"It's a very modest amount," Draco says, flipping over the parchment. His eyes scan the lines of legalese.
"Eight thousand galleons could only be modest to a Malfoy," Blaise answers, and Draco smirks but doesn't look up from the contract.
"For an establishment of this size and clientele, I mean," he continues. "The building is huge and – are these numbers accurate? Twenty-eight hundred unique visitors monthly?"
Blaise says, "Yes," then pauses, and adds, "well, it's as close to accurate as we can get. We put a high prize on anonymity here, so those numbers could be off by as many as five hundred in either direction."
Draco glances up from the contract. In the dim candlelight of the back office, Blaise's dark skin is several shades darker, and edged in orange-gold on one side. "I hope there's nothing untoward going on here," Draco says.
Blaise cants his head to one side, mouth twisting. "Define untoward," he says.
"Illegal," Draco says, his voice perhaps a bit too sharp. "I mean illegal, Blaise. You know the Malfoys can't get tangled up in illegal things these days. The Ministry has been itching for a reason to seize our fortune the minute the Dark Lord's corpse hit the ground. They'll take any excuse—"
"Then you can relax, Draco," Blaise says. He smiles good-naturedly, and Draco feels his hackles settle. "There is absolutely nothing against the law going on here at Nox."
"Then why did I need to define 'untoward?'" Draco asks.
Blaise looks at him, eyebrows up, like he's expecting Draco to put it together, but Draco does not. He just looks back in silence until it grows too long.
"What?" Draco says finally. "What's the look?"
"Have you not put it together, Draco?"
"Put what together?"
Blaise laughs. "Did you even look at our expense account summary?"
Draco starts. He'd glanced through it, mostly paying attention to the monthly and annual totals. "I – yes? I mean, briefly." He flips through the contract again.
"Doesn't give you any clues? I was rather hoping for you to put it together on your own; I know how prudish you old pureblood families can be."
If he was trying to make things clearer, then he'd utterly failed. Draco glances up just long enough to give Blaise a questioning look, then looks back down when he finds the expense account summary.
And now that he looks at it more carefully—
"Three hundred galleons on dragon leather?" Draco reads, sounding surprised. "A bulk order of euphoric elixir from Slug and Jigger, and – lubricant? Like for machinery?"
When Draco looks up at him Blaise is covering his mouth with one hand, his elbow on the smooth oak surface of the desk.
"Oh, Draco," Blaise says, holding back laughter, "you really have no idea, do you?"
Draco bristles, quite without meaning to. "What exactly is Nox? And if you could tell me without being a condescending dick about it, that'd be lovely."
Blaise ceases all attempt to hold back on his laughter this time. He pushes one hand through his wiry curls, sits back in his chair.
"I mean—" He stops, laughs. "Blimey, Draco, you really are sheltered."
"Blaise, I swear on Merlin's grave—"
Blaise stands suddenly, the legs of his aging wooden chair scraping on the floor. Startled, Draco follows suit.
"I mean, I can't take Malfoy money in good conscience unless you're fully informed on where it's going. Leave the contract."
Blaise exits the spartan little office briskly. Draco stands in silent stupor for a moment, then drops the contract on the desk and follows. The office door shuts neatly behind him, and Draco quickens his pace to catch up, hurrying down a dark, narrow hallway leading to a set of stairs.
"Blaise—" Draco begins, but Blaise cuts him off.
"There are a lot of rules on the floor," he says, "but the only one you'll need to know is that you can't touch anyone, even casually, without express consent."
"What?" It's making less sense by the sentence. Draco follows him up the narrow stairs, toward a dilapidated wooden door, painted black. "What sort of club is this?"
"You're about to find out, mate." Blaise thumps him on the shoulder, then pushes through. When they come out on the other side, Draco sees—
—well, he's not quite sure what he sees. He sees a lot of people, a lot of furniture, a lot of art on the walls, all of it awash in a red floodlight permeating every corner of the room. One of the first things he sees is a woman, naked from the waist down, with her legs spread open as a man with a collar around his neck presses his mouth against her—
"Oh, Merlin," Draco says, voice about a half-octave higher than he could have sworn it was a moment ago. "Blaise!"
