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07 November 2009 @ 10:25 pm
Little Red Courgette, Part two  
Part one


The Secretary had an appointment with his communication staff from nine till two on Friday. As Smythe wasted no time in telling Draco, Jenkins, a sensible, competent witch who had managed to make the Secretary look functional for over four years now through her genius management as his communications manager, had handed in her resignation last night and been promptly replaced by a woman named Dianna.

Draco stopped in the act of opening his door. ‘Not girlfriend Dianna?’

‘One and the same,’ Smythe grinned.

‘Surely his wife will notice!’

‘That would be the wife who has just set off on a three-week study tour of magical herb signatures in Snowdonia.’

Draco shook his head. ‘So I suppose we won’t be seeing him until this afternoon.’

‘If then. Bruce Pickett sent an owl, it’s on your desk. It says that if the Secretary’s taking over then all bets are off, but if you’re going to smooth the whole thing over, then his members are right behind you.’

‘Fabulous, that’s not the least bit inflammatory. And why are you reading my mail?’

‘I didn’t read it!’ Smythe protested. ‘I invented a charm whereby owls tell you what’s written on them.’

‘That’s so much better. Are you coming in?’

‘In a minute, I’ve a pot of tea on the brew for us.’

‘You’re a treasure, Smythe.’

When Draco’s colleague returned, he was carrying a tray with a teapot, two cups, sundries including biscuits and a very large vegetable.

‘You’re not going to convince me that’s better than lemon,’ Draco said.

‘Ha. No, Pickett left it for you, said he thought it would give you a laugh.’ Smythe handed over an enormous carrot that had two round protuberances bulging from its leafy end.

Potter appeared in the office doorway at that precise moment and stared at the vegetable in Draco’s hands.

‘Don’t say a word,’ Draco warned.

‘I wouldn’t dream of it,’ Potter promised.

Smythe was all but overcome with excitement. ‘You’re back, Auror Potter! Is there a problem?’

‘No, no problem. I just wanted to pop by and thank Mr Malfoy for his help last night.’

Smythe looked as though his days had reached a glorious conclusion.

‘We chatted at the pub, where we ran into each other by chance,’ Draco exposited before Smythe could expire from glee. ‘And I don’t remember being very helpful,’ he added, to Potter this time.

‘No, you were!’ Potter insisted. ‘I can’t tell you why till after I’ve spoken with Kingsley, but trust me, it made an enormous difference.’

‘Er, well, congratulations, I suppose.’

‘Cheers, thanks. I’ll see you, yeah? Catch up for a drink where we ended up last night?’

‘Drinks?’ Draco was caught off guard. ‘I can’t tonight, I’m off home.’

‘Oh, no, of course. Next week?’

‘I’m back Sunday afternoon,’ Draco found himself saying.

‘Sounds great. Four?’

‘Yeah, that will be fine. Do you want to eat, too?’

‘Good idea. Drinks and dinner it is.’

Draco was left blinking, while Potter smiled brightly and turned to leave.

‘Mr Potter?’

Potter turned back. ‘Yes, er, Smythe, isn’t it? What can I do for you?’

‘Would you mind if I asked a personal question?’

Draco held his breath, but Potter was all affability. ‘Go ahead, I don’t guarantee I’ll answer.’

‘Did you really have a brief affair with Rita Skeeter as she alleges in The Boy Who Lived Large?’

Draco had to stop holding his breath as he was now occupied trying not to laugh.

‘No,’ said Potter. ‘Though she did turn up at my house a few months after the war ended wearing nothing but a light formal robe and a ribbon with a tag that said “Untie me”.’

‘Oooh, that would put you off your dinner,’ Smythe sympathised.

‘You have no idea,’ Potter agreed. ‘Right, need to go, see you Sunday, Malfoy.’

‘Yeah, cheers, see you,’ Draco replied.

Smythe waited till Potter was gone before he turned back to face Draco. ‘I can’t believe Rainbow Wizard was right all along!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Smythe. Pour the tea.’

‘Certainly. And you needn’t worry, of course I will keep news of your liaison with Auror Potter entirely confidential.’

‘It was a drink, well, a few drinks and some pub food, but hardly a liaison!’

‘No, of course not,’ Smythe winked.

Draco glared at him for a long moment. When he spoke, it was with cool deliberation. ‘I am willing to bet several Galleons that you have the full set of Potter posable action figures at home, don’t you, Smythe?’

His workmate paled. ‘Of course not. Those are children’s toys. That would be ridiculous.’

‘If I report suspiciously pornographic marrows in your back garden to the Aurors, he may be forced to investigate.’

Smythe looked at Draco narrowly. ‘I suspect you wouldn’t, and that you are bluffing in a bid to have me drop the topic and go back to my work, but then I didn’t think you would hide the authorisation for extra administrative staff in the midst of the Secretary’s travel allowance claim forms, so on the basis that safe is better than sorry, I am returning to my desk.’

‘Thank you. Here, have some chocolate biscuits.’

‘You cannot buy me,’ Smythe declared, taking several. ‘I must say that I am sorely disappointed in you.’

‘You’re only disappointed that I haven’t been having a torrid affair with the Chief Auror and been dying for the opportunity to share all the juicy details with you.’

‘Yes. You’re astonishingly inconsiderate.’ On that note, Smythe took his tea and biscuits and stood to leave.

Draco made it all the way to four o’clock in the afternoon before anything else tremendously odd happened. At a minute past, an interdepartmental memo on the thick creamy parchment of the Minister made its way to his office and darted merrily in front of him until he caught and read it.

