Title: The Cider Press
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco Pansy/other
Summary: Sometimes Mother really does know best
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): absolutely none that I can think of
Epilogue compliant? Not even remotely
Word Count: 9,470
Author's Notes: Dear winnett it was my intention to produce a story that would amuse and delight you. Unfortunately my muse and I are not exactly seeing eye-to-eye these days. I hope you enjoy this. There are several people to thank.... O for her endless patience and guidance and for knowing exactly what I was trying to say. A for being a sounding board and beta extraordinaire as well as a great friend and source of support. To leochi for the fabulous banner that served as inspiration many times during writing. And to the mods of this fest who put up with far too many "please may I have more time" requests. You're all aces in my book.
Narcissa sighed and attempted to listen to Camilla drone on about her prize winning black orchids. Normally she found it easy to feign interest but after nearly forty minutes of her blathering, Narcissa's patience was wearing thin. She was about to tell Camilla exactly what she could do with her orchids when she caught a glimpse of someone out of the corner of her eye.
Excusing herself, Narcissa headed towards the lady's. She glanced back at her table and made certain that Camilla and Prudence were still deep in conversation – well Camilla was...poor Prudence's eyes were glazed over and she was signalling the waiter for another gin and tonic – just so long as they weren't watching her. Cautiously, she slipped down a hallway where the figure had headed, finding that it opened to the outside. Stepping out she saw rows and rows of apple trees in the distance, but no other signs of life. Shaking her head, she told herself she must have been mistaken before heading back to her table.
"Did I miss anything, Prudence?" Narcissa asked politely.
"Oh, I think you missed my story..." Camilla began.
"What are you having, Narcissa?" Prudence interrupted. "I've heard that everything on the menu is fabulous and the desserts are to die for."
Camilla looked a bit put out at the interruption, but quickly changed her focus at the mention of food. She raised her menu and studied it. "I believe I'll try the Normandy chicken with apples, you?" she said looking towards Prudence.
"The pork chop with apple stuffing sounds delicious," Prudence replied.
Narcissa smiled. "I'm going to have the chicken and apple salad. I want to save room for some of the caramel apple pie I saw being cut while I was up. It looked decadent."
The three women laughed and thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon. They sent their compliments to the chef and stood to leave.
"I wonder who owns this place," Narcissa said to no one in particular. "I need to recommend it to Draco. He'd love it and the press wouldn't do it any harm either."
She turned to look back into the dining area and the same figure caught her eye again. "You two go ahead," she said, tucking her handbag under the jacket she had draped over her arm. "I believe I left my handbag at the table."
"But..." Prudence protested.
"No, no," she assured them. "I'll be fine. Just Floo on home, we'll catch up again later in the week." She bussed them both on the cheek and turned back to the dining room. Pausing at their table, she watched as her friends were led to the Apparation point just off the main waiting area before she turned and hurried back down the hallway; the same hallway she'd traversed earlier.
This time when she stepped into the sunlight, the person she'd seen was waiting for her.
"Hello, Mrs Malfoy," Harry Potter said softly, extending his hand to her.
"It's Narcissa, Harry," she said with a smile and took his hand, pulling him into a hug. "Please let's not stand on formality after all you've done for my family." She paused for a moment before continuing. "How have you been? You look well. But what in the world are you doing here? Are you visiting someone?"
"Oh, it's worse than that," Harry laughed. "I own the place and I'm the head pastry chef."
"You own it?" she said sounding a bit confused.
Harry made a sweeping motion as he turned in a circle. "Yes, every tree, all the land and this restaurant. It's all mine," he said proudly.
"So this is where you vanished to after..." her voice trailed off.
"Not right away," Harry said softly. "Once the trials ended I needed to get away. So I did a fair bit of travelling. But soon the thrill of living out of a suitcase lost its appeal. I found myself in Oxford visiting some school chums and they talked about this orchard that was for sale. One thing led to another and suddenly I'd purchased it – part and parcel. At that point there was nothing for it but to jump in feet first and see if I could make a go of it."
"Well you've certainly done a remarkable job," Narcissa replied. "But I can't believe you've kept it a secret from our world."
Harry shrugged. "It's not so much keeping it a secret as it is allowing it to just be. I like the mix of Muggles and Wizards. A few well placed charms in the Wizard dining room and the Muggles have no idea that the people in there aren't dressed as they are."
Narcissa laughed. "Only you, Harry, would be able to get away with that."
Harry's cheeks coloured and he looked at the ground. "I just want to live my life the way I choose and not how everyone else thinks I should."
Placing a hand on his shoulder, Narcissa gave it a small squeeze in reply.
"How's Draco?" Harry asked abruptly, his flush now spreading out to his ears.
"Like you, he's doing very well. He's quite content with his work. I should tell him I saw you."
Harry looked startled and Narcissa saw a flash of something in his eyes that she couldn't quite define. "Oh no, don't bother. I don't imagine he's too concerned with what I'm up to these days." He rubbed his hands along his thighs. "We never were exactly friends, you know."
Narcissa nodded and took that as a cue to change the subject. "Have you and the Weasley girl married?"
If possible, Harry blushed even more. "No, she's with Dean Thomas. I believe they're expecting number three any day now. The one I want isn't really available to me." He closed his mouth quickly and closed his eyes with a visible wince. "I should be getting back..."
"I've taken up enough of your time," Narcissa countered. "It was lovely to see you, Harry. Be well."
And with that Narcissa made her way to the Apparation point, smiling to herself...quite confident that the rumours about Harry's preferences were, in fact, accurate.
Draco leaned forward, elbow on the table, and pointed his fork at his mother. "Let me see if I have this straight..."
