Harry just had a feeling that biotechnology was the way to go.
"Absolutely fucking brilliant," he said, gesturing emphatically to his empty office. Suresh was in Delhi, sitting outside his hotel room on the balcony, and Harry could hear the honking clamour of the street over the telephone. Either that or it was a very bad line, but LSB paid a small fortune for decent satellite connections. Harry liked to think he was getting some South Asian atmosphere in his working day.
"And you're back when — next month, yeah?"
Suresh's Brummie drawl sounded again in his ear.
"Great," said Harry. "I'll give you a call in a few weeks to make sure it's going through and when you're back we'll have a paperwork party and blitz the details." He laughed. "Yeah, fair enough, I'll get Julie to block out the day and we'll cap it off with a dozen well-deserved beers."
The job was a venture capital sideline; not the firm's usual bread-and-butter, but they let Harry dabble in new investments as he wished because of his perfect track record. He'd never missed an opportunity or made a bad deal — his clients always came in under their asking price, his contacts were always generous with Exchange gossip, and Harry seemed to have a knack for knowing the market mood six months in advance. His colleagues had taken to calling him the Wiz, but sometimes the irony made Harry wince.
Harry twirled his wand between his fingers. The wand was a great conversation piece with new clients, and Harry wasn't going to disillusion them that his little idiosyncrasy actually clinched a significant number of his business arrangements. Tricks of the trade, after all.
"Suresh, pass on my regards — it's namaste, isn't it? — to our new colleagues. Yeah, you too. Cheers."
Harry rang off. His wand rolled off the desk when he swivelled around, trying to extract the phone headset from his collar, but he barely noticed; he was already tapping out numbers into a fresh spreadsheet, engrossed in the possibilities for the new investment.
The company Suresh was negotiating with was well-established in delivering industrial applications for enzymes, but they'd bought a patent from an organic chemistry student at Imperial and were launching what they termed "adaptive body solutions". A lot of it was speculative, but Harry was interested in anything that could be possibly be marketed as a smart drug. Just the words doubled the asking price when a company went public. Not that Harry knew anything about that kind of stuff — the last time he'd heard about enzymes it had been on a commercial for clothes detergent, and if they'd been mentioned in Potions, he'd most likely had his mind elsewhere.
They would have been cheap at twice the price, given the research location in Delhi, but Harry had convinced the investment director at Clinique — cosmetics companies were always on the lookout for new science — to chip in with capital in return for first options. He'd only resorted to a slight Intensification Charm, so he felt quite inclined to grant himself full credit for scoring that particular success.
Pleased with a few basic projections, Harry leaned back in his chair and swung around to gaze out the windows. The Gresham Street offices were his favourite. They were small and old-fashioned compared to the swank minimalism of the Leadenhall premises, but there his window looked out on the Gherkin, all glass and steel. Here at least his view skimmed the tops of the Georgian and Victorian buildings that had survived the Blitz, rising to the magnificent gothic façade of the Guildhall beyond.
Harry supposed the architectural resemblance to Hogwarts gave him some feeling of familiarity and comfort, but most days Hogwarts seemed a very long time ago, far away. Pigeons made a sporadic attempt to flock along the window ledges, but Hedwig hated them, and even though she was getting older, she still terrorised any sky rats that hadn't been scared off her territory.
It was beginning to get dark out there, finally. It was early August and even though half the office was on hols, Harry found himself working late regularly, continually tricked by the long days. Leaving on the high note of a new investment sounded like a good plan, and there were a few cold beers in the fridge at home that would do nicely out on the terrace. He spun back around and—
The crack his wand made as the heavy chair wheeled over it and snapped it was as ominous as it was impressive. His wand, already invisibly patched up in places, lay sadly on the floor in three splintery pieces. Harry could have sworn there was a silvery haze around the bits, like a Christmas cracker that was overloaded with explosive powder.
Gingerly, he picked up the shards and laid them out on the front page of the Financial Times. "Fuckity fuck," he muttered, trying hard not to give into the cold sweat that threatened. His magic wasn't wholly predictable, granted, but it was pretty much buggered now unless he could get this fixed.
Which meant going to Diagon Alley, which was just below skinny-dipping with piranhas on Harry's to-do list.
"Argh." Harry put his head in his hands and sighed, trying to think, trying not to think. He stared blankly at the bookshelves until Benjamin, a junior financier, tapped lightly on Harry's door.
"Got some mail of yours, Harry," Ben said. "Again. I think someone at reception is dyslexic."
Harry took the envelopes. "It's the B and the H, yeah?" Benjamin's last name was also Potter, but Ben was from Newcastle, and absolutely no relation that they knew of. "Ta."
Ben wished him a good night and left, and Harry turned over the envelopes in his hands, smiling. It was gratifying when a solution presented itself, he thought, even if he was a bit thick for not having remembered the whole concept of owl post.
Halfway through typing his letter, Harry paused. What exactly was the etiquette here? He'd never really been well-acquainted with Ollivander, so to speak; aside from the few, necessary visits to the shop, and the visit the old man made at the beginning of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Harry couldn't recall seeing him more than two or three times. Back at school, Harry had asked Dumbledore whose side Ollivander was on.
Dumbledore, inscrutable as ever, had shaken his head. "Difficult position for a person to be in, Harry."
"So," Harry had persisted, "you think he's alright, then? He's just keeping customers?"
"Ollivander has friends and relatives in many walks of life," Dumbledore had said. "And I do not think he would declare allegiance to any one person. Besides, he is very old. He was a friend of Mr Flamel's, who you will remember. I doubt he sees our present conflict as anything more than a passing trouble."
Now, remembering, Harry paused and deleted what he'd written. The least he could do was write the note the old-fashioned — wizarding — way.
The stationary cupboard was locked, and Harry had to hunt through the ring of keys on Julie's desk to get it open. Experimentally, he tried using a pen as a wand, but even Alohomora wouldn't work for him.
Just another reason why he saved doing magic — if he could — for when he had to.
"Wow," Harry blinked, confronted with all the bound notebooks, heavy-duty watermarked paper, two-tone financial ledgers and embossed pens in the cupboard. No wonder this was kept locked away from the rabble. Next time he got given some flimsy spiral-bound jotter from the Viking catalogue it was going straight into the bin.
Back at his desk, Harry found his Mont-Blanc (a golden hello gift from LSB) and tested it out on a scrap of the heavy paper he'd pilfered.
6 August 2008
Dear Mr Ollivander,
As evidenced by the enclosed, I require your assessment of my wand for repair. The wand met with a simple physical accident; no magic was involved in its breakage. Is repair possible?
I would be most grateful if we could conduct communications via owl-post, as business matters detain me from visiting you personally. In addition, I require my wand as soon as is possible, and will recompense you accordingly for a speedy repair.
Wishing you good health and the continued success of your ventures,
Lees, Sattersthwaite, Brassey & Co
Harry wrapped up the letter and the pieces of the wand in the Financial Times. He stuck the ends down with sticky tape, but when it came to attaching the packet to Hedwig's leg, she hooted indignantly and dug her claws into the little parcel.
"Fine," Harry glared, "If you drop it, don't bother coming back."
The owl had grown even more cantankerous in her old age, and seemed to strongly disapprove of his exile from the world he grew up in. It was like having a crochety great-aunt who clucked and disapproved but then showered you with sweets and the occasional hug. Like now, when Hedwig tilted her head to let Harry tickle her feathers, and Harry smiled, because it was very simple and very sweet. "You know where you're going, love, but don't come back here. I'm off home."
The owl flapped her wings impatiently, the tip-feathers swiping Harry's glasses down his face. He straightened them as she took off from the window ledge, flying west. "And wait for an answer!" he shouted, amused when a few stragglers in the courtyard turned up to see who was yelling. He waved at them, and one waved back enthusiastically.
Christ, he thought, ducking his head back inside. It really wouldn't do for the firm to hear their star investment banker was yelling at birds and waving to Japanese tourists.
Definitely time to go home.
There was still a distinct smell of barbeque lingering in the house. He'd left a note for the cleaner to leave the windows open to get the air through, but the charcoal meat odour remained. At least the trays were clean — the burnt-on bits scrubbed into oblivion by Mercia, bless her — and the spare sausages were presumably what was under the tinfoil in the fridge. Ah, yes.
Harry pulled out the plate and squirted some brown sauce over the sausages. He hadn't meant to use the new outside cooker so soon, but Toby and Ahmad had shown up last night after their arty film club at the Barbican, freezer packs in hand, and demanded Harry cook their meat. The nibbles at the cinema had been vegan, moaned Toby, and it just wasn't natural. So they cranked up Harry's new hotplate, and set to burning the shit out of steaks and sausages.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, Harry thought he might have to read the instruction manual, or at least ask Julie. He was sure she'd said all Australians were born knowing how to work an outdoor grill.
He took the plate, a bottle of Becks from the fridge, the manilla folder with his projection print-outs, and a fork, and shouldered open the doors to the terrace. His second summer there, and the plants were starting to flourish in their pots, making the terrace garden look a little more permanent and less like a hotel.
He'd fallen in love with this place as soon as he'd seen it. The converted development at St Katherine's Docks overlooked the Thames; the flat was on the top-floor, Tower Bridge was on the right, Canary Wharf to the left, the City behind, and a good view of the restaurants along Butlers Wharf strung out in front of him.
He felt surrounded by people but not intruded upon; part of the City yet able to leave it behind, and it suited him perfectly. Harry didn't really like the ocean but he loved the riverside, with the regularity of the tides and the busy, predictable flow of boats to the Pool.
By the time he'd worked through the projections, prioritising them for discussion with Suresh, it was fully dark. The lights inside provided enough illumination to see, but Harry lit the big citronella candle as well, hoping to keep the bugs away. He picked up the crossword he'd started that morning with breakfast and was engrossed in the last few clues, writing out the possibilities, so he didn't notice Hedwig until she flapped once, heavily, above him.
"There you — hey!" Hedwig dropped the envelope she was carrying and snatched up the last sausage, retreating up to the roof. "That was my sausage," Harry said, but she ignored him and munched happily.
"Spoilt brat," he muttered, reaching for the envelope. "Hope you hate the sauce."
He tugged open the envelope with his fork — parchment was tough — and pulled out the contents. A folded note, a clipping of some kind, and a business card fell to the table.
For a moment Harry looked at the business card suspiciously. It was flipped over and all there was on the back was an 07 number. Sure, Ron had told him that wizards were more comfortable with Muggle technology, but a mobile?
He picked up the card, turned it over, read it, and put it down.
The owl hooted cheerfully.
"Did you go to Ollivander's?"
Another cheerful hoot.
He picked up the card again. It was slightly textured, expensive. It also had Draco Malfoy's name on it.
"Um," said Harry, and opened the note.
Your wand is well and truly beyond repair. Not even the old man could've helped you. Speaking of, he's been dearly departed these past seven years. Surprised you hadn't heard.
Am afraid you will have to tear yourself away from seclusion and come get a new wand. Don't go near the mail-order jobs, they're crooks and thieves; besides, mass-produced wands are rubbish.
Presuming you want a bit of privacy, so I look forward to seeing you at your earliest convenience, as long as your convenience is tomorrow evening at six-thirty.
Thanks for the kind regards re: business, have enclosed Time Out's bumpf FYI.
PS: Assuming by the address you are either a lawyer, dentist, or a banker. The mind boggles.
Yeah. The mind did boggle. The last he'd seen of Malfoy was when Andromeda Black hauled him off in the aftermath, trunk in tow. Someone had mentioned that Malfoy and his mother had moved to Switzerland, and then Harry had been too involved in other things to ever think of him.
Malfoy was a shopkeeper?
Harry thought he'd better get another beer.
The door closed behind him with a bang; he'd have to get someone in to fix the loose hinges. The last decorators Petunia had employed were a bit slipshod with details.
"Yeah, it's me." He dropped his briefcase under the hall table and swiped the wet from his hair and shoulders where the sudden downpour had caught him. Tubby, a ginger tabby that was starting to live up to his name, sprang out and raced past Harry for the kitchen. "Bloody cat."
His aunt's voice came from the front room. "It's only Thursday, dear. I thought you couldn't get a booking until Sunday?"
Harry stopped on the second step and peered through to where Petunia was sitting on the couch, book in one hand, television remote in the other, looking like she'd been caught with her fingers in the pie. Richard and Judy nodded mutely in the background. He rarely saw his aunt laze about in front of the telly; she was always just off somewhere, just back from something, four projects on the go.
Not for the first time Harry thought life had done her a roundabout favour.
"Just getting some old stuff from upstairs," he said, "Sunday's still on, promise." He flashed her a grin and she nodded.
"Running late already." He took the stairs quickly before she could ask questions. The flat had two bedrooms, one of which Petunia had converted into a sewing room. And then into a place to dry flowers and herbs. A darkroom, although that hadn't lasted long. At present she appeared to be dabbling in rug-making, although Harry wasn't quite sure. They looked like rugs. At any rate, he was perfectly happy to indulge her hobby-of-the-month, whatever it might be.
Shifting aside a contraption that looked like some kind of loom, Harry pulled down the stepladder to the crawl-space in the roof. It wasn't quite an attic, but there was room enough for the three trunks and a platform across the beams to hold his weight.
The trunk at the back (his school case; peeling stickers and dented everywhere) was so heavily strung with protective charms that Harry felt immediately queasy at the magic resonating in the claustraphobic confines.
The other two trunks weren't spelled so he popped the locks on the middle one, hoping the mothballs had worked. Camphor wafted out from the piles of clothes and sports gear, and Harry stared for a second, feeling the blood rush in his ears.
Heavy weather cloak. And he could go.
Harry thought longingly of his invisibility cloak, but quickly quelled the desire. No point in wishing, not when a bloody third year charm on a piece of luggage made him want to chuck his guts.
No, there'd be no easy route through the gauntlet of Diagon Alley to Ollivander's. Harry rummaged in the trunk, musing. Why had Malfoy kept the name? He'd never seemed the kind of person to run a business without his own name plastered in huge sparkly green letters above the door.
But then, come to think of it, he'd never seemed the type to actually earn a living, so who the hell knew?
Underneath everything was his blue cloak. He hadn't grown that much taller since he was seventeen, and then it had skimmed the ground. It had a hood, too, and the rain meant he could pull it up without getting funny looks. In seventh year it wasn't the done thing to go around with your face shrouded, but maybe suspicions like that were something that only occurred in wartime.
Harry closed the lid and dropped the cloak through the hatch. For a second he was tempted to lean over to the far trunk, just to see what would happen to the recognition charms. He could feel the spells, like an internal hum, but this morning his magic had been so bad that he couldn't even summon his toast. Being rejected by his own trunk was really not going to be good for his self-esteem.
Down the ladder, Harry brushed himself off and shook out the cloak. "Going now," he called, bundling the cloak into a plastic bag. "Don't get up — I'll ring you later, shall I?" He leaned on the doorframe for a second. Antiques Roadshow was on, and Petunia was scribbling in her notebook. Harry guessed that rugs were on the way out and car boot sales were on the way in.
"I have a friend who works for Sothebys, Auntie P. Can get you admissions to the big sessions, if you'd like."
"Ooh. That sounds terribly professional." She tapped her pen. "Perhaps I should just start with the school fetes, work my way up to it."
"The offer's there. I've got to go. Taking an umbrella, I'll give it back to you on the weekend." Harry clicked the door shut, knowing her attention was already back on the telly and the Edwardian cake-stand some girl had picked up for a fiver.
Diagon Alley was like a bad dream. The rushing in his ears when he'd opened the trunk was nothing compared to the virtual panic Harry felt now, trying to skirt the central thoroughfare, head down, focusing on his shoes. He had no curiosity to look in shop windows, to see what had changed. It all made him feel resolutely ill. Getting through the Leaky Cauldron had been terrifying enough. He'd blanked out twice at the brick wall and would have still been there, frantically tapping stones, if a young bloke hadn't come along and offered.
"Sequence is a bit old, mate," the wizard had said. "Gets changed every season now."
"Been out of town," Harry had muttered. "Thanks."
Trudging past Gambol & Japes, doing his best to avoid puddles, Harry pulled out the clipping Malfoy had enclosed with his note. It was from Time Out: Magic London, Harry hadn't known there was such a thing. It was weird. Intriguing, but weird.
GEM OF AN IDEA
Sick of the old stick? Wand need some pizazz? An old establishment with new ideas may be what you need. Drawing on recent developments in magical gemology and alchemical physics, Ollivander's is offering a new range of bespoke wands that claim to be highly attuned to the individual. The core of your new wand may contain the standard hair, feather, sinew or scales, but it will be supplemented with other materials chosen in conjunction with the Wandmaker to create an efficient and sympathetic level of magical resonance. What Time Out finds exciting is how Ollivander's new wands integrate gemstone materials in the tip, to concentrate your wand's focus and precision and decrease the level of energy required for spells. We were treated to a fascinating consultation session (S15 for up to two hours) in which we tested over twenty different gemstones and core-alchemy combinations. Our staffer's verdict: "It lives up to the hype, and looks terrific with my new robes!"
Ollivander's, Diagon Alley, London ML1.
Nearest PubFloo: Diagon West or Belfry
Open Monday–Friday 12–6, other times by appointment.
All very well and good, but Harry hoped he could just luck on some inoffensive off-the-shelf jobbie that would do the trick. Wands were ridiculous anyhow; not small enough to shove in your pocket without doing yourself a damage, and not long enough to feel like you were brandishing something threatening. Harry certainly didn't want anything encrusted with rhinestones.
The outside of Ollivander's was just the same as Harry remembered; a new window display, but the rain was near to driving now and he certainly wasn't going to get soaked appraising at Malfoy's advertising strategy. The door made a distinctive bell-tinkle when he pushed it open.
"You must be Harry Potter," said a female voice in a strong Welsh accent. A woman in a strange white jacket like some sort of medieval lab coat nodded at Harry from behind the counter. Her hair held streaks of colour in londonpaper purple and she looked the type of witch who wouldn't have a clue what he was on about were he to make the joke. She jumped off her stool and picked up a bunch of keys. "Draco said you'd be here about now."
"Is he here?" Harry glanced around the shop, which had lost the ceiling-high ramshackle shelves, and now sported a couple of low couches and a coffee table in one corner.
The woman turned the keys in the front door and gestured for Harry to sit down. "He's with a customer, taking longer than he thought. I'm Poppy. D'you want a cup of tea?"
"Cheers. Do you mind if I?" Harry unclasped his cloak, which was dripping on the wooden floor.
"Course not," Poppy said. "You not have rain-repelling charms then?"
Harry shrugged off the heavy cloak and handed it to her. "Must've worn off, I guess."
"Aqua vici. There you go, while you're wandless." Poppy hung up Harry's cloak on a stand behind the door. "Have a seat. He shouldn't be long." She buttoned up her dusty jacket and disappeared down the stairs behind the counter.
Harry sat on the squishy couch. A cup of tea clinked into existence on the table, accompanied by a plate of biscuits a moment later. Harry took a piece of shortbread, dunked it in his tea, tried to judge whether the nausea he was feeling might preclude the refreshments, and set everything back onto the table. Deciding abstention was the better part of valour, he looked around.
Behind the counter, the high shelves from Ollivander's day were still standing, but they appeared to be rather well-organised and labeled with the names of wand woods. The counter itself was glass and contained a lit display of what looked like crystal specimens. A big old-fashioned till sat on the glass top, brass gleaming.
