Blood. Thick and crimson, spreading wetly across his shaking hands. The scent, sharp and sweet, is almost overwhelming, catching in his throat with the bitter bite of an ancient iron sword. He can't look down; he knows what he'll see, what he always sees: her slender, too fragile body sprawled across the polished wood floor, blood from the jagged, torn flesh of her left breast seeping into the grey silk of her evening gown and staining the white-blonde curls that have fallen loose from her soft chignon. Fat droplets slide through his fingertips to strike along the curve of her pale throat, grisly jewels of death that glisten and shine against her skin like her favourite ruby necklace.
A keening howl rises from deep within his chest, rushing through him in a roar that knocks him to his knees. Her beautiful grey eyes are blank and open. In death he can still see her terror frozen in their lifeless depths, can smell it on her skin, can taste it, bright and harsh at the base of his tongue. He loathes himself for drinking it in, eager as a drunk beggar in the piss-stained alleys of Whitechapel. Even in his grief, he can't stop himself.
She feared him. Her son.
"You fool," his father says from behind him, and the silver serpentine head of a walking stick strikes heavily across his shoulders. He turns with a cry, and he catches sight of himself in the mirror above the mantel, unrecognizable, his face smeared with his mother's blood, his eyes bright with an unholy glow. The walking stick flashes in the firelight, arcing towards him, and crashes against his face in an explosion of pain.
Draco wakes with a gasp, the rumpled white sheet falling from his naked body as he sits up. Moonlight still floods the bedroom from the wide window, casting faint shadows across the shoulder of his bed companion, but through the half-open casement, Draco can hear the early morning rustle of London as it begins to wake: the creak of the milk carts bringing their morning wares to the fashionable houses of Mayfair and the quiet work of kitchen servants rising to cook their masters' breakfasts.
His temple throbs, and he presses his fingertips against it gingerly. The scar's faded now, nearly a decade old, but its last vestige still snakes its thin, pale way across the high ridge of his cheekbone. He's been told it gives him a rakish look, a dangerous edge to his appearance that a certain type of young gentleman finds attractive. He always smiles at this flattery, but deep inside he despises the souvenir of that night. How could he not?
The bottle of absinthe sits on the dresser across the room, and Draco stands, pulling his dressing gown loosely over his arms and shoulders as he strides towards it. He pours la fée verte into a cut-glass goblet and watches it sparkle in the moonlight before setting a sugar cube on the filagree spoon perched on the rim of the glass. With a snap of his fingers, the water in the carafe beside the bottle chills, and Draco drizzles it over the sugar, concentrating as the louche forms, clouding the glass. He sets the spoon aside and uncaps another bottle, this one smaller and darker, with Blaise's spidery writing scrawled across a small cream label crooked on the black glass. Four drops fall into the absinthe and hang in the louche for the briefest moment, perfect dark spheres against shimmering cloudy green before dissolving in a soft burst of colour. Draco sips the drink slowly, and the mixture of liquor and potion calms him, soothing the shivery ache that's settled into his bones.
Moonlight draws him to the window, prickling across the nape of his neck. The waxing moon hangs low above the roofs of the white rowhouses that line the street, a pale, growing swell. Draco eyes it balefully, still bitter that the silver orb rules his life. He hates the nights now, hates the way he feels the fecund moon against his skin, pulling at him, the same way it tugs at the tides.
His twice-great-grandfather Brutus, shortly upon inheriting the title of marquess of Avebury, had purchased the townhouse nearly a century and half past to house the family during the ton's seasons. He'd grown tired of the countryside; to be honest, Draco doesn't blame him. Wiltshire is dashed dull once one leaves the thrill of childhood behind, and the Manor had been a lonely place during school hols, so far separated from the houses of his friends. Draco watches as a horse and cart stops three houses down, the milk boy in his striped apron and wool cap hopping down from his perch. A door opens, beneath the wide, curved steps leading to the home's main entrance, and a girl--barely old enough to have her hair twisted up in the wide pompadour dictated by fashion--comes out with a yawn and a bright smile for the lad. Draco snorts into his glass as the boy straightens up, smoothing out his ridiculous apron. At thirty years of age, Draco's jaded to the fancies of youth.
A movement in the shadows catches his eye, a rustle of leaves as a shape, long and lean, slides through the bushes in his neighbour's front garden, moving towards the couple. He tenses, his fingers tightening around his glass, relaxing only when a mangy dog slips through the wrought iron fence and lopes down the street beneath the flickering gaslights.
He glances towards the bed. Potter slides out from under the green brocade bedspread, his tall body lanky and beautiful beneath the thick mass of dark Byronic curls that falls over his forehead. This is only the third night he's had Potter; Draco's still certain he's making a tit of himself in regards to his school nemesis. Or so Blaise told him bluntly when he'd first discovered Draco had buried himself balls deep in Gryffindor's favoured son. He'll never hear the end of it now, he's certain. Blaise doesn't care whom Draco takes to bed, or what they have between their legs; he'd grown up in his mother's rather scandalous household, after all, and there'd been rumours circling through Hogwarts that Blaise has Veela blood in his lineage. Even today, Draco doesn't know if that's entirely true. Any time he asks Blaise, he just gets an annoyed look from his friend and the subject gets changed.
Still, Draco had wanted Potter even back in school; he'll be damned if he's fool enough to turn the idiot down now. He'd been shocked when, two weeks past, Miles, his favourite waiter at Lyons Corner House in Piccadilly, had seated him beside Potter in the restaurant's so-called Lily Pond, a section of tables tucked away from the rest of the room where men of Draco's particular sexual appetites could have, as Miles put it, private conversations of a more intimate nature over a glass or two of Lyons' best wine. Whilst Draco had bedded more than one acquaintance from the Pond, it had been the last place he'd expected to see Potter, of all people. Gryffindor Golden Boy and the Pride of the Auror Force, sitting awkwardly among London's invert elite? It was as if all his schoolboy fantasies had come true in one fell swoop, and when Potter had eyed him up and down, with that smouldering emerald look that said he knew exactly what Draco wanted from him, well. Draco has never considered himself a saint. It'd taken him ten pounds on dinner and wine and less than an hour to get Potter back to Berkeley Square and into this very bed, discovering in the process Potter's extraordinary, very unexpected talent for cocksucking. Frankly, Draco considers it quite a solid investment.
Potter walks over to stand behind Draco, his hands settling heavy on Draco's hips. "Trouble sleeping again?" Potter's breath is warm against Draco's ear, and Draco shrugs and finishes his absinthe, letting Potter pluck the glass from his fingers and set it on the window casement. Draco can feel the liquor buzzing in his head, pleasant and warm.
"Bad dreams," Draco says, as dismissive as he can be, knowing Potter won't press him. Talking isn't something either of them engages in; they'd both rather rut against one another, immersing themselves in the glorious delights of the flesh. Who needs inane conversation when he can have that lovely, soft mouth of Potter's occupied in a far more pleasant task? And, if Draco's honest, they do tend to argue terribly still when they're not fucking, which rather dampens the mood.
Draco can see his own reflection in the window panes, can see Potter's hands as they part Draco's dressing gown and slide down the smooth stretch of his belly, down to the swell of his rising cock. He wonders idly if the couple in the street might look up, if they might see him standing here, leaning back against Potter whilst he strokes Draco to completion, if they might hear Draco as he cries out when his hot spunk spatters against the cold glass of the window, if they might send for the constable in horror. The world has changed greatly in the nine years since Victoria Regina's death, but not even society's loosening morals would be accepting of his particular perversions; he knows that full well. Still, there's something dangerously exciting about spending himself between Potter's legs, and the possibility of imprisonment for his perversion is more of an enticement than a deterrent, particularly given Potter's line of work. The thought catches his breath, and he turns his head, seeking Potter's mouth.
"Eager, are we, milord?" Potter asks into the kiss, his mouth curving against Draco's. Draco turns in his arms and pushes Potter back towards the bed, falling on him with a soft groan.
"No more than you, Inspector," Draco says, trailing his hand down Potter's muscular belly to where Potter's thick prick is waiting for him, hard again and wanting. Draco loses himself in the study of the other man's body, blocking out the dreams of blood and death with Potter's whispers of pleasure and ragged, begging breaths of want.
He shags Potter senseless against the ornately carved French headboard of his bed, Potter's oil-slicked thighs spread wide, his hands slipping across the damp skin of Draco's back. Potter is hot and tight, and Draco struggles for control as Potter bucks against him, his green eyes unfocussed, his mouth wet and gasping, feet pressing into the mattress. For the briefest of moments, Draco closes his eyes, willing his body to stay human, to keep the beast at bay. It's harder in moments like this, when he's so close to release, so detached from his mind. It'd been worse the first few times, after the change, when he hadn't expected the rush of lust, the need to claim, to lock his body with another's. He'd accidentally terrified a shag or two--not to mention himself--those first times when it happened; he still has a few small scars to remind him of their futile struggle to get away from him. Desperate to keep his secret, he'd Stunned them instead, letting them lie silent beneath him until he could free himself; once separated, he'd Obliviated them and sent them home, none the wiser about the night's activities. Since then he's taught himself to stay in control, to fight the primal pull of the beast with each press of his hips.
"Malfoy," Potter says, his voice tinged with desperation that makes Draco's cock twitch. Draco catches Potter's hips, holds them as he tries to argue the beast away.
Control, Draco tells himself, letting his body still. He can feel the throb of blood through his limbs, can smell the heady scent of Potter's need. You have to stay in control, you twat.
Draco doesn't want to to have to Obliviate Potter. He wants Potter to remember this night. To remember him. Draco draws in a slow breath, willing away that small swelling at the base of his prick. Desire curls deeper inside of him, tendrils sneaking their way across his flushed and sweaty skin; Draco's found the very act of holding the beast back intensifies his pleasure, particularly with a partner like Potter spread wide beneath him, rocking his arse against Draco's hips, his cock lying heavy and red and swollen across his belly.
He groans when Potter's nails dig into his shoulder blades, when Potter's teeth scrape across the length of his throat. He lifts Potter's arse off the bed, his hands gripping tight enough to leave bruises.
The base of his prick aches with the effort of holding himself back, of not burying himself in Potter's beautiful arse and staying there, locked together, their bodies shuddering with wanton delight until the frenzy of passion finally fades.
Potter's scrabbling at the headboard now, struggling for purchase as he rolls his hips against each of Draco's thrusts. He's beautiful like this, flushed and sweaty, lost in the pleasure of being fucked. His cock slaps against his belly, the wetness at the head smearing across his pale golden skin. He's muscle and sinew, hard against Draco's body, and this is exactly where Draco needs to be right now.
He gasps as Potter's arse tightens around him. Draco can't help himself. He reaches for Potter's prick and pulls, his mouth pressed open against the curve of Potter's neck, teeth pressed lightly against his skin.
"I--" Potter starts to choke out, and then spunk's spattering between them, coating Draco's hand, his own prick thrusting deeper into Potter with each stroke of his fingers across Potter's shaft. Potter's shuddering against Draco, crying out, and with one last jerk of his hips, Draco lets himself go, spilling himself inside Potter, his breath hot against Potter's ear.
They fall to the mattress. Draco, loath though he is to separate from Potter, slides out of him, rolling onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. His heart's still pounding, his body tingling. He wants to fall on Potter again and suck the spunk from his softening prick, lick the smears of it from his belly. He doesn't. Control, he reminds himself. Control is always necessary.
"Jesus," Potter says, after a moment, and Draco just laughs. He can't disagree. If there's one thing he and Potter both excel at, it's fucking. They may drive each other mad outside of bed, but here, with the sheets tangled beneath them, they fit perfectly, their bodies moving in just the right ways to bring them both to the brink of the little death.
Draco gets up and walks to the water carafe. He splashes some out onto a flannel folded next to it and cleans himself off. A bit more water, and he brings the flannel back to the bed, pushing Potter onto the pillows as he drags it across his belly and prick, then down between his thighs.
Potter looks at him with hooded eyes. "I don't think I can do another round," he says, and there's regret in his voice.
"Neither could I," Draco says, but he's lying. He wants Potter even now, his body already sated. It frightens him a bit, if he's honest, but Draco's quite good at lying even to himself, so he ignores that fluttery, uncertain feeling deep inside.
He tosses the flannel onto a side table and crawls back into bed. Potter's already beneath the sheets, and he rolls towards Draco, warm and sleepy. Draco lets him press against his side. He'll wake Potter in an hour or two, early enough to send him back to his flat for fresh clothing. Potter murmurs something against Draco's shoulder that Draco can't quite make out, but he doesn't care. He's tired himself, his mind finally free from the dream that had awakened him.
Draco closes his eyes and settles back against his pillow, Potter breathing softly beside him. He barely hears the howl of a wolf in the remnants of the night.
The Squib is where they said he'd be, stumbling down a set of steps in front of a Brick Lane gambling house, half-pissed on cheap wine and unexpected luck.
Shadows conceal the Beast, his magic calling to them, blending them into the dark grey of his cloak. He lives between worlds, the voices in his head always whispering, always buzzing. There are things he can recall, things he once was, but they're gone now, overwhelmed by those quiet, insistent words, remaking him, renewing him, recreating him into a stronger creature. Harsher. More likely to survive.
This is what he asked for, what he wanted. A burden taken on willingly, a voice murmurs, drifting through his mind. It's been so many years that he's carried this load, though.
He used to be something else before. He scarcely remembers that life now; he's been the Beast so very long. He's old and tired, and his bones ache in this barely new century with its electric lights and motorcars, but there were once summers in the country and winter hols skating along the curves of a river in Bavaria. He had a family then, he thinks. Friends. He remembers a warm laugh and gentle brown eyes. The flash of ginger hair in the sunlight and the ripple of golden ringlets caught by the wind. Angry words and then a body falling, falling, striking the ground with a dull thud and shouts echoing in his ears. That memory hurts him, sudden and clenched in his chest, and for a moment he can't breathe. He balls his fists by his sides, sharp fingernails digging into his palm. When he looks down, there are drops of red on his hands. He wipes them away, but the scent's in his nose now, making his mind hum with anticipation. His mouth waters. He wants it all again, the feel of flesh ripping beneath his teeth, the satisfaction of a life pumping away, the taste of blood.
An uneven breath, then another, and the lust settles. The voices lead him, as they always do, one more insistent. The words are foreign to his ear, and yet so close to his mother tongue. He understands them, though, knows what they require of him.
He steps into the glow of the street lamp and lets the shadows slide from him. They twist away from the light with the faintest whisper of complaint, disappearing back into the darkness.
"Oh," the Squib says, and he stops and blinks up at the Beast. There's fear in his eyes, but an eagerness as well. He looks the Beast up and down, then licks his bottom lip. The Beast can smell his uncertainty. "The note? It said you'd find me..." He trails off. The street is silent around them. The voices are keeping the people at bay. Drink, they whisper to some; others they tell to sleep or to fuck or to stay inside where it's warm and safe.
The Beast nods. "Yes," he says in a voice like the metallic rasp of a key in a rusted lock. He doesn't care to speak often, not any more. He places a hand against the Squib's chest, his long, curved fingernails pressing into the brocade of the Squib's waistcoat. He can feel the accelerated beat of the Squib's heart beneath his palm, the solid, steady tempo of life that he wants to crush in his fist, watching as it seeps through his fingertips. This won't work; he's already told them that, but they claim to know better than him. The voices tell him differently. Two Muggles down, and now they've moved to a Squib in the hopes that his body will be a better vessel for the Beast's lycanthropy. The voices recede, their whispers telling him that this turning is futile.
"I'm ready," the Squib says. He reaches for his cravat, but the Beast knocks his hand away. A growl rumbles in the back of his throat, and the Squib flinches. His fear is delicious, hot and savoury in the Beast's nostrils. He pushes the Squib's head to one side; the pulse of blood along his throat excites the Beast, deep in his belly. He can feel the first shiver of the change ripple through him, the voices twisting through his mind in a frenzy, urging him to bite, to rip, to destroy.
For a moment, he expects the Squib to flee, footsteps pounding across the paving stones. He wants it, wants to chase his prey, to hunt him down, to tear him open, hot blood spraying across his face. His body tenses, his hands curl, fingers lengthening, turning, tawny hair covering the claws that dig into the Squib's flesh. He can smell the Squib, the stink of ale and tobacco on his breath, the reek of his stale sweat. The Beast fights for control of his body, shuddering with pain as his shoulders expand, his neck thickens, his teeth push through his gums, sharp and hard. He feels invincible, powerful, the way he was promised when he first took this burden on. Joy spills through him--this was what he was meant for, what he was destined to be.
"Say it," he snarls, his voice nearly swallowed by a guttural roar.
The Squib's eyes gleam in the lamplight, narrow and piggish, already shadowed. "I take this duty willingly," he gasps out, pressed against the Beast's side. "Please--"
He cries out when the Beast's teeth tear into his skin, his hands twisting in the Beast's cloak, his body jerking once, then twice.
The Beast lets the Squib fall to the street, blood streaming from the wound in his throat. He waits, watching the man writhe at his feet, his fingers scrabbling at the ragged flesh, choking on the thick scarlet wetness that begins to trickle from his mouth. The Beast steps closer and squats beside the man. It takes all his strength to keep his bloodlust in check. He clenches his hands, shoulders tight and hard. Another breath, then another. Waiting to see if the voices were wrong. They seldom are.
The Squib arches, his entire back coming off the paving stones, eyes wide and horrified. "No--" He grabs his throat with one hand, his fingers sinking into the wound, pulling at it, tearing it wider. His words dissolve into gurgles as his other hand digs into his belly, fingers ripping through the thick waistcoat, pressing into his skin. The Beast watches, a faint disappointment rising. Perhaps it's for the best he'd turned those two children six, seven weeks past. Their bodies had taken the change eagerly, their magic drinking in the wolf magic, just as the voices had told him they would. The others never bothered to listen though. Once they had, but now they think of him as a liability, a withering mind needing to be replaced.
Perhaps they're not wrong.
With a wet, sucking pop, the Squib's belly explodes, skin splitting, organs spilling over green brocade. Blood sprays through the air, glimmering like tiny rubies in the light from the street lamp. The Beast leans into it, letting it fall against his skin, a warm spatter of crimson rain on his face that he breathes in, a rush of contentment going through him. The voices were right, as always.
The Squib stills.
Pity, though, the Beast thinks as he drags the limp body into the alley. They had hoped this one might have promise.
He sniffs the air, smells the scents of dawn. The night sky has lightened; pale pink streaks are on the horizon. The change is settling again, his bones and sinews shifting back, a deep weariness pushing down on his shoulders. He looks down at the mangled corpse at his feet and growls.
Perhaps next time.
As he threads his way down the dank alleys of the East End, Harry Potter finds his mind drifting back to the night before and his delicious debauchery with his arrogant, aristocratic school rival. Mi-bloody-lord Malfoy had outdone himself this time. Perhaps it was the black-market potion Malfoy took with his absinthe which Harry wasn't supposed to remark upon, but three times in one night was a record for Harry's conquests, even from ten years ago. This close to thirty, he wasn't that young anymore. His arse is still uncomfortably, yet pleasantly, sore, despite the usual remedies and herbal creams. With a faint smile, Harry straightens his cuffs and gives a careful tug to his blood-red waistcoat. He'd barely had time to arrive home and change for work before Kingsley had firecalled the flat, demanding his and Ron's presence in Brick Lane. The murder scene must be horrible, if the grim scowls of the on-duty constables are any gauge. Harry tamps down his more vivid memories of the night before and puts his policing face on.
The tight knot of uniforms begins at the pavement well before the actual corpse. In Harry's experience, this is never a good sign. Ron holds back the Auror team in their charcoal and red overcoats, letting Harry step towards the Muggle force alone. No sense in setting the constabulary at any more unease than they already are. Scotland Yard never enjoys the cases that require Auror oversight.
With a displeased nod towards Ron and a curt Inspector thrown Harry's way, Farthingham from the Brick Lane Station pulls Harry into the middle of the scrum, and several blue-suited forms shuffle to the side, making room. In their midst, a suited body lies prone on the paving stones in extreme rigor mortis, its abdomen burst and fluid leaking on the pavement.
