He did not hesitate, just grabbed her arm and Disapparated at the first glimpse of red robes through the window.
She hit him as soon as they came to a stop near the secret greenhouses in Kew Gardens. “Draco! What are you …”
“Aurors,” he gasped, and her mouth opened to protest, while he realised that there could be wizards nearby and Disapparated them again.
This time they appeared in drizzling Penzance, outside a steamy-windowed cafe he had once sat in for no better reason than he was certain no one there had ever seen him before. He had passed a remarkable four hours at the height of the war, seeing no one he even vaguely recognised.
“Do you have Muggle money?” he asked her quickly.
“No, I … Draco, why me?!” Pansy wailed quietly. “I haven’t done anything!”
Draco reached into his pockets and pulled out a fold of papers. “There’s three hundred pounds there,” he said, grateful for his mother’s planning. “They have the right numbers on them, so you can just read them. Have some breakfast here, I’ve eaten the food, it’s good, proper stuff. They take your orders and leave your bill at your table here, just like in Florean’s. Have a long breakfast, then go for a wander and buy a change of clothes. Things you wouldn’t usually wear. Try not to spend it all. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Before night. Mother will come if I can’t.”
“Where are you going?” Pansy asked quickly, hiding the panic he could see in her eyes.
“When you’re not at home, they’ll look for you at the manor. I have to be there.”
She nodded. “Go.”
“Will you be all right?”
She smiled bravely. “It’s just Muggles. What can they do? I’ll be fine. Go.”
Mother was in her library when Draco ran in. “I never left,” he told her, snatching up a book on potions from a pile he had left near the door. “I’ve been with you all morning.”
“Who?” she asked, concise and with forced calm.
“Pansy. Safe in a cafe in Penzance. You’ll need to find her if they take me in, she’ll be shopping for clothes.”
His mother nodded. “Robe off,” she said.
Draco tossed the book onto the chair beside his mother’s, whipped off his robe and called a house-elf to return it to his room. He sat down and began to read with concentration.
It took longer than he expected. Nearly thirty minutes had passed before another house-elf announced visitors. The Aurors had followed the elf through the house, which spoke to a lack of breeding, but waited outside the door to be announced, which suggested this was just an investigative call and that no-one had seen Draco in the five minutes he’d been at Pansy’s.
And, indeed, the “Good morning, Mrs Malfoy, we were hoping Mr Malfoy could spare a minute to help us with our enquiries?” with which the lead Auror entered the room set the tone for what followed.
Draco was all apologies: hadn’t left the house, had seen Pansy earlier in the week, she seemed well, had they tried Madame Malkin’s? Pans was known as a keen follower of fashion. His mother charmingly regretted that the two of them had decided on such a lazy morning and wished she could be of more help. She hoped everything was all right, there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, was there?
Not at all, they were assured. A purely routine enquiry. Hopes Miss Parkinson could assist with an ongoing case. Cards were exchanged with a request to let them know if they saw Pansy and a gentle suggestion that it would be to her benefit to clear all this up as soon as possible, not that ‘this’ was anything to be concerned about.
They politely refused Narcissa’s offer of tea, and thanked Draco for his assistance. Hands were shaken, and the same house-elf appeared to escort them – from the premises, as Draco put it in his head – and Draco sat down quietly to read.
After fifteen minutes, his mother reached over to pat his arm. “I’d better go and check your father missed the presence of Aurors before he takes it as an excuse to have firewhisky for breakfast. Again.”
Draco smiled weakly up at her. “I’ll give it another hour,” he said, quietly. In theory, the manor was impervious to Listening Charms, but he had learned caution and the Aurors could have left anything in their wake. There was no time to sweep for new magic now, it took a solid block of time and required concentration, and he had neither.
“If you’re gone before I come back, I may be out this afternoon, there’s some paperwork I need to see someone about.”
Draco nodded, understanding her meaning, and smiled gratefully at her.
When the time came, he went via the Ministry. As a ‘vital part of the Post-War Reconciliation programme’, he had an office.
In reality it was a converted storage room from the old International Magical Office of Law, which had moved to the new side of the Ministry when the new departments moved in. And he was less ‘vital’ than a handy figurehead. Junior Undersecretary for the Department of Domestic Magical Cooperation was Ministry shorthand for the chap we trot out whenever we want to make it look as though no one is holding any grudges since the war.
A fading poster greeted him as he walked into DMC. His own face, smiling tightly, alongside Potter’s, on which there was at least a vague expression of amusement, their hands shaking firmly in the lower half of the frame. Potter had listened politely to the publicity flunky who had suggested the image, refrained from laughing, even when Draco had been unable to hold in his spluttered “Really?!”, posed for the one, perfect shot, and left without chatting.
Draco had been almost grateful.
The powers that be had plastered the pair of them all over the Ministry and Diagon Alley for months. Draco had never been so grateful to live in Wiltshire and have a job that required very little actual work. The image was made doubly strange by the fact that he and Potter had, without speaking, agreed to avoid each other in reality, which had led to a very easy working environment. Draco was actually grateful for that.
The department’s administrative assistant was in his seat. Draco could never remember if it was Wallingham or Wellingham, and apparently was not alone, as there was a helpful sign stating ‘Broderick Wellingham’ on the front of the man’s desk.
Wellingham glanced up, surprised. “Mr Malfoy, sorry, I didn’t know you had anything on today …”
Draco waved him down. “It’s fine, I don’t. Just in to pick up my hate letters.”
Wellingham laughed politely, but nervously. Draco wasn’t really joking. For every “It’s wonderful to see that anyone can change” he had received – usually from lovely old witches hoping he might see his way to subscribing to their Home for Lost Kneazles, there were three or four that began with the wish to see him and his whole bloody family in Azkaban and went downhill from there.
It was a small price to pay. Agreeing to that poster and the rest had kept his father free. He had thought, for a while, that it had also signalled a genuine shift in the way things worked. A fresh start, without ‘sides’.
There was not much in the way of post. One was, thoughtfully, a card, so he could see the “Die Scum” without a return address and pop it into the bin immediately.
“Unpunctuated,” he commented to Wellingham, who had doubtless already read it.
“It’s shameful,” Wellingham muttered with some sympathy.
“I’d expect a comma, at least. Still, it would be worse to be loathed by competent people,” Draco said.
“They don’t loathe you, Mr Malfoy,” said Wellingham supportively – Draco caused very little work in the department. “You’re not like the others.”
And Draco smiled, and thanked him, and said goodbye, knowing that of course he was, especially now.
There weren’t many people in the corridors, and only one in the lift. Brown. Some sort of cousin of Lavender’s. Decent witch, in all senses of the phrase. She nodded a greeting, he smiled back.
“Good to see you,” she said. And Draco supposed that it would be, if you trusted that his continued presence in the Ministry meant things were genuinely working, genuinely different this time.
If he had courage, or a conscience, he would walk away and let them come for him next. But he had acid fear in his stomach and a left knee that wanted nothing more than to twitch convulsively, so he stood heavily on that leg and told Brown that it was good to see her, too, and who did she favour in the Quidditch this weekend?
