"It's been a pleasure to meet you, too, Mrs Brown." Harry gave her the winning smile he reserved for all his clients.
"Oh, call me Violet, please. Mrs Brown makes me sound so old." She finished up with a girlish giggle that was distinctly out of place on a woman who was surely in her early fifties.
Ron was fond of telling Harry that he was every middle-aged housewife's fantasy. A young, good-looking hero, who had saved them all from certain tyranny, and if the number of Witch Weekly covers Harry graced was anything to go by, Ron was right. Being outed by the Prophet two years ago had done nothing to diminish his appeal. If anything, it rather seemed to have increased it.
"Certainly, Violet," he agreed, inclining his head slightly, before turning his attention to her companion. "Lavender." He reached out and took hold of the proffered hand. "It's been lovely to see you again. Congratulations on your engagement."
Lavender gave a slight toss of her long, blond curls, and smiled warmly. "It's been good seeing you, too. And thanks so much for agreeing to do this at such short notice."
Harry tried not to look at the protective hand placed on her stomach, which gave tell of the reason for the short timescale. "No problem," he replied, grinning. "We Gryffindors have to look after our own."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Mrs Brown suddenly, peering at the wall clock behind the counter. "Where has the afternoon gone? Lavender, we'd better hurry if we want to get to Twilfit & Tattings before they close."
After the two women took their leave, Harry let out a soft sigh of relief. He had planned to close up early and get a head start on his accounts - which were in serious need of attention.
He turned the sign to closed and shut the door. Before he'd had time to slide the first bolt home, a grinning, freckled face appeared on the other side of the glass.
Giving a roll of his eyes, Harry pulled the door back open and let his visitor in. By the time he had locked the door and turned around, George was already perched on the counter top, carefully peeling the wrapper off an iced-pink cup cake.
"Help yourself," Harry commented wryly.
George gave him a cake-filled grin. "Thanks mate," he replied, and then let out a contented sigh. "Was that Lavender and her mum I just saw leaving?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, it was." He said nothing further; it might only have been a bakery he ran, but there was still an element of client confidentiality to the business.
"You're doing the wedding cake, then? If they leave it much later, you might as well make the christening one while you're at it." George chuckled softly to himself.
"What are you on about?" Harry asked casually - he had been caught out by George's fishing in the past.
"It's okay, mate," George replied, making a long arm for another cake. "Saw Seamus in the pub last night. Still haven't worked out if he was celebrating or drowning his sorrows!"
Harry made his way behind the counter and shut the glass cabinet firmly, shooting a pointed look at his friend in the process.
"I can't help it," George complained, and Harry was sure he was actually pouting. "You make the best cakes ever." He took another large bite before adding, "Best not repeat that to mum, though. She's still sore with Ron and Hermione for getting you to do their wedding cake."
Harry nodded in acknowledgement. Molly hadn't actually said anything about it to him, but her expression on the day had been sufficient proof that her nose was well and truly pushed out of joint.
"So is that what you came round for? The chance to scoff my cakes. Or was there an actual purpose to this visit?" Harry picked up a soapy scouring pad and began cleaning his counters down as he spoke.
"Why don't you just use magic?" George asked, puzzled by all the unnecessary effort.
"'S'not the same," Harry responded, rolling his sleeves up to keep them free of the soapy water. "It's not hygienic enough." He paused here and flicked a wet cloth at his companion. "Neither is your arse - so move it!"
George hopped off the counter and brushed the scattered suds off his vivid, green robes. "No need for that. You only had to ask."
"Hmm," Harry replied, a little distracted as he began stripping down his blender for cleaning. "So why are you here, George? You never did say."
George leant against the large stainless steel fridge, crossed his arms over his chest, and did his best to pout. "What? I can't just pop in to say hello without having some ulterior motive?"
"You can, you just never do." Harry paused suddenly and turned to fix a steely glare on his friend. "And if this is about you using my kitchen again, you can forget all about it. I'm still paying the cleaning bill from your last foray into experimental baking."
"That was an accident," George protested. "You make it sound like I knew what adding extra Fluxweed would do to the mix."
"What it did, George," Harry replied, as he began carefully drying the various components of his blender, "was blow up half of my kitchen, and cover the other half in ever-expanding cake batter."
George gave a sheepish grin and wisely remained silent. He watched in amusement, the almost reverential way Harry handled the various Muggle appliances that littered his kitchen. "You want some lube with that?" he quipped.
Harry swung round, a large, metal dough hook glinting in his hand. "What?" he asked in confusion.
George chuckled, but eyed Harry's weapon warily just the same. "I was just wondering if you would like me to step outside for a moment. Give you and that…mixy thing some alone time!"
To George's undeniable relief, Harry placed the hook down on the counter and began reassembling his appliance. "This mixy thing, as you call it, is a piece of state-of-the-art technology. And with the few magical adjustments I've made, well, it's a miracle worker. I wouldn't get out of here half as early as I do in the evenings without it."
"And that brings us neatly to the point of my visit," George said, pushing off the fridge and walking over to where his friend stood.
"What's that?" Harry asked, eyeing George suspiciously.
"There's a new club opened up on Origin Alley. I though we could go check it out tonight."
Harry tried to suppress a sigh. "I really don't think that's a good idea. I need to spend some time getting my accounts sorted. I've left them too long as it is, and Hermione doesn't have the time to help me now that she has the twins."
Harry wiped his hands dry on his apron, before tugging it off over his head. "Besides, I'm not really in the mood to spend the evening being molested by drunken queens."
"It's not a gay club," George protested. Then, seeing the sceptical look in his friend's eyes, he relented slightly. "It's just gay-friendly."
