Draco's head was buzzing with so many confusing, contradictory thoughts that he nearly walked straight past Stefano in the hotel lobby. On second glance, it was not so surprising that his powers of recognition were hindered. Stefano was dressed in an horrifically bright outfit of clashing reds and blues, his silky hair crammed beneath a foam cap.
Stefano had no such difficulties in distinguishing Draco. With a huge grin, he bounded across to him with the unfettered enthusiasm of a half-trained Labrador puppy.
"I missed you yesterday," he said. He buried his face in Draco's neck -- nearly garotting him with the brim of the cap, and all heedless of decorum and the amusing spectacle he was providing for the scattered guests and porters. Not to mention that his declaration was a little too close to the one Draco had received the day before in almost the same spot.
"If I'd known you were going to be out working, I would have come home earlier," Draco replied waspishly. "As it was, I ordered us a gorgeous meal that Alexandre ended up eating on his own, much to the detriment of his physique."
"You didn't have another fight, did you?" Stefano's voice was pleading, but Draco was too busy avoiding the rock-hard brim of his cap to hide his irritation.
"No, we didn't," said Draco. "He was ... unusually quiet, in fact."
"Oh. Well. Good." Stefano slipped his hand around Draco's waist, bringing them hip to hip. "What would you like to do this evening?"
Draco sent a wry glance in the direction of a marabou-bedecked grande dame, who was staring at Draco and Stefano as if they'd sprouted horns. He leaned across to whisper in Stefano's ear, "That old lady is giving me some ideas … I wonder, are feathers included in room service?"
A delicious shiver ran through the warm body pressed against his side. "I think it's worth finding out … don't you, Andrew?"
"I do," said Draco. Not taking his eyes off the woman, he slowly licked the shell of Stefano's ear. She turned a bright shade of magenta and turned away so quickly that she almost wobbled off her high heels.
Stefano's soft huff of contentment reminded Draco of his presence. Dropping his hands to the curve of Stefano's jeans, Draco guided him to the elevators. They were, most fortunately, empty.
By the time they reached the suite, Stefano was desperately clawing at Draco's clothes and the foam hat had been lost to oblivion. Allowing himself to be borne along on the tide of Stefano's passion, Draco's mouth was soon full of Stefano's soft skin, his ears ringing with Stefano's garbled encouragement. There were no feathers to be found, but Draco discovered that silk roses from the floral arrangement on the mantelpiece were quite sufficient to drive Stefano mad with desire.
Afterwards Draco lay on his back, his hands clasped behind his head, and stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. Stefano was curled around him like a clinging vine, pressing snuffling noises of contentment against Draco's chest. Draco wondered how much Harry would have given to be in his place right now, limp from sating himself in Stefano's body.
Quite a lot, he decided with satisfaction.
They were both on the verge of sleep when a loud cawing cut through the musky silence. Stefano sat bolt upright. Draco was right behind him, but while Stefano paused to pull on a dressing gown Draco followed the noise immediately. He found himself eye to eye with an enormous tawny owl perched on the table in the living area. There was something about the bird's gaze that Draco would have labelled as covetous, if it weren't entirely the wrong species. The owl graciously held out a claw to which a letter was affixed.
"It's for you," said Draco, tossing the parchment at Stefano.
"Me?" Stefano bunched the dressing gown closer to his neck. "Who'd be writing to me?"
"Open it and see," suggested Draco. He Summoned some Knuts from the bedroom and dropped them into the bird's pouch. With a clicking of its beak that sounded almost like a beleaguered sigh, the bird spread its wings and flew straight up the chimney.
Draco threw himself on the leather sofa as Stefano ripped open the letter, uneven fragments fluttering to the ground. The sofa brought out goose bumps on Draco's chilled skin. He wriggled around until he got comfortable, the friction gaining him a small measure of heat.
After a time, Stefano cleared his throat. "It's from Hogwarts."
"Oh, really? How astonishing," said Draco, which it was. He'd never expected them to reply so promptly.
"They're offering me a place so that I can sit my Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests," continued Stefano, frowning. "But why would they do that? They don't even know me."
