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Happy H/D Holidays emmagrant01!! | A Test of Character - NC17

Title: A Test of Character 1/3
Author: silentauror
Rating: NC-17
Length: 22,165 words
Genre: Romance
Summary: Draco Malfoy is nearly finished his Auror training. However, something comes up in his character testing which may prevent him from qualifying: he is required to befriend an old enemy.
Gift for: emmagrant01
A/N: Happy Holidays, Emma! I hope you like this! Betas, thank you!





A Test of Character

A shower of red sparks flared somewhere above Draco’s head to the right. He was ready, every muscle tensed, poised to spring. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, go. He darted from the thicket into a patch of shadowy trees to his right, careful to keep low to the ground. Wand clenched against his thigh, he dropped to a squat against a large oak and listened. The trees rustled around him in the light evening breeze. It was difficult to move quickly and quietly in the heavy winter cloak, but the late November evening was cold and there were long pockets of waiting, unmoving. He listened hard, straining to hear anything that might reveal his target’s location, for it had surely moved by now.

Something rustled and he went even stiller, listening. Another movement. Draco focused hard on the nonverbal incantation for a Disillusionment and watched his legs and shoes fade into the underbrush. Slowly, he crept forward, keeping himself tight in order to make as little noise as possible. The rustling came again, much closer. Draco took a split second to narrow his focus, then lunged. “Stupefy!”

There was a truncated yell of surprise and a crash as something heavy fell to the ground. Draco, heart pounding, pushed gingerly through the brush and peered at his prey. A large human male, nearly two meters in height. Or length, rather; the man was sprawled on his front. The backs of his hands revealed him as non-Caucasian, and Draco recognised his stalker. Swiftly he knotted Incarcerus spells and formed a magical net, preventing escape. “Accio wand,” he whispered, and held out his left hand to catch it. Satisfied, he sent up a shower of blue sparks.

It took several minutes, but then footsteps were crunching across the forest floor, wand tips flaring blue/white against the dark. Draco straightened his shoulders and turned to face them.

“Well done, Malfoy, well done,” came Moody’s gruff voice. “Excellent work. That must have been a record. Under ten minutes.”

Draco released his breath slowly, relieved. If Moody was pleased, then the others would be, too. He glanced at Postwick and Dawlish, who were nodding.

“Very good,” Postwick said. “Top marks.”

Top marks! Draco’s pulse quickened again. “Thank you, sir.”

“You’ll make an excellent Auror,” Dawlish said. His Lumos faded as he aimed his wand at the fallen man. “Ennervate! Give Shacklebolt his wand back, Malfoy.”

Draco waited, watching Shacklebolt look groggily around his magical cage. He chuckled. “Very impressive, Malfoy.”

“Thank you, ” Draco said again. “Finite. Here you are, sir.” He moved forward and handed the wand over.

“Great timing. I was just about to attack.” Shacklebolt got to his feet with impressive speed and agility, considering the strength of Stunner Draco had used. Another reminder of how far he still had to go. “He has excellent instincts, wouldn’t you say?” he asked of his co-examiners.

“Very good,” Moody agreed, eyeing Draco with both eyes. “I agree. Full marks.”

“That’s my vote, too,” Shacklebolt said. “Congratulations, Malfoy.” He held out a hand. “You’ve progressed to the final stage of training.”

Draco shook his hand and tried to keep his voice calm, but in truth, he was as excited as a child. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank him just yet,” Moody growled. “The final stage is the most difficult for people, Malfoy. For everyone. Skill and training won’t get you anywhere in character testing. This is about you, personally, and whether or not we think you’ve got what it will take to survive as an Auror. You’ll be forced to look hard at yourself, and few people enjoy that. Or know how to do it honestly. You’ll be made to do it honestly.”

“Let him enjoy his victory tonight,” Dawlish said, chuckling. “Everyone knows the character testing is the worst part. You’ve got until tomorrow afternoon, Malfoy. Take the morning off.”

“Okay,” Draco said, looking from one to another. “Where do I need to go?”

“Meet us in the conference room in the Auror Department,” Shacklebolt said. “We’ll spend the morning reviewing your personal information and so forth. It will work like an interview, at least at first. Let’s say two o’clock.”

Draco nodded. “I’ll be there.”

“We know you will. Well done tonight,” Dawlish said. “Now go and unwind!”

Draco smiled. “See you tomorrow.” He Disapparated first, which was mandatory, and reappeared in the foyer of his flat. He had no plans whatsoever to go out, but his mobile phone was blinking messages. He picked it up and looked. Pansy, three times. He listened to all three messages and erased them, going into the tiny kitchen to find something to eat. Maybe pasta. He rarely indulged in carbohydrates, but he was hungry. After five hours of waiting and stalking and crawling through underbrush, he was tired, soaked, and starving. Thank God the last test had been the shortest. It hadn’t even been all that difficult.

There was a nice Piat D’or in the fridge and he uncorked it to breathe. Pouring it, he decided that he wanted a shower before he did another thing. He sipped the wine and left it on the counter, peeling off his clothes as he went. The shower was blissfully hot and he stayed in the hot water for ten minutes, doing little other than breathing in the steam and letting his tight muscles uncoil. Eventually, he started to feel good. Stealth and Tracking was generally considered the hardest level of Auror training. He didn’t know what the character testing involved, but passing his final set of S & T tests felt good. Full marks and record time! He squeezed shampoo into his hand and massaged it into his head, enjoying it thoroughly. And he could sleep in the next day, too. Draco couldn’t remember the last time he’d had time to sleep more than five or six hours in a night. He tilted his head back, rinsing, and reached for his conditioner. It was high quality, the sort of thing everyone but Pansy gaped at him for buying, but he didn’t care about the price tag. It was silky in his fingers, against his hair, then lower, on his cock. He turned to face the water, letting the conditioner set, and jerked off under the hot spray. He used both hands, sliding one hand between his legs to cup his balls while the other flew along his cock. The build up felt so good, his balls tightening, his breath steaming in the hot air. He came seconds later with a soft grunt, and spared a second to wish that he actually had someone else to get off with, but it didn’t really matter. The release felt great after the long day and the pressure of the testing. He rinsed out the conditioner and turned off the taps.

The mobile was buzzing against the counter as he emerged from the bathroom, a small towel wrapped around his waist. He sighed and picked it up. “What?”

“‘What?’ What do you mean, ‘what’? Why haven’t you returned my calls, if you’re home.”

“Pansy. I just got home, and I just stepped out of the shower.”

