“You’re going out today?” Stefano’s eyes begged him to say no, but Draco was tired of them for now. He wanted to use them himself.
“You know I have to.” Draco dropped a perfunctory kiss on Stefano’s pouting mouth; any more and Stefano would drag him down into the bed, and he’d never find his way out of the maze of sheets in time.
He met Alexandre in the vestibule. Lurking was the best word Draco could think of, although spying would run a close second. On what, though? Had Alexandre been in contact with the British Ministry? Did he suspect Draco of being who he was? Did he dream of turning Draco in, but fear his little brother’s reaction? Or were his misgivings more prosaic?
Draco let none of his swimming thoughts show, instead smirking at Alexandre and blowing him a kiss. Alexandre jumped as if the kiss were a flame-thrower and darted into the bathroom. Draco shrugged and used the opportunity to Apparate to the Leaky Cauldron. He needed to be alone to summon up the required concentration.
All of his new robes had deep hoods. No one paid him much notice, because hoods were too common for that. Draco gulped down the Polyjuice in yet another toilet stall. He was becoming more skilled at minimising the sounds he made. A Silencing Charm on his larynx didn’t go astray either. He kept his hood up coming out too, because beautiful young men attracted far too much attention -- even in such a frowsy, straight-as-a-boring-die concern as the Leaky Cauldron.
Rosaline was not on duty when Draco arrived at the third floor of St Mungo’s. One of the guards from the first day was, however, and he sent Draco an appraising stare. Draco was willing to bet that the man was willing to lay bets on his sexuality now. Fifty-fifty either way. Draco pushed up the sleeves of his light blue robes, because he knew Stefano had shapely arms and he wanted to show them off.
“I’d like to talk to Harry Potter.” He flashed a smile, knowing how well the whiter-than-white teeth looked against the dark skin. “I sort of have an appointment.”
“You sort of missed your appointment, too,” said the man, but his mouth twitched. He also signalled inside, which Draco took as either a good sign or one that meant he was in imminent danger of being arrested.
He was beckoned on. Moody scowled at him from a round of poker, but that could have just been his poker face, or even his normal face. He grunted at the Auror standing by the second door and he, in his turn, jerked his head at Draco. “You can go through.”
Draco went through.
The room hadn’t changed, although for some reason he’d expected it to. There were the same whirring machines, piles of paper, groups of earnest witches. The same crunching noise as he gingerly made his way across the floor. The bed was unaltered, as was the dent in the pillow, but it was quite empty.
Draco's heart stopped for a full second. Potter was gone, dead, kidnapped, and no one had noticed. Draco gripped the bedstead for support, realising too late that it had wheels. It shot forward and crashed against the wall, making an almighty racket, and dragged Draco along with it.
“You do like to make an entrance,” said Potter’s voice from somewhere in the ceiling. Draco opened a tentative eye and made a spirited attempt to extricate his legs from the arms of his robes.
“You remind me of someone I knew in school,” added Potter.
Draco saw that Potter was still in pyjamas, although mummified in a red dressing gown. Midnight blue or forest green or black would have suited him better, or at least made him look more interesting. But whoever did his shopping for him still clung to Gryffindor values, that much was clear. Potter had his arms crossed and was leaning against the wall, an insouciant posture that Draco knew of yore, but it didn’t hide the fact that Potter’s legs were trembling.
Take him out now! Draco’s back-brain urged. Kick him in the knees, kick him in the head, he’s too weak to resist! Do it for your mother, do it for your father!
It sounded quite like the voice that had wanted him to kill Dumbledore, and for the same reasons. He hadn’t listened to it then. He didn't now.
“Who?” he asked instead, when he’d recovered enough to realise that Potter was gazing at him in expectation, chewing his lip like gum.
“I forget.” Potter sounded as vague as he’d used to be when called on in class. He usually knew the answer all the same, in Draco’s experience -- he just hadn’t wanted to share it.
