Title: Be-loved and Be-elved Part 2/3
Harry was just going to let it go. He was going to ignore it and hope it went away. The plan could work. It was the end of the day and he hadn’t even opened up the bloody letter yet.
He’d made the rounds of the factory as usual that morning, did all his checks, chatted up the employees a bit.
He’d paid a visit to the Potions Division to find Malfoy silently and stoically cleaning the equipment while everyone else was busily trying to piece together the answers to some problem laid out on a white board. Harry was immediately reminded of the twins joke the day before about Potions. He’d caught his first sniff of the reek from two divisions away.
He would have liked to say it was the smell that stopped him at a distance to watch Malfoy for a few minutes. But it simply wasn’t the truth. The blond had his sleeves rolled up, and his robes off. Muscles were slowly flexing beneath the thin fabric of his shirt and his finally tailored slacks as he moved, and the slight bend of his body over the sink was accentuating... And what the hell was Harry thinking? Why was he staring at Malfoy like that? Staring at him so hard that he’d almost forgotten the smell.
This was the twins’ fault. They had a way of filling a person’s head with such bullshite — direct ways in fact. Harry once found himself the unwilling test subject of a potion that made him think nothing but lewd thoughts for 48 hours straight. He’d had to call in sick. Even staying at home was bad. Suddenly, every wooden utensil, every carrot, his fire poker, his bloody wand... Even the creamy white foam that poured out of his Muggle-style shaving cream can had triggered a flood of nastiness into his thoughts.
Neither Edwards nor any of his people, including Malfoy, seemed to notice Harry sidle up to the work sink, where he carefully struck a composed pose, his arms crossed over his chest, one leg over the other. Of course, Harry found himself ruining the effect out of self defence. He placed a finger under his nose and began to speak. “Everything going well? Settling in alright?”
Malfoy looked up at him, his face almost completely blank, just his shining gray eyes revealing any sort of emotion, and they were hard to read anyway. “Let me say it this way, Mr Potter... sir. My house-elf used to constantly be around me. Every waking moment I was home. I fancy I’ve found a cure for that today and that from now on I’ll have plenty of privacy.”
“What do you mean?” Harry asked, a bit confused.
“I smell, Potter. Excuse me. I smell, Mr Potter. I am offensively odoriferous.” Malfoy stood up straight then bent back a little to stretch out his lower back. Harry found himself looking away. “I think I shall have to Apparate everywhere now, as I’m sure there won’t be a single form of public transportation in this city, either for Wizards or Muggles, that will accept me aboard.”
“Well, what happened?”
Malfoy went back to cleaning. Finally he shrugged and answered in a low, gravelly tone, “Nothing. Just, I’m sure, a standard accident with the Wham-Bam Whoots potion.”
When it seemed apparent that he wouldn’t go on, Harry cleared his throat. “Do tell.”
“Well, if you must know, it splashed all over me and all over the equipment and not much else! And then one of them,” he sneered and nodded at one of the younger members of the Potions Division, “showed me to a room to clean up in while the rest snickered behind my back.
“Unfortunately for me, I managed to get into my hair. Rest assured, Mr Edwards has done his duty adequately by informing me that testing has proved that short of shaving my head or waiting for a counter potion, I shall smell like rotting eggs for months. That, Mr Potter, is the good news. Would you like the bad news?”
Malfoy paused for only a moment, not really giving Harry a chance to respond before he started in again, “The bad news is, I think you’re soon going to have a few requisitions from Mr Edwards for new glass vials: I’d say you’ll be replacing, oh, I don’t know, all of them. I doubt these can be used for anything else now. I’ve never seen a more insidious potion. If I wasn’t the victim of it, I’d have to take my hat off to Fred or George or whoever came up with this ghastly stuff...”
Harry raised an eyebrow but Malfoy’s face was already splitting into a nasty rictus smile. “Right before I cursed them with something vile, that is. I’m joking. Of course I’m joking, sir. I would never curse anyone. At least not out loud and in a magical way. May I stop reporting now, or is this to become my new duty?”
Well, he’s mad, Harry thought, choosing to not find fault with the other man’s tone, as Harry himself was still holding his nose and trying not to breath too much of Malfoy in.
“Is scrubbing the only assignment you’ve been given so far?” He asked. “Have you tried to tackle whatever they are working on over there?”
“The counter-potion? No. I took a moment earlier to glance at it. Mostly I have been on task with the scrubbing. Mr Edwards said he didn’t want to ‘throw’ me into anything.”
Harry had glanced over at the rest of his Potions Division. He’d felt like saying something. He’d felt like... but maybe Edwards was right. Maybe slowly transitioning Malfoy into certain duties was better than just plopping him in the middle of complex preexisting problems. There was no reason to completely inundate him with difficult tasks on his second day of work. Probably by tomorrow Edwards would take him off the more mundane duties.
