Title: Be-loved and Be-elved Part 1/3
Pairing(s): H/D (and their house-elf buddies, Dobby and Twinky, consecutively)
Summary: Harry suddenly finds himself the recipient of a number of love letters, which appear mysteriously on his desk at W.W.W. Inc., Fred and George’s magical gag factory. Is it just coincidence that they start to show up shortly before hiring Draco Malfoy as a new product tester? Or has Harry’s life simply taken a turn for the humorous now that he is in the middle of some great romantic conspiracy? And what part, if any, does Dobby play in the ever increasing mess that is Harry’s romantic life?
Rating: R for some foul language and adult situations that involve implied sex and explicit snogging.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Insane house-elves appear at all the most indecent times in this fic. While there is nothing particularly graphic in this work, this is a heads up to people with house-elf problems.
Word Count: 27,308
Author's Notes: First of all, sorry this is such a monster. I did not intend for it to be this long. I think it’s a by-product of massive amounts of Plot! Secondly, the character Twinky, at a point early on in this fic, is watching an old sci-fi movie and is listening to a song at the same time. I didn’t have anything particular in mind for the movie, but the song is, specifically, the Voltaire cover of “Caught a Lite Sneeze,” by Tori Amos. Amazon has a preview of it available to listen to. Search for “A Tribute to Tori Amos — Songs of a Goddess.”
It was sitting like a sweetly scented death sentence in his in-box when he arrived at work. The parchment the envelope was made of was a somewhat ... effeminate shade of lavender, and the smell it gave off indicated that it was either completely non-business related or that the twins were once again using him, the foreman of their very own magical gag and joke factory, as the butt of another “product introduction.”
Better Harry than any of the people that worked under him; after all, he’d trained long and hard to fend off everything the Dark Arts could throw at him. The day a Fred and George Weasley gag took him out for the count was the day he turned in his white lab robes and badge and got a job at a Quidditch supply shop.
Taking out his wand, he gently poked at the white waxen seal that protected the letter. Muttering a particularly complex charm under his breath, he tweaked his wand to the left then flicked it down, which released a burst of pale blue light. The twinkling streak hit the paper with a harmless crackle and flowed like dying embers down onto the desk, eventually disappearing. Harry raised an eyebrow and tried another charm, then a third. Finally, he reached out and flipped the letter over.
And almost choked.
“To my love...” was inked in a scrawling, loopy script across the front. Letting out a heavy sigh, Harry picked it up and pulled at the wax until the seal popped off and he could unfold the parchment.
“To my love —
Though we are long parted, you linger upon my mind. Your wide green eyes are affixed there; our fingers intertwined as hand and hand we walk down lanes of my imagination, and I know that which I hold: The pinnacle of creation. No finer limbs were ever gifted, no nose quite so long. No ears were ever shaped as yours, no mouth was ever as tender — yet strong. And this I would have you know, though it has been years since we’ve stood together... I pine for you, I yearn forever. I’m yours, now and forever.”
Confused, Harry raised an eyebrow, then his eyes. He looked right, left, then gingerly reached up to touch his nose. Finally he sighed, folded up the paper again and tucked it away in the bottom left-hand drawer of his desk, slipping it safely beneath a pint-bottle of Skelegrow he kept for emergencies.
Taking off the black blazer he wore to walk amongst Muggles, he replaced it with his lab robes, put on his potion-splatter resistant goggles and his magically reinforced hard-hat before tucking his wand and badge into his breast pocket. Picking up his clipboard, he walked to the light switch, flicked it off, then closed the door gingerly behind him as he made his way down into the factory proper to make his morning rounds.
Marleen, the plant receptionist, smiled and waved as he clopped down the last two steps of the stairway that overshadowed her desk. He smiled and waved back.
“Good morning, Mr Potter,” she said with the same sort of bubbly sweetness that she always had in great supply. With any other person, it might have been annoying, but as it was so seemingly artless on Marleen’s part, it was hard to dislike her for it — even though it was more often than not teeth-clenchingly irritating. Especially on long, dragging days when he’s found that everything has literally blown up in his face. That is inevitably when Marleen will appear, cup of tea (and not even proper tea, but some sort of herb variety) in hand, a twittering little giggle from her mouth and a “Hard day again then, boss?”
“Good morning, Marleen. Would you by any chance happen to know where the purple-parchment letter in my in-box came from?”
Marleen blinked, then looked around. “My word, Mr Potter. I don’t know. There’s been no owl post or courier by today, and when I left last night, your desk was empty.”
Harry cocked an eyebrow but softened it with a smile. “Well, thank you anyway, Marleen.”
Her lips cracked in an overly-wide smile, the one which made her eyes crinkle up in an almost painful-looking way. “Of course, Mr Potter. I’m here to please.”
From any other person in the building, Harry would have taken such phrasing as a nicely worded pick-up line. But that was Marleen. She was as ... innocent as she was bubbly. Harry started to walk away.
“Mr Potter, wait. I have something for you: An envelope Mr G. brought by earlier.”
Harry back-tracked to stand over Marleen’s desk. “What is it?” he asked, picking up the large orange envelope with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. But that was to be expected, seeing as how one of the big bosses, George, had personally delivered it. You really couldn’t trust much of anything that Fred or George personally delivered.
“Oh, I’ve no idea. He didn’t say.”
“Hmm, alright.” Harry pulled out his wand, set the envelope down and started to mouth his selection of charms again. Marleen giggled.
“Now, Mr Potter, I really don’t think Mr G. spelled it. He was very serious when he dropped it by and he told me to tell you there’s no need for your wand. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Harry tucked his wand away and ripped the envelope open, cringing as he did so. It took a strong constitution sometimes to work for W.W.W., Inc. Of course, he was surprised and not surprised at all to find a stack of resumes inside the envelope. They’d had an advert in The Daily Prophet for two months for new “product testers.” The fact that there were only six resumes was a testament to how notorious the position had become amongst the local Wizarding community. Sure, the pay was good and the benefits were marvelous, but the green pus-laden lesions were a pain in the arse to cure.
That’s of course if you were lucky to get curable lesions. The last product tester had turned a lovely shade of orange from head to toe after accidentally inhaling some sort of gag powder, and hadn’t been back since, not even to collect his last check which had included severance pay. Harry hadn’t been surprised.
