For the first time in months, Harry was looking forward to a date with Ginny.
Harry shrugged a dress shirt over his shoulders, examining his reflection in the mirror. The pale blue looked good against his brown skin, but he wasn’t sure if it went with his tie. Besides, Ginny would be expecting him to dress much nicer than he usually did. He tossed the shirt onto his bed and picked up one that was dark purple silk with ivory buttons. It was the nicest shirt he owned, an eighteenth birthday present from Hermione. Harry pulled it on and threw the red tie haphazardly around his shoulders. Sometimes it felt as though he and Ginny never had time for each other; he was busy with Auror duties, while Ginny was frequently away with the Holyhead Harpies. However, tonight was going to change that. They had made dinner reservations at the Shooting Star in wizarding London, and Harry was ready to reconnect with her.
He was halfway through buttoning up the shirt when the doorbell rang. He turned to look at the alarm clock on his bedside table, frowning slightly. Ginny was half an hour early.
He hurried down the narrow hallway towards the front door, checking his watch. This was rather unusual behaviour for her. The Weasleys were known for their tendency to skirt the edge of being late, and Ginny was no exception. The earliest he’d ever seen her arrive anywhere was two minutes early, and that was for the most important Quidditch match of the season.
Harry opened the front door, but it wasn’t Ginny.
It was Malfoy.
Draco Malfoy was the last person Harry was expecting to see. They ran into each other occasionally in wizarding London or at the Ministry, but they rarely gave each other more than a curt nod. The last time they’d spoken was after Malfoy’s trial; Malfoy had apologised and thanked him for testifying. Then they had shaken hands and parted ways. Harry had assumed that that was as far as their reconciliation would go. Malfoy had gotten a Ministry job in the same department but on the other side of the building, and that was that. They hadn’t spoken since. So what was Malfoy doing on his doorstep?
“Malfoy?” Harry said incredulously.
Malfoy gave him a curt nod. “Potter.”
He looked very different than he had after the war; he had grown out his white-blond hair, now twisted into a neat knot on top of his head, and his pale skin was no longer sickly. The dark circles under his eyes were less pronounced and he had filled out some, leaving his features less pointy and his body frame less fragile. He almost looked handsome, if such a thing were possible.
“What are you doing here?” Harry asked.
Malfoy tipped his head slightly, looking amused. “Your manners are as poor as ever, I see. Aren’t you going to say hello or invite me in?”
“I didn’t hear you say hello,” Harry said, irritated.
Instead of responding, Malfoy’s eyes strayed to Harry’s half-buttoned dress shirt and the dark red tie draped around his shoulders. “Don’t tell me you’re actually planning on wearing those together?” he said after a beat.
“Look,” Harry said, losing his patience, “I have a date with Ginny in less than half an hour, so if you’re not going to explain what you want, I’m closing the door in your face.”
“Relax, Potter, I’m not here to ruin your date with the Weaslette.” Malfoy’s eyes drifted back to Harry’s face and he smirked. “Although I’m sure your untimely demise would be quite the date-ruiner, wouldn’t you agree?”
“If you’re planning on murdering me, Malfoy, I’d suggest not warning me first,” Harry said dryly.
Malfoy snorted. “Look, I’m not kidding about the untimely demise part, but I’m here to stop it from happening. Will you please just let me come in and explain? Then you can decide whether you still want to go on your date with the Weaslette or not.”
“I’m going on this date with Ginny regardless of what you have to tell me,” Harry said firmly. “We planned it weeks ago.”
“Fine, whatever,” Malfoy said, waving it away. “Does that mean I can come in?”
“I suppose you’re not leaving me the choice to say no?”
Malfoy smirked broadly. “Wow, Potter, you’re awfully observant today.”
He pushed his way past Harry into the entrance hall. Then he strode into the living room and sat down on the couch. He looked very out of place in Harry’s messy flat, wearing perfectly-tailored black dress robes and black dress boots.
“Please, make yourself at home,” Harry said sarcastically, following Malfoy into the living room.
Malfoy ignored him. “Merlin, Potter, you are in desperate need of a house-elf,” he said, wrinkling his nose at the sloppy pile of books and papers on the coffee table.
“Hey, I have Kreacher!” Harry protested. “He just prefers to stay at Grimmauld Place. Besides, I don’t mind a little clutter. My Muggle aunt was a clean freak and I’d rather not follow her example.”
Malfoy tipped his head but didn’t say anything. Harry shifted in place before sitting down in a chair next to the couch.
“So? What is it you wanted to tell me?” he asked. “Ginny will be here soon, so let’s make this quick.”
Malfoy continued to scrutinise him. After a long pause, he said, “Do you know where the Elder Wand is?”
Whatever Harry had been expecting, it wasn’t that.
“What? Of course I do,” he said, taken aback.
“Do you?” was Malfoy’s response.
“Well, yeah,” Harry spluttered. “It’s where I last put it. But if this is some stupid trick to get me to tell you where it is, then —”
But before Harry could finish his sentence, Malfoy pulled the Elder Wand out of his inner robes pocket and raised his eyebrows at him.
Harry leapt to his feet. “Malfoy, what the hell?!”
“Relax, Potter,” Malfoy said calmly, holding the wand out to him. “It hasn’t switched loyalties. I took it with the intention of giving it to you, not of taking it from you, so it’s still your wand.”
Harry snatched it out of his hand. Malfoy was right; Harry could feel the same power pulsing through the wand that he remembered when he had first held it, so it hadn’t switched allegiances.
“B-but...how did you...? Malfoy, you have thirty seconds to explain yourself before I kick you out on your arse!”
Malfoy held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, Merlin, calm down. I had to take the wand to prevent somebody less desirable from snatching it. Although the Ministry has rounded up most of the Death Eaters, there are still a few unaccounted for, and they’re spreading their rhetoric to the younger generations. I’m sure you’ve heard about the trouble we’ve had lately with the so-called Neo-Death Eaters?”
“Yes, yes, I work at the Ministry, too, you know,” Harry said impatiently. “That still doesn’t explain why you broke into Dumbledore’s grave and stole the Elder Wand! It doesn’t even belong to you!”
“Eh, that’s a minor detail,” Malfoy said, waving it away. “What I want to know is why you thought it was a good idea to place the world’s most powerful wand in an unprotected grave! Were you trying to get it stolen?”
“Well, it was fine until you came along,” Harry said dryly.
Malfoy shook his head slowly. “I take back what I said about you being observant,” he said. “It must’ve been an anomaly.”
“Look, Malfoy, let’s get to the point, shall we?”
“The point," Malfoy said testily, “is that the Neo-Death Eaters believe they can rise again if they gain possession of the Deathly Hallows, and you foolishly left the Elder Wand completely unprotected. I saved it just in time.” He leaned down and rolled up the hem of his robes, revealing a very nasty bruise on his left leg. “They certainly weren’t happy to have their plans foiled by an ex-Death Eater. They nearly cost me a limb before I hexed them into oblivion.”
Harry winced as Malfoy dropped his robes.
“Well, it’s a good thing you got there in time,” he said reluctantly. “But how did you know where to look for the Elder Wand?”
“Granger,” Malfoy said promptly. “I went to her as soon as I thought the Elder Wand might be in danger. Once I convinced her to release me from a Full-Body Bind, she seemed happy to help.”
Harry snorted. That sounded just like Hermione. “But how did you know that the Elder Wand would be in danger?”
Malfoy smirked, looking very proud of himself. “A couple months ago, I hooked Minister Kingsley up with a buddy of mine who was willing to go undercover as a spy in the Neo-Death Eater movement. You remember Theodore Nott? Yeah, he brought us the intel yesterday afternoon.”
“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” Harry said, feeling more than slightly annoyed. “I’m the owner of all three Deathly Hallows! I should’ve been informed!”
Malfoy shrugged and leaned back into the couch.
“You’re informed now,” he said unhelpfully.
It took everything in Harry’s power not to snap at him. He took off his glasses and massaged his forehead, feeling a headache coming on.
“Blimey,” he said finally. “So where does the ‘untimely death’ part come into play?”
“Ah, I thought you’d never ask,” Malfoy said. “Now that you’re in physical possession of the Elder Wand, you’re in direct danger of being murdered in your sleep. Congratulations!”
“Great,” Harry muttered. “Just what I needed.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” Malfoy said carelessly, putting his hands behind his head. “I’ve been assigned to be your bodyguard. So your insistence that I leave before the Weaslette gets here? That’ll be a slight problem.”
