Draco Malfoy's Travelling Theatre of the Strange and Spectacular
At some point between London and Northamptonshire it had started to rain. Harry and Dennis Apparated into the field with a pop, a splash, and a sucking sensation about their lower legs indicating that they'd landed knee deep in the mud.
"Bollocks," said Harry.
Dennis's intrepid enthusiasm was a wonderful quality in an Auror partner, especially as the fashion amongst so many new recruits was to adopt a virtually French air of ennui. They hadn't had the energy for fashion during Harry's abrupt and truncated training. Dennis, however, remained perky, interested and eager whether he was interrogating a murder suspect, Stunning a fleeing criminal, or zipping through a mound of parchment work that would have made Harry's eyes cross with boredom just to look at it.
Fortunately, the periods during which it made Harry want to strangle him were becoming fewer and less frequent.
Now, for instance, as the rain beat down on them, sunk through their heavy Auror robes and tickled miserably over their skin, Dennis beamed and bobbed on his feet. "Tents!" he chirped. "And caravans! Look, Harry. They're so colourful. Do you think there'll be a tattooed man? Or a bearded lady? I've never met a real, live freak before. Aren't you excited?"
Dennis's already round blue eyes were wide with wonder and anticipation. Harry only wanted to kill him a little bit. Maybe a 2 out of 5 on the 'Desperately wanting to strangle' scale. It was good.
It was good because he was already grumpy and it would be inconvenient to become outright irritable.
"I don't think we use the word 'freak', Dennis. I'm pretty sure they find it insulting."
"Oh. Oh! Well good thing you told me, Harry. I mean, of course. I'm an idiot! Wow, what if I'd actually gone in there and--"
"Witches and wizards of unusual talents and appearances. That's what I believe they prefer. Can you try and calm down a bit?"
"Yes! Yes, sir." Dennis gave Harry a quick salute. "I'll calm right down, Harry. Sorry about that. Just a bit excited, that's all. Hey, Harry, do you think there'll be a contortionist?"
Grinding his teeth together, Harry cast a surreptitious Muffliato on Dennis and concentrated on calming down himself.
Shaking out his hair, Harry extricated his boots from the mud and began trudging towards the circle of tents and caravans about one hundred yards ahead. Dennis splodged along beside him, his chatter blessedly muffled, and Harry attempted to prepare himself to see Malfoy.
It wasn't so much that he still hated Malfoy -- the war was eight years over after all, and the world a different place. It was just that Malfoy was, well, Malfoy. He had that way of looking at you that made you want to punch him in the face. While punching in the face was all well and good in a pub after eight Firewhiskies, it would look a bit gauche under the current circumstances. Also, Kingsley would be annoyed.
No punching in the face, Harry said to himself as they finally moved out of the mud and onto drier grass. No gratuitous insults. No insults at all, if possible. He and Dennis were there on a professional basis, investigating a crime. It was entirely possible that Malfoy wasn't even behind it. Harry needed to keep that in mind.
They were meant to meet Malfoy in one of the caravans. Harry spied it at the left side of the caravan circle -- wooden, with red walls and a bright blue roof. It had large, silver painted wheels and filigreed lettering across the side, spelling out Isabella the Bitsy & Borislav the Feline..
From the corner of his eye, he could see Dennis's mouth moving rapidly as he examined the colourful circumference of caravans orbiting a large red tent in the centre of the clearing. They reached their appointed destination and climbed the wooden steps to its entrance.
It's had been months since Harry last saw Malfoy. They'd both been drunk, and fortunately they'd both been with friends who had dragged them away from each other before things got newsworthy.
It wasn't Harry's fault that Malfoy's face felt so good beneath his fist. And Malfoy had got a good swipe or two in as well.
But this was business, Harry reminded himself as Malfoy rose from the worn, over-stuffed armchair in which he'd been sitting. The usual prickling discomfort crawled across Harry's arms and chest. He took a deep breath.
Harry wasn't surprised to find that the caravan was much bigger inside than it had appeared to be from the outside. It was large enough to hold a small kitchen and a sitting area with a fire roaring in the hearth. A large, grey tabby cat lay curled around some sort of doll in front of the fire. To the side was a curtained off area that Harry assumed contained sleeping quarters.
It was a cosy little home, and Malfoy -- with his expensive-looking robes, immaculately groomed hair, and altogether polished appearance -- looked out of place.
"Potter." The fingers of Malfoy's right hand flexed at his side. Harry hadn't had time to get a good look at Malfoy during their previous meetings. He was still tall, of course, although not as bony as he'd been in school. His skin was clearer, eyes bright but guarded. There was a self-consciousness about the way he held himself -- his posture perfect yet disclosing stored muscular tension.
"Malfoy." Harry gave a small nod and didn't offer his hand for shaking.
They sat, Malfoy in the armchair, Harry in its twin, and Dennis on a spindly wooden chair he'd pulled over from the kitchen area. Dennis took out his notebook and quill and crossed his legs.
"So," began Harry, "there was an attack on one of your employees?"
Malfoy nodded, his expression grim. Why did Malfoy's gaze have to be so bloody intense? Unwilling to be out-gazed, Harry stared back. Malfoy's eyes narrowed; his hands tightened on the armrests of his chair. The beginnings of an urge to violence fluttered to life in Harry's gut, and they hadn't even properly begun the interview yet. Malfoy's cheeks began to redden. Harry pulse began to race. He thought about his wand.
Something tugged at Harry' sleeve, forcing Harry to end the standoff. It was Dennis, his mouth moving soundlessly, brow creased.
"Is there something wrong with Mr. Creevey?" drawled Malfoy.
Bollocks. Harry twitched his wand, muttering, "Finite," out of the corner of his mouth.
"That was weird!" Dennis's voice seemed to fill the entire caravan. "I was talking, but you couldn't hear me. I wonder how that happened."
"It's a mystery," said Harry, noticing Malfoy's small snort of amusement.
All right. The tension had been broken. Maybe they'd get through this without killing each other after all.
"Carlo. He was in charge of maintaining the caravans." Malfoy shook his head, and Harry suddenly understood that the incident had caused Malfoy real distress.
"Tell me what happened." Harry pulled himself together, determined to be professional.
"We're not entirely sure. Isabella found him early this morning. He was curled up underneath the main tent. Once we got him out, we realised that he'd been attacked."
"Attacked by what?" piped Dennis.
"By magic. I didn't recognise the spell. He'd been…" Rubbing his eyes, Malfoy leaned back in his chair. "You'd best talk to Isabella. She was the first to see him."
"Who's Isabella?" Harry asked and then jumped, when what he had thought was a doll spoke up.
"I am," said the tiny woman. She strode across the floor and reached her arm up towards Harry, and Harry, not knowing what else to do, extended his index finger for her to shake.
"Are you a f--?" Dennis began, his eyes so wide they seemed about to burst forth.
"No, I am not a fucking fairy!" interrupted Isabella. "I accidentally swallowed a bottle of shrinking solution. The bloody label looked exactly like the label for Selinia's Slimming Salve."
"And they couldn't bring you back to your normal size?"
"You should have seen me before St Mungo's. Only I was too small to see. This was the best the mediwitches could do."
She had a strident, tinny voice, a cloud of cottony blond hair and a plump figure. She would have been adorable if there hadn't been something about her presence that suggested she'd kick you in the eye if you suggested so.
"Your full name?" Harry decided it would be best to take the lead in the conversation so that Dennis didn't end up blinded.
"Tell me what you remember, Isabella." His voice gentled. He couldn't help it; she was so small.
She took a deep breath and hugged herself. In the background, the cat rose to its feet and stretched, bristling the fur along its back. He ambled towards Isabella and then, in a twist of vanishing fur and materialising velvet, a human man emerged.
"Holy fuck!" said Dennis, before falling off his chair.
Harry rolled his eyes. "You could have warned us, Malfoy."
"Terribly sorry," said Malfoy with faux innocence. "I'm just rather used to Borislav. I forget that his transformations can be startling if you aren't expecting them."
"Right." Harry reached the end of his patience. "Just … Isabella. Can you please tell me what happened?"
Borislav -- a sleek, grey haired man with tanned skin, a pointy nose and almond-shaped eyes -- knelt on the floor, holding his hand out for Isabella. She used it to climb on to his bent knee, where she perched, looking up at Harry.
"Boris and I were taking a walk. He likes to chase field mice in the mornings. We heard whimpering, I crawled under the tent and there was Carlo. He… He… Oh." Her face fell forward into her hands and her shoulders shook. Borislav hummed and stroked his index finger down her back.
"It's all right, Isabella," said Malfoy.
"It's just that Carlo was so lovely," continued Isabella once she'd stopped weeping. "A Bland, sure, but I liked him anyway."
"A 'Bland'?" asked Harry.
Malfoy cleared his throat. "One of the non-performing members of the Theatre."
"I have no idea what they hit him with, but it was bad. Dark." Isabella shuddered.
"Right." Harry nodded. "I need to know exactly what happened to Carlo."
Isabella took a deep breath and squared her small shoulders. "He'd been rearranged. His body. Head in the middle of his stomach, arms and legs switched about and turned backwards. It was huh-h-horrible."
"Lyubimy," whispered Borislav. He gently lifted Isabella up and nuzzled her as she clung to him, burying her face in his hair.
"And where is Carlo now?"
"St Mungo's," said Malfoy. "They don't think they can help him. There was something about the spell, something tied into it, that negates a cure through further magic." He sighed and closed his eyes. Harry watched him and saw fatigue etched across his face. When Malfoy's eyes opened, he focussed directly on Harry. "Carlo was nineteen. Strong as an ox and completely dedicated to the theatre. I need you to find out who did this to him."
"We will," said Harry automatically.
"I need to know that you won't be distracted by our past." There was that intensity again. This time, however, it didn't make Harry's hands itch to curl into fists, but instead made his cheeks heat with shame.
"Malfoy ..." Harry swallowed. "It's my job."
After a moment, Malfoy nodded, although he still looked unsure.
Harry decided that he'd find the culprit, and quickly, just to shove that doubt back in Malfoy's face.
He and Dennis made their goodbyes and descended the caravan's steps. They walked in silence -- well, Dennis sort of bobbed along. Harry walked.
"Wow," said Dennis once they reached the outskirts of the caravan circle and approached the field. "Malfoy."
"What about Malfoy?"
"He… Well, he got a bit hot."
Harry pressed his lips together. He was totally fine with Dennis being gay. The stories Dennis told about his exploits at various wizarding and Muggle clubs were endlessly entertaining. Harry, however, did not want to hear Dennis go on about Malfoy of all people. He fingered his wand in his pocket, getting ready to cast Muffliato again.
"Malfoy was sort of pointy and rodenty in school, wasn't he? Do you remember, Harry? And nasty. A real git."
"But now… Well, that hair and those eyes. He's so tall. And the way he kind of leans there all cocky and looks at you." Dennis shivered. Harry gave him a surreptitious dirty look. "I wonder where he goes, who he's seeing."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm not averse to an injection of pureblood now and then." He waggled his eyebrows. "After the case is finished, of course."
Harry's face went hot. "Malfoy dated Pansy Parkinson all through school."
Dennis snorted. "So? That doesn't mean anything. Trust me, Harry. Malfoy is gay as a maypole."
"You can't know that. Is this one of those things everyone knows but me? How can you be so sure?" Harry found the idea of Malfoy being gay mysteriously agitating.
Dennis gave Harry the look that said, You're going to embarrass yourself if you persist in this line of questioning, straight boy, so Harry dropped it. Merlin, he hated that look.
He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his robes. "Got to get home to Ginny."
Dennis laughed. "You don't have to mention your wife every time my sexuality comes up, Harry. I know you're straight." Dennis's eyes shot off to the left and then back towards Harry. "And even if you weren't, you're nowhere near my type."
"No," Harry bristled. "I've really got to get home to her. She's leaving on a trip this evening and I want to-- And what do you mean? What's wrong with me?"
Beaming, Dennis looked at Harry with his big, blue eyes, and then, quick as a striking snake, he kissed Harry on the cheek.
Harry gaped at him.
"Too skittish." Dennis winked. "See you at the office, Harry." He spun and, with a loud crack, Disapparated.
Harry remained motionless, his boots sinking slowly into the mud.
Bloody Dennis Creevey.
Shaking the bottle in his hand, Harry knelt on the bed and pondered the mystery that was Draco Malfoy. The Malfoys had skedaddled sharpish once the post-war trials were over. It was understandable -- Lucius had barely squeaked out of finishing his sentence in Azkaban, and cleaning up the rotten fruit and hexes with which they were pelted every time they showed their faces in public must have quickly become tiresome. They'd gone somewhere East European with an 'ania' or an 'aria' at the end. Harry couldn't remember the exact place. Then, five or so years ago, Malfoy returned to England.
Ginny smiled blandly up at Harry, twiddling with a bit of frayed cloth at the seam of the pillowcase. "Don't forget we're seeing Ron and Hermione on Friday," she said. "And Andromeda's bringing Teddy over for the day on Sunday."
"I won't," replied Harry, and then squirted chocolate syrup all over her bare chest and stomach.
"Ah!" Ginny giggled, cheeks shining in the late-afternoon sunlight. "It's cold. And bloody hell, it's going to be a nightmare to get out of the sheets."
"Your mum will know how. Ask her."
"Sure. Great idea. 'Mum, Harry was licking chocolate sauce off my naked body and some of it got on the sheets. Any advice?'"
"'Oh, Ginny.'" Harry did his best impression of Molly, which involved making his voice go all high and screechy and made him sound a lot more like Kreacher than any of the Weasleys. "'This is shocking! I can't believe what I'm hearing. Butterscotch is far more appropriate for the bedroom.'"
Ginny arched the small of her back as she laughed, making her small, pert breasts jiggle. Harry aimed for the left one and gave the bottle a good squeeze.
"Right," he said. "Shut up now. Ron swore up and down that this was hot."
"Could you please not mention Ron while we're having sex? Pretty please?"
"With chocolate sauce on top?"
"Merlin." Ginny hit her head back into the pillow. "Fine. I'm going to have a nap. You do what whatever." She closed her eyes and turned her face to the side, grinning and showing her dimple.
Harry snorted and bent down, choosing a place to start. Ginny's pale, freckled skin was smeared with shiny, brown sauce and if it weren't for the distinct chocolate smell, it might have been a bit off-putting. He chose the spot directly above her bellybutton, and licked. Ginny giggled, but quickly stifled it. As he ran the tip of his tongue up her abdomen and then curved left to circle her breast, Harry tried to determine if the licking was turning him on or not. He was a bit hard, but they were naked in bed together, so he would have been anyway. Ginny's fingers slid through his hair, trailing down the back of his neck. When he lapped at her nipple, she squirmed and made a soft sound.
Running his palm up her thighs, Harry nuzzled his face against Ginny's neck. Nice, soft, warm skin, and the lovely flowery smell of her perfume.
Harry didn't know why Malfoy had come back. He supposed Transbulgariania had become boring. He only knew that the chip on Malfoy's shoulder had increased five-fold while he'd been gone. They hadn't crossed paths many times during the last five years, but the times they had had been… memorable.
"Harry?" Ginny tapped him on the back, and Harry realised he'd let his mind wander.
He pushed himself up on his arms, looking down at her, and said, "So, yeah? Do you like it? What? Why are you..?"
She held her hand over her mouth, her eyes were wide, her shoulders shaking. "Oh. Your face." She gave up and started laughing aloud.
So. Chocolate sauce -- not a success. Ginny sucked Harry off in the shower, which was lovely of her, but then balked when he tried to reciprocate, which left him feeling oddly depressed.
"I've got to get going," she said as she towelled off. "I told them I'd be there in time for the staff dinner."
It was off-season and Ginny wouldn't be needed by the Harpies for several more weeks, thus she was filling in at Hogwarts while Angelina recovered from Dragon Pox. Harry envied her -- spending all day on a broom, playing Quidditch with kids.
He poured shampoo into his hair, and by the time he'd rinsed it out, she was gone. Once he was dressed and ready, he Apparated to The Leaky and went inside to meet his friends for their weekly drink.
Pulling his woollen hat further down over his head to hide his hair and scar, Harry slunk though the pub, face down, hoping he'd reach Ron, Neville and the booth before anyone recognised him. Ron's bright hair shone, a beacon at the other side of the pub, and Harry moved towards it, determined, questing towards Firewhisky and uncomplicated companionship which he bloody well deserved after the day he'd had. Dennis was off being gay somewhere, he supposed, but Harry didn't want to think about that or what sort of blokes Dennis fancied other than Malfoy, and he definitely didn't want to consider what sort of blokes Malfoy fancied.
Shuddering, he circled round a table full of tipsy witches. Sadly, his manoeuvre failed. A frothing bouquet of whispers swelled forth from the women, Harry heard his name mentioned and then a hand locked around his wrist. Harry ground his teeth together, and then forced himself to look at his captor and smile.
"Harry Potter," whispered the girl, her cheeks rosy with drink.
"Yeah." Harry stared at the floor. "Hi."
"Come and have a drink with us!" This came from the far side of their table -- a girl with black hair and the eyes of a semi-hysterical predator.
