Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves
and how little we think of the other person. - Mark Twain

Harry woke with a pounding headache. The pain in his temple pulsed in time with the rap of an owl's beak against his window. Burying his head under the covers didn't muffle the sound, nor did chucking his pillow in its general direction. The tapping grew louder and more insistent, each sharp rap cutting a searing-hot slice through Harry's brain. Harry fumbled for his wand on the nightstand, knocking his glasses and a half-empty cup of water onto the floor in the process. He swore and cast a quick Tempus charm as he struggled to sit up. It was only half-seven. What kind of sadist would owl this early?

Last night's discarded clothing provided a challenging obstacle course as Harry stumbled out of bed and towards the window. One of his trainers got caught underfoot, and he lost his balance. Catching himself, he braced his arms against the wall next to the window and pressed his face against the cool plaster while he waited for the dizziness and waves of nausea to pass.

One glance at the familiar tawny owl and Harry immediately knew with which particular sadist he was dealing. With a groan, he opened the window and allowed the bird to hop inside. The owl allowed Harry to untie the parchment from around its leg and happily accepted a treat from the bowl Harry kept on the window ledge. Harry blinked at the fuzzy lines of writing. Without his glasses, he was unable to tell if it was actual text or just haphazard squiggles on the parchment. He shuffled back to the side of his bed and bent down to retrieve his fallen glasses, his muscles protesting each movement. He pushed the wire frames onto his face and sat heavily on the edge of his bed.

It took a moment for his sleep-bleary eyes to focus on the swirling script of the letter.

Potter -

Get your lazy arse out of bed an into my office ASAP.
I have good news.

PP

Harry crumpled the parchment in his hands and tossed it at the wastepaper bin next to his desk on the other side of the room. The ball of paper bounced off the rim and landed on the floor. He sank back into bed with a groan; he'd pick it up later. It was much too early in the morning to deal with that woman, and besides, he had a hangover to sleep off.

The headache had subsided slightly by the time Harry woke again, but the tapping at his window had returned. He was steadier on his feet this time as he stood and crossed to the window, but his mouth was dry and sticky and tasted like stale lager and cigarette smoke. He collected the new letter and fed the owl another treat it sat on the windowsill and waited for Harry's reply with large, unblinking eyes.

Potter -

You have thirty minutes to get here, you pathetic drunk, or I'm sending a howler.

PP

The owl hooted and ruffled its feathers, just as impatient as its owner.

"Just hang on a minute," Harry said irritably, not caring that the owl couldn't reply. Neither could it understand the pure misery that was the morning after a night of drinking with Ron Weasley.

Harry rummaged through the drawers of his writing desk until he found a scrap of unused parchment and a quill. He scratched out a quick reply and tied it to the owl's leg. The owl nipped at his finger and gave another hoot before unfolding its broad wings and hopping out of the window. Harry watched the owl disappear into the sky for a moment, then turned and began a slow march towards his en suite. He hoped he still had some hangover potions in the medicine cabinet.

After the potion, a quick shower, and a morning wank, Harry felt immensely better. He found a clean pair of pants and the denims on the floor smelled clean enough. His bright orange Chudley Cannons shirt was halfway on before he thought the better of it. It would be asking for mockery if he showed up at his publicist's office wearing that. Swapping the comfortable shirt for a tighter fitting black button up, he pulled a lightweight blue jumper on top. The robes he'd left draped over the back of his chair the night before completed his makeshift outfit. Turning to the mirror attached to his wardrobe door, he attempted to pat down his hair a few times, but gave up with a resigned sigh.

"Passable," the mirror sniffed. Harry flipped the judgmental piece of glass a rude gesture.

Not wanting to be any later than he was already, Harry hurried downstairs. He grabbed a handful of Floo powder from the bowl on the mantle above his living room fireplace and threw it into the empty hearth. Stepping into the cool green flames, he called out his destination and was spirited away.

Harry landed in the lobby of Parkinson & Smith, the premier publicity firm in Wizarding Britain. The lobby was large - no doubt the entire office was augmented by Wizarding Space - with high white walls, which were sparsely adorned with large works of minimalist art. The floor-to-ceiling windows allowed light to pour into the massive space and gave the witches and wizards inside a view of the Muggle pedestrians who walked passed on the street outside. The Muggles never bothered to look into what appeared to them to be an abandoned hair salon.

Before he'd even had time to brush the dust from his robes, a harassed looking young witch was at his side, slipping her arm through his and tugging him past the reception area. She wore a smart set of violet robes, cut shorter than traditional, so that they fell right below her knees. On her feet were pointy black boots that reminded Harry of the shoes witches wore in the Muggle films he'd seen as a child. Apparently, that was the point. Young purebloods were embracing Muggle interpretations of Wizarding fashion in an attempt to be ironic. Whether or not Harry understood the trend, he recognized it as the cutting edge of Wizarding fashion and felt slightly underdressed in his plain blue jumper. Each visit to this office reminded him of just how out of step he felt with the Wizarding culture sometimes.

The witch at his side clucked her tongue and increased her pace.

"A good morning to you too, Gemma," Harry said as he allowed himself to be pulled across the lobby and into the corridor that led to the private offices. He was sure she would frogmarch him down the hall if she was allowed.

"Morning?" she asked, pushing a stray lock of curly blonde hair off her face as they turned the corner. Her heels clipped loudly on the tile floor. "It's past noon, Mr. Potter. Ms. Parkinson has been waiting for you for hours. She's already started lunch!"

Oh no, Harry thought, that could be a very bad thing. Pansy Parkinson was a high strung witch who subsisted on a thousand calories a day and drank her lunch from a martini glass. She was difficult enough to deal with sober and if in a bad mood, her notoriously quick temper would shorten with each drink.

Although, when in a pleasant mood she could be a rather charming drunk. Harry wouldn't have believed it himself if he hadn't run into her at The Leaky the winter before. Pansy had been there with Oliver Wood, hanging off his toned bicep like a couture Christmas ornament. She had smiled tightly at Harry at first, not wanting to be rude to a friend of Oliver's, but making it clear she had little desire for a reunion. But as the night wore on and the drinks continued to flow, the forced civility between them gave way to the genuine enjoyment of each other's company.

Harry quickly learned that Pansy Parkinson liked to be the center of attention and would say the most shocking things to ensure that she was. For his part, Harry was easily scandalized. He had never considered himself to be sheltered or naÏ ve, but some of the things Pansy said made his jaw drop. He'd never met anyone so casually vulgar, so brazenly obscene. He couldn't tell when she was joking and when she wasn't, and she never attempted to clarify. Harry enjoyed being shocked at her rude sense of humor, and imagined that she liked anyone who was willing to be her captive audience.

Pansy's relationship with Wood hadn't lasted into the New Year, but her friendly acquaintance with Harry had. When they ran into each other at the pub, they would have a drink and catch up. Pansy would tell him in bored tones about all the money she'd made and the men she'd bedded since they last saw each other, and Harry would laugh at the absurdity of it all.

In April, the novel Harry had spent the past three years working on was finally published, and he hadn't thought twice before hiring Pansy. Parkinson & Smith was the best publicity firm in Britain and, judging by her ever expanding shoe collection, she did seem to make a obscene amount of money. Although, if he had known she'd send him owls at seven in the morning, he might have asked to work with Zacharias Smith instead.

Well no, that wouldn't have been a good idea either. But for different reasons.

"Maybe she'll have passed out by now?" Harry asked with hope.

Gemma shot Harry a stern look, but the edges of her lips betrayed a poorly contained smile.

Harry grinned. He liked Gemma. Pansy's other assistants always stammered and blushed and tripped over themselves in order to please him, but Gemma had barely batted an eyelash the first time they'd met. She'd just offered to take his traveling cloak and asked how he took his tea.

They stopped short when they arrived at the door marked P. Parkinson.

"Tell me, Gemma, should I be scared? Am I going to get my bollocks hexed off when I go in there?"

"I take it you haven't seen this morning's Prophet?"

"No? Should I have? I was a bit too worried about my bollocks to take the time," he admitted with a laugh.

"In that case, you'd better get in there." She grabbed his wrist and gave it a light squeeze. Harry was surprised, the familiar gesture was so out of character for Gemma, who oozed professionalism from her pores. Her lips were pursed, as if she were trying very hard not to tell a secret. After a beat, she smiled and said, "Congratulations, Mr. Potter."

Before Harry could ask what she meant, Gemma turned and was halfway down the hall, her short robes swaying in time with her long stride. Harry watched her go and wondered what that was about. Parkinson would know. He shook off his confusion and squared his shoulders for battle. He knocked on the door - three swift knocks - before pushing it open and striding inside, trying to project the air of authority he'd learned during his six wasted months of Auror training.

He expected Parkinson to be scowling at him from behind a tumbler of Firewhisky. Instead, she smiled and raised a half-empty champagne flute in greeting. She kept her straight black hair in a sharp-angled bob and wore heavy black eyeliner that winged out from the corner of her eyes. Harry had often wondered if she charmed her cherry red lipstick in place, because no matter how many cocktails he'd watch her put away, she never left a smudge on her glass. Her look was rather intimidating, but Harry figured that was the point.

Harry could feel her sharp gaze follow him as he crossed the room. He ignored the two small chairs that sat directly in front of her desk and settled himself on a narrow, black settee that was pushed against the wall. Her office was decorated much like the lobby, but neither room could be considered spartan. The furniture was modern, with clean lines and sharp-edges. Her owl snoozed in an unlocked cage by the open window.

"I wanted to be the one to tell you," Pansy began, "but I'm sure you've seen the paper by now. I thought some celebratory champagne was in order." She levitated a flute to him, which he accepted with a nod.

"Gemma said the same thing, but I didn't have a chance to read The Prophet this morning. What are we celebrating exactly?"

Pansy's eyes widened for a moment. "You really don't know then? Oh Potter, you're going to shit." She pulled that morning's Daily Prophet from her desk drawer and hurried to the couch. When Harry took the paper from her, Pansy stood back and waited for his reaction.

Harry scanned the front of the paper; it was the Arts & Entertainment section. A picture of Celestina Warbeck took up the majority of the page. She was stumbling down an empty street with a lit cigarette in her mouth and one shoe missing.

"We're celebrating the fact that Celestina Warbeck is on another bender?" Harry asked, looking up.

Pansy scowled and snatched the paper out of his hands. "Not that, you idiot." She thumbed through a few of the pages until she found what she was looking for and thrust the newspaper back at him. Her red polished nail pointed to a small article in the corner, buried between advertisements for a new line of self-inking quills and a hair growth potion. "Read that."

Nominees for the Coveted Aggripa Award Announced
by Perpetua Pepperworth

At a press conference in London last night, the selection committee for the Cornelius Aggripa Award for Excellence in Wizarding Literature released it's shortlist of nominees. The Aggripa Award, considered to be the most prestigious literary honor in the English-speaking world, is given annually to one witch or wizard who has produced an outstanding contribution to the field of wizarding literature within the previous year. This year's nominees include many familiar names, such as Albertina Riphart, Dirk Danglewood, and Lavinia Sparrow. The biggest surprise to come from last night's announcement was the inclusion of newcomer James Evans, whose promising debut novel, "Cries from the Garret," has received an enthusiastic reception from the literary establishment.

Evans is a notoriously reclusive young writer who has yet to grant an interview to any Wizarding publication, despite his meteoric rise to fame. He is believed to reside in London, although rumors indicate he may also maintain a residence near Hogsmeade. Perhaps the honor of this nomination will bring Evans out of seclusion. If he is selected to win, he will be the first author to do so with a debut novel. A full list of nominees and reviews of their respective works will be published in a special feature in this weekend's The Daily Prophet Magazine.

Harry read the article again, and then once more. His mind stuck on one sentence: The biggest surprise to come from last night's announcement was the inclusion of newcomer James Evans, whose promising debut novel, "Cries form the Garret," has received a glowing reception for the literary establishment.

Harry blinked and looked up. Pansy was studying him with shrewd eyes, but Harry didn't know what to say. It was as if his thoughts were a scratched record, stuck on an infinite loop of "James Evans...debut novel...nomination."

He let out a shaky breath. "Wow." Which was obviously the wrong reaction.

"Wow? Wow! Is that really all you have to say?" Pansy asked, snatching the paper out of his hands. "You've been nominated for the Cornelius fucking Aggripa Award and all you have to say is 'Wow!'?"

"Well, I don't - I mean, I never expected. It's a bit of shock."

"It's a bit of a shock," Pansy mimicked. She snorted and plopped down next to him on the sofa. "But really, Potter, I shouldn't have to tell you what an honor this is. You should be very proud, and way more excited than 'wow.'"

"I am excited, really. I just - I can't believe it." He gave a bewildered laugh and took a sip of his champagne. "I know the reviews have been positive, but an Aggripa? And to be nominated alongside someone like Lavinia Sparrow - did you read The Bewitching Hour?It was brilliant." Harry looked down and read the article once more, just to make sure it was real. "How did you manage this?"

Pansy summoned the bottle of champagne from her desk and topped off their drinks. She set the bottle on the coffee table in front of them and smiled. "As much as I'd like to take credit, I had nothing to do with this. Believe it or not, you actually earned this one." She nudged Harry's shoulder with her own. "Your novel is brilliant too, you know."

Harry shook his head in disbelief. His novel was good, he knew. Given how long and hard he'd worked on it, it bloody well better have been, but he was a first time novelist, inexperienced and far too green to be competing against the likes of Sparrow and Danglewood. He looked at the paper in his hand again, half expecting it to burst into flames at any moment.

Pansy leaned back against the settee and studied Harry through narrowed eyes. "Do you want to win?"

"Of course I'd like to," Harry said, quite reasonably. "But it's not up to me, is it? Even just being nominated is such an honor; that's more than enough."

"What a positively Hufflepuffian sentiment," Pansy's lip curled, "and entirely untrue. You can win this if you want; you've just got to work for it. And I, of course, can help you."

Harry narrowed his eyes. He may have come to a grudging respect for Parkinson's efficiency in business, but he hadn't forgotten that she was a Slytherin, and Slytherins were known for playing fast and loose with the rules. "I'm not going to let you rig it - "

"Rig it?" Pansy interrupted with a laugh. "I'm flattered you think I have that much power, but no, Potter, I don't plan on rigging anything."

"Well, then how do you plan on helping me win? Doesn't the committee just decide whose work is the best and then they win?"

"Oh, you poor, na•ve little fool," Pansy tutted. Harry shot her a warning glare, which she ignored. "Maybe that's how it works in Gryffindor tower, but this is the real world, Potter. The Aggripa Award is like everything else in life: politics. The shortlist determines those who are worthy based on the quality of their work, but the actual winner is determined through a more intensive vetting process."

Harry did not like the sound of that. There was a reason he'd chosen to publish under a pseudonym and keep his real identity hidden. He didn't want people's opinion of his writing influenced by their opinions of him as a public figure. There were those who still held him up as a hero, who sang his praises and thanked him tirelessly for his role in ending the war. To those people, he could do no wrong; but to others, he could do no right. A small, but vocal, contingency felt betrayed by Harry's decision to quit the Aurors. They resented his desire to be a private citizen and insisted Harry had a civic duty to continue his wartime role as poster boy for all that was Just and Good.

Truthfully, Harry resented both groups. He didn't want to be anyone's poster boy. He'd never wanted that. All he'd ever wanted was to be normal, to be judged and treated like any other person, to have some semblance of control over his own life. He was done with prophecies and destiny. Voldemort was dead, the surviving Death Eaters were in Azkaban. He didn't want to be Harry Potter, Slayer of Voldemort and Savior of the Wizarding World; he just wanted to be Harry, just Harry. He had done his duty and now he wanted to be left alone. When he'd walked away from the Aurors, he'd walked away from that life.

It didn't take him long after leaving the Aurors to realize that he could never be "just Harry," so he decided to become James. The only people who knew about his new career as a writer were Ron, Hermione, and a handful of people at Parkinson & Smith. Not even his publishers knew that the cheques they sent to James Evans were deposited into Harry Potter's Gringotts account. Harry had carved a safe little bubble for himself in the world, where he could pursue his passions with relative anonymity. He wasn't sure he was willing to give that up, not even for an Agrippa.

As if reading his mind, Pansy sat forward and squeezed his knee. "You don't have to reveal yourself if you don't want. You can wear Glamours, and we'll invent a proper back story. People might try to dig, but the mystery will only add to your allure. This whole reclusive writer business will drive them mad. They're already chomping at the bit for a piece of you. I've had to turn down six interview requests so far this morning!"

Harry remained unconvinced. "But what if someone finds out?"

"I can't promise that no one will, but if they do, it won't be from any of my people." All of the Parkinson & Smith employees who knew his secret were under a confidentiality spell that physically prevented them from revealing his true identity, no matter how many galleons they might be offered. "Think of it, Harry, an Aggripa. Imagine what it will do for your career, your legacy. Even if someone manages to piece together who James Evans really is - and it wouldn't be very hard, considering your painfully sentimental nom de plume- no one can take that away from you."

Harry stared into his glass of pale champagne and considered it. He'd never wanted the fame and attention that had followed him his entire life; he never sought out the awards and accolades people bestowed upon him; he'd never wanted to be anyone's champion. But this wasn't like the Triwizard Tournament, was it? This wasn't an accident or fate or the overly complicated scheme of an insane Death Eater. This was something he'd earned, something he'd worked for, something that he could win by his own merit that had nothing to do with the scar on his forehead. There was a burning in his gut that told him he wanted to win this, wanted to win like nothing he'd wanted since he'd left Hogwarts and gave up Quidditch.

"Its risky, Potter. I understand if you're too scared." Pansy sat back with a challenging smirk.

Harry knew he was being manipulated, but it didn't matter. He'd already made up his mind.

"Let's do it," he said with a resolute slap on his knee. "What do I need to do to win this thing?"

Pansy's smirk morphed into a wide grin. She strode to her desk and grabbed another sheet of parchment. "This," she said as she sat back down and handed the paper to Harry, "is an invitation to the Nominee's Reception Dinner. They sent it over this morning. Essentially, you will be campaigning for the award. You've got to convince each member of the selection committee that it's in theirbest interest to select you to win."

Harry's brow furrowed as he studied the invitation. He hoped he wouldn't be expected to wear formal robes. Anything with a high collar made him itchy.

"And how do I do that?" he asked. "Is it even in their best interest?"

"Of course it is!" said Pansy in a scandalized tone. "If you don't believe it yourself, Potter, how can you convince them?"

"I believe it!" Harry said defensively. "I just don't, uh, know whyI believe it."

Pansy rolled her eyes. "You're so lucky you have me on your side, Potter. You'd be lost without me." Despite her words, Harry could hear fond amusement in her sneer. "You should play up the fact that this is your debut novel. The others will try to use it against you, so your best option is to turn the negative into a positive. Most of the other authors have been around for ages - Marina Marigold is almost 130 years old, for Merlin's sake. You're young, you've got a fresh point of view. Your debut has been a wild success; convince them they'd do well to hitch themselves to your rising star."

"All right," Harry nodded as he took in her advice.

"What we can use whatever we come up with for your back story to our advantage as well. Do you have a preference between being Muggle-born or a half-blood?"

"You don't want me to claim that I'm pureblooded?" Harry asked in surprise.

"Oh gods no," Pansy exhaled. "Not only would that be easy to disprove, being pureblood does you no favors these days." Harry ignored the slightly bitter twinge her voice took at that. "Your book is about the abuse a neglected squib suffers at the hands of his pureblooded relatives. Sell it to them as an indictment of pureblood intolerance and culture - it's a very fashionable political position at the moment, as I'm sure you're aware." Pansy paused and pursed her lips. "Use some of that Gryffindor self-righteousness of yours to bully them into voting for you."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

Pansy ignored the harsh edge to Harry's voice and continued on airily. "It means exactly what it sounds like, Potter. Don't be obvious about it, but make it clear that your work comes from a position of moral authority, and in these trying times, it would be wise for the foundation to take that into consideration. We're only a few years out of the war, the specter of...well, you-know-who, still haunts us. We don't need more novels about wizards who go on epic quests or domestic fictions that reveal the quiet strength of the modern witch; we need novels with a clear moral vision, ones that addresses the injustices of our society."

Pansy stood and hurried over to her desk, pulling out a piece of fresh parchment and a quill. "Yes, I think that's your angle exactly. We've got to make it clear, without actually saying it of course, that anyone who speaks ill of your novel is also speaking against the values that it contains. A vote against Cries from the Garrett is a tacit endorsement of Squib abuse. Do you think Granger would be willing to write an op-ed for The Prophetabout the state of Squib rights? People respect what she says on these issues."

"As they should," Harry sniffed. He was feeling slightly defensive, although he wasn't quite sure why. He agreed with what Parkinson was saying, but disliked how she was saying it. He preferred art with a moral vision, things that that confronted social injustice, over the self-indulgent fluff that so often topped the Prophet's bestsellers list. But he didn't write his novel to push an agenda, and Parkinson was making it sound as though he did. She made it sound so cynical.

Pansy put the quill down and studied at Harry, her head cocked thoughtfully. "I think you should be a half-blood," she announced.

"I am a half-blood."

"You are a half-blood, but James Evans is whatever we decide to make him. The majority of the committee are purebloods, and old ones at that. A Muggle-born critiquing their culture may be too threatening for them. Granger gets away with it because she's a war hero, but James Evans isn't. As a half-blood, you'd have access to pureblood culture and history, but also the distance to examine it critically." Pansy nodded, looking quite pleased with herself. She folded the parchment in her hands and tied it to the leg of the tawny owl that had woken Harry twice that morning. With a hoot, the owl took off.

"What did you just send out?" Harry asked.

Pansy sat back in the chair behind her desk and began to rifle though her papers. "A letter to Granger, asking if she'd write that editorial I mentioned. If we want to win this, Potter, we're going to need outside help."

Harry noticed that it was "we" and not "you." His book had gotten him this far, Pansy's strategical thinking would take him the rest of the way. It would be a boon to Pansy's career to say she represented an Agrippa winning author. He could trust her to steer him true if it was in her best interest as well.

"That brings me to one more thing I wanted to talk to you about," Pansy continued. "Although, I don't think you're going to like it very much."

"What is it?" he asked warily.

Pansy set her papers down and looked at Harry squarely. "Potter, you need etiquette lessons."

"I need what?" Harry laughed, shaking his head. "You're barking, Parkinson. I'm not taking etiquette lessons."

"If you want to win, you are." Pansy squared her jaw, spoiling for a fight. "You do want to win, don't you?"

"Yes, but - " Harry stopped laughing and matched her, squared jaw for squared jaw. "Why would I need etiquette lessons for that?"

"Because I've seen you eat!" Pansy snapped. "Potter, look at what I just handed you. An invitation to a formal dinner. Have you ever been to one before? Aggripa winners are an elite, prestigious group; they're not going to select someone who puts their elbows on the table or can't do a proper waltz."

"What does waltzing have to do with writing?"

"Absolutely nothing," Pansy said with a tired sigh. "But I already told you, this part of the process isn't about the quality of your work. It's about impressing the judges, convincing them that you won't be an embarrassment to their organization. And if James Evans has the same manners of Harry Potter, I promise you, they won't be impressed."

"That's stupid." Harry slumped in his chair. He thought back to his embarrassing attempt to dance at Yule Ball and immediately felt defeated. If winning depended on his ability to twirl stupidly in circles, he might as well not even bother.

"No, that's life." Pansy's hard stare softened. "Look, Potter, I've taken the liberty of setting up an appointment with an old friend of mine who teaches pureblood etiquette out of his townhouse in Diagon Alley. He mainly holds classes for young purebloods in preparation for their debuts, but he's worked privately with a few adult clients before: mainly Muggle-borns who've been promoted to positions of power and need to be able to integrate into pureblood society seamlessly. Please, just meet with him. Learning which fork to use is a small price to pay for the glory of an Agrippa."

Harry sighed and scrubbed his hand across his face. "Fine. Should I wear a Glamour or just go as myself?"

"I met with him this morning while waiting for you get your lazy arse down here. I've already cast the confidentiality charm on him, so you can go as yourself."