"Alexandre said you never took the Beauxbaton's leaving exam," said Draco. He hooked one foot on the edge of the sofa to rest his cheek on his knee -- one of his most winning poses. "Wouldn't it be good to get some qualifications? Then you wouldn't have to go around cleaning Muggle toilets for the rest of your life."
Stefano's brow cleared. "You did this for me?"
"I set the ball in motion -- but it's not too late to back out of it."
"Oh, Andrew." Stefano sank on to the sofa beside him, rubbing his cheek against Draco's shoulder. His hand caressed the small of his back. Draco wondered if Stefano could possibly go five minutes without touching him -- he felt like he was coming out in a full-body rash from all the contact. "You don't understand. Once they find out why I was expelled from Beauxbatons, they'll never let me in."
"So don't tell them." Draco shrugged, not so much to emphasise his words as to shrug off Stefano's wandering hand. "Register under a different name."
"I'm sure they have ways of preventing that from happening," said Stefano. "I … you see, what happened … there was a Charms teacher at Beauxbatons, Monsieur Busard."
"Don’t tell me, you Charmed him into a sauerkraut," said Draco lazily.
Stefano inched closer again. Draco could feel him rapidly swallowing, his Adam's apple bobbing against Draco's collarbone. "Far worse."
"You murdered him?"
"I slept with him." Stefano bit his lip.
Draco had to reign in his laugher. "So what?"
"You don't understand. I slept with him -- when I was fifteen. For him, that was statutory rape. As for me, they gave me Veritaserum and found out that I had seduced him. Oh, the things I did … complaining of illnesses so he'd have to take off my clothes and examine me … sneaking into his chambers and waiting naked in his bed … hiding under his desk and giving him blow-jobs during class …"
"Phew." Draco caught a curl of Stefano's hair in his finger and tugged. Thus he dislodged Stefano's mouth from his neck, which Stefano was licking after every second word. "He sounds like a lucky guy."
"He lost his job because of me. And they put me on a strict warning -- I wasn't even allowed to speak to him for the rest of the term. The only way I could contact the other teachers was if I got one of my friends to give them letters with academic questions on them. They thought I was dangerous."
Draco thought of the dangerous people he'd known, and felt his goose bumps triple in number. "That's rather excessive."
"Oh, I don't know." Stefano turned to nipping Draco's jaw. "I was a bit … insatiable. Of course, I managed to get to Busard again, but he just didn't want to know. Not even when I …" His voice dropped, as did Draco's stomach when he heard Stefano's whisper. "So I turned to other people. Not teachers, because Busard was the only decent one, but other students, older students. Used to sort of organise orgies in the grounds … but I think I signed my expulsion warrant when I sucked off Gerard Lemercier in the middle of the dining hall at high tea."
Draco was speechless for a moment. "Well … perhaps that could be written off as, ah -- stop -- youthful high -- oh God -- spirits?"
"Do you think that'd work?" mumbled Stefano. The dressing gown skimmed past his shoulders, dropping disregarded to the floor. Stefano manoeuvred one brown thigh between Draco's legs, slowly but surely pushing them apart.
"Worth a try," gasped Draco, as Stefano slid down his body to disappear temporarily from the world of speech.
The sound of a lock snicking open made Draco jump, but Stefano did not cease his attentions -- he merely squeezed Draco's thighs to hold him down. Alexandre twirled through the door, a plastic bag strung from his teeth, two more looped around his wrists. He plie'd his knees to release one bag, starting to say, "I thought we'd have Chinese tonight --" before the sight of his naked brother on his knees before their naked lover brought him up short.
"Hello, Alexandre," said Draco, admiring his incongruously steady voice.
"What?" Alexandre gaped like a fish. "What?"
Before Draco could answer, he was distracted by several of his tightly wound muscles releasing, all at once. He sighed and smiled rather dimwittedly at Alexandre, whose eyes were like two burning coals.
Stefano sat back on his heels, rubbing at his damp mouth. Alexandre averted his eyes, so his gaze fell on the letter from Hogwarts. His eyes widened as he scanned the words.
"You're going back to school?" Alexandre asked his brother. He sounded so full of hope that he'd apparently forgotten that his brother was displaying more skin than he had since the day he was born.
Stefano shrugged. "Thinking about it. Andrew's idea."