"Just meeting my mates," mumbled Harry, his smile twitching.
"Go on!" "Just one drink." "Come on, Harry."
"Trying to have a quiet night at the pub with my friends like any other person, that's all." His eyes glazed over and he yanked gently against the first girl's grip.
"We'll make it worth your while." A hand slithered up his thigh, because after all saving the wizarding world from Voldemort made him public property, but Harry jerked away -- he couldn't help it -- and the girl holding his arm fell shrieking off her chair and onto the floor.
If it hadn't been for the strong, freckled arm thrown around his shoulders, leading him firmly towards the secluded booth at the back of the pub, Harry would have fled. But Ron was there with, "Sorry ladies, not tonight," and, "All right, mate. Just back here."
The girl on the floor made a bid for Harry's ankle, but he managed to leap out of range just in time.
"H-Hey, Harry," Neville fumbled with his drink as Harry slid into the booth next to him. Ale slopped over Neville's hand and onto the table. He sucked it off his fingers, grinning sheepishly.
"Hey, Neville." Harry fought against the glumness trying to weigh him down. How was it fair that simply walking through a pub was an exercise in public relations and crowd control? "That's it. I'm fed up. It's Polyjuice twenty-four seven from now on."
A barmaid had answered Ron's summons, sliding a cool glass of Firewhisky in front of Harry. He smiled at it. It looked friendly.
"Where's Gin? You know they tend to leave you be if she's with you."
"Gin went to--"
"She's at Hogwarts," Neville answered, talking over Harry, and then jumped, his face going red.
"You're a jumpy sod tonight." Ron took a gulp of his lager.
With a flick of the eyes towards Harry, Neville shrugged. Harry grinned at him. Neville had always been a bit jittery. Well, not lately or since the end of the war, if he thought about it, but still. It was Neville.
"How goes plants?" asked Harry.
"Plants go well," responded Neville. "How goes catching bad guys?"
"Catching bad guys goes incredibly fucking irritating ... ly. You wouldn't believe who I had to interview today."
"Lavender Brown?" asked Ron.
"What? No. Why would ... No."
"Malfoy," said Neville.
Harry looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Yeah. How did you figure?"
"That look on your face always means Malfoy."
"Malfoy!" Ron looked delighted. "What's he done? Is he going to Azkaban?"
"Nah. He's the victim, or one of his workers was, actually."
"Really?" Ron leaned in. "One of the freaks? What happened?"
Harry didn't bother correcting Ron's terminology, but briefly went over the details of the case. "I hope we get to the bottom of this one quickly. Malfoy's just so… Every time I see him, I want to…" Harry ground his fist into his other hand.
"You should hear Hermione go on about him," said Ron. "It's like SPEW all over again. Malfoy's exploiting the unfortunate, making Galleons off their misery. Good thing she's not here tonight. We'd never hear the end of it."
"I'm sure," said Harry, running his fingers around the rim of his now-empty glass. "I don't think it's like that somehow. He was pretty cut up about what happened to this bloke Carlo."
Ron shrugged a shoulder. "It's Malfoy."
"Yeah," responded Harry, and signalled to the waitress for a refill. "So, let's not waste the night talking about him."
"Seconded," said Neville.
"Thirded," said Ron. "Here." He leaned in, and lowered his voice as he always did when he was about to reveal way too much about the kinds of things he got up to with Harry's best female friend, whom Harry very much preferred not to think of in thigh-high boots and pasties, using whatever new toys where this week's special. But, oh well, there was no stopping Ron once he got going. "Hermione found this book on magical bondage and we've gone through the first three chapters already. You've got to tr-" He blinked, turned away from Harry and looked at Neville. "You've got to find a bird who will do this stuff with you, Nev. It's fantastic."
Harry hoped the waitress would hurry with his Firewhisky.
The news that there'd been another attack on one of Malfoy's employees came early on Monday morning. Harry groaned and rubbed his face.
"So, it's a thing then. A series of attacks. Does two count as a series, Harry? Kind of exciting, don't you think?"
There should be a rule, Harry mused, regarding Dennis, Monday mornings and speech of any kind. "It's positively thrilling," he responded. "But try not to let Malfoy know you feel that way. I don't think he'd be impressed."
"Oh, of course." Dennis rolled his eyes. "There I go again."
"There you go again," said Harry. "And we'd better get going too."
At least it wasn't raining this time. The air was crisp and the sky was grey, but they were dry. Malfoy met them in the centre of the caravan circle. He stood straight, his face impassive, but his hands were curled into fists. Harry steeled himself, and they nodded to each other in greeting.
"Sasha found her," said Malfoy.
"Right," said Harry. "Well, let's talk to Sasha, then."
As Malfoy led them towards Sasha's caravan, something brushed against Harry's ankle. He looked down to see Borislav -- in cat form -- with Isabella riding on his back, a fistful of grey fur in each tiny hand.
"It was Nancy this time," she said, her voice solemn. Harry stopped and knelt down to hear her better.
Isabella nodded, her face puffy, tiny eyes red. "You'll find out who's doing this, right, Auror Potter?"
Once again, Harry's face prickled with shame over letting his feelings for Malfoy overshadow his professionalism. "I will," he said. "I promise."
She gave a weak smile and then patted Borislav on the shoulder. He pattered off, Isabella bobbing on his back.
"She's just so precious," said Dennis, not quietly enough to keep Isabella from looking back and shooting him a glare.
"Careful," said Malfoy, "she may be small, but she's as powerful as any full sized witch. And she doesn't like being patronised."
Dennis's lower lip protruded, then he continued: "Why is it patronising to say she's cute? I like it when people say I'm cute."
"Do you?" said Malfoy, smirking down at Dennis. Dennis's eyes widened, his face went pink and he treated Malfoy to a huge grin.
Harry's stomach turned to ice. He tried to clear his throat, but it came out as a clearly intentional huh huh sound. "We're working, Auror Creevey."
"Spoilsport," said Malfoy, and Harry had no idea why the look on Malfoy's face slithered up his spine like a grass snake.
"For fuck's sake," he muttered to himself, ignoring Dennis's indignant pout.
It turned out that Sasha wasn't yet at home. They made themselves comfortable in her… his? quarters on furniture that consisted of a number of large, squishy pouf-like stools. There was, Harry noticed, an odd dampness to the air in Sasha's caravan, and a strange smell -- sea spray?
His brow wrinkled, but he forced his head clear and began. "Why don't you bring us up to date, Malfoy? The attacked woman's name is 'Nancy', correct?"
"Yes," said Malfoy. His long legs clearly made sitting on the poufs a bit awkward for him. His knees jutted up too high and his elbows stuck out. Harry wondered if he himself had a similarly undignified appearance. "Nancy Draper. She's one of our backstage hands. Curtain puller and prop-mistress. Sweet girl." Malfoy looked away, a shadow of melancholy sweeping across his face.
Harry adjusted his arse on the pouf and then sighed. Dennis looked like a large owl perched on his seat. "Look, I'll just transfigure these into chairs, and--"
"Leave Sasha's furniture alone," said Malfoy.
"Fine! I was just suggesting it would be more comfortable to--"
"This is Sasha's home. Sit on a cushion for fifteen minutes. It won't kill you."
Harry's ire rose. He glared at Malfoy. Malfoy glared right back. Then the door opened and Sasha came in.
Harry swallowed a gasp and braced himself, waiting for Dennis to let loose and get them all slimed or strangled or whatever this person with, for the love of Merlin, tentacles growing where his and/or her arms and legs should be would do in a fit of Cephalopodic insult. Harry's fingernails dug into the fabric of his pouf, but Dennis remained mysteriously silent and continued to be so during the entire course of the interview.
Slithering gracefully onto the remaining empty seat, Sasha smiled.
It was a horrible, horrible sight.
As Dennis seemed to have been petrified, his mouth slightly open, his eyes fixed on the squid creature, Harry snatched the parchment and quill away from him.
"So, Sasha. Tell us what you saw." He kept his expression neutral. He looked Sasha in the eye. He didn't shudder, flinch or run screaming from the room in horror. Despite all this, he heard Malfoy sniggering in the background. Bastard.
Sasha had a deep, husky voice. It was, Harry thought, a bit sexy in a mind-shatteringly disturbing kind of way.
"Well," rumbled Sasha, "it was late. I'd been havin' a bevy with Abe and Kitty, but they were off to bed, so I headed home. Almost tripped right over poor Nancy."
"Where did you find her?"
"Just on the ground. Sprawled like and dead to the world. She'd been a pretty little thing. Took a bit to recognise her. Her… She was…" Sasha gave a sigh, which rippled through skin and tentacles, making Harry tighten his muscles to keep from shuddering. "Her entire body was covered with hair."
Harry's hand stilled, the quill hovering over parchment. Another attack, another transformation. He looked away from Sasha and met Malfoy's eyes. He was watching Harry, his hands pressed together, chin resting on his fingertips. Harry raised an eyebrow in question.
"Someone," said Malfoy, "is turning my Bland workers into… performers."
"That's what you think is happening?"
Harry nodded. He'd had the same thought.
When they interviewed Nancy a few minutes later -- she was still in distress, but calm enough to describe being stupefied by an unseen attacker and waking up to find herself transformed -- Dennis managed to find the power of speech again. This was a mixed blessing. Nancy didn't seem aggravated by his compliments on the lustrous quality of the wavy chestnut hair that covered every inch of her skin, but she didn't seem all that pleased about them either.
"Strange," said Harry as he and Dennis walked to the field to Apparate back to the Ministry to file their reports. "Why would someone want to turn normal people into… Er, unaverage people? Revenge? Hatred? Fear? What do they have to gain?"
It took Harry a minute to realise that Dennis was silent once again.
"Are you all right, Dennis?"
"Hmm?" Dennis turned to Harry, but his expression indicated that his attention was still elsewhere. His eyes had a dreamy quality and lips a peculiar twist.
Without thinking, Harry leapt into action and pulled his wand. "Finite!"
"What?" Dennis blinked. "Why'd you do that, Harry?"
"You were enchanted. Weren't you?"
"Why would I be enchanted? Except… I was. How could I not be? Didn't you see him?"
"Him?" Was this about Malfoy again?
"Sasha," said Dennis, as if he were reciting a prayer. "He's so beautiful."
Harry blinked. "W…" He blinked again. "Pardon?"
"Oh, Harry. What's it like in your tiny little world?"
"Never mind," said Dennis with a maddeningly patronising smile.
"He's got tentacles," said Harry, "I didn't even know he was a he. How could you tell?"
"Of course he's a he." Dennis smile fell away and his brow knitted. "He must be."
"I'm not so sure."
Crossing his arms, Dennis said, "He is. I’m positive."
"All right then. Go for it. You'll have beautiful children together."
"No. No we won't. Because he's a he."
"He's part of an ongoing investigation and therefore off limits. Just like Malfoy."
Dennis's face fell for only a second before lighting up again. "Malfoy flirted with me."
"Dennis, this is not a dating agency!"
It was a female voice. Harry turned and immediately forced his facial muscles to freeze.
"Harreee! It is you," the girl continued, beaming and rushing towards him. Despite the fact that she was familiar, Harry didn't recognise her. He'd have definitely remembered meeting a woman with thick, ropey laceration scars starting at her hairline and continuing down her face and neck until they disappeared beneath the collar of her robes. Flowing, purple robes made of a thick material and embroidered with gold stitching. She was laden with golden jewellery too -- necklaces, bracelets and earrings. She had dark-blond hair hanging in a long plait down her back.
It clicked. "Lavender Brown." Harry swallowed, a chill running down his neck. He knew Fenrir had attacked her during the Battle of Hogwarts; he'd witnessed it happening. Seeing the long-term results, however, was shocking. She'd been so pretty. He hadn't even thought to imagine what had become of her after the war.
"Yes, it's me." She leapt on him and hugged him. "Oh, it's so good to see you again." Boggling, Harry remained stock still until she finished. Once she released him, he took a step back and crossed his arms.
"How… How are you doing?"
"I'm doing really well, now," she replied, nodding. "I'm the theatre's fortune teller."
"I remember you," said Dennis. "You went out with Ron Weasley. You used to spend hours snogging in the Common Room. We'd make bets on how long it would take you to come up for air."
Lavender took on a dreamy expression. "Ah, Ron. Our passion burned bright and brief. It was a true love, though sadly never meant to be."
"You mean because he went off with Hermione Granger?"
She pursed her lips.
"Okay." Harry took hold of Dennis's elbow. "We should be--"
"Can you really tell fortunes? Tell me, do you see someone tall dark and tentacley in my future?"
"Good seeing you again Lavender," said Harry, yanking Dennis stumbling towards the field. "We'll have to catch up another time. Auror Creevey and I need to get back to the Ministry."
"All right then, Harry," said Lavender. "Do you still see Ron? Tell him I said hi."
"Heh," said Harry and turned toward the field. He had a boring afternoon of parchment work to look forward to and absolutely no leads on the case so far, yet he was actually looking forward to getting back to the office as it would take him far away from Draco Malfoy.
"Is that okay?" He tightened the rope around Ginny's wrists behind her back. "Too tight? Can you feel your fingers?"
"No. I mean, yes. It's fine. Just right." She gave Harry an encouraging smile.
She looked a sight, all decked out in black lace and blue satin, kneeling on the bed in front of him. Her shiny red hair contrasted beautifully with her lingerie. Merlin, she was lovely. He grinned at her. She beamed back at him.
"So… Okay. Now what?" she asked, her smile starting to look a bit forced.
"Um, what do you want me to do?"
Ginny sighed and licked her lips. "Well, you've got me tied on the bed. All helpless." She shrugged one shoulder up, batting her eyelashes.
"Yeah?" said Harry, thinking that if they had sex with Ginny lying on her back then it would really hurt her arms.
"You can do anything to me." She leaned towards him and purred, "Anything you want."
"Anything?" Harry perked up.
"Oh." She pulled back. "Well, not that. Anything at all except that."
"Ah. Okay. Of course." He kissed her to give himself time to think. She always tasted so sweet, like apples and mint. What was he supposed to ask for? It was like some bizarre sex exam and he was pretty sure he was about to get a D. His erection was already starting to flag. Crap. "Right. You could suck me off?"
"If that's what you want." She giggled. "Sir."
"Yeah. Let's do that." His cock once again jutted upwards with interest from his lap as he sat on his knees in front of her. She gave him a look that made him shiver and bite his lip and then leaned forward, slowly moving her head towards his lap. Halfway there she adjusted her knees to keep her balance.
"It's a bit…" she began, then leaned farther forward and collapsed face first into his lap. "Goddamit!" she said against his thigh.
Harry quickly lifted her up and let her settle back onto her knees. She blew some hair off her face and sighed.
"Um…" said Harry.
"Maybe you should stand on the floor. Then I won't need my arms to support me."
"'Kay." Harry scooted off the bed and stood while Ginny moved until she was facing him. She bent forward and took his cock in her mouth.
"Mm," said Harry. "Oh, that's really good." He buried his hands in her hair, running his fingertips over her scalp.
She choked and pulled off, coughing. Once she'd recovered, she sat back on her heels with a heavy sigh. "I think my hands being tied behind my back just makes it too awkward."
"Maybe we should just do it the normal way?" The panic he seemed to experience every time they were in bed together lately bit at his abdomen.
"Why don't you spank me?" It would have been sexier if there weren't an edge of desperation in her voice. "I've been so naughty, Harry. Can't even suck you off properly. I really need a good, hard spanking."
Oh, that was kinky. Could be fun. "Yeah. Yeah. 'Kay. Here. I'll sit down. You go over my lap."
With only a modicum of awkwardness and elbows going in faces, they arranged themselves so that Ginny was lying over Harry's lap, her arse in the air, her face against the duvet.
Ginny had a lovely arse. A bit muscular from all that Quidditch perhaps, but smooth and round and pink. He slapped his hand down on the fleshy part of her left buttock.
"For fuck's sake, Harry! Not so bloody hard."
His erection was completely gone by that point. He was sitting naked on his bed, his gorgeous wife trussed up and supine on his lap, and he hoped they could get the sex over with quickly so he could go do pretty much anything else. His shoulders sagged.
He grabbed his wand off the bedside table and Vanished the ropes binding Ginny's wrists. She pushed up off him and got off the bed. Harry watched, miserable, as she snatched up various items of clothing and began pulling them on.
"I'm sorry," he wailed. "I just don't know what you want me to do."
"And I don’t want to have to tell you." She'd managed to put on her blouse, but threw her trousers to the floor and faced him. "I want you to know what you want. I want you to want me, Harry. Desperately and out of control. Like you used to."
There were tears in her eyes. The prickling in his stomach became a hot, heavy weight, and he sank heavily back against the headboard, arms crossed. "Things are different now. Work is full on. It's not like it was just after the war."
"No," said Ginny thrusting her legs one at a time into her trousers and doing up the buttons. "It isn't."
She wouldn't look at him, but grabbed a hairbrush and started yanking it through her hair. There was something he could say, Harry knew, a string of words that would make it better. He just had no idea what those words were.
"Get dressed," said Ginny, setting the hairbrush back on the dresser and walking toward the doorway. She turned and finally met his gaze. "We'll go in the sitting room and talk. We really need to talk, Harry."
