“I can’t stay at Hogwarts. There’s- I’m not- not again.”
“You know that leaves me with few other options.”
“I… I know.”
“You know the best one is Malfoy Manor.”
Harry glanced away.
Kingsley’s voice was gentle, but firm. “You know I wouldn’t be suggesting that if it weren’t the best way to ensure your safety.” He didn’t mention Hogwarts. He knew. He’d seen Harry go through this the past few months, years, and he-
Harry found his voice again. “It has to be completely voluntary.”
“Of course. But Narcissa and I have got to be… old friends lately, and I doubt she would-”
“Completely voluntary,” Harry repeated, meeting his eyes.
“You know me better than most, Potter.”
“I have your word?”
“My word. As your Minister of Magic and your friend.”
Harry didn’t think ‘friend’ was the right word for ‘adult who watched barely-adult war hero/ex-protégé/traumatized former recluse attempt to put the shards of his life back together,’ but he supposed it was as close as conventional language would allow. “Fine, then. Owl me the details?”
“I’m sending you home with an auror who will be sent the details by Patronus and relay them to you. It’s straight to the Manor after that. You’re to go downstairs and set up security measures on the way out.”
Harry made a half-effort at lightening things. “Jam flavors or childhood pets’ names?”
“Neither. I’m putting more wards on the Malfoy grounds and giving you an artifact for extra security.”
There went all hope of humor. “You’re putting the Trace back on me.”
“I can’t put the Trace back on you. You’ve been of age for four years.”
“‘An artifact for extra security?’” Harry raised his eyebrows.
“It will only activate if you’re in mortal peril.”
"What about the Malfoys?”
“There’s old magic in the grounds, and the house, that will help them if something goes wrong.”
Making eye contact again, so Kingsley would have to tell him the truth, “So it’ll buy them some time while me or an auror sounds the alarm? Possibly but not necessarily enough time?”
“You know our resources are straining, Harry, and I cannot justify wasting them on competent wizards who are already better protected than most of the country.”
“Right.” Selfish. Harry was being selfish. If Narcissa wanted to take the risk it wasn’t Harry’s place to stop her. And the risk she was taking was much less, he reminded himself, so much less than putting the entire school in danger, or worse, risking an attack in public where anyone could- “Will I be seeing you before I leave?”
“Probably not. France wants to hold a public spectacle of a meeting, and if I can’t convince more people to join our security team, I’m going to have to convince the president to bring more of his own security.”
“Can’t risk leaving the country in a time of national turbulence?”
Kingsley gave Harry that look, the one that was shrewd and worried and proud and- not quite disappointed. More like uncertain. Pleading, almost. “You would’ve made a great minister.”
“I never wanted to be minister. I never even wanted to be the Chosen One.”
“Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be good at it.” He moved on before Harry had a chance to get uncomfortable, “Now, if you’d kindly get out-”
Harry laughed shortly as Kingsley reached for a half-handshake, half-hug. “Best of luck using your valuable time on people more important than me.”
Kingsley stepped back, shaking his head. “I’ll need it. Robards has just requisitioned two muggle vehicles. Why on earth he needs two when he’s only got one auror who knows how to drive is beyond me.”
“Give him one with a reminder taped to the steering wheel.”
“Good advice as always, Harry. If you ever need a job-”
“Yes, of course, I know, call my friend the Minister of Magic and ask for one.” The meeting ended like all of the other ones had. “If I decide to leave retirement, you’ll be the first to know.”
Except when Kingsley said, “Stay safe out there, Potter,” Harry knew he meant it more ways than usual.
They sent him home with Auror Haden, a highly-competent thirtysomething witch known for her excellent judgment in the field and her uncanny ability not to bring cases home with her. It was a good fit for Harry, for the danger he was in, for how personal this was; she knew him, but Haden wasn’t going to let that get in the way of doing her job.
Harry left her in the drawing room with tea and a stack of old magazines and went up to pack. Normally she’d have to stay closer to him, but Grimmauld Place had at least half as much magic as the Manor and Harry had long been used to checking rooms for dark magic before he entered them. It was different in his house- he could feel the magic of it, familiar after years of living there- and he knew when he’d stepped inside that the place was clear.
