Written for the HD Career Fest on Livejournal.
Author's Notes: I invented two spells. First, Recognise Me Not. It's similar to Notice Me Not (which I don't think is canon either, just in fanfic.) Someone else may have already used a similar spell or a different spell by the same name, but if I've seen it, I don't remember it. Recognise Me Not is very important to this story, because both Harry and Draco are living under it. Unlike Glamours, it allows a person to retain their own face and body but prevents others from recognizing them. They see the person's true features, but the spell prevents them from realizing who it is they're seeing, no matter how well they know the person. The exception is if someone knows that the witch or wizard is under the spell, they aren't affected by it and can recognise the person, similar to how a person whose been told where Grimmauld Place is by the secret keeper is able to see it and gain access. But they don't need to be told directly, like with the Fidelius charm. If someone can figure it out on their own—for example, if something the person under the spell says or does gives them away or if he has something that is recognisable as definitely belonging to him—someone can see through it. The spell only masks the person, not their mannerisms or possessions.
The other spell is Celo, which is Latin for "to hide or to conceal" and does just that. It hides whatever is behind it. It is referred to in the fic by the name Celo or just as a privacy charm/shield/etc.
Thank you to the army of betas who worked on this: SecretlySeverus, Cleodoxa, EvilPumkin, AryaEragonPrincessShadeslaye r, AsilleNellum, and Batgirl8968
Disclaimer – All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc., are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
When It Alteration Finds
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds . . . .
Biting back the retort at the tip of his tongue, Draco managed to force a convincing smile onto his face and tossed the ball that had just landed beside him, kicking up sand all over his parchment in the process, back to the breathless little boy running up to him.
"Not to worry."
A bright smile lit up the child's face, showing off his two missing front teeth. The boy was about five or six, Draco imagined, and had hair as blonde as his own.
He watched with a sigh as the boy ran back to a group of other children and tossed the ball to a little girl in a green bathing suit, their parents keeping a watchful eye from nearby.
Last year, Draco had turned thirty. He'd once expected to be married and settled with a child or two of his own by this point in his life, but he'd had to accept that wouldn't be in the cards. Witches weren't exactly lining up at his door begging to be the next Mrs. Malfoy. No amount of restitution, no amount of penance or contrition, would ever outweigh the ugly, faded scar on his left arm in the eyes of the Wizarding world.
Not for the first time, he wondered about the fallout that would occur if he were to begin signing his real name when responding to the piles of letters he received on a weekly basis after the release of a new book. All his admirers would turn and run, tripping over each other in their haste to put as much distance between themselves and him as possible, insisting the whole time they'd known all along that something wasn't just right about that Simon Wrentmore bloke.
Also not for the first time, Draco told himself that the few moments of pleasure he'd get out of watching the same people who'd praised him for years squirm wouldn't be worth it. He'd worked too hard to earn that praise to throw it away.
Turning his attention back to the parchment in front of him, he dusted off the sand the little boy's ball had kicked up. The bloody thing was still blank, just as all his parchments back at home and all the parchments he'd brought with him were. Draco knew if he didn't think of something to write soon, whether he started signing his real name to his fan mail or stood in the middle of Diagon Alley and shouted the truth to the whole world would be irrelevant. A writer who couldn't write was no longer a writer anyway.
Loud peals of laughter erupted from the children playing with the ball, drawing Draco's attention away from his blank parchment, and he watched them toss the ball back and forth. It was hard for him to believe he had ever been that young, had ever found such enjoyment as those children did from such a simple game.
After watching the children play a few moments longer, Draco's eyes roamed around the beach, taking in all the families and couples on holiday. As far as he could see, he was the only person who was alone, and the knowledge lowered his already depressed mood.
Giving up on the hope that, surrounded by so much activity, some stroke of inspiration would hit him, he began to pack up what little he'd brought with him and brushed the sand off his ankles. He'd never cared for the beach—the sand ended up everywhere, and no matter how carefully and faithfully he applied sunscreen charms, he always ended up pink—and he didn't know why he'd let that crazy witch talk him into this trip.
No. That wasn't true; he did know. He'd let her talk him into it because he was desperate, and if there was any chance at all that her idea of a change of scenery would help him find his muse, as she called it, he would take it. But so far, it hadn't.