Listening to the terse comments of his Muggle counterpart, Harry allows his eyes to adjust to the dim of the alley. The body was discovered at daybreak, and no one heard the altercation, although two streets over had reported a feral dog to the night watch. Harry takes in the rich tailored silk at the victim's throat, the weight of the wool in a bespoke cuff, the fine leather of the gloves and shoes. A watch chain hangs from the pocket of the waistcoat, the winding knob of the watch itself barely visible.
Not a rentboy killing, then, Harry thinks. Or a robbery gone wrong, judging by the pocket watch. But how did this gentleman end up dead on a filthy East London street? And in such a fashion?
The body is in terrible shape: the face is swollen, tongue distended and purple, and the nostrils and mouth are ash white and flecked with bloody foam. Black veins are visible on victim's neck and at the temples. Harry motions towards Ron, not even bothering to see if he steps forward. Harry knows he will. There is a large bite on the victim's upper neck, where the shirt is curiously unbuttoned. The legs are twisted in an unnatural manner which, combining with the trail of fluid, suggests that the body had been dragged across the street. Along the pale throat Harry recognizes unusual teeth marks and a few slashes, possibly left by claws. The wounds certainly aren't the cleft of stab wounds or narrow gouges of human fingernails. He stops short of examining the profusion of pink and bile on the paving stones, already gnawed by enterprising dogs. Padma will have to do the rest.
"What do you think, Inspector Potter?" Farthingham asks, breaking Harry's reverie.
Ron whispers in his ear, "Harry, we need to start working the scene."
Harry stops cataloging the details for the present. He doesn't need further diagnostics to know this isn't a mundane murder. Whether the handiwork of creature or madman, it reeks of magic.
"We'll take this off your hands, Farthingham," he says, and he's not entirely sure whether the flicker of emotion that crosses the other man's face is annoyance or relief. Probably a mixture of both, if he had to guess. Scotland Yard may resent the Auror force, but at least it clears them of impossible cases. "If you'd be so kind to have your gentlemen let the rest of our group through."
The mass of blue moves back reluctantly and is replaced by a smaller group of muted reds and charcoals. This is Auror business now, and Harry's heart beats with the rush of the chase. He orders Ron and Dawlish to follow the tracks as far back as the evidence allows. Sweeping up her skirt to avoid the blood, Padma comes in to survey the scene with Harry, much to the displeasure and criticism of the Muggle constabulary who, despite their snide remarks about the place of women and foreigners, can't seem to take their eyes off Padma's trim, booted ankles when she calmly flips her pin-tucked petticoats up to step over the sprawled, blood-soaked legs, avoiding the pools of bodily fluid on the paving stones.
Ignoring the rumble of mutters, Padma and Harry take turns cataloguing the information whilst Baddock records it in his neat script on a Muggle-style ledger. They've learnt just how far they can stretch the imaginations of their counterparts, and the traditional quills and parchment rolls are too much. No one blinks an eye if the pen keeps writing without the nib being dipped or ink refilled, however.
"Harry, could you give me a Specialis Revelio and a Conspectus?" Padma asks quietly, glancing up from her inspection of the ripped torso. The single black ostrich feather from the sedate hat tilted over her thick pompadour brushes against her cheek. She blows it away with an annoyed huff.
With stiff lips, Harry mutters the first spell, eyes locked to the side of the scene. He purposely doesn't pay attention to the results whilst Padma breathes out a small, surprised oh and looks a bit closer, eyes narrowing. He's the only of his team who can reliably cast wandlessly, one of the reasons Kingsley prefers him for Muggle liaising. His upbringing among Muggles is another. As a part of his Auror training, Harry even went undercover as a Muggle recruit in the Metropolitan Police to learn the process from the ground up. Farthingham had been in his cohort back then. He'd liked the bastard, rather a lot. Their friendship had only shifted when Farthingham had climbed further up the Scotland Yard ladder and learnt Harry was one of that sort, the odd group of men and women who took on the more curious cases.
Harry prepares for the second incantation, but before he can utter the Conspectus, the roar of a motorcar echoes through the quiet street. Harry looks up with a frown as the crowds of constables and Aurors draws back, the few horses on carts whinnying nervously under the anxious grips of their handlers. Harry doesn't care for automobiles; he finds them loud and grating and ridiculously dangerous. It's a broom for him or a Floo or Apparition, please. Tradition, not flash, and less likely to spook the horse-drawn carriages that, even a decade after the turn of the century, still share London's streets.
A sleek, open-air green Daimler with glistening spoked wheels and bright, round headlights rumbles towards them. A hefty man in a brown coat and wide goggles sits on the high, tufted leather front seat behind the windscreen, his dark hair flapping in the breeze beneath the brim of his tweed motoring cap. Harry's heart sinks when he recognises him. With each blare of its horn, lamp posts and buildings jump out of the motorcar's way, none of the Muggles the wiser. It rolls to a stop a few feet away from Harry, and a familiar, tall, blond figure steps out of the back and shrugs off his linen duster off, handing it, along with a grey felt trilby and his own pair of goggles to the driver.
Fuck, fucking fuck, Harry thinks, his whole body tensing. It's as if the bloody universe itself hates him.
"Thank you, Greg," the Viscount Malfoy says, smoothing back the long forelock that's fallen into his face. Ron swears beneath his breath; Harry can't blame him, even if Padma's nearby. Not that he'd say the latter part aloud, mind. Somehow Hermione'd find out, and he'd never hear the end of it. Ron's learnt most of his most colourful swears from her anyway.
"What the bloody hell is he doing here?" Padma says, voice sharp and carrying.
Harry privately wonders the same, his cheeks reddening with suppressed fury.
The Viscount Malfoy's mouth twitches in amusement. He smoothes down the front of his charcoal sack coat with gloved hands and straightens his tie, a narrow strip of dark grey silk knotted four-in-hand. Harry frowns and casts an eye to the constabulary, who're still goggling at the motorcar. It does provide a decent distraction, he'll grant milord that. Heaven knows he can use a preoccupied audience at the moment; this was not exactly where he planned their reunion.
"Healer Patil." Malfoy bows in her direction. "Bringing beauty to a dismal scene as always."
Padma rolls her eyes. "Milord. How very lovely to see your Grace in our unworthy midst."
"I'm terribly afraid I've only been granted Excellency for the nonce," Malfoy shoots back with a warm smile that makes Harry's stomach flip over. Baddock chews on the end of his pen, glancing back and forth nervously between Padma and Malfoy. "Unless, of course, our new king should choose to elevate Father's standing at court." He tilts his head, eyebrow raised. "Although I suspect that will have to wait until after our dear monarch's coronation, whenever that may be. Nineteen-ten has been a rather difficult annus for the country, has it not?"
"Poncy prat," Ron says under his breath, and Harry concurs. Although, honestly, the last thing he needs at the moment is for Ron to annoy a lord of the peerage and future member of the Wizengamot, much less one who just shagged Harry rotten last night. Harry shudders to think what might be revealed if Malfoy's temper is aroused, although he finds his own rising further with Malfoy's intrusion on his work.
Still, with the possibility of his making Deputy Head Auror on the line, Kingsley's already warned Harry to keep his nose exceptionally clean this year. There are those in Fudge's Ministry who think him too young for the position as it is, and Harry doesn't want to give them any further hesitation about his fitness for higher office. He's sure they'd have his warrant card if they knew of his private habits of enthusiastic sodomy with debauched aristocrats. Instead of answering Ron, Harry turns back to the savagely ruptured corpse, keeping his voice as flat and neutral as possible. "I suppose you're here to see the body, Lord Malfoy."
No one quite knows why Kingsley's allowed Malfoy to work cheek-by-jowl with the Aurors lately. The gossip in Auror headquarters has it that the viscount must have something to hold over the Head Auror. There have even been rumours of an intimate friendship between Kingsley and Malfoy's widowed aunt, Andromeda, to which the Head Auror refuses to lend credence. Malfoy hasn't confirmed it in his clandestine meetings with Harry, and, honestly neither one of them was really much interested in talking anyhow, but Harry has his suspicions. Then again, he's in no position to throw stones at the moment. He can't afford being the focus of the whirlwind of whispers surrounding Malfoy, although he richly deserves it.
Even in the face of violent protestations from the force, Kingsley continues to point out that Malfoy--who already holds a post-Hogwarts First in Greats from Oxford, as the viscount had pompously informed Harry during their first dinner at the Pond--recently finished a course of study at the University of Lausanne under Archibald Reiss, learning wizarding techniques for modern criminologists. It doesn't matter. None of the Aurors care for Lord Malfoy, who's known about the office as "the posh git."
Watching Malfoy walk towards him, Harry suddenly remembers the viscount of his Hogwarts youth, squirmy and pale and pointy-faced, always sneering at Harry and his friends. Harry's previous best (or rather, non-naked) memory of Malfoy from his school days was of Hermione punching the snotty-nosed viscount in the face. She'd nearly been sent down for it, but she'd sworn afterwards it'd been worth three months detention with McGonagall. Frankly, Harry thinks it couldn't have been that bad; she'd been seen more than once eating cream puffs with the Deputy Headmistress instead of studying or polishing the trophy cases. Malfoy hadn't been well loved among the non-Slytherin faculty or the students, for all that his father, the marquess of Avebury, was a governor of Hogwarts.
At Harry's nod, the Aurors pull back to allow Viscount Malfoy closer access to the body. Harry finds himself standing shoulder to shoulder with his new lover in front of his colleagues. Malfoy squats down to look at the carnage, blond forelock flopping into his inscrutable face. He draws off his gloves, handing them to Greg, who silently disappears back into the throng of Aurors. Malfoy pulls a pen from the pocket of his coat and uses it to lift up a flap of ripped skin above the sternum. Blood drips down the barrel onto the tip of his thumb. He wipes it away with a crisp white handkerchief, wrapping the pen in the linen before tucking the crimson-stained square back in his pocket. Harry wants him then and there, on the paving stones, in the alley, anywhere that Malfoy should demand. The intensity of it makes him quake with trepidation and longing alike. That realisation only irritates Harry more. He doesn't like the way he feels around Malfoy, doesn't like the way he loses control. He's always been so damned careful about this side of him, the bent Harry, the one he keeps tucked away, only to be brought out when the curtains are safely drawn. And now Malfoy's here, his very presence threatening to throw them open, to reveal Harry for the invert he is. To be bluntly honest, right now, Harry'd just like to hit him, hard and repeatedly. He pushes that urge away, too.
"Not a human attacker," Malfoy says after a long moment, eyes darting up to Harry's.
Harry isn't surprised to hear Malfoy uttering his own thoughts. He knew the bastard would be clever enough to see the bite radius and the claw marks. "Perhaps. Although that wound's not what he died of exactly, is it?" Harry's astonishment at the situation causes him to neglect etiquette and speak bluntly in public to Malfoy as he would to Ron or another member of the Aurors. His lack of manners doesn't seem to alert anyone else's suspicions.
Malfoy just frowns back down at the body, studying it as if committing it to memory. "A Muggle didn't cause this butchery. Nor any of the non-magical creatures of London. Wizard?"
"There's no magical signature detected," Harry says.
"As of yet." Malfoy taps his fingers against his thighs. His frown deepens, and Harry's annoyance flares up again.
"An enormous dog, perhaps," Harry begins to say, but at Malfoy's incredulous look he stops. "Those do resemble flesh wounds made by canines."
"Not a Grim, though. They tend to paralyse their victims. More perimortem rigour, less blood."
Harry meets Malfoy's thoughtful, grey gaze. He scowls, but admits the point. "Agreed." He doesn't think it's a dog either. Not a normal one, nor a supernatural one.
Malfoy turns back to the body. He passes a hand over the distorted face, almost as if he's casting a spell. Harry watches him, heart pounding in his throat. He knows Malfoy's not registered for wandless magic, so he's more than a bit curious, although he's not about to ask here.
Malfoy drops his hand, steadying himself against the paving stones. "Perhaps lupine."
"Perhaps," Harry says. A breeze ruffles his hair. It's still cool in the mornings, even though it's June. Not cold enough, though, for the shiver that runs through him. He'd rather it be an animal, not what Malfoy's suggesting. He'd also rather Malfoy weren't here. He'd rather he fuck off and stop playing the dilettante detective. Too much bloody Conan Doyle, Harry thinks. He's seen the damned books on Malfoy's bedside table.
Malfoy exchanges a long glance with him, one that Harry can feel burning across the entirety of his body, then stands and looks back over his shoulder at the other Aurors. "Have you said anything to the others?"
The question makes Harry bristle, particularly given the double meaning. "I'm afraid this is Auror business, Lord Malfoy. I'll say what I wish to my team--"
"Don't." Malfoy brushes invisible dirt from his palms. "As I recall, your lot hasn't done well with the past two attacks, or so the Daily Prophet would like to remind us all in its headlines."
Harry's face flushes with anger again, a welcome distraction to the pounding of blood in his loins. Malfoy will be the death of him. "It's only been two months. And the Prophet's only a broadsheet, after all. It's not quite factual, the gossip they spread." Harry's had his own run-ins with the poison pen of Miss Rita Skeeter, outspoken critic of the Auror force and of Harry in particular. She simply adores the Viscount Malfoy, however, brushing aside even Malfoy's most scandalous affairs--like the alleged one with singer Celestina Warbeck, nearly twice his age. Harry dreads to think what she'd make of the viscount's current dalliance.
Malfoy just tuts quietly, circling the body. "It's gaining in respect. Besides, the public doesn't like madmen roaming the streets, Inspector Potter. Puts them off their dinner, and, really, the papers do love whipping us all up into a proper righteous outrage. Or didn't the Aurors learn from the Ripper?" He looks over at Harry, a small frown twisting his thin lips. "Couldn't hide that one from the Muggle world, nor could the force track him down. And that was even before the modern popularity of newsprint. Imagine what a spectacle that would be today."
"It's been twenty-two years," Harry says in a casual tone, although his stomach tenses. He was only eight when the Ripper was cutting his swathe through these very streets in the East End, but he remembers the panic and fear that had reached even into the safe albeit harsh confines of his aunt and uncle's Muggle house in Surrey. It'd only been in his Hogwarts years that he'd learned the murders might've been magical in nature; he'd spent most of his Auror training studying the case and where the Aurors had gone wrong. He can feel the Aurors behind him, shifting from foot to foot, curious as to what they're saying but too well-trained to listen in. "Our policing methods have changed."
"Have they?" Malfoy pats his pocket, as if feeling for his pen. His mouth is a sardonic curve, and Harry wants to knock that smirk off his face. "Well, I suppose in certain ways." He turns to Padma, stepping towards her and away from Harry, who's disturbed to find himself annoyed by the move. "Have you recorded Conspectus yet?"
Harry answers instead. "Not as yet. I was about to when your motorcar arrived on the scene." He focuses back on the task at hand, ignoring Malfoy's raised eyebrow. "I suppose I'd better before more time passes."
Without waiting for Malfoy's answering mutter, Harry composes himself and casts a wandless Conspectus. It's not complicated, exactly, but it does take a bit of focus as an Auror-level spell.
Malfoy lets out a low whistle and, when Harry glances over, he gives him an approving nod. Harry tries not to let it go to his head, but he has a slight flare of irrational pleasure that he's impressed Malfoy. The odd touch of sentiment unsettles him. He reminds himself that Malfoy is trespassing on his scene, and that even in their private moments, he's only receptive flesh to the viscount, nothing more. That thought annoys him, and he frowns down at the body, his irritation at Malfoy suddenly back again.
To his relief, Harry's soon lost in the traces that he, Padma, and to his surprise, Malfoy read off for the record. Padma's the quickest in finding the new evidence, but Harry and Malfoy go neck in neck in uncovering additional items of interest. Between them, Baddock's pen never leaving paper, they note several sticky footprints, a patch of pale hair caught in the brickwork of the neighbouring building, more traces of fluid leading into the alley, and a new, tiny piece of fabric that seems connected but is an odd grey-ish color. It is indubitably stained with blood, however, linking it back to the scene at hand.
When Harry straightens up from the alley, his neck stiff, he realises that the light is at least that of the noonday sun. They've been crouched among the refuse for over an hour, gathering the traces. Malfoy is still there, one pace away, surveying the dank scene in front of them.
"I think we should stop for lunch," Harry says. Malfoy hums, but doesn't move. He's looking at some sort of fluid on a pile of dirty stone.
"I say," Harry says a bit more loudly. "Perhaps we should stop for lunch."
Malfoy doesn't move until his driver comes up behind him and reaches out, grasping Malfoy's shoulder. The grey eyes blink slowly, coming back to the faces looking at him. "Sorry. What?"
"Lunch, Draco." Greg looks at Harry. "You have to shake him out of it. It's really the only way."
"Right." Harry watches, bemused as Malfoy pushes himself to his feet, hands on his back, stretching. "Thanks…" He stops, uncertain what to call the behemoth of a man in public, particularly given that he's not supposed to know him.
"Goyle," the man answers, his expression placid, though Harry catches the gleam of amusement in his eyes. "Gregory Goyle. We went to school together."
"Oh. Yes." Harry is grateful for Greg's playing along that they've just met and not crossed paths in Berkeley Square at Malfoy's townhouse. Greg'd been part of the circle around Malfoy at school, tightly formed, and as Harry eyes the broad shoulders and firm jaw of the man in front of him, he can see traces of the younger Goyle. There's far more muscle than fat now on his large frame, and despite his low brow and obviously once-broken nose, there's also something oddly attractive about his flat, square face. When Harry'd first seen Greg again, the week before last, he'd been reminded of the bits of rough to be picked up from time to time in certain specialised Muggle clubs hidden away behind closed London doors. "My appreciation, Mr Goyle."
Once set in motion by Greg's familiar grasp, Malfoy beats a hasty retreat to his motorcar, perfunctorily thanking the assembled Aurors but clearly still absorbed in thought. Greg strides cautiously behind, yet still manages to reach the door of the Daimler ahead of Malfoy, who pauses on the motorcar's wide running board, halfway to climbing into the mechanical beast's enormous seats.
"Healer Patil, a copy of your reports would be most appreciated. You're acquainted with Healer Zabini at St Mungo's, I'm certain?" At her slight nod, Malfoy smiles. "He'd be more than happy to pass them along."
His eyes find Harry's, and his smile widens into a dangerous flash of white teeth. "Inspector Potter, a pleasure as always. I'll be in touch, of course." He touches his coat pocket again. "Perhaps with some information of my own." He swings himself into the back seat of the Daimler, hand raised in farewell, as Greg cranks the engine with a discreet flick of a wand. It roars into life, carrying Malfoy as far from Harry as possible, or so he hopes. He could cheerful go for Malfoy's throat at the moment, especially after the double entendre of his parting words.
"I don't trust that posh arsehole," Ron says from Harry's shoulder. "Reckon you shouldn't either."
Harry watches blankly as the motorcar rounds the corner, a post box skittering out of its way. He wonders how much his oldest friend has picked up from this far-too public interaction between himself and his lover. He's done his best to keep his sexual activities away from Ron's attention. Hermione knows, thanks to a drunken conversation that Harry regrets bitterly, but she'd promised to keep his secret. Harry thinks she has; Ron's never said anything to him about it, much to Harry's relief. He doesn't want anyone to know about his perversions. "Wise words, I'm sure." He returns to his team. "Half-hour for lunch, lads." At Padma's cleared throat, he adds, "and Padma."
"I'll send the body to the morgue," Padma says, "if you'll spare me a man or two for a moment."
Ron nods. "Fair enough. "Goldstein and Tyburn'll do?"
When Ron looks away, Harry leans against the wall of the alley, ridiculously grateful that he didn't provoke a fight or worse in front of his colleagues. His double life can't be lived in public, and Malfoy had come dangerously close to connecting more than Harry wants to have joined. He'll have to have that out with him. And soon, damn it. He's not looking forward to that particular conversation.
Watching as his Aurors help Padma weave the preservation spells around the body, Harry doesn't want to admit it, but he's certain Malfoy's right. This wasn't the work of a dog. Or a human.
A cloud passes over the sun, sending shadows lengthening across the paving stones.