She was skilled enough at social chit-chat to see them through all floors to the lobby, where he winked and whispered he was off for a quick fly since there was minimal work for him and she rolled her eyes and told him he was a jammy git and could come and help her out with paperwork whenever he felt the urge. But she walked alongside him to the fireplace, and he was profoundly glad of it because it meant he could pretend he didn’t see Percy Weasley, which meant he didn’t have to acknowledge the flash of contempt that always preceded Weasley’s own pretence that he could not see Draco.
“You should come along one lunch,” he told Brown. “I’ve got a spare broom …”
“If I ever get an hour for lunch. You should see the amount of forms this new visa system’s created.”
Draco smiled. “Now I feel guilty. I’ll come and give you a hand next time I’m in.”
And Brown’s eyebrows lifted, but she smiled in return. “Malfoy, if you’re serious, it would be brilliant. Give me advance warning and I’ll buy pastries on my way in.”
“You’re on, Brown!” Draco said, alive to the possibilities of the word ‘visa’. He stepped into the Floo, then out on Diagon Alley, where he was careful to be seen buying broom cleaner, before Apparating to Reading, where he spent a quarter hour looking pensively at random graves, before Apparating to Bournemouth, where he walked and stretched and checked the wind and limbered up as one might if one were contemplating an afternoon on a broom, and when he had been doing this for half an hour and attracted no attention beyond an Muggle walking his dog and commenting that it was nice to see a young person getting a spot of exercise despite the bad weather, he decided to risk it and Apparated to Penzance.
Pansy was in a dress shop when Draco found her. She was holding a plunging evening dress up against her in a mirror, but when Draco rolled his eyes, she showed him a dressing room full of demure skirts and jackets that she had previously selected.
“I thought I’d try on one nice thing,” she said. “Given I was still waiting for you. But now you’re here, I’ll pop it back.”
Draco shook his head. “Don’t be silly, Pans. Try it on. We’ve got time.” And he laughed at her cheeky grin and decided that he would come back and buy it for her, because she would need something to make her happy, wherever she ended up.
As it was, they bought her a plain tweed skirt and sensible shirt, with an oilskin jacket to pop over them both and knickers and tights for underneath. They were last season’s styles, from the sale rack, so there was money left over, even though Pansy had also had a good morning tea.
“I was nervous, so I ate cakes. It seemed like the best decision.”
“It was. Don’t fret about it.” Draco slipped an arm around her shoulders as they walked along the high street. The plastic of her shopping bags felt slippery in his right hand, but she was warm and tailored under his left. “In fact, we should have lunch.”
“We should get going,” Pansy corrected him. “I need to find somewhere to hide. Do you have a plan?”
“I do. Mother will be off buying you a fake passport this afternoon and I’m going to see my contact for more Muggle money. You’ll need to fill in a few hours, but then I’ll take you to London and get you onto the train to Paris. They’ll be doing what they can to monitor Portkeys and the Cross-Channel Conveyances, but they won’t be expecting us to use the Muggle routes. The worst we can expect is that they’ll have a list with names and photos, which we can get around.”
“Do you think they’ll be looking for me?” Pansy asked, and he could hear the effort she took to keep her voice level.
“They’re looking for dozens of people, so we’re best off keeping low-key. Thorfinn Rowle’s still out there. They’re keen to get their hands on him. And Walden Macnair, they have to be looking for him.”
“And Theodore Nott,” Pansy reminded him.
“We don’t know where Theo is. Anyway, he’s just wanted to answer a few questions,” Draco tried.
“Like me,” Pansy said, refusing to pretend. “Like Blaise. And he’s been there for eleven days. I should have gone with Millie when I had the chance.”
Draco didn’t say anything. They had both told Millicent that she was being ridiculous, scaremongering and playing to the worst political prejudices. She had left anyway. And when they had taken Blaise in, he and Pansy had told each other that it really was just for questioning this time, and he had even managed to see him on day two, and he was well and in good spirits, and then he was ‘unavailable’, and people in the Ministry changed the topic quickly.
“Do you think I should buy a headscarf?” Pansy asked. “Cover up my hair. I could wear one of those wrap-around ones the Muslim ladies wear, though I’d need a longer skirt or trousers.”
“I was thinking Polyjuice,” Draco replied. “Someone about your size so you don’t have to worry about changing clothes. And if we find someone with your hair colour, it won’t matter if you change back on the train, because the other passengers will only have a vague idea what you look like, anyway. We can put a temporary charm on your passport photo, which will wear off at the same rate as the Polyjuice. Or you could go to Brussels if you prefer.”
“Paris. Better range of options for the next leg. I was thinking Spain, or maybe Switzerland – possibly Buenos Aires. And Polyjuice is a good idea. There are lots of brunettes about my size. Have you been brewing in advance?”
Draco wasn’t sure what to tell her. That he had put an escape plan in place even before Voldemort lost? That he some days felt so ill at ease in his own skin that he would happily exchange it for anyone else’s, if only to escape the looks of pity and contempt – sometimes mingled – for an afternoon?
He lied. “I was worried after the war, that my friends wouldn’t be safe. Once they finished arresting Snatchers and started arresting relatives and friends, I stepped up production. I was too slow to help Theo or Blaise, but I haven’t made the same mistake with you.”
And she snuggled against his side and wrapped her arm around his waist. He kissed the top of her head. He might not see her again for years after today. The thought flooded him with a mix of loss and nostalgic affection. He started talking before he began thinking, “You could go tomorrow. We could stay here tonight, there are plenty of hotels.”
Pansy stopped walking at that, but quickly replaced her surprised face with an amused one and grinned up at him. “I’d have taken you up on that a few years ago. Was dying to, at the time. Now I’m reasonably convinced that your half-hearted snogging was symptomatic of half-hearted heterosexuality.”
“And while I do love you and your pretty, pointy face, I’d hate to redefine our friendship with bad sex at this point.”
“It might be fabulous,” Draco insisted.
“I’m sure you’d be a tiger,” Pansy winked, “but the whole time I’d be wondering if you were thinking of Theodore.”
“I never even snogged him!” Draco laughed.
“Three photos of him in your notebook,” she reminded him.
“It was a boyish infatuation,” he said, trying not to laugh any more.
“It was a sign,” Pansy corrected him, and Draco gave in.
He folded her in his arms. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“I’m not dying. I’m only going to Zurich. Or Buenos Aires. It will be fine, if a bit dull. No-one ever dies of boredom, they just say that.” And for all that she kept her voice light and teasing, there were tears in her eyes when she stepped back. “So. This Muggle money you’re obtaining on my behalf. You’re not robbing a bank, are you?”
“Perfectly legal methods,” Draco assured her.
“All right then. Let’s go down to the water and get something to eat. Then I’ll buy something to read and sit around looking poetic until you return and we stick one up the bloody Ministry.”
And Draco rested his forehead on hers for a moment and did as she suggested. He even let Pansy choose where they lunched, and ate the greasy fish and chips she ordered for him. She smiled when he promised to be back in less than two hours, and told him she wouldn’t panic until it had passed three.
Obtaining Muggle money legally was surprisingly simple once you understood that non-magical artefacts could be sold on the open market if they had a provenance, and to ‘specialist purveyors’ for slightly smaller sums if they did not. Mother had agreed that they had no need for a good many things that littered their home, so Draco spent the early afternoon liberating a particularly ugly trio of Meissen parrots, for what he suspected was at best half their actual value, despite the bill of sale to his Grandfather Abraxas, dated 1937. Still, it netted him £2500 and that was more than enough for ready cash.
