Draco tucked the package under his armpit, nodded at the poker-playing guards and shouldered open the door to what he’d come to call Potter’s laboratory. The stumpy witches around the tables barely spared him a glance these days. Draco marvelled: so little time it took for them to get used to a stranger in their midst. What would they say when the truth came out? Would they look at Potter with pity, or with sympathy?
Draco forgot, for a moment, which of the secret truths he was thinking about. Of course, they already looked at Potter with pity. When they found out that he’d been conned by Draco Malfoy, they would pity him even more. Although the Weasel would probably be most enraged on Potter’s behalf, and offer him his wife for the night.
The purple bedspread was flat, but Draco knew better than to panic. Sitting against the bed on the side that faced away from the laboratory was the scant privacy that the room offered, and Potter grasped it whenever he could. It surprised Draco a little that Potter would even have need of it. He had always struck Draco as someone who’d revel in any kind of attention, even that gained by occupying a sickbed in the centre of a busy experiment. But it seemed to not be the case.
“Morning.” Draco dropped into an Indian squat with only a small grunt. When he was fourteen, he could do that without even thinking about it, but the older he’d got the more thinking every action required. Perhaps that’s why it was called ‘grown-up’ and not ‘finished.’
“Hey,” returned Potter. His mouth drooped but his voice was determined to be cheery. “What’s it really like outside? I’ve been watching and they have three-week rotations, with different weather schedules. This week it’s two days of sun, one day overcast, and four days of straight rain.”
“Straight rain, eh?” said Draco, taking in the even spatters on the window. “How do you know?”
Potter blushed. Still. “I meant it’s been raining for three days straight, not --”
“Yes, yes.” Draco waved a hand to dismiss Potter's burbling. “Actually, it’s stinking hot outside.” He tweaked his tight tunic away from his body, cursing the fact that mandarin collars were so in fashion as to be ubiquitous. Usually Draco avoided trends, knowing that they tended to mark out the wearer, but in this case not wearing a mandarin collar would be noticeable. He fiddled with the seed-pearl buttons, dying to open them.
Potter shivered a little. “It’s quite chilly in here. Maybe because of that.”
“Air conditioning.” Draco nodded. “It’s a relief, after outside.”
“It’s not fair!” Potter burst out suddenly. “I’m sick of being stuck here! I hate it!”
“Really?” Draco kept his tone neutral. “It’s not that bad. You have food, and clothes --” Potter pulled at his pyjamas, looking irritable “-- your friends visit you nearly too often, and of course you get to hold interviews for your adoring public.”
“I think I’d swap all of that for one walk in Diagon Alley, or the grounds of Hogwarts.” Potter took a huge gulp of air as if that would compensate.
“You’re selling yourself short,” said Draco. “Swapping everything that’s keeping you alive, and many things that make you happy, in return for a few minutes of being jostled by shoppers who are trying to get home in time to make supper, or by yipping kids? Rather you than me.”
“Anywhere but here,” reiterated Potter, who had turns of the most impenetrable stubbornness. Draco rolled his eyes, but knew better than to reason further with him.
“I have something that might distract you, if you’d let it,” he said. “It's not a cigarette -- smoking is a habit you should really consider taking up for your health -- but it'll do.”
“What?” Potter's chin had slumped on to his knees. “I know enough about cigarettes to know they’d only be good for your health if you were already dying.”
“Did I say they were good for you?” countered Draco, unperturbed. He twisted around to catch up the package, which he had stowed on the bed, and started to unfasten it in his lap.
“What’s this? Can I help?” asked Potter. He looked alert for the first time since Draco had come in, so Draco let him yank off the Spellotape bindings -- although why augmenting Potter’s good humour should be of the slightest concern to Draco was a mystery. Draco hated mysteries almost as much as treacle.
Bright coloured cloth spilled out over both their laps and the small triangle of floor tiles in between. Potter snatched it up and let it run through his fingers. Draco was rather glad that he’d chosen such tactile fabrics -- only because they felt good under his hands as well.
“You remember last week, I took your measurements,” began Draco. He frowned, realising he’d backed himself into a conversation cul-de-sac. He did not want to talk about touching Potter, either to Potter or to anyone else.
“I remember,” replied Potter, his voice low and too intense. Draco squirmed and coughed, finding that his mouth was as dry as a miniature Sahara.
“Well, here are your robes!” he said. He winced at the tone of his voice, which was one much favoured by female daytime television presenters.
