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07 November 2009 @ 10:30 pm
Little Red Courgette, Part three  
Part one
Part two

One of the virtues of early rising was making it into the office well before the Secretary. Or at least, so Smythe had regularly assured Draco. As a result, this was the least relaxing Monday morning Draco had spent in many years. He did not even pick up his Quibbler (and now it was daily, he had no idea how he was going to keep his regular purchase a secret) until he was on his way in to work.

Thus it was that the banner for the Prophet caught his eye, too. Standards are Slipping! it blared, and showed a photograph of the shirtless Secretary welcoming Dianna into what appeared to be a Muggle hotel room.

The paperboy was thoroughly impressed by the bad words Draco knew.

Smythe was already there when Draco arrived. ‘Have you heard?’ Draco barked at him as he walked up from the lift.

‘I was just about to owl you,’ Smythe replied.

‘It’s a disaster!’

‘Potter didn’t show?’

‘What? No, this!’ Draco thrust the paper into his hands.

‘Oh,’ said Smythe, looking at the headline. ‘Oh!’ he said again, looking more closely. ‘Oh dear, that’s unfortunate given the state of his belly,’ he finished.

‘I’ve long assumed he must Imperius these women,’ Draco agreed. ‘Come on, this requires a strategy meeting.’

Smythe followed Draco into the latter’s office, without even offering to brew a pot of tea. This was too serious a matter to allow for a beverage delay.

‘One of three things will come of this,’ Draco announced as the two men took their seats. ‘The Secretary will resign for personal reasons, the Secretary will declare it was all a fit-up, or the establishment will close ranks around him and seek to bluff the whole thing out.’

‘What’s your money on?’

‘Two or three, probably three. Biscuit?’

‘There’s no tea.’

‘Sorry, allow me.’ Draco sent a spell to produce a pot down towards the kitchen, and hoped that he had been specific enough to produce black, not that hippy herbal muck that had made its way to his office the last time he tried remote brewing.

‘Where do you think the Prophet got the tip-off?’

Draco thought for a moment. ‘Quite a few options there, but my money would be on the Secretary’s wife. He thinks she’s a ninny, but I’ve met her, and I think she’s sharp as a tack. Certainly sharp enough to make sure she’s safe many miles away when he’s rumbled.’

‘Ooh, sneaky, I like it. What does The Quibbler have to say on the matter?’

‘You know, I haven’t even looked at it yet.’

Draco hastily flicked open the paper, since the front page was taken up with a gorgeous illustration of the erumpent Luna Lovegood had allegedly been studying in Cornwall over the weekend. ‘Nothing, nothing, nothing, oh, page nine: Standards Secretary Scandal: In what The Quibbler hopes is not a new trend, the Secretary for Standardised Measures was found semi-naked in a popular London Hotel this morning by members of the press. When questioned, the Secretary declared he was changing his shirt after an accident with coffee and had scheduled the meeting he was attending at a hotel as there were no secure locations within the Ministry to discuss high-security matters touching on his department. Regular readers will recall that the Secretary has recently been involved in a contretemps with the European Ministry and his own department over baby vegetables. The Quibbler believes the Secretary’s shirt was ultimately unstained by the incident.

Smythe was giggling well before Draco reached the end. ‘What’s the cartoon?’

Draco turned the page. There was the Secretary, holding a very large pumpkin in front of his ample torso. Around him, giant pumpkins, marrows and squashes grew, some with nubile young women peering out from behind them and waving in a friendly fashion. Beneath it was the legend: ‘Standards Secretary seeks to squash rumours.’

‘I think his breasts are bigger than that girl’s,’ opined Smythe, who was looking at the image upside-down. Draco turned it round the right way for him. ‘Yes, definitely.’

‘I am never going to be able to look at him seriously again,’ Draco sighed.

‘As if you ever have. Buck up, at this rate you’ll be in charge of the department by the end of the week, Mr Under-Secretary.’

Draco paled. ‘That would not be a good thing.’ Under-Secretary was an appropriate level for him to be holding at this time. It was superior enough that it recognised his skills and abilities, without smacking of the patronage one must have attracted to gain a Secretary’s position at his tender age. In five years, even two or three if he distinguished himself, it would be seen as something he had earned, but now …

He had an idea. ‘Potter could do it!’

Smythe’s eyes opened as widely as Draco had ever seen a human’s.

‘I don’t want to know what you’re thinking,’ Draco told him. ‘What I am thinking is that Potter has experience as the head of a department and although he lacks expertise in Standards, he is by all reports an excellent and incorruptible manager, so he would be able to do a very good job here. And no one would question his appointment, and he would be receptive to sensible ideas, so we’d all win.’

Smythe’s expression was transported, and he was actually holding his hands to his heart.

Draco clicked his fingers in front of his colleagues face. ‘Smythe? Smythe?’

‘Working with Harry Potter!’

‘Don’t get too excited, the idea hasn’t even been put to him yet, and then we have to both get rid of the current Secretary and convince Potter to take it on.’

‘Working with Harry Potter!’

‘Oh Merlin …’ Draco left Smythe sitting in his chair and went off to pick up the tea and grab the sugar bowl. A few cups of sweet bevvy were what was needed to pull the man from his Pottershock. Draco wondered if it was entirely fair to entertain the idea of Potter in the department, it might actually kill Smythe, albeit happily.

