Harry hated blind dates. Nevertheless, he engaged in the masochistic ritual of dating because he was single, and dating proportionately increased his chances of procuring free sex. However, as of late even the promise of a good blow job or a bit of slap and tickle wasn't enough to rouse Harry's interest in his potential suitors. Over a bottle of gin and a bowl of maraschino cherries—complete with ornamental paper umbrellas—Harry realized that the problem was that he wanted someone he couldn't have. That rather put him off of wanting anyone else.
And so it was that while Jeremy–something–or–other blathered on and on about such-and-such, Harry was contemplating the paper umbrella precariously balanced on the rim of his glass. He felt an odd sense of regret that such a bright and pretty thing would be thrown away after he guzzled down his drink and ate the maraschino cherries.
"And do you know what I said? Do you?" Jeremy–something–or–other said.
Harry wasn't listening. He was twirling the little umbrella back and forth, watching the purple and green spots blend together in a mish-mash of color. Such frivolity. The little umbrella was so eager to please. Harry understood what that felt like. After all, he was on a date with Jeremy–something–or–other, wasn't he?
Mid-whirl, the umbrella closed. Harry tried to raise it again, only to discover that one of its ribs was broken. Ruined. Now, useless. He felt a bit sad for it—it's gay little life snuffed out by the snap of a toothpick.
"Harry? You listening? Why are you opening and closing that little paper umbrella?"
"Hmm?" Harry asked, finally looking up.
"The umbrella." Jeremy poked at it, nearly ripping the paper.
Harry scowled, and pulled the little umbrella closer into his keeping.
"What are you doing?"
"Okay," Jeremy replied after a moment's hesitation—time he probably spent pondering whether he could make it out the back of the club before Harry noticed.
As Jeremy edged out of the tacky little booth, Harry had a sudden, mad urge to make him understand. He held the wounded pink paper umbrella aloft. "It was just a bit of ornament. Something happy. And now it's broken. I mean, what did it ever do to anyone? Just because no one cares that it spears fruit and balances on the edge of a glass doesn't mean it should be tossed aside so carelessly. It was killed, really."
Jeremy stared blankly at Harry for an excruciatingly awkward moment. He lunged forward and seized Harry's glass, sniffed deeply, and swirled the dregs around, likely inspecting them for poison. He scowled and plunked the glass on the table. "If you're not having a good time, just say so. No need to pretend you're a mental case."
"I—" Harry dropped his head and nodded. "Sorry," he said with a weak smile, feeling a bit bereft that Jeremy thought he was pretending.
Jeremy finished off his drink and threw a few Galleons on the table. "It's all right, mate. Blind dates are the bloody worst. You're not quite my type, anyway. Somehow I expected you to be a bit…."
"What? Bigger? More charismatic or charming? What?" Harry snapped, having heard this line far too many times.
"Saner," Jeremy said as he slipped out of the booth and walked out of the club.
Harry sighed, not watching Jeremy leave. He didn't much care. And what did it say, really, when he cared more about the plight of a broken pink paper umbrella than he did about a very nice man who, assuming Harry had been moderately lucid, would have been up for a jolly round of fucking? He twirled the umbrella once more—a last hurrah for it—before laying it gently on the table and leaving.
"So, Jeremy Largentine says you're mental."
"Shut it, Malfoy. I'm not in the mood for your shite," Harry growled. "Bloody hell, why won't these Locking Charms stay put? This is the third time I've had to set them."
"He says you spent the night ogling a pink paper umbrella."
"I'm surprised he's telling anyone about that—doesn't say much about his company, now does it?" Harry frowned as his Locking Charm wavered for a moment before blinking out. Again.
Before Harry could cast it again, Bill Weasley walked into the clean room. A familiar jolt of anxiety pulsed through Harry as Bill sauntered over, wearing his dragon hide boots and his jeans. Bill even managed to make the protective lab coat he wore look cool. And sexy. Oh, God. He was going hell for lusting after a straight man—a taken straight man, at that—but try as he might, Harry couldn't make his crush go away. So he shoved it away and tried very hard not to think about it.
"How's it going with Madam Ainesworth's jewel box?" Bill asked.
"Er, fine," Harry stammered.
"He can't keep his Locking Charms stable," Malfoy offered from the corner.
Harry scowled at Malfoy, his face heating in embarrassment as Bill came over to examine the problem.
"Let's see what we have here," he murmured as he stepped over and stood flush against Harry's side, Madam Ainesworth's jewel box hopping and snapping its hinged jaws at them.
Harry could smell Bill's aftershave—something mixed with sandalwood. He noticed the way Bill's dragon fang earring swayed back and forth as he muttered a number of counter-curses at the small box, the way his eyes focused on the box as if it were the only thing that existed, the way his teeth worried his top lip as he waited to see if his spell worked. Harry's thoughts turned to wishing that he were the small box. However, in keeping with his 'don't think about it' policy, he made to move a step away.
The collision with the body on the other side of him, however, put a spectacular end to that particular plan of retreat.
"Hello," Malfoy said, not acknowledging that Harry was trying to push him out of the way. In fact, if anything, he seemed to move closer, causing Harry to bump into Bill.
"Steady there, Harry," Bill said out of the corner of his mouth, still focused on the small jewel box.
"Get out of the way," Harry hissed, trying to shove Malfoy to the side. Discreetly.
"Why Harry, I didn't know you felt that way about me," Malfoy chirped in a loud voice.
Bill glanced over his shoulder and grinned. "I don't think you're his type, Malfoy. Isn't that right, Harry?"