"Welcome to Nox," Blaise says, gesturing to the room.
Past the woman with the man's tongue in her – why is he wearing a studded leather collar – there's a young man chained to a wall by his wrists and – why is that other man hitting him? There's a lady on her knees on the floor, ankles bound, wrists tied behind her back, kneeling at another man's feet as he chats casually with another woman – there are three people chatting jovially by a fireplace while a young man, apparently unnoticed, writhes on the floor, red magic pulsing around his chest and his large, erect – oh, God.
Draco feels hot, all over and all at once, but particularly on his face. "Blaise!"
"It's a sex club, mate," Blaise says. "More specifically, it's a BDSM club."
"This isn't – I don't—" Draco covers his mouth with one hands, though he's not entirely sure why.
"Relax," Blaise laughs. "Everyone here's a consenting adult."
Draco should leave. More generally, he should want to leave. But he does not do either of those things. He stares around, surprised – astonished, even – and feeling uncomfortably warm in his skin.
"I don't know – what – what on earth is BDSM?" Draco manages, speaking through his fingers, voice a bit strangled. He tears his eyes away from a young woman getting spanked because – he can't, he just can't look at that right now, he's not sure why – and looks at Blaise instead, who looks far more amused than he should be, the bastard.
"Seriously?" Blaise laughs. "You've never even heard the term before?"
"Blaise!" Draco says shrilly.
"All right, relax," Blaise laughs, harder. "It stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. You know, people who get off on being tied up and knocked around a bit. Or tying up and knocking around other people, depending on your preference."
"You cannot honestly tell me you've never heard of BDSM."
"All right, all right!" Blaise says. "Do you want to go back to the office?"
"I – I—"
Yes. Obviously. Right? This isn't – this is weird – this is the deviance his father always talked about. Wasn't it? Without really meaning to, Draco looks back in time to see – crack – that young man tied up against the wall getting hit with – Merlin – is that a riding crop? Why would he want to be hit with a riding crop? This is definitely weird. How can it not be weird?
"We can go back to the office," Blaise says, "but if you're going to invest eight thousand galleons in this place, you really ought to know—"
Draco inches closer to Blaise, whispers, "People really…?"
Blaise raises his eyebrows when Draco trails off.
Not quite knowing how to finish the sentence, Draco decides on, "do – this – this sort of thing?"
"Twenty-eight hundred people a month in the greater London area, give or take," Blaise says. "Look, Draco, if it really makes you that uncomfortable—"
"Why do people like getting hurt?"
"Different strokes, mate, Merlin. I mean, I get being shocked, but how can you have gone your entire life without even hearing about BDSM, even in passing?"
Blaise laughs. "Do I like getting tied up and knocked about? No, not really my thing. But my girlfriend's a bit kinky, and I'm a businessman, and we figured that together we could corner the market."
There is a blindfolded man tied to a table. His stomach and legs are streaked with dried tallow and he's writhing as another man – Merlin and Circe.
"Don't you think you should have mentioned this earlier?" Draco hisses at him, even though he is not looking at Blaise.
"Yeah, that would have been a great letter. Wotcher, Draco. Been ages since we chatted. Let's have coffee some time, we can catch up and I can tell you why you should invest in my sex dungeon."
Draco is barely listening. He's watching the man tied up against the wall as the other man strikes him – crack! Draco's body jolts. That's preposterous. Right? That's completely deviant and weird and – and—
Crack. Draco shudders, looks away, flush rising along his chest.
"Look, I know it's out of the usual Malfoy purview," Blaise says, "but you've seen the numbers. We're pulling in six figures a month from cover charge alone! It could be making a hell of a lot more than that with a good investor."
Draco stares at him, head swimming. He's not even really sure what Blaise is talking about. All he can think about is the crisscrossing red stripes on the man's back, the sound of the riding crop as it – crack! Draco swallows thickly.