What had shocked him, when they first began hoarding pounds, was how many of their possessions passed without comment in the Muggle world. Draco knew that many witches and wizards had achieved fame and been mistaken for Muggles through the centuries, but he was almost afraid to try and uncover whether that was the case in these instances, or whether his family had actually amassed a collection of genuinely Muggle items, valuing them even as they insisted their creators lacked value.
He most certainly did not ask his mother, who was waiting for him at home. “Everything all right, Draco?” she asked.
“Fine, thanks, Mother.”
“Marvellous. I picked up that book you were looking for while I was out today. On the green table in the hall, wrapped in red paper.”
He kissed her cheek. “You’re a treasure. Are you and Father in for the rest of the day?”
“I think so. You?”
“One more errand, off to see if I can make a deal on a vintage broom – it’s a 1926 Stickleberry Flyer, allegedly with the original bristles, which would make the asking price very attractive.”
“Promise me you won’t take off on a big flight,” Narcissa said, frowning subtext.
“The smallest of jaunts, and only if it’s safe,” Draco replied, honestly. “I’ll be home to eat with you.”
“Off you go then.” She hugged him briefly and he took a deep breath of her violet fragrance, as he did every time they said goodbye, in case he would need memories later.
The parcel was waiting for him, as she had said. He dashed upstairs and collected a few vials of potion from his room, then reached into the back of his wardrobe and withdrew a Muggle coat he had folded away under a pile of boots. A quick run through his mental checklist assured him he had not forgotten anything, and it was back to Penzance. By way of Teddington, Canterbury and Lewes.
“What on earth are you reading, Pans?” he asked as he sat beside her.
“I genuinely have no idea,” she answered. “These people seem to write about other people who wear dresses and have boyfriends. I had no idea being a Muggle was so easy, I could do it standing on my head.”
Draco flicked through a few pages. “I think these are the Celestina Warbecks of the Muggle world.”
Pansy looked over his shoulder. “You’re probably right. Shame, I quite like that frock, and thought those ones were hilarious. So. Are we off?”
Draco nodded. He pulled Pansy’s passport out of his pocket, along with her train ticket and a wallet full of cash, and one of the vials. “I’ve spelled it to change your name, it will revert when you tell it to. There’s a credit card in the holder, too, and one for a cashpoint. You’ll need to find a machine with this symbol, but I’m told they’re reasonably common. I’ve changed the names on them just like on your passport. You sign for the credit card – sign here on the back tomorrow when it goes back – and you punch in a number for the cashpoint one. I used my birthday. I went with Pandora Packer, so you’ll be likely to answer. Should be enough to fool any Muggle machines that might be looking for you.”
“Surely the Ministry won’t have …”
“I don’t know.” Draco shrugged. “I know they have links with the Muggle legal system, I don’t know what’s considered important enough to take advantage of them. Anyway, let’s find someone likely that we can pinch a hair from.”
Pansy grinned. “I am way ahead of you.” She produced a folded handkerchief, containing one black hair. “Was chatting with a shopgirl about my size and she thought I was ever so sweet for plucking it off her shoulder. Said she was a terrible moulter and it was so embarrassing. She ended up giving me a ten per cent discount on a lipstick, it was a fabulous bonding experience. I’m so very good at this hiding in plain sight thing.”
“You’re a genius,” Draco agreed, taking the hair. He dropped it into the vial, in which the brown liquid turned a pretty shade of rose, stoppered it, and passed it to her. “Give that a good shake.”
He took another, smaller, vial of liquid from his pocket, followed by one containing a single pale hair. He added the latter to the former, and shook it until its liquid was a uniform sky blue. “Right,” he said. “Let’s go find somewhere quiet, swallow these down and be on our way.”
Pansy smiled bravely. “Let’s.” She stood up and picked up a soft canvas bag that was stuffed rather full. “I popped into a few more charity shops,” she admitted, catching his glance. “You can get a lot for not very much!”
“Very sensible,” Draco told her. “You’ll look very authentic to the passport people.”
“I even bought a toothbrush, toothpaste and shampoo. And a lipstick. Because if I were a Muggle, I’d need them, according to someone called Liz Hurley and her Top Travel Packing Tips. Apparently I also need a sarong, but I have no idea what that is, so bugger it.”
Draco put an arm around her shoulders. She was really going. “You’re going to do brilliantly,” he said, rather than I’ll miss you. Take me with you.
“Will the passport people ask me why I’m going to Paris?” she asked.
“They might,” he answered, unwilling to admit that he had no idea.
“I’ll say to see the museums. And I know they have forms to fill in, so I’ll just read them carefully to make sure I do and say the right thing.”
“That’s my Pans. It’s a new passport, so you can just say this is your first trip.”
She nodded. They were in a quiet little street now, with a dark gap between buildings that was a perfect Apparation point. Without talking, they unstoppered their vials and drank down the contents. Draco’s tasted oddly like mint tea.
“Right,” said Draco, looking away so that he would not see Pansy’s face shift before him, aware he should have taken one last good look before it did. “Right. That’s that. Give me your vial, I’ll take them home. Hold on to my arm. Are you OK? Right then –” he took a deep breath – “Off to Waterloo.”
They appeared under a tree in a grove to the north of St Thomas’s Hospital, deep in shadow, where any young couple might have ducked for a moment of private passion. Draco was holding Pansy so tightly that any Muggle looking would have looked away politely, perhaps with an indulgent smile.
“Give me your bag,” he said. “I can at least be a gentleman until we have to part.”
She smiled up at him and handed it over. “I quite like this face,” she said. “I see what you mean about choosing people like us, I can wholly believe that’s your body.”
“He’s a dancer in a modern Belgian company that I met in a bar,” Draco confessed.
“Slumming it with the Muggles?”
“Hiding with the Muggles. And this one was very handsome and bought me two drinks in an attempt to weaken my virtue.”
Pansy grinned. “Did it work?”
“It would have, if I had any virtue to weaken.”
“Do I look as pretty as you do?”
“Prettier,” Draco said with conviction. “Come on, you’re booked on the six o’clock and you have to get through the gates.”
He led the way up York Street, past the triumphant arch of Waterloo and into the arched glass extravagance of the international station. Muggles bustled past on all sides, all blissfully unconcerned with two disguised young people in their midst. Draco’s spirits began to lift. He would see Pansy safely off, then head home, having stopped to pay a ridiculous price for an antique broom. She would write to the post office box no one knew he had a key to, and he would find her in her safe new home, where he could flee once everyone was away from danger and they could … Could wait, hoping that one day things would change enough that they could come home.
He straightened his shoulders. Bugger the lot of them. If that’s what it took, then he would move to Buenos Aires or Zurich and be done with it.
Pansy’s grip on his hand tightened. “We go through there, where it says Departures, don’t we?”
“You do. I kiss you and wave goodbye. We’re in the right place. And we’re in good time. Don’t fret.”
“I’m not fretting, I’m being on time.”
And they both began to laugh at that, because in all probability it was the first time Pansy had been on time for anything in her life.