Harry shoved the papers back into the envelope and tucked it underneath his check-off sheets on his clipboard. Clicking his Ever-Ready brand ball-point quill once, he headed toward the Confections Division.
Draco Malfoy stood over — towered over, in fact — the diminutive house-elf, even though Twinky was much taller than normal, perched as he was on top of a step-stool. Yet, there was something about the pale, bulge-eyed being that suggested that, far from being easily dominated like other house-elves Draco had seen in his past (Dobby, his father’s favorite torture victim being topmost on Draco’s mental list), this elf was strong willed with a keen mind and a great deal of presence. When, of course, he wasn’t being somewhat ... flamboyant.
Floating to one side of the step-stool was a small black and white Muggle television that Twinky had acquired at some point in time, although Draco was damned if he knew where. It was playing, as always, some antiquated piece of cinema in which a man and woman clutched each other while the hulking mass of some alien monster hovered over them... On mute, of course, because to the other side of him bobbed a Muggle music player from which a deep male voice smoothly purred over what sounded like an electric harpsichord and violins, “Boys on my left side, boys on my right side, boys in the middle and you’re not here... Boys in their dresses and you’re not here!”
But that was typical. Twinky was a fanatic connoisseur of two things: Muggle motion-picture classics and strange Muggle music. The fact that he liked to mix the two as much as possible while he worked had become extremely apparent when Draco obtained his new flat. That Draco had now seen more of classic Muggle motion-pictures and heard more Muggle music from all over the world then he’d ever cared to was simply a testament to how utterly present Twinky was. It was like he was always around, always doing some small job, polishing something that he’d already polished just the day before. Always breathing down Draco’s neck, or maybe that was just a slight paranoid fantasy that Draco had but still, he’d never known a house-elf to be so very... visible.
“Hmm, Master has a great gift for words, Twinky knows this,” the little house-elf was saying. Draco had meant to be the first one to speak, but somehow Twinky had found a way to dominate his “Master’s” ear. “Twinky thinks Master should say so in his resume. After all, Twinky is not gifted with words.” The elf waved his hand about for a moment and rolled his eyes a bit. “If Twinky was to say a person was bright, then Master would say something wonderful like... Well, what would Master say?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Draco swallowed, clutching at the laden hanger in his hand, hidden behind his back. The little house-elf was folding laundry and placing it within the built-in cabinetry that had come with the place. “Why does it matter? I need you to pay attention to me now. I’ve something to tell you.”
Draco pointed at the music player. When Twinky either didn’t notice, or decided to appear as if he didn’t notice, Draco reached out and turned it down.
“It matters not, Twinky supposes,” his eyes rolling over Draco’s outreached hand before he turned back to the laundry. “It’s just that Twinky thinks Master doesn’t make enough of his talents.” The elf put down what he’d been folding and slapped his hands onto what Draco could only guess were his hips. Twinky raised an eyebrow. “Hmm? Is it not so! Now, would Master call a person bright? Or dazzling? Or — ”
“I don’t bloody know, Twinky!” Draco cried suddenly. “What does it bloody matter? Look at me for just one moment.”
Regardless of the flamboyance, Draco couldn’t help but like him. He was pleased enough with the little elf, in fact, that he’d kept him around much longer than the other house elves, the lot of which Draco had been forced to dismiss one by one. Each was sent packing with a nice, crisp set of new clothes on his or her back, hopefully for greener pastures of the sort that Draco would never be able to offer them again.
“Hmmph, well, Master doesn’t need to be tetchy about it,” he cried, blowing a breath up to flop the single, long blond curl of hair that grew from the middle of his head forward so that it would fall somewhere other than directly into his face. He was always blowing at that lock, which made the fact that he was the only elf that Draco had ever seen with actual hair, somewhat amusing. He often wondered if it was real, or if the little elf had vainly taken some potion or somehow glued hair onto his head.
The elf continued, waving his hands about. “Twinky was just asking a question. Twinky was just making a point! Master should look at those advertisements Twinky clipped for him. Many jobs out there, many employers seeking a wizard who can be eloquent. But perhaps some other time. Twinky is busy at present and must not be disturbed or the corners will not be even!”
The house-elf slapped a hand down on linens he’d been busily folding. Draco sighed. It wasn’t difficult to see that he’d lost everything. Even his laundry looked a bit poorer, as if it was a pile of old, fraying rags that was being laid out carefully in rows by his sole surviving house-elf and not bed sheets and towels.
But it was to be understood. On one side, he was a traitor to his very blood, an informant and coward who was more interested in keeping his own body out of Azkaban than in continuing to be loyal to his oldest friends, family and lord. On the other, he was always a Death Eater in training, the boy who sought to kill Dumbledore and managed to open Hogwarts to its enemies. It didn’t matter that both his mother and father were dead, and that he’d betrayed Severus Snape, the man who had succeeded where he failed — it didn’t matter, in fact, that he gave up many more than that to the Wizengamot at his trial or that he’d spent nearly two whole years under house arrest. It didn’t matter how much he was willing to lose or to pay: Nearly the entirety of the Malfoys’ vast fortune was either seized or frozen, leaving him no better off than the next wizard off the street. None of that mattered. He was still Draco Malfoy, a pariah by anyone’s standards.
“I don’t care if the bloody corners aren’t straight. Look at me this moment!”
The elf stopped and turned slowly. He crossed his arms and cocked an angry pose. His lips pursed in a familiar way and Draco was reminded, inexplicably, of Pansy when she was mid-snit.
“Twinky is listening.”
Yes, a pariah, to everyone except Twinky. Whereas the other house-elves had been more than happy to take their new clothes and leave, shamed at last to be serving in the house of Malfoy, Twinky, the youngest of the bunch, had doggedly refused his clothes again and again. Draco had tried — he’d tried very hard, in fact. He’d used every sort of tactic he could to convince the diminutive elf to vacate. Nothing, however, could persuade him to leave. Not even the tiny, pin-striped tailored suit that Draco had finally tracked down in a last-ditch effort to get the house-elf to take a walk before Draco himself was evicted from Malfoy Manor.
And now Draco was trying again. He could do nothing but try; after all, he couldn’t keep Twinky. The house-elf would be better off free to seek work elsewhere.