“I thought you’d gone.” One thing hadn’t changed: the damnable looseness Potter induced in Draco’s tongue. Why had he admitted that? Potter was probably in the toilet. Even heroes had to piss.
“Funnily enough, I thought the same about you.” Potter groped along the wall and held out a hand to Draco. Draco scrambled up in time not to need it. One part of him refused to touch Potter; another didn’t want to be responsible for toppling him over like the frail leaf he was turning into. Draco had always been prouder of his vicious streak than any of his virtues.
“I mean,” continued Potter, leaning against the glass, “I offered you more questions, which Moody nearly scalped me over, and the reporters nearly killed him over, and then you don’t even turn up.”
“No,” agreed Draco. He looked at Potter doubtfully, forgetting to brush his hair out of his eyes. He kept on thinking he’d got glued-on candyfloss hair, which stayed out of the way. Being Stefano wasn’t all honey and roses.
All at once Potter smiled. It was a huge smile, which dominated his face and changed it. Usually people’s faces became softer and more open when they smiled -- it was the reason why apes did it, after all -- but Potter’s face turned feral. Almost tigerish.
The smile was gone too quickly to study it. Draco was just left with an abiding impression that Potter was pleased. The smile was infectious, like the best diseases, but Draco had never succumbed easily to any illness.
“I suppose you were off doing something wildly exciting for the last three days,” said Potter, and now he sounded jealous. Draco made a noise of assent. Sex did tend to be wildly exciting to those who didn’t have a lot of it and even more so to those who’d had none. Potter certainly fell into the first category, if not into both.
“So.” Potter climbed on to the bed again, but not into it. The sheets looked even more clinical and even less inviting now, with Potter as a red and black smudge in the middle of them.
Draco was about to ask him why he didn’t buy something more cheerful, or at least get someone to buy it for him, before he realised that this would use up his question. The question game amused Potter, it seemed, and games had to have rules. Potter had always wanted other people to play by the rules, even though he himself had never done so.
“You should get some purple pillowcases,” said Draco, in a tone of command and not query. He bestowed a stare of scrutiny upon the current pillow, which, while large enough to smother generations of young Granger babies, hadn’t shaken off the look of an obese marshmallow.
“Don’t tell me, you’re an interior designer in your spare time,” laughed Potter. He clasped his hands around kneecaps that bulged bones even through two layers of cloth.
“Yes, and a sensuous and godlike trombone player.” Draco reached around to test the squishiness of the pillows in question.
Potter spluttered and squirmed away from Draco’s critical fingers, which was all to the good. It gave Draco more room for evaluation. “Why purple?” Potter wanted to know.
“Because it’s the colour of sexual frustration,” Draco informed him, with a sweet smile. “You haven’t got any for, correct me if I’m wrong, eight years.”
Potter stared at him for a minute. Draco held his breath but didn’t realise it until afterwards, when he severely reprimanded himself for such sensibilities. It didn’t matter to him what Potter thought. Potter’s opinion did not matter.
Then Potter burst out laughing. He laughed until his face creased up and he had to lean across the bed and beat his fists on the sterile white wool blanket to ease the stitch. Draco didn’t think sex was so all-fired glorious but he’d never found it hilarious either, and this show of mirth disturbed him. Perhaps eight years of being asleep and untouched had done something to Potter’s mind, which was only now being unleashed.
“You’re right,” gasped Potter at last. “You’re absolutely right. Oh God, you’re going to tell on me now to the papers, aren’t you?”
“No,” said Draco, mainly because he wasn’t from a paper but also because what was there to tell? Even Rita Skeeter wouldn’t expect someone in a coma to have a dramatic and colourful love-life.
“I like you,” said Potter, upside down, looking up the wrong end of Draco’s nostrils. Draco, unnerved by this because even Stefano didn’t have gorgeous nostrils, moved back a little. At least it was Stefano’s face that Potter thought he liked and not Draco’s. That would have been truly disturbing.
