My Mother Told Me Life Was Like A Box Of Weevils

Chapter Nine

By Kissaki and Libertine


Very Slytherin of you...

For a full minute after Lucius departed, the words continued to hang inside Harry's head, mockingly.

Very Slytherin.

Harry Malfoy -- the Slytherin...

It'd begun to bug Harry like nothing else, the fact that Lucius and Severus were so adamant that Slytherin-nicity was the greatest mark of character. Admittedly, Harry had originally been flattered by the comments. After all, they put him on a level with Lucius, and despite the fact the man was a slippery shit, Lucius was insanely admirable -- in the way that all people who led very active sex lives were.

But over the past few days, slaving in Severus' laboratory, Harry'd started to harbour a few doubts about it all. The Gryffindor in him was asserting itself, a sort of desperate attempt to salvage the Potter-ness out of the Malfoy wreck he'd become, reminding him of words like true love and respect and honour, and how there wasn't a Gryffindor in hell who'd ever consider treating an unhappy love affair with a quickfix potion solution...

Only because they wouldn't have the wit to think of it, the Malfoy part of Harry objected.

No, he was doing the right thing, he was sure of it. He'd tried to leave Draco countless times, the Gryffindor way. Now he'd try it, Slytherin style, and bedamned if he wouldn't get it right this time. But that didn't mean he wasn't a good person, deep down under all his corporate jazz, and it didn't mean he wouldn't be able to live a fullfilling and normal life afterwards, and be a wonderful loving partner for...

...for Neville Longbottom?

Harry bit his lip. Of late, that eventuality had been causing him considerable worry. Neville had called the Malfoy Inc call centre at least three times every day since they parted company, just to 'check up on him'. Of course, Neville's mind tended to wander at times, and so Neville's messages usually consisted of him warbling on for several hours about how everyone treated him like shit, and how he understood he wasn't the most wonderful person in the world but he tried, he really did, and wasn't it terrible how you'd do so much for someone and then have them throw it back in your face, and so on, and so forth...

One of the Death Eaters who'd been forced to record Neville's calls had bitten off his own foot in order to quell his own screams. Another two had been reduced to gibbering wrecks -- Narcissa was forced to send them to St Mungos. Later, she'd sought out Harry for a little questioning, catching up with him while he was on one of his errands for Severus.

"Your little bit on the side is interfering with the work of my men, Potter," she hissed at him, letting him feel the full force of her pre-menstrual glare. "Do you understand that our phones are an important part of our business, and not to be wasted on someone's unlikely love affair..."

"Sorry, Mum, but Dad won't let me buy my own line," Harry flustered, and ran.

Neville was proving to be a lot more trouble than Harry'd thought. Or perhaps that was, a lot less sexually attractive. Harry winced. Still, it was best not to think about it, and concentrate first on his work with Severus. Get rid of this unsightly obsession with Draco Malfoy, number one. Consider dating other men, number two. Track down Ron Weasley and hit him with something large and heavy, and, Remove the large object clogging Severus' rectum, were running at equal stakes for object of business number three.

Severus. Which reminded him...

With a last look at the two femme fatales laying the smack down on each other in the mud-pit, Harry plodded off the balcony and down the corridor. At the end of the third floor, Harry untacked the post-it note Severus had stuck to his bedroom door, read it over the once, and then stuck it into the pocket of his pajamas. It was a shopping list -- Severus didn't much like wandering about the manor grounds when he ran the chance of bumping into Remus, and so Harry was forced to do all the hard slog when it came to picking the right plants out of Severus' esoteric shed-cum-greenhouse.

In the hallway at the base of the first flight of stairs, Harry grabbed a rucksack, shoved his bare feet into his wellies. As he made his way toward the door a thought struck him; he turned and headed instead for the call centre in the west wing, where a pained looking Death Eater was waiting for him, tape recorder in hand.

"For me?" said Harry.

"He talked about his relationship with his Mother, this time," said the Death Eater weakly.

"Oh dear," said Harry. He stuffed the tape recorder into his bag, and trotted off.

"I may get a complex," the Death Eater shouted after him, wringing his hands.

Harry paused, just inside the back door.

"Join the club," he yelled back, and stomped out.

The south side of the Malfoy grounds sloped down quickly before reaching a flat section of ground, on which resided a series of allotments, all with their own sheds. According to local legend (i.e., according to Draco), there'd once been sheds for individual gardeners as far as the eye could see, but Lucius and Narcissa had cut back on their philanthering as they'd grown older, and so most were left empty and overgrown.

Severus' was the only one with barbed wire around the front.

Silver barbed wire, to be precise.

And, just so the message could be made perfectly clear, there was also a large sign saying, "No dogs allowed."

Harry squelched down the muddy path in his wellies, unlocked the gate, and headed into the shed. The place was filled with tiny plot plants, all of them carefully labeled in Severus' neat handwriting, with a small table at the end for... well, it was a fucking table. You do the maths.

Harry tossed his bag onto the table, tugged out the tape recorder, and pressed play. After a whirr of static, and a few beeps and shrieks, Neville's message began.

"Hi, Harry. It's Nev. I'm still at the hospital looking after Justin... I was hoping to see you soon, though. Cho says she'll be okay on her own tomorrow, and so I was figuring I'd come to see you. If you want me too. Well, I'll probably come over with Seamus, and if you don't want to see me, that's okay. I mean, I can deal with that. I'm totally..."

Harry, who'd heard enough of these recorded messages to know intuitively what was coming, hit the fast forward button, and then released it after a few seconds.

"...and the bastard got drunk on our aniversary and went back to his wife..."

Harry hit the fast forward button again.

"...and so I'm no stranger to being rejected, in fact, I'm a very regular customer, if you know what I mean..."

Neville Longbottom, the martyr in lycra. Harry went cross-eyed, jabbed at the machine in irritation.

"...weevils, the weevils..." said Neville suddenly in a forlorn little voice.

"Eh?" Harry did a double-take, rewound the tape.

"...and so on my birthday we went on a picnic and we sat on this log which turned out to be full of weevils, the weevils broke out and some got down my pants, and he just stood there laughing, and I'm quite sure he didn't love me any more than Jack did, have I told you about him yet..."

Harry breathed a sigh of relief, and let the machine run on as he filled his bag with the various herbal oddments Snape wanted. Wolfsbane, mint, zlackerly leaf, and old widow's breath... he shoved them into the bottom of the bag.

"...and anyway, he really liked to be spanked, and oh, did I mention his daughter was seven years older than I was? It was okay, you know, it was love, but people did talk. But they talked more about the episode with the horse, let me tell you. I mean, it wasn't like I was going to marry him! It was just for companionship, you know? I was so lonely..."

"So lonely," Harry mumbled to himself, and was so overtaken by a sudden surge of emotion -- which seemed to come from nowhere -- that he cut his finger on a holly branch.


In the pit, things were getting nastier.

Hermione shoved Narcissa's head into the mud, and held her down. Narcissa burbled, reached up with one hand and twisted Hermione's right nipple. Hermione screamed, Narcissa staggered up, grabbed Hermione by the ears and began to suffocate her between her own muddy breasts. Hermione fought back by sliding her hands up Narcissa's legs and janking up Narcissa's bikepants. Narcissa bit her cheek. Hermione punched Narcissa in the stomach, and then they grabbed each other around the waist and rolled over, fighting vainly for purchase in the slippery mud.

Thirty four Death Eaters in legwarmers, a werewolf, and an escapee from Azkaban watched this with varying degrees of arousal, vindication and apprehension.

"Oh my god," said Remus, weakly.

"I told her," said Sirius cheerfully, from beside him. "This will be the last great battle, I said. The final fight of good against evil! You, Hermione, protector of all that is right, against she, Narcissa, the evil creature who has plotted so long to take over the universe and turn all to slavery. I said, this is going to be the big one, you know? And you agree with me, right?" He nudged Remus in the side. "It's a historical moment, don't you see?"

Remus looked. "All I see," he said faintly, "is two large breasted women mud-wrestling."

Sirius opened his mouth, about to debate this fact, and then smartly shut it again. His eyes widened. "Holy shit, Moony, you're right," he said, in an awed tone of voice. "It is two large breasted women mud-wrestling."

Remus shifted uncomfortably.

"Heck! Would you look at that," said Sirius. He paused, and then went on thoughtfully, "You know, I reckon if more people knew the 'great last battle between good and evil' was going to be like this, instead of the whole rains of fire thing, people would be more into it."

"More tits, less eternal damnation," said Remus. "Sounds about right."

In the pit, Narcissa went down with a loud splash. Sirius clapped approvingly, and then slapped Remus on the back. "So how are you, Moony?" he said. "Sorry I haven't written, but it's been hard. Having to run from the Ministry, and all that fugitive from the law crap -- kinda stops you from getting any time to write your Christmas cards. But things have sure changed, haven't they. Damn, I wish I'd been around more, for Harry. Now that he's a Malfoy. And gay! After Hermione and I manage to save the world, and the Muggles, I'm going to have a really good talk with that boy, straighten him out."

"No pun intended, right," said Remus.

Sirius' face contorted. "Eh?"

"Forget it," said Remus, expressionless now.

They stood there in silence, while infront of them Hermione tried to smother Narcissa by sitting on her face, and behind them the Death Eaters started taking bets.

"Been a while, eh," said Sirius.

"Yes," said Remus.

"Have you got laid yet?" Sirius asked, after another lengthy pause.

"Once. Lucius Malfoy in sixth year. But you knew about that," said Remus.

"All the way with Narcissa, same year, and then I got lucky with this chick a couple of years back," said Sirius. "Called herself Camille. She loved me, of course."

"You're kidding," said Remus.

Sirius flushed. "Yeah, I am," he admitted. "She was a prostitute."

Remus said nothing. Sirius looked at his hands. Shit, thought Remus suddenly. So this is what happens to Gryffindors when they grow up. They turn into boring middle aged men who still think they can save the world. And they don't get any sex. Or love. Or anything that would really make a life worthwhile.

"I went to France to hide out," said Sirius. "Stayed there for a while, you know."

Remus started to feel incredibly sorry for himself.

"I ate a lot of cheese," said Sirius.

"Cheese," said Remus.

"Yes," said Sirius. "Cheese."

"Well, fancy that," said Remus, and burst unexpectedly into tears.


Bag under one arm, tape recorder whimpering about Neville's Oedipal complex under the other, Harry staggered up the stairs to the second floor, wishing, not for the first time, that the Malfoys had installed some sort of Floo powder system in the house. The manor itself covered an acre and a half of ground, and getting from the sheds to the laboratories was at least a three hundred metre walk. Including the stairs. No wonder, Harry thought, that most Malfoys were so skinny.


"Snape?" Harry called aloud, banging his hip against the laboratory door.

"Alhomera," came Severus' voice, from inside, and the door swung open.

Harry stumbled in. The room was thick with fumes; the ceiling was obscured by a dark cloud of smog. Oxygen levels were minimal. Three cauldrons were filled to overflowing, and bubbled away in a manner reminiscent of a certain scene from Macbeth. Severus, hunched over a book in the middle of the room, was cutting roots with his hands whilst stirring a beaker using his teeth.

"You're up early," was all Severus said, around the handle of a wooden spoon.

"Dad woke me up," Harry explained, hoisting the bag of potion-condiments onto a workbench. "I've got all you wanted..."

"Lucius woke you?" Severus interupted. "Dare I ask why?"

"Mum and Hermione are in the garden mud-wrestling," said Harry, simply. "He wanted me to come out and watch them on the balcony, so he could make witty comments about it."

Severus paused. "I see. And was he witty?"

"I think I'll look back on it and laugh," said Harry. "Maybe. If I'm really, really drunk."

Severus said nothing to that, and went back to his stirring and cutting. Harry shifted about, hoping to be asked to do something. He wasn't. With a sigh, he picked up the tape recorder and wandered off to a distant corner, curled up, and put the recorder to his ear. Severus didn't like to hear the natterings of Neville Longbottom any more than the Death Eaters did, and so Harry put the volume on low.

"...I'm not saying that I haven't deserved it, because I have, I went to a guru who said it was about my karma, and all the bad things I've done coming back to me. And I can't even remember doing anything bad! Not on purpose, at least. I've done plenty of bad things by accident. Like the time someone spiked my drink and I ended up in bed with three members of the Ministry staff. Not mentioning any names, of course. But that was..."

Sure, it was boring. Neville was possibly even more self-obsessed than Draco. But Neville really liked Harry, that was the difference. He'd sent all these messages to Harry because he liked Harry.

"...I just hope you're getting all these messages, you know. I mean not that it matters too terribly if you don't. I just like talking, sometimes. To people. My shrink says that whenever I get the opportunity I should just open myself up, and she said it was cheaper that way too, you know?..."

Or not.

"...anyway this time I meant to call you to, you know, hopefully hook up with you. Sorry I got side tracked. But yes -- Seamus is here now, and he's nodding to me -- we're going to be over at your place tomorrow morning, not quite sure what time, but apparently Seamus says he has to do some research on one of your cases, because you haven't been working all that much lately -- he said that! Not me! And so we'll see you early. Bye bye, Harry, hope you have an absolutely super night, and dream of me!..."

Harry clicked the recorder off, and then stared at it hopelessly. "Oh for goodness sake," he began, but was interupted by the sight of a black clad, pointy-toed boot tapping on the floor infront of him. Harry looked up, slowly. "Severus?"

"I've something for you," said Severus, a green-gleaming vial in one hand. He extended the other to help Harry up.

"Will this one actually work?" Harry wanted to know, struggling to his feet. He'd been Severus' guinea pig for the last few anti-obsessions potions Severus had cooked up, and all of them had failed; the worst of them had caused Harry to feel... amorous towards Severus' left leg, a desire which had only been warded off by thoughts of Ron in a tu-tu. Now he set his hands on his hips, and glared Severus down. "If this one's going to work, why don't you try it?" he snapped.

"Sorry, that wasn't part of the bargain, my unfortunate friend," said Severus cooly. "You work for me, remember?"

Harry was so tempted to argue. Working with Severus, or under Severus, or whatever Severus wanted to call it, had only proved to Harry that the man was indeed as much of an asshole as Harry had first thought him to be. But Severus was, after all, the man with the means to put Harry's obsession to an end... and Harry squinched his eyes closed.

"Fine," he said, "Do your... umplphfffffyoubastard."

Severus, being a man with an extremely swift wrist reflexes, had poured the contents of the vial directly down Harry's throat the moment the man opened his mouth. He stood there, watching with a sort of 'scientific' concern, as Harry wiped his lips with the back of his hand and made a face.

"Erk!" said Harry.

"Sorry, my hand slipped," said Severus.

"That was really, really nasty," said Harry, spitting a little. His eyes were tearing up -- the mixture had tasted a bit like codliver oil, but it was codliver oil with added chilli. He started to lick his own sleeve. "For fuck's sake, Severus," he said angrily, mid-lick, "you might as well get it right before you give it to me. You know? At least try to work out the right ingredients..."

Severus rolled his eyes, sighed a little, and turned. "The trouble with you, Potter," he hissed, "is that you fail to understand the beauty and art of creating a potion. These things take time. Time, and patience."

"I don't have time," Harry growled, "and neither do you." He stamped his foot. And then did it again, because it had made him feel a little bit better the first time. "You and fucking Lupin, and me and that fucking fat shit of a boyfriend of mine, I mean, we can't avoid them forev..."

But Severus had stopped short on his way back to his table and was standing, frozen, in place. "Just... repeat that?" he asked, ever so quietly, spinning on his heel to face Harry.

"Repeat what? About you or me?"

"About Draco," said Severus, in that still, calm voice.

"Oh, him," said Harry dismissively. "To be honest, I'm not even interested in talking about him. After all he's done to me... heh. I mean, if I wasn't waiting for you to make a potion to get him out of my life, I'd have left him already, you can be sure of that... um, Snape. Are you alright?"

Because as he'd spoken, Severus' face had split into what could only be described as a grin -- the first time Harry'd ever seen the Potions Master grinning -- and as Harry stared on in amazement, Severus wrapped his arms about his own body and hugged himself.


Lucius had chosen to wear plaid to attend the mud-wrestling session in his front garden. Just because it made his bum look extra-smashing.

Still wearing his dressing gown over the top of his plaid suit, he padded down to the crowd on the edge of the courtyard, and stood there, hands clasped over his chest, and waited for someone to notice him.

No one did.

Narcissa was too busy screaming because Hermione had just grabbed a big hank of her hair and pulled. Remus was too busy weeping; he was pushing Sirius off with one hand, trying to find a hanky with the other. And the Death Eaters weren't even vaguely interested in the tall, plaidly dressed man standing in his dragon-hide galoshes, humming quietly under his breath. They were too caught up in forming an impromptu cheer squad; and some of them were actually swigging beer.

So Lucius just hummed, and waited, until Sirius swung away from Remus and their eyes met, brown and grey, across the mud-splattered women and the pit.

"You!" said Sirius.

"Hi, everyone," said Lucius, waving elegantly at them all.

"You bastard!" said Sirius, striding heroically forwards, before remembering what had happened to him last time he'd tried to take Lucius on. So instead he just stayed where he was and waved his fist in the air. "You ruddy evil bastard!" he said again.

"Oh shut up," said Remus, sniffling.

"Thank you, Lassie," said Lucius, in his sweetest of voices. He eyed the ruckus in the pit. "Mm, perhaps I should get their attention," he murmured, half to himself, and then put two fingers into his mouth, and whistled.

The note was piercing -- it split the air, and even the mud-wrestlers paused to see what had happened. Hermione, who had Narcissa in a headlock, gingerly withdrew her arm -- she looked almost guilty, suddenly. Narcissa stuck out her lower lip and shook herself off, but didn't move to start the fight up again. It seemed that enough was enough; her lip was bloody, even through the mud, and her eyes looked puffy and bloodshot.

Hermione didn't look much better off. Her clothes -- what was left of them -- were in rags. "Aw, geeze," she muttered under her breath. "Aw, shit. My nails. I had a dominatrix manicure, you know..."

But her wrestling partner had far more fight left in her. Narcissa tossed her mudslick hair, and, seeing that Hermione had temporarily given up, rose to her feet to face her husband. "You're interupting," she accused him.

"Only because I love you," said Lucius.

"You," said Narcissa, through her teeth, "were not meant to interupt. You said, you'd stay out of my business. And this, love, is my fucking business. So I suggest, you fucking know-it-all, that you," she stepped forwards, poking Lucius in the chest with a muddy finger, "get back into the house, and let me deal with things, since you, very obviously, are far too impo..."

"You're getting mud on my dressing gown," said Lucius.

Narcissa panted at him. Her dirt-smeared chest, freed of spandex, rose and fell heavily before his eyes, and Lucius didn't so much as blink.

"Do you want a war, love?" he asked.

Narcissa tilted her head on one side, and stared at him. By this stage, everyone else had gone completely silent. Even Sirius had stopped his posing, and was helping Hermione limply to her feet.

"Will you give me one, darling?" Narcissa replied.

Lucius smiled at her, and dug about in the pocket of his dressing gown. "Funny you should mention that," he said, slipping smoothly into business-mode, "but I do believe I heard from a very respectable source about a -- ah, particular situation at a certain... very, ah, respectable bar. In fact, there are some very..." he gave Sirius a knowing look over Narcissa's shoulder, "...Evil patrons, and they're... yes, I'm sure they intend to rule the world. Or at least they covet some of our future assets. So, my love, I thought it would be quite..." He'd pulled a little note from his pocket, and now held it infront of Narcissa's face.

"What? Quite what?" Narcissa gritted out. She grabbed the paper.

"If you go to, ah, this particular bar. It's called the Blue Oyster, just in London, tends to the middle-class sort of gay entertainment, if you know what I mean..."

"I've never heard of it," Narcissa snapped at him.

"I have," said Sirius and Remus, loudly, in unison.

And then both studiously avoided each other's eyes.

Lucius went back to humming. "Ask the woman in charge. A Ms. Cho Chang, I believe..."

"War," said Narcissa, in a softer voice, and stroked the paper.

Lucius leant in, rubbed a clean patch on her forehead with the sleeve of his dressing gown, and kissed her on it. "Yes, my pre-menstrual pet," he told her fondly. "Do take the Death Eaters with you, won't you."

His wife was already stepping away, purposeful despite the mud. With one hand, she signalled to the Death Eaters to gather around; they moved towards her, into a rough circle. Even Sirius and Hermione, almost automatically, had shifted closer to become part of the group -- although there was a set of resignation about Hermione's shoulders. "It has come to my attention," Narcissa began, waving a hand in the air, "that an evil force has decided to threaten the way of life we hold so dear..."

"Count me in, eh?" said Sirius, and put his arm around Hermione's waist. The great Mistress H, Lucius noticed, with a secret amusement, didn't push Sirius away. She just leant a bit closer, and actually rested her chin against his chest, like a meek (and muddy) child.

" my plan is to attack now," Narcissa was purring, "while the iron is hot, and we will slay those fucking wasted pieces of shit where they stand, and then use their blood to create ornamental fountains..."

Lucius hummed, very quietly.

Only the teary-eyed Remus moved to leave the gathering, uninterested in the Latest Battle Against Evil. Trudging his way back towards the manor, he looked a sorry sight -- his face was blotched red from crying, and his lower lip was still trembling slightly.

Lucius let him go.

After all, he'd been expecting that one, too.


Draco woke up to find that during the night Viktor Krum had managed to tunnel his way through to the next room and escaped. Draco got down on his knees, inspected the hole which had been dug straight through what was a foot of solid stone.

"Maybe you should work on your conversational skills," his wardrobe suggested.

"Oh shut up," said Draco.

He got dressed, ate the breakfast the house elves had left for him just outside his door, and then considered his options. Four days had passed since the Weasley had left the building, which meant that hopefully -- fingers crossed -- Harry had sort of forgotten about it. And if Harry hadn't forgotten about it, Draco supposed he could use the... well, one of the many stories he'd concocted. It was too boring to stay in his room now, though, especially with Viktor gone.

Draco opened the door, peeked outside warily, and then slid down the corridor in his socks. With a bit of luck, he'd still be able to grab a snack from the dining room, and then spend the rest of the day watching Buffy while sipping cosmopolitians. A life of sheer indolence.. who could knock that, really?

"Haven't seen you for a while," said the fourth floor staircase. "Looking good, Malfoy Jr."

Draco preened.

"Wow, horizontal stripes really suit you," said the third floor corridor appreciatively. "What a knock-out!"

More preening.

"Oh my god, you are so beautiful," gasped out a random hallway. "You're the sexiest man alive! If I wasn't a hallway, I'd want to have your children. Definately!"

Draco stopped preening. A sense of forboding was beginning to grow in the back of his mind. The manor wasn't always this nice to him. In fact, the only people the manor was nice to was his mother and father; it usually treated him with a sort of mild indifference and the occasional nasty side-remark -- as a small child, Draco had had a habit of running into the walls and breaking the plaster with his head. (Not because he was a disturbed child. It was because Vincent and Gregory were always throwing him.)

If the manor was being unreasonably nice to him, Draco figured, then something was definately up.

Perhaps one or both of his parents had died in a tragic accident. Or Harry'd found out he had herpes. Or... or Lucius had thrown out Draco's Buffy collection again.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

Draco kicked the nearest wall, with his sock. "Ow," he said, and then, "What the fuck is going on?"

"I don't know what you mean," said the wall nervously.

"Yes you do. The whole fucking house is being so... sickeningly sweet it's repulsive," Draco growled. "So you'd better come clean now and tell me what the hell's happened, otherwise it's Ken Done wallpapering for you."

The wall panted. "You wouldn't," it said.

"Just think about it," Draco sneered. "Big bright stupid looking cockatoos and lovely big smiley faces and scribbles and..."

"Stop! Stop!"

"I'm serious. I have the catalogue, you know."

"Okay! Holy hell, but you know, the east tower is going to have my nuts for this," the wall moaned.

"You don't have any nuts."

"But metaphorically, metaphorically..."

There came a loud bang of a door opening from the room beyond. Draco held up a hand to the wall, signalling that it should be quiet, and then tiptoed forwards to peer around the corridor. He could hear three voices, all chattering away. One he recognised immediately as the werewolf's; the other two sounded familiar, but he couldn't be sure. He peeped out, quickly.

Remus, Neville "Stonehenge" Longbottom, and Seamus "Show me the cigar" Finnegan.

"I don't care," Remus was saying, in a voice that sounded as if he'd just been crying, "I don't know, and I don't care. Please, for godsake, just leave me alone."

"We only wanted to know where Harry was," Neville said. "Sorry... we'll just go to his study and wait. Right, Seamus?"

"Right," said Seamus, in a tense voice. "Study, and wait. Are you coming, Neville?"

"Are you sure you're okay?" Neville continued to pester Remus. "You just look as if you're... well, having a mid-life crisis, if you don't mind me saying it."

There was a long, heavily pregnant pause.

Then the sound of a door slamming.

Draco peeked around the corner again. Only Neville and Seamus were left; Neville was shrugging apologetically. "Sorry," he muttered. "I just wanted to help. Gosh, but hasn't he gotten nice looking? I didn't remember him from school at all, you know, until you whispered it to me. Um, shall we be going now? I hope Harry wants to see me."

Draco was on the verge of stepping out from around the corner, a snide comment already on his lips, when Seamus replied.

"And no doubt he'll want to fuck you again, too," said Seamus.

Something happened, then. One minute Draco was ready to walk out and slap Neville and tell him he'd never have a chance with Harry, and then the next Draco was on the floor, and he wasn't quite sure how he'd got there. Only his head was against the wall and his legs were curled to his chest, and he was shaking. He didn't know why he was shaking either. His brain hurt; it felt light, and strange, and different, somehow.

"I think he wants to be my boyfriend," Neville was saying. "You know, I told him that once he sorted out Draco, he'd want to be with me. And he had to get out of that sort of co-dependant relationship."

"Co-dependant. Uhuh. That would be one of those smart sayings your shrink came up with, right?"

"He probably loves me already," said Neville. "Don't you think?"

"Yup. Right. For sure." Seamus couldn't have sounded any more non-commital if he'd tried. (Which he probably was, anyway. Mhm.)

Draco didn't know where he was at all. He didn't think he was home.

It was a disengagement -- that was the right word for it, the way it felt to him. It was like every touch he'd had, every press of hands and kisses, every bloody fuck, had been slowly torn away from him, that the sensation of Harry himself had been prised from Draco's clutch; as if everything in their relationship, as if everything in Draco's stupid, indolent, shitful life, had been negated by the simple presence of that fucking escort boy Neville Longbottom.


"Excuse me? Ms. Cho Chang?"

"Yes?" Cho looked up reluctantly from Justin's unconscious form. In the wee hours of the morning her husband had woken from his coma; he'd said some blurry words (about muffins) and then fallen back to sleep. But it was something. It was hope. And Cho'd felt better for the first time in days; so much so that she actually smiled at the nurse. "What is it?"

"There's, um, an army to see you," said the nurse uneasily.

"I beg your pardon?"

"An army. Um." The nurse flinched. "The leader is a half-naked blonde covered in mud."

"I see," said Cho. "Was Elvis with them?"

"Who...?" said the nurse, looking even more confused than before. "There's just the half-naked blonde, and about fourty men and women in aerobics outfits, and then there's a brunette who's also half-naked, and then there's a heap of them in business suits, a few wearing aprons, a bunch carrying laundry, and then there's this skinny dark-haired guy who keeps waving his fist in the air and saying he wants to eradicate evil, and that good is a choice for Life."

"And they want to speak to me," said Cho, slowly. "Cho... Chang, right? Are you sure you have the right name?"

"I'm sorry," said the nurse, nodding. "The blonde said something about the Blue Oyster..."

The word blonde suddenly clicked in Cho's head. "This blonde," she said carefully, "she wouldn't be a Malfoy, would she? A representative from Malfoy Enterprises.?"

"Do you want me to go back and ask?" the nurse asked.

"No," said Cho. She patted Justin fondly on the hand, and then smiled up at the nurse. Things were looking better and better. "I think I shall ask her myself," said Cho, "if you don't mind."


So this was what it felt like to be free.

It felt... really really fucking great.

Harry'd picked up a slice of watermelon in the kitchen, and was almost skipping on the way through the manor. He spat out seeds at random, which were caught by the group of house elves who were following him around. Yes, life was good; life was a watermelon and a rich family; life was a good job; and most importantly, life was no... no whatever the hell the name of that daft bastard he'd been so hung up about was.

Severus Snape might have been a bastard, but he also appeared to be bloody good at his job. Not to mention a nice bum. He did have one, didn't he? Harry was pretty sure of it. Harry made a mental note to thank the man later. At some... distant, future point.

Now, he figured he'd go check out the mud-wrestling in the grounds. As he was in the right kind of mood to appreciate it. And he might... he might even be willing to laugh at Lucius' jokes, too. Provided they really were jokes.

Passing by the reception room on the second floor, he discovered Neville and Seamus; Seamus was trying to sort out the mass of spreadsheets he must have taken from Harry's study, while Neville was babbling on about his love life (past, and present). For once, Harry didn't find Neville's chatter annoying. It was charming, really, the way Neville went on.. the way he was so open, and so energetic, and so... willing.

Harry coughed from the doorway. They both looked up.

"Harry!" gasped Neville, beaming.

Seamus just nodded, curtly, and went back to the spreadsheets. But now Neville was bounding forwards, and before Harry could move, Neville had flung his arms around him, and was squeezing him, kissing him almost sheepishly on the cheek. "Gosh," said Neville, as if he was surprised at himself, "I really have missed you terribly."

"And I'll bet the obsessive phone calls weren't a hint," said Seamus, coldly.

"Ignore him, Harry!" said Neville. "He's just being a prat because he said that you wouldn't be able to stay with me. And you'd go back to Draco. He's worried about his job and all that. And I told him it was all nonsense, because of course you're going to stay with me, aren't you?" He didn't wait for Harry to say a word. "And so he has absolutely nothing to worry about. Right?"

Now, he looked to Harry for confirmation.

"Right," said Harry.

The word sounded so good he said it again.

"Right. Right! Right!"

And Neville's expression at that very moment, so bewildered and happy, made Harry just need to kiss him.

So he did.

"Oh, for christ's sake," said Seamus, but there was a note of amusement in his voice.

The next two hours, spent poring over business documents, were possibly the most productive of Harry's career thus far. He and Seamus worked through a series of strategies to cope with a variety of misfortunes, and Neville sat through it all quiet quietly, as if he was the happiest person on the earth, simply because he was near Harry. Harry hadn't felt that sort of unconditional devotion for a long time; and it felt good. Really fucking good.

They stopped for a lunch break around one; Seamus said he'd continue working, and leave early; Harry and Neville went off to the kitchens. At the door of the reception room, their hands sort of interlocked, and since neither one wanted to let go, they left them like that.

Draco was standing unsteadily around the corner of the corridor; his clothes were rumpled like he'd been crouched up on the floor, waiting for them to come out. He looked smaller than usual. He didn't look much like anything at all, to be honest. Harry felt Neville cringe beside him, felt him tug a little at his hand, as if to insist that they go another way, avoid Draco. But Harry didn't see the need. Draco was small, too small for Harry to care about. Too small, even, for Harry to notice.

Harry didn't even look at him. He just walked past.

As they got further down the hall, Harry heard the sounds of someone running away, socks sliding unevenly across the smooth tiles.

He didn't look back, then, either.

"Do you like quiche?" he asked Neville.

"Quiche is fine," said Neville, in a voice so quiet Harry could barely hear him. "Quiche is fine."

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