"He knows that it's me, then?"

Pansy's lips quirked. Harry could see she was trying hard to fight her smile. "No, I didn't tell him, in case you didn't agree to the lessons. I thought it would make a nice surprise."

Harry gave her a quizzical look, but Pansy didn't expand on it, so he didn't ask. "All right then, when should I meet with him?"

"He's expecting you at one o'clock, which is -" Pansy cast a Tempus charm, "- in twenty minutes. You'd better get going." She ripped off a small piece of parchment and scribbled on it quickly. "Here's the address."

Harry took the last swallow of his champagne and set the empty glass on the table. He took the scrap of paper from Pansy and glanced at it. "Can I Floo in directly?"

"Not if you don't want to get trapped in a musty old fireplace. Just Floo to the Leaky and walk from there."

"All right. Mind if I use yours?"

"Go ahead. And, feel free to send me an owl when you're done; I'm curious to know how it goes."

The happy anxiety Harry felt at learning of his nomination had quickly turned to anxious dread. Nevertheless, he had to do what he must if he wanted to win, and if that meant learning how to sip tea daintily from some middle-aged ponce, then he'd do it.

Harry nodded to himself and crossed to the hearth on the opposite wall. He grabbed a handful of powder and threw it into the fireplace. Calling out, "The Leaky Cauldron," he disappeared into the green flames.

xxx

A small grey elf with eyes the size of dinner plates stared up at Harry expectantly. "Can Dippy be helping you, sir?"

Harry reread the slip of paper in his hand. Pansy had jotted down the address, but forgotten to include the name of the man he was to meet. He stood on the front steps of narrow brick townhouse feeling utterly lost. "Is your, uh, master - I guess - at home? I think he's expecting me."

Recognition dawned on the elf's small, wrinkled face.

"Yes! Master is saying he is having a new student today." Dippy stepped back and ushered Harry into a small, tastefully decorated foyer. "Please, come in Mr...oh please be forgiving Dippy, sir! Dippy does not know Master's new student's name! Master is telling Dippy that Miss Parkinson is saying it's a secret! Can Dippy be taking Master's new student's robes?"

Harry slipped his robes from his shoulders and handed them to the eager house elf, who almost tripped over his own short legs as he hurried to hang Harry's robes on the coat rack next to door.

"Will Master's new student please to be following Dippy into the front parlor?"

"Call me Harry," Harry said as he followed Dippy out of the foyer and into the sitting room. "Please."

Harry followed the elf into the most opulent - and poncy - sitting room he'd ever seen. Unlike his own flat, all the furniture matched and looked as though it belong in a museum not a house. The ornately carved oak chairs and settee were upholstered in a heavy chartreuse brocade that matched the curtains, which were drawn back to allow in the afternoon light. Portraits of sleeping wizards, many of whom had the odd facial hair of centuries past, hung in gilded frames along the walls.

A tea cart held an silver tea service against one wall and a large curio sat against another, both of which were carved in the same heavily ornamented style of the chairs. Unable to fight his curiosity, Harry crossed the room and examined the curio's contents. There was a display case holding seven wands, neat initials printed next to each and a large collection of small crystal vials holding colorful liquids that Harry assumed were potions. On one shelf was a mantelpiece clock that reminded him of Mrs. Weasley's clock, except all of the hands were pointing to the word "dead."

A soft crashing noise caught Harry's attention and he turned to watch Dippy struggle to set the tea service on the table in front of the settee. "If Mr. Harry will be making himself comfortable, Dippy will be announcing his arrival to Master." Harry didn't think the it was possible to be comfortable on furniture with such narrow armrests, but he sat down in a chair anyway.

The elf disappeared with a soft pop and once alone, Harry regretted agreeing to this. He mentally cursed Pansy Parkinson. There had to be a way to impress the selection committee that wouldn't make him want to Avada Kedavra himself.

Less than two minutes later, Harry heard footsteps in the hall. He felt the impulse to stand and followed it. It was all for not however, because when his instructor entered the room, Harry felt his knees give out and he sank back into his chair.

"Potter?" a familiar voice sneered. "I'm going to murder Pansy, absolutely eviscerate her."

Harry, who was also entertaining his own murderous fantasies, realized that the current desire to maim Pansy Parkinson was probably the first thing he and Draco Malfoy had ever had in common.

He hadn't seen much of Malfoy since the end of the Death Eater trials, where Harry's testimony had helped to keep Malfoy and his mother out of Azkaban. Malfoy had sent him an expensive bottle of goblin-made wine and a polite thank you note, but he had never sought Harry out personally. Harry saw the occasional flash of white-blond hair around town, but whenever that happened, he always found his feet quickly taking him in the opposite direction.

"Malfoy," Harry nodded. "I didn't know it was you."

"Obviously not," Malfoy snorted as he crossed to the chair next to Harry and sat down. "Otherwise you'd never have agreed to this. Nor would I, had I known it was you. Which is precisely why Pansy neglected to mention it, I'm sure, the devious little witch. I wouldn't have had Dippy set out the silver either. It's impossible to clean," he added bitterly as he waved his wand over the tea service in front of them. Steam began to rise slowly from the spout of the silver teapot. "How do you take it?"

"Sorry?" Harry blinked. He could scarcely believe he was sitting in Draco Malfoy's parlor; he was far too thrown by the sheer impossibility of it all to be expected to follow the conversation.

"Your tea, Potter," repeated Malfoy slowly. "How do you take your tea?"

"Oh, um, milk and sugar, please." Harry answered before it processed that he was consenting to have a cup of tea with his boyhood rival.

Another negligent wave of Draco's wand and the teapot levitated into the air, tipping over to pour a gentle stream of amber colored tea into a delicate porcelain cup. This was followed by the creamer. Draco added less milk than Harry preferred, but Harry thought better than to ask for more. Two small cubes of sugar rose from the sugar bowl and hovered over the cup. One sank into the tea without a splash. Draco raised his brow expectantly and at Harry's nod, allowed the second cube to slide in with the first.

Draco set his wand on the table next to the silver tray and picked up the small cup and placed it on a saucer. He added a small spoon next to the cup and held it out for Harry. Harry eyed the tea warily.

Draco narrowed his eyes. "Take the damned tea, Potter, before I lose my patience and you end up wearing it."

"Right, sorry." Harry took the cup and saucer from Draco's hands, careful not to touch Draco's fingers with his own as he did, and began to stir his tea as quietly as he could. He remembered Aunt Petunia's rants about people whose spoons clinked against the side of the china or who spilled tea over the edges of their cup.

"First lesson," Draco said as he began to make his own drink. "Always use magic to prepare your guest's tea; it demonstrates a quiet mastery of subtle magic. But, make sure to hand the finished cup to your guest; it implies personal connection and intimacy."

Harry snorted at the idea of Draco and himself having a personal connection. The only thing Draco Malfoy would ever be intimate with was the business end of Harry's wand.

"Second lesson, don't snort; it conjures up visuals of a swine. The connection between yourself and farm animals is already so strong, it's best not to draw additional attention to it."

Harry couldn't help but snort again. Draco glared at him.

"Sorry!" Harry held up one hand in surrender. A drop of tea splashed over the rim of his cup and landed on the saucer. "Merlin, you're tetchy."

"Oh, a twenty-five knut word, Potter," Draco drawled. "Impressive. At least we won't have to work on your vocabulary as well."

Harry set his tea on the table and took a deep, stabilizing breath. He'd spent time since he'd left the Aurors working on his temper. He wouldn't let Malfoy undo his progress, even if the very sight of the git's face made Harry's wand hand itch.

"Look, Malfoy, we don't have to do this," Harry said, forcing his tone calm and his breath steady. "It's obviously not going to work. I can't very well win if I'm in Azkaban for murder."

Draco angled himself towards Harry, crossing his ankle over one knee and draping his free arm over the back of the settee. He looked the very picture of aristocratic ease. His head cocked to the side and he pursed his lips in thought. The grandfather clock in the corner ticked loudly, each passing second felt like an eternity as Harry waited for Malfoy to stop looking at - no, throughhim - like that.

"No," Draco said eventually, quiet but firm. "I'm going to civilize you, Harry Potter, come hell or high water."

It didn't make any sense, Harry thought. Malfoy shouldn't want to do this anymore than he did. In fact, Malfoy should want to do it even less, considering he had no personal stake in whether Harry won the Agrippa or not. The only reasonable explanation was that Malfoy had already cooked up some nefarious plot to embarrass him. Perhaps he would even try to sabotage his chances of winning.

"Why are you agreeing to this?" Harry asked, not bothering to hide the suspicion in his voice. "Why do you care, Malfoy?"

"I don't really," Draco shrugged. He took a prim sip of his tea and set the cup back on the saucer. The fact that the china didn't clink at all annoyed Harry more than was strictly rational. "However, I've already agreed to help. I told Pansy that I would, and so I will."

"You signed a contract then?"

"No, but I gave her my word. I'm sure that the word of an ex-Death Eater means little to you, but it means something to me. I owe Pansy. And if this matters to her, it matters to me."

Harry made a mental note to confront Parkinson at his earliest convenience. She knew he'd never have agreed to take etiquette lessons from Malfoy. If only he'd thought to ask for her "old friend's" name. He really had no one to blame for that but himself; he should have known better than to trust a Slytherin, especially one who was so clearly trying to rush him out of her office. He took a deep breath.

"Assuming I agree to this-"

"And you willagree to it, Potter. If you want to win, that is."

"Assuming I agree to this - " Harry repeated, trying not to growl at Malfoy's interruption. Was he really expected to learn manners from the rudest arsehole he'd ever known? " - how will it work? What do I need to do? I'm not going to have to walk around with a book on my head, am I?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "As sure as I am that you're in dire need of a lesson on poise, that won't be the focus of our sessions. Your instruction will be similar to the course on pureblood professionalism that I offer for Muggle-borns, although accelerated due to time constraint and modified to take your unique deficiencies into consideration."

"My unique deficiencies? Do I even want to ask?"

"Probably not," Draco smiled. "But don't worry, I'll be sure to tell you anyway."

"Gods, Malfoy, you're -" Harry cut himself off; he wasn't sure this could work.

"Brilliant? Gorgeous? Your social superior in every respect?" Draco supplied with a smile that would have looked at home on Gilderoy Lockhart's face.

"- an arsehole."

"So I've been told, many times by many people. But if you want to win this award, you're going to need this arsehole's help. You do want to win, don't you?"

It was the same question Parkinson had asked him earlier. It was a basic Slytherin manipulation technique that Harry knew he should have been able to resist. And yet...

"I have a feeling I'm going to regret this," Harry groaned. He set his tea on the table and leaned back against the sofa, rubbing his face in dismay.

"Probably," Draco laughed lightly. "You'll certainly regret it if you lose. Perhaps not as much if you win. And you'll definitely regret it if any of your little Gryffindor friends find out you've been willingly spending time with me."

Harry gave a humorless laugh. "Trust me, Malfoy, nothing about this is willing."

The smile slipped from Draco's face. "Right," he nodded. "Well, I think that's enough for today Potter. As much as I've enjoyed our little reunion, I've got more important things to do, such as reorganize my sock drawer." Draco reached into the pocket of his robe and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. "Fill this out tonight. It's a basic questionnaire that will help me ascertain what level you're at and what you'll need the most work on. Bring it back tomorrow at noon."

Harry sighed as he took the parchment from Malfoy and tucked it into his own robe. Malfoy rose and Harry followed. They stood, facing each other awkwardly as a tense moment passed. Malfoy held out his hand.

"It was wonderful to see you again, Harry. I look forward to working with you."

Harry, who had been about to reach out for Malfoy's hand, snatched his arm away and looked at Malfoy with suspicion.

"Oh, for Salazar's sake," Draco sighed. "I was being polite, Potter. Don't worry, I didn't really mean it."

"Oh," Harry nodded. That made much more sense. "Good. Well then." Harry stuck his hand out and Malfoy took it in a firm handshake. "It was a pleasure to see you as well, Draco," Harry put emphasis on Malfoy's first name, enjoying the way it slipped from his lips in a mocking tone. The situation was already so surreal, he decided to embrace the insanity. "I'm counting the hours until we meet again."

Draco rolled his eyes and laughed. "Get the hell out of my house, Potter. Before I hex you."

Harry gave a deep, exaggerated bow and was oddly pleased to hear Malfoy's soft laugh again.

Dippy escorted Harry to the door. Harry had planned on going straight back to Parkinson's office to confront her for her duplicity, but decided to make a detour first. Although it came close, his meeting with Malfoy hadn't ended up with either of them in the Spell Damage ward at St Mungo's, and he distinctly remembered liking the soft rumble of Malfoy's laugh. He was clearly losing his mind and needed to talk to someone sane.

He decided to go to the most sensible person he knew.

xxx

The moment Harry walked through her door, Hermione threw herself into his arms with a happy cry.

"Oh, Harry! I'm so proud of you!"

Harry couldn't help but blush, as he did whenever Hermione showed an exuberant display of affection. It didn't matter that no one else was in her large office to see, he'd always felt slightly awkward at the attention.

Hermione Granger-Weasley was no longer the bushy-haired bookworm she'd been in school. She still devoured books like they were her morning Wheetabix, but her teenage objections to any and all cosmetic potions and charms on the grounds that they were "oppressive and sexist" had weakened over the years. She kept her makeup sparse and used a taming potion to pull her hair into a loose chignon at the nape of her neck. Her work robes were the dullest colors, but the finest fabrics.

"I take it you saw the Prophetthis morning?" Harry asked as he disentangled himself and made his way to one of the chairs across from Hermione's desk. She didn't have a small settee in her office like Parkinson did; but of course, she probably had fewer hangovers to sleep off at work.

Hermione took the chair next to his and angled herself towards him. "I did! It's so wonderful Harry, what an honor!" She beamed at him, waiting for Harry to return her enthusiasm. When he didn't, her face fell. "What's wrong? Aren't you pleased?"

"I am," Harry said with a sigh, "It's just - Parkinson says that there is this reception that I'll have to go to. I've got to woo the selection committee or some bollocks."

Hermione's frown deepened. "And you're worried they'll figure out who James Evans really is?"

"They might," Harry conceded, "but it's more than just that. Apparently I have the manners of a troll, and Parkinson wants me to take pureblood etiquette lessons. Can you believe that?"

Harry didn't really expect outrage, but perhaps a little sympathy or commiseration. Hermione knew what it was like to be Muggle-raised, yet expected to conform to pureblood culture. Not only was she the youngest head of a department in Ministry history, she was currently the only Muggle-born to hold such a high position.

What he didn't expect, however, was for Hermione to avoid his eyes and make a small humming sound in the back of her throat.

"You agree with her?!" Harry demanded. If no one would be outraged on his behalf, he'd have to do it himself.

Hermione bit her lip, unwilling to admit that she and Pansy Parkinson were in agreement about anything. "It couldn't hurt," she offered eventually. "Your manners are better than a troll's, Harry, but pureblood customs are so different than what you and I were raised with." She raised her eyes to meet his gaze. "If Parkinson thinks it will help you win, I think you should do it."

Harry leaned back in his chair. "I can't believe it, Hermione. I really thought you'd say that I should tell Parkinson where she could stuff her lessons - that we shouldn't have to adapt ourselves to pureblood culture, that they should adapt to us. That's what the Old Hermione would have said."

Hermione gave him with a dangerous look. "There is not 'Old Hermione' or 'New Hermione.' There is only one, and she's grown up a bit since her school days. I suggest you try and do the same," she added tartly.

"Growing up? More like selling out," Harry muttered under his breath. He should have gone to Ron. Ron would have told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

"I did not sell out," she said, quiet but firm. "There are some insidious aspects of pureblood culture, I know that better than anyone. But knowing that you shouldn't take more than one sugar with your tea is hardly the same thing as blood supremacy." Harry remembered Malfoy's blank expression as he placed the second cube of sugar in Harry's tea earlier. What kind of stupid rule was that anyway? "We're wizards, Harry, and as wizards, we have our own unique culture. There is nothing wrong with knowing about it, even if you don't practice it yourself. Try to keep an open mind."

Harry wanted to point out that if anyone needed lessons in open mindedness, it was the pureblood families that had supported or turned a blind eye to Voldemort's attempted genocide. Instead, he kept his mouth shut and looked away. Hermione didn't need him to remind her of that; she wasn't likely to forget.

Hermione's voice softened. "Look at it this way: when I was a girl with a handful of pamphlets and a bag of badges, it was easy for people to dismiss me and S.P.E.W., because I didn't understand how to address issues in a way that they would understand. But now, as the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, people have to listen to me; I'm the authority on the matter. I couldn't have become that if I hadn't let go of a few of my own prejudices."

Harry sighed and sank in his seat. Hermione was talking sense, but he didn't feel any better. He wasn't trying to change the world - he'd already done that once, thank you very much - he just wanted to win a fucking award. Would he ever be able to escape pureblood politics? Would he ever be able to escape Draco fucking Malfoy?

"I get that Hermione, I do. It's just..." Harry faltered, searching for a way to explain himself. "I just came from tea with Draco Malfoy.Draco Malfoy, Hermione! That's who Parkinson has me set up to take these stupid lessons with."

Harry hadexpected outraged over that. He expected Hermione to gasp, to clutch her chest, to tell him that it was out of the question, that there was no way in hell he could take Malfoy's advice on anything. He certainly didn't expect her lips to quirk, or for her to say, "Well, he is a rather good teacher. Have you filled out the questionnaire yet? Be careful when you do, a number of them are trick questions."

Harry sputtered, truly unable to form a response.

"Don't look so shocked, Harry," she admonished. "I took Malfoy's course Pureblood Professionalism for the Muggle-born and raisedbefore I accepted my promotion. It was Kingsley's idea, actually, and very helpful. Did you know that you're actually supposed to refuse a promotion three times before you finally accept? Or that it's considered bad form to Owl a colleague or client you've worked with for less than a month? You're supposed to Floo call them at first, to show how important they are to you."

Harry hadn't known either of those things, but he couldn't really say he cared either. His mind was stuck on the idea of Hermione taking tea with Malfoy in that garish sitting room of his.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me you were taking lessons from Malfoy. Did Ron know?"

Hermione looked away. "Not at the time. I knew he wouldn't understand. His family doesn't practice the Old Ways, but at least he grew up knowing about them. He would have tried to talk me out of it. I told him a few weeks later, and we had a terrible row."

Six months earlier, Ron had shown up unexpectedly on Harry's doorstep, red faced and asking to kip on his couch for the night. Harry hadn't asked for an explanation, just ushered his friend inside and poured him a drink. That explained that then.

Hermione took Harry's hand. "Look, Harry, I know that things between you and Malfoy are complicated - and likely always will be - but it's not worth ruining your career over. Malfoy's an adult now, and so are you. It's just a few lessons, right? No one is asking you to be best mates. You've survived much worse than dancing lessons with Draco Malfoy."

"Dancing?!" Anxious nausea flooded Harry's stomach. He hadn't taken Parkinson's mention of waltzing all that seriously. "You don't really think he'll try to teach me to dance, will you? I'd rather slay a dozen Dark Lords than have to dance in front of Malfoy."

"Oh, Harry," Hermione laughed and dropped his hand. "Honestly, you'll be fine - even if you have to dance. It will be worth it, I promise. Need I remind you of how prestigious an Agrippa is?"

"No," Harry grumbled, wishing for the first time that he hadn't even gotten the bloody nomination. If his name hadn't been on the shortlist, he would have never had to worry about his true identity being revealed or having to get along with Malfoy.

The wand on Hermione's desk began to vibrate and let off a quiet beep. She reached over and picked it up, casting a quick spell to cancel the alert charm.

"I've got to run, Harry. I've got a department heads meeting in fifteen. We've been having a bit of a jurisdiction struggle with the Unspeakables over Nargles, believe it or not." She stood up and smoothed down her robes. Unsatisfied, she cast a light ironing spell and the wrinkled fabric smoothed out. "You can show yourself out?"

"Of course," Harry said, rising from his seat. He held out his arms in invitation and Hermione stepped into the hug, wrapping her arms around him and tucking her face into his chest. "Thanks for talking this out with me," Harry said into her hair. "I guess I'll give this thing with Malfoy a shot."

"I really am so proud of you, Harry," Hermione smiled against his chest. "Things with Malfoy will be fine, you'll see. Just try not to bait him too much, will you?"

Too tired to even consider returning to Pansy's office and unsure if he should even try and give her a proper dressing down, Harry decided to Apparate home. He found a spare piece of parchment in his kitchen drawer and scratched out a quick note to owl to her instead. As Poe, the brown barn owl he'd bought after the end of the war, disappeared above the London skyline, Harry tried to imagine Parkinson's face as she read his letter. He'd only written two simple words:

You bitch.

xxx

Dippy didn't answer the door the next afternoon. On Harry's third knock, the door swung open so quickly that Harry almost ended up rapping his knuckles against Malfoy's scowling face.

"You're late."

Harry glanced at his watch. "Am not. You said to be here at noon, and it's just turned twelve!" Harry lifted his wrist and pointed to the tiny clock face as evidence.

"Thirty minutes before an appointment is early," Draco drawled as he stepped back and made room for Harry to enter. "Fifteen minutes before is on time. Arriving at the precise moment of a scheduled appointment is late."

Harry rolled his eyes and stepped into the foyer. "That's stupid," he said as he shrugged off his jacket and turned to hang it on the coat rack next to the door. He'd chosen to wear a lightweight hoodie that morning instead of his usual robes. He caught Malfoy's disapproving glare at the Muggle fashion and had to bite back a cheeky smile. "What's the point of arranging a time if you actually expect people to show up before then? If you wanted me here at half eleven, why didn't you just tell me to be here at half eleven?"

"I don't want you here at any time," Draco grumbled under his breath as he made his way into the parlor, not bothering to check if Harry was following.

Harry waited a few moments before following, just because he knew it would rankle Malfoy. When he crossed the threshold into the sitting room, he found Malfoy standing by the tea cart, busying himself with preparing tea. Today's set was a delicate white china with a girlish floral pattern.

"Promptness is a virtue in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds, you know," Draco said when he heard Harry enter the room. "You should always allot extra time to get where you're going, you never know if there will be a delay. It's not just manners, it's common sense."

Not bothering to argue, Harry sighed and sat on the settee. He knew Malfoy was right, but didn't want to admit it out loud, so he opted for silence. The quiet clattering of tea being prepared reminded him. "Oh, Malfoy? Only one sugar today, please."

Draco turned slightly, taking a speculative glance at Harry from over his shoulder. He nodded, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. "Excellent choice, Potter."

Harry pulled the completed questionnaire from his pocket as Draco crossed the room with the tea cups in hand. Draco gave Harry his tea and settled down next to him, crossing one leg over the other and reclining against the back of sofa. Harry handed him parchment and waited as Malfoy read it over quickly, his sharp-angled face revealing nothing.

"Surprisingly adequate," Draco said at last, tucking the paper into his robe. "Not nearly as dismal as I had feared. Pansy made it sound as though you were as hopeless as a untrained crup."

"Oh, well, don't get your hopes up, Malfoy. I'm still not housebroken," Harry joked, then took a sip of his tea. Harry was surprised to find he rather liked the twinkle Malfoy got in his eye when he was trying to suppress his amusement.

"As unfortunate as that may be for your house elf, I don't think we'll have time to potty-train you, Potty. Pansy owled over the Aggripa schedule. Do you realize we have less than a week before the reception?"

"A week?!" Harry cried, the tea he'd sipped the moment before causing him to cough as he swallowed it the wrong way.

"Less than a week," Draco corrected. He pulled another piece of paper from his robes and unfolded it. Harry recognized Pansy's swirling script. "According to this, the dinner reception for all nominees is on Friday. It's being held at one of the selection committee member's country home in Shropshire." He pulled a face. "Well, at least if you do something terribly embarrassing and untoward, we'll be far enough from London for anyone who matters to find out."

