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not to die, but to be wasted

Chapter Text

 

HARMON END, ESSEX. SATURDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER, 2007. 03:10.

 

Harmon End was a quiet village, and it was the dead of the night, but the steady stream of lights and sirens had woken most of its occupants, or at least those who hadn’t been startled out of bed by the sound of the blast. They peered out of their darkened windows, playing telephone with their neighbors as the news made its way across town: Down the road, away from the rest of the houses, tucked behind a grove of trees and a stone fence, the house of Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody had a new hole in it, and this one wasn’t from shooting at shadows.

This one opened up to the sky, letting in a light rain, which collected to run slowly over the charred wood and scattered remains, forming a black sludge that was seeping into the crater left where the floor had been. The fire service had finally declared the site free of all remaining fires, and a bomb disposal team had carefully checked for any additional threats, and finally the police had been allowed in, desperate to get to the site before it was corrupted any further.

Standing at the edge of the gruesome scene, a few feet back from where the floor had been snapped apart, were two figures, distinctly separated from the rest. One wore a neon yellow police jacket about five sizes too large, her tight curls sticking out from under the hood to collect droplets of water that glistened as officers passed in front of the high-powered portable lights set up throughout the ruin. The other could take a step back and disappear out of sight, his black trenchcoat, flat cap, and thin scarf obscuring his features. No one was paying much attention to either of them. Not even the constable, who had been the one to call them to the scene. It was a courtesy, not a request for backup, and any untoward interference would draw that courtesy to an end.

That didn’t mean they weren’t involved. From their vantage point, they could listen, and observe, and draw their own conclusions.

“You’re sure it was him?” the man asked his companion after a stretch of silence between them.

“It was him,” she replied. Her mouth was set in a grim line. “He’s sending a message. And who else would show up at the house of a retiree and do… this?”

“He had a lot of enemies.”

“Do you have some suggestion of who else it might have been?”

Even though they both spoke in muted tones, her voice was harsh. He waited for a moment. He didn’t like Moody—never had, and they’d known each other twenty-eight hate-filled years.  But she had liked him. Respected him.

“No,” he said at last. “I don’t. But if I didn’t know otherwise, I’d say it looked like Grindelwald’s work.”

Across from them, a photographer was taking photos of a twisted piece of metal. The last remains of a prosthetic leg, identifiable only because a boot, now half burned away, had cushioned the sculpted shell of the foot. The blast had thrown it away from the body and into the solid face of the refrigerator, which now had a foot-sized dent in the door. Behind the photographer, two men were arguing over whether two bullet holes in the wall were fresh or old—the angle of the rain and the blackening from the explosion was giving them trouble.

After a moment, the man in the trench coat sighed and picked his way across the rubble. He examined the damage, and turned back to the arguing pair, jabbing his finger at the wall and adding some scathing remark before returning to his companion. She turned away silently, leading them out through the open front door of the house, though they could have just gone through the part of the front wall that had been blasted down, and down the driveway, ducking under the police tape at the bottom, tied on the fence posts on either side. A few of the braver villagers and a zealous reporter were gathered on the other side, but the pair ignored them, heading towards the line of vehicles. The woman took off the reflective jacket, giving it to the closest officer with a word to return it to its owner, and they continued down to the end of the line, stopping beside an unmarked black car and turning back, observing the house as it crawled with neon jackets. The man lit a cigarette, the lighter illuminating his sallow face, ignoring her irritated glance.

“It’s him,” she said. “Grindelwald’s in prison. He’s been in prison twenty-six years.”

The man sighed out smoke, and scowled into the dark. “If the old man hadn’t died—”

“Don’t blame him for this.”

“He could have done a lot more a lot sooner, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“You agree with me, then?”

“I think you need to have another conversation with your friend from MI5.”

“I think I need more than that.”

The man didn’t respond to that, but snuffed out his cigarette and returned it to a metal case that disappeared into the pocket of his coat. He moved around to the passenger side door, and the woman drove the car past the last few response vehicles and through the village, following the road out.

“My list of favors to call in are few and far between,” he said, after a spell.

“Use them all.”

“If she’s wrong—”

“If she’s right. Imagine that. Is there anything bigger you’re holding on to them for?”

He sighed. The car was aimed towards London, and she was angry, driving fast. They’d be there in an hour, and then…

He’d been hoping for a quiet weekend.

“You want revenge.”

“No. I want justice. That it’s Alastor dead just adds fuel to the fire.”

A lie. She probably believed it.

“You’ll need evidence.”

“We’ll find it. I just need a clean desk and the proper funds. Operational freedom. If this is as big as she thinks...”

If it is, there’s no telling who they can trust. They need absolute autonomy on this, or they’re going to hit brick wall after brick wall, and it’s not going to be a lack of substance holding them back.

“Take us to the office, then,” he said. “You get in touch with your friend. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you.”

“You can thank me if it works.” He watched darkly out the window as she curves them onto the motorway. He wasn’t sure if it will work, or, if it does, it will even matter. Grindelwald had been caught with luck, and a violent end. Voldemort—or Tom Riddle, if that really is his name—will take more than that.

The old anger crept up in his bones, and his fingers itched for another cigarette. He dug them into his palm instead.

“It will work,” she said, grip tightening around the wheel. “It has to.”

Chapter Text

CHARNELL HILL, SURREY. TUESDAY, 9 OCTOBER, 2007. 11:10.

 

It was raining, to start with. Then there was construction, which made traffic even worse, and Draco is still a bit hungover, and barely got any sleep last night, and while Surrey might be the next thing over on the map, getting out of London was one headache after another. He’s stuck in one of the agency cars, and it took him half an hour to figure out how to turn off the police radio, which someone—probably Weasley—had left on, and the BBC’s still going on and on about Gordon Brown, and if he hears Avril Lavigne or that goddamn ‘Hey There Delilah’ song one more time he thinks he might just scream.

Parking, at least, is easy enough to find, though he has to check the file he’s been given twice to make sure he’s in the right spot. He can’t even tell if the shop is open. It’s a tiny thing, squeezed in between a Tesco and some sort of consulting agency, comparatively dim with the bright florescent lights shining through the neighboring windows. No convenient neon sign to go by. He locks the car and makes a dash for it, coming up under the awning to peer inside, and finds it empty—no, wait. There’s someone behind the counter, half hidden by the espresso machine. And ducking into the back room—argh. Well.

He straightens himself up and opens the door, jumping at the bells—actual bells, not one of those horrible two-tone sounds but honest to goodness jingle-bells tied to the handle on the other side—and jumping again when he hears someone call, Be with you in a moment, as he shuts it again. At least it’s warm inside, in temperature and ambiance. Brick walls, to start. Photography, paintings, and drawings hang salon-style on either side of the counter; a mix of furniture arranged like pieces of different jigsaws forced together into one Frankenstein image; some sort of jazz-influenced music over the radio; and, of course, the prevalent smell of espresso—and beer, underneath. They have it on tap, it seems.

So this is one of those places. Draco knows of them, of course, having gone to university, but he’d always stuck to Costa and Caffe Nero, not needing the experience so much as a reliable quad-shot latte on the go. And he’s gotten used to (free) heartburn-inducing black coffee law enforcement seems to favor since, which is only a better option than the (free) generic brand tea due to the caffeine content. He’d brought up that there has to be something better available at a similar price point, a while back, but, as usual, had been laughed off as being too posh for law enforcement. He hadn’t brought it up again.

“What can I get you?” the man asks as he comes back out through the doorway from the smallish-looking kitchen on the other side, carrying a plastic tray full of white mugs, still steaming from the dishwasher, setting it on the counter and beginning to stack them in tilting piles alongside the machine.

“Oh, I’m. Pardon. I’m looking for a—” He glances down at the folder in his hands, not that he really needs a refresher. “Mr Potter?”

The man’s hands still, and he glances over at Draco, flicking his eyes up and down. He quickly resumes his task, but there’s a line of tension in his shoulders that wasn’t there a moment before. “That would be me,” he says. Voice neutral.

Draco tries not to frown. Tension is not a response you want these things normally start with, if you want them to go well. He shifts so he can pull out his ID card from his pocket. People like that sort of thing. “I’m Draco Malfoy, from the RRS. We have you listed as having called with information about a case—is that accurate?”

“Oh,” Potter says, and he smiles slightly, shoulders relaxing, though not as fully as they had been. “I’m sorry. You don’t look like a cop. Yes, that’s—yes. About Tom. Yes, I do, er. I called.”

“Fantastic,” says Draco.

This looks to be a long interview, if Potter is so articulate all the time. And ‘cop’ isn’t precisely the right term, though he isn’t about to correct the man to call him an ‘agent’. He’d get the wrong idea. Lord knows Draco’s been teased about it before. Agent Malfoy, here to save the day. Hey, fetch me a cuppa, would you, super secret agent man?

But he notes the name—Tom. Not Riddle, or Mr Riddle, or… anything else. Just Tom. Curious.

“Do you have time to answer some questions?”

“Yeah, yes, sure. They mostly go for lunch at noon next door, so—” Potter glances over his shoulder, finding a square clock in the array of art. “No one’s going to be in for the next forty-five minutes or so. Forty, if there’s anyone early. I guess I probably told them that when I called? Er, take any seat—can I get you anything? On the house, of course. I’d feel odd drinking a coffee alone.”

“A cappuccino, then,” Draco says.

Draco glances around, choosing the least eclectic of the tables, to the right of the counter, and watches as Potter works: hands flowing between each piece of the machine, barely looking as he steams the milk and draws the shots into a mug. He’s done this for a while, clearly, as much a part of the shop as the art or the chairs. He looks the part, too; a collection of mismatched features somehow conjoined into a particular aesthetic. Thick black hair with a bit of curl, most of it long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail that sticks out from his head, a bit of a fringe formed from the shorter bits framing his face, black stubble along his jaw to match. Skin that Draco might say had a healthy tan if it weren’t October in the UK, dotted with the dozen or so freckles spread out across his face. A straight nose leading up to mild eyebrows, unkempt but not poorly shaped on their own. Shockingly green eyes half-hidden behind round, black wire glasses, one of the hinges held together by tape. As for attire, it’s another mix: a v-neck t-shirt, something printed on the front but covered by a coffee-stained brown apron, slim-fit jeans just visible from Draco’s vantage, folded neatly up at the bottom to show a pair of scuffed brown leather shoes and an inch of visible argyle socks. It’s all worn-in, clearly, and nothing that screams ‘fashion’... but all in style, in its way. If it’s not intentional, maybe he’s just one of those guys who can pull off anything. Lucky bastard.

“I hadn’t expected anyone here so soon,” Potter says as he works. “I only called this morning, and—you are based out of London, yeah?”

“Yes,” says Draco. “This case is… high priority at the moment.”

“Nasty traffic though, I’m… High priority? I thought the RRS was more for things that had stopped moving,” Potter comments. Then he seems to notice that might have been rude, as he glances Draco’s way with a slight flush. “Er, I mean, that’s what Wikipedia said, I guess. I had to look it up. Hadn’t got down the number from the advertisement—bulletin?”

Well, it’s not an entirely inaccurate description… a surprise, if the source was the internet’s most troublesome information source. RRS: the Recourse Reserved Specialists, a lesser-known division of the Serious Organized Crime Agency, the subgroup where cases from the departments determined to be leeching funds and resources without results are sent to die. Well, that’s the reputation that precedes them. In truth, they have one of the most talented investigative teams in the UK and have solved a number of cases that would have otherwise gone cold, but such successes are few and far between. And Draco, its youngest and least wanted member, is here on the chaff of the assignments, as usual.

“We take over cases that need special consideration,” he says smoothly, turning his attention to the file to mask his displeasure, opening it up and popping the cap off of his pen. “Could I get your full name, Mr Potter?”

“Huh? Oh, uh; Harry Potter. I mean, Harry James Potter. All spelled the usual way.”

Draco sighs, looking down at the list of questions and filling the appropriate box in. The RRS has received hundreds of calls to the tip line over the last month, not entirely unusual for this sort of open call for information, though most of them have proven useless— Tom Riddle? Sure, I went to Oxford with him, back in the sixties. Died about twenty years back? Thirty? —and to be honest Draco isn’t sure why they’ve sent him driving all the way down to Surrey rather than just conducting a phone survey. Especially if the call only came in this morning, as Potter said. He isn’t going to ‘talk back’ to his superiors, though; he already knows what Granger would say if he so much as mentioned it. I don’t care what a bigwig your father is in parliament, Malfoy; with the RRS, you are just another man on the force.

So. Here he is.

“To jump right in, then… What is your connection to the—to Mr Tom Riddle?” he reads.

Potter comes around the counter, a mug in each hand, putting the cappuccino down in front of Draco as he sips from the other, splashing steaming black coffee on his hand as he sits. He doesn’t seem to notice the heat, or the way his glasses fog, blurring out his eyes. Must be used to it, working here. Wouldn’t contact lenses be more convenient?

“I suppose,” Potter says after more deliberation than Draco can imagine is strictly necessary. “You could call me his ex. Or call him mine, more accurately.”

Well. That isn’t what Draco had been expecting. His eyes flick to the man’s hand, searching for some sign of a relationship—a ring, he supposes, not that he’d be married if he’s gay, but some people with civil partnerships wear them anyways—before he catches himself. Focus. “Is there a difference between the two?”

“I left him,” Potter clarifies. He seems to relax.

“Ah. And how long ago was that?”

Draco can see Potter’s fingers twitching as he counts it back. Then he pauses, and laughs slightly, shaking his head. “It ended New Year’s Eve, between ninety-nine and two thousand,” he explains, setting down his mug and taking off his glasses, cleaning them on a square of his apron. “Suppose that should be easy enough to remember, if I wanted to.”

Seven, almost eight years, then. Draco notes it down and glances over the next question, but his mind’s gone elsewhere, asking instead: “And you—how old are you?”

Potter glances up, his lips twitching again, and, alright, Draco had been entirely transparent in how he asked it. But then Potter settles his glasses back on his nose, and the answer comes easily: “Twenty-seven, now. I was born in nineteen eighty.”

Same age as Draco. If Potter had left in 1999, he would have been nineteen, and Riddle, if their estimations are correct, would have been in his upper twenties. He tries to shake the feeling of contempt: he’s in law enforcement, for Christ’s sake; he’s been trained to deal with this shit. Maybe Potter had been a mature, completely adult nineteen-year-old. Unlikely, but—

No. He focuses on the questions, reading out the next on the list.

“And when were you last in contact with the—with Riddle?”

“Same. End of ninety-nine.”

He’s surprised to find himself disappointed as he scratches down the answer. Even if Potter’s story checks out, the trail will be eight years old. Figures. Probably someone else in the department is dealing with more useful leads.

Has he been getting his hopes up? How naive. He knows better than that.

“Well, that is the last time I spoke with him,” Potter adds. Draco looks up and finds a wry expression on the man’s face. “Contact in general… I guess he sent over the rest of my things, in... early two thousand. Or some of them. He kept things he probably hoped would be important to me.”

Again. Draco resists the urge to glance at the clock, but he wants to be done with this and get back to London. He looks to the next question, clearing his throat.

“And then, of course, came the presents,” Potter goes on.

Does he ask? Does he let Potter lure him in?

Of course he does. “Presents?”

“For my birthday—oh, I suppose Valentines comes first.” Potter shakes his head. “He ordered a delivery of flowers. I tried to send them back, of course. The delivery guy was terribly confused.”

“Do you know the shop?” Draco asks. It’s… a long shot, but with digital records more available, there’s a chance…

“Sure. Sprout’s and Seedlings, up on… I think it’s Armory Street? North of here, in any case. Towards Heathrow. You can’t miss it; it’s a giant greenhouse.” He chuckles slightly. “Don’t get your hopes up, though. I’ve asked Neville about it, and he says they get the orders anonymously through the mail, with cash payments.”

“Orders,” Draco repeats, faster than disappointment can show itself. “You’ve gotten more since then?”

“Yeah,” says Potter, and for the first time his sunny disposition starts to slip. Draco watches him a bit closer. “Every year, like clockwork. Neville still brings them down, though I think he’s a manager, now. It’s a bit of a joke between us.” Potter twists the mug on the table, not picking it up again. “And when my aunt died, there were flowers for that. And a wreath, one Christmas. And when I moved flats, he sent three houseplants. I thought about putting them out on the balcony and letting them die, but I wouldn’t want to offend Neville… But there’s only the one left, by now.”

“You said they’ve been sent anonymously?”

“Yes.”

“Then you have no actual proof it is him.”

Potter pauses again, his fidgety hands stilling, and then he reaches up to card his fingers through his hair. He seems to catch himself in the action, but then finishes it, anyways, and goes on. “I don’t have any proof, no. I also don't know anyone else who would send flowers on Valentines Day or presents on my birthday and Christmas—equally anonymous, those. No proof, but one Tom is bad enough. I’d rather not even think of a second, er…” His face twists to a grimace. “Stalker is a word for it, I guess.”

Draco raises an eyebrow. “No family or friends who it might be?”

But Potter shakes his head. “My family is… estranged. My Aunt and Uncle didn’t raise me to expect celebration of my birthdays or inclusion in holidays. And… friends weren’t exactly an option, growing up like that, and once I was a bit older… well. Then I met Tom.”

Draco taps his pen on the page, wondering what of that to write down. All of it, he supposes, though… anyone could see there is a story there, with his family, but that’s not what he’s here to ask about. And they are drifting further from the questions, yet… “And how old were you at that point?”

“I met him about a year after I started working, so I would have been… fourteen? August of ninety-four. I was probably about sixteen when it became more than simple customer service interactions, though as for more specifically, ah, dating, if you could call it that… I moved in with him the day I turned eighteen. Thirty-first of July, nineteen ninety-eight.”

“You… lived together?”

“Somewhat. The flat was a birthday gift, paid ahead for the whole year, in my name. I insisted on paying my own rent when that ended. And the year after that, I moved out, as soon as I got free of the lease.”

Draco’s writing pauses again. “Do you have the landlord’s contact information, by any chance?” he asks. “Name? Phone number? The address?”

Frowning, Potter shifts in his seat, working a cell phone out of his jeans’ pocket. “I might have an old email? Give me a minute. This phone only works half the time, but it might…”

Draco waits. He understands cellphone trouble. His personal is the new ‘iPhone’, which his mother had gifted to him that summer, when he changed departments, never mind that he has a Blackberry for work, never mind that the transfer wasn’t something to celebrate. She misses being able to spoil him, Draco thinks, to doll him up like she did when he was a child, though she still gives him more clothing than he will ever use. Most of it completely unsuited to wear on the job, of course. Oh, I was just getting a dress for that gala Lucius was invited to by the Parkinsons, and she had this lovely fabric—see how it compliments your complexion? And I just had to get you something, dear, though I know you said you won’t be able to make it again… You know, their Pansy really is a lovely girl...

At least she is subtle in her little shows. Besides—these days, Draco can’t warrant spending his limiting salary on the quality of clothing he prefers, so he lets it slide.

His father, on the other hand, doesn’t try to disguise his distaste for Draco’s chosen profession in luxurious bribes. Yes, clearly someone has to enforce the law, or the masses will devolve into the uncivilized brutes they are. But we are Malfoys, Draco. We’re here to write the laws, not practice them.

“Oh, here we go,” says Potter, and Draco blinks. He must be more tired than he thought. He takes a sip of his coffee as Potter slides his phone across the table, and copies down the information in the email signature. A London address. His eyes drift up to the body of the email—something about not getting the full deposit back—but it’s unrelated. None of his business. “Thank you,” he says, and tears his eyes away. Looks back over his list of questions.

He’s getting too invested in this. It’s supposed to just be a primary interview, to feel out whether Potter will be any use, or if he’s just another absolute nutter. In, out, back to London. Focus.

He clears his throat. “So, to confirm, the last time you saw Riddle was the thirty-first of December, nineteen ninety-nine?”

“Er, no, not exactly,” says Potter. His hands, wandering again, adjust one of the straps of his apron. “It—New Year’s Eve is also his birthday. He—”

“Do you—sorry—do you know what year?”

Potter thinks about it, not seeming to notice Draco’s baited breath. “I think he was turning thirty, in ninety-nine,” he says. “So, what, sixty-nine? Oh, that’s probably wrong—maths, you know…”

“Sixty… nine, yes, that should be right,” Draco figures. If that’s accurate, It would make Riddle thirty-seven now. Older than they’d thought, which was… even more notable, with Potter’s story in mind. Eleven years older is substantial, for a nineteen-year-old, and a creep like that, God knows how long… Well, who is Draco to judge? “Sorry. You were saying?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah. There’s always a party, to celebrate both things, I guess. I… kinda pointedly didn’t show up. Before that… well, I’d seen him on the thirtieth, I think, ‘cause some of my things were at one of his places—and no, I don’t know the address. I could find it for you on foot, but that one was in Sutton. I only went there a handful of times.”

“One of his places? And the one he gave you… he had many? Flats, I mean?”

“Flats, houses… He did, or his… ah, friends, did, but that was essentially the same thing.” Potter itches his chin, his stubble making a scratchy sound. “So the last time I spoke to him directly was the thirtieth. I saw him a few times, though—there was a cafe across from where I used to work, with seating outside, and he’d have lunch there, not that he’d ever done before. And then he happened to be at a shopping center where I was scheduled for a delivery… I quit that place fairly quickly after that. He stopped showing up when I started working here, at least where I could see him, and I thought maybe enough time had passed, but… well…”

“The gifts kept showing up,” Draco guesses.

“Yeah. And…” Potter sighs again, and takes another drink of his coffee. “At risk of sounding paranoid, he has always had people. If we’d be out and, uh, something caught his attention, he’d turn and wave over someone who’d apparently been following us all along, and I’d never even noticed, and tell them something and…”

He squirms in his seat. Draco’s writing this down, of course, but his mind is flying a mile a minute, even as Potter hesitates. This is the closest thing Potter’s mentioned to witnessing a crime, and—is Draco getting ahead of himself? Come on, one thing at a time...

“I never listened closely enough to that sort of thing; willful ignorance, I suppose. But after I left… it is rather terrifying, you know, to have that sort of memory and work with crowds of strangers. Even if we’re eighty percent regulars here, sometimes people show up and…”

He glances at Draco again, seeming to wait for Draco’s reaction. Expecting something, though what?

“I see,” says Draco. He isn’t sure what else to add, not here, not in a first interview, so he clears his throat, and glances down at his notes. “So, the last time you saw him was…?”

“Two thousand one, I think.” Draco writes it down.

Then he glances at the next question. Come on, just stick to the list… But, no, he has to…

“If you don’t mind me asking,” he begins, hoping Potter gets the drift that this isn’t strictly part of the prescribed list—he is at least going to be intentionally open about the deviation, this time.

“Please.”

“You don’t seem particularly surprised that Riddle is being investigated, and it sounds like in those few years you might have witnessed some incriminating things. That you believe Riddle to be a dangerous man. And I, at least, can understand if your own safety has been your top priority—” Potter nods slightly. Encouraging. “—so I have to ask. Why now? If you’ve kept your head down all this time, why respond at all?”

Potter is quiet for a minute, and unlike at the beginning of the interview, his deliberation is understood. Expected.

“Probably ‘cause of what I read about the RRS, to be honest,” he says at last, gazing out at the rain-washed street. “Where cases go to die? I don’t have a television, I’m not online all that much—I just happened to see the call for information when I was down at the pub. The ad. That name, on the telly… And I was probably a bit pissed to begin with… it stuck with me. I couldn’t shake it. So I looked up the RRS, and…”

His eyes focus again, and he looks more directly at Draco. “I don’t know how much help I can be to you, but I’m guessing I’m one of the few people alive who has ever known Tom as a person. I know he’s exceptionally careful not to leave any traces of himself, that probably even where there might have been information to find, it’s probably been... deleted. And I know…”

He takes a deep breath.

“I was just a kid. He didn’t try to bring me in on—But he might have. Eventually. After the fascination of a teenager he fancied himself to have feelings for wore away. And I… Tom showed up, and at first I thought it was the best thing the world had ever done for me. But it… out of the fire and into the frying pan, you know? I had to stop pretending at some point, and I got away. I found a way to get myself away. I was brave, and naive, and foolish, and by all rights should have gotten myself killed, and—”

He cuts off again, shaking his head. “I had to stop pretending at some point,” he repeats, softer, but firm. “This case… it can’t die. Not if you don’t want it to take a whole lot more victims with it.”

They stare at each other for a minute, until at last Draco nods, slowly, and eases out his breath. So he’s right—Potter had considered himself a kid. A desperate kid, looking for help. The picture Draco has been forming since he was first briefed on Riddle is beginning to crystallize. He takes another drink of his cappuccino, to give that space, though the foam’s begun to deflate and go cold.

If Potter is making this all up, he’s damn good at it. But Draco didn’t think he is. There’s a chance that, just this once, he might have landed an actual lead, a key to progress on one of their cases. Him. Draco Malfoy, glorified tea boy.

Granger is going to be livid. Ah, little victories.

A timer goes off in the kitchen, and Potter glances at Draco before moving to deal with it. When he reappears, he says, “You’ve about twenty minutes left. And I’m not off until six, and you’ll probably want to get back to London before then, so…”

“Right,” says Draco, looking back at his page. “Next question, then… how familiar are you with the name ‘Voldemort’?”

Chapter Text

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. TUESDAY, 9 OCTOBER, 2007. 16:05.

 

“You’re late,” Severus says the moment Draco comes through the door, not bothering to look up from his laptop. “I’ve been waiting for my tea for thirty-five minutes.”

Draco is half tempted to dump the tea out into one of the sinks in the room, but Severus would only bully him into fetching another. “Out of curiosity,” he asks instead, “What would you do if it were Granger who’d just walked in that door, and you’d snapped at her like that?”

Severus minimizes the files he has open, leaving the standard agency blue desktop background beaming the RRS logo out at them as he turns around. “You assume that I would make such a mistake,” he says coolly, eyes narrowed.

Ah. He’s in a mood. Draco waits; Severus advances.

“Miss Granger wears shoes with a distinct click to the heels when she is in the office. Even when she is wearing more practical shoes, her stride is markedly shorter than yours, and her footsteps sound much different. She also knocks before she comes in, even if the door is open, and, of course—” His spindly fingers wrap around the mug of tea balanced on Draco’s file as he jerks his chin back towards where he’d been, “There are plenty of reflective surfaces on that counter. Amazing, isn’t it, how those work.”

“You’re just as charming as ever,” Draco drawls.

“Hm. Am I?” Dark eyes flick up and down, over Draco. “You’ve been out. What errand did our Madame Director set you on this time?”

Severus Snape is not by any means a pleasant man. He doesn’t look it, with his greasy black hair pulled back in a tail at the nape of his neck, his ragged goatee, his constant scowl; and he doesn’t sound it, either, no matter how much charming potential his baritone voice could have, if it came from the mouth of someone else. There’s a good chance that it is, in fact, impossible for Severus to speak without insulting someone in the process. When Granger had taken control of the RRS, one of her first acts was to move him down into a private lab and to make it clear that trainees were not to disturb him. It was more a matter of practicality than generosity: Severus had previously been single-handedly responsible for ninety percent of drop-outs. Though he'd only ever had to work directly with a handful of trainees, if one was unfortunate enough to run into him in the halls or, heaven forbid, thought to ask him a question about one of his reports… And though Severus would never admit to such frivolity, Draco knows Severus takes a certain amount of pride in his reputation for verbally humiliating even the most promising of the new recruits. 

But if his well-recorded harassment isn’t enough, well, it isn’t the only black mark on Severus’s reputation.

He’d made his entrance into the force working undercover on one of the biggest cases of the last thirty years—the Grindelwald case, the massive conspiracy that led to more law enforcement officers killed than any other event in recorded history and turned up scandals in practically every level of the government. Undercover work rarely earned friends, regardless of how important it may be. How many times has Draco heard it suggested that Severus had never really been on the side of the law, that when they finally unmasked the criminal the papers had dubbed the ‘Dark Lord’ Grindelwald and unraveled his criminal empire Severus had slithered his way into exaggerating a cushy excusal from all wrong-doing? Cop-killer, they hiss whenever he upsets someone better liked. Along with his ubiquitous title: bloody bastard.

Draco’s probably called him a bastard more times than anyone else would dare. But the former? Well, Severus doesn’t like to talk about Grindelwald, and the records of his debriefing are going to be classified until the end of time. It is only his continued freedom and employment that gives Draco any substantial evidence in denying it.

Severus is also undeniably one of the most brilliant men the force has ever seen, which is probably the main reason they haven’t fired him yet. That and Granger’s interference; for all Draco dislikes her, she has a utilitarian streak a mile wide, and perhaps a certain weakness for having someone around to keep pace with her insufferable brilliance—

It hardly matters. What is more important than any of this is that Severus is Draco’s godfather. That spares Draco the worst of his insults and provides each of them with a somewhat friendly face within the RRS. As such, if anyone but Granger needs something from the man, Draco is sent to liaison.

For now, though, he is here on his regular errand; afternoon tea. Pre-emptive riot control. Keeping Severus as far away from the breakroom (read: the unprotected masses) as possible. He clears his throat. “Had an interview; another lead on Riddle. This one’s actually got merit.”

Severus grunts into his mug, turning back to his laptop. Mind probably already off on other things. Despite one of his degrees being in psychology, Severus puts little stock in things like interviews and eyewitness testimony. The mind is fallible, he’s told Draco more times than one, often with a note of irritation in his voice. Science doesn’t care about personal biases. Evidence is facts, not conjecture.

A rather unpopular outlook in a unit with a heavy bent towards criminal psychology, but which of Severus’s opinions are otherwise? And it isn't as though Severus doesn't know exactly the ways that evidence can be manipulated. It doesn’t stop him from lecturing Draco on the matter.

“Said he was Riddle’s ex, if you could call it that," Draco pushes on. "We didn’t go into it, but the situation sounded… abusive, to say the least. He said it’s been about eight years, but also that there’s been what you might classify as stalking going on since then. Unwanted contact. Gifts.”

“So Riddle is the sugar daddy who won’t take no for an answer.”

Draco coughs, choking back an inappropriate laugh. “Not as far off as you might think. Especially considering the guy's my age, and says Riddle is thirty-seven. So at the time... well.”

He leans back against one of the counters, mindful of anything left out—not that Severus would ever let him close enough to something to contaminate, but he is very particular about where things are placed—and flips open the file, scanning it again. Most of the pages inside are empty documents, to be filled out when Potter is brought in, but on top is the single page he’d filled out today, his cursive growing steadily smaller as he’d started to think maybe Potter was telling the truth. He'd come directly from his debriefing with Granger, and hadn't had time to drop it on his desk before bringing Severus his tea.

“Harry James Potter, from Little Whinging, Surrey. Little Whinging. Not the place you’d expect a character like Tom Riddle to show up in.”

Severus’s hand still, and his back goes rigid, and he turns around slowly, eyes on the file. “...Harry James Potter?” he echoes.

“Yeah, that’s what he said,” Draco confirms. “About as common a name as you can get, isn’t it? I've no real reason to think it's an alias, though I wouldn't put it past him. He was a rather… odd person, to say the least.”

“Let me see that,” Severus demands, and snatches the file without waiting for Draco’s assent. His eyes scan the page faster than he could possibly read any of it, and then he flips it away, and past the next, but doesn’t seem to find what he’s looking for—“What did he look like? Tall? Black hair?”

“Not particularly tall, no… five foot six, maybe? He was… scrawny, so it was hard to tell. But black hair, yes, and glasses. Green eyes.” Draco looks carefully at the man, surprised by his sudden fervor. “You know him, Severus? He didn’t seem…”

He trails off, though, because now that he’s thought of it, Potter’s brand of self-isolation might not be so different from his godfather’s. Maybe there’s a Recluses United that Severus is the head of…  Only, Potter seemed… kinder, and less like he is denying that he cares about anyone so much as that he simply does not have anyone to care about.

