I'm not gonna lie -- the story itself isn't my favourite of the fics I've written. There are several parts I'd like to explain and elaborate on, and many parts I would have changed if I'd had more time. I don't want to talk your ears off, though, so without further ado, here's the fic. I've edited the typos in the version that was originally posted (please let me know if there are any more) and changed the colour of James's eyes (thanks, sayingsorry_hh).
Title: Day of the Dead (1/2)
Author: Annie (_pinkchocolate)
Warnings: Infidelity, excessive use of italics (not for those with sensitive eyesight)
Disclaimer: I just take JK Rowling's world and make it slashy.
Summary: On the evening of the anniversary of the war, everything changed.
Word Count: ~18k
Notes: Written for Team Epilogue in the 2008 H/D World Cup. The prompt was Death, which represents destruction of the old clearing the way for new growth. I used both figurative and literal interpretations. Many thanks to nqdonne and chiralove for their last minute betas, with an extra heap of gratitude for nqdonne, who not only suggested the title of this fic, but also did an awesome job captaining our team.
Love is like ice in the hands of children.
On the evening of the second anniversary of the war, Draco Malfoy stormed into a very crowded Leaky Cauldron, dropped onto a stool at the end of the long bar, and demanded one pint of their best bitter.
The mousy-haired bartender turned around, and Draco was appalled to find himself face-to-face with Dennis Creevey. Apparently Creevey was not thrilled about the match-up of bartender and customer, either, because he blinked several times and stammered, “I’m sorry, M-Mister Malfoy, but I’m busy –”
Draco narrowed his eyes into an appropriately menacing glare, effectively shutting Creevey up. Had he not been in such a dejected state, Draco would have found it amusing how easily he, as opposed to the rest of the general population, was able to stall the motor mouth. As it was, he was in too foul of a mood to find anything amusing, and instead barked, “Just pour me my sodding order, Creevey.”
Creevey wilted. “One pint of our best bitter, then.”
He scampered off to fetch the drink, leaving Draco to do what he’d come to do: brood. Heaving a sigh of monumental proportions, Draco folded both arms on the scrubbed wood surface of the bar table and rested his head on the wall next to him. He knew he probably looked pathetic, but for once he didn’t care – he deserved to mope a bit after the day he’d had.
It had all started early that morning, when the secretary poked her head into his cubicle and announced that he had post from Potter.
“That’s nice,” said Draco distractedly without looking up. He was deeply engrossed in reviewing the court record from the 1984 Ministry vs. McTavish trial. Leonard Jorkins, his immediate superior in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had assigned it, along with six other court records of similar trials, as reading to all junior Wizengamot members in preparation for the upcoming trial against Marcus Hurst, a serial violator of the Muggle Protection Act.
“Do you want to read it right now, sir?”
Draco waved a hand irritably. “Just leave it here. I’ll read it later.”
“Very well,” she said, sounding as though she couldn’t believe anyone would treat a message from Harry Potter with so little regard. She dropped the folded note on Draco’s desk and left to hand out more post.
Making a mental note to read the message once he was finished with the page, Draco returned to his reading.
Of course, Draco had moved onto the next page, and the next, and then the next document without ever giving second thought to the letter. But it wasn’t his fault – he’d had work to attend to, and it wasn’t like Potter ever had anything meaningful to say anyway. How could Draco have known that that mundane little square of parchment had contained a direct order from Potter to come home from the Ministry early because they needed to “talk”?
Sighing again, Draco fumbled around in his pockets for his watch. He had no idea what time it was, but it must be quite late, judging from the state of drunkenness of the bar’s patrons. Rather than locating his watch, however, Draco’s fingers brushed something else: a worn deck of Muggle cards.
Draco took the cards out and shuffled them without thinking. They had once belonged to Potter. Draco ran his thumb along the fraying edge of the two of clubs, wondering how many times Potter had touched the same card – and how many others had touched it before Draco. He scowled. He needed something to occupy his mind while that miserable runt poured his drink, or else he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about…
“You didn’t read my message.”
It was the coldness of Potter’s tone more than anything else that threw Draco off guard when he opened the front door of Grimmauld Place and found Potter standing in the middle of the hallway, arms crossed and eyes narrowed.
“What message?” Draco asked, genuinely confused.
Potter’s jaw tightened in a way that no one but Draco, who was practised in the art of reading Potter’s body language, would have noticed.
“The one I hand-delivered to the secretary of your office,” said Potter, his eyes flashing dangerously.
“Right. That one.” Draco shrugged, though a knot of unease was starting to form in the pit of his stomach. Potter meant business, but Draco wasn’t in the mood to argue. To disguise his apprehension, Draco busied himself with removing his cloak and hanging it up.
“Why didn’t you read it?”
“I had documents to review, Potter. You know the big trial against that Muggle-hater is tomorrow.”
Potter snorted. “Since when do you care about giving Muggle-haters what they deserve?”
Draco’s hands tightened on the material of his cloak. He slowly hung it up on the back of the door before turning to face Potter. “Get to your point, Potter.”
“My point, Malfoy, is that I’m tired of your attitude,” Potter growled, advancing towards Draco. “I’m tired of waiting for you to admit that I mean something to you. Most people would consider a year an accomplishment, but we’re still stuck at disrespect and petty insults. Nothing’s changed.”
Draco sneered, refusing to buckle under Potter’s anger, though he could almost hear the umbrella stand behind him rattling. “I hate to break the news to you, Potter, but I’m not here to provide you with the endless adoration you crave. Unlike you, I actually have to make an effort to keep my job.”
“A job you wouldn’t have if it weren’t for me,” Potter shot back. “I gave you everything you have right now. The least you could do is acknowledge it.”
“I would’ve got the job without your help!”