Anxiety swept over Harry as the reality of the situation hit him squarely in the chest. He leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, and held his head in his hands. He had less than a week to prepare for his meeting with the selection committee. A meeting that, if Malfoy and Parkinson were to be believed, would greatly affect his chances of winning, and subsequently the entire future of his career as a writer - a meeting for which he was thoroughly unprepared.

Harry hadn't been this nervous in those last days leading up to his final confrontation with Voldemort. He hadn't had the time to be nervous then. It was all or nothing; win or lose, live or die. He had had a mission, a singular goal, a simple task: kill Voldemort. Harry had always been able to lie and manipulate when needed, but he much preferred the direct approach. He found the simplicity of it to be calming. This, however, was far beyond his comfort zone.

Draco watched Harry, his sharp features softened with concern. "Potter?" he asked hesitantly, nudging Harry's foot with his own. "Are you quite all right?"

Sitting back with a sigh, Harry tried to shake off the weight of his apprehension. "Yeah, sorry. Just nerves, I guess. I've never been good at this sort of stuff."

"You don't say?" Draco asked flatly, eyebrow arched. "Luckily, I was born to court influence and favor. But what you lack in natural Malfoy charms, I'm sure you'll make up for with determination and sheer pigheadedness." When Harry didn't respond, Draco set his tea down and frowned. "Potter, you single-handedly slew the Darkest wizard of our times. You can't seriously be scared of a dinner party in the Midlands."

"I'm not scared," Harry said with a bit more whine than he'd intended, "and I didn't stop Voldemort by myself. I had help - and a lot of it."

"You'll have help with this," Draco said. "Come on, Potter, don't you trust me?"

Harry gave Draco a wry smile. "Did you really just ask me that?"

Draco chuckled and relaxed back into the seat. "I may be the most dastardly villain you know, but you must admit, I commit all my sins with style, grace, and impeccable manners."

Harry laughed and shook his head, amused and slightly bewildered by the man sitting beside him. This felt strange. He had a similar wary feeling to the one he'd always gotten around Malfoy, but it was somehow different than when they were younger. He wasn't on edge, anticipating the moment Malfoy was going to whip out his wand and hex him. The new wariness he felt, Harry realized, was due to the strange comfort he found in Malfoy's presence. This was a man he'd known since he was eleven, and while he was certainly not a friend, he was no longer an enemy either. Malfoy was familiar, and yet, a complete unknown.

"Now if you're done with the dramatics," Draco continued in a bored tone, "we should get to work. You've got a shockingly abysmal knowledge of table manners, which may prove problematic on Friday. I've got a book for you," he said, standing up and making his way to the built-in bookshelves. He scanned the titles and plucked a slim, red volume from the collection and brought it over to Harry. "Read chapters two and three, we'll go over them tomorrow."

"Homework?" Harry made a face. "You can't actually be giving me homework!"

"I can, and I am." Draco picked his tea up and took a small sip, deliberately avoiding looking at Harry. "Oh, don't pout, Potter. Reading won't kill you. We'll need an entire afternoon to go over a proper dinner service, and it will go more smoothly if you're prepared. Besides," he added, flashing Harry a quick grin over the top of his teacup, "I've got something fun planned for today."

Harry sincerely doubted that anything that Malfoy had planned would be his idea of fun.

Draco didn't seem to notice Harry's dubious expression. "You'll need to Floo call Ginevra and find out what she plans to wear on Friday."

"What? Ginny?"

"Miss Weasley will be your date to the dinner, I presume?" asked Draco. "She'll have to go under Glamours, of course. Imagine the scandal if The Chosen One's girlfriend showed up on the arm of some starving, no-name writer."

Harry's stomach clenched whenever he thought about Ginny. Their split hadn't been particularly amicable and she held a secret of his in her tiny, freckled hands that could be his undoing. "We're, um..." he stuttered. "We're not together anymore."

Draco raised his eyebrows. "I hadn't heard," he said, but didn't inquire further. "Who will you be taking as your date on Friday then?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. I would ask Hermione, but she and Ron are going on a mini-break this weekend. Luna, maybe?"

Draco's lips pursed. "As darling as you may find Lovegood's eccentricities, I doubt the committee will be equally charmed. You need to take someone who will help you blend in, Potter, not stick out even further."

"Oh, right." Harry scrolled through a mental list of the women he knew, surprised to find it was rather short. "Cho Chang?" he suggested tentatively.

"Are you comfortable telling her about your secret double life?"

It only took a minute for Harry to realize that no, he wasn't comfortable with that idea. He and Cho got on well these days, but this was his biggest secret. He could only tell her if she agreed to the secrecy spell, but he couldn't imagine asking her to do that. She had fought alongside him at the final battle, how could he admit that he didn't trust her with this? He knew that by all rights he could and should trust her, but the idea of telling her made him slightly nauseous.

"I'll take that as a no then," Draco said, sitting his tea back done and frowning in thought. After a moment, he sprang from the sofa.

Draco grabbed a pinch of powder from the bowl above his fireplace and threw it into the hearth, calling out, "Pansy's office, Parkinson & Smith," as he did. Moments later, Pansy's face appeared in the flames.

"Pansy, we have a problem," Draco said by way of greeting. "Potter is single."

"Yes," Pansy said slowly, unsure as to why this would warrant an emergency Floo call in the middle of the afternoon, "many people are. This is a problem, because?"

"Because," Draco drawled, "he doesn't have a date for the reception on Friday."

Understanding dawned across Pansy's face, flickering in the flames. "What about Granger? She can wear Glamours and will keep Potter in check."

Draco shook his head. "She'll be out of town. Lovegood would only make it worse, and I don't think Potter wants to expose himself to anyone else."

Pansy gave a heavy, long-suffering sigh. Her eyes darted across the room until they settled on Harry. "You owe me, Potter. Big time."

Harry was about to interrupt and ask what she meant when Parkinson turned her attention back to Malfoy.

"I'll wear the blue Brodeur robes we picked up in Paris last spring," she said. "The periwinkle ones with the plunging neckline. Have Potter meet me at my office, Friday at five. I'll arrange the Portkey."

Draco reached up to disconnect the Floo when Pansy called out to him again.

"Oh and darling, I'm sorry about what happened with Ferdinand. He's an arsehole."

Harry noticed the line in Malfoy's shoulders tighten, and then relax a moment later. "Thank you, Pans, but can we talk about that another time?"

Pansy's eyes flickered to Harry once more. "Right, well, sorry. Dinner tonight?"

Harry tuned out the rest of the conversation as Malfoy and Parkinson made their dinner arrangements and considered what had just happened. Apparently, Parkinson was going to be his date. It wasn't at horrible as it sounded, he decided. She already knew his secret and would be able to prevent him from committing any unforgivable social faux pas.

When Draco finished his conversation with Pansy, he disconnected the Floo and walked back to sitting area. He stood above Harry, a smug smile on his pale face. "Ready then, Potter?"

Harry did not like the challenge in Malfoy's voice. "For what?" he asked, failing to hide his apprehension.

"I respect Pansy far too much to allow her to be escorted by someone wearing a poly-cotton blend." Draco smiled, a fierce, predatory smile. "Belt up, Potter, we're going shopping."

xxx

Even though Malfoy was only a few inches taller than he, Harry had trouble keeping up with his long strides as they made their way through the bustling shopping section of Diagon Alley. After a brief consult, Harry and Malfoy had settled on a simple set of Glamours that would obscure Harry's identity without giving him that fake, plasticine look that so many who abused Glamour charms were wont to have. They had lightened Harry's hair a few shades, charmed his eyes a dark brown, and subtlety elongated his nose. It wasn't a dramatic change, but enough so that Harry could pass through the streets without being harassed. Harry would have liked to take a more leisurely stroll and enjoy the blessed anonymity that the Glamours gave him, but Malfoy moved like a man on a mission.

When Malfoy walked pass Madam Malkin's without so much as a glance, Harry quickened his pace. "Were not going to Malkin's?" he asked as he fell into step with Malfoy.

Draco snorted. "Were you planning on buying school robes? Honestly, Potter, you are a grown man. It's time you started dressing like one." He turned without warning and Harry took a few more steps before noticing that his cantankerous companion was no longer beside him.

Harry joined Draco on the steps of a tall white building with an imposing, slate gray door. There was no sign, only a small red box mounted to the wall. When Draco tapped his wand against the box, it opened, revealing a small, golden sphere.

Draco leaned forward and spoke into the sphere. "We've an appointment, under Malfoy."

The sphere vibrated for a moment, emitting a low buzzing sound. The box then closed back in on itself and the slate door slid open. Harry had never seen anything like it before, and followed Malfoy into what he assumed would be a shop, his curiosity piqued.

They entered a large room with hard wood floors and dark wood paneling on the walls. There were wrought iron candelabras set in each of the corners and the walls were lined with sconces, each burning pale white candles. Faceless mannequins were spread throughout the shop, each wearing a different, but undeniably posh, set of robes. In the center of the room was a large display case and an ancient looking till.

There was a rustling from the back of the shop, and then the curtains which separated the show room from the back were thrown aside with a flourish as a tall, dark-skinned man with high cheekbones and glittering black eyes came through.

"Draco," the man greeted as he cut across the floor. "Always a pleasure to see you, old chap," he said as reached them. He pumped Draco's hand vigorously, then turned and cast an appraising eye on Harry. "And I see you brought a friend?"

"Ah, Blaise, this is James," Draco turned, indicating to Harry. "James, this is my dear friend, and personal tailor, Blaise Zabini. Blaise and I were at school together."

It took Harry a moment to place Blaise, but soon recalled the scowling face of the aloof boy he'd only known by sight. Careful not to let any recognition show, he shook Zabini's hand and said, "It's a pleasure. Any friend of Draco's is a friend of mine."

Blaise raised his eyebrows at Draco's surprised cough.

"James here has a very important event to attend this Friday and very little in way of appropriate attire. Naturally, I thought of you," Draco smiled sweetly. "I know it's last minute, but I would consider it a personal favor to me if you could make him something in time."

"As I recall, you already owe me for about six personal favors," Blaise replied with a hearty laugh. "Luckily for you, it's been a slow month. I'll have to charge you extra for the rush order, of course."

"Of course," Draco agreed with a genteel inclination of his head.

Without another word, Blaise pulled a wand from his own robes and began to poke and prod Harry with the tip of it. Harry jumped at first, a natural reflex after spending so much of his life on high alert, but quickly relaxed when he realized that Zabini was only taking his measurements.

"And what will you be wearing to this very important event?" Blaise asked Draco without looking up from his work.

Draco went a bit pink and cleared his throat. "I shall not be in attendance. James will be escorting Pansy this Friday."

Blaise's wand poked into Harry's ribs with a bit more force than Harry thought was strictly necessary. "He's dating Pansy then?" he asked in a carefully neutral voice.

Harry wanted to remind the pair that he was there and could hear them, but Draco answered first.

"It's a work function, Zabini," Draco said with exasperation. "James is a talented writer and client of Pansy's. And by extension, a client of mine." He turned to Harry and stage whispered, "Zabini has been harboring a school-boy crush on Pansy since we were fifth years. It's pathetic, really."

Blaise ignored Draco, but lightened the force of his next poke into Harry's stomach. "You're Muggle-born, then?" he asked, addressing Harry for the first time.

"Uh, half-blood actually," Harry answered. "Raised in the Muggle world."

Frowning, Blaise ceased his prodding and looked thoughtfully at Harry. "You didn't go to Hogwarts, did you? You look vaguely familiar, but I don't remember anyone called James."

Harry glanced at Malfoy, who gave Harry an encouraging nod. Malfoy and Pansy had worked together to invent a fake biography for James Evans. "I, uh, went to Beauxbatons actually. My mother was French."

"Ah, well, we can't all be perfect," Blaise said with a laugh as he gave a final poke, dangerously close to Harry's groin. "Although I must admit, I'm sorry to hear you're not one of Draco's. That would really show Ferdinand."

Harry was amused to see Malfoy color again and decided that he really needed to learn more about this Ferdinand character. Only to use the knowledge to embarrass and antagonize Malfoy, he added to himself hastily.

"Pansy's going to be wearing the periwinkle Brodeur from last spring's collection," Draco supplied, eager to change the subject.

Blaise got a far-away look in his eyes and sighed. "I love those robes."

"I'm sure you do," snickered Draco.

Blaise gave Draco a baleful look, but said nothing. Instead, he stepped back and flicked his wand in an artful flourish. A door that Harry hadn't noticed along the back wall opened. He turned to Harry.

"If you'll follow me, I've taken your preliminary measurements and conjured a few samples for you to try on."

Harry followed Blaise into a cream colored dressing room, where a dozen black robes in various cuts and styles were hanging on the wall. "I've taken the liberty of selecting a few designs that I think will flatter your build. If you need any assistance, let me know. Normally I offer to consult, but I'm sure Draco has that under control." Blaise's salesman smile slipped from his face and Harry heard him mutter, "the finicky queen," under his breath as he left.

When the door was shut, Harry grabbed the set of robes hanging closest to him. As far as he could tell, they didn't look all that different from the others hanging in the room. Deciding to just go with it, he pulled the robes on and fumbled with the closures. He stepped back and looked into the floor-to-ceiling mirror against the wall, waiting for the snippy piece of glass's judgment. But, the mirror wasn't charmed and offered no feedback. Harry turned to the side and examined himself from another angle. This robe didn't appear to be anything special.

"Having trouble in there, James?" Draco's voice called.

Harry opened the door and stood back, allowing Malfoy to sweep a critical eye over his person.

"It's all lumpy," Draco frowned. "Merlin's saggy tits, tell me you're not wearing your clothes underneath?"

"Of course I am," Harry said. "I can't run around starkers under my robes."

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. "They're formal robes, Potter. You can, and you will."

"I went to a number of formal functions after the war," Harry protested. "I always wore clothes underneath my robes. No one ever said anything."

"Not to your face, they didn't," Draco said. "You can keep your pants on if you must be so Muggle about it, but your shirt and trousers have to go. They ruin the lines."

Harry sighed in resignation. "Fine, but you have to get out first."

"Trust me, Potter. I've got no interest in seeing you in your skivvies," Draco said as he held his hands up in a placating gesture. "Just put the damn robes on properly then come out and show me."

Dutifully, Harry tried on each set of robes and stepped out of the dressing room, parading around as Malfoy instructed. Aside from length and width, he really couldn't tell a difference between any of them. When he came out in the seventh design, Draco covered his eyes and held a hand out, stopping Harry before he'd even stepped fully out of the changing room. "Take it away," Draco gasped. "It's hideous."

When Harry rejoined Malfoy and Zabini on the floor, the two were in a heated discussion over fabric and color choice. Harry had never known there were so many different shades of black. He stood back and kept quiet, perfectly content to be an innocent bystander as the argument escalated. When Malfoy was appeased, he nodded and turned to Harry.

"James, I have ordered you two sets of formal robes and a casual one. I won't bore you with the details, just know that it's the start a wardrobe befitting a wizard of your station."

"His station?" Zabini asked with a cocked eyebrow, turning to glance at Harry critically. "I thought he was a writer."

"Yes, but a very talented and soon-to-be-famous one."

Harry was warmed by Malfoy's compliment, even if he knew it was only down to Malfoy's argumentative nature and not a sincerely given piece of praise. He wondered if Malfoy would ever read his book, and if so, what he'd think of it. Admittedly, a small part of him wished he would and wanted Malfoy to like it.

"All right then," Blaise conceded to Draco's fierce defense. "Which should I credit?"

Draco paled. They hadn't set up an account under the name James Evans, and there was no way they could tell Zabini to put it under Harry Potter's name.

"Just charge it to my account," Draco said, throwing his shoulders back.

Zabini raised a brow once again. "You're sure he's not one of yours?"

"He's not one of mine, whatever the hell that means," Draco said in a tone that brooked no argument. "James does all his banking in France, and I know how ridiculously exploitative the fees you charge for international withdrawal are."

Blaise looked affronted, but slid behind the counter and drew up the order forms and other paperwork. Harry signed them with his pseudonym and thanked Blaise for his assistance, politely as he could. He and Malfoy were halfway out of the shop when Malfoy suddenly stopped.

Harry drew up short and looked around. Malfoy was standing next to one of the mannequins, stroking the fine wool fabric with reverence.

Blaise was immediately at Draco's side. "I was wondering when you'd notice them."

"They're beautiful," Draco said in a soft voice.

Harry peered around Malfoy's shoulders to examine the robes with which Malfoy was so enamored. They were a deep, dark black with a high collar and more toggle buttons than Harry had even seen on another wizard. Well, more than he'd seen since -

"It's called Severus," Zabini said quietly.

"Do you mind, James? It will only take a moment." Malfoy said without turning around. "I assume you still have my measurements on file?" he asked Zabini.

Blaise nodded and waved his wand again. Malfoy set off to the dressing room in the back of the store without a word.

An awkward five minutes passed as Harry waited with Zabini for Malfoy to reemerge. When he finally did, however, Harry's breath caught in his throat.

Malfoy had pushed the fine, blond hair off his forehead and tucked it behind his ears. The bottomless black of the fabric highlighted the paleness of his skin, hair, and eyes, creating a striking contrast that emphasized his delicate, high cheekbones and long, straight nose. The high collar and floor-length cut made him appear even taller and slimmer than usual. He stood there, back straight and shoulders tight, looking regal despite his obvious discomfort.

"They're too austere for me," Draco frowned. "I look foolish, like a little boy who should still be in short robes, mucking about in his father's wardrobe."

"Nonsense," Blaise chided. He crossed to Draco and fiddled with the shoulders of the robe, rearranging the way the fabric fell. "You look very much like a man, Draco - one I think he'd be proud of, too."

Draco shook his head. The hair from behind his ears fell forward, hanging over his eyes. Harry felt the most ridiculous urge to push it back from his face. He bit back the impulse, but couldn't stop himself from speaking. "Handsome," he breathed. "You look...very handsome."

Startled gray eyes met his, then quickly looked away.

"I'll take them."

No one spoke when Draco reappeared from the dressing room, signing his order form in silence.

xxx

Much to his surprise (and chagrin), Harry didn't hate his lessons with Malfoy. Fifty percent of the time Malfoy was an insufferable git, full of snark, malice, and useless trivia about pureblood social customs of the sixteenth century. However, that left the other fifty percent of the time, in which Harry found Malfoy's company to be almost tolerable, and even enjoyable on occasion.

Harry learned to appreciate the sarcastic bite of Malfoy's dry wit when it was turned on someone (or thing) besides himself, his friends, or his parentage. Malfoy was a good and surprisingly patient instructor. He called Harry all manners of unflattering names when he selected the wrong fork or failed to sink deep enough into his bow, but there was no heat behind the insults. Malfoy never truly lost his patience with his slow-learning protégée.

By flooing directly into Malfoy's parlor, Harry arrived each day at noon and spent the next few hours learning a seemingly endless list of do's and don'ts, some of which he was sure Malfoy had made up himself. Harry wasn't quite sure how he would remember them all, but he threw himself into the task completely, even reading the dry texts that Malfoy recommended once he'd returned to the privacy of his own flat. Even though he didn't really give a newt's left testicle about impressing random purebloods, Harry felt himself wanting to impress this one in particular. It was just the lingering remnants of adolescent rivalry, he told himself. Malfoy doubted that Harry could ever be civilized, and Harry was going to prove him wrong.

Harry arrived at the usual time on Thursday, curious to see what Malfoy had planned for their final lesson before the day of the reception. In the course of a few short days, Harry had already learned twice what he cared to know. Malfoy had researched each member of the selection committee and spent an afternoon coaching Harry in the fine art of small talk, or "the tedious arse-licking of your social inferiors," as Malfoy had put it. They had spent an evening reviewing basic dining etiquette, which meant that Harry had enjoyed an exceptional seven course meal at Malfoy's expense. His robes had arrived the previous day, and Malfoy had spent almost two hours trying to explain the subtle differences in the strikingly similar garments, as well as when and what to wear with each. He eventually gave up, throwing his arms into the air and declaring that Harry could wear "a bleeding turnip sack" for all he cared.

Harry couldn't imagine what else they possibly needed to go over before the event. He already felt stuffed to the brim with manners, conversation starters, and grindylow caviar; there simply wasn't room for anything else. The antique record player he spotted in the corner of the parlor as he stumbled out of the Floo was an omen more sinister than a Grim in a teacup. That hadn't been there the day before, he was sure of it.

Dancing hadn't been mentioned in their first meeting, and Harry had been so desperate to avoid the topic all together, that he'd managed to forget this eventuality entirely. In a single second, all of the hesitant optimism he'd gained under Malfoy's tutelage abandoned him. There was absolutely nothing, short of the Imperius curse, that could make Harry a good dancer.

Malfoy arrived moments later to find Harry standing by the record player, shooting the damnable contraption a vicious glare. "I see you found today's surprise?"

Harry turned to Draco with a pathetic, almost pleading look of desperation. "Please tell me this is one of your sadistic little jokes."

"Wish that it were," Draco sighed as he saddled up to Harry's side and considered the record player before him. "I've put this off as long as I could - not for your sake, but mine- but there is nothing to it. You've got to learn to dance." Draco turned and with a flourish of his wand, shrunk all of the furniture in the room and levitated it to one corner. The makeshift dance floor was ominous, promising nothing but Harry's inevitable embarrassment and doom.

When needle was placed to vinyl, a soft, scratchy tune warbled out of the player's ancient speakers. Harry recognized it as one of the old standards Molly Weasley was fond of humming as she bustled around the Burrow's dilapidated kitchen, cleaning this and scouring that. He recalled images of Mrs. Weasley, her wide hips swaying to an unheard beat, and decided that if a housewitch of an undetermined age could do it, so could he.

He walked into the cleared space with his shoulders back and jaw set, turning to wait for Malfoy, who gave a sly grin and slid onto the floor beside him. Malfoy bent into a deep bow, which Harry did his best to mirror.

"So...now what?" he asked blankly.

Draco rolled his eyes, but extended his arms all the same. "We'll start with the formal dances. The Walpurga Waltz, then the Quintonius Quadrille. I'll lead the first few times through, until you learn the steps. Then, you'll lead until comfortable."

Harry stared stupidly at Malfoy's outstretched arms. "I don't think I'll ever be comfortable again."

"Circe's tit, Potter," Draco snapped, his arms still out and waiting. "Quit grousing. Let's just get this over with, all right?"

"Sorry," Harry mumbled, stepping forward and fitting himself awkwardly into Malfoy's embrace. Harry was sure he'd met ghosts with a firmer touch than Malfoy, but he wasn't about to complain about too little physical contact. Less was certainly more, he decided.

They began with the box step. Harry picked it up quickly, counting inside his head along with Malfoy's soft "one, two, three." But when they had just been moving in a neat little square, he'd been fine, but when they added the turns, Harry fell spectacularly apart. He couldn't remember which foot to use and tried to follow Malfoy's lead, but was always one step behind, making the graceful dance seem jerky and stilted. Whenever he looked down to watch which of Malfoy's legs was about to move, Malfoy would give him a rough little tug.

"Eyes up, Potter!"

They struggled through a few more rotations before Draco sighed and unceremoniously dropped Harry's arms. With a flick of his wand, the music stopped. He called out to Dippy, and the house elf appeared instantly, bowing deep and asking for his master's wishes.

"Two firewhiskys. Make mine a double," he said. Draco looked at Harry for a moment then added, "Actually, Dippy, bring us the bottle."

Dippy squeaked and disappeared, only to reappear moments later with a bottle of Ogden's finest and two crystal tumblers in his hand, each filled with a generous portion. Harry accepted the drinks with a thank you as Draco Unshrunk the sofa and settled himself upon it. Harry took the seat next to him, placing the bottle of firewhisky on the floor between their feet and handing Draco his drink. Malfoy thanked him, then tipped his head back. Harry watched as half of the liquid in the glass disappeared down Malfoy's long throat.

Harry took a prim sip of his own drink. "That bad, am I?" he asked, hoping to lighten the mood.

Draco gave a noncommittal shrug. "You're not the worst I've ever seen," he said. "That honor belongs to Millicent Bulstrode, if you remember her. I taught her to waltz before Yule Ball in fourth year. Or, I tried, at least. Probably would have had better luck teaching Arithmancy to a troll."

