“It’s certainly a daring plan.”
Narcissa allowed herself a small smile before composing her expression and turning to face her expected visitor. “Severus. Good to see you. And to what are you referring?”
Severus, looking austere in his black robes, entered the room. He should wear more colour, Narcissa thought absently. A nice blue, perhaps, or some deep red. How else will he attract the right woman--?
“Lucius sends his regards,” Severus said, chasing all other thoughts from Narcissa’s head. “He also told me about what you mentioned in your last letter.”
“He received it, then? How is he?” Narcissa asked, rising to her feet. “Are they feeding him enough? Did he get the change of robes I sent? He has a tendency to get dragon pox if he’s too cold. Have they said when they’ll allow family visitors? Any word on when he may be released--?”
Severus held up a hand, forestalling the rest of her questions. “He seems fine. He sent a message that he claimed should answer all of your questions and concerns.” Reaching into his robes, he extracted a vial. Inside swirled the unmistakable silvery threads of an extracted memory. Severus smirked. “He did warn that I should allow you some...privacy to view these.”
Narcissa blushed. “Thank you, Severus,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster. Collecting the vial, she slipped it into her own robes. Thank Merlin for Severus. But for him and his position I’d have no way to contact Lucius. “Would you like to stay for tea?”
“Thank you, I believe I shall.” Folding his thin form into a chair, he inclined his head. “If only so you can tell me that you’re alone in this mad plan to rehabilitate the Malfoy name.”
Sighing, Narcissa summoned a house-elf. After placing her order for tea, she settled in her own chair. “I think you’ll agree that in the aftermath of the war, our family’s future is proving...concerning.”
Displaying his customary tact, Severus held her gaze, refraining from looking around at the less than impeccable surroundings. The Dark Lord’s protracted stay had certainly not done the decor any favours. “I had noticed, yes,” he said, tone gentle.
Head held high, Narcissa continued. “Our fortunes have waxed and waned over the centuries, but one thing has remained constant. Blacks never give up.”
“Don’t you mean Malfoys?” Severus asked.
“I mean Blacks,” Narcissa said firmly. “And make no mistake, Draco is a Black. It’s in his blood.”
“I wasn’t aware that we were discussing Draco,” Severus said.
“Everything I do is for Draco. Everything.” Narcissa paused as Bippy appeared with tea and sandwiches, and resumed speaking when they were once again alone. She hadn’t forgotten that it was a house-elf that had manoeuvred Harry Potter’s daring escape from their home. She would never ignore them again. “It’s too late for me and for Lucius, that ship has sailed, but Draco...he still has a chance.”
“A chance for what?”
“To redeem his name,” Narcissa whispered. “To not be associated with the taint that the Dark Lord left on our family and our world.”
Severus nodded. “It’s a worthy goal. I think he shall have to manage that for himself, however. He’s made a good start by picking an admirable career.”
“Agreed.” Leaning down, Narcissa prepared the perfect cup of tea for Severus before handing it to him. “But there’s no reason I cannot encourage him, help him. After all, a mother’s perspective can be...invaluable.”
Severus pursed his lips. “And that’s where this...plan of yours comes in?”
Narcissa smiled faintly. “You think I’m mad, don’t you?”
Severus sipped his tea.
She laughed. “You always were diplomatic when it suited you. Well perhaps you’re right, perhaps I am. I still think this is the only way Draco will be able to get anywhere in this new world order, however.”
Severus inclined his head. “Some would say that him applying to, and having been accepted by, the Auror corps is enough of a new start for a Malfoy.” He smirked. “Or even a Black.”
“I don’t think so.” Narcissa helped herself to a sandwich. “No. Draco must make an advantageous bonding. And there’s only one match that will do. Draco must marry Harry Potter.”
Severus shook his head. “As I tried to tell Lucius when he told me what your plan was, that is impossible. Draco hates Potter and the feeling is entirely mutual. Narcissa, they regularly tried to kill each other in school! And, in the last year he was there, Potter almost succeeded. Had it not been for my direct and timely intervention--”
“Youthful high-jinx,” Narcissa said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “What’s important now is that they both work at the Ministry and that there is the potential for...contact of a non-antagonistic nature. I’m sure that with the right incentive, Draco can make himself into the perfect partner for Potter. And marrying the saviour of the wizarding world will be just the thing to redeem our...his name.”
Severus coughed. “Have you told him of this plan?”
Narcissa blinked. “Of course not! I know my son quite well, Severus. If I made any suggestion regarding his personal life he’d do the complete opposite. No, I plan to be discreet about this.”
Severus sighed. “Marriage isn’t the answer to everything, Narcissa. And I believe Draco is too busy making himself over to worry about partnering with anyone. The Auror training program is rather brutal, especially since Kingsley became Minister and insisted on...tinkering with it.” He rolled his eyes.
“I’m aware, and perhaps Draco’s not anxious to find a mate right now, but I believe he’ll find life is better with a partner. And I believe that’s true for everyone, in fact.” She straightened her shoulders. “In fact... I’m hosting a small dinner party for Christmas Eve. Are you free?”
“Possibly. What are you plotting now?” Severus asked suspiciously, hands curling around his teacup. “I’m not interested in being matched with some random female if that’s your intent--”
“Of course not.” Narcissa pursed her lips. “It’s just going to be me and Draco.” She smirked. “And Andromeda. I simply thought we needed a fourth to round out the numbers.”
“Andromeda?” Looking away, Severus began peering intently into his teacup as if studying its contents. “Isn’t she...busy raising her grandchild, Lupin’s...infant?”
“Teddy, yes. And he’s a toddler.”
Severus nodded. “Surely he should be considered a guest to keep the numbers even?”
Narcissa hid her smile. I was right! I always thought he always had a certain glint in his eye when he looked at Bella. Of course she was mad, so...Andie’s perfect for him. “Mmhm. Although he hardly counts, being a toddler. This is to be an adult dinner. So...seven?”
Severus’ lips thinned. “I--”
“It would be a big favour.”
Severus sighed. “Very well.”
Feeling satisfied, Narcissa leaned back in her chair. “Excellent. And, Severus? Draco trusts you. Perhaps if you said something to him about his future--”
Severus raised an eyebrow. “I hardly feel that’s my place.”
“Who else’s place is it? You’re his godfather, and with Lucius unavailable--” Narcissa’s voice caught. She was definitely not above a bit of acting for the right cause. Dabbing at her eyes with a lace handkerchief, she continued, voice thick. “He trusts you implicitly.” She leaned forward. “And I would take it as another personal favour.”
Severus sighed, his expression long-suffering. “I’ll see what I can do,” he finally said.
“Thank you.” Rising, Narcissa started for the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must closely examine Lucius’ message. You’re welcome to stay of course--”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll be on my way. I should return to the Department.” Severus stood and, after a courtly bow, started for the Floo.
“Severus? One more thing.”
He paused, his back to her. “Yes?”
“I think you should wear blue to Christmas dinner.”
Severus turned to face her. “Is that so?”
Narcissa smiled. “Yes. It’s Andromeda’s favourite colour.”
Severus glared. It did nothing to hide his blush. “I shall...consider it.”
As he ran in a zigzag pattern across the field, dodging hexes, Draco aimed his wand behind him and executed a complicated twisting motion that two weeks prior he hadn’t even been aware was possible. Something exploded behind him and he grinned.
He was sweating; the Auror duelling program was beyond gruelling, but he could see the need for it. Just because Voldemort was gone did not mean that all Darkness had been lifted.
There was a second small explosion behind him as the time-delayed hex he’d cast kicked in, followed by a Robards’ voice crying, “Halt!”
Draco dropped and rolled behind a hedge, panting, still on guard. He didn’t believe a session was over until Robards himself showed his face and told him to stand down. He’d learned that lesson three weeks before when he’d dropped his guard too early and had promptly been knocked on his arse.
“It’s all right, Cadet Malfoy. The session really is complete,” came a new, calm voice. “Stand down.”
Still cautious, Draco stuck his head out from behind the bush, wand still gripped tightly in his hand. Immediately upon spotting Minister Shacklebolt, however, he holstered his wand. “Minister,” he said, surprised. Standing up, he brushed the dust and grime off his robes and tried not to panic. He hadn’t expected to see the Minister, and was hardly dressed for the occasion. Remember when you used to be a vain little peacock? he thought as he watched Robards and Shacklebolt carefully. Those days are certainly over. To be honest, Draco didn’t miss his younger self one whit.
Shacklebolt nodded as if approving of what he saw. “That was very good. Well done. This was your final practical test, actually. We don’t need to see any more.”
Draco went cold all over. He’d known that the final Auror practical test was often unannounced, just administered randomly, but he hadn’t been expecting it quite so...soon. “It was? You don’t?” He blinked, his eyes darting briefly towards Robards. “So what does that mean? Did I...pass?”
“I told you he wouldn’t believe it unless you told him straight out.” As Robards smiled and clapped him on his shoulder, Draco gaped briefly. That was the first positive emotion Draco had ever seen his trainer publicly exhibit.
Shacklebolt nodded. “If that is the case then I’ll be clear. Yes, Auror Malfoy, you passed. Quite handily in fact, and in record time. In fact, you may even be top of your class in active combat. Congratulations.”
Floored, Draco closed his eyes for a moment. He hadn’t let himself hope that he’d actually succeed. He certainly hadn't been a popular member of his training group. For a brief second Draco wondered if Potter had already passed, too, then he dismissed the thought. No doubt he sailed through. “Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t thank me, you did all the work.”
When Draco opened his eyes, Shacklebolt was smiling at him and Robards was already walking away. No doubt to terrorise some other poor cadet, Draco thought, bemused.
“He’s a terror, yes, but he gets results. And he’s tough on his cadets because he knows that if he’s easy on them, it may get them killed later on when they’re out in the field.”
Draco flushed and redoubled his Occlumency shields. “Sir?”
Shacklebolt laughed. “Don't worry, you weren’t leaking. The expression on your face just said everything.”
Taking a deep breath, Draco tried to get a handle on his emotions. Salazar, I’m an Auror! “Sorry, sir, it’s just a bit...overwhelming.”
“I’ll forgive it this one time given the extenuating circumstances,” Shacklebolt said, tone dry. “After all, as of this moment, you’re an Auror, one of us. The ceremony will come later, but this is always the moment I remember, when my trainer told me I’d made it.”
Draco nodded. He understood what Shacklebolt meant. Badges and uniforms were for show. Being told he was good enough by his instructors...that was the moment he’d really been waiting for.
Shacklebolt smiled as if aware of Draco’s thoughts. “Walk with me, please.”
They started for the changing rooms, Draco glad to be moving. He’d begun to stiffen up while standing there.
“Planning to hit the showers after this?”
“Good, you could probably use a bit of hot water after that workout. I’ll let you go in a moment, but I just needed to speak with you about a...special project.”
With effort, Draco kept his face expressionless, but inside he was exhilarated. He’d heard that there was a special project brewing, of course; there had been rumours swirling for months. No one knew any details, though, and every one of Draco’s discreet inquiries had gone nowhere. “Sir?”
“As you’re aware, there were a lot of atrocities committed during the war, many of them against Muggles. To tell you the truth, the Obliviators have had quite a time tracking people down and modifying their memories.”
Draco went cold. I hope he doesn’t think I have inside information on that. “I’d heard that,” he said, tone carefully blank.
“Rumour even had it that some Death Eaters became Obliviators and roamed the countryside terrorising Muggles.”
Draco nodded. “I’d heard that, too, although I never heard anything confirmed.” He sighed bitterly. “I wasn’t in the inner circle.”
“Well, if you had been, you probably wouldn’t be here now,” Shacklebolt pointed out. “You’d have been Marked and would be languishing in Azkaban.”