Harry snorted. "Gay-friendly?" What's that mean exactly?"
"It means," George replied, a faint leer on his face, "that it will be full of fit gay men, and hot, straight women." He leant back on the counter, closed his eyes, and let out a contented sigh. "Heaven."
"For you maybe," Harry retorted. "Look, it's a nice idea, but I really don't have the time tonight."
As if he hadn't heard Harry, George continued speaking. "Apparently it's owned by Pansy Parkinson."
"That's hardly selling it to me," Harry replied. "Maybe another night, yeah?"
George shrugged. "You really should think about getting someone to do those accounts for you. I haven't done mine for years - wouldn't know where to start. Fred was the more business minded one of us, I was more the…"
"Evil genius?" Harry supplied.
George grinned. "Yeah. I reckon that's about right. Seriously, though, you should really think about it. The bloke I use is brilliant. Expensive, but worth every penny." George paused here and fished his wallet from his pocket. "Now don't react to this straight away," he continued, digging a small, shiny business card out and handing it over to Harry.
George's last words caused Harry to frown suspiciously at the card.
"Just take it," George chided. "I remember what a mess your books were in before Hermione sorted them; you need all the help you can get."
Reluctantly Harry took the card. As he took in the name on it, his eyebrows shot upwards in surprise.
"Malfoy!" he exclaimed incredulously. "You let Malfoy loose on your money? Are you crazy?"
George grinned wryly. "And there was me thinking you'd be irrational about this."
Harry had the decency to appear a little shamefaced. "But, it's Malfoy," he repeated, quieter this time.
"I know it is, mate. Even if I hadn't been able to read the name for myself, I still had Ron pointing it out
repeatedly for me when I hired him. You know, you sounded just like him."
Harry glared, snatched the card, and then shoved it in his pocket. "Fine. I'll think about it."
"He's really very good at what he does," George commented, and then he wisely said no more on the topic.
Harry repressed a disbelieving snort and said nothing further. He knew he was behaving irrationally. The war had been over for four years, and he'd been out of the country for two of those. Malfoy had done nothing of late to warrant suspicion. In fact, since the Wizengamot had cleared him, in a trial at which Harry himself had been a witness for the defence, his one-time rival had been surprisingly low key.
Though Harry supposed there was nothing like finding yourself on the losing side of a war to put a dent in your social and political ambitions.
"So," George said, hopping back onto the counter to avoid the charmed broom Harry had set to sweeping the floor. "You'll come out tonight, then?"
Harry rolled his eyes at his friend's persistence. "Honestly, George, I'm really not in the mood for a late night. Not when I have to be in here for six in the morning."
"You'll come for a drink at the Leaky at least, won't you? Some of the lads said they'd be in after work."
Before Harry had time to reply, George gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder. "Good man. You finish up here - I'll nip back to the shop and get Verity to close up, and I'll see you in the pub in about twenty minutes."
Harry found himself nodding agreement in the face of George's enthusiasm. And, he reflected, a quick drink with his friends might be quite nice for a change. Now that they all had jobs, families, responsibilities of their own, they hardly had time for each other anymore. And Harry knew he was guiltier of this than most.
George was already at the bar placing his order when Harry arrived. He set a pint down in front of him and nodded his head in the direction of a free table. "Grab a seat," he said, his voice muffled by the bag of crisps he had gripped in his teeth.
Harry gave a quick smile and a nod to Hannah Abbott, who was busy serving George, before picking up his drink and heading over to the indicated table.
He was relieved to note that the pub was fairly empty, and that George had selected them a discreet seat in the far corner. Even now, four years after the end of the war, Harry had still not managed to shake the notoriety that had plagued his life since entering the wizarding world.
He was fairly certain that the initial success of his business had been due to that same fame - even if now it had more to do with his much-lauded baking skills. It had taken people a long time to accept that he wasn't going to become an Auror and keep fighting the good fight. And Harry knew, even now, two years after he had opened up the shop, some people, Ron among them, still harboured a hope that he would once again take up the mantle of Saviour.
The bang of a glass on the table brought Harry from his reverie. He looked up and found not only George, but Seamus as well, grinning back at him.
"Blimey," Seamus commented. "I was starting to forget what you looked like." He slid into a chair and flashed a broad grin at Harry. "'Bout time you came out of that kitchen."
Harry took a sip of his pint before replying. "Business is busy at the moment."
"No reason you can't still have time for your mates, though. Right, George?"
George nodded in response. "Exactly what I've been telling him. A bloke needs some time to relax."
"I'm here, aren't I?" Harry questioned, a touch defensively.
"But for how long?" George retorted. "I bet you're already trying to work out how quickly you can rush home to spend a wild night with your accounts."
Harry, who had in fact been thinking exactly that, had the grace to blush. "They won't do themselves," he muttered.
"Why don't you hire someone to do them for you?" Seamus questioned. "I never reckoned you for being the accounting type." He took a deep gulp of his Guinness, leaving an amusing foamy moustache on his top lip. "You should ask Malfoy," he continued eventually, swiping at the froth with his tongue.
Harry tried to avoid noticing this unconsciously suggestive action, and also the look of triumph on George's face.
"What's that about Malfoy?"
Harry turned his attention back to the table just in time to see Dean sink into the remaining free chair.
"Nothing," Harry muttered mulishly, not wanting to prolong the topic further.
George paid him no heed. "We were just telling our mathematically-challenged friend here that he ought to hire Malfoy to manage his books."