Harry froze. "Er, yeah. Not my type."
Bill shook his head and returned his attention to the box.
"I see you're done lingering over there in the corner like you're lord of the manor," Harry said, still trying to shoulder Malfoy out of the way.
Malfoy wouldn't move. "Touchy this morning," he said, refusing to move.
"No, I just want you to do your job."
"Sorry, boys, looks like you'll have to figure this one out yourselves," Bill said as he turned to leave, evidently ignoring Harry and Malfoy's tussle.
Bill's gaze lingered on Harry for a moment. The weight of it was crushing, but Harry couldn't look away—didn't want to. He racked his brain for something witty to say, but before he could utter a clever word, Bill's gaze skittered to the right and the moment was lost.
"See you, Malfoy," Bill said. He turned to Harry. He hesitated again before reaching out and ruffling Harry's hair—just like he'd done when Harry had been a child.
Harry closed his eyes in humiliation, ignoring Malfoy's quiet snickers as Bill left the clean room.
"Smooth, Potter. Very smooth," Malfoy said. "What's got you all flustered this morning? Trying to impress the potential new addition to PG Limited?"
"Leave it, Malfoy. We've got work to do, beginning with figuring out this hopeless box."
"Drama doesn't become you, you know. You do the wounded puppy look much better. And before you get all huffy, the box isn't hopeless—it's just challenging. Scared, Potter?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Not that tired old line again. And as for the box, how would you know? You've been lurking in the corner for the past two days, shooting off snide remarks from your imaginary peanut gallery. Why Hermione ever thought it would be a good idea to pair us, I'll never know."
Malfoy cocked his head and tapped his wand against his forearm as he walked around the still-snapping box. "Let me try something," he said as he pushed Harry to the side and Charmed a layered dampening ward around the small, jeweled box.
"And as for Granger, she paired us together because I'm the brains and you're the brawn. Your ownership of the firm notwithstanding, of course."
Harry huffed as Malfoy preened when his ward swallowed a low-level hex.
"Try it now," Malfoy said.
Harry recast the Locking Charm, sighing in relief as the box stopped its snapping. "Er, thanks."
Malfoy didn't respond, specifically. "Diagnostic spells?" was all he said.
"Yeah. Check them off, will you?"
At the rustle of parchment and Malfoy's put-upon sigh, Harry began casting the first round of diagnostic spells to determine which Dark curse lay within such a delicate Artifact.
"This makes, what, the twelfth blind date you've been on in the last six months?" Malfoy leaned over and watched as the box shuddered. "Not the Animato Hex, then."
"No, there've been more blind dates?"
"No, you pillock. It's not the Animato Hex. As for blind dates, I don't keep up with them, and frankly they're none of your business."
"Granger arrange them all? Figures. She's got the worst taste in men. She's with that research chap, isn't she? The one with the scary teeth and greenish looking skin?"
"Put a note that we need to do sub-level testing for the Pandora Curse. They've been perfectly nice dates. They just haven't worked out. And leave Hermione out of it."
Malfoy snorted. "Yes, well, with you ogling paper umbrellas, is there any wonder?"
"Why do you care? It's not like you have any interest in who I date." Harry waved his wand and started the third diagnostic charm. "Looks like we'll need to check out the Obscura class of charms. This is a right nasty piece of work. We haven't had anything this hard in a long time."
"I don't have an interest, as such. I'm just tired of people thinking you're as loony as Lovegood. It reflects badly on the firm, and on us—both of us. We're partners, remember?"
"Yes, until death do us part." Harry's gaze snapped up to the dampening ward. "Watch your ward, we're getting into the complicated ones, now."
Nothing more was said about Harry's lack of romantic luck and the indelible mark of shame it cast on Draco Malfoy and the curse-breaking firm of PG Ltd.
Forty-five minutes later, Harry was wiping his brow and sitting slumped on one of the small lab chairs. "What are your thoughts?"
"It was negative for the really nasty stuff. I'm thinking it's one of the Obscura charms, possibly in combination with the Pandora Curse. It fits, actually. Clever in an absurdly prosaic sort of way."
Harry cursed under his breath. "Brilliant. That'll take all bloody weekend to sort out."
"I'll do it."
Harry turned so fast, he almost fell out of his chair. He stared at Malfoy with a blank expression, not able to comprehend what he'd heard. Malfoy still looked like a nasty ferret, and still sounded like one, too, but curious words seemed to have flown from his mouth—ones that indicated he'd willingly take on a project without prompting or threat of blackmail. Harry was sure he'd misheard. "What did you say?"
"I said I'd do it. I'll figure out what ails the little jewel box. You, uh, seem to do most of that work. Thought I'd do my fair share, is all."
Harry's gaze narrowed in an instant. "What do you want?"
Malfoy actually had the gall to look offended. "Can't your partner just do what needs doing without this ridiculous interrogation?"
"No. Not when you're the partner in question. What are you playing at?"
The offended look slithered off Malfoy's face only to be replaced by a smarmy, smirking one. Harry hated that look. He'd spent the night in a Turkish Muggle prison once because of that look.
Malfoy brushed imaginary lint from his spell contamination robe. "I just need a little favour."
"There's nothing little about the favours you ask for. And they always land me in some uncomfortable or humiliating situation."
"Turkish prison, Malfoy."
"That was your own fault. Who follows the creepy bloke into a blind alley on the promise of the best Turkish Delight a bloke's ever had?"
"I thought he was talking about the sweet!"
