"No," Harry said. "Absolutely not."
Hermione's face set into resolute solidity that indicated she planned to cling to the idea with the tenacity of a barnacle to ship's wreckage.
"Harry," she said in a tone he recognized as reasonable.
"No," he repeated and strove to keep the panic from his voice.
"Honestly," she snapped, "it won't hurt you to at least meet with him. Have a drink and make small talk, and if there is no interest you invent a previous engagement and leave. This is not facing down a Death-Eater at wand point. It's a date."
"A blind date," Harry replied with a glare. He did not bother to mention he would prefer the Death-Eater/wand scenario. "I don't see why this is so important."
Hermione sighed and her determined expression relented a bit. "I think you do, Harry."
He looked away and bit back an oath. He was not lonely. At least, not very often. He was usually busy with work, and when he wasn't he had Ron and Hermione, George and Angelina, and Teddy. Really, he did not have time for a relationship.
"It's just a date," she repeated. "We're not asking you to marry him."
He rolled his eyes and wondered why he had even bothered to protest. Without a valid, logical argument, he stood no chance against Hermione. "Who is this paragon?"
Hermione nearly puffed up with glee. "A friend of a friend and he sounds lovely. He has a very good job at St Mungo's and is apparently extremely good looking. And wealthy, so he won't be wanting you for your Gringotts account."
"No, just the scar," Harry muttered, but then said more loudly, "Fine! But I choose the location and it's one drink."
Harry paused and checked his appearance in the window. He flattened his hair a bit and reflexively tugged his fringe over his scar, even though he had taken care of it before leaving the house.
He took a deep breath and pushed through the pub door. The room was dimly lit and he paused to let his eyes adjust. Outside it was a brilliant, sunny day, which probably accounted for the current lack of patrons inside. Only two tables were occupied, one by a group of four, arguing loudly about the effects of substituting certain potion ingredients for whiskey, and the other by a lone man.
The four sat near the front window, shooting rainbow shards of sunlight around the room with every lift of a glass, but the other sat in a shadowed corner, nearly out of sight completely due to a bedraggled palm that blocked most of the booth from view. Even so, he had caught sight of Harry and was looking straight at him. A lone glass of white wine sat on the table before him and a green scarf was looped casually around his neck.
Harry paused at the bar to order a scotch on the rocks and then made his way over to the man, who did not rise when Harry stuck out his hand.
"Hi," Harry said, "I'm Harvey."
Cool fingers gripped Harry's and held tightly for half a moment before releasing. "Draven," he replied.
Harry slipped into the other side of the booth and scanned the man's features, aware that he was being similarly sized up. To Harry's chagrin, the man was lovely, one less reason to cut the date short. His blond hair was slightly wavy, dropping over his forehead to nearly conceal one bright blue eye. His nose was straight and he had lovely cheekbones, although his chin seemed a bit soft and his face more rounded than Harry preferred.
Don't be shallow, Harry chastised himself, he's attractive enough.
The man lifted his wine and studied Harry over the rim as he took a drink. Harry wondered if he had been found wanting during the man's perusal. He nearly lifted a hand to finger the Glamour Galleon he wore on a chain beneath his shirt. Despite Hermione's insistence upon him dating, he refused to meet someone as himself. There was too much potential for false expectations. For once, Harry wanted to talk to someone as an ordinary man, and be spoken to as if he were no one special.
The Galleon was imbued with subtle magic, invented by George Weasley. It altered the viewer's perceptions and made the wearer look only slightly different. When Harry had looked at himself in the mirror, he had seen brown hair instead of black, blue eyes instead of green, and no scar. His eyes seemed a bit wider-set and his lips fuller. It was strange how such minute changes could make him completely unrecognizable.
"My friends seemed quite keen to get us together," Draven said. "Any idea why?"
Harry smiled. "Yours, too? I think mine have been a couple so long they think that anyone unattached must have some sort of mental illness. They are hoping to fend off my looming insanity by matching me up with…" Harry stopped himself, realizing he had been about to finish with "anyone that breathes" but realized it could easily be taken as an insult. "…with every attractive man they can find."
To his relief, a smile touched the man's mouth. "Are you suggesting I am attractive?"
Harry grinned. "Yeah. You're definitely easy on the eyes." He felt a jolt of surprise when he realized he was actually flirting. He could envision Hermione cheering when she demanded a later recap.
The barkeep prevented a rejoinder, if Draven had intended to make one, and Harry took up the glass as soon as the man left. The Scotch was cold, but left a pleasant burn in Harry's chest.
"So, Harvey, where do you work?"
Harry set down the glass. "Um. At the Ministry."
Draven smiled. His fingers toyed with his wine glass, caressing the stem in barely-there movements, as if he hated to keep still but did not want any of his motions to be obvious.
"Half of the wizarding world works at the Ministry. Do you care to be more specific?"
