When Hippogriffs and Pygmy Puffs Collide

The early morning sky was a clear, azure blue. The kind of intense blue that only appears when there’s an inch of fresh snow on the ground and the threat of frostbite in the air. It was so glorious, in fact, that the two very different birds could be excused for being so enamored of the sun on their feathers and the bite in the air currents they glided on that they didn’t notice each other until it was far too late to avoid a collision. Collide they did, with a walloping thud, and fell to earth in a messy amalgamation of black feathers and grey, great round eyes wide with shock and alarm. They came to rest in, fortunately, a very soft mound of freshly shoveled snow and struggled to stand, dignity in tatters.

The black eagle owl, a handsome fellow with curled horns atop its head and a large beak, did a credible job of looking down said beak at the other party in the collision, a very round, puffy, light grey subspecies of owl, basically unrecognisable as any noble breed other than that it had wings and large, golden eyes. They eyed one another suspiciously for a moment, something of an avian ‘glare-off’, then noticed to the consternation of both that during the mid air catastrophe they’d dropped the missive that each carried. Quickly using feet and beaks to sift through the snow, each found a curled parchment and snatched it up with relief, ignoring the other bird as they lifted gracefully, once again, into flight.

Neither noticed that the ribbon tying the messages they carried was not the colour they’d begun with. But then, it had long been rumoured that owls were colour blind.

oooOOOooo

“You’re going to go blind, you know.”

Draco Malfoy shot a bemused glance over his shoulder at his oldest friend, his brows lowered.

“I beg your pardon?” His voice, always one of his best features he thought, was a slow drawl.

Pansy Parkinson-Zabini-Nott-Smith-Corner-Longbottom looked thoughtfully at her artfully applied French-tipped nails. (Draco often accused her of working her way through each of the Houses at Hogwarts until she’d had to resort to Gryffindors—she countered that it had just taken her a while to find her ‘prince’. The idea that she considered Longbottom her prince made Draco faintly nauseous.) “Or is that deaf?” She pursed her red lacquered lips. “Perhaps you’ll grow hair on your palms?”

Draco shook his head. “That’s supposedly what happens if you wank to excess, you mad bint.” He turned and looked out of the window, studying the sidewalk and store fronts across the cobbled Diagon Alley street. He felt her come up on his left side; well actually, he smelled her. Pansy all but bathed in her perfume and a cloud of “That Old Black Magic” followed her wherever she went. Draco had rolled his eyes when she’d told him the brand name; she said it made infinitely more sense than him wearing ‘Romance’ by Ralph Lauren, which he did, when he so clearly didn’t believe in it. He hadn’t had a witty come back for that.

“Tell me,” she drawled, “that after spying on Potter as he comes to work every day you don’t adjourn to the men’s,” she waved her hand negligently towards his groin, “to take care of little Draco.”

He shot her an outraged look. “I do no such thing,” he protested. He waited until he got home, thank you very much.

“Oh, come on,” she countered. “Even I’ve noticed that he’s aged well.”

Draco sniffed in what he hoped was an appropriately superior manner, but was forced to admit that she was right. At forty-three, the damned man was actually more attractive than he’d been in his youth. Of course, in his youth Potter had been skinny and myopic, with hair more fit for a rat’s nest than for covering a human head. He was still apparently myopic; there were glasses perched on the straight nose when Draco saw him. And the hair was still something that seemed to defy styling gel, but now instead of a long, chaotic mess it was shorter and a stylish disaster. But skinny he was not; the Muggle clothes he favoured showed that off rather nicely. More than once, Draco had stood right where he was, just to get a glimpse of the fetchingly rounded arse in snug jeans as Potter stood on the sidewalk and unlocked to the door to the shop just across and up one.

Draco had been as surprised as everyone else when, at the age of thirty-seven Potter had resigned from the Aurors and simply retired from public life. Up until then, the ruddy bastard had been everywhere; arresting the bad guys in typically heroic fashion, turning up at every Ministry event, being feted every May first as ‘the man who’d saved them all’. But all of that had stopped and Potter had gone underground.

Of course, that didn’t stop the newspapers from speculating, and Draco read each tidbit of gossip voraciously. Potter was going to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts one headline screamed. That never came to be, although Draco had charged Scorpius with the mission to tell him if it happened. Potter was going overseas to help the Americans with their own ‘Dark Lord’ the paper said another time. That wasn’t true either, although to Draco it had sounded like something the berk would do; off to save yet another populace from evil, the arrogant sod. Like no one else could do it.

After a couple of years, the reporters seemed to bore of the whole ‘Potter’ storyline, but the gossip columnists picked up where they left off. Little blind items started appearing, their subject matter thinly veiled. What one-time very public couple is in the midst of a very private and painful divorce? one column said. What heroic gentleman was recently seen stumbling out of a pub, clearly intoxicated? said another. Draco had read it all with ill-concealed glee. No one was a bigger fan of watching the mighty tumble than he was. And then the first bit was confirmed when the Weasley chit sued Potter for divorce on the grounds of ‘irreconcilable differences’, and a picture of them leaving court was splashed all across the front page of the Prophet. Draco would have taken sheer delight in that, if an accompanying photo of their children looking shell-shocked hadn’t given him pause.

If there was one thing that Draco did not find amusing, it was when children got caught in the crossfire.

His own union to Asteria (or was it Astoria? She’d decided to change it after their marriage, God only knew why, and he could never remember which one she used) had been a sham from the beginning, but she’d understood that. It was a contract; nothing more, nothing less. Draco managed to impregnate her without losing his dinner first, which was something of an accomplishment. She’d had Scorpius exactly nine months and three days later, and he’d become the nurturing parent while she’d gone off to Scotland with a lover. It had all be so very civilised; after all, she’d known from the moment he’d proposed that he preferred men. He’d made no secret of the fact. She hadn’t cared; with her betrothal contract came a rather sizable deposit to a private vault at Gringotts in her name, one which had quadrupled in size when Scorpius was born. Asteria was not maternal, but that suited Draco just fine; he was. And when she had fallen quite desperately in love just shy of Scorpius’s thirteenth birthday, and begged Draco for a divorce so that she could ‘finally marry for love’, he’d been more than happy to oblige her. And yet even so, Scorpius had ended up in the middle when his mother had suddenly decided that unlike every other year of his young life, she felt the need to have him with her during Christmas and for half of the summers. Apparently she’d been desperate to show the new man in her life, who wanted children, what a wonderful mother she was; Draco had not been amused.

The protracted battle had been ugly. Draco had been forced to trot out her many men; to the delight of the gossip columnists, she’d done the same. Draco was not ashamed of who he was, but he’d flinched at the idea that his son was hearing some of the more salacious details of his personal life. Pictures of his unhappy child began to appear in the papers, and Draco was on the verge of telling Asteria she could have whatever she wanted if she’d call off her attorneys when he’d received a note from her, saying she was dropping her suit for joint custody. He’d been flabbergasted, unable to discern what might have made her change her mind. It was two years before his son told him what had happened; Scorpius had gone to his mother and told her that since he did not know her and had no desire to, he could not imagine why she wanted him for holidays unless it was to cause pain to his father, and he simply refused to participate. Draco had not believed that he could love anyone more than he’d loved Scorpius in that moment, but the memories of his haunted face splashed across the pages of some news rag during the custody battle had stayed with Draco for a long time.

He’d hoped the Potter children weren’t forced to endure the same.

The details of the joint custody agreement the now-split Potters had settled on had been relayed in the media in every minute detail. James and Albus, sixteen and fourteen, respectively, and Lily, aged twelve, spent a large portion of the year at Hogwarts and therefore were only shuttled between their parents during holidays and summer breaks. For a while paparazzi had followed the family at each exchange, but when the Potters neither threw curses or hexes at one another, the media got bored and went away.

After that, information about Potter had been sporadic at best. The papers lost interest, so anything that Draco heard could only be considered gossip, but some of it was very, very interesting gossip. Like the night he’d heard that a young man was saying he’d actually been shagged by the great and wonderful Potter, himself.

He’d been in one of the gay bars he frequented having drinks with Blaise when that little tidbit had been making the rounds, but he’d waved it off as wishful thinking by one of the fanboys who had been ‘Potter struck’. After all, he’d attended the same boarding school with the prat for six years; if there had been any of that going on, he’d have known about it. The ‘Gay Hogwarts Alliance’ was small, made up of all four houses, and uncannily adept at spotting their own. Potter had been somewhat backward romantically during his teens, but he’d had more pressing things on his mind than fucking or being fucked, unlike the rest of them. Well, unlike he had been until his sixth year, Draco recalled. After that, fucking had been moved to the back burner for him, as well. The war had ended a number of carefree adolescent phases prematurely. Even so, he’d never heard a single whisper about Potter being gay. Not a one.

But the ‘rumor that could not be verified’ started a hundred fantasies in Draco’s head. Most of them centered around sixth year, before the fateful afternoon in the men’s loo. He concentrated on all of the times he’d known that Potter was following him, those green eyes following his every move, or Potter trailing him down shadowed halls, skulking around corners. Now, in his mind, he’d let Potter catch him and the resulting flights of fancy were both arousing and potent. He came harder to those wanks than he’d ever come in his life and that was faintly infuriating, especially given the fact that once Potter’s divorce was final, he effectively disappeared. There was nothing, absolute nothing about Potter for the next three years.

And then one afternoon a year and a half before, he’d been sitting near the front window, the very one he stood in now, and he’d noticed activity in the long abandoned shop across the street. Someone was in there, cleaning and bustling about, but Draco hadn’t paid much attention until he’d seen the one and only Potter stepping out through the door late in the afternoon, pocketing the key. The next morning a new sign had gone up across the front window, reading; Edible Enchantments, and beneath that had been painted, Cakes and treats for the child in all of us.

Draco had been flummoxed. Cakes? Potter was going to sell cakes? He’d been even more flabbergasted when he found out that not only was Potter opening a bakery, but he was the head baker, decorator and pastry chef. Potter, the most powerful wizard of the modern age, was going to decorate wedding and birthday and baby shower cakes?

When Pansy, the most gifted ferret of gossip ever to draw air, had told him that yes, indeed, Potter apparently had spent the last two and half years excelling in a French culinary academy, Draco had laughed until he’d wept. ‘Potter the Pie Man’ he began to call him, and his friends and co-workers had laughed right along with him. Until the shop had opened, and been an almost immediate, resounding success.

Draco wanted to pass it off as being attributable to Potter’s fame; “bunch of wanna be star fuckers” he’d mumbled. Then Pansy had arrived one day with a box of scones, daring him to taste them. Draco had rolled his eyes, but the moment he’d bitten into the cinnamon apple confection, and it had melted on his tongue, he knew that he was tasting genius. Potter, it seemed, could bake.

Draco never went over to the small, attractive shop himself, at least not during business hours He could see the crowds of people who milled about inside and didn’t want to be seen. But he had wandered over a couple of times after Potter had gone for the day, peering through the windows. The displays were artfully done, the color scheme of pale and mid to dark tones of blue surprising. Frankly, Draco was surprised that the place wasn’t painted scarlet and Gryffindor gold. It was as far from that as possible. There were dainty tables with Wedgewood blue clothes that hung straight to the black and white tiled floor, their surfaces stacked with small white boxes tied with dark blue ribbon, filled with every sort of baked confection. The walls were striped with alternating, complimentary blues, and the sign on the wall behind the counter, listing items and prices, was in elegant script. Long glass cases held cakes and pies and scones and assorted biscuits, and even through the window, just the sight of them made Draco salivate. The shop looked immaculately clean and was homey without being crafty, and Draco couldn’t help but admire the skill with which it had been put together. On the whole, Potter had made a creditable job of it, and as he’d crossed the street to his own business, as different from Potter’s as the sun is to the moon, he felt a grudging admiration for the man.

Honestly, he thought, why shouldn’t Potter bake cakes and be good at it? After all, everyone, including his father, had expected his own business to fail, and it hadn’t. It wasn’t as wildly successful as Exquisite Eatables, or whatever the hell Potter called his little shop. But then, he thought a bit wryly, Potter did have a bit of a leg up on him in the P.R. department, even with the messy divorce.

“Ah, and there he is now!” Pansy crowed, and Draco was startled from his musings just in time to see Potter pause before the blue door across the street and slip his wand from the sleeve of his black jacket, apparently dismantling wards so that he could unlock the door. His hair looked bluish-black in the bright sunlight and blew in the slight breeze, and his jacket, turned up at the collar around his neck, was just long enough that it covered his bum completely. Damn it. Still Draco stood there, watching the broad shoulders and the efficient, economical movements until Potter had entered the shop and closed the door behind him.

“Who are we spying on?”

Draco turned, a smile lifting his lips just as the sight lifted his heart. His son was standing in the doorway to the back room, tall and solid and far, far more handsome than Draco had ever dreamed of being, for all that people said they looked alike. Perhaps their faces were similar, but Scorpius had broad shoulders and a man’s deep chest, even at eighteen, obviously a trait inherited from his mother’s side. Draco had always been willowy and slender, with a Seeker’s build he still had. Scorpius had spent three years playing Beater for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team.

“Your father is Potter-stalking.” Pansy went to Scorpius and went up on her toes. He bent his head dutifully so that she could kiss him on the cheek. “Tell him to stop; it’s so Hogwarts.”

“Oh, stow it, you cow.” Draco sent her a withering look, then went to his son, his arms open. He felt warmth fill him from his head to his toes when Scorpius accepted the unspoken invitation and pulled him into a hearty hug. He felt strong and firm, and Draco squeezed his shoulders. After a moment, he stepped back, his hands still curled around Scorpius’s sturdy biceps. He smiled into his son’s grey eyes. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Scorpius shrugged. “Just thought I’d drop by and make sure you were eating right.” He frowned slightly as he studied his father’s face. “Which, you aren’t. You’re too thin.”

Draco made a disparaging sound. “I’m not,” he countered. “I’ve always been lean.” He turned and walked toward his chair, checking to make certain that Millie, his night time cleaning lady, had done her job. The floors were immaculate, the bins emptied, the tables and equipment gleaming. If there was one thing that he insisted on, it was that everyone who worked for him maintain the highest levels of cleanliness. No one was going to walk away from his business with an infection if he had anything to say about it.

Draco’s fascination with tattoos hadn’t begun with the one burned into his arm when he was sixteen. In fact, just the thought of that night, on his knees in the firelight, stripped to his waist while that horror had been seared into his skin until he’d fainted from the pain, made him feel sick. No, it had begun after the war, when he’d gone to Merry Barnstable, the most renowned tattoo witch of the age, and begged her to remove it. All of four foot seven and as round as she was tall, dressed in shawls and wraps like a gypsy, her grey hair streamed down her back and her eyes were black rimmed with kohl. She’d stared into his eyes for a long time before her gaze had softened.

“It can’t be done, child,” she’d said gently. “He made quite certain of that, I’m afraid.”

Draco had been all but in tears as he’d turned to go, but she’d caught his arm. “I can, however,” she went on, “turn it into something you aren’t ashamed to be going on with.”

In spite of himself, Draco had been intrigued, and he’d instantly agreed. And Merry had been as good as her promise. The skull was gone, buried under a layer of vines and flowers that began on the back of Draco’s left hand and curled around his arm, turning the snake into a climbing flowering bush; narcissus blooms, in remembrance of his mother, who had died not long after the final battle. It was a beautiful thing, covering his forearm, upper arm, shoulder and upper back, and Merry had even added his mother’s name at his request, around his wrist, with the dates of her birth and death in flowing script.

He’d been captivated by the tattoo from the moment Merry had lifted the needle from his skin, but it wasn’t until he’d been looking at it in a mirror, and she’d touched it with her wand, that the true magic had happened. As he’d watched, mesmerized, the vine had moved sinuously over his pale skin and around his arm, the tight buds bursting into full bloom, the colors of the flowers glowing faintly. He’d stood there with tears slipping down his cheeks as the helplessness of his youth was turned into something beautiful and fine. When he’d tried to pay Merry for her work, she merely shook her grey head, and said, “Come back tomorrow, and we’ll discuss what you can do to work it off.”

And Draco, who had spent his formative years being told that pureblood’s simply didn’t work, had gone back without question. He’d been twenty-four, lost and without a direction other than his father’s assertion that he had to marry and beget an heir. Merry became his friend and mentor, taught him everything she knew and then left him the business when she’d died six years before. Draco Malfoy, heir to the Malfoy fortune, such as it was, and pureblood back generations, had taken up a trade and hadn’t looked back since.

Now, knowing his son was watching him, Draco sat in his chair and examined his equipment, then slipped on his reading glasses and checked his book to see who his first client was of the day. He grimaced when he saw ‘Bertrande DeMile’ entered next to ten o’clock.

“Who took another appointment with DeMile?” he asked, glaring at Pansy over the rims of the half glasses.

“I did.” She sat behind the nearby desk, crossing her legs casually at the knee. “He pays, on time.”

“He’s a bloody pain in my arse.” Draco scowled. “And about the only skin left on him un-inked is in areas I’d just as soon not be forced to look at, thanks ever so.”

Scorpius laughed. “He still trying to get in your pants?” He smirked as he came to lean against his father’s leather table.

Draco shot him an arch look. “What are you doing?” He gave his son a quelling frown. “You touch the surface and I’ll have to sterilize the entire thing again.” Scorpius straightened, his expression amused at his father’s poorly concealed attempt to change the subject. When he merely arched a brow at him, Draco sighed dramatically. “I scarcely think who is or is not trying to find their way into my trousers is any of your business.”

“In other words, yes.”

Draco looked up at him again, but wasn’t immune to the glamour of that white smile, and those sparkling light eyes.

“Face it, Pops,” his son went on. “You’re hot.”

Draco removed his glasses pointedly. “Who are you calling ‘Pops’? That’s disgusting. Were you raised in a barn?”

“Owlery.”

Draco could no longer hold his scowl, his lips twitching against his smile. “You’re an incorrigible brat,” he muttered, but his voice wasn’t remotely stern.

“I know.” Scorpius crossed his arms over his chest. “I take after my old man. Who, clearly, isn’t eating enough.”

Now Draco rolled his eyes. “Fine. Pansy, give this wretch some money from the register and send him across the street. You,” he said to his son, “may buy the most nauseatingly fattening things your eyes behold, bring them back here and eat them, and then stop using my appetite or lack thereof as an excuse for mooching.”

Scorpius straightened, his eyes brightening and he went to Pansy, who had opened the cash register drawer and was holding out her hand. “He likes the chocolate croissants,” she whispered sotto voce, dropping change into his palm. “And the apple cinnamon scones.”

“Thanks, Auntie.” Scorpius leaned across the counter and bussed her on the cheek. “What do you like?”

“The cherry tarts, but I’ll lie if you ever repeat it.”

He winked at her and started to turn, then looked up at the sign on the wall. “Dad, are you ever going to remove that thing? Didn’t Miss Merry hang it?”

Draco looked over and saw what Scorpius was looking at, and a pensive smile pulled at his lips. “She did,” he answered. “And no. You’d be surprised how many people still ask about it.”

“Huh.” Scorpius shook his fair head. “World’s full of utter tits.” He left the shop with a spring in his step, and Draco watched him fondly, grateful his youth had been unmarred by the violence that had marked his own.

“Truer words were never spoken, son of mine,” he murmured, watching until Scorpius disappeared through the blue door across the street, then turning to read for perhaps the ten thousandth time the sign Merry had posted.

