Author's Note: This was written for a very lovely friend of mine for her birthday (you know who you are) and I'm sort of proud of it. I know I've been sort of MIA from the fandom lately, and I hope that changes soon but I can't count on it. *epic sigh* But I miss this pair and I miss all of you as well.
The Phoenix Ash Café
The small brick café was by no means one of Draco's usual haunts. In fact, it couldn't be further from the kind of place the blond gravitated to if it tried. From the outside the bakery looked rather ordinary with its orange and ivory striped awnings and its stainless bistro sets on the small front patio, but nearly every witch and wizard Draco came across raved about the place and after a while, Draco started to feel left out. Usually it was his fine taste and suggestions that led the pack. He was always on the cutting edge of wizarding fashion, he was constantly seen at the most elite parties and events and he had a naturally keen eye for new business ventures that would take off.
This little café managed to elude him on all fronts, however.
He couldn't even recall when it had opened, or even the first person he'd spoken to who had eaten there and enjoyed it. In fact, Draco was so out of the loop when it came to the Phoenix Ash Café that he hadn't noticed how popular it was until Blaise Zabini brought it up the day before. Now, this might not mean much to the average observer, but Blaise was notoriously out of touch with popular wizarding culture as of late. After spending the five years after the war in hiding and as a Muggle, it seemed the poor bloke never fully adapted back into proper pureblood society, not even after being cleared of all charges and having his wand returned unbroken.
It was a sad day for Draco indeed when Blaise was more attuned to what was trendy in their society than Draco was. Nevertheless, Draco knew he had to acquaint himself with the facility the same as he had with the five star gourmet restaurants he'd purchased the year before. If people wanted to be there, Draco would need to be seen there too or else he'd find himself falling out of favor quicker than you could say 'Quidditch'.
The exterior of the building was a mottled brown brick with two vast windows on either side of the entrance doors. Both windows boasted wooden flower boxes practically exploding with yellow and red snapdragons and Draco could smell their sweet fragrance even where he stood across the street. The menu was posted on the wall outside the restaurant and Draco strode over to study it, noting it was filled with fancy sandwiches and decadent sounding desserts instead of the glorified pub food he'd expected to find when he first saw the café.
The restaurant was closed at the moment, set to open in half an hour or so, and Draco took his time observing the interior through the spotless windowpanes. Tables and chairs were packed inside and Draco was fairly certain that if they were all occupied, there would be no room to move in between. There was a bar in the center of the room with stools upended, just waiting to be taken down and filled with slovenly bar patron's fat arses. Quidditch memorabilia hung on the walls and Draco grew more wary of the place the longer he stalked it from the shadows. He just couldn't understand how this little hole in the wall café, a stone's throw from Diagon Alley but in no magical community of its own, could have garnered such an elite following. Sure it was close enough to the Ministry building that employees could Apparate over for a quick lunch bite, but that didn't explain why people like the Nott's and the Parkinson's were falling arse over elbows to get a table here. It was uncanny.
Inside he saw a stirring of movement as a thick brunette moved in from around the back of the bar to begin setting up for the lunch crowd. Draco leaned in and tapped lightly on the glass of the door and smirked as the woman jumped. She eyed him warily through the glass but eventually made her way over to open the door a crack. "I'm afraid you'll have to come back at eleven, Sir," she quipped. "We're not open just yet."
"I'm aware," Draco drawled, gesturing to the golden writing on the door that plainly displayed their hours of operation. "I was hoping the owner was in so I might speak with them."
He had no idea who ran the establishment, and none of his friends had confessed to have noticed on their previous visits either. The owner had to be foreign, or had good enough management that he didn't need to actually frequent the café often. That's how Draco was with the majority of his enterprises. They were merely investments to increase his portfolio, not pet projects he felt the need to micromanage. Draco had held little hope that he would be able to speak with the owner, since he assumed the man was elsewhere, but he thought that a manager of some sort might be able to point him in the right direction in the very least.
