A Young Radical’s Guide to Love
Draco was there when they came for Pansy.
He did not hesitate, just grabbed her arm and Disapparated at the first glimpse of red robes through the window.
She hit him as soon as they came to a stop near the secret greenhouses in Kew Gardens. ‘Draco! What are you …’
“Aurors,” he gasped, and her mouth opened to protest, while he realised that there could be wizards nearby and Disapparated them again.
This time they appeared in drizzling Penzance, outside a steamy-windowed cafe he had once sat in for no better reason than he was certain no one there had ever seen him before. He had passed a remarkable four hours at the height of the war, seeing no one he even vaguely recognised.
“Do you have Muggle money?” he asked her quickly.
“No, I … Draco, why me?!” Pansy wailed quietly. “I haven’t done anything!”
Draco reached into his pockets and pulled out a fold of papers. “There’s three hundred pounds there,” he said, grateful for his mother’s planning. “They have the right numbers on them, so you can just read them. Have some breakfast here, I’ve eaten the food, it’s good, proper stuff. They take your orders and leave your bill at your table here, just like in Florean’s. Have a long breakfast, then go for a wander and buy a change of clothes. Things you wouldn’t usually wear. Try not to spend it all. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Before night. Mother will come if I can’t.”
“Where are you going?” Pansy asked quickly, hiding the panic he could see in her eyes.
“When you’re not at home, they’ll look for you at the manor. I have to be there.”
She nodded. “Go.”
“Will you be all right?”
She smiled bravely. “It’s just Muggles. What can they do? I’ll be fine. Go.”
Mother was in her library when Draco ran in. “I never left,” he told her, snatching up a book on potions from a pile he had left near the door. “I’ve been with you all morning.”
“Who?” she asked, concise and with forced calm.
“Pansy. Safe in a cafe in Penzance. You’ll need to find her if they take me in, she’ll be shopping for clothes.”
His mother nodded. “Robe off,” she said.
Draco tossed the book onto the chair beside his mother’s, whipped off his robe and called a house-elf to return it to his room. He sat down and began to read with concentration.
It took longer than he expected. Nearly thirty minutes had passed before another house-elf announced visitors. The Aurors had followed the elf through the house, which spoke to a lack of breeding, but waited outside the door to be announced, which suggested this was just an investigative call and that no-one had seen Draco in the five minutes he’d been at Pansy’s.
And, indeed, the “Good morning, Mrs Malfoy, we were hoping Mr Malfoy could spare a minute to help us with our enquiries?” with which the lead Auror entered the room set the tone for what followed.
Draco was all apologies: hadn’t left the house, had seen Pansy earlier in the week, she seemed well, had they tried Madame Malkin’s? Pans was known as a keen follower of fashion. His mother charmingly regretted that the two of them had decided on such a lazy morning and wished she could be of more help. She hoped everything was all right, there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, was there?
Not at all, they were assured. A purely routine inquiry. Hopes Miss Parkinson could assist with an ongoing case. Cards were exchanged with a request to let them know if they saw Pansy and a gentle suggestion that it would be to her benefit to clear all this up as soon as possible, not that ‘this’ was anything to be concerned about.
They politely refused Narcissa’s offer of tea, and thanked Draco for his assistance. Hands were shaken, and the same house-elf appeared to escort them – from the premises, as Draco put it in his head – and Draco sat down quietly to read.
After fifteen minutes, his mother reached over to pat his arm. “I’d better go and check your father missed the presence of Aurors before he takes it as an excuse to have firewhisky for breakfast. Again.”
Draco smiled weakly up at her. “I’ll give it another hour,” he said, quietly. In theory, the manor was impervious to Listening Charms, but he had learned caution and the Aurors could have left anything in their wake. There was no time to sweep for new magic now, it took a solid block of time and required concentration, and he had neither.
“If you’re gone before I come back, I may be out this afternoon, there’s some paperwork I need to see someone about.”
Draco nodded, understanding her meaning, and smiled gratefully at her.
When the time came, he went via the Ministry. As a ‘vital part of the Post-War Reconciliation programme’, he had an office.
In reality it was a converted storage room from the old International Magical Office of Law, which had moved to the new side of the Ministry when the new departments moved in. And he was less ‘vital’ than a handy figurehead. Junior Undersecretary for the Department of Domestic Magical Cooperation was Ministry shorthand for the chap we trot out whenever we want to make it look as though no one is holding any grudges since the war.
A fading poster greeted him as he walked into DMC. His own face, smiling tightly, alongside Potter’s, on which there was at least a vague expression of amusement, their hands shaking firmly in the lower half of the frame. Potter had listened politely to the publicity flunky who had suggested the image, refrained from laughing, even when Draco had been unable to hold in his spluttered “Really?!”, posed for the one, perfect shot, and left without chatting.
Draco had been almost grateful.
The powers that be had plastered the pair of them all over the Ministry and Diagon Alley for months. Draco had never been so grateful to live in Wiltshire and have a job that required very little actual work. The image was made doubly strange by the fact that he and Potter had, without speaking, agreed to avoid each other in reality, which had led to a very easy working environment. Draco was actually grateful for that.
The department’s administrative assistant was in his seat. Draco could never remember if it was Wallingham or Wellingham, and apparently was not alone, as there was a helpful sign stating ‘Broderick Wellingham’ on the front of the man’s desk.
Wellingham glanced up, surprised. “Mr Malfoy, sorry, I didn’t know you had anything on today …”
Draco waved him down. “It’s fine, I don’t. Just in to pick up my hate letters.”
Wellingham laughed politely, but nervously. Draco wasn’t really joking. For every “It’s wonderful to see that anyone can change” he had received – usually from lovely old witches hoping he might see his way to subscribing to their Home for Lost Kneazles, there were three or four that began with the wish to see him and his whole bloody family in Azkaban and went downhill from there.
It was a small price to pay. Agreeing to that poster and the rest had kept his father free. He had thought, for a while, that it had also signalled a genuine shift in the way things worked. A fresh start, without ‘sides’.
There was not much in the way of post. One was, thoughtfully, a card, so he could see the “Die Scum” without a return address and pop it into the bin immediately.
“Unpunctuated,” he commented to Wellingham, who had doubtless already read it.
“It’s shameful,” Wellingham muttered with some sympathy.
“I’d expect a comma, at least. Still, it would be worse to be loathed by competent people,” Draco said.
“They don’t loathe you, Mr Malfoy,” said Wellingham supportively – Draco caused very little work in the department. “You’re not like the others.”
And Draco smiled, and thanked him, and said goodbye, knowing that of course he was, especially now.
There weren’t many people in the corridors, and only one in the lift. Brown. Some sort of cousin of Lavender’s. Decent witch, in all senses of the phrase. She nodded a greeting, he smiled back.
“Good to see you,” she said. And Draco supposed that it would be, if you trusted that his continued presence in the Ministry meant things were genuinely working, genuinely different this time.
If he had courage, or a conscience, he would walk away and let them come for him next. But he had acid fear in his stomach and a left knee that wanted nothing more than to twitch convulsively, so he stood heavily on that leg and told Brown that it was good to see her, too, and who did she favour in the Quidditch this weekend?
She was skilled enough at social chit-chat to see them through all floors to the lobby, where he winked and whispered he was off for a quick fly since there was minimal work for him and she rolled her eyes and told him he was a jammy git and could come and help her out with paperwork whenever he felt the urge. But she walked alongside him to the fireplace, and he was profoundly glad of it because it meant he could pretend he didn’t see Percy Weasley, which meant he didn’t have to acknowledge the flash of contempt that always preceded Weasley’s own pretence that he could not see Draco.
“You should come along one lunch,” he told Brown. “I’ve got a spare broom …”
“If I ever get an hour for lunch. You should see the amount of forms this new visa system’s created.”
Draco smiled. “Now I feel guilty. I’ll come and give you a hand next time I’m in.”
And Brown’s eyebrows lifted, but she smiled in return. “Malfoy, if you’re serious, it would be brilliant. Give me advance warning and I’ll buy pastries on my way in.”
“You’re on, Brown!” Draco said, alive to the possibilities of the word ‘visa’. He stepped into the Floo, then out on Diagon Alley, where he was careful to be seen buying broom cleaner, before Apparating to Reading, where he spent a quarter hour looking pensively at random graves, before Apparating to Bournemouth, where he walked and stretched and checked the wind and limbered up as one might if one were contemplating an afternoon on a broom, and when he had been doing this for half an hour and attracted no attention beyond an Muggle walking his dog and commenting that it was nice to see a young person getting a spot of exercise despite the bad weather, he decided to risk it and Apparated to Penzance.
Pansy was in a dress shop when Draco found her. She was holding a plunging evening dress up against her in a mirror, but when Draco rolled his eyes, she showed him a dressing room full of demure skirts and jackets that she had previously selected.
“I thought I’d try on one nice thing,” she said. “Given I was still waiting for you. But now you’re here, I’ll pop it back.”
Draco shook his head. “Don’t be silly, Pans. Try it on. We’ve got time.” And he laughed at her cheeky grin and decided that he would come back and buy it for her, because she would need something to make her happy, wherever she ended up.
As it was, they bought her a plain tweed skirt and sensible shirt, with an oilskin jacket to pop over them both and knickers and tights for underneath. They were last season’s styles, from the sale rack, so there was money left over, even though Pansy had also had a good morning tea.
“I was nervous, so I ate cakes. It seemed like the best decision.”
“It was. Don’t fret about it.” Draco slipped an arm around her shoulders as they walked along the high street. The plastic of her shopping bags felt slippery in his right hand, but she was warm and tailored under his left. “In fact, we should have lunch.”
“We should get going,” Pansy corrected him. “I need to find somewhere to hide. Do you have a plan?”
“I do. Mother will be off buying you a fake passport this afternoon and I’m going to see my contact for more Muggle money. You’ll need to fill in a few hours, but then I’ll take you to London and get you onto the train to Paris. They’ll be doing what they can to monitor Portkeys and the Cross-Channel Conveyances, but they won’t be expecting us to use the Muggle routes. The worst we can expect is that they’ll have a list with names and photos, which we can get around.”
“Do you think they’ll be looking for me?” Pansy asked, and he could hear the effort she took to keep her voice level.
“They’re looking for dozens of people, so we’re best off keeping low-key. Thorfinn Rowle’s still out there. They’re keen to get their hands on him. And Walden Macnair, they have to be looking for him.”
“And Theodore Nott,” Pansy reminded him.
“We don’t know where Theo is. Anyway, he’s just wanted to answer a few questions,” Draco tried.
“Like me,” Pansy said, refusing to pretend. “Like Blaise. And he’s been there for eleven days. I should have gone with Millie when I had the chance.”
Draco didn’t say anything. They had both told Millicent that she was being ridiculous, scaremongering and playing to the worst political prejudices. She had left anyway. And when they had taken Blaise in, he and Pansy had told each other that it really was just for questioning this time, and he had even managed to see him on day two, and he was well and in good spirits, and then he was ‘unavailable’, and people in the Ministry changed the topic quickly.
“Do you think I should buy a headscarf?” Pansy asked. “Cover up my hair. I could wear one of those wrap-around ones the Muslim ladies wear, though I’d need a longer skirt or trousers.”
“I was thinking Polyjuice,” Draco replied. “Someone about your size so you don’t have to worry about changing clothes. And if we find someone with your hair colour, it won’t matter if you change back on the train, because the other passengers will only have a vague idea what you look like, anyway. We can put a temporary charm on your passport photo, which will wear off at the same rate as the Polyjuice. Or you could go to Brussels if you prefer.”
“Paris. Better range of options for the next leg. I was thinking Spain, or maybe Switzerland – possibly Buenos Aires. And Polyjuice is a good idea. There are lots of brunettes about my size. Have you been brewing in advance?”
Draco wasn’t sure what to tell her. That he had put an escape plan in place even before Voldemort lost? That he some days felt so ill at ease in his own skin that he would happily exchange it for anyone else’s, if only to escape the looks of pity and contempt – sometimes mingled – for an afternoon?
He lied. “I was worried after the war, that my friends wouldn’t be safe. Once they finished arresting Snatchers and started arresting relatives and friends, I stepped up production. I was too slow to help Theo or Blaise, but I haven’t made the same mistake with you.”
And she snuggled against his side and wrapped her arm around his waist. He kissed the top of her head. He might not see her again for years after today. The thought flooded him with a mix of loss and nostalgic affection. He started talking before he began thinking, “You could go tomorrow. We could stay here tonight, there are plenty of hotels.”
Pansy stopped walking at that, but quickly replaced her surprised face with an amused one and grinned up at him. “I’d have taken you up on that a few years ago. Was dying to, at the time. Now I’m reasonably convinced that your half-hearted snogging was symptomatic of half-hearted heterosexuality.”
“And while I do love you and your pretty, pointy face, I’d hate to redefine our friendship with bad sex at this point.”
“It might be fabulous,” Draco insisted.
“I’m sure you’d be a tiger,” Pansy winked, “but the whole time I’d be wondering if you were thinking of Theodore.”
“I never even snogged him!” Draco laughed.
“Three photos of him in your notebook,” she reminded him.
“It was a boyish infatuation,” he said, trying not to laugh any more.
“It was a sign,” Pansy corrected him, and Draco gave in.
He folded her in his arms. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“I’m not dying. I’m only going to Zurich. Or Buenos Aires. It will be fine, if a bit dull. No-one ever dies of boredom, they just say that.” And for all that she kept her voice light and teasing, there were tears in her eyes when she stepped back. “So. This Muggle money you’re obtaining on my behalf. You’re not robbing a bank, are you?”
“Perfectly legal methods,” Draco assured her.
“All right then. Let’s go down to the water and get something to eat. Then I’ll buy something to read and sit around looking poetic until you return and we stick one up the bloody Ministry.”
And Draco rested his forehead on hers for a moment and did as she suggested. He even let Pansy choose where they lunched, and ate the greasy fish and chips she ordered for him. She smiled when he promised to be back in less than two hours, and told him she wouldn’t panic until it had passed three.
Obtaining Muggle money legally was surprisingly simple once you understood that non-magical artefacts could be sold on the open market if they had a provenance, and to ‘specialist purveyors’ for slightly smaller sums if they did not. Mother had agreed that they had no need for a good many things that littered their home, so Draco spent the early afternoon liberating a particularly ugly trio of Meissen parrots, for what he suspected was at best half their actual value, despite the bill of sale to his Grandfather Abraxas, dated 1937. Still, it netted him £2500 and that was more than enough for ready cash.
What had shocked him, when they first began hoarding pounds, was how many of their possessions passed without comment in the Muggle world. Draco knew that many witches and wizards had achieved fame and been mistaken for Muggles through the centuries, but he was almost afraid to try and uncover whether that was the case in these instances, or whether his family had actually amassed a collection of genuinely Muggle items, valuing them even as they insisted their creators lacked value.
He most certainly did not ask his mother, who was waiting for him at home. “Everything all right, Draco?” she asked.
“Fine, thanks, Mother.”
“Marvellous. I picked up that book you were looking for while I was out today. On the green table in the hall, wrapped in red paper.”
He kissed her cheek. “You’re a treasure. Are you and Father in for the rest of the day?”
“I think so. You?”
“One more errand, off to see if I can make a deal on a vintage broom – it’s a 1926 Stickleberry Flyer, allegedly with the original bristles, which would make the asking price very attractive.”
“Promise me you won’t take off on a big flight,” Narcissa said, frowning subtext.
“The smallest of jaunts, and only if it’s safe,” Draco replied, honestly. “I’ll be home to eat with you.”
“Off you go then.” She hugged him briefly and he took a deep breath of her violet fragrance, as he did every time they said goodbye, in case he would need memories later.
The parcel was waiting for him, as she had said. He dashed upstairs and collected a few vials of potion from his room, then reached into the back of his wardrobe and withdrew a Muggle coat he had folded away under a pile of boots. A quick run through his mental checklist assured him he had not forgotten anything, and it was back to Penzance. By way of Teddington, Canterbury and Lewes.
Pansy was waiting for him, sitting under a graffitied brick shelter down by the sea and reading a Muggle magazine. She smiled as she saw him, relief and affection shifting the look of habitual ennui from her face.
“What on earth are you reading, Pans?” he asked as he sat beside her.
“I genuinely have no idea,” she answered. “These people seem to write about other people who wear dresses and have boyfriends. I had no idea being a Muggle was so easy, I could do it standing on my head.”
Draco flicked through a few pages. “I think these are the Celestina Warbecks of the Muggle world.”
Pansy looked over his shoulder. “You’re probably right. Shame, I quite like that frock, and thought those ones were hilarious. So. Are we off?”
Draco nodded. He pulled Pansy’s passport out of his pocket, along with her train ticket and a wallet full of cash, and one of the vials. “I’ve spelled it to change your name, it will revert when you tell it to. There’s a credit card in the holder, too, and one for a cashpoint. You’ll need to find a machine with this symbol, but I’m told they’re reasonably common. I’ve changed the names on them just like on your passport. You sign for the credit card – sign here on the back tomorrow when it goes back – and you punch in a number for the cashpoint one. I used my birthday. I went with Pandora Packer, so you’ll be likely to answer. Should be enough to fool any Muggle machines that might be looking for you.”
“Surely the Ministry won’t have …”
“I don’t know.” Draco shrugged. “I know they have links with the Muggle legal system, I don’t know what’s considered important enough to take advantage of them. Anyway, let’s find someone likely that we can pinch a hair from.”
Pansy grinned. “I am way ahead of you.” She produced a folded handkerchief, containing one black hair. “Was chatting with a shopgirl about my size and she thought I was ever so sweet for plucking it off her shoulder. Said she was a terrible moulter and it was so embarrassing. She ended up giving me a ten per cent discount on a lipstick, it was a fabulous bonding experience. I’m so very good at this hiding in plain sight thing.”
“You’re a genius,” Draco agreed, taking the hair. He dropped it into the vial, in which the brown liquid turned a pretty shade of rose, stoppered it, and passed it to her. “Give that a good shake.”
He took another, smaller, vial of liquid from his pocket, followed by one containing a single pale hair. He added the latter to the former, and shook it until its liquid was a uniform sky blue. “Right,” he said. “Let’s go find somewhere quiet, swallow these down and be on our way.”
Pansy smiled bravely. “Let’s.” She stood up and picked up a soft canvas bag that was stuffed rather full. “I popped into a few more charity shops,” she admitted, catching his glance. “You can get a lot for not very much!”
“Very sensible,” Draco told her. “You’ll look very authentic to the passport people.”
“I even bought a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo. And a lipstick. Because if I were a Muggle, I’d need them, according to someone called Liz Hurley and her Top Travel Packing Tips. Apparently I also need a sarong, but I have no idea what that is, so bugger it.”
Draco put an arm around her shoulders. She was really going. “You’re going to do brilliantly,” he said, rather than I’ll miss you. Take me with you.
“Will the passport people ask me why I’m going to Paris?” she asked.
“They might,” he answered, unwilling to admit that he had no idea.
“I’ll say to see the museums. And I know they have forms to fill in, so I’ll just read them carefully to make sure I do and say the right thing.”
“That’s my Pans. It’s a new passport, so you can just say this is your first trip.”
She nodded. They were in a quiet little street now, with a dark gap between buildings that was a perfect Apparation point. Without talking, they unstoppered their vials and drank down the contents. Draco’s tasted oddly like mint tea.
“Right,” said Draco, looking away so that he would not see Pansy’s face shift before him, aware he should have taken one last good look before it did. “Right. That’s that. Give me your vial, I’ll take them home. Hold on to my arm. Are you OK? Right then –” he took a deep breath – “Off to Waterloo.”
They appeared under a tree in a grove to the north of St Thomas’s Hospital, deep in shadow, where any young couple might have ducked for a moment of private passion. Draco was holding Pansy so tightly that any Muggle looking would have looked away politely, perhaps with an indulgent smile.
“Give me your bag,” he said. “I can at least be a gentleman until we have to part.”
She smiled up at him and handed it over. “I quite like this face,” she said. “I see what you mean about choosing people like us, I can wholly believe that’s your body.”
“He’s a dancer in a modern Belgian company that I met in a bar,” Draco confessed.
“Slumming it with the Muggles?”
“Hiding with the Muggles. And this one was very handsome and bought me two drinks in an attempt to weaken my virtue.”
Pansy grinned. “Did it work?”
“It would have, if I had any virtue to weaken.”
“Do I look as pretty as you do?”
“Prettier,” Draco said with conviction. “Come on, you’re booked on the six o’clock and you have to get through the gates.”
He led the way up York Street, past the triumphant arch of Waterloo and into the arched glass extravagance of the international station. Muggles bustled past on all sides, all blissfully unconcerned with two disguised young people in their midst. Draco’s spirits began to lift. He would see Pansy safely off, then head home, having stopped to pay a ridiculous price for an antique broom. She would write to the post office box no one knew he had a key to, and he would find her in her safe new home, where he could flee once everyone was away from danger and they could … Could wait, hoping that one day things would change enough that they could come home.
He straightened his shoulders. Bugger the lot of them. If that’s what it took, then he would move to Buenos Aires or Zurich and be done with it.
Pansy’s grip on his hand tightened. “We go through there, where it says Departures, don’t we?”
“You do. I kiss you and wave goodbye. We’re in the right place. And we’re in good time. Don’t fret.”
“I’m not fretting, I’m being on time.”
And they both began to laugh at that, because in all probability it was the first time Pansy had been on time for anything in her life.
It was the laughter that nearly saved them. They had reached the queue for immigration and looked so at ease that the two Muggle-clothed Aurors patrolling the line walked straight past them, even as Draco recognised them for what they were, the tall one had been interrogating him only a few hours ago. Pansy followed his momentarily shocked gaze and stiffened.
“Don’t look,” Draco whispered.
“What do we do?” She didn’t move her lips.
“Wait. Stay in line. Hope for the best.”
“I want to run.”
Draco did, too, but for all that there were plenty of Muggles about, they were mostly queuing in an orderly fashion and there were plenty of uniformed men walking around among them. He was fairly certain that running would not be the right thing to do.
“They’re looking for us, we don’t look like us. We’ll be fine,” he said, with more conviction than he felt.
And then one of the Aurors surreptitiously drew out his wand, and Draco knew that he would have a spell to reveal other wands in the vicinity – because it’s what he would have done in his place – and he was torn between simply Disapparating them both and running off alone, so that Pansy could escape to safety, and before he could make up his mind, a hand closed around his elbow and a voice said “The newsstand? You’ve walked straight past it, sir. I’m headed that way myself, let me show you.” And when he turned around, the voice belonged to Harry Potter, who had a tight grip on his arm.
Draco hesitated for a moment.
“I know it’s you, Malfoy, which means this is Parkinson and you have about ten seconds to trust me before Williamson finds out who you are,” Potter said without moving his lips.
Before Draco could protest, Pansy gave a terse nod. “Thank you so much, I was going to go mad with boredom, and I do want to see what Liz Hurley is wearing this week,” she said loudly.
Potter led them both away, muttering that he was helping some lost Muggles and would be five minutes as he passed his fellow Aurors.
Draco made an effort. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
“You’re wearing Dragonskin boots,” Potter said, quietly. “Everything else is very good, especially the coat. And Pansy’s outfit is perfect. Exactly right. But I know those boots. I’ve seen you wearing them in the Ministry.”
“What are we trusting you to do, Potter?” Pansy asked.
“Get you out of here undetected.”
“I have a ticket for the train, and a passport,” she said, evenly.
“No good. MLE are convinced Death Eaters are using Muggle transport to leave the country. The trains, ferries and planes are all under surveillance.”
“I’m not a bloody Death Eater.” And her voice cracked a little there, though she kept her face still.
“I know,” Potter said and he walked a little faster.
“So where are you taking us?” Draco asked.
“WH Smith. After that, you can go wherever you like. But if you want me to help you, you’ll go to my house at Grimmauld Place. Do you know where it is?”
Draco nodded slightly. “I’ve been there before, when I was little.”
Potter scribbled on a piece of paper as they walked. He passed it to Draco. “Here, this will get you in. The password is ‘Augusta Longbottom’s Hat’.”
“And what do we do there?” Pansy asked.
“Wait. I won’t be long.”
“How are you going to explain us not coming back to the queue?”
“If anyone notices, I’ll tell them you were tourists and thought this was the train to Basingstoke.”
Draco couldn’t stop himself. “Why are you helping us?”
Pansy answered for him. “It’s what he does, isn’t it? Don’t question, Draco, let’s buy a magazine, look lost and get out of here.”
“Sensible, Parkinson.” They were standing outside WH Smith now. “I have to go straight back, but I’ll leave here as soon as I can. There are a lot of us who don’t agree with what’s been going on, and we’ve started to put some plans in place. You’ll be safe.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Malfoy, you should drop Pansy off and then wait for me at the Ministry. You should be seen alone as much as you can today. We can come up with some rational reason why you’d be following me home later.”
“I can go to your house alone,” Pansy said.
And Draco was surprised to see a faint smile cross Potter’s face. “Best to take Malfoy with you. Hermione’s there, and she hates him less than she hates you.”
He was gone with that, walking back quickly to his two underlings who were still haunting the queue in the distance. He walked with that particular Auror stride, so that Draco could see where the red robe would be furling, despite the actual jeans and jumper.
“Do you have any change?” Pansy asked him. “I’ve spent most of mine, and I don’t want to pull out the bundle of notes you gave me.”
He looked down at her, confused.
“I’m buying magazines. If I’m going to be stuck sitting with Granger all afternoon, I’m going to need as many stupid dresses to laugh at as possible.”
Draco handed money over without looking at it. “Do you think he was telling the truth?” he asked.
“Definitely. Granger hates you on principle, she hates me personally.”
“About being safe.”
“He got us away from those Aurors.” She snatched up a selection of titles, most with exclamation marks involved and shuffled them over to the counter to pay. “And it’s not as if we have a lot of choice. I’m going to put my hope in him playing true to type and being revoltingly righteous about the whole thing. Right, I’m done. Are we going?”
Despite the attractiveness of Apparating to Inverness and finding a nice, quiet croft, Draco nodded. “We’re going.” He walked them back towards the domestic part of the station and then through the first exit, looking for a dark spot unpenetrated by CCTV. There he opened the fold of paper in his hand, read “Number 12 Grimmauld Place”, took Pansy’s arm and Apparated.
From the outside, the house was as he remembered it. A tall terrace, somewhat grim in demeanour and with severely outmoded window treatments. But the exterior stairs had been swept and there was, of all things, a potted ficus standing beside the door.
“Should we knock?” Pansy asked.
Draco thought for a moment. “I think we should just go in. If Potter’s let us in on the secret, that should be enough to get through the door.”
“Augusta Longbottom’s hat,” Pansy announced.
She shrugged, and twisted the doorknob. This more prosaic approach worked, and they both stepped inside.
“That was easy,” Draco said, grinning. “When do you think we say the …”
His tongue stilled. Dust gathered from the corners of the hallway, assembling into a form that was wretchedly familiar to Draco. He knew it from the first lines of the eyes, and then the whole face cohered, and a hand pointed an accusatory finger, and the mouth opened …
“Augusta Longbottom’s hat!” Pansy shouted.
The form of Albus Dumbledore dropped from the air. Behind it, a more tangible figure appeared.
She was holding a wand and pointing it at them.
“Knowing the password grants you five seconds to explain who the hell you are,” Granger said.
“Draco Malfoy,” Draco replied quickly.
She lowered the wand a little.
“Malfoy. And that’s?”
“Parkinson,” Pansy supplied. “Potter told us to come here.”
Granger looked anything but pleased.
“Polyjuice?” she asked. “Bloody hell. Harry could have let me know, I can’t even confirm it’s you.”
“You slapped me in the face once,” Draco offered.
“And I slipped a vial of stinking potion into your bag in second year,” Pansy added, Draco wasn’t sure that helped.
The wand dropped a fraction more.
“Are you both staying?” “Potter told me to go back to the Ministry …” Draco began.
“I’ll just …”
“Go.” Granger’s voice made the command clear.
Draco turned to Pansy, who smiled bravely at him. “I’ll be fine,” she said. He squeezed her hand
“I’ll be back.”
And since there was nothing else to do, he ducked out the door, checked the road in both directions, and was about to Apparate to the Ministry when he remembered that he still had the wrong face on. In the end, he had walked a reasonable part of the way there before he caught a glimpse in a shop window and saw his own familiar pointy chin.
Potter took his time returning to the Ministry.
Draco followed instructions and went straight to the Auror Department, where he was left to sit on a hard bench outside Potter’s office. One of the junior Aurors took pity and brought him a cup of tea and a copy of the Which Broom racing bristles special.
And most of the senior Aurors were out patrolling airports and railway stations, which meant that those remaining were his age, or only a little older, so there was only one glare and even that came with a countering mutter of ‘Let it go, he’s not worth making a fuss about’ from behind the open-plan desks nearby.
Draco wasn’t reassured.
He had spent too much time here in the first weeks after the war, telling the same stories again and again. He had done what he could without lying to protect people. Gregory had always been beyond his help.
Every time he had been asked to come in, his Mother had looked as though he was being taken to execution. Every time he came home, it had felt like a reprieve.
And then Potter’s letters in the Prophet had come like an indulgence, absolving all sins, and the next time the Aurors had had questions, they had sent a letter to the manor, asking for an appointment, and arrived with apologies and courtesy.
It occurred to him that he had just voluntarily delivered himself into Auror custody. And Pansy into Granger’s, which was possibly worse.
After forty minutes, he was about to run back to Grimmauld Place and see if he could break out Pansy, when the main doors slammed open and Potter walked in.
“Malfoy!” he exclaimed. “So pleased you could make it. Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m sure you’re brimming with ideas for our project. In my office, shall we?”
Draco looked at him blankly. Only Potter could be conjuring up fresh hells at a moment like this.
“Malfoy? Office? Meeting? Sorry I kept you waiting.”
There was a final second when he could have fled, but Draco nodded instead. “It’s all right. Auror Armitage was very kind.”
The young Auror who had brought him tea offered a conspiratorial wink, and Draco favoured her with a half-smile as he followed Potter through the door. Potter shut it behind them and quickly muttered “Muffliato.”
Draco didn’t wait for Harry to start talking. “What the hell is going on, Potter? I had a lovely simple day planned, starting with a nice breakfast and then your red-robed bastards came barrelling up Pansy’s front path and how the hell did you know we were catching a train? How do you ruin everything I touch, every time?
Potter stayed calm. “Did Pansy get to my house safely?”
“Yes, she’s with Granger.”
“Good. Did you go into the house?”
“Just the entrance hall.”
Potter walked over to his desk and sat down. “Nothing. You’ll see when we go back there.”
Draco dropped onto the chair opposite him. “Just tell me.”
“What were you doing at Waterloo?” Potter didn’t answer him.
Potter rolled his eyes very slightly, but enough for Draco to see. “I meant, why were you waiting for a Muggle train?”
“Because I didn’t think your lot would think my lot would catch a train.”
Potter shook his head. “Sorry,” he said.
“Why are you sorry?” Draco snapped. It wasn’t bad enough that Potter had pulled him out of the fire again – less literally this time – now he was being polite about it.
“Searching the train queues was my idea. I thought Pansy was most likely to be with you, and assumed you’d either try to hide her in England or else use a magical means of transport to get her out. I was trying to keep my lot busy without getting in your way.”
“I knew it! You have a unique habit of riding roughshod over me every time you decide to save the day. And every single time the universe bends over backwards to work out for you while fucking me over. Never mind that my plans involve thinking while yours involve luck and half-arsedry.”
“I really didn’t think you’d choose Muggle.”
“I’ve learned that the Muggle world is very useful for not … for not being the Wizarding world.”
Potter smiled at that, and it was an understanding smile, which lessened Draco’s anger a little.
“It would have worked,” Draco said.
“It would have,” Potter agreed. “I’m sorry I fouled things up for you. But I do have a plan that should keep her safe here.”
“Of course you do. Merlin forbid we do anything that doesn’t revolve around you, Potter. What’s your plan, then? Are we deposing Percy Weasley as head of MLE and sending him on a one-way trip to Ulan Bator? Because that’s what it’s going to take.”
Potter looked as surprised by Draco’s bitterness as Draco was. But they hadn’t needed his help, and him trying to help had buggered everything, and Draco was a bit too bloody tired after spending the last eight hours with his heart in his mouth to be fair about this sort of thing right now.
A sharp knock on the door made them both jump, and Potter swore as he lifted the muffling charm. “Come in,” he called out.
Speak of the devil, and he will appear, thought Draco, as Percy Weasley strode in. He frowned for a second, then his eyes slid over Draco and he addressed himself to Potter.
“Glad I caught you, Harry,” he said. “Any progress on that case from this morning?”
“Pansy Parkinson?” Draco interjected.
Weasley ignored him.
“No further developments, Percy,” Potter replied, also ignoring Draco, but less maliciously, Draco thought. “Either she’s gone away for a bit and will turn up eventually, or she’s taken flight at the sight of us.”
“I told you she was guilty,” Weasley said. “Innocent people don’t run.”
“Yes they do,” said Potter, before Draco could get his voice to move past his outrage. “They run all the time if they’re frightened, and we are frightening. She’s not a threat, Percy, she’s not even a source of information about actual threats. You know I disagree with this policy and I don’t see the benefit in it.”
Weasley’s face took on the benevolent smile of a politician, despot or lunatic – and Draco was happy to mark him down as all three. “Harry, I know, but it’s for the benefit of everyone that they see justice being done. There were too many combatants left at liberty after the war. There is a strong will amongst the people that those who caused all this damage be made to pay.”
“Parkinson didn’t cause any damage, she was a frightened schoolgirl,” Potter pointed out, and it didn’t sound as though it was for the first time.
“She tried to hand you over to Voldemort.”
“Not even that. She was all for someone else doing it if it meant she never had to have anything to do with Voldemort, ever.”
“But that’s not what the people believe, Harry.”
Which was true enough at the moment. The last few issues of the Prophet had featured Rita Skeeter’s series on The War Criminals Amongst Us. And for all that she had featured Thorfinn Rowle and Walden Macnair, she had liberally slandered at least two dozen other names, including Draco’s classmates. And then, to add a squeeze of acid to the wound, she’d made a point of praising Horace Slughorn, and Narcissa and Draco Malfoy, who had all provided such sterling examples of how past mistakes could be overcome.
“And I cannot blame them for wanting stability and certainty, which is why my department will continue to hunt down these vestiges of the enemy until Wizarding Britain is safe. I expect you to deploy your Aurors accordingly until Robards returns, Harry.”
Weasley was still smiling his supercilious smile, though it slipped as Potter didn’t answer immediately. “Harry?”
“You’re the Head of Magical Law Enforcement and the Auror Department reports to you,” Harry said, evenly. “We uphold the law, Percy, even when we don’t agree with it.”
“Good. Good. Well, I hope you have a result soon, then.” He turned to leave, and let his gaze fall on Draco for the first time. “Mr Malfoy. Good afternoon to you,” he said, and walked briskly out through the door.
Potter got up from his desk and closed the door again, reinstating the muffling charm as he did. He flopped down into his chair and ran his hands through his hair, restoring the disorder there that Draco was used to. That was less strange, Draco thought. Well-groomed Potter was entirely wrong.
“Ulan Bator,” Draco repeated.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Yes it is. He’ll be coming for me next.”
“No he won’t.”
“Yes he will. The man can barely stand to look at me.”
Potter shook his head. “He’s too clever to get rid of you. While your family is free, he can point to you as proof that there is no policy of profiling, and say that every case is judged on its merits.”
Draco considered this. Sadly, Potter appeared to be right. “But he does hate me.”
“Oh yes. He hates you.”
“Because of his brother.”
“Because of himself,” Potter corrected. “Remember, Percy stayed with the Ministry through most of the war. He didn’t support the Muggleborn Registration Committee, but he didn’t quit in protest, either. Half of this is about him seeing Death Eaters behind every corner, the other half is about him taking the firm stance that he should have taken years ago.”
“Yeah, well that might have been fair enough when he was rounding up Snatchers, even though some of them were just stupid kids, and maybe even the Ministry people he’s brought in. But Pansy? And Blaise and Theo? I’m not going to feel any sympathy for him.”
“I’m not asking you to, I’m asking you to see that there is an explanation for his actions. Knowing what motivates people like him gives us strength.”
“Strength to remove him, so that people like him aren’t running Ministry policy,” Draco insisted.
And Draco let his breath out at that, because he hadn’t really dared hope that Potter would be up for another revolution barely two years since the last one.
“All right, then. So, you have a plan.”
Potter raised his eyebrows at Draco’s conciliatory tone, but didn’t comment on it. “I do. And it will all be quickly explained back at Grimmauld Place. So now all I need is a reason for you coming home with me.”
Draco couldn’t help it. He began to laugh.
Potter frowned. “What’s so …?”
“It’s just the absurdity of it all,” Draco managed to get out. He took a deep breath and tried to still the humour that was bubbling up through his chest before Potter wrote him off as hysterical. “We spend years at each other’s throats, and now it’s all ‘Oh, Potter, would you be able to give a little help to this rather serious problem?’ ‘Why certainly, Malfoy, let us discuss it over tea at my abode.’ Seriously, can you imagine us sitting here three or four years ago?”
“Merlin, no,” Potter said, trying very hard not to smile. Draco liked him a bit for that. “But neither of us was at our best when we were sixteen.”
“You were hideous,” Draco agreed.
“So were you. But we were both being lied to in fairly extreme circumstances, so I don’t think we should judge ourselves too harshly.”
Draco sobered up entirely. “That’s why Pansy trusts you. I suppose, if I’m being honest, it’s why I trust you, too. Because you’re basically a better person than Percy Weasley.”
Potter looked away, shaking his head. “Not better,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more reconciled to my past mistakes.”
“Fine. You’re slightly less appalling than Percy Weasley.”
“Flatterer. Anyway, this isn’t helping us to solve the immediate problem. There has to be some rational reason why you and I would seek out each other’s company.”
“Duelling club,” Draco suggested. “We let them know Granger’s there to ship the loser of to St Mungo’s.”
“They’d arrest me before I could legally kill you,” Potter said, sounding regretful.
Draco didn’t want to ask which part of that he regretted, and besides, he had just had the perfect idea.
“You still have my wand.”
Potter blinked slowly.
Draco wondered whether he had presumed too much.
“I meant to give that back to you,” Potter said. “I really did. I just … never actually did it.”
He looked so uncomfortable that Draco began to apologise. “Forget about it, Potter. Obviously you’ve been very busy and I hadn’t really given the matter much thought before now.”
“That’s surprisingly kind of you, but I had given it thought and just failed to follow through on it. Which is a bit rubbish of me, really, I know what it’s like to lose your wand. Did you end up buying a new one?”
“No.” Draco thought about the last weeks of the war when he had blamed his mother’s wand for everything that had not quite worked. And then as soon as the war was over, it had been perfect. Every bit as good as his own, but somehow warmer and more concerned for him – the only time it had failed him was when he decided that he may as well brew up that hemlock potion. He had been wrong when he had thought it didn’t understand him. Like his mother, it had understood him better than he had understood himself.
“No, I still have my mother’s, and she’s still using her old student one. She says it’s friendly and reminds her of evenings spent brewing cocoa.”
“It’s very hard to imagine your mother brewing cocoa.”
“All right. Well, I think anyone would agree that your wand is a perfectly valid reason to come to my house. Just try not to annoy my house-elf while you’re there, and if any of the portraits start asking you to kill me, do your best to ignore them.”
“Is that likely to happen?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“All right. When should we go?”
Potter looked at his watch. “Now would be fine.”
“Any reason why not?”
And since Draco couldn’t say that walking out of the Ministry with Harry Potter to head off on a casual visit was a concept he felt should require if not a little getting used to then at least a stiff drink beforehand, he stood up instead. “None at all. Off we go. Should I mention the wand as we walk outside so your minions don’t worry I’ve Imperiused you or that you’re holding me under threat?”