"Gods, Potter, not this argument again. Look, I need a favour—a relatively easy one. In exchange, I'm going to work all weekend on Madam Ainesworth's little jewel box here so that she can have it back in time for little Mimsy Ainesworth's Naming Ceremony."
Harry crossed his arms. He stared at the jewel box, already hopping around again like an anxious Quidditch ball trunk. "What's the favour?"
"Dinner. With me—"
"—Not on your fucking life. I've no intention of ever letting you fuck me."
Malfoy stared for a moment before smirking. Again. "As… intriguing as that little bit of information is, I have no interest in you or your scrawny arse. If you'd let me finish, you would have heard me say, dinner with me and Charlie and Bill Weasley."
Harry blinked. Surely there was a catch somewhere in all of this. "Dinner. With you, Bill and Charlie?"
Malfoy looked around. "Is there a sound dampening ward in place? It sounds like you keep repeating my words back to me—as if, perhaps, I'd not heard them the first time—you know, when I said them."
Harry ignored Malfoy's sniping and tried to work through why Draco Malfoy wanted to have dinner with Charlie and Bill Weasley. Sure, they worked with Bill, but Malfoy never gave him a second glance, except to ask after Fleur. There had to be another connection somewhere. Malfoys did not voluntarily mingle with Weasleys. And then it came to him. "Charlie!" he crowed.
Malfoy started, as if he'd been hit with flying spittle. "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"Two months ago when you had to go to Romania to neutralise those dragon reins—you met Charlie, didn't you? You're interested in Charlie, aren't you? Charlie Weasley. Draco Malfoy fancies Charlie Weasley."
Malfoy shifted around in his seat. "Ten points to Harry Potter, boy detective. Now if you're quite through basking in the glow of your assiduous sleuthing, perhaps you can answer my question."
Draco bit his lip and sighed, looking for the world as if he were being forced to give up his biggest secret. "Because he's sexy and cool and he doesn't care that I'm a Malfoy and he likes my name—called me his little dragon one night when we were pretty far into the cups on bootleg Firewhisky—"
"Not that, you idiot—and thanks for your own little bit of intriguing information, by the way. I meant, why do you want me to come? Why do I have to be there?"
"Because Bill will be there."
For a terrifying moment, Harry thought Malfoy had figured out his feelings for Bill and that this was the cruelest thing he'd ever done. But then Harry quickly thought through everything and realized that Malfoy couldn't possibly know. Hermione didn't, and she knew everything. He schooled his face. "So? What's that to do with me?"
"I need you there to keep him company. It wouldn't be much of a date for me if I have to spend all night feigning care and concern for the mopey brother, far away from home."
Harry sighed. It was a chance to spend some time with Bill, even though he'd probably spend the whole night talking about how much he missed Fleur. It wasn't much, but it was something. And really, Harry was rather masochistic when it came to love—or lack thereof. He eyed the little jewel box. "And you'll really clean the box?"
"Yes, you prat. I really will. What, do you want a Blood Oath, or something?"
"Sounds like a good idea."
"Potter," Malfoy growled.
"Oh, all right. Where and when?"
The goofy smile was horrifically out of place on Malfoy's face. Thank God it was only there for a fraction of a second before his expression settled into familiar haughty disdain. "Saturday night, seven o' clock, Renaldo's—just off of Diagon Alley."
"Fine," Harry said as he left, already predicting disaster.
Harry took another sip of his Stella, grateful that the Wizarding World had discovered Muggle lagers. There was only so much Old Ogden's one could drink before one's body rebelled and said, "No more. Not ever." A warm hand clamped on his shoulder, startling him from his musings. Before he could get his bearings, an equally warm body settled next to him. The scent of sandalwood made Harry's heart beat out of time.
"Hi, Harry," Bill said, looking cool as ever in his dark jeans and leather jacket.
"Hey, Bill. Er, how's it going?"
"Good," he said as he signaled to the bartender. Bill leaned over Harry and examined his lager, holding it to the light. "Is that the Muggle beer you're always going on about?"
Harry tried to focus on anything other than the fact that Bill Weasley was leaning over his lap. "I don't talk about it all the time. It's not like I drink it day and night, or anything, I—" Harry stopped mid-sentence, his ability to speak cut off by the large hand that settled on his thigh.
"I'm joking. You've got to learn to relax. Perhaps tonight's a good night for that, yeah? Get you a little loosened up?"
Harry swallowed, his eyes still fixed on the hand on his thigh. "Yeah, sure."
"That's a good mate." Bill squeezed Harry's thigh and removed his hand. "So, this any good?" Bill asked, holding the glass.
Bill smiled. Harry thought his heart would burst, it was beating so fast. He tried to smile back, but imagined it came out as some sort grimace that curled up on the ends considering how tight it felt across his face.
Bill shook his head and laughed. He ruffled Harry's hair, before ordering a pint of Stella.
Harry tried to set his hair to rights, his mouth screwed up in a moue of irritation.
Bill caught his hand. "Leave it. It looks good a little wild." Bill winked.
A quick jolt of excitement left Harry blushing and wondering where the hell Malfoy was. He would not spend his night as a blushing, stammering mess. Malfoy would keep him on his toes, which in some respects was the only thing he was good for.
"Looking for Malfoy?"
"Er, yeah," Harry said, shifting in his seat, craning his neck.
Bill pointed to a far corner where the outline of two bodies could be seen behind a flimsy Obscuring Charm. It seemed that Draco and Charlie had already started their evening.
"Damn it, Malfoy," Harry muttered under his breath.