Severus shoves the file back towards Draco without answering, turning back to his laptop and letting his fingers fly over the keys. A moment later, he has an internet tab open to a news archive, scrolling down until he finds October 1981, and produces a sound of triumph as he clicked on the link. He turns it towards Draco before it’s managed to fully load, and he reads the headline— THE ‘DARK LORD’S’ LAST —before the image loads in. When it does, his breath catches in surprise, and he glances up again to confirm the date—yes, 1981. If he hadn’t seen it, though, he would swear it is a picture of the same man he met this morning, albeit in a police uniform rather than a coffee-stained apron, and standing next to a woman with bright red hair.

“Looks just like him,” he says. Severus glances down, sees the image, and scowls.

“James Potter, the last officer shot and killed personally by Gellert Grindelwald on Halloween, nineteen eighty-one,” he says darkly. “Lily Potter tried to get away but got caught in the kitchen, so she grabbed cooking knives and started throwing them at him when he followed her. Not a brilliant move, but from what we can tell, it was that or cower in fear. One of her knives even hit Grindelwald’s leg, enough to hinder his movements, whereas his bullet hit her in the stomach, and angled up to tear through her lung. Grindelwald did not make it from the house, though supposedly he tried to go after their child. Her incapacitation was more… fatal.”

Bullet wounds to the stomach are some of the most painful, and a punctured lung… Not a pretty way to die, if there is such a thing. “He did say he grew up with extended family,” Draco muses, though it had only been an offhand remark. They hadn’t spoken about his parents. “Did you know him? James Potter, I mean?”

“He was a pretentious arse,” Severus says. He sets down the laptop. “Went to Hogwarts at the same time I did. Your father might have met him as well.”

“Huh,” says Draco. It isn’t entirely unusual; Hogwarts, the boarding school Draco had also gone to, for whatever reason regularly turns out a high volume of alumni who end up in law-related jobs. The RRS is chock full of them—Moody's legacy, and now Granger's. “I’ll have to ask him. This Potter seemed alright.”

Severus snorts. “I wouldn’t bother asking if I were you. A Potter’s a Potter. I’ll bet he’s just like his father,” he grumbles, folding into his tea again. “Is Granger going to have him brought in?”

Draco watches Severus for a moment, and it's only because he's known the man for so long that he can see the signs: the impossible paling of his pallid skin, the slight shake of his surgeon-steady hands, the way his eyes fix into nothingness—Severus does not stare into space. He is too grounded in reality. Evidence. But what is it that has him unsettled? What was he glossing over? Did he not believe what he said, A Potter's a Potter? Was 'pretentious arse', a suspiciously vague comment from Severus, code for some deeper woe—or did he not believe that Potter was a Potter at all? Or—

Or is the whole matter that they were victims of Grindelwald? The last victims of Grindelwald. Who Severus had known from school, and shared some level of connection to. Severus was difficult enough to get to talk about his time as a double agent, and while no one else in the RRS would ever believe him saying so, Draco knew that Severus's life was ruled by guilt. If that applied here—that for all his sacrifice working undercover, Severus hadn't been able to collect the necessary evidence to bring down Grindelwald before he had gone and murdered the young couple—

Draco clears his throat. He's not insensitive enough to ask such things directly, and Severus wouldn't give him a proper answer if he did. He can ask his father, if it remains relevant, but for now, Severus had asked him a question.

“Yeah. She looked about ready to arrange for protective custody, just from what he told me. I bet there’ll be tears at his real interview, and they won’t be from him or me.”

“Joy.”

“Well, at least I’ll get to stick around for this one,” Draco points out. “She agreed to let me stay with it. I’ll actually be on a case, full-time.”

“How delightful,” Severus drawls. He's turned fully away now, the last hints of his disquietude hidden behind his back. “If you’re ‘on a case’, then perhaps that means you’ll be too busy to pester me.”

“Yes, alright; I get it. I’ll remind you that you were the one cross about late tea.” Draco stretches his arms out, wincing as his spine cracks. “Could you send me a copy of that? I’m supposed to be cross-checking what Potter told me. It might help.”

“I’ll print it to Granger’s office. You can pick it up when you tell her to come down here. We need to have a... chat.”

 

 

Draco spends the rest of the afternoon trolling the internet for more information on what Potter had told him about. The flat, in particular, might be a good lead, but the website is horribly out of date and reviews are scarce, mostly people whining about how they didn’t get their full deposit back or how it takes weeks to get any sort of response to maintenance reports. Nothing out of the ordinary, from what he can see, though he notes the phone number and email provided are different from what he’d gotten from Potter’s email. Eight years is a long time, after all, and it might have been sold or passed on to a new landlord. That or Potter had given him personal information, rather than a general contact line. He will have to follow up to tell.

Around five o’clock, he begins to wind down. He scrolls through an email from HR, detailing new policies (half of which Severus has probably already broken today, assuming he left his ‘lab’ at all), but nothing new has come in from Granger. There is only so much Draco could do without talking to Potter again or driving back to Surrey, and that’s not happening tonight. He might as well call it an evening and pack the day full tomorrow.

So the moment the clock strikes five-thirty, he shuts his laptop lid, and stands up, stretching again, and reaches for his jacket—

“Malfoy!” Granger’s shrill voice calls. Draco curses under his breath. Weasley, the obnoxious ginger idiot who Draco is unlucky enough to share a cluster of desks with, snickers, and Draco levels him a glare before he composes his face into placidity and turns around.

“Is there something I can do for you?”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” she says. She’s somehow wrangled her mane of hair into a tight bun since he saw her earlier, which makes her seem even more snippy. “Since you’re so intent on being involved, I’m sending you and Ron to check up on one of the leads mentioned in Mr Potter’s interview.”

“Eh?” Weasley exclaims from behind her, struggling against his swivel chair to sit up straight. “What’ve I done to be stuck with that git?”

“You aren’t doing anything else around here—and don’t bring up the report you’ve been working on for the last two weeks; I’ve told Seamus to do it.” She turns back to Draco, and his stomach twists as he recognizes the smirk threatening her poker face. “Besides, the two of you will be delighted to catch up with an old schoolmate, I’m sure.”

“Schoolmate?” Draco echoes. He thinks quickly over the interview, but he doesn’t recall anyone from Hogwarts coming up…

“Yes. The shop Mr Potter says he’s been getting flowers from? Sprout’s and Seedlings?”

Behind Draco, Weasley groans. “Okay, scratch what I said before—I’ll go, but without Malfoy, honestly. Why’dya want to ruin Nev’s week, Hermione?”

Draco finally puts two and two together. “Nev—he meant Neville Longbottom?"

“Is that going to be a problem for you?”

“For me? Of course not. I’m just surprised the building’s still standing, if he’s in charge even ten percent of the time.”

Granger narrows her eyes. “I’m sending you because you’re the one who talked to Mr Potter, Malfoy. If your personal history is going to at all distract you from the case…”

“Of course not,” Draco repeats, straightening up a bit. “And—Weasley will be there for the niceties, anyhow.”

“Oy!”

Granger continues to stare, her gaze level, but at last she nods. “Very well. After that, you’re both dismissed. Malfoy, I need you to pick up Mr Potter at six-thirty tomorrow morning. I’ll email you his address.”

Draco’s eyebrows arch. “You want…” He catches himself, sees her just daring him to say anything. “...alright.”

“He doesn’t have a car, and considering everything… I’d have you over there tonight, if he hadn’t been so adamantly against it.”

“You’re really pulling him into custody, then?”

“If he is who he says he is—who Severus says he is—he could have the information that finally changes our luck in this case. The more information we have on Riddle, the better. I’m not risking that getting away from us.”

“Could also be a trap,” says Weasley, offhand. Draco and Granger are both caught off guard. “What?” he asks as they turn to stare at him. “Just saying. After all the people you’ve sent us out to interview, this one just happens to be Riddle’s ex-boyfriend, who just happens to come along with a sob story, and just happens to want to ‘do the right thing’ instead of carrying on keeping Riddle’s secrets, which very well might get him killed to share—what’re you looking at me like that for?”

Draco glances over at Granger, who is looking at Weasley like he’s sprouted a second head. “Sometimes I think you find it amusing to remind people how you ended up here and why you haven’t been fired yet, Weasley. You seem to have shocked Madame Director.”

It’s possible the most generous thing a Malfoy has ever said to a Weasley.

Granger clamps her mouth shut. “Get moving, the two of you,” she orders. “I am not paying overtime if you’re late.”

“What? Hermione—”

 

 

SPROUT’S AND SEEDLINGS (GARDEN CENTRE), FELTHAM. TUESDAY, 9 OCTOBER, 2007. 18:50.

 

To call Sprout’s and Seedlings a flower shop would be a bit like calling London a quiet village. There are flowers, of course—the perfume of them makes Draco’s head spin—but that is only the first room. Beyond is a sprawling, glass-roofed nursery, where several conjoined greenhouses divide into different themes, more plants than Draco had seen in one place since they’d gone on a class trip to a botanical garden back in his Hogwarts years. In one room that makes up the flower shop portion, a squat woman with curly grey hair and green and brown stains covering her fingers and apron greets them.

“‘lo, Mona,” says Weasley, narrowly avoiding knocking over a bucket of daisies as he weaves his way towards her. “Is Neville around?”

“Yes, yes, he’s back convincing the cactuses they're not in England, Ronald,” she says. Then she catches sight of Draco, which for some inexplicable reason makes her grin. “Brought along another one of your friends from that school, have you? Hermione did say you’d be with someone else, this time. I’m Pomona Sprout, love.”

“Draco Malfoy.”

“Yeah, he went to Hogwarts,” Weasley says, glancing warily at Draco, as though afraid what might come out of his unwelcome companion’s mouth. But he doesn’t seem as eager as usual to inform Sprout that they are definitely not friends. “But we’re here for work, actually.”

Her whole face scrunches up in confusion. “Neville’s not gone and gotten himself in trouble, has he?”

Weasley snorts. “Of course not. Nev couldn’t hurt a fly. It alright if we use the lounge? I dunno if we’ll be here past close.”

“Go right ahead; Neville’s got the keys. An’ help yourself to some of the biscuits on the counter back there, would you? They’ll be stale tomorrow.”

“Will do.”

He leads the way into the nursery, following signs that pointed to ‘Arid Plants’ with long, confident strides, leading the way between rows of bright flowers, grasses with sharp striped blades, sweet-smelling herbs, and bushes grown and trimmed into careful shapes. Underneath the constant rumble of rain against the glass, the sound of running water is coming from somewhere, and occasionally Draco hears muted conversations, though it being so close to closing time on a Tuesday, they only come across a handful of customers as they cross the shop.

“How long’s Longbottom worked here?” Draco asks quietly as Weasley turns them sharply to the right. Ahead he can see a door in the glass wall, the other side seeming to glow with warmth. A trick of the lights.

“Since graduating Hogwarts,” Weasley replies. “It was supposed to just be for a gap year before uni, but he liked it so much…”

Nine years, then. Draco’s only worked as one of Granger’s agents for the last three and a half months, after being transferred in from the Serious Fraud Office, where he’d been for a just under a year after being recruited from the Metropolitan Police. Maybe it’s from all the shifting about, or maybe it’s because of how Granger insists on treating him like a newby—she’d somehow managed to secure her position at the head of their division in only four years, something that ought to have been impossible if she weren’t Hermione bloody Granger—though really they’ve been working in law enforcement around the same amount of time, but he still sometimes feels like he is still in training. For Longbottom to have been doing this one thing this whole time… Nine years…

Even having that thought does not prepare Draco for the man they find in the arid room. And Longbottom is, indisputably, a man, as tall as Weasley but with a broader, more muscular build, hair neatly trimmed and falling fashionably around his face—anything but the pudgy, ruddy-faced boy who’d tripped and stammered his way through Hogwarts. He is—dare Draco even think it?— fit. And bent over a cactus of some sort when they come in, sweating slightly in the artificial desert climate the heaters churn into the room, but he straightens up quickly, dropping a pair of headphones around his neck, and greets Weasley with an easy grin, his baritone voice nearly making Draco jump. “Hey, Ron. Hermione rang me up to say you’d be around.”

“Evenin’, Nev. Mona said there’s biscuits in the lounge we can eat.”

“Thinking with your stomach again, I see.” Longbottom sets aside the tool he was using and takes off his gloves as he speaks, tucking them into his apron. Though in Draco’s memories he’d been the clumsiest boy anyone had seen, Longbottom-the-Man’s apron is less stained than Sprout’s was, and his hands are significantly cleaner. Which comes as a relief, a few moments later, when he steps forward and sticks one hand out. “Draco. It’s been a while.”

Draco only stares for a moment before shaking it. So they’re doing this, then? Alright.

“Neville. It has.”

“That’s bloody weird, that is,” Weasley says as they both let go.

“Hasn’t Hermione gotten you to grow up, yet, Ron?” Longbottom—no, Neville asks. “Actually, don’t answer that; you’re going to turn it lewd. Come on. Hannah’s parents are coming round for supper at seven; I promised I'd be back by then.”

He leads the way out of the arid room and between rows of plants, pausing, now and then, to snag dead leaves or straighten pots as they go by. “This is quite the place,” Draco comments, hoping to keep control of the conversation, knowing Weasley won’t have a chance at leading the interview. He’d read over the file in the car on the way over, but spent so much time making fun of Draco’s ‘girly’ cursive he couldn’t have taken in much of it.

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? Mona started it almost thirty years ago after inheriting a good chunk of money, and it’s been growing ever since. We’ve got customers who come from all over, since we have a wide variety of exotic plants.”

Draco can only nod, realizing he has nothing to add, and when Weasley cuts in with a question about ‘Hannah’—Neville’s fiance, he gathers, who apparently went to Hogwarts—he lets it slide. Every time Neville speaks, Draco faces an uncomfortable mental re-calibration. He isn’t even sure what he thinks of this new, composed, thoroughly adult Neville Longbottom, since he is too busy trying to connect the dots between the past and present to give it proper thought. It should make things easier, though. No self-conscious little boy to slow them down.

The ‘lounge’ turns out to be a staff room, complete with a sign on the door reading S&S Employees Only Beyond This Point. There’s only one person inside, a teenager with her feet up on the table typing at breakneck speed on her cell phone’s keypad. Neville kicks her out, telling her to go help Mona with closing, while Weasley snags a basket of biscuits off the counter. Gingersnaps, from the looks of them, and home-baked, but Draco doesn’t take any.

“So,” says Neville when the door swung shut behind the girl, plopping easily into the seat she’d abandoned. Draco sits across from him, eyeing the scuff marks her shoes had left on the table. “What can I do for you lads tonight?”

“It’s official business,” Weasley says, not bothering to swallow his bite before he speaks. Neville rolls his eyes.

“Oh. Right. Uh-huh. Very official, of course, Ron.”

“How about I do the talking, Weasley, so you don’t speak while eating, yes? Since we are on official business, after all,” Draco says, doing his best not to roll his eyes. He focuses on Neville instead, drawing out one of the empty forms from the file and scrawling the date in before pausing. “How’s your handwriting?”

“Legible enough,” Neville responds. Draco pushes the form towards him, tapping on a few of the boxes with the pen before handing it over.

“If you could fill out your full name and contact info. It’s faster than me asking for it.”

“You know you don’t need to do that,” Weasley says. “Me an’ Hermione have his number. Hermione’s even got one of those address books, with actual addresses in it.”

“It’s ‘official business’, Ron,” Neville replies lightly, filling in the form. He writes in print, a bit shaky but clear. His middle name is Augustus, and he has a street address, not a flat number. How… adult. Nine years, Draco, catch up. “Here you go.”

“Right,” says Draco. He takes it back and glances down at the page. “Could you tell me when you began working here?”

“I already told you that,” Weasley grumbles. Draco elects to ignore him.

“Since August of ninety-eight,” Neville replies. “After graduating in June. Been here ever since.”

The extra information is unnecessary, but it gives Draco time to write, so that’s fine. “And deliveries. Would you say you get a lot of those orders?”

“For the flowers, you mean? Sure. Especially around Valentine’s day, but we get weddings and things as well. Birthdays. Christmas wreaths. Etcetera.”

“And you yourself have made the deliveries.”

Neville hums. “Well, less now than I did when I first started,” he says. “It gets put on the part-time staff, for the most past. Not exactly the best idea to have the managers out of the store. But I’ll take a few, if it’s especially busy. Or quiet.”

‘Yes’, Draco scrawls down there; so far Neville matches the description Potter had given him. Now onto the more specific things.

“We are currently working on a case involving one Harry James Potter,” he says, watching Neville’s face for a reaction. “Who has reported receiving flowers from this shop on occasion. Would you say that’s accurate?”

“Harry? Sure.” The reaction is unnoteworthy: Neville merely looks a bit puzzled. “Good bloke, though he’s a bit quiet. Good cook, too. He’s exactly one day younger than me, actually.”

“How did that come up?” Draco asks. What he wants to ask is, How close are you to Potter? , but one question at a time. Stacking questions never moves anything along.

“Oh, we went out to a pub, once… third year in? Saw his ID. It was kind of a pity party at the time, you know. Two single blokes on Valentine's day, him with some creep sending him flowers… I’d stop taking them, but it’s become something of a joke.” He pauses. “Is he actually doing something about that? I didn’t think he ever would.”

“Could you describe what you mean by ‘that’? So we are on the same page, is all.”

“Sure,” Neville says, and he thinks about it for a moment. “Well, he gets in orders every year, doesn’t he? Anonymous. Mailed with no return address, cash in the envelope. A note that the extra is gratuity for the delivery. That… is what we are talking about, right?”

“Right,” Draco confirms.

“Not really sure what I can tell you about it, especially not that Harry couldn’t have,” Neville says. “Seems a shame to come all the way out here for that.”

“The RRS isn’t anything if not thorough,” Draco replies drably.

Neville tries to keep his face straight, but after a moment he gives up and grins, never mind that they’re in the middle of a formal investigation. “A Hermione Granger quote from the mouth of Draco Malfoy. See, Ron? The worth of growing up?”

Weasley scowls, but Draco cuts in smoothly, aware that he is flushing and not particularly liking it: “But we do have to fight traffic getting back, and you have your date with your fiance’s parents…”

“Right,” Neville says, composing himself. “Go on.”

Draco clears his throat. “Does the name ‘Tom Riddle’ ring any bells?”

That seems to catch the man off guard. “Tom… Riddle? Er, no, not really… Tom Riddle… That the name of Harry’s, uh, admirer?”

“Possibly,” says Draco. “There’s a chance that the man bothering Potter is the same person we are investigating in other circumstances, which is why it is an RRS matter.”

“Tom Riddle… I could check the mailing list if you like. There’s access on the desktop, in there.” He gestured to a closed door on the other side of the room.

“If you don’t mind?”

It’s a long shot. Tom Riddle, from the burgeoning image Draco has of him, doesn’t seem likely to be on the mailing list for a garden shop.

“Alright—you might as well come in here with me; it’ll take a minute to load…”

Draco follows Neville to a side door as the man fishes a keychain from his apron, a ring binding both keys and a green-handled, rusting pocket knife. The room beyond the door turns out to be a small storage space converted into an office. The walls are covered in posters with information about plants and trees, a collection of framed watercolors on the wall, which—Draco peers closer—

“Did you do these?”

“Huh?” Neville glances over and smiles. “Oh, yeah, er… it’s a bit of a hobby. Can’t do much but plants, but…”

“They’re… remarkable,” Draco says, trying and failing not to sound too impressed. They really are, though; simple line work and watercolors, plenty of white space without looking empty.

“Thanks. I—argh, come on; this blasted computer…”

Draco looks away from the paintings, around the rest of the room. The desk seems to belong to someone with a fetish for sticky notes; not Neville, by the writing. The whole office is cluttered, too much crammed into too little space, and it is missing the greenhouse windows present in the rest of the building, worsening the effect. Neville stands, leaning over the back of a swivel chair, rather than sitting as he frantically clicks the mouse, trying to keep the computer from rebooting for updates. The only other seat in the room, a metal folding chair with a bent leg, is stacked high with catalogs of some sort, despite the abundance of filing cabinets—

“Do you keep records, of the delivery orders you get?” Draco asks, an idea sparking.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, uh… they’re in here for this year, but older ones are in Mona’s attic, I think…” He glances around, and points at one in the corner, pressing himself up closer to the desk to let Draco by. “February should be in the top drawer there, though there’s a lot for Valentines’ Day. I guess most are printed copies of orders through the website these days, but…”

The drawer, as Neville said, is packed full, and dust stirs up as he opens it, and Draco pulls out the three overloaded files full of forms for the 14th and takes them out with him back to the lounge, there not being any room to sort through them in the office. “Weasley, give me a hand with these, would you?” he says, pushing one into Weasley’s biscuit-free hand as he goes by.

“What’m I s’posed to do with it?”

“Look for the order sent to ‘Harry Potter’. You can manage that much, right?”

“Shove off, Malfoy,” Weasley snaps, but he joins Draco at the table and opens his folder anyways.

A few minutes later, they each have growing stacks of order forms, invoices, and delivery receipts in front of them as Neville reemerges from the office. “No luck, I’m afraid. Want a hand with that?”

“If you would…”

“Of course.” He takes the third file, flipping it open. “Were there more questions?”

Draco glances at the sheet he’d brought, abandoned to one side. It isn’t all that useful… he’ll have Weasley fill it out on the ride back. Everyone knows Weasley is good at bullshitting last-minute reports.

“You say you’ve gone to the pub with Mr Potter before?”

“Only the once, but yes. He’s swung by here before, too, looking for catnip.”

“What is your impression of him?”

“Impression?” Neville’s hands slow, and he looks thoughtful. Distant. “Well, it’s changed over the years, I suppose. Of course, first time I met him I was still fairly new to the job, and it was my first time doing deliveries, and he was the last on the list for the day… Most people, you send them flowers on Valentine’s day and they’re excited. Happy. You get a few who roll their eyes—I’ve had a few doors slammed in my face since then, though not that year. But Harry, he looked like he was going to faint. It was strange to begin with, delivered to some kid who looked—he was skinny. Really skinny. Shorter than he is now; grew a bit late, I guess. And right at the south edge of how far we’ll deliver. He tried to get me to bring them back to the shop, but I told him I couldn’t, and eventually he gave in. Just wanted me to go away, I think.

“And then later that year, again, there were some house plants, only he’d moved down to Surrey, and he looked more resigned. I hadn’t realized it was the same person until he opened the door. He was… a bit friendlier, I guess, though he still looked pale… maybe because it wasn’t Valentine’s day. Asked me how to take care of them, which was—the first actual conversation we had, though he didn’t say much. And then the next year, Valentine’s again, and… I think that was the year his… aunt, I think, died, so he got sent flowers for that. He offered me tea, that time, so he could ask me about one of the plants he’d been sent before...”

He pauses. Shakes his head. Looks back down at the folder. “I’m off track. The pub. Well, we were both having a bad day, being single and all, and we went out to a place down the street from his. He told me a bit about the one sending them. An old flame who wouldn’t let go, or at least, that’s how he tried to make it sound. But he got pretty pissed. Bartender told me he’d never seen him in there with anyone else, but he seemed like a good kid. Never caused trouble, always paid his tab. I stayed on his couch—we were so pissed, but… He can cook a mean omelet, I can tell you—oh! Here we go.”

He passes Draco a group of papers stapled together. On top is a receipt, signed by Potter—though only the ‘H’ and the ‘P’ are legible.

Beneath that is the order form. Neville and Weasley crowd on either side of him, and it’s Weasley who made the first comment—“That looks like your handwriting, Malfoy. You sure you’re not the one stalking this guy?”

Draco scoffs. “Just because you can’t manage cursive doesn’t mean everyone who can is the same person, Weasley.”

“It’s very nice cursive, though,” Neville points out. “Almost like, um, script, I guess.”

Well, whoever wrote it had a proper pen and lots of practice, as their were descenders thick and their ascenders thin in an even, habitual way. It's different from Draco’s writing, though. Draco could still manage proper calligraphy if he tried, but he would never waste the time or effort on something like an order form.

Neville reaches over to point at a specific line. “Even if I didn’t have the delivery slip on hand, I’d still know it was for Harry, just from that.”

“Lily of the Valley?”

“Yup. We normally only offer them with wedding packages, since those orders are put in so far in advance, and they’re normally not in bloom until March, April, anyways. But Mona likes them, likes to keep a few flowering in her own greenhouse year round—her niece had them in her wedding bouquet and she’s grown them since…”

“Why aren’t they normally in Valentine’s bouquets?”

“Well, they’re poisonous, for one,” says Neville. “Not that most people are going to try and eat them. But mostly we get orders for roses, carnations, tulips… if they want lilies, it’s usually the bigger flowers. Casa Blanca, or Alstroemeria, since they come in pink. And then there’s flower language to consider—” He laughs at the sound Weasley makes. “Yes, Ron, I work in a flower shop; I know these things. I mean, I guess it makes sense in Harry’s case… Most commonly, they’re said to symbolize a ‘return of happiness.’ Harry being the ‘happiness’ this, uh, Tom Riddle guy wants returned, I suppose.” Neville pauses. “But that’s fairly specific. Usually if we get a request like this, it’s an inside thing. I asked Harry about it, a few years ago, but he hadn’t realized. Said he’d never gotten flowers, before this all started. Was about as skeptical as Ron that flower language could be involved, or that there could be any more meaning than ‘I’m a creep who still sends my ex flowers on Valentine’s day, extra creep points for the poison’.”

Draco raises an eyebrow. “And you’ll let people order poisonous flowers?”

“Well, if we think it needs it there’s an information card warning them if they’ve got a pet not to let them nearby, but yeah. Most people don’t go around eating the flowers we deliver.”

Draco looks back down at the order form, but there’s nothing else really to go by. Apparently, £60 had been included pay for the order, though, which seems unreasonable to Draco… Not that he’s ever ordered anyone a bouquet before.

“Lily,” says Weasley suddenly. “Wasn’t that his mum’s name?”

Draco nods, considering it. If Potter hadn’t thought of that connection, it was doubtful to be more than a coincidence. Probably Riddle just… likes the flower, and they are looking too deep into this.

“His mum?” Neville echoes.

He sounds confused. “Something strange about that?” Draco asks.

“Er, no. I’m just—he told me about his parents, that night at the pub. When he insisted I stay over, so I wouldn’t be driving drunk. Said his relatives were so ashamed of what they’d done they wouldn’t even tell Harry their names. He must have found out since then, if he told you her name.”

Now Draco is confused, too. “What they’d done?”

He’d read the article Severus had found, and a few others, while he was researching. James and Lily Potter had been celebrated as heroes, especially Lily, the young mother who’d given up her life to take down Grindelwald, bringing an end to the conspiracy of the century.

Neville looks a bit sheepish. “Did he not… he said his parents were, um, driving under the influence, got the three of them in a car crash. He was the only one to survive.”

“A car crash,” Draco echoes. He glances at Weasley, who is frowning, too, and reaching for Draco’s abandoned folder.

“Maybe James Potter was an Uncle, or something?” Weasley says, finding the print-out and scanning the article again.

“The namesake of a nephew about the same age as his own kid, who also happened to be orphaned? That’s a little too convenient, Weasley,” he says. He grabs the article, ignoring Weasley’s protests, and shows Neville the photo.

“What the…”

“Looks just like him, right?”

“You mean James Potter, the police officer?" Neville says incredulously. “And Lily—the last victims of Grindelwald?”

“You know the story?” asks Draco. Is he the only one who hadn’t? He’d known about the case in general, of course, practically everyone did. But why would Neville…

“My parents were lawyers on the case,” Neville spits. “One of his fanatics tried to kill them. Violently. My father’s been in a coma since, and my mum… wasn’t the same.”

Oh. Oh. When Grindelwald had gone on trial, some of his goons who hadn’t been caught had started hunting down the people who were trying to bring him to justice. There’d been attacks on the jail he was being held in, the psychologists brought in to assess his insanity plea, the lawyers on the other side… Draco had known, vaguely, that Neville had been raised by his Grandmother, but he hadn’t known the rest of the story.

He wonders if Neville knows that the ‘fanatic’ that had done the deed was Draco’s Aunt Bellatrix. He imagines—hopes—not. They don’t usually talk his mother’s side of the family.

“Strange,” says Weasley, with his usual lack of tact. “Both born in July, both basically orphaned by Grindelwald… And now, ordering these flowers…”

“Yeah,” says Neville. His voice sounds hollow, and he’s staring at the photo like he can’t quite grasp what he is seeing. “Strange.”

Chapter Text

 

CHARNELL HILL, SURREY. WEDNESDAY, 10 OCTOBER, 2007. 06:35.

 

Draco parks his car contemplating how to make a perfect crime of murdering Hermione Granger.

The sun isn’t even up yet.

He should be just getting out of bed, dragging his feet for his morning jog down to the bakery for a bite to eat, heading back for a shower and then catching the tube to Westminster. Instead, he’s driven to Surrey for the second time in as many days, and is sending a text message to a near-stranger he really hopes is awake, and—

At the knock on his window, Draco actually jumps in his seat, banging his head against the ceiling of his car.

“You can’t park here, mate,” the traffic officer, an arsehole on two legs kitted out in an offensively neon coat, says when Draco rolls the window down.

“I’ll just be a minute,” says Draco. “I’m here on business from the RRS—”

“I don’t care if you’re on business for the bloody queen, you still can’t park here.”

“Excuse me,” says a voice, coming up from the side of the car. Draco glances down to the wing mirror: Potter. Thank God. It is too early for this.

“Didn’t you read the signs? Look, mate—” says the arsehole, ignoring Potter.

“If you let him up to the door, I’ll be on my way. Problem solved.”

The arsehole works his jaw, but relents, and backs up to let Potter get up to the door. “Um,” says Potter, glancing around the car. “Should I—”

“Get in, please, or I think our friend is going to write me a ticket.”

“Right.”

He reaches through the window to pull the lock, and as he opens the door Draco presses the button to roll the glass back up. Potter is dressed… comfortably, to put it in a positive light, wearing a faded green hoodie under a black jacket and a baseball cap. It makes him look like a kid rather than twenty-seven, even with the stubble darkening his jaw, and rather out of place climbing settling onto the car’s leather seat, and even scrawnier than he looked yesterday when he pulls the seatbelt across himself and the hoodie’s extra folds drape over the strap. Draco waits for the telltale click of the belt fastener before starting the car back up, the half-muted sounds of the BBC’s morning news coverage easing into the purr of the motor.

“...nice car,” Potter says as Draco pulls out into the street. “Not the one you drove yesterday.”

“No. That one belonged to the agency.” Draco glances in the mirror, watching the cop shaking his head as he pulls away. If he didn’t have company, he’d flip the bastard off, but that might ruin Potter’s impression of him. “This is mine. A gift from my parents, after graduating.”

Most people in law enforcement don’t actually drive Aston Martins, after all.

“Huh,” says Potter. “Well, thank you for picking me up.”

“Of course,” says Draco. Then there’s an awkward silence, which Draco feels obligated to break. “We should be in Westminster around eight.”

“Alright,” says Potter. Silence, again. Then: “Do you mind if I turn up the radio? I normally listen while I’m opening the shop.”

Oh, thank God. “Go ahead.”

The speaker is just wrapping up the review of the previous day in parliament, which suits Draco fine, and they listen as the announcer details the clearing of the rain from London’s forecast, a chance for sun on Thursday, though Draco is skeptical of that, considering the next story covers flooding in Wales. That’s followed by reports of a boy stabbed over a mobile phone—at which point Draco begins to tune out what’s being said. He gets enough of that sort of thing at work; listening to stories of kids dying from petty violence on the streets is enough to put a damper on anyone’s morning.