Thinking up stories had never been a problem for Draco. Growing up an only child, he'd had to find ways to amuse himself, and he had, at a young age, taken to making up elaborate stories. He'd always been an avid reader, and by the time his world had imploded around him, he'd been able to create people and places in his mind and bring them to life as well as some of his favourite authors did in their works. Ideas had simply come to him.
Granted, a lot of those ideas had been complete rubbish, but some had been quite good. Good enough to write down. Good enough, even, to get published.
But now the ideas just weren't coming. Nothing he did seemed to bring them back. And that scared him; those ideas were all he had left. So, here he sat on a beach on the west side of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, watching children he didn't know toss around a rubber ball because his agent had thought a change of scenery would fix whatever had gone wrong with him.
At this point, if she had suggested that a pair of radish earrings would help, he'd have pierced his ears himself.
Parchment and quills spelled to look like Muggle notebooks and biros tucked back into his rucksack, towel and blanket shaken out and folded up, beach chair closed up and tucked under his arm, Draco began the ten-minute walk back to the cottage Luna had hired for him for the summer. Mille Fleurs had beautiful gardens—even by Malfoy standards. His cottage offered its own private lawn overlooking a particularly lovely valley. He'd only just arrived on the island yesterday. There would be plenty of opportunity this summer to come up with an idea.
The next morning, Draco awoke to the sound of positively dreadful, off-pitch singing and the delicious aroma of his morning coffee. He cracked his eyes open only to squeeze them shut a moment later. The sun streaming brightly in through floor-to-ceiling windows mere feet away from his bed was not something he was accustomed to seeing upon awaking. He'd been just about to reach for his wand on the small table beside his bed to close the blasted curtains when the irresistible scent of bacon joined the aroma of the coffee, and his stomach rumbled.
Reluctantly pulling himself out of bed, Draco slid his arms into his dressing gown as he exited his bedroom and was greeted by the sight of Tibby, the house elf who'd accompanied him, levitating rashers of bacon onto a plate. Her dreadful singing cut off abruptly the moment she saw him, and she anxiously lowered her eyes to the floor, her hands twisting the fabric of the clean, floral print pillow case she wore. Even after all this time, his house elves expected severe punishment for even the slightest infraction, and that knowledge saddened Draco. He'd long since stopped caring if his tea was spilled or the windows had streaks or the bookcases were dusty. Draco had learnt the hard way that when your only regular company in the world was one crazy witch who wore vegetables and bottle caps for jewellery, house elves and portraits of your dead parents, you become much less picky very quickly.
On the other side of the island, another kitchen was filled with equally bad singing, but this time there was no one to overhear, and the singer continued, unabashedly, to belt out whatever tune entered his head.
Several bowls of dough for the different types of bread he sold were resting on the counter and were covered with damp cloths, ready to be put in the cooker as soon as the muffins came out. The cakes and biscuits that had made him so well known on the island were cooling on their wire racks, and for right now, he had a few moments to himself. The smell of his kitchen in the morning was one of his favourite things in the world, and the young man poured himself a cup of coffee just the way he liked it in the morning—black and strong. The flavoured coffees and lattes he served his customers were fine for later in the day, but in his opinion, in the morning coffee should be strong and black.
Savouring his short break, a perfectly contented Harry Potter, known on the island as Evan Jameson, unlocked the front door of his small bakery and let the morning air fill his lungs. At this time of the morning, no one was yet up and about in his quiet little alley, and these quiet few minutes always made Harry feel like he had this perfect little island paradise all to himself.
Leaning against his door jamb, Harry took in the picturesque view of the St. Peter Port harbour his hilltop location afforded—the slate and terracotta roofline below, the boats docked at the Victoria and Albert Piers, Castle Cornet in the distance. The rising sun painted the sky gold, pink and purple, the water reflecting the colours like a rippled mirror. A cruise ship could be seen sailing passed on the horizon.
Harry had worked hard to turn his little combination bakery/coffee shop/tea house—which he'd named the Holly and Feather—into a success, and he was very proud of it and happy with the life he'd built for himself. He'd left London and the majority of the Wizarding world behind for the anonymity and privacy the Muggle world offered him, both things he could never have hoped to have if he'd stayed. His friends visited him often or he visited them, and he had built a strong relationship with his godson, Teddy, who had just finished his third year at Hogwarts. Over the years he'd been in Guernsey, many of his neighbours on the island had become his friends, and although none of them had any idea of the significance of the name he'd chosen for his bakery, or that his work load was significantly reduced by the assistance of a few well-placed magical enhancements—kneading charms were just about the best charms ever created, in Harry's opinion—he valued their friendship deeply.