“Not a bad idea.”
Draco lost count of the number of times he said “Wand” on the way out of the Ministry. He may have come across as a trifle deranged, but at least the surprised looks that preceded the pair of them quickly disappeared. And Potter kept a straight face all the way through the lobby, which was more than Draco had expected. They stepped into the Floo and emerged a stretched and smoky moment later in the fireplace of a large drawing room filled with bright light and people drinking tea.
“Draco!” Pansy leapt up from one of the sofas and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
“Perfectly fine. Tea, and reading what Granger informs me are trashy fash mags.”
Draco had no idea what she was talking about, so he hugged her again.
“Hello, Malfoy,” said a voice from behind them.
Draco looked over Pansy’s head. “Theo!” He pushed past Pansy and went to embrace Nott, too, but lowered the setting of his smile and settled for a handshake and manly shoulder slapping when Nott took a half-step backwards.
“Steady on,” said Nott. “I’ve just been hiding out for a few days, not gone for years.”
“We were worried about you. You disappeared. We didn’t know where you were, how you were …”
“He’s been here,” Potter said. “Sit down, we’ll explain it all.”
Draco looked around. There were no other old friends of his lurking in the corners, but there was Granger and Ron Weasley, as well as Lovegood and Longbottom. Luna smiled and waved at him, Longbottom looked patient, while Weasley and Granger looked as though they had agreed they would try their best.
“Here,” said Pansy. “Sit with me and drink this tea and listen. It’s all really rather clever.”
Granger began the story. “When I started work with the Ministry, I was keen on Magical Law Enforcement. So I went to talk to Percy and see what he had available. He’d just taken over the Department then and was happy to chat with me about all of his plans. I kept a smile on my face, nodded a lot, frowned a few times and asked him if he was sure that was the wisest policy, then ran away as fast as I could and took up a job in Magical Creatures.”
“Where you immediately repealed the Pureblood distinction laws,” Nott commented.
“Exactly. Hired two werewolves the first month. I also let Harry know what Percy was planning. We kept it to ourselves at first, because we didn’t want to believe he’d get anywhere with it. The first anniversary of the War had just happened, and there was a public mood for healing and moving on.”
“Most of the public,” Weasley interjected.
Draco was trying to keep up. “You mean you started all this … whatever it is you lot have been doing?”
“I was the one who raised the issue of what was happening, then everyone else came on board to help solve the actual problem as it emerged,” Granger corrected him.
Draco nodded. It was an improvement, he didn’t mind being out-thought by Granger half so much as by Potter.
“But then the Aurors still hadn’t caught Rowle or Macnair,” Longbottom added. “And the Prophet started asking why not.”
“And Kingsley wanted to give us free rein to pursue them both,” Potter took up the story. “But he was voted down by most of the Department Heads, at Budget, and rather than give us the funds we needed to get that job done, they decided the public needed a distraction. Goyle had the very bad luck to have his final appeal being held just as all of this was coming to a head.”
Draco bit his lip. He could still remember Gregory shouting Malfoy, do something! as the sentence of ten years was read out. “He was an active combatant. Theo, Pansy and Blaise weren’t,” he said, as evenly as he could.
“Exactly. And at first, all of the people they sent us after were more or less active participants. Snatchers, Death Eater hangers-on, the men who shipped those Giants into Britain. But we started to ask questions when the order came in for Albert Runcorn. He was a prize twat, but that was just him, he wasn’t Voldemort’s prize twat. And for all that we brought him in, we couldn’t see how he was in the same category as Mulciber, despite what his arrest warrant said. Neither was Mrs Goyle. So when Percy gave us orders to arrest her, Robards knocked on the front door and politely asked her if she would mind accompanying us to the Ministry and did nothing when she Apparated away.”
“Which is why he’s been on sick leave for three months?” Draco guessed.
Potter nodded. “Percy used the opportunity provided by the public support for Goyle’s sentence to argue that many of the so-called low-level Death Eaters had been allowed to get away with their alleged war crimes.”
“Except that he didn’t say alleged, and he made it clear that his use of ‘so-called’ was ironic,” Granger muttered.
“True. Anyway, we all know what happened after that, and it’s been escalating stupidity since then. Ron was able to get to Nott before I had to lead my team in, and we’ve had him sitting here for the last few weeks waiting for a safe house to be ready. I instructed my Aurors to come in through the front door at Pansy’s this morning, thinking she’d notice and expecting her to run to you, Malfoy, but I had a backup plan to get her out of the Ministry if that didn’t work.”
“And Blaise?” Draco asked, hoping.
“Already out. He made an unprecedented ‘escape’ last week, we’ve kept it out of the papers so far.”
“So he’s fine?”
“You could have said something,” Draco snapped, trying to keep a hold on his temper. “I was frantic down at the cells. They made it sound as though something appalling had happened and they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Potter said. “It genuinely didn’t occur to me that you’d be that worried.”
“No, of course not. He’s only one of my best friends, dragged out of his house without warning and suddenly lost to sight, like so many others. Why on earth would that worry me? It’s not as though I’m a person with feelings.”
Pansy’s hand stole into his, and Draco fell silent. He was perversely pleased to see the guilt on the others’ faces.
“I really am sorry,” Potter said. “I should have thought. We could have found a way to get a message to you if we’d tried. He is safe, though. He’s hiding with one of Finch-Fletchley’s cousins up North.”
“Don’t sound so surprised, you and Pansy went straight to the Muggle world today and did very well.”
“It wasn’t his first time,” Pansy said.
Every set of eyes settled on Draco, Theo’s under particularly sceptical eyebrows. “If you were me, you might want to get away from everything occasionally, too,” Draco said, keeping his chin high.
“Good thinking,” said Weasley, unexpectedly. “There’s millions of them, and the Aurors are really restricted in what they can do when it’s all Muggles about. You can blend in easily, too. Surprised you thought of it, though.”
“So was I,” Draco admitted.
“Right.” Potter drew in a breath. “So, the short version of everything is, there are a number of us working to protect the more innocent victims of Percy’s campaign, most of the old Dumbledore’s Army. And, of necessity, you’re now one of us.”
“Just like that?”
“Well, it’s not as though we had any choice about involving you at this point, and you’re obviously not going to run off and betray any of us, since that’s entirely against your own self-interest.”
“And I would never act against that.”
Potter had the grace to look down. “That’s not what I meant. I mean that we have a common cause this time. So welcome to the team.”
“Thank you for the tea,” Draco said, with a small, polite smile for all the old Gryffindors in the room.
“You’ll never guess where they’re hiding me,” Pansy said, moving to lighten the tone.
“Really,” said Granger, with the edges of a sigh. “We can’t send her to Justin’s cousin, it’s a working farm and she’s …”
“No good at working,” Pansy supplied brightly.
“Yes. So my parents have said they’d help us if we needed it because they want to be involved this time, and it’s going to be simplest to have her stay there and pretend she’s one of my friends from university, where all my Muggle friends think I’m studying. It’s only the first weeks of term, where there’s a lot of skiving, so it shouldn’t be too suspicious. We were thinking about dyeing her hair in case anyone from our world sees her, though the only person who’s ever visited me at home who’s not in this room is Ginny, and she’s not likely to.”
“You live with your parents, Granger?” Draco asked, surprised.
“So do you.”
“I’m not criticising, it’s just, you’re so … witchy. You’re always researching or brewing something. And you’ve got Weasley following you around all the time, I just assumed the two of you …”
“My parents are very understanding,” Hermione said.
“And I have a flat in London,” Weasley added, which made more sense to Draco.
“I think I should go blonde,” Pansy said. Draco shook his head. “Purple?” she tried again.
“Red,” said Luna. “Not like Ron’s, like Harry’s robes. Really, thoroughly red. Maybe with blue stripes.”
Pansy nodded contemplatively. “I like it.”
“It’s not going to solve the problem,” Draco said.
“Of course it is, darling! I’ll spell it a bit longer, too. Everyone thinks of me with black, bobbed hair. Take that away and people will walk straight past.”
“You’re not the problem, Pans.” Draco smiled and squeezed her hand. “Weasley is.”
“Percy Weasley,” Longbottom clarified.
“Yes. Sorry … other Weasley.”
And Ron Weasley looked grim, but he nodded. “He didn’t take Fred’s death well,” he said. “He thinks he could have prevented a lot of what happened if he’d acted earlier. That’s what he thinks he’s doing, you know, acting early enough this time.”
Draco had no words for that.
“Kingsley should step in,” Longbottom said, a touch of anger creeping into his voice. “He’s lost control of the Ministry, MLE are running their own game.”
“The Aurors are doing what they can,” Potter insisted.
“He’s tired. He wasn’t expecting this and it’s caught him on the back foot,” Granger said, and she sounded tired, too.
“Last year everything looked as though it was all going to be all right, and now … Anyway, it’s not just the Ministry, the Prophet has lost the plot again, too. It’s like the bad old days.”
“I’m trying to get the Quibbler up and running regularly again,” Luna said into the quietness that followed Hermione’s words. “But it takes time. Even writing all the copy can’t be done quickly now that Dad’s still resting at St Mungo’s.”
“I can write,” Nott offered.
Draco looked around at the surprise on the ex-Gryffindor’s faces. “Theo won two essay prizes at school,” he pointed out.
“I remember,” Luna said. “The one on contemporary lessons from the Goblin Wars was really quite good.”
Nott smiled at her. “So if I’m going to be sitting around hiding somewhere, I could help you write articles for the Quibbler, just tell me what you want me to write about, and how many words.”
“Well, definitely a piece on the mistakes of the current policy regime, but possibly with a pen name, and then …”
“Hang on,” Longbottom said, loudly. “We’re moving off into trivia. We need a plan to discuss Percy with Shacklebolt, and we need to do it soon. If the Minister isn’t able to stop or remove him, then we will have to come up with a strategy that will.”
Draco couldn’t even pretend to be polite. “What are you suggesting, Longbottom? Assassination?”
“Political action,” Longbottom replied, evenly. “Move him out of Magical Law Enforcement and replace him with someone who won’t do as much harm. And divide up the department, it’s outrageous that the legal arm and the law enforcement arm have no distance between them.”
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Granger agreed.
“Oh, obviously,” said Draco. “And now you’ve been working in Creatures for a year they’re bound to be ready to hand over a major department to you.”
Granger opened her mouth to reply, as did Weasley, but Potter beat them both to it. “There’s no need for sarcasm. As it happens, we do have a lot of well-connected people in this room. Luna has her own magazine, which still has a decent subscriber base if we can just publish it more than once every few months. I’m Acting Head of my sub-department, and I know that Robards holds no love for Percy, so even when he comes back, I think we can count on his support. Kingsley knows Ron and Hermione, and everyone knows Neville. We can talk to people, influence their opinions, go about it all through the proper channels.”
“And Weasley won’t do a thing to stop you using the mechanisms of the Ministry or public opinion against him?” asked Pansy. “Draco’s right, we need to physically remove him.” She held up a hand to stop Ron’s outrage from being more than just a sharply indrawn breath. “Obviously killing him is taking it too far, but some sort of jinx or curse. Something with boils, perhaps. He wouldn’t be in the paper half so often with a face covered in boils.”
“He’s still my brother,” Ron protested. Then he frowned and added, “And besides, if we physically attack him, he’ll just feel he’s being martyred and play the public sympathy card. We need to shift public opinion away from him instead, and erode his power base.”
“Because that won’t hurt him at all.”
“Less than boils!”
“I don’t think so.”
And Draco knew that Pansy was right on this one, because she had come with him to visit Greg before his trial and she had heard the accusations of disloyalty and betrayal Greg had levelled at him, and even received a handful of her own.
“What do you think, Harry?” Weasley asked.
“I think I should start with speaking to Kingsley tomorrow,” Harry answered. “As far as we can, I think we need to keep this all a matter of policy. There’s room for some quiet revolution, but no one has any spirit for the other sort. That’s why Percy’s been able to get this far, everyone’s too tired for conflict.”
“I want to come with you,” Draco said. If there was any chance for him to convince Shacklebolt that he needed to step in, it would be with Potter there arguing the case beside him.
“That might be for the best.”
“He has to,” Weasley said. Draco looked at him in surprise, and he went on, “We need to foreground Malfoy as a functional part of the Ministry team from now on. All that reconciliation rubbish the two of you did for the media, you need to get back to that. Because unless we keep him close, Percy’s not above a spot of revisionism.”
“He needs Malfoy free,” Potter argued. “Otherwise it’s too obvious that he’s running a campaign rather than ‘upholding justice’.”
“I’m not sure how long he’ll care about the distinction,” Weasley said, but he shrugged, and let the matter drop.
A loud beep sounded from the vicinity of Granger’s feet. “Sorry,” she said, bending over and rummaging in a bag. She pulled out a grey and silver device, about the size of a small box of Bott’s Beans. She pressed a few buttons, then nodded. “SMS from Seamus,” she said to Theo. “He’s organised a flat over in Swansea, says you’ll be house-sitting for one of his cousins and he hopes you like dogs, because there’s one that needs walking.”
“Perfect,” said Nott. “What’s an SMS?”
“Like an owl for Muggles,” she replied, which surprised Draco, because she hadn’t had to pay the little box and it wasn’t pecking her.
“I should get going,” said Nott. “I’ll finish packing my things.” He headed out of the room, presumably to do just that.
“And we should head off to your place,” Pansy said to Granger. “I’m starving, and in need of a bath and a good night’s sleep.” She stood up and set about gathering her own bags.
“I’ll come with you,” Weasley told Granger, which made it easier for Draco to decide he wouldn’t.
“Behave yourself, Pans,” he said with a half-smile. “I’ll come and see you as soon as I can.”
She smiled back, then dragged him over to the mirror above the mantel and tapped her head with her wand, flooding the natural black of her hair with scarlet and blue, and lengthening and curling it for good measure. She frowned, and then adjusted the length. “How does it look?”
She hugged him briefly and kissed his cheek. “You take care, too, Draco. It won’t be long. Granger will bring you over on a visit. And you’ll have deposed Weasley before the week is out, so I’ll be home before Halloween.”
She looked back at him once as Weasley and Granger led her outside. He smiled brightly. It may not have been the rescue he’d hoped for, but it was a rescue nonetheless, and he did trust Weasley and Granger, for all that he didn’t like them.
Longbottom and Lovegood were chatting over on their sofa, which left him and Potter pointedly not talking to each other.
“She’ll be fine,” Potter said after a minute.
“I know.” Draco held his smile, to show that he appreciated that Potter was making an effort. Maybe he really was starting to like Potter a bit. That could be an interesting change to loathing or indebtedness.
“I’m sorry about Nott,” Potter said, quietly.
“What do you mean?”
Potter looked uncomfortable. “Just … I saw the look on your face when you saw him, and the way that he stepped back. And then how you looked when he did … I had no idea, but … I just wanted to say sorry.”
Draco decided that he didn’t like Potter after all. “I don’t know what you think you saw. I was just carried away in the moment, while Theo wasn’t. Nothing to build any epic personal theories on. Next you’ll be telling everyone I’m the Heir of Slytherin again.”
“You were telling everyone it was me!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You were the heir of a very bad hairstyle.”
And Potter grinned, which was a shame, because Draco had been working his way back to a perfectly good loathing.
“All right. I’m wrong, it was nothing, I’m not sorry.” Potter’s grin softened. “But if you want to get going before he comes back down, I’ll make your apologies.”
Draco shook his head. “I’ll say goodbye. And then I’ll head home, I’m shattered after today, I think I’ve Apparated across the country three or four times. You still haven’t given me my wand, you know.”
“Oh, bloody hell!”
And Draco laughed at that. “It’s all right. Are you taking Theo to Swansea? Why don’t I come back tomorrow morning and we can come up with a strategy for talking to the Minister.”
“I’ll have Kreacher make breakfast.”
Draco blinked. “Yes. Good idea. No poison?”
“No poison. Nott, you ready to go?”
“All set,” Theo declared from the doorway.
“We’ll see you to Swansea, and then Neville, Luna and I will see what we can do about properly repairing the printing press charms at Luna’s.”
“And I’ll get word to you about stories,” Luna said.
“Sounds good,” said Nott. He looked over at Draco and made a move that might have resulted in a vague guilty hug.
Draco patted him on the shoulder before it could become any more embarrassing. “Take care of yourself, Theo. I’ll make sure they keep you up to date with what’s going on.”
“Cheers, Draco. Right. Do I need a disguise?”
Longbottom threw an old hat at him. “Pull this down over your eyes. If they can’t see all your face, you’re just yet another tall man with brown hair that Harry knows, and I think there are about thirty of us.”
“Thanks, Neville. OK, let’s go.”
Later, as he ignored the house-elves’ pleas for him to get out of the kitchen and let them make his toast, Draco tried to decide on the best edit of the day’s events to report to his mother. In the end, he gave up, leaving only a note to let her know he was home safely with all errands accomplished, and slipped quietly into an early bed instead.
It did not take long to settle Nott. Seamus was there to show him how the television worked and explain the basics of grocery shopping, while Mister Muffles, the dog of the house, was only too pleased to welcome someone who seemed predisposed to offer limitless tummy scratches and had no idea what constituted a rational portion of liver treats.
Luna’s house was a different story, and Harry and Neville spent several hours working at the charms on the printing presses that she had been lovingly restoring.
“Father did them originally, and I’ve never been able to make it all work as well as he could,” she confessed.
By the time they called it a night, the printing press was working smoothly and Luna was sketching out story ideas and page layouts. Harry left Neville behind – he didn’t want to pry as to why – and was in bed before midnight.
He woke early the next day, certain there was something he had forgotten, then jumped out of bed as he remembered what it was.
“Kreacher,” he called, stumbling into a pair of slippers and staggering down the stairs. “Guest for breakfast. Are you up? Should I cook?”
Loud grumbling from the kitchen informed Harry that Kreacher was indeed up, and that unless it was a dire emergency, Harry should never, ever cook, and that Kreacher had been listening last night for all that he had not been invited to join the conversation and so breakfast was already well underway.
A cup of tea and slice of toast later, Harry felt up to a wash and getting dressed, which meant that he was in surprisingly good form when Malfoy appeared at a quarter to eight.
Harry dismissed the shade of Albus Dumbledore on his way to open the door, but not quickly enough that Malfoy didn’t find a pile of dust collapsing in on itself as he entered.
“Sorry,” said Harry, noticing Malfoy’s slight shudder. “We’re so used to him that it’s become a bit of a joke, hence the passwords.”
“That’s not quite normal, you know,” Malfoy said, with an attempt at a smile.
Harry tried to remember how he had felt on first seeing Dumbledust. Probably not as guilty as Malfoy, he assumed. Though there was more than guilt there. He hadn’t paid attention yesterday, but in the cool morning light, Malfoy looked tired. Features he might charitably have described as fine now looked drawn, and his eyes had dark shadowing beneath them.
“I suppose it’s an effective deterrent to intruders,” Malfoy went on. “Certainly scared the willies out of me.”
Harry smiled in support of Malfoy’s Showing Willing. “Works every time. Breakfast?”
Malfoy straightened his shoulders. “Breakfast.”
“Walk quietly, you don’t want to wake the portrait up,” Harry said, pointing up at a square of bright green fabric Hermione had artfully draped over Walburga Black’s image. He led the way downstairs to the kitchen. “I didn’t think you’d want to breakfast in the dining room. We’re a bit informal here, and I’m not entirely certain we ever got rid of the last of the Doxies.”
“That’s all right. I even dressed casually. Thought Ministry robes would be out of place, since you live so close to Muggles. And I didn’t want to be too obvious if there was anyone watching the place.”
Harry shrugged. “No one seems to bother me at home,” he said, failing to mention the lies he had told about where he lived, and the nausea spells he had left lurking through the local environs that were designed to hurry on any uninvited witches and wizards. “Here we are.”
Kreacher had set the table with matching crockery and cutlery, since there was a guest, “who’s a Black, really, even if his father is one of those Malfoys”. An abundance of food was heaped onto plates, and it smelled like a holiday school breakfast with slightly more sophisticated condiments.
“Looks good,” Malfoy said. “I came here a few times when I was little and my Great-Aunt Walburga was still alive. The food was always excellent – she had this terrifying ancient house-elf …”
Harry’s eyes slid over to the corner where Kreacher was blending into the grey stone of the walls and Malfoy, to do him credit, hardly paused before continuing “… who was the most brilliant cook and really an all-round marvel. I remember her saying that she couldn’t possibly have managed without him and that he was the solace of her old age.”
Harry strongly doubted that Malfoy remembered any such thing, given he must have been about four at the time, but he appreciated it nonetheless, and the heartfelt sniff from the corner told him that Kreacher did, too. It was hard to predict Malfoy these days. Sometimes he seemed almost human.
“Let’s see what damage we can do to all this,” Harry said. “And then I suppose you should tell me what you and your mother have been up to. Because from the sound of things, we haven’t been the only ones plotting against Percy.”
Malfoy nodded and took a seat.
Harry wondered if he should start serving, but Malfoy helped himself as though they were back at Hogwarts, so Harry followed suit.
“Have you heard from Granger about Pansy?” Malfoy asked.
“Not yet, but I told her we’d see her straight after we see Kingsley.”
“OK. I’m surprised her parents let her bring in refugees. I would have thought that after the danger of the War, they’d want to stay clear of our lot.”
“They hid in Australia,” Harry answered, with edited honesty.
“Clever. Even if Voldemort had won, he was very focussed on Wizarding Britain, so they would probably have been safe for years. This kedgeree is very good.”
“Try some of the baked eggs. By the way, here’s your wand.” Harry slipped the box out of his pocket and slid it across the table, hoping to avoid discussion on the topic.
Malfoy put down his knife and fork and smiled as he lifted the box. “Do you mind?” he asked, thwarting Harry’s hopes.
“No, go ahead.”
And he watched as Malfoy opened the box as if it were a gift. Malfoy reached in, and wrapped his hand around the wand, his smile growing wider, and then he lifted it, and looked at it, and stopped smiling, and put the wand back into the box.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, trying to keep any note of annoyance from his voice.
Malfoy shook his head. “It’s nothing you’ve done. Well, that is to say, nothing you’ve done intentionally. I suddenly remembered that the last thing this wand was used for was to kill Voldemort.” He swallowed, and looked paler than usual. “I think I might stick with my mother’s. Maybe this one should go into some sort of museum, or something?”
Harry spoke without thinking. “That’s not true. That wand was used to disarm Voldemort, the Elder Wand killed him. And besides, I’ve …” Harry realised he should have stopped talking several words ago, “… used it a bit since then …”
Malfoy looked up at him sharply.
Harry wished he was better at mornings, or somewhat less honest. “Just for little things. You know how it is when you put your wand down and it’s a pain to go and get it …”
“So you used my wand to…?” Malfoy’s tone was brittle.
“Shoo cats from the garden,” Harry admitted. “Light the kitchen fire when Kreacher was busy. Accio my own wand.” He stopped, noticing that Malfoy had dropped his head into his hands. So much for that fragile detente. Ah well, they could rescue Old Slytherins without Malfoy, and he could go back to expressing faux amazement that Harry knew words like detente.
Malfoy lifted his face and dragged in a breath. He was laughing.
Harry waited to see if this was going to turn into some sort of evil cackle, but apparently not.
“Only you, Potter,” Malfoy said after a few minutes. “Anyone else would have made some huge production out of defeating the most dangerous wizard of our times with my wand and handed it over with enormous ceremony and some demented, portentous announcement about how it forged a bond between us, but not you. You try to sneak it past with the baked eggs at breakfast and use it to chase away wailing tom cats.”
“They were very loud,” Harry said.
Malfoy started to laugh again. He looked less tired, less old, more like a twenty-year-old man.
Harry sighed quietly with relief and helped himself to baked eggs.
“You wanted to discuss a strategy for talking to the Minister,” he said.
“I was planning to listen to yours – or Granger’s if she’s still doing your thinking for you – and offer insightful commentary,” Malfoy said, piling food onto his plate. “You know Shacklebolt well, I’ve spoken with him briefly three times.” He put on what was presumably a listening expression and began to eat.
Harry poked his eggs with his fork. “Hermione was right last night,” he said after a minute. “Kingsley is tired. It was a long war and he lost a lot of close friends. He didn’t want to be Minister, but there wasn’t anyone else who could both do the job and gather the support of the Department Heads. He started off as a reformer, and was promised support for his agenda, but as soon as he started implementing it, he was shut down by concerns about overspends and over-reach and as things stand, unless he’s willing to ride roughshod over the other Department Heads, he’s not only unable to carry out exactly the policies he came in proclaiming, he’s unable to stop the Ministry from moving in directions he doesn’t like.”
Malfoy swallowed. “That’s the part I don’t understand. Shacklebolt’s the Minister, why doesn’t he just shut Weasley down?”
“Because Percy has MLE. The other Department Heads are afraid of him. Remember, MLE was the power behind the Muggleborn Registration Committee. Witches and Wizards disappeared. Percy may not have been a part of any of that, but the mechanisms that let it happen are all still there under wizarding law.
“We haven’t revoked most of the Umbridge-era legislation yet, so Percy’s been able to have warrants signed with a much-lower burden of proof than he should need. And although one or two people have spoken out, most haven’t, because the last time people spoke out against the Ministry, it didn’t end well for them. And I’m not saying that Percy is Umbridge, because he has some limits, but I am saying that people are very nervous about making a fuss, even if they don’t agree. It’s all too fresh. People remember what it was like.”
“But he doesn’t have the Aurors. They’re loyal to Robards, and to you. And you’re both against this new policy.”
Harry looked down. “Not openly against it. Not yet. Until a short time ago, he was still targeting people with some level of legitimate culpability. It’s only since then … We’re still talking about a comparatively small number of innocent people – a number of whom we’ve managed to rescue anyway – I know this sounds horrible, but it’s not enough to split the department over, and I’d like to avoid fomenting open revolution if there’s a way we can deal with all of this quietly and effectively.
“And yes, before you say it, I completely agree that there is a qualitative difference between Ottilie Goyle and Gregory Goyle, which is why Mrs Goyle is not in custody. But Percy still holds control of the Wizengamot and they don’t seem to be as concerned as they ought to be with niceties such as actual guilt as opposed to the appearance of such.”
“Because it’s payback for all the fear they felt through the War,” Malfoy said, putting down his knife and fork.
“Because it’s payback,” Harry agreed.
“So. What are you expecting? That Kingsley will step up and remove Weasley, thus solving all your problems?”
Harry shrugged. In truth, he was hoping for that, no matter how remote the possibility seemed at the moment.
“Because to me it doesn’t feel as though this is a one-man campaign,” Malfoy continued. “There’s a lot of anger out there. Ask Broderick Wellingham about my hate mail collection.”
“He’s already told me,” Harry confessed. “We scan your post for dangerous jinxes and toxins.”
Malfoy looked surprised. “Have you found any?”
“One or two minor hexes. Nothing worse than boils. We’d have put a detail on you if it had been serious.”
“I see.” Malfoy resumed eating for a few minutes. Harry followed suit, he may as well be fortified for what was shaping up to be a difficult day.
After an egg and a slice of toast, he decided to try to explain his position. “I just think that if Percy wasn’t there driving the campaign, there would be fewer column inches in the Prophet and less fuel to flame tensions. Because it wasn’t this bad straight after the war. People were looking for a way to just get on with things.”
“Maybe they were just waiting to get their second wind,” Malfoy suggested. “Maybe the nature of the wizarding world is that we’re a fractious mob who stop ourselves from becoming too powerful by our own impulses to self-destruction. I mean, think about it, how many old witches and wizards do you know?”
“Lots,” Harry started, then stopped. “A few,” he said.
“Fewer than there ought to be. Even in my family, not that many make it past eighty. If we’re not killing each other following crazed madmen, then we’re doing it experimenting or flying while under the influence. Too much power, not enough sense.”
“Are you sure you’re Draco Malfoy?” Harry asked, surprised.
“You’re one to talk. Long words and strategic thinking: just when I thought I could write you off as a duelling moron. I’m just saying that you may not be wise to base your strategy on an expectation of common sense or rationality.”
Harry nodded, recognising that behind Malfoy’s insults, there was truth. “Then I’ll throw in a good dose of celebrity influence and threats: Merlin knows the Prophet’s been badgering me for an interview for months and I have enough dirt on half the Ministry to see them all fleeing to Mallorca.”
“That,” said Malfoy, lifting a piece of toast, “might work.”
“What about you and your mother?” Harry asked.
“My mother has a secret genius for espionage,” Malfoy declared. “She actually has contacts who can produce an excellent Muggle passport and working cash machine cards in whatever name you want within twelve hours.”
Harry’s curiosity overrode his Aurorly responsibilities. “How? Do you think she knows Muggle criminals?”
Malfoy shook his head, looking down at his plate. “Squibs. It has to be. I know there have been a few on both sides of my family, for all that they’d both deny it. She started planning all of this during the war, to get us out. Get us away from …” he faltered on the name, but recovered quickly, “I’m guessing, but it’s the only thing that makes sense. She was so fast when Marcus came to us looking for help …”
So that’s where Flint had gone, Harry thought. He should have known.
“I think she meant to get Father and me out of England, except that Father wouldn’t leave, at first because he thought it would all end well, and then because he was too afraid …”
Malfoy paused, and Harry had no idea what to say. Malfoy looked up at him. “That has to be right, doesn’t it? Because the only other option is that she asked Muggles. And the only way she’d know how to get in touch with Muggles is though my Aunt Andromeda. And after everything that happened … my uncle … People don’t forgive that much, do they?”
“I think …” Harry frowned. Malfoy was trying to keep his face still, but there was need in his eyes. Harry remembered Dudley, and how a few words of concern had melted away years of resentment and anger. “I think they can,” he said. “If there’s a good reason to.”
“Really?” There was no sarcasm in Malfoy’s voice.
Harry nodded. “That’s been my experience.”
Malfoy looked thoughtful, and returned his attention to his toast. He looked very young, for a moment, like the boy Harry had first met.
After a minute, Kreacher silently brought a fresh pot of tea to the table, and Harry topped up both their cups.
“My strategy for speaking with Kingsley was that we’d turn up at his office and demand entry,” he said, returning to safer conversational ground. “Even if he feels he knows me well enough to tell me to bugger off, he’ll be surprised to see you there. Which should give us the entry we need. And once he realises he has support, I think he’ll feel reinvigorated and ready to come out fighting.”
“If we turn up at the Ministry together, Shacklebolt’s not going to be the only one surprised,” Malfoy said.
“No one’s going to think you were that grateful to get your wand back.”
Harry regretted his levity the second Malfoy began to choke on his toast. He had completely forgotten about Nott, and the look on Malfoy’s face last night, and oh bloody hell … “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that as any sort of insult or slur. I’m not a raving homophobe, not that you’re a … unless you are, which is also fine. Just, you know how every paper and magazine has me shagging everyone I’m ever seen with in public since I broke up with Ginny, and you’re probably the only person they wouldn’t think I was sleeping with, since there are books about how much we hate each other, and, Merlin, does any of that make sense? Can I stop apologising yet?”
Malfoy nodded, sipping at tea to stop his coughing. “It’s fine,” he said between sips. “I know that you were just being facetious. You weren’t accidentally offensive.”
Harry smiled with relief. “God forbid I ever accidentally offend you, Malfoy. I’d hate to lose my touch that much.”
Malfoy grinned at that. Strange bastard, Harry thought. He was still unpredictably prickly and difficult, but at least he seemed willing to make a genuine effort, if only for Pansy’s sake. Speaking of which … “If you’re done, we should probably head off if we want to catch the Minister first thing.”
Malfoy put his teacup down. “All done. Thank you, excellent breakfast. Good work, Kreacher,” he added, over his shoulder, without waiting for any comment from the elf before he looked away, so only Harry saw the beaming smile that came in reply.
The Ministry was quiet before nine, so there were only a few pairs of questioning eyes turned in their direction as they walked quickly towards the lifts. Harry noticed that Malfoy trailed him by half a step and had affected a hangdog expression, which was either a clever piece of misdirection on his part, or a legitimate expression of his feelings.
Kingsley’s secretary was at her desk, drinking a cup of tea and reading through the Prophet when they knocked at her door.
“Harry! How are you, dear?” she asked.
“I’m well, thanks, Miss Lankyn. Is Kingsley in?”
She almost got away with it, but Harry caught the fleeting expression that crossed her face before she replied with seeming sincerity, “I’m so sorry, I’m not expecting him for another hour.”
He responded in the traditional Auror way. “That’s fine, we’ll wait in his office.” And was opening Kingsley’s door before she could get to her feet, shouting a protest.
Kingsley was asleep at his desk, a bottle of Ogden’s Finest empty beside him and a noticeable fug of evaporated whisky and perspirated wizard filling the room.
“Shut the door!” Miss Lankyn hissed.
Harry did, with him and Malfoy inside it.
Malfoy looked very pale, even for him.
“Don’t panic yet,” said Harry. “We don’t know the circumstances. This could be a one-off thing.”
Malfoy nodded, but then prowled the room until he found the bin, from which he lifted another six empty bottles.
“Bugger,” said Harry.
“And it’s a sad indictment on the Ministry’s cleaners, too,” Malfoy replied, but the attempt at levity came with a hollow-eyed expression.
Harry refused to admit defeat. “What’s the best sobering potion you know? Or is there a charm that works better?”
“Potion 220 has the best combination of speed and minimal side effects, I think,” Malfoy replied after a moment’s thought. “What’s your favourite?”
“Don’t know, don’t drink,” Harry answered, opening the door. “Miss Lankyn, a large pot of black coffee, a jug of water, a vial of Potion Number 220, and a plate of fried bread and eggs, please.”
“What do you mean you don’t drink?” Malfoy asked once the door was shut again.
Harry shrugged. “I just don’t. It seemed best not to, in case I couldn’t stop once I started.”
Malfoy stared at him.
“What? It’s a perfectly rational decision. I need my wits about me at work, and out of work I’m forever being accosted by journalists and scary young women.” And you can’t Apparate away with your pants intact if you’re pissed, he didn’t say.
“No, it is a perfectly rational decision,” Malfoy agreed. “That’s why I was surprised. Interesting to hear that you agree with me on the scariness of young women. Amazed the Prophet hasn’t picked up on that one.”
“Ha ha. All right, do you want to lift the Minister up and I’ll see if I can wake him?”
Harry looked at Malfoy. That was the shortest period of self-interested cooperation he’d seen since … since every other time he and Malfoy had interacted. He tried to keep the frustration off his face. And obviously didn’t succeed entirely.
“We should leave him unconscious until the potion and the coffee get here,” Malfoy explained. “Meanwhile, I’m going hunting.”
Malfoy started opening doors, the first several of which revealed hidden bookshelves. “Clean clothes for a start.”
Harry knew which door led to the Ministerial bathroom and lavatory, having spent endless late nights here in the days after the war. He went in and filled a basin with cold water and checked there were clean towels in case Kingsley wanted to shower.
“Found the closet,” Malfoy sang out. “Several changes of everything, so we should be able to make him look respectable.”
“There’s a full shaving kit in here, I think it’ll be fine,” Harry called back.
Malfoy appeared in the bathroom door with a set of fresh clothes, which he hung carefully on the hooks behind the door, in order of dressing. “Do you think we ought to get him cleaned up and dressed while he’s out cold? He’d smell better.”
“He’s bigger than he looks, even with the two of us we’d have a hard time manhandling him.”
“There are spells for that,” Malfoy assured him. Harry raised his eyebrows and Malfoy shrugged in response. “After the War, my peer group was less perfectly rational than you.”
A sharp rap on the main door signalled Miss Lankyn’s return with a tray of necessary supplies and an icy glare for both Harry and Malfoy. Harry ignored it and sent her back out to stand guard.
“Let’s just wake him up,” he said. “All right. Do I give him this potion straight?”
Malfoy nodded. “Pour a glass of water first, it tastes vile and he’ll want to wash it away quickly.”
“Thanks.” Harry poured the glass, lifted Kingsley’s head up and poured the potion into his gaping mouth, holding his head at an angle designed to help him swallow rather than choke.
The effect was dramatic. Malfoy leapt forward to grab Kingsley’s hand before it could close around his wand, and Harry pushed the Minister back into his chair.
“It’s me, Kingsley, it’s Harry!”
Shacklebolt drew in a racking breath, then screwed up his face.
Harry thrust the glass of water into his hand. “Drink this, it will take the taste away.”
Malfoy poured a mug of steaming coffee and spooned sugar into it. Kingsley finished the water then took the coffee and downed it as quickly as possible before holding the mug out for a refill. After a long sip of the second, he was restored enough to put the mug down and focus on the two of them.
Harry retreated round to the other side of the desk and Malfoy followed.
“Might I ask what possible reason you could have for this unwarranted invasion of my privacy?”
Shacklebolt’s eyes were hooded, but Harry could see the anger in them. He paused to assemble his thoughts before he began speaking, aware that things could easily go very wrong here.
“It’s hardly unwarranted, and you’re not a private person, you’re the Minister,” Malfoy said, with no pause at all.
Harry was impressed that Malfoy did not quail under the look Kingsley turned on him.
“I’ve had enough of rubbish leadership from the Ministry. I thought you’d be better, because you’re brave, and decent, but people are doing awful things and you’re pretending they’re not happening, which makes you little better than Fudge.”
“Mr Malfoy,” said Kingsley.
“Could you perhaps scold me a little more quietly?”
“I could, sir,” Malfoy said, lowering his voice.
Kingsley drank more coffee, then more water. He rallied enough to make a stab at the bread and eggs. Harry sat quietly, exchanging nervous glances with Malfoy. After a few minutes, Kingsley put down his knife and fork.
“I take it the two of you just barged in?”
“Didn’t feel the need to make an appointment?”
“It couldn’t wait,” said Malfoy. “Someone has to stop Percy Weasley before he sends us all spinning back down the path to civil war. Friends of mine are being unfairly arrested and if you don’t step in, something irreparably terrible is going to happen, and more terrible things will follow that.”
“You exaggerate, Mr Malfoy.”
“He does, but not by much,” Harry said. “There’s a lot of anger among the Aurors about Ministry power being used to round up members of the community who really haven’t done anything wrong. Again. If the old families don’t turn on Percy, our own people might.”
“Quite a few of your people come from old families, you know,” said Malfoy.
“I know. And so far they’ve been restrained and appropriate. But if we keep going down this path, I’ll be obliged to openly rebel against myself. I’m not saying wand-drawn assaults, but people have been talking about hexing him with boils, or handing him a one-way Portkey to rural South Georgia.”
Kingsley shook his head. “There’s no point asking me to solve the Percy problem. I’ve tried to rein him in, he won’t listen.”
“Then remove him!” Malfoy insisted.
“I’d like to. But I sent notice of my resignation to the Department Heads last night, so I’m afraid it’s too late.”
“Backdate the directive,” Malfoy said over Harry’s shocked silence.
Kingsley laughed at that, and made another stab at breakfast. “What sobering potion did you use?” he asked after swallowing a few mouthfuls.
“220,” Malfoy answered.
“Good choice. Hangover’s lifting already.”
Harry found his voice. “So, what? You’re just giving up? Just going?”
“Kingsley! You can’t. You can’t just walk away and let them win!”
Kingsley finished chewing his mouthful. “I’m not letting them win, I’m just walking away. I’ve spent the last couple of years attempting to run a law-based rational Ministry, it’s resistant to all rationality. I’m done.”
Harry shook his head. “No. It’s not nine yet, we go around to the Departments and we take those letters back.”
“It’s Department Heads, we have until ten,” Malfoy added encouragingly.