They get caught up in traffic as they get deeper into London, which is to be expected—especially at this time of morning. It’s still a bit early for tourists to crowd Westminster, thankfully, though there are crowds coming up from the tube, and then a tour bus attempting to parallel park, blocking the two left lanes.

“It must be frustrating, driving in London every day,” Potter finally says when they get past the bus and make a left turn off the busy street. They’re only a few blocks away from the agency, now, and these are comparably quieter.

“I don’t normally drive,” Draco assures him. “It’s faster to take the tube.”

“Oh,” says Potter. He glances around the car, as if to say, Then why do you have an Aston Martin? , a question Draco wouldn’t have been able to answer without going into an explanation of his father, of growing up at an estate in Wiltshire, of going through Hogwarts with everyone (including Draco) expecting him to follow in his father’s thousand-pound bespoke shoes. That he might not be able to answer even with all of that, since he’d long since given up trying.

Instead, he rolls the window down as he turns them into a garage, swiping his badge. A security guard behind a glass window glances up at him, back down at his screen, and presses the button to raise the gate, refocusing on his newspaper before Draco’s even pulled them through. The Aston Martin rolls down past rows of black SUVs, as close as Draco can get them to the lift. There’s a chance—

Granger’s beat-up little green Range Rover is already neatly in its usual place. Damn. Mission aborted.

He parks them at the next spot open, and leads Potter out, swiping his badge again to run the lift up to the sixth floor. He checks his phone as they wait—just before eight. They’ve made good time. The lift opens into a waiting area, and Draco gestures Potter over to one of the chairs before approaching the desk, where the morning secretary is settled in.

“Morning, Patil,” he says cautiously. She and the afternoon secretary, Brown, are pernicious gossips, and he doesn’t want to bother her too much if she’s in a bad mood. Not that his reputation in the office has much further down to go.

“Malfoy,” she says, not looking up from her computer screen. He glances down: she has Myspace open in one window and Facebook in another.

“Is Granger in?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“...did she mention anything?”

She finally looks up, spots Potter sitting awkwardly in one of the waiting chairs, and looks over him, down and up, before she glances back to Draco, a new light in her eyes. “She’s in her office.”

Draco does his best not to roll his eyes before turning back around. “Mr Potter, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Do you need anything—tea, coffee—though I don’t recommend the coffee, if you’d like to stay as a barista, as what we’ve got here is frankly appalling…”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Potter says. He’s taken off his hat, revealing his hair was kept damp underneath, and is toying with it in his lap, but after a second he pauses. “Er. Is there a loo…?”

“I’ll show you,” says Patil, hopping up from her seat. She pauses as she comes around the desk, and whacks Draco’s arm with more force than he’d have thought she was capable of. “Malfoy,” she half-hisses. “Introduce me!”

“...Mr Potter: Ms Patil. Ms Patil: Mr Potter. I’m going to go find Granger.”

He hurries away before he has to listen to Patil any longer. He’ll apologize to Potter later, if she gets too out of hand, but the best solution to Patil will be getting Granger as quickly as possible. Her office is, luckily, fairly close to the front of the building, and on the same floor. Draco knocks before entering, and she only briefly looks up at him before returning her focused to whatever she was writing.

"Malfoy," she says coolly. "I thought I sent you to Surrey."

"You did. I'm back. I’ll be writing an expense report for the petrol."

"Mr Potter?"

"Enjoying Patil's guided tour from the front desk to the toilet."

She doesn’t reply to that, finishing her writing, and Draco keeps quiet, waiting. He's learned to wait, since leaving Hogwarts. In school, the two of them had always been in competition for the top spot—him, a Malfoy; her, some no-name on a scholarship. Worse, the competition had been laughably one-sided, not that he had recognized that as a possibility at the time. And so he had always hated her, hated the way she'd barely look up from her books when he spat his insults, how she was awkward and unapologetic and didn't care that Draco was always fumbling about to get some form of acknowledgement—pathetic, but, well, he’d been a coddled child.

Now? Oh, he still hates her, and it is by every indication mutual, but he's found some respect for her undeniable, infuriating brilliance. And she, ever utilitarian, can always set aside her feelings for the sake of logically employing every piece on her chess board. It’s why she is in command, despite her young age, her relative newness in the force. When Alastor Moody, the previous head of the RRS, had retired, she'd already scaled to the top of the list of people who might be able to keep up with the position.

She's young, and there'd been grumbling, but she has Severus as her second-in-command. Anyone grouses about working with her, she pushes them off to him. They come crying back quick enough.

That doesn't mean she can't be as petty as Draco. Why else would she make him drive all the way to Surrey twice in as many days, and Feltham in between? But Draco waits, anyways, until finally she sets aside her pen, check something on her computer, and sighs before looking up at Draco.

“Take him to breakfast.”

Draco must have heard her wrong. “What?”

She turns to shift things about in the drawer of her desk, disregarding his confusion. “Mr Potter. You’re here too early, and it’s going to be a long day. I’d rather not start it leaving him waiting with Parvati for hours. I wouldn’t subject anyone to that.”

“You want me to—”

She finds what she was looking for and pulls it out of the drawer, passing it across the desk: a credit card. “Go to a cafe—there’s about twenty within walking distance of here. You are always complaining about the coffee here, Malfoy; now’s your chance to get something better.”

Draco stares at her, then slowly reaches forward and takes the card. Granger is definitely up to something, here, only he had no idea what. Not that he’s going to be the one to write-up a coffee expense on a card held by the government… Or is that her plan? Get him fired for… no, that would be ridiculous. Granger may hate him, but she also probably has more policies memorized than anyone else in the business. If she wants to fire him, she’ll do it by the book.

She might still make him do the write-up, though.

“What time do you want us here?”

Granger checks her monitor again. “Nine-fifteen,” she says. “Have Parvati call me out to the front, so you can introduce us before the interview.”

Draco nods, and slips the card into his pocket, beginning to turn away—only to pause, narrowing his eyes at her. “And I am going to be involved in that.”

It is a bit early in the day to get into a shouting match with Granger, but if she disagrees…

“So long as you can behave yourself like a professional, not to mention an adult, yes,” she says. “I think it would be best for you to continue to be Mr Potter’s main support, since you seem to have gotten along well enough. Which means, Malfoy, that you and I are going to be stuck in the same room for the majority of the day, which neither of us is looking forward to. Which means that I would very much appreciate it if you vacated my office unless it is absolutely essential for us to interface. Capiche?”

So it isn’t just Potter she’s trying to butter up. Draco takes a step back, nodding. She’s right. If he wants to get through this day without punching Granger—or her punching him; he knows from one embarrassing memory from their school days that she has a mean right hook—then they should both get as much space as they could, while it is possible.

“Alright,” he says. “Nine-fifteen.”

“Get out, Malfoy.”

He does.

Patil is back at her desk when Draco returns, typing away on her cell phone. “Where’s Potter?” he asks.

“In the loo.”

Draco glanced around, searching for a clock, though he isn’t quite sure how long his conversation with Granger had taken. Then he realizes what she is doing—“You’re not messaging anyone about him, are you?” he demands.

Patil’s dark eyes dart up to him, and she leans back in her swivel chair, crossing her arms over her chest, folding her phone protectively in. “What’s it to you?”

“It’s a matter of a huge potential security breach,” Draco says incredulously. “Mr Potter is not here to be the next topic in the lunchroom, Patil. It could be a serious threat to his safety—”

“So you’re saying I should delete the photo I just posted.”

Draco’s mouth falls open, and he stares at her in shock. She—she can’t really have—the sheer lack of professionalism—

“Relax, Malfoy,” she says, rolling her eyes and pulling up her phone again. “It was a joke. Have you heard of those before? Or don’t they teach humor at that school you and Granger went to?”

“Not when it comes to things that could endanger people’s lives,” Draco snaps. His ears burning. “And Weasley went there too, you should remember.”

“Yeah, well, he isn’t exactly the sharpest—Harry, Draco’s back. You sure you don’t want me to hang up your hoodie?”

Draco turns around quickly, finding Potter rounding the corner of the hall that led to the toilet, still occupying his hands with his hat. “Scratch that, we’re going out,” Draco says, gesturing to the lift and hurrying inside. Potter looks puzzled, but follows. “Patil, call me if Granger changes her mind and wants us back sooner.”

“As if she’d ever be in a hurry to see you,” Patil says scornfully, but she gives Potter a little wave as the doors slide shut.

Draco lets out a sigh. “Sorry about Patil,” he says. “She’s… a bit of a handful.”

“She seems nice enough?”

“Yes, well.” Draco studies the glowing ‘G’ on the lift’s control panel, searching for something more acceptable to say than ‘you’re fit, and she’s always interested.’ “You’re someone new,” he manages.

“Right,” says Potter, pulling the hat down over his hair again. “Um, where are we going? I thought…”

“Traffic was a bit too good this morning,” Draco explains. The lift’s bell dings and the doors open up to a nondescript hall on the ground floor. He leads them out, through a heavy set of double-doors, locked with key-card access on the other side, and into the more public space. There’s a dentist office, an optometrist, a boutique clothing store, and a magazine shop for them to pass by. It’s not a front, per say, but no one would go looking for the RRS here. Getting the address is fairly easy, but it doesn’t attract attention the way, say, parliament does. “Granger—that’s Hermione Granger, my boss, the head of the RRS—told me to get us fed and caffeinated for a long day.” He pauses just outside the door, realizing he should ask: “You work in a coffee shop. Are you… particular about it? Coffee, I mean?”

“Not really,” Potter replies. “I don’t really have, uh, refined tastes, I mean, if that’s what you’re asking. And I’ve only got about five quid with me…”

Draco waves his hand—enough, apparently, to cut Potter off. Leads the way down the wet street, to a cafe he usually walks past on the way up from the tube. He hasn’t been inside before, his morning routine being set, but it is usually busy, which makes for a good way to kill time. “It’s on me,” he says. “Or on Granger, really. Besides, you treated me yesterday.”

The coffee shop is as he expected: full of people disproportionately attired in business suits, one hand holding a Blackberry and the other a briefcase or a purse or, in the case of one man who looks about ready to pass out from exhaustion, what must a piece of posterboard protected from the elements by a garbage bag. Potter snags them a table by the window, while Draco waits to order. When he gets to the front of the line, he realizes he hasn’t asked what Potter wants, and orders in for two black coffees, to be safe, and two croissants, never mind that they’d offend his mother’s palette. Potter did just say he doesn’t have refined tastes, and… well, he might be vegan, Draco supposes, or allergic. If so, more breakfast for Draco.

A minute later, he’s carrying a tray over, narrowly avoiding upturning it onto an impatient-looking woman in a bright green windbreaker who didn’t look up from her phone until she’d nearly collided with Draco. “I hope this is alright,” he tells Potter. “I didn’t ask.”

“It’s great,” Potter replies automatically, but he hasn’t even looked at the food. He’s eying the crowd instead.

“A bit busier here than you get back in Surrey, I imagine.”

“Mostly,” Potter agrees. “I’ve not been here in… awhile. To London, I mean. Mostly the area I’m in is just locals. The shop is really just for the people from next door, ninety percent of the time. This is…”

Draco glances out to the street, the sea of faces surging down the sidewalks, a steady stream of people he’s never seen before and will likely never to see again. “You get used to it after a while,” he says. “Or you get out of the city as often as you can, one way or another.”

“You’re not from London?”

“Wiltshire,” Draco answers. “And… well, you’re not particularly likely to come across traffic, at my parents’ home.”

Which is a fine way to avoid saying ‘I grew up on an estate with a fence and a gate keeping traffic far out of sight’.

“Wiltshire, huh,” says Potter. “That… must be different.”

“Have you ever been?”

Potter shakes his head. “Don’t think so. I’ve hardly left Surrey for years, to be honest. And most of when I did… I’m not always keen on remembering it.”

Hardly left Surrey. Draco wonders, vaguely, if Potter’s ever been on an airplane, or out of the country, but he doesn’t push it. It’s not that uncommon, he supposes.

“There’s a lot more open space,” Draco explains, busying his hands by adding cream to his mug. “Fields. Hills. Chances to go on walks without seeing buildings, if you like that sort of thing. A lot of villages.”

“Sounds nice.”

“If you like it,” Draco repeats. “For me, going off to school was the most exciting thing that could ever have happened to me. Dormitories full of children, instead of seeing the same two every other day.”

Not that he hadn’t liked Vince and Greg well enough, only they were… Well, Goyle Sr is Malfoy Manor’s groundskeeper, and Greg is likely to fill that role whenever the old man retires. Vince’s dad is Lucius’ driver, and sometimes his bodyguard, too, only they don’t call him that, since it sounds too elitist, and God forbid the papers latch onto another way to smear Lucius. Vince wanted to be a professional boxer, back in the day, which was probably just to say he wanted to be able to hit his father back and make it hurt. If his knack for getting into fights and stealing never went away, he’s probably already landed himself in jail. Draco hadn’t seen either of them in years, but there had rarely been any other children around the manor, and as Draco’s primary education had been instructed by private tutors rather than at the local school in the closest town, Vince and Greg had been the only friends available.

But at Hogwarts? Well, not everyone had spent their younger years in isolated manors, of course, but the students were for the most part well-off kids whose parents wanted them to get the same education that had helped them succeed. And Draco had found friends with common interests, not just boys whose fathers worked for Lucius and were the only people in walking distance anyways. There’d been rivalries, too—Granger, chiefly, though Draco and Weasley had been at each other’s throats more than once—but that had only added flavor making life so much less boring than Wiltshire.  

“You went to a boarding school, then?”

The question reminds Draco, suddenly, that Severus told him James Potter had gone to Hogwarts. Thing is, there’s always an open invitation to the children of alumni to attend, and with the scholarship program… Neville had said something about his not even knowing his parents’ names, but—

It can wait. No need to start the interview early. It would just agitate Granger, anyway, and he is supposed to be on good behavior today.

“Yes. Did you?”

“My cousin, who I lived with, went to a place called Smelting’s—” Potter grimaces, so it must not have been a worthwhile place. “But I went to the local school. Stonewall High. Not exactly… the pinnacle of the education system, though I’m sure they’ve improved since then.”

“My mother would have preferred if I’d stayed local,” Draco says, a bit of a push. What can he say? He’s curious. “Always complained about not having me home weekends.”

Potter laughs slightly. “Yes, well, by all logic my cousin and I should have been switched, if they were going to—”

But Potter cuts off mid-sentence, freezing in place, and then a moment later he’s shifting fast, pulling the cap back onto his head, covering his hair, snatching his glasses off in the same motion. A moment later, he’s snatching up his phone.

“Potter?” Draco asks.

“One sec,” Potter says, only it comes out as a whisper. His eyes are fixed on the phone screen, though it’s only the little light on the back that makes him realize what he’s doing—using its camera to see the room while his glasses are off.

Draco glances around the shop, wondering if anyone else had noticed the peculiar action. Mostly people are too absorbed in their own tasks, though one man in a tailored suit glances their way and sneers—at Potter’s attire, no doubt. Draco has plenty of practice in haughty looks, and he treats the man to his best, and looks away dismissively before the man can respond, resuming his scan. Nothing.

After a minute, Potter seems to slump a bit. The silence is getting ridiculous. “Something the matter?” Draco asks.

“Sorry,” says Potter, pulling his hat a bit lower. “Saw someone I recognized.”

Draco raises an eyebrow, taking a sip of his coffee and casually shifting to peer out the window, glancing over his shoulder the direction Potter would have been looking. “Someone you recognize,” he echoes.

Potter sighs. “I don’t think he saw me,” he says, as though that clarifies the situation. “But… I mean… it’s been a long time since I saw any of… them. And since there’s all this… well, talking with you yesterday, it’s made me a bit… Anyways, it’s an old… habit, I suppose, to try and shift the way I look, a bit, so they don’t notice me. Probably doesn’t help, but…”

Draco looks back at him, meeting his eyes. Without the glasses, Potter is squinting. “By someone you recognize you mean—one of Riddle’s associates?”

Potter nods. Draco sucks in a deep breath. Screw Granger—this might be progress. “Do you know his name?”

A pause, and Potter says: “Barty. Just—Barty.”

It’s a start, though not terribly useful. “Did you take a picture?”

“My hands were too shaky,” he says, turning his phone to show Draco the screen. It might have passed for an abstract painting, shades of grey and black and white, the red blur of a bus crossing over it. Potter picks his mug up, but his hands really are shaking quite violently, and he sets it down again. “I—sorry. It’s been a long time since I…”

He trails away. Draco slides the phone back across the table. “Do you want to leave?”

Potter shakes his head. “No—no, lets… your boss said to stay out for a bit, right? No point in going back now.”

Draco takes another sip of coffee. “Probably for the best. Patil looked about ready to jump you.”

Potter laughs. It sounds like he’s choking it out. They sit in silence for a minute.

“In any case,” says Draco. “We have a portrait artist who works for us—one of the best in the business. He can help you get the likeness of whoever it was, if you think it is important.”

Potter glances up at him and finally put his glasses back on. “Worth a try, I suppose,” he says, though he sounds skeptical. His eyes dart up and down the street. Searching, no doubt, for whoever spooked him before.

“You don’t like the idea?”

“I don’t think my memory is that reliable,” Potter says, scratching his shoulder. And then scratching it some more, in slow, repetitive motions, nothing that could really be relieving an itch, as he continues to search.

Draco knows he’s staring, but Potter doesn’t seem to notice. Had there been signs of this, yesterday? This… level of fear? Sure, Draco had thought the other man seemed somewhat paranoid, but… He supposes this is what happens when you take someone barely keeping their lives together and pull them out of their safe zone. Potter’s been at that coffee shop for years, barely leaving Surrey, probably barely going more than a few streets most days, and now he’s been tossed into London. Into the RRS, too, and Draco knows Granger’s not the most… delicate, when it comes to handling other people’s emotions. Oh, she can be caring, sure, empathetic. When she remembers to be. But she is ruthlessly focused, and that sort of thing can fall by the wayside, especially when she’s caught up in investigation.

Not that Draco’s much better. He can admit that he’s not as ruthless as the Director, but he’s also not got a natural predisposition for caring the way she is. That he’s noticed how freaked out Potter’s gotten is only a testament to how extreme the man’s response it. There’s not even any proof that the person he saw was the person he thought it was—or that he was even there at all, since the photo’s nothing more than a blur of pixels. Not that Draco’s going to question Potter’s sanity that deeply, not when they need him to be a reliable witness, but—

What Potter needs is a therapist. What he’s gonna get? The RRS, and a deluge of questions trying to pull as much information from him as quickly as possible, like they’re trying to get him sober by draining his body of blood.

God help them all.

“Well,” he says, hoping none of his thoughts come across in his voice, or that Potter is too distraught to notice them, “A try is all we ask.”

Chapter Text

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. WEDNESDAY, 10 OCTOBER, 2007. 09:15.

 

Since the moment the unfamiliar car had pulled up across the street from the shop, Harry has been on edge.

Okay, maybe that’s not quite accurate. Picking up the phone to call the number listed for the RRS tip line earlier that morning, replying to the voice at the other end—he’d done so almost robotically, detaching so completely from what he was saying… but that had probably been where his unease started. Or maybe when he saw the ad—

Still, it was only when the SUV pulled up that it had really set in. When the autopilot he’d worked through the morning rush with disengaged. When he retreated to the back room, steadying his breathing, slipping a chef’s knife in with the tray of mugs before he returned—

And when he saw the person who had come in, he hadn’t dared relax. It could have been one of Tom’s, one so green he wouldn’t have burned if you doused him in gasoline first. It wasn’t likely—not that Tom didn’t bring in any, uh, pretty boys, just… young and nicely dressed, slick black car, projecting enough self-confidence to overshadow the self-consciousness? Why would someone like that need someone like Tom?—but Harry wasn’t going to be caught off guard.

When he said he was from the RRS, Harry felt bad about the knife, but his heart rate didn’t go down. Draco Malfoy. The name sounded familiar, though he couldn’t place it. His face had looked familiar, too, but it would be rude to stare, and Harry’s been known to recognize faces he’s found watching clouds, before.

It was probably his nerves. He’d never been good with names, anyways.

Voldemort, Malfoy had asked him about. That name tasted to Harry like bile.

When Malfoy left—a business card in Harry’s pocket, a mug ringed with foam lines the proof he’d been there—Harry had tried to retreat back to his automated habits. It was just him in the cafe for the day, and it had been years since he’d been nervous running the place on his own, but for whatever reason every time the bells on the door jingled he jumped, and he spilled more coffee that afternoon than he had in years. The regulars were nice enough about it, recognizing he was on his own, but he was glad Mandy had called out sick. She was new. He didn’t want her to think he was usually so careless.

He’d thought about going to the pub. Wednesday was his day off; he could have a pint or two or five and if he got back to his flat and Tom was waiting for him, or a deliverance of swift retribution, he’d be too shit-faced to know—

Someone named Granger had called from the RRS, near closing. Maybe she was the one he’d talked to that morning. Her voice sounded the same. Extra posh. Said she wanted to bring him into London, could do so tonight, even—but Harry didn’t want to get stuck in London overnight. He wouldn’t have had anywhere to go. Granger had said it wouldn’t be a problem, but he’d refused, a bit desperately. Pretending nothing was out of the ordinary about the way she said it. Bring him in. Besides, he had Wednesdays off. It was Tuesday night. Even if he hopped on the first train after closing, it would take him an hour to get there. Driving would be worse, if she sent another unmarked SUV.

She’d offered for someone to pick him up at six thirty the next morning, probably hoping he wouldn’t take it. It would cut into his chance to sleep in, but he doubted he’d be sleeping well, anyways. He’d agreed.

And he hadn’t gone to the pub. He’d gone home, climbed up the stairs to his long and narrow flat (a barely-rentable space cobbled together from the leftovers of an architect’s mistake or an investor’s ignorant interventions), boiled up some pasta and ate it plain (a better meal than the pints he’d have had down at the pub, at least), left out some food for Hedwig (the stray white cat who had declared his radiator her property last winter and still sometimes came around), and then it was eight-fifteen. Ten hours, fifteen minutes to go.

He went to bed.

He must have slept, at some point, because it hadn’t felt like he’d been lying there for more than an hour or two, mind plagued by vague and overwhelming dread, when he glanced over and saw it was four o’clock. He’d gotten up, checked the cat dish—still full, and the alley beneath it quiet and empty—scrambled some eggs for breakfast but only ate a few bites, dumped the rest. Scrubbed the kitchen until it was clean, realized he was still in his clothes from yesterday and traded them for new ones, decided to take a shower, short and icy, like his aunt Petunia was still standing outside the door shrieking at him for being wasteful. Scrubbed down the bathroom, after, and gathered everything together for the laundry before he realized he wouldn’t have time to go to the launderette, and wouldn’t want to, besides; put it all away again. He sat at the table in his kitchen, blinds angled to give him a view down to the street, and twiddled his thumbs, waiting.

The car—silver, unfamiliar, fancier than anything that belonged on a Charnell Hill side street—pulled up at six twenty-five. Harry was holding his breath, staring at the window and urging the driver to shift so he could see who it was, when his cell phone pinged. A text message—he checked it, never mind his bill was going to tack on some ridiculous fee. Draco Malfoy, from the RRS.

The ride to London had been uneventful. Malfoy wasn’t a morning person, it seemed, or maybe he just wasn’t a talkative person. It suited Harry fine, once the BBC was on to fill the uncomfortable silence. Harry had stared out the window, watching the suburbs and city roll by, shifting a bit under the safe anonymity of his hat when he spotted the first pedestrian out on the street. Malfoy probably thought he was insane, by now, but, well, if he did, it would take a good knock to the head to convince him otherwise, since he’d been the one Harry had told. Tom Riddle, violent psychopath being hunted by the government, Harry Potter’s ex… boyfriend?

That was just wrong. His ex. He’d leave it at that, he decided, if they asked.

The deeper they got into the city, the more claustrophobic Harry began to feel. There were probably areas with denser buildings and worse traffic, but Harry had trouble trusting cars. Malfoy apparently didn’t like them particularly well either, by how he glared at the other drivers, though his car was something out of a movie and he drove it through the city with a confidence Harry wondered about and didn’t even seem bothered by the low ceilings of the garage he drove them into.

And then?

“...Mr Potter: Ms Patil. Ms Patil: Mr Potter. I’m going to go find Granger.”

The secretary had rolled her eyes. “Call me Parvati,” she’d said, batting her eyelashes at him a moment later, as though he hadn’t seen her contempt for Malfoy. She was pretty, in her way, but… Harry had never understood flirtation, and never had that sort of casual interest in another person, anyways. Another thing the Dursleys had screwed up for him—or Tom, maybe. Or maybe he’d been broken all along, and just desperate—

She’d spent what felt like several hours gabbing on, saying absolutely nothing, then she’d shown him to the toilet, ten steps down a hall, on the right; Harry had locked the door and splashed water on his face and cupped his hands so the air from the hand dryer angled back towards his face. He’d leaned against the sink, and almost forgot he’d come in to take a piss, so focused on trying to get under control—

Malfoy and Patil were talking about him when he came back. It was obvious from the way Patil had cut herself off, and Malfoy had whirled around when she said: “Harry, Draco’s back. You sure you don’t want me to hang up your hoodie?”

And he hadn’t ever given her his first name.

“Scratch that, we’re going out,” Malfoy had said, gesturing to the lift and hurrying inside. “Patil, call me if Granger changes her mind and wants us back sooner.”

Granger, it seems, is Malfoy’s boss. Harry had to wonder about her, about what sort of person was in charge of the RRS. The new James Bond movie had come out the year before, so his first thought was to picture her as ‘M’—but that was ridiculous. Draco Malfoy is no James Bond, despite the fancy car, and she hadn’t sounded that old. And even if she were Malfoy’s boss, he didn’t seem to speak of her with much respect. Harry wasn’t sure he would, either; she’d been so insistent on getting him here so quickly, but now that they’d arrived, they’d been kicked right out onto the street…

...and into a coffee shop. Corporate. Malfoy had asked if he was particular about his coffee, but the truth is Harry can barely taste it as they drink, watching all the suits dressed in their impatience go by. There had been some light conversation, as awkward for Malfoy, no doubt, as it was for Harry, only that had all slipped out of grasp when he’d looked out the window and in the passing crowd his eyes somehow found a man—

He’s seen that man before.

He’s seen that man a thousand times, but not for eight years.

The last time, he’d seen that man pull out a gun, and disappear out into the dark. A gunshot, a minute later. Tom hadn’t even blinked. Harry had wrapped the blanket a bit tighter around himself and told himself it had been part of the movie—seeing him now, everything had fallen into place, the pieces of the scattered memory snapping into place when he saw that man: one of Tom’s houses, outside the closest village a good ways, dimly lit because Harry had suffered a migraine all afternoon; the sofa, with its leather seats that made it hard to stay still until Tom had sat down at the end, giving him something to brace himself against. Some alien movie on the telly, only the sound was down too low to follow even if he hadn’t been drifting in and out of sleep. Tom had his feet up, and was reading something—a newspaper? no...—but every now and then he’d stroke a hand through Harry’s hair, which had felt nice until the migraine disagreed…

He hadn’t asked who had been shot; hadn’t wanted to know. At the time, it was like he was living in a little bubble, and he’d done everything he could to block out anything that might make it burst.

They had never returned to that house, and that man—it had been the last time he’d seen that man in person, and now—

“Potter?”

Harry had almost forgotten Malfoy was with him, in his haste. It had been years, but he must have had it in mind when he put the hat on that morning, because now he hid his hair beneath it, and took off his glasses and shifted his posture to belong to someone else, some unknown kid—

“One second…”

The cell phone camera had been almost an afterthought, since he’d only had this newer phone for a year, since he bought it off one of his coworkers at the cafe, but he brought it up, pressing the wrong buttons as he tried to find the camera—and then searching the street for him, for that man, when his hands were shaking so bad he thought he might let it go and send it flying into one of those impatient suits’ heads and get thrown out of the shop—but then Harry found him, standing at the corner glaring at a bus that was waiting to turn and blocking the crosswalk, and he tried to get his hands to still—

The bus moved. For a moment the face was in focus, and Harry was absolutely certain—and he took the photo, because what if he was just panicking? What if he was imagining things again? If he was wrong?

A circle appeared on his screen as the phone struggled to load the image—blurry. He backed out, desperate to try again, but by the time the phone had loaded back into the camera, the crowd had moved, surging out across the walk. The man was gone… if he had ever been there at all.

He tries to will his heart to slow down, but it hammers relentlessly in his chest. If he had looked… if he had seen Harry, it would have been…

“Something the matter?”

Right. Malfoy. If he hadn’t thought Harry was nutters before, he probably did now. “Sorry… Saw someone I recognized.”

“Someone you recognize.”

Harry sighed, sitting up a bit straighter. “I don’t think he saw me,” he said, more for himself than Malfoy. There’d only been a few seconds that Harry hadn’t had him in sight, and he hadn’t seemed like he was looking… “But… I mean… it’s been a long time since I saw any of… them. And since there’s all this… well, talking with you yesterday, it’s made me a bit…” He cleared his throat, tugging at his hat again. He probably looked ridiculous, sitting here with Malfoy in his jacket and tie. “Anyways, it’s an old… habit, I suppose, so they don’t notice me. Probably doesn’t help, but…”

He glanced up, and realized Malfoy was staring at him.

“By someone you recognize you mean—one of Riddle’s associates?”

Harry jerked his head. Yes. Associates—that was a good word for it. Malfoy sucked in a deep breath.

“Do you know his name?”

Does he?

Yes, he does. He hasn’t managed to push that detail from his memory yet. Some things, no matter how pissed you get, he can’t help but remember. Like his name. His laugh. The way his tongue flicks out over his lips before he threatens violence—

“Barty,” he said. “Just… Barty.”

Had Tom been being careful, holding back surnames, or had Harry just not been paying attention? He hadn’t wanted details, after all. And Barty—

He doesn’t want to remember. It feels like he’s cracked opened a door, and a flood is coming and he won’t be able to stop it.

“Did you take a picture?”

“My hands were too shaky,” he said, and managed to get his phone back to the photo he’d taken without having it shut down. Nearly dropped it as he passed it over. Grabbed the mug of coffee while Malfoy looked, but his hands weren’t cooperating. Obvious. Set it back down. “I—sorry. It’s been a long time since I…”

He was rambling, wasn’t he. Malfoy slid the phone back across the table.

“Do you want to leave?”

Leave? Yes, he—no, calm down. Think. This was—he’d have to go out there, if they left now. Out onto the street, where Barty had been. “No—no, lets… your boss said to stay out for a bit, right? No point in going back now.”

“Probably for the best. Patil looked about ready to jump you.”

Harry let out a shaky laugh. Right. That… man, in London with him, and she was who he was supposed to be scared of.

“In any case,” Malfoy said after a minute. “We have a portrait artist who works for us—one of the best in the business. He can help you get the likeness of whoever it was, if you think it is important.”

Harry glanced past him towards the window—it was probably safe to put his glasses back on. He searched the street, not entirely convinced Barty was really gone, or that other of Tom’s… associates were in the area, not entirely convinced the man had been there at all. But he tried to focus on Malfoy, on what he said. An… artist? “Worth a try, I suppose.”

“You don’t like the idea?”

“I don’t think my memory is that reliable,” Harry said. Besides, having an artist draw a version of his memory… it would just be another layer of uncertainty. Unreliability. And if it led to the wrong person… Harry didn’t think he could live with that.

“Well, a try is all we ask,” Malfoy said.

Try. Right. That’s why they’d sent someone to pick him up and drive him to London at six in the morning, so he could try . What remarkable patience they must have.