There were no wizards settled permanently on the island, aside from himself, and the attention of those who visited on holiday was easily avoided by a carefully cast Recognise Me Not spell, which had become as much a part of Harry's morning routine as brushing his teeth and a shaving charm. He refused to use a glamour charm. He had left his world behind and lived under an assumed name, but Harry had insisted that when he looked in the mirror, the face he saw would be his own.
His last step in building the peaceful life he had always wanted was to send an invitation to the Dursleys to come and visit him in his new home, thus ensuring they would never set foot on the island again.
All in all, Harry thought to himself as he re-entered his kitchen, he was very content in the life he'd made. He'd be happier with it still were he not waking up alone every morning, but he didn't want someone in his life just so he wouldn't wake up alone. He'd had a few relationships with Muggles, none that had worked out in the long run for one reason or another—that reason mainly being that he'd had to keep so much of himself from the other person—but at the moment he was single. Harry wanted someone to share his life and his bed with, but he had to find the right person. And so far, he just hadn't.
After putting the bread in the cooker, Harry set to filling the lower display racks with biscuits—the perfect height for his littlest customers to pick out all their favourites—and decorating the cakes that would fill the top shelves. This was where magic came in.
Magic, and Molly Weasley.
After leaving Auror training after the first year, Harry had drifted aimlessly. It was one thing, he'd discovered, to decide what you did not want, but it was quite another to decide what you did. It had been in Molly Weasley's kitchen, with the woman who was the closest thing to a mother he had ever known at his side, that Harry had decided what he wanted, and she had supported him all the way.
There were days that Harry still couldn't believe it, but the child who had been a virtual kitchen slave to his so-called family and had hated every second of it, had grown into a man who found happiness in his own kitchen.
The difference, of course, was that it was just that, his kitchen, and he could make things he liked for people he liked.
With a few handy but tricky spells, Harry created truly beautiful cakes that tasted as good as they looked. It was all in the angle of the wand, Molly had explained. "You can't just swish and flick any old way," she'd demonstrated. "You have to hold your wand and aim your spell just so." It was delicate work, precise work, and it took a steady hand. "It takes patience," she'd soothed after many, many lopsided cakes. And she had been patient with him, showing him over and over the exact wand movements, teaching him the correct intonation of the spells.
Many of his first attempts had been dismal at best. His best friend, Ron, had said that if he didn't get it right soon, none of them would fit through the doorway for eating all of his mistakes.
But in the end, Harry had mastered the spells perfectly, and his cakes had very quickly earned him quite the reputation around town, allowing him to build a lucrative secondary business of supplying a number of local restaurants and pubs with his treats as well as occasionally catering desserts for private parties.
Once the bread was on cooling racks, Harry's work was done until he opened in an hour, and he cut himself a few thick slices of gâche, slathered them with Guernsey butter, grabbed a few chocolate biscuits—his favourite—poured himself a fresh cup of coffee, chose a book and settled down into one of the tables near the windows offering the best view.
Those closest to Harry didn't know which surprised them more, his choice of career or the love he'd developed for reading. That too had come about after he'd left Auror training. Just like with baking, the difference was in doing something because you wanted to versus because you were made to.
As he enjoyed his breakfast and his book, Harry wondered about the author, Simon Wrentmore. Harry had read all of his books more than once. Wrentmore was one of the authors who'd opened the door for Harry with regards to reading; he'd read the first of Wrentmore's books here on Guernsey, where he'd come on holiday. Harry could relate to the stories the man wrote, to the characters he created.
As well-known as his books were, Wrentmore himself was a mystery. The name was a pseudonym; everyone knew that. There was a great debate as to whether the man was a wizard or a Muggle with knowledge of the Wizarding world—he wrote of both worlds accurately, and his books were read by wizards and Muggles alike—or for that matter, whether he was actually a woman writing under a male pseudonym. Either Muggle-born, the Muggle spouse of a witch or wizard, or a squib living in the Muggle world was what most people believed, but it was Harry's personal belief that he (or she) was a pure-blood. When Simon Wrentmore wrote of the Muggle world, his words conveyed a sense of awe that Harry personally remembered feeling when introduced to the magical world.
Another common belief was that Wrentmore was a Frenchman living in England. His main character always had a French surname, but the character himself or herself was never French.