It probably counted as modern technology in Diagon Alley, Harry thought.
On the opposite wall a tastefully framed poster showed Harry What's In Your Wand?, but instead he thumbed through the pile of magazines — Witch Weekly, The Prophet, Sorted! — on the table, battling the anxiety he'd felt since entering the Leaky.
He had just started reading an interview with the Catapults' manager when he heard a door open.
"You're looking at three to four weeks for sourcing—" Harry couldn't make out what Malfoy was saying, but he hadn't lost the clipped tones that had grated so badly in school.
"That's fine, Mr Malfoy, thank you ever so much for your help," simpered a wispy lady's voice. Harry got to his feet and barely quashed the impulse to slip out the door, rain or not, before they saw him.
Malfoy's customer was wearing an enormous hat that reminded Harry painfully of Neville's grandmother and her taste in millinery. Malfoy — or at least his feet, the woman's hat blocked Harry's view — ushered her to the door.
"You'll owl, of course."
"I'll be in touch, Mrs Feversham," Malfoy said. "It's always a pleasure to see you." Malfoy was using the same tone of voice Harry employed when he wanted to get rid of difficult prospects. Insufferably polite with a firm hand to the door.
"Draco!" Poppy reappeared and Harry grinned; he knew the assistant-to-the-rescue drill well. She jerked her head in Harry's direction. "Six-thirty?"
"Ah." Malfoy stepped back from opening the door for his customer and glanced over at the waiting area. Tow-headed and supercilious, he looked just the same as he had at school, save the work-coat and a mad-professor kind of scruffiness.
Harry couldn't help but feel the familiar irritation at Malfoy's smugness masquerading as a smile, but then Malfoy gave Harry the kind of appraising look that forestalled any need for an inquiry after Mrs and Junior Malfoys.
Which was surreal. And, well, not entirely impossible, but still. Flattering, and surreal. By the time Harry had recovered Malfoy had already turned back to Mrs Feversham. "You'll excuse me?" He ushered her out the door and locked it behind him, dropping the keys in his pocket.
Harry took the offered hand as a reflex.
"Harry." Malfoy was obviously going to be a grown up.
"Malfoy." Strange, bizarre. Malfoy looked grubby on closer inspection. His coat was covered in smudges and there were feathers stuck to his trousers.
"Sit, sit." Malfoy shrugged off his jacket, pocketed his glasses and brushed at his trousers. "Sorry about the wait. Daft old bat likes a wand for every occasion and her bloody grandchildren indulge her with more weddings and babies every year."
Harry sat back down in his seat as Malfoy clicked his fingers. The biscuit plate doubled in size, bringing with it another cup of tea and a pot.
"It's fine—" Harry started, queasily wondering if it would be rude to ask Malfoy to stop it already with the macaroons.
"S'cuse me," Malfoy said, gulping down tea until the cup was finished.
He poured another, during which time Harry gave him a more surreptitious checking out. Malfoy'd always been so pointy that he hadn't any baby features to lose. There were crease lines about his eyes, too, and they were not unappealing. But he was still short.
"So which was it?" Malfoy leaned over the table and picked a HobNob from the bottom of the plate. He sat down on the couch opposite Harry.
"Which was what?"
"My guess." Malfoy brushed away crumbs. "I'm veering towards a barrister. That's a bloody nice suit, and you were famously one to believe your own hype."
"Wrong." Harry found himself grinning. The onslaught of magic in the shop hadn't lessened, but he thought maybe he could cope with it now. Building up a tolerance? Or maybe Malfoy was just that distracting. "Although my line of finance requires a particular sort of pushy arrogance."
"Stockbroker," Malfoy mused. "Qu'elle bizarre."
"Banker. Investment. The suit's Paul Smith."
"Am I supposed to be impressed?"
"You expressed interest." The back-and-forth gave Harry an odd kick; this was Draco Malfoy, for fuck's sake, and ten minutes ago he'd been giving himself an ulcer with nerves over the whole thing.
Malfoy regarded him from over his teacup. Harry couldn't see if he was smiling or not. "All the other accountants okay with you being queer?"
"About as happy as your customers are with you, I'd guess."
"You being my customer, would you like to come down to the workshop?" Malfoy's face was a perfect blank, but maybe there was a teasing tone to his voice? "Bring the biscuits."
Imperious as ever, Harry thought, but he followed anyhow.
"You're not going to give me a little cup and ask me to give a sample as well, are you?"
The remark obviously didn't translate, because Malfoy didn't look up from the notes he was making in his ledger. "Hmm? Nearly done."
Harry hoped so. The questions were innocuous enough, if not exactly information he ever thought he'd be sharing with Malfoy. He'd never even really thought about what kinds of spells required more concentration, which ones didn't need the incantations. He just did it.
When he could. And that was the problem — explaining how unpredictable his magic was now. Harry could think of about five million other things he'd rather tell Malfoy about himself, including embarrassing sexual experiences and how he'd cheated on his accountancy exams.
He glanced around, waiting for Malfoy to finish scribbling. The workshop was the kind of unrestrained chaos that gave Harry screaming fits. A bit of mess he could cope with, but every single available surface was piled high with ... stuff.
Malfoy had spread out a huge ledger and a set of scales, and he piled the forlorn scraps of Harry's broken wand into the balance, adjusting the weights. "You ever get worried that it was completely gone?"
There was a curious expression of sympathy on Malfoy's face. The direct gaze unnerved Harry and he looked away, but then felt ridiculous at his own foolishness — he stared people down in meetings all the time, he was a bloody expert at intimidating gazes, so why did Malfoy have to make him feel all of thirteen again?
He settled for halfway, and watched Malfoy's hands.
"Hmm," Malfoy said, putting down the quill and weaving his fingers together, turning them over and flexing the knuckles. It made Harry think of Incy-Wincy Spider.
"So you presumably saw all the relevant experts and Healers and that kind of—"
Harry sighed. He really didn't want to go through this, again. The entire Weasley family had gone on at him. Ron had grilled him. Arthur — Arthur! — had lectured him. "Yes," he said shortly. "Nothing can be done. It's all very predictably unpredictable."
"You're not simply bipolar, are you?"
Harry snorted. "I wish. At least there's potions for that."
Malfoy was regarding Harry like an interesting specimen, a kind of detached eagerness on his face. "And Granger couldn't come up with any grand plan for you?"
The mention of Hermione made Harry blanch. Surely Malfoy knew.
"Ah, sorry. I read about the accident and honestly forgot." Harry got his staring ability back and gave Malfoy a hard look. There wasn't any indication that he was less than genuine, but his gaze was still focused on Harry, unwavering. "My apologies."
Malfoy didn't seem inclined to pursue the matter much further, so Harry just nodded, relieved to have the subject dropped.
"Well, I can certainly make you a much better wand, and calibrate it to your, as you say, weirdo magical fluctuations as much as possible," Harry watch Malfoy scribble in his neat handwriting something that looked like fourier transform. "But that won't help the real problem."
"Leave it. It's fine."
Malfoy just raised his eyebrows and sat back in his chair. "Harry, you've been greener than Millicent Bulstrode's fourth-year dress robes since you stepped in here, but whatever you say. I'll have to have a think about this tonight and get back to you tomorrow. "
A sudden thought occurred to Harry. "You don't live here, do you?"
"Hmm?" Malfoy brushed his hair off his face distractedly. "Wait ... and twelve is thirty-nine grams." He returned the slider on the scale balance to the centre and dusted off his hands. "Live? Here? Good grief no."
Harry waited for him to go on, but Malfoy just gulped a mouthful of his tea, eyes narrow and considering. He made a show of placing the cup on the saucer and turning the handle around before looking up at Harry and grinning.
"You're fishing for details, Harry, it's vaguely flattering." Harry made a strangled sound as he continued, "I'll give you a ring tomorrow."
He may have been scruffier than Harry remembered, but Malfoy was just as irritating as ever. "Thanks," Harry said ungraciously, and stood.
Malfoy was chasing biscuit crumbs around the plate and didn't look up.
"—you won't get a straight answer out of Harry on that one, mate."
"Hmm? Sorry?" Harry tuned back into the conversation, realising he'd been staring blankly out over the silvery swell of the river. They were seated by the windows on the top level of the Tate Modern.
Sebastian forked up a mouthful of the guinea fowl and chewed, swallowed, grinned. "David wanted to know where you went to school."
It never ceased to amaze Harry how much the City thrived on the old boys network. The first few months of bluffing his way through financier meetings and client events had been excruciating until he'd overheard one of the partners at the Gordian Group boom that his alma mater was St Botolphs Institute for Buggery and Business, and he'd decided then that a bit of eccentricity went a long way and the truth about where he went to school was probably the best way to go. Now he just loved the reaction he got.
David, however, appeared to be one of those unfortunate blokes with no sense of humour who got into financial law because they were too dull to think of anything else. He blinked blankly at Harry's response.
Harry sighed. "Private school. Very small. You'd never have heard of it."
Still a frown.
"Scottish," Harry offered. Seb snickered and Harry kicked him under the table.
"Ah," David said, understanding dawning. If one could count on anything it was the provincial prejudices of City bankers. "My sympathies."
"I had counselling," Harry said, but David just nodded sagely as if that were entirely appropriate, and Seb choked on his G&T.
Halfway across the Millennium Bridge, Harry demanded, "Remind me again why I had to suffer through that?"
Seb looked pained. "He's a bloody good advisor, Harry. And you should be making vast amounts for yourself with your portfolios, but you piss all your tips away for the company."
"Yeah, and they give me gratifying big chunks of it back every January," Harry said, "besides, you can't tell me he doesn't make a killing out of his clients. And what does he do? Look stuff up and write letters. Lawyers are just glorified librarians with ego issues."
Seb held up his hands. "Fine, fine. Don't say I didn't give you the opportunity, when you're begging me for an Iberian summer on my new Beneteau 50."
"You don't even sail."
"I'll hire crew. Young, pretty, willing crew."
"Enjoy your fantasy life a lot, don't you?"
"One has to, living in Belfast."
As they passed underneath the shadow of St Pauls, Harry felt an itch between his shoulder blades and a buzzing at his nerve endings. Bloody Christopher Wren, he thought. Whether it was the architect himself who was the wizard or some overeager fuck of a sorcerous stonemason, all of Wren's churches set him on edge.
As if starting the Great Fire wasn't bad enough.
Harry shuddered as the old magic tickled at him again, and Seb cast him a concerned look. "Forget to sell short, old man?"
Being without his wand was making Harry jumpy. It was ridiculous. "Remembered an errand," he said. "Meet you back at the office?"
"Conference call at four," Seb warned.
As soon as the coast was clear, Harry dug into his pockets for his mobile. Scrolled through to M. Jabbed the call key. Harry let it ring eighteen times, enough to wander all the way to other side of Paternoster Square, before hanging up in exasperation. Fine. So Malfoy had become acquainted enough with Muggle technology to get himself a mobile, but not enough to put a bloody answer service on it. Typical.
He watched a group of tourists, trying to decide when to try again.
The phone buzzed in his palm. Private number. Yeah, right.
"Harry Potter." Just in case.
"Do you treat all your clients like this?"
"Hold on one second."
"Sorry about that, things were threatening to explode. Hello." Malfoy was all pleasantness. It annoyed Harry, who wanted to be annoyed.
"Hello," he said tightly. "Today would be Wednesday. Three business days later."
"Excellent observation — ah. I was meant to call you, wasn't I?"
"I realise that the pace of life is a little slower for you, Malfoy, but some of us have busy workloads. Were you planning on getting back to me at some point this century?"
There was a clinking sound in the background. "Are you always this polite?"
Harry took a deep breath. "Rarely. Look. Can't you," he dropped his voice, the tourist group were moving near, "owl me some sort of temporary replacement? I don't care if it doesn't work as well as my old wand. It just has to work, end of story."
Malfoy made a tetchy sort of noise down the phone. "Harry. You're not exactly a one-size-fits-all man these days, if you catch my meaning."
Patronising git. "Thanks."
"Regarding your new wand. Would next Tuesday evening suit you?" More clinking.
"What? No. Fuck. I suppose it'll have to, won't it?" Harry tipped his head back and huffed out a breath.
"The only other out-of-business-hours appointment available is Friday fortnight," Malfoy said cheerily. "Take it or leave it."
"There's a Mr Weasley here for you, Harry, but he's not in your diary?"
Harry looked up, highlighter in hand, from the two trend forecasting reports he was comparing. They were totally, utterly different, even on the blue-chip keepers. The forecasters themselves always made Harry cringe with their earnest presentations; Trelawney would have been terribly proud of their conviction. "Sorry, Julie?"
"Mr Weasley. Downstairs in the foyer." Julie shifted her feet a little, tapping the phone handset in her palm. "Shall I tell them to send him up, or are you ..."
Her eagerness was obvious. He bit back the urge to grin and replied, "Busy? Yeah, but we wouldn't want to keep Ron waiting, would we? Tell him to come up."
Julie nodded and turned back around in the doorway, speaking softly to reception. Harry marked his place with his green highlighter and kicked back his chair to get up. He always liked to watch this bit.
When the lift made its soft chime announcing a floor stop, Harry leaned back against the wall by the water cooler and surveyed the open-plan office. About twenty of the secretarial and research staff were there, in various states of busy endeavor, and two of the three office doors besides his own were open. Plenty for an audience, Harry thought.
Ron wasn't halfway across the thirty strides to Harry's office before the head-turning began in earnest. Harry counted six nudges and two hand-pressed-to-mouth gestures amongst the stares. He was shaking with silent laughter by the time Ron reached him.
"Alright, Harry?" Ron clapped him on the shoulder gently, and up close Harry saw he wasn't oblivious to all the attention. There was a faint blush under his freckles.
"Good, mate, you?" Harry steered Ron through the door and turned back quickly to assess the state of the floor. At least half of the women and not a few men had their eyes fixed on Harry's office. Julie had her mouth open and a glazed look on her face, and Harry leant over to tip her jaw back up. "Catch flies, you will," he said, and gave her a little wink.
Door safely closed, Ron straddled a chair, picked up an apple from the fruit bowl and started munching. "What are they like, then?" He gestured with a nod to the outside offices. "Thought I'd grown an extra head."
Harry burst out a laugh. "Christ, Ron, do you even look in the mirror? It's Nob Central in here most days and then you waltz in looking good enough to eat, what'd you expect?"
"'m no' foll'win," Ron said through a confused mouthful of apple.
Harry laughed. "You're all tall and broad in that t-shirt and jeans, and they get whiney little eggheads in off-the-rack suits from Debenhams if they're lucky." He paused. "Except me, of course, but tailoring is wasted totally on this lot."
Ron made a long-suffering face. "Don't try and fool me with your poncy rubbish. I knew you when you couldn't tell a dress robe from a dressing gown, and I know you're still a monumental fucking slob. Mum would have a fit if she knew how often you had your cleaner round."
"Yeah, well, housekeeping charms are a bit beyond me, some days," Harry meant the comment to come out lightly, but it had a bitter edge. Some conversations were still painful, and in his present predicament Harry was a bit short-tempered about the whole idea of magic.
Ron winced and opened his mouth, presumably to apologise, but Harry waved it away. "It's alright, really." Harry plonked himself down on the couch and put his feet up on the table. "How are you, anyway? Speaking of domesticity, how's things with Iris?"
"Eh," said Ron, trying for nonchalant but unable to keep the smile off his face, "she's off in Singapore this week, but we just had a lovely weekend in Helsinki. And she wasn't working, for once!" Ron scrubbed his hair. "Just wish I got to see her a bit more, yeah? She has all her stuff at my flat, and she gave up the lease on hers, but it's not like we're living together, even. All her mail gets sent to her office, and she hasn't even complained about the decor." He squinted at Harry. "That's not right, is it?"
"Don't ask me about the fair sex, mate!" Harry put up his hands. "Besides, you've a bit of track record with high-flying women, haven't you? Shouldn't you be an expert at this by now?"
Ron's girlfriend Iris was definitely following the pattern. She was the Head of the Department of Intercultural Magic for the Ministry, as well as being a Special Representative for Britain in the International Confederation on Magic, a global initiative for greater cross-cultural understanding of magicks. Ron was, by his own admittance, essentially her toyboy. Not that Ron seemed to mind; he always gave Harry the impression of being as interested in Iris's work as she was.
Ron sighed. "Yeah, you'd think so, wouldn't you. I mean, it's great having loads of free time and everything, and there's always owls, but ..."
"... you're not getting laid on a regular enough basis?" Harry finished, picking up a banana and peeling it at Ron.
"Something like that, but I guess if I really wanted sex every night after dinner I wouldn't be with her. It's just short bursts of all-day shagging followed by long dry spells." Ron screwed up his face for a second and laughed. His elastic expressions always made Harry warm; they were one of the things he had missed dreadfully in the time he'd been, well, distant from Ron.
They were still a little careful around one another, even after years of slow reconciliation, both conscious of feelings that were sometimes raw and unresolved. Every now and then they'd have a good yarn over a few beers, and they'd chip away at each other's regrets and resentments; speak frankly about what had happened to Harry, about how they'd both been useless to each other after Hermione died, and they'd edge a bit closer to the absolute trust they once had, which made Harry happier than he'd been for a long time.
"So, not that this is related to long dry spells, how'd it go with Malfoy?" Ron smirked at him.
Harry choked quietly on his banana and tried very hard not to colour up. "Ha-ha, good one. Fine." He stuffed the rest of the banana in his mouth, time to compose himself. "Par' fwom," he said, swallowing, "he can't seem to get it done in any reasonable period of time."
"Do what?" Ron had a sly look on his face that Harry really didn't appreciate.
"Fix. My. Wand." Harry glared. Ron looked suspiciously twinkly-eyed, so Harry cut him off before he could say anything. "Don't. None of those jokes are funny. Not one. Anyhow, how come you never told me that Malfoy inherited Ollivander's?"
"You never asked. Besides, I figured a Malfoy update was the last thing you wanted."
"True." Harry very deliberately did not enquire after people in the Wizarding World unless he was in an unassailably good mood.
"He's doing really well, I hear, expanded the business with new inventions. There was an article about it in—"
"Time Out, yeah, he gave me a copy." Harry snorted. "Just seems odd, you know. Why didn't he just buy some mansion in the south of France and slope around Monaco with the rest of the homeless aristocracy?"
Ron looked at Harry curiously, speaking slowly. "Uh. Perhaps he's different, now, not the same as at school? Like ... you?"
"Hmmph," Harry said testily.
"Plenty of that lot turned out to be passable human beings," Ron shrugged and stretched out. "Some of the cases Iris tells me about'd turn your hair grey. Even in my job ... there's a bit more to worry about than class snobs, you know?"
Ron's live-and-let-live attitude was all very well, but the truth was that Malfoy had not conformed to Harry's expectations or his predictions, and that was disconcerting. When he gave it a moments thought, he always assumed that the Wizarding World, and all its inhabitants, would go on pretty much the same as when Harry had abandoned it. It always irritated him when he found out that wasn't the case.
"So anyhow," he swerved back to the topic of his wand, unwilling to get into discussion with Ron about recent history, "I signed up for this super-fancy wand thing, all tailor-made and enhanced and etcetera. Figure it's only going to make things better to have a wand that's more attuned to my magic, such that it is."