Harry gave the other man his employee information packet. Malfoy glanced at where Harry left it on a chair, then went back to his scrubbing. Harry was tempted, for a moment, to at least speak to Edwards about the situation, at least to find out what the other man’s plan was. In the end he found himself wandering on toward Enchanted Gags, glancing only once behind him to see that Malfoy was still engrossed, this time in scrubbing out a cauldron.
The sight made Harry pause. It reminded him of Hogwarts for some reason, which of course brought memories of his sixth year to his mind. He’d been so bloody obsessed with Malfoy that year. And now the man was working here, as if the past had never happened, as if they’d somehow just jumped over the worst years of their lives. Or maybe they’d just wiped those years from the slate in an attempt to start clean. Malfoy must have sensed him watching, because he looked up. The look on his face was no longer blank or angry or... or anything Harry could readily understand. Malfoy stared at Harry, a frown forming slowly, turning his features down and making him look pensive. Neither of them looked away. Neither of them seemed able. Finally, a cold draft passed over Harry and he shivered. Malfoy blinked, and his face softened. And then, as if whatever magic kept them locked to each other’s gaze passed, they both physically turned away. Harry started to quickly move toward Enchanted Gags, and he could hear water running behind him.
Yet, the knowledge that Malfoy now reeked and was only being used for scrubbing vials bothered Harry all day, probably because he wouldn’t let himself think about the look. It seemed wrong to Harry, that Malfoy was being assigned to such petty duties, but he couldn’t pinpoint the reason why it bothered him. Of course, Harry didn’t have long to stew. Within a couple of hours time, he found himself dealing with the numerous requisitions that Malfoy had prophetically warned him of. The rest of the day passed in a haze of paper work, a short lunch spent locked up in his office, and two very long, very boring meetings.
And now Harry was at home, standing on his threshold, the letter in one hand, his key in the other.
Opening the door, he found himself staring down a pair of green bulbous eyes. Dobby. The house-elf was currently clutching a long dusting wand, which he’d been running along the upper edges of the room, where the walls met the ceiling.
“Eee,” the elf cried, dropping his wand as if guilty. When he’d picked it up again, he seemed calmer. “Dobby is glad that Harry Potter is home.”
“Hi, Dobby. I didn’t expect to see you today, as you’d already stopped by yesterday and the day before. I didn’t figure I’d see you again until Friday.”
“Dobby took the day off, Harry Potter, sir, so that Dobby could come and take care of the cobwebs, sir. Harry Potter has a great many cobwebs building up in his home, Dobby has noticed, sir. It does not bother Harry Potter, does it? Dobby’s being here that is, not the cobwebs.” The house-elf was standing, hands clasped before him, a tacky amount of socks protruding around his legs, and his eyes wide and just a touch nervous.
“Oh. No! Dobby, I’ve told you before that I really do appreciate your help. In fact, I wish you would let me pay...”
“No, no, no! Dobby will hear nothing of payment, Harry Potter, sir. Dobby owes Harry Potter so much, Harry Potter doesn’t even know how much Dobby owes him. Dobby owes Harry Potter his whole life. If it weren’t for Harry Potter, Dobby still might be with his... his,” the house elf’s tone grew hushed, “old family.” Dobby shuddered.
Harry doubted that very much. He’d heard, read, and had otherwise been confronted by the truth of Malfoy’s existence: The man had nothing. The fact that he still had a single house-elf had been a mild surprise to Harry, but very mild. After all, you could take the money away from the rich, aristocratic pure-blood wizard prince, but you couldn’t take away the breeding. Draco was a snob, he’d probably always be a snob. Frozen assets and a job that made him reek didn’t seem likely to change that fact. Snobs didn’t wash their own underwear.
The fact that he himself no longer washed his own laundry wasn’t lost on Harry, but it wasn’t like Harry chose Dobby. Dobby definitely chose him. No matter how much Harry supposedly owed Dobby, it was weird having him around. At first it had made Harry nervous. Eventually he decided to start thinking of Dobby as a roommate: One that just happened to do all the chores and all the food shopping, even if he didn’t do any of the cooking. Even then it was still strange having a short, thin, large-eyed magical being running around his flat with feather dusters and window-cleaning potions. Unlike other wizards, Harry had very little in his house that marked him as a wizard. Any Muggle walking through the door would have thought Harry was just another average person, that there was nothing strange about him at all. Until, of course, they caught sight of the short, pointy-eared alien scrubbing his toilet.