What did one pack for an indefinite stay at the estate of one’s former enemy? Harry chose the clothes he always wore, faded t-shirts and jeans, jumpers with holes in the sleeves and all his favorite pairs of socks. Grudgingly, because he knew it’d be silly not to, he added dress robes. And dark trousers, and some nicer muggle shirts, because he wasn’t looking nice around them all the time just because they were Malfoys but he’d be damned if he was going to be unprepared.
Once his toothbrush and deodorant and everything else had been jammed into the bag with his clothes, Harry realized he had no room for anything else and started throwing things into his old school trunk instead. It wasn't like he was going to bring his entire bedroom, but he'd gone in hiding enough times to know how valuable a few good books could be.
Harry hadn’t been on a trip longer than a few days since… well, since. If the urge to run, the sensation of it, didn’t still light his nerves like a thousand matches struck at once, he could have said he’d forgotten. If his fingers didn’t twitch toward the knapsack at the back of his wardrobe every time he packed for anything. If his entire body didn’t echo with the familiar ache he hadn’t really felt in years, the feeling of not having the right wand, if the wrenching of apparition didn’t remind him of the adrenaline that just held back the terror, what if I do it wrong, if he didn’t still remember the feeling of keeping yourself from sleep because even if you trusted the person keeping watch you knew in your bones that people were fallible and if something went wrong it’d be your fault.
Harry didn’t want to go to Malfoy Manor, but he wanted to go to Hogwarts even less. At least the Malfoys had done something to make them owe the Ministry. At least he could imagine this was some twisted karmic retribution, some final gesture they’d need to take to guarantee to the wizarding public that they weren’t evil. He had never thought the Malfoys were evil- only cruel, only desperate. Lucius was in prison, but Narcissa, and Draco- they’d had reasons. Reasons good enough for Harry to all-but-insist to the Wizengamot that they shouldn’t be sent to Azkaban. Reasons good enough for him to doubt if they really deserved this, now, after everything the aftershocks of the war had put them through.
Wasn’t his decision to make, though. Killing the hero of the wizarding world would do far more for the remaining Death Eaters’ cause than attacking innocent people would. To Kingsley, Harry’s life was worth whatever risk the Malfoys were taking to protect him, and he hated it. Harry had always hated it. Dive in front of the killing curse to save the Chosen One because Merlin forbid the country lose morale.
It wasn’t like that. Wasn’t as simple as that, Harry knew. But he didn’t want to know it. He wanted to be able to disappear and make it all go away. He wanted to believe that if his name dropped out of the papers for five fucking minutes they’d forget about him and stop trying to use him.
But he couldn’t. Because that was the problem. If they stopped fixating on Harry, they’d start actually attacking muggles, and he couldn’t- couldn’t do that. Let it happen. If he still had a chance to help the Ministry catch them, if his diverting their attention made it easier to stop them-
So he kept doing it. That and everything else they needed from him. Showing up at functions and things and staying present even though he hadn’t gone back to finish school and wasn’t planning on getting a real job. This was a job, in its way, being close by when Kingsley needed some celebrity propaganda or, when Harry could convince him, bait. At least being bait made him feel like he was accomplishing something.
It was shit. But it was good. Harry didn’t know what he’d do if he didn’t have that- the sense of purpose without having to answer to someone. Pacing around Kingsley’s office every day, probably, with a salary and some title like ‘senior advisor’ and a series of Prophet articles dedicated to his rising political prowess. Either that or sitting in his house, doing... he didn't know what he'd be doing. Nothing, maybe.
Sometimes the bait part was absolute crap, being at the right place at the right time to convince someone to make this legislative decision or that donation. But times like now, when it meant someone else wasn’t getting hurt because Harry was taking the risk- that was why Kingsley gave in. He could see through Harry’s excuses, see the guilt Dumbledore had carefully cultivated over years, wearing and wearing the track. Guilt Kingsley had watched him put there, even. Kingsley knew keeping saving people- or not saving, but trying- it was the trying that was important, because Harry had to try or he was a coward and if he didn’t succeed the failure made him want to try that much harder next time- Kingsley knew that Harry was still trying to make up for it. All his attempts to get Harry to stop had fallen through. Eventually he just let Harry get on with it, accepted he wasn’t going to take no for an answer and hoped that after fifteen hundred tries Harry would realize putting himself in danger for others was not going to make up for the risk dead people had taken in a war that ended three years ago, because this Death Eater resurgence was not the war- bitterness, angry survivors, but not the war, not again- never never never never. It couldn’t be the war so that was why Harry kept failing.