“Who’re you kidding, Malfoy? You wouldn’t have your life without my help! Or did you forget that I was the one who –”
“I didn’t forget!” Draco interrupted. “For Merlin’s sake, are you going to hold that against me for the rest of my fucking life?”
A tense silence enveloped the next few seconds, and then:
“I said, take your things” – Draco flinched as Potter drew his wand, but Potter merely Summoned a trunk brimming with the belongings Draco had left at Grimmauld Place over time – “and get the hell out” – another flourish of Potter’s wand, and the lids of the trunk slammed shut – “of my life.”
“Your life?” Draco repeated dumbly, staring at the pre-packed trunks. Apparently Potter had been planning this confrontation all day. “You want to – break up?”
Potter’s rage seemed to vanish with his exhale of breath. “How can we break up if we were never together to begin with?” He regarded Draco. “You know, Draco, I need someone who cares. Someone who cares about me, about other people, about being alive... someone who has interests that don’t exist for the sake of contradicting mine. The only time you have a bloody opinion is when someone’s freedom is on the line.”
“A year of whatever you want to call this is nothing compared to seven years of hating each other,” Potter continued, raising his voice. “This wasn’t meant to work out. We might’ve needed each other during all the confusion after the war, but now that things have settled down, I think it’s time to acknowledge the fact that there’s really no point in trying anymore.”
Draco stared at Potter. A thousand replies – ranging from furious to disbelieving to defiant – whirled around in his head. Before he could vocalise any of them, Potter flicked his wand, making the front door fly open behind Draco.
“You can leave now, Malfoy,” he said in a tired voice.
Chest and throat tight with some unidentifiable emotion, Draco had grabbed his trunks and left, though not before throwing a few choice curse words at Potter. He’d Apparated back to the Manor – where he slept most nights when he and Potter were fighting – with his things, taking care to dodge his parents’ questions about his day. Now he was here at the Leaky Cauldron, sulking and looking forward to drowning memories of the night with alcohol that he was beginning to doubt would ever arrive.
Miraculously, as soon as the thought entered Draco’s head, Creevey trotted back with a tankard that looked far too big for him to carry. He set it down in front of Draco.
“Here you are,” he said, braving a smile at Draco.
Draco glowered at him. When Creevey continued to stand there with that stupid, hopeful smile on his round face, Draco cleared his throat pointedly.
“Oh, sorry, I thought you had something you wanted to talk about.”
“If I did, I certainly wouldn’t talk about it with you,” Draco snapped. “Go back to doing your job poorly.”
The smile slid off Creevey’s face. Without another word, he hurried away to attend to other customers.
Draco felt slightly cheered to know that he still had influence somewhere. He pulled the tankard towards him and stared apprehensively into it. The frothy, dark brown liquid smelled strongly of molasses. Draco wrinkled his nose, then moved the drink aside and began setting his cards out for a game of solitaire.
Potter had taught the game to him the night of the first anniversary of the war. It was one of Draco’s clearest memories. His friends had thrown him a party to celebrate his recent success in securing a position on the junior Wizengamot. Much to everyone’s chagrin, the festivities had not been going on for longer than an hour when Potter had come storming in with the entire Hit Wizard department trailing him. He’d broken up the gathering, claiming that it was against the Auror division’s best interests to allow a congregation of Draco’s “type” while circumstances were still so uncertain.
Furious, Draco had confronted Potter after the Hit Wizards left and demanded a better reason for the unnecessary intrusion. It was the first time they had spoken since they had parted ways at Snape’s funeral. Somehow, after several insults, threats, and “I hate you”s were flung back and forth, they had wound up sitting on a bench in a park in Central London, talking about life and sharing a bottle of firewhiskey that Draco had saved from confiscation.
“It’s too soon for a party.”
“What do you mean?”
Draco squinted at Potter in the orange glow cast by the street lamp overhead. The other boy had both arms slung over the back of the bench, and he was gazing up at the starless night sky with an inscrutable expression on his face. It felt odd, but at the same time strangely familiar, to be sitting here exchanging civil words with Potter – like they’d been waiting to have this conversation, but life had prevented them from doing so until now.
“It’s been a year,” he finally said. “What’s so soon about that?”
“People died,” said Potter flatly. He took a swig from the bottle of firewhiskey. “They deserve some respect.”
“People die every day,” Draco countered. “If life stopped every time someone died, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
“I just don’t see anything worth celebrating,” Potter continued. “We’re not even out of the water yet. Not everyone is happy with the way things ended.”
“What’s your point, Potter? This is the best things have been for a long time, so why bother waiting?”
“Maybe I’m holding out for something better.”
“You’re never going to get it.”
“Fuck you, Malfoy.”
They fell silent. A breeze drifted by, tussling Draco’s hair and rustling the leaves above them. Draco stole another glance at Potter. His eyes were closed now; he could have been sleeping.
“Thanks,” Draco mumbled after a while.
“For putting a word in for me,” said Draco, surprised that Potter hadn’t brought it up himself. “Jorkins told me. Why’d you do it?”
“You deserved it. Leonard told me you did well on your entrance exam, and I...”
“I think you deserve the position.”
“Why is that surprising? I didn’t save your life just to let you waste it away. You might as well do the world some good while you’re around.” Potter tilted his head to the side and pinned Draco with a knowing look. “You’re not a bad person.”
“You don’t know that,” said Draco. He wasn’t sure why it bothered him so much that Potter was so certain about the nature of his character.
“No, but it’s what I believe. You’re welcome to change my mind, though it wouldn’t be like you to do something disadvantageous.”
“Well, you just know me like the back of your hand, don’t you, Potter?”
Draco took another gulp of firewhiskey, even though his better judgment warned him that the pleasant buzz in his head was a sign that he should stop drinking before he slipped up.
“I never claimed to,” Potter replied.
Another silence, longer than the last, stretched out between them. At last Potter asked, “What was the war like for you?”