Harry took his time pulling on his clothing. The conversation was going to be horrible. He steeled himself, took a deep breath, and went into the sitting room.
Ginny perched on the settee, hands folded primly in her lap. She looked up at him, her face hard, her eyes dry now. Harry's stomach twisted. He rand his hand through his hair and shifted on his feet.
"Look, Harry," Ginny began.
There was a loud tapping at their kitchen window. Harry bolted for it.
"Harry!" Ginny called after him.
"It could be work," Harry yelled back, tugging the window open and letting the owl climb onto his arm. He removed the roll of parchment from its leg and let the owl fly back out the window. "It is work," he said, walking back into the lounge as he unrolled the letter and read it.
Ginny's lips were pressed together in a thin line. Her hands clenched into fists. She looked as if she were about to leap off the settee and smack him.
Swallowing, Harry held the parchment up. "I've got to go in. Malfoy needs to go over the case." Malfoy had asked Harry to owl him to arrange a time to meet. Even if right fucking now wasn't what he'd specified, it was work and work obligations trumped marital crises, didn't they?
"How convenient for you," she said through gritted teeth.
"Gin, come on. We'll talk later, all right? If it were the Harpies calling you away, I'd understand."
"I know you'd understand. You'd even pack for me and shove me out the bloody door."
Bollocks, her eyes were looking too shiny again. Ginny never cried and now he'd made her do it twice in one day. Harry took a step towards her, but Ginny stiffened and glared at him. He stopped. "It's not like that. I just… need to go."
"Go then." She shook out her hair and then stood. She took a deep breath and smiled with her mouth if not her eyes. "Ron and Hermione are coming over later, so try not to be too late."
"Yeah. I won't." He smiled back and turned to the hall. As he grabbed his cloak from the hook by the door and put it on, the knots in his stomach hardened and went cold. Pausing, he rested a hand against the doorframe, head bowed. The fabric binding their marriage was gossamer thin -- he could sense it as if it were a tangible object. If he left now, it could tear irreparably. He lifted his head and looked back towards the sitting room. Ginny watched him, hugging herself, solemn but determined.
Harry could go to her, he could grab her, throw her down on the settee and have his way with her. He could shower her with kisses and make her scream and claw at his back the way she used to back when… Bloody hell. The last time would have been years in the past.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you too," she responded, her fingers digging into her upper arms.
As he exited their home and pulled his wand, preparing to Apparate, Harry told himself that they'd work everything out once he got back. Things between them would be fine. She was his lovely Ginny, his reward for everything he'd gone through as a child and teenager. The gravel in his stomach would go away and they'd go back to being happy together.
He shook his head to clear it. If Malfoy took one step out of line, Harry would have him for it, Auror professionalism be damned.
It was a Saturday. Not an official work day.
For this reason, Harry found the sight of his partner exiting and then scuttling away from Malfoy's caravan perplexing to the supreme. As Dennis looked shiftily around himself, Harry ducked behind the corner of a tent, and then peeked out just in time to see Dennis grin madly, spin, and Disapparate.
Harry had worked on his anger issues. He'd had enough life experience at this point to recognise the signals when he was about to lose it, and generally once he became aware of his throbbing temples, racing pulse, and face so flushed with heat that it seemed to seep backwards into his brain, muffling all rational thought like a fuzzy blanket of fury -- well. Generally, he was able to stop, take several deep breaths, and force himself to calm down and consider if the situation actually justified that much anger.
On this particular occasion, however, he thought, fuck it.
Wand drawn, he stormed towards Malfoy's caravan. Dennis was an Auror. They were working on a case. Malfoy should know better, how did he expect Dennis to do his job with Malfoy… With Malfoy…
Nothing more than a brief image of Malfoy's hand gripping a shoulder -- Malfoy's long, pale fingers with their perfectly manicured nails pressing hard into the curve of a red wool Auror uniform, his thumb creeping over the collar and reaching skin -- flickered through Harry's mind, but it was enough to stop him short. Within seconds the heat in his face had spread to a full-body flush, then contracted, localising in his groin. Eyelashes fluttering, Harry discontinued his march of righteous retribution towards Malfoy's caravan. That fluttering in his gut -- that was fear. What in Merlin's name was going on?
"You're here again!"
Bollocks. Lavender. Harry turned away from the beckoning voice and mentally wrenched himself free of his confusion. Once he had shoved Malfoy and his inappropriate hand to the back of his mind, he turned to face Lavender.
"Oh dear. Are you all right? Your face is awfully red." She wore blue robes today, decorated with tiny glass globes at the sleeves and collar that Harry supposed were meant to be miniature crystal balls. Her face was less shocking now that he was seeing it for the second time. He could see that once he was used to the scars, she'd still be quite pretty.
Harry put his hand to his mouth and forced a cough. "I'm fine," he said. "Just Apparated a bit abruptly."
"Silly goose." She approached him and took his arm. "Destination, determination and deliberation. Don't you remember?"
Harry stumbled as she led him towards a small caravan at the edge of the circle. "You're surprisingly strong, Lavender," he said. "And I'm afraid I've got to go see Malfoy rather urgently."
"It can wait." She patted him on the shoulder, virtually dragging him along after her. "I'll give you a reading first. You look like you could use one."
"A reading? Oh. Oh right. Gosh. Thanks and all, but I've really got to--"
"Hush now. Put yourself in my hands. I know what I'm doing."
Figuring that at the very least he'd get some time to pull himself together, Harry let Lavender lead him into her caravan. Inside, it was small and draped with gauzy purple and red scarves. A bookshelf crammed with titles such as Chirmancy for the Charmed, Oniermancy for the Obsessed, and Love Scrying huddled against one wall. Half-melted, multi-coloured candles clung to various pieces of furniture and bottles containing unfeasibly pink potion were lined up inside a glass-fronted cupboard. It smelt of incense and tea.
"Sit down, Harry." She gestured to a tiny, brocade-upholstered stool. Harry sat and tried not to let his knees jump. Lavender settled herself on the couch, arranging her robes so they draped across the seat. Between them was a wooden table covered with a black satin cloth; on the table rested a crystal ball.
Harry sighed. "You're not going to predict fifteen different ways I'm bound to die horribly, are you?"
Lavender giggled. "You're making fun of Professor Trelawney, aren't you? You mustn't you know. She's a great woman. Showed Fenrir Greyback a thing or two."
For the first time, Harry saw a shadow pass across Lavender's face. It only lasted half a second, however.
"What exactly are you going to do?"
She shrugged. "People mostly want to know who the next person they're going to sleep with will be. Or they want a little hope, something to hold onto to keep them going after having their hearts broken. Every now and then someone wants to know where Aunty Audrey hid her secret stash of Galleons, but mostly people want to know about love."
"I don't want to know about love," growled Harry.
"Just a quick gaze into future, then," Lavender chirped. "Nothing fancy. Here." She handed him a two fragrant bundles of herbs. "Hold those. When I start chanting, wave them."
She began, chanting a melodic string of Latin words. Harry half-heartedly moved the bundles of herbs around, hoping it would soon be over. Lavender gazed into the crystal and wiggled her fingers about as if she were playing the air piano.
Harry squirmed and glanced longingly toward the door.
"I see… conflict. Points of conflict. And fire -- heat. A yellow-green tongue -- acid words. Oh… a crumbling gorge. Loss. I'm sorry, Harry. And then--" Lavender blinked. Her eyes widened. "No," she said. "Not possible." Squinting, she moved her face closer to the ball and resumed chanting. "Not a weasel," she muttered to herself. "It's a-- Oh my!" She jumped up and laughed before slapping her hand across her mouth.
"What?!" snapped Harry, deeply irritated.
"Nothing." Her shoulders shook with mirth. "Couldn't make it out. Too cloudy."
"Fine." He tossed the herbs onto the table. "Apparently I have no future. I'll be going then."
"I'm sorry, Harry. You go on. Go see Malfoy. Tell him I say hi." She dissolved completely into giggles then, and Harry reached the end of his tether.
Without another word, he stood and left her caravan. Brushing the gritty feel of the herbs from his hands, he marched towards Malfoy, grumbling to himself. At least he'd had time to cool off a bit.
He barged into Malfoy's caravan to find him lifting clothing out of a small suitcase and laying it on his bed. On the inside, Malfoy's caravan was much more like a luxury holiday cottage than portable living quarters. It was larger than any of the other caravans Harry had previously seen and decorated with expensive looking antiques and rich tapestries. One side housed a large fireplace, complete with a Hippogriff skin rug spread before it.
Harry snorted in disgust. "What is that?" He gestured towards the rug. "Some kind of childish revenge?"
"Hello, Potter," responded Malfoy, smirking as he ignored Harry's question. "Do you have any idea why my caravan smells of sea water?"
Deafened with fury, Harry ignored the tiny ting of a bell going off in the back of his mind. "Never mind that. What the hell are you doing with my partner?!"
Malfoy froze and stared at him. Then, slowly and deliberately he set the shirts he'd been holding down on his bed and straightened, turning to face Harry. "Excuse me?" he finally said. His face held a veneer of mild curiosity, but things shimmered in his eyes and pinpricks of colour appeared on his cheeks.
"He's meant to be concentrating on finding the bastard who's cursing your employees, not on… on…" Harry stuttered to a halt and made a rough gesture towards Malfoy's torso.
Malfoy looked deliberately downward toward the area to which Harry had referred, then back up to meet Harry's gaze, one eyebrow quirked. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand what you mean. Could you be a bit more specific?"
"I saw Dennis -- Auror Creevey -- creeping out of your caravan."
"Did you?" Malfoy's facial features may have read as mild interest, but his eyes spoke of predatory glee.
Malfoy was unpacking. As if he'd just arrived home.
"You can't…" Harry's voice had gone quiet, stripped of righteous power. "You can't go around molesting Aurors just because they fancy you." And yet he seemed unable to stop. "He's on a case. It's a conflict of interest."
As Malfoy stepped towards him, Harry stepped back. "Ah. You are under the impression that I've been sexually involved with young Mr Creevey."
"Have you been?" Harry stumbled away as Malfoy moved forward once more. He felt the wall of the caravan at his back.
Malfoy smiled, showing his teeth, and crept towards Harry until they were quite close together and face to face. There was no reason for Harry's pulse to be racing. In fact, it would be a fantastic time to storm out. Yet, he was damned if he was going to back off now without seeing the situation through to the end.
"You seem a bit nervous, Potter."
"Fuck off." Very professional. "So, are you… sexually involved with Auror Creevey?"
"In what sense?"
"In the usual sense," Harry snapped, relieved to feel anger resurfacing.
"Why all the questions, Potter? You're extremely curious. Oddly interested in your little protégé's sex life. Or…" Malfoy leaned in, eyes glittering maliciously beneath lowered lashes. Harry cringed backwards, pressing himself flat against the wall. "Is it my sex life that's got you asking so many questions?"
"N-no… I just… Look, back off, Malfoy. " Malfoy smelt clean with a hint of spicy citrus cologne. Up close, Harry noticed the faint smile lines at the corners of his mouth, the traces of what would become blond stubble, and, as Malfoy smiled, the pointiness of his canine teeth.
Malfoy stood too close, far too close, and could certainly see the heat spreading across Harry's face and neck. "Stop it," Harry whispered.
"Stop what?" Malfoy murmured in return, then crossed the remaining inch between them and brushed his lips against Harry's.
It was just a tickle, feather soft, but a rush of pure, strong lust mixed with panic rushed up Harry's spine. He inhaled -- one quick, sharp inward breath -- then froze, trying to focus on Malfoy's face, to check his intent. Their eyes met briefly, Malfoy's smirk melted away as he pressed in again, and their mouths met properly -- hot breath and a warm, wet tongue pressing between Harry's lips. Harry's breath hitched, his hands clenched and unclenched at his sides, and he was getting hard, gloriously achingly hard.
"I… What…" His voice came out squeaky.
"Shhh." Malfoy lifted his hands to cup Harry's jaw.
A little voice inside his head screamed at him to stop, to push Malfoy away, to at the very least stop kissing him back. He couldn't, though. It felt too good to stop.
"Mmgh," said Malfoy, and his voice sounded funny, too. He pressed in closer until their bodies were tight against each other. Harry's head spun, his stomach and thighs burned with lust, and his heart raced. Malfoy moved his hand, snaked it down Harry's neck, brushing across his ribs and stomach, making Harry whimper. After a slight hesitation at the top of Harry's trousers, Malfoy's hand wriggled down lower and settled firmly over Harry's groin.
Harry gasped hard, once, twice, three times, his shoulders rising and falling with each breath.
"Oh God." His voice was still several octaves too high, but he didn't care.
He pressed his hands against Malfoy's shoulders and shoved -- hard. Malfoy stumbled backward, his hand pulling free, his face flushed and still angled for kissing. Harry stepped towards him and shoved again, and, Merlin, was that a growl? He'd be embarrassed about that later, no time now.
Malfoy's eyes widened as he tripped backwards. He yelped as he fell back onto the pile of half-unpacked clothing on his bed, then stared up at Harry, panting. Harry leapt on top of him and just, oh, he couldn't help himself, he had to rub, right there, just like that, so he did, thrusting madly against Malfoy's crotch.
Malfoy grabbed Harry's wrists and held them in a death grip. He looked up at Harry with glazed eyes, his lips parted. His breath came harder each time Harry moved, and then he squeezed his eyes shut and bared his teeth.
With every rut, Harry felt Malfoy's stone-hard cock rubbing against his own through their clothing. "Jesus," he said, voice ragged. "Fuck. God. Oh. Oh, fuck." His orgasm was almost painful. He shuddered, the force of it ripping the strength from his arms and making him collapse flat on top of Malfoy. "Oh God," he whispered, and buried his face in Malfoy's neck until the aftershocks had passed.
He rolled off Malfoy, staring blankly at the ceiling fresco, refusing to name the terror licking at the edges of his mind. What had he just done? "I'm sorry." He didn't know if he was saying it to himself or to Malfoy or--
"No apologies necessary. But you will return the favour."
Harry turned his head to look at Malfoy's flushed face. Frozen, Harry stared at him.
"For the love of Merlin," said Malfoy, and tore open his fly and pushed his trousers and pants down his hips. Harry gaped at Malfoy's bobbing cock -- long and pink. His own thighs tingled. When Malfoy grabbed Harry's hand and yanked it, Harry allowed himself to be pulled to sit. He let Malfoy thrust his cock into his hand. It was silky-hot, pulsing against Harry palm and without thinking he squeezed, making Malfoy yell and hit his shoulder.
Harry could do this. This was something he knew how to do, even if the angle and approach were different. He began to pump Malfoy's cock, watching fascinated as the head disappeared and then reappeared within his fist. It was only seconds before Malfoy arched his back and cried out. The skin on Harry's cheeks burned as he watched ropes of pearly come shoot onto Malfoy's chest; some of it dripped down his fingers, hot and wet.
Harry wiped his hand off on the sheet, sweat beginning to cool on his skin. Malfoy's breathing slowed.
"Blimey," said Malfoy, laughing. "You're terrible at sex."
Harry punched Malfoy in the face.
"You godforsaken fucker!" Malfoy curled up on his side and held his hands to his face. Blood poured down his chin beneath them.
That was probably quite bad, but Harry was far too shaken to contemplate exactly how bad. Instead, he leapt to his feet, shouting, "Hah!" He bounced on his toes and pointed at Malfoy's nose. "Got you, didn't I? See?"
"You miserable, childish, little shit. That was years ago." Malfoy began feeling around on the bed for his wand, his other hand still protecting his face.
"Still." Harry spread his hands, as if that explained it. He knew he wasn't making sense. His heart was beating like Grawp running through the Forbidden Forest, though, and it was hard to think above the thundering. He was still reeling from the most amazing orgasm he'd had in years, and it was because of Malfoy and… Fuck, with stinging skin and his chest about to explode, he couldn't think at all.
Ginny would kill him.
Ginny would ...
Harry bit his lip and tugged at his hair.
"Get out of here," said Malfoy. He wasn't having luck finding his wand. Harry spied the end of it poking out from beneath the bed.
"I can fix your nose. I'm sorry. I was just--"
"Get the fuck out of my home right this instant or by Merlin, I'll slice you into fifteen different pieces and mail each to Minister Shacklebolt's desk one a day over the course of a fortnight!"
Swallowing, shaking, Harry backed away. He noticed the damp, slimy feel of his pants as he moved and winced.
Fleeing from Malfoy's caravan and Apparating home was a blurred, panic tinged affair, which Harry was very lucky to survive without leaving a vital body part or two behind. He materialised in the middle of Ginny's hellebore patch in their front garden. He didn't stop to wipe the mud or petals from his boots, but stormed up the front stoop, yanked open their front door, and stomped inside.
Ginny was waiting for him, nervously wiping her hands on her apron. "Harry. I'm glad you're home." She moved forward to kiss him, and Harry remembered that his pants were full of spunk and that he probably stank of it.
"Not now," he snapped, and then pushed past her and into their bedroom. He slammed and locked the bedroom door. After tearing off his clothes, he incinerated the filthy pants with an Incendio, then stumbled blindly into the shower. He turned the water up as high as it would go without actually scalding his skin.