The back of Harry's neck prickles, and he has a sudden, uncanny feeling as if he's being watched from the shadows of the alley, but when he pivots on one booted heel, eyes searching the dark corners, no one's there.
He tugs at his gloves, frowning. "I'll find you," he murmurs. For a moment, he thinks he hears the barest rumble of a growl, carried on the breeze.
Unsettled, he turns away. There's work to be done, and a viscount who requires a good bollocking.
Still, he can't help thinking there's something lurking. Waiting. Biding its time.
"Harry?" Ron says from the top of the alley, breaking the moment's spell. "Ready?"
Harry's not so certain he is.
When Draco opens the door to a bedraggled and furious Inspector Harry Potter, he somehow isn't surprised. The rain had come on late in the afternoon, and Potter must have been outside without a mackintosh.
"Come in and get dry, Potter. There's tea in the library." Draco sees cold annoyance in the pinched lines of Potter's face, and also an apparently unwilling desire in the flush of his high colouring. Interesting. He closes the door behind them and strides towards the library, expecting Potter to follow him.
"I'm not actually paying a social call, milord. What the bloody devil were you thinking, coming to my crime scene like that?" Potter's dripping onto the parquet of the entryway. Draco stops, looking back at him. Potter looks delectable, wet and dishevelled, dark curls plastered to his damp cheek. Honestly, Draco wants to strip him here and suck the rain off of his skin, but that wouldn't do with the street just outside. Or perhaps it would - the moon is close and Draco can feel it peeling away what tatters of civil behaviour he has left.
"I wasn't aware it was your crime scene," Draco says, looking back at Potter. "Unless you have a deed from the City of London, of course, granting you sole access to that particular alleyway."
Potter scowls at him. "Sod off, you pointy bastard." Rain drips into his face, droplets spattered across his round glasses. "You know exactly what I mean. You had no damned right to be there, harassing me like that."
Draco quirks a smile at the evidence of Potter's filthy mood. He's always appreciated Potter's temper and the way it makes his green eyes darker. Of course he'll deny it with his dying breath, but he'd passed most of their school days tweaking the prat, hoping to raise his ire for the very fact that Draco finds an irritated Potter undeniably attractive. Most of his fifth year had been spent wanking to fantasies of Potter shouting at him, but Draco's come to terms with his erotic peccadilloes, with much gratitude to his illuminating conversations with Professor Freud. He crosses his arms, leaning against the fluted marble door frame. "Oh, I see. Have you come to apprehend me, then?"
Potter visibly bristles at Draco's presumption. He steps forward menacingly, fists balled at his side. "This isn't a joke, Lord Malfoy. I'm up for Deputy Head Auror this year, and Kingsley says they're looking for any excuse not to let me advance."
My, but he isn't half-delicious when he's furious, Draco thinks.
Out loud, Draco pretends to consider for a moment. "I don't think I've ever had one of those before. What do they taste like?" He knows he's baiting Potter, but it's too exquisite to stop, especially as the flush rises on his neck and his lips grow red and his green eyes bright with rage.
Potter presses him up against the door frame, mouth inches from Draco's collar. "Milord, I assure you, I'm in bitter earnest. There's no room for inversion, not even on the twentieth century Auror force. We're not that radical."
Draco leans in then, his lips brushing the shell of Potter's ear. "There's always room for inversion, Potter. As I recall, your arse had plenty of room for it last night. Three times even." When Potter punches him in the gut, Draco isn't surprised at all. Potter is a man of action, not words; Draco's not entirely certain the twat knows how to string them into a coherent sentence. He is, however, surprised that he enjoys the pain as much as he does. Well. That, he thinks, is new and unexpected. Exhaling, hair in his face, Draco rubs the spot for a moment. It's tender and sore; he suspects it'll bruise for a bit before fading, and it perturbs him how much he likes the idea of being marked even temporarily by Potter, who has stepped back and now looks uncertain whether to flee or to carry on.
"I suppose I deserved that," Draco admits, straightening up.
"I'm sorry, milord." Potter looks anything but sorry. As much as Draco half-wishes he'd hit him again, Potter looks like he wants to.
"I'm not," Draco says. "Sorry, of course. You're absolutely magnificent with your bum in the air, even if you are a bit of a prig in public."
Potter runs a hand through that lovely dark tumble of curls, distraught in his anger. "Merlin, what have I done? Of course you wouldn't understand what it is to be compelled to work for a living."
It's Draco's turn to be coldly furious. "I may not understand, Potter, what bedevils an Inspector such as yourself, but I very well do know what an honest day's work is. My father cut me off for a time after Oxford."
"Oh, heaven forfend. Were you forced to live off of investment income?" Potter doesn't roll his eyes, but it's a near thing.
"Dragon keeping wasn't terribly lucrative, but it kept a roof over my head until I was summoned home." Draco is irrationally proud of the time he spent in Hungary, and not only for the occasion it afforded of learning the joys of physical exercise as well as liberal doses of fellatio and fresh air. Dragon keepers are a friendly lot, and they share willingly. Cold showers or the smell of straw give him a terrible hard-on, even now. "A few bad burns on my side that the Healer's salve couldn't entirely mend, but I've never regretted the experience."
"I thought those must have been from a potions accident," Potter saying, lifting a grazed fist to his mouth. His temper's fading into unwilling interest.
Draco knows he has the upper hand now. Potter's curiosity about Draco often trumps his irritation. He points in turn to his side and back, "Liondragon. Horntail. Ironbelly--that one smarted for months."
"Oh." Potter is awkward in the foyer now, no longer enraged but still stubborn as a mule. Draco can see it in the uneasy twist of his mouth. He's looking down at the floor as though it contained vipers. "I hate to ask, but how in the world did you come to be keeping dragons?"
"In the way that all great stories begin," Draco says. "I met a boy. I shagged a boy. He kept dragons." It's much more complicated than that, really, but he's fairly certain Potter's not ready to hear about how his father shut the wards to the Manor on him and closed off his access to the Gringotts account not long after his mother's death. Draco supposes he doesn't quite blame Lucius; matricide by way of lycanthropy doesn't quite endear a son to his father, particularly when he's always been quite the filial disappointment. Draco'd run for the Continent afterwards, and he'd always be grateful for those weeks spent with Vilmos and his herd.
He sighs. "Listen, would you like to hit me again and then come in to have a wet? I left some very good scones and a fresh pot of Lapsang Souchong behind, and I'm eager to return." Draco searches for a glimmer of agreeability in Potter's posture.
He gets something else entirely.
"You're a strange one, you know," Potter says, his voice quiet. He looks over at Draco. "I don't quite know what to make of you. You drive me mad, and then I…." Potter huffs, almost a laugh, and he looks away again, his brow furrowed. "Christ."
Draco feels strangely unsettled. Potter does this to him; he always has, but it's stronger now that they're older. He's always supposed that it was just lust. Now he's not so certain. He'd honestly thought that after their first, brilliant shag, this would be over. Potter was just an itch to be scratched, one night of pleasure. He hadn't meant to bed him again and then again. Draco's never done a proper relationship; he supposes Vilmos is the closest he's ever had. He fucks someone once, perhaps twice, but never more than that, unless he's paying them. He should tell Potter to leave, that whatever this is between them is done.
He find that he can't, he's trapped by Potter, by his need for Potter's hands on his hips, Potter's mouth against his skin. "You should leave," Draco says, but he's not certain he wants Potter to go.
Potter knows. There's a spark in his deep green eyes, a slight narrowing that sends a shiver through Draco's body. "I should."
"Yes," Draco manages, but he doesn't move towards the door. He stays still, his back against the wall. His throat's tight; he can smell the arousal rolling off Potter in waves. It's just this between the two of them, he thinks. Some desperate need of his to be touched that only Potter can do properly. He swallows, his eyes fixed on Potter's. "Leave." The word's barely a whisper.
"I will." Potter's bruised knuckles graze Draco's cheek, and Draco's breath catches. "In a minute."
Draco licks his bottom lip. Potter's thumb drags across Draco's wet mouth, and Draco nips at it. "All right," he says against Potter's calloused skin.
And then Potter drops to his knees, his plush mouth inches from Draco's prick through a layer of wool. Dark lashes thick behind his round spectacles, Potter looks up. "May I?"
Draco is blindingly hard in an instant, his stiff length brushing Potter's cheek as Potter noses against his hip. This is mad, and Draco knows it. He can't stop himself; he wants Potter too damned badly. At least his Great-great-great Grandmother Althea's sleeping in her portrait frame across the foyer. She'd be terribly scandalised, Draco thinks. And then Potter licks his bottom lip, and any self-control Draco might have disappears.
"By all means," he says, the words nearly catching in the back of his throat.
This is how Draco finds himself braced against the wall in his own foyer with his trousers around his ankles and the wizarding world's finest Auror sucking his cock for all he is worth. Reaching to stroke the hollowed cheek and thick curls of his once-rival, Draco marvels that some things don't fade with age but rather improve. Spilling oneself down the throat of Harry Potter must be ranked among those rare pleasures that time cannot spoil.
Control, he reminds himself, the base of his prick aching to pop, to fill Potter's mouth. He breathes out, his body tensing, until he hears a faint tread of boots on the stairs. For a moment Draco worries that they might be interrupted, but if Greg can see them, he's too discreet to make his presence fully known.
And then Draco's past all caring, climaxing in a speechless flash of brilliance with Potter swallowing around him the entire time, Draco's body curling forward, his fingers digging into Potter's shoulders as he cries out.
Potter pulls away slowly, his thick lips wet with spit and spunk. Draco can barely stand upright; he's grateful for the wall to slump against and Potter's hands gripping his hips, keeping him on his feet.
"Well," Draco says after a moment. His lip stings from where he's bitten it, and he can taste the faint tang of blood. He drags a hand across his mouth, wiping it away. His heart is pounding against his chest walls, an angry, primal call, and he wants nothing more than to push Potter to the floor, bending him over and fucking him hard and fast, two animals in wretched heat, unable to control themselves. He can't, Draco knows that full well. There are still ways in which he must hold himself back, keep himself in check. It's been years since Draco's given in to that baser instinct, the one that urges him to take, to maul, to conquer. He draws in a ragged breath, his cock swelling slightly as he looks down at Potter, still on his knees. Potter turns his head, presses his mouth to the still-red, still-wet tip of Draco's prick, and Draco groans.
"You'll be the death of me," he says, his fingers smoothing Potter's hair back from his temple.
Potter gives him a lazy smile. "Maybe that's my goal."
Draco pulls Potter to his feet, tugging him closer. He doesn't even give a damn that his flies are still wide open. "Murder by orgasm?" he murmurs against Potter's jaw. "How very deviant of you." Potter's smile falters slightly, and Draco feels an inexplicable stab of annoyance. "You're a brilliant cocksucker, Potter," he snaps, pushing Potter away from him. "Revel in your aberrance."
"I'm not a cyprian like you," Potter says, his jaw tightening. "And if you think I'm willing to put my work with the Auror force on the line--"
"But you're here." Draco steps forward, fists clenched; Potter raises his chin. "On your knees on my floor, my cock in your mouth."
Potter looks pale but defiant. "We're not at a crime scene, are we?"
A sharp, fiery flare of anger goes through Draco, and he doesn't know why. Nothing Potter's said is wrong, after all. "You want me to walk away from the case," he says after a moment, and the guilty look on Potter's face makes him swear. "You bastard. What? You think I'm going to shout to all your Auror mates that I've had you on your back, legs spread, begging for my cock?"
"That is what you think." A chill spreads across Draco's chest. He knows he shouldn't care. It's just a fuck, really. That's all Potter is. A brilliant shag who'll walk out of Draco's door and never look back. Draco shouldn't give a damn what Potter truly thinks about him. He does.
The rage that consumes him burns like ice. Draco pulls his flies together, pushing his half-swollen prick back into his trousers as he does the buttons up. "Fucker."
Draco shoves at Potter then, sending him stumbling backwards even though Draco didn't use his full force. "Get out."
"Now," Draco says, and he strides past Potter, throwing open the door. "And if you think I'm a bloody juggins willing to be browbeat away from my work, you're off your damned nut."
For a moment Draco thinks Potter's going to protest. Instead he pulls himself together and nods curtly. "Good evening, milord," he says, chilly polite, and he sweeps out the door into the dusk.
Draco slams the door behind him and leans against it, breathing hard. It's almost like a shift; he's so angry. He puts his hands to his cheeks, checking to make certain his face is still fully human. It is, for now at least. His skin is crawling; the wolf inside is desperate to be released.
With a snarl, he pushes it down again.
"Everything all right?" Greg asks from the hallway to the kitchen. "Bit of shouting out here. It's keeping me and Mills from our tea."
"It's fine," Draco says, but he's still shaking with fury. "Go back to Millicent."
Greg gives him a long, even look, but he goes. Even he knows to leave Draco alone when he's this angry.
Draco draws in a deep, ragged breath, then exhales. He shouldn't have expected anything more from Potter. It was a good fuck, that's all, and the arrogant arse can go to hell for all Draco cares.
He pushes himself off the door and heads for the library. He's a pot of tea and a book waiting for him. Much better company than Potter ever could be.
In the gloaming, no one sees him, hiding here in the shadows of Mayfair, at the corner where the large, stately stone housefronts meet.
He watches as the Auror storms through the glossy black door, his coat drawn tight around him. The Auror looks angry, his mouth a thin, tight line. The Beast's curiosity is roused, if only for a moment. He once understood humans, but that knowledge is almost gone now, replaced with a sharp impatience for their foolishness. The Auror is one to watch, though. He reeks of danger and baser scents. The raw smell of sexual desire drifts across the kerb, and the Beast growls. The voices hum and whisper in his head, warning him of powerful magic, and he draws deeper into the darkness as the Auror passes him by, so close the Beast could reach out with one claw, ripping through the sinew and muscle of his throat.
A light goes on in a window of Number 23 Berkeley Square, illuminating a tall, thin shadow behind the curtain. For just a moment, he can see the man standing there, looking out on the street, watching the Auror stalk down the street. And then the figure moves, leaving behind only a stirring of gauzy lace in the open casement.
Malfoy, the Beast thinks. Filthy little pervert. He can smell him on the breeze, sharp and familiar. What would Malfoy's father think of him tonight, his body pressed against that foul Auror's? The Beast has seen them before, mouths on one another, disgustingly unnatural. He wants to punish the brat, to force him back to the fold he'd abandoned so long before, to strike out at the Auror for daring to pollute the dissolute little lordling who should be his rightful heir.
He growls, his body tensing for the pounce. The Auror rounds the corner, a light breeze ruffling the hem of his coat.
Not yet, the voices murmur in the recesses of his mind. Soon.
He turns away with a reluctant step. There's other prey to stalk tonight. There'll be time to discipline that depraved sodomite later.
The shadows wrap him in their silent comfort.
Greg sets the blue enamelled tin tray down on top of Gravin Westervelt's Symbolica Magica and Lagrange's Potioneer's Companion and strides across the library to throw open the curtains at the tall windows overlooking Berkeley Square. Late morning light streams through the wide panes, spilling across the lanky body sprawled on the tufted leather chesterfield. Draco groans and rolls over, burying his face against one of Millie's needlepoint cushions. An empty bottle of cognac lies on the floor next to him. Greg's fairly certain it'd been unopened last night.
"Go away, you wretch," Draco says into his elbow. He snaps his fingers and the curtains swing shut again. Greg just rolls his eyes and opens them once more.
"Stop it," Greg says, before Draco can raise his hand again, and Draco mutters something Greg suspects is highly uncomplimentary, if not outright obscene.
His foul mood doesn't faze Greg; Greg's seen Draco at his absolute worst, and a night of drinking in solitude barely touches the tip of that particular iceberg. Instead, Greg just pours a cup of strong Turkish coffee from a small copper pot, adding a few drops of potion to it before stirring with a silver spoon, and sets it on the side table nearest Draco's head along with a small plate of toast, cut into triangles and buttered. It's been Draco's hangover cure since fifth year at Hogwarts.
Draco turns a bleary face towards him; there's a crease in his cheek from the edge of the cushion he's slept on. "I'm not in the mood."
"You never are," Greg says, pouring coffee for himself and settling into the upholstered armchair near the fire. "Drink up. It'll help your head."
"Only death will, at this moment." Draco sits up slowly, carefully, and for a moment Greg's certain Draco's going to sick up on the carpet. That'll be unfortunate; last time he'd had to use a Scourgify on the Qashqai, the colours had bled in the corner. Still, Draco manages to down the steaming coffee in two gulps, then he staggers over to the pot to pour more, a triangle of toast between his teeth. He drops down into the chair opposite Greg's after a moment's pause to remove a giant beetle in a jar from the side table between them. The beetle clacks its mandibles against the glass, annoyed at being shifted to the chimneypiece. Draco flicks his fingers at it, and it falls back, segmented antennae waving sullenly. "I hate you," Draco says.
Ah, good. He's feeling better. Greg smiles into his cup. He prefers a milky tea to this thick, bitter beverage, but it does the job on mornings like this.
"Potter didn't stay," he says finally.
Draco gives him a baleful glare. "No."
Greg doesn't push. That never works with Draco. He settles back in his chair, enjoying the warmth of the small fire in the hearth. There's still a touch of chill in the air some mornings, even this close to the summer solstice, and this bloody townhouse can feel like a mausoleum. Greg prefers the Manor, surrounded by green countryside, windows thrown open to fresh air, but Draco tries his best to avoid going back to Wiltshire. It's partially his father, Greg thinks. Half-mad with grief after Narcissa's death, Lucius had locked himself in a wing of the house, tossing his son out on his ear for months and burying himself in his whisky, books, and the few friends who'd stop by from time to time, all of whom Draco had disliked during his time at Oxford. He still doesn't care for them, even if he hasn't seen them in years. Greg doesn't know why, and neither does Draco, not really. He just says the very thought of them disturbs him. They seem fairly innocuous to Greg, just old men with old attitudes, rather a lot like his father's gang. Still, Draco refuses to leave London unless Lucius is travelling. Rather a pity, Greg thinks. A son shouldn't dislike his father so, even if he finds him difficult.
The coffee is warm and a little sweet. Millie's made it the way Greg likes, with a nice round spoonful or three of sugar. Greg smiles, thinking of his wife. Draco mocks him for believing in true love and all that bollocks, but he wouldn't trade what he has with Millicent for the world—certainly not for Draco's endless string of sexual liaisons. Doesn't even matter that both their families have disowned them because he got her up the duff and cut off all their funds. They're happy, and the baby's happy, and he's not the one waking up alone with a pounding head and sick stomach and a ridiculous pash on the next Deputy Head Auror. Honestly, Greg feels sorry for Draco, more than anything. Not that he'd say so, but he reckons it must be hard to be the Viscount Malfoy. Eventually Draco'll have to grow up, settle down with a proper girl and have a son or two who'll inherit the titles. Greg knows that's not really what Draco wants. He likes women well enough, but he prefers men. If he's lucky, he'll find a wife who'll look the other way whilst Draco slips in and out of places like the Lily Pond, having assignations with other blokes like him. Then again, he could end up married to someone who'll hang him out to dry, packing him off to prison for his so-called depravity. That's not what Greg wants for Draco, either.
But there are also other delicate matters Draco will have to reveal to a wife. It'll take a woman with great fortitude to accept the proposal of a man with his particular condition—and to keep his secrets from the Ministry.
"I assume that was you on the stairs last night," Draco says after a moment. Greg sets his empty cup aside and waits, his hands folded over his thick chest, and Draco scowls at him. "Yes, fine. I realise I was indiscreet, and that it could have been Millie coming down—"
"Or Ellie," Greg points out. His daughter's not even three, but she sometimes escapes their rooms and gets lost in the upper floors. He's not angry at Draco: it's not his house, after all, but Draco forgets sometimes that Greg has a family now.
Draco has the grace to look guilty. "I wasn't thinking."
"I know." Greg watches him. Draco looks pale and tired, dark circles like bruises beneath his eyes. "It's close, you know." The moon's coming up, and despite Blaise's potion, the pull gets stronger, harder for Draco to control. Greg knows it's responsible for last night, at least in part. He's seen this so many times before. Still, there's something about Potter that's different, that sets Draco more on edge.