The change of topic was not unexpected, or at least Draco didn’t think so. “Horrible,” he admitted. “It wasn’t too bad until they started using the Manor for their meetings, though.”
“So you were stuck inside all summer?” Draco nodded. “How did you stand that? Not doing anything while people were dying just outside my walls... that would’ve killed me.”
“I tried not to think about that,” said Draco. “I kept telling myself it wasn’t my war.”
“But your family was right in the heart of it.”
Draco gripped the neck of the firewhiskey bottle a little tighter. “So was Weasley’s, but that doesn’t mean it was his war, does it? In the end it was your battle to win or lose.”
Potter didn’t say anything, but Draco was not put off. “It wasn’t too bad, being inside all the time,” he said after a minute or so. “I’d rather be alive and bored than dead and... well, I suppose you can’t really feel when you’re dead, can you?”
Potter’s eyes shone under the dim glow of the street lights. “I suppose not.”
“What’s that?” Draco asked, pointing at the corner of what looked like a white box protruding from Potter’s robe pocket.
“Oh, this?” Potter took it out and showed it to Draco. It was a deck of cards. “They’re Muggle playing cards. I had dinner at the Burrow earlier, and Hermione taught me how to play a game called solitaire afterwards.”
Draco scowled, annoyed that Granger and her Muggle novelties were being brought into a perfectly decent conversation. “Sounds like a waste of time.”
Potter grinned, flashing straight, white teeth. “It is.”
“Then what’s the point?”
“You just said it. It’s a way to pass time and ease boredom. Most card games need more than one person to play, but solitaire doesn’t. It’s actually quite easy. Here, take this.”
Potter handed the cards over to Draco. Draco examined them while Potter conjured a low table to use as a playing surface. They looked similar enough to Exploding Snap cards, except perhaps less flashy. The same picture of an immobile swimsuit-clad woman graced the backs of all of them.
“My cousin Dudley sent them to me last Christmas,” Potter explained when he noticed Draco staring at the photo. “It was his way of, er, making up for eighteen years of lost love between us. He was a bit of a pervert, really.”
“You’re a pervert for keeping them,” Draco muttered.
Potter laughed and took the cards back. It was a nice laugh, made all the more pleasant by an absence of the derision Draco had grown used to over the years.
“You can buy me a new deck in repayment for the countless times I’ve saved your life, then,” said Potter lightly. He reached for the firewhiskey, and his fingers lingered long enough on Draco’s to stretch the boundaries of an accidental touch.
Draco blushed. “I’ll find other forms of repayment, thanks,” he snapped, more annoyed than he knew he should be. “I wouldn’t be caught dead buying Muggle things. I’ll make sure the Weaslette is informed, though. It’s probably the best anniversary gift she can afford.”
The laughter left Potter’s face. “Can you leave off the Weasleys for once? Last I heard, your family wasn’t so well-off either.”
Draco’s cheeks burned even hotter. “That’s out of our hands,” he growled. “The Ministry had no right to seize our fortune.”
“It’s going to a better place than your Gringotts vault,” said Potter stoutly. “And for your information, as of now, Ginny and I won’t be exchanging anniversary gifts any time soon. We broke up a while ago.”
Draco scoffed. “Let me guess – you did it to protect her.” When Potter looked away, Draco rolled his eyes. “How noble of you. I don’t see why you’re so tortured about it. You two will get back together within the next year.”
Potter paused in the middle of laying out six piles of cards. He looked surprised. “How d’you figure that?”
“Because you and she were always meant to be the world’s most perfect couple,” said Draco, dismissing the bitterness in his tone as disgust. “Marrying her will get you into the Weasley family. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?”
“That’s not why I love her. Besides, getting back with her isn’t that easy. I’ve got... things to do now.” Potter fidgeted with a bent corner on one of the cards. “The war will only be over when everything’s cleaned up. Until then, I can’t risk putting her in danger.”
“You talk about her like she’s a worthless piece of treasure. Surely a Weasley isn’t worth that much.”
Potter’s expression was murderous. “Malfoy –”
Draco smirked. “Relax, Potter. Go ahead and show me how to play your Muggle game before I freeze my arse off out here.”
And so it had gone. They had ended up Apparating back to Potter’s place after they finished the firewhiskey. It had not been Draco’s first time with another man, but it had been the first time something more than a meaningless tumble had come out of it.
Their relationship, if one could even call it that, had seemed convenient at the time, but one night had somehow dragged out into a year of denial turned strained acceptance, and somewhere along the way the convenience had been lost. The flame had been there, but they’d been unprepared to keep it burning. Still, Potter had stupidly insisted on sticking it out until there was nothing left to hold onto.
Now here they were, finally broken up for good.
In retrospect, it no longer seemed shocking to Draco that he and Potter had parted as abruptly as they had got together. They had put so much effort into trying to conceal their feelings from the rest of the world that they’d failed to let those feelings develop into something real.
In a way, their relationship had been dead from the start.
Sighing, Draco swept his fringe to the side and glanced down at the cards he’d laid out. There were no aces. Annoyed, Draco abandoned the game and picked up his drink.
He took a tentative sip of the ale and grimaced at the taste. He had never understood the appeal of most alcoholic drinks. As far as he could tell, there was nothing particularly special about them. Not that he’d turn them down if they were offered – he was fond enough of firewhiskey, which had been his housemates’ drink of choice. The sweeter drinks, however, were less tolerable. He’d never even made an attempt to familiarise himself with the contents of his father’s wine cellar, figuring there was no point in trying to change his tastes if they were already set in stone.
On this particular evening, however, Draco downed his drink without complaint. He welcomed the unpleasant flavour of bitter, for it seemed appropriate, considering the situation he was in.
Draco was halfway through raising his hand for another tankard when a stunning realisation made him freeze: he would not be going home to Potter. Not tonight, not tomorrow night, not ever. It was a simple truth, but it hit Draco hard. For the first time since leaving Grimmauld Place earlier that evening, he felt... regret.
