"Hullo. Do you work here?"
He looked up, and the shock of seeing who stood before him stuck his usual response of 'Actually, I own the store,' in his throat. The man before him was thinner than he remembered him to be, his face chiselled more sharply by the years, and seemed taller, though surely that was impossible.
His silence seemed to amuse his customer. The lines above his nose folded as he chuckled. "I suppose," the grin was boyish, "that I'm the last person you were expecting to see. I must admit, this comes as quite a shock to me as well. I hope you aren't angry."
Draco swallowed the remains of his discomfiture, and drew himself up. His parents had taught him better than this. "Of course not. Your Galleons are as good as anyone else's."
"I'm glad." The silence stretched on awkwardly. "So...how is your son? Scorpius, his name is? Settling in at Hogwarts nicely?"
"Quite well. Thank you for asking." The polite response rolled off his tongue automatically, a product of decades of good etiquette, the expected and familiar seething hatred nowhere inside him. Draco felt oddly empty and groped for a response, even as his hands resumed polishing the shining glass countertop for the lack of anything else to do. "And how are yours doing?"
"Very well, thank you. It's hard to believe how big they've grown already; everything seems so different now." He looked out the big glass window at the bustling Hogsmeade street beyond. "So normal." The last word was uttered with a sense of wonder, as if normal were a most unusual state.
Then again, for them, perhaps it was.
Draco forced his thoughts back to the here and now before they wandered back to the past. "So, how can I help you today?"
The man laughed again. "Yes, I did come here for something, didn't I? The wife sent me. Said she was looking for an, um..." he pulled a wrinkled sheet of paper from somewhere inside his robes, "a ricer. What the heck is a ricer?" He looked genuinely bewildered.
Odd how this bit of superior knowledge over his old rival didn't fill him with glee as it should have. "Don't worry; most wizards wouldn't know what it is, either. It's a device Muggles use to mash potatoes with, which rather begs the question: why you need one?" Draco was coming around the corner of the counter even as he spoke, the half door closing behind him with a soft click.
"Oh, that." Potter rolled his eyes. "Ginny's taken up Muggle culinary courses. Says she's bored now, with fewer kids at home, but with our youngest not old enough for school yet, she doesn't want to look for another job. So she's become fascinated with all things Muggle. Says using magic is too easy." Potter sounded more than a little disbelieving. "Can you believe that? What I wouldn't have given to have magic when Aunt Petunia was ordering me around." He looked around at the shining stacks of steel and aluminum, surprise widening his eyes. "For that matter, I must admit I am quite surprised that you stock so many Muggle appliances and gadgets."
Draco shrugged, ignoring a small twinge of hurt at the slight insult. "It's a new trend apparently, cooking without magic. Can't say as I have taken to it myself. Now where did I put that thing..." He spotted the box he was looking for on the bottom shelf a little past Potter's feet, and squeezed by him with a muttered apology. His bare arm brushed the back of Potter's hand as he passed, and all the hairs stood up.
It threw him off, and he had to pause for a moment. "Here it is," he finally said, wondering if the silence had lasted too long. Potter didn't say anything though, so maybe it was just in his head.
"Thank you." Potter took the box from him, and the backs of their fingers touched this time. Draco couldn't stop the sudden shiver that rippled through him. "Are you all right?" Potter looked ridiculously concerned, reaching out as if to steady him, but seemed to think better of it and drew back.
"Yes. Of course. I'm still getting over a bit of Bluenose fever, is all." Draco bustled over to the counter, feeling safer when he stood behind the cash register once more. He made a show of ringing in the purchase, the ancient till clacking and dinging as it spat out the tape.
"You really need to take better care of yourself, you know. Bluenose can infect the lungs if you're not careful."
Draco ignored him as he tucked the box into a bag. "That will be two Galleons and three Sickles, please."
Potter handed over the money, in exact change even. "Thank you, Mr. Potter. Please come again." He heard Potter's slightly muffled footsteps approach the door, and the gentle tinkle of the bell as it was pushed open.
"I'll have to have Ginny make some of her chicken soup for you. She's awfully proud of how that recipe came out. Yes, I think I'll bring that around next time." And then he was gone, leaving Draco standing there with his mouth hanging open.
"But I'm telling you, this is not my grandmother's china. When I ordered this, I very specifically wanted to have the same pattern. You assured me it was possible!"
Draco bit his lip forcefully to stop the sarcastic retort he wanted to say, mentally counting to ten as he regarded the petite witch in front of him. Her crimson hair reminded him of the Weasleys, which put him in an even fouler mood.
Evidently growing impatient with his delayed response, she actually stamped her right foot in a manner that resembled nothing less than a whining toddler. "Well? I'm waiting for answers here!"
"Madam," it took some effort, but Draco managed to prevent a look of pure disdain and schooled his features into an expression of appropriate professional concern, "I apologise if the china is not to your liking. If you remain dissatisfied with the product, I assure you we have a very generous return policy and would be happy to refund you the full amount if you'd like to bring back the product. Assuming it's unused, of course."
She scowled at him. "Of course it's not unused. How do you think I found out the pattern isn't my grandmum's Paisley Summer Rose Garden? One of the guests at the reception pointed it out to me. I expected to be treated better than this when I registered here; I demand to see your supervisor!"
"Mrs. Forthswaite," Draco's knuckles were turning white where he gripped the edge of the counter, "I own the store. So I'm afraid you will have to deal with me. Now, I can most definitely assure you that the china you purchased from my shop was Burkson and Horth's Paisley Summer Rose Garden. As to whether Burkson and Horth are using identical manufacturing processes now compared to your grandmother's time, I do not know. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to refund used merchandise; I hope you can understand that this is simply not an expense I can afford."
She snorted, interrupting him. "Bollocks! You're a Malfoy. Everyone knows that your family is stinking rich. This shop," she flapped a white gloved hand, "is surely just an indulgence for you, something for a spoiled little rich boy to do instead of finding a real job."
Draco saw red for a moment, and bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood. He turned away briefly, breathing heavily, struggling to rein in his temper. "Madam." When he turned back to the scowling witch, his voice was very quiet and tight. "If you would like to know the state of my finances, I suggest you check the records in the War Reparations and Seizures department at the Ministry. It is a matter of public record. Suffice it to say, I am most likely quite a bit poorer than you assume. Now," he smiled sunnily again, and saw her start with the sudden change in his mood, "as to your china, I sincerely regret we cannot refund you the purchase. However, here is the contact information for Burkson and Horth," he handed her a cream parchment business card, "and I'm sure they can help you more than I. Rest assured I greatly value your business, and I hope you will continue your registry here. Again, if you have any problems with future purchases, we will provide full refunds as long as they haven't been used."
She took the card with a humph, and without saying another word turned on her heel, her lace-trimmed lavender robes flapping behind her. Snapping instructions to her long-suffering elf, who was staggering under a stack of boxes and bags, they left the shop, the door practically slamming behind them.
Draco sighed heavily. Why did he ever think any job dealing with the public was a good idea?
"Brides, eh?" A burly wizard in a neat Muggle suit - and just when had Muggle clothes come into fashion too? - came forward to place his purchases on the counter. "I swear it's worse than when they're pregnant. It's like they go a little," he made a swirling motion with an index finger against his right temple, "if you know what I mean."
Draco chuckled as he started to ring through the pile of various gadgets, a frying pan, and two bamboo steamers. "They certainly are. Still, they pay the bills, so we do what we must to survive, I suppose." He wrapped and bagged the lot, making change for the wizard, and said the usual thank-yous as the man left. The door tinkled shut behind the wizard, and Draco slumped into his chair, squeezing his eyes closed and pressing the heels of his hands against them.
The entirely unexpected voice startled him so badly he almost toppled out of the chair. "Shite!"
The lean form looked blurrily apologetic and reached out to steady him. Draco shrugged off the touch before it could even make contact. Blinking furiously and scrubbing at his eyes again, his vision finally cleared. Great Merlin, he really had to get some more sleep.
"I'm so sorry. You're not still feeling under the weather, are you?"
"No!" Oops, perhaps that was just a tad too vehement. "I mean, of course not. You just startled me, is all." Draco felt off-balance, and struggled to find some equilibrium.
"You look exhausted," Potter said matter-of-factly.
"Yeah, well, working fifteen-hour days everyday will do that to a person," he muttered, more to himself than anyone else. Feeling steadier, he made sure his coolly detached veneer was well in place before he faced Potter again. He almost cursed aloud when he saw there were no other customers in the store.
Potter was now looking concerned, of all things. "Are you doing well?" He gestured over his shoulder. "You know, with the shop and all?"
Wait one stinking minute. His humiliation at admitting his financial situation to his last customer still fresh on his mind, Draco lashed out angrily. "I don't need pity from you, Potter! I might have lost the Malfoy fortunes, but that doesn't mean I need the likes of you feeling sorry for me. I have my dignity yet."
Potter's eyes were very wide, and he'd backed up a step, his hands splayed in front of him in a conciliatory gesture. "No, no, that's not what I meant at all, Draco. I was just admiring your success, really, in your venture. I mean, this is the hardest I've ever seen you work at, well, anything really." He cocked his head, one cheek tugging up into a half-grin. "It rather becomes you."
Draco found it suddenly hard to breathe as his heart threatened to pound its way through his ribcage. He groped for safer territory. Well, safer for him, anyway. Potter didn't look ruffled at all, and he wondered just why he kept seeing subtext that more than likely wasn't there. "So, what brings you here today? Do you need some more Muggle kitchen gadgets?"
"Hmm, yes." Potter pulled out another crumpled bit of parchment, squinting nearsightedly at the scrawled writing. "An egg-timer and lemon zester. Oh, and I also came by to give you this." He plunked the Ever-Warm thermos he had been carrying onto the counter.
Draco had already found the kitchen items, and was ringing them through, but paused at the sight of the thermos. "Mrs. Potter's famous chicken soup, I presume?"
"Yes. Ginny was very concerned when I told her you'd been ill. She wanted me to bring this right away."
He wanted to refuse the gift, he really did. Malfoys, stripped of their riches or not, were damned proud people, and he hated charity of any sort. Before he knew it though, he was pulling the thermos toward him, unscrewing the lid, and smelling the heavenly contents within.
"I'll tell her you enjoyed the soup very much, then." Potter smiled again, and Draco's knees weakened.
His fury at his own reaction prompted his next words. "You'd better not be bloody feeling sorry for me, you twat. I don't need your pity."
"Good grief, Draco, must you be so prickly? We'd do the same for any of our friends if they'd been ill, all right? And let me assure you, my comments about your store were genuine admiration. I personally have no head at all for business, and I really quite admire what you and the Weasley twins have done."
Draco harrumphed, feeling mollified but also a little embarrassed by his outburst. One word in Potter's spiel got his attention. Friends. Was that what they were now? He couldn't quite wrap his mind around the concept.
Another possibility occurred to him then. Potter could be working in the Ministry, and seen the financial records of the final Malfoy disgrace for himself. Had the obnoxious Gryffindor come by to gloat? "And what does the great Harry Potter do with his free time, now that he's all done saving the world? Surely he doesn't have to work for a living." It sounded ridiculously nasty, even to his own ears.
To his surprise, Potter didn't get angry, further emphasizing the fact that they were men now, and not boys. "You'd be surprised. I'm sure you imagined I'd be rolling in all the gold the Ministry seized from Death Eater families."
"Aren't you?" Great. Now he just sounded snide.
"No," was the chuckling response. "I didn't see a Knut of what they seized, and I don't want it either. So I'm not fabulously wealthy; nor am I all that powerful. Politics were never something I ever wanted to get involved in. Me and Gin have enough for us and our family, and that's good enough for us." There was a pause. "To answer your original question, I write travel guidebooks. Muggle Destinations for Wizards, more specifically. They pay for my expenses, and often even Gin and the kids get to come along."