Dean raised an eyebrow in surprise at this, and Harry was relieved that at least one of his friends realised the insanity of the suggestion. "That would certainly be an interesting partnership," Dean commented thoughtfully. "Mind you, Harry, it's not a half bad idea. He does all Hannah's accounts, for here and the Three Broomsticks. He's saved her a fortune in taxes this last year. There isn't a financial loophole that he doesn't know how to exploit."
Harry snorted into his lager. "That'd be about right. Typical bloody Slytherin."
"Ah, c'mon, Harry," Dean chided. "School was over a long time ago. And there was no one more than you, post-war, who used to bang on about us giving the snakes another chance."
"Okay, that wasn't fair," Harry relented. "But could we please change the subject."
"I'll tell you something else about Malfoy," Seamus pitched in, almost as if Harry hadn't spoken. "For saying what a pointy little snot he used to be, he's turned into quite the looker nowadays."
Dean, who was obviously used to such random pronouncements from his best friend, didn't bat an eyelash at this remark. George, on the other hand, snickered loudly, while Harry just gaped in amazement.
"Since when have you been into blokes?" he asked finally, once he had recovered from the shock.
Seamus sipped his pint and then shrugged. "I'm not. But I have eyes." He took another sip. "And a girlfriend who thinks it's appropriate to point these things out to me."
Harry seized the opportunity to change topics with both hands. "I saw Lavender this morning. She came into the shop with her mum."
Seamus grinned lazily. "She tell you about the…" Instead of finishing the sentence, he just patted his tummy suggestively.
Harry shook his head in amusement. "Yeah, she mentioned it. Congratulations."
"I can't believe you're going to be a father," George teased.
Seamus rocked back on his chair slightly and smiled smugly. "It was inevitable really. We Finnigans are renowned for our virility. Very strong little swimmers, if you know what I mean."
A chorus of groans greeted this statement, and George went so far as the kick the remaining floor-bound legs of his chair, causing Seamus to flail wildly.
"Bastards," he muttered when he had finally managed to regain his balance. "See if you get an invite to my stag night now."
While both George and Dean perked up at the mention of a night out, Harry found himself having to force a smile on his face. It wasn't that he wasn't happy for his friends, because he truly was. But the sort of evening Seamus was doubtless planning was the sort Harry strove to avoid, and not just because it brought back the embarrassing memories of Ron's stag night.
Harry wasn't too bad in crowds now, and in fairness it had been several months since his last flashback, and even longer since true panic had held him in its icy grip. But that didn't mean Harry wanted to push it - the last thing he wanted was to have a full blown attack in the middle of some crowded club.
Aside from the fact he had no desire to have the Prophet questioning his mental stability yet again, Harry also had no intention of letting those closest to him know just how long the after-effects of the war were lingering.
Ron would get that terrified expression that he always wore when faced with the prospect of someone's emotions. Ginny would get that pitying look in her eyes, the one that said if only you'd let me take care of you, I could make it all better, and Hermione, well, she would once again start building up Grimmauld Place's library, which already had a self-help section to rival the British Library.
Harry drained the remainder of his pint and then placed the empty glass back on the table. Moments later, several golden coins joined it on the table's scarred surface.
"I'm gonna head off now," he said suddenly, climbing to his feet. "Next round's on me, though."
"You can't go yet," Seamus cried. "We're in the middle of planning my stag. It's a watershed moment in a bloke's life, and he needs his mates at his side."
Harry smiled reluctantly. "I'll be there on the night. But I don't think I'll have much to offer in the way of suggestions - my knowledge of London's lap dancing clubs is fairly limited."
"Aw, c'mon, mate. Just another one. We hardly ever see you anymore."
Harry smiled, a little tighter than intended. "Not tonight. Kreacher will have dinner waiting anyway, and he gets all insulted if I'm late."
George snickered. "Kreacher's a house-elf, Harry. Not a house-wife. To listen to you talk, anyone would think you had to rush home to the missus."
"You're one to talk," Harry retorted. "It's not like you have anyone waiting at home for you."
A brief flicker of emotion crossed George's face. It was gone almost instantly, but it was enough to remind Harry of the still-empty bedroom in George's flat that had remained untouched over the years.
"Shit! I'm sorry. I didn't mean…I wasn't thinking."
"Don't be daft." George had quickly regained his equilibrium. "I know you didn't mean anything by it."
Harry continued to stammer his apologies; he hadn't felt this bad since that time he'd got so drunk that he'd called George Fred by mistake.
George, however, was having none of it. "If it'll make you feel better, I'll tell you how you can make it up to me."
Harry nodded, albeit warily.
George grinned smugly. "When you get home, send an owl to Malfoy."
Before Harry could protest, George laid a hand on his arm. "Do it, Harry. Your friends miss you."
And Harry just nodded dumbly - there really wasn't any way he could argue with that.
Draco made his way confidently along Diagon Alley. Over the years since the war's end, the number of glares that came his way had definitely lessened, but they had by no means disappeared altogether. He held his head high and refused to acknowledge the whispers and pointed looks that came his way. In the last three years he had established himself as a successful businessman, and had, to a large extent, broken free of the stigma that came with the Malfoy name.
He would be lying to himself if he didn't admit a certain amount of trepidation over facing Potter again. The last time he had been in such close proximity with the 'Boy Wonder', it had been across a crowded court room, and Potter had been speaking in his defence. Draco had thanked him, of course. He had sent a perfectly crafted letter expressing his gratitude – but all offers by Potter to return his wand had been rebuffed. It had taken him a long time before he could think of the other man without remembering the feel of a taught back pressed against his chest, while flames licked at their feet. Even now, Draco still coloured at the memory of just how tightly he had clung onto Potter's waist – and it wasn't just from embarrassment.