Suddenly Draco wanted nothing more than to be home. Getting to his feet, he gathered his cards in one messy pile and dropped a few Sickles onto the counter. A good night’s rest at the Manor was all he needed to get over a break-up he shouldn’t be upset about in the first place, he decided.
Unfortunately, getting to the Manor quickly proved to be a problem. Just before Draco reached the door, an entering patron knocked shoulders with him, causing the cards he was holding to fly out of his hand and fall to the floor. With a muttered apology that Draco could barely hear over the din in the pub, the offender dropped to his knees and began gathering the cards. Draco squinted, trying to make out the man’s face.
At last the stranger stood up and faced Draco. Draco mouth fell agape: it was Potter. Judging by the complete lack of surprise on Potter’s face, he must have figured out Draco’s identity the moment he saw the cards.
Draco recovered his composure before Potter could say anything. “Watch where you’re going,” he snarled.
“Hey, what’s the problem?” questioned an all-too-familiar voice from behind Potter.
“It’s just Malfoy, Ron,” Potter replied without looking away from Draco. Weasley appeared at Potter’s side moments later. His lip curled when he saw Draco.
“Ignore him, Harry; he’s not worth it,” he said. There was contempt in the look he shot Draco, but Draco narrowed his eyes, refusing to indulge Weasley with a reply. If only he knew just how much Draco was worth.
Potter nodded, acknowledging Weasley’s words, and held out the deck of cards to Draco, face-up. His eyes flicked downwards, taking in the top card a split second before Draco snatched the deck back. “The king of hearts,” he observed, the corners of his mouth twitching. “How ironic.”
Nineteen Years Later
“Draco, wake up.”
Draco rolled over with a groan. “Too early,” he mumbled into his pillow.
“You’ve a fire call from Harry Potter,” said Astoria, tugging the sheets out of Draco’s grasp. “He says it’s urgent.”
Draco was awake in an instant. “Harry – Harry Potter?” he repeated, hauling himself into a sitting position. He blinked twice in the bright morning sunlight and rubbed his eyes.
Astoria straightened Draco’s pillow before settling back into bed. She did not look amused. “I was under the impression that you hadn’t spoken to him for several years.”
“I haven’t. We see each other occasionally when I drop by the Ministry, but that’s the extent of it.” Draco bent to search under the bed for his slippers. He found them, slipped them on, and strode over to the mirror. He grimaced at his reflection. “He didn’t say what he wanted?”
“No,” said Astoria, sniffing. “He merely showed up and started yelling for you. Biddy tried to tell him to Floo back later, but he was adamant about seeing you right now.”
Draco could feel Astoria’s eyes on him as he tried to smooth his sleep-rumpled hair. No doubt the cogs in that scheming brain of hers were working to figure out why Harry Potter would be calling for her husband at six in the morning.
“I’ll be back shortly.”
Without another glance at his wife, Draco swept out the door, grabbing his dressing gown on the way out. Their house-elf, Biddy, was standing just outside. She bowed and said, “Good morning, Master,” before leading Draco downstairs to the drawing room, where she left him.
Draco entered the drawing room and dropped to his knees in front of the fireplace. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of Potter’s familiar face in the fire. It had been a while since he had seen Potter up close. The normal signs of aging were evident on Potter’s face, but other than that, the shrewd green eyes and hopelessly dishevelled hair were unchanged.
“What is it?” Draco asked, trying to keep his voice nonchalant despite the fact that he was gripping his knees with enough force to crack them.
Potter looked immensely relieved to see Draco. “Morning, Malfoy. Sorry about the early call. I hope I didn’t wake you up.”
Draco stared. Potter was acting as though they’d only parted just yesterday. “What is it?” he said again.
“I’ve a favour to ask of you. You’re not working on any cases right now, are you?”
“No,” said Draco, frowning. He had quit the Wizengamot a few years ago to become a private solicitor, but his success in the field to date had been so minimal that he was considering dropping out of law completely and perhaps starting an apothecary somewhere. Not that he needed money; he’d made enough of that during his time with the Wizengamot. He would just prefer a more fulfilling life than the one he currently lived.
“Good. I’ve got one for you.”
“I’ve got a case for you. The client’s name is Simon Longbottom. He’s accused of –”
“Just one second, Potter,” Draco interrupted. “You come barging into my fireplace at six in the morning and then expect me to agree to defend a Longbottom in court?”
For a moment, Potter looked tempted to smile, but then he cleared his throat and glared at Draco. “This is serious, Malfoy. Neville’s son, Simon, has been accused of murdering a Hogwarts student. He’s of age, so he’ll be tried as an adult.”
“Isn’t he the Squib?”
“That’s neither here nor there. The point is, I need you.”
I need you. How tragic that those words still made warmth curl in the pit of Draco’s stomach, even after nearly twenty years.
“Why me?” he demanded.
“No one else will take the case. They all think he’s guilty.”
“Oh, is that what this is? You’re trying to make me take on a case I’m sure to lose?” Draco drew himself up indignantly. “I’m not that desperate for work, Potter.”
“Malfoy, can you stop being so self-centred for a few minutes?” Potter exclaimed. “I’m not trying to ruin you. I’m trying to prevent a good friend of mine and his family from having to deal with a slew of problems they don’t deserve.”
“What makes you believe the kid’s innocent?”
“I’ve met him more than once. He hasn’t got a malicious bone in his body. Will you take the case or not?”
Potter’s words were heavy with desperation, but at the same time, Draco could see in the bastard’s eyes that he knew very well what the answer would be. At Draco’s age, work always came before childhood grudges.
“Fine,” he snapped. “I’ll need to know more about what happened, though. We’ll also need to discuss payment.”
Potter rolled his eyes, but he looked considerably happier. “Of course. Can you meet later today?”