She sniffed, unimpressed. “What are you doing now? I assume you have no plans, like always.”

Bitch. “I’m about to make dinner,” Draco said acidly. “Why have you been calling?”

“To find out how your tests went, of course,” she said, ignoring his tone. “And since you haven’t eaten yet, why don’t we meet somewhere and you can tell me about it.”

Draco considered the possibilities. In all honesty, he’d known this would be how his evening would go. Possibly even hoped for it. The solitude of the past three months of his training was starting to get to him. He thought of Giannetta’s, the linguine tossed in brandy cream with prawns and fresh tomatoes, the pungent garlic and fresh basil mingling on his tongue. His mouth watered at the thought. “Fine,” he said begrudgingly. It was part of the ritual. “Giannetta’s at ten. Don’t be late for once in your life. I’m tired and I want to get to bed within the next ten hours.”

“You’re such a bitch, darling,” she said affectionately. “Of course I won’t be late. See you there.” She hung up.

Draco closed the phone, raked fingers through his wet hair and remembered his wine.

__________________


Feeling only a little apprehensive, Draco finished his latte and tossed the paper cup into a rubbish bin before stepping into an alley beside the Ministry building to Apparate into the foyer. It had been so long since he had been so very well-rested that it was difficult to worry too much about the meeting. He was uneasy, though. It was strictly forbidden to discuss the contents of the character testing, as each test was individualised to pinpoint the character flaws of each trainee. Draco rode the lift in silence, noting to himself that the orange pinstriped robes of the wizard sharing the lift with him were quite ridiculously ugly. He’d had a little too much wine the night before, which had mellowed him considerably but left a slight, dull headache in its wake. Dehydration, his favourite. Draco exited the lift and strode down the corridor to the Auror Department. He wasn’t nervous. Just apprehensive. Anyone would be.

Moody and Shacklebolt alone sat on one side of the long, highly polished mahogany table. Shacklebolt unsmilingly indicated the other side of the table. Draco pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Good morning,” Shacklebolt said soberly.

“Good morning, sir.” Draco nodded at Moody as well.

The two older men exchanged a look. “There are a few things we need to talk about,” Shacklebolt said. “As you know, I am the Auror responsible for overseeing this section of your qualification, but I do it with information and observations that my colleagues in the Department gather throughout the training process. For the past three years, as you know, a record of personal information has been kept on each one of the trainees. Specific, detailed information. The way you move your head when being given information. The direction your eyes shift at certain points of a conversation. Exactly which muscles in your face tense when you’re attacking an opponent for a training exercise. All of these little things are fair game. We analyse them. We discuss them. And finally, at the end, we share our findings with you and discuss them together. The reason we save the character testing for the end is that in many ways, it is the hardest level of the training. To become an Auror takes more personal integrity, as well as your many consider skills, and it takes in turn a great deal of willingness to be fully honest with yourself about yourself.”

Shacklebolt paused for emphasis. “I’m sure you’re aware that many trainees reach this point and fail to qualify because of this level of the testing. We don’t take pleasure in their failure, but it has proven over time to be the most effective method of weeding out the people who will break on the job, who will let personal agenda take priority over safety or a successful mission. Are you prepared to enter this level?”

It was the question they asked before the commencement of every training level. For the eighth and final time in three years, Draco nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Good man, Malfoy.” Shacklebolt opened a three-ring binder and turned paper, rather than parchment, pages. Moody consulted his own small notebook. “All right, then. Let us begin. All in all, Malfoy, you’re a very strong candidate. I think you know that.”

Draco felt a knot of worry coil into a knot in the base of his stomach. There was a But coming. He couldn’t speak, so he just waited.

“Our concern,” Shacklebolt said, “comes from a quality that we actually look and hope for in Aurors, ironically. In your case, we wonder if it doesn’t go a little far.”

Draco tried to work a little moisture back into his mouth. He could see it all slipping away. Three years, wasted. “What is it?”

Another exchange of looks. “We do admire your overall equanimity,” Shacklebolt said. “But sometimes an outward calm can hide turmoil beneath the surface. In fact, quite often when people are that good at keeping up the impassive look, it’s a cover. We’ve spent a good deal of time in the past three years trying to uncover your turmoil. Your turmoil is your weakness, the factor that will undo you. We have to drag it out into the look and examine it, find out why it’s there and what it’s doing to you, your life, your work.”

Draco finally found his voice. “What if there’s no turmoil? What if I’m just quiet?”

“You’re not that quiet, Malfoy,” Moody said, with a gruff chuckle. “In fact, you can be quite vocal, especially when provoked. No, there’s turmoil. Unresolved issues. We have no doubt of this. In fact, we’ve even made a list of your trigger points. Listen.”

He had no choice but to do so.

“Your parents,” Moody began. “Fair enough.” The magical blue eye rotated upward from where it had been focused on the notepad and looked at Draco long and hard. “Nearly everyone reacts badly to their families being insulted or wronged.”

Badly, Draco thought. Not five minutes in, and they’d used that word. He was doing badly. The knot in his stomach hardened.

“Your ancestry. Same thing. Your performance. You have a lot of pride, Malfoy. Possibly too much. Arrogance is only arrogance when it outweighs the amount of talent supporting it. Luckily, you’re very talented. But talent alone, and we cannot stress this highly enough, will not get you where you’re going.” The brown eye joined the blue, looking up from the notepad to Draco’s face. “You’re not arrogant, but it comes close to the line sometimes. Granted, it’s justified. You’re one of the best wizards your age around.”

Draco nodded. He’d heard this before. What was the bomb they kept ducking around?

Shacklebolt exhaled loudly through nose and put the binder down. He slowly interlocked his fingers and looked Draco in the eye. “The biggest issue, though, at least as we see it, is Potter.”

Draco felt his face turn to stone, his mind numbing in outraged denial. Potter. No. Fucking. Way. Trying to speak over his fury, mustering all the cold politeness he could, he asked, “What about Potter?”

“Your feelings for Potter,” Shacklebolt said. “It’s always been a trigger point. Had been since before either of us met you. The jealousy. The resentment. The outright hatred, if I may. You may have fought on the same side of the war, but that doesn’t make you friends.”

The rage was building. “Since when has it become law to be Potter’s friend?” Draco bit out, hardly able to get the words out through his wrath. As if Potter was truly capable of fucking up his life even like this. It was beyond belief. Since when were his personal preferences as far as other people were concerned related to his certification in any way whatsoever?

