Challenge: #5: Harry or Draco go to Neville or Blaise, or both, for relationship advice.
Summary: Seven years after Hogwarts and the war, life continues in the wizarding world. Draco Malfoy is rich, bored, and slightly jaded. Harry Potter is famous, busy, and somewhat disillusioned. They've not seen each other since school ended. What would happen if they were to cross paths again? What if it involved music?
Warnings: Sexual situations, mention of character deaths, some angst and crude language.
Notes: Written for the second wave of Bound and Shagged: The H/D Fuh-Q-Fest. Endless thanks and adoration to my wonderful beta-readers: Vel (goneril), K-Dawg (evilsource), and Penumbra (pen_and_umbra). You ladies rock. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.
London, June 2005
Draco Malfoy opened one eye. Whatever was making that abysmal noise needed to die a slow and painful death. He pushed his blanket off and stared at the clock on his bedside table. One o'clock in the afternoon -- much too early to be awake. He sat up, rubbing his eyes.
The noisome buzzing resumed and Draco looked in its direction. A large black fly had flown into his bedroom and was now in the midst of a futile attempt to escape through the glass. Draco reached for his wand, which lay in a special holder beside the clock.
"Evanesco," he said through his teeth, focusing on the fly.
The insect disappeared and Draco flopped back against his pillow, dropping the wand back into its holder. He was, unfortunately, wide awake. A groan came from beside him and Draco prodded the shapeless blanket-wrapped lump that was Blaise Zabini.
Blaise groaned again and propped himself up on his elbows.
"Pansy is going to kill me," he said by way of greeting.
"She might," Draco said, smirking. "Though if you don't brush your teeth, she might get knocked out by your breath and never get a chance to raise her wand."
Blaise scowled at him. Draco continued to smirk.
"What time is it?" Blaise asked.
"Just after one in the afternoon," Draco replied.
"Er, what day is it today?"
"Saturday, of course."
"Good. For one panicked moment, I thought it was Monday."
Draco opened his mouth to respond, but a shrill cry interrupted them.
"DRACO LUCIUS MALFOY, I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!"
Blaise grinned, jumping out of the bed and running towards the bathroom.
"Or maybe she's going to kill you," he threw over his shoulder and disappeared behind the door.
"Bollocks," Draco concluded and crawled out of bed with a sigh.
"I KNOW YOU ARE THERE! COME OUT HERE THIS INSTANT!"
"Keep your robe on," Draco muttered as he felt around the floor with his bare feet.
He found his slippers and pulled them on. It looked like two giant green serpents had coiled around his feet. They were warm and comfortable, and Draco did not care how ridiculous they looked.
"Coming!" he hollered, pulling on a grey silk dressing gown and shuffling out into the sitting room.
Pansy Parkinson's head was in the fireplace. She looked cross. Draco gave her his best "You Will Die Slowly" smile.
Pansy scowled at him. "What have you done with my husband?"
"Good morning to you, too, sunshine," Draco said in a lazy drawl, walking over to the sofa and sinking down gracefully.
"Where. Is. Blaise?" Pansy said. "And what are you wearing?" she added, staring at his fuzzy snake slippers.
"Like them? I got them at a curiosity shop last month. They were made by Muggles, if you can believe that."
"Charming. Where is my husband?"
"He's indisposed," Draco said helpfully.
"What do you mean? Is he with you then?"
"Well, if he were with me, you would see him, no?"
Pansy's head levelled him with a glare so fierce he could have sworn that green sparks shot out of her nostrils.
Draco relented. "He slunk away to the bathroom the minute he heard your voice, the cowardly cur," he said. "Why don't you bring the rest of your fabulous self over here so you can yell at him in person?"
Pansy's head disappeared for a moment, then all of her walked into the room, brushing off her navy blue robe.
"I ought to forbid him to keep such company," she said with a nod at Draco's feet.
Draco made kissing noises at her and batted his eyelashes. She grinned, shaking her head.
"So has your nefarious plot to seduce my good-for-nothing spouse succeeded yet? I do so want to file for divorce on grounds of homosexuality," Pansy said, walking over to the kitchenette and levitating the kettle towards the sink.
"Alas, no. Your useless husband is straighter than a Maypole," Draco said in a mournful tone. Pansy cackled.
"Did you just call me useless?" Blaise demanded, stumbling out of the bedroom. He was wearing a shirt and not much else.
"Truth hurts, doesn't it?" Pansy said caustically, turning away so Blaise wouldn't see her grin.
"Love you too, my darling," Blaise said, flopping down onto the sofa beside Draco. "Useless, am I?" he said with some indignation and cuffed the back of Draco's neck lightly.
Draco rose and went back into the bedroom, throwing Blaise a mock glare.
Pansy bustled about the kitchen with the air of a person who knew exactly where everything was. Of course, she did know exactly where everything was -- she'd been friends with the flat's owner since they were both toddlers. Being married to Draco's best friend for six years had everything to do with it as well.
Said best friend was currently on the living room sofa, looking at his wife intently as she got a stick of salami out of the cold cupboard and sniffed it. Deeming it passable, she placed it atop a cutting board and set a large knife to work on it.
"So why the early-morning racket, dearest?" Blaise inquired politely, keeping an eye on the knife.
"I was bored."
"Fair enough," Blaise said with an amiable nod.
He looked around the spacious sitting room. It was lavishly decorated in rich greens and dark browns, just like the bedroom. The kitchenette gleamed silver and white. There were three bar stools beside the counter near the left wall, and Blaise vaguely recalled falling off the middle stool the night before. He rubbed his right side gingerly.
"Ouch," he said. Pansy looked up at him sharply.
"What's the matter?" she asked, pushing a strand of hair from her face with the back of her hand.
"Injuries of war," Blaise said with a straight face.
Pansy snorted and rolled her eyes at Draco, who was just coming back from his bedroom, still in his dressing gown and serpent slippers.
"Pansy, you're a star," Draco declared and sauntered over to the kitchenette, where a plate was rapidly filling with sandwiches.
"If only you kept vegetables in the cupboard, you'd be a star, too," Pansy said in a crotchety tone. She scooped tea out of a large packet into three cups.
Draco ignored her, pulling a bottle of champagne from a crate on the floor. Pansy sniffed disapprovingly as he waved his wand to get it open and levitated a flute glass from a cupboard. Draco didn't bother offering his guests any -- Pansy refused to "pander to his debonair ways" and Blaise usually did what Pansy said.