It was the laughter that nearly saved them. They had reached the queue for immigration and looked so at ease that the two Muggle-clothed Aurors patrolling the line walked straight past them, even as Draco recognised them for what they were: the tall one had been interrogating him only a few hours ago. Pansy followed his momentarily shocked gaze and stiffened.
“Don’t look,” Draco whispered.
“What do we do?” She didn’t move her lips.
“Wait. Stay in line. Hope for the best.”
“I want to run.”
Draco did, too, but for all that there were plenty of Muggles about, they were mostly queuing in an orderly fashion and there were plenty of uniformed men walking around among them. He was fairly certain that running would not be the right thing to do.
“They’re looking for us, we don’t look like us. We’ll be fine,” he said, with more conviction than he felt.
And then one of the Aurors surreptitiously drew out his wand, and Draco knew that he would have a spell to reveal other wands in the vicinity – because it’s what he would have done in his place – and he was torn between simply Disapparating them both and running off alone, so that Pansy could escape to safety, and before he could make up his mind, a hand closed around his elbow and a voice said “The newsstand? You’ve walked straight past it, sir. I’m headed that way myself, let me show you.” And when he turned around, the voice belonged to Harry Potter, who had a tight grip on his arm.
Draco hesitated for a moment.
“I know it’s you, Malfoy, which means this is Parkinson and you have about ten seconds to trust me before Williamson finds out who you are,” Potter said without moving his lips.
Before Draco could protest, Pansy gave a terse nod. “Thank you so much, I was going to go mad with boredom, and I do want to see what Liz Hurley is wearing this week,” she said loudly.
Potter led them both away, muttering that he was helping some lost Muggles and would be five minutes as he passed his fellow Aurors.
Draco made an effort. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” he said.
“You’re wearing Dragonskin boots,” Potter said, quietly. “Everything else is very good, especially the coat. And Pansy’s outfit is perfect. Exactly right. But I know those boots. I’ve seen you wearing them in the Ministry.”
“What are we trusting you to do, Potter?” Pansy asked.
“Get you out of here undetected.”
“I have a ticket for the train, and a passport,” she said, evenly.
“No good. MLE are convinced Death Eaters are using Muggle transport to leave the country. The trains, ferries and planes are all under surveillance.”
“I’m not a bloody Death Eater.” And her voice cracked a little there, though she kept her face still.
“I know,” Potter said and he walked a little faster.
“So where are you taking us?” Draco asked.
“WH Smith. After that, you can go wherever you like. But if you want me to help you, you’ll go to my house at Grimmauld Place. Do you know where it is?”
Draco nodded slightly. “I’ve been there before, when I was little.”
Potter scribbled on a piece of paper as they walked. He passed it to Draco. “Here, this will get you in. The password is ‘Augusta Longbottom’s Hat’.”
“And what do we do there?” Pansy asked.
“Wait. I won’t be long.”
“How are you going to explain us not coming back to the queue?”
“If anyone notices, I’ll tell them you were tourists and thought this was the train to Basingstoke.”
Draco couldn’t stop himself. “Why are you helping us?”
Pansy answered for him. “It’s what he does, isn’t it? Don’t question, Draco, let’s buy a magazine, look lost and get out of here.”
“Sensible, Parkinson.” They were standing outside WH Smith now. “I have to go straight back, but I’ll leave here as soon as I can. There are a lot of us who don’t agree with what’s been going on, and we’ve started to put some plans in place. You’ll be safe.” He paused for a moment, then added, “Malfoy, you should drop Pansy off and then wait for me at the Ministry. You should be seen alone as much as you can today. We can come up with some rational reason why you’d be following me home later.”
“I can go to your house alone,” Pansy said.
And Draco was surprised to see a faint smile cross Potter’s face. “Best to take Malfoy with you. Hermione’s there, and she hates him less than she hates you.”
He was gone with that, walking back quickly to his two underlings who were still haunting the queue in the distance. He walked with that particular Auror stride, so that Draco could see where the red robe would be furling, despite the actual jeans and jumper.
“Do you have any change?” Pansy asked him. “I’ve spent most of mine, and I don’t want to pull out the bundle of notes you gave me.”
He looked down at her, confused.
“I’m buying magazines. If I’m going to be stuck sitting with Granger all afternoon, I’m going to need as many stupid dresses to laugh at as possible.”
Draco handed money over without looking at it. “Do you think he was telling the truth?” he asked.
“Definitely. Granger hates you on principle, she hates me personally.”
“About being safe.”
“He got us away from those Aurors.” She snatched up a selection of titles, most with exclamation marks involved and shuffled them over to the counter to pay. “And it’s not as if we have a lot of choice. I’m going to put my hope in him playing true to type and being revoltingly righteous about the whole thing. Right, I’m done. Are we going?”
Despite the attractiveness of Apparating to Inverness and finding a nice, quiet croft, Draco nodded. “We’re going.” He walked them back towards the domestic part of the station and then through the first exit, looking for a dark spot unpenetrated by CCTV. There he opened the fold of paper in his hand, read “Number 12 Grimmauld Place”, took Pansy’s arm and Apparated.
From the outside, the house was as he remembered it. A tall terrace, somewhat grim in demeanour and with severely outmoded window treatments. But the exterior stairs had been swept and there was, of all things, a potted ficus standing beside the door.
“Should we knock?” Pansy asked.
Draco thought for a moment. “I think we should just go in. If Potter’s let us in on the secret, that should be enough to get through the door.”
“Augusta Longbottom’s hat,” Pansy announced.
She shrugged, and twisted the doorknob. This more prosaic approach worked, and they both stepped inside.
“That was easy,” Draco said, grinning. “When do you think we say the …”
His tongue stilled. Dust gathered from the corners of the hallway, assembling into a form that was wretchedly familiar to Draco. He knew it from the first lines of the eyes, and then the whole face cohered, and a hand pointed an accusatory finger, and the mouth opened …
“Augusta Longbottom’s hat!” Pansy shouted.
The form of Albus Dumbledore dropped from the air. Behind it, a more tangible figure appeared.
She was holding a wand and pointing it at them.
“Knowing the password grants you five seconds to explain who the hell you are,” Granger said.
“Draco Malfoy,” Draco replied quickly.
She lowered the wand a little.
“Malfoy. And that’s?”
“Parkinson,” Pansy supplied. “Potter told us to come here.”
Granger looked anything but pleased.
“Polyjuice?” she asked. “Bloody hell. Harry could have let me know, I can’t even confirm it’s you.”
“You slapped me in the face once,” Draco offered.
“And I slipped a vial of stinking potion into your bag in second year,” Pansy added, Draco wasn’t sure that helped.
The wand dropped a fraction more.
“Are you both staying?”
“Potter told me to go back to the Ministry …” Draco began.
“I’ll just …”
“Go.” Granger’s voice made the command clear.
Draco turned to Pansy, who smiled bravely at him. “I’ll be fine,” she said. He squeezed her hand
“I’ll be back.”
And since there was nothing else to do, he ducked out the door, checked the road in both directions, and was about to Apparate to the Ministry when he remembered that he still had the wrong face on. In the end, he had walked a reasonable part of the way there before he caught a glimpse in a shop window and saw his own familiar pointy chin.
Draco followed instructions and went straight to the Auror Department, where he was left to sit on a hard bench outside Potter’s office. One of the junior Aurors took pity and brought him a cup of tea and a copy of the Which Broom racing bristles special.