Moody looked at Shacklebolt and then Draco. “This is exactly the point, Malfoy. It’s not a law. But it is a personal weakness, and one that could be exploited to your disadvantage. We’re not saying that you have to be friends with everyone in order to be a good Auror. But this particular vendetta goes so far back and runs so deeply that we think it would cloud your judgement. That’s the concern.”

Shacklebolt leaned in. “Could you work with Potter if you had to, Malfoy? Be honest. Could you be civil and professional and not allow any personal history to get in the way?”

Draco opened his mouth to retort, but for a split second a mental image of Potter stuttering over something he was trying to say came to mind. Before he could respond, Shacklebolt continued.

“Precisely what I mean.”

“If it’s just a hypothetical question, why does it matter?” Draco asked, struggling to control his temper, furious with himself for the hesitation.

They glanced at each other. Shacklebolt nodded. “It’s not strictly hypothetical,” Moody said. “Potter’s actually an Auror, too.”

Shock. “I didn’t know,” he mumbled, staring at the table.

“We know that.” Shacklebolt was gentle. “It’s not public information. Potter has been living undercover among the Muggles for nearly two years now. I trust you’ll keep this confidential. The fact of the matter is that you may very well be one of the few wizards skilled enough to partner him. We haven’t thought it through or anything that detailed. It’s a possibility, that’s all. But before we get as far as even thinking about assignments, you can see why your personal relationship with Potter matters to us.”

Draco did see. It didn’t help anything, but he understood. Numbly, he said, “So I can’t qualify.”

Shacklebolt sounded surprised. “Who said anything about that?”

Draco glanced at Moody. “I thought…”

“We’re showing you some of your weaknesses,” Shacklebolt said. “If you can prove to us that you can deal with your issues sufficient to the task, as we see it, of becoming a fully qualified Auror, then you’re on your way. It is difficult for most people, though. As we said earlier. It requires a level of self-honesty that most people don’t want to get into. It’s not comfortable, looking at ourselves on the deeper levels. I think this is a deep-seated issue for you that probably extends all the way back throughout your childhood. It’s perfectly understandable: your father was a Death Eater, you were born in the same year as Potter, went through Hogwarts with him as his rival and, by pure circumstance, his natural enemy. Until you left your family, of course, but by then, the two of you had developed a bad history and it’s never been resolved. If you pass your character testing, I won’t lie to you, Malfoy. You’ll be one of the Ministry’s top Aurors and we’d be privileged to have you. Potter is one of our very best and if we can’t trust you to comport yourselves professionally together, then we simply can’t have you on staff.”

Draco wanted to ask if they’d put Potter through the same rigmarole, but he knew better and held his tongue. “I understand,” he said, unable to look at Shacklebolt.

“You have great inner strength, Malfoy,” Shacklebolt said. “We have confidence that you can complete this final assignment successfully. I think you’ll be a happier person for it if you can learn to leave this childish rivalry behind. You’re twenty-seven years old. It’s time to move on.”

“What final assignment?” Draco asked, hearing only this.

Shacklebolt leaned back and drew the binder back, almost as though for protection. As though he knew that what he was going to say would not be met with a favourable result. “We want you to become Potter’s friend,” he said. “Genuinely. Not just friendly terms, but a true friendship. Get to know him. Find out what he’s like one-on-one. What he likes to do in his spare time. How he likes his current assignment. Whatever. You don’t need to like all of his friends and acquaintances, though it would obviously make it easier. I’ll let you in on something. When Potter went through this training, we made him enrol in anger management classes. He learned a lot about emotional control and processing things slowly, and it’s done him well. Before that, we didn’t think he necessarily had the emotional fortitude it would take. He could learn more of that from you, we think. It would be a beneficial friendship as far as the Ministry and particularly the Auror Department is concerned.”

He stopped, watching Draco closely. “I know you don’t like it,” he said. “We’re not asking you to. But that’s the assignment.”

Moody flexed his claw-like fingers. “It could be much worse,” he volunteered. “Sometimes – often – we’ve had candidates get up and walk out of the room before the explanation of the assignment was even finished. People don’t like this part. I personally think you’ve got one of the easiest assignments we’ve ever given.”

“We do know that it will be harder that it sounds,” Shacklebolt acknowledged. “I’m glad you heard it out. What do you say?”

Draco searched for something to say. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Three years he’d put into this. All to culminate in a mandatory friendship with the one living person he could happily do without ever seeing again. His mind was blank. “I’ll do it,” he said, his voice entirely devoid of expression.

“Good man.” Shacklebolt closed the binder with a look of satisfaction. “We thought you would. We were hoping you would, I should say. Now, some of the finer points. You have six months. We’d like to check in with you then and see how things are going.”

“That’s longer than most people get for the final assignment,” Moody added. “We know that friendship doesn’t happen overnight, so we figured the extra time might be helpful. We’ll check in once a month or so and see. It’s the twenty-fifth of November today. See what you can do. In the meantime, we trust you’ll recall that the final assignment, as the others, is completely confidential. Not a word, not to a soul. Obviously if Potter finds out, the whole bet is off, and no one wants that. You’ll remember?”

Draco nodded, still feeling half as though he’d been turned to stone.

Moody pulled something out of his file folder and handed it across the table to Draco. “Good man, Malfoy. This is an invite to the annual Minister’s Ball. I don’t know whether you’ve already been invited or not, but it’s become more exclusive in recent years. Potter will be there. It might be a good place to start.”

Draco took the invitation and thought of Pansy’s inevitable envy. His smugness lasted only until he realised he would likely be expected to bring a date, and… well. The Minister’s Ball was highly exclusive, and he wasn’t exactly a member of London’s high society these days. Potter had been invited? The bastard. Of course he had been. He took the invitation. “Thank you,” he said stiffly.

“Bigger men have failed at smaller tasks,” Shacklebolt said, with a wry smile. “We have every confidence in your social abilities as well as your abilities on the field, Malfoy. Best wishes.” He held out a hand over the table and Draco shook it. Moody stood and leaned over the table to shake, lacking Shacklebolt’s height.

“Good luck,” he added.

Draco got himself out of the conference room and the Ministry and Apparated back to the safe confines of his flat, the invitation burning his fingertips.

__________________



On his sofa, Pansy had not yet taken off her coat or boots, though she’d sat down, one leg perched on top of the other. She was scowling. “You’re really not going to tell me.”

“No.” Draco treated her to a hard glare. “You know that.”

“I completely fail to understand how your assignment requires you to go to a ball.”

Draco was getting tired of this. “Look, do you want to come or not? If not, I’m fine going by myself.”