A surprise meeting was not unprecedented, and it did say that it was more of an informal chat, best of all, it was signed ‘Kingsley’ … Draco decided that it was unlikely to be a trap and was more probably a continuation of the Minister’s kindness of yesterday.

‘Smythe, I’m off to see the Minister!’ he sang out as he went past the other’s office.

‘Can I have your things if you’re sacked?’ Smythe called back.

‘The stapler goes to my mother, the rest is yours. See you Monday if I’m not back by five.’

The Minister’s assistant smiled when she saw Draco. ‘In this way, sir, you’re expected.’

That had to be a good sign, he thought. And the Minister himself smiled and indicated the seat opposite him. There was even an offer of tea. It all looked very promising.

‘I’m afraid I have a tiny piece of bad news,’ the Minister began.

‘Ah,’ said Draco. ‘How tiny and how bad?’

‘Nothing dire. It’s just that, remember that draft policy you left with me yesterday?’

‘On the baby vegetables?’

‘Yes. I had a moment of madness this afternoon and accidentally signed off on it. And then there was a reporter from the Prophet here wondering what I had been up to, and I happened to mention it. She replied that she was under the impression the Secretary had come out strongly against amended standards, at which point I am afraid to say your name came up.’

‘Oh Merlin …’

‘Don’t fret, Mr Malfoy, I spoke highly of your work in this field and of the fact that I wish to see more Under-Secretaries running their own sections of the Ministry rather than being continually micromanaged by Secretaries who have more essential roles elsewhere in their departments. You’re not a lackey, my good fellow, you’re a vital part of the functioning Ministry.’

‘Actually, Minister, I’m an Assistant Junior Under-Secretary.’

‘Yes, Draco, I realised that this morning when I was reading over your files. Stupid title, I saw no reason not to promote you.’

‘What did the Secretary have to say about that?’

‘Not sure, but when he gets back from his “meeting”, which I assume is still going on, he will probably be more interested in my owl asking him to explain why Mavis Jenkins, the only Communications Director I have ever liked, has gone to work for The Quibbler, leaving me with a two-foot-long resignation scroll detailing why she will never work for that man again.’

‘Minister …’

‘Do call me Kingsley.’ The man was smiling. Draco even suspected him of twinkling.

‘Kingsley, why the sudden shake up? I don’t mind being used as a pawn in it, especially since you seem to well and truly have my back, as it were, but the Secretary’s been useless for years and it never roused you to action before.’

‘I had the most illuminating discussion with Harry earlier today.’

‘Potter?’

‘He advised me to stand up to the bastards, said he planned to do the same.’

‘Of course he did. Right, well, happy to stand alongside and be counted as a fellow rejector of bastardry, sir.’

‘Good man. So, I apologise for what will doubtless be inflammatory headlines and the dreadful Monday you are likely to have thanks to me. However, I’ll do what I can to keep the Secretary more concerned for his own future than yours.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘And the promotion was deserved and overdue, the fact that I can use it to make a salient point is by the by; you earned it.’

‘Thank you, Kingsley.’

‘Finished your tea? May as well make an early start on the weekend, I’d say.’

‘Thanks, I will. What about you?’

‘I’m torn between heading off early and wanting to be here when the Secretary finally receives that owl. I’m half hoping he comes storming in to confront me violently.’

‘What will you do if he does?’

‘I’m torn between Stunning him and knocking his legs out from under him and sitting on him,’ Kingsley mused.

‘You really do miss being an Auror, don’t you?’

‘There was a certain simplicity to it that I enjoyed immensely.’

‘Stunning and sitting on people.’

‘So much more fun than politics for the most part.’

‘Have a good weekend, Kingsley.’

‘You too, Draco. And sorry about the media barrage, but you’re tough, and I made them promise to use a flattering photograph.’

‘Cheers.’

Draco laughed as he walked back to the lift, but it was a wary laughter. So far his success in the Ministry had come thanks to an incredible amount of hard work and the ability to survive crises while handing the credit for such survival off to whoever would most benefit from it.

Apparently, he was not the only one who knew how to play that game. Whether it was more reassuring to know the Minister was on his side, or disconcerting to find himself a part of the Minister’s game, he was yet to decide.

One decision was easy to make: he needed to see just how bad the situation was. Instead of heading home, he went straight to Diagon Alley. The familiar paperboy was standing outside Flourish and Botts, surrounded by piles of newsprint. Draco picked up the first copy of the Evening Prophet he saw. Sure enough, beside an image of Kingsley smiling and holding both a tiny cucumber and the new standards legislation, was a subhead describing the Malfoy Standard and an inset photo of Draco at the last Ministry dinner.

‘Bugger,’ he mutttered.

‘You want a copy of the Special with that?’ the paperboy asked.

‘What?’ Draco was confused. He looked down at the paper in his hands, the time on the masthead was only an hour ago. ‘Isn’t this it?’

‘Nah, that’s just the Prophet, innit? Comes out every evening. It’s The Quibbler that’s got the big news tonight. Special edition, see?’

Draco finally managed to focus on the tabloid-sized publication that was being held up for his perusal. POTTER QUITS AURORS! the headline blared.

It took a moment before he could do more than blink. ‘I’ll take them both. Keep the change.’

‘Cheers, guv!’ the boy sang out behind him, and Draco would have suspected him of Mockney sarcasm if it weren’t for the fact he suspected himself of having just pressed a Galleon into the lad’s palm. It seemed a small price to pay.


****************


Mavis Jenkins had written the lead story in The Quibbler’s special edition, but Draco found it easy to see that it had been written with Potter’s full cooperation.