And most of the senior Aurors were out patrolling airports and railway stations, which meant that those remaining were his age, or only a little older, so there was only one glare and even that came with a countering mutter of ‘Let it go, he’s not worth making a fuss about’ from behind the open-plan desks nearby.
Draco wasn’t reassured.
He had spent too much time here in the first weeks after the war, telling the same stories again and again. He had done what he could without lying to protect people. Gregory had always been beyond his help.
Every time he had been asked to come in, his Mother had looked as though he was being taken to execution. Every time he came home, it had felt like a reprieve.
And then Potter’s letters in the Prophet had come like an indulgence, absolving all sins, and the next time the Aurors had had questions, they had sent a letter to the manor, asking for an appointment, and arrived with apologies and courtesy.
It occurred to him that he had just voluntarily delivered himself into Auror custody. And Pansy into Granger’s, which was possibly worse.
After forty minutes, he was about to run back to Grimmauld Place and see if he could break out Pansy, when the main doors slammed open and Potter walked in.
“Malfoy!” he exclaimed. “So pleased you could make it. Sorry to keep you waiting. I’m sure you’re brimming with ideas for our project. In my office, shall we?”
Draco looked at him blankly. Only Potter could be conjuring up fresh hells at a moment like this.
“Malfoy? Office? Meeting? Sorry I kept you waiting.”
There was a final second when he could have fled, but Draco nodded instead. “It’s all right. Auror Armitage was very kind.”
The young Auror who had brought him tea offered a conspiratorial wink, and Draco favoured her with a half-smile as he followed Potter through the door. Potter shut it behind them and quickly muttered “Muffliato.”
Draco didn’t wait for him to start talking. “What the hell is going on, Potter? I had a lovely simple day planned, starting with a nice breakfast and then your red-robed bastards came barrelling up Pansy’s front path and how the hell did you know we were catching a train? How do you ruin everything I touch, every time?
Potter stayed calm. “Did Pansy get to my house safely?”
“Yes, she’s with Granger.”
“Good. Did you go into the house?”
“Just the entrance hall.”
Potter walked over to his desk and sat down. “Nothing. You’ll see when we go back there.”
Draco dropped onto the chair opposite him. “Just tell me.”
“What were you doing at Waterloo?” Potter didn’t answer him.
Potter rolled his eyes very slightly, but enough for Draco to see. “I meant, why were you waiting for a Muggle train?”
“Because I didn’t think your lot would think my lot would catch a train.”
Potter shook his head. “Sorry,” he said.
“Why are you sorry?” Draco snapped. It wasn’t bad enough that Potter had pulled him out of the fire again – less literally this time – now he was being polite about it.
“Searching the train queues was my idea. I thought Pansy was most likely to be with you, and assumed you’d either try to hide her in England or else use a magical means of transport to get her out. I was trying to keep my lot busy without getting in your way.”
“I knew it! You have a unique habit of riding roughshod over me every time you decide to save the day. And every single time the universe bends over backwards to work out for you while fucking me over. Never mind that my plans involve thinking while yours involve luck and half-arsedry.”
“I really didn’t think you’d choose Muggle.”
“I’ve learned that the Muggle world is very useful for not … for not being the Wizarding world.”
Potter smiled at that, and it was an understanding smile, which lessened Draco’s anger a little.
“It would have worked,” Draco said.
“It would have,” Potter agreed. “I’m sorry I fouled things up for you. But I do have a plan that should keep her safe here.”
“Of course you do. Merlin forbid we do anything that doesn’t revolve around you, Potter. What’s your plan, then? Are we deposing Percy Weasley as head of MLE and sending him on a one-way trip to Ulan Bator? Because that’s what it’s going to take.”
Potter looked as surprised by Draco’s bitterness as Draco was. But they hadn’t needed his help, and him trying to help had buggered everything, and Draco was a bit too bloody tired after spending the last eight hours with his heart in his mouth to be fair about this sort of thing right now.
A sharp knock on the door made them both jump, and Potter swore as he lifted the muffling charm. “Come in,” he called out.
Speak of the devil, and he will appear, thought Draco, as Percy Weasley strode in. He frowned for a second, then his eyes slid over Draco and he addressed himself to Potter.
“Glad I caught you, Harry,” he said. “Any progress on that case from this morning?”
“Pansy Parkinson?” Draco interjected.
Weasley ignored him.
“No further developments, Percy,” Potter replied, also ignoring Draco, but less maliciously, Draco thought. “Either she’s gone away for a bit and will turn up eventually, or she’s taken flight at the sight of us.”
“I told you she was guilty,” Weasley said. “Innocent people don’t run.”
“Yes they do,” said Potter, before Draco could get his voice to move past his outrage. “They run all the time if they’re frightened, and we are frightening. She’s not a threat, Percy, she’s not even a source of information about actual threats. You know I disagree with this policy and I don’t see the benefit in it.”
Weasley’s face took on the benevolent smile of a politician, despot or lunatic – and Draco was happy to mark him down as all three. “Harry, I know, but it’s for the benefit of everyone that they see justice being done. There were too many combatants left at liberty after the war. There is a strong will amongst the people that those who caused all this damage be made to pay.”
“Parkinson didn’t cause any damage, she was a frightened schoolgirl,” Potter pointed out, and it didn’t sound as though it was for the first time.
“She tried to hand you over to Voldemort.”
“Not even that. She was all for someone else doing it if it meant she never had to have anything to do with Voldemort, ever.”
“But that’s not what the people believe, Harry.”
Which was true enough at the moment. The last few issues of the Prophet had featured Rita Skeeter’s series on The War Criminals Amongst Us. And for all that she had featured Thorfinn Rowle and Walden Macnair, she had liberally slandered at least two dozen other names, including Draco’s classmates. And then, to add a squeeze of acid to the wound, she’d made a point of praising Horace Slughorn, and Narcissa and Draco Malfoy, who had all provided such sterling examples of how past mistakes could be overcome.
“And I cannot blame them for wanting stability and certainty, which is why my department will continue to hunt down these vestiges of the enemy until Wizarding Britain is safe. I expect you to deploy your Aurors accordingly until Robards returns, Harry.”
Weasley was still smiling his supercilious smile, though it slipped as Potter didn’t answer immediately. “Harry?”
“You’re the Head of Magical Law Enforcement and the Auror Department reports to you,” Harry said, evenly. “We uphold the law, Percy, even when we don’t agree with it.”
“Good. Good. Well, I hope you have a result soon, then.” He turned to leave, and let his gaze fall on Draco for the first time. “Mr Malfoy. Good afternoon to you,” he said, and walked briskly out through the door.
Potter got up from his desk and closed the door again, reinstating the muffling charm as he did. He flopped down into his chair and ran his hands through his hair, restoring the disorder there that Draco was used to. That was less strange, Draco thought. Well-groomed Potter was entirely wrong.
“Ulan Bator,” Draco repeated.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Yes it is. He’ll be coming for me next.”
“No he won’t.”
“Yes he will. The man can barely stand to look at me.”
Potter shook his head. “He’s too clever to get rid of you. While your family is free, he can point to you as proof that there is no policy of profiling, and say that every case is judged on its merits.”