Draco had been more than a little surprised at Potter's disappearing act at the end of the war. Like most of the wizarding world, he had expected the Saviour to continue the fight against evil from inside the Auror corps. It had been widely reported in the Prophet at the time just how desperate the Minister had been to get him on board – even going so far as to waive the entry requirements for those war heroes who had opted not to complete their education.
Even more surprising had been Potter's choice of career upon his return. That he had gone from the Boy Who Lived, to the Boy Who Baked, had shocked no one more than Draco. And he had to admit a certain level of curiosity as to what had changed his erstwhile nemesis. When the call had come in from Potter, there had been no question in Draco's mind about which of his staff would take on the account. Apart from the fact that he always took on the high profile clients, there was that indefinable something that, even now, still drew him inexorably into Potter's orbit.
Draco smoothed his hands over the fabric of his robes – they were a little finer than the ones he usually wore for work – something which had amused Pansy endlessly that morning. He schooled his features into a neutral expression, refusing to show any of his apprehension, and pushed the door open. He tried not to show his disdain for the Muggle-style bell that tinkled to announce his presence, and approached the counter.
Initially it appeared that the shop was empty. Draco was just about to press the buzzer on the counter, when a muffled voice called, "I'll be with you in a minute."
Lowering his gaze, Draco noticed a familiar messy head of hair just inside the glass display cabinet.
"I must say," Draco began, quite unable to stop himself. "I never expected to see the Boy Who Lived working in such a domesticated job."
Harry started in surprise at the sound of that familiar drawl, and promptly knocked his head on the edge of the cabinet. He stood up and levelled a cool gaze on his boyhood rival. "You're not quite doing the job I expected you to be in either, Malfoy. Mind you, I don't suppose there's much call for black cloaks and white masks these days, is there?"
Despite calling on his every reserve of self-control, Draco couldn't help the slight flinch he gave as the barb struck its intended target. He could have kicked himself. He had promised both himself and Pansy that he would keep his wayward tongue under control around Potter. But here he was, ten seconds in the other man's company, and already the insults were flying.
Noticing the way the other man paled visibly, Harry had an attack of conscience. Wiping his hands down on his apron, he rounded the counter and held one out.
"I apologise for that," he said. "It was uncalled for. How about we try again?"
Draco's eyes travelled between the outstretched hand before him, all the way up to Potter's oh-so familiar bright, green eyes. Finding nothing but sincerity in that gaze, Draco slowly grasped Potter's hand and shook it.
Harry inwardly sighed with relief when Malfoy took his hand. For a moment he had thought the other man was going to refuse, in a mirror image of their meeting on the Hogwarts Express all those years ago
The two of them faced each other in silence, neither quite sure what to say or do next. In the end it was Draco who broke the silence.
"Maybe you should show me the scene of the crime before one of us says something else we shouldn't?"
Harry frowned slightly. "Scene of what crime?" he asked in a puzzled tone.
"Your woeful attempts at accounting, Potter. Rumour has it your books are in quite a state."
"Who?" Harry questioned, whilst leading the way into what was a surprisingly organised office.
"George," Draco answered distractedly, his gaze busy sweeping over his new work space.
"I never thought I'd see the day you were on a first name basis with a Weasley," Harry couldn't help but tease. "Does this mean you're going to start calling me Harry?"
Draco smirked slightly - old habits died hard, after all. "We're just about managing civility, Potter. Best not to push it."
Harry bit back the instinctive retort that sprang to mind - this being civil lark was definitely going to take some work.
"I must say," Draco said, shedding his cloak as he did so, "I'm surprised by your workspace. I was led to expect something much more…disorganised."
Harry grinned sheepishly. "That would be all Hermione's doing. She set up the office and that extensive filing system." He nodded in the direction of the fairly bulging filing cabinet.
Draco seated himself at the desk and looked at Harry expectantly. "Okay, so where are you hiding the paperwork that still needs tackling?"
Harry stepped forward, a faint flush on his cheeks, and tugged open the bottom drawer of the desk, which was overflowing with invoices, receipts, and various non-descript pieces of paper.
Draco raised one eyebrow at this and looked at Harry in something like amusement. "I take it Granger hasn't been round in a while?"
Harry flushed further. "Not since the twins were born, and they're…" he paused here and began counting off on his finger, "Six months now."
"Well, I'm certainly going to be earning my fee," Draco observed, taking a handful of paperwork from the draw and running a critical eye over it.
Harry shifted awkwardly, realising his presence was really no longer required, but not quite sure how to make his escape. "Can I get you a drink?" he asked eventually.
"A coffee would be much appreciated," Draco replied, his eyes not moving from the accounts.
Harry made it to the door before a voice stopped him in his tracks.
"Also, I wouldn't mind one of those lemony cake things you sell, if it's not too much trouble."
Harry smiled to himself. "No trouble at all."
Harry went about his business as usual for the rest of the day, and apart from the occasional demand for caffeine, he barely noticed that Draco was there.
Once he had closed the shop mid-afternoon, Harry headed into the kitchen to work on a special order cake he needed to finish. The woman had come to him through a recommendation from Parvati Patil. She was the editor of Lumos! Magazine, and Harry was determined that she be impressed with his work. A successful commission for this woman would likely mean a good write-up in her publication, and that, as Hermione was so fond of telling him, was the sort of advertising money couldn't buy.
The cake was a little different from his usual creations. Normally he tended to produce the more traditional wedding and birthday cakes, but this one was four tiers high, and each tier took the form of an expensive-looking shoe box. Ornate flowers would be placed at intervals along the cakes surface, and it was to be topped off with an actual replica of the woman's favourite shoe! Harry didn't pretend to understand the obsession with footwear, but he wasn't about to argue.