"Why the alcohol break then?" Harry asked. "Not that I'm complaining about free liquor, mind."

"Free my arse," Draco scoffed. "I'm charging Pansy for that drink, of course. And I'm sure she'll charge you for it, in turn. You'd better enjoy that glass of firewhisky, Potter; it's probably the most expensive one you've ever had."

Harry snorted and ignored the look that Malfoy gave him, one that dared him to complain about his rather Slytherin pricing schemes. "So if it's not my atrocious box step, then..." he began, leaving the unfinished question to dangle in the air between them.

"I can feel the discomfort rolling off you like wild magic," came Malfoy's quiet voice after a silent minute. "I've never had a student feel so awkward in my arms. Not even Millie, and she was six inches taller than me at the time." Draco reclined against the back of the sofa, stretching out his long legs as he did. "Then again, none of my other students have ever tried to kill me," he added conversationally, before knocking back the rest of his drink.

"I didn't - It wasn't -" Harry sputtered, caught off guard by Malfoy's blasé reference to what Harry had mentally filed away as that thing that happened in the bathroom that one time. "I didn't know what that spell would do," he offered lamely.

Harry chanced a shamed glance at Malfoy, surprised to see that other man wore a sardonic smirk.

"Of course you didn't," Draco drawled as he reached for the bottle of firewhisky. "You're a Gryffindor, through and through. Cast dangerous dark curses at crying children first, ask questions later." He poured himself another four fingers of liquor and looked at Harry questioningly.

"Merlin, Malfoy, slow down. We wont be able to stand up, let alone dance."

Draco shook the bottle and raised his brows. "What? You're not scared of a little alcohol, are you Potter?"

Despite the flat, unimpressed look that he gave Malfoy, Harry swiftly drank the rest of his firewhisky and held his glass out for more. He wasn't falling for Malfoy's transparent goading, of course, he just didn't want the smarmy git to think he couldn't handle his drink.

Silence settled over them as they sipped their second round at a more reasonable pace than the first. Harry tried to decide if the silence was awkward or companionable, and what it meant that he couldn't tell. These past few days with Malfoy had been interesting, to say the least. Even if he didn't enjoy the subject of their lessons, he couldn't say that he didn't enjoy spending time with Malfoy. There was a marked difference between the boy he'd once known and the man who sat beside him, yet he could easily see that they were, in so many ways, different versions of the same person. Had Malfoy changed so much since in the few years since graduation, or had Harry never really known him?

Harry wondered, not for the first time, how things would have been different if he and Malfoy hadn't hated each other so blindly at school.

"How well would you say we know each other?" Harry heard himself ask. He hadn't planned on voicing his thoughts aloud, but the question was already out there. He sat back and braced himself for Malfoy's answer.

Draco twisted his head and blinked owlishly at Harry. "I'd say, we don't know each other at all. Never have."

"Oh." Harry deflated and took another long sip of his drink.

"You sound disappointed," Draco said lightly, as he continued to watch Harry.

Harry gave a one-shouldered shrug. "A bit."

"Why?"

"I don't know, I guess I just thought that maybe we could be - uh - friends or something. Well, maybe not friends, but, you know, friendlyat least, now that the war is over and all."

"Harry Potter wants to be my friend?" Draco's voice was tinged with amusement. "If only Father were around to hear this."

"Oh, shut up," Harry grumbled, his face turning red.

"All right, Potter, I think you've had enough." Draco stood and took the glass from Harry's hand, ignoring Harry's protests. "If I had known a little alcohol got you so sentimental so quick, I'd have exploited this weakness years ago."

Harry stood to allow Draco to clear the space once again. When the music began to play and Malfoy held his arms out, Harry found it much easier to slide into position. Malfoy's hold was firmer than before and Harry had less trouble following his lead. After a few minutes, Harry didn't even need to count. He closed his eyes and focused on the music, on feeling the way Draco's body moved in step with his own.

They moved in tandem as they glided across the floor. The dance required the partners to maintain a modest distance, but Harry could still feel the heat rising from Malfoy's body as they moved, cutting graceful circles around the sitting room. One song bled into another and Harry realized that he was doing it; he was actually dancing.

The soft melody faded away, replaced by the low hiss of the white noise that indicated it was time for the record to be flipped. Harry opened his eyes to see Malfoy, watching him with an unreadable expression on his face. Reluctantly, Harry pulled away, unable to stop the huge grin that spread across his face.

"That was brilliant." Harry beamed. "I never thought I'd actually be able to dance, and it's all down to you. Thanks, Malfoy."

Harry's words must have broken whatever strange spell Malfoy was under, because the soft look on his face melted into his usual expression of bored indifference. "Yes, well - " he cleared his throat, " - let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? You made it through twenty minutes, dancing the woman's part. That hardly makes you Fred Asschair."

Harry was almost positive that that wasn't right, but let it slide. He was in too good of a mood to risk the wrath of Malfoy by correcting him. He was feeling energized, like he could truly do anything. "Just let me have my victory, yeah?" He went to the record player and flipped the record, carefully placing the needle on the first narrow grooves. As the music began to fill the room, Harry took a deep bow, then stood and offered his hand to Malfoy.

"May I have this dance?" he asked, throwing in a saucy eyebrow waggle for good measure. "I'll lead this time."

Draco rolled his eyes, but took Harry's hand all the same.

xxx

Harry fidgeted in his dress robes. The fabric was soft enough, but the neckline was higher than he was use to and the slim cut made him feel slightly confined. He tugged at the sleeves and fingered the buttons, hoping somehow to make the offensive garment feel less oppressive.

"Stop that," Pansy hissed, swatting his hand away from his collar as though he were a naughty child reaching for an extra serving of dessert. "We're next. For Morgana's sake, at least tryto act like an adult."

No sooner than Pansy had finished speaking, a house elf appeared by their sides. "You may go in now," he said, snapping his fingers. The large doors of the house in front of them opened.

Harry and Pansy left the queue of invitees who waited with their dates for admittance into the reception and walked through the entrance hall of the intimidating country estate. Harry's jaw dropped as he took in the marble flooring and the dark, wood paneling of the enormous entry way. Hanging from the ceiling was an enormous crystal chandelier, lit with hundreds of white candles. A large staircase led the way to the upper floors of the estate. It was one of the grandest spaces Harry had ever encountered and he was immediately reminded of his ill-fated time in Malfoy Manor.

Pansy kicked him softly on the outside of foot, scuffing his new - and highly polished - dress shoes. "Stop gaping," she whispered, "you look like a mentally disabled goldfish."

They made their way to the bottom of the marble staircase, where a heavy-set witch with shimmering burgundy robes and an a fussy hairdo waited. When they reached her, Harry bent into the deep bow that Malfoy had taught him. He felt, rather than saw, Pansy sink into a curtsey by his side.

"You must be young Mr. Evans," the woman said in a voice so nasal and drawling that Harry almost had trouble understanding her. "So delighted to have you as one of our honored guests this evening."

"The honor is all mine, Mrs. Figglesworth," Harry responded, just as he'd been instructed to.

"Oh please, call me Francine. And who is this charming young witch you've brought with you tonight?"

Pansy stepped forward and dropped into another curtsey, shallower than the last. "Pansy Eugenia Parkinson, ma'am, daughter of Roane and Eleanora Parkinson. Thank you ever so for having us, I know James is more honored than he can express." Pansy slipped her arm through Harry's, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. "For such a talented writer, he's got a terrible way with words."

Francine Figglesworth laughed. "My late husband was the same way," she said with a wistful sigh. "Alfred wrote such beautiful, lyrical prose, but could barely string two words together in person."

Pansy gave a warm smile that Harry thought made her look a bit deranged, but seemed to delight Francine.

"You should hold onto this one, Mr. Evans. She's quite charming," Francine said to Harry, then added in a stage whisper, "Make an honest woman of her."

Harry opened his mouth to correct her misconception, but a sharp pinch from Pansy stopped him.

"That's what I keep telling him!"

Pansy and Mrs. Figglesworth shared another laugh while Harry shifted uncomfortably in place, which seemed to make them laugh more. They exchanged parting pleasantries and Pansy tugged Harry away from the woman and the staircase and towards the rear of the house. They followed a house elf through a number of rooms before exiting onto a grand terrace that overlooked a palatial landscape garden, dotted with large tents and strolling couples. "Oh great, an outdoor reception," Pansy muttered under her breath. "How provincial."

When the house elf disappeared, Harry leaned in and whispered, "What'd you do that for?"

"What I'd do what for?"

"Pinch me."

"Oh honestly, James," Pansy said, putting emphasis on Harry's pseudonym, "it won't kill you to play straight for one night, not if it helps you win."

"Play?!" Harry squawked. "No one's playing. I amstraight."

Pansy patted his arm. "Sure you are, darling. Sure you are."

Before he could demand what she meant by that, Pansy tugged him towards the stairs that led down to the lawn. "Come along, Potter. Let's go mingle."

xxx

Harry, it turned out, hated mingling. Thanks to Malfoy's dogged insistence that he study up on each of the selection committee members, he was able to recognize almost everyone of importance and recall at least a few interesting tidbits about each. He stumbled his way through half a dozen stilted exchanges, grateful for Pansy's presence at his side. Whenever Harry's attempt at conversation turned too awkward to bear, she'd swoop in with some charmingly insincere nicety that had more than one judge murmuring, "what a lovely couple," as they wandered away.

Harry had just snagged his third blissful glass of champagne when he felt Pansy stiffen by his side.

"Merlin's left testicle, what the hell is he doing here?"

Harry followed her gaze to a tall, handsome man with curly brown hair and a broad smile. "Who's that?"

"Thomas Doolen," Pansy said with a groan. "He's Greg's publisher. I met him last summer when I went to New York to visit Greg and Millie. We had a pleasant, if aerobic, weekend together, but like all holiday flings, I'd counted on never seeing him again."

"Greg?" Harry asked, taking a sip of his champagne.

"Gregory Goyle: tall, hunkering lump of a boy, one half of Draco's protective detail at Hogwarts, interests included intimidating the lower years and free verse. Surly you remember him; he nearly died in your presence."

"I remember," Harry said defensively. "I just didn't know he was a writer now."

"He's a poet, actually, quite talented. Used to send me all sorts of sappy love sonnets in fifth year," Pansy laughed. "Wish I hadn't Incendio'd them all, they might be worth something someday. If not, they'd at least embarrass the shit out of him."

Harry made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat and tried to figure out why this information unsettled him so much. He would never have imagined the Goyle he knew would have become a poet, or had been an aspiring one back at school. It seemed that he really didn't know any of the Slytherins he'd hated so much at all.

"Oh fuck, he's spotted me." Pansy downed the rest of her glass and grabbed another from a passing house elf. "Hold steady, Potter. Let me go handle this."

Harry watched as Parkinson floated through the crowd, stopping short in front of the dark-haired man, who eyed the low cut of her neckline with appreciation. She took his hands and leaned forward, kissing him quickly on each cheek. His hand fell to her lower back as he steered her through the crowd. With a shrug and the assumption that he was free from mingling duty until she returned, Harry made his way to the hors d'oeurves table.

As he finished his third crostini, Harry felt someone come up behind him.

"Excuse me, but are you James Evans?"

Harry turned to find a tall, slender man with shaggy blond hair and nervous smile. In his haste to respond, he wiped his hand on his robe and then winced, glad that neither Malfoy nor Parkinson was around to see what they would no doubt consider an alarming breech in good manners.

"I am," Harry said, sticking out his crumb free hand. "And you are?"

"Sebastian Campbell," the man said as he shook Harry's hand. Harry instantly recognized him as a fellow honoree, nominated for a whimsical collection of short stories about his childhood in Blackpool. "I just wanted to introduce myself and say what an admirer of yours I am Mr. Evans. Your novel was so powerful, and poignant. My sister, she's a squib-" his voice dropped to a whisper at that, as if he was telling Harry an intimate secret, "-so I've seen firsthand just how magical prejudice can affect the individual. You're a very brave man."

"I - well - thank you." Harry felt himself blush under the weight of what seemed to be his first sincere compliment of the night. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Campbell. I must admit to being a fan of yours as well. The characters you create are all so colorful, and your voice is so unique, yet relatable; I always felt like a bit of an outsider growing up myself."

"My characters are many shades duller than the people who inspired them, I assure you," Sebastian said with a self-depreciating laugh that warmed Harry's belly. "But now that we've sufficiently stroked each other's egos, may I get you another drink?" he indicated to Harry's almost empty champagne flute.

Harry nodded his assent and waited anxiously while Sebastian went in search of the alcohol bearing house elves. His nerves, combined with the bubbly carbonation in his stomach, made him feel as though he'd had more than three measly drinks. It was curious, actually, because Harry hadn't felt particularly nervous before now. But of course, Pansy had been glued to his side all evening, and now he was forced to face the wolves alone.

"Are you here with anyone?" Sebastian asked conversationally when he turned, two full flutes in hand.

"Thanks," Harry said as he took his drink. "Just my publicist. You?"

"My friend Patricia. She's out there with some boring, old stuffed-shirt," he said, and pointed to the dance floor with an incline of his head. "She begged me to bring her. She's hoping to find some pureblooded geezer with a Gringotts account just waiting to be drained, I'm sure."

Harry laughed and sipped happily at his champagne, enjoying the way the bubbles tickled his nose. "Sounds like something Parkinson would do."

"Parkinson?"

"Oh, that's my publicist." Harry explained. He scanned the crowd for Pansy's jet black hair and spotted her striding purposefully towards Sebastian and him, Thomas Doolen following at her heels. "And here she comes now."

Pansy slid up next to Harry and slunk her arm around his waist. "James, darling, there you are," she purred. "I want you to meet someone. James, this is Thomas, an acquaintance of mine from New York." Harry nodded his head and mumbled a hello. "Thomas, this is James, my fiancé." Pansy's grip around his waist tightened and her sharp fingernails dug into his hip. Harry gave a startled cry of pain, but took the hint and held his hand out to Thomas.

"Fiancé?" Sebastian asked, his face tight. "I thought you said she was your publicist."

"I am," Pansy cut in quickly. "I am both his fiancée and his publicist. I'm a modern woman, capable of wearing many, fashionable hats, Mr... I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name?"

"Campbell. Sebastian Campbell," he said, holding out a reluctant hand for Pansy to shake.

"Charmed, I'm sure." Pansy gave a smile that was anything but charmed as she shook his hand. "Pansy Parkinson, soon to be Pansy Parkinson-Evans," she added with a wistful sigh, and went onto tiptoe to kiss Harry's cheek. Harry thought she was overdoing it a bit, but was able to stop himself from rolling his eyes. "We're hyphenating, since I'm such a modern woman and all."

"I see. Well, I better go and find Patricia," Sebastian said. "It was a pleasure to meet you all." He gave a tight lipped smile and turned on his heel.

Pansy made a face and shot the two fingered salute at his back, before turning to Thomas with a bright smile. "It was a pleasure to see you again, Tom, but James promised to dance with me tonight and I love this song so much."

"You'll look me up next time you're in New York?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course," Pansy gave a sickly sweet smile that seemed to appease him. Thomas gave Harry a final small nod and disappeared into the crowd.

"Thank Merlin that's over," Pansy deflated. She snatched the glass from Harry's hand and downed the rest of his champagne. "You can thank me for saving you from that Campbell prick later. I really do want to dance."

"Prick? I thought he was quite nice. You didn't even talk to him."

Instead of responding, Pansy pulled Harry onto the dance floor. Harry bowed as she curtsied, then straightened and offered her his hand. Pansy slid into position and after a steadying count of one-two-three, they began to glide.

"Campbell really is a smarmy bastard," Pansy said as they turned. "I'm not lying about that."

Harry tried to keep count silently, even as he responded. "And what makes you say that?"

"I know him, by reputation of course. He's a notorious playboy, not the sort you'd want to get mixed up with."

"Having a polite conversation with a fellow nominee is not the same as getting mixed up with someone," Harry pointed out.

"Oh, please. He was practically fucking you with his eyes, even you should have been able to see that. Just trust me on this one: he's an arse. He gave Dr-er, a friend of mine, crabs. And that's a Muggle disease! Just imagine how he must have gotten it!"

Harry raised his brow at Pansy's near slip. "Does that friend's name happen to end in -aco Malfoy?"

"It was years ago," she said airily, "so don't hold it against him; Draco has a clean bill of health now, I can assure you. But there is no telling what that nasty Campbell bloke has going on downstairs. You should be thanking me. I saved you from a potentially incurable case of itchy genitalia."

This time, Harry did roll his eyes. "As glad as I am to have you safeguarding my virtue, it wasn't in jeopardy. Despite what you seem to think, I'm straight."

Pansy threw her head back and laughed. To an outsider, they might even look like an actual couple, laughing as they cut a large circle across the floor.

"That's right Parkinson, yuck it up. I don't know what you think you know, but-"

"I know why you and Ginny Weasley broke up," Pansy interrupted, fixing him with a knowing smirk.

Harry missed a step, nearly tumbling over and taking his fake fiancée with him. There was no way she could know about that. The only people who knew were himself, Ginny, and Zacharias Smith.

Zacharias Smith. Who just happened to be Parkinson's business partner. Well, fuck.

"Don't worry, he didn't betray your confidence," Pansy said smoothly when Harry regained his footing. She was leading now, but he didn't bother to try and take control of the dance back. "I noticed that he got a little shifty when I mentioned you. Well, more shifty that he usually is. I used Legilimency," she said with a shrug.

"You did what?!"

"Legilimency," Pansy repeated casually. "Oh, don't give me that look. He was hiding something from me, something about one of my own clients. Trust me, that was not what I expected to find."

Harry didn't feel very much like dancing anymore. He was going to be ill. "I was drunk," he said in a small voice.

"I didn't tell anyone if that's what you're worried about."

"It was a one time thing," Harry continued to protest weakly. "It's all the same if you close your eyes."

"That," Pansy said, leveling Harry with a flat look, "is the biggest crock of hippogriff shit I have ever heard." She stopped dancing and dropped her arms, then took Harry by his hand and tugged him off the floor. "Come along, I saw a gazebo around back. This is neither the time, nor the place, but we're having this out now."

Harry allowed himself to be pulled, too overwhelmed to object. Pansy marched through the crowd, stopping only when she passed a house elf levitating a silver platter of champagne glasses. "I'll be having that, thank you," she said, and with a flick of her wand the platter began to float in the air alongside her as she walked.

When they reached the gazebo, Pansy steered Harry onto the bench and took the seat next to him. She handed him a drink and took one for herself. "Drink up, Potter. You look like you need it."

Harry nodded and did what he was told, swallowing the whole thing in one gulp. Merlin, what he'd give for something stronger. Pansy passed him another and studied him questioningly.

"All right, Potter. Tell me what's going on."

Harry set his glass down on the bench beside him and scrubbed his face with his hands. "It's not that there is anything wrong with being...not straight...it's just - it's not right for me."

"And what makes you so special?" Pansy asked lightly.

Harry gave her a look, but Pansy only blinked back expectantly. "I'm not saying I'm special; I'm just saying-" Harry paused, wondering just what he was saying. "It's just not what I want, you know? I want to be normal, for once. I just want to be like everyone else."

"So you're saying that homosexuals are abnormal then?" There was a hint of disdain in Pansy's voice.

"No! I'm not saying that," Harry corrected. "What I'm trying to say is - look, all I've ever wanted was a family. I didn't have that growing up; I didn't have people who were supportive of me and who loved me unconditionally. I don't know how much you know about my childhood, but it was pretty shit," he said with a humorless laugh.

Pansy's mouth twisted in a wry smile. "I've heard that much, yes."

"But that's okay, because I always thought that one day, I'd have a family of my own, one that I made. And I'd make new, good memories to replace the old, bad ones."

"Only a person who has never had one could so blindly romanticize what families are like," said Pansy.

"I know, I know." Harry smiled despite himself. "I'm just a big Gryffindor sap; mock me all you want."

"I'll mock you for many things, Potter: your hair, your clothes, your unbelievably hideous glasses - I mean seriously, why haven't you replaced those yet? - but not for that." She placed her hand on top of Harry's. "You'll find that family means a lot to Slytherins as well."

Touched by her gesture, Harry turned his hand palm up and threaded his fingers through Pansy's. "I know that. Thank you."

"And did you also know, that there is more than one way to be a family?" Harry blinked at her stupidly until she continued. "Well, you said that what you wanted was for people to support you and love you unconditionally. I'm just a casual observer, but I think that by your definition, Granger and Weasley would count as family, wouldn't they?"

"Well, yeah, but they-"

"Uh-uh-uh," Pansy cut him off. "No buts. Someone is either your family or they aren't."

Harry sighed and wiggled from Pansy's grip, resting his elbows on his knees and cradling his head in his hands. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but it's not the same. They have each other, and pretty soon they'll have children. I'll be Uncle Harry - and that's wonderful - but it's not enough."

"You want to be a father," Pansy said, rather than asked.

"Yeah, I do."

"Is that really what all this existential angst is about?"

Harry looked up from his hands, surprised to see Pansy's expression has shifted from compassion to annoyance. "Well, yeah."

"Harry Potter, you are an idiot. Gay men can be fathers, the two things aren't mutually exclusive, you dolt. And don't you dare say it's not the same thing again, or I'll hex your mouth shut."

Harry snapped his mouth closed. He knew that gay men could be fathers; Dean and Seamus has adopted a little girl who had been orphaned by the war. Anyone who would tried to tell him that their little family was anything less than perfect would have received the strongest hex Harry could get away with legally. But still, that wasn't how Harry had always imagined his life.

Then again, how could he have expected to imagine it any different, when every example he saw was one witch, one wizard, two children and a pet crup? Dean and Seamus were the only gay couple he knew with children. Hell, they were the only gay men he knew, full stop. Although, that wasn't strictly true. There was always Smith and...

"What about Malfoy?"

Pansy cast him a sideways glance. "What about him?"

"Does he still plan to have children, even though he's...you know...bent."

Pansy laughed. "If you think something as trivial as sexual orientation is going to stop that man from having his heir, you really don't know him at all." Her grin was wide and proud as she talked about her friend and Harry realized, for the first time, just how close they must be. They were each other's family.

Deciding to press his luck and Pansy's uncharacteristically gentle mood, Harry took the opportunity to ask a few more personal questions about the man who had reentered his life and caused so many confusing feelings of late.

"How long has Malfoy been...er...out, I guess?"

"Draco was born with a pair of Celestina Warbeck tickets in his hands," Pansy snorted. "He came out to me in third year, if I remember correctly. We pretended to date on and off throughout school to throw his parent's off the trail but it wasn't until -" Pansy bit her lip and shifted in her seat, seemingly unsure whether she should continue or not," - until Lucius was given the kiss and Narcissa went mad that he was really able to live as himself. It was a steep price to pay."

Harry's heart skipped a beat. "Narcissa went mad?"

"Don't tell him I told you," Pansy tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "It's not a secret really, but he doesn't want it to be something that everyone knows and talks about. He's worried people will cause trouble for her if they find out. She refuses to leave the Manor - thinks Lucius is alive and Draco is still a child. Draco's worried that if they try to put her in St Mungo's, it'll kill her. "

Harry let out a long breath and leaned back against the sharp wood of the bench. "I had no clue."

"Of course you didn't. If you have any sense at all, you'll continue to pretend that you don't. Like I said, it's not a secret, but...Draco's very private." Pansy sighed and leaned back beside him. "That's why his break up with Ferdinand was so difficult. He was the first boyfriend Draco ever trusted enough to take to the Manor. And then two weeks later? Ferdinand just up and leaves, tells Draco it's all too much for him to deal with and swans off with some twinky little bastard from Birmingham, of all godforsaken places." She gave a dramatic shudder and wrapped her arms around herself. "I'll kill you if you ever repeat a word of this, Potter, but I worry about him sometimes."

Harry nodded in acknowledgment of her threat, but remained silent.

