Fic: Agora

Nov. 7th, 2015 01:52 am
cryptaknight: (Default)
[personal profile] cryptaknight
Title: Agora
Creator: [personal profile] cryptaknight
Pairing(s)/Character(s): Lavender Brown/Draco Malfoy
Cliche: Forced proximity
Disclaimer: Harry Potter characters are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Rating: PG13
Word Count/Art Medium: ~10,800
Summary: Draco's found it difficult to go outside since the war ended. Lavender Brown might be an odd choice for an assistant, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Author Notes: I was listening to the song Agora, by Bear Hands, and the bunny bit. Draco seemed a natural fit, and once I had the fic idea, so did Lavender.

Malfoy opened the door to his library, took one look at who was on the other side, invoked a curt NO and promptly shut the door again. Which was rather rude of him, in Lavender's opinion. So she knocked again, to no response. With a long-suffering sigh, she tried the knob. It turned in her hand, and thus she felt no qualms about stepping inside to state her case.

He'd placed the advert, after all. She was only responding.

"I believe I was clear in my refusal."

His voice, posh and crisp and icy cold, came from the vicinity of a wingback chair that faced the fireplace. Lavender stomped right over, planting herself in front of him. Malfoy looked weary as he stared pointedly past her into the fire. There were dark circles under his grey eyes that stood out against his impossibly pale skin, and fine lines framed his sharp mouth. His hair, however, was impeccable, so Lavender gave him points for that. Overall, though, he didn't look at all like the confident scion she remembered from school. Why, he was wearing a dressing gown. Not a good look at all.

She pursed her lips, her hands fisting on her hips. "My application was vetted before I came for the interview. I meet all the requirements. Nott said I ought to be acceptable."

"You're not. Theodore must have overlooked something that would clearly disqualify you. I shall send him a howler as soon as you've quit my presence."

"He did not." Lavender began ticking off her qualifications off on her fingers. "I completed my schooling at Hogwarts. I finished with at least three NEWTS- I've got actually got four, incidentally. I've never had a scandal documented in any publication. And I'm a pureblood. So. Stuff it."

It was perhaps not the wisest thing to tell a prospective employer to stuff it, but it did have the effect of causing Malfoy's eyes to jerk upward to her face, so she decided not to apologise. He did stare at her for a very long time, and after several moments Lavender felt rather awkward, indeed. She refused to let Malfoy see that. She simply cocked her head and pursed her lips, meeting his stare evenly and waiting for him to knock it off.

Finally he spoke. "You're a pureblood?"

His lips were curled in the sneer she was used to seeing on his face. Considering why she was here interviewing for a position, the uppity snarl didn't carry the weight it once had.

"I am." Lavender wasn't going to budge an inch. "Maybe not the sort that runs in the circles you do. Used to. Whatever. But you can look it up if you don't trust Nott's background check."

She had no doubt that Nott had conducted one. No Slytherin would have simply taken anyone at their word on that matter. She was sure he'd also checked out her claim of never having been involved in anything scandalous, as well, but he would have come up empty on that count. The most scandalous thing Lavender had done was have the audacity to get clawed up by Fenrir Greyback, but when she'd not turned into a werewolf everyone had lost interest. Apparently messy scars and a taste for rare beef didn't sell papers. As to the other requirements, she'd finished up her coursework at Hogwarts once she'd been released from St Mungo's, and she'd sat her NEWTs in Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, and Divination. There was nothing to disqualify her from the position other than Malfoy's horrid personality, and the only reason she was tolerating his treatment right now, aside from sheer stubbornness, was that she really needed a job and the remuneration he was offering was substantial. Substantial enough that if she could put up with Malfoy for a year, she'd be able to open her own bakery like she dreamed of.

Still. It was tempting to throw a Bat Bogey hex at him and storm out, the way he was looking at her as if she were something he'd discovered on the bottom of his shoe. Lavender forced herself to stay, jutting her chin out to let Malfoy know he'd at least interview her or he'd never be rid of her.

Malfoy let out a heavy sigh, and then seemed to lose interest in staring her down, his gaze returning to the flickering flames behind her.

"Two weeks."

"I'm sorry, what?" Lavender resisted the urge to jump into his line of sight again.

"I'll give you a two week trial. At the end of which, I shall surely have you sacked. But you'll get two weeks."

"And will I be paid for those two weeks?" Lavender honestly couldn't believe it had been this easy.

Malfoy drummed his long fingers on the arm of his chair. "Brown, I certainly would not spend two weeks in your company if it was not one hundred percent business. Just be here at nine tomorrow morning. I'll enjoy one last night of solitude."

Lavender was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. She gave Malfoy a nod, and stomped out in the direction she had come.


After Brown left, Theodore slipped quietly into the library. Draco hadn't moved from his chair, though he did turn his head to watch his best friend's progress across the expansive room, until Theodore sat in a chair also facing the fire, mirroring his own position.

Theodore Nott was everything Draco had once been and now rarely was. Fit, self-assured, with long, lean, elegant proportions, Theodore moved through the world with confident ease. He was also one of the few people that actually bothered with Draco these days, though Draco suspected Theodore's goodwill might be waning. He had been the one to suggest that Draco actually hire an assistant, instead of relying on him. Which Draco supposed was fair, since Theodore was his friend, not an employee. If Theodore abandoned him, Draco wasn't sure what he would do.

Which was why he'd agreed to give Brown a trial, a trial he doubted she'd pass. But Theodore had already sent several candidates his way, and Draco didn't want to seem ungrateful. Perhaps two weeks with Brown would placate Theodore until someone truly acceptable could be found.

"I assume you hired her?" Theodore drawled, arranging himself artfully in the chair, looking for all the world like a rogue prince seated on his throne. "She left her details with me, but she does seem a pushy sort, so I wasn't completely certain."

"I did," Draco admitted, shifting irritably in his seat. "I was tired of interviewing candidates."

Theodore made an amused sort of chuckle. "She was only the second one to make it past your library door. And the last fled in tears, asking me to lose her information."

Draco thought of snapping that perhaps that was because he didn't want some strange person in his house, meddling in his affairs (such as they were) and talking at him constantly. But Theodore had been very patient with him thus far, so he modulated his tone.

"There was no ridding myself of her otherwise. It seemed easier to hire her on a trial basis and then sack her for whatever legitimate reason she will inevitably give me."

All things considered, Draco felt he'd been rather pleasant to Brown. He'd been so shocked to see her standing there that his conversational jabs hadn't materialized as quickly as they usually did. The last person he'd expected to apply for a position as his man-on-the-outside- or woman, in this case- was a Gryffindor girl who'd seemed more interested in blokes and nail varnish than actual work, someone who likely reviled him (didn't most people?) and should have turned away the moment Theodore let her know who she'd be working for. But evidently Theodore had found her qualified, something Draco still found very suspicious.

"Draco," Theodore began, and he had on his gentle voice, a voice Draco had come to loathe. "If you won't go out, someone must come in. And then go out for you." He paused. "I do have things of my own to do, you know."

"Don't speak to me like I'm one of your damned horses." Draco shuddered. He didn't like horses. They frightened him. As did most things of late. "I know that. That's why I agreed to this whole bloody business in the first place."

Theodore flashed a grin, charming and filled with white teeth. "I'm sure it will be fine. Brown seems very, ah, purposeful. The type to get things done."

Draco harrumphed. He supposed he'd find out come nine the next morning.


"Why did you apply to do this?" Malfoy's question was abrupt and unexpected.

"Do you really care?" Lavender didn't turn her head to look at him as she spoke, as she was busy sifting through correspondence that needed owling.

She was two hours into her first day as Malfoy's liaison. So far she'd taken inventory of his kitchen and made a shopping list, and had begun to tackle the stack of parchment on his desk. The conversation had not exactly been flowing between them, being restricted mostly to her asking questions that helped her triage the pile. Malfoy was supposedly reading a book or something, but she was of the opinion that reading could be done in another room and that he was likely babysitting her.

"No," came Malfoy's answer, "but I cannot abide an awkward silence."

Lavender snorted at this. "I'll answer you, but you have to answer a question in return. That's how the game works."

Malfoy paused. "I wasn't aware we were playing a game."

"Isn't everyone?" Lavender said lightly. She hadn't quite got a feel for Malfoy yet- he was far too sullen and taciturn. But she thought that might appeal to his Slytherin nature.

Malfoy was silent a while, and Lavender went back to separating pleas for charitable donations from social invites from personal missives from Malfoy financial business. She was shocked he'd let it get into such disarray, but then, he was hardly the Malfoy she remembered. He was withdrawn, a recluse, and seemed to be avoiding everyone except Theodore Nott and now herself. She supposed he'd rather been through it, with the war, but she'd have expected him to bluster his way back to the top, not go into a total retreat. If it provided her with a lucrative job, however, she didn't want to question his turnabout too closely.

She'd almost forgotten what they were talking about when he answered.

"Alright. But I've already asked you a question, so you'll answer first." His voice was imperious. At least that much hadn't changed.

"You wanted to know why I'm willing to put up with you in exchange for monetary compensation?" Lavender rephrased his query, eliciting a withering look from her employer. "You'll pay well. And as much as you are… you... it's better than retail. Or waiting tables. Or answering firecalls. Or drudgery at the ministry. There are a lot worse jobs out there, and worse-paying."

Malfoy harrumphed, but when Lavender dared a look at him from the corner of her eye, she could tell he was turning that over. Doubtless he'd never held a menial job. He certainly wasn't working now. Lucky bastard was able to live off his family money and the investments thereof. For a while there'd been talk of making purebloods pay reparations, but in the end everyone had seemed to just want to keep in the spirit of all wizardkind getting along, and many of the wealthier families had been cagey enough to donate their money to causes like rebuilding the school and funding an eighth year for the students affected by the blood laws during the war, which had left most folk more kindly disposed to them, as long as no one was spouting any more nasty rhetoric. Lavender suspected the Malfoys would have been given a pass in any event, given Malfoy's mum's invaluable assistance to Harry Potter.

"My turn, then!" she said brightly, adding a letter to the personal correspondence pile after some deliberation.

Malfoy sighed. Lavender ignored it.

"Why don't you keep a house elf?" she asked. She'd been rather surprised to not find one in the kitchen, at least. She couldn't imagine Malfoy cooking for himself, and to be certain the cupboard had been a little haphazard.

Malfoy sank further into that large, stupid chair, and drummed his fingers against the cover of his book.

"I don't like this game," he grumbled.

"Ah, but you asked me a question, so you've got to at least answer one before you call it quits." She turned and leaned her bum against the desk, folding her arms over her chest.

"Fine." Malfoy's lips thinned. "I find them… off-putting. Our main one went mad during my second year, constantly ironing his fingers and banging his head against the wardrobe. Then Potter ended up freeing him, which was a relief, truth be told. My parents still kept his brethren on, but when I moved into this townhouse, I elected not to bring one with me. I don't find it necessary."

There was silence between them after that. Lavender wouldn't have minded, mostly because she'd never much been in the habit of talking to Draco Malfoy. She wasn't intimidated by him or anything, but they'd never had any reason to talk at school and of course, since then, he'd not left his house. But the silence felt awkward to her, because he was still in the room with her. Every so often she'd hear the soft flap of him turning a page. He could read anywhere in the massive townhouse, though. Lavender wondered if he was babysitting her.

"Are you still friendly with Potter?"

Malfoy's voice was so low that Lavender thought she'd imagined him speaking at first.

"Another question?" She clucked her tongue, adding another paper to the solicitations pile. "You know what that means."

"Yes, yes," said Malfoy. He ran his fingers along the outer edge of his book. "Are you?"

"Not really," Lavender said, tipping her head to one side. "I'm not unfriendly, either, but since everyone finished school, we haven't had much reason to hang out."

Malfoy nodded sharply. "I wondered. He was always very… insular."

Lavender reckoned insular was a good way to put it. When he'd needed everyone, like with the DA, Potter had been social enough. But otherwise it'd just been him, Ron, and Hermione (and later Ginny, of course) most of the time, doing big secret things. Which had been rather unenjoyable when she was dating Ron, but she'd enjoyed herself plenty when she and Ron were alone, so she'd lived with it.

"He did visit me in hospital," Lavender said, oddly compelled to stick up for Harry. They might not have been close, but he had saved the magical world from certain doom, and he'd never been unkind to her. "After the battle."

She'd been surprised by the visit, honestly. She'd expected Parvati and Padma, because Parvati was her best friend and she'd make Padma come. She'd expected Seamus. She'd even expected Neville, because he was so tender-hearted, and they'd gotten closer that year when they'd all suffered under the Carrows. The whole DA had. But she hadn't expected Harry. He hadn't stayed long, just brought flowers and treats and quietly thanked her for risking herself at the battle. It had meant a lot to her that he'd bothered, honestly.

Malfoy grunted at this elaboration. Probably not what he'd been hoping to hear.

"Do you still despise him, then?" she asked, using the question he owed her.

Malfoy's eyes snapped to meet hers. "No," he said curtly. "He saved my life, too. Whatever that's worth."

He stood, sending his book flying back its place on the shelf, and left without another word. Lavender sighed, staring at Malfoy's back as he retreated.

Impossible man.


"What on earth are those?"

Draco eyed Brown's hand suspiciously. She was holding a phial of little white balls out to him.

"They're medicine," she said, sounding mildly exasperated.

"I'm not sick," he said, pressing his lips into a thin line.

Brown looked like she might argue the point, so he tightened his features even more forebodingly. He might be a tad paler than even had been usual for him, because he was indoors all the time, and he didn't always sleep well. But he wasn't ill.

Finally she said, "They're to help you feel more comfortable going outside."

This was completely presumptuous. And pointless, as well. He'd tried cheering potions and alcohol and every other thing that people swore would help him- people meaning his mother and Theodore. In any case, it was none of Brown's business, or anyone else's. Which led him to an awful thought.

"How did you get those?" he hissed.

"Oh, my friend Parvati. She works at St Mungo's." Brown looked pleased with herself. Draco's fingers twitched, longing to pull his wand and hex her. That itch intensified at her next words. "She got them from a colleague in the Muggle Medicine department."

"You… told… Parvati Patil… about me?" Hexing would not do. Draco wanted to throttle her with his bare hands. Patil had been an unrepentant gossip at Hogwarts and Draco doubted that had changed.

"Of course not," Brown snapped, her hands going to her ample hips, which she stuck out at a jaunty angle.

"Then how did you get that?" Draco bit out the words, straining to control his urge to yell at her, and gestured sharply toward the phial Brown still held in her hands.

"I told her it was for me." She added a sassy head bob to her inane body language.

"For you? And why would she believe that?"

Draco looked at Brown. She was shameless. She didn't have a hesitant bone in her body. She wore loud colors and tight trousers or short skirts and her hair was all over the place. She talked comfortably to everyone, which was why, despite his misgivings, she'd been excelling as his assistant over the past week. His banking was nearly in order, and just this morning he'd received an owl from the Society for Magical Maladies thanking him for his kinds words and generous donation- a donation he'd authorized, but words Brown had written. She had a way of making people like her that Draco had never had the knack for. He didn't quite understand her appeal, but that didn't matter if she was using it on his behalf.

"I had a hard time at first, after the war."

Draco still didn't believe it. "You had a hard time?"

"Yes. People asking to see my scars. People asking if I was a werewolf. People asking if Greyback and I were expecting a puppy. Because I'm a tart, you see, as well as having been bitten. So. I had a hard time."

Draco looked at her a long time. Now that she mentioned it, he could see the jagged edges of her scars peeking out from her collar, up toward her throat. He could imagine people had stared. He could imagine people had been cruel. But he didn't think they hated her.

People hated him.

"And did you take this medication to help you go outside?" he drawled, not entertaining any notion of pity for her. Obviously she'd gotten over whatever had happened.

Brown took a deep breath. "No, I didn't. I-"

Slashing his hand through the air, Draco cut off whatever it was she'd been about to say. He didn't care.

"Then you can't pretend to understand." His face shuttered itself. "I'm not taking any muggle medicine. And as I am tired of the sight of you, I will not be keeping you company in the library today. You can return that shite to Patil when you go run whatever errands I've need of you to today."

"Malfoy… Draco. You need something. Aren't you lonely? Aren't you bored?"

"I am not bored. I have my books. And I have hobbies."

Brown dared to arch an eyebrow at him, holding that impudent pose. "Like what?"

"It's none of your concern."

He swept back down the hall, feeling rather like Snape sweeping about the dungeons, and retreated to the third bedroom.

The third bedroom, considerably smaller than the master suite or the guest room, served as a studio of sorts for Draco. No one else had ever been inside. It was the only messy room in the house- Draco was generally given to meticulousness- covered in scraps of parchment which were in turn covered in charcoal. He'd covered the room in his drawings: of friends, most of whom no longer bothered with him; of places at Hogwarts, where he was no longer welcome; of his family, who were nearly just as lost to him; of scenes from books that had moved him, which had become his only companions. He couldn't face the world, but he didn't want to forget it.

He had hobbies.

An hour later, he also had a small pile of crumpled parchment accumulated by his feet, and nothing on the table in front of him. With a grumble, Draco pushed his chair away and clomped his way downstairs. He hollered for Brown when he reached the bottom stair, but no answer came. As he'd told her to, she'd evidently gone to run errands. On his behalf. He frowned, feeling a bit beastly but also cross that he was feeling that way. It was her job, wasn't it?

She had left the phial of pills behind, however. They were sitting on the small table by the front door. Draco stood, frozen for a moment. Then very quickly, before he could think better of it, he went and retrieved the phial, shoving it into the pocket of his robes. Just as quickly, he retreated to the library.

Those few steps had been the closest he'd gone to his front door in nearly a year.


"So," said Parvati, in that sly drawl she had when she was fishing for gossip, "how is the new job going? Are you rubbing shoulders with the magical elite yet?"

Lavender rolled her eyes, shook her head in the negative, and took a sip of her drink. It was blue and fruity, and, she suspected, loaded with alcohol. Which was exactly what she needed tonight, and why she'd not objected when Parvati had plonked it in front of her.

"Hardly. I rub shoulders with the Gringotts goblins and the shopkeeps at Diagon Alley more than anything else. Unless you consider a grouchy billionaire who I've not seen change out of his pyjamas 'the magical elite'."

"Not so much." Parvati gave her a sympathetic look as she fished the cherry out of her own drink, putting it between her full lips and pulling it free from the stem. "Though I did always wonder what Draco Malfoy wore to bed."

"Ew, really?" Lavender arched a brow and pulled a face.

Parvati shrugged. "He was sort of dishy. When he wasn't being a total twunt."

"Which was all the time," they finished in unison, giggling. Unfortunately it was a refrain that applied to a good number of their male acquaintances.

Lavender sipped her drink again, quirking her lips as she said, "Dark grey silk. With robes over, you know, for propriety."

They giggled again, and Parvati lifted her manicured hand into the air, waving down their waitress for another round of drinks.

"How dashing."

Lavender laughed, then felt bad. "I shouldn't make fun. He's obviously having some sort of hard time. Only he drives me bonkers, you know."

"Is he awful to work for?" Parvati managed to quell her mirth and look concerned.

"Not awful. Just…" Lavender cast about for an apt description while the cocktail server delivered fresh beverages for them. "Remember that time we spent two weeks in Costa del Sol, and I got that hideous sunburn, and everything that touched me nearly made me cry?" Parvati nodded, wincing at the memory. "Well, he's a bit like that."

She took a deep pull from her cocktail, feeling clumsy with words. At Pavati's quizzical expression, Lavender rushed to continue. "Like, for example, we were going through his correspondence today, yeah? And everything's fine one moment, and then the next we've got a dinner party invite from his mum in my hands, and you might have thought I'd thrown a stinging hex at him, the way he reacted." She shook her head, remembering the way Malfoy's face had changed abruptly, the flash of genuine terror in his eyes before he'd shut down completely. "And then he goes huffing off to wherever he goes huffing off to, and I've got no answer for Narcissa Malfoy as to whether or not her only son should like to have dinner with her on her birthday."

"That's so sad."

Lavender blinked at Parvati, surprised. She'd expected disdain, perhaps a catty remark or two. Not pity for the likes of Draco Malfoy, who had once asked Parvati why her hands were filthy when she'd gotten them henna'd for her and Padma's sixteenth birthday.

"Are you doing anything to help him?"

"Am I doing anything to help him?" Lavender snorted, and began ticking things off on her fingers. "I'm answering all of his post, I'm doing all of his banking, I'm purchasing his bloody socks. I'm doing loads to help him."

She didn't mention the pills Parvati had given her, knowing that if alcohol were not currently a factor, Parvati already would have put two and two together. Besides, though the phial had disappeared, Lavender had no reason to believe that Malfoy was actually taking the medicine. More likely, he'd binned it while she'd been out picking up his dry cleaning.

"But I mean," Parvati persisted, pursing her lips, "there's got to be a reason he's like this. He was never introverted at school. So perhaps you can help him get past it."

"I think that's easier said than done." Lavender toyed with the corner of her cocktail napkin, shredding the damp paper between her chipped finger tips. "And in any event, it's not what he's paying me for. Now, c'mon, I want to hear about that Healer McHottie you told me you snogged on your last overnight."

The subject was deftly changed, as Parvati was always all too thrilled to recount her adventures working the late shift at St Mungo's. But her words stayed on in the back of Lavender's mind. Malfoy hadn't proven to be so terrible- her two week trial had come and gone without a peep from him, and a tidy sum had already been deposited in her own Gringott's account- and it was rather pathetic to see him as he currently was. Could she help him? Perhaps it was worth a try. If only Lavender had any idea how.


Draco stood facing Brown and Theodore, doing his best impression of a carp.

"I'm sorry, what is it you two have planned for me?"
The pair of them exchanged a significant look, which Draco supposed boded all manner of ill for him.

"We're going to practise, mate," said Theodore jovially, rocking back on his heels, his hands in his well-tailored pockets.

"With a luncheon in your garden," Brown cut in, her voice obnoxiously bright and cheery. "Just the three of us."

Draco eyed the two of them suspiciously. "What are we practising for?"

Brown looked down at her feet. Her toenails were painted turquoise. "Ah. Your mother's birthday dinner."

Panic. Then fury. Draco glared at them. "I don't believe I've RSVPed for that."

His dratted mother was testing him. She seemed to think he was just being stubborn. Though that was possibly because he'd refrained from graphic descriptions about how it was as though he was being crushed by the stares of people when he stepped outside, how going too far from his home made his heart pound and his lungs seize, how the sun now hurt his eyes because he only saw it through a window. He couldn't go to her birthday dinner. He couldn't not go.

He took a deep breath. The sight of the invitation, which he had not yet answered one way or another, had sent him into a terror. That night, he'd taken the first of the pills. He didn't feel any different. He still had no desire to leave the comfort and safety of his house. But perhaps they were doing something, because while leaving to go to the manor seemed impossible, lunching in the garden didn't feel overly dreadful. The house would be close. Just steps away, if he needed the barrier of its walls.

Draco nodded, a sharp movement of his chin.

"Brown! I do believe that was an acceptance!"

Draco glared at Theodore. Brown covered her mouth, but Draco could tell she was smiling at Theodore, which increased his irritation. When had they become so chummy?

"Of course, he'll have to get dressed," Brown said musingly.

"Too right," said the traitorous Theodore. "Can't have his neighbours peeping over the wall and seeing him in his jammies. Go dress yourself, Draco; we'll wait."

Thirty minutes later found Draco standing in the doorway to his garden, in trousers and a crisp buttoned shirt. He hadn't bothered with a tie or jacket, but he had shoes on in the first time in a good while. The sun made him flutter his eyes rapidly, and Brown wordlessly held out a pair of sunglasses, which he took and settled on his face without comment.

Theodore was already ensconced at the wrought-iron table outside. "Come on, then, have a seat. My elf prepared quite the spread. He offered to come serve it to us, but I know how you feel about him, so he's at home."

The table was covered with plates, heaped with all sorts of sandwiches and cold veg; there were salads and fruits and cheeses as well. Two bottles of wine, which Draco knew came from the Notts' infamous cellar, also graced the table.

Theodore continued blathering; it must have been his intent to distract, and it worked, because before Draco knew it, he'd reached his seat. He sat abruptly, and Brown took the chair next to his.

He took a rattling breath and gripped the edge of the table.

"All right there?" Theodore asked, his voice light.

Draco nodded, shakily at first, then a bit more confidently. Brown and Theodore were decent enough to simply nod in return, and begin serving themselves. Draco followed suit. They kept him busy with conversation- nothing substantial, Quidditch league standings, a piece of gossip in the Prophet, the new display at the Wizard's Museum of Classic Art. It was enough to keep time flowing, and to allow the moments when his breath would catch and he had to look at the garden walls to reassure himself that all was well to go, if not unnoticed, unremarked upon.

When Theodore opened the second bottle of wine, Brown excused herself for a few moments. Draco watched her go inside; her skirt was, for once, not obscene, and it swished around her legs as she strode into the house like it was her own. He turned back to Theodore, his expression thoughtful.

"You didn't put her forward for this position because you're sleeping with her, did you?"

Theodore sputtered on his sip of wine. "What?" He wiped at his mouth with a paper serviette. "How absurd. No. I hadn't even heard from the woman since the day you hired her, until she concocted this scheme. Which seems to be going swimmingly; I have to give her credit."

Draco considered this, swirling the pale golden liquid around his glass. "That's good. Not you two scheming together. But it would be awkward to have you shagging the help."

A bark of laughter escaped from Theodore. "I'm not, I promise. All we have in common is caring about you." His look was arch as he took a more elegant sip of pinot grigio. "And she's a bit much, don't you think?"

Draco shrugged. Privately he almost admired Brown's bravado in her personal style, especially the tops she wore that were cut low enough to reveal her scars. Even before the war, Draco had never been one for loud colours or trendy styles. But they suited Brown's equally loud personality, he supposed.

And her loud voice, which startled him as she flounced back into her seat and helped herself to more wine.

"So what's it going to be, then? How shall I answer your mum?"

Draco looked at her, his eyes wide. "Ah."

Theodore tsked. "Ah is not an answer."

Draco swallowed. "Yes. If we Floo in and Floo home, and if you agree we leave if I feel it necessary at any point in the evening."

"We?" Brown cocked her head, taking an unseemly large sip of the fine wine.

"Yes, we," said Draco, ignoring the incredulous looks from his luncheon companions. "You're going with me. You are my assistant. You will assist me."


"More wine, miss?"

Lavender looked at the carafe filled with rich red liquid in the house elf's hands, and shook her head regretfully. So far all had been well, but she was on duty in some respects, so it would probably not do to get too tipsy.

A voice to Lavender's right said, "That necklace is to die for."

Lavender's hand fluttered up to touch the long rope of creamy pearls that she wore looped twice tightly around her neck, a third loop dipping down into her cleavage. Draco had presented her with them when she'd arrived at his house that evening. She'd asked who they were on loan from. He'd said they were hers. But Lavender didn't suppose she'd better say that to Agnes Bulstrode, who sat between Lavender, and her daughter Millicent. There was a certain catty question lying underneath the compliment, and Lavender wasn't going to dignify it with an answer.

"Thank you," she murmured, and turned a surreptitious glance toward Draco.

He seemed to be getting on alright, though he'd insisted on being seated next to her for the meal, and every so often throughout the meal, he would reach out and tightly grip her arm under the table. Lavender reckoned that being indoors helped, and that being surrounded by familiar, nominally friendly faces helped as well. As for herself, she was extremely glad she'd borrowed her dress from Parvati, whose taste tended a bit more classic than her own. Her long, thick hair had been tamed into an elegant sort of tousled knot at the nape of her neck. The pearls went well, and although Lavender wasn't certain she should have accepted them, she'd been unable to refuse them after seeing how they looked against her skin.

Draco had said he'd thought they'd look well with her scars, which would have been perhaps offensive coming from anyone else, but from him Lavender suspected it was a mark of respect for her usual refusal to hide them. She almost regretted letting Parvati obscure them with makeup. Almost. The curious stares she'd been getting all night when people thought she wasn't looking made her grateful her friend had been so inspired by her near-death by werewolf to study cosmetic healing and makeup techniques. While Lavender had turned down any offers to remove her scars altogether- she found they drew the world into sharp focus, letting her see how people really felt about her- the makeup tricks did come in handy from time to time. Tonight was one of those times.

"They look a great deal like Titania Malfoy's pearls," the Bulstrode woman persisted. She was no doubt referring to Draco's great-great-great granny or something, but Lavender didn't want to hear it, nor the implications behind the comment.

"Hmm, how interesting," she said noncommittally, and gave Draco a poke.

He turned to face her immediately. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

"The food is good."

Draco chuckled, and Lavender couldn't help softening a bit. It was a rare enough sound from him.

"Sorry if it seems I'm ignoring you. My mother is hell-bent on… something," Draco said, his voice low.

It certainly seemed Narcissa Malfoy was on a mission. The dinner party, purported to be for her birthday, was a bit stacked with eligible young pureblood women. Which technically, Lavender supposed she was, though Draco's mother would never have considered her when drawing up her list of invitees. In fact, the older woman's face had tightened unhappily when Draco had arrived with a woman already on his arm, though her manners had quickly taken over and smoothed out her face to its normal unperturbable beauty.

"I can see that." Lavender dropped her voice so as not to be overheard. "And how are you getting on?"

Draco pursed his lips and made a little shrug. "I cannot wait to be home. But I'm glad if I've pleased my mother and stemmed the tide of gossip about me to any degree."

Lavender nodded, and pushed some greens about on her plate with her fork. Draco making any sort of public appearance was good. People had noticed he'd been scarce. She heard comments about it all the time when she was running errands for him.

"I'll pay some attention to the Greengrass girls during pudding," Draco said. "And then we can politely duck out."

The Greengrasses sat across from Draco, not a coincidental placement. Draco had explained that they were considered progressive for his set, meaning that while they were moneyed and pureblooded, they hadn't supported You-Know-Who, at least publicly. Draco theorized that his mum had a strategic match in mind for him. It had put a funny wobble in Lavender's belly that she didn't care to examine, chalking it up that she knew Draco now, and had seen him so vulnerable, and the idea of him with someone who might not understand that he needed taking care of was bothersome. She didn't think he was ready for matchmaking after one moderately successful dinner party.

Either Daphne or Astoria Greengrass would be an excellent match on paper, Lavender had to admit. Desirable politics aside, they were beautiful girls, if one liked delicate debutantes with unblemished skin as creamy as the pearls she wore and masses of perfectly coiffed blonde hair. Which Lavender had to believe most people did. They made her feel a bit tacky, truth be told, even though she knew she looked good in the filmy coral dress she'd borrowed. They were understated and classic, and Lavender was very aware that her look was the trendy sort seen in Madame Malkin's shop window, from clothes to makeup to hairstyle. Everything except her jewelry.

She touched the pearls again, and tried not to be annoyed at the polite conversation between Draco and the Greengrasses. They were perfectly nice, and it wasn't their fault Narcissa was meddling. And it wasn't as if she was anything other than Draco's employee, she reminded herself, forcing her attention back to the Bulstrodes.

It was a relief when Draco took her by the elbow, escorting her to the drawing room, where the fireplace was connected to the Floo network. He kept hold of her, both of them Flooing at the same time back to his townhouse.

They landed in a cloud of green dust. Draco immediately cast a spell to banish it. Usually his fastidiousness irritated Lavender, but she was glad of it in this instance.

"Well, we survived," she quipped, smiling at him. He hadn't yet let go of her elbow. Lavender didn't pull away.

"That we did," Draco said, looking at her oddly. "Brown… Lavender. Thank you. I don't think I could have managed without you."

"Pshaw," Lavender said, still smiling. "You did plenty on your own."

"Because I knew you were there." His face was intense, and Lavender recalled all the squeezes on her wrist during dinner and the brief moments of eye contact throughout the evening. She nodded a bit hesitantly. "I couldn't have managed it without you," he repeated.

Lavender realized she was staring at Draco. It was difficult to avoid it, because he still had ahold of her, and his eyes demanded to be looked at. He was still all planes and angles in his face, but Lavender could admit now that it was attractive to her. His eyes were stormy in their greyness, and his pale brows were elegant arches framing them. His mouth had once seemed impossibly cruel to her, but in this moment, softened by kind words, his lips were appealing.

He was her boss, she reminded herself. She'd been paid to accompany him tonight. But it was hard to keep that in mind as his mouth descended towards hers and she did nothing to stop it.

The kiss was intense because Draco was incapable of doing anything in any other way. It was a brief thing, his mouth closed, even, but he managed to make it feel like the most meaningful moment. His hand was tight on her arm, his other hand on the back of her head, and he had moved so sharply that she found herself jerked up against his body, which was warm and faintly muscled under the layers of his three-piece suit.

Lavender gasped, and looked up at him. The sudden motion had caused strands of his fair hair to fall forward into his forehead. He no longer looked so polished; he was more of the Draco she saw day in and day out, and she understood that the dinner party version of Draco had been a hard acted sham. She saw a need written on his face that was not entirely physical, a need she found appallingly appealing.

She fit her mouth against his again, pulling him with her until she felt the wall against her back. She took charge of the kiss, opening her mouth under his, wanting to feel him lose some of his rigid control, just once, just for a little while. It was a good snog; Draco's mouth was clever, and his hands on her shoulders and in her hair were desperate. It was so good that Lavender melted when she knew she should stay strong, that there were rules upon rules she was breaking by letting his tongue sweep against hers, by letting her teeth catch at his bottom lip.

Finally he stopped kissing her to catch his breath, his hands pinning her to the wall while he drew a ragged inhalation against her neck. Lavender knew this was only partially about her. Draco needed to find release from something within himself. And though she'd been hired to help him, she didn't think this was how she'd been meant to go about it.

With some difficulty she said, "I think I ought to go home."

Draco's hands slowly slid from her, and he drew back, running one of those damnably clever hands through his hair, smoothing it back from his forehead. He didn't say anything, just stood staring at her. Lavender could only imagine what she looked like, her back pressed against the wall, her mouth swollen and her hair falling from its carefully pinned style, her neckline askew and those pearls still wound about her. She imagined she looked rather unprofessional indeed.

"I… I told Parvati I'd return her dress tonight." A lie. Parvati was not that demanding. But Draco didn't know that, and Lavender needed some distance to get her head back on straight.

"Of course," he said, his voice raspy in a way she'd not heard before. "I shall see you in the morning then."

It was a statement but it sounded like a question. So Lavender reached up to tuck a hairpin back into place, and quirked her lips at Draco.

"I'll be here at nine as usual." She reached around the back of her neck, intending to unclasp the necklace, but Draco made a noise that had her looking at him quizzically.

"Those really are yours to keep. Think of it as a bonus for working after hours."

Considering what had just happened, Lavender did wish he hadn't phrased it that way, but she nodded and dropped her hands.

"Tomorrow, then."

She Flooed home before she could reconsider.


"What is this place?" Draco hissed, drawing close to Lavender. She had coaxed him outside again, this time on the premise that if he could be indoors with people he knew, he could be outdoors with people he didn't.

"A cinema," Lavender said, her voice patient in a way he wasn't certain he liked. He didn't want her to be patient with him. He wanted her to be making out with him, but instead she'd insisted on an outing.

"It's full of Muggles," he said, stating the obvious with a scowl on his face. He wrapped his hand around her upper arm, finding it easier to breathe when he was touching her.

"That's the idea. Muggles don't give a rat's arse who Draco Malfoy is. They just see an overdressed man pawing at his poor assistant," she said pointedly, looking down at his hand, and he loosened his grip a little.

He supposed he could be considered overdressed compared to Lavender, who was wearing tight denim trousers and loose, flowy sort of top that looked as though she'd carelessly tossed on the first thing she'd found in her wardrobe this morning. He couldn't be sure. It was out of his realm of experience, as was most of everything in his view at the moment.

"How do you know so much about Muggles, anyway?" he said, an irritated note entering his voice. "I specifically remember you declaring your pureblood status when I hired you."

"My family is pureblood, but we're not all hung up about it. My cousin married a Muggle and we love her to pieces."

Draco curled his lip at this notion, but he followed Lavender over to the box office, where she did all the talking and procured their tickets. He also followed her to a counter where she purchased popped corn, which the attendant coated with a vile looking yellow substance that purported to be butter, fizzy drinks, and sweets. From what little he knew of Muggle money, it was all exorbitantly overpriced, and he made a mental note to add a bit to her cheque for the week. Finally, he followed her into the dimly lit theater and up to the back row of seats. Lavender settled all their various items around them, and turned to face him, a big grin on her face.

"Relax, Draco. Have a jelly baby or something."

She held out a bag of mixed sweets. To appease her, Draco took some, though he made a point to grumble. Grudgingly, he admitted they were pretty decent, for food items that came in bright plastic colours. Other people filed in, and Draco held his breath, hoping that no one would sit too near them. He needn't have worried; it was midday and the theater wasn't nearly full. He made himself relax into his seat, casting a glance at Lavender. Her smile softened, and she patted his hand. He stiffened his resolve to suffer through this experience.

As it turned out, no suffering occurred, at least not during the film. Once the lights went down, Draco found he was able to tune out everything around him that wasn't Lavender or the story playing out on screen. He spent the next two hours in a world with menacing mummies and spunky librarians and annoyingly adventuresome Americans. It was incredible. He'd seen moving photographs before, of course, and talking paintings, but this combined the two concepts in a way that was engrossing and, he had to admit, ingenius of the Muggles.

At some point during the film, Draco felt Lavender's hand tuck into his, and any lingering anxieties vanished. He was no longer a loathsome former Death Eater hiding in his home. He was just a bloke at the cinema with a sexy girl. When the lights came up, he looked at Lavender, feeling every bit of gratitude and affection he had for her was etched upon his face.

"Thank you," he said, staying in his seat while the credits rolled across the screen.

"You keep thanking me for the most ordinary things," she said lightly.

He shook his head, frustrated by her unwillingness to admit how important she'd become. She shifted in her seat, starting to get up. Draco shot out a hand to stop her, first catching her hand, then sliding his hand up to cup her cheek. He didn't know what to say to her. So he kissed her, because any words seemed inadequate anyway, and her lips were full and tempting and he liked her better than just about anyone else at the moment.

She pulled back after a minute, and he made a noise of protest. He was charmed, however, by the way she bit her lower lip and said, "Like two teenagers, snogging in the middle of a theater," with her cheeks flushed and her hands braced on his chest.

She paused, and Draco hoped she was going to suggest going back to his house for a proper snog. But she drew in a deep breath and said, "Do you think you're up to getting home via the Floo at the Leaky Cauldron?"

Draco went very still. There would be witches and wizards at the Leaky. It wouldn't be a crowd of Muggles that he'd have to handle. But they could go straight in and to the fireplace. He might not have to talk to anyone. Lavender tapped her fingers against his chest, and he nodded slowly. "Alright."

They walked down the London streets. Draco felt a familiar tightness in his chest as he moved through the open spaces filled with people. Lavender wound her fingers with his, and he was able to breathe. It was fine, he told himself. No one was looking at him. Lavender distracted him with chatter, and it seemed no time at all before they were at the dusty door that the Leaky Cauldron presented to unsuspecting Muggles. Draco froze again, and Lavender squeezed his hand.

"Okay, then?"

Draco took a deep, stabilizing breath. "Yes. Yes, okay."

He still felt awful and tight, but he made himself push the door open. They stepped into the Leaky Cauldron together. Lavender released his hand, and for a few brief shining moments, Draco really thought everything would be just fine.

They were halfway across the room, the fireplace in sight, when Draco heard the voice call out.

"Oh my, is that Draco Malfoy?"

Draco stopped in his tracks, aware of Lavender's concerned gaze, but focused on the wizard the voice had come from.

"Blaise." Draco could hear how choked his voice was, how stilted. And he knew Zabini heard it, too.

Don't get up. Don't come over here, he willed silently, but to no avail. Blaise Zabini pushed his chair back and made his way over. The witch he was with looked curiously after him, as did the handful of other people patronising the Leaky that afternoon. Draco felt his palm dampen, and he surreptitiously rolled his fingers against his leg. His heartbeat picked up, and he caught himself licking at his lips. Lavender's hand touched the small of his back.

Blaise noticed that, of course he did. He looked slyly from Lavender's hand to Draco's face.

"Nice to see you, mate," Blaise drawled. "It's been ages since you've been spotted out and about. And what on earth are you doing entering the Leaky from that side?"

Draco's eyes shot to the door. The Muggle world entrance. One he'd never had reason to use before. His eyes shot to Lavender. And then back to Blaise, whose lips were twisted into a smirk, his eyebrows arched knowingly.

"I.." Draco swallowed, his tongue massive in his mouth. "I…"

"Well, Draco? Out with it."

Blaise was teasing, Draco knew that, but somehow it felt crueller than that, and it also felt like every person in the room was staring at him, waiting to hear what he had to say for himself. He looked desperately around the room again, and then did the only thing he could do under the circumstances.

He pulled his wand from his pocket and Apparated home.


Lavender stormed through the house, banging doors open.

"Draco!" she yelled, barely pausing except to ascertain whether or not he was in a particular room.

She wasn't certain if she was supremely worried, royally hacked off, or some combination of the two. Her jaw had nearly hit the floor when Draco had suddenly vanished, leaving her to deal with a smarmy Slytherin and to assume it was his home to which he'd retreated. They'd been having a fairly lovely afternoon, and Lavender had been so proud of Draco's progress. And then he'd just ditched her.

Lavender supposed she should be sympathetic, but she was too infuriated to quite manage it.

"Draco Malfoy!"

The third bedroom was her last object of inspection. It was a tiny room, an afterthought, and she'd figured it was used for storage or something. But it was there that she found him, standing in the center of the cramped space, looking like the proverbial deer in the headlamps. It took a moment for it register that he had a piece of charcoal in his hand, and smudge on his forehead. It would be endearing if she wasn't so upset with him.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, drawing up short when she realised the walls were positively covered with drawings, presumably made by Draco. They were good, too, though she was in no mood to admire them. She spotted her own face, caught in three-quarter profile, sketched in the corner of the paper affixed to the easel in the middle of the room. Softening a smidge in spite of herself, she said, "You just left me there."

Draco fiddled with the bit of charcoal in his fingers. Lavender noticed he was still breathing a bit erratically.

"The sketching helps me calm down," he said finally. "Blaise was… I couldn't…"

Lavender folded her arms across her chest. "You should have just told him to sod off. That's what I would have done. Who cares what he thinks?"

But she could see Draco did. He fidgeted some more.

"You don't understand, Lavender. Every time I go out, I know people are talking about me. And I know what they're saying." He swallowed, and she watched his Adam's apple bob up and down in his throat. "I did terrible things. And every time I go out and I hear them whisper and see them stare, I relive them all."

He looked at her, his eyes beseeching. Lavender didn't give him the reaction he was seeking.

"Oh, is that all?" She popped her hip out to the side, shaking her head as she looked at him. She did feel for the strain she could see etched on his face. But she couldn't help feeling he was being just a wee bit overdramatic. "Everyone had a shite time during the war, Draco. No one looks back on it fondly, trust me. I was nearly killed, and I still have to deal with people talking behind their hands about me. And you're far from the only Slytherin who has to deal with bad public opinion, yeah? Look at your chum Pansy Parkinson. She's out there heading up every rebuilding fundraiser committee, and people are fine with that- and she tried to hand Harry over to You Know Who! Everybody is dealing with something. But at least they're dealing with it. You're just hiding. Stop feeling so sorry for yourself. I guarantee you nobody cares as much about any of it as you do."

Maybe it was harsh. She could see from the way that Draco flinched as each of her words landed on him that he felt attacked. Maybe she was making things worse. She simply couldn't stand back and feed into his angst any longer, and watch him suffer needlessly. And if she was honest with herself, she hated seeing him so scared and tentative. It wasn't him, or it hadn't been, once, and it shouldn't be. She'd seen the glimpses of the old Draco Malfoy, tempered by time and experience, peeking through the anxiety-riddled surface lately. That was the Draco she'd come to feel so much for, and she couldn't bear to see him recede while his illness got the better of him.

"That's not fair, Lavender." His voice was jagged, and he clenched his charcoal so hard it snapped in two.

"Nothing is ever fair, Draco." She sighed, suddenly exhausted. "I can't do this any longer."

Lavender wasn't sure what she meant, but it felt true.

"Can't do what?" And there was a note of fire in his voice, which was pleasing even as it signaled danger.

She threw her hands up, splaying her fingers wide. "I can't enable you any longer. I can't snog you and pretend everything is fine, while you're paying me to help you avoid getting better. I can't snog you while you're paying me, period. You're ill, and you're my boss, and I can't do any of it any longer."

A tremor ran through Lavender as she realised what she was saying. Did she really mean it? She needed time to think.

Draco stepped closer, reaching for her, and Lavender held out her arm to ward him off. If he touched her, she'd succumb, and it would be no good for either of them.

"Lavender…" he said quietly, and the pleading in his voice was entirely too much for her.

"No." She closed her eyes, not sure at all that she was doing the right thing. "It's my turn to vanish now."

And like Draco had done at the Leaky Cauldron, she drew out her wand and disappeared.

It took three days for Lavender to reappear.

In that time, Draco did not leave the house once. Theodore had come by, but Draco had not felt chatty, and then Theodore had said something about Lavender being a selfish bint and Draco had roared at him to leave. He'd regretted it immediately, but it had been too late, as Theodore took him at his word and left at once. And then Draco was left alone with his books and his sketches and the thoughts he didn't want to deal with at all.

He felt Lavender's absence, achingly. When he'd first hired her, he'd not wanted her around at all, but he'd grown accustomed to her loud presence around his home, and around his life. And now the house seemed empty and confining all at once. The tick of the clock echoed from every corner, and the wizarding wireless seemed small and a mere pretense of companionship, tinny voices from far away, disconnected from him.

Draco had taken to sitting in his library once more, the books piling around his favourite chair. It was here that Lavender found him, reading a particularly tricky old English version of Beedle the Bard. He hadn't changed the wards after she'd left in her mauve huff, hoping that she'd come to her senses and return to work and they could move past the awkwardness sure to result from their row.

She stood over him, and he quickly put aside his book and straightened up once he became aware of her presence. Lavender was dressed very casually today, in denim and a cotton tee. Draco frowned, and made to stand up, but she held up a hand, and he paused.

"You don't need to get up, Draco," she said, her voice even and calm. "I won't stay long. I just wanted to give you this."

She held out an envelope. Draco didn't want to take it, but she didn't waver. Finally he took it and set it on the arm of his chair.

"You don't have to go, Lavender," he said, hoping he sounded just as unruffled as she did.

Her face was tender, but her words cut him down. "I really, really do."

She turned and walked out of the library. Draco sat stunned for a moment, then heaved himself out of his chair. He ran after her, but saw the front door closing before he could catch up, a thin sliver of light thrown onto the parquet floors of his foyer before she shut the door firmly behind her.

He stopped, his hand hovering above the doorknob. Just a millimeter more, and he could turn it, step outside, and chase after her. His hand shook, hanging there above the brass knob. Then, with a shuddering breath, he lowered it to his side. He clenched his hands into fists, screwing up his face and loathing himself.

Back in the library, he opened the envelope she'd handed him. If he'd expected a long, rambling letter, full of outpouring feelings, he was sadly disappointed. The note was brief, professional, and official.

Lavender had resigned.


"Lavender? I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I've got an unusual situation up front."

Lavender paused in rolling out the dough, wiping her hands on her apron and turning to face the girl poking her head back into the kitchen. Diana was a young witch, fresh out of Hogwarts, a slight thing with a pixie haircut and a slim figure that might have seemed out of place in a bakery, except for her grand enthusiasm for just about every product Lavender sold. Her ability to wax poetic about every scone, biscuit, or cupcake in the bakery case, however, made her an ideal employee, and Lavender was relatively certain that she owed half of her success to the girl who manned her counter most of the time.

She'd been surprised, the morning after she'd delivered her resignation to Draco, to find a year's salary deposited in her Gringott's account. And she'd been on the cusp of returning it, but Parvati had talked her out of it, pointing out that obviously he'd wanted her to have it. He'd made no attempt to contact her, to beg her to come back, so it wasn't a bribe. It was severance pay. So Lavender had put the funds to good use, opening the bakery in Hogsmeade that she'd always dreamed of.

Her guilt had made her return the gorgeous pearls. They might well have been worth more than the Galleons Draco had put in her account, and in any case she knew she'd never wear them. The jewelry was too completely tied to Draco, and the night that he'd kissed her. There was no point in letting them gather dust in her jumbled jewelry box, when they could eventually grace the neck of some pureblood debutante.

If, that was, Draco ever ventured over his own threshold.

Many times, she'd considered sending an owl, or ringing him by Floo. But as the days had stretched into weeks and then months, and he hadn't reached out, it seemed too difficult to be the one to make the effort. If he wanted anything to do with her, he knew how to find her. And somewhere deep inside, Lavender knew Draco needed to work things out with himself before he could work things out with her. Time had marched on as it inevitably did, and she'd been busy hunting down shop space and then buying equipment and perfecting her recipes and eventually hiring Diana, and now that the bakery had been open for a little while, it seemed too late to revisit the whole affair. There was a part of her that would have liked him to see that she'd put his money where her mouth was, so to speak, but she supposed she'd have to live with knowing it for herself.

Putting the rolling pin aside now, she asked Diana what the problem was.

"The customer is trying to pay but he hasn't got money."

Lavender quirked an eyebrow skyward. She'd learned in her brief time as a small business owner that there was no end to the shenanigans customers would try to pull.

"What has he got, then?"

Diana bit her lower lip, and Lavender could see she was trying not to laugh. "He's got jewelry."

Lavender felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. She told herself it could very well be anyone at all, but her heart hammered against her ribs. She wiped her hands on her apron again, this time because they'd gone damp.

"I'll handle it," she said, and Diana nodded, letting Lavender pass her on her way out front.

He looked wonderful. His skin had a healthy tint, and his clothes were sharply pressed, and his eyes sparkled because he was damnably pleased with himself, but Lavender couldn't mind. Piled on the glass countertop was a massive strand of perfect, creamy pearls.

A grin broke across Lavender's face.

"Hello, Draco."
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