Title: Company Manners
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco, Blaise/Astoria, past Draco/OMC
Warnings: Profanity, sex, angst, manipulation. Accepts DH, ignores the epilogue.
Summary: Draco hasn't seen Harry in several years due to being out of England. On attending a Ministry party, he's astonished and delighted to discover that Harry is now the public face of the Ministry, poised and self-confident and witty. Harry, who regards his company manners as a mask rather than a real part of his personality, is less than receptive when Draco attempts to express his interest in a relationship based on them.
Author's Notes: This will be a chaptered novella, probably with eight parts. Though it will have some angst, it's largely flangst.
That…that can't be…
"Potter?" Draco asked, but no one was near enough to hear his stunned whisper, or see the way his eyes had widened. Draco recognized that as a good thing, of course. No one in attendance at this party was someone whom he wanted to see him in a moment of weakness.
But it had taken him an instant to remember that he had an audience, a good sign of how much his surprise had affected him. Draco promptly leaned back in his chair, adopted a mask of leisurely goodwill, and sipped the glass of wine that Blaise had offered him when Draco sat down at his table.
He couldn't keep his eyes from tracking Potter, though. That was all right. Given that Blaise was talking so loudly about his wedding that people sixteen miles away could probably hear him, he was unlikely to notice.
Potter was speaking with a witch in loud purple robes whom Draco recognized as Allison Hartley, a senior member of the Wizengamot. He was smiling, feigning interest with skill in a discussion that was unlikely to be about either Quidditch or himself; Hartley had been notorious among Draco's circles before he left for turning conversations to her own achievements, and five years would not have changed her. Hartley was also prickly, quick to catch her audience yawning or sighing.
But Potter had her laughing. And he made contributions of his own, in a quick, light voice that caused Draco to lean slightly forwards to catch the words before he caught himself.
Potter wore emerald-bright green robes. The man Draco had known five years ago wouldn't have been caught dead in such a Slytherin color, no matter how well it complemented his eyes. There was silver embroidery on the cuffs and hems, forming lilies. Draco hummed under his breath. A tasteful, understated way of honoring his Muggleborn mother without distressing the pure-bloods who dominated these functions.
Hartley put a companionable arm around Potter's shoulders and squeaked something up at him. Potter laughed aloud and moved slightly to the side.
Draco clenched his jaw to keep it from dropping open. He'd assumed it was an illusion created by distance and angle that rendered Potter's dark hair a tame mass of curls. It wasn't. Somehow, he contrived to retain a bit of messiness on the right side of the equation. Draco's fingers twitched on the wineglass. He could imagine wanting to run his fingers through that hair, which was not an impulse that would ever have occurred to him—before.
Potter isn't the only one who changed while I was abroad.
Potter and Hartley moved on. Draco observed with an expert eye as Potter escorted her to a table and pulled her chair out for her, and could detect no trace of the nervousness or unfamiliarity that often ruined those chivalrous gestures.
Draco sipped thoughtfully one more time at his wine, and watched out of the corner of his eye as the food arrived. Potter handled his forks properly. He never took more of any food than was decent; his bread had barely enough butter to cover two corners. He didn't drip the sauce that covered the fish down his front or commit any other embarrassing mistake. All the time, he attended to the conversation with Hartley, murmuring sympathetically when she sniffled overdramatically. He even managed to pat her hand and not make it look condescending.
"Are you listening to me?"
Thank God, Blaise had finally interrupted his own monologue about his wedding. Draco turned to him and smiled. "Not really," he admitted. He could say that kind of thing, since he and Blaise had been friends for years. He laid his own cutlery down neatly, in precisely the right place. He had eaten without a hitch and paid attention to Potter at the same time, of course. "I was more interested in Potter."
"Oh, yes, the Ministry's Golden Boy." Blaise sounded amused rather than angry, which was another point in Potter's favor. To have made peace with someone who'd been in Slytherin in Hogwarts—real peace, not grudging tolerance—would have taken no small amount of diplomacy and patience. "I'm not surprised. He's practically the reason that Muggleborns and pure-bloods agree to be in the same room together."