As he was carefully airbrushing polka dots onto one of the boxes, Harry felt himself being watched. Finishing the section he was working on, he turned off the equipment and turned to face the doorway.
Standing in the entrance was Draco, watching him work with a look of fascination on his face. "Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you."
"No problem." Harry shrugged. "I tend to get a bit caught up when I'm working."
Draco smiled. "So I see." He walked a little closer, eyes fixed on the cake. "You know, something like that would be perfect for Pansy's birthday. She's got an unhealthy obsession with footwear as well."
Harry grinned. "Women," he said, as if that explained everything.
Draco leant back against the worktop and looked around the room thoughtfully. "You're really good at this," he said, the surprise evident in his voice.
"So I'm told," Harry agreed. "You don't have to sound so surprised by it."
"I didn't mean anything by it," Draco said hastily, not wanting to shatter the fragile peace that had lasted all day. "I just never had you down as the creative sort. If someone had told me back in school that this is what you'd end up doing, I'd have laughed in their face."
"You're not the only one," Harry replied. "I wouldn't have believed it either."
"So what changed then?" Draco asked.
Harry looked at him suspiciously, but found nothing but genuine curiosity in the other man's gaze. "I did, I suppose," he admitted. "The baking started out as something to do to keep my mind occupied, to stop me thinking about…well, other things, you know?"
Draco nodded, because he had a fair idea of exactly what Harry was trying to avoid thinking about.
"It became a sort of therapy for me. Something positive for me to focus on and it turned out I was actually quite good at it."
"That makes sense," Draco agreed. "A Healer suggested something along those lines to me, also."
Harry smiled slightly. "Yeah, mine was very encouraging about it. Although, I suspect that was partly because she enjoyed the cakes."
The conversation came to a halt there, with both men realising how much they had confessed about themselves to someone who, only that morning, had been considered the enemy.
"I guess I'd better get going," Draco said eventually.
Harry looked at the clock and was startled to see how many hours had passed. "I didn't realise it was that late," he said lamely. "Is that you done?"
Draco let out a soft snort. "Are you kidding? There's another couple of days worth of work in there at least."
Despite the fact he knew he should be concerned about the size of the invoice he would receive for that amount of work, Harry couldn't help but feel slightly pleased at the prospect of Draco returning the following day. It was nice to have some company.
The next morning Harry was busy laying out his wares for the day when the tinkling of the doorbell caused him to look up. Draco Malfoy was stood hesitantly in the doorway, and he appeared to be holding a plant of some sort.
"Morning," Harry offered, slightly puzzled by Draco's reticence.
Draco visibly pulled himself together and approached the counter. He held out the plant, which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a dark wicker basket filled with beautiful lilac-coloured lilies. He thrust it towards Harry. "I thought this might brighten the place up," he said, a little gruffly.
Harry smiled slightly and reached out to take hold of the offering. "Thank you. They're lovely." He lowered his face to the flowers and inhaled. "They smell beautiful."
"They're my favourite flower," Draco admitted, colouring slightly.
"I'd never have picked you for the gardening type," Harry teased.
Draco just smiled and began making his way round the back towards the office. "We all have our own kind of therapy," he said softly.
It took four days in all for Draco to be satisfied with the financial state of Harry's business. Not only were the accounts in order, but he had also renegotiated all of Harry's supplier contracts, obtaining him better deals on every one.
"Everything is in order now, Potter," Draco said as he was leaving the last day. "Provided you follow the basic instructions I've left you, I should only need to look them over every couple of months from now on."
Surprisingly Draco didn't seem too happy about that, Harry thought. Maybe it was because he had envisaged Harry being a lucrative client. That thought prompted another one. "How much do I owe you?" he asked, wanting to get the issue of payment out of the way as quickly as possible.
Draco gave a dismissive wave of his hand. "Don't worry about that right now. I'll have my secretary send you the invoice. I might even give you a discount for all those delicious cakes you've been feeding me."
Harry smiled as he watched Draco's eyes rove over the tray of cakes in front of him. Reaching for one of the bakery's powder blue boxes, he began filling it with a selection of, what he now knew to be, the other man's favourite confections.
He gave a quick flick of his wand, and a large bow tied itself atop the box - there were some things Harry could never manage by hand, no matter how much he practised. "You'd better take these," he said, sliding the box over the counter. "Wouldn't want you getting withdrawal symptoms, would we."
Draco grinned warmly, and Harry couldn't help noticing the way it changed his face completely. "I'll have to hide them from the house-elves. They get into quite a snit when I eat food they didn't make. I never realised quite how territorial they are."
"It's going to be strange around here now, without your quill scratching away in the background," Harry admitted. "I'll be honest, when George suggested hiring you; I thought he'd gone mad. I didn't think we could work together without wanting to kill each other."
"We very nearly didn't," Draco reminded him.
"True. But I've enjoyed it. They were right about you."
"They?" Draco questioned, his interest peaked.
"George, Dean, and Seamus," Harry explained. "They convinced me I was being an idiot."
"I never realised I had such a Gryffindor fan club," Draco mused. "George, I understand. You think your books were in a mess - you should have seen his when I took them on. Dean, I suppose that comes from his girlfriend." He stopped here and a tiny frown creased his brow. "I've not seen or spoken to Finnigan in years - I can't imagine why he'd care if you hired me or not."
Harry tried his hardest not to think of exactly what Seamus had said about Draco. It was several days now since he had been in full agreement with his friend's opinion. "'M not sure," he replied evasively. "He was probably just agreeing with the others."