Bill laughed again. "Looks like it's just you and me tonight, Harry. You hungry, or are you up for a liquid dinner?"
Figuring that the only thing that might make the night bearable was the hazy blur of alcohol, Harry ordered another pint.
Bill clapped him on the shoulder and ordered another for himself.
They talked about a million things—mostly inconsequential—but Harry couldn't remember when he'd had an easier time of it. If only his dates could be this easy. If only all of his dates could be with Bill Weasley.
"And then I told them that their diagnostic spells were spectacularly outdated and that they were putting the Bank's customers in jeopardy if they didn't catch up with the rest of the world," Bill said, thumping the bar for emphasis.
"I did. Needless to say, he wasn't pleased and, well, here I am."
"I've always wanted to tell someone off like that."
"You have, Harry. I've heard you—sniping with Malfoy."
"Malfoy doesn't count. Telling Malfoy off is like wishing a normal person good morning."
Bill's laugh was rich and throaty. Harry could listen to it for hours.
"He's not so bad—not really. And the two of you are more like brothers the way you squabble. Trust me, I should know."
"I think that was quite possibly the most insulting thing anyone has ever said to me," Harry groused, his scowl dissipating in the wake of Bill's renewed laughter.
Bill took another swallow of his pint and turned to Harry, looking as though he wanted to say something quite serious. Harry cringed. Serious faces had never been the precursor to good news in Harry's experience.
They were both saved from the awkward moment by the arrival of a dish of cocktail cherries, complete with an opened paper umbrella stuck in the middle for decoration. Harry reached out and stroked the edge of the umbrella, welcoming a fellow comrade. A jostling elbow to the right of him reminded him that it wouldn't do to get caught fondling a paper umbrella. He withdrew his hand and out of the corner of his eye caught Bill staring at him.
"Er, look. Cherries," Harry said, hoping he'd covered his umbrella fondling well enough.
"Yeah, I gathered." Bill looked genuinely amused, which just made Harry's insides squirm with embarrassment.
Words were not Harry's forte. To save further embarrassment, he dove his fingers into the bowl and popped two of the sweetened cherries in his mouth.
"Stem and all, Harry? Is that your way of saying you have a talented tongue?" Bill asked, a smile playing at his lips.
Harry almost choked. His face must have gone all pale or something, because a moment later Bill was laughing again and patting Harry's thigh. Quite high up his thigh, really.
"You're too easy, you know. You should work on that," Bill said, still chuckling
For once, Harry actually had a rather witty repost poised on his cherry stained lips, but in that same moment Bill's hands found the paper umbrella.
Harry watched, transfixed, as Bill twirled the little piece of paper confection back and forth.
"Pretty, isn't it?" Bill asked.
Bill twirled the umbrella back and forth. "Ever feel like you need a change?" he asked.
"Eh, what kind of change?"
Bill shrugged. "I dunno. Work, life, that kind of stuff."
"Sure. Sometimes. I mean, you can't stay with one thing for too long."
"Yes, that's true, but—I mean… I guess I'm talking about fundamental changes. Changes in your life, you know? Finally looking at yourself, hard, and realising a few things."
"I guess, but I don't know–"
A small snap sounded. The pink umbrella drooped closed. Bill tsked under his breath and turned it over, carefully pushing it open and turning it until he found the broken rib. He ran his finger over the broken one, whispering, "Reparo." The rib healed and the pink umbrella was, once again, whole.
"Why'd you do that?" Harry asked.
Bill looked up, his gaze questioning. "What? The umbrella?"
"Yeah. Why'd you fix it?"
"You must think I'm mental."
"No. I—No, I don't." When Bill didn't say anything else, Harry gestured towards the umbrella.
"I guess…" Bill shook his head. "You're going to think I'm insane, but I guess I just didn't like seeing it broken. You probably think that's daft."
"Not in the least."
The irony of the moment wasn't lost on Harry. Finally, someone understood—someone got it. No, it was more than that, really. Bill got it. But it didn't matter. Harry finished his pint, pushed the cherries away, and ordered another round.
Bill and Harry were watching a Quidditch match on the large television over the bar, both screaming intermittently at the screen when a player did something one of them didn't like. Harry finished off his third pint, enjoying the warm, tipsy feeling.
"There's a table open, if you gents want it," the bartender said.
Bill looked at Harry and told the bartender that he thought that might be a good idea.
"Come on, Harry. Let's get something to eat."
"Okay," Harry said as he fumbled to his feet. The world played a nasty trick on him at that very moment by tilting alarmingly to the left.
"Whoa," Bill said, grabbing Harry by the shoulders and tucking him into his side until Harry got his bearings. "Dinner is definitely a good idea."
"M'fine," Harry said as he pushed away. "Just—the floor's uneven or something."
"Whatever you say. Just, uh, I'm not feeling so good. Take my elbow, yeah? Make sure I don't fall?"
Harry smiled. "'Course," he said, glad he could keep Bill from making a spectacle of himself.
In short order they were seated at their table, ordered steaks and two more pints, and settled in.
Bill fiddled with his fork, almost knocking it off the table. Harry found this amusing. It was nice to be the calm, collected person for once. Why Bill was nervous, Harry couldn't work out.
"So, Hermione tells me you've not had much luck in the dating department," Bill said.
Harry scowled. "It's because I'm no good at blind dates."
A gentle smile flickered across Bill's face. "Oh, I don't know about that."
"Believe me. Ask the last three dates I've had. No, on second thought, don't. They think I'm mental, just so you know."
"Perhaps it's the men you've been seeing. How do you pick them? Is it something about the way the look, or act?"