“Let it go, Harry. I’m out.” Kingsley pushed his breakfast tray away and smiled at both of them. “Because I realised yesterday that I was going through a bottle of whisky a month when I started and now I’m down to one every three days – and yes, most of one a night last night, Mr Malfoy, and unlike several of my predecessors I have no intention of dying in this job. I’m going to buy a boat and go sailing.”
“How is that not letting them win?” Harry didn’t bother trying not to sound bitter.
“Because I plan to throw my full support behind you as my successor.”
Harry’s only memory of the next two minutes was Draco Malfoy’s laughter, which died out quickly. The next thing he knew he was walking down the corridor towards the lift and Malfoy was chasing after him saying his name.
“Potter, are you all right?”
Malfoy caught up with him. “You just walked out, I thought you were Imperiused for a moment.”
Harry looked around. There was no one within hearing distance, but he kept his voice low regardless. “It’s not fair, I’m only twenty and I am absolutely sick of constantly having to fix problems that I had no hand in creating. I want to not give a damn and have no one looking to me and to go out late at night dancing with inappropriate witches and perhaps I want to dance with some inappropriate wizards, too, because why should you have all the fun? And maybe I’ll just say bugger it and snort illegal potions and do whatever it is young people do when they’re allowed to live their own lives instead of having to sort out everyone else’s fucking messes.”
Malfoy patted him on the shoulder, and didn’t say anything sarcastic. He watched him with steady grey eyes, just undemandingly there.
“It’s not an unreasonable want,” Harry added after a moment.
“It’s not,” Malfoy agreed. He waited another moment before he added, “Though it’s not as though you have any of that now, being Acting Head Auror.”
“But I chose that.” And he had. Robards had come stomping down the hall and called in the senior staff – “you might as well come, too, Potter, since you stick your nose into everything” – and he’d stood still when everyone else took a step back and he’d agreed that it would work when Robards had laughed and said he’d like to see Weasley go up against Potter in the press.
Malfoy said nothing.
“What do I do?” Harry didn’t expect an answer.
“You run for Minister, or you devise another plan to defeat Weasley, or you get everyone at risk out of the country,” Malfoy replied matter-of-factly. “Three options. Pick one.”
“You think it’s that easy?”
“No. None of that will be easy. But those are the only options, so you need to decide which one you’re prepared to do. And I will do what I can to help you. Unless you fail, in which case I will leave you in whatever mess you’ve created and get my people out without you.”
He was right, Harry realised. Those were the only options.
“Come with me.”
The late evening shift was leaving the Auror offices as they arrived, and the day team were filtering in. Hester Armitage waved at Malfoy, who smiled back. Harry left him with her and looked around for Williamson. At the tea urn, as usual.
“I need a favour,” Harry told him.
“Morning, Harry. Anything except paperwork,” Williamson replied with a grin. He had been next in administrative line under Robards, so Harry’s turn as Robards’ stand-in had come as the greatest relief of his career.
Harry spoke quickly. “There’s a political situation that’s about to go totally arse-up and I can’t avoid being involved in it. I’m going to keep the team out of it as much as is possible, but to do that I need to run away for a few hours and make plans. Can you manage without me this morning? The rosters are all done, Dawlish will be in soon to run Operations, and you can reach me by owl if there are any emergencies.”
Williamson stared at him. “You’re not going to leave me as Acting Head, are you?”
“No,” Harry assured him.
“Good. Well, in that case, absolutely. Happy to help. Just, don’t go having anything horrible happen to you.”
“Promise. And keep this quiet, could you? The news will be out soon enough, we don’t need a round of Chinese whispers preceding it.”
“As the grave.”
Malfoy was chatting animatedly with Armitage when Harry returned. He had his wand box out, and was blathering on about offering to donate it to the inevitable Potter Museum, “but of course, Potter, being modest, said they’d be fine with a replica.”
“He’s right behind you, you know,” Armitage said.
“Of course he is.” Malfoy turned around. “What are we doing?”
“We’re headed off. Hester is going to let everyone know that Williamson is in charge this morning and I should be back by lunch.”
“Sir,” Armitage said, not quite saluting.
Malfoy kept pace as Harry hurried them towards the lift again. “If we hurry, we can catch Hermione before she leaves for work,” Harry told him.
“Because I want to talk this through more people before I make a decision.”
“OK. Good idea.”
Harry looked at him, but there was again no sarcasm. He would need to adapt to being on the same side as Malfoy. Though he had always wondered if that hadn’t been true by the end of the war, too.
“I’m going to Apparate there once we get outside. Do you want me to Side-along you, or would you rather Apparate there yourself?”
“Side-along would be safest, wouldn’t it?” asked Malfoy, looking at him a little suspiciously.
“I’ve never Splinched as much as a hair,” Harry promised.
They moved quickly through the Atrium, which was starting to fill up with Ministry staff, and left against the incoming tide. Outside, Harry turned his collar up against the rain and led them to a quiet alley he often used for Apparating, wondering as he always did what the CCTV monitors made of the regular stream of Londoners walking towards the alley but never reappearing past it.
Malfoy hesitated. “Are you sure I ought to go with you?”
“I thought you were on board.”
Malfoy looked at his shoes. “I am on board. I’m just not certain I’m also welcome. Especially at someone’s house.”
This was no time for shyness. “Come on, and be nice to the Grangers.”
Before Malfoy could say anything more, Harry took his arm and Apparated them both to the hedge-shielded porch of the Granger’s home in a quiet, tree-lined North London street.
Harry knocked on the door, which was opened a few seconds later by Hermione, brush in hand and shirt half-buttoned. “This is not a good time,” she said.
“It’s about to get worse,” Harry told her.
She rolled her eyes, but let them in. “I’m running hugely late. Pansy insisted I show her how everything works four times and Ron’s been chatting with my Mum about potato waffles as though they’re haute cuisine.”
“No one in your department ever gets in before ten,” Harry reminded her.
“I try to. Come on through.”
“Morning, Granger,” Malfoy said. Harry gave him points for politeness, and noted that while he was carefully observing everything as he walked through the house, the look on his face was simple interest.
“Morning, Malfoy. Did you want to say hello to Pansy?”
“She’s in the living room with Dad, looking at videos.”
“Looking at what?”
Harry was glad Malfoy had said it – it sounded less rude coming from him.
Hermione led the way through the timber-panelled front of the house to the plushly carpeted living room, with a dark wood television cabinet and alphabetised collection of compact discs arrayed on shelves. Mr Granger was sitting on one of the leather sofas with Parkinson, clicking a remote control and producing a still image of Hermione and Mrs Granger holding a plate of birdseed and being mugged by parrots on the television.
Parkinson watched intently as the pictures came to life on the screen. “Oh!” she declared, clapping her hands in unfeigned delight. “Your pictures move like ours!”
“Not quite,” said Hermione, from the door.
“Draco!” Pansy waved. “I’m learning Muggle things from Mr Granger!”
“Morning, Pans. You having fun?”
“Loads! Morning, Potter. You look grim. Any news?”
Harry shook his head. “That video is really crisp,” he said, looking at the screen, which did not shudder or jar as Dudley’s old tapes had always done.
“It’s digital minidisc,” Mr Granger said.
Pansy nodded politely, and Harry realised he was doing the same, both pretending they understood.
“The light is captured by the lens and encoded on the disc, which you can then play again and again,” Mr Granger explained.
“And you tell the light what to do?” Pansy guessed.
“No, the light comes from events as they actually happen, so see, there’s Hermione about to have a parrot land on her head.”
And indeed, the screen showed her bearing up bravely as a parrot anchored itself in her hair and screeched raucously until she reached up a seed-bearing hand. Pansy laughed immoderately.
“Thanks, Dad,” said Hermione.
“So, this is what actually happened?” Pansy asked.
“That’s right!” Mr Granger said, smiling at her and receiving a pleased smile in response. “What happens in magical pictures?”
“Dad, you know we’re not meant to talk about it,” Hermione said.
“Oh don’t be silly, Granger. It’s not as though magic’s a surprise to your parents. In our photos, the people keep a bit of their spirit, so if it’s your friends or family, they might be waving at you, or pulling funny faces, but if it’s your enemy and they see you, they might scowl, or turn around to snub you.”
“I wonder how they work?”
“I don’t know,” Parkinson said, sounding as though she wished she did.
“There must be some sort of spell that captures the moment …”
Hermione ushered Harry and Malfoy away from the door, leaving her father to run his theories by his attentive audience.
“They’ve been like that ever since she got here,” Hermione complained, leading them onwards. “Dad’s in heaven having someone to explain all his gadgets to, and she keeps breaching the Statutes of Secrecy.”
“Well, she’s right that magic isn’t a surprise,” Harry said, making allowances.
Hermione sniffed. She took them to the kitchen, where Ron was sitting with Mrs Granger at the breakfast table drinking tea. Mrs Granger stood up as they entered and smiled.
“Morning, Harry. We weren’t expecting you. Who’s your friend?”
“Um, Morning Mrs Granger. Malfoy, this is Mrs Granger, Mrs Granger, this is Draco Malfoy. From school.”
Harry was all-too aware that the name wasn’t new to her, but Mrs Granger actually had the sort of good manners his Aunt Petunia thought she had, so she smiled, and stepped over to them and said, “Good morning, Draco, would you like a cup of tea? And do call me Amelia.”
“No thanks, Mrs Granger,” Malfoy said. “I only had breakfast a short time ago. You have a lovely home, I’ve never seen such soft carpet.”
Harry held in his sigh of relief, but saw Ron’s behind Malfoy.
“So, I take it you’re all here to discuss what’s to be done about our house guest? She’s no trouble, you know. She even helped me with the dishes last night, once Hermione showed her how to dry.”
“We’re trying to sort it so she can go home,” Harry confirmed.
“I think that will make her very happy,” Mrs Granger said. “I’m going to leave you three, sorry, four to put your heads together and go and see what Pansy and David are up to.”
“Lovely to meet you,” said Malfoy.
“And you, Draco.”
Harry sat down opposite Ron, who waited until Mrs Granger had left and Hermione was shutting the door before he leaned across the table and whispered, “What’s gone wrong?”
“Kingsley’s resigned,” Harry said. “He wants me to run for Minister.”
“He what? Has he lost his mind completely?”
Harry had to laugh at Ron’s outrage, even if it wasn’t complimentary.
“Probably,” Malfoy said. “He says he’s going to campaign for Potter then head off sailing.”
Hermione stole Ron’s tea and took a deep sip. “Right. Well, we just have to talk him out of it. Turn it into a revival of his role as Minister.”
“I don’t think he can be talked out if it,” Harry said.
“Nonsense. He’s just not thinking clearly.”
“He was passed out drunk on his desk,” Malfoy corrected her.
Hermione put the tea down, Harry noticed that her hand shook a little. “Right. Well, in that case, he clearly wasn’t in possession of his full faculties, which means his resignation is null and void.”
Malfoy interrupted him. “He made it perfectly clear that he was through. The only question now is whether or not Potter throws his hat into the ring for Minister.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hermione wailed. “He shouldn’t even be running the Aurors. This is a complete and total disaster!”
“Cheers, Hermione,” Harry muttered, though he couldn’t fault her logic.
“Oh, you know what I mean. You’re barely out of school. If it wasn’t for being the Chosen Bloody Boy Who Whatever, you’d be a junior Auror, making cups of tea and handling all the paperwork. I love you dearly, but even I can’t pretend you’d make a brilliant Minister at this point. There’s just too much you don’t know.”
“Hang on,” Ron raised a hand. “Since when has competence been a requirement for being Minister?”
“No, I’m serious. Sure, Harry’s crap, but he’s good at learning when he wants to, and he already has a clearer understanding of the actual problems facing the Ministry than most other people, and no-one’s going to expect him to know anything – sorry mate, you know it’s true, but – so they’ll take the time to explain things. And he’s famous for being pathologically suspicious and incorruptible, so that’s got to help.”
Harry looked between them, not entirely certain how this had happened.
“And besides,” Ron continued, “Percy wasn’t quite twenty-three when he took over Magical Law Enforcement. Everyone forgets how young he is because he’s looked forty since he was fifteen. But if everyone in that department hadn’t been killed or sent to jail by the end of the war, there’s no way he’d be running it. Every point against you is a point against him, too. And since there’s no way he won’t be running, we may as well put Harry up.”
“You can’t be serious,” Hermione said, wide-eyed.
“Well what else are we going to do?”
“I have a lead on obtaining legitimate visa forms,” Malfoy suggested.
Hermione looked thoughtful. “That’s not a bad idea. Where from?”
“Brown in Permits. She’s keen for me to go down and help her with paperwork.”
“Periwinkle Brown?” Hermione asked.
“Lavender’s cousin? Left Hogwarts the year before we arrived?”
“Thanks, I’d forgotten her first name. I thought I could ‘misfile’ some of the travel permits and accidentally send them to Potter or Granger in internal correspondence. If they were missed and there was a big fuss, it would be easy to blame my incompetence because no one would ever suspect us of collaborating.”
“That could actually work. Harry, what were you thinking?”
“I was starting to come around to Pansy’s idea of giving Percy a bad case of boils,” Harry admitted. Though in truth, that was more for his personal satisfaction and less as an actual plan of attack.
Ron shook his head. “No, think about it: if you run for Minister, you can get all of this out in the open and turn the tide of public opinion. Even if you lose, Percy will see sense if enough people stand up to him.”
“Then why don’t you just go and talk to him?” Malfoy asked, and again, he sounded genuine.
Ron’s answer was just as sincere. “I’ve tried. He tells me I’m too young to understand and that I’m missing the big picture.”
“But … but that’s stupid. I mean, I think you’re an idiot and even I’ll admit that you have a better perspective on the failings of wizarding politics than most people I know.”
“Thanks, Malfoy. I still think you’re a pompous little turd, but I have to say that you’re a very sound judge of character these days.”
“Not at all. So what about your family? Your parents, your brothers? There must be someone he’ll listen to?”
Ron shook his head. “Mum and Dad have tried to steer clear of all of it. Bill and Fleur have just had a baby, Charlie’s back in Romania, George is focussed on the shop, and Ginny … Ginny thinks Percy hasn’t gone far enough.”
“Bloody hell …” said Malfoy, turning to Harry. “No wonder you two …”
Harry looked away and Malfoy didn’t finish the sentence.
“So,” he said instead. “You think Potter should run for Minister? I’m fairly convinced he’d be appalling at it, but better than your brother. And perhaps the horror of those two candidates would inspire someone decent to throw their hat into the ring.”
“Exactly,” Ron agreed. “There has to be a quiet, competent person running one of the Departments who could be persuaded to come in as a compromise candidate and save us from either of these numpties.”
Malfoy smiled at that. Harry wondered if that was a sign of the End Days.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hermione snapped. “Even if any of this was rational, none of the Department Heads are going to vote for Harry! So no compromise candidate is going to come forward when all they’re guaranteed to do is to piss off Percy.”
“Abernathy from Domestic Magical Cooperation might vote for Harry,” said Malfoy. “He hates Percy.”
“See? There’s a vote already and we haven’t even begun to campaign,” Ron said.
“One out of nine,” said Hermione.
“Camberwell of Sports likes me,” Harry added, just to show he wasn’t friendless.
“Two. Still hopeless. And there’s no point campaigning, Percy holds all the cards. Harry has nothing he can offer the Department Heads unless he’s prepared to lead an Auror revolt, and that’s not going to happen.”
The energy that had been bubbling up between Ron and Malfoy as they made their plan seeped away in the face of cold logic.
“It’s a shame it’s not a popularity contest,” Malfoy sighed.
All eyes slowly turned to him.
“Oh,” said Malfoy.
“Oh no,” said Harry, but it was too late. Even Hermione was smiling.
“I’m going to get in touch with Kingsley and then Luna, see if she can get a short issue of the Quibbler out today. It’s outrageous that Muggles have representative democracy when we don’t.”
“Too long denied our rights as citizens and Britons,” Ron agreed.
“It’s probably against Magna Carta,” Malfoy chipped in.
“This is my life we’re ruining,” Harry said, aware that none of the others were paying any attention to him.
“We can use the campaign to put focus on the injustice of Percy’s prosecutions. Ron, we need a catchy name for what he’s been doing, something we use as a label in the media. Malfoy, do you think you could convince your mother to write something for Witch Weekly supporting universal franchise? They’re always running photos of her, so I think they’d jump at an article.”
“I’m sure she’d be on board. She’ll think it’s suitably ridiculous.”
“What about the Reign of Intolerance?” Ron suggested. “Or the War on Relatives?”
“The Great Distraction,” Malfoy offered. “He may believe in what he’s doing, but everyone else has just been letting him go along with it because it’s cheaper and easier than getting their act together and hunting down Rowle and Macnair. And we should be hunting them, they’re complete bastards who willingly killed people.”
“Nice,” said Ron. “It makes it sound as though it’s all been towards furthering his political ambitions.”
“It’ll infuriate him,” Malfoy said. “Because he seems to genuinely believe he’s doing something good.”
“He does,” Ron agreed. “But maybe it will wake him up to himself. Merlin knows logic’s failed to get through to him.”
“And Malfoy can work with his mother to convince more of the old families that it’s a good idea. Now that they have less influence in the Ministry, they might come on board as a means of reasserting power, or at least keeping it from being concentrated in the opposition’s camp.”
“Good thinking, Granger.”
“It gives us a perfect excuse to bring Malfoy into the fold,” agreed Ron. “So it won’t look weird when he’s working with Harry or coming down here to visit Pansy. We could say he’s running the media for Harry’s campaign.”
“And what will we do if I win?” Harry managed to ask.
“Tax cuts for the small businessman,” said Ron.
“Emigrate,” said Malfoy.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry,” said Hermione. “The whole point of you running is to show that it’s fine to stand up against Percy and to encourage others to do the same. If we can get a popular vote up, you’ll actually stand to do quite well and then when you withdraw and throw your support behind a better candidate, they should win.”
“But who? We keep mentioning a compromise candidate, but no one’s coming up with any names.”
“We’ll think of someone,” Hermione assured him breezily. “The priority is to get the idea of a public vote out first thing. We should go straight to Kingsley, have him announce the idea as part of his retirement statement to the Prophet.” Hermione stood up and tucked her shirt in, satisfied.
Harry wasn’t satisfied. “I’m really not convinced this is a good idea, and I’m even less convinced it’s something I want to do.”
Ron looked sympathetic. “It’s a pretty crappy idea, really,” he agreed. “But I think it might be the best one on offer. And it won’t be for long. Just the campaign. You’re looking at what, six weeks, max?”
“Weasley’s right,” Malfoy agreed. “It’s not a great plan, and finding someone else to be Minister should be a priority, but allowing the general public to have a say in the matter means that Weasley – Percy – bloody hell, I’m going to have to call you Ron just to make sense, aren’t I? Don’t take it as a sign of affection, it’s merely for clarity …”
“… Ron’s right, it will allow Weasley a comparatively gracious exit if his plans are voted down, compared to having him removed. Even if we all think he’s a bloody idiot, it’s always better to leave your enemy’s dignity intact if your enemy is just an opponent. Save the utter destruction for the genuinely bad guys.”
It was unexpected consideration, and Harry was pleased to see Ron nod in agreement.
“Also, it makes things less fraught with revenge scenarios if you lose,” Malfoy added. “Which is something I try to always consider, now.”
Harry was very proud that none of them as much as smiled.
“That’s settled then,” said Hermione, tying back her hair with a band from the end of her brush. “All right, I need to grab my bag and robe on the way through, Ron are you headed in now?”
“May as well.”
“Who’s minding Pansy?” Malfoy asked.
“My parents have Fridays off, she’s going shopping with Mum later to get her some more Muggle clothes.”
“She’ll love that.”
“She’ll drive the shopkeepers mad wanting to ask about everything. I’ll never understand why you lot who grew up in the Wizarding world can’t accept there are some Muggle things that are just as matter-of-fact to us as things like the Floo and wands are to you. Come on, straight back through, Malfoy, we’ll Apparate from the porch. Mum doesn’t like us doing it inside, says it rattles the glassware.”
“Hermione,” Harry said. The others stopped and looked at him, expectantly. “I’m going along with this, but under protest.”
She led the way out, asking Malfoy if Pansy was always so chatty.
“She is,” he admitted. “But it’s not all bad. She …”
She was talking as they came up to the living room door. “So that’s how you both ended up in Australia?”
“Yes,” that was Mr Granger, “there’s still some debate about the necessity for that.”
“Oh no, no it was necessary. People died. Horribly. But it was very brave of her, it’s a very difficult spell. There was no guarantee you’d ever remember her when she went to lift it. She must love you very much to risk that much to keep you safe.”
“She does things like that,” Malfoy whispered.
Harry could see Hermione’s face. He reached out and took her hand before they all, without conferring, took a few silent steps back down the hallway then reapproached the living room with louder tread.
Hermione wasn’t the only one surreptitiously wiping her eyes.
“Oh, here you all are,” said Mrs Granger with a smile. “All sorted?”
“We have a working plan, thanks, Mum.”
“Good good. So, we’ll look after Pansy today and you can fill us all in tonight after work.”
“I will. We think we’ve come up with something that will work really well, though it might take a bit longer than we were hoping.”
“Not to worry. Pansy’s no trouble. Just make sure you find a way to let her parents know she’s all right, will you? They’ll have been worried sick since yesterday.”
“I will, Mum.”
“You’re a good girl, Hermione.”
Harry wondered if he oughtn’t sneak the rest of them away so the Grangers could have a moment, but apparently they were done, because Mr Granger was telling Hermione he was planning to cook her favourite for dinner, so she should make sure she was home on time, and now Malfoy was hugging Parkinson and they were all being bundled out the front door.
Ron wrapped his arms around Hermione and Apparated them away quickly, presumably so she could be quietly emotional in the back office at Wizard Wheezes before heading into work. That left him alone with Malfoy, on a vine-covered porch behind a neatly clipped wall of hawthorn.
“Sorry you got shafted,” Malfoy said, his breath clouding in the lingering morning chill.
“I’m used to it,” Harry admitted.
“That went better than I expected, though. Usually one or the other of those two is hitting me.”
“I was impressed with you and Ron.”
“New times, new approaches.” Malfoy’s mouth quirked up with honest good humour.
Harry smiled, too. “Right. I’m back into the Ministry to launch my political career, apparently. You?”
“I should probably go home and let Mother know what I’ve just volunteered us for. Then I’ll head in and see if Brown needs help with her visas.”
“See, you have backup plans that don’t involve me throwing myself on the altar of public ridicule.”
Malfoy grinned. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Harry grinned back. “So, you’ll write and let me know how it goes?”
Harry watched him go. He supposed there was nothing for it but to go back and set the plan in motion. He hoped Luna and Neville had managed to get a good night’s sleep, they were going to need the Quibbler if there was any hope of driving real change.
Word of Kingsley’s resignation had not yet broken out around the Ministry, so Harry was able to make it to his office un-molested. Williamson and Dawlish descended on him with questions.
“It’s Shacklebolt, isn’t it?” Dawlish led with. “He’s asked for two Aurors to attend a press conference at two this afternoon.”
“Oh bloody hell.” Harry grabbed his robe from the back of his chair. “I thought he’d wait a little longer. I have to talk with him before he does anything.”
“Is he resigning?” Williamson asked.
“I can’t …”
“Because if he is,” Dawlish interrupted, “we’ll need you to look the other way while we take Weasley out of the running. It’s one thing wilfully misinterpreting all his requests as head of MLE, as Minister, he’d be a damn sight worse.”
“What do you mean take him out of the running?” Harry had to ask.
“Wilds of Patagonia,” Williamson suggested.
“Broken leg,” Dawlish offered. “I’m not comfortable with the idea of a Minister ordering us to work against the law, again.”
“It’s not going to come to that,” Harry assured them. “There’s a plan. It’s ridiculous, but the horrifying truth is that it could well work. I’ll fill you in after Kingsley’s announcement.”
“His two Aurors?” Dawlish asked as Harry threw his robe on and hurried out.
“Whatever he wants. I’ll be back!”
Miss Lankyn’s expression was lacking in its usual geniality when Harry made it to her office but she opened Kingsley’s door for him with little more than a harrumph. Hermione was already there, with quill fast at work on a long scroll while Kingsley dictated.
“ … All candidates must have held or currently be holding a position equivalent to or greater than Head of a Ministry Sub Department for a period of no less than – Harry, how long have you been running the Aurors?”
“Three months, sir.”
“No less than three months. Positions in European Ministries, as Senior teaching Staff at Hogwarts School or Senior Fellows at any of the nine European Academies of Higher Education will be considered equivalent providing the candidate is a British citizen with demonstrated experience and expertise in the interpretation of British Magical law. What am I forgetting, Hermione?”
“We haven’t put any thought into how the vote ought to be run, yet.”
“We’re really doing this?” Harry asked.
“We really are, if you’re prepared to forgive me and take it on?” Kingsley answered, and he looked so different from the man who had been face-down on his desk not two hours ago that Harry couldn’t find it in himself to be angry.
“All right. But if I end up winning, I’m decreeing that the Minister is personally responsible for inspecting every Quidditch pitch in the UK.”
“It’s an under-regulated area,” Kingsley replied with a smile. “Hermione tells me that you hope to shake a better candidate out of the woodwork with this general election plan.”
“It wouldn’t take much to be a better politician than me. But yes, if we can broaden the number of people who select the Minister, then we can broaden the pool of people we choose from, too. Though I liked that criterion you just wrote.”
“I thought it was important to have something like that if we’re going to the general public, otherwise we’d end with one of the Weird Sisters,” Hermione said.
“Do you need me, or are you two all right to keep going?”
“Do you know anything about the relative merits of first past the post and proportional voting systems?” Hermione asked.
“Then we’re fine without you. Press conference is at two, main Atrium, wear your Auror robes, look neat.”
“Right. See you then.”
“Harry …” Kinglsey’s voice stopped him. “Thank you.”
“It’s all right. At least it’s going to give the Prophet something else to write about so they’ll ease up on their hunt for Phantom Death Eaters.”
“Exactly. Go off and see if you can devise a popular tax break.”
“Merlin’s socks …” Harry didn’t dignify that with a reply, though halfway back to his office he realised that he could cut the import tariff on dittany and offset the loss with a reduction in Ministry redecorating budgets, which were frankly ridiculous. He mentally shook himself, and also gave himself a slap on the back of his head to be on the safe side.
Dawlish raised eyebrows as Harry walked back into the Auror offices. “No need for Patagonia yet,” Harry told him, which Dawlish acknowledged with a wink.
“Owls for you,” Armitage sang out as Harry opened his doors, and indeed there were, two, sitting quietly on the back of his chair and managing not to crap on anything.
“You are well-behaved,” Harry complimented them, looking for coin pouches and not seeing any. Both private, then.
He attended to the Little Owl first, it held out a leg that had its message tied on with a length of brocaded ribbon sporting crested M’s down its length.
Have spoken with you-know-who regarding plans in motion. All satisfactory. Am proceeding as discussed. Will contact you later in the day regarding execution.
Only Malfoy could have written a cryptic note that sounded more incriminating than the actual facts, Harry thought. He turned to the Eagle Owl, whose note was slotted into an elegant silver legband.
Please meet with me in the kitchen garden at Malfoy manor at your earliest convenience. You will be able to Apparate or fly in with safety. If you are unable to attend in the next two hours, please send a message nominating an alternative time and place with this owl. I ask that you not inform Draco of this note. Sincerely, Narcissa Malfoy
Of course. Because there hadn’t been enough awkward meetings today.
“Williamson, Dawlish!” Harry shouted.
They both appeared, and tried to pretend they were surprised when Harry told them he’d be heading back out.
“It won’t be for long. No more than half an hour. I’ll fill you in on everything before the press conference.”
“Neither of us are going to end up having to run the department, are we?” Dawlish asked nervously.
“With any luck, we’ll have Robards back soon, so we’ll all be safe.”
“That’s fine, then. On your way, we’ll keep everything ticking over until you get back.”
Harry was most of the way out of the Ministry when Camberwell from Sports flagged him down. “Good to see you, Harry m’boy. Wanted to warn you. Weasley’s on the lookout for you. Heard some wild rumour you’re planning to run for Minister, apparently. S’pose you’ve heard the news. Wanted to say, if it’s true, I’d be happy to vote for you. Happy and proud. Not a thing Weasley can do to me or any of mine, so he can stick it as far as I’m concerned.”
Harry’s grin was completely unpolitical. “You’re my favourite Department Head, Camberwell,” he said.
“You’re wasted as an Auror,” Camberwell replied with a grin of his own. “Though I confess I’ve always been keen on recruiting you to the national Quidditch side rather than see you sink yourself further into this den of iniquity. Even Wood says you’d be a benefit and he’s a hard lad to please.”
“National Quidditch programme is my number one campaign promise,” Harry said with a wink. “Better health through sport!”
“Good lad. I’ll tell Weasley I saw you heading off in hot pursuit of lawbreakers.”
Buoyed by the vote of confidence, Harry decided to Apparate to Wiltshire. Flying in would have given him more opportunity to reconnoitre, but if Malfoy was willing to trust him, then this was the least he could offer in return.
He didn’t manage to appear in the kitchen garden itself, having only the vaguest notion of the layout of the grounds, but his guess it was at the rear of the manor was rewarded by the sight of a walled garden with late stone fruit loading down overhanging branches. The clouds overhead were threatening, but although the ground was damp beneath his feet, it wasn’t actually raining, which was a pleasant change from London.
He walked up to the gate and knocked as he entered. Narcissa Malfoy was inside, dressed in a simple grey robe and seated beside a table bearing tea. She stood up.
“Mr Potter. I’m very pleased you could make it. Please, won’t you join me?”
Harry took the seat she offered and accepted a cup of tea.
“I hope you don’t think me rude for asking you to meet in the gardens, but it occurred to me that the house might hold nearly as many unpleasant memories for you as it does for me.”
“It’s a beautiful garden,” Harry said. And it was, even down to the buzz of bees labouring over the purple of artichoke flowers.
“Draco tells me the two of you are working together now,” she began.
“It seemed logical, rather than duplicate efforts,” Harry replied.
“I agree. He also tells me that Minister Shacklebolt lost his bottle this morning.”
Harry suspected she may have been punning, but her face was so serious he didn’t dare smile. “He did. But Malfoy, sorry, Draco, had an idea that should see everything right. In fact, it could actually lead to a genuine improvement in the way we govern.”
Narcissa smiled. “He’s a clever boy.”
“He is,” Harry agreed. It was true, after all.
“That’s why I’ve asked you here for a chat. I know your time is valuable, so I’ll be brief.”
Harry put his tea down and looked at her attentively.
“It’s … I want to …” She frowned and took in a deep breath. “After the war, you acted as though you owed me a debt. You spoke out to protect my family, and you treated me with grave courtesy, as though you were trying to repay something.
“But I never saw that. To my mind, when I lied to … to Voldemort, I was repaying you for news of the safety of my son. And if what you said in the battle afterwards was true, your sacrifice played a part in keeping him safe, which was another thing I owed you.”
“I didn’t think the two of you were …” Harry began.
Narcissa held up her hand to stop him. “I want you to feel indebted now. I want you to remember every atom of gratitude you ever felt you owed to me. Because I am going to ask you for something and I want to believe you will feel obliged to do it.
“Take care of him. Keep him safe. I don’t care what you have to do, who you have to sacrifice in the process – Pansy, Blaise, me, even Lucius. Keep Draco safe. He thinks that by standing beside you he is out of the line of fire, but we both know that he is making himself a target.”
She had a genuinely beautiful face, Harry realised. She had it schooled in an expression of helpless pleading, which gave emotional weight to her words. But while that might be artifice, her hands weren’t. They were white and clenched in her skirt, where she thought he couldn’t see them beneath the table. And she was holding them there to stop herself from reaching out and begging, whether because she was too proud or because she could already see how nervous the emotion in her voice had made him, he couldn’t say. Those hands convinced him.
“I will keep him safe,” he promised. “He’s trusting me, I’ll defend him. And I’m going to keep Pansy safe, too, and Blaise, and Theo and Mrs Goyle and you and … If your husband stays out of things, I’ll make sure he stays safe, too.”
“Oh, he will,” Narcissa said.
Harry heard the edge to her voice. “Is he …”
“He’s as well as can be expected. Thank you for your time, Auror Potter. Rest assured that you will have what support I can muster during your upcoming campaign.”
It was a courteous dismissal, but it was definitely an invitation to leave. “Thank you. I should get back to the Ministry …”
He was nearly at the gate before he heard her quiet “Harry …” He turned back. “You’re very young. And once again you’re being asked to sacrifice … Do you ever wonder if the Magic world asks too much of you?”
“It’s my world, too,” he said. “And what’s the worst that can happen this time? Percy’s not Voldemort.”
“No. But don’t let that blind you to the fact that he will see you as the enemy. And that will make him cruel.”
“I’ve had worse.”
She smiled at him. “Good luck, Mr Potter.”
“Thank you, Mrs Malfoy.”
It was a quick journey back to the Ministry, but it still gave Harry time to think on the contrast between Malfoy’s parents. He couldn’t imagine ever giving a damn about Mr Malfoy, but Mrs Malfoy, for all her hauteur, was different. Maybe it was just that she was beautiful. Maybe it was because she had risked everything for her son, the way his own mother had. Or maybe it was because he was trying to construct a context for Malfoy, in which he could genuinely be what he now appeared to be.
As Harry stepped out of the Floo into the Atrium, he was still deciding between reassuring Dawlish and hunting down Malfoy for a quick chat. What he should have been doing was concentrating on his immediate environs.
“Harry!” boomed the voice of Percy Weasley. “I’ve been all over the building looking for you. Time for a chat?”
It had been years since anyone from the press had asked for Draco’s opinion on Harry Potter. For a half-second, he was tempted to give the same old answers, but this time it mattered.
“As you’ll know from our Reconciliation campaign for the Department of Domestic Magical Cooperation, Auror Potter has a strong grasp of the social needs in Wizarding Britain. No one is more aware of the costs of the recent war than he, nor more focussed on rebuilding a strong, transparent and law-based Ministry to prevent a repeat of recent abuses.”
“You don’t think he’s too young for the job?” asked the young witch with her curtain of flaming curls.
“He’s only a few years younger than Weasley. And you know what they say, new brooms sweep clean. I’ve never seen anyone as adept with a broom as Potter. Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s a better flyer than even me.” Draco winked slightly, worried that he may be overdoing it.
“It doesn’t concern you that Harry can only count on two votes out of nine?”
“I’ve seen him fight successfully against worse odds.”
“And the rumours that this morning’s Department Heads meeting concerns changes to that voting system?”
“You’d have to ask the Department Heads.”
“Can you comment on the rumour that Harry has received Royal approval for his bid for Minister?”
“You’d have to ask Her Majesty. Or Auror Potter.”
“And your opinion on Percy Weasley?” the journalist asked, pushing her glasses up onto her nose in a manner that invited confidence.
“Percy Weasley is a dedicated Head of MLE, but I do not agree with much of his current policy direction.”
“What Harry Potter calls the ‘Great Distraction’?”
“Because you agree with Auror Potter that the Ministry is spending time and money chasing down targets who were lowly cogs in the Death Eater machine?”
“I believe the term Potter used was ‘innocent’,” Draco said, allowing a touch of acerbity to creep into his voice.
“You would describe Albert Runcorn as innocent?” the journalist asked. Draco wished he had paid more attention when she introduced herself. “He was a senior Ministry official at the time of You-Know-Who’s control.”
She had him on a weak point there. “I’m not sure about Runcorn. That will be for the Wizengamot to decide. He was just following orders, but if the Wizengamot decide that he was doing so with too much vigour, I wouldn’t argue with them. What’s disturbing about Runcorn is that he’s been in Auror custody without a trial for four months.
“But for all that he’s a case with a lot of grey area to it, Mafalda Hopkirk’s not. She was dragged in weeks ago. No one could reasonably accuse her of doing anything with vigour. Now she’s sitting in a cell, without a trial date, for no greater crime than being too afraid to run away from her job when it became something shameful.”
“What about Ottillie Goyle, the woman whose son tried to kill you, along with Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley? Would you say she was innocent?”
“I would. And that wasn’t Greg, it was Vincent Crabbe, and he was only trying to kill Potter, he was just useless at that, as he was at most things.”
“But Mrs Goyle?”
“Mrs Goyle is a middle-aged witch who used to bake biscuits by hand for her son’s friends when they visited from school. She may not like Muggles and she may have been willing to ignore what was happening during the war as long as it kept itself out of her house, but her only crime, if you can call it that, was not slapping some sense into her husband and not telling her son that he was being a bloody idiot long after the point at which it was obvious that anyone still willingly following Voldemort was either criminally insane or a fool.”
“And that was the point where you describe your family as unwilling followers?”
“I’m on record, extensive record, as saying we’d been that for years.”
“And Pansy Parkinson?”
“Do you know where she is?”
“Hopefully somewhere far away.”
“Percy Weasley describes her as a vital source of information …”
“And you know this because …”
“Because she was never there,” Draco snapped. “In the midst of all that grim horror where people laughed as they decided who would live and die, there was no Pansy Parkinson, no Blaise Zabini, no Mrs Goyle with her biscuits. Voldemort’s inner circle was not made up of schoolchildren and mothers, it was made up of zealots. And those of us who had the misfortune to be close to them were mostly hostages.”
“But Vincent Crabbe signed on.”
“Vince was an idiot who did whatever his father told him to. And Greg was stupid enough to follow him and his own father …”
“I know exactly how they thought because I was the same a few years earlier.”
“But then …”
Draco inhaled slowly. “You know what happened then. You’ve read every single one of the Auror transcripts and many, many interviews. You know that Voldemort set me up as a sacrifice to punish my father, and that Snape and Dumbledore worked to save me. You know that we were living in fear in our own home, and that when we had the chance both Mother and I did what we could to protect Potter, who was so obviously the only hope for any of us by then. You can raise your eyebrows and look disbelievingly at me all you like, but it’s not going to change the facts.”
“So you’re saying that you know Parkinson and the others are innocent because you’re not?”
“I’m saying that I’m a lot less innocent than they are. And since I’ve managed to live a blameless life since the war and actually do a little bit of good, I think it’s a poor policy to suggest that they are unable or unlikely to do likewise. We’re pursuing the wrong targets.”
She smiled at that. “Thank you, Mr Malfoy. So I take it you’re in full agreement with Potter that we should be hunting affirmed Death Eaters like Rowle and Macnair.”
“Absolutely. They are genuine dangers to the Wizarding community.”
“And the rumours that you’re officially joining Potter’s campaign team?”
“Aren’t rumours. Ronald Weasley asked me to come in to help with some of the non-policy issues.”
“He remembered my flair for publicity back at school.”
“And he’s fine with Potter standing against his brother?”
“It’s just an election,” Draco said, allowing condescension to creep into his tone. “It’s not another war.”
“Of course not. Merlin forbid. Well, thank you very much, Mr Malfoy, loads of good copy there. What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“Good works, meditation on redemption, spot of charity.”
She beamed at him.
Broderick Wellingham stuck his head around the door. “Malfoy? Sorry to interrupt, but Abernathy needs you right away in his office.”
“Not at all, I think we’re done here?”
“Oh yes, quite done.”
Malfoy walked out, leaving whatever her name was to Wellingham. He’d read her byline in the paper tomorrow, with luck it would be beside a Death Eater Makes Good story, rather than one beginning Malfoy Declares Himself Guilty. He knocked on Abernathy’s door. There was no reply, but that wasn’t uncommon with the hard-of-hearing Department Head, so he opened the door and peered in cautiously. Abernathy wasn’t at his desk, but there was a large envelope propped up against a stack of books, with MALFOY written on it, so Draco took that as an invitation to enter.
Told Wellingham to get you away from that vulture of the press after fifteen minutes. I’ve been dragged into this meeting on the vote, hope to be back shortly, until then you can hide out in here. Make free use of the books, drinks in the bottom right desk drawer if it was particularly bleak. —A
Draco wished his job had more to it so that he could spend more time working with Abernathy, who really was an exemplary boss.