“Thanks. Wow. They’re really … nice. Yeah.” Potter looked at the robes and grinned. “Nice.”
“Potter!” groaned Draco, lacing his fingers over his eyes. “These robes are more than just ‘nice!’ They are classy, they are well-cut, they are top-of-the-range, they are chic and stylish and cool! God!”
All at once he felt Potter’s hands on his own. Given his earlier complaints, it was not surprising that they were cool. Draco felt like he’d plunged face-first into snow.
Potter tugged Draco’s hands away from his eyes and grinned into his face. “That’s what I said. Nice.”
“I really need to buy you a thesaurus, next,” grumbled Draco, well aware that his gruff voice was a poor cover for the way his eyes were skittering from one point to another. From Potter’s thick sooty lashes to the shadow beside his nose to the dip of his neck. Draco was not ready to acknowledge the fact that, right now, he wanted to kiss Harry Potter -- kiss him long and hard and wet and awkward and any other way he could have it.
He settled on Potter’s eyes at last, which was a difficult enough task given that he had demurely lowered them. His long eyelashes, not to mention his glasses, did an excellent job of masking them. A slight squeeze on Potter's wrist from Draco’s fingers, which Potter still held captive, sufficed to make him look up momentarily. It was enough.
Everything -- the cant of his head, his unsteady breathing, his trembling lips -- was gathered up and the cumulative effect shone out through Potter's eyes. Draco had seen enough molten lust to know it when it was staring him in the face. The blood pounding against his ears, Draco inclined his head towards Potter.
But, amazingly, Potter was slipping his hands away and rubbing his cheek as if to remove the pink tinge. Draco’s first thought was one of astonishment that Potter was able to break a connexion like that. He couldn’t have not felt it.
The self-disgust, when it came a second later, broke over Draco like a tidal wave. He’d been about to kiss Harry Potter -- he’d been on the verge of wanting it. It was wrong, horrible and twisted and wrong. As Draco turned to Potter -- to hit him or bawl him out or taunt him in some way -- he saw the vulnerable curve of Potter’s neck as he bent over the robes.
And he realised he still wanted to. He wanted to offer his mouth up to Potter’s service; he wanted to cover the downy skin of his neck with kisses until Potter was squirming under him and begging him to stop.
Draco scrambled to his feet, dizzy with lust. His knees had been transformed to water without his will or his consent. He was going to scream or to throw up. Draco had never realised that not being kissed could be so disorienting. He wondered how on earth he’d survived his formative years. He must have been walking around in a confused daze the entire time.
“Do you mind if I put one on now?” asked Potter, breaking through the fog of arousal that was the current forecast on Planet Draco.
“One what?” Draco pressed the heel of his hand to his temple and clutched the bed with the other, lest he collapse or something equally mortifying.
“The robes.” Potter widened his eyes at Draco, making a moue of his lips to suggest that Draco was several years behind events. He only succeeded in focusing Draco’s attention on his mouth.
“Of course, Potter.” Draco couldn’t have been more brusque if he’d actually intended to be. “They’re your bloody robes, you bloody well bought them.”
“Are you okay?” Potter stood up with a red robe trailing from his grasp. It looked like a river of blood. “Have you taken ill or something?”
“No. No.” Draco stumbled over his words in an effort to stop any other, more incriminating, ones from spilling out. “No. I just remembered that I have to do a thing. Yeah. So I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Sure,” said Potter, his brow creasing. Draco was swamped with a fresh onslaught of self-loathing.
He made his way out and into Diagon Alley in a stupor, retrieving just enough survival instinct to duck into a shady doorway and wait for the effects of the Polyjuice Potion to wear off.
It was a terrible feeling, knowing that he alone was to blame for his current suffering. Draco very much preferred to have someone else to blame for his predicaments. It made things so much neater.
Draco groaned into his fist -- but not too loudly, fearing to attract unwanted attention. He should have hit Potter with a Stunning Charm -- or better yet, a Killing Curse -- the moment he was granted access to him, not hung about him like a lovestruck fan. But Polyjuice was like a narcotic. It enabled him to escape into another realm, one where Potter was normal and he was normal and there were no feuds and hatred and war. Where, hopefully for Draco’s doppleganger, the only reason Potter would be bed bound was if Draco had tied him there for reasons entirely personal.