Ron gave him a wry smile and pulled his own wand out of his boot. "I'd like to get one, someday, but I'm wholly superstitious about the old stick. If it ain't broke, I'm not fixing it just yet, no matter how many bells and whistles Malfoy's come up with."
"That mean you'll be in Diagon Alley next week? We should meet up for a drink and a game."
"Did we actually finish the last?" Harry tried to recall the muzzy events of the long-past chess night.
Ron grinned. "Buggered if I know. I'm sure I won if we did."
"I'm sure you did, too."
"So, you up for it, then? Ollivander's isn't the only place that's changed. There's a new—"
"Oh. Right," said Ron, wistfully. "Magic."
Harry nodded, staring at the floor for a second. He shoved his Blackberry into his briefcase with his phone and the forecasting reports; he could look at them this evening on the terrace if the weather held. Right now the sun was shining and he couldn't bear to be cooped up any longer. "I'll walk you out."
"Blimey, Harry," Ron said in low tones as they stepped into the office to an audible lull in conversation, "be nice if you had a back entrance I could use next time."
Harry stared. Ron's mouth twitched, and they both burst into laughter. "Ron, I thought you'd never ask."
Harry crossed the road into Smithfield Market just as the last of the packing trucks were pulling away. He couldn't help himself — he craned his head up to look at the roof, a gesture he repeated every time he came here. It was amazing really; hard to believe the place was a meat market. Of course, historically, it was also a place where they burned witches and slaughtered rebel nationalists. Very nasty.
Some days the dragons on the arch stretched a claw at him, but not today. Not for the first time that week Harry's hand twitched to his jacket pocket and came back empty.
He cut through St Barts to one of the arcane, boutique-y side streets that mazed back to Aldersgate, then paused in a shop doorway. Goyle and Smithfield weren't exactly Marauder's Map quality directions and not even his trusty A-Z would be helpful. Thanks awfully, Poppy, Harry thought, and cursed Malfoy. Tuesday evening, just as they'd agreed, but Malfoy wasn't in the shop when Harry'd stopped by. Of course he bloody wasn't. No, instead it was Goyle, Smithfield, Slytherin sodding obfuscation, and an unnecessary trip to Diagon Alley, when the last thing Harry—
He took a deep breath.
Maybe he should just head to the Great Eastern, he thought, and have a drink at the Aurora Bar. It wasn't too far away and the tall, blond Russian consultant who'd been at the office on business all week had a sixth floor room and a standing offer for Harry to fuck him. Which, given the suspect state of Harry's files, might not be a bad idea.
"Gah," he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He really needed that damn wand.
"Excuse me, sir, we're closing." A large man with a bad moustache opened the door, gave him a speaking look (and the message wasn't polite), flipped the OPEN sign backward, and shut the door again.
Harry obligingly stepped back out into the street. He peered through the window, however, happy for the distraction. It was a jewellers — the crest of the Goldsmith's Guild on a little plaque in the display — and there were a number of diamond and platinum engagement bands there, the usual fare.
"I've already ordered for you. Why are you skulking around out here?"
He whirled around. Malfoy was standing behind him, hands jammed into the pockets of an over-sized black jacket with a high mandarin collar. Since Harry had last seen him, Malfoy had acquired stubble in varying shades of gold (no errant ginger for him, of course) and a smudge of dust across the bridge of his nose.
There were a number of things he could say, but Harry wasn't at school any more, nor was he fifteen. He was a successful merchant banker with a flat to die for and an owl who loved him. He wasn't going to get into a pissing match with a stick-fiddler who'd always driven him mad. He was bigger than that.
Stepping closer, Malfoy cocked his head as he studied the display. "If that's an F colour, I'm a garden gnome. I never work with diamonds. No magic in them."
Harry smirked. "There is if your money's on a coup in Sierra Leone."
Goyle and Smithfield apparently translated into Goyle's of Smithfield — an intimate little place by the Guildhall of the Worshipful Company of Butchers.
Harry was surreptitiously watching their fellow patrons. A clearly Muggle couple was laughing over their aperitifs, while at the gracious curve of the bar a witch who bore more than a passing resemblance to Cosine Sinistra drank brandy with a handsome older wizard.
Muggles and wizards. It boggled the mind.
"Surely you've been to enough restaurants in London to realize that not even wizards drink enough to cover the overhead."
Harry shook his head in wonderment. Times changed and he'd been out of the loop. "So, is that really—?"
"Hogwarts professors have social lives, Harry. I know, I know, it's hideously embarrassing, like catching your parents having sex."
Images of Lucius Malfoy flooded his poor, already beleaguered brain. "Ugh."
"Yes, well, imagine my virgin distress when she deflowered Blaise and he insisted on telling me about it in graphic detail during double Arithmancy."
"Wait — Zabini and Professor Sinistra?"
"Harry, even the fortune-telling horse knew about that one." Malfoy paused, rubbing his thumb over the bowl of his wine glass. "You know, I really had guessed solicitor."
"Order more wine," Harry said, and took a bite of blue cheese and walnut. His initial impatience had softened under the influence of the first bottle and the anticipation of the main course to come.
Malfoy tossed off a mock salute and bent his head to the waiter's. Harry was momentarily captured by the aesthetics of the scene and he was taken off guard when a broad shadow fell across their table.
The last time he'd seen Gregory Goyle was just before those final days at Hogwarts. The Slytherins had gradually disappeared from school — Malfoy one of the first, Goyle one of the last — and then things had gotten so complicated that worrying about classmates he'd never liked was the least of his priorities.
He didn't remember Goyle being quite so smiley though.
"Draco, stop molesting my staff."
"Greg, so good of you to leave the kitchen long enough to say hello. That's sarcasm, by the way; you'd have time to know that if you stopped working so hard."
"Harry, nice to see you. Draco said you might be stopping by."
Harry blinked and then again. Goyle's shirtsleeves were rolled up underneath his pristine white apron. The snake of the Death Eater's mark was surrounded by flowering ivy, a tangle of ink turning ugly to interesting and maybe even beautiful.
"Goyle. Uh, hi."
"You see," continued Malfoy, "Greg doesn't understand the concept of work-life balance."
Harry shook his head. "So says the man with bits of wood underneath his fingernails."
"And the markets never sleep, yes, yes, I do realise that I'm preaching to the unconverted, Harry, but I believe that restaurant or no, this man should take more than one holiday a year—" He paused. "—and by that I mean a holiday, not an excuse for interior design."
"You said you liked the Moorish influences in the tilework." Goyle looked long-suffering.
Malfoy sniffed. "And so I do. And the couscous was excellent. But that's not the point."
Harry sat there and listened, hands underneath the table twitching for his wand and toying with his mobile instead. There was something so surreal about the fact that he was dining in this particular company that it almost defied thinking about. Hermione would have been proud, he thought with the tinge of regret that always accompanied those sorts of memories; she always did go on about inter-House cooperation.
"Greg, I'm hungry," Malfoy was whining.
"The bream is superb tonight," said Goyle. And if it was hard to think of Malfoy as "Draco" it was downright impossible to think of this burly restaurateur as "Greg".
"Fuck the bream," said Draco Malfoy. "Bring me my venison."
Harry managed to restrain himself until he was down to the final tender morsel of his exquisitely seared fish.
"So, when can I have it?"
Malfoy blinked, pausing in his rapt contemplation of the pomme frites. "Smooth as ever, I see."
"I thought I'd be getting it tonight." Harry could hear the petulant note in his voice and hated it, but the edginess had been building all week. Being without his wand meant that he'd missed the inside track on the Beijing deal. Being without his wand had meant that Ethan hadn't come down the four points, not even three. Hell, being without his wand had meant Harry'd had to wait for a black cab.
It was intolerable.
"So am I." Harry frowned across the table.
Draco flicked his hand into the air, motioning to the waiter.
Stifling his impatience, badly, Harry waited until the dishes had discreetly vanished themselves. "Malfoy, I'm not trying to be rude, but I really must have my wand. A wand. Any wand."
"Because—" He lowered his voice but it didn't stop people glancing over. "Because."
"Malfoy, I don't want to make a scene in your friend's restaurant." Harry ground out."I'm paying you for it, what difference does it make?"
"Potter, why do you need a wand so badly if you can't use it properly?"
The abrupt use of his surname, the audacity of the question, the return of bloody Malfoy shocked him into silence.
The other man leaned across the table, his grey eyes narrowed and cold, mouth sneering. "You want a wand, Potter? I can give you a wand. Anything you want, won't make a difference and it's not like you'd know any better. That stuff about the wand choosing the wizard, that's not half of it and I'd explain if I thought you'd give a damn."
Harry drew back, feeling absurdly like he'd been struck and not liking it one bit. He remembered now: he didn't like this Malfoy. He didn't like the thought that this Malfoy didn't like him.
"I just need a wand," he snapped. "I—"
Malfoy sighed, pouring large amounts of sugar into the Turkish coffee that had appeared in front of him. With the simple motion he seemed to deflate, shrink back again to a slightly rumpled man with faint circles under his eyes and touchable hair.
"Harry, you were happy to sit down and dine with me an hour ago. A bit pissy, maybe, but I'd attribute that to your natural tendency towards being a git rather than any deliberate malice. I've already told you that you're not my average customer — and trust me, it's no flattery. Listen when I tell you that a wand isn't going to solve your problem."
"I know that. And I thought I already told you that I've done the Harley Street route."
He wasn't going to get into this here, not in Goyle's restaurant. Not in front of everyone. But apparently he was, because it seemed that Malfoy was just as adept at getting under his skin as he had been all those years ago, whether he looked the part any longer or no.
"Do you think you're the first to hassle me about this? Do you think I haven't tried everything. Anyway, what the fuck do you care? It's no business of yours."
Malfoy regarded him over the rim of his cup. "For what it's worth, I do care. You're not the only one who takes pride in his work. And I'm sorry for—"
"Don't even think it."
"—for being an ass just now," Malfoy finished smoothly. "But it would help me greatly if you explained more completely your symptoms."
Not pity, then, thank Christ, but maybe something worse. "I should have known."
"Oh?" Malfoy's tone was stiff again, icy, a sharp contrast to the burning of Harry's own words. Harry felt something twist inside him: was he pleased that he'd effected this, that Malfoy still responded to him in this way?
"Nothing works, alright? Sometimes it does, mostly it doesn't. I can't even sit here without the dishes and the cooking and whatever the hell perfume Professor Sinistra's wearing doing my head in. Is that what you wanted to hear? If a Death Eater came after me, I'd be as helpless as a muggle."
This being Goyle's restaurant it probably wasn't the best time to admit that. For all he knew, Flint was sous-chef while Crabbe washed dishes.
Malfoy said nothing, just sat there looking smaller-than-Harry-remembered in his too-big black jacket. Then he put his coffee down with a clatter. "Harry, the days when I cursed your marmalade with impotence charms or actively plotted to kill you are long past."
"I suppose you're into healing then? Is that why you're so interested? Can you mend my damaged aura, Malfoy? The crystals — I should have known."
Malfoy's face reddened almost comically. Harry felt perverse satisfaction that he'd finally cracked that cold façade and found the heat.
"The cryst — fuck Merlin, no! I'm a scientist! Ollivander trained me!" Malfoy's wand fell from his sleeve into his hand as he jerked up from the table, rattling the sugar bowl. He spun viciously in place and:
Harry stared blankly at the space where Malfoy had been, the rippling aftershocks of the disapparation crawling up his arms and tightening the muscles of his shoulders.
Right. Well, that was probably one of the stupider things he'd done lately. There went his wand. There went Malfoy.
"Pudding?" he suggested.
"Erm," said Harry. "Can I get the bill?"
Goyle sat down in the seat Malfoy had recently vacated. Harry stared at his tattoo. "I didn't really mean that," Harry said, meaning all of it, meaning none of it.
"Sure you did," said Goyle.
"When I was twelve," Goyle told him, "my mother put me on the Kwikspell course. If it weren't for Draco, I probably would have gotten laughed out of Hogwarts."
Harry had a sudden, vivid memory of just how large Gregory Goyle had been at twelve and thought it highly unlikely. "Oh," he said lamely, painfully aware that he was only a fourteen-sickle purchase away from Kwikspell's Remedial Charms Primer himself.
"He was only trying to help," said Goyle.
"That's what they all say," muttered Harry, but his anger was fading, replacing itself with that familiar blend of frustration and self-pity. Chased by regret that he'd clearly offended Malfoy, who probably was only trying to help.
There was a painful pinging against Harry's temples and Malfoy snapped back into existence. Harry felt an almost disproportionate amount of relief. Malfoy began throwing stack after stack of parchment down onto the table.
"Prophet, Sunday the 18th. My column debunking the myths about muggle wi-fi affecting wizarding health. Prophet, three weeks ago. That bollocks about yarrow influencing the magical potency of a fetus. Dangerous and irresponsible, and can you believe it, the mediwizards they've quoted from St Mungo's weren't even consulted before The Quibbler went to print—"
For the first and hopefully only time in his life, Harry looked to Goyle for an explanation.
"Draco writes the Bad Magic column," Goyle said.
And clearly that was supposed to mean something?
Malfoy ignored them, saying eagerly, "You went to see Clytemenestra Kingsfoil, I'm sure. She's since been banned from practicing in Britain. Who else?"
Letting his fingers riffle through the pages of the nearest newspaper, Harry said, reluctantly, "The prominent Healers. Ones with discretion. But when there were no results, I stopped. I couldn't exactly trust that my problem would stay secret and back then, well, I didn't want to put my friends in danger. If it got known that I couldn't—" He stopped, started: "And I don't mind, most of the time."
"Hmmm. By no results you mean no immediate results, I assume." Harry looked for the insult, but Malfoy appeared more thoughtful than disparaging. "I need to think about this."
"I thought you'd been thinking about it all week."
Malfoy's swift little smile was as engaging as it was unexpected. "No immediate results doesn't mean no results."
Goyle's big hand came down on Harry's shoulder briefly before he disappeared back into the kitchen. Harry watched him go, bemused, then turned back to Malfoy.
"I want a wand." Harry stared at him until Malfoy's pale brows rose in acknowledgement. He needed to make it very clear.
"Why do you care?"
"Why do you want a wand so badly?"
"Because I'm a wizard, for fuck's sake!"
There was that smile again. "In that case, I'll expect to see you in my workshop for further tests," said Malfoy, and Harry was left discomfited, watching that smile and wondering just whose point had been made, after all.
It was long past midnight.
The moonlight on the Thames was weak and grey, filtered to negligibility by the promise of next morning's rain. Harry stood at his bedroom window, watching the buoys bob and definitely not thinking about Draco Malfoy.
The annual report of a Korean shipping company lay unopened on the slate bedclothes. He turned his mobile phone over and over again in his hand, considering. He sat on the bed and picked up the report.
Fuck it. Tossing the Koreans aside, he dialed the number. A few moments later, the phone rang.
He lay back on the bed, closing his eyes. "Everything started to go wrong and then it kept on not working. I was never very good at any of the subtleties, you know. It was always so easy. I guess that's because everything else was so hard. I'd just want it, and it would happen. Just before I kil — yeah. It was so strong." He swallowed. "I never had to think about it, about the magic. It was just."
"Part of you."
"Yeah. Part of me."
He'd never mourned it properly, until this very moment, and it hurt.
"The Healers, the worst ones were the ones that tried to make it into my fault, something in my mind. One of them, this asshole, said I was repressing, said I was feeling guilt over what happened." Drawing an unsteady breath, he continued, "Another one said I was afraid. That I'd seen what my magic could do, what I was capable of, and this was a natural defense mechanism, my body's way of telling me no."
Harry waited, but there was no response. Hesitantly, he said — and the words took a while to come because he'd never said them aloud before — "I wondered if it's because I died."
There was a small sound on the other end of the line. After a moment, Malfoy replied, "The weight of anecdote is not data. If we're going to look at possible causation, we might as well throw in the fact that you grew up in a dismal muggle cupboard or the fact that I never once saw you eat a green vegetable during six years at school."
"Thanks, Malfoy. That actually helps."
"Think nothing of it," Malfoy said briskly. "All part of the twenty-four hour service, apparently. You know, Harry, some of us do have business hours."
Harry laughed, when just seconds before he wouldn't have thought it possible. "I'm sorry about tonight," he said.
"Yes, well, the cupboard is responsible for your appalling manners, that's indisputable."
Maybe it was because he'd already said so much. But he couldn't stop himself, couldn't stop his next words from tumbling out. "What sort of men do you like, Malfoy?"
He could feel that old Malfoy smirk.
"I like the ones who make me laugh." Then Malfoy was gone, the echo of his own laughter trailing down the line, brighter than the moon outside.
Open now for a good chunk of the year, St Pancras International had lost its shiny new sparkle but still maintained that certain gloss that only high-vaulted neo-Victorian retrofits funded by multiple levels of government and rabidly active local business associations could successfully pull off.
At quarter past seven in the morning, the longest champagne bar in Europe didn't tempt, though Seb was an ardent supporter of the platform champers shag. In his honour, Harry did a reflexive trawl of the morning café crowd as he passed through on his way to the down escalators. Christ, but it was easy to spot the visitors from the continent mixed in with the ill-dressed commuters. He shook his head – partly in astonishment, partly to drive away the Portuguese man trying hard to hand him a free paper. He would never understand the appeal of British high street apparel, Kate Moss included, not in all of his magically-extended lifetime.
Harry had tried to time it right, but unfortunately he was a bit early up to the platform. This meant that he was subjected to a good five minutes of waiting before he was allowed to board the train.
Waiting ... right by the wizarding travellers' lounge, which was hidden between the third arch and a rank of luggage trolleys. Not quite so bad as a stroll through the City, but far from comfortable. One imagined the comforts of the lounge itself were manifold given how the dissonance was making his teeth ache, but Harry was damned if he was going to attempt a walk through the solid wall to see for himself.
Julie, bless her, had booked him Business Premier. So it was with a sigh of distinct pleasure that he eventually settled in, soothed his ruffled nerves and took advantage of the unlimited express breakfast.
Somewhere under the Channel he started to think about Draco Malfoy, so he took that as a cue to pull out the executive summaries that would, Suresh promised, make clear to him how a protein from a Cameroonian bug would cure Alzheimers and stop Harry forgetting what day to pick up his drycleaning.
It wasn't that Harry wasn't interested in the details: he quite liked reading the New Scientist on occasion, but the average chemist's enthusiasm for a groundbreaking discovery meant they omitted vital details like how long R&D was going to take and just how much capital investment they expected for test tubes. Thankfully, the literature wasn't too dense, and by the time the train pulled in Harry was quietly convinced they were on to a good prospect.
Gare du Nord bustled as he pushed his way through the commuters (as opposed to the ill-dressed visitors from the island) and made his way out into the sunshine. The offices of Cortech were situated in Paris's biotech hotspot, just down the rue from the Institut Pasteur, so he flagged a cab and went over his notes en route.
He presented himself at the desk. "Harry Potter. Ici pour Jerome Roubichaud."
Harry had met Jerome before, at a biotech conference in Alsace where Harry had blagged his way through free champagne and the pain of listening to absolute gobbledygook for three days. But it had netted him a lot of useful contacts — the French were big into biotech, third in Europe, and like any good Brit Harry was always happy to stick one to the Germans by scooping the next big thing before they did.
Jerome had a lot to offer Harry. Even if he didn't know it yet.
