Draco would not have called himself a careless man, but in certain ways he knew he was heedless. There was a subsisting certainty in the back of his mind that by borrowing Stefano’s likeness he was playing with fire. If Polyjuice disguises worked so well on a long-term basis, criminals and politicians would be using them all of the time and there would be dungeons full of beautiful men and women bred for the purpose. Seeing as that was not the case, Draco knew that somehow, some time, he would get caught out.
Asking for two weeks of Potter’s time had been a spur-of-the-moment gamble and it had -- amazingly -- worked so far. There was no way Draco would have got so close to him in his own body, or even if Potter had been in the fullness of his health. Draco had discovered much of what he’d hoped.
His father and Snape were in Azkaban. His father had undergone a trial for membership of a subversive organisation and been sentenced to life, the judges not keen to let him re-offend for the third time. If Draco had tried hard enough, he could have visited him, but his father had always disliked reporters. How such an interview would go, Draco was not prepared to wonder. 'Hallo Father, it’s me,' would be as likely to get him landed with an adjoining cell as his father’s welcoming embrace.
No one had yet come forward to confront him with his true identity, something he had been expecting to happen ever since he'd received the newspaper article. It was looking less and less like it was going to happen at all. His mother -- the last person left who might have sent it out of concern -- was eight years dead; everyone with a vendetta against Draco was dead or in gaol.
So Draco skated on, not quite sure what he was doing or why. He was impatient for a conclusion. He doubted his return to England would have been so swift if some part of him was not anxious for an end to the running.
He did know that someone was going to find him out. He counted up the number of ways it could happen. The obvious reason was if he forgot to take Polyjuice and he woke up beside Rosaline or a customer with the face of Draco Malfoy, wanted criminal. Another was if someone saw what the Butterbeer bottle contained, or asked for a drink, or if he spilled some.
And there was Angus. There was something strange about the kid. Something knowing. Draco could see it all of the time, but never more so than when Angus called him ‘Mr Michel’ with a tiny pause after the ‘mister,’ as if he wanted to say another name. Not to mention that, in every one of his prodigious output of drawings, Draco had yellow hair and a bottle somewhere about his person. Potter thought they were charming and kept them pinned up on the wall behind his bed.
If Draco had been a reporter in truth, he would have had a bestselling biography’s worth of material on his hands. Potter -- his burgeoning homosexuality, the relationship with a middle-aged researcher that would be easy to suppose, his un-hero-like and uncharitable rage against Severus Snape and every other Death Eater. Not many people harboured a great deal of sympathy for these people, but they expected a paragon like Potter do to it for them.
Also his friends: Hermione McLaggen, the famously intelligent witch and wife of a wife-beater, whose two youngest children had hair more strawberry-blonde than sand. Ron Weasley, who turned up intermittently with his show-pony wife. Draco was sure he’d once seen Romilda's rings and bracelets on the society wives of long-lined, pure-blooded families whom his mother had had to tea quite often. Ginny Wood, the one-time Healer who was married to the most successful Quidditch player of the past five years and living in America for reasons undisclosed. She spent her husband’s earnings profligately yet without once mentioning his name.
It was quite lucky for them that, of all the hordes of reporters -- albeit thinning in latter days -- to whom Potter could have taken a shine, he’d chosen the one who was a Death Eater in disguise and had no more intention of publishing his findings than he did of taking up tightrope walking.
Stefano had been subdued ever since Draco had started visiting Potter, and Alexandre more than usually inquisitive. Draco had thought it wise to admit to a part of the truth: that he was interviewing Harry Potter. He didn’t say why and let the brothers assume that on the nights on which Draco didn’t come home, he was interviewing.
Alexandre rarely stayed in for the evening. Draco guessed that this was due to his aversion to public displays of lust. Or, at least, displays of lust that involved his brother and a man he hated. On the rare nights that they did meet, Alexandre was always wearisomely curious about Harry Potter. Draco wasn't sure if this were merely a symptom of Potter's celebrity or something more ominous, but he didn't give Alexandre the chance to reveal his motives. Always a master of the cold brush-off, Draco's technique had been given a rare run for its money of recent times -- but Draco was still sure that he was succeeding.