"Auror Department," Harry admitted.
One blond brow lifted.
"And you work at St Mungo's?" Harry asked quickly, lest Draven ask for specifics. "Are you a healer?"
"Spell damage." The admission seemed grudging and Draven took a quick sip of wine. Harry's curiosity was piqued. He wondered if there was a personal reason Draven had selected the field, but it was far too intimate a question to ask after a few brief minutes of conversation. "Can we not discuss work?" Draven continued. "I just came from there and I would prefer to discuss something that won't bring to mind the things I need to do tomorrow."
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, of course. To not discussing work." He lifted his glass with a feeling of relief and was heartened when Draven's wine glass clinked against his. Draven's head tipped back and his throat worked when he swallowed. Harry's eyes followed the slender line of his neck. Draven wore a white shirt, three buttons of which were open at the collar, exposing the hollow above his sternum. For a heady moment, Harry wondered what it would feel like to press his tongue there.
The wineglass lowered and Harry quickly gulped at his Scotch, shifting his glance away.
"What shall we talk about, then?" Draven asked. "Literature?"
Harry wrinkled his nose. "Heavens, no."
Draven pursed his lips. "Not a reader?"
Harry sensed he might have lost some points. "I have nothing against books, but I prefer to spend my time outside."
"I can tell by the muscles."
Harry perked up; Draven's tone had definitely been approving. Blue eyes slid over Harry's shoulders and he barely resisted puffing up like a prized rooster. "I like to fly."
"We have that in common, then."
"Puddlemere U," Harry replied with a grin.
"They'll never take the Cup."
"With Fleetwood as Seeker, they definitely will."
"Not if their Keeper can't stand up to the Falcons' Chasers. If they ring enough Quaffles it won't matter if Fleetwood catches the Snitch."
Harry shook his head. "Tate-Clark is getting better. It won't be a slaughter like that match against the Tornadoes."
"The Ignatius twins are slow."
"They are not slow!" Harry protested.
Draven's lips moved in a slow smile and he lifted his glass. "Slow as tortoises," he said and drank the last of his wine.
Something about the gesture sent heat straight to Harry's groin. One drink, he had said, and hoped with a jolt of panic that Hermione had not passed on that titbit of information, otherwise Draven might stand up and walk out of his life, and suddenly Harry did not want that to happen.
To his relief, Draven lifted a single finger towards the barkeep, indicating his desire for a refill. Harry let out a breath.
"Tortoises don't fly," he said inanely.
That earned him another smile. "Incredibly slow birds, then."
Harry snorted and took another drink. "They flew a good game against Wimbourne last week."
Draven agreed and the conversation continued through the merits of various teams and the shortcomings of assorted players. Harry ordered a second drink and relaxed, feeling better than he had in a long while. Draven's insights were intelligent and often sardonic and witty.
"Of course, Jamison has the nicest arse in the entire League," Draven added after an amiable disagreement about the Beater's merits.
Harry nearly choked on his Scotch and set the glass down, certain Draven had waited until he swallowed before making that pronouncement. "Debatable. I'm partial to Kenneth Williams', myself."
"His isn't bad. Are you certain it's only his arse, or are you talking about the whole package?"
"I haven't seen his package," Harry replied and snickered, earning a snort from Draven, "but I might be partial to blonds." He stared pointedly across the table and hoped he was coming across as flirtatious and not creepy.
Draven smiled. "I must say, this has been more pleasant than expected." Despite his words, Draven reached into his robes and pulled out a small leather pouch. He extracted several coins and placed them on the table.
Disappointed that their time was apparently at an end, Harry grabbed some coins of his own and tossed them haphazardly on the table while trying to dredge up something to say, hoping to arrange another date. One of the coins landed on its edge and rolled off the table.
Draven bent down to retrieve the coin at the same time as Harry. Long, slender fingers snared the circle of metal, but Harry's attention was caught by a different circle, just visible beneath the collar of Draven's shirt.
Harry straightened with a sharp intake of breath. Draven set the coin on the table and cocked a brow at Harry, who gestured vaguely towards Draven's chest with a stab of disappointment.
"You're wearing a Glamour Galleon," Harry said. He had hoped the man was genuine. Who was he really? A reporter? Harry felt it difficult to breathe for a moment; his regret surprised him with its intensity. Had he really been so hopeful after one conversation? How pathetic and lonely was he?
Draven's hand went to his chest and then fell away. "I… I did not want to meet you as myself," he said. "I am… known."
The statement was not what Harry had expected. "Known? As in… famous?" His mind flitted over any number of celebrities, from Quidditch players to Ministry officials. He blanched at the thought of Draven being Kenneth Williams, after all the talk of admiring his arse.
"Infamous, possibly." Draven's fingers went to the stem of the wineglass and tap-tap-tapped it, so lightly that the glass did not move upon the table.
Harry blinked at him. Infamous?
