For the Public Good
Seven years had been long enough to make Harry believe it was all right.
Not perfect. Bureaucracy still moved at the speed of continents, people were still selfish and democracy in the wizarding world was still more a theory than a practice (though, in light of the stupidity, sometimes this helped). But things were all right. He could relax a little.
Then came July.
The Ministry offices were far enough away from the bombings to miss the physical blasts, but any shock to the organism of London will be transmitted to the rest of the city within minutes, and so the scream of sirens and rush of bodies away alerted Harry and Dawlish to the disaster moments before Aurors and Unspeakables descended on their offices.
Or, more accurately, ascended. The days of underground offices were past and now Harry looked out from his Charing Cross window at a crowd of pedestrians, many muttering urgently into their phones, others stopping to share news with concerned faces walking in the opposite direction, faces that gaped, turned, and joined the exodus.
He was dimly aware of Dawlish talking to someone beside him, then his arm was touched. Flora Monash, one of this year's Auror intake, stood nervously beside him. Harry nodded to her.
'It's Muggles, sir,' she said. 'Explosions on the Underground.'
'So not us.' Harry tried to keep the relief he felt inside, because it wasn't any less a disaster. He turned to Dawlish, who had assumed a spot at Harry's window the minute it became clear something was wrong. 'Can we send people out to help?'
'Need to hear back through channels first,' his superior replied, tersely. 'Could take days at the rate this lot move.'
'But if Aurors or Healers happened to be in the area?' Harry suggested.
Dawlish grinned. 'They'd be duty-bound to render quiet assistance. And I am urgently in need of some Muggle supplies.'
Harry smiled. Dawlish may not have been the most sophisticated Head Auror in the history of the MLE, but he did things rather than called for meetings and advisors. Harry hoped that Dawlish was only joking with his endless talk of retiring: he'd been surprised how much he'd learned as his deputy.
Quickly, Aurors, Healers and Potion Makers armed with soothing beverages spilled out onto the streets of Muggle London. By 9.45 am, Harry was thinking they were doing a good job.
If only they'd thought to look on the buses.
'You won't like it,' Kingsley assured Harry, passing him a cup of tea. 'But I'm convinced it's the best plan available to us.'
Harry held back a sigh as he accepted the dainty porcelain cup. In the days since the attacks, all parts of the Ministry had been on edge. Debates about when and how the Wizarding community could and should involve itself with Muggle politics had dominated The Daily Prophet, and most of the pubs and cafes Harry had found himself in.
His closest friends all had Opinions, and he agreed with most of them. Which was a shame, because for the large part they were wholly contradictory.
'So for the next few months, you'll be on duty as the Prime Minister's bodyguard,' Kingsley told him. 'And we're putting a man inside his policy staff, too.'
Kingsley shrugged. 'You're passably fluent in Muggle. I need someone who I can trust and who can do the job competently. I'm afraid that means you. Dawlish agrees, though he hates to lose you.'
Harry nodded. 'And who's going into the policy side?'
He wasn't imagining things, there was a definite pause before Kingsley answered. 'I advertised for someone to fill that position, and the best candidate was selected by a committee. You won't need to work with him, you'll each report separately to me.'
Harry smiled. He knew what was coming next.
'I know that you and the Malfoys have a spotty history …'
'Kingsley,' Harry interrupted. 'It's all right.'
The Minister raised his open hands. 'He really is the best person for the job.'
And while Harry may not have liked that fact, he acknowledged it to be true. After two years of quiet reflection, Draco Malfoy had bounced back onto the public scene and spent the last five involving himself with Causes, such as lobbying Hogwarts to teach modern wizarding history, printing articles that attacked The Prophet when he perceived it to be biased, writing the seminal A Generation Lost: Grindelwald's war on Europe and its sequel, Two Generations Destroyed: Voldemort's manipulation of Grindelwald's legacy. Even Harry had read them, and while he hadn't agreed with every page, there had been enough in there to make him think.
'You want someone who looks and sounds the part, that's Malfoy.' Harry shrugged. 'I can keep a civil tongue in my head when our paths cross, I've learned something in my time here.'
Kingsley grinned at him. 'Believe me, I despaired at first, but you surprised us all by learning there's an inside voice.'
'You've been spending too much time with the Americans.'
'Our vital allies in this time of global trouble?' Kingsley rolled his eyes. 'Just thank whoever you believe in that I'm using you for domestic politics. They're keen on having Legilimens stationed at every airport. I despair.'
'There's just one thing,' Harry said. 'The Muggle media will be all over Malfoy wondering where he's been. He has the right family and the right attitude, but went to the wrong schools and universities as far as Whitehall is concerned.'