"All right, Sister Malfoy," Blaise sighs, grabbing him by one shoulder and spinning him around, "back into the office with you before your pass out on your lily-white ass. We'll talk in the office."
Blaise steers him back through the large black door labelled "EMPLOYEES ONLY," marching him down the hall from whence they came, but the image of those red stripes, the sound of the riding crop, does not go away.
The problem, of course, is that even though it is clearly weird and deviant and not-at-all-something-a-good-boy-should-involve-himself-in, it's also a good investment opportunity. A really good investment opportunity. Blaise is making an amount of revenue that is frankly staggering, and his biggest limitation is lacking the resources and connections to expand, both of which Draco could easily supply him with.
Well, no. The real problem, so far as Draco can tell, is that despite it being clearly weird and deviant and not-at-all-something-a-good-boy-should-involve-himself-in, Draco keeps involving himself in it.
He comes back to Nox four times in as many days, and Blaise familiarizes him with the business model as they walk together around the floor. They are the only two people in suits instead of – well, leather, or sometimes rubber – but no one ever seems to mind. They just keep tying people up and whipping them, or shackling their hands together and having them perform oral sex, or—
And Draco should be disgusted. Obviously he should be disgusted. But he isn't. Shocked, yes; itchy and uncomfortable in his skin, yes; confused as all hell, yes; but not disgusted.
"There's no alcohol of course," Blaise says, "and no drugs or potions that alter mental state."
"Of course," Draco says, but he's not really listening. They're making a wide circle around the periphery of the room. There's a man toward the middle, tied elaborately with ropes and kneeling on top of a table, a spreader bar between his knees. A woman stands behind him with a large paddle – swack! Draco jumps once, turns his head forward, heart pounding in his ear.
"And patrons have to sign a waiver and a terms of service agreement every time they come, unless they have a subscription."
"Subscription," Draco says. Ahead of them, a young woman nuzzles against the feet of a second woman, whimpering and crooning as she chats with a man in leather. Draco's head swims.
"Fifty galleons a month," Blaise says. "Seventy-five for unrestricted access to the private playrooms."
Draco doesn't ask. He doesn't think he wants to know. Or rather, he wants to know but is a tiny bit afraid of the answer.
"Draco," Blaise says suddenly, "do you want to go back to the office?"
"I'm fine," Draco lies.
"Of course you are," Blaise says. "I know you were raised in a pretty repressive way, Draco, but I can't help but notice—"
It's a young woman – ginger, curvy, plump, in the black-on-black uniform marking her as an employee.
"Cassandra?" Blaise answers.
"Sorry to bother you," Cassandra says, "but Maurice needs to talk to you about holiday scheduling. His shift's almost over, otherwise I wouldn't—"
Blaise shakes his head. "It's fine. Draco, I shouldn't be too long. You all right?"
Across the room, someone has a very loud, high-pitched orgasm. Draco stares at Blaise in silence.
"Right, I'll take that as a yes," Blaise says. "You know where to go if you suddenly gate the vapors."
Blaise leaves, following Cassandra into the back hallway.
Draco stands alone, near a long wall full of what he can only assume to be sex toys, while ten yards away, a young man is bent over a table and getting hit with a riding crop. Crack! Draco jerks, swallows.
Draco should be disgusted with everything about this. He should have walked out of this establishment that first day when Blaise took him onto the floor. He should cut off all ties with Blaise and spread rumors of his lechery to every reporter within ten miles.
But he doesn't. He watches as the young man keens and shudders with every crack of the riding crop, transfixed but utterly tense, every muscle in his body whipcord-tight, almost like he's—
Draco wheels around so abruptly that he nearly loses balance.
The name comes before anything else, before Draco notices the five o'clock shadow, before he sees the narrow V of dark hair down his front, before he realizes that Potter is in leather – Merlin – fitted leather trousers and boots—
"James Evans, according to the registrar," he says, and God, Potter has aged like a good wine. He's filled out, broadened, evened, and he's wearing leather. He's in a sex club wearing leather. "Are you lost, Malfoy?"
Draco looks up. Potter had asked him a question, but he has already forgotten what it was. He is wearing smart, rectangular glasses, and his hair is falling in front of his face and—
"What?" Draco says, a second time, without meaning to. Then, "What are you doing here?"
"I was about to ask you the same question," he says. "I was set to make a comment about the starched, repressed ones being into all the kinky shit, but you seem…"
Potter leans against the nearby table, looks him over. Potter has hip bones. Draco can see them, stretching the leather trousers. He can't quite look away.
"Less sex kitten, more stunned bunny," Potter says.
"What?" Draco says, a third time. He looks up in time to see Potter smirking. In addition to hip bones, Potter has a jaw. It's square and stubbled. It's attached to a neck, which attached to shoulders.
"See something interesting, Malfoy?"
"I'm an investor," Draco says, apropos a question he is mostly sure Potter asked forty seconds ago. "In the – Blaise is the – he owns it. He needs an investor."
"Right," Potter says. "That makes more sense than you wandering in off the street, though that doesn't quite explain why you were watching that lovely young Domme over there take a riding crop to her sub."
Draco understands only most of that sentence.
"Curious?" Potter repeats.
"What?" Draco asks, losing count of how many times he's said it. "No! That – of course not! I'm not – this is – I'm an investor."
"Uh-huh," Potter says, and he looks over Malfoy's shoulder. Crack. Draco had nearly forgotten about the boy and the riding crop. Without really meaning to, he turns back around in time to see – crack. The boy tied to the table sobs, arcs his back, and begs for more.
"Takes it quite well, doesn't he?"
The voice is very close to Draco's ear. He stiffens. There's hot breath on the shell of his ear, and his mouth feels suddenly quite dry.
"The Domme is clearly a bit inexperienced though," Potter continues. "You're generally not supposed to strike the hips or shoulder blades. The bones are too close to the skin. It's better to strike softer areas. The waist, the upper thigh."
Potter has fingers, long but thick, drumming on the table next to Draco.
"My last sub loved the riding crop," Potter says.
"What?" Then, "What? You're a—?"
"No," he says, deadpan, "I'm only here to admire the decor."
That was sarcasm, Draco manages to recognize. Harry Potter is into BDSM. This raises at least fifty questions in Draco's head, none of which he can quite formulate. Crack. His body jerks.
"Curious?" Potter asks into his ear, a third time.
This time, Draco doesn't say anything.
He realizes, with creeping fingers of electricity humming slowly up his spine, that he is.
And somehow, that is far scarier than anything else he'd seen thus far.
Draco swallows – a useless gesture, as his mouth is absolute arid. He turns his head slightly.
"Why are you…?"
There's more of that question, somewhere, but it gets lost in Draco's throat.
Luckily, Potter is better at picking up context clues than he ever was at school.
"Because I fought and died in a war," he says, which is not even close to the answer Draco was expecting. "Because I spent seven years of my life completely divorcing myself from the things I wanted, being punished and punishing myself for allowing myself any kind of respite. Because I stopped caring what the world thinks. And because you always were and continue to be bloody fit."
It's not that Draco doesn't know he's attractive – just the opposite – but being told it so directly, without a shred of obsequiousness, is disarming, electrifying.
"We hated each other," Draco says.
"Is that what it was?"
If there is some corner of Draco's mind that is dumbfounded by this situation, it is struggling to catch up with the rest of his mind, which is tense and jittery and spellbound.
"I should go find Blaise," Draco says.
Potter doesn't answer for a time. When had he gotten so close? They're not physically touching – that's apparently against the rules without express consent – but they're close enough for Draco to feel his body heat, to detect the fading scent of cologne, and Draco's heart thunders against his ribs.
"I'm usually here on Fridays," Potter answers. "Do let me know later if you're still curious next week, won't you?"
He pushes off the table and leaves. Potter's absence is sudden and dramatic, and Draco shivers, somehow bereft, hands shaking – and so very, achingly, painfully curious.