"It's not that." Draco pushes himself out of the armchair and walks over to the fire. He looks oddly young and vulnerable in his untucked shirt, bare feet, and mussed hair, the way he had back in their school days. Greg almost can't see the pale, silver scar on Draco's throat or the matching one across his cheek, remnants of the May that had changed Draco's life a decade ago. He wonders how Potter hasn't noticed it yet, or if he has and Draco's spun a gossamer lie, the way he does with so many of his curious lovers. Draco runs his hands over his face and breathes out, always a sign of his frustration. "Or maybe it is. Maybe I'm moon mad. Maybe I ought to do what the prat demands and recuse myself from this case."
Greg shifts, crossing one leg over his knee; the chair creaks beneath his weight. "But you won't."
"No." Draco looks over at him. There are lines of worry scoring his face. "I think it's a were of some sort, Greg. I can feel it in my bones in a way I can't explain to the rest of you—certainly not Potter." He wraps his arms around himself and paces, fingers twisting in the white cotton of his shirt. "I can smell him on the body, that faint scent of marking that still lingers."
"I reckon you should know." Greg considers for a moment. "Wolf?"
Draco snorts. "Well, I hardly think it's a wererabbit." He bites his lip. "I can't say any of this though. Not without—" He breaks off with a huff.
"Without revealing yourself," Greg says. Draco just looks at him; there's nothing else he cans say. "That's not information Potter needs, given you're unregistered."
Draco's mouth quirks to one side. "An understatement. You see my dilemma."
Greg does. "It's shifting outside the moon then." They both know what that means. Not many weres have that ability.
"Yes." Draco studies the beetle in the jar. He looks grim again.
"You should talk to Blaise, then," Greg says calmly. "If he's speaking to you at the moment, that is. He's still miffed about that stunt you played at Margaret's dinner party."
Draco drops back into his chair. "I did him a favour. She was duller than dross, that one. He can do better."
"But he liked her." Greg gives Draco an even look. "Well enough, for Blaise." Draco just rolls his eyes. Greg sighs. "You have to tell Potter what he's up against, you know. If they don't figure it out—"
"They will," Draco says. He stares into the fire. "He will. For all his faults, he's not a complete fool. It's more a question of whether I can keep him from stumbling into something that'll get him killed. I can't have the blood of Gryffindor's favourite son on my hands." He pinches the bridge of his nose. "That's why I can't walk away from this case."
Greg wonders if Draco knows how much he's revealing by that admission. He suspects he doesn't. Draco's clever, far too clever for his own good sometimes, but Greg thinks Draco's thick as a plank when it comes to understanding himself. Greg knows Draco; he's spent most of his life studying him, and right now, right here, he's terrified for his childhood friend.
"So you're planning on hunting it, then?" Greg doesn't know why he asks; he already knows the answer, even as he desperately wants it to be a resounding no. "Whatever it is?"
Draco meets his gaze. "Do I really have a choice?" His voice is resigned.
Greg knows Draco doesn't. Not with everything he's been through. That doesn't mean he has to like it, though. Greg'd barely passed Divination, but he reckons you don't have to be a seer to know this is going to go tits up. Fast.
They sit together in silence, lost in their own thoughts, the fire crackling in the hearth in front of them.
Somehow the Head Auror manages to be unavailable the entire morning. Ron's rather impressed, really. Kingsley must have known Harry'd be in a tear after that prat Malfoy showed up in Brick Lane yesterday, and Ron feels rather sorry for poor Boot, Kingsley's personal secretary, who'd obviously been instructed to keep Harry at bay. Still, there's only so far Kingsley's luck could hold, and at ten to one that afternoon, Harry'd breached the Head Auror's office, slamming the door behind him before Boot could stop him.
Ron'd just shrugged at Boot, who'd thrown up his hands and stalked off. It's not that Harry'd wanted Ron there, really, but Ron's seen Harry's occasional fits of rage since they were eleven, and honestly, there's nothing that'd set him off faster in school than Malfoy and his gang. Better to sit out here and wait for Harry to reappear than to leave him on his own, terrorising the Ministry at large.
He checks his favourite pocket watch, left to him by Uncle Bilius when he died after seeing that Grim back when Ron was barely thirteen. Brilliant uncle, the old sod was, but only when he'd laid off the gin. Pity, really. Ron sighs and tucks the watch back into his jacket.
What worries Ron Weasley isn't the raised voices that had echoed at first from behind the heavy, closed wooden door of Kingsley's office. Harry has quite the temper, after all, and Ron's used to Kingsley shouting, particularly when a nasty crime is committed. Everyone knows that Kingsley has a soft heart for such a stern bastard, and the more severe the crime, the more intense the bollocking from the Head Auror can be. Raised voices are business as usual, at least in Auror headquarters.
What worries Ron is the current silence. According to Ron's pocket watch, Harry's been in there for fifteen minutes, the raised voices stopped after five or six minutes, and now it's been about nine minutes of intense quiet punctuated by the occasional noise from the corridor. In Ron's experience, this is never, ever good.
When the door opens--flies nearly off its hinges, really--with Harry's face looking like a thunderstorm in a bottle, Ron knows it's worse than he expected. He stands up from the wide brocade armchair where he had been sitting in the outer office, nods to Kingsley, who looks equally wrathful as Harry, and slides out after his partner, needing to move his legs at a fair clip even with their differences in height to keep up with him.
"Harry, wait up, mate," Ron says, still trailing him. It's amazing how fast Harry can walk when he's got his temper up.
Harry slows down, then stops next to the heavy wood panelling across from the Night Floo. He waits for Ron, mouth pursed into a firm line.
"I don't want to talk about it," Harry says.
Ron thinks he actually does. Still, he's not fool enough to say that, not when Harry's eyes are sparking and that forehead scar he's had since he was a wee one is a frighteningly pale lightning bolt against his flushed face. "Right, then. Let's go not talk about it down the Cobblers Arms. There must be some pie we could not talk over." Ron's hungry, and really, this meeting could have been held at a better time than lunch. It's at least half an hour past when he should have been tucking into something nice and warm in the mess.
Harry shakes his head. "Not there. The Merman's Line would be better at this hour. And we can stop by the newsagents to check the afternoon edition."
The Merman's Line is quite a bit further to walk. They only go there when Harry doesn't want to say things around other Ministry officials or Aurors. This is particularly dreadful news, then, or Harry's ready to do something a bit mad. With Harry, especially when he's buttoned up into his future Deputy Head Auror mode, it's sometimes hard for Ron to tell the difference. In the flat, at night, Ron has an easier time reading him. He retains the qualities of the Harry he remembers from school: funny, quiet, a bit sarcastic, oddly shy.
"Right," Ron says agreeably. "The Line it is."
They retrieve their hats and set forth from the back entrance, signing out with the porter on the way. Ron tries to chat with Harry on the staircase to make it a bit less awkward that they're setting out in the middle of the day on a contrived errand. Not that the others don't spend whole days this way sometimes, but Harry's being too quiet, and Ron doesn't want that noticed either.
The back streets are bustling with deliveries, foot traffic, and daily business. Ron steps around a handcart of bottles coming into a dry goods shop, manages to stop a rolling apple from a fruit and vegetable display, and keeps two urchins out of the path of an oncoming carriage with a strong tug at the back of their shirts. Harry strides along beside him, apparently lost in contemplation in the midst of modern London street life.
It's only when they've entered the pub, and they're seated at the wide, scarred oak table, glasses in hand that Harry finally speaks. "He says I have to work with Malfoy on this case."
Ron stops on the way to taking his first sip of bitters. "Rough luck, mate. Malfoy's a nasty piece of work, he is. I don't care how blue his blood is."
"You'll have to work with him too." Harry spares Ron a wry grin.
Ron takes a deep drink from his pint. "That's unprofessional is what it is. Why do we have to work with, what does he call himself now, a consulting crim-in-o-logist?" He draws out the last syllables of the bizarre word in mockery of its aristocratic user.
Harry doesn't roll his eyes, but you can see the effort on his face. "Something asinine like that. It doesn't matter what he calls himself, I really don't see why Kingsley has him in our investigation."
The barmaid, pink and pretty and oh-so-blonde, catches Ron's eye as she sets the plates on the edge of the bar. "Back in a tick," Ron says to Harry, and he goes off to get their food. Ron likes flirting with Annabeth, even if it makes him feel a bit awkward given his relationship with Hermione. He's been trying to get her to marry him for years now, but she claims it's an outdated way of keeping women men's property and refuses, each and every time he asks. Ron doesn't agree, not really, but it does mean that she approves of him flirting with pretty barmaids. Or at least she says it's fine by her, free love and all that. He's his own man, she points out, and she's not about to cage his sexual desires. Ron doesn't quite think she means it, though. Not entirely. He doesn't really care to find out.
Ron puts the plates on the table in front of Harry-- steak and kidney pie for himself and a ploughman's for Harry. Ron tucks in whilst Harry toys with his pickle and sets his knife down, then arranges the cooked egg to slice and eat.
Harry reaches for his pint. "I told Kingsley I wouldn't do it. I think this is the longest staring contest we've ever been in. I even thought he might pop a blood vessel."
Ron shakes his head with his mouth full, then swallows. "Don't provoke the Head like that. He has trouble enough as it is with the new Baltic Sea wizarding movement showing up in Tottenham."
They're both hesitant to say the word "anarchist" in public, but an exchange of glances gets the point across. Tensions have been running high in London and not just about murder -- Ron's heard that laws to ban anarchists were under discussion. The funeral of Edward VII had been an enforcement nightmare, and there's still George's coronation to look forward to. Political divisions are no less fierce on the wizarding side of things as on the Muggle.
"Well, I don't know why he has to include Malfoy in the mix." Harry stabs at a piece of cold meat fiercely, nearly pushing it off of his plate.
"There's no accounting for it, but as usual, we have to follow orders," Ron says. He knows his place when Harry's like this: the cool voice of reason to talk him off whatever mad idea he's concocting. "Just because we have to work with Malfoy doesn't mean we have to like working with him." He swallows a mouthful of pie.
"I don't like him at all." Harry chews a slice of egg, looking petulant.
Ron eyes him. There's something Harry's not saying, he can tell. Ron's been an Auror for twelve years now, if you count training, and Harry's friend for seven years more than that. He's not a fool, as much as Harry might think him to be. He saw the way Harry looked at Malfoy yesterday, standing in the middle of the bloody street surrounded by Aurors, halfway between fisticuffs and a fuck. Harry's never told him certain things about himself, about whom he shags, but Ron suspects. Partially from what Ginny had said when Harry'd broken off their courtship, and partially because he's got bloody eyes in his damned head. And it worries him, the look Harry'd cast Malfoy's way, like the sodding viscount was a Christmas hamper from Harrods. Harry's his best mate; Ron doesn't care if he prefers cock or fanny, but the last thing he wants is for Harry to end up in prison over some aristo twat like Malfoy. He's seen what that had done to Harry's godfather. Sirius might be settled in Berlin now with his friend Matthias--or whatever they're calling themselves these days--but Azkaban had nearly driven him mad. Ron doesn't want that for Harry. Besides, Ron hedges a secret suspicion that Malfoy's an actual law breaker. It's based not entirely on factual evidence, more on gossip and surmise, but Malfoy just always has a whiff of the indecent and the rule-flouting about him.
Malfoy's dangerous, and that sets Ron's nerves on edge.
"You didn't come home last night," Ron says after a moment, not looking at Harry. Or the night before, for that matter, but he knows not to push too far.
"Slept in the office." Harry sets his cutlery aside. Ron studies him thoughtfully over the rim of his pint glass. Harry's a good liar, Ron thinks. Pity about the dark edge of that fading love bite where his collar bends. No one else would notice, but Ron knows him too well by now. "Reading up on the old Whitechapel case."
This gets Ron's attention, whether or not it's true. The Brick Lane business has the whole force on edge. It's too close to what happened nearly a quarter-century ago with the Muggle whores they'd found in the streets, mangled and bloody. Ron's not so sure, though. He's looked at the old files, from Scotland Yard and the Auror archives. They all have by now. There's a difference between the surgical precision of the murderer back then and what's been happening on the streets lately.
"It hasn't been women this time," he points out.
Harry raises a shoulder in a shrug. "I know."
"It's not the same at all, whatever the lads are saying."
"I know," Harry says again.
"But you still think something's connected." Ron's bitters are gone. He regards the empty glass mournfully, aware that he can't order a second until he's off duty.
Harry nods, his mouth a thin line. "Something. Yes." He sighs. "I can't put my finger on it. It just seems…" He frowns. "Familiar."
Ron hesitates, then asks, "How are you going to find out?"
Harry smoothes a hand over his trousers and stands up to settle their check. When he returns, he says simply, "I'll be damned if I know."
The yet hangs in the air between them, underscored by the stubborn set of Harry's jaw.
With a sigh, Ron sets his hat back on his head, tugging it down over his eyes as he stands.
"When will the viscount be joining us?" he asks. "Should we put out more flags? Hire a brass band to play Rule Britannia?"
"I don't think he stands on ceremony," Harry says drily, but his eyes are a bit too bright as he glances away.
Ron is terrified suddenly for his old friend, and he couldn't say why. Malfoy's not to be trusted. This needs to be brought to a quick close before Harry gets his heart stomped on.
Or worse, he thinks grimly, and he follows Harry out into the street, a chill going through him, despite the warmth of the June sunlight.
The most annoying part of being dead, in Severus's opinion, is the utter boredom. Well, that and forever being trapped as one's seventeen-year-old essence, complete with spots and inconvenient arousals.
He rubs at his spectral skin, eyeing his reflection in the small mirror on the wall of Potter's office. He finds it absolutely unfair that his death came before the Bubotuber Pus potion Evan Rosier brewed for him took effect. Nevermind that he's thirty-three years past death, he'll forever be scrawny and pale with the greasy hair and oily skin of adolescence. He wrinkles his large nose and glares at himself, not for the first or last time cursing Tom-bloody-Riddle into oblivion. Try to stop one utterly mad Defence Against the Dark Arts professor from imploding the Hufflepuff common room and what do you get? Avada Kedavra'd in the hallway just outside the headmaster's office, that's what, and it still irks Severus to no end that he'd died protecting Hufflepuffs, for Christ's sake. Not that it would have done any good if he'd made it inside the headmaster's door. Dumbledore would only have eyed him over his spectacles and offered him sherbet lemons and inanely obscure, utterly useless advice while letting the bloody madman destroy Hogwarts. Most likely. Severus had never cared that much for the headmaster. All up Gryffindor and that shite. The whole Hogwarts staff were off their chump. Really, Severus blames the headmaster's inane hiring practices.
To be honest, Severus has never cared much for anyone at all, save Lily. He wonders sometimes if she hadn't found him in the hall, Riddle's steps still echoing down the staircase, whether he might have gone over to the other side, or whatever Elysian Fields wizarding souls fade into. Oblivion, perhaps. Some kind of stupid, misty veil to pass through, if the poets are to be believed. He thinks he might quite have liked that particular option, really. Instead he'd imprinted upon his ridiculous childhood pash, a ginger-haired nymph talented in spiritualism and divinatory techniques and the one bloody person capable of keeping Severus's shade tethered to this horrible, uncharitable, thoroughly maddening terra firma. Pity that a stupidly sentimental promise he'd made as she'd died a few years later, sprawled across the bloodied floor of her sitting room, her messy-haired child spawned with that arrogant fool of a husband mewling by her side, had tied him to said imbecilic offspring. Whose hair is still disgraceful, mind. Absolutely untameable by comb or house elf magic.
Severus glides over to Potter's relentlessly untidy desk and sits. The chair's comfortable at least, he'll give the twit that. He sighs and taps ghostly fingers against the desk blotter. Potter's distress had come across their connection quite clearly, interrupting him as he'd drifted through the potions laboratory in the Ministry's bowels. His only bit of fun to be had for the morning was in breathing over the shoulders of the idiot potioneers down there, whispering unseen in their ears until, nerve-wracked, their potions explode over burners.
But now he's here because his human needs him. So where the hell is the wretched brat?
Severus hates the apprehension that builds in him. He allows his mind to touch lightly upon the connection to Potter. The irritation is still there, crackling and snapping at the edges of Severus's mind. Still, it takes him by surprise when Potter's door flies open and the man himself is there, frowning at him.
"Harry?" Severus asks, and it's only his concern for the idiot that causes him to use the familiarity. If ghosts could flush, he would, particularly at Potter's raised eyebrow. Severus can't help an occasional flare of protectiveness. It doesn't matter that Potter's almost thirty now; he'll always be the small child Severus had watched over from the shadows.
"Stop poking at my mind," Potter says, but there's a rumble of affection in his complaint. "And get out of my chair."
Severus lingers just long enough to make it clear he's not compelled by Potter's demands, but he gives up the comfort of tufted leather for the rougher edge of Potter's desk. "It's your own bloody fault," he points out as Potter settles in the chair and reaches for a stack of parchment. "You think too loudly. Surprising, since you so rarely use your intellect."
That earns him a venomous look. Severus smiles. Merlin, but annoying Potter brings him such joy.
He waits, but Potter's not forthcoming. Surprising, that. Usually he's more than willing to complain.
"Well?" Severus demands after a moment, and at Potter's questioning look, he glares. "One o'clock, you fool. I thought for certain my head was going to explode with all your rage."
Potter picks up a quill and fiddles with it, testing the nib with his thumb. "Oh. That."
"Yes. That." Severus narrows his eyes at him. He finds it excruciatingly irritating when Potter takes that ridiculous adult tone with him, as he has so frequently since he'd passed the grand age of twenty. Severus's form might be forever stuck in adolescence, but his mind has aged over the past three decades, whatever Potter might think. "Don't patronise me." He knows he sounds sullen, but he doesn't care.
"Just an annoyance," Potter says, and he scrawls his near-illegible signature across some Ministry form. Really, the boy might have paid better care to his penmanship in school. Now Baddock, there's a lad with excellent script.
"An annoyance." Severus knocks the quill out of Potter's hand, just for the hell of it. "Would said annoyance be that person you've been shagging lately?" At Potter's outraged glare, he shrugs. "What?"
Potter picks the quill back up. Ink smears across his thumb. "I thought we had an arrangement? You stay out of my private affairs, and I don't exorcise you?"
"You can't," Severus points out. "Dying vow to your mum and all. Besides, I get bored in the evenings, and at least your sexual adventures keep me entertained. Well done the other night, by the way. Very enthusiastic performance with the viscount."
"I truly hate you," Potter says, which pleases Severus to no end. "And haven't we discussed more than once how inappropriate your stalking me through London is?"
Severus shrugs. "Blame your mother. I promised her I'd keep you safe."
"Fairly certain that doesn't mean prying into my private life."
"It does when you're fool enough to bed a Malfoy," Severus says sharply. "The whole damned family's bloody mad, you know. Has been for centuries. Don't even get me started on Lucius."
For Merlin's sake. "You're shagging him, and you don't know who his da is?" Severus doesn't bother to hide his disdain. "Honestly, Potter, your mother would be horrified to discover she'd birthed such a trollop as you."
"Sod you," Potter says, but his mouth quirks up in a half-smile. Severus's criticisms of Potter's supposed whorishness have fallen on deaf ears for years now; Severus rather thinks Potter's amused by them. He'd had the gall in their last argument to say he thought Severus was just jealous. As if that were possible. The handful of erotic nights Potter indulges in each year cause no envy in Severus. He'd never really cared that much for the simple pleasures of the flesh detached from emotion even when he was alive; he was too stupidly idiotic to be anything other than arse over tit for Lily Evans. More fool him, he thinks with a sigh. Look how that had turned out. Still, he's concerned about Potter and the Malfoy brat. Even after all these years, Potter's never spent more than one night in the same man's bed.
Potter hesitates, twisting the quill between his fingertips, then admits, "The viscount and I don't really talk much."
Potter rolls his eyes. "Oh, shut it." He drops the quill onto his desk and wipes his ink-stained thumb against the blotter. "So you don't particularly care for the family, I take it?"