Draco picked up his wine delicately and took a sip. He couldn't help it that mention of political prowess aroused him, and that arousal dried his throat.
Nor could he help it that Blaise knew him well enough to understand the sip of wine perfectly and watch him with a bright grin. Draco leaned across the table. "How did he manage this transformation?"
"He wanted to serve the Ministry, but he couldn't be a field Auror." Blaise snorted, but covered the snort with a napkin, so that Draco didn't have to be ashamed of him. "That's not a surprise, of course, given how many people would love to claim the credit for killing him. So Shacklebolt groomed him to become the Ministry's public face. Sometimes literally. I don't think there's a party in the last five years he hasn't attended, unless it conflicted with another and more important party. He's always at official functions like this."
"It's amazing," Draco murmured, watching Potter from the corner of his eye again as he stood up to dance with Hartley. He had to guide her among numerous small round tables to reach the dancing floor, and he did it without a single stumble. It was no wonder Hartley beamed up at him with adoration. "I didn't think he had the potential for such a transformation."
"Quite a difference from your last lover, isn't it?" Blaise asked, with a wicked little twist to the final words.
Draco cast him a furious glance, and Blaise laughed at him. "It's not my fault that you fell for Paul, Draco."
Draco gritted his teeth against the reminder of Paul. Draco had thought love would make a difference, that if he was willing to move to the States for Paul and start a new life there, surely he would be able to put up with the man's slovenliness and poor manners and constant disparagement of everything British, from Draco's accent to his family background to the British wizarding education system.
Love hadn't been enough.
But it was a pleasure to watch Potter, who indeed couldn't have been a greater contrast to Draco's memories. He whirled Hartley around the dance floor with a grace absolutely incredible for the awkward boy who'd stumbled his way through the Yule Ball in fourth year. And he smiled as if he was enjoying it—or in a way that would convince anyone he was. Draco scrutinized him carefully, and could detect no break in the mask. Yes, he was someone the gullible Muggleborns would enjoy talking to and the political pure-bloods would appreciate for the apparent effortlessness of his effort.
"I'm going to talk to him," he said quietly to Blaise. "Introduce me, would you?"
Blaise gave him a devil's grin and leaned back in his seat. Draco narrowed his eyes. It was becoming perfectly obvious that his wife, Astoria Greengrass, was a bad influence on Blaise. He never used to go out of his way to confound Draco before this.
"You've known each other most of your lives by now," Blaise said. "Why do you need an introduction?"
Draco closed his eyes as he forced his churning feelings back into stillness. Yes, Blaise was technically right; Potter wasn't a stranger to Draco, or at least no more a stranger than anyone else was, after Draco's five years in America. But it would be impolite to simply walk up and claim Potter's attention after so long apart, particularly with the history between them. Draco would have preferred the buffer of someone Potter must have dealt with fairly often at official functions like this. Blaise worked in the Ministry's finance department.
Then Draco opened his eyes and watched Potter whirling out the final measures of the dance, finishing by bowing to Hartley. Hartley bobbed a curtsey back, and she looked ridiculous. Potter manifestly did not. Draco's stomach tightened with longing to be with someone like that, someone who embodied grace and calmness and so many of the aesthetic virtues he'd learned to appreciate when he was a child.
"You're right," he told Blaise, and rose to his feet and glided across the room before Blaise could do more than gape at him.
Potter sensed him coming and turned to face him. Draco wondered for a moment if that was due to instincts honed in the war or what must have been his truly intense interpersonal coaching.
For a gratifying moment, Potter's eyebrows curled upwards, and the polite smile that crossed his lips looked strained. But he gave a correct half-bow to Draco, as someone he knew slightly, and held out his hand for Draco to shake without any hesitation. "Malfoy," he said.
Draco smiled and shook his hand. Potter had a firm grip, one that would impress without injuring. He held himself straighter than Draco had realized from a distance, and his gaze was direct but not cutting. Someone had finally convinced him to shrink his glasses, if not lose them altogether. The effect made his striking eyes more striking still, and Draco didn't lick his lips only because of his own iron training.