Perfect English inflection, perfect Gallic complexion, bloody fantastic ass. Yes, Harry thought, grinning in welcome and warmly clasping the other man's shoulder: Jerome did have a lot to offer.
"He'll tell you to make an appointment and clear off," Poppy told him frankly.
"No, really." Harry hooked his forefinger in the knot of his tie and pulled it loose. "He told me I could drop in anytime I was passing." It was vaguely true, if taken out of its original context.
Convivial didn't seem to work on Poppy tonight; given how many PAs he'd been through before Julie, Harry couldn't help but wonder what Malfoy had done to inspire such loyalty.
He blinked at the finger jabbing directly between his eyes. "Your idea. Your responsibility. If he comes out throwing things, I will clear the path for them to hit you."
Laying aside the accounts ledger she had been working on — the painstaking hand-drawn columns made Harry's mind reel from inefficiency — she jumped off her stool to head out the back, where presumably Ollivander's had some sort of consulting room.
Most likely Malfoy would have a fit if his precious schedule was interrupted, but during his walk home Harry had reasoned that someone whose workshop was such a terrifying mess couldn't be all that upset at a little bit of impromptu overtime. Hence the Diagon diversion. It was only seven, still light outside and warm; plenty enough time to pick out whatever bits and pieces Malfoy wanted to put into his designer wand, and maybe they could make it to the pub afterwards. A pub on Charing Cross, thanks very much.
"What the bloody hell is so—" Harry heard Malfoy's grumbles precede him down the hallway; Poppy slid back onto her stool with an I told you so expression of amusement.
"Potter. What do you want? Do you realise — of course you realise, you just don't give a rat's arse, do you — I have a customer. I'm trying to concentrate. Why are you bothering me?"
Harry had expected Malfoy to be a bit irked. Counted on it, really: he'd quite liked the twitchy ranting Malfoy fell into when he thought someone was being an idiot. He hadn't really expected him to go off one quite this much though.
"I have seen you use a telephone, so ignorance of that particular mode of communication can't be your excuse."
When in doubt, blame the post. "Hello," Harry said blandly, "I'm sure I sent Hedwig with a note." Malfoy's raised eyebrows conveyed that an owl-based excuse absolutely wasn't going to cut it, but Harry forged on: "Don't know what must have happened to her."
A small skeptical harrumph from Poppy put an end to any thoughts Harry had begun to entertain about offering unbilled advice on book-keeping. No subversion of the company structure by engaging the workforce, it seemed.
Malfoy was regarding him. "You need my expert consultation right now, I suppose?"
Before Harry could get his tongue around a reply, a lanky teenage girl in the new Falcons kit appeared from the corridor.
"Mr Malfoy? Can I put these down now? The red one's starting to make my hand go numb." Harry couldn't see what she was holding, but her palms were open in front of her. Malfoy held his hand up for pause at Harry and turned to retrieve the items, his tone much less aggrieved.
"The red one, you said?" A notebook flew into Malfoy's hand as he rummaged in his coat pocket for a pencil with the other. His agility gave Harry a flash of adolescent competitiveness — I can do that too — but it didn't linger.
Malfoy scribbled quickly and then shoved everything back into his pockets. "I'm so sorry we've been interrupted. Mr Potter would also apologise but he's an actuary so he has no manners."
The girl glanced over enthusiastically at Harry's name and Harry recognised her as Angelina Johnson's younger sister. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been wearing a frilly yellow dress and throwing petals from a basket at George's wedding.
Harry sighed. "I'm a banker."
Malfoy waved his hand dismissively; Harry ignored the little payback smile that followed.
"Hallo, Naomi," Harry held out his hand — a bit of a City reflex, but Naomi had the same upfront poise that her sister possessed and she managed to shake hands and flick her ponytail back at the same time.
"I hope you'll have your name on that shirt next season." Harry nodded at the Falcon's strip. According to any Weasley you asked, Naomi was a dead cert for a first division career.
"I've got a summer spot on the juniors."
"That's brilliant," Harry said.
"And your old trophy," Naomi went on, "actually, I got a bigger one because I broke your record for time."
Harry appreciated a frank display of ego in a young woman. "For whistle-to-Snitch?"
"By six minutes, 22 seconds.
"You've ruined my day," Harry said, impressed. "My week. Year."
Naomi flushed a little. "So my mum said I could have a new wand, like. That why you're here, then?"
Malfoy, leaning against the counter, folded his arms loosely across his work coat and cocked his head to the side, expression sliding into interest. He coughed. Meaningfully.
"Yeah," Harry said hurriedly, quite aware Poppy was observing the scene as if it were David Attenborough's take on conflict resolution in the urban male. "Look, love, about that." He beckoned Naomi to come closer.
Out of Malfoy's line of sight, he reached into his pocket. He'd meant to stop by the optician for his new glasses on the way to Diagon Alley, so he had about three hundred quid in his wallet.
"You're pretty quick on the uptake if you beat my record," Harry winked. "It's just, well, I got my appointment time wrong and I'm pretty busy."
"Ha, right," said Naomi. "Course."
To his credit, Malfoy was following along. "Don't be so vulgar, Mr Potter. You're offending my customers."
"Uh," Naomi shook her head vigorously, "No he's not." She grabbed the notes and shoved them in her pocket, and Harry let out a breath of relief that she'd been a good sport. "Really not. I'll just come back tomorrow then, alright?"
Malfoy sighed, glaring at Harry. "No. Same time next Monday."
Harry supposed a better man might feel more contrite about paying off Malfoy's customers to suit his own ends, but a better man would probably be managing the produce aisle at Tesco and queuing up for the bus every morning.
"I'm off after this," Poppy gestured at the ledger on the counter. "Do you need anything?"
"No no," Malfoy said absently, still looking at Harry, and Harry realised that those disconcerting grey eyes had been on him almost unwaveringly since he'd appeared. "Just lock up behind you, ta."
Leaving Poppy casting a nasty-sounding alarm spell, Harry followed Malfoy down the hallway. He wondered if Malfoy would mention the late-night phone call; there was a strange current of familiarity in his demeanour that Harry could only attribute to the midnight disclosures about his problem.
Malfoy stopped in front of a door; Harry peered past him to see a couple of comfortable chairs, their fabric patterned in diamonds by shafts of evening sun through the leaded windows. The room reminded Harry of some of the nicer LSB offices: heavy oak, airy light, intermittent piles of paper. The table was nothing like LSB, though: it was strewn with bits of wood and crystal.
"Hmm," said Malfoy. "I think downstairs might be more suited to our purpose." He took out his wand and the clutter on the table began to organise itself into a series of wooden trays, stacking up neatly to be buckled by a leather strap.
"Do I not get your fancy consulting chambers?" Harry asked, leaning on the doorframe as Malfoy shifted the trays up onto a tastefully arranged bookshelf.
Malfoy looked around him as if he'd never considered the room might be appealing. "By all means, if you wish. I just anticipate you'll be a difficult case whose wand requires obscure elements, and these kits," he tapped the top tray, "only cover so much."
"You're the expert," Harry said.
"Also I'm lazy, and I don't fancy hiking the stairs from the workshop much more today. And I'm dying for a cup of tea."
"Six and a half minutes, eh? That's got to sting." Malfoy had his head tipped back, guzzling Earl Grey, and Harry was watching him swallow.
No he wasn't.
"I've moved on," Harry said drily, Ron's voice at the back of his head. "Besides, I'll bet you fifty Galleons it was only a Plumpton Pass."
Unaccountably, Malfoy's tiny smile seemed dazzling. Harry glanced away, down at the dented wooden surface of the workbench he was sat at. His untouched teacup jittered slightly in the saucer, and Harry stopped it with his fingertip. Anxiety was always the hardest thing to hide.
"Oh — oops, don't drink too much of that. Sorry, wait a second—" There was a scrape of metal on wood as Malfoy summoned a small stool across the floor. He hefted a large glass bottle down from one of the high shelves and poured out a measure into a goblet.
"—you should have this." Malfoy jammed the cork back in with the heel of his palm and gave the goblet to Harry.
"What's in here?" Harry sniffed nervously at the liquid. It was a potion, moving almost imperceptibly of its own accord; the consistency of cream, but the colour of a quality Dutch beer.
"Nothing that will harm you. I'm not going to try and poison my customers, obviously." Malfoy frowned slightly, as if he were more confused than affronted by Harry's question, and dunked his finger in the potion, sucking it off with a pop.
Yes, I see, Harry thought. Either Malfoy actually was a single-minded geek about this wandmaking business, or he was an irritatingly laidback kind of flirt.
"It smells chalky." Harry swirled the goblet around and watched the liquid cling to the sides, dropping back down. "Like earth." He took a cautious sip, watching Malfoy across the table from over the top of the goblet. Surprisingly, the liquid didn't taste chalky; it tasted like resin, like salty sap, but with some kind of effervescence that kept it from sticking and glugging in his throat.
"All of it," Malfoy gestured, and Harry drained back the last, tipping the goblet up into his mouth. The odd taste remained, and Harry gulped down the glass of water that Malfoy slid over to him.
"It's to aid concentration. It'll just stop you thinking about whether you've got clean socks to wear tomorrow, or, I don't know, the fluctuating yen. Whatever's on your mind that won't help me."
"Just so you know," Harry said, "if you are poisoning me, I have friends in low places."
"Oh how fascinating," Malfoy blinked at him. "Did you know that Terry Parkinson is my godfather?"
It was hard for a City banker not to skirt the edges of the Clerkenwell syndicate, geographically if not professionally. Harry had managed to stay off the Parkinson radar since he'd made the connection that Pansy's father and the less-than-mainstream financier were the same bloke. Shell companies were one thing: money-laundering from a man who could cast Imperius was another.
"There's a businessman who's maximised his crossover potential," Harry said casually.
The sun had begin to set as they talked, the sky peachy through the glass doors at the far end of the workshop. Harry watched as Malfoy brandished his wand around, adroit and precise, murmuring spells as he went. The goblet flew off to some far corner; a new set of trays appeared on the work surface in front of them; lights flickered on under the bench, revealing a light-panel beneath Malfoy's omnipresent pile-of-papers. Sitting down opposite him with a thud, Malfoy rucked his hair back and clasped his hands behind his head.
"So how much of this do you want explained as we go along? I don't imagine they taught you much science in your accounting course."
After his two days at Cortech Harry felt like a latent bio-boffin. He definitely had an excellent grasp on the RNA transcription processes involved in neurogenesis. At least ... he remembered the buzzwords. Technical vocabulary always stuck in his head, because after seven years at Hogwarts, clearly his brain translated all weird bits of jargon into spell incan'tations.
It would probably all go over his head — but he did think it would be fun to watch Malfoy in nerd-mode.
Harry tugged authoritatively at his cuffs. "Just keep talking until my eyes glaze over."
"Very well." Malfoy picked up his quill and tapped an imaginary point in the air.
"We know pretty much nothing about magic. Scientifically, that is. Biochemically, we're at about the same level as Aristotle was as regards physiological mechanisms—"
"Okay, okay, eyes glazing already." Harry held up his hands. "Think Sunday Times supplement level of detail."
Malfoy looked only mildly put out. "Lightweight."
"I spent last week in Paris listening to Alsatians rattle on about cyberbotanica and bioinformatics. And you don't have the sexy accent to make it worth my while."
"Says the Surrey boy," Malfoy coughed.
"You still see most of your old friends?" All of a sudden, it seemed very important to Harry that he know all about Malfoy's life outside Ollivander's."
Malfoy put down his quill and started to unstack the pile of trays. "You sound surprised. Why wouldn't I still see my friends?" He glanced up at Harry, bemused. "That Sorting business was about relationships just as much as personality, you know."
"So are you seeing anyone?"
When Malfoy frowned, one side of his face squinched up entirely, rearranging his even features into lopsidedness. Then the frown morphed back into the maddening little grin of amusement that Harry was beginning to think of as Draco's natural state.
"Not so as you'd notice," Malfoy said.
"How carefully do I have to look?" Harry shot back before he could stop himself.
"Oh dear," Malfoy shook his head, "I think you've metabolised my potion far too quickly."
The efficient way that "metabolised" rolled off Malfoy's tongue was terribly appealing to Harry. So was the skew of Malfoy's collar, pulled aside by the weight of his work coat, revealing skin. Harry leaned forward slightly.
"No no no, Harry. It's not me that I need you to concentrate on—"
There was a slight whistling through the air as Malfoy brought his hands together; the crack was sharp, cutting through the singular tug that kept him riveted on Malfoy. All of a sudden it broke: the dazzling aura surrounding Malfoy diminished, and Harry darted out his hand from reflex.
"—focus on your magic. That's better," said Malfoy.
Caught between Harry's fingers, a snitch vibrated. Its wings were a beautiful flutter of silvery motion, the surface textured and warm and alive. Harry breathed out slowly, realising with relief that the snitch wasn't hurting him, wasn't causing that queasy discomfort like most magical objects.
"Mmm," murmured Harry, cupping the snitch between both hands, letting it batter against his palms. The buzz was wonderfully familiar, an old friend he'd missed for years. It wasn't just the snitch; as well, the prickle of awareness at the base of his skull was newly resurgent, slotting his senses back into a world where they had more than five capabilities. He eyed up Malfoy's wand, sitting on the bench at arms reach, wondering what he might achieve.
"I like this potion," Harry said, stroking his thumb along the spine of the snitch's wing. "It helps."
"So do I," Malfoy said ruefully. "Sadly, the body builds up a tolerance. I'm sure it'd be classed as restricted if I bothered to register it properly."
"You should patent it." Harry opened his palm as the snitch folded its wings into itself and began to respire sleepily. Carefully, he put it in his pocket.
"Ever-vigilant for a business opportunity, aren't you?" Malfoy tutted. "You ready?"
Harry nodded. He felt unusually — pleasantly — calm. He'd never been overly enthusiastic about the mumbo jumbo yoga classes Ahmad occasionally conned him into, but it was the closest he'd come of late to his present sensation of ... connectedness.
"What do I do?"
"Tell me what you like," Malfoy gestured to the trays. He opened a drawer to his side and took out a strange contraption that looked like the innards of a pair of binoculars perched on a brass stand. "Or what you don't like, if that's easiest."
Divided into dozens of square compartments, the trays were full of different types of wood; strange scales, sinews and feathers, bits of dried plants; the last tray held rough crystals and rocks of different colours and translucency.
"Wood first." Malfoy placed a tray in front of Harry. Most of the compartments were completely inert to Harry's touch as he dithered over the slivers of wood and bark, their contents grey and insipid.
It wasn't too bad, though. Harry took his time, enjoying how little effort it took to sense the background thrum of magic. "These are the only two I like." He picked out the pieces, one a milky colour, the other dappled and knotty, and dropped them into Malfoy's outstretched palm.
Two more trays of wand-wood and only one other sample appealed, a golden piece with a straight grain. Malfoy made small noises to himself as he wrote notes, peering through his magnifying contraption alternately at Harry and the samples.
"What are they?" Harry couldn't make out Malfoy's handwriting upside-down.
"Cedar," Malfoy held up the dappled stick, "everyone likes the smell. This is rowan, and that's holly, which is probably just force of habit."
"I liked my old wand," Harry said. "Can I not have holly again?"
"The rowan will be more effective." Malfoy sat up. "It might take you a little longer to get used to, but what suits you as a teenager isn't necessarily going to work for you as an adult."
Harry felt a little sidelined. That wand had (not to understate matters) done plenty for him as an adult. "How do you know that?"
"Because it's my job." Malfoy turned the binocular-thingy around so the main lens was facing Harry. "Your old wand worked so well for you because of its history, Harry. Not through being perfectly suited — except for the phoenix feather, that was a bit of genius on the old man's part — but because you, in a manner of speaking, made it your bitch."
Malfoy smiled. "And now I'm going to make you an even better wand. Here, pay attention for two minutes while I explain." He held up the piece of holly took and took another from the tray. "At a very basic level, magic interacts with your body as a waveform, like light. Look through the big lens, just at the outline of my left hand."
Through the glass, Harry focused on the edge of Malfoy's fingers. The lens magnified everything, showing the nibbled tips of Malfoy's fingernails and smudges of ink over callouses. His hands were outlined with an untidy vibration, like the air molecules were brawling with magic.
"Wow," Harry said, pulling back to look at Malfoy's contraption, "this is brilliant. You normally only see magic—"
" —when it's about to kill you, yes." Malfoy looked terribly smug, but Harry didn't blame him. "Look again, right hand this time."
Harry swivelled the lens and peered at Malfoy's other hand. The magic around the piece of wood seemed much more orderly. Concentrating, Harry could even make out a regularity in the way the air was vibrating, a steady sort of oscillation that seemed to perfectly suit Malfoy's low-key persona. "So that's presumably your wand-wood?"
"Apple," Malfoy nodded. "I'm not fond of holly, so it's a more extreme difference than I was seeing on you, but I wanted to make the point that there's a systematic basis to all of this. Ollivander knew it but he didn't bother with it after a while. But then he was pushing two hundred."
Malfoy put the pieces of wood back in their trays and set them aside, turning the rowan around in his fingers. "I have some lovely heartwood that'll do nicely," he said absently, and then snapped his head up. "Right, so. To make a long story short, wands are a conduit for magic. You get a boost from anything that interacts positively with the natural frequencies you happen to buzz at. But wood and core are just the norms of the European craft, a lot of East Asian wands are ceramic, for instance."
Harry had heard a lot of passionate pitches in his career, yet Malfoy's fondness for his vocation wasn't overwhelming, just quiet and genuine. "What about the gemstones?" he asked. "That's new?"
"My own little harmonic amplification," Malfoy said, "useful and sparkly."
The core was done and dusted in a moment; Harry had poured over the trays despondently while Malfoy had rummaged through a back cupboard.
"Don't even bother," Malfoy called, "I know I have one here somewhere." He returned to the workbench with even more dust smudges on his white coat, clutching a handsome crimson feather in a piece of cloth.
"Phoenix?" Harry took the feather; almost immediately, it suffused him with the happiness of cloudless skies and a warm fireplace, and he laughed. "That would be a yes."
"That was Ollivander's real gift," Malfoy wrapped the feather up in the cloth again; careful, Harry noticed, not to touch it. "He had a knack for choosing the right kind of core. Probably helped that he travelled so much, saw so many things. There are cupboards and boxes in this place I still haven't sorted through."
"Do you? Travel much, I mean?"
"Poppy does most of it," Malfoy said. "I hate portkeys, long-distance Floo is still too experimental, and aeroplanes make me nauseous for days. If there's a train or a boat I'm alright."
Harry made a face. "Urgh, I hate boats. I had to take the ferry to Rotterdam once and my colleagues all thought I was drunk."
"Ah, the unpredictable joys of a magical constitution," Malfoy grumbled, rearranging trays again. "I wrote about it a few months back. One of the apothecaries off Knockturn was trying to get rich importing muggle gingko extract and claiming it stopped any sort of motion sickness. Obviously it doesn't, it just makes the person remember in detail how they threw up all the way to Majorca."
Harry eyed Malfoy. "That sounds like personal experience."
"Moving on to the gemstones," Malfoy yawned. "Sorry, I've been doing this since seven this morning and I'm knackered."
Harry tried not to sound disappointed. "I was going to suggest a quick drink afterwards. It's a nice night."