"Andrew's?" The skin of Alexandre's forehead crinkled, each furrow ploughed by shock.
"That would be me," interjected Draco. He stared at Alexandre for just a minute too long, then pulled Stefano up from the floor to cool his mouth with Stefano's lips. Behind him, Draco could practically feel the heat of Alexandre's jealousy.
"You two should have more consideration," snapped Alexandre, to the accompaniment of a slamming door.
Draco stifled a snigger in Stefano's hair. After himself, Stefano was the most inconsiderate person he'd ever met.
"What d'you think his problem is?" murmured Stefano. His eyelids fluttered sleepily, but that didn't stop him from bathing Draco's earlobe with his tongue.
Draco, fully aware of just how easily sounds carried in the suite, brushed his thumb against Stefano's inner thigh to elicit a drowsy moan and pretended to consider the question.
"I think," said Draco, smiling sweetly and pinching cruelly, "he needs to get laid."
When Draco arrived, Harry was throwing up into a plastic bucket.
Draco had always hated to be around sick people, even when that person was himself. When he cut himself, he'd close his eyes rather than look at the blood. One of the reasons he watched his drinking so carefully was that he never again wanted to get so hung over that he vomited rainbows the following morning.
Without a word, he crawled on to the bed beside Harry. Harry was fully occupied with leaning over the side and voiding the contents of his stomach, so he didn't even flinch when Draco laid his hand on Harry's back and began rubbing in small, soothing circles.
Long after the retching had come to an end, Harry lay with his head over the bucket, panting. Draco propped himself up on his elbow and continued his unbroken gentling, which bunched up the cloth of Harry's pyjamas and revealed a valley of milk-white skin.
"I'm sorry." Harry's voice was cracked in the middle.
"What for?" asked Draco. "Even I've blown cookies before, you know."
"I don't usually make such a spectacle of it." Harry pulled his head back on to the pillow, but didn't turn to face Draco. "But it seems to come more often than before, and before I know it I'm …"
He gestured at the bucket. Inspired, Draco aimed a Vanishing Charm at it. He was unprepared for the pure vitriol that doused Harry's face where he thought Draco couldn't see it.
"Hey, Harry?" Draco moved his hand up to lightly squeeze Harry's shoulder. "It's okay to be angry about this, you know."
"About what?" challenged Harry. Draco took a deep breath.
"Your magic," he said quietly. "It's gone, Harry. Those researchers can't bring it back, or they would have done it by now. The D -- You-Know-Who drained you. I imagine it was the only way you could finally vanquish him -- destroy him. But I'm sure you'd wish him back if it brought your magic with him -- right?"
Harry rolled over, breathing acid on Draco's face. He fought not to wince.
"Yes," said Harry bitterly. "Yes, I would do anything to get my magic back. I'd kill for it. But I killed to lose it. How is that fair?" His voice dropped to a cadence of wonderment. "How is it that you realise that, and my best friends can't?"
Draco shrugged, hearing the starchy sheets rustle beneath him. "That's exactly why. They don't want to believe it of you. You cleaned up the world, Harry. They don't want to see where you dumped the trash."
"Oh, God." Harry's face twisted in a parody of ecstasy. He sank his teeth into the pillow, his eyes wet. "Nothing will bring it back. What am I going to do?"
Draco took a deep breath. "Just what you've been doing up until now -- only better. Six billion Muggles survive it, to a greater or lesser extent, every day. You -- you're just not special any more."
Harry gave a shuddering gasp. When he spoke, his voice was tear-sodden but soft, like a crumbling tissue. "You sound like you've had experience."
"More than I'd care to recall," sighed Draco. "I didn't think very highly of Muggles until I realised firsthand how much they had to cope with just to get through one single day. Boiling kettles, changing light bulbs, cooking food from scratch, catching trains, walking everywhere. Sitting for hours in wet jeans because they can't spell them dry. Turning out all their drawers because they can't find their keys and Summoning them is out of the question. After a while I came to terms with the fact that overcoming all this didn't make them inferior -- it made them incredible. Being pampered your entire life and living in the lap of luxury gives you a great vantage point to look down on people, but absolutely no real basis for doing so."