“We don’t even live in a bloody house anymore!” Draco found himself screaming all of a sudden, grandly gesturing at the expanse of their one-bedroom flat with one hand while thrusting the small suit, with its matching blue silk shirt and silver satin tie, just moments before hidden behind his back, at the little elf, who was clad very classily in a set of elf-sized robes he’d crafted out of an old, green crushed-velvet bed curtain.
“Good thing too, as Twinky was in a dreadful state thinking of ways to clean seventy rooms alone!”
“Yes, but you’re a house-elf. House elves don’t clean flats! House elves clean houses!”
“Then Twinky will be a flat-elf!”
Draco threw up his hands, not sure if he should laugh in the elf’s face, or scream.
The elf pointed a finger at him and went on, his squeaky voice suddenly low and hissing, sort of like a cat. “Twinky is offended by the suggestion that Twinky is but a maid as it is obvious that Twinky manages all of Master’s affairs. Twinky is Master’s keeper, Twinky would have Master know, and is thus an indispensable part of Master’s life. Elf Monthly says so in the March edition.”
“Yes, but... you can’t... I mean...” Draco bit down his lip and turned away. He couldn’t believe he was making such an arse out himself in front of a bloody house-elf! When did he become this person? But it was hard to roll out the old wagon of disdain on Twinky. Perhaps because he’d always been there, close by, cleaning up Draco’s messes and sneaking Draco cookies in the middle of the night. Yes, Twinky had practically raised Draco, even though he wasn’t much older than him, and if there was anyone who really knew Draco Malfoy, it was the bloody pinched-faced elf he was currently trying, and failing, to stare down.
Twinky raised his long, spindly fingers and started to enumerate his tasks, as if Draco weren’t aware of every single one of them. “Twinky does Master’s laundry and irons Master’s clothing. Twinky starches his shirts and bleaches his underpants and folds his fitted sheets in that way that makes them appear as if they aren’t fitted sheets! Twinky cleans Master’s flat, including the toilet and windows and even makes sure the dusties don’t ever settle under the bed! Twinky cooks all of Master’s food, knows the way he takes his tea, the way he likes his steaks and that he’s partial to cream sauces, not tomato-based ones! Shall Twinky go on?”
“But I can’t keep you here!”
“But Master can’t send Twinky away! Master will surely die! Twinky gives Master a week! Not even a week. Twinky gives Master three days without Twinky before Master...” and then the little creature threw up his hands, stuck his tongue out, and skewed up his eyes in mock death.
Draco threw the suit down, turned and started to stalk away.
“Master never gave Twinky a word for bright!”
“Effulgent! Alright? Are you happy? I might use the word effulgent!”
“Effulgent? Master surely wouldn’t use effulgent. It sounds dirty.”
“Perhaps that’s why I’d bloody use it! Because it means bright and sounds dirty! So take that bloody bit of eloquence and shove it up your indispensable arse!”
Draco reached the door and was just about to walk through it when he heard the little elf go poof and disappear to wherever the hell it was he’d found to live. It had to be somewhere in the apartment, although for the life of him, Draco couldn’t figure out where. It was practically a bloody cell, and yet, Draco was sure that if the little elf desired it, he’d be just as invisible, just as non-existent as he always was at the manor, especially when Draco’s parents were about.
“Too bad the little arse doesn’t desire it,” Draco whispered into the sudden emptiness. “And what the hell did he need a synonym for bright for anyway?”
Harry’s eyes slowly shifted to the pile of resumes, then back to the invoices spread out before him. He tapped the desk with his click-quill, sniffed once, then glanced at the pile again.
He really didn’t want to look at them. He really hadn’t looked at them, in fact, at least not closely and not since he’d pulled them out of their envelope for the first time the day before.
He didn’t want to weed through them for potentials. He didn’t want to send an owl to any said potentials. He didn’t want to interview any outstandingly potential ... potentials. And he really, really, reallyreallyreally didn’t want to hire another bright, energetic young wizard or witch fresh from Hogwarts just to see him or her quit a week or two later, with a face covered in navy and yellow, paisley-patterned hives or hair gone all purple and hard like porcupine quills. He didn’t want to do any of it. Unfortunately, that task, and many other unpleasant duties, were all a part of what he’d signed up for when he’d decided to work for Fred and George instead of somewhere else.
He could have joined the Ministry and spent the rest of his life surrounded by people who would always look at him like... well like the “boy-that-lived-turned-savior-of-wizardi
A life of professional Quidditch? He didn’t think it out of the question to try his hand at being a Seeker. He knew he could do it. He knew he could be good at it too. He also knew that he’d be utter shite off the pitch. The constant media attention, the fame, the looks of... well, awe or resentment. In the end, the job promised nothing better as far as interacting with others than being an Auror did. And while it didn’t present the same sort of hazards, fighting the Dark Arts, evil wizards and all that, Harry really didn’t relish the thought of constantly being blind sided by Bludgers or taking topples off his broom.
Of course, he didn’t really relish the idea of finding some safe little boring desk job where he never broke a bone, scraped his skin or did anything that ever made him feel alive either.
In the end, Fred and George seemed to be a logical choice. The pay was good, the benefits grand, and he now had a desk and job security. And even though his days of hands-on testing were over, he still occasionally found himself in the middle of things blowing up. Occasionally his skin was still scorched or scratched. Occasionally he still broke a bone. More often than not, though, he watched all this happen to others. Even so, he still often found himself rewarded with the consequences of a successful Wizarding Wheeze’s gag, just as if he were still a testing crew member. And he was respected. Not because he’d defeated Voldemort and kept his life and sanity, but because he’d been through every sort of Weasley gag that could exist. He’d had it all: Pimples and hives, a high reedy voice, the occasional unintelligible animal bray, nausea, headaches, hangnails... terrible bouts of gas. Colorful bouts of gas. Overly fragrant bouts of gas. Hiccups that lasted for three days straight. Hair every color of the rainbow. Yes, if it was funny, Harry had been the quality control subject of it.
Sure, being the foreman of the Weasley Wizard Wheezes, Inc., factory wasn’t exactly the most death-defying job a wizard could have, but Harry was actually quite content.
Except when it came to the nitty-gritty sort of boss things that he was forced to do. Paperwork and overseeing people to make sure they were all doing what they should be doing. Resolving complaints. Taking disciplinary action when it was needed... and hiring. The very worst part. Hiring. Because he always knew where it would inevitably lead. Of course, it could be worse. He could actually have to fire people.