“As if you’d be caught dead going to the social happening of the year without a date. Even if it’s only a fake date,” Pansy said, examining her long artificial nails with feigned disinterest. “Who would you even take, if I didn’t want to go?”

That was over the line. His headache grew to new proportions. He needed her to leave so that he could think properly, have a few minutes alone. He should have known better than to have answered the phone. He felt his eyebrows rise, his mouth tighten. “Believe it or not,” he said icily, “being gay does not render a person entirely unattractive to the opposite gender. Just the contrary in some cases. In fact, I seem to recall an occasion about two years ago – ”

“Spare me,” Pansy said, rolling her eyes. “You don’t need to rub in it any more than you did then.”

“You’re the one who wanted to bet,” Draco said nastily. “It’s not my fault your gaydar doesn’t work for shite. Fine, I’ll take that as a no. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some things to do.”

“Calm down.” Pansy glared back. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t go.”

“I’m rescinding the invitation.” Draco turned and went into the kitchen to find something to drink.

He heard the rustle of clothing and then she appeared in the doorway. “Honey, don’t be like that.” The faux-sweetness was back, but she sounded tired. “I’ll go if you need a date. I’d love to go to that ball. You know that.”

Draco poured himself a glass of water and drank half of it, ignoring her. “Fine.” He set the glass on the counter. “It’s Friday night, cocktails at six. I’ll be there for my assignment, so I might need to talk to some people. Whatever happens, just don’t make a big deal out of it, all right?”

The eyes widened in calculated innocence. “Of course not,” Pansy said. “Wouldn’t dream of it. I’m very discreet. You do your thing, and I’ll work the room.” She came over and kissed the air near his cheek. “I have to go shopping. You look exhausted. Get some rest.”

She was practically purring, the cat that got the cream, Draco thought. No wonder, though – the Minister’s Ball was hardly a thing to take lightly. Every social columnist would be there. “Thanks,” he said dryly. “I was thinking of having a nap. I’ll call you or something.”

Pansy positively beamed at him. “Splendid,” she said. She let herself out and Disapparated with an audible pop in the hallway. Draco betook himself to the smallish balcony off the main room and went to stand in the chill air for a long time, turning over the entire assignment interview in his head.

He didn’t want to believe it. That it could be such a stumbling block, the old rivalry with Potter. The vast majority of him refused to accept it, pushing back against what he’d been told with both arms, disarming it with disdainful words and contemptuous scorn. Fuck the character testing. There were other things he could do with his life, things that didn’t involve being put through this. Fuck Potter. Why did everyone like him? It was hero worship, nothing more. The half-blind git was no better than anyone else. Without the rest of the army, he’d never have won the war, anyway.

The other, much quieter part of his mind knew that it was all true, if he was honest with himself. Potter was very talented. Sure, he’d been lucky. But virtually no one else, if anyone, could have survived that long. Or at all. And Draco wanted to certify more than anything else he’d ever wanted. He wasn’t about to waste three years just because he was too stubborn to play nicely with Potter.

Only it was more than that. They would know if it was just put on. He would know. It did have to be genuine if it was going to accomplish the task they had set him: to get past his own personal weakness of character. He knew in his heart of hearts that it was more than just Potter. It was about turning tail when the going got tough. And while joining the Ministry’s side of the war instead of waiting it out in Italy like Blaise or Switzerland like Pansy, he’d stuck it out in England and fought. Surely that had to speak well of his strength of character. Draco thought of Dumbledore, saw his wand wavering as his resolve crumbled before his eyes and clenched his jaw in remembered humiliation. They were right. It was a weakness, and a weakness that could betray him if he didn’t take care of it. Potter was certainly the trigger he’d possessed the longest: the instant path to his own insecurity and consequent anger.

It occurred to Draco then that they must have known how Potter had rejected his offer of friendship in their first year. Of course. It made too much sense. This was about forcing him to swallow his pride and arrogance in his abilities and connections and get someone like Potter to accept and like him on his own merits. Draco experienced an intense moment of gripping self-doubt. Potter would never like him. He breathed deeply, forced the traitorous thought aside. He would just have to con Potter into it somehow. He decided that he was determined to certify, no matter what the cost. If befriending Potter was what it would take, then he would just have to put every resource behind the cause. Carefully, of course. Draco looked down at the invitation he was still holding, pinched between a thumb and two fingers and smoothed out the indentation he’d made. Friday. He turned and went back inside.

__________________


The glittering letters forming his name and Pansy’s above their heads, Draco grimaced and tugged her off toward the bar. A drink was what he needed, first and foremost. Pansy refused to be towed, somehow maintaining that glide and seemingly weightless arm on his in an invisible grip of steel. She was not going to be rushed, dressed as she was and with all the media attention. The dress was something between silver and steel, shifting in the light. It matched his eyes and tie, which was no mistake – Pansy had informed him in a tone that brooked no argument that he was wearing that particular tie. Fortunately, he liked it. Pansy’s face was a work of art; hours of careful layering and tweaking had produced an effect that was really rather nice. Draco elbowed his way to the bar and eyed the room, wondering who she would ultimately leave with, and simultaneously scanning for Potter.

Pansy left him immediately after he had procured her a glass of champagne and thereafter was only seen in glimpses, flashes of silver or smoke-grey satin gleaming through the crowd. Draco took his own glass, downed half of it at once, and gritted his teeth. Might as well get it over with. He wove through the room, searching for Potter. The grand ballroom was full, the circling waiters holding golden trays above their heads to avoid being jostled. The chandeliers glittered and swayed gently in a magic-induced breeze, crystals clinking above the chatter. Draco heard a familiar voice and turned to catch Longbottom just disappearing between bodies and caught the tail end of what he’d been saying: “… don’t know, Harry, let’s find somewhere to sit.”

Draco dodged after him, trying to keep his distance but not wanting to lose Longbottom and Potter, either. He caught up to them when they located a small, round table in the corner, watched them sit down and quickly turned around before either one could recognise him. Another waiter appeared and traded his empty glass for a full one. Draco tipped him and set up an artful wander through the crowd designed to bring him back to Potter’s table with a quarter of an hour. He knew few people, though he recognised many. All of magical Britain’s highest society were there. And Longbottom. Teaching at Hogwarts must have its benefits after all. Draco finished his weave and found himself at Potter’s table.

He feigned surprise when Potter’s eyes found him. “Potter.”

“Malfoy.” Potter was curt.

Draco nodded at Longbottom. “Longbottom.”

“Hello, Malfoy,” Longbottom said, a little warily.