Potter says ‘I was tired of reforms being watered down in the name of political expediency …’ said the second paragraph. The third went on to talk about how Minister Shacklebolt had waged an honourable and decent battle against the forces of mediocrity, and how Potter planned to support him as a political activist working from outside the Ministry.

‘Oh good grief!’ Draco muttered. ‘You weren’t supposed to take me that seriously!’

A witch walking past glared at him crossly, and he bundled up the paper and kept walking in silence. Potter out of the Aurors. It was like Goyle on the Wizengamot, or a Malfoy with a proper job. Draco took a moment to be grateful that Goyle at least continued predictably.

A couple of wizards waved at him as he walked past, and from the cheer on their faces, he could only assume they were two of Pickett’s associates. He waved back, suddenly aware that, while he was now second-rate news, he was still news, and his mother subscribed to the evening edition.

Narcissa was clipping the story from the paper when Draco arrived home. ‘Hello dear,’ she greeted him. ‘Congratulations. You look lovely, in person and in portrait.’

‘And I come bearing bigger news,’ Draco said, kissing his mother’s cheek and handing over his copy of The Quibbler.

‘Ooh!’ she exclaimed, and settled down for a thorough read. After a few minutes she tutted, then hmmmed, then said: ‘Oh goodness, Draco, you could have told me rather than waiting till I read it in the paper!’

‘What?’

‘You’ve been promoted!’

‘Oh, yes. What’s that got to do with Potter?’

‘You’re the subject of one of the editorials. They didn’t mention that in the Prophet.’

‘Oh for Merlin’s sake … what does it say about Potter? I haven’t read past the front page.’

‘Only that he plans to take some time off for life drawing classes. Is that a euphemism? You young people and your terms. You’ll have to explain the cartoon, too.’

Draco looked over her shoulder. In Padfoot’s inky lines, a version of Potter solemnly hung up his Auror robes, then took down another cloak and wrapped it around himself, disappearing as he did so. The text below read: Mr Potter is resigned.

‘He had that Invisibility Cloak when we were at school,’ Draco reminded his mother. ‘I think he’s meant to be putting it on here.’

‘Oh, that’s terribly sad,’ she murmured.

‘Or a warning. He used it for all sorts of nefarious purposes back then.’

‘I remember,’ she said. ‘Good for him. I hope it brings him more joy than this job has.’

‘He was good at it,’ Draco reminded her. ‘Things have been safer and saner since he took over.’

‘Do you think perhaps that means he might have done enough?’ Narcissa asked.

Draco did not answer.

‘You realise this means that Ronald Weasley will be the new Head Auror. I must send him a note of congratulations, and invite him and his beautiful wife to the ball.’

That caught his attention. ‘Weasley?’

‘He’s practically family, Draco, we’ve neglected him shamefully for far too long.’

‘Anyway, I think they have two young kids. They won’t want to come.’

‘Don’t be silly, dear, I’ve set aside your old nursery as a creche and the playroom as a place for the older children. They’ll have a lovely time! And I will invite his mother and her extraordinary husband. Such a character!’

‘You’re plotting, aren’t you.’

‘Of course, I need a hobby.’

‘You know, in all the to-do, I forgot to ask when you’re planning to hold this ball.’

‘Next weekend, darling, no time like the present.’

‘Of course.’

‘And what about you, dear? Will you be bringing anyone?’

‘Very funny, mother.’

‘You could always ask young Mr Potter, now that he has more time in his days.’

Draco was completely still. He breathed in slowly. ‘Why Potter, Mother?’

Narcissa had turned her attention back to the paper. ‘What’s that?’ She looked up, all innocence. ‘Oh, just me being whimsical, Draco. He seems so lonely these days, and I understand from this editorial that he thinks quite highly of you.’

What?’ Draco abandoned manners and snatched his paper back.

Sure enough, the second editorial on the centre pages of The Quibbler began ‘Draco Malfoy, the man behind the new standards for produce that have been welcomed with wide acclaim, has long been the quiet achiever in the comparatively new Department of Standardised Measures’ and continued with a brief summation of his career up to and including today’s promotion before turning to an extensive quote from Potter.

‘Malfoy represents the best potential of the Ministry. Despite beginning at the Ministry in a difficult time, he has relied on the twin virtues of hard work and intelligence to carve out a career that should have been stratospheric. Instead, he has time and again found himself shunted aside in favour of the political machine that attempts to control the Ministry.

‘While protocol prohibited me from complaining at the time, now that I have left my career as an Auror, I am free to say that an incredible amount of Ministry time and resources, including those of the Auror department, are consumed in maintaining the status quo.

‘The fault here lies not with the Minister, nor with many of the hardworking members of the Ministry, such as Draco Malfoy. Rather, it lies with a small coterie of senior Ministry members who resist all efforts to modernise, and in fact actively work against the Ministry shifting to meet the needs of the modern wizarding community.’


Draco scanned the remainder of the editorial, which painted him as the face of the future Ministry: incorruptible and forward thinking.

His mother stood beside him. ‘I think it’s quite nice, Draco,’ she said.

He looked at her. ‘Do you read it more as a resounding vote of confidence from the Minister and Potter with the tacit promise that they will have my back? Or as the positioning of me to take a fall that will be described using terms such as almighty, epic and long overdue?’

Narcissa kissed his forehead. ‘The former. You’re far more useful to them as an agent for the sort of change they want to bring about.’

‘I note that you don’t for a moment pretend they aren’t operative here.’

‘Goodness no, they’re acting exactly as I would. Save with less sophistication. You’re far too valuable to waste.’ She kissed his forehead again. ‘Now stop worrying and change for dinner.’