"Sounds interesting," Draco responded, for lack of anything better to say, all his conspiracy theories crumbling to dust. He tried to look busy, bagging up the few purchases Potter had made. He pushed the bag across the counter, but Potter didn't take it up.
The silence was uncomfortable. Awkward. Potter seemed to fidget a little, but didn't make a move to go. He looked like he had something on his mind, but couldn't quite bring himself to say it.
"I've got to close up now," Draco finally said.
"Right, of course." Potter shook himself a little. "Well, I guess I'll be seeing you. Thanks."
"Thank you, Mr. Potter. Do come again." The formal greeting came automatically, and Draco thought he saw some expression he couldn't quite identify pass briefly over Potter's features as he left.
The next time Potter returned, Draco saw him coming, having a perfect view from his chair behind the counter through the big glass window. It was raining in Hogsmeade that day, and he noted with some amusement that even the great Saviour-of-the-Wizarding-World-and-Let's-Not-Forget-the-Muggles-Too wasn't immune to being drenched in the downpour like normal mortals.
Especially without an umbrella. And so, coughing and sputtering rather ungracefully, Potter stumbled his way into the store.
"You look like a drowned rat, Potter."
The other peered at him wryly through a curtain of dripping fringe. The rest of that famously messy hair was sticking up every which way like a rat's nest. "Well thanks. It's nice to see you too."
Draco cocked his head, arching his brows in that way he knew annoyed most people. "Aren't you a wizard? You know, there are Shield Charms for this sort of thing. And do stop that, I just had the windows cleaned."
Potter ducked his head, looking rather sheepish. He stopped shaking himself like a big dog, and found his wand, casting a drying charm that blew over him like a great wind. His hair, now dry, was hopelessly ruffled and static made it stand on end. "Would you believe," he sounded equal parts rueful and embarrassed, "that I still forget most of the time?"
"You don't say," Draco said dryly. The sarcasm didn't seem to bother Potter. "Back for more kitchen tools already?"
"Hmmm, yes," Potter said distractedly, looking for something in his robes. "Gin could use more sizes of measuring cups and spoons, she says. Stainless steel if you have them." He was still searching in his pockets.
"Of course." As Draco went toward the appropriate aisle, he talked over his shoulder. "You know, you really don't have to buy all these tools. Even if you insist on cooking the Muggle way, you can transfigure them easily enough. Most of the time these end up as novelty gifts or gifts magical folk buy for their Muggle relatives." He gathered up the appropriate sets, and backed his way up the narrow aisle, cursing as he tripped over a wayward colander.
"I know, but neither of our Transfigurations skills are that great, and we surely can't be bothering Hermione with every little thing."
Draco came around the back of the aisle with his armful of merchandise, about to point out that transfiguring steel measurement devices was about as elemental and basic a Transfiguration you could get, and surely even a dunce like Potter could manage that. Until he caught the look in Potter's eye, and knew then and there that he knew it too.
"Well, here're your measuring cups and all that," he said instead, pretending to be oblivious to the shared look that had just been passed. Inside, he felt odd, his stomach doing slow somersaults as if he'd eaten something that didn't agree with him. "Oh, and before I forget," he rummaged around in the drawers underneath the counter for a bit, "here's your thermos back." He pushed that across the counter too.
"Oh right. Thank you." Potter started to say something, but cut himself off. "Did you enjoy the soup, then?" he said instead.
He had, very much so. In fact, Draco had inhaled the whole thermosful before he'd even finished closing up shop that night, but his pride simply refused to let him admit it. "Not at all," he replied coolly. "Turns out I had an allergic reaction to one of the herbs. I had to throw the whole lot out."
Potter looked so genuinely devastated that Draco wanted to tell him the truth, but he simply couldn't bring himself to do it. "I'm sure it was delicious, just a shame is all," he said rather lamely instead.
It seemed to console Potter somewhat. "No matter. We'll just have to figure out what set off the reaction and avoid that ingredient from now on."
From now on? Draco's traitorous innards did another little flutter at the implication. In what was quickly becoming a thrice-weekly routine, he tried to lose his thoughts in the mundane tasks of finishing the sales transaction.
The cash register's clanging seemed loud in the mostly empty shop as he pushed the drawer closed. The few other customers in the store were conversing amongst themselves, but at the front all that could be heard was a low murmuring, just enough noise to remind Draco that they weren't alone.
"Anything else, Potter?"
Draco arched an eyebrow, hoping he'd managed a passable imitation of the fearsome glower Snape used to have, and waited silently.
Potter flushed a little, his ears turning pink, and he shuffled his feet a bit. He nodded to himself, seeming to come to some sort of decision, and reached inside the right breast flap of his robe, pulling out a slender length of hawthorn. He held it out tentatively, his brow creasing in worry, as if scared of the reaction it might trigger.
Draco gaped in shock, before pure rage overtook him. He was blinded by his fury at being played so badly. There was more there too: shame at not seeing this duplicity coming and his absolute failure at being a Slytherin, as well as a crushing, bitter disappointment he didn't want to analyse too deeply.
"You rotten, fucking, bastard," he hissed with so much venom Potter actually reeled back. "I should have known the King of Gryffindor couldn't resist."
"Couldn't resist what?" Those famous green eyes blinked at him, round with astonishment and so earnest Draco almost believed Potter had no idea what he was talking about.
Almost. He hadn't forgotten the rumour that Potter had almost been sorted into Slytherin, and the Golden Boy Gryffindor certainly had his share of snake-like qualities.
"As if you don't know. Isn't it enough that my entire family has been destroyed, that we've lost everything, that you've personally humiliated me? It's not enough for you that you've won, that you even own my very life itself? You've won in every which way it counts. And it's still not enough for you? You have to come to the one small thing that I have left, this humble little shop, humiliate me, and poison that for me too." The fury roiling through Draco was overwhelming, and the backs of his eyes burned with tears of rage. "When will you be happy? When I'm dead and gone, and you can come spit on my grave?"
Potter's mouth was slack with shock, and he flinched visibly with each accusation. He shook his head, his mumbled denials swallowed up in the wave of Draco's anger. The customers in the back of the store had stopped talking and were beginning to stare.
Finally noticing the scene they were making, Draco growled and grabbed Potter's wrist, pulling him toward the storage room. The bones grated under his fingers, and he felt a surge of dark glee at the whimper of pain Potter let out. The door slammed behind them, and Draco impatiently waved the solitary light bulb on.
Potter's face was pale in dim light, his lips pinched against the pain of Draco's bruising grip.
The fight suddenly vanished out of Draco, and he deflated, feeling exhausted and drained. Releasing Potter's arm, he flexed his sweating, cramped fingers, feeling a stab of remorse when he saw the bright red marks already darkening to bruise.
He turned away, holding up a hand to forestall what Potter was about to say. "Just go, all right? If it makes you feel better, I'm not angry at you. You've done your noble act; I'm sure your friends and family will be very proud of you. Just leave." He squeezed his eyes shut against the maelstrom of emotion inside, praying Potter would leave, but the other man was very still behind him. "Please," he whispered. "Leave me alone."
The silence dragged on indeterminably, and then Draco heard Potter take a step closer. His whole body tensed up as he braced himself, anticipating or dreading Potter's touch, he couldn't tell.
He heard the rustling sound of fabric, and the sense of something stiff and solid was being slid into the back pocket of his trousers. His old wand.
"If it's any consolation, Draco," Potter's breath was hot in the tender flesh behind his ear, "I couldn't have beaten Voldemort without this wand. You helped me, even if you didn't mean to or know what you did. So, thank you."
Draco was very still, not even breathing, lost in the words and the sense of Potter so close to him. Just a little closer... the thought whispered in his head.
"The way I see it," Potter continued, his whisper making the little hairs on the back of Draco's neck stand up, "I owe you. And Potters always repay their debts."
He stepped back, and Draco's knees almost sagged. Draco heard the storage room door open, and Potter was gone.
Shaking slightly, he had to grab the edge of the shelf in front of him to steady himself. Potter hadn't even touched him.
Potter didn't return for weeks.
Draco told himself he couldn't care less. He had better customers who spent more money, and had been patronizing his shop for years. Potter had been a frequent visitor, but he was only shopping there because of his ditzy wife's new hobby, and obviously the obsession had passed. He hadn't spent that much money when he'd been there, and that was the only thing that mattered.
If he repeated that to himself often enough, it might even sound convincing. Of course, the only other reason he would want to see Potter's ugly mug again didn't bear examining.
The grey, wet autumn got cooler and drier as the months rolled by into early November, and the imminent holiday season meant that the shop was busier than ever. Draco was so busy, filling special orders, sorting through the overflow of stock and managing the teenaged twits he had hired to see him through the busy season, he didn't have time to think about the strange not-quite-relationship with the Boy-Who-Lived-Again.
"Not like that, you moron!" Draco hollered at Ted Flaskinsky, as the boy attempted to stack some very breakable and very valuable crystal vases ten high. "Those are worth ten Galleons each, and if you break one, it's coming out of your wages!"
Startled, Ted jerked back, his arms windmilling as he started to fall off the towering stack of crates he'd piled to get up to his precarious perch. Draco whipped out his wand, and with dismay realized he could either save the crystal or the even more valuable china the moronic boy was falling toward.
He cringed as he waved his wand toward the china, closing his eyes and waiting for the smash of the falling vases.
It never came. Cautiously, Draco cracked one eye open, then stared as he realized the crystal had been saved after all. Ted was still balanced on top of his crates, and from the look of awe and astonishment on his face he wasn't the quick-thinking one.
"Is everyone all right?"
Damn, Draco thought. It figured. He managed to draw his usual cool, reserved demeanor over himself before he turned to confront the speaker. "We're fine, Potter." And though it galled him to say it, it would seem ungentlemanly not to. "Thank you for your help," he added, wondering if he sounded peevish.
The smile that bloomed over Potter's face almost made him whimper. "Not a problem at all. You probably want to help the boy down though, Draco. He doesn't look too steady up there."
Draco looked over his shoulder, and sure enough, Ted was looking rather white. He still seemed awed - by the Great Harry Potter's presence, no doubt, Draco thought rather snidely - and his mouth was opening and closing like a fish on land. "Ted."
The boy kept working his mouth silently, finally managing to stammer, "That's...that's....that's Harry Potter!"
Draco rolled his eyes. How had he ever managed to hire such a moronic twit? Out of the corner of his gaze, he could see Potter snickering behind his hand and wanted to smack him. "Never mind Mr. Potter. In my store, he's just another customer. Will you please get down from there before you break anything you can't afford to replace? At the rate you're going, your father's going to be paying me for you to work here." Now he remembered why he'd hired the stupid little Hufflepuff: to appease the senior Flaskinsky, the head of Flaskinsky Silversmiths. His costs would skyrocket if he offended the man.
He let out a martyrish sigh as he watched Ted's unsteady descent, and didn't miss the quick Wingardium Leviosa charm Potter cast to keep the stack from collapsing as Ted finally regained solid footing.
"Mr. Potter? Do you...do you think I can have your autograph?"
Potter's lips twitched, and he cast a mischievous glance Draco's way. "If it's all right with your boss."
Oh, bloody hell, Ted was looking all disgustingly earnest now. Draco heaved another long-suffering sigh, and grunted his assent, looking on in disgust as the deed was done. When the starstruck boy had finally tucked his precious bit of parchment back into a pocket, Draco made shooing motions with his hands at him. "If you're quite done now, will you please get back to work? No, not there you idiot," he snapped as Ted headed toward the crystal again. "Go work on something unbreakable. There's a shipment of copper pots and cauldrons that just came in, go stock the shelves." Draco watched the boy as he disappeared into the back room, and heard chuckling behind him.