It was to Draco’s benefit that Stefano didn’t think to question what kind of interviews one could hold at midnight, but Draco couldn’t help despising him a little all the same. Stefano was good company in more than one way. And Draco needed his freshly plucked hair, because Polyjuice didn’t function with hair dead longer than a day. He just didn’t feel particularly attached to him.
When Stefano proposed getting a job, Draco shrugged. The next day Stefano arrived home exhausted from a long day working in McDonald’s, the speed with which he secured the position suggesting to Draco that he’d planned and applied for it long before he’d mentioned it to his boyfriend. It suited Draco, because he too was tired. He felt it necessary to continue his affaire with Rosaline in case she passed on any more juicy tidbits, but it also meant that he had to prowl the streets afterwards to rid himself of her memory.
When Stefano proposed trying to find a place to rent so as to get out of the hotel, Draco was more wary. He still hadn’t decided whether he was going to leave or stay, but he didn’t need to be tied down whilst making the decision. It could be detrimental to his chances of escape.
“I don’t know,” he demurred. “I’m not sure if I want to stay in England long enough to put down a deposit on a flat.”
“Well, what do you want to do?” demanded Stefano.
“Oh, one of the hard questions,” groaned Draco. He threw his head back and burrowed it against the crest of the sofa.
“No, no,” said Stefano. He shook his head to add emphasis. He climbed on Draco’s knees to place both hands in the centre of his chest, presumably for the same reason. “Not a hard question.” He pressed his lips, so very soft, to the curve of Draco’s jaw. It felt good, but his knee dug into Draco’s stomach rather painfully and distracted him. “What do you want to do?”
“I’m getting some ideas right about now.” Draco clasped his hands behind Stefano’s back and drew him closer, so that he lost his balance and moved his knee away from Draco’s small intestine. Stefano felt exciting and warm, as he always did. Draco felt a thrill of something almost like familiarity as he rolled over so that Stefano was lying below him, his eyes languorous and his breath a cool blessing on Draco’s neck.
“Andrew,” sighed Stefano. Draco stroked the skin between his buttons. “Do you love me?”
The question brought Draco up short, not so much because he didn’t expect it but because his mouth protested against an easy answer. The soothing ‘Of course I do’ just wouldn’t come, and Stefano’s eyes were a tear-filled warning. Draco’s mind leapt to Potter’s words about what he’d give up for the person he loved. No; that wasn’t right. It was what he could give up because the person would be enough to replace it. Draco tried to think if Stefano would replace the buzz he got from touching strangers in the dark, the curious empty freedom it bestowed.
Of course he wouldn’t, his mind said scornfully. Draco hadn’t really thought he would -- but why had lying become a trial?
He waited too long for his mouth to do his bidding. Stefano pushed him off and was pulling his clothes straight, a wild look in his eyes.
“Where are you going?” attempted Draco. He tried at once to calm Stefano and the merry-go-round of his own thoughts.
“Out!” exclaimed Stefano, in a fine fit of hot-blooded temper. “Away from you!” A moment later, the door slamming put the proof to his words.
Draco covered his eyes with his hands and indulged in a heart-felt groan. He’d been so comfortable with Stefano up until now. He really should wait until Stefano got home and then apologise to him -- perhaps let him take charge of the night’s entertainments.
Draco stood up and brushed down his woollen jumper, finding some of Stefano’s hairs between his fingers.
One thing he really shouldn’t do was drink Polyjuice and go out.
Which was why he did precisely that.
There was something charged and electric about the night air as Draco stepped into it, for the last time as Stefano. He knew instinctively that by choosing to go out, he’d put paid to his dalliance with Stefano’s body. He was more intrigued by the fact that he knew what ‘electric’ meant -- it being a word that he would have disdained to even think, let alone say, once upon a time.