Harry blinked. "They're blind dates. I don't pick them out, or anything."
Bill scratched the back of his head. "Well, don't you see pictures or anything? Learn anything about them beforehand?"
Harry shook his head, wondering what Bill was getting at. "Hermione picks them out."
Bill laughed and muttered something that sounded like, "That explains a lot."
"They're not so bad. They're perfectly nice blokes. Have had a few one-offs that were, well… if nothing else, were quite funny in retrospect."
"Sounds like a story there." Bill leaned forward, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
"Oh, more than one, I assure you."
"Care to share?"
"Haven't had enough to drink yet. Ask me again after I finish this pint."
"You can count on it," Bill said with a wink.
Harry didn't know if it was the way the candlelight caught Bill's face, or that it was at night, or that both of them had had a lot to drink, but in that moment, Bill's scars were beautiful. He was a man's man—a bit rough and tumble—and the scars across his face were a testament to that. He wished Hermione would set him up with men like Bill instead of stuffy fops like Jeremy–what's–his–name. He wanted someone he could fight with, someone who gave as good as he got.
Bill stretched out his arms, letting his hands rest on the table—hands that broke curses, protected loved ones, brought pleasure, and mended paper umbrellas. How lucky Fleur was, Harry thought as he imagined Bills hands touching him, skimming along his sides, curling around his–
"How's Fleur?" Harry asked abruptly, surprised when Bill started choking on his lager. "You okay?"
"Yeah, sorry. Just—just went down the wrong way. She's, uh, she's fine. Why do you ask?"
Harry shrugged. "Must be hard, you know, while you're thinking about the move."
Bill shrugged back, his fingers fiddling with his fork again.
"Speaking of that, have you decided yet whether you're going to join the firm?"
"I think so. You and Hermione have quite a set-up. Your clean rooms are amazing and what she's done with Runes and Arithmancy to enhance high-performance curse-breaking techniques is incredible."
"Hermione is the smartest person I've ever met. Could you have imagined her and Ron's children? It would have been the twins times ten," Harry said with a shudder.
Bill laughed in agreement. It was a testament to how much time had passed that they could wonder what Ron's life would have been like instead of mourning what it wasn't.
"Don't sell yourself short, Harry. I saw you six months ago in Lisbon. You were amazing at that conference."
"You were there? Sorry, I—I didn't see you."
Bill waved away Harry's concern. "I was just there for the day and—you gave me a lot to think about, actually."
Harry snorted. "Me? You must be joking."
"No, I'm not. The ingenuity and foresight you have when it comes to using old spells in new ways is incredible." Bill shook his head. "It was breathtaking to watch you up there, figuring out complicated curses, totally focused on what you were doing. You got this look on your face and…."
"Uh, nothing. Not important. But what is important is how much you and Hermione have accomplished. You've assembled an amazing team of technicians and have brokered some of the most lucrative deals in the history of the Wizarding World."
Harry felt his cheeks grow hot. He looked down. "I don't really do much. Hermione keeps the business running, you know. I just… I dunno, I break curses and convince people to let me do it, well, let the firm do it, I mean. There's not much to it."
"Anyone who can convince the British Minister for Magic to let Malfoy break curses in his home, unsupervised, is much more than a simple curse-breaker."
"Malfoy proved himself. It had nothing to do with me. Not really. And he had to kill his parents on the battlefield and give away most of the Malfoy fortune towards rebuilding efforts to achieve it. That's an awfully high price."
Bill surveyed Harry with a Cheshire cat smile. "You like him."
Harry snorted. "No, I don't. Believe me, if there was ever a man I didn't want to get up with, it's Draco Malfoy."
Bill rolled his eyes. "Not like that, you berk. I meant, you like him. As a friend."
Harry turned his pint glass around on the table. "He's not so bad, once you get past the arrogance and haughtiness and general disregard for the world." Harry gasped, realising what he'd said. "But I think he really, really likes Charlie. I'll say one thing about him—he doesn't play with people's emotions. Not—not anymore."
"You don't have to put in a good word for him. It's not as if I'm dating him. Charlie knows how to handle himself, so it's not an issue."
"Yeah. Course. So, uh, you never answered my question. Have you decided whether you want to join the firm? The benefits are quite good and you'd have equal partnership status with me and Hermione."
Bill looked Harry up and down. Harry had the mad urge to make sure his shirt wasn't too rumpled. Was Bill going to judge the firm on Harry's tidiness? Oh, God. If that were true, the firm was sunk.
"I'm still deciding," Bill said finally, a sly smile flitting across his face.
Anything else he might have said was cut off by the arrival of their steaks.
"God, I'm stuffed," Harry said.
Bill waved the waiter over and ordered two more pints. "All the more reason for another pint."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I was already well past tipsy. You're going to be plastered if you keep this up."
Bill shrugged. "I'll take the risk." He traced imaginary circles across the tabletop. "So, I saw Ginny the other day."
Oh, god. Oh, fucking god. "You did?" Harry asked with a grimace, preparing himself for the worst.
"Yeah. She says hello, by the way."
"She and Dean still living in that artist co-op place?"
Bill snorted. "Yeah, and loving every moment of it. I used to think that it would be the two of you I'd be visiting—a little house, maybe a dog or two. Children."
Harry sighed and closed his eyes. He'd hoped that these conversations were over. He and Ginny had worked out their issues years before. Even Molly had finally seemed to accept things. But every once in a while, someone would drink too much, an idea would be tossed out amongst the drunken ramblings, and Harry would find himself explaining and apologising and justifying his choices all over again. He readied himself to do just that, but Bill's next words stopped him.