“I get out of the office at five. How’s dinner sound?”
It sounds terrible, or did you forget that the last time we had dinner together we were playing footsie under the table? Draco wanted to say. Instead, he forced a smile and said, “Bolton’s at seven. Don’t be late, Potter.”
“I’ll be there. Oh, and Malfoy – thanks.”
Harry arrived at Bolton’s fifteen minutes early, but apparently Malfoy was not to be beat – he was already seated at a table by the window when Harry showed up.
“I see promptness comes with age,” Harry remarked after the smiling hostess left him with Malfoy and a menu. He seated himself and took a moment to glance over his companion.
Malfoy wore slacks and a button-down shirt – nothing spectacular, but surprisingly well-coordinated for someone who was used to wearing robes all the time. He was clean-shaven, and he’d left his hair product-free for once. It framed his face in a stylish cut that normally would have looked ridiculous on a thirty-something year old, but somehow seemed to suit Malfoy.
Harry would never have admitted it, but Malfoy looked a little bit too good for comfort.
“If I recall correctly, you were the one who was always late,” said Malfoy without looking up from his menu. “Who was that you came with? Your latest boyfriend?”
There was disapproval in Malfoy’s voice, but Harry brushed it aside. He was used to people’s negative reactions when they first saw Ben. The professional Quidditch player wasn’t exactly conventional – with his multiple piercings and dyed hair, he might as well have been an alien to the people Harry usually associated with. He was spunky, though, and his refusal to let others influence his opinion of himself was far more attractive to Harry than socially appropriate looks.
“Yes,” Harry answered. “That’s Ben.”
“At least your taste has improved since your marriage to Weasley,” said Malfoy, raising an eyebrow at Harry over the top of his menu.
Harry snorted. “She hasn’t been a Weasley for several years. She kept my surname after the divorce.”
“Further proof that she was only with you for your fame,” said Malfoy, and though the words were said lightly, there was a note of criticism underlying them. Harry bit back his indignant response – he wasn’t looking to get into a fight with Malfoy.
“In any case,” Malfoy continued, “she’s still a Weasley to me. She never quite earned the privilege of touting your last name as her own.”
“You’re making the biggest mistake of your life, Potter!”
Several people turned to stare. Harry forced an apologetic smile at them, all the while silently vowing to murder the very drunk Draco Malfoy who was currently struggling against Harry’s iron grip on his collar.
“Shut it,” he hissed to Malfoy, as he steered him out the ballroom being used for his and Ginny’s reception. “Bathroom,” he explained to Ron and Hermione, who paused their conversation to look at him questioningly as he and Malfoy hurried past.
“Don’ need to go,” Malfoy whined, as Harry dragged him outside into the empty hallway.
“I can’t believe your nerve!” Harry snarled, rounding on Malfoy the moment the double doors swung shut behind them. “I invite you and your family to my wedding out of courtesy, and you pay me back by getting plastered and making a scene. How fucking old are you, Malfoy?”
“Twenty-two,” Malfoy shot back. “Same age as you! An’ I’m not getting married!”
“Oh, for the love of – Malfoy, you need to leave right now. You’re lucky Ginny didn’t hear you, or I’d have beaten you into a pulp by now.”
Malfoy eyes widened. “Was on’y telling the trush, Harry. You can’t marry a Wea – Weasley.”
“I already did,” Harry snapped. “Now get the fuck out, and don’t you dare Apparate in your state, or you’ll lose a limb.”
Tears welled up in Malfoy’s eyes. “You do care!”
Harry shut his eyes momentarily, determined to not let Malfoy’s drunken rambling affect him. It was too late to give their relationship another shot. They’d already tried, and it hadn’t worked. He was happy now with Ginny.
Opening his eyes, Harry fixed Malfoy with his best determined glare. “Malfoy,” he said, lowering his voice, “I’m going to say this one last time. Leave, or this will be filed under your name as public misconduct.”
With that, Harry spun on his heel and strode back into the ballroom. Malfoy did not follow him.
“Potter, pay attention!”
The snapping of fingers in Harry’s face yanked him out of the memory. Blinking, Harry blurted out, “What?”
Malfoy sighed. “I apologise,” he said to the concerned-looking waiter standing by their table. “Is Montagny fine?” he asked Harry, pointing at an item on the wine list.
Harry shrugged, surprised that Malfoy had even bothered asking him for his opinion. “Whatever you want.”
The waiter nodded and wrote down the order. “Are you gentlemen ready to order starters?”
“Give us five minutes,” said Malfoy.
The waiter left them, and Malfoy returned to perusing the menu. “I thought you didn’t drink wine,” Harry remarked as he watched Malfoy flip the pages.
“Times change. I’ve developed a taste for certain wines over the years. It’s necessary when your wife drags you to social events every weekend.”
“That sounds painful.”
“Marriage is painful,” said Malfoy carelessly. He put his menu back down on the table and turned his attention to Harry. “You of all people should know that. Didn’t you divorce the Weaselette after six years? Less than a year after the birth of your daughter, wasn’t it?”
Harry bit his lip, trying not to remember Malfoy’s words at the wedding. There was no point, when Malfoy probably didn’t even remember them. Besides, he and Ginny had parted amicably, contrary to popular opinion. Harry had been honest with her about his sexuality, and she in turn had forgiven him for not trying to go behind her back.
“Pretending to be straight didn’t really suit me,” Harry told Malfoy. “There was no reason for me to keep doing it when neither of us was getting anything out of it.”
Malfoy was silent for a few moments. The wine arrived with a basket of bread; Malfoy poured himself and Harry each a glass before finally speaking. When he did, the lightness from earlier was absent from his tone.
“Explain what happened with the Longbottom boy.”
Harry took the glass Malfoy handed him, almost disappointed that Malfoy was so intent on getting to the point of their meeting. Business, he reminded himself. The days of casual dinners with Malfoy are over.