Malfoy paused as he adjusted the lens stand. "Perhaps not," he lifted his head up to smile, a little bleary now that Harry looked closer. "But I will most certainly say yes the next time you offer."
"Noted." Harry took in the array of crystals in front of him. "Choosing?"
Malfoy nodded, yawning again and summoning his teacup.
No-one in Harry's circle had any acquaintance with gemstones other than the panicked office consultations about engagement rings. The furthest Harry got in identifying the stones was guessing that the dark green ones were emerald and the nice blue ones were sapphires. Quite a few held some sort of resonance, though none gave him the thrill of the wood or the feather.
"They all feel ... vaguely useful," Harry picked up an intriguing column-shaped crystal, sea-green on the outside with a pink and white centre, a sort of Brighton Rock. "What's this?"
Malfoy glanced over. "Tourmaline. It's called a watermelon slice, with those colours. Poppy has it in her wand, actually."
Flamboyant enough to suit her, Harry thought. "Where'd you find her?" he asked, curious.
"Not so much found as acquired," Malfoy told him with a wry grin. "Her father's a proper Welsh nutter, a kind of nature journo for the WWN. Very ... enthusiastic. Poppy came in one day about two years ago with a fantastic collection of dragon scales and after I found out she knew where to get Diricawl feathers, well. If I'm not careful she'll be a full partner before I know it."
The warmth of recollection still in his eyes, Malfoy suggested, "Hold the rowan while you're choosing. It'll give you some contrast."
Malfoy was right; as soon as Harry closed his hand around the smooth piece of wood, the gemstones took on different grades of intensity. He chose two that felt better, brighter than the others, and set them aside. "These two are okay. Next tray?"
Malfoy made his scrunched-up face again. "I knew you'd be difficult. No, there are no other samples. Just my own collection." He sighed, put down his tea, and picked up the two stones Harry had chosen.
"Iolite." Malfoy looked interested. "This isn't that popular. It's strange, it works with two different types of magic. Has this property called pleochroism—"
"I thought it was a sapphire," Harry interrupted. The potion was beginning to wear off; he could feel his attention slipping.
"Used to be called a water sapphire," Malfoy mused, getting up. "And zircon. Hmmm. Might work, but it's far too brittle for you. I only ever put it in wands for old ladies who just use their wands on special occasions."
Harry briefly flashed back to the be-hatted customer from his first visit, and thought about how such a garishly twinkling gem would suit her.
"Right." Malfoy placed a large shallow case on the table, snapping open the clasps on the sides to open it out. Inside, dozens of clear boxes contained dazzling gems - proper cut stones, the type Harry saw in Theo Fennell's window at the Exchange. Each box had a small hand-written note card bearing the gem's name and what Harry thought must be the carat weight.
It was a beautiful collection, and Malfoy looked pleased when Harry said so.
"How long have you been a rock nerd?" Harry teased.
"Since my mother hired goblins to quarry out a lake just before I went to Hogwarts. It annoyed my parents if I got grubby and talked to the diggers, so of course I did. They're completely bonkers, those creatures, but they know their precious stones."
Harry picked up his piece of rowan and started to examine the gemstones. Some of them were huge and seemed to be of interest because of the flaws in the crystal. One piece of quartz had a starburst of gold threads inside it ("Rutilated quartz," Malfoy explained) and another cloudy flat stone looked like a miniature landscape of green moss.
"I like — oh. Fuck." Harry backtracked over the piece he was reaching for, feeling the strangest shiver spread up his forearm and across his shoulders, a liquid flush that made him shudder. Malfoy glanced at him sharply and flicked his gaze down to the stones.
"Which was it?"
"Wait—" Harry started to pick them up one by one, knowing as soon as he touched the right box. He plucked the lid off and took the stone from its cushion, cradling it in his palm. It was a deep green sparking with hints of other colours, cut in an oval about the size of his little fingernail.
"Alexandrite," he read from the card, "Urals, Russia." Harry closed his eyes briefly. "Never heard of it, but it's the one for me."
"So I can see," Malfoy said softly. "Tell me what it feels like?"
"Warm. Shivery. Powerful, like magic is buzzing in the tips of my fingers." Harry reached over and tapped them against Malfoy's forearm, aware that he was breathing rather fast.
"Ow, static." Malfoy flinched. He watched Harry through the lens for a moment, shaking his head slightly. "Good god, it's definitely the one for you."
Malfoy cast a daylight version of Lumos with his wand. "Let me show you something." He levitated the stone in the air between them, suspended in the light at the tip of his wand. The colour was fascinating; the greenest of greens, yet Harry kept seeing gold and red flashes from the facets.
"Now watch. Nox, Lumos," said Malfoy, gesturing upwards to turn on the artificial lights over the workbench. The alexandrite was now a blood colour, just as intensely red as it had been green, and giving off the same multicolour flashes.
"That's not magic?" Harry blinked, catching the stone as Malfoy dropped it back into his palm.
"Nope," said Malfoy. "Just an accident of geochemistry. They're absolutely beautiful, but extremely rare."
"Damn," Harry frowned.
"And horrendously expensive. That one is probably worth your secretary's salary."
Harry pressed a finger against his stone, loath to stop the heavy warmth. "So what does that mean?"
Gently, Malfoy took the alexandrite from him and placed it back in the box. "It means we go to the gem fair next week," he grinned. "And you get to bring your chequebook."
Harry was attempting to enjoy the Saturday morning summer sunshine. He was also fervently wishing he'd never explained venture capital to Malfoy.
"Did you cut them a tiny percentage or did you just move the manufacturing to the Far East?"
"They don't exactly come out of this poor, you know." Harry jammed his mobile in the crook of his neck while he rearranged himself more comfortably on the lounger. "What do you care?" He squinted up at the sun and idly watched the sparks dance against the blood-amber of his eyelids. Catching some rays in usually rainy London. All those partners who'd gone to Lanzarote for the weekend would be pissed.
He could hear Malfoy's sniff down the phone line. "I am the proprietor of a small business while you lot are always trying to screw over the little guy. Someone's got to rein in your rampant capitalism."
Harry laughed. "You're having me on, aren't you? You of all people are not insisting on social and economic equality."
"Don't be absurd. I'm merely pointing out that the rich should be allowed to get richer without filthy middlemen like yourself skimming from the top."
"I haven't even asked you how much this wand is going to cost me. We'll both be glad of that skimming when that bill comes."
"Oh, I think you'll find I'm good value for money," Malfoy said airily. He looked happy with himself.
"Fuck! How the hell did you get up here?"
Harry sat bolt upright. Malfoy had apparated onto his roof garden, just a couple of metres away. Malfoy tapped the screen on his mobile before shoving it in a pocket. "Traceable in more ways than one," he announced.
"I think it's frightening, you embracing muggle technology," Harry said. If Malfoy was going to be smug, he sure as hell wasn't going to give the man the satisfaction of being embarrassed.
"I own a mobile and a hi-fi system. I've hardly dabbled. And you're naked." This last came with a fair amount of heat, and Harry felt his skin flush.
"And you're early. I wasn't expecting you for hours."
He stretched, deliberately taking his time. Through slitted eyes he watched Malfoy watching him. Harry didn't say anything more. Served the bugger right.
"Hmmm," said Malfoy. He was wearing a cream linen nehru and faded khaki cargo shorts. His hands were jammed into a set of pockets; a battered brown leather satchel was looped over one shoulder. The scruff was very appealing. Malfoy gave him one more lingering once-over then wandered over to the railing. He peered over the edge and took a quick step back. "This is all a tad over-the-top for a bit of greenery."
While Malfoy's back was turned, Harry grabbed a towel from a nearby deckchair and wrapped it around his waist. "I'll take my urban jungle as high as I can find it," he said, "just as long as I get a tree or two."
"Since when was a potted palm a tree?" Malfoy was staring at him again. He wore a complicated expression that was several parts interest and more than a little consternation.
Harry liked it. "Since I moved to Wapping," he replied shortly and stood up, towel bunched loosely in one hand held against his hip.
Malfoy appeared to be fixated by the towel. "For a second there – well, let's just say you're reviving fond memories of the Quidditch change rooms."
"Thank you and fuck off, Draco Malfoy, for completely ruining my own fond memories."
"I'll wait here then, shall I?"
"You could come in." Harry surprised even himself with the flip invitation. He hadn't expected it, hadn't fully realised he had it in him.
Draco's eyes widened, happy interest flickering across his face. Then he grinned. "Harry, today won't be that bad. I promise — it's quite easy to avoid the new age weirdoes at these things."
Relief and disappointment and anticipation, all at once. "So you say," Harry joked, playing along.
Malfoy was still standing by the edge of the roof when Harry re-emerged, dressed casually in red trainers, jeans and the tightest black t-shirt he could find.
Oh well. He wasn't that mature.
"I thought I might drive," Harry said, swinging the car keys in Malfoy's face.
Malfoy looked at him aghast. "Drive? In a car? Are you mental — no, I know you're mental, don't answer that. Are you completely self-absorbed, still?" Malfoy plucked the keys from Harry's hovering hand and tossed them over the side of the building.
"Oh for the love of Mordred." Dracio slid his wand out of his leather sleeve holster and accio'd the keys back. "If you're going to be a girl about it."
"What's your problem with cars?" he parroted Malfoy. "It can't be the muggle technology You've got a hi-fi. I'll bet you're even a Morrissey fan."
Malfoy's face was a picture of sufference. "Get. Over. Yourself. I know you move money around for a living, but surely you must have a modicum of social conscience. Wasn't there some talk about you saving the world at one point? What did you do, decide to give that away with magical society, as well?"
The Harry of a few weeks ago would have jumped on that, probably hit Malfoy then walked away.
Maybe Malfoy sensed that, because he quickly added, "I'm only agitated because of the fossil fuels, you understand."
Malfoy shot him a calculated look. "How's your magic today?"
"Better as soon as I get that wand off you."
"Then we'd better get going. Can you Apparate?"
Harry thought about it and grew queasy. "I'd rather not."
"I suppose we'll have to take the car then. I'll bet it has a sun roof. You're just the type." Malfoy looked resigned, then suddenly hopeful. "Oh, can we put the roof down?"
Malfoy adjusted his satchel across his shoulders. "It's a nice day. Let's make this quick and grab a beer. You owe me one."
As they walked across the vast parking lot toward Alexandra Palace, Harry commented, "I didn't know they had anything but fireworks here."
Malfoy glanced up at the old BBC signal tower in the distance. "Fireworks, skating, granny dances, you name it. They also have an antiques fair here every month. I flogged off all of Mother's hideous china here for a small fortune." Malfoy looked pleased with himself, as usual.
Harry felt that urge to smack him again. "I did not agree to come antique shopping with you, Malfoy. You said we were getting stuff for my wand!"
"We are." Malfoy pushed open a set of ornate double-doors. Inside the foyer there were posters proclaiming the Summer Rock and Gem Show.
Malfoy led him over to a reception desk where he flashed a card and was handed two badges by a blowsy woman who quite clearly liked the look of them. Malfoy winked at her.
"Stop that," muttered Harry, pinning his little badge to his shirt.
They went through another set of doors to the exhibition hall, and Harry was greeted with a high Victorian ceiling underneath which sprawled a bewildering spread of trestle tables. Some were groaning with mineral specimens, sparkling crystals and sliced geodes, while others were an orderly array of gemstone boxes or bead-strands laid out in piles. A few stalls exhibited fossils, with ammonites and sandstone prevailing. The table nearest Malfoy had a sign proclaiming Shark Teeth: 40,000 Years Old.
Malfoy made a small noise of displeasure and flicked imaginary dust from his sleeves. "Ick. All these zealots in one place. Come on. Please don't make small talk with anyone wearing anything dangly or purple. Or both." He dragged Harry by the elbow toward a table at the rear of the floor.
"Ah, Draco." A tall, middle-aged man with a ginger beard and a rather leonine hairdo called to them in an accent straight out of Benelux. "I did not know if you would make it. Do you have anything for me?"
Harry stood by as Malfoy shook hands with the man. "Anton. Good to see you. I do have something for you, this time." He rummaged in his satchel, pulling out a package that lessened the bulky bag considerably. "How's business? Anything new?"
"I just went to Hong Kong last week, did you forget? There is nothing new. It is all treated this and dyed that. No quality turquoise for you this time."
Malfoy scowled. "Bugger. I really have to go out there myself, don't I?" He rubbed at his forehead. "Well, I need some alexandrite. Uncut, gem quality, nice and clean."
Harry coughed, pointedly.
"Oh!" Malfoy looked sheepish, which was an interesting soft touch to his sharp features. "Sorry! Anton, Harry, et cetera. The alex is for Harry."
Harry, who spent most of his working life being introduced to European men in specialty trades, made with the small talk until Draco's impatience became visible. He left them to it.
He meandered around the vicinity, picking up quartz crystals, selenite pebbles (a lovely blue), animals carved from different rocks. There was a mottled black-and-white carving of an owl that he quite liked. Thinking of Hedwig, he turned it over. Twenty-seven pounds, snowflake obsidian.
"Could I get this?" The woman behind the table was wearing a purple t-shirt with a celtic design.
"Course you can," the woman said in a thick West Country accent, "do you collect?" She fished around underneath her table and pulled out a wooden box.
"Me? No," Harry said, "I just like owls." He pulled two twenties from his wallet and gave them to the woman.
"Wise and judgemental," she said, sliding his box into a bag, "a bit unlucky, too, if you're to believe old stories."
Harry smiled. "So I've been told — thank you — but I've been lucky so far." He turned around, looking for Malfoy. "Cheers."
He found him by a stall laden with what looked like copper and iron ore, sifting through a bowl of coins and keys. Malfoy reached behind him, not even looking up to grab Harry's arm.
"How do you do that?" Harry couldn't decide if it was showing-off or charming.
"Slytherin survival skill. Look at these, do any of them look funny to you?"
Malfoy had laid a line of the metal objects on the table. Harry peered at the keys — they were flat ironwork with intricate motifs worked into the handles and the flange. They were obviously very old (Harry thought they might be medieval, he had seen some keys in the Museum of London that looked similar), but he couldn't see what Malfoy thought was interesting. The coins at least he knew something about, having spent a summer interning with the private bank attached to Lombards. They were Roman and Tuscan coins, typically marked, the sort the little showcases in the Lombard foyer had proudly displayed.
"Dunno about the keys," Harry began, "but the coins are third and fourth century Italian states." He picked one up and examined it, turning it over. "They look pretty standard except—"
He looked at Malfoy, who was nodding and looking pleased. "Except for goblin markings around the edge, which are something peculiar to, well." Malfoy dropped his voice, "Guy who runs the stall isn't one of us. I think we should take these and donate them to the BWM."
Harry shrugged. "If you think so."
"You really are a heartless capitalist, aren't you?"
"Through and through," Harry grinned back, amused by Malfoy's treasure-hunting glee. "What's with the keys then?"
Malfoy picked one up and held it up so Harry could see the tracery. "Alchemical symbology worked into the motifs, it's all very complicated. I'll have to decode it all — what?"
Harry snickered. "And you think I'm the one with the esoteric numerology? You're just as dull as I am, Malfoy, admit it."
He only got a sniff in reply as Malfoy picked up the keys, shoved his satchel into Harry's hands, and started haggling with the booth owner.
Harry was examining the alexandrite — letting it sit in the palm of his hand, running his fingers along the edges, feeling that drugging warmth seep into his skin — when Malfoy finally rejoined him.
"Yeah," Harry said. There seemed no doubt now that Malfoy was onto something with this wand business. Fuck. He hoped so. He stowed the gem carefully away in the satchel once more and reluctantly gave it to Malfoy.
The following Wednesday, Harry bunked off from a staff meeting to nip out to the West End. He passed the driver twenty quid and turned to give Petunia a hand out of the cab. Across the street, in front of Harry Winston's, a tall bloke in a blue suit held open the door of a Bentley while an older lady wrestled her fur coat out into the sunshine. Harry gave him a nod of camaraderie, musing that if one's type was expensively-dressed Eastern Europeans, Bond Street was rapidly becoming ground zero.
"Thank you," Petunia brushed down her skirt, "I know you could have driven us but I just get so nervous since—"
"It's fine, Auntie P. Honestly." Harry buttoned up his jacket, motioning Petunia in front of him. She wasn't as protective of Harry as she was of Dudley (for which he was profoundly grateful) but she was superstitious and didn't like him driving.
"Don't call me Auntie," she whispered over her shoulder as the Sotheby's doorman greeted them good afternoon. "You never know where you might meet a nice man."
Harry grinned. If there was one thing he'd never expected to share in common with his aunt, it was an eye to the main chance.
Stepping out of the elevator, Harry ushered Petunia into the foyer for the main sales rooms. He wasn't an auction house regular; usually he was here for expensive catch-up lunches with the leggy brunette in the black minidress, waiting for them with catalogues and a boarding-school smile.
"Afternoon, Harry," Mina said, kissing him on the cheek.
"Jesus, you're gorgeous," Harry kissed her back. "Why is it that you won't marry me, again?" Gay he might be, but he'd always been a sucker for a glossy ponytail.
She laughed and held up the fuck-off ruby on her left hand.
"I hate him," Harry said. "Petunia, I'd like you to meet my friend Mina Hafiz. We did the MBA together at Manchester, and now she advises the big international buyers here. Mina, this is my aunt Petunia, who's here to see the Chinese ceramics." He stopped, turning to his aunt. "Is that right?"
"Nineteenth century furniture and crafts is first," Mina said, shaking hands with Petunia and giving them both a substantial catalogue. "Ceramics is at four, and I must say that it is all," she dropped her voice, "fantastically under-valued."
"Really?" Petunia flicked the pages of the catalogue, already making notes with her pen. "Oh, look at these adorable little elephants."
"Mina," Harry cautioned, "don't lead my aunt astray. She has a very nice Edwardian terrace house, but there's no room for Ming vases in the front room."
"Ignore him," Mina said to Petunia, "the one time I let him have a bidding paddle he nearly paid fourteen thousand for a stone wheel from the Pacific Islands."
"It was stone money!" Harry protested. "A giant, three metre high coin. It would have looked fantastic in my living room."
"You would have needed a builder's crane to get it into yours, darling. Now we must move along; I have seats reserved for you both."
As they waited for the auction room to fill, Harry flicked through his catalogues while Petunia and Mina enthused about Victorian butter knives. The Asian vases and statuettes did nothing much for him, though the jade was quite beautiful. He wondered what Malfoy thought of jade; all week he'd been surreptitiously poking about the internet for information on alexandrite, but Malfoy was right — it was so bloody rare there was no point in pursuing it in any commercial investment sense.
He came across a long thin object that was labelled as a porcelain tea stirrer from the fourteenth century, but given his newfound knowledge, Harry reckoned on it being some Shanghai wizard's wand.
Realising he might as well get used to it, another Malfoy-related thought crossed Harry's mind, and he leaned over to Mina. "Do you have a coin person here?"
"We have a whole department of numismatists, Harry." Mina's expression reminded Harry just why she'd kicked his ass on their degree: she was cleverer than everyone else and you never forgot it. "Why?"
"I found some bits and bobs at a fair," Harry whispered, as a hush fell for the auctioneer.
"Later," Mina mouthed, winking.
Harry sat back, letting the bustle of the sales slip in and out of his attention. The coins were sat on a bookshelf at home, giving off the faintest echo of long-ago trade every time he touched them. He'd have them appraised, maybe raffle them off at LSB for the prestige of the museum donation. It was all tax-free, everyone would win.