"But she's so much happier with Dean that she ever would have been with you, I think."
Harry felt like he'd been slapped with an exceptionally cold fish. "Thanks."
Bill laughed and Harry forgot that he'd just been insulted. "I could have said that better, I think. What I meant was, things work out the way they're supposed to. You're not meant to be with Ginny. And I hope you don't think that any of us think you should be with her—or any other girl, for that matter. That's all I meant."
"Oh. I—well, thanks, I guess. I'm—I'm glad she's happy. I'm too moody for her, I think."
"No, you just need someone who can handle you. I bet you give as good as you get, don't you Harry?"
Harry's mouth went dry. Yes, he wanted to say, and follow it with a suggestive lick of his lips, a head tilt towards the exit. He couldn't do that, though. This was Billhttp://www.thevillageatheist.co.uk/quotations.htmlbeautiful, wonderful, straight Bill who had a beautiful French Veela wife pining away for him in Lyon.
"Anyway, after seeing Ginny, I got to thinking. How'd you figure out you were gay? I know what you told Mum. Personally, I don't buy it."
Harry stared at the table. He debated about whether to stick with the story he'd been telling for years, but he couldn't do that. Not with Bill. "Er, Hermione told me, actually."
Bill choked. "I'm sorry, I must have misheard you. I thought you said that Hermione told you that you were gay."
"Yeah, erm, that's right."
"Wait. Wait—Hermione told you? Hermione? Just how much of your life does Hermione run?"
Harry looked at Bill as if he'd grown an extra head. Surely he knew that Hermione had been running his life since he was eleven years old? "Just the important parts."
Bill shook his head. "That's got to change, mate. You can run your own life, you know. Or… I dunno, share it with, uh, someone more suitable."
"She's good at it. I trust her. She keeps me out of trouble. And she was right, you know. I am gay."
"How do you know? I mean, if Hermione told you, how do you really know?"
Harry looked down, a soft smile on his face. "I'd never had much luck with girls—didn't know what to do with them, talk about with them, anything. And… I dunno, it just never felt exciting. There was the thrill of the chase and all that, and I cared for them—Ginny especially—but…." Harry took a long swallow of lager. "And then there was the first time I kissed a man. It was… I mean, I just knew then. I just knew. It felt the way I'd always thought kissing would feel. Then I finally saw all the little things that Hermione had seen and I knew."
"What's kissing a man like?" Bill asked. He seemed closer than he'd been just a few moments ago.
"You're joking. You don't really want to know about that. Er, do you?"
"Yeah, I really do."
Bill's gaze was intent—like the one he'd shared with the little jewel box and the paper umbrella. The weight of it pulled Harry under the surface of his thoughts and made him wish that Bill was even closer so that Harry could give a practical demonstration rather than explain in words.
"It's… I don't know, firmer, I guess. There's—well, generally speaking—there's no fruity flavoured lip gloss involved, and it's more efficient in a way. I'm not describing this well. It's just something you have to experience."
"I'll have to remember that," Bill said with a wink that made Harry want to crawl under the table and wank. Or wank Bill. Or wank both of them. He wasn't picky, really.
"So you really don't like blind dates. And you don't meet blokes on your own. Must make dating pretty difficult."
"I told you that I was bad at those. Though, if my dates could be like this, then I'd have much more successful ones, I think."
"I know what you mean." Bill gave a cursory glance around the room. "Ready to go, then?"
There was an odd gleam in Bill's eye that Harry couldn't quite place. He licked his lips and smiled a big toothy grin. It was positively wolfish and Harry had never wanted to be prey more in his life than in that moment. Fleur was one lucky Veela.
"Uh, sure." Harry was sad to see the evening end, but perhaps it was for the best. He swung his head around in search of their erstwhile companions. "Damn it, Malfoy ditched us."
Bill smirked. "I'm sure they can find their way home just as easily as we can."
"I know, I just feel bad monopolising all of your time tonight."
Bill reached across the table and grabbed Harry's hand, squeezing. Harry's heart stopped for a brief second. "Don't. I had a great time. And the night's not over, you know."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on, and you'll find out."
Harry felt a pop of electricity somewhere near his groin. It was quite a naughty little jolt, given that this wasn't a date and Bill wasn't available.
As they stood and collected their things, something niggled at the back of Harry's brain—the same thing that had niggled at him when that swarthy man on the street had offered him a sample of Turkish Delight. But Harry's brain was a bit on the foggy side, so the niggling skittered away as Bill took Harry's hand and asked him to help keep him steady again. Harry, being ever gallant, agreed immediately.
They wound up in a small park, sitting underneath a tree, throwing Transfigured crackers at a flock of ducks that kept rushing them with flapping wings and quacking bills. Harry found that insanely funny. It never occurred to them to move.
"So we got to his place and… and… oh, god, I can't believe I'm admitting this… we're kissing and pawing at each other, taking off our clothes as we go, and wind up in his bedroom. He pushes me down on the bed and hops up next to me. He asks me if I'm open minded and I say sure, thinking he means to use a Muggle Durex or something. But as we start having sex, he asks me…." Harry shook his head and fell against Bill's shoulder, laughing hard. "I can't say. I really can't."
"Come on, you promised. The Harry Potter I know isn't a welcher."
"Okay, but you can't ever repeat this, yeah?"
"So… well… okay. We start having sex and he's actually pretty good. He touched me in this one spot and I called out his name, you know, to tell him I liked it. He stopped and looked at me and told me to call him… he told me to call him… he told me to call him daddy."