‘I will, in a minute. You go ahead.’

Draco took a last look at the Padfoot cartoon. It was, in some ways, not up to Padfoot’s usual standard. Potter was better looking than he was drawn. But the deliberate movements, they were spot-on. And there, as he wrapped the Invisibility Cloak about his shoulders, Draco spotted the smallest of smiles.

Given Potter’s closeness to Lovegood and The Quibbler, Draco guessed that Padfoot, whoever he was, had not needed to imagine that touch. He noticed something else, too, there in small type on the masthead was a note: Now Daily.


****************


Draco never slept so well in town as at home, so it was well into the morning when he woke on Saturday. He came downstairs and found that his mother was not alone. ‘Ministera, Signore Gambara …’ he stuttered. ‘I apologise for my informal appearance, I did not know we had guests.’

Signore Gambara stood up and offered a hand in greeting. ‘Think nothing of it, Mr Malfoy. It is not as though you are dressed in pyjamas.’

‘It is entirely my fault,’ added the European Minister. I insisted that on such a lovely day as this we should begin our visiting early in the morning so as to make the most of it. I apologise for intruding in your lovely home.’

‘No, not at all,’ Draco insisted.

‘Oh how silly of me,’ Narcissa declaimed with a hand artfully posed against her silk-sundress covered décolletage, ‘I completely forgot to mention that the Gambaras will be staying with me for a few days next week and had wanted to pop by and see if there was anything they could bring. But that’s all right, isn’t it darling? We’re absolutely informal here on the weekends, you know.’ This last was addressed to the Gambaras, with a smile that was positively girlish.

‘Quite all right,’ Draco confirmed. ‘Am I right in guessing the days you will be visiting coincide with the ball?’

‘But of course! We were thrilled to be invited.’

‘No, Ministera, the thrill is all mine!’ Narcissa insisted. ‘Draco, I have some breakfast put aside for you in the small breakfast room. Do join us in the garden when you are finished.’

No one could dismiss quite like his mother, Draco thought, as he padded off to eat. If only he had thought to pull on a pair of shoes. Still, at least he had donned trousers and a shirt. The two papers were displayed beside his plate. How his mother had managed to obtain a copy of The Quibbler, Draco was not sure, but it was tucked beneath the Prophet.

The top paper had the expected Harry Potter Leaves Aurors coverline, and the audacity to stamp Exclusive across a story that was largely lifted from The Quibbler. The latter paper carried a banner stating Potter Set to Form Alternative Rock Group and a story that had clearly provided Luna Lovegood with a month’s worth of giggles.

On the third page of The Quibbler, though, was an interview with Minestera Gambara, in which she was quoted as saying that she was still undecided but willing to be persuaded on the possibility of changing European legislation in line with the new English produce standards. It ended with ‘The Quibbler hopes that the European Minister has a chance for a quiet word with Under-Secretary Malfoy in the next few days.’

Draco sat there quietly for a moment, with the awful realisation that his mother might be conspiring with Luna Lovegood washing over him.

Rationality soon intruded. After all, where would they have met? Both were natural blondes, so even the hairdressers weren’t an option, given that his mother had trained house-elves to style hers and Lovegood had … youth. It was a coincidence. Nothing more.

He flicked the pages to the Padfoot cartoon. It showed Ron Weasley and Harry Potter in Harry’s former office. Unusually, this one had dialogue. Weasley was offering Potter one of his children if Potter changed his mind. Potter was guiding Weasley around the files on his former desk: the smallest one was ‘Serious crimes’, the middle one was ‘Concerning incidents’, while the towering pile of paper was ‘Absolute crap some gibbon is trying to score political points from.’

It was not Padfoot’s most incisive comment, but Draco could not help smiling at the look of panic on Weasley’s face and of cheery relief on Potter’s. Still … ‘What were you thinking?’ he asked the Potter in the cartoon.

He made it all the way to the end of his breakfast before he looked down at the image again. Ink Weasley was still remonstrating with Potter. Draco knew how he felt.

The Gambaras and his mother were in the walled herb garden when he found them. Narcissa was clipping sprigs of rosemary. ‘They go so well with roast vegetables, I find,’ she was saying,

‘Roast baby vegetables?’ Elena Gambara asked with a smile.

‘Oh all sorts, my dear,’ Narcissa replied. ‘But at this time of year it would be foolish not to take advantage of the delicious young things.’

‘Quite wise. Ah, here is the young Under-Secretary,’ the European Minister said, waving at Draco. ‘How was your breakfast?’

‘Delicious, thank you,’ he replied.

‘Excellent. I am pleased to see you, there are matters I would like to discuss. Narcissa, can I trust you with my husband?’

‘I am a genteel old widowed lady, it will be as though you have left him with a nun,’ Narcissa promised.

‘In that case I will be very quick. A word, Draco.’

As it transpired, there were many words. Though Signore Gambara was still in an appropriate state when his wife and Draco returned from their walk and talk. The two Italians took their leave, with declarations that they were counting the hours until the ball.

‘Good chat?’ asked Narcissa as she walked Draco back inside.

‘Confidential information, Mother,’ he replied. ‘Though reasonably satisfying confidential information I will grant you.’

‘Well done, dear!’

The rest of Saturday and Sunday morning passed much as any other visit home did, discussing the topics they always discussed and avoiding the few that were always avoided. Draco took the opportunity to actually relax. Here he had no need to prove himself anymore. Here he was simply his mother’s son. It was astonishing how enjoyable he found such a simple fact.