What had he done, what had he done, what had he done?
The memory of what he'd done came back to him a bit more clearly than he'd intended it to, forcing Harry to have a quick and furious wank. For some reason, it didn't help matters. He'd cheated on his wife. He was that sort of person and Harry despised that sort of person.
There was only one thing to do.
Without rinsing the shampoo from his hair or even turning off the water, Harry clambered out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. He trailed a set of wet footprints through the bedroom and went back into the hall to meet his doom.
Ginny did not look pleased. "We are having company over in ten minutes and it would be better if we weren't at each other's throats. Do you think you could--"
Harry turned to the wall and banged his head against it. Ginny stopped talking. Squeezing his eyes shut tight, Harry forced the words out of his mouth. "I cheated on you."
Ginny remained silent for several long moments. Harry made himself turn to face her. His wet skin prickled with goose-pimples where air blowing in the open front door brushed against it.
With an unreadable expression, Ginny asked, "With who? I mean, whom? I don't give a fuck, who did you shag?"
"Malfoy," Harry whispered.
More shocked silence, then, "You're shagging Narcissa Malfoy? Isn't she a bit old for you?"
Harry barked a laugh and covered his face with his hands. "No," he said, "Malfoy."
After another short pause, he heard Ginny gasp. "Holy shit."
"Hello!" sang Hermione as she entered.
"Your door's open, mate. Hey, Gin. What's for dinner?" said Ron. Then, "Fucking hell, Harry, put some clothes on."
Like a deer catching a predator's scent, Hermione froze. She looked at Harry in his towel then at Ginny's expression. A furrow appeared between her brows. "Is this a bad time?"
"No. Not at all. It's the perfect time." Harry observed Hermione observing Ginny's shrill tone and manic arm movements. "It's an absolutely fantastic time, in fact. Come on into the dining room. There's sausage rolls and Elderflower wine, and I've got a roast on. Why don't you get dressed, Harry?"
Harry fled to their bedroom. He popped into the now cold water of the shower and rinsed out his hair. As he dried off and got dressed, his mind screamed at him, giving him different and conflicting sets of instructions and generally berating him for fucking up his entire life.
He shuffled into the dining room. Hermione immediately leapt up and began re-buttoning his mis-buttoned shirt. "What's going on," she whispered. Harry just shook his head, pleading silently with her. She pursed her lips, but nodded.
Harry took his seat, and Ginny set bowls down in front of each person one by one. He winced as scalding tomato soup splashed against his hand on the table. Hermione remained silent, looking back and forth between Harry and Ginny as if she were watching a tennis match. Ron grabbed a hunk of bread and tucked into his soup.
There was wine. Harry helped himself and took a long drink before slamming his empty glass back onto the table. He avoided looking at anyone else, but gazed down at his bowl, poking at its contents a bit with his spoon and listening to Ron's slurping sounds.
"We're a quiet lot tonight," Ron joked, and then flinched as he was rewarded with three matching glares. "What?"
There was a frigid hush. Harry could sense Hermione gearing up for an interrogation. Ron looked about, red soup dripping from his uplifted spoon onto the tablecloth.
Abruptly, Ginny threw her own spoon down on the table. "I'm having an affair with Neville Longbottom," she announced, taking the cold silence and making it sizzle and turn to ash.
"Oh!" said Hermione, her fingers flying to her mouth.
"What?!" barked Ron.
Harry closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
"I couldn't help it!" Ginny continued. "I need to feel wanted. I couldn't… Harry. I'm sorry. I love you. I love you so much, but I just couldn't go on like this."
Ron stood, his chair scraping back against the floor, and pointed. "That's bang out of order, Gin!"
"Oh, for the love of Merlin! Shut up. It's none of your business."
"If you're running around behind my best friend's back, behaving like some kind of a wh--"
"Don't you dare!" Ginny leapt to her feet, her chair crashing backwards to the floor. "There are some things you can't take back. I don't think you really want to call me that."
Harry looked up and met Hermione's horrified eyes. She stared at him, one hand fisted in Ron's shirt as she tried to hold him back.
"Leave off, Ron," Harry muttered. "This is between me and Ginny."
"I'll tell you this," Ron continued, his red face turning from Harry to Ginny and back again. "Neville's got a taste of my fist in his future."
"You lay one hand on Neville and I'll hex your balls to Alaska," said Ginny.
Harry stood, his head pounding. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him. He opened his mouth to speak, but realised he had absolutely nothing to say. Numb from scalp to heel, he turned, left the dining room, and headed into his bedroom where he wouldn't have to listen to Ron and Ginny yell at each other or wonder why he felt no desire whatsoever to join in.
Sinking down to sit on the foot of the bed, he dropped his face into his hands and took a long, shuddering breath.
The bed dipped as a warm body sat down beside him. He looked over through his fingers. Hermione.
"I'm supposed to be upset, aren't I?"
"That would be the usual response, yes," she replied.
"I guess I am. I mean -- Neville -- he's a mate. I'm surprised by that. He's been jumpy as hell lately, now that I think of it. I guess now I know why."
"And Ginny? Aren't you angry with her?"
Harry looked down at his hands in his lap, at the dull shine of his wedding ring. He'd spent his youth fighting demons both internal and external and come out victorious. He's saved the wizarding world from Voldemort and survived. At something as common and mundane as marriage, however, he was an abject failure.
"She deserves to be happy," Harry said. "And I can't do that for her any more." It would be best not to mention Malfoy just now. The idea of trying to explain and defend what he'd done to Hermione sapped his remaining energy. He dipped his head in silent agreement as Hermione hugged him and told him to owl her when he felt like talking. When Ron stormed in and announced that he and Hermione were leaving, Harry just nodded and followed them to the door.
He sat mutely on the bed watching as Ginny packed, tears running freely down her face. And he then followed her to the door as well.
She put her bag down and turned to face him. "I was going to tell you. I tried."
"I know," said Harry.
"Harry," Ginny whispered, her shoulders shaking as she reached up and cupped his face. "It's not like… I'll always ...."
"S'allright, Gin." Her lovely freckled face. Her big brown eyes that had always been his solace. The warmth of her fingers against his cheek and jaw. She'd been his future and his heart -- they were supposed to have children together, to be a family -- but he'd let her slip through his fingers. He took a deep, shuddering breath and gave her a squeeze.
With a sound like a wounded animal, she moved into his arms and he held her, his face buried in her hair. Knowing it was the last time, he let himself take sensual pleasure in its smell and softness. She trembled against him.
She needed to leave or he was going to lose it.
"Okay." He gently extracted himself. "You're going to Neville?"
She nodded, hair stuck to her cheek, and for a long moment they simply looked at each other.
Then she said, "Bye, Harry," picked up her bag and left.
Cold winter air licked at the skin of his arms, and the crack of her Disappararation sliced straight through his centre.
A flurry of ice somersaulted in on a gust of air through the open door and Harry realised that it had started to snow.
"But why in Malfoy's caravan?"
"Sasha's roommate was in. We wanted privacy."
Dennis looked like the Kneazle who'd swallowed the snidget. He leant back in his chair with his feet propped up on his desk. He bloody glowed, and it was the last thing on Earth Harry felt like dealing with.
"Bit presumptuous, wasn't it?"
"Malfoy was away." Dennis shrugged. "Didn't see what harm it could do. Plus his bed is much--"
Harry interrupted him loudly. "That's enough information, thank you. And it's still not on, given that we've not closed the case yet."
"Oh, we talked about the case. Before. Afterwards. Not during of course. Um, you aren't going to tell Dawlish are you, Harry?"
Harry cleared his throat and glared. "And?"
"Sasha thinks it's someone from Barney Bagnall's Bizarre Bazaar. He and Malfoy are always in competition with each other. Sasha thinks Barney's trying to scare off Malfoy's employees."
"It's possible," said Harry, and took a sip of his coffee, which was just the way he liked it -- black and only a degree or two from being hot enough to cauterise his throat. Pain was so gloriously distracting when one had just been left by one's wife and one's sexual identity was jumping up and down like a needy child screaming, Look at me! Look at me!
Harry wondered if Dennis would notice if he slipped a slug of Firewhisky into the brew. Dennis would notice. Dennis noticed bloody everything.
"But I think it's someone inside," Dennis continued, now flipping the feather of his quill around in the air as if he were conducting music. "Someone trying to clear the way to a better job?"
"Could be," said Harry. "There's something about the way the victims are being attacked, though. The viciousness involved on the part of the attacker. Whoever's doing it is angry. Really angry."
"It's good to know you spend some of your time actually working," drawled a voice that sent stuttering shivers over the breadth of Harry's skin.
He looked up at Malfoy, who was leaning in the doorway of the office, holding a rolled parchment in his hand. Harry fervently hoped he looked less like a stunned rabbit than he felt. Shaking it off, he forced a glare. "What're you doing here, Malfoy? We are working and interrupting us isn't going to make it go any faster."
Harry shifted in his chair, willing himself not to remember, not to think about Malfoy's teeth against his lip or the way he'd arched his back when… Merlin. Malfoy sniffed and raised an eyebrow. The prat looked good, though, almost better than Harry remembered somehow. "It's not Bagnall, by the way," Malfoy said. "He wouldn’t dare. Not after the hex I threw at him the last time he tried to poach a performer. Oh, and Creevey -- Sasha said to send you regards."
"Heh," said Dennis, sliding his feet off the desk and turning pink.
"Right," said Harry. "So, what is it? What do you want? I'll be blunt -- what can I do to make you go away so that we can get back to work, solve your case, and never have to deal with you again?"
"Merlin forbid I disturb the process of justice at work, but I came to deliver this." He held the roll of parchment out towards Harry.
Harry took it and met Malfoy's eyes as it slid into his hand. They contained a light of anticipation that made Harry's stomach knot.
After glancing at Dennis, Harry unrolled the parchment and read it. Almost instantly his discomfort and embarrassment were eclipsed by righteous indignation. "A bill from St Mungo's?! To get your nose repaired?! Do you think I'm a complete moron?"
"Well," replied Malfoy, "since you ask--"
"All it takes is a simple 'Episkey.' I should know. You could have done it yourself. Nope. No way. I'm not paying this." Harry crumpled up the parchment and tossed it in the bin. He looked back at Malfoy intending to give him another glare, and noticed that Malfoy's ears were red and that he seemed to be staring at Harry's mouth.
Malfoy noticed Harry noticing and tore his eyes away. "Then I shall have to speak to your supervisor."
For some reason, the red ears derailed Harry's train of thought. Had Malfoy always been this good-looking? He hadn't been. Harry was sure of it. He'd have--
Oh, for the love of Merlin.
Leaping to his feet, Harry pointed at Malfoy's face and shouted, "Your nose is slightly less pointy!"
Malfoy sneered. "My nose is equally as pointy as it's ever been. Which is not very pointy at all; I've never understood why people keep saying that."
"I'm not paying for your cosmetic spell casting. Tell Dawlish. Hell, tell Shacklebolt, and see where it gets you." He stalked toward Malfoy, his hands in fists, and stopped right before him, noting how Malfoy's breath quickened. Their eyes locked.
"Um…" said Dennis.
Dazed, Harry turned to his partner.
Dennis stared at Harry. Then he looked at Malfoy. He turned to look at Harry again. His eyes widened, his mouth opened and he took a breath, preparing to speak.
Harry pulled his wand. "Silencio!"
Dennis pouted and crossed his arms.
The sharp poke of a finger into his chest brought Harry's attention back to Malfoy. "You're paying the bill, Potter. Learn to control your temper. Your actions have consequences."
Harry wondered if his eyebrows could actually meet his hairline if he raised them high enough. "The bloody cheek of you. Get out of my office before I give St Mungo's something else to fix." He moved towards Malfoy, letting Malfoy's finger dig into his robes.
Malfoy's pupils dilated. "Threats! You see that, Creevey? So typical."
"I'm not paying it." He could smell Malfoy's cologne.
"You will pay it." Malfoy slid his finger across Harry's chest and then grabbed his upper arm and squeezed.
"This isn't the place to discuss it." Harry braced his own hand against Malfoy's hip.
"Where then?" said Malfoy, his voice going rough.
The wrench of Apparation did nothing to clear Harry's mind, and by the time they materialised they were already intertwined. Malfoy bit at Harry's mouth, his hand twisted in the hair at the back of Harry's head. Harry slid his lips against Malfoy's; teeth clashed against lip, it hurt, but he couldn't tell whose arms or legs were whose, just that Malfoy's body was lithe and hard against his. He dug his fingers into the small of Malfoy's back, frantic, terrified, and desperately randy.
"God," he gasped, wrestling them both towards Malfoy's bed. "Why?"
"I've always been irresistible, Potter, you're just too thick to have noticed it before."
"Shut up." His clothes -- heavy over his skin -- had to go. He tore at the collar of his Auror robes, getting his arm stuck in the process.
Malfoy snorted a laugh, waved his wand, and Harry's robes slid to the floor.
"Now you," Harry growled, grabbed at Malfoy's collar, and yanked, enjoying the sound and vibration of the ripping fabric.
"Bastard," said Malfoy against Harry's mouth.
Malfoy wore a shirt and trousers beneath his robes. Seeing the pale triangle revealed at Malfoy's neckline reminded Harry that Malfoy had skin and that he needed to see much more of it. They ripped and tore at each other's clothing, each trying to out-do the other in destruction, until it became a game and they fell, naked, laughing and tangled onto the bed together, robes, shirts and all other clothing left rent and wrinkled on the floor behind them.
Malfoy's surprisingly soft bare skin slid deliciously against Harry's. Harry ran his hand up Malfoy's hip and over his waist and ribs, making his fingers tingle, and bit him and kissed him and began frotting desperately between Malfoy's thigh and groin.
"Don't you dare," gasped Malfoy beneath him. "You're going to fuck me properly this time."
Yes, thought Harry, then whined, shuddered and bit into Malfoy's shoulder, positive that if Malfoy said that again he'd come before they'd even begun.
Then it was a game of letting Malfoy take the lead and show him what to do without actually letting on that he was allowing that to happen. Malfoy braced himself on his knees with Harry behind him, his head resting against his forearms on the bed, his arse in the air, rounded and perfect. The sight left Harry dizzy. He unscrewed the lid of the pot Malfoy had given him, then swirled his finger in its oily contents. A patchy flush covered Malfoy's shoulders. He peered back at Harry, bending his neck awkwardly, and raised an eyebrow.
Harry moved forward on his knees and, taking a breath, pushed his index finger between Malfoy's cheeks, wriggling it until he felt the pucker. Malfoy moaned and closed his eyes. Ginny had never let him do this. When Harry actually pushed his finger in, tight heat clenched around his knuckles. His cock twitched, brushing against the golden hair on Malfoy's thigh. He moved his finger out and then in again, glad that Malfoy couldn't see his face, which Harry was sure looked idiotic with wonder.
"All set," Malfoy hissed, his eyes still squeezed tightly shut. "Do your worst, Potter."
It was like the first time with Ginny -- the nerves, the consuming urge to penetrate and the effort to hold it in check hardening his muscles. The desire to get it right. He had to get it right, couldn't risk letting Malfoy laugh at him again. Concentrating hard, with one hand pulling Malfoy's arse cheek open and the other on his cock, Harry pushed in. Bloody hell. He paused, took a breath, and then pushed again, feeling Malfoy's body open up to him. Malfoy pressed his face into the pillow and muffled his cry.
Once fully sheathed, his cock squeezed tight inside Malfoy, Harry gritted his teeth as pleasure rolled through his stomach and down his thighs. "Fuck!" his voice was high and shaky. His fingers trembled against Malfoy's hips, and he dug them in, whimpering, trying to focus, trying not to let himself be overwhelmed.
"Careful, Potter." Malfoy's looked back and up at Harry, his face flushed, beads of perspiration dotting his cheeks and forehead.
"Is that… Am I d--" Harry sucked in a breath. "Is it good?"
Malfoy turned his face away and chuckled into the pillow. He moved his face enough to free his mouth. "It's fine. Just fuck me already."
Harry did, moving quickly from a slow inward and outward slide to frantic bucking as his control slipped away. The lube made it all so slippery, but Malfoy's arse clenched around his cock, letting him feel as if he were stabbing into him over and over again. He wasn't going to last long.
God, the noises Malfoy made. Pale fingers dug deep into his pillow as Malfoy whined and gasped, the muscles of his back and thighs working as he slammed his hips back to meet Harry's thrusts.
Far too soon, the pleasure centred in Harry's groin, his thighs and stomach burning. "Oh god, oh fuck. I'm going to come, so fucking hard," and then he did, shuddering and helpless, almost blacking out from the pleasure. He came to draped over Malfoy's back, panting heavily. Malfoy shifted beneath him, a wave of skin and muscle, and Harry slid out and off, slithering onto the bed like melted wax.
After rolling onto his back, Malfoy slammed his head back into a pillow. "Salazar, Potter. Again?" He reached down and began pumping his own cock, which was still hard and, Harry noticed, wet and glistening across the tip and head.