Kingsley smiled. 'Don't fret too much, he's been publishing in Muggle papers, too, you know. Drool Britannia: A once-great nation's slide into chavdom was his, I quite enjoyed that one. And he's attended enough parties at the Palace for people to know who he is.'
There was a long moment of silence as Harry tried to comprehend what he had just heard. 'The Palace? The one with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh?'
'The same. And, of course, his mother and the Princess Royal have always been fond of each other, even though Narcissa was only in second year when Anne was doing her NEWTs.'
'Princess Anne's a witch?'
Kingsley frowned. 'Have I never mentioned any of this before? That's very remiss of me, I apologise, I assumed you knew. Yes, and the Queen insisted that she attend Hogwarts, since she felt that she herself had missed out by being home-tutored. As a matter of protocol, Charles was tutored in addition to his Muggle schooling, but for Anne it was a simple matter of constructing a public schooling pretence and then shipping her off to Scotland. She always was the strongest of them.'
'Of them? You're telling me that the Royal Family are witches and wizards?'
'Of course.' Kingsley grinned. 'A good Obliviate can be vital to the health of the realm.'
'The Queen and Philip?'
'Charles, Harry and William?'
'Oh yes, though Charles is more into that new EcoArithmancy these days.'
'Andrew and Edward?'
Kingsley grimaced slightly. 'Andrew, yes, alas, Edward, Squib.'
'Well,' Harry conceded, 'that does explain a lot.'
'Back to the mission, will you do it?'
Harry smiled. 'Do you even need to ask?'
It took a little time to sort matters in both governments, but a few days before his twenty-fifth birthday, Harry found himself holstering a gun that had minutes before been a wand.
'We've tracking spells on you and Malfoy,' Kingsley told him. 'So if things go bad, we'll know where you are and can get you out. Your watch is connected to the Floo Network if you need to contact me quickly, or you can phone me, though there's no certainty that I'll work out how to answer it in time.'
'You press the green button,' Harry told him with a smile.
'Easy for you to say, I go to press it and I take a photo of my nose. It's alarming having the thing flash there.'
Harry stifled a laugh. 'I'll Floo when I can,' he promised.
'Good lad. Now, does that watch still tell the time?'
Harry flipped the cabriolet watch over to its mechanical side and looked at the face. 'Ten to nine,' he read.
'Right,' Kingsley declared. 'Time for you to meet your new boss.'
Harry's arm was grasped firmly, and the sudden displacement of Side-Along Apparition sent his stomach sideways. They appeared in a spacious, comfortable office, in which a neatly dressed man was working at a large desk.
He looked up at the noise, smiled welcomingly and rose from his desk with his hand outstretched. 'Always good to see you, Kingsley. So this is the young man you were talking about?'
Kingsley took the hand and smiled. 'It is. Harry, I'd like you to meet the Prime Minister. Tony, this is Harry Potter. Young, but very good in a tight corner, and far more experienced than his age lets on.'
'How do you do, Harry?' the Prime Minister asked him.
'Well sir, and yourself?' Harry replied.
He had been vaguely familiar with the government before the last few weeks; since the war he had tried to refamiliarise himself with aspects of the Muggle world lest he ever need hide from parts of the Wizarding again. But childhood memories die hard, and in his mind, some part of the phrase Prime Minister would always evoke pussy bows and immovable hair. The first was unthinkable here, as to the second … he suspected this PM might envy his predecessor's predecessor.
'Very well. Been a difficult month all round, but at the same time, I am never so proud to be British as I am when I see how we respond to times of deep crisis. Don't you agree?'
Discarding all the non-politic answers that flew treacherously to his wizarding lips, Harry nodded. 'Our lot could learn from yours, sometimes,' he replied.
Kingsley smiled a wry approval that only Harry saw. The PM's smile was broad and inclusive, and his grip on Harry's shoulder was firm. 'I firmly believe that the closer ties between your Ministry and our government can only lead to a stronger future for Britain and one that will see us maintain security and growth as we move forward into the new century.'
'Absolutely,' said Harry, not quite sure what they were talking about.
'Kingsley tells me that you'll be prepared to defend me with magic. Is that true?'
'Absolutely,' Harry repeated, on surer ground this time.
'Sounds utterly fascinating. I hope for all our sakes that it's not necessary, but I have every faith in your abilities if it should be. I know that Kingsley is a man to be trusted and in whom I have always had the utmost belief.'
'Er, thanks,' Harry replied, startled to find himself shaking the PM's hand again.
'I only wish I had more time to spend with you this morning, but I see you're rostered on from next week, so I am sure we'll have a chance to chat soon,' the PM said, moving back behind his desk.
'Yes, sure, good to meet you … Sir.' Harry thought it was a closing, but wasn't entirely certain, as the Prime Minister was still smiling at him in his welcoming way.