Harry snuffled, blinking away the tears that weighed down his lashes. With a start, Draco realised that his hand was still resting on Harry's arm. Harry had made no move to shake it off, so Draco tried to ignore the darts of cotton that pricked his fingertips every time he breathed.
"Nothing's going to change," said Harry. "When I lived with Muggles, I was a freak. When I came to Hogwarts, I was a freakshow. Now I'll be a wizard living without magic in a world full of non-magical people, so I can't even be like them. It's like seeing something that you weren't meant to see. No amount of wishing will bring you back to before you ever saw it."
Draco got the feeling that Harry wasn't just speaking in generalities. He trailed his fingers down Harry's sleeve in a vaguely comforting gesture. Without warning, Harry's hand came up to grip the crook of Draco's elbow, preventing him from withdrawing his hand even if had he wanted to.
"You're the only one who understands," whispered Harry. "I wish it was someone -- anyone else. I don't know you, and I barely trust you."
"That's very sensible of you," said Draco. He wondered how many people would have to say it to him before he'd stop feeling his gut clench at the words.
Harry's lips curved. "I don’t trust you because I know you're going to leave."
Pre-empted, Draco smiled uncomfortably. "I couldn't possibly stay here forever so I can visit you. If for no other reason than the inevitable blood that would be spilled by Weasley and his relatives."
"I know." Harry burrowed his cheek into the pillow, his fingers lifting and falling a little as if Draco's elbow was a fragile piano. "But it's like what I just said. Just because life is one way doesn't mean you don't wish it was another."
"You've got it wrong," said Draco. "If you really knew me, you wouldn't want me to stay. In fact, you'd be the first to chase me out, with whips and spurs."
The pad of Harry's thumb found the hollow at the bend of Draco's arm. "If you really knew me, you wouldn't want to stay. Perhaps that's why love was invented."
"To provide blinkers against the truth?" suggested Draco sarcastically.
"To cushion the blow," countered Harry. "To provide the backing music when your world falls apart. To stop your memory from shattering when you'd like to forget."
"You make it sound so pleasant," murmured Draco. He'd never held eye contact with someone so closely and so long. Wisps of an unnameable tingling were suffusing his skin.
"Chopping up onions can make you cry," said Harry, "but a lot of people still like the taste of them enough to do it."
"Do you like onions?"
"Will you kiss me if I say yes?"
Draco's breath stilled. Harry's hand pressed down on his elbow, guiding his forearm down so that Draco was cupping Harry's hip. Although Draco could not breathe, and could feel his brain sparking out from lack of air, Harry seemed to have a surfeit of it. His chest was rising and falling so fast it was almost as if his heart was pushing it in and out in time to its beat. Sweat droplets stood out from his collarbones and forehead.
For the first time, Draco appreciated just how ill Harry looked. With a dizzy feeling, Draco realised that Harry wasn't the same as him. Draco had been pushed out of wizarding society to fend on his own. Harry wasn't even going to have that chance.
Harry's hand was clammy atop his own.
Draco closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to Harry's, soaking up the beats of perspiration with his warm and healthy skin.
Harry's breath hitched.
Draco felt dampness on his cheeks. He wondered if he too was sweating. Then he realised he was crying.
"Do you like onions?" he asked, his voice little more than a breath.
"Yes," said Harry.
Clumsily, so clumsily, Draco's mouth found Harry's. At first he was inhaling the corner of Harry's lips, before he slid along them to find their cushiony centre. Harry's breath was rancid, but Draco kissed him again and again, dry little pecks that became softer and slicker as he pressed them on for longer.
Harry threaded his fingers through Draco's -- Stefano's -- hair. "Wait," he said breathlessly. "Ginny said you were sleeping with Rosaline. Is that true?"
Draco shut his eyes, the touch of Harry's lips staining his mouth like a brand. "What do you think?"
Harry pulled forward a lovelock to hold to his mouth. "I think you don't love her."
"I'll tell you something, Harry," said Draco, as his hair slipped from Harry's grasp, too fine to be caught for long. "The only woman I've ever loved is long dead. Frankly, I'm not even attracted to Rosaline."
"You can sleep with someone without loving them or being attracted to them," Harry pointed out. Draco would have rolled his eyes if his proximity to Harry hadn't drained him of all ready sarcastic ammunition.