"He didn't? Pervy fucker. So, did you?"
"No, of course not."
"What did he do then?"
Harry started laughing again, not realising how close he and Bill were, or that Bill's arm was wrapped around his shoulder, or that Bill's face was hovering close to his neck.
"He told me if I did, he'd reward me with a good spanking." Harry snorted. "A good spanking? Who in the world would want that?"
Harry had expected Bill to immediately agree—to say that the man was certifiable. Instead, Bill looked at him curiously. In the suffused light of stars and post lamps, Harry thought he saw a faint tinge of blush creep across Bill's cheeks.
"Oh, I don't know. It's quite amazing, actually." Bill leaned a bit closer, gazing directly into Harry's eyes. "Have you ever been spanked, Harry? Erotically, I mean?"
In that moment, Harry was suddenly aware of how close Bill was, that his arm was wrapped around him, that his breath was hot and moist against his ear. "I—I, er, no," he stammered.
Bill nuzzled the side of Harry's neck, licking and nipping as he trailed up. "You don't know what you're missing. It's the most exquisite melding of pleasure and pain you've ever felt. It'll make you want to come and want to cry all at the same time."
Harry's throat went dry. His head was spinning. Surely he was imagining all of this. This couldn't really be happening—at least not the way it would look to a stranger. Maybe he'd dribbled sauce on the side of his neck during dinner somehow and Bill was just cleaning him up? Maybe it was a wolf thing?
"Hmm?" Bill asked, still nuzzling and sucking. Seconds later indelicate biting entered the mix.
"What—what are you doing?"
"Seducing you, Harry."
Harry's mind went grey. "Oh. Right. Of course." He whimpered as Bill growled in his ear and nipped at the soft spot right behind it. "Er, Bill?"
"Why, erm, why are you seducing me? Don't you think Fleur might, you know, not like it or something?"
"Dunno. We divorced two months ago."
Well. Wasn't that the stunning revelation? "You… oh, fucking hell… you did?"
"Figured out some things," Bill said before he sucked the side of Harry's neck so hard, it made Harry's toes curl.
"Oh, fuck… yeah… right—right there. Erm, Bill?"
"What—what kinds of things did you figure out?"
"I like men, Harry. I want to fuck men. I want to fuck you, actually."
"Oh. Uh, Bill?"
"Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?" Bill growled.
Before Harry could answer that he'd only ever been accused of talking too much when he was nervous, he found himself on his back with Bill straddling him. Bill dipped down and warm lips covered Harry's. Bill's tongue stabbed at his lips, forcing them apart. As Bill's tongue darted in and danced with Harry's, warm, calloused hands cupped the sides of Harry's face, the pads of thumbs gently sweeping back and forth across his cheekbones.
Well, if Bill wanted to kiss, Harry was going to kiss.
Harry groaned deep in the back of his throat. He reached up and clutched the back of Bill's head with both hands, his fingers tangling in Bill's long hair. He forced his tongue into Bill's mouth, biting and nibbling Bill's lips along the way. With a growl, he knocked Bill onto his back, straddling him. Bill tried to take control of the kiss, but Harry didn't let him. If Bill wanted to know what kissing a man was like, Harry was going to show him.
And just like that, they tussled back and forth, battling for control, growling and groaning as they nipped and tongued each other.
In the end, it was Harry on his back and Bill straddling him.
"I was right, you do give as good as you get," Bill said, panting.
Harry's eyes rolled back when Bill shifted his weight, causing their erections to rub against each other. "Bill—are you—I mean—are you sure about–"
Bill dipped down and crushed his lips against Harry's, silencing him. "Want to fuck you," he whispered as he took a breath before diving headlong into another kiss. That was all the encouragement Harry needed.
"Can Apparate. My place. Not far," Harry said in between kisses.
"No. Here," Bill growled, as he scrambled to his feet, pulling Harry with him. "Can't wait."
Bill whipped Harry around so that they faced each other. Hands dove across to the body opposite, popping trouser buttons with a single, fluid snap. Shirt buttons skittered, shoes sailed into bushes, trousers and smalls puddled around ankles, only to be kicked off.
Harry lunged forward, grabbing Bill's shoulders and leaning in for a hard kiss. Bill pushed him back until Harry was pressed firmly against the tree they'd been sitting under.
"Turn around, Harry. Time for your lesson."
"Hope you're a good teacher." Harry sucked hard against the side of Bill's throat, marvelling at Bill's incoherent mutterings.
"Such a fucking tease," Bill hissed as he whirled Harry around, pushing him against the tree. Harry felt the press of Bill's hand at the small of his back. Fingers brushed across the curve of his bottom, making him shiver. Brushing became kneading, every squeeze sure and relentless.
"The trick to a good spanking is warming you up," Bill whispered.
The kneading became more insistent, until finally, Bill's hand fell heavily against the left side of Harry's arse. Harry jumped, surprised but not hurt, enjoying the warmth blooming in the wake of the initial sting. Bill's hand lingered for a moment before the kneading started again.
"Nice and slow. We're going to do this nice and slow, yeah?"
"Yeah," Harry whimpered as Bill's hand fell again, this time a bit harder. His cock bobbed as Bill's spanks pushed him into the tree. The combination of stinging pain and soothing touches made Harry harder than he'd ever been.
Another spank. Bill rubbed away the sting before landing three more blows, each becoming progressively harder.
Harry widened his stance, trying to move into the blows, trying to anticipate them. Another and another. Harry moaned.