Wellingham knocked on the door a few minutes later, while Draco was still perusing the shelves. “She’s gone, Mr Malfoy.”
“Thanks, Broderick. Have you ever read anything by Geraldine Batterthwayte?”
“Murder mysteries, though with twists. I don’t believe the house-elf ever did it.”
“Sounds good.” Draco scrawled a thank you note on the back of Abernathy’s and left the title of the book he was borrowing, along with promises to return it swiftly.
“Are you with us today?” Wellingham asked.
“I’m not sure. I know Potter wanted to talk with me about this meeting, but I also suspect Abernathy wanted to talk with me after it.”
“I can come and fetch you when Abernathy returns,” Wellingham offered.
“You are worth your weight in gold.”
“If you could mention as much to Mr Abernathy …”
“I will. Though the whole department knows it. The whole Ministry, actually. Potter was telling me just the other day how reliable he found you.”
“Cheers, Mr Malfoy.”
Draco headed out of DMC with a light heart. It had cost him nothing to make Wellingham smile, just as on Friday afternoon it had cost him only a little effort and a few hours of being gently teased to have Periwinkle Brown declare him nearly fully trained on her office’s systems.
And now to meet up with Potter, who, if the papers were to be believed, had spent the weekend meeting with everyone from the Department Heads to the Muggle Prime Minister and possibly even the Queen.
He had clearly spent at least some of that time talking with the rest of the Auror Corps, because it wasn’t just Armitage who greeted him with a smile this fine Monday morning.
Willamson waved his giant hand in his direction. “Malfoy! Potter’s waiting for you. Chop chop!”
“Hurrying,” Draco replied with a smile, staying out of arm’s reach. A friendly pat on the back from Williamson could send the average man flying.
Williamson’s shout obviously carried, as Potter was opening his door before Draco could even knock. “Come in. Ron’s here, we’ve been hoping you’d be able to get away before the Department Heads got out.”
“Sorry, had an interview with a woman from the Prophet.”
“How’d it go?”
“She was rude, intrusive and wrong-headed.”
“Standards of the Cuffe media, I’m afraid,” Potter said with a sigh. “My first week on the job was spent with Robards complaining to me that no one would let him arrest Barnabas Cuffe, despite him making the Prophet into a Voldemort fan magazine. Apparently he’s just got too much dirt on too many people.
“Anyway, glad you escaped. Hermione’s trapped at work, so it’s just the three of us, but I wanted to have a quick word before the meeting gets out and the whole Ministry loses the rest of the day discussing the new voting laws.”
“But how do you know …” Draco stopped himself. Potter was clearly certain he had the vote on his side.
Potter grinned. “Hermione spent Friday afternoon with Kingsley investigating the status of the Minister for Magic. Turns out, he’s actually above the Prime Minister under Wizarding Law, which makes him our official representative to the Crown. We called in a few ex-Wizengamot members to consult and they all agreed that Wizarding Law necessarily outweighs Muggle Law.”
“Which makes sense when you think about it,” Ron chipped in. “Otherwise the Statutes of Secrecy would be unworkable.”
“So what does this all mean?”
Potter’s grin widened. “Because the UK is a parliamentary democracy, every British citizen has a right to have their vote count in the formation of a Government.”
“Save for Wizarding Britain,” Ron added, with what Draco guessed was an attempt at an oppressed expression. “Who have been labouring under the yoke of tyranny until now.”
“What Kingsley and I have been arguing is that we’re currently the only British citizens who don’t have universal suffrage. The Wizengamot were all in agreement by last night: apparently we stopped trying to keep up with Muggle voting reform some time in the early 1700s.
“Kingsley ran all this past the Muggle Prime Minister, who was outraged, you should have seen his little nostrils go all wide and puffy, and then we were all bundled into a car and taken to the Palace where I drank a lot of tea while several very stiff courtiers walked in and out and ushered first the PM and then Kingsley into the Royal Presence and I amused a corgi for half an hour and had two legitimate Duke of Edinburgh sightings – he’s very nice if you ignore the appalling comments – and the upshot of all this is that there’s actually no choice. Welcome to the new age of universal enfranchisement.”
Potter was actually beaming now, and Draco felt his own face curving into a smile. “You did it!”
“Well, Hermione and Kingsley did it and I ran around a lot and looked serious in the background, but yeah. At the moment it’s only voting on the top position, and candidates for Minister are subject to certain restrictions, but I think we may have just taken the first steps down the road to an elected Wizarding parliament.”
“Lord love a duck, we’re doomed,” Ron announced, dissolving the room into laughter.
“Anyway,” Potter said, “it means that we need to mount a campaign against Percy. Kingsley’s proposal calls for nominations to remain open for six weeks, with two weeks after that before the ballot. I think that if we come out early and make a strong stand to show that Percy’s position is flawed, we can weaken his support and encourage others to run. Then I’ll drop out at the end and we’ll throw all our combined weight behind the best candidate.”
“You’re running the risk that the best candidate at the cut-off date will still be you,” Draco pointed out.
“Surely that’s not very much of a risk?” Potter joked.
“In all seriousness, there is a real possibility that no one else will have the combination of integrity and popularity needed.”
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me.”
“Are you all right, Malfoy?” Ron asked.
“Oh, go boil your heads.”
“Don’t blame me if you end up Minister for Magic.”
“I’ve already thought about it,” Harry said. “I still think it’s unlikely, but if it comes to that, my first decree will be a term limit of one year for the first Minister under the new system. There are fewer than ten thousand eligible voters, so it won’t be that difficult or expensive to run another election that soon.”
Draco ran a quick column of numbers in his head. “Did you inherit Sirius Black’s Gringott’s account?” he asked. Potter nodded. Draco ran the revised numbers.
“You know, between the two of us, we could quite easily afford to buy this election at a very reasonable price and at a not-too-appalling cost to our own personal wealth.”
“Weasleys’ is doing very well,” Ron said. “I’d be in for that.”
“He’s going to be ethical,” Draco sighed, exchanging a rueful smile with Ron.
“Of course I am. That’s the cornerstone of our campaign, that we represent a moral authority lacking in the opposition.”
“Yeah, mate, of course it is. Malfoy and I were just teasing you.”
“Stop it before anyone hears you. I need you two on side and perfectly well behaved in public for the next two months. So far as anyone is concerned, Ron is the loyal friend who represents the hardworking businesswizard, and Malfoy, you’re a reformed soul making sure that the voice of the old wizarding families isn’t lost in all the upcoming changes.”
“Tax cuts,” Ron said, only half in jest.
Draco looked Potter up and down. “You need better robes. And a haircut. And to agree to that interview Witch Weekly tells my Mother they’d die to get from you. And then you need to go out and actually meet some old wizarding families and leave that sneering look of yours behind.”
“Sneering?” Potter sounded genuinely surprised. “When have I ever been sneering?”
“The very first time I met you,” Draco answered immediately, remembering the boy who had started off chatting with him with interest and ended up rushing off without a backward glance.
“You were the one doing the sneering,” Potter corrected him.
“I was no—”
“Stop.” Ron raised his hands. “Both of you, stop now.”
He shook his head with exaggerated mournfulness. “We have all been complete pricks to each other at some point in the last ten years. Admittedly,” he turned to Draco, “it was mostly us versus you, but Harry, you were an absolute twat in fifth year, and I was a complete cock during the war. I’ve spent the past few days operating under the assumption that we were letting all of that go and working together for the common good. Yes?” He looked at each of them in turn.
“Yes,” said Draco, readily.
“Yes,” said Potter. “Sorry.”
“Good. We’re moving on,” Ron said. “Unless either of you would like to congratulate me on my mature mediation skills.”
“You’re an example to us all,” Potter said, winking at Draco.
Draco managed not to laugh. “Truly, Weasley, if I was making badges now, the King bit would be unironic.”
“I should bloody well hope so. And he’s right, Harry, you are going to need new clothes and definitely new shoes, and you’ll probably need a private secretary to chase after you and mind your calendar. How can you be running the Aurors and not have a secretary?”
“I don’t need a secretary.”
“Actually, Ron’s right, you probably do. But it should be a private appointment paid for out of your own salary and not using Ministry resources. Good thinking, Ron. We’ll be able to make mileage out of that when your brother uses someone from within his own department.”
“Nice. Angelina Johnson’s looking for work. The county team she’s been flying for just went bankrupt and she doesn’t think she’ll be able to land a mid-season spot on another team.”
The name was familiar to Draco. “The old Gryffindor Quidditch captain?”
“Do you know how to get hold of her?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, she pops in at work occasionally to catch up and buy presents for her little cousins.”
“She’d be perfect.” Harry smiled at the two of them. “So?”
“This is quite mad,” Draco pointed out. “But it’ll be worth it.”
There was a knock at the door, and Wellingham appeared in response to Potter’s bellowed invitation to come in.
“Abernathy sent word the meeting’s breaking up, Mr Malfoy. Did you want to see him now or should I let him know you’re here?”
“I’m going back with Wellingham. Abernathy’s one of the good ones, so make sure you come and see him as soon as possible.”
“I will,” Potter said. “Are you going to be over at DMC for the rest of the day?”
“There or Permits with Brown.”
“All right, I’ll find you.”
“Cheers, Draco,” said Ron.
“Ron,” said Draco, managing to keep most of his surprise from his face. “Potter. Talk soon. Good work.”
Wellingham managed not to ask any questions until they had reached the lifts and were safely ensconced behind the closed door with no one else inside.
“Are really you working with Auror Potter on his election, really properly and not just to mess with the Prophet?”
“I really am,” Draco said.
“Brilliant.” Wellingham pressed the button for their floor. “I knew he wasn’t just playing nice for the posters. I told you that you’re not like the others, Mr Malfoy. You’re one of us, no matter how many stupid letters you get. So does that mean you know what this morning’s Department Heads meeting was about?”
“You don’t? What kind of a Secretary doesn’t know all the gossip?”
“Oh, I know, I’m just trying to determine whether or not you know.”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you what I know, in case what you think you know isn’t actually what I know …”
Draco smiled enigmatically, and Wellingham was still teasing him when they made it back to DMC.
Abernathy met them at the department doors, smiling widely and with most of DMC milling in the foyer behind him. “Come in, you two. I bring tidings of great joy!”
Potter had been right about the Ministry doing nothing else for the rest of the day. Abernathy broke out the Champagne and ordered in sandwiches to allow the team to “gather in convivial comfort” while he explained the new legislation. He also performed a brief mime of Percy Weasley’s reaction and told everyone they were to swear they hadn’t seen Malfoy in days and make their largest filing cabinets freely available for him to hide behind should it be necessary.
After lunch Draco abandoned his department to see if things were any more sensible down in Permits. In fact they were less so, with Brown being one of the few even making an attempt at doing anything more than discuss the morning’s events.
She swooped at the sight of him. “Come in, come in, before this lot spot you and pump you for information!”
Once her door was closed, she shook her head sadly. “And here I was thinking we were friends, only to learn you have completely held out on me about all the good gossip.”
“We are friends,” Draco insisted. “Or at least, good acquaintances on the way to becoming friends. I see that you have no qualms about pumping me for your own information, by the way.”
“You could have told me you were in cahoots with Potter on Friday.”
“I don’t think we were in cahoots on Friday,” Draco told her. “I think we were still in a secret conspiracy at that point, though he did give me back my wand. Cahoots probably started with Saturday’s Quibbler where he announced his candidacy and stated that I’d be a key supporter.”
“I heard he gave you the wand back on Thursday afternoon,” Brown teased.
“He meant to, he forgot. I had to stop by early on Friday to pick it up.”
“Too busy secretly plotting?”
“I think we were too busy being startled that neither of us was attempting to hex the other.”
Brown grinned. “Alicia Spinnett is running a book on when that’s going to start up again, you know. She owled me twice on Saturday to say that the Ministry had a moral imperative to check you both for being Imperiused. So, is he serious about running for Minister? Did the Queen really decree that we get a popular vote?”
“Yes, and quite possibly yes, that part of his story was all very confusing.”
“You’ve spoken with him today?”
“We had a short meeting.”
Brown whistled. “You really are one of the inner circle. Tell me, are the rumours true about the three of them?”
Draco gaped. “Periwinkle Brown!”
“What? I’m not saying they are, just that enquiring minds want to know.”
“No they don’t. No rational person would want to know that. Though for what it’s worth, I sincerely doubt it, Granger has a blind spot for Ron’s many failings, but she’s all too clear on Potter’s.”
Brown laughed. “More seriously, was everything OK with him after Weasley tore strips off him last Friday?”
Draco tried not to let it show that this was news to him, but he was too slow to stop the concern reaching his face. “He didn’t say …”
“It may not have been anything major,” Brown backtracked. “Just, I saw them down in the Atrium and the way Weasley was marching him out of there, and when I caught up with my friend from MLE later, she told me there was a lot of shouting behind closed doors up there. Something about the Aurors failing to bring someone in.”
“That sounds right. From what Claire was saying, it sounds as though she’s a real threat.”
Brown nodded. “Wasn’t she the one who infiltrated Hogwarts to hand Harry Potter over to Voldemort?”
Draco didn’t know where to begin. “She was a student at Hogwarts, and she never met Voldemort. She made one panicked comment when she thought they were all going to die. She’s only a threat to attractive young men and tasteful choices in nail varnish.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
Draco took one of her hands. “Peri, it’s in all the books. It was in the paper at the time.”
“Yes, but the Prophet isn’t reliable. Cuffe has always been a mouthpiece for the Establishment. You weren’t there, Draco. Lavender used to tell me about a secret paramilitary organisation at school in those days.”
“It was Dumbledore’s Army. Lavender was in it. Potter led it.”
“Well, that’s not what people are saying now. I mean, why else would the Aurors be after Parkinson?”
“Because Percy Weasley is a mad man?”
“Well, yes, that’s true, I suppose. But you have to wonder, don’t you? I mean, you can’t trust everyone, can you?”
Just as Draco was beginning to despair, there was a knock at the door and Potter popped through it, displaying that gift for timing that had so rarely worked in Draco’s favour in the past. Now, however, the universe seemed to be making up for past wrongs, as Draco’s “Potter, is Pansy Parkinson a threat?” was met with a snort of laughter and “Merlin no. Only to herself, given her taste in boyfriends.”
Brown said nothing, and her face fell into the lines of stunned awe that people’s faces often assumed in the presence of Potter.
“Periwinkle Brown, isn’t it?” Potter asked with a smile.
“Yes, yes it is. And you’re Harry Potter.”
“That’s right. I was at school with your cousin. Lovely girl. Just come to steal Malfoy away if you’re done with him?”
“That’s fine. We weren’t getting any work done today anyway.”
“No one is.” Potter grinned. “Cheers, Periwinkle. Catch you round?”
“Catch you, Harry.”
Draco managed not to roll his eyes at the flirtation packed into those three words.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Peri.”
“Right, bye Draco. Bye, Harry …”
Draco led the way out of Permits. Various voices sang out their hellos to Potter as they went past. Potter had a smile or wave for each.
“I suppose I should be congratulating you on your ready transformation into a politician, Potter, but seriously, is Level Six the headquarters of your fan club or have you just promised to give everyone in the Department of Magical Transportation an increase on their salaries?”
“People are just excited about the vote,” Harry replied, pressing the button for the lift.
“No one is that excited about a vote, Potter.”
“They are if it means they won’t have to work for Percy, have you seen the unpaid overtime the staff in his part of MLE are expected to put in?”
Draco was about to tell Potter this was no time for levity when he noticed the light for Level Eight was shining, not for Level Two.
“Where are we going?”
“Together? In daylight?”
“You said I needed new clothes.”
“I have work to do.”
“No you don’t. Besides, I cleared it with Abernathy. He says I can borrow you for as long as I need you.”
“And I thought he liked me.”
“Cheer up, you can spend the afternoon mocking my dress sense and criticising my appearance.”
Draco shook his head. “Stop joking. I’ve just had a very disturbing conversation with Brown, who seems to be labouring under the impression that Pansy’s a dangerous war criminal.”
The lift pinged and the doors opened before Potter could reply. Draco followed closely on his heels as he strode to the nearest Floo, and took a large pinch of powder from the communal pot. “Coming?” he asked.
“Oh good grief …” Draco complained, but stepped into the fire as Potter announced their destination.
Once their insides had caught up with their outsides at the other end, Potter picked up the conversation. “Quite a lot of people think Pansy’s dangerous, Malfoy. That’s why Percy was able to have the Wizengamot make out a warrant for her arrest.”
“But it’s so patently ridiculous!”
“I know that, and you know it, and across the country, maybe three or four hundred people know it, but with the media announcing first that she was a person under suspicion and now that she’s managed to elude capture, it’s easy to create a public image of Pansy that has nothing to do with the actual one. It’s not like straight after the war when we were trying people like the Lestrange brothers and Travers. Now they have to create villains, and not enough people know or care about the truth for it to matter.”
Draco’s conscience reminded him that Potter was talking from experience, so he didn’t argue, but … “It’s different when people blame me. I deserve it. I did some very bad things …”
And then Potter momentarily took hold of his hand and squeezed it and Draco’s thoughts were all derailed by the smooth strength of that grip.
“You did stupid things because you were young. And then you did good things when you realised the horrible mess you’d got yourself into.”
Draco’s bark of laughter was more than a little bitter. “Good things? Were you in a different war to the one I was in, Potter?”
“You didn’t try to stop me taking those wands from you.”
It was literally breathtaking the way that Potter could leap from shaggy-haired imbecile to genius with no steps between. Draco remembered the joy of simply letting go, and the idiot hope that Potter might kill him, and let him finally escape.
“I couldn’t have stopped you if I had tried,” he said.
Potter looked at him and shook his head slightly. “You didn’t try.”
Draco looked away. “You have this bad habit of making announcements regarding things on which you can have no certainty.”
And then Potter bloody well took his hand again, and Draco had no choice but to look back.
“I am absolutely certain,” Potter said, “that you acted to protect me that day.”
“Well then I’m glad one of us is.” Draco snatched his hand away. “Come on, before someone takes a photograph and decides you’re on the verge of arresting me. Madame Malkin is only open until four and she has the best range of professional worsteds. You could try Twilfitt and Tattings, but they’re a bit less robustly masculine in their range and we should be playing up the fact that you look as though you eat Percy Weasleys for breakfast.”
The thing with Potter, Draco mused as he spent the next hour approving and rejecting robes, jackets, coats, trousers and scarves, was that he had this untenable faith in decency. It wasn’t so bad when he directed it at people like Pansy, because she was sweet, really. But it was another thing entirely for Potter to assure him that his own actions had been rooted in a fundamental goodness. As far as he could recall, they had been rooted in desperation and panic.
Perhaps it was all just Potter’s immense fame, which saw everyone smile at him, his life a series of cheerful hellos, no queues at any Floo, a dozen looks of invitation from young witches as they had walked here – and Draco had to admit that he was good looking, but not that devastating – maybe you started to see the world through rose-coloured glasses when it arrayed itself for your pleasure.
Except he had turned around in the middle of a war and flown into a fire and …
“Oh for Merlin’s sake, Potter. You cannot wear that coat. It’s yellow.”
“You look like a dirty canary. Take it off.”
Draco wished he wouldn’t grin like that. People were going to start to think they were friends, and then they’d have to use each other’s first names and he was already saying Ron and if his father was ever coherent enough to take all of this in, it might actually kill him.
“What about this one?”
“Better. Ministerial. You want to stick to black, charcoal and navy, for the most part. Keep flashes of colour small: ties, scarves, gloves. You can get away with red socks at a pinch, because you’re young and sporty, but you don’t want that to be the first thing people see when they see you. You want to make them think of power, and success.”
“Then I should just campaign in my Auror robes.”
And of course he was right: because that was how they all saw him. Potter the defender, Potter the protector.
“Auror robes are for Auroring. I thought you wanted to be Minister for Magic. You’re going to need to project steadiness and reliability, hug babies and kiss old ladies. Possibly the other way around.”
“I’ll be voting for you,” Madame Malkin said, smiling as she pulled down a box of scarves for his selection.
“Thank you,” Potter replied, with easy charm.
“I remember the first time you came in here,” she went on. “I knew you were destined for great things, even then.”
As far as Draco could recall, she had known he was too skinny for the school trouser in his leg length, offered him a matching belt at half price, and popped a hem on a too-large robe because he was “so very likely to have a growth spurt at your age”. But he supposed that it was Potter, and people had so rarely let the truth matter when it came to him. And he was going to see Pansy and Theo safe.
“What do you think?” Potter asked.
He was wearing a charcoal suit, with a black overcoat, red scarf and gleaming black shoes. He was devastating.
“You’ll do,” Draco said, brusquely. “Do you have time for a haircut?”
There were wizards waiting at the barber’s, but they all declared they had plenty of time and would be honoured if Potter would go ahead of them. News had spread quickly, as two promised Potter their votes, while the third pressed him on the possibility of opening up the potions trade with Europe.
In less than half an hour they were back outside with a slightly neater Potter brushing specks of hair from his face. “So. You were saying that I should meet with some of the old families. Where do you think we ought to start?”
“With a written invitation,” Draco said, exasperated. “You can’t just turn up on their doorsteps and say, ‘Hello, sorry if I was responsible for sending any of your relatives to Azkaban, can I count on your vote?’”
“I was expecting we’d start with the non-Death Eater set.”
“Fine.” Draco thought for a moment. “Adrian Pucey works on his parents’ farm. They should all be there. Though it’s probably not the best place for your new clothes.”
“Cleaning charms work wonders. Can you get us there?”
“I’m all dressed up. Williamson is holding down the fort in case of emergencies.”
“You don’t want to wait until they might have had a chance to read about the new laws in the paper? Until you’ve developed some cohesive policies?”
“The Prophet afternoon edition should be out already. I’m just dropping by, shaking hands, taking the temperature of the electorate.”
“Fine. Don’t blame me if your shoes are ruined.”
They had a clear patch of street, so Draco Disapparated them direct to the Puceys’ part of Cumbria. He immediately wished he’d thought to borrow one of Potter’s new scarves, as it was a good five degrees cooler than it had been in London. Despite his warnings, the farm was gridded with paved paths, all swept clean, and the long-haired sheep and horses dotted around the verdant fields could have been advertising Vertiman’s Veterinary Vitamin Potions, so perfect were their coats.
Adrian was at the side of the farmhouse, working at repairing some agricultural contraption, which he put down at the sound of their arrival.
“Draco! What brings you … here with Potter?”
At least he looked bemused rather than appalled, Draco thought.
“Politics! Potter’s running for Minister, or have you been too busy breeding three-legged chickens to keep up with the news?”
“Rather three-legged chickens than being caught up in all that London mess. I take it you’re here to sweet-talk the olds?”
“Just have a quick chat with the three of you about what the new voting laws will mean,” Potter said. “Nice butter churn.”
Adrian gave a small smile. “It’s a good old piece, but the spells need refreshing, and the blades needed buffing. I’ve been waiting for a fine day. Done now. Come on, they’re inside. May as well have a cuppa while you’re here.”
Draco didn’t ask how Potter knew what a butter churn looked like. The answer would only be something distressing, like helping Hagrid to optimise Thestral dairy opportunities. Instead, he followed them inside, hoping that the Pucey’s were actually as equable as he recalled.
Mr and Mrs Pucey weren’t expecting guests, but like most countryfolk, they were prepared, and a fresh pot of tea was quickly made and currant buns popped on the table, along with fresh butter, jam and cream. The afternoon Prophet was folded on the corner of the table, with news about the voting reforms just below the banner.
“I suspected we’d be hearing more,” Mr Pucey said, “but I didn’t suspect we’d have the Acting Head Auror making a personal appearance hot on the heels of the news.”
Potter’s smile was suitably self-effacing. “Actually, I’m here because Malfoy has been making it very clear to me that half the problems affecting the Ministry at the moment come from us being overly focussed on micromanagement and underly focussed on the actual needs of the wizarding populace. So when he told me I ought to get out and listen to some needs, I thought I may as well start early.”
“Did he now?” Mr Pucey was amused. “A Malfoy recommending listening to others. Things are changing.”
Cups of tea were poured and buns served all round before any of the Puceys ventured any policy suggestions, but once Adrian suggested that surely the current comprehensive cheese legislation could be replaced by something shorter that called for accurate labelling and guaranteed non-lethal ingestion, they were off. In the space of twenty minutes, Draco learned that the wizard on the land felt that half the current tariffs were too high, the other half too low, the lack of research funding into soil spells nothing short of shameful, and the need for post-war spell cleansing on some of the prime agricultural land north of the border nothing less than desperate.
Potter, bless his earnest little face, was taking notes. Even Draco could start to feel himself being charmed. It was those straight shoulders. They could confuse an uncertain young wizard.
“And you’re saying that it can take you two years to have your assessment for tax credits after a bad year agreed to by the Ministry, but in a good year you’re expected to pay them within three months?”
“That’s right,” said Mrs Pucey, gratified that he had been paying attention.
“That hardly seems fair. I think six to twelve months for each would be more reasonable.”
“Well, if you could swing that, we’d happily vote for you,” Mr Pucey said with a smile.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Potter promised.
“If you’re still in the running, lad. I’m guessing you’ve not seen this …” Mr Pucey flipped over the Prophet. There, below the fold, in large-point type, was ZABINI ESCAPE: Is Potter’s inexperience endangering us all?
“Bugger,” said Potter.
“You’d best be getting back to London, son,” Mr Pucey said. “But if you can get yourself out of this one, you can count on us.”
Draco would have Apparated them away there and then, but Potter insisted on thanking Mrs Pucey and Adrian for the food, and congratulating the whole family on the beauty of their farm, while thanking them additionally for their time and input. It was the better part of ten minutes before they walked out the front door.
“We need to get in and manage this straight away,” Draco said as soon as the door closed behind them. “You need a plausible explanation as to how Blaise got out, and why you haven’t recaptured him yet.”
“I know. Sadly the truth is, because we left the doors unlocked and all looked away for twenty minutes, but that’s not going to go down well in the papers. I’ll have a chat with Dawlish and Williamson. See if we can get any help in from Robards. They’ve been doing this far longer than me and are old hands at the less proper parts of Aurordom.”
“Good thinking. You should change back into your uniform before you talk to the media.”
“I agree. Madame Malkin said she’d have everything back at my office by the time I got there, so if we call a press conference for, say, four? That should give us time for everything and still make the evening edition if they put out another special today.”
“Sounds reasonable. OK, hold on, I’m going to Apparate us in directly …”
The Atrium was swarming with journalists, Draco could even see Luna Lovegood’s fair hair behind her burlier colleagues.
“Sod,” Potter whispered.
There was no hiding. “Mr Potter!” “Auror Potter!” “Harry!”
A tall wizard made it to them first and thrust a radio microphone in front of Potter’s face. “Harry Potter, what do you have to say in response to the allegations that your ineptitude was responsible for the escape of Blaise Zabini from Auror custody?”
Potter was so busy blinking at the burst of camera flashes that he said nothing.
“Auror Potter can hardly be blamed for not knowing that Blaise Zabini is believed to be an unregistered Animagus,” Draco heard himself say.
Potter’s look of quiet surprise was as nothing to Draco’s own, which he fervently hoped the photographers would be registering as nervousness in front of the assembled throng.
“What sort of animal can Zabini turn into?”
“A ferret.” Draco would have kicked himself, but it was too late now and it would undermine his credibility to start committing acts of self-harm in front of the media.
“And could a ferret find its way out of Auror custody, Mr Potter?”
Potter found his voice and took a step forward, much to Draco’s relief. “As Mr Malfoy has just informed you, Zabini is not registered as an Animagus, which means that we were detaining him in a standard cell. I am afraid that it is possible for small animals such as ferrets to escape under such circumstances, as there are a number of ventilation shafts and drains that could be accessed by a mustelid.
“Obviously, we were fully prepared for and able to prevent any escape attempt by a full-sized wizard, but as you will know, the Animagus transformation is one of the few pieces of traditionally wandless magic, so we were at a disadvantage, despite holding Mr Zabini’s wand in secure custody.
“The irony in all of this is that the Auror department had asked for funds to upgrade all of our custody suites in this year’s budget, but when the MLE allocation was dispersed, we were refused funding for this financial year.”
“Would that have kept Zabini under wraps?”
“It’s impossible to say with certainty, but I believe it would have been more likely.”
“This isn’t the first time you’ve complained about Auror funding levels, Mr Potter.”
“Nor will it be the last.”
“Mr Malfoy! Mr Malfoy! Who knew about Zabini’s abilities?”
Draco stepped forward again. “Most of us at school had heard the rumours. Vince Crabbe, Greg Goyle, Theo Nott and Pansy Parkinson had all been told that Zabini was working on a number of esoteric transformation skills, which I firmly believe he mastered. Auror Potter has only found out in the last half hour, and was just heading back in to redirect his department’s search parameters.”
“Mr Malfoy! Did You-Know-Who value Zabini’s ability to transform himself?”
“I don’t believe they ever met.”
“Auror Potter, what do you have to say about your department’s low success rate in arresting alleged war criminals over recent months?”
“My department can’t arrest people who aren’t there,” Potter announced.
“Are you saying that someone is warning them?”
“I’m merely pointing out that of eight recent warrants, six people have been coincidentally not at any of their known addresses or places of employment or entertainment when we have gone in search of them. If that’s all, I’m late for a meeting.”
The press chased them through the Atrium, but Luna managed to make it to the front of the pack and blocked any of the media from entering the lift behind them. “Mr Potter,” she said, with a wink. “Is it true that you and Kingsley Shacklebolt have an invitation to dine with the Duke of Edinburgh?”
“Actually, that is true,” Potter replied, as the lift doors pinged and closed.
“Really?” Draco wasn’t sure why he was surprised.
“I don’t think anything will come of it, he was mostly wanting to know if we had any magical ways of dealing with annoying members of the media.”
“And you told him?”
“That it would be against the Statutes of Secrecy to turn certain editors into toads.”
Draco started to laugh, and Potter joined in. “A ferret? Really?”
“It was all I could think of at short notice.”
“Very selfless of you. Do you have a description of this ferret?”
“Oh, it’s Blaise. He’d be a sleek charcoal with a classic black mask. Archetypal ferret, of course, probably the longest, slinkiest and canniest ferret of them all.”
“And these esoteric transformation skills?”
“Hair spells, you know Blaise …”
By the time the lift reached Level Two, they were both reduced to giggling and had to run down the corridor and close the door of the Auror department behind them.
“I hear,” said Williamson, looking at them both with Extreme Disappointment, “that we are now on the hunt for a fugitive ferret.”
“Sorry, sir,” said Armitage, holding up her radio guiltily. “I had it on for the music, but the newsflash just came over.”
Out of charity, Draco didn’t look at Potter. If ever the man had needed a straight face … But then Williamson winked, and Armitage started to laugh, and that grim blond wizard who had previously scowled at Draco came out from behind his desk, tears in his eyes, and it was all much sillier than Aurors ought to be.
“It was all Malfoy,” Potter was saying. “I was about to make some vague statement about not being able to comment on an ongoing investigation and he comes out with this inspired nonsense and I suddenly remembered that Gawain had padded out our last budgetary request with those super-duper cell designs and now it looks as though we’re a hardworking team, consistently let down by a lack of departmental support.”
Williamson patted Draco on the back and sent him several feet forwards. “Well done, son!”
Potter tapped the nearest sheet of paper with his wand, producing an image of a very Zabini-esque ferret. “Circulate this freely. Ask people to look in their chicken coops.”
“You realise we’re going to spend the next week running all over the countryside on random ferret sightings?” Armitage asked.
“If it means we’re too busy for any of Percy’s witch hunts, so much the better,” Potter replied, heading towards his office. “I’m prepared to sign off on the full overtime allocation for this month, so get busy.”
“Madame Malkin sent round a pile of clothes, I put them on your desk,” Armitage called after them.
“Cheers, Hester. Come on, Malfoy. We need to get a step ahead here.”
Draco closed the door to Potter’s office behind them and turned around to find Potter with his shirt off. He turned back very quickly.
“Seriously?” Potter asked, making a sound that sounded distressingly like taking off his trousers.
“You … you have a lot of scars,” Draco said, determinedly not thinking of shoulders. Definitely not thinking of the muscles descending Potter’s torso beneath them.
“Most of us do,” Potter replied lightly.
“Most people prefer to get changed with a little privacy.”
“You were just at Madame Malkin’s with me in and out of my trousers a dozen times.”
“This is hardly the same,” said Draco as a barely-worn ten-Galleon shirt landed on his head. “There, I was looking at the clothes.”
“You can turn around, I’m decent. Right. Are we going to assume that was Percy driving the press corps?”
Draco threw the shirt back at Potter, who caught it with one hand while still lacing up his Dragonskin jerkin with the other. “It has to be, doesn’t it? Who else would have known enough names to get in touch with to get them all here so quickly? I even saw that nice old man from Which Broom in amongst the pack.”
“So he’s not going to play nicely?”
“I’d assume not. And judging by the fact you seem to be donning Auror riot gear, I take it you’re planning to … Potter, you can’t kill him, Ron would be upset.”
“I’m not going to kill Percy, I’m not going to kill anyone. I’m going to arrest an illegal potions manufacturer in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The file’s right here, it came in while we were out.”
“You were planning arrests at the same time as taking off your clothes?”
Potter grinned. “When you say it, it sounds wrong. I should be less than two hours if you want to wait here, I’m off to Hermione’s tonight and thought you might like to come.”
Draco pulled Abernathy’s book from his pocket. “I have something to read. I’ll wait outside so no one can suspect me of going through your things.”
“I trust you. But wait outside anyway, Hester’s rostered on for communications, so she’s going to be stuck here and she can use the company. Hermione should be popping in around five-thirty, you can head off with her if I’m not back in time.”
“Can I let the Prophet and Quibbler know you’ll be bringing in a genuine criminal this afternoon?”
“That would be attempting to make political mileage out of my legitimate responsibilities.”
“What about if I asked them to hold the evening edition and made myself available to answer questions on Blaise Zabini’s schoolboy antics in the Atrium at ten to five?”
“I’ll see what I can do. All right, let’s break the news to the team. Williamson, Peters, Holroyd, kit up. Armitage, you’re minding Malfoy.”
In fact Potter surpassed himself. Draco had just thanked the ladies and gentleman of the press for meeting him at such short notice when the four Aurors appeared in the middle of the Atrium, Potter covered in blood and holding up Peters with one wiry arm while keeping his wand trained on three disarmed criminals with the other; Williamson holding two of the culprits limply in his huge hands and Holroyd struggling with the third.
“I need a MediWizard,” Potter shouted, and two ran out from the Ministry First Aid room. He handed Peters over to them and moved to help Holroyd with his prisoner.
Draco didn’t remember moving, but he was walking alongside Potter as they went for the lift and the cameras flashed behind them. He could hear questions being shouted, but was only interested in his own, “Are you all right?”
“Mostly not my blood,” Potter answered, tearing a strip from his tattered shirt to wipe his face. “The big one Williamson’s carrying decided we couldn’t arrest them if he destroyed the laboratory. Peters took the brunt of it, I only copped a few scratches. Can you find out how Peters is for me?”
Draco shooed the photographers away from the MediWizards, who repaid his efforts with a short report that Peters would be fine, but was off to St Mungo’s for the night for a rest and a course of Blood Replenishing Potion. He then found himself having to give a quick summation of events to Ashgrove from the Prophet, while Luna kept herself quietly over by the lifts. Once he had sent Ashgrove running off to make his deadline, he joined her.
“You can’t keep spoiling us like that, Draco,” she teased, kissing his cheek in greeting. “If all your press conferences are as exciting as today’s, we’ll run out of column inches long before the election.”
“Are you coming up?” he asked.
“Yes. He’s all right?”
“He said he was.”
Draco hit the button for Level Two and tried not to look worried. It had all worked out well, really. Potter had been every inch the hero, and even the blood on his face had served only to accentuate his cheekbones. But there was blood on his face. Again. Draco remembered fire and his own screaming and a night of horror that had ended with Potter limp in that half-giant’s arms …
The lift pinged.
“Come on, let’s reassure Potter.”
The Auror office was in full swing as they walked in. The prisoners were being escorted to their holding cells, Williamson and Holroyd were being checked over for injuries, Armitage was looking up Peters’ home address, and Potter’s door was closed. Draco knocked, Potter would have every excuse for having his shirt off again and there was no point courting that sort of thing.
“It’s me and Luna.”
Potter had already changed. He was just buttoning up a fresh shirt, the blood-spattered remains of his old one lay on his desk, along with a punctured jerkin and a nasty-coloured bowl of water and towel. Potter gave a small shake of his head when he saw Draco’s expression, so Draco didn’t ask.
“They told me that Peters would be fine, he just needs a good night’s sleep and a dose of Blood Replenishing Potion.”
“Good news,” Potter said, Vanishing the detritus on his desk. “I’ll visit him at St Mungo’s. I have to go and see his wife before she hears about this from another source.”
“The wireless weren’t there,” Draco assured him.
“Even better news.” Potter took his formal Auror robe from the back of his chair and swung it on. “Hermione sent word that she’s coming straight up. Do you two want to go home with her and I’ll meet you there later?”
“Should we save you some dinner?” Luna asked.
“That’d be great.”
“And you’re fine?”
The door was pushed open with vigour. “Harry?” Granger interrogated.
“I’m fine,” Potter replied, holding up both sides of his hands. “Small scratches, all healed. Got to go. Take these two back to yours and I’ll join you as soon as I can.”
“Save you dinner?”
“Luna’s a step ahead of you.” Potter walked through the still-open door. “Armitage, you’re with me. Williamson, can you fill in comms until handover? Good man.”
Granger waited until his voice had faded before she asked, “Is he really all right? Timms said he saw him when he came in and he looked as though he’d gone three rounds with a thresher.”
“There was an explosion and one of the other Aurors was hurt. It was mostly the other man’s blood.”
“Is he going to be all right?”
“I suppose that’s less awful than it could be. Anyway, we should be off. Get out of their hair in here.”
Luna and Draco fell into step with her as they left. Granger chatted about difficulties with the new house-elf legislation as they made their way through the halls, and it wasn’t until they were back on a briskly chill London street that she sighed and tilted her face into the wind-blown drizzle. “I swear, after today, it’s going to be an absolute joy to go home and try to explain to Parkinson why Muggles need curling irons.”
Draco found himself patting her shoulder, and telling her he knew exactly how she felt. “But you did it. Shacklebolt and maybe even Potter will probably get all the credit, but we all know it was you who made it work.”
“It was,” she said, grinning. “Cheers, Malfoy.”
“So have your parents been minding Pansy again?”
“No, they had to work today, too.”
Draco was startled. “You left her alone?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I asked my friend Vanessa to mind her.”
“She’s my friend from primary.”
“I didn’t think you had any female friends. Except for Lovegood, and Weasley, who Ron tells me isn’t currently speaking to any of you. Sorry.”
“She’s speaking to me,” Luna corrected him. “Though she probably won’t be after the next issue of the Quibbler,” she corrected herself.
“I have a number of female friends. Vanessa’s my oldest, and she’s a Muggle, so if she’s still there I’ll expect you to be charming.”
“I’ll be delightful. How did you stay friends with her when you were away at school all the time?”
“Letters, catching up in the holidays … Look, we may not be as close as we were when we were eight, but I’ve known her my whole life and she’s important to me.”
“I was just curious. It can’t be easy juggling worlds, I admire your work to stick with an old friend. How did you explain Pansy to her?”
“I told her she’s from uni, and she’s frightfully posh, so she’s mostly useless, but basically nice, which is at least true on a majority of points, I think.”
“I didn’t think Parkinson would be able to pass for a Muggle for a whole day,” Luna mused.