NO, it said in bright red letters which had faded with age. We will not ink a bloody Dark Mark onto your arm. DON’T EVEN FUCKING ASK.

oooOOOooo

Harry Potter stood at the waist-high table, a pastry bag in his hand, sleeves of his white chef’s coat rolled to his elbows. He was adding an elegant mocha coloured and flavoured ‘L’ to the top of a tray of black velvet cupcakes covered in dark chocolate ganache. They were a new recipe, developed expressly for Mrs Longbottom’s one hundredth birthday, an accompaniment to go with the towering six-tiered chocolate cake that stood on a table behind him.

Knowing the woman’s exacting standards, he was making very certain that his piping was impeccable. Mrs Longbottom could be an obnoxious old pain the arse, but she was also an excellent customer. And Neville was a valued friend, and since Harry was going to be attending the party being held in Nev’s grandmother’s honour, he wanted to make sure that everything was perfect. He had just added the last elegant curl to the final ‘L’ when he heard the bell in the outer shop ring brightly.

He paid no attention; during the hours of seven to eleven it rang almost constantly. Besides, Lily was on the counter, and his daughter, even at sixteen, was the best shop manager he’d had in the year and a half he’d been open. Harry was always glad when Hogwarts hols came around; Lily loved being in the shop and was determined to come to work for her father when she finished the following year. She was pretty, like her mother, and charming, also like Ginny, and very bright and friendly but astoundingly business savvy. She knew just how to turn a sale of one dozen tarts into two, which customers to take care of herself and which to schedule for appointments with her busy father. And so far, when she was working the early morning hours, their receipts had nearly doubled, mostly from business men stopping by to purchase pastries on their way to work. Harry knew that the product the bakery produced, almost entirely from his hands, was excellent, but that wasn’t what was bringing in the men at eight a.m.

At first, it had bothered him a bit, thinking of all of those blokes, old enough to be Lily’s father or even grandfather, coming in to flirt with his pretty daughter. Then he watched her in action; her teasing interaction with them, the way she was friendly but never too friendly, and how surprisingly professional she was for someone her age. His admiration had been tinged with a good deal of paternal pride. She might have her mother’s looks and her father’s (and grandmother’s) green eyes, but Lily Potter was an original unto herself.

Harry lifted the tray of cakes and carried them to the table next to the huge birthday cake, settling them down carefully. He then withdrew his wand from a holster on his hip, and uttering a soft spell under his breath, executed a simple wand motion in the air. Slowly, the two dozen cupcakes lifted from the tray and began to climb in a swirl around the multi-tiered creation, which began to turn slowly. The piped swags on each layer glittered gold in the shops lights, and the marzipan ‘100’ on the top filled with a soft inner light. When the entirety of the creation was turning, cupcakes spinning slightly in mid air, miniature fireworks began to shoot from behind the numerals, exploding with soft pops in brilliant reds, gold and greens. Harry smiled; he’d have to owl George and let him know that the small, fireless and smokeless pyrotechnics were perfect.

Harry watched the entire display with an exacting eye for several minutes. When he was satisfied with the results, he waved his wand again, stopping the fireworks and miniaturising the whole of it, sending the cupcakes into one small box with a flick of his wrist, and the cake into another. He cast a stasis charm so that nothing would shift during delivery, then a nearby roll of clear plastic wrap began to move automatically, unseen hands carefully wrapping each small box separately, then the two together. Harry set the completed order on a back counter, then holstered his wand, turning to study the large board on the back wall. The expanse was labeled across the top with Sunday through Saturday, and under Friday was written; ‘Longbottom, six tiered choc/choc celebration cake with two dozen blk/choc gan and mocha cupcakes, for delivery 12/14’. As Harry watched, the entry was crossed out with red ink, and under it appeared; ‘HP hand deliver to Neville Longbottom’s, six p.m.’. Harry nodded with satisfaction, then began to study the rest of the entries for that day. There was only one; ‘bake sixteen yellow sheets for construct on Hanratty b-day cake Saturday a.m.’.

’If the old bat ever sends me the finalised design’, he thought uncharitably, but Eloise Hanratty was on his last nerve. “The cake must serve at least two hundred,” she’d said grandly, then had no idea what she wanted it to look like. It was for her eight year old grandson, Jeffrey, but when she’d mentioned a pygmy puff or a fairy castle, he’d tactfully suggested that she might want to run it by the boy first. Harry couldn’t imagine an eight year old boy not dying of mortification at having such a thing at his party. The old cow had been highly insulted, saying ‘she thought she knew her grandson a good deal better than a baker, even if he was Harry Potter’. But, she’d said she’d send the final design via her owl. That had been Tuesday, it was Friday, and the cake was due for an eleven a.m. delivery. All he could do now was bake enough cake for her guest list, and hope she sent him something soon. After he got those cakes in the oven, he could begin work on the pastries for the Saturday morning rush.

He turned toward his larder to fetch the ingredients, then grimaced. Crap. He was nearly out of flour; he’d have Lily send Giles, their delivery ‘boy’. (Boy was a misnomer; Giles was ninety if he was a day, slightly stooped and distinctly hard of hearing. And if Lily had asked, he’d have hung a new moon for her.)

Harry went back to his bench and took up a quill to make a list for the market. Perhaps he should have Giles pick up more nutmeg, as well, he thought. And more icing sugar. He had miniature plum puddings to make for the next day and he didn’t want to run out. He couldn’t keep the miniature confections in stock this near to Christmas, and he already had orders for thirty of the large ones to be picked up Christmas Eve. As the list beneath his quill grew, he thought perhaps he’d have to do this trip himself; the last thing he needed was Giles down with his back again, and the old man’s magic was temperamental, at best.

When Harry was eighteen and fresh off of the defeat of Voldemort, his goals had been simple. Become an Auror and marry Ginny and have a family. Not necessarily in that order.

His plan to become an Auror had begun immediately; the Ministry had been in desperate need, and he and Ron had sailed through their training, mostly due to the fact that Kingsley had said that their war experiences had left them already uniquely qualified. Harry would have cause to question that when they found themselves in some near misses during the first few years, but eventually, he and Ron had been the top two Aurors in the department, and had deserved the distinction.

In regard to marrying Ginny, that had happened, too. Eventually. She had surprised him by wanting to ‘stretch her wings’ a bit first, and so he’d waited for her while she’d spent five seasons playing professional Quidditch for the Harpies. Well, ‘waited’ might be a bit of a stretch. They’d both seen other people by mutual agreement. Harry had dated a few women initially, all built pretty much like Ginny; strong, slender, small-breasted. Then one night, when he’d been twenty-two and very, very drunk, he’d been approached by an extremely beautiful blonde with a smoky voice who’d propositioned him with a sly smile. He’d been in her room before he’d discovered that the willowy girl with the large, doe-like blue eyes was in actuality a slender, pale, light-eyed boy.

Harry had been horrified at first. He didn’t do ‘blokes’, he’d stammered. The boy had merely smiled at him, and slipped to his knees at Harry’s feet. What he’d done with his mouth had been a miracle, and after that, Harry had been more than amenable to fucking him. Twice. Well, two and half times, if you counted the inexperienced blow job Harry had been convinced to try somewhere in the darkest hours of the night. He’d come four times that night, harder than he ever had in his life.

Apparently, when properly motivated, Harry did, indeed, do blokes.

That night had created something of an identity crisis for Harry. He threw himself into dating women after that, sleeping with so many of them that even Ron, who was no slouch himself in the pulling department while he and Hermione were on one of their ‘breaks’, had told him he needed to cut back.

“You’re beginning to look a bit of a man whore, mate,” his friend had said. “Gin’s tolerant, but none of her brothers are going to want her settling down with a bloke who’s fucked half of London.” His usually genial blue eyes had hardened. “Not even me.”

Harry had cut back after that, becoming a good deal more discreet, but he had something to prove to himself. He wasn’t a poof, he’d argued with his reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t.

One night, he’d met Dean and Seamus for drinks at the Leaky. They’d been laughing and comparing sexual antics, mostly because the irrepressible Seamus had dozens of hilarious, randy stories to share. (“I swear to you, mate. The woman had a mouth you couldn’t believe, but it’ll put a bloke right off his game when she mounts him and starts singing ‘God Save the Queen’ at the top of her lungs.”) Harry had been both alarmed and startled when Dean had quietly admitted that he’d been with both women and the occasional man.

“Seriously?” Seamus had stared at him, his face a mask of drunken bewilderment. “Where to you put your cock, mate?”

Dean had given him a baleful look. “You cannot be that stupid. Blokes are just short a hole. And they know exactly how to suck a man off, Seamus. Don’t knock what you haven’t tried.”

Seamus smirked. “Like anyone could actually swallow that monster of yours.” Dean’s cock had been something of a legend while they’d all been at Hogwarts; even Harry had eyed it with admiration tinged with awe. “So… you’re a poof, then?” Seamus hadn’t looked horrified when he asked, just confused.

“Ever heard the term bisexual?” Dean lifted his pint and took a drink, eyeing them over the rim of his glass. Harry had nodded eagerly, his interest piqued while Seamus had continued to frown. Dean put his drink on the table, staring directly into Harry’s eyes. “I like both, and I’m not ashamed of it. Besides, some women actually complain about my size. Trust me; men don’t.” There had been something entirely too knowing in Dean’s black eyes, and Harry had looked away quickly.

Harry had reached for that explanation like a lifeline; he liked both. That was okay, he told himself eagerly. He liked both. Of course, he preferred women, Ginny in particular, but he could perform with both. Why that was so important to him, he could never say.

During a visit over Valentine’s day that year, Ginny told Harry that while she loved traveling and playing Quidditch, she was ready to take an early retirement and settle down. Delighted and relieved, Harry had instantly asked her to marry him, and they’d celebrated by spending the next two days in bed. When Ginny began throwing up every morning six weeks later, they knew that they had a hasty wedding to plan.

Harry was twenty-three years old when he married his childhood sweetheart during a well-attended ceremony at the Burrow. It was reminiscent of Bill and Fleur’s, thankfully absent the invasion of the Death Eaters. Just after Harry’s twenty-fourth birthday James Sirius was born, and when his son was placed in his arms for the first time Harry understood absolute, utter happiness.

And he and Gin were happy. Very happy. Two years after Jamie was born, Albus Severus arrived with his black hair and solemn eyes. Two years after that, they had Lily, whose sunny disposition made light seem to fill every room she was in. His job was going well, his kids were healthy and happy, and he had a beautiful wife. All was well in his world; things were as they should be. And if the occasional fit bloke caught his eye, he was able to ignore him. Mostly. But he was faithful to Ginny; he didn’t believe in cheating. He’d taken his vows very seriously.

And it wasn’t like things were lacking in the bedroom. They most certainly weren’t. Ginny retained her lithe, athletic body even after having three kids, and she was a fun and inventive partner. Of course, she’d shocked the hell out of him the first time she’d slipped her finger up his arse during a blow job, but he hadn’t hated it. Quite the contrary. And when she’d admitted being sexually involved for a brief time with a team mate named Anna, Harry had found himself at a loss for words, but instantly intrigued by the mental image. She even had a strap on that she’d showed him, not horribly large but flesh toned, and the sight of her wearing the leather harness with the curved, hard cock standing at attention had been incredibly arousing. So much so that when she’d been blowing him and asked if he wanted her to fuck him, her mouth still pressed to his prick, he rolled to his stomach and gotten to his hands and knees, not wanting to look at her but trembling in anticipation.

It had hurt like a bitch, even though she’d been careful with him; so much so that his erection had wilted and he’d been ready to call it a day. But once she’d established a firm, steady rhythm, leaning over his back to grip his cock and pump it in rhythm to her thrusts, he’d curled his fingers hard in the pillow beneath his head, bitten down on the white linen and come so hard he’d seen stars in front of his eyes.

After that, they’d tried lots of things; Ginny was very inventive, and utterly fearless. Harry discovered a number of things about his beautiful wife during the next eight years. Ginny liked to be tied up, she liked some light sadomasochism (quite a bit more than he did, actually; he wasn’t into pain), she liked both dominating and being dominated. She was lithe and flexible and funny, and they laughed nearly as much as they fucked. His life seemed perfect; by the time Lily was one year short of Hogwarts and the boys were all ready there, Harry was ready to have the house, and his adventurous wife, to himself.

He’d never forget the night everything had fallen apart. The boys had left for Hogwarts the day before, and Lily, feeling lonely, was spending the night with Ron and Hermione and their son, Hugo, just Lil’s age. Harry had stopped off on his way home from the Ministry to buy a bottle of wine and some of the strawberry flavored lube that Gin favored, thinking they maybe what she needed was good old fashioned tussle in the bedroom. She’d seemed preoccupied for the last few weeks; she’d taken a job as a sports reporter for the Prophet the year before, and had worked late several nights recently, ‘up against deadlines’, she’d told him. He’d missed her, and was looking forward to having her all to himself.

He knew that something was off the moment he stepped into their house. It was quiet, and dark, but he knew that Ginny was home; there was fire burning on the hearth in the sitting room, and he could see it from the entry way. He hung up his outer robes, a relief to have the heavy red wool off of his shoulders, and walked quietly into the firelit room, the bottle in his hand and the lube in his pocket.

She’d been sitting on the sofa, her hands linked around her knees, her fingers white-knuckled, they were clenched together so tightly. Her face looked pale and drawn, and she was staring into the flames. She didn’t even turn her head when he walked up to her. Alarmed, Harry knelt near her feet.

“What is it, Gin? What’s wrong?”

She turned to look at him then, and he hadn’t been reassured by the wariness in her eyes.

“Ginny, for God’s sakes, tell me what’s the matter.”

She’d swallowed heavily, blinking. “I’ve been offered a promotion,” she said finally, her voice tentative. “It’s a major step up, Harry. Head Reporter for International Quidditch.”

Harry was confused. “But… isn’t that a good thing?”

“It’s a huge increase in salary, along with a lot more responsibility.”

Harry forced a smile, still bewildered by her attitude. “But sweetheart, that’s wonderful!” he said, his hand covering hers. It was icy, and he felt another surge of concerned alarm. “I mean, you love reporting on Quidditch, don’t you?”

She nodded, her beautiful auburn hair brushing her chin. “I do,” she said. “But… it means I’d be on the road eight months out of every year. I’d be gone… a lot.”

He’d sat back on his heels, his hand dropping away from hers. Eight months out of every year? He blinked.

“Do you have to give them your answer right now? I mean, that’s a lot to think about…” His voice trailed away at the look in her eyes; sad, but resolved. He sat on the floor. “You already told them you’d do it.”

She hesitated, then nodded.

Harry inhaled then exhaled slowly, trying to settle himself, trying to beat back sudden anger tinged with confusion. “You don’t think you should have discussed this with me, first?”

She hesitated again. “I’ve worked hard for this, Harry,” she said softly. “I’ve earned it, and I want it. And you know very well that you’re about to be promoted, as well, which will mean more hours on your job, too.”

It was true; Kingsley was going to step down, and Harry knew damned well that he was next in line for Chief Auror. He stared into the cinnamon brown eyes. “I’d not decided that I was going to take it, Gin. I’m not sure I want it.” That was true as well; being an Auror had lost some of its sheen, particularly after Ron had resigned and gone to work with George, taking Fred’s place as vice president of WWW.

“You’re the only one who can decide what you want,” Ginny said. “I know what I want, and I want this job.” She looked so resolved that he didn’t know what to say. “I’ll be gone eight months out of every year,” she went on, her face beginning to shine with excitement. “In Bulgaria and Holland and France. In America. I’ll be traveling all of the time, between September and June. I’ll only be in England if the team can manage a run at the World Cup.” She angled her head, her hair brushing her shoulder, a wry look on her face. “We both know how unlikely that is, especially this year.”

“This year?” Harry frowned. “You mean…”

“I’ll be leaving, yes,” she answered. “On Monday, actually.”

Harry felt as if she’d hit him in the head with a Beater’s bat. He shook it slightly. “You’re leaving on Monday. What about Lily?” Now, the anger began to eat through the confusion. Ginny looked down at her hands.

“She’s in school in the day time, and I’ve already spoken to Mum; she’ll pick her up and take her to the Burrow, at least until you can come and fetch her. She’ll be with you on weekends; if you have a case, Mum will take her.”

Harry stared; he knew his mouth had dropped open. “So, you’ve already got it all sorted, have you?” He was angry, and sounded it. “You’ve planned my life for me. Single parenthood was not what I signed on for, Ginny.”

“Lily will be leaving for Hogwarts in a year, Harry,” she argued. “And this opportunity will be gone by then.” He stood and turned his back on her, his hands on his hips. “This was not an easy decision!” she said from behind him, her own temper flaring. “I talked to Mum, who’s not happy with me either, for your information, in order to make this transition easier for you!.”

He turned on her, his eyes wide. “Make it easier for me?” he said incredulously. “What about Lily, Gin? What about her feelings? And the boys? Did you think about them at all?”

She stared at him, the freckles on her nose standing out in bold relief against her pallor. “Of course, I did,” she answered, sounding suffocated. “The leagues take breaks over Christmas, so I’ll always be home for the holidays, and the World Cup is during the summer. They can go with me, Harry. They’ll love it! You know that!”

They would; the kids would love it. And the boys would scarcely notice the difference if she were home for the Christmas hols. Lily would be the one most impacted; sunny, funny little Lily.

“I don’t know how you can do this to her,” he said, his voice very low. “I don’t know how you can go off and leave your daughter, for some… job.”

Anger flared on Ginny’s face for the first time. “It’s not like she’s going to miss me that much; she’s yours, Harry. She always has been. As long as she has you, she’ll be fine and you know it.”

He stared at her, gobsmacked. Part of him recognised that she was right; Lily had always been more Harry’s child. She adored her dad, and made no secret of it. But another part of him began to feel dangerously close to tears; she was leaving him, then. She was leaving them.

“Gin,” he said softly, his voice sounding lost even to his own ears. “We’re a family…”

She stared at him, her eyes sad. “Harry, we won’t be less of a family if we’re not together all of the time. They will always be my children, and I love them. You know that.”

Her omission wasn’t lost on him. She loved the children. But where did that leave him? He waited, but when she didn’t speak again, he had his answer.

“I…see.” He took a step back and carefully placed the bottle of wine on an end table, when what he wanted to do was throw it against a far wall. “I see.”

She took a step towards him, her hand extended. “Harry…”

He raised his own hand palm out. It was trembling. “No, I get it.”

“Harry,” she said quickly, seeming to understand her error. “I love you, you know that!” He gave her a skeptical look, and she looked wounded. “How can you even question that?”

“The fact that you’re about to walk out on me helps.” His voice was harsh and she flinched.

“That isn’t fair.” She shook her head. “It isn’t, and you know it. Harry, this is the opportunity of a lifetime,” she went on quickly, her tone begging him to understand. “Once they fill this position, there might not be another opening for years. If I don’t take it now, there might not ever be another chance. Don’t you see? Once the kids are all at Hogwarts…” she spread her hands. “Months, Harry. Months of long evenings and empty weekends…”

“With just me for company.” His voice sounded flat. “I get it.”

“I don’t think you do.” She stepped close to him and lifted her hand, but he flinched away from her touch. She let her hand fall to her side limply. “Harry,” she murmured, her voice entreating, “for fourteen years, I’ve been ‘Mrs. Harry Potter’, and I’ve loved every moment of it.” He gave her a skeptical look. “I have! You know I have. But this is an opportunity for me to do something, be something, because I’m good at it.” She spread her hand on her chest. “Something for me! Don’t I deserve that?”

He stared at her, unable to look away from the plea in her eyes, his heart sinking. She had a point, and he knew it.