Draco considered this. Sadly, Potter appeared to be right. “But he does hate me.”
“Oh yes. He hates you.”
“Because of his brother.”
“Because of himself,” Potter corrected. “Remember, Percy stayed with the Ministry through most of the war. He didn’t support the Muggleborn Registration Committee, but he didn’t quit in protest, either. Half of this is about him seeing Death Eaters behind every corner, the other half is about him taking the firm stance that he should have taken years ago.”
“Yeah, well that might have been fair enough when he was rounding up Snatchers, even though some of them were just stupid kids, and maybe even the Ministry people he’s brought in. But Pansy? And Blaise and Theo? I’m not going to feel any sympathy for him.”
“I’m not asking you to, I’m asking you to see that there is an explanation for his actions. Knowing what motivates people like him gives us strength.”
“Strength to remove him, so that people like him aren’t running Ministry policy,” Draco insisted.
And Draco let his breath out at that, because he hadn’t really dared hope that Potter would be up for another revolution barely two years since the last one.
“All right, then. So, you have a plan.”
Potter raised his eyebrows at Draco’s conciliatory tone, but didn’t comment on it. “I do. And it will all be quickly explained back at Grimmauld Place. So now all I need is a reason for you coming home with me.”
Draco couldn’t help it. He began to laugh.
Potter frowned. “What’s so …?”
“It’s just the absurdity of it all,” Draco managed to get out. He took a deep breath and tried to still the humour that was bubbling up through his chest before Potter wrote him off as hysterical. “We spend years at each other’s throats, and now it’s all ‘Oh, Potter, would you be able to give a little help to this rather serious problem?’ ‘Why certainly, Malfoy, let us discuss it over tea at my abode.’ Seriously, can you imagine us sitting here three or four years ago?”
“Merlin, no,” Potter said, trying very hard not to smile. Draco liked him a bit for that. “But neither of us was at our best when we were sixteen.”
“You were hideous,” Draco agreed.
“So were you. But we were both being lied to in fairly extreme circumstances, so I don’t think we should judge ourselves too harshly.”
Draco sobered up entirely. “That’s why Pansy trusts you. I suppose, if I’m being honest, it’s why I trust you, too. Because you’re basically a better person than Percy Weasley.”
Potter looked away, shaking his head. “Not better,” he said. “Maybe a little bit more reconciled to my past mistakes.”
“Fine. You’re slightly less appalling than Percy Weasley.”
“Flatterer. Anyway, this isn’t helping us to solve the immediate problem. There has to be some rational reason why you and I would seek out each other’s company.”
“Duelling club,” Draco suggested. “We let them know Granger’s there to ship the loser of to St Mungo’s.”
“They’d arrest me before I could legally kill you,” Potter said, sounding regretful.
Draco didn’t want to ask which part of that he regretted, and besides, he had just had the perfect idea.
“You still have my wand.”
Potter blinked slowly.
Draco wondered whether he had presumed too much.
“I meant to give that back to you,” Potter said. “I really did. I just … never actually did it.”
He looked so uncomfortable that Draco began to apologise. “Forget about it, Potter. Obviously you’ve been very busy and I hadn’t really given the matter much thought before now.”
“That’s surprisingly kind of you, but I had given it thought and just failed to follow through on it. Which is a bit rubbish of me, really, I know what it’s like to lose your wand. Did you end up buying a new one?”
“No.” Draco thought about the last weeks of the war when he had blamed his mother’s wand for everything that had not quite worked. And then as soon as the war was over, it had been perfect. Every bit as good as his own, but somehow warmer and more concerned for him – the only time it had failed him was when he decided that he may as well brew up that hemlock potion. He had been wrong when he had thought it didn’t understand him. Like his mother, it had understood him better than he had understood himself.
“No, I still have my mother’s, and she’s still using her old student one. She says it’s friendly and reminds her of evenings spent brewing cocoa.”
“It’s very hard to imagine your mother brewing cocoa.”
“All right. Well, I think anyone would agree that your wand is a perfectly valid reason to come to my house. Just try not to annoy my house-elf while you’re there, and if any of the portraits start asking you to kill me, do your best to ignore them.”
“Is that likely to happen?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“All right. When should we go?”
Potter looked at his watch. “Now would be fine.”
“Any reason why not?”
And since Draco couldn’t say that walking out of the Ministry with Harry Potter to head off on a casual visit was a concept he felt should require if not a little getting used to then at least a stiff drink beforehand, he stood up instead. “None at all. Off we go. Should I mention the wand as we walk outside so your minions don’t worry I’ve Imperiused you or that you’re holding me under threat?”
“Not a bad idea.”
Draco lost count of the number of times he said “Wand” on the way out of the Ministry. He may have come across as a trifle deranged, but at least the surprised looks that preceded the pair of them quickly disappeared. And Potter kept a straight face all the way through the lobby, which was more than Draco had expected. They stepped into the Floo and emerged a stretched and smoky moment later in the fireplace of a large drawing room filled with bright light and people drinking tea.
“Draco!” Pansy leapt up from one of the sofas and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
“Perfectly fine. Tea, and reading what Granger informs me are trashy fash mags.”
Draco had no idea what she was talking about, so he hugged her again.
“Hello, Malfoy,” said a voice from behind them.
Draco looked over Pansy’s head. “Theo!” He pushed past Pansy and went to embrace Nott, too, but lowered the setting of his smile and settled for a handshake and manly shoulder slapping when Nott took a half-step backwards.
“Steady on,” said Nott. “I’ve just been hiding out for a few days, not gone for years.”
“We were worried about you. You disappeared. We didn’t know where you were, how you were …”
“He’s been here,” Potter said. “Sit down, we’ll explain it all.”
Draco looked around. There were no other old friends of his lurking in the corners, but there was Granger and Ron Weasley, as well as Lovegood and Longbottom. Luna smiled and waved at him, Longbottom looked patient, while Weasley and Granger looked as though they had agreed they would try their best.
“Here,” said Pansy. “Sit with me and drink this tea and listen. It’s all really rather clever.”
Granger began the story. “When I started work with the Ministry, I was keen on Magical Law Enforcement. So I went to talk to Percy and see what he had available. He’d just taken over the Department then and was happy to chat with me about all of his plans. I kept a smile on my face, nodded a lot, frowned a few times and asked him if he was sure that was the wisest policy, then ran away as fast as I could and took up a job in Magical Creatures.”
“Where you immediately repealed the Pureblood distinction laws,” Nott commented.
“Exactly. Hired two werewolves the first month. I also let Harry know what Percy was planning. We kept it to ourselves at first, because we didn’t want to believe he’d get anywhere with it. The first anniversary of the War had just happened, and there was a public mood for healing and moving on.”
“Most of the public,” Weasley interjected.
Draco was trying to keep up. “You mean you started all this … whatever it is you lot have been doing?”
“I was the one who raised the issue of what was happening, then everyone else came on board to help solve the actual problem as it emerged,” Granger corrected him.
Draco nodded. It was an improvement, he didn’t mind being out-thought by Granger half so much as by Potter.
“But then the Aurors still hadn’t caught Rowle or Macnair,” Longbottom added. “And the Prophet started asking why not.”