“She spent the weekend reading magazines and watching telly. She’ll be fine, they were going shopping and then planning to get their nails done.”
Draco blinked. “You have a Muggle girl friend who likes getting her nails done?”
“She’s a visual artist. Shut up.”
“You’re a constant source of amazement to me, Granger.”
Draco, not being stupid, had already Apparated before Granger’s elbow made it to where his midsection had been.
He knocked on her front door the instant after Granger and Luna appeared behind him. A tall red-haired girl answered, with another, shorter, version behind her, and it took Draco a moment to recognise the second as Pansy.
“You must be Vanessa.”
“I am. And you must be one of Pansy’s awful friends, who she’s been telling me scandalous stories about all day.”
“I’m the nice one.”
“Ha! Hi Hermione. How was it all?”
“Murderous. I can’t believe it’s only the second month of term. Ness, this is Draco Malfoy, he’s doing Divinity, and Luna Lovegood, Botany, specialising in Botanical History.”
“Lovely to meet you both, sadly, I have to run. Paul’s coming by to pick me up for his opening in half an hour and I need a shower and a change.”
“Another time,” Draco said with a smile.
Granger pushed past him to hug her friend. “Thank you so much, I owe you!”
“Don’t be silly, it was heaps of fun and Pansy paid for our nails. See ya, Pans!”
“See ya, Ness! Next time we’ll get a pedicure, too!”
Pansy let them all in and led them through the house to the kitchen, flicking the switch on the kettle before she grinned at Granger.
“Vanessa’s rumbled you.”
“She knows your secret.”
Granger raised her eyebrows expressively.
“She informed me, strictly on the quiet, that she knew you were Security Service and that I was to relax because she would certainly not be mentioning to anyone that I was a foreign operative – apparently my English really is excellent and all I need to do is become more familiar with shops and no one will know I’m not a native.”
Granger blinked. “She thinks we’re spies?”
“Give her credit, she’s not stupid and you’re obviously something.”
“I’d think I’m obviously a student: I’m always lugging books around.”
“You disappeared for a year, and you are never, ever hungover on a weekday morning.”
“My oldest friend thinks I’m a trainee James Bond.”
“I thought she was very clever, it’s a reasonable explanation that fits all the known facts.”
“Who’s James Bond?” Draco whispered to Luna, who shrugged in reply.
“My cover story already fit all the facts. Small, new, private university for very smart people. Easy!”
Pansy shook her head. “You shouldn’t have told her I went there, too.”
“I told her you were doing English.”
“It’s good news, really, if you ever accidentally kill anyone, she’ll assume they were a terrorist and help you hide the body.”
Granger’s face briefly showed that she was considering an immediate testing of this concept, but it passed. “Sit down,” she said. “I’ll make the tea.”
Draco took advantage of Granger’s search for the good mugs to fill Pansy in on the day’s events. She had a good laugh at the idea of Blaise the ferret, but was not as impressed with the rest of their accomplishments as he had expected her to be.
“I mean, yes, it’s obviously brilliant that you’ve managed to overturn centuries of unfairness in a weekend – good work, Granger – but that doesn’t get me any closer to going home. I ironed all the smocks for Amelia’s dental nurses this morning, I was that bored.”
Granger nearly dropped one of the mugs. “You used the iron?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. But it was very dull spellwork.” Pansy sighed. “I know that it’s nowhere near as bad as you had it, Granger, but I miss my Mum and Dad.”
Granger passed her a mug of sweet tea and patted her shoulder. “We’re doing what we can, Parkinson.”
Luna was staring at Pansy’s purple-tipped hands. “What was it like getting your nails done by a Muggle?” she asked.
“What? Oh. Good. Fun. They give you a hand massage and ask if you have any plans for the evening. And the Muggle stuff is much easier to get off than ours: Ness changed her mind on her colour and they just wiped the first one off.”
“It looks great,” Luna complimented.
“You did very well with Ness,” Granger said.
“Well, she’s just like us, isn’t she? Except without magic.”
And Pansy looked completely nonplussed when Granger spontaneously hugged her. Draco smiled. He didn’t mind it when Granger and Potter treated them as though they were a little simple on some matters. They did the same with Ron, after all.
Luna was the only one who had grown up in their world who seemed to have an instinctual understanding that Muggles were a far lesser threat than other wizards. She had cheered him up sometimes, in the dungeons during the war. Told him they could all run away together if things got worse. They would get work on the stage and he would be her beautiful assistant. Dean would be their manager and Mr Ollivander would manufacture Amazing Feats to Astonish the Eyes.
She had kept them all going with her hope. Built a shell around them. It hadn’t lasted. Dean Thomas hadn’t spoken a word to him since he escaped. Draco couldn’t blame him.
“Drink your tea,” Granger told him. “Before it gets cold.”
They all helped with dinner. Draco wasn’t much use, but he knew how to lay cutlery, so he did the table. Granger’s parents arrived home while things were bubbling on the hob, followed in short order by the evening special of the Prophet and Potter in his new campaigning clothes.
He stopped at the door of the kitchen, taking in the sight of Granger stirring, Luna and Pansy assembling a salad and Draco hunting for condiments. “Dumbledore would burst with pride if he could see this,” he teased.
“Hufflepuff,” Pansy declared, throwing a mushroom at his head.
“Is that the paper?”
“Just arrived,” Granger replied. “You’re on the front page, looking suitably heroic. Nice lengthy piece on your team’s work against illegal potions, and an editorial inside asking what it will take to fund the Aurors properly in this day and age. Equally nice piece on page five that includes an illustrated diagram on how Zabini escaped through the drains and encourages school children to think twice about keeping secrets that might lead to national security incidents. There’s a photo of Malfoy and promises for a tell-all interview tomorrow, sounds more positive than not, judging by the photo choice. I think we can count that as a resounding win for round one.”
“Running late. He should be here soon. OK, that’s ready. Luna, can you pass me the big blue bowl? Harry, you take in the bread, Malfoy, the pepper grinder is over here. In we go.”
Dinner was civilised and pleasant, the only difference to home being that one had to physically pass each item as it was requested by others. Though Granger did Enlarge the last of the bread when she realised she had underestimated how much they’d need. Ron joined them while there was still plenty of food left, and brought the news that he’d been talking tax cuts with some of his fellow traders.
“Ron, you can’t seriously want a tax cut,” Potter complained. “You only pay fifteen per cent at the top level.”
“Outrageous,” Ron and Draco replied in unison.
“It pays for St Mungo’s, and the Ministry, and bursaries for Hogwarts and all the rest of the infrastructure that makes everything run.”
“We pay forty per cent,” Mrs Granger said. “It mostly seems to go on politician’s travel allowances.”
The rest of dinner was spent discussing the yoke of oppression under which British Muggles laboured, though with a stalwart defence of something called the NHS. Draco strongly suspected Mr and Mrs Granger of thoroughly enjoying themselves.
When the others got up to clear, Potter asked him to stay for a moment.
“I made a list,” he said, pulling a scroll from his pocket. “All the old families you might know, who I know weren’t on Voldemort’s side, and who have a history of political involvement. I thought we should choose our targets.”
Draco took the scroll and the offered quill and ticked the names he knew well enough to organise a visit. Potter read over his shoulder, pointing at one of the ticks.
“I thought we might visit the Bletchleys tomorrow.”
“They’re all the way down in Rhossili.”
“Yes. So I’ve scheduled the morning off for both of us.”
Draco was confused. “It’s not that far, we can Apparate in one jump.”
“I thought we might pop across to Swansea for brunch after.”
“Not that I’m building any epic personal theories …”
Draco smiled. “Of course not. Though you might not be entirely wrong if you were.”
“Who could resist Nott’s sweet rabbity eyes?”
“I can just as easily go back to hating you.”
“After you’ve voted for me. So, meet you around nine?”
“I’ll head home and get in touch with the Bletchleys now. Quarter to nine at the coffee house, they’re a short walk from there.”
“Excellent. Wear shoes you can climb in.”
“Where are we going to climb? I thought we were politicking, not taking in areas of natural beauty.”
“No reason we can’t do both.”
Draco ended up wearing not only sturdy boots, but also a boiled-wool coat the next morning. And, as he waited in the lee of the whitewashed cafe, he was grateful for both, as the Gower Peninsula had decided to demonstrate why it was most often described as ‘exposed’, ‘wet’, and ‘windy’.
Potter wasn’t late, just less early. He was wearing his new coat, but with less citified trousers and shoes visible beneath it. While Draco was sure his own face would be best described using terms like ‘pinched’ and ‘dripping’, Potter looked like an advertisement for Travelling Tonic – “five miles of good country air in every spoonful”.
“Come on,” Draco said. “They’re expecting us.”
In fact, Harry was expected by more than just the Bletchleys. They had invited all the nearby witches and wizards to breakfast, and thirty-four people politely listened to Potter’s policy platform, then asked questions and made comments for the next forty-five minutes.
Potter had come prepared this time and had filled the first third of his notebook with queries, names and things requiring investigation by the time they broke for tea.
“That went well,” Draco said, quietly.
Before Potter could answer, a small, grey-haired witch bundled up, took Potter’s hand, shook it heartily and said “I don’t suppose you remember me, Auror Potter?”
“Doris Crockford, you were one of the first people I met on my first trip to Diagon Alley …”
“Oh! Now to think you’d remember such a thing!”
Draco found a quiet corner and let things progress at their own pace. He had envied this once, the way people revolved around Potter. Now he was happy to be out in his own little erratic orbit. They looked excited about something, so he paid attention and discovered that Doris Crockford was forming a Witches for Potter auxilliary, who would be happy to manage Potter’s mailouts, and did he have any badges?
“We’re expecting a delivery tomorrow,” Draco said, rescuing Potter from a blank look of confusion. “I’ll make sure the first box is forwarded out here. And I’m afraid that if I don’t get Auror Potter back on schedule soon, there’ll be no hope of catching up with the campaign.”
It still took twenty minutes for him to leave this time – everyone wanted their hand shaken, and any number of photographs were required, along with a few signatures on last night’s Prophet. Draco was even asked for one of his own, across this morning’s cover, where his own face smiled out alongside the headline Harry Potter: how he won this Death Eater’s vote.
Bletchley walked them out, thanking Potter for his patience. “You’re serious about winning, aren’t you?” he asked, looking around to check they weren’t being overheard.
“Unless a better candidate comes along,” Potter answered, with more honesty than Draco thought necessary.
Bletchley took a breath before he spoke. “Make sure anyone better than you believes what you two have been saying in the paper. My girl was seeing a Snatcher for a while during the war. He didn’t tell her what he did, she didn’t even find out until nearly at the end, and she sent him packing when she did, but, well. It matters that you win, Harry.”
Harry shook his hand, and promised to do his best.
By the time they walked up to Seamus’s cousin’s place in Swansea, it was well past ten, and Mr Muffles was yapping away merrily inside. The door opened as they were walking up the path, and Theo appeared, with Mr Muffles running circles around his feet and a lithe blonde pushing her hair back into a ponytail.
“See you tonight, yeah?” she asked, stepping away a little at the sight of Draco and Potter.
“Yeah, tonight. Er, Karen, this is Draco and Harry. Lads, this is Karen.”
Both sides exchanged how do you do’s as she put up her umbrella and walked past and away, turning once for a private smile and wave in Theo’s direction.
He looked at them in mild confusion. “I thought we were keeping quiet? Is anything wrong? You don’t look well, Draco.”
“He’s just underslept,” Potter said. “We were in the area and just wanted to stop by to make sure you’re doing well. And apparently you’re doing very well.”
Theo grinned. “It’s Muffles. All the girls love him, with his silly furry face, don’t they, mate? Karen’s a vet nurse, so we got talking in the park on Saturday morning. And then we talked some more …”
“Well done, you. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that things are slowly progressing in our favour. I’ll pop back in a week or two to fill you in. Until then, stay out of trouble.”
“Cheers, Potter. You get some sleep, Draco, you look wretched.”
“Politicking,” Draco explained. “Huge, complex plots and plans, no time for sleeping this week, but I promise I’ll nap all I can next.”
“Good man. OK, well, I guess I’ll see you?”
“See you,” Potter said, and Draco muttered something along those lines, but was too busy not tripping over as Potter took him by the elbow and led him briskly up the street. Before he could complain, they were Disapparating and Potter had dragged them back to Rhossili, a few miles from the Bletchleys’.
This close to the water, the wind whipped more damply, which improved Draco’s frame of mind. “All this and we’ve still not managed breakfast,” he complained.
Potter smiled at him. “Theo has terrible taste.”
“He does,” Draco agreed. “But it’s all right.” And it actually was all right. Fancying Theo had been little more than a habit, really. There were plenty of other fanciable dark-haired men who didn’t cavort with Welsh painted floozies.
“I had a plan that the three of us would hike out on Worm’s Head and have a picnic and I’d be called back to London,” Potter admitted.
Draco looked out at the rainswept cresting islet under the grey cloud, with its low causeway just above the tide and the seabirds wheeling above. “You have a strange idea of romantic getaways.”
“Shut up, have a sandwich.”
They were at least good sandwiches. Food put everything into a far better perspective, and Draco found he was able to smile quite easily.
“That was very thoughtful,” he said. “A complete failure, and probably always doomed, but very thoughtful nonetheless.”
Potter looked guilty. “It seemed the least I could do. I can’t do anything to really fix the situation your friends are in yet, so this seemed like an easy way to say thanks for all your help.”
Draco grinned. “It’s my fault. I should know better than to fall for straight boys.”
“It’s not your fault, and I’m willing to bet that quite a few of the boys you think are straight, aren’t.”
“That’s very encouraging, Potter. I’ll be sure to make a note in my journal tonight that you think I am less statistically doomed to singledom than experience has suggested.”
“You keep a journal?”
“Shut up. Are there any more sandwiches?”
There weren’t, so they left the rocks and the birds to themselves and headed back to the Ministry.
The first polls were very good. Fifty-nine to thirty-eight in Harry’s favour, with three per cent undecided and sixty-one per cent of eligible voters registered and planning to vote.
Percy was frigidly polite when they encountered each other around the Ministry, and Malfoy had shared with him his list of corridors, stairwells and goods lifts almost never frequented by Percy Weasley.
Harry kept waiting for an attack in the paper, on his youth, his probity, his hair … But the most criticism he had received had been from Malfoy telling him that Harry was possibly the most hopeless figure of political influence he had ever seen, “so forget everything I have told you about cultivating a powerful inner circle and just be your righteous little self, no matter what I say. You may as well see if it can get you elected, and at least it will be truth in advertising.”
He had, nonetheless, dragged them out to dozens of meetings with “key constituents”, now armed with badges and pamphlets, and some really quite natty rosettes stating “Vote 1 Potter”, lovingly created by Doris Crockford’s ladies.
There Harry had found himself in a number of conversations very similar to the one he had had with Mr Bletchley. But, disconcertingly, he had also had a few of his supporters take him gently aside and suggest that perhaps it would be best to let the whole issue of ‘innocent’ victims go for a bit, because why upset people? Wouldn’t it be better to win the election first and then do something?
The first time it had happened, Harry had embarked on a lengthy explanation as to why they couldn’t afford to revisit the days of the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and Malfoy had been forced to intervene when the neatly dressed witch had replied “But surely it’s better to just teach everyone responsible for that a lesson?”
Harry had to admit that Malfoy’s smooth smile and “But just think of how much it would cost us in taxes to pay for holding all those prisoners! And you’d have to lock up me and Mother, which would be a terrible shame, because I believe she’s planning quite the celebration if Potter wins, you’ll come, won’t you?” was a far more effective response than his own outraged sense of propriety.
Malfoy had kept an eye on him after that, and the second time, he had been there to insinuate himself into the discussion in under a minute. It was remarkable how hard people found it to insist that anyone remotely connected with Voldemort should be made to pay with Malfoy’s birdlike expression of interested listening turned on them. Harry had found it hard to keep a straight face.
Work was the biggest difficulty, balancing the demands of the campaign with an actual job. Peters recovered quickly from his injuries, but the weather added terrible gales to the rain and floods of the past two months and they were needed to pull double shifts helping out with rescues up in Yorkshire.
Malfoy came along a few times, allegedly to make sure Harry stayed out of trouble and in frame if any photographers appeared. He proved to be surprisingly useful at rescuing livestock, flying in and out on his broom, avoiding local farmers, who were relieved to see that some of their best breeding stock had had the good sense to travel to whatever high land was available to them. Harry strongly suspected him of enjoying it all, a charge Malfoy strenuously denied. It was good to see him flying again, though. He smiled when he flew, and he didn’t even mind that his hair ended up whipped into tangles. Which suited him far better than his usual sleek grooming, Harry thought.
Halloween saw the only real awkwardness – he was still invited to the Weasley’s party, and Ron and Hermione insisted he come, as did Mr and Mrs Weasley. Ginny was gracious, after a rocky start.
“Have you spoken with Bill?” she asked.
“I was just over playing with the baby. He’s so happy!”
“He is,” she agreed. “And he doesn’t mind that you’re working with Malfoy?”
“Not that he said.”
“I still think he got off lightly.”
She shrugged. “I know. I think I’d probably be willing to concede on him if only his father was in Azkaban.”
“I don’t think he’s doing very well …”
“I’d prefer he not be doing at all.” She caught the tension in Harry’s expression, and relented a little.
“I mean, I suppose it’s very admirable that you can work with someone who was on the other side, but I just keep thinking back to when you were a baby, Harry. If Dumbledore and the others had worked to imprison everyone who’d supported Voldemort then, then he wouldn’t have had enough followers to come back.”
And he couldn’t argue with her, because the two of them knew better than anyone how much better things could have been if Lucius Malfoy had spent the nineties detained at her Majesty’s pleasure. “I’m still on the track of Rowle and Macnair. I will catch them.” She patted his arm. “I know you will.”
She smiled, and looked away. “Good. Easy, uncomplicated.”
“Wasn’t your fault.” She looked back at him, with a different smile. “What about you? Anything exciting going on that’s not playing out in the papers?”
“Epic game of Exploding Snap with Kreacher last night.”
“Living on the edge, Harry.”
They were still laughing and chatting without difficulty when Percy arrived. He spoke with his parents first, but after that made a straight line to Harry.
“Heads up,” Ginny whispered.
“So good to see you here, Harry,” Percy greeted him.
“Percy. Good to see you. How are you?”
“Oh, very well, very well. Not doing as well as we’d like in the polls, of course, but there’s plenty of time for that. Shaping up to be a two-horse race, it seems.”
“Plenty of time for others to throw their hats into the ring,” Harry countered.
Percy waved the idea away. “Oh, I can’t see that happening, can you? Straight up choice between Harry the Hero and Percy the Pillar of the Ministry.”
Harry was glad that Percy led the laughter there, he hadn’t been sure it was a joke. Ginny, for all that she was still unhappy with him, stayed stalwartly by his side.
“How’s the hunt for Zabini going?”
“A lot of false leads. He might be out of the country. His mother has extensive contacts throughout Europe, we’ve sent identification images to all the major centres for distribution.”
“Hasn’t been seen at all.”
“Not hiding with your mate Malfoy?”
“We’ve searched there three times. You’re welcome to send in one of your teams.”
“Not at all. No sign of Nott? Flint? Ottilie Goyle? What about Rowle and Macnair? How much energy are the Aurors putting into looking for all these fugitives, Harry?” Percy’s voice was quickly losing its veneer of bonhomie.
“That will do, Perce.” Mr Weasley had approached quietly, and his voice was not raised, but it was unmistakeably definite. “I won’t have you upsetting your mother on a holiday. We’re about to go upstairs and wish the ghoul all the best for the season, so you behave. You, too, Harry. No politicking.”
Harry had promised, Percy had sniffed and walked away.
Ginny put her hand on Harry’s arm, holding him back for a moment while the others assembled at the stairs. “Be careful,” she said.
“It’s OK, Gin, I know it’s political, not personal.”
“I’m glad you do. I’m not sure Percy does. I don’t want you being hurt, Harry. That’s what I worry about.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s Percy. He’s a bit ruthless, but he’s all right, really.”
She had shaken her head, and told him that she used to find his naivety charming, but now it only made her nervous. Then she had gone to say hello to Ron and Hermione, because even if they weren’t talking, they were still family.
His first interview with the Prophet had gone as well as could be hoped, given it was with Rita Skeeter.
“Just look at you, Harry,” she said as they walked through into his office. “Who would have thought you’d come this far in just a few short years?”
“I believe you finished the last chapter of my biography with the prediction I was destined for further greatness,” he couldn’t help teasing. Rumour persisted that there had originally been an additional paragraph in which she added an alternative that he would have a complete breakdown and withdraw from the Wizarding world to live out his days as a hermit, but that her publishers had deleted it in line with prevailing public sentiment.
“Quite right,” she beamed. “I knew from the time of our very first meeting that you were extraordinary. Now, let’s get down to business.”
She was pleasant enough, asking how he found it running a department in which he was a junior member. It was a good question, and Harry was pleased to be able to talk about the cooperative work atmosphere of the Aurors.
“In reality, most people want to focus on fieldwork, so I’m little more than a glorified office boy,” he said.
“But you attend Departmental meetings?”
“Not as a Department Head,” Harry clarified. “The Aurors are asked to meetings where there are policy and procedural issues that concern us, because, operationally, we’re so distinct from the rest of MLE. But when it comes to Ministry policy, we stay out.”
“And yet you’ve involved yourself in the biggest policy shift of our time, with this new voting system,” Rita said, then quirked an eyebrow in a leading manner.
“That was more an accident of circumstance,” Harry said. “Wrong place, wrong time. Kingsley decided that he was going to act right then, and Hermione and I happened to be standing in front of him.”
“Remarkable how often fate chooses to play these little tricks on you.”
“I’ve often thought so.”
“And now you’re a candidate! With a healthy lead in the polls, though rumour has it that may be softening a little. Does it concern you that you’re seen as a single-issue candidate?”
“A single …?”
Skeeter adjusted her glasses and smiled brightly. “Oh, I know it’s early days yet, but many of your speeches since announcing your candidacy have concerned what you’ve described as ‘innocent’ victims being persecuted under some alleged Ministry over-zealousness …”
“Many of them are innocent, and imprisoning people because they’re related to criminals seems to me more than over-zealous.”
“So you’d agree that’s the main focus of your campaign?”
“Not the only main focus, I’m also very concerned about tariffs, and taxes. Did you know that witches and wizards working in the agricultural sector receive minimal Ministry research investment and support, and are subject to punitive taxation schedules?”
She had kept writing while Harry talked at length about reforms that could make the current system simpler and fairer, several times giving Hmmms that sounded approving.
“Because it’s about equity,” Harry said, buoyed by her interest. “We need a Ministry that treats everyone fairly, otherwise we’re just going to repeat the same old mistakes.”
“So are you saying that we should just forgive everyone who wronged us in the past in the interests of building a peaceful future? What about justice for all those who suffered and were lost?”
Harry raised his hand to stop her. “Not ‘everyone’. But can you honesty tell me that you think prosecuting Mafalda Hopkirk delivers justice to anyone? When we haven’t even found Thorfinn Rowle yet?”
To do her credit, Skeeter’s story had covered all of his major points, and even been accurate on most.
She had been right about the polls softening, they slid back by three points that week, but Malfoy said it wasn’t worth worrying about and Hermione agreed that once the first flush of excitement had ebbed, Harry was always bound to lose some of his popularity as people gravitated to what they perceived as the safer option. “Even though we know he’s a risky bet, and historically he’s been wrong every time he’s gone up against you, people look at him and see a conservative figure, ignoring the fact that his policies are actually pretty radical.”
“And you still have a fifteen point lead,” Malfoy had added.
Overall, the first two weeks of what he supposed he should admit was a campaign passed without major incident, but experience had taught Harry better than to relax when a few weeks went by without disaster. So it was really only a sign of his own foolishness that he was caught out by the arrest warrant for Terence Higgs on his desk when he came in that morning. In fact, at first he couldn’t even recall who Higgs was.
He was still staring at the warrant when Malfoy arrived for their morning meeting.
Malfoy took one look at his face, then took the paper from his hands. “Slytherin Seeker, first and second year. I replaced him, he focussed on studying for his NEWTs, and Vanished all my underwear. Thoroughly nice chap, actually. If it hadn’t been for the risk of coming face to face with some of his cousins during the war, I’d have expected to see him lining up on your side.”
Harry was incensed. “This is stupid.”
“Should I go and warn him? I can deliver him to Luna’s for the day.”
Harry rubbed his eyes. “It was bad enough when it was people who at least had some sort of tangential connection with things, but now Percy’s just grasping at random names.”
“I think Terence went out with Penelope Clearwater for a while,” Malfoy suggested, eyes full of mischief.
“That’s probably worse.”
“It probably is. What are you going to do?”
Harry wished he knew. He could remember Higgs now. Tall, friendly and fair. He’d even congratulated Harry on a couple of his catches during Quidditch games. And now Percy wanted him brought in on suspicion of “Harbouring Known Enemy Agents During the War”. Which probably meant made a cup of tea for a Snatcher.
“Fuck it, I don’t know.”
“I can’t not go. Can I? What do you think?”
“If you don’t go, you’re openly defying the Ministry.”
“And if I do go it’s a travesty of justice.”
“’Fraid so. If you want to swear a bit more, it’s all right.”
Harry thought. “Malfoy, did you see Higgs at all during the war?”
“Heard his name mentioned? Received post?”
“Not a whisper.”
Harry decided. “All right. Let’s play Percy’s game, then. Can you call Williamson and Dawlish in?”
Harry should have shooed Malfoy out for the discussion that followed – hearing it made him into a conspirator – but he was reassured by Malfoy’s grim nodding as he outlined his plan.
“We could just refuse,” Williamson said when Harry had finished speaking.
Dawlish shook his head. “We can’t publicly stand in opposition to the Ministry.”
“We’d be on the larger side if people had a choice.”
“No,” said Dawlish. “If it comes to that, we go to the Wizengamot and ask that Percy be removed, or we strike, or we stage a straight-up coup. But we can’t say that we’ll support some directives and not others or we end up back in that quagmire of a Ministry where no one had any idea who could be trusted. I won’t go back to that.”
“You let Zabini escape,” Williamson reminded him.
“I was tasked with arresting him. I did that. It was up to my conscience how far I extended myself to hold an innocent young man once it became clear he wasn’t going to receive a fair trial. If MLE chooses to leave prisoners in temporary Auror holding cells for days on end, they can’t blame me for the results. It’s their own fault for failing to follow their own procedures. And that’s what worries me here, Harry. They’re not following their own procedures, so why should the Wizengamot? Can you guarantee the outcome of all this?”
“No,” Harry admitted. “But if Higgs is up for it, I say we test our laws, and we trust our people.”
“Can you trust them?” Malfoy asked quietly.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.”
“I’m going to fetch Granger the minute you leave.”
“Good. No – fetch Luna instead. We’ll need good media coverage if this is going to work.”
“Luna, then Granger.”
Dawlish took one of Harry’s quills and a scrap of parchment from his desk. “You’ll need someone recognised to speak on behalf of the defendant if we’re going to bring Higgs in. This is Tiberius Ogden’s address. He was a very good Wizengamot member in the old days: fair and lawful. He helped me after the war, told me that he was always available for the Auror corps.”
“Cheers, John,” Harry said.
Malfoy took the parchment and tucked it into his pocket. “Luna, Granger, Ogden. I’ll start now. Good luck you lot.” He looked at Harry. “Try not to get damaged this time.”
“I’ll do my best.”
He didn’t need to try very hard. The three of them went to execute the warrant, Williamson taking the rear of the house as per protocol. Harry knocked on the front door, which was opened by an older version of the boy he had known at school.
“Potter,” Higgs said with a smile. “Don’t tell me you’re here to arrest me, too?”
Harry held up the warrant.
Higgs’s eyes went wide. “You’re kidding.”
“I wish I was.”
“But I …”
Higgs took a deep breath. “All right. Well, what should I bring with me? Can I tell someone? I’m going to assume this will take more than a couple of hours to clear up.”
“Is there anyone else here?”
“In that case, I should caution you that you are officially in the custody of the Auror service and that your words will be recorded and may be used in evidence against you. If you would prefer, we can begin a Dictation Spell now, or you can choose to commence that during your formal interview at Auror Headquarters (say later).”
Higgs looked surprised at Harry’s interjection, but said clearly, “I do not want this section of our discussion recorded.”
Harry smiled and went on. “You can have your legal representative attend, or we can appoint one for you (you should let us appoint one for you, Higgs, Malfoy’s chasing down one of the best). The charge is Harbouring Known Enemy Agents During the War, and we will be seeking a warrant to search your premises, or you can grant us permission to do that now (grant permission, Terry).”
Terence looked nervous, but said, “I’m fine with you having a look around. Is it just the two of you?”
“And Williamson out the back. Let us in, put the kettle on, and we’ll talk you through what’s happening.”
Higgs made tea for them, and Harry explained their proposal.
“So you want me to be a test case?” Higgs asked at last. “Thrash it out in the courts in front of everyone.”
“That’s right, lad,” said Dawlish.
“And if I lose?”
Harry wanted to say that he couldn’t lose, but, while he hoped that was true, he wasn’t certain of it. “We’ll spring you as part of the all-out Auror rebellion that will inevitably follow.”
Higgs started to laugh weakly, then stopped when he realised that Harry wasn’t joking in the slightest. “You think it might come to that?”
“I hope not. But I think it very likely that the majority of my staff will refuse to continue working for a Ministry that is punishing witches and wizards on the basis of who they know, not what they’ve done. And if there’s a walkout, I’m walking, too. I’m not prepared to let us descend any further into this factionalised payback. That’s how wars start, not how they end.”
“And if I don’t want to risk it?”
Harry smiled. “Dawlish will try to arrest you, I’ll try to stop him, Williamson will probably be forced to Stun both of us. Should be plenty of time for you to escape in the confusion.”
Higgs grinned. “OK. Let’s give it a try. You’ll let my Mum and Dad know where I am, yeah? They’ll need to feed the cat.”
“We will. Terry, I need to take your wand.”
Higgs hesitated for a moment, then passed it over. Harry wrote him a receipt on the spot, and promised it wouldn’t be for long.
They filled up the cat-food dispenser and gathered a few items of clothing and a toothbrush for Higgs, then locked the doors and windows, making sure the cat flap was open. Then they left together, in the most civilised arrest Harry had ever made.
Malfoy had done his work well. Ogden and Hermione were there when they got back, arguing with Percy over whether he had a right to keep them out of the interrogation room. Harry quickly handed Higgs into custody, promised he’d visit as soon as possible, and hurried back to his office before he could be dragged any further into the debate.
Luna and Malfoy were waiting there, with Kingsley, who had been alerted by Ogden.
“Did you …?” Malfoy began.
“We’ve just arrested Terence Higgs,” Harry said, closing the door solidly.
“Percy’s over-extended himself this time,” Kingsley said, giving Harry a reassuring smile. “Higgs has a lot of friends who will come forward to speak up on his behalf.”
“He’s going to be our test case. Percy’s charged him with harbouring enemy agents, which, looking at the fine print, comes down to having his older brother, who was a Snatcher, and Theo Nott and his father, who are second cousins of his, stay at his house on a number of occasions through the war. I didn’t stay for long, but it looks as though Ogden plans to argue that there’s a massive difference between harbouring the enemy and putting up your relatives after a family function.”
“Percy will argue that any aid given to anyone connected with Voldemort is treason,” Malfoy said.
“But in that case, most of us are in danger,” Luna said. “Think about it, my father was willing to sacrifice Harry if it kept me safe, and Harry, you nearly got yourself killed saving Draco’s life, while Ron and Hermione rescued Gregory. Percy himself worked for the Minister when it was obvious he’d been Imperiused. He should be arresting himself if that’s the standard he’s holding people to.”
“I’ll be sure to suggest it to him,” Harry said.
“I’m serious. He’s playing one set of rules for one type of person, and another for the rest, and it’s not appropriate.”
“Which is what Harry is hoping the Wizengamot will state in their findings,” Kingsley surmised, looking at Harry over the top of his folded hands.
“When?” Malfoy asked. “In two or three months when they convene?”
Harry shook his head. “Terence has requested an immediate trial and Ogden is demanding it. It looks as though it will be tomorrow. Percy’s furious, but he shouldn’t have sought a warrant if he wasn’t ready to prosecute.”
Malfoy nodded. “That’s good.”
“If the Wizengamot are listening to Tiberius ahead of Percy, then it shows they’re concerned,” Kingsley said. “Perhaps these most recent cases have made them aware of the extent of the problem.”
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Harry agreed. “Now we just need to capitalise on it to shift public opinion. In a way, Higgs is a gift for us. People can’t lie to themselves about him, not like Pansy, with her one infamous statement, or Nott, whose father was a Death Eater. If we can get people to look at him closely, they’ll see the ridiculousness of it all.”
“I can get an issue of the Quibbler out tomorrow,” Luna said. “I’ve got half a one mocked up and ready to go. If I go and see Theo now, we can have it on the presses tonight and out for breakfast in the morning.”
“You’re a gem, Luna.”
“Don’t thank me, Harry, thank Neville, he’s the one who’ll be sending out all those owls at the crack of dawn.”
“You thank him for me.”
She laughed brightly at that. “So, what would you rather: all reasons Higgs isn’t a bad’un; all reasons few of us are really innocent if these are our criteria; or half and half?”
“Half and half?” Harry asked Malfoy and Kingsley.
“Half and half,” Malfoy agreed. “Without prejudicing proceedings.”
“Keep to the basic facts,” Kingsley advised. “People don’t want to hear that there are problems in the heart of the Ministry. Most of the Ministry doesn’t want to hear that. Just tell the simple truth, without editorialising.”
Luna nodded. “Right,” she said, gathering her things and standing up. “I’ll see you tomorrow in time for the trial.”
“Good luck,” Harry said.
“And to you, too. If you have a chance, let Mr Ogden know we’d love to interview him.”
“I’ll come with you, Kingsley said. “I’m due to meet Tiberius.”
They closed the door behind them, leaving him alone with Malfoy.
“Sorry about the meeting,” Harry apologised.
“You have a proper job,” Malfoy reminded him.
“Was there anything important?”
Malfoy shook his head. “We’ve slipped another point in the polls, nothing to be concerned by, though I’m a little worried that the number intending to vote seems to be dropping, too. Angelina’s down doing a mailout with Doris and the ladies, Adrian Pucey wants you to stop by next week to judge their All County Best Experimental Produce and Livestock, and Witch Weekly would like to try another interview and are very sorry about that last one. They say she’s never fainted around a celebrity before, and thank you very much for taking such good care of her.”
“You don’t have to do my schedule,” Harry told him, smiling.
“Someone has to. Johnson’s always gallivanting off, or popping round to check something with Ron – between you and me, I think she rather fancies George.”
“How are we standing in the polls?”
“Still strong, though I was hoping for a bump after Theo’s piece in the last Quibbler. Still, Percy’s interview in the Prophet doesn’t seem to have helped his numbers, either. He should have said no to the photo.”
Harry gave the joke the small smile it deserved.
“How are you?” Malfoy asked.
“Good. Tired. How are you?”
And Malfoy did look tired, but at least it was simple fatigue, not that worn-thin greyness of the other week. The hollows around his eyes were gone now, replaced by dark smudges that almost looked as though he was wearing them for artistic effect.
“How are your parents?” Harry asked.
“Mother’s well. She had a great interview on Monday, no fainting, she ended up taking the lady from Witch Weekly out for tea and a spot of hat shopping, I think they’re booked on a garden visit next week.”
“It’ll get her out of the house.”
“Yes. She needs that.” Malfoy’s expression spoke volumes, but he looked away before Harry could say anything. He always looked away.
“Have you had lunch?” Harry asked.
“No. It’s only just gone eleven.”
“I’m starving. I want to go out and get something good. Somewhere I haven’t gone before. Lunchtime adventure. D’you want to come?”
Malfoy had nodded before he gave himself time to think, so Harry took off his robe and Dragonskin boots and put on his political shoes, suit jacket and coat. He undid one shirt button to annoy Malfoy, but received only rolled eyes as a reward.
Harry laughed, and checked his reflection in the bookcase glass. “That’s Muggle enough. You’ll do as you are, Malfoy. Do you want to borrow a scarf?”
“Thanks, it’s arctic out there.”
John Dawlish was waiting outside Harry’s door as they left his office. “Higgs is doing very well. Weasley says he wants to talk with you when he’s done.”
“I’m off to lunch,” Harry announced.
“I didn’t see you in time to deliver this message,” Dawlish replied with a wink.
It was raining again as they emerged from the Ministry, seriously this time. Harry put up his umbrella and waited while Malfoy opened his.
“Are you sure they’ll find Higgs innocent?” Malfoy asked, pulling mittens from his pocket.
“Unless Percy’s corrupted the whole Wizengamot.” Harry answered. He smiled as Malfoy held his umbrella with his chin.
“Just your mittens. You won’t be able to make rude hand gestures at me until we go back inside.”
“I can improvise,” Malfoy said, and demonstrated.
“Woolly duck isn’t half as offensive as you think it is.”
Malfoy shook his head in mock despair, which turned real as his umbrella tilted and water dripped onto him. “It’s not even winter yet, and it’s bloody miserable.”
“Do you want to walk?” Harry asked. “I like walking in the rain.”
“I never walk in London,” Malfoy admitted.
“Do you want to start?”
Whitehall was filled with the sort of people they both avoided at work, so they kept going. Harry took Malfoy’s arm and guided him through the chaos of traffic around Trafalgar Square.
“I’m quite capable …” Malfoy declared, just as Harry dragged him back from certain death beneath a black cab.
He ducked his face beneath Harry’s umbrella and whispered hot and fast in his ear, “These people are insane.”
Harry couldn’t deny it, as the driver of a Number 9 bus attempted to make Percy Weasley’s life infinitely simpler.
Tourists chased them away from the National Gallery, a good bookshop lured them down Chandos, and by the time they were halfway to Covent Garden, Malfoy informed Harry that he was now officially starving, too, and wet, and tired of being buffeted by other pedestrians, so he was going to eat in that Italian place across the road and Harry could do what he liked.
They opened the door, and the smell of the food confirmed it was a good choice. Two seats at one end of the communal table in the middle of the room were empty and available, despite their lack of reservation.
Malfoy insisted on ordering for them. “You’re having the chicken in white wine and garlic, because it’s least likely to show up in photos if you end up in a paper-worthy disaster this afternoon.”
Harry didn’t mind, it sounded good. “Justin came over last night. He brought news from Blaise. He says hello to you and Pansy, and that he’s following all the news. Very excited to hear about his new skill set, he plans to break into our homes and wee in all the corners.”
“I suppose we deserve that,” Malfoy grinned. “I do, at least.”
Harry leaned towards Malfoy’s ear and whispered, “I say we make him stay on the farm until he learns to transform into a ferret.”
They were still laughing when the food arrived. Halfway through eating, so did the group who were booked on the main part of the table. Harry found himself pushed up against Malfoy, surrounded by loud, arm-waving Italians. Conversation became impossible, so they ate instead, plates pushed so closely together that Malfoy helped himself to some of Harry’s chicken and Harry stole a few bites of osso bucco. He was sure that both were delicious, but in all honesty he was far more focussed on the warmth of Draco Malfoy’s thigh against his and the slender wrist that bumped his own whenever Malfoy used his fork.
“Sorry,” Malfoy apologised again.
Malfoy’s look lasted just long enough for a touch of curiosity to reach it, but then it slid away to the last of his food. Harry supposed they were done and asked for the bill. “I’m paying,” he told Malfoy, brooking no argument.
“Just as well, I have no pounds.”
Outside it was still raining, but the streets were quieter.
“Do you want to keep walking for a bit?” Malfoy asked.
Harry happily agreed, and fell into step beside him.
“How’s Theo?” asked Malfoy.