Ginny had been perfect for all of those years. His helpmate, his playmate, she’d taken him as he was, understood him, supported him. Her life had revolved around the children, and him. She’d held his hand when he’d been forced on two occasions to kill a suspect, she’d been at his bedside every time he’d been injured, and there had been many. She’d loved him and supported him through every decision that he’d made. He’d never once considered that doing that for him, being that for him, might not be enough for her.

He inhaled sharply, then lifted his chin, trying very hard to school his features into a mask of calm. “So,” he said at length, “where do you go first?”

She blinked quickly, her eyes awash with relieved tears. “Germany, for the International Quidditch Symposium.” She clutched her hands to her chest. “I’ll be the only authorised reporter from Great Britain, Harry. The only one!”

In that moment, she looked so excited, so happy, that he didn’t have it in him to ruin it for her. So instead, he pasted what felt like the fakest smile of his life on his face. “That’s brilliant, Gin,” he said with what he hoped was convincing enthusiasm. “Just brilliant.”

“Oh, Harry!” She ran to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, and slowly, he returned her embrace. “We’ll make it work,” she said against his ear. “I just know we will.”

He wasn’t nearly as convinced of that as she sounded.

He was surprised, and not a little relieved, when at first it actually did seem to be okay. Lily had not been even remotely traumatised when Ginny had told her she’d be leaving for a job; she had looked up at Harry instead, green eyes guileless.

“You’re not going, are you, Daddy?” She asked. He’d shaken his head, then intercepted his wife’s wry look over their daughter’s bright head. He hadn’t said anything; he hadn’t needed to.

The night before Gin left, she’d come to bed naked and made love to him for hours, using every inventive technique she had. Harry would be lying if he said he hadn’t enjoyed it, but he couldn’t help but think of it as a pity fuck. He also couldn’t help but wonder if it was the last time.

When Gin stepped into the Floo with her luggage, Harry was there, holding Lily’s hand. He’d taken the morning off, just to make sure that Lily was all right. When the hearth went dark and Ginny was gone, she’d looked up and asked if they could go for ice cream. He took here to Fortesque’s with a mingling of relief and guilt. How had he not noticed that Lily so obviously favoured him? It made him question his judgment in a number of areas.

After two months, dropping Lily off at the Burrow in the mornings and picking her up in the evenings became routine. Molly got her to her Magical ‘preliminary school’ as they called it, by nine a.m., and picked her up in the afternoon. They made cookies, and art projects, and Molly seemed to enjoy Lily’s company. Gin Floo’d twice a week from wherever she was, talked to Lily, then talked to Harry, but he couldn’t help the feeling that, with each successive Floo call, his wife was slipping further and further away. And then he’d been out of the Ministry on a case, and Lily had fallen down the stairs at the Burrow and struck her head, hard, on the banister.

Ron had been the one who had found him in a marsh in Scotland, up to his knees in boggy water as he’d turned his apprehended suspects over to another Auror.

Ron ran up to him, sloshing through the muck, his face pale and his eyes wide. Harry knew immediately something was very wrong.

“What…?” he said, grabbing Ron’s arms.

“Lily,” his friend answered breathlessly. “Fell down the stairs. Hit her head. Mum’s taken her to St. Mungo’s…”

Harry, his heart in his throat, hadn’t waited for another word. He’d grabbed Ron to him and Apparated them both.

As it turned out, Lily was fine. She’d been unconscious for about ten minutes, just long enough for the Weasleys to assemble and Harry to be sent for. She’d come to with a headache and a bump on her head, a laceration at her hairline that needed mending, and a mediwitch’s diagnosis of a concussion. She was sitting up in bed when Harry arrived, a truly impressive bandage wrapped around her forehead and a gaggle of Weasley’s around her. All but one; Ginny was not there.

Harry sat next to his daughter on the bed and pulled her into his arms, so relieved that he felt tears fill his eyes. “You’re all right,” he kept saying, stroking her curls. “You’re all right.”

“Daddy, you’re scrunching me!” she complained finally, and he released her, only to stare into her wide eyes.

“You scared me,” he said, cupping her face between his hands. “Don’t ever do that again.”

Her lower lip quivered. “I didn’t mean to; I slipped.”

He saw the tears that filled her eyes, and pulled her back into an embrace. “I know, baby,” he murmured, touching her head gently. “I know.”

This time she didn’t complain about his embrace, and she fell asleep in his arms.

He stayed with her through the night at St. Mungo’s. They’d wanted to keep her, just to be sure there were no after affects of the fall, and he agreed. Ginny finally arrived at nearly midnight, looking haggard but relieved that Lily was all right, but had to turn around and go back to Germany for a press conference the following morning. After she left, Harry sat, staring into the dark, for a very long time, Lily a sweet weight across his lap.

For all of his life, it seemed, he’d wanted a family. He hadn’t had one when he was growing up, and he’d felt the lack for every one of the days until a Healer had placed James in his arms. He loved Ginny, and he loved her family, but James and Albus and Lily were his. And if anything happened to any one of them, he knew he’d never be able to live with himself. The next morning, after checking Lily out of hospital, he’d walked into the Ministry and resigned.

Everyone was stunned. Kingsley offered him a leave of absence instead, but Harry had refused; Lily left for Hogwarts in less than a year, and Harry was determined to be with her for as much of that year as he could manage. He wasn’t going to be off on some mission somewhere if she, or the boys, needed him. It was time to be a full-time father, even though he had absolutely no idea how to do that.

Molly had approved whole-heartedly; so had Hermione. Ron’s comment had been something along the lines of “Whatever works for you, mate. My two would drive me ‘round the twist if I had to be with them on a full time basis, but…” He’d shrugged. “Do what you think you need to.” Arthur had frowned thoughtfully and scratched his head, but ultimately agreed. The boys had been mystified, but basically accepting. Ginny had merely stared at him through the Floo, her eyes guarded but her expression impassive. “If that’s what you think is necessary…” She hadn’t offered to give up her job and come home, and Harry hadn’t expected her to.

The biggest surprise had been that he actually loved every moment of it. For the first time in ten years, he felt as if he could take a deep breath each day, nothing more pressing than making sure Lils was on time, or that he had her favourite snacks for after school. That was when he began to bake; his relatives had taught him to cook the Muggle way, and he found that he enjoyed the simplicity of reading a recipe, putting the ingredients in a bowl, mixing them, baking them. He and Molly exchanged recipes, much to Ron’s amusement, and that Christmas when the boys came home and Ginny managed to make it in time for Christmas Eve, Harry had the house completely decorated, the favourite holiday treats baked, the presents wrapped. After the children had gone to bed, he and Gin sat in the sitting room with a glass of brandy.

“This suits you,” she said finally, studying his face. “The kids are happy, the house is immaculate, dinner was wonderful. And you look--” she angled her head, her new, short, sleek bob brushing her chin, “--rested, and happy. You look better than you have in years, Harry.”

He studied her in return. “So do you,” he said sincerely, and she did. Her tailored navy business robes were flattering, her hair framed her face attractively, her make-up was more sophisticated and her nails were manicured. She looked pulled together and… expensive was perhaps the word he was searching for. And utterly unlike the Ginny he’d fallen in love with. He didn’t know this new, highly polished woman. Oh, she was attractive, to be sure. But he didn’t look at her and feel the tug low in his stomach, the desire to get her into bed just as quickly as possible; not the way he had his long-haired hellion, with her coltish legs and her ready laugh. She was too buttoned up, now. Too constrained, too smooth; her new, expensive veneer seemed manufactured.

She’d placed her luggage in the guest room when she arrived, and Harry had been too busy at the time, getting dinner on the table for the entire Weasley clan, to notice. He hadn’t, until he’d taken Lily up to bed and tucked her in and seen it sitting at the foot of the bed in the room he usually used as his office. He’d stared at it for a moment, his heart sinking. But now that she was home, and he’d spent some time with her… his heart had ceased to ache. He thought that perhaps the guest room was exactly where she belonged.

During that year of sabbatical, while he had time to himself and while he went through the comforting motions of getting a cake in the oven or letting bread rise on the counter, Harry came to several decisions about his life. He’d thought to return to the Ministry when Lily went off to Hogwarts, but he no longer wanted to. He liked his privacy, he enjoyed the quiet, and not finding his face in the newspaper twice a week was a relief beyond description. Oh, his name still turned up in the Prophet occasionally, but mostly now in terms of ‘where is he?’ rather than anything ‘heroic’ he’d done. He didn’t miss chasing bad guys, and for the first time understood the new relaxation he’d seen on Ron’s face; they’d come out of the war as the poster children for fighting the bad guys, but it was ultimately exhausting. Especially when you came to understand that the bad guys never really went away; they just got younger.

The kids were at the World Cup with Ginny, just a month shy of Lily leaving for Hogwarts, when it dawned on Harry that once she was gone he had to actually find something to do other than keep house. He couldn’t live for the visits at Christmas and over summer, although whatever he did had to leave him free for them. And he had no desire to do anything that traded on his public image. He’d been discussing it over dinner with Ron and Hermione, and of course it had been Hermione who had hit on the perfect thing.

“You should go to school.”

Harry had looked at her, one brow quirked. He had never been a great student; she knew that.

“Seriously, Harry,” she went on, warming to her subject. “You should go to school!”

“Hermione, don’t you think I’m a bit old?”

She’d made a scoffing noise. “You’re thirty-eight, not seventy. In wizard terms, you’re young!”

“Not as young as the people I’d be sitting in a room with.” He frowned. “The last thing I want to see in the paper is what a lousy student I am.”

Hermione leaned across the table. “But you wouldn’t be lousy if you chose something you already excel at. Think about it; money isn’t really an option, so you can afford it. And you’d be on break from classes the same times that the kids are, so that wouldn’t be a problem.” She paused, her brown eyes shining. “And the best way to stay out of the London papers is to go to school somewhere else. The best culinary schools are in France, Harry. Not here.” She’d winked. “And, you’d need a business course, as well.”

“A business course?”

“For the bakery you’re going to open, of course!” She was smiling brightly even as Ron eyed her askance.

At first, Harry thought her mad, but the more he mused on it, the more excited he became about the prospect. Ultimately, to the surprise of the Weasleys, who he swore to secrecy about his whereabouts, Harry enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, completing both the basic and intermediate Patisserie Courses before transferring to Lenotre for a 24-week Master Class. During the school year he lived in a small flat above a small patisserie, and worked there part time on the weekends to hone his craft. The woman who owned it, who had no idea who he was other than Hahri, loved him, and for the most part Harry went through his three years in Paris in blissful anonymity. He let his fringe grow long, he wore contact lenses. Once in a great while, he’d feel the eyes of someone from Britain lingering on him, but he knew they really weren’t sure. He was always back in England by the time the kids arrived for holidays, and Kreacher, who now had to be five hundred years old if a day, still managed to have the waiting house immaculate for him when he got there, so relieved was he to be rescued from ‘servitude’ at Hogwarts.

Living on his own, going to school in a foreign country and forced to learn the language, was a revelation for Harry in more ways than one. During his first year, he was so busy that initially, he didn’t even have time to consider the fact that he’d been celibate for over a year. He was still married, after all, and he didn’t believe in cheating. But more and more, he found himself drawn to a man who stopped by the patisserie each weekend for beignets, his light blue eyes shining every time he saw Harry, his smile both warm, and openly flirtatious. As a result, Harry’s one other encounter with a man in his youth began to figure prominently in the kinds of embarrassing dreams he hadn’t had since he’d been fifteen. He didn’t initially act on his attraction to the blond Frenchman, but the fact that he wanted to told him that it was perhaps time to discuss what was left of his marriage with his wife.

It wasn’t a long conversation.

Ginny wanted a divorce.

Harry didn’t press her for details as to why; in truth, he no longer cared. They’d both moved on; in retrospect a divorce seemed inevitable. The whole thing was managed very civilly, with the custody situation to remain the way that it was; Harry would have the children during Christmas hols and over the summer, Ginny would occasionally take them with her to World Cup Events, and spend Christmas at home. Of course, the divorce had to be heard before the entirety of the Wizengamot in London, which was unpleasant. They’d scheduled the hearing over the summer, when they could both be in town, but that meant that the kids were home, too, and had to be aware of all of it. Once again, Harry’s face was all over the newspapers, and he hated every moment of it.

His divorce was finalised just before Harry’s final year in Paris, and he returned to his flat, and the patisserie, with a new sense of liberation. When the blond Frenchman flirted with him now, Harry flirted back. His name was Andre, he was thirty-five and owned an art gallery, and the education that Harry received in his bed was almost as complete, in its own way, as the one he graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with. When Harry was finished with the Master Class at Lenotre, he and Andre parted without any fuss. Harry was anxious to return home, and Andre, not remotely interested in a ‘relationship’, kissed him goodbye and left his flat with a jaunty wave.

Harry returned to London and, without expecting much, opened ‘Enchanting Edibles’. Bakeries came and went; he knew that as well as anyone. The main difference with his, for a wizarding establishment at least, was that all of the baking and decorating was done the Muggle way; the magic was only incorporated later, turning cakes made of dough and sugar into unicorns that threw their heads, their icing manes rippling, or trains that moved, whistles sounding and smoke stacks belching, or crups that wagged their tails and barked. His birthday and wedding cakes became renowned for their charming creativity; his pastries, scones and biscuits because they were good.

Harry stared thoughtfully toward his large walk-in pantry, then added both nutmeg and cinnamon to the shopping list for Giles, in addition to the icing sugar and flour. He ordered the flour and sugar in twenty-five pound bags and knew that the old man couldn’t possibly shuttle them back, even with the assistance of magic. Harry glanced up at the clock. It was only ten thirty; he could do it himself and be back in plenty of time for him to have the afternoon to finish off the miniature puddings. He took up the parchment and pushed through the swinging door into the front of his shop.

Lily was standing behind the counter, staring dreamily out through the large front windows. The shop usually experienced something of a mid-morning lull, and while several of the small tables and chairs were filled with people enjoying their pastries and a cup of tea, there was no one standing at the counter. Harry paused and watched his daughter, her small square chin propped on her hand, her white skin translucent in the sunlight shining through the windows. Her eyes were so green, much greener than his, and her red hair gleamed in a satiny sheet that fell to her trim waist. If that was what his mother had looked like, he thought, then his father had been a goner the moment he’d laid eyes on her.

“What’re you doing, Lily-belle?” he asked fondly, coming up to her with a grin. “Daydreaming?” he asked as he glanced out the window and saw several young men who looked university age across the street by the tattoo parlour. “Or boy watching?”

She jumped, startled, and a fetching blush stained her cheeks. “Daddy!” She straightened, pulling at the soft periwinkle blue apron she wore over her jeans and white jumper. “I was just…”

Harry sent her a grin, then looked meaningfully out the windows. “I know what you were ‘just’.” She scowled at him, but it didn’t have any heat.

“Finish Auntie Augusta’s cake?” she asked. For some reason, Mrs Longbottom had taken a shine to Lily when she’d been tiny, and Lily adored the old battle axe in return.

“I did. And I was just about to start the baking for the morning when I realised I needed a few things.” He brandished the list briefly.

“Aren’t you going to wait for Giles?”

Harry shook his head in answer to his daughter’s question. “I’m going to go myself. I need flour, and I don’t want the old thing hurting himself, trying to move the bags.”

Lily laughed, the sound like a small, silver bell. “Which he would. He’d do anything for you.”

Harry touched her chin with his index finger. “He’d do anything for you, including causing himself back injury. He’s got a terrible crush on you.” She gave him a wry look. “He does, the poor old sap, and you know it. All right, I won’t be long.” He kissed her on the cheek, and she wrinkled her nose.

“You’re scruffy.”

He grinned. “What, you don’t like the swarthy look?”

She rolled her eyes, but her lips twitched. “More like the ‘leave me alone and let me sleep five more minutes, Lily’ look.”

“Guilty.” Harry pocketed the list and made certain he had his wallet in the back of his jeans. “I won’t be long. Oh, and the strawberry tarts in the white box in back are a special order for Mrs Fudge.”

Lily arched a ginger brow at him. “Speaking of ‘poor old dears with massive crushes’,” she teased. “Give that woman the right look, Daddy, and she’d kick poor old Mister Fudge to the curb for you.”

Harry shuddered as he thought of the overly-made-up cinched into a corset two sizes too small, hair a color that God had never intended to appear on a human head Mrs Fudge. “If that’s my only option, I’m single ‘til I die, darling,” he said expressively. “Single ‘til the day I die.”

Her bubbling laughter followed him out of the store.

It was a beautiful day; the sun was bright and felt good on his face even though the breeze was frigid. He flipped the collar of his white chef’s coat up around his chin and wondered if he should go back and get his scarf and coat. He was looking over his shoulder thoughtfully at the shop door when he walked into someone coming around the corner. A bag of groceries spilt, a tin of tea and a couple of lemons rolling near his feet, and Harry bent to pick them up, an apology on his lips as he straightened. It died in his throat when he found himself looking into a slightly pointed face topped with a shining head of nearly white hair, and eyes a cool, clear silver.

“Malfoy.”

“Well spotted, Potter.” Draco Malfoy’s mouth quirked up at one side, showing a dimple just to the left of it. “Your powers of observation appear to have improved with age.”

Harry stiffened slightly, but even though the words were laced with sarcasm, the tone wasn’t. If anything, he sounded almost…friendly.

“I’m sorry to have bumped you.” Harry held out the tea and lemons, and Malfoy responded by holding open his cloth shopping bag. Harry deposited the items inside. “I was preoccupied.”

“No harm done,” Malfoy said with a shrug and reached up to tame some of the gleaming fringe that had been picked up by the breeze. He wore his hair differently now, Harry noticed. Softer, not slicked back the way it had been in school. It suited him, made him look young, and Harry was suddenly forcefully reminded of the silver that threaded through the black hair at his own temples. Harry also noticed that there was a tattoo on the back of Malfoy’s pale hand. It curled around his thumb, across the fine bones on the back of his hand and disappeared into the sleeve of his black leather jacket. Which, Harry couldn’t help but notice, looked very good on him. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Malfoy in anything other than robes, or school clothes. The jeans, jumper and leather coat were a revelation. “Where are you headed in such a hurry?”

Harry blinked. Had Malfoy just asked him a polite question? Out of habit, Harry stiffened slightly. He’d caught glimpses of Malfoy around, and they hadn’t had anything like a conversation in years, but old habits died hard.

“The bakery supply. I ran out of flour.”

“Well, we certainly can’t have that.” Malfoy’s lips curved again, this time in a slight smile, and Harry found himself somewhat transfixed by that dimple near his mouth. How had he never noticed that before? “Think of the masses who would be disappointed if they couldn’t get their morning scone?”

Thinking he heard ridicule in the cultured tone, Harry sighed even as he felt a sinking disappointment. So, things hadn’t changed so very much then. He took half a step back.

“I doubt very many people would notice, actually,” he said softly. “Again, I’m sorry I bumped into you.” He started to step around the other man when a hand fell on his arm, stopping him. A hand with a curling tattoo across the back. He looked at it, then back up into Malfoy’s face. His expression was earnest.

“I was teasing, Potter,” Malfoy said quietly. “You perhaps didn’t recognise it because I was such an obnoxious snot in my youth?”

In spite of himself, Harry felt his lips twitch in an involuntary smile. “That might be the reason.”

Malfoy let his hand fall away but his expression warmed. “And I meant what I said about your scones causing mass disappointment should they fail to appear. At the very least, in my shop.” He looked both ways as if about to impart a state secret, then leaned in and lowered his voice. “I confess to having developed an addiction to the apple cinnamon variety, but if you tell anyone that, I may have to kill you.”