'See you on Friday, Tony,' Kingsley said, putting a hand on Harry's arm. A moment of inertia and they were back in the Ministry, with Harry feeling slightly wrong-footed.
'How did he strike you?' Kingsley asked, smiling.
'He kept talking, and it all sounded very pleasant, but I'm not sure that any of it meant anything,' Harry replied, honestly.
Kingsley grinned. 'Just remember that. As long as you hold onto the fact they're all politicians, you'll be fine.'
Harry smiled. 'Aren't you one, too, Mr Minister?' he asked, teasingly.
'Oh Merlin, no,' Kingsley answered quickly. 'I'm the only person who was left standing after the rest were AKed or Crucio-ed. It's not the same thing at all. Only reason I haven't quit yet is that all the options are worse.'
Harry looked up at him sharply. 'Don't even joke about it. I remember what happened the last time there was a politician in your job.'
'So do I,' Kingsley replied reassuringly. 'So do I.'
It was a simple cover. After training and the start of a sterling career with the Met, Harry had allegedly spent the last four years with MI5 before being seconded back to Specialist Protection. Official secrets meant that he was unable to talk about his work, but his athletic frame, quiet good humour – and a very small amount of confounding – meant that he slotted into the team quickly and cleanly. There were two dozen of them in the core unit, several of whom remembered Kingsley from his time with the PM in the 1990s.
Harry found himself moving easily into their world: agreeing that Cherie was better than her public image, shaking his head at the younger set, wondering what on earth Gordon Brown was thinking half the time, marvelling that anyone could take the American administration seriously.
His regular partner, Sergeant Emily Burns, was only a few years older than him and they got on well. She helped him find his feet, he helped her by stepping back whenever handsome young men required frisking.
Malfoy's integration into the Prime Minister's communications staff was apparently somewhat less subtle. 'Hill's Bells! Toffy Tory Totty Snaffles Blair Comms Dep Prize!' blared one of the less respectable headlines. Harry wished that he hadn't pinned it to his corkboard when Malfoy sauntered into his office, a little over a week into his placement.
His former schoolmate raised one eyebrow in a move that spoke of much practise. 'Apparently, totty used to be strictly used for girls,' he drawled, collapsing lazily onto the chair on the other side of Harry's desk. 'Not sure I hold with this broadening of definitions. Leads to all sorts of dilutions, like fulsome. I miss that. Useful word.'
'Good morning, Malfoy, is there anything I can do for you?' Harry asked politely, aware that Emily, who was also in the office, was mouthing 'PHONE NUMBER!' behind his guest, while pointing at herself and then making disturbingly descriptive gestures.
'Thought we should catch up. Haven't seen you in years. Now we're working together, we should exchange notes, wash each other's backs, as you lot say.'
'Watch,' Harry corrected.
'Ah,' Malfoy smiled. 'That makes more sense, but sounds less generally entertaining. So, lunch? I'll pay.'
In his years as an Auror, Harry had learned a few tricks. Letting a situation play out until he found his feet within it was one of the more useful. 'You'll pay?' he asked with half a smile. 'This is the longest conversation we've had in seven years and you open it by reminding me you're rich?'
Malfoy's cool veneer barely dropped. 'So are you. What's your point?'
The rest of the smile arrived on Harry's face. 'There we are. Back to normal. Lunch sounds fine, we can pay for ourselves. I have a full hour today, but that's all, so nothing fancy.'
Harry nodded. 'In the cafe. Is one good for you?'
'Splendid.' Malfoy unfolded himself from the chair and brushed his suit 'See you there.'
As he turned to leave, he made a display of surprise at seeing the room's other occupant. 'Good lord, Potter, have you no manners at all? Could you not have introduced me to your delightful colleague?'
Emily grinned, and stood, reaching across her desk to shake the proffered hand. 'Sergeant Burns, pleased to make your acquaintance.'
Malfoy reached inside his pocket and withdrew a square of parchment. 'Draco Malfoy, communications advisor, and the pleasure is all mine. Potter has a history of working with brilliant and attractive women and they all hate me. So you should call me and let me take you out for a meal at some point in a bid to let you make up your own mind.'
Harry groaned. 'They hate him, Emily, because he's dreadful.'
'That's all right,' she laughed. 'I'm armed.'
Malfoy grinned charmingly at both of them, then took his leave.
Emily shook her head in mock despair at Harry. 'How can you not have introduced us? What is wrong with you? I told you I fancied him three days ago and you never said a word about being friends with him!'
She sighed dramatically, then opened her eyes suddenly wide. 'Oh my god, he's gay, isn't he? Of course he is, look at that hair.'
Harry waited until she was finished. 'We're not friends,' he told her. 'We just knew each other when we were growing up.'