Draco relaxed. “True.”
“Anyway, I established a committee to look into how they were conducting themselves, and after some deliberation, and I believe because of...popular opinion, that committee recommended I disband the Obliviators.”
Draco frowned. He remembered the uproar that recommendation had caused in the public. “But...I thought they were reinstated.”
“No, I just stopped talking about it and people...forgot.” Shacklebolt smiled. “They may even have been encouraged to forget.”
“Ah.” Draco coughed. One of the prerogatives of being Minister? “But then who’s maintaining the Statute of Secrecy?”
“Hence the reason for our current conversation, Auror Malfoy. I’m putting together a special team to replace them. A secret team. Auror trained, they will be responsible for maintaining the Statute of Secrecy and guarding our world from discovery by those who should never know about magic,” said Shacklebolt. “The Obliviators were loose canons. The people replacing them will have to report to me.”
“So how will they be different from the Obliviators?” Draco asked.
“Because members of this team will be allowed an unusual amount of...discretion. They will be sent out in pairs to locate any Muggles who may have been exposed to magic during the war, or who suddenly start manifesting magical abilities, particularly any who may have suffered traumatic exposure to Dark magic. Once those people are found, the members of this team will also be able to decide whether or not to allow those Muggles to retain those memories or to Obliviate them.”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. “Why’s that even a question? Why not just Obliviate them all? Isn’t it dangerous to leave any Muggles with magical memories?”
“That is a good question. Let me ask you one. Are you familiar with Hermione Granger?”
Draco’s steps faltered. He was sure that Shacklebolt was quite familiar with his file, and he definitely wasn’t the sort who forgot what he’d read. He answered carefully, tone neutral. “We attended Hogwarts together, yes, Minister.” As I’m sure you know.
“So you’re aware of what transpired between her and her parents at the beginning of what would have been her seventh year there?”
Draco swallowed hard. He knew the story well. He’d overheard Weasley discussing it with Potter one day during training. The moment Weasley had spotted Draco and realised he could have overheard, a threat had followed in which Weasley had instructed Draco to keep quiet about it if he wanted to keep his teeth. As if I would have said anything anyway? It was a brilliant move, worthy even of a Slytherin. I’m not sure I could have done it, though. He nodded. “It’s my understanding that she...Obliviated them to protect them from the Dark...from Voldemort’s possible retribution.”
Shacklebolt nodded. “And she did a very thorough job, too. They still reside in Australia, and while they are now aware that she is their daughter, she remains a bit of an abstract concept for them.”
“That’s why she went into Mind Healing, isn’t it?” Draco asked, intuition kicking in. “To try to restore more of their memories.”
Shacklebolt inclined his head. “Quite possibly. You have excellent instincts. Now tell me this. If Obliviators had encountered them before she had found them, what would they have done?”
Draco blinked. “Well, the trace of magic she used on them would have been obvious. Any Obliviator would know that they had some connection to magic, since it would have left a mark on them, so I suppose they would try to...Obliviate them again?” His eyes widened as the consequences of that action occurred to him.
“That was in their charter,” Shacklebolt agreed, sighing. “And as you can no doubt guess, that could cause irreparable harm to a psyche. Especially a psyche one hopes to restore.”
“But no one would try to do that,” Draco said. “Not to a relative of Granger’s. She’s a war hero--”
“What about the ordinary Muggles out there who aren’t related to war heroes?” Shacklebolt asked, tone dry. “What is their recourse?”
Shacklebolt’s long legs had made Draco have to push himself a bit to keep up, and by the time they arrived at the changing rooms he was much less stiff. “I--I don’t know.”
“You would be their recourse, Malfoy.” Shacklebolt smiled. “You and your partner. Which is why you would have discretion to decide what to do in each situation, although of course I would expect periodic reports.”
Draco nodded. It made sense, although-- “We’ll have to come up with a way to continue to track them,” he said, mind working furiously. “And maybe a compulsion, so that, while they may still retain the memories, they wouldn’t be able to babble about magic to anyone. Except maybe to a witch or wizard.”
Shacklebolt nodded, clearly satisfied. “Yes. And I can see that you’re already considering all the ramifications. Good. So, you accept?”
Draco didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir. Absolutely.” He hadn’t been sure what sort of assignment he’d get from the DMLE. As an almost Death Eater it would probably have been someone’s idea of a fun joke to assign him to Azkaban to guard his father. He shivered.
“Excellent.” Shacklebolt extended his hand, Draco clasping it and shaking it briskly. “I’ve already decided on your partner, too.”
Draco nodded. “And just who is that, sir?” he asked, poised to enter the changing room. He was eagerly anticipating his hot shower, followed by some stretching. Maybe I’ll even have a brandy tonight. I think I’ve earned it.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think there’s only one person that would do,” Shacklebolt continued. “He’s very interested. The only issue is that you and he have a bit of a...history.”
Draco shivered again, alarms going off in his head. “And who’s that?”
Draco almost groaned. Well fuck. Of course. “Ah.”
“I’m aware of your rocky past relationship with him, but from what I’ve seen of you over the past few months of training, I firmly believe you can overcome that obstacle.” Shacklebolt turned on his heel. “I’ll meet you in Robards’ office tomorrow at eight for your briefing. Potter will be there, too. Good evening, Auror. And...congratulations.”
“Thank you, sir,” Draco muttered, pushing open the door to the changing room. “Brilliant, sir,” he whispered once alone. Of course I’m getting my biggest opportunity to succeed and to fail all at the same time. How...typical. Then, with a sigh, he went into the showers. Don’t despair quite yet, said a voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Severus Snape. It’s always possible that Potter will refuse.
Draco snorted as he stripped and began soaping himself. Not a chance. Saint Potter will be sure to agree, if only to prove his Gryffindor courage. It just means that I’ll have to make it work. No matter what. He smirked despite himself. After all, Slytherin cunning still trumps your average Gryffindor any day. And he ignored the voice in his head that tried to remind him that Potter was anything but average.
“Malfoy?” Ron huffed. “Bloody hell, mate, you’re not serious. Of all the possible partners to stick you with, why’d it have to be him? That’s--”
“That’s what Robards said,” Harry interrupted.
“But why you?” Ron whinged.
Harry looked up from his Auror handbook. “And I repeat, because Robards said so. And he said that came directly from Kingsley himself.”
Ron’s mouth fell open. “Wow, really?”
“Really.” Harry shrugged. “And no matter how nice he’s been to me, I’m not about to argue with the Minister for Magic. After all, I’m just a newly minted Auror, and I’d bet he can still kick my arse with very little effort on his part.”
“Newly minted Aurors are still Aurors, though!” For about the fourth time that day, Ron’s hand went to his shiny DMLE badge. He patted it fondly. Harry wondered if he’d polish it every night. “And don’t expect me to be happy about it since it means we don’t get to be partners. And I guess that means you’ll be sharing a desk with him and not me.”
Harry knew that was the real crux of the matter. “Probably. But you never know. Things may change later. Plus, this is Malfoy we’re talking about. He may decide to refuse to work with me on principle.”
Ron blinked. “After what he and his family did in the war? He wouldn’t dare!”
“We all did things in the war we’re not proud of, Ron,” Harry reminded him.
“Not like him!” Ron huffed. “Plus, they had sodding Voldemort living in their house.”
Harry sighed. “Yes, something that I’m sure was a complete delight and not terrifying at all.”
Ron looked sheepish. “Yeah, well--’” He huffed. “Fine! Just be careful, all right? And if he does anything...strange, call for backup.”
Harry laughed. “Since he’s my partner he’ll be my backup.” Holding up a hand, he tried to forestall any more arguments. “Look, all I can do is say that since Kingsley wants us together on this one, I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Ron sighed. “I hear he did really well in the program--”
“Well?” Harry raised an eyebrow. “He was top of the class, Ron. And before you say it, he couldn’t have cheated.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Ron waved his hand. “I never doubted he was smart, but I just dunno if I trust him to watch my back. Or yours.”
Harry shrugged. “Kingsley does,” he said simply. “Robards does, too. Which means I owe it to them to at least have an open mind.” He grinned. “Plus, why are you complaining? You get to work with Greengrass. I’ve seen how you’ve been eyeing her.”
Ron blushed. “Hey, I’m not married yet or anything! I can look.”
“Don’t let Hermione hear you say that,” Harry warned.
“She’s very understanding,” Ron said with a smirk.
Harry chuckled. “Maybe, but she may decide that she can look, too.”
Ron’s eyes widened. “She wouldn’t.”
“I don’t see why not.” Harry bit back a grin. “Say, isn’t she in that advanced Unspeakable program with Theo Nott? And wasn’t he just voted ‘most handsome bachelor under thirty’ by Witch Weekly?”
Ron huffed. “Oi! Not funny, mate. Imagine if your childhood sweetheart--” He frowned, clearly recalling all Harry’s unfortunate school crushes. “Hm, never mind. Just take it from me. That is not funny.” He paused. “You get Witch Weekly?”
Harry coughed. “Just for the articles.”
Ron rolled his eyes.
Chuckling, Harry patted his shoulder. “Anyway, I suppose you’re right. I shouldn’t tease.” But as he turned away to continue reading the Auror handbook, the smile faded from Harry’s face. He wasn’t sure he’d ever really be in love but he did know he wanted a real commitment with someone. What he’d had with Ginny hadn’t been love, or even a crush, just hero worship on her part and deep friendship on his. And, despite trying, he couldn’t seem to find anyone who he cared about more than as just a friend. For minutes his eyes scanned the words on the parchment in front of him, but he absorbed nothing.
“So I wonder what our assignments will be?” Ron asked several minutes later, tossing aside his handbook.
Careful not to look at him, Harry said, “Malfoy and I get ours tomorrow morning, actually.”
“Already? Bloody hell. You’ll probably get some choice assignment,” Ron said. “Can’t stick Harry Potter in the shit job after all.”
Harry snorted. “Sure they can. In fact, that would make the most sense so they could prove there’s no favouritism.”
“Maybe.” Ron shook his head. “Still, if they put you someplace horrid, what sort of chance of a good assignment do I have?”
Harry laughed. “I think you’ll be fine, mate.”
Ron sighed. “We’ll see.” Checking his watch, a gift from his parents for having successfully finished the Auror training course, he winced. “Damn, I’m late! I promised Hermione I’d be downstairs to meet her by five.” Eyeing his handbook, he said, “Guess I’ll finish looking this stuff over another time. We have a week, right?”
“True,” Harry agreed.
“Perfect. See you tomorrow?” Ron started for the exit.
“Sure thing,” Harry said, waving.
Ron paused at the door. “Hey, you can join us. We’re meeting Neville and Luna for drinks at the Spotted Toad.”
Harry shook his head. “Thanks, but not tonight. Bill and Fleur are coming over to help me clean out some the last of Grimmauld Place’s Dark artefacts.”
“Oh right, Bill mentioned that.” Ron bit his lip. “You know, if you need us there we can postpone the drinks for another time--”
“No, go and have fun.” Harry grinned. “After all, who knows when you’ll be able to go drinking again once you get your assignment?”
Ron’s eyes widened. “Bloody hell, you’re right! I’m off!”
Shaking his head, Harry finished his handbook and, tracing the rune on the cover with his wand to signify acceptance, watched it glow brightly for a moment. Well, that’s it, he thought, standing and putting it away in his robes. I’ve read the rules and signed up. No turning back now. Malfoy or not, here I come.
Draco arrived at Robards’ office early that morning. Unfortunately, Potter was already there, having arrived even earlier. “Ah, come in, Malfoy,” Robards said, gesturing Draco inside. “You’re both punctual. Very good.”
Potter, who’d been sitting, stood up when Draco entered. Tense, Draco approached him. “Potter,” he murmured, extending his hand.