"Excuse me for cutting in," he said, with an apologetic glance to Hartley. "But Potter and I are old schoolmates, and I haven't seen him for several years. If you'll excuse us?" He gave a small bow of his own to Hartley.
She narrowed her eyes as if she suspected him of something, but waved a gracious hand. Draco walked over to the sideboard of desserts in the corner with Potter, the anticipation of the coming conversation a warm glow in his groin.
Harry checked a sigh expertly. He'd long since learned how to make sarcastic comments in his mind, rather than aloud. It afforded him nearly the same amount of satisfaction that speaking them would have, and kept him rather more friends and political contacts.
He didn't like these evenings, but he tolerated them. At least he knew he was making a valuable contribution to healing the wounds the war had left. He'd also learned things that everyone doubted he could, and he took as much pleasure as ever in proving his critics wrong, including all the critics who had thought he would cease to matter once he'd defeated Voldemort.
But he rarely ran into people he'd hated at these parties. Being asked to entertain Malfoy was like being asked to entertain Umbridge.
Or worse, since I successfully flattered her at the Maggiores' wedding last year.
Still, as he took up a single small square of chocolate and folded the napkin into sharp-edged triangles beneath it, Harry knew he would confound Malfoy as easily as he did all the others who wanted to rip into him. Malfoy could hardly hex him without causing a public disturbance, and Harry could handle any words he spoke.
"I do admire the way you've changed your image, Potter," Malfoy said, and regarded him with shining eyes that proved him one of the best actors Harry had ever seen. "How long did it take?"
Harry studied Malfoy's stance—casual on the surface, tense beneath it, especially the way his fingers curled around his own napkin—and the set of his jaw, and chose the combination of flattery and humility that usually eased his interactions with the proudest blood purists. "Months, of course," he said, with a modest little shrug and a lowering of his eyes. "I hadn't considered how old the traditions were, or how thoroughly I'd grown up outside them. Life in a small Muggle family doesn't teach you anything about large parties."
Malfoy's jaw relaxed, and he leaned closer. Harry blinked. He got my pun? More, he appreciated it?
"I did think the hair must have taken the most work," Malfoy murmured. "I can remember it whipping around your head when you pursued the Snitch. I thought an army of house-elves with rose-scented shampoo couldn't have settled it." He paused delicately. "Of course, the more important question is why you agreed to go along with the Ministry and their demands at all. What happened to that independent spirit I remember so well?"
More than slightly sarcastic. But he looks like he's teasing. Harry shook off his bewilderment. He'd dealt with people like this, too, including some who changed moods faster than Malfoy and used words considerably less polite.
"Independence has to yield to the good of society," Harry said. "Independence in beliefs of all kinds, if those beliefs don't prove to offer some wider benefit to the community." He'd meant that as a hidden rebuke for the Malfoys' support of Voldemort, but Malfoy simply let his smile widen a touch in appreciation. Baffled, Harry returned to the empty rhetoric. "Minister Shacklebolt convinced me of that. I couldn't serve the wizarding community in the way I most wanted, but that didn't mean I couldn't serve at all."
"And service is enough?" Malfoy cocked his head thoughtfully to the side. "I had you pegged as a ruler, not a servant."
Harry laughed. It took more effort than usual to make his laughter the gentle, amusing kind that people would expect to hear at a party, instead of the wild bitterness he wanted to give voice to. "You aren't the only one to make that mistake." He wondered for a moment if he should say that last word, then dismissed the worry. Malfoy wasn't in a politically important position, and he was unlikely to talk to Harry again for any reason other than mere curiosity. "No. I'm quite content with the position of a humble servant." He stressed the first word in the last phrase, and let Malfoy make what he would of it.
Malfoy only went on smiling. Harry wondered absently, as he took a tiny bite of chocolate, whether his years abroad had induced some sort of brain damage. "You perform it too well for the Ministry not to know your value."
Ah. Harry understood this, too, this implication that he must receive substantial rewards from the Ministry for performing like a dancing bear in public, and he could deal with it. He put on his most helpful expression and reached for his robe pocket. "I'm carrying a report on my earnings for the year," he said. "The Minister just gave it to me. Would you like to examine it? They judge my value very accurately in Galleons."