"The flatware is to be used for eating, Draco," Narcissa interrupted, one finely arched eye brow raised and her head cocked to the side.
In an exaggerated movement Draco set the fork on the table and sat back in his chair, arms crossed against his chest and his head tilted at his mother. After her nod, he continued. "You think I should drive to Oxfordshire to review some unknown restaurant" – he paused dramatically – "based simply on the recommendation of two women you've said "have the style of a pair of blast-ended-skrewts"?
Narcissa held back a smile. "Their lack of style has only to do with their wardrobes, darling. Prudence Parkinson and Camilla Bulstrode...you can say what you will about their lack of taste in clothing but let's just say neither of them ever met a meal they didn't like. And if they did, the restaurant is no longer in business."
"I sincerely doubt that those two overweight, middle class cows have the ability to close down a restaurant," Draco huffed.
"You of all people, Draco, should understand how a well placed comment," Narcissa shrugged, "good or bad – can make or break a restaurant. People gravitate to what is perceived as the best, just as they stay away from places that are considered beneath their notice."
Draco sniffed. "But I'm a professional. I have a weekly column in the London Times and a twice weekly section in the Quibbler."
"Which is precisely why you should go and review The Cider Press. Their cider is perfectly blended and all of the dishes are prepared with apples. It's quite unique and refreshing."
"Says who?" Draco gave her a sceptical look. "Cows one and two?"
"Draco!" Narcissa scolded. But he saw her fight not to smile, and he smirked.
He sighed dramatically. "Where is this place again?"
This time, she didn't even bother to fight her smile. "It's in Woodstock." She patted the back of his hand. "Look at it this way," she said slowly. "If it's horrible, you can savage it in your column. But if it's brilliant," her eyes began to sparkle, "you can be responsible, almost single-handedly, for bringing to the attention of discerning diners a true 'find', a gem. Just think of the power of that Draco; you can make it, or break it."
Draco pursed his lips. He did like the sound of that. "Cider, hmmm?"
"The cider is divine, Prudence brought me a bottle," Narcissa said. "But the food; every dish uses apples in some way and the desserts...well according to Camilla they'd make a French pastry chef weep. What have you got to lose, besides an afternoon if the meal isn't really any good?"
"I'm not sure..." Draco hesitated.
Narcissa smiled brightly. "I could go with you. It could be my treat."
Draco rolled his eyes and stood. "Yes, that would be perfect. I can see the headlines now What cut-throat restaurant critic was seen eating with his mummy?.
"No need to be so sarcastic, Draco," Narcissa said icily.
Leaning down to buss her cheek, Draco rested his hand on her shoulder and gave a small squeeze. "Sorry, Mother, but if I'm going to be in the gossip rags I'd much rather it be for reducing another appalling chef to tears." He stood and turned to leave.
Narcissa laughed lightly and caught his hand as he turned. "Please at least tell me you'll think about it." She sighed. "Then when I see Prudence and Camilla again I won't be lying when I say you're trying to fit it in your schedule."
Draco shook his head as he walked, pausing in the doorway. "Fine. I'll think about it. But I'm making no promises. I imagine the old witch who probably runs the place thinks it's fabulous and I'm really not so heartless as to ruin an old woman's dreams...despite what's been printed about me."
As she heard the front door close, Narcissa sat back in her chair and laughed as she rubbed her hands together. "Step one...plant the seed," she said aloud to the empty room.
The following week Draco found himself on his knees at his hearth, looking at his mother in the fire. Draco wondered, not for the first time in his life, why all homes didn't have chair-level fireplaces for Floo calls. The Manor had several throughout, so his mother could sit in a chair while she talked.
"No mother, I've not been to The Cider Press," Draco said with a deep sigh. "I've been busy."
"Busy?" Narcissa tilted her head and looked at him while rolling her eyes.
"I can't just run willy-nilly off to some restaurant because you and the other vinegar tasters think I should to go there."
Narcissa struggled not to laugh, but she finally gave in and her laughter made Draco smile.
"Fine, I'll let it go...for now." She shifted slightly in her chair. "Draco, you need to get out more, see someone."
"I see people," he replied petulantly.
"Lunch with Pansy every Thursday and the occasional connexion de fin de nuit is not what I mean."
"I'm appalled that my own mother would think I'd do something as sordid as engage in a 'late night hook up'. I'll have you know I buy them dinner first or at least they serve me dinner first. And this is beyond the end of this conversation."
"Draco, don't you want to actually date someone?"
He paused and rubbed his hands over his face. "Of course I want...."
Narcissa leaned forward. "I didn't mean to upset you, chéri. Attribute it to a foolish mother's worry for her only son's happiness."
Draco took her hand in his. "You've never been foolish and if you stop worrying about me...well that's not a day I chose to think about. I'm just tired of dating the wrong people. I'm willing to spend time alone in the hope that one day I'll turn a corner and find the right one. The one who'll love me in spite of who I was and appreciate me for who I am now. I just refuse to settle for the sake of being with someone."
"And that I understand," Narcissa replied, tears in her eyes. "Never settle, Draco. You're far too special for that."
"And this conversation has become far too maudlin for me," Draco teased. "I'll look at my schedule and see where I can fit the amazing apple restaurant in. But right now...it's Thursday and I have a date to watch Pans push her food around her plate while she flirts with everything in trousers."
Narcissa laughed lightly and bid Draco good-bye. Draco sat back on his heels, unwilling to admit just how unsettled the discussion with his mother had left him. He shook his head to clear it, Pansy might be incredibly self-centred but she could read Draco like a book and the last thing he wanted was a repeat conversation with her. He ran a hand through his hair and Apparated to Le Gavroche on Upper Brook Street.