Whoever Simon Wrentmore was, one thing was certain. He hadn't released a new book in two years. His first book had come out three years after the war, though he'd had a number of short stories and then a novelette published as a serial, chapter by chapter, in The Quibblerbefore that. Thus, once his first novel had been published, he'd already had a solid fan base built from his exposure in The Quibbler, and the book had sold very well. After that, a new book had been published each year, each selling better than the last. But last year had brought no new book. The months had passed one by one until the new year came, but there was still no new book nor word from the author or his agent as to when there might be.
Wrentmore's agent was actually Harry's good friend Luna Lovegood, whose father was the editor of The Quibbler. No one knew how she had found him or how he had found her. Luna hadn't followed her father into the publishing business; she'd become a wizarding naturalist and had already discovered and documented a number of previously unknown magical species, though not the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, much to her father's disappointment. Wrentmore appeared to be something of a special interest of hers, her one foray into publishing, and she guarded his true identity faithfully. Speaking through a representative of the publishing house, Luna continually assured his (or her) readers the man (or woman) had not set his pen (or quill) down for good but had given no explanation for the delay.
Early one morning a week after his arrival on the island, Draco was seated with his spelled parchment and quill in a secluded spot he'd found in the extensive gardens of Mille Fleurs. There was a comfortable park bench overlooking a grassy area and a small pond, its surface covered with water lily pads and broken by various aquatic plants, beyond which was a cluster of tall yellow lilies. It had become a favourite spot of his.
He'd been sitting there unproductively for over an hour when his hostess, the proprietress, approached carrying garden shears and a wicker basket containing several colourful cut flowers. Upon seeing him, she called out,
"Oh, hullo, my dear. I'd no idea anyone was here. What has you sitting here all alone and so quietly?" Winking at him, she asked, "Waiting on a special someone, perhaps?"
Unless the special someone she was referring to was the protagonist of his next novel, the answer was no.
"Just taking a quiet breather, then? Well, in that case, I'll not disturb you."
Not wanting to appear rude, Draco hastened to reassure her. It wasn't like he was accomplishing anything anyway. "Not at all, I assure you."
She shifted the wicker basket on her hip. "Well, then. Is this your first trip to Guernsey? How are you enjoying our little island so far?"
"I'm afraid I've not had the opportunity to see much of it yet."
"Well, there's certainly no hurry. You're here a good long time. Be practically a local by the end of the summer, I reckon. Where have you been so far?"
"Just the beach, really."
"Oh, one of those, what the Americans call beach bums? Well, we've certainly got some lovely beaches on Guernsey, if I do say so myself. Been to St. Peter Port yet?"
"No, not yet."
"Well, that's a must see, without a doubt. Beautiful town, that, and loads of young people always about. Delightful little shops and restaurants, and they've got guided walking tours, they do."
Well, Draco thought to himself, sitting around here is accomplishing nothing. Might as well go try one of those walking tours. Maybe I'll see something that will click. Often, an idea for a new story would start from something as simple as a passerby catching his eye and starting his mind to wandering and wondering. Where was that person headed? What was that person up to? What was he or she thinking? Feeling? And just like that, a new character was born and a story began to weave itself around him or her. The person he'd originally passed by in the street or caught a glimpse of in a shop or stood behind in a queue was soon completely forgotten as the image in his mind developed into someone with their own characteristics, in both personality and appearance. Someone who, until two years ago, Draco had always been able to see in his mind as clearly as he could see his own reflection in a mirror.
But those ideas had simply stopped coming, and nothing he did seemed to bring them back. Draco was, in a word, terrified. He had already lost everything else because of his family's actions during the war. Writing was all he had left. It was something he enjoyed and something he was good at, something that brought enjoyment to his readers. It was something neither Voldemort nor the ministry had been able to strip away from him. It was something that was solely his; not even his parents had known about the stories he'd always created in his head. He'd not started writing them down on parchment until after their deaths. Through their portraits, they supported him and told him they were proud of him—the one thing he had always wanted most—but during their lifetimes, they'd had no idea. And now having to face the possibility that he may have lost the one thing that was truly and uniquely his terrified him.
The bus transportation on Guernsey was very good, and in no time at all Draco found himself in the island's capitol wandering around and browsing through various shops. Still no ideas came to him.
