PROLOGUE: The Past Was Dark.
The only light was dragon flames. Charlie was forced backwards nearly as far as the Forbidden Forest by an angry Horntail. He rallied and drove her back to her nest. She hadn't liked the journey.
His colleagues were working on the other three dragons. All in all, the humans were winning. He made eye contact and walked slowly backwards to test her response. Good. She wasn't following. For the first time in over an hour, he felt cool night air on his cheeks and realised how hot his face had got.
In the relative quiet, he made out the faint sound of shifting leaves behind him. He turned. Not much light and he was pretty well hidden, but still: "You're Lucius Malfoy's boy, aren't you?" The youngster didn't answer, but stood up defiantly. Charlie continued, "You're not supposed to be here."
The boy sneered, saying, "You must be a Weasley, looking like that."
He was no older than Ron, maybe younger. Thirteen? Fourteen? But he was showing no fear of the fierce dragons only a few feet away.
"Spying for one of the Hogwarts Champions?" Charlie asked.
"Them!" The Malfoy boy's voice was full of venom and contempt. "You're as stupid as your brothers!" He turned sharply and strode away into the dark school grounds.
"And you're as rude as your father!" Charlie called after him. And almost as gorgeous, he added to himself.
CHAPTER ONE: The War Is Over.
"Are you going to stand there staring all day, or are you going in?"
The pale young man started and glanced up briefly at the red-head. But he said nothing.
"I'm sure we can find something in there to cheer you up," Charlie Weasley persisted.
Draco Malfoy looked like he needed it. His eyes and his hair were lifeless, his skin almost translucently pale, with blackheads round his nose and chin. He stopped looking over at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and dropped his gaze to the floor instead.
"Come on! I'll go in with you if you …"
"There's no point," Draco cut him off. "George won't serve me."
Draco waited for the older man to go away. He was in his mid-twenties, with straight red hair to his shoulders and twinkling blue eyes. His crumpled blue cotton shirt was pushed up at the sleeves and unbuttoned at the neck, revealing a good covering of muscle and more freckles than should have been human. He stayed, looking at the sad, lost teenager for a few minutes.
"What were you after?" Charlie asked, after a pause. "I'll go in and get it for you."
Draco looked up then, returning Charlie's gaze warily.
"You're Draco, aren't you?" Charlie said softly, "I'm Charlie."
"Your name means 'dragon'. I like dragons."
"I know," Draco said again, but more warmly. "I wanted to get something for my mother. But I've been barred from all the shops. And …" and screamed at, spat at, slapped. His pride wouldn't let him say it. Instead he finished with "… and Knockturn Alley's all closed up."
"What was it exactly you were thinking Narcissa Malfoy might want from George's place? U-No-Poo? Puking pastilles? A wand that turns into a rubber chicken?" Charlie asked incredulously.
The lightest ghost of a smile tickled Draco's face. "No," he said, "I thought she might like a Pygmy Puff." To fuss over instead of me.
"All the girls love Pygmy Puffs!" Charlie chuckled. "What colour? They've expanded the colour range. Almost any colour you want!"
"I don't know," Draco answered, haltingly. He pulled his money from his cloak and stared at it a moment before thrusting the whole bag towards the other man. Charlie raised one eyebrow, making him look heartbreakingly like Fred. Then he accepted the money and crossed the road.
Fred. Another death. Draco wished that the past eighteen months could have hardened him to grief. He hadn't even liked Fred Weasley much. Professor Lupin, he'd admired. Lupin's wife he hadn't known, but she'd been his cousin and now he never would know her. And Vince Crabbe. In some ways he hadn't been up to much, but he'd always been around.
The war was over. The Malfoys had lost. He was meant to be going back to Hogwarts in a couple of weeks. But he didn't know if he could face the place. His favourite teacher, Professor Snape, was dead. Dumbledore, dead. Aunt Bellatrix, dead. Harry Potter, alive.
He pulled himself back to the sunny present as Charlie came out of the shop and towards him, holding up a small cage for Draco's inspection. The fluff-ball inside was mostly white, with grey eyes.
"What do you think?" Charlie asked jovially, "I thought she might like it 'cos it looks like you."
Draco looked into the cage again. The cute, soft ball was purring happily and jumping around. He decided not to reply.
"Butterbeer or ice cream?" Charlie asked. Draco looked confused. "How are we going to spend your change? Not going to choose? Ice cream it is then!"