Harry tried to settle, after that, as Malfoy typed a message out on his phone. Telling his boss Harry was a nutter, perhaps. When he put it down again, Harry thought he was going to ask more, but he started talking about Wiltshire again, like nothing had happened. Harry tried to engage, but he couldn’t stop glancing out onto the street. It didn’t really matter, he supposed. Talk for the sake of talk. Some of the regulars at the coffee shop were known for it, and Harry had gotten good at nodding at the right time, interjecting with general questions. More than he was paid to do, for sure, but it came in handy, times like this. Malfoy didn’t seem offended, though he was checking the time on his phone every other minute, and the moment 9:05 came around he was beckoning Harry out of the shop.

It took Harry a minute to gather his wits. Sure, Malfoy was probably competent, but—did the RRS carry firearms? They must have some people who do, if they’re going after Tom, right? Just… maybe not Malfoy. But he was being ridiculous; this was London, in the middle of the day, a few blocks from parliament, and even if being with Tom had skewed the definition of what was normal, there wasn’t going to be some sort of action movie shoot-out on the street. Even if it was Barty. And—

It had probably been a coincidence, anyways. If Tom had somehow found out that Harry had contacted the RRS and wanted to do something about it, he would have moved yesterday night. And it didn’t make sense, for him to be here. Ridiculous—Harry was being ridiculous.

So they left, and made it back to the building in good time, and Malfoy swiped that card of his to get them lift access back up to the sixth floor. And that—this building, at least, feels secure. A bit covert, though you can probably find the address by a Google search, and guarded, even if the guy manning the garage had seemed less than attentive that morning.

When the lift opens up to the sixth floor, the first thing Harry notices is that there are more people here now. In the front room there’s a black woman with thick curly hair talking in a low, serious voice to the secretary—Patil, Malfoy said—but that’s not what he means: he can hear conversations blurring together coming from down the hall Malfoy had disappeared down earlier, filling the room with a comfortable ambiance. Another man, this one with vibrant red hair and an abundance of freckles, is headed past them towards the hall with the toilet as they step out; he barely glances at Malfoy, but gives Harry a nod as he goes by. “Hermione,” he says, though he doesn’t slow down, “Malfoy’s back.”

The woman cuts off her conversation with the secretary and turns around. Like that man, she barely glances at Malfoy, eyes fixing intently on Harry instead as she steps forward, offering a hand. “Mr Potter,” she says, “A pleasure to meet you in person. I’m Hermione Granger, the head of the RRS.”

Harry shakes her hand, saying something to the order of ‘likewise’. She’s younger than Harry had expected, but also—more intimidating. She’s got a sort of focus, as she looks at him, like when she’s meeting his eyes she’s trying to read his mind, and free of the distortion of the phone he notices how she speaks not just posh but with crisp, precise pronunciation, almost sharply, and a bit quickly, like she’s impatient to get past these niceties. And she’d dressed, like Malfoy, in strictly business attire, which makes Harry’s hoodie—oh, and he’s still got his cap on, lovely—feel all the more childish. The red-headed man who went by wasn’t wearing a jacket or tie, at least. Maybe it’s just a sign of their status in the RRS. Or hers, at least; Harry’s not sure what to make of Malfoy, riding around in his fancy cars to do legwork.

“Is there anything Parvati can get for you before we start?” she asks. “Tea?”

“I’m, uh, fine, thanks.” Hadn’t she been the one to send them off to get coffee?

“Then we can get right to it. If you would follow me.”

She turns, and leads him down the hall Malfoy had gone down earlier. Past the wall behind Patil’s desk there is a large open area filled with desks and people busy with activity. What looks like meeting rooms and individual offices ring around the outside of the building, some of their glass walls blocked off with curtains but most open and letting in plenty of natural light, grey though the day outside may be. But Granger leads them past all of this, to the other end, where there’s solid brickwork dividing the space, and around a corner and down a staircase to another level.

And then she leads them into a room that looks straight out of a movie scene. Plain grey walls, no windows except one long strip of one-way glass looking in from above. A table secured to the middle of the floor and four chairs set up around it, though clearly more could have fit into the room.

"It may look intimidating, but most of our important meetings happen in here, simply because this room is the best equipped for audio recording," Granger explains, seeing him pause. "Not to mention it is free from distractions, making it easier to keep on task."

"Right," says Harry. No distractions, good. But what he wouldn't give for a window—to the outside world. He’s not bothered by the one-way glass; it seems practical. But he’d prefer a view of London. To occupy himself with while he talks. Even if it’s just the walls of the building he’d seen out the windows as they’d walked through the cubicles upstairs. Anything but smooth grey nothingness—but they probably want him fully present. No distractions, as she said.

They all sit down, Harry on one side, facing the door; Malfoy and Granger across the table from him. Malfoy hasn't relaxed at all, and he keeps eyeing Granger, but neither of the them have addressed whatever's causing the tension between them. From what little Malfoy has said of her to Harry, he's gathered that there's some sort of bad blood between them. Maybe just earnest dislike.

"There may be some repeat from what Agent Malfoy asked you yesterday, but we would like to get as complete of an understanding as possible from you," Granger begins. Straight to business. She’s carrying a folder and a small notebook, the latter of which she opens, and produces a pen she’s apparently had tucked behind her ear this whole time, testing it on the corner of her page. "This is a primary interview, so we will follow it where it goes. And if at any time you need a break, just say so."

“Alright.” Harry just wants them to start.

Agent Malfoy, though. Maybe he is James Bond. Or the RRS equivalent.

“To take care of a few details, first, your full name for the record, please.”

Easy enough: “Harry James Potter.”

“And you’re located at… flat number three, on North Road, in… Charnell Hill?”

“North Street,” Harry corrects. “There’s both, for some reason.”

“That must be confusing.”

Harry shrugs, though now he’s thinking about it, wondering if there’s some sort of information she’s trying to get out of him. North Road and North Street at opposite ends of the area, if you could call them that—Charnell’s the sort of suburban sprawl that all bleeds together. Didn’t he say ‘street’ when Malfoy asked yesterday? He doesn’t seem the type to make mistakes like that. Or is she testing Harry? With his address? Why?

They go on, confirming more information—his birthday, telephone number, workplace, even his driver’s license number. Harry isn’t sure why she is doing this personally, if she is the head of the RRS. Couldn’t he just have filled out the form himself?

And after she’s filled it out, she passes it over to him, along with a pen. “This is a non-disclosure agreement,” she says, as Harry scans it, the words swimming on the page. “In order for us to determine what knowledge you have that will be of use to our investigation, there is a chance that we are going to have to reveal information to you that cannot leave this room. Signing the agreement will not prevent you from disclosing what questions we have asked in court, and if necessary it is possible to obtain permission to discuss the matters with certain specified individuals. However, if you sign it, you are required to keep what we discuss today confidential.”

“If?” Harry asks. “It’s not required?”

“We cannot force you to sign it, of course,” she says. “That would render it invalid. However, it will make things go over a lot smoother.”

Harry tries to read the fine print, he really does, but it is hard to keep his thoughts straight and the silence as they wait for him is incredibly awkward, and it’s all in legalese he’d need a dictionary and a law degree to understand. He’ll just have to trust that they’re not trying to screw him over—this is a branch of the government, so in theory…

Yeah, he can’t even make himself think the words without wanting to laugh, but it doesn’t really matter. Not like he has much to take from him, anyways. He made the call knowing he might be writing his own prison sentence; what more could the government do? The worst that could happen would be absolutely nothing, and they’ve gone to the trouble to bring him here, so…

“Where do I sign?”

“Line sixteen, in the information section at the top.”

He signs, his signature looking childishly messy beneath her neat print. Then he passes it back, and Granger tucks it away into her folder with a kind smile, adjusting the notebook in front of her.

“Now, if you wouldn’t mind, having reviewed your interview with Malfoy, I’d like to start from the beginning and work forward,” she tells him. “We have so far turned up little concrete information on Mr Tom Riddle, so we’d like to gather as complete of a picture as possible. Do you remember the first time you met?”

That is farther back than Harry likes to remember, but, well, so is basically anything more than a few hours old, at any given moment. “It would have been some time in nineteen ninety-four,” he says. “August, I think. I was working, doing checkouts at Tesco.”

“And where were you living at the time?”

“Little Whinging. Uh, also in Surrey. I worked on Magnolia Road.”

“Alright. And Mr Riddle?”

“Tom came in every now and then,” Harry says. “Maybe once a month at first, I dunno. Enough that I recognized him. He’s… recognizable.”

“And at the time you were fourteen?”

“Yeah.”

“And would you say he stood out more than any other customers?”

Harry considers it. “Well, I mean, mostly people who came in were from around the neighborhood, and he was not, so… we were supposed to keep an eye on anyone unfamiliar, you know, in case they were trying to knick something, except he was usually in a suit, and, uh, polite…”

“Friendly?”

Harry shrugs. “I wasn’t exactly the talkative type.” Still isn’t, but he’s gotten better at it. At giving more than the barest details, which was how he’d first learned to hold his smart tongue. “But, I mean, he can be, when he wants.”

“And when would you say your relationship grew?”

Well, that’s something Harry remembers clearly. “I, um, sprained my wrist. That was, I dunno… I was sixteen, so ninety-six? Ninety-seven? No, ninety-six; it was September. Right before school started. My boss wasn’t happy, since I didn’t have a doctor’s note or anything, and I was slow, working one-handed. Tom happened to be there at the time, and…”

Harry can’t remember the exact words he’d said, after all this time, but he can imagine exactly how Tom said them. That voice, calm and reasonable; he could convince you to give him the clothes off your back if he wanted to, and make you think it had been your idea all along. “He’s good at talking. Talked my boss down, even got her to let me stay at the register with an ice pack. I… next time I saw him, he made some comment about it looking better. I thanked him for his help. I think that’s when I got his name. He’d already got mine, off my name tag, I guess. And after that… well, I guess we just sort of, uh, clicked. He’d helped me out, and… at the time I didn’t think it was worth it to question that sort of, um, positive acquaintance.”

“Even though he was that much older than you?”

Ah. That. He…

“Tom always looked younger than he was,” Harry starts, and then shakes his head. No point making excuses. “I dunno. He was, what, twenty-six, twenty-seven, at the time? That’s… well, it seems weird to me now, at the same age, and I’m not saying Tom wasn’t… strange. I’m… I didn’t really have friends my age. Adults… Tom was one that respected me, so I guess I, uh, didn’t really care about anything else.”

Malfoy is looking at him all calculating again, but he doesn’t ask anything. He’s letting Granger completely lead this. Biding his time, maybe, or maybe he doesn’t have any input. Maybe he’s sitting there judging Harry for the mess he got himself into—doesn’t even know the half of it, though.

Or maybe ‘letting’ is the wrong term. Probably. Granger doesn’t seem like she’d take shit from anyone. Disobedience from an employee. Same difference. If she’d told Harry to sit there and say nothing, he might have, and he doesn't work for her. Who’s to say she hasn’t told Malfoy that before?

“Alright,” says Granger again. She also has an excellent poker face. She moves them along deliberately, not offering any reaction to what he’s saying. Does that make her good at her job? Harry doesn’t know. “And when did your relationship with Mr Riddle evolve beyond that?”

Harry thinks about that for a moment, but she doesn’t push him. How to phrase it... How to tell the story, without getting caught up in irrelevant side conversation…? But… he’s not exactly an expert at storytelling, or the sort of manipulation Tom pulls off so well, controlling people’s interests to go where his interests go. And Granger said she wanted a full picture…

But he can still try directing things, a bit. He doesn’t want to think about the Dursleys anymore than he has to. Doesn’t need nightmares about waking up in the cupboard—the things with Tom are bad enough.

“My home life was not a particularly comfortable one,” he stumbles. “And sometimes it was worse than others, and I got the short end of the stick. And there was one point, when I was seventeen—”

He pauses again. Ah, fuck it, just get to the point.

“My uncle got it in his head I was gay—some rumor at school that got around the neighborhood and made it back to my aunt, I guess, or he heard it from a neighbor—and thought he’d beat it out of me. So I ran off, and Tom—well, Little Whinging is the sort of place that you drive through once, and you see most of it. Including the kid limping down the street. He had a… an associate who lived a few streets over, said I could crash at his place for a few days, until I figured out what I was going to do.”

This part of the story is, at least, getting some reaction out of his questioners. Malfoy’s face has gone completely (suspiciously) blank, and Granger looks a bit angry. Presumably at his uncle, for beating up a kid. She…

Malfoy had written down that he and Tom had been, uh, in a relationship, right? So she already knew. That he is gay, that is, or something like it. Right?

But he glances at Draco again. Maybe they’re angry because—

“It wasn’t—” he starts, and halts in his tracks just as quickly, realizing that he has to be careful with the words that he speaks, lest they misunderstand. Think he’s coming to Uncle Vernon’s defense, or something. Like he would. “It was an excuse,” he tries. “The, um, homophobia. He didn’t really care—I mean, he did, but no more than anything else. Even if he thought I was straight or something, he’d have found a reason.”

Granger’s frown only deepens. Maybe he shouldn’t have said anything.

But she gives a short nod, anyways, and moves on. “Do you recall the date of that incident?”

“Um… September of ninety-seven. Later in the month, I guess. Dunno the date, no.”

She composes herself after a moment, scratching something down on her notepad. “So you… stayed with his associate?”

"Tom had a room there, said it was his but he rarely used it, had his, um, friend give me the extra key without any questions. Since... I wasn't going anywhere, for the next few days, but this guy was going out of town.” He probably should have thought it was strange, but he was just... Grateful. He wasn’t used to people caring. “Tom helped patch me up, went and got me some food, told me to call him if something happened. Gave me his number. I mostly just slept. "

“Did he know what had happened?”

“I told him it was my uncle, and that was enough. Enough that he understood I couldn’t go home, and that he wasn’t going to ask more questions. He didn’t want to push me.”

"So you stayed with this stranger?"

It’s not really something you can explain to someone without the sort of childhood Harry had. Malfoy, with his fancy car gifted by his parents, probably thinks he’s mental. The type of kid who made bad decisions, so deserves the lot he got in life. Maybe—he shouldn’t put words in Malfoy’s mouth, and he doesn’t know what sort of car Granger drives, but…

"It sounds stupid, I know, but I didn't have anywhere else to go," Harry says. "It was better than trying to find a place to hide out the night. And I figured I could book it if I needed to, if they wanted something from me, but they just showed me the shower and the kitchen and left me alone.”

“And no one noticed you missing?”

“Called out of work for a few days, but it was going to be a problem if I stayed gone. I might’ve lost my job, and I needed the money, and the manager knew my aunt, anyways. My aunt must have called me out of school that week. But... I went that Monday, and she showed up after, and... Took me to the doctor. And then to the police. I think one of the teachers had called her about it. We filed a report that I'd been jumped walking home from work."

Granger writes that down, and Harry shakes his head. Stay on track. "Anyways, I saw Tom a few days later, tried to pay him back, to give him back the key, but he said to keep it. Said it was good for me to have somewhere to go, if I needed it."

"And did you?" Granger asks. "Go back?"

"Yes. I think... A month or so later was the first time, but I only stayed for the one night. That’s usually how it was. And if it was the weekend sometimes I'd wake up and Tom would be there. He'd offer to give me a ride to work, or just to sit and chat. He'd ask me about school. That sort of thing."

"And what did you think of him?" Granger asks. "Or—what did you know about him? What did you think he did?"

"What he did?" Harry stares at his hands, scratching his palm. Yeah, that was the sort of thing people cared about. Especially for people they'd just met and were supposed to trust... Anyone else would have been suspicious. Would have wanted to get to the bottom of it. But Harry... "I didn't exactly care."

Over the blurred rim of his glasses, Granger is shifting. Malfoy finally speaks up. "Regardless of whether you cared what he did, you must have had some early impressions, small as they might have been."

"I wasn't entirely stupid, if that's what you mean," Harry says—and then he catches his breath, surprised at his sudden flash of anger. Like he's a kid again, temperamental and always on the edge of losing control. Jesus. "Yes, I had some sense. A man who shows up and takes in a beat-up kid, and never once suggests going to the hospital or the police? He would have taken me, had I asked, but I wasn't asking, and he wasn't offering. And offering me access to one of his 'friends' homes, and the friend not giving it a second thought? And leaving me there mostly alone, even though they didn’t know me? But Tom—he was obviously not hurting for money, and the only times he spoke of what he did, he said it was 'business'. Which I figured meant, ‘you pry, you're going to find out more than you want to know.’ So I didn't. I… like I said, I had this idea I’d go running the first time they asked for something in return. I wasn’t stupid enough to think I’d found some sort of saint. But Tom…. when I asked him, he said he knew what it was like to be a kid stuck in a bad place. Said he knew it helped to have somewhere to go, and that I’d never given him reason to think I’d try anything. And he didn’t try anything with me, either."

He’d trusted Harry, is what it was. Or at least had shown Harry the semblance of it. For a kid who’d been locked in a cupboard at night to keep him from ‘stealing’ food, that had been… remarkable.

"Alright," says Granger. "And the man who owned the house, who was he?"

"Tom only ever called him by his first name. Anthony—well, Antonin, that was it. He had a bit of an accent—Russian, I think; there was a few of them who… I mean, it was weak, and I don’t know accents, and he didn't speak much, at least not to me. I'd never seen him around Little Whinging, and the house… well, he lived there, but he wasn't exactly invested in it. If he had been, he probably wouldn’t have let some kid wander in and out freely.”

“Do you know address?”

He takes a steadying breath, unclenching his throat. This is what he wants, to spill the old secrets. Really. “Number seven, Delphinium Drive,” he says. “He stopped using it before I left, though. Tom said it was no longer a useful business stop. I don’t know what business he had in Little Whinging, though.”

“But you saw them again, at that house?”

“Um… well, the first—or, second, I guess—Tom came through Tesco again. I had a black eye… that got the manager in a twist, almost as much as the broken wrist. Not exactly good for sales… but, anyways, he reminded me the room was open to me. Told me where they kept the spare key. I didn’t go that night, but a few days later. There was no one there when I showed up, but—oh, there was a lock on the door of the room they let me use. So I locked it. About gave Antonin a heart attack when I tried to sneak out the next morning, but he made me breakfast, so…”

“And after that?”

Harry realizes he’s twisting the sleeves of his hoodie around his hands and lets them go, watching them unfold back into place. Granger did say she wanted a complete picture, but they’re lingering a lot back earlier than Harry can imagine would be much use. “I dunno. I’d go every few weeks, maybe, for a few nights. Didn’t stay out much longer than that or my Aunt would get, um, antsy.”

“Did she know where you were going?”

“No. She didn’t care. She… as long as I showed up clean, and she didn’t hear about anything from the neighbors, and I got my work done, I think she preferred it.”

“And your uncle?”

“Probably thought I was working late and sneaking in and out. That’s what I mostly tried to do in the week, at least. He had health problems; didn’t have any extra energy for dealing with me.”

“And your cousin?”

Harry thought about that. Dudley. He’d… mellowed out, a bit, when Harry saw him last, but in those early years… “Same with him. He was gone off to school in the year, and he wasn’t, I used to spend as much time as I could at the library, so me not being around the house wasn’t exactly… new. And he wasn’t exactly observant.”

Luckily, she seems inclined to leave the matter of the Dursleys there, though that meant they were back to Tom. “Your relationship with Mr Riddle expanded after that?”

“Yeah, you could say that. I mean… a few times, he was around the house when I was there, would invite me to eat with them. And I guess somewhere along the line, if I saw him at work I’d go there even if I didn’t really need to. Sometimes he had other people with him, and they’d be having conversations and I’d just listen. Sometimes it was just me and him, and we’d watch movies or the news or… whatever he put on, really.”

He doesn’t mention the way Tom took it upon himself to get Harry a basic cultural understanding, of all the movies he’d never been allowed to see, of the stories on the news Harry asked ridiculous questions about because it wasn’t something they taught in schools and he hadn’t known to look for in books. They’d think Tom was kind. He’s not. Educating Harry as he saw fit suited him. What better way to mold a tool, to show it how to think?

“By other people, do you mean more of his—associates?”

Harry nods. “He’d introduce them like… ‘Corban works in finance.’ Or, ‘Theodore works in development.’ ‘Gus works in security.’ They’d usually end up in arguments about politics—of course, in the end Tom would always have the final word. He’d say the word and it would be over.”

“Were they all around his age?”

“Hard to say. I think the average would have been around thirty, at most… Theodore was probably in his fifties, though, maybe older. And they came from all over. Antonin and… Igor, that’s what his name was, they’d speak—well, I assume it was Russian. Igor had more of an accent, or maybe he just liked to talk more. And there was every version of English you could think of—well, not at the house; not that many people came through. But at the parties, or… there were a few meetings with more people. I dunno.”

Granger flips back a few pages in her notebook. “You told Agent Malfoy he’d have combined New Year’s Eve and birthday celebrations. Is that what you mean by parties, or were there others?”

He wishes, at the reminder, he hadn’t mentioned them. “Both. But those were the biggest.”

“What year did you first go to one of those?”

“Ninety-seven. Some of them realized I wasn’t doing anything for New Year’s, so Tom brought me along. They’re always masquerades, for New Years, if that’s important; I’d thought those were only something that happened in books, but… Mostly I tried to stick as close to Tom as possible, and… drank too much.”

“Was that when it became a romantic relationship?

Something about the way she says it, so matter of fact, makes Harry flinch before he can stop himself, and he realizes his heart is pounding in his chest. Or maybe it’s been pounding all this time, and he’s just now noticing it. And the tightness in his throat, and how his hands shake—

“Could I get some water?” he asks.

Chapter Text

 

“Water? Yes, of course,” says Granger, turning and waving towards the one-way mirror without hesitation, and just like that the tension lifts. Enough for Harry to breathe, at least. “Would you like to take a break now? We’ve been at this for some time.”

“No, no,” Harry says, though he’d like nothing less. “I’d just… water.”

A minute later, someone Harry hasn’t been introduced to comes in with a bottle and gives it to Granger, and Granger passes it to him. It’s cold—must've been in a fridge—but Harry unscrews the cap and drinks it anyways. Somehow he manages not to choke. Malfoy pulls out his phone to check something—the time, maybe—and puts it away just as quick.

Neither of them seem to mind waiting while Harry thinks. Granger flips back through her notebook, marking notes here and there. Harry wishes he had something like that, some busywork to distract himself—though she’s probably focusing, not getting distracted. Focusing, like he should be doing.

He lets his eyes drift around the room, around the four thick walls, the glass, the two officers (agents?) waiting for answers. Neither even looking at him—Malfoy’s watching Granger scribble, a pensive expression on his face.

This is as safe as it’s going to get. And where else is he going to talk about it? He needs to, he knows that. Needs to tell someone. He’s spent seven—almost eight years now, pushing it down.

After a moment, he removes his glasses, cleaning the ever-present smudges with the bit of t-shirt sticking out from the bottom of his hoodie. So what does he tell them? Does he tell Granger about how he’d been so drunk, and so unfamiliar with being drunk, he’d given Tom a terrible midnight kiss, and when he woke up with a raging headache the next day tried to pretend he couldn’t remember it, and Tom pretended to let him get away with it, even as he took every opportunity to embarrass Harry? How Harry hadn’t known how to translate what that made him feel—anger, or attraction?—but had been naively convinced neither was appropriate for a friend, and Tom was the closest friend he’d ever had, really, and he didn’t want to lose that…

And besides, now that he’s older? Whenever Harry sees high school students, he can’t imagine feeling a shred of attraction to someone who is so obviously a child. Granted, he rarely feels attraction to anyone, and he wasn’t exactly a typical teenager to begin with, and thought of being with someone Tom’s age now isn’t nearly as unsettling as the thought of being with a teenager, but… No, the fact of the matter is, fucked up though their relationship might have been, it had definitely been a relationship.

But… was that first party where it began? Is there really an answer to a question like that?

“Tom doesn’t care for romance,” he says at last, putting his glasses back on. “Sentiment, sure. But not romance. He thinks it’s… cliche. I was an interesting new toy for him to play with. Not one of his, um, associates, so I treated him differently, and I was exceptionally easy for him to manipulate—I don’t know. Maybe trying a new altruism, just… his is always twisted. I mean, I know some of his people are from bad situations, and he gets them back on their feet and then they work for him, but…”

“You called him your ‘ex’,” Malfoy says when he’s quiet for a moment too long. “Generally that implies some sort of relationship.”

“Yes. I… yes. I just…” He takes another sip from the water bottle and screws the cap back on. “Probably you could say… December, ninety-eight. I don’t think there was an official point or anything, it was— That year, at the party, he took me along and it was as his date, officially. The year before, I was just some pissed kid following him around trying not to get lost—I mean, I was still pissed, and still stuck to him, but... Anyways, you could… maybe you could say after I was done with school? When I wasn’t at work I was usually with him. Or July of ninety-eight, when I turned eighteen and he paid for the flat and told me to focus on figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t exactly a romance, it was…”

He struggles to put it into words. Normal people don’t think about a relationship being a profitable exchange, but that’s what it was. To both of them. “He liked having a life, outside of his work, and was experimenting. With not eating in the fancy restaurants alone, I mean. That sort of thing. I was… the experimental factor.” The easy option. The one who would play the part of being totally reliant on him for happiness, because at that point, he was.

“He’s continued to send you flowers for seven years, Potter,” Malfoy says. “You don’t think that’s romantic?”

Granger shoots Malfoy a sharp look, but Harry shakes his head before she can reprimand him. “He might think so, I dunno. I think it’s… the sword of Damocles, that’s the phrase, right? He knows where I live, where I work, what’s happening in my life. That I’m doing it out of his presence, it’s a technicality. Once he counts something as his property, it’s his ‘til the end. If he ever thought of me as his… boyfriend, I guess you’d say, then he probably still thinks that way, if he thinks of me at all. Nothing I do is ever going to change that. Now, if I’d stuck around, and he’d changed things so I worked for him? Well, that’s one thing. But me leaving… that’s nothing, to him. A bit of rebellion, which he has patience for ‘cause… well, because it’s me. He probably finds it amusing.”

“I doubt he would find you coming to us amusing,” Granger says.

Harry shrugs. “You’d be surprised how much he puts up with. It’s his, um, associates I’d be more concerned about.”

“You think they’d come after you without Mr Riddle telling them to?”

“That man, the one I saw—er…” He’d assumed Malfoy had messaged her about it, but...

“The man you saw at the coffee shop earlier?” Granger asks.

“Yeah, him. Barty. He—thing is, last time I saw him was a few hours before he was arrested. And then he was sent to prison. Life sentence.” He lets that sink in.

“What was he convicted of?”

Harry presses his fingers into his palm, and then relaxes them again. It hurts to even think about this. “There was a man—he owed Tom money. Tom sent Barty and some others and they were supposed to make it clear that Tom wanted it back. I—I dunno the details of what happened. But the cops got there, and the three of them were picked up. Tom said it was their own fault, and they’d have to wait a few years before he could do anything about it. I… I guess he must have. Any prison breaks recently?”

He meant it half as a joke, but Granger and Malfoy exchange another glance. Had there been? He hasn’t heard anything on the BBC, even if he only half-listens… After all this time, he’s been getting complacent…

“When was he arrested?”

“October of ninety-nine. They were convicted in December.” It had been one of the final factors in his choice of when to leave.

“The man who owed Riddle money, what happened to him?” Malfoy asks.

Harry swallows, turns the water bottle over in his hands. “Officially? Car crash, a month later. Distracted driving, the papers said, but the car burned up and they didn’t get a good ID on the body, except that it was driving his car and all.”

“It wasn’t him?”

“No. He…”

Tom had told Harry to wait in the car, parked outside a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere. He hadn’t made it a secret that the man had been inside, and… it had been an open invitation for Harry to follow, like it always was. Harry hadn’t. Tom had returned twenty minutes later, and they’d gone on.

“He’s probably on the bottom of the Thames. Well, the ocean’s more likely.”

He sees the way they exchange another look. “I’m serious. One of Tom’s friends—he had a boat. I—I went out on it, a few times. Tom, he… he didn’t exactly keep what he was doing quiet. Not around me. I just… didn’t want to know.”

He’d known, alright. And—but even here, he doesn’t want to remember.

Granger taps her pen on the notebook. “Do you know the friend’s name? The name of the boat?”

“Walt, I think? Or… ‘W’ something. The boat was the… something Lady, or Lady something. He just called it the Lady.”

“Do you know where it docked?”

“When I went out, Bristol.”

She’s writing this down, but it’s like the house on Delphinium Drive. Tom is careful, to the point of being paranoid. She’s not going to find records.

“And they used this boat for… disposing of bodies.”

“I’m fairly certain they used it for other things, too, but yeah.”

“Other things?”

“Moving things, I mean. Guns, drugs, people…” He shrugs again, not knowing what to tell them, seeing them stiffen at the specifics. He supposes that’s not something you want to hear about, even if you’re law enforcement. “I couldn’t tell you what was legal or what was not. Well, I mean, obviously not the drugs, but—I usually wasn’t at the, um, scene, while Tom was doing business. If I was in the area… there was something else for me to do. I found something else to do. Tom didn’t… usually, he didn’t push it.”

Granger seems to think on his answer for a minute, then lets it slide. She looks down at her notebook. Back to Harry. “If this Barty was arrested, wouldn’t Riddle have come up in the trial?

Harry’s shaking his head before the question is finished. “Barty told me once if I ever betrayed Tom, he’d track me down himself and put a bullet in my head. Or slit my throat, if he didn’t have a gun. Or snap my neck, if he didn’t have a knife.”

Harry can remember it quite clearly. Barty—he’d only been a few years older than Harry, which had made him easier to talk to than most of Tom’s lot. And he’d been outgoing and personable, when he wasn’t talking crazy, and Tom had never minded when Harry went drinking with him, and Barty taught Harry how to fight… they hadn’t been friends, but friendly. It didn’t mean anything, with Barty. If Tom asked him to, he’d probably have shot his own mother.

“I can understand why you were upset to see him, then,” Granger says. Harry glances up at her, realizes he stopped before he meant to.

“He followed up with a much more elaborate plan, involving autocannibalism and gasoline.” He watches her face flicker—not a real change in expression, but it’s good to see she’s feeling something. “He… doesn’t like traitors. He wouldn’t have said a thing.”

Malfoy cuts in: “And the others?”

“Others?”

“You said this Barty wasn’t on his own. The two you mentioned. Would they have talked?”

Harry only has to think about it for a moment before he shakes his head. “Alexa—that was the name she used? She only put up with me because Tom said to, but she, uh, wanted to be in my place. To put it lightly. She made that clear. And her brother… No, they wouldn’t’ve said anything. They were loyal.”

And they wouldn’t have dared threaten him, not when Tom might have heard about it.

“Her brother?”

“Angus.”

“Angus, Alexa, and Barty, all arrested on the same day, October of ninety-nine,” Granger muses, tapping her pen against her bottom lip. “It should be simple enough to track down. Especially if they are still in prison. If not… we could at least find out what happened to your man.”

“That… would be nice to know,” Harry says.

She looks down at her notebook again. Flips the page. Harry picks at the label on the water bottle, peeling the paper away from the plastic. Waiting for whatever Granger wants to know next—and maybe this time it will be about Tom, just Tom.

“For the moment,” she says, “We are going to jump forward a bit. We’ll come back again, but I think we have a good understanding of how you ended up with Tom, at this point. Now I think it would be best to discuss why you left.”

She waits for a moment, and Harry’s brow pinches in confusion. “Why I left?” he says. She nods. Why he—don’t they know that Tom is dangerous? Violent? Up to no good? Isn’t that why he’s—

Malfoy seems to anticipate his growing confusion. “Why you left when you did would be a clearer place to start, I think,” he says. Granger purses her lips, but nods.

Harry still frowns. “Well, one, like I said, three people had just been arrested, so… three less people to worry about,” he says slowly. “But… I had a job. I had… Look, it was only a matter of time before things changed. Tom was… at some point he wouldn’t need someone who wasn’t around to be ordered about. I mean, he ordered me about plenty, but…”

He catches his hand pushing through his hair. Tom hated that. Something about the gesture—that Harry had such an obvious tell, maybe—it irritated him to no end. Not that Tom can see him now, but he remembers… when Tom snapped at him, even if it was just a little thing, it had always terrified Harry in a way his Aunt’s screaming, even his Uncle’s fists never had. Terrified him that Tom was reaching the end of his interest. That Harry, who had against his better judgement let himself believe in Tom, would...