On the bus, he'd tried to observe his fellow riders. Seated opposite him and two rows forward, there had been a young couple he believed he'd seen on the beach the day after his arrival. The girl was quite pretty, but it was the young man who drew his attention, and Draco had felt a moment of hope. He'd tried to imagine where a man on a bus might be going, what he might be thinking, but instead of weaving some story around the figure, all Draco's mind had come up with was that the man was going to the same place he himself was going and was probably thinking of the girl beside him and hoping he'd get laid tonight. Not a very interesting plot line.
Just as his hostess had promised, St. Peter Port was a vibrant, eclectic town of cobbled streets lined with small shops and cafés. Draco passed shops selling everything from clothing, jewellery, artwork and perfume, to Muggle gadgets that even with all the time he'd come to spend in their world, Draco still had no idea what they did, though he knew Muggles loved them. There were plenty of bistros and charming-looking little restaurants with their tables lining the streets, but at this time of the afternoon—past the lunch hour but too early for tea—those tables were mostly empty.
Draco sighed. All around him people were going on about their business as oblivious to him as though he was walking around under a Notice Me Not rather than the Recognise Me Not spell he cast upon himself every morning. Not that he expected to run into any wizards, but he couldn't be too careful, and Recognise Me Not was, in his opinion, much better than a glamour charm. Draco wanted to recognise himself in a mirror; he just didn't want anyone else to recognise him in the street. Recognise Me Not gave him exactly that. Anyone who saw him, saw him—his face, his hair, his build—but unless they were aware he was under a Recognise Me Not spell, they simply didn't recognise him. The only one who did know he used that spell was his agent and only friend, Luna Lovegood.
Turning off of the High Street, Draco followed a narrow cobbled alley winding uphill. It was quieter here; there were far fewer people walking about. It was a residential area, but this close to the bustling High Street, there were still a number of small shops and cafés scattered around.
He continued to follow the alley as it meandered its way up hill, passing a few people here and there—families with prams or with older children, couples walking hand-in-hand.
In front of a building a short distance away, a group of four young women of probably around twenty stood talking, and Draco noticed that where the families and couples passed by with just a polite nod of the head or a casual greeting, the four young women watched him as he approached, whispering to each other and grinning. Draco knew that while he was not what he considered handsome, he could turn women's heads with his unusually fair colouring and well-bred carriage. He nodded hello to them as he passed. They smiled coyly, two waved, two said "hullo," but Draco did not stop. Under other circumstances, he would have, but Draco was too preoccupied with his inability to come up with an idea for a new book after all this time to give much thought to anything else anymore.
A short distance further up the street, he passed a small café that caught his eye, the Holly and Feather. Like down on the High Street, there was a scattering of tables outside to take advantage of Guernsey's mild climate. Only one of those tables was occupied; at it, a man sat alone with a cup of tea, an empty plate, and a book, his feet propped up on the chair opposite. He never looked up as Draco neared.
It was early still for tea, but Draco decided he might as well stop as not, and he silently observed the man closer as he turned and entered the café. He was a good looking man with coal black hair and fair skin; he appeared slightly thinner and shorter than average, but what Draco could see of the man's arms were nicely toned, and his shoulders were broad. Seekers build, Draco's mind supplied.
The door was covered a with large poster with the words "Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes" emblazoned across it in large gold letters; above the words was the image of a cupcake, the icing replaced with a crown.
There was no one inside that Draco could see, and he was just about to either turn and leave or call out when a voice behind him said, "Bienvnus." He stepped aside, allowing the man from outside to step around him.
"Sorry 'bout that, wasn't paying attention. We're usually pretty slow about this time. What can I get you?"
Now that he was inside, Draco could see that what he had initially taken for a café was actually a bakery. The poster on the door should have been a clue, he realised. In addition to a wide variety of sweets, Draco noticed a number of specialty coffees along with several kinds of tea listed on a large chalkboard mounted on the wall behind the counter. As he stepped up to the counter and looked over all the sweets available, his mouth watered. Draco had had a sweet tooth all his life, and it was the one thing that had continued to thrive under his writer's block.
Perhaps, he thought to himself, it was his sweet tooth—drawn by all the sugary goodies—that had led him to the place.
It was then that the man placed the book he'd been reading outside on the counter, and Draco saw that it was one of his own—his las . . . most recent, actually. He did not like to think of it as his last; it felt like admitting defeat, and Draco was not ready to put down his quill.
For the obvious reason, Draco had never had any personal interaction with his readers. He wrote under a pseudonym for a reason, after all. His contact with his readers was limited strictly to letters. Direct interaction with wizards was out of the question; not even under the strongest Recognise Me Not spell he could cast would he risk it. Even with his Muggle readers, it was just too risky. Wizards knew perfectly well his books were available in the Muggle world as well and could easily attend any book signing or reading he had scheduled there.