“And Kingsley wanted to give us free rein to pursue them both,” Potter took up the story. “But he was voted down by most of the Department Heads, at Budget, and rather than give us the funds we needed to get that job done, they decided the public needed a distraction. Goyle had the very bad luck to have his final appeal being held just as all of this was coming to a head.”
Draco bit his lip. He could still remember Gregory shouting Malfoy, do something! as the sentence of ten years was read out. “He was an active combatant. Theo, Pansy and Blaise weren’t,” he said, as evenly as he could.
“Exactly. And at first, all of the people they sent us after were more or less active participants. Snatchers, Death Eater hangers-on, the men who shipped those Giants into Britain. But we started to ask questions when the order came in for Albert Runcorn. He was a prize twat, but that was just him, he wasn’t Voldemort’s prize twat. And for all that we brought him in, we couldn’t see how he was in the same category as Mulciber, despite what his arrest warrant said. Neither was Mrs Goyle. So when Percy gave us orders to arrest her, Robards knocked on the front door and politely asked her if she would mind accompanying us to the Ministry and did nothing when she Apparated away.”
“Which is why he’s been on sick leave for three months?” Draco guessed.
Potter nodded. “Percy used the opportunity provided by the public support for Goyle’s sentence to argue that many of the so-called low-level Death Eaters had been allowed to get away with their alleged war crimes.”
“Except that he didn’t say alleged, and he made it clear that his use of ‘so-called’ was ironic,” Granger muttered.
“True. Anyway, we all know what happened after that, and it’s been escalating stupidity since then. Ron was able to get to Nott before I had to lead my team in, and we’ve had him sitting here for the last few weeks waiting for a safe house to be ready. I instructed my Aurors to come in through the front door at Pansy’s this morning, thinking she’d notice and expecting her to run to you, Malfoy, but I had a backup plan to get her out of the Ministry if that didn’t work.”
“And Blaise?” Draco asked, hoping.
“Already out. He made an unprecedented ‘escape’ last week, we’ve kept it out of the papers so far.”
“So he’s fine?”
“You could have said something,” Draco snapped, trying to keep a hold on his temper. “I was frantic down at the cells. They made it sound as though something appalling had happened and they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“I’m sorry,” Potter said. “It genuinely didn’t occur to me that you’d be that worried.”
“No, of course not. He’s only one of my best friends, dragged out of his house without warning and suddenly lost to sight, like so many others. Why on earth would that worry me? It’s not as though I’m a person with feelings.”
Pansy’s hand stole into his, and Draco fell silent. He was perversely pleased to see the guilt on the others’ faces.
“I really am sorry,” Potter said. “I should have thought. We could have found a way to get a message to you if we’d tried. He is safe, though. He’s hiding with one of Finch-Fletchley’s cousins up North.”
“Don’t sound so surprised, you and Pansy went straight to the Muggle world today and did very well.”
“It wasn’t his first time,” Pansy said.
Every set of eyes settled on Draco, Theo’s under particularly sceptical eyebrows. “If you were me, you might want to get away from everything occasionally, too,” Draco said, keeping his chin high.
“Good thinking,” said Weasley, unexpectedly. “There’s millions of them, and the Aurors are really restricted in what they can do when it’s all Muggles about. You can blend in easily, too. Surprised you thought of it, though.”
“So was I,” Draco admitted.
“Right.” Potter drew in a breath. “So, the short version of everything is, there are a number of us working to protect the more innocent victims of Percy’s campaign, most of the old Dumbledore’s Army. And, of necessity, you’re now one of us.”
“Just like that?”
“Well, it’s not as though we had any choice about involving you at this point, and you’re obviously not going to run off and betray any of us, since that’s entirely against your own self-interest.”
“And I would never act against that.”
Potter had the grace to look down. “That’s not what I meant. I mean that we have a common cause this time. So welcome to the team.”
“Thank you for the tea,” Draco said, with a small, polite smile for all the old Gryffindors in the room.
“You’ll never guess where they’re hiding me,” Pansy said, moving to lighten the tone.
“Really,” said Granger, with the edges of a sigh. “We can’t send her to Justin’s cousin, it’s a working farm and she’s …”
“No good at working,” Pansy supplied brightly.
“Yes. So my parents have said they’d help us if we needed it because they want to be involved this time, and it’s going to be simplest to have her stay there and pretend she’s one of my friends from university, where all my Muggle friends think I’m studying. It’s only the first weeks of term, where there’s a lot of skiving, so it shouldn’t be too suspicious. We were thinking about dyeing her hair in case anyone from our world sees her, though the only person who’s ever visited me at home who’s not in this room is Ginny, and she’s not likely to.”
“You live with your parents, Granger?” Draco asked, surprised.
“So do you.”
“I’m not criticising, it’s just, you’re so … witchy. You’re always researching or brewing something. And you’ve got Weasley following you around all the time, I just assumed the two of you …”
“My parents are very understanding,” Hermione said.
“And I have a flat in London,” Weasley added, which made more sense to Draco.
“I think I should go blonde,” Pansy said. Draco shook his head. “Purple?” she tried again.
“Red,” said Luna. “Not like Ron’s, like Harry’s robes. Really, thoroughly red. Maybe with blue stripes.”
Pansy nodded contemplatively. “I like it.”
“It’s not going to solve the problem,” Draco said.
“Of course it is, darling! I’ll spell it a bit longer, too. Everyone thinks of me with black, bobbed hair. Take that away and people will walk straight past.”
“You’re not the problem, Pans.” Draco smiled and squeezed her hand. “Weasley is.”
“Percy Weasley,” Longbottom clarified.
“Yes. Sorry … other Weasley.”
And Ron Weasley looked grim, but he nodded. “He didn’t take Fred’s death well,” he said. “He thinks he could have prevented a lot of what happened if he’d acted earlier. That’s what he thinks he’s doing, you know, acting early enough this time.”
Draco had no words for that.
“Kingsley should step in,” Longbottom said, a touch of anger creeping into his voice. “He’s lost control of the Ministry, MLE are running their own game.”
“The Aurors are doing what they can,” Potter insisted.
“He’s tired. He wasn’t expecting this and it’s caught him on the back foot,” Granger said, and she sounded tired, too.
“Last year everything looked as though it was all going to be all right, and now … Anyway, it’s not just the Ministry, the Prophet has lost the plot again, too. It’s like the bad old days.”
“I’m trying to get the Quibbler up and running regularly again,” Luna said into the quietness that followed Hermione’s words. “But it takes time. Even writing all the copy can’t be done quickly now that Dad’s still resting at St Mungo’s.”
“I can write,” Nott offered.
Draco looked around at the surprise on the ex-Gryffindor’s faces. “Theo won two essay prizes at school,” he pointed out.
“I remember,” Luna said. “The one on contemporary lessons from the Goblin Wars was really quite good.”
Nott smiled at her. “So if I’m going to be sitting around hiding somewhere, I could help you write articles for the Quibbler, just tell me what you want me to write about, and how many words.”
“Well, definitely a piece on the mistakes of the current policy regime, but possibly with a pen name, and then …”
“Hang on,” Longbottom said, loudly. “We’re moving off into trivia. We need a plan to discuss Percy with Shacklebolt, and we need to do it soon. If the Minister isn’t able to stop or remove him, then we will have to come up with a strategy that will.”
