This was written and posted last year as part of the HD Holidays fic/art exchange on livejournal and I'm posting it here as I wait for this year's stories to be posted (and as I take a break from writing Choosing Family). This story is complete (!), and I'll be posting chapters twice per week.
My giftee was Pessen03 who requested "any kind of first-time fic where either draco or harry courts/woo/date etc with flirting and ust and then FINALLY when they end up together and in love and having sex". I'd like to think I came close (feel free to disabuse me of that in reviews :) ).
My original debts of gratitude remain: Thanks to the HDHols mods, especially Taradiane for the hand-holding and infinite patience, my sister for her help with the bunny-breeding, for her willingness to listen and keen eye, and Tith and TLF for finding the time to beta.
Originally posted for the 2011 hd-holidays fest on livejournal; posted on FF 22 Nov. '12
Searching Diagon Alley
'At the age of fifteen months, Harry Potter first defeated the Dark Lord; at seventeen years, with the help of his friends, he finished off Lord Voldemort for good.' That's how the death announcement would begin, Harry thought, reaching over to turn off the alarm that had been shrilling at him for the past twenty minutes and dragging himself out of his large, lonely bed. And it would finish with 'He spent the next two years on his arse, then died of terminal boredom.'
In actuality, he'd been very busy for the first year and a half or so after the battle, helping to round up stray Death Eaters, testifying at various trials, and assisting with the rebuilding of Hogwarts – not to mention attending numerous funerals, weddings, and christenings.
Over the past few months, however, the wizarding world had settled into a version of normalcy that had left Harry behind.
Hermione accepted a job at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, and Kingsley had offered both Ron and Harry the opportunity to train as Aurors. Ron had declined, deciding instead to work at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes with George, who'd been having a rough time of it without Fred. Harry, after a great deal of soul-searching, had decided to refuse as well. He could have learned to live with the regulations – they were even more obsessed with rules than Hermione – but the time he'd spent working with the Ministry had made one thing very clear: having no NEWTs and less field experience than Aurors who'd been doing this since before he was born wouldn't prevent Harry Potter from advancing through the ranks at their expense. If he stayed, he'd be Head of the Auror department by the time he was forty and in danger of becoming Minister for Magic. No, thank you, he thought, shuddering.
Instead, just a few months before his twentieth birthday, he was unemployed, spending his time learning how to keep a wizarding household and half-heartedly preparing for his NEWTs. Like most of the people who had been in his year, he was doing it by correspondence, but Harry was finding it difficult to motivate himself, given he was ... lacking in direction, to borrow a phrase from Hermione that particularly rankled him. Probably because it was true.
And he was out of tea.
He put down the empty canister and returned to the bedroom to throw some clothes on. There was a café next door which, despite the mediocrity of the baked goods, served a decent pot of tea. The thought of anything more complicated than that pilgrimage would have to wait until after he'd consumed at least half a pot.
Passing the door to the flat next to his, he found himself wishing that he had a neighbour. The unit had been empty since before Christmas, and only yesterday Harry had spoken with the landlord, who'd been bemoaning the fact that there'd been no interest in either the flat or the shop space downstairs. He'd also hinted broadly that Harry might want to recommend the place to friends.
The café, at least, was busy: there was a long line of people who were running late but were too desperate for their morning cuppa to forego the stop, and the tables were filled with those who had time for a sit down.
Harry decided to join the latter, setting his tea and pastry on a table tucked in the corner of the small patio to enjoy the unseasonably warm morning. He was here frequently enough that people were used to seeing him and seldom bothered to do more than wave, so he should be able to enjoy his breakfast uninterrupted.
He realized then that it would have been an ideal opportunity to prepare for his NEWTs, if he'd remembered to bring his study notes. Since he hadn't, he decided to use the time to consider employment options. He needed a job, preferably one that would take him before he completed his NEWTs. He didn't need the money – the funds his parents left him would hold him for a few years yet – but he needed something to do with his time. It would help, of course, if he knew what sort of profession he wanted; he'd expected to be an Auror for so long, he was having difficulty even imagining himself in another career.
Before he'd made any sort of headway at all, a conversation from the next table over caught his attention. The voice sounded a bit familiar, but placing it was teasingly out of reach. It wasn't until Harry looked behind him that he realized why: it was Blaise Zabini and Draco Malfoy, and the latter was speaking in polite, earnest tones – something Harry couldn't recall hearing before.