Harry was grinning before he had an opportunity to realise it. “My lips are sealed,” he said finally. He studied the face before him, and found himself thinking that Malfoy had grown into his looks; no longer merely pointy, his features had acquired an elegance over time. He looked more like his mother than his father, now. A definite improvement. Harry stared at him long enough that when he realised what he was doing, he felt his face fill with color. “I… should be going.”

Malfoy nodded, tucking his bag under his arm. “So should I.” He angled his head towards the bag. “If I don’t get this tea back to the shop, there may be revolt.”

Harry smiled. “Can’t have that.”

“We certainly can’t. The natives are restless enough as it is.” He rolled his eyes. “They were so desperate for caffeine that Pansy even tried to make coffee; something she should never, ever do. It’s so vile it has a personality.” Harry laughed again, and Malfoy smiled at him. “It was good to see you, Potter.”

“You, too,” Harry answered, and found, to his surprise, that he meant it. He walked around the other man, but couldn’t help but glance back just before he rounded the corner, only to find that Malfoy was watching him walk away.

Harry felt a surge of surprise mixed with a low rush of heat. Malfoy wasn’t looking at his face, but admiring another part of him with open interest on his handsome face.

In that moment, you could have knocked Harry Potter, defeater of dark lords and master of the apple cinnamon scone, over with a feather.

oooOOOooo

Draco felt a wash of heat brush his cheeks that had nothing to do with the biting breeze, and everything to do with the fact that he’d just been caught, by Potter, enjoying the view of said man’s arse. He smiled weakly and hurried away, certain that if he didn’t move he’d quite possibly combust on the spot from extreme mortification.

But as he hurried across the street to his shop, he also couldn’t help but realise that Potter hadn’t seemed particularly embarrassed, just surprised. Perhaps the old rumours weren’t so far from the mark, after all, and that certainly bore mulling.

And at least they’d had a conversation without a single hex being thrown, although Draco had almost stepped in it once, there. He’d have to remember that not everyone appreciated his wit, and it was doubtful that Potter would; especially when Draco had used it as a weapon during their school days. If he regretted anything as he got older, it was the cruelty he’d dished out under the guise of being ‘witty’. God, he’d been a twit. He was lucky Potter had pulled him onto the back of that broom and not left him there in the Room of Requirement to fry.

He tried not to think about that day. The memory of Vince and the way he’d died was too painful; Greg had retreated behind a wall of hurt and silence and remained there still. But there were times, in his dreams, when the memories had leave to take over, and he’d see that bruised and filthy hand extended down to him again, feel himself being caught and lifted, almost effortlessly, onto the back of a broom, feel the hard muscles of the broad back that he clung to, screaming like a woman. God, he’d been frightened. And Harry Potter had been there, as heroic as anyone could possibly want their hero to be. It had been humbling. Almost as humbling as standing with his parents in a corner, and watching that exhausted, blood-stained teenager face down and take out the most powerful dark wizard of the age.

He hadn’t wanted to admire Harry Potter, but Christ, how could he not?

Draco entered his shop, still preoccupied. He handed Pansy the bag, and she immediately took it to the small table in the corner that held not only the tea things, but a small bar, as well. Many of their clients found the tattooing went easier after a finger or two of Firewhisky. He had bent over to check the appointment book when he noticed the large black eagle owl, sitting on the perch in the corner.

“When did Rohrbach’s bird arrive?”

Barnett Rohrbach might have been named after his father, who was a banker, but Barney, as his friends and only his friends called him, was anything but something so sedate. He was one of the best known wizard ‘extreme fighters’ in all of England. He was at least six foot five, covered in muscles, and inked on his back and both arms. When he’d sent Draco an owl, saying he’d admired a tattoo he’d seen on another fighter and found out it was Draco’s work, and was interested in having another done on his chest, Draco had immediately responded that he’d be happy to make room in his schedule. Barnett Rohrbach was a star in an arena where inking was a way of life; having one of his pieces displayed on that massive chest would be like having a walking billboard of his work.

“Just after you left,” Pansy answered absently.

“Where’s the scroll?” Draco slipped out of his jacket and hung it on the rack in the corner, his encounter with Potter momentarily forgotten.

“On your station.”

Draco saw the tightly curled scroll, and frowned a bit when he saw the dusty rose satin ribbon.

“This one?”

He picked it up and turned back to Pansy, holding it in his hand. When she nodded, he mentally shrugged and slipped the ribbon free.

He’d been waiting for a week for a sketch from the famous fighter, showing what his idea was for the tattoo that would go across his chest. Anxious, Draco unrolled the stiff parchment, opening it to look at the colour drawing on the inside.

He felt his mouth drop open even as he stared at the picture in consternation.

“This has to be a mistake,” he said softly.

“What?” Pansy turned.

“This can’t have come from Rohrbach. You’re certain that’s his bird?”

Pansy shot him an exasperated look and held up her hand. There, on her index finger, was a small bite mark.

“Trust me, its Rohrbach’s bitch of a bird. Bloody thing bit me. Again.”

Draco looked at the fierce bird, who looked back at him with disdain, and stared at the drawing again.

“There’s got to have been some sort of mix up,” Draco repeated. “There is no way this is the tattoo for Rohrbach.”

“What makes you think that?”

He looked at Pansy pointedly, then turned the parchment and held it up so that she could see it. Instantly, her peals of laughter filled the shop.

“You see?” Draco asked, frowning at her as her hilarity ran its course. “It’s a mistake.”

“Oh, you don’t know that,” she countered, still snickering. “Maybe he’s trying to send a message.” Mirth made her voice unsteady. “Maybe he bats for your team.”

Draco scowled at her. “Very amusing.” He turned the drawing back around, shaking his head. “Barnett Rohrback does not bat for my team. And I can think of very few queers who’d want a pink pygmy puff tattooed anywhere on their body, and all of them would have to be royally pissed, first.” He rolled the drawing back into a tight scroll. “Send him a response, will you please? Asking him if this is correct? I’d rather not do the stencil for this and have him strangle the life out of me when it’s the wrong thing.”

“I’ll do it,” Pansy said archly. “But you will affix it to that beast’s leg. The only way I’d go near that animal was if I was stuffing and roasting it for Christmas dinner.”

The bird gave an insulted hoot, as if he’d understood every word.

oooOOOooo

Harry re-entered his shop, a trolley carrying the massive bags of flour and spices following him sedately. He’d take it to the back and unload it, and it would return to the bakery supply as dutifully as a well-trained puppy. There was a woman standing at the display case, selecting pastries, and Lily was helping her with an easy smile. Harry felt the corner of his mouth curl up as he watched her. It was then that he noticed the rather overweight grey and white owl, sitting on a perch in the corner preening its feathers.

“Mrs Hanratty’s bird,” Harry said to Lily when the customer left with her box of éclairs. “Finally.”

“Here’s the scroll.” Lily took it from beneath the counter and handed it to him, and Harry slipped the black leather band from it, frowning thoughtfully. Black leather? His lips quirked. Unbidden, a mental image of Malfoy came to mind, his square shoulders encased in black leather. He unrolled the scroll, looked at the drawing, and whistled under his breath. Depicted was a rampant hippogriff, talons spread wide, golden eyes fierce, a curling snake with fangs exposed clenched in its beak. The snake should writhe, was written underneath, and try to strike at the hippogriff’s face.

The design was about as far from the pygmy puff or a fairy castle as Harry could have imagined. He was quite certain a bunch of eight year old boys would be thrilled with it, but he had a hard time imagining Mrs Hanratty wanting that on display for her society friends. He looked up at the bird thoughtfully; it was definitely Precious, the old lady’s owl. There could be no mistaking its over fed appearance and its candy apple pink toenails. He often thought that the poor beast looked as if it might die of humiliation when it showed up in its jeweled collar.

“Lils, honey,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Let’s send Mrs Hanratty a response, just to verify that this is the right design.” He handed it to her, and she looked at it with wide eyes.

“That’s so cool!” she said enthusiastically. “Jamie or Al would have wet themselves if they’d gotten a cake like this.”

Harry chuckled. “Lovely visual. Just verify it for me, will you?”

Lily nodded, re-rolling the heavy scroll. “I’ll send a query back with her bird.”

“Thanks, baby.” He gave her a one-armed hug, then glanced at the depleted display case. “There’re fresh scones and biscuits in the back, and two mocha tortes and a treacle tart in the walk in…” He looked at the large platter in the center, upon which sat about a half dozen apple cinnamon scones, and he had a flash of inspiration. “Why don’t you go ahead and fill the trays and replace those scones with fresh ones, then box those up, all right?”

She nodded dutifully. “Sure thing. Are you taking the scones home with you?”

Harry shook his head thoughtfully, already wondering if he’d lost his mind. “No, when he gets back, have Giles take them over to the tattoo parlour across the street.” She looked at him quizzically, and he felt his cheeks flush. “I just think it might be nice to do something for the neighbours. Besides, they’d be coming out of the case in another hour, anyway.”

Lily looked bemused. “All right. Do you want to put a note in, or anything?”

Harry shook his head. “No. Just the scones.” He hesitated, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully. “Just the scones. Oh, and please remember to verify that sketch for me, sweetheart. It’s important.”

“Sure thing, Daddy.”

He turned and walked into his workroom, hoping he’d imagined the sly look that had come into his daughter’s eyes.

He hadn’t.

Lily watched her father go, her full lips pursed. She knew who owned the tattoo parlour across the way, and she knew of her father’s history with said owner. Her mother, during Lily’s last visit with her, had made a strange comment that had piqued her curiosity.

“Malfoy owns the business across the street from your dad, does he?” Ginny said, holding a glass of Merlot in her hand. “Interesting.” She’d smirked.

“Interesting why, Mum?” Lily asked, sipping her own glass of wine. Ever since her Mum had begun dating the Italian Representative to the Committee for International Magical Games and Sports, she’d thought herself very worldly and wanted Lily to be the same. Lily found her mother’s attempt at sophistication faintly amusing. But she liked the wine.

“Well,” Ginny said slowly. “Your father and Malfoy have always had this… mutual enmity. During sixth year, the way he watched Malfoy’s every move, I even thought…” She stopped herself, her eyes averted.

“You thought what?”

“Nothing. I really shouldn’t comment. Just forget I said anything.”

But of course, Lily could do no such thing.

“And he isn’t seeing someone?” Ginny went on, brown eyes widened.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Lily answered. “But I’m not there much.”

“Hmmm,” Ginny said, a faint smirk on her pretty face, as if she knew something that Lily didn’t.

But Lily wasn’t nearly as naïve as she knew her mother wanted to believe she was, and she had an inkling of what Ginny was inferring. Lily had wondered about her Dad before, honestly. He was still very attractive; but Daddy didn’t date any women, at least not that she was aware of. And not for lack of trying on their part, that was for sure. Celestina Fletchley’s mother, Romilda, had all but thrown herself at him before the luncheon on parent’s weekend, and she’d seen dozens of women flirt with him in the shop. At one time, she’d honestly thought he was just clueless, but eventually she’d begun to wonder. And she couldn’t help but remember that Frenchman… what was his name? Andre? That he’d introduced her to when she’d surprised him in Paris.

She’d been fourteen and had decided to go to her dad instead of going to the World Cup Playoffs with her Mum and the boys. Harry had been thrilled to see her, and they’d had a wonderful time. But she hadn’t missed the way he had blushed when Andre had let himself in to his small flat, and she found it strange that the blond Frenchman, while very charming, had seemed genuinely surprised that Harry had children.

And then there had been that blue bottle she’d found in his night stand one day when he had been in class and she had been shamelessly snooping. She hadn’t found out what it was until one of the girls in her dorm had talked about stealing her gay brother’s ‘blue bottle of lube’, and had shown them all. “It’s for when they do other men up the bum,” the girl said, scandalised, and Lily felt a sizzle of stunned surprise slip down her spine when she recognised it.

At first, the idea that her father might like another man ‘that way’ had been somewhat difficult for her to wrap her mind around. But why should it be, she’d asked herself finally. Dad was no different to her than he’d ever been; if he liked men it didn’t make him any less her father. And Dad loved her the same, teased her the same, spoiled her the same. He was…just Dad. And she hoped, at some point, he might find himself someone, regardless of gender, to care about him. Lily thought her father the most perfect man, ever. And while he’d never said anything to her, she thought he seemed lonely. And that made her heart ache. He’d suffered so much in his life, and done so much for everyone else. If anyone deserved to be happy, he did.

She reached for one of the cardboard boxes behind the counter and began to fold in the sides, her mind working. So, her Mum thought that her Dad had had a thing for Mr Malfoy, back in school. It was kind of romantic, actually. Love struck teenage boys, forced apart by the expectations of others and the fact that they were on different sides during the war. It was really sort of sad; tragic, even. Like a gay Romeo and Juliet…

She lined the white box with tissue paper and placed the flaky scones, the vanilla glazing on the top shining slightly, into the bottom of the box, careful to make certain that they didn’t overlap. When they were perfect, she closed the lid.

She’d deliver these herself, she thought with an emphatic nod. There were no customers at the moment, and it would take her just a few seconds to run them across the street. And maybe the dreamy Scorpius Malfoy would be visiting his father. He had graduated from Hogwarts the year before, Head Boy and Ravenclaw prefect. There was just something about brains in addition to that white blond hair and all those lovely muscles… She felt a shiver move over her shoulders.

As she started out from behind the counter, she saw the scroll her father had left lying there. In an effort to remind herself to send Mrs Hanratty a note, she quickly scrawled ‘verify’ on the back of it and dropped it into the drawer beneath the cash register.

“I’ll be right back, Daddy,” she called brightly, and left through the door, the bell over the top chiming merrily and her sheet of auburn hair shining in the afternoon sun.

Precious, watching the girl skip out through the door and realizing that no treat was coming her way, gave an insulted huff and flew out through the small window near the ceiling. Unlike the rude chit, at least her mistress would have a biscuit for her when she returned home. And after the day she’d had, she needed one.

oooOOOooo

“Earth to Draco.”

Draco looked up at Pansy over the rim of his wine glass. He’d been standing in the corner of her kitchen, sipping a very fine Shiraz, his mind occupied with the visit a certain very pretty ginger-haired girl had paid to his shop that afternoon.

He’d have known her anywhere, of course; he’d seen her at a distance, but this was the first time she’d been within ten feet of him. She was the very image of her mother at that age. At least, until one really looked at her. Lily Potter had none of the rough edges that being raised the youngest with six brothers had left on Ginevra. And she had green eyes, eyes that were exactly the same shade as her father’s that held nothing but an easy, open friendliness. That was perhaps the biggest difference; he couldn’t remember a time when Ginny Weasley had looked at him in any way other than that she wanted to hex him.

He hadn’t really known what to say when Lily skipped into the shop, carrying the white bakery box in her hands.

“Daddy said I should bring these over,” she announced, handing them to Pansy. Pans had opened the lid, then shot Draco a knowing smirk.

“Apple cinnamon scones,” she said drolly. “I wonder who these could possibly be for?”

“All of us, I imagine,” Draco said, giving her a quelling look over the top of his glasses, then going back to the tattoo he was inking onto a young man’s bicep. A young man who’s eyes hadn’t left Lily Potter since she’d come in the door. Of course Miss Potter had eyes for no one but Scorpius, who gave her a truly glamorous smile from where he lounged in a chair at the empty station next to Draco’s. So, that was the way the wind blew, then…

“Watch yourself with that one,” he’d muttered when the girl had flounced back out and Scorpius had craned his neck to watch her all of the way across the street. “I think her father would rather drown her than see her date a Malfoy.”

Scorpius had made a scoffing sound. “Mr Potter’s always been very nice to me when I’ve gone into the bakery,” he said. “And after last year’s father/student Ravenclaw/ Slytherin match, he told me I flew really well.”

“Because you did,” Draco sniffed.

“And because your team kicked Slytherin’s arse,” Pansy added.

“You can be fired at any time,” Draco said without looking up.

“Oh, I’m absolutely terrified,” she drawled, and Draco could all but hear her rolling her eyes.

oooOOOooo

“Darling, do put a few more canapés on that silver tray for me, will you?” She said now, and gestured towards a tray sitting on the counter.

“Remind me again why you didn’t just hire a caterer for this?” He set his glass aside and went to move the appetizers from a baking sheet to the serving dish. Pansy pursed her lips.

“Because that vicious old cow said I couldn’t do anything without hiring help, and I needed to show Neville that I could.”

Draco picked up at set of serving tongs and carefully moved the delicate canapés. “Sweetheart, your husband doesn’t care if you can cook or not. I’ve never seen a man so completely besotted.”

Pansy’s smile grew wistful. “I know,” she murmured. “But all his grandmother can do is sing the praises of ‘poor perfect dead Hannah’.” Pansy’s brown eyes grew pensive. “He loved her so much, and I don’t want to suffer by comparison.”

Draco paused, his eyes going to his friend. “Darling, he loved her then, but he loves you now. You need to stop letting the old bat get to you.”

“Says the man who’s hiding here in the kitchen to avoid her.” Pansy smirked.

Draco gave her an outraged look. “I am not hiding in the kitchen to avoid her,” he said. She gave him a wry look. “I’m not,” he insisted. “It’s the other five hundred Gryffindors I’m avoiding. Was no one from our house in the country right now?”

Pansy laughed. “No one but Blaise, and he said he’d rather die than be caught at ‘a birthday party for that rancid old cunt’, and I quote.”

“Always has had a way with words, our Blaise,” Draco said fondly.

“And it’s not all Gryffindors out there.” Pansy finished plating a tray of tiny quiches. “There’s at least one Ravenclaw. And he looks very dashing in his new robes, by the way.”

“He does,” Draco agreed with a slight smile.

“He’s so handsome,” Pansy went on wistfully as she added some cubes of camembert to a fruit and cheese platter. “He looks just like you did at eighteen.”

Draco snorted. “He does not. Not on my best day was I as handsome as Scorpius is. And I was certainly never built like that. The shoulders must be a Greengrass inheritance.”

“He certainly has a lovely body.”

Draco turned and pinned her with a withering look.

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I’m his ‘Auntie Pans’, darling, but I’m not blind.” Her lips quirked up slyly. “And neither is Miss Potter.”

Draco pursed his. “So I’ve noticed.”

“So, some things do run in families, then.” Draco heard the teasing tone in her voice and sent her another look. “What?” she said, all innocence. “Just because Miss Potter stares at him almost as much as her father stared at you…”

The kitchen door swung open just as Draco turned on her, his eyes narrowed. Neville Longbottom stood in the doorway, an empty bottle of wine in his hand. He looked between the two of them uneasily; Neville wasn’t comfortable when they started sniping at one another, no matter how teasing.

“Problem?” he asked carefully, brown eyes moving between them.

“No,” Pansy answered airily. “Just Draco being unappreciative of my scathingly accurate life observations.” She went to her husband and rose up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek, and Draco shook his head when the man blushed. Honestly, Gryffindors. He turned back to the canapés.

“We’re out of red,” he heard Longbottom murmur. “And Gran was wondering if we’ve another bottle of sherry.”

“Of course we do,” Pansy answered. “Here’s the Shiraz, and I’ll just get the sherry from the pantry and bring it in.”

“Thank you, darling.” Draco heard them kiss, and humoured himself by sticking his tongue out at the appetizers. He heard the noise rise and then hush as the door to the outer room swing shut behind Longbottom when he left.