Draco appeared to accept this explanation and gave the matter no further thought. He tucked the cake box under one arm, and held the other outstretched. "I never thought I'd say this, but it's been pleasure doing business with you, Potter."
Harry took hold of his hand and shook it firmly. "Likewise, Malfoy."
If Harry had thought he was going to miss Draco's presence, he was pleasantly surprised to find the other man becoming a frequent visitor to the bakery. In the week since they had parted company, not a day had passed that Draco hadn't popped in. Sometimes just to check if Harry was following the instructions he'd left, and other times they would share a coffee and a chat. On every occasion Draco would leave clutching a large box of treats.
Harry's friends found this newly-sprung friendship a source of endless entertainment - George in particular. The idea that two men, who had once hated each other with a burning passion, were now sharing cosy chats over coffee and cakes was just too good an opportunity for teasing.
Ron, on the other hand, did not find this new development particularly entertaining. In fact, he rather suspected Malfoy had used some sort of Compulsion spell on Harry. Hermione, however, had appeared completely unfazed by the news, and had merely smiled in that mysteriously knowing way of hers.
And to hear Draco talk, he was receiving much the same kind of response from his own friends. Harry hadn't quite worked up the courage to ask how Lucius was taking it yet!
The truth of the matter was that Harry had developed himself quite a crush on Draco. And it wasn't just because, as Seamus had accurately put it, he was hot. There were other things that attracted Harry to him as well.
The way he had obviously made such an effort to turn his life around after the end of the war. How he refused to be cowed by the prejudice that his name still conjured. The obvious affection he had for his friends. Draco hadn't just grown up hot, he had also grown to be a good man, and that was by far more appealing to Harry.
Unfortunately, Harry had no idea where Draco's preferences lay - their chats had never strayed that deeply into their personal lives - but he rather suspected he was straight. Every so often Draco would make an offhand remark, or allude to something which would set Harry wondering. But the way he talked about Pansy, the obvious love he had for her, and the fact it appeared they lived together, all told Harry he had no chance.
But Harry was not willing to lose the opportunity to be friends over some silly unrequited emotion. Yes, ideally he would have liked more from Draco, but if friendship was all that was available, then that was more than enough for him.
"What are you doing tomorrow night?"
Harry looked over the top of his coffee at Draco in surprise. "Huh?"
"Tomorrow night," Draco repeated slowly, long fingers curling tightly around his mug. "What are you doing?"
Draco rolled his eyes. Honestly, how hard was it to answer a simple question. "The Weird Sisters are playing a live set at the club, and I just wondered if you wanted to go?"
"The club?" Harry repeated, frowning slightly.
"Yes," Draco said patiently. "I own a club over on Origin Alley. I'm sure I've mentioned this before."
"I thought that was Pansy's," Harry said, the frown still creasing his brow.
"Well, it's both of ours really. I put up the money, and she runs it. I'm not really the club manager type."
Harry's frown cleared and a smile crossed his face. "Yeah, I can't really see you running a gay club somehow."
"It's not a gay club," Draco answered haughtily. "It's gay-friendly."
"Malfoy, it's called The Closet."
"Yes, well that was Pansy's idea of humour, not mine." Draco paused for a moment and then gave a slight shake of his head. "Anyway, stop sidetracking me. Do you want to come?"
Harry was torn. On the one hand he really enjoyed spending time with Draco, and as a fan of the Weird Sisters he was very tempted to see them perform live again - the last time had been way back at the Yule Ball in his fourth year at Hogwarts. On the other hand, he had a deep dislike of crowded spaces, especially when there was the likelihood of being jostled constantly. The barest thought that he might suffer a panic attack in front of Draco was what decided it for him. He couldn't stand the thought of seeing another one of his friends look at him with pity.
"It's not a good idea," he said finally, refusing to meet Draco's gaze. "I'm not very good with crowds, you know?"
Draco masked his face so that his disappointment didn't show. "Your loss, Potter. It's going to be an excellent evening.
Harry started in surprise at this, banging his head against the top of the glass display cabinet in the process. He stood up slowly, one hand rubbing the tender spot on the back of his head, forcing a smile onto his face. The smile froze in place at the sight of Pansy Parkinson glaring back at him.
"Pansy," he said through clenched teeth. "How can I help?"
Pansy stalked towards him and slapped a cake box down on the counter – he recognised it instantly as the one Draco had purchased only that morning. "This is how you can help," she snarled.
Harry raised one eyebrow in question and reached out to open the box. "You didn't like them? Draco assured me they were your favourites."
Pansy snorted derisively. "Are you really that clueless, Potter? D'you really think I maintain a figure like this by cramming cakes down my throat every day?"
"I'm sorry," Harry said tiredly. "I really have no idea what you're talking about."
"Draco," Pansy snapped. "That's what I'm talking about. Tell me, Potter, why is it, do you think, that he's been in here every single day for the last two weeks?"
"Um, cakes?" Harry suggested. He tried hard to keep the sarcasm out, but it was a struggle - something about Pansy Parkinson had always rubbed him up the wrong way. And it had nothing at all to do with the fact that she was far closer to Draco than he was ever likely to be.
"Oh for Merlin's sake. Not even you can be that thick, surely. Draco. Likes. You. And I don't just mean in a let's be friends way."
Harry stared dumbly at Pansy, not quite fully processing what he was hearing. "You mean…" was all he managed to say.
"Yes, Potter. That's exactly what I mean. He likes you, fancies you rotten, in fact. He comes in here every day to moon over you, and if you don't agree to go out with him soon, I'm going to end up the size of a house."
"But…I thought you and he were…" Harry really was feeling very confused by things now. Draco liked him?