“He’s all right. Managed not to out himself as a non-Muggle yet. He’s been telling people he was raised on a commune. Happy to be writing, even under a pseudonym. Luna’s promised him a regular gig under his own byline once everything has blown over.”
“Good. He’ll enjoy that.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Stay on at DMC, I thought. Why?”
Harry shrugged. “I’ve just been trying to work out what I’ll do if I win the election. I’ll need help, good advisors. You’ve been really useful to work with these last few weeks.”
“Are you offering me a job?”
“I’m asking if you’d want one if I was in the position to offer it.”
“And leave Abernathy?”
Harry gave up. “You’re right, no point making any plans until we know what’s going to happen.”
“Is that man going to walk on that rope?”
Harry followed Malfoy’s pointing finger. A knickerbockered young man had tied a tightrope between the two portico columns at the east end of the Actor’s Church and was standing beside it, looking for an audience. Alas, they were all inside.
“Come on!” Malfoy ran ahead, and Harry followed him to the church, under the pediment’s shelter.
Enthused by his audience, the young man climbed onto his rope and walked up and down it. Malfoy applauded enthusiastically. Harry took the change from his Muggle money pocket and dropped it into the bag provided for donations. He waited for the acrobat to do something else, but apparently today was for walking practice.
A group of tourists came wandering out from the market, saw the show and came over to join them in their rare spot of dry. Harry followed Malfoy back to the false door in the church wall, behind the newcomers.
“So,” Harry said. “Walking in Muggle London. Slightly less glamorous than I may have made it out to be.”
“It’s fun,” Malfoy said. “I’m even warming up.” He took his mittens off and offered one to Harry, who took it and inspected the workmanship.
“I like these little knitted geese,” Harry said.
“I think they were meant to be dragons,” Malfoy admitted. He pointed at one of the designs. “See? That bit’s a tail.”
Harry nodded, watching Malfoy’s dextrous fingers as they traced the stitches. He looked up. “You have nice hands,” he said.
“You always look away. I’ll stop if you’d rather.”
Malfoy sighed. “Potter, I know you’re trying to be nice. I know you’re trying to be supportive and inclusive and all jolly broomsticks, but really, you’re just a tease.”
“I thought I was trying to give you a hint.”
Malfoy looked up at that. Brow furrowed and lips parted for words that took a few seconds to come. “Potter, you’re an idiot.”
Oh well. Harry kept his sigh silent. “So you’ve always said.”
Malfoy’s hand on his jaw was firm, but his lips were gentle as they met Harry’s and lingered for a moment. “Hints are for schoolboys,” Malfoy whispered with a smile.
Harry began to smile back, but then he spotted the owl headed for them, and the applause of the crowd as the young man finally did something interesting covered up the choice selection of swear words he invoked.
Malfoy’s momentary expression of surprise evaporated as the owl alighted on Harry’s shoulder and pecked his ear for attention.
“Of course,” said Malfoy. “Nothing involving you is ever going to be easy.”
“I’m sorry.” Harry unlaced the message from the owl’s leg as quickly as he could, and sent it on its way. He read quickly. “Percy. Demanding I come in right now.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“No.” Harry reached up and touched Malfoy’s cheek, because he could now. “You stay safe. Percy’s going to be in a foul mood and I’d rather he expend it on me.”
“Hex him if it gets grim,” Malfoy said, leaning his face into Harry’s hand. “We can always run away to New Zealand.”
Harry smiled, and kissed him, and then made himself stop. “I have to go back,” he whispered, their heads still bent together.
“Go,” Malfoy said. “Come and find me afterwards.”
Percy Weasley was very good at yelling. His face went red, and his nostrils did this weird thing where they simultaneously flared at the base and narrowed at the tip of his nose, rather like the Muggle Prime Minister, now Harry thought on it.
“… no business calling in Tiberius Ogden before my department could assess the matter fully!” Percy finished.
“But Higgs is entitled to legal representation,” Harry reminded him. “And you’d assessed the matter fully enough to obtain a warrant.”
The redness in Percy’s cheeks darkened. “Higgs is an Undesirable!” he hissed.
The word stopped Harry’s thoughts in their tracks. “Do you even hear yourself anymore, Percy?”
“Ogden’s demanding Higgs be tried tomorrow. It’s an outrageous imposition on the department, and a slap in the face of prisoners who have been waiting patiently for their own trials.”
“Then send them to the Wizengamot, too,” Harry replied, keeping his voice level.
“They haven’t been cooperating with our investigations,” Percy snapped. “I’m not losing valuable intelligence resources to fit in with your political agenda, Auror Potter.”
Harry felt his skin tighten. “But surely their legal representatives have complained?”
Percy looked at him with contempt, and Harry, through his shock, shared the emotion. He had blithely assumed that being transferred out of the Auror Holding Cells and into MLE custody had represented only a geographical change for Runcorn and Hopkirk. How he could have been stupid enough not to check?
“You do not dictate the workings of MLE, Auror Potter, you would do well to remember that.”
“Laws do, Percy. Laws.”
“Don’t presume to lecture me.”
Harry had come to the end of his never lengthy stretch of patience. He walked out of Percy’s office, reminding himself that Mr and Mrs Weasley cared for their son and it would therefore make Christmas extremely difficult if Harry were to hex him.
Hermione found him halfway down the corridor. “I’ve just come from Aurors, they said you might be here,” she greeted him. “How did it go?”
“I didn’t hex him,” Harry replied.
“Ah. That well. In that case, I bring good news. We’re having a meeting in your office. Kingsley and Mr Ogden are there, they want to talk about Higgs.”
“Excellent. I want to talk about prisoner rights within MLE.”
Tiberius Ogden was much as Dawlish had described him. Although elderly, he was keen and focussed. “I’m very pleased your department’s brought me in on this,” he told Harry. “There have been a lot of corners cut since the war and we stand the risk of losing all credibility with the populace. You can’t expect the average witch or wizard to have respect for the law when the law works on prejudice rather than on process, can you, young man?”
“I would hope not, sir,” Harry agreed.
“Kingsley and young Hermione have been running me through their research on the franchise question. Lovely piece of work – fine legal mind in you, young lady. Now, we’ve heard from Miranda Goshawk, she will be chairing the Wizengamot tomorrow, the hearing is set for ten in the morning, and to be honest with you, I don’t foresee any difficulties with Higgs. I have a number of Muggleborns testifying that he assisted them with hiding from the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and young Mr Malfoy has offered to testify that he never heard the name Higgs mentioned by any of the Death Eaters he was associated with.
“But I strongly suspect that this case is about more than Mr Higgs, yes? Now might be an excellent time to stop playing your cards so close to your chest, Mr Potter.”
“There are quite a lot of cards,” Harry warned him.
“Then you’d best start at the beginning.”
Harry self-edited a few times as he went. There was no reason to incriminate others, so he spoke only of arranging to have Nott kept safe, and of knowing that Parkinson was similarly well-cared for and Zabini also somewhere secure. He also omitted Kingsley’s encounter with the table. Hermione and Kingsley voluntarily incriminated themselves when he had finished.
Ogden was smiling at the start of the story, but by the end, he was shaking his head. “Happily, I am an independent wizard these days and under no obligation to report any of you. But I must say that you have all crossed a legal line here. I understand that you were doing it in response to the Ministry crossing a moral one, but morality is not subject to being tried before the Wizengamot.
“I will grant you that this secret rebellion is better than open insurrection, but Kingsley, you and Mr Potter must know that your personal popularity will not protect you from prosecution if Percy discovers this.”
“It’s no different to saving people from the Muggleborn Registration Committee,” Harry said, keeping his voice level.
“No, but I believe that action had you named Undesirable Number One,” Ogden replied. “I think it would be best for Wizarding Britain if we attempt to prevent you re-attaining that status.”
“Give Percy time,” Harry said tightly. “I’m sure he’ll remember that I passed on several opportunities to go up against Voldemort before I judged the time to be right.”
“Are you finished Mr Potter?” Ogden asked, with an eyebrow raised. Harry said nothing. “Moving on, then. I believe it would be best all round if future actions were kept within the letter of the law. For my part, I will be encouraging those entrusted with upholding that law to take a more active role.
“For now, let’s focus on the people already in custody. Mr Runcorn has been held for an egregious length of time without counsel, and Mrs Hopkirk has also gone far too long. I am particularly concerned with her case as there seem to be no plausible grounds for holding her. I think the Wizengamot would have ample grounds to complain about her treatment, don’t you, Kingsley?”
Kingsley agreed. “Harry, pass me that quill and some parchment. I’m going to write to Miranda Goshawk now and ask her to step in. It’s my fault, as Minister, I should have demanded oversight on them both.”
“I’m the one who didn’t think to ask what happened past our cells,” Harry corrected him.
“It’s Percy’s fault for being a pillock,” Hermione corrected them both. “And the system’s fault for not adequately separating out the judicial, law enforcement and punitive arms of our society. If you start with a rubbish system, it’s no wonder you end up with a rubbish outcome.
“Kingsley, I’ll send your letter; this is going to take more than an hour or two, so I’m going to get a message off to Ron and ask if he can meet us here later. Luna’s up at her place with Neville working on the Quibbler, but I think it wouldn’t hurt us to see if the Prophet is up for a little input if you’re up to giving another interview, Harry. Do you want to call Malfoy in?”
Harry was so proud of himself for not even pausing. “He’s been developing contacts, let’s give him a chance to use them. I’ll track him down and let him know.”
Kingsley signed his name to his parchment. “Excellent. I’m going to bully Armitage into breaking out the good biscuit stash and making a large pot of tea. Tiberius?”
“I’m going to sit here and wait for you to all come back.”
Harry found Malfoy in his tiny DMC office, feet up on his desk and reading a book with Don’t Mention Evans emblazoned across the cover in lurid type.
“Geraldine Batterthwayte at her finest,” Malfoy told him. “Don’t you ever knock?”
Harry shut the door. “I need you.”
Malfoy grinned. “Not sure that’s appropriate in the workplace, Potter.”
Harry grinned back. “I need you to get the Prophet to come in for an interview.”
“If it’s any consolation, I have plans for the other.”
Malfoy stood up and put the book down. “I do, too.”
Harry liked the way Malfoy’s mouth curved up at the edges, especially when it was conveying wholly improper suggestions. It was a sign of how much the universe hated him that he needed to ignore them and open the door again quite soon if they were to have any chance of making it back to the meeting.
“Later,” he promised.
“Come on, let’s wheel out the next act in this political circus,” Malfoy replied, kissing him lightly as he went for the door. Harry caught at Malfoy’s hand, just to have the feel of its slender weight fresh in his memory.
It was for the best that Hermione had gone to speak with Ron, Harry wasn’t the least bit sure that the smiles on his and Malfoy’s faces would have passed her muster. But Kingsley and Ogden were head down over a set of scrolls and Armitage was swearing at the tea urn when they walked in, so by the time Hermione returned, Harry was knee-deep in legislation and Malfoy was negotiating a time and place to meet with the journalist from the Prophet.
“They’re sending Tobias Leamington,” Malfoy said, over Ogden’s head. “He’s not as exciting a prosodist as Skeeter, but he is more reliable with the facts.”
“He wrote that Zabini ferret piece, didn’t he?” Hermione asked.
“Droll wit, I liked it. Mr Ogden, I’ve gathered those incarceration records you wanted.”
Miranda Goshawk arrived a little before five, and Kingsley and Ogden both set off with her to Percy’s office. Harry and Malfoy took Leamington off to the Leaky to conduct the interview over butterbeers. Forty-five minutes later an owl from Hermione found them there, suggesting that it might be to Leamington’s advantage to return to the Ministry with Auror Potter.
Harry’s main familiarity with Miranda Goshawk had been as the author of school textbooks, but he also knew her as a renowned scholar and respected scientist. No one had mentioned she was absolutely terrifying.
She was a small woman, with neat grey hair and neat green robes, but she had a very big voice, and as Harry ushered Leamington and Malfoy out of the lift on Level Two, he could hear it all the way down the corridor.
“You may very well have been feeding her, Mister Weasley, that doesn’t mean she’s been eating. Any fool can see she’s lost a lot of weight and why you haven’t had a senior MediWizard in to take a look at her is beyond my guessing. She’s distraught! She wants to see her husband and her children, and you haven’t even told her that they’ve attempted to visit her!”
Percy must have said something at that point, because Hopkirk’s next words were bellowed, and as Harry rounded the corner, he could see her standing on the toes of her boots, jabbing her finger up towards Percy’s rapidly purpling face.
“It may very well be within the letter of the law as it stands but I will thank you to remember that those are unrepealed laws from a time when this Ministry was far from its best!”
Harry hurried them all past, keeping Malfoy on the far side of the corridor, grateful that Percy was too busy to do more than send a hate-filled glance in their direction.
Armitage rolled her eyes at the sight of them and went to put on more tea. Harry busied himself with introductions: “Tobias Leamington, this is Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tiberius Ogden, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley …”
Leamington immediately began quizzing them for background information on his Potter piece, which led to Ron cheerfully volunteering the fact that he snored when he had a cold and Hermione supportively stating that he could be relied on to do his fair share of the washing up if you were ever stuck in a tent with him.
Leamington’s journey into Auror headquarters was well worth his time. In addition to invaluable ‘colour’ for his Potter interview, he was the man on the spot when Goshawk returned and needed to shout at someone about the deplorable breakdown in legal process within the Ministry. Hermione volunteered her office for them to talk, and led them out the back way, to avoid passing Percy’s again.
It was an unlooked-for success. Harry grinned at Malfoy, who grinned back. For a moment, he forgot there was anyone else in the room, until he realised that Ron was staring at them in horror.
Before he could say a word, Ron raised his hand and walked quickly over to their side of the office and whispered, “We’re not talking about it. We might never talk about it. You are absolutely not talking about it in front of Hermione, her head will explode.”
He looked at Malfoy and shook his head. “And I let you call me Ron and told my sister you weren’t that bad. She is going to kill me. Or you. Or all three of us.”
“Why couldn’t it have been Justin? He’s a perfectly good blond. Don’t worry, Malfoy, If it comes to the crunch, I’ll tell Ginny you were Imperiused. Harry was bound to lose it at some point.”
“Weren’t you listening? We’re not talking about it!” Ron pretended he had heard Kingsley call and bounded back over to the comfy chairs.
“That went much better than I imagined it would,” Malfoy said, fingers brushing Harry’s beneath the edge of the table.
They sent Ogden home at ten, so he would be fresh for the morning. Goshawk had already left, and Leamington had long since run back to the Prophet’s offices with several scoops and an aching quill hand. Kingsley declared he was done at midnight, and at two, Hermione announced that they were all looking like wraiths and that if they wanted to be of any use the next day, then it was time to go home. She stood up and stretched, frowning as her joints popped.
“Let’s get you home,” Ron said, then added. “I’m sure Harry and Draco will want to leave with us?”
“I’m just going to tidy up all the cups and plates,” Harry replied.
Ron glared at him, but clearly wasn’t going to talk about it, even though his eyes stayed narrow. “Fine. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Harry waited until the door had closed behind them before he started picking up tea cups. Malfoy helped.
“You could stay at mine tonight,” Harry offered, taking the teapot from him. “It’s a lot easier than Apparating to Wiltshire.”
“It is,” Malfoy agreed, “but we both need to get some sleep, and if I’m with you, I don’t think either of us will be focussing on sleep.”
“It doesn’t factor at all in my plans for you,” Harry admitted, the smile sliding onto his face matched by Malfoy’s. “But my plans didn’t include any of this, either. I want us to be back at lunch, with a free afternoon and evening.”
“I want all of this to be over, so we can see whether or not …”
“We can,” Harry assured him. “We can make it work. You heard Ron, he wasn’t even properly outraged.”
“Let’s try sleeping with each other before we make any long-term plans,” Malfoy cautioned.
Harry’s smile widened. “I thought you were the one advocating for common sense with what remains of the night. My vote’s definitely for not-sleeping. I’m quite happy to try coffee or one of your foul-tasting potions and we have six perfectly good hours before we need to think about coming back in here.”
Malfoy put down his pile of dishes and brushed the biscuit crumbs from Harry’s jacket. Harry moved to free his own hands, but Malfoy shook his head, his smile now just amused. “Knowing my luck, the Ministry would catch fire and you’d be hard-pressed explaining why you responded to the emergency summons in my trousers. C’mon, let’s get rid of these dishes.”
They took the tea things out to the kitchenette, and Harry quickly spelled them clean, despite Proudfoot and Savage volunteering their night-watch junior for the duty. Back behind closed doors, Malfoy passed Harry his coat, then caught his hand, and drew him in for a lingering kiss that made Harry think that New Zealand was in fact an attractive option, with many areas of significant natural beauty.
“Let’s just get to the weekend,” Malfoy whispered against his cheek. “I’ve cancelled both of your speaking engagements, and sent generous donations instead.”
Harry let himself feel the weight of Malfoy against him and the slight abrasiveness of his cheek for a moment before stepping back, just far enough to make himself let go. “The weekend,” he agreed. “It’s only a few days.”
Kreacher took one look at Harry the next morning and turned around to make coffee. “Five hours sleep is insufficient for a young wizard,” he croaked.
“Sorry Kreacher, did I wake you up last night?”
“As if Kreacher would be asleep when his Master is out in who-knows-what peril.”
Harry listened to the house-elf’s lengthy grumbling with good grace, flicking through both papers as he did. He had been relegated to page three of the Prophet, page one and two was Leamington’s lengthy Wizengamot Chief Condemns MLE Prisoner Treatment, which included lengthy quotes from Goshawk, strident denials from Percy, and four short paragraphs in which Mafalda Hopkirk’s husband and children each simply stated their desperate need for her to come home.
The Quibbler was mostly given over to a long story, titled Every Death Eater I Ever Met: an insider tells of those who waged war and those who fought alongside them by anonymous. Terence Higg’s name was notably absent. The editorial was a personal piece from Luna, speaking of her fear that her father would be next arrested, and how blurred the line had become between those who had done real wrong and those who had only made mistakes.
Even if Tiberius Ogden had not spent the previous day constructing an unassailable case, Harry would have felt full of confidence as he left for work that morning.
Dawlish and Williamson had taken over his morning casework so he would be free to attend the trial and he was able to make his way down to the courtrooms early. Luna was waiting for him in the corridor outside. “The public seating is filling up,” she said. “Neville’s inside saving us a couple, but we’d better hurry before he falls asleep.”
Luna was looking pale herself, but she brightened as Harry thanked her and Neville and praised the Quibbler. “I think it’s one of our best,” she agreed. “Though I wish we’d had space for a piece on Tintookies that’s come in.”
A small wizard came in and called for silence. The Wizengamot began to file in, and the court was in process.
Luna took hold of his hand halfway through proceedings. Although it had been his own plan, Harry was astonished to see how thoroughly it succeeded. A long succession of witnesses for the defence – including Malfoy – refuted Percy’s short list of charges. Harry watched Malfoy intently through his testimony, but Malfoy looked directly at the members of the Wizengamot, shooting Harry only one fleeting, relieved smile as he stood down. Before a half hour had passed, Miranda Goshawk held up her hand to ask if there was any further evidence the Ministry had yet to produce. “We believe that the prisoner …” Percy began.
“No, Mr Weasley, you mistake me. I didn’t ask about your belief system, I asked about evidence.”
Through clenched teeth, Percy declared there was no more at this time.
It took them less than three minutes to find Higgs innocent, with a vote that would have been unanimous, had Elphias Doge not abstained due to missing quite a bit of the testimony by inadvertently falling asleep.
Once the session was declared over, Harry pushed his way through the audience waiting to congratulate Higgs in pursuit of Percy. He managed to reach him just outside the doors.
Percy looked around to see who the running feet belonged to, and his jaw tightened as his gaze came up. “Very clever, Harry,” he said.
“Percy, come on, you knew Higgs was innocent. Even you couldn’t pretend otherwise.”
“I know you think what he did doesn’t matter. That’s patently evident from the company you keep these days.”
Tiredness made it hard for Harry to keep a lid on his anger. “I’m just happy the system works,” he snapped.
“The system worked with Gregory Goyle,” Percy snapped back.
“Because he was guilty.”
“Yes, well. I suppose there will always be some cases we lose on technicalities.”
“Percy …” His words sounded horribly familiar to Harry. In as calm a voice as he could manage, Harry started to discuss the issue: “You were in there, you heard the evidence. Higgs did nothing wrong.”
“We obviously have diverging views on ‘wrong’, Harry.” Percy turned and started walking towards the stairs.
Percy paused, and looked back over his shoulder.
Harry shook his head. “This isn’t what Fred would have wanted.”
Percy’s look hardened. “What the hell would you know?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer, strode off.
The party overflowed from Harry’s office. Higgs’s parents had been hesitant about their son returning to the Auror offices, but he had assured them they would be among friends. Tobias Leamington had been asked to join them on condition it all stay off the record, but he had apologised and said he had to get back to the Prophet in order to file his story on the case.
Angelina was in London today, so it was she who managed snacks and butterbeers and earned Armitage’s eternal gratitude. They ended up tucked in a corner complaining about Harry’s appalling treatment of new staff, consoled only by the facts that he was uniformly awful and paid well, both of which they imparted to him when he stopped by to check they had drinks.
Malfoy had been commandeered by Williamson, who was regaling him with stories of Aurorly near-misses, including the one in which Harry had been cornered up a very large tree. Harry caught his eye, but Malfoy’s smile assured him he didn’t need rescuing.
Ogden took pride of place at the top of the conference table in Harry’s office, and was halfway through an excruciatingly lengthy explanation of why the Wizengamot’s decision should stand as a precedent for future cases when Harry felt someone take his arm.
“Harry…” it was Hermione, with the afternoon Prophet in her hand. She drew him down the table away from the others and slipped the paper onto the table in front of him. He looked down at the front page. Malfoy appeared at his side, his hip brushing Harry’s own as he looked at Harry, questioning.
“Read it,” Hermione said.
Prophet Prisoner Protest Rights Ministry Wrongs! the headline exclaimed. In a dramatic day at the Ministry of Magic, the Prophet’s report on Wizengamot concerns regarding the detention witches and wizards has been endorsed by MLE Department Head Percy Weasley.
“Clearly standards have been allowed to slip within the Department,” Weasley told this reporter, “and we thank Miranda Goshawk and Tobias Leamington for bringing this issue to our attention. Rest assured that I will now be assuming personal oversight of the issue.”
“What the hell?” Malfoy muttered, reading over Harry’s shoulder.
Harry shook his head. “He’s made it sound as though he’s driving the solution,” he muttered, trying not to distract the others.
“But he’s the problem,” Malfoy hissed.
Hermione nodded. “It gets worse.” She turned the paper over. There was a large photograph of Kingsley, beside a headline that read Under the Influence?.
“It’s that witch who interviewed me,” Malfoy said, pointing at the byline. “Sidonie Hemlock. Not very nice.”
“Multiple empty bottles in the office bin …” Hermione read in a whisper.
“Argh!” Malfoy groaned quietly. “I knew I should have Vanished them!”
“We all forgot,” she said, reaching across Harry and patting his arm in consolation. “This is the bit that worries me.”
Harry followed her finger and read the offending paragraphs.
Since departing his office, Kingsley Shacklebolt has been tireless in promoting Acting Head Auror Harry Potter as his replacement.
Potter, justly famed for his efforts in the recent war, is nonetheless notably lacking in political experience and has attracted a degree of criticism over several of his advisors.
One senior Ministry figure, who wished to remain anonymous, was scathing in his condemnation of the young hero, saying, “We’ve had our entire system of government overturned by a drunkard and a wet-behind-the-ears girl in the service of a young man who seems just a little too keen to acquire power.
“Two-and-a-half years ago Harry Potter declared he wanted nothing more than to step out of the public eye, but since then he has repeatedly popped up in the public discourse, usually in the same unexpected company. I can’t help but wonder what or who lies behind his agenda?”
“Bloody hell.” Ron had arrived while Harry was reading, and was peering over Hermione’s head. “That’s hardly fair, bet you wish you’d kept the Elder wand now …”
Harry smiled grimly. Ron patted his shoulder. “Still,” Ron said, looking back at the paper, “it’s not all bad.”
They all leaned down to read the words Ron had spotted: William Camberwell, Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, was happy to go on record saying that he didn’t believe a word of the rumours. “Shacklebolt was always the steadiest of Ministers. Not a single case of anyone being Imperiused, blown-up or murdered on his watch, which is more than you can say for anyone else in living memory.
“As for Potter, one of the loveliest natural fliers I’ve ever seen. You’re not going to convince me that anyone who can handle a broomstick like that is going to waste time on political espionage.”
Harry felt himself starting to smile, and even Hermione giggled softly beside him.
“See?” Ron said. “It’s going to be fine.”
Harry turned to Malfoy, who wasn’t there.
He looked around, and saw him excusing his way past Aurors towards the door.
“What’s up with …?” Hermione began.
“Go,” Ron said. “I’ll make your excuses if you don’t come back.”
Harry squeezed his elbow in passing, then hurried after Malfoy.
He caught him just as the lift arrived. “Where are you headed?”
Malfoy’s look was vintage Harry Potter Is An Idiot, though with kindlier overtones than the traditional version. Harry stepped into the lift with him and pressed the button for Level Five.
“You read the paper,” Draco said as the lift moved. “I’m a liability for you. I’m taking a step back, until the campaign’s over. As long as I’m standing near you, some of the mud they fling my way is going to hit you, so I should just remove you from the line of fire.”
Harry took his hand. “You’re talking utter bollocks,” he said.
The lift door opened at Level Four and Malfoy dropped Harry’s hand as Urquhart from Creatures stepped in. An uncomfortable minute later, the doors re-opened at Level Five and they both stepped out. Malfoy did not say a word as he led them up the corridor at a fair clip, but Harry rehearsed new speeches with every tap of Malfoy’s heels on the tiles.
Wellingham stood up as they walked in. “Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter …” but sank back at Malfoy’s promise to be with him in five minutes.
Malfoy paused at his door long enough to allow Harry into the room, then shut it, and locked it behind them.
“No,” said Harry.
“It’s not up to you.”
“Yes it is. It’s my campaign, my reputation. I don’t care.”
“And they are my friends you will be leaving out in the cold if you don’t win.”
Harry could see the effort it cost Malfoy not to be angry. He was breathing quickly, colour high in his pale cheeks. Harry felt a tightness in his chest that had nothing to do with the argument.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
And then Malfoy crumpled a little and Harry never knew which one of them moved first, but he did feel the lamp he knocked off the desk with his hip as he let Malfoy bend him backwards over the desk and he felt Malfoy’s teeth brush his lower lip as their mouths came together urgently.
“Mr Malfoy? Are you all right?” There was a sternly staccato knocking on the door.
Malfoy drew back, laughing softly, and rested his forehead against Harry’s shoulder. “Fine. Clumsy,” he called through the door.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Wellingham double-checked. “And Auror Potter’s alive, too?”
“Fine, thanks,” Harry called.
“Potter was telling me his taxation policies and I was trying so hard not to laugh, I knocked a lamp over,” Malfoy told the door.
“All right, then.”
“He’s a good fellow, really,” Malfoy told Harry’s collarbone.
“If I can sort things out, will you stay?” Harry whispered, lightly kissing Malfoy’s temple, trying not to think about Malfoy’s hand on his hip, because that would definitely doom the rest of the desk.
“Why don’t we just wait to see if Leamington’s piece comes out tomorrow’s Prophet?” Malfoy looked up at him through long lashes. “Maybe we’re making a huge issue out of nothing.”
“Exactly. And I bet Cuffe will be polling on the back of this afternoon’s issue, too, so we can see exactly how badly we’ve been hit, and deal with it accordingly.”
Malfoy shook his head. “This was a really sexy position about forty-five seconds ago.” He took a step backwards, hauling Harry up with him. “Politics ruins everything.”
“You’re the one who promised Wellingham you’d only be five minutes,” Harry reminded him.
“Yes, well, why should you be the only idiot in the room?”
Harry caught Malfoy’s hands and twined their fingers together. “Tonight,” he said. “There’s nothing booked, nothing that can’t wait. Come to my house.”
Malfoy nodded, and Harry kissed him, but lightly, because they both needed to be presentable in about ninety seconds and Merlin knew there were already enough rumours flying around this Ministry.
“OK. I’m going back up to the party and then I’ll visit Sports to see if I can have a word with Camberwell, thank him for his support if nothing else. What are you up to?”
“Wellingham probably has a stack of things for me to sign. And I need to pop down to Penzance to buy that bloody dress for Pansy. After that, I think I’ll head home early, spend the rest of the afternoon with Mother. See how she’s holding up with all the rain. What time will you be home?”
“Eight at the latest.”
“I’ll see you there.”
Harry nodded, and was about to open the door when Malfoy stopped him, rearranged his shirt and robe and smoothed down his hair. “Better,” he said. “Now go, before I mess you up again.”
“Don’t forget our appointment,” Harry said, stepping though the door. “And sorry about the lamp.”
“I never liked it,” Malfoy called after him.
Harry smiled at Wellingham, who eyed him suspiciously.
Back in the Auror offices any number of strays had showed up to spend their lunch hours scoffing Potter-provided snacks. Harry didn’t mind. No work had come in, though also no word on the Hopkirk trial, which was concerning, because Harry knew they still had a fair whack of the interview paperwork in their possession.
Ron took him aside to let him know that he had managed to explain Harry’s absence without “you know, explaining”. Hermione and Angelina both came to check that all was well, and Harry assured them that it was, for now.
Higgs, who had not slept well the night before, ran out of steam by two and the party broke up with his departure. Williamson shooed out the strays, retrieving the last unopened packets of biscuits from one of the Juniors from the Invisibility Task Force. Angelina and Armitage bonded over cup and plate tidying, while Harry tried to put all the files he had stashed into a locked drawer back on his desk in something resembling their order of urgency.
With things mostly back to normal, he took a quick trip to Sports, only to find he had just missed Camberwell, who was off for an afternoon event with the Irish Quidditch captain, as part of the latter’s current book tour.
Leaving a note, Harry headed back to the lift. The doors pinged and opened to reveal Percy Weasley, who lifted his head when Harry stepped in.
Harry pressed for the doors to close, and didn’t say a thing.
“I hear you’ve been celebrating in Aurors,” Percy said as the lift resumed its journey.
“Paid for out of my own purse.”
“I would never suggest otherwise.”
“I hear you plan to improve prisoner conditions,” Harry said, trying for an encouraging tone.
“It’s what the public want,” Percy replied.
“And the right thing to do.”
“They wouldn’t be prisoners if they did the right thing.”
Harry sighed and turned around. “Percy, what’s happened to you? Sometimes I don’t think you even hear yourself. It’s as though you’ve gone back in time.”
Percy leaned forward. “Harry,” he said earnestly. “You’re the one who never listens. People want to see the perpetrators punished. You’re so naive that you refuse to see guilt when it’s laid out in front of you.”
“Then vote for us to fund an international hunt for Rowle and Macnair, Percy. If you’re so committed to punishing perpetrators, let’s grab a few that count.”
The lift stopped at Level Two and the doors opened.
“Auror Potter,” Percy said, stepping past him.
Harry waited for him to move down the corridor before he followed.
Angelina had a series of requests for Harry to attend events lined up, so they spent a productive hour selecting which ones to approve and which ones to hold in reserve in case everything went truly arse-up over the next few days.
“I think we can just say no to this nude calendar proposal,” she said. “Even if it is for orphans, I think they’ve already suffered enough.”
“Thank you very much for your supportive commentary. Send a donation.”
There was a knock at the door. Armitage poked her head in. “Sir, Leamington from the Prophet is out here. He wants to know if you have a minute, in private.”
“We’re done for now.”
“Show him in then, thanks.”
Leamington smiled apologetically as he came in. “I’m sorry to take up your time.”
“No, it’s fine,” Harry assured him. “Sit down.”
“I’m so sorry about that interview, too. They bounced my piece on you this morning for that rubbish from Sidonie.”
“Not your fault.”
“She’s Cuffe’s favourite, but the rest of us loathe her if that’s any comfort. I’m holding onto the story, going to make it part of a longer feature in the final week of the campaign, when it’s all head to head.”
Harry smiled. “Whatever you think best.”
“That’s not why I’m here, though.” Leamington leaned forward over the desk. “My sources in MLE tell me there’s something big on the way, and that it will blow this election wide open. They’ve sent me a note to look out for it later today, or first thing in the morning. That’s all I know, but I thought you should have a heads-up.”
“Sources in MLE?”
“Not the Auror department,” Leamington clarified. “MLE itself, Percy’s mob.”
“Oh.” Harry nodded. So Percy was going to attack him directly. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more …”
“You’ve been a champion sharing this,” Harry said. “Forewarned is forearmed and so on.”
“Do you have anything you’d like to say on the issue?” Leamington asked, his last scoop still fresh in his nostrils.
“Not at this early point, but you’ll be the first I call,” Harry promised.
“Well, good luck,” Leamington said, and thrust his hand out. Harry took it, and had his own hand thoroughly shaken.
“You’re one of the decent ones,” Leamington told him. “They don’t tend to last around here, but you’re a stubborn little bugger, so I’m backing you.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, to Leamington’s rapidly retreating back.
Armitage stuck her head back around the door. “Things all right, sir?”
“Fine. For now.”
Harry wondered who Percy had found out about. If it were Blaise or Theo, the fallout could be minimised. Both Seamus and Justin had spotless records and could easily pretend they had been innocently hosting old school friends. Justin could plead that, being on a gap year between courses, he had been avoiding all but Muggle news so as to better bond with his family. And he had such an innocent face that he could probably get away with it.
If it was Pansy, they were probably sunk. But Ginny was the only person outside the loop who ever visited Hermione at home, and for all that she didn’t approve, she certainly wouldn’t snitch.
Perhaps he should write to everyone and warn them, but that would just be creating nervousness where there may be no need, and that was how mistakes happened.
Harry ran his hands through his hair until it resembled a small black haystack, then he reminded himself he was having company for dinner and tried to smooth it back down. He decided to produce another request for funding to send a team out in search of Macnair. If Percy was going to say that hunting for both remaining Death Eaters was too expensive, let’s see if they could budget for one.
“Sir?” Armitage stood at the door, holding an envelope nervously.
“Come in Hester.”
“Sir, this was just delivered from the Department Head.”
She put the envelope on his desk and slid it across to him. Harry picked it up and opened it. He unfolded the warrant inside and scanned down to the name. He took a sharp breath. Draco Malfoy.
It was harder to buy an evening dress than Draco had imagined. He found the shop again without difficulty – the window display hadn’t changed since their last visit. It was even the same shopgirl. Helpfully, most of their eveningwear was one-off pieces, rather than in multiple sizes, so he didn’t have to guess at Pansy’s dimensions. Less helpfully, there were a great many black frocks with plunging necklines.
He and the girl took to standing in front of the mirror, with Draco holding each frock before him as Pansy had been doing when he saw her, trying to work out exactly which one it had been. Half an hour, many frocks, and the disapproving looks of two local matrons who had muttered to each other that there was no way he could fit his shoulders into that one, he and the still-giggling assistant had found what they were reasonably certain was the right one.
He was still smiling when he reached home. Mother was busy with Father, so he sat down to read for a few hours to stop himself changing twelve times before he went to Potter’s. For a brief moment he let himself remember Potter’s hip, sharp in his hand, and the lithe strength of him in Draco’s arms, and the fluid line of his neck as it dipped beneath its loosened collar. Draco forced himself to concentrate on his book, wanting to follow everything through in reality before he indulged it in fantasy.
So well did he concentrate that the house-elf had to clear its throat twice before he noticed her.
“Master Draco? Master has a guest.”
Draco looked up, and past the elf, to empty air.
“Master’s guest is downstairs in the reception hall,” the house-elf informed him, with only the slightest suggestion that guests who came traipsing all over the house weren’t her fault.
“Of course. I’ll follow you down. Who is it?”
“Miss Periwinkle Brown.”
Draco assumed he must have invited her at some point. He’d certainly asked her to come out flying or out for a drink. Maybe she’d decided that Thursday afternoon was the ideal time to take him up on the offer. He could see her pacing from upstairs, and she looked up at the sound of his feet on the stone steps.
“Draco!” She ran up the stairs and hugged him briefly. Before he could be more than surprised, she let go. “All right. Grab your broom, some money and some clothes. You can stop at my house tonight, we’ll find you somewhere safer tomorrow.”
“Peri, what …”
There was a loud banging at the door. “I’m too late …” Brown whispered.
“Mr Malfoy?” a voice called.
“Relax, it’s Wellingham.” Draco left Peri on the stairs and went down to let Wellingham in. He was immediately gripped in another fierce hug by a sleet-coated secretary.
Draco looked up at Peri in confusion.
She came back down the stairs. “My friend Claire from MLE came down to find me. She says there’s a warrant out for your arrest. It’s meant to be top-secret, though, I suppose our secretary and your secretary are quite good friends …”
“You’ll have to run, Mr Malfoy,” Wellingham said, his voice a little muffled by the wool of Draco’s jacket.
“We’ll have to shut the door and go inside out of this vile weather and come up with a coherent plan while you dry off,” Draco told him.
Wellingham nodded and let him go. In the garden behind him there was a sudden crack of Apparition and crunch of shrubbery. Draco pushed Wellingham inside and stepped out with his wand drawn.
“My dear boy!” Abernathy shouted, righting himself and trotting towards the front door. “What are you doing out here alone and exposed?”
It took Draco a minute to drag them all inside and send one house elf for refreshments and towels, another for a bag of his clothes and money, and a third for his mother. In the ensuing cacophony he heard three different versions of the same news, and at least seven perfectly useful offers of escape routes.
“It’s instant dismissal if I’m found stealing any signed visas,” Peri was saying.
“Don’t worry, I stole a batch from you a few weeks ago just in case.”
“Oh.” Peri finished drawing her own pilfered permit from her pocket with an embarrassed shrug.
“You brave and resourceful girl!” Abernathy congratulated her.
She smiled at him, and Draco kissed her forehead as he ushered her into the downstairs drawing room ahead of him.
“Does anyone know if the warrant has reached Aurors yet?” he asked.
There was general head shaking. “Does it make a difference?” Wellingham asked.
“Potter can’t delay in coming to search for me without handing Percy lethal ammunition against him. I should move quickly. And you should all get back to the Ministry before anyone spots you’re gone.”
“Rubbish,” said Abernathy. “I’m having a meeting with one of my more valued staff. Wellingham, who possibly should have consulted me before haring off on his own, but we’ll overlook it this time, is here to take minutes and Brown very thoughtfully agreed to come with me to explain some of the finer points of Magical Transportation for a conference we’re planning in the new year.”
“You really are the best boss in the Ministry, sir,” Draco said with a smile.
“And yet you spend all your time with Potter,” Abernathy replied with a too-knowing look.
“They’re busy on the campaign, sir,” Wellingham pointed out, all innocence, which made Draco feel tremendous fondness for the young man.
“That will be Mother,” Draco said, hearing footsteps outside the door.
It wasn’t. It was Ron Weasley with his wand drawn and a wary expression.
“No hexing!” Draco said quickly. “They’re all friends, come to warn me.”
Ron walked in and nodded at the others. “All right, well, I’m here to take you away.”
“Don’t be angry, Mr Weasley, but I’m not going to let you,” Wellingham said, staring nervously up at Ron but holding his wand firmly pointed.
“To hide,” Ron clarified. “Take him away to hide.”
“Oh.” Wellingham lowered his wand.
“You’re a good friend, Broderick,” Draco told him. Broderick blushed, and then blushed more deeply when Peri put her arm around his shoulders.
There were more footsteps outside, this time lighter and more rapid. His mother walked quickly in, carrying a bag and followed by two house-elves who were trying to carry it for her. She looked straight to him and relaxed at his smile and nod.