"He's in the kitchens, Sir," she replied, much to Draco's surprise. "He's quite busy. Could I take your card and pass it along?"
Draco rolled his eyes and made a move to fetch a card from his robe pocket, but thought better of it. "Tell him that Draco Malfoy is here to see him," the blond replied haughtily. "I'm sure he'll know of me."
Everyone who counted knew who Draco Malfoy was, and even many who didn't count for anything at all. After the war, Draco had single-handedly turned the Malfoy name from a hissed curse to a reverent sigh. This was due, in part, to his financial assistance for the rebuilding of Hogwarts and also because of his enigmatic charm in front of the media's cold scrutinizing eye, but it was mainly because he made sure that wherever he was, he was denouncing the trappings his imprisoned father had fallen into before the war. After a few years of this new Malfoy face, the public began to believe and trust him and then once again Malfoy was a household name - one that was no longer surrounded by dark nuances and treacherous theories.
When the woman returned her face was set into a smug grin. "He's not making any exceptions, Sir. He informed me to tell you that you were welcome to return when the bakery opens." She looked absolutely delighted to deliver this unexpected news after his previously rude behavior.
"He's not coming out?" he repeated and she shook her head, grinning ear to ear at his dismay.
Taking advantage of his floundering, the woman closed and latched the door once more before setting back to work to get the café ready for their lunch crowd. It wasn't a terribly unreasonable thing to ask Draco to wait, after all, the time they opened was less than a half hour away, but the refusal to come out and meet with Draco before hand left the blond wondering.
It would seem that the owner either didn't know Draco's name at all, or knew it too well and was one of the few still prejudiced against his family. However, if that were the case, why would his pureblood friends still flock to the tiny bakery if they were so unwelcome? Eventually, Draco turned and left, unwilling to linger by the door like an obedient Crup waiting for his master to let him inside. He wanted to meet the owner now more than ever, but he wasn't a puppet to be strung up and toyed with. He'd come back when it pleased him, and not a moment sooner.
It turned out that it pleased Draco to return less than an hour later. He found the café a mystery that was just waiting to be cracked open and he couldn't seem to think of anything else in the meantime. He was sure that once he met the owner of the now famous bakery that the mystery would dissolve and he'd find himself disenchanted with the place, which was exactly how he wanted it. He certainly couldn't look at the café from a logical place while his head was still reeling from presumptuous owners and the enigma of success that he'd yet to figure out. He needed to meet the owner and discover the man was ordinary and droll and he needed to taste the food to be certain his friends were simply exaggerating its pull over them.
This time he'd brought Pansy with him, because she had a critical eye if ever Draco saw one and she could find the most insignificant issue with a person or establishment and make it seem as though she'd found a live rat swimming in her stew. Although, she had already been to the Phoenix Ash and adored the place, perhaps Draco could convert her by the end of their meal.
"You should try this sandwich," Pansy instructed once they were shown their seats and given menus. He was happy to note that the woman who had been so rude to him was running the bar, not waiting on their tables. He wanted to hate the place, but not because a rude waitress spit in his food. He wanted to discredit it for more than poor service just to prove to himself that he was right all along and still in the forefront of all wizarding trends. "It's my favorite so far."
"How many times have you eaten here?" Draco asked incredulously. Perhaps bringing Pansy along was the wrong thing to do.
"A few," she answered vaguely. "Typically I just pop in for dessert, not a full meal. The owner makes all the pastries fresh and I swear to Merlin, Draco, I almost creamed when I bit into his famous chocolate torte."
"It's closer than Nott has gotten you, I'm sure," Draco replied blandly. He was used to Pansy's boldness and tended to play along, but he was otherwise preoccupied as he caught sight of a chef's hat bobbing in a window behind the bar. He couldn't glimpse the person wearing it though; the window was just too high and obscured by large pint glasses.