“Dobby has a surprise for Harry Potter,” the elf said, beckoning Harry toward the small kitchen area. As much as Harry paid in rent for the place, two things about it always amazed and disappointed him: One, the extremely cramped space of his kitchen, and two, the complete rudeness of his neighbours. A great many of them were wizards, which meant that he was met more often with stares than with hellos. The ones that weren’t wizards just happened to be Muggles of the most thoughtless kind. Currently, the worst offenders, the ones he shared a wall with in the kitchen, had decided to turn up their telly to supersonic, deafness-inducing levels.
He’d tried silencing spells, just to realize with horror that he’d spelled his kitchen timer and burnt a roast. He’d tried muffling spells, which helped, but always ended up making him feel as if he were walking underwater. Eventually he’d decided to live with it.
Harry sighed and sat down at one of the two seats at his table. As he watched, Dobby opened the oven door with a wave of his hand, and Harry’s casserole dish came floating out.
“Harry Potter shall not have to make his own dinner tonight, oh no, for Dobby has prepared one for him!”
The dish landed before Harry, and he found himself pulling his sleeve down so he could take the top off. Inside, a creamy cheese sauce, Alfredo by the smell of it, bubbled around bow-tie pasta, what appeared to be bits of chicken, and various chunks of vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms and spinach. All in all, it could have looked a bit better, but it smelled really good.
“You made this on your own?”
The house-elf bobbed his head. “Dobby is trying to learn to cook. Dobby was never a part of the cooking staff at...” the elf swallowed, then continued in a whisper, “When Dobby was with his family.”
Dobby looked away, shook himself, then continued. “Dobby has been trying to learn... Dobby has been learning by,” the elf cringed and as Harry watched, he suddenly turned and slammed his head once against the wall.
“Stop that!” Harry jumped up and moved closer to the elf. “What in Merlin’s name do you think you’re doing?”
“Dobby has been watching Harry Potter’s television,” he screeched. “Without Harry Potter’s permission! Dobby wanted it to be a surprise. Dobby has been watching the... the... the cooking channel!”
“Is that all!” Harry rolled his eyes then moved to get a plate and fork out. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve told you that you’re free to make yourself at home here. After all, you clean the place. I don’t see why you can’t watch the cooking channel whenever you feel like it. Anyway, it’s great that you’ve decided to learn to cook.”
“Harry Potter really doesn’t mind?” the elf squeaked.
“Of course not.” Harry sat down again. “Why would I?”
Dobby stood there for a second, but didn’t say anything else. Harry dished himself some of the pasta and ate a few bites. Dobby watched raptly as Harry continued to eat it. “It’s good,” Harry finally said with a smile.
Dobby’s shoulders slumped and he let out the breath that he’d apparently been holding. With a slight smile, the elf turned to the sink to clean up the dishes. He turned on the tap and began to fill it with water. As he did, Harry dished himself out more of the pasta, then picked up the pepper to lightly dust it. He wondered what cooking show Dobby had been watching to come up with this little concoction. It looked like it’d been pretty easy to make, so it was probably one of those shows for harried working Muggle mothers who had to cook dinner in less than thirty minutes.
Reaching into his pocket, Harry pulled out the letter and laid it on the table. Just as soon as he did, the smell of gardenias began to fill the room, overpowering even the Alfredo. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see that Dobby had gone tense, but he continued to wash anyway.
Harry blinked at the movement, then found himself saying, “So, I keep on getting these strange letters.”
Dobby stood quietly and didn’t reply. Harry bit down on his lip slightly. Why he was telling the house-elf might have been hard to explain to a great many. He was suspicious and it was all for the stiffness in Dobby’s shoulders. The elf knew something, which, on top of the fact that George and Fred were right, that there was something intensely similar about these letters and Draco’s resume, Harry was beginning to get a very, very bad feeling about the whole thing.
“Purple parchment, script writing across the front. Highly flammable, I would think, because of the horrid gardenia perfume they’ve been soaked in. This is the latest one, right here. Just got it this morning at work. Funny though. Each one has just mysteriously appeared. No owl, no courier. Just poof. Like they’d been magically sent there.”
The house-elf dropped the wooden spoon he’d been washing, but was able to pick it back up and continue. His shoulders stayed hunched, as if he was trying to hide in broad view, and it was then Harry felt sure: Dobby definitely knew something about the letters.
“What’s really strange is that letters of this kind, you’d think, wouldn’t even be delivered to a person’s workplace. After all, there’s no telling whose hands they could end up in. Maybe if it were some obsessive fan. But it’s been a long time since I’ve had that sort of mail. Eventually, obsessive teenage girls would have to grow up, and unfortunately, I’m not the member of some sort of band. Saving the world just isn’t as important to those who were too young to remember what it was like to be in danger.”
Dobby seemed to be relaxing then, as if he were sure Harry would continue rambling on instead of confronting him about anything. Which, of course, was exactly what he wasn’t going to do.
“So, what I’m curious to know is how and why these letters showed up on my desk. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it, would you, Dobby?”