“My Aurors haven’t filed their reports from the scene yet, so all I know is what Neville told me when he came to my flat with the news this morning. From what I gathered, the students had a Hogsmeade trip yesterday. Neville thought it’d be nice to bring Simon, who didn’t go to Hogwarts, to the village with him. He let Simon explore the village while he met up with some of the other professors for a drink. Next thing he knew, a couple of boys were running through the village bellowing about how Simon had killed a sixth year girl – a pureblood. They followed the boys over to a clearing by the Shrieking Shack, where they found Simon standing over the girl. She was holding a necklace similar to the one you...”
Harry trailed off, not sure how to bring up the Katie Bell incident tactfully. Something in Malfoy’s eyes shuttered. He nodded stiffly, indicating that Harry should continue.
“Yeah,” said Harry, slightly embarrassed now. He sighed and tugged at a handful of his hair. “Unfortunately, they didn’t get to her in time. They questioned Simon, but Simon insisted that he didn’t know what had happened or even how he’d come to be there. Everyone thinks he was lying, but I think he was Obliviated. The thing is, the Auror department is only responsible for investigating the crime. As far as proving Simon innocent... well, that’s where you come in.”
He waited anxiously for Malfoy’s response. The other man looked deep in thought as he stared into his wine glass. The same waiter from earlier walked by, and Harry flagged him down.
“Can we have the seafood salad to start?” he asked, hoping that Malfoy still liked seafood. Apparently he did, because the look he gave Harry was one of pleasant surprise.
“Of course,” said the waiter. “Anything else?”
Harry looked at Malfoy questioningly.
“Actually, I believe we’re ready to order,” said Malfoy. He turned to Harry. “Do you mind if I...?”
“No, go ahead,” said Harry, thrown off guard again by Malfoy’s consideration.
“Good.” Malfoy turned back to the waiter. “Does the chateaubriand come with potatoes?”
“Yes, on the side.”
“Excellent. We’ll have that and the spaghetti alle vongole, then.”
“What in Merlin’s name did you just order?” Harry asked after the waiter disappeared with their menus.
“You’ll enjoy it, don’t worry,” said Malfoy, waving a hand. “Anyway, back to your case. What makes you believe he was Obliviated?”
“Aside from the fact that he has no reason to harm a girl he doesn’t know? For one, he’s not stupid or a liar. People write him off because he’s a Squib, but if he was to actually commit such a serious crime, he’d have a better excuse than ‘I don’t know’. For another, where in the world would he have obtained a Dark item like that necklace? Certainly not at home or at Hogsmeade.”
“Hmmm,” Malfoy hummed. “Well, then, when can I meet the suspect?”
Harry’s hand froze in the middle of reaching for a piece of bread. “You’ll do it?” He had thought it’d require much more persuasion and possibly even bribery to get Malfoy to take the case.
“I said I would, didn’t I?” Malfoy took a sip of his wine. “Now, all that remains to be settled is how much I’ll receive for this... favour.”
“Anything. Neville will pay you as much you want if you can keep his son out of Azkaban.”
A greedy glint appeared in Malfoy’s eyes. “Anything?”
“Anything within the limits of reason,” Harry corrected. “He and Hannah aren’t exactly rolling in gold.”
“Right, I forgot they were Longbottoms.” Malfoy snickered at Harry’s glower. “So why me? Besides the fact that anyone else with half a brain would reject your offer immediately, that is.”
“You could use it. I’ve been following the papers – I know you haven’t been doing too well lately. Winning this case could change everything for you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You must have a better reason than that.”
Harry smiled slightly. “I know you’ll do it,” he admitted. “You like a challenge, and you won’t give up until there’s no hope of going on.”
Malfoy scoffed, but the lines around his mouth softened. “You have too much confidence in your reading of my character, Potter.”
“Probably... but am I right?”
“You might be.”
At that moment, their food arrived, and Harry was saved the trouble of coming up with a response. They ate in strangely comfortable silence, and did not bring up Simon Longbottom again until their plates were cleared away and the check paid.
“Will you set up a meeting between me and the client, then?” Malfoy asked as they left the restaurant. “Thank you,” he added courteously to the hostess, who beamed back.
“Er, sure,” said Harry, taken aback by how friendly Malfoy was after he’d had something to eat. “Is the day after tomorrow all right?”
“Owl me when you’ve secured a time.”
They exited the restaurant and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Malfoy turned to leave, and then paused, as if remembering something.
“Good night, Potter,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Harry.
Harry inhaled sharply. The warm light cast by the lanterns outside Bolton’s made Malfoy’s cheeks flush and skin glow in a way that seemed to rewind time. For a fleeting moment, Harry was gripped by the wild urge to reach out and caress that skin, to find out if it was as soft as he remembered it being. He checked himself just in time.
“Good night,” he said.
Malfoy looked amused. With a final nod, he walked away and disappeared round the corner.
Alone in front of the restaurant now, Harry leaned against a lamppost and buried his face in his hands.
Merlin help him, he was starting to fall for Draco Malfoy all over again.
Draco strode into the manor, removed his cloak, and made a beeline for the drawing room. He collapsed on his armchair and poured himself a glass of scotch. He’d just met with the Longbottom boy for the first time, but he might as well have not gone to see him at all – the teenager’s repeated blathering about how he hadn’t done anything had been no help at all.
Still, Draco had managed to extract one useful fact out of the meeting: there was no way Simon Longbottom was guilty. He resembled his simple-minded, peace-loving parents in every aspect of his character. Now that Draco was convinced that he was fighting for the right side, he just had to figure out how to win.
The click-clack of heels from the hallway outside warned Draco of Astoria’s approach. Sure enough, a few seconds later, she came sweeping into the room, her hair piled on top of her head and a tube of lipstick in one hand. Draco cringed – these days, the sight of his wife was becoming progressively more repelling.