But now he had the chance he had never had before to actually talk one-on-one to someone who had read his books, and the prospect excited him.
If only he could think of some way to start a conversation, though. With women, it was easier. He knew what they wanted; they knew what he wanted, and conversation wasn't it. Chatting up a woman in a Muggle pub for a one off was easy, but his books were like his children and discussing one with someone who for all he knew wasn't very keen on it, gave him a case of butterflies in his stomach that felt more like a herd of dragons.
As he considered which of the variety of sweets he wanted to try, Draco ordered tea and tried to think of a conversation starter that didn't sound like a pickup line.
The man behind the counter put the kettle on and asked, "Anything to go with that?"
Draco answered, "I think one of everything."
"You're my kind of customer, mate." As the man behind the counter laughed, Draco noticed the way the corners of his green eyes crinkled.
Selecting buttered cinnamon toast and letting his sweet tooth have full rein—he did want to get on the man's good side after all—Draco ordered several goodies, including large, divine-looking deep red strawberries cut in quarters and filled with cream.
From behind the counter, Harry watched his customer as the man took his time looking over everything in the display case before finally ordering enough to host a small party. He was a good looking bloke, alright. Long, white-blonde hair tied back at the nape of his neck and equally fair skin, tall, and although slim, the fitted shirt he wore hinted at the toned shoulders and chest beneath it. Very nice, Harry thought to himself; he always had liked long hair. No ring and no girl beside him.
But Harry also noticed the man appeared anxious, uneasy about something. A number of times his eyes glanced up at Harry before straying away to settle on the counter in front of him or back to the sweets inside it. But soon enough, those silvery grey eyes returned to Harry every time.
Of course he's uneasy, you dolt. He's probably straight as a wand, and you couldn't be eyeing him up any more blatantly.
Harry had never seen this man in his bakery before, and had it not been for the fact that he was alone, he'd have assumed the man was on holiday. Had a row with his girlfriend? That would explain the party platter of sweets. Probably stop at the florist's shop next.
"Girl troubles?" Harry asked.
"What? Oh, no. No. . . . No."
Treats for the girlfriend, then. Probably still stop at the florist's. He looks like the type who would think to bring flowers "On holiday?"
"I'm supposed to be working."
Harry gestured to the tray of sweets he held in his hand. "Treating the whole office? Want these boxed up?"
"I work from home. And no, I'll eat here."
"Mate, you have got a wicked sweet tooth. I really hope you live nearby. I could use a new customer as good as you."
"I'm. . . ah. . . not staying in town. Say, is that any book good?"
After an initial hesitation, the words were spoken in a nervous rush completely out of place for such a random question. Harry was intrigued. He wasn't by nature a nosy person; he valued his privacy, and he allowed others theirs. But something about this man struck a chord in him. He wasn't just nervous; he was downright scared.
"Er, yeah. Yeah, it is. Very good actually. I've got all his books. I think he's brilliant."
Before speaking, a look passed over the man's face that could truly be described as radiant. "Really? Brilliant? You think he's brilliant?"
A smile covered the man's face that made Harry's breath catch in his throat. "Er. . . yeah. I. . . . A friend turned me on to him."
"Someone recommended his books to you?"
"What do you like best about his books? His characters? Plot development? Locations?"
"Er, I dunno, really. I just. . . . I've never thought about it. I reckon all that."
Harry wanted to laugh but didn't. Although he was amused, he tried not to let it show because after the initial smile had lit up his whole face, his customer had turned very serious. Whoever this man was, he was so earnest in his questions you would think his world rested on Harry's answers, like Harry was some kind of make-or-break-careers book critic instead of a simple shopkeeper. "All of what you just said. Go on, have a seat. I'll bring your tea right around."
Once the tea had steeped, Harry poured out a cup and set the pot on a dark wood tray along with two plates covered with his customer's selections. He allowed himself to watch the man as he chose a table; everything about him demonstrated nervous excitement, and once he was seated, he began to fidget, his eyes continually returning to the book Harry had been reading when he'd arrived.
Harry had become something of a student of human nature over the years, and one of his favourite parts of his job was his ability to interact with so many different people. This man interested him. There was a puzzle there that Harry wanted to solve.
Not to mention how fine his arse looked in those trousers.