The elf froze mid-cleaning. This time, however, he didn’t drop the spoon. Instead, he grasped the wooden utensil tighter and started to beat himself with it.
“Ah ha! I knew it! You do know something and... Enough! Enough of that!” Harry reached out and grabbed the elf’s arm as he began to poke the non-business end of the spoon against the side of his face. “What is wrong with you? You’re going to put an eye out!” Dragging Dobby away from the sink, Harry turned him and stared into his eyes. “Well, what do you know about all this?”
“Please don’t be angry at Dobby, Harry Potter! Dobby was discreet! Nobody saw Dobby leave them! But Dobby felt it was best that letters of this nature shouldn’t just be lying about! Dobby found them, every single one, lying against Harry Potter’s door! Dobby was just trying to make sure the letters were delivered quickly.”
Harry turned, picked up the letter, then squatted in front of Dobby. “Really. You were just, what, forwarding them on to me then? If that’s so, why not just come out with it?”
Dobby’s eyes grew wider, and his body started to shake as if it would explode. Harry took a step back and before he knew it, Dobby was spinning to rush toward the nearest wall. Harry caught him easily by the back of the long white shirt he wore.
“Do you know how they’ve been delivered here?” he asked, even as Dobby’s little, sock-clad legs kicked midair.
Dobby slumped and shook his head so hard his ears practically slapped him in the face.
Harry bit down on his lower lip, let Dobby go, then tore into the latest letter to read it.
“To my only joy,
I fear I cannot wait longer! I feel I must confess my soul to you soon, or lose my mind! I have seen you again — again you did not notice. It would take a mountain of parchment to express the pain this gives me. I shall soon succumb to despair if I do not speak to you, do not touch your face. Do not feel your lips upon mine.
Yes, I have said it. I hunger for you. I thirst for you! You are the very essence of everything I need to live! I die slowly without you, but I do not blame you. How could I? You move through this world with such simple beauty; it is hardly the fault of those around you if you are elevated above them in thought and purpose. I have seen your face, your eyes. I can see your soul in them and I believe that if I could but bring myself to stand before you and profess my love, you would have me.
Then I would be whole.
Soon, my breath of life. Very soon I shall throw off this fear that shackles us both, and then you will know me.
Until then, I am your ever hopeful slave, waiting simply to be claimed.”
Harry felt his mouth twist into a disgusted rictus seconds before he dropped the parchment. “How can a person that professes to love me so much torture me with this shite? Who could ever be that insane?”
He looked up and found that Dobby was pulling on one of his ears, wringing it with one hand.
“No! You don’t know... You know?”
The house-elf shook himself, shrieked once, then began to violently tug on his ear as if he’d pull it straight off. As Harry watched, he actually managed to pull himself to the ground, where he proceeded to beat his head into the linoleum. Harry was too dumbfounded to do anything for a moment.
Finally he yanked Dobby back up.
“What else do you know about all this, Dobby? I want to hear all of it.”
“Harry Potter must not be angry, Dobby doesn’t know that he knows anything, Dobby just thinks he knows and Dobby would have said... but Dobby is unsure! What if Dobby is wrong?”
“I don’t care if you’re wrong! Just tell what you think you know.”
“Dobby thinks he recognizes the parchment. Dobby thinks he recognizes the smell of the perfume. Harry Potter, Dobby is not sure, but Dobby thinks he saw that very parchment in the desk...”
“The Mistress’ desk.”
“No, you don’t mean... Narcissa Malfoy?”
Dobby’s eyes went wide and he threw his hands up to clench at his neck. “Yes,” he finally screamed, his voice so high and piercing that the blaring sound of the neighbour’s telly disappeared to be replaced with the sudden barking of every neighbourhood dog. “Dobby saw that paper in her desk, Dobby saw it and remembered it but Dobby did not want to say anything, Dobby did not want... Dobby only thought that it would be alright if Harry Potter had his letters but could not find out who they were from! If Harry Potter read them because Dobby passed them on, Dobby thought they might make him happy... Dobby did not think they would be bad letters. And Dobby isn’t even sure they are the Mistress’ pages. Dobby is not sure at all!”
“Yeah, but Dobby didn’t want Harry Potter to know anyway, right? Isn’t that, in fact, why you passed them on? They would be harder to trace that way, right? I mean, if I found them here then there’s a chance I might start asking around. Maybe track down someone who actually saw who placed them on the doorstep. Isn’t that what you were thinking?”
“Dobby doesn’t think!”
Harry paused a moment then, struck by what the house-elf had just said. Biting his lip, he tried not to laugh. Finally he turned, went back over to the table, folded up the parchment and tucked it into a pocket.
“And Harry Potter thinks too much,” he said to himself, picking up his fork. “Because I always think too much.”