“Apparently you’re leaving us for the evening, darling. Do take care, and send word. I’ll go and find out who I need to hex to sort all this out.”
“Mrs Malfoy …” Abernathy began.
Ron took Draco’s arm. “We should go.”
Draco dragged his mother close with his other arm and breathed deeply. “All right. Mother, stay here with Abernathy. There will be Aurors, be polite. Broderick, get Peri back to the Ministry and check she’s not in any trouble …”
Abernathy interrupted him, “If she is, tell them it’s my fault and I’ll explain when I get back.”
“Thanks, sir, and can you …”
“I’ll stay with your mother as long as she needs me.”
“I owe all of you,” Draco said. “And will, with luck, see you all soon.”
“Very nice, come on.” Ron dragged him out the door. “Can we Apparate from inside?”
“Yes. Where are we—?”
A sharp lurch and a stumble and they were in a well-lit room with timber floors and painted furniture. A sugar bowl and butter dish sat on a green table, with crumbs suggesting they may have been left out after breakfast. Nearby was a capacious sofa with blue cushions and a low table in front of it covered in a set-up chess board, chess books and Quidditch magazines.
“Sorry about the landing,” Ron apologised. “This is my place, you should be safe – no one in their right mind would think I was harbouring you. You can kip on the sofa if you need to, the spare room’s full of things from the shop – don’t touch any of it unless you want to vomit, piss blue, turn into a canary or fart like a trumpet – there’s food in the pantry, wireless, mags … I can’t stay long, I promised George I’d be quick, but we’re downstairs, so if you need anything, just stomp around heavily and I’ll come up.”
Draco was still trying to catch his bearings. “Did Potter send you?”
“No, Hermione. She’s got a spy network in that Ministry that scares the bejesus out of me. Knows far too much, though I will say the whole place seems to leak like a sieve. Anyway, she came to me the moment she heard and I set off for you. George knows, so if he sticks his head up here, you don’t need to hide. And for Merlin’s sake, don’t hex him!”
“But she, you …” Draco inhaled and exhaled slowly. “I’m not convinced that it’s worth risking yourselves for me.” And because he was honest, he added, “Again.”
Ron stopped moving, and gave a half-smile. “I’m not entirely convinced, either,” he admitted. “Because you were such a little shit at school. But so was Percy – in a different way – and you’ve been one of the few people consistently reminding the others that he’s a person, too. You’ve changed. And maybe I’m a bit less black-and-white than I used to be, too. I get it now that everything has consequences. I didn’t before. So I don’t think I should expect you to be smarter than I was.”
Draco wasn’t going to say a word.
“Ok, maybe at potions, but I leave you for dead at business,” Ron said, and winked, and Draco realised they might actually be friends.
“I’m not taking you home for Christmas, mind.”
“And if my parents still want to hate you and all your family …”
“Right and proper. My mother’s not an enormous fan of yours, in truth.”
“Well, your aunt …”
They smiled at each other.
“OK. Right. Well, you settle down for the afternoon, I need to get back to work. I’ll let Harry know you’re here so he doesn’t do anything stupid.”
“Are you …”
“We are so not talking about the two of you.”
“I was going to say are you sure your brother’s all right with having me here?”
“He suggested it.”
“He …” Draco was so surprised that he couldn’t find words.
Ron shrugged. “You remember at the end of the war, when Voldemort came out of the forest and we all thought Harry was dead?”
Draco remembered a long moment of horror, seeing Potter still and prone, his father blank and broken. Only his mother’s calm and steady face as his eyes found hers had given him any hope. He nodded.
“You remember how Voldemort said that if we laid down our wands and stopped fighting, everyone would be forgiven?”
Draco nodded again.
“That’s what George said to Percy. He said he didn’t think we were much chop if we were being out-done in the courtesy stakes by Voldemort.”
Draco wasn’t sure it was appropriate to laugh, but he did anyway.
“Exactly,” said Ron. “Put your feet up and get some rest, I’m back to work for a bit. You can only get up here through the shop, so anyone coming up the stairs is safe. Anyone coming in through the window is a burglar, feel free to whack ’em one.”
“Will do,” Draco promised. “And say thanks to your brother for me.”
Ron’s flat wasn’t huge, but it was comfortable and pleasant. There was more colour and less mess than Draco would have expected, and a whole shelf of Geraldine Batterthwayte. He found the one he was reading – Abernathy’s copy was safely back at the Ministry – found his page and sat down to wait. Somewhere between ruling out the handsome Quidditch player as the killer and finding out whether or not the quail had been laced with henbane, he fell asleep.
It was dark when he woke up. The lights of Diagon Alley twinkled in through the light curtains, and Potter was standing there.
“Sorry,” Potter said, squatting down beside the sofa. “I was trying not to wake you.”
“When did you get here?”
“Just now. Ron’s still at work, so’s Hermione. I had a huge shouting match with Percy over the fact we haven’t apprehended you and stormed out. The advantage to him still thinking of me as a slightly dramatic fifteen year old is that I can bunk off an hour early and no one is shocked.”
“I thought it was later than that.”
“No, just raining again.”
The inappropriately early Christmas lights of the second-hand bookshop across the road glinted on Potter’s glasses.
“Are you all right?” Draco asked.
“I’m fine. Hermione’s moved Pansy to Ness’s for a few days, just to be safe. Seamus says Theo’s fine, and over at that girl’s house half the time anyway. Justin’s taking Blaise visiting at one of their studs in Ireland for a week, and is threatening to teach him to ride. They’re all safe.”
“Are you all right?” Draco repeated.
“No,” Potter answered, honestly this time. “I’m angry, and I’m worried. Percy’s coming after you based on your own testimony in the Higgs case.”
“It was always a risk,” Draco admitted.
“But nothing has changed since the end of the war, and it wasn’t enough to indict you then.”
“Yes it was. Shacklebolt just chose not to. Because you were grateful to Mother. And because you were too stubborn to pull me out of an inferno and then send me off to Azkaban.”
Potter took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’m not letting him take you,” he said, looking up at Draco.
There was just enough light to see in the green in Potter’s eyes, “Course you’re not.” Draco reached out and pushed Potter’s hair back from his face. “You need another haircut.”
“It just grows,” Potter said distractedly, and let Draco’s hand on the back of his head pull him forward until their lips met. He was off balance, then, so Draco took advantage and dragged him all the way onto the sofa, rolling so they both ended up on their sides, just fitting. Potter still had his damp coat on, which was probably just as well, given it was Ron’s sofa and he would presumably rather not have to burn it.
“I’m serious,” Potter said, moving back just enough to give space to the words. I’m not putting you at risk.”
“It’s going to be all right,” Draco said. “I left Mother with Abernathy, I’m sure they’ve come up with something.”
Draco felt the shift of Potter’s cheek against his own as he grinned. “You should have seen them when we turned up to search the Manor. Percy insisted on coming along, and your mother followed him about silently glaring in a fury, while Abernathy critiqued him on policy and practise at every turn. I’m afraid Percy probably thinks they’re having an affair.”
“Mother will be amused and Abernathy will be flattered.”
Potter’s lips played over Draco’s jaw, and for a moment Draco let himself delight in the sharp line of Potter’s nose against his cheek and the soft fall of Potter’s hair as its ends brushed the side of his face. Then Potter leaned back.
“I should stop,” he whispered. His eyes were wide in the half-light, and his lips flushed.
“You should,” Draco agreed. “Ron doesn’t want to burn his sofa. You look nice without your glasses.”
“I have a plan,” Potter promised.
“I know you do.”
“It just involves waiting around for a bit.”
“So we’ll wait. We can lie here and watch the lights changing colour.”
It involved a little shuffling, and Draco needed to reach out and pick up Potter’s glasses so he could actually see the shifting pattern on the ceiling as anything more than a blur of tones, but even with Potter’s coat buttons digging into him, Draco had rarely felt as comfortable as here feeling every one of Potter’s breaths both against his ribs and trailing gently through his hair. He almost felt gratitude towards Percy for this moment.
He must have drifted off again, because he woke to feel a blanket being pulled up over them both, and Potter stirring slightly behind him.
“What time is it?” Potter whispered.
“Quarter to six,” Ron replied quietly. “No rush. Let him sleep for a bit.”
“I’m awake,” Draco mumbled. “More or less.”
He sat up and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We should get up, before Hermione gets here and her brain explodes.”
“I’m going to have to break it to her at some point,” Ron said with an exaggerated sigh. “Though I confess I’m hoping she’s so busy working on the house-elf legislation reform that you two get through the whole whatever it is you’re doing and go back to hating each other before she notices.”
Draco blinked at him.
“It might work! That’s how Harry’s relationships have always gone before! Two or three years of low-key pining followed by a brief fling then flaming disaster. He has form.”
Draco couldn’t help but laugh at the annoyance in Potter’s voice.
There was a knock at the door. Draco leapt from the sofa to the dining table in almost one move, Potter stood up and tried to smooth his clothes and hair back into place and Ron turned the lights on before he opened the door.
Armitage barrelled in.
“Sorry for the delay, sir,” she said. “I got away as quickly as I could. I had to buy a Skiving Snackbox downstairs because I thought I was being followed.”
“Take it out of expenses tomorrow,” Potter told her.
Draco looked at Potter. “Is there anyone in your department who isn’t in on this conspiracy?” he asked.
“Gallagher, Savage, May …”
“You right, Draco?” Armitage asked.
“So far. Though no one’s told me many details about what’s going on.”
“Hermione’s due in a few minutes,” Ron said. “We should wait until she gets here.”
“She and Angelina were just behind me,” said Armitage. “Your brother was going to close up and then follow them up.”
“I’ll put the kettle on.”
There was a rap at Ron’s window while the water was boiling. Draco would not have been surprised if it had been rappelling Aurors at this point, but it was in fact an owl, delivering the evening edition of the Prophet.
As bad luck would have it, Potter was nearest the window, so it was he who retrieved the paper and held it up so they could all see the headline: POTTER POLLS PLUMMET.
“Well,” said Ron, “the good news is that you won’t have to attend all those meetings …”
This time it was a key in the door, and Granger bustled in carrying an armload of scrolls and papers. George Weasley and Angelina followed her, each with more.
“Sorry I’m late,” Granger apologised. “I had to wait for Goshawk to send me copies of all her files. She’s with Kingsley and Tiberius and they’re going through all of this tonight, too.”
“All of what?” Draco asked.
“Your case files. Harry sent us all word as soon as the warrant hit his desk. Ooh, is that tea? Ron, you’re the best.”
Draco felt as though he should thank Granger, but she’d already stepped past him to drop her files on the table. So he passed over both of his chocolate biscuits instead. She took them with a smile.
“Tiberius thinks that it is extremely iffy that the warrant was based on your own testimony. While it is entirely possible to incriminate yourself in front of the Wizengamot, none of your statements were new, and all have been on file with the Aurors since 1998, so to wait two and a half years before doing anything about … well, it reeks of a political decision. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be public knowledge yet …”
“Hermione …” Harry held up page five, which declared Draco Malfoy Sought For Questioning.
“Bugger. No, it’s fine. We will come up with something. If I can bring Goblins to the negotiating table, I can come up with a plausible explanation for all this.”
“I wish I had more biscuits now,” Draco said, smiling. “Thanks, Granger.”
“It’s all right. You’re part of the team. I’d do as much for Pansy, even if she keeps trying to sneak in and straighten my hair in the middle of the night.”
Draco managed not to laugh. “Is she all right?”
“She’s fine. Ness, on the other hand, is convinced we’re in the middle of a training op. And please don’t ask me to explain that all to you because life is too short. Pansy has her head around it, so you can ask her when we’re all sorted.
“All right, everyone got a cuppa? Come over here, I’m going to need all hands.”
She divided the paperwork up into piles and distributed them around the table. “I’m putting you all to work, because we only have tonight to sort this one. The scrolls with blue ribbons are Malfoy’s Auror testimony from ’98. The ones with red ribbons are from the Wizengamot this morning. Two of you need to pair up and compare those to see if there was anything new introduced this morning. I’m going to plough through these books of case law, if anyone wants to help, I can show you what we’re looking for. The loose sheets are notes Miranda and Tiberius sent, along with a copy of the warrant. It would be great if Harry could take a look at the warrant and if someone could read through the notes and let us know anything pertinent, that would be brill.”
Hands reached for the files. Draco gave a small cough for attention. “Sorry, it’s just, I still haven’t been told what’s on the warrant.”
“Oh.” Granger looked embarrassed. “I thought Harry would have …”
“No, because it’s stupid.” Harry stepped forward and took the warrant from the pile on the table before Draco could reach for it.
He went on, tense and terse. “Percy’s accused you of providing material support and assistance to Voldemort. It’s the same charge we used to prosecute any Death Eaters that we couldn’t tie to a specific crime. He’s also told me that he plans to lay further charges for the attack at Hogwarts in 1997, but he needed to look up your birthday to see if you’d already turned seventeen.”
“I know. But I didn’t tell him.”
Draco nodded. “The thing is,” he said, “I am guilty. I did do those things. I’m not like Higgs. Having me front the Wizengamot isn’t going to expose any great injustice, it’s going to show that I spent the war making stupid choices. All this work isn’t going to pay off, it’s just going to damage the rest of you for defending me. I think I’d be better off just running.”
Granger bit her lip and looked crossly down at her pile of books. Potter looked as though he was about to launch into one of his occasional speeches, but George Weasley beat him to it.
“Malfoy, I confess I’m not an expert on your life, but as I understand it, you were acting under threat of being murdered, and also having your mother killed. Yes?”
“I could have said no.”
“You were sixteen for most of that year, and a complete idiot for all of it. And you did your level best to balls it all up. From what Harry’s said, Dumbledore was playing some complex double-hander there and I have no doubt that he could have stepped in and stopped things if he wanted to, so he’s just as guilty as you are.”
“That’s very comforting, but …”
“And you spent the next year a virtual prisoner in your own home surrounded by psychopaths, which sounds a lot like punishment to me. So shut up, and let us help you.”
“That was beautiful, George,” said Angelina, admiringly.
“Oh, stop being so dramatic, Malfoy,” Hermione snapped. “You’re the line. More guilty than you, stuff ’em. Less guilty, save ’em. As guilty, save, because it’s always better to err on the side of charity.”
“Sorry. Thank you. You, too, George. Granger, please stop being cross, you’re making me very nervous.”
Granger harumphed. “All this drama is stopping me from reading.”
Draco sat himself down and started to go through Ogden and Goshawk’s notes, while George and Angelina compared the testimonies and Armitage helped Granger. Ron supplied everyone with quills and parchment for notes, then went to assist with the case law.
“This warrant was signed by Elphias Doge,” Potter said after a few minutes. “It’s all in order, but he never signs warrants these days. He’s been taking a back seat for years now, says he hasn’t been well. Rumour has it he’s only stayed on the Wizengamot for the free lunches and stipend.”
Granger nodded. “You’re right. He’s exactly the sort of person you’d go to for a signature if you wanted to slip something shady through, because he’s not been at his best since Dumbledore died. Good work, Harry.”
“Goshawk says to ask me whether I was told that I could choose to withhold information that might incriminate me,” Draco read.
“I was when I was interviewed under Auror caution in 1998, I wasn’t before giving testimony on behalf of Higgs.”
Granger grinned. “Yes! That’s good news. Everybody keep going. More like that!”
After twenty minutes, Hester Armitage found a case in which the Wizengamot had declared that eighteen months was an unreasonable length of time to wait between being questioned and being brought to trial and had thrown the case out accordingly. Admittedly it had been for attempted assault with a cauldron, but Granger assured them that “every precedent counts. And that could have been really rather serious.”
Draco was almost starting to enjoy the camaraderie of working at a shared problem, when there was another knock at the door. He looked to Potter, and then to Ron, both of who gave small shakes of their heads. Granger stood up without a word and took Draco’s arm, leading him into the bedroom, while Ron and Potter drew their wands.
“Harry,” a voice shouted through the door. “It’s Williamson, open up.”
“It’s all right,” Potter said, and went to the door.
Draco heard Granger’s small sigh of relief beside him and smiled in agreement at her.
Williamson looked grim as he came in. “Sorry, Harry. We need you to come back in. You too, Hester. They’ve found Walden Macnair’s body in Spondon Wood, near Derby, and pear-shaped doesn’t begin to describe the way it’s going in there.”
“But there’s so much …” Armitage began to protest, but stopped at the look on Potter’s face.
It was quite complimentary that Potter was that conflicted, thought a small part of Draco’s brain, but the far larger part was occupied saying, “Spondon Wood? That’s where Unity Fraser lives. ”
Potter frowned. “I’ve heard that name before.”
“It was on your list. The one you made of all the old families who hadn’t involved themselves in the war.”
“You didn’t tick it.”
“No. She may not have lifted a finger during the actual war, but she’s Thorfinn Rowle’s great aunt and she’d curse you on sight.”
“Rowle!” Williamson exclaimed. He looked at Potter. “Do you think?”
“It’s an awfully big coincidence … Williamson, sit down. Run us through what’s happened.”
Williamson sat, George fetched him tea and several biscuits, which he made short work of as he spoke. “A group of kids were searching for a lost dog in the woods last night. They say they saw people firing ‘green lasers’ and shouting, and when they went to investigate, there was a tall man who turned the laser in their direction, so they all ran away and rang the police as soon as they got home. No details on the man, other than height, but Rowle is tall. The local coppers ran a sweep this morning and found the body. Our Derbyshire liaison was able to have a look at it an hour ago and he says there’s no doubt, it’s definitely Macnair. They found the dog safe and well, by the way.”
“What’s a laser?” Angelina asked.
“A type of light – what a Muggle would think a Killing Curse looked like,” Hermione answered. “Malfoy, this woman …?”
“Unity Fraser. She’s Rowle’s great aunt, and has always been close to his family. She hates almost everyone else, famously anti-social. It would be the perfect place to hide, anyone who came looking for him would have to contend with a vicious, screaming old witch, and even if they didn’t give up in the face of her, Rowle would have plenty of warning.”
“How do you know all this?” Williamson asked.
“She’s my great aunt, too.”
Harry looked at him, surprised. “You mean, you and Rowle …”
“Second cousins. It’s not that unusual to have family connections among the Pureblood families. She’s related to you, too, I think. My other great aunt married Ron’s great uncle, so it all links up.”
“That’s just …”
“Small population. Most of the older families are related if you go back a handful of generations. Ron’s actually quite brilliant for snagging the only good-looking witch in his peer group who’s not one of his extended family.”
Hermione beamed at Draco.
“Well, there’s Gabrielle …” Ron mused, then ducked away from the inevitable smack.
“So it sounds as though there’s a good chance Rowle is there …” Potter said. “We should go in. Tonight. The longer we leave it the more likely he is to move on.”
Draco frowned. “Potter, I’m not being poetic when I call her a vicious witch. She’s roughly as dangerous as Rowle is.”
“Then we’re best off going in under cover of darkness.”
“You don’t even know what the house is like inside,” Draco protested.
“Do you?” Potter asked, hopefully.
“No, but I could find out,” Draco realised.
“No, but …” Draco let his glance slide over to the paper, which was still on the sofa, turned to page five.
The others followed his line of thought at different speeds. “Brilliant,” said Williamson.
“No,” said Potter.
“Are you sure she’d take you in?” Granger asked.
“She might say no to me, but she’d say yes to my mother. Mother’s one of the few people Great Aunt Unity likes. If she received a letter asking if I could hide there, I think she’d say yes.”
“Your mother would never send you into danger like that,” Potter pointed out.
“No. But I’ve been able to forge her handwriting and signature for years.”
“Forge? Oh …” Hermione said, but kept her thoughts to herself.
“How dangerous would it be?” Armitage asked. “We’ve been doing such a good job of keeping you alive and at liberty up until now.”
“Not very, Great Aunt Unity thinks I’m useless, but harmless, and Rowle was kinder to me than most of the other Death Eaters.”
Armitage looked at him thoughtfully. “So you’d be able to get in without a great deal of risk.”
“And,” said Draco, “more importantly, I’d be able to get Rowle out. He’s going to be much easier to capture outside in the open.”
“No,” said Potter. “You’re a civilian.”
“Oh, when has that ever stopped Aurors in the past?”
“It’s not a bad plan,” Armitage ventured.
“It’s a very good one,” Williamson corrected her. “If anything starts to go wrong, we can send Narcissa Malfoy in to defuse the situation.”
“You can’t involve my mother,” Draco protested, just as Potter said, “We’re not doing it.”
Granger reached across the table and tapped Draco’s arm for attention. “How long has it been since you’ve seen your Great Aunt?”
“About a year.”
“After the war. And she was all right with … with how you …”
Draco’s nose screwed up at the memory. “She told mother that it was a shame I wasn’t very useful, but that my father had always been a bit dim, so it was only to be expected.”
Granger, kindly, didn’t laugh. “It sounds as though she doesn’t think you’d be up to much in the way of duplicity and scheming.”
“No,” Potter said. “You’ve been all over the papers working with me for weeks. If she’s read any of that she’s going to know that you’re suspect.”
“Or that I’ve been trying to ingratiate myself with powerful allies to keep myself safe,” Draco pointed out.
The moment of silence that followed was uncomfortably long. Clearly the idea had never occurred to Potter before.
“But in that case,” said Ron, “surely you’d have sucked up to Percy. He’s the Department Head, and he’s much easier to impress with a bit of judicious flattery and a few nice gifts.”
“You tell me this now.” Draco gave an exaggerated sigh, and the tension left the room. “Anyway, my point is that there are a lot of good reasons why I might want to associate with all of you without liking any of you. In fact, I seem to recall that was my original plan, but Armitage won me over with her cups of tea and shortbread biscuits.”
“And your relatives would expect you to be doing what you could to rebuild networks of influence,” Granger said, smiling at Draco’s attempted humour.
“Exactly. So rather than being suspicious, my being seen with you in the press could be read as a sign of competence at last, from my Great Aunt’s perspective. And the fact that you were part of the team that came to the Manor looking for me today would add credibility to that.”
“Let me be perfectly clear about this,” Potter said, “since the rest of you seem to have forgotten a few salient points. To the best of our knowledge, Thorfinn Rowle killed Walden Macnair last night. He’s killed before, and he has no reason not to kill again. I would put my money on Malfoy against most people if it was a question of Potions or debating, but he’s not the fastest when it comes to duelling and he’s not the most ruthless, either. I am not going to send him in against a murderer.”
“You’re not,” said Draco. “I am.”
“Shut up for a moment. I know Rowle, you don’t. He’s belligerent and violent, but in the same way a bear is; if you annoy him, or if you’re his enemy, he’ll lash out, but he’s not like my Aunt, who took actual pleasure in hurting people. And he’s not very bright. The others used to give him grief over that sometimes, Macnair in particular. I’m guessing Macnair said one cruel thing too many and Rowle struck him down.
“I’m not saying he’s secretly decent or misunderstood, but I am saying he’s a lot more like Gregory Goyle than he is like Voldemort. So I think that I’m very likely to be safe there. But you’re not, because if you get inside that house, he will fight like a cornered dog, and if I know my Great Aunt, the house itself will be filled with defences. But if I can get him outside, then you have the advantage of numbers, and clear sight lines, and I can Disapparate, or you can Stun me to make it look as though I’m not in on it. I’m making sense, Potter, admit it. There is much less risk to me than to you.”
And Draco knew exactly how unfair he was being, because to judge by his face, Potter was feeling exactly the same sick fear that he was at the thought of Potter going into that house without inside help, and there were too many people here to say a meaningful word about it. But since one of them had to be in danger, no matter what, Draco could only hope that Potter’s good sense would win out and he would go with the choice that represented less risk to fewer people.
“And just think of Percy’s face if Draco’s the reason you capture Rowle,” Ron said.
That clinched it. Draco could see the quick calculation in Potter’s eyes as he envisioned running the story through the press. Malfoy Vital to Auror Efforts was too good to turn down.
“We’ll need a signal in case anything goes wrong,” Potter said.
“And you’ll need an owl that can’t be traced back to any of us,” Granger added.
“If Draco can write the letter, I can get over to Swindon and send it from their central Owlery,” Armitage offered. “They’re open late.”
Ron passed Draco a quill and a sheet of parchment. “Do you want some sealing wax?” he asked. “I think George has some in the shop.”
“Only the type that changes seals to rude pictures,” George said. “Not very helpful here, sorry.”
“It’s all right, I don’t have any of the right seals, anyway. And she sometimes sends plain notes when she’s anxious. Give me a minute.” He took up the quill and tried to think like his mother. It was hard to start.
Potter stepped closer and looked at the blank sheet. “You should say, ‘I am asking you for a favour, and I will pay any price you want. Keep Draco safe.’”
And Draco looked up at him, startled at both the unfamiliar sound of his name on Potter’s lips and the fact that he knew exactly what his mother would say.
Potter looked back at him. “I’ve seen what she was prepared to risk for you,” he said. “In the war, remember?”
And then Potter stepped away, which was a relief, because Draco was absolutely certain Ron did not want Granger’s head to explode.
Draco wrote, careful to use the sweeps and curlicues of his Mother’s hand rather than the hurried angularity of his own. “We’re not going to be able to intercept any post getting to Mother, so I’m saying that I’m not going to wait for a reply, I’m just going to send Draco hot on the heels of this message, and if she can’t help, then she needn’t look to us for any assistance in the future.” He saw the look on Armitage’s face at that, and added, “My Mother is a lovely woman, but a little ruthless.”
He folded up the note and passed it to Armitage, along with a handful of Galleons. “Thanks, Hester. Choose the best owl. Mother would pay for express service and for a security charm. I’ve written the address on the outside, so she’d also pay for a sealed container in case it was intercepted. That should be enough, if it’s not, let me know.”
She hugged him quickly. “I’ll head off now. Give me half an hour’s start, I’ll get word to Harry if I run into any problems. Good luck, you.”
Draco watched Potter’s face as Armitage left. He was not best pleased, but he didn’t move to stop her.
“I’d like to keep going with all this while we wait,” Granger said. “Or do you two need to go back into the Ministry?”
“We should go back,” Williamson said. “Weasley’s expected back in around nine and Savage is probably going to kill the next journalist he catches trying to sneak in for information on Macnair.”
Potter nodded. “I’m just going to have a quick word with Malfoy.”
Draco looked up expectantly, but apparently Potter meant a quick word away from everyone else, which boded ill for poor Granger’s brain. Draco followed him into the bedroom at the rear of the flat.
“I’m not happy,” Potter said as soon as he closed the door.
“But it is the best option,” Draco replied.
“Yes, I can see that, but I still don’t like it.”
“You’d let Granger go. Or Ron.”
Potter frowned. “I’d hesitate with Hermione. She’s brilliant, and got me out of some terrible places during the war, but she’s a thinker, like you. Ron’s more Aurory – and yes, before you say it, I do mean a bit less prone to over-thinking a situation, because there are some occasions where it is best to hex first and think later.”
“I can be brave,” Draco assured him.
The frown disappeared from Potter’s face. “Oh, I know that. Did you think I wasn’t paying any attention?”
Draco smiled, but stayed carefully out of Potter’s reach, because quite aside from everything else, that was Ron and Granger’s bed and there weren’t enough words for the many levels of wrongness of that thought.
“It will be easy,” he promised. “I won’t be in any danger.”
And he was, but there was no reason Potter should know that.
“I’m trying to avoid having to go on the run. And I’m trying to keep you from getting your head hexed off.”
“Just … Don’t take any risks. If it goes wrong, leave.”
“Because I like the way you look. I don’t want you coming back damaged.”
“I thought you were attracted to my mind.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
And Draco was certain that he had been out of arm’s reach, but one of them must have moved, because suddenly he was wrapped in Potter’s arms, and Potter was whispering “Be safe” in his ear and kissing his way along Draco’s jaw to his lips and Draco let himself stop caring about what people might think long enough to hold Potter and feel the shift of muscle in his back and the sharpness of his hips against his own and taste the bitter tang of coffee on his mouth.
But there were other people, and he did care what they thought. He stepped back.
“Stop now,” Draco told him. “Save that sort of thing for my triumphant return.”
“If they hurt you, I will kill them,” Potter promised.
“No you won’t,” Draco told him. “You’ll arrest them. And you’ll hit them with the full force of the law. And then my mother will probably try to sneak in and kill them and you’ll be tempted to pretend you didn’t see her… None of which is going to be necessary, because it’s going to be fine.”
Potter didn’t look happy, but he didn’t argue. “What time should we be in place?”
“Dawn seems like a sensible hour to get a bit of exercise in when you’re on the lam,” Draco suggested. “Sun’s coming up about seven-thirty, so a bit before that?”
“We’ll get there before seven. I’d rather put a watch on tonight, but …”
Draco shook his head. “The longer there are Aurors around, the more risk to me.”
“Exactly.” Potter reached into his pocket and pulled out a Galleon. “Take this, if you start to get worried, just tap on it and change the date. There’s a Protean Charm on it, so the change will go straight out to all the others and one of us will be able to get help to you immediately. It’s a lot subtler than sending out a Patronus.”
“Thank you.” Draco reached for the coin, and Potter took his hand. “It’s going to be fine,” Draco said. “Now let go, and open the door, before Ron starts having to explain anything.”
Potter squeezed his hand before letting it go. His hands were strong, and there was still a flying callus on his palm. Draco filed away the memory.
“And whatever you do, don’t let my mother know until I’m back safely, or she’ll kill you. And … and keep her safe, no matter what.”
Potter let go of his hand and opened it. “So we’re clear on the timing?” he said loudly as they stepped through it. “And any problems, just get out or call for help.”
“Absolutely. No heroics,” Draco responded similarly.
From the calculating look on Granger’s face, they were possibly the worst two actors in the world, but Ron, who was fast becoming Draco’s favourite, knocked a pile of scrolls off the table and Potter was able to gather up Williamson while she was berating him and picking parchment up from the floor.
“All right. If you come up with anything, send Angelina in. Everyone’s used to her popping in and out at all hours, so it won’t attract any attention. We’ll kip in the office tonight, and we’ll get word to the rest of you as soon as we can in the morning.”
“We’re going to keep going here for as long as we can and then I’ll send our notes to Kingsley,” Granger said.
“And I’m going to sit around making myself useful for another twenty minutes, then mess up my hair and suit and throw myself on the mercy of my fourth-least-favourite relative,” said Draco.
“Who are the … never mind,” said Angelina. “I’ve just realised I have no urge to meet them.”
“Two are in Azkaban, you’re safe.” Draco flashed her a smile. He turned his attention back to Potter. “Dawn, yeah? I’ll try to get us out on time. I’ll see if he wants to go up to the park near there. It’s on the same road as the house, and it’s a nice walk.”
“If you’re too close to him …”
“Just Stun me. It can’t hurt more than a friendly thump of approval from Williamson.”
Williamson grinned broadly. Potter looked at Draco, and Draco gave a small shake of his head, which was met with resigned acceptance and a general “Good luck” as Potter left. Ron jumped up and offered a fresh round of tea before Granger could start to do any thinking on that exchange, and Draco gratefully turned himself back to Goshawk and Ogden’s scratchy handwriting. Twenty minutes passed all too quickly.
It took another few minutes to make him look as though he had been authentically on the run and not holed up in a cosy flat. Angelina turned his hair into something resembling Potter’s birds’ nest, while George contributed a Nosebleed Nougat and Granger carefully scorched one of his sleeves with a just-missing jinx.
“You look awful,” Ron said approvingly. “I’ll hide your bag while you’re gone. If it all goes tits-up, I’ll find a way to get it to you.”
“Thanks. All right then, I should be off.”
He hesitated. “Thank you, all of you,” he said, quietly. “I know I don’t deserve any of the help you’ve given me, but I appreciate it.”
“Bloody hell, Malfoy,” said George. “It’s bad enough you’ve got Ron saying you’re not that bad. Don’t start me down that path, it’ll break our little old mum’s heart!”
Malfoy grinned. “Can’t have that, your mum’s scarier than mine.”
“And don’t you forget it.”
“Be careful,” Granger said. “Pansy would be insufferable about it if we let you get hurt.”
“Merlin forbid. OK. See you all tomorrow.” And before he could think too much about any of it, he Disapparated.
Great Aunt Unity’s house had been a place best avoided by Draco as a boy. Not only did she believe children should be seen and not heard, but she was quite vocal in her opinion they ought to be seen at a distance, and preferably at someone else’s home so she wouldn’t have to clean up after them.
Though, she had sent him a tin of good broom polish every year at Christmas since he was eleven, so she wasn’t entirely bad. Draco had visited her house twice with his parents, each time being entertained in the back garden. It was here that he Apparated, careful of the intruder traps he knew were set near all the doors and windows.
He was intentionally not careful with the sound of his Apparition, though the splash he made as he landed in a rather large puddle was nearly as loud. The back door opened in response to the crack, as he had hoped.
“Great Aunt Unity?” he asked.
“Get inside, boy. Before you get wet!” she croaked.
He did. The back door led into the old washroom, from when the house had been part of a working farm. Light spilled out from the kitchen beyond, and he could see his Great Aunt peering up at him critically.
“You’ve taken a bit of a beating, I see.”
“Have you seen the paper?”
“Disgraceful. You were doing so well, too. Very clever of you getting that Potter boy onside.”
Draco kept his sigh of relief silent. “He’s the future of the Ministry. Seemed only logical.”
“Did he give you that?” She pointed to his bloody nose.
“No, that was an over-enthusiastic member of the MLE Patrol down in Swindon. Mother got me away from the house in time, but I was spotted leaving her at the Owlery.”
She wet a cloth and passed it to him. “Clean yourself up.” She looked him over and Vanished the mud from his shoes and trousers. “Not having that muck tracked into my nice clean house.”
“Thank you. Mother said we could trust you.”
Unity barked with laughter. “Of course she did. Popped a little threat in her letter, you know. I always liked your mother. She makes a far better Malfoy than your father ever did. Knows how to choose her battles, that one.”
Draco nodded, then turned at a sound beyond the kitchen door. “Is there …”
The door was pushed back, revealing Thorfinn Rowle, wand in hand. Draco had forgotten how very large he was.
“Put your wand away, Thorfinn, it’s your cousin.”
“Thorfinn …” And Draco was enveloped in a bone-crushing hug, which meant that he didn’t need to feign a mild battering anymore. “I thought you’d fled the country,” he managed to gasp out.
Rowle let him go. “I tried. It was too hard to get away. I spent the first few months living rough on Dartmoor, but no one came to find me. Then I went north for a while, and then I came to see Aunty and she let me stay. And they still haven’t come to find me.”
“Are you all right?”
Rowle shook his head.
“There was some trouble yesterday,” Unity said briskly. “Nothing to worry about. It’s too cold for an old woman to be up on a night like this. Draco, there’s a camp bed in Thorfinn’s room. You can sleep there.”
“He needs some food first,” Rowle protested.
“You can sort that, then. I’m off to bed.”
Draco courteously wished her good night and followed Rowle into the kitchen.
A fire was burning in the kitchen hearth, with herbs drying on a rack above it and a small cauldron bubbling away on one side. Now that he could see Rowle more closely, he did not look well. His eyes were darkly shadowed, and his hands twitched randomly. The scar on the side of his face looked red and angry. Draco winced as he remembered Voldemort inflicting it, in a fury that Rowle had let Potter escape him.
“What happened to you?” Rowle asked, nodding at the bloody wet cloth in Draco’s hand.
“Minor altercation. I’m fine. Just need to lay low for a few days or weeks. What about you? Have you been all right?”
“I’ve been better,” Rowle admitted. “It’s been hard being by myself. I’m glad you’re here, someone to talk to.”
“What about Great Aunt Unity?” Draco smiled a little, to show he knew she was no great conversationalist.
“She’s been loyal, for the sake of the family, but …” Rowle shrugged.
Draco began to feel sorry for him. “And you really lived on the moor? That must have been hard.”
“Only because I was alone with my thoughts for so long. I was lucky, it was a nice summer. But I was afraid a lot of the time.”
“Of the Aurors?”
“No,” Rowle leaned across the table with sudden intensity. “Of Him”
“Of … the Dark Lord?” Draco asked, hesitantly finding his way back into the language of the war.
Rowle nodded, his eyes darting around the room. “Do you not feel his eyes still on you?”
Draco shook his head.
“Deep in the dark of night, I see him, shadowy and red. He asks me why they haven’t come for me, and I have no answer to give him.”
It was cold, despite the crackling fire. “Thorfinn, he’s dead. Really, finally, totally dead.”
“But are you sure?”
“Then why haven’t they come?”
And Draco had no answers for him, so he reached across the table and squeezed his cousin’s hand and said that he would make them both something to eat.
As it turned out, the cauldron contained quite a serviceable soup, and there was bread and cheese. Draco made Rowle a mug of sweet tea, and seriously considered trying to find the cocoa. For all that he knew the detail of Rowle’s many sins, it was impossible not to feel some pity for the man.
“Do you remember Macnair?” Rowle asked, biting into a thickly buttered slice of bread.
“Never liked him,” Draco said.
“Ha! I remember. He was a pig to you, too.”
“Absolutely. I used to volunteer to feed the prisoners just to get away from him.”
“You’ll never need to worry about him again.”
Draco put his spoon down carefully. “What do you mean?”
“He came here last night, making demands, threatening us both. I put an end to him. Cold and stiff in the forest, he is.”
Draco made himself smile. “That’s good. Then we’ll be safe.”
“Exactly.” Rowle smiled back at him, and resumed eating his soup.
He was quite mad, Draco realised. Perhaps he had always been this way, and it had just passed for normal among the Death Eaters. Perhaps it was just a twisted response to thwarted ambition and regret. That was Mother’s excuse for Father: a two-year tantrum, in essence. But Draco wondered, was it in fact Voldemort’s last revenge on those who had failed him? If he had been given the Dark Mark, would he, too, still be seeing those snake eyes in dark corners and in his dreams?
Because he had not dreamed of Voldemort since the war. Not like those terrifying nights at home, where he died a thousand times in his sleep, where his mother was eviscerated before his eyes, where his Aunt laughed wildly as his Father was forced to kill his wife and son … That had all ended at the sight of that shrunken white shell on the floor of the Great Hall.
His nightmares were all of fire, and of losing grip on that slim strong hand that had reached for him. They were of Potter staying still and dead in Hagrid’s arms. And Draco had a terrible moment of realisation that his subconscious had been way ahead of the rest of him for some time now.
“What is it?” Rowle asked.
“You looked as though you had just thought of something.”
“Oh.” Draco smiled encouragingly. “I had. I thought that Macnair was the last threat to you. You’re safe, now.”
“Oh, Draco, no. I’m not safe. I’ll never be safe.”
“Are you afraid of the Ministry?”
“Of course not. I’m afraid of myself. I still see him.”
There was no rational response to that, so Draco poured him another mug of tea, and spooned sugar into it.
“You’re a good boy,” Rowle told him.
“Great Aunt Unity thinks I’m an idiot,” Draco replied, smiling ruefully.
“She thinks your father’s an idiot. She’s not decided about you.”
“Oh. Well, that’s much better.”
“How is Lucius?”
Draco wished he hadn’t asked.
“I don’t see him much. He drinks too much. He shouts. He regrets. Mother won’t buy him a new wand. She’s hidden all the spares. She says she won’t until he’s his old self again, but I don’t know if he ever will be at this rate.”
Rowle leaned forward. “Does he regret losing, or does he regret trying?”
Draco shrugged. “Both, I think.”
Rowle sank back, nodding to himself.
“What about you, Thorfinn?”
Rowle thought for a moment. “I miss the righteousness of battle. I miss the glory of the kill. But Macnair was the last true enemy, and I defeated him.”
“Macnair was the last? But, wasn’t he on your side?”
“How could he be, when he didn’t sacrifice himself? The others have all gone, those of us He truly loved. It’s not your fault He abandoned you, Draco, your father was weak, and had to be left behind,” Rowle explained. “I am the only one left in the palm of the Dark Lord.”