He wasn’t certain how long he remained in the doorway bemoaning his fate, but the sky darkened as he did so. He slowly became aware that he’d strayed unthinking to his usual hangout in Blackweather Alley. Although no one would technically recognise him, people didn’t just come here for the sightseeing and the tasteful souvenirs. He’d have to leave soon or risk being propositioned -- and caught.
It's not so bad, Draco thought, sidling out into the flare of a blue torch and inspecting his robes. They were smeared in the back from his close association with the soot-blackened brick wall, so he cleaned them on autopilot while his mind ran over reassuring facts. He’d got a bit of a crush on Potter; that was easy to get over. He had numerous methods for erasing troublesome romances. At the moment, they were called Stefano, Rosaline, Alexandre and anyone with a few Galleons burning a hole in his pocket. It was just a matter of choosing one and Potter would be gone from his head faster than you could say ‘Sodomy.’
Heaving a relieved sigh, Draco dropped his robes with a swish and took stock of the street. To the left, there were a few trawlers, most of whom were absorbed in the early trade. To the right, all was quiet.
And straight ahead -- “How do you know?” a mental Potter accused him -- were the hooded brown eyes of none other than Blaise Zabini.
Draco fiddled with a beer mat. It advertised Heineken, which was odd considering that all that was on offer at the bar was Budweiser, a dubious looking home brew and glass bottles of lemonade that were more dust than soft drink. He couldn’t decide if the choice of location was a good or a bad sign. There was little chance of Draco being recognised among the pub’s exceedingly seedy and sotted patrons, but on the other hand they probably wouldn’t notice bare-faced homicide either.
Blaise returned from the bar, balancing two overflowing pints between his long fingers. Bending at the knees with the gracefulness of a ballet dancer, he deposited a pint on one of the few beer mats near Draco that were not shredded. He straightened his own beer mat before allowing his beer to touch it. Draco remembered that Blaise had always been fussy to the point of insanity. He and Achilles were of a pair.
“So.” Blaise paused to take a long draught of beer and give Draco more time to stew. “So. Draco Malfoy. Well, well, well.”
Draco inspected his pint. He didn’t really like beer any more than he did cocktails, except for when he was trying to get drunk. He had no intention of getting anything but away from Blaise, who was wearing an expression recalling that of a feral cat with a one-winged bird between its paws. Draco tried for a moment to summon the old arousal that he’d harboured, uselessly, for so many years, but Potter seemed to have temporarily short-circuited it.
At Draco's silence, Blaise dropped his carefree smile but not his casual posture. “I want to know what you’re doing here.”
“That’s easy,” replied Draco. “You brought me here. In order to ply me with mediocre beer and be mysteriously menacing, it seems. That was fun in school, but right now I’m valuing strawberry-flavoured candour, so either kill me, rough me up or let me walk out now.”
“You,” said Blaise, tapping the table with the edge of a beer mat, “are in no position to be making demands.”
Draco eyed him with some distaste. “You want sex first, is it?”
Blaise let out a bark of over-hearty laughter. “You overestimate yourself. Even if you dragged yourself out of your Muggle-consorting, trashy, whoring ways, you’d still be below my standards.”
“Whoring?” echoed Draco, wondering how Blaise knew.
“Don’t play the innocent with me, Draco Malfoy,” sneered Blaise. “Nobody hangs around Blackweather Alley unless they have very good reason.”
“Oh.” Draco digested this. It might mean that Blaise was working on an assumption, or it might mean that he wasn’t saying all he knew. It didn’t greatly matter either way, but neither did it help to cure Draco’s underlying sense of unease.
“Yes,” continued Blaise, on something of a roll, “you have fallen far below estimations, even given that you weren’t particularly attractive as a child. Is doing it for money some way of compensating for the fact that no one would want you otherwise?”
Draco thought of Stefano, crying because Draco didn’t love him, and couldn’t help but laugh. “Careful, Blaise, someone listening might think you were jealous.”
“Hardly,” sniffed Blaise. Draco could tell he’d hit a sore spot. “I have no interest in discussing your tawdry sex life. I want to know what you’re doing back in England. I understand there were very pressing reasons for you to stay away.”
“Indeed there were.” Draco dipped a finger into his pint. “This beer tastes like crap, by the way. Are you sure you got Budweiser and not that home brew?”
“Quite sure,” snapped Blaise. “I asked for the home brew. He’d probably have given it anyway.”