“That’s the tenth bottle of red,” Pansy said dryly. “Those Gryffindors certainly do like their wine.”

“Especially when someone else is paying for it,” Draco muttered. Pansy laughed.

“Truer words.” She came up beside him and put her hand on his arm. “Darling, will you take these and the canapés into the back sitting room for me while I get the sherry for ‘the old dear’?” Draco started to protest when she handed him the quiche, but he saw the slight tremor that ran through her hand. He paused in what he was doing and took the tray from her and set it aside, then caught her hand and held it.

“Pansy,” he said softly. “He worships the ground you walk on. You can’t possibly question that.”

She sighed. “I know he does,” she whispered, then smiled weakly. “Well, I know he does when that old crone isn’t bending his ear. But he loves her, and she hates me.” She blinked quickly, and he pulled her into a firm hug.

“Listen to me Pansy Parkinson-Zabini-Nott-Smith-Corner-Longbottom,” he said against her ear. “You are a spectacular woman and he is lucky to have you. And if I were not flamingly queer, I’d have happily added Malfoy to that list.”

She laughed weakly. “Oh, were that but true. But the list is the problem, you see. At least for Nev’s grandmother.”

Draco held her at arm’s length. “What, that you’ve been married before? So has her grandson.”

“Not four times. ‘What’s the matter, gel?’” Pansy said, doing a creditable imitation of Neville’s garrulous grandmother. “’Couldn’t make up your mind?’” She dropped the impersonation with a sigh. “At least Neville’s a widower, not divorced.”

“I could off Corner for you, if that would make the whole thing more palatable for the old bitch,” Draco offered and as he’d hoped, Pansy laughed. He rubbed his hands over her arms. “Sweetheart, the man is in love with you. And trust me; every time he sees you in a negligee, his grandmother is the furthest thing from his mind. Stop fretting, put a smile on your pretty face, and take the old bat some sherry.” He shrugged. “And if you slip some arsenic into it before you pour, I’ll take the fall for you. Everyone would believe it of me, after all, and you’d be off the hook.”

She laughed again, then shook her head as she ran her hand over his chest. “I do love you, you know.” He placed his hand over hers and held her palm pressed to his heart.

“I know.”

She took and released a deep breath. “All right, you go stock the table in the back parlour so that when I let people in they won’t attempt to consume the furniture, and I’ll take the old darling her libation of choice.” She pretended to look thoughtful. “Now where did I put that arsenic?”

Draco smiled at her in approval. “That’s my girl,” he murmured, and she winked at him before disappearing into the pantry.

He picked up the two trays and backed through the door opposite the one that led out to the dining room. The ‘back parlour’, or what had once been a sun porch, was down a short hall and was what Pansy referred to as her ‘second line of defense when the pack of rabid Gryffindors eat their way through the front of the house’. There were going to be more trays of hors d’oeuvres, these with a bit more substance in hopes of helping to counter some of the alcohol, and the desserts, along with the birthday cake. Pansy hadn’t said anything about the cake, but he rather thought it would be some fussy, fruit and rosebud covered monstrosity that might appeal to a cranky woman of a hundred and ninety, or however old Longbottom’s grandmother was.

The further Draco got from the kitchen and dining room, the more the sound of the party receded. Relaxing in the assurance that he wasn’t about to be ambushed by drunken Gryffindors, he made his way into the room that Pansy and Longbottom had spent a small fortune remodeling the spring before. Draco had anticipated the many small round tables with the pink tablecloths, and the long banquet table already groaning under the weight of the trays of food. He’d expected the centerpieces with the abundance of pink cabbage roses, (tough to find in December but predictable, he thought with a sniff), and the sparkling banner that read ‘Happy Birthday, Augusta’ in letters so bright that it hurt his eyes to look at them. What he hadn’t expected was to find someone else already in the room. And not just any ‘someone else’, but Potter.

He was standing with his back to him, but Draco would know him anywhere. That riotous head of inky black hair wasn’t as notorious as it had been in his youth but was still distinctive. And after a year and a half of watching him from behind, so were the broad shoulders nicely hugged by a fitted beige jumper, and his trim hips, encased in snug blue denim. And then there was his arse; Draco felt his mouth go a bit dry as he stared at it. That was, indeed, a very nice arse. And it was moving in a most diverting way, almost as if Potter was dancing. It took Draco a moment to realise that he wasn’t dancing; he was casting.

He had his wand in his hand, and as Draco watched a perfect tiny six tiered cake lifted from a small white box and rotated in the air before growing to a towering height and settling gently on the table. It was a dark chocolate masterpiece, covered in gleaming satiny ganache and trimmed with lighter chocolate roses. Two tiers had a complicated series of golden icing swags adorning them, three tiers had a delicate gold lace design that appeared as if it had been painted directly onto the cake, and gold leaves were tucked amongst the delectable looking milk chocolate rosebuds. On the uppermost tier were free standing, shining gold numerals, and the ‘100’ almost seemed to be illuminated from within.

Draco quietly set the trays he was carrying on the banquet table, his eyes never leaving the beautiful cake. He’d heard about Potter’s cakes, but he’d never actually seen one before, and saying he was impressed was a vast understatement.

Once the massive cake was set in place, Potter made a series of complicated motions with his wand and at least two dozen petite fours lifted from the box and before his eyes, enlarged to the size of small muffins, then climbed in a spiral to curl around the tiers, small rotating chocolate satellites. Potter slipped his wand into his sleeve and was Vanishing the white bakery boxes when Draco dropped his hands into his pockets and approached him on silent feet.

“I have to say Potter that, uncharacteristically, I find myself at a loss for words.”

In a way it was gratifying to see Potter jump, startled, but not as much as it might once have been. The man turned, green eyes wide behind the lenses of his glasses, full lips slightly parted. Draco could just see the edges of his white teeth. He could also see the way the jumper clung to the musculature of Potter’s chest, and the way his jeans were soft and well worn at the crotch. He didn’t want to stare, but the not inconsiderable soft bulge was distracting.

“Malfoy,” he said breathlessly, drawing Draco’s eyes back to his face. “I didn’t realise…” He paused and took a deep breath. “I thought I was alone.” The tips of his ears turned pink, and Draco found himself unexpectedly charmed by that.

“Well, for the most part, you are.” He gestured negligently with one hand. “No one here. Just the wait staff.” He spread his hand on his chest and executed an abbreviated bow. Potter looked confused.

“Sorry?”

Draco let his lips curl up at the corners and took a step closer. He felt as if he were approaching a skittish animal; Potter had the wide-eyed look of a cornered deer.

“Pansy has me working,” Draco clarified. “I carried in some trays while she went to ply Longbottom’s grandmother with more sherry. Pans probably, quite wisely, determined that keeping me in the kitchen is one way to avoid bloodshed.” Potter angled his head curiously. More and more like that inquisitive deer, Draco thought. “Me,” he clarified, “in a room full of inebriated Gryffindors.” He arched one brow. “I’m sure you can imagine her dilemma.”

Potter’s eyes began to shine softly and the corner of his lips twitched. “Oh, I doubt they’d actually hurt you. She might not be able to find you…”

Draco felt his own smile deepen. “Siberia?”

Potter’s eyes began to sparkle mischievously. “I was thinking America, actually,” he said. “Possibly Texas.”

Draco shuddered dramatically. “Even they aren’t that cruel.”

Potter’s smile evolved, and Draco felt as if someone had squeezed the air from his lungs. That smile was a very dangerous thing; guileless, slightly shy, it transformed Potter’s face entirely, chased the wariness from his eyes. Draco was quite certain that expression had never been aimed at him before. He’d never have forgotten if it had been.

“So, what did you mean?” Potter asked and Draco, still so enamoured of his smile, blinked stupidly. “You said you were at a loss?”

“Oh!” Draco could feel embarrassed heat fill his face and in order to hide what he was very much afraid was a blush, (and Malfoys did not blush, thank you very much), he quickly walked around Potter, going to stand before the towering cake. “This.”

He felt Potter shift uneasily behind him.

“It’s…” Draco hesitated, mostly for effect, then turned. Potter had crossed his arms, his hands tucked defensively under his arms, almost as if preparing himself for cutting criticism. How in the world, Draco wondered, could Harry Potter be insecure? “It’s spectacular,” Draco said with all of the genuine admiration he actually felt. “Truly.”

Potter’s shoulders relaxed and he seemed to exhale. “Thanks.”

Draco turned back to the cake. “For some reason, I expected white sponge with cloyingly sweet fruit and fat butter cream roses in hideous shades of pink.”

Potter stepped up next to him, and Draco felt his nearness as if he’d reached out and touched him.

“Augusta doesn’t like butter cream,’ he said. “Or white sponge, for that matter. She prefers chocolate, the darker the better, and mocha.”

“Really?” Draco turned and looked at him, his brows arched. “That’s my favorite, as well, but I doubt she’d be flattered by the comparison.”

“Oh?”

Draco leaned closer, as if they were sharing a confidence.

“She detests me.”

Potter shook his head. “Don’t take it personally. She detests almost everyone. And she probably remembers that you were … well, you sort of picked on Neville in school.”

Draco laughed. “Sort of picked on him? I was a complete beast to the poor man. But then, I was a terrible judge of character.”

Potter angled his head again, studying Draco curiously. “You know, that’s the second time you’ve said something like that to me, just today.”

“Oh?”

Potter nodded. “This afternoon, when I ran into you, you said you’d been an obnoxious snot in your youth. Now you say you were a complete beast to Neville.” The surprisingly perceptive eyes narrowed. “Who are you, and what have you done with Draco Malfoy?”

Draco was so surprised that he laughed out loud. “I’m a far more charming imposter,” he said finally, “and I murdered young Malfoy and buried him at the bottom of a well. I seriously doubt that anyone, save his best friend, shall mourn him. And she, the faithless trollop, is too enamoured of her husband to pine for long.” Potter grinned, and Draco shrugged, a remnant of his smile still in place.

“Listen,” Potter said, his voice lowered, “you weren’t any worse to Neville than his own Gran was, although she’s developed a convenient lapse of memory about it. She spent the first fifteen years of his life never letting him forget for a moment what a disappointment he was. And then, he turned out to be one of the bravest men I’ve ever known.”

Draco frowned, feeling even worse for what a berk he’d been to Longbottom. It was damned inconvenient, growing a conscience at his age. “I didn’t realise.”

Potter shrugged. “We all made snap judgments about each other back then. Kids don’t really make up their own minds; most decisions are clouded by what other people think. Their friends, their teachers…”

“Yours weren’t,” Draco said impulsively, surprised he’d said it aloud. Even though he’d hated Potter for rejecting his friendship, he’d respected his strength of character and independence. Funny how a few thoughtless comments when you were young and stupid could colour years of your life. More than once since the end of the war, he’d wanted to go back and change things. Make different decisions, accept help when it was offered, not be such a damned coward…

“Of course they were,” Potter said, and Draco forced himself to come back to the main thread of the discussion. “I had Dumbledore’s opinions colouring mine, and Hagrid’s, and Ron’s, and the rest of the Weasleys.” He shrugged again. “There were the expectations of others on both of us. You were cast in your role just as surely as I was in mine. Neither of us had a whole lot of choice.”

Draco stared at him, frankly surprised. Not many people were as fair-minded as that about his role during the second war. He certainly hadn’t expected Potter to be one of the few who was, and he found himself wondering if the man had any idea the absolution he’d just so casually offered.

“Listen,” Potter said suddenly, as if uncomfortable and ready to change the subject. Draco couldn’t argue with the impulse. “I was wondering if you’d do me a huge favor.”

Draco blinked, startled. “I… suppose.”

Potter grinned again, and it went straight, somewhat inconveniently, to Draco’s groin. “The recipe for these cupcakes is a new one--,” he gestured towards the small, rotating cakes, “-- and you said you like mocha flavoring, yeah?”

Dumbfounded, Draco nodded.

“I’ve infused the chocolate with a dark roast coffee, and I’m hoping that they aren’t too bitter. Would you mind testing one for me? If they’re too much, I still have time to hide them back in the box.”

He opened his hand, merely opened his hand, and one of the small cakes flew into it and landed delicately on his palm. Draco felt the brush of his magic like a caress, and a tingle ran down his spine. Potter held it out to Draco with a look of expectation on his handsome face. And yes, at forty-three, Harry bloody Potter was disarmingly handsome, perhaps even more so than he’d been at twenty. He arched one black brow, and waited.

Draco looked at the cupcake and tried to remember what this reminded him of. Something about a horrid old crone and a princess with an apple, he thought with wry humor. But he took the offered sweet and carefully pulled back the gold foil cup, feeling Potter’s eyes on him the entire time. Potter was no crone, and he was no princess, regardless of what Pansy said.

He took a small bite, and the flavors of dark chocolate and coffee laced with hazelnut cream burst in his mouth. The sound he made was visceral and almost sexual in nature. He chewed and swallowed and licked his lips, and then became aware that Potter was watching his mouth, his own lips slightly parted, his eyes dark. And Draco, being neither young nor a virgin, recognised the look on Potter’s face instantly with a tingle of awareness, and another twitch of interest in his groin. He’d always believed that food, chocolate in particular, could be a powerful aphrodisiac, but he figured that crushing on the other man since he’d been fifteen years old had as much to do with the pleasant twitch in his trousers as the cupcake did.

Potter was still watching him, and Draco smiled slowly. “This,” he said, his voice surprisingly low even to his own ears, “should come with a warning label.”

“Oh?” Potter murmured, his eyes finally lifting from Draco’s mouth.

“It’s completely sinful,” Draco said softly. “And quite perfect.”

Potter smiled slowly. “They aren’t too… intense?” he asked, and the swallow Draco took had absolutely nothing to do with the cake, and everything to do with the look in Potter’s eyes.

“Nooo,” he said slowly. “In fact, they may have replaced the apple cinnamon scones as my addiction of choice. Although,” he pretended to look thoughtful, “these seem more of an evening indulgence than a breakfast one.”

“Why evening?” Potter asked, taking another slight step towards him.

Instinctively, Draco angled his hips forward. “Because they are completely wicked.” He paused, his voice lowering. “The scones are as light as a cloud, and taste of sunshine and crisp autumn mornings. This tastes like late nights and after dinner cognac before a roaring fire, and long looks full of sensuous promise followed by a short trip right into bed. In short, they taste like sex in a fluted golden cup.”

It was Potter’s turn to swallow. “I believe,” he said, his voice sounding dry, “that I should hire you to write copy for advertisements for my business.” His eyes slowly searched Draco’s face, feature by feature. “Are they too intense for an old lady’s birthday party?”

Draco smirked. “Oh, give the old gal a thrill. It’ll probably be as close to sex as she’s going to get at her age.”

This time, the startled laugh was Potter’s, and the rich, rolling sound delighted Draco to the tips of his toes. He popped the rest of the cupcake into his mouth with what he hoped was a blissful expression, and he assumed he’d succeeded when Potter stared at his lips again. But as Draco dropped his hand, Potter’s eyes followed it, a look of open curiosity on his face.

“You’ve a tattoo,” he said softly, his eyes glued to the back of Draco’s hand where the beginning of the vine curled around his thumb. Abruptly the pleasant buzz created by his suggestive teasing faded and instinctively, Draco tightened his fingers into a fist.

“Well spotted, Potter,” he said dryly. “I’ve had a tattoo on this arm for several years, if you’ll recall.”

Potter looked at him from beneath his brows. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” Even though Potter’s voice was soft and there was little reprimand in it, Draco still felt faintly ashamed of himself. “That scarcely looks the same,” Potter went on without heat. He gestured towards Draco’s arm. “May I?”

Draco stared at him, unsure why the idea of Potter looking at the tattoo on his arm seemed so very… personal. Finally, he shrugged. “Why not?” He unbuttoned his cuff and pushed the sleeve of his dark grey robes to his elbow, ignoring the faint trembling in his hand, showing Potter the back of his arm where the vine curled around his wrist. Potter startled Draco when he reached out and took his wrist in his hand, then turned his arm so that his forearm was facing up. Draco swallowed, his fingers curling reflexively toward his palm, watching Potter’s eyes as he studied the intricately drawn vines and flower buds.

“It’s remarkable,” he said finally, his other hand lifting to trace over where the dark mark had been. For some reason, the soft touch of Potter’s fingers made gooseflesh rise on the back of Draco’s neck, and tingles of arousal made his breath catch. “You can’t even tell.” Potter’s eyes lifted to his. “Who did this?”

“Her name was Merry,” Draco answered, surprised by how hoarse he sounded. Potter’s hand felt warm around his wrist, the touch almost painfully intimate. “Merry Barnstable. She owned the shop and left it to me when she died.”

“She was a wonderful artist,” Potter went on, touching one of the flower buds. Draco felt a shiver run up his arm. “These are narcissus buds, aren’t they?” He didn’t wait for Draco to answer, but loosened his fingers around his wrist, then ran his thumb gently over Draco’s mother’s name and the dates beneath it. Draco couldn’t say why the almost tender caress made his eyes sting. “I was sorry to hear about your mother,” Potter murmured. “She was a very brave woman.”

Draco had to swallow again. “She was. The bravest of all of us.” His mother had died of a wasting disease that the Healers at St. Mungo’s had been able to trace to a curse that had hit her during the final battle. Apparently, before her own death, Bellatrix Lestrange made certain that her sister would pay for the betrayal of ‘her lord’. She’d not felt the spell that had hit her at the time, but her death had been assured from that moment. Lucius Malfoy had followed her just three months later, a broken man. Draco had not mourned his father; there was too much bad blood by then for that. But he still grieved for his mother every day.

Potter released his arm and took a step back, dropping his hands into the pockets of his jeans as Draco shook his sleeve down and buttoned the cuff in silence. That same silence began to feel vaguely uncomfortable as it stretched out.

“I’ve thought about getting one,” Potter finally blurted, and Draco’s eyes lifted back to his in time to see him bite his lower lip, as if he hadn’t meant to say it. The white teeth depressing that full lip distracted Draco for a moment.

“You thought about getting what?” he said finally. “A tattoo?”

Potter nodded, worrying the lower lip until it turned dark pink. “Yeah,” he said after a weighted pause. “I even drew something, once.” His shoulders hunched as if the admission was difficult.

“A design?”

Draco’s interest was piqued when Potter nodded. He could see that Potter was an artist in regards to the culinary arts, but he had no idea whether he could actually draw or not. “Would you be comfortable showing it to me?”

Potter studied his face thoughtfully. “I don’t know. I might be.”

Draco crossed his arms over his chest. “I could tell you if it’s feasible or not, then. Magical tattoos require more than just a basic sketch. There’s some fairly advanced spell work involved.”

“I figured as much,” Potter murmured. He lifted one hand from his pocket and pushed at his hair, which had spilled over his forehead.

“You should bring it by,” Draco went on, intrigued. “I really would like to see it.”

Potter’s eyes lifted to his, and the corner of his mobile mouth quirked up, deepening the lines that bracketed his lips. Smile lines, he thought. They added an attractive character to his face. “Maybe I’ll do that.”

Voices sounded in the hallway outside of the sitting room doors, and both men took a quick step back, as if startled to find that they were standing so close to one another. Draco glanced toward the doors just as the handle began to turn.

“I think I’ll make my timely exit now,” he said quickly. “Pansy wants me here, but the rest of the cast of characters barely tolerate my presence.”

“Malfoy, wait,” Potter said, but Draco had already turned and pushed through the doorway that led back to the kitchen.