"Please," Pansy snorted derisively. "I prefer my men a little more…straight. And Draco is very definitely bent!"
"He never said anything," Harry replied lamely.
"Never said? Potter, he asked you on a date and you turned him down. I think that qualifies as saying something, don't you?"
Harry ran a hand distractedly through his already-dishevelled hair. "A date? No he didn't."
Pansy fixed him with a baleful glare. "Did he or did he not ask you to the Weird Sisters' concert."
"Well, yes," Harry admitted reluctantly. "But that was just as friends, wasn't it?" A chanced look at Pansy's expression gave Harry his answer. "It wasn't," he said, more to himself than anyone else. "He really was asking me out."
"Idiots," Pansy snapped. "You're both as bad as each other. What are you going to do about this, Potter? It was painful enough watching you two dance around each other in school, I refuse to do it again."
Now Harry really was confused. "What's school got to do with it?"
Pansy gave a throaty chuckle. "C'mon," she said. "What else did you think all that fighting was about?"
"What should I do about it?" Harry asked eventually, refusing to think about the implications of her last statement. Loathe as he was to ask Pansy for advice, she was the one person who knew Draco best.
"That's for you to work out," she retorted. "But you better make it good, and soon. I'm not the only one he's force-feeding these cakes to. And trust me when I say you don't want to face the wrath of his mother."
Pansy said nothing further. She gave him one final glare, picked up the much-maligned box of cakes, and flounced out of the door.
Harry considered it a stroke of genius on his part persuading Seamus to hold his stag night at Draco's club. His friend hadn't been convinced initially, but after Harry had subtly made the suggestion to Lavender in the shop one day, the decision was made.
Lavender was already wary enough at the prospect of her fiancé spending the night before their wedding out carousing with his friends. And the idea of him visiting various lap-dancing clubs did not sit well with her at all. So she had leapt at Harry's suggestion - after all, how much mischief could Seamus get up to in what was ostensibly a gay bar?
Harry had mentioned it to Draco the very next day, whilst extending a heartfelt invitation for him to join them. Armed with his new knowledge, Harry couldn't help but notice the flicker of emotion that crossed the other man's face.
Despite Pansy's assurances, Harry was still fairly unsure of himself, so it was a relief to see the alacrity with which Draco accepted.
Harry arrived at the club later than the others. They had been to a few bars first, but he had been busy putting the final touches to the happy couple's wedding cake.
He made his way into the club, his stomach already twisting in knots. A quick scan around the room failed to show any sign of his friends. He made his way over to the bar, eager to escape the swell of bodies on the edge of the dance floor.
Harry heard his name bellowed loudly over the sound of the music. He looked round for the source, but saw no one.
"Up here, mate!"
Tilting his head backwards, Harry saw George's grinning face peering down at him from the balcony above the bar. Before he could even begin to work out how to join his friends, Pansy Parkinson was at his elbow, guiding him towards a hidden staircase.
"You're late, Potter," she muttered darkly.
"What?" Harry asked incredulously, not entirely sure how it was any of her business.
"Draco thought you weren't coming," she snapped.
"I had a cake to ice," he retorted. "And the others knew where I was."
"I'm not the one you need to be explaining yourself to."
They came to a halt in front of a blank wall. Pansy gave it a brief tap of her wand and, very much like the entrance to Diagon Alley, the bricks disappeared, revealing the entrance to another room. Before Harry could say anything further, Pansy's hand was on the small of his back, giving him a shove into the room.
"Now get in there and make it up to him."
Harry turned round to glare at her, but the entrance was gone, and he was looking at a brick wall again. Turning back to face the room, he saw it was full of dozens of people he recognised from Hogwarts, and a number of people he assumed must be Seamus' family. However, there was only one person he was interested in finding.
Spotting a familiar head of white-blond hair over by the bar, Harry began making his way determinedly through the crowd. He made it to within feet of Draco before he was noticed.
"Harry! You came."
Seamus' arm was like a dead weight around his neck, and it was clear from the smell of his breath that he was a long way from sobriety.
"Course I did," Harry replied, trying his best to wriggle out of Seamus' embrace. "I said I would, didn't I?"
"Yeah, but I know how you get with crowds." Seamus lowered his head so his lips were almost brushing Harry's ear. "I remember how you got on Ron's stag do. You'll be okay tonight, won't you?"
Harry winced at the deafening tone of his friend's voice. What was even worse was that Draco was now looking at him in curiosity, no doubt wondering what exactly had happened on Ron's stag night - not a story Harry was particularly keen to tell, even if part of it had been reported in the Prophet.
"I'll be fine," he reassured Seamus, finally freeing himself from the other man's grasp. "I'm just going to have a drink and chat to Draco."
Seamus grinned drunkenly at this. "Chat? Is that what you people are calling it nowadays?" He giggled stupidly at his own joke, before adding, "See, I told you he was hot!"
At that moment there was nothing hotter than Harry's face. Seamus spoke loudly at the best of times, but under the influence of alcohol, there were probably people in the club itself who had heard him speak.
"Thanks, mate," Harry muttered as he watched his drunken friend sway his way across the room. Praying that his face wasn't has flushed as it felt, Harry turned back to the bar and smiled nervously at Draco.
"Hi," he offered, perching himself on a vacant stool.
Draco nodded in return. "So," he said, a devilish grin crossing his face, "You think I'm hot, then?"
"What? No! I mean…that was Seamus who said that," Harry stammered, feeling the heat return to his face.
Draco continued grinning at him. "Don't worry, Potter, you're not the first to fall for my irresistible charms."