“What?” Harry exclaimed, leaping to his feet. “Oh no you’re not! I am not spending every waking moment with you. I’d rather be murdered in my sleep.”
“Oh, I agree completely,” Malfoy said lazily. “I’d rather you were, too. Unfortunately, I don’t have a say in this. Kingsley was very insistent.”
“No offence,” Harry said bluntly, “but why would Kingsley insist on you?”
Malfoy’s eyes narrowed menacingly. “I’ll have you know, Potter, that I am one of the best wizards in our department. Kingsley trusts me one hundred percent. A better question is why wouldn’t he choose me. Besides,” Malfoy said before Harry could speak, “I may not be a part of the main Auror Office, but the Investigation Department is under Auror jurisdiction. It makes sense that he would choose someone from my department to be your bodyguard.”
“Okay, but I’m an Auror,” Harry said stubbornly. “My job is to hunt down Dark wizards and protect high profile witches and wizards. I don’t need a bodyguard.”
“Try telling that to Kingsley,” Malfoy said.
Harry huffed. “Okay, but why you?” he asked again.
“Look,” Malfoy snapped, standing to face him. “I’m going to hate spending every day in your company as much as you’re going to hate me being there, but I’m going to protect your sorry arse from being killed whether you want me to or not! If you have any complaints, take them up with Kingsley, but for now, you’re stuck with me!”
The men stood with their chins raised and their fists clenched, dangerously close to pulling their wands on each other. Finally, drawing from a reserve of willpower that he didn’t know he possessed, Harry sat down.
“Fine,” he said as calmly as possible. “But I’m talking to Kingsley about exchanging you for somebody else first thing Monday morning.”
“No complaints here,” Malfoy said, still sounding snippy.
The men lapsed into silence, sitting with their arms crossed sulkily and not looking at each other. After a couple of minutes, Harry checked his watch and groaned internally. The last thing he wanted to do was drag Malfoy along with him on his date with Ginny, but it seemed inevitable. He picked up the Elder Wand and twirled it between his fingers.
“Well, my date is in fifteen minutes, so what am I supposed to do with this?”
“I’m way ahead of you,” Malfoy said, pulling a small leather pouch out of his inner robes pocket. “This is a protective pouch for the wand. As long as you stay in possession of this, the wand will be safe.” He tossed Harry the pouch, looking up at the ceiling as he added, “Oh, and Kingsley wants you to move back to Grimmauld Place, effective immediately. He says it’s far too dangerous for you to stay here.”
“What?” Harry exclaimed. “But what about my job?”
“Kingsley said he’ll pass along your paperwork to do at home.”
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Harry said, standing up. “I’m not a child being hunted by Voldemort anymore. I’m a Ministry Auror who is not afraid of a couple of punks pretending to be Death Eaters. I don’t need protection, a personal bodyguard, or bloody house arrest!”
Malfoy stood up, too. “Save it for Kingsley, Potter. Your main concern right now should be your date with the Weasley girl, and I am not going to be seen in public with you wearing that.”
Harry looked down at his half-buttoned dress shirt and unknotted tie. “What’s wrong with it? Beside it not being buttoned and tucked in, of course.”
Malfoy snorted. “If you can’t see what’s wrong with it, you definitely need help. Now come on. Where’s your bedroom?”
Before Harry could respond, Malfoy strode out into the hallway. Harry hurried after him, clutching the Elder Wand in its pouch and wondering how he got himself into this mess in the first place. Thankfully, Harry’s flat was very small, so Malfoy found his bedroom without any trouble. He was standing next to Harry’s bed when Harry entered, wrinkling his nose as he examined the dress shirts spread across his bedspread.
“Please tell me this collection isn’t the extent of the dress shirts you own,” Malfoy said pleadingly, turning towards him.
Malfoy groaned. “You’re hopeless, Potter.” Before Harry could respond, Malfoy strode forward and yanked away the tie draped around his shoulders. “Should I assume that this is the only tie you own, too?” he said, holding it up.
“No, but I like it because it reminds me of Gryffindor,” Harry said defensively.
“Oh, please, you don’t have to have the colour of your Hogwarts house in every outfit you wear,” Malfoy scoffed.
“Says the person who isn’t wearing any Slytherin green.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and smirked. “That you can see.”
Harry felt his face flush, but Malfoy had already turned away and was checking his closet for his other ties.
“The problem with your outfit,” Malfoy said as he rummaged through Harry’s clothes, “is that your tie is supposed to be at least one shade darker than your shirt, unless you’re wearing a black shirt, of course. If you want to wear the red tie, pair it with a pastel or white shirt. If you want to wear the purple shirt, pair it with a navy blue or black tie. You’re going to wear the purple one,” Malfoy added, “since it’s the nicest shirt you own.”
Harry sat down on his bed and finished buttoning up his shirt, feeling slightly miffed that he was being told what to wear by Malfoy.
Malfoy hurried over with a navy blue tie. “Here,” he said, thrusting it into Harry’s hand. “Tuck your shirt in and put this on. Then we’ll do something about your hair.”
“I can dress myself, you know,” Harry said grumpily as he tucked in his shirt.
“Obviously,” Malfoy replied sarcastically, drawing out the first syllable in a way that reminded Harry eerily of Snape.
Malfoy put Harry’s shirts and ties away, even though Harry protested that he could do it himself. Then he stood watching with a frown as Harry struggled valiantly with his tie.
“Oh, Potter, don’t tell me you don’t even know how to tie a tie,” he said despairingly, striding forward. “Just stop. Let me do it.”
Malfoy’s long, pale fingers made quick work of the tie, and it was perfectly knotted in a few seconds flat.
“There,” he said, stepping back and inspecting his handiwork. “Very nice, Potter. You almost look presentable.”
Harry scowled at him as Malfoy checked the time.
“The Weaslette should be here in about five minutes. Shame, I suppose that isn’t enough time to fix the monstrosity that is your hair.”
“My hair is perfectly fine,” Harry protested, but Malfoy wasn’t listening.
“I won’t be the only person from the Ministry there, by the way,” Malfoy said, leaning against Harry’s dresser. “Along with myself, you’ll have two Aurors tailing you day and night, and an extra one for the night shift so that I can get some sleep, too.”
Harry groaned loudly and flopped back on his bed. “Ugh, just great. Don’t tell me we have to sleep in the same room.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not supposed to let you out of my sight.”
Harry sat up, horrified. “Ever? Oh, you are not following me into the loo. I don’t care what Kingsley says.”
Malfoy laughed. “Don’t worry, Potter, you’ll get some privacy. Just not much.”
“Kingsley is getting an earful from me first thing Monday morning,” Harry muttered.
“I’ll be delighted to be in attendance for such a promising show.”
“Sod off, Malfoy.”
Harry lay back down on his bed, suddenly feeling extremely sick. He didn’t want anyone to be in attendance for his date with Ginny. It was going to be awkward anyway, but having Malfoy and a couple Aurors there would be a thousand times worse. He almost felt like messaging Ginny and calling the whole thing off, but she would be livid. As it was, she wasn’t going to be too happy about Malfoy tagging along. Besides, the reservation was more expensive than he wanted to admit, and they’d planned the date so far in advance. Who knew when the next opportunity to spend a nice night together would be? Harry sat up, fidgeting with his tie. He hoped Ginny liked his outfit, at least.
“Oh, don’t mess up your tie!” Malfoy said, sounding exasperated. “Merlin, Potter, if you’re that nervous, just pace the room or something.”
“I’m not nervous,” Harry retorted instantly.
Malfoy snorted but didn’t argue.
Just then, the doorbell rang. Harry scrambled to his feet, feeling awkward and overdressed. He checked the mirror one more time and tried to flatten his hair, but to no avail. His panic increased when he looked up and saw Malfoy moving towards the door.
“Wait, where are you going?” Harry said frantically. “I should be the first to open the door; she doesn’t even know you’re here.”
“Sorry, Potter, security protocol,” Malfoy said. Harry almost would’ve thought he was being sincerely apologetic if it weren’t for the smirk on his face. “Wouldn’t want you to open the door to a Neo-Death Eater, now would we?”
Harry grabbed his jacket and followed Malfoy down the hallway, gritting his teeth at the prat’s back. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to wipe the smirk off his face with a well-aimed hex. Meanwhile, Malfoy had drawn his wand and blocked Harry from view of the door. With an unnecessary flourish, he whipped open the door and pointed his wand directly at the newcomer.