As Harry took the tray around to his customer, he asked conversationally, "Are you big reader?"
"I read quite a lot, yes."
"Ever read any of Simon Wrentmore's books yourself?
There was a moment's pause before the man answered. "I'm familiar with his work."
"Well, then you know how good he is."
"You really think he's good?" Hope filled the man's eyes.
"Well, yeah. Don't you?"
After another slight pause the man said, "I don't know that I'm the right person to ask."
"Well why not? Your opinion's as valid as mine, surely." Harry liked this man. Given the chance, he could really like this man, he thought. When most people asked someone's opinion, it was just cursory. But this man was really interested in what he thought. Harry introduced himself, giving the name he had assumed when he'd decided to leave the Wizarding world behind. "I'm Evan, by the way. Evan Jameson."
Wiping his mouth on a serviette, the man swallowed and introduced himself as well. "Luke Black."
"So, Luke, what line of work are you supposed to be doing?"
"I'm supposed to be writing." Luke's voice dropped to barely a whisper, and his handsome face fell.
"Oh?" Harry felt a moment of panic that he suspected would never fully go away. "Are you a reporter?"
"No, I'm an author. . . or I'm supposed to be anyway."
"Oh." Harry exhaled with relief. An aspiring fiction author, that explained the questions about what he liked about Simon Wrentmore's books, then. "You said 'supposed to be.' Don't you want to be?"
"More than anything."
Those three words were spoken with more raw emotion, filled with more longing than Harry had heard in anyone's voice in long time. Luke's entire world was tied up in his career, clearly. While Harry certainly enjoyed his work, he didn't feel nearly as strongly about it as Luke apparently felt about his.
It was refreshing to Harry, in a way, to see someone embarking on a career they genuinely wanted to be doing, as most of his customers griped about their jobs, if they mentioned them at all. But while it was undoubtedly a good thing to enjoy one's work, the expression "All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy," rang in Harry's ears. In speaking those three short words, Luke's voice had held a desperation that made Harry think that not much else mattered to him besides becoming a writer. As much as Harry enjoyed his bakery and loved his life on the island, if one of his friends back home needed him, he'd close up shop and be gone in the swish of a wand.
The longer they spoke, the more Harry felt drawn to this man. He was more attracted to Luke than he had been to anyone in a while.
Which might not be a good thing, as Harry had no idea whether the man was straight or gay.
Luke continued, his voice filled with frustration, "But I can't think of a single thing. There's just nothing there." He paused, rubbing his eyes roughly. "There used to be all these ideas in my head. I'd just start thinking, and my mind would run wild with what ifs. What if a person did this or went there or tried that? What if someone got in their way and tried to stop them? What would they do about it? How far would they go to get what they wanted? What if what they wanted something dangerous? What if the person trying to stop them was actually trying to help them?
"Or what if two people met and fell in love? Would their families approve? What if they didn't? What would the two do about it? Would they give each other up? Would they try to make a go of it anyway and risk losing their family for the other person? What if one of them wanted to give up and the other wanted to fight to make it work? Or what if there was a third person trying to split them up because they wanted one of them for him or herself. Or what if one of them cheated? What would the other do? Or what if only one of them was in love; the person they loved didn't feel the same? Or what if that person used them for sex and then dumped them? What would he or she do? Try to win the person back? Move on? Would they want to make the person they'd once loved pay for using them?"
"Those ideas all sound pretty good to me."
"And they've all been written and rewritten hundreds of times!" Luke dropped his head into his hands. "I'm sorry. That sounded rude. I didn't mean it to. It's just so maddening! I haven't been able to write a word in over two years. I just sit there and stare at the blank par . . . er, paper.
"Before, whenever I read a book written by someone else, I'd be constantly saying to myself, 'No, I'd have done this'or 'I'd have done that' or 'That sentence should've been written this way' or 'I'd not have used that word.' Now, all I think when I'm reading someone else's work is, 'That's a good idea. I wish I'd come up with it.'"
Luke sighed. "Oh, hell. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump all that on you. My agent suggested a change of scenery might get me sorted out and hired a place here for me for the summer. Fat lot of good it's done so far."
"I don't mind, really. A lot of people tell me stuff. I'm part baker, part therapist. I reckon it's the sweets that do it more than my stellar advice." Harry managed to put a smile back on Luke's face, and he was glad.
"Well, I can vouch for you skills as a baker. These are wonderful."