Dobby continued to cower on the floor for a while. It seemed to take him that long to realize that Harry wasn’t going to say another thing. Just as soon as he did, Dobby finished every single one of the chores he’d apparently set out to complete that day with an alacrity that shocked even Harry. Before he knew what was happening, Dobby was bowing, making some random comment about going to the market again the next day to get Harry some more cream and other necessities. Harry gave him a Galleon and the elf poofed into thin air without another word, not even a goodbye.
Harry didn’t do much else the rest of the night. He didn’t watch the telly. He didn’t feel sleepy. He didn’t go down to the pub as he often did when he didn’t watch the telly or feel sleepy. Instead, he stared at the letters. He sat at his table and read them. He sat down on his couch and read them. He paced and read them.... again and again and again.
Surely there was a reason... Well, perhaps he was drunk when he wrote them, Harry finally thought. Or maybe it was a big practical joke, although it struck him that this wasn’t the sort of thing a Malfoy would ever do. It didn’t have the flavour of a Draco Malfoy joke.
And there was the look. But it was just a look, right? It meant nothing... or did it? And Harry had returned the look. He’d been looking while Draco looked. They’d been looking at each other. And he’d thought Draco looked good. That wasn’t right. Was it? That he’d thought this man grown out of a boy he’d hated so much looked... well, from behind, slightly bent over the sink... and what the bloody hell was that thought? Had Harry been staring at... at that? Surely not! Not on Malfoy! Not on any man, at least not ever before. Or had he?
Harry found himself drawing his knees up to his chin, wrapping his arms around his legs and shivering in the darkness of his flat. The world outside suddenly seemed large, weird, and hostile. Draco Malfoy was sending him love letters and Harry was responding to said love letters with queer looks and bum-surveying. The fact that it was, by this time, two or three in the morning, and all his thoughts had a sort of mushy, sleep-deprived quality, was totally lost on him as he continued to stew over Draco Malfoy.
His mind was filled with maybes and ifs and more maybes. The more maybes he piled on, the more he realized that he dreaded seeing Draco again. Because if this was true, if indeed Draco Malfoy had written these horrid things, then everything had changed. If he loved Harry, things had changed and Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about the possibility of that reality. He knew he should probably feel disgust, revulsion, maybe even some hatred. But as he closed his eyes and imagined Draco’s face, all he felt was an intense pang of nervousness, something that bordered on panic. Harry was pretty sure if Draco Malfoy tried to profess his love, he would not be able to handle it. How he would “not handle it,” of course, remained to be seen.
It was these thoughts buzzing over and over in his head that finally pulled him down into sleep where he sat on his couch at around 4 a.m. This was unfortunate time and place to sleep as his alarm, which was in his bedroom, was set to go off at six. Harry, of course, did not hear it; yet he awoke at 8 a.m. anyway with the sudden realization that he was running an hour late.
Draco should have known something was wrong when he entered the employee locker/break room. There were too many people about, gathered in small groups around the vending machines and the water cooler. One was even sitting at a small table that had never been there before, nonchalantly sipping tea from a mug and reading a copy of The Daily Prophet.
Draco should have been extremely suspicious, and he was... But surely they were all professionals, and any sort of games they might play weren’t.
Later, Draco would try to reason out why that had seemed good enough at the time, why he had decided to just go for it. Later, Draco would kick himself. But at that moment he was pulling out his key and slipping it into his locker. The soft click of it sliding in was accompanied by a small symphony of repressed snickers. He heard them. Later he would wonder why he ignored them, why he didn’t just turn on them and tell them there was nothing they could do to him that would make any difference.
But even if he did he still had to open his locker.
Reaching out, he was about to turn the key when the plant alarm bell went off: The one that called everyone’s attention to the fact that it was time to start work. It went off again at lunch time and again at day’s end. Under any other circumstance, Draco would have been rattled by the sound. It was something between a screech and a wail, punctuated by a quick percussion of individual claps, like an old-fashioned bell that had to be rung with some sort of hammering devise. All in all it was the most annoying thing Draco had ever heard and he wasn’t surprised. He worked for the Weasley twins.
Draco turned and stared at each of his spectators, meeting their eyes, one after the other. They looked away from his gaze, shuffled their feet, but didn’t move. He continued to stand with his hand on his locker. It didn’t matter if he was running late, he was one person. But all of them? How could the rest of them possibly justify standing there, waiting for him to make his move?
That’s when he saw Mr Edwards duck his head into the room. “Well, enough of this lolly gagging! Get to work, the lot of you. Malfoy, see me as soon as you’ve got your things together. I’ve got a new assignment for you.”
Then his boss was gone, scuttling away before Draco could even open his mouth to protest or suggest that his locker was booby-trapped.