He pulled his hood down, Apparated and trod the distance to Blackweather Alley, all with the feeling that he was going to a gallows of his own construction. The thought managed to excite and not scare him.
He was too keyed up to settle for the first man who approached him, so he spent a long time wandering around, tossing Stefano’s silky hair and eyeing up prospectors and generally being a disgusting flirt. He got more than one longing, desperate stare, so the feeling that he was being watched didn’t trouble him. That was, until Alexandre stepped out of the shadows with a face like death and squeezed him by the arm.
They looked at each other until Draco felt his eyes would drop out. He watched Alexandre under the flickering enchanted torches, which cast out lurid pink, blue and green light. Finally the hoots and catcalls of his fellow whores caught his attention. They were asking Draco if he'd been enchanted, and wasn’t his customer a pretty one, he should charge extra for a face like that.
So Draco said the first thing that came to mind, and drawled, “What’s it gonna be, then?”
As Alexandre’s expression shifted to incorporate incredulity, and his mouth formed the word ‘Andrew?’, Draco finally remembered why Polyjuice never succeeded in fooling the family and friends of the victim.
He’d worked for a long time to get the right voice for customers: never shrill, never demanding, but one that called up descriptions like sultry and velvety and the best night of your life, cheap at the price. He’d had to get it right, because otherwise he didn’t eat.
Most of all, it was entirely his own.
Alexandre paced up and down with the anger of a caged panther. Draco looked down at his hands, which were turning from toffee-coloured to blotchy white coffee, and waited for Alexandre to speak. He’d be damned if he said the first word.
“I’d just like to make it clear,” said Alexandre at long last, by which time Draco’s hands were almost uniformly milk, “that I don’t frequent places like that. Ever.”
“Except for tonight,” observed Draco languidly. He brushed his hands together as if that would make the transformation even. He was always afraid of getting a bad batch of Polyjuice that would leave him stuck somewhere in between Stefano and Draco, a hideous hybrid of both.
“Yes,” hissed Alexandre. “Except for tonight. Do you know why, Andrew?”
Draco paused for effect, then sent him a sweet smile. “You wanted some hot, tender loving? God knows you’ve been deprived as long as I’ve known you.”
Draco hadn’t known that Alexandre could look so angry. He leaned in close enough to Draco to shake him hard by the shoulders. Spit flew in his face as Alexandre shouted.
“No, that was not why! I met my brother looking like the sky had fallen in and it turns out you had a fight. I came to confront you for your aggravated mistreatment of my only family, and you were leaving. I follow you to the Leaky, and who do I see coming out of the toilets? My own brother, looking very sneaky and not quite as heartbroken as he’d been an hour before! I was suspicious. Even more so when he went down Knockturn Alley! I can tell a place like that no matter what country it’s in. Then …”
He ran out of breath there, still shaking Draco gently from side to side. “I couldn’t believe it,” he whispered. “My own brother, a prostitute.”
“It must have come as a great comfort to you to discover that he wasn’t, after all,” murmured Draco. He plucked Alexandre’s fingers from his shoulders and moved away. He looked in the mirror over the fireplace. His face stared back. It had two almost circular spots of pink in the centre of his cheeks, but was otherwise as it ever was. Bony and hard, his hair as substantial as melted fairy floss.
Alexandre was behind him in the mirror, looking like he was on the verge of tears.
“And you!” exclaimed Alexandre, visibly pulling himself together. “Enchanting yourself to look like my brother is bad enough, but selling yourself! I can’t believe it of Stefano, letting --”
“Then don’t believe it,” interrupted Draco, “because he doesn’t know.”
If he’d assumed that Alexandre would be comforted by this knowledge, he’d have assumed wrong. It was rather fortunate, then, that Draco didn’t care enough about Alexandre one way or the other to worry about his possible future thoughts.