He took a sip of his champagne, watching as Pansy brought the sandwich plate and teacups to the coffee table. Blaise promptly grabbed one and stuffed it into his mouth, pulling a cup closer to himself. Draco was not the least bit hungry. There was a dull ache behind his eyes and his mouth was dry.
Blaise and Draco got totally plastered at the Luscious Lounge the previous evening. They had got together with a group of their former schoolmates, just as they normally did about once a month. Pansy never went with them because she strongly disliked several members of their usual crowd.
Blaise always spent the night at Draco's flat on these occasions. This was mostly because he was never in any condition to Apparate and slurred his words horribly when drunk. Neither Draco nor Pansy trusted him to say Zabini Hall's address properly to the Floo, and the Hall was invisible to Muggles, so he couldn't even take a taxi. Since Draco lived only a few blocks from the Luscious Lounge, Blaise crashed at his place (and refused to sleep on the sofa, much to Draco's chagrin).
Draco carried his glass to the baby grand piano that occupied most of the sitting room. He put the glass on top of the piano and perched on the little black stool in front of the keys. He lifted the cover off the keys carefully, poised his hands over them, and struck.
"Gah!" came Blaise's strangled cry. He was holding his forehead as he turned around, glaring at Draco over the back of the sofa. "You should not be allowed to do that until you've at least finished that glass!"
Draco grinned sheepishly. Since he had spent two years in hiding, music had become a significant part of his life. However, even he didn't do well with a hangover. He got up, picking up his champagne glass with a theatrical flourish.
"Zeese brutes do not underztand my artistic proclivities," he told his parents, who were scowling at him from their portrait above the mantelpiece. Apparently, they were not big fans of Draco's hungover proclivities, either.
"When did you last visit your mother, Draco?" Pansy asked suddenly, frowning up at him from her armchair.
"Couple of weeks, why?"
Narcissa Malfoy gave a disdainful sniff from the portrait. "You mean to say a couple of months, surely?" she said with a sour look on her face.
"Oh, stop it, Mother, we talk through the portrait every night."
"That is not the same!" Narcissa said, wrinkling her nose.
"Oh, don't start," Draco whined, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'll come by tomorrow, all right?" he said.
This pacified her, and she walked out of the portrait, probably to order the house elves to start preparing for his visit.
Pansy and Blaise were giggling quietly over their sandwiches. Draco turned to glare at them.
"Traitors," he said conversationally.
"I was just telling Pansy the news of the week," Blaise said, diplomatically changing the subject.
"Yeah, how about that, Pansy? Weasel King led the Chudley Cannons to their first British League win in decades," Draco said and sat down beside Blaise.
"No, you pillock. I was talking about Theodore proposing to Granger."
A loud gasp came from the portrait above the mantelpiece. Lucius Malfoy had risen from his chair.
"The Nott scion marrying a Mudblood? Unheard of! Scandalous!"
"The war's been over for seven years, Father," Draco said. "There's no distinction between Mudbloods or pure-bloods anymore."
"Unconscionable! I must speak with Pierre. He cannot in good conscience allow his son to go through with this!" Lucius continued as though Draco hadn't said anything at all. He drew himself up to his full height and walked out of the frame, likely heading to the family portrait at the Nott Estate.
Jacqueline Nott, born Jacqueline Malfoy, had been Lucius' sister. She had died when Theodore was very small, but the two families had maintained close ties. Lucius himself had died in Azkaban shortly after his capture in Draco's fifth year at Hogwarts, but he had left behind many portraits.
"As much as it pains me to agree with Mr. Malfoy, what on earth is Theodore thinking?" Pansy said. "Granger is still every bit the insufferable know-it-all we know and hate, what does he see in her?"
Blaise and Draco exchanged looks.
"Pansy, my darling, you are forgetting one itty-bitty detail about fair Theodore," Draco said.
"Yeah, he's an insufferable know-it-all too," Blaise said with a chuckle. "They're perfect for each other, really. You should have heard the way they carried on about advances in Charms research yesterday."
Pansy made a face. "Just because they have a few things in common does not mean they should get married."
Draco smirked at her and she gave him a wide grin. Draco did not like the feral glint in her eye at all.
"Look at you and Harry Potter, for example," Pansy said sweetly. "You were both Seekers, both captains of your house Quidditch teams, not to mention the only two gay boys in our year, but I don't see you proposing to Potter."
Draco scowled at her furiously. He did not like to be reminded of Harry Potter, and Pansy knew that very well.
"Yeah, we also hated each other from day one, Pansy, unlike Nott and Granger, who barely interacted in school," he retorted, determined not to let her get the best of him. Pansy hated losing arguments and always played dirty.
"You know what they say about the thin line between love and hate, sweetie," Pansy persisted.
Draco was beginning to lose his temper. So maybe he had had the tiniest of crushes on Potter in their seventh year. He had still hated the bastard. Crushes did not mean you had to love the other person. He couldn't say he still hated Potter, but talking about the former Gryffindor always set Draco's teeth on edge.
While Draco and his mother had hidden in France and waited out the war, Potter had fought against the Dark Lord and eventually defeated him. Potter was a celebrated hero, famous Auror and reserve Seeker for England, which made Draco wonder how he found time to breathe. Draco was unknown except in some social circles, a spoiled brat who led a bohemian lifestyle and accomplished nothing tangible with his life. The truth was that though it had been seven years since they had left Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy was still extremely jealous of Harry Potter, even more so than he used to be. Potter was no longer a celebrity by virtue of his name alone; he had done things. Draco had done nothing. Pansy understood this, and Draco resented her insistence on using that against him in petty arguments.
He pouted, staring at the empty portrait above the mantelpiece. Pansy gave him an impish grin, eyes glittering triumphantly. Blaise had missed the undercurrents running through their conversation and was currently occupying himself by stuffing two sandwiches into his mouth, washing them down with his tea.
"So have they set a date?" Pansy asked, getting up to carry the now-empty plate to the kitchenette sink.
"August," Blaise said. "We're invited, by the way."
Pansy scoffed. "I'll only go because I love Theodore," she said airily. Blaise and Draco grinned at each other. Pansy would go, all right, she would never pass up a social occasion like this.