Draco made an effort to be civil. “Still at Hogwarts?”

“Yes, actually.” Longbottom looked surprised. “I didn’t know you knew that. I’m teaching Herbology now that Pomona’s retired.”

He could not imagine a less desirable career. Potting magical (usually carnivorous) plants and dealing with hopeless students all day, living surrounded by them – Draco managed not to shudder, but it was a close call. “Great,” he said, and it came out sounding strangled. “Excellent. Enjoying it?”

Longbottom shrugged self-consciously. “It’s all right, if you like that sort of thing.”

He was being self-effacing. Probably guessing at his actual thoughts, Draco thought. “Sure, if that’s what you do,” he said flatly.

Potter pushed a glass of clear liquid away from himself. “What are you doing these days, Malfoy?” He sounded little friendlier, but there was a hint of interest, if a little too much emphasis on the you.

Draco shrugged, vague. “Oh, this and that. Trying to get my life sorted, that sort of thing. You?”

Longbottom looked at Potter, who did not notice, whether deliberately or otherwise. “I’m doing a few things,” Potter said levelly. “Living among Muggles. It’s decent.”

“I suppose you grew up with electricity,” Draco said. “Must make it easier to make the transition from living without magic.” Damn it, it better not sound like it was trying to chat Potter up. He’d been aiming for small talk.

Potter looked at him properly for the first time, eyes nearly unveiled. “Actually, I’m still using magic – just carefully. But I did grow up with electricity, yes.” He pushed a chair out with one foot. “Have a seat, if you like.”

Draco looked at the chair and then at Potter. He pulled the chair further out and sat down. Was it really going to be that easy? Or was Potter just trying to being nice? “Thanks,” he said. “Would it bother you to live without magic?”

Potter turned his glass in his fingers, marking it up with fingerprints. “Yes. I would use it when I wasn’t even thinking about. I don’t think I could do it for too long a time. Besides, I would hate feeling like a Muggle.”

Draco observed him with care. Dark hair, still decidedly out of order, but in a way that seemed less obnoxious now, falling forward over part of a forehead that was rather pale. Hiding the scar, naturally. The glasses were newer and, thank God, no longer round, but a tasteful wire frame of a more adult style. The face had grown into the large jaw and Potter apparently learned how to control his limbs since they had left Hogwarts. Auror training, Draco remembered, and attributed it to that. There were very fine lines on the cheeks and near the eyes that had not been there prior to the war. All in all, it was an intriguing face. An attractive face, and with the nicely cut tuxedo, it was an alluring combination. Perish the thought. Potter was still waiting for him to respond, green eyes fixed on Draco’s. He cleared his throat. “I can understand that.”

Potter ran fingers through his hair, which left it more unkempt than it had been. “What are you doing here, Malfoy? Who did you come with?” His tone was slightly mocking, implying that Draco had come as someone’s escort.

“I brought Pansy,” Draco said, not rising to the bait. “She’s probably off finding someone to take her home later.”

Potter’s brows rose. “Not you, then?”

Draco gave him an incredulous look. “Please. I haven’t drunk enough for that to be funny yet.”

Potter actually laughed, and was as surprised by it as Draco was. He didn’t say anything, but Longbottom glanced at him again and began to slide around the table.

“Harry, I just saw Witherbee across there. I’m going to say hello.”

“Tell him to answer your owls while you’re at it,” Potter called after him.

Longbottom’s answer was muffled by the crowd, his departure leaving a strange silence at the small table.

Draco swirled his half-glass of champagne around in the flute, tried to think of something to say.

Potter was watching him. “This is strange,” he said conversationally, though the carefulness was just a step behind it. “I don’t think we’ve ever had that long a conversation before.”

“Possibly not,” Draco agreed, and said nothing more.

“It’s not half bad,” Potter said, obviously intending it as a joke.

Draco smiled and surveyed his glass. “So. I heard you weren’t a fan of events like these.”

“I’m not, generally,” Potter said. His eyes went distant, scanning the crowd. “I just came to keep Neville company. He wanted to come.”

A good turn. Of course. Still, though. Draco glanced at Potter’s face again, quickly, and wondered if he was seeing Longbottom. Scratch that. The git was undeniably straight. Everyone knew that. That was only wishful thinking. Wishful? Draco caught himself. Speculative, he corrected himself mentally. “I see.” He caught Potter’s eye and thought he should make more of an effort. “I brought Pansy because she would have clawed my eyes out if she’d found out I had an invitation to this and didn’t invite her.”

Potter laughed. “I saw you two come in, actually. I just assumed you were dating. I didn’t mean to – ”

“It’s okay,” Draco interrupted, as Potter’s cheeks were flushing. “I would have thought that, too.”

“You’re not, though?” Potter looked at him quickly. “Just curious. You don’t have to say.”

“I’m quite happily single, as a matter of fact,” Draco said. He drained his glass and nodded at Potter’s. “What are you drinking? Can I get you something? I need a refill.”

Potter looked taken aback but recovered swiftly, his cheeks colouring again. Or perhaps they were still flushed from before. “This is just water,” he said. “I wasn’t planning to drink tonight, but I suppose one can’t hurt.”

Draco lifted his brows. “What’ll it be, then?”

Potter nodded toward Draco’s empty flute. “Champagne, if that’s what you’re drinking.”

“I’ll be right back.” Draco ducked back into the crowd to seek out a waiter. He was talking too quickly, probably coming off forced and unnatural. Potter would notice, at least if he’d been any good at the Behavioural Observation unit. Why was he nervous? He couldn’t possibly be that worried that Potter would refuse to be friends with him. So far it was going well, despite his stiltedness. Draco spotted a waiter and headed toward him, lifting his empty glass in signal and decided that it was anxiety about his certification. He nabbed two brimming glasses and went back to the table. Potter was waiting, leaning his chair back against a wall, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his tuxedo.

Draco passed him a glass and sat down again. He had just opened his mouth when a woman dressed in violet satin approached. Potter evidently caught sight of the lapel mike first; his expression went blank and the legs of his chair thumped down on the hard wood floor with a final sort of a sound. Draco frowned, determining that he’d never seen the woman before. She ignored him almost completely, leaning across to speak to Potter.

“Mr Potter,” she said, oozing faux-charm.

Potter nodded guardedly. “What can I do for you?” He was polite but not welcoming.

“Just a few questions, if you don’t mind.”

Potter didn’t answer for a moment, then said, “Five questions, and I make no guarantee to answer anything. No Quick Quotes Quills.”