“You haven’t told him?” he gasped. “Yet you feel free to spread your diseases --”
“God help me,” muttered Draco. He rolled his eyes at his reflection. “You do remember that I’m a wizard, don’t you? I know you’re not a Healer or, it seems, possessing of a modicum of intelligence, but there are charms and wards to prevent that sort of thing. Even married, heterosexual couples need to use them -- as you might one day discover, if you ever get that stick removed from your arse.”
“What,” said Alexandre, breathing heavily, “makes you think that makes it any better?”
“I don’t know, Alexandre,” sighed Draco. He tilted his head to see if a different fall of light made his skin look any more lustrous. It didn't. “You were the one protesting that I have the modern take on leprosy. I didn’t hear you make any other objections to my profession.”
“Your profession?” sneered Alexandre. “That’s what they call it, do they?”
“No, generally ‘they’ call it a way to eat.” Draco pulled up strands of his hair and watched them float down with something close to exhausted fascination. The movement wafted the smell of his body closer to his nostrils, and he winced at it.
Stepping away from the mirror and Alexandre, he yanked at the tiny buttons on the mandarin neckline of his robes. Being a pale blue with gold stitching, they had suited Stefano extremely well, but they made Draco look like clouds against an overcast sky.
“What do you think you’re doing?” demanded Alexandre from behind him.
Draco rested his chin against his shoulder for a moment as he continued pulling buttons out of their tiny, embroidered holes. “Going for a shower, unless you have some moral objection against that as well.”
“I don’t have a moral --” Alexandre almost roared. Draco could hear him swallowing, as he bunched up the hem of his robes. “I’m not finished talking to you!”
Draco turned to glare at him as he pulled his arms out of the sleeves. “There’s no law against talking to someone in the shower. Just don’t whisper.”
“I don’t intend to whisper!” This time it was a yell, but the end of it was muffled to Draco because he was pulling his robes over his ears by then.
Leaving the robes in a crumple on the carpet, Draco stalked past Alexandre and into the bathroom. He left the door open, so Alexandre could choose or not to follow him. Whatever happened, Draco could not be said to have coerced anyone.
The feeling of hot spray against his skin made Draco imagine that he was dissolving. He leaned back against the slick tiles and closed his eyes. The water drummed as loud as marching band. It drowned out even Draco’s thoughts, until Alexandre spoke.
He sounded uncomfortable. Draco doubted there would be any shouting this time. He pulled back the pebble-glass door a little way and poked his head out. Alexandre was sitting on the toilet seat, his legs crossed and bouncing with a nervous tic.
“Sorry, what did you say?” Draco shook soap out of his ears.
“I said,” said Alexandre, regaining something of his earlier imperial rage, “that I don’t understand why you deceived Stefano like this.”
“You think he’d have preferred to know that I sleep with other men for money?” Draco splashed his face with water.
“I think you do a little more than sleep,” retorted Alexandre.
“And I think it’s a little more than you need to know -- being on the other side, sexually speaking,” said Draco. He crossed his arms against his wet chest. Alexandre coughed and looked away. The side of his jaw quilted. Draco guessed that he was clenching his teeth.
“To go back to your question,” he said without looking at Draco, “yes. I value honesty in a relationship.”
“God!” hissed Draco. “Since when did it become about you? This is me and Stefano we’re talking about, not me and you.”
More patches appeared in the quilt and Alexandre shifted about, crossing his own arms so closely that his fingers scrabbled at his back.
“So that’s how it is, is it?” Draco raised his eyebrows, sluicing water out of them as he did so. He leaned forward and turned off the taps. “It is about me and you?”
“I didn’t say that!” snapped Alexandre, his heels bouncing off the floor so often it looked like he was performing a private homage to Michael Flatley.
“True,” agreed Draco. He stepped out of the shower in a trail of rivulets. His hips swayed of their own accord as he approached Alexandre and dropped to his haunches before him. Alexandre still didn’t meet his eye, going so far as twisting his head almost one hundred and eighty degrees to avoid it.
“Alexandre,” breathed Draco, knowing that Alexandre would feel the word against his cheek. “You are a huge, huge hypocrite.”