Draco slumped into the chair just inside his flat, feeling disgruntled. Lunch with Pansy was usually one of the high points of his week. It was one of the few times he enjoyed a meal out. They spent their time dishing over the latest gossip, ogling the waiters and critiquing the wardrobes of the rest of the patrons. But Draco knew from the minute he sat down that today was different. Pansy had ordered a bottle of Clos du Mesnil champagne and was already sipping a glass.
Draco teased her about scoring with the waiter and then she'd blind-sided him.
Pansy was in love.
Even his crass comment about her being in love hundreds of times before had not deterred her. She had raised her glass and begun to sing the praises of some American named Morgan Howard Peterson, III. Even now, repeating it in his head made him cringe. Draco'd had heartburn before he was finished with his salad.
By the time they were ready for dessert, he had a thundering headache and he found himself begging off and heading home. Now that he was in the comfort of his own sitting room, he felt guilty that he hadn't been more excited for Pansy. She'd always been there for him – through all the asses he'd dated, and she'd been there when every single one of them had broken his heart. He'd completely disregarded her happiness and even tried to tell her she'd get over this one just like the others. When she called him a 'cold-hearted bastard' – he knew she wasn't joking.
He sighed deeply and went to his desk, jotting a quick note to his favourite florist, ordering flowers by way of apology. He smiled wanly as he wrote out a card to enclose with the flowers.
"You've always said I was a hideous brat; today I fear I proved it. Please know that I am truly happy for you. And if he hurts you, I shall remove his dangling bits with a spoon.
He sat at his desk long after his owl had taken his message to the florist. He wanted her to be happy, really he did. But this was HIS Pansy. The one person who had never questioned his choices, and Merlin knew many of them had bordered on the insane. She wasn't supposed to fall in love; they were supposed to grow old together and finally combine households and be crotchety old folks bedevilling the poor house elves until they begged for clothes. Now...well, if this new relationship went the way Pansy clearly hoped, it left Draco alone.
Sure, he'd been a player when he was younger, but with age came a bit of wisdom and truth be told, Draco was more than a bit tired of all the games. He wanted to come home to the same person every night. He'd not planned to be a confirmed bachelor, but he was beginning to fear that true love wasn't in the stars for him.
Draco stood and stretched; this was getting him nowhere. At least he'd been able to convince Pansy to go to The Cider Press with him the day after tomorrow. He could certainly wrap his mind around this latest development by then and he and Pans would be fine. They'd survived worse. And maybe with some alcoholic persuasion he'd even be able to convince her to ogle the waiters with him one last time.
Draco Apparated to The Cider Press, arriving right after Pansy. They'd had a cocktail at his flat before leaving and Draco was hopeful that Pansy would be behaving more like usual herself.
"Oh Merlin," Pansy leaned in to whisper to Draco. "Is that Hestia Jones over there?" She gestured with her head. Draco made to turn and look. "Don't turn," she hissed and then giggled. "Good heavens she might as well hang a feed bag around her neck the way she's shovelling that pie into her mouth."
Sliding her hand through Draco's arm, they followed the maître d' to their table. Draco took in the room as he entered, admiring the combination of dark wood tables and high-backed crimson chairs. As he sat, he noted that the chair was as comfortable as it looked and its colour reminded him of the crisp apples he smelled in the air.
"Well I must say," Pansy said, laying her napkin across her lap, "whoever designed this place had an eye for it."
Draco nodded absently as he made some mental notes on how to describe the atmosphere to his readers. The high gloss on the wooden floors was offset perfectly by the stone walls of the old farmhouse. Rustic elegance was his immediate impression. He felt mildly unnerved by the uncharacteristic warm feeling the room gave him, and wondered if he was getting soft.
He opened the menu. As his mother had mentioned, the selections all contained apple in some fashion, either in a stuffing, a sauce or as part of the main dish. While they sounded good, Draco wondered if it wasn't a bit of a diversion to cover-up subpar cooking.
Pansy looked up and sighed softly. She gestured to the left with her head and smiled. Draco casually looked in the direction she'd indicated.
"If I wasn't so deliriously happy, I'd be ordering that on a plate, please," she murmured.
Draco shifted slightly and his line of vision was filled with a lovely arse in well-cut wool trousers as a waiter leaned over a table and pointed to something on the menu.
"Good thing, then, because an arse that tight would be better suited to me than you," Draco said quietly, his gaze never wavering.
"Oh don't pull that I can spot a gay man anywhere shite with me, Draco," Pansy whispered. "I've been around the block a time or two..."
Draco coughed something that sounded suspiciously like hundred.
Pansy sent him a quelling look, but laughed in spite of herself. "Oh for Merlin's sake, grow up."
"Well," Draco murmured, taking a sip of his water, "apparently you were right this time. Take a look at the waiter." Draco gave her a smug smirk and drawled, "How the mighty have fallen."
"When did Potter grow up so...well?" Pansy asked, eyes widening.
At that moment Harry turned and saw Pansy and Draco at their table. His smile was welcoming when he crossed the room, stopping across from them. "This is quite a surprise," he said warmly. "What brings you to The Cider Press?"
"Draco's here to..." Pansy began – before Draco nudged her with his foot – "what?"
"Why, we're here to enjoy a meal. Rumour has it this is the place to dine, so we decided to give it a go," Draco cut in smoothly. "I think the bigger question is; what is the Saviour of the Wizarding World doing bussing tables? No work to be had rescuing babies and slaying dragons?"
Harry threw his head back and laughed. At first Draco was shocked by Harry's behaviour, but then his eye caught sight of Harry's Adam's apple. He was mesmerized as it bobbed while he worked to catch his breath.