Harry reached out, picked up his paperweight, and was about to pull the resumes out from beneath it when Marleen’s disembodied voice suddenly sounded from a small coin next to Harry’s hand. The coin, and others like it, were what passed for an office intercom. Picking it up, Harry moved it close to his mouth.
“There’s someone here to see you, Mr Potter.”
“Who is it?”
“He says he’s one of the applicants. He wants to speak to you about the position.”
“I haven’t had a chance to set up interviews yet, Marleen. Could you ask the gentleman if he can wait and I will contact him within a day or two to set something up?”
“Oh, but that’s the thing, Mr Potter. The gentleman isn’t here because he wants an interview. He says he wants to pull his resume. He says he doesn’t want the job after all, but he’d like his resume back.”
“Really, whatever for?”
“What for? Well, I don’t know.” She giggled. “I didn’t ask.”
The sound of her voice was muffled as if she had closed her hands over her coin. Even so, Harry could still hear her ask, “I don’t mean to be a pest, Mr Malfoy, but...”
The rest was muffled as Harry accidentally dropped the coin. By the time he’d fumbled it back into his grasp, Marleen had finished her question. Distantly Harry could hear Malfoy’s gruff answer. Putting the coin down carefully, Harry turned to shuffle through the pages before him, finally coming across a resume printed on a very fancy sort of vellum parchment. Clearly written in a fine, flowing script across the top was “Draco Malfoy.”
“Mr Potter? He doesn’t want to say. He just wants it back.”
Harry picked up the coin and softly replied, “I’ll bring it right down.”
Draco tried not to watch as Potter, in quite a composed manner considering he wasn’t paying any attention to where his feet were, descended the metal stairs to meet him at the bottom. He tried not to watch... he failed of course. It was hard not to fail. It was hard not to watch.
Potter, for his part, didn’t seem to have the same hang-ups. Draco’s eyes were pinned to his face, but Potter’s gaze never seemed to leave the resume he held in his hand, which he was scanning intently even as he slowly worked his way downward, step after step, his hand holding the guardrail loosely.
Potter looked good. Of course he looked good. Had Draco ever actually thought he wouldn’t? The man descending the stairs before him hadn’t seemed to age as much as Draco would have thought he would. He’d heard magnificent tales of Potter’s escapades during the war, and the figure they’d brought to mind was half twisted and battle hardened, a sort of Mad Eye Potter, complete with faux limbs. But this was not the man above Draco. This Potter didn’t have any noticeable scars or limps. His hair was as dark as ever. What glimpses Draco caught of his face revealed that it was a bit harder at the edges, just a hair thinner than when he’d been a boy, and that feathery wrinkles were beginning to form at the corners of his eyes. The only thing soft about his face were the creases around his mouth, much more indicative of smiles than frowns. All together, the effect was one of maturity and, Draco thought sourly, dignity. He was still Perfect Potter, a fact that should have marked the deep heat in Draco’s belly as bitterness, but it wasn’t. He couldn’t say what it was.
When Potter was finally on the floor, he lowered the page and met Draco’s eyes. Draco was never one to shy away from anyone’s gaze, although it was hard to keep his eyes steadily on Potter’s. However, he couldn’t fail at everything.
“So. You’ve applied for the position of product tester, hmm?”
“Actually, no. My house-elf applied for the position of product tester. Or, that is to say, he applied for the position on my behalf.”
“Sent in this?” Potter waved the fancy parchment in front of Draco’s face. Draco pulled in a deep breath and steeled his gaze and his jaw, knowing that if he didn’t, he’d probably start grinding his teeth.
“Yes,” he said, his voice coming out harsher than he wished, making his lack of control all too obvious. But Potter knew him of old. Draco doubted there was much he could hide from Mr Precious-Savior-that-Lived, as far as that went. He pulled in a deep breath. Potter appeared to be waiting for him. Finally, Draco continued.
“I never would have sent it. I know better than to hand over a resume to the Weasley twins, especially knowing, as I did, that Harry Potter was in their employ. However, my house-elf wasn’t as concerned about the... propriety of it as much as he was interested in the wages and benefits promised in the advert. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll just take it back and be on my way.” Draco held out his hand.
“Hmm,” Potter responded, crossing his arms over his chest as he tucked Draco’s resume under his armpit. Harry continued to stare at him. “So you’re not here to try to convince me to hire you at all?”
“No. I just want my resume.”
“Well, if you must know, it cost me a small fortune to purchase only a limited amount of that parchment. I can’t afford to waste a single one applying to positions that I never will be hired for, now can I?” Draco continued to hold his hand out, his eyes defiantly boring into Potter’s, waiting... just waiting for the man who had once been the boy he tormented to say any of the countless things he could have said that would make this one of the most humiliating experiences of Draco’s life. Or do any of the countless things... Visions of Potter’s long fingers ripping the page asunder flowed through Draco’s mind. But he was determined not to let it show.
Potter glanced over the page again. “Well, you see, I can’t give this back to you.”
“Why not?” Draco snapped, closing the space between them. Draco realized that Potter was actually two inches shorter than him and that it was only the way the other man stood that made him seem taller. “You are perfectly aware of the situation I am in! Even you’re not such a petty arse as to keep the thing or destroy it for a lark. So, give it back.”
“But there needs to be a copy of it in your file. If I give it back to you, what will I put in your employment file?” Potter looked up, his face blank except for the slight arch to his right brow.
“What bloody employment file?”
“The one I’ll have to start.”
Draco dropped his hand and narrowed his eyes. “What the bloody hell are you talking about, Potter?”
“I’m talking about when you can start, Malfoy. And it’s Mr Potter to you.”
Draco felt his mouth fall open. He blinked a couple of times, then swallowed. Pulling up his wayward jaw as well as the rest of his body, he tilted his head back and tried, to the best of his ability, to salvage his dignity before he replied, “I can start immediately.”
“Good.” Potter turned. “Marleen, see that he’s equipped and introduce him to Edwards in Potions, would you? I need to talk to Mary in payroll.”
Marleen smiled. “Of course, Mr Potter.” She got up and moved out from behind her desk. Putting out one hand, she placed the other gently on Draco’s elbow. “Right this way, Mr Malfoy. My name is Ms Marleen Pruitt, but everyone calls me Marleen. I’ll show you your locker.”
Draco turned his head and stared over his shoulder at Potter even as Marleen pulled him away. Potter just shrugged his shoulders, turned his back on Draco, and casually strode off.