“Me?” Alexandre jumped up. “I don’t go -- whoring myself out under enchantment and lie about it!”
Draco had scrambled away to avoid getting Alexandre’s knees in his face. He now lay back on the bathmat and laughed up at him. “How did I lie? Did either of you ever ask me if I were a prostitute and I said ‘no?’ I think you’ll find I didn’t.”
“That’s not the point!” Alexandre was clearly struggling; his fists were clenching and unclenching and sweat was beading along the curls of his hairline. The thought licking it off for him was swift but powerful -- enough to bolster Draco for the rest of the night. “It was a lie of omission!”
“Oh, you should have been a lawyer.” Draco lay back and stretched his arms until his fingers brushed the cistern. His toes knocked against Alexandre’s -- he couldn’t remember whose rule it was, to take shoes off at the door. Maybe it was a Spanish custom. In any case, he apologised for the inadvertent touch, although not with any great sincerity.
“Never mind,” said Alexandre, his voice husky. “Why would I make a good lawyer?” He was playing with his tie as he spoke, his fingers undoing the knot whether or not his brain realised it.
“Because they’re very skilled at lying to themselves.” Draco sat up with a smirk. “Otherwise, how could they defend murderers and rapists?”
“Someone has to,” said Alexandre. His breathing came in erratic gulps as Draco’s fingers inspected the arch of his foot. “That’s justice.”
“Justice,” echoed Draco, reaching for Alexandre's belt buckle. He’d always found blackmail to be far more reliable.
Draco lay on his stomach, his bare arms and legs stretched over the stripped mattress as far as they could go. He drifted in and out of uneasy sleep. His dreams, when they did come, were lit in flashes as if they were taking place in a drug-ridden nightclub.
When he awoke properly Stefano was there, his taut face looming out of the darkness. His sleek hair was ruffled up like a sulky cockatoo’s, his bee-stung mouth bleeding lipstick.
Draco scrambled up, licking his lips and feeling unaccountably nervous. Stefano held out a hand, which shook a little. He gazed at it with his bottom lip hanging open, looking unclear as to what it had to do with him. On impulse, Draco caught hold of it and held it to the side of his cheek.
“I slept,” announced Stefano, his fingers curling around Draco’s jaw, “with a girl. Yep. Went all the way.”
Draco moved Stefano’s hand so that the palm was covering his own mouth and brushed his lips against it. If Stefano had been shaking before, he now bore a resemblance to a poplar in a force-ten gale. His skin convulsed under Draco’s lips, as if he was being administered electric shocks. It didn’t take much for Draco to draw him down on to the bed next to him, or to make it so that he was lying with Draco’s arms around him.
Draco smoothed the tossed hair back from Stefano’s hot, damp forehead and proceeded to bathe it in feathery kisses. The light was dim, its sole source the streetlamps creeping in through the slatted blinds. As Draco blotted away Stefano’s tears with the pad of his thumb and willed back a yawn, his watering eyes obliged him and blurred Stefano’s face.
Draco closed his eyes, put his lips to Stefano’s ear as he stroked his back, and pretended as hard as he could. “I love you,” he said.
A last, gasping shudder passed through Stefano’s body. He clung to Draco as if the world would disappear if he let him go. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Draco pulled his head back to indulge in one of his favourite pastimes, outlining Stefano’s mouth with his fingers. “What for?”
“I cheated on you. I wanted to hurt you as much as you hurt me.” Stefano's hand strayed to Draco’s hip, as if lead there by an inexorable force.
“I don’t care,” replied Draco. It was nothing less than the absolute truth, but Stefano took it as absolution. He smiled his bewitching smile -- the one that Draco had found so useful, the one that had made him want Stefano in the first place. A phrase floated into Draco’s memory, recited in Paul’s voice. He had been a student of literature and a closet dipsomaniac. There’s daggers in men’s smiles.
To banish these disturbing thoughts, Draco put Stefano’s mouth to better use and remembered not to call him Alexandre.