“Ew.” Draco pushed his pint back. “Well, this has been lovely. I must be going, though. I have a tawdry sex life to keep up, you know.”
Unexpectedly, Blaise smiled. Draco stared. “Ah, come on, stay where you are. I’ll admit I was suspicious at first. I had Theodore Nott try to throttle me at a dinner party a few years ago. Meeting someone who's an ‘old friend’ doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe.”
“Trust me, if you were to die by my hands it’d be of old age,” said Draco dryly. “So where is Theo now?”
“In Azkaban, attempted murder.” At Draco’s look, Blaise added, “Oh, not mine, someone else’s. No one the world would have missed, unlike if he’d succeeded with me.”
“Why on earth did Theo try to kill you, though? Was it over the war?”
Blaise looked blank for a moment. “Oh! You mean against You-Know-Who. God, no. That’s ancient history. No, thing is, he thought I was screwing his wife. He was married to a French bint from Beauxbatons, tits and hair and all the rest. Lord knows how he got her -- my theory is she couldn’t speak English.”
“Oh, so you weren’t having it off with her.”
“Don’t be stupid, Draco, of course I was,” said Blaise scornfully.
Draco grinned. That Blaise was as incorrigible as ever, and as promiscuous, boded well. It meant that he hadn’t changed in fundamentals despite his strong-arming techniques, which were new. “What about the rest -- Greg and Vince and Pansy?”
“Let me think.” Blaise sucked at his teeth. They were very white. Draco felt a faint stirring of challenge. “Greg’s in Azkaban, for the usual. Terrorist, they call it nowadays. Watching too much Muggle Sky News, if you ask me. Vince was killed in one of those sweeps the Aurors did during the year after You-Know-Who fell. Er. I suppose you heard about your mother?”
Draco nodded and Blaise continued, sounding relieved. “Pansy went out to the Far East somewhere, to marry a filthy rich fakir. Last time I heard from her, she was learning how to make rope ladders that went into the sky and charm snakes, and sounded disgustingly happy.”
“She wanted to marry me once,” said Draco, in tones of wonderment.
“Wouldn’t have done her much good, would it?” sniggered Blaise. “You being a flaming poofter and all.”
“We would have survived. Women aren’t that different, apart from being the wrong way around.”
“But men are better at blow jobs,” added Draco. He frowned as Blaise choked down air. “Stop that, or I’ll think you’ve never had one.”
“From a man? No.” Blaise rubbed his throat.
“You’re missing out,” said Draco. “By the way, why are we in a Muggle bar? Not ten minutes ago you were lambasting me for consorting with Muggles.”
Blaise looked uncomfortable. “You of all people should know about my love affair with the hyperbolic lifestyle. Muggles have their uses. And I was angry with you. The way you disappeared without warning --!”
“So did you,” Draco reminded him.
“I did not,” said Blaise. “I just happened to go on an extended holiday with my family to southern Italy and it was fortunate enough to end right with the war, one way or another.”
“It’s still no excuse for hypocrisy,” said Draco. “Besides, for all that you were giving out reams about prostitutes, you were also in Blackweather Alley. And people don’t hang about there without good reason.” At Blaise’s narrowed eyes, he smirked. “It’s okay. You’re desperate, right? That’s what they all say. Or lonely. Or just been dumped. I can point out the best ones if you’d like.”
“What? You aren’t the best?” Blaise raised his eyebrows.
“As you pointed out before, I’m not attractive enough for that.”
“And do you get paid much?”
“You only get to ask that if you’re buying, I’m afraid,” said Draco. “So what are you up to?”
“I work in the Ministry, actually. Department of Backlog and Boring.” At Draco’s confused expression, Blaise supplied, “Archives. I get paid well, though.”
“You only get to ask that if you’re a civil servant,” said Blaise, with a very obvious wink. “I don’t believe that you’re only back here to visit your old haunts. What’s the real reason?”
Draco flicked his thumbnail. In spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the camaraderie, Draco wasn’t fooled. Blaise had never been this interested in Draco; it had always been the other way around. So he told what currently passed for the truth. “I’m hoping to get into Harry Potter’s pants,” he admitted, dipping his finger into Blaise’s beer.
Blaise threw back his head and laughed. After a beat, Draco joined him. "Same as ever,” said Blaise, shaking his head. Draco smiled a little, licking his little finger free from beer. A calculating look stole over Blaise’s face.
“But on a serious note, my old friend,” he said, “how much for a blow job?”