked best.
When Harry grasped the base of his cock and began stroking in opposition to the movement of his mouth, Draco groaned and buried his fingers in Harry's hair. Harry sucked harder and stroked faster, squeezing nearly to the point of pain, but Draco was close enough that he didn't care. He managed to grunt something along the lines of a warning. Harry's mouth disappeared and a hand took its place, and Draco came into Harry's fingers.
When his limbs had regained some feeling, he looked down to see Harry studying his hand.
Harry looked up. “Sorry I didn't… I don't like the way it feels.”
“It's all right,” Draco replied, sitting up. And it was, really. Draco would have preferred to come in Harry's mouth, but only if Harry wanted it too.
Harry's face was clouded. Draco took Harry's hand and whispered, “ Scourgify ”. The semen disappeared into thin air, off to the place dirty things went when you banished them. Back in third year, Draco had asked Professor Flitwick about that, but he'd never got a response that satisfied him. He pulled Harry's cleaned hand to his lips and kissed the palm. “Thank you.”
Harry half-smiled. “I'm sorry I'm not very good.”
Draco blinked at him. “What?”
“In bed,” Harry replied, pushing himself to sitting. He pulled his knees into his chest. “It's all right. I know I'm not.” He attempted a flippant grin. “I'd like to think I'm teachable, though.”
Draco snorted. “Harry, you're great in bed. Why do you think you're not?”
Harry stared at him for a moment and then shrugged. “Because it's true. It's not like I have a lot of experience giving blow jobs and... stuff.”
Draco poked him with a toe. “And stuff? Not two days ago you gave me the best hand job of my life!”
Harry shrugged, and looked as if he didn't quite believe it.
“You may not have a lot of experience, but that doesn't matter.”
“I dunno,” Harry replied. “I'm not good at relationships or sex or… any of this, really. I don't know why you put up with me.”
Draco was uncertain how best to respond to this unusual display of insecurity from Harry. “Because I happen to know that under that manly exterior lies a big nelly queen just dying to get out.” Harry looked shocked, which only egged Draco on. He got on his hands and knees and launched himself at Harry, hands going right for the ticklish spots. “I'm waiting for that day, you know. Come on, Harry! Let that flame burn bright.”
“Stop,” Harry laughed, trying to grab Draco's hands. “And I'm not gay.”
“Oh, riiight. Still trying to tell yourself you're bisexual?”
Harry managed to roll Draco over and pin him. “Yes. It's the truth.”
Draco's hands remained free enough to continue tickling. “Face it, Harry, you're queer. A fairy. A poof. A shirtli–”
Harry kissed him to shut him up, and Draco laughed around his tongue. When Harry pulled back, he was smiling. “Well, I imagine my ex-wife would agree with you. It's not like she benefited from my prowess in bed.”
“If you can't get it up for a beautiful woman, that's a sign,” Draco quipped – and immediately wanted to kick himself. It was a horrible, thoughtless thing to say.
To his surprise, Harry just sighed and settled his weight on Draco's chest. “You know, it wasn't that I wasn't attracted to her. It was just… so hard to make her come.”
Draco exhaled, simultaneously relieved and ashamed of himself. “Was it?”
“I could never last long enough for her,” Harry replied. “I tried, but… you know how I am. It finally got to the point that I dreaded sex. I would try to go down on her afterwards, but…” He looked up at Draco. “Sorry. Too much information?”
“It's all right,” Draco replied. He deserved to hear the sordid details of Harry's heterosexual experiences after the comment he'd made.
Harry sighed. “She'd be numb by then, and so she didn't come about half the time. And she'd be cross with me for days, and there was nothing I could do to make it up to her.”
“Couldn't you just go down on her in the first place?” A distant part of Draco's brain found the idea of him giving tips on how to make a woman come perfectly laughable.
“Yes, but she wanted to come with me inside her. It wasn't fun, and after a while, I dreaded it so much that I couldn't…” He sighed and looked away.
Draco stroked his hair, wondering why anyone would be so spiteful to someone as loveable as Harry. And then a few things clicked in his head.
“You're wonderful in bed, Harry. You know why?” Harry looked up at him, eyes wide and dark in the dim light. “Because you want so badly to make me feel good. You wanted to make her feel good too, and if she didn't see that, it's her loss.”
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. Draco cupped his face in one hand.
“When I'm quiet, it doesn't mean I don't like it. It means it feels so good my mouth stops working altogether. If it takes a long time, that just means you're making me feel good for a long time.”
Harry smiled and kissed him, so tenderly it took Draco's breath away. Draco rolled Harry onto his back and deepened the kiss, wanting to wipe every trace of apprehension away. If he could make love to Harry enough, maybe it would erase the bad memories. Maybe it would wash away every trace of Cho.
He pulled away and looked down at Harry's face, neatly striped by the light coming through the blinds. His scar was in shadow, but his eyes reflected light, almost sparkling.
I love you , Draco thought – it came out of nowhere. He would say it aloud, if he were certain it was true. And if Harry hadn't said it to placate him earlier that day, in a moment of frustration.
The bottom dropped out of his stomach at the memory. That had hurt him more than he'd wanted to admit to himself at the time.
“What's wrong?” Harry whispered, expression concerned.
Draco blinked. Could Harry read him that easily? He stared at Harry's chin. “Remind me to do a depilo charm on you in the morning. You're scruffy.”
“Scruffy?” Harry replied. “I'm not scruffy.”
Draco gestured downwards. “I'm chafed! I won't be able to wank for days, thanks to you and your Muggle razor.”
“Guess I'll just have to suck you off then,” Harry replied with a wink.
“Promise?” Draco settled next to him and tugged at the duvet from where it had become lodged at the foot of the bed. He pulled it over them and sighed.
“I'm sorry about this morning,” Harry whispered. “I didn't mean to do anything to make you feel insecure.”
“I know,” Draco replied.
“I… I care about you. And I trust you, Draco. I trust you completely.”
Harry's eyes were earnest, and Draco felt guilt rise in his throat, tangible and sour.
“I hope you can trust me too,” Harry continued. “If not, I want you to know that I intend to earn it.”
Draco kissed his forehead and nodded. Harry smiled again, then closed his eyes. Draco watched him until he was sure he was asleep, then rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
Harry trusted him, and Draco had gone off to Durham , even though he'd promised not to do. And what had he accomplished? He wasn't sure.
Except that he was fucking up at every turn, and he couldn't seem to stop himself.
:: :: :: :: ::
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