They swapped gossip for about an hour. Pansy and Blaise worked at the Ministry of Magic -- he was head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, she was a senior secretary at the International Liaisons Office. When Pansy's font of gossip finally dried up, Draco was on his third glass of champagne and he felt his headache abating. Pansy and Blaise were telling him about the most recent scandal involving Irish Quidditch fans and Quodpot fans from Iowa. A loud bang from next door interrupted their conversation.
Draco almost dropped his glass. Pansy gave a little yelp of surprise. Muffled voices came through the wall behind the fireplace. They were followed by the unmistakable sounds of moving furniture.
"Ooh, sounds like you finally have neighbours!" Pansy cried.
Draco waved his hand dismissively. "Just so long as they don't have children, I couldn't care less."
Pansy gave him a reproachful glare.
"Speaking of children, Blaise, you promised to take Clark and Joseph out flying today, so we'd better get going," she said commandingly and rose from her armchair.
Blaise followed obediently. Clark and Joseph were Blaise and Pansy's twin sons, born five years ago. Blaise was their biggest fan, which was a lot more than one could say for Draco. Draco loathed children.
They said their goodbyes and disappeared into the fireplace. Draco scowled at the voices still coming from beyond the wall. There seemed to be three or four men speaking. Draco didn't think he heard any children's voices but it wouldn't hurt to confirm.
Draco's flat was on an Unplottable floor on top of a building in a Muggle area of London. Muggles saw the floor as a series of decrepit garrets. It had been a relatively new property two years ago, built using recently developed magical means. To this day, Draco had been the only occupant. There were five more flats on the floor, only one of which shared a wall with Draco's. He needed to find out who his new neighbours were.
He grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from the bowl on the mantelpiece and threw it into the flames. "Magical Homes, Diagon Alley," he said, then stuck his head into the fireplace. Some ash made its way into his mouth and Draco coughed, shutting his eyes.
A moment later, he was looking at the feet of an intricately carved coffee table. Beneath the table rested a pair of feet in pointy-nosed shoes. Good, they were still open then.
"Ezekiel Hopkirk, look at me when I'm talking to you," Draco said to the shoes.
A moonlike face appeared above him, looking curious. "Ah, Mr. Malfoy, what can I do for you?"
"I thought I specified quite clearly when I moved into my flat that I was to be notified if anyone were to move in next door."
Ezekiel Hopkirk's round face took on an even greater expression of surprise.
"But we did notify you, sir, did you not receive our owl? It returned without the letter we sent, we'd assumed you'd got it," he rambled with an edge of panic in his voice.
Draco furrowed his brow in puzzlement. He had got an owl from the real estate office about a week ago, but he'd thought it was another pile of droppings. Some jokers from the Muggle Liaison office at the Ministry had invented droppings over drinks some years ago, and businesses had picked it up like wildfire, proceeding to shower their clients with all kinds of unsolicited mail. Draco heard that Muggles were no fonder of droppings than wizarding folk, called them "scam" -- some horrid brand of canned food, apparently.
He scowled at the estate agent and adopted his most formal tone, which he always used to indicate displeasure during his business dealings.
"Yes, I did receive your owl, as it happens. Unfortunately, I had assumed that it was unsolicited advertising and discarded the missive."
Hopkirk coloured visibly. "We are ever so sorry, Mr Malfoy. I will personally make sure that no more unsolicited post is sent to you," he said deferentially.
Draco's neck was starting to ache, and he got to the point.
"So who are my new neighbours? I assume you did not bungle the whole thing so badly as to move a family with children next to me?"
"Oh no, of course not, Mr Malfoy, sir. Your new neighbour is a bachelor."
"What's his name?"
"Unfortunately, I cannot disclose that, sir," Hopkirk said, looking shifty. "He had inquired after your person as well, and naturally we did not tell him," he added hastily, no doubt noticing Draco's deepening frown.
"Naturally," Draco drawled, trying to think of all the people he knew who might be able to reveal the identity of his new neighbour. To Hopkirk, he said "Just as well. Good day to you," and pulled his head out of the fireplace without waiting for a response.
Back in his flat, Draco put his champagne glass in the sink and for precisely six seconds, thought about washing the dishes. He straightened out his bed, thinking that he really ought to get a house elf. He made a mental note to make Mother give him one tomorrow. He glanced at the clock near his bed -- it was after five o'clock. The shops were already closed, and it was much too early to go to the pub.
His headache had gone completely, and Draco sat down in front of his piano, stretching his back muscles as he did so. He'd learned to play during the two years in exile with Narcissa. Bored out of his mind, unable to leave the Malfoys' cottage in the south of France, he'd learned hundreds of compositions from sheet music. Some years later, he began to compose his own music. When Draco played the piano, he felt like a part of a different world. The music took him on journeys around the planet, into the lives of different people -- happy, tragic, normal people.
When he had first begun to play, he had liked to watch his hands. They were perfect for playing the piano, a witch in a magical music shop had told him. Draco's hands were thin but not bony, the fingers long and slender, slightly tapered at the ends. There was something decidedly erotic in watching his own hands dance along the keys, wrists arched gracefully. Draco made sure that any love interests he had in the years since he returned saw him play. It was his coup de grace, the crowning touch in all his conquests. No one could resist the sex appeal of Draco Malfoy behind a piano, and he knew this very well.
Draco had stopped watching his own hands once he was certain he had mastered the correct techniques of playing. He now played with his eyes closed most of the time -- it enabled him to soar with the music and he already knew he was sexy, anyway.
"Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here," his Hogwarts headmaster had said in Draco's first year. When Draco had played his first piece with his eyes closed, these words had rung out in his mind and for the first time, Draco had found himself agreeing with Dumbledore.
The muffled sounds of laughter and the clink of glasses coming from behind the fireplace startled Draco from his reverie.
So the neighbour was celebrating. Draco wondered for a moment what was preventing him from simply going there and introducing himself. He reminded himself that was how commoners and Muggles did things. Draco Malfoy was no commoner and certainly no Muggle. No, he would introduce himself vicariously through his music.
Feeling magnanimous, Draco selected Mozart's Turkish march from his extensive repertoire and began to play.
Harry Potter stood in the middle of his new flat's sitting room, feeling oddly pensive. It had taken less than two hours to move everything in. As it had been during his school days, all of Harry's possessions, other than the furniture, still fit into his lone trunk.