"Damn," Harry said softly. "I suppose I should confess before I start coming across as self-righteous." He reached into the collar of his shirt and lifted out his own medallion.
Draven's eyes widened and then he laughed softly. "I don't suppose you are infamous, as well?"
"Not exactly," Harry said. "Take them off together on three?"
Draven sighed and nodded. "For what it's worth, it was nice talking with you, while it lasted."
"Yeah. It was. One. Two. Three."
On three, Harry pulled the chain over his head and dropped it onto the table. Draven did the same and Harry's heart sank somewhere into his midsection where it lodged like a stone.
"Draco Malfoy," he said flatly.
"Potter. Bloody hell."
Malfoy slid to the edge of the booth and half-rose, obviously intending to escape without further discussion. Harry reached out and clamped a hand onto his wrist. Grey eyes—not blue—widened in surprise.
Malfoy frowned, but he settled back into the seat, impatience stamped clearly on his features. Despite himself, Harry found himself registering the changes in Malfoy's appearance. To his surprise, Malfoy's natural features were more attractive to him than the glamoured Draven's had been.
"Our friends—why would they do this? Why set us up?"
"My darling Pansy likely thought it would be an amusing prank. I must have done something to annoy her recently, although I cannot fathom what would warrant this level of ridiculousness."
Harry realized his fingers were still touching Malfoy's wrist, but he did not let go. "Okay, that makes sense on your side, but not mine. My friends actually like me and we don't pull pranks on one another. Well, George does, but never Hermione."
Malfoy frowned. His eyes scanned the room, but only two others had entered, a pair of middle-aged wizards that had taken seats at the bar and downed several glasses of ale. They were engaged in discussion and paid no attention to Harry and his agitated companion. "Then why?"
Harry shook his head. "Maybe Hermione didn't know it was you. She only said that you were attractive and worked at St Mungo's." With a jolt, Harry realized both of those things were true. Malfoy had lied about being a healer-in-training. Harry knew he had risen quickly in the ranks of healers at St Mungo's. Medi-wizard to the pure-bloods he was called. It was generally said with a sneer, but Harry supposed the aging pure-blooded crowd felt more comfortable with Malfoy than they would have with a Muggleborn healer. Despite the war's ending, class distinction had not changed much.
"And Pansy told me you were a devastatingly handsome Ministry official."
Harry's lips quirked. "Well, she only partially lied, then."
"You're no longer a Ministry official?"
Harry gaped. Had Malfoy just implied that he was devastatingly handsome?
Malfoy smirked. "All right, so apparently they only told us enough to create intrigue. How is it possible they even speak with one another?"
Harry tried to shake off his amazement, conscious of his fingers still touching Malfoy's wrist. Heat seemed to burn through the cloth that separated skin from skin. "Hermione works for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"Of course she does. And Pansy is a snoop. Bloody hell, she probably works for Granger."
"Pansy is what?"
"A snoop. She digs things up, mostly dirty little secrets. Gossip, love letters, clandestine meetings with married persons. A snoop."
"Oh. Like a private detective, then."
"A private what?"
"It's a Muggle thing. So it's quite possible they work together on occasion. That's… a disturbing thought. How do you suppose they expected this meeting to turn out?"
"Pansy probably expected us to hex one another and end up in the Daily Prophet." Malfoy glanced around the room again. "Someone here is probably taking photographs for her."
Harry's fingers twitched reflexively, but still he did not withdraw his hand. "If Hermione has made peace with Pansy Parkinson, then she is probably hoping I'll do the same with you."
"Or maybe she just wants you to get laid," Malfoy suggested.
Harry blushed and looked away, knowing Malfoy could be right. "Not much chance of that happening," he muttered.
Malfoy pulled his arm away, leaving Harry's fingers cold and empty on the table top. "No, I suppose not," he said in a cool tone that had not been present before. "It has been an interesting meeting, Potter. Give my regards to Granger."
"Wait!" Harry said again, although his hand snagged only the edge of Malfoy's sleeve this time.
An annoyed look crossed Malfoy's features. "What, Potter?"
"This can't… You mean, that's it?"
"You are making no sense. Surely you do not plan to prolong this torment? There is utterly no chance of anything happening between us, so I think it is far better to end our association now before it comes to blows or hexes."
"No, wait. Hear me out. I think I figured out Hermione's angle. You've heard rumours about me, right?" Harry tried to keep desperation from colouring his words, but he did not want Malfoy to walk out of his life, not when a world of possibility had suddenly opened up to him.
"There are always rumours about you, Potter. You are still the topic of choice amongst the pseudo-journalists employed by the various rags that pass for news publications."
"You know the rumours I mean," Harry said tightly.
"Ah. The ones suggesting that you are a shirt-lifter? That the Weaselette kicked you out because she caught you snogging one of her brothers? That your photo shoot with the Kenmare Kestrels turned into an after-hours orgy? Those rumours?"