'Right, I see …' She broadened her Mancurian vowels and shortened her corresponding consonants. 'The two of you, silver spoons in place, probably played polo against each other every weekend …'
'Emily, you could not be more wrong,' Harry replied, shaking his head. Then, in fairness, added, 'Except about the sport.'
'HA! I knew it. Toff in cop's clothing!'
Harry couldn't help laughing at that. 'That is correct. I am in fact a spy for the Liberal Democrats.'
'Oh god, bleeding heart bourgeoisie. I should shoot you now, it would be a kindness.'
'You'd not get away with it this month,' Harry replied ruefully. In the aftermath of the bombings, and another failed attack, an innocent man on the Tube had been gunned down and the Metropolitan police had all been subject to a ream of memos. Half of Harry's induction had consisted of ways of telling the differences between a terrorist (swarthy, speaks Arabic (replacing the previous ruddy, possibly speaks Irish model)) and a Brazilian (swarthy, speaks Portuguese).
Emily threw a rubber at Harry's head, and reminded him that they had a meeting.
Twice a day, the members of the team who were on backup duty met to discuss the PM's schedule. In theory, it was a way of planning ahead, pinpointing possible danger spots and strategising accordingly. However, since everything was now treated as a Code Red or at least Code Bright Orange, in actuality these sessions mostly involved ranting and gossip. As Emily and Harry walked in, the rest of the team was mid-discussion.
'We should just lock them all away before they can do any harm,' Colin Andersen was saying.
'Which all?' Mike Featherstonehaugh asked. 'Everyone from the Middle East? All Arabs? All Muslims? All English men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five?'
'Ooh! I vote the last one!' Karen Matthews weighed in.
'Me too,' Emily agreed. 'They're allowed out when they can convince a panel of women they're no danger.'
'You'll miss the SAS when they're gone,' Colin warned with a grin.
Karen laughed. 'That lot are so obsessed with their shiny boots and carb intake, they'll be the second set let out after the baristas.'
It wasn't that different to the Auror squad, Harry had quickly learned. It sounded as though everyone was speaking rubbish, but when you listened, you learned. For example, Karen was talking with Shanti Bedi about some of the first aid she had seen administered after the attacks.
'It was amazing, there were people with burns to their faces and hands, and these doctors were just spraying them with goo, and they were right as rain. They said it was a special skin repair emulsion, they just had to stay out of the sun for a week afterwards.'
Harry made a mental note to congratulate whichever Healer had added that bit of impressive nonsense to his or her spell.
'Hope it comes out in cosmetics soon,' Shanti sighed. 'The rate we're going, my face will be eaten by dark circles before the year is out.'
She was right, they were all tired and overworked. Harry hadn't realised that things were this bad in the Muggle world, but bombings aside, there were protests most weeks and death threats weren't unknown.
'… the goss,' Emily was saying. Harry realised he had been listening to the wrong conversation. 'Potter has a lunch date with hot Malfoy from Communications.'
Harry sighed as his workmates stopped their individual conversations to hoot and whistle approval. 'Very supportive,' he muttered. 'But it's more of a "hello I used to torture you when we were lads and now we work together let's pretend we were friends" lunch.'
'Ouch,' Mike sympathised. Harry had heard some of his stories of life at Harrow, and knew he understood.
'Is he gay?' Emily asked. 'Shanti bet me a tenner he was and you may as well put me out of my misery.'
'No idea,' Harry replied. 'He had a girlfriend at school, but that never seemed to go anywhere, and then he was always surrounded by other boys and young men. He could have been shagging the sheep for all I know.'
Shanti grinned. 'Wouldn't surprise me with that lot.'
A low-level war existed between Security and Communications. The latter were all for putting the PM out among the people, the former for sticking him in a locked room. Conversely, Security liked it when the PM spoke up on issues of national safety (provided the word Iraq wasn't mentioned) because it made doing their job easier. Communications wanted him to smile, wave, and shut the fuck up until it was time for the next general election.
Sheep shagging was at the kinder end of Security's suspicions about Communications. Sadly, they'd never be able to lock the lot of them up before someone alerted the media to outrageous infringements of personal liberties, so a truce of sorts was maintained.
'See if you can find out where they're hiding Blunkett!' Colin advised.
'His dog ate him,' Karen muttered, earning her cries of 'Shame!' from the others. The minister's guide dog, Sadie, was a great favourite around the House, despite the fact she was an incorrigible food thief at official functions.
With half the meeting gone, it was time for business. 'Harry, Em, you're both on for tomorrow,' Mike advised. 'Tony asked for you, so clearly he needs the pretty young things to look in touch with the younger generation. Wear sensible shoes, you're going on an outing.'
'Any idea where we're off to?' Harry asked.