The room looked a lot like The Burrow's sitting room, in Harry's opinion. There was a large scarlet-draped sofa occupying most of the far corner. A small coffee table stood in front of the sofa, heaps of parchment covering every inch of wood. There were several beanbag chairs piled around the table, bewitched to adjust to the form of the occupant. A small dais stood opposite the sofa; a worn, locked travelling case rested atop it. Beside the sofa, a low dresser with a largish mirror stood flush against the wall -- a housewarming gift from Mrs. Weasley. There had been no mirrors anywhere in the Potter residence in Godric's Hollow.
A merry fire burned in the fireplace; Mrs. Weasley had made Harry promise to light one as soon as he moved in. Legend had it that a house had to be literally warmed with a wizarding fire, otherwise there wouldn't be happiness in the house for fifty years. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Godric's Hollow hadn't worked out for Harry.
Nothing in the room betrayed the identity of its occupant, other than perhaps his preference for scarlet. Harry's lips curled into a wry smile. Once a Gryffindor, always a Gryffindor, it seemed -- despite the seven years that had passed since he'd left Hogwarts. Harry shook his head a little, walking into the kitchenette. Hedwig's cage stood empty near the window. She was off delivering a letter to Mrs. Weasley. Harry fetched a glass from a nearby cupboard and filled it with water from a jug that stood near the tiny sink. Leaning on the counter with one elbow, he downed the water in four large gulps and set the glass down beside him. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, frowning slightly.
There were still hours until his friends arrived for his housewarming party and Harry considered taking a nap. He didn't get a lot of sleep during the week, and he often preferred to stay in and doze on the weekends. Still, his friends wanted him to have a housewarming party. Harry didn't see them often enough, so he gave in. He didn't trust himself to wake up in time, and so he decided against napping and put a kettle on for coffee. He looked out of the window onto the busy street below. The Muggles who lived here had no idea there was an extra floor at the top of the building. It was appealing to be able to look out without the risk of anyone looking back in.
Harry watched as a little boy bought an ice cream from a street vendor. It was strange to be back in London. He was unaccustomed to living amongst so much activity while staying anonymous. Godric's Hollow had been sleepy and peaceful, but both the Potter house and its resident were ridiculously famous, and sometimes people peeked in through his windows. There was no risk of that here; no one except the estate agent and his friends knew about this place. He would still get the owl post, of course, but he could deal with that.
The kettle let out a high-pitched whistle and Harry looked away from the window. He pulled the coffee jar closer and scooped a generous amount into a plunger pot, then poured the water over the grounds and replaced the plunger. He let the coffee steep for five minutes, enjoying the lingering aroma, then pressed down, driving the grounds into the bottom of the pot. He fetched a mug from the cupboard and poured, watching the dark liquid swirl against the white porcelain.
Harry opened the kitchenette window, reeling a little as the city's roar engulfed him. With the window closed, the street noises were merely a din, but this was positively overwhelming. He set his mug down on the windowsill and fished for cigarettes in his pocket. He pulled one out of the box with his teeth, pocketed the pack, then lit the fag. He didn't remember when he'd picked up the habit; much of the time around Voldemort's demise was vague in his memories, including the final fight itself. Smoking cigarettes was possibly the only stayover from his Muggle upbringing; most wizards smoked pipes. Harry had a pipe, but smoking it made him feel like an old geezer.
Harry blew the smoke out from his nose, watching it mingle with the steam that came off the coffee. He glanced down at the street, noticing the little boy who'd bought ice cream earlier. He was crouched beside a shop door, hugging a shaggy black puppy. Harry's eyes stung and he looked away. Somehow, thoughts of Sirius' death managed to creep up on him at the most unexpected times. He took a sip of his coffee, wincing as it seared his throat. He welcomed the pain; it made him think about now rather than then and that was always easier.
The truth about Godric's Hollow wasn't that he'd grown too tired of the unrelenting attention he had got. It was more that he craved change, constant shifting of circumstances and priorities. If nothing changed for a long time, he'd start spending time in thoughts about the past and he didn't want to do that. The first six years after the war ended had been exciting -- Harry had completed his Auror training and tailed former Death Eaters all around the world. He'd been all over Europe, Russia, the Americas, and even Africa. That had been his last assignment; Jugson had fled to Angola and set up an illegal trade in Muggle voodoo items.
After all the Death Eaters had been rounded up, Harry got stuck, predictably, behind a desk, despite the fact that he had the best track record among all Aurors employed by the Ministry. It wasn't that there were no more Dark wizards -- there were plenty, but the powers that be felt that Harry was best employed as a strategist rather than as a field operative. He grinned and bore it, but a part of him -- represented by a voice not unlike Draco Malfoy's -- wanted to pull the Boy-Who-Lived card and stomp his foot.
Malfoy. Harry had wondered about him a few times. He'd been oddly relieved when Narcissa had taken her son and fled from the war -- he'd had enough to worry about without having to hunt down and neutralise former classmates. Malfoy had taken the true Slytherin way out; like Salazar over a thousand years ago, he'd simply left everyone else to deal with the mess. Ron had told Harry that Malfoy always showed up at the monthly Luscious Lounge get-togethers. Harry flicked the ashes from his fifth cigarette and took another drag. There was another reason to stay away from the Lounge.
Harry had never gone, mostly because he didn't have much to say to a lot of his former classmates. The only people he kept in touch with were those who would be attending his housewarming party soon. Harry glanced at his watch -- there was still an hour left, but he needed to set out food and drinks. He finished his smoke quickly and gulped down the rest of his coffee, which was cold by then but Harry didn't mind. Activity kept him from dwelling on things that ought not to be dwelt upon, and he was happier for it.
Just as Harry set down the last plate of bite-sized sandwiches -- a specialty of Molly Weasley's, who'd taught him everything he knew about kitchens -- Ron Weasley stumbled out of his fireplace, looking dishevelled.
"Hey, mate," he said, grinning.
Harry grinned back. "All by yourself?"
"All by my lonesome. Had a bit of a late night last night, and didn't have enough time to pick a date," Ron said, walking over and shaking Harry's hand before sinking down into the sofa. "I see you still remember mum's lessons on party platters."
"How could I ever forget?" Harry said with a smirk. "You didn't have time to pick a date? I would have thought that since the Cannons win on Thursday, you wouldn't have had a shortage of candidates."
Ron stuffed a sandwich into his mouth and wagged his finger. "Oh, 'snot that I didn't have time, really. It's just that the available options were less than trustworthy, if you get my meaning. Wouldn't want them knowing where you live and all."
Harry sat down on a beanbag chair and used a toothpick to fish an olive out of a bowl. "Cheers, mate," he said, popping it into his mouth and chewing.