“In the end, he was going to put the gun in my hands, and tell me to shoot someone else or shoot myself,” Harry says darkly. “And at that point, he wouldn’t’ve cared which way it went. I left before it happened. While I still could.”

“Did he threaten that?” Granger asks.

“Directly? No. But I—” His throat closes on the words again. Why? He wants to tell them, damn it—“I’d seen it. A kid, a year or so younger than me? Tom gave him a choice. Shoot—I don’t know who; I didn’t want to—kill him, or kill himself, or they’d both end up dead.”

He bites down on his cheek when he says it, as though it’ll help. It doesn’t. He remembers the kid, wide-eyed and in awe of this man who would trust him with a gun. He’d been picked up off the streets by someone else, courted in. If Tom had been in a different mood when he’d met Harry, maybe he’d have done the same with him. He did with a lot of people, people who’d never had someone with power to rely on. With Harry, he’d drawn it out, but then, Harry wouldn’t have made it far, as a lackey. Too disobedient.

“Alright,” says Granger. “So you left while the window was open. But how did you know you would be safe?”

Harry huffs out a laugh. “Know?” he says. “I didn’t. I—I took out a room in a hotel for a few days, paid cash. Sold the car I’d bought earlier that year, so I’d have a bit to spare. Dumped my phone and got a new one—the number I’ve got now. Changed the locks on my door when it was too expensive to leave right away. And still—he showed up across the street from where I worked, did I mention that? I put in notice that same day. Thought about going up North, but…” He shakes his head. “I didn’t know I would be safe. I could hope what I’d taken would be enough, but… I didn’t know.”

“What you’d taken?”

“Information,” Harry clarifies. “There’s some, uh, data—I can get it for you, but it’s encrypted… or it was, in ninety-nine. Dunno about how far computers have come since then, or if it’ll be useful anymore. More valuable— This. What we’re talking about right now. Tom is careful, but I’ve got years of things that wouldn’t have been traced back to him. People. If someone with the proper resources looked into it… I left a note, saying that I’d keep my mouth shut if he’d leave me alone. But then… you’d already gotten the first piece. I doubt he’s worried about what I would tell you. He’s got bigger things to deal with...”

“You stole data?” Granger asks, though her hand is still writing. “Did you bring it with you? Today, I mean?”

“No, I—I purchased a safe. It’s near here, actually, where it’s kept. And I had a will drawn up and notarized, leaving the contents of the safe to—uh, to Amelia Bones.”

Her hand pauses. “From the CPS?”

If she recognizes the name, that makes things easier. “She was a barrister on the case against Barty and Angus and Alexa. We—none of us were directly involved, but everyone was following it. Hers was the only name I really knew that wouldn’t be as suspect as, um, willing the contents of a safe to the Metropolitan Police, or something.”

Malfoy is looking at him appraisingly. Well, who knows if Harry’s plan would have actually worked; he doesn’t know enough about the legal system to say for sure.

“It was enough to convince Tom,” Harry goes on. “I mean, I guess. I… I left him a copy of my will, so he’d know. Either he was convinced, or…”

“Or?” Granger asks.

“Or he expected I’d come back,” Harry says quietly. It’s hard to even consider, which means it’s… probably the more likely option. “You know. Indulging a rebellious phase, so it gets over sooner, so he could take the high ground if I came around? And then fasten the noose a bit tighter.”

“Ah,” says Granger. She looks disappointed. “We’ll have to retrieve that data… The first piece—you said we had already gotten the first piece to start. What do you mean by that?”

“The name, Voldemort? It’s an anagram. Something he thought up in school, he said.”

“An anagram of what?”

“His name—Tom Marvolo Riddle became ‘I am Lord Voldemort’. Camp, I know, but you’re already looking for information on Tom Riddle. He’s done just about everything to ensure no records of him exist, so he’ll be scrambling to figure out how you got that, right about now.”

Harry is curious about it himself, but he supposes someone else must have talked. Someone who Tom trusts, or they wouldn’t even have known that name, only ‘Voldemort’. Even the parties had been a strictly no-names affair—the first time, Harry thought it had just been on account of the drugs: no names meant less damage if there was trouble. He realized late it was more—much more.

“And his people,” Harry finds himself going on. “I know his people. Not all of them, but the ones who were important back then, trusted—I met them. Some. Like Barty and Alexa and Angus. Tom’s people are, above all else, loyal. I… people don’t leave. But I wasn’t ever really a part of it. I’m not one of them. It’s only my bargain with Tom that’s held me back from talking before.”

That’s not quite true. Fear, that’s what’s stopped him. Fear that Tom’s people would kill him. That Tom himself would take revenge. That the cops would pin something on him, since he hadn’t spoken up when he realized, way back when.

Worst: fear they’d do nothing at all.

“But now you’re willing to break that bargain.”

“If it’ll help end this? Yes.”

He’d tried to explain to Malfoy yesterday why he’d risk it now, and that’d ended up a rambling mess, so he doesn’t elaborate. Besides, they’re exchanging looks again, so maybe Malfoy had told her what Harry had said, even if it hadn’t been an official question.

“Mr Potter,” she begins again, and she sounds like she thinks Harry is not going to like it. “First, you are right: the information you can provide us will be invaluable in getting to the bottom of this case. But Tom Riddle, as you have surmised, is an extremely dangerous individual. It is therefore my belief that it is our best option, for the time being, to move you to a secure location—”

“No,” says Harry. “Absolutely not.”

Granger’s eyes widen as she gapes. She’s probably not used to people disagreeing with her so openly, being in charge here, but Harry doesn’t owe her anything.

“Mr Potter, you must understand—”

“Are you planning on arresting me?”

“What? No, I—”

“Then, no. I haven’t spent seven years looking over my shoulder just to be locked up the moment I decide to do something about it,” he spits out. “I’m trying to help you because it’s probably the right thing to do. I’m not going to be locked up because of that.”

“It’s not locking you up, Mr Potter,” she insists. “It’s…”

“I have a life,” he says. On his lap, the hand not gripping the water bottle is curling into a tight fist, and though he keeps his nails short they’re digging into his palm. “I only agreed to come up here today ‘cause it’s my day off, but I can’t go disappearing from work. I have a life, don’t you get that? That’s something I never thought I’d have. I thought I’d either be acting out the story Tom directed or I’d be dead, ‘cause no one outlives their use to him. I’m not going to give that up just to—just to—”

What cuts him off isn’t Granger’s platitudes, but a completely unexpected intrusion—a ringtone. Three short tones, repeating once—twice— For a moment, Granger and Malfoy look so startled Harry wonders if it isn’t his phone, but then Granger pulls hers out of her pocket, staring at it like she’s never seen it before. She glances over at Malfoy, who shrugs, and then up to the one-way glass, and slowly brings it to her ear to answer—“Hello?”

After a moment, she stands, pressing it to her chest, and says, “I’m sorry for the interruption, but I’m afraid I… will be a minute.” And then she turns, bringing the phone back up to her ear as she makes her way to the door, saying, “Go on,” before it shuts behind her.

Harry and Malfoy both stare as the echoes shudder the room. “That… isn’t normal, right?” Harry asks quietly. If Granger’s just outside, she can probably still hear them talking, since this is being recorded.

“Generally we avoid taking phone calls while in the middle of meetings, yes,” Malfoy agrees. “I can only imagine it was important.”

“I’d think the head of the RRS has plenty of more important things to deal with than conducting interviews."

“Not necessarily,” Malfoy says. He sighs, leaning back in his chair, still watching the door. “We’re a large group, and for the last month we’ve focused solely on Riddle. Granger is in charge of keeping the investigation organized. If there’s something that’s likely to drastically change the course of the investigation, she needs to have as complete an understanding as possible.”

“I… see,” says Harry. He supposes it makes sense, but... If what Harry tells them about Tom is going to upset the investigation, is he doing more harm than good, bringing it forward…?

“I don’t think you do.”

Malfoy’s still got that calculating look, eyes narrow and arms folded across his chest. He doesn’t strike Harry as someone likely to share his emotions, so Harry doesn’t take it personally, but he does tilt his head, waiting.

“You’re acting as though you can just go back to your coffee shop,” Malfoy goes on. “As though somehow since you’ve braved coming forward, the danger has suddenly gone away.”

“...I think I know what ‘danger’ I’ve gotten myself into better than you do,” Harry says, trying not to sound too offended. Failing. “And if Tom decides to come after me? I don’t think any place Granger sends me will hide me from him.”

Besides: it’ll be better if Harry is alone. Less collateral damage.

Malfoy doesn’t voice any disagreement, there, so maybe he’s not as… idealistic as Granger. Or maybe he understands Harry’s mind is made up. Harry’s stubbornness has always been one of his stronger traits.

After a minute, Harry looks away, checking his phone. The time catches him off guard—it’s already past eleven. Have they really been speaking that long? Beyond the clock, there’s nothing terribly exciting. Harry doesn’t pay for texting or internet access, and he doesn’t have the wifi password to check his email, not that there’d be anything except advertisements and junk. He pages idly through the menus, and hesitates for a moment on the option labeled ‘photos’. He knows it’s blurry, but talking about Barty—maybe if he justs looks closer—

The door opens, and Granger returns, only, she’s not alone. There’s a man behind her, ominous in black slacks, a black sweater, and a black expression. That seems to be his default, though the moment he looks at Harry it deepens into a pointed scowl. But he looks away just as quickly, so maybe it was a trick of the light. Maybe he just has one of those faces.

If he weren’t so pale, he’d look remarkably similar to Harry, in a certain sense: they’ve both got black hair pulled back, and—well, alright, it would be generous to call Harry’s scruff a goatee, but it’s similar enough.

“This,” Granger says, and for the first time she looks hesitant, like she’s not sure this is a good idea. “Is Severus Snape. He’s in charge of anything we need a scientific mind for—mostly forensics—and my senior-most advisor.”

He certainly looks a good deal older than anyone else Harry’s met so far, though he can’t be more than in his fifties. It makes Granger’s youth even more apparent.

Harry slips his phone back into his hoodie. “Oh, um. Nice to meet you?”

“I’m sure,” Snape replies. He comes around the table and grabs the chair next to Harry, only to drag it several feet back. When he sits, his shoulders are rigid, as though being here is physically painful.

“Not to be rude,” says Malfoy as Granger sighs and takes her seat again. “But…”

He doesn’t finish his question, but the others seem to understand, and Harry feels, for a moment, like he is intruding. Which seems ridiculous, because these three are professionals, even if Malfoy and Granger don’t care for each other and this Snape fellow doesn’t look like he cares for anyone.

“Mr Potter,” Granger starts, “We have some more things to ask you about, regarding your… background. Prior to meeting Tom Riddle, that is.”

“...are we just ignoring the fact that ten minutes ago you said you want to lock me up?” Harry asks. “Because that seems a bit more important, right now.”

Granger sighs. “It’s not—we’ll get back to that, I promise. But… Severus and I believe it is important that we discuss this, first.”

Malfoy, at least, looks confused too, though he’s looking at Snape for answers. Snape is picking at his fingernails.

“Alright,” Harry says, cautiously. Back to the Dursleys? Did they think they were important, somehow? “I’m not sure how, uh, relevant that will be. To helping you find Tom, I mean.”

Granger glances towards Snape, too, and takes a breath, seemingly composing herself, back to how she had been before. “It might come as something of a surprise to you to know that Malfoy and I and several of our colleagues went to school with Neville Longbottom, the manager of Sprout’s and Seedlings,” she begins.

Curious— extremely curious—but not, as far as Harry can see, relevant to his past. He waits.

“After Malfoy interviewed you yesterday, he and another officer visited Neville, confirming what you said about the flowers Riddle has been sending you. Eventually—and quite by coincidence—the topic of your parents came up, and if became apparent that what you’d told him and what we understand it do not… align.”

They’d asked Neville about his parents…? Why? And… “Well, I suppose… the only time Neville and I might have talked about them, we’d have both been, ah, drunk…”

“Well, how about you tell us about what you know about them,” Granger says.

“Um… Not much, to be honest,” he says. “My relatives wouldn’t talk about them, since, uh… Well, Aunt Marge—my uncle’s sister—she’s the only one who would, since she thought it was important to remind me how, um, lucky I was, I guess.”

“Lucky?” Granger pushes.

Harry sighs, and pushes the hair from the left side of his face back over his ear, and tilts his head so the jagged scar running from the middle of his forehead to his left temple catches the light. When he was a kid, he thought it looked a bit like a lightning bolt, especially since it was a bit paler than the surrounding skin, but now he’s just glad his hair mostly keeps it covered, if you don’t know to look for it.

“I came out of the car crash with just a cut—well, and some brain damage, if you ask my uncle,” he says. “If you ask Aunt Marge, depending on the day, everyone else involved either died or was seriously injured. Whatever is true, my parents definitely died.”

They’re all staring at him. He shakes his hair back into place. “They were driving drunk,” he clarifies. “With me in the car. My aunt forbade me from talking about it, in case the neighbors heard. She… was always concerned about the neighbors.”

He’s not sure what else they’re expecting him to add, but they all keep staring at him. Even that Snape bloke. Malfoy shakes himself free of their stupor first, and says—

“Neville said you didn’t know your parents' names.”

Harry shrugs. Petunia and Vernon weren’t about to tell, and he’d never really cared to ask. It was easier, to maintain his childish fantasy of these two perfect, unnamed people, rather than to face up to the humanity of them. And when he was older… well, look what parents had ever done for Dudley. A fat lot of good they’d ever been.

“What about your birth certificate?” Granger asks.

“Never seen it.”

“You have legal identification, though,” she pushes. “You have to, to work…?”

“Er,” says Harry, wincing. Tricky, but… he’d told himself he’d give whatever information they needed to catch Tom, even if it’s… questionable, legally. For him. “I… my aunt set it up when I was in school, and… Tom helped me learn how to drive, and to get a license, and… he dealt with the paperwork, I mean.”

The seat still feels uncomfortable, and Harry squirms. It’s not going to get any better. Maybe he’ll get used to it, and it won’t be so awkward.

There’s silence in the room for a minute, and it’s broken by Snape. Harry’s still not sure why he came in—there’s not going to be any forensic science going on in here, unless they’re planning to test his DNA, or something.

“Petunia Evans,” Snape says. “Is that your aunt’s name?”

“Dursley,” Harry corrects. They must have looked her up, or… had he mentioned her name? He doesn’t think he had. “Petunia Dursley. I guess Evans could have been her maiden name? She’s dead now, though. Has been for a few years.”

Granger sighs, and for a moment leans back, her arms folded across her chest. Malfoy doesn’t look confused anymore, just cautious, and Snape is—well, he might be plotting to murder Harry violently in his sleep, or wondering what he’s going to have for dinner, for all Harry knows.

“Alright,” Granger says after a minute, setting her pen aside and finally opening the folder she’d brought in earlier. “So if we were to tell you your parents were named Lily Evans Potter and James Charles Potter, you would have no way to say whether or not that is wrong?”

That is an odd way to phrase it—but Harry’s too busy mouthing the names, tasting the way they roll on his tongue. “Seems as likely as any,” he agrees after a moment. James is, after all, his middle name, and since Aunt Petunia was named after a flower, well, his mother could be too. But, like the very concept of having parents, the names feel foreign to him.

“There is no doubt. He looks exactly like him,” Snape says impatiently—to Granger, not Harry, who he hasn’t looked at directly since he sat down.

“Like… James Potter?” Harry asks. “Did you… know him?”

That, apparently, doesn’t warrant a response from the surly man, but Granger picks up a few pieces of paper, stapled together. “Yes,” she answers, “Severus knew him. Tell me, Mr Potter, are you familiar with the name Gellert Grindelwald?”

Gellert Grindelwald. Not an English name—German, perhaps?—and not one he can say he’s run across before, though it does sound familiar… like deja vu. A trick of the brain, then. “I don’t think so.”

“He is, in some ways, the precursor to Voldemort—a crime lord, you might say; the papers dubbed him the ‘Dark Lord’, for his shadow involvement in various scandals. The Grindelwald case was one of the largest in Britain’s recent history. In addition to a list of crimes including large-scale political conspiracy, he was also known as a cop killer. His criminal identity had been a carefully guarded secret, and as Grindelwald was something of a minor public figure, with wealth and political power at his disposal, and because his web of influence ran deep into many of the country’s institutions, the trial was… messy, to say the least.”

She pauses again, but at last she hands him the printout she is holding, and—

For a moment Harry thinks she’s just handed him a picture of himself. Maybe it’s a trick of the low-quality print that the man looks so similar. Harry doesn’t at all recognize the woman he is standing next to. But if they’re trying to tell him that it’s his mother and father… yeah, Harry would believe that. He’d be a fool not to.

After a moment, he manages to tear his eyes away from the familiar-but-different faces. Glances to the rest of the article. THE “DARK LORD’S” LAST, 31 October 1981 . And down, scanning the account, but—

“I think you’ve got the wrong person,” he says after a moment, quietly. “Or—this article has. My parents… They weren’t some sort of tragic heroes. They were two… idiots, who went out and got themselves killed.”

“Petunia hammered that into your brain, did she,” Snape says coolly. Harry glances over, meeting the narrowed black eyes, and almost flinches at the expression on Snape’s face. “You must be even denser than you look—”

“Severus,” Granger warns. Snape ignores her.

“She always was a jealous person,” he goes on. “If anything good happened to someone else, she would take it as a personal attack. She resented her sister, getting a scholarship to a boarding school, freedom from Cokesworth nine months out of the year. I can only imagine how her loathing festered. Lily, marrying rich, going on to medical school, while she—was she ever more than a housewife?”

Harry stares at him. “You knew my aunt?” he asks, not able to raise his voice louder than a murmur. “You knew…”

“I knew her, and your parents, and your parents’ friends, and everyone in between,” Snape says coolly. “And I knew Petunia better than you, apparently, if you believed anything that came out of her mouth.”

That breaks Harry’s confused trance, and he scowls back. “And what should I have done?” he demands. “You act like it’s so simple, but you were never—”

He cuts off, biting his tongue before he loses his temper completely. Snape stares on, and then, after a moment, pinches the bridge of his nose. “I simply mean to say that the evidence is before you, Mr Potter. And there’s plenty more where that came from. I would have thought you would have known this already, from dealing with your inheritance.”

This man is really starting to piss Harry off.

“My parents didn’t leave behind any money, if that’s what you mean,” Harry says. “Or if they did, it went into my Aunt and Uncle’s pockets, not mine. I said it already. I’ve had nothing of my parents’ my whole life.”

Snape raises an eyebrow, but before he replies Granger cuts him off. “Severus, you didn’t come in here to start a fight.”

“Why did you come in here?” Malfoy asks.

“Grindelwald,” Snape says shortly. “James and Lily Potter—and yes, they were your parents, Mr Potter, whether you want to believe it or not, and they were killed by Grindelwald.”

“And?” Malfoy presses, when Harry doesn’t. “Grindelwald is in prison. Has been for, what, twenty-six years?”

“We have reason to believe,” says Granger, shooting Malfoy an irritated glance, “That Tom Riddle may be connected to Grindelwald. To the remnants of his… empire.”

Malfoy opens his mouth again, but closes it sharply when he catches Granger’s look. She turns back to Harry.

“I’ve never heard of him,” Harry repeats.

“Have you heard of Albus Dumbledore?”

This’s even easier to answer. No deja vu here. “No.”

Dumbledore?” Malfoy says incredulously.

“Never once?” Snape pushes, voice nasty. “Not even—”

“Quiet,” Granger orders. Snape glare at her, but this time he stays quiet. “Thank you,” she says. “Now. Albus Dumbledore is… was a man of considerable political influence, although to Malfoy, Severus, and I, he was first the headmaster of the school we all attended as children. Hogwarts. As such, it is easy for us to forget how much of a public figure he was. Whether you recognize the name or not, you have no doubt been influenced by the work he did towards advancing the British education system, as well as areas such as human rights. Unfortunately, he passed away last summer.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Harry says after a moment. “I’m still not sure how any of this has to do with Tom or me.”

“Did Mr Riddle ever discuss his childhood with you?”

Finally, a question that Harry can answer. “To some extent. He told me about the orphanage, and getting a scholarship to a…” He pauses. “You think he went to this… Hogwarts?”

“According to Dumbledore, yes,” Granger agrees. She glances towards Malfoy again, and her gaze lingers. “He contacted us shortly before he passed away. It is only because of him that we know of the name Tom Riddle at all, as well as some other matters, which are exceptionally classified.” Malfoy scowls at her, but Granger sighs and turns back to Harry, looking at him levelly. “However, I think it will benefit you to hear of this as well, Mr Potter. But I want to be expressly clear that this is firmly within the bounds of the non-disclosure agreement.”

“I don’t know who you expect me to tell,” Harry says. “I haven’t spoken to anyone about Tom before now, and I’m not exactly going to bring it up with my coworkers. Or customers.”

Despite his tone of voice, Granger simply nods. “Severus. If you would?”

The man sighs, and clears his throat.

Chapter Text

CANCER CENTRE, ST MUNGO’S HOSPITAL. 30 JUNE, 2007. 11:25.

 

Hospitals, for all the good they do the world, are rarely a place one enjoys going. What are they, after all, if not institutional reminders of mortality? For you, and those you’d rather see safely at home or out in the world and on their feet, not trying to listen while the Doctor explains the news, not stuck in a bed staring at the same four walls and ceiling and waiting for the nurse to come by again so there’s someone to talk to, for a minute, to distract from the way your body is coming apart.

For Severus, who had been a sickly child, they remind him of cold metal: stethoscopes pressing against his chest, needles in his arms and thighs. This one, of course, was brighter, state-of-the-art, an irritatingly pleasant receptionist to direct him. Pastel-painted walls, a pretty facade for the same realities. And the children here were sicker, and probably more familiar with hospital practices, some bubbling with life unmatched in their tired faces and knit-cap- or wig-topped bodies, some practically dead on their feet, trailing listless behind adults trying in vain to make them laugh.

Albus’s room was on the sixth floor. Quieter, there; more somber. Suitable for old men at the end of their lives. But it was Albus, so of course as Severus went down the hall he heard laughter. The door, unlike many, was open, and he paused outside it, listening to the two voices harmonize with what could only be gallows humor, before he took the last step to look inside.

Albus, bedridden or not, was always quick to spot him.

“Severus, my boy,” he said, smiling. “Come in, please.”

When he had taken the call, when the voice on the other end had told him Albus would like Severus to come see him, Severus hadn’t known what to think. He hadn’t spoken to the man in years—not since Grindelwald’s trial had ended. He had heard, of course, that the man had finally retired, Draco’s class being his last, and that it had been his health that finally convinced him to go, but for a man like Albus Dumbledore, an enigma who had always seemed older than time itself, who had lived through two world wars and thousands of students passing through Hogwarts’ halls, Death was laughable. An impossibility. Something for others, when they reached his age, perhaps, but Albus? That’s the sort of news you don’t quite believe when you hear it over the phone.

Face to face, however—he was wasting. Gone was the white beard, the shoulder-length hair: chemo, Severus assumed, had rendered him bald. And the eclectic clothing he'd always favored, the bright colors and bizarre patterns you wouldn’t expect to find in the wardrobe of a scholar, had been replaced by a loose shift and a collection of wires and tubes. Even his voice, through the smile, was thin.

Albus was dying.

Severus didn’t say anything as he went in, not trusting himself not to insult Albus into his final minutes, and he wrenched away his stare, too, glancing at the room’s other occupant, standing at the foot of the bed. After a moment, he realized he recognized her—the maths teacher from Hogwarts, back in Severus’s day, herself in her sixties by now. She was wiping tears from her eyes, still laughing at whatever it was Albus had said, and didn’t seem surprised to see him. Perhaps she had been the one that had called, her voice distorted by the phone, or perhaps Albus had simply warned her Severus was coming.

“You’ll recognize Minerva, of course,” Albus’s thin voice said. “Though I suppose it has been some time.”

“Of course he does,” she said, smiling, the skin around her eyes gathered in pronounced crow's feet. If Severus recalled correctly, she had once been Albus's student herself, which would have been well before Severus was born. “He was one of the students who paid attention, always sitting right up in the front row with dear Lily, weren’t you.”

Peculiar, to be remembered. Let alone remembered so rosily. His own memories of her were less fond—of trying to explain he was being bullied by a group of her favorites and earning detention for the effort. He supposed she remembers all her students with that sort of fond hindsight, assuming they manage not to get themselves locked up. Peculiar.

But none of that reached his face. Or any hint of emotion at all, which no doubt accounted for the way her smile slipped when he spoke. “Yes, of course. Ms McGonagall.”

Albus didn’t let the silence hang. “Minnie, would you be a dear and run down to the cafeteria for me? See if they don’t have any of that lemon tart in.”

“Yes, alright,” she said, smiling indulgently back at him, but she didn’t leave before addressing Severus again. “If he needs it, there’s a button next to the monitor that will call for a nurse. He’s a stubborn old man, so I’ll have to trust that you will look after him, Mr Snape.”

“Of course,” he said again. She glanced at the clock.

“I’ll be back at noon, shall I?” she said to no one in particular as she went out. The door clicked shut behind her, leaving the room empty of any sound but the whirring of machines and Albus’s strained breath.

“Severus, my boy,” the man said again. Even without the beard or any weight on him, he still managed to look kindly. “Won’t you have a seat?”

Silently Severus came around the bed, taking the chair the man had indicated. It was comfortable. Probably intended so that worried visitors could get some sleep, safe in the knowledge they were only a few feet away, praying they would wake if anything happened.

His mother hadn't gotten this slow transition into death. His father was at some hospital up north, clinging to life, he'd heard, despite a severely debilitating stroke and ten lifetimes worth of alcohol and cigarettes. They'd probably moved the chair from beside his bed, when they realized no one was going to come. Tobias Snape was going to die alone, unlike Albus, but unlike Albus, Tobias Snape had been dead to Severus for nigh thirty years, and there was no one else left in the world who would remember him as anything more than a bitter drunk.

And unlike Albus, Tobias Snape would never have been able to look right through him, acknowledge that Severus's mind was split two ways, and forgive it, all without saying a word on the matter. “It’s been some time, hasn’t it,” Albus said, as though in agreement. “I’ve heard you’re still at the RRS. I’m glad you’ve found a place there, my boy. Us old men do tend to worry.”

But Severus didn’t want any niceties or sentiment. He wasn’t friends with this man, and later that evening he owed his godson at least one birthday drink, so he was saving up what little social grace he could muster until then. “Why did you call me here?”

Albus’s smile turned sad. “Always to the point. I suppose it is for the best.” He reached over to the table on the other side of the bed, opening the drawer to pull out a parcel wrapped in brown paper. It was none too big, but he struggled with it, arms shaking as he lifted it into his lap, where he let it rest for a moment, stroking it fondly. “I was hoping you would deliver this to Ms Granger for me,” he said when he finally mustered the strength to pass it over. Even wrapped, it was clearly a hardbound book. “It’s strange, isn’t it, how one can come to peace with dying and still feel the need to hold onto their books. Most of my library I have donated to Hogwarts, but this… I think Ms Granger will appreciate it.”

Severus waited as Albus lapsed into silence again. He hadn’t been called here just to play courier for a book. After a moment, Albus reached back over to the table and picked up another object, a mug of tea, the tag still hanging off to the side, which shook as he brought it to his lips and drank. “There are so many things to say,” he murmured, bringing it back down to settle cup and hands into the plush white comforter draped over him. “I hardly know where to start.”

“At the beginning, I expect,” Severus said. “Or at the end, so I can leave you to your rambling.”

That earned him a wry smile. “Yes, well. I’m sure that is what you would prefer, and with good reason. Though you see, Severus, part of why I called you out here is to apologize.”

Severus stilled, hand tightening around the book. Oh, bloody hell—“There is nothing to apologize for.”

“Oh, but there is, my boy, there is.” He sighed, peering down his nose through his half-moon glasses, as though his tea could give him the comfort that Severus would not. “Over the years, I have often wondered what would have happened had I voiced my concerns sooner. Had Gellert been stopped, he would have never have gotten his claws into you, or any of the others he took an interest in. You would have been spared all that. It is because I was a coward it went on and grew to the extent that it did.”

“Your ego hasn’t shrunk with the rest of you,” Severus replied, unsettled by the ease with which Albus spoke of the buried parts of his past. He felt his defenses rising, as they often did around people who wanted to have heart to heart, emotive discussions within earshot of him. It was rarer that Severus was an intended participant, and doubly undesirable.

“Mmm, no, I am afraid not,” Albus agreed. He looked up again.  “Nor has my stubbornness.”

“There is no point in this… dwelling,” Severus said. “It’s in the past. He is locked up, and probably going to follow you through this whole excessively dramatic end soon enough. And that’ll be two fewer headaches to worry about.”

“Your bedside manner is astounding, my boy,” Albus commented. “But I am afraid all this is beside the point. Although I have sincerely been hoping for the chance to deliver my apology, I do not expect forgiveness for you.”

Severus ground his teeth. He should have just gone through with the song and dance, told the man he forgave him, and he’d be on his way—of course, this was Albus, and he had always had the irritating ability to see through Severus's white lies. Ever since he was a boy on scholarship at Hogwarts, desperate to keep everyone at arm’s length, everyone except—

Damn the old fool! His sentimentality was catching.

“Then what, exactly, is it that you want?”

The smile slipped again. Albus took another sip of tea.

“You weren’t the only one who Gellert took advantage of,” he said, his voice low and somber, rasping the words out. “Not the only child with a brilliant mind but not two pennies to rub together. There were others.”

“I am aware.”

“Oh? Then perhaps you recall Tom Riddle?”

Severus frowned, and was forced to scan back through his memories of his time… working for Grindelwald. Of the meetings he was forced to attend—not that he would have ever disagreed when his living expenses for completing his education were on the line, not when his mother was at home slowly wasting, pretending she wasn’t hungry anyways when his father drank away the government money from they were supposed to use to eat—of the times he had visited Grindelwald’s house, chose his words carefully to convince his fanatics he was still one of them, of doing anything necessary not to buckle when he’d officially become a double mole. He wouldn’t have had to think about it so hard, not when his recall far exceeded the average person’s, except he’d spent so much time pushing that whole period back with alcohol and other distractions that to call it up willingly almost felt impossible.

“No,” he said. “I don’t.”

Albus sighed. “He’s why I called you here. I had always assumed that the matter would die with me, you see, but Alastor came to visit recently. He mentioned that the RRS had been put onto the case of the criminal known as Voldemort, and after all this time… Well, I confess I assume you prefer actions over simple apologies.”

Alastor. Of course. Even after retiring the bastard would still take pleasure in running Severus through the gauntlet.

“This… Riddle, he has something to do with Voldemort? And... he was one of Grindelwald’s?”

“To an extent,” Albus said. He knew he had Severus’s attention now, and he sank back into his pillow, closing his eyes. “Riddle was but a child in Hogwarts in eighty-one, you see. But Gellert had taken an interest in him before that. Arranged for his scholarship personally, and… well, I believe he intended to adopt the boy.”

“Grindelwald wanted to adopt,” Severus echoed dully. He might not have believed it, only, now that the memories were stirred he could recall the way he, as a child with only disappointment in his father, had met this man who had deemed him destined for great things, who so long as Severus excelled would assist Severus in accessing the education he wanted. How easily he had conditioned Severus to want to impress him. To wish that he had been his father, not Toby bloody Snape with his drunkenness and gift for getting laid off and mean fist. Of course Grindelwald had never gone so far as to adopt Severus—he was just another pawn on the chessboard—but he had a knack for collecting things. If he found someone he valued just a bit more, well. Adoption wasn’t so drastic a way to get a child’s future under your control.