He watched Malfoy with eyes in which, he knew, the glee was well-hidden. The offer always put the doubters in an awkward position. Either they examined the paper and showed their vulgar curiosity, or they refused and made themselves look like fools for doubting him in the first place.
But Malfoy reached out a calm hand, not an eager one, and read it at a leisurely pace, as if he were admiring the shapes of the letters. Then he smiled and handed the paper back.
"A nice ploy," he said. "But that's been folded too many times for me to believe you only received it today."
Harry stiffened before he could stop himself. Then he accepted the paper with an easy, loose hand, tucked it back into his robe pocket, and opened his mouth to make a suitably aloof guess as to how many people Malfoy would spread that information to.
Malfoy stepped closer, however, his hand angled out to brush Harry's wrist. The sensation of his long fingers unexpectedly burned, as if he'd cast a Warming Charm on his skin. Harry blinked and noted the trick in silence to himself. There were a few people he'd like to startle that way.
Meanwhile, it had worked on him, and Malfoy whispered into his ear, "What they pay you is too low for someone as accomplished and beautiful as you are."
He moved away in the next moment, and left Harry blinking stupidly. Malfoy watched him with a faint smile that only deepened when Harry banished the telltale surprise and manufactured a fake smile of his own for anyone watching who was curious about the "secret" Malfoy had whispered to him. It was as though Malfoy rejoiced in the way Harry acted in public, which made no sense. Harry had expected scorn for trying to "parody" pure-bloods, particularly given that he'd admitted it took months of training for him to achieve this much.
"Open compliments?" Harry raised a doubtful eyebrow. "I'd thought that forbidden by the 1871 Treaty of Vienna." He'd managed to fool more than one of the especially stupid pure-bloods with that line in his time, including Hartley. It was at least an acceptable comeback for Malfoy, who deserved nothing deeper or more original.
Malfoy smiled again and touched Harry's wrist where it passed under the napkin and was therefore hidden from the view of anyone critically watching, unless the person stood directly behind Harry's shoulder. "Yes," Malfoy murmured, "but the 1872 Treaty granted special exceptions for those who've climbed to heights of beauty and achievement with disadvantages dragging them down."
"Disadvantages," Harry said, through a polite smile that would have fooled people three paces away from him, but was unlikely to fool Malfoy.
"Yes," Malfoy said. "Unless you care to take back your own evidence about your hair taking months to tame?" He offered Harry a bland smile and waited, his head tilted to the side and his eyes shining.
I can't understand his game. What does he want from me? But Harry's etiquette instructors had taught him how to play for time when he was confused, and so he could gracefully incline his head back and murmur, "Of course not. I try to avoid outright lies. So time-consuming when other people figure out the truth. I've never had a good memory."
"Then I am even more impressed," Malfoy said, and his fingers brushed Harry's wrist under the napkin again. "I myself could not talk to Allison Hartley without lies."
Harry controlled himself on the verge of taking a step backwards. What is this? Malfoys don't admit incapacity. I ought to know. One of his first tests had been to visit Lucius Malfoy, who was no longer under house arrest but had become a stubborn recluse, and convince him to attend some of the Ministry galas. Lucius was becoming deaf, but refused to admit it. Harry had used most of the techniques he'd learned in that unnerving half-hour to accommodate Lucius, persuade him, and give the impression that he never noticed his hesitations in answering questions.
"Talking to members of the Wizengamot is something of a specialty of mine," Harry said, to win some of his own back.
Malfoy's face went pale around the creases of his eyes. Harry smiled blandly, and let the memory of his testimony before the Wizengamot that had cleared the Malfoys from heavy fines or terms in Azkaban crackle between them for a moment.
He'll hurry away now. Malfoys don't like people who embarrass them, either. The hardest part of his entire interview with Lucius had been convincing him not to punish a house-elf who'd startled him by coming up on his deafer side with food.
But the pallor vanished in the next moment, and Malfoy slid a stop closer, his eyes very wide. Harry wondered if that was supposed to contribute to an innocent appearance. Since he would never be less than suspicious of Malfoy, it seemed like effort wasted. "Which refutes your claim of having a bad memory," he said. "I wonder, do you remember me so clearly that you would refuse a date with me?"