"Oh," he said, jerking out of post-coital indolence, and carefully wrapped his fingers around Malfoy's. Malfoy's face snapped to look at him. Their eyes met --
-- such familiar eyes, as familiar as Ron's or Hermione's, although they elicited radically different reactions. Harry had seen them mirthful, frosted with rage, narrowed with malice, shadowed and haunted, red with exhaustion, terror and confusion. He'd never before seen them so intimately, however. As his fingers entwined with Malfoy's and began to move, Harry lost himself in the open pleasure he could see in Malfoy's face. And despite the intimacy, Malfoy gazed straight back at Harry, as if the sex gave them permission to let their facades fall away.
Malfoy's face clenched, the small of his back arched off the bed, and he came, gasping, "Ahh." Come dribbled down Harry's fingers and splashed on Malfoy's chest. Harry's muscles contracted, his fingers tightening inadvertently around Malfoy's. With a hard shiver of vicarious pleasure, he gasped along with Malfoy, his tender, over-sensitive cock twitching painfully.
Harry pulled his hand away and, abruptly, Malfoy's shield was back, his eyes flat grey and occluded. "Well done, Potter," he drawled. "And I'm not just saying that to keep you from punching me again."
With more than a little relief, Harry closed his own eyes and laughed softly. "'M still not paying the St Mungo's bill."
Blissful silence. The heat from Malfoy's fireplace warmed Harry's skin as his sweat dried and the wretchedness of the previous week floated away like steam. Harry could have gone to sleep. Soon, however, without any obvious cause, the silence became less restful, and eventually Harry remembered that he was lying naked next to Malfoy during the middle of a workday. He opened his eyes.
Malfoy snapped his face abruptly away from what had clearly been close scrutiny. Harry's pulse began ticking a bit faster and his muscles itched with the urge to leave. He sat up.
"Right!" Malfoy interrupted him. "Off you go. It was fun, but I'm a busy man. And you need to get back to work too. Very unprofessional, shagging someone involved in a case, Potter. I'd say your lack of regard for such a basic rule of conduct was surprising, but--"
"Stop trying to sound like Snape. You can't pull it off."
Malfoy went quiet. He was still lying on his back, his head resting on his hands, elbows akimbo. Harry indulged himself in a glance over Malfoy's naked body and caught up short when he came to his chest.
He swallowed. Without really thinking, he leaned in and ran his fingers over the faded but still evident scars crossing Malfoy's torso from collarbone to hip. Malfoy made a soft sound and shivered.
"I… I felt awful about that," said Harry.
"Mm," said Malfoy, sitting up and pushing Harry's hand away. "I felt rather bad about it too." He stood and began gathering up his clothing, tsking at the rips and tears.
It seemed important that Harry say this. "I'd never used that spell before and I had no idea what it would do. You were about to Crucio me. I panicked. If I'd known… Despite everything, I never wanted to kill you. Well, maybe after you stamped on my nose, but that wore off after a while."
Malfoy seemed determined to keep his back turned. He dismissively flapped a hand holding a sock. "We were barely more than children. Be off with you now, Potter." He bent to pull on the sock, and Harry imagined that it was the awkward position he was in that made Malfoy's arms shake.
It didn't take long to repair his clothes. Neither of them spoke again. Once Harry was dressed, he Apparated home to take a shower before returning to the office.
Here and there, sharp sunlight pierced the grey clouds smeared across the sky like runny watercolours, lending the otherwise gloomy day a crisp, sparkling quality. Christmas was little more than a week away and Teddy could barely contain himself. He bounded through the snow, leaving a path of destruction in his wake, towards the colourful lights of the fete. His electric blue hair fluttered as he ran and his scarf flew behind him like a banner. Each move of his small but swiftly growing body twisted at Harry's heart. Hermione leant in to him, brushing their shoulders together.
"He's a happy boy, isn't he?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "He really is."
"Can I have a candy floss?" Teddy called back to them, and Harry nodded, grinning.
"Andromeda's going to kill you. He won't sleep."
Harry shrugged. "She'll cope." He dug some coins out of his pocket and handed them to Teddy, who ran over to the stall, his hair turning baby pink as he bounced in anticipation.
The candy floss didn't last long. They followed Teddy through the fair. Once he was ensconced on the steam carousel -- metal horses and dragons twisting their necks and rolling their eyes, Hermione turned to Harry with a penetrating look and said, "She's going to bring Neville to the Burrow for Christmas."
"I know," said Harry. "She owls me. We're not fighting. We're getting along better than we have in ages, in fact."
"You're still coming, too, right?"
Harry didn't answer. He kicked at a dirty chunk of hardened snow on the ground, hunching his shoulders. Icy air managed to creep in through his collar and up his sleeves, despite his coat and gloves. Hermione made an impatient sound and cast a warming charm on him. "No," Harry finally said. "I'm not ready for that."
Harry gave Hermione a guilty glance. She looked crushed.
"You know Molly blames me. She'd never say so to my face, but it's obvious. I'd just be in the way."
"That's ridiculous. What does Ginny say?"
"She says I should come. She doesn’t mean it, though."
"You're still as much a part of the family as you've always been Harry. If you asked Molly, you know she'd agree."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know. But…" He took a breath and crossed his arms. "Ron will get drunk and end up having a go at Neville. Ginny will have a go at Ron. Molly will cry and yell at everyone. And I'll just be there feeling like a giant pillock."
Hermione's face worked between amusement and annoyance. "It might not happen that way."
Shrugging, Harry reached forward to help Teddy get off the carousel. "Maybe not. But I'm going to skip Christmas at the Burrow this year. I'm sorry Hermione. I'll come next year, I promise. I just… It's too soon."
"I'm still going to the Burrow, though, aren't I?" asked Teddy, stricken.
"Of course you are. You and your grandmother." Hermione ruffled his hair -- now a tawny brown -- and he smiled.
Teddy wanted to try the rollercoaster, the swing boat and the helter-skelter.
"Little Gryffindor, that one," said Harry.
"We'll see," said Hermione.
As mid-afternoon became late afternoon, the sun began to fade altogether.
"Time to go, Teddy," said Hermione.
"But I want to go on the rollercoaster again! Just one more time! Please?"
"I'm sorry, Teddy, but your grandmother is waiting."
Teddy burst into tears.
"Too much sugar," whispered Hermione.
"None of that," said Harry, and scooped Teddy up around his waist. He ran haphazard through the snow, making a sound like a shrieking Hippogriff. Teddy's crying immediately stopped, but he was really too big for such treatment, and after a couple seconds they both ended up in a cold, wet, muddy heap in the snow. Hermione rushed to catch up to them as Teddy dissolved in laughter. Harry chuckled and wiped off his face.
It would be a quiet Christmas for him -- a lonely Christmas, perhaps. But Harry had a lot of thinking to do and he fancied taking the time to do it on his own.
"Come on, mate. Just come through, it won't be the same without you."
"Can't," said Harry to Ron's green flaming head. "Sorry. Go and enjoy yourself. And don't thump Neville. I mean it."
Ron frowned and muttered to himself. "You're mental. What are you going to do there all on your own?"
"I'll be fine. Just need a bit of peace at the moment."
With a heavy sigh, Ron finally nodded. "Hold on." His head disappeared. He was gone for a couple minutes, but when he came back, he was holding a tray on which there was a plate loaded with roast goose and potatoes, carrots, sprouts, and Yorkshire Pudding all liberally covered in thick, delicious smelling gravy. To one side was a large bowl of spotted dick with custard, and to the other was a mug of steaming eggnog. Harry's eyes filled.
"There you go," said Ron. "Courtesy of my mum. The shot of Firewhisky in the eggnog is from me, though." He winked.
"Thanks." Harry took the tray and wondered if he'd made the right decision after all.
"You can always change your mind, mate." Ron glanced over his shoulder. "Eh, I've got to go. Teddy's got into the butterbeer and mum's having a fit. I'll talk to you soon, Harry. Happy Christmas."
Then he was gone.
After pushing aside the plate of beans on toast he'd planned on eating, Harry tucked into his proper Christmas dinner. Molly was a fantastic cook. Ginny too. And Harry was absolutely, positively not going to let himself get maudlin.
He never went to the Veal and Viper, because Malfoy tended to frequent that particular pub, and the few times Harry had risked it had ended in black eyes and bruised jaws for one or the both of them. He figured Malfoy would have other plans that night, though, so he took a risk, fancying something different than The Leaky for once. He didn't expect it would be all that crowded on Christmas evening.
He'd expected wrong.
The moment he pushed through the door he was overcome with regret. The place was packed and he hadn't bothered to cover up his hair or scar. He heard his name being squealed and a group of kids -- barely out of school from the look of them -- surrounded him before he had a chance to flee.
"You're Harry Potter!"
"Look! He's got the scar and everything."
Someone pulled at his robes. Someone else bumped drunkenly against him.
"Hey. Come on," he pleaded. "I just want a quiet drink."
"Happy Christmas, Harry!" A buxom blond girl threw herself at him and planted a kiss directly on his lips. He pushed her away and she staggered backwards, almost falling.
Realising that he needed to leave immediately if he wanted to avoid making the front page of the Prophet, Harry wrenched himself away from the clutching crowd and retreated back into the street. He stood there, panting, utterly fed up.
Happy fucking Christmas to me, Harry thought, and then Disapparated.
He'd thought, at least he'd told himself, that if he couldn't relax, have a pint, and silently enjoy the company of those who were genuinely enjoying themselves, then he might as well get some work done.
What sort of work he could get done when everyone else was busy celebrating the holiday, he didn't know. The theatre grounds were mostly quiet. There was a hum of conversation off to the left beyond the large tent, but Harry's eyes were drawn to the soft light shining through the windows of Malfoy's caravan.
He hesitated. He imagined entering the caravan and finding Malfoy ensconced with his parents, and the thought of that was almost enough to make him go back home and be done with it. The corner of his mouth turned up as he realised that this would be a perfect opportunity to use his Invisibility Cloak against Malfoy again, just like old times.
He didn't though. He decided to brave it.
Each step he took through the snow tightened the knot in his stomach. Malfoy's caravan was painted silver with purple trimming, cheerful yet dignified. He hadn't really noticed before. By the time he reached the short staircase leading to the door, his heart was thumping hard in his chest. He had no idea what explanation he would give Malfoy for his sudden appearance, but he took a deep breath, climbed the steps and knocked.
Harry opened the door and went inside.
The caravan was festooned with Christmas decorations. In one corner stood a large fir tree covered with sparkling ornaments, ropes of golden tinsel, and colourful lights that hopped from branch to branch, twinkling and blinking. Strings of silver bells hung looped across the top of the fireplace, the Hippogriff skin had been replaced by a rug of thick, red velvet trimmed with white fur, and Celestina Warbeck warbled Christmas carols from the WWN.
Malfoy sat sprawled in an over-stuffed leather armchair, a half-empty glass of Firewhisky in one hand, and the remains of a decent sized pile of Christmas crackers strewn on the floor around his feet. His unfastened robes revealed the wrinkled clothing beneath. He was the picture of abject misery.
"What are you doing here?" Harry asked.
Malfoy stared at him. "Excuse me?"
"I mean," Harry laughed, his cheeks heating. "Why aren't you in Wherever-ania with your parents? It's Christmas."
"Potter. You truly make my mind boggle."
"I just thought--"
"Christmas in Bulgaria is shit," Malfoy snapped. "The food's shit, the weather is shit, and the people make Professor Binns look like a sparkling conversationalist. Father will only get drunk and rant about the war, while Mother goes on about why haven't I married some dull as dishwater pure-blood bitch yet."
Swallowing, Harry said, "I just thought you'd spend Christmas with your family."
"I am with my family," responded Malfoy, his expression sharp.
Harry's brow creased, but then he got it. "Oh. You mean the theatre."
Malfoy tapped his finger against his nose. "They might not be family family, but they're as good as."
Shifting on his feet, Harry tried to judge whether or not Malfoy was pissed. The decanter on the table next to him only had a few inches of amber remaining in it.
"I'm just in here on my own because I needed to think about… something," said Malfoy. "Wanted a moment to myself. Anyway, what do you want? Why aren't you with your family? Ginger give you the boot? Merlin, Potter, promise me you weren't a complete idiot and didn't tell her about…" He swirled his fingers in the direction of the bed.
A familiar tickle of rage crept through Harry's chest. What had he been thinking, going to Malfoy of all people? "She has given me the boot, actually. But it was before ..." Harry jerked his thumb towards the bed. "Well, before the second time."
"Oh." Malfoy's eyes widened and he sat up a bit straighter. Then, "Really?"
"Yes, really. What's it to you?"
"I'm just a bit stunned is all. The Great and Wonderful--"
"For fuck's sake, don't start with that rubbish."
"Our saviour. The chosen fucker--"
"Shut it, Malfoy. I'm warning you."
"Yes! She left me! All right?! Because I wasn't good at sex anymore and because she's in love with someone else. Happy? "
Looking startled again, Malfoy gazed at Harry. "Well, that explains the punch," he finally said.
"Bollocks!" Harry shouted, and spun on his feet.
"Wait," said Malfoy, the rustle of his clothing indicating that he'd stood.
"Fuck you, Malfoy. I don’t even know… Bugger this." He made for the door, but Malfoy hurried after him.
"Potter. Wait." Malfoy stood in front of Harry, blocking his path.
Harry drew his wand, preparing to Apparate.
Malfoy leapt at him and kissed him. Harry's wand clattered to the floor. He pushed his fingers into the silky hair on either side of Malfoy's head and kissed him back. The soft, warm, wet pressure of lips and mouth made his knees turn to warm butterbeer.
"Stay," Malfoy whispered against Harry's mouth. "This is why you came here, isn't it? Stay."
They tripped towards the bed, but once they reached the rug in front of the fireplace, Malfoy sank to his knees, pulling Harry down with him. Slowly, they moved to the floor until they were lying together, the roar and crackle of the fire melding with their sighs, and Celestina's sugary voice serenading them over it all.
It was different this time.
Harry couldn't pinpoint exactly why. He just knew that kissing Malfoy -- the slide of their mouths together, the feel of Malfoy's body tight against his own, Malfoy's hands moving slowly on his back -- was delicious and, more strikingly, enough for the moment. Last time he'd needed to get Malfoy naked immediately; the entire encounter had been orchestrated by Harry's need to come right then. It wasn't as if he were less turned on now. He could clearly feel Malfoy's cock grinding against his thigh and he knew his own arousal was equally obvious. It was just that the kissing was good. Really good.
"Merlin, Potter," breathed Malfoy, and rolled until Harry lay beneath him.
"Mmm," said Harry, and pulled Malfoy down to him again. He brushed his lips lightly over Malfoy's enjoying the tickle, then angled his head and kissed, his lips barely parted, the gentle pressure making him shiver. Malfoy's tongue slid inside Harry's mouth with a gorgeous, spicy burn of Firewhisky; Harry ran a hand down Malfoy's back and dug his fingers into Malfoy's arse. Malfoy jutted forward, pressing against Harry, and they moaned in unison.
Without pulling apart, they fell into a gentle rhythm. Malfoy pushed down with his hips and Harry thrust up, one hand kneaded Malfoy's arse, the other threaded in his hair. Harry pulled Malfoy's lower lip through his teeth, then sucked at his tongue. Malfoy trembled against him; he cupped Harry's cheek and jaw. Their breath began to deepen and speed up.
Pushing himself up on his arms, Malfoy looked down at Harry with clouded eyes. He thrust forward, harder than before. Harry gasped. Malfoy did it again, and Harry reached out and grabbed Malfoy's wrists to brace himself. Their gazes stayed locked together. Harry arched his neck, watching Malfoy's face. Malfoy jerked his hips forward once more, and Harry cried out, "Malfoy…"
He waited for the next thrust -- waited to be drawn that much tighter, that much closer, but Malfoy appeared to be frozen. Harry blinked, trying to clear his head enough to figure out what had gone wrong. Very still above him, Malfoy bit deeply into his lower lip. His arms must have been getting tired, because they were definitely trembling.
In one fluid movement, Malfoy pushed away and got to his feet. Harry remained on the floor, deeply aroused and confused. He resisted the temptation to curl into a ball, and instead sat up, watching Malfoy walk to the table beside his armchair and lift the decanter with shaking hands.
He poured himself a tumbler of Firewhisky and then downed it in one go. Harry watched the line of his neck as he swallowed. Malfoy spun the empty glass as he set it down, then turned back to face Harry, his hands gripping the table behind him. His face was still flushed, his hair mussed.
"Malfoy." Harry's heart beat very fast.
"You want to have some fun?"
"We weren't already having fun?"
"I mean real fun. Wicked fun."
Harry swallowed. "What did you have in mind?"
"You'll have to trust me."
"You'll have to Confund me then."
Malfoy smiled. "Come on. Stand up."
Harry stood, saying, "Do you have any idea how--"
"It'll be good. You'll like it. Or are you too scared to try something new?"
"I'm not fifteen anymore," said Harry, rolling his eyes. "You can't manipulate me with a dare."
"Fine," said Malfoy. "Too scared, then. Shame."
"Bugger that, I am not too scared," said Harry. "What do you have in mind. I can take it."
Malfoy's positively wicked grin made Harry shiver so hard he had to rock on his feet to keep his balance.