Now Harry was sure that the letter hadn’t been there when he’d left his office to meet up with his former arch-enemy. How it had arrived in the interim was more of a mystery than the wax-sealed purple page itself.
Harry laid his clipboard and the mass of Draco Malfoy-related pages he’d been given on his desk. A visit to Ophelia in human resources and Mary in payroll had left him burdened with the beginnings of Malfoy’s file and a packet of forms and contracts and company rules to pass onto the new hire “ASAP.” Which should have been before the day was out, but Harry doubted that would be the case.
He’d stay up in his office, do his paper work, and for the rest of the day just forget Draco Malfoy was somewhere down there, wandering around, complete with the same blond hair, the same smug face, and, if not the same, then at least a similar set of impeccably cut designer robes as to those Harry saw him in every time he encountered the blond outside of school. Criminal charges and Ministry action and still, Malfoy was Malfoy. But Harry was Harry; that in and of itself should have been excuse enough to keep him up in his office, he thought, even if it was just for one more day.
Besides. He had a letter to wonder over.
Moving to stand directly over the bit of folded parchment, Harry reached into his pocket, pulled out his wand, and jabbed at the letter once before deciding it probably wasn’t worth the waste of magic to check it for spells. Instead, he used his wand to angle it so he could better read the script across its front. Once again, “To My Love” was emblazoned there. The smell was worse this time, sickly sweet and all consuming. Harry realized with disgust that it was familiar: It smelled just like his aunt’s old gardenia perfume. Grimacing, he took his seat and pushed the letter as far from him as he could without pushing it off the desk. Picking up Malfoy’s folder, he began to tap the edge of it against his desk as he unconsciously sucked on his teeth.
“Draco Malfoy, W.W.W., Inc. product tester.” Harry shook his head then stopped his tapping to reach up and rub his eyes. Distantly he wondered if either Fred or George had even looked at those resumes. They usually didn’t, just left it up to Harry to decide. But what would they think of his decision?
After all, the Malfoys and the Weasleys had a history that went back much further than Harry’s and Malfoy’s. Harry himself had witnessed the consequence when Lucius Malfoy slipped Ginny Voldemort’s old journal. The youngest of the Weasleys, and the only daughter, nearly killed because of the actions of a Malfoy. If Draco himself had never done a thing to them personally in all their years at school, what had happened to Ginny was enough to cast a shadow over Harry’s new hire. All the other shite the younger Malfoy and the elder Malfoy — well all the rest of the bloody family for that matter — had pulled was just gravy on top of gravy on top of some extremely inedible recipe of evil.
Then again, Fred and George, and Harry for that matter, prided themselves on being an equal-opportunity employers. Draco Malfoy wasn’t the first person they’d hired with a shady past; he probably wouldn’t be the last. They’d given chances to people who never would have gotten their toes in the door anywhere else. And while most of those people quit just as willingly as their less tarnished peers when the job got hairy, more than a couple of them had proved themselves to be satisfactorily hardy, trustworthy, and more worthy of the chance than any newly graduated witch or wizard.
Looking over at Malfoy’s paperwork, Harry sighed. There was no denying that Malfoy was qualified for the job, but of course, was he more qualified than the other five people that Harry hadn’t even bothered to interview?
And just why had he hired Malfoy like that? Was it pity? Gross curiosity? Was he trying to make himself out to be some great benevolent soul? Or was it out of an unconscious desire to lord over Malfoy as his superior on the job? Or, shamefully, to somehow prove to Malfoy that Harry was now living a superior life?
Some would call him extremely successful. He’d not only survived, he had been lauded as a hero. He’d abandoned Grimmauld Place and all its horrible memories for an upscale flat in an extremely respectable neighbourhood. He had a good job that paid well. He had friends and people that respected him. The only thing that could have made his life the very picture of success was if he was married with a couple of children running around... and a dog. Of course, to get a spouse, children and dog he’d have to acquire the one thing he really didn’t have in abundance: A life outside of work.
Then again, he often wondered if he even wanted that life: Wife, children, small house in a quiet neighbourhood. He couldn’t see it. Not really. Nor could he imagine the sort of woman he’d be truly happy with the rest of his life. A workaholic bachelor until death seemed more his destiny than anything else. So, in the end, did he really have anything to lord over Malfoy? Their lives were probably more similar now than ever before.
Of course, Malfoy’s still seemed to look better. In fact, Malfoy looked better. And was it right? He’d been dragged as low as any Malfoy could go, and yet, when Harry had laid his eyes on the man for the first time, it had occurred to him that Draco Malfoy looked seemed better off now than even the little prince Harry knew from school. He’d gone from spoiled pure blood to a look of true... well, nobility. Not pompous or self important. Just noble, poised; a little sad around the edges. The anger behind his eyes had seemed softer, lest vehement now when it could rightfully have been worse. He’d gotten taller, and through some strange sort of luck, he really didn’t look anything like his mother or father. Sure, he had their colouration, the blond hair, the light eyes. But there was something in his adult face that, well, Harry hated to admit it, reminded him of Sirius. And it was then that Harry realized he was skirting all around it. The bloody bastard looked good — really, really good — and was there anything wrong with thinking it?
The cloying scent of gardenias continued to fill his nostrils and made his head hurt. Reaching out, he quickly tore the seal open to scan the page:
“Dearest, sweetest, my truest heart,
“It has been days and I have not known how to say it... I write to you a once-wanderer — a broken being, lost in darkness — found again and returned to the light!
I have seen you: A chance encounter, yet it filled me, for I know it shall not be the last. I shall see you often now, I am sure of it. Even if you can not be bothered to see me, I shall come to know the great effulgence of your presence! It shall touch my soul! I rejoice for I am no longer the brooding, dissolute shadow of a creature that I was, lacking you.
“Oh, if you would but see me here, if you could but know my thoughts. But you’d turn your green eyes from mine if you knew. So I remain, truly,
Your loving shadow.”
Harry shivered, and put the paper down on his desk. Like the perfume which it had been soaked in, this letter seemed even more vile than the first: The sentiments were not only sweeter, but articulated even more tritely.
Hopefully, whoever this secret admirer was, she would grow tired of her game before Harry’s head exploded from her attentions.