Harry actually gaped for a moment, and Malfoy's nostrils flared, as if he were sniffing a pleasant scent. Harry recovered rapidly, but he rather hoped Kingsley hadn't been watching. He would demand to know what Malfoy had said to cause such a reaction, and be disappointed when Harry admitted that it was nothing more than a proposal he'd received a hundred times.
On the other hand, at least flirtation would explain the odd things he's said to me.
"I remember your propensity for tricks that didn't quite work," Harry said, in a low voice that he nevertheless meant to be sharp enough to cut letters on glass. "I see no reason I should help set one up."
Malfoy winced a little, and gazed straight at him with eyes of a marvelously clear grey. As Harry's brain reeled around his astonishment that he'd applied the word "marvelous" to Malfoy, the other man said, "Yes. I understand. Then I can only apologize, and offer my hopes that I will be more welcome on another evening."
He bowed and let his eyes linger on Harry's face for one moment more. "The hair is not the only thing you worked on," he said, so quietly Harry knew no one else could hear, "and not the only thing you should earn praise for."
And he moved away. Harry deliberately didn't allow his gaze to follow him. Instead, he turned to greet Pandora Nelson, a politically powerful witch in the importation of Potions ingredients, whom he'd seen hovering in the background from the corner of his eye five minutes ago.
But long after the party, when he'd thrown off the elaborate robes they made him wear at functions like this and settled down in his favorite ragged chair with a glass of butterbeer, he was still replaying the conversation with Malfoy in his mind.
"It doesn't look as though your efforts were exactly crowned with success," Blaise said dryly as Draco slid back into his seat beside him. "Potter's already talking to Nelson now." Though Draco didn't know exactly who Nelson was, he knew from Blaise's unimpressed tone that he or she was no one who should have been able to take Draco's place.
Draco took up his unfinished glass of wine and had a few more sips. "That's where you would be wrong," he said. "I caught his interest, took him off-guard, and made him notice me. That's the first step. I imagine that Potter has plenty of people competing for his attention."
"Dozens," said Blaise, blinking like a lizard. Draco hid his glee. That was an extremely good sign that Blaise's brain was whirling on the inside. "But—they all want something from him, Draco. He's used to that. He won't be inclined to pick you out of the bunch just because you said a few pretty words to him."
"Ah." Draco glanced casually over his shoulder and saw Potter making himself agreeable to a squat witch with long silvery hair. He recognized her now: Pandora Nelson, someone who knew more about potions than Potter should be able to learn if he lived four centuries. And yet, she was smiling and listening intently to Potter in the same way Hartley had. Draco again needed wine to moisten his throat. "But I don't have any obvious motive. The others want him to introduce them to people, or to throw his support behind their causes, or to give them invitations. He thought I'd come to make fun of him. When I asked him on a date instead, he was utterly astounded."
"That doesn't mean he'll believe you." Blaise was already recovered enough to pick at a remnant of his dinner.
"Of course not," Draco said. "But he'll think about me. And I'll have more time to prove that I want him for himself. I should think that would be irresistible to someone like Potter."
"What happens when he figures out that you want him so you can get back into society?" Blaise asked skeptically.
Draco shot a swift glance at his friend. "But I don't want him for that. I want him because he's beautiful, and he has beautiful manners, and he's intelligent enough to keep up with me in conversation."
"Right," Blaise said, stretching the word like taffy.
"I do," Draco said. "Potter's the butterfly who's finally emerged from his cocoon, Blaise, and I'm the one who's going to net him."
He thought again over the conversation, the way Potter understood his words and their implications, the way he moved, how he timed and tuned his phrases, and the hawk-like way he watched for emotional reactions. All traits Draco admired, and combined with those looks and the fascination Potter had always exerted on him…
He could picture Potter in the sumptuous flat he probably lived in now, later that night, trying and failing to get his expensive wine to give him the answers to the puzzle that was Draco.
And if I don't manage to snare him after all, I will surely have fun trying.