The Sunday Quibbler broke the story of Ministera Gambara’s decision, along with a three-page special canvassing British and European farmers, who were overwhelmingly in favour of the new regs. The Sunday Prophet led with ‘Standards Secretary Warns Against European Flirtation: says he can see no possible benefits’.

Draco handed the Prophet across the breakfast table to his mother, who tossed it over her shoulder and asked what the Padfoot cartoon was today. Draco turned to the centre pages, and was not entirely surprised to find that it was him – and Elena Gambara, accompanied by Bruce Pickett and Daniel Massol, all dining on a medley of tiny veg. Underneath, the title was Malfoy’s Marrow Victory.

‘It’s not his best work,’ he warned his mother, handing the paper across.

‘Nonsense, it’s delightful,’ she replied. ‘You look very handsome.’

Draco left her with the main section and set about eating his toast while reading the lift-out, the Squibbler. Padfoot had a new children’s comic here: Milly and Molly the Amazing Andrews Sisters. Milly was a witch, who looked and acted a startling amount like Granger, while Molly was a Squib who invented brilliant objects using Muggle technology and rescued Milly whenever her under-aged use of magic got the two of them into trouble. Draco was surprised to find himself laughing, and wondered if Padfoot had spoken with Granger about her childhood for some of the ideas.

Thinking about it, Draco realised it was extremely likely that Padfoot was one of the DA set – they seemed to dominate the Quibbler’s editorial board, after all. In fact, he wouldn’t put it past Justin. Or, given the political nous displayed, possibly even Granger herself. That would explain the excellent grasp on a number of characters who had appeared in the cartoons over the years, and even today’s reasonably accurate illustration of him.

‘Draco?’ His train of thought was shunted awry.

‘Yes Mother?’

‘Is a courgette a marrow?’ Narcissa asked, looking at the editorial cartoon.

‘Smythe assures me it is.’

‘And why are these two gentlemen holding them in such a lewd fashion?’

Mother!’

‘Oh darling, it can’t possibly come as a surprise that I …’

Draco could barely speak fast enough. ‘No, no, no, it doesn’t and I am not that naïve but for the love of Merlin please never ever tell me about it!’ He refused to lift his eyes from the comics page, but he could feel his mother concealing her giggles. He appreciated her effort.

‘What time will I be losing you today?’ she asked after a few minutes.

‘Earlyish, I have an appointment at four.’

‘Oh? For work?’

Draco had always found it hard to lie to his mother. ‘Sort of.’

‘With someone from the Ministry, then?’

‘Sort of.’

‘Someone sort of from the Ministry. So does that mean someone who used to be from the Ministry?’

‘Mother!’

‘I only ask because I am interested, darling. It’s not young Mr Potter is it?’

Draco knew his glance upwards betrayed the answer, but he could not help himself. At least his mother’s face showed that he had managed to surprise her. She rallied quickly.

‘That’s delightful, dear. You will thank him for his kind words, won’t you? And see if he is really feeling himself or if he needs cheering up in this time of great change.’

Mother, do you realise what you sound like?’

‘Well I have had to give up all hope of pairing you off with a nice girl, I might as well start with the nice boys.’

Draco dropped his head onto the table, grateful that a house-elf had removed the remains of his breakfast moments before. He suspected he would be aged well into his seventies before his mother stopped being able to have this effect on him. Still, at least the disclosure had one positive effect, Narcissa spent the morning running him ragged moving plants in the garden, but immediately after lunch she sent him straight home.

‘You’ll need to shower and perhaps even have a short nap before you head out to dinner. You want to look your best.’

‘Mother, it’s a quiet drink and a meal with Potter. He did me a favour and apparently thinks I did him one, too. That’s it. You can still your wild fantasies and remember that we’ve spent years hating each other, so it’s hardly likely to develop into an evening of high romance.’

‘No, of course not. But there’s no harm in making a good impression, is there?’

Draco was laughing as he kissed his mother goodbye. ‘I’ll be here early next Saturday. Is there anything you need me to do?’

‘No, just plan to enjoy yourself. And do feel free to invite Mr Potter, as an acquaintance with whom you are apparently comfortable.’

‘You’re incorrigible.’

‘Yes. Now go home.’

Home was spotlessly clean again when he reached it. Draco was impressed. Then he went to his underpants drawer and flung a few about the flat just so it looked as though someone actually lived there. He made a cup of tea and left it, unwashed, on the table.

It was quite satisfying.

He had been planning what he would say to Potter for hours. He would be kind, of course, Potter had been polite and considerate to him. In fact, Merlin forbid, he’d been actually friendly. So Draco would assume that Potter and Kingsley meant well and were trying to help him in some strange and misguided way. He would simply explain that he did not need the kind of help they were offering, no offence, he’d rather sink or swim by himself.

Choosing what to wear was easy. He only had a few Muggle-ish articles of clothing, so he wore the trousers he hadn’t been wearing last time, and a green shirt that looked good with them. It was three o’clock by the time he finished dressing. To kill time, he played aerial underpants wars for half an hour, at the end of which he had determined that linen was more aerodynamic than cotton, and that a pair of emerald silk pants was possibly the most ridiculous thing in his wardrobe and would necessitate a chat with Pansy on the difference between gay and transvestite.

In the end, he walked to the pub to kill the last half hour.

Potter was already there, with a bowl of chips steaming gently in the middle of the table. He stood up as Draco walked in, and circumvented the uncomfortable dance they had played out here last time by reaching out and giving Draco’s hand a quick, firm shake.

‘Good to see you,’ he said. ‘I was going to order you in a drink, but I could only remember you liked chips.’