He often wondered if any of their former Hogwarts classmates would have ever predicted that Ron, and not Harry, would end up being the most eligible bachelor of their generation, and a total playboy to boot. He was good-looking, larger than life, and richer than the Malfoys. Fred and George had given him a cut in their joke shop profits and the Chudley Cannons were willing to pay all kinds of Galleons to make sure they had one of the best Keepers Quidditch had seen since Oliver Wood. However, as Hermione had remarked once, Ron still had the emotional range of a teaspoon.
Harry, on the other hand, had got involved with a Muggle boy in the summer before his seventh year at Hogwarts. They'd made the colossal mistake of being seen in London by Rita Skeeter. The Daily Prophet promptly ran an article on the Boy Who Swung The Other Way, and that had been the end of that. Draco Malfoy had kept up a litany of taunts and jeers throughout the first term of school, at least until he'd got caught snogging a sixth-year boy in the Quidditch changing rooms.
Harry remembered stalking around Hogwarts and almost wishing he'd accepted Malfoy's friendship in their first year, as there had been a definite shortage of gay students in his year; he'd felt vaguely dirty about going after younger students. So Harry's seventh year at Hogwarts had been an exercise in abstinence which, strangely, further cemented his firm leanings towards the same sex. He'd discovered the leanings quite accidentally and acted on them just as accidentally -- at any rate, that was ancient history.
Hermione Granger appeared in the fireplace, interrupting Harry's train of thought. She stepped out, beaming at them, and was promptly followed by Theodore Nott. Harry hadn't seen him since the war -- he'd put on some bulk over the years, but he was still vaguely rabbity-looking. Harry didn't know what Hermione saw in him. He didn't approve that she'd chosen a former Slytherin as her future husband -- of course, he'd never tell her this. He beamed at his best friend and tipped his head at Nott.
"Hi, both," Hermione said brightly. "Why are you both looking like the cat that got the cream?"
"You should know by now. And if you don't, there's a good reason for it," Ron teased.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at both of them, as only she could. "Suit yourselves. Anyway, Theodore and I were just talking about Hover Charms, Ron, and I was wondering if you could explain how--"
Harry turned around quickly to see what had made the noise and saw Neville Longbottom sprawled out on the hearthrug. He was sniggering as he scrambled up.
"Ginny pushed me," he announced.
"Did not," came Ginny's voice from behind him. She peeked out from behind his broad back and winked at Harry.
"Honestly, you two," Hermione said in that lofty way she usually reserved for errant children. "One would think you're still at Hogwarts, the way you carry on."
Ginny laughed. "Come off it, Hermione. There's much to be said for juvenile shenanigans."
Neville nodded fervently. "Even when you're married," he added with an impish look. "I believe congratulations are in order?"
Hermione blushed uncharacteristically and Nott looked like he wanted to fall through the floor.
"Whom are we congratulating?" came a lazy drawl from the fireplace.
Harry grinned broadly at Zacharias Smith, who was brushing off the sleeves of his robe.
"Hermione and Theodore are getting married," Ginny said, smiling.
Zacharias raised an eyebrow with an amused-looking smile. "Married, Hermione? About bloody time." Kristal Ritchie walked up from behind him and he put an arm around her shoulders.
"Hi, all," Kristal said. "And congratulations, you two," she added, turning to Hermione and Nott. Kristal was Seeker for the Canadian Goderich Griffins; she'd been married to Zacharias for two years.
Harry liked Kristal; she didn't talk much but had a quirky sense of humour. They rarely saw each other. The Smiths lived in Canada, though they usually came to London for a few weeks after Quidditch season wrapped up. It was just as well; Harry had spent most of his seventh year at Hogwarts nursing a thoroughly unrequited crush on Zacharias, who was unambiguously straight. Harry still harboured vestiges of that crush; he'd always had a thing for blonds.
Now that everyone was here, they settled around the coffee table and helped themselves to sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. Harry had put several bottles of champagne on ice about an hour prior. He and Ron brought the bucket from the kitchen while Hermione conjured up some flute glasses for them to use. Ginny, who'd been teaching Charms at Hogwarts since Professor Flitwick's retirement two years ago, was telling them about the newly emerging rivalry between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.
Suddenly, a lively staccato melody sounded from behind the fireplace; Harry thought he recognised it but he was hopeless with composer names. He couldn't help but tap his foot as he listened -- the piece was so upbeat. The melody was like a romp through the higher notes; the bass line started out light-hearted, becoming gradually more insistent and at times overwhelming, reverberating somewhere deep in Harry's chest. It was executed so beautifully that it made him want to grin like an idiot. He looked over at Hermione, who had a wistful smile on her face.
"Turkish march, Mozart," Nott said as the music stopped. "I don't think I've ever heard such a faithful performance before. Who's your neighbour?"
Harry shrugged. "Some guy. The estate agent said he insisted on anonymity. I didn't pry, considering I'm in the same boat. I expect I'll meet him eventually."
"Why not invite him over?" Ginny asked.
Hermione gave her a stern look. "How would you feel if you were invited to sit around with a bunch of people you don't know? Especially if they are all old school friends?"
"True. But a guy who plays piano? If Trelawney were here, she'd predict a handsome young man in the future for Harry here," Ginny said with a wink.
"Yeah, a handsome young man. With an axe," Ron deadpanned.
Everyone laughed, even Harry, who'd sworn off making fun of their old Divination professor's oddities. It had been Trelawney who'd given the Order of the Phoenix the key to defeating Voldemort. Even though her trances weren't exactly voluntary, Harry couldn't help but feel grateful to her.
The music started again, this time a sort of dance number that reminded Harry of old movies he used to overhear on the telly back when he'd still lived with the Dursleys. He rarely thought about his aunt and uncle anymore; he certainly didn't bother visiting or sending Christmas cards. He didn't think they were doing too well, not that he particularly cared. Dudley had been involved in a bank robbery where one of the tellers was shot; Harry's cousin was caught holding the smoking gun, so to speak. He was now in jail, but he'd be out on parole within two years if Harry knew anything about the Muggle justice system.
Harry turned to Hermione. "Speaking of axe murderers, how's your research going?"
She frowned. "Nowhere near as productively as I might have wanted. I'm beginning to think it's a dead end street."