“Tom was unusually bright,” Albus said. “You, I, even Gellert, he would have put to shame. And like Gellert, he had a ruthlessness. I am not a doctor, but I would not hesitate to refer to him as a psychopath. You can imagine Gellert’s delight.”

He could. In simplistic terms, Grindelwald had an obsession with people with unique skills, talents, or what he termed as high intelligence. He believed in a society where those of lesser capacities, as he put it, should have a lesser status, to the extent that it would be enforced by the government. To a child like Severus had been, assured of his own superiority over men like his father, desperately clinging to the one thing he had over other people—he was intelligent, which was to say: he excelled in school—he had eaten up Grindelwald’s ideas, but even Severus had been deeply, morally disturbed when he had seen first hand what logical end Grindelwald drew them out to. A child without guilt or empathy? He wouldn’t have had Severus’s weakness.

“He intended for this boy to follow in his shoes.”

“Undoubtedly,” Albus agreed. “In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he believed Tom would grow up to kill him... in hindsight, I've seen things I took as metaphor may have been quite literal. Tom was, to Gellert’s ideals, the perfect specimen.”

“And yet I have never heard of him.”

“No,” Albus mused. “Of course, I am not aware to what extent he kept him a guarded secret within his ranks, though if you did not know, then I would be tempted to say that none did. He met Tom, a runaway, and sheltered him for a few days before finding out where to return him. When Tom ran away next, the orphanage contacted him, hoping maybe he had gone back to Gellert's kindness. He hadn't, but Gellert was quick enough to track him down. And again he let Tom stay a few days before returning him. Eventually, Tom started going to him rather than having to be tracked down, and Gellert would extend the time he would allow him to stay—not that he would let anyone know where Tom was, of course. One of the times when Tom showed up, I was with Gellert, and so we were introduced, and Gellert made it clear he believed Tom should be the recipient of a scholarship to Hogwarts, when the time came.

"He told me eventually about his plan to adopt Tom, but he hadn't put it into motion by eighty-one. When he was captured... he asked me to keep the matter quiet. To shelter Tom from being held in account for any of Gellert's crimes. And to keep a watch on his safety outside of school. There was a reason he continually ran away, after all. And... I will confess, my boy, I thought of you when I said yes."

"Of me? "

Albus took another sip of tea. "Come, Severus. Even if you do not understand it, you are observant enough to know that I tried my best to protect you, when I suggested to Alastor that he give you a chance to help bring down Gellert, rather than to be imprisoned for being brought into something out of your control."

Severus narrowed his eyes, but turned the conversation back to this child. "So you lied. For twenty-six years."

"Omitted," Albus clarified. "I have no proof that Gellert had, ah, brought Tom into the fold from that young of an age, though over the years it became apparent that even if he hadn't, Tom was a force to be reckoned with of his own right. A natural leader, though he kept his acquaintances to a strictly limited few. Unfailingly polite, when it suited him; dismissive and cruel when it did not."

"That does not equate with violent criminal behavior."

"No. However, the night that I first met him? He broke into Gellert's house, rather than knocking. And if someone's precious object went missing in the dormitories... well, Tom had a gift for 'finding' things. He hoarded objects jealousy—perhaps as a result of having little of his own; he hoarded food as well. Once he considered something his, it was his until the end. And if one of his 'friends' went against him in some way... well, one boy left the school entirely, after refusing point-blank to return to the dormitories. Another was shunned by the whole of Tom's house, until one day Tom decided he was back in his good graces."

Severus frowns. He remembers what school had been like, and had been a frequent victim of bullying. It had rarely come from inside his own house, though. He had been judged and disrespected for his background and status as a scholarship 'charity case', and never been quite the same in the eyes of many of the students from more affluent backgrounds, but the bullying—that had come from the outside. That didn't mean it didn't happen, but Severus didn't have a referent for the sort of situation Albus was describing, which was possibly a contributing factor to why it sounded peculiar.

"So he's a psychopath that Grindelwald found worthwhile. What does this have to do with Voldemort?"

"His group of friends," Albus said. "In school, they had a nickname for themselves. Called themselves the Knights—and knights serve a Lord. Tom never cared for his name; he thought it plain. If Gellert had adopted him, he would have taken 'Grindelwald' as his surname in a heartbeat, no doubt. That was no longer an option, so he fashioned himself a new one: Lord Voldemort."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "And this was common knowledge, what he called himself?"

"Of course not," Albus said. "But I had promised Gellert I would look after him, and promised myself I would keep a careful watch. I wanted him to have a normal life, free from Gellert's influence, but I was not naive. I doubted that would ever happen. I doubted he would ever be free of the influence of a man like Gellert, it having affected him from so young an age, and Tom being, ah, naturally predisposed to becoming the sort of person Gellert would have tried to shape him into."

“You spied on a student.”

“Spied… hm… I suppose you could call it that, if it comforts you. It was, of course, my job to look after students, my business to know what trouble they were getting up to. Tom was clever enough never to get caught, but his Knights? Not so much. They were children, after all. Ordinary children make regular mistakes. It’s how we grow.”

“But you have no proof. Nothing but a… childhood nickname.”

“Which is more than what you have now, isn’t it?” Albus replied.

Severus’s eyes narrowed. “Moody told you that too, did he,” he growled.

He didn’t care for Alastor Moody. In fact, he rather loathed the man, and was loathed in return, though they were both professionals in the field. Moody had gone with Albus’s proposal, back when Severus had gone looking for help in getting away from Grindelwald, and had gotten him the position with the RRS fresh out of University. Not with his team on the Metropolitan Police force; that would have been too suspect, and Severus would have probably have ended up doing Grindelwald’s job for him, murdering half the force out of sheer irritation. But then, after everything was over, and Moody became head of the RRS, he hadn’t fired Severus. No, he’d preferred to keep him around—to keep an eye on him, he’d always said, convinced that Severus was just another of Grindelwald’s fanatics who would eventually break .

"He did not say anything so explicit," Albus said. "In fact, he expressed frustration over being unable to be part of the investigation. Retiree's regret, I suppose; I know I have ever wished I were back at Hogwarts. No, I simply guessed. After all... well, I imagine you'd like to check on Tom's records back at Hogwarts, but I am afraid you will not find any. At some point, even before I retired, they were removed. He is still in the class photo, but there are no names to point him out on that. Even the award he had for scholastic achievement was removed from the trophy room."

"Someone removed his records," Severus repeated. "So on top of having no evidence that he is, in fact, this Voldemort, that he was at all related to Grindelwald, there is no record that he even went to Hogwarts."

"No. Although I can assure you some of his other teachers remember him—Horace in particular. He always was Horace's favorite, though he was disappointed when, after he left school, he did not go into the government positions he had been offered."

"And what did he do?" Severus asked. "Or was it straight from Hogwarts into the crime dens of London?"

"He had connections with those before he left Hogwarts, I am afraid. His habit of running away never ended, and the older he got... Well. After he finished, he actually had hoped to stay on, as a teaching assistant. I denied him the position, insisting he at least attend University before that, though I will admit that even if he had returned with a degree, I wouldn't have offered. And that, I am afraid, was the last time I saw Tom Riddle."

"So once he left your commitment to looking after him ended?"

"Oh, no; I did try to keep tabs on him. But even Horace heard scant few rumors, and he—well, you know how he keeps track of his favorites. Tom Riddle, for all intents and purposes, vanished, and for a few years I let it slide. It was only later, when the papers first reported a crime linked to the name 'Voldemort', that I began to look into him again, and found his records absent."

"And why didn't you contact Moody then?" Severus demanded. "You said you had acknowledged your mistake with Grindelwald, but it looks to me to be exactly the same here. You had knowledge and you failed to report it."

"And the same things motivated me as before,” Albus said patiently. “I may not have liked Tom, per say, but I did care for him. And a few missing papers, on a student who had already graduated?”

But Severus was shaking his head. “You knew. You knew and you did nothing.”

Albus was quiet for a moment, and then he sighed. “Yes, Severus,” he said. “I did nothing. And I am trying to do something now, here at the end of my days.”

“Why did you call me?” Severus asked. “Why not Granger? Or Moody?”

“Because you, my boy, must understand. You and Tom and even I—we are all victims of Gellert’s crimes. Perhaps differently than the Potters or the McKinnons, but victims.” Albus turned his head, finally looking away from Severus, his watery eyes finding the window. It rested so heavily against the pillow. “Tom, much like yourself, was never afforded a childhood. Under Gellert’s wing was the first place he found one. And Gellert—he told me, the last time I saw him, he said: ‘He’s a good kid. Brilliant. Don’t let the world ruin him.’ Just like that. And I—I spent so long trying to pretend this boy was just an ordinary boy, and now…” He looked back up to Severus. “I wanted to apologize to you, Severus. To try to right some of my wrongs. If letting go of my delusions can help—it is the least I can do.”

Severus grit his teeth. Back here, were they? “It is not me you need to apologize to.”

Dumbledore smiled. “No, but you have always been one to go out and get things done, haven’t you? I have faith that you will find a way to spare more of the world from becoming his victims. And if not… well, you will tell Miss Granger, won’t you?”

Chapter Text

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. WEDNESDAY, 10 OCTOBER, 2007. 12:15.

 

There’s silence after Snape finishes his explanation. Malfoy still seems confused as to what the headmaster of a school was doing harboring criminals. At least, that’s what Harry thinks; maybe Malfoy’s been confused by something else—maybe that his had coworker had apparently worked for this Grindelwald guy, if Harry is understanding that part of his terse telling. Ganger merely looks sad.

After a minute, as it becomes clear that Snape isn’t going to go on, Harry says, “So... what you’re saying is that this Grindelwald guy came and killed my parents because… my father was a cop. Only he got caught. And there’s a chance that he knew Tom before all that.”

“Riddle never mentioned Grindelwald to you?” Granger asks.

“I told you before,” Harry says warily. “Tom told me a bit about the home he was sent to, and… well, I can imagine him doing that—running away from there over and over again.” It would make sense, after all, because that part of the story sounded almost too familiar. If Tom had somewhere to go when he left, it would have only been natural to him, to provide that for Harry, years down the line.

“The home,” Snape asks. “Did it have a name? Or someone in charge?”

“Mrs Cole,” Harry remembers, “But you won’t find it now.”

“Has it closed?”

“It burned down,” Harry says. “It was burned down.”

He doesn’t mention how surprised he had been when Tom started telling him about his childhood, Tom’s past having always been a rather… touchy subject. Harry’s, of course, was fairly open between them, not that he ever willingly brought it up. But when Tom came home an evening when Harry hadn’t expected him, and sat down on the couch watching Harry’s movie with him, and then, when the credits rolled and Harry had been too comfortable and warm to move to turn the telly off, had begun to speak, Harry had barely dared interject for fear he would say the wrong thing and draw the story to a premature close. Instead he had listened, to how they’d try to send Tom off to some new foster family, but they would treat him either like an infant or a criminal, and would either abuse him or be completely intolerant, and then soon enough he’d end up back at the same home with the same kids who were getting into the same type of trouble every time, and they all hated Tom—and hated him even more when he was sent away to boarding school, and only came back during the summers—and so he had learned to fight back, with words and cunning even more than with his body. Of Mrs Cole, convinced Tom was possessed by the devil himself, who alternated between forbidding him from church and dragging him along as though it might cure him, of denying him food or locking him in his room or demanding he do more than his fair share of chores, or other times, if she was more subdued, hinting that he ought to go out to the library, or the park, or anywhere else—

Harry doesn’t mention that. Nor does he mention how he had fallen asleep there on that couch when Tom had lapsed back into silence, and woken up in bed folded tight against his chest and breathed in deep and smelled the scent of smoke—not cigarette smoke, but wood smoke. And when Tom was in the shower, later, and the report came on TV, Harry for once couldn’t muster even a shred of guilt. The house had burned entirely, and all the children had gotten out, but the elderly Mrs Cole’s door had been locked so they couldn’t rouse her, and she hadn’t emerged when the fire alarm blared.

"I... see," says Snape. "And the families he ran away from, did he tell you about any of them?"

"Not by name," says Harry.

"Only, he's not in any records that we've found, you see," says Granger.

"You said his school records disappeared too, didn't you?" says Harry. "If he'd go out of the way to remove those, then I imagine, um, government databases and the like, they'd be at the top of his list. He—" Harry pauses, realizing he's about to say something they might not be aware of, and considers his phrasing. "Sorry, guess I should— Getting alternate identities was never a problem for him. He even made dinner reservations under other names, and somehow he always kept them straight, which one went to which place, though he'd only do that if it was a once in a while thing. He didn't want to risk anyone running into him and recognizing him by an alternate name, so... around Surrey, for example, which was mostly a stopping point, he went by Tom Riddle. He was there often enough to warrant it, but not often enough for it to be a risk."

"Do you remember any of the names?"

Harry frowns. He can, but… "It'd be easier for me to write them down," he says. "And it wasn't just him.”

He glances at Granger’s notepad, unsure, but she shakes her head. “We can go over that later. Who else was using an alternate identity?”

“Some of the people who worked for him I know were using alternate names. Angus and Alexa were—their real names were... crap. That would be more… It was—oh, Angus was Amygus. No! Amycus, with a ‘c’—but, well, I mean obviously if you're going to run around doing things against the law, you don't want people to remember your names. I think Barty was just Barty, it was a nickname and not really that unusual, but how many people have you met named ‘Amycus’?" He glances over at Malfoy. “You would probably be renamed, oh, I dunno. David Mallory? And ‘Severus Snape’ would have to—I mean, you get the picture. And it would be air-tight, too; IDs, passports, credit cards.”

"You did mention he helped you get your driver's license," Granger says.

"I… think mine is legal?" All the things that Tom has tainted for him, but he's never actually thought hard about that. "I mean, I took a test. And it's got all my information, and all."

"We'll check it later, either way." Granger shuffles the papers before her around, lining up the edges. "In any case, I think you understand now—it's not safe for you to go back to Surrey, Mr Potter."

He'd almost forgotten about that, and hoped she had, too. Ugh. "Er, no, actually," says Harry. "Sorry. I'm not staying here."

Granger stiffens—Harry doubts she is used to people telling her no—but before she can rebuke him again, Snape speaks up. "Did you hear about the murder of Alastor Moody, earlier this year?" he asks, coolly as if he were inquiring about the weather. "The BBC did report it, though they did a scant job."

"...I read that he'd died, on the Wikipedia page," Harry answers.

"Well, Wikipedia would not have mentioned it, but we are fairly certain Voldemort was behind it."

Harry stares at him. "I, um, hate to burst your bubble, but Tom murdering people isn't exactly news…? That’s kind of his, um, M.O.?" That is why they are investigating him, isn’t it? Or are they even more behind on information—

"Murdering a cop in the fashion that Grindelwald preferred, which is to say: a violent personal exchange followed by a bomb to remove the scene of evidence, is. Murdering the man who had been in charge of the investigation against Grindelwald, who had been retired from the force since before the investigation into Voldemort came under RRS jurisdiction, who had for the most part been keeping to his house and avoiding people, is."

"If he blew up the place and this is all so new, how do you know it was him?" Harry asks.

"As part of an ongoing investigation, that is confidential information," Granger interjects smoothly. "However, Alastor is not the only one. In the last month, we have been looking into other deaths of ex-cops who were part of the team that was working against Grindelwald, and there is substantial evidence that they are all tied together. Whether or not it is Voldemort is almost beside the point: you are the child of the two people who took down Grindelwald. If, as we suspect, there is someone wrapping up loose ends, then you are one of them, Mr Potter."

"There is the possibility that it is one of Grindelwald's followers," Snape adds. "After Grindelwald was caught, the organization in the ranks fell apart, and the more... fanatical went on violent sprees, trying to sabotage the trial."

"Like the Longbottoms," Malfoy says—and then he looks horrified that he said it, and Granger looks like she's just bitten into a lemon.

"Like the Longbottoms," Snape agrees.

“The—hold on a moment,” says Harry. "The Longbottoms as in the Neville Longbottom Longbottoms?" he asks, feeling suddenly very lost. "Or do you mean someone else?"

"Yes. Neville Longbottom's parents," Granger confirms. "He went to Hogwarts—the same school the three of us went to. His parents were barristers on the Grindelwald case. They... were targets. The rest of the details are not ours to tell." But she pauses. "Of course, the fact that Mr Riddle knows of him, and has apparently been using Sprout's and Seedlings to send you flowers is concerning, though it may just be a coincidence. If this streak of killing continues, we may suggest that he comes to stay with one of us, just to be safe."

Neville Longbottom, the flower guy, a target of Tom's? But Harry shakes his head. "Wouldn't that just put him more at risk?" he asks. “I mean, right now, he’s just a bystander. If you bring him in—you said that Moody guy was the one who told Dumbledore about the case, didn’t you?”

Snape raises an eyebrow, but nods. “From the comfort of Albus’s own hospital bed. I highly doubt Riddle had someone listening in on Albus’s room at St Mungo’s.”

“He does have doctors who work for him,” Harry says. “But… yeah. Probably not. I dunno, maybe Tom could have been watching Dumbledore, but it doesn’t seem—I just mean that Moody was involved in this case, and—I mean, no offense, but it’s kind of hard for me to see this Grindelwald guy motivating Tom to killing someone. He doesn’t care about other people like that. If anything, he probably would have respected the guy—Moody, I mean, if Grindelwald was in a similar position to Tom’s and Moody brought him down. If he wanted to kill Moody, it was because of something relating to him. He doesn’t kill people for fun—it’s too risky. It has to be tactically advantageous. Relevant.”

“So you think bringing Neville in would make him ‘related to the case’, and so a viable target,” Granger says. She sighs and reaches up to smoothen her hair.

“All he’s done is deliver plants, right?” Harry says. “Killing him would not make any sense. It may be twisted, but Tom always has logic behind his actions. I don’t think he’d have any reason to…”

But he trails away. There is a reason, now that Harry’s gone against Tom. Anyone he’s shown the slightest compassion for that Tom might have heard about is at risk.

“We need more information,” Snape says shortly. “A wider dataset. But the solution is simple: if we prove there is a correlation between the murders and the Grindelwald case, then we get Mr Longbottom to safety through the police, rather than bringing him into the company of any of our people and putting him at risk. At that point it will not be a matter of worrying about a friend, it will be a legal issue.”

Granger nods in agreement and picks up her pen again. “You, Mr Potter, are already a clear target. Even had you not come to us, if it is one of Grindelwald’s followers murdering people, then you would be a potential victim, due to your parents. You have come to us, however, and that means you have also increased the likeliness that Mr Riddle will come after you. I cannot in good conscious let you go back to Surrey alone, and it would be a costly tax on resources to dedicate someone to your protection.”

“Look, Potter,” says Malfoy, cutting in and making Granger’s shoulders stiffen again. “You told me—you said this case can’t die, unless we want it to take more victims with it. That’s what you said, yesterday, right? At this point, you’re the vital evidence we need to stop that from happening. You’re telling us you have not only enough information to blackmail Riddle into leaving you mostly alone, but also to keep him from killing you. If you’re not kept safe, and he comes after you, you’ll die taking that information with you. And the case will die too.”

Granger’s face is all pinched again as she waits for Harry’s response. But Harry feels cold. Harry had been in danger every day for nearly eight years, feeling like death was around every corner, so threats to his life? That’s one thing. Threats to the case, however… “There would still be the data I took,” he tries to reason.

“Do you want to die, Mr Potter?” Snape asks.

“Severus!”

 Snape ignores Granger’s outcry, fixing Harry with his black-eyed stare. “Because if you do, then we will have you hospitalized for suicidal behavior, and I guarantee what Miss Granger is offering you is more up to your standards of living.”

“For Christ’s sake, Severus,” Granger groans. “I apologize, Mr Potter. That is not a threat, and I will…”

She trails off, so whatever recourse she is offering, Harry doesn’t put much stock in it. But he does meet Snape’s gaze. “I don’t want to die, no.”

“Then cease being stubborn and take her offer,” the man says.

“And what exactly is that offer?” Harry asks. “You want me to remain in London? Fine, but I really doubt I can afford to live in London. I definitely can’t afford to live without working. And if you place me with someone else, it is going to make things more dangerous for the people who live around me. And unless you plan to send me out of the country, I guarantee that if Tom goes looking, he will find me.”

“We have solutions to all those problems,” Granger says, leaping on the chance to sway him. She may not approve of Snape’s methods, but she doesn’t mind taking advantage of them once played, it seems. “First, to the matter of employment: we will hire you here.”

Hire him… “What?” says Harry, bewildered. “You have an office espresso machine, or something?”

“Officially, you will be an intern,” Granger says. “Here to learn about potential careers in law enforcement. It will not pay much, but housing will be included in your compensation. Thus we will have you on-hand for the duration of this investigation, and you will come away without a gap in your employment, and, assuming you are a decent employee, references for when we reach the other side of this case.”

Harry tries to wrap his mind around this and fails. “No offense,” he says. “But is it really legal, to just hire me like that? Isn’t it, kinda, I dunno, biasing the witness, or whatever? And I’m not exactly qualified for, well, anything you could want me to do around here.”

“We’ve seen your A-levels, Mr Potter,” Snape says sharply. “You are qualified for more than wasting away your life working in a shop.”

“I like being a barista, I’ll have you know. And besides—” He looks back to Granger, not wanting to watch as Snape sneers at him. “We’ve spent the morning going over how I spent the last seven years not reporting criminal activity. Including murders. Doesn’t that, you know, disqualify me?”

Actually, Harry is fairly well certain it would be enough to have him thrown in jail, and they haven’t even really touched on the parts Harry played in Tom’s work. Where they have gotten close, Harry has… well, he hasn’t intentionally avoided it, only it’s not exactly something he’s ever intended to talk about, before.

“It didn’t disqualify Severus,” Malfoy cuts in. “He came to work for the RRS after he had been working for Grindelwald, so he could help take him down.”

“Thank you, Draco,” Snape says coolly. “Suffice to say, while our situations are markedly different, Mr Potter, there is precedent and processes in place. Please trust the legal aspects of this matter to Director Granger’s attentions. Or would you prefer to seek your own employment? Perhaps at the coffee shop down the street?”

Harry shudders involuntarily at the unwelcome reminder. Barty. To hell if Harry willingly puts himself anywhere near where Barty might have been.

His discomfort must have shown, because Granger says, “I assure you, Mr Potter, you will rarely be working so directly with Severus. Please disregard his attitude.”

“It’s not that,” Harry says quickly. It really isn’t—he’s dealt with much worse than a sharp tongue before. Next to Tom—hell, even next to Barty, who had treated him something like a friend, outside of the death threats—Snape’s words were small talk. “You said you will be providing housing?”

“Yes,” Granger confirms. “Inside London.”

“I still don’t see how that’s necessary,” says Harry. “I am a close walk to the train station. I can—”

“I told you, Mr Potter, it is too much of an expense to provide the appropriate security at your current apartment. We need you within a secure building, and, preferably, at a place where one of our officers can assist in your protection. Your current flat is less than optimal.”

Harry bites on his automatic protest. She’s right, of course—his flat is tiny. On the rare occasions when someone else has stayed over, there has not been enough room to breathe.

“And how, exactly, are you going to find a place that fits all of your specifications?” Harry asks. “If you’re wanting me to stay here starting tonight…”

“Oh, we already have a place in mind,” Granger assures him. Damn her. “And there won’t be any issues with securing the location, or signing paperwork, if that is what you are concerned about. Our plan will be to place you with one of our own, if that is amenable. As flatmates. We will compensate him for your expenses directly, and your name will not be on any paperwork.”

Him. Oh, Jesus. “Who?” he asks.

Please don’t say Snape, please don’t say Snape.

“Mr Malfoy,” Granger says.

There is a pause, and then Malfoy’s voice jumps about an octave as he says: “What?”

“Logically speaking, your flat is one of the most secure places for Mr Potter,” Granger says. “Severus also informs me that you have ample space to host a visitor, and your position means that you have more flexibility than some of our other officers in order to assist Mr Potter in getting settled. Besides,” she says, carrying on over the top of Malfoy’s spluttering. “I thought you wanted to be put on a case full-time?”

“That—I—I didn’t mean to take a case home with me!” Malfoy exclaims, his pale cheeks blotching with anger. “I have a life outside of work, Granger!”

“And I happen to know that life does not occupy your guest bedroom, Draco,” Snape says. “And, having been involved in the matter, I can assure you that the compensation for your expenses will be more than adequate.”

“Compensation! It’s not about compensation, it’s—it’s—why not Weasley?”

“Ron lives with Fred and George,” Granger says.

Harry does not know who Fred and George are, but Malfoy seems to, as he winces. “Well, then this would be an excuse for him to—”

“This is how you stay on this case, Malfoy,” Granger says, crossing her arms over her chest. “Besides, even if we did place Mr Potter elsewhere, you would still be put in charge of assisting him in settling into London. And as you know, the security on and around the building you live in far exceeds that of most flats.” She crosses her arms over her chest in grim satisfaction when Malfoy doesn’t reply. “And—correct me if I’m wrong, Mr Potter, but you do seem comfortable enough around Mr Malfoy? We don’t exactly have time to interview out staff to see who has both the space to share and compatibility as flatmates.”

“I mean, I’m fine with him,” Harry says, not certain he really wants to drop into this conversation, even if it does quite intimately involve him. “But if he doesn’t want me to live with him, that’s not exactly laying the foundation for…”

“It’s not that I don’t want you to live with me, Potter; it’s that I don’t want anyone to—”

Malfoy pauses abruptly and narrows his eyes. "Granger, if this is because—" he starts, but he cuts off, staring at her.

"Because of what?" Granger demands. "I've given you our reasons, Malfoy. In this matter, it is simple."

There is a slight pause, which Harry fills by shifting in his seat, wondering if they are ever going to get back to the interview, and then Snape begins, “Miss Granger, perhaps if—”

“Don’t you ‘Miss Granger’ me, Severus. We talked about this.”

“He has a right to know.”

“A right to know what?” Malfoy says quickly. “Look, if I’m going to be letting some stranger into my house, I want to know exactly why you think I should agree to it.” He pauses, glancing at Harry. “No offense, Potter.”

“None taken.”

Really, Harry is curious as well. These people seem to be living such… vibrant lives, full of drama and intrigue, and in truth, after eight years of trying to keep as much to himself as possible, it’s making Harry’s head spin. It’s like one of those awful soap operas Petunia was always obsessed with—just wait, Granger’s going to say she’s pregnant, and Malfoy’s the father—but wait! Malfoy is gay, and Snape his jilted lover…

Well, not that it’s ever really possible to tell, but Harry somehow doubts Snape is anyone’s lover. Though… if he is, Harry wouldn’t judge them for leaving Snape jilted.

“If you’re still operating under your schoolyard presumptions, Miss Granger...”

“You’re out of line,” she says sharply.

“He’s a professional, as much as you are,” Snape replies, not batting an eyelash at her rebuke. “He is as committed to confidentiality as any of us, and if Mr Potter is going to be staying with him, he deserves to know why he will have to keep that information—”

“Enough!” she exclaims. “For God’s sake, Severus, let me think!”

“—and if he is going to be involved in the case, he will know soon enough, anyway.”

“Know what?” Malfoy repeats, louder.

Granger makes a sound of frustration and mutters something which sounds suspiciously like would all of you shut up? under her breath, but finally turns toward the mirrored window. “All audio equipment off. Now.”

There is a pause, and then a speaker crackles to life. “Ma’am?”

“You heard me,” she says. “This is above your level of classification. Knock on the window when you’re done. I’ll signal when you can turn it back on.”

Another pause, and then, “Alright.”

There’s a minute of stony silence, and then, finally, three knocks on the window, a ringing sound which echoes through the room. Granger nods, but when she turns back to Snape, her lips are pursed. “Since you are so eager, you can explain it to him.”

“I will,” says Snape, and he leans forward a bit, but looks to Harry first. “Mr Potter, the information you are about to hear is covered in the contract Miss Granger had you sign. If you mention it to anyone outside of this room, you won’t have to worry about Mr Riddle having you killed anymore, because you will be in prison. It is relevant to your situation as well, especially if you are going to be living with Draco, but it is not a matter for gossip. Understood?”

Harry glances to Granger in time to catch her frown, but nods. As he’d thought before, secrets are easy to him. Snape, apparently satisfied by the gesture, turns a bit more, so that he is looking to Malfoy instead.

“You have been wondering about your abrupt transfer into the RRS since you came. The short of it was that, had you remained with the Serious Fraud Office, they suspected there would be a conflict of interest, as, to put it bluntly, Lucius is under investigation.”

Silence, again. Harry doesn’t know who Lucius is, but from the way the angry flushing and the rest of the blood drains from Malfoy’s pale face, he does.

“My father is under investigation… for fraud?” Malfoy echoes, his voice stained with disbelief. “My—why haven’t I heard about this before now?”

“Fraud, and ties to the criminal Voldemort, which you have not heard of before now because he is not aware that he is under investigation, and it is of the utmost importance that the information remains out of his reach. Do you understand me?” He waits a moment, and when Malfoy doesn’t respond, he repeats a bit louder and a bit sharper: “Do you understand?”

“Yes, I—shit,” says Malfoy. “And they sent me here because—they didn’t trust me to keep it under wraps, is that it?”

“Because they didn’t want you to have to,” Granger corrects quickly, though Snape is nodding.

Malfoy’s brow furrows and pinches down towards his nose. “I am as much an officer of the law as any of you,” he says, his voice rising with his agitation. “You all still think that just because of my name, because I come from a different background, I’m not really here to work. It’s bloody insulting, it is!”

“Insightful as this is, Draco, Lucius is still your father,” Snape cuts in. “And on top of being investigated by the SFO—and no, you cannot hear the details of why or what for—as I said, there is reason to believe that he is involved in the Voldemort case. Nothing concrete enough to say for certain, of course, or he would already be locked up, but nothing regarding the Voldemort case is certain. Therefore, while Mr Potter is staying with you, it will be of vital importance to keep his presence from your family. I am certain that will be no problem for you.”

“Of course not,” Malfoy sneers. “Though I never agreed to be the host.”

“Are you really willing to be separated from this case, knowing what you know now?” Snape pushes. “As Director Granger indicated, it is a condition of your continued involvement.”

Harry isn’t entirely sure, but he was fairly well certain setting that sort of requirement was illegal. You can’t just force an employee to welcome some stranger into your home… can you? Either way, Malfoy continues to scowl, but seems to make up his mind fairly quickly and gives a short nod.

“Fine,” he says, glancing towards Harry. “You can stay with me, Mr Potter, if that’s what you want. But I expect full compensation, Granger.”

“Right, then,” Granger says. “If we’re all settled—”

But Snape taps his finger sharply against the table, and fixes Harry with that dark stare again. Granger falls silent. Harry hasn’t agreed yet, either, and really, he’s still not convinced that he should, especially with this new information about Malfoy’s father… Although… He has to wonder—it couldn’t be a standard approach, but…

“Mr Potter?” Snape asks.

Harry glances at Granger, but he won’t get a straight answer from her. Malfoy didn’t know about any of this before today, either, so he looks back to Snape, meeting his gaze. For a moment, it feels like Snape is peering right into his brain—though it is only for a moment, until one of Snape’s black eyebrows darts up towards his hairline, as if to say, Well?

“It’s not to keep me safe, is it, really,” Harry says, managing to fit the fragmented pieces of thought together into cohesive sentences. “You want me as bait.”

Snape’s other eyebrow joins the first, but that is the only sign of any surprise as he lifts his chin in agreement.

“Bait?” Malfoy echoes.

“It’s not—it’s both, Mr Potter,” Granger says. “Keeping you safe comes first, but…”

“But why not kill two birds with one stone.”