"What's this room for then?" Harry asked, desperately trying to change the conversation's direction.
Sensing his teasing was making Harry uncomfortable, Draco decided to play along. "It's our V.I.P section - not that there's much call for it nowadays. Mainly we just use it for private functions."
"It was nice of you to let us use it. I'm sure Seamus appreciates it, or at least he will when he sobers up."
"Yes, because that's who I was trying to please," Draco responded, a touch sarcastically.
"Never mind, Potter. Do you want a drink?" Draco nodded in the direction of the barman who was waiting patiently in front of them.
"Oh, Firewhisky please," Harry said, a little distracted by the barman's bare, oiled torso. "Not a gay club, then?" he asked Draco, a teasing smile on his face.
"What? Oh, Mike? He's just a bit of window dressing. Keeps the customers happy."
Harry allowed his eyes to rove over the barman's body. "Hmm, I'm sure it does." A sharp dig to his ribs brought his attention back to his companion. "Sorry," he said sheepishly. "Just admiring the view."
"Well see that's all you do." Draco scowled, and Harry felt a fleeting moment of warmth as he realised the other man was jealous.
Taking his courage with both hands, he reached out and placed one hand on Draco's arm. "He's not the one I'm interested in."
Draco felt a shiver course through his body at the unexpected contact. Summoning daring that he didn't know he possessed, Draco placed his hand lightly on top of Harry's. "Good."
The barman returned with his drink, but Harry was oblivious. He was too busy staring at the sight of Draco's hand on his. He turned his palm upwards and laced their fingers together.
"Do you want to dance?" Draco asked suddenly. He had a burning urge to get closer to Harry, to feel himself pressed up against the other man once again, and in more pleasant circumstances this time.
Harry tore his gaze away from their hands and looked apprehensively at the small dance floor. He was surprised to find that there were a few couples dancing already, especially considering that this was a stag night for men only. But then he spotted George's presence, and figured his friend had probably rounded up random women from the club below.
"Er…I'm not sure that's a good idea," he said reluctantly. "I'm really not that good a dancer."
Draco slid off the stool and gently pulled Harry to his feet. "That's okay. I wasn't planning on us doing much dancing anyway."
As he felt Draco's arms slide round his body, Harry was no longer concerned about what people would think. The whole wizarding world knew he was gay, and from the cheeky wink George sent his way, it rather looked like this development wasn't wholly unexpected.
Harry slid one hand around Draco's neck, his fingers threading through the silken hair and gently stroking his nape. His other hand placed firmly on the small of Draco's back - he could feel the heat of the other man's skin through his thin shirt.
Draco shivered again. If he was honest, this was a moment he had thought of, dreamt of for quite some time. Probably longer than he was prepared to admit. He leaned in slowly, closing the distance between them. Harry's eyes were wide, watching him warily, and Draco could feel the quickening of his breath ghosting over his face.
"Harry," he whispered, relishing the way that name felt on his lips for the first time.
The tiniest of smiles curved the edges of Harry's lips. "Draco," he murmured huskily in reply.
Unable to restrain himself any longer, Draco closed those remaining final inches until his lips were pressed, ever so softly, against Harry's. At the same time he slid one of his hands under the fabric of Harry's shirt, relishing the feel of taut, warm skin against his palm.
Their lips moved slowly against each others, tongues flicking out tentatively tasting each other. Neither one of them wanting to make a move that would scare the other off. Then Draco felt Harry's arousal pressing firmly against his thigh, and all restraint vanished.
He pressed back, wanting Harry to feel just how he was affecting him, and judging from the soft moan that vibrated through his body, Draco had been successful.
Harry kissed him hungrily, savouring the sharp taste of Firewhisky lingering in Draco's mouth. Draco offered no resistance and allowed Harry to control the kiss. He parted his lips wider and felt himself drown in the sensation of their tongues sweeping over each other, tasting, teasing.
Unable to hold back any longer, Draco slid his thigh between Harry's legs, pressing lightly against his now-obvious erection. Harry pulled back from the kiss, eyes wide. For a moment Draco feared he had gone too far, that he had ruined the moment.
"I want you," Harry whispered, a flush of both arousal and embarrassment colouring his cheeks, and Draco was relieved to realise that it had been desire not fear shining in those vivid green eyes.
"Me too," Draco replied, placing light butterfly kisses over Harry's face. "But not here."
That brought Harry back to the reality of their surroundings. Fortunately, most of the room appeared to be watching Seamus as he performed an impromptu striptease. But one pair of bright blue eyes was watching them in amusement, and Harry rather thought he could see approval on George's face too.
"Let's get out of here then," Harry suggested.
"Your friends?" Draco asked.
"Are too drunk to notice if I'm here or not," Harry replied, as he cupped Draco's chin and traced a thumb over his kiss-swollen lips. "Come home with me?"
A broad smile broke out over Draco's face, and even in the darkness of the club, it seemed to Harry as though the sun had come out.
"Always," Draco replied softly, holding on tightly to Harry as he took them straight through the club's wards, directly into his room at Grimmauld Place.
George leant back in his chair, a smile of satisfaction on his face. He sipped at his Firewhisky and then turned to his companion. "I told you it would work."
Pansy turned her gaze from the spot where Harry and Draco had been only moments before, a pout marring her pretty features. "I'm still not sure I'm happy about this."
George lazily slid one arm around her shoulders and tugged her in closer. "Of course you are. Even you have to admit those two are perfect for each other."
Pansy shifted in her seat until her long legs were draped over George's lap. "I suppose so," she admitted reluctantly.
George slowly slid one hand up her thigh. "Now then, I believe there's still the matter of my reward to be attended to."