Draco thought very carefully about his words. “And what do you think he wants you to do?”
“To die for him. But no one has come to kill me. And I have been waiting for so long.”
Draco nodded slowly, torn between pity and horror. “And when they come?”
Rowle grinned, and Draco forced himself to smile in reply.
“It’s late,” Draco said, shivering.
“It’s early. I want to hear what you’ve been doing.”
“Getting by. Keeping my head down, mostly. I made a mistake. I got involved in some politics, because I thought it would put me into a position where I could help our people. It nearly worked, but Percy Weasley’s been made head of Magical Law Enforcement, and he’s decided to come after me.”
“Weasleys. Blood traitors, the lot of them.”
Draco shrugged. “It’s really just an inconvenience. There are moves afoot at the Ministry to usurp him. I just have to wait.”
“Great Aunt Unity said you’d been plotting.”
“Can’t have our lot left out in the cold.”
Rowle beamed at him.
“I really am tired, though. I’ve been running around the countryside for most of the day, and it’s more like nine.”
“All right, but tomorrow, you will tell me everything you’ve been doing. I’m behind on all the news. Aunty keeps the paper to herself.”
“We could get up early,” Draco suggested. “Go for a walk while there’s no one about.”
“That would be grand.” Rowle smiled at him, and Draco refused to let himself feel guilty.
Even if the fold-out bed had been more comfortable, and even if Rowle had not been snoring in the old feather bed on the other side of the small room, Draco would still not have slept well. He had hoped never to feel that tense, claustrophobic darkness again, and yet here he was, feet away from someone in whose head Voldemort still lived.
But it wasn’t the same. He had caught Potter’s hand and been dragged out of the fire. He had heard the interest in Potter’s voice and made the first move. He had stood up for what he knew to be right and found that he wasn’t alone, and that there was help from the least-expected quarters. He wasn’t the same.
Draco felt the coin in his pocket and wondered if he should send a message, but there was no code to say I think he’s mad, he wants to die, I don’t know how many people he wants to take with him. He drifted off, and did not dream.
It was cold when he woke up. The grey pre-dawn light showed up frost on the windowpanes. Draco pulled his boots on and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. He headed downstairs to put the kettle on, and found Great Aunt Unity already in the kitchen, making porridge and waiting for the water to boil.
“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“As well as could be expected. What about you?”
“You don’t sleep much when you get to my age. I listened to the rain stopping. I think it might be a fine day, after all.”
“How’s your cousin?” she asked.
“No,” she looked up from the porridge. “I mean how did you find him?”
Draco hesitated. “He’s … He’s been under a lot of pressure …”
“He’s madder than a Muggle,” she stated baldly. “Will your friends be able to put him into a hospital rather than prison?”
Draco stayed very still.
“You did a good job with the letter, boy, but you should have checked with your mother. She’d already sent me one telling me you were being taken care of. And she knows how to spell subsequently.”
His hand nearest the coin was under the blanket, he edged it towards his pocket. With his wand upstairs it would be harder, but he was reasonably confident he could manage the spell.
“Don’t look at me like that, Draco. I’m a Malfoy, a proper one, and I am not stupid. There’s only one reason for you to come here. Your cousin is broken, and he is dangerous and he needs help, and I can’t give it to him.”
Draco allowed himself to breathe. Either she was being honest, or she was planning to hex him the moment his back was turned. Without a wand he’d just have to rely on moving quickly if it were the latter.
“I am relying on you to do what you can to see that he gets some care.”
“I’ll do what I can,” he promised.
“And if you need me to say that he was always barmy, I will. Merlin knows, even if it wasn’t true before, it is now.”
She took the porridge off the heat and spooned it liberally into two bowls. “I trust you have a plan?”
“Get him outside this morning. They want to take him alive.”
“Even if that’s not what he wants?”
Draco spooned brown sugar over his porridge. “Potter will be there. I trust him.”
Unity narrowed her eyes. “Did he really come to arrest you yesterday?”
“Yes, because it’s his job. But he also worked with his friends to make sure I could escape, because that’s who he is.”
“All right. Go and get your cousin, he’s missing breakfast.”
And since no curses whizzed past him on the way out the door, Draco assumed his Great Aunt was being honest with him.
Rowle did not want to get up. “It’s still dark!” he complained.
“It’s nearly sunrise. I thought we could have a walk outside before everyone’s out and about. It looks like the rain’s cleared up at last. Aunty’s made us breakfast, and it’s actually quite tasty.”
Grumbling, but good-naturedly, Rowle slumped out of bed and into his clothes. Draco took the opportunity to put his blanket back and put on his jacket. He tucked his wand into his pocket and draped his coat over his arm. “Come on, my porridge is getting cold.”
Great Aunt Unity had put a warming spell on the bowl. This, more than anything else, reassured Draco as he sat back down at the table.
Rowle seemed less twitchy this morning, though that could have been because he was still half-asleep. Unity piled his bowl high and gave him the heavy cream as a treat.
“It’s good having Draco here, isn’t it?” Rowle asked.
“Yes, some fresh conversation,” she agreed, smiling fondly at him.
“We’re going for a walk,” he told her.
“You wear your good coat. And your scarf. And put on a pair of gloves. There’s a good frost out there and the sun won’t burn it off for a few hours yet.”
“And mind you don’t go getting into trouble. I’m not having Narcissa say I can’t look after her boy.”
“You’re a good boy, Thorfinn. Would you like some bacon?”
“I’ll have it when we get back.”
But she made them wait ten minutes and cooked it for him now, with eggs, and fried bread. Draco did not begrudge her a second of the time.
“We’re being spoiled now you’re here,” Rowle told him, smiling.
“We are,” Draco agreed, though he had been unable to finish even his porridge. Thicknesse had ended up in St Mungo’s, he told himself. The Ministry was capable of compassion these days. Potter would make it better. Here he was, a traitor, yet again. And yet to stop now would be a worse betrayal still.
“So, walk?” he asked cheerily.
“Walk,” Rowle agreed. “Do you want to borrow a hat?”
Draco shook his head. “I’ve got one in my pocket.”
Rowle ran upstairs to find his. Draco sat still, and tried not to think.
“When Macnair came the other night, he just wanted food,” Great Aunt Unity said quietly. “Thorfinn’s become a danger to himself.”
“And to you?” Draco guessed.
“It’s only a matter of time.”
Rowle’s heavy footsteps bounced down the back stairs. “Come on, Draco, the sun’s coming up,” he said as he came through the kitchen.
Draco hauled on his coat and wrapped his scarf around his throat. “Coming.”
“You’re a good boy.”
“Thanks, Aunty. See you soon.”
It was beautiful outside. The frost crackled underneath their feet and the rabbits that had ventured out to see what remained in the vegetable garden after all the water and ice were too hungry to be timid. Draco smiled at their determination as they wormed their way around the woven willow barriers Unity had placed around the winter greens and the last of the lovage.
A robin was singing its plaintive autumn song and a skirl of small birds scurried from tree to tree as a red kite came into focus high above them.
“Look, Draco,” said Rowle, pointing upwards as they passed through the gate onto the road. “The tips of its wings look like fingers.”
And Draco was pleased to see that he looked happy, and that he did not look down, so there was no way he could have seen Williamson step out from the tree cover across the way and Stun Draco back onto the soft ground, and there would not have been time for him to hear Potter’s hex as it struck him. As Draco’s eyes closed, he took comfort that the light from Potter’s wand had been red.
Draco did not need to open his eyes to know that was Potter’s hand smoothing his hair back from his face.
“How are you feeling?” Potter asked.
“It’s actually much less painful than Williamson’s standard ‘well-done’ wallop,” Draco said, opening his eyes at last.
“I made him carry you in as punishment. Apparently, you’re quite heavy for someone that skinny.”
Potter did not look too worried. Draco took that as a good sign.
“Of course, I should have made him carry Rowle, but that took four of us. Come on, sit up.”
They were in Potter’s office, alone for the moment, but the door was open and there were many voices outside.
“How is Rowle?” Draco asked.
“Sleeping like a baby. It was a fairly solid Stupefy, I didn’t want to take any chances. Of course, Williamson was meant to wait to see if you were in any danger before he took you out, but he says he couldn’t risk it. I’m not sure if you should be flattered or nervous. Drink this.”
Potter held a glass of cold water up for him. Draco drank gratefully, very aware of Potter’s hand helping him to steady the glass.
“You’ll be all right in a few minutes. Which is just as well, Abernathy’s bringing your mum in and Ron and Hermione are on their way, too.”
“I really should have a shower. Or at least do my hair.”
“You look fine.” Potter peered at him closely. “Are you?”
“I am. Great Aunt Unity knew. She wanted him to be caught. He’s … he’s absolutely barking. And not in the ‘I’m an evil psycho’ way Aunt Bella was, in the ‘Kneazles talk to me’ way Great Uncle Alphard is.”
“OK.” Potter nodded. “I’ll have him checked out. If he’s really out of his tree, we’ll move him to the Secure Wing at St Mungo’s. We might even be able to keep him there.”
Potter was still peering. Draco realised he was checking for bruises.
“I’m really fine. We sat around last night and talked, and then we had a good breakfast this morning. What did my Great Aunt say when you went to the house?”
“Nothing. She wasn’t there.”
Draco laughed. “Typical. She gave him shelter, but the sort you’d give a wounded animal. Do you have to question her?”
“We have to let her know what’s happened, she’s his closest relative. But I think we can probably just ignore the whole habouring thing. The only person who suffered by it was Macnair, and I just can’t work up the energy to feel badly about his death.”
“Nor I,” Draco admitted. “And what about me? Am I under arrest?”
“Ah,” said Potter. “Technically, there’s still a warrant out for you. But the Atrium was filled with journalists when we got here – Armitage seems to have given them the impression that you’re the hero of the hour.”
“She’s easily my favourite Auror,” Draco said, smiling up at Potter.
Potter finally started to relax, and smiled back.
Of course Mother was standing in the doorway now. And of course she had that expression on her face. Though to judge from the expression on Abernathy’s face behind her, it was confirmation rather than news. Life would have been so much simpler if Potter had killed him in the girl’s lavatory back in Sixth Year.
His Mother looked at them both for a moment, then shrugged with resignation. “Nothing I can do about that, I suppose,” she said, sweeping into the room. “What I want to know is what you think you’ve been doing gadding about in Derbyshire? You were meant to be staying out of harm’s way.”
“I have been, Mother.”
“Look at the state of you.”
Draco caught Potter’s eye over the top of his Mother’s hair as she caught him in a swift hug and hoped that he was conveying how Malfoy grooming standards differed from Potter ones.
Mother sat on the sofa beside him and took his hands. “Mister Abernathy has assured me that he intends to spare no influence in making sure you come to no harm. And I see that Mr Potter is taking his duty of care to characteristic extremes. It’s all going to be all right, darling.”
“I know.” He squeezed her hands gently. “You didn’t have to come in here. I know how much you hate the Ministry.”
“It’s just a building.”
And he hugged her again at that, because he knew she was lying.
There was a loud bustle out in the main Auror offices. Before Harry could get to his door, it was opened and Ron swept in, with Granger, Luna, Longbottom, Angelina and George in tow.
“Ah, Minister Potter,” Ron said. “We bring tidings of hope!”
The startled expression on Potter’s face was matched with the one on Ron’s when he saw Draco’s mother, but she bowed her head slightly and said “Mr Weasley, Miss Granger, Miss Johnson, isn’t it? Miss Lovegood, I am pleased to see you looking so well, Mr Longbottom, and Mr George Weasley.”
There was a chorus of muttered Mrs Malfoys, but she waved her hand encouragingly. “I believe you had news?”
“Yes …” said Ron, but went no further.
“And it seems to be confidential in nature.” She smiled briskly and stood up, smoothing her skirts.
“Mother, wait.” Draco looked at the others. “She’s been a part of this, too.”
Granger looked at them thoughtfully, but Ron and George were both frowning.
“Don’t be silly, darling,” his mother said brightly. “I would be completely in the way here with all you young people. Do excuse me. Mr Abernathy has been promising to show me where you work, Draco. If you’re delayed here, I’ll be returning home once we’re done. You can catch me up on all your news when you have a chance. Do be sure to let me know what time to expect you.”
Draco stood up with her and hugged her once more. “I’ll come home as soon as I can,” he promised.
She smiled at them all, and moved towards the door with Abernathy. Granger stopped her with a light hand to her arm. “It is confidential, but it’s good news,” she said.
“Thank you, Miss Granger.” Draco assumed she must have smiled then, because Granger’s smile in reply was warm.
Ron waited until the door had shut before he said, “It’s Ms.” but there was no malice in his tone.
“Election-winning news?” Draco reminded him.
“Almost certainly,” Ron replied. “Though not necessarily Malfoy-saving.”
“You were clear on which was the more urgent problem, weren’t you?” Potter asked with only a little acerbity.
“No need for temper. Some of us have been up all night slaving away. As it turns out, there are some things we can fix with the information we have, and some things we can keep our fingers crossed on.”
Draco was confused. “You’ll have to explain.”
“Absolutely. To be honest, Hermione had to run me through it twice before I got my head around it.” He grinned, and Draco smiled back, quite certain there was no need to make any of the obvious jokes. “Come over to the table – you too, Harry – and we’ll try to talk you through it.”
Granger started piling scrolls on one end of the table, and Luna began to pull papers from her satchel, so Draco moved across and took one of the end seats, beside Potter, who was looking slightly sceptical.
Luna began proceedings. “Last night, Hermione sent us an owl explaining the situation. We were already in damage-control mode after the Prophet came out, so all we had to do was to add a few more last-minute interviews. And look, even Mr Ollivander helped.”
She spread a copy of the Quibbler out onto the table in front of them. POSTER BOY FRAMED said the headline. “That was Neville,” Luna said, proudly. Longbottom looked as though he knew he ought to be ashamed, but was secretly a little bit chuffed.
It was followed by a story in which the editorial team spoke of their horror at seeing the news that Draco was under suspicion. Luna wrote persuasively of Draco’s last two years of apologising and making amends. She gave a first-person account of life in the Malfoy cellar, and spoke rather more glowingly than he felt he deserved of Draco’s efforts to keep them safe and well cared-for.
It was not only Luna. Dean, too, had written a piece, pointing out that he had never seen Draco as anything other than a less-restrained prisoner during those months. His was a little more persuasive, because he opened and finished it by mentioning that he “never really liked Malfoy”. Even Ollivander was quoted as saying Draco was less objectionable than expected. That part made Draco smile with its accuracy.
“That’s brilliant, Luna, thank you.”
“It should definitely help with public opinion if Malfoy goes to trial.” Potter said. “But it’s not going encourage Percy to rethink that warrant.”
“No,” said Angelina. “But wait until you hear what Hermione has to tell you about that.”
Granger shuffled through the papers in front of her, looking worn-out, but smiling. “It was Malfoy who gave me the idea originally,” she said. “Ah, here we go, this is the one. See? This signature on the warrant is definitely Doge’s, but I suddenly realised that even if the signature was authentic, that was no reason to believe the document was.
“So I got in touch with Kingsley and the others and they took a look at the original. It turned out that the signature had been lifted off another document and placed onto the warrant. And when Kingsley went to investigate, he found out that Elphias had gone straight from the Wizengamot to a private event in Scotland yesterday and there was no way Percy could have found him to sign that paper in the afternoon, which is when the time and date stamp say it was signed.”
“Which means he’s tried to be too clever and he’s brought himself undone,” said Ron. “If we take this to the papers, his whole career is gone.”
“But we don’t want to do that,” George reminded him.
“Nah,” Ron agreed. “Just get him to drop the cases against Malfoy and the others. And drop out of the race for Minister. And maybe take a holiday until everything blows over and he can get back to something approaching normal.”
“Tiberius, Kingsley and Miranda are on their way in,” Granger said. “They’re bringing the original evidence with them.”
Draco turned to Potter. “Surely that’s enough?” he asked. “If Percy’s discredited …”
Potter gnawed his thumbnail, thinking. After a minute, he spoke. “It means we can’t exonerate you without incriminating Percy,” he said. “We’re still relying on him to do the right thing if he twigs to the fact that we really don’t want to drop him in it publicly.”
Draco turned to see Ron nodding agreement, and the frown on George Weasley’s face. “Bugger,” he said.
“And,” said Granger, “it’s one thing to know that we can remove Percy if we have to, but that’s not going to change the minds of all his supporters.”
Draco dropped his head against the high back of his seat. “I suppose the good news is that we’ve just revolutionised prisoner’s rights in this country. So I’m going to be very comfortable and you can all visit me down in the cells.”
George Weasley smiled at what even Draco would admit was a weak joke. “Nil desperandum, young Malfoy. We didn’t give up on you that quickly. We decided that since we couldn’t take everything we knew to the press, we’d take something else instead.”
A flicker of doubt crossed George’s face. “I can’t tell you exactly. I mean, I can tell you what we put out there, but what gets reported may not be the same thing …”
“Who did you talk to?” Potter asked. “Leamington? He’s reliable, and he’s been very supportive.”
“No, Skeeter,” said Luna.
“Oh, well that can’t possibly go wrong,” Potter said.
“They were there when you came back from capturing Rowle this morning, weren’t they?” Angelina asked.
Harry admitted that there had indeed been a large contingent of media in attendance, including Rita Skeeter.
“That was Luna. George came up with the plan and Luna used all her contacts.”
Luna nodded. “I let them know that you’d be bringing in a big case first thing this morning. The Prophet’s putting out a special late morning edition today so they could cover it. And Skeeter’s told everyone she has a big scoop coming out, so even the Wireless is holding off on reporting anything beyond the basic facts of Rowle’s arrest and Macnair’s death.”
Draco could feel Potter’s knee bouncing nervously beside him, which was comforting, because it was taking all his willpower to keep his own still.
“Your ‘plan’. What exactly does it involve?”
George smiled, and then stifled a yawn. “A bit of truth, a big lie, and a lot of hope. Don’t suppose you have any coffee?”
“Or food?” Ron added.
“I could go and ask Armitage,” Draco offered.
But before he could stand there was another knock to the door and Armitage came barging in without waiting for a reply. “It’s here!” she announced, waving morning editions of the Prophet.
She distributed them quickly, Draco grabbed the first and found himself looking at his own unconscious face. Williamson was carrying him with exaggerated care, while beside them Potter and Savage gripped Rowle’s arms, Dawlish and May behind them with his legs. Flashes of cameras lit the scene as they walked through the Atrium, and Potter looked over at Draco several times, his concern obvious.
Draco turned his eyes to Potter beside him, who looked mildly embarrassed. “It’s nice,” Draco assured him. Then remembered they weren’t alone.
A quick glance around showed almost everyone focussed on the papers, except for Granger, who was looking at them with wide eyes and a mouth opening in surprise, and Ron, who was looking at her.
“I’ll tell you later,” he whispered quickly, just loudly enough for Draco to hear.
Draco knew that his own face was wearing the exact same expression of rumbled trepidation as Potter’s and was grateful for the excuse of needing to read the story in front of them. At least Granger’s brain seemed intact, even if her face was suggesting that it was making a solid bid to take refuge in denial.
POTTER DEFEATS LAST DEATH EATER!!! the headline blared.
“Three slammers,” Luna observed. “They’ve lost the plot entirely.”
“It’s Rita Skeeter,” Potter said. “What do you expect?”
Draco elbowed him in the ribs. “Shut up and read. This could be my freedom for the next few months.” The paragraphs stretched down the page in tight columns, and they were nothing short of a miracle.
In dramatic scenes at the Ministry this morning, Acting Head Auror Harry Potter brought in the unconscious form of Thorfinn Rowle, Britain’s Most Wanted fugitive.
Rowle took over the position as Most Wanted on the Auror’s list with the death of Walden Macnair in unresolved circumstances yesterday.
Potter was unable to confirm whether or not Rowle is suspected in the death of Macnair. However, he is wanted for a series of crimes stretching through the war years and back into the early 1990s. It is believed that the list contains several murders.
Confidential sources spoke exclusively to this reporter, revealing details of the daring Auror action that finally brought an end to this reign of terror. Not only was Auror Potter the man wielding the wand that brought Rowle down, it is believed that he is also one of the key figures behind the complex plot that finally flushed out this most elusive of fugitives.
Readers of this paper will recall that yesterday’s issues contained several stories of an alarming nature, including one reporting that Draco Malfoy was wanted by the Aurors. This reporter can now reveal that this story was in fact planted to make it possible for Mr Malfoy to undertake a daring covert operation in which it was hoped that Rowle and the then-still at large Macnair would make contact with him.
Events overtook the plan, with Walden Macnair discovered by Muggle police dead in Spondon Wood near Derby yesterday morning. However, as hoped, Rowle reached out to his distant relative, and with the courageous assistance of Mr Malfoy, the Aurors were able to affect an arrest in the early hours of this morning with no serious casualties.
It is believed that several recent warrants and statements issued by Head of Magical Law Enforcement Percy Weasley were in fact a part of this complex and cunning plan.
This will come as a relief to those who, like this reporter, had been concerned that Percy Weasley had taken leave of his previously celebrated senses.
The one concerning detail in all of this has been the willingness of some members of the media to wilfully ignore reality in the pursuit of a perceived ‘scoop’, as evidenced in recent reporting by less scrupulous members of this esteemed profession.
No-one can accuse this reporter of being a one-eyed supported of Harry Potter. Over the years I have had cause to point out several of his shortcomings and failings, not all of which he has grown out of. Until recently his non-Auror wardrobe was a disgrace and he still sports a haircut that anyone over the age of twenty-five itches to take a comb to. Nevertheless, to suggest that he has a corrupt bone in his body …
A page throw indicated the story continued on page two, with further reporting on pages three, five and seven.
Draco shook his head in amazement, while Potter began to laugh.
“George and Ron decided there’s nothing the public likes as much as a good story, so they made one up,” Angelina explained. “It was mostly George, he’s quite brilliant, really. Hermione said she knew Rita Skeeter, so we sent her an owl in the middle of the night and she came over and George told her what he thought she could write and said she’d do it.”
“Hermione, don’t tell me you blackmailed her again?” Potter sounded only mildly disapproving.
“Not at all!” Granger protested. “I merely pointed out that you’d been Head Auror for four months and despite every horrible thing she’d ever written about you, you’d still not arrested her for being an unregistered Animagus.”
“I find it hard to believe she was this grateful.”
“I may have also pointed out that you winning the election and becoming Minister would allow her to release an updated version of Hogwarts to Hero, the Harry Potter Story, while you being discredited would inevitably see sales drop.”
“That sounds more like it.”
Draco began to laugh, too. “Percy is going to kill us,” he said.
George shrugged. “He can’t kill us, Mum would kill him.”
“And she knows how,” Ron added.
“The other stories are rather good, too,” said Luna, flicking forward. “Leamington interviewed all the other Department Heads and most of them have come out in favour of the voting changes, calling it a legal necessity that drags the wizarding world into the new Millennium. Camberwell calls it the Shacklebolt-Granger Law.”
“Ooh!” Granger snatched up the copy from Ron’s hands and flicked through to find the reference.
A loud knock crashed three times into Potter’s poor door, before it was pushed open without ceremony. Draco recognised the young wizard standing there as Percy’s assistant. He did not look happy.
“Potter, the Department Head wants to see you right away,” he said. “No delays.”
Potter stood up. “Time to face the music.”
“I’m coming with you,” Draco said.
“So are we,” said Ron, with George nodding beside him. “You wait here with the others, Hermione. This isn’t going to be Percy’s finest hour, and I think he’ll cope better if there are fewer people around.”
She kissed his cheek. “Good luck.”
It really was not far from the Auror offices to Percy’s, and yet the difference in atmosphere was immense. While the Aurors radiated cooperative chaos with offices only for the Head Auror and the sick room, MLE was arrayed down a long twisting corridor, brass nameplates in doors radiating off each side. Percy’s was a third of the way down the hallway, at the corner of the building. His assistant led them into a large anteroom that served as a reception as well as the assistant’s office. Without stopping, he went to the main door knocked once, then opened it and announced, ‘They’re here, sir.”
Potter led the way in.
Draco could hear Percy before he could see him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Harry? And what’s he doing here?”
“He’s here because he deserves to be after the stunt you pulled yesterday,” said George, coming in behind and putting a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “Now sit down, Perce, and shut up for a few minutes.”
Percy was so surprised, he sat down.
“We know,” said Ron, shutting the door behind them. “About the signature on Malfoy’s warrant not being real. That is so out of order, Percy. You could get in really serious trouble for that.”
Percy raised an eyebrow. “So you’re here to threaten me?”
“No, we’re here to offer you a way out.”
“Is that what this is meant to be?” Percy asked with a scornful laugh, lifting up the Prophet. “This is your idea?”
“It’s mine,” said George. “I’m not losing another brother just because you’re an idiot.”
And that silenced Percy for a long moment.
“I had good reason for acting as I did,” he said finally.
“Yeah, but it would have been better if you hadn’t,” said George.
“So what do you want me to do? Resign?”
“There’s no need for that,” said Ron.
“Yes,” said Potter.
Draco looked at him in surprise, as did Ron and George.
“You need to withdraw from the Ministerial race, and you need to step down as Head of MLE. There’s too much temptation here, and too many ways to go subtly wrong thinking that you’re doing good. It’s not a good place for you at the moment.”
“So you’d end my career?”
“Take a holiday. There’s bound to be something at the Ministry that would suit you better without tempting you down paths you’ll one day regret.”
Percy’s face began to flush red. “Harry, do not presume to tell me what I will and won’t regret.”
Potter leaned over the desk. “For fuck’s sake, Percy, I have been watching you destroy yourself out of grief for over a year now and you need to trust me when I say that you are not in a position to think objectively about this.”
“Fuck you, Harry,” Percy snarled. Then his eyes slid sideways to Draco. His gaze narrowed. “Is that it?” he asked. “Is that how he twisted you to his cause?”
His voice was as ugly as his suggestion, and it killed all of Draco’s hopes, because of course that was what people were going to think, going to believe. And Potter would see that made it all impossible.
“No,” Potter said. “That came afterwards.”
And Draco thought he might have been more shocked than Percy, because even if it never came true, that idea existed in the world now, and Percy evidently believed it.
“As long as it wasn’t at my place,” Ron muttered, and George clearly tried not to laugh, but no matter how much he kept his lips closed, there was no mistaking his snorting noise and shoulder shaking.
Percy stared at them. “You’re all mad,” he said.
“Runs in the family,” Ron replied. “So what’s it going to be, Percy?”
Draco could see that it wasn’t easy. He should probably have stayed back in Potter’s office, because every time Percy seemed to reach a decision, his eyes would slide across and see Draco and his frown would return.
After a minute of tense silence, George stepped around to the other side of the desk and put his hand on Percy’s shoulder. “Mate, you have to give it up. I understand that you thought you were doing the right thing, and I understand that you don’t get why we won’t support you, but if we’re arguing Malfoy’s case, then you have to allow there might be another way of looking at all of this.
“So just let it go. Don’t make me get Mum and Dad involved. Let them think you were playing some brilliant long game that’s had a good result. You can claim Rowle as your scalp. In fact, if you want, Harry will tell the press it was all your idea.”
Potter nodded vigorously.
Percy seemed to deflate. “What about Ginny?” he asked.
“I’ll talk to her,” George promised. “Really, properly talk. Not just tell her she doesn’t know what she’s on about. That was my fault. I should have paid more attention to how badly the two of you were feeling. I was too busy trying to get on with my own life.”
And Percy suddenly looked years younger as he looked up at his brother and shook his head. “No, don’t be silly, I mean, Fred …”
Draco felt Potter tap his arm. He looked round, and Potter pointed towards the door. Draco nodded, and they left quietly, because this was a talk for family, and they weren’t.
Percy’s assistant had clearly taken the opportunity to grab a cup of tea, as the anteroom was empty.
“That was less awful than it could have been,” Potter said.
“You lied,” Draco reminded him, with a hopeful smile.
“I predicted,” Potter corrected him.
Draco grinned, but did not laugh in case the door wasn’t quite as soundproof as Potter’s. He pushed his hair back with both hands. “So, do you think that’s really it?”
Potter nodded. “We’ll need to fiddle a few details, but on the whole, yes. Congratulations, you’re a courageous supporter of the Auror department rather than a wanted criminal. Consider yourself released.”
“I feel as though, after all this, I should have been allowed to hex someone.”
“It hardly seems fair, I agree.”
There were two sets of formal robes on the coat hook inside the door. Draco winked at Potter, drew his wand, and shrank each of them by a size.
Potter shook his head. “Do you feel better?”
“I do, actually.” He smiled all the way back to Potter’s office.
Shacklebolt, Ogden and Goshawk had arrived in their absence, so Potter’s office once again resembled a Hogwarts’ Common Room. Williamson was distributing coffee, toast and biscuits, much to Armitage’s delight, and Savage was reading through the paper, commenting that he didn’t think Weasley had it in him to pull off a scheme of such complexity. Potter shooed him outside, and told him to raid the petty cash for more biscuits, cake if it would stretch.
“Ron and George are staying with Percy for a bit,” Potter told the rest of them once the door was shut.
“Is he all right?” Granger asked.
“He will be. Oh, bloody hell, who’s that knocking?”
Draco was still standing in front of the door, so he opened it.
“Still at liberty, eh Malfoy? I take it that’s a good sign.”
“Indeed, sir,” Draco confirmed, letting Abernathy in. “We were just saying that Percy looks as though he’ll be all right once things settle down.”
“Good news, good news.” Abernathy moved to the table to sit beside Ogden. “So what do we do with him? He can’t retire to spend more time with his wife and children, he doesn’t have any.”
“Retire to find some?” Angelina suggested.
Draco and Potter joined everyone else at the table, while ideas bounced back and forth about Percy’s future. Luna’s suggestion that he start his own line of wizarding businesswear was actually a very good one.
Abernathy cleared his throat. “I think we’ll all agree that this election campaign has been more stressful than anyone was expecting, and it’s hardly surprising that it might lead a young man to take a leave of absence in order to revisit his priorities. It would be an obvious demotion for him to return at anything less than Department Head level, so my suggestion is that we bring him in as a replacement for a retiring head.”
“What about Sports?” Ogden suggested.
“I like Camberwell!” Potter protested.
“Domestic Magical Cooperation,” Abernathy said firmly. “I’ve been offered a good position in the European Wizengamot, which comes with a huge travel allowance and very little actual work. The staff in DMC are all excellent and far too stroppy to allow Percy to boss them around the way he does MLE, and it’s an up and coming department that still has a lot of legislation to be written, which is what he’s good at.”
“But sir …” Draco began.
“Oh, he can’t have you, Malfoy. That would never do. Kelmscott’s been bothering me to trade you to him for months, I think that would be for the best.”
“Kelmscott? What does he do?”
“We’re not allowed to talk about it.”
“He’s on Level Nine,” Potter said.
“You mean become a …”
Abernathy held up a hand to silence him. “There’s a reason they call it the Department of Mysteries, Malfoy. We’ll talk more later.”
“An elegant solution,” Goshawk said. “It gives him status without putting him into a dangerous position. Handled well, he could still be an excellent resource for the Ministry.”
“I’m glad you agree, Miranda.”
“That just leaves the Ministerial race,” Shacklebolt said. “I take it Percy is withdrawing?”
“Excellent. So, Minister Potter?”
“Pay rise for Aurors?” Armitage ventured.
Potter closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I’m not sure that would be the best idea,” Ogden said.
“Thank you!” Potter agreed. “I don’t want to be Minister! I just want to be a useful Auror. And maybe make a few suggestions about taxes, and prisoner rights, and that sort of thing …”
“Which I think you would be rather good at,” Ogden agreed. “But if you are landed with being Minister at your age, it won’t do you or the Ministry much good. You have a disturbing tendency to revolution, which is not what we need at this point in time.”
“Though you’re not wholly lacking in sense. I noticed you left most of your Aurors out of this little conspiracy of yours.”
“I had to, sir, if we were found out we had to leave behind a decent staffing strength. To arrest us, if nothing else.”
Ogden laughed loudly at that. Even Shacklebolt grinned.
“Well, we need someone to take it on,” said Goshawk. “And it’s not going to be me. I’m very happy on the legal side of the fence.”
“What about Robards?” Shacklebolt suggested. “He’s principled, organised, knows the law backwards, but isn’t too rigid to work with.”
“He’s popular, too,” Abernathy added. “Worked very well with all the other departments when he was Head Auror. Which is to say, before he became ‘ill’.”
Draco watched with amazement. “We can’t just put someone into the role,” he protested. “What about all the people who want to vote for Potter? Surely they deserve to have their choice?”
“What about the people who wanted to vote for Percy?” Potter reminded him.
“Though Malfoy’s right that the people deserve a vote,” Granger said. “If we don’t let them have one, it will be going straight back to the bad old days.”
“So we need a second candidate,” said Goshawk, turning to her right.
“Someone respected and experienced,” Shacklebolt agreed, turning to his left.
Between them, Ogden rolled his eyes. “I’m an old man who was hoping for a pleasant retirement.”
“You’re sixty-eight and you’ve were telling me just the other week that you’ve been bored solid of late,” Goshawk reminded him.
“So we’re just settling this around the table?” Draco asked, more for confirmation than anything else.
“At least it gives people a choice,” Potter said. “And I was always running more against Percy than for myself. Maybe we can have another tilt at it in a few years.”
“And at least we don’t pretend everyone has equal rights and equal power,” said Granger. “Which is more than you can say for Muggle politicians.”
Ogden shook his head and smiled. “I’ll do it, but I’ll be voting for Robards. I will make one promise, though. If I lose, I’ll come back to work as head of MLE, so Potter can stay on as Head Auror. He’s done a remarkable job with the assistance of an excellent staff.”
“Mostly thanks to the staff,” Potter clarified.
“Robards has always said he’d like to run the whole department one day,” Kingsley added. “So whichever way the vote goes, that should work.”
Ogden nodded approval. “I worry less about Harry when I look at the people he surrounds himself with. If they couldn’t talk him out of a bad decision, I feel certain that several of them would have no compunction hexing him out of it.”
Williamson, Armitage and Longbottom agreed that they would be happy to help. Draco suspected Granger was also tempted to put her hand up, but she was too busy giggling into her sleeve at Potter’s facial expression. He suspected that her brain might have been a little dented after all, or it could just have been sleep-deprivation.
“We should break it to the press at the same time as Percy’s announcement,” Luna said. “Make it look as though they’ve accomplished their goals and so are stepping out of the way for more experienced candidates.”
“Someone should go and get Robards before we sign his life away,” Shacklebolt suggested.
“I will,” Potter offered, glancing at Draco.
“And I should head home and bring Mother up to speed,” Draco said, aware that the others were already moving on without them, planning wording and timing, and who would be best suited to which role in the two campaigns.
“Give her my regards,” Abernathy called as they left the room.
Savage and Dawlish were sitting with their feet up on the guest benches drinking tea when they emerged.
“All sorted?” Savage asked.
“I will not be Minister,” Potter announced.
“Easily the best news of the month!” Dawlish declared.
“Though you may have to keep me as Head Auror.”
“As long as it’s not me,” Savage replied.
“I was half-hoping for Armitage. She’s a lot prettier than you.”
“Oh, go home,” Potter said. “I’m scaling back our overtime budget.”
Draco managed not to laugh until they were outside in the corridor, closing the thick doors behind them.
“I console myself with the knowledge that I’ll probably outlive them,” Potter told him.
He was smiling, and Draco could finally appreciate the fact that Potter had a truly lovely smile. He looked around, and there was no one in sight, so he took a hold of Potter’s robes and drew him close for a kiss.
“Armitage isn’t prettier than you,” he said after a moment.
And Potter’s smile broadened. Draco was about to kiss him again when he heard the click of nearby heels.
They were just a fraction too slow stepping away from each other. Just as Rita Skeeter was a fraction too slow to hide her widening eyes and dropping jaw.
She made a valiant effort. “Harry! Dear boy! Just trying to hunt you down to offer my congratulations. Our on-the-street poll this morning has you in an unassailable lead. Anyway, I can see you’re busy, must dash. Ciao!”
“Rita …” Potter warned.
“Oh, be fair!” she protested, waving her hands at the two of them. “This is Christmas for me!”
“One word, and I’ll suddenly remember that you’ve been breaking the law wilfully for years.”
“He would,” Draco said. “And my mother would make sure you were never invited to another salon opening or gala event.”
Draco wasn’t sure which threat carried more weight with her, but one must have worked, because her shoulders slumped. “Not even a hint in the gossip column? It would stop a lot of young witches pining fruitlessly. Practically a public service.”
“Not one word,” Potter said.
“Fine. On the condition that you come to me if and when you decide to make this public.”
Draco spoke quickly before Potter could say no. “Only if you’ve kept quiet until then. Otherwise we have excellent friends on the Quibbler.”
She held out a brightly nailed hand. “It’s a deal.”
Draco shook it, and smiled winningly. “I’ll be sure to suggest to Mother that she might like to help you with your gift guide this Christmas.”
“Lovely doing business with you, Mr Malfoy.” And for a moment, she squeezed his hand in a friendlier fashion and looked through her glasses without archness. “And I’m happy to see you walking out of here. Better times, I think. Harry – a pleasure as always. I’ll be in touch about an interview concerning the polls.”
“I’ll see you, Rita,” Potter said, and almost smiled.
They listened to her click-clacking down the hall back to the lift, and crept to the corner of the corridor to peer round and watch her get in.
“Do you think she’ll keep quiet?” Draco asked.
“It’s possible. Not probable, but possible.”
“Do you mind?”
“Only that there’ll be a sudden flood of loony letters from all the crazies who want to marry me, or marry me off to their daughters. Seriously, you think your post is deranged …”
Draco reached out and pushed the hair back from Harry’s cheek. “Maybe you’ll get a few offers for sons?”
Potter laughed, and leaned his face into Draco’s hand. “What about you? Do you mind?”
“I’ve stopped caring what people who don’t matter to me think. You’re the one who’s going to bear the brunt of any press kerfuffle. And anyway, I think she’ll manage to keep a lid on it. For a few weeks at least.”
“A few weeks would be good,” Potter agreed. “Get you settled in Mysteries with all of their tricksy hiding spells before you’re set upon by hordes of angry mothers. And there will be crazies, Malfoy. You were never the liability for me that I’m going to be for you.”
“You’ll have to make it worth my while,” Draco said. He felt the smile on his face grow wider.
Potter smiled back at him. “That’s my plan.”
“We could send an owl to Robards,” Draco suggested.
“We could. But your mother will kill me if I don’t send you home for a bit at least. And besides,” he reached out and combed his fingers through Draco’s hair, “you’re still wearing half a lawn.”
Draco let Potter remove the grass from his hair, then smooth down his coat lapels and tuck his scarf back inside them. He realised it was still Potter’s scarf, the one he’d never given back.
“So I’ll go home, and shower, and reassure Mother, and then meet you at your place, with a toothbrush and a change of clothes?”
“Several changes,” Potter corrected him, with a blinding smile. “Or you could just not worry about the clothes at all, now that I think about it. I’m not sure it’ll be worth your while to dress.”
Draco felt certain his own smile was just as ridiculously happy as Potter’s. “Do you plan to let me up to eat?”
“Best grab a sandwich while you’re home.”
And Draco laughed at that, which made Potter smile at his own success.
“It’s going to work, isn’t it?” Potter asked, his voice little more than a whisper.
Draco took Potter’s hands and held them in his own. “Of course it is. We’re brilliant. Between us, we can do practically anything.”
Potter ran his thumb across the back of Draco’s knuckles. “Can we be nervous, and young and maybe bollox things up from time to time and just basically work things out as we go?"
And Draco nodded, and kissed Potter gently, and smiled, because it that sounded utterly perfect to him.