“Jesus Christ!” came Ginny’s voice, managing to sound frantic and intimidating at the same time. “What the hell, Malfoy? Put your wand away! What are you even doing here? Where’s Harry? If you’ve hurt him, I swear to God —”
Malfoy stowed his wand and stepped aside to let her in. “Calm down, Weasley, he’s as fine as he’ll ever be. See? He’s right here. I haven’t done a thing.”
Harry swallowed. From the look on Ginny’s face, she was both angry and confused, not a good combination. Her long red hair flowed down her back and her brown eyes flashed menacingly as Malfoy closed the door, smirking at Harry over Ginny’s head.
“Harry, what is Malfoy doing here?” she hissed under her breath as she stuffed her wand back in her purse.
Harry prayed for strength and reached out his hand, which she took reluctantly.
“Come on, I’ll tell you all about it on the way there,” he said, glaring at Malfoy over Ginny’s head. “It’s a long story...”
“So, let me get this straight,” Ginny said.
She was driving them to the restaurant in downtown London, with Harry in the front passenger seat and Malfoy sitting in the back. It had been difficult to convince her to let Malfoy come along, since the whole reason she had opted to drive was so that she and Harry could spend more time together. However, now that Harry had explained the whole situation, her anger had subsided, leaving her with a myriad of questions.
Ginny shot Harry a sceptical look. “A bunch of wannabe Death Eaters are on the search for the Deathly Hallows and Kingsley overreacted to the danger, so now Malfoy is your Ministry-assigned bodyguard?”
“Pretty much,” Harry said, at the same time that Malfoy said, “Not quite.”
“They aren’t just a bunch of wannabes,” Malfoy said, sounding annoyed. “They may be young, but they should be taken seriously. They are extremely well-trained in the Dark Arts, and they have the fugitive Death Eaters on their side. Plus, they’re appealing to pure-blood families who weren’t Death Eaters during the war but are unsatisfied now that the Dark Lord is gone. They are a serious threat, and Kingsley is right to be worried.”
“Worried enough to assign Harry a bodyguard, two Aurors, and house arrest, though?” Ginny said sceptically, echoing Harry’s earlier sentiments. “That seems like overkill. It’s not like Harry can’t take care of himself.”
“Exactly,” Harry said, shooting Ginny a grateful look.
“Look, I’m just the messenger,” Malfoy said irritably. “Haven’t you ever heard of not hexing the messenger?”
After a long pause, Ginny began again.
“What about their leader? They have to have one, don’t they?” she said. “After all, only one person can own the Deathly Hallows and be the Master of Death at a time.”
Malfoy nodded. “Oh, they do. He’s quite the piece of work. Wants everyone to call him ‘the Lord of Death’ or ‘His Dark Majesty’ or some such nonsense.”
“And here I thought Voldemort’s nicknames were bad,” Harry joked.
“How old is he?” Harry asked Malfoy.
“Twenty-one. He was in the year below us at Hogwarts.”
Ginny nearly crashed into the car in front of them. “What?! That means he was in my year! What house was he in? What’s his name?”
“Albert Thompson. He was in Hufflepuff,” Malfoy said.
“Hufflepuff?” Ginny and Harry exclaimed in unison.
“Yes,” Malfoy said testily. “Not all Dark wizards come from Slytherin, you know.”
Awkward silence followed.
“Sorry,” said Ginny. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“The many Dark wizards from Slytherin are the result of an unlucky combination of pure-blood ideals, unhealthy ambition, and cunning,” Malfoy said irritably. “Ambition and cunning on their own are not any more inherently evil than bravery, loyalty, or the pursuit of knowledge.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Ginny said slowly. “I guess I just thought that Hufflepuffs are normally...well, nice.”
“Loyalty and hard work are the key traits of a Hufflepuff,” Malfoy pointed out. “Nowhere is there a requirement to be nice.”
“How could those traits lead to the Dark Arts, though?” Harry asked.
“Obsessive loyalty to a cause or ideal?” Malfoy said dryly. “Working hard towards a goal even in the face of adversity? I’d say those fit pretty well with ‘His Dark Majesty the Lord of Death’ and his plan to steal the Deathly Hallows.”
“What about Ravenclaw, then?” Ginny asked curiously.
“The thirst to pursue knowledge about Dark Magic and the Dark Arts,” Malfoy said promptly.
“And Gryffindor?” Ginny’s eyes blazed with an unspoken challenge.
“The bravery to follow your passion, regardless of social taboos or how it might affect or be seen by other people,” Malfoy said without hesitation. “My family and I may have been cowards, but not all Death Eaters are or were. I’d reckon my aunt Bellatrix was brave. She was so reckless and confident that I doubt she feared death near the end.”
“The absence of fear is not bravery,” Harry said. “Acting regardless of your fears is.”
“Trust me, Potter, there are all kinds of Dark wizards,” Malfoy said with finality. “Brave ones, loyal ones, brainy ones, and ambitious ones. They aren’t just Slytherins.”
“Point taken,” said Ginny.
She shot Harry a warning look and he hastily agreed. There was a pause in conversation as she switched lanes and swore at some cyclists who were weaving haphazardly through traffic. Once she could draw some of her attention from the road, she spoke again.
“Okay, so let’s assume this Dark Lord wannabe and his followers are a real threat. How do they know to target Harry? How would they know where he hid the Elder Wand? It’s not like he announced to the world that he was the owner of the Deathly Hallows.”
“It’s not like it was a well-kept secret, either,” Malfoy pointed out. “Anyone with enough determination to search for the Hallows would find out where they are eventually. We don’t know how long they’ve been planning this.”
Ginny drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. “It still feels like an empty threat to me, but I trust Kingsley’s judgement. Dad said he was a godsend to the Order during the war.” Suddenly, she sat up straighter, her eyes flicking to the rearview mirror to look at Malfoy. “Wait, I have another question! Harry said you had to fight some Neo-Death Eaters for the Elder Wand, right? So how come this Dark Lord wannabe wasn’t stealing the wand himself? If one of his followers stole it, wouldn’t the Elder Wand belong to them instead of their leader? That doesn’t seem logical.”
Malfoy frowned. “I’m not sure,” he said slowly. “It was dark, and they were wearing masks and hooded robes. I could’ve been duelling with the leader and not have known it.”
Harry took off his glasses and messaged his forehead. His head was beginning to ache again. “The Elder Wand’s loyalties are complicated,” he said to Ginny, putting his glasses back on. “Sometimes it switches loyalties because its owner is murdered, but other times it’s because it was stolen or because its owner was disarmed in a duel. Basically, it switches allegiances when it detects that its old owner is not as powerful as its new owner.”
“So how come it didn’t become Malfoy’s wand when he took it from Dumbledore’s grave?” Ginny asked, her forehead wrinkling in confusion as she glanced in the rearview mirror again.
“I’m not exactly sure,” Malfoy said from the back seat. “Granger’s theory was that it wouldn’t switch owners because I was taking it with intent of giving it back to Potter, not with the intent of keeping it as my own.”
“So hypothetically, this new Dark wizard’s followers could steal it with the intention of giving it to him, and it would become his?” Ginny shook her head as she changed lanes. “That seems so convoluted.”
“It is,” the men agreed.
They lapsed into silence and stayed quiet the rest of the way, the occupants of the car lost in thought.
The Shooting Star was one of the fanciest restaurants in wizarding London, standing ten stories high and overlooking the River Thames. Parking was scarce, so Ginny had to park several streets away. Malfoy walked behind her and Harry, his right hand resting near his wand and his eyes drifting periodically across the swarm of pedestrians and traffic. Now that they were out of the car and Ginny had exhausted her curiosity, the awkwardness that Harry had feared was creeping up on them. Ginny fidgeted with the clasp of her purse, and Harry ran his fingers through his hair, hoping that Malfoy hadn’t noticed the shift in atmosphere. What was Harry supposed to say to her? “Sorry our date was ruined and we have to bring this git along with us”? “Sorry somebody’s out to kill me again”? “Sorry we can’t ever have a normal date together”?