A second later there was a knock at his door and he found himself suddenly panicked. The door began to open even as he was opening one of his drawers and sliding the letter, his clipboard and all of Malfoy’s papers away. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out as he planned. Instead of sliding into his drawer, the mass of paper on his desk went sailing over the edge to float slowly, and with a great deal of pomp, to the floor.
There could be only two people in the entire world that would knock and then just enter Harry’s office like that. Sliding off his chair, Harry was already on the floor, trying to gather up the pages when he looked up, slack jawed, to see Fred and George hovering over his desk, looking sharp in a pair of matching lime green and orange business suits.
“Harry — ” Fred started, with George finishing “We heard you filled the position.”
“You broke a record this time, mate,” Fred continued.
“It usually takes you weeks to get this far,” George finished.
They squatted down before him and a heartbeat later, reached out to gather up the former contents of his desk.
“Are you running a fever?” George barely asked before Fred snorted and said, “Maybe we should get him a doctor, eh?”
Harry froze as the boys rose in tandem, their hands full of Malfoy’s employment file, documentation... And there, in George’s hand, more obvious than a bloody neon sign, the letter.
“Oh ho, what’s that?” Fred asked. George snapped the letter open, then held it out before them so they could both read it.
“Well, well, well... I don’t know, Fred. I just don’t know. Looks like a love letter to me.”
“Most definitely. That’s a love letter if I’ve ever seen one. And look at this,” Fred pulled on the corner of a piece of very fancy parchment jutting from the dishevelled mess that was Malfoy’s employment file. Harry stood slowly to watch as Fred snapped the resume exactly as his brother had done, even though it wasn’t folded.
“Who told you I hired Malfoy?” Harry found himself rasping but the twins ignored him.
“Peculiar, wouldn’t you say, George?” Fred continued. “Another bit of fancy parchment, coincidently here, but with Malfoy’s name across the top. I wonder if it smells as horrid as what you’ve got a hold of.”
“Well, you could always smell it, Fred, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“We’ve had flatulence-bombs that smelled better, haven’t we, George?”
“Oh, definitely. Hmm, is it just me or is the handwriting very similar on these two documents?”
“Oh, indeed brother, indeed. We’ve got a bit of a scandal here, I’m beginning to think.”
“It’s only been an hour or two since I hired him... How could you either of you know?” Harry was whispering, more to himself than anyone else, but of course, the twins loved to reply when they were sure the question was no longer particularly aimed at them.
“Who do you think told us, mate?” they said at once, each holding a piece of parchment up close to the other’s piece of parchment, as if they were comparing the handwriting. “These two s’s here are identical, Fred.”
“Clear evidence of favouritism, George. But it doesn’t mean Malfoy’s in love with Harry. Maybe he was just trying to butter him up for the hire.”
“Right. But, what I’m wondering is, is Harry in love with Malfoy?” George lowered the page. “The poetry’s worse than the paper it’s written on.”
Fred nodded sadly. “If this sort of, well, utter shite, is enough to sway one of our most important employees, then—”
“Then it’s time we call a mental health professional, because Harry Potter’s finally become a stark-raving nutter.”
“In love, what the bloody...” Harry threw out a finger but then let it fall again.
“Oh, I agree, brother. Poor Harry. But I’m not surprised, really. He’s always taken things much too seriously.”
“Oh, indeed. I’d say he spends too much time pondering things, as well.”
Fred tucked the resume back in the folder. “Couldn’t agree more. And he has been a bachelor for a long time, George, let’s not forget that. Remember, he never could seem to get it on with that Cho girl.”
“Hey now. She cried a lot... It was... I’m not in love with Malfoy!”
“Yeah, but didn’t Gin go on about how she and Harry were in love for a while there?” George folded up the parchment letter again with a set of very precise movements as he stared at Harry with a cocked eyebrow.
“And look what happened with that! Are they together? Besides, Ginny always thinks men are in love with her.”
Harry felt his mouth fall open and then he was waving his hands about, although he couldn’t say why. “What do you mean Ginny always thinks men are in love with her? And who told you I hired Malfoy? I demand to know!” Mostly, so I can fire them for being the originator of this conversation, Harry continued in his head. Or maybe suspend them. At least suspend them.
“Tell me about it. Good thing she’s got so many brothers,” George said, shaking his head.
Fred nodded before chuckling, “Or she’d always be in trouble, right?” They both laughed. “And listen to him over there. Apparently he’s the only person working here who hasn’t been subjected to Ophelia’s mounds of paperwork—”
“Or Mary’s wagging tongue.”
“Indeed. He is, after all, sort of a boss,” George said with a frown. Fred nodded in agreement.
“Mary...” Harry found that his hands were both clenched into fists. “I should have known,” he whispered before standing up straighter. “So you know. What are you going to do about it?”
“Us?” they asked at once.
“We don’t handle hiring,” George said.
“We’ve got people for that,” Fred continued with a nod.
“We’re not going to fire Malfoy.” Harry crossed his arms over his chest and threw his chin out. It was stupid, but there it was.
“Who ever said anything about firing him?” Fred asked, his face broken by a wide smile, the exact match of his brother’s.
“I surely didn’t,” George said. They were both starting to straighten up the pages in their hands. Then, as one, they handed them over to Harry. “I didn’t even say anything about how inappropriate it is accepting love letters from new hires.”
“Malfoy did not write that letter!”
George turned to Fred, “Did I say that Malfoy wrote that letter?”
“I don’t think you ever used those words, no,” Fred shrugged. “I think our plant foreman might be due for a vacation. He’s hearing things.”
“He is.” The twins turned and waggled their eyebrows at Harry, which, of course, defused what was left of his anger.
“I don’t know who wrote it,” Harry said, sounding a tad sullen and childish, which made it worse but it was already out of his mouth. No point in trying to back-peddle now. He grabbed up everything offered to him, then quickly stuffed the purple parchment into one of his robe pockets. “I’ve received two of them and they both just appeared on my desk.”
“Well, then how do you know Malfoy didn’t write them, mate?” Fred asked with a snort and George continued waggling his eyebrows. A second later, the twins burst out laughing in tandem and Harry felt himself turn red.
“Are you two finished having fun? Or should we all sit down and ask Marleen to bring us some tea?”
“You hired Draco Malfoy to be a product tester,” George said, barely able to talk around the guffaws.
“So, of course we’re having fun,” Fred continued.
“Have you smelled what Potions is working on lately?” George bent over and slapped his knees.