"Yes." Harry glared. "And for the record, I never snogged any of the male Weasleys, nor did I have an orgy with the bloody Kestrels." Ginny had caught him kissing Dean Thomas and the orgy had been nothing more than a drunken party, and possibly some enlightening groping, with Oliver Wood and his Chaser boyfriend. Harry had left before things became serious, but not before someone had taken enough notice to run to the press with a salacious story.
"All right. The fact that you are here, however, lends validity to some of the rumours."
"Yes, I prefer blokes."
Malfoy smiled. "All right." He waited with one pale brow lifted.
"The press does not exactly treat you kindly, either."
"Obviously," Malfoy said and settled into his seat again. He tugged his sleeve from Harry's grip and indicated his empty wine glass. "Buy me another if you intend to keep me here all evening."
Harry hesitated for a moment, half-certain that Malfoy meant to make his escape the moment Harry let down his guard, but he got up anyway and went to the bar for a glass of whatever expensive white wine Malfoy had been drinking.
When he returned, Malfoy was still seated. He accepted the glass and took another drink as Harry sat down. "Does your ridiculous blathering have a point?" Malfoy asked upon setting the glass down.
"I have an idea," Harry said.
"Astounding. Shall we alert the media and let them know about this freak occurrence?"
Harry kicked him under the table. Malfoy winced.
"Now, listen. Obviously, neither of us are willing to give this thing a go like the girls expected—whatever they expected—but that doesn't mean it was a bad idea."
"What are you talking about?"
"It is past time for me to come out, officially, I mean, and get it over with. I'm tired of hiding who I am. You know what sort of shit storm that will generate, and I think you can handle it. If I tried to subject an ordinary person to that sort of scrutiny… Well, do you see what I mean?"
"I hate to admit that I'm beginning to understand your convoluted non-language."
Harry glared at him and waited. Malfoy flicked his blond hair away from his forehead with a quick swipe of his fingers. It fanned back over his brow in a way that made Harry want to reach out and touch it. He squelched the thought.
"Are you saying you want us to pretend to be a couple so that I can deal with the hatred and Howlers and vitriol from your disappointed fanbase?"
"That's not exactly how I would put it—" Harry began.
"What's in it for me?" Malfoy asked. "Besides the fact that dating the mighty Saviour will potentially improve my vilified image? Except the part where people will assume I've put you under the Imperius Curse, or drugged you, or invented some dark spell with which to enthral you."
"What do you want?" Harry asked, knowing Malfoy was right. A spear of doubt pierced his momentary hope.
Malfoy seemed to consider the question, and he took a long sip of wine while Harry waited. He resisted the urge to drum his fingers on the table, and instead plucked at the seam of his jeans where it bunched near his kneecap.
"I will let you know," Malfoy said finally. "We pretend to date, pose as a happy, albeit deranged, couple, have our photos plastered in the papers, deal with the hate mail, and then stage a spectacular breakup. Is that what you had in mind?"
"Um… basically, yes," Harry said.
"Very well. I'm in. We will discuss my price later."
"Will I be able to afford this price?" Harry asked, slightly panicked.
Malfoy smirked. "We will see, won't we?" He lifted his glass. "To our new partnership."
Harry lifted his glass of mostly melted ice and alcohol residue. He allowed Malfoy to clink the glasses together. "To our partnership," Harry said and drank, feeling as if he had just made a deal with some terrible god of the underworld.
"I will send you an owl," Malfoy said and got to his feet. This time, Harry let him leave.
Harry stumbled out of the Floo and into Ron and Hermione's living room. Hermione looked up from the book she was reading and Ron allowed the scroll in his hands to roll up with a snap.
"Oi, Harry," Ron said.
Harry nodded to Ron as he brushed stray Floo powder from his sleeve. He fixed his stare on Hermione. "Do you mind telling me what you were thinking?"
She blushed as she marked the place in her book with a silk ribbon and set it aside. "Oh dear. It went badly, then?"
"How, exactly, did you expect it to go? Draco Malfoy? I can't believe you conspired with Pansy Parkinson, of all people—"
"I'm sorry, Harry, it just seemed like a sensible idea. Not at first, of course. Pansy suggested it as a laugh. But the more we talked about it—"
Ron broke in. "Malfoy? Wait, you've been talking to Pansy Parkinson?"
Hermione frowned at him. "Yes, Ron, I've only mentioned her about six dozen times."
"I didn't know you meant Parkinson! I thought she was a different Pansy. Pansy Johnson or Pansy Rodriguez or something, not that evil bint from Slytherin."
"So," Harry said, trying to circumvent Ron's tangent, "you thought it would be a sensible idea. Because of the publicity, right?"
"We're adults now, Ron. We don't discuss the past in order to concentrate on the future. What do you mean by publicity?"
Ron snorted. "Yeah, probably not a good idea to bring up how she tried to sell Harry to You-Know-Who."
"Pansy is loyal to her friends, and I can respect that. She is also an utterly ruthless fact-finder and I've come to—"
"Anyway," Harry said loudly, "it looks like Malfoy and I are dating."
Two pairs of eyes swivelled to him, Hermione's surprised and Ron's horrified. Hermione smiled broadly as Ron spluttered. She cried, "Oh, Harry, that's wonderful! I thought you said it went badly. How did you—?"
"Dating?" Ron shouted.
"Calm down, Ron."
"'Calm down,' she says! Have you both completely lost the plot? What are you thinking?"
Harry shrugged. "Malfoy and I came to a mutual agreement. It's more of a business arrangement, if you like."
Ron sagged back into the cushions, seeming somewhat mollified by Harry's words.
Hermione frowned. "A business arrangement?"
Harry nodded. An owl tapped on the window, unfamiliar and impressive. Hermione flipped the latch and allowed it inside.
"It's for you, Harry," she said and handed him the message.
The note was simple, written in an elegant script and silver ink. Harry tipped it to catch the light.
Meet me at 8 p.m. at the Hearty Trencher. Do not dress like a refugee.
"I have a date with Malfoy. Tonight. Oh god, what will I wear?"
Ron pulled a pillow over his face to muffle the choking sounds.
Harry stood awkwardly on the cobblestones outside the Hearty Trencher. His Tempus Charm—the sixth in as many minutes—announced ten past the hour. Anxiety twisted his insides, warring with growing anger. Malfoy had been having him on, after all. He was probably at home, chuckling at the thought of Harry waiting for him outside the restaurant, all dressed up and—
A crack of Apparition sounded and Harry's breath caught at the sight of Malfoy, not only from relief at not having been jilted, but also because the man looked bloody amazing.
Grey eyes swept over Harry critically. Harry refrained, barely, from fidgeting at the perusal. He thought he looked good; Hermione had helped him choose a new set of midnight-blue robes from Madam Malkin's.
To his surprise, a smile curved Malfoy's lips. "Very nice, Potter."
The simple compliment brought a pleasant heat to Harry's face. "You look… good," he admitted. He wasn't lying. Malfoy looked nigh-unto edible in calf-length robes of blue so pale they were nearly silver. His trousers were the same shade. The colours they both had chosen were oddly complimentary.
Malfoy's smile remained in place and his gaze softened into something that brought a flutter to Harry's chest. Business arrangement, he admonished himself. Mustn't forget.
"Shall we go inside?" Malfoy asked.
Harry nodded and pulled open the door, stepping aside to allow Malfoy to enter first. He paused inside the doorway while Malfoy spoke to the maître d', who instantly snatched up two menus and beckoned them onwards. Despite the rustic-sounding name of the place, it was quite posh, adorned with crisp white tablecloths, gleaming crystal, and sparkling silverware.
"The table you requested, Mr Malfoy," the man said, halting before a small booth table. High mahogany walls enclosed the space on three sides, but they would still be plainly visible to most of the dining area.
Harry swallowed whilst Malfoy cocked a brow at him. It was time to put up or shut up. Harry sat down. The bench seat was warm, covered in soft fabric. A waiter popped up immediately and filled two glasses of water with a flourish of his wand.
"May I offer you a cocktail, gentlemen?"
Harry nearly asked for a Firewhisky, but Malfoy smoothly ordered a bottle of some incomprehensible French wine and then asked, "You do drink wine, do you not, Harry?"
Nearly flabbergasted at the casual way his given name tripped from Malfoy's tongue, Harry could only nod, even though he was not a particular fan of wine. It seemed bitter and, frankly, pretentious. Sort of like Malfoy.
"Very good, sirs. I will return in a moment."
The waiter sashayed away and Malfoy smirked at Harry. "How long do you suppose it will take the Prophet to send out a photographer?" he murmured.
"There is probably one waiting outside for us right now," Harry replied and gulped his water. It was tepid.
"Are you sure you can do this?" Malfoy asked. Was there a challenge in his voice?
Harry lifted his chin. "I can if you can," he said.
Malfoy smiled. The sommelier appeared and uncorked the bottle with what Harry considered to be an excess of ceremony. He watched with amusement as Malfoy swirled the wine in the glass and took an experimental drink.
To Harry's relief, and likely the wine steward's, Malfoy nodded and Harry's glass was filled. Harry took a sip and found it bitter, as expected, but more palatable than the water. He set the glass aside and turned his attention to the menu.
Everything was written in French, but thankfully with English explanations beneath. Harry wrinkled his nose at the thought of eating snails, but the asparagus with Hollandaise sauce sounded rather good.
"For starters, I think we should have the Boudin Noir at Oeuf Poche' Bordelaise," Malfoy said. "And the gazpacho. I assume you will not eat Escargots a' la Bouguignonne?"