"Lucius was an enormous prat in school," Severus says with a scowl. "He was a seventh-year when I was a firstie. Pompous and cruel. He enjoyed humiliating us in the common room. Rather a lot, really." Not that Slughorn had cared, Severus thinks bitterly. As prefect, Lucius had been given free reign with the younger students; only Narcissa Black had managed to keep him humane, and in Severus's opinion that had been by a thread.
Potter leans back in his chair. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree then."
"I assume you're talking about the viscount?" Severus settles himself on the desk, as cheerfully as he can manage. He'll be the first to admit ghosts and shades of all sorts are terrible gossips. Not that they can be blamed, in his opinion. There's not a great deal to converse about once you're dead, other than the goings-on of the living.
Potter nods, mouth tight and eyes flashing. Now there's an interesting emotion, Severus thinks. Definitely more complicated than Potter might like to admit. Perhaps it's not just la petite mort that Potter's been chasing those nights spent in the Malfoy brat's bed. Perhaps he's developing an emotional attachment to the viscount. Severus files that knowledge for future exploitation and possible blackmail. It wouldn't surprise him, to be honest. At school, Potter had always hated the Malfoy boy with a curiously furious intensity.
"Obviously he's a product of that awful family," Severus says, swinging his legs into Potter's desk and ruffling the papers in the closed drawers. "The Malfoys were known to be aristo arseholes, bragging about their pure bloodline." He snorts. "As if any of those lines were free of Muggles. One would sincerely hope not, given the incestuous alternative. The Blacks weren't half bad, though. Talented at the Dark Arts, to be sure, but they weren't really awful people." He pauses, considering. "Well, Cissy's sister was terrible, come to think of it. Bellatrix. Never knew her, but the upper years had their stories." He shudders, remembering the blank horror he'd seen in their eyes when her name was mentioned. "She married a Lestrange. I think they're in Paris now."
"What about the viscount?" Potter asks, leaning back in his chair and watching Severus with that shifty expression he gets when he doesn't want to admit his full interest in a subject. For a moment, Severus considers winding him up a bit, seeing how far he could push him about Malfoy, but the last time he'd gone too far, Potter'd had a magical explosion that'd caused Severus to be incorporeal for weeks. It's no fun picking up parts of your ghostly aura over Soho and half of Fitzrovia, ta ever so.
"The Viscount Malfoy," Severus drawls. "Did you know Lucius's father purchased that subsidiary title? Thousands of pounds from Canadian timber into the eastern campaigns. It's not really done, of course, but he wanted it. They're Marquesses as well, of course, rather new creation." He sniffs, as only a Yorkshireman can. He may not have come from anything posh himself, but he also doesn't give himself airs above his station. Unlike some. "They have the land from William the Conqueror, but the title is much more recent. Sixteenth century at the earliest."
Potter just looks at him. "And? The viscount himself--what about him? I mean, not at Hogwarts. I already know about that. After." He bites his lip, and Severus knows what he's going to ask next. "Any rumours from the spirit world?"
And there it is. Severus exhales in annoyance. "I hate it when you ask me that."
"Come on." Potter gives him a winning smile that only increases Severus's irritation. "I'm sure Mum would want you to check him out."
"That's blackmail." Severus hates it when Potter uses Lily against him.
Potter just raises an eyebrow.
"Oh, fine." Severus crosses his arms over his chest, pulling his frock coat tighter and closing his eyes. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate and pull details out of the ectoplasmic ether. He's brilliant remembering his past, but anything more recent gives him all sorts of trouble. He pushes a bit deeper into the spirit world, listening to the whispers swirl around him. It takes a moment, and Potter's watching him intently, which Severus finds distracting. He lets his mind drift into the shadows. A voice whispers to him, soft and light, and for a moment, Severus thinks he recognises the cadence and tone, but another, harsher voice drowns it out before he can place it--or make out what it's saying.
"Malfoy the younger was brilliant at Oxford," Severus says finally, eyes fluttering open, "although there was something odd about his career there. Went just out of Hogwarts--rather rare, that. Must have had better marks than you." Severus glares at Potter. That had been a bone of contention between the two of them during Potter's school days. Honestly, if it weren't for Granger, Severus suspects Potter barely would have made it through his O.W.L.s, much less his N.E.W.T.s. "He had some sort of nervous collapse and took a year off, but was allowed to return for his exams. Took a first in Greats. He must be far cleverer than his stupid father."
"That's all?" Potter asks, his disappointment evident. "I already know most of that."
Severus's temper flares. He's used to Potter using him like this for information; it's how the prat's made it this far in the force, after all, and for all he whinges about it, Severus enjoys being needed. But just because Severus is dead doesn't mean he hasn't any feelings.
He goes half-transparent, swishing around Potter's office in a vortex. And if he happens to upend an inkwell into Potter's lap, well, it isn't really intentional but he enjoys it anyway. And then of course Potter's spitting mad and cursing with ink dripping from his trousers, and it's a much better idea to retreat into the roof with the pigeons and that weird old spirit from the 1760s who died in a lightning strike and still looks a bit twitchy and half-charred.
The dome of St. Paul's shines in the afternoon sun. Severus finds himself looking past it, out over the rooftops of London to the sinuous, grey curve of the Thames. There's a darkness spreading over the city. He can feel it in the ether, cold and clammy and all too familiar, and for the briefest, clearest moment, he wonders why Potter didn't ask him about the Malfoy family's connection to the Beast. He draws in a ragged breath, ready to slink back and apologise, to tell him there's more than he knows.
Over the city, the darkness shifts. Voices whisper, carried faint on the wind.
And Severus forgets.
If he's honest, Draco doesn't care for the inside of the Ministry at all, much less the drab, dingy set of rooms the politicians have set aside for Auror use, tucked away in the far back corridors of power. The desk Dawlish has led him to is the worst of the lot, battered and musty, with one leg propped up solely by very wobbly cushioning charms that Draco's certain a first-year at Hogwarts could have exceeded.
Dawlish waits for him to complain, so Draco merely smiles at him and sets his satchel on the desktop scarred by a generation of quill nibs. "Thank you," he says politely, and it warms the cockles of his soul when Dawlish is set on his back foot. Honestly. They act as if he's going to respond like his father sometimes, which annoys Draco to no end. He's spent the past decade of his life proving he's nothing like Lucius Malfoy, only to discover not a damn person's been paying attention. No matter what he does, they still assume he's his father's son.
"Have we a name for the victim, yet?" Draco asks as he takes the stack of parchment Dawlish hands over.
"Bertram Frobisher Clarke." Dawlish scratches the tip of his long nose. There's a smudge of ink on his left cheek and another across his worn cuff. "Bertie, to what friends he had."
Draco glances over the first parchment. "Not a social butterfly then."
"On the contrary," Dawlish says. "Had quite a circle of acquaintances, but not many of them cared for him, it seems. He was half-American and a Squib. Came back to Cardiff from the States to study at the university, but he was sent down after two years for gambling. Never went back."
Dawlish snorts. "Not really. His father's one of those industrialists across the pond. Plenty of money in the family, and his mother was a Urquart. A second daughter, but still social capital to be had."
"Quite a bit," Draco says under his breath. The Urquarts might not have the financial resources they'd been known for a century or two ago, but they were an old, respected, touted pure-blood family--at least to the extent any of the old families could claim a bloodline without Muggles. All liars, the lot of them, as Draco knew full well. There were at least one or two halfblood skeletons rattling around in his own ancestral closet. He was certain the Urquarts had a few.
"Eh? What was that?" Dawlish asks, but Draco just waves him off. Dawlish doesn't seem to want to dwaddle--they never do around him, Draco notes with satisfaction--so after making certain Draco doesn't require minding, the older man takes his escape, mumbling something about a meeting he has to attend.
For half an hour or so, Draco sits quietly with the files Dawlish has provided him on the recent murder. He sorts through Padma's preliminary reports, checking and then double-checking the data against Baddock's neatly recorded evidence list. She doesn't state it directly; she couches it in potentiality, focusing on the possibility a shapeshifter was responsible, but her suggested conclusions fall into line with what he's suspected, what his senses told him the moment he bent over Clarke's mangled body. It was plain, honestly, from the nature of the slash patterns and the radius of the bite.
A were was responsible, and now Potter will be charging in blindly, making of muck of things as usual.
"Damn it." Draco sets his quill aside and pinches the bridge of his nose. There'd been part of him that hoped he was wrong, that he'd misread the signs. This will make everything more complicated, he knows. People fear the dark and the creatures that roam in the moonlight. He ought to know, really. He's spent enough time in the shadows himself. Still, the last thing he wants is to direct the Auror spotlight on his own condition--nor does he want Potter caught up in this mess, possibly even killed. "Damn it, damn it, damn it."
"Something wrong?" Dawlish comes back into the room with two mugs of tea. He diffidently sets one near Draco's elbow, but his eyes are Auror-sharp.
Draco calms himself, taking a slow breath before he leans forward, elbows on the scarred wood of the desk. "No more than usual." John Dawlish isn't a fool; he's been an Auror since before Draco started Hogwarts. Draco eyes the tea. It's sludgy and overbrewed, and likely hot as Hades if the steam is any gauge, but he appreciates the gesture nonetheless. He changes the subject. "What do you make of the Stella Matutina cufflinks?"
"The what-now?" Dawlish sits back carefully in his chair, balancing the mug in his heavy hands and blowing on it occasionally. "I don't go in for that Muggle religious business."
"And yet you know it's religious."
"Stella Matutina, Morning Star. Got something to do with Mary, ain't it?" At Draco's raised eyebrow, Dawlish shrugs. "I remember my Hogwarts Latin, and Mum was Catholic from Dublin, what can I say?" He watches Draco over the rim of his mug, more closely than Draco likes. "The cufflinks?"
Resisting the urge to talk about Muggle-magical koinonia and oecumenical tradition, Draco raps on the list of the personal effects. "They had a rayed star on them." He barely manages to keep from rolling his eyes at Dawlish's blank look. Honestly, basic occult education is appalling in wizardom. "The Morning Star, also known as the Stella Matutina. I noticed them at the scene. By itself, it can be a Catholic symbol of the Virgin Mary, as you said, but in today's London? It's also an occult symbol in the extreme."
"Right. I get you. It's Crowley and that bunch, then." Dawlish nods as he sips his brew with utmost caution. Well, that's a relief. At least he's in the vicinity of a right answer. "Reckon it makes sense for a Squib to be playing around with that lot. Best he could get to magic, eh?"
Draco makes motions to touch his own mug without really drinking. He'll have to find a plant to pour it into when Dawlish isn't looking. Perhaps there will be one in Potter's office? He wants to hide this from the Auror because of the courtesy he's showing him; normally, he'd do it quite openly if he were displeased.
"Close, but not quite." Draco settles back into his chair. "Crowley's bunch are now the A.A. and no one's quite certain what that is, beyond a load of bugg-- Ehm, hogwash." Draco resists the urge to use coarse language; what he's learned of some of the Golden Dawn successors in recent cases has been unmentionably cruel. "Mather's still got the faithful chained to Alpha et Omega, but a lot of the high profile literary sorts are with the splinter sect, Stella Matutina. Judging by the cufflinks, our victim was one of those."
"A right nutter, you mean?" Dawlish keeps drinking that awful tea; Draco suspects he has a oesophagus lined with asbestos. "All spooky-ooky mumbo-jumbo?"
Draco tries not to sigh. "I rather doubt they'd call their belief system that."
"If he's hanging around Crowley's lot--" Dawlish gives him a pointed look. Religious tolerance is obviously not a talent of his, Draco notes. To be honest, Draco rather likes Crowley; the man comes from a Squib family, but Draco suspects he has a bit of magic in him. Enough to impress the Muggles at least, and Draco can't blame him for that, really. It's not as if Pansy doesn't do the same with her seances and divination, aimed at taking a bit of the Muggles' gold. Keeps her in velvet and satins, as she points out.
A blond head pops around the corner. "Sorry, Dawlish, but you said to tell you when those Renshaw reports came back in." The Auror gives Draco a curious glance, but otherwise doesn't acknowledge him.
"Right." Dawlish unfolds himself, stretching as he stands. "Obliged, Smith. Viscount, do you have what you require for the nonce?"
Suppressing the habitual urge to correct the address, Draco smiles. "Quite, thank you." He waits until Dawlish disappears down the corridor before picking up his mug and making his way towards Potter's empty office. A single lit sconce flickers just inside the open door, inviting him into the room beyond. Potter works in the dark in more ways than one, Draco thinks. He'd never be able to live without the light of his library windows.
Potter's desk is a disaster, parchment scattered across the ebony top, and Draco watches in surprise as an inkwell moves on its own, tipping over just at the edge of the leather-edged blotter. Draco lunges forward to catch it and brushes an oddly cold surface.
"What the--" He breaks off as a ghost pops into view, young and frightfully scowly.
"You're not supposed to be in here," the ghost says, and he drifts towards Draco, his dark hair hanging in his face. "Potter'll be furious." Given the pleased smirk on the ghost's face, that option doesn't seem to disturb him all that much, Draco suspects. He sets the inkwell down.
Draco turns, watching the ghost float past him. "Who are you?"
"Severus." The ghost pauses, then tilts his head as he studies Draco. "Usually people can't see me, though. Not unless I want them to. Except for Weasley and Granger, of course, but they've been attached to Potter's side since Hogwarts."
"I'm quite aware," Draco says wryly. "Severus, you say?"
"Are you deaf?" Severus frowns at him. "Or merely stupid?" He looks disappointed. "Potter always has dolts for friends."
Draco thinks he likes this particular shade. "I'm not a friend."
"I know. I've seen you." Severus narrows his eyes, and Draco wonders exactly how much of him the ghost has seen. "You're the Malfoy boy."
"Man, I'd rather think." Draco stills as Severus circles him. He can feel the ghost's cool dampness brush his skin. "You're tethered to Potter, I take it?" This isn't something Potter's mentioned yet, although Draco supposes they've been otherwise occupied. He's intrigued--once again Potter proves more interesting than he'd suspected.
"Protector shade," Severus says, voice glum. "My wretched destiny, fortunate me." He stops in front of Draco. "All because of a girl. Stay away from the lasses, my mum warned me. Should have listened to her, really."
A sound in the hall distracts Draco from a witty and rather inappropriate retort, and he turns just as Potter pushes the door open, files stacked in his hands. He draws up short, his face a thundercloud.
"What are you doing here?"
Draco looks back towards Severus, but the ghost is gone. Wretched coward, he thinks, then he holds up the mug of lukewarm tea. "Thought I'd share?"
The look Potter gives him is wary and closed-off. "Thanks, but no." He walks past Draco, and he reeks of rain and mud. Draco wonders where he's been. "You can go."
For a moment, Draco considers it. He's tired and not in the mood to deal with a crotchety Potter. Still, there's no good in letting the bastard think he can boss Draco about this early in the game.
"It's a were, you know," Draco says, his tone flat. He doesn't care at the moment if Potter believes him; he's seen the careful notations in Padma's neat script, and he recognises the description of his own pathology. He's seen it in Blaise's notes for the past decade. "Even in a preliminary report, Padma's conclusion is clear."
Potter looks at him blankly, then he sets the parchment on his desk. "Right."
Draco's taken aback. He thought he'd have to argue a bit more. He's disappointed, really. "You don't seem surprised."
"Honestly, not much would surprise me at this point," Potter says. He sits in his chair, then jumps back up with a bloody hell, Severus that echoes in the small room. He picks up a pyramid paperweight and tosses it back on the desk where it lands with a thud. "I'm going to kill that damned ghost," he mutters beneath his breath, rubbing his backside. There's a spectral glow faint behind him, and Draco winks at it before it fades away. Potter falls back into his chair and looks up at Draco, face weary. "It wasn't the full moon."
"No," Draco says. He rubs his thumb across the rim of his tea mug. He's treading near dangerous quicksand here. "Not all weres shift only then, or so I've been told." Somehow, he doesn't think Potter would appreciate his own personal experience as a reference. One shout from Potter would bring the whole of the Auror force running in, and Draco'd rather not spend months in Azkaban or be tracked by that damned Werewolf Registry. He's worked far too hard over the past years to keep his freedom.
Potter looks sceptical. "They teach you that at Lausanne or Oxford?" Before Draco can reply, he shakes his head. Draco hates how ridiculously attractive the idiot looks, his dark hair tumbling over his high forehead. It's unfair, really. Someone so utterly odious should look like a troll, with terrible skin and warts sprouting unfortunate hairs. "Weres are tied to the lunar calendar; everyone knows that, or weren't you paying attention in History of Magic?"
"No one managed to stay awake in that class," Draco points out. Binns's droning had been the vocal equivalent of the River Lethe, carrying one straight into the cave of Hypnos. "Besides, Binns was a complete idiot. Weres are shape-shifters, not that different from Animagi, and some can control when and where they shift."
"An Animagus isn't ruled by a baser animal nature," Potter snaps. His lip curls. "They're nothing like weres--"
"Really?" Draco's voice rises. He can't help himself, no matter how much he wants to keep his calm. It feels as if Potter's lashing him to the bone, even as he knows he's overreacting. Potter's disdain still feels like a betrayal. "So shall I tell that to your friend Remus Lupin, then? He's merely a beast held captive by his darker side?" His cousin's married to Lupin; he can't help but wonder at the irony that his family is double-tied to lycanthropy. He'd blame it on the Black family legacy, but the thought of putting the fault of his own condition on his mother turns his stomach. He could never do that to her. Not after everything.
"That's not what I said--"
"It's exactly what you said!" Draco hates that his hands are shaking. He sets his mug of tepid tea on the edge of Potter's desk before it sloshes out. This is precisely why he ought never to have brought Potter back to his rooms from the Lily Pond that first night. Potter's always been thick-headed and obtuse, prejudiced in every way possible against anything with which he has no familiarity. He's dangerous--and a fool to boot.
Potter's jaw tenses. "You're twisting my words the way you always have done."
Draco might have known Potter wouldn't understand. Horrified, Draco realises he actually wanted the arse to. His heart sinks. He ought to have known better. He ought to have been more careful. It'd been Potter, for Christ's sake; nothing more than a brilliant shag with an old school enemy, a chance to have what he'd lusted for all those years past. That's what he'd told himself at least. He hadn't meant to let Potter get under his skin. Not like this. And now he wants to stomp his feet like the petty schoolboy he once was. Potter has a terrible effect on him, throwing him right back into that appalling mindset he'd had as a youth, where he'd like nothing better than to deck Potter, or better yet kick that smugness off his face again. Perhaps St. Augustine was right about children and original sin. Had he had his way back then, Draco would gladly have helped Potter shuffle off this mortal coil.
To be honest, he still might do.
"You're an utter imbecile," Draco says before he can stop himself.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with you?" Potter asks, voice rising as he pushes himself out of his chair. "Why are we even arguing about this? Is this about the other night?"
Heat spreads across Draco's cheeks. "No. I think I've made my opinion perfectly clear on that point."
"Yes, well, I'm stuck with you, aren't I?" Potter runs a hand through his unruly hair, leaving it standing on end. "Christ, I never should have gone back to Berkeley Square that first night. I knew it was stupid. You could ruin me without a single care. Oh, Lord Malfoy, he can do whatever he will, and it'll be chalked up to his rakish nature, whilst I'll be dragged through the filth--" He breaks off, looking at the closed door of his office.
"They can't hear us," Draco snaps, but he snaps a quick Muffliato towards the door anyway. "What I'd like to know is have you lost your damned mind?" He stares at Potter, flabbergasted. "The Golden Boy who can do no wrong, up for being the youngest Deputy Head Auror in decades? And you think I could bring you down. What? By walking out there and shouting about how I've bummed you? Merlin's balls, Potter." He wants a drink, now. Preferably absinthe; the full moon's soon, and he can feel it's pull across his skin, making him want to bare his teeth, press them against Potter's throat. Baser nature be damned, and he knows why Potter's words stung. They're too close to the truth for Draco's comfort, too close to what he thinks himself. He hates what he is, what he's become, what he can be without the constraints of Blaise's potion, holding him back, tempering his need to rip and tear and inflict pain. Potter has no idea how Draco struggles, every day, every night.
No one does.
He turns away, composing himself as best he can under the circumstances. "Right. Ta ever so for the chit-chat. It's been most illuminating."
And if Draco upends the inkwell again by accident, straight onto Potter's trousers, leaving the young ghost tittering in the corner, well that couldn't have possibly been on purpose.
He doesn't stick around to find out what Potter makes of it.
Harry's still fuming when Dawlish knocks on his door a few hours later. There's something about Malfoy that riles him on the best of days, and he's still annoyed that Malfoy seems not to have the faintest care that his presence on this case is a danger for Harry's career. It's not as easy for him as it is for milord, for Christ's sake. Harry has more to lose if his personal peccadilloes are discovered; what little wealth his parents left him at their deaths he's tucked away in a Gringotts account, adding to it as he's been able over the years. He'd once thought he'd been saving it for a wife and a marriage. Now he's not so certain. Still, it's not enough to keep him comfortably set for life if he gets the chuck from the Aurors.
"A moment of your time?" Dawlish asks, and Harry waves him in. Dawlish takes the seat across from Harry's desk and crosses one ankle over his knee. He taps a folded sheaf of parchment against his trousers, a troubled frown creasing his face. "It's about Malfoy."
"What have you found?" Harry leans forward in his chair and folds his hands on his blotter. He's had Dawlish keeping an eye on Malfoy today, in the hopes that the viscount will cock up, necessitating Kingsley's dismissal of him from the case.
Dawlish tosses the parchment on Harry's desk. It skitters across the blotter, stopped only by a pile of paperwork. "He left a note before he packed up for the day."
Harry's name is scrawled across the parchments' fold. He picks it up with trepidation, not entirely certain it's not hexed. "And?"
Dawlish meets Harry's gaze. "Read it. He's not wrong."
"Is this about his theory that we're looking for a were?" Harry's exasperated. Honestly, he doesn't know why Dawlish of all people is falling for Malfoy's supposed charm. John's too blunt for that sort of thing, or at least Harry'd thought.
"He's gone through Padma's report," Dawlish says. "Makes a good case, I think." He traces a fingernail along the stitches that line the gussets of his boot. "Something magical exploded Bertie from the inside, but those bites are canine."
Harry unfolds the parchment and glances over it. Malfoy's pulled from Padma's report, underlining passages he's found significant. Bite radius and claw marks jump out at him, along with shifter and magical signature. Harry chews his bottom lip. "It could be an Animagus."
"Could be," Dawlish agrees. "Probably is, but…" He trails off with a sigh.
"What?" Harry asks, his heart sinking. Surely Dawlish can't be supporting Malfoy, of all people.
Dawlish takes a moment before he answers. "Milord's a clever one, Harry. Bit of a prat, sure, but he's not one to go off on an unsubstantiated theory, yeah? He's kept it to himself until now, and it's not as if Padma's saying anything that different."
"She's not saying it's definitely a were," Harry points out.
"True." Dawlish shrugs. "But she's not saying it's not, either." He stands, the chair creaking as his bulk lifts out of it, and glances back at Harry as he pauses in the doorway. "I don't like Malfoy much, but I reckon we might want to listen to what he has to say, right?"
Harry hates it that he has a point. "I'll think about it."
"Good lad." Dawlish's craggy face cracks into a smile. "Might make a decent Deputy Head out of you, after all."
"Out of here with you," Harry says, trying to look stern, but he's too pleased by Dawlish's flattery. Having the man on his side will go a long way in the other lads accepting his authority. If he doesn't bugger up this promotion, that is--figuratively or literally. "Go spend some time with that wife and boy of yours."
Dawlish tips two fingers to his eyebrows in a salute. "Aye, sir."
Harry sinks back into his chair as Dawlish closes the door behind him. He studies the note lying across his desk, the bold strokes of Malfoy's pen dark against the creamy parchment. If it were anyone other than Malfoy, he thinks, he'd be less quick to judge, he knows that full well. It might be an outlandish hypothesis, but Harry's seen stranger things in his days as an Auror. It's not even that wild of a theory: Harry's seen the Ripper files; Malfoy's same suggestion had been thrown about at the time, particularly after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly. There'd been barely anything recognisable left of her mutilated body. No one had wanted to think a human was responsible for that sort of destruction.
Perhaps Malfoy's not so far off, Harry thinks, and his stomach churns. He doesn't want him to be, and he's not certain why.
Harry stands and reaches for his coat. He doesn't even care if it's still drizzling outside. He needs to be out in the air, away from the stifling confinement of his office and this case. Almost without thinking he picks up Malfoy's note and folds it into thirds, stuffing it into his pocket.
As much as he hates to admit it, Malfoy's given him something to think about. He stops and scrawls a quick note to Padma, dropping it into the owl post for the next morning. If nothing else, he should stop by the morgue tomorrow to check in on her progress.
Placing his hat firmly on his head, he strides out of his office, the sconce on the wall flickering out behind him.
It's well past tea when Hermione Granger steps out of her boyfriend's Floo, purple, green and white banners still draped across her breasts. She's tired and all she wants is to be out of these wretched boots that have been pinching her toes all bloody afternoon. If she hadn't been meeting with Mrs Pankhurst and the other Muggle leaders of the Women's Social and Political Union, she'd have cast a few comfort charms, but dear Emmeline always gets tetchier than usual when Hermione lets on that she's not quite normal in front of the others. Hermione had met Emmeline's daughter Sylvia at Hogwarts; they'd both bonded over being both Muggleborn and the only witches in their families, and it'd been Sylvia who'd spurred Hermione to fight for better suffrage in the wizarding world, including Squibs and the Muggleborn, earning the right five years past from the Wizengamot, although they'd been unable to gain voting rights for those under the Beast division, including werewolves. Hermione's still upset by that, every time she has tea with Remus and Tonks. Still, their success had inspired Emmeline, and the following year she'd pulled both Hermione and Sylvia into leadership roles in the WSPU, hoping to use their experience to inspire her Muggle suffragettes.
Hermione's not quite certain she wants to. Sylvia's already threatening to break with her mother, frustrated with Emmeline's narrow focus when it comes to the rights of women. Hermione herself has reservations about some of Emmeline's tactics: whilst she's perfectly willing to send herself to jail for slapping a police officer or chaining herself to a carriage, she's objected more than once to the hunger strikes the Muggle suffragettes have undertaken, and to the violent countermeasures of the police at the urging of the Liberal government. The escalation of tactics and brutal suppression aren't the fault of the suffragettes, of course, but the entire issue has become too extreme for Hermione's comfort. She must be getting less radical in her old age, but she does have a position to maintain at St Hilda's and students to worry about, after all.
The kitchen is warm and small and cosy, rather like the flat itself. Ostensibly Hermione shares a flat with her friend Luna and her father near Russell Square, and there are always her rooms at St Hilda's, of course, but she spends most of her nights here in Soho with Ron and Harry. Her mother would be shocked, she supposes, but Hermione doesn't see the point of pretense. She's careful in sleeping with Ron, always making certain her potions are up-to-date; the last thing she needs is an unplanned pregnancy up-ending their lives. The St. Hilda's dons are progressive in their attitudes towards women's rights and education, but she rather thinks even they'd balk if she got herself up the duff as an unwed mother, more likely over the potential loss of research time than the social scandal, really.
She drops into a chair at the table and unbuttons her boots, kicking them off with a relieved sigh. She rubs at her burning toes, cracking them with a wince.
"You're back," Harry says, coming into the kitchen behind her. He's in just a shirt and trousers, the collar open, his dark hair touselled and unruly.
Harry, she thinks, never knows how attractive he is and never has, really. Hermione's dead in love with Ron, has been since fifth year, and she adores Harry like a brother, but she has moments of fleeting regret about Harry's interest in men rather than women, mostly for his own comfort and well-being. He'd barely wanted to admit it to her, that year after Hogwarts, and she'd had to pry it out of him in the wake of his tempestuous breakup with Ron's younger sister. It'd taken nearly an entire bottle of gin before he'd finally given in and confessed what Hermione already suspected. Harry's always had a prudish streak--something about being raised by those horrid Surrey relatives of his--and he hadn't been able to admit, even to himself, that he wasn't interested in women in that way for the longest time. Although the laws aren't enforced as frequently in the wizarding world, invert wizards are still frowned upon in most circles in England, despite their obvious presence in all levels of society. Everyone suspects about Albus Dumbledore, and Harry's own godfather had gone to Azkaban for an improper relationship after his own mother had brought him before the Wizengamot. Sirius was in Berlin now, happily away from England; Hermione'd joined him for tea on a recent trip for an International Witches' Congress.
At times, Hermione wonders if her irregular status with Ron isn't also cloaking Harry. She's heard a few odd snippets of conversation that have made her wonder what people assume about the romantic arrangements of the three friends. They've always been her boys, since Hogwarts, and the loose tongues can wag all they want. The world is changing, and there are more important causes to fight for than conventional social morality.
"Make us a cuppa, will you?" Hermione asks, doing her best to look pitiful. Harry just laughs at her and snaps his fingers at the kettle sitting on the cooker. She can see the red flare of hot coals through the slats of the firebox beneath the range, and it only takes a moment before steam starts drifting from the kettle's spout.
Harry drops a folded parchment on the table and opens the cabinet, pulling out a crazed pot and a tin of Darjeeling from the grocer's. He makes the tea by rote, settling the leaves into pot and filling it with steaming water, then covering the pot with a worn off-orange cosy from the hands of Molly Weasley, a reminder of the level of domesticity Hermione knows she'll never achieve. Balancing pot and cups, Harry sets the tray down on the table between them, then pours for Hermione, knowing exactly how she prefers it with a single sugar cube and a goodly splash of milk.
"What's this?" Hermione asks, picking up the parchment Harry'd discarded. He doesn't stop her from opening it, instead setting her cup of tea in front of her as she skims the spiky handwriting scrawled in thick black quill strokes. She raises an eyebrow. "Lord Malfoy? Really?"
"Ron and I are working with him," Harry says, a grim tinge to his voice. "Kingsley's orders. There's a new murder, this one near Brick Lane."
Hermione sets the letter down, feeling as if she should scour her fingers now. "And Malfoy's assisting?"
"More or less." Harry moves the parchment, resting his elbow near it. He hesitates. "Well. You've read it. He thinks it's a were."
"Yes, I see." Hermione picks up her tea and sips it, collecting her thoughts. "And you?"
Harry doesn't answer for a long moment, then he sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know yet. Maybe? Maybe not."
A typical Harry answer. Hermione hates it when he refuses to take an opinion. "What does Ron think?"
"That Malfoy's full of shite," Ron says from the doorway. He's jacketless as well, and there's a Daily Prophet tucked beneath his arm, suggesting that he's been visiting the loo. He leans down and kisses Hermione's forehead before dropping into the chair next to her. "Can't be a were. Full moon isn't until tomorrow."
Harry doesn't look convinced. "Those wounds weren't made by knife. Or a regular dog."
Ron shrugs. "Another animal or weapon then. Or some nutter trying to make it spectacular." He swipes Hermione's tea and takes a swallow of it. "Malfoy's just trying to make himself look important."
"But Padma's preliminary report agrees with him," Harry says, nodding towards the parchment. "At least he's suggesting it does." He sighs. "I'll need to talk to her in the morning."
"She'll clear it up." Ron shakes his head. "He's pulling one on you, mate. I'll wager a Galleon she says it's an Animagus. Makes more sense."
Harry gives him a faint smile, the one he always uses when he's placating Ron. "You're probably right." Hermione raises an eyebrow. Interesting, that. So Harry's wondering if Malfoy has a point then.
Ron just snorts and nods. "'Course I am. Malfoy's wanting to send us on a wild goose chase. We're distracted; he goes off and finds the Animagus murderer, and we look right tits with egg on our faces. What an arsehole."
"Wasn't Malfoy involved in that poisoning case in Manchester?" Hermione knows she'll touch a nerve, but sometimes her boys need that. As much as she dislikes the Viscount Malfoy, she does respect his intelligence, something that she suspects Harry and Ron overlook because of their territoriality. "His methods do appear to work, you know."
"He was lucky," Ron says with a dismissive wave. "And Crispin Hawes says he was an arse the whole way through the investigation."
Harry smiles, a genuine curve of his lips this time. "Not that Crispin isn't an arse himself most of the time."
"True." Ron shrugs and leans back in his chair, draping an arm over Hermione's shoulders. It's heavy and comforting. "Doesn't mean I want Malfoy sticking his pointy little nose in our case though."
It's hard to argue with that. Still, something doesn't quite sit right with Hermione. She frowns, recalling a conversation she'd had last week with Tonks over tea. "But Tonks said something recently about shifting outside of the full moon. It wasn't Remus, of course, but there was something odd in that benevolent society they're a part of. That one or two of the younger ones have had irregular shifts. I thought St. Mungo's was trying to help with it."
Harry turns his teacup between his hands, frowning into it. "I haven't heard about this. Aren't they supposed to report that sort of thing to the registry? I don't think it's been in any of the werewolf cases the force has handled as of late."
Of course not, Hermione thinks and tries not to let her annoyance show. Lately Harry has barely listened to anything or anyone outside of the Auror headquarters. He's been far too focused on his possible promotion to Deputy Head.
"You should visit them more frequently," she points out. "It's not as if you aren't Teddy's godfather." She rolls her eyes at Harry's scowl and sighs. "It's just something Nymphadora mentioned in passing. She's been worried about Teddy; if he's going to show any wolfish traits it'll be now. He's just turned twelve this spring."
"Right," Harry says, but she can tell he's distracted. He eyes the parchment from Malfoy again. "Mungo's is working on it?"
"Supposedly." Hermione settles into Ron's side, enjoying the warmth radiating off of him. "I don't know how, though."
"Might be worth looking into," Ron says. He squeezes Hermione's shoulder "Although I have to admit, at the moment, I'm more interested in investigating what's for tea."
Harry smiles. "You would be." He glances at Hermione. "Figured you wouldn't be up to cooking tonight, so I stopped by the Leaky and ordered meat pies."
She wrinkles her nose. They're not her favourites, but anything that keeps her from having to stand over the cooker for an hour or two is worth it, even if it is her rightful night to make tea. They've had a rota for household tasks going on three years now, despite the fact that she doesn't technically live with them. It'd been her idea; she'd balked at their expectation that she cook and clean for them merely because she doesn't have a prick.
"Thanks," she says, and she means it. Harry just gives her a small smile. Even when his head's up his arse, he's still thoughtful--when he wants to be, at least. "Shall I warm them?" she asks, starting to stand, but Harry waves her back into her seat.
"Leave it be," he says, and she leans back against Ron's side, watching as Harry pushes himself up. He tucks Malfoy's letter into his trouser pocket, and Hermione can't help but wonder at the care he's taking with it. The letter hadn't been more than a few scribbled demands for a better desk space in the Auror headquarters and Malfoy's insistence that they look into werewolf activity throughout London based on Padma's preliminary reports--nothing of importance, really. She doesn't quite understand Harry's reluctance to part with it.
Except, perhaps, she does. And she doesn't entirely like the conclusion she's beginning to draw.
"Really, Harry, I wouldn't know," Tonks says as she steps over piles of old clothing the Werewolf Benevolent Society's sorting in her sitting room for distribution. "All they told us was that someone from St. Mungo's would be looking into the shifts, and they've collected blood from Freddy and Hestia, but I haven't heard anything else, other than it might have been an issue with their Wolfsbane Potion." She picks up a frayed shirtwaist that's draped over the arm of the worn sofa and frowns at it, her crown of braids turning from brown to a bright, angry red before fading into a dark auburn. "Honestly, the rags people give us. Barely wearable!"
Harry leans against the door jamb, arms crossed, trying to stay out of the chaos. "Would Remus know?" He wishes again that Ron would have come instead, but he'd gone off to track down another lead on Bertie Clarke's murder since Dawlish had been called into court to testify on a case they'd closed nearly a year past. It's been months since Harry's been up to Birmingham to see Remus and his family, and he feels terribly guilty about his absence.
"Probably not." Tonks bins the shirtwaist and turns back to him. "He's the one who told me in the first place. If he knew anything more, he'd say." She shakes her head, mouth tightening. "It's not right, the way they treat him. Like he's barely human at best, and most of them just think he's nothing more than a beast. They'll be more open with me, and I'm a woman, only just capable of thinking for myself." She snorts and brushes past him, leading him into the kitchen, filled with the scent of just-baked bread. "It's enough to make you loathe the wizarding world sometimes."
"Most of the time, I'd think." Harry takes in the tiny kitchen, pristinely neat with crisp white lace curtains hanging at the windows, carefully mended in more than one place. Tonks and Remus are proper poor; the prejudice against Remus's lycanthropy keeps him from steady employment, and he's forced to support his wife and son on the pittance he earns from writing and the odd job here and there. It's a fact that pleases Severus, much to Harry's annoyance, though the last time Severus had popped in when Harry was here at the cottage visiting, the reality of the Lupins' poverty had sobered the arrogant sod. It probably reminded Severus a bit too much of his own Northern childhood, Harry thinks. It was hard not to feel a twinge of pity for the family in this shabby, rundown postage stamp of a Birmingham flat, even if it is kept spotless. Still, Remus and Tonks and Teddy seem happy and content for the most part, and Tonks has thrown herself into her work with the benevolent society.
Tonks offers Harry a thick slice of warm bread, spread with butter and raspberry jam. It's delicious, and he says so. She beams at him. "Mum's old recipe, the jam is. She gave it to me Sunday last, and I thought I'd make some up this week." She eyes him. "You're not eating enough. You're too thin."
Not likely, Harry thinks wryly. He's had a few too many of the Leaky's meat pies as of late. "So tell me about these shifts then," he says through a mouthful of bread.
She shrugs and tucks a loose tendril of hair behind one ear. "Nothing remarkable about them except that one happened in the new moon and one just a few days ago. Startled poor Freddy and Hestia, of course, but they had people with them who recognised the signs early enough to lock each of them in until their shift ran its course. They're siblings, turned at the same time six weeks or so ago down near Salisbury. Their poor mum's nearly out of her mind, as you might expect, but their dad points out he's just glad to have them alive. Remus went with them to register at the Ministry a fortnight ago. It ought to have been their second regular shift tonight." She sighs. "I don't know. Maybe their bite wasn't done properly. Maybe it's because they're so young. Freddy's just six and Hestia's eight." Her eyes narrow. "St Mungo's wanted to put them down at first until one of the Healers intervened. Remus and Marcus--you remember him, of course, prints the pamphlets for the benevolent society?" Harry doesn't, but he nods anyway. Tonks goes on. "Anyway, the both of them spent a whole day shouting at the Healers before one of the researchers took an interest in their case. Came up and took some blood, did a bit of a write-up on what had happened to them, then sent them home with a new potion. It seems to have worked, so far."
Harry sits on one of the rickety chairs at the heavy wooden table where the Lupins eat. "No one was hurt when they shifted?"
Tonks shakes her head and taps her wand against a bowl filled with potatoes. The skins unwind themselves, dropping onto the countertop in neat, even spirals. "Hestia scratched her side a bit trying to get out, and they both demolished their rooms, but that's about it."
"Could the Wolfsbane Potion have caused an early shift?" Harry asks. He moves aside a vase filled with bright pink and white Sweet William plucked from the front garden.
"I don't know." Tonks drops the potatoes into a pot of boiling water, hissing when she splashes herself. "I suppose it might, if it was misbrewed, but it's not something any of us have heard of before." She glances back over at Harry. "This month's batch didn't affect the rest of the society. Remus has been fine, and he takes it from the same potionbrewer as everyone else--Edward Pembroke over in Bath. Maybe it was a bad brew, but Eddy's always been quite reliable. Why are you asking?"
Harry doesn't want to tell her, but he knows she'll keep pressing." There've been bodies found in London," he says, "with what look to be animal mutilations done to the corpses." He regrets it immediately when her mouth thins and worry furrows her eyebrows. "No one's suggesting it's a were doing the killing," he adds gently. Well. No one except Malfoy, so far. And possibly Padma, but Harry's holding off judgment on that for the nonce.
"But they will, soon enough." Tonks wipes her hands on a tea towel. Her hair darkens. "And you think it might be."
"It's a possibility," Harry admits. He leans forward, elbows on his knees. There's a spot of black rot on a floorboard near the sink where the mending charms are beginning to wear thin. "I have to at least consider it."