"I'm so glad you're amused," he said dryly, starting to rearrange the crystal display the boy had made such a mess of.
"I can't help it," Potter replied apologetically. "I just find it terribly interesting how young folks are, especially now that I have children of my own. It sure casts a different light on some of the trouble we used to get into."
"You, Potter. Don't include me in your Gryffindor misadventures."
"If you insist." Potter's tone was too innocent.
Draco decided to ignore it, and concentrated on the delicate vases in front of him.
"No offense to that young man, but he's clearly not the most careful. Why don't you hire someone else? I'm sure Albus, at least, wouldn't mind helping you out around here during the Christmas hols."
For a second Draco was thrown badly by the name, until he remembered that Potter had named his youngest son after Dumbledore. "No, thank you," he snapped, more harshly than he'd intended. "I don't need any more favours from you." He regretted the words almost immediately at the genuine hurt in Potter's eyes. "Look, it's not that I don't appreciate the offer," he amended, "but his father is one of my major suppliers, and he asked me to employ his son. If I offend him, he's likely to increase the cost of his silver, and I can't afford that."
There was an enormous crash of falling metal from the other side of the store, and they both cringed simultaneously. Draco rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Of course, at this rate I'm not sure I can afford to employ him either. If I didn't pay him a single Knut in wages, he's still costing me a fortune."
"Ah, politics." Potter nodded. "One of the more regrettable costs of growing up, I must admit."
Draco snorted. "Never wanted to be Minister of Magic, then?" He stared, utterly charmed and horrified at that reaction at the same time, when Potter flushed crimson.
"Good lord, no. Those tabloids are out of control, as usual. The reporters were quite disappointed when I didn't choose to become an Auror or join the Ministry." He didn't need to explain why; Draco could well understand Potter's desire for a quiet, normal life.
Potter watched silently as Draco puttered. The air between them almost thrummed with expectant tension. Almost squirming with it, Draco groped for a safe topic of conversation. "So, are you still looking for more Muggle kitchen devices? I'm surprised to see you back; I thought perhaps the fad had passed for your family."
"Oh, not exactly. We were traveling for the last few weeks - went up to East Asia, toured the Japanese islands. It was a nice chance to get away from the damp English weather. I did miss certain amenities while we were over there that I can only find at home."
Draco turned away from the display, about to ask what exactly those amenities were, only to find Potter very close indeed. So close, in fact, that there could be no question whether Draco was misunderstanding the electricity between them.
He held his breath, standing very still, trapped in the mesmerizing spell of whatever it was that shimmered in the whisper of air between them. Potter's eyes held his hostage, and vaguely Draco wondered if this was how a vampire's victim felt, held prisoner by the intensity of the creature's gaze alone.
But no, Potter was no creature of the night. Draco could feel Potter's warm breath against his cheek, and in the dim light he could see the fluttering pulse of the artery in the pale neck. Suddenly overwhelmed by a need to press his lips to that pulse, to see if the skin was as soft as it looked, Draco whimpered softly.
Potter breathed out at the sound, and leaned even closer, his breath raising a trail of goosebumps along its wake where it touched Draco's skin.
"I've been meaning to ask," Potter's voice was a low rumble Draco could feel somewhere deep in his gut, "how come I never see your wife here? Surely she must miss you, with the hours you work."
Potter's lips brushed, just once, against the rim of his ear, and Draco's knees buckled. His fingers, slippery with sweat, grabbed at the wall behind him. The world had narrowed to just the two of them: his own body, which felt like a quivering mass of nerves, wanting...needing...craving...and Potter's voice, his eyes, his whole body stretched along the length of his. Draco didn't think he'd ever desired or feared anything so much in his life.
"She's," his voice cracked, and he cleared his throat desperately and tried again. "It was mostly a marriage of convenience for both of us." He sucked in a sharp breath as Potter's lips briefly brushed the side of his neck. A sudden surge of arousal washed through him, and just like that, he was harder than he'd ever been in his life. He struggled to clear his thoughts, to keep that Slytherin cool he'd always been so proud of. "She...ummm..." he whimpered as Potter caught an earlobe between sharp teeth, "she wanted my pureblood lineage, and an heir. In return, she financed my business..." his voice trailed off into a moan, "...and I gained a better reputation, since her father holds a position of some importance in the Ministry."
"Ah. Not a love match, then. And does she mind if you dally on the side?" Potter whispered into his ear.
Draco groaned as Potter ran both hands lightly down his back, brushing briefly against his arse, and he pushed his hips back, craving more. He was rock hard and damp inside his trousers. "No," he managed to gasp out. "I've always suspected that she has her lovers, though I haven't had anyone else."
"Good," said Potter, and then he pressed his entire body forward.
Draco made a low, keening cry, almost an animalistic sound, quickly muffled by the hand Potter clamped against his mouth. Distantly, Draco remembered that they were hidden only by the rack of shelves they were behind, that at any moment a customer could come around the corner, but he couldn't seem to bring himself to care. His entire universe had narrowed down to the searing heat of Potter's body against his, chest to thigh, his own throbbing erection grinding against Potter's hard arousal. Draco's trousers felt soaked now, his cock leaking steadily, and he thrust forward wildly, driven by a primal need for more.
Potter, damn him, looked cool as a cucumber. Determined to break that control, Draco ground his hips sideways as hard as he could, a spike of pure electrifying pleasure searing his brain, the heat in his groin burning through him. To his immense satisfaction, Potter's veneer finally cracked, and Potter's eyes closed as he shuddered and let out a moan that made Draco's toes curl.
"Gods, Draco," Potter muttered, and then he was leaning forward to take Draco's mouth. This was no fumbling adolescent encounter. Potter's kiss was possessive to the point of violence, all teeth and tongue and hot, wet, desire. It was primal, fierce and hungry.
Draco couldn't get enough, and he started to respond in kind, thrusting cock against cock and tongue against tongue, and he was lost and glad of it. They were thrusting, and rubbing, gasping into each other's mouths, somehow managing not to scream aloud. Their movements grew more frantic, and Draco trembled with need, trying to fuck Potter through their clothes even as Potter did the same with him, over and over, and all Draco could think was, 'Almost there...just a little bit more...almost...'
The sudden sound made them both freeze, gasping in shock as reality rudely interjected itself again. "Shite," Draco moaned.
Panting against Draco's neck, Potter lowered his leg from where it had been wrapped around Draco's hip, chuckling a little, the sound rueful.
"Ted," they both said simultaneously. Draco sighed, perfectly willing to continue their...well, whatever it was...but the moment had been broken. "I suppose I'd better go see what that brat's up to."
Potter looked shaken, unsteady, and tried to finger brush back his wild hair. "Right."
It was incredibly awkward. Draco didn't know what to say as he busied himself, setting his clothes to rights, vowing to lock himself in the bathroom at the first opportunity to take care of the his still throbbing erection. "So, I suppose I'll be seeing you around?"
Potter finally met his gaze, and Draco realized, with a start, that the other man was just as uncertain and scared as he. Screwing up his courage, Draco closed the space between them, pressing his face close to Potter's. Potter was very still.
"The door to the stock room locks," he said, cupping his hand between Potter's thighs and squeezing gently. The cock in his hand was heavy, damp and rock hard. This time, it was Potter's turn to moan.
"Next time," Potter gasped, sucking in a shocked breath as Draco stepped back, releasing him.
It almost killed him, but Draco managed to walk away from Potter without looking back.
The impending holiday season meant Draco was so busy he barely had time to think. Which was a good thing, really; if he were any less preoccupied, he probably would have thrown himself off the highest turret of Gringott's out of sheer frustration.
He hadn't had such an obsession with sex since his early puberty years, and it hadn't been this bad even at the height of his adolescence. It was getting out of control, really, and Draco knew it. He couldn't afford to lose his temper with any more customers. Not like he had with Mrs. Frowley, the sweet old witch whose only crime was coming into the shop just as Draco had been about to sneak off to the bathroom for a quick wank.
It was all he could think about. Potter hadn't so much as flashed a bare ankle, but Draco's every thought, waking and sleeping, was a kaleidoscope of lurid imagery - moist, slick, skin; the curve of a well-muscled buttock; a light sprinkling of hair on tight belly muscles, trailing down between spread thighs...
Draco shuddered suddenly as his whole body clenched in sudden arousal, and just like that, he found himself hard enough to drill for gold ore. "Merlin's blue balls," he cursed vehemently, the irony not lost on him. He heard a gasp, and turned to see a shocked-looking witch clutching at her daughter, clamping her hands around her little girl's ears.
"Mommy," the girl started to tug at the witch's skirt, "what's blue balls mean?"
"Never you mind, Amelia." The witch turned to glare at Draco, her lips pinched almost white as she forcefully dragged her daughter away from the display of charmed dishrags she had been perusing.
Great. Just wonderful. Draco leaned forward to gently bash his forehead against the cool steel of the shelf, trying to will down his rebellious libido so he'd be able to scurry back behind the counter and have a chance of hiding his burgeoning hard-on before he got reported to the MLE for indecent exposure.
He groaned softly as delight and dread filled him in equal measures. Pushing to his feet, he turned around, strategically holding the colander he'd been attempting to reshelve in front of a rather vulnerable part of his anatomy. "Potter," he acknowledged, hoping he didn't sound as uncomfortable as he felt. He almost swallowed his tongue as he saw who Potter was with.
"Malfoy." Ginny Weasley nodded politely, if coolly. "It's nice to see you again."
Draco smiled wanly. "Yes, of course. Your husband's been a most excellent customer," he managed, sounding a little choked to his own ears. The side of Potter's eyes crinkled in amusement; Draco wanted to hit him.
"Yes, dear," Potter said. "Draco provides the best customer service." He was eying the colander meaningfully.
Forget a good wallop, Draco decided. Dismemberment was definitely deserved here. Then and there, he decided that if it took him until the day he died, he'd get even. "How can I help you today?" With force of will - and imagining Ginny Weasley naked - he felt his traitorous erection subside. Calmly, he replaced the colander on the shelf, keeping his eyes locked on Potter's. Draco watched as Potter's gaze skirted along the length of his body, pausing briefly somewhere near his groin, and traveled back up.
Draco saw the disappointment in Potter's eyes, and wanted to crow in triumph. The open desire in the way Potter had checked him out, however, made his cock twitch again, and he quickly turned to walk back toward the seasonal stock before he could betray himself. "I have some beautiful turkey trays that just came in, if you're interested. Or perhaps an extra large stock pot for those extra guests?" The bustling crowd around the new merchandise helped distract him from thinking about how much he wanted to shove Potter against the counter, Weaslette wife or no.
"What do you think, Gin?"
"Oh, I don't know, Harry. You know I'm not much into this cooking stuff."
Draco turned around and gaped, staring at Potter in surprise.
The Weaslette scowled at him. "Malfoy, you sexist pig. You assumed just because I was the girl that I'm the one with the cooking hobby?"
"Hardly, my dear," Draco shot back. The patronizing term of endearment made the Weaslette flush crimson. If looks could kill, Draco would've been skewered clean through. "If memory serves, it was your own beloved husband who told me you were the one presently obsessed with Muggle cuisine."
Ginny gaped at Potter, her mouth moving soundlessly. Exasperated, she flapped her hands, looking rather like a hovering bat, before mouthing 'Men!' somewhere towards the vicinity of the ceiling.
"Gin, you aren't cross, are you?" Potter asked, looking worried..
"No, just..." Ginny sighed. "I don't know. Just confused, I suppose. Look, this is not the time or place - we'll discuss this later."
"Gin..." Potter let himself be dragged to the side of the aisle, where the conversation continued in muted whispers, glares, and violent gesticulations.