"True enough," she replied bitterly. "I think I'm going to try the Sinful Strawberry Delight this time," she mused as she flipped through the menu.
"That's an odd name for a dessert," Draco replied, glancing at his own menu for the first time since briefly scanning the one outside. "Carnal Caramel Tart, Almond Indulgence…. Are these desserts or stripper names?"
Pansy snickered but shook her head. "You'll get it once you try one," she assured her skeptical friend.
"It can't possibly live up to the expectations you've given me," Draco replied as their waiter approached. He was a thin man with sandy blond hair, the kind that Draco often referred to as 'dirty' although honestly anything looked filthy compared to his own lustrous pale mane. "I'll have the honey turkey, the Infatuated Apple Tart," he ordered with a roll of his eyes, "and a meeting with the owner."
"I'll let him know there is a customer to see him," the waiter replied with a smile and Draco resisted the urge to point out that he wasn't just any customer - he was Draco Malfoy. Perhaps if the man behind this café and its dishes didn't know whom he was coming out to meet, he would actually show up this time.
Pansy ordered the pastrami and the strawberry dessert she'd mentioned wanting and the waiter left with their orders and returned shortly with their sandwiches and a promise that the chef would emerge to greet them if he had a spare moment. Draco stared at his sandwich, unsure if it was even possible to get it into his mouth. Thick layers of turkey and aged Muenster cheese were stacked with lettuce and honey mustard on two slices of brioche. It was sweet and delightful and completely unexpected. Draco hadn't realized that simple food could be so delicious and somehow he found a way to stuff every bite of the sandwich into his waiting belly and when he was through, he craved more. It was terrible.
He wanted to hate the place so badly but here he was enjoying this turkey sandwich more than he'd ever enjoyed anything he'd put into his mouth. And the sandwiches weren't even what the café was known for! Pansy watched him with expectant eyes and he tried to school his face into its usual mask of cold indifference. "It's acceptable," he announced at last and she smiled knowingly.
"High praise from a Malfoy," she quipped and returned to her own meal. After that lunch, Draco could hardly wait to see if the dessert came anywhere near the raving tales he heard about, but he didn't see how it could. It would have to be divine to get Draco to appreciate it; he usually didn't even like sweets.
The waiter returned to collect their empty plates and he assured Draco once more that his message to greet the chef had been delivered. When he came back with two tiny bowls, Draco was already salivating from the aroma alone.
Spiced apple met his nostrils, hinting at cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar. There was a flaky crust around the gooey morsel, and Draco had to dig nails into his own hand to keep from launching into the dessert like a rabid beast. "Well, it smells good at least," he said aloud, but his face betrayed him and Pansy giggled.
"I told you so," she murmured before diving into her own dessert, her eyes closed and her head lolled back as she chewed.
"Potions," Draco muttered. "It has to be potions or some kind of intoxication Charm making everyone want more." It was a reasonable explanation and Draco clutched onto the notion steadfastly.
"I'm afraid the ingredients are all quite natural, Malfoy. Nothing magical is ever used in the preparation of my dishes," replied a familiar voice from directly behind him.
"Potter?" Draco asked, whirling to see the face of his childhood enemy smiling at him smugly. "You're the owner?" he asked incredulously and Harry nodded. "And the chef?" he pressed and Harry nodded once more.
"You didn't know that?" he asked and Draco looked dumbfounded for a moment before shaking his head and regaining his typical Malfoy composure.
"It certainly explains why so many flock to this place though," he mused, wondering if his brain had been playing tricks on him and the food wasn't really as good as he'd previously thought. Perhaps Pansy's enthusiasm had rubbed off on him. Besides, it would look unseemly if he were the only one to reject the café that so many of his peers enjoyed. Harry made a frustrated grunt and turned to leave, but Draco's hand shot out to stop him. "Sorry," he amended upon seeing the man's annoyance. "I think the food is brilliant, I just thought that maybe your name had something to do with pulling in such a large crowd."