“Certainly, certainly.” She beamed at him and dragged a chair over. “Sharon Alexander, The Owl and Scroll. And your friend is… ?”

Potter was cool. “This is Draco Malfoy. I went to school with him at Hogwarts.”

Draco found himself examined for the first time by measuring blue eyes. “The Draco Malfoy? Son of the notorious Death Eater Lucius M – ”

“Yes,” Draco said, cutting her off. “Obviously.”

Potter shot him a quick look that Draco didn’t understand. “That was one,” he said firmly. “You have four more.”

“Mr Potter,” she protested, “the question was – ”

“Four more,” Potter repeated stubbornly.

Frustrated, she withdrew a small notebook and consulted it. “Now that the war is over, what are you planning to do with your life?”

“I can’t answer that,” Potter said, his face going impassive.

The reporter blinked. “May I ask why not, or will that cost me another question?” she asked dryly.

Potter didn’t smile. “It’s classified.”

“Are you currently employed?” she pressed, quill hovering over her notebook.

Potter didn’t move a muscle. “Same answer.”

The frustration grew visibly. “All right. Will you take my head off if I ask about your personal life?”

“Have you heard it’s dangerous ground?” Potter asked, his mouth twitching.

She hedged. “Possibly.”

“It isn’t. I’m single, and not looking to be otherwise.” Potter gave her a charming smile and sipped his champagne for the first time.

“There are rumours that – ”

“I don’t respond to rumours,” Potter interrupted. “Let’s change the topic.”

“Absolutely. What would you like to talk about?”

“Quidditch. My favourite team is the Chudley Cannons.”

“Why them?”

“I follow them out of loyalty to my best friend,” Potter said. He extended a hand. “This was fun. Enjoy the party.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again at Potter’s subtle shift in expression and looked at his hand. She shook it and smiled resignedly. “Thank you,” she said. “I will.”

“I will,” Potter assured her. It was an obvious invitation to leave, and she took it.

Draco watched her go with interest. He’d never seen Potter so socially dominant. He’d always been the type to react rather than instigate, as he’d noticed. He’d spent so much time angling after those very reactions himself, in another lifetime. “Nicely done,” he said, reluctantly impressed by Potter’s manoeuvring.

Potter’s seeming good mood had vanished. “There was nothing nice about it.” He stood abruptly. “Thanks for the drink. I’ll see you later.”

Draco got to his feet before he knew what was happening. “Potter – ”

If Potter heard, he gave no indication, striding off into the crowd.

Draco looked at his retreating back and refused to answer the infuriating question of whether he was more annoyed by Potter or intrigued.

__________________


It was late and Pansy had disappeared. Draco had put the time intervening to good use, mingling with the influential and saying the things people wanted to hear. It was so easy, such a simple little game. Pity the rules didn’t work on Potter, who had spent the entire ball avoiding him. Perhaps deliberately, perhaps not. Draco only saw him now and then, when then crowd shifted to allow him a glimpse of Potter being talked to by various and sundry guests. Draco took stock of the emptying ballroom and realised that Potter was gone. He cursed under his breath and set his (fourth? Fifth?) champagne glass down and went to get some air. It was stuffy and suffocating in every sense.

There was a side door near the kitchens that led outdoors. Draco slipped through it unnoticed and found himself in what could only be the back alley behind what appeared from the outside to be a large, derelict warehouse. Potter was sitting on an upturned crate, a bottle of Dom Perignon in hand. Draco glanced at it out of habit, but could not see how much was left in the dark. Startled, he said, “Potter. What are you doing here?”

Potter tipped his head back and surveyed him through narrowed eyes. “I could ask you the same thing,” he said. His speech was just careless enough to indicate being somewhat pissed, but it was not yet the carefully precise speech of the outright drunk, a fact for which Draco was thankful. He wasn’t sure he could handle Potter trashed.

Draco looked around and found another crate and kicked it over to where Potter was sitting. “I just wanted some air,” he said. “You?” It was cool.

Potter shrugged. “Same.” He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and loosened the bow tie. “God, I hate those things.”

“Do you?” He kept his voice neutral, reminding himself that he was pursuing a friendship with the hostile git. “Why do you always go, then?”

“Have to. You have no idea how snubbed people get when I don’t show up for whatever charity ball they’re throwing. Especially if I come without a date.” He rolled his eyes.

“So bring a date,” Draco said, but he was thinking of Potter’s answer about his relationship status. “You don’t have to like her, Potter.”

Potter snorted. “It’s not very likely that I would. The only people who would want to come with me are fame seekers. I don’t want that, even if it’s just a sham. I don’t want that, either.”

“What do you want?” Draco was curious despite himself. He leaned over and took the bottle from Potter’s hand. “Give that here.”

Potter watched him drink and held out his hand after. Draco passed it back and Potter took a long swallow, his throat bobbing. Draco’s eyes lingered on the white skin of said throat and did not think thoughts that he would have to have himself castrated for thinking. “What do I want,” Potter repeated with a short laugh. “That’s a good one, Malfoy. I want to be left alone.”

Draco was stung, regardless of the fact that he didn’t even particularly want to be Potter’s friend in the first place. He rose abruptly, shoulders tensed.

Potter interrupted him before he was able to think of a decent exit line, mid-sip. “No – I didn’t mean now, Malfoy. I just meant in general.” He lowered the bottle and looked at Draco. “Come on. Sit down. It’s kind of nice having the company.”

Draco sat. “If it’s so nice, why did you take off before?” It was pointed and he knew it. Maybe this whole friendship deal was impossible after all. Maybe it wasn’t possible for them to even be civil.

“Before?” Potter sounded surprise. “Oh, then. I was just pissed off about the reporter. I hate it when they come up to me at these things. I get it every single time. I can almost ask their questions for them. What are you doing now. Who are you seeing. We’ve been hearing strange rumours, could you address them. All that. Do you have post-war trauma, if they’re trying to be creative.”

Draco observed him with undisguised curiosity. He’d never thought of it that way. His entire life, he’d thought of Potter as an attention-seeking prat who was never satisfied unless he was in centre stage, full spotlight, all too happy to establish the image of the lone boy hero, saviour of the world as everyone knew it. He knew it just as surely as he knew, in some secret, scarce-acknowledged place that his lifelong dislike of Potter had far more to do with the latter spurning his friendship than it had to do with politics. So Potter hated the interviews and the attention. He made himself respond automatically. “So, do you?” he asked, intending it to be humorous.