“Where were you today?” Astoria asked, as she held up a mirror and examined her face in it.
“I went to meet my new client,” Draco replied, gritting his teeth to hold back the “go away” struggling to escape.
“The Longbottom boy?”
Astoria pursed her lips. “I wish you hadn’t taken on this case. It’s a lost cause. He’s almost certainly guilty.”
“You don’t even know what happened, Astoria,” said Draco irritably.
“I’ve read the papers,” she said dismissively. “These things happen often with Squibs. They get jealous of other children who have magical abilities and do irrational things.”
“I would say murdering a girl goes beyond ‘irrational’,” Draco snapped. He took a gulp of scotch and then put the glass down to rub his temples. The last thing he wanted to do at the moment was argue with his wife about his job. “Where are you going tonight?”
“To Daphne’s. She and Theodore are throwing a party. Thursday’s the twenty-first anniversary of the war, didn’t you know?”
“Mass death is hardly worth celebrating,” Draco muttered, annoyed by the news that his friends were holding yet another social gathering for no substantial reason. It was all very well for them to party incessantly; their families’ money hadn’t been taken from them and distributed among the poor.
“Are you going to come with me?”
Astoria frowned into her mirror. “Why not? Pansy wants you to go.”
“I’m going to stay home and work on this case. I’ve a lot of planning to do if I want to win.”
Sighing, Astoria capped her lipstick and put the mirror down on the coffee table. She walked around the sofa to sit down next to Draco. “Why must you be so stubborn, Draco?”
Draco moved away from her. “Would you rather I gave up easily?”
The question was rhetorical, and Astoria had the sense to not answer. They sat on opposite ends of the sofa, Astoria’s hands folded in her lap and Draco’s curled around his glass of scotch. After a minute or so, he put it down and stood up.
“Enjoy yourself tonight.”
Without waiting for a response, he left the drawing room and headed up the stairs to his study.
He dropped into his seat and pulled out his Pensieve from under the desk. Closing his eyes, he took his wand and pressed its tip to his temple.
One by one, memories of him and Harry slipped out like gossamer strands of silk. Draco dropped them into the Pensieve and watched them swirl around, flashes of their contents surfacing and sinking like sunlight glinting off a lake. The morning after their first night together. Wanking each other in a broken Ministry lift. The fight they had after Draco slept with one of his female co-workers. All of them, a relief to be temporarily rid of. Still, it seemed that each time Draco removed an old memory, there was always a new one waiting to slip in and replace it.
Frustrated, Draco dropped his wand and pushed the Pensieve away. Why had he let Potter coax him into taking the case? He’d stupidly gone and opened a door into his life that he’d tried to keep shut for years, and now he had to suffer the consequence of unwanted thoughts about someone who’d already moved on.
As if on cue, Potter’s words from dinner the night before returned to Draco: Pretending to be straight didn’t really suit me. Was that the problem? Did he just need to stop pretending in order to get over all of this?
Draco sat up a little straighter in his seat. There’s a place in the red-light district, Blaise had once told him. I go there whenever I need a release or just a good lay. The whores are cheap and fucking incredible at what they do. It’s at the end of the street, if you ever decide that heterosexuality doesn’t suit you.
Draco’s first impulse was to reject the thought. Rent boys were for wealthy old Ministry officials who could no longer get it up when they were with their wives. Still, the idea had its merits – it was quick and anonymous, and best of all, it required no commitment. And if it could give Draco the release he needed...
Well, Draco thought, it was worth a shot.
The red-light district was everything Draco had heard of in the news and worse. Scantily clad, heavily made up prostitutes hung out of doors and congregated in small clumps on the sidewalk. Males of all ages walked up and down the street, ugly leers twisting their faces. Every building Draco passed was plastered with neon signs bearing distasteful, sex-related messages.
It was enough to make his stomach churn.
Keeping his eyes glued to the ground, Draco hurried down the street. The scenery changed quickly as he passed the flashy whorehouses offering female prostitutes and entered the end of the street reserved for the gay brothels. The men that wandered around this darker, quieter side of the district were older and less brazen in their behaviour. They kept their faces hidden and hurried to their destinations without lingering on the sidewalks.
Draco stopped in front of the brothel at the very end of the street and gazed up at it. It was surprisingly well-kept compared to some of the other buildings Draco had passed. The windows were tinted to hide the goings-on inside, which was well enough, since Draco had a feeling his courage would flee if he saw what he was about to do.
Uneasiness swirled in the pit of his stomach. What was he doing? If someone saw him, he’d have a lot of explaining to do. Was a chance to indulge his rebellious adolescent hormones worth the possibility of sullying his reputation?
Draco chased these thoughts out of his head. If Blaise had done it, he could too. Besides, it was only for one night. A good, anonymous fuck would remove all doubts about his sexuality, and he could go back to living a normal life with Astoria.
With one last nervous glance over his shoulder, Draco hurried up the front steps, opened the door, and slipped inside.
The inside of the whorehouse stank of sex, sweat, and cheap cologne. Wrinkling his nose, Draco looked around. The room he had entered was empty, save for a receptionist’s desk at the far end and a row of mismatched chairs next to it. A man was lounging behind the desk, a hat pulled low over his face.
Draco approached the desk. The pimp looked up at him and flashed a row of gold teeth.
“Good evening,” he said. His voice was oily, and Draco was reminded of some of the men who used to drop by Malfoy Manor when the Dark Lord used it as a meeting spot.
“Hello,” said Draco uneasily. “What, um, services do you offer here?”
The pimp chuckled. “Anything you’d like. Take a look.”
He flicked his wand at the blank wall behind him, and the dusty boards of wood slid away, revealing a glass panel looking into a well-furnished room. Draco’s breath caught in his throat: inside the room, a dark-haired whore was servicing his blond-haired patron.