“Bait for my father?” Draco’s voice is as shrill as Granger’s was when she was arguing with Severus a minute before. Maybe even higher.

“Bait for Tom, through your father,” Harry says. “If he reacts differently… knowing something he shouldn’t know…”

“Your father trusts me to keep an eye on you, of course, Draco,” Snape says, which is an insight into their relationship that Harry does not know what to do with. “And I will not be informing him of Mr Potter’s presence. Nor will you. No doubt we can all agree to be… discreet, and see where that leads. For Mr Potter’s safety, besides.”

This can not be proper procedure for law enforcement, Harry is sure. “Is there anything else, uh, Mr Malfoy or I should know, before either of us agree to put our lives in danger?”

“I’m sure there are plenty of things you would like to know,” Snape says coolly. “But Director Granger has been pushed beyond her willingness to share already.”

Granger closes her eyes briefly, but nods.

Well, at least they’re transparent about it, now. A clear glass window opening on a brick wall. Lovely. But this—if they were planning on this from the get-go, they should have just said so. Harry can respect a dangerous plan, but not one that it is hidden from him. Maybe Snape had wanted to, since he was the one who pushed to tell Malfoy about his father, but Harry gets the feeling that any care he might harbor for Malfoy does not extend elsewhere.

“Fine,” Harry says, looking back towards Malfoy. “Assuming you agree to it, Mr Malfoy, I’ll stay with you, and I’ll take this… internship.”

Malfoy’s lips thin, but he turns to Harry again, eyes half-shuttered. “I suppose you ought to call me Draco, if we are going to be living together.”

Harry grunts his agreement. “And I suppose you all ought to call me Harry, if we’re going to be co-workers. Even if only by technicality.”

“Excellent,” says Granger. She waves towards the windows, and a moment later they hear a click, and a slight hum—the audio devices starting up again? “You start next Monday. I’ll send you and Ron to collect your things tomorrow—but in the meantime, it’s time for lunch. And, after, you be meeting with Ms Johnson to get into specifics, some of the names and addresses you mentioned—but lunch first.”

Chapter Text

LONDON. THURSDAY, 11 OCTOBER, 2007. 05:15.

 

When Harry wakes up, he doesn’t know where he is, and so he rolls over to ask.

He spends a long time staring into the dark after that.

Eventually, he hears doors opening and closing from elsewhere in the flat—if you can really call it that—and sits up, recovering his glasses from the bedside table. There’s not light coming in through the window yet, so he can only make out the shapes of the room, but as he remembers it from the night before he’s not missing much. Oh, it’s decorated nice enough, tasteful furniture and muted colors that gave it a calming air of sophistication, and this one room is probably larger than his entire flat back in Charnell Hill, and a more practical shape besides—but that’s just it. It is wholly practical. Malfoy—no, Draco , he had called it a guest room, but Harry gets the feeling no one else has ever actually stayed there.

Aunt Petunia would have loved it.

He hears the front door shut and sighs, slipping out of bed. Draco had warned him he’d be out running first thing in the morning. Still, when he goes to leave the room Harry sticks his head out the door, glancing down the hall and listening for a good minute, just to be sure the other man is gone. Then he hurries down the hall, to the little cupboard where there’s a little washer-dryer combined machine tucked away; snags his hoodie, shirt, socks, and pants from it; and retreats into the toilet before Draco make an untimely return.

Harry’s not shy, normally, but there’s something about this place that makes walking around in just his trousers terribly... declasse.

He hadn’t planned on staying in London, so he doesn’t have any toiletries with him, and Draco doesn’t seem like the sort who would be inclined to share, so Harry just splashes water on his face before slipping into his clean clothes. But even if he’s not going to use them, it doesn’t stop Harry from poking about in the drawers. There are more bottles of skin stuff than Harry can imagine anyone could keep straight, and of course things like toothpaste and deodorant and shaving soap—

That makes Harry glance up—he hasn’t shaved at all since Monday, and his stubble is quickly reaching the point of disorder. There’s a balance to it, keeping it long enough to cover his baby face but short enough it doesn’t follow the route of the rest of his hair and spring into chaos. Harry can’t say it looks particularly good, nor does the ponytail he manages to contain most of his hair in, but it’s better than the alternative.

Draco, from the looks of it, has a completely different approach to personal grooming. The second drawer is filled with precisely arranged hair products, even more than Harry had seen in his glimpse of the shower as Draco had shown him around the night before. He closes that drawer before the mix of smells can fill the room, and looks into the cupboard behind the mirror instead. It’s mainly a medicine cabinet, from the looks, aspirin and paracetamol and antihistamines all in reach, and also—

It’s terribly rude, looking at someone else’s pill bottles. Highly personal. Harry shuts the mirror again, observes the bags under his eyes, and leaves.

When Draco returns, cheeks and nose red from exertion and the morning air, Harry’s sitting at the table in the front room, poking a plastic fork at the leftover takeout they’d picked up last night. They stare at each other for a moment, then Draco closes the door, toeing his running shoes off in the vicinity of the shoe cupboard, and grunts something like morning as he goes past, straight into the shower. Despite his collection of products, it is a short process, and he emerges not ten minutes later freshly dressed in slacks and shirt, the water in his white-blond hair looking almost silvery as it drips down to the towel he’s arranged over his shoulders.

“Tea?”

Harry blinks at the blunt question. “Er. Sure. Please. If it isn’t trouble.”

He recalls from the car ride the day before he’d thought Draco wasn’t much of a morning person. You’d think that after an hour out in the cold followed by a hot shower he’d have shocked himself awake—but Harry supposes his host’s sleep would have been as restless as his. Given the news he’d gotten about his father being under investigation. And… some stranger potentially luring a violent criminal to his door…

“Sugar? Milk? Lemon?”

Harry shakes his head before he realizes Draco is looking the other way. “No, thank you.”

A moment later the kettle is rattling and the switch clicks off, and then Draco sets a mug down in front of Harry, tea bag still in place. He brings his own over with a carton of cream, and after two minutes sitting in stony silence pours a dash of it in. He doesn’t seem to care that he’s left the bag in place, so Harry figures he won’t get up to bin his, and blows the steam instead, hoping to cool the tea before it gets too bitter to drink.

“You cook,” Draco says suddenly.

“Er. Yeah?” Had Harry mentioned it? Or was that supposed to be a question…

“I don’t. Barely use the refrigerator. There’s things in the cupboards—flour, oil. If they’re still good, you can use them. And the space. Just don’t rearrange the dishes, and leave me space for takeaway and beer in the fridge, and microwave meals in the freezer.”

This is new territory for both of them, Harry realizes. Draco hadn’t wanted a flatmate, and has probably never had to share space with anyone before. He must have been kept up thinking about it, if he's anything like Harry is, and come up with a whole new list of things to cover, beyond what they discussed last night. “Thanks,” Harry says.

“And things like dishes, towels… there’s plenty of those here, so you don’t need to bring your own,” Draco goes on. “Or laundry detergent. The cleaners keep the detergent stocked, and Granger said they’d be covering half your fees, so it includes that.” He pauses.

A cleaning service, Harry thinks, not without a good dose of incredulity. They'd discussed it, but... No wonder the apartment is so immaculate, even the unused guest room. It’s like he’s entered an entirely new world, not just moved into a stranger’s flat.

But Draco still isn’t done. “I do laundry on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. There’s only the one machine, so keep it clear outside of when you are actually using it. I also tend to shower after I run, so… I’d appreciate it if you’d work around that.”

Harry nods. He’s fine with showering in the evenings. More the trouble will be remembering to keep to Draco’s schedules. Harry’s used to doing things as necessary. Impulsively.

“As well…” Draco hesitates, raising his narrow-eyed gaze to Harry. “I expect that you respect my personal privacy. If I have company, I don’t want to hear you discussing it with anyone. Especially not Weasley, or Patil, or—anyone. I keep a strict divide between my work and personal life.”

Harry shrugs. He’s never been one to share secrets, let alone with coworkers. Besides, though he has only had minimal contact with Patil, she doesn’t seem the type he would particularly enjoy spending time around. “Alright,” he says.

“And my company,” Draco goes on, “is likely to be men. And I shouldn’t like to have that discussed at the office, either.”

Oh. So Draco is gay, then? Or bi—Harry had figured, but, well, it didn’t really matter, aside from the relief of knowing he wouldn’t have to deal with any homophobic tendencies being unveiled down the line. Not that he’d seen any sign of it when he’d talked about being with Tom. Granger had aimed for nonchalance, talking about the whole affair like she was talking about the weather. And Snape, well, he seemed to hate people on principle, so with luck, he won’t have to deal with anything blatant in the office, but… then again, if Draco is adamantly keeping himself closeted…

“Alright,” Harry says again.

Draco continues to stare at him. “You’re not exactly inspiring my confidence.”

Harry hides his frown by finally taking a sip of his tea. It is a surprisingly light blend—he would have taken Draco as someone who wanted to pack as much caffeine into each sip at a time. “I promise not to out you?” Harry says idly as the steam fogs his glasses. “I mean, I’d ask the same, but, well, it’s kinda crucial information for the whole investigation, I guess…”

“You’d rather…” Draco begins. He doesn’t seem to know how to phrase it.

“I don’t date,” Harry explains shortly. “You probably know how it is. Someone figures it out, they either prove to be a bigoted prick or try to set you up with their gay cousin. I’m not interested in either of those.”

“Oh,” Draco says. “You seemed so… comfortable announcing it. I had you pegged for a Pride London type.”

Despite how confused he sounds and the fact that he’s staring into the steam from his tea, Draco has a look of intense focus on his face. Harry shakes his head.

“I don’t particularly like that sort of crowd,” he explains. “I… take it you don’t either?”

“I don’t mind crowds, exactly, I simply don’t care to revel in it.”

Oh—does he find being gay shameful? If so, Harry’d rather never discuss these things so directly again, for fear of uncovering some sort of complex. Or at least not without copious amounts of alcohol to make the other man’s anxieties slide right off him. Not that Harry doesn’t understand, he just… rarely has the energy to deal with other people’s problems with the care it requires to not upset them.

“Do you have a… boyfriend, then?” Harry asks, steering the topic a bit to the left. “Or partner, or whatever you want to call it?”

“God, no,” Draco says, looking up from his tea. “The furthest I will take a relationship would be offering coffee before someone leaves in the morning. If they’re even interested—most of the types you meet at the clubs aren’t, are they.”

Harry shrugs. There isn’t exactly a booming gay nightlife in Charnell Hill, and on the rare occasion he’d come back into London, he’d thought it too risky to go home with anyone. He definitely isn’t interested in sleeping with any strangers—who knows what they could be carrying—but if that’s the sort of thing Draco likes, well, Harry isn’t interested in wasting time judging. Still…

“I had pegged you for a slow relationship sort of guy,” Harry admits. “You know. First kiss on the third date type thing. After plenty of discussion.”

“That sounds absolutely horrid.”

Harry shrugs. The concept of dating in general was unappealing to him. Sex was—well, could be—enjoyable enough, but, really. The thought of willingly saddling himself with another person’s issues and intentionally fostering mutual dependence… He could barely handle his own problems…

He’d made the mistake of letting slip some of his views on the matter to one of his previous old coworkers, once. She had been horrified, and tried to explain the benefits, but Harry can’t see it. He doubts anyone will ever make the mistake of thinking he’s a romantic.

There’s a beep from somewhere in the room, and Draco glances at the clock hanging over the kitchen sink, seeming startled at what he finds there. Whatever temperature the tea is at this point doesn’t seem to matter as he drains his mug, standing. “In any case,” he says as he moves to the sink. “It’s a personal matter. And I keep my personal life separated from my work life as much as I can.” He pauses as he rinses the mug out and sets it in the dishrack, wiping his hands on a towel hanging from the door of the oven before turning around. “And I would appreciate it if you would refrain from gossiping about my family situation, as well.”

“Of course,” Harry says, and he bites down on his offense. It’s ground rules, he gets it; Draco doesn’t know him practically at all and the fact that he has let Harry into his home is frankly astonishing. So what if he insists that Harry not be an obnoxious shit; he could be insisting Harry not steal his things, or murder him in his sleep, and those would both be more reasonable and offensive if he suggested them. He’s probably got a lock on his bedroom door, and, well, he does work for law enforcement. If Harry were a creep and a thief, they’d have a pretty easy time tracking him down, at this point.

An alarm sounds on Draco’s phone, and he pulls it from his pocket, leaning back against the door of the oven for a moment as he resolves the issue. When he tucks it away again, he has a frown tugging down the corners of his mouth. “I’m about to be off,” he says. “But Weasley probably won’t be here for another hour or so, and, well… I haven’t exactly had the time to make a backup key, have I?” He stands there, and pulls out the ring of keys from his pocket, fiddling with it for a moment to separate a part of the key ring, setting it on the table in front of Harry. “If I get back first, I can get the landlord to let me in. But I probably won’t. And if there’s time for you to come back to the office, well, we can figure it out then.”

Harry stares at the two keys for a moment. Draco is a lot braver than Harry, giving him something like that. “Alright,” he says again.

Draco frowns again, but Harry really doesn’t know what else he should say to be more reassuring, and Draco turns before he can think of something. And then Draco’s fetching his coat, and then glancing out his window before switching it out for something heavier, and sitting down on the bench beside the door that’s just for putting on shoes, and Harry still hasn’t thought of anything, so when Draco stands and glances at Harry again, and says, “Be sure to lock the door on the way out,” all Harry can manage is, “Okay.”

Sitting at the kitchen table alone as the door clicks shut, Harry closes his eyes. He takes a deep breath, filling his head with the fragrant steam from the tea.

God, he’s pathetic. It isn’t that Draco trusts him to stay here, no doubt. It’s that all Harry’s done since he’s arrived is prove himself more and more incompetent.

Before he can descend too deep into his wallowing, there’s a buzzing in his pocket. He fumbles for his phone, wondering if Draco’s forgotten something—if maybe Harry can run it down to him, to prove his worth as a flatmate—but no, he doesn’t recognize the number on the incoming text. His phone freezes trying to open the message (he’d connected to the wifi in order to send his boss—well, former boss, now—an email apologizing for the inconvenience of his abrupt resignation, but internet connection always seems to make the phone have to think twice as hard about everything else) and by the time he pops out the battery and restarts the phone, finishing the mug of tea as he waits for it to load, there’s a second message from the same number.

Maybe he can get Granger to cover the cost of his text messaging. They’re already paying his rent, after all, and he’s received more messages in the last two days than the last several years put together.

[UNKNOWN] 07:17 — hey this is ron weasldy im leaving to pick u uo be there ib about half an hour?

[UNKNOWN] 07:21 — make that 40gravved the wrong keys have to go back in

Harry frowns at it for a moment, and then types his reply:

— ok.

Except then he remembers Draco’s consternation and wonders if Weasley is going to be bothered by a straightforward answer as well. Can he add something? He tries a few endings— That sounds great; Have a safe drive— before deleting them and just sending the ‘okay’ alone anyways. Weasley was, apparently, the red-haired man that had gone past them in front of the elevator the previous morning, who he spotted a few times later on, when Angelina Johnson, the woman who’d taken over his interview in the afternoon, permitted breaks from grilling Harry to remember addresses and details. He’d seemed fairly laid back, so really...

No, it’s not worth worrying about, is it? But it is less a burden to bear than the thought that one of Tom’s people could be waiting at the flat he’s going back to, that he could be leading this Weasley bloke to his death. Less irritating than the thought that he hadn’t managed to convince Granger to let him go back by train, alone, to fetch his things, to minimize the collateral damage. Less terrifying than the persistent thought that there is a high likelihood that if he really did see Barty yesterday, then he’s still in the city.

So he Harry on worrying about the text he sent, and his inability to communicate, because it is less , and it’s too early for all that heavy shit.

 

When Weasley texts him again, just before eight, Harry checks that he’s locked the door twice while he’s waiting for the elevator, and then decides to take the stairs instead, and checks the door again before hurrying down.

He resists the urge to rush back up and check again as he spots a flash of red hair on the head of a man leaning up against a black SUV, no doubt from the fleet Harry saw in the garage the day before. The car’s been left running, if the steam rising from the exhaust pipe is anything to go by, and Weasley’s breath is freezing in the air in front of him. Harry swallows—best not to keep him waiting any longer. Harry pushes the lobby door open, and the man’s head jerk’s up.

“Harry Potter?” he says, straightening up and shoving his phone into his pocket, though he doesn’t wait for an answer before gesturing towards the passenger side and re-entering the driver’s seat. Harry hurries around the car, climbing in.

“We didn’t officially meet yesterday, did we. I’m Ron Weasley,” he says when the door closes, reaching across the car to shake Harry’s hand. When he pulls it back, he turns down the radio a bit, dimming the voice announcing the upcoming weekend’s sports matches. “I haven’t been to Charnell Hill, so you’ll have to give me directions to get over there, yeah?”

“Alright,” says Harry. “Just, um, head towards Surrey?”

“Can do, boss,” the man says cheerfully, and he pulls the car sharply out onto the street.

When Draco had driven Harry the day before, Harry had been on edge simply because of the nature of London traffic. With Weasley, however, Harry feels like there’s a real chance they’ll die before they get out of the city, perhaps taking a few pedestrians on the way, with how he swerves and squeezes through gaps to avoid waiting even a second. He looks, throughout this, like he is enjoying himself—and he isn’t too preoccupied to talk.

“So you’re staying with Malfoy, huh?” he asks cheerfully. “Can’t say I envy you, but I bet he’s got quite the place. Seeing as he’s, ya know, Malfoy. And close to everything, isn’t he? No faffing about with a commute, I suppose. Well, except getting back to Surrey.”

“It is. Nice, I mean,” Harry agrees. “And, uh, thank you for picking me up, Mr Weasley.”

That inspires a childish expression of disgust, though maybe that was partly the fault of the traffic light changing before he could get through. “Call me Ron, please, mate,” he says. “There’s enough Weasleys around to get us confused who’s who. And generally if people say Mr Weasley, they mean my dad, anyways. Except, uh, Malfoy, but, y’know...”

“He doesn’t seem altogether close to anyone,” Harry says carefully. If the distaste for Granger and Patil and insistence on keeping his personal life entirely separated are anything to go off of.

“He isn’t. Except Snape, and, well—you met him, yeah?”

“Yeah—”

“Unlucky, that.”

“—though I wouldn’t say he was exactly friendly with Draco, either.”

“He’s better to Malfoy than anyone else. I’d avoid him if I were you. He has a reputation. They used to try to put trainees with him, but they pretty much all got fed up and either asked to be moved or quit the force entirely. They even moved him downstairs so he wouldn’t have to deal with anyone.”

“He seemed fine with Granger.”

“That’s because even he has to admit that Mione’s brilliant. And because she’s his boss, now, and could fire him. I bet when he gets over the newness of her being in charge, and starts acting himself around her again…”

Mione. They must be close, for Ron to get away with a nickname. Then again, Ron seems like the outgoing, people-sort. Sure, they’ve been in the car together five minutes, and he’s already turned the conversation to warning Harry off Draco and Snape, but it seems more like he’s trying to be helpful than spiteful.

And if he’s so eager to talk about his co-workers, Harry doesn’t mind. People who like to talk are useful for trying to get a handle on a place, and Harry would be first to admit that he has absolutely no clue what he’s getting into with his ‘internship’ with the RRS.

“If he’s so awful, why is he still around?”

“He’s a genius is why, almost as much as Mione is, and they wanted to keep an eye on him. They tell you about him? He used to work for Grindelwald, but then he turned traitor, see. Came to work in law enforcement. It’s kinda ridiculous what he can put together from just walking around a crime scene—like a Sherlock Holmes type thing, you know? Mione says he just pays more attention to details than most people, I dunno. I think they’re scared if they let him go, because once he’s out from under the thumb of the law there’s nothing to stop him from going on his own crime spree. He knows all the tricks.”

Harry isn’t sure what to think about that. Snape doesn’t strike him as the sort to be interested in stealing money or violence for violence’s sake—but, then, if he really had worked for that Grindelwald… he’d also turned on that life. Once you’re a traitor once, there’s no one who’s going to trust you enough to join back up with another group like that.

“It’s good he’s on the right side, then.”

“So long as I don’t have to work with him. I’d take a day stuck with Malfoy over ten minutes in the room with Snape, and that’s saying something.”

“I take it the two of you have a history.”

“Me and Malfoy, you mean?” Ron pauses long enough to swerve into the next lane, nearly knocking Harry out of his seat. “Yeah, we’ve got history. Well, my family and his does. My dad and his were in school together too, and their parents didn’t get along either. And Malfoy—well, Malfoy senior kept Malfoy junior up to date on all the latest insults.”

Harry frowns. “His dad gave Draco insults… to use on you?”

“More like he’d use them on my dad, and then, Malfoy—er, Draco, I mean—he’d hear. I mean, there were insults for the whole family, but mostly Dad. It’s easier to insult him than my brothers, anyways.”

“Because they went to school together?”

“Well, yeah, but,” says Ron. “I mean, my dad’s… He gets a lot of… He works for the Serious Fraud Office, but…” He scratches his head, causing Harry to grip the handle on the door tighter. “He’s one of a handful of people in charge of… alien hoaxes.”

Alien hoaxes? “Like… Flying saucers?”

“Yeah. That sort of thing. It’s less Men in Black and more, um, ‘I bought this thing on eBay that was claimed to be a part from a real alien spaceship, but it’s got Made in China stamped into the back, do something about it.’ Once they had to shut down a cult, but that’s about as big of an operation as they’ve got. But there’s… a bit of a reputation, you know.”

“I… didn’t know the government actually had something like that.”

“Yeah, well.” Ron shrugs. “Technically, if there’s a sort of Doctor Who, aliens in London sort of thing that goes down, Dad’s office is gonna be the most important the government has to offer, but—”

“Huh.”

“—it’s… I was lucky when Hermione started working for the RRS, you know? I probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere, in the force, and I wouldn’t have applied to anything more specialized, except with Hermione here, I knew they’d at least give me a fair chance. We… well, me and her butted heads a lot, in school—not in the way like with Malfoy, but we only ever really spoke because of Nev, and, I mean, it’s cause of Nev I knew she was the good sort. And Moody… well, he liked dad, though it’s more because his attitude is that we should be prepared for any and everything, including aliens, zombies, you name it than anything else.”

“Moody,” Harry echoes. “That’s… the man who was head before Granger?”

“Yeah.” Ron sighs. “He was… mad. Brilliant, ‘course, but always on about conspiracies. Insisted that everyone take regular classes in Krav Maga. You’d call him crazy, ‘cause who’s going to try and take down an armed perp with martial arts, except he got stabbed in the eye and lived. You live through shit like that, you get a bit of leeway in the paranoia area, in my books. And, you know, well, even with his, uh, constant vigilance, he still was murdered.”

“Wait, he was stabbed in the eye?”

“Yeah. Hunting down one of Grindelwald’s fanatics… well, I suppose you’d know all about that.”

Everything the Wikipedia entry had said when he skimmed through it on his phone last night, at least. Harry doesn’t linger on the presumption. “I… didn’t know that’s something you could stay in law enforcement after. Losing an eye, I mean—I assume he lost it. I guess there wouldn’t be a reason he couldn’t stay, but...”

“Well, it’s part of why he got moved to the RRS,” Weasley says. “That and the leg.”

“The leg?”

“The guy who stabbed him blew himself up. Half his leg was amputated. The RRS has a lot less physical work involved, usually.”

“And… he wanted to return?”

“They couldn’t keep him away. Probably were afraid he’d go chasing down people on his own if they didn’t get him pinned to a desk somewhere. The RRS—well, a lot of times the cases we get put on turn out to be nothing more than conspiracies. Perfect for a paranoid old man, right. He probably would have hired my dad, if dad hadn’t been set on staying where he was. Dad’s… well, the saying around here is they’d give an eye and a leg and still couldn’t have him. Pretty much anyone. Perce—that’s my brother—has tried to get Dad to leave, but if Moody couldn’t get him to leave, I don’t know who could. Moody was brill.”

Harry laughs awkwardly, unsure if he should. Unsure, too, how much Ron knows about Tom’s case, that it isn’t just another conspiracy. Granger had seemed hesitant to bring Malfoy in on it, even though he was apparently personally involved, and Ron… He’s smart enough, Harry thinks, just not exactly on the same level as Granger and that Snape guy. Definitely not discreet. And Granger seems like the sort to hold everyone at arm’s length, never trusting anyone fully with anything. It’s part of why Harry’s inclined to respect her. Even if she thinks she can order his life around.

“You said you have a brother?”

“Five,” Ron corrects. “And a sister. She’s the youngest—but she’s a footballer, plays for Liverpool, you know? And then there’s me, then the twins. Fred and George, they run a joke store in Camden. ‘Weasleys’ Wonderous Wheezes’. Sounds weird, but they’re inventors, and the stuff they’ve made is brilliant. And then Perce—he’s on the staff of some MP, thinks it’s the biggest thing ever, I dunno. He says he’s going to go for election soon enough, but… Anyways, Charlie’s a few years older, turning thirty-five this year, he works in wildlife conservation on the continent. He could’ve played football, too, but that’s Charlie for you. And then the oldest is Bill.”

“What’s he do?” Harry asks.

“He’s a security hacker. He’s… basically, he tries to find ways to break into your bank account so then they can go and stop it before it happens for real.”

A footballer, two inventors, a budding politician, a wildlife conservationist, and a professional hacker. Oh, and an alien fraud debunker, and an RRS agent. Quite the family.

“Must have been fun, growing up with all them.”

“Fun? I guess you could say that. We all went to Hogwarts, you know, uh—that’s the school me and Mione and Nev and Malfoy all went to? And half the RRS—I think Snape even went there. Moody did. And Angie—well, most of us, really. Grandma Prewitt—that’s mum’s mum—left her money for our tuition and board. By the time I got there, I think the teachers just wanted to be done with Weasleys. I just wanted a uniform that wasn’t five-times handed down.”

“I know that feeling,” Harry says, wincing as Ron presses down on the gas to get through a changing light. “My cousin was about ten of me put together, and we were the same age. Aunt Petunia always gave me his cast-offs. Even for my high school uniform, she just dyed some things grey and called it good. I looked ridiculous.”

Ron laughs. “Yeah, well, mostly the other kids at Hogwarts were well-off. I mean, there were always two kids a year there on scholarship, but I mean—look at the Malfoys.”

Harry’d gotten another look at that car on the way to the flat where Malfoy—er, Draco—had a guest room to spare, so he can only imagine what his family must be like. Outside of the potentially corrupt politician thing. He’d held off on Googling Lucius Malfoy last night; it had seemed too awkward, especially with how shocked Draco had been.

“What was he like, back then? I mean, aside from the insults and all that.”

“An arrogant prick,” Weasley answers without a moment’s hesitation. "Not that he's much better now—er, hey, hold on a second—"

He turns up the radio again, not seeming to notice the way the car swerves as he leans over to adjust it, and there's an announcement regarding a traffic incident blocking the motorway they're headed towards. Ron swears under his breath before glancing over. "Rotten luck," he says, sitting up straight again and making an abrupt left turn. "Ah, well. I suppose we're not in any real hurry. Hermione can't blame me for the traffic being bad."

Harry doesn't know whether to be annoyed that he'll be stuck in the car with Ron driving for longer, or relieved they aren't going to be daring the motorway. It was terrifying enough driving in the city; giving Ron an excuse to up the speed? Though it isn't the speed that really bothers him. Tom never had an interest in the speed limits, after all, and he always had a keen sense of when to slow down not to get caught. But that was usually out where there wasn't any traffic or pedestrians to worry about—and Ron's only keen driving sense seems to be for when to jerk the car sharply at the last moment in order not to hit someone.

Harry swallows, and tries to distract himself again, raising his voice up over the radio. "And Granger—what was she like in school?"

"Well, she's mellowed out a bit, over the years," Ron says, turning the knob until the voice reciting traffic incidents is little more than a buzzing drone. "God, when we were kids—you've never seen anyone more obsessed with the rules. Of course, she did her fair bit of breaking them, too, once she got off her high horse..."

"You've been friends with her for a long time, then?"

"Friends? I guess. Well, not at first. Really, she was an absolute bloody nightmare. Absolutely brilliant, Mione is, an' all, but that wasn't exactly what most people were looking for in a schoolmate, yeah? Anyways, she was getting picked on by some kids from the other houses, since she answered so many questions and was always getting the highest score on tests and all. Ridiculous kid stuff, you know? We, uh—I mean, Seamus and me. You’re gonna be working with Dean, right? That's Dean's boyfriend, you'll meet him—he and I helped her get revenge, and then she helped me pass maths and stuff, and after that..."

"Huh," says Harry. That’s a lot more dramatic than anything he’d gotten involved in while in high school. Apart from everything with Tom, mostly he just watched other peoples’ drama unfold.

“Anyways, that’s enough about me,” Ron says, taking on what Harry assumes is an encouraging tone. “What about you? Where’d you go to school?”

“Uh,” says Harry. Eloquent. “Stonewall High. In Little Whinging, walking distance from my Aunt and Uncle’s place. I don’t think you’d have heard of it.”

“Local?” Ron clarifies, and he turns again—this time onto a street that is neither narrow nor blocked with traffic nor lined with pedestrians. Harry grunts out his ‘yes’, if only to cover the sigh of relief that escapes him. “So you stayed at home, then? That sounds nice. Mum almost made Gin stay local for school, just so she wouldn’t be left all alone in the house, but Gin pitched a fit louder than anything I’ve heard, and I’ve heard some.”

There’s a beat of silence. Right. Harry clears his throat. “It was… convenient,” he manages. “And free.” Ron is distracted for a moment muttering profanity at someone who cut them off—as though he hadn’t been going at least twice whatever the limit is supposed to be—and Harry takes advantage of the distraction. “Do you mind if I turn up the radio again?” he asks. “I normally listen to it at work.”

“Oh, go ahead.”

Harry quickly moves to do so, before Ron can change his mind and start asking questions again. It’s… different, somehow, to answer questions about himself when it isn’t part of the investigation. When Ron is just asking him to be… nice. Sociable. Harry had grown up with the Dursleys, and then Tom. ‘Sociable’ has never been in his best interest.

 

-

 

When they finally begin to weave through suburban streets that Harry recognizes, within walking distance of Charnell Hill, Harry is half-afraid they are going to mow down some of the regulars to the coffee shop. Tom was one thing, but Harry’s never met someone with such a blatant disregard for the speed limit as Ron Weasley, and in Charnell, where the police rarely have anything better to do than chase down anyone going a click over the limit and issue them warnings, it is almost unheard of for someone to cut another person off, let alone go speeding through an intersection just as the light changes. Ron doesn’t seem to notice any of this, still driving like he’s in an action film, and keeps up a steady stream of chatter, noting all the little pubs and shops in the area.

“It’s up on the left corner coming up,” Harry just manages to squeak out.

“Oh, there?”

The speed at which Ron parallel parks is just as alarming as the rest of the trip. Especially considering that Harry would never attempt to squeeze into the space available in anything larger than a bicycle. Impossibly, Ron fits the SUV.

“Here we are,” he says cheerfully as he kills the engine, not seeming to notice the way Harry is still clinging to the hand-holds around his seat. “Which corner did you say it was?”

Harry climbs quickly, gesturing across the street as Ron locks the doors behind them until the car emits an impatient honk. The day has brightened, the sky unusually clear for October, but it is still terribly cold out, and Harry is eager to get inside.

When he leads the way up the stairs, he is relieved to find his door intact, no tell-tale signs of having been broken into or anything like that.

The shortcomings of Harry’s flat are all the more apparent in the wake of the night Harry spent at Draco’s place. The whole flat is smaller than the guest room he had stayed in, at the widest point just shy of three and a half meters across. The tall ceilings only emphasize the narrowness. It sticks out slightly over the ground floor on one side, an allowance to meet minimum building sizes. To anyone else, it might have triggered claustrophobia, but Harry had spent a good portion of his childhood in a cupboard. This tiny flat is a mansion, comparatively.