"More than you realise," he said instead. "She was the only reason I managed to get in here in the first place. If you regret that happening, now is the time to say so."
"I don't care if you fucked every Auror in the Ministry to find me," whispered Harry. His bottom lip was bisected right down the middle, a dry valley that rasped against Draco's chin. A pink dent crossed Harry's nose where his glasses were pressed in at an awkward angle. Too late, Draco realised he was memorising these details as he would those of a corpse.
"How on earth did Ginny discover such an interesting piece of information?" he wondered. He hadn't seen hide nor hair of Mrs Wood in a long time and would have paid cash never to do so again. But it seemed she hadn't forgotten him, if this whisper campaign was anything to go by.
"She was in the same class as Rosaline in Hogwarts," replied Harry. "I think they were friends. Ginny's a bit jealous of you, to tell the truth."
Now that Draco found truly laughable. "Whatever for?" he asked.
"This," said Harry, and kissed him again.
Draco had lost count of the number of people he'd kissed after the first hundred. Beyond that, he decided, one didn't need to bother. He'd had good kisses and bad. They'd ranged from tender, through rough, all the way to violent enough to leave him bleeding. He'd had kisses that lingered, kisses that were no more than awkward pecks, kisses that sealed a business arrangement, kisses that begged him to believe they were made from love.
Draco couldn't honestly say that Harry's kiss made all the fabulous osculation he'd previously experienced pale into insignificance. It stood to reason: Harry, after spending his horniest years in a coma, was hardly the most proficient of kissers. He didn't make Draco's legs turn to jelly, or rouse him to incoherent levels of excitement. It didn't even distract him from the fact that Harry's tongue, thick and clumsy as it was, came near to choking him, or that there was saliva everywhere.
It did, however, make his skin prickle slightly, as if he'd been dropped into carbonated water. Harry's kisses were sloppy and rash, much like Harry himself, but Draco found the sandpapering of his chin quite pleasant. He'd never liked chins that were too closely shaven; it reminded him overly of kissing a girl.
Harry's teeth clacked against his own and Harry immediately stopped. He dropped his eyes, his sooty lashes sweeping cheeks to which a hot blush was rising. "Sorry," he muttered.
Draco grinned. "What for?" he asked, meaning it.
Harry's kiss didn’t stand out from the crowd in terms of skill or swiftness, crudity or finely-honed control. Harry would have to practise long and hard before he became even a merely all right kisser.
But all that only counted when Harry was in competition with all those other kissers -- many nameless, some even faceless. Harry was kissing him. He was kissing him. And it was the most sincere kiss Draco had ever received.
Draco raised a hand to caress Harry's cheek, feeling his lips loosen into a genuine smile. Harry's eyes were wide, as well they might be. Draco was about to show him what it felt like to be really kissed.
There was something subtly wrong, however. Harry's smile, when it came, was more bemused than enthralled. Lines sank into the skin between his brows.
Both of Harry's hands came up to pin Draco's face between them and to draw him forward so that their foreheads bumped. "Onions," he whispered fiercely.
"What?" said Draco, befuddled by the dry skin of Harry's palms and the intensity of his gaze. He vaguely recalled shreds of their earlier conversation, and wondered how Harry -- who was surely more affected than him by all this touching -- could.
"I love them," said Harry. He stroked Draco's hair once more, and turned his head to kiss the pale web of skin between Draco's finger and thumb.
Draco free-fell into wind-rushing, stomach-turning terror as the pieces clicked into place. A moment later, the sharp, digging pains wracked him. He thought he'd grown used to the feeling of having his skin turned inside out. It turned out he was wrong.
He was vaguely aware of Harry's thin arms pressing his flailing limbs to the bedsheets, of the rib of pyjama cloth stuffed into his mouth to still his screams.
As if from the end of a long tunnel, Harry spoke. His voice, so calm and even, was at odds with the expression on his face as he hung over Draco. Draco, for his part, stared up at Harry with unmitigated fear, unable to move an eyelash.
"I didn't think that Polyjuice caused pain on changing back," remarked Harry, for all the world as if they were at a Potions symposium.