'Wiltshire, big do on at Stourhead. Garden ladies and organic girls, as well as the National Trust set. Keep an eye out for anti-hunting wallies in addition to the standard enviro-mentals. Colin and I will be there with you, but you'll have point.'
It was already the third time since he had joined the team that Harry had been specifically asked for. The first two times he had assumed it was so that he could be on hand in a high-risk situation. Now he was coming around to the view that it was all to have young faces in the background of the press coverage, which he didn't begrudge: Muggle politics seemed to be an endless, internecine struggle for public goodwill, which sadly seemed to be in increasingly short supply.
'Anything special?' Emily asked, jotting down notes.
'Big sunglasses and sunblock.' Mike suggested.
The rest of the meeting consisted of drawing lots for the shift after Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions. What had once been one of the vied-for spots in the political week had declined in popularity with the government. Now the PM was likely to be in a foul mood afterwards, and the media and senior members of the opposition were liable to appear from nowhere in particularly invasive ways. After the PMQs, the PM and family were off on hols, and Harry would be staying behind with the team minding the Deputy.
They didn't conclude until a quarter to one, Emily shooed Harry out with a warning that he would be late, and he ran off, grateful.
He was quite looking forward to this lunch. Despite the fact that Malfoy had been involved in a vigorous campaign of reinvention, Harry felt comfortably superior in their current roles. He was already a part of the team, while Malfoy stood out so thoroughly that he was noticed in all corners. Harry had even heard one of the porters despairing that the new fair chap had no idea how to call a cab.
Perhaps, Harry thought happily to himself as he walked quickly, Malfoy was going to ask for tips on Muggle living. In which case he would be gracious and supportive, and delight Kingsley – and Hermione and Ron when they returned from abroad – with stories for weeks to come.
Malfoy was waiting for him outside the restaurant, looking down at something in his hands, and Harry couldn't help smiling at the sight of him in a suit and tie. Then he realised, Malfoy was punching out a message into his phone, and the phone was one of those big, technically complicated ones that did things.
'Potter! Good to see you!' Malfoy exclaimed, looking up. 'Let's go in, I'm starved.'
Harry shook his head and followed in silence. He had a phone that made calls and sent messages, and this morning had seen a moment of personal triumph when he had learned how to set the alarm to remind him of his meeting.
'Draco! Looking well!' boomed a voice as they walked into the brightly restaurant.
'Stephen! As are you!' Malfoy replied with a wave.
'Now you're just showing off,' Harry muttered.
'Temper, Potter,' Malfoy muttered, clearly enjoying himself. He weaved through the lunch crowd to the cafe and a small table, placing an order for drinks on the way. When they sat down, he flashed a brilliant grin at Harry. 'Good to see you again. Still the same cranky pants Potter. Give me a moment …'
He cast a Charm. Harry watched in surprise as the smooth polish of Malfoy's manner melted into a relaxed if slightly peevish expression. 'Apparate, Flitwick, werewolves! Oh thank Merlin for that. Right, say what you like, they'll just hear political jargon from us.'
'Apparate, Flitwick, werewolves?' Harry laughed.
Malfoy poked out his tongue. 'Don't you find it exhausting? I suppose you grew up with this lot, so you're used to it, but for me it's like when you find yourself in a room filled with old ladies and small children and all you want to do is swear. After five minutes I can hardly hold in the urge to float pens and make the staplers do little dances.'
Harry nodded before he could stop himself. Rumbled, he confessed. 'Sometimes, when no one is looking, I Apparate about five feet from where I was standing. I suspect it plays merry hell with the video surveillance.'
Malfoy nodded. 'I cast Charms to untie and then retie my shoelaces under my desk. It's the little things that stop one going quite mad.'
'So why'd you take the job?'
'Why did you?'
Harry looked at Malfoy for a long moment. 'It's good to see you doing … all this,' he concluded lamely
'All this frantically scurrying about attempting to rebuild the family name and influence?'
'I'm trying to be nice. Why did you ask me out for lunch if you were just going to be sarcastic?' Harry sighed.
'Because you're the only person who I can say Apparate, Flitwick, werewolves to and not have them asking for a drugs test.'
'And because, regardless of what Kingsley thinks, I think we ought to be working together.'
Harry was surprised. 'I thought you were just here to keep an ear out, so we know what's happening, like me.'
Malfoy opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the arrival of the waiter. Both of them ordered quickly, Harry could almost feel Malfoy's toes tapping with impatience. As soon as they were alone again, he resumed.
'You must have noticed, people are talking about us!'
'They're talking about you, but only because you insist on dressing so outlandishly. I've blended right in,' Harry declared.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. 'Not us, us! Witches and wizards! Haven't you heard an unusual amount of talk about strange events? Someone in the Obliviators is not doing their job!'