Luckily, it didn’t take long to reach the restaurant. The entrance was disguised to look like a dingy laundromat, its windows boarded up and a sign on the door reading, Closed Indefinitely: Unstable Infrastructure. Do Not Enter. Malfoy glanced around, making sure nobody was paying attention before pushing open the door. If any Muggles were brave enough to get this far, they would be sorely disappointed. The inside of the laundromat lived up to the sign. Broken machines lined the small room, spider webs hung from ceiling, and the floor was encrusted in dirt. As they reached the back wall, however, the door to the restaurant materialised. The Shooting Star was written on it with fancy calligraphy, and beyond the glass, they could see a hostess station and an older couple waiting to be seated.
Malfoy opened the door.
“After you,” he said.
“Since when do you hold doors open for people?” Harry said sceptically, crossing his arms.
“Funny you should ask, Potter,” Malfoy said, raising an eyebrow at him. “You see, there’s this thing called manners that pure-blood families teach their children, and that includes holding the door for one’s inferiors.”
“Ooh, I feel special. That’s the second time you’ve said that to me today.”
“Would you two stop bickering?” Ginny said, rubbing her forehead. “You’re going to give me a headache. I didn’t agree to dealing with this tonight.”
“Trust me, neither did I,” Harry assured her, shooting a glare at Malfoy, who was still holding the door and pretending to be a gentleman. The prat.
Malfoy raised his eyebrow again and smirked. “So, are you going to enter or what?”
“Or what,” Harry retorted. He wasn’t even sure why he was acting so childish; there was just something about Malfoy that brought out the worst in him.
“You know what, I don’t have the patience for this today,” Ginny said exasperatedly, taking Harry’s hand and pulling him through the doorway. “We’re going to miss our dinner reservation at the rate you two are going.”
Harry scowled at Malfoy over Ginny’s shoulder. Malfoy gave a winning smile in return.
As the entered the restaurant, Harry’s stomach dropped. It seemed as though tonight was destined to worsen; next to the hostess station stood two tall wizards in Auror uniform. However, his stomach lifted as they turned around and a familiar voice said, “There you are, mate!”
Ron Weasley strode towards them with a friendly grin. Besides being Harry’s best friend, he had become one of the best Aurors in the department since the war. Behind Ron was his partner, Anastasia Williams, who was a tall witch with long, black dreads and a warm smile. She was both a skilled dueller and a Healer, with the ability to get along with even the most difficult clientele. Harry couldn’t have felt more grateful to have two talented, loyal Aurors guarding his back, even if he felt that the protection was unnecessary.
“Good to see you, Harry,” Ron said, clapping him on the back. “We thought you’d never make it. Ana and I were worried that you’d been intercepted on the way and we’d have to go looking for you.”
“What, no hello for your younger sister?” Ginny joked.
“Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to leave you out, Gin. Malfoy,” Ron added, jerking his head stiffly in the blond’s direction.
“Good to see you, too, Weasley,” Malfoy said, sounding amused. “Nice to see you, as well,” he added to Ana, bowing slightly and kissing her hand.
“Urgh. Let’s go find your table before I throw up,” Ron said, wrinkling his nose. He turned and walked up to the hostess station. “Table for two under the name Potter , please.”
The witch raised an eyebrow at their motley crew of an entourage. “I’m sorry, sir, but there seems to be five of you...?”
Ron, Ana, and Malfoy flipped out their Ministry badges at the same time. Behind them, Harry’s hand twitched instinctively towards his inner jacket pocket. Noticing his movement, Ginny took his hand and gave it what he was sure was supposed to be a comforting squeeze, but it just made him feel more frustrated. He wanted to rip his hand from her grip and shout that he was a Ministry official, too. Instead, he gave Ginny what he hoped looked like a grateful smile and squeezed back.
“Ministry of Magic, Auror Department, madam,” Ron said, flipping his badge back into his Auror robes. “We’re here on official duty.”
“I’m sorry, but...I don’t know if I can let you in,” the witch said hesitantly. “I’ll have to talk to my manager.”
Harry groaned inwardly. However, before the witch could do or say anything else, Malfoy stepped forward smoothly and pulled a bag of coins out of his inner robes pocket.
“Will this cover it?” he said, giving her a charming smile.
Her eyes widened as they flickered from his face to the bag to his face again. “Um, I...I d-don’t know...”
Malfoy pushed it towards her with a finger, his eyes trained on her face. “Before you say that, don’t you want to know how much it is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s thirty Galleons.”
The witch bit her lip, her eyes locked with Malfoy’s. Harry’s hand twitched in Ginny’s and she squeezed his hand again, as if she thought that he was worried that Malfoy’s ploy would fail or wanted to reach for his wand. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He knew exactly what Malfoy was doing, and he could see that it was working. What was bothering him was the fact that it was working, although he wasn’t exactly sure why.
“That’s much more than the average customer is willing to tip, no?” Malfoy said, lowering his voice in volume and pitch. “Don’t you think an intelligent, beautiful witch like you has earned it?”
Harry’s stomach clenched as the witch’s mouth twitched up in a flirtatious smile. After a few seconds, she dipped her head and took the bag from Malfoy, making sure that she brushed her hand against his during the exchange. “Let me show you to your table,” she said, flashing Malfoy a jaunty wink before sauntering away.
“Damn. Even I have to admit that that was smooth,” Ron said to Harry.
“Yeah, smooth,” Harry muttered, his eyes trained on Malfoy. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to wipe the smug smile off the bastard’s face with a well-aimed hex....
Ron set off for their table first, while Malfoy and Ana walked behind Ginny and Harry. They were quite the odd sight, especially when the witch showed them to a small booth on the top floor clearly meant for two people. Ron and Ana split off to cover the exits and keep an eye on them from a distance, while Malfoy smirked at Harry, who was already sliding into the booth.
“So, Mr Lovebird, how do you want to swing this? Would you rather sit next to your girlfriend or across from her? Because I’ve got to sit somewhere, you know.”
Harry gritted his teeth to keep from making a snarky comment.
“What would you like?” he asked Ginny, his eyes trained on her so that he didn’t have to look at Malfoy’s infuriating face.
“Um...I suppose we could sit next to each other,” Ginny said.
Malfoy nodded and slid into the side of the booth across from Harry, winking at him before grabbing a menu. This time when Ginny squeezed his hand, Harry was grateful. He was going to need all the support he could get if he wanted to make it through this date without hexing Malfoy or wrestling him to the ground.
Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had experienced anything so awkward.
Malfoy unfolded his menu and told them to ignore him, but it was difficult to pretend as if he wasn’t sitting right across from them. Harry spread the other menu out in front of him and Ginny. He had no idea what to order; he’d never been to such a fancy restaurant before, so the menu might as well have been written in a foreign language.
“See anything you’d like?” he asked Ginny.
“The Cornish crab starter looks good, and I’ve got my eye on the Scottish venison,” she replied. She didn’t seem to be feeling the awkwardness that Harry was feeling, which he supposed was a good thing. “What about you?”
“Um...” Harry stared blankly at the menu. “I dunno...the cheeseburger looks good.”
Malfoy snorted. Harry shot him a glare, but Malfoy didn’t look up from his menu.
“Is there anything else you want?” he asked Ginny, turning his attention back to her.
“Dessert would be nice.” She smiled at him and squeezed his hand again. “Maybe we could share a Cambridge burnt cream or have a taste of their British cheese selection.”
Harry squeezed her hand back, grateful for how good-natured she was despite the chaos of the night. “Whatever you want, Gin, you can have it.”
Just then, the witch that had brought them to their table appeared at their booth, a notepad and quill in her grip and a smile plastered on her face that was mostly directed at Malfoy. “Hello, my name is Donna, and I will be your server for today! Would you like to start with some drinks, nibbles, and/or starters?”
Malfoy raised his eyebrows and smirked at Harry, as if to say, You first. Harry flipped frantically to the wine menu and stared blankly at it as Ginny smiled at the waitress.
“I’ll take the grilled sourdough bread with Cornish crab mayo and cucumber salad, and a small glass of Petit Ballon rouge, please.”
The quill scribbled down Ginny’s order of its own accord as the witch turned her gaze to Harry and smiled expectantly. “And you?”
“Um...I’ll have the, uh...”
“He and I will both have a medium glass of the Pinot Grigio Ca Di Alte,” Malfoy interrupted, scooping up their wine menus and handing them back to the waitress.
“What the hell, Malfoy?” Harry said irritably as soon as the witch had left. “I’m perfectly capable of ordering my own drinks, thank you very much.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow at him. “And let you sit there for the next five minutes, gaping like an idiot, only to order an inferior-quality wine? No, thank you.”