Still, it was far and away the best of the solutions that had crossed his mind. He wondered if he ought to write to Potter today or wait until they met up again tomorrow.

When he returned, there was a memo floating above his desk, which Smythe was staring at it with religious devotion. With what he considered to be admirable presence of mind, Draco poured Smythe a cup of dark black with six and pressed it into his unresisting hands before bothering to catch the memo.

It was a summons to level seven and a meeting with Rupert ‘Rupes the Hoops’ Teddington, Secretary for Magical Games and Sports. Draco had met the man exactly three times and exchanged about the same number of words with him. According to the memo, there were ‘urgent matters to discuss’, which could mean that he was planning to tear Draco to pieces for the Secretary’s downfall, confess to a secret desire to run the standards department and seek to enlist Draco’s assistance, or, and the possibility could not be discounted given Potter’s connections, offer some Quidditch tips as a way of getting back into the game.

Draco managed to pour another two cups of sugary tea into Smythe, and send the man back in the direction of his own office before he sent back a memo, stating that he would be up directly. For added measure, he grabbed a quill, a clipboard and a copy of the Baby Veg Regs, which he alone was not calling the Malfoy Standards.

The Sports Secretary met Draco at the lift. ‘Lovely to see you, Malfoy,’ he boomed. ‘It’s been ages. I’ve been dying to know how you’re getting on and do you think I can convince my colleague to fill me in? Not a sausage. Come on in, I’ve taken the liberty of laying on a tea with a rather fine cake. Piers, hold any callers who aren’t the Minister. Can’t keep him waiting, can we? This way!’

Draco found himself swept along by Cyclone Teddington, aware that the hand positioned genially on his shoulders was packed with muscles from the man’s long career as a beater and, in all likelihood, capable of crushing his clavicle against his scapula. He smiled brightly and made vague agreeing noises.

‘Now, young Malfoy, take a seat, no, the leather one, it’s comfier. Good lad. What was I saying? Oh yes. Malfoy, we find ourselves in a pretty pickle today, don’t we?’

Draco struck the optimistic option from his list of possibilities.

‘Now I don’t for a moment blame you for all this mess. Don’t think that I do. Have some tea. Cake? Cut a big slice. There’s a lad. In fact, I was talking with a number of the other Secretaries at our breakfast meeting – strictly an informal do, all old friends dating back to Hogwarts days, like to get together every now and then, you know how it is – and they were saying that on the whole you’ve handled the whole disaster extremely well and it’s certainly not your fault that things have come to this pass, is it?’

‘I’d like to think not,’ said Draco, with what he hoped was affable neutrality.

‘Of course not. You can’t trust the Italians further than you can throw them – just look at their dithering during the War. Then you’ve got Kingsley playing his own game, and goodness knows what he’s up to, he’s a deep and silent one he is. And then, just as all of the excrement is incoming fanwards, there’s your Secretary buggerising around when he’s needed back at the office and instead he’s got his shirt off and willy out and is rogering some poor girl who’ll doubtless end up going to the gutter press to see what she can get for the story.’

Draco managed not to laugh by sheer effort of will.

‘Meanwhile, you’ve got the bloody unions banging down your door, and I am willing to bet my favourite broom you were sending the man owl after owl and he was off banging some bint the whole time.’

When Draco did not change his expression, the Sports Secretary went on. ‘I mean, we’ve all seen the work that you and the rest of his department are putting out and it’s simply top-notch. To be honest, I’d be thrilled if I could convince my lads to pull together something similar. But there’s only so much you can do down there with a chap like yours.’

‘He’s a popular leader in the department,’ Draco said without a word of a lie, any boss who was never around was bound to be popular.

‘But he’s missed the Snitch badly here, hasn’t he?’ asked Teddington in his friendliest manner.

His nod was infectious, and Draco was horrified to find himself nodding along. He tried to soften his agreement with words. ‘Yes, but for entirely understandable reasons. The Secretary’s a man in a high-stress position and I think we can all agree that it’s important he have some personal pursuits.’

Teddington clapped Draco on the shoulder so resoundingly that what was left of the tea described a neat parabola out of its cup and into its saucer. ‘Exactly, m’boy, I agree with you completely. The man’s a blithering idiot who thinks with his penis.’

Teddington leaned forward with a smile that showed just a few too many teeth, and Draco became aware that in addition to his being several inches shorter than the Sports Secretary, he was more than a few stone lighter. Teddington went on: ‘But he’s one of us, isn’t he? And it just won’t do to allow the fourth estate to bring him down, can’t let them think they have power. So we’ve talked among ourselves and decided that the best thing to do is to hose all these rumours down, bring him back, and then encourage him to step aside in his own time, so long as it’s a reasonably short time.’ He sat back in his chair and looked at Draco with an expression of infinite reasonableness.

Draco nodded, relieved. ‘If that’s what the senior Ministry officials have decided, it sounds doable. It gives him a chance to redeem himself in the public arena, and if there ultimately needs to be a succession we’ll have time to bring someone in.’

‘Excellent. I thought we’d look at you for the post,’ Teddington said with a wink.

‘No, thank you,’ Draco replied quickly.

The Sports Secretary’s face betrayed no change in expression. ‘That’s a surprise,’ he said evenly. ‘I’d have thought you’d have been quite interested in the position.’

‘Not at all, I’m thrilled with my recent promotion to Under-Secretary and would like a few years to see what I can do in the role and hopefully be able to make a difference there.’ Draco was not prepared to let the lead in the Impassivity Competition they appeared to be running slip from his grasp.

‘I knew your father back in the day, you know. Yours is a very interesting philosophy for a Malfoy to espouse,’ said Teddington, going for gold.

‘Isn’t it?’ replied Draco, snatching victory at the line.

‘So,’ said Teddington, conceding the point and beginning a new game. ‘Ethelred has asked me to ask you what it’s going to take?’

‘Ethelred?’

‘The Secretary.’

Draco had forgotten that the Secretary had an actual name, and now he remembered why he and everyone else in the Ministry had been so keen to turn to the honorific.

‘Of course. Well, as far as I’m concerned, there are no issues. The current media coverage is, of course, regrettable, but I feel certain that it will all die down quickly.’

‘Really? Because I had assumed that there were internal sources directing some of the coverage.’

‘Not that I am aware of.’

‘Fascinating. It may be the case that some of our local vultures have actually discovered investigative journalism.’

‘Stranger things have happened.’

‘And yet, I believe you have recently begun to associate with our dear Harry.’

Draco had rarely heard as much innuendo packed into such a simple sentence, and a small part of his brain wanted to shout that there had been nothing in anyone’s end, thank you very much, but years of maintaining a cool facade prevailed. ‘We recently caught up for drinks and have had a few chats around the Ministry, if that’s what you mean, but it’s hardly an association.’

‘Ah. It’s just that I understand he’s very tight with the people at the Quibbler.’

‘Old school friends, known each other since Hogwarts days,’ Draco informed him. ‘They like to get together now and then, strictly informal, you know how it is.’

A minuscule flash of anger crossed the Sports Secretary’s face as he realised he would have to play for best out of five. ‘So you don’t think he has anything to do with The Quibbler’s harsh stand against poor old Ethers?’

‘If anything, The Quibbler has been more supportive than the Prophet,’ Draco reminded him. ‘It’s made a little mock of him, but then, it makes mock of everyone. It’s harmless, it’s not as though a paper that talks about cryptozoology can be seen as a credible political organ.’

Astonishingly, this blatant lie appeared to work. Teddington leaned back in his seat, steepled his fingers and looked at Draco over them.

‘Either,’ he announced,’ you are a far smoother manipulator than your father ever dreamed of being, or you are telling me the unvarnished truth.’

Draco couldn’t testify to unvarnished, but he’d managed not to lie. He called up his most earnest and thoroughly reformed expression. ‘I have spent the last ten years working harder than anyone in my family has worked for generations in a bid to build and maintain my credibility. There is no short-term gain worth sacrificing that,’ he said.

‘If you want it bluntly,’ he went on, ‘the Secretary is older than you. He is not the least bit fit, and yet he enjoys very energetic recreational pursuits. He lives on firewhiskey, pies and cream cakes. If I wanted his job, all I would have to do is encourage him to run for a Portkey, as he’s one fifty-yard sprint away from an extended stay in St Mungo’s. This tawdriness is beneath me.’

Teddington’s expression smoothed out into something that was almost approval. ‘Now you’re sounding more like a Malfoy,’ he said. ‘If you grow tired of Standards, you will let me know, won’t you?’

‘You’ll be my first call. I hate to be rude, but I am afraid that I have meetings coming up all through the rest of the morning, so is there anything else?’

‘Nothing I can think of. So pleased to hear that you’re on board. Lovely to have had a proper chat at last.’ Teddington stood with Draco and reached out to shake his hand.

‘Absolutely. Highly enjoyable.’ Draco gathered his papers and quills and then did not turn around until he had the door open and a clear line of sight to the open lift that was waiting only a dozen feet away. ‘You’ll clear everything with Kingsley, won’t you?’ he asked.

Teddington didn’t have time to engage his brain before he replied, ‘Yes, of course, no problems with that.’

‘Excellent, thank you, Secretary, must dash,’ said Draco, before taking himself literally and slipping into the lift just in time to avoid the closing doors.

As he rode the lift back to his floor, Draco consoled himself with the fact that he was not actually relying on Kingsley to save him from this mess. It was pure, happy chance that Teddington would be delivering himself up as a willing victim who would be happy to help the Minister keep his Stunning arm in.


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


On Tuesday morning the Standards Secretary was taking another personal day for reasons of ill health, the Sports Secretary was still in good health – which led Draco to believe that he had not yet spoken to the Minister – and The Quibbler’s cartoon consisted of Elena Gambara reading a copy of the previous day’s Prophet and declaring ‘These English are so charming, they’ve done everything possible to make me feel completely at home.’

Smythe, Draco was pleased to see, had pulled himself together after a Monday spent mostly under his desk reading the Big Boy’s Bumper Guide to Harry Potter. There was a pot of tea brewed, and cups, milk and sugar waiting on Draco’s desk when he arrived, along with a jam slice cut into neat squares.

‘You needn’t have, but thank you,’ Draco said as he surveyed the spread.

‘After yesterday …’

‘Don’t mention it.’

‘Did I miss anything?’

‘The Sports Secretary may or may not have tried to recruit me to a conspiracy to protect our Secretary.’

‘Excellent! Does he think you’re in or out?’

‘I think he may think I am in, but is shortly to learn I’m out. Or at least, out-ish.’

‘Any further developments in replacing our chap?’

‘Not as yet. I’m beginning to think that Teddington has the appropriate level of smooth nastiness to manage it brilliantly.’

‘He is a man who likes cake, things could be much worse.’

‘How go the new standards?’

‘Regulations signed off on, legislation drafted and awaiting only the Minister’s signature, union members thrilled, fashionable housewives ecstatic, though not as ecstatic as they would be if you let Pickett sell his Knobbly Pokers …’

Draco spluttered. ‘His what?’

‘His new cucumber cultivar. He thinks the name’s a winner.’

‘I fear he may be right, and shudder at the thought.’

‘What about you?’ Smythe inquired, nibbling on jam slice.

‘Quite well, actually. I dropped by the Departmental Library yesterday afternoon and found a startling number of ancient cookbooks with recipes for baby veg, so I’ve sent them up to our beloved Secretary in a bid to remind him he can win our point without leaving the Europeans petitioning for a broadening of the Channel.’

‘Oh good work. How many did you have to forge?’

‘Only three. There were seven actual ones, but I thought it best to go for a round ten.’

‘I quite agree. What do you have on today?’ Smythe asked, pouring fresh cups for each of them.

‘Chat with the Prophet about the new standards, then catching up with a friend for drinks this evening.’

‘You have friends? Sorry! That sounded far worse than I intended it to.’

‘That’s all right,’ Draco allowed. ‘It’s not as though I talk about my private life much.’

‘I like to pretend you’re an Auror spy. Or an agent for a foreign power. Or working your way towards taking holy orders.’

Smythe thought for a moment. ‘Actually, the foreign agent thing would explain a lot.’

Draco sighed.

There was a jaunty knock at the door and Potter walked in. ‘Morning, Malfoy, about …’

‘Wait!’ Draco interrupted.

Potter looked startled, but closed his mouth.

‘Smythe, take your tea and the rest of the slice, and pop back to your office, would you, there’s a good chap.’

Smythe looked from Draco to Potter, and back to Draco. The effect was of a small dog caught between a steak and a tennis ball, but after a moment, he took his tea and left. ‘Good to see you, Mr Potter,’ he said as he walked past.

‘Good to see you, too, Smythe,’ Potter replied, closing the door after him.

‘Don’t encourage him,’ Draco complained.

‘What was that all about?’

‘Smythe has an over-developed fantasy life where you’re concerned,’ Draco explained.

‘He what? That’s disgusting. What does his wife think?’

‘Not like that,’ Draco sighed. ‘He has it in his head that you and I are about to embark on a torrid affair.’

‘Tell me more.’

‘Ha ha. Anyway, I didn’t want you mentioning that we were going out for drinks in front of him in case he developed more wild theories.’

‘Yes, much better that you make a fuss so the two of us are locked in your private office.’

‘I think I might start hating you again.’

‘Anyway, I wanted to let you know I’m going to be late tonight.’

‘How late?’

‘Not sure, I have a meeting I can’t get out of. You live near the pub, don’t you?’

‘Not far.’

‘So I can owl you when I’m about to leave and we’ll probably get there about the same time.’

‘Sure. I was going to head straight from work, but I can go home first.’

‘Cheers. What’s your address?’

‘Thirteen Above Wilfred Street.’

‘Good-oh. Listen, rather than owling you, why don’t I just pick you up there, that way you can kick back until then and neither of us is left sitting at the pub like a Nigel no friends.’

‘Yeah, all right.’ Draco listened to his mouth say the words, and wondered when it had made its bold bit for autonomy.

‘Terrific! Right, well, I’ll see you a bit after seven, but should be well before nine.’

‘Excellent.’

Potter left the office, and Draco’s brain began to work again. He rushed to his door and flung it open, Potter was stepping into the lift at the end of the corridor. ‘Who has immovable meetings when they’re unemployed?!’ Draco shouted.

Potter turned around and put a hand to his ear. He mimed an inability to make out what Draco was saying, and made no move to hold the door as Draco jogged down the corridor repeating himself.

With all the fuss, Smythe opened his door to see what was happening, just in time to hear Draco complain: ‘I’ve just been had.’

He didn’t even bother waiting to look at Smythe’s face before he added, ‘Your mind is an appalling place.’

‘I like it,’ Smythe replied, and went back in to work.

The Prophet’s journalist was exactly on time, though Draco chose to meet with her in the department’s conference room rather than his office. Aside from not wanting to tidy the latter, there was the constant risk of sudden visits form Potter, or Smythe, or Smythe’s Potter action figures, which Draco was beginning to suspect had come to work with him this morning.

Arabella Fritillary was a pleasant enough witch, but asked her questions in a rapid-fire fashion that reminded Draco unpleasantly of playing Quidditch with Marcus Flint.

‘When did you become aware of the urgent need for a baby vegetable market? Is it true that Ministera Gambara dropped her antipathy to the idea after receiving several pots of your mother’s private face cream? Are you in the pay of sundry farmers’ unions? When did you hatch your nefarious plan to take over the Department of Standards? What was it like living with You-Know-Who? Are finger-sized courgettes really this year’s “it” vegetable?’

Draco made and poured them both cups of tea, and sipped his while he answered at leisure. ‘If you’d read the briefing notes that were distributed in the press pack that accompanied the new regulations, you’d have seen that the Ministry has long been concerned that some of Britain’s traditional vegetable markets were not being adequately supported by the regulations that have been in place both domestically and in our agreements with other European agricultural nations. There has been input from several unions representing farmers and smallholders who have repeatedly asked that we investigate this area, and the new regulations are the natural result of our extensive, timely and thorough investigations, all undertaken, I might add, by impartial bodies.

‘While it is a delightful side-effect that the farmers’ unions are excited with these developments, of course, the department works solely for the good of the consumer. Making sure that one gets what one pays for is our primary motivation. I would remind you, Miss Fritillary, that complaints regarding poor produce, and cases of food poisoning, have steadily decreased since the department was formed in 2000.

‘I do so love your sense of humour regarding the European Minister, who is one of the finest bureaucrats in the world and who has a thirty-year career promoting the cause of women at the top levels of the political sphere, as well as being an outstanding leader in the area of Standards. I am sure that both she and my Mother will find your comment charming and amusing, and would not be surprised if you heard from them.

‘As to the fashionability of baby courgettes and other small vegetables, I would assure your readers that not only have I recently been seeing them on all the best tables, both domestic and restaurant, but they are uniformly bursting with delicate delightful flavours. As well as a broad range of essential vitamins and minerals, all so necessary for a healthy diet.

‘Don’t think I missed your sly reference to the outrageous canards the Prophet has levelled against our Secretary, a man who is so hard working that he often schedules meetings over breakfast, and who among us has not had the occasional ill-timed collusion of gravity and coffee? We in the office look forward to his return.

‘And, strictly off the record and entirely between you and me, while living with Voldemort meant constant fear in the presence of a psychotic killer, there was a certain fascination to learning that men could be erotically excited by peacocks. Up until then I had never imagined such a thing possible. Anything else?’

Fritillary was busy stuffing her quills and scrolls back into her large purse as Draco finished speaking. ‘No, thanks, that should be great. Lovely. Wouldn’t be surprised if we make the cover.’

‘Oh I am SO pleased. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find someone willing to cover the vital work we do on regularity of vegetables down here. And the public has a right to know!’

‘Absolutely. Charmed. Delightful to meet you, very sorry if I sounded out of place about your mother, wonderful woman, one of the great beauties of our age, must dash!’

‘You know the way out?’ Draco called after her as she ran for the lift.

‘No problems, completely fine!’ she shouted without turning.

It did not in the least surprise Draco when Bruce Pickett dropped by just before five.

‘Have you seen the Evening Prophet?’ he asked.

Draco could see it tucked under Pickett’s arm, with an artist’s impression of Voldemort pursuing an extremely worried-looking peacock and the headline: Fowl Behaviour. ‘No,’ he answered. ‘Anything good?’

Pickett dropped into the chair opposite Draco’s desk and opened the paper to page fourteen. ‘My members have asked that I pass on our thanks,’ he said, turning the paper around so that Draco could see the story.

‘Baby Veg Best Buys, apparently,’ Draco read. ‘Oh, and look, The Department of Standards representative said that he was grateful for the calm and rational arguments in favour of the new regulations put forward by the Wizarding Farmers’ Federation. In what has been described as a new age of cooperation between government and agriculture, even the French Wizarding Farmers’ Union has expressed tacit support, saying that the reforms came “not before time” and would “finally bring Britain into line with civilised nations”.

Draco looked up at Pickett. ‘She’s missed a trick there. We signed off on our new regulations at least thirty-six hours before they did. Still, you come out looking good and competent, well done!’

‘I won’t be forgetting who thought to mention me, Malfoy.’

‘Don’t mention it, Bruce. It was simply acknowledgement of a job well done. Do call me Draco.’

‘You’re not half bad for a complete bastard, Draco.’

‘A finer compliment I could not ask for.’

By the time Pickett left, there was nothing left to do for the day. Even Smythe had excused himself, stating that his wife had called to let him know she had a treat waiting. Draco only prayed that it was not kinky and did not involve Gryffindor Quidditch robes. Locking his door behind him, Draco headed home, walking to enjoy the mid-July warmth.


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


Home was, as usual, spotless. Draco wondered if he oughtn’t ask the elves to leave some part of it uncleaned so that he would have proof of his own existence at the end of each day. One thing was different, though. The white linen boxers that he had managed to hook over the pendant light in the sitting room had been removed from their ungraceful dangle and were now stretched over the light fitting in the form of a soft fabric, two-legged shade.

Draco smiled at the sight, then burst into laughter as he imagined the thought processes of the elf who had decided this was his desire.

He picked up a copy of Our Top Crops: Trends in 21st century agriculture and sat down to read. Despite the title, it was actually an engrossing little tome and it took a serious dimming of the light for Draco to notice how much time had passed. Nine o’clock, he realised. Either Potter’s meeting had gone significantly over time, or he simply wasn’t coming.

Surprised, Draco found that the latter option depressed him. He hadn’t thought a great deal about Potter in the past decade, beyond ‘Good thing he won’, ‘Does the Prophet have no one else to write about’ and ‘No, that’s a perfectly natural reaction, all dark-haired types look good in Auror robes’.

But now that their old antipathy was long forgotten, he had quite enjoyed the camaraderie of the last week. Shared secrets aside, Potter was good company. Well, Draco consoled himself, perhaps he had been kidnapped by the staff of Witch Weekly and was even now being subjected to bodily indignities.

He had just begun to get up to see what was available for supper when there was a knock at the door. Potter was standing on his doorstep, with a bottle in one hand and two brooms in the other.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ he said with a smile. ‘I’ve been plotting the overthrow of the government.’