It wasn’t that he- this hadn’t even happened that often. Three times, maybe four. The initial fallout that December, stopped by a wave of Ministry raids; the terrorists who targeted him to make a political statement, this one about anarchy; the time they’d gotten the ‘give us Harry Potter or we’ll attack the Ministry’ threats. That one had been the worst, because Harry couldn’t just evade capture and remain a distraction, like he was this time. Harry had been in the room when Kingsley decided his life was worth enough not to comply. When he’d taken the no-negotiation hardline and Harry had- Harry had- he’d tried-
Stop, he thought. You’re digging a hole. You can’t dig holes at Malfoy Manor. They won’t like it. It’ll mess up the grounds. And make you vulnerable.
Harry couldn’t be vulnerable. Not in front of them. For more reasons than he could name. He couldn’t often afford to dwell on the guilt, anyway, because it threatened to drive him mad (it had in the tent all those nights ago and it still did some nights now). Every time he did he dug a hole, worried the same thoughts over and over again until he was six feet under and trapped and still digging, and he didn’t like that Hermione had to figure out how to build a ladder, didn’t like that Ron had to lower a rope, so hard for them to do at first and so painful even once they’d learned how to do it. Because asking them for help was threatening to drag them down with him. And Harry valued the privacy of his own head too much to invite someone all the way into it.
His mind hadn’t been wholly his for seventeen years of his life. It’d take a fuck of a lot of motivation for him to give that up now.
“Ready to go, Mr. Potter?”
“I said you can call me ‘Harry.’”
“Not on the job I can’t. Shall we take this down-”
“I’ve got it,” he said, and waved a hand, and the cup was clean and away in the cupboard downstairs. If he concentrated hard enough he could have heard it clink into place beside the others.
“That really is impressive, you know.”
“Thanks,” he said, not really meaning it. Because being good at magic just made everything more complicated and he wasn’t prepared to dwell on those remembered arguments with Kingsley just then. “Let’s go.”
Haden side-alonged him. It was her job to be in control, and the flashbacks he’d had staring into his closet weren’t so much of a threat when he wasn’t doing the apparition himself. Harry was grateful for the respite. It would’ve made it even harder to walk through the Manor gates if he’d had to relive it all first.
That was another thing. About being him, he supposed. Harry had learned to control his thoughts, to plank over the guilt tracks and wall off the memories when he needed to, putting them behind an objective layer of glass so he could consider them without trapping himself in them.
“I’ve been instructed to escort you inside and then check in with everyone already stationed here.”
“They have an auror security detail?” Harry’s eyes widened. He would have thought that would be something Kingsley would have told him, what with their discussion of wasting resources.
“No. Two of our people were sent over at the same time you and I left the Ministry, but the Malfoys have hired private security.”
“Oh.” Harry supposed that was who Kingsley meant when he’d said he needed more people on his security force. Kingsley wasn’t big on guns-for-hire, but most private security firms hired ex-aurors, former cursebreakers, people with some type of formal training who had decided for one reason or another to get out of the public sector. Most of them were probably stored somewhere in the Ministry records. It was much easier to rescreen and rehire than it was to train new aurors.
Maybe the Minister’s old friend Narcissa would be willing to give him some names, people who might be interested in helping the Ministry in this time of national turmoil.
They passed through the gates, and Harry felt layers and layers of magic settle over him like a thick worn cloak brushing against his skin. He’d felt some of this in the grounds on the walk up, knew the sensation of wards and family property magic from Grimmauld Place, but that was nothing compared to this.
He wondered idly why he hadn’t sensed it before. Not that Harry had been back here in years. Seemed like the sort of thing he ought to have noticed the first time, though. Then again, they probably had twice as many wards up to protect them from the backlash they had to have started getting after the war. And Harry had hardly been this- calm, yep, that was the word for it, calm when your life was risking it for other people and that was all you knew how to do, especially when it was two Malfoys this time instead of an entire school or city or country- he’d hardly been this calm when he’d been there the first time.
Harry knocked. Auror Haden looked at him strangely. He glanced over at her.
“I thought you would have rung the bell,” Haden explained, skeptical.
“Friends knock. Strangers ring.”