Draco couldn’t even pretend to be polite. “What are you suggesting, Longbottom? Assassination?”
“Political action,” Longbottom replied, evenly. “Move him out of Magical Law Enforcement and replace him with someone who won’t do as much harm. And divide up the department, it’s outrageous that the legal arm and the law enforcement arm have no distance between them.”
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Granger agreed.
“Oh, obviously,” said Draco. “And now you’ve been working in Creatures for a year they’re bound to be ready to hand over a major department to you.”
Granger opened her mouth to reply, as did Weasley, but Potter beat them both to it. “There’s no need for sarcasm. As it happens, we do have a lot of well-connected people in this room. Luna has her own magazine, which still has a decent subscriber base if we can just publish it more than once every few months. I’m Acting Head of my sub-department, and I know that Robards holds no love for Percy, so even when he comes back, I think we can count on his support. Kingsley knows Ron and Hermione, and everyone knows Neville. We can talk to people, influence their opinions, go about it all through the proper channels.”
“And Weasley won’t do a thing to stop you using the mechanisms of the Ministry or public opinion against him?” asked Pansy. “Draco’s right, we need to physically remove him.” She held up a hand to stop Ron’s outrage from being more than just a sharply indrawn breath. “Obviously killing him is taking it too far, but some sort of jinx or curse. Something with boils, perhaps. He wouldn’t be in the paper half so often with a face covered in boils.”
“He’s still my brother,” Ron protested. Then he frowned and added, “And besides, if we physically attack him, he’ll just feel he’s being martyred and play the public sympathy card. We need to shift public opinion away from him instead, and erode his power base.”
“Because that won’t hurt him at all.”
“Less than boils!”
“I don’t think so.”
And Draco knew that Pansy was right on this one, because she had come with him to visit Greg before his trial and she had heard the accusations of disloyalty and betrayal Greg had levelled at him, and even received a handful of her own.
“What do you think, Harry?” Weasley asked.
“I think I should start with speaking to Kingsley tomorrow,” Harry answered. “As far as we can, I think we need to keep this all a matter of policy. There’s room for some quiet revolution, but no one has any spirit for the other sort. That’s why Percy’s been able to get this far, everyone’s too tired for conflict.”
“I want to come with you,” Draco said. If there was any chance for him to convince Shacklebolt that he needed to step in, it would be with Potter there arguing the case beside him.
“That might be for the best.”
“He has to,” Weasley said. Draco looked at him in surprise, and he went on, “We need to foreground Malfoy as a functional part of the Ministry team from now on. All that reconciliation rubbish the two of you did for the media, you need to get back to that. Because unless we keep him close, Percy’s not above a spot of revisionism.”
“He needs Malfoy free,” Potter argued. “Otherwise it’s too obvious that he’s running a campaign rather than ‘upholding justice’.”
“I’m not sure how long he’ll care about the distinction,” Weasley said, but he shrugged, and let the matter drop.
A loud beep sounded from the vicinity of Granger’s feet. “Sorry,” she said, bending over and rummaging in a bag. She pulled out a grey and silver device, about the size of a small box of Bott’s Beans. She pressed a few buttons, then nodded. “SMS from Seamus,” she said to Theo. “He’s organised a flat over in Swansea, says you’ll be house-sitting for one of his cousins and he hopes you like dogs, because there’s one that needs walking.”
“Perfect,” said Nott. “What’s an SMS?”
“Like an owl for Muggles,” she replied, which surprised Draco, because she hadn’t had to pay the little box and it wasn’t pecking her.
“I should get going,” said Nott. “I’ll finish packing my things.” He headed out of the room, presumably to do just that.
“And we should head off to your place,” Pansy said to Granger. “I’m starving, and in need of a bath and a good night’s sleep.” She stood up and set about gathering her own bags.
“I’ll come with you,” Weasley told Granger, which made it easier for Draco to decide he wouldn’t.
“Behave yourself, Pans,” he said with a half-smile. “I’ll come and see you as soon as I can.”
She smiled back, then dragged him over to the mirror above the mantel and tapped her head with her wand, flooding the natural black of her hair with scarlet and blue, and lengthening and curling it for good measure. She frowned, and then adjusted the length. “How does it look?”
She hugged him briefly and kissed his cheek. “You take care, too, Draco. It won’t be long. Granger will bring you over on a visit. And you’ll have deposed Weasley before the week is out, so I’ll be home before Halloween.”
She looked back at him once as Weasley and Granger led her outside. He smiled brightly. It may not have been the rescue he’d hoped for, but it was a rescue nonetheless, and he did trust Weasley and Granger, for all that he didn’t like them.
Longbottom and Lovegood were chatting over on their sofa, which left him and Potter pointedly not talking to each other.
“She’ll be fine,” Potter said after a minute.
“I know.” Draco held his smile, to show that he appreciated that Potter was making an effort. Maybe he really was starting to like Potter a bit. That could be an interesting change to loathing or indebtedness.
“I’m sorry about Nott,” Potter said, quietly.
“What do you mean?”
Potter looked uncomfortable. “Just … I saw the look on your face when you saw him, and the way that he stepped back. And then how you looked when he did … I had no idea, but … I just wanted to say sorry.”
Draco decided that he didn’t like Potter after all. “I don’t know what you think you saw. I was just carried away in the moment, while Theo wasn’t. Nothing to build any epic personal theories on. Next you’ll be telling everyone I’m the Heir of Slytherin again.”
“You were telling everyone it was me!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You were the heir of a very bad hairstyle.”
And Potter grinned, which was a shame, because Draco had been working his way back to a perfectly good loathing.
“All right. I’m wrong, it was nothing, I’m not sorry.” Potter’s grin softened. “But if you want to get going before he comes back down, I’ll make your apologies.”
Draco shook his head. “I’ll say goodbye. And then I’ll head home, I’m shattered after today, I think I’ve Apparated across the country three or four times. You still haven’t given me my wand, you know.”
“Oh, bloody hell!”
And Draco laughed at that. “It’s all right. Are you taking Theo to Swansea? Why don’t I come back tomorrow morning and we can come up with a strategy for talking to the Minister.”
“I’ll have Kreacher make breakfast.”
Draco blinked. “Yes. Good idea. No poison?”
“No poison. Nott, you ready to go?”
“All set,” Theo declared from the doorway.
“We’ll see you to Swansea, and then Neville, Luna and I will see what we can do about properly repairing the printing press charms at Luna’s.”
“And I’ll get word to you about stories,” Luna said.
“Sounds good,” said Nott. He looked over at Draco and made a move that might have resulted in a vague guilty hug.
Draco patted him on the shoulder before it could become any more embarrassing. “Take care of yourself, Theo. I’ll make sure they keep you up to date with what’s going on.”
“Cheers, Draco. Right. Do I need a disguise?”
Longbottom threw an old hat at him. “Pull this down over your eyes. If they can’t see all your face, you’re just yet another tall man with brown hair that Harry knows, and I think there are about thirty of us.”
“Thanks, Neville. OK, let’s go.”
Later, as he ignored the house-elves’ pleas for him to get out of the kitchen and let them make his toast, Draco tried to decide on the best edit of the day’s events to report to his mother. In the end, he gave up, leaving only a note to let her know he was home safely with all errands accomplished, and slipped quietly into an early bed instead.