Harry stared at him for a moment, heart thudding at the sound of the mellifluous language flowing so easily from Malfoy's tongue. "You speak French?" Harry asked.
"Fluently," Malfoy replied. "And several other useless languages, including Danish and Estonian. Mother insisted."
"Wow. That's… impressive. Um… how do you say this thing? And no to the snails, please." Harry turned the menu around and tapped a finger on part of the menu.
"Medaillons de Sanglier au Poivre Vert," Malfoy said.
"And that thing under it? In the English bit?" Harry tried to sound casual, as if Malfoy speaking French was not an unexpected turn-on. How could he have foreseen that?
"Gratin Dauphinoise," Malfoy replied. "That is a potato dish. You'll love it."
"Why can't they just say potatoes?" Harry muttered and took back the menu. Wild boar did seem tasty, especially if it came with potatoes. "What are you having?"
Malfoy rattled off another beautiful-sounding phrase and Harry smiled dreamily as he stared at the incomprehensible words of the menu. He entertained a small daydream of hearing Malfoy murmuring French phrases in bed, but the resulting rush of blood to his groin startled him out of that pastime with a jolt. He gulped at his wine in an attempt to cover his sudden blush.
"Pauillac Bordeaux is not to be guzzled, Harry. Would you prefer ale?"
Harry coughed at the alcohol residue that seemed to have eaten up his oxygen. He shook his head. "No, I'm fine. Sorry." He waved airily. "Do you mind ordering for us?"
Malfoy frowned, but the waiter had popped up with an expectant expression. Harry listened happily whilst Malfoy rattled off their order and even asked a few questions of the waiter, who replied in a spate of French that did not sound half as lovely as Malfoy's.
When the waiter departed, Malfoy took a drink of wine and then said, "So, tell me about the Kenmare Kestrels."
Harry glared. "Oliver Wood is clingy when drunk. End of story."
"I very much doubt that is the end of the story, but I am curious about the beginning."
Harry rubbed at the edge of his silver knife with his thumb, not looking at Malfoy. "It was just a photo shoot. For charity."
Something in Malfoy's tone made Harry look at him sharply. Malfoy's eyes looked like dark pools in the muted light, but a small smile played about his lips. The tense knot in Harry's midsection relaxed. He admitted to himself that his memories of the incident provoked a knee-jerk defensive reaction that he could not seem to control. Despite trying to ignore everything the press printed about him, it still affected him. "You saw?" he repeated.
Malfoy nodded. "That issue of Quidditch Quarterly sold out on the first day, did it not?"
"I bought three copies."
Malfoy seemed fascinated with his wine glass. His index finger rubbed at the base, as if scrubbing at an imagined imperfection. "One for myself, one for Pansy, and one just so that some other poor soul starved for the need to look upon the fabled Harry Potter could not do so."
Harry's lips twitched. "That wasn't very nice."
"I am not a nice man."
His eyes met Harry's and the statement sent another pulse shooting towards Harry's nether parts. He nearly snatched at his wine again, but restrained himself. If he kept drinking every time Malfoy disconcerted him, he would be on his lips before dinner.
Instead he said, "That remains to be seen."
Malfoy chuckled. "You surprise me, Potter. I expected you to paint me with a dark brush without bothering to check my true colours."
"Harry," he corrected and felt a rush at the fact that he was actually flirting, and having a bloody good time with it.
"Harry," Malfoy agreed just as the waiter appeared with their starters.
Conversation was curtailed as they dug into their food. Harry happily bit into the asparagus. The sauce was rich and lemony and a definite treat to his palate. He normally subsisted on fish and chips and takeaway sandwiches.
"What are you having?" Harry asked after swallowing a mouthful.
"Scallops. Would you like to try one?"
Harry nodded, although he could not recall ever tasting scallops. Malfoy sliced off a morsel and speared it with his fork before leaning across the table and offering it. Harry had expected him to drop a bit of it onto his plate. Albeit startled, he leaned forwards and opened his mouth.
The metal tines slid out and left the rich seafood behind. Harry closed his eyes and chewed. He immediately decided scallops were one of his favourite foods. His eyes opened and he saw Malfoy staring at him with wide eyes.
"It's, um… really good," Harry said.
Malfoy muttered something and Harry thought it sounded like, "Remind me not to do that again" but he decided not to ask for clarification. He contented himself with his vegetables until the second course arrived.
The boar was succulent and the potatoes were amazing. Harry tried not to watch Malfoy eat, because it was nearly as enticing as listening to him speak French. His movements were precise and graceful and he wielded his utensils with obviously-practiced skill.
"How did those rumours start, exactly?" Malfoy asked after they had eaten in silence for some time.
Harry swallowed a bite of potato and then took a drink of water before replying. "Which rumours?"
"The Kestrel orgy rumours, of course."