"He'd never admit it, not even to me, but I think he's lonely. Both his parents are barely more than alive, just hollow shells of the people they used to be - one without his soul and the other without her mind. And his godfather? Snape's been gone the longest, but I know Draco still mourns for him."

Harry stared into the pale yellow of his drink as he listened, remembering the way Malfoy stroked the robes at Zabini's shop with reverence. Warm waves of protectiveness washed over him.

"He's practically an orphan," Pansy added quietly. "I just wish he had someone, you know? Someone who could see him the way I do, who'd love him the way he deserves."

There was a quiet sniffling sound beside him. Harry stole a quick glance and saw Pansy trying to rub discretely at her suspiciously bright eyes. He didn't know what to say that would offer her any comfort; it was a situation he felt more familiar with than he wanted to admit. He took her hand again and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"You're a good friend, Pansy Parkinson. Malfoy is lucky to have someone like you."

"Yes, but believe it or not - I'm not enough," she said with a choked laugh. She turned and held Harry's gaze, her eyes narrowing as if searching his face for something hidden. "It's too bad you and Draco hate each other so much. I think you could help each other in a lot of ways. You're lonely too, aren't you, Potter?"

Harry was thrown slightly off kilter by Parkinson's question. Her probing gaze set him on edge and he wished for the thousandth time since Hogwarts that he'd tried harder in Snape's Occlumency lessons.

"I don't hate him," he said quietly.

Pansy turned her head away quickly, but Harry thought he caught a glimpse of a small smile. "That's good to know," she said. "For what it's worth, I don't think he hates you either." She stood abruptly, and began to smooth out the folds of her robes, back to business as usual. "We should get back, they'll be serving dinner soon and you have at least five more judges to woo before the evening is out.

"How am I doing so far?"

Pansy turned and gave another speculative look, her head tilted to the side and lips pursed. After a moment, she her face stretched into a crooked smile. "I'd say you've passed."

"Passed?" Harry asked as he followed her out of the gazebo and back towards the party. "Passed what?" Either Parkinson was too far ahead to hear or chose to ignore him, because Harry never did find out what he'd passed.

xxx

There was something loud and incessant ringing in Harry's head. He could hear it in the back of his mind, muted by the warm bliss of morning's shallow slumber. He tried to ignore it, to refocus on the fleeting visions of long, white limbs and silverblond hair that lingered in his mind's eye those few precious moments after waking. He was only able to recall glimpses of skin so pale it was almost translucent and a swirling patch of blond hair that dipped below the belly button of the flattest stomach he'd ever imagined. He couldn't remember who he'd been dreaming about, but the ferocity of his morning erection made the content of the dream quite obvious.

The harder he tried to ignore the ringing, the louder it became until Harry awoke fully with a start, recognizing the awful sound as his Floo alert. He threw back the covers and scurried out of bed, stumbling only twice on his way to the door. Pansy Parkinson was asleep on the sofa in his sitting room, having passed out there the previous night. Harry didn't want to imagine the scene that would no doubt ensue if it were Hermione or Ron calling and Parkinson answered. He was halfway down the stairs when the ringing stopped.

Surprised that there were no explosions or shouts of horror coming from down the hall, Harry crept down the rest of the flight. When he reached the corner, around which lay his sitting room, he stopped and strained his ears. He didn't hear Hermione's waspish whispers or the boom of Ron's jovial voice, but the nasal drawl of Draco Malfoy's posh accent. Without pausing to think, Harry wandlessly Accio'd an Extendable Ear from the junk drawer in his kitchen. It was a bit silly, he recognized, creeping around his own home, but his morbid curiosity was insatiable. He felt like he was back at Hogwarts, sneaking into Slytherin territory just as he had in second year, in order to observe how these strange creatures behaved amongst themselves.

"Merlin, Draco. Must you be so loud?"Harry heard Parkinson groan after he'd slipped the extendable ear around the corner.

"Please excuse me my rudeness," Draco's voice returned, "but why the fucking hell are you in Potter's living room?"

"Well, I wassleeping off a hangover. What are you doing in his Floo?"

"I just wanted to call and see how last night went. I wanted to know if all my hard work went to waste."

"Potter was surprisingly competent last night. Well done, Draco."

"I am the best at what I do,"

Draco quipped. There was a pause, and then, "Merlin's pants, Pansy, are you in your knickers? Tell me you didn't shag Potter. Please."

There was a laugh, too high-pitched and giggly to be Draco's.

"Would you be jealous if I had? Oh, don't look at me like that. Of course I didn't. Why would I be on the bloody sofa if I had? I got a bit too drunk to Apparate and didn't want to sleep in my robes, is all. Besides, Draco, you know I'd never do that to you."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Of course you don't,"

Pansy's voice was unbelieving. "Although, speaking of people who want to shag Potter, you'll never guess who we ran in to last night."

"Were we talking about people who want to shag Potter? I don't think we were."

"Sebastian Campbell."

There was another long pause.

"Did he?"

"Did he what?"

"Did he shag Potter?"

"Is what you're asking, Draco, whether or not a man you despise is upstairs in bed with the man you love?"

"I do

notlove Potter."

"But you said-"

"- I was talking crap, Pansy, utter crap and you know it. People always talk crap when they're pissed. And besides, I

neversaid I was in love with him, just that I think he's fit and not as obnoxious as he'd been in school. I don't know how you got this love business in your head."

"For you, that's basically a pledge of undying fealty, darling. And people don't always talk crap when they're drunk. Sometimes, they tell the truth."

"I wish you would drop this. It's pointless anyway. Potter's straight."

"You were willing to believe he'd gone to bed with Campbell."

"That's different, Campbell could talk a house elf out of his clothes."

"Oh, Draco, I want to tell you something so badly, but I can't."

"What is it?"

"Something Potter told me last night after the reception. We went to the Leaky and got delightfully smashed. I was doing a bit of recon, if you must know. I know why Potter and Weasley broke up."

"If you can't tell me, why bother to mention it?"

"Because you'd be very interested to know, I assure you. But don't ask me, because I can't tell you! I know someone who might be able to though. A certain blond someone that I happen to work with very closely. He's hard-working and unafraid to toil."

"You mean Smith? What does Smith have to do with their breakup?"

There was no response.

"No! Weasley and Smith? But... Smith's gay!"

Pansy made a squeak that sounded like she was in physical pain. There was a long, drawn out silence as though Malfoy and Parkinson were holding their breaths. Harry realized he was holding his as well.

"No. I don't believe it."

"It's true."

"Are they...? Do they still...?"

"No, I don't believe so."

"Oh. Well. That's interesting."

"What are you going to do about it, Draco?"

"Nothing, Pans. What is there to do? So, Potter shagged Smith, big deal. I thought I told you to drop it?"

"Yes, but that was only because you thought Potter was devastatingly heterosexual. But now that we know he's more flexible than we'd originally thought..."

Pansy's voice trailed off. When Draco didn't respond, Pansy spoke again, her voice small and sad. "I only want for you to be happy."

"I know you do, love. In a way, its rather sweet. Annoying and unhealthy, but sweet."

Draco heaved a heavy sigh. "When the boy wonder wakes up, tell him I rang. I'd like to hear how the reception went - from hisperspective. And we've got to schedule a time to meet and do a refresher lesson before the award ceremony."

"I'm not an owl."

"Just give him the damn message, all right?"

Harry retracted the Extendable Ear and crept down the hall and back up the stairs. When he reached his room, he let out a long breath and fell back against the door, needing the support of the wall to keep himself upright. The combination of last night's drink and some new, unidentified fluttering sensation in his stomach made him feel queasy. He didn't know what to think or how to feel. He tried to conjure feelings of betrayal, of disbelief that Parkinson had spilled his secret. But really wasn't surprised by that, and technically, she hadn't told Malfoy what had happened between Smith and himself. She'd merely hinted and allowed Malfoy to draw his own - mostly accurate - conclusions. To the Slytherin brain, he supposed, that technicality made all the difference.

What disquieted him most was what Draco had said: I think he's fit and not as obnoxious as he'd been in school. The thought that Draco Malfoy - prickly, pompous, persnickety Draco Malfoy - had admitted to finding him attractive warmed Harry from the inside. He knew he wasn't ugly, but no matter how many Most Ruggedly Handsome awards the readers of Witch Weekly bestowed upon him, Harry still spent most of his time feeling like the awkward, underfed boy in his cousin's overlarge hand-me-downs. And not as obnoxious as he used to bewas twice the compliment he'd ever imagined himself getting from Malfoy.

What did this mean then? Did Malfoy fancy him? Parkinson seemed to think he did. The idea was almost laughable, Harry thought. Malfoy couldn't fancy him; Malfoy hatedhim. Malfoy and Potter: bitter rivals and sworn enemies. That's how it'd always been. Could it ever be anything else? And did he want that? If Harry found himself thinking about Malfoy an awful lot these days, surely it was down to masochistic curiosity and nothing else.

There was the sound of movement on the stairs. Harry dashed back to bed and scrambled under the covers. When Pansy knocked on his door, Harry gave his best imitation of just-woken-up-voice and told her to come in. Harry accepted her message with a thanks and told her he'd visit her office tomorrow afternoon. She smiled and saw herself out.

When she was gone, Harry buried himself deeper in his covers and began to brood. What on earth was he going to do about Malfoy?

xxx

Harry didn't return Malfoy's call. He didn't visit Pansy's office the next day. He stayed in bed, puttered about his kitchen, and reread countless old copies of Quidditch Quarterly.Everything he looked at seemed to remind him somehow of Malfoy, which always made his stomach go all funny. He'd immediately retreat to his bedroom for more confused wallowing. The only way to distract himself from his jumbled thoughts was to close his eyes and stroke himself to completion. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't keep the visuals his mind conjured from morphing into a decidedly male, decidedly blond, and decidedly pointy form. He'd lay on his bed afterward, blissed out and content for a few peaceful minutes, before the reality of what he'd just fantasized about would crash down around him.

For three days the Floo rang and owls pecked at his window. Harry ignored them all, preferring his impregnable solitude. He was sure that the truth of his self-imposed exile would be immediately recognizable, written across his face clear as day. Someone would look at him and immediately know: Harry Potter was a shirt-lifter, a shirt-lifter who couldn't stop wanking over Draco Malfoy.

Harry was in the sitting room, flipping through the new Quality Quidditchcatalog, when the Floo began to ring again. Before he could escape, Hermione's disembodied head appeared in his fireplace. He silently cursed himself for giving her unrestricted access to his flat.

"There you are, Harry! I've been trying to get in touch with you for three days. Where have you been?"

Harry tucked the catalog between the seats of the sofa. "Been busy," he said with a shrug. "Lots of stuff to do for this Aggripa Award."

"Don't lie." Hermione said sternly. "Neither Parkinson nor Malfoy has heard from you since Saturday. May I come through?"

He hadn't actually expected Hermione to buy his evasive line about being busy, but he had hoped. "Yeah, come on," he said with a sigh.

Hermione's head disappeared, and a moment later she was stepping through the heatless flames and into Harry's flat. She took a moment to dust off her robes before turning to glare at Harry accusingly, her hands on her hips.

"What do you want, Hermione?" Harry asked, refusing to meet her gaze. If anyone would be able to read the guilt on his face, it would be her.

Hermione settled herself next to Harry on the sofa. She angled her body towards him and cocked her head, studying him intently. She didn't seem to know whether to be annoyed or concerned. "What's going on?" she asked gently.

"Nothing," he lied. "I just felt like having a few days to myself." He tried to keep his voice light, but knew Hermione wouldn't be fooled.

"Don't shut me out, Harry. You know you can tell me anything."

Harry turned and looked at Hermione for the first time since she arrived. He looked at her face, full of concern and love, and found himself wanting to tell her. She wouldn't judge him, not for being gay or even for fancying Malfoy. She might be less than pleased about what had happened between him and Zach while he was still seeing Ginny, but she'd still love him. He suddenly felt foolish for hiding this from her. After all they'd been through together, he should have known he could trust her with this.

So Harry took a deep breath and told her the whole sordid story. He told her about getting drunk at the Leaky with Seamus, about running into Zach and what happened after that. He told her about the guilt and the shame, how Ginny had cried when he told her, and how her stuff was gone when he woke up the next morning. He told her about the confusion and doubt that he'd always felt and ignored for years, but suddenly couldn't ignore any longer. He told her about his conversation with Parkinson and the conversation between Parkinson and Malfoy he'd overheard. He told her about the past three days, and how anytime his thoughts had wandered to Malfoy, he'd felt nervous and nauseous and just a little bit giddy. He didn't tell her about the wanking though, a man was allowed some secrets.

Hermione listened and nodded along. At one point, when it seemed Harry might not be able to finish, she reached out and squeezed his hand. Neither of them pulled away and she spent the rest of the time stroking Harry's hand with her thumb.

"So you've been hiding out, cutting yourself off from the people who love you, and ignoring my calls because you think you might have a gay crush on Draco Malfoy?" she asked lightly when Harry had finished.

"Well, when you put it that way, it sounds a bit stupid."

"It is a bit stupid," Hermione agreed. Harry groaned and went to pull away, but Hermione's grip on his hand strengthened. "It's silly," she continued, "because you just said you overheard him and Parkinson talking about how he fancied you. I don't see why you'd be hiding from him if you both fancy each other."

"But he doesn't fancy me!" Harry protested. "That's what he was telling Parkinson. He may think I'm fit, but that doesn't mean he actually likes me. And I'm afraid I may actually likehim, you know? For more than just a shag." Harry pulled out of Hermione's grip and cradled his head in his hands. "I don't think I can face him ever again."

"Parkinson seems to think that he actually fancies you," Hermione pointed out. "What if he's just denying it because he doesn't want to admit he's got feelings for someone who doesn't return them? Just like you were doing by shutting yourself up in here and ignoring the world."

Harry looked up between a crack between his fingers, hopeful for the first time. "Do you really think so?"

Hermione gave a negligent shrug. "I don't know him that well, but I wouldn't be surprised. He's a proud man." She sat up and cleared her throat. "Malfoys do not pine," she said in her best imitation of Malfoy's posh drawl.

They snickered together and Harry felt himself flood with relief. He wished he had told Hermione all of this sooner.

"What should I do?"

"I can't tell you what to do, Harry, but I do know that Potters shouldn't pine either." She nudged Harry's shoulder with her own. "Try and spend some time with him outside of this whole Aggripa business. Get to know him properly, see if there is a real connection there."

"What, like, take him on a date?" he asked in disbelief.

"That would be the conventional approach."

Harry shook his head.

"Come on, Harry. What's the worst that could happen?"

"Uh, he could say no. And then laugh. And then tell everyone."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I think you're just making excuses. Even if he did tell everyone, who'd believe him? He's hardly the Wizarding World's darling." Harry opened his mouth to object, but Hermione hushed him with a wave of her hand. "Ask him out or not, it's your choice. But no more of this hiding away business, all right?" She leaned forward and sniffed. "You smell like Mundungus Fletcher. Go take a shower; you're having dinner with Ron and me tonight."

Harry couldn't ignore a direct order from Hermione like that. He gave her a hug and promised to Floo over around seven. Hermione disappeared into the flames and Harry trudged upstairs to his en suite. He'd allow himself one more Malfoy inspired wank before he went.

xxx

Harry stood outside the door of Malfoy's townhouse. He raised his hand to knock, hesitated, and lowered his fist. It was the third time he'd readied himself to knock, and the third time his bravery had fled him. He felt like giving up, like going home and finding solace under his bed's fluffy duvet. But before he could turn to leave, the door opened and Draco Malfoy's pinched face was glaring out at him.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded.

"Uh, sorry I didn't call you back," Harry said, feeling extremely awkward. "Been busy, you know. Mind if I come in?"

Draco didn't respond, but disappeared inside the house. He left the door open, which Harry figured was an invitation of sorts. He closed the door behind him and followed Malfoy into the parlor where they'd held their lessons the previous week. Draco was waiting for him inside, arms crossed against his chest, looking bored and impatient.

Harry decided it was now or never. "Look, Malfoy - er, Draco- I was just wondering...would you like to have dinner with me?" Both Draco's arms and jaw fell. "You know, to thank you for all your help last week."

Draco's mouth snapped shut and he refolded his arms. "I was paid for my services, Potter. That is thanks enough."

"Yeah, but that's a bit impersonal, isn't it?" Harry asked. Malfoy wasn't making this easy. "Wasn't one of your lessons to make everyone feel as though you have a personal interest in them?"

"And do you, Potter?" Draco asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. "Do you have a personal interest in me?"

"Erm," Harry couldn't help but blush at that. "Maybe? I don't know. Come on Malfoy, don't be a prick. Just have dinner with me, yeah?"

Draco studied him for a few moments before heaving an exaggerated sigh. "Whatever. As long as you're paying. Tonight, Les Saveurs d'Amour.I'll owl you the time." Draco walked briskly from the room, shepherding Harry out of his home. Harry followed behind, marveling at how simple that had actually been.

He was going to dinner with Draco Malfoy. The word "date" hadn't actually been mentioned, but still, it was a step in the right direction.

"And I'm putting the reservation under your name, so none of those atrocious Glamours," Draco added as he ushered Harry out.

As the door closed in his face, Harry gave a small whoop.

xxx

Harry knew he was going to wear the robes that Malfoy had ordered for him, but that didn't stop him from taking them on and off in a fit a pique as he dressed that night, worried about whether or not the bloody linesfell right for the first time in his life. He briefly considered debriefing as was proper, but decided against it. In his twenty-four years, he'd never once not worn underwear; forgoing his pants this evening could be interpreted as a tad presumptuous.

He arrived thirty-five minutes before the time Malfoy had owled him. He'd assumed from the name that Les Saveurs d'Amourwould be grand and poncy, much like Malfoy himself, but was surprised to find a small restaurant that reminded him more of the quaint cafés that littered the streets of Paris. He felt overdressed in his formal robes and considered Apparating home for a quick change before Malfoy arrived, when he noticed a head of pale blond hair at the back of the restaurant. Malfoy turned and caught Harry's eye with a small, almost shy, smile.

Walking on unsteady legs, Harry made his way through the restaurant, past the host's station, and towards Malfoy. Before he'd even reached the table, there was a waiter at his side, pulling out Harry's chair and pouring him a glass of water. The waiter picked up the wine Malfoy had already ordered from the table, hovering the neck of the bottle over the empty wineglass at Harry's seat. Harry nodded his consent and watched as a rich, red wine spilled into his glass. The waiter set the bottle down, placed Harry's napkin in his lap, and handed Harry an open menu, not making a single noise the entire time.

"Blimey," Harry said as he watched the man scurry away. "Will he be cutting my food for me as well?"

Draco's eyes smiled at him from over the top of his wineglass. "He'll feed it to you too, if you'd like; of course, you've got to pay extra for that."

Harry wasn't sure how he'd be expected to eat if his stomach kept doing somersaults each time Malfoy looked at him. Avoiding Malfoy's gaze, Harry looked about the nearly empty restaurant. "Hope you didn't have trouble making those last minute reservations."

A faint twinge of red colored Malfoy's pale cheeks. "I didn't make any," he said. "Just didn't want you to wear the Glamours."

Harry felt his own face heat and began to study the menu. It was written in French, but thankfully had English translations underneath each item, listing the ingredients of each dish. Malfoy must have noticed his furrowed brow, because Harry heard him laugh.

"Sorry Potter, no fish and chips on the menu tonight."

"It's not that," Harry lied. "I just can't decide, it all sounds so good."

The waiter returned. Malfoy took the liberty of ordering their starters, and the Blanquette de Veau for his main course. His eyebrows rose a fraction when Harry ordered the Andouillette.

"Bold choice, Potter."

"It was?" asked Harry. It was just sausage. Malfoy snickered.

They drank their wine as a few minutes of awkward silence passed. Harry had taken Hermione's advice and asked Draco to dinner, but he hadn't thought to plan much further than that. He couldn't ask normal first date questions, because technically this wasn't really a date and besides, he knew all the answers anyway.

"So..." Harry cleared his throat, desperate to break the silence.

"So..." Draco repeated slowly. When Harry offered nothing in return, Draco sighed. "I assume you asked me to dinner for a reason. Out with it, Potter."

"No reason really," Harry admitted. "I just wanted to have dinner with you."

"What, like a date?" Draco asked with a dismissive laugh, before taking another sip of wine.

Harry tried to hide his rising blush by taking a large gulp of his own drink. Draco's eyes widened and he began to cough. "You're not kidding," Draco said after he'd finished nearly half his water. "Potter, is this a date?"

"It could be, if you wanted." Harry gave a one-shouldered shrug as if he really didn't care. He was unwilling to look up and see the disdain that would inevitably be written across Malfoy's face. "I did offer to pay."

"Bleeding hell," Draco exhaled. The coarse phrase sounded so strange coming from Draco's lips that Harry couldn't help but smile a bit, despite himself. "I'm on a date with Harry Potter. Would have been nice to have known about it first. I would have dressed up."

At that, Harry glanced up, surprised that Malfoy hadn't objected to the idea of a date with him. He noticed a line of tension in Malfoy's erect posture that hadn't been there before, as well as a slight tic at the corner of his mouth. Confident, poised, and arrogant Draco Malfoy was unsure of himself, Harry realized.

"I think you look nice," Harry said, forcing himself to hold Malfoy's gaze. "Plum suits you."

Draco cast a bewildered look down at himself, as if he'd forgotten he'd worn robes at all and turned even pinker. "They're aubergine," he murmured. "And um, thank you. You look very nice as well." The compliment was so quiet that Harry could barely hear it, but his stomach did another happy flip anyway.

Their waiter arrived with a board of cheese and patés. Harry sat back and allowed the man room to arrange the table and took the opportunity to sneak a brief glance at Malfoy. Malfoy was obviously still thrown, and something about that made a burst of confidence surge through Harry. He didn't imagine much could ruffle Malfoy's feathers, but it was a good sign that he could.

Another uncomfortable silence overtook them as they sat and quietly munched on their food. Harry tried to think of other things to say now that they'd established it was a date, but still found himself at a loss. He assumed he should try and flirt a bit, but flirting had never been his strong suit. Thankfully, it was Malfoy who spoke next, breaking the silence but not the air of awkward tension.

"But you're not-" he began, but stopped himself, frowning. "What I mean to say is-" he tried again, but didn't seem to like that either. Draco jut out his chin and settled on, "You do realize I'm not a woman, don't you?"

Harry couldn't help but chuckle. "Yeah, I had noticed that much."

"But you're not-"

"Might be," Harry interrupted, his turn to blush. He wondered if he should tell Malfoy that he knew that Malfoy knew about what happened between him and Smith.

"I'd heard rumors," Draco said quietly. "But you can't believe everything you hear."

"From Parkinson?" Harry asked, plopping an olive from the board into his mouth. He winced as his teeth bit down on the pit.

"No!" Draco objected a bit quickly.

"Don't worry about it, I'm not mad at her," Harry said truthfully. If she hadn't told Malfoy, they might not even be here now. "I know she told you about Smith and me."

Draco's eyes narrowed. "How do you know that?"

"I overheard her telling you. Or well, not telling you, but making it pretty obvious anyways."

"You were eavesdropping on our conversation!?"

"It was in my house! I came down to answer myFloo, but Parkinson beat me to it."

"Still, you had no right," Draco snapped. His face then turned the palest shade of white imaginable. "Oh Merlin, how much did you hear?"

Harry smiled and ate another olive, careful to bite around the pit this time. He was having a wonderful time watching Malfoy turn all sorts of colors. "Enough to know that you think I'm fit."

Malfoy's pale face turned instantly red. "I have to go," he announced, standing up so quick he almost knocked his chair over. He threw his napkin onto the table and was two long strides away when Harry reached out and snatched his wrist, holding it firmly as though Malfoy's hand was a golden snitch.

"Come on, Malfoy. There are worse things in life thinking I'm fit," he said. Feeling bold, he turned Malfoy's hand over and ran his thumb across Malfoy's palm. "I think you're fit too. And besides, you can't just run out on a date: it's terrible manners. Please, stay."