The door was thrown open, and in rushed a man dressed literally from head to foot in designer clothes—from his designer shoes to his designer sunglasses. Draco thought he looked like a walking advert. His blonde hair was styled in a dishevelled way that was meant to appear as if he had just run his hands through it and not thought twice about it but had likely taken a good chunk of time in front of a mirror. His eyes were bright blue. His jaw was chiselled, and there was a slight cleft in his chin. He could've easily just stepped out of the pictures of a Muggle men's fashion magazine.
"Evan! Thank goodness! You've no idea of my day! You've got it, right? It's finished? Is it magnificent? It's magnificent, right? Please, tell me it's ready!"
Draco was disappointed. Whoever this man was—likely the owner, Draco thought, by the way he'd charged in as if he was being chased by dementors—he passed Draco without noticing he was there, and went straight to Evan, stealing away the attention that had been only his up until now. It had been so nice to have those green eyes focused solely on him that Draco had shared his frustrations with Evan, someone he'd only just met, without a second thought. He couldn't even do that with Luna.
Evan shook his head at the newcomer and smiled in an indulgent manner. "Of course, it's ready. Even if it is almost an hour earlier than you said you'd be here."
"An hour! Really, Evan, it's nearly four."
Evan glanced at his watch. "It's just past three."
"Three, four, whatever. Can I see it?"
"Yeah, yeah. Hang on." Draco's mood had sunk at the loss of Evan's attention, and he was just about to leave quietly when Evan said, "Excuse me a moment, Luke. Won't be a sec."
When Evan addressed him, the newcomer turned to him and, slowly pulling off very expensive sunglasses, ran his eyes over Draco appraisingly. "Why, hullo there. I don't believe I've seen you around before."
"Rhys!" Evan hissed.
The newcomer, who Draco now knew to be named Rhys, turned his head ever so slightly towards Evan, but his eyes never left Draco.
"Where have you been keeping him, Evan? He looks as delicious as—"
Evan cut him off with three clipped words. "Rhys. Kitchen. Now." The green eyes that had been so soft when speaking to Draco had hardened.
Unfazed, Rhys drawled, "Oh, alright, alright," and followed Evan into the kitchen.
Although unable to understand what was being said—and he was unashamedly trying, even after all these years, Draco was nothing if not Slytherin—he could hear Evan's voice in harsh whispers interrupted periodically by Rhys' chortling.
Obviously amused, Rhys left the kitchen a moment later carrying a large white cake box with the name of the bakery emblazoned on it in red letters. A satisfied smirk on his face, he winked at Draco as he left.
Evan rejoined him a moment later, embarrassed and apologetic. His cheeks weren't quite the same red as the lettering on the cake box, but they weren't far off.
Before Evan could attempt to apologise for the other man's comments, Draco picked the last strawberry up from his plate and looked at it. While still whole, it was cut into sections which had been pushed slightly apart and a cream filling had been piped in.
"How do you do this, anyway?"
He could see Evan relax before he answered, "Magic."
Had Draco had anything in his mouth, he'd have choked on it.
Evan laughed. "It's really not nearly as hard as it looks. You just have to be careful to cut far enough down but not too far. Not nearly as hard as writing a book, I'm sure."
Draco sighed. A few years ago he'd have disagreed.
"Shit, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Evan seemed hesitant, and Draco was surprised how sorry he was that the ease with which they'd fallen into conversation had been lost.
Before he could think of anything to say to ease the other man back into conversation, the door opened again, and the four girls he'd passed in the street came in talking and laughing.
Almost in unison, all four said, "Hi, Evan," before one of them noticed him and nudged her friends. They grinned as they looked between Evan and himself.
There was no use, Draco was forced to realise. The few moments they'd had alone to talk were gone, and he was sorry for it. He'd lost his chance to talk to someone who'd read and enjoyed his books.
Pushing his plate away, he said that he thought his eyes had been bigger than his stomach.
Evan seemed as disappointed as Draco was as he said that he'd get a box.
As Draco put the last of his sweets in the box and closed it, he looked at the name scrolled across it—the Holly and Feather. Without thinking, he commented, "Odd name for a bakery. One would think it was a pub."
Light filled those green eyes, and something stirred inside Draco.
"Yeah. I get that a lot."
For the first time in two years, Draco could feel the author buried somewhere inside him poking him, and he had to ask, "Is there a story behind it?"
Evan smiled, his eyebrow arched. "If only you knew."