"Malfoy," Harry said as he wiped his eyes, still chuckling. "You are the only person I've ever met who can insult someone and make it sound as if you're inquiring about the weather."
Draco blinked, not certain whether to be irritated or surprised that Potter hadn't immediately hexed him.
But Pansy, the traitor, laughed. "And who knew Harry Potter had such a quick and refined sense of humour?"
He turned his eyes to her, a smile still in them."Oh, not terribly refined, actually." He slipped his hands into his pockets. "I like a good slip and fall as much as the next bloke."
"You never did answer Draco's question, you know," Pansy said, her smile turning sly. "What finds Harry Potter bussing tables in an out of the way, albeit charming, restaurant?"
"Well," Potter said slowly, "when one owns the out of the way, albeit charming, restaurant, one does what one must."
Draco's mouth dropped open, but he recovered quickly. "You..."
"Own the place," Harry finished for him. "And with that bit of news, I need to visit with some of my other guests. It was nice to see you both. Pansy, you look fabulous. Apparently life is treating you well. Draco – " he nodded " – good to see you too." He took two steps, stopped and turned back. He started to speak, then paused, running his hand along his thigh and sighing before he spoke. "Be sure to leave room for the caramel apple cake. It's one our best sellers." He walked away, shaking his head imperceptibly. Draco watched him quizzically.
Draco and Pansy each ordered a different appetizer and main dish. They sampled each other's meals and both of them cleared their plates, all the while Draco watching Harry's every move. When it came time for dessert Pansy settled on the apple dumpling, while Draco took Harry's advice and ordered the caramel apple cake. Curious, he sampled a bit of Pansy's dumpling. The crust practically melted in his mouth and the apple was cooked to perfection with just the right amounts of spices and sugar. His mother's friends had it right, these pastries would make a seasoned chef weep.
"Stop ogling, Draco," Pansy teased as he wiped his mouth with his napkin and scanned the restaurant one more time. "It's poor form."
"I'm not ogling," Draco retorted, "I'm taking in the ambience of the room, so I can describe it to my readers."
"You're taking in the ambience of Potter's arse, and I'm betting you won't be describing that to your readers." She sent him a mischievous smile. "You never have cared much for competition."
"And you are an overbearing cow," he replied. "I'm here to sample the food. Nothing more, nothing less."
"And finding out that Potter owns the restaurant won't colour your review in any way?" She arched a brow at him.
"It will not," he said emphatically. "I will review this place as it deserves."
Draco took care of the bill and they walked, arm in arm, to the Apparation point, bickering all the way. They were so involved in their squabble that they were completely oblivious to the fact that Harry had paused near the kitchen and was watching Draco wistfully as they left the restaurant.
Two weeks had passed since Draco's visit to The Cider Press and he still had not submitted his review to either of his columns. He'd thrown together a review of a restaurant he'd visited a few weeks prior – one that he had previously deemed unworthy of even a mention. Pansy was convinced that learning Potter owned the restaurant in Woodstock skewed his ability to write a fair review and Draco frowned to himself; the argument he'd had with Pansy over it had been loud and they still weren't speaking.
He sat at his desk and pulled out the parchment of notes from his visit to The Cider Press, read them over and sighed. It was all there and, frankly, it was a very good review. Why then, did he feel like he couldn't submit it as it stood? He pushed back from his desk, the parchment crumpled in his hand, and hurried to the door. Walking briskly to his car, he jumped in and gravel flew in his wake as he sped down the drive. He was fairly certain of his destination, but needed the wind and speed of his car to clear his head before he arrived.
Nearly two hours later, Draco slowed as he turned into the entrance of The Cider Press. The ride had done its job and he felt refreshed. There were questions that needed answers and Draco was going to find them. This review wasn't just about the restaurant – it needed to be about the man behind the restaurant and Draco was determined to get that story.
Intentionally by-passing the main parking area, Draco stopped his car close to the large red barn that stood off to the side of the property. As he opened his car door and stepped out, Harry walked out of the building wiping his hands on the apron he wore.
"You missed the parking lot, Malfoy." He pointed to his left, his tone flat. "It's up that direction."
Draco leaned against his car, crossing his legs at the ankle, and laughed. "Like I'd risk parking this beauty in a common parking area."
Harry took in the car and smiled. "A Duesenberg convertible? Compensating, Malfoy?"
"Completely unnecessary, I assure you," Draco said with a wink.
"Good to know," Harry countered. "What are you doing here?"
"It intrigued me that Harry Potter owned an orchard and ran a restaurant," he said pushing off the car and closing the distance between them. "So I came back to find out what drives you."
"What drives me...?" Harry's brow furrowed. "I'm not that deep, Malfoy. I did some travelling, found this place for sale and bought it. And now if you'll excuse me, we had quite a storm up here last night and I need to go check for damage in the orchards."
Draco smiled. "I'll go with you."
Harry laughed loudly and gave Draco a long, slow look from the top of his head down to his shoes. "I don't think Tod's loafers were made for a trip through a muddy orchard." He turned and walked towards a jeep parked at the end of the barn.
The use of his first name made Harry pause. He turned and looked questioningly at Draco.
"Surely you have an odd pair of wellies lying about I could wear."
Harry stared. "You...want to put on an old pair of wellies and muck about in the orchard? With me? You're barking, Malfoy." He turned and took two steps before stopping again. He ran a hand through his hair and turned. "Fine. Move it along then. I've got things to do. Can't be waiting all day for you."
Draco hurried after Harry into the barn and wrinkled his nose. "It smells like...sour apples in here."
"We have a few apple presses in here to crush the apples that don't make it for the kitchen or cider." He tossed a pair of very used wellington boots to Draco. "We pulverize them and use them in the compost for fertilizer."