Draco didn't know much about women, the cold fish that was his own wife included, but that sure sounded like angry to him. His mind, however, was whirling with this new interpretation of the past few months. That meant that Potter had kept returning because he wanted to. It also explained the reaction over the soup.
He wondered if Ginny Weasley knew just how many times Potter had visited his store in the past few months. Oh, the possibilities indeed.
Spying surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye, he tried to look busy rearranging a display of wooden spoons. The Weaslette was whispering with some vehemence, scowling at Potter. Draco wondered how much of the truth she had guessed. Knowing the Weasleys' famous temper, he would guess hardly any of it - if she had even an inkling of what Potter had been up to, he probably wouldn't be walking right about now.
With a final huff, Ginny Weasley stomped out of the store, slamming the door behind her. The extra noise was hardly noticeable in the noise of the holiday crowd. Draco allowed himself a small smirk as he calculated all the ways this could be twisted to his advantage.
Potter stood there, staring after her, looking genuinely crushed.
"Hmm?" He was still distracted, lost, and Draco couldn't bring himself to take advantage of that vulnerability.
Sentimental fool, came Snape's voice, unbidden, inside his head. Let a Gryffindor in your pants, - 'Not even,' he argued with himself - and you're already turning into one of them,the mental-Snape finished snidely. Soon, you'll even feel sorry for him.
Draco denied that vehemently too, but his track record was starting to look a little less than stellar.
"Women are like that," he found himself saying consolingly. "Just let her blow off some steam, and she'll be fine. She's probably just angry you lied to her." He had the sudden mental image of Snape rolling his eyes and smacking him in the head for martyr-ish Gryffindor stupidity.
"I know," Potter sighed. "She'll be fine; she always is."
The statement hit Draco like a tonne of bricks. With a sudden, clanging finality, he knew without a shred of doubt that despite his whispered, fevered dreams, Harry Potter would never be his. He'd never really hoped, of course, but a sinking, crushing depression opened up like a black hole inside him.
"Draco?" Potter had closed the distance between them, and the warmth of his skin next to his own threatened to burn him alive. "You all right?"
"Never better." The familiar mask of cool indifference slid over his face, even though inside he felt like he was being flayed to bloody ribbons. "Now, how would you like to check out those turkey platters after all?"
Potter's eyes burned a hole in his back as he led the way.
Draco told himself he didn't care. He admitted that he craved a good fuck with Potter like he'd wanted nothing else quite so badly in his life, but it wasn't like he needed it.
Not like he needed to eat, sleep, and make some goddamned money off this pathetic excuse for a business so the wizarding world in general wouldn't have yet another reason to laugh at him.
"Ted!" he bellowed. The teenager, his eyes open wide enough to see the whites, leapt backward like a startled rabbit. Flaskinksy cringed visibly at the almost inevitable ear-splitting crash that followed.
Draco winced, biting his tongue hard to keep from laying into the brat in front of the already curious onlookers.
All right, so perhaps he was feeling just a little bit ornery.
"Ted." He made a great effort to control the waves of irritation roiling through him. "How many times do I have to tell you not to use the steel cleaner on the outside of the pots? Hmmm?" He glared, hoping he was conveying exactly how he felt about the matter.
Apparently it was quite effective, judging from the way the brat went pale as a ghost and started to actually tremble. Draco could see sympathetic looks from customers, and equally heartfelt scowls at him out of the corner of his eye.
Drats. Perhaps he'd better dial it down a bit. He couldn't afford to lose business in his most profitable month.
"Look," he tried again, attempting to sound nice. Judging from the way Ted was looking at him, as a snake might look at a mongoose, he wasn't quite succeeding. "You enjoy your job, yes?"
Ted made an odd sort of squeak and nodded.
"Good! I'm glad." Draco bared his teeth in an attempt to smile, and felt rather gleeful when the boy's eyes widened in terror. Ah, Hufflepuffs; they were so much fun. "Now, if you, say, don't want me to," he leaned forward to whisper in Ted's ear, "it would be greatly beneficial to both of us not to destroy the merchandise. Wouldn't you agree?"
Ted's eyes were house-elf big on his face. "Yes, Mister Malfoy," he managed, scrabbling backwards, fear pouring off him in palpable waves. He looked like a crab as he skittered, stumbling as he almost ran away from Draco, taking out a stack of colanders with a loud crash as he disappeared around the corner.
Draco snickered, suddenly feeling in a better mood than he had for days.
"A little hard on him, weren't you?"
For a moment, Draco's prick stood at full attention as his fevered imagination heard Potter's voice behind him.
Besotted, moronic fool, his inner Snape-voice growled.
Now more irritated than ever, he turned to see Blaise Zabini leaning against a rack of copper cauldrons, a knowing smirk on his face as he raked Draco head to foot with his eyes. "A little skittish these days, aren't you, Malfoy?"
"What do you want, Zabini? Here to gloat about how far I've fallen?" Draco's fingers itched to hex the obnoxious grin right off Zabini's face.
"Hardly. I needed a good oven thermometer, and was told you would carry the best." Zabini crossed the handful of feet separating them, studying him, as if he were a specimen under a magnifying glass.
Draco managed not to squirm. Thankfully, his erection had long since subsided.
"I wonder, though..." Zabini's voice was oily, "perhaps you were expecting someone else? You seemed rather disappointed to see me. And here I thought we could catch up on old times, dear chap. Reminisce about our schoolchum days and all."
He could see fondue forks in his peripheral vision. That would do nicely to separate Zabini's vocal cords from his throat.
Blaise was so close his breath felt hot against Draco's face, in a twisted parody of Potter doing the same so many weeks before. Draco's disgust for Zabini tempered his arousal at the memory, to his utter relief. The other Slytherin was so close that his erection would have been immediately obvious, and that was just about the last thing he wanted to explain.
"Nothing to say, hmm?" Zabini slid one finger down the length of Draco's neck, lingering at the collarbone, along the lapel of his robes and paused briefly against the front of his trousers. For a breath, Draco stood very still, refusing to make a big scene; he could hear his customers milling around the store, even though the aisle he was in was empty.
"It must be awfully lonely, working in this store all by your lonesome every day, every night. A man has his needs." Zabini suddenly pressed his hand forward, cupping him, and Draco gasped and jumped at the unwelcome touch. "You aren't taking advantage of that boy, are you?"
Draco was confused for a moment, until he realized Zabini thought he was screwing around with Ted. The whole notion was so ridiculous, he burst into laughter, gratified to see Zabini flush with anger. "I suppose you think you've discovered this great secret of mine, to use to threaten me in some way?" Draco snorted. "Try again, Blaise. You're as clumsy as ever when you try to manipulate people."
Blaise still looked a little too smug for Draco's liking. He hadn't come here to threaten Draco; he'd come here to gloat. Finding what he'd perceived to be Draco's big dirty secret had simply been the icing on the cake.
"I grow tired of all this doubletalk. If there's nothing else, Zabini, I have customers to get back to."
Zabini's voice stopped him in his tracks three paces away. "Amilee says she doesn't miss you at all."
The bottom fell out of his world.
Later, as he balanced himself on top of spread knees, thrusting himself into his oiled palm, reaching for the warm body underneath him, he couldn't recall how he ended up there.
He didn't remember closing up his shop, or finding somewhere to get as smashing drunk as he was.
He didn't even know who the young man who lay underneath him was, only that they were very obviously naked, sprawled across a creaking bed, and he blinked blearily into the shadowed room. Draco recognized the shabby but clean furnishings of one of the rooms behind a brothel he used to frequent in Knockturn Alley.
Was frequenting again, it seemed.
The handsome young thing underneath him squirmed, reaching up for him, cupping his balls and tugging gently. The whore had dark hair, green eyes, and it didn't take a genius to figure out exactly why Draco had picked him as an opportune bedmate.
His knees were pressed against Draco's chest, his pucker glistening with lubricant. Obviously they had already spent quite a bit of time there. He groaned as Draco reached down, wrapping a slicked up hand around the weeping prick, and he thrust into Draco's fist, groaning in a way that made Draco's own cock throb.
Draco reached down, sinking two fingers into the tight channel, moaning himself as he felt the muscles there contract. The prostitute shuddered, and started to fuck himself on Draco's fingers, thrusting his hips against his hand. Draco reached, and rubbed, and trembled too as his fingertips brushed the place that sent his companion's back arching off the bed.
"Fuck me, Draco." And it was Potter begging him, and Potter spreading his legs wide...and as he sank his aching prick into the slick, tight heat, and started to fuck the thrusting body underneath him, he lost himself in Potter's green, green eyes.
Draco awoke sated, but not even close to satisfied. His body was in a state of boneless bliss, but he felt hollow inside. Draco threw aside the sheets, his stomach sticky with mingled fluids from the previous night. Turning over, he saw his wallet on the nightstand, and rifled through it - the prostitute had taken his fee, twenty Galleons, and had left the rest.
He supposed he should feel lucky he hadn't been robbed blind at least. There was a note too - the barely legible scrawl read, 'One of the best I've ever had. Thank you. Ask for John J. next time you're in need of a good fuck.'
The note made him feel dirty, sullied: a reminder of last night, and what it wasn't. He crumpled it up and threw the scrap of parchment across the room.
He could hear the bustle of people in the streets, going about their business on what must've been, for them, a very ordinary morning. Casual conversation mingled with the sounds of the shopkeepers opening their shops along the street outside the window. Even here, in Knockturn Alley, it was just another Tuesday.
For him, it was anything but. The few rays of cold wintry sunshine cut across the dusty room, bright against the rumpled worn sheets. Draco stared at the slashing beams of light, knowing things would never be the same again. Not for him.
What a momentous occasion, Snape's voice said snidely inside his head. Shall we make a list?
Why not? the late Lucius Malfoy answered. Draco grabbed his head, wanting to reach in and tear out the long-dead personalities who wouldn't shut up. My son, Lucius continued with an audible sneer, an absolute failure to the Malfoy name. Thanks to him, our family's dynasty and reputation has been destroyed. Let's begin with that.
Thanks to you, dear Father, Draco wanted to scream back at the ghost who wouldn't leave him alone.
Oh, but Lucius, let's give the boy some credit, Snape answered. He did honour to Slytherin house and married well, salvaging what he could of his name and reputation. And he has made a modest success of his little shop.
My son, a common shopkeeper! Lucius sounded disgusted and horrified. A disgrace. I acknowledge he chose his wife well. Only, my pathetic excuse for a scion couldn't even control his own household. Cuckolded by a half-blood! This useless brat brings shame to the Malfoys.
And to lose his heart to Potter, Snape sneered. Disgusting. Pining over that idiot like some heartsick teenaged witch. He has absolutely no sense of shame. What an embarrassment to Slytherin house, to have one of ours fall in love with the famous Gryffindor hero. Absolute moron that he is, he doesn't even see that Potter is just playing with him! He's perfectly happy to lead you on; he still has his precious little family to return to, can't you see that, boy? He'll never love the likes of you. Potter has everything now, and who could ever want a disgraced nobody like you?
Draco screamed in rage and agonizing despair, his hands clamped over his ears, trying to shut out the ghosts, his fingernails digging so hard into the cartilage that sharp searing pain shot through his skull. All conversation just outside his window died at the sound; then, as the scream died away, the voices resumed where they left off. Bloodcurdling shrieks were nothing new in Knockturn Alley.
For Draco, it was just another reminder that he was absolutely nothing now.
He crumpled into a ball, all fight emptying out of him, a sudden, crushing depression threatening to swallow him whole. He started to laugh out loud, and the sound was that of madness, cold and echoing around the dark beams of the ceiling.
He moved through the weeks afterwards like a zombie. He'd never before been so grateful for the busy holiday rush; his days were filled with dealing with customers, orders, harassed suppliers, and incompetent staff. It kept him so busy he barely had time to visit the loo when he needed to, let alone time to think.