Potter chuckled. “No.” The laughter turned to a sigh. “I’m just trying to figure out how to live a normal life like a normal person. Do normal-people things and all that.” He raked his fingers through his hair, which made him look even more disreputable, the champagne bottle dangling loosely from his other hand.

“How’s it going?”

Potter glanced at him and looked away. “Hard,” he admitted. “I could forget it, or at least let it be the past and stay there, but it’s like the public won’t let me move on and fade into obscurity. I never wanted people to know who I am. I was shocked when I found out that I was a wizard, let alone a famous one that people like you had been reading about their entire childhoods. I never did know how to deal with it, and now that it’s all over, I still don’t and I’m tired of trying. I just want to be.”

The wine had loosened Potter’s tongue, evidently. Draco held out his hand for the bottle again. He drank and considered what to say. Resting the bottle on one knee, he said, “Maybe you’ll never be forgotten. But you could still live normally and do normal things.”

Potter didn’t look convinced. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Draco passed him the champagne. “What sort of thing do you want to do, anyway?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Potter avoided his gaze, taking another swig.

Draco thought. An idea occurred. “Do you really support the Cannons?”

“Sure,” Potter said. “Why not? They’re the first team I got familiar with, thanks to Ron.”

Draco ignored the reference. “I have tickets to the Cannons vs. Tornados game on Tuesday. I don’t suppose you would want to come. I have a spare ticket.”

Potter gave him a look of open surprise, lips parting. For a moment he seemed lost for words. “Me?”

Draco took care to keep his tone casual. “I don’t have plans to go with anyone else so far.”

Potter wavered. “Are you sure? I mean, if there’s someone you’d rather go with…”

Draco held out his hand for the champagne again. “Don’t be a twit, Potter. Normal people go to Quidditch matches, correct? I’m offering. Don’t take it if you don’t want it. But if you do, then come. It’s not complicated.”

Potter gazed at him, looking very much as though he was deliberately filtering things out of his speech. “All right, then,” he said offhandedly. “I’ll come, then. I wanted tickets, but they were all sold out. And sometimes I work evenings – ” He stopped, catching himself.

Draco waved it off with the bottle and passed it back. “I don’t need to know what you do, Potter. Relax.”

Potter accepted the bottle. “Sorry. I’m not supposed to talk about it, that’s all.”

“It’s perfectly fine.” Draco nodded toward the bottle. “That’s about empty, I’d say. Finish it off and let’s get out of this alley.”

Potter grinned and obediently drained the bottle. “Good stuff,” he said appraisingly. “My favourite champagne.”

That was a surprise, that Potter knew enough champagnes to have a favourite in the first place, but Draco reminded himself that if he was attending balls, dinners, and fundraisers every other week-end, of course he would know his wines by now. “I like it myself,” he said. He got to his feet and offered Potter his hand.

Potter took it and pulled himself up with little effort. Draco could feel the lightness of his movement, the power tingling in his fingers, and was suddenly aware that this could almost be symbolic. This time, Potter had taken his hand. Stupid. That was old history. He pushed the thought away and let go of Potter. “I’m Apparating,” he said. “You?”

“The same,” Potter said. “So, Tuesday – where should I meet you?”

“The game’s in Chudley,” Draco said. “Why don’t I meet you… outside the Ministry, say, and we can take a Portkey. I’ll be in the neighbourhood and I can pick one up. Six-thirty?”

“Six-thirty,” Potter confirmed. Suddenly, he smiled. “Thanks, Malfoy.”

Draco didn’t quite smile back; it was just a tightening at the corners of his mouth, but he was trying. Potter’s enthusiasm warmed him, though. “You’re welcome. See you Tuesday.”

“Good night,” Potter said. He looked for a moment as though he might say something else, then changed his mind and Disapparated.

The alley seemed twice as dark now that he was alone. Draco wasted no time and swiftly Apparated home himself.

__________________


Twenty-five past six, and Draco was jittery. Potter had better show, damn it. He’d had a bit of trouble getting the tickets after claiming to already have them in his possession, and besides, he hadn’t seen a live match for over two years. Auror training was intensely time consuming and the opportunity simply hadn’t presented itself.

A small pop a few meters away made him jump. Potter emerged from the alley beside the Ministry building and spotted him at once. “Hi,” he said.

“Hello,” Draco replied. He pulled a ticket from his pocket. “I have an idea. Why don’t we Disillusion ourselves for the match? That way perhaps no one would recognise you and bother you.”

He would have suggested a glamour, but supposedly only Aurors and Auror candidates knew how to do those, and he wasn’t about to out them both. Potter’s face showed similar signs of calculation, and then he nodded. “Great idea,” he said. “I like it!” He pulled out his wand and indicated the alley with his chin. “Shall we?”

Draco followed them, withdrawing the Portkey with a handkerchief. “It’s set to go whenever we want,” he said. “We’d better Disillusion once we get there.”

“Right.” Potter reached for it. “On three?”

Draco smiled in spite of himself. “Just take it.”

The instant Potter’s fingers touched the cold iron of the key, Draco took it with his other hand and activated it. The tug of the Portkey pulled them together, legs bumping. He hoped Potter wouldn’t think that had been intentional. He knew how Portkeys worked. They arrived seconds later outside the Chudley Quidditch pitch and Draco rapidly sheathed his fingers again, stowing the Portkey back in his pocket.

Potter moved away from him as though he hadn’t noticed the sudden contact, but the faint touch of colour on both cheeks gave him away. “Let’s Disillusion, then,” he said, and without waiting, went ahead and cast the spell on himself.

Draco did his own, mindful to keep his eyes on Potter’s precise location. He could see a shimmery outline, but little else. “Row ninety-seven,” he said.

“Good thing I’m in shape,” Potter joked.

Draco laughed and thought to himself that Potter was rather fit, indeed. “Good thing. Come on.”

__________________


The match lasted three and a half hours and was very close, an exciting game that brought Draco back to his own Quidditch days, the sense of speeding through the air on your own power alone, coupled with the Levitation Charm on the broom. The thrill of the hunt for the Snitch, the rush of wind against his face as he spiralled into a dive. He’d nearly always caught the Snitch. Only Potter beat him every time they had ever played against one another. The adrenaline sang in his ears all over again. He didn’t even have team loyalties any more, but he cast his lot with Potter’s and hoped for the Cannons. They won, and it was exhilarating. Potter relaxed entirely once the match began, talking excitedly about the flying moves, the strategies, the Snitch. He even referred to moves Draco had made, back in their Hogwarts days, and Draco understood that Potter had dropped the cool front. When the Cannons won, the crowd on their side of the stadium roared their approval and, on their feet with everyone else, Potter spontaneously flung his arms around Draco.