“We should start an office pool,” Fred said, elbowing his brother in the side. “I doubt he’ll last two days.”
“You’re on. I’m in for three,” George straightened up and they shook on it.
“Prissy bastard,” Fred said, “You’re being nice by giving him two.” They turned and started toward the door.
“Well, we can always both go in for him quitting tomorrow before we even make the rounds,” George turned then and looked at Harry. “What about you? How long do you think he’ll survive?”
“I didn’t hire him to see how long it would take him to quit.”
The twins paused, both of them wearing quiet smiles. “Then why did you hire him?” Fred asked. “Yeah,” George continued. “You hated him. You can’t blame us for coming down here to see what was going on.”
“No.” Harry sat down again. “I guess not. I don’t know why I hired him.”
The twins shrugged. “He is qualified.” Fred started. George continued with a snort, “But that doesn’t mean he’ll survive it.”
Fred nodded, “He’s far too interested in keeping up his own appearance, figuratively and literally, I think. The prat.”
George turned to his brother and copied the bobbing of his head. “But hopefully he’ll give us all a good laugh before he leaves.”
“Yeah.” They turned and smiled somewhat evilly at Harry.
“So we’re not firing him?” Harry asked, slightly bewildered.
“What sort of employers would we be if we did that?” Fred’s smile only got wider, if that were possible. “No, Harry. It’s much more fun this way.”
“How much for the pool you think? Fifteen Knuts, maybe?” George said, and Fred turned to him.
“Ah, that’s no fun. A Sickle at least.” They started to walk out the door again, and Harry watched them go with a tightness in his chest.
“Sounds good to me.” They paused and turned back to look at Harry. “You in at all?” George asked, the glint in his eye outshining his brother’s.
Harry shook his head. “I can’t believe you two are betting to see how long Malfoy lasts.”
“We’ll keep it on the down-low, Harry.” Fred said with a laugh. “Yeah, don’t worry mate. This time you get to be the good boss.” George was careful to make sure the door shut behind them as they exited Harry’s office.
Digging through the folders on his desk, Harry straightened out Malfoy’s pages, finally coming across his resume. Pulling the piece of purple parchment from his pocket, he straightened it out on his desk and stared at it, then at the resume. After a few minutes, he pulled out the other letter, folded them both up together, and tucked them into his blazer jacket.
“I guess I should probably give you a full tour before I take you to Mr Eddy, shouldn’t I?” Marleen bubbled as she began to lead Draco away from her desk toward a brightly lit corridor tucked away behind the staircase. “So, it’s obvious you know Mr Potter, but I’m guessing you’re not friends? Not to pry, that is, I just mean he’s a very good employer and he doesn’t hold anything against anyone, but you do seem to have some sort of... well, negative history?”
She turned and gave him a sheepish smile. Draco blinked then rolled his eyes away. “We went to Hogwarts together.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
“You don’t recognize my name do you?” he asked softly.
“Dra-co Mal-foy,” he said, pronouncing it slowly.
“Draco? Isn’t that a group of stars? I’m not sure. I was never good at Astronomy, but it’s a nice sounding name. Sort of like dragon or Drake. I’ve always liked Drake. It’s a very strong name, like something you’d find in a novel.”
Yes, Draco thought, one with a pink cover with a half naked man on front.
“Do you go by Drake?”
“No. I hardly go by Draco. Malfoy will be fine. You don’t recognize that name in particular? Malfoy?”
“Hmm, no, doesn’t seem to strike any bells. Why?” She stopped, turned and wiggled an eyebrow at him. “Are you famous?”
By this time they’d reached an open area lined on three sides by floor-to-ceiling lockers, except in two spots where the lockers were divided by two blue doors, one marked “Ladies” and the other “Gentlemen.” The wall bare of lockers was taken up mostly by three vending machines, a water cooler, and one overly large stainless-steel cabinet.
Draco looked around as Marleen walked up to one of the lockers. “You can keep your personal belongings in this one,” she said going to the nearest open one to the right. “Here’s the key then. You’re number ‘255.’ The number’s printed here on the label,” she tapped the key with one of her nails. “In case you forget. Try not to lose it as we have to get a locksmith in every time it happens and then it’s paper work for days, you can’t imagine. Ophelia in human resources is... well she can be... she likes her paper work and her triplicates, but everyone else doesn’t care for them too much. She always shreds a copy anyway, I think, just so she can watch the machine work. It’s a Muggle contraption, but she loves it.”
Draco stared at her blankly. Finally he responded, “Where are you from, anyhow?” He smiled to himself. Yes, that was a tactful way to ask her if she was a twit. It would do. She apparently was, so there was hardly call for him ruining all the good cheer she was extending to him before she got a chance to get an ear load of the gossip that would inevitably crop up just as soon as he met someone who did recognize “Draco Malfoy” and all that name supposedly entailed.
Of course, he could be catty and give her something to add to the reputation that normally preceded him.
“Oh, I’m from London.”
“And you went to Hogwarts?”
“Oh, you guessed!” She batted her lashes at him. “I guess I’ve got badger written all over me then, don’t I?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Draco cleared his throat. “Read the papers much?”
“Oh, god no! I hate the Prophet. Nothing but bad news! Who can stand it all? Why, have you been in the papers? Are you really famous, then? Mr Potter tells me he’s got lots of clippings of all times he was in the papers. A whole book of them.”
Well, that might explain it, or maybe she’s a Mudblood and her parents live beneath a rock Draco thought. “I bet he does,” he said softly in response, feeling his eyebrow twitch in an attempt to strike a disdainful pose. He quashed the desire, but only barely.
“So, you never answered my question. You’re a war hero, right? Were you a member of that group he was part of, the Order of Birds or something? Wait, no, probably not. After all, you and Mr Potter weren’t friends, just classmates. Then you’re famous for something else?”
“Some would say I’m famous,” Draco replied. Or infamous, he thought, looking around again although there really wasn’t anything to see. The walls were grey, the floors were tile. There was a drain in the middle. Not particularly interesting. He sighed and glanced back at her. She was opening the stainless-steel cabinet.