“That’s nice,” he remembered to say at last. That was the kind of reply that bald statements merited, wasn’t it? Or was he meant to say ‘I like you too,’ or ‘Shut up, you great freak?’ Draco wasn’t sure. He’d never been told something like that before. He just assumed that people liked him, or that they didn’t. Doubt and uncertainty didn’t play any role in the proceedings.
Potter grinned. Draco had a feeling that he was enjoying his discomfiture, perhaps as a little repayment. His opinion on Potter swung towards favourable for a quarter of a second.
A chair was standing ready for Draco, although his earlier antics had toppled it to the floor. Draco righted it and sat down, bringing out his notebook and dusting it for the look of the thing. When he was through with the charade, he saw that Potter was spread-eagled across his bed, rummaging for something.
When he sat up again, Potter’s hair was sticking up in all directions, like the spiky halos favoured by the more modern churches. His cheeks were pink again. This time it was the flush of effort and not -- anything else, Draco really didn’t like to think of Potter lusting -- but it was without doubt very cute. He looked about ten years old and, thus, deserving of the adjective.
“Here,” said Potter, his voice breathy. He pushed something warm and hard into Draco’s palm. Draco looked down and saw several Galleons there. He looked up in confusion. “I want you to bring me some pillowcases,” added Potter, “next time you come.”
“So there’ll be a next time.” Draco kept his tone casual.
“Yes, you’re quite right. I need some new pillowcases.”
“And the questions?” Draco couldn’t help it. The words spilled out of him like a broken geyser.
“Well, how many do you want?” asked Potter. “A thousand and one, like Scheherazade?”
“A few less would suffice.” Draco fought not to fidget. He pushed the Galleons deep into his pocket, where they would not spill out by accident. “Perhaps, instead of numbers, we could say days? Two weeks?”
“You won’t get very many, if you miss three days at a time.” Potter’s tone was parental, mild disapproval mixed with indulgence. Draco wasn’t stupid enough to miss the warning in it.
“I won’t miss any days,” he said.
“Well, then.” Potter seemed at a loss. He tugged at the belt of his dressing gown. “It’s always too hot or too cold in here,” he said, sounding plaintive. “They never get it right.”
“Well, they don’t need to,” Draco pointed out. “They can go outside. Why can’t you?”
“I don’t know,” said Potter, in dolorous tones. He pressed his nose against the window pane and laced the glass with his breath.
“By tomorrow, find out,” Draco told him, “because I’m going to ask you again.”
“Are you going already?” Potter’s eyes widened in alarm. Or something. Draco couldn’t bear to meet them for long, so he didn’t.
“I have to go away and think about my questions,” he explained, to himself as well as to Potter. “I’ll stay for an hour tomorrow.”
“Oh, good,” said Potter. Draco couldn't tell from two words if he was being sarcastic or not. He probably liked the audience, but resented what he had to do to keep it. A quick thought, but on reflection quite accurate, Draco decided later.
“Won’t -- won’t Miss Granger and Mr Weasley visit you?” asked Draco, wanting to placate Potter as he would a keening dog.
“Mrs McLaggen, you mean.” Potter breathed on the window again. “Yeah, she might be around. Ron’ll be busy, with the babies and the business, but he comes when he can.”
“And why aren’t they married to each other, do you think?” asked Draco.
“They haven’t told me that either,” said Potter, pulling a comical face. It was almost endearing, for all that Draco would have loved to slap him.
“Potter,” he drawled, “snap out of it. You used to snoop around like nobody’s business -- so I read --” he breathed a sigh of relief, Potter hadn't noticed the slight break “-- but now you don’t even know about the most important thing in your best friends’ lives.” He leaned forward and snapped his fingers in front of Potter’s nose. “Your eyes are open, but you aren’t awake yet.”
He didn’t bother to say goodbye or to look back. When he left he went straight to Whistbean's Wizarding Warehouse and bought two sets of bed clothes, including pillow cases -- in purple and scarlet -- costing exactly three times what Potter had given him.