'Oh.' Harry remembered Karen and Shanti's discussion that morning. 'Now that you mention it …'
Malfoy was grinning. 'People are talking about me?'
'No. I lied,' Harry said quickly, knowing it was too late.
'I'll have you know that I have spent ages researching Muggle culture. This suit is extremely high fashion. People think I look very nice. Emily who you work with would agree, I'm sure.'
Harry closed his eyes. 'I am not having this conversation.'
Malfoy laughed. 'You're too easy, Potter. You should have at least told me that Emily had me down as a Taleban sympathiser.'
'Actually, she thinks you're …' But it was too late, Malfoy was talking again.
'There's quite the pattern when you know to look for it. The Solstice do in Kent was written up as UFOs, there was a report on "Hijinks at Kings Cross" when all the kids came home from Hogwarts, and I've been hearing all sorts of mutterings about the response to the bombings.'
'Me too,' Harry agreed. 'But I thought it was just the sort of thing that happens in a disaster, a few slip by. They seemed to have been rationalising it away innocently enough.'
'This time. But there's a pattern, Potter. Someone is drawing attention to us.'
'Malfoy! It's good to see you!'
Harry nearly knocked over his glass of water at the sudden intrusion. A solid man, with a familiar face and somewhat Scottish accent stood by their table. Malfoy stood up and shook his hand.
'Chancellor, good to see you, too. This is my friend, Harry Potter, we were at school together.'
'Ah.' The Chancellor winked at Harry. 'Say no more. Clearly matters of important business afoot, I'll leave you to it.'
Harry watched him leave, astonished. 'That was …' He racked his brain until the right name appeared. 'Gordon Brown.'
'Yes, he's wooing me,' Malfoy sighed.
'Wooing you? But he's not …'
'For his staff,' Malfoy interrupted quickly. 'He thinks he'll be PM before the year is out.'
'Will he?' Harry asked, interested despite himself.
'Probably not. I think Tony will see off at least one more Leader of the Opposition before he leaves.'
'Anyway, he knew!'
'Of course he did, he's the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Second-most important politician in the country.' Malfoy waited until Harry was nodding as though he already knew this before he added, 'And he's one of us. You don't think that anyone that grumpy assumes high office without the odd vial of Felix Felicis, do you?'
'There's a wizard in the government?' Harry was genuinely surprised.
'And a witch, but I'm not telling you who. Didn't Shacklebolt tell you anything?'
'He doesn't give up other people's secrets,' Harry replied automatically.
To his surprise, Malfoy smiled. 'I suppose he doesn't. Oh good, food's here.'
Malfoy was halfway through his salad when he continued. 'So, I've been paying careful attention, and it seems that either there is someone taking advantage of situations to draw attention to us, or else helping to orchestrate some of the situations to show Muggles we're here.'
'But that's insane,' Harry pointed out. 'He or she would be endangering everything. Have you told Kingsley?'
'I've only told you.'
'We should call him.' Harry reached for his watch, but Malfoy's hand closed over his wrist before he could flip it to the Floo side.
'We should wait until we're certain he's not involved first,' Malfoy said. 'I respect Minister Shacklebolt a great deal, but he would be the first person to tell both of us never to assume someone is innocent just because we like them.'
'Kingsley? You're joking.'
'I admit it's unlikely, but I want a little more before I bring him in on this.'
Harry shook his head, Malfoy was sounding like Dawlish. 'So why are you telling me about it, then?'
'Because I have to tell someone, and you're too unimaginative to be diabolical.'
'I can't decide if that's the most complimentary insult or insulting compliment I have ever heard,' Harry said with a smile.
Malfoy grinned. 'It's good, isn't it? So, working together, are you up for it?'
'As long as we tell Kingsley as soon as we have something concrete.'
'Provided he's not part of the concrete, certainly. In the spirit of partnership, there's something I should tell you.'
Harry was intrigued. 'Oh yes?'
'I've tied your shoelaces together while we've been eating. Sorry.'
Harry felt the spell that undid the knots and retied them properly. He wished he could have stopped the laugh that bubbled up out of him, but it was too quick.
Malfoy smiled, a proper smile. 'Come on, finish up, you need to be back at work in ten.'
In the end, they Apparated from one dark alley to another, and were all but giggling at their naughtiness as they walked purposefully into the House.
'Are you on the Stourhead trip tomorrow?' Malfoy asked.
'Of course, chance for a side-trip home in the evening. I'll see you there.'
Harry nodded. 'I'll keep an ear out. Oh, and Malfoy?'
'Flitwick to you, too, Potter.'
Harry had thought they would be driving down to Wiltshire, or perhaps catching the train. But, while Malfoy and sundry other bodies who were attending the event did leave at eight to be guaranteed a spot at the ten o'clock opening, he and the other security staff joined the PM on his plane.