He shifted, slipping his hands in his jacket pockets; it was cool in the climate-controlled room. Right at the bottom was a warm object, and he remembered it was the snitch from Malfoy's workshop just in time to stop himself taking it out. He closed his hand around its gently snoring surface, wondering if it were something precious to Malfoy, something that needed to be returned in kind.
Poppy ushered him through with few questions, the anticipatory sparkle in her eye as she pulled on her cloak making it clear that working late was the last thing on her mind. The bell tinkled merrily behind her as she locked him in.
A handful of times in this new shop and it still felt strange that Ollivander was gone. Funny how certain aspects of the Wizarding world felt immutable. He wondered sometimes if it was because his first adventures in magic had been protecting the philosopher's stone. Live forever, never change.
Well, it hadn't done Tom Riddle any good, had it? Maybe that's why Harry'd gone into finance; most prospects had a short life span and experience taught you to get out while the going was good.
It was getting easier, though. Maybe familiarity bred the contempt of whatever usually made him feel so crap; the magic didn't bludgeon like it had the first few times. Which was good, because Harry needed to be able to think, here. Malfoy—
What about Malfoy?
It still seemed so strange. Malfoy of all people, doing this for him — really doing it, as in, going above and beyond. Sure it was his business, but there was good service and then there was helping a mate. It had been a long time since anyone had done something for Harry without expecting anything in return.
He reached into his pocket and gently touched the snitch.
Malfoy was seated at his workbench. A silvery birch branch was resting on the countertop; runes were marked with black ink against the bark and a small handsaw leaned against it. Next to it, a darker wood glowed faintly green with magic. Some kind of preservative, Harry guessed, though he didn't claim to be an expert.
Piles of parchment surrounded Malfoy, who was busily scribbling away. He didn't look up but said: "Pull up a stool if you want, but for Mordred's sake, don't skulk. Serious thought is going on here and the last thing we need is another Porlock."
Harry could tell without looking that the alexandrite was on the far table in the corner. Excited, he started to say something to this effect, then decided that it would a bit redundant.
Malfoy crossed his final 't' with a flourish and beamed up at Harry. His hands were covered in ink and, as he rubbed his nose distractedly, it transferred in a dark streak.
"You've got—" Harry leaned over and wiped it away. Then he sat back, feeling rather stupid.
Malfoy paid the moment no attention whatsoever. His eyes shone with the sort of fanaticism that Harry remembered quite well from years at boarding school with a houseful of Slytherins.
"I've just written an absolutely scathing Bad Magic attack on the current trend for wizards to seek muggle treatments for cancer. Oncology is a highly complex medical science and the affect of radiation on wizard physiology is, well, shall we say, it's not a good idea. But no, because St Mungo's is overstretched as it is, those dimwits at the Quibbler are publishing story after story about witches with breast cancer taking muggle medicines. Absolutely shocking. Government policy will have to change, of course, but the Ministry is so wrapped up in the post-war infrastructure developments that the issue's all being passed over for something sexier. Bloody Shacklebolt."
Harry wasn't to be outdone. "I didn't vote for him."
Malfoy stared at him, clearly caught about to launch into another rant. He laughed. "No, neither did I."
"I mean, I liked him and all, but he was a copper. Police shouldn't run the state."
"How much did you drink today, Harry Potter? I've heard about you City boys."
There was something so loose and relaxed about Malfoy like this. It made it easy to remember why he'd come.
"I've got something for you."
"Oh?" Malfoy asked, still amused.
Harry corrected himself. "No, actually, it's more something I want to show you."
Malfoy leaned in. "Will I like it?"
"I think, yeah, you will."
This was the awkward part. "It's not here. Exactly. The thing is, we need to Apparate."
"But you can't—"
It was one of the things that Harry was always wary of; the way his magic faded in and out was probably likely to get him splinched if he could even muster the strength in the first place. "Not such a good idea, no," he replied.
"Floo then," Malfoy said, motioning to the squat little fireplace in the corner. "We're past the rush hour."
"Actually, we'll need to Apparate. And I've got to take you."
Malfoy caught on quickly, thank god. It wasn't the sort of thing Harry felt comfortable spelling out; he was barely comfortable doing it in the first place.
"Ah." Malfoy rose from the table, paced around to Harry and linked their arms. He smelled like woodsmoke. "Tell me when, then."
Harry took a deep breath and focused very hard on the place he'd visited only once before. He pictured it exactly, pushing everything else — tomorrow's meetings, Malfoy's scent, everything — to the back of his mind.
"Legilimens," Malfoy murmured against his ear. There was a fleeting, ticklish touch inside him, warmth so warm, the sensation of spinning as Malfoy yanked them into the quick circle-step, then—
Flung unceremoniously out of the spell, they were pushed by momentum into a jog across the scrub. Malfoy came easily to a halt but Harry staggered, falling forward roughly onto his hands and knees. The dead grass itched at his sweating palms, prickled painfully through his trousers, but he didn't have the strength to get up.
Harry didn't reply; he couldn't, not yet. Not with the grit of magic sandpapering its way through his veins. He let his head droop as he fought to control his breathing and swallow down the bile.
Malfoy's hand was cool against the back of Harry's neck. It helped. It was good to focus on something else.
"Harry? I could cast rennervate if you'd like."
"N-no," he managed. "Just give me—"
Malfoy gave him the time he needed, and he didn't say a word until Harry was finally able to totter to his feet. But the second Harry was upright, he started in. "You're an idiot. A total wanker. You should have told me how sick that would make you."
Harry shook his head. Arguing was too much effort.
"Of course, I should have known because I'm not as big an idiot as you, but that's not the point."
Harry managed a weak smile. He was starting to feel a bit better. "No. That is."
"What?" Malfoy asked, half-turning to look behind him. "What could possibly be worth making yourself ill for? Hold on, don't tell me. You've lured me out here, you madman, probably to kill me and hide my body in some latent adolescent revenge scenario, though it does give me some solace that you'll have to dig the hole the muggle way as your wand isn't ready yet. I suppose ..."
Malfoy's voice trailed off and his eyes widened. He glanced quickly at Harry, who was careful to keep his face expressionless. "Wait," Malfoy said. "Where are we?"
Harry just stepped back a bit, enjoying the melodrama, and gestured for Malfoy to precede him. The path was rough, stones jagging out at the edges of the worn dirt track. It led up an incline choked with thick weeds and strewn with vicious nettles.
Malfoy gave him one bright, suspicious look before picking his way up the hill. Harry followed at a more moderate pace, letting himself adjust to the high levels of magical energy battering at him. He was three-quarters of the way up when Malfoy crested the summit. Harry stopped, watching as Malfoy's back straightened and his slight figure went rigid.
When Harry reached his side, Malfoy leaned over and thwacked him solidly across the chest. "You fucker. Bless you. You fucker. How the fuck did you get us here? I love you. How?"
A slender stone obelisk rose from the ground ahead of them. Beyond it stretched a wide field of perfect, luminous green. The velveteen grass shone in the moonlight, each blade glistening with dew that reflected the night back at the endless sky.
All the hairs on Harry's body were standing up on end. It was that kind of place, the sort to drive a banker to poetic drivel. Harry moved closer to the obelisk and placed one scratched and dirty hand against the smooth stone. The strangest shiver spread across his shoulders as the magic around him transmuted to sympathetic welcome.
Malfoy glanced at him, disbelieving, then flicked his gaze down to the carved inscription.
"Queerditch Marsh," Malfoy breathed. He shook his head in disbelief, his eyes wild with light. "Who the fuck let you in here? It's supposed to be Unplottable!"
"It is." Harry let his fingers trail across the stone, loathe to lift them from the heavy warmth. "But I saved the world."
Malfoy was no longer listening; he was charging down the slope to the field, running headlong with the enthusiasm of a first-year. He paused at the verge, suddenly tentative, then he boldly stepped out onto the grass. A look of utter bliss lifted his face.
"Look at you," said Harry softly. He raised his hand and the pleasant languor stayed with him, wrapping around him as he loped down to meet Malfoy.
"Harry, Harry, Queerditch Marsh!"
Queerditch Marsh. Quidditch was born here, eight hundred years before Harry discovered it anew with a stolen Remembrall at Hogwarts.
Weeks at the Burrow. Long hours spent leafing through the latest magazines or playing pickup with Ron, the twins and Ginny. Listening to the international matches on the WWN. Reading Krum interviews while ignoring overdue homework and Ron's jealous temper. Flying—
"Queerditch Marsh," Harry answered, and the grin that stretched his mouth was so wide that it hurt. "You're giddy."
"You're giddy, too." Malfoy hooked his arms around Harry's waist, leaning against his back. He bit, once, twice, at Harry's neck where he'd soothed only minutes before, and it was sharp. Brilliant. "I can't believe it. I feel like I could look over my shoulder and see Gertie Keddle herself. This is amazing."
"Mmm," Harry agreed and shifted around so he was watching Malfoy's face. He pulled out the snitch, which woke with a jostle and immediately leapt up to hover happily above their heads.
"Oh." Malfoy took a shuddering breath. "You're welcome," he said.
Harry's hands roughly cupped the base of Draco's skull; his fingers pulled at Draco's hair. "Let's do it," he urged, and his voice sounded harsh against the soft night.
Malfoy's arms tightened around him. His fingernails scraped down the bit of exposed skin above Harry's waistband. "Now? Here?"
"Yeah. You and me."
The broom was crude, transfigured from a tree branch and augmented by the innate enchantments of the place, but it was all they needed to take to the sky.
Harry undid the latch on Hedwig's cage, beaming as she shuffled out onto the sill. "Good morning, sweetheart," he told her, and gave her an owl treat before her good-natured nipping turned into a need for Skele-Gro. "No post for you this morning. May be late home, too."
He left the owl preening by the open window. The pink pages of the FT awaited, but he was already late getting to the office; Harry had slept more soundly the previous night than he could remember sleeping in a very long time.
Outside it was still fresh, the day's heat still lingering over the estuary rather than London proper. Harry halted just outside the converted warehouse that housed his flat, gazing up into the brilliant sky.
Overhead, Hedwig flew from his open window, circling in lazy loops before disappearing over the rooftops in a beautiful white blur. He watched her go, knowing she'd be waiting for him at the office. Spending a few minutes stretching, he enjoyed the slow burn in his muscles, tested the eagerness in his feet.
Harry's morning run took him down to the Thames Path and to Tower Bridge, where he wound his way past the Engine Rooms and narrowly avoided commuters. Shad Thames led him to the dueling empires of Red Ken and Sir Terrence, then through to London Bridge, and further on, the twisting cobblestones by the Clink. The usual old-magic itches rubbed at the corners of Harry's consciousness but this morning they didn't seem to bother him as much as usual. He didn't even swear at the cyclists who sped past him like lycra-clad bludgers.
That feeling of flying … not even the sturdy slap of his trainers on the pavement could ground him enough to erase the sensation. Harry closed his eyes, blocking out the sounds of the working river and the chatter of distant traffic. Just the wind on his face and the memory of flight.
Hot muscle, shifting under his fingers, and the curl of a strong back against his breastbone.
Back across at Southwark, then north, until he took a childish pleasure in scattering as many pigeons as possible in the final steps. On his way into the office, Harry smiled at a scholarly type juggling a laptop case and a shopping bag full of photocopies as she headed to the Guildhall archives.
Inside, Harry fumbled to yank his lanyard free of his sweat-soaked t-shirt so the guard on the door could see the hideous plastic. Once, during a reliable week, Harry had transfigured the pass into something a little more tasteful, but the resulting uproar in the post 7/7 security state that was London hadn't been worth the effort.
At this early hour the lift was empty, a fact for which Harry was eternally grateful. He hated the shifting, gormless stares of people waiting for their floor.
He paused briefly at his office to grab his spare suit, then hit the gents'. The shower was hot and strong, kicking his brain back into gear after the endorphin-pumped euphoria of the exercise. Still shaking the final drops of water from his towel-dried hair, Harry bumped into Seb as he headed back to address the rather alarming backlog of email awaiting him.
"Property prices—" Seb began, waving a copy of the self-same newspaper that Harry had shamelessly ignored an hour before. "There's some interesting—"
"Piss off," Harry shot over his shoulder. "No interest in mortgages, now or ever. Boring as hell, and I don't give a toss for prime rates."
"I'll take my chances." Harry held out his hand, but before he could touch the handle, his office door swung open.
Draco was sitting in Harry's chair, bare feet propped up on the July trading analysis as he nursed a cup of tea with obvious satisfaction.
Eyes widening, Harry glanced back at Seb, but he'd already back into his own office.
Very carefully, Harry stepped inside and shut the door behind him. "Hi," he managed in greeting, feeling as though the planet was off its axis by at least a few degrees.
"I hate mornings," Draco announced. "But today's seemed particularly nice."
"Not bad," Harry agreed and thought again of the night before. "But it would be nicer if you took your feet off my desk."
"All these gadgets," Draco observed, picking up the telephone headset and examining it with clinical interest. "How do you ever get any work done?"
"I don't, generally. I have minions."
Draco snorted and swung his legs down. "You're so full of it. You're a total workaholic. Look at all these filing cabinets, they're all stuffed with your report thingies. Yes, yes," he held up a hand to forestall Harry's protests, "I know you say it's very competitive and unpredictable, but it looks like tedious twaddle to me." He sniffed, flicking through the papers on Harry's desk with pursed lips. "Ooh, crossword. Did you finish it?"
"Seven across, but I thought of it yester—"
"Aplomb. No wonder it took you a while."
Harry took his suit jacket from the hanger on the back of the door, shrugging it on. He had three meetings during the day, all clients, all requiring maximum first impressions and none needing Draco Malfoy. Not when Draco was already the sum total of what was on Harry's mind anyway. "Hurry up and drink your tea so you can piss off out from under my feet."
Draco laced his fingers together and cracked the joints. He rose from Harry's chair with a showy bit of reluctance. "To tell you the truth, I'm hiding from Poppy. I'd promised her the day off, but with school beginning in a few weeks business is mad."
"Then shouldn't you be there?"
"Absolutely, but there's only so many pushy mothers a man can handle. It's not like a first year can master anything more advanced than swish-and-flick anyway — a twig would be of as much use. Oh, stop fretting, I'll be off shortly. By the by, this half-naked thing. It's getting to be a habit of yours."
Harry took a tie off the hanger and slung it around his neck. He didn't even try to fight off the smirk. "I'm told that the weight of anecdote is not data."
"Let me," Draco murmured, stepping forward, his eyes flashing dark for a second as he wound the silk into a windsor.
He was more deft with a tie than any wizard ought to be, Harry thought, watching Draco's fingers create the knot, tighten it and settle it at the base of Harry's throat. The sheer intimacy of the gesture rendered Harry jittery and speechless, his skin prickling at Draco's proximity.
"Very smart," said Draco, stepping back and slipping a hand to Harry's waist. His expression was inviting.
"You are short," was all Harry managed.
"I'm not wearing shoes." Draco scowled, tightening his hand on Harry's hip and pulling him incrementally closer. Harry had to close his eyes in frustration.
"Can't," he said shortly, "not here." The prickle of his skin was now heat, flooding tension and want across him.
Draco bristled. Irritation at the interruption evident, he waved his hand over Harry's shoulder and the door closed properly and clicked locked. Wandless.
Harry's lust hit him in full force, literally staggering him forward until he was pressed tight against Draco, driving him back against the wall.
"Where, then?" Draco rasped.
He looked dazed, and Harry could only imagine how utterly fucking fantastic a compliant and scratchy Draco Malfoy would be in bed. Harry kissed him, all wet heat and addictive. That bit of throat. Right there.
Draco stopped him, breathing hard. "Not here."
"Come to the workshop tonight. Around nine."
That broke the spell where nothing else would. "It's finished?"
Draco stepped apart, fingers coming up to brush quickly against Harry's tie then falling away. "It's finished."
"Okay," Harry said. "Okay." Excitement bloomed, mingling with arousal. "Here, let me—"
He turned away for a second, just one, but it was enough. When he turned back, Draco had gone.
He couldn't say no, and in the end, he didn't want to. Iris was home and Ron had invited him round for dinner. It was an infrequent enough invitation that Harry hadn't wanted to risk the companionship they'd recovered by refusing and besides, nine o'clock was taking forever to arrive.
Left to his own devices, Harry probably would have stayed at the office, but whether he would have been able to accomplish any work was another matter entirely. He had visions of calling Buenos Aires and thinking of Draco Malfoy, writing reports and thinking of Draco Malfoy, organising next week's diary and thinking of Draco Malfoy. Easy, then, to say yes, and show up at their doorstep with a bottle of Beaujolais and some flowers for Iris.
"Oi," Ron said when he'd opened the door and seen Liverpool Street Station's finest bouquet. "Get your own."
Iris — petite yet rather busty with a razor-sharp mind and bright blue eyes behind designer spectacles — took the flowers in the spirit they were intended and welcomed him in.
Their flat was on the ground floor of a house in the good part of wizarding Hackney. It was just off the canal and surrounded by kebab shops that actually served edible donar with decent hot sauce — magic indeed. Ron's natural inclination toward mess was augmented by Iris's excellent taste and Harry found himself liking them together more and more.
"Who's learning the bagpipes?" Harry asked, eyeing the tartan instrument squatting in the corner.
Iris stuck her head around the kitchen partition. "One of the brothers. I have no idea which."
"She loves my family," Ron said.
"I can tell." Harry propped his feet up on a pouf and looked at his watch.
"Come on, Harry. You haven't been round in months. I knew there was a reason you said yes."
Iris poked her head into the room again. "Harry, I realise I should be circumspect but the crostinis are burning and I can't be arsed. Will it bother you if I—?" She brandished her wand in the air.
"No, that's okay. I feel fine, thanks."
Ron beamed. "Really? That's new."
"Yeah. All this stuff about my wand's meant I've been exposed to more magic than usual. Think it's building a tolerance. And Draco — did you know Draco moonlights as some science guy? — he told me to take vitamin C like the muggles do. Apparently they think it builds their immune system against germs, but really it acts like a kind of antihistamine against bad reactions to latent magic."
"Nothing. I said nothing."
Iris came in and plonked herself down on the squashy sofa beside Ron. "I heard nothing."
"I'm getting my wand tonight," Harry told them, already regretting the words before they were even out.
"That's interesting," Iris said with a polite disinterest so seemingly genuine that it would have fooled if Harry hadn't known better. No wonder she was rising through the ranks so quickly. If she hadn't screamed "powerful witch" from every pore, he would have been tempted to recruit her himself.
"Fantastic!" Ron said. "I'll come with you."
"No, it's perfect. I've got to swing by the shop anyway to pick up something from George, and I'd love to see what Malfoy's been up to. I'll just come with, won't be a bother, give you a bit of backup if you need it."
Harry stared at him. Clearly he'd been mistaken. Iris was a very bad influence on Ron Weasley. Ron's grin grew wider at whatever expression he read on Harry's face. Harry sighed. The girls at the office would be fainting into the watercooler by now.
"That'd be great," Harry said. Then added, "You're a bastard, by the way."
Iris burst out laughing. "Crostini?" she offered.
The night was cool yet pleasant when they let themselves out of the flat and headed down to the high street to hail a cab.