"So nothing goes to waste then," Draco murmured, slipping off his loafers and stepping into the boots. "Very efficient." He set his boots on top of a stack of boxes and followed after Harry.
Harry grabbed the roll bar on the jeep and swung into the driver's seat, turning the ignition. The engine roared to life and Draco jumped into the passenger's just as Harry took off, mud splattering up behind them as they drove down the winding dirt road.
"The closer orchards have all been checked," Harry called out over the wind. "We're going out to the ones at the other end of the property." He glanced over at Draco bouncing in his seat as he hit another rut in the road and slowed a bit. "Might want to hold onto the roll bar. This road is filled with holes and dips."
"Really?" Draco drawled, grabbing the bar so tightly his knuckles turned white. "Here’s hoping that you have something a bit more 'rider friendly' to take your current boyfriend out in." He shot Potter a sideways glance; the information he had about Potter’s love life had come from a source that was usually reliable, and he watched the quirk that curled the man's lips now with a rush of satisfaction.
"For your information, there is no 'current boyfriend'," Potter said, throwing the jeep into another gear. The vehicle lurched, and Draco's hands tightened around the roll bar even as his heart lifted.
The rest of the ride was silent. Harry drove along the familiar route and after about thirty minutes he was slowing down to a near stop. He drove another few miles, looking at the trees that lined the road.
"Oh good," he exclaimed, stopping the jeep and jumping out.
"What?" Draco asked, squinting in the direction Harry was looking.
"Those are all grafts in that field. They look like they made it through the storm with little to no damage," he replied.
"What in heaven's name is a graft? Some new apple?" Draco asked.
Harry laughed. "In a way. Grafting is a form of tree propagation. You take a stock and attach a scion and grow a new tree."
"You what... who?" Draco asked, brows raised and eyes wide.
Harry recognized the confused looked and smiled. "Never mind. New trees are growing over here. This area of the orchard is for creating new varieties of apples. "
"I see," Draco answered, although the crease between his brows told Harry he clearly didn't.
"Walk with me," Harry said, waving his hand to hurry Draco along. "I'll give you a quick lesson in apples."
"Great..." Draco replied sarcastically and yet hurried to step up beside Harry as he walked.
They walked about fifteen meters and turned down a new path, walking another twenty meters before they came across an obviously different section of the large orchard – trees as far as the eye could see.
Harry waved a hand at the trees. "This section of the orchard is where we grow most of our culinary apples. We stick with three main varieties, the Bramley's Seedling, the Cathead and the Allington Pippin. They all have a fairly sharp flavour and hold up well during cooking."
"The ones on the other side of the road are the dessert apples," he continued. "Mostly for eating and selling. The WorcesterPearmain is very sweet, the Lord Lambourne is very juicy with a bit of an acidic bite and the Egremont Russet has a bit of a nutty taste."
"How many varieties do you grow?" Draco queried.
Harry's face lit with excitement. "Nine in this area," he continued, "and about twenty in all. Each variety has its own subtle nuances and flavours. Even our cider varies depending on which apples we use..."
Draco watched Potter, his hair blowing in the soft breeze, while he talked about apples. Passionately about apples. As a food critic, Draco knew this was probably very good information for him to possess, but he was mesmerized by Harry's mouth. Draco knew he was talking but all he heard was a buzzing in his ears and all he saw were those lips. Pink, full and a bit chapped from being outside so much. When his tongue darted out to dampen them, Draco felt a clutch in his gut that he'd not felt in quite some time.
He nodded where he hoped it was appropriate and watched Harry's lips. When he realized he wanted to know what those lips tasted like after biting into a sweet juicy apple, Draco nearly groaned out loud.
Draco wasn't even really aware that he was moving, but desperation must have prompted him to. He took the three steps that separated them, and Potter looked up at him, all impossibly wide eyes and faintly parted lips. "Malfoy?" he murmured.
"No offense, Potter," Draco said. "But you really need to just stop talking." With that, he grabbed the front of Harry's shirt, and pushed him back into one of his own apple trees.
"What the fuck, Malfoy," Potter started, reaching up to pry Draco's hands away, but Draco swooped in and covered his mouth with his own.
Instantly, Potter stiffened, but the fight went out of his hands. It was as if he was stunned into immobility. Taking advantage of his stillness, Draco angled his head, opened his mouth, and deepened the kiss.
He nearly went weak in the knees with relief when Potter not only didn't fight him, but angled his head in counterpoint, and accepted the gentle thrust of Draco's tongue.
Draco moved closer and felt Harry shift against him from chest to groin, heat radiating from them both. When Harry's arms moved up around his neck, they began a slow, sensual grind against each other. Draco was surprised to find himself growing so hard that quickly, but his surprise gave way to fascination and exhilaration on finding a corresponding hardness in Potter's trousers as well. When their cocks rubbed against each other, Draco felt desire course through his body and he pressed his groin harder against Harry's, desperate for relief.
Harry's mouth slid to Draco's jaw and he nipped his way to Draco's ear. Meanwhile Draco's hand moved between them and pinched the soft cotton of the tee and rubbed the fabric over Harry's pebbled nipple, grinning at the resulting moan.
Draco ground his hips faster until he heard the hitch in Harry's breath, then in tandem he ran his thumb over Harry's nipple and gently bit the soft spot just below his ear. Harry's arms moved to clutch at Draco's back and he shuddered, stiffening as he rode out his orgasm. With one final grind, Draco allowed himself to tumble over the edge.
They remained pressed together as their breathing slowed, then slowly moved apart.
"Well," Harry said with a sheepish laugh, "that's something I've not done since my teens."