"It's not called the Harry Potter café, you know?" the brunet noted, carefully extracting his arm from Malfoy's grip. Malfoy thought he sounded rather defensive, and a thought struck him out of nowhere, making him study the chef before him more thoroughly than he'd ever studied anyone before. He was used to the messy mob of black curls, now partially hidden by the floppy white chef's hat. The band of scruff along his chin had started long before the last time Draco had set eyes on the man, a feature that he usually thought made Potter look unkempt, but here in his element, it made the brunet look wild and passionate. He could tell just by the way Potter held himself that he felt at home in his bustling restaurant, at peace amongst pots and pans and open flames. But Draco's words had given the man pause and caused a spark of worry to light those brilliant emerald orbs, hidden less by the newer, frameless spectacles he wore now as opposed to the thick, round nonsense he'd worn at Hogwarts.
"You're a great chef, Potter. No reason to doubt that the clientele is here for your food, not your reputation," he told the man, unsure why he was bothering to try and reassure Harry Potter of anything at all. He'd envied this man all his life, watching intently for any sign of weakness and always came up short, so why now, when Draco had finally spotted something that made Potter anxious, did he comfort the man instead of exploiting his new knowledge?
Harry didn't seem to understand either, because he just stood there looking dumbstruck until Pansy snickered and pulled both men's attention to her. "The Sinful Strawberry Delight was delish, Harry," she told the man and Draco balked at the ease she exuded when calling the man by his first name. "I think Draco here would like it too."
"Er, thanks, Pansy," he replied, blushing slightly. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
"Merlin, Potter. She's a married woman. You shouldn't flirt with her," Malfoy teased, watching closely as Potter's face lit up like a Christmas tree.
"I wasn't flirting," he huffed defensively.
"He wasn't," Pansy confirmed. "He's just rubbish at taking compliments. Much the opposite of you, Draco dear, who expects them to be constantly flowing in his direction."
"They don't have to be constant," Draco corrected as he brushed a nonexistent spec of dust from his lapel. "And why shouldn't I be showered with compliments? I'm rather amazing."
Harry snorted and averted his gaze so the other man wouldn't see the mirth taking hold of him and Draco frowned across the table as Pansy joined in. After a moment and several long glares, Harry and Pansy both sobered, though it took Harry a moment longer than Draco's lunch date who knew perfectly well the amount of teasing her friend would tolerate directed at him. "Sorry, Malfoy. I forget that you're actually serious when you say those things."
"Are you trying to insinuate that you disagree?" he challenged the brunet who simply shrugged.
"I'm merely pointing out that I haven't seen any great talent that should warrant such arrogance," he replied, his voice nearing the edge of hostility.
"Talent like yours, you mean?" Draco bit out, barely keeping his own cool.
"Boys, boys," Pansy cooed lightly, though Draco could hear the tension in her voice and caught on to what was going on. Without even realizing it, Draco had got up and was facing the belligerent Gryffindor nearly nose-to-nose. Nearby tables were watching hungrily, no doubt hoping for a duel between the famed rivals but Draco didn't want to give them a show today. He preferred to stay out of the papers for negative news as much as possible. "I'm sure you're both equally talented," she placated before slipping into a wicked smile. "Harry, I'm sure Draco would love to show you his biggest talent."
Draco's eyes went wide at her implications, flicking over briefly to Harry's face to see if he'd picked up on her innuendo. It took a moment but an almost visible light went off above Potter's head and his cheeks flushed a deep crimson. "I need to get back to the kitchens," he muttered. "I'm happy you've both enjoyed your meals." At that he left, using quick, long strides and Draco couldn't seem to pull his eyes away from the retreating form.
"Man-crush!" Pansy announced with a mischievous grin. Draco could almost see the inner workings of her mind playing with little Harry and Draco shaped dolls.
"He did leave rather abruptly. Do you think he was really that embarrassed? Surely he doesn't harbor any feelings like that toward me. He's not even gay after all," he mused aloud but Pansy ate up ever morsel of his muttered rantings.