There was no hesitation. “Malfoy.” Potter’s hand was warm, his grip firm. “Looking forward to working with you.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. Potter actually seemed sincere. “Likewise,” he said.
Robards cleared his throat, causing both Potter and Draco to turn and face him. He smirked. “If you gentlemen are ready, I’ll give you your official assignment, and then I believe someone else has a...project for you.” Standing up, he handed each of them a folder. “When you’ve looked these over, you can meet your senior training officer in the main lobby. She’ll be orienting you today.”
“Who is it, sir?” Potter asked.
Robards smirked. “You’ll see soon enough. I believe you’ve met before. I would peruse your assignments if I were you.”
Draco had just started to open the folder when a muffled Apparition crack sounded behind him and he spun, wand in hand. Potter was just a hair behind him.
Shacklebolt inclined his head. “Good reflexes,” he said as they put away their wands.
Robards chuckled. “I’ll leave you all to it, then,” he said. As he walked past Shacklebolt, however, he held his hand out, and, groaning, Shacklebolt pressed a Galleon into his palm.
Shacklebolt sighed, shaking his head as Robards left. “He wagered that you’d both be on guard, even here in the Ministry.”
Potter smiled ruefully. “Sorry, sir, but I don’t think any of us will ever forget Moody’s lessons.”
Draco shivered. Moody’s memories, which had somehow been recovered after his death, had become mandatory viewing for all Auror cadets in training, and were educational to say the least. The man had been mad but totally dedicated to the DMLE. After perusing his memories, no Auror ever relaxed their vigilance, not even while alone.
“Your official assignment, according to those,” Shacklebolt nodded at the folders they were holding, “is Knockturn Alley patrol. And you will be expected to keep the peace there, make no mistake. However, you’re also now on special assignment from me. From time to time you’ll be receiving special...memos with coordinates. They will look like standard interdepartmental memos except they will be keyed to your eyes only, and they will disappear once you’ve read them.” He smiled as Draco’s eyebrows went up. “Let’s just say that Unspeakable technology is involved and leave it at that, shall we?”
Draco nodded. It wasn’t as if he needed to know more.
Kingsley seemed satisfied. “You’ll need to go, discreetly investigate, make any needed decisions, then return without creating any issues with the Muggles. Do you think you can do that?”
Draco nodded and shot a quick look at Potter, who replied, “Yes, sir.”
Shacklebolt smiled. “Excellent. And there’s just one more thing.”
“Sir?” Potter said.
“There are rumours of a...rogue Obliviator. Someone who’s been continuing to Obliviate people despite being removed from the job. Of course, he or she is an expert at Memory Charms, so before anyone has been able to turn them in they’ve...forgotten this person’s identity.”
Draco shivered. “Yes, I can see how that would be a problem.”
“I don’t want you to go after them unless you have backup and have told someone else their identity. Just report anything suspicious to me or Robards. You two only just started on the job, I don’t want to lose you this soon.”
Potter nodded. “We’ll be careful, sir.”
Shacklebolt looked satisfied. “Good. I’ll be in touch. Go and meet your senior officer now.”
Once outside the office, Draco hesitated. “Do you know who our senior officer is to be?”
Potter shook his head. “No idea. Makes sense we’ll need some orientation, though, since it’s our first day on patrol, and Knockturn has the reputation of being a bit rough.”
“Right.” Draco squared his shoulders. “Although, really, after everything we’re been through the last few months, how bad could it be?”
Potter groaned, shaking his head. “You’re joking, right?”
“What?” Draco asked.
Potter grinned. “Haven’t you learned yet never to ask that question?”
As they approached the lobby, Harry looked around, scanning for who could possibly be their senior officer. Why the mystery, I wonder?
Turning, Harry saw who it was and he blinked. “Cho?”
“Yep.” She walked towards them. “I wondered when you’d get here.” She eyed Malfoy. “Hullo, Draco.”
“Cho.” Malfoy looked surprised and pleased, and for a moment, Harry wondered about their relationship. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you.” She grinned. “I requested to orient you two when I found out you were going to be assigned to patrol Knockturn since it’s my old beat.”
“Your old beat?” Harry blinked.
She nodded. “They didn’t tell you it was me, did they? I asked to surprise you two.”
“Ah.” Well I’m certainly surprised. Harry hadn’t thought they’d ended their relationship on an especially happy note. In fact, the last he’d seen of Cho, she’d been glaring at him as Ginny had dragged him away during the battle of Hogwarts. “It’s good to see you. I didn’t know you went into law enforcement.”
She shrugged. “I hadn’t planned on it, but I found I enjoyed fighting in the last battle and Kingsley was recruiting, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’ve never looked back. Think you’re ready for Knockturn?”
Malfoy smiled faintly. “I’ve no idea,” he said. “Are we?”
Cho looked them both up and down. “Your uniforms look a tad too...new, but a couple days on the job will solve that. Right, did you look over your briefs?”
They both nodded.
She smirked. “Good. Now forget all of that. Nothing you see or do on the job will be covered by what’s in those folders. Patrolling Diagon Alley is a lot like Quidditch. There are loose rules but when you’re in the game, anything goes. And Knockturn is even worse. Come on, you’ll see.”
Harry exchanged a look with Malfoy before trotting off behind Cho. They walked into one of the Floos at the far end of the Ministry’s entrance lobby and, after a moment of disorientation, Harry emerged in a dank alleyway behind what looked like a shop. He held his breath as his nose was assaulted by a rank combination of urine, smoke and unwashed bodies.
“The location of this Ministry entrance point changes daily,” Cho informed them as she led the way out into the street. “It doesn’t do to let the folk around here know where you’re coming in.”
“How will we know?” Malfoy asked.
She smirked. “You won’t. But since you can Disapparate from wherever you like in here, that’s hardly a problem. Don’t worry, the entrance point is always someplace...discreet.”
“And pungent, apparently,” Malfoy muttered.
As they emerged into the alley proper, Harry looked around. The last time he’d been in Knockturn he’d followed Malfoy in. To his adult eyes it looked even seedier than he remembered, with skulking passersby and a sinister air of decay and danger. None of the shops looked especially inviting and Harry couldn’t imagine anyone mistakenly wandering in. Well, unless he’s a confused eleven-year-old who’s new to the wizarding world, he thought, recalling his accidental foray into the seedy location so many years before.
“Right,” Cho said briskly. “Let’s introduce you to the locals, then. You’ll need to make your own contacts, of course, but I can get you started.”
As they moved down the street, Harry could see why Cho had told them they were overdressed. The people in Knockturn were shabby for the most part, wearing patched robes and sour faces. Those who he could see, anyway. Many of them wore their hoods up and kept their faces hidden. And in between buildings and down alleyways, small groups of people were huddled together whispering.
“Why doesn’t the DMLE just shut this place down?” Harry asked softly as they walked. “I mean, it’s clear no legitimate commerce is going on down here.”
“Are you mad?” Cho snapped. “The DMLE would never shut this down. It’s seedy and yes, there’s plenty of illegal activity happening, but it’s happening where we know about it. What do you think would happen if we tried to eradicate it here--”
“They’d just move it elsewhere,” Malfoy said, tone matter-of-fact. “And we’d have to locate them again. At least this way we can keep an eye on things.”
Cho nodded approvingly. “And sometimes we can even use them to our advantage. There’s no better place to obtain information about less than savoury things that may be going on. In here.”
Harry blinked as Cho led the way inside a nondescript building. The outside had been dull, brown, the windows obscured. But inside was a different matter. Incense wafted through the air and the muted light was almost relaxing.
“Cho?” A heavily made-up woman walked into the entryway. Her outfit was on the shady side of decent for wearing in public, consisting of a diaphanous blouse that barely obscured her chest and tight trousers that left nothing to the imagination. Harry was pretty sure she had no knickers on. “Is that you?”
As the two women embraced, Harry exchanged a puzzled look with Malfoy, who was looking just as confused as he felt.
When Magenta disengaged finally from Cho, she cocked a hip, eyeing first Harry, then Malfoy with a speculative smirk. “Did you bring me new customers?”
Cho laughed. “Not exactly. These are the new DMLE patrol officers for Diagon Alley. I thought I’d bring them by and introduce them.” She smirked. “Try to break them in gently.”
“Hm.” Magenta gave them both a slow once-over, Harry shifting uncomfortably under her gaze. “Not that you boys asked, but my first suggestion would be to ditch the Auror robes.”
Malfoy inclined his head. “I’m sorry, Madam, no can do. Department rules, I’m afraid. People always have to know we’re law enforcement.”
Magenta shook her head, a smile playing about her bright red lips. Harry thought she could be quite pretty under all the paint. “Oh well, it was worth a try.”
Cho sighed, shaking her head. “You always tried to get me to leave off wearing my uniform, too, if I recall.”
“And did that work?” Malfoy asked.
Magenta laughed. “In one way you could say it did.”
Cho, her colour high, rolled her eyes. “Maybe you should just give us a tour.”
“Mm, I suppose I should before I give away any more...secrets.” Magenta winked at Harry before spinning on her heel. “Come on then, and see the place. If you’re good I may even introduce you to some of the others.”
“Others?” Harry mouthed at Malfoy, who shrugged.
They followed Magenta, who all but swaggered through a set of curtains at the end of the hallway. As he passed through, Harry felt a tingle before he emerged into a plush sitting area lined with couches and chaise lounges. There, displayed on a couple of the sofas, were people clad in even less than Magenta.
Harry blinked as it occurred to him where they were. Magenta and Cho were several steps ahead as, shaken, he turned to Malfoy. “Merlin, I think this is a--”
“Brothel?” Malfoy supplied, tone dry. “Yes, I can tell you’ve mastered the art of observation, Potter.”
Harry glared at him. “And I suppose you knew immediately?”
“Pretty quickly, yes.” Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you see what Magenta was wearing? And honestly, who names their child ‘Magenta’? It’s clearly an assumed name.”
Harry shook his head. “But...why’d Cho bring us here? On our first day no less. Running a brothel is illegal!” he hissed.
A couple of the girls who were lounging looked up at Harry, who blushed.
Malfoy sighed. “Yes. And so am I to presume you want to arrest them all, bring them to justice?” he muttered, grabbing Harry’s arm and pulling him into a dark corner.
Rubbing the back of his neck, Harry sighed. “If we’re following the rule book, we should.”
“But we’re not following the book are we?” Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “At least not according to Kingsley.”
Harry crossed his arms. “That’s different.”
“Is it?” Malfoy pursed his lips. “I don’t think it is, actually. It seems to me that we’re going to encounter all sorts of situations where we have the discretion to either follow the book or go with our instincts.”
Harry sighed. “Fine. Let’s say you’re right and we ‘follow our instincts’. What do yours tell you about this situation?”
“Well, Cho clearly brought us here for a reason,” Malfoy said quietly. “She knows these people well, hell, she may even be friends with some of them. Anyway, it doesn’t look to me as if she’s planning any arrests at the moment.”
Harry glanced over to where Cho was engaged in a spirited, yet clearly friendly conversation with a woman in a transparent green dress that left little to the imagination. “Agreed.”
“I say we watch and see what goes on here.”
Harry smirked. “Now who’s being naive? I think we know exactly what goes on here.”
“Don’t be thick,” Malfoy snapped. “There are brothels and there are brothels. Does it look like they force the people here to do anything they don’t want to do? Do you see any children? Looks to me as if everyone who’s here wants to be here. So if it’s all consensual, who are we to say it shouldn’t happen?”
“So...what? We report some of the illegal activity that we see and not others?” Harry’s eyes narrowed. “We need to be consistent, Malfoy.”