‘Wouldn’t surprise me,’ Draco replied, moving aside to let Potter in. ‘I take it the bottle is an apology, but what are the brooms for?’

‘Thought we’d go flying.’

‘I thought we were going to the pub, for a sensible sit-down drink with a spot of supper.’

‘Yeah, but it’s getting late now and it’ll be filled with the drunk and the desperate. Whereas this is a quite good bottle of wine and I have both Galleons and pounds, so if you want, we can order in food.’

Draco’s rebellious power of speech again set off with no input from his brain. ‘Sounds good, though I was just about to put together some smoked trout and scrambled eggs if you want any. There’s glasses and a bottle opener in the kitchen.’

Potter smiled brightly. ‘I’ll help if you like, I can do the veg if you have any.’

‘Bucketloads. Most of it experimental, so be careful what you pick, and don’t ask me to tell you their names, it will destroy your faith in humanity.’

A short while later, Draco sat down to eat with Harry Potter and considered the fact that the days of full disclosure with Smythe were necessarily past.

‘So,’ Potter ventured, ‘Voldemort the bird buggerer, eh?’

‘To be fair, it’s always been a popular rumour.’

‘Up there with I’m secretly married to Luna Lovegood and you’re running the Department of Standardised Measures.’

‘I do have my suspicions about you and old radish ears. How is Lovegood, anyway?’

‘In her element.’ Harry grinned. ‘She has a real talent for publishing, but I think she’s really in it for the humour.’

‘She does make me laugh. Whoever she has doing cartoons is a genius.’

‘Padfoot? The mystery artist? Yeah, she keeps the identity under lock and key, won’t even let anyone else into the office when he or she is there. I’ll grant you it’s amusing stuff.’

‘Incisive is the word you’re looking for, and the art’s really rather good, too.’

‘Do you think? Anyway, Luna is having the time of her life. She was seeing Neville for a while, but they’ve both moved on amicably. She’s engaged to a botanist now. She sent her regards, actually, I told her I was going to be seeing you tonight.’

‘She did?’

‘She did. She never blamed you or your mother, you know. Says you were both as trapped as she was, and that you were as kind to her as you could be.’

‘Could we …’ Draco poured them each another glass of wine to give himself a moment. ‘Could we restrict conversation to the last ten years?’

Potter blinked at him. ‘I still have your wand, you know.’

‘That’s fine, I don’t need it.’

‘I thought about using it again, but it would seem odd, given the last time …’

‘Yeah, no, best leave things at that. Just stick it in a drawer somewhere, or bury it.’

‘You really don’t want it back?’

‘Potter!’ Draco took a deep breath. ‘Ollivander used to say that the wand chooses the person. I’m not that person anymore.’

‘Right. Sorry. Last ten years, you say.’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Don’t suppose you’ve been following the Quidditch?’

‘Not really, no.’

‘I’m afraid I know nothing about agriculture.’

‘Probably for the best. How are Granger and Weasley?’

Potter seized on the topic. ‘They’re good! Really good. The baby’s doing fabulously well, little Hugo, tragically similar to his father in temperament, so Hermione’s actually a bit angry with me for quitting and giving Ron an excuse to stay back at work and not deal with screaming toddler of an evening. Hermione’s trying to extend the Ministry’s childcare hours till 9pm, which Molly – Mrs Weasley – thinks is a sign of the end days.’

‘Don’t they have two kids?’

‘Rose, she’s the oldest. I think she is planning to take over the world. Every time I see her she has her nose buried in a book or building complex wood-block cities. She’s three.’

Draco laughed. ‘So she takes after Granger, then.’

‘I told Hermione I was having dinner with you.’

‘You were having drinks. You inveigled your way into supper with a not-too-bad wine.’

‘Yeah, well she asked me to pass on a hello and a thank you for inviting her and Ron to your mother’s ball on the weekend.’

‘Nothing to do with me, my mother thinks we should curry favour with Weasley in case he turns out to be important. By halfway through the ball she’ll probably have worked out that it’s Granger who’s the power in that relationship, and the Ministry.’

‘Absolutely. So, dessert?’

‘I don’t think I have anything. Sorry, I wasn’t expecting company.’

‘That’s fine. We’ll grab something after a quick fly, then.’

Draco shook his head. ‘There is no way on this earth that I am going flying with you, Potter.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ Potter apologised with lashings of sincerity. ‘I didn’t even think! You haven’t flown in years, it would be so embarrassing for you. I have a friend in the Cotswolds who does remedial courses, I can give you his details. Very private, very discreet.’

‘I’m not twelve years old!’ Draco spluttered. ‘You can’t dare me to do something I don’t want to do, I just don’t want to do it.’

‘No, you’re quite right, that’s fine.’

‘Good.’

‘I just thought it would be fun.’

‘It’d be a breach of the statutes, there are CCTV cameras on every corner out there.’

‘That’s what makes it fun.’

‘Where were you thinking of flying?’

‘The Palace Gardens? St James’s Park?’

‘Because illegal acts in heavily guarded locations are even more fun, I suppose.’

‘Absolutely.’

Draco shook his head, but a smile curled out from his lips despite his best efforts at restraining it. ‘It’s a terrible idea. It would be grossly irresponsible,’ he said.

‘Yup.’

‘Why has it taken me this long to work out that you’re a really bad influence, Potter?’

‘You were too busy hating the surface me and never took the time to discover the true evil underneath.’

‘Good argument.’

‘So I take it I’ve won, then?’

‘I’m still considering.’

‘I’ll buy dessert afterwards. And another bottle of wine.’

‘A less gay man would offer beer.’

‘Smythe told me you liked wine!’

‘When did you ask him?’

‘This afternoon, I stopped by his house before my meeting. His wife’s really nice and normal.’

‘I can’t talk, my brain’s exploding.’

‘That’s never stopped you before. Are you going to be warm enough? I’d grab a jacket.’

‘Yes, all right.’ Anything was better than contemplating the vision of Smythe returning home to find that his wife’s treat was Harry Potter.

Draco grabbed a button-up canvas jacket, and quickly stuffed a pair of gloves in his pocket in case they ended up having to fly any distance to escape police pursuit. ‘Smythe was still breathing when you left, wasn’t he?’ he asked as he came back out into the kitchen.

‘He was fine. He seemed quite happy that I was planning to catch up with you.’

‘That’s nice. I may have to kill him tomorrow.’

‘I’ll let Ron know. Here, have a Firebolt.’

‘All right, let’s begin this adventure that will doubtless end in disaster. I have a little roof garden we can take off from.’

‘You know, for such a dull street, your place is quite pleasant.’

‘I live in town, not in squalor,’ Draco reminded him. ‘It’s this way.’

Potter followed him down the dark hall to the narrow flight of stairs at the end. ‘If I make any passage jokes, will you hex me?’ he asked.

‘Painfully. Mind yourself, it gets narrow after the turn.’

The door at the top of the stairs opened on to a small flat area, bordered with plants and scattered with a rather tasteful outdoor setting.

‘Nice,’ said Potter approvingly.

‘Just try not to knock any of the pots over while you’re getting airborne.’

‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’

A moment later they were hovering in the air, Potter grinning like a maniac and Draco holding on firmly, while trying not to show any facial expression whatsoever. He did a quick mental rundown of the spells at his disposal: two for slowing descent, one for quickly conjuring a large, soft object – he could manage that one wandlessly, Mother had gone through a dramatic fainting stage – and there was always a mid-air Apparate to somewhere over water.

‘All right, let’s go and cause an annoyance.’

‘This way.’

There was a reason, Draco reflected, why they said ‘it’s like riding a broom’. Within a few minutes he had remembered the subtle positions of body and weight that would urge the Firebolt on, and make it veer or scream into a turn. He shot past Potter, aiming for Duck Island, in the lake at St James’s. As he closed in, he slowed, so as to have a good view of the sleeping pelicans. Potter flew in beside him, as silently as he could.

‘They’re such comedic birds, and yet so graceful and full of personality,’ Draco said.

‘We’re waking them up. Come on, time to buzz the Palace.’

Later, Draco had to wonder if Potter had known there was a function on. The smooth broad lawn that bordered the Palace was lit up as though it were Christmas, and the sundry dignitaries who were looking out towards the lake at the exact moment the two of them shot by were probably still wondering when giant black pelicans took to marauding through the evening. He didn’t slow down until Belgrave Square, and even then it was only because he was laughing so hard he could no longer fly properly.

‘How are you holding up?’ Potter asked.

‘Dreadful, hands are stinging, arse is numb, I have cramps in muscles I didn’t know I had … But completely worth it.’

‘Come on, let’s get you home, and I’ll get us some cake.’

Back at Above Wilfred Street, Draco threw Potter his keys and told him to let himself in when he came back. ‘I’m throwing myself through the shower. I’d forgotten just how much muck is in the air.’

‘And you want to get some hot water onto that arse before it starts to ache.’

‘Any more smutty comments from you and I’m taking my keys back.’

‘Any preferences?’

‘Nothing mango or cheesy.’

Draco had time to shower, change and put together a tray of bowls, knives cake forks and spoons before he heard the jingle of keys in the door. ‘You took your time,’ he called.

Potter made it in just as Draco left the kitchen. ‘The Leaky was all out of everything except cheesecake, so I grabbed ice-cream from Fortescue’s. Is that all right?’

‘How much did you get? It looks as though you’re planning to feed the Horse Guards.’

‘And now the reason why you live here is suddenly clear. I didn’t know what flavours you liked, so I grabbed a selection. I like them all, so we can split the leftovers. And I grabbed two bottles of wine to apologise for being such a pest.’

‘Thoroughly bad influence,’ said Draco. ‘This way, we can use the coffee table in the sitting room.’

Potter paused as he stepped through the door. ‘Malfoy?’

‘Yes?’

‘Is it chic to use underwear as a light shade where you come from?’

‘All the finest house-elves think so.’

‘I’m sorry I asked.’

They each made it through a bowl of chocolate with sundry other flavours garnishing it. And three large glasses of wine. This was the only excuse Draco could find for the fact that he found himself asking Potter: ‘So what’s your game?’

‘Quidditch,’ Potter replied instantly. ‘Or Exploding Snap.’

‘Here. What’s your game here.’

‘I’m not with you.’

A part of Draco’s brain screamed at him to stop, but the alcohol-soaked part, in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Smythe’s, encouraged him to go on. ‘Are you working with Kingsley to enlist me as your pawn in a clean out of the Ministry? You were very quick to agree when I asked you to warn The Quibbler off, was it all a ruse?’

‘I thought you were engaged in your own hands-on grass-roots Ministry reform, making the one department work well, with an eye to expanding in the future,’ Potter rebutted.

‘Well I am, so you needn’t try making use of me in your nefarious scheme.’

‘I don’t have a nefarious scheme.’

‘So is it all a complicated plan to take some highly personal and embarrassing revenge for the Potter Stinks badges? Because that was years ago. And although I feel a little badly about it now, they were excellent work for a wizard that age.’

‘They were, I was impressed. I still have one at home, you know.’

‘Really?’

‘Yup. I thought you were a wanker at the time, but I have to say, that was a quality Charm.’

‘Thanks. So what’s left? You’re in the hire of someone keen to assassinate the last of the Malfoys; it’s all an elaborate if somewhat clumsy plan at seduction; or you’re desperate for someone to talk to now that all your friends are getting married and having children.’

‘Those are my options? I’ll take two, clumsy seduction.’

Really?’

‘I know for a fact you’ve not changed so much since school as to be surprised that people find you attractive,’ Potter countered, smiling.

‘People, yes. But you?’

‘I’m people!’

‘You’re Potter.’

‘You’re rather appealing when you’re exasperated.’

‘This is a terrible idea,’ said Draco, downing the last of his wine and pouring more.

‘You said that about the flying, but you had fun.’

‘Yes, and I am sure having you stay the night would be fun, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a terrible idea.’

Potter didn’t say anything for a moment.

‘You’re trying very hard not to make any cracks about sore arses, aren’t you?’ Draco accused.

‘Maybe,’ Potter confessed.

‘I had my money on option three,’ Draco said. ‘Which was not a bad option. I was perfectly happy with three.’

‘It was a bit three, more last week, but now it’s quite a bit two,’ said Potter.

Draco looked at him. It wasn’t as though it would be a hardship to shag Potter, he was very pleasant to look at and a disturbing amount of fun to hang around. And right now he was trying to look appealing, which fell somewhere between domesticated crup and child wanting a sweetie. But it really was a terrible idea. He looked at the table.

‘I think you’re probably drunk, Potter.’

‘Only a very tiny amount. Less so than you. One bottle of wine over three hours, with food, it’s not that bad.’

‘Then maybe I’m drunk.’

‘You want me to go home.’

‘No, I want you to stay.’

Potter caught his breath. Then he looked at Draco more intently. ‘There’s a but, isn’t there?’

‘Thousands of them. But what the hell. Come on, bedroom’s this way.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Now, Potter, before I change my mind.’

The part of Draco’s brain that remained sensible informed him that although he was doubtless right and this was a terrible idea, it was a terrible idea that looked more entertaining by the moment as Potter discarded clothes while he walked, and by the time he was down to trousers and was unbuttoning Draco’s shirt as he snogged him against the bedroom doorjamb, Draco’s brain was politely mentioning that it was just going to sit back and watch, if Draco didn’t mind, and that he needn’t worry about the ice-cream as the Fortescue tubs were self-chilling for two days.

There was a brief moment when it looked as though Draco’s brain was going to be called on to re-engage, but his mouth won the argument with ‘No, my arse is already sore,’ and his brain was able to go back to uninterrupted admiration and enjoyment of the smooth expanse of pale skin and sleekly moving muscles that were moving beneath his body.

Part four

 
 
 
ladyjanevaladyjaneva on November 21st, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
." I am sure that both she and my Mother will find your comment charming and amusing, and would not be surprised if you heard from them."

ohh, ouch! Great way of politely twisting the dagger.
judikickshineyjudikickshiney on April 8th, 2010 05:52 am (UTC)
There is far to much that I loved in this chapter. And I shall warn you before I start posting quotes. I'll try to make this a shorter comment than my last one, too...*grins*

But really. Anything about Smythe and his Potter Action Figures. Or, really, any part of this that has Smythe mentioned or present make me howl. My stomach hurts from laughing. It's wonderful. *nods* I shall quote my favorite parts now.

THIS:
‘Oh,’ said Smythe, looking at the headline. ‘Oh!’ he said again, looking more closely. ‘Oh dear, that’s unfortunate given the state of his belly,’ he finished.
‘I’ve long assumed he must Imperius these women,’ Draco agreed. ‘Come on, this requires a strategy meeting.’
THIS:
‘Yeah, all right.’ Draco listened to his mouth say the words, and wondered when it had made its bold bit for autonomy.


judikickshineyjudikickshiney on April 8th, 2010 05:55 am (UTC)
Poor Draco. Everyone has those days where they can't control their mouths.
THIS was also fantastic:
With all the fuss, Smythe opened his door to see what was happening, just in time to hear Draco complain: ‘I’ve just been had.’
He didn’t even bother waiting to look at Smythe’s face before he added, ‘Your mind is an appalling place.’
‘I like it,’ Smythe replied, and went back in to work.
And LASTLY! (Finally) THIS:
The part of Draco’s brain that remained sensible informed him that although he was doubtless right and this was a terrible idea, it was a terrible idea that looked more entertaining by the moment as Potter discarded clothes while he walked, and by the time he was down to trousers and was unbuttoning Draco’s shirt as he snogged him against the bedroom doorjamb, Draco’s brain was politely mentioning that it was just going to sit back and watch, if Draco didn’t mind, and that he needn’t worry about the ice-cream as the Fortescue tubs were self-chilling for two days.