"You -- you --"
"I took it once," continued Harry, as if Draco had not spoken. "It stung like the blazes when I drank it, but turning back into myself hurt about as much as a sneeze."
"It -- it depends," stuttered Draco. "On repeated use -- when your mind is dis -- distracted --"
"Ah. I see." Harry's hands on his upper arms were getting heavier by the minute, but Draco didn't like to mention it for fear he'd call in the artillery. "Of course, I doubt that extensive studies have been carried out into the after-effects. Given that it's illegal and everything. Where'd you get it? Knockturn Alley?"
Dumb with surprise at not being dead yet, Draco could only nod.
"I take it you have some more on you?" Draco managed another nod, his head flopping like a sack of wet cement. "Good. I'd hate to think how you could slip out of here without it. You know the windows are an illusion?"
"Wait." Aside from a little tremble, Draco's voice was remarkably steady. "Did I hear you right? You're going to let me go?"
Good grief, was that a smile quirking the corners of Harry's kiss-reddened lips?
"I thought we already ascertained that you couldn't stay forever."
"But -- but -- you realise who I am?"
"I've lost my magic, not my eyesight," said Harry.
"Why don't you want me dead?"
"Well, I wish I could say something noble, like how I've grown past the idea that an eye for an eye solves anything." Harry slid his hands down to Draco's fingers, lacing his own between them. "But frankly I didn't have the time to do that, being asleep for almost a decade and everything. I still get angry enough to wish people dead. I wake up every morning having dreamt that Snape was in reach of my wand. I get the best night's sleep when I've spent every dreaming moment torturing him."
Carefully, Harry lay on top of Draco. Still frozen with uncertainty, Draco didn't even tense when their clasped hands were flattened, so that they were pressed together like folded paper dolls. His mouth was full of Harry's hair, a more effective gag than many Draco had encountered. His nose was blocked with the smell of soap and the lingering scent of vomit. Harry's lips moved across the angle of his jaw, speaking right into his ear.
"I'm so sapped of magical energy that getting dressed on my own takes an hour. I can't get an erection. I can't keep down anything but dry toast and unsweetened porridge, so apart from everything else I'm in danger of developing scurvy. Not one single spell can improve my health, never mind give me back what I've lost. It started out bad, but it's been getting worse and worse. Everyone I know has grown up without me. And then there's you."
"Me," repeated Draco, feeling that some response was called for. "I saved your life, did I?"
"Hardly," snorted Harry. "I was dying from the day I turned Voldemort's wand on himself. What with all the … excitement, shall we call it, that you engender with every visit, I'm fading even faster. But … you remember when you first arrived?"
"Everything was white," recalled Draco. He felt a start run through the body so closely apposed to his own.
"Good answer. You can live in a white world, or you can live in one with purple sheets … but not both."
"So my choice of bed linen is preventing you from turning me in?" Draco finally found his voice. "Your grasp of the law is sketchy, to say the least."
"I gave them everything," hissed Harry. "I didn't even want to! It's their own fault if I take something from them in return."
"I'm your petty revenge?"
"Fitting, don't you think?"
"Very apt," agreed Draco. He flexed his fingers beneath Harry's. "What else do you desire? What form of abasement is to be my payment for my life?"
Harry slipped off him. Draco felt curiously bereft, for all that he could now breathe freely once more. "I've already extracted it."
"You have?" Draco pursed his lips. Crushing him a bit was hardly the most degrading of punishments. Then again, who knew what that meant to a Gryffindor, and a hero to boot?
Harry smiled, a sweet unfurling that stopped Draco's breath midway to his lungs. Harry reached out and placed his finger against Draco's cheek -- against the far finer and lighter stubble, and paler-than-pale skin.
Draco sucked in a gasp of air, swelling his cheeks against Harry's finger. Harry's smile deepened.
My God, Draco thought dazedly, the boy is good.
"But I don't even like onions," he whispered.
Harry shrugged -- a lopsided movement when seen on the horizontal plane. "You'll adjust." A minute pause, during which Harry's fingers tentatively splayed across Draco's face, feeling for every dip and pock. "I did."
Draco breathed in. Harry's fingers stiffened. Draco breathed out. And pressed them to his cheek.