It was such an affable greeting that Draco decided he should at least wait till dinner before broaching the subject of leaving his career alone. ‘Good to see you, too, you madman. Can I get you anything?’

‘Pint of bitter.’

Draco made a quick trip to the bar and returned with two pints, which he put down carefully. ‘Now,’ he said. ‘What on earth are you thinking leaving the Aurors?’

Potter burst out laughing. ‘I’m thinking I’ve done my part. I’m no earthly use to them at the moment, other than as a figurehead. Ron can do most of the things I can do with a fraction of the political baggage, so I’ve left to let him do it.’

‘Potter, he’s a Weasley. I will grant you that he is very good at chess and being butch, but what about the PR component of the role? He won’t have the faintest idea how to deal with the press.’

‘I know,’ Potter said, grinning.

It took Draco a moment. ‘Oh Merlin, he is going to eat them.’

Potter grinned, and took a swig of bitter to wash down a handful of chips. There was something different about him. It took Draco a minute to work it out. ‘You’re happy!’ he accused.

‘I’ve been happy before,’ Potter replied calmly.

‘Not that I’ve seen.’ Draco looked at him a bit more. ‘It’s odd. You’re all relaxed and cheery. I don’t like it, it’s not natural.’

‘I am a man of leisure spending an entertaining Sunday afternoon with a former schoolmate who recently gave me the best advice I’ve had in years.’

‘You know I meant you to take that as grounds for fighting the good fight and, with luck, coincidentally destroying all my enemies in the process, don’t you? Not this Lovegood-like rebellion. You’re meant to be a role model, here you are unemployed and drinking with disreputable company.’

‘You flatter yourself, Malfoy.’

‘I think not, I was described as a person of dubious motivation in the newspaper only this morning.’

‘Wouldn’t know, I only read The Quibbler. They were quite complimentary on the topic of you, if I’m remembering correctly.’

Draco rolled his eyes.

‘The flaxen-haired wunderkind who has pulled off the diplomatic coup of the season, I believe they called you,’ Potter teased.

‘Voldemort held a mostly blameless Luna Lovegood prisoner in my house for months, you will recall. As far as I am concerned, this actually does give her leave to mock me as much as she likes for as long as she likes.’

Potter laughed again. ‘Luna’s just the editor, she doesn’t write or vet everything, it’s not the Prophet. I think they just like you down there.’

‘Yes, well, it might be better if they liked me a bit less. It’s all well and good for you to hand in your robes and embark on a life of gallivanting, but I have a reputation to create and uphold, and it’s going to require at least another ten years of spotless record.’

Potter had stopped laughing while Draco spoke. ‘Taking yourself a bit seriously, aren’t you?’ he asked, without malice.

‘Potter,’ Draco reminded him, ‘members of my family killed people you loved.’

He waited till Potter had looked down at his drink before he went on. ‘Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s remarkable that you can look past that. I admire you, and Kingsley, and Granger, and even the Weasleys, because you’ve all been able to just get on with things. But you need to understand that I find it very difficult to know every day that the only member of my family who exhibited any actual courage whatsoever during the war is currently back at the Manor having her feet massaged.’

Potter looked back up. ‘That’s not wholly true.’ He held Draco’s eye for several seconds before he went on. ‘You refused to admit you knew it was me when I was dragged into the Manor. You even tried to protect Ron and Hermione. Luna says you were decent to her, and you tried to stop Crabbe and Goyle killing me.’

‘Because they were fucking morons who were just as likely to kill me as you. And at the Manor I was scared out of my mind in case my psychotic aunt called for fucking you-know-who. You could have been Blaise for all I knew.’

‘Anyway,’ Potter continued. ‘Tonks was your cousin. She was filled with courage.’

That took the words from Draco. ‘Yes,’ he said at last. ‘Yes she was.’

Potter left it for a moment. ‘So is that the dramatic bit of the day done with? Can we get back to the tentative enjoyment of each other’s company and extensive jokes about the establishment?’

‘Yes,’ said Draco. ‘Sounds fine.’

‘Mother sends her regards,’ he added, moving the conversation back to safer territory. ‘She wants you to come to the ball on Saturday. I think she’s hoping that you’ll be both a media draw and suitably enigmatic, so all the young witches will be charmed.’

‘Much good it’ll do them.’

‘She’s only interested in prising donations from them, so hot young heroes and copious amounts of alcohol it is.’

‘Formal dress?’

‘Yes, thanks. Though it doesn’t have to be wizarding, she’s embraced the Mugglish vogue.’

‘The age of wonders is upon us.’

Draco couldn’t hold back his smile. ‘You’ve been taking your sarcasm potions since you left the Ministry, haven’t you?’

Potter laughed, and they both relaxed into the promised extensive jokes about the establishment. Over the course of a few drinks Draco confessed that his department had well-grounded suspicions when it came to the Secretary’s new communications manager.

‘You know why Mavis Jenkins quit, don’t you?’ Potter asked.

‘Tired of trying to make a hippogriff out of a flobberworm?’

‘That too. But no, he actually hit on her.’

Draco choked on his beer. ‘You’re joking!’

‘She told me herself.’

‘She is so far above him. I know the man fancies himself senseless, but he usually has enough brains to try it on with thickies, Mavis is one of the cleverest witches I have ever met.’

Potter leaned across the table to speak confidentially. ‘He tried it on with Hermione at the Ministry Christmas Party a few years back.’

‘What happened?’

‘She hexed him.’

‘Was that when he couldn’t sit down for a week? I thought he had piles!’

They were still laughing when they wandered off for dinner. Potter had booked a restaurant near the pub, on the basis that after three hours they would want a change of scenery.