Hermione was Assistant Head of the Muggle Relations Office and her most recent pet project involved trying to prove that Muggle psychopaths were actually wizards who for some reason never received their school letters. She proposed that their antisocial tendencies were due to the fact that they were being forced to act as members of a society in which they didn't belong. Harry thought it was a stretch, but as a byproduct of her research, Hermione was full of interesting stories about Muggle crime-fighting procedures -- something Harry found fascinating.
A light, cheerful melody sounded from behind the fireplace, accompanied by low, choppy bass line. It sounded like May rain hammering on a tiled rooftop, and brought to mind images of a little girl with pigtails skipping down a dusty village path. Harry smiled, thinking of Godric's Hollow. He'd originally had reservations about moving in next to someone else, but if the music was any indication, he couldn't have asked for a better neighbour, really.
As though reading his thoughts, Nott said, "you're lucky to have such a talent for a neighbour, Harry."
"Yeah, Harry," Hermione chimed in, "want to switch flats?"
Harry grinned. "I've just moved in and you're already kicking me out? I think I'll stay a bit longer, thanks." He tipped his champagne glass slightly in her direction.
"I'm thinking that whoever he is, he'd give Draco a run for his money," Nott continued.
Harry raised both eyebrows in surprise. "Malfoy?"
"Yeah, he plays. Didn't you know?"
Harry smirked. "I haven't seen Malfoy since we left school."
"You haven't been missing much," Hermione said, ignoring Nott's warning look. "He and Zabini show up for the meetings in the Lounge, get totally pissed and poke fun at everybody."
"Well, it's nice to hear that some things haven't changed," Harry said mildly. Ron laughed.
Harry's friends stayed until eight. Zacharias and Kristal left earlier than the others; he had a workshop to attend early on Sunday. Ron was the last to leave, as usual. Harry made him promise to visit his mother, if only to stop her from complaining in her letters. Mrs. Weasley knew that Ron would listen to Harry even if he didn't listen to his sister, so she made sure to express her displeasure with Ron's lack of visits in every letter she wrote to Harry, until Ron went to visit her.
When everyone was gone, Harry levitated the empty plates, bowls, and glasses into the kitchen sink and eyed the resulting pile apprehensively, deciding he'd wash them tomorrow. He walked back into the living room and opened the travelling case that rested on the dais. It held an old violin that had certainly seen better days; it was the only thing Harry had to remind him of Remus Lupin.
After the war had ended, Lupin had begun to waste away. He'd hung on long enough to see Harry inducted into his Auror position. He'd died while Harry was away on his first mission in Germany, and the violin was how Harry had come to know about his death. It was delivered to him by a Ministry owl, with a note from Lupin, written shortly after Harry's defeat of Voldemort.
This is my most prized possession and I hope it will be of as much use to you as it was to me. The violin is magical; you don't need to learn how to play. It's a device to channel away excess unpleasant emotions to prevent them from consuming you. Dumbledore gave it to me when I left Hogwarts; it's what kept me from going insane all these years, especially while Sirius was in Azkaban.
You've lost and suffered a lot in your short life. I don't think I will live much longer; I feel like my work has been done. It's too much of a daily struggle with almost nothing to balance out the memories. You have a long life ahead of you and I think this will help you. Even if I've been reading the signs wrongly and you don't need the release that badly, at least enjoy the music you make. I know I did.
Just pick up the bow and take it to the strings -- the violin will do the rest for you. Like any magical device, it is not panacea. It won't solve your problems for you, and it won't cure your sorrows, but it will make them easier to bear. It has served me well; I've heard tell that it's possible for these devices to stop working when their owners no longer need them. I can only hope that that will be the case for you.
Remus J. Lupin
Harry had memorised the note and could visualise it at any moment. Sometimes he thought he heard Lupin's voice as he recalled the written words, and it inevitably calmed him. Throughout the housewarming party, Harry had felt a pressure behind his eyes; his earlier thoughts about Sirius were threatening to return full force, and he needed the release. He placed the violin on his shoulder and shut his eyes as he brought the bow to the strings. With a sigh, he began to play.
Draco was tying a shoelace when he heard the music from next door. He paused and stood up, listening. It was a mournful melody with an undercurrent of hope and longing. What got to Draco was that he didn't recognise it -- he prided himself on his knowledge of even the most obscure composers' work. He'd spent a fun two hours playing a variety of lighthearted pieces; he'd originally planned on stopping at the Turkish march, but he'd found that playing upbeat melodies put him in a better mood, so he'd milked the occasion for all it had been worth. From the sounds of it, his neighbour must have appreciated his skill -- whoever it was must have been a master violinist.
Draco closed his eyes and leant against the wall. Not only was his new neighbour a master, he also wrote his own music -- Draco was confident that he'd never heard this before. He exhaled as the violin took a high, trembling, hopeful note. He saw a lone seagull soaring through a darkened sky -- the image was so vivid that Draco could almost smell the ocean air. It had been a long time since a melody made him feel so quickly and easily. Feeling vaguely regretful, he Apparated to Diagon Alley. Marcus Flint did not like to be kept waiting.
The next day, Draco visited his mother at Malfoy Manor. She absolutely refused to give up any of her house-elves but promised that she'd ask the Bulstrodes if they'd give up Finny, who was almost fully grown. They stood near a window in the dining room while they waited for the house-elves to set the table. Narcissa's magnolia trees were in full bloom and the fresh scent of the blossoms permeated every breath Draco took.
"Do you miss France, Draco?"
With an eyebrow raised, Draco glanced at her. "What makes you ask?"
"There's this faraway look in your eyes; you used to get it a lot when we'd just come back to England."
He chuckled and leant over to kiss her cheek. "I miss it sometimes, yes. And you are as observant as always."
Narcissa's benign smile was like something out of a painting. "I'm your mother. So what's bothering you?"
"Nothing, really. I have a neighbour now."
"He moved in yesterday."
"Have you met him?"
"Not yet, not exactly."
"You're being awfully enigmatic, Draco," Narcissa scolded. "What do you mean by 'not exactly'?"
"Well, I haven't seen him, but I do know he's a bachelor, and he plays the violin."
"Oh, how wonderful! He can't be the wrong sort of person with such a noble hobby."
"I don't know if it is a hobby, perhaps he's a professional. I've never heard anyone play that well."
"Does he play in the evening? Maybe I could listen when I visit the portrait next time."