Tonks turns away from him, not answering for a moment. "It's not Remus," she says finally. "Or any of ours."
"I don't think it is." Harry knows she's afraid, and he understands why. There's a fear of werewolves that goes deep within wizarding society. They're monsters, or so the genteel classes would have them classified. Not really human. Harry knows even he has some prejudices, himself. Malfoy's not wrong about that. He doesn't often think of Remus as a were, not really, but he's nervous around some of the others he's met here in this flat, even when he tries not to be. Those stories he's heard since Hogwarts are still in the back of his mind, labelling them dangerous and beastly, creatures to be feared and shunned. And then he sits across the table from Remus at Christmas dinner, watching Remus laugh at Teddy's truly terrible jokes and smile at Tonks in that way that makes it clear he's still arse over tit for her, and Harry realises how utterly foolish those stories can be.
It's thanks to the efforts of Remus and Tonks and those like them that some of the more stringent laws governing werewolves have been lifted in the past decade. Remus had fought long and hard for the right to marry his wife; Teddy had been almost three before the Wizengamot had allowed their Muggle-approved marriage to be registered with the Ministry. It had only been through Albus Dumbledore's insistence that Remus had been allowed to attend Hogwarts; to this date he's the only full werewolf educated there, at least after having been infected with lycanthropy. The Board of Governors had forbidden it once they'd found out about Remus, led by Malfoy's grandfather, the former marquess of Avebury. Teddy's only been allowed to attend under his grandmother's natal surname, to protect him from idiots. The Black family still has some social status, after all.
"It'll be the Snatchers all over again," Tonks says, her voice low.
Harry flinches. The gang had been one of Harry's early cases after being promoted to Auror Inspector, Dark wizards who'd used Imperius on young werewolves, forcing sixteen-year-olds still struggling with their curse to carry out the gang's illegal activities without their leaders dirtying their own hands. The Prophet had conveniently ignored all but the werewolves, whipping the public up into a frenzy, until reality--and a series of public arrests--had forced them to look at the men behind the scenes. Still, the aftermath had been brutal; crimes against registered werewolves had tripled in six months, and even now, seven years after, fears ran high in certain quarters whenever the werewolf issue was raised.
"Tonks," he says, standing, but she holds up a hand, still barely looking at him.
"Don't." Tonks tucks her wand in the waistband of her skirt. She looks tired and wan, her shoulders slumped. Harry remembers when she was younger and carefree, sitting in the warm kitchen of his godfather Sirius's house in Grimmauld Place, laughing as she'd changed her pert, turned-up nose into an elephant's trunk just to amuse him and Ron during school hols. She's changed since her marriage, taking on the worries of her husband, fretting about the safety of her son now that he's away at school. Harry misses the old Tonks sometimes, and the way she'd streak her dark hair with pink and purple when she was happy, not giving a damn what anyone else might say.
They've all changed, Harry thinks. He supposes it comes with growing up, with bearing responsibilities that you'd never quite imagined as a youth. He can feel it in his bones, that sorrow of age. It deepens with each case he takes on, each body he finds lying in an alley. He doesn't want to admit it to anyone else--not even Ron and Hermione--but he's desperate to be promoted. He's tired of it all. He wants to sit at a desk and shuffle paperwork sometimes, to send all the young recruits out into the field to face the horrors that only human beings can inflict upon each other.
"Remus'll be home soon," Tonks says finally. She looks over at Harry. "I'd rather I tell him about this, if you don't mind."
Harry nods and pushes himself out of the chair. It scrapes across the wooden floor. "I'm sorry," he says from the doorway.
Tonks casts a Scourgify over a knife-scarred cutting board. "No reason to be," she says, but there's a tinge of reproach in her voice anyway.
There's always a reason, Harry's found. It's part of the price of being an Auror. You can't live on the fringes of the dark without being touched by the shadows, without bringing them back with you. People don't always like to be reminded how close they are to the uncivilised, to the pain and the suffering and the banal evil of life. He doesn't blame them, if he's honest. There are days he wishes he could forget what he's seen as well.
Harry steps out onto the uneven bricks pacing Brass Street. It's beginning to drizzle, the sky above grey and grim. The weather suits his mood today, he thinks, and he raises the collar of his coat.
With a heavy heart, he Apparates back to London.
Ron stands outside the rather dubious-looking lodgings of one Bertram Clarke. Not the sort of place he'd think a toff would live, to be honest. The building's not in the fashionable part of Piccadilly, Muggle or wizarding, and the once-white paint on the lead-paned bay window has faded to a peeling yellow-grey. Must have been the gambling, Ron thinks, and the fact that Mummy and Daddy back in the States had significantly lowered dear Bertie's yearly allowance, or so the bank records would indicate.
Up one flight of dingy steps, he finds Clarke's flat. Ron raps on the heavy, black door and waits. It takes a moment or two, but he sees a figure through the rippled glass of the door just before it's opened by a rumpled young woman still shrugging into her diaphanous dressing gown, her brown hair half down around her shoulders. She blinks at him, then shrugs the gossamer silk over her shoulders, wrapping it closed around her chemise and corset.
"Who are you?" she asks, in a decidedly American accent. There's a wand tucked into the pocket of her dressing gown; Ron can see the carved tulip hilt.
Ron hesitates for just a moment, then pulls out his warrant card. "Sergeant Weasley of the London Aurors," he says, and she takes her time looking at his credentials.
"You're here about Bertie then," she says, turning back into the flat. "Shut the door behind you."
He does, following her into an unkempt sitting room. There are teacups piled on the side table and newspapers scattered across the sofa and floor. "Might I ask whom you are?"
The woman blinks back at him, a cigarette in her mouth. She lights it with the tip of her wand, then sits in an armchair, one leg crossed over the other, her dressing gown opening to reveal her beribboned pantaloons. They're expensive, Ron can tell. He's used to Hermione's plain, serviceable pants, their only adornment neat rows of pin-tucks. This is silk and heavy cream lace that a pale blue ribbon is woven through.
She exhales a stream of smoke through her nostrils. Her eyes are red and there are faint purple smudges beneath them. "Cordelia," she says finally. "Clarke. Bertie's cousin." She looks over at Ron. "Twice removed."
Bollocks, Ron thinks. Common-law wife, more likely. There's a small fading bruise at the base of her throat, and Ron'd put Knuts to Galleons that it would match Bertie's overbite. He glances around the sitting room. There are still a few trappings of wealth: the furniture is solid and comfortable, well-made. A coal fire burns in the hearth, taking away a bit of the chill from the rain, and the oil portraits that glower down from the wall are old and obviously ancestral. At least one of the old bastards is a dead ringer for Bertram. Or at least as far as Ron can tell, given that half the poor sod's face had been gouged away.
"Nice place," he says, almost serious, but Cordelia gives him a baleful look. She's obviously used to something a bit more.
"Bertie never could keep his money," she says after a moment. She taps ash off the end of her cigarette; it vanishes into thin air. "Couldn't stay away from the gambling pits, damned fool." Her voice catches; she looks away, her rosy lips pressed together. Even in her dishevelled grief, she's lovely, Ron notes. Full breasts, pale, smooth skin, perfectly arched brows. Bertie Clarke was a lucky bastard.
He moves a crumpled newspaper and perches on the end of the sofa. "How long had the two of you been together?" he asks, holding out a handkerchief.
Cordelia laughs, but it's swallowed by a sob. She takes the handkerchief and twists it between her fingers. "Aren't you the blunt one?"
Ron shrugs. "Not a fool," he says, and he waits.
The fire pops and crackles across the room. It's heavy and hot and stuffy, but Ron thinks Cordelia might need it that way. There's something a bit otherworldly about her, a flash of fey that he catches in her bright green eyes.
"Four years." Cordelia presses the handkerchief to her nose. "But he was my cousin."
"Twice removed," Ron says with a small smile. Her mouth twitches slightly, but sadness settles over her, slumping her shoulders and bowing her head.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," she says, voice quiet. She folds the handkerchief and sets it on the arm of her chair. "His mother and father cut him off because of me, you know. Well, me and the gambling. I never knew which of us was worse. I think his mother blamed me for the wagers he'd lose money on, but it wasn't me. I never wanted him to go to the cards. At least it wasn't whores and opium like his brother."
Ron just watches her. She shifts in the chair and takes another drag on her cigarette. She closes her eyes and exhales, grey smoke drifting up to the yellowing ceiling.
"Do you know who did it?" Cordelia asks.
"We're still looking." Ron leans forward. His boots have left spots of mud on the rug, but Cordelia doesn't seem to have noticed. He feels sorry for her, if he's honest. If anyone understands the difficulties of unconventional relationships, it's him. "But I have to ask--why was Bertram out that night? Was he gambling?"
Cordelia breathes in, ragged and raspy in the silent room. She stubs her cigarette out in an empty teacup and stands, her dressing gown swirling around her as she strides to the cabinet beneath one of the paintings. An old, wrinkled man watches her sympathetically as she opens it, pulling out a cut crystal decanter filled with a dark red wine. She pours two small glasses and hands Ron one. The scent of Madeira drifts from it, woody and warm. He takes a sip.
"Good," he says, and Cordelia gives him a faint smile.
"Bertie insisted on the best, always." She walks over to the window and looks out through the lace curtains, her glass cupped in between long fingers. Sunlight warms her pale skin and reveals the curves of her body through her chemise and pantaloons. Not even Hermione's that comfortable with her body, Ron thinks, and there's something about Cordelia that he likes. She's strong, probably stronger than Bertie thought her to be. "I didn't care that he was basically a No-Maj, you know. My parents were just as horrified as his were, but only because he couldn't do magic. They wanted someone more appropriate for me. Someone better." Her face crumples a bit. "They never understood why I chose Bertie, but he was kind. He made me laugh." She presses her lips together, then draws in a slow breath. "I don't know what I'll do without him."
"You'll survive this." Ron sets his wine down.
Cordelia looks back at him. "Maybe." She studies him for a long moment, as if weighing a decision, then she sighs. "He'd changed lately. Not so much that you'd notice, really, but I knew Bertie. I knew him so well, and I could tell. There were people he was seeing. Men who--" She breaks off and bites her lip.
"What kind of men?" Ron keeps his voice gentle, careful. He doesn't want to unsettle her, not any more than she already is. "Criminal types? Anarchists?"
"I don't know." Cordelia downs the rest of her wine in one long swallow, then presses the empty glass to her damp lip. "Maybe. I just know they were…" She sighs and sets her glass down on the mantel. "They made me uncomfortable the one time they came by. They were Muggles, I think, but they were talking about magic. Not in the way that we do magic, mind. Not spells or potions, but rituals and invocations. Bertie said it was all just a lark, just him having fun with them, but I didn't like it, and he never let them stop by again."
Ron stands up, reaching for the notepad and quill he keeps in his jacket. "Do you remember any of their names?"
"Richard, I think one was." Cordelia pushes her hair back out of her face. "The other...Mick, maybe? Or Nick? I can't remember, but--" She holds up a finger. "Bertie had a box that he didn't like me touching. I did once, when he wasn't here, and it felt wrong. You know? I can't quite explain it. I wasn't the best witch at Salem Witches' Institute, but I know damn well when something's dark, and this was."
"Can I see it?"
Cordelia nods. "Wait here."
She's only gone a minute or so, and when she comes back in, she's holding a wide walnut box away from her body, balanced gingerly between her trembling hands. It's covered with carvings, the most prominent of them a rayed star, black and deep on the centre of the lid. She thrusts it towards Ron. "Take it. I don't want it in the flat any more."
The box is heavier than it looks. Ron opens it with one hand; there's a sheaf of papers on top, covered in more symbols and spidery writing. He closes it back up again. "You're certain."
"Absolutely." Cordelia's at the decanter again, pouring more Madeira for herself. "Get rid of it. Please."
"Thanks," Ron says, and she just nods, not looking at him. He tucks it under one arm and turns to leave, stopping at the door. "Cordelia." She glances up, her face drawn. "St Hilda's College," he says. "In Oxford. Go there and ask for Hermione Granger. She'll help you however she can to get back on your feet."
"I'm not a whore in need of rescuing, Sergeant Weasley," Cordelia says, but one corner of her mouth curves the slightest bit.
Ron shrugs. "Never thought you were, Miss Clarke. But some families turn their backs on their girls like damned fools, and I don't want to see you go through that any more than you have. It won't hurt you to talk to Hermione."
"A knight in an Auror uniform, are you?" Cordelia's voice is light, but she nods. "St Hilda's, you say?"
"Yeah." Ron thinks she'll go. He hopes she will. There are more options for women in the wizarding world than the Muggle, but one still needs introductions and assistance. Someone who's willing to strongarm others to help, and Hermione's brilliant at that. He tips his hat. "Until later, ma'am."
As he lets himself out of the flat, he thinks he hears a faint sob from the sitting room. He closes the door behind him and sighs.
Harry comes into the cool, tiled basement room at St Mungo's to find Padma arguing with Blaise Zabini over a large brass-fitted microscope.
"It's clearly a massive die-off of red blood cells," Padma's saying as the heavy wooden door closes quietly behind Harry. "You can see the exploded platelets in the smear."
"They could have become altered by the fixing medium. I'd like to take another sample and see if the new slide has the same results."
"Zabini, you know as well as I do that the slide prep has nothing to do with it. But in case it did--" Padma's heels click as she storms over to a large wall cabinet, extracting a small lettered black box. "I made several. They have the same results, as you can confirm yourself."
As Harry watches, silently amused at the tension between the two scientific experts, Zabini fits his eye to the lens. Padma crosses her arms over her chest.
"Oh, well, that's interesting." Zabini curls his body towards the device with practiced ease. "It does look to have happened almost simultaneously. This might be one of the most violent reactions I've witnessed."
"I hate to say I told you so, Zabini. But I told you so." Padma makes a moue of triumph as Zabini shifts the array of lenses for greater magnification.
Just as Harry is wondering whether to advertise his presence, Padma looks right at him. "Oh there you are, Harry. How are the investigations coming on the street side of things?"
"Hullo, Padma. Zabini." Harry stops a few paces off, shifting his weight. He doesn't want to get too close to the microscope in case he might affect the light or the spell Padma's cast on it. "Ron's been by to visit the widow. Turns out our man was living in sin with a second cousin. American too, by the sound of it."
"They've recently spent time in Ohio." Zabini's voice is muffled. "There was a tag in the victim's shirt."
Harry takes out a small notebook and writes in it. "Was it legible?"
"R. Goff Tailors, Cleveland." Padma leads Harry over to the collection of strange items in glass dishes. He tries not to look at the body draped with a white sheet. It looks much better here, covered and cared for, than it did in the alley recently. The morgue smells of cleaning fluid, chemicals, and something like gunpowder. The clinical presence of death always makes Harry feel a bit odd, almost as though they're all just visitors in death's antechamber, waiting for their own turn in the morgue. He shakes off the cold fingers of fear that trace his spine.
"What do you make of the clothing, Padma?" Harry's grown used to the keenness of the forensic analyst's observations and her remarkable ability to identify unusual substances, both Muggle and magical.
"Rich stuff, well mended. He had a common law wife?" At Harry's nod, Padma purses her mouth. "Well, she or her maid have a fine sewing hand. The boots are unremarkable, a bit worn at the heel but nothing unusual or overworn."
Harry nods again, making a few jots of his own but knowing that he'll receive a meticulous report from the source herself. Padma's made quite a name for herself recently and has helped Harry immensely with his caseload. He privately worries that she could be wooed away to Switzerland or France by a university position and makes a note to ask Kingsley about this when next they speak. If he's not getting another bollocking over Malfoy, that is.
"The plant residues are rather ordinary as well," Padma says. "There's pollen that indicates an afternoon in the country, but the botanical spells place most of the victim's recent travels in London. There's brick dust and street grime, of course. He had very bad taste in establishments, judging from the muck on his trouser hems. Oh, and this." She points to a small glass jar that contains the fragment of dull, silvery-grey cloth they'd found at the scene. It's hovering in midair, circling slowly, a ball of light shining directly on it. "Very odd. It's old, incredibly so, if my diagnostics are correct. And there's a charm of some sort woven into the fabric itself. Watch."
With her wand, Padma moves the light so that shadows stretch out along the edge of the jar. To Harry's surprise they move, sliding towards the scrap of fabric and enveloping it until it disappears into them. "Strange," he says.
"I know!" Padma sounds delighted. She puts the light back into place. "It's some sort of invisibility charm. I think our murderer must have a robe or coat made of it. That's probably why we have no witnesses on the street. If the shadows covered him…" She raises a shoulder.
"Though I walk the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil," Zabini intones from his corner. "Didn't quite work for Bertie, did it?"
Padma rolls her eyes. "Shut it, Blaise."
Harry's rather surprised at Zabini's use of the holy writ. "Wouldn't have taken him for a religious man," he says.
"Don't," Padma says drily. "He's much more a Mass on Christmas and Easter sort. If that, even."
"I can hear you, you realise," Zabini says. He doesn't bother to turn around. "I learnt my catechism when young, thank you very much, unlike the rest of you lot." He peers into the microscope. "Although that might well be because my mother was bedding a seminarian at the time."
Harry ignores him. "What about the other evidence from the scene? The hair?"
"Not Bertie's," Padma says. "But I don't know that it belongs to the murderer either. That alley's used for whoring, and it could have come from an assignation earlier in the evening."
"Oh, aren't you a pretty one?" Zabini mutters to the microscope. With a start, Harry realizes he must be talking to the slide. He has a wand out, and a strange diffuse silver light is illuminating the glass underneath the long lens.
"Are you ruining my slides, Zabini?" Padma turns to chide her colleague. "I'll have you know, those do not make themselves."
Zabini straightens up. For the first time, Harry sees his handsome brown face and high cheekbones. "Good morning, Inspector," Zabini says pleasantly.
From the slight quirk at the corner of Zabini's mouth, Harry assumes that Draco has shared confidences with his old friends. He'll need to have a word with the viscount about who exactly is aware of their assignations, although Harry knows it's utterly futile to ask the old Slytherin network not to gossip.
"Anything out of the ordinary in the tissue sample?" Harry gestures vaguely to the microscope stand.
Zabini and Padma trade looks, and it must be something unusual from the unspoken disagreement. Harry waits for them to decide to talk. He's naturally impatient, but he's often found the ability to stay silent a boon in figuring out information from suspects and colleagues alike.
"Zabini thinks the killer must be a werewolf." Padma gestures with her chin toward the body. "I believe the physical evidence could indicate Animagus or some other shifter—" She holds her hand up against Zabini's protest. "Yes, possibly a were, given the nature of the claw marks and the bite. However, there was some sort of event that precipitated a mass destruction of the victim's blood cells. There's further evidence of clotting in the organs as well."
Harry frowns. "Does that mean the victim didn't die of the bite?"
Padma sighs and glances over to Zabini, who is cleaning his wire-framed glasses with a cloth. "I'm not entirely sure. Zabini has an alternate theory."
"I'll need further samples and a bit of lab time, but I think I can isolate an infection in the victim's blood." Zabini wears a smug look that is natural to the denizens of the Slytherin dungeon. Harry wonders when it stopped irritating him. He finds it maddeningly attractive on the face of a certain aristocratic wizard. From the frown on Padma's face, Harry can tell that Padma is both intrigued and unconvinced by Zabini's theory.
"So he died of an infection?" Harry's pen hovers over the paper of his notebook.
Zabini steeples his fingers. "In a manner of speaking. But it's werewolf-related. The only question is, which werewolf?"
Judging from the frown on Padma's face, she's not entirely convinced. "You can't deny that the timing makes it highly unlikely to have been an ordinary were. The phase of the moon was entirely wrong for what you are suggesting."
To his own surprise, Harry pipes up with the counter-evidence. "Actually, I've been learning recently that there are weres known who don't need to shift with the full moon phase. Tonks mentioned it when I went to visit."
Zabini nods slowly and leans his head towards Harry. "This is entirely true," he says. "I was trying to convince our esteemed colleague of this when you came in."