Draco was impressed to see that it was the exactly right balance of interesting and flash. ‘Muggle again, I notice,’ he said as Potter held the door open for him. ‘Is this you reverting to your roots?’

‘I thought you wanted some privacy. I know I prefer it, and I doubt the two of us going out for dinner anywhere wizarding this weekend would manage to find any.’

‘Well, this is true. Good thinking.’ Draco mentally kicked himself. Potter was actually famous for thinking these days – at least he’d managed not to sound patronising.

The meal was very good, though both of them focussed on eating, as if they were worried about what might be said once they had run out of obvious topics.

‘So, life drawing classes? My mother thought that was a euphemism,’ Draco said as they finished off their meals.

‘I’m expanding my horizons! It’s not all beer and Quidditch, you know.’

‘You still play?’

‘You don’t?’

Draco shrugged. ‘It’s not a major thing, I just never found the time to go back to it after … everything. Besides, I don’t have enough friends for a scratch team.’

Potter frowned. ‘But you loved it. You were insanely competitive. Come and play with us if you don’t have anyone else, it’s just Ron and a gang from the Ministry. Ginny and Oliver pop by every now and then.’

‘No thanks, I’m not sure I could even fly well enough to play anymore, it’s been years since I was on a broom.’

Potter stared at him. ‘I knew you’d changed,’ he said after a while, ‘but this is ridiculous. You barely even use your wand these days from what I hear.’

‘Just because I left the bar with you the other night doesn’t mean I usually go home with childhood nemeses, I’m perfectly capable of attracting and shagging random strangers,’ Draco wilfully misunderstood.

‘Hilarious. When was the last time you did any magic.’

‘This afternoon,’ Draco replied truthfully.

‘And it consisted of?’

‘Aerodynamic experimentation,’ Draco said quickly.

Potter kept looking at him. And looking.

‘Making my underpants fly around the flat,’ Draco confessed.

The laughter bubbled out of Potter, and Draco couldn’t help joining in. ‘I was bored!’ he said in his defence, though it only made Potter laugh harder.

‘You see,’ said Potter, waving his finger. ‘If I hadn’t convinced you to get out of the house this afternoon, it would have been another tragic evening in with the underthings.’

‘I have other priorities! Most nights I’m catching up on legislation, or drafting policy. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but I actually like it. I like being good at something and knowing that it was me who learned how to do it and who succeeded without any help.’

‘That’s why you want me to call off The Quibbler,’ Potter realised.

‘Or just ask your friends there if they could rein it in. I believe you when you say Luna runs a free ship, but she’s one of your best mates, it can’t hurt to ask. And …’

‘Yeah, go on.’

‘I appreciate it, but you and Kingsley are not at all subtle in showing support.’

‘Ah.’

‘I’m sure you meant well, I just don’t want to be managed. I had enough of that during the war.’

Potter nodded. ‘That makes sense. I didn’t even think of that. Only that it would be an amusing change to work on the same side as you for once.’

‘Technically we’ve been on the same side for the last decade, though I will grant you that my contribution has consisted of bureaucratic excellence, which may have escaped your notice.’

‘Not at all, I have a private collection of your finest memos.’

‘You are still a complete prat.’

‘It’s the only reason you talk to me, like recognises like.’

‘That’s a fair point.’

The waiter came over at that point and left a small black folder containing their bill discreetly on the table after ascertaining that everything had been to their satisfaction. They both reached for it at the same time.

‘It’s mine,’ Potter insisted. ‘I asked you out.’

‘You’re unemployed, and it was more of an agreement to meet up made by colleagues.’

‘I’m independently wealthy, and no, I really was asking you out.’

Draco was so stunned that Potter had finished slipping money in with the bill before he could reply. ‘Are you on illegal potions?’ he spluttered at last.

‘No.’

‘There are other gay wizards in England. Justin Finch-Fletchley thinks you’re gorgeous, and he’s a lovely chap.’

‘Yes, I know.’

‘So what on earth are you thinking?’

‘I’m thinking that I’m going to do things I want to do from now on. And after the other day, I wanted to catch up with you again and see if you really had improved this much. And you have.’

Draco shook his head. ‘I hate to be the one who breaks this to you, but you’re Harry Potter, hero of Hogwarts, Boy Who Lived on multiple occasions, Witch Weekly’s perennial favourite and all-round good egg. You don’t ask Malfoys out. At best, you form a slightly formal friendship with them out of appreciation for the fact my mother is remarkable and I am capable of change for the better.’

‘Shut up, Malfoy. I’m just as resistant to being managed as you are.’

‘Perhaps, but you’re acting like a complete lunatic.’

‘Not a complete lunatic. I haven’t tried to take you home for the night yet.’

Draco stared at him. ‘All right, one, what possesses you to say such things? And two, since when is taking me home a sign of madness?’

‘You were the one calling me a hot young hero.’

‘It was a figure of speech! I work with Smythe, he encourages inappropriate comments when it comes to you! I think he has action figures!’

Potter had been about to say something, but that stopped him. ‘Not the fully posable ones?’

‘I can’t prove anything, but I have deep and dark suspicions.’

‘That’s horrifying.’

‘Imagine how I feel, the man has access to my tea.’

‘Yet you protected him.’

‘Well, insanity aside, he’s an excellent worker.’

Potter smiled, and Draco had a sudden and appalling insight into Smythe’s obsession. Because when you looked past the surface prattiness, Potter was nice. And good looking. And decent. Draco stopped himself before he stepped over into the action-figure-buying abyss, aware that he was being spoken to.