"This property is perfect – it's a stereotype, but my clients are more likely to be women, and Quality Quidditch Supplies will help keep a good percentage of the spouses occupied. And being close to the Leaky Cauldron entrance to Diagon Alley will ensure people see it."
From that description, it sounded like Harry's building, and he tried to imagine what having Draco Malfoy as a neighbour would be like.
"The property on Exception Alley would be closer to the sort of clientele you're looking to attract," Blaise countered.
"The people who shop on Exception Alley have staff for this sort of thing. I need to attract the people who wish they could shop on Exception Alley and sell them the illusion they have." Harry could hear the anticipatory grin that had to be on Draco's face. "Besides, it's much smaller than this one, and the owner refuses to rent. Since my father's not willing to support me in this…." he trailed off.
"No matter. He's being surprisingly decent about it, really; he's just not willing to fund my 'experiment in trade.' And this one really is ideal."
Harry didn't know what sort of shop Draco was planning to open – wasn't sure he could even speculate as to a likely option – but if it was something Lucius Malfoy refused to fund, it sounded promising. What most interested Harry, however, was Draco's next comment, a declaration that he had to leave for his appointment with the estate agent.
Harry had been wondering what he ought to do with Grimmauld Place. Sirius had left it to Harry, and it seemed a betrayal of his godfather's memory to simply sell it to some random person. On the other hand, Harry didn't really want to keep it, and Sirius had hated the house more than anyone.
An estate agent would be able to tell him the likelihood that anyone would even consider buying it.
Harry got up and followed Draco Malfoy as discreetly as possible. Only because I'm interested in the location of said estate agent office, he assured the part of himself that was insisting it was a childish thing to do.
The defence might have been plausible ... if Harry hadn't Disillusioned himself, followed Draco into the office, and watched as he identified himself to the secretary as Mr. Nicholson's 9:30 appointment. She assured him, in a tone that was dripping with false sincerity, that Mr. Nicholson would be free to see him in a few minutes.
She didn't suggest he take a seat.
Draco nodded in acknowledgement and moved to stand by the window.
Only seconds later, a man in garish robes that reminded Harry painfully of Albus Dumbledore exited the door identified as belonging to 'C. Nicholson.' He waved cheerily at the secretary, and the 'Have a Nice Day' she called out in reply echoed in the silent lobby. She did not tell Draco he could go in, nor did she let Mr. Nicholson know that Draco was waiting.
For the next twenty minutes, Harry watched Malfoy's jaw clench and release, clench and release, marking the passage of time as precisely as Harry's pocket-watch. It was a form of stubbornness Harry recognized from his own childhood, when giving in would be a greater humiliation that the one being forced upon him.
Harry was contemplating revealing himself just to break the stalemate when Mr. Nicholson opened his door enough to poke his head out. "Anna, have you heard from Draco Malfoy?"
"He's just arrived, Mr. Nicholson." She gestured to where Draco was standing, daring him silently to mention how long he'd been kept waiting.
"Draco! Sorry – I didn't see you there! Come in, come in. It's a beastly hour of the day, isn't it?"
Harry waited until the secretary's attention was focused away from him, cancelled the Disillusionment Charm, and approached the reception desk.
"Hello, how may I help—" She'd looked up as she spoke and obviously recognized him. "How may I help you, Mr. Potter?" She giggled in what Harry suspected was supposed to be a flirtatious manner, and he stifled an urged to cringe.
"I'd like the next available appointment on Mr. Nicholson's schedule, please."
"Of course!" She made a production of checking through the date book. "It's a shame you weren't just a few minutes earlier: I would have been able to slide you in straightaway. Would you be willing to take a seat and wait? He'll be available in about ten minutes, I should think."
"That's fine." Harry replied shortly. He would have felt sorry for the poor soul she'd obviously bumped on his account, but he wasn't planning to take much of the man's time.
The appointment was only to make the man aware of the shenanigans perpetuated by his assistant, her attitude to his clients, and Harry's disgust if it was sanctioned behaviour. Draco Malfoy may have been on the wrong side of the war and a git in school, but he'd been acquitted, and he'd been polite enough in the years since, up to and including today. And the easiest way Harry could think of to start another war was to refuse to let go of the last one.