The taut line of Malfoy's shoulders slacked. He pulled his hand free of Harry's grip, albeit slowly, and returned to his seat. "It would be horribly rude of me," he nodded, "and we can't have that." He grabbed the bottle of wine and poured himself another glass - far more than proper - and shook the bottle impatiently to get the final drops out. He met Harry's bemused gaze with a defiant one of his own. "What?" he snapped.

Harry just smiled indulgently and looked around for their waiter, signaling him to bring them another bottle.

"So...Draco Malfoy thinks I'm fit," he said.

"Yes, because no one saw that one coming," Draco muttered bitterly.

Harry's brow creased even further than when he'd been reading the menu. "What does that mean? I certainly didn't!"

"Well, then you must be even more blind than we'd previously thought," Draco said. "Speccy git," he added under his breath, but the curve to his lips told Harry that he'd been meant to hear it. Draco set his wine down and crossed his arms, staring at Harry with his head cocked. "What I don't understand, is why Harry Potter would want to go on a date with me."

Harry shrugged. He didn't really understand it himself. "I just do."

"Excuse me my disbelief, but up until a week ago I was under the impression that you were on the straight and narrow path towards a perfect golden life with your perfect golden girlfriend." He picked up his wine and took another sip. "How long have you had your doubts?"

Harry shifted in his seat, feeling suddenly on the spot. "I guess I've always known somewhere in the back of my mind, but I just ignored it, you know? I liked Ginny, I lovedGinny. It wasn't hard to ignore those thoughts. I guess it wasn't until...that thing with Zach, that I realized just how much I had been suppressing. And even after that, I tried to ignore it. But I don't want to anymore."

Draco didn't respond, just continued to stare at Harry thoughtfully. Harry shifted again, disturbed by the weight of Draco's consideration. He could hear the sound of other patrons laughing, of forks being scraped across plates, of bottles being corked and glasses being clinked. The ambient noise of the restaurant nearly deafened him as Harry waited.

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Malfoy spoke, his voice quiet but firm. "I won't be your experiment."

"No!" Harry nearly shouted, unaware of how loud his voice would be after such a long silence. "Malfoy, that's not what I'm - I'm not asking you to be. I don't want that either."

"Good," Malfoy nodded. "I just wanted to make that clear. Oh, here we go."

Two waiters appeared, one to clear the remnants of their cheese board and to crumb the table, the other bearing the main course and a fresh bottle of wine. Draco thanked them while Harry stared at the sausage on his plate with suspicion.

"Uh, Malfoy. I think this might have gone bad."

"Do you?" Draco bit his lip in an attempt not to laugh. "What makes you say that?"

Harry looked around, making sure none of the staff was within hearing distance. He didn't want to offend anyone. "It smells a bit weird. Kind of like..." he trailed off, unsure how to phrase this politely.

"Kind of like shit?" Draco offered, unable to bite back his laugh this time.

Harry couldn't help the curl of his lip. "You mean, its supposed to smell like this?" he asked in disbelief as he poked the offending meat with his fork.

"How else would you expect a sausage made of pig's colon to smell?"

"Oh, god." Harry didn't care if it was rude, he pushed the plate away with disgust. "And people go on about how horrible English food is! I can't believe you let me order that."

"How was I supposed to stop you?" Draco asked as he speared a small piece of sauce covered meat from his own plate. He made a show of eating it, chewing slowly and making obscene moans of appreciation. "Oh, Potter, the veal is absolutely divine. I'm so glad I don't have a piece of feces on my plate!"

Harry glared between Malfoy and his own plate of shit sausage.

"Oh, don't be such a brat," Draco laughed. He looked around before slipping his wand from the inside pocket of his robe and discretely banishing the Andouillette. The smell lingered, but was not nearly as overwhelming. "Here," Draco said as he scraped half of his dinner onto Harry's plate. "I need to watch my girlish figure anyway."

Harry was warmed throughout by the casual kindness of Malfoy's gesture. He wasn't just having dinner with a man he could truly say he fancied, he was actually sharingthe man's dinner. It was such an intimate thing, and he could help but stare in awe as Malfoy continued to eat his portion of their dinner, his appreciative moans less theatrical now that he wasn't teasing, but no less obscene.

"Thank you," Harry said quietly, waiting until the man across the table from him looked up with surprised grey eyes, before adding, "Draco."

Draco sat back, holding Harry's gaze the entire time. "You're welcome, Harry," he said with a smile.

xxx

"Sorry, but I'm just dying to ask," Draco slurred slightly as he poured another glass of wine for Harry. They were almost to the bottom of their third bottle and splitting a large piece of Opera cake. "What happened between you and Smith?" He held his hand up when Harry started to speak. "And none of that blushing virgin we were drunk bollocks, Harry. I want details."

Harry was far from a virgin, but he did blush. "Well, we were drunk."

"You had to have been to get off with Smith!"

Harry tried to give Draco a disapproving frown, but the laughter bubbled up from his belly and spilled out anyway.

"Come on, Potter," Draco said, leaning forward and staring at Harry with such intensity that Harry almost felt naked. "Don't be coy."

Harry licked his lips, wondering unconsciously how long his mouth had been so dry. "Harry," he said quietly. "Call me Harry."

"All right, Harry," Draco said with a lascivious smirk. He dropped his voice low. "Tell me about you and Smith. Curious minds want to know. Did you fuck him? Or did he fuck you?"

Harry's world narrowed, all he could see was the obscene twist of Draco's full lips as he pronounced the word fuck, imbuing the already lewd word with an unprecedented amount of vulgarity. His cock twitched, not at the memory of his clumsy, drunken encounter with Zach, but at all the promises hidden in Draco's wicked tone.

"We, uh, we didn't," Harry stammered, barely able to form a response as his mind replayed the filthy way in which Draco had practically purred the word fuck over and over. "He-he sucked me off. And then I wanked him."

Instead of being disappointed in Harry's lack of experience, Draco seemed to perk at that. "Where did this happen?"

"At the Leaky," Harry whispered, despite the Muffliato they'd cast over their table thirty minutes prior.

Draco inhaled sharply and closed his eyes. "In the gent's?"

When he didn't answer, Draco opened his eyes to catch the tail end of Harry's nod.

"Oh fuck, Harry," Draco exhaled. "That's - that's reallyhot."

Harry's cock twitched again and he gripped the edge of the table, glad wasn't wearing Muggle clothes underneath his robes; he'd be straining the zip of his trousers if he had. He wasn't sure how the conversation hard turned so bawdy so quickly, but he wasn't about to let the opportunity pass. He had six glasses of wine in his stomach, whispering their encouragement.

Harry dropped his voice low to match Draco's. "Do you like thinking about that, Draco? About me and Smith, getting off in the toilets at the Leaky? Him, on his knees, with my prick in his mouth?" He ignored Draco's startled gasp and continued, "Me, with my hand wrapped around his prick, pumping him until he came all over himself."

"Potter, stop it. We're in public!" Draco's voice cracked in the middle of his plea, but the keen look in his eyes begged Harry to continued.

"So? Zach and I were in public; it didn't stop me then. And I don't think you really want me to stop either, do you? You said you wanted details, Draco. Why? So you could go home and wank over it, imagine it was me and you, instead of me and Zach?" Draco shook his head and gave a warning hiss, but Harry was too swept up in his own fantasy to stop. His cock ached, and he palmed the tented bulge of his robes as discreetly as he could. "I wish it had been you in there with me, you on your knees with your pretty red lips wrapped around my prick, your thick, hard cock squirting all over my hands."

Draco's knuckles were white where he gripped the edge of his wineglass. Harry was briefly worried it might shatter in his grip, until he noticed the strained tic in Draco's jaw and felt the overwhelming urge to jump across the table and bite it.

"If you don't stop it, Potter," Draco said with a low and shaky breath, "I'm liable to come my pants like a bloody first year."

"I thought purebloods didn't wear pants under their robes," Harry said with a smile, toeing off one of his shoes before he'd had the time to think about what he was about to do. "It's improper, you said."

Draco let out an undignified squawk and nearly jumped from his seat when he felt Harry's sock-covered foot begin to slide up his leg from underneath his robe. The knitted material of Harry's sock caught on the fine hairs of Draco's legs. Harry had to sink down into his seat the further up Draco's leg his foot traveled, but he didn't care. He had a goal in mind and nothing could deter his drunken sense of Gryffindor determination.

Then, Harry felt it. First, the soft sac of Draco's bollocks, followed by the hard length of his erection, so full and straining that it would have been flush against his stomach even without the gentle press of Harry's foot. "No pants then, I see."

Draco let out a throaty moan, and the hand not wrapped tightly around his wine glass shot out to grip the edge of the table.

Harry was dizzy with power and lust, torn between his desire to rub his foot up and down Draco's swollen cock and watch the man crumble before his very eyes and his desperate need to grab him by the shoulders, Apparate them back to his place, and fuck the whimpering man into his mattress. He didn't think he could manage to Apparate in this state, so settled on the third way.

"So, Malfoy," he began, his voice husky and low. "Reckon they've got toilets here, too?"

Draco's eyes snapped open and Harry saw the briefest flash of momentary hurt flicker across them, before unbridled anger pushed into his darkened, grey eyes. When Draco rose this time, his chair crashed onto the floor behind him. He leaned over the table, one balled fist pressing into the white table cloth and the other pointed accusingly at Harry's flushed face.

"I told you," Draco spat. "I wouldn't be your fucking experiment."

And then Draco was gone in a tornado of aubergine robes and scattering waitstaff.

xxx

He knew it was a bit pathetic to exile himself twice in the same week, but Harry couldn't bring himself to talk to anyone. He closed his Floo and strengthened the Anti-Apparation wards over his flat. His only attempts at communication were piled on his kitchen table, "Return to Sender" and "Fuck off, Potter!" written in Malfoy's elegant script on the outside of the unopened envelopes.

He felt worse than when Ginny had chucked him. At that time, he'd been consumed with feelings of guilt that ate at his conscience, but even that was nothing compared to the sense of loss he felt now. Malfoy wasn't his boyfriend - hell, they hadn't even kissed - but Harry had allowed himself to give into his crush and had quickly become overtaken by the thoughts and desires he'd suppressed for so long. And just as quickly as he'd come to terms with what - and whom - he wanted, he'd fucked it up, and all because he was a stupid, unthinking, and ridiculously randy drunk.

Harry replayed those few final minutes at Les Saveurs d'Amour over in his head for the umpteenth time. He could see it so clearly now: the moment he'd crossed the line; the hurt in Draco's eyes when he thought that Harry's interest in him was for nothing more than a quick one-off in the bathroom; when Draco thought that he meant no more to Harry than Zacharias Smith had. Growling with frustration at his own ineptitude, Harry kicked the bottom cupboard and immediately swore, hopping around his kitchen on his uninjured foot.

The doorbell rang and Harry swore again. The only person who ever rang his bell was the delivery boy for the curry shop down the street, but he hadn't ordered anything. He stalked through his small flat and grabbed the knob.

"What?" He demanded as he yanked the door open.

Pansy Parkinson stood before him, looking decidedly out of place in the hallway of his Muggle apartment building. She did not, however, look the least bit phased by Harry's terse greeting. She rolled her eyes and pushed past him, letting herself into his flat as if she owned the place. She turned and crossed her arms, glaring at Harry. "What the fuck did you do to Draco?"

Harry mirrored her stance, crossing his arms and leaning back against the door. "How did you get my address?"

"It's on file at the office, you tit. Now answer my question: What the fuck did you do to Draco?"

"Nothing!" Harry cried, because honestly, he hadn'tdone anything, not purposefully at least. Draco had misunderstood his intentions and was being a stubborn git, refusing to even acknowledge the half dozen notes of apology and explanation Harry had tried to owl. He told all of this to Parkinson, walking to the kitchen to gather the letters from the table and waving them around as emphatic proof.

"You're a real fucking idiot, Potter," Pansy said when Harry's rant finally came to an end, but the fight was gone from her voice. "You know Draco has trust issues, I toldyou that."

Harry sighed, suddenly feeling weary to his bones. "Would it make it any better if I mentioned that I was a little bit drunk when I propositioned him?"

"You're always a little bit drunk," she said flatly. "That excuse is wearing thin."

Harry slumped into a chair and rested his elbows on the table, cradling his head in his hands. "I know," he said tiredly. "How am I going to fix this?"

He felt Parkinson move behind him and could sense her hand hovering a few inches above his shoulders, as though she intended to rub his shoulders in a comforting gesture. She hesitated and instead chose to pat Harry's head as though he were a misbehaved dog who had tried his best not to piddle in the house and felt terrible about having an accident.

"There, there, Potter," she said in what must have been her soothing voice, "you're not going to do anything to try and fix it; you'd only muck it up worse."

Harry snorted, but couldn't disagree with her assessment. "Gee, thanks, Parkinson."

Pansy ignored him. "Just leave it to me, darling. I'll take care of everything."

Harry lifted his head from his hands and turned around, eyeing her warily over his shoulder. "How?"

"Oh, don't worry yourself with that!" she said brightly as she scooped the letters from the table and shoved them into the small black handbag she was carrying. "I'll get it all sorted."

"He'll never read those."

"Of course he will," Pansy said. "I have my ways."

Harry tried to imagine what sort of torture Parkinson might devise in order to get people to do what she wanted, but decided it was best if he not let his mind wander down that path. Draco was so stubborn, he'd refuse even if she came at him with thumbscrews. Not like she would, though. Would she?

Seemingly satisfied, Pansy changed the topic. "You do realize that tomorrow is the award ceremony, right?"

"I didn't forget," Harry lied. He hadn't really forgotten, he just had other, blonder things that occupied his thoughts.

"Meet at my office at five? There are a few things I want to go over before we leave."

"Sure," Harry agreed with a negligent wave of his hand. He didn't really want to go anymore, but didn't see much of a choice. He'd just have to suck it up and get it over with.

"Good." Pansy nodded decisively and took a final sweeping glance at the chaos of Harry's flat. "Well, as nice as it was to see this charming little hovel you call a living space, I must be off. There is scheming to be done."

"Of course there is," Harry said as he followed Pansy out of the kitchen and back towards the front of his flat.

No matter what she seemed to think, Harry didn't believe she could actually convince Draco to give him another chance, but he wasn't about to tell her that. He'd learned long ago to pick his battles with Parkinson. Since it was not likely she could make the situation any worse than he himself had, he'd let her meddle until she got bored and moved on.

Harry closed the door behind her and returned to his kitchen, grabbing another piece of parchment and a self-inking quill as he went. He'd try one last letter.

xxx

Gemma was waiting for him in the lobby of Parkinson & Smith. Harry barely had time to brush the last remnants of Floo powder from his robes before she was tugging him across the lobby and down the hall that led to Parkinson's office, chatting excitedly about that evening's award ceremony.

"Are you excited for tonight?" she asked as they rounded the final corner.

"Yeah," Harry lied, adding a smile he hoped she wouldn't see right through.

But Gemma was no longer paying attention to him. As they approached Pansy's office, she slowed and cast a few furtive glances between Harry and the door.

"Is there something wrong?"

"No, not at all," said Gemma. "It's just, don't be mad at me for this, all right Mr. Potter? I'm under very strict orders to do this. If I don't, she'll fire me!"

Just as he was about to ask what she was talking about, Gemma pushed open the door and shoved Harry inside. Unprepared for her force and surprised by her strength, Harry stumbled through the entrance a few steps before regaining his balance. He spun on his heel just in time to see the door close in front of Gemma's apologetic face and hear the familiar click of locking spells.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

Harry turned towards the voice, instantly recognizing the lazy drawl even through the thick layer of anger. Draco Malfoy was seated on the edge of Pansy's desk, his legs dangling off the side and a clear, round Rememberall in his hands.

"I'm supposed to be here!" he yelled back, not quite sure why he'd have reason to be angry, but unwilling to let Malfoy yell at him without yelling back. "I'm meeting Parkinson for the award ceremony tonight! What are youdoing here?"

"Pansy called me in tears, said there was an emergency and to meet her in her office." Draco stopped, his face cleared for a moment and then returned to a deep scowl. "I'm going to kedavrathat meddling bitch. Pansy, where the hell are you? I know you're listening!"

As if on cue, the fireplace roared to life with brilliant green flames and settled down to reveal Pansy Parkinson's face, smiling at them brightly through the heatless embers. "Hello, darlings!" she called.

Draco pushed himself off the edge of her desk and rounded on the fireplace. "What is the meaning of this?"

"Yeah," Harry added, folding his arms and turning towards the hearth. "What are you playing at, Parkinson?"

"Playing at?" Parkinson gasped in mock offense. "I don't know what you mean, Potter. I was just popping in to offer my apologies. It seems I had a previous engagement for this evening that I completely forgot about and simply cannot get out of."

"What?!" Harry and Draco yelled in unison, then turned to glare at each other.

"But, since Draco knows the situation and is already here, I'm sure he'd be happy to escort you to the ceremony." She turned her attention to Draco. "Wouldn't you, darling?"

"I'm going to kill you for this, Pansy," he said lowly, and then louder, "No. No, definitely not. I will not do this." He stormed towards the door and grabbed the knob, twisting it roughly. He tugged, again and again, but the door didn't budge. He braced his foot against the door frame for leverage and pulled with all his strength until he stumbled backwards a few paces, the knob still in his hand.

"You're paying for that!" Pansy called from the fire. "And honestly, Draco, have you never heard of Alohamora?"

Draco pulled his wand from the pocket of his trousers, grumbling under his breath, and cast the spell from his seat on the floor. Nothing happened. He shook his wand, aimed, and cast again.

"Here, let me try," Harry said, stepping forward as he pulled his own wand out from the inside pocket of his dress robes. "Alohamora." Still nothing. He cast the spell three more times, putting more force and energy behind each attempt, but to no avail.

"Give up yet?" Pansy asked from the fireplace. "When Gemma left I had her activate the Auror-grade locking charms I had placed on the outside of the door this morning. You'll find that the Anti-Apparation wards are equally impregnable."

"You had an Auror come down to help lock us in?" Draco scoffed. "Wouldn't that be aiding and abetting a criminal kidnapping?"

"False imprisonment," Harry corrected unthinkingly. He still remembered a few things from his months with the Aurors.

"Whatever you want to call it," Draco snapped, "either way its surely illegal."

"Oh, shut up, Draco," Pansy said, looking bored. "It's for your own good, and I wont get in any trouble, I'm sure of it. I had Granger send her Weasley down to set the spells."

"Ron?!" How in the bloody hell was Ron in on this charade?

"He wasn't too pleased with the idea, mind you, but Hermione agreed that it was time we intervened, and she can be quiet persuasive when she sets her mind to it. Don't bother trying to magic through the wards; you'll just exhaust yourself."

"So that's your great plan, Pansy?" Draco sneered. "To lock us in your office until we share all our secrets and feelings like a pair of Hufflepuff girls? Shall we braid each other's hair while we're at it?"

A genuine flash of hurt crossed Pansy's face. "Of course not, and I'm offended you'd think I'd arrange something so dull. And there is a way out of the room: a Portkey in my top drawer, its made from a broken Muggle pocket watch."

"Where does it go?" Harry asked.

"To the award ceremony, of course! Honestly, do either of you ever listen to a word I say? I can't make it tonight, so Draco is going to be your escort."

Harry let his head fall back and stared up at the ceiling, trying to take a few calming breaths to recentre himself. When Pansy said she'd "take care of it," he couldn't have imagined she'd cook up something like this.

"Ah, but there's a fault in your plan," said Draco. "Even if I did agree - which I don't- I'm not dressed for the occasion."

"What do you take me for, an amateur?" Pansy pouted. "I've taken the liberty of making those arrangements as well," she added grandly.

Silence filled the room as Harry and Draco waited for her to elaborate.

Pansy cleared her throat and repeated, a bit louder, "I've taken the liberty of making those arrangements as well!" When nothing happened, she swore. "Oh shit, hang on a minute."

Her head disappeared from the fireplace grate, only to be replaced immediately by her wand arm. With a quick swish, a blue jet of magic shot from the tip of her wand and flew across the room, absorbing into the opposite wall. A door Harry had never seen before appeared.

Pansy's head reappeared. "Sorry about that. The spell was supposed to be triggered when I said the word liberty. I'm not paying Weasley for that one!"

"Always such a flair for the dramatic," Draco muttered under his breath.

The door in the wall began to slowly open, creaking as though its magical hinges hadn't been oiled in ages. When it was fully open, a strange, human-shaped figure began to emerge from the depths of the hidden closet. Harry tightened his grip on his wand instinctively, but released it when he recognized the shape as one of the mannequins from Zabini's shop.

"Your house elf wouldn't give me any of your dress robes, damned thing, so I called Blaise to see if you had dropped anything off at the shop for mending recently. He said there was no way he could have these ready by tonight, but I gave him a little incentive," she added smugly.

"Do not tell me you slept with Blaise again," Draco groaned. "If he Floo calls me at three in the morning, pissed off his tits and crying about how you never owled him back, I'm going to bloody well scalp you."

"Who I choose to sleep with is none of your concern," replied Pansy tartly.

"And neither is who I choose to sleep with, or to notsleep with, if that be the case," Draco countered.

Pansy had the decency to look embarrassed for about a tenth of a second before she shook her head, as if trying to shake the silly thought out of her brain. "Pish posh, Draco, of course it is. Now, change into your robes - they're very handsome, by the way - and get moving. You two don't want to be late."

"I'm notgoing!" Draco yelled, slamming his foot into the ground. Harry wanted to laugh at the gesture, so reminiscent of the little boy with slicked back hair he'd known in their earliest days at Hogwarts.

He stopped himself though, and instead just shook his head. "Parkinson, I know what you're trying to do. And in a way, I kind of appreciate it. But if Malfoy doesn't want to spend time with me, you can't force him."

"But he doesn't know what he wants. He's just being stubborn!"

"Which is his right." Harry turned and addressed Draco. "Look, I'm sorry about what happened, I really am. I didn't mean for you to think I was only after you for a quick shag in the loo, because I wasn't. I mean, I'm not. I was just being an idiot, because I aman idiot sometimes. Especially when it comes to you. But this? Just know, I had absolutely nothing to do with this. I would never try to trick you into spending time with me."

The hard line in Draco's jaw relaxed slightly. He nodded.

"Will you just take the wards down and let Malfoy go?" Harry turned back the fireplace and asked. "I'm an adult. I can go to this thing by myself."

"Erm, sorry, but I actually can't," Pansy said, looking uncomfortable for the first time that evening. "They're time released. In fact, the Floo is set to disconnect any minute now. The Portkey really is the only way out until Monday morning."

"Oh, just great." Draco ran his hands through his hair, making it stick up at his hairline. Harry bit back the instinct to smooth it down, knowing that Malfoy would hate how unkempt it looked if he knew. "Fine, fine, fine!" Draco threw his hands up in exasperation. "You win this one, Pansy. I'll go to the bloody ceremony."

"Really?!" Harry and Pansy shouted. Harry looked at her in surprise; she winked at him in return.

"Yes, but not for Potter. I'll go for the potential clients. The geezers on that committee probably have dozens of inbred grandchildren in need of etiquette lessons before their debuts. And, of course, for the free champagne. I love free champagne."

Harry couldn't help it. Despite all odds, he felt that little spark of hope reignite in his chest.

"Turn around and close your eyes while I change. And no peeking, Potter."

xxx

Draco wasn't kidding when he said he loved free champagne. In the first thirty minutes, Harry counted as Malfoy snagged four glasses from the passing house elves, alternating between casual sips as he chatted with fellow attendees and clumsy gulps when he thought no one was looking. Although Malfoy spent the better part of an hour glued to Harry's side as they made the rounds and exchanged meaningless pleasantries with bored looking witches and wizards, he never spoke an unprompted word to Harry.

Francine Figglesworth cornered them by the hors d'oeuvres table and asked Harry where he'd hidden his "charming young lady" that evening. Draco interrupted smoothly, informing the middle-aged witch that poor Miss Parkinson was laid up with a rare magical disease that caused her face to break out fat green pustules. "Sadly," he sighed, "it's a highly contagious malady and likely to leave permanent scars."