"Joking aside," Ron said, loping easily half-a-step ahead of Harry, "I am curious to see the setup. You don't mind, do you?"
Harry thought of how Malfoy had felt against him in his office this morning. "Well—"
"And I know you how it bothers you—"
Ron's freckles were dark against the pale oval of his face. Harry felt a sudden tightness in his chest. Here, then, was the reason for the laughter, the reason Ron would leave his lady on a rare moment at home. At the heart of it, here was his oldest friend.
Ron nodded firmly, the matter closed. "S'alright."
Somehow Harry wasn't surprised that Ron and Poppy were old friends. In fact, judging by the way she reddened the second they entered the shop, she'd fallen prey to the Weasley "charm" at some point in the past.
There were huge swathes of that past that were hazy to Harry to this day, and sometimes (like now, given the way Ron was blushing awkwardly back) he was grateful for that.
"Is Malfoy here?" he asked without preamble. He felt itchy-twitchy — not so much nervousness or eagerness as a disconcerting blend of both.
"Yes, he's downstairs, Mr Potter."
Ron clapped him on the shoulder. "Right, then. Let's get this wand of yours."
They descended the stairs to the workshop together, Harry wiping his suddenly damp palms against his trousers.
He hated going into situations where he didn't know what to expect; Ron being here helped, but maybe if he hadn't been things would be a lot simpler.
Too late for that now: there was Draco, standing in work robes before a vise holding the piece of birch. He had a strange little tool that looked like a cross between a scalpel and a scythe, and he was carefully using it to shave bark in long thin threads onto the floor. Clouds of pale green sparks were rising from the wood, circling Malfoy's inclined head before blinking out one by one.
Draco whirled around. With his free hand, he shoved his goggles up onto his forehead. The remaining sparks scattered. He looked dishevelled, competent, and utterly hot.
Harry's body tightened in anticipation and he took an unconscious half-step forward.
"Harry! You're early." The easy welcome in Draco's voice became a little more formal when he caught sight of Harry's companion. "And you've brought Weasley." He dropped the tool back down on the countertop and gave Ron a nod.
"Ron's fine," said Ron agreeably and Harry barely stopped himself from shooting his friend an incredulous look. Ron was right: more than just the store fronts had changed since Harry had been a regular part of this world.
Draco turned to Harry. The light down here wasn't good enough to read his expression, but maybe his mouth was a little tight? "You've come for your wand then, I take it."
"Yes." Harry swallowed. "You said—"
There was a pause. Draco reached up and removed the goggles completely, dragging his hand through his hair and leaving it even messier than before.
"Give me a second."
There was a small door at the far end of the room that Harry hadn't noticed before. It swung shut behind Draco.
Beside him, Ron shrugged. "I'll just wait upstairs then."
Harry barely noticed him go. He crossed to the vise and looked at the half-started wand resting there. He catalogued with a glance the many bottles and books lining the top shelves. He took out his Blackberry and tried to check his email, but Diagon Alley did fucked up things to the emoticons and he put it quickly away.
Fuck. This was worse than waiting for the Yule ball to start.
"Here we are." Draco was back, carrying a slender crimson box. He passed it to Harry. "Open it."
The lid came off easily, revealing the treasure within. A golden tan, it was of a length to his previous wand, only slightly thinner. He glanced at Draco, but he had turned back to his tools.
Harry took a deep breath, lifting his new wand from the box. It was heavy in his hands, but he felt nothing beyond the expected ripple of magic against his fingers, not even the quiver of awareness he'd been sensing from the variegate little stone.
After his magic went, his old wand had felt the same as ever — maybe that had added to the frustration. Like he was letting the stupid thing down after everything they'd faced together. Until he'd broken it, run over it with an office chair of all things, and he'd been inconvenienced more than devastated by the ignominious loss. One moved on from things that were once important, Aunt Petunia said often, and given how she'd turned her life around, Harry figured she must know a thing or two about it.
He'd just. He wasn't expecting miracles, really he wasn't. He'd just thought that maybe it would, maybe, feel different from his old wand.
He smiled weakly at Draco. "It's great, thanks. I really like the detail on the, um, on the handle. Very posh."
"I thought your colleagues might appreciate a little decorative scrollwork if you're going to be fiddling with it during your board meetings."
"Yeah." Harry looked down at the wand again, the slightest frown on his face. He raised his arm and sent the wand slicing down through the air. A blast of red and gold sparks shot from the tip, cascading down through the flying dust motes and sawdust onto the stone floor.
Draco raised his eyebrows. "You like it then?"
"It's great." Harry stowed the wand carefully away and put the box into his jacket pocket. He frowned again then shook off the disquiet. "Really. Thanks."
"So, how much do I owe you?"
Wordlessly, Draco passed him a long piece of parchment. It was a lot, but not as much as Harry had been prepared to be gouged for.
Their fingers brushed. Nothing. And if Harry was disappointed that Draco appeared to have changed his mind since that morning, well, it was just one more disappointment, wasn't it? He'd go get drunk with Seb and do his very best to forget it.
"I do take Muggle plastic when necessary," Draco said after Harry's moment of self-indulgent crankiness stretched to an awkward length.
"No, no, it's fine." Harry dug into his shoulder satchel and pulled out the sack of gold he'd converted from pounds with Ron earlier.
Draco's eyes widened slightly, but he made no comment other than, "I wish all my clients were so forthcoming."
"Right." Harry looked around the workshop again, but short of pushing Draco over a stool and fucking him senseless he couldn't think of anything else to contribute. "I'll be off then."
"See you around," Draco offered. He was toying with an edge of parchment lying on the worktable. A quill was hovering solicitously near his hand — clearly his mind was elsewhere, certainly not on Harry.
"Sure," Harry replied. The word tasted sour. "Be seeing you."
Ron was waiting in the main shop, examining a set of polishing cloths and doing his very best to ignore Poppy's speculative stare. "Done?"
Harry patted his pocket. He had a wand again, that was all that mattered. "Yeah, we're done."
Unable to face the thought of going back to his flat right away, and aware that Ron was eager to get back to Iris, Harry made his excuses and took himself off to LSB. He got in about two hours of work, filing the paperwork from the Paris trip then leafing through a pile of CVs for the new associate, but that just made him feel old and irritated. He flagged another cab down on Threadneedle Street and let the driver fleece him blind until they both got bored enough to forego the side-streets tour and drop Harry back home.
The really annoying thing was that he couldn't even work up the anger to want to hit Draco, which had been his fall-back for years. In a few short weeks, he'd grown to like Draco. Crap, he still liked Draco, that was the problem.
Harry had thought he'd understood that Draco wanted to keep it mostly business between them while there was, well, business between them. And now that the business was over … Well. Everyone had a right to change their mind, Harry supposed. It was just … disappointing.
The lights were on in the flat, a warm yellow flood.
Even though he was by now half-expecting it, he still felt a jolt when he saw Draco sitting on the large sofa, one arm laid casually along the top of the charcoal corduroy cushions. He'd shaved since the workshop but his fingers were still slightly grubby, as though he hadn't been able to resist picking up his tools one last time. They tapped out a rhythmless beat on the upholstery.
"I thought we'd finished," Harry said eventually. He removed the wand box from his pocket before slinging the jacket over a chair. In the kitchen, he grabbed himself a beer and took his time about it. Then he strolled back into the living room and offered the bottle to Draco.
Draco didn't take it. "For fuck's sake, Potter."
Harry cracked it open and took a long swig, feeling vastly, almost shockingly, more comfortable now he was on his own turf. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "What are you doing here?"
"I find it hard to believe you weren't expecting me."
Harry had been so busy taking in Draco's appearance, watching the movement of his fingers, he hadn't even noticed the wand in his other hand. Didn't notice it until Draco swished it through the air and flicked.
Harry felt the tingle of unspent magic shiver through him, but it wasn't unpleasant.
"Good," said his wand-maker. "That's a good sign." He flicked again and caused goosebumps.
Hedwig watched from the windowsill, her yellow eyes following the movements of the wood with predatory interest.
"Surely mine doesn't need servicing just yet?" He took another slug of Stella.
"I meant to say the last time I was here—" Draco spun his wand in a complex pattern; an armchair slid across the floor and nudged at Harry's feet, knocking him into its embrace. "—you really should have wards. It's dangerous."
No, Draco was the only dangerous wizard who'd been in Harry's life since he'd moved in, but now hardly seemed the time to correct him. "I'll take that under advisement." Harry watched Draco continue to spin his wand, the movements idle now but just as deserving of caution. "Want to tell me what's going on?"
Draco set his wand down on the coffee table. "We're not done."
"I thought we were."
"You felt nothing."
Harry went still.
"It didn't work for you."
"Well." Harry put the beer down. "I just."
"I know what you thought, it's painfully obvious. I'd be insulted if I didn't know the way your mind worked."
"You're starting to piss me off, Malfoy."
"What aren't you telling me about my wand?" Harry demanded.
"I meant to tell you," Draco said, "show you, but you brought Weasley, and it wasn't. Appropriate."
"Tell me now."
Dimly Harry was aware of Hedwig hooting softly in the background, agitated by his tone.
"There's a final step. Audience participation, shall we say." Draco leaned back against the cushions. "There's a difference between a wand eagerly shooting sparks for a child and the way a wand gives its allegiance to a grown man. Ollivander—" Draco paused. "Ollivander knew that while the wand chooses the wizard, a strong enough wizard will have the mastery to choose the wand he wants." He looked at Harry, looking through him, as he quoted, "'Subtle laws govern wand ownership, but the conquered wand will usually bend its will to its new master.'"
"Sounds like the sort of stuff you write about in your column," Harry said doubtfully.
Draco's smile was sly and amused. "It's the confluence of spells and materials as cast by the wandmaker, Harry; it's not like the stick is deciding these things on its lonesome."
Harry walked over to the counter and opened the box. The wand was still beautiful, still inert. He picked it up. "Show me how to do it then."
"You've got to take it from me."
"You already gave it to me."
Draco cocked his head. "Did I? Have I really given you what you want?" Harry's swift, involuntary glance downward caused Draco to laugh, low. "Didn't think so. Take it from me and make it yours."
Make me yours.
Harry pointed the wand at Draco. "Immobilis!"
The wand skittered away, clattering under the table from the backlash. "When the hell did you learn all this wandless magic?"
Draco quirked his mouth. "Harry, I love that this is what concerns you rather than the fact that you can't even manage a third-year curse any more. Can we hurry up please?" He brought his hands together in one sudden motion.
The table shot away from them, even as Draco moved faster than Harry could track. Moved so he was jerking Harry by the lapels, pulling him across onto the sofa. Moved so he was straddling Harry, his thighs like steel against Harry's sides, holding him there.
"Fuck off—" Harry pushed upright, trying to dislodge him, but Draco — evil bastard — wandlessly cast the immobilis spell and effectively trapped him.
"The thing is," Draco said conversationally, leaning down over Harry so all Harry could see was dark lashes, his red mouth, his white teeth, "you just can't wait to fuck me, can you?"
Harry was utterly still, seething under the curse, and Draco settled himself deliberately, tucking his toes under Harry's knees and rocking, fucking rocking his hips into Harry just so, just perfectly, as he sneered.
"You think it's going to be amazing, don't you, you think it's inevitable, you bleeding heart romantic," and Draco rolled his eyes at that, his dirty fingers wrapping around Harry's jaw, prising Harry's mouth open with his thumb, and if Harry could have moved he would have bitten the bastard's thumb off. "Darling Harry, gorgeous Harry, you think I'll capitulate and bend over for you, just because I want you."
Swallowing was difficult; all his external muscles were paralysed, but Harry had to swallow, and it had to be around Draco's salt-and-dust fingers. Harry tried to convey I'm going to kill you as much as possible with his stare, but he was pretty sure the furious heat in his cheeks dulled the impact of any glare.
Harry expected laughter, more mocking, but Draco was merely watching him, running the pad of his thumb across Harry's teeth, as if to say, look where I've got you, and the truly fucked-up thing was that Harry's breath was coming in little stutters, and he couldn't do anything about it.
Draco slid his thumb out of Harry's mouth and down his jaw, leaving a wet trail of spit, cool and damp in the humidity. So much satisfaction was evident on Draco's face, yet Harry couldn't feel any creeping rage to tap into, to break Draco's hold on him, and it was beginning to hurt, his muscles tightly wound and rigid.
"If you asked nicely," Draco tilted Harry's head back, teeth scraping just under Harry's ear, "If you said please, I might fuck you. On your back, so I can see you take it. Because you need to get it through your head," and he was kissing Harry now, fingertips flicking lightly all over Harry's skin, Harry's face held in his grubby hands, "that wand or not, things regarding me won't always go your way, hmm?"
That last, the reminder, was enough. The spell was abruptly gone, along with Draco's weight, and Harry jerked to his feet. The jolt of sudden release sent bubbles surging in his blood, sent blood pooling down to his cock, thick and hot. He was breathing hard; the only consolation was that Draco was as well, his eyes glazed and unfocused.
Without looking, Harry summoned the wand — it flew back into his hand, effortlessly — and he lunged forward, jamming it under Draco's chin, forcing his head back in imitation of how Draco had forced him.
"Malfoy," he ground out.
Draco's eyelids fluttered madly as the rest of his body went utterly still. Then Harry, not even thinking about it, lowered his wand and placed his hand against Draco's chest, pushing him steadily back into the cushions.
He kissed him: soft pressure turning more demanding as Draco's mouth opened underneath his. Harry angled his mouth, pressing deeper as his lip dragged briefly against the edge of Draco's teeth, sparking little shocks of sensation.
"I'd like very much to have the wand you made for me," Harry whispered against Draco's smooth jaw. He felt muscles shift as Draco swallowed.
"It's beautiful and I like knowing you want me to have this beautiful thing that you made. I like knowing you want me to be well."
Draco arched backward as Harry was jerked to his feet by the heat of the wand in his hand. It spun him around, a gross parody of apparating, but Harry wasn't going anywhere. He was rooted to the spot, aware only now of the fire he held in his hands.
"Oh my god." He kindled, magic flowing through him with the eagerness of blood let into a constricted limb. The pressure built and built until Harry was desperate to find release — he was tracing the air with familiar movements before he even realised his intentions: "Expecto Patronum!"
It hurt, but it happened. He did it. The stag was sluggish to form and nearly transparent, but it was unmistakable and there – oh, it was there — cantering around his living room before leaping through the plate glass and out into the night.
He felt powerful in a way he'd never felt before. It was a shadow of the pooling energy he'd once had at his disposal, but he'd never commanded it like this, deliberately and with purpose; never felt it as an extension of an adult self, as tool rather than childish assumption.
Draco's mouth was obscene against his ear. "You like it, don't you. Tell me how much you like it."
He was hard right now. Heat, all over. Gathering across the surface of his skin, intoxicating. He flexed his fingers, his toes, his biceps; all across his body, the muscle, the ligaments felt new. It was fantastic. Like being soaked in warmth after being cold and cramped for so long. He let himself bask in it, get drunk on it.
Draco pressed to him, his breathing quick and damp. His grey eyes were wide with interest, the pupils dilated and darting, back and forth, cataloguing every reaction, every detail.
"Oh," Harry crowed, exhilarated. His arm was shaking, the wand trembling in his palm. Every nerve ending burned.
"It's a conduit, not a cure." The words were rough in his ear.
Harry shook his head. He understood. He knew.
Draco moved even closer, tight against him; rapt. "You were a god, Harry. No one had your power, not even the Dark Lord. You could have been anything you wanted to be, had anything you wanted."
"I like banking," Harry said, barely getting the words out. The wand scorched. He loosened his grip, letting the heavy handle roll against his curled fingers.
Draco's huff of amusement rippled across his skin. "You really don't mind, do you. You don't care."
Harry fought for breath — gasping pants. Then he closed his eyes, screwed them shut, and set the wand down.
Draco's fingers tightened, nails scraping lightly through Harry's shirt, and Harry opened his eyes. The wand tip flared red against the surface of the table then banked.
Lifting his right hand, Harry stared shockily at the unmarred skin. Sweat covered his entire body; he ached like he'd run a marathon, like he'd flown after a summer locked away. He unclenched his other fist and looked down at the dull gold of Draco's hair.
"I miss it, yeah. You showed me how much. But I don't need to move the world."
Breathing stuttered. Then Draco's mouth was on Harry's, sloppy and scalding, his tongue lapping quick, erratic strokes. Draco's pleasure was an audible thing: little growls between licks; greedy groans against the salt-corner of Harry's lips, the crease alongside his nose, the smooth skin at his temple.
Touching, oh god, touching. Harry palmed Draco's hip, reaching down just beneath the top of his trousers and tucking his fingers against the skin there. His knuckles brushed lovely warm skin as his fist twisted and took the waistband with it. He shoved at the thick fabric even as Draco's hand slid up and down Harry's throat, rubbing at Harry's jawline then moving to push at the solid muscle on his chest.
"Bed," Harry said, and Draco leaned up into him, tongue fucking his mouth with devastating thoroughness. His fingers seemed to have decided they really liked Harry's jaw. They splayed there, holding Harry in place while Draco kissed him in that same jagged, rocking rhythm that he'd been tapping before. Harry could feel the beat of it pulling at his blood in a very different way than the wand had – that was dizzying, effervescent – this was a lulling, pulling undertow. His cock, his balls, felt marvelously heavy with arousal and he pushed eagerly against Draco, was gratified when Draco groaned and pushed his own erection back.
"Floor," Harry said and Draco choked out a laugh before yanking him down.
Ripping at Harry's clothes, Draco stripped him down to bare chest in record time. "Oh, yes, Harry, well done, this is very good indeed." Draco's hands were all over him, rubbing and stroking, nails scratching. He leaned down and sucked one of Harry's nipples into his mouth.
"Fuck, yeah." Harry kicked off his shoes and yanked off his glasses. Then it was time to fumble with the buttons on Draco's shirt, grappling with Draco, who refused to give him room to maneuver. He winced a little when Draco bit down firmly.
"Harry, this is fantastic," Draco mumbled against his skin.
The last button tore away. With an exclamation of victory, Harry pushed the shirt off. He looked down and froze.
Draco half-lifted his head, expression muzzy. "What?"
"You cheat." Harry planted one hand on Draco's chest and gave him a solid push; gold glittered sharply against the gilded hairs running from his navel as Draco sprawled onto his back.
Then Harry was on him, bending close to examine the piercing, so close that his breath fogged the metal. Draco made a ragged sound of need, his hips jolting upward against where the weight of Harry's body had them pinned. At the noise, Harry immediately forgot his purpose, christ, he forgot his own name. He surged up to take Draco's mouth, almost violent with lust.
Fumbling between their bodies, Harry felt button and zip abruptly give. At the sudden, pornographic heat of Draco's cock they both groaned aloud, their kiss getting messier as Harry roughly dragged his hand back and forth a few times along the shaft. Getting the feel of him and fuck, he felt good swelling and throbbing against Harry's sweaty palm.
"You like this?"
"Oh, fuck," Draco growled, and he bit at Harry's chin; moved his seeking mouth down to bite at the juncture of neck and shoulder, worrying the flesh there as though trying to get a really good grip.
Harry fisted Draco's prick – hot, fat, eager – and Malfoy twisted beneath him.
"Harry," he choked out, "I'm absolute crap the first time, but I am a refractory god. I swear, you suck, you swallow, you give me one minute, I swear, I swear, after that, I'll make it more than worth your while."