Charlie strode off towards the newly re-opened Fortescue's. He's dead, too, Draco thought. Instead of sinking back into melancholy, he followed Charlie. He's got my money and my Pygmy Puff, he reasoned.
When they got inside the ice cream parlour, Charlie handed him the cage and told him to find them a table. They both knew the waitress wasn't going to serve a Malfoy. Draco found the most obscure table he could. He was sick of being stared at.
As he sauntered over to sit down, Charlie asked, "Aren't you worried about being in a dark corner with a poof?"
Draco's eyes widened, but Charlie indicated the cage, "I meant Puff." He smiled.
They smiled at each other.
But then Charlie said, "Although it is only fair to warn you that I am a …"
"I was rather hoping you were," Draco interrupted.
They smiled at each other again. The silence was too comfortable, so Draco broke it:
"Are you still working with dragons?" he asked. That was pathetic! He sounded like his father. That was only one step away from 'And what do you do?'
"Not for a couple of months, but I'm back to Romania next week. Just on a tour of friends and relations before I head back, staying at the Leaky Cauldron for a few days to catch up with people round London."
"You came back for the Battle?"
"Yeah, but the war's over now," Charlie reassured Draco, "we're all friends again, aren't we?"
Draco barked a dry laugh. He stared resentfully towards the street. "Not many people would agree with that." His voice was shaking. Then he lowered his gaze and added, quietly, "Not that I deserve any different." He was unaware that his right hand had moved to his left forearm.
Charlie was fascinated, he stared at the pale, dry skin on the boy's left arm. He moved to touch it, but Draco pulled away.
"May I?" Charlie asked, "Can you still see …?"
Draco shook his head to answer the second question, but extended his arm across the table. Charlie pushed up the grubby sleeve of what had once been a white robe. He stroked the skin there. He couldn't see or feel any scarring. It was a disappointment, there was something a bit kinky about a Dark Mark.
They pulled apart as the waitress dumped their ice cream on the table. She looked at Charlie with disgust, then at Draco with loathing. She said nothing and walked away.
"Why are you being nice to me?" Draco asked and added, in a rush, "Don't you know what I've done? I nearly killed two of your brothers, I didn't mean to but I poisoned Ron and I let Greyback into Hogwarts. And it was my family's fault that Ginny was in the Chamber and that Nagini got your Dad. I belittled your family every day I was at school, cheated at Quidditch, tricked them into trouble, spied on the DA and I'm a Muggle-hating, Pureblood-loving, Dark wizard …"
"You tried to get Hagrid sacked," Charlie added, calmly.
"What?" Draco lost his train of self-loathing.
"You didn't mention Hagrid: sacked, imprisoned, death sentences on his pets. Mostly down to you and your Dad. I like Hagrid."
"Really? Yes, Hagrid, right. So why, then …"
"And Harry. I like Harry."
"Potter? I hate Potter. So, answer me. Why are you here with me then?" Draco asked again.
Infuriatingly, instead of answering, Charlie said, "The ice cream's melting. Vanilla with white chocolate sauce and silver sprinkles. Reminds me of you." Charlie filled a spoon.
Draco looked into the bowl. One bowl, two spoons.
"Cold?" he asked.
"Sweet," Charlie answered, putting a laden spoon in Draco's mouth before he could reply. "The Dark Lord's gone," he said, staring into Draco's eyes, "time to move on, forget about the past. Make love not war." He held eye contact, slowly pulling the spoon out from between the thin lips.
The Leaky Cauldron was an easy walk away, but they decided to Apparate rather than walking through the bar full of good witches and wizards. It had been a nice room, but Charlie had managed to spread his belongings over most of the floor. He stepped swiftly over to the door, locking it with a key as well as a spell.
Then he walked over to the bed, catching Draco's hand on the way and pulling him along too. Draco was stunned by the pace at which things were now moving.
"Now, let me have a proper look at you," Charlie said, pushing Draco onto the bed. He stood back, his eyes darting over the pale youth, the hunger in them plain now.
"Take your clothes off," Charlie commanded and Draco was surprised to find himself obeying orders. The alternatives were to be alone or go home. He pulled the unkempt robe over his head, looking anxious.
Charlie purred reassuringly, "Don't worry, if you're not happy with anything at any point then we'll stop," he lied.