“We need to be flexible,” Malfoy shot back. “What if gaining these people’s trust puts you in the position to hear about something truly heinous later on? Wouldn’t you rather know about that than this, which we all know is going to happen no matter what you or I do?”
“May I presume we’re safe from you calling down the entire might of the DMLE on us?” came a drawling voice.
Harry, who had been so focussed on arguing with Malfoy that he’d missed Magenta’s approach, winced. “Er--”
“We’re not going to report you, Magenta,” Malfoy said, his eyes daring Harry to disagree. “But we would like to be able to drop by on occasion and...chat.”
Magenta hummed, placing her hand on Malfoy’s sleeve and leaning her ample chest against him. She even batted her eyelashes. “Why of course, sugar. Just say the word.”
Malfoy coughed. “Er, not that kind of talk, I’m afraid.”
Tilting her head, Magenta regarded him carefully. “Hm. Well perhaps not with me, but you may like to have a conversation with Smoke. He gives a mean full body massage.” She nodded towards a handsome young man who was draped across a chaise lounge wearing nothing but what looked like a loincloth. When he saw them all staring at him, Smoke smiled and winked.
“Tempting,” Malfoy said, his gaze lingering.
Harry’s eyes narrowed. Was it his imagination, or did Malfoy sound a bit choked. And why does that possibility bother me?
“But no thank you,” Malfoy continued, finally looking away from ‘Smoke’.
Magenta smiled. “Well, it is only your first day I suppose. There’s time.”
“Are you two ready to go?” Cho appeared, looking impatient. “I need to get you out onto the street.”
“Yes,” Harry said, relieved. “We’re ready.”
“Goodbye, boys,” Magenta called after them as they exited. “Come back any time.”
Once out on the street, Harry breathed a bit easier.
“I imagine you’re wondering why I took you there,” Cho said.
“We were a bit curious, yes,” Malfoy said after shooting a warning look at Harry. “We presume there’s a reason you haven’t reported them, shut the place down.”
“There is,” Cho confirmed, her eyes constantly scanning as they walked. “As brothels go, that’s the best of the bunch. No drugs, no...forcing the employees to do anything they don’t want to do. No...kids. And it’s a wellspring of information. Magenta knows everything that happens in this alley.” She smiled. “And I think she likes you, so that works out.”
“So she’s your...informant?” Harry asked.
“You could say that she’s one of them, yes.” Cho’s eyes narrowed. “Damn, I knew we would be late.”
“Late?” Malfoy asked. “Late for what?”
“For that.” Cho nodded towards a group of people who were gathered around a shabby shop front. “He won’t start unless the street’s devoid of the law.”
“What’s going on?” Harry asked.
“Thievery.” Face set, Cho walked up to the group, pushing her way to the front. “Hullo, Willie. I thought we’d discussed your card tricks?”
“Auror Chang!” A mousy man with a mop of unruly brown hair and an oily smile stood up, extending his hand. “Fancy seeing you here! Interested in trying your luck today?”
“This, boys, is Wily Willie.” Cho glared at him, not shaking his hand. “Up to your old tricks I see.”
Willie bit his lip, his face twisting into what Harry assumed was his attempt at an innocent and injured look. It failed miserably. “I think you have the wrong impression about me, Auror! I’m just an honest businessman wot’s down on his luck.”
Cho snorted. “So you’ve decided to cheat some other...upstanding citizens out of theirs?” she asked.
The crowd, who, as far as Harry could see, was comprised of people who looked about as upstanding as Willie, all shuffled about looking guilty. Several of them began sidling away.
“Break it up before I get back,” Cho snapped, spinning on her heel.
Harry blinked. Cho was already halfway down the block before he caught up, Draco close on his heels. “Shouldn’t we arrest him?”
“Arrest Willie?” Cho laughed. “He’s just a low level criminal. He’s always on or around that corner trying to run some scam. He’s not worth arresting.” She whistled as she walked, waving at some people, most of whom waved back.
“I’m afraid I have to agree with Potter,” Malfoy chimed in. “Why aren’t we arresting that toe rag?”
“Because he’d only be replaced by someone worse.” Cho turned to look at them. “I was idealistic when I finished the training program, too, but trust me, it’s better this way. Better the devil you know than the worse devil whose actions you can’t predict. Keeping the peace in Knockturn is more than just arresting people, it’s knowing who not to arrest as well.”
“Fine. So who are we allowed to arrest?” Harry asked, starting to get irritated.
Cho smirked, pointing at someone behind him. “Them,” she said. “They’re annoying me.” As Harry looked, he saw a group of about five youths on brooms whizzing through the alley in formation. As he watched, they started throwing parchments at people.
“They look pretty harmless, though,” Harry said, frowning.
“Oh, trust me, you’d be arresting them for their protection,” Cho said, crossing her arms. “Because if they don’t stop that, I’ll hex them off their brooms myself.”
“Are they even breaking the law?” Harry asked.
Cho shrugged. “There’s probably something on the books about riding brooms too fast and so close to the ground in urban areas. Plus, I’d say they were endangering people by throwing things. Including themselves if I end up having to arrest them.”
“You like this,” Harry said, staring at her as the realisation struck him. “You enjoy patrolling down here.”
Cho looked away. “You could say that.”
Harry exchanged a look with Malfoy. “So why are you giving it up? I mean, obviously you volunteered for a transfer, right?”
She nodded. “I did.” She sighed. “I didn’t especially want to, but my...a friend was worried about me working down here and an opportunity too good to pass up came along.”
“Where are you transferring?” Malfoy asked.
“The Obliviator office. They’re revamping and I think it’ll be to my advantage to be on the ground floor when they do.” She raised an eyebrow. “Anyway back to the topic at hand. Are you going to arrest that lot?”
Malfoy sighed. “It’ll take care of it.”
“Good.” Cho smirked. “Oh, and make sure you take Potter with you,” she said, grasping Malfoy’s arm as he turned away. “You should never go anywhere without your partner.”
Malfoy coughed. “That’s quite a grip you have there.”
She smiled, releasing him. “Sorry, all that...training I guess. I’ll just...head back to the Ministry. You two seem to have everything in hand here.”
“Did that seem...abrupt to you?” Malfoy asked as Cho simply Disapparated.
“A bit.” Harry shrugged. “Although at this point--”
Malfoy nodded, rubbing his arm. “Agreed.” Turning back towards the youths, he sighed. “So, shall we?”
“How do we safely get them off their brooms?” Harry asked as they got closer to where the young men were flying and shouting at each other. “They’re hardly going to just obey if we order them off.”
Malfoy pursed his lips, distracting Harry for a moment. “Actually, you never know, that could work. Try it.”
Harry sighed. Something told him it was a mistake, but it was worth a shot. Right. “Oi!” he shouted. “Come down off the brooms at once.”
And that was when everything went pear-shaped.
Draco took another long sip of his ale, his shoulders finally starting to relax. “Salazar, that was a long day,” he muttered.
Potter looked up from his own mug, eyes weary. “No kidding. I thought I was going to slap that woman in that broom shop.”
Smirking at the memory, Draco said, “I’d have paid to see that.”
“Unfortunately, I’d have had the shortest career of any Auror if I’d done it.”
“Maybe,” Draco said. “But it would have been hailed as another heroic deed by one Harry James Potter. That woman deserved slapping. I can’t believe that was her idea of drumming up publicity for her shop. Of all the stupid--”
Potter’s lips quirked and Draco found himself wishing that he would let the smile out. “Somehow I don’t think Robards would accept that explanation. I can see that conversation now.” Potter composed his face into a more sober expression. “‘Sorry, sir, but she needed slapping, she was annoying us.’”
“Well, as your partner, I would certainly back you up.” Draco smirked, leaning back in his chair. “Although, it wouldn’t hurt if you pretended to be a bit more sincere about it when you tell him.”
“I am sincere...about wanting to slap her,” Potter said, rolling his eyes.
Draco laughed. “Well, I suspect you’ll get another chance tomorrow. After all, we’ll be back on patrol and something tells me she’ll be waiting for us.”
Potter shook his head. “Do you think Cho knew that those kids on brooms were working for that shopkeeper?”
Pursing his lips, Draco pondered that. “I’d wondered that myself,” he finally admitted. “Especially given the way she conveniently disappeared while we went after them.”
Sighing, Potter signalled for another drink. “I guess she was trying to teach us that we have to stand on our own down here, make our own contacts and decisions.”
“She chose an odd way to do it,” Draco huffed, indicating to the bar elf that he wanted a refill as well.
“I dunno,” Potter said, tone thoughtful. “Maybe it’s better this way. Now we know that not everything is as it seems in Knockturn, and we’ll keep our eyes open for things that are out of place.”
Draco pondered that. “It’s a bit too deep for me,” he declared at last.
Potter laughed. “Yeah, maybe we just need some rest and to start fresh in the morning.”
“We’re on our own, too,” Draco reminded him. “Since, according to that memo she sent, Cho apparently has another assignment.” He rolled his eyes.
Potter sniggered. “The timing was a bit suspicious.”
“Still, I think we’ll manage.” Draco smirked. “Once we get the lay of the land. Although, if I end every day aching like I am now, I may be forced to budget for a weekly massage.”
To Draco’s surprise, Potter stiffened at that. “Is that so?” he asked stiffly. “Well don’t let me stop you.” Draining his mug, he set down it down on the table. “Anyway, I guess that’s my cue to head home. See you tomorrow at the Ministry.”
Draco could feel his expression going blank. “Right.” We’re not friends. I almost forgot that. Finishing his own drink, Draco rose, starting to turn away. Within seconds, Potter placed a hand on his arm, however. Despite himself, Draco flinched. “Yes?”
“Sorry,” Potter said, looking contrite.
Draco raised an eyebrow. “About what?”
“I--” Potter looked away. “It’s not my business what you do in your free time. Although spending it in a brothel is probably not the best idea for an Auror, it’s not my concern--”
Draco blinked, confused for a moment. “Brothel--? Oh! You thought I meant visit Magenta’s place? Salazar, no! I need a real massage, not...whatever passes for one in that place.” He huffed.
Visibly relaxing, Potter shrugged. “It’s just...you seemed intrigued by that Smoke chap.”
The light dawned and Draco blinked. “Trust me, Potter, the only interest I had in ‘Smoke’ was making sure he appeared of age to be in that place.” Draco leaned closer to Potter, noting that he didn’t draw back. Well, well-- “You really thought I was interested in him?”
Potter looked flushed. “I really hadn’t thought much about it.”
Draco smiled. “You’re a terrible liar, but I’ll let that go this time.” Holding out his hand, he said, “See you tomorrow. Seven sharp.”
Potter’s hand was warm, his handshake firm. “I’ll be there.”
“If I never have to break up another domestic dispute it’ll be too soon,” Harry muttered as they left the dingy flat. Behind them, the formerly quarrelling couple, whose neighbours had called them to intervene, were all but cooing as they cuddled on the sofa, dispute forgotten. Around them was the detritus of their spirited argument. At least they have magic to clean it up.
Malfoy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Why is it that they always have to throw things at us?”
“Did she hurt you?’ Harry asked, eyeing Malfoy with concern. “That last teapot got awfully close.”
“I shielded in time.” Malfoy shook his head. “Next time I say we wait thirty minutes before we arrive to give them a chance to make up. That way maybe they won’t turn on us.”
Harry shook his head. “Except the one time we do that, something really bad will happen and it’ll be a situation where we should have been there.”
Malfoy sighed. “You’re right of course. It just gets...annoying.”
“Beats having to break up fights at The Hag’s End.” Harry shuddered. “Drunk petty criminals are the worst.”
“We should definitely arrive later for those,” Malfoy agreed. “Is it time to report in yet?”