"You're still going on about that?"
"I'm merely curious."
"Right," Harry said. "Whatever. Fine. As I said, Oliver is clingy. He was hanging all over me during the party, to the bizarre amusement of his boyfriend, who kept egging him on. I think he was hoping for a threesome."
Malfoy's fork paused halfway to his mouth and then lowered back to his plate. "A threesome with Oliver Wood and his Kestrel Chaser boyfriend? How did you resist?"
Harry gaped at him. "Are you suggesting I should have—?"
"Potter, life is short! How often is one presented with such an opportunity?" Malfoy clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Honestly, I will never understand the Gryffindor mentality."
For a moment, Harry's imagination helpfully provided an image of Malfoy writhing on a large bed with Oliver Wood and the handsome Chaser. The resulting tightness in his trousers left him somewhat lightheaded. "Are you saying you would have…?"
"Faster than you can say Nox," Malfoy said and then laughed. "Why didn't you?"
Harry goggled at him and tried to ignore the flash of green-tinted annoyance that Oliver would probably jump at the chance to bed Draco Malfoy, if only he knew it was an option. He considered the question, instead. Why hadn't he?
"Well, the press, for one thing," Harry replied finally.
Malfoy sat back in his seat, reminding Harry of Professor Flitwick whenever Harry had given an incorrect answer during their Hogwarts' days. "The press? You worry a lot about what the press has to say, don't you?"
Harry spluttered. He did not! He was about to give voice to his denial when he realized it would make him out to be a liar. In truth, he hadn't thought much about the press at all during the Oliver Wood situation. Mostly he had felt uncomfortable. Oliver was quite attractive, but he had been in a relationship. Whether or not his significant other was delighted at the prospect, Harry knew it would be nothing more than a one-off.
"I'm not much of a player," he admitted. "I don't want…" he waved a hand, "that sort of thing."
"Sex?" Malfoy asked.
Harry's face flamed and he glanced into the room to see if anyone had overheard their conversation. "Of course I want sex," he hissed. "Just not meaningless, casual, drunken, group sex, all right?"
Malfoy nodded and pushed at a green bean on his plate, sliding it to the edge. Harry noted that he did not seem to like them. "You want a relationship."
"Is there something wrong with that?" Harry asked, defensive.
To his surprise, Malfoy met his gaze levelly and shook his head with a soft smile. "No, Harry. There is nothing wrong with that."
Malfoy put another bite of lamb into his mouth and Harry, nonplussed, returned to his own meal, although he hardly tasted the remainder of it. The strange date was turning out to be more complicated than he had expected.
And Malfoy was turning out to be more than he had bargained for.
The waiter was reciting the dessert menu when Malfoy stiffened and touched his right arm. Harry spent a horrifying moment thinking of Malfoy's Dark Mark, but then he noticed a pale blue glow emanating from Malfoy's sleeve. Malfoy tugged the fabric back to reveal a plain silver bracelet pulsing with a blue radiance.
Malfoy wrinkled his nose. "Hospital alarm. I have to go."
"Minor, but yes. I am sorry to cut this short. If you want to stay for dessert, I will take care of the check."
"No!" Harry said quickly. "I'm finished and I can pay. It's fine. You just go."
"All right." Malfoy got to his feet and the waiter stepped aside, obviously confused by the turn of events and probably wondering if he should continue his spiel. "No dessert tonight, Carlos, thank you. Give my regards to the chef."
Carlos bowed and sidled away, looking as if he would rather stay and hear their conversation. Harry stood and gave Malfoy a smile. "I had a really good time."
"As did I," Malfoy said. "Shall I…?"
"I'll owl you tomorrow," Harry said decisively.
Malfoy nodded and turned to go, but Harry impulsively snared his sleeve. Malfoy raised a brow and paused. Before he could stop himself, Harry leaned forwards and pressed a quick peck onto Malfoy's cheek. He was not sure if he imagined the cessation of conversation in the rest of the room; his heart was pounding too loudly to be certain.
"Good show, Potter," Malfoy murmured, and then he turned and was gone.
Harry went straight to his room and unbuttoned the unfamiliar robes. He realized he still wore a somewhat goofy smile on his face and strove to wipe it away, but he could not help but feel bemused. Malfoy had been surprisingly good company.
He stripped off his robes and hung them up before making his way to the shower. As the soap sluiced over his chest and slid in warm suds down to his groin, he could not help thinking of Malfoy's long fingers. The way they had stroked the stem of his wine glass gave Harry incentive to picture them wrapped around his cock.
Harry groaned as he gave in to the fantasy, utilizing his own fingers in place of Malfoy's. "This is a bad idea," he murmured into the spray. His hand pumped rhythmically. "It's just a…" he gasped, "business arrangement."