“Anyway, you’re going to need these.” She pulled out one folded set of white robes. “You’ll get a patch with your name on it in a couple of days and your security badge. I have to order the patches special from the embroiderer. But we do a good business with them, seeing as how we never seem to keep that many people around for long.” She giggled nervously. “Mr Potter doesn’t like me gossiping about the turn-over rate, but I see it this way: If you’ve heard of Weasley Wizarding Wheezes, then you’ve heard of the risks of being on the product production and testing end of the business. Anyone who comes to work expecting to leave without spots or purple hair or some other such nonsense... well, I just like to say they have no sense of humour. You’ve got to have a sense of humour to work here, don’t you think, Mr Drake?”
Draco felt his cheek. “It’s Draco,” he found himself growling. He tried to loosen up his jaw a little before it continued, but his face would have none of it. “I prefer Malfoy.”
His teeth ground as he continued, “If you are loathe to address a coworker by his last name then by all means at least get my first correct, although I doubt even then if I’d respond to it.” Now that was catty. Unintentionally so, but still... Then again, she was being, one would hope, unintentionally dense and insipid so there was a possibility she wouldn’t even notice.
And, as it turned out, Draco’s thought was right on the Galleon. “Of course, so silly. Mr Draco. Here is the rest of your equipment. Wear these goggles and this hard-hat at all times. Regulations. Oh, and you’ll not want to wear those shoes tomorrow. Aside from the fact that you will more than likely destroy them... what are they, they look Italian, oh, I bet they’re soft as anything, anyway, regulations say you must wear a pair of heavy boots, something that will protect your feet from accidental injury. If you’ve no idea where to buy such a pair I’d suggest Ferris and Sons Wizarding Uniforms and Gear. They’ll give you a fair price and I’ve heard from some of the boys that they’ve got a charm that’ll protect your toes from almost anything. Anvils even. And we know anvils here, trust me. Oh, the stories they tell down in Enchanted Gags.”
She turned, laughter on her lips as she crooked a finger at him and started to walk back the way they’d come.
Beneath the high ceilings and softer florescent lights of the factory proper, Draco found himself holding his breath, which was a difficult thing to do while walking. Their footsteps were loud and strangely echoing, even though the factory itself was full of noise. But it had an odd, distant quality, probably some dampening spell, or else, he was sure, he’d find himself sporting some sort of silly pair of ear muffs to protect his hearing. Realizing that they were coming upon other people, Draco hurriedly slapped the helmet down on his head and slipped the goggles on. And just in time too, he saw, as people were turning to look at Marleen first, and then him. She waved and smiled as she passed, pretty as she pleased in a pair of break-neck heels. Draco sighed. Yes, an insipid little moron, giving him the regulations by route while wearing what she was.
Everyone else, though, seemed to be more attentive to their work. They smiled and waved back, glanced at him for a moment, some nodding, some waving, most smiling in the friendly sort of well-mannered way that a person should upon meeting a stranger’s eyes, before going about their work.
And their work was varied. He watched as some dripped brightly coloured liquids out of droppers onto mounds of likewise colourful powders, or left strange piles of what looked like canine faeces too close to an open flame. One woman had a hammer in her hand and was beating what appeared to be a living rubber chicken what would have been senseless, if, in fact, it had all that much sense to begin with; Draco highly doubted it, seeing as how it hardly squawked at any of the hits. There were two wizards playing with a deck of playing cards. Just as soon as one picked a card, it would go up in a cloud of pink smoke. This effect however wasn’t, apparently, what was desired, for a third wizard was cursing and constantly searching all around their work area as the other two continued to pick cards and yell at the third.
“Oh, galloping gargoyles! What are you working on now, Mr Eddy?” Marleen cried as she suddenly stopped short, almost forcing Draco to plow into her.
Stepping to the side, Draco could see that beyond her was the most elaborate set of potions equipment he’d ever seen. In fact, it looked like something one might find in an old Muggle science-fiction movie as opposed to a wizard’s workshop. There were racks of vials and small bubbling cauldrons and open fires beneath glass globes that were connected by twisting networks of glass tubing to other globes which dripped into yet other glass receptacles. There was a white board covered in a messy set of magical equations and another on which there seemed to be a potion being formulated. Amounts and ingredients had been crossed out or changed slightly. Mostly though, what caught Draco was the smell, a heady blending of two naturally pungent odours: rotten-eggs and decaying cabbage.
“Mr Fred wants it called ‘Weasley’s Wham-Bam Whoots,’” said the closest member of the team to them. A short, stumpy man, he turned to face them, even as the rest continued to watch and take notes on whatever it was that was being produced by the complicated drip system. Edwards stepped away from the others and pulled Marleen back a bit. Taking off his hard-hat and goggles, Draco saw that he was quite a bit older than Draco had expected. His head was bald and speckled with age marks where it wasn’t creased by deep wrinkles, and he wore a pair of spectacles that made his eyes appear to be freakishly gigantic. His voice was a strange little high-pitched rasp.
“What you’ve sniffed out, lass, is the potion that will go inside a small explosive device that can be detonated to create the majestic funk that has us all... enraptured.” He breathed deeply then, as if he actually enjoyed the atrocious reek. “Mr Fred came up with the idea himself. It’s a guaranteed sell-out, if we can but figure out a way to counteract the smell once it’s been dispersed. Wouldn’t do for a customer to buy our product, use it, then find him or herself unable, ever after, to be rid of its malodorous perfume, would it? I wager that’s a fair bit of litigation we don’t want.”
Edwards turned and put his hand out. “I’m Nigel Thorpe Edwards. This silly girl here calls me Eddy. I don’t recommend it from any of my employees though, as there’s a Mr Eddy in card gags who is a bit of a prat.”
Draco slowly took his hand and found that the others were looking at him. Swallowing, he started to reach up to remove his hat and goggles even as Marleen stated, with a glowing smile, “Everyone, this is our new employee.”
Draco’s hat was off, his eyes were uncovered, and it was quite obvious that she needn’t continue... but she did anyway. “Draco Malfoy! Mr Potter just hired him a few minutes ago. Mr Draco, this is everybody.”
Somewhere at the back of his mind, Draco knew that he should say something, some small cliched bit of nonsense like “charmed” or “pleased” or at least “hello.” Instead, he said nothing, and his brand new co-workers, perhaps as caught up in the moment as he was, were good enough to be nothing but silent in return.
“Well, then, Malfoy,” Edwards said, breaking the silence, his lips turned down in a jowly frown. “Maybe today you should just sit back and watch... familiarize yourself with the work a bit. Yes. I think that’s called for.”