Ginny coughed, although it sounded as if she was covering up a laugh. “Don’t worry, Harry, I’m sure Malfoy isn’t trying to poison you.” She folded up the menu and pushed it in his direction. “I know what I’m ordering, if you still need the menu.”
“Thanks, Gin,” Harry muttered, unfolding the menu and placing it upright, like a fancy paper barrier between him and Malfoy’s smirking, pointy face.
Soon enough, the witch came by with Ginny’s starter and their drinks. Harry took a sip from his glass and begrudgingly admitted to himself that it was some of the best white wine he’d tasted, though he would never tell Malfoy that.
“Are you ready to order?” the witch asked.
“Yes, I’ll have the Scottish venison with seasonal vegetables and blackberry sauce, please,” said Ginny, smiling and taking a sip of her wine.
“I’ll have the eight-ounce rib-eye steak with wild rocket and peppercorn sauce,” Malfoy said, folding up his menu and handing it to the witch. “Oh, and I’d like to have the dessert menu when we’re finished.”
“No problem, sir. And you?” The witch turned to Harry, smiling expectantly.
“Uh...I’ll have the cheeseburger and chips.”
The witch blinked and Malfoy coughed into his sleeve.
“Alright, venison, steak, and a cheeseburger, coming right up.” She took away their menus and Malfoy smirked broadly at Harry.
“A cheeseburger, Potter? Really? At a restaurant like this?”
“What? What’s wrong with a good cheeseburger?”
Malfoy took a sip of his wine and shook his head slowly. “And you insist that I don’t need to order for you.”
Harry clutched his silverware tighter than necessary. Taking notice, Ginny asked him hastily, “So, how has work been?”
“Great until this git came along,” Harry grumbled, jerking his head at Malfoy. “Kingsley wants to put me on house arrest, but I’m right in the middle of an investigation surrounding recent attacks against the Abbott family. I can’t logically work on that locked up at Grimmauld Place.”
“Hey, don’t get mad at me, I’m just the messenger,” Malfoy said, shrugging and taking a sip of his wine. “But on the bright side, you’ll have plenty of time to work on the towering pile of paperwork sitting neglected on your desk at the office.”
“How do you —?”
“Word gets round the Ministry almost as quickly as it did at Hogwarts, Potter.”
“Okay, different subject, then,” Ginny said, catching the look on Harry’s face. “Practice has been great, although Gwenog is working us harder than ever. I think she took our loss to the Montrose Magpies harder than she let on. I’m leaving tomorrow for an extended practice and a couple weeks of on-the-road Quidditch matches, so I’m glad we had this chance to see each other before I go.” She smiled at Harry and gave him a light kiss on the cheek.
Harry gave her his first genuine smile of the night. “I’m glad, too.”
Silence fell as Ginny spread crab mayo on her sourdough and Malfoy took a sip of his wine, his eyes roaming the room and his right hand resting near his wand.
Harry cleared his throat. “Er, so, who’s your next match against, and when?”
“The Banchory Bangers in Scotland on Thursday.”
“I thought they disbanded?”
“They were given the okay to rebuild their team last year, actually. As a result, they’re the worst team in the league right now, so it’ll be an easy match. Then we have two matches against the Tutshill Tornados, followed by one against the Caerphilly Catapults in Wales and one against Puddlemere United.”
“Oh, say hello to Wood for me. He’s still their reserve Keeper, right?”
Silence fell again. Harry fidgeted with his wine glass and Ginny finished her sourdough bread, pushing her plate aside. As Harry struggled to come up with something else to say, Malfoy came to his rescue and asked Ginny how the season had gone so far. Ginny animatedly described the best wins and losses of the season, and soon, their waitress came back with their main courses.
“Ooo, this venison is just delicious,” said Ginny as they dug into their food.
Malfoy scrutinised the piece of rib-eye steak on his fork. “The food here’s alright,” he conceded. He smirked at Harry. “Enjoying your cheeseburger, Potter?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.”
Malfoy’s smirk broadened as he took another bite of his steak. Silence fell over them again as they dug into their main courses. Finally, Malfoy pushed back his empty plate and flipped open his dessert menu. “Now, should I order the vanilla rice pudding with jam and sliced almonds, or the sticky toffee pudding with Cornish clotted cream?”
“I’m still considering the Cambridge burnt cream or the British cheese platter,” said Ginny. “Do you have a preference between the two, Harry?”
“Well, we could try the —”
“Shut up!” Malfoy hissed suddenly, his entire body tense.
“Malfoy, what the —”
Harry and Ginny looked at each other and then at Malfoy. His eyes were darting wildly around the restaurant, his wand clutched hidden in his sleeve. He was so tense that he reminded Harry of a cat about to pounce, or a bobbing snake, coiled and ready to strike.
“Something’s wrong,” Malfoy whispered, so quiet that Harry could barely hear him. “Potter, tell me you still have the Elder Wand in your pocket.”
Harry nodded, still feeling bewildered and slightly annoyed at being interrupted, but Malfoy was too busy scanning the nearby tables to notice. “Something’s wrong,” he repeated under his breath, followed by something that sounded a lot like “should’ve known” and “so stupid of me.”
Just then, their waitress approached their table, completely oblivious to the tension in the air. “How are you guys enjoying your meal?” she asked, overly cheerful. “Would you like to order any dessert?”
Malfoy’s warning came almost too late; the witch ducked under the table and screamed as the first spell shattered Harry’s wine glass, where she had been standing moments earlier.
“Oh, fuck,” said Malfoy, and then all hell broke loose.
Malfoy aimed his wand in the direction of their assailant and shouted, “Confringo!”
Screams filled the room as innocent diners dove out of their chairs; the Neo-Death Eater ducked just in time. The spell hit a chair instead, and the chair burst into flames. A bolt of green light came back in their direction, but Malfoy deflected it. In the distance, Harry could hear Ron and Ana shouting, but he couldn’t make out their words over the terrified screams of customers scrambling for the exits. Ginny had risen out of her seat, too, shooting spells in the direction of the Neo-Death Eaters.
“Harry, get under the table!” Malfoy yelled as he shot a well-aimed Stupefy and a Neo-Death Eater crumpled to the ground.
“What, are you mad?” Harry shouted back, fumbling for his wand in his jacket pocket.
Without turning around, Malfoy stuck out his hand and grabbed Harry’s shoulder, while shielding them from another spell with a flick of his other hand.
“Get under the table!” Malfoy snapped.
Before Harry could protest, Malfoy shoved him under the table to join their cowering waitress, who was screaming so loudly that Harry wanted to cover his ears. His hands shook with rage. He wasn’t a coward, goddamnit! He didn’t need Malfoy or Ron or Ana or Ginny to protect him. They were putting themselves in danger for him when they didn’t need to — that’s why he had become an Auror, so that nobody would have to risk their lives for him ever again!
Fuck Malfoy, Harry thought fiercely, and he scrambled out from under the table.
“Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!” he shouted, catching a couple of Neo-Death Eaters unaware and relishing in the way their bodies crumpled to the ground.
“Oh, damn it, Potter!” Malfoy yelled, sounding exasperated.
“Stupefy! Sod off, Malfoy, I can take care of myself! Protego! Incarcerous! ”
Malfoy ducked, a spell whizzing over his head and destroying the painting on the wall behind him. “Fine, be that way! Stupefy! You’re such a — Flipendo! Impedimenta! — bloody idiot! Incendio! At least head for the — Petrificus Totalus! — exit while you’re at it, why don’t you?”
Harry and Malfoy made their way to the stairs, bickering the entire way. Ginny followed them, putting up shields and blocking spells that they were too busy arguing to block. There were a few diners in the stairwell who screamed and scattered when the flustered motley crew burst in, but otherwise, the stairs were empty.
“Stop treating me like a child,” Harry yelled at Malfoy as they scrambled down the stairs.
“Then stop acting like one,” Malfoy said snippily, casting a Stupefy over his shoulder and narrowly missing Ginny.
“Would you two just shut up for once?” Ginny said from behind them, sounding angrier than Harry had heard her in a long time. “You can’t even stop arguing when we’re being — Confundus! — attacked by Neo-Death Eaters! You’re going to be blown to — Diffiendo! — pieces! How are you two even alive right now if you can’t work together?!”
Neither man had a good explanation, so they resorted into pouring out their frustration into their spells. It looked as though Ron and Ana had detained most of the Neo-Death Eaters on the tenth floor, leaving only a few to chase them down the stairwell. Spells bounced off the walls and took chunks of stone out of the stairs, causing Harry to trip on several occasions. A green bolt of light narrowly missed his head and destroyed the sign that said 7th floor .
“I said don’t kill him!” one of the Neo-Death Eaters yelled from above.
“How else are we supposed to get the Elder Wand?” said another, pointing right at Harry. “Avada Keda—!”
“Expelliarmus!” Harry yelled.
But before the spell fully left his mouth, the Neo-Death Eater flew backwards, slamming into the wall. His killing curse missed and shattered the banister. Harry turned around to see Malfoy standing halfway down the next flight of stairs, his wand pointed straight at the unconscious Neo-Death Eater. Malfoy looked whiter than usual, his face strained and his entire body tense. His eyes flitted up and met Harry’s for a second, before he lowered his wand and turned on his heel.
Ginny took Harry’s hand and pulled him along, hurrying after Malfoy down the stairs. When they reached the 4th floor, Ginny let go of his hand and pushed him towards Malfoy.
“Go, I’ve got this last one,” she said.
“What? No, I —”
“Oh, drop the hero act and go!” Ginny said exasperatedly, planting a quick kiss on his cheek before whirling around and scaling the stairs.
It was impressive how fast she could climb the stairs in high heels, but Harry was not about to let her put herself in danger for him. Luckily for her, Malfoy was not about to let Harry waste time playing the hero. Malfoy grabbed Harry’s hand and yanked him down the stairs.
“Malfoy, what the hell — let go!”
Malfoy responded by holding tighter and nearly crushing the bones in his hand. Harry swore as they stumbled down the last flight of stairs and onto the main floor, where a group of Aurors was hurrying towards them. Malfoy let go of Harry’s hand immediately and pointed to the stairwell.
“Tenth floor. There are a few in the stairwell, too,” he said to the Auror in front, McKinley.
McKinley nodded and motioned to the Aurors behind him to follow.
“You alright there, Harry?” he said cheerfully as they passed.
Harry nodded, not trusting himself to open his mouth. Frustration over being babied roiled in his veins, and he nearly snapped when Malfoy placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Still have the Elder Wand?” Malfoy murmured.
He was relieved that Malfoy hadn’t asked him how he was doing. “Yeah,” he said in a low voice. “Yeah, it’s in the pouch around my neck.”
Malfoy nodded and pulled his hand away. “Good. After this, we’re stopping by your flat to get your stuff, and then you’re moving into Grimmauld Place, effective immediately.”
It was a statement, not a question. Harry wanted to argue, but he knew now that he had been attacked by Neo-Death Eaters in public, his protests weren’t going to get him anywhere. He sat down next to the hostess station in defeat. Malfoy stood near him and questioned the witches at the hostess station until Ana came back down the stairs.
“All secure,” Ana said, stowing her wand in her robes. “No deaths, three civilian casualties, and five Stunned Neo-Death Eaters. The rest must’ve got away.”
“Ginny had them tied up by the time we arrived, so we sent them on their way to be questioned,” said Ana. “You’re free to take Harry to Grimmauld Place, and then we’ll send someone your way in the morning to ask you two some questions.”
Malfoy nodded curtly. Then he held his hand out to Harry, who stared at it uncomprehendingly.
After a few moments, a smirked twitched at the edge of Malfoy’s lips. “What, Potter, never seen a hand before?”
“Why are you...?”
“We’re Apparating to your flat,” he said, sounding half-amused, half-exasperated.
“But what about Ginny? And her car?”
Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Always the chivalrous Gryffindor. She’s fine, Potter, didn’t you hear? You can catch up with her tomorrow during questioning. It’s my job to get you safely out of here, so you can worry about your girlfriend later.”
Harry gritted his teeth together.
“Fine,” he said irritably, standing and taking Malfoy’s hand. As soon as their hands touched, Harry felt a tug and then they were whirling through pitch black space. Apparition was such an unpleasant feeling, as if he were being squeezed like a toothpaste tube or sent through a wringer. He squeezed his eyes shut, and moments later, the men landed in the hallway outside of his flat. However, it was immediately obvious that something was wrong.
“Shit,” Malfoy muttered under his breath, while Harry swore loudly and openly.
His flat had been ransacked.
Horrified, Harry stepped into the disaster that used to be his flat. The coat rack was on the floor, jackets with their pockets turned inside out. The couch was bare of its cushions, the few paintings he owned were on the floor with their backs ripped off, and his bookshelves had been completely emptied, torn books in piles at their feet. The kitchen was in even worse shape. The cabinets hung open, pots, pans, and broken dishes strewn across the floor. The vase of red roses that he’d planned on giving to Ginny was smashed. The roses lay limply in the water on the table. Even his refrigerator and freezer were left open, the little food that he had in them laid to waste.
“Christ, Potter,” said Malfoy quietly. “Didn’t you have any wards around your place?”
“A few,” Harry replied hollowly, “but they were only meant to keep fans and paparazzi out. Didn’t think there was a need for higher calibre enchantments.”
“And Granger didn’t insist on stronger wards?” Malfoy swore again. “Merlin, Potter, even if she didn’t, did it not occur to you that as a Ministry official and high-profile Auror, it might be beneficial to have your flat surrounded by, oh, I dunno, better than your average run-of-the-mill protective enchantments? Merlin! How are you still alive, honestly?”
Harry didn’t know, so he stayed silent. The rest of his flat was in equally bad shape. His medicine cabinet had been emptied into the sink, while his shower curtains lay in a heap next to the toilet. Across the hall in his bedroom, the clothes that Malfoy had so carefully put away just a few hours before lay sprawled everywhere. His closet was wide open, boxes turned upside down and dumped out on the floor. The dresser drawers had been pulled out completely and lay in a pile in the corner. His alarm clock hung by its cord where it had been knocked off his bedside table. Even his mirror had been wrenched from the wall, though the thieves had enough common sense not to let it shatter — even in the wizarding world, there was a superstition about seven years of bad luck.
Harry sank onto his bed, staring unseeing at the wall as Malfoy moved methodically round his flat, muttering enchantments. Finally, Malfoy reentered his room. Harry looked up hopefully, but one glance at Malfoy’s face told him everything he needed to know.
“They didn’t leave much of a trace,” said Malfoy, irritation edging his voice. “I can sense a slight magical aura, but not enough to narrow anything down. All I can tell you is that there were two males and a female, which doesn’t help us at all.”
Harry went back to staring at the wall. He couldn’t believe how horribly his night had gone. Only a few hours ago, he had been looking forward to a date with Ginny. Now, he was sitting in his destroyed flat with Malfoy as a bodyguard and instructions to live at Grimmauld Place until further notice. Not to mention his date had been cut short by Neo-Death Eaters trying to kill him. The Elder Wand was pressed against his chest, the Resurrection Stone was lost forever in the depths of the Forbidden Forest, and the Invisibility Cloak was...
“The Invisibility Cloak,” he said out loud. “Where is it?”
He scrambled to his feet.
“Potter, I swear—” Malfoy began, but Harry had already tuned him out.
Harry hurried over to his closet, tripping over things and swearing as he went. It had a loose floorboard under which he hid his valuables: a sliver of the two-way mirror Sirius had given him, the Golden Snitch from his first Hogwarts Quidditch game, the golden watch Molly Weasley gave him for his seventeenth birthday.... He wrenched up the floorboard and let out a sigh of relief. Tucked underneath the small pile of knickknacks was the smooth, flowy material of the Invisibility Cloak.
“We’re all good,” he called from the bottom of his closet. “It’s still here. They missed it somehow.”
“Goddammit, Potter, you nearly gave me a heart attack!” Malfoy threw his arms up in the air. “I can’t believe you. Sodding Hero of the Wizarding World doesn’t even store his valuables in a safe place.” Before Harry could retort, Malfoy folded his arms and said irritably, “We don’t have time for this. Gather up your things, we need to be on our way. We don’t want to be here when the Neo-Death Eaters decide to come back for you.”
Harry didn’t know whether to feel annoyed, defensive, or something else altogether. The world was beginning to feel a bit unsteady as it was. He placed the floorboard back and dumped the valuables into his suitcase. Then he hurried round his room, scooping up clothes at random and throwing them in. He felt strangely self-conscious about Malfoy seeing his undergarments, but when he glanced over, Malfoy wasn’t watching. The man was staring off into space, his face unreadable as he redid his man bun. In the midst of the chaos at the restaurant, it had loosened, silky white-blond hairs curling around his ears and the nape of his neck.
Harry was struck, not for the first time that evening, by how handsome Malfoy had become since their years at Hogwarts. Even after all they’d been through in the past few hours, he barely looked tired, while Harry felt dead on his feet and knew that he looked it, too. He wasn’t quite sure why this was on his mind, but he couldn’t shake it. It made him feel even more irritable and off-balance than he was already.
Harry slammed the lid of his trunk shut more forcefully than needed, but if Malfoy noticed, he didn’t comment. With one last look around the room, Malfoy nodded once.
“Alright, Potter, let’s go.”
He held out his hand. But for the second time that night, Harry stared at it. The world tilted slightly. Suddenly, they were eleven again, on the train, and Malfoy’s hand hovered in the air like a peace offering.
My name’s Malfoy, Draco Malfoy.
You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.
And then Harry’s words, laced with a layer of confidence he didn’t feel.
I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks.
How could this be the same pale, pointy boy who had offered his hand in friendship to him on the train so many years ago? Harry supposed it was because of the unexpected trauma of the night, but everything was mixing together in his mind, leaving him a bit dizzy and confused.
“What is it now, Potter?” Malfoy drawled.
Harry raised his eyes to meet Malfoy’s, still dazed. Malfoy’s brow furrowed.
“Dammit, I should’ve known something was wrong the moment you stopped arguing with me,” he muttered. “Potter, are you feeling well enough to Apparate us to Grimmauld Place? Kingsley didn’t give me the address. Said he can’t, you’re the Secret Keeper.”
“I’m fine, I can do it,” Harry said, but Malfoy didn’t look convinced.
Harry stretched out his hand and took Malfoy’s. It was a much-needed anchor, considering the way that everything felt off-kilter. It was warm, too, firm and steady. Harry shut his eyes and imagined Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and within seconds, the men landed on the doorstep of Number 12. Harry stumbled a little, and Malfoy tightened his grip on Harry’s hand.
“Wow,” Malfoy said quietly. It took Harry a second to realise that Malfoy wasn’t talking to him. “I can’t believe this will be my first time stepping foot in my great-aunt’s house.”
Harry wanted to say something, but Apparating had taken the last of the energy he had, and he didn’t trust himself to open his mouth. Malfoy had been staring up at the Black’s mansion, but when he glanced at Harry, his brow furrowed again. “Right,” he muttered, observing the silver serpent knocker before looking for the doorknob. “You’re ill.”
“Takes a wand tap,” Harry whispered. “Simple locking spell.”
Malfoy glanced at him again before gently pulling his hand from his grasp. Harry swayed as Malfoy pulled out his wand and tapped the door. There was a grinding noise as all of the locks and chains undid themselves. Then the door swung open with a creak. Malfoy placed a hand on Harry’s back to support him as they entered. Any other time Harry would’ve protested that he didn’t need his help, but he really wasn’t feeling well. He wasn’t sure if it was something he’d ate, or whether he’d been grazed by a spell during battle, or if it was the insanity and stress of the night catching up with him, but he knew he wasn’t in his right mind.
Harry pulled Malfoy over to the light switch and turned on the gas lamps, which hissed and flickered to life. Grimmauld Place looked just as creepy as Harry remembered, with threadbare carpets and dusty wallpaper covered in aging portraits.
“What a dump,” Malfoy said in shock, curling his nose at the spider-webbed chandelier. “It looks as if it was grand in its day, but now it’s —”
“Malfoy, be quiet —” Harry interrupted frantically, but it was too late. Across the corridor, the long curtains draped on the wall flew open and exposed the portrait of Sirius’s mother and Malfoy’s great-aunt, Walburga Black.
“Filth, blood-traitors, how dare you defile my house —” she screeched. Then the portrait stopped, staring bug-eyed from Harry to Malfoy. “Could it be? A pure-blood worthy of being in the Black home? What’s your name, boy?”
Malfoy stood frozen in place, arm still resting against Harry’s back. “Draco Malfoy, I’m — I’m a Black. This is my great-aunt’s house.”
The old woman began shrieking again, but this time in joy. “Oh, a pure-blood, my nephew, son of my darling niece, Narcissa Black! The distinguished House of Black will finally rise to its former glory! No more filth, vile disgusting half-breeds, or werewolves befouling the house of my fathers —”
“Oh, shut up, you old hag!” Harry yelled hoarsely, and with great difficulty, he waved his wand and the curtains swung shut. Ringing silence followed.
“You’ve got to be quiet down here or she comes out,” he whispered to Malfoy, who had the strangest look across his face. Harry was too tired to place what it was. “She’s still angry that we hosted the Order here.”
“Right,” Malfoy whispered back, but it sounded hesitant and odd. “You’ll...you’ll have to explain in more detail tomorrow.”
Harry showed Malfoy to the staircase, and the men climbed it in the dark, Malfoy’s arm still supporting Harry. When they reached the second landing, there was a loud crack that signalled the arrival of Kreacher. He looked even more ugly and wizened in the shadows.
“Master has brought a friend,” Kreacher croaked. “Master has brought...” he snapped his fingers, and suddenly they were bathed in a dim light floating above the house-elf’s head, “...is it — can it be?” The house-elf’s eyes widened until they were nearly the size of dinner plates. “Is he a pure-blood? Oh, Mistress would be so happy —”
“Yes, yes, we’re well-aware,” Harry said quickly. “He’s a Black on his mother’s side, she’d be ecstatic, and all the rest. Malfoy and I will be staying here until further notice, okay?”
Kreacher looked happier than Harry had seen him since he had given him the fake locket with Regulus’s note in it. “Here? A Black worthy of staying in my Mistress’s house? Oh, I will get a room ready! And tea!” He hurried off, exclaiming to himself, “Oh, joy, joy, wait until I tell Mistress!”
Malfoy looked at Harry, eyebrows raised. Harry just shook his head.
“In here,” he said, gesturing to the room that he and Ron had shared when Grimmauld Place had been the Order’s headquarters. Malfoy led him into the room, and Harry collapsed onto the twin bed closest to the door.
“I’m going to sleep,” Harry mumbled. “Kreacher’s getting tea and can fix up the other bed for you.”
“Potter, that bed is covered in dust.”
“I don’t care.”
Malfoy snorted and moved for the door. As he reached the threshold, Harry said,“Malfoy?”
The other man paused, his hand on the doorframe. “Hmm?”
“Are you okay?”
Malfoy stiffened. “Why do you ask?”
“I dunno. You’ve been acting funny,” Harry said sleepily. He yawned and snuggled deeper into his covers. “You haven’t insulted me since we got here.”
Malfoy visibly relaxed, the tension draining from his face. “Would you rather I insult you?” he drawled, his voice dripping with amusement. “You’re ill, Potter, go to sleep.”
The door closed quietly, leaving Harry alone. It was only until he was almost asleep that he realised what the look on Malfoy’s face had been when looking at his great-aunt’s portrait. It had been remorse and disgust.
Harry awoke gradually the next morning with a pounding headache. It took him a minute to figure out where he was. His bedsheets were scratchy and covered in dust, the room was dim and depressing, and somewhere nearby, a portrait was snickering. Then everything that came back in a rush. Right. I’m at Grimmauld Place, with Malfoy, awaiting further instruction. His glasses had been taken off his face and placed on the bedside table, next to a cold cup of tea left by an overly enthusiastic Kreacher. Harry rolled over and put the glasses on. Malfoy was not in the adjoining twin bed, but it was rumpled and unmade.
There was a light rap at the door. Harry rolled over to see Malfoy standing in the doorway, already showered and dressed in another set of perfectly-tailored robes, this time emerald green. It took a moment for Harry to register the antagonistic sneer on Malfoy’s face.
“If you hadn’t been ill and weren’t about to go in for questioning, I would’ve hexed you in your sleep,” said Malfoy. There was a sharp edge to his voice that Harry suddenly realised had been missing from their interactions up till now.
“I beg your pardon?” Harry sat up, his brow furrowing.
“Don’t pull that on me, Potter, I know you dragged your wrinkly prune of a house-elf into this joke. Ha ha,so funny. Maybe you should quit your job and become a comedian.”
Now Harry was really confused. He threw back his sheets and swung his feet over the edge of the bed, searching Malfoy’s face for a trace of amusement. There wasn’t one.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you?” When Harry didn’t respond, Malfoy’s sneer broadened until he looked more like the boy Harry remembered from their Hogwarts days. “Fine, be that way. Your delusional house-elf prepared an entire master suite for us and wouldn’t stop blathering about how I was his favourite romantic partner of yours.” Malfoy crossed his arms, his grey eyes glinting like steel. “Uh-huh. Remember your little prank now?”
Harry’s jaw had dropped open as he stared bug-eyed at Malfoy. Now he forced it closed so that he could speak. “Malfoy, I swear, I had nothing to do with that. I don’t even know how he got such an idea in his head.” Rubbing his pounding temples, he wrinkled his nose and added, “As if I’d date an arrogant prat like you.”
Malfoy’s mouth was a hard line. “Mmm. Right. Better hope Ginny doesn’t find out that you’re prone to bringing romantic partners back to Grimmauld Place.” He turned sharply on his heel and threw over his shoulder as he left, “Oh, and better get up and dressed, Sleeping Beauty, we’ve got Aurors waiting for in the library.”
“I don’t bring dates back here!” Harry shouted after him, but if Malfoy heard him, he didn’t respond. Harry gritted his teeth together in frustration. He couldn’t wait until he got his hands on Kreacher. Why would his house-elf spread rubbish like that? He knew that Kreacher was old and rather mad, but assuming that he was bringing a date to Grimmauld Place? He hadn’t brought anyone besides Ron and Hermione by the mansion in years, much less Ginny, who was his only long-time relationship. And he would certainly never cheat on her.
Still feeling frustrated and confused, Harry pulled on a pair of red and gold robes and ran a comb through his hair. The portrait was snickering again, which exacerbated his headache.
“It’s not funny, Phineas,” he said irritably as he left the room. The portrait let out a guffaw.
The library had hidden itself from the occupants of the mansion until Regulus’s and Sirius’s deaths had been avenged, appearing from thin air after the fall of Voldemort. Harry had always wondered if the mansion was half-sentient, and this strengthened his suspicions.
The entrance was down the corridor from the dining room. The library stretched over two floors, filled with old books, stuffed armchairs, and a huge fireplace. Most of the books went untouched. Harry suspected that many of them were cursed or otherwise affected by Dark magic. He’d been meaning to have Hermione sweep the room for Dark spells and help him sort the books — she would probably be interested in keeping one or more of the larger tomes — but he hadn’t gotten around to asking her yet. They were both busy with their jobs, Harry as an Auror and Hermione with creating a new Ministry division to advocate for creature rights.
There were several Aurors waiting for him in the library. Ron and Ana were there, as well as McKinley and a witch whose last name Harry had forgotten (Weatherby? Waverly? Wallace? ) Malfoy stood in front of the fireplace. He had everyone’s attention, talking animatedly with a rare, genuine smile. Harry’s spirit momentarily lifted, but it plummeted as soon as he came within hearing range.
“...really didn’t have more than your average protection spells around his flat, I couldn’t believe it. And to think that anyone could’ve broken in with little more than a rudimentary grasp of spell-cracking —”
Harry cleared his throat loudly. Malfoy looked up, a smirk stretched across his face and his eyes glinting. “Ah, the man of the hour arrives. Come in, Potter, I was just giving McKinley and Wakefield a quick rundown of last evening’s events.”
Harry scowled. He should’ve known that Malfoy was going to be petty about Kreacher, but it was still frustrating. He wanted to shout, I didn’t have anything to do with him saying that! Stop thinking I’d go out with a prat like you! But instead, he forced the scowl from his face and thought, Ah, yes, that’s the witch’s last name: Wakefield, not Wallace.
“What can I do for you, McKinley? Wakefield?” he said, sitting in the armchair farthest from where Malfoy leaned against the fireplace.
“Just a few questions, Harry, and then we’ll be on our way.” As always, Auror McKinley sounded far too cheerful for the circumstances. He cleared his throat importantly and strode over to Harry, his robes billowing out behind him. “I’ll make this fast. After all, we want to get you out of here and back on the job as soon as possible.” McKinley blinked a few times. “Er, well, back to your life, too, not just the Ministry. I’m sure you have a life outside of work. I mean —”
Harry rubbed his temples, which were still pounding. “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine.”
McKinley smiled brightly, looking relieved, and waved his wand. A piece of paper with a poised quill appeared in midair as he sat down in the armchair across from Harry. Harry bit back the automatic negative reaction he had to such a setup, flashing back to his years with Rita Skeeter. So, Harry...what made you decide to enter the Triwizard Tournament?
Harry blinked. McKinley was looking at him intently.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?”
Malfoy snorted, and it took everything in him not to turn and pin him with a fiery glare.
“Yes, around what time did you, Ginevra, and Malfoy leave your flat?”
“Um...I think seven-thirty?”
The quill began scratching frantically. Harry swallowed the bile rising in his throat and reminded himself that it wasn’t Skeeter in front of him. It was just McKinley. Routine Ministry business. The quills were charmed to write down exactly what was being said, nothing more, nothing less.
“Did you notice anything...weird?” McKinley raised an eyebrow with his last word.
Harry wrinkled his forehead in concentration. “Not that I can remember.” He resisted the temptation to add, except for the fact that Malfoy showed up at my door and is now my bodyguard. Y’know, just normal, everyday things.
“And, tell me — was there anything suspicious about the waitress?”
“What?” Harry’s forehead wrinkled more. “No...”
McKinley stood up and snatched the quill and parchment out of the air with a bright smile. “Alright, that will be all.”
“Wait, that’s it? You’re not going to ask me about my ransacked flat, or about the duel, or about the —”
“That’s it,” McKinley interrupted. “We’ve already done the usual tests on your wand to figure out what spells you used, so that’s taken care of.” Harry glanced at Malfoy questioningly, who pulled his wand out of his robes and waved it in the air, smirking. Harry scowled deeply and then nearly dropped it after Malfoy tossed it to him. “We’ve already asked Malfoy about last night in more detail, and your girlfriend and Aurors Weasley and Williams, too.” McKinley’s voice became more serious. “But we’re going to need you to stay at Grimmauld Place from here on out, at least until we catch the culprit. Shacklebolt won’t have it any other way.”
Harry groaned and slumped back in the armchair, throwing his arm over his face. “How am I supposed to get my work done?” he said, his words muffled by his sleeve.
“We’ll send it round, don’t worry. Until then, rest up.” McKinley patted Harry’s knee awkwardly, and then, looking as if he immediately regretted it, stood rimrod straight and cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, uh, let’s get going on. We’ll see you on Monday, Harry.”
He swept out of the room, followed by Ana, who smiled at Harry apologetically. Ron was right behind her and stopped by his armchair before leaving.
“Sorry, mate,” Ron whispered. “I wanted to keep your wand for you, but they insisted on giving it to that git.”
“S’no problem, thanks anyway,” Harry muttered, feeling his chest clench as his best friend gave him a knowing and half-pitying smile and left the room. Merlin, he was a mess. He hadn’t been confined to Grimmauld Place for even 24 hours yet, and he was already missing human interaction that wasn’t Malfoy.
Harry sighed, stood up, and moved for the door. “Well, I’m already done with today. I’m going back to sleep.”
There was a sudden stinging sensation at the base of his spine, and he whipped round, wand at ready. Malfoy was standing by the fireplace with his wand, smirking like the Cheshire cat. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes. “Just a little reminder to talk to that house-elf of yours, and that I’m going to be here with you twenty-four seven,” he said smoothly, tilting his head back slightly. “Two can play whatever game you’re playing.”
“I’m not playing any games,” Harry said through gritted teeth. “I have no bloody idea why Kreacher did that, but I’ll talk to him, alright? As if I’d date an insufferable twat like you. Or cheat on Ginny,” he added fiercely. “As if!”
Malfoy’s eyes didn’t lose the dangerous glint. “Methinks thou doth protest too much,” he drawled, but something about his eyes didn’t match his mocking tone.
Anger and frustration surged up through Harry’s veins. “Oh, bloody hell, Malfoy, sod off!”
He turned on his heel and stormed out of the library, painfully aware that his exit couldn’t match up to whatever Malfoy did with his robes to look so intimidating and so much like Snape. Even that thought caused him anger, and he was so furious that one of the dusty chandeliers broke as he stormed past. Merlin, he hated Malfoy! It was going to be a very difficult couple of days, and even more difficult not to end up in Azkaban for voluntary manslaughter.