"Sex?" Malfoy had asked.Taken out of context, it seemed like a request. The memory sent Harry over the edge, riding a surge of lust he could not remember feeling in a long while. One hand splayed against the cool tiles as he rode out the quivers and reflected wryly that he hadn't come so quickly since surreptitiously wanking at Hogwarts, hoping to Merlin none of his dorm-mates had heard him through whispered Silencing Charms.
"A business arrangement," Harry said decisively and steadied himself. He scrubbed away the remnants of his activity and finished his shower before drying off and going to bed. It was early, but Harry had been through an eventful day.
Ron peered into the cauldron and tapped his wand on the edge. Tap. Tap tap.
Harry frowned at him. "That's not doing anything. Shouldn't you stir it? Or add those diced Nargle bits?"
Tap tap tap. Tap.
"Nargles aren't real," Hermione commented. She was brushing her hair instead of working on a potion or reading a book. It was odd, because they were in the Potions classroom. Ron's incessant cauldron whacking was getting on Harry's nerves. Tap tap tap tap.
"Damn it, Ron—" Harry started, but an arm wrapped around Harry's waist from behind and soft lips pressed against his neck. Harry leaned back into the hard warmth with a pleased sigh.
"Want to show me what Oliver Wood missed out on, Harry?" Malfoy asked in a purring tone. His voice vibrated against Harry's throat and travelled straight to his cock. A moment later, Malfoy's hand cupped him there.
Hermione is watching! Harry thought with panic, but she simply continued to brush her hair. Ron kept banging on the cauldron without pause. Tap tap tap tap! Tap tap!
Harry jolted awake, heart thudding in his chest. He struggled free of his constricting blankets, breathing heavily. Bloody hell, it had been a dream! He pressed the heel of his hand against his half-hard cock, clinging to the shade of Malfoy's hand touching him there. Despite Harry's effort to hold onto it, the image dissipated and drifted away into dream-memory.
The tapping, however, did not relent.
Harry's head turned to face the window and his jaw fell open. A cluster of owls sat upon the sill. One of them insistently pecked at the glass. Tap. Tap tap tap.
Harry pushed away the rest of the blankets and got to his feet. He was almost afraid to open the window and let them in; even more owls were visible beyond those perched on the sill. Some fluttered in the sky and others were sat on nearby rooftops.
Tap tap tap. His attention returned to the insistent owl and he felt a jolt when he recognized it as Malfoy's. Harry pushed open the latch and swung the window wide, jumping back as the owls launched towards him. Within moments they were all in Harry's room, claws digging into every available surface.
He sighed and got to work removing the messages. Several of the missives were bright red Howlers—Harry left off taking those. Once touched by his hand, they would detonate within minutes.
"No reply," he said to each owl as he retrieved their notes. Most hopped away and took wing, departing through the now-open window. Several nipped at him, one scratched his hand viciously, and one settled itself on his dressing table and refused to leave, glaring at him balefully when he tried to shoo it away.
Malfoy's owl perched on Harry's headboard, just above where Harry's head had rested on the pillow minutes before. Harry saved that message for last. The others he collected and stacked into a pile on his desk. A cursory glance at several had shown them to contain the same general theme.
"…could not believe my eyes when I woke up this morning…"
"…read in the Daily Prophet that you are gay…"
"…had to be a filthy lie, as you cannot be a disgusting shirt-lifter…"
"…overjoyed that you, Harry Potter, might be like me…"
"…in the company of Draco Malfoy, spawn of that vile family of…"
"…known Death Eater, not fit to lick your boots and…"
"…please tell me it's not true and you would never…"
"…please tell me it's true so that one day I might also be brave enough…"
"…I hope you burn in Fiendfyre…"
"…I wish you every happiness…"
The Howlers Harry tossed into a Muggle safe made of reinforced steel that he had purchased for just such a purpose. He was used to Howlers; this way he did not have to listen to them. Once a month he would dust out the ashes.
With that done, he approached Malfoy's owl. It was large and stately and looked rather vexed at Harry, possibly for making him wait. To err on the side of safety, Harry detoured to the fireplace and took a couple of owl treats from the owl-shaped jar Ginny had purchased for him just before she'd gone to Romania to work with Charlie.
The owl eyed the treats long enough that Harry began to fear it would prefer to eat his fingers, but then it snapped at the biscuits and allowed Harry to remove the message.
Lunch? I will be at the Winged Pachyderm at twelve sharp. I only have thirty minutes, so if you care to dine with me, don't be late.
Harry glanced at the clock; it was nearly ten. He scrawled a quick note of affirmation and gave it to Malfoy's owl, who flew out the window without pause. Harry bodily picked up the squatter owl from his dressing table and tossed it out the window. It flapped after Malfoy's owl with a squawk and a flurry of feathers.
Harry shut the window and dusted his hands. A smile played about his lips as he dressed for work. He had another date with Draco Malfoy.
Business arrangement, a voice whispered in his head. Harry nodded. Of course it was.