"Take your clothes off."
With his heart pounding and his cock throbbing, Harry began to disrobe, watching Malfoy carefully the entire time.
Malfoy cocked his head to the side, crossed his arms and tapped his foot. Harry took advantage of the eye contact to appreciate how attractive Malfoy was, slightly less pointy nose or not. Tall and always elegant, even when slouching, his face had just the right combination of curves and edges, a generous mouth and those eyes that could cut you or melt you or both in a matter of moments -- that was Malfoy. Objectively speaking, of course.
Harry dropped his final sock to the floor, straightened, and crossed his arms. He smirked, then raised an eyebrow in challenge.
"There," said Malfoy, meeting Harry's smirk and raising it. He pointed towards a thick wooden beam off towards the back of the caravan.
Harry nodded and walked up to the beam. The rustle of Malfoy's robes and his breath on the back of Harry's neck indicated that Malfoy had followed. One hand on Harry's shoulder, Malfoy whisked his wand towards the top of the beam, moving some tinsel and revealing a heavy iron loop that had been screwed into the wood.
Malfoy spun him around so that Harry's back was to the beam. Harry's eyelashes fluttered. He had no idea what he was letting himself in for.
"N--" Harry began, but then snapped his mouth closed at Malfoy's mocking expression. Lifting his chin, Harry raised his arms above his head. And waited.
There was a manic light in Malfoy's eyes, his arm trembled as he lifted his wand, but it was clearly out of excitement this time.
Harry's arms jerked roughly upward, and he gasped as ropes tightened around his wrists, holding them fast in place and, he assumed, binding them to the iron ring. The sting of panic made his back arch. He pulled, trying to free himself, adrenaline clouding his thinking. His feet skittered on the wooden floor.
As much as he tugged and yanked, however, he simply could not get free.
Breathing deeply, Harry stopped struggling. Something inside him relaxed. He couldn't move. Malfoy was in charge. Malfoy would have to do everything, have to make all the choices. Harry couldn't help but smile and sink into his arousal.
Malfoy laughed, clearly pleased. "You like it, do you? Being helpless with me? Giving me complete control?"
"Don't push it." Harry thought that if he absolutely needed to he could probably burn the rope with wandless magic.
With a snort, Malfoy leaned in and there was more of that glorious kissing. Malfoy's fingers wandered, exploring Harry's body. Harry twitched as they tickled beneath his armpit, and sighed as they scratched down his bare back. Malfoy's hands moved lower, reaching Harry's arse. They cupped it, then squeezed. Harry thrust his hips forward, trying for some friction against his cock, but Malfoy moved away, laughing again.
As Malfoy's fingers slid between the cheeks of Harry's arse, he nuzzled his face against Harry's neck. It felt wonderful. Then a finger found Harry's entrance and Harry's eyes shot wide open.
"When are you going to let me get a taste of your sweet arse?" Malfoy's breath heated Harry's neck as he spoke. One finger played over the ridges of his arsehole. Harry's cock jerked and he tried and failed to repress a hard shudder. He forced his voice to remain even.
"Maybe don't use 'taste' and 'arse' in the same sentence."
With a chuckle, Malfoy took Harry's jaw in his hand and turned his face until they were looking into each other's eyes. It took Harry aback to see something that looked almost like affection. "Oh, Potter. You've got so much to learn."
"I don't want you to fuck me tonight." Harry wanted to make that very clear.
"Wasn't planning to," responded Malfoy. He gave Harry one more quick kiss, and then he sank down onto his knees.
Ginny had given Harry many blowjobs. They had all been brilliant.
When Malfoy leant forward, opened his mouth and swallowed Harry whole, however, Harry arched onto his toes and shouted. Somehow, Malfoy managed to take his cock deeper than Harry had previously experienced. He could feel Malfoy's throat clenching about the head. As Malfoy sucked and licked, Harry thrust gently forward, wishing he could grab Malfoy's head to control the movement and then smiling to himself when he remembered why he couldn't.
"God!" he cried, laughing.
Malfoy slid off. "Call me anything you like," he said, and then sucked Harry down again. It was wet and slippery, and mind-blowingly good. Harry's balls and thighs were damp with Malfoy's saliva. He thrust forward again, testing, seeing how much Malfoy could take, and Malfoy never once pulled back or complained.
He began winding up again, drawing closer. "Yes," he hissed, thrusting harder. Malfoy lifted one of Harry's legs and hauled it over his shoulder. It threw Harry off for a second, but their rhythm never faltered. Harry got to the point where he could no longer find words. He just moaned and whimpered, drowning in pleasure, craning his neck to get a glimpse of Malfoy's blond, bobbing head.
One of Malfoy's fingers, slippery somehow, wriggled between Harry's arse cheeks and found his entrance again. He wanted it, Harry realised, he wanted to know how it would feel like if--
When Malfoy thrust his finger inside Harry, Harry gave a broken moan, baffled by how good the whole thing felt. He continued thrusting forward, his arse clenching around Malfoy's finger, and then… and then… "God," he gasped, pumping hard, fucking Malfoy's mouth, "Malfoy," and he came, shaking, his wrists burning where the ropes dug in as his supporting leg gave way. Malfoy's' mouth kept working as he swallowed, sucking until Harry finally whimpered and begged him to stop.
Quickly, Malfoy pulled off and rested his head against Harry's stomach. Rapid movement against Harry's leg told him that Malfoy was jerking himself off, and he wanted to stop him, to do it himself, to take Malfoy in his mouth, Merlin, Malfoy could even fuck him if he wanted to. Harry just wanted to be the one to make him come.
"Wait," he gasped.
"Too late," croaked Malfoy, and he yelled, no words, just a loud, sharp, "Ha!" against Harry's skin, and then quaked and shuddered as hot liquid splattered Harry's thigh and dripped slowly down his leg.
Well. That was almost as good.
Malfoy stood up, swaying in front of Harry, panting, his face red, hair a sweaty mess. "You're delicious," he said, and kissed Harry hard, his trembling hands holding tight to Harry's head.
Harry closed his eyes into the kiss, his own heart still pounding, shivering between bliss and terror at the force of what he was feeling.
If it had been Ginny… It would feel so natural at this point so say…
It was the orgasm. It was the intensity of the whole thing, the new feeling of helplessness, and Malfoy and… it didn't mean anything. It was just really good sex. Harry was sure of it.
"All right," said Malfoy, stepping back. He clapped his hands together. "Well. That's over with."
Harry sighed a laugh, grateful that Malfoy had broken the moment. "Let me out of these bloody ropes now, or I'll have you for endangerment."
"You'll have me, will you?" said Malfoy, one eyebrow raised.
Harry knew the affection shone on his face as clearly as it had shown on Malfoy's earlier, and he turned away. The ropes slithered loose. He lowered his arms, rubbing at his aching shoulders and elbows.
Now what, Harry thought, suddenly terrified that he'd have to go back to his cold, lonely house. He looked up at Malfoy to find him pouring himself another drink and staring back.
Harry wasn't going to ask if he could stay. He'd just do it. If Malfoy wanted him to leave, then he'd bloody well have to say so.
"Get your kit on," said Malfoy, and kicked Harry's trousers towards him. Harry found his pants, pulled them on, did the same with his trousers, all the while glancing towards Malfoy to see what he was thinking and trying hard not to look like he was doing so.
Then he was dressed. Harry shifted on his feet and combed his hair with his fingers. "Er… What do you reckon the rest of the theatre people are doing?"
"You should come and meet them," said Malfoy, running his wand over his robes and making the wrinkles fall away.
"Yeah, okay," said Harry. He wondered how obvious it would be to the others that they'd just had sex. Did he smell of it? He must. And what if there were more people like Sasha? What if he showed shock or put his foot in it somehow?
"Relax, Potter. It will be fine. They're all lovely folk. I wouldn't employ them otherwise."
"Because you've always been such a great judge of character."
"Shut up now."
Malfoy led Harry through the caravan circle and around the tent. Their feet crunched through the snow and the chill air batted at Harry's neck, wrists and scalp. A deep orange, flickering glow beckoned them forward. Harry heard voices, some rising and falling in conversation, others meeting in song. An assortment of workers and performers sat on logs arranged in a large circle around a camp fire, their bodies bright or silhouetted, depending where they were in relation to the fire, their sizes and shapes varying greatly. Harry felt oddly shy.
He recognised Borislav in his human form and Isabella perched on his knee. And there was poor Nancy. She sat tall, laughing at something someone had said; Harry noticed that her hair had been plaited into a complex and rather beautiful trellis of braids. A few logs to her right was Lavender, leaning against the shoulder of a big man with long hair and a beard. She waved at Harry and gave him a big smile.
"Where's Sasha?" he asked Malfoy.
"Sasha's in York. Family there," responded Malfoy, and Harry imagined an entire family of tentacled people sitting around a table, slurping up their Christmas dinners.
As they drew close to the circle, people began calling out in greeting. "Draco!" "Oi, boss! How goes it?" "Feeling better? Just put the berk out of your--"
"Auror Potter has decided to grace us with his presence for the night," Draco interrupted.
"Harry, just Harry." He raised a hand in greeting. Several witches and wizards raised bottles to him and others chorused back with 'hellos'.
Harry sat down next to Malfoy on an unoccupied log. A pleasant lethargy settled into his muscles and the warmth and hypnotic flickering light of the bonfire left him dreamy. Someone passed him a bottle -- a stocky woman with a shaved head, who was covered with tattoos over every bit of visible skin -- and Harry took a drink of thick, sweet red wine.
He wondered how things were going at the Burrow, if Teddy had missed him, how the Weasleys were adapting to Neville, and if Ron had behaved himself. Despite what he'd said, Harry supposed that Neville was due at least a small thump. Ginny had been Harry's wife, after all, and Neville his good friend. He sighed, thinking of how much his life had recently changed.
Harry glanced around the circle. Some of the performers were so unusual or disturbing looking -- even by wizarding world standards -- that they probably couldn't even walk down the street without causing a fuss, much less have a quiet drink in a pub. Yet they all looked happy and relaxed.
"So, what brings you here amongst us freaks, Harry?" asked a very tall, thin man who looked as if he'd been stretched.
Harry started at the word 'freak.' "Er…"
"We can use it. You can't." The tattooed woman next to him winked. Harry smiled. There was something oddly familiar about her face.
"Well, I don't think anyone should use it," piped up Isabella. "I'm not a freak. And if we keep using the word, the Blands will think it's okay to use it too."
There was a rumble of voices, some raised in support of Isabella, others disagreeing, and some simply laughing in a way that suggested 'not this again'.
"I don't care what words the Blands use," said a small, round man with bright yellow hair and green scales covering his hands and face. "Couldn't give a toss what they think of us. I'll be frank. They bore me silly. No offence, Auror Potter. They just do. I lived my life in a fog before. The accident was the best thing that ever happened to me. It opened my eyes and cleared my mind."
"Me too," said Lavender from across the circle. "It wasn't until after Fenrir's attack that my gift properly manifested."
"Well, I had a husband and two young children," continued Isabella. "Herbert tried to make things work with me afterwards, but he just couldn’t do it. And it's impossible to look after a toddler when you're only eight inches high. It was the end for me in the Bland world. I didn't fit in any more. So I came here."
"It's just a living for me," said the wolfish man with his arm around Lavender. "A midnight show once a month, and I can keep food in my belly and gold around my Lavender's neck."
Lavender beamed up at him, her cheeks shining.
Harry gazed into the fire. The conversation around him moved on to other subjects. He pondered his experience prior to arriving at the theatre that night. He wasn't quite self-absorbed enough to imagine that his life was the same as Sasha or Isabella's, but he could certainly relate to the idea of feeling separate from the rest of the world.
It occurred to him then that not a single person there had made any of the usual remarks about who he was. No wonder he felt so relaxed and happy. It was almost like being a normal person.
He passed the wine bottle to Malfoy, who had really had enough to drink that night, and watched his face as he took a swallow. A small trickle of red dripped from the corner of Malfoy's mouth, stark against his pale skin. Maybe it was the remnants of his post sex haze, maybe it was the passage of time, or maybe the hostility Harry had always felt in Malfoy's presence was beginning to disintegrate -- but Malfoy looked beautiful in the firelight.
Harry realised that Malfoy was looking back at him out of the corner of his eye. He quirked an eyebrow in question and Harry felt himself blush.
"Don't get too comfortable, Potter," said Malfoy. "We haven't got to the part where we roast you on a spit over the bonfire yet."
Not such an awful Christmas after all.
Considering the ridiculous number of presents with which Teddy had been showered over Christmas, Harry had no idea why his godson felt the need to whine like an urchin deprived of everything good in life.
"Why do I have to come? Circuses are for little kids. I'm nine, not seven."
"Hush now, Teddy." Hermione placed a hand on Teddy's shoulder. "You'll enjoy it. Look, there's a child who's even older than you are." She pointed towards a small, slim person ahead of them.
"Um, no, that's Herbert," Harry cut in. "He's fifty-seven. He works here. And it's more of a theatre than a circus, Teddy. The theatre is for grownups."
"The theatre is boring."
"This is brilliant." Ron looked about. "Look at her! She's no bigger than a Puffskein. And Merlin, what happened to that bloke?"
"I’m still not entirely comfortable about this." Hermione turned to Harry. "I know you think Malfoy's changed, but the whole set-up positively steams of exploitation. Are the workers paid well? Do they have a union? I'm very concerned that they haven't got anyone advocating for their rights."
"I've rarely seen such a happy group, Hermione. They take good care of themselves and all look out for each other. Some of them would bite your hand off if you accused them of being poor, exploited waifs. Literally. So be careful."
"Fine, fine." Hermione strode onward, clearly unconvinced and looking as if she were taking notes inside her head.
Suddenly, Ron stopped short. "No…" Then, out of the corner of his mouth, "Mate. Why didn't you warn me?"
"Merlin's pants!" snarled Hermione, and then gasped and covered Teddy's ears, her cheeks going pink.
As Lavender bounced towards them, Teddy took Harry's hand and snuggled up to his side.
"Hiiii Harry." Lavender sparkled in hot pink velvet robes trimmed with gold thread. "You brought Ron…" She beamed. "And Hermione." Her expression was a shade less enthusiastic. "How lovely."
"Hey, Lav. Er, Lavender." Ron curved his arm around Hermione's waist and pulled her towards him tight enough to make her squeak. Hermione's expression wavered between pity and dislike. Harry decided to get them all into the tent as soon as possible.
"We've got tickets for the twelve-thirty show, Lavender, so we should get inside."
"What happened to your face?" blurted Teddy.
All the adults other than Lavender froze.
Lavender smiled and laughed softly. She bent down to look Teddy in the eye. "A long time ago a very bad man attacked me. But I'm fine now. It doesn't hurt. And I even have some special powers."
"Really?" asked Teddy. "What sort?"
"Well. I'm very strong, and sometimes I can see the future."
Harry surreptitiously checked Hermione's face, and sure enough, her eyes were rolling.
"What happened to the bad man?" asked Teddy, his voice small.
"He got his brains knocked out with a crystal ball."
"Right!" said Hermione. "Well, it's been lovely catching up, but we must run."
"Byeee," Lavender called after them as Hermione led the group away.
It was the first time Harry had been inside the big red tent. As with the caravans, it was bigger inside than out and grandly decorated. Front and centre stood a huge stage festooned with gold painted gargoyles about the edges. They took their seats amid a large crowd.
From no discernable source came a swell of trumpet music. Teddy sat up straight, face glowing with anticipation and no sign of his earlier recalcitrance. With her arms crossed and eyes narrowed, Hermione watched the stage. Ron glanced around at the crowd.
Then Malfoy strode onto the stage. Harry bit his lip to keep from laughing. Malfoy wore robes of sparkling silver fabric trimmed with purple velvet, open in the front, giving them the appearance of tails and revealing black trousers and boots. He carried a riding crop with the silver head of a -- Harry almost choked when he realised -- ferret at the top. On his head sat a tall top hat, also silver, but with two long purple feathers stuck in the band. The feathers fluttered and waved with each of Malfoy's gestures. He held his head high, his smile bright, welcoming, and somehow smug.
"Bloody ponce," whispered Ron, and Harry kicked him. "What?" Ron asked, looking baffled.
With a flourish, Malfoy held his wand to his throat and mouthed, "Sonorous!"
Teddy looked as if he were about to leap out of his seat with excitement.
"Witches and wizards, babes and biddies! I welcome you to Draco Malfoy's Travelling Theatre of the Strange and Spectacular. Hold onto your seats, for this is not entertainment for the faint of heart. You will see both amazing spectacles and shocking displays. Get out your smelling salts, uncap your Firewhisky bottles -- it's going to be an evening you'll never forget."
With a deep bow and a wave of his arm, Malfoy backed to the side of the stage. The red velvet curtain slowly rumbled upward.
At the right of the stage rested a large blank canvas set on an easel. Then, as if written by an invisible hand, the words Isabella the Bitsy & Borislav the Feline scrolled across it in glowing letters.