“I certainly hope so,” Harry said as they emerged onto the street. It was going on dusk and Knockturn Alley, which was never the friendliest of placed in the day, looked even more sinister. Only the most experienced Auror teams patrolled Knockturn at night, although Harry imagined that would be them one day. They’d only been on the job a week, however, so it was unlikely to happen immediately. At least I hope not. Days are bad enough in this place. “Yes, there goes my wand alarm.”
After they’d reported in at the Ministry and spent another hour on paperwork, Harry was ready to crash. Until a small memo fluttered up to his desk.
“We’re off duty,” Malfoy whinged as Harry reached for the memo.
“I know, but I thought I should at least look at it.” Plucking it out of the air, Harry opened it. And froze.
“Well,” Malfoy snapped. “What is it?”
Harry looked up at him. “Our first special assignment.”
Malfoy blinked. “Now? What the hell kind of time is this?”
Harry sighed. He’d known Kingsley’s assignments would arrive at random times, but just then all he wanted to do was crawl into bed. “I suppose I can just go check it out on my own and--”
“Not a chance,” Malfoy said flatly. He held out his hand. “Let me see.” After he read it, the note evaporated from his fingers. He looked up at Harry. “I’m not sleeping tonight, am I?”
“If it’s any consolation, I’m not either,” Harry offered. Malfoy snorted. “Oh, please. Everyone knows you’re nocturnal. You roamed Hogwarts at night for years with the infernal Cloak of yours. Which reminds me. You still have it don’t you?”
At Harry’s nod, he sighed. “Right.” He stood up. “I need coffee then we can get going. Do you want anything?”
“I’d love a coffee,” Harry said, pondering the nocturnal remark. How does he know that?
Within thirty minutes they had both left the Ministry, ostensibly to go home. Harry took the Floo to Grimmauld, changed out of his official uniform, and Apparated to the coordinates that he’d memorised from the memo. Malfoy was already waiting, sipping his coffee, leaning against a tree. He legs looked ridiculously long in his Muggle jeans, his shoulders broad in his charcoal grey jumper. “Take your time, why don’t you?” he drawled. “And I thought I was a fussy dresser.”
Ignoring him, Harry looked around. “Where are we?”
Malfoy sighed, pushing himself upright. “Horncastle, Lincolnshire. Population just over six thousand, and as far as I can tell, they’re all Muggle. Seriously, what took you so long?”
Not wanting to admit to having carefully considered his outfit, Harry shook his head. “We’re not all speed changers. Shall we?”
“I think the ones we’re after are down here,” Malfoy whispered as they crept through the village. There weren’t many people around so no one saw them go up to a certain door and knock.
“Yes?” A heavily moustached man that reeked of magic was staring at them. “Tourists?” he said, eyeing them both up and down. “I swear, more cars break down on these roads than should be possible. All right, come on in, then. You can call a mechanic from here.”
“Er, thanks,” Harry said, shooting a warning look at Malfoy, who seemed inclined to take the hint and let him take the lead. “We were just passing through--”
“Of course you were.” A plump, blond woman bustled out of what was probably the kitchen. “We don’t get many visitors.” Her sharp eyes scanned them both. “Oh, you must have been on your way to the Manby Arms! It’s newly renovated and very popular with your sort, I hear.” She winked. “My, but aren’t you a handsome couple?”
Harry’s mouth dropped open in shock and in that moment, Malfoy struck. “Thank you,” he said smoothly, running his hand possessively over Harry’s arm before moving past him and towards the woman. “Don’t mind him. He’s a bit shy. This is all rather new to him.” With his hand in his pocket, presumably on his wand, Malfoy murmured something and both the woman’s and the man’s eyes glazed over. “So, have you seen anything...odd lately?”
“She thought we were a couple,” Harry said three hours later as they let themselves out of Phillippa and Steven Marwood’s home and started for the copse of trees where they’d landed.
“Yes,” Malfoy agreed, clearly distracted. “It seemed easier to go with that cover story than to explain that we’re actually wizarding police.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “But we’re not actually--”
“Yes, I’m aware we’re not, but it worked, didn’t it? They told us all about the little girl who lives next door, and about how odd things happen when she’s around.”
“Well I can’t imagine we need to look for her,” Harry said. “Sounds like a standard case of underaged magic.”
“Exactly. I imagine her Hogwarts letter will show up an a few more years. That’s someone else’s job, though, not ours.” Malfoy pursed his lips. “And that does explain why we sensed magic here. I’m more worried about the strange snake-shaped smoke they spotted in the sky last year and about the odd sickness that affected the townspeople afterward.” He glanced at Potter. “Does that sound to you like--?”
“A Dark Mark?” Harry nodded. “Yeah. And random Dark Marks showing up over Muggle towns is not a good sign.” He inclined his head. “That was a nice piece of interrogation, by the way.”
Malfoy cleared his throat, looking embarrassed. “As much as I hate to admit it, that was a complete fluke. There was just something about the way Mrs Marwood kept mentioning last year that made me ask her about it-- I guess I was just following my instincts. Anyway, there’s clearly more going on here than just some spontaneous underage magic.”
“You’ve good instincts,” Harry said. “And you’re right.” He looked around. “Time to report in.”
“Agreed.” Closing his eyes, Malfoy pointed his wand and an amorphous glowing shape emerged. It coalesced into a snake. “Report to Kingsley that Death Eaters may have been in Horncastle, Lincolnshire as recently as last year, and may have contaminated the area with...something. And tell him the magic was just spontaneous from an underage Muggle-born witch. The Muggle neighbours have been Obliviated, and a trace placed on them as a precaution.”
“Who would bother to cast Morsmordre out here, though?” Harry muttered once the Patronus had disappeared. “I mean, Voldemort’s been dead for three years.”
“That’s the real question, isn’t it?” Malfoy sighed. “Luckily, that’s not for us to figure out. I think we’ve done all we can tonight, don’t you? I’m for bed.”
Nodding, Harry turned away, sternly reminding himself that Malfoy hadn’t been issuing an invitation. “Looks like we’ll get some sleep after all.”
“And it’s a good thing, too,” Malfoy said. “Trust me, you never want to encounter me when I’ve had no sleep.” He chuckled softly. “Well, I take that back. It depends on the reason of course.”
Harry’s mouth went dry. “Right. Um. See you tomorrow.”
Malfoy cast a Tempus Charm and swore. “Actually, I think you mean today.”
Harry laughed. “Right. Today.” Turning to face Malfoy, he paused, blinking at how luminous he was in the moonlight. I must need sleep.
“Everything all right there, Potter?” Malfoy asked. “You’re staring.”
“What?” Harry coughed. “Oh! Yes! Um... So...good night.”
Malfoy stared at him for a long moment, his expression speculative. “Good night,” he finally said and in a moment was gone, the crack of his Disapparition echoing through the trees.
Harry sighed. I am in so much trouble.
“So are you enjoying your work, dear?”
Looking up from his plate, Draco smiled. “Yes, Mother. I honestly am.” Although I’m not sure I’m ready for an interrogation about it. He enjoyed his weekly dinners at the Manor with his mother, but her questions had been getting more and more...pointed recently. She was, after all, a very astute witch. She would probably pick up on his feelings for Potter with a few innocent-sounding questions. Draco wasn’t sure he was ready to deal with his revised opinion on Potter, much less discuss them with his mother.
She smiled. “I’m so glad. How long have you been doing it?”
“That’s wonderful.” Dabbing at her mouth with her napkin, she sighed. “I was so concerned that you’d only decided to do it because...well, because you thought you had to out of some sort of family obligation.”
Draco chose his words carefully. “I do have an obligation to the family, of course. But this is really for myself, not because of anything...else. Doing this makes me feel useful, needed, productive.”
“Unlike what your father did with his time?” she asked, tone arch.
Draco began to sputter. “I--”
Narcissa laughed, holding up her hand. “Oh, darling, I’m teasing. Your father clearly made some...wrong choices.” She sighed. “And I am very glad to see you making much better ones. I just...worry.”
Merlin. Here it comes. “About what?”
“That you’ll be lonely without someone to share your life.”
Draco took a sip of his wine as he considered and discarded several replies. “At the moment, my life is very...hectic,” he finally said. “Any potential partner would have to be very...understanding of that.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “Although--”
Draco braced himself.
“Perhaps someone who’s following the same career path could understand.” She pursed her lips. “Amelia Greengrass tells me her daughter Daphne’s also in the Auror program.”
It took everything Draco had not to laugh. Daphne? Good lord, no. Plus, there was the complication of Weasley, who, for all he was supposed to be engaged to Granger, kept sniffing around Daphne like a Crup in heat. “It’s possible she’s already involved with someone.”
“Hm. Shame.” Narcissa swirled the red wine in her glass. “Perhaps her sister, then? I understand she’s very accomplished. Severus tells me that the Unspeakables are recruiting her quite assiduously.”
Draco almost groaned. Severus was talking to his mother about potential matches for him? That didn’t bode well. And while Astoria was quite accomplished, and Draco quite liked her, he wasn’t sure his mother was prepared to hear that they had the same taste in men. I need to have a chat with Severus. “I suppose only time will tell.”
“Well, just make sure you don’t end up an old and lonely man.” Clapping her hands, Narcissa ordered the dishes cleared and, picking up her glass, gestured towards the living room. “Now, come, let’s sit and really talk so you can tell me all about what your job actually entails.”
Other than trying not to let Harry Potter see me ogling his arse? Composing himself, Draco sat beside her on the sofa. “It’s standard patrolling. We...keep the peace in Knockturn. It can be boring one minute and...needlessly exciting the next. I suppose the best way to describe it would be to say that it keeps us alert.”
“Knockturn?” Narcissa frowned. “That sounds dangerous.”
It’s probably less dangerous than Kingsley’s special project is turning out to be. Draco smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion. “No more than any other job as an Auror would be, I imagine.”
“Hm. And you’re getting along with your partner?” Narcissa slanted a glance at him. “I admit, I was surprised to hear that you’d been paired with Harry Potter, although it could serve you well politically.”
Draco inclined his head. “He’s...surprisingly easygoing.” Sipping his wine, he sighed. “He’s earnest, of course, typical Gryffindor. But he’s not bad to have in one’s corner in a fight, and we don’t talk about the war, so that makes us able to avoid sticky topics.”
Narcissa looked thoughtful. “Perhaps you should talk about it.”
Draco blinked. “Why? We were on opposite sides.”
She patted his knee. “Darling, I think he knows that,” she said gently. “And I imagine he realises that a lot of what you did was...unavoidable.”
“I--” Draco looked into his wine. “We’ll see.”
She nodded. “Of course, you should do as you feel is best.” Exhaling, she leaned over, kissing his cheek. “Well, it sounds as if you’re on the way to a fulfilling career. I only hope that your personal life ends up being just as satisfying. And one of these days I even hope you bring someone home for me to meet.” Rising, she smiled at him. “Goodnight, dear. See you next week.”
Draco was still thinking about his mother’s words the next day when he reported to work at the Ministry. For once he’d beat Potter in and was waiting when he arrived. “Good afternoon,” he deadpanned. “Nice of you to join us.”
Potter held up two fingers before slipping behind his desk. “I’m not late, you’re early.”
Draco hummed. “True. And as for your...kind offer? Sadly, I’ve no time for that. Plus, I like to that with...company.” He held up a memo. “We’ve another after special project.”
Potter’s head snapped up. “Let me see that.”
Tossing it to him, Draco sat back in his chair. Potter scanned the memo, mouth compressing into a thin line as the memo disintegrated in his hand. “Another case in Horncastle? That’s odd.”
“Maybe it’s the same one,” Draco said, gathering his things. “I put a trace on that old couple the last time we were there.”
“Have you sensed anything?”
“No.” Draco checked his pocket watch. “Patrol first, Horncastle after?”