"That wasn't very nice," Harry whispered when Mrs. Figglesworth had moved away, looking slightly green herself.

"I'm not a very nice man."

A murmur of excitement broke out when an old wizard with a long grey beard streaked with white appeared on the balcony that overlooked the ballroom where they ceremony was being held. According to the whispers Harry heard circulating through the crowd, his name was Bernard Aggripa, the only living decedent of the man for whom the award was named. Despite his age, his voice boomed over the dull roar of the crowd, welcoming them to the 158th Annual Aggripa Association Induction Ceremony and informing them it was time to take their seats. The dinner service was about to begin.

There was a bustle of activity as everyone moved to find their places at the two dozen or so white cloth covered tables on the opposite side of the grand ballroom. Harry and Draco quickly found where they were meant to sit. Small white placards bore the names "James Evans" and "Pansy Parkinson," indicating their seats between a portly wizard with large mustache and a frail, old witch with a gap between her teeth that made a whistling sound each time she spoke.

Harry ate little of his dinner, sullenly pushing the food around his plate as the elves brought out endless courses of undercooked and oversauced food. Draco sat beside him, chatting happily with the portly wizard about the man's niece, who had been one of Draco's pupils the previous year. He then laughed at the decidedly unfunny story the witch seated opposite him shared about her four-year old daughter accidentally turning the family crup green in a bout of wild magic. He even hurried out of his own seat so that he could help the wizened witch next to Harry stand when she excused herself for a trip to the loo.

Draco was the life of the party, holding each person seated at their table in thrall and paying absolutely no attention to Harry. Despite the fact Harry was the nominee, no one seemed to notice him, sitting low in his seat and glowering at the fish course.

Deep in his own thoughts, Harry almost missed the sound of his name being called.

"Mr. Evans?"

"Oh, sorry. What?" he asked, jolting upright.

"I was merely asking if you wouldn't mind telling us a little about yourself. I tried to do a bit of research on my fellow nominees, but could find very little information on you. Not hiding a dark past, are we?" he asked with a predatory smile, his eyes flickering to settle on Draco for a moment.

Draco's hand shot to Harry's knee to stop him from responding. "I'm sorry, but I didn't catch your name."

"That's because I haven't told you," said the man with clear irritation at Draco's interruption. "I'm Sylvester Wodsworth."

"Oh yes," said Draco in his most affectedly bored drawl, "you wrote that charming little novel about the star-crossed lovers, correct? A pureblood scion and his beautiful and somewhat unbelievably clever Muggle-born girlfriend, if I remember correctly. It was a quaint little story indeed, and so original." Sylvester's lips thinned as Draco spoke, his face turning a faint purple color. "Now tell me, are you of the Berkshire Wodsworths? I believe your dear brother, Reginald, was a friend of my father's. Killed in the final Death Eater raids right after the war ended, wasn't he? I don't believe my family ever reached out and offered you our condolences. You must forgive us our rudeness, so many of Father's friends passed on around that time, it was hard to keep up." Draco sat back and sipped his wine, a gleeful malevolence dancing in his eyes. "You're not the only one who has researched the competition," he added darkly.

Sylvester turned angry eyes on Harry. "My family severed ties with Reginald long before he got mixed up with that lot, but Mr. Malfoy here joined Hisrank's willingly, and yet walks free amongst decent, civilized folk when he should, by right, be rotting in Azkaban next to his precious father. I am shocked and appalled, Mr. Evans, that you would bring Death Eater trash with you today, especially given your novel's principal message."

All eyes turned to Harry, who had never particularly enjoyed being the center of attention. He quickly recalled the lesson in which Draco had advised him to keep conversation as light and uncontroversial as possible. Polite society, he'd said, could forgive absolutely anything - including being a Death Eater - except rudeness. Malfoy had broken his own rule and it was up to Harry to keep the dinner from turning into an all out duel.

"It seems to me, Mr. Wodsworth," Harry began, making sure to keep his tone as light as possible, "that you're more upset by the fact that Draco didn't think very highly of your book." The witch at his side tittered into her napkin. "And I'm sure that you are just as ignorant to Draco's situation during the war as he is to yours. He is my guest his evening, like it or not, and I would appreciate it if you would refrain from trying to incite an angry mob against him. And besides, the principal message of my novel was, above all, acceptance and unity."

"Here, here!" called the mustachioed man on Draco's left. "Very well said, my boy. Let's put this silly pissing contest behind us, shall we lads?, and drink a toast to acceptance and unity."

A murmur of agreement went around the table as the other diners raised their glasses into the air. Sylvester raised his begrudgingly.

Draco leaned in to Harry as the others drank. "Impressive save," he whispered.

"And the student becomes the master," Harry said before sipping his own glass, his stomach flipping happily at the first words Draco had spoken to him since they sat down to dinner.

"Mr. Wodsworth did raise an excellent point, however," the walrus-whiskered man continued once the toast was finished. "Little is known about your history, Mr. Evans. Certainly you would not object to telling is a bit more about yourself."

"Of course not," Harry conceded. He recited the short biography Malfoy and Parkinson had come up with for James Evan, son of a pureblood French witch and an English businessman who'd been moved from country to country during his youth as his father's business dictated and finally ended up matriculating from Beauxbatons. He'd returned to his home country at the tail end of the war, having followed the events closely from abroad.

The crowd seemed appeased by this, except of course for Sylvester Wodsworth. "What sort of business did you say your father was in?" he asked.

"Uh -" Harry looked quickly to Draco, unable to remember what exactly his father was supposed to have done. "Plastics," he improvised.

"Plastics?" Harry heard a middle-aged witch ask her companion. "What's a plastics?" The man next to her shrugged in response, "Something Muggles do, I suppose."

Soon the conversation turned to more mundane topics like vacationing in the Wizarding quarters of Paris and Geneva. Harry sat back in his seat, relieved to no longer be the topic of conversation. He noticed that Draco didn't seem anymore inclined to rejoin the fray either.

"What's wrong?" he asked quietly, nudging Draco's knee with his own.

Draco gave a sullen shrug. "I lost my composure there for a minute. I don't like doing that."

Harry rolled his eyes. "But you do it all of the time."

"I don't though," he snapped; then, as if realizing he was about to lose it once again, he soften his voice. "Or at least, not nearly as much as I used to. And only when you're around."

Harry wasn't sure if that was a topic of discussion he wanted to explore further, but the loud, Sonorus-enhanced clink of silverware against glass grabbed every one's attention before he could decide. He looked up to see Bernard Aggripa clamber onto a stage at the front of the ballroom that Harry could have sworn was not there when they'd arrived.

"Welcome again, ladies and gentlemen, esteemed members of the Agrippa Association and our honored guests. Each year we gather to celebrate the year's most important contributions to the field of Wizarding Literature. Tonight we have with us twenty nominees, each of whom have produced a work of outstanding merit. And yet, only one has been chosen to receive the Association's highest honor: The Cornelius Agrippa Award for Excellence in Wizarding Literature. Before we announce the winner, I would like to give a round of applause to each of our nominees for their hard work in raising the standard of magical literature. Their work ennobles us all."

Each nominee stood and accepted a restrained round of applause as Bernard Aggripa called their names. Harry was amused to note that Draco's polite claps stopped and his eyes narrowed when it was Sebastian Campbell's turn to rise. When he heard "James Evans" ring out, Harry rose from his seat. He could feel his face burning brightly as he turned and waved awkwardly to the crowd.

After all twenty nominees had been recognized, Bernard Aggripa cleared his throat. "Without further ado, it is my pleasure to announce the winner of the 145th Annual Cornelius Aggripa Award for Excellence in Wizarding Literature-" he paused for dramatic affect as everyone in the ballroom leaned forward, eager to hear the announcement. Harry's stomach clenched violently as he waited, every fraction of a second becoming an eternity of torturous anticipation.

"-Lavinia Sparrow!"

Wild, or what could pass for wild in this crowd, applause broke out as gnarled old witch in lavender robes stood and began to shuffle her way to the stage. Harry's stomach unclenched, dropping like a stone pitched from the top of the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower. The witch at his side gave his hand a gentle squeeze, "Don't take it too hard, deary. You're young yet. And that Sparrow woman? Complete trollop! She's slept with half of the selection committee."

Caught between horrified and amused, Harry was able to forget his disappointment long enough to cast a sideways glance at Draco, who was glaring at Sparrow as she took her place on the stage. "Complete and total bollocks," he seethed under his breath.

Harry nudged him to get his attention. "At least Wodsworth didn't win," he said. "And The Bewitching Hourreally was quite good."

"Good?" Draco asked with a laugh. "Please, Sparrow has been Flooing it in for her past three novels, at least. The committee is just trying to award her before she croaks, to make up for when they snubbed her and The Littlest Wizardback in the 70's, no doubt."

Harry and Draco quieted down as she began her speech. She put on a large pair of spectacles that magnified the size of her eyes to comical proportions. Even with the help of the Sonorus, her voice was thin and reedy, warbling in time with the loose skin under her chin. Harry tuned her out, giving into his disappointment.

"I really don't want to be here anymore," Harry whispered. He wasn't being a sore loser; he hadn't really wanted to come in the first place. High society, Harry had decided, was Malfoy's world, not his. He preferred the sticky, lager covered booths at the Leaky any day. "Would it be terribly rude if we left soon?"

"Yes, it would be, terribly so," said Draco. Then, after a beat, "But who cares?"

Draco reached over and wrapped his hand around Harry's upper arm. Harry felt the forceful tug of apparition.

"A little warning!" Harry cried out as they rematerialized, landing squarely on his bum. There was a reason one usually didn't Apparate from a seated position.

"Sorry," snickered Draco, though he sounded not at all remorseful. He stood from his own place on the floor and flicked his wand, filling the dark room they'd appeared in with a soft light. "Drink?"

"Uh, yeah, thanks." Harry stood, rubbing his sore arse as he looked around the unfamiliar space. "Where are we?"

"My sitting room," Draco said. He moved to a cart along the way that held a number of crystal decanters and glasses. "Is brandy all right?"

Harry wasn't sure he'd ever had brandy, so he supposed it would be. "I've been in your sitting room before," he said. "This isn't it."

"Your powers of observation never cease to amaze, Potter. The other is just for clients; this is where I actually do all my sitting." As if to illustrate his point, Draco arranged himself on the large Chesterfield, which looked a hundred times more inviting than the posh settee in the other parlor. He pulled out his wand and pointed it at Harry. A faint shimmer of magic washed over him. "Just removing the Glamours," Draco said as he placed his wand on table. "It's weird talking to you when you're wearing a different face."

Harry accepted his drink with a quiet thanks and took a seat next to Draco. This room was much homier than the other. The furniture was overstuffed and lived-in, framed photographs of friends and family were scattered about, and there were piles of books stacked on the floor, overflow from two large bookshelves that looked fit to crumble under the weight of the volumes they held. Harry's eye immediately recognized the top book on the pile closest to him.

"You've got my book."

"In my defense, I bought it before I knew you'd written it."

Harry wasn't sure he wanted to ask, but in the end couldn't fight the temptation. "And...? What'd you think?"

Draco took a long sip from his glass and stared at the swirling liquor inside. "I think you should have won tonight," he answered simply, than knocked back his entire glass in a single gulp. "And I think I need another drink."

Harry watched as Draco stood and began to fix himself another glass. There was an unusual tightness to his movements. Harry could feel the tension in the air, thick with unsaid things and unasked questions.

"Thanks for coming with me tonight. I know you didn't want to, but it was nice to have someone I knew there with me. It was nice to have you there."

"Yes, well, Pansy didn't give me much of a choice, did she?" he said with a hint of bitterness, but then laughed. "She's worse than Mother used to be, honestly."

"You could have left at anytime," Harry pointed out. "After we Portkeyed in, you didn't have to stay. Thanks for that."

"I didn't even think of that," Draco frowned. He flopped back onto the sofa and shook his head, dislodging the soft, corn silk blond strands of hair that were tucked behind his ear. "I can't seem to think straight when you're around. It's very annoying."

Harry smiled at that, because it was said with only the slightest hint of malice. He took it as an in, though, and decided to speak the unspoken things that lay between them. "Are you still mad at me? About what happened at the restaurant?"

Draco stiffened, all of the tension the brandy had released from his shoulders immediately regained. "I may have overreacted," he said carefully. "Again, something I have a habit of doing when it comes to you. I know you won't believe it, but I'm usually very level-headed."

"I believe you," said Harry truthfully. He saw the way Draco interacted with others, all charm and cool civility. He'd only lost his temper with Wodsworth because the man had insulted Harry, and even then, his temper burned like bluebell flames: icy instead of hot. The fact that Harry was able to affect Draco at all, to get him to forget his years of pureblood cultivation, reignited Harry's spark of hope.

"I meant what I said in Parkinson's office," Harry turned to face Draco on the sofa. "I wasn't just trying to get you into bed - er - or into loo. It wasn't like with Smith. You're not like Smith; not to me. Not that I wouldn't like to, you know, with you of course, because I think you're really attractive. I am really attracted to you, like, reallyattracted. But not just like that, because I also think that you're-"

"Harry," interrupted Draco, "you're babbling."

"Right, sorry," Harry flushed. "I just wanted you to know."

Draco sighed and scrubbed his tired eyes with the heel of his hand. "I do know, and I think I knew then too. But I just - I can't. Not right now. There's too much going on. Mother hasn't been well, and there was this other man I was seeing and I just..." Draco trailed off and Harry realized it must have been the first time he'd ever seen Draco fail to find his words. "I just can't," he repeated quietly.

A lesser man would have crumpled at that. A lesser man would have tucked his tail between his legs and gone home defeated. But Harry was not a lesser man. He was Harry Potter: the Chosen One; the Slayer of Dark Lords; the youngest seeker in a century. He didn't balk at adversity, he rose to the challenge.

"I know you're scared," said Harry, holding his hand up to cut off Draco's protests, "and that's okay. Parkinson told me about what happened with Ferdinand and I understand why you would be. He betrayed you, he disappointed you, he hurt you. But you won't heal by shutting down and refusing to let anyone in again; you'll only hurt yourself more." He took Draco's hand and sent up a silent thanks to Merlin when Draco didn't immediately snatch it away. "Of course there is a lot going on with you right now. There is always going to be something going on with you. You're Draco fucking Malfoy, it's practically your birthright. There will always be excuses to keep people out, but running away from something that could be so goodbecause you're scared of being hurt is cowardly, and I know you're not a coward."

Draco's eyes were wide and wild as they stared at his hand, interlocked with Harry's. "What if I am?" he asked quietly, his tongue darting out to lick dry lips.

"You're not," insisted Harry, squeezing Draco's hand in his. "You're not a coward, Draco. I don't believe it for a second."

A long moment, pregnant with anticipation, passed. Slowly, Draco removed his hand from Harry's grip, flexing his fingers, then wiping his palm on the cloth of his robe. "I hate when you're insightful," he said begrudgingly.

Harry laughed; he couldn't help it. Despite the heavy mood, there was something so joyously ridiculous, so charmingly Malfoy, about Draco's petulant response. There was nothing worse to him in this life than admitting Harry Potter was right. "Well, don't get used to it. It doesn't happen very often," he smiled.

Draco chanced a quick glance up, returning Harry's smile with a shy one of his own. "Say I decided to be brave... what would happen?"

Harry sucked in a quick breath as his spark of hope exploded into flame. "We'd go on another date, and I'd behave myself this time. You'd order an expensive bottle of wine to try and impress me with your poncy knowledge of varietals and good years, and I'd drink it and smile and pretend I can taste a difference between it and the bottles I get down at Tesco. And if that one went well, we could go on another date. I could take you to the Muggle cinema and you could spend the whole time complaining about the loud teenagers and asking obnoxious questions about how cars work-"

"-I know how cars work!"

"Do you?" Harry asked.

"Well, in theory." Draco jutted out his chin, daring Harry to tell him that wasn't the same.

Harry didn't take the bait, however, and continued. "And after the cinema we could get coffee and walk along the embankment. I'd try to hold your hand and you would call me a sap, but you'd let me do it anyway, because you're secretly a sap as well. And then I think I'd kiss you."

Draco bit his lip. "And after you kissed me?"

"Well, I'd be so good at it, you'd fall instantly, madly, and hopelessly in love with me, of course."

Draco rolled his eyes so hard it looked as though it hurt. He picked up one of the small pillows that rested against the arm of the sofa and chucked it at Harry, hitting him full in the face.

"You're not funny, Potter. And you ruined a perfectly good story."

They fell into another quiet moment, but one that lacked the uneasy tension of earlier. Harry allowed his mind to wander and imagined them on the embankment, the fine strands of Draco's hair blowing in the wind as they walked past the benches full of tired American tourists. There would be an anticipatory sparkle in Draco's grey eyes as Harry reached out to tuck those rebellious pieces of hair back behind Draco's ear where they belonged. Harry's hand would linger, moving down to cup Draco's cheek, angling his face just right so that all Harry would have to do is lean forward and press his lips-

"I don't like it," Draco announced.

"What?" Harry cried, stunned out of his daydream. "But I thought..."

"According to this, we won't be kissing until the end of our second date. Well, actually, our third. Perhaps even our fourth, if you count tonight. And that is just not on, Potter. Ignoring my hissy fit at the restaurant, I'm not actually a prude."

Harry's mouth went dry and the flame in his chest turned into a roaring fire. "So you'd like to kiss sooner?" he asked stupidly, because what else could he say?

Draco's grin was cunning, almost predatory. He turned and leaned into Harry, holding his gaze steady. "I think I would."

If it weren't for the steady beat of his pulse in his ear, Harry would have thought time had come to a standstill as Draco bent towards him, his eyes shuttered demurely. Harry stared at the soft, pink pout of Draco's lips until they stopped advancing and hovered centimeters from his own. They were slightly parted, dry but not chapped, with a well defined bow, and so close that Harry could feel the soft caress of Draco's breath against his own lips. Harry shut his eyes and closed the distance.

He had imagined there would be sparks, like the explosion of a Weasley Wild-Fire Wiz-Bang, when he kissed Draco for the first time. Instead, he felt himself melt into the kiss: soft, sensual, not at all like he'd imagined, and yet so much better. He felt Draco's hand come up to card through his hair, pulling gently as he got a firm grip to hold Harry's head in place. Harry couldn't help but moan as let his lips part further, allowing Draco access to deepen the kiss.

Slowly, Harry's sense of time returned to normal and felt the urgent need to make up for the tortuously slow pace of the initial kiss. He fisted his hand in the cloth of Draco's robe, pushing against the skinny chest beneath it and taking control. Draco acquiesced, allowing Harry to push him until his back hit the cushions of the sofa and Harry repositioned himself, crawling on top of Draco as best he could.

Once Draco was below him, Harry abandoned his lips and began a quest to kiss every square inch of Draco he could reach. He kissed his way up the hard line of Draco's jaw to his ear, catching the lobe between his teeth and biting gently, not hard enough to cause pain but just enough for Draco to groan and arch, pressing his chest against Harry's. Harry nibbled his way down Draco's neck, thrilled by the sounds of encouragement Draco made in response.

He wanted to go further, to find that delightfully sensitive bend where neck met shoulder, to worship the hollow of Draco's throat, to kiss Adam's apple and collar bone and everything in between and below, but the neckline of Draco's robes was too high. Countless yards of excessive fabric separated them, preventing Harry from his ultimate goal: feeling the warm flesh of Draco's body against his own. His spit soaked the cloth, which didn't taste nearly as good as Draco's skin. Harry tried to unbutton the top of Draco's robes and let out a frustrated growl as his overanxious hands fumbled and failed.

Draco caught Harry's hand in his own, pausing his desperate attempts to free Draco from the tyranny of posh menswear. "Stop," said Draco, slightly breathless. "I think this has gone far enough."

A wave of disappointment crashed over Harry; he could feel his burgeoning erection flag in dismay. Draco made him feel like a randy fifth year again: eager and wanting. He didn't want to be pushy and scare Draco away. He'd take whatever Draco was willing to give, but he had hoped for more than five minutes of snogging.

"Oh, don't look at me like I've drowned your pet kneazle. I meant we've gone far enough on this blasted sofa, you berk. There is no need to grope about in the parlor like a couple of teenagers. We're adults; I own a bed!"

Harry's mind stuck on one word. "Bed?"

"Yes," Draco purred, punctuating his affirmation with an upwards thrust of his hips. Harry could feel the length of Draco's cock through his robes as it rubbed against his own. "Bed."

"Are you sure?" whispered Harry. "That's not moving too fast for you?"

"We've known each other since we were eleven, I'd say that's long enough. Now get off me you great lump. If you don't take me upstairs and shag me rotten this instant, I'll hex your prick off and then you won't be able to shag anyone else ever again!"

Finally given the consent he'd needed, Harry leaped from his position on the sofa, dragging Draco up with him. Harry pulled him against his chest and kissed Draco again, pouring every ounce of his excitement and enthusiasm into the embrace. He snaked his hand's around Draco waist and down to cup his arse. He dug his fingers into the rounded flesh and pulled him closer, forcing Draco's hips against his own. They both moaned when their erections rubbed, a delicious pressure that only hinted at things to come.

"Potter," Draco broke the kiss long enough to growl against the skin of Harry's neck. "Upstairs. Now."

Despite Draco's impatience, it took them nearly fifteen minutes for them to make it up the stairs. Harry kept finding walls that looked perfect for pushing Draco against, and he found that doorjambs worked just as well. Unwilling to break apart for even a second, they continued to snog as they took to the stairs. Their kisses were awkward and sloppy as they climbed. Harry's foot caught on the top stair and they stumbled, landing in a messy heap of splayed limbs and robes on the top landing. Harry didn't care, all he could register was the fact that Draco Malfoy was lying beneath him and his robes had ridden up, putting miles of pale, white flesh on display.

It wasn't a bed, but Harry couldn't be bothered. He pushed the fabric higher to reveal Draco's cock: swollen and turgid, lying flat against his stomach and dripping precome onto his belly from the flushed pink head that stuck partway out from the foreskin. Just below lay Draco's bollocks: full and heavy, dusted with a fine layer of pale blonde fuzz. They looked delicious. In fact, all of Draco looked delicious to Harry. There was a veritable buffet of willing flesh laid out before him and he was almost overwhelmed by choice. He leaned forward and bit the tender skin of Draco's upper thigh, delighting at Draco's sharp yelp and the noticeable twitch of his cock.

"Potter," Draco whined. "Don't tease."

Harry didn't respond, but took Draco's length in his hand, marveling at how it seemed to grow even firmer in his grip. He pulled the foreskin back to reveal the entire head, which weeped with Draco's arousal. Unable to fight his curiosity, Harry stiffened the tip of his tongue and leaned forward, licking the slit to collect the drops of precome that had pooled there. It was a sharp, bitter taste, but not one that was wholly unenjoyable. He flattened his tongue and took a longer lick this time, running his tongue from the base of Draco's cock all the way to the top. He teased the head with swirling laps while Draco whined and clenched his hands into fists, rocking his hips in a desperate attempt to find more of Harry's mouth.

Harry indulged him. Mindful of his teeth, he took the tip of Draco's prick into his mouth. He lapped at the underside and teased the crown. It was an amazing feeling, having someone else's cock in his mouth. He began to move his head, ducking down to take as much of Draco's length as he could before pulling off, letting the hard shaft drag against the tight seal of his lips as he moved. He felt drunk with lust and power as he sucked whimpering cries of delight from Draco.

Draco brought a hand down to rest on Harry's head. His fingers slipped through the thick strands and took hold. Harry thought Draco meant to push him down, to force more of his cock into Harry's mouth, or perhaps to hold him in place while Draco thrust forward, fucking himself on Harry's face. Harry's disappointment was palpable, however, when Draco tightened his grip and pulled him off.

"Impressive as that may be for a beginner," Draco panted. "I really must insist we find the bed. I don't want to come in the hallway with my robes rucked up about my waist. There will be plenty of time of quick shags on the floor, but I want to do it properly this time. "

"Promise?" asked Harry as he moved up Draco's body. He bent down and captured Draco's lips in his own.