It was an uneventful trip, the politicians nattered on about Important Matters, Harry and Emily looked out the window. Funnily enough, Harry had only ever been on two other planes, and never across England. He was surprised at how few trees there seemed to be from the air, on the ground and at broom level, everything seemed much greener.
At RAF Lyneham they transferred to a helicopter, which made Harry wish fervently that he was on a broom. Or a geriatric dragon, for that matter. The journey didn't take very long, soon they were disembarking on a broad swathe of lawn behind a large house.
On the other side of the house was an array of pavilions and reams of bunting. The Prime Minister was met by a bevy of be-hatted ladies and escorted in the direction of tea and cakes. Harry and Emily walked close by him, Harry looking about them while Emily kept a close eye on the ladies for any surreptitious hatpin action.
Harry spotted Malfoy in the distance, with a gaggle of photographers and cameramen tailing him. They nodded slightly to each other.
'You still haven't told me if I'm wasting my time,' Emily whispered to him.
'Ask him yourself,' Harry whispered back.
After a cup of tea and a tiny slice of cake, the PM stood on a small dais and made a well-received speech about cultural heritage, before announcing an increase in funding and the completion of some act of significant restoration that passed Harry by.
'This has been a walk in the park,' muttered Mike over Harry's headset. 'And I suspect we are about to make that literal. Heads up.'
Sure enough, the garden ladies were enjoining the PM to walk the Circuit Path, and he was being led.
'Buggeration,' Mike grumbled in their earpieces. 'All right you two, stay by his side, I'll go ahead with some of the uniformed, Colin, you organise those behind. And let's just hope that no one's had the sense to hide in a bloody tree.'
Despite the frowns on the uniformed police who jogged past them, it was a pleasant walk around the huge garden. The path circumnavigated a large lake-cum-river, with views to a series of classical structures. Harry cast a surreptitious spell to warn him of attacks so that he could look about with a little more impunity. Everything in that garden spoke of wealth, and taste, and age. It reminded him a little of the Malfoy grounds, what little he had seen of them as he had been dragged through the gates, but where they were formal and imposing, this place was natural and delightful.
As they passed the first mile in the walk, most of the garden ladies stopped to 'take in the view'. The PM kept going, setting a cracking pace that left behind most of the media, and a good percentage of his own staff, save for security.
He grinned at Harry and Emily as they struck out on their own. 'This is more like it. Lovely day for a walk!'
At which point Harry's warning spell alerted him to the presence of magic. He looked back sharply, but Malfoy was oblivious, chatting merrily to the man from the Wiltshire Times, with his hands empty and attention thoroughly diverted.
Harry moved closer to the PM and looked about. It took him a moment to realise that the wind was picking up, and then it was inescapable; a howling flurry of leaves burled towards them. Beside him, the PM stumbled, Emily caught his arm to steady him.
'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Mike, over their earpieces. 'Where did that come from?'
'I think some cover might be called for,' the PM announced.
Harry had already concluded the same, but there were giant trees with alarmingly creaking boughs wherever he looked. Mike and Colin came in from their point posts, along with the uniforms, all looking increasingly concerned.
And then Malfoy was there beside them. 'This way,' he said, and began to walk rapidly down the path.
The way curled around to the lake, and there by the water was a large grotto, covered in rock and pebbles. Malfoy led them swiftly through an archway and inside. 'If you move to the back, there are some marvellous sculptures that will divert you until the wind blows over.'
The uniformed police went first, Colin, Emily and the PM followed, along with the remaining press, pollies and horticulturalists. Harry was left with Malfoy at the archway, watching the wind whip waves across the broad lake outside, with Mike standing beside them, frowning.
Harry chose his words carefully. 'I didn't know you knew these gardens.'
Malfoy shrugged. 'It won't shock to you learn that the Hoares are distant relatives. Bankers, you know, so a little déclassé. Although this branch of the family died out before I was born, I came here several times as a boy when there were no tourists about.'
A half-smile curled Harry's lip. 'Doesn't shock me at all. In fact, I should have guessed.'
Mike looked out past them. 'This isn't natural,' he said, shaking his head. He looked from Malfoy to Harry. 'Is it your lot?'
'Despite rumours, Communications staff aren't omnipotent,' Malfoy evaded smoothly.
Mike leaned back against the wall. 'I knew about him,' he jerked his chin to indicate Harry, 'but I guessed about you. I saw your shoelaces tie themselves on your second day and knew I was right.'