Behind him, Draco could hear the Longbottom’s guests greeting Potter, and enthusiastic exclamations over the cake. He paused and inched the door open a crack, watching with a half smile as old Augusta Longbottom was escorted, on her grandson’s arm, to stand before the cake, clapping like a child as small, colorful fireworks lit up behind the glittering ‘100’ on the top tier. Applause filled the room, and Draco watched as Potter’s face filled with quiet pleasure. Letting the door swing shut, he turned and walked back into the kitchen, carrying the sight of that almost shy smile with him.

oooOOOooo

“We’ve had an answer from Rhorbach.”

Draco looked up from the intricate tattoo he was outlining on a young witch’s right thigh, peering at Pansy over the top of his half-glasses. It was late Saturday afternoon, the day after Mrs. Longbottom’s party, and Pansy had just breezed in to work five hours late.

“Nice of you to grace us with your presence,” Draco said dryly.

“Oh, don’t scold.” She unwrapped a brilliant scarlet scarf from around her neck and pulled a mink cap from atop hair almost precisely the same color. Pansy didn’t need to work; Longbottom was more than capable of keeping her in the style to which she was accustomed with the royalties from his myriad books on magical horticulture. Her presence in the shop was entirely due to their friendship, and the fact that sitting at home bored her to death. “You knew I’d be late today.”

He shrugged. She held up the scroll. “I intercepted that hateful bird outside. Actually, he dropped this on my head and flew away as if he couldn’t be bothered to come inside.”

Draco snorted. “The beast has nearly as much attitude as his owner.”

“And isn’t anywhere near as attractive.” Pansy sniffed and unrolled the scroll, then laughed merrily.

“What?” Draco asked, adding shading to the rose on the witch’s tawny flesh, then wiping away excess ink.

“He says, and I quote,” Pansy began, her voice filled with mirth, “that he’d have a pygmy puff inked onto his person only if he was completely stoned at the time, and that he’d make whoever did it pay dearly when he sobered up. Clearly there has been a mix-up. Here’s the real sketch.” She crossed and held it out to Draco, and he glanced up. The drawing showed a rampant hippogriff, clawed feet pawing the air, a serpent clenched in his beak. He grimaced, but thought that certainly looked more like it.

“Boring, but predictable,” he sniffed, going back to work, adding red ink to the rose petals. “When is he coming in again?”

“Monday,” Pansy answered, picking up the original drawing and studying it. “I wonder where this one came from, then?” She said, eyeing the pink puff ball. “Do you suppose it was a friend of Rohrbach’s, attempting to play some sort of prank?”

“No idea,” Draco answered. “But I’m glad we checked; the last thing I want is that behemoth angry at me because of something stupid someone else did. I like my face the way it is, thank you.”

Pansy smiled at him fondly. “It is a lovely face.” She looked back down at the childlike drawing, then gasped so loudly that Draco jumped and stared at her.

“Whatever in hell did you do that for? I’ve a needle in my hand, Pans.” The young witch’s eyes widened, and Draco patted her knee absently. “You’re fine.” He turned his irritated gaze on his friend. “What?”

She came to him, holding out the drawing, pointing to something in the middle of the fat ball of pink fur. He dipped his chin and stared at it, pushing his glasses up on his nose, trying to decipher what appeared to be scribbling that was all but lost in the garish pink color. He finally managed to read it, his mouth dropping open, his eyes lifting slowly to Pansy’s.

“That,” he murmured, “will need sorting, won’t it?”

Pansy nodded, her eyes going back to the small, compact writing. Nearly lost in the pink fur were the words; ‘white sponge with Bavarian cream filling, and pink buttercream icing’.

oooOOOooo

Harry was standing in his workroom, trying to make a list of what needed to be accomplished and having a terrible time concentrating. In fact, he’d been having trouble concentrating since he’d arrived in the shop that morning. Fortunately, the set up at Mrs Hanratty’s daughter-in-law’s had gone perfectly, and the little boy, all huge blue eyes, freckles and missing front teeth, had been so thrilled with the hippogriff cake that he’d nearly danced a jig on the spot. Those were the things that made his chosen profession a pleasure, Harry thought; reactions like the one of that happy child. And like the one he’d received from Malfoy the night before.

Just thinking about the way the man’s eyes had closed in bliss when he’d tasted the mocha cupcake, and the sound he’d made, had Harry’s mouth going dry again and his hand reaching down to adjust himself in his jeans. No one should sound like that over food, he thought, but then immediately countered the thought with another; if he could make Malfoy sound like that again, even if it was over the taste of something he’d baked, it would be worth it.

He leaned his elbows on the thick worn wooden top of his work table, his eyes drifting unseeing towards the far wall, the list he’d been trying to make forgotten in front of him.

He’d always thought that Malfoy was something of an enigma; even when he’d hated him. When he’d wanted to hex him into the next week, he’d still tried to figure him out. He’d been an arrogant berk back then—how had he put it? An obnoxious snot? Harry smiled faintly at the apt description. But even so, there had always been something that drew Harry to him, something that made him fascinating. As a teenager completely in the dark about a number of things in his own make up, Harry hadn’t understood the absorption and it had made him angry; angry at Malfoy, and at himself. Now, as a man of forty-three who understood himself a good deal better, he could admit that at least part of it had been that, even back in school, he’d been attracted to Malfoy. The thought no longer horrified him. In fact, it intrigued him, almost as much as the man did, himself.

He was different, Harry mused. Not just different from what he’d been, but different from how Harry’d thought he’d been. He was funny. He’d made Harry laugh, more than once. And sentimental, Harry thought, his eyes growing distant as he thought of the elegant script tattooed on Malfoy’s wrist; his mother’s name, and the dates of her birth and death. That led him to recalling the beautiful series of inked vines that obscured the ugliness of the Dark Mark, the delicate flowers that clung to the vines. It fascinated him, that tattoo, and he found himself wondering if it stopped on Malfoy’s upper arm, or if it continued onto his shoulder, his back, his chest. Harry ran a hand over his jaw, his eyes still far away. The idea of following that tattoo to its conclusion shouldn’t leave him feeling breathless, but it did. He’d touched the leaves on Malfoy’s forearm, and found the skin beneath smooth and warm, the muscles under the skin tensile and firm. Harry licked his lower lip and swallowed, letting his eyes drift closed. It had been a while since he’d had his hands on anyone’s skin; the idea that it was Malfoy who had made his pulse quicken and his mouth go dry wasn’t nearly as alarming to him as it ought to have been. In fact, it wasn’t alarming at all.

He found his eyes drifting to a clipboard that hung in the corner, several sketches secured beneath the metal clip. Buried in there was the drawing he’d made long ago, thinking he might one day have a tattoo done. Tossing down his quill, he went to it now, taking it down and flipping through the bits of parchment until he found the one he sought. Pulling it free, he crossed back to his workbench and pulled his tall stool over with his foot, sitting before laying the drawing on the scarred surface and smoothing it with his hand. He stared at it pensively, his chin resting on his fist.

Perhaps he was finally ready…

oooOOOooo

Draco finished with the bright-eyed witch’s tattoo, watching her as she turned this way and that before the mirror, holding her skirt just shy of an obscenely high level, studying the way the rose bloomed and then closed again with delight.

“It’s so sexy,” she’d gushed, then batted her long lashes in Draco’s direction. “Don’t you think it’s sexy, Mr Malfoy?”

Draco arched one brow at her while Pansy snickered into her hand.

“Devastatingly,” he said wryly. “I’m sure it will be the toast of the club this evening.”

“Oh!” Her eyes brightened. “You think?”

“Only when unavoidable,” he answered. She’d looked at him in confusion, and he shot Pansy a quelling glare when her giggles managed to overspill her hand. “Do take care of Miss ‘Bubbles’,” he drawled, using the only name the girl had given him. “I’m going to run that sketch across the street.”

“Oh, you do that,” Pansy said, batting her long lashes at him. He flipped her two fingers, slipped on his leather jacket and wrapped an ancient Slytherin scarf around his throat, slipping out of the shop before he was inundated with another round of gushing from his latest client. He dreaded the day he truly became a cantankerous old fart, but these just post-adolescent girls made him feel as if he was rapidly approaching that distinction. Scorpius often teased him about being more at home in front of his fire with a hot toddy than out for the evening, and more and more frequently, he was afraid that his son was right.

It had been months since Draco had been out to a club, longer still since he’d taken anyone home with him. He liked a good shag as much as the next fellow, but dating men his age was too much like looking into his own, aging mirror. And the young ones were either vapid and shallow, or far too smooth. He’d been smooth once, he thought a bit wistfully. Smooth, and attracted to older men, and vapid and shallow. Perhaps he saw too much of himself in them; he didn’t know. It just seemed like they were entirely too much trouble to go through for not nearly enough pleasure. They were all in such a hurry; he had grown to appreciate taking his time, lingering over a well turned bicep or a strongly muscled shoulder.

It wasn’t that he was looking for some sort of lifetime commitment… but for some reason, even as the thought formed in his mind, a vision of Potter drifted through on its heels. Potter, who was his age, with children the age of his son, who had a shared common history (with a few minor differences, he thought wryly), and who was rather strikingly fit. His hair was still thick and black but for a few strands of silver, and his eyes… Draco sighed wistfully. Potter’s eyes; still green as leeks and thickly lashed in black, they could look right through him. Preoccupied, Draco was walking through the door to the bakery before he was even aware of it, startled out of his reverie by the tinkling of the bell overhead and the mouth watering scent of something baking. Something with cinnamon. His stomach growled, and he remembered he’d skipped lunch. He paused just inside the door, letting the fragrant warmth wash over him, admiring the tall Christmas tree in the corner hung with lavishly decorated gingerbread men. A smile tugged at his lips; there was one riding a broomstick, reaching for a fluttering frosting Snitch.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs Hanratty. This is all my fault.”

Lily Potter sounded on the verge of tears, and Draco looked over quickly to find her standing behind the glass display case, twisting her fingers in anxiety. And yes, her wide green eyes were brimming with tears. Instantly, Draco felt a surge of startling protectiveness.

“Daddy told me to double check, and I forgot.” The child’s full lower lip was trembling as she faced a truly imposing dowager with gun metal grey hair tortured into a helmet of curls and an arse the width of a plow horse’s. The woman had her head tilted at an arrogant angle, and she was eyeing the girl with irritation.

“I want to speak to your father,” she said in a voice that could freeze the Thames. “Now.”

“He’s in the back,” Lily said, darting a glance toward a door that was nearly hidden in the rear wall. “I really shouldn’t disturb him when he’s baking, but I’m sure he’ll be in touch…”

“Young woman.” The old witch’s voice had icicles dangling from it, and the girl swallowed nervously. “I have been coming to this bakery since the day that it opened…”

“Oh, I know, Mrs Hanratty. You’re a very good customer, and I know that Daddy…”

“And because of you,” she went on as if Lily hadn’t spoken, “I was forced to endure the disappointment of my eight year old grandson, as well as the embarrassment of having such an utterly unsuitable cake presented to his friends as well as my own society acquaintances. This simply cannot be allowed to stand!”

Draco frowned slightly, reaching into the pocket of his coat and removing the scroll that he’d placed there.

“I am sorry,” Lily was saying, trying valiantly to keep her voice steady and failing. “It truly is my fault.”

“So you’ve already said,” the woman sniffed. “However, it is also your father’s, for trusting something this important to a child!”

Lily stiffened, and Draco took a step forward. “Mrs…Hanratty, is it?”

Lily looked to him, her eyes both desperate and welling with tears, and Draco sent her a reassuring wink. She attempted a watery smile.

The woman arched one gray brow at him imperiously. He nearly smiled; the gesture had nothing on the signature Malfoy eyebrow arch. “I believe that there might be a simple explanation for the confusion…”

“I fail to see how this concerns you,” she sniffed.

“Well, you see,” Draco went on, holding onto his friendly tone with an effort, “I own the business across the street, and a few days ago, an owl delivered this--,” he held out the drawing, “--to my place of business. I’m quite certain in error.” She looked down at the piece of parchment, her lips pursed. A myriad of fine lines formed around her tight mouth. “Would this be the original design you commissioned for your grandson’s birthday cake?”

She stared, then nodded once curtly.

“And would the cake that was delivered, instead, be a rearing hippogriff with a snake in its beak?”

Mrs. Hanratty sniffed, her chins both lifting and wobbling. It was an unpleasant effect. “It was. And it was horrifying. My grandson will have nightmares for months.”

Draco sent her what he hoped was a charming smile. “How old is the boy?”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” she sniffed, “but he is eight years old.”

Draco couldn’t help his slight smirk. “Well, of course, my son might be different,” he said genially, “but at eight, I believe that Scorpius would have been delighted with a hippogriff.”

“Al and Jamie would have loved it, too,” Lily added enthusiastically. “I saw it this morning, and I thought it was wonderful.”

Mrs Hanratty pinned her with a malevolent glare. “What you think,” she turned and shot Draco a dark look, “or you, for that matter, is of no consequence. I ordered a different cake than what was delivered.”

“But that’s the point, you see,” Draco argued reasonably. “Your bird arrived with the design that Mr. Potter created, just as my customer’s bird arrived with this one.” He held it out to her again. “And I can assure you that Barnett Rohrbach, the prize fighter, has no desire for a tattoo of a pink pygmy puff on his chest. Lily might not have verified the design, but the mistake was with your bird, not with her.”

Mrs Hanratty’s eyes narrowed on Draco’s face. “Precious does not make mistakes,” she muttered. “And I know who you are.” Her eyes turned flinty. “You’re that Malfoy boy.”

The way she said his last name left Draco in no doubt as to what she thought of his family. “I haven’t been a boy in many years, Mrs Hanratty,” he said mildly. “But yes, my name is Malfoy.”

Her lip curled. “I knew your father.”

“My condolences.”

They stared at one another, her face flushing with angry color. “This conversation is none of your business,” she said finally, her lips scarcely moving. “And I will not stand here and be insulted…”

“I wasn’t insulting you,” Draco cut in calmly. “I was simply trying to explain to you what might have happened.”

“I will not be insulted,” she went on resolutely, her considerable chest puffing up, “by some piece of Death Eater scum that was implicated in the murder of Albus Dumbledore!”

Lily gasped, her eyes going wide, and Draco felt his anger flaring along with what he knew was bright colour across his cheekbones.

“Your father was no good, and it appears the apple didn’t fall far from the tree! Bad blood, the lot of you.”

Draco opened his mouth to speak, but he didn’t get the chance.

“What’s going on here?”

Harry Potter stood in the doorway between his shop and the back room, his hands on his narrow hips and his eyes hard. He was imposing, with his feet planted and his broad shoulders pulling at the fabric of his white chef’s coat.

Mrs Hanratty drew herself up importantly. “Mr Potter,” she said in a scathing tone, “I came here to inform you that the cake I ordered for my grandson’s birthday is not the cake that was delivered today.”

Potter looked at Lily, his brow creasing.

“It’s my fault, Daddy,” she said miserably. “You told me to verify it and I forgot to.”

“So, the cake was wrong?” Potter said, looking between his daughter and the old woman.

“Perhaps I can help clarify.” Draco stepped forward, the sketch held out. Potter took it and looked at it quickly, then lifted his eyes back to Draco’s face. “That arrived, somehow, via Barnett Rohrbach’s bird. I knew it didn’t look like a tattoo he would want, but none of us noticed the writing until today.” He took a step forward, close enough that he could smell Potter’s cologne mixed with the tantalizing odours of cinnamon and nutmeg, and pointed to the small script in the mass of the puff’s pink body. Potter studied it, then nodded slowly.

“I was trying to get your daughter to go and fetch you, when this person,” Mrs Hanratty gestured dismissively towards Draco, “insisted on stepping into a conversation that was none of his business.”

Potter stared at the drawing for a moment longer, then lifted his eyes. “Mrs Hanratty,” he said softly. “It appears that there’s been a misunderstanding.”

The woman drew herself up, her chin lifted. “There most certainly has been.”

“You see,” he went on, “I personally delivered Jeffrey’s cake, and from the positive reaction of his mother, and of the boy himself, I certainly thought that the right cake had been delivered.”

Mrs Hanratty blinked. “That’s scarcely the point,” she blustered. “Jeffrey’s a child and his Muggle-born mother is a fool.” She missed the dangerous gleam that entered Potter’s eyes, but Draco didn’t. Heedlessly, she went on. “I did not order that cake. I ordered a white sponge cake with Bavarian cream filling and pink buttercream icing, in the shape of a pygmy puff.”

“For an eight year old boy,” Potter said, and she nodded self-importantly. He appeared, for a moment, to be mulling her words. “Well, then instead of throwing a tantrum, you should thank Lily for never verifying the design, because I assure you, your grandson would not have been nearly as happy with that as he was with the cake I brought.” Mrs Hanratty’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “I’ve raised two sons, Mrs Hanratty,” Potter went on. “And I can’t think of a single eight year old boy who would want a pink pygmy puff at his birthday party.” He turned and stalked to the cash register, punching a button. The drawer slid open. “I will, however, refund your money.” He took several Galleons out of the drawer and held them out to her with a level stare. It apparently occurred to her that she wasn’t going to be offered an apology to go with her refund. She looked at the money for several seconds before snatching it out of his hand.

“I must say, Mr Potter, that I am disappointed in you. I have been a very good customer in the year and a half that you’ve been open, and I would have thought that the least you could do is offer some sort of sincere apology for my inconvenience.” She sniffed and stuffed the money into her ridiculously small pink purse. “I believe that from now on, I shall take my business elsewhere.”

“Mrs Hanratty,” Potter replied smoothly. “I believe that would be a very good idea.”

She stared at him, her mouth open.

“I… what?” she gasped.

“You have every right to be upset because of the confusion in regards to your order,” Potter said, his voice still deceptively mild. “You do not, however, have the right to harass my daughter or insult my friends.”

Draco stared at Potter, his mouth slightly open. He could not have been more surprised if Potter had announced that he occasionally liked to perform a Highland Reel in his plaid underpants. Potter glanced at him, a fetching blush on his face, then looked back at the old woman, who appeared as if she might suffer an aneurysm at any moment. “I should also add,” Potter went on, “that my mother was Muggle-born, my closest friend is Muggle-born, and I resent any implication that Muggle-borns might be stupid.”

“I did no such thing!” Mrs Hanratty spat.

“You did,” Potter countered. “You said ‘my Muggle-born daughter-in-law’, as if it were something bad. And for your information,” he looked at Draco again, his eyes steady, “Draco Malfoy had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Albus Dumbledore.” His gaze switched back to the old woman. “Nor was he an active Death Eater. His father made a mistake he ended up paying for. Perhaps you should speak to some of us who fought the war rather than trying to re-write its history.”

Mrs Hanratty’s face turned a deep, embarrassed crimson, and she sputtered ineffectively.

“Why—I never!” she finally managed.

Draco couldn’t help it; he was too surprised and exhilarated by Potter’s words, and it was simply too good an opening to let pass. “Well,” he drawled, his smirk directed at the woman, “you must have at least once, or you wouldn’t have a grandson.”

A startled giggle popped out of Lily’s mouth, and she clapped her hand over it, her green eyes almost comically wide.

“Well, I don’t have to stand here and… and be spoken to like that!” Mrs Hanratty stormed to the door, pausing just inside of it to level Potter with one last, hard look. “And you may rest assured, Mr. Potter, that I will tell all of my friends how I was treated here, and who you are currently associating with.” She shot Draco a venomous glare. “I feel quite certain that you will lose their business, as well, when they find out.”

Potter merely shrugged. “If they’re more interested in ‘who I associate with’ than in the product I produce, I won’t be sorry to see them go.”