Isabella strode onstage, followed by Borislav in his cat form. She wore a sequined red jump suit, and he had a large furry ruff tied about his face, giving him the appearance of a very small, grey lion. She led Borislav through a series of tricks -- he jumped through a hoop, walked on his hind legs, ran in circles with Isabella standing balanced on his back. Periodically she cast wandless spells, shooting fiery sparkles into the air using only her hands.
Teddy stared, leaning forward, his hands balled into fists. "She's amazing."
Isabella bowed, and the audience applauded then gasped as Borislav transformed back into a man. The applause grew louder.
Next, the tattooed woman Harry had met on Christmas night back-flipped onto the stage. The lettering on the marquee changed to read Etta the Limber. Harry heard Hermione shift in her seat. Etta, who was wearing nothing but tight black shorts and a midriff-baring vest, began to run through a series of contortions, twisting her body into improbable configurations.
"Is this appropriate for Teddy?" Hermione whispered.
"Dunno." Harry caught Ron's red cheeks and shrugged.
"Who is that woman? She's so familiar, but I can't quite place her."
The next act had the stretched-looking man juggling -- three oranges, twenty and finally more than Harry could count. He ended by juggling flaming torches knocking them up with his knees and flinging them with his hands.
"That was wicked," breathed Teddy.
It turned out that Draco Malfoy's Travelling Theatre was actually a lot of fun.
It was shortly after three more acts -- a fire-eating lizard man, Lavender answering questions from the audience about their futures, and Herbert conjuring cigar smoke into the shapes of various magical creatures -- that a commotion exploded outside the tent.
There was the sharp crack of Spellcasting and a loud cry.
A woman shrieked. A child started wailing.
Harry leapt to his feet. "Stay here! You too, Ron. Keep Teddy away."
Harry burst out of the tent, pausing to assess the situation, and zeroed in on something several yards away.
Flat in the snow ahead lay the wriggling form of… Harry made a noise of distress in the back of his throat and began to run, because even from this distance he could tell it was Dennis. With a shower of snow, he skidded to a halt, wand drawn, and knelt down at his partner's side.
Bound in winding rope from shoulder to ankle, Dennis looked a bit like a tawny mummy. He struggled, arching his back and smacking his feet against the ground, furious and red-faced. Harry scanned his body, searching for any change or evidence of a Curse.
"Dammit," Harry said, and Vanished the ropes.
Dennis sat up and shook out his arms, pale and disgruntled. "I didn't see him. He came up behind me."
"Are you all right? What did he hit you with?"
"Don't know. My back feels strange." Dennis stood and bent his neck, trying to get a look at his back. He began turning in a clumsy circle, his feet pushing through the show.
"Stop that. Merlin," said Harry, and grabbed Dennis's shoulder, making him still. "What are you even doing here?"
"I... I was with Sasha. Stop shaking me!"
Harry looked up to see Sasha wriggling frantically towards them, leaving a thick grey trail through the snow. Multiple tentacles wrapped tightly around Dennis, pulling him away from Harry. "My sweet, my sweet. What did he do to you?"
Harry squinted, forcing himself not to look away from Sasha's bulbous, weeping eyes.
"What's this?!" Sasha spun Dennis around.
Dennis staggered on his feet, clearly dizzy. "Why all the manhandling?" he complained. "I'm the victim, you should be gentle with me."
The back of Dennis's robes were misshapen and stretched as if there was something hidden beneath them.
"Stay still," said Harry, and then carefully used his wand to cut through the fabric of Dennis's clothing. Once Dennis's back was revealed, Harry gasped and took a step away.
"Heavenly Circe!" whispered Sasha.
"What?" Dennis looked stricken and began spinning around again, desperately trying to see his own back.
"That man has wings!" said Teddy, and Harry jumped.
"Sorry, sorry," said Ron running up and grabbing Teddy's hand. "Hermione's into something with the tattooed lady. Little bugger got away from me."
Teddy was correct. Two iridescent wings protruded from Dennis's back between his shoulder blades.
"I do?" Dennis said. "Wings? Really?" He pulled the tatters of his robes and shirt off and let them fall to the ground. His bare skin instantly rippled with goose-pimples, but he didn't seem to care. Instead, he slowly opened and closed the wings, a look of wonder settling across his features. "I do have wings. Wow. That's… That's fantastic!"
Harry sighed, then laughed, his shoulders shaking. Dennis was all right. He'd need a bit of a wardrobe revamp, but he was fine. Still, Harry's pulse raced and he felt a bit sick.
In a blaze of shiny silver, Malfoy rushed up to them. "Another one," he said. "This can't go on. Creevey isn't even part of the theatre. People won't feel safe coming to see the show. You've got to do something, Potter."
Just then Hermione appeared, her hair fizzing up around her red face. Her clothes were mussed and there was a hole in one of her stockings. She had the beginnings of a black eye. "It's been ten years. I didn't know it would last that long. If she'd come to me, I could have given her the counter-hex."
"Marietta Edgecomb." Ron looked at Harry. "Remember her? With the…" he gestured with his finger across his forehead.
"Ah, yes," drawled Malfoy. "Lovely Etta. Despite her best efforts, she found it impossible to find employment after the war. Something about the word Snitch emblazoned across her forehead. That was your work, Granger, was it not?"
"She deserved it." Hermione glared and crossed her arms.
"Etta was lucky enough to find me and my theatre eventually. We came up with the solution to her troubles together -- a full body tattoo and no one knows the difference. Now she's one of us."
"Well, I tried to apologise," said Hermione. "But she was a horrid little snitch as a girl and she's a horrid woman now." She stormed off, her hair bouncing behind her.
Ron sighed. "Brilliant." He shot Malfoy a filthy look. "Thanks for that."
"Hope you enjoyed the show, Weasel," replied Malfoy, smirking.
"Look, Harry! Look what I can do!" Harry spun to look at Dennis, whose face was creased in concentration. He began flapping his wings. After a moment, his feet left the ground; he slowly rose into the air, wings beating furiously.
Teddy gazed up at Dennis with eyes like dinner plates, his mouth gaping. "When I grow up, I want to be a freak," he said.
Some time later Harry, Dennis and Malfoy gathered in Malfoy's caravan. Harry pushed all memories of Malfoy and sex to the back of his head and watched Dennis with narrowed eyes as his partner preened and strutted in front of Malfoy's free-standing mirror, admiring his new acquisitions from all angles.
"I've got an idea." Dennis didn't look away from his own reflection. "Whoever Cursed me used Incarcerous immediately afterwards. We'll just go through everyone in the theatre, have them hand over their wands, and then cast Priori Incantatem to find the culprit." He beamed and looked at Harry, eyebrows raised, waiting for approval.
"Brilliant idea, Dennis. Good work. We'll get on it right away." Harry turned to Malfoy, and began to speak. "So. Malfoy. Why don't you…"
Malfoy's expression of horror stopped Harry short.
"Er…" Harry said, and then it clicked. Keeping his expression as neutral as possible in order to counter the flush he felt on his cheeks, Harry turned towards Dennis and said, "It's a good idea. But not quite practical. At the moment."
"But, Harry. It would work; you know it would. What's going on? You thought it was a brilliant idea ten seconds ago."
Harry's mouth moved, but he had no words. He prevented himself from looking at Malfoy, who he could hear squirming in his chair.
"Come on!" Dennis persisted. "No one outside law enforcement uses Incarcerous. Why would they? Well maybe the kinky sort use it now and then. Bit of bondage. But what are the chances that anyone here…" Dennis looked at Harry. Then he looked at Malfoy.
"Bollocks," whispered Harry.
Malfoy covered his face with his hands.
Dennis fell to the floor, rolling and laughing like an idiot. Harry sincerely hoped that he would sprain one of his wings.
"I wanted to have you, right there in the middle of the stage. Rip off your ridiculous sparkly robes and fuck you 'til you screamed." Harry wrapped his fingers beneath the collar of Malfoy's white silk shirt and tore.
"You should have," said Malfoy, arching his neck, breathless. "We could have called it a performance. Potter the Speccy and Malfoy the Magnificent." He waved his wand haphazardly toward Harry's trousers and they fell away in pieces.
Harry growled and climbed on top of him, nudging Malfoy's thighs apart with his knee. In his turn, Malfoy dropped his wand and then scratched his fingernails hard down Harry's back. They twisted their bodies together, biting and kissing.
It was good. Really good. Harry hadn't known that sex could be like that -- consuming and addictive. And the fission underpinning it, the mild yet constant tremor of panic in the pit of his stomach, well, that only made it better.
Once they'd finished, he lay warm and sated and allowed himself to drift off in Malfoy's arms. It was a Sunday, and he had the rest of the afternoon free, so why not?
Malfoy snuffled and Harry awoke to find their limbs entwined. One arm rested beneath Malfoy's neck, a thigh between his legs. Malfoy's bits -- soft in lassitude -- tickled warm against the front of Harry's leg and suddenly he wanted to squeeze Malfoy hard and tight against him. It was an entirely non-sexual urge that nevertheless burned through his body with the fevered force of desire.
He knew what the feeling meant. He just didn't know what to do about it.
Sooner or later they'd have to lay it out in the open, he supposed. All those buried things, memories and choices from the past. They were there, festering beneath the surface. He could feel them in the tension of his muscles and in the shadows of Malfoy's eyes.
But there was no reason to drag a corpse out into the sunlight when it was so deeply buried. It would have to be dealt with eventually, of course -- just not yet, not while he was having so much fun.
In the end, Harry brought everything crashing down himself through a single careless question.
They were naked, lying tangled with each other and the duvet. Their sweat had cooled, but Harry still felt sweet and languorous. Malfoy was levitating a sock -- either Harry's or his own -- above them. He made it circle and swoop. There was a hole in the toe. Harry's, then.
"When did you get your new wand?" He yawned, arching his neck and stretching his free arm above his head.
"Not long after the war ended," Malfoy responded, and Harry froze, the entire conversation unfurling before him. "I had thought," Malfoy continued, shifting against Harry, "that you might return my hawthorn wand. But no such luck."
He could still have let it slide. He could have closed his eyes and drifted back off to sleep. But there it was, and it would have been cowardly to ignore it.
"I couldn't. I used that wand to--"
"I know," interrupted Malfoy, his voice tight and cold.
"You'd lost its loyalty. It wouldn't have worked for you."
Malfoy's chin dug into Harry's shoulder as his jaw tightened. "What did you do with it, then? Still got it packed away in a draw somewhere?"
"I… burnt it. A few days later. I didn't know what else to do with it."
There was a silence, during which Harry felt Malfoy's limbs go stiff against him. Then, with hard, joint-jarring tug, Malfoy pulled free and sat up.
"You burnt it?"
"If I'd given it back to you, what with the Elder Wand and--"
"It was mine, Potter. My wand. That I got when I was eleven years old. I used it to cast my first spells."
Harry's neck and shoulders went cold.
Malfoy got up then and threw himself down into his armchair, crossing his legs. Harry couldn't help but run his eyes appreciatively over his naked body, but Malfoy stared over Harry, not looking at him.
Harry finally broke the silence. "It was a long time ago."
"You'd think," snapped Malfoy.
"Do people still… Surely after eight years…"
"Have people forgotten what you did in the war, Potter?" Now he met Harry's eyes, his gaze piercing.
"No. They haven't."
Malfoy got up and began stalking through the caravan. He snatched up his pants and pulled them on, then paced to the mirror and began finger-combing his hair. "I am who I am, and if people don't like it, they can go fuck themselves."
Harry decided it was a good time to remain silent.
"Sure, I made mistakes. I let others do my thinking for me. I ... Right, call a spade a spade, I picked the wrong fucking side. Okay? That became obvious long before the war ended. But show me someone, anyone, who hasn't made a bad choice now and then."
Harry tried to keep his eyes on Malfoy's face, but almost inevitably they drifted upward to his left forearm, which was laid bare as he fixed his messy hair.
"Do I need to pay for what I did for the rest of my-- " He glanced at Harry. "See something interesting, Potter?"
"You could have it removed, you know. Others have."
Malfoy's eyes widened. His mouth opened and then closed. "I considered it. Father wanted me to. But it would have been a lie. I can't erase the past and I refuse to live my life in shame."
Harry took a deep breath, stood, and then walked up to Malfoy, placing the flat of his hand in the middle of his chest. Malfoy instantly pushed it off and moved away, turning his back turned to Harry.
"You were a bigoted, snobbish prat when we were in school," Harry persevered. "Didn't have the time of day for anyone who wasn't one of your kind, unless it was to toss them a hex or an insult. The way you treated Hermione… I despised you. I really did."
The arch of Malfoy's neck was so stiff it looked brittle. Tentatively, Harry reached out to touch him. He laid his fingers gently against the buttons of Malfoy's spine at the top of his back. Malfoy's muscles shifted. He moved away, just a centimetre, just enough to avoid Harry's touch. Harry moved closer and gripped Malfoy's shoulder with his hand.
"But I see you now with the theatre people. Half-bloods. Muggleborns. People who are part magical-creature. There's even that werewolf bloke. And you treat them all like family." He wrapped his arms around Malfoy's chest and pressed against his back, nuzzling his neck. "You aren't the horrid little shit you were in school anymore. You aren't a Death Eater anymore."
Malfoy remained silent, but his muscles relaxed and he didn't push Harry away.
"When I came back," Malfoy eventually said, his voice quiet, "I'd decided that I was going to change. My father… Well, he hadn't turned out to be everything I'd thought he was. I wanted to see who I could be on my own. To make a difference. Make up for past mistakes, perhaps."
Harry turned his face and began kissing Malfoy's neck. Malfoy grabbed Harry's wrist and squeezed, stopping him.
"But… No one would have me. Not the Ministry. Not the Prophet. Not even any of the wizarding charitable organisations I tried to contact. Everywhere I turned, I was met with incredulous stares, slamming doors, and even hexes on a couple occasions. No one wanted to give me another chance."
Malfoy lifted his chin. "I was an outcast." He shifted around and wrapped his arms around Harry. "It was an interesting experience."
They stood there, holding each other, swaying slightly as the crisp morning light beaming through the windows softened and began to fade.
Harry brushed his lips over Malfoy's ear, stopping to nibble at the lobe. "Do you think this could work, Malfoy?"
"It's ridiculous." Malfoy pushed a hand into Harry's hair, then nipped at his mouth. "Utterly impossible. But, yes. Yes I do."
Malfoy leaned in and Harry met him, their foreheads pressed together.
"One thing." Malfoy's breath was soft on Harry's face. "I want to call you 'Harry.' Like your friends."
"Do it then. I want to hear you say it."
"Harry," Malfoy said, and kissed him.
"Draco," Harry responded, and kissed back, sinking into it and losing himself.
Feeling a bit like a stupid teenager, Harry tripped up the walkway to his house and unlocked the door. He couldn't stop grinning. He supposed he must look like an idiot.
He closed the door behind himself, threw his cloak at the hook by the door, didn't bother picking it up when it missed, and then just closed his eyes and smiled, letting the happiness and contentment flow though. Finally.
He floated into the bedroom, intending to shower before having a nap, and was met with the sight of Ginny sitting on the bed in the dark, her hands folded together in her lap, her head bent forward so that her hair hid her face.
He stopped short, his effervescent mood evaporating.
He walked to the bed and sat down beside her, bracing himself for the blow.
"I'm pregnant," she said, and then lifted her face to look at him.
The setting sun flooded in though the bedroom window, backlighting Ginny, leaving her little more than a red-tinged silhouette. Harry could make out the shadowed curve of her cheek, the knot of her small white fingers in her lap, and the family he'd craved from the centre of his soul since he was a child coalesced, shimmered, and then faded away before his eyes.
"That's… That's brilliant," he choked. "I'm really happy for you."
Ginny winced away from the lie as if smacked. "You don't understand. I always took the potion when I was with Neville. Always."
As the truth sunk in, Harry decided that the burning in his stomach must be happiness, because reacting to the news that you were about to become a father with distress was monstrous. His eyes were prickling with joy. He wanted to bellow at the universe with delight and nothing else. "Right then. The divorce isn't final. You'll move back in. Your mother will be thrilled, I'm sure."
Ginny wound a strand of hair around her finger and stared at a spot on the wall. "Mum just wants us both to be happy, Harry."
"We will be." He nodded his head.
"I'm happy with Neville." Her voice wavered.
Then you shouldn't have told me, Harry raged in his head, even as he knew she could have done nothing else, even as the thought of his own child coming into the world without his knowledge made him ill.
"It's my fault," Ginny went on. "I should have been more careful. It's just we were having sex so infrequently and--"
The words burst forth even before they'd crystallised in his mind. "If you think I'll abandon my own kid then you're mental!"
Ginny gaped at him.
Harry tried to still his shaking hands, but found that he couldn't. "I'm the father. I need to be there." He clumsily took her hands in his, trying to make up for the shouting. "Come on, Gin. It's not like we didn't always plan to have a family together. It won't be so bad."
She let him hold her fingers, but didn’t squeeze back. "Not so bad? Merlin."
"Well, what do you think we should do?"
"I don't know."
"What did Neville say?"
"I haven't told him yet."
"God!" He pulled his hands away and tugged at his hair.
"Why do you say you want to raise this child if just the idea of it is making you so unhappy?"
Harry struggled to get calm. He thought of a baby, then imagined that the baby was his, was part of his family. Then he pictured being far away knowing other people were raising his child. His chest tightened. He felt faint.