Draco stared, transfixed, into the room. The whore had dropped to his knees in front of the customer and swallowed his cock whole. Draco gave a shudder. It was like watching, from a third person perspective, the same scene he’d once...
They were in a bathroom stall at a Quidditch game. A very public bathroom stall. The muffled sound of spectators cheering in the stands could be heard in the distance, but it was nearly entirely drowned out by the roaring of the blood in Draco’s ears as Potter sucked him down.
“Oh God,” he gasped, frantically clutching at Potter’s hair in an attempt to keep his hands occupied with something more useful than floundering around. “Potter – don’t stop –”
Potter pulled back just enough to flick his tongue over the head of Draco’s cock while squeezing the base with one of his hands. His eyes darted up to meet Draco’s, and through the haze of pleasure clouding his vision, Draco discerned something like uncertainty in their depths. Then Potter’s free hand snaked around to stroke a spot behind Draco’s balls that Draco had not known existed, and Draco’s head slammed against the side of the bathroom stall as his entire world exploded in blinding white.
By the time Draco had recovered, Potter had already got to his feet and cleaned up. He was lounging against the opposite side of the stall, his thumbs hooked in his pockets, looking for all the world like he gave blowjobs in bathrooms on a daily basis.
“I think we should do something about this,” said Potter bluntly.
“How d’you mean?” Draco mumbled, using his sweaty palms as leverage to haul himself into a more dignified standing position.
Potter’s forehead creased. “Unless you haven’t noticed, Malfoy, we’ve been getting each other off regularly for the past six months.”
“I’ve noticed, thanks,” said Draco, irritation stabbing through his post-orgasm lethargy. “So what?”
“So I’m not going to continue doing it unless we take things one step further.”
Draco made a sound of disgust. “I’m not going to be your boyfriend, Potter.”
Potter folded his arms. “I never asked you to be. I’m just asking for some kind of commitment.”
“Commitment is for girls and queers,” Draco sneered as he straightened his robes. “I don’t see anything wrong with our current arrangement. It’s not like we’re in love.”
Potter’s eyes flashed behind his glasses. “No, we’re not,” he agreed. “However, as of now, I consider myself an available man. That means I’m free to get back together with Ginny without feeling guilty. If we start dating again, this is going to have to end.”
Jealousy flared up in Draco. “I thought you were over that whore.”
“Don’t talk about Ginny like that,” Potter snapped. He pushed himself off the side of the stall and stepped closer to Draco. “What’s your deal, then, Malfoy? Yes or no?”
Draco closed his eyes and sighed. “What exactly does this entail?”
Potter hesitated. “I just... want us to do things together. I mean, without anyone knowing.”
“As always, you want the best of both worlds.”
Potter’s expression softened. “Can you blame me?”
“It won’t work,” Draco insisted, but there was no point in protesting – he had already given in.
“Sir? Have you finished deliberating?”
Draco tore his eyes away from the voyeuristic scene and turned his attention back to the gold-toothed pimp. He was suddenly overcome by a strong urge to vomit. “I think I’ll go look somewhere else,” he said hastily.
Turning on his heel, he all but dashed back out onto the street. He did not slow down until he was clear of the brothels.
Never again, he swore to himself. Even if it means I’ll never get off again.
Draco was on his way to the nearest Apparition spot when two familiar voices drifted over to him.
“...really don’t think you’re taking the right angle on this, Harry.”
“So you think he’s guilty?”
“Isn’t that the general consensus? It makes sense – he’s a Squib.”
“Please tell me you’re joking, Ben. How can you even – Malfoy?”
Draco froze and turned in the direction of the voice. “Potter?”
Potter was sitting at a table outside a loud bar with the purple-haired bloke who’d dropped him off at Bolton’s – his boyfriend. Draco felt his stomach turn over, and his mind began frantically spinning excuses he could use to get away.
“What’re you doing here?” Potter asked, his gaze sweeping over Draco’s casual attire.
“I was...” Cheeks flaming, Draco made a vague gesture. “I thought I’d take a walk,” he finished lamely, ignoring Ben, who was looking curiously back and forth between him and Potter.
“Come sit down.” Potter pulled up a seat for Draco. “Ben and I were just talking about the case.”
“I’d rather not,” said Draco.
Potter looked hurt. “You can’t even spare a few minutes?”
“No,” Draco lied. He was already starting to edge past Potter and his boyfriend’s table. “I promised my wife I would be home by midnight.”
Ben gave a snort that sounded suspiciously like “domesticity”. Potter shot him a warning glare, and Draco flushed, acutely aware of the irony in the situation: he, Draco Malfoy, was being ridiculed for leading a domestic life by one of Potter’s companions.
“Oh, well... I’ll drop by tomorrow and we can talk about your meeting with Simon, OK?”
Draco started. “There’s really no need, Potter.”
“No, I insist.”
“I thought we were going to lunch tomorrow, Harry,” Ben interjected.
Potter’s jaw worked. “Sorry, I forgot,” he said, his tone terse all of a sudden. “Friday, then, Malfoy?”
By now Draco had put together the pieces: Ben was jealous of him. This could be interesting, he thought, smirking to himself.
“Why not later tomorrow night?” he asked, schooling his features into the most pleasant expression he could muster. “I’m free all day.”
“The Ministry’s throwing a banquet,” Ben answered coldly for Harry. “It’s the anniversary of the war, and Harry’s a guest of honour.”
Draco blinked. He had forgotten about that. “Right,” he said, a little discomposed. “Well, then. I’ll see you on Friday, Potter.”
“You’re not staying?”
“No, Astoria will be concerned if I’m late.”
“Oh, all right. Bye, Malfoy.”
As Draco walked away, he told himself repeatedly that he had only imagined the disappointment on Potter’s face. Still, he couldn’t help humming a tune under his breath as he approached the Apparition spot. The night hadn’t been a complete waste, after all.