He smiled at the carefully blank faces that were presented to him, and went on. 'Before I took to this line of work, I spent 20 years in the British Army. I was in the cavalry for most of that time, almost entirely with the Kings Royal Hussars – very fine regiment. We were on the ground in Kosovo in 1999. While I spent most of that time commanding a squadron of tanks, we weren't always inside those tanks. I saw a lot of strange things that year. The strangest thing was a man who killed an Albanian refugee not 50 feet from us. Pulled out a stick, a stick mind you, flashed a green light, then simply disappeared as the Albanian fell down to the ground.
'Stop fidgeting, Mr Malfoy, there's a point to this anecdote. When I came back from the Balkans, I was ready to retire, and the Met was keen to poach me, so I came into this role quite quickly. Shacklebolt had left suddenly earlier in the year, but he came back several times to talk me through aspects of the job that the man who had filled it temporarily had not been up to date with.
'As part of this, he walked me around several parts of the city that represent serious security issues. On one such walk, we had the misfortune to find ourselves between two groups of criminals who had decided to solve their problems with guns. I drew my weapon, Kingsley drew a stick.
'He protected us first, then he immobilised every one of them. Then he turned to me and apologised for the fact that he was about to alter my memories. I told him about Kosovo.
'Kingsley said to me "If you tell anyone, they will treat you as a fool." And I rather think that would be the case, were it not for the fact that the two of you already know. So, is this your lot?'
'Lot?' said Malfoy.
'Yes,' said Harry. Malfoy kicked him, as subtly as possible.
'Right.' Mike nodded. 'Is there anything I can do to help, or should I leave the two of you to see what you can do.'
'Nothing you can do,' Harry told him.
'In that case, I'm going back with the PM, do what you can to sort this, I'll radio in to let people know where we are and what's going on. Is this likely to be endangering the other guests?'
Malfoy sighed. 'Weather spells are notoriously difficult and energy consuming. I'm fairly certain that it will just be very localised. The witch or wizard is probably very near.'
'Good, update me when you have details. And don't for a moment think it would be a good idea to wipe my memory the minute I turn my back.'
'No, sir,' Harry promised.
They watched him walk away, then Malfoy looked back out through the archway, taking in a deep breath. 'Speaking as a student of human behaviour, I find it fascinating that Shacklebolt chose not to Obliviate him. Why do you think he did that?'
Harry reached for words. 'I think sometimes it's a mark of respect between equals to give more information that you would with anyone else …'
'That's quite an interesting argument when you view it from the legal perspective …'
'Sometimes it's acceptable to break the law if you know what you're doing!' Harry snapped.
Malfoy looked at him with slight surprise.
'Oh shut up,' said Harry.
'I didn't say a thing.'
'You thought it loudly. Can you see anything out there?'
'It's raining now. Can't see much at all.'
Malfoy was peering out across the lake, so Harry nipped out of the archway and scanned the ground to either side of the grotto and what he could see of above. There was no one there, and he was battered by the wind and rain by the time he ducked back inside.
'Merlin, you're soaked,' Malfoy muttered. 'See anything?'
Harry shook his head. 'Just lots of leaves. Whoever's causing this can't keep it up for long, there's just too much magic being expended. I thought it was a cover for an attack at first, but now I think this is the attack.'
'I know, but that's not feeble power causing it. Which leads me to suspect there's another motive.'
Malfoy digested this. 'I was right, someone is showing we exist.'
'It's possible. Or one of us could have come over all anti-Iraq.'
Mike's voice crackled over Harry's earpiece. 'I've spoken to the people back at the house, they say it's blue skies up there, so they expect this to blow over quickly. Do you have any reason to believe differently?'
Harry pressed his transmitter and replied, 'No, I think we should be out of here in under five.'
'Good. Keep me updated.'
'It's clear back at the house,' Harry told Malfoy. 'Do you think it's getting lighter out there?'
Malfoy looked. 'I do.'
He turned his attention back to Harry. 'I suppose the good news is that whoever is doing this thinks that ruining suits and devastating hairstyles is an effective method of political protest. So that's quite a nice change from our perspective.'
Harry ran a hand back through his hair.
'Give it up,' Malfoy advised. 'Yours was pre-devastated. Though I like the clingy wet wool, that's a look you can carry off.'
Harry rolled his eyes and cast a quick drying spell.
'You are something of a spoil-sport Potter, aren't you?'
Again, Harry's traitorous laughter bubbled up.
'You know,' Malfoy told him. 'You're a lot more fun than you were at school. So do you think there's a chance I'm right with my theory?'
Harry shrugged. 'You're a lot less evil than you were at school. And yes, you could well be onto something. Do you still think there's a chance Kingsley's involved?'
'Where is he today?'
'Bulgaria, signing a treaty.'
'Looks as though he's off the hook, then. Should we tell him tonight?'
Harry nodded, then peered back outside the archway. 'Looks as though it's clearing up. I'll let Mike know. There might even be time for a slice of cake before we leave.'