Draco's back arched as he pushed himself into the kiss. "If I find tonight's performance satisfactory, of course," he said when Harry released his lips and began to suck on his neck. His hips rolled and his eyes fell closed and for a few moments, he gave into the maddening sensation.

"No, really, Potter," Draco said, pushing at Harry's chest. "Bedroom. Now. Please."

Harry climbed to his feet and helped Draco to stand. He followed as Draco led the way down the hall to a room on the left. No sooner than they were past the threshold, Harry grabbed Draco by the arms and spun him, forcing him against the wall next to the door. He loved the way Draco went stiff with surprise and then melted back into the wall. Harry didn't think he could ever get tired of slamming the other man against things. He slid his leg between Draco's thighs and began to pull at the buttons of his handsome robes. Why were there so many damned buttons again?

Draco's breath came in shallow pants. He watched through hooded eyes as Harry disrobed him slowly, each fastener parting to reveal another inch of milky flesh. Finally,Harry thought as he slipped the robes from Draco's shoulders and they pooled on the floor below them. The room was dark, but there was enough moonlight spilling in through the street-facing windows for Harry to see. Draco was standing flush against the wall, his eyes wide and his hair a mess. His lips were kiss swollen and there was a small purple mark blooming on the side of his neck. He looked thoroughly debauched, but still far too coherent for Harry's taste.

Harry ran his fingers across Draco's reedy chest, trailing the length of the shiny purple curse scars he'd put there in their sixth year. He knew they'd have to have a conversation about that, but not tonight. He swirled his fingers around one of Draco's small pink nipples and pinched lightly, rolling the stiff nub between his thumb and forefinger as Draco arched into the touch and whimpered prettily.

"I-" Draco panted. His eyes were closed and his eyebrows drawn tight. "I really...I really should hang those up. They're expensive."

Harry chuckled and stood back, allowing Draco to bend over and scoop up his discarded robes. He watched Draco's arse appreciatively as Draco crossed the room to his wardrobe and hung the robes on a magically padded hanger. Draco let out a gasp of surprise when he turned around to find that Harry had made quick work of his own poncy outfit. Harry didn't mind letting his robes rumple on the floor; that's what they made anti-wrinkle charms for. They stood quiet for a moment, appreciating the sight of the other's naked and ready body.

"Merlin, Harry," Draco bit his lip as he stared unashamedly at Harry's erection, which jut out proudly from a thick thatch of coarse black curls. "You're gorgeous."

Harry took a step towards Draco, whose eyes widened for a moment and then narrowed. He crossed from Harry's path and made a beeline to the bed, arranging himself against the pillows on top of the duvet. He looked like a little Lord, Harry thought, waiting imperiously for his servants to come and bring him his pleasure.

Harry intended to do just that.

"Well?" asked Draco. "Are you coming or not?"

Harry climbed onto the bed and crawled towards Draco, bracing himself on his arms so he hovered just inches above Draco's prone form. He dipped and rocked his hips, dragging his cock up the length of Draco's with a teasingly light amount of pressure. Draco arched, his legs rising into the air to wrap around Harry's waist and pull Harry against him.

"Gods, Potter," Draco groaned as he began to roll his hips, increasing the pressure between them as they rutted. "I want this so bad. Please, Ineedyou to fuck me."

"Yes," Harry hissed as he felt one of Draco's hands slither between their bodies to grasp both of their cocks, holding them together as they slid against each other's bodies. Harry couldn't focus his eyes, even with the help of his glasses. He tore them off and threw them over his shoulder, not caring where they landed. "I want to fuck you, Draco," he panted. He slowed his hips and tried to pull out of Draco's grasp, worried he might embarrass himself before even getting the chance to fuck Draco, who'd be sorely unimpressed, and then Harry would never get those quick shags on the floor like he'd been promised. "You've got to show me how, though. I haven't done this before."

"I know," Draco said with a dreamlike sigh as he relaxed back into the pillows. "I'll be the first. Let me up, and I'll show you what to do."

Harry rolled off of him and watched as Draco crawled across the large bed and began to rummage in the drawer of his bedside table. His sac hung temptingly below the swell of his arse and Harry had to fight the impulse to lean forward and lick a stripe along the seam. He could not, however, resist the temptation of Draco's bum, so round and soft and pointed directly at him. Harry reached out and pinched, right where arse met thigh. Draco yelped and turned, scowling.

Clutching a tiny bottle in his hands, Draco crawled back to the middle of the bed. Instead of rolling onto his back, Draco handed Harry the bottle and positioned himself on his stomach, arching his spine and thrusting his arse into the air.

"You may prepare me like this," Draco explained, "but I want to face you when you take me, all right?"

Harry didn't think he'd be able to form words, so he just nodded and moved to settle himself between Draco's parted legs. "How do I...prepare you?" he asked in a whisper. He had a theoretical knowledge of how this was supposed to work thanks to the bawdy magazines that littered the break room of George's shop, but there was a difference between theory and practice.

"There are stretching and lube charms that may be used in a pinch," said Draco, his voice muffled slightly by the pillow his face was pressed against, "but those are only appropriate for quick and dirty shags. To do this properly, you must use that lube - and lots of it! Coat your fingers and use one, then another, then another to stretch me. The muscles must be relaxed or it will hurt."

"I don't want to hurt you," Harry agreed absently as he squirted the oil from the bottle onto his hands. He nudged Draco's thighs further apart and spread his cheeks open, smearing another dollop of lube across the furrowed hole he revealed. The wrinkled skin of the rim twitched slightly under Harry's touch, beckoning to him enticingly. Slowly he slid in a single digit, watching in fascination as his finger disappeared inside Draco's body. It was hot and tight around his finger, and he could feel the rippled lining of Draco's channel. Draco bucked his hips.

"Don't just sit there with your finger stuck up my arse. Move it!"

"Oh, right." The muscles inside fluttered as he pulled his finger out and sank it back in again. Each pass was made easier by the lube and Draco's willed relaxation. Without waiting for Draco's prompt, Harry lined up a second finger and pushed it in along with the first. He was rewarded with a moan pulled deep from Draco's chest.

"Yessss," Draco gave a sibilant hiss as he spread his legs wider and thrust his arse higher in the air. "Fuck me with your fingers, Harry. Yes, just like that."

Encouraged by Draco's response, Harry used his free hand to spread Draco's arse cheeks further apart and increased the pace, fingering Draco with enthusiasm. Draco began to push back against Harry's hand and soon Harry's knuckles knocked against Draco's bum with each inward push.

"Scissor your fingers, Harry. Stretch me wide for you," Draco moaned and Harry complied, spreading his fingers apart when they were buried deep.

The way Draco moved mesmerized Harry: the arch of his spine; the twist of his hip; the steady rocking of his hips as he alternated between fucking himself on Harry's hand and rubbing his leaking cock along the soft fabric of the duvet. Harry held his breath and watched closely for Draco's reaction as he readied his third finger, slipping it in alongside the other two. There was more resistance from the sphincter muscles of Draco's anus this time and he heard Draco wince, but then all three fingers pushed through the tight ring and Draco moaned with deep pleasure.

Draco pushed himself onto his knees and lowered his chest to the top of the bed, bending his back in a pretty bow and presenting himself fully to Harry's hungry gaze. Harry thrust his fingers in hard, pushing as far as he could, wanting to touch Draco as deeply as physically possible. He twisted his wrist into a more comfortable position and crooked his fingers, stroking the spongy walls of Draco's insides with the tips of his fingers.

He watched as a bead of sweat dripped from the back of Draco's hair and slid down his neck and onto his shoulder. He leaned forward, pressing his chest against Draco's back and licked the trail of sweat he'd just seen. When he reached the shoulder, he bit down. His groan echoed Draco's as Harry felt the muscles in Draco's shoulders and back - not to mention the ones in his arse - tense.

"I'm ready, I'm ready," Draco sobbed into the pillow below him. "Fucking hell, Harry, please."

Harry pulled his fingers free of Draco's clutches and immediately found himself on his back, Draco having lunged at him the moment he was free to pin Harry beneath him. Draco straddled his hips and grabbed Harry's cock, pumping it slowly as he groped blindly behind him for the bottle of lube. He cried triumphantly when he found it and squeezed a generous blob directly onto Harry's aching prick. The lube was cold and dripped slowly, gathering in a pool at the base of his cock. It warmed as Draco continued to stroke, spreading the viscous liquid up and down Harry until his erection shone wetly in the dim light of the room.

Draco shifted forward on his knees and reached behind himself, grabbing Harry's prick at the base. "I'm going to fuck myself on your cock now, Potter," Draco said as he raised himself and angled Harry towards him. The swollen head of Harry's cock brushed against the wrinkled rim of Draco's stretched hole and they both cried out.

"Do it, Draco," he whispered. Even though Harry was the one lying down, he felt unbalanced and reached up to grab Draco's hips to steady himself. "Do it, now."

Harry gasped when Draco sank down those first few inches, using his weight to force Harry's cockhead through the tight ring of muscles at the entrance to his anus. Draco, however, sighed and closed his eyes, letting his head fall back as he relaxed his body and took the rest of Harry inside, inch by inch. When fully seated, the round curve of Draco's bum pressed against the flat expanse of Harry's groin and Harry couldn't help it, he had to move.

Draco's eyes shot open when Harry snapped his hips. He leaned over and kissed Harry, sucking Harry's bottom lip into his mouth and biting down with sharp teeth. "I don't think so, Potter," he whispered. "I'm the seasoned professional here. I do believe I will be setting the pace."

With that, Draco straightened and raised himself a few inches off of Harry. Draco's arse was impossibly tight, wrapped around Harry's cock like a vice. Draco's slow movements were torture: a heavenly, glorious torture, but torture all the same. He could feel every bump and ridge inside Draco's passage slide across the sensitive skin of his cock as Draco slowly dragged himself up. When all that remained inside was the fleshy mushroom of Harry's cockhead, Draco released his weight and relaxed his muscles, beginning another slow descent.

Harry tired to hold himself still, to focus on the sensation of cock-in-arse, but his entire body shook as he fought his natural urge to move, to fuck. He didn't care that Draco had said he'd be setting the pace; Draco's pace was liable to drive him mad. His hands traveled around from Draco's hips to his arse, pulling the cheeks apart as he gave into his need. Harry thrust his hips up, ignoring Draco's startled yelp. Again and again he pushed into that blinding heat, driven only by his most basic instincts. Draco moaned, a deep artless sound pulled from his belly, and began to thrust down as Harry's hips snapped up. They met in the middle and soon the room was filled with the unmistakable sound of flesh slapping against flesh, breathy moans, and hissed words of encouragement.

A new, wet sound joined the symphony of their sex and Harry opened his eyes to find Draco stroking his own prick as he bounced happily on Harry's. Harry swatted Draco's hand away and took over; he wanted to be the one to bring Draco off. He almost lost his rhythm as he wanked Draco, but Draco seemed not to notice as he braced his hands on Harry's chest. The pace slowed marginally, but the force of the coupling increased, each time their bodies met a loud -slap!- cut through the silence of the room like thunder.

"Oh, Gods, Harry!" cried Draco, his head falling back. He began to roll his hips, trying to push his cock into Harry's fist. "I'm going to - I want to -"

"No!" Harry yelled, dropping Draco's cock like it was cursed. "Not yet!"

Draco's mouth snapped closed and his eyes opened, dilated with lust and anger. "Potter! That was terribly rude!"

Harry moved quickly, grabbing Draco around the waist and flipping them so that Draco was spread beneath him, landing with a small oomph!and his legs akimbo. He wanted Draco to come, but he wanted to be above him when it happened; he wanted to know that is was for him, because of him, that Draco finally fell over the precipice. He grabbed Draco's ankles and lifted them high into the air and then leaned forward, using his weight to bend Draco in half and press himself all of the way inside.

Draco's anger was all but forgotten as Harry began to fuck him again. He gasped and cursed and made soft, mewling sounds. He begged for more; he begged for deeper; he begged for harder. Harry found had more control at this angle and could grant Draco's request with less effort. The way Draco's body bended to his will and melted beneath him was marvelous, and the way Draco swore was musical.

"Hold yourself open for me," instructed Harry. Draco's hands immediately came out and hooked behind his knees, pulling his legs further apart and up to his chest. A fine layer of sweat shone on his skin, his eyes were unfocused and hazy, and sweet Merlin,his hair was spread out on the pillow behind him like a courtesan's fan. Draco was an open, wanton display of pure debasement, and it drove Harry wild.

Harry stared in wonderment at the place where the bodies joined. He watched, enraptured by the sight of his thick, red cock disappearing inside that tiny little hole of Draco's. He had never seen anything so dirty, so sexy, or so fucking beautiful as that. His whole world narrowed, nothing else existed besides the sight of his cock spearing long and hard into Draco's receptive body. He fucked mindlessly, his hips moving of their own accord, as he spiraled further and further out of control.

He could vaguely hear someone calling his name, but it sounded distant through the foggy cloud of his lust. He looked up just in time to catch Draco crying out, "Oh, Harry! Oh, oh shit!"

Harry slowed his thrusts, not wanting to miss a moment of Draco's release. He watched as the muscles in Draco's stomach spasmed momentarily before thick white ropes of cum shot out of Draco's prick, flying in high arcs through the air to land over his chest and stomach. The muscles inside Draco's arse clenched painfully, trying to milk Harry's cock and pull him along for the ride. Draco cried out, a high-pitched, keening sound that was barely human, but the most wondrous noise Harry had ever heard.

Slowly Draco's body began to relax as he recovered from what appeared to have been an incredibly forceful orgasm. His whole body shone with perspiration, and he melted into the bed below him as if boneless. Still buried deep inside, Harry bent over and kissed him, not caring that the mess on Draco's chest would make him sticky as well. Draco's mouth opened easily as he accepted the kiss, swirling his tongue lazily against Harry's.

"That was the hottest thing I've ever seen," Harry whispered into his mouth. He punctuated his praise with a sharp cant of his hips, but there was no mistaking the wince of pain that he received in response.

Harry pushed himself off Draco's chest and scrambled back, grabbing the base of his swollen cock and removing it from inside Draco immediately. He wanted to bring Draco pleasure - only pleasure, and never pain.

Draco whined at the loss. "You didn't have to do that," he pouted, his eyes still closed.

"I was hurting you," Harry said as he crawled back up the length of Draco's body, pressing kisses to every spot of clean flesh he find. "I don't want to hurt you."

Draco opened his eyes and found Harry. He pulled him up and kissed him softly. "It's just a little sensitive after I come," he explained. "You didn't have to stop, I could have handled it. I wanted you to come inside me," he added with a pout.

Harry dropped his head and kissed Draco's shoulders, trying to hide his face, which he knew was likely too open with emotion. He'd disappointed Draco. It was the very last thing he'd wanted to do, and somehow, he'd managed it. "I'm sorry," he whispered into Draco's skin.

"Harry?" Draco's voice was full of concern. He tugged on Harry's hair, forcing him to look up. "Don't apologize. It was wonderful; you're wonderful. I like that you're observant and considerate." He ducked his head and caught Harry's lips in a tender kiss. "Besides," Draco said as a blush broke out across his face. He met Harry's gaze and bit his lip, "you can still come inside me."

Harry's eyes zeroed in on the full bottom lip caught between Draco's teeth. He raised his hand to cup Draco's cheek and trailed his thumb across the pillow of his pout. "Here?" he asked, surprised by the sudden thickness in his voice. Draco lowered his eyes and nodded.

"Yeah," exhaled Harry, "that'll work."

Draco flashed him a brilliant smile, all perfect white teeth and self-satisfaction. "Yes, I thought it might. Now get up here, Potter. I want to taste you."

Harry leaned in and snogged him, forcefully this time. He lost himself in the kiss, trying to express just how much he wanted this, how much he loved the thought and feel and sight of Draco beneath him. "Harry," he mumbled against Draco's lips. "Call me Harry."

The name fell from Draco's lips like a prayer. He chanted it over and over as Harry kissed and sucked and worshiped his body until Harry pushed himself up and was straddling Draco's chest, each knee firmly planted on either side of Draco's head. Harry palmed himself, still slick from lube and his own arousal, leaking copious amounts of precome that stuck to his fingers as he pulled off and angled forward, dangling his heavy cock in Draco's face. Draco looked up at him with dark, hooded eyes and opened his mouth.

Harry wasn't quite sure what the etiquette was for putting something that had just been in someone's arse into their mouth (or for that matter, how hygienic that could be), so he contended himself with rubbing the spongy head of his cock against Draco's parted lips, watching as Draco's wet, pink tongue darted out to try and catch a taste. If he thought that watching his cock disappear inside of Draco had been the hottest thing he'd ever seen, this way by far the most erotic. Draco gave a sad little cry each time he lifted his head and tried to catch Harry's prick in his mouth, only to have Harry pull out of his reach and trace the sharp curves of Draco's angled face with it instead.

Growing tired of the tease, Harry began to wank himself in earnest. Draco's eyes narrowed, focusing on the sight of Harry's cock disappearing and reappearing in his fist. He looked up and caught Harry's gaze; Harry could read the desperate pleasein those steely grey pools. His heart began to hammer in chest and his breath came short. He tried to bite back his moans as each clumsy tug pushed him closer and closer to his own inevitable orgasm. He let out a cry of shock and pleasure and desperate need when Draco brought his hand up, grasping Harry's bollocks from behind. He rolled Harry's aching, swollen balls between his fingers and gave an encouraging tug.

Harry closed his eyes as Draco opened his mouth again.

Despite the fact that the tip of Harry's cock was only an inch from Draco's parted lips, the first shot of cum missed Draco eager mouth and landed somewhere on the pillows above his head. The next was closer, landing on Draco's forehead, the next, his cheekbone. Harry opened his eyes to find that Draco's face was painted in white lines of come, almost everywhere, of course, but his mouth.

"Sorry," sighed Harry. He dropped his deflating prick and felt it slap wetly against his thigh. "Rotten aim." He went to climb off Draco, but Draco grabbed his hips and held him in place.

Harry swallowed thickly as Draco reached up and wrapped his hand around Harry's cock, milking those last few drops of come from deep within him. Draco craned his neck and lapped at Harry, digging the come from his slit with the stiff point of his tongue. He moaned in the back of his throat as though he were tasting ambrosia for the first time.

When he could pull no more from Harry, Draco relaxed his grip and settled himself back against the pillows. "You may get off me now."

Harry snorted at Draco's imperious tone, but did just that. He rolled onto his back and sighed, feeling exhausted, spent, and little bit punch-drunk. "That was bloody brilliant."

"I know," came a contended sigh beside him. A moment passed and then, "Harry?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you going to get the flannel?"

Harry opened his eyes and turned his head. His mind was about as useful as a bowl of jam at the moment, having been totally liquefied by the best sex he'd ever had. He blinked, trying to find meaning behind Draco's strange words. "Sorry?"

"The flannel," Draco repeated. "It is customary for the partner not covered in semen to do the cleaning up."

"Oh! Right. Sorry." Harry rolled from the bed and padded his way across the room to Draco's en suite, where he found a stack of flannels in the linen closet and washed himself quickly. He set the used flannel aside and grabbed a fresh one, wetting it with warm water and returning to the bedroom.

He climbed onto the large bed and sat on his heels as he gingerly wiped the come from Draco's hair and face. Draco wore a small smile as he allowed himself to be cleaned, obviously basking in the tender attention. Harry flipped the flannel over and used the other side to wipe down his chest and stomach. "Thank you," Draco sighed.

Harry leaned in and pressed his lips against Draco's, earning him another contended sigh. He tossed the wet flannel on the floor and settled in, planning on a long, leisurely snog until sleep overtook them.

Draco's eyes cracked open. "Tell me you didn't just drop a wet flannel on my hardwood floor."

Harry groaned and rolled over, intending to fetch the come stained rag and dispose of it in a Malfoy-approved receptacle. Draco's hand jut out and caught him by the wrist. "Leave it. I'll allow it, but just this once and only if you promise to stay the night." His voice dropped to a whisper and Harry recognized a hint of uncertainty there. "You will stay the night, won't you?"

"Of course I will," Harry agreed as he peppered Draco's face with dozens of dry kisses. How could Draco have thought anything different? "I'm much harder to get rid of than that."

"Oh joy," said Draco sarcastically, but he accepted Harry's affections with a smile. "Now, shut up, Potter, and let me sleep."

"Call me Harry."

"Fine." Draco groused. "Shut up, Harry."

xxx

A shrill ringing sound roused Harry from his slumber a few hours later. Sunlight poured into the room through the windows, indicating it was well past mid-morning. Harry sat up and rubbed his eyes, blinking until they focused as well as they could without his glasses. An unfamiliar room filled his blurry field of vision as all his memories of the previous evening came flooding back, assaulting his sleep-addled brain with a delicious mixture of sights, sounds, and feelings. He turned and found a large lump of covers next to him, silver-blond hair sticking out in tufts from beneath the duvet.

The shrill ring broke the silence again.

"Draco," Harry whispered, reaching over to shake the sleeping lump. "I think someone's at your door."

"Tell them to go away," came the muffled response from beneath the covers. "It's Saturday, and I want a lie-in."

"It's your house and your visitor," Harry pointed out. He felt Draco's foot seek out and connect with his thigh and warmed, thinking his prickly lover was searching for a morning cuddle. When the foot against his leg began to push him across the bed, he realized his mistake.

"Fine," Harry said with a huff as he threw back the duvet with enough force to pull them off Draco as well. He smiled at the petulant cry Draco made as he re-swaddled himself in the covers.

Harry trudged over to his robes and found his wand in the mass of cloth. He Accioed his glasses from the place on the floor where they'd landed the night before and pushed them on. The window opened with a quick flick of his wand, and he stuck his head out.

Pansy Parkinson stood at the door with two paper cups of coffee and an impatiently tapping foot.

"Oi!" Harry called out to her. "Parkinson, up here!"

Pansy's head swiveled and it took her a moment to locate the sound of the voice yelling at her. "Potter!" she cried. "Fancy meeting you here. I was just coming to ask Draco how last night went, but I think I can draw my own conclusions."

"Tell her to go away and die," said the lump on the bed. "I'm still mad at her."

"Draco says he's still mad at you," Harry yelled down.

Even from the distance, Harry could see her roll her eyes. "Yes, I figured he might be. That's why I brought coffee." She held the cups up. "Pity, I only brought two."

Draco's head popped out of the blankets. "Coffee?! Get the coffee from her, Harry."

Harry poked his wand out the window and focused on the cups in Pansy's hands. He cast a strong levitation charm and laughed at her outrage as the coffees floated out of her grip and up to the second story, where Harry reached out and caught them.

"Thanks for the coffee, Parkinson!"

Pansy flipped him the two-finger salute. "Tell Draco I'm not letting him off the hook that easily. I want to know about last night, in gory, come-stained detail." She cut herself off and frowned. "Oh, and I'm sorry, Potter. About Sparrow. The old bint didn't deserve to win."

Harry glanced over his shoulder at Draco, who sat upright on the bed, eyeing the paper cups in Harry's hands greedily. He laughed and looked back down at Parkinson. "Thanks, Pansy. I think I'll get over it."

Harry padded back to the bed and climbed in, handing one of the cups to Draco. He closed the window with another flick of his wand, then placed it on the bedside table next to his own coffee.

"She's right, you know," said Draco, watching Harry over the top of his cup. "Sparrow didn't deserve it. You did."

Harry gave a one-shouldered shrug. He knew he should care more, and perhaps he would tomorrow. But right now, being naked and in bed with Draco Malfoy was better than any stuffy old award he could imagine.

He ignored the cry of protest as he took Draco's cup from his hand and set it on the table next to his wand. He tilted Draco's chin and leaned in, tasting the bitter combination of sleep and coffee on his breath. He could worry about awards and secret identities and the rest of the world later. It was Saturday morning, and he wanted a lie-in.


Author's Note: Written for the 2012 H/D Career Fair. Thanks to omona_shi, sonata_de_morte, chimneysmoke, and Rhaney for their encouragement, suggestions, beta work, and love.