Harry nodded, moaning again.
Bill's other hand left the small of Harry's back and snaked around, curling around Harry's erection. "You really do like it, don't you?" Bill asked, moving his hand up and down.
Harry nodded again, not trusting his voice.
"God, do you know how fucking hot you are?"
Another smack. The slow burn from a bite to his shoulder, soothed by the undulation of Bill's tongue. Two more smacks. The swipe of tongue across the nape of his neck. Pleasure drawn from the warmth of pain.
"Do you know how long I've wanted you? I never—I never thought I'd get to be with you," Bill said, abandoning spanking in favour of rubbing his cock in between Harry's arse cheeks.
"I saw you, at that conference, and I just… I just knew and–"
Harry twisted in Bill's arms, crushing their bodies together. "Anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?" Before Bill could answer, Harry kissed him hard, his tongue darting into Bill's mouth, taking command.
They wobbled back and forth, finally anchoring themselves against the tree, chest to chest, rubbing their cocks against each other. Bill's hands cupped Harry's arse, alternating between light spanks and teasing squeezes.
"Have wanted you for so long," Bill whispered in Harry's ear, nipping the shell.
"God… yeah… harder—fuck! —harder. Me too. Have wanted–come on, put your back into it."
Bill groaned in response, pressing himself closer. "That hard enough for you?"
"Yeah." Harry wound his hand around Bill's neck, drawing him into a deep kiss.
They bucked their hips and rubbed against each other, moving faster and faster.
"Want to fuck you," Bill said, in between kisses.
Bill made to move away, but Harry held on tight. "No, too close. Fuck later. We're young." Harry ground his bucked his hips hard, savouring Bill's groan.
Faster and faster they moved. Hands scrabbled over sweat-slicked skin. Teeth bruised and teased. Promises of bliss and hard kisses punctuated each rub, each flex, of their bodies. Pressure built in Harry's groin, desperate for release.
One, two, three more passes and he was coming with a loud grunt, pleasure shooting through him, shooting out of him. Bill followed moments later, biting Harry's shoulder as he finished.
They slithered to the ground, arms still wrapped around each other, panting. They listened to the ducks quacking in the distance, neither feeling the need to say anything.
Eventually the cold wriggled in between their twined limbs. Bill Accio'ed their clothing, piling it at their feet.
"Wow… that was…." Harry said at last, sorting through the pile of fabric for his shirt.
"Better than the daddy sex?" Bill asked.
Harry laughed. "Yeah. Not even in the same realm."
Bill reached out and brushed away a lock of Harry's hair. "I never thought you'd want me."
"Are you joking? I've been harbouring all sorts of fantasies about you for months. It was very hard to be around you some days."
"I thought you were just ignoring my advances."
"You know. Standard, juvenile stuff. Standing too close, making up excuses to visit. That sort of thing."
"Oh. I figured you were just—I dunno, being friendly, or something. And in my defence, you were married. Or, I thought you were. "
"Er, sorry about that. We figured Hermione had told you and that maybe you weren't interested—or that you just needed a push."
"How would Hermione have known?"
"I told her. She was really keen on knowing why I was thinking about the change. I assumed she would have told you—especially given that I said it was a secret."
"That's your problem right there. You can't ever count on Hermione acting like a typical girl. She takes the secret business quite seriously."
"Ah. Well that explains it." Bill hunted for his shoes. "Malfoy was right, I guess."
Harry stopped buttoning his shirt. "Malfoy? What's Malfoy got to do—hang on—you said we before. 'We figured Hermione told you,' you said. Who's we?"
"Uh, that would be me, Charlie and Malfoy."
"Wait, he—but he said—and Charlie—was this a date?"
Bill leaned in and kissed Harry, the feel of it soft and gentle. "Yeah. It was. Malfoy said you'd come unhinged if you knew the truth before we went out. He, uh, we, that is we—we wanted you to figure it out for yourself. So…." Bill shrugged. "Forgive me?"
Harry finished buttoning up his shirt. He drew Bill into a kiss, sucking on his bottom lip as he pulled away. "I suppose, but I think some punishment is merited."
Bill's eyes sparkled with desire. "You think so?"
Harry cupped his hand, brought it back and swung, his hand landing heavily on the side of Bill's arse. "Yeah, I think so."
"You're looking like you've had the best shag of your life," Malfoy said as he slipped into the seat next to Harry.
Harry smirked. "You should know, I guess."
Malfoy sniffed. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course not."
Malfoy ordered a pint. "So you're with Bill now, yeah?"
Harry nodded. "And you're with Charlie. Something tells me that that wasn't just a date between the two of you the other night. You've been together longer than anyone knows, haven't you?"
Malfoy coloured and looked away.
"As I said, I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about. But if I did, let's just say that I was tired of my professional reputation being sullied by your ridiculous behaviour—especially when it was obvious you were mooning after Bill like a kicked puppy."
"I was not. I kept that secret."
"Sure. Keep telling yourself that, Potter."
They drank in silence for a while, half watching the Quidditch game on the screen above the bar.
"Just one question, though," Malfoy asked, not looking at Harry.
"Was it… I mean… how did you know? How did you know that Bill was who you wanted?"
A waitress walked by. She set a tray of drinks on the bar in front of Harry. Perched atop one of the glasses was a jaunty little paper umbrella.
"You just know, Malfoy. Something happens, and you know."
Malfoy nodded and swallowed.
When the waitress's back was turned, Harry reached out and grabbed the umbrella, gently closing it and placing it in his pocket.
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