She shook her head, her lips pursed in disapproval. “You are a very foolish man,” she said ponderously. “I know some very influential people, and public opinion is everything.” She turned and left, in what Draco was quite certain she thought was a graceful exit, slamming the door behind her. The closed sign swung merrily for a moment on its hook, then fell still.

“Well, that was fun,” Draco said, looking back at Potter. Potter’s smirk was almost Slytherin in nature, and it made Draco smile.

“I’m so sorry, Daddy,” Lily said, rushing to her father. “I was distracted and forgot to send the bird back with a note.”

“Sweetheart.” He opened his arms and she walked into them gratefully, her hands clutching his jacket. “Don’t worry about it.”

“But she spent so much money here,” she sniffed. “And what if her friends listen to her and stop shopping here?”

“I would venture a bet that she can count her ‘friends’ on one hand,” Potter said, kissing the top of her head and squeezing her. “And people aren’t going to stop buying their sweets because she’s got her nose out of joint.” He held her at arm’s length, his eyes warm. “And honestly, we probably added years to her life by chasing her away.” He pretended to frown thoughtfully. “Not that I’m sure that’s a public service, now I think about it.”

Lily rolled her eyes then snuggled happily once again against his chest. Potter looked at Draco over the top of her head as he stroked her curls fondly. “I’m afraid I’m responsible for a good portion of her girlish figure.”

Draco leaned against the counter with a wry smile. “Then you should be cited for helping to contribute to an eyesore. Her arse looks like two warthogs fighting for dominance in a burlap sack.”

Lily gasped, then burst into giggles, and Potter smiled. And once again, Draco felt as if there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room.

“I should… get back.” He gestured towards his shop with his head and straightened, then turned to go.

“Malfoy, wait.”

He turned back as Potter gently set his daughter from him, and took a white box from behind the counter. Draco watched as he opened his display case, took out a plate of his favorite scones, and placed it, plate and all, into the box. Pausing before adding a few lavishly decorated Christmas cookies to the top, he finally closed the box then came around the counter with it in his hands, and held it out to Draco.

“Thank you,” he murmured, his voice deep. It made a thrill streak down Draco’s spine. “For your attempt to intervene on Lily’s behalf. I appreciate it.”

“Having once been a bully,” Draco replied, his own voice deeper than he expected, “I thought I might know best how to derail one.” He took the box with a slight smile. “If I didn’t love these so much, I’d accuse you of trying to perform the same function on my arse that you did on Mrs Hanratty’s.”

A spark lit in Potter’s eyes, and his mouth quirked up at the corner. “That wouldn’t be the function I’d like to perform on your arse,” he whispered softly enough that his daughter couldn’t hear, and Draco blinked, stunned as heat washed over his face.

“I… uhm… okay,” Draco stammered, caught off guard. “I, uh, I’m going now.”

He turned towards the door, feeling both shocked and elated. Had Potter just said what he thought he’d said? He shook his head in bemusement. Once again, he was almost to the door when Potter spoke.

“You know,” Potter called, vivid eyes sparkling when Draco looked back, “at one time I would have believed that you somehow mixed those owls up on purpose, just to cause me trouble.”

Draco allowed a slow smile to develop across his face. “At one time,” he countered, “I would have.”

He turned and left with a spring in his step, lifting his smiling face into the brisk breeze, feeling as if Potter had just given him an early Christmas gift.

oooOOOooo

Harry watched the lean figure hurry across the street, long legs moving quickly, white blond hair lifting in the breeze. Malfoy moved with a sort of liquid grace that was almost hypnotic to watch.

He couldn’t believe he’d said that. He couldn’t believe he’d actually murmured, “That wouldn’t be the function I’d want to perform on your arse”. Even as the words had come out of his mouth, he’d been stunned to be saying them aloud, in front of his daughter no less! What in hell had he been thinking? Well, clearly, he mused, his eyes distant as Malfoy disappeared through the door into his shop, his brain had been taken over by his crotch.

It had been the worst kept secret at Hogwarts that Malfoy was gay; he’d spent some time dating Parkinson in their fourth year, but by the beginning of their fifth, Malfoy was no longer pretending to be anything other than precisely what he was. Harry had spent time that year, when he wasn’t being broody, making as many nasty homophobic remarks about Malfoy as his dorm mates had; in retrospect, he was heartily ashamed of that. Malfoy had been a git, but Harry now wondered how much of his participation in the razing had been an effort to keep his own secrets. When Malfoy had gotten married, Harry had been as incredulous as everybody else. Only when Hermione had explained that in the wizarding world, single male heirs of old pureblood families were actually required to produce an heir, had it made any sense to him. At the time, he’d felt almost—relieved to find that out.

He wondered about that now, running his hand absently over his slightly rough jaw. Ginny had made several cracks about his fixation with blonds over the years; he wondered if she’d long known something he was only beginning to figure out. Malfoy, he thought with a grunt. Huh.

He felt arms snake around his waist, and absently reached down to stroke Lily’s baby soft hair. It still felt exactly as it had when she’d been two; soft curls twined around his fingers, and he kissed the top of her head.

“He likes you, you know,” she murmured against the front of his jacket, and Harry stilled, his hand still twined in her hair. He cleared his throat roughly, a wave of heat washing over his face.

“He doesn’t, not really,” he said, his voice rough. “But we go way back. It’s probably more about common history than anything. But it was nice of him to try to come to your rescue.”

She leaned back and looked up at him, green eyes wide, her head tilted at an impish angle. “He likes you. As in, likes you, likes you.”

Harry blinked, feeling as wrong-footed as he ever had in his life. What was he supposed to say to that?

“Lily,” he began, but with a knowing look that was so reminiscent of her mother’s that Harry felt rhetorically stripped by it, she shook her head, her eyes full of very adult understanding.

“I don’t care, Daddy,” she whispered. “I just want you to be happy, that’s all.”

Harry felt blood rush to his face. “I am happy, baby,” he said. Again she shook her head.

“You aren’t,” she countered. “You’re lonely. I can tell.” She smoothed her delicate hand down the front of his chest, her eyes thoughtful. “Every time I go back to school, I worry about you. And wish you could find someone.”

“Find someone,” he parroted. Her eyes lifted back to his.

“Yes, find someone. Someone to take care of you.”

“Lily,” he murmured, but she went on.

“Someone who makes you smile, who makes you laugh.” She looked back down at the buttons on his jacket. “It doesn’t matter to me that it might be a man, even Mr Malfoy.” She shrugged; Harry was stunned at the casual way she accepted something about him that it had taken years for him to accept himself. “And trust me,” those lovely eyes lifted back to his, “the boys aren’t going to care, either. They know, Daddy. We’ve all known for a while.”

“You’ve all… known,” Harry repeated faintly. “I don’t understand.”

She cocked one ginger brow. “Andre?”

Now Harry knew he was blushing; his face felt as if it were on fire.

Lily’s expression was entirely too knowing for his peace of mind.

“Funny,” she said, eyes sparkling, “how he was almost as blond as Mr Malfoy, isn’t it?”

She gave him a teasing smile and went back to the counter, flicking her wand to remove fingerprints from the glass. Harry watched her for a moment, completely at a loss as to what to say, then turned and looked back across the street. He studied the glass windows where ‘Wizard Ink’ was etched in silver letters that caught the bright winter sun.

Why was it, he wondered idly, that he was just now realising that every man he’d ever fantasised about, and every man he’d hooked up with since he’d ‘come out’ to himself, was in fact blond?

oooOOOooo

“Oh, go home, you daft bint,” Draco said in a good natured growl as he meticulously sterilised his equipment. The bell above the door had jangled behind him, and he was certain it was Pansy unable to resist one last parting shot. She’d spent the afternoon teasing him mercilessly about the pretty decorated gingerbread men that had been inside of the bakery box.

“Oh, look, Draco,” she said with wide-eyed amusement. “This little gingerbread man is blond. And this one has black hair. How very Freudian.” He’d thrown a peppermint at her, but she’d only smirked in response.

“You know, I’ve been called a number of things in my life,” a deep voice said, and the hair at Draco’s nape lifted. “But I don’t think ‘daft bint’ is one of them.”

Cautiously slipping his wand into the black leather holster strapped to his forearm, Draco turned, swallowing when he saw Potter standing inside of the shop door. The white chef’s jacket was gone, and in its place was a hunter green jumper topped by a bulky sheepskin coat. There was a black knitted cap pulled low on his head; it flattened his fringe and made his wild hair brush the frames of his glasses and curl behind his ears.

“I thought it was Pansy,” Draco said, his voice breathless even to his own ears.

“I figured as much,” Potter replied. “I saw her leave a minute ago. She waved at me as I started across the street.”

I’ll bet she did, Draco thought wryly. He was never going to hear the end of this. He studied the man standing almost hesitantly inside the shop doors, his hands crammed in his coat pockets, and it occurred to Draco that he looked nervous. That made him feel less unsteady, himself.

“So, what brings you here, Potter?” he asked, standing. He saw Potter’s eyes move over him from his head to his feet, and felt a renewed surge of lust. He’d spent the afternoon trying to tamp down the reaction that Potter’s muttered words had given rise to. Damn the man; all he had to do was look at him, and he was half hard.

Potter’s eyes came back to his, and his full lips curved almost shyly. (And wasn’t that the hottest thing, ever?) “I saw that your light was on,” he said, reaching up to pull the cap from his head. Curls sprang up in its wake. “And I thought, maybe…”

Draco approached him slowly. “And you thought maybe…?” he prodded. But Potter’s eyes had left his again, moving to his left arm, and Draco propped his hand on his narrow hip, knowing the pushed up sleeve of his jumper revealed his tattoo. Potter’s fascination with it was almost amusing. And more than a little arousing.

“I thought, maybe, if you hadn’t had dinner…” Potter’s voice trailed off as he stepped closer. “Malfoy.” His voice had dropped to a low timbre, and it moved across Draco’s skin like a caress. Draco felt gooseflesh rise on his neck. “I was wondering…” Green eyes, almost as wide and guileless as they’d been at fifteen, lifted to his. “Where does the tattoo end?”

Draco blinked. “Where does it end?”

“On your upper arm, or your back, or…” Potter shrugged, his cheeks pink. “I was just wondering.”

Draco felt a smile tug at his lips. “Shall I show you?”

It was Potter’s turn to blink, and he licked his lower lip. The sight of the tip of that pink tongue made Draco feel a bit light headed, and how foolish was that for a man his age? “Show me?” Potter murmured, brows lifted. Irritated by his own reaction to the man, Draco’s voice came out rougher than he’d intended.

“Yes, Potter, show you.”

Potter was far more conscious of nuances than Draco ever would have given him credit for, because he took a step back at Draco’s brusque tone. “If I’m bothering you…”

“You aren’t,” Draco said quickly. “Not at all. Don’t leave.”

Potter stopped, as watchful once again as that deer ready to bolt, and Draco would have kicked himself in the arse had it been physiologically possible. The man was finally inside of his shop; he didn’t want to frighten him off.

“Just let me…” Draco carefully took his wand from its holster and waved it. Immediately the blinds across the front of the store slid down with a soft rush of sound and a black shade lowered to cover the door. Potter glanced back, then looked at Draco quizzically. “I’m not much for putting on a public display,” he explained. “And these windows, when lit up at night, are like being on a stage.”

Potter nodded slowly.

Draco laid his wand on his leather covered table as he came around it and stopped a few feet from where Potter stood. Catching and holding his gaze, he reached for the hem of his jumper and saw Potter watching him avidly. Fearful that the heat in his face meant he was blushing like a schoolboy, Draco closed his eyes and pulled the snug cashmere garment off over his head. The silence inside of the shop felt thick, and expectant.

Draco opened his eyes again, and found Potter staring, his face unreadable, at his chest. Draco’s nipples contracted almost painfully tight under the watchful gaze, sending shards of need south. Potter took a step towards him, then another.

“You aren’t scarred.”

Draco frowned slightly. “Pardon?”

“Your chest,” Potter clarified. His hand twitched, as if he wanted to reach out and touch, just to be sure. “You aren’t,” he swallowed, and his Adam’s apple bobbed. “I was afraid you’d been permanently scarred.”

“Oh.” Draco shook his head. “Severus was very, very good.”

Potter frowned slightly. “He was, in any number of ways,” he murmured.

It was Draco’s turn to stare; as far as he knew, Potter had hated Snape. But then he recalled that Potter’s youngest was named Albus Severus. He’d joked on seeing the announcement in the papers that the boy would never forgive his parents for hanging him with that, but now he wondered about it. But with Potter’s eyes moving over his chest and shoulder, he rather thought the story could wait until later.

Potter took several slow steps, bringing him close enough to Draco that he could smell his cologne, see each individual dark lash. He studied Draco’s upper arm and shoulder with almost clinical detachment, then stepped to the side. Facilitating his study, Draco turned slightly, his eyes still on Potter’s fascinated expression.

“It’s honestly spectacular,” Potter murmured finally.

“There’s more to it,” Draco said, his own voice soft. When Potter glanced down at his trousers, he nearly laughed aloud. “No, not—“ Draco picked up his wand and pressed the tip of it to the curl around his thumb. “Blanditia, he whispered, and he felt the flowers stirring as a faint tingling along the vines.

“Oh.”

Potter reached out, then paused, his hand just inches from the largest bloom, just beneath the clavicle on the left side of Draco’s chest. “May I?”

He’d asked before he’d touched his arm at Longbottom’s, too. Draco had a sudden wild thought, no doubt born of the other man’s closeness and Draco’s own reaction to him. Did Potter ask so nicely before he fucked a person, he wondered? If he did, did many people have the wherewithal to say no? The man was—there were no words to describe the way he made Draco feel.

“Be my guest,” Draco whispered, and Potter’s eyes came back to his for a moment. He wondered if Potter could read in his gaze that Draco was giving him permission for more than merely touching the tattoo. Again, the man swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing, and Draco’s eyes went to it, his mouth watering for want of kissing it, sucking it, nibbling on it.

Potter’s fingers approached his skin, and it was as if there was an electrical current in them. The closer they got, the more gooseflesh rose on Draco’s neck and arms. When Potter’s fingers touched the narcissus, tracing the spreading leaves, Draco had to close his eyes against a rush of longing. Potter’s fingers were steady and warm; so warm.

“Do all magical tattoos do this?” Potter asked, his mouth close to Draco’s ear. He felt the puff of his breath, and Draco’s cock hardened. If Potter glanced down, there was no way he could miss the fact that it was straining the material where it was trapped by black denim against the inside of his thigh. Draco swallowed hard.

“There’s an enchantment in the ink,” he managed. “It’s activated once the tattoo has fully healed.”

“Ah.”

Potter stepped back, and Draco felt his withdrawal in the center of his chest. Surprising how cold the room became when he’d just taken one step back. Draco reached for his sweater, but Potter’s hand closed over his wrist.

“I’d like to look at it for a few more moments, if that’s all right with you.”

Draco slowly nodded, fighting the urge to cross his arms over his chest. Potter’s eyes continued to move over the elegant twist of vines and flowers, even as he reached into his pocket and withdrew a scroll.

“I drew this a long time ago,” he said almost hesitantly. “I was wondering if you could tell me what you thought.”

I think I want to jump you, a voice that sounded very much like his own muttered in his head. “Certainly,” he said instead, taking the scroll from Potter’s out stretched hand. He unrolled it, and made an appreciative noise.

It was a beautifully rendered drawing of an owl; a snowy owl, to be precise. Draco sighed softly. “She was a lovely bird,” he said, looking up to find Potter studying his face. “I always thought so.”

Potter seemed to be having trouble forming words for a moment; he swallowed several times. “She could be a right bitch,” he managed finally. “But she was my friend.”

Draco nodded. “Where did you want it?”

Potter dampened his lips with another slide of tongue. “My back, I thought. Do you want to see?”

Draco felt momentarily as if Christmas had come early. Fighting to hide his enthusiasm for the idea, he nodded in what he hoped was a professional manner. Holding his eyes, Potter let his jacket slip from his shoulders to the floor, then reached down and crossing his arms, gripped the hem and pulled the green jumper off over his head.

Draco momentarily forgot to breathe. When Pansy had said the man was fit, she’d had no earthly idea.

He was slender; his stomach was flat but nicely muscled. His chest was firm, pectorals well defined. And his shoulders; well, they were far more impressive uncovered than they had been in his chef’s jacket and that was saying something. Potter turned slowly, displaying a beautifully smooth, muscled back and it was all Draco could manage to keep his hands to himself.

“In the center,” Potter said, glancing back. “I thought it would be nice if it stretched from shoulder to shoulder when her wings were spread.”

Draco glanced at the drawing. “Her wings spread?”

“Oh, right.” Potter withdrew his wand from a brown suede holster that was attached to his belt and hung down the outside of his left leg. Draco had seen Aurors wear them that way, and wondered if that was where Potter had picked up the habit. It was damned sexy, wherever he’d gotten it. He touched the tip of it to the drawing and without a word, the owl seemed to awaken, her great amber eyes blinking, her head turning slightly as she spread her wings.

The animation was stunning. Each fluid movement of her muscles had been lovingly rendered, each feather meticulously outlined. Draco leaned closer to look at the line work, and to his surprise, saw a name artfully hidden in the details.

Colin Creevey.

Draco leaned even closer. On the next feather was Fred Weasley. Next to that was Nymphadora Tonks Lupin , and next to that, Remus Lupin.

“Oh,” Draco murmured. “Potter, this is…” There really were no words.

One feather had the name Albus Dumbledore, which made Draco flinch a little; his eyes began to sting when he saw Severus Snape. Each feather had a different name lovingly etched into the spine; dozens of feathers, dozens of names.Sirius Black, James Potter, Lily Evans Potter, Vincent Crabbe….

Draco’s breath caught. “Crabbe?” he said, turning his head. “You’ve Crabbe’s name here? He tried to murder you.”

Potter’s eyes were steady, and filled with painful understanding. “Those are the victims of the war, of Voldemort. Crabbe’s father made his choices for him, just like yours did for you. He was as much a victim as anyone else was.” He paused, his eyes going to the drawing. “I think it’s important to remember them all.”

Draco didn’t know what propelled him forward. One moment he was staring into those soulful eyes, and the next he’d thrown his arms around Potter’s neck and crushed his lips over his mouth. Potter made a startled sort of grunt, but seemed to get over his surprise if the speed with which his arms curled around Draco was any indication. Hard chest connected with hard chest, and Draco made a needy sound of pleasure when Potter’s mouth opened against his.

He tasted like heaven, was the last cognizant thought to flit through Draco’s brain; brown sugar and cinnamon and something darker, molasses maybe. He’d have teased Potter about sampling his own wares if he hadn’t been so busy sending his tongue in search of each lingering hint of flavour. He felt Potter’s hands slide down his spine, and murmured in approval when they closed over the globes of his arse. Potter pulled him in, and Draco felt the hardness in the front of Potter’s jeans brush his hipbone.

He tried to keep track of what he was doing, but he felt like he was the flint and this—madness, for that’s what it was—was a brush fire. He was aware of surprise that Potter’s hair was much softer than it looked, but that thought was swept aside when he felt Potter’s hand at his nape. Potter took control of the kiss, took control of everything as he backed Draco into his table and pushed him down on it. Draco heard his wand clatter to the floor and felt the parchment against his spine. He might have protested, if it wasn’t so completely perfect and if he weren’t so desperate to feel the man’s weight on him. He clutched his biceps as Potter lowered him, and moaned into his mouth when he felt the solid body stretch out on top of his own.