Draco shifted his hips and grimaced, but laughed. "It's been quite a while for me, too."
Harry pulled his wand from a pocket in the leg of his jeans and waved it in a complicated gesture. Draco felt the magic wash over him and immediately felt clean.
"A little warning would be good with that charm, Potter," Draco said with a shudder.
Harry smiled widely and apologized, but didn't look even a little bit remorseful.
The walk back to the jeep, as well as the ride back to the barn, was quiet. Draco was mentally chastising himself for his utter lack of control. Although he did have to admit that Potter didn't really fight back. He was, instead, quite the willing participant. He hadn't expected the afternoon to turn out as it had, but he wasn't upset by it. 'Merlin knows,' he thought, 'I've wanked to a fair few fantasies that involved Potter over the years.' And it made him wonder what would happen if he were to kiss Potter again, that thought causing the edges of his lips to turn up just a bit.
Pulling up in front of the barn, Harry stopped the jeep and climbed out. Draco swung his long legs out and walked to the barn where he changed back into his own shoes.
Harry was standing just outside the door as he exited. "Would you join me for some coffee?" he asked.
Draco tried to hold back his laugh, but he couldn't. "Traditionally, one would expect dinner before a rub up against a tree," he said when he'd stopped laughing.
Harry attempted to look put out, but failed miserably and soon they were both smiling. "Honestly, Malfoy, I know how to date. I actually wanted you to try a new dessert I'm going to put on the menu." He chuckled. "Although it's not much better to ask you to dessert and coffee now is it?"
Draco shook his head and gestured with his hand for Harry to lead the way. "You could have mentioned food, might have made it sound a bit less dodgy."
Harry led him to a small patio just off what Draco imagined was the kitchen. He gestured to the door. "It's pretty quiet in there, even for a late afternoon."
"We're closed Wednesdays all day and Thursday until dinner. Makes working every weekend a bit more tolerable. I'll be right back with the tart. Do you want coffee or tea?"
"Coffee," Draco replied, settling into the chair. The patio overlooked the many terraced orchards and provided a pleasant backdrop. Harry came out of the kitchen with a tray filled with plates, cups, a small pot of coffee and the tart. Draco could smell it before Harry had set the tray down.
"If that tastes as good as it smells..." Draco began.
"Do you mind pouring, while I cut?"
"Not at all." Draco picked up the pot and filled each cup with the strong, dark brew. He prepared his, with cream and an abundance of sugar, just the way he liked his coffee. Harry cut the tart and poured a small measure of cream on the top. He handed Draco a plate and waited as he took his first bite.
Draco placed the forkful of tart into his mouth and moaned audibly. The crust melted in his mouth and the tart apples and sweet pears exploded in a burst of flavour over his tongue.
"You put this on your menu and no one will eat anything else," Draco told Harry. "I'm quite certain I've never tasted a crust so flaky and crisp and the combination of fruits is divine."
Harry's cheeks coloured slightly. "I take that as quite a compliment coming from you. So, you know how I ended up here," he paused as he draped his napkin over his lap, "how did you become a restaurant critic?"
Time passed quickly as Draco recalled his love for good food and how he was always telling his friends where to find the best meals. "One day Pansy looked at me and said in that matter-of-fact way of hers, 'You ought to do this for a living, Draco. You're quite good at it and Merlin knows most wizards haven't a clue where to find a decent meal outside of Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.'"
"So you took her advice and started in?" Harry asked.
Draco shrugged. "I wrote a few reviews, showed them around a bit. At first no one was interested in what I had to say..." his voice trailed off, but he cleared his throat and continued. "Then one day when I'd just about given up, Luna called me and said that The Quibbler would like me to write a column for them. It started out as twice a month, but we've expanded and changed it around so now it's twice weekly."
"How did you get into the Times?" Harry asked.
"I used to do some freelance work. Apparently the editor in chief at the Times caught an article I'd done on a new place in London. Called me personally and said that I gave a 'fresh, honest review with just the right amount of sarcasm.' I have no idea why he'd say that." Draco looked seriously at Harry, but smirked when Potter began to laugh.
Draco looked out towards the orchards. "It must be later than I thought. It's getting quite dark." He cast a spell, startled to see how late it actually was. He and Harry rose and walked towards Draco's car. They stopped and Draco put out his hand, expecting a nice shake. Instead Harry took the offered hand and pulled him into an embrace and kissed him. Draco had watched him go with bemusement tinged with wonder.
Potter had him so besotted that before Draco realized it, he was pulling up in front of his house. His mind hadn't been on the drive at all, but on Potter...Harry. Not quite sure what to make of his afternoon, he walked into his office and flipped on the lights, the fire roaring to life and taking the chill out of the room. And then he saw it, even before he'd crossed the room. His review of The Cider Press.
It had been finished for days, yet he was holding off on submitting it. He wanted it to go into the holiday edition of his column...in both papers. And now – bugger all – if he didn't get his brain out of his trousers, he had a sinking realization that everything could be compromised. He prided himself on being the consummate professional; now, he'd backed someone he'd reviewed into a tree and snogged him senseless, not to mention rubbed one out with him.
Draco shook his head; what had he been thinking? Sitting at his desk, he picked up the parchment and read over the review. It was, for him, a very positive one. One that had been written up long before today and was perfectly worded for "The Ten Best Finds of 2006".
Pushing away from the desk, Draco poured himself two-fingers of Scotch and pondered the situation. As he finished the second glass, Draco had decided that he was worrying far too much. "After all," he said to the empty room, "it's not as if we're dating." He finished his drink and set the empty glass on the side board, heading up to bed wondering why that thought bothered him as much as it did.