"It's not what we wanted, but it's how things turned out and now we've got to face it. I'm not going to just turn my back."
Ginny took a long, deep breath. "I'll tell Neville." She was quiet for a long time. "He'll understand."
"I never got the chance to know my own parents."
"I know. Being a family is the best thing for the baby."
Ginny went off to tell Neville, looking as if she were walking to her own execution.
That would change. They'd been happy together once, and if they worked at it they could be happy again.
He tried to sleep, but his body was frigid with adrenaline and it was impossible.
Harry could still smell Draco on his clothes. He could practically taste him on his lips.
He got up and pulled on his robes.
It would be best to just do it and get it over with.
"Back so soon, P- Harry? Missed me, did you?" Draco lay sideways in his armchair, his long legs dangling. He bent his neck backwards, his hair falling off his face as he grinned at Harry. In one hand he held a book, and he let his arm drape downwards, dropping it to the floor.
Thought you might waste away without me. Just trying to keep you on your toes. I realised there was a spot just below your left arse cheek that I haven't licked yet…
Harry said nothing.
Draco took in Harry's expression and posture, and the smile slid off his face. He sat up. "Salazar. Already? I thought we'd have at least a week or two before you came to your senses."
Wishing to God he wasn't so shit at this sort of thing, Harry ran his hand through his hair. "Ginny's pregnant."
Draco didn't move in any obvious way, but nevertheless he appeared to deflate. "Yours, I take it? And you're going to be a good little Gryffindor and go back to playing house, despite the fact that she's in love with another bloke and you've just discovered that you’re an arse bandit."
"I'm not an ar-- Put your eyebrow down, Draco, you can't actually hurt me with it."
"No, just with my rapier-sharp wit."
Harry laughed and then rubbed at his face with his hands. "It's my kid. I have to put him first. What I want… isn't important."
"Of course not."
"You know how I grew up." He tried to meet Draco's eyes, but Draco turned his face away. "I want better than that for my child."
Draco swallowed. "So… It's over. Between the two of us."
Harry didn't want to say the words. He didn't want to put it out there, to close the door between them. Saying it would feel wrong, like a lie that neither of them believed.
Except he had to say it.
"Yes." His hands curled into fists. "It's over."
Malfoy closed his eyes and let his head fall back. "Right. There you go. Of course."
"Please get out."
"It's not what I wanted."
"I need you to leave right now."
But Harry couldn't. The idea of walking out the door with Draco hurt and hating him, and never being able to come back again, made him want to vomit. He couldn't move.
"Leave me alone!" Draco shook his head as if to dislodge the sound of his own name. "I was fine! I was happy! Salazar, Potter, just get out."
Still frozen, Harry looked helplessly at Draco. Draco's face was pale but for blotches of red in the hollows of his cheeks. He met Harry's stare with wild, shiny eyes; Harry's shoulders heaved.
How was it that doing what was right made every single person involved so miserable?
"Fuck!" Malfoy threw his hands in the air, leapt to his feet, and stormed away, slamming the caravan door behind him as he went.
Harry covered his face with his hands. He breathed deeply. That was it then. Back to Ginny. She'd have the baby; he'd be a father. It's what he'd always wanted before Draco tore his world apart in such a marvellous way… In such a--
A startled shout of alarm cracked through the windows, and Harry recognised Draco's voice. Without thinking, he pulled his wand and crashed out of the caravan, leaping out the door and ignoring the steps. Hitting the icy ground at height and speed made him slip and crash down onto his hands and knees, but he immediately leapt up again and ran, seeking Draco and terrified as to what he'd find.
Malfoy lay unconscious on the ground, his arms curled around his head. Over him stood Borislav, wand out, face blank.
As soon as Borislav saw Harry, his face became animated, his wand flashed, and he shouted something Harry didn't understand. Ducking away from the flash of bright yellow light, Harry countered with a Stunning Spell. It clipped Borislav on the shoulder, making him stagger, but didn't take him out. Harry used the moment to rush towards Malfoy, desperately searching for a sign of life.
Borislav's Repelling Hex hit Harry square in the chest. He flew backwards, the force of his landing winding him, his wand flying from his fingers. Straight away, he rolled onto his stomach, trying to suck in a breath. He gathered himself to leap at Borislav, who was marching towards him, wand outstretched. Borislav's face twisted with malice; his eyes were dark and blank.
Harry stretched out his fingers and his wand snapped back into his hand.
Suddenly, in a flutter of iridescent gossamer, Dennis shot down from the sky and landed a yard behind Borislav, his wings flapping through slits in the back of his robes. Borislav spun and shot a hex at Dennis, but Dennis ducked and countered, showing the skill and dexterity that reminded Harry why he'd chosen him as his partner in the first place.
Dennis knocked Borislav back with a Repelling Hex. Harry took him down with an Incarcerous.
As Borislav twisted and raged in what sounded like Russian, Harry and Dennis ran. They stood over him, panting, both their wands pointed downward.
"Good work," said Harry.
"He would have had you if I hadn't stepped in."
Harry snorted. Then he turned to Draco.
Still unconscious, Draco lay curled up in the snow, his hair over his face. Harry felt for a pulse, found one, and then shuddered with relief.
Draco shook his head and pushed himself to a sitting position. Hugging his knees to his chest, he gazed up at Harry balefully.
"Harry! Hey, Harry. Come look at this."
Harry tore himself away from Draco and went to see what Dennis was on about.
Borislav continued to struggle against the ropes, flecks of spittle flying from his mouth. His face was alive with fury, but his eyes remained flat and blank.
"You think ... ?" he asked Dennis.
Harry pointed his wand at Borislav and said, "Finite!"
Borislav collapsed. Blinking rapidly, he stared up at Dennis then turned to look at Harry. "Isabella," he said, then burst into tears.
"No," said Dennis. "Not the adorable little-- motherfucker…" Dennis hopped about, shrieking, and then fell to the ground to roll in the snow, extinguishing the hem of his robes, which had mysteriously burst into flame.
The word rang through the air in a tiny but immediately recognisable voice. A ball of fire shot towards Harry's chest. He deflected it, sending it smacking into the snow in a burst of steam, and then charged towards Isabella.
She leapt at him, grabbed onto his robes, and began climbing quickly upwards, swinging from side to side as Harry tried to bat her away.
It was like being assaulted by a bee, only less sting-y.
It turned out he was wrong about that last bit, because when he grabbed her firmly about the waist and held her aloft, she threw a nasty Stinging Hex at his face. Cursing, Harry gripped her with both hands, pinning her arms to her sides.
"No… Izzy. Not you."
Harry turned to see Draco standing close by, staring horrified at Isabella.
"You!" the tiny woman shrieked. "You should have seen what I had in store for you, Draco Malfoy. Shame Potter got to Boris before he could Curse you. He was meant to give you devil's horns and a tail."
Harry bit painfully down on a laugh.
"Why?" Draco didn't bother to fix his wet, messy hair or straighten his robes. "Why would you do this?"
Borislav continued to sob. "You used me, Isabella."
"Do you have any idea how much money he makes off us? Off our tragedies? And then he treats us like we're his children. Patronising bastard."
"But why the others." Draco pushed one hand into his own hair. "Why Carlo? Why Nancy?"
"Carlo." Isabella snarled. "Always prancing around, flirting with all the girls. Thought he was something special, that one, just because he was better-looking than average. I showed him, though. He's not too good for anyone anymore."
Draco let his hand fall down to hang at his side, gazing at Isabella, frowning, his brow creased.
"And Nancy. Looking in the mirror, brushing her lovely, lovely hair. I hate women like that. Getting by on looks. The skinny little bitch deserved everything I gave her."
"Merlin," said Dennis. "You've got a whole lot of anger for someone so tiny."
"And you!" She pointed at him. "See how you like it when people keep calling you a fairy."
Dennis's eyes widened and he laughed. "People have been calling me a fairy since I was six. It didn't bother me then, and it certainly won't bother me now." He flapped his wings, and shot Isabella a smug smile.
Isabella shrieked and kicked her feet. "Blands! How I detest you. You haven't got the foggiest idea how lucky you are, with your normal bodies and normal lives. None of you deserve it, not a single one of you."
She began trying to bite Harry's fingers, so he bound her wrists together and prepared to Apparate to the holding cells at the DMLE. Once Borislav was on his feet and they were ready to go, he glanced longingly at Malfoy. Malfoy just stared back at him, his mouth a thin line, his eyes cold.
"Let me take them, Harry." Dennis gestured towards Malfoy with his head. "You… Go."
Draco wandered over to the side of his caravan, but didn't go in. He stood with his arms crossed, waiting. Once Dennis, Isabelle and Borislav were gone, Harry approached him.
"At least I finally got one thing right." Harry ventured a smile, which was met with a cold glare. "Yeah. All right." He looked at the ground.
"I've had an exhausting day and if you don't mind, I'm going to go in and have a bit of a lie down. Thanks for finally catching the culprit. You do good work, Auror Potter, albeit rather slowly."
"I was distracted. Couldn't help it."
Draco huffed and looked as if he might strike Harry. "You're flirting with me? Do you want to make up your fucking mind?"
"Come on, Potter." A brief flash of longing slipped through in Draco's expression. "Do the right thing. That's what you're famous for, isn't it? "
"I am doing the right thing!"
His pupils narrowed to points, Draco straightened his back. "There's a pub in Luton. The Yellow Tiger. Wizard owned and run. You can pull there without much trouble. Nice big cubicles in the toilets, too. And Pepe's in York, of course. A bit seedy, but you won't care once your cock's being sucked. Bullfinch's is in London. Slap and Tickle too, if you want something more exotic. If I were you, I'd--"
"Why are you telling me this?!"
"Because when you come crawling back to me after three or four more years of marriage to the Weaslette, I’m going kick you out on your arse. And I thought you should at least know the alternatives."
The force and fury of Draco's expression made Harry take a step away from him, his skin stinging. With a sneer, Draco pushed past him. In another moment, he'd disappeared into his caravan, leaving Harry completely alone.
As Harry dragged himself up the walkway to his house, a shadowed figure appeared next to the garden trellis. Harry stopped and sighed heavily. He didn't have the energy for this. Not after everything he'd gone through that day.
He trudged forward, unlocked the door and opened it. The shadow moved towards him.
"What do you want, Neville?"
"I should have come sooner," Neville blurted. "I was a complete berk, I'm sorry. But Harry. I really need to talk to you."
Harry faced forward, staring blankly into his home. The anger was irrational, wasn't it? If Harry had been cheating too? He honestly couldn't tell any more. "Fine. Come on in."
Neville followed Harry and closed the front door behind them. Harry walked into the lounge, opened the cupboard and poured himself a Firewhisky. He set the bottle and an extra glass on the table. Neville could help himself if he wanted one.
He apparently didn't. Neville sat down on the settee and cleared his throat. Harry swirled Firewhisky in his glass, then drank down a long swallow.
"I know you think you're doing the right thing, Harry. But you're not. You’re screwing things up for everyone."
Harry choked and coughed, the alcohol burning his throat. "You must be joking. You come here--"
"I know the baby's yours. But Ginny and I are going to get married, and we're going to raise it together."
Harry almost dropped his glass. "The Hell you are. Says who?"
"Says me. And Ginny, although she won't do it without your blessing."
"Well, I'm not giving my blessing. It's my kid. My kid needs me. He… or she should have a normal life with both of his parents. A proper family."
"He'll have me." Neville dug his fingers into the settee cushion. "He'll have Ginny."
"But he's mine," said Harry, touching his chest. "I'm his father. I need to be there for him."
"I didn't have a father growing up. Just Grandmother."
"Yeah, and look how you turned out."
"I turned out fine." There was an edge to Neville's voice.
"Except for the whole fucking your mate's wife behind his back thing, you mean."
Neville paused. "Except for that."
Harry narrowed his eyes wondering if it would make him feel better if he punched Neville. He decided it probably wouldn't. Not for long enough to make it worth it, anyway.
"I didn't have my parents growing up. I know what it's like. I'm not doing that to my own kid."
"Ginny and I aren't the Dursleys. You won't be leaving your child to be raised by strangers. You won't be leaving your child at all. Look at Teddy. He lives with Andromeda, yet you've practically been a dad to him since he was born."
Harry blinked. He remembered how Teddy had grabbed his hand when he'd been frightened by Lavender's face. He remembered reading Teddy bedtime stories when he'd been ill, watching him learn to walk, taking him to his first Quidditch match.
"You'd be there for the baby. We'd all make sure of it. You'd make sure of it."
It was possible -- not the sort of life he'd imagined or fantasized about, but something that could work.
"There are all kinds of families. The child will be loved. And…" Neville turned his face away. "I really love Ginny. I have for a long time. Since our final year in school, to be honest. I believe she loves me too."
Harry thought about love. He thought about waking up every morning and seeing Ginny there beside him. Despite everything that had happened, it was a nice thing to imagine.
Then he thought about Draco and the fantasy vanished.
"He'll call me 'dad.'"
"Definitely. Sure thing."
"And I'll want to see him a lot. I'll teach him to fly; I'll go with him when he gets his first wand."
"Yeah. All of that."
Harry sank down on the settee, faint with relief. He turned to look at Neville -- who was sticking with Ginny despite the fact that she was pregnant with someone else's child. "You really love her, huh?"
"I'm glad." Harry closed his eyes because they were getting a bit wet, and let his head fall against the back of the settee. "You're a good man, Neville. I forgive you."
Neville breathed a laugh. "Thanks, Harry. I felt so awful. We thought it was just a one time thing, but then it happened again, and then it got out of control. Ginny didn't want to tell you yet, and--"
"Merlin, shut up."
"You'll have to go now, Nev. I've got something I have to do."
"Right. Right, Harry. I'll… See you at the pub on Friday?"
"We'll see." Harry grinned, keeping his eyes closed. After a moment, he heard Neville open and close the front door.
Harry leapt to his feet, suddenly energetic, and went to put on his cloak.
Somewhere between Ottery St. Catchpole and Wiltshire it had started to rain.
Harry never went to the Veal and Viper, because Draco tended to frequent that particular pub, and the few times Harry had risked it had ended in black eyes and bruised jaws for one or the both of them.
On this particular occasion, however, he thought, fuck it.
He spotted Draco's blond head and hunched back at the bar immediately. The pub was much less crowded than it had been on Christmas Day and Draco -- tall and perfectly groomed -- stood out from the crowd like a ferret in a crowd of hedgehogs.
Draco jumped and looked over at him, spilling his drink.
After taking a moment to recover himself, Draco sneered. "What the hell do you want, Potter? Come to tear out a chunk of flesh? Or do you just want to talk about your feelings some more?"
"I'm not finished with you."
"Oh, you are. You're very, very finished."
The rest of the pub had gone quiet, watching Harry and Draco snipe at each other. The barman looked at them with narrowed eyes. He finished drying the glass he was holding and set it down.
"Come over here and say that to me." Harry crossed his arms. His pulse raced.
Draco slid slowly off the bar stool and began to stalk towards Harry.
"Look," said the barman. "I don't want no trouble."
"You have the gall," said Draco, "to come here, to my favourite pub, where you know I come to drown my sorrows after being forced to interact with sorry-arsed, indecisive, four-eyed former Gryffindors and you tell me that you're not finished?!"
"But I'm not," said Harry, mildly.
Draco punched him in the face.
The barman, it turned out, was surprising strong for his size and rather quick with a Repelling Hex to boot.
Harry was the first to fly out the door. He landed unceremoniously on his arse in a muddy puddle on the street. Heavy rain instantly soaked him to the skin.
Draco followed seconds later, landing on his back and sliding across the pavement.
"Guess they don't want us there," said Draco, gazing up at the sky as the rain beat down, flattening his hair and drenching his robes.
"Fuck them," said Harry. "Who cares what they want." He pulled off his broken glasses and shoved them into his pocket. "You didn't get my nose, by the way. Ruined my glasses, but didn't touch my nose."
"I don't like to repeat myself."
Harry lumbered to his feet, wincing at the swish of his heavy, sodden clothing, and walked blindly in the direction of the blurry shape that was Draco. Once there he leaned over and offered Draco his arm. Draco took his hand, squeezed it, and allowed Harry to pull him up.
They stared at each other. This close, Harry could make out Draco's features even without his glasses. Even with his hair stuck to his face, dirt and a discarded sweet wrapper from the pavement clinging to his cheek, his eyes red and slightly puffy -- even with all that, Draco looked beautiful.
"Will you call me Harry again?"
"I don't regret the punch."
"I deserved it."
"You bloody well did."
Harry's hands curled into fists and then relaxed again. "Ginny's gone back to Neville. I wanted her to. Because I want to be with you."
A tremor ran through Draco's shoulders and arms. "Merlin, Potter. You really are an enormous freak."
"Am I?" Harry moved closer and slid his arms around Draco. "I thought I was a wizard of unusual talent."
"That too." Draco turned back to Harry, pulling him close and kissing him, holding on so tightly it hurt.
The rain intensified. Lightning flashed, and somewhere in the distance thunder rumbled.
Harry and Draco didn't let it pull them apart.
-- The End
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