Potter kneed his thighs apart, and Draco spread them willingly, even arching up to meet Potter’s hips as they descended. “Oh, yes,” he muttered when Potter’s lips left his and started down the side of his throat. “Yes, that.”

Potter chuckled, and the sound seemed to skim Draco’s skin like the touch of a feather. His nipples were so hard they hurt, and when Potter lowered his head to suck on one of them, Draco arched his back with a startled cry. He was forty-three years old, and on the verge of coming in his pants like a fourteen year old. He fisted his hand in the back of Potter’s hair and pulled.

“Come back here,” he gasped, pulling Potter’s face back to his. “I want your mouth.”

“I want your cock,” Potter countered against his lips, and his fingers went to work at Draco’s fly even as he kissed him into semi-consciousness. He had them opened and around his thighs with his pants in no time. His cock, gratefully released from its trap against his thigh, slapped against his lower belly, and Potter paused kissing him long enough to look down, his fingers curling around it. Draco made a keening sound in his throat that would have embarrassed him at any other time. “So perfect,” Potter crooned into his ear, stroking him slowly. “Long and pale, just like you.”

The completely undignified chuckle burst from Draco without his consent. “Thank you, I think,” he said, smiling into Potter’s neck. He ran his trembling hands over the solid chest, down to the waistband of his jeans. “Turnabout’s fair play, Potter. Out you come.”

Now Potter laughed, pausing long enough to lift his hips. Draco felt Potter open his denims, then he caught Draco’s hand and guided it to his groin; Draco managed to swallow a surprised squeak. Potter wasn’t as long as he was, but he was thick. Draco could scarcely get his fingers around him. “Well, this is impressive,” he managed, and Potter chuckled against his cheek as his hand returned to Draco, dropping now to fondle his balls. Draco’s eyes rolled back in his head.

“Glad you think so,” Potter whispered, his lips moving once again to Draco’s throat. They opened there, and Draco arched when he felt the skin drawn between lips and teeth. Potter applied strong enough suction that it made Draco’s toes curl, and he cried out when Potter once again encircled his cock with a strong hand and began to stroke it.

“Potter,” Draco gasped. “I’m too close. I won’t last…”

“Who said anything about wanting you to last?” Potter sounded both breathless and amused, and if Draco had had the presence of mind, he’d have smacked him. Unfortunately, his mind had dropped into his prick, and it quite approved of what Potter was doing. “This is just the first round, Malfoy,” Potter promised, his voice determined. “Now that I’ve got you here, don’t begin to think I’ll be satisfied with a quick one off at the wrist.”

Draco struggled for an answer. “Being a bit presumptuous, aren’t you, Potter?” he managed. Potter laughed, and Draco felt it move through his chest.

“Not at all,” he answered, adding a twist on the end of each stroke that had Draco arching up. “This is okay for a first round, but I want to take you in my mouth--,” his mouth was right against Draco’s ear, and the wet heat and the promise in his tone had Draco’s balls tightening, “—and my throat. I want to swallow around you as you come. I want to spread your cheeks and find you with my fingers, then my tongue, then my cock. I want to fuck you, Malfoy. Often, hard and long.”

That was it; Draco came with a back wrenching arch and a shattered cry, shuddering as Potter stroked him through it, shaking when it was over. Over sensitized to the point of near pain, he drew in a shaking breath and grabbed Potter’s hand.

“Stop,” he said, then turned his face, seeking Potter’s mouth. “Just kiss me.”

Potter made a satisfied sound and did as he’d been asked, slipping his tongue into Draco’s mouth, stroking with a lazy, almost reassuring slowness. Draco sighed into it, forcing an arm that felt boneless to lift, letting his hand sink into Potter’s hair. Potter finally pulled back and pressed his cheek against Draco’s.

“Was it good?” he murmured. Draco chuckled weakly.

“I believe the evidence is probably all over your hand.” Potter’s answering laugh sounded a bit strained. Draco understood why a moment later when he felt the back of Potter’s fingers brushing his pubic hair, and heard the sound of flesh moving briskly on flesh. “Oh, I should…” Draco said, reaching down weakly. His fingers found Potter’s and joined his on his prick. “…let me.” Draco looked down and saw the head of Potter’s cock, red and swollen, disappearing and reappearing in his fist, tip oozing, and that he was using Draco’s release as lube. That was perhaps the sexiest thing he’d ever seen, and Draco’s spent cock gave a half-hearted lurch.

“Too late,” Potter managed, sounding as if he were speaking through clenched teeth, and Draco looked into his face in time to see his eyes clench shut and his mouth drop open on a silent cry. The powerful body above him shuddered, and Draco felt a sweeping tenderness as he tightened his fingers around Potter’s hand, holding it steady as he thrust erratically through their joined fingers. He felt a warm, wet splash on his wrist and the back of his hand, and wrapped his arm around Potter’s shoulders when he collapsed against his chest.

Their breathing was slow returning to normal, a testament perhaps to the fact that weren’t still teenagers. Potter shifted once and moved his face to press against Draco’s throat, but he didn’t lift himself away, and Draco didn’t relinquish his embrace. Silence spread, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

“Well,” Draco said finally. “This is new for us.”

He felt Potter’s chuckle as much as heard it, and the hand that he felt move over his head, and the fingers that stroked his hair, made him want to purr.

“You could say that,” Potter agreed, pressing his lips to Draco’s neck. Draco angled his head to allow him greater access, and then did, in fact, purr. “Are you purring?” Potter asked, sounding amused.

“No, I am not,” Draco answered matter-of-factly. Potter kissed his throat again, and another incriminating sound issued from his lips.

“Yes, you are,” Potter countered.

“Oh, shut it, you,” Draco scolded without heat, and he felt Potter’s lips curve up against his skin. After a moment, he placed one last kiss under Draco’s chin and raised his head, propping it on his hand as he looked down into Draco’s face. Draco met his gaze, unsure what he’d find there. The warmth and humor was reassuring.

“So, should we get dressed, do you think?” Potter teased, glancing down meaningfully. They were both naked for all intents and purposes, but for the bunched up clothing that had somehow managed to twine around their knees.

“I can’t see why,” Draco said. His gaze grew challenging. “Unless, at your advanced age, you’ve only got one in you.”

“We’re the same age, git.” Potter’s eyes narrowed even as they sparkled. “And I think you’ll find that next time, you’ll have one in you.”

“For your information, I don’t bottom exclusively,” Draco said even as a thrill of anticipation moved over his skin. His cock seemed to approve as well; this twitch was emphatic.

“Good,” Potter said with a cheeky grin. “I don’t top exclusively. This should work out extremely well.”

Slowly, Draco allowed himself to smile. Indeed, it should. Potter’s smile softened around the edges.

“You know,” he murmured, fingers lifting to absently stroke the tattoo above Draco’s breast, “I feel like we ought to send Mrs Hanratty a thank you note.”

Draco frowned. “Whatever for?”

Potter’s eyes were shining. “Well, an argument could be made for the fact that if it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Draco scoffed. “If it weren’t for her ruddy bird, you mean,” he countered. “I think it makes as much sense to thank the bloody pygmy puff.”

Potter’s mouth, still swollen from Draco’s kisses, curved invitingly. “Next time I see one,” he whispered, leaning in close, “I’ll do that.”

“You’re quite mad,” Draco said, twining his arms around Potter’s neck.

“You like it.” Potter peppered kisses along his jaw line. “Admit it.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” Draco sniffed, letting his fingers sink into the wealth of Potter’s hair. “You do, however, have your uses.”

Potter laughed, and kissed him.

oooOOOooo

Scorpius Malfoy quietly unlocked the back door of his father’s shop, holding the small hand of his date, leading her into what amounted to a storage room. They’d gone by to speak to her father, but hadn’t been able to locate him. Scorpius knew that his father was still at work; even though the blinds were all drawn, he’d been able to tell that the lights were on. It wasn’t the first time it had happened; occasionally Draco had a well known client who didn’t want to come in during the day, and he stayed late. Scorpius thought it might be cool if there was someone famous who he could impress his companion with.

“Wait here, okay?” he said to her now. “If he’s got a client, he might not want to be disturbed.”

She nodded quickly, crossing her arms and tucking her hands under her arms. She looked cold, but Scorpius knew she was just nervous. He paused long enough to drop a soft kiss on her bow shaped lips.

“Relax,” he murmured, rubbing her arms. “It will be fine; you’ll see.”

She managed a brave little smile, and Scorpius turned, making his way through the darkened storage room to the swinging door that separated the front of the shop from the back.

He began to call out as he pushed against it, and swallowed it as his eyes caught sight of something inside. He only looked for a moment, but he saw a flash of pale flank, tawny broad shoulders, bare torsos, pants bunched around knees and most shocking of all, a very nude, muscular male arse. He pulled his head back quickly, his heart slamming into his ribs. He knew that his father preferred men, but it was the first time he’d seen evidence of it with his own eyes. He thought he might ask Aunt Pansy to Obliviate him. He started to turn, but something else he’d seen made him halt in his tracks.

“No way…” he murmured under his breath, turning back to the door. Trying hard not to see any more than he already had, he inched the door open and peered around the edge. Right there, on his father’s table just inches above where long, slender fingers were sunk into a wealth of messy black hair, was a pair of glasses. A very distinctive pair of wire rimmed glasses. Scorpius stepped back and let the door swing shut, feeling as if he’d taken a Bludger to the head. He turned and went back to his companion, a bemused frown on his face.

“What is it?” she asked, sounding a bit worried. “Is everything all right?”

Scorpius chewed the inside of his cheek as he searched for an answer. Was it? He honestly wasn’t sure, but as he looked down into the upturned heart-shaped face, he was able to see the humor in the situation.

“Well,” he said slowly, “I know one thing.”

“What’s that?” Lily Potter asked, her beautiful green eyes wide.

Scorpius felt a laugh trying to work its way out of his chest. “I don’t think our fathers can have much to say about the fact that we’re dating.”

Lily frowned slightly. “What makes you think that?”

Scorpius grabbed her hand and pulled her out through the door that led to the rear alley, closing it quietly before he allowed himself to lean into the brick wall and laugh. He laughed long enough and hard enough that when he paused for breath, there were tears on his face.

Lily propped her hands on her hips. “Would you care to share what is so bloody funny?”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said, still chuckling, shaking his head. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and he held his hands up, palm out. “Let me say this,” he said, taking her arm and pulling her against his chest. She softened instantly. “If necessary, we have black mail material into the next millennium”

She frowned quizzically when he began to laugh again.

oooOOOooo

Christmas Future…

Draco was happily ensconced in his chair before the fire, a brandy at his elbow and a good book in his hands, his stocking clad feet on a leather ottoman.

Everything was done for the following day; the tree was trimmed and twinkled merrily in the corner, the packages were wrapped, and entirely due to Harry, a feast fit for a passel of Weasleys was already sitting in the kitchen under stasis charms. Harry had worked himself to near exhaustion for the past few days, between the bakery and trying to get everything finished at home, but he so desperately wanted everything to be perfect. He simply hadn’t listened to Draco when he’d told him that it already was.

Draco had closed his own business for the entire Christmas weekend; there wasn’t a real run on tattoos before New Years, and he had thought to help. And he’d done a bit, but Harry had wanted him to rest, concerned about the cold Draco had been fighting the week before. Draco shook his head as he took another sip of brandy; the man worried entirely too much about others, and not nearly enough about himself.

But Draco could understand why he was nervous; it was the first time that the entire extended family was coming to their house for Christmas. Lily and Scorpius were home from their honeymoon, the boys were both coming with new girlfriends in tow, and the Weasleys were to come, lock, stock, and ex-wife. Fortunately, she, as well, was bringing a new significant other, or Draco wasn’t certain he’d have allowed her in the door. The only one missing from the mix was Astoria, (Asteria; whatever) thank God, and that was because she and the new hubby (her third since Draco) were on honeymoon in America, of all places. Texas, to be precise, and when Draco had heard he’d nearly laughed himself to tears. He had lots of amusing fantasies about his ex and cacti and bucking broncos.

Draco turned a page in his book, the latest completely scurrilous biography by that skank Skeeter; Harry had been horrified when he’d brought it into the house. Until he’d seen that it was about Dolores Umbridge; then he hadn’t minded so very much. Draco found the whole thing terribly amusing, and he was chuckling when he felt an unmistakable tingling between his left hipbone and his groin. He paused with the brandy half way to his mouth, waiting. The feeling lasted for a few more seconds, then faded away, and Draco’s lips curled up as he took a sip of his drink. He was setting it back on the table when the sensation came again.

A cross between a tickle and a caress, it moved over the skin near his pubic hair, a subtle but unmistakable sensation. His smile spread, and he dropped his feet to the floor and placed his book, face down, onto the stool before standing. ”Finite Incantatem,” he murmured, and the tree and the candles and the fire on the hearth dimmed as he left the room.

Warmth began to move over the spot near his groin as he climbed the stairs, his hand on the garland wrapped banister. The house was silent and dim, but he knew his way.

They had lived at Harry’s for the first two years they’d been together, but the Weasley clan, including the ex, had been entirely too comfortable just popping through the Floo. That problem had been solved when Lily and Scorpius had moved in together - even though Harry had been less than thrilled by the idea, they’d both been in school and broke, and he’d allowed them to move into the house.

Draco had taught Scorpius how to successfully close the Floo, knowing he could do it without the associated guilt Harry would feel, and he and Harry had moved out. They’d found this lovely old farm house in Cornwall, connected the Floo to his shop and Harry’s, and only opened it to others on special occasions. They had lived in relative peace ever since. It was a good thing; Molly Weasley had gotten rather more than an eyeful on more than one occasion. Funny how it hadn’t seemed to discourage her from popping in. Draco had told his partner he thought his ex-mother in law was an old perv; Harry had tried to look stern as he’d scolded him. And failed.

There was soft light emanating from their bedroom at the top of the stairs, and Draco pushed the half-closed door open, his eyes going immediately to the bed. He wasn’t disappointed.

Harry had put the hunter green and burgundy bedding Draco favored on their large, queen sized sleigh bed, lit a fire in the rock fireplace that had been a major selling point of the house, and was now reclining against their mountain of pillows with his legs crossed at the ankle, wearing black boxer shorts and a smile. There were candles lit on either side of the bed, and the golden glow picked up the silver strands that were still a very minor contingent in the wealth of his black hair and made his tawny skin glow. He was rubbing a spot near his groin on the outside of his pants, right between his hipbone and what appeared to be a healthy erection.

“You summoned?” Draco said, one brow quirking.

“I wondered where you were.” Harry smiled at him slowly, the smile that still made Draco’s heart beat too fast and his breath catch. He held out his unoccupied hand, and Draco went to him and took it. Harry pressed a little harder to the spot near his own groin, and a streak of desire leapt from Draco’s hip indentation, straight to his cock. It lurched in his trousers. He narrowed his eyes on Harry as he knelt on the bed.

“Feeling frisky, Mr. Potter?”

Harry’s smile mellowed. “Lonely,” he countered. “I missed you.”

Draco rolled his eyes even as he crawled toward him. “I was right downstairs.” Draco reclined on the pillows next to him, leaning on his elbow.

“I know.” Harry reached over and ran his fingers through Draco’s fringe, pushing it aside, then let his fingers trail down his cheek. “I feel like I’ve been neglecting you.”

Draco shook his head. “You haven’t; you’ve just been busy. It’s a daunting business, preparing to entertain every Weasley within a thousand miles. There are so very many of them.”

Harry chuckled. “They do seem to propagate…”

“…like rabbits,” Draco cut in dryly, and Harry laughed. “Well, they do.”

“There are a lot of them,” Harry agreed good-naturedly. “And you’ve been a very good sport.”

Draco made a scoffing noise. “My son married into this mess,” he said. “It was accept it, or never see him again.”

Harry raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re sort of aligned with ‘this mess’ too, love.”

Draco gave him an arch look. “I am aligned with a Potter, sir, not a Weasley. There is a very specific, non-ginger, difference.”

Harry caught him around the waist and pulled him onto his chest. “I’d like to remind you that my mother was a ginger.”

Draco, unfazed, smirked at him. “But you, my dear, are not. Nor are you covered in freckles. Nor do you have ginger pubes…”

Harry’s outraged laugh filled the room, and he rolled Draco onto his back and lay on top of him. “You,” Harry said, pushing down with his hips, “are entirely too cheeky for your own good.”

“And you,” Draco replied, lifting his foot to rub the bottom of his sock up the back of Harry’s calf, “like it.”

Harry’s eyes darkened and his smile mellowed. “I do,” he murmured, brushing a kiss to Draco’s chin, then following it with a quick nip of his teeth. “I really do.”

Draco spread his legs, sighing in contentment when the bulge in Harry’s boxers lined up seamlessly with the burgeoning one in his own. Harry brought his mouth down to his, kissing him with first soft, teasing touches, then opening his lips and deepening the connection, his tongue sweeping past Draco’s teeth to caress the inside of his mouth. Draco sighed into it, his hand lifting to slide through Harry’s hair as the spot very near his groin rubbed against the corresponding spot near Harry’s, and he felt a wonderful, warm surge of magic. The sound Harry made, almost a contented growl, told Draco that he’d felt it, too.

When Draco had found the spell that two people could use to be linked through tattoos, he’d told Harry about it simply as something he’d found interesting. He should have known better than to mention it; Harry had been all over the idea, and hadn’t let it drop. Draco had finally agreed, and then Harry had wanted for the tattoos to be something that had special significance for the two of them.

Draco had suggested house emblems, but agreed when Harry said they had grown past their school days. They’d discussed many possibilities, and had all but reached an impasse, when Harry had come home with a set of designs he had drawn.

At first, Draco’s reaction had been not only no, but hell no.

“Come on,” Harry had said. “They’re perfect.”

“I am not putting that on my person,” Draco had retorted.

“Fine. You do this one, then.” He’d tossed Draco the other sketch, which Draco looked at, then sent him a baleful look.

“While I’m not married to the symbol of my own house, I’ll be damned if I’m doing that either.”

Harry had collected the sketches silently, putting them away, but the crestfallen look on his face had eaten away at Draco for two days. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, he’d conceded.

The work had been done by a tattoo artist friend of Draco’s who was especially gifted with magical links, and who could be sworn to absolute secrecy, breaking it only, quite literally, on pain of death. Draco had to reinforce himself with half a bottle of cognac before hand, saying the only way he could manage was if he was too drunk to protest, but finally the tattoos were done. The healing had been a nearly painless process, and while he’d made lots of disparaging remarks about his tattoo over the years, privately, he rather liked it. It was small, and unobtrusive, unlike the winged monstrosity near Potter’s hip, and unless one looked at it very closely and knew what it was, it could almost pass as a birthmark on his pale skin. And when it tingled… well.

Harry reached between them, his dexterous fingers slipping Draco’s belt open, then easily opening his fly. He felt Harry’s hand slip inside his pants, and he made a sound in his throat when warm fingers brushed through the curls at the base of his cock. Against him, he could feel the tingling of magic as the tiny hippogriff inked just inside Harry’s hipbone reared and flapped its wings. Draco slipped his hands up Harry’s strong back, knowing that Hedwig was spreading her wings beneath his touch.

And when Harry unerringly brushed the tattooed spot just to the left of Draco’s hip with the pads of his fingers, Draco felt little shocks of magic shoot down his legs and up into his chest. He groaned into Harry’s mouth and pressed up as his cock hardened rapidly and fully.

And the pygmy puff, inked to his pale skin between his hip and his groin, purred.

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