The door opens into a just-wide-enough short hall, coats that brush shoulders hanging on the left, a sliding door to the right that opens up to his ‘bedroom’, which is to say: his bed, plastic drawers shoved underneath as a minimal wardrobe, and a short bookcase as his bedside table and charging station for his phone and laptop. He’d blocked off the window with a white sheet the night he’d moved in, thin enough to let in light during the day, but some meager privacy when his bed puts him at just the right height to look out into the street.

Sharing a wall with his bedroom is another small room which contains the toilet and shower, the door opening up towards his kitchen: a half-sized fridge with a toaster oven on top, a sink that takes up all the counter space he might have had, and a full-sized oven and stove. The oven and sink had come with the flat, identical, Harry imagines, to the ones in the two normal-sized flats that finish out the building. He has to move one of the chairs from the small corner table out of the way whenever he wants to open the oven all the way.

There’s another window over the table, and a sliding glass door out to a narrow balcony between the table and the bathroom, but he keeps the blinds shut on those two. If he did not, the flat would be well-lit, despite the odd dimensions, but the thought of someone being able to see in from the outside has always made his stomach turn. Even when he opens the balcony door to leave food for the cat, he checks that the street is empty before going out.

Excessive? Perhaps. He enjoys the semblance of privacy. Only a handful of people have ever been to his flat—he can count them, actually: a pissed out of his mind Neville Longbottom, for one, and a few old coworkers who he’d enlisted to help him move in the bed and table, and his landlord who had been convinced, for whatever reason, that Harry kept the windows closed because he was growing marijuana, and now Ron. That’s five more people than he would have liked.

“So,” says Ron, shutting the door to the hall without commenting on the size of the place. “What can I help with?”

Harry had tried to go over what was in his flat on the way down, a meditative exercise to distract from Ron’s driving, but he hasn’t had much success deciding what he needs to take with him to Draco’s. And while he doesn’t have much, he’s not exactly comfortable with some bloke going through his things. “The fridge?” he finally suggests: it’s visible from the hall. He points to it, then thinks better and moves up the hall, flicking on the light as he goes past the switch. There are black garbage bags under the sink, which is about as good as he’s got for moving boxes; he passes one to Ron. “Just get the perishables, I guess. There’s not much in there.”

“Alright.”

He takes his own garbage sack back to his bedroom and manages to shove everything from his ‘wardrobe’ into the one. His jackets will have to go in a separate bag, but he doesn’t have room to own more than the minimum amount of clothes. As for the rest, he packs his laptop, charging cables, and the book he’s been reading into his backpack. He’ll have to have Ron run him by the library on their way back out again, and check where the library closest to Draco’s flat is this weekend. He hopes there’s one in walking distance; he can’t imagine life without his regular visits.

He drops the bag in the hall by the door and is about to start folding up his coats when Ron holds something out to him over the refrigerator door. “You need this? Might leak on the other food.”

It’s cat food. Half a can; what he normally leaves out for the stray he feeds. “Suppose we can just put it out for Hedwig. There’s a plate on the balcony.”

“We taking a cat back to London? It’s fine, just, I’m allergic, and wouldn’t want it running around the whole car…”

“No,” says Harry. He takes down the heavy peacoat that its soon to be cold enough to wear regularly, frowning at the sight of a solitary white hair, stark against the heavy charcoal wool. “She’s… not exactly my cat, not really… And she mostly finds food for herself.” He’d be more worried about her getting lost or run over in London. She would hate being locked up in Draco’s flat, even if Harry had asked to bring her along; even when there’s snow on the ground outside she won’t come in further than the door. Instead, she chirps or paws at the glass until Harry hears her and comes out to scratch behind her ears.

Ron must have nodded in response, because Harry doesn’t hear anything but the fridge door sealing shut and, a few seconds later, the balcony door sliding open. He shoves the coat into the bag.

“...is your cat white?” Ron asks.

“White and grey, yes,” Harry says, looking up. He sees Ron taking a careful step back into the kitchen. “She out there? I can feed her, if your allergies are bad…”

“It’s… not that,” Ron says.

Harry frowns, sets down the bag, and comes down the hall. Is Ron afraid of cats? No, he would have mentioned that, and wouldn’t have gone out to feed her—

Ron’s arm reaches out, blocking Harry’s path before he can get out of the hall. “I, um,” he begins, and Harry can see he looks a little paler than before. His arm sags and Harry pushes past it easily, steeling himself.

For a moment, he is confused. There doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary: Ron’s pushed aside the curtain, and there’s Hedwig, sprawled across the balcony, long fur glistening in the spot of sun. But after a moment of staring, the gears of Harry’s thoughts begin to click into place. Normally, Hedwig moves to greet Harry the moment she notices him, and, being a cat, even if she looks asleep the slightest sound opens her eyes. Her eyes are open, however, but they aren’t looking at Harry—or anything, really. She’s simply staring into space, not stirring at all. And the glistening of her fur? That’s not just the brightness of the sun, it’s water.

Or frost, he finds out as he crouches down and touches her, still half-convinced she’s going to respond. He pulls his hand away quickly from her cold, unmoving shoulder. Ron lets out a little sound behind him as Harry sits back on his heels.

“Sorry, mate,” Ron says quietly. “I… she’s… I know it’s hard, losing a pet. Even if she was only…”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees. He looks away quickly, standing up. “But I… I guess I won’t have to worry about her.”

He swallows, and busies himself washing his hands. If he were alone, he might have let out a string of profanity, or broken down crying, but instead, he just feels numb. After a moment, he has to glance back, to assure himself—but no, the cat is still dead.

Ron, on the other hand, is apparently unbothered by the sight now that Harry has seen it, as he crouches down in Harry’s place, tilting his head this way and that to examine the cat. After a moment, he takes out his phone, and Harry’s eyes widen in horror as he brings up the camera. “What are you doing?”

“Snape should take a look at this,” Ron says. “We’ll take the, um, body back with us, too.”

“What?” Why on earth would they take Hedwig’s body back to London? On top of everything else, that means it will be in the car with them for over an hour, and… well, not that Harry really knows what else to do with her. She wasn’t really his pet, and he’s never had one before, so he doesn’t know what people do with pets when they die. Well, no pets, unless he counts the handful of small animals people without an ounce of sense had tried to give Dudley over the years, but none of those had survived the Dursleys’ house for more than a fortnight… and unlike the tortoise Dudley had thrown through the greenhouse roof, Harry feels some attachment to Hedwig. Some responsibility. It wouldn’t feel right, just throwing her in the dumpster, if that’s even legal, but bringing her back to London…?

“I don’t know a whole lot about cats, mind,” says Ron. “But don’t they generally run off to be by themselves if they know they’re going to die? There’s no reason for her to have come up on your balcony if it were a natural death.”

Harry’s face scrunches up. “You think someone killed my cat?”

“I think it’s a possibility.” Ron sits back on his heels, blue eyes considering Harry for a moment. “Considering your circumstances.”

Oh. Oh. It would be an extraordinarily petty thing, for Tom to have broken into his flat to kill his cat, doing no damage otherwise. Or, more likely, to have had someone else break in. Barty, perhaps.

But Harry’s stomach turns. Tom has spent the last eight years sending him flowers.

He hadn’t been around to put out food for her yesterday evening, either, and yet there’s still half of it on the plate, and...

“I saw a Tesco down on the corner?” Ron asks.

“Yeah?”

“Think I’ll go get us a box. Or a cooler, or something.” Ron pauses. “And maybe you’d better come with me, rather than stay here alone.”

Harry looks back down at Hedwig, and swallows again, though his mouth is so dry it feels like he’s going to swallow his tongue. The thought that someone had been here—he doesn’t know whether it would be worse if it were Tom or Barty, or some other of Tom’s men who Harry doesn’t even know to look out for.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think you’re right.”

Chapter Text

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. THURSDAY, 11 OCTOBER, 2007. 11:15.

 

Draco is on the way to Severus’s lab when his phone buzzes. He waits—it buzzes again. A call. Damn. Looking around, he props the folder in his hand against a nearby windowsill, hoping it’ll be enough that the tea balance on top of it doesn’t spill, and fishes his phone from his pocket.

Granger. She couldn’t wait ten minutes for him to get back to his desk?

“Yes?”

“They’ve turned up the prison records on the three Mr Potter told us about.”

“Oh.” Draco’s irritation vanishes. “And?”

“And: hurry up and give Severus his tea, then I want both of you in here.”

She hangs up before Draco can clarify where ‘here’ is. Someone will know. Draco puts the phone back in his pocket and grabs the tea, ending the balancing act, and continues down the hall.

When he arrives, Severus is using his thumb to fan out water from a hose towards what look like... bullet holes in his wall? Those definitely weren't there on Tuesday.

Draco elects not to ask.

“Granger wants us,” he says instead, knowing Severus isn’t going to leave until he’s done doing… whatever it is he’s doing. He comes forward and settles himself into the swivel chair at Severus’s workspace. “Says they’ve found the three prisoners Potter mentioned.”

Severus grunts, shutting off the hose without really answering. Draco sighs. He turns to set the tea down by Severus’s laptop, chancing a glance at the screen… but it is the blue RRS desktop again. No classified glances today.

The sound he makes when the chair is suddenly yanked back is, as his father would say, unbecoming of a Malfoy, but wholly warranted. He nearly topples forward out of the seat, but Severus grabs the back of his shirt to steady him, intent on rolling Draco over to the wet area of the floor and arranging him neatly into place. For what, Draco doesn’t know, but he hopes it doesn’t involve a hose when Severus orders, “Stay here, and don’t move,” as he aligns the chair’s wheels to masking tape marks on the floor and steps back.

He doesn’t pick up the hose, to Draco’s relief, but he does produce a laser pointer from somewhere, and—

“Oy! Don’t shine that in my face, you bastard!” Draco complains, moving his hands to block his eyes.

Severus scowls at him. Draco must have moved the chair a hair, because Severus stomps forward and adjusts it again. “I said, stay still, Draco. If you can manage that, it won’t be anywhere near your eyes. Or if you are so terrified of a children’s toy that you cannot control yourself, I expect you could manage to close your eyes in a way that doesn’t disturb these parameters!”

He goes back to where he was before, only this time he crouches down as he aims the laser. Draco hastily closes his eyes.

“Can I at least speak?” he asks.

“Would that there were a power in the universe that could stop you.”

“...no repeats of your chloroform experiment, then?”

“No need. It proved—” a slight grunt as Severus shifts “—successful, as I was proving the point that it was impossible to have been used in the way those imbeciles were suggesting it could have been. They’d been watching too much television.”

There’s another grunt. His eyes are closed, but Draco still rolls his eyes. “And so obviously you had to test it on me—and it did knock me out, I’ll remind you.”

“Eventually. You weren’t doing anything more important.”

“Generally, the ethical and legal thing to do is to gain consent before you attempt potentially life-threatening tests on a person.”

“Don’t be dramatic, you were being properly monitored,” Severus says. His voice is coming from near the floor. “And if nothing else, it reminds you to be cautious about who to accept food from.”

Draco opens his eyes to glare at his godfather—that incident certainly was the last time he’d ever accept a beer from his Severus—but is too confused by the sight to follow through. Severus looks like he is caught in the middle of a one-armed push-up, a pose Draco supposes is to keep him off the wet floor as he aims the laser pointer past Draco’s head, though why…

But before he can ask what on earth Severus is doing, Draco’s phone buzzes again. He jumps, scrambling to get it out of his pocket—Severus sighs as the chair moves again—and it falls to the floor, where it vibrates against the wet concrete, and Draco snatches it up as quickly as he can, glancing at the screen—

“Wait!” Severus suddenly exclaims. Draco freezes in place, the phone by his knee. “Hold right there…”

“It’s Granger, Severus; if I don’t pick up she’ll have my head—”

Don’t move.”

Draco sighs as the phone vibrates his hand again, but moves only enough to answer the phone on speaker. “This is Malfoy.”

“Where the hell are you?”

“Severus is doing science, Granger, and I have been ordered not to move.”

In truth, he seems to be pointing a laser pointer at the phone in Draco’s hands, but he also looks, suddenly, delighted. It’s not much different from how he looks when he’s angry or bored, but it’s enough that Draco is alarmed.

“Science?”

“I don’t know, something with laser pointers?”

You tell him—”

But before she can finish her threat Severus has jumped to his feet and snatched the phone out of Draco’s hands. “Five minutes, Director Granger,” he says smoothly, and he hangs up the phone and drops it back in Draco’s lap.

Then he goes over to his laptop, picks up the tea, downing most of it one swig—never mind that it should still be hot—and opens up his email server, fingers flying over the keys as he types something out.

“Can I move now?” Draco asks after a moment.

Severus ignores him, and Draco sighs again, standing. “I think it’ll take us five minutes for us to get up there, the way the elevator’s been this week,” he presses. Granger hates it when they’re late, and Draco hates it when she nags them for it. Draco gets to feel the unwanted shame for the both of them, because for all he respects her, Granger’s reprimands will never get through Severus’s sallow skin.

Nor, apparently, will Draco’s, and Severus continues typing without giving Draco so much as a grunt of acknowledgment. Stepping a bit closer, Draco squints at the screen. If he can just see what it is that Severus is working so intently on this time—

But then the email is sending, and the moment the icon changes to ‘sent’ Severus shuts the lid, drains the remainer of his tea, and spins around to arch a superior eyebrow at Draco, coming up behind him. “Shall we?” he asks.

There is no sarcasm in the question. It’s hard for some people to tell, as he draws out every other word he doesn’t clip, and his scowl only ever abates for a terrifyingly blank expression, but Draco knows his godfather. He spent his younger years trying to earn some praise from the critical man, knowing even as a child that it would only come if it were deserved, and now that they are both adults—peers, even—the years of growing accustomed to Severus’s terse manner has led to a firm friendship. Not at the same level as Severus and his father’s, of course, but that is only because the balance of power is inverted. Between the two older men, Lucius has always had more money, power, and influence, and he and Severus, who had attended Hogwarts on scholarship, had never truly been equals. Nor, for all their closeness, were Draco and Severus: beyond the issue of Severus having had a hand in raising Draco, the difference in their ages is simply enough that Severus will always have the higher ground.

Draco’s phone rings while they are in the lift, and he scowls, snapping it up to his face. “For Christ’s sake, Granger, we’re a minute away, give it a—”

“Not Granger, Malfoy.”

No. Definitely not. “Weasley.”

“The one and only.”

Second-to-seventh, only Draco’s not going to say that. It’s generally not advised to carry insults from school over into adult life. “Did you mean to call Granger?” Draco asks, because for all that they’ve been stuck interacting the last few days, normally they spare no expense in avoiding dealing with one another. Although—“And did you pick up Potter—Harry, did you pick up Harry?”

“Several hours ago. We’re down in Surrey, ‘cept there’s a bit of an issue, see—you seen Snape today?”

Issue. Involving Severus—that’s not good. The lift bell dings and the doors slide open, and Draco glances at Severus before leading the way out towards Granger’s office. “I’m with him now.”

“Great. Sort of. See, thing is—”

His voice is lost under a cut of static for a moment; it sounds like Weasley is out on the street somewhere. “I didn’t catch that.”

“—is dead.”

Draco stops in his tracks. ‘Dead’ is never a good thing to hear, in their line of work. It could be the car, he supposes—it would explain why Weasley is calling from outside, though not why he would want to know about Severus. Though perhaps Weasley assumes that Severus being, well, Severus, he knows about fixing a car— Or it could, just as easily, be Harry. Or someone important to him. Or— “What?”

“Yeah, it’s weird—”

“No: what is dead?”

“Harry’s cat.”

It takes a moment for Draco’s mind to process that. Ahead of them, Granger’s head is sticking out from her office door, and if it weren’t for a childhood filled with etiquette lessons, Draco’s scowl might have deepened at the sight of her. Instead, he starts walking again, responding to Weasley in a lowered voice: “And this is important for me to know, why?”

“Because I’m about to send you a bunch of images, and that’s probably better for you to know about beforehand.”

Well, yes, but—Draco enters past Granger, pausing only briefly at the sight of an unfamiliar woman in one of the chairs surrounding Granger’s desk, a woman who, for all that she is wearing a suit, also has violet hair in a sharply-angled pageboy cut. Setting that aside for the moment, he goes to the window instead. “And why are you sending me pictures of a dead cat?”

Because she wasn’t old and she wasn’t injured, and she was right next to the food bowl, so I want Snape to take a look at her. And because of all the people, well, it’s you.”

Draco can hear the snigger over the phone. Hopefully he isn’t right in front of Harry—though knowing Weasley, who’s to say? He is, to put it mildly, lacking in tact.

Still—“You think someone… killed the cat. And why this no-doubt horrific murder is worth taking priority over everything—”

“Fuck off is why, Malfoy; I know what I’m looking at. We’re bringing it back with us. Anyways, show it to Snape, and tell Hermione what’s what, alright?”

“I’m not—” Draco begins, but Weasley hangs up on him. Draco grits his teeth, bringing the phone away from his face, and takes a long, steady breath in before turning around.

“Wotcher,” says the woman with violet hair, grinning at him without standing up. “You know, sending pictures of dead animals sounds like a great idea for a prank—”

“And a harassment lawsuit,” Granger says, cutting her off. She’s closed the door, and coming around her desk to take her seat, raising an eyebrow at Draco to direct him towards the remaining chair. Severus pointedly takes the one closest to the window Draco is standing at, which leaves only the spot between him and Violet Hair. Sometimes his godfather can be downright childish.

“It’s Weasley sending them,” Draco says as he sits, quickly silencing the ringer as the ping of new messages vibrates his Blackberry. “Says he thinks P—Harry’s cat has been murdered. Sounds like he wants you to do a full autopsy,” he tells Severus.

Severus’s nostrils flare. “I most certainly will not.”

“I know a few people who wouldn’t mind doing it,” Violet Hair says cheerfully.

“Because that wouldn’t be a colossal waste of the Exchequer.”

“I’m sure Ron has his reasons,” Granger says shortly, cutting Severus’s muttering off. “Malfoy, this is Nymphadora Tonks, from MI5. She is collaborating with us on the Voldemort investigation. Tonks, Draco Malfoy.”

How could someone with violet hair— ah, what does it matter? It’s more her whole demeanor that’s really the issue; she grins, sticking out her hand, and her grip is tighter than strictly necessary. “It’s Tonks; call me Nymphadora and we’ll have problems. And, say, recognize the name? ‘Cause we’re cousins, mate. First cousins.”

Draco blinks, polite mask going slack. Cousins? Tonks… Tonks… oh. “Through, ah, Andromeda?”

Andromeda Black, his mother’s sister, who had eloped with a communist , of all people, and gotten herself kicked out of the family for it—and communism, apparently, was more offensive to the House of Black than knowingly working for Grindelwald and torturing people in his name, as that was what the eldest of the three sisters had done, and she hadn’t been disowned, even when she ended up in prison for life. Or, at least, that’s how Draco understands the story; his parents have always been rather hazy as to the details of his mother’s family situation. There were few more cousins that worked for Grindelwald, too, who had gotten locked up or killed, and an Aunt that was the sort of overt racist that no one who has a career in politics wants to be associated with, so as Malfoys, Lucius and Narcissa have always been well-practiced in the art of changing the topic, even with Draco. He doesn’t suppose this Tonks is a communist or overt racist, anyways, seeing as she’s working for the government.

“Got it in one,” Tonks says, finally letting go. “How exciting to meet family that doesn’t want to punch me on principle. You don’t, right? It’d be polite to let me know now, so I can give it back to you for what it’s worth.”

“I’m sure Draco can contain himself,” Severus says coolly. “If you can hold your tongue long enough to—”

“Did they run into any trouble, aside from the cat?” Granger asks, cutting the both of them off as she addresses Draco again.

“Not that Weasley mentioned.”

“Good,” she says. “I’d like to have Mr Potter meet with Dean this afternoon, to get a feel for what they’re going to be working on, so they can get started properly tomorrow.” They all glance at the wall over Tonks’s head, where a preliminary sketch of Tom Riddle has been taped up, the product of Dean listening in on Harry’s discussion with Johnson. It can hardly be accurate— dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin isn’t much to go on—but it is still rather unnerving having it taped up there, watching them. Granger is the first to look away. “There was no trouble at your flat last night?”

“Aside from insomnia triggered by the fact that I’m supposed to sleep within reach of someone who admits to having dated a known murderer, who might have other murderers after him?” Draco asks. “Sure. Everything was sunshine and rainbows. We picked up take-out on the way back.”

The silence that follows is telling: if she hadn’t shared some of Draco’s suspicions, Granger would have scolded him. “Yes, well,” she says instead, tapping a finger against her desk. “We’re working on getting one of the flats in a nearby building. It’ll be some of Tonks’s people staying there, no one either of you recognize, but you’ll have a number for backup. We could set up a panic button if you think you need it.”

“If he tries to strangle me in my sleep, I’ll need a cricket bat by my bed, not a panic button,” Draco replies, but he does not reject the offer, glancing again at Tonks. She says she’s with MI5—doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of MI5, to say it outright?—so maybe ‘Tonks’s people’ will be less… neon than she is. Less recognizable.

“He hasn’t admitted to any crimes,” Granger says. “And if he does…”

She looks to Severus. Ah. No wonder he’s getting directly involved, despite his clear distaste for Harry. Same situation, twenty-five years later.

“If he does, then we get the legal specialists to work out a plea agreement, to allow him to keep working for us,” Severus says. “A willing criminal turncoat is more use to us within arm’s reach than caught in a court battle and in jail.”

“Which brings us to the point of the matter,” Granger cuts in, and rolls her chair sideways to pull a folder from the paper sorter that sits atop a short filing cabinet against the wall. She has been known to keep this room organized like that: her desk completely free of all but what she is directly using, but everything that might have topped it within reach. Rolling back, she opens the folder and turns it about, laying it flat on her desk to face them. Paperclipped to the first group of papers is a mugshot of a pale, stocky man with mousy-brown hair, a calm, blue-eyed leer, and a nose that looks like he ran face-first into a wall and it got stuck that way. Then Granger pushes the first stack aside, revealing another underneath it. This time the photo shows a woman, who despite her brown eyes is clearly related to the man. Her scowl is more intense, but she shares his nose.

“Amycus and Alecto Carrow,” Granger pronounces. “Mr Potter’s ‘Angus’ and ‘Alexa’. Arrested for aggravated assault, in October of nineteen ninety-nine, along with ‘Barty’—” She pushes Alecto’s papers aside as well, revealing the third stack. “Or, legally, Barty Crouch Junior.”

“Crouch?”

It takes Draco a moment to realize that the exclamation had come from him. To his right, Severus shifts slightly.

“It seems there was some merit to your suspicions after all, Miss Tonks. I apologize.”

An apology from Severus is a rare thing, but Tonks just rolls her eyes. “Yeah, it’s almost like I have this job ‘cause I know what I’m doing, Mister Snape.”

And there’s his scowl back again. “Doctor Snape, if you are going to continue to prove yourself—”

“Severus! Tonks. For the last time, we are all professionals,” Granger stresses. “If we could please behave like it…”

“Barty Crouch Junior?” Draco repeats. “Please tell me that’s not the Junior to Bartemius Crouch Senior?”

“It is,” Granger says, latching onto the question. It must be strange for her to feel grateful for Draco’s presence in this room; it’s strange for him not to be the one being lectured like a child. “Although Barty was quite publicly disowned when he was brought to trial. Crouch Senior had the press dogging him for weeks. He’d been rising through the ranks for years after his involvement in the Grindelwald case, a sure choice to become Commissioner, but after the scandal, he was pushed off sideways into a position where he could be useful, but less noticeable…”

“To the Serious Fraud Office,” Draco finishes.

And there he would remain up until 2006, when he would eventually recruit Draco Malfoy from the Metropolitan Police. And while Draco had been shunted from the SFO in July of 2007, as far as he was aware, his former boss remained exactly where he had left him.

Granger nods. “So you see the issue.”

“Seeing as he disowned his son, there’s no reason to believe that he is himself working with Voldemort,” Tonks cautions. “That there is a connection at all is suspect, but… it is a slim connection, so don’t go jumping to any conclusions.”

“Wait—back up just a second,” Draco says. “Working with Voldemort? Barty Crouch? Have you met the man? He’d turn in his own mother for so much as jaywalking—he disowned his own son!”

“Although I do not particularly care for Crouch, I am inclined to agree with Draco,” Severus says. His face is still, but as Granger said, Crouch had worked on the Grindelwald case. They had probably had to work together, which, when it came to Severus, generally resulted in a lasting relationship of mutual loathing. “It is curious, but if we conclude every possible relation to be a connection, then we had best lock up Draco now. Not to mention myself. Crouch is not the sort to work with a violent, power-hungry psychopath, no matter what he has to gain.”

“I can’t argue that. Alastor and I worked with him as well, on the Bagman case, and the—he would not do it for personal gain. And there really is very little to connect him to this case at all… in fact, the whole situation is suspect.” Granger glances down, turning the paper slightly so she can read it, and traces her fingers along the lines of text, though she doesn’t stop talking. “Beyond the fact that these three match the description that Mr Potter has given us, there is no reason to suspect this case was connected to Voldemort. As he told us, the man they had gone after—Benjy Fenwick—was reported to have died in a car crash, only the car caught fire and burned up what was inside. As for the trial… Both of the Carrows and Crouch Junior refused to testify. Fenwick only said he thought he was being mugged. Nothing about any criminal enterprises, from any of them, though they were convicted, obviously, and due to their non-cooperation and the scandal around the Crouches, their sentencings were, arguably, harsher than they would have been.”

“So only Potter’s word,” Severus says when she pauses for a moment. “Forgive me if I sound uninspired.”

“Doesn’t end there, though, does it,” Tonks says.

“No,” Hermione agrees, and she turns the papers around again, keeping her finger in place on the page as she pushes it towards Draco and Severus. Draco frowns, leaning in, and reads—

Deceased, November 2005...?

He reads the words again, not entirely sure how to process them. Harry had been so certain, but, then…

“So in addition to drawing previously unseen connections between criminals he may very well have learned of listening to the BBC, Potter is also seeing ghosts,” Severus summarizes, shaking his head. “Perhaps we should be ordering a psychiatric evaluation on our new intern, Director.”

“Nah,” Tonks says, crossing her arms over her chest and seeming impervious to the irritated glare it earns her. “See, thing is, Barty Junior had a twin. Identical. Timothy Crouch. With dad working here in London, s’not so unlikely Potter didn’t see him and think it was Junior, and even if he only saw it on the telly and somehow worked it into a grand delusion, well, you can look up the reports on what they did to Fenwick later. It’s enough to give anyone a start.”

Severus, of course, looks inclined to disagree with her on principal—whatever their issue is, it is no doubt petty and so not worth getting in the middle of trying to fix—but Draco has to ask— “Timothy Crouch? Bartemius named his sons Barty and Tim?”

Tonks grins. She must know Crouch as well, to know exactly how ridiculous that sounds for the man who makes auditors squirm with his by-the-book seriousness. “Was probably his wife that named them, is my best guess,” she says. “She was a sweetheart. If they’d had triplets, maybe the third woulda been a ‘Maes’.”

“I wasn’t aware that he was married,” Draco replies. Then again, it would have taken quite the woman to drag Crouch away from his work long enough to conceive; marriage, in light of that accomplishment, could have been a simple matter of signing paperwork.

“She passed about five years back,” Granger explains. “Kidney failure. Which is apparently what killed Barty… Junior, as well. That and an overdose on pain medication, following complications with a procedure… in which he was donating a kidney to his twin brother.”

Jesus. “So the wife dies, then Timothy needs a transplant, got it, and then Junior dies, of the same thing,” Draco summarizes. This is more about Crouch’s family situation than he’d learned in the several months he’d worked for the man. “And now Tim is apparently out wandering London, scaring our witness. Any sign he’s working for Voldemort?”

“Well, see, he’d been living in Germany, making a living as an artist,” Tonks says. “And about the only crime to his name was public intoxication. He’s a well-documented pothead.”

“Crouch,” Draco says. “Timothy Crouch. The son of Barty Crouch is a… pothead. And an artist. A pot-smoking artist. A Crouch.”

“And yet he was the less shameful son,” Severus says. “Unless Crouch disowned him, as well?”

“Nope,” Tonks answers. “By luck, the details of Junior’s crime were gruesome enough that the reporters did not go digging much further than the sickly Mrs Crouch, as they were uninterested in turning the Crouches into a sob story. Mostly they questioned Crouch’s integrity and competence, which, as you can probably guess, knowing him, was insult enough.”

Draco nods, slowly. Granger clears her throat, probably intent on getting away from the gossip session about Draco’s old boss the meeting is quickly devolving into. “So in all likelihood, Timothy Crouch just happens to be in town, and Harry just happened to see him. The pair of them being twins, Harry recognized him, and was understandably terrified that it was Junior. I would prefer to confirm Tim’s presence, however…”

“Doing so might alert Crouch Senior,” Severus summarizes when she trails away. “Which, on the exceptionally rare chance that he does have some connection to Voldemort, would significantly shorten our window of opportunity to capitalize on that connection, as Voldemort will have the records erased before we can access them.”

That generates more silence. Guarding investigation information as secret from the public is one thing; it is a necessary part of the process, especially when the identities of those involved in a given crime are unclear. Keeping secrets from the people who are supposed to be on your side, and not just as a matter of classification but in suspicion regarding loyalties…

Well, it really shouldn’t bother any of them, by now. Not Severus, who had to fight tooth and nail for every scrap of trust with information he deemed worth it to earn; not Draco, who was only told about the investigation into his father so that Potter could be used as bait; not Granger, who would prefer that no one but her had the full scope of things. And Tonks… well, she works for MI5. Supposedly.

“And these two,” Severus asks, breaking the silence and tapping a finger against one of the other pages. “The Carrow siblings. I presume they remain incarcerated and breathing?”

“Yes,” Granger says, though she sighs as she does it. “There’s the same issue getting information from them. We have no clue if they are still being kept tabs on.”

“If we are going to let fear rule our every action, then we had best give up this investigation now,” Severus begins, but Tonks cuts him off quickly:

“It wasn’t just Junior who refused to testify, remember, and the three of them have refused to cooperate with any investigations since. Amycus supposedly sits in complete silence until he is allowed to leave, once for eighteen hours straight, which is a statement if I’ve ever seen one. Alecto seems to make stories up. That or spit insults at whoever is trying to speak with her. Or sing twisted versions of children's songs. Or—well, you get the picture.”

Granger nods. “Considering that, I don’t think it’s worth it. Besides, with any luck, we will have our hands full following up on any leads Mr Potter can provide us—hence why I intend to get him working with Dean as soon as possible.”

She reaches towards the file, as though that closes the issue, but Draco sees the opening before Severus even opens his mouth to ask: “Why not send Potter to talk to them?”

Granger, just as sharply, looks up at him. “That is not going to happen.”

“If they really do know each other through Tom Riddle, then they undoubtedly would have things to discuss, which, with a bit of recording equipment, would be a way to get information on both of them,” Severus presses. His hand is still firmly on the paper, which makes it look like he and Granger are playing a childish game of tug-of-war over classified information. How professional.

If they know each other, we have no idea how they would react to seeing him,” she says. “The difference is what we think will happen if Mr Potter is lying. You would cast him to the courts for obstruction of an investigation; I would recommend him for psychiatric evaluation. Judging from our conversation yesterday, either way, I don’t think he’s stable enough for that kind of confrontation.”

“Yet you’re fine with having him squat in my flat?” Draco cuts in.

“It’s not squatting if you’re being paid,” Tonks counters.

“If he is untrustworthy, I don’t give a damn what happens to him,” Severus presses, ignoