Fic: Once Known Rain
Pairing: Bill Weasley/Draco Malfoy
Rating: PG-13 (swears! Oh the swears . . . )
Disclaimer: JKR owns them all, I merely play with them
Summary: A wizarding community, tucked away in Egypt - but anonymity isn't as easy as Draco presumed. Post-war and mildly AU in that Bill's face isn't mauled. Because, um, no.
A/N: Written for setissma on the occasion of her birthday; Draco and Bill by request. Mad thanks to taffetablue for the beta! And to lacylu42 for holding my hand and laughing at me in turn. ;)
Draco’s body ached to feel the touch of rain again.
This was homesickness – a pain blooming deep within his bones, stretching toward an elusive memory. He understood the idea of a thunderstorm - could feel his skin tighten with anticipation of a stinging downpour – but the scent of rain new-fallen on city streets, the sharp taste of ozone, the chill of a summer afternoon made dark by close-pressed clouds; all were fairytales, children’s stories, glimpses of a world no more substantial than a desert’s trick. The uneven street beneath his feet, the sand ground deep into the whorls of his fingertips, the dust cradled protectively in the folds of his shirt – this was his reality now. All else was make-believe, a life he had perhaps only dreamed.
Colour and sound crowded close as he walked, the street packed with witches, wizards, broken languages, the scent of cumin, coriander, mint. He stopped at a market stall, ordered pita and baba ganoush, felt the necessary Arabic on his tongue like hard-won comfort. He paid with local coins, the figures etched on the currency moving sluggishly in the afternoon heat, and ducked into the crowd again with barely a thought for the long days of hunger that had marked his shift from heir to voluntary refugee. Eggplant and lemon, ground wheat against his tongue, and he could still taste war when he least expected it.
His hands began to tremble before the pita was done, before the café on the corner was in sight. There was magic in the desert, as foreign to his body as the heat and constant thirst he understood to mean Egypt. The pull of glamours, a thousand years rooted to protect this desert town from Muggle eyes, drained his magic faster than the slam of battle-spells could. Tired, he set his feet purposefully toward the café, toward the games of wizard chess that had passed for communication before Arabic had come easily to him, toward the sweet taste of hibiscus tea and the smoky charge of Turkish coffee. He swallowed against his upbringing, an English reserve that fought against the desert’s magic - caused his hands to tremble, eyes to sting, pulse to hum in anticipation of danger. He kept walking.
The café was dark, the chairs on the pavement protected by voluminous awnings. Draco moved with assurance to the table he preferred, safe within shadow, close enough to the street to feel the desert’s breath on his face when the wind blew spices into the gutter. “Kahwaziyada,” he ordered when the waiter approached, then slumped in his chair, perspiration slick at the small of his back, his blood singing with agitation. Breathe, an older wizard had told him once, a beggar of sorts who’d once known Yorkshire. Don’t resist. The magic will welcome you if you’ll simply stop fighting..
Ironic, he thought, considering he’d left England to reach that end.
The coffee arrived in a fragile, white cup, and Draco sipped thankfully. He could taste magic beneath the familiar bitterness of the grounds – distilled drops of Moroccan chamomile, he wagered; anise, grown in plots thick with spells to protect against the wind. With his eyes closed to savour the taste he could see his past - dungeons, benches, cauldrons, and jars; snakeroot and the glint of a knife in his hand. He snapped his eyes open, shook his head to banish fruitless nostalgia, and nodded his thanks to the man behind the counter. Perhaps there was work he might do here – someone to whom he could apprentice. Perhaps if saffron stained his nails and madwort glittered beneath his touch he could find belonging – anonymity, community, alchemy like potion sprinkled into coffee.
Lost in the haze of his own exhausted thoughts, Draco might not have noticed the next customer to walk from the street had vitality not pressed against the edge of his vision. He turned his head, cup to his lips, and felt magic meet magic before recognition set in.
The eldest Weasley. Back at the tombs if his ripped jeans and grazed elbows were anything to go by, if occupation could be summed up by a beaten rucksack slung over someone’s shoulder and the smears of dirt on a person’s arms. “B-“ He cleared his throat; English seemed beyond him. “Bill.”
Bill nodded briefly, mouth almost curved in a smile. “The whole fucking world’s out looking for you.”
Draco sank deeper into his chair and turned away again, choosing silence over any better answer he could make. He sipped his coffee and focused entirely upon it - anise and chamomile; grounds the consistency of pepper; potion and roots. He started when Bill sat in the chair next to him, kicking up his boots on the table, a glass of hibiscus tea sweating gently in his hand.
“Two days after, that’s the last time anyone saw you.” Bill sipped from the glass as if this were usual, their happenstance meeting, as if the urge to sit in secluded cafes miles from anywhere was a Malfoy eccentricity anyone might have guessed. “Two days after, helping move people ‘round at Mungo’s and then . . . “ He shrugged.
Draco turned his tiny coffee cup around between his fingers, shoulders tight. “It was over,” he said at last, prodded into reluctant conversation by the memory of his mother’s raised eyebrow. Manners, Draco.
“Maybe.” Bill set the glass down on the table, reached into his pocket and pulled out a ragged pack of cigarettes. “Want one?”
Draco shook his head.
“Strange time to fuck off, is all.” Bill held the fag between his lips, lighting the end with a charm before taking a long, slow drag. “Fight like you did, then fuck off before peace’s had half a chance to take hold?”
Draco made a soft sound of derision.
“It’s working out pretty well,” Bill offered. “Over there. Things falling back into place. People making a life for ‘emselves.”
“Clearly. Why else would you be here?”
“Ah well.” Bill flashed him a grin. “I’ve got work here, haven’t I?”
“Thought you had desk job,” Draco observed dryly.
“Thought wrong.” Bill flicked ash from the tip of his cigarette.
“Though you had a Frenchwoman too.”
“Thought wrong again.”
Draco sipped his coffee, trying to ignore the twist of his magic as it reached toward Bill’s – familiar, English, comprehensible. He brushed the back of his hand over his forehead, unwilling to venture back out into the hubbub of the bazaar before the heat lessened, unable to countenance staying put with this fractious reminder of home sprawled easily beside him.
“You’ve not been here long,” Bill observed at last. “Hands are shaking. You’ve not acclimated.”
“Not yet.” Draco pressed his fingers hard against the cup he held.
“S’bastard thing,” Bill breathed, the words delivered on a curl of blue-grey smoke. “Dust and heat where your magic’s used to damp and green.”
Draco clenched his jaw, years-old derision rising up in a familiar wave. “Weasley, I understand that your parents were incapable of teaching you manners, but you’ve caught me on a day where I can hardly educate you on social graces myself. Could we perhaps pretend we don’t know each other and move on?”
Bill snorted, amused. “I should floo folks, let ‘em know you’re alright.”
Bill blinked and watched him. “Oh?”
“Just – “ He set his cup onto the table with precision. “Just don’t.”
“Still running then?”
Draco didn’t bother with an answer, but slung his bag over his shoulder and left the café, plunging into the thick of the crowd, the scent of baked figs and cloves his distraction and disguise. He pressed between shoppers, syllables broken by his body, conversation pulled apart, startled, hobbled – and still he kept moving, sun against the back of his neck, heat at his palms, pooled in the crook of his elbows, close against the curve of his spine.
He lay low for almost two weeks, pressing coins into the hands of clerks and cleaning witches, quietly intent upon information. People came and went, but none from England – no pale visitors, none possessing unusual magic. One week more, days stained with pomegranate juice and the garlic taste of spiced lamb bought from the closest vendors, and Draco ventured to the café again. Ten days passed, and he could brew coffee in an ibrik with competence enough to be left alone for an hour or so without Abasi fearing his café would burn to the ground. Hibiscus tea was a trickier prospect, but Abasi grew less appalled at his brewing technique with each passing day. “When the tea is right,” Abasi offered, eyeing Draco sceptically, “then we’ll study the rest.”
Draco sighed and bowed over the spigot, measuring water and sugar into pots; spent restless nights dreaming of hibiscus flowers, the thin sheets of his bed tangled at his feet, fingers closing fruitlessly over empty air.
“So you stayed.”
Draco stiffened, hand tight around the handle of an ibrik. He swallowed and turned. “Weasley.”
Bill slid onto a stood. “Kahwaziyada’d go down great, thanks for asking.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Long night.”
“Made longer yet by not going back to, say, your camp,” Draco murmured, setting the ibrik over a low flame and resolutely pushing aside the humiliating thought that he was – potions apprentice or no – serving a Weasley like a common waiter.
“Camp’s destroyed,” Bill said, voice flat.
“Destroyed?” Draco blinked, not entirely certain that he’d heard correctly. He turned his head. “What do you mean destroyed?”
“Wizarding separatists.” Bill waved a hand as if to dismiss a dozen pending questions. “They’ve had a beef with Gringotts for years – and I dunno that I can blame ‘em. I mean, s’hardly what the fucking pyramids were meant for, nice line of gold to siphon off to England so some bugger in Norwich can get a mortgage 'cause the goblins are flush.”
Draco frowned. “What’s a mortgage?”
Bill looked up and snorted softly. “Never mind.”
The first layer of foam on the ibrik had risen, and Draco pulled the pot from the stove. “Were people hurt?” he asked, stirring the coffee.
“Nah.” Bill hitched one shoulder. “They’re pissed off, but they’re a long way from being evil fuckers. Targeted spells, plenty of warning. We lost notes ‘n’ records, and they took back a bunch of artefacts but . . . Spent most of the night putting out fires. Literally.” He pulled his wand from his back pocket and shook it. Water sprayed over the counter. “No fucker ought to have to use his wand as a hose for eight fucking hours.”
Draco smiled awkwardly, amused by the image the words conjured, and set the ibrik back over the heat. “So what happens now?”
“No idea. The bigwigs are figuring it out. I’m supposed to hang about, wait on their word.”
“Charming.” A second layer of foam formed and Draco stirred the ibrik again, focusing his thoughts on the scrape of the spoon against the metal pot rather than his creeping awareness of Bill’s magic, familiar and close. He moved the ibrik back to the stove. “Where are you planning on staying?”
Bill blinked tiredly. “No idea. Figured if this place wasn’t crowded I’d catch a kip, figure it out later.”
Draco pulled the ibrik from the flame, spooned foam into two small cups and poured out the thick, aromatic brew. “Here,” he said, pushing one cup across the counter.
“Ta.” Bill sipped the coffee, eyeing Draco thoughtfully. “You never answered my question.”
“There was a question?” asked Draco dryly. “I only heard a simple declarative.” Bill merely stared at him. “Obviously I stayed, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Bill pulled at his coffee. “I had you down as someone bound to scarper is all.”
Draco wiped the counter and tried to settle his frustration. “It’s not that I’m trying avoid being found. It’s that I want to start over. Cleanly.”
“Making coffee?” Bill asked, looking doubtful.
“Local potions. Apprenticeship,” Draco shot back, colouring. “Coffee’s where it begins. Here at least.”
Bill threw him a rueful glance. “Reckon I might have done a darn sight better on my OWLS if coffee’d been where it started back home too.”
“From the stories I heard, I doubt an enervate maximus, personal tutors, and an enchanted cauldron could have done much to help you.”
“Touché.” Bill sipped the coffee again, letting silence spin out between them. “Don’t get why you’d want to start over, mind,” he said at last. “You had a pretty good thing going back home.”
“Really.” Draco measured coffee and sugar into two more pots, anticipating regulars. “Which good thing was that? Dead father? Half-mad mother? Pity and charity from all comers? I’m sure I had a fabulous career ahead of me as a darling of the tabloids, dilettante, and pseudo-whore.”
“Shame professional snark wrangler’s not a career choice,” Bill drawled. “You’d be top of your field.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “You’re a delight when you’re sleep-deprived.”
“Aren’t I?” Bill finished the coffee and eyed the chairs. “Where’s the best place to be out of your way?”
Draco set the ibriks on the stove, lips pressed tight together. “I – suppose you might - .” He blew out a breath, barely understanding the impulse directing him. “It’ll be busy in here soon. My flat’s off the square.” He grabbed a piece of paper and scribbled directions. “Nothing fancy. Door’s warded, but the password’s . . . “ He looked uncomfortable. “Salazar Tapioca.”
Bill choked on his own spit. “What?”
“Well would you think that was the key word combination?” Draco asked defensively.
“Clearly, no.” Bill picked up his wand and jammed it in his back pocket. “You’re sure? I can kip pretty much anyway. Weasley bones.”
Draco frowned. “I don’t want to know what that means. Go. Cease to offer information about your physiology that could give me nightmares. Immediately.”
Bill slid the directions into his pocket and stood up, grabbing his rucksack from the floor. “Ta,” he said around a yawn. “Owe you.”
Draco watched him go. “You just might,” he said, painfully aware of Bill’s retreating magic.
They skirted each other politely for several days, Bill taking the bed the first night, and falling asleep on the floor the second. It soon became routine for whomever got home first to sleep on the most comfortable thing available. Twice Draco had to remind himself that Bill was not one of the comfortable things under consideration.
Draco’s schedule rarely matched Bill’s, but once in a while they shared dinner – tahini and thin slices of goat; tomatoes and hot peppers; strange mousakka dishes topped with sweet, white cheese; nuts and figs for dessert. Bill developed a prodigious talent for tripping over large objects in the night, and finding oranges at the market long before Draco had a thought of waking. Draco, for his part, slowly found the brush of Bill’s magic against his own addictive, home in a sense that was more real and manageable than memories of diesel fumes or the downs by the Manor. He slept better with Bill close by – dreamed more often of rainstorms, woke less often with a yearning for thunder.
He ate oranges for breakfast, and vowed he’d learn to spit pips further across the room than Bill if it killed him.
Late summer brought ceremonies for the dog star, and Bill worked long hours at the desert’s behest. It was usual for Draco to half-wake in the small hours of the morning, cognizant of Bill coming home; less usual for him to start to consciousness, sweating profusely, rendered alert by a crash on the stairs and a string of invective only a Weasley could invent. A thud sounded by the door, followed by the slide of someone’s body, a string of vicious whispers, and Draco crossed the room in six short steps. He tore through the wards with the magic at his palm, and yanked the door open to offer Bill a bitter piece of his mind.
“What the fuck are you – “
“ . . . hurt?” Bill whispered, and with nothing but half light to see by, a fragile moon glinting faintly between the slats of aged shutters, Draco could see Bill’s face was too pale, his lips too thin.
“Inside,” said Draco, a hand beneath Bill’s elbow, suddenly chilled. It had been months since he’d had cause to remember cold, the slick feel of ice underfoot and the sharp curl of frost against a windowpane, but November seemed present now, twisting through his blood without pause or apology. He guided Bill to a three-legged stool, reached to throw open the shutters and let the room fill with what light there was. Scrabbling with one hand, he murmured a lumos before his fingers curled around his wand. Light rose up to illuminate Bill’s arm.
“Shit,” Draco murmured, eyeing the gash that had stained Bill’s shirt and jeans with blood the colour of Gryffindor idiocy – four inches, more? Jagged, a knife wound, remnant of a blade-ward. “I don’t – have it in me to be graceful,” he murmured, kneeling with his wand in his hand.
“Don’t care,” Bill muttered, swaying forward, forehead against Draco’s own. His eyes fluttered closed.
“It’ll hurt,” Draco offered, prevaricating, magic rusty and unpractised for this.
“You fought,” Bill whispered, the faintest hint of derision in his tone. “Just do what you did.”
Draco steeled himself – he’d seen worse; mended bodies far more broken so that casualties might be moved to safer locales. “Hold still,” he chided, though Bill was rigid with the effort of consciousness, and in rapid succession loosed charms to fight infection, to cleanse and to heal. Bill made a strangled noise low in his throat, but didn’t move as Draco sealed the wound. He raised his wand to Bill’s pale temple. “Lenio,” he whispered, and Bill slumped with relief.
“Wasn’t so bad,” Bill managed after several long breaths. “Though I think I fucked up your stairs pretty ba . . .”
Draco stole the consonant for himself, lips pressed lightly to Bill’s. It was a moment before he remembered himself, before memory rushed back in a heated wave and he knew his surroundings, pulled back, horrified, felt embarrassment burning against his skin. “Oh god. I don’t know wh – “
But Bill was a thief too, taking the syllable, leaning forward, lips already parted and shit, shit, thought Draco, hand gripping Bill’s left knee, this was the solace he’d been seeking in his dreams – this humid touch after the pains of drought; salt-sweet skin and stubble beneath his palm; ozone on the flat of Bill’s tongue and breath that hitched and curled across his cheek.
“Fuck,” he whispered as Bill pulled away. “Fuck.”
“Not sorry,” Bill said gruffly.
“Not - yourself,” Draco offered, stunned and unsteady. “You’re hurt – “ He shifted, gathered Bill against him as best he was able, shifted him to the bed. “You need to rest and I should – “
Bill’s hand closed around his wrist. “Clean up tomorrow,” he said, tugging hard.
“I – “
“Tomorrow.” Bill pulled on his arm again, and Draco sat awkwardly on the edge of the bed. “Here,” Bill murmured, as if this explained everything – blood on the floor; gashes and cuts; an open doorway and shutters flung wide. His eyes fluttered closed. “Thassall,” he mumbled, slurring his words.
Draco swallowed. “Quite,” he offered, bewildered.
But Bill was already asleep.
Draco woke before dawn, dressed with neat, economical movements and left before Bill stirred. He opened the café, brewed coffee in his favourite ibrik - a delicate creation engraved with birds - and sat at the counter in the stillness of morning, trying to bring order to his thoughts.
“You’re open?” asked a voice from the doorway – Moroccan accent; soft-conjured vowels.
“Of course. You’d like . . . ?”
The morning passed swiftly, and if Abasi suspected anything was amiss he passed no comment, setting Draco instead to the intricate task of mincing almonds into a fine-ground paste; medicinal sweetmeats for children and the old. There was something reassuring in the precision of the task, infinite repetition, undemanding focus. It seemed enough to still his worry – until Bill showed up, shirt sleeve loose around his injured arm, determination in the set of his jaw.
“Kahwaziyada,” he murmured, sitting at the counter.
“You shouldn’t drink anything so strong so soon after – “ Draco waved a hand – “your injury.” Spellwork, he thought, wiping his fingers on the tails of his shirt. His magic wavered dangerously at the proximity of Bill’s own.
Bill cocked an eyebrow. “I’ve a headache the size of Wolverhampton. Fucking Kahwaziyada, if it’s not any trouble.”
Draco clenched his jaw and reached for an ibrik. Coffee. Of course. Why else would he come? “By all means.” Humiliation rose like bile in his throat.
“Jesus.” Bill squinted at him, leaned an elbow on the countertop and rested his forehead against his the heel of his hand. “I just want a fucking drink.”
“Too bad we’re in Egypt and you can’t drown your stupidity in alcohol,” Draco muttered, spooning sugar into a pot.
Bill gritted his teeth. “Draco . . .”
“You should go to a healer. Have your arm checked.” Draco spoke stiffly, setting the ibrik over a flame.
“It’s good enough,” Bill rasped.
Draco looked at him sharply. “Too bad my healing skills aren’t better at three in the morning. So desperately sorry to only prove adequate.”
“When we’re having so much fun?”
“I didn’t come here to fight.”
“No. You came here for coffee,” Draco spat, gesturing at the stove.
“I came to apologise.”
Draco stilled. “Apologise?” He hadn’t known fury could taste so strong.
“I shouldn’t have – you were just right there and . . .”
“Darling of the tabloids, dilettante and pseudo-whore,” Draco murmured spitefully.
Bill’s mouth twisted. “Not what I meant.”
“Just what you were thinking.” Draco turned to the stove and stirred down the ibrik’s first foam. “Take care of it yourself. I’ve better things to do than weather your pity.”
The café’s kitchens and storerooms were a mystery of magical design – room upon room spilling left and right, uncertainly bound to each another, crowded with jars, clay pots and dishes. Draco moved without any clear thought of a destination, fingers brushing over parcels of burdock, damp jars of gillyweed. The soles of his boots were gilded with cumin, his footprints gold on the rough stone floor. He sat at last on a barrel of undetermined usefulness in a distant storeroom, common herbs above his head, drying in the season’s heat. “Shit,” he sighed, chest tight, tipping his head back against the wall and closing his eyes until all the world was scent and shadow, bay leaves and cinnamon, nutmeg and oil.
“You’re the one who fucking ran off this morning without so much as a by-your-leave,” Bill said from the other side of the room.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Weasley.” Draco snapped in irritation. “Can’t you leave things alone?”
“Not right now.” Bill leaned in the doorway. “We’ve some air to clear.”
“Really? I thought things were practically crystal back at the counter.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Just as always,” Draco muttered bitterly.
Bill stepped into the light of a flickering oil lamp; touched the clasp on a box of billywig stings. “I didn’t think much to waking up this morning and finding you’d fucked off,” he said, voice low.
“Fucked off?” Draco repeated dismissively. “I’m sorry. Was I supposed to wait for the ritual humiliation you seem so desperate to dispense? I do apologize. Perhaps a card or a nicely designed memo would help? You could hand them out to your playthings each evening, offset confusion.”
Bill shook his head, wetting his bottom lip. “Amazing,” he muttered. “Your capacity for bullshit . . .”
“My capacity,” Draco repeated. “Because I’m the one who wanted to apologize for the unthinkable trauma of having been kissed.”
“I wanted to apologize for not doing it sooner,” Bill said simply.
“You wan – “ Draco blinked, mouth snapping shut on a wave of incomprehension. It was possible, Draco mused, that the look on Bill’s face was unbridled amusement. He considered being affronted
Bill smiled and stepped closer. “So. It is actually possible to shut you up.”
“I – “
“I should’ve brought a camera. A Muggle one – one of those kind that makes films. No one’ll believe me.”
“I – “
“Nice fish impersonation. If you wanted to try for a complete sentence some time, that’d be grand.”
“I – “
“Mind if I do it again?”
Draco coloured. “I – “
“I’ll take that as no, then.”
Draco reached to push Bill away, but somehow his fingers ended up twisted in Bill’s shirt, dragging him closer, thrilling at the wash of magic beneath his touch. Bill was smiling – fucking smiling as he leaned in close, and fuck, Draco thought as he parted his lips, it was the best fucking thing he’d ever seen, and he’d lost his mind, lost it completely to be this fucking happy to be kissing a Weasley but damn, it was good, they were good, cayenne on their skin and fennel on their lips, breath shot through with lemongrass and ginger.
“You’ve no business playing with this,” managed Draco as Bill pulled away.
“There you go again – assuming this is some sort of game.”
Draco shook his head as if to clear it. “What else?”
“Like I know.” Bill ran a thumb along Draco’s cheekbone. “But I like how you taste.”
“How I taste?”
“Like rain. Like shit I can’t afford and half-knew once, someplace green.”
Draco blinked. “You’re almost completely mental you know,” he offered to distract from the tremble of recognition in his fingertips.
“Almost completely. Reckon you can deal?”
Draco turned the thought over, fingers still tight in the weave of Bill’s shirt. The charge in the air was a storm’s waking breath and he swallowed to remember grass and mud, the sky rolling black with April’s secrets.
He smiled with recognition. “I can try,” he said.