‘So, can I lure you out of the office again sometime through the week?’ Potter was asking.

‘Just for drinks and chatting, no unsettling commentary?’

‘I was thinking we could talk Quidditch and I could try and convince you to at least practice with us, if not play in a game one weekend.’

‘At the pub?’

‘Sure.’

‘Yeah, all right. Tuesday?’ Draco’s mouth answered without engaging his brain.

‘Tuesday would be great. I’ll meet you there. Seven?’

‘Sure.’

When Draco arrived home, there was an owl waiting with a message from his mother. How was your evening? it asked.

He wrote back immediately. Very pleasant conversation. Mr Potter seemed interested in attending your ball. Am now back at home, alone, reading up on European vegetable standards.

Narcissa’s reply was dashed off so quickly, her handwriting was sloppy. You are no fun. Much love, Mumsy

Draco debated writing back to let her know about Tuesday, but decided he needed to keep the upper hand on something. After forty minutes of trying to read the volume on standards, he decided to race it against the aerial underpants.

 
Part three

 
 
 
monster_o_lovemonster_o_love on November 8th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
This was YOU???!!!! OMG!!! Well, no wonder, I shouldn't be so surprized. It was fucking BRILLIANT!!!! I've left a rather incomprehensible and incoherant comment for it already on the H/D Careers site but I just had to thank you again for this amazingly well-written and hilarious story!! So Very Much Love!!! *hugs*
ladyjanevaladyjaneva on November 21st, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
"‘I am willing to bet several Galleons that you have the full set of Potter posable action figures at home, don’t you, Smythe?’

His workmate paled. ‘Of course not. Those are children’s toys. That would be ridiculous.’"

Ahhahahahahaha.
And the whole rest of the dialogue! WONDERFUL

And your Narcissa: so, well, MOM. Sneaky in a mother's way. Had to laugh.
tudorpottudorpot on January 12th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
I'm having a hard time reading, as I keep having to stop to catch my breath from laughing my head off.

"Draco glared at him for a long moment. When he spoke, it was with cool deliberation. ‘I am willing to bet several Galleons that you have the full set of Potter posable action figures at home, don’t you, Smythe?’

His workmate paled. ‘Of course not. Those are children’s toys. That would be ridiculous.’

‘If I report suspiciously pornographic marrows in your back garden to the Aurors, he may be forced to investigate.’

Smythe looked at Draco narrowly. ‘I suspect you wouldn’t, and that you are bluffing in a bid to have me drop the topic and go back to my work, but then I didn’t think you would hide the authorisation for extra administrative staff in the midst of the Secretary’s travel allowance claim forms, so on the basis that safe is better than sorry, I am returning to my desk.’
blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 17th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
Argh! Comment thanks fail! Between us, I have the memory of a demented stoat. But thank you! And I am glad you like that bit -- surely the Public Service could only ever be bearable if you suspected you might be working with charming evil geniuses.
judikickshineyjudikickshiney on April 8th, 2010 05:14 am (UTC)
Okay, okay. So I was practically hysterical the entire time.

Smythe is completely amazing, first off. Action figures...*grins* I want a Smythe in my life...

And these:

'It was three o’clock by the time he finished dressing. To kill time, he played aerial underpants wars for half an hour, at the end of which he had determined that linen was more aerodynamic than cotton, and that a pair of emerald silk pants was possibly the most ridiculous thing in his wardrobe and would necessitate a chat with Pansy on the difference between gay and transvestite.'

I laughed so very very hard. It made me want to play aerial underpants wars for myself. I don't know if that means I'm crazy, or you're just that good that you could make it sound appealing. I'm sure I'll figure it out sometime soon.

‘Potter, he’s a Weasley. I will grant you that he is very good at chess and being butch, but what about the PR component of the role? He won’t have the faintest idea how to deal with the press.’

‘I know,’ Potter said, grinning.

It took Draco a moment. ‘Oh Merlin, he is going to eat them.’

RON! I love Ron and I love Draco and I love it when they interact in your stories, even if it's only just in a comment. I giggled in a slightly demented fashion at the whole added 'being butch' part. Oh Ron. Oh Draco.

'You’re all relaxed and cheery. I don’t like it, it’s not natural.'

I understand Draco's concern. Harry would be rather frightening when he was relaxed and cheery. He's probably plotting a dozen different nefarious deeds.

SO! To sum up: I loved the entire thing and if I were to go on quoting my favorite parts this comment would get to be longer than the story. Suffice it to say, the entire thing is worth quoting. You're brilliant.

Oh, and also, Narcissa is AMAZING. She deserves all kinds of love.
Loyaulte Me Lieshocolate on June 13th, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
‘You realise this means that Ronald Weasley will be the new Head Auror. I must send him a note of congratulations, and invite him and his beautiful wife to the ball.’

*gasps*

Ron doesn't speak Politic!

‘Potter, he’s a Weasley. I will grant you that he is very good at chess and being butch, but what about the PR component of the role? He won’t have the faintest idea how to deal with the press.’

‘I know,’ Potter said, grinning.

It took Draco a moment. ‘Oh Merlin, he is going to eat them.’


*frolics*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 13th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
The next years were notable for journalists asking straightforward questions that could be answered in thirty seconds or less. Ron developed a nasty habit of providing briefing papers for all complex missions that gave precise details at length, then referring to the appropriate page numbers when necessary (he had one of his staff write the actual reports, then stand at the back of press conferences holding up notes with the numbers) ;-)
Loyaulte Me Lieshocolate on June 13th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
very PMQ!!!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on June 13th, 2010 04:15 pm (UTC)
His source material, I believe!