Padma just raises a sceptical eyebrow. "Please, would one of you show me the evidence? You can't claim to have knowledge of something which you have not entirely verified through scientific procedure. I am more than happy to imagine you are telling the truth as you see it, but I've seen nothing in the literature which suggests such a thing." There are two spots of colour high on Padma's cheeks. Her primary passion's scientific accuracy and objectivity, and Harry knows she'll take convincing. He treasures her keen mind and careful process, so unlike his own impulsive tendencies in fieldwork.
"I have samples in my own slides," Zabini says smoothly. "I'm more than happy to share. It will take a special preparation and a bit of chemical reagent work to prove it. Also, the spell for the last step needs to be done at the full moon to compare them to the usual lycanthropic infection. I can work on it tonight."
"Very good," Padma says. "Do you think we should do anything else to establish your theory?"
"We might have Draco--" Zabini catches himself. "--I mean, the Viscount Malfoy, examine the body. He's had experience with this sort of were."
Harry blinks. "How so, if you don't mind my impertinence?"
Zabini's smile is feral. "Not in the least, nor should Viscount Malfoy, I imagine." Harry rather thinks differently. "The Marchioness Avebury was killed by a were shortly after the new moon."
"His mother?" Harry's astonishment must show on his face. Even Padma looks a bit sympathetic to his plight, and Harry reminds himself to ask her later about her understanding of his private affairs. He's fairly certain from her demeanour she's deduced the situation to some degree, which makes him highly uncomfortable, but he doesn't want to seem overtly suspicious. He really would prefer to keep the information about his private life confidential, but he doesn't know how much control he has over his and Malfoy's social circles, particularly as they overlap in cases like this one. Still, he hopes Zabini has enough damned sense to keep Harry's secrets; surely, Harry thinks, Zabini would rather keep Draco out of Azkaban as well. Harry clears his throat. "He never mentioned."
"I see," Zabini says. His face softens, almost imperceptibly. "You really didn't know, did you? That's why he's so well versed about werewolves." He hesitates, then says, "Draco's the one who found Narcissa."
As Padma lifts a hand to her mouth, it occurs to Harry that although he knows the viscount intimately, he also doesn't know him at all. "That must have been dreadful," he murmurs. He'd known Malfoy's mother had died, but the family had kept the cause of death secret--or at least well away from the Prophet's rumour mill. He wonders how much the marquess had paid Rita Skeeter to keep her quill dry; most certainly a pretty penny.
"It wasn't easy for him." Zabini looks away, his fingers tapping against the microscope. "But it's fueled his interest in weres and other shifters." He glances back at Harry. "So yes, Lord Malfoy's had a bit of experience when it comes to werewolves who shift out of phase."
"He might have said." Harry's a bit annoyed, even as he realises he's not a leg to stand on.
Zabini curls his lip. "Suppose he should trot out his family tragedy for the Auror force at large, then?"
"Of course not." Harry's uncomfortable beneath that keen gaze of Zabini's. He feels as if he's been read down deep into his soul. "But it might have been helpful to know he had knowledge--"
"As if you'd trust him," Zabini says, and Harry's certain Zabini's heard something from Malfoy. Brilliant. His face heats, and his palms sweat. He doesn't like the idea of others knowing about him and Malfoy. The viscount may trust his friends, but Harry bloody well doesn't.
Padma glances between the two of them, her arms crossed tight against her chest. "Blaise," she says, "I'll send you those samples you'd like later this afternoon, but only if you get the hell out of my lab right now."
Harry will admit to a modicum of relief, although he does his best not to show it. Zabini, on the other hand, doesn't bother to hide his amusement. "Shall I not play with your puppy, Paddie? He's rather toothless, really. Not a lot of bite."
"Blaise," Padma says again, and at her warning look, he raises his hands.
"Right then. I'm off." Zabini slides off his stool and straightens his pristine sack coat, giving Padma a short bow. "I'll await your samples with baited breath, milady." He tosses a sharp grin Harry's way. "Inspector, always a pleasure."
Harry watches him stride out of the morgue; when the door swings closed behind him, Padma relaxes. "Brilliant mind, but rather a bit of an arse," she says.
"To say the least." Harry glances over at her. "Thanks for stepping in."
"Didn't want a wand duel in the middle of my morgue," she says lightly. Her fingers brush over the pile of effects in the tray next to Clarke's body. "But if he's right about Malfoy--"
"We should have him come take a look at the body, really. I'll find a way to contact him."
"Mmmm." Padma examines a shred of cloth, turning it with a set of forceps. "I'm certain he'll come if you firecall." The look she gives him is pointed.
Harry resolves not to worry about her inference for the moment. "Not bloody likely, but I'll try," he says. Whatever Padma thinks she knows, he's going to assume she hasn't the whole of it, and even less proof. As long as he doesn't give her any acknowledgement, he'll be safe. He's learnt that much over the years. People may suspect he's an invert, but they don't really want to know. Besides, this evidence she's provided is good enough that it might just advance the case. He can almost see the daylight at the end of his professional collaboration with Malfoy. He tucks his notebook back into his coat pocket. "Send me a copy of what you and Zabini find, will you?"
"Always, boss." Padma smiles. "Although I rather doubt we'll agree."
Harry sets his hat back on his head. "Oh, but I'm sure you'll enjoy fighting over it."
Padma's laugh follows him out of the morgue and into the hallway. Harry can't help a smile of his own. He can't explain why, not exactly, but he feels lighter than he has in days.
His cheery whistle echoes as he strides down the tiled corridor.
Ron stretches his long legs out in front of the hearth at the Leaky Cauldron as he settles into his chair, a frothy pint on the table. It's been a long day and he's ready for the midsummer holiday and two days in Devon celebrating his mum and dad's fortieth wedding anniversary. Hermione'll be going with him, of course, but Harry'd sent his regrets to Mum last week. Even after all these years, he's always careful not to make Ginny uncomfortable. It doesn't matter that she's been married to Neville for six years now and is a mum twice over. Hermione says it's sweet; Ron thinks it just gets Harry out of a bloody good lot of family gatherings, the lucky sod.
Dawlish sets his empty pint glass down on the table with a pleased grunt. "That's it for me, then," he says, as Harry sits back down with another round of beers in his hands. Dawlish waves him off. "I need to get my arse back home to Gwennie." He eyes the glass Harry pushes towards him regretfully.
"One more, then you're off," Harry says. He seems chipper again, Ron thinks. Has done since this afternoon.
"Someone came back from the morgue in a good mood," Ron says over the rim of his glass. He takes a gulp of beer, then licks the froth from his upper lip. "Especially for finding out Malfoy might be right."
Harry shrugs a shoulder. He's on his fourth beer of the evening, with only a spoonful or two of Ron's stewed cheese spread on toast to offset it, and his eyes are starting to take on that glassy fondness he gets when he's pissed. Harry's never been a mean drunk, not really. More of a soppy, affectionate mess. "At least we're getting answers now."
"For what good they do us." Dawlish nods to a passing Auror who lifts his glass in return. Thanks to the holiday, the pub's more crowded than usual for a Tuesday night, and Ron thinks half the Ministry must be piled into the tables and booths, all loudly chattering about the trials of their short work week. "I have the lads going down the Werewolf Register to find out where each of them was the night our friend Bertie was…" Dawlish slashes a finger across his throat. "No joy so far."
"How far through it are they?" Harry asks. His mouth is wet with beer and he drags the back of his hand across it, wiping it dry. He's already given the Register a skim himself, but he didn't see any names that had jumped out at him, outside of the usual ones they pull in from time to time. With luck, the other lads might stumble across something a bit more interesting.
Dawlish scratches the back of his neck, face scrunched. "Halfway, perhaps? There's been a spike in registrations the past ten years, you know. Didn't really notice it before, but the Beast Division claims they notified us." He looks sceptical.
Ron snorts. "That lot can't find their arses with both hands."
"Maybe Remus is right," Harry says, leaning back in his chair. "He's always on about werewolves needing proper support from the Ministry. Reckon we should have a department that actually does that."
"Now you sound like Hermione, mate." Ron laughs, flicking some of the froth from his glass at Harry's head. "Banging on about how the government should aid house elves and beasts, keep them from being oh-pressed and all that. Give them the vote, even."
"She has a point," Harry says, and Ron rolls his eyes. Harry's always been a bit too soft for an Auror, Ron thinks, even though he'll never tell him so. He's less law-and-order than some of the lads would like in a Deputy Head, and Ron wonders how Harry'll deal with that. They all like him, of course, but it's different when you're the boss. Things that people joke about when you're their mate on the force turn a bit sour when you're a step up the ladder from them and have a say in how they do their job. Harry never has been good with having people dislike him.
Dawlish drains his glass and sets it back down with a thud. "I mean it, lads, that's me done for now. Gwennie'll have been holding my supper for an hour. Can't push her goodwill too far or I'll never get a good suck and a tug, now will I?" He winks and chuckles. "Not that you heard that from me, mind."
"Never a word, John." Ron raises a glass to Dawlish. "Cheers, then, and I'll hope I don't see that ugly mug of yours until Friday?"
"Your mouth to God's ear." Dawlish pushes himself up, his chair scraping across the Leaky's dirty wooden floor. "No dead bodies turning up until then, I say." He claps Harry on the shoulder. "Best make sure this one gets home all right, though."
"I'm good, I'm good," Harry mumbles into his glass. "Perfectly fine." His words are only slightly slurred. Still, Ron thinks it might be best to cut Harry off now.
"Happy Midsummer, lads," Dawlish says, and then he's gone. Ron studies Harry. His tie is loose, and his hair is falling into his eyes, over the dark wire rims of his round glasses. Ron sucks on his bottom lip for a moment, then sighs and leans forward, elbows on the table. "Everything good, Harry?"
"The best." Harry takes another gulp of beer, the muscles in his throat working as he swallows it down. "Never been better." His eyes crinkle in the corners as he gives Ron a wry smile. "Why?"
"Don't know." Ron turns his glass between his hands. "You've just been a bit…" He hesitates. He knows they can't really be heard; the clatter of dishes and conversation that swirls around them drowns their voices out. Still, he briefly considers a Muffliato. "A bit off."
Harry doesn't look at him. "Have I?"
"Yeah." Ron glances away, terribly uncomfortable. He doesn't want to have this conversation, but he thinks they should. "Malfoy and you…" He trails off, not certain what to ask, how to say it.
"It's nothing," Harry says, a little too quickly. "He just drives me round the twist, yeah? He's a fucking tosser, you know that."
"Yeah." Ron knows Harry's deliberately misconstruing his question. "Of course he is, but…"
Harry finishes his beer. "Maybe I should pop around his, though. Apologise for being a bit of a prat yesterday." He looks past Ron, his gaze on the hearth, but Ron suspects Harry barely notices the glowing embers. He's thinking of Malfoy, that much is obvious. "We could share a bottle of wine. Peace offering of sorts?"
They'll share something, Ron thinks, and he's fairly certain he doesn't want to know exactly what. He just hopes Harry knows what he's doing. Ron'll protect him every way he can, but there's only so much he can do against Malfoy. "Be careful," he says, a heavy ball of worry settling deep in his chest.
"Aren't I always?" Harry's smile is wide and genuine. The worry tightens, making it hard for Ron to breathe. He takes a drink instead, not bothering to answer as Harry stands, only wobbling slightly. "Reckon Tom has a good bottle he'll sell me?"
"Nothing that Malfoy'll drink," Ron says. He catches Harry's hat before he knocks it off the table and hands it to him. "I'm sure you can see what swill he'll part with, though."
Harry sets his hat on his head. "Excellent idea, my friend." He squeezes Ron's shoulder. "Don't wait up."
"Never intended to." Ron reaches for his pint glass. It's as close to an admission as he'll get from Harry, that much he knows. "Firecall me if you need help hiding the body."
Ron watches as Harry pushes his way through the throng by the bar. He's a bad feeling about all this, and he considers sending an owl to his mum, begging off for the holiday. It won't do any good, he knows. There'd have to be a dead body involved or his brothers would show up on his doorstep and frog-march him to Ottery St Catchpole.
He sighs and lifts his glass to his mouth, downing the rest of his beer in one long guzzle. Harry's a bloody grown man and can do whatever the fuck he wants, yeah? Ron just wishes it wasn't with that pointy little ferret-faced prick. It'll end in bloodshed, that much is certain. It's only a question of when.
With a sigh, he heaves himself out of his chair and heads for the Floo. All he wants right now is to bury himself in Hermione and not think about the trouble his best mate's about to get into.
Somehow he's not certain that'll help.
It's late when the dark-haired Auror leaves the Leaky Cauldron alone, a bottle of wine in hand, leaving behind the broad-shouldered ginger. He's pissed, that much the Beast can tell from his vantage point in the shadows. Not terribly, just enough to keep him from Apparating, or using the Floo. The Beast smiles, a painful twist of his stiff lips, as he follows the Auror down the alley and out onto Charing Cross Road.
His head is buzzing with the voices tonight, bright and sharp, the way they always are when the moon is high and full. They urge him on, give wings to his steps as he tracks the Auror, watching as he makes his way down the street, stumbling every few feet.
Tonight, the voices whisper, and the Beast's heart pounds wild in his chest. He can already taste the Auror's blood on his lips, his tongue, his teeth.
He lets the shadows surround him, pulling him silently through the streets, his eyes fixed on the man in front of him.
Finally, he thinks. A suitable punishment for the little lordling''s betrayal.
A chuckle rumbles through his chest, unexpected and heavy. The voices are happy tonight, and moonlight prickles cool against his skin, sending shudders of delight through his body. It's the perfect time to end a life, the perfect time to show Malfoy his mistake, to leave His Excellency a lovely bloody calling card sprawled across his front steps.
What a violently lovely evening this will be.
The moon shines round over the rooftops of Piccadilly Street. The crisp night air is clearing a bit of the drink from Harry's head; he's glad for the walk, even if perhaps he ought to have found himself a hackney cab, as much as he hates motorcars. Still, he's found his legs again, and he stops for a moment as he passes by the green windows of Fortnum and Mason to glance at the elaborate towers of hampers and neatly labelled jars of pheasant in aspic the stockist has arranged beneath flickering electric lights. Despite the hour, the street's still busy: one of those new double-decker buses turns from St James Street, nearly running into a horse-drawn carriage in the process. Harry waits for it to pass before crossing Piccadilly over to Berkeley Street; his boot sticks slightly in the mud along the kerb. The sky's clear, mostly, and the rain's cleared off for the nonce. It's a beautiful night, even in the grime and grit of London.
Harry can't help humming a song from Our Miss Gibbs as he hurries through Mayfair; Hermione's a great admirer of Gertie Millar's performances, and Harry's been dragged to more than one evening of musical theatre in the West End on nights Ron's refused to go. He's feeling oddly chipper as he makes his way to Malfoy's townhouse, despite the fact that he thoroughly expects a chilly reception. To be honest, he supposes he deserves it. He's been a right prick lately, even if he's had reason for it.
Still, he wonders if he can talk Malfoy into a bit of rough play tonight or if the viscount will toss him out on his ear. He's prepared for the latter, but he's learnt enough about Malfoy over their past few shags to know that if he plays his cards right he can appeal to milord's delightful cock, increasing his chances of getting a leg over before morning. Tom's only bottle of rosé Champagne should help with that.
And frankly, whatever Harry's protests might be in the sober light of day, right now, with a slight drone of alcohol pleasant behind his eyes, Harry's more honest about what he wants. Malfoy. He'd watched the viscount throughout their school days, studying the planes of his cheek, the angles of his jaw, looking from the corner of his eye at the fine figure he cut on a broom in Quidditch matches. He'd hated Malfoy, and he'd wanted him, even before he knew what it was exactly that he'd desired. Malfoy has always drawn Harry into his orbit, sharp and shining, a cold, bare silver-gilt moon that lights up Harry's life. Harry feels strangely alive around Malfoy; he'd forgotten the way Malfoy makes him feel, as if a thousand cursed scarabs are scuttling beneath his skin, terrifying and yet excruciatingly exciting.
A shadow moves alongside him, and Harry turns, oddly unsettled, as if something is stalking him. There's nothing there; it was just a carriage passing beneath a street lamp. Still, Harry touches the hilt of his wand in the wand pocket of his coat. The carved holly beneath his fingertips is warm and comforting. With another wary glance around the street, he moves on, drawing closer to green patch of garden in the centre of Berkeley Square. A motorcar rumbles by, and in the fading roar of its engine he can hear the trill of a nightingale, trying to sing over the noise of the city. It makes him smile, and he relaxes just enough to feel a gentle prod at the edges of his mind.
"Stop that," he says, and Severus pops into view, his feet floating a few inches above the pavement.
"Going to see Lord Malfoy, are we?" Severus cleans ectoplasmic grime from his ghostly fingernails. He drifts through a heavyset gentleman in top hat and frock coat; the man shudders and mutters about the chill of the evening.
"Not that it's any of your business, but yes." Harry eyes Severus. The ghost's hair and clothes are rumpled. "Where've you been?"
Severus shrugs. "Somewhere." He looks a bit sleepy. "In the ether," he says through a yawn. "Thought I heard you shout."
"Obviously not." Harry grins at him. "Or not yet, at least."
"Disgusting," Severus says, but he doesn't look that put out, Harry notes. He yawns again, a wide stretch of his mouth that shows off his spectral teeth. "You really are perverse, Potter."
"Never claimed not to be." Harry crosses the street into the central garden of the square, a wide swathe of green grass and tall trees, wide branches heavy with leaves. A few lamps light the crushed stone paths that criss-cross from one side of the square to the other, circling Alexander Munro's statue of the Samaritan woman and her water jar.
A step on the path catches his attention, and Harry turns. The shadows twist and move beneath the trees, undulating, and Harry's hand moves for his wand. "Severus," he says, but there's nothing the ghost can do before the shadows rush towards Harry, shoving him to the ground, the breath knocked out of him. His wand skitters across the path, and something heavy and solid is pressing Harry into the stone and dirt, crushing his windpipe with a massive hand. Harry jerks to one side, and the creature loses its balance, giving Harry a moment to roll from beneath him. He swings the bottle of Champagne, but it misses, connecting with nothing but air.
Claws stop him, digging into his shoulder. Pain shudders through Harry, and he shouts, his eyes meeting Severus's horrified face. The bottle drops from Harry's hand. "Go," Harry says. "Get Malfoy--" But he's cut off by fingers tight around his neck, breath hot on his ear.
"I think not," a voice growls, and Harry fights to get away, punching, writhing, kicking, but the creature's strong. Powerful. Blood pours down Harry's throat, hot and slick, and the pain's nearly unbearable. He's jerked around, and the face that meets him is barely human. He'd been handsome once, the creature had, with blond curls that are now streaked with grey, matted and filthy. Stormy blue eyes study him, cold and calculating, and the creature's features are sharp and angular, his nose almost a snout. He bares pointed, yellowing teeth when he smiles at Harry. His thumb strokes across Harry's jaw, claw dragging through Harry's skin. It hurts, and the creature chuckles. "Not much longer, little Auror," he says. His voice sounds rough, raw, as if he barely uses it any more.
Harry glances towards his wand. It's several yards away, and he needs to do something now. He draws in a ragged breath, ignoring the pain that shudders through him, and pushes his hands against the creature's chest, tangling them in the woolen cloak, calling on every frisson of wandless magic he has in his body. "Sectum--"
He chokes on blood before the word can get out. His breath wheezes through his windpipe and out the hole the creature's left in Harry's throat. He's going to die, Harry realises. Blood gurgles in the back of his mouth, bitter and rusty.
"Petrificus Totalus," the creature murmurs, and Harry's body stiffens.
The creature pulls a claw away and sucks it clean. He drags Harry into the shadows, tossing him beneath the trees, and looks down at him, his snout wrinkling. "I can smell Malfoy on you," the creature says. He drops to his knees and places a hand against Harry's chest. "Pity. It's your death sentence." His claws sink into Harry's flesh, slicing through his clothes. "Say goodbye."
The pain is the worst he's ever experienced, hot and agonizing and interminable.
Harry refuses to close his eyes. He'll face death like an Auror; he's that dignity at least. The last thing he sees before the darkness takes him is the moon, shining through the branches of the trees, a pale, round glimmer of silver in the velvet sweep of night.