"It's not just Potter who is interested I see," she quipped, grinning as Draco rounded on her with wide eyes.
"You meddlesome witch," he snarled, but there was no venom behind the tone. "I'm not interested in Potter."
"No? Well then tell me, what kind of trousers was he wearing?" she asked, propping her chin up on her hands innocently. She knew Draco only too well. Draco could barely refrain from spouting off whatever knowledge he possessed on any given matter when he wasn't specifically asked, if directly prompted, there was no way the blond could resist. She watched gleefully as the urge to answer her question fought with the urge to not be wrong and she was curious which would win out. His face was already tinged with purple from the effort of fighting his own conflicted nature.
"Gray denims, probably Gucci based on the cut," he gasped out at last, sighing as he let his head fall to the table in defeat. "Fuck," he muttered inelegantly and Pansy tittered at her newfound game. She could use this information to pester her friend for ages. "So, what do I do now?" he asked weakly.
Pansy was caught off guard by the question. She'd expected at least three more rounds of denial before he simply announced that he wanted to stay away from Potter's bakery forever. "What do you mean?"
"Well, he obviously doesn't like me, how do I change that?" he asked, lifting his head and staring up at his friend with anxious hope.
The look scared her more that his words, which were plenty frightening on their own. "You want to," she began, swallowing thickly before she could continue, "court him?" When Draco winced but nodded her heart fell into her stomach, and suddenly she didn't feel so good. Watching Draco form a crush on an unattainable man was rather amusing, but when Draco actually wanted to do something about it, that was another matter entirely. "Draco dear, I think you're aiming a bit high on this one. We're talking about Harry Potter here," she tried to reason, but Draco scrunched up his face in annoyance.
"I know that, do you think I don't see how wrong that is?" he demanded. "But you sound as if I'm not good enough for him!"
"Well, if I sound that way, I assure you it's on purpose," she snapped. "You're not good enough for him, and as you so wisely pointed out earlier, we don't even know if he's gay."
"You said he had a crush on me," he pointed out.
"I was teasing, but he did get rather flustered," she mused aloud recalling their brief conversation with the famous wizard, hero and chef. "Still," she added, letting her observations drift away, "you're talking about the Gryffindor Golden Boy. He's the chef at one of the most popular cafés in London and he single handedly destroyed Voldemort. What have you done lately?"
Draco sputtered for a moment, looking thoroughly affronted. He'd done plenty, like purchasing several unsuccessful businesses, turning them around and selling them for high profit margins, though he knew that corporate world politics would probably mean very little to a man like Potter. He'd also donated to numerous charities over the years, but so did Potter. "It was hardly single handed," he muttered under his breath when he could come up with nothing else to say.
"Well, it was close enough that it hardly matters to dispute it. Have you died to save anyone else?" she asked.
"No," Draco muttered, though he hardly thought such a dramatic act was truly necessary in his own case.
"And have you increased the morale of hundreds of citizens just by attending a simple Ministry function?" she pressed.
"I most certainly have," he began but at Pansy's narrowed gaze, Draco had to admit that he really didn't have much impact on anyone's morale, "not."
"And have you opened a bakery with desserts so decadent that they fill the void in a person's soul?" she asked, staring wistfully at her own empty plate.
"I get your point, Pans," he grumbled. "But you haven't answered my question. What do I do about it?"
She sighed, letting her shoulders sag and lost her regal Parkinson posture for a moment before taking a deep breath and steeling herself. "You're truly set on this path? I can't do anything to dissuade you?"
"I want Harry Potter," Draco pronounced clearly.
"Fine," she muttered, tossing the coin for the bill and a generous tip on the table and took hold of Draco's hand, pulling him awkwardly from his chair and toward the exit. "We've got a lot of work to do then."
Author's Note: This story will be 3 parts in total, with the 3rd being pretty long. Just a heads up.