Morning found Draco tired and surly. Thoughts of Potter had haunted his dreams; the way the man's eyes had closed as he'd been close to orgasm, his teeth tugging his lower lip, his long lashes dark against his flushed face. He set his cup down abruptly, tea sloshing over the edge and onto the saucer.
As long as Draco lived, he'd never forget the way he'd shuddered in his arms, or the sounds he'd made. And the realization that he wanted to experience it all again, and soon, tormented him. Professional credibility was everything to Draco. How would it look if he suddenly started seeing someone whose business he'd reviewed? He was buggered, he thought with a frown. And not in a good way.
If he didn't submit the review, he was cheating Potter out of clientele his restaurant deserved. If he did, and the fact that they were seeing one another got out, and it would, his credibility would be in tatters. He frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe he should just publish the review now and be done with it.
He sighed. He'd worked too hard not to have the article appear. He'd just have to get over what had felt surprisingly right with Potter, and move on. The Best of 2006 would appear Christmas morning. After that....
The following morning Draco was staring blearily at the morning paper when a sudden tapping at his kitchen window startled him. He looked up and frowned at the Great Horned Owl on the ledge. It tapped on the window again and peered at Draco. Crossing the kitchen, Draco couldn't help but notice that the owl's expression made him look a bit like he was laughing. Draco opened the window and gave the bird a treat.
Back at the table, Draco cautiously ran his wand over the envelope before opening the letter. He knew it wasn't from any of his friends – he'd recognize their owls – and Luna had made sure that all responses to his reviews remained at the Quibbler's office.
He took out the parchment, saw the signature, and allowed his head to thump onto the table. It wasn't enough that the man had haunted his dreams, no, of course not. Draco raised his head and read the note. Potter wanted to see him again. He raised his wand and slammed the window shut on the owl, before dropping his head back to the table.
Two days later the same owl showed up again, this time at supper. Draco moved to the window and took the envelope, gave the bird a treat, telling the bird there was "no reply" before closing the window again.
The third message was delivered to Draco at the Quibbler office. Luna seemed quite impressed that Harry was contacting Draco and insisted he read the note. Knowing that it wouldn't do to ignore the letter with Luna right there, Draco opened it and read it. This time there was no mention of meeting and no signature, simply
Normally, Draco loved the holidays. His mother hosted a wonderful party on Christmas Eve that was still widely attended by the wizarding elite. Pansy was bringing her American – who even Draco had to admit seemed good for her – but Draco just couldn't bring himself to ask anyone to join him. In his heart of hearts he wanted to invite Potter, but in true Gryffindor fashion, Harry had done exactly what Draco had asked and "let it go". Draco hadn't heard from Potter since his terse reply.
Two days before the party, Draco was at the Manor going over some party details with his mother. He knew that she’d noticed his general lack of enthusiasm; it surprised him, frankly, that she hadn’t asked him about it, yet. Instead, she brought up another topic he had no desire to discuss.
"I've not seen your review of The Cider Press," Narcissa said mildly. "Did you ever go there to eat?"
Draco's expression fell slightly, but he recovered quickly. Or so he thought. "I did. I went a few weeks ago."
His mother's eyes searched his face. "But you didn't review it? Didn't you like the food?"
"I found the food fantastic," he answered, keeping his eyes trained on the wine list, "especially the desserts. And I wrote the review. I'm saving it for my "ten best" list that's posted on Christmas."
"I see." Narcissa studied her son. He'd answered her question, but he could tell that she'd sensed that there was something else going on. "Draco," Narcissa began tentatively, "what's wrong? If your face was any longer you'd be mistaken for one of those dogs....what are they? A basset hound."
He shot her a wry look. "That's flattering. And it's nothing."
"If it were nothing, darling, you'd not be moping about like someone's stepped on your pygmy puff."
Draco gave his mother a weak smile. He knew better than to try to discount his mother's intuition. And once she latched on, she would be relentless until he told her.
"Someone I like, very much, is off limits to me, and I hate it," Draco finally admitted.
"Someone you met recently?" She asked innocently. He sighed.
"Was re-introduced to recently, yes."
He saw the calculation in her eyes. "Why ever would they be off limits, dear?"
He looked away.
"I can't date people whose businesses I review, Mother. Not only is it a conflict of interest, but it's poor form. I can't even give the appearance of trading... well, not to put too fine a point on it, but sex for favourable reviews."
"Why would people think that a favourable review, even if you were reviewing the business of someone you took a liking to, translated into anything else?" she asked.
"Mother, people want to think the worst of me. It would be just the fodder the gossip rags love and it would completely ruin everything I've worked so hard to achieve."
Narcissa sighed. "Well I don't like it, Draco. I think you over-estimate gossips influence. And you deserve to be happy, too."
Draco smiled at his mother. "And one day I will be. This just isn't the time. Let it go, Mother, it will work out if it's supposed to." And with that he kissed his mother on the cheek and went home.
Narcissa sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. "It will work out," she mused, a glint in her eyes. "I'll see to it."
Narcissa's holiday party was, as always, the event of the season. The Manor was stunningly decorated and all of the guests were decked out in their holiday finest. Narcissa was a vision in a scarlet coloured silk taffeta dress that floated when she walked. Draco was certain she'd never looked lovelier; he knew she'd never been happier and he wondered if there was a new someone in her life. He found the idea that both his mother and Pansy might have someone almost unbearable.
Draco wore immaculately tailored robes in dark grey with dark green lapels and a cut-away coat that had been a gift from his mother, and standing next to her, champagne glasses held negligently in similar, long pale hands, they cut a striking pair as they watched their guests mill about.
“Once again, a triumph, Mother," he murmured to her. “Everyone who is anyone is here."
“Not yet," she said with a small, secret smile, “but soon, I feel certain." Draco frowned at her slightly, but there wasn’t time for further comment.
There was a bit of a commotion at the door that caused Draco to look up and straight into Potter's peridot coloured eyes. He stared at the man, dressed head to toe in elegant midnight black dress robes, then caught himself and looked toward his mother. Her smile was triumphant and he knew.
"Mother," Draco groaned, feeling torn. He was so happy to see Potter, and yet...
"Draco," she said, her eyes filled with that unwavering understanding with which she'd looked at him for all of his life, "I know that you're trying to be ethical, and I applaud the impulse," she paused, her hand lifting to his cheek, "but darling, what if he's far more important than your next column? What if he's... the one?"
He blinked, swallowing. "I'm very much afraid he might be."
She smiled, her eyes misty. "Then, for once, stop worrying so much about what people will think, and follow your heart."
And with that, Harry had made his way across the room. He bussed Narcissa's cheeks and made just the right comment about her dress, her home and the party. Draco stood silently next to his mother. When Potter finally turned to him, one black brow arched ironically.
"Going to run again?" he asked quietly, reaching out and shaking Draco's hand.
Draco allowed Harry's hand to linger a bit longer than necessary before he answered. "I didn't run before," he replied.
"Yes," Harry countered, "more like never even made it to the start."
Harry's words cut at Draco like none had before. "I'd like a chance to explain," he said softly.
"Well I didn't get all dressed up just to say hello..." Harry said, stepping in close to Draco.
"Draco," Narcissa interrupted, "perhaps you could show Harry the tree in the east sitting room."
"The what?" Draco asked, his brow furrowed. "Ohhh," he continued, catching on. He gestured with his hand to indicate that Harry should walk. "This way, Potter, I'm sure you'll find the history of it...informative."
They walked silently down the long corridor to the last room. Draco opened the door and ushered Harry inside. He closed it behind them and felt a slight shift in the air. Waving his wand he lit the candles and groaned. They were standing in the middle of his bedroom at the Manor.
Draco moved to the fireplace and lit the logs with his wand and muttered 'very subtle, mother.'
Harry looked around the room and laughed. "I like your mother's style. No beating about the bush with her."
"Subtly is certainly not her middle name," Draco agreed. "But I do want to explain."
Harry moved to sit at the opposite end of the sofa that faced the fire and listened intently while Draco explained his reasons for not replying to Harry's owls and for asking him to let it go.
"I was going to let it go," Harry said, "even though I didn't want to. Then your mother came to see me."
"Yes and she'll be hearing about that tomorrow."
Harry moved closer and took Draco's hand in his. "Don't," he said softly. "She loves you very much to have risked your anger. Besides, without her interference we might have spent the holidays alone and that would be a pity."
Draco reached up to run his fingers along Harry's jaw. "Oh would it now," he said cheekily. "And why is that?" Harry angled his head into the touch.
"Because I like you," he answered, turning his face to brush the back of Draco's fingers with his mouth. Draco felt the resulting warmth run up his arm. "A lot. And I'd rather spend the holidays with you, and pass on the review." He shrugged. "The Cider Press can rise or fall on its own merits."
Draco shook his head slowly. "Too late," he murmured. "By now, the review will have gone to press."
Harry stood and pulled Draco closer. "Do you really believe that if it gets out that we're seeing each other, people will suddenly doubt your taste?"
Draco frowned slightly. "Well, no, but..." he frowned. "But they might think that I'm only giving you a favourable review because of it. It might hurt your business."
An amused grin pulled at the corner of Harry's mouth. "Draco, not for nothing, but anyone who knows anything about us would think that you might savage a place I owned, not the opposite." He shrugged. "And frankly, I think the idea that we're actually dating might bring in some people who simply won't believe it unless they see it. Ron, for instance. Or Ginny."
In spite of himself, Draco felt a grudging smile pull at his lips. "I've no intention of parking myself in your dining room, Potter," he said archly. He pretended to reconsider. "Unless, of course, the food were comped..."
Harry sent him a sly smile. "I'll see what I can do. And honestly, Draco," he went on, his smile fading slightly. "Everyone knows what exacting standards you have. If I thought for one moment that dating me would hurt your credibility in any way, I wouldn't be here, now. You carry more weight in restaurant circles than you know."
Draco knew his smile had widened. "Is that so?"
Harry nodded. "It is. People told me I should hope that you never showed up, knowing how you'd torn into other places. In fact, I'm almost afraid to see what you did write." He stepped even closer, so close that Draco could feel the heat of his body beneath the dress robes. "I don't suppose there's any way I might be able to trade sexual favours for a peek at it, is there?"
When Harry's hand reached up and circled his neck, Draco didn't pull away. He pretended to think about it. "What kind of critic do you think I am, Potter?" he asked archly.
"I was sort of hoping an easy one," Harry answered, his mouth lowering to Draco's lips.
"Think again, saviour boy," Draco drawled. Anything else he might have been going to add was forgotten as Harry kissed him.
Draco woke the next morning and stretched, wincing slightly as his muscles reminded him of the previous night's activities. He was about to reach for Harry when the side of the bed dipped and Harry sat down...croissant in one hand and The Quibbler in the other. "Nice review," he said, kissing Draco on the cheek. "While it's all wonderful, this is my favourite part; Give yourself a gift, and go to The Cider Press. The proprietor and pastry chef will provide a revelation, in more ways than one, but the food stands alone. You won't be sorry you made the trip.
"Happy Christmas, Harry," Draco said, sitting up.
"It certainly is," Harry replied before capturing Draco's mouth in a buttery, croissant flavoured kiss.