Both Disillusionments faded. Potter let go quickly enough, but not so quickly that Draco hadn’t had time to register Potter’s closeness, his heat, his magic sparking in his veins with excitement, his hips colliding with Draco’s in a way that was anything but painful. It was as exhilarating as the victory, little though Draco cared to admit it to himself. His body memorised the feel of it instantly and he knew that he was aroused by it. He let go awkwardly and Potter looked apologetic.

Above the noise of the shouting spectators, Potter called, “Sorry, Malfoy – I forgot myself, there. Thought I was with Ron or something.”

If Potter’s hugs made Weasley feel anything like what he was currently feeling, Draco made a note to himself to have Weasley dismembered post-haste. “It’s fine,” he said loudly, trying to be heard. “Forget it.”

Potter had been turning away, but at this, he glanced back. His mouth moved, forming words that Draco couldn’t hear, mumbling to himself, but he didn’t repeat it and Draco didn’t ask him to.

As the pitch and bleachers emptied, they filed down the steps with everyone else, Disillusioned again, but surrounded too closely to have a proper conversation. Potter’s spell faded once they were on the grass and further away from the other spectators and Draco let his go, too. “You’re going home now?” Potter asked, eyes flitting over his.

He hadn’t thought that far. “I suppose I should,” Draco said. “It’s pretty late.”

“True,” Potter said. “I do have to get up fairly early.”

“Isn’t that classified?” Draco asked, with a sidelong smile.

Potter laughed and shoved him lightly, just a push against the shoulder. “Git. I think I can say that much, at least.”

The contact burned, and Draco’s spine was rigid with the knowledge of the touch. “All right,” he heard himself saying, his voice strangely distant in his ears.

“We should do something like this again,” Potter said firmly. “A drink or something. Dinner. Whatever.” He hesitated, perhaps thinking this too forward, and backtracked. “It doesn’t have to be anything formal. Just coffee, even.”

Progress! Excellent. “Any time,” Draco said, his voice still sounding strange to him. He was half-hard and prayed Potter wouldn’t notice.

“I’ll owl you,” Potter said.

“Can you owl? Do owls come to your neighbourhood?”

“Sure,” Potter said. “Thanks for this. It was great.”

“Feel normal?” Draco asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Stop that,” Potter said, smiling. “Yeah. It felt good to get out and do something like this. I had fun hanging out with you, too. It’s nice talking to someone who knows so much about Quidditch and flying.”

His tone was overly warm and enthusiastic for his words, and his cheeks were flushed again. Poor git really does need to get out more, Draco thought. “I had fun, too,” he said. He had never in his life said anything of the sort; he was not the type to reciprocate, at least not under normal circumstances. But this was far from normal: he was trying to establish a friendship. And besides which, he would have felt badly coming across lukewarm in the face of Potter’s animated face. “Owl me, then.”

“I will,” Potter promised.

“Good night,” Draco said.

“Good night.” Potter smiled again, and Disapparated.

Draco went home, pulled off his cloak and opened his trousers. Not even bothering to take them off, he leaned back against the door of his flat and had one of the fastest, hardest wanks of his life, his fist jerking rapidly up the length of his cock. And as he did so, it occurred to him that he wanted to fuck Potter into the floor, be fucked by him until he was aching, consummate all manner of unnatural and perverse acts with him. His imagination had just raced ahead to the thought of Potter’s tongue sliding into him, hot and wet and filthy, pushing against the tight ring of muscle and into his very core when his senses overloaded. He came, the wave of orgasm gripping him in a hot, prickling vise. A second later, the come spattered onto the tiled floor of his tiny foyer. He let his head fall limply back against the door, panting, his hand still circled loosely around his softening cock, and thought over what he’d just actively, deliberately thought about himself and Potter. Together. Really, he asked himself sardonically, but knew already that it was more than a perverse fantasy in the heat of the moment. He did want that. Potter was attractive. He couldn’t deny it to himself if he tried. Disturbed by this, Draco went immediately to bed, troubled, and resolved not to think about it any more than he absolutely had to.

__________________


Potter owled him on Thursday, true to his word. All the note said was: Hi. Wondered if you’d be up for a drink tonight, unless you have plans. Let me know. HP Draco silently congratulated himself: the tables were turned now. Potter was seeking him out. He scribbled a quick reply with a time and the name of a lounge close to his flat and posted it. Everything was going to plan.

As for that other little thing, well, Potter didn’t have to know that Draco had wanked several times since Tuesday night to thoughts of Potter’s warm body and contagious enthusiasm. Some things were on a need-to-know basis. Pure and simple.

__________________


Potter’s coolness seemed to have evaporated entirely. In fact, this entire assignment might be far easier than Draco had thought; Potter seemed almost starved for decent company. Not surprising, considering who his friends were – honestly, could one really expect stimulating company from the likes of Weasley and Longbottom? He would retreat behind carefully cultivated façades of disinterest whenever they broached a subject he preferred not to discuss, but otherwise he was open enough. Draco kept the ball in his own court, asking more questions than he answered. Potter sometimes gave him strange smiles, as though he knew exactly what Draco was doing, but he didn’t question it or say anything.

As for himself, he was grudgingly forced to admit that he was discovering a far more interesting person in Potter than he’d expected, and it was disturbing. They had, despite sundry differences of personality, world view, and about a thousand other insignificant details, many things in common and conversation was not difficult. The fact that he found Potter so physically appealing did nothing to help; it filtered into his perception of Potter-as-friend regardless of how hard he tried to ignore it.

The drink ended over two hours later, with an agreement to have dinner at some point in the near future, and Draco went home feeling more relaxed than he had in ages. Potter made him laugh – his sense of humour was surprisingly sarcastic and edgy and he had a habit of making up bits of information about the various patrons in the lounge, none of which were remotely true.

“That bloke in the orange,” Potter had said once, leaning in conspiratorially. “Hates his wife but would never leave her. He’s too dependant on her inheritance. Plus, he’s never learned how to do his own laundry.”

Draco had observed the man in question. “What would he do if he was free?”

“Probably the same thing he does now, only more often,” Potter responded promptly. “He goes to the sauna after work and pretends he’s not checking out the younger generation.”

Draco noticed the lack of gender specification and did not comment. At home later, despite his reluctance, he admitted to himself that he’d been listening for it.

__________________


CONTINUED IN PART TWO
Tags: [fic], [long/chaptered fic], rated: nc-17, round: winter 2006
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