The secretary attempted to flirt with Harry while he waited, but he restricted his replies to one word answers when they were necessary and disapproving silence when they weren't. She offered him tea, but remembering the Romilda Vane incident, Harry was unwilling to eat anything prepared by her hand and refused.
He moved to sit in the chair furthest from the secretary, which was also closest to Mr. Nicholson's door. As a result, he was well-positioned to overhear even more of Draco Malfoy's business. Listening to the raised voices, he learned that the property Draco had been so enthusiastic about when speaking with Blaise was no longer available – at least, not for Draco Malfoy.
The door opened.
"I'm sorry it didn't work out, Draco," Mr. Nicholson said, sounding genuinely sympathetic. "I'll keep looking."
Draco nodded before leaving, studiously ignoring Harry and the secretary who was smirking behind Nicholson's back.
"Mr. Potter! A pleasure to meet you." Mr. Nicholson enthused as he ushered Harry into his office. "Please allow me to add my thanks for what you did to save the wizarding world from that madman."
Harry tried to suppress a grimace, though not well enough.
"And we'll never speak of it again, eh?" Nicholson waved his hand at the chair opposite his desk. "Please, have a seat." Once he was settled in his own chair, he leaned forward. "How can I help you, Mr. Potter?"
He began to detail what he'd witnessed in the reception, but before he was even halfway through, Mr. Nicholson was flushed with fury. He excused himself to Harry and started for the reception.
Harry sat in the office, trying not to listen to the low, tense conversation being held on the other side of the door. It was hard to miss, though, when Nicholson demanded that Anna gather her personal belonging and leave.
"My mother –" Anna began shrilly, but Nicholson cut her off. "Your mother was my partner and my best friend. I will miss her for the rest of my life. I'm grateful, however, that she didn't live long enough to realize how lazy, petty, mean-spirited you are. You were warned repeatedly about unprofessional behaviour and the consequences of continuing in such a manner."
Anna didn't have a reply to that, at least not one that Harry could hear. It was silent for a few more minutes before Nicholson returned.
He apologized for the disruption and waved aside Harry's own apology. "How else can I be of assistance? I doubt you came in simply to observe the professionalism of my staff."
Put that way, Harry felt ridiculous, so he explained about Grimmauld Place, and they made an appointment to do a walk-though later in the week. Before he left, though, Harry had to ask what happened with the property Draco Malfoy had intended to rent.
"A tenant of an occupied unit in the building made an offer the landlord agreed to accept."
Given that Harry was the only tenant in the building – assuming his guess was correct, but there weren't that many properties for let – and he hadn't said any such thing, Harry was puzzled.
Nicholson misunderstood the source of his confusion and explained, "A current tenant has the right of first refusal when a landlord has available units in the same building. In this case, the current tenant offered to purchase the entire building, and the landlord accepted the offer rather than continuing to look for people to rent the remaining units."
"I thought the property was number 21 Diagon Alley?" Harry said.
Mr. Nicholson stilled, but neither confirmed nor denied until Harry continued, "I'mthe only tenant currently in that building."
"And you haven't made an offer," Nicholson finished.
"That's a violation of the Statute for Equitable Property Management. Would you be willing to testify?"
Harry nodded, slowly. "Unless…."
"Unless?" Mr. Nicholson prompted after a moment, a twitch teasing at the edge of his mouth.
Harry debated whether he was willing to vocalize the option they both knew he was considering.
The building was in need of minor repairs, but the frame was sound. He could even see about creating a small garden on the roof. "Make him an offer, as low as you think he'll accept – lower than that, even, since he'd be obligated to accept?"
Hearing the hint of a question at the last, Nicholson nodded. "That, or admit he's lied and face a fairly steep fine."
Harry nodded. "Then once it's settled, tell Draco Malfoy that when the property was sold, his name was passed on to the new owner as a potential tenant if he's still interested. If he wants to present a plan for the space, the new owner is willing to take that into consideration in the remodelling." He thought about Draco's comments about Lucius's disapproval and wondered if Draco was looking for a residential location and having the same difficulties. "Offer him the empty flat, as well, if he's interested, the reasonable discount if he takes both. I'll keep the other."
By the time he'd finished his meeting with Mr. Nicholson – Craig – Harry had accidentally become a real estate developer. It was not a career path he'd considered or even one he was interested in, per se. But it was a start.