"Sure, I hope so," Draco said, not really listening. He saw that lone seagull in his mind's eye again, and his heart contracted as though gripped by an icy hand. The melody he'd heard the previous evening was still with him, and it somehow made the magnolia trees more enchanting; there was a kind of haze around them, flickering in the dying rays of the sun. Anywhere he looked with that music in his head, things seemed somehow more sombre and meaningful.
They had a quiet dinner of lamb stew over mash with Mont Redon. Draco refused to have any pudding; he'd let himself go over the past several weeks and was getting out of shape. Narcissa suggested a walk through the gardens and they set off down a well-worn path, talking quietly about nothing in particular. After eight o'clock, Draco kissed his mother goodbye and Apparated to his flat.
The music was still playing in his head as he kicked off his shoes. Thinking about what he would do that evening, he walked into the kitchenette and considered making tea. The air was slightly stale, and Draco opened the window. He leant out briefly to look down on the street below -- a habit he'd had since he was very small -- when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned to his right and saw a hand flicking a cigarette butt out onto the street, then disappearing.
He heard the sound of the window shutting. So his new neighbour was a smoker who didn't like stinking up his flat. He was most likely a half-blood, then, if he smoked cigarettes rather than a pipe. No Mudblood -- correction, Muggle-born -- would have been allowed to move there. The Baker street properties belonged to Magical Homes, which dealt only with the pure-blood families and sometimes prominent half-blood celebrities. Just because the war was over didn't mean businesses would break from tradition.
If Draco's neighbour was a celebrity, he wasn't a local. Draco had always made a point of knowing who the famous people were, and no British wizarding celebrities had such skill with the violin. A foreigner, then. Draco glanced distractedly at a bird perched atop a garret on the building opposite, wondering why he was spending this much time thinking about his neighbour. He could just introduce himself, after all. They'd already established one mutual interest; it would no longer be out of order to just turn up.
Draco shut the kitchenette window and headed back out into the sitting room, intending to walk over to his neighbour's, when the music started again. It was the same melody he'd heard the day before, but it began on a lower note and meandered, rather than trembled. Draco closed his eyes and listened. There was something tragic about the music -- the seagull was struggling against a torrential wind, its wings beating helplessly against the oncoming storm. It was swept away towards a darkened shore, where a single elm tree stood straining against the elements.
There was a pause, and then a trilling, tearful theme swelled up and the image in Draco's mind shifted to a bleak sky above a grey beach, the seagull's tiny body rolling back and forth on the waves that lapped the shore. Draco's entire body tingled with the shock of how real it seemed. For a long moment, he thought that if he were to open his eyes, he would be standing there on that shore, the dead bird at his feet, the smell of brine in his nostrils, its bitter taste on the back of his tongue. The music played on, and he watched helplessly as the seagull's body was claimed by the water, floating ever further away from him. Pure emotion tightened his chest and tears burned behind his eyes; Draco opened them hastily, breaking the spell.
He was still in the middle of his sitting room, which came as a bit of a surprise and Draco wondered if he was losing his mind. No single piece of music had ever affected him in this way, not even when played by performers he admired most. He sank down onto the sofa, massaging his temples. The music swelled and receded, washing over his senses, blinding him, claiming him. Draco felt humbled by the skill of his neighbour, grateful for having had the chance to hear such beautiful music even once in his life -- very new, strange feelings.
He was not by nature a humble man, and gratitude meant debt. Yet he did not feel indebted to his neighbour, simply thankful for having shared that feeling. Who was this man behind the fireplace? A part of Draco wanted to rush through the door, across the two feet of landing, and knock, knock until he was exhausted. He wanted to see for himself that his neighbour was only a wizard like him, and not some otherworldly being from a place where music thus enchanted the mind.
"What is that infernal noise?" his father's irritated voice interrupted his thoughts.
Draco looked up at the portrait in annoyance. For all his father's talents, musicality had not been one of them. When Draco sat down to play at his piano, Lucius usually left for another portrait of his, claiming that he couldn't stand the racket.
"It's called a violin, Father," Draco said in a measured tone. "I quite like it."
"I know what a violin is, you silly boy. They all sound like cats mewling."
Draco rolled his eyes. As though his neighbour had heard his father, the music stopped. It did not start again that evening.
Harry stumbled out of the fireplace in his flat, rubbing his forehead. Vaguely grateful that it was Friday, he carried the stack of parchments he'd brought from work to the coffee table and set them down. He still wasn't entirely used to his new surroundings and it took him half a minute to remember where the kitchenette was. His first week at the new flat had passed by very quickly; it seemed like just yesterday he'd entertained his friends at that very table.
Auror Headquarters had been hellishly busy all week and Harry would leave at the break of dawn and come back well after dinnertime. His nerves were constantly on edge and he found he had to play Lupin's violin every evening to keep from snapping at his coworkers and subordinates the next day. He'd considered the idea of taking a holiday, but he couldn't leave in good conscience; they were tracking a group of wizards who fancied themselves the new Death Eaters.
They were obviously not nearly as good at being subversive and secretive as the original Death Eaters had been, but they were causing trouble in suburban neighbourhoods and the Hit Wizards wanted nothing to do with them. Harry had never been good with office politics, and he felt it was unfair that Aurors were being used to deal with what was, by the looks of it, a gang of bored rich youngsters. Harry walked into the kitchenette and poured water into the kettle. Hedwig hooted from her cage and he stroked her beak for a moment, then found his cigarettes.
He smoked out of the window while waiting for the water to boil. At least he wouldn't have to deal with his coworkers over the weekend. Still, he longed for the days when he was just another field Auror, staying in hotels and pretending to be a Muggle as he tracked his charges in all sorts of interesting places. A field Auror didn't have to deal with keeping the peace amongst his subordinates, he didn't have to listen to excuses and reassign tasks when people backed out at the last minute.
When he'd first decided to move to London, he'd envisioned having at least some time to finally have a social life of some kind -- most of his friends lived in the area and it was easier to coordinate timetables, but most nights he was so exhausted and burnt out he didn't have much energy to do anything, least of all sit in some smoke-filled pub and try to be entertaining. The only highlights of his day were playing his violin and listening to his neighbour play the piano.
Harry smiled as he recalled how wonderful it felt to listen to something other than the music of his feelings. His tune never changed -- he supposed everyone's feelings had the same melody all the time, except it would be different for each person. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy hearing it, it was just nice to hear something else for a change.
