"Perpetua. Please do not climb on the trellis."
Draco let out a deep breath as the eight-year old girl pouted and jumped off the rickety frame, wellington boots splashing an icy puddle of mud water onto Draco's cloak.
"In. Line. Now," he gritted out, trying as hard as he could to sound friendly. It would be just his luck that one of these brats went babbling to their parents about how nasty Mr Malfoy had been at the last house.
Draco checked his watch. Ten minutes until the parents of the Junior Magical Oratory started appearing to applaud the final carol, congratulate each other on coming out in the sleet, and collect their little treasures. Time for two more songs, and they were both going to be at this house, because Draco could not be arsed shepherding the group around the corner to Grimmauld Lane.
"Are we all ready?" Draco waved his hands in at the two boys at the back--troublemakers, both, but bloody good tenors, and Draco knew all the tricks they did and more--and the children shuffled in together, rustling their songsheets. Draco cast a Diverting Charm to stop any Muggle passers-by from wandering why a group of children and a strangely-dressed young man were singing to a narrow alley, and raised his hand to start.
They were very good, he thought, as the girls cut in with harmony on the second verse of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Even if they did ask irritating questions about who Baby Jesus was. Draco, not exactly well-versed in Muggle superstitions himself, had bluffed his way through some theology after picking up a brochure entitled "The Catholic Way" at Southwark Cathedral, the crypt of which had excellent cheap dinners.
"Music is music," Draco had argued to one recalcitrant parent, who was threatening to lodge a complaint with the Ministry about Draco's choice of Yule carols. "And Christmas carols are vastly better than all that pagan chanting, and besides, your Helvetica is a beautiful soprano and will do just nicely for the solo on Silent Night."
Which she had. They were a curious mix of children that Draco had been saddled with--some middle-class little snots with unfortunately gorgeous voices, and some from terribly poor backgrounds who were sponsored by the Ministry's charitable fund--and sometimes he was amazed how much the venture succeeded, creating the semblance of a choir from a bunch of raw, primary-school talent.
Better a thankless task than the biased trial he was sure to have been given, he'd thought at the time, miserably signing away his rights to any and all of the Malfoy estate and wealth in return for a peaceful life, a contract with the Charitable Division, and a pathetic excuse for a wage.
He winked at the Bodoni boys, the three of them lanky and grinning at the back of the group, Jai with his hands on his little sister's arms to keep her warm, and they nodded back--
They found Him in a manger where oxen feed on hay
--and mooed loudly, Draco having realised during practice that they were going to make their cattle noises whether he approved or not.
The rest of the choir was composed enough to stifle their giggles through the next verse. Draco raised a finger to his lips, his signal to them to be quiet on the next verse. He'd been conducting them all afternoon and felt like belting out a verse himself.
So bless the ruler of this house, and send him long to reign,
And many a merry Christmas may live to see again;
Among your friends and kindred that live both far and near—
He waved the choir in, and they sang the last refrain together.
That God send you a happy new year, happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year.
"That was very nice, Mr Malfoy," said a man's voice behind him. "Happy Christmas."
Draco turned around. In the doorway, now halfway open, Remus Lupin had a glass of port in his hand and a ridiculous pink hibiscus tucked behind his ear.
"HAP-PY CHRIZ-MIZ!" chorused the kids, which was not so much a happy greeting as an ear-splitting yelling contest.
Draco closed his eyes and sighed. He even contemplated not opening them again, and simply Apparating back to his bedsit in Turnpike Lane to sit in bed watching the telly. They Think It's All Over was on at seven-thirty, and he had a passable Sainsbury's chinese ready-meal and the last of a bottle of Australian shiraz.
"That man knows your name," came the soft voice of Lucida Grand. She was the youngest child in the choir, just turned six, and forgot to be painfully shy only when she was singing. She always stood at the front, right facing Draco, and followed his conducting arms with such rapt concentration that sometimes Draco laughed despite himself.
"So he does, Lucy," Draco muttered, and turned fully around to the doorway.
"Mr Lupin," Draco said tightly. "Happy Christmas to you." Lupin raised his glass and nodded back. "This is the Junior London Magical Oratory, and we're carolling on behalf of Wizarding Children's Charities." By now, Draco's speech was well rehearsed. "Do you have any requests for the choir? You're our last house this evening, and we have enough time for one more."
Lupin rubbed his hand across his face and blinked. "Been a while since I heard carols," he said, "but it sounded lovely. I'm sure whatever you choose will be--" he turned around to call inside the house "--yes, Tonks, carol-singers, you won't guess who--" and nodded politely. "Will be, um, fine."
Was the werewolf wearing a frilly shirt? Draco couldn't tell. He eyed Lupin suspiciously. "You're playing Perry Como."
Lupin's eyebrows lifted. "Mambo Classics, yes. Well done."
Draco pulled out his wand and silenced the music from inside the house. "There's a time and a place for that sort of thing," he said. "We'll sing you something better."
A flame-haired woman dressed in a flamenco skirt and trainers came to the door and ducked underneath Lupin's arm. "Hallo, choir!" She beamed at the group.
"Hap-py Chriz-miz!" Not so deafening this time.
"Good grief, Draco Malfoy?"
Ah. Tonks. Nymphadora. His weird cousin.
Draco nodded and turned back around to the children.
"We are going to sing," Draco said, tapping everyone's songsheets with his wand, "something delightful." He winked at them, and the kids giggled as they worked out what it was. "Franklin, Monterey, you two are the main melody. The rest of you gentlemen are to harmonise as practised, two up, three down. Ladies, I want some ooh-oohs if you're an alto, and sopranos, I heard you all copying the church bells before, so do that for me but I want them cute and tinkly. You're all coming in on the refrain individually, I'll point to you when it's your turn. Got it?"
The rapid nods and excited shuffling as the group rearranged themselves told Draco his hours of exasperation had paid off somewhat. He took a breath and snapped his fingers to start an introductory bell-chime. Normally he didn't let them have accompanying music, convinced it encouraged lazy singing, but a bit of pizazz on the last song couldn't hurt.
Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Draco nodded at the altos in turn.
Let It Snow!
Let It Snow!
Let It Snow!
His choir kicked arse.
Halfway through the last verse Draco reached into his cloak pocket and fished out the Locator. The round ball was already glowing soft yellow, meaning that the activation time was close. He threw it to his side and the charm landed in the middle of a straggly grass patch, pulsing brighter yellow. Some of the parents were too poor to Floo, so Draco had convinced the Charity Head to pay for a set of Locator Orbs, citing Occupational Health and Safety rules and the convenience of covering the Ministry's ass should Draco mislay a child somehow.
It was curious that none of the parents had had any objections to having Draco Malfoy as the conductor of their choir. Certainly his father's name had been notorious enough, even though Draco's objectionable (if you were a rabidly officious Ministry employee) conduct during the conflict had been extremely low profile, and, Draco would have argued, ultimately ridiculous. The cannier parents hadn't even objected to having a queer choirmaster, let alone the Malfoy bit, but Draco chalked that up to the current vogue for alternative lifestyles and thanked his lucky stars that gay was the new black.
"Again," Draco mouthed, and twirled his finger in the air for the group to repeat the last refrain. Parents were beginning to pop in at the corner of his vision, and he rather liked the idea that of all the wizards who could have had their front lawn trodden to slush, that questionable Lupin and Draco's crazy shape-shifter cousin were a good pick.
Nymphadora--Tonks, whatever--was just too bloody cheery. Draco had only met her a few times when he'd been growing up, his mother rather embarrassed of her sister's marriage, but Tonks had been at Hogwarts a number of times during Draco's seventh year, and attempted to be all friendly.
Draco didn't trust anyone that could change shape without serious spellwork or a gym membership.
He let the group fade out on then last let it snow and rounded them off neatly. The parents that were there clapped in earnest (so they bloody should, Draco thought), and, given that he hadn't heard the door close, Lupin and Tonks were clapping too. Good. He planned to remind them the carols were for A Good Cause That Needed Donations. "Take a bow," he nodded at the choir, and the children all bobbed and bowed, completely out of time with each other, but they all looked happy.
Which, Draco supposed, was the main thing.
"Mr Malfoy!" Sharon Cooper, yummy-mummy in her tight polo-neck, trilled out over the applause. "I wonder if we might have one more?"
Draco gave her a completely insincere smile. "A pleasure, Sharon. Let me just ask the children how they feel." Complete pain in the proverbial, that one. Her son Chel (for Cheltenham, Draco could not believe the ridiculous names these children were saddled with, his own being bad enough but at least traditional) was a passable contralto and did like to sing, but he always seemed to have the flu or glue ear or pixie pox, and ended up missing practice more often than not. Draco wanted to suggest that Chel leave the group until he wasn't so unfortunately and often ill, but then Mrs Cooper had made a hefty donation to the choir which enabled Draco to purchase new silently-turning songbooks that animatedly highlighted the notes and words for each singer. The kids were vastly enamoured of them.
"Warm enough?" Draco re-cast the warming spell; such a large number of bodies to cover, it always wore off quickly if he wasn't careful. A few of the smaller children were starting to rub their hands, which wasn't a good look. Draco's hands were red from the cold, but he didn't like conducting with gloves on--it felt wrong. He flicked his wand over the group and the chill air turned much warmer. He considered extending the spell to the parents, but there were too many of them to maintain the temperature properly. Instead, he transfigured some benches from the rubbish bins and empty boxes stacked near the side wall--it looked like Lupin was renovating. There was a skip in the road, full of old furniture. Draco wondered if the Ministry authorities knew that potentially magical objects were being left around for the Muggle waste collection.
It was something worth considering, depending on how much of a donation the choir received.
"Well, choir." Draco surveyed his flock. "Your parents are all here. What would you like to sing for them?"
Instead of a cacophony of suggestions, all Draco got was a few absent umms. The children were gazing behind him and nudging each other excitedly. There was a buzz from the adults, also.
"That's him, innit?"
"Mr Malfoy," Alexandria Bold said breathlessly, "do you think we should ask Harry Potter what he would like?"
Draco steeled himself and turned around.
"Christmas carols! Malfoy! Small children!" Potter, holding aloft a huge plate of mince pies, beamed drunkenly at the crowd on the lawn. "Bloody fantastic. Do you guys know We Three Kings?"
Working with children meant that Draco was very good at keeping a straight face.
Still, he had to bite his bottom lip. Hard. Especially when Potter stubbed his toe on a cobblestone and started hopping dementedly, trying to balance the mince pies on the platter and stay upright at the same time.
Draco hoped he'd fall flat on his face. Then he could explain to the children the irresponsibility of drinking alcohol, especially in the afternoon.
No such luck. Potter giggled ridiculously and sauntered over to the parents with his plate. "Have a mince pie!" he cried. "I'm going to have to memory charm you all so you don't know where I live, but you're welcome to have some Christmas punch before then."
The parents looked slightly confused, and turned to Draco with looks that plainly said Is this part of the show?
Draco shook his head slowly and spread his hands to indicate his complete bafflement. Also. This was Potter's house? So why were his cousin and the werewolf here? Also (and, good grief) could they please not do that in the doorway? There were children present.
Draco cleared his throat. "Excuse me. There are children present. Could we have a little sobriety," he glared at Potter, and pursed his lips at the outrageous display of heterosexuality on the steps, "please?"
Potter's eyes went big and round in his flushed face and he clapped his hand over his mouth like a guilty child.
"Thank you," sniffed Draco. Bloody grandstander.
The kids were watching Potter like he was something fascinating. Draco snapped his fingers for attention and was gratified when they all swivelled their eyes back to him. "Alright. We Three Kings of Orient Are." He dropped his voice a little--not that it mattered, Potter was passing out pies and making simpering small talk with their audience. Fine. "Now, there are correct and incorrect words to this song, aren't there?" Smiles all around. "Let's sing the proper ones first, okay? Then we'll do the fun ones last, then we'll all go home and get warm."
The four-part harmony was beautiful, and the choir hardly needed any guidance. Draco wondered if Potter actually liked music or was just being a prat. Pointing to the back, he motioned to the rest of the group to pause while Jai sung the Myrrh verse. It wasn't something Draco liked the younger children singing. Jai, the oldest in the choir, at least had some appreciation of the fragility of existence, stoically choking through the miserable story of his parents' tragic end one night to Draco while Draco had tried to act like a supportive adult and not throw up with guilt afterwards.
Jai said he'd be honoured to sing that verse, and Draco wondered where twelve-year-olds got that kind of courage.
Best not to think about that. At least the chatter was silent, a thoughtful mood that Draco was almost relieved to break.
"Okay," he mouthed, "go on."
We three wizards of orient are,
One on a broomstick, travelling far,
One Apparator, one Flooed in later,
Playing his steel guitar.
Oh, oh, what's the story?
What's the fuss?
What has this to do with us?
Babe, goat, sheep and lamb
When we came to jam,
And now we have missed the last bus.
Laughter and hearty clapping followed as the children took their bows and ran to their guardians, and Draco let out the breath he hadn't realised he was holding. Now if they could just all have the minimum of mingling, he could escape, and hopefully not see Potter again for another few years.
Draco picked up his Locator Charm and pocketed it, shaking a few hands and saying goodbye to the children. A couple of the girls stuffed small items in Draco's cloak pockets and ran off giggling. "They better be chocolates!" he yelled. He wasn't kidding, actually. His throat was getting raspy.
"Hi," Potter said, right behind him. "That was soooo great. Do you want to come in for pies and stuff?
Draco turned around to the alarming picture of Harry Potter squinting at a group of straggling parents and surreptitiously trying to aim his wand. The plate of pies was also distressingly empty on the ground beside them.
"What the fuck." Draco batted Potter's wand out of harms way. "Leave them alone!"
"But we're unlisted," Potter whispered, "I'll have to make the house Unplottable."
"How tragic for you to be so famous," Draco snapped. What a prick. "Speaking of which, what sort of donation will you be making to the Junior Magical Oratory?" Draco glanced at the doorway, now empty, Perry Como back on high volume. Lupin and Tonks had obviously gone back indoors. Draco didn't want to think about why.
"It's not because that--donation? To you?" Potter looked even more befuddled hovering his wand indecisively in the air, apparently still considering mass-charming while drunk.
"You do not need to memory charm twenty-seven grown adults, Potter, they got here by locators and don't have the foggiest where they are anyhow. You are so over the limit for magic it's not funny." Draco stepped in front of Potter's vascillating wand. "And no, I do not need a donation, but the WCCF does, and my choir in particular. So unless you're only paying lip-service to the liberal charter of our beloved Ministry, cough up."
"Your choir?" Potters voice was annoying high at the end of sentences.
"Donation." Draco was determined not to let Potter sidetrack him. "Everyone knows you're loaded. Although you obviously can't buy shoes." He looked down meaningfully at Potter's bare feet, the toes of which were curled in on themselves, clearly freezing on the icy ground.
"Donation. I don't have all day. Besides, some of those parents are hearing this conversation, and how is that going to look for you, too stingy to donate to a children's choir and waving a wand with high blood alcohol?"
Potter gave him a hard stare, which might have been quite imperious had his nose not been so red. "Would you like a cheque, or shall I just raid the penny jar?"
"Cheque will do nicely, thank you," said Draco. He turned and waved pleasantly to the last family group, who were eavesdropping energetically on his conversation with the great and good Harry Potter. "Thank you so much for coming. Have a lovely Christmas, Natalie, don't eat too many sweets!"
The parents shot Draco a frown before popping out with their Locators.
"Bugger," Draco slapped his forehead. "I forgot, she's diabetic. Never mind. Now--" He paused. Potter was also frowning, but the kind of stage frown that clowns used. "What?"
Potter swung his hand (wand-free, he'd obviously thought better of attempting to spell on multiple targets while pissed as a Belgian Newt), pointing back and forth between the empty space where the choir had been stood and where Draco was now. "You... and children?"
"I am," Draco ignored the question, which was one that he was (a) inordinately sick of and (b) not sure of the answer himself, "very cold. I would like to take you up on your offer of a warming beverage and a christmas pastry, while you write out a tax-deductable cheque to charity and encourage your houseguests to do likewise." He pulled his cloak around himself and shoved his hands in his pockets. Unsuprisingly, they didn't get very far, as his pockets were jammed with small gifts from the children, and the Locator. He rubbed his palms together instead and shrugged at Potter, who was still Looking At Him. "Before Twelfth Night?"
"Hhmph," said Potter. "You're very odd, Malfoy. I think a glass of port might help to fix that." He nodded determinedly, as if confirming something to himself, and picked up his plate.
Draco followed him into the house.
Inside the house was chaos. That there were renovations, that much was clear, but what was being achieved was very much open to interpretation. The hallway appeared to have three new (non-painted, at least) doorways all into the same room. The staircase at the end of the passageway was a riot of what Draco supposed were different paint colour samples, and there were patches of tiles, patches of wood, and a fluffy purple rug, all competing to be the dominant floor surface.
"Er," said Potter. "Decorating. Bit of an old house, loads of creepy magic to get rid of." He gave Draco a look as if to say I suppose you know all about that, and Draco wondered just how sheltered a life Potter was leading.
"I see," Draco said flatly, forestalling that conversation. "I rent a place in North London."
"Oh." Potter's face was not quite mortified, but it was a fair approximation. Draco watched with interest as Potter collected himself as much as possible, given his swaying gaze (really quite trolleyed, wasn't he?), and dropped the subject . "Um, in here." Potter pointed Draco around a large upended tea chest to what looked like the sitting room.
The werewolf and Draco's cousin were standing in the middle of the room, looking down and their feet and counting out loud. When they looked up, the pink hibiscus behind Lupin's ear wobbled precariously, and Tonks tucked it back into place.
"Hello, Draco," Tonks said, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for your estranged and socially vilified cousin to appear in the front room during what appeared to be a dance lesson. Draco gave them both a weak smile. She continued, "We are mamboing. At least, Remus is attempting to teach me. I am appalling!"
"I thought those shoes were supposed to help," Lupin said to her mildly, waving his wand in the direction of the stereo system to turn down the music.
Tonks stuck her foot up in the air. "Charmed, you see."
Draco thought the only thing he was seeing were three people who'd clearly started the festivities too early in the afternoon. Speaking of.
"Oh." Potter appeared with a glass of port. "Thank you," Draco said, and gulped down a couple of mouthfuls, thankful for the distraction in a situation which was borderline excrutiating, even if he was the only one sober enough to realise it.
"You're welcome," Potter said with an emphatic nod, gesturing at the side table, laden with goodies. Potter plopped down heavily onto the couch, grabbed a cheese twist, and shoved it in his mouth. "Haff a theat."
An armchair nudged beguilelingly at the back of Draco's knees, and, realising he'd been standing outside in the cold since nine in the morning, he sat down heavily. And promptly stood again, emptied his pockets of his poorly-wrapped treasures, his keys, his PubFloo card, two galleons and some brown coins, the Locator, and half a chocolate bar, realised it was quite warm inside anyhow, put everything back in the pockets and shrugged off his cloak.
And sat down.
"Alright?" Potter was thumbing crumbs off his jersey. "Mince pies are good, Tonks got them from M&S. Wizard ones just don't taste as--"
"--fattening," Lupin cut in over Tonk's shoulder. They were still quietly counting out foot moves.
"Mmm, butter. Here. Eat." Potter passed Draco the platter and a pile of napkins. Draco took a pie and a satsuma. And a cheese straw.
"This is, er, very nice of you. All." Draco said, horrified that he might be blushing. How the hell was he supposed to act, taking tea with crazy, tipsy Gryffindors? And. Surely they, like everyone else, despised him, thought he'd been let off with too light of a hand-slap by the Ministry? It did Draco's head in, trying to think why he was here, sitting on Potter's squishy armchair and drinking his very nice port.
"S'okay," Potter tucked his feet up under him, "your singing was brilliant. I mean, the choir. And you. The whole thing. It was really nice to hear christmas carols, and all those kids looked really happy, and when Remus looked out the window and said it was you conducting I thought he was having me on. I knew that you--more port?--were working for the Ministry somehow, but I never expected--" he paused, waved his hands as if conducting, "that."
The glass that Draco had been holding out slid a little in his tightened grasp. People just could not help themselves, even when they had no clue they were being insulting.
"What did you expect, Potter?" Draco said softly. "I never imagined you would have given my future much thought."
The point was too subtle, and Potter too pissed. "You never struck me as the type to like working with kids! And I didn't even know you could sing."
As if Potter knew anything about him at all. Draco bit back on his retort by chewing off a large hank of pastry.
"I did," Lupin said, walking Tonks backwards and forwards in four-step.
"What?" Draco said, chorused by Potter and Tonks.
"Knew you could sing." Lupin's grin was close to a smirk. "You found the music suite at Hogwarts in your last year. Don't know how you broke the password, but the suite backed onto my rooms."
Draco found he was intently reading the titles of the records lined up on the bookcase. Bugger. He had been so sure that no-one had found out.
"You've quite a talent, Mr Malfoy," Lupin said.
Draco felt flushed. "Yes, well, it's difficult for me to take a compliment from you." He looked up, and tried to stop the quirk of a smile he knew was threatening. "How can I rate a man's taste in music when he has Charlotte Church in his record collection?"
"I could transfigure it into something useful. Coal scoop? Loo paper?" Draco's hands were itchy. He hated that little tart. She gave choral music a bad name.
"Um." Potter had his arms crossed, defensive across his chest. "That's mine."
Draco wondered if the evening could get any more hilarious.
It's not my fault," Tonks said peevishly. "I'm sure I'd be better at the boy's part."
Draco felt quite entertained. He had his third (fourth?) glass of port well under control, the plate of pastries had turned out to be under a Neverending Charm, and his cousin was literally the most hopeless dancer he'd ever seen.
"Rubbish," Draco snorted. "Latin steps are always mirrored. You're doing the same thing as Lupin, just on different bars."
"Who asked you anyhow?" she retorted. "Besides, I think it's the heels. I feel like I'm going to fall over." Lupin had decreed that she'd improved enough to go to the next level of difficulty, which apparently involved high heeled shoes instead of the charmed trainers.
Draco shrugged. Fair enough. She was nearly as tall as Lupin--today, at least--anyhow. High heels were a female mystery he would never comprehend.
"Where's, um, Harry?" Draco looked around. He'd been gone for the last two songs, but Draco had assumed he was going to get his chequebook and promptly throw Draco out into the night. The remark Draco had made about Charlotte Church and her appeal to raincoat perverts had not gone down too well.
"Kitchen," Lupin said, "down the hall on the left."
Draco hauled himself out of the chair and navigated the rolled-up rug, which was clearly unhappy at being rolled up and was wriggling underneath the chair which held it down. The furniture was a little too sentient in this place, he thought. Even the Manor--no.
The hallway, while a DIY nightmare, was pleasantly free of roaming furniture. The kitchen door was painted a bright red, the squeaky kind of high gloss that you could see your reflection in, and Draco frowned at the dark circles under his eyes and thought he probably should splash out on a five-pound haircut next paycheck. Pushing open the door he found Potter with his head in the fridge.
"Hey," Potter said, jumping back and shutting the door guiltily. "Sorry, I thought I better have something that wasn't at least fifteen percent alcohol."
"Probably wise," Draco said, thinking he should take on that advice himself sometime soon. Mince pies were all very well, but he hadn't eaten a real meal all day, and the pleasant warmth in his belly would dissipate quickly once he had to go leave. "Um. Where's the loo? And I should go, I think."
"Huh. I guess you've got plans tonight then?"
For a second Draco contemplated concoting a fabulous Christmas Eve party that demanded his attention. That, he thought, would be even sadder than the truth. "No, no plans. Just feel like I'm--."
Potter interrupted him and gave him the grin that sold thousands of magazines. "You should stay for supper." He ran his hands through his hair and hoisted himself up on the countertop. "'Cos. You sung for it, after all."
"Very funny, Potter."
"Draco." Potter looked extremely serious, but ruined it by whining.
"Harry." Draco could still do deadpan.
"Please don't leave me alone with the Ballroom Menace. They've already been eyeing me up, I know it."
Draco crossed his arms--it was chilly in the kitchen--and raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "But you're terribly famous for your co-ordination. The England team took out insurance at Lloyds on your arse, I hear."
It was nice to see Potter blush; he went such an unbecoming shade of scarlet.
"Besides," Draco continued, "what's a little cha-cha-cha between friends?"
Potter shot the door a glare. "Don't need fancy footwork on a broom, do I? Can't bloody dance to save my life and don't intend to start now, especially not with Remus The Perfectionist."
Draco thought Christmas Eve supper at the Potter household was starting to sound a little more appealing than his sweet and sour chicken and Nick Hancock. "So you want me to stay for moral support, or to act in your stead? Also, what is for supper? Because it smells fantastic." It did. There was obviously something involving gravy and roast potato baking away in the oven, and Draco's mouth was, to put it bluntly, watering at the smell.
"Goose! And roast, um, everything. I forget now." Potter slid down off the counter-top to bend and peer in the oven.
Draco peered to see exactly what Lloyds had underwritten for two million galleons.
Fair price, he thought, and then reeled at himself.
Potter turned around, oven mitt in hand. Draco swallowed. He absolutely could not bear it if Potter could also cook. That would be, well, infuriating.
"Oh, sorry. Upstairs, on the left. Mind the, uh, everything."
It gratified Draco to realise that while Potter might be an international Quidditch player, defeater of the Dark Lord, good cook, and possessor of a fine rear end, he was also a scatterbrained drunk who was crap at DIY.
"It'd be alright if I knew what it was supposed to look like," Tonks was complaining when Draco came back in the room.
Draco thought that remark could be applied successfully to Potter's house, and said so.
Lupin raised his eyes to the roof, biting a grin back. Tonks nodded grimly. "It's appalling. We should have danger money." She frowned back at Lupin. "But my point was that I don't know how this forward-rock-back thing is supposed to look, do I?"
Lupin sighed with the air of someone who had very specific wishes and did not get them granted often. "If Harry had not broken the VCR by accio-ing tapes when they were still in the bloody thing, then I might be able to play you The Mambo Kings."
Draco picked up a carrot stick and jammed it in the hoummus. "If the telly still works," he crunched a mouthful, and pointed the remainder of the carrot at the television, "there's a Strictly Come Dancing marathon on BBC1."
The second the words were out of Draco's mouth he regretted them. Fuckity fuck.
Lupin's head turned very slowly to look at Draco. The man had obscenely pretty eyes, Draco thought. Also, intriguing.
"You." Lupin looked, well, wolfish.
"No." No no no.
"Queer cliche, aren't you?" Lupin advanced on him a little.
Oooh. "Better than a wannabe, don't you think?" Draco smirked.
"Malfoy," Potter's voice, clearly amused, came from the door. "What was it you said? What's a little cha-cha-cha between friends?"
Draco had slipped his wand from his sleeve and pointed it at Potter before he considered how it might look.
Old habits died hard.
"That was a private conversation," Draco snapped. "And the smell of gravy was bewitching me."
Potter just quirked a corner of his mouth and lounged in the doorway, cracking open a lager like he didn't notice Draco could curse his beer to bite off his nose.
"Undone by onion Bisto, eh?" Lupin said, which was quite funny.
Potter snickered. "Put down the wand, Malfoy, you're clearly out-numbered. And a bit pissed."
"I am not!"
"You're holding the wrong end, mate."
Draco considered this fact. Unfortunately accurate. Potter tossed him a can of Steinlager, imported green label, and Draco blinked, dazzled momentarily by the impressive hospitality.
"Fine," he muttered, tossing his wand on the chair. The can cracked open with a melodious effervescence that Draco yearned to become accustomed to. The stuff was nectar. Warm glow material. "For purely educational reasons, Christmas spirit, and familial... thingies." Draco frowned at Tonks, who had dropped onto the couch with a beautific smile of relief.
"Ballroom dancing," Draco announced, "is generally regarded as a pasttime for old people, schoolteachers, travel agents, and poofters." He shook his head sadly at Tonks. "I don't think there's much hope for you. But it would be ungracious of me to hinder your progress."
He glanced at Lupin, who was sporting yet another complicated smirk. "Demonstration it is then." Draco tipped his head back and downed the rest of his beer. He smiled at Lupin and crushed the can, flipping it underhand, because surely--
Potter caught it. One handed. While drinking.
Draco wondered about Lloyds' priorities and thought possibly the England management should have insured the whole package. Perhaps they didn't have a way to work out the premiums on smug insufferability.
"Ballroom dancing is also invariably accompanied by some of the most naff novelty tunes ever invented by muggle or wizard," Draco continued. "For example, your Mr Como is what I would call borderline acceptable." He picked up the record off the player, stroking the wood cabinet surreptitiously. All he had at his flat was a tinny portable CD player from Argos--magically modified, of course--that was nothing like Lupin's beautiful set.
Draco quickly examined the record. "Rosemary Clooney. No no no. Again, novelty songs. The dance is Cuban, not bloody Sicilian--ah. Perez Prado. The King of the Mambo." He put the record back on the player and set the needle.
"You're a musical tyrant," Lupin remarked as Draco put his hand on Lupin's waist.
"It pays the rent," Draco mused. He wondered how his bunch of brats were enjoying their Christmas Eve. Potter and Tonks, curled up together on the couch, stifled giggles.
"You two," Draco said pleasantly, "by your own admission, cannot dance. Therefore you will shut up." He looked at Potter sideways. "You could always uninvite me, you know. Suffer the consequences and all."
"I'm quiet." Potter nodded, a little frantically.
"What are you doing?" Lupin said, removing Draco's hand and placing it up on his shoulder. "I'm leading."
"I beg your pardon," Draco glared. "Why is that?"
Lupin shrugged. "Taller."
"Asshole," muttered Draco. "Start the bloody music."
"Ha!" Tonks clapped her hands together. "It's missing the first beat that threw me. How do you ignore it?"
"You pretend," Draco said, stepping back further so Potter wasn't in his eyeline, "that the fourth beat is so good you don't want it to end. It's the kind of dance where you can be infatuated with someone and forget the first count." Lupin shot him an amused glance and steered him left and around so Draco was facing the window.
"Better that Tonks sees what she's supposed to be doing," Lupin said innocently.
"You are so obvious," said Draco under his breath, hoping that his jeans were sitting on his hips in a flattering kind of lopsidedness.
Lupin bent his head a little and murmured. "You're not."
Draco flushed, which he was certain was only the port and the beer and the impromptu exhibition.
"Not to Harry, at least," Lupin said, looking serious. "You might want to think about that." Draco contemplated the protective instincts of of canids for a long moment.
"Wot?" Potter squawked. "Are you talking about me?"
"I said that Draco was better than you, at least." Lupin turned Draco around the room. "Want to show off? Back step?"
"Showing off would be something faster, but all the tracks on your beginner's album are a bit tame." Draco let Lupin take his weight for the doubled step. "Fifth and cross."
Lupin had spot-on timing, Draco thought, even if his footwork lacked flair.
"I am so confused," Tonks moaned after the second track. "Can't you go back to the simple bit?"
"This is the simple bit," said Draco, "I could show you the Charleston." He blinked innocently at Lupin.
Lupin snickered. "Huge. Fucking. Cliche."
After Potter had been sent to the kitchen for more beverages ("Thirsty work, need booze!" Draco had exclaimed, rather pleased at how the little demonstration had gone), Draco collapsed in the armchair, his head spinning unaccountably.
"Ow," Realising he'd sat on his wand, Draco fished it out and tapped out the rhythm to Mary's Boy Child on his knee until Potter appeared and balanced the blessed green can on Draco's kneecap.
"Sante," Potter grinned. Draco recalled watching England thrash the absolute pants off the French in the Five Nations, and wondered what other languages Potter could drink to.
He squinted at his wristwatch and saw it was already eight. It was an experiment, to be sure, but he appeared to be enjoying this at least as much as guessing the answers on Have I Got News for You.
"What's your favourite, then?" Tonks asked, opening one eye before dropping her head back down on Potter's shoulder.
Draco pondered shifting in the armchair, but he was wedged in comfortably, and besides, Tonks had closed her eyes again. "Favourite what?"
"Christmas carol," she mumbled. "I liked Away in a Manger."
Draco hid his smile. Tonks seemed like a major-key sort of person. "You probably wouldn't know it," he said. "It's very old. It actually doesn't have a name, not really."
"The Coventry Carol," guessed Lupin. Draco nodded.
"You're heavy," grumbled Potter, shouldering Tonks over to lean on Lupin instead. "How does it go?"
"Nice try, Potter. I'm not singing it for you, it's full of counterpoint." For a second Potter looked like he was going to argue. "Your jailbait little girlfriend did a version, though." He nodded at the record collection.
"I can see why you'd like it," Lupin said softly.
Draco gave him a long look, but Lupin seemed to be genuine. "It's difficult, but it's rewarding," he said. Which was also true, but obviously not the reason Lupin had in mind.
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
O brothers too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor Youngling for Whom we sing
By, by, lully, lullay?
Herod the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever morn and day
For Thy parting neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Draco looked up, vision blurry, at Potter's grinning face peering over the back of the armchair.
"I wasn't asleep."
"You were snoring."
"I may have a cold. I've been out in the weather all day."
"Loud snoring." Potter reached down and touched his thumb to Draco's cheek. "And there's a stripy pattern here from the chair."
Draco frowned, except it was more like a yawn. "Someone promised me supper." He stretched out his knees, which were locked up from being wedged in the chair, and tried not to think about Potter's fingers. His stomach, which was clearly sympathetic to the cause, let out a loud rumble.
"Haaaarryyy," whined Tonks, startling Draco because he had forgotten that there were other people in the room, "we're starving."
Potter went to pick up the empty plates, their replenishing charms long expired. "Anticipation!" he said cheerily.
Lupin crooked one side of his mouth in the manner of one who has heard the same excuse many times. "It's nine o'clock, Harry, and in case you forgot, you have a guest who isn't used to your midnight dinner--what are you wearing?"
Potter, balancing the four plates with three empty glasses, looked down down at the bright red apron, covered in spatters. "Ron sent it," he said. "It's, uh, festive."
Draco bent his head and hoped he wasn't convulsing with laughter too badly. The apron was trimmed with white fur, making Potter look like Domestic Santa. "Nice," Draco said, swallowing hard. Lupin and Tonks were clutching each other in giggles.
"Quiet," Potter glared. "The gravy was really fucking hot, and I already burnt my--oh shut up. I came in to tell you your goose is cooked."
"You'll be needing this, Tonks." Potter fished around in his pocket, having taken off the apron--a great relief as Draco didn't fancy sitting through a meal thinking about sitting on Potter's lap and asking for presents--and pulled out a large brass key.
"Huh," Draco said softly, surprised to see that Potter was observing old wizarding traditions with such detail. The dining room, set by the youngest child at the crack of dawn, was locked until supper, when it was opened by the lady of the house. Draco watched Tonks curiously, wondering how the three of them--Potter, Lupin, Tonks-- fit together, and how he was managing to be here on Christmas Eve without feeling like the worst kind of interloper.
"Draco?" Lupin put his hand on Draco's shoulder. "You're the guest." Which meant he had to go through the door first, and sit first, and drink first, which Draco had always thought was an easy way to get rid of your unwanted visitors, if one really wanted to.
The round table was spread with a white cloth and shining silverware. In the middle sat a large centrepiece of pine cones and ivy, which lit up with twinkly lights when Draco crossed the threshold. "Very nice," Draco said, turning to take in the crackling fire and the tottering, over-laden Christmas tree. "Are they real fairies?"
"Free range," Potter said. "Remus didn't approve but I think they seem happy enough." He let one of the dangling fairies twirl on his palm. "They've learnt to ring the bells on the hour, too."
Tonks tucked her arm under Potter's. "Harry's a bit of a Christmas fiend," she said. "Remus and I are a bit bah-humbug but we have to indulge--"
"You do not," Potter laughed, "you just want a roast dinner and stuffing."
Draco looked suspiciously at the table. It was set for four. "Lupin," he asked, because Potter was as Irish-looking as they came and he knew his own family lineage back to the Norman conquest, "are you Polish?"
Lupin shook his head and shot a glance at Potter, but he had turned to poke at the fire. "Old tradition," Potter said lightly, "meant to invite luck."
Draco studied the set of Potter's shoulders and decided he was still too drunk to work that one out. Besides, Potter turned around with a hot poker in his hands, and Draco had always found it importune to contradict people wielding hot steel.
"I'll try my best," Draco said, wondering what on earth he was saying.
"Sit down, then," Potter blinked, a serious look on his face.
Draco did as he was told ("About bloody time," grumbled Lupin, sinking into the chair on Draco's left) and reached for the wine. "Bugger." His wand was back in the front room and there wasn't a corkscrew on the table.
"Accio cork," said Potter from the fireplace, still brandishing the poker. There was a pleasant pop of champagne.
Draco glowered, horribly impressed. "You did not just do that." Potter winked at him. "Or that, either," he muttered, rearranging his forks, which were clearly laid out by someone middle-class.
"Are you sitting, Harry?" Tonks held up her glass for Draco to fill. The table began to fill with dishes, which moved about to make room for each other. A plate of brussel sprouts in cream scuttled in front of Draco, jostling with a dish of apple sauce. He filled everyone's glass and looked about for a spare spot to put the bottle down.
"Yup--Malfoy, behind you," Potter said, flicking the poker at the table as the goose appeared in the middle, and Draco's arm was bumped by an ice bucket, hovering expectantly to his side.
Lupin leaned to one side conspiratorially. "He is a tremendous show-off. You've been warned."
Draco thought it was rather cute.
The champagne had not been poisoned with anything that acted before second helpings--which was a bit of a novelty, Draco thought wryly, promptly banishing that train of thought. Potter's culinary skills appeared to be second only to his quidditch abilities. Draco consoled himself with the fact that the stuffing was just a bit dry.
"Sorry about the stuffing," Potter said, mouth full. "All the mambo excitement, I completely forgot." Draco peered over the centrepiece at Potter, who mouthed What? at him and shrugged.
"Pr'pose a toast," said Tonks, leaning on her hand and burping delicately. "To being entertained and fed by passably attractive men and not having to do the washing-up afterwards."
"Hear bloody hear," Draco said, louder than he intended, but he grinned at Potter across the table anyhow.
"It's ten maids a-milking, isn't it?" Tonks said, her feet up on the rail of Draco's chair. She counted on her fingers, humming.
"Lords a-leaping," Draco said. "Or wands a-waving, depends on your version."
They had just hit five gold rings, Tonks displaying an ability to hold a harmony that thankfully outstripped her dancing skills, when there was a crash in the kitchen. The fairies on the tree all shrieked and cowered behind pine needles, the branches quivering gently in the corner.
"Sorry!" yelled Potter. "Everything's fine, Remus is helping, it's all turned to custard..." he trailed off into a mutter that Draco and Tonks couldn't hear.
"Does he always make jokes that appalling?" Draco asked. "I would hate to think they're for my benefit."
Tonks smiled, brushing her hair back behind her ears. Draco was tempted to tell her that she had a stray lock dangling in the bread sauce. "You must be special," she said drily, "they're particularly lame today."
"You're dripping." He offered his napkin, and there was a pause while Tonks wiped the sauce from her hair. Draco frowned when she folded the napkin and looked at him thoughtfully.
"You're not bad," she said, tilting her head to the side and flicking her eyes up and down Draco's sitting form. "You could do with a few more decent meals, but I'm sure--"
Draco blanched and sat as far back in his chair as he could. "Um. Can I stop you there?"
"I'm sorry?" She frowned and leaned forward. Draco swallowed.
She grinned. "As if. Really, Draco. Have another drink. I'm talking about Harry."
Draco, momentarily speechless, threw back a mouthful of his newly-filled champagne.
A bathroom on the bottom floor wouldn't go amiss, thought Draco, hauling himself up the stairs for the fourth time. The champagne had been pleasantly quaffable; Draco's stomach was now unpleasantly gurgling. He reached for the door handle on the bathroom and missed, tripping forward and smacking his head on the doorframe.
"Ow," he said, rubbing his temple, and leaned on the doorframe until the whooshing giddiness passed. "Argh."
Draco skidded back when the door opened behind him and Lupin appeared. "Ooops. Sorry, you alright?"
"Um," said Draco, because he wasn't sure what to complain about first. He sat down heavily on the cold edge of the bath and tried not to look at the brightly coloured rug. "Buggered."
Lupin leaned against the towel rail and swept Draco with an amused look not too dissimilar to the head-to-toe Tonks had given him. "As in exhausted, as in thwarted, as in ruined, or as in--'
"What happened to your hibiscus, Lupin?"
Draco cracked up. "Piss off, so I can."
Lupin stopped, the door half-closed in his hand. "Don't turn into a goblin at midnight like in the story." He winked at Draco before shutting the door behind him.
What was it with all these cryptic comments? Draco was perfectly capable of, um, handling Potter.
"I made maps," Draco said, ladling his spoon full of brandy sauce and stoically meeting Potter's gaze. "Bloody good ones, too--oops, sorry 'bout that." He gestured too quickly and splattered Lupin's shirt, which was a shame. Draco was quite into the ruffles.
"I saw them," Potter said, picking out currants and piling them by the side of his plate. "When Padma brought back all those keyed scrolls. We were impressed." Lupin and Potter exchanged a glance. "Some of the best cartography I've seen."
"Didn't get out much," Draco said, hoping the conversation was going to take a cheerier turn any time now. "Plenty of time to perfect techniques, speaking of which, Potter, this pudding is fucking fantastic, is there enough for seconds?"
"Plenty," Potter said dismissively, "knock yourself out. Why didn't you get out, then?"
"Harry, leave it." Lupin said, passing the pudding bowl to Draco.
"It's all right," said Draco, strangely interested in making sure Potter knew what happened. He'd long assumed that most people didn't care why, because they thought they had their explanation in Draco's surname. "My mother put a sanguisuga imperius in my welcome-home supper. It wasn't terribly powerful, but it did mean I couldn't betray them without my heart imploding." He spooned a second helping of the pudding onto his plate.
"Is there any more custard?"
Lupin stood up and collected Tonks plate. "You have absolutely zero tact, Harry." He put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "But dinner was wonderful."
"Brilliant," Tonks stumbled a little when she scraped back her chair, "but I need to go and lie down on something soft." She held out her arm to Lupin, who promptly handed her the champagne bucket and the empty glasses.
"I am not soft," Lupin sniffed, grinning at her. "In the head, maybe."
Draco thought Remus Lupin was pretty alright.
"Lupin is pretty alright," said Draco, watching the fairies swoop down onto the pudding leftovers. "Shame about the straight thing."
Potter laughed loudly. "Um, or not. That's a recent development." He pulled another of the fairies of the branches and dropped it down onto Draco, who was attempting not to move from in front of the fire. Ever. Lest he explode.
Draco batted away the fairy, which squeaked and flapped its wings before crashing into a table leg. "Would you leave those things alone? They eat all the food and then you've got a sticky mess to clean up in the morning. Short life-span, remember?"
"They're looking all tired and miserable now, though." Potter crouched down in front of the tree and started piling up presents like a tower. "I thought they'd last till tomorrow."
"Hmm." Draco winced, turning so he wasn't looking at Potter upside down. "Christmas is full of disappointments, eh?"
Potter's tower fell over, and Draco could have sworn he heard glass breaking. "Ooops," Potter bit his lip, which struck Draco as disarmingly adorable, and shoved the presents back under the tree. "I think that one was for me anyhow," he said, scrambling across the floor to where Draco was lounging and insinuating himself in between Draco and the hearth.
Draco leaned back on his elbow and considered Gryffindors and their lack of concern for personal space.
"Potter, thanks for--"
"Did you have--"
Draco smiled, because Potter looked so serious. And still hadn't lost the red nose.
"How drunk are you?" Potter said softly.
"You're not getting away without giving my choir a donation, Potter." Draco caught Potter's wrist before his hand dropped to his ankle.
Potter sighed, but it was a nice sigh, the kind that caught in one's throat. "You are stunningly single-minded, aren't you?"
"It's a survival skill." Draco let go and leaned back on the rug, which meant that Potter's hand landed on his knee.
"How drunk did you say you were?"
"How drunk do you want me to be?"
"This is good," Potter said, serene smile that faded out of focus when he slid his hand up Draco's thigh and ended up crouched over him.
Draco found he had a handful of Potter's thick hair, which was useful for pulling him down to kiss him. "This is good," Draco repeated a little later, although it may have been more of a stutter.
Potter kissed just like his home decorating; messy, varied, and strangely compelling. Draco took advantage of this lack of clear direction to push Potter over and underneath him, pulled off his glasses, and tugged his head to the side.
"You don't get," Potter gasped, sprawled out and delicious, "tired of conducting, then?"
"Shhh," Draco said, shutting him up, "I'll tell you when it's your verse."