“Yeah.” Potter rose. “And do you think we can cut patrol short tonight so we’re not out too late? I’ve plans this evening.”
Draco frowned at that. “Oh? Hot date?” he asked tightly as they walked to the briefing room.
Potter smiled. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Yes. Keeping his face expressionless, Draco followed Potter.
Patrol was relatively uneventful. They broke up a couple of altercations on the street and arrested a pickpocket. As planned, they returned to the Ministry early, reported in, and within minutes met just outside Horncastle.
“We can’t just barge into their house again,” Potter said as they approached the Marwoods’ home. “What’s our story this time?”
“Leave that to me.” Draco raised his hand, knocking briskly on the door.
Unlike the time before, Mrs Marwood answered, her face lighting up when she saw them. “You’re back! Oh I knew you would be. It’s always lovely to see kin. Come on in, lads, I just put the kettle on.”
“Kin?” Harry asked once she was out of earshot.
Draco shrugged. “She thinks that because I left her with that impression after our last visit,” he said, settling in a chair. “What? I was mucking about in her memories anyway, why not leave her with something that could prove useful? And look, it did.”
“You actually left her with memories of us?” Harry hissed.
“What was that?” Mrs Marwood called as she fussed about in the kitchen.
“Nothing!” both Draco and Potter cried in reply.
Potter groaned. “I cannot believe you!”
“Relax.” Draco studied his nails. “I figured we might have to return, so I implanted a memory of us turning out to be distant relatives.”
Potter shook his head. “You are a piece of work.”
Draco smirked. “Thank you. Ah, tea! Lovely, Phillippa.”
Phillippa Marwood, beaming, started cutting them slices of cake. “It’s so good to see you boys. Still together I see.”
As Potter gaped, Draco nodded. “Oh yes.” He shot a warning look at Potter. “Quite devoted in fact. I hope everything’s been all right here.”
“Steven and I have been fine, but the neighbours--” She shook her head. “It’s tragic. That poor little girl.”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “Is this the same one you mentioned before? Do tell.”
“We should see if we can look at the Muggle police report,” Harry said as, shocked, they left Phillippa Marwood’s. “A perfectly healthy little girl doesn’t just suddenly die for no reason.”
“According to Phillippa they ruled it an accident, but I agree,” Draco said. “We need to investigate.”
Unfortunately, their investigation of the police report turned up no clues, and, thoughtful, they retreated to the woods outside the town to regroup.
“One thing. That policeman I talked to mentioned while we are at the station,” Draco said as they walked, “there was another Dark Mark sighting over the town last week, just before the little girl died.”
“He told you that I was digging through the files?”
“And he doesn’t think we’re distant relatives of his, does he?” Potter snarked.
Draco snorted. “As if. Did you see how bald he was?” He patted his own full head of hair protectively.
Potter rolled his eyes. “Right, so there has to be a connection between the Dark Mark and her death, that’s just too big a coincidence, but what is it?”
Draco nodded. “Agreed.”
Potter looked troubled. “First off: who’s casting them? I thought this stuff was over when--” He glanced at Draco. “Well, once the war ended. Voldemort’s dead, don’t people get that? Are they still so bigoted that they’ll continue to try to advance his cause after his death?”
It was the perfect opportunity. His mother had been right; they needed to clear the air. Clearing his throat, Draco turned to face Potter, lowering his voice. It was dusk, and the dim light somehow made his confession easier. “Some are, I suppose. Although I trust you know that I appreciated all you did, Potter.”
Potter blinked. “What?”
“Killing the Dark L...Voldemort.” Draco held Potter’s gaze. “He was an evil creature who needed to be disposed of for the good of everyone, regardless of blood status. So, in case I may not have said it before...thank you.”
Potter’s eyebrow went up. “You know, I never thought I’d ever hear you say that.”
And I never thought I’d actually say it aloud. Embarrassed, Draco looked away. “Not everyone you thought was a Death Eater agreed with him, you know. Some of us were...conscripted.”
“Unwillingly?” Potter asked softly.
Draco closed his eyes. “I wish I could say I wasn’t willing at the time, Potter, but it would be a lie. From as early as I can remember, my father taught me that pure-bloods were getting overrun by half-bloods and Muggle-borns and that we were an endangered species. By eleven he had me convinced that you had inadvertently killed our best hope. When I was fourteen I started to question the party line, but by then it was too late. When my aunt was freed from Azkaban, she came to stay with us and I was constantly surrounded by Death Eaters. I knew what they were doing and I knew it was wrong, but I told myself that things would be better as soon as everything settled down. I thought I could stay out of it.”
“Until he told you to kill Dumbledore.”
Sighing, Draco opened his eyes, staring at Potter. “That was to be my test of loyalty. A test that, thanks to Severus, I failed.” He shook his head. “If I’d succeeded I was supposed to get a Dark Mark as my reward.” He laughed bitterly. “Some reward.”
“I know Snape did it for you,” Potter said, tone soft. “And I also know you didn’t get Marked.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “How do you know?”
Potter shrugged. “You’re an Auror. I doubt they would have let you into the program if you had.”
Draco nodded. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. Anyway, I was pretty disappointed in myself after that. The Dark...Voldemort called me a weak fool, punished me--” Draco shuddered at the memories, “--and then dismissed me, told me to stay out of his sight, which I was glad to do. Honestly, I think the only reason I’m alive is that he couldn’t be arsed to kill me.” He snorted. “And he was running out of pure-bloods.”
“Can I ask a question?”
Draco squared his shoulders. “Of course.”
“Why didn’t you identify me that day?” Potter asked. “You knew it was me. You could have turned me over and you didn’t.”
Startled, Draco blinked. “Are you mad? By then I knew you were our only hope. I was never so relieved than when I saw you escape.” He huffed. “Although I do wish you hadn’t absconded with my wand.”
Potter smiled. “Sorry. I needed it at the time.”
Draco shook his head. “Anyway, back to the Dark Marks. There were some Death Eaters who were fanatics, but I can’t think of any of them who aren’t already in Azkaban.” He frowned. “Plus, what would be the point? If I saw a Dark Mark hovering the sky I’d go the other way.”
Potter’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe that’s the purpose. Maybe the Mark is meant as a warning for Death Eaters to stay away.”
“Whoever is doing it has to know that it would attract Auror attention, though,” Draco said.
“Well, but it hasn’t since it’s happening in the Muggle world. The only reason we know about it is because of Kingsley’s special project.” Potter pursed his lips. “And I think this is something that he should know about, don’t you?”
When he didn’t move, Potter sighed, pulling out his wand. “I guess this means I’m doing it?”
“I think news about the Dark Mark showing up for the second time over a Muggle town would come better from you, don’t you?” Draco said once the stag Patronus had galloped away. “And since this is the second time we’ve told him about this place, he’ll probably send people to investigate.”
Potter’s eyes widened. “Which means we shouldn’t be here.”
“Not unless we want to explain what we’re doing here.”
“Right.” Potter smiled. “See you at work tomorrow.”
“Yes.” Draco cleared his throat. “And look, we’re done early enough for you to make your hot date.”
Potter grinned. “True. He’ll be very pleased. I’ll give him your regards.” And with that, he Disapparated, leaving a gaping Draco behind him.
The Ministry was in an uproar when an exhausted Harry arrived the following morning. “What’s going on?” he asked Ron as they all crowded into the briefing room.
“No idea, mate.” Ron shrugged. “Must be a big deal, though, since all the patrols were called in to hear this.”
Harry frowned. I wonder if this has anything to do with those Dark Marks?
Ron was already starting to cosy up to Greengrass, so, spotting Malfoy, Harry moved towards him, covering his yawns with his hand. Malfoy looked him up and down as he settled beside him. “Late night?” he sneered.
Harry smiled. “Not really. My date’s early bedtime made that pretty impossible.”
Malfoy stared at him. “What in Salazar’s name does that even mean?”
Before Harry could respond, however, Kingsley strode into the room, flanked by grim-faced Aurors and several grey-robed, cowled Unspeakables. The entire room went silent. “I called you here today because it’s come to my attention that we are once again facing a grave threat.”
Harry leaned forward attentively, noting that Malfoy did the same.
“For several weeks I’ve been receiving reports that Death Eaters are once again active. Last night, we found definitive proof.”
Harry glanced over at Malfoy, whose lips had thinned. Their eyes met for a moment.
“Now I’m turning this meeting over to an expert,” Kingsley said, gesturing at one of the silent Unspeakables.
Harry’s eyes widened as the man threw back his cowl, revealing his face. It was Severus Snape and, glaring at everyone, he cast Sonorus and began to speak. “We’ve been tracking this activity and it appears legitimate. Whoever it is that’s casting Morsmordre appears to be doing it deliberately in certain targeted areas. Agents who have followed up report that Muggle-born magical children have been injured and even, in several unfortunate cases, killed. While the Muggle authorities seem convinced these have been accidental deaths, our investigations have shown it’s magical in nature. It should be noted, that whatever these individuals are doing does not appear to be affecting the general Muggle population, however.”
Beside him, Harry felt Malfoy stiffen.
“You mean they’re somehow murdering young Muggle-borns?” someone asked from the back of the room.
Snape crossed his arms. “Did I not just say that?” He turned to Kingsley. “I thought this was supposed to be your best and brightest, not a bunch of dunderheads.”
Kingsley coughed as a cry of outrage from the back of the room was quickly cut off. It sounded as if someone had been hastily bundled out the door. “I’m sure there shall be no more interruptions,” Kingsley said smoothly.
“That idiot must not have attended Hogwarts,” Malfoy muttered.
Harry hid a smile.
Snape surveyed the room. “This matter has been judged to be of the utmost priority. To that end, you all are to retain your current assignments, but you are also to watch for any anomalous or unusual magical events occurring in Muggle areas, particularly if you see anything that resembles Morsmordre. Dead plants that have no reason to be dead, blight, dead animals, even fog that should not be present.”
Throughout the room, people were nodding. “These people seem to be avoiding magical populations, probably because we would detect whatever it is they’re doing,” Snape continued. “In addition, any Muggles who may have seen anything suspicious appear to have been Obliviated, so we’re dealing with people who appear skilled at Memory Charms. We believe they may be former Death Eaters or perhaps relatives of former Death Eaters, so do not approach anyone who is acting suspiciously without backup. This seems to be a concerted and coordinated effort, so there must be someone who knows something. You need to locate those people.”
All around them, people were taking notes, but Harry noticed that Malfoy was staring raptly at Snape. He blinked, a disturbing thought occurring to him. Does Malfoy have a crush on Snape?
After he gave the rest of his instructions, Snape crossed his arms. “Questions?”
No one had any and the meeting broke up soon after. As Harry started for the door, however, Malfoy said, “Give me a minute, will you, Potter?”
Harry nodded, waiting by the door. It was no surprise when he saw Malfoy walk up to Snape and clasp his arm. Snape smiled and leaned in, and as they engaged in what looked like a friendly conversation, Harry turned away. I’ve no claim on him. I can’t be jealous.
“Sorry,” Malfoy said, coming up behind him. “I just had to clarify some things. Ready?”
“Yes,” Harry said, moving away from the door. He nodded towards Snape. “Did you learn anything new about the case?”
Malfoy smiled. “Oh, it wasn’t about the case. I had something personal I needed to discuss with him.”
“Ah.” Determined to be professional, Harry bit his tongue, deciding not ask anything more. “Right, so we should scout Knockturn first, don’t you think?”
They arrived behind the alley, emerging just in front of Magenta’s brothel. “Maybe we should separate and talk to some of the shopkeepers here, see if anyone knows anything,” Harry said.
Malfoy shook his head. “No, we should stay together,” he said. “This isn’t the time to separate. Let’s start with Magenta’s lot.” Malfoy started for the door. “They may know something.”