So, late it was then and he didn’t care how late. He would outwait them. If they wanted to play their games, at least he had patience on his side. Edwards didn’t seem like the sort that would get after him for a few missed minutes, especially if he showed up with unsubtle signs that he’d been pranked sprayed, or dusted, or standing up all over his body.
Hand still on his key, Draco continued to try to stare his spectators down, his eyes narrowed. Apparently none of them were quite as patient as he. They started to file out, grumbling and throwing dirty glances at him as they did. The last to go was the man at the table. As if he wasn’t casually trying to observe Draco’s downfall, he stood up and downed the rest of the contents of his cup in one, hearty swallow before putting it down. The cup, table, paper and chair on which he’d been sitting all disappeared into thin air with a wave of his wand.
And then Draco was alone. He bit his lip. He might as well get this over with. No point in standing about, eagerly guessing the shade of hell his coworkers had chosen to paint his day with.
Twisting his key violently in the lock, he practically jumped back in the hopes that the manoeuver would take him out of the range of the... well, whatever the jokers responsible hid in there.
No such luck. A red cloud of cinnamon smelling powder puffed outward, blasting his face and making his eyes water. A puff went up his nose and he gagged before letting loose a deep, lung-bursting sneeze. When it finally dissipated, Draco caught sight of himself in the small mirror that had come with his locker. His face looked as if it had been dusted with red flour. Turning, he felt a smile creep onto his lips.
“Is that the best they’ve got here?” He laughed. “Pathetic!”
“Wait for it, lad,” he heard from behind him. Turning, he saw Mr Edwards shaking his head and tsking under his breath. “Came to see what was taking you so long. If it’s any comfort, they do this to all the new arrivals. I wouldn’t take it too personally... at first. I do give you credit, lad. We’ve had newcomers turn in resignations on just the feeling that they were about to be set up by their fellow product testers. It takes some courage to provide proof.”
“What’s it supposed to —” Draco started, but never finished because that’s when he felt it. Throwing up his hands, he started to scratch at the overwhelmingly irritating substance. He heard Edwards shuffle forward and from between his fingers he could see the man pointing a spray bottle at his face.
“Oh, by Slytherin’s ghost,” Draco screamed, “tell me that’s an antidote!”
“Of course it is, lad, do you think I’m going to pour salt in your wounds? Now hold still and get your bloody hands away from your face. Scratching will just make it worse.”
Draco threw his hands down and stared at Edwards from eyes that felt red and puffy and that were quickly leaking a stream of tears.
“Eyes closed,” the older man said. Draco obeyed and felt a cool spray hit his face. “Now hands out.” He again obeyed and Edwards coated his hands thoroughly.
“That’ll take care of the itch,” Edwards said as Draco opened his eyes again. “But you’re going to need something else for the pimples. I’ve still got some cream left over in my desk from the last time Lewis pulled this... well, this sort of thing.”
“So you know who did it?”
“Didn’t I just say his name? Truthfully, I don’t know for sure, but I will by the end of the day. I’ve ways of finding out lad, but my money is on him from the start. He’s the sort that’ll jinx you as soon as look at you. Now, I think you’re safe to get your helmet and goggles. You’re going to need them as you’ll be working with potions today, not just cleaning.”
“So that’s it? You slap a wrist? What happens if whoever responsible booby-traps my locker tomorrow?”
“Then you tell me and I write him or her up again. Don’t think for a moment that just because... well, because you are who you are, that I’ve any intention of letting them get away with this behaviour. You’ve got three write-ups in this place before we suspend you without pay, or, depending on the circumstances, fire you. Lewis already has two. He’s due for a suspension, but I doubt he’ll be fired over this. Just to warn you. Now, I want you to take a friendly piece of advice from me” keep your chin up boy. Take it all calmly, let it roll off your back. They’ll get over it sooner rather than later. Blow up over it and they’ll pull these pranks for weeks. Walk out of this room with your head held high? I give them two days, three tops. It’s no fun, lad, if you don’t get angry or upset. I’ve heard of you by reputation. I think you of all people would know a bully’s mind.”
Draco narrowed his eyes, but Mr Edwards just shrugged. “Deny it boy, but it’s true. You’ll be who you are for the rest of your life, until you give people a reason to change their own thoughts on the subject. You’re a Malfoy. While that might not mean much to many, I’d think it would at least mean something to you.”
“My face is breaking out in pimples and you’re giving me this talk?” Draco asked hoarsely, turning to catch a glimpse of himself. His skin was now covered in a multitude of red spots, some of them with nasty little white heads.
“What else would I say lad? Quit? Are you the sort that quits over the pettiness of others? Come on now.” Edwards grabbed Draco’s helmet, popped it on his head, then took his goggles in one hand, setting the other on Draco’s back and started to steer him toward the hall.
“Oh... oh, by the love of... My skin wasn’t even this nasty in school,” Draco found himself muttering softly.
“Yes, well, luckily for you it was just Weasley’s Pimpling Powder and not something worse. Sure, it has a bit of a bite at first, but the itch would have gone away on its own. I’m surprised, really. I would have thought they’d have done something much worse to you. No offence, lad, but you’ve got a reputation and you’re not going to make friends with smiles and winks. This makes me suspicious. Try your best to keep your dignity, Malfoy. I think you might have a war on your hands.”
Draco grabbed up his goggles from the other man’s hand. “Of course it’s bloody war.”
“In any case, I think it’s high time I sized up your talent for brewing. After yesterday’s... ahem, incident, we need more Whoots. While I can’t imagine using the cauldron you cleaned or those glass vials for anything else, I think they’d be fine if we continued to use them for Whoots brewing. So that’s my task for you today. I’ll show you where we keep the ol’ recipe book and potion supplies.”
“Oh, I can hardly wait,” Draco murmured as they walked out onto the floor of the factory. The first thing Edwards did when they got to Potions was point at a short, young, scruffy looking wizard with an attitude that would have given Draco’s a run back in the day. Lewis didn’t seem surprised that he was singled out: He kept his reaction very calmly locked behind a sneer as he walked forward.
“You’ll wait for me in the break room, Lewis,” the older man said, jerking a finger back the way they had come. Lewis glanced once at Draco, giving him a nasty pinch-faced look that made Draco bare his teeth in return, and then he was off.
Edwards turned to his desk, opened it up and handed Draco a white tube. “That should set you right by the end of the day. Smear it on every half-hour. Works wonders. Now, let’s get you started so I can get started on Lewis.”
After Edwards showed him, in depth, everything he might need to start brewing up a storm, the older man left, grousing something about receiving, giant mushrooms, too busy for this, and Mr Potter. His stride was sharp enough that Draco could hear him walking away over the burgeoning noise of the factory, until he finally disappear behind a set of shelves.
Mr Potter... Those words sort of vibrated in his mind. Mr... Potter... Years ago Draco would have said it didn’t seem right, and yet, from everything he’d seen so far, it did seem right. Harry seemed, for all intents and purposes, to belong in this god awful madhouse. He’d even acted as if he cared when he’d asked Draco if he was settling in all right. Of course, what happened after that had been, well, weird to say the least. But what had Draco expected?
He wished he could read Potter’s mind, see what was going on in there. Edwards, he felt, he’d pretty much figured out. He wouldn’t be a bad man to work for, but he’d probably always have something to say about Malfoy’s past or present or future. All the rest of the shiteheads around were just that. But Potter?
Well, why had Precious Potter even hired him to begin with? Why come by to see him? Why do any of it?
Draco found that he had to read over the potion directions five times before he absorbed enough of it for it to start making sense. Not because it was particularly complicated, but because his brain was filled with bloody Potter.
It was this, and no other reason, Draco would later think, that made him open the ingredients cabinet with such careless abandon, even though the snickering had started before he even got close enough to touch it.
At least the Octosparrot that was now firmly attached to his head was warm-blooded and definitely not slimy. Its feathers tickled a bit, and its tentacles had firmly locked under Draco’s chin, forcing him to hold his head up, like an insane who was terribly proud of his Octosparrot hat. However, the creature’s soft chirping noises were as lovely as a nightingale’s song.
Even so, Draco decided he may have a bone to pick with Potter. He stormed past Marleen the Bubbly — an act that didn’t seem to shock her much as she called after him, “Hello Mr Drake” and nothing else — and took the stairs two at a time.
Potter, however, wasn’t in his office. The door was unlocked. Even though it wasn’t proper, Draco grabbed the door handle and forced it open, just to find the office empty, the lights off and everything as still as a graveyard.
“Bloody hell,” Draco said.
Luckily Edwards showed up again a few minutes after Draco decided it was best just to work with the creature on his head.
“It’s not funny,” Draco had said, his eye twitching in response to Edwards’ smile.
“Oh, come on lad, you have to admit that this is a wee bit funny.”
“Wee? No. It’s non-funny. It’s completely humourless.”
“Well, it’s lucky I’ve seen it all then, isn’t it lad? I’d be laughing heartily for no particular reason if I hadn’t.”
Edwards was able to quickly trick the beast off with bit of dried squid. Then he carried it away, cooing and petting it like one would pet a regular parrot, to its rightful keepers.
Hardly a person noticed when Harry turned up a good two hours late, which was and wasn’t reassuring. Obviously, nothing had blown up or gone horribly afoul in his absence, which was a good thing. But you’d think that people would notice when the boss wasn’t about as much as they noticed when the boss was about. Perhaps not.
Harry quickly changed, grabbed his clipboard, and started making his rounds of the floor. The only division he didn’t check in with was Potions. He could tell himself it was because Edwards was one of his most senior employees, practically Harry’s second in command, so to speak, and the one in charge of everything in Harry’s absence... but the truth, he had to admit to himself, was that he just didn’t want to see Malfoy.
Instead he attached himself to the group of young wizards still trying to figure out why their disappearing card gag wasn’t working out in the intended way after a week of tests and tweaks in the hopes that some good old fashioned product testing would take his mind off... well, everything.
It didn’t. The fact that he fell asleep in his chair and dozed for a few hours after lunch didn’t help either. He woke up with a crick in his neck, cranky with the knowledge that he’d fallen asleep. He was the boss, and he’d fallen asleep on the job.
Of course, he had no choice but to stay late then, after so many hours of not doing what he was supposed to do. The plant bell went off, the crowd departed, and the building fell into a stifling silence that would have made Harry’s skin crawl if he hadn’t been long used to it. Now it was rather relaxing, knowing he was the only one left.
Or at least, that’s what he thought. His door was open, and all it took was one good popping blast to alert him to the presence of someone else.
Jogging down the stairs and over the factory floor, clumsily pulling his wand from his pocket as he went, he found himself heading toward a puff of smoke that could only have come from Potions.
Only in that the whole building was beginning to fill with the ghastliest reek Harry had ever had the displeasure to find his nose in.
He rounded another set of desks, cabinets and work counters to slightly slide to a stop amidst the chaos. Everything was covered in a thick layer of black soot, including the figure laid out on the floor before him. In fact, the figure was the sootiest of all.
Getting down next to him, Harry pulled on Draco’s shoulder (he knew it was Draco, couldn’t see his face, but he knew anyhow) to roll him onto his back. The other man was either dead or knocked out cold. Harry checked for a pulse, then put his head right next to Draco’s mouth. As he was listening for breathing, Draco suddenly gasped in a deep breath and grabbed him. Harry pulled him off the floor as Draco threw his arms around Harry and coughed, great hacking sobs that shook his whole body. It took a minute of gasping and tight grasping, Draco’s head pressed into Harry’s shoulder, before the blond seemed to calm and gain control of his breathing.
When even the finest of trembles stopped, Harry realized that he was holding Draco and that Draco, in turn, was still holding him. Harry let his hands fall away, even as he found his eyes locking on a distant point of late sunlight that had found its way into the building from somewhere. He stared at it because it was better than staring at... well any part of Draco. Draco, in turn, had gone completely still. A second later, he was pushing Harry almost roughly away.
Harry didn’t look at Draco. He wondered distantly if Draco was trying as hard to not look at him.
“Alright then, Malfoy?” he found himself softly asking. There were fine cracks in the tile on the floor under the golden beam. He could see the soot sort of sinking into them. He was going to have to call a clean-up crew in tonight if he expected anyone to get any work done tomorrow.
“Indeed, yes. More than, I think.... I’m pretty sure I’ve got the counter-potion. Mass production and distribution might be a problem. It seems to be very volatile.”
“I can tell,” Harry looked around, felt his eyes arch over where Draco was, as if pulled by a magical force away from the other man’s body.
“Don’t know why. Shouldn’t have been. Fix it tomorrow. The important thing is, it works. If the air didn’t reek so much, I think it would be easy to tell that I’m now smell-free.”
“Good job, then, Malfoy,” Harry looked at his feet as he got up onto them. “Report to St. Mungo’s right away. I’m going to need a note from a Healer for your file. Work-hazard program and all that.”
“Of course... ahem, sir.”
“You received clearance from Edwards for this overtime you’re working, correct?”
“He knows of it. He gave me the task of brewing up more Whoots. I don’t think he knew I’d come across an epiphany regarding the counter-potion as I was working, however. I have been here an hour longer than I said I would be... but...”
“Not a worry, Malfoy,” Harry cleared his throat. “I’ll sign off on it. Just get yourself to St. Mungo’s.”
“Of course.” Draco pulled himself to his feet. Harry’s eyes were drawn to Draco’s hands, even if he couldn’t bring himself to look at the other man’s face. Draco had begun to try to dust himself off. Finally, he stopped and Harry saw that his hands were faintly trembling. He straightened himself, turned, and began to walk away. Harry couldn’t help but watch him go. It was a mistake though, since Draco was turning and looking back at him.
Another look hung heavily between them, and if Harry didn’t know better, Draco was about to open his mouth and say something that Harry definitely didn’t want to hear.
“See a Healer, Draco. You don’t know what sort of trouble I’ll be in if you’ve got a concussion or some other injury and I don’t have you go to a Healer.”
Draco nodded once then turned away. The moment passed, and Harry felt himself relax. Distantly he realized that even though the air around him was now filled with smoke, the revolting smell was gone.
Instead, everything smelled pine forest fresh.