As if on cue, the music began to play next door, this time a contemplative, lazy piece with a note of hope -- it brought to mind images of a crimson rose petal, falling slowly to the ground from a bush. Harry closed his eyes and smiled again, thinking about Mrs. Weasley's back yard.
He didn't know why he hadn't gone next door and introduced himself. On Monday, he hadn't wanted to be rude. On Tuesday, he'd decided he was too smelly and had to take a shower. On Wednesday, he'd needed to go over some project notes for the next day. By Thursday evening, Harry had realised that he was simply too intimidated, which was a surprising but not altogether unexpected conclusion.
He imagined that his virtuoso neighbour would not be impressed with the extent of his musical knowledge; he'd be even less impressed to learn that Harry's music wasn't real. The kettle's shrill whistle jolted him out of his thoughts. Harry made tea and carried the cup to the sitting room. He needed to look over the Azkaban rota that he'd brought with him. Once on the sofa, he took off his glasses and rubbed the indentations they left on his nose with his thumb and forefinger. He looked to the window in his bedroom through the open door -- it was beginning to grow dark outside.
His neighbour stopped playing for a moment, then began again, this time a heart-breakingly soft, entrancing melody. Closing his eyes, Harry saw bright yellow lights coming on in city windows, then a cat not unlike Crookshanks padding across a rooftop, eyeing a bird that whistled a final song in a nearby tree. Before he'd moved here, Harry had never known that music could evoke such vivid images -- at least not the kind of music he used to listen to. He sighed and opened his eyes, then put his glasses back on.
Harry scanned lists of past prisoner names until the lines blurred together and his tea had grown cold. He was only halfway through the pile of rotas, but he was too tired to continue. He pushed aside the finished stack and stood up, stretching and yawning. His gaze fell onto the violin case and he walked over to take it out. He ran his fingers over the worn polish -- the instrument was strangely cold to the touch, despite it being almost the middle of summer.
He picked it up, placed it on his shoulder, and held it down with his chin. As soon as the bow touched the strings, Harry felt his tension melting, as though rushing through his body, into the bow, into the violin, then back out again in the form of music. He frowned slightly, thinking that his own melody was nothing like what he'd just heard from his neighbour. It was dark, sorrowful, and bleak, with perhaps a touch of a hopeful note that didn't come often. It had been a trying week, Harry thought as he closed his eyes and focused on clearing his mind.
A moment later he almost stopped playing as he realised that there was music coming from beyond the wall -- his melody, only played on the piano. No, it was harmonious with his melody. It was everything his music wasn't -- hopeful, bright, and rising -- yet it melded perfectly with the sounds coming from his violin. Harry's chest swelled with the new notes added to his song -- unfamiliar but welcome, the piano accompaniment completed Harry's music. He shut his eyes tighter, wanting these moments to go on forever. Who was this man beyond the wall?
Draco was perched on the stool in front of his piano, fidgeting slightly. It was nearly eight o'clock, and for the sixth evening in a row, Draco wasn't going to the pub. He waited, feeling as nervous as a teenager waiting for his first date. When the first notes sounded from next door, he sighed briefly with relief, positioned his hands over the keys, then struck. Playing the accompaniment to the masterpiece his neighbour had constructed was a wild idea that came to him the morning after he'd first properly heard it. He'd spent hours practising it based on just the melody in his head.
He'd held his breath when he'd first played along last Friday, hoping that the gesture wasn't too forward, that it didn't offend his neighbour. There had been a falter in the rhythm as Draco had begun to play, but it had disappeared almost instantly. Elation didn't begin to describe what Draco had felt after playing the accompaniment that evening. There seemed to be an almost organic connection between the leading motif of the violin and the supporting, unwavering accompaniment. He marvelled at how well the sounds flowed together -- and he had yet to see the other man.
Draco closed his eyes, immediately transported to the now-familiar beach where a seagull's wings would flap into the wind. He struck the keys and a faint ray of sunshine pierced the gloomy sky, then another, glinting on the water below, highlighting the foam and stray bits of seaweed. The scene shimmered and shifted, the wind died down, and the seagull cawed loudly, circling down towards the water. Draco continued playing like a man possessed, exhilarated -- he was changing things in this imaginary world created by the music.
If anyone were to ask him at that point if there were anything better than sex, Draco would have said yes.
Sirius was falling through the Veil and Harry was screaming until his throat was raw, but Sirius just kept falling, turning into Padfoot, falling... Then a luminescent shape appeared beyond the Veil and Harry knew that all would be safe; he felt at peace, at least about Sirius. The walls of the Department of Mysteries fell away around him, and he was in Little Hangleton's graveyard again, reliving that last fight. Dumbledore fell to the ground in front of him and a Dementor swept up from the side.
Harry shouted broken curses, struggling to keep a grip on his wand, knowing he was about to fail -- and the silvery shape of Prongs erupted from his wand, giving him that last chance to catch his breath. A bloodied moon stared down from the starless sky and Harry shook, whispering the words to the curse he needed, his breaths forming letters in the air. Suddenly, the letters became smoke-rings and Harry remembered the incantation. He shouted it wildly, pointing his wand at the malevolent shape ahead, then it was over.
Harry stopped playing and leant against the wall, trembling. He was shaking all over, but he felt relief -- it was as though he'd freed himself from a many-layered prison. He'd often been forced to relive his worst moments of despair while playing; it wasn't anything new to him. Having to occasionally live through those minutes again made sure he did not dwell on them. This time, however, there had been help, there had been hope. He'd seen the events as they'd actually occurred, or were supposed to have occurred, in Sirius' case.
That change was brought by the man beyond the wall and his addition to Harry's music. He couldn't take it any more. They'd played for each other for nearly a month now and yet there had been no contact. He had to know who the man was. He had to find out who possessed such an understanding of the music Harry made. He knew, somehow, that this wasn't pure chance. It couldn't be. Whoever he was, it seemed like his neighbour was meant to have come into his life. Harry put the violin down and padded towards the door. He crossed the landing and paused in front of the other man's door, hesitating.
He knocked and held his breath, heart pattering wildly against his ribcage.
The door opened and Harry was looking at Draco Malfoy.
It was quite unmistakably Malfoy, if slightly better built and taller than he remembered. Harry blinked.
"What the hell are you doing here, Potter?" Malfoy asked in an oddly strangled voice, his eyes wide.
Harry licked his lips, still blinking rapidly, wishing that it were all an illusion. "I, uh, live next door."
Malfoy's face reflected stark horror for a second, then he slammed the door shut.