“Plus, then you get to see Smoke again,” Harry muttered.
“What was that?” Malfoy paused, his hand on the door.
“Nothing.” Gesturing for Malfoy to lead the way, Harry followed, trying hard not to notice how nicely he filled out his robes. Merlin, I’ve got it bad.
Magenta was just as flirty as she’d been before, but when Malfoy outlined who they were looking for, she pursed her lips, looking serious. “Anyone acting differently?” She shrugged. “That could be anyone and everyone.”
“We know it’s vague,” Harry said.
“Just about everyone’s been...tense lately.” She raised an eyebrow. “Even the two of you.” She sighed. “Although I suppose that could just be because of all the stress you Aurors are under.”
“Has anyone else been acting out of character?” Malfoy asked. “Aurors excluded.”
Magenta crossed her arms. “I think you need to talk to Smoke,” she finally said, crooking her finger at them and leading them down a dark hallway. “He had something odd happen last week.”
“Odd?” Malfoy exchanged a look with Harry. “In what way?”
“I’ll let him tell you.” She stopped at a door, rapping sharply. “Smoke?”
The door opened and Smoke, looking as sultry as he had when Harry’d last seen him, leaned against the frame. When he saw who it was, he slowly smiled. “Well hello,” he murmured after giving Malfoy a slow once-over. “And what can I do for you?”
“They need to talk to you,” Magenta said.
“Both of them?” Harry blushed as he was subjected to a thorough inspection as well. “Mmm, all right. No objection here.”
Magenta laughed softly. “No, darling. This is Auror business, not...our business. Be nice.” Patting Smoke’s cheek, she walked away.
Harry coughed. “We understand something odd happened to you recently?”
Stepping aside, Smoke ushered them in. Quickly looking around, Harry was surprised to see it looked like a pretty normal sitting room. He must have inadvertently given away his thoughts since, as Smoke sauntered by him, he murmured, “Don’t worry, all the kinky stuff’s been put away.”
Malfoy cleared his throat. “Can you tell us about the odd occurrence last week?”
Smoke exhaled heavily, losing all signs of flirtatiousness. “I’m not sure how, but about ten nights ago I was...entertaining a client and I swear, I lost about an hour.”
Harry frowned. “What do you mean?”
Smoke shrugged. “Normally I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but I had two appointments that night, and after I was done with the first, I went onto my second, only to discover that I was about thirty minutes late.”
“Is that so unusual?” Malfoy asked. “I imagine appointments can...run over.”
Eyes narrowed, Smoke crossed his arms. “I’m never late. I build in a thirty minute buffer time between all my appointments for that specific reason. No, I lost an hour.”
“Who was your first client?” Harry asked.
“That’s just it.” Smoke looked troubled. “I don’t remember that either! I’m really careful. I take notes on my clients, make sure I know their likes and dislikes, particularly if they’re...exotic, but this was a new one. Even the page in my book where I would normally have written the name and...preferences is missing. And I don’t recall anything about what we did. I’m pretty sure I was Obliviated.”
“It certainly sounds like it.” Malfoy exchanged a speaking look with Harry. “Would you consider letting us set up some surveillance so we could track this person if he or she returns--”
Smoke shook his head. “Are you mad? My clients are paranoid enough as it is! We guarantee complete privacy.” He smiled. “I will say one thing, though, they paid well.” Smoke paused. “And you know, I think they’ll return soon now that I think about it. My Gringotts account just got a large infusion of cash this morning. The same amount it got that night, about double my normal fee.”
“Clearly this person’s returning, then.” At Smoke’s nod, Malfoy pursed his lips. “Then there’s just one thing to do.”
Harry knew he was going to regret asking. “What’s that?”
Malfoy smiled. “I need to go undercover here at Magenta’s and do some entertaining.”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. If asked, he’d have sworn Potter was jealous. But that’s impossible. He has a lover. One who apparently keeps him up late at night. Draco stifled the feelings that thought evoked. “Can you think of a better way to track this person?”
“We don’t even know if this has anything to do with the case,” Potter said. “This could be something completely random.”
“Or not.” Draco sighed. “Look, Severus told us to look for anomalies. This is an anomaly. If it’s nothing then we haven’t lost anything, but if it’s something real then we may be able to catch them. Do you want to investigate more dead Muggle-borns?”
Potter huffed. “You know I don’t.”
Draco smirked, feeling success within his reach. “Plus, you’ll be here, too, hidden. What could possibly happen with you watching my back?”
Groaning, Potter shook his head. “Haven’t I told you never to say that?”
“Right,” Draco murmured, turning away to work out the details with Magenta and Smoke. “I forgot how superstitious you are.”
Magenta was very cooperative and sooner than Draco would have thought possible, he had his own ‘room’ set up. Potter spent about an hour prowling about, inspecting every inch. “I feel as though someone else should know what we’re doing. We could be out of our depth here.”
“Do you know how much paperwork we’d need to get an entire team together?” Draco shook his head. “No, it needs to be this way. My posing as an...employee means I fit in here, and when Smoke’s client gets here, I can legitimately flirt and maybe even get myself invited to play.”
“You’re enjoying this far too much,” Potter accused.
Unable to resist, Draco shrugged. “What can I say? I like roleplay.”
Rolling his eyes, Potter didn’t say anything more, but when Draco saw him shooting speculative looks his way, he smiled to himself. Apparently his mystery lover isn’t too kinky.
They went ahead and finished their regular patrol, during which Potter was uncharacteristically quiet. After reporting in to their relief, they walked to the lobby of the Ministry as if going home. “See you at Diagon in ten,” Potter muttered as they separated.
Draco nodded. They’d decided to approach Magenta’s separately, Potter wearing his Cloak, Draco in his new persona. He’d decided to call himself ‘Slate’, and after quickly changing into his sexiest club clothing and adding a light Glamour so that he wouldn’t be easily recognised, he Apparated to Diagon Alley, slinking carefully into Knockturn.
As he slipped into the back end of Magenta’s, someone whispered in his ear, “I’m here.”
Suppressing a shiver, Draco nodded, making sure to allow the invisible person behind him to enter. He hurried to his assigned room, exhaling when he arrived.
“You’re sure about this?” Potter asked from behind him.
Draco turned to look at him, wincing when he saw his disembodied head floating there. “Salazar, that’s creepy,” he said. “And yes, I’m sure. My instincts tell me we’re on the right track.”
“Your instincts, hm?” Potter sighed, taking the Cloak off. “Well, you’ve proved they’re worth following so... All right. Although my instincts tell me we should have some sort of backup.”
“We are each other’s backup,” Draco reminded him. “Now relax. Time for me to do some investigating. Make sure you’re available, since I don’t think I can hide a wand in the outfit I’m planning on wearing.”
As he’s predicted, ‘investigating’ consisted of Draco, in his skimpy outfit, reclining on chaise lounges while the others entertained. Smoke remained close by, but not too close, and when a couple, male and female, came in, he sent a look Draco’s way. Soon he was in an animated conversation with them.
Interesting, Draco thought, surreptitiously watching. I hope Potter’s paying attention. The woman looked vaguely familiar -- something about her mannerisms made Draco think he knew her. As he watched, she said something to Smoke before looking around the room. When her eyes landed on him, Draco stretched sensually.
From under heavy-lidded eyes, he saw her lean in and whisper something to her companion, who also glanced at Draco. The avaricious look in his eyes made Draco want to cover up. “Creep,” he muttered.
“I’m here,” Potter whispered. “I’ve got your back.”
Draco relaxed. Simply knowing Potter was there was...reassuring, so that when Smoke approached, he was able to smile his sultry smile and look appropriately interested.
“My...friends would like you to join us, Slate,” Smoke said.
Eyeing them up and down, Draco nodded. “It would be my pleasure,” he murmured, uncoiling from the chaise. Sauntering down the hallways behind Smoke and the couple, Draco made sure to leave the door open long enough to ensure Potter could enter Smoke’s room.
“Well, aren’t you pretty?” the man purred as soon as Draco turned around.
“People say Slate and I make a lovely pair,” Smoke said nervously, moving towards the man. “So...what’s your pleasure this evening, sir?”
“I think we want a show,” the woman said, reaching for Draco and pulling him close with an unexpectedly firm grip. “Ooh, you have some muscle under there, don’t you?”
Draco inclined his head. “Thank you.” He jumped as the woman twisted his arm behind his back and held him there. “Ouch!”
“You’re new here,” she said, leaning in to speak directly into his ear. “I’ve never seen you before and I know all the boys. And girls.”
Draco’s eyes widened. Salazar! I know who she is. Licking his lips, he said, “Yes, I’m new. I used to work in Paris but things got...complicated there, so Magenta gave me a chance here.”
“Paris, hm?” The woman released him abruptly. “Maybe we’ll make you whisper sweet nothings in French for us later.”
“Comme vous désirez,” Draco said.
Seemingly satisfied, the woman moved away, sitting on the bed and spreading her legs obscenely. “Well, then, you French slut, come here. Let’s see how you are at...French kissing.” She glanced over at her partner, who had already forced Smoke to kneel before him. “We have some Muggles to...terrorise and I want to be in a good mood to do it.”
Draco kept his face expressionless but he went cold inside. Salazar’s beard, it’s her! And he had a good idea that she wasn’t talking about the usual definition of French kissing. “Naturellement.” He smiled. “Cho.” He glanced at the man. “By the way, who’s your friend?”
Her eyes widened and, as he watched, her features morphed into the more familiar ones he was accustomed to seeing. “Who are you?” she snapped, standing up, eyes wild. “And how did you know?”
“There aren’t that many women who have that strong a grip,” Draco said. Where the hell is Potter? He’d better be in here.
“I think he’s wearing a Glamour, too,” the man said, puling his wand. “Finite Incantatem!”
“Potter,” Draco snapped as he felt his Glamour fade. “A bit of help here?”
“Potter’s here, too?” Cho began looking around. “Shit!”
“Duck, Draco! Incarcerous! Stupefy!”
Dropping to the floor, Draco heard a thud and, looking up, saw Cho lying on her side, entwined in rope. The man was face down on the floor, unmoving. He could just see Smoke, cowering under the bed, his hands over his head.
Scrambling to his feet, Draco sighed. “You can come out now, Potter.”
There was a shimmer and then Potter appeared, looking sheepish. “Sorry, I forgot.”
Rolling his eyes, Draco said, “Do you have my wand?”
Potter tossed it to him. “You know, if you’d wear clothes while we’re on assignment--”
Draco held up two fingers. “Bite me. And if I wasn’t too busy arresting these two I’d--”
Smoke, who had crawled from under the bed once they’d started arguing, looked back and forth between them. “I didn’t know you two were together,” he said. “That explains a lot.”
Potter’s eyes widened. “We’re not together! Dammit, why do people keep thinking that?”
Turning away, Draco pursed his lips. “Maybe they’re on to something,” he murmured.
“What?” Potter asked.
“Nothing.” Draco gestured at their captives. “Looks like it’ll be a long night at the Ministry.” He eyed Potter. “You didn’t have...plans tonight, did you?”
Potter smiled. “No. This would be a bit late for a five-year-old, don’t you think? Plus, I think Andromeda would kill me if I showed up now and woke Teddy.”
Draco blinked. “Teddy? As in Lupin?”
“Yeah.” Potter grinned. “We’ve a standing date every week that I try not to break.”
“So he’s the one you were visiting?” Exhaling, Draco stepped closer, pleased as he noted Potter didn’t move away. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Smoke leaving and didn’t stop him. “I think I know why people keep thinking we’re together, Potter.”
“Oh?” Potter looked at him over the top of his glasses. “Why’s that?”
Draco smirked. “They sense the sexual tension.”