Smooth, swollen skin blood-darkened with want and sleek with juice. Harry didn't wait, didn't reply: didn't want to do either. He just wanted what Draco wanted, Draco's cock in his mouth.
He went down on him slowly, his fingers tight around the base, swiping his tongue roughly against the hot skin. Draco wasn't that long, but thick enough that he fit snugly, eager in Harry's mouth. Harry hummed, swallowing firm and deliberate on his cock, happy when he heard the thud of Draco's head knocking back on the floor.
"Oh, fuck yes," from Draco, his thigh taut and shaking under Harry's grasp, trousers half-rucked down by a handful of the soft cord.
Sucking hard, Harry considered his new wand and the spells for removing clothes; thought about pulling back for five seconds and wrenching Draco's trousers off him, stripping him naked, but he loved the thought of Draco being so quick off the mark that he couldn't even undress.
"Yes like that, blow me. Yes don't stop—" Draco jerked his hips up against the hard grip Harry had around his cock, pushing the tip sweetly back and forth in Harry's mouth, rubbing over his tongue.
Draco's prick slid in his mouth salty and full; Harry sucked noisily, loosely, desire buzzing in his ears and making his feet tingle.
"There," urged Draco, "there there Harry just. Yesyes — oh, fuck—"
Draco clenched a handful of Harry's hair and held himself perfectly still, curving up, his body in a shameless arch of please.
Harry took him deep as Draco wailed. He came in a rush of thick fluid. Harry swallowed, then swallowed again. He knew a fierce joy as he slowly licked the rest of Draco's come from his lips.
Draco was flattened against the floor. "Oh my god," he mumbled.
Harry lay down beside him. "Yeah," he replied after long moment.
"Oh my god."
A blur of motion and Harry suddenly found himself pinned to the floor by Draco's insistent hips. Legs twined and twisted at Harry's calves. Draco smiled down at him, jaw sharper without the smudging shadow. White teeth, gleaming; a lazy curl to his lips. "My turn."
Whispered words and Harry was blessedly naked. Then warm, hairy thigh burned along Harry's skin and his mind jangled discordantly as white-hot want lanced through him. Naked was so good. Naked was very very good.
"Oh yes," Draco crooned and bit deeply again at the already bruised flesh over Harry's trapezius. Deep pleasure seeped down through the tissue of his muscles as they spasmed in immediate response.
"Hmmm," Draco murmured. A humid sound that made Harry ache. "So many possibilities – I feel spoiled for choice."
Draco had relaxed enough – his body animal-warm and loose from his orgasm – that Harry could have easily pushed him off and turned the tables, but Draco seemed to be enjoying himself enough that Harry would give him the benefit of the doubt so long as—
Draco bit harder and held; Harry lurched up against the confines of Draco's body. His cock was leaking now, glossy-wet and ready for touch, any kind of touch, just so long as Draco touched him there.
"Yes, good, that's very good, Harry," Draco smiled at him, those teeth again. "I think—"
"Christ, Draco, don't think."
"I think—" Draco paused. His breath hitched. Then he let go of his own weight and sprawled completely over Harry, so that, fuck, rubbing skin and eager dicks pressed together in this excruciatingly fantastic press of hard heat.
Draco was slighter than Harry, more than a head shorter, but like this he was an absolutely perfect fit. His hands curled around every bit of Harry they could find, firmly stroking. Then, at last: he found Harry's cock between their bodies and ran his fingertips around the foreskin, pulling it away from the thick head and dabbing at the clear liquid pooling there.
Intense pleasure, before Draco pulled back, ignoring Harry's cursing, and leaned down to kiss the blunt tip. A sly slide of his tongue in the slit and Harry nearly lost it, had to fight back the urge to come all over Draco's fucking grinning face.
"Sex is a bit like wandmaking," Draco told him thoughtfully, and Harry groaned in horror and frustration.
"No, really." Draco sat up across Harry's thighs, digging his heels sharply into the bottom of Harry's arse. Harry couldn't stop himself from pushing up a little, cock trapped between them.
"Mmm," Draco appreciated, grinding down. He reached one hand casually behind him to stroke the underside of Harry's balls while the other – yes – the other played almost absent-mindedly with the twenty-four-carat and wood piercing that Harry had tried to examine before Draco had distracted his attention.
"It's all about finding that subtle alchemy, about getting it right for each person. Better than potions because you can mess up and it doesn't explode in your—" He stopped with a wry lift of his eyebrows, reading Harry's expression. "Well, you know what I mean."
Harry blinked myopically at him, part nearsightedness, part blinding lust. "What I know is that you're a cock-teasing bastard who can't actually do wandless magic after all."
Draco smirked and glanced down. "You like that, do you?" He sounded smug, but his voice was breathless.
Of course he liked it, the idea of putting a sliver of wand right through the middle of your own skin was absolutely brilliant and the marketing possibilities were endless, but he was hardly going to admit that.
There was no need — Draco was on him again, kissing him with exhausting thoroughness until Harry rose up onto an elbow, into the kiss and beyond it. He reached out and touched the thin skin of Draco's stomach, trailed down until he reached the rounded top of the piercing. He flicked.
Draco cried out, his head flinging back, muscles straining. Harry went to do it again, but Draco's strong hand covered his, moving it forcefully away. No talking then, just Draco manoeuvring him backwards and Harry letting him. Draco's face was utterly still, his mouth slack with want. Even summoning the condom and lube was done quickly, economically, all his attention on Harry.
It was like Draco's potion all over again: nothing else existed, just how hard they both were. Draco was liberal with the lube; overly generous in a way that hinted less of concern and more of a dirty, creative mind. He slathered the stuff onto his fingers, rubbing heavy-handedly at Harry's crease, his body heat warming the stuff and making it oh-so-easy for Draco's thumb to insinuate itself against the fluttering muscle there.
Draco's mouth planed across the ridges of Harry's abdomen as his thumb continued its slippery circles. Fantastic sliding and pushing and then — oh yes — just the tip of Draco's thumb was inside Harry, easing through the clinging flesh to press at all the right spots.
Heat and sweat prickled across his bare skin; the plush pile of the rug chafed across his back. Draco's left hand was moving steadily over his own cock, fitting on the latex and unable to resist a few pumping strokes to help. Inside Harry, Draco corkscrewed his thumb, adding another finger and then another in glorious pressure until Harry's body adjusted and limbered to his satisfaction.
"Shhh, now, yes, that's right." Draco urged Harry's legs up and around his waist. He was pressed as near as he could be, kneeling with his legs spread wide. Harry flexed his muscles and drew Draco in closer, gasping when the head of Draco's cock began its slow, even push.
"Harry—" Draco's eyes were closed, his mouth tight with concentration. His body juddered as he struggled not to thrust. Bugger that. Harry locked his ankles. And pulled.
Then they both shuddered as Draco began a quick rhythm, one that Harry, somewhere in a few-and-far-between coherent area of his brain, recognised from the irregular finger-tapping. A cadence that Draco could keep up in sex, apparently, and if Harry could bottle it, package it, and convince one of his mates to sell it on the FTSE, he would.
Draco's breath was coming in gasping hiccups as his hands wrapped around Harry's prick, giving him a clumsy sort of handjob made sexier by the fact that he could barely keep it up in the moment.
It was audibly wet: Harry's cock was leaking pretty much continuously and Draco kept accelerating matters by leaning down to swipe the head clean with his flat and most-excellent tongue. All this as counter-point to the fast and shallow little thrusts inside him. A snap of Draco's hips sparked fantastic friction as the grinding movements began to wear past the lube.
Harry's need to come was sudden and urgent, blasting through him with sharp talons. "Draco," he warned and bucked up his hips, his cock catching along the callouses of Draco's hand. Draco abandoned any semblance of control and he climaxed: buried, shaking. Harry shouted, coming moments after in long, ecstatic bursts that striped Draco's hands, his own chest.
Still pulsing weakly inside him, Draco slumped forward, his forehead resting on Harry's hip. "Christ Merlin fuck, Potter." He managed to pull away, just barely, and collapsed once again on the floor beside Harry.
Eventually Harry forced his eyes open. "Next time," he slurred. "You're fucking me first and I'll take my bloody chances."
Draco chuckled in Harry's ear. His arm curled around Harry, drawing him near, drawing him down into sleep.
His waking was a study in contrast, mind coming to instant sharpness while his body lazed in a daze of satiation. Everything was pleasantly sore, from his calf muscles to his arse to his swollen bottom lip. He stretched and fumbled for his glasses.
"Draco?" Over on her perch, Hedwig hooted at him in answer, her eyes heavy-lidded and her feathers fluffed.
"Hello, sweetheart. Gave you a show, did we?" Harry extricated himself from the sofa and padded across the room, naked, to feed her a mousey treat. She clicked her beak at him soundlessly.
Owls were a bit hard to read in the shagging-approval-department, but given the lack of biting, Harry assumed she was fine with the festivities.
His wand was still where he'd left it. Harry took it up, letting it rest in his hands. It was his; he could feel it. No uncertainty, that was the incredible thing. It was solid in his hand. If he used it, it would work. Not healed, no, but it was a change. For the better.
And new was good. New would be good for Harry.
He grinned at Hedwig. How did it go? A complicated swoop of the wand, a tiny flick of the tip. "Avis," he called, and watched with unrepentant glee as a little drunken sparrow weaved toward his owl, sending her retreating in indignation to the bookshelves.
It was when he was opening the window to let the birds out that he caught sight of Draco on the terrace, wearing Harry's robe and staring out into the night. From this angle he looked small and ruffled. As Harry watched, Draco half-turned to better see something off to the east, and suddenly there was nothing harmless about the economical way his body moved or the way his face tilted keenly in the half-light.
Harry felt his cock throb and swell. He leaned into the wall, letting the cool pressure soothe his erection, but he must have made a noise of some kind because Draco turned fully to see him.
The hunger flared, met an answer, and Harry found himself outside before he knew it, kissing him, hot and open-mouthed.
"Took you long enough," Draco complained into the kiss.
"I take it you want me again then?" Harry laughed; well, tried to laugh, the sound came out strangled and impatient, even to his own ears. "Tired of waiting?"
"I've been waiting since you walked into my shop, you bespectacled git."
"You haven't called me that in years." The wooden slats of the terrace were cold against his bare soles, he noticed vaguely.
"Haven't seen you in years. This is better."
Harry pinned him against the railing, feeling the give of Draco's body and the moment when the pressure grew too much. He eased off, grabbing the lapels of the robe and pulling them apart so he could draw his fingers against Draco's pectoral muscles, his nipples, the hair running up to his arching collarbone.
Draco's head lolled backward, and Harry caught a glimpse of his eyes, wide and wanting with glints from the illuminations on the river lighting the grey.
Harry thought about the hesitant way Draco had stared down at the street the other morning on this same terrace and then he thought about the hungry way he had looked at him, after, and then he thought about the fierce way Draco had looked at him just moments before. Then he thought about nothing at all but how tasty Draco's throat was, how the musk-surface of it was delicious underneath his roving mouth, how Draco's shifting limbs and eager body bent to Harry as they forgot about the vertiginous drop behind.
"Fuck, Harry. Fuck."
Harry nudged a thigh between his legs and felt Draco sway back again, his shoulders spreading voluptuously against the hard rail.
"Can I have you like this?" Harry cupped Draco through the robe, letting his hand pluck teasingly at the fabric, rubbing terrycloth against the underside of Draco's balls. Perfect, heavy globes and they felt so, so good like that.
"Yeah, yeah, please, yes," Draco panted, sprawling precariously backwards. If the rail digging into his back hurt him, he showed no sign.
"Turn around," Harry ordered, voice rough. He had to tamp down the surging lust that had his cock throbbing as Draco swiftly shrugged off the robe and curled around the railing, willing to be fucked senseless in the London night.
Harry eased him forward, pushing at his back, his buttocks, until he could viscerally imagine the city filling Draco's fluttering vision — the fantasy turrets of Tower Bridge, the midnight-still water — oh, fuck it.
He covered Draco, his chest pressing against arching spine. Harry let one hand find Draco's full cock while the other stroked urgently between the crease of his ass, rubbing and working his spit against the skin there.
Draco made some sort of approving noise and moved into his touch, lifting up onto his toes to give Harry a bit of extra leverage.
"If I try to accio a condom from here I might accidentally deprive that woman of ill-repute on the corner of her livelihood," Draco complained.
"You want me to stop and get one?"
"If you stop, I'll have to kill you." Draco shot Harry a calculating look over his shoulder. "Bet you're such a tart that you've got some out here."
Harry bared his teeth in reply and shoved Draco back into place over the rail, letting his fingers tangle lingeringly in the messy hair before yanking at the handful.
"Under the cushions as a matter of fact," Harry told the back of Draco's head smugly, and reached down to snare one when he felt the edge of the sunlounger rap obligingly at his legs. He spared a moment of appreciation for Draco's navel engineering.
"Potter, what the fuck are you waiting for?"
Harry made quick work of the packet, dropping the spent wrapper to the street for some community-minded matron to curse over in the morning. He palmed his prick a few times, feeling it harden as he stroked it on. The slick latex tightened with brief pleasure-pain, dulling outward sensation and focusing inward.
As Draco's legs spread wide, Harry crowded up against him, letting his cock rub between the crease where his fingers had played. Draco's shoulders were hot to the touch and the muscles of his upper back rippled under his circling hands.
"Need more?" Harry asked, the words barely audible. Joking over now, he just wanted to be inside Draco. Not enough lube, not nearly, but if Draco didn't mind—
"S'okay," Draco rasped, and thank fuck, Harry thought before it was the last thing he thought.
He slid in, inch by inch, and the angle was fantastic, completely difficult, bloody perfect. The tendons in his arms strained as he braced himself up and into Draco. Both their bodies trembled with the effort of holding together, but now, in him, finally, Harry couldn't bear the thought of pulling away.
He let his hips set their own erratic rhythm and the bliss coiled low as he lost track of time inside the heat of Draco's body.
A deeper surge had Draco groaning beneath him, a throaty noise that echoed against the metal rail and tumbled out toward the river. On a ragged exhale Harry pulsed inside Draco, once, twice, and had to stop, slow, pause before he blew the rest like a bloody teenager inside the man he'd wanted to shag since he was a bloody teenager.
"Yeah," managed Harry, resting his sweaty forehead against Draco's back. His hips snapped forward, his cock slid deeper with a sweet burn.
"Harder," Draco urged. Then, "Harry, this is fun."
"Yeah," Harry agreed, panting in his ear. The parabola of the city widened and spun as he saw stars.
Draco said something then, but Harry didn't hear it, he only felt Draco stiffening against him, felt the excruciatingly fantastic clench around his aching cock.
Harry thrust, fast, faster, and then, yes, yes, the world was glorious around him and the rushing in his ears went on and on.
"… they're looking to isolate the protein and purify it to a very high quality …"
Harry tuned out a bit, and rummaged about in his desk drawer. He fished out the plastic carrier bag that Julie had given him earlier.
"A belated birthday present," she'd said, "Because I don't see you fiddling with that stick anymore and because I refuse to nick any more pens for you from the supply cupboard."
"Beetles. Yes, that's right." He stared at the I'm-not-as-think-as-you-drunk-I-am Tate lettering on the bag. "Come on, I don't bloody remember, Suresh. The beetle-y kind."
"That's 10-15 litres." Pausing to listen, Harry shook his head though he hadn't actually bothered with the video conference so it wasn't as though Suresh would be able to see him. "No, no, it's actually an advantage. The scale up to time-to-market means that we'll be ahead of the game by the time the regional patents are approved.
Inside the bag was a fantastically-fiddly puzzle. Thousands of tiny metal £ signs all jumbled up together on a black magnetized base. You could run your fingers through them! Make towers with them! Sculpt them into an even bigger £ sign! It was love at first sight for Harry. Julie would be rewarded for this loyalty, he thought contentedly. Though there was still no way he was going to let her drag him to a Walkabout.
Christ, he loved a good shag. It made business so much more enjoyable.
He was just nudging the puzzle into pride of place on the green baize, right beside the snowflake owl, when Seb knocked on the door and stuck his head into Harry's office. "Drink tonight?"
Harry held his hand over the receiver. "If this deal goes through, you're buying. No, wait, my round because my year-end bonus will be able to buy four pubs and a brewery and eight of you twice over."
"Stop your preening, Wiz, and I'll see you at the Black Friar."
Waving him off with a rude gesture, Harry went back to the call; five minutes later, the conversation had veered away from biotech and into the recent surge in the export of India's manufactured goods.
The traffic blasted along from Blackfriars Bridge, thrumming at the edges of the over-loud conversations going on outside the pub. Pint glasses sloshed, dripping perilously near to the designer heels worn by the office girls. All of whom had fled to the loos to tart up with their hair tongs before heading down to impress the same blokes they worked with day in and day out. Incomprehensible.
Twice Harry had glanced over his shoulder in the last ten minutes, certain he'd felt magic being bludgeoned against the flow of traffic. But when he'd looked, there had first been a young couple hurrying against the red and the second time the older gentleman had looked quite convincingly muggle.
Maybe it was embedded into the road itself. Seeing as there were probably plague pits directly below them, it wouldn't be surprising. Bloody City of London, he thought with huge affection.
The third time Harry felt magic trickle across his shoulderblades, Harry nearly didn't look. But the feeling grew until he half-turned, looking out across New Bridge Street to find the source.
And there he was, just a glimpse of him, bright in a blue leather jacket against the dull grey buildings and flashing metal cars.
Harry shifted on the paving stones, stepping backward on one foot as he tried to (without being obvious about it) get a better view. Then, for once obliging, the traffic slowed and he watched as Draco Malfoy weaved his way across the road.
Harry disengaged from the conversation and came out onto the sidewalk to meet him. "Wondered if Hedwig made it in time."
"Good," said Harry. "You're here." Draco's jacket had a high military collar and burnished silver buttons and Harry really wanted to—
"Here I am," Draco agreed. His hand came up to hold Harry in place, his fingers tangled in Harry's hair, sifting and pulling as he angled Harry exactly where he wanted him.
In a perfect alignment of desire, everything skewed as Draco's mouth slanted over his. Kissing him, over and over again; so fucking good: the feeling of Draco's mouth on his, the give to Draco's lips there at the end, then drawing back and kissing him again. Over and over, over and over, good. Fuck.
Panting against each others' mouths now. Harry worked at Draco with rough swipes of his tongue, demanding that he open for him, let him in. Then Draco's mouth fell open and Harry licked at it hungrily, hooking his thumb at the crease to open it even wider so he could drag his tongue at the smooth gums, over the edge of a tooth, into the warm wet. Just like Draco liked to do and served him right.
Dimly, very dimly, he was aware that Seb and the others were hollering something at him. For as long as possible he ignored them, ignored everything except Draco's legs pushing between his and the feeling he was tumbling, everything rushing past him in a stream of light and sound and sensation.
"Potter, oi, Potter!"
He lifted his head reluctantly. Seb was yelling about interest rates. Or something.
"He thinks he's always right," Harry muttered by way of explanation.
"We'll get along then. Going to let me stand you a drink?"
Harry ran his hand through his hair, pulling himself back together. Didn't usually get so lucky on pub nights. "Sounds like a good deal."
"Life." Draco looked up at him, smiling. "Life, Harry Potter, merchant banker, is bloody funny."
~ END ~