The nights, however, were another story. When the door had closed behind the last customer of the day, he dreaded the echoing silence that followed. Worse than that, he knew it meant he didn't have an excuse not to go home.
The long walk home always left him too much time to think. Amilee, a good wife to all appearances, still had dinner on the table when he got home. The meals were always delicious and healthy. The house was always clean.
He'd never seen it before, but now he could see how careful she was to keep up the appearances of a happy household, so he'd have nothing to complain about. Nothing to confront her with. But her eyes, when she made conversation over dinner, when she kissed him hello and goodbye, were empty. Distant.
He'd once fantasized that he and Amilee were a love match, that she wanted him because she desired him as a man, not as someone who just happened to suit her needs. Even as the dream had died over the years, he'd never admitted it to anyone until that day in the dark with Potter. He'd stubbornly clung to the belief that their mutual familiarity would, one day, breed love.
Now, even that tiny bit of hope had been ruthlessly squashed.
Just like Potter, her heart would never belong to him. Coward that he was, Draco knew he'd never confront her. They would live this charade to the grave, surrounded by creature comforts and happy children, a day, a year, a decade until it was over. He wondered if this was what his parents' marriage had been like, actors in a play in a life with no substance. It would explain so much.
Tonight, they played their roles, chatting amicably at length about nothing in particular: he, about the frustrations of importing Norwegian crystal in time for Christmas, she, about the fantastic new bolt of silk she'd seen in a dress shop. Draco complimented her on the always-delicious shepherd's pie, biting back the unholy compulsion to scream 'You rotten, cheating, whore of a slut. How dare you?
But he didn't. And so, they danced. That night, he drowned himself in whiskey, as he did most every night, in a futile attempt to shut out the screaming doubts and crushing void inside him. When he woke, Amilee had covered him with a soft velvet blanket, and there was a glass of hangover remedy on the table next to his elbow.
He went to work in a foul mood, not that that was anything new. He always managed to turn on the charm for those who mattered, and by now his employees, Ted included, knew to stay out of his way. It was a week until Christmas, and there was a lineup in front of his store when he got there. He nodded and smiled politely at the wizards and witches stomping their feet on the cobblestone walk, their breaths misty white in the crisp early morning air.
"Morning, everyone. Please, do come in, and let me know if you need anything." He made polite conversation as the customers streamed inside the warm shop, grateful to be out of the biting cold. Almost immediately, he was pulled aside for a question, and he was grateful when it got even busier toward lunchtime.
Hours later, there was a lull, and he finally had time to sort through the books from the week before. Business had been excellent, he was pleased to note. If it didn't drop off too badly in the new year, he might even be able to expand the store.
"Janey?" he called in the general direction of the storeroom. "Do you think you'd be able to go to Gringotts to change out some Galleons?" He heard her muffled affirmative, and turned back to the ledger.
Mumbling to himself, he worked on the numbers.
Some time later, a shadow fell across the parchment, interrupting his train of thought. "Just give me a moment, please, I'll be right with you."
"No warmer words of welcome than that?" a light and teasing voice replied.
Draco looked up through the fringe of his lowered eyelashes. "If you need assistance immediately, sir, Janey will be glad to help you."
Potter looked stunned at the ice cold response, and a glimmer of hurt shone in his eyes. "Did I do something wrong, Draco? You weren't acting like this last week. I thought you enjoyed my company."
"Mr. Potter, I appreciate your patronage. If there is something related to kitchen equipment you'd like to discuss, I'd be glad to help you. Otherwise, I am very busy today." Draco made a show of returning to his paperwork, his quill digging a hole in the parchment as he dug the sharpened point in, his knuckles turning white.
"Draco..." Potter reached forward to cover his hand with his own, thumb caressing Draco's gently. He came around the counter, pressing closer, one thigh between Draco's legs, and leaned against the full length of his torso.
Despite himself, Draco moaned, and Potter took it as an invitation, reaching around to cup both hands against Draco's arse, pulling once, hard, and grinding himself against Draco's stiffening arousal.
Coming back to his senses with a jerk, Draco shoved Potter away from him, breathing hard. They stared at each other wildly, Draco feeling disheveled and shaken, and Potter looking stunned.
"Draco?" Potter sounded lost, bewildered.
"If you're looking for a good fuck, I hear the going rate for rentboys in Knockturn Alley is twenty Galleons. I'm sure you can afford that. I'd wager you can even get someone who looks exactly like me." He reached up and yanked a couple of hairs out of his scalp, the small twinge of pain barely registering. "Here. They'll even polyjuice themselves for the right price."
"What's wrong with you? I thought you wanted me, too."
All the fight left Draco in a whoosh, and all of a sudden he was bone-achingly weary. "Just leave, all right? I don't know what game you're trying to play, but I'm not interested anymore. Just go back to your perfect little wife and your perfect little family. Leave me alone. Please," he added in a whisper.
Potter took a step, then another, and gently reached out to cover Draco's hands with his own. Draco knew he should pull away, but somehow couldn't bring himself to. Neither of them said a word.
"Look, Potter, you don't know how good you have it. You don't know how lucky you are; you don't want to risk it all on this," Draco waved at thin air, "this...whatever the hell it is. Just count your blessings and leave well enough alone."
"What do you want?" Potter asked quietly.
"Just...leave me alone. That's all I want," Draco whispered. He closed his eyes, and silently counted to ten. When he opened them again, Potter was gone.
Christmas came and went, the sickening good cheer of what seemed like every other living soul in known existence chafing at Draco until he felt raw with it. He was glad to see the backs of the last of the carolers.
What he wasn't so pleased about was the significant drop in business the new year always brought. Profit margins aside, it also meant there was that much less work to keep him busy, and that much more time for him to think. And thinking, inevitably, led to drinking, which led to bleary, pain-filled mornings. But at least the whiskey drowned out the echoing doubts and haunted voices in his head.
The staff had taken to casting pitying looks in his direction whenever they thought he wasn't looking. Draco knew he must look a mess; he bathed regularly, even though he couldn't care less. The stench would have driven off the customers. He brushed his teeth when he remembered, and his receding hairline meant he didn't really have to worry about his hair. He sometimes wondered how bad he looked, but always his courage failed him before he could look in the mirror.
He never went back to the whore in Knockturn Alley. The tiny little bit of his old self left inside cheered at this minor triumph.
January crawled by into a grey, wet, and generally miserable February. Everyone seemed depressed by the unending gloomy weather, and Draco was glad of the company in his misery. He watched the days pass with trepidation, dreading that insipid little holiday that celebrated amour.
Sure enough, in the second week of February, the store was full of witches and wizards, eager to romance their partners with some disgustingly sentimental meal. Draco wanted to gag as he hung up parchment hearts and revoltingly happy animated paper cupids. On the morning of Valentine's Day, Draco insisted on opening up the shop alone. The very last thing he'd be able to stand was any of his staff being overly cheery or besotted all day long, and he planned to spend the morning ripping down the decorations with glee.
He was teetering on top of a stool, reaching for a length of fluttering heart garland and cursing the fact that he'd forgotten his wand in his cloak pocket, when he heard the chime over the door ring.
"I'll be right with you," he called out. There was no answer. Shrugging, he stretched a little further, managed to snag the string, and yanked the whole length down.
He heard the bell ring again as he climbed off the stool. "Impatient much?" Draco muttered to himself, gathering up the rest of the garland and walking around the counter to stuff it in the rubbish bin. When he stood up, he saw a big white cardboard box, the kind one gets in bakeries on the counter. It was even tied with a big red bow.
"Janey," he grumbled. His assistant had been the most vocal in protesting his generally grumpy attitude regarding her favourite holiday, and had been responsible for most of the current décor. He eyed the store balefully, and made quick work of the ribbon on the box. The delicious smell of warm chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, fresh from the oven, wafted out as he opened the box.
He scowled at the scrumptious looking treats as if they were to blame for his foul mood. "I suppose," he told the twinkling cherub dangling off the side of the cash register, "that this is her way of cheering me up. Well it won't bloody work." He picked up a cookie and bit down into the warm chewiness, managing not to moan in delight as it melted on his tongue.
"I still hate this holiday," Draco stubbornly stated at the cherub, who didn't answer.
A week later, Draco found a flat black velvet box in the drawer underneath the till. "What the hell?" he muttered out loud. Mrs. Grubbledywinks, an old biddy if there ever was one, overheard him and glared.
He smiled a bit insipidly in her direction. "Sorry, ma'am. Stubbed my toe, it just slipped out. Won't happen again."
She tsked, and muttered something about the lack of proper upbringing in young people today, before returning to her perusal of the wall of potpourri.
Draco gathered up the box, the velvet soft under his fingers, and took himself to the back room. "Nosey old bitch," he stated out loud when the door snicked shut behind him. He heard chortling, and turned to see Janey doubled over, laughing.
"Grubbledywinks again?" she teased.
He rolled his eyes. "I hate that woman. It's a good thing she's rich, for her sake."
"Ah, Draco," Janey said, winking at him. "I suspect you're an old softy at heart underneath your prickly outside."
He grumbled something about being just as sharp and pointy on the inside, but Janey just chuckled at him as she passed him on the way back into the store.
"By the way, Janey..."
"Yes?" She paused with one hand on the doorknob.
"I still have a score to settle with you. I was not impressed in the least with your pathetic attempts to cheer me up with those cookies on St. Valentine's Day." He cast an exaggerated scowl her way. "Or these." He held up the velvet box he held and shook it, making a gentle rattling sound.
She looked confused. "But I didn't give you either!"
"Su-ure," he drawled. "You are such a bad liar. Off with you now, don't you have customers to wheedle money out of?" He shooed her out the door.
It had to be her, right? Draco had been so sure; it would just be like the mushy-hearted Janey to try to soften him up. But the confusion in her eyes had seemed genuine enough.
No. Draco stamped down hard on the thought. Whoever it was would show their identity soon enough. To hope for what he couldn't ever have was to invite madness.
You moron. Snape again. Damn it. It doesn't have to be some secret admirer, you know. What if it's an enemy, seeking to poison you? They're certainly laughing now - you must be the easiest mark ever.
Draco ignored Snape's voice prattling on in his head, tugging off the lid of the box to reveal row after row of hand dipped truffles. He popped one in his mouth, nearly moaning in ecstasy.
"If these are poisoned," he said to thin air, "then at least I'll die happy."
The presents kept coming, all of them edible, all of them scrumptious and amazing. They seemed random and yet regular. There was no pattern to when a mysterious and lovely box might appear somewhere in the store - under a counter, on top of a shelf, hidden in a crate of new merchandise that had yet to be opened. Once, Draco even found a lacquered wooden box hidden in the janitor's closet, which turned out to be full of wild mushroom lasagna, magically charmed to stay warm.
Sometimes the gifts came everyday; sometimes they didn't appear for weeks on end. There was never any note or card attached that might give a clue to who the sender was.
After the first week, Draco decided the bounty wasn't coming from an enemy. He wasn't dead, maimed, or in any sort of pain that he could tell.
Fool, the ever pessimistic Snape interjected. There are poisons with effects not immediately obvious which are deadly over months, even years. And what about the silent effects? There's impotence, for one.
Draco dismissed that one out of hand, if the consistently frustrating and regular morning erection was anything to go by. If his annoyingly healthy libido ever disappeared, he'd be glad to see it go. It would mean fewer sleepless nights and fevered dreams, not to mention his bank account and right hand would thank him. It was astonishingly expensive to keep one lonely but sexually healthy wizard in lube and toys.
A flitting image of Potter's bare arse, if only a product of his imagination, blinked into his mind's eye, and Draco had to clench his backside hard. Nope, definitely not impotent.
He dug out the latest present to distract himself. Bound up in a pretty gold box, the toffees inside were buttery, sweet, and addictive. He popped one in his mouth, and the creamy candy made him instantly happy.
They must be embedded with a Cheering Charm, Snape muttered darkly.
"Shut up," he told the voice in his head. Startled glances sent his way from the few patrons browsing in the store made him realise he'd actually said it out loud. He smiled sheepishly their way. "Sorry. Just talking to myself."
And what about infertility poisons? Have you thought about that? Snape nattered on stubbornly. Those would be easy to hide in food.
Draco mentally snorted. He already had an heir, and Amilee had complained so much during her first pregnancy that he doubted she'd ever want to have another. At the rate his life was going, it wasn't like he expected to have many repeat opportunities for fatherhood anyhow.
'Just shut the hell up,' he thought sternly at the doubting voice, and ate another piece of toffee.
Despite his stubborn determination to remain the grumpy bastard he'd always been, and to age into a miserly old curmudgeon, the presents were making him happy.
Amicable and friendly.
It was disgusting and humiliating. Try as he might, Draco couldn't help it; every new package sent a frisson of joy through him before he'd even opened it. The presents seemed to lure him with their secret message - someone out there cares for you.
He hated the surely false hope that he could feel growing inside him. He feared the bubble bursting worst of all. Draco had even tried throwing away the gifts, but somehow, they would all reappear hours or days later.
The persistence of his mysterious benefactor was wearing him thin. Elation and doubt warred within him, but as time went on he could feel his resistance disappearing like so much smoke.
There was even a bounce to his step most days. His overt good mood had scared his employees at first, which had delighted him. At least he could use it to some advantage. But as time went on, and his staff had realised this wasn't some sneaky bait-and-switch tactic their previously ornery boss was pulling on them, they stopped cowering around him.
Worst of all, this morning he'd actually whistled. Draco still shuddered at the memory; he wasn't aware he'd been doing it until he'd caught Janey looking at him strangely.
"What the hell's the matter with you, Draco? I'm starting to wonder if you've been jinxed or something. Not that I'm complaining."
"Why do you care?" he'd replied snidely. It hadn't come off quite as superior as he'd hoped, considering he'd been blushing ten shades of red at the time.
"There's something different about you." Janey had started to look thoughtful. "It's almost like..." She cocked her head, then shook it as if deciding not to say something after all. "You're just happier these days. It's nice."
"Spit it out."
Janey'd blinked innocently at him, flipping her long brown hair over her shoulder. "Spit what out?"
"What you were about to say. Almost like what? Just tell me." Draco frowned impatiently.
She sighed. "Very well. I was going to say, it's almost like you're in love. But you've been married for ages, and you don't strike me as the unfaithful type, so how is that possible?" Shrugging at the rhetorical question, she went back to work. He'd stared sightlessly after her, his mind whirling around itself endlessly. Janey had no idea, of course. But she'd known him long enough to read him like a book.
Could it be true? He'd be a blind fool to dismiss Janey's observations just because he didn't want to confront reality. He'd always known he was still neck-deep in lust with Potter; he just didn't know his neglected, cynical heart had gotten involved. This was a whole new level of risk he'd never wanted.
Even in his deepest desires, he'd only ever hoped for a quick affair with Potter. A heated physical relationship, driven by lust and primal animal urges: an adolescent grope here, a quickie blowjob there, perhaps a quick shag inside a locked bathroom stall. And then the novelty would have worn off, and they would have gone on their way, mutually satisfied.
Perhaps it could be something else? He desperately racked his brain for something, anything. Maybe it was just misplaced gratitude? After all, Potter had saved his life more than once, back before the Dark Lord's downfall. And he did still feel guilty about some of the things he'd done back when he'd been young, stupid, and blindly obedient to his father.
But he felt the same way toward Snape and Dumbledore, and he didn't dream about fucking them in his sleep. Or fantasize about cuddling them either, for that matter. He shuddered, and not with desire this time.
Love. Was he even capable of it? For the first time in a long time, Draco Malfoy felt absolutely terrified.
The change of seasons into a damp but warm spring also brought about a nasty cold. The accompanying sinus infection made him grumpy and miserable. It was a testament to his unusually cheery mood in months of late that customers were uneasy around him, and his staff were once again terrified.
This cheered him up immensely. He hadn't lost his thoroughly nasty, old Slytherin self after all.
Finally, after a week of misery for everyone, Janey pulled him aside and insisted he take a couple of days off. "Think of it this way," she'd reasoned. "I know you're revelling in being the sort of bastard you used to be, but you're driving away business; you don't want to lose all your customers, do you?"
Grudgingly, he'd acknowledged her point, and dragged himself home. There was no doubt in his mind that his 'darling' wife would most definitely not be nurturing him through his misery, so it was with mostly relief that he found his house empty and no sign of Amilee anywhere.
A brief note left on the mantle explained that a girlfriend had heard of a fantastic sale a French designer Draco had never heard of was having, and that she'd gone along with her to Paris.
Just wonderful, Draco thought snidely. Not only was his dear wife screwing Zabini, now she'd gone off to spend his hard-earned Galleons.
He sneezed, sending a spike of pain through the nerves in his nose, and moaned in misery. In too much pain to ponder the unfairness of his life anymore, he trudged his way up to take a warm bath.
When he opened the bathroom door and walked out in a wafting cloud of steam, the cooler bedroom air sending goosebumps up his flesh, he could smell something delicious. "Amilee?" he called out, but there was no answer. The house was dark and quiet.
"Strange," he muttered aloud, sinking down onto his bed with a groan. He blinked.
There, on his nightstand, sat a tray with a big bowl of steaming soup and a brass goblet of potion.
"What the hell?" Adrenaline overpowered the lethargy, and he leapt to his feet, frantically looking for his wand. Finding it sticking out of the pocket of his abandoned robes, he cast intruder detection spells left and right, dashing down the stairs to make sure the wards were still intact.
They were. Nothing seemed to have been disturbed. How very strange.
Nervously, he made his way back upstairs, peering into the dark corners of the house, his ears straining for any sign of an intruder.
By the time he got back to his bedroom, he was a bundle of nerves. He sank down onto his bed, staring at the tray. The soup looked harmless, and it certainly looked delicious.
I taught you better than this, Snape's voice lectured him. You aren't so stupid as to actually contemplate anything but throwing that in the fire?
No, no, he should be paranoid. Turning his back to the tray, Draco pulled the blankets up over his shoulders and tried to go to sleep.
Three sweaty hours mostly spent tossing and turning later, the incredible smell of the food finally overcame his resistance. Fed up, exhausted, and throwing all caution to the wind, he threw the blankets back and marched into the bathroom. Steadfastly ignoring his own common sense, Draco grabbed the one poison-detecting potion he had, dripped a few drops into the goblet and soup, and waited impatiently.
After three minutes, there was no sign of the black liquid the detection potion would turn if it sensed poison.
"Good enough," he muttered, pulling the tray close and sticking a big spoon of the soup into his mouth. It was still steaming, obviously having been spelled to stay warm.
Draco closed his eyes in bliss. It was delicious. Heavenly. Warm and scrumptious and mmmmmm.
He realized he was moaning out loud, and blushed furiously. He thought he heard a quiet chuckle from somewhere.
"Who's there?" Paranoid again, he snatched up his wand, casting a bright Lumos into the corners of the room. There was no one there. "Weird," he muttered, returning to his soup. It must've just been a product of his fevered imagination and paranoia; the wards were undisturbed, the Floo gates were still closed, and there were no signs of anyone unauthorized having been in the house.
Except for the soup, of course.
Draco decided he was really too sick and miserable to worry about this particular mystery, and stuck another spoonful in his mouth.
When the soup was all gone, he nervously sipped at the goblet. Sweet and warm, it soothed his sore throat, and felt like a warm hug going down. When he finished it, he felt sleepy, and his aches had mostly disappeared. He felt a little tipsy, almost like being drunk, but it was not at all an unpleasant sensation.
He felt sleepy and sated, and buried his face in his pillows, feeling sleep calling to him. Just before he drifted off, he felt a bit of cool breeze against his neck, and what felt like the brush of soft lips against his cheek.
"Potter? Is that you?" There was no answer, but the room felt very hushed and still. Draco felt a little dizzy and giddy with the potion. "If it is...thanks." There was something else he wanted to say, something that was really important, and if he had been in his right mind, Draco would've been calling himself all kinds of fool for even thinking it.
But now, intoxicated by the illness, the soup, and the potion, it felt like it was critically important to say it out loud.
"And...and...there's something else, Potter...I think...I think..." he swallowed, chasing the elusive thought, "I think I love you." With that final proclamation, Draco passed out.
There was nothing from his mysterious benefactor when Draco returned to work three days later, refreshed and feeling himself again. The knowledge that someone out there - and he refused to even let himself muse on that person's identity - cared for him, cheered him immensely.
Janey was noticing again, he saw, judging by the teasing winks she sent his way. He really must do better at masking his feelings.
Still, as days passed with no sign of his secret admirer revealing their identity, self-doubt crept in. He had so obsessed about that night when he'd been so sick, he could barely see straight; was that really a kiss he'd felt, or just his fevered overactive imagination? Had he really said what he thought he'd said out loud? Thank Merlin there was no way Potter had really been there, or he might as well go kill himself now.
It was impossible that Potter could have been there that night. Wasn't it? He'd checked the wards again the next morning, and they were fine. And no one had been in the house when he searched it after he was finally lucid again.
Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that, somehow, Potter had heard his delirious ramblings.
The uncertainty and self doubt were driving him crazy. It had become an obsession, intensifying every day with no sign of his gift-giver ever returning, and it was affecting his work.
"I don't know what the hell's wrong with you, Malfoy," Janey had growled at him that morning, throwing a stack of invoices into his lap, "but you'd better snap out of it. You messed up the payments to those orders; keep doing that, and soon we won't have any more suppliers." Bristling with annoyance, she'd muttered something about owling apology letters, and stormed off.
Properly chastised, he'd managed to keep his mind on his work for the rest of the day, greeting customers cheerfully and dealing with the stacks of paperwork that had built up during his few days off. Still, he couldn't help himself, glancing at corners, underneath stacks of boxed dishes, opening unused drawers, and futilely checking out every nook and cranny that those mysterious boxes had previously appeared in.
Somehow, he managed to make it to the end of the day, and it was with some relief that he closed the door behind his last customer, waving at the placard on the door. The glittering letters morphed themselves from "Open" to "Closed".
"Did you want me to stay?" Janey tucked the last of the loose change from the till into a purple velvet drawstring bag.
"No, I'm all right. There's not too much to be done; you did a good job setting the displays for the sale next week." Draco heard the muffled clink as she dropped the bag into the warded safe in the back room.
"If you're sure," she said, picking up her traveller's cloak and heading toward the door. "Have a good night."
He waved as she left, and sat down behind the counter with a sigh. The sound could have been relief or self-pity; he wasn't really sure which. He lowered the lights with a wave of his wand. The silence of the place after the busy retail day almost echoed.
There was a soft thunk from somewhere behind him. Startled, Draco whipped out his wand. "Who's there? Show yourself!" Not surprisingly, no one answered, and he cautiously tiptoed through the store, slowly pushing open the door to the back area. His heart was hammering a thousand beats a minute, and he wondered if he should be calling the Aurors.
As if they'd give a damn about me, he thought bitterly.
Draco cast a bright Lumos into the shadowed aisles full of boxes and crates, ready to go on the attack, but he didn't see anything. Three more steps, and he was rounding the last steel rack, to his small office area tucked behind the shelves.
There, on his desk, between a stack of parchment invoices on one side and a heap of stationary on the other, sat a bowl of steaming soup.
And next to that was a very familiar thermos.
Draco couldn't breathe. He crept closer, his heart hammering in his ears, scared, nervous, and excited all at once. He slowly sank down into the chair, not wanting to touch anything in case it was a product of his fevered imagination.
The steam rising off the surface of the bowl seemed real enough. He picked up the silver spoon next to the bowl, and gingerly poked at the piping hot liquid.
Little pasta letters were swirling out from the translucent depths, and as Draco watched, fascinated, they formed themselves into words.
"Uhm....hello," he stammered, feeling a little hysterical. Merlin's balls, he really had lost it - he was talking to a bowl of soup, for crying out loud!
More letters were swimming up. I hope I didn't scare you.
"No, of course not. I don't scare easily." It was a lie; at the moment, Draco was quite scared for his own sanity. "Who are you?"
The surface of the soup shook a little, as if it were laughing. The letters swirled again. Come on, Draco, even you aren't that clueless. Another swirl, as the letters ran out of room in the bowl. I'm sure you've already guessed.
Draco stared at the thermos on his desk, and decided it hadn't been left there by accident. "Potter?"
The bowl was strangely silent, and his heart started to beat so rapidly it sounded like the ocean was swelling in his ears. He waited with bated breath for the next message.
The tension in the air was tangible. Finally, the soup swirled again. Did you mean what you said the other night?
Merlin, it was him. Draco felt like he was at a crossroads; he could probably save both of them an awful lot of heartache if he just claimed it'd all been delirious fevered rambling. He opened his mouth, and heard himself say, "Yes. I meant it."
"Good. That's what I wanted to hear," said a very real voice. Draco actually yelled in fright, so badly startled was he, scrabbling for his wand in a blind panic, aiming it everywhere and nowhere. He found himself on his arse on the cold concrete floor, having fallen out of his chair, and staring at Potter, who had seemingly stepped out of thin air.
"Holy fuck!" Draco cursed, as much at Potter's sudden appearance as in embarrassment at his own panicked reaction.
Potter chuckled, reaching down to help Draco to his feet. "Sorry about that. I tend to forget it can be startling."
Draco was still gaping like a fish. "How in the world? Where the hell did you come from? I checked the whole store!"
Potter looked sheepish, reaching down to the floor and picking up a silvery mass of cloth. He shook it out, and the shimmering colours twinkled in the muted light. Draco gasped when Potter swung the cloth in front of his lower body.
"An invisibility cloak!" His mind swirled, remembering so many things all the way back to the beginning of their school years. "Great Merlin, it explains so much."
Potter chuckled. "Yes, it has gotten me out of many a bind. It was my father's."
Draco was still thinking. "Then the reason none of my wards on my house were triggered..."
"...was because I was following you under the cloak, and sneaked into your house right behind you when you let down the wards."
Draco shook his head. "You sneaky bastard." Potter grinned slyly at him, and Draco's heart leapt into his throat. "So..." He felt incredibly awkward. "Why have you been doing all this?"
Potter shuffled his feet, staring at his shoes. "I...I don't really know, exactly. At first, I just wanted you. I mean, really wanted you - I've never felt anything quite like it." He was staring at Draco hungrily, like a starving man before a feast, devouring him with his eyes. It was Draco's turn to squirm under the heated gaze.
"Then," Potter continued, looking away and leaving Draco feeling a little bereft, "I felt like such a heel when you really laid into me."
"I'm sorry," Draco interrupted. "You weren't the only one that wanted it...and I was having a bad time with other things."
"No, don't apologize." Potter held up a hand. "You were right."
"Yes." Potter's intense stare was cutting right through him. "I was looking for a quick fuck." Draco shuddered at how easily the word had come off Potter's lips. "I wasn't thinking of anything beyond this ridiculous physical attraction I had toward you. I didn't care about you, not really."
"So what changed?" Draco asked, genuinely curious.
"I don't know. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I did some sneaking around under the cloak. I was curious why you didn't seem happy, and why you were always here, minding the store and never with your wife. You seemed rather lonely for a supposedly happily married man."
"Oh shite, Potter!" Draco cried, suddenly furious. "You'd better not be pitying me, you bastard!"
"No! It wasn't like that!" Potter looked frustrated as he ran his hands through his hair. "I just felt...I just needed to know more, all right? If you must know, I was thinking about you all the time, and I wanted to find proof that you were happy. See, if you were, then I would be able to talk myself out of wanting you."
Draco nodded. It made sense, in a way. "I hear a 'but' in there."
Potter hmm'ed noncommittally. "But you didn't seem happy. In fact, you seemed miserable, and angry."
"My wife is cheating on me with Zabini," Draco stated baldly. "He felt the need to gloat, which is why I was in such a rotten mood."
Potter's jaw dropped open. "I'm so sorry, Draco."
"It wasn't a love match." He shrugged. "I suppose I'd hoped for possibilities..." Draco forcefully shook off his maudlin mood. "In any case, it was more the humiliation."
"And I only added to it. I'm sorry."
"I lost my temper rather unfairly, so the fault's rather even all round." They looked at each other quietly. "You haven't explained why you did all this?" Draco pointed at the soup, implying the rest of the gifts.
"Honestly? I don't really know. At first, I just wanted to cheer you up, because of Christmas and all. I figured anything I gave you directly would just be thrown in my face. And then it made you so happy, I guess I just," Potter shrugged, struggling for the right words, "I suppose I became addicted to it. To making you happy, I mean."
Draco stared. What could he say to that?
"And somewhere along the line, I guess I started to care, too," Potter said to the pot racks over Draco's left shoulder.
"Stop right there, Potter. My marriage might be a joke, but what about yours? Last I saw, you and the Weaslette were sickeningly ecstatic with each other. Are you going to risk all that?" Part of Draco wanted Potter to say yes, but another part didn't want to touch whatever this strange attraction was between them. He was miserable as he was, that was true, but at least it was a known entity.
This was uncharted territory, and it was terrifying.
Potter sighed, and Draco knew he'd touched a nerve. "I honestly don't know." He looked at Draco, and Draco could see the turmoil and internal struggle. Obviously he'd been wrestling with that dilemma himself. "Do you believe that you can well and truly love more than one person? At the same time? Without loving either more than the other?"
Draco shrugged. "I've no idea; I've never been so lucky as to feel that way."
"Or so cursed," Potter said ruefully. "But that's the way it is for me. I love Ginny; she's the mother of my children, and I adore her. But I...well, I think I love you too. And I'll be damned if I know what to do about it."
"You know, I never thought I'd say this, but you're over-thinking this, Potter." Draco cocked his head to the side. "This might all be a moot point. After all, we don't even know if there's anything to this physical chemistry yet."
Potter's eyes were dancing with laughter even as he smirked. "I suppose." He closed the distance between them, and Draco stood very still. Potter reached out, undoing the top button of Draco's collar with a precise flick of his fingers, leaving Draco gasping a little in the wake of his touch. "I suppose," he repeated, "that you're proposing an experiment?"
"It's only fair," Draco could only pant breathlessly as Potter blew once on his exposed throat and backed away. "After all, we're doing this for the sake of our wives, too."
"Of course. We can't be selfish, now can we?" Potter licked, just once, along the sharp curve of jaw. Draco's whole body shuddered hard in response, and he had to grasp desperately at the desk behind him to keep his balance.
"I would," he panted, "never think of," a moan broke through his composure, "such disgraceful behaviour. Oh Merlin, what are you doing to me?" He was starting to babble, all comprehensible thought vanishing as Potter's lips trickled down his arched throat. Draco felt like he was mesmerized, somehow, as he arched his whole body towards Potter, begging, offering, willing to do anything if Potter would just touch him. Every nerve stood out in a mass of need. Potter owned him; he would sell his soul for more of...whatever this was.
"God, Draco," Potter rasped, dragging himself back up to look into his eyes. His pupils were wide and black, and he was shaking as if he were holding on to his sanity by the merest of threads. "Are you sure about this?"
Draco nodded, frantic now, his knees trembling, needing more now. "Don't you dare fucking stop, Potter."
Potter grinned and pressed himself close, and Draco was drowning in that burning green gaze. "Just checking. You don't have to ask twice." And then, Potter's mouth was on his, drowning him in the kiss, wet, hungry, and possessive. This was not the soft, almost delicate touch from before. Potter ground his mouth against Draco's hard, teeth and tongue twisting, invading, and taking, months of pent up desire exploding all at once.
Draco groaned, an animalistic sound deep in his chest somewhere, and dug his hands into Potter's hair, responding with everything he had. He was gratified to hear Potter moan in response.
Potter ripped his mouth off, his lips nipping and sucking along Draco's cheek to his ear. "You make me so crazy, you bastard," Potter said into his ear, and Draco's cock jumped hard in his pants at the primal possessiveness he heard there.
Draco pressed forward, seeking more, but Potter pushed him away. Draco whimpered, hating himself for making the pathetic sound, but at the same time not caring in the least if it meant Potter wouldn't stop touching him. But the other man was too far gone to tease; there was desperation in his movements too as he pushed Draco to lean against the desk, tearing at his robes, trying to undo Draco's buttons with shaking fingers.
"Let me," Draco gasped, but it was too late, and Potter, with one great mighty yank, had torn the shirt apart, and little white pearl buttons went flying everywhere. Draco didn't even care about the expensive piece of clothing, but only felt relief that there was one less barrier between him and what he wanted the most.
Potter licked and sucked his way down Draco's chest and stomach, pausing to explore and thoroughly taste one nipple, then the other, and a final pause at Draco's belly button. Draco felt like he was melting into the hot, damp caresses, and his trembling turned into shaking as Potter trailed ever further south.
Potter paused, delicately swirling his tongue through the sprinkling of hair below Draco's navel, his breath searing Draco. His movements seemed deliberately slow as he undid Draco's belt. Draco wanted to kick Potter as he took his sweet time undoing the front of his trousers, but finally they were down around his ankles, and Draco kicked them away even as Potter's laughing glance upwards told him Potter knew exactly what he was doing to him.
Potter's fingers burned him as they trailed delicately up the outside of his thighs, hooking into the sides of his boxers, and then the satin cloth was sliding down, the elastic waistband pulling on his throbbing erection, and Draco squirmed at the sensation. Another few inches, and his cock sprang free of the cloth, the air cool against his hot flesh.
Draco looked down, and saw his own hard length jutting out, damp and shining, the swollen red tip almost but not quite touching Potter's lips. Potter was drinking in the sight of him, not saying a word, but he had the look of a hungry predator about to devour his prey. Looking up, Potter grinned a little mischievously, and flicked out his tongue just once to slip along the crown of Draco's prick, licking along the ridge of the head and swirling around the wet tip before pulling away.
The slightly rough and hot, wet touch almost undid Draco, and he shuddered hard, his cock bobbing, his hips thrusting, seeking more. A whimpering sort of moan issued from his throat, and he felt like bursting into tears from the pure want that was ripping through him. He would have fallen to his knees, begging shamelessly for more, if Potter hadn't reached out and stroked along his inner thigh, muttering "Easy, easy" under his breath as if calming a skittish racehorse.
Draco made a sound very much like a sob at Potter's gentle touch, and stood, quivering, waiting...needing more, but afraid at the same time, feeling like anything more might be too much. Potter settled himself on his knees in front of him, and Draco felt suddenly nervous, almost disbelieving that it was finally about to happen.
Potter's hand brushed along his flank, and Draco watched, entranced, as Potter leaned forward, closing the distance between lips and prick. Then, he was there, and Draco groaned as his cock was enveloped in Potter's hot, wet mouth. Potter's lips slid along his aching length, and Potter's hands were suddenly everywhere: stroking the sides of his hips, wrapping around the base of his prick, cupping his balls, squeezing, stroking, gliding...even as his mouth sucked and licked and slurped.
Draco was crying now, shaking apart, the indescribable sensations stabbing through him, so intense it almost hurt. Potter was taking him even deeper, and Draco forced his eyes open and looked down, and his mind almost exploded at the sight of Potter taking him deeper, his hands cupping and massaging his balls, the symphony of touch crescendoing through every last nerve. Potter pulled off again, and Draco whimpered at the loss of touch, but he wasn't left wanting for long as Potter continued to lick and swirl his tongue, burying his nose under Draco's prick, sucking gently at the soft skin of his sac.
He was so close, so close...and Potter seemed to know it, bobbing his head back up, sinking it down, and Draco was once again engulfed in that delicious, hot, soft mouth, and Potter was taking him deeper, and deeper...and then he was feeling his cock hit the back of Potter's mouth, and Potter was doing something funny with his neck, sort of pulling it forward...and all of a sudden it was even tighter, and he was being squeezed oh-my-God-Potter-had-taken-him-into-his-throat-and-oh-dear-Merlin-he-was-swallowing...
And Draco was exploding, coming, his world flying apart as his cock spurted hard, again and again down Potter's throat, and Potter was swallowing, taking all of him.
When he finally came back to his senses, he was lying on the floor, sprawled bonelessly against Potter, who had somehow managed to conjure a quilt between them and the hard, cold, concrete floor. The same quilt was wrapped around them both. Draco felt languid and decadent, and he was pretty sure he'd be happy enough just to lie here for the rest of eternity.
"Comfortable?" Potter's voice rumbled in his ear, the question almost a chuckle.
Draco could only sigh happily, and the chuckle turned into a laugh. He wiggled a little, and realised, a little startled, that the hard something against his hip wasn't the edge of the desk as he'd presumed, but was rather Potter's still unsatisfied state. His experimental movement produced a moan from Potter, and it was his turn to smirk now.
Feeling damp and a bit sticky, he turned his naked self over, pressing himself against the length of Potter. Potter groaned again, and his eyes were pitch black. "Draco..." The word was a warning, and Draco could see the feral gleam in the depths of Potter's eyes, the animalistic lust just beneath the surface. He'd underestimated how much Potter really wanted him.
It was like teasing a fire-breathing dragon, but Draco was feeling rather giddy. He came to all fours, twitching a bare hip towards Potter, then turning and coyly glancing over his shoulder.
Potter's eyes flashed dangerously. "Don't tease me, Draco. You have no idea how you drive me out of my mind."
Draco grinned salaciously, licking one finger and trailing it down Potter's back, between his cheeks, and gently tapping and swirling at his pucker. "I. Want. You," he said, very deliberately. He ignored the slight twinge of fear at the unknown, especially as Potter's eyes darkened even further.
"Gods," Potter grunted as he started to tear at his clothes, ripping them off in his haste, his hands shaking as he struggled to undo his trousers and fasteners. Draco watched, fascinated, staring at each bit of bare skin as it revealed itself, at the trail of dark hair down the tight belly. The dark curls were bunched tightly around the base of Potter's thick cock as he slid down his boxers, and Draco licked his lips when Potter was finally naked.
Potter stood, trembling, hanging onto his self control just barely. "Are you sure? Have you ever done this before?"
Draco stared at Potter's cock, thicker and darker than his own, the head gleaming and swollen. His own prick was still soft, but something deep in his gut twitched. "No. But I'm sure."
Potter gave a guttural groan, and threw himself at Draco. He pressed himself along the length of Draco's back, burying his face in the junction of Draco's shoulder and neck, biting and nibbling. Draco moaned at all of Potter's skin against his, and felt arousal surge through his groin as Potter's heavy length thrust between his arsecheeks. Precome was pooling between his cheeks, and Draco shuddered at the sensation as Potter's slick cock slid against him again, and again.
"Accio lube!" He managed to gasp out, and the little pot smacked into his hand.
Potter wrapped one arm around his chest, pulling him even harder against him, his delicious prick still thrusting along Draco's opening. "You keep lube at work?" Potter sounded more than a little amused.
Draco moaned as Potter reached around to wrap a hand around his half-hard prick. "Too damned obsessed with you," he managed to groan.
Potter rumbled laughter again, and took the little pot from him. Draco shivered as Potter pulled away, and he felt bereft at the loss of touch. He wanted that hard body all along him again, touching him, stroking him, inside him. Potter skirted one slickened finger along Draco's tailbone, and he thrust his hips backwards, seeking more.
"Incredible. I wish you could see how incredible you look." Potter sounded strangled, almost. Draco moaned as one of Potter's fingers gently swirled around his opening, teasing. Then, the fingertip was pushing gently into him. Sudden nerves made Draco clench up.
"Easy, it's all right," Potter soothed, laying gentle kisses along Draco's flank, his other hand massaging Draco's hip. Slowly, Draco relaxed, and the gentle invasion of Potter's finger inside him went from strange to pleasurable. He squirmed a little, pushing back, and the finger sunk deeper into him.
"Oh, Gods!" Draco gasped at the sensation. It was dark, hot, and incredible, so primal he wanted to growl. Potter made a sort of choked sound behind him, and Draco wiggled his hips, wordlessly begging for more.
Another fingertip skirted the opening, and pushed inside. Draco collapsed onto his forearms, breathing heavily against the damp crook of his elbow, as Potter slowly pushed a second finger into him, sliding easily against the first. He felt himself being stretched, and it was a strange but pleasurable feeling, and then he felt Potter's hand against his arsecheek and knew there were two fingers buried inside him.
"More, please," he begged, and Potter drew out his fingers, thrusting them back in, and Draco moaned at the incredible pleasure that washed through him. Then Potter was pushing three fingers into him, the lube making everything delicious and slick, and Potter pulled his fingers out and thrust them back in, again and again, and Draco was moaning and twitching...
...and Potter brushed something inside him that sent fireworks shooting through his brain, and Draco surged to his knees, an animalistic cry ripped from his throat as the sensations threatened to destroy him.
Shuddering and shaking, lost in wave after wave of pleasure, Draco heard Potter curse, and felt Potter throw one leg over his hip. The fingers were pulled out of him almost savagely, and Draco clenched at the sudden emptiness. He heard himself begging shamelessly for more, to be fucked, oh God please Potter please fuck me NOW.
And then finally he felt Potter's hot, throbbing, dripping prick against his stretched opening. Potter was leaning into him, and he was so big and heavy and hard...and Draco kept expecting it to hurt, but it never did. Potter's prick pushed into him, and to his amazement Draco felt himself stretch, wider and wider until, with a popping sensation, Potter was in, and he was pushing forward, deeper and deeper, until with a final thrust he was buried inside Draco, hips against hips, thighs against thighs.
"Oh my God," Draco cried out, and it was a prayer, curse, and celebration to the heavens all at once. Potter reached under his arms, gathering him close, bracing against the cold, hard floor.
Potter pulled out slowly, and thrust back in, and Draco moaned at the delicious slide of hot flesh against flesh, wet and carnal and perfect. Potter felt enormous inside him, and yet not enough. Potter rocked back again, thrusting hard back in, and Draco saw stars as he brushed that place inside.
"Gods, Draco," Potter breathed into his ear, and then he was moving, really moving, fucking Draco hard, slamming his hips against Draco's hard enough to bruise. Draco was whimpering, moaning, and sobbing in turns, his arms long having given out, his face pressed against the quilt. Potter thrust into him, changing his rhythms, angling to brush against that spot inside with every stroke. Draco was lost, drowning in it all, and he never wanted it to end.
And then Potter grunted, digging his fingers painfully into Draco's hips, losing control now, wildly slamming into him over and over, so hard Draco swore he could feel Potter's prick in his throat. Potter let out a strangled squeaking sound, his hips a flurry as he fucked Draco faster and faster, and he reached around to grasp Draco's hard prick, stroking awkwardly.
Draco reached down, wrapping Potter's fingers in his own, squeezing his own prick as Potter thrust into him once, twice, and with a shout Potter was pushing hard one last time as he came, grunting as he jerked deeply into him, his hands clawing at Draco's hips and shoulders as if he wanted to climb inside him. Draco could feel the burning heat as Potter emptied inside him, and with a stifled moan, a trickle of warm stickiness coated his own fingers.
Draco spent long minutes doing nothing more than trying to regain his breath, feeling lightheaded and faint. When he finally didn't feel like he would pass out if he moved anymore, Draco looked over his shoulder, and started to laugh.
Potter had passed out cold, draped over Draco's back.
Somehow, Draco managed to rearrange Potter's dead weight, settling them somewhat comfortably under the quilt, and conjuring up a much more comfortable mattress to lie on. He laughed at Potter's unconscious face as he gently removed the glasses and placed them on the desk. "You always were pants at Transfigurations, weren't you?"
It wasn't too long before Potter started to stir, mumbling and groping for his glasses. Draco handed them over, and watched, bemused, as Potter came to his senses. Brief panic settled into a Cheshire cat grin as Potter came fully awake.
"Wow," Potter stated succinctly.
Draco arched a brow. "So articulate, you Gryffindors." He cast a rueful glance at the remaining stickiness on their bare flesh. "Still, I concede your point."
Potter tucked himself close against Draco's side, burrowing in to cuddle. He sighed. "This is so wrong, and yet right at the same time," Potter mused, twirling his fingers in a damp lock of hair at the nape of Draco's neck.
"A Slytherin in bed with a Gryffindor?" Draco arched a brow, trying to pretend Harry's touch wasn't distracting him like crazy. "I'd say it's more wrong than right. I must be out of my mind."
"What are we going to do?" Potter sounded like a little boy.
"I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to give this up." Draco held his breath, suddenly terrified of Potter's response. What if this was a one-off? What if Potter was quite happy to return to his idyllic family?
Potter looked at him seriously. "Neither am I." Draco released the breath he'd been holding.
"As I told you, Amilee won't care. Our marriage is more for appearances than anything else. Now, you and the Weaslette, on the other hand..."
Potter flung one hand over his eyes. "I really think I care for you both. I don't want to give either of you up. I suppose I need to talk to her; I mean, I really don't think I can lie to her, not about this."
Draco shuddered visibly at the thought of a furious Ginny Weasley on a rampage in his shop.
"Don't worry, I'll make it very clear this was all my idea." Potter pursed his lips. "I wonder if Gin would ever consider a clan marriage?"
Draco's jaw dropped and he stared at Potter, agape, until he noticed the glimmer of laughter in Potter's eyes. "You bastard." He smacked Potter's bare arm. Potter ducked away, grinning.
"Seriously, Potter, what if she forces you to choose?"
Potter shrugged. "Then it's her choice," he said with finality, and Draco felt warmed to his toes. "There's just one thing though, Draco."
"What's that?" Renewed dread filled him.
Potter cocked a brow toward the very compromised position they were sprawled in. "Don't you think you can call me Harry now?"
Draco buried his face in Potter's damp collarbone and laughed. "Very well, Harry."
"Oh, and Draco?"
"What, Harry?" Draco smiled, the name feeling quite right on his lips.
"What time does your store open?"
Draco heard the unmistakable sound of a key being let into the front door. "Oh, shite!" There was a mad scrabble for robes, wands and, in Potter's case, glasses - which prompted Draco to roll his eyes and make a derogatory comment about Potter's complete failure as a wizard - but somehow, someway, they managed to get dressed.
It didn't seem too important that Draco's boxers had disappeared behind the shelves somewhere, or that Potter's shirt was on backwards.
He'd taken Potter's hand, and only barely managed to drop it before Janey came into view.
"We're closed today," Draco told her.
"What?!" She boggled. They were never closed - the store was more home to Draco than his own house.
"As in, not open," he affirmed. "Don't worry - I'll still pay you." He missed the knowing look she cast after them as he pushed Potter ahead of him out of the store. As the door closed gently behind them, the bell tinkled overhead and a breath of magic flipped the sign around to 'Closed'.