Potter’s mouth dropped open. “The--”
“Don’t tell me you don’t?” Grabbing his arm, Draco pulled him closer. “We’ve had it for years, after all.”
“I...I don’t--” Potter seemed to be having trouble. Luckily, Draco wasn’t. Leaning in, he whispered in Potter’s ear, “When we’re alone, I’ll demonstrate.”
That seemed to bring Potter back to himself. Drawing back slightly, he looked down at their prisoners. “We really should get these two into custody for questioning.” He grinned. “Then we can discuss hot dates. Although you should know, an evening with Teddy can be quite exciting.”
Draco sighed. “I think we need to revamp your social life, Potter. If a play date with a toddler is your idea of an exciting evening, then I’ve a lot to teach you.”
Potter smiled. “And I look forward to learning it.”
Draco almost dragged Potter in for a kiss right then and there, but the sound of multiple Apparition cracks stopped him. He blinked.
Potter coughed. “And that would be our backup.”
Moving away, Draco raised an eyebrow. “What backup?”
“You didn’t think I was going into this without telling someone, did you?” Potter shrugged. “And it wasn’t official because Ron and Daphne were off-duty, so no paperwork.”
“Everything all right, Harry?” Weasley asked as he stroke in. “And nice outfit, Malfoy!” As several Aurors began pouring in behind him, Draco Summoned one of Smoke’s throws, Transfiguring it into a robe which he slipped on over his costume. “Just Weasley and Daphne, hm?” he huffed.
Potter grinned. “Well, I told them they could bring some friends if they liked.”
“How did you alert them?”
Potter held out a coin. “These were leftover from Dumbledore’s Army. They’re a quick and dirty way of sending messages.”
Draco shook his head. “Of course.”
“Everything seems secure,” Weasley said, walking up to them. “Shall I take these two in, then?”
“No,” Draco murmured, flicking his wand and Levitating Cho and her friend. “I’ll do that. After all, I’m the one who was almost molested. And, Potter, after we get these two back for interrogation, we will be revisiting our previous topic.”
Potter licked his lips, his eyes heating. “You’re on.”
About eight hours later, Kingsley, his fingers steepled, regarded them both. “Well, it seems you two have split this case wide open. I can’t decide whether or not to demote you for going into this without backup, or awarding commendations.”
Harry coughed. “Sorry, sir.”
“Hm.” Kingsley smiled. “I believe commendations are in order this time, but do not use this as an excuse to continue to break the rules, gentlemen.”
“You have something to say, Auror Malfoy?”
Draco smiled. “Just...I’m sure you’re aware of Harry’s history, sir. He’s never been a stickler for the rules.”
To Harry’s surprise, Kingsley laughed. “I suppose you’re saying I should have expected this? Perhaps you’re right. Anyway, the man you two caught, Richards, was a rogue Obliviator who was high up in the department when Voldemort seized power. He took the Dark Mark quite eagerly I’m told.”
“Didn’t anyone know that?” Harry asked.
“Probably, but he’s adept at Memory Charms. Anyone who may have known quickly forgot. He was at the centre of the conspiracy and, while not the mastermind, was high up in the neo-Death Eaters. And you’ll be pleased to know that, because of his capture, our operatives caught several of them last night before they could attack some infant Muggle-borns in Queensbury.” Kingsley sighed. “They had quite the elaborate plan, evidently.”
“What was that plan exactly?” Draco asked.
“To kill all Muggle born witches and wizards and make the general Muggle population infertile. That would have made Muggles die out within a couple of generations.” Kingsley shook his head. “Fools.”
“But it would never have worked,” Harry said, horrified. “Would it?”
“It was diabolical and deceptively simple.” Kingsley sat back in his chair. “And, given long enough, it may have had an impact on Muggle birth rates, yes.”
“Wow.” Harry shook his head. “And what about Cho?” he asked, leaning forward. “Was she really involved with this?”
Kingsley sighed. “At first we thought so, but as it turns out, she was very heavily Obliviated. It apparently took months of repetitive assaults and it had to be done incrementally so that her friends and colleagues wouldn’t notice too much of a personality change.”
“Is she going to fully recover?” Draco asked.
“Hermione Granger is working with her.” Kingsley smiled. “If anyone can get her mind and memories restored, it’s Healer Granger. The larger issue of course is, have we caught everyone?”
Harry nodded. “Well, we’ll keep a lookout while on patrol, sir. And of course, we’ll be waiting for your special memos.”
Kingsley smiled. “I’m afraid that won’t be all you’ll be doing.”
Beside Harry, Draco stiffened. “Sir?”
“I’ve decided that the two of you are wasted on patrol. You obviously have a talent for detective work, so I’m promoting you to DMLE special investigations. It’s clear that’s where your true abilities lie.” He inclined his head. “Now, if you prefer to be separated--”
“That won’t be necessary, sir,” Harry said, carefully not looking at Draco. “I think we make a good team.”
Kingsley nodded. “I agree. Very well, gentlemen. You’re dismissed. Your new assignments will be communicated to you in the morning.” He smiled. “I’m aware that you’ve not had much sleep, so enjoy a well-deserved evening off.”
Once they were outside, Harry glanced at Draco. “Plans this evening?”
Without replying, Draco clasped his arm and pulled him down the hallway and into a stairwell. Slamming Harry up against the wall, he leaned in. “I once warned you about not wanting to encounter me when I’m sleep deprived,” he growled.
Harry nodded. “I remember.”
“I’m very sleep deprived right now,” Draco continued.
“Mmhm.” Daringly, Harry linked his arms around Draco’s neck.
“Under normal circumstances I would be a lot more subtle,” Draco said. “But, given that you’re a Gryffindor--”
“--and that I’m tired, I’ll say this once. Do you want to go home with me and fuck?”
“Yes,” Harry said. “Although...can we sleep first? Otherwise I think I’ll fall asleep in the middle.”
“Good plan.” Leaning in, Draco slanted his mouth over Harry’s kissing him breathless. Pulling back, he stared into Harry’s eyes. “On second thought, maybe I can manage a little something before collapsing.”
Harry laughed softly, heart light. “Let’s go and see.”
“We’re going to be late,” Draco gasped, arching back against Harry.
Harry moaned, thrusting deeper. “I...know. I can...stop, if you...like.”
“Don’t you fucking dare!” Draco gasped into the pillow as Harry’s cock slid repeatedly over his prostate, sending staccato bursts of pleasure up his spine. “Just...hurry up and fuck me!”
“Trying,” Harry said, speeding up. He ran a hand over Draco’s thigh. “If you weren’t so fucking gorgeous and distracting--”
Draco closed his eyes, his body shuddering as he started to come. His muscles tightened on Harry, dragging his orgasm from him as, with a shout, he, too, came, spilling inside Draco.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, he opened one eye. “Heavy,” he complained.
Laughing softly, Harry rolled off him, pulling in into his arms. “Brilliant.”
“Well of course it was since I was involved,” Draco sniffed, curling closer.
“Mmm.” Harry nuzzled Draco’s neck. “What time do we have to be there?”
Raising his head, Draco looked at the clock. “Oh, about ten minutes ago.”
“Damn.” Harry groaned. “And I suppose it would be bad form to show up to Christmas dinner smelling like sex?”
Draco smirked. “It’s been done but it is frowned upon, yes.”
Harry leaned up and looked down at Draco. “I would ask if you’re joking but something tells me you’re not.”
“Malfoys never joke,” Draco informed him loftily. “Now come on, we need showers. Cleaning Charms aren’t going to work for this.” He gestured between them.
“Maybe not,” Harry acknowledged. “But it was fun getting dirty.”
Rolling his eyes, Draco stood up, moving away from the bed. “If you shower with me we’ll save time.”
“You think?” Harry asked, his gaze riveted on Draco’s bare bum. Draco had noticed his fascination with his posterior. He found it endearing. “Or we could get distracted again.”
“If that does happen, you’re going to have to explain to my mother why we’re late,” Draco said, as he turned to saunter away. “That should take care of any...rising problems.”
“You are a cruel man,” Harry said, moving up behind him.
Draco smirked. “Why thank you.”
All in all, Draco was pleased. They were only forty minutes late, and since his mother generally counted on people being at least an hour late for dinner, technically, they were early. At least that’s what he told himself as he Flooed into the Manor with Harry for Christmas Eve dinner.
He was nervous since he hadn’t come out and told his mother about his relationship with Harry. She has to have guessed, though. He’s all I talk about. Well, I suppose we’ll see how she feels about Harry Potter as a son-in-law.
The decorations were beautiful. Fairy lights hovered over the dining room and Bippy had clearly pulled out the good silver and china for the occasion. The table, which usually sat twenty-six, had been replaced with a smaller round one. Draco thought it looked a lot more cosy that in previous years. I hope she keeps it this way, he thought, shuddering at the memories of things that had happened at the other table.
Severus had already arrived and was standing by the decorative fireplace beside Andromeda. Salazar, he’s in blue, not black! Draco watched their dark heads bend together as they chatted softly, occasionally looking over to check on Teddy. He could see there was something going on there and he shook his head. Mother’s been matchmaking again.
“What is it?” Harry asked.
“Nothing important,” Draco murmured. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Before we go to the Weasley’s tomorrow?” Harry’s eyes were sparkling and Draco sighed.
“The things I do for you,” he murmured. “But yes. Before that.” He smirked. “After all, there are sure to be very entertaining fireworks since Granger will be attending with Theo and Weasley with Daphne.”
Harry groaned. “Don’t remind me. I know they’re fine with the break up, but I’m a bit worried about how Mr and Mrs Weasley will see things.”
“As I said,” Draco purred. “Entertainment.” And in that moment, Draco refused to consider how the Weasleys would see him, although his heart did speed up.
“They’ll love you,” Harry said, tone soft. “Don’t worry.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. How had he known? It’s a bit frightening how well he knows me.
“Ah, there you are!” Narcissa, looking resplendent in gold and pearls, greeted them, interrupting Draco’s introspection. “Mr Potter. Thank you for accepting my invitation. We’re so pleased to have you.” Her eyes darted to Draco. “I’ve been hoping to see Draco bring home a...special friend for a very long time. I’m pleased that he managed it this year.”
Draco exhaled. Smiling to show the message was received, he clasped Harry’s hand. “Thank you, Mother.”
Harry smiled. “Thank you, Mrs Malfoy.” He glanced at Draco, flushing. “Sorry we were late. We, um, had some work to finish up.”
Narcissa waved her hand. “Oh, that’s fine. Draco knows we never start our dinners on time.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Is that so?” he asked, his gaze promising retribution.
Draco smirked. He couldn’t wait. Harry’s idea of punishment was often quite...enjoyable. “Oh, didn’t I mention that? It must have slipped my mind.”
Narcissa clapped her hands. “Well, now that we’re all here, shall we sit?”
As the first course came out, Narcissa raised her glass. “I’d like to propose a toast. To the future, to making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.”
Draco sipped, closing his eyes as under the table, Harry squeezed his thigh. Yes, the future looked bright indeed.
With Teddy placed to her left and Severus to her right, Andromeda seemed in her element and Severus has eyes only for her. As for Draco...Narcissa smiled. He, too, was clearly smitten, and Potter appeared just as taken with him. All in all, her plans to see everyone happy and mated had succeeded. Pleased with her efforts, she sipped her wine.
Lucius would be home soon. People would remember that he’d been in prison, but, with Harry Potter for a son-in-law, and with Severus Snape, war hero advocating for them, the Malfoy family would appear redeemed.
Severus, who had been chatting quietly with Andromeda, suddenly looked over at her. “So, Narcissa,” he said. “Any daring plans for next year?”
Narcissa inclined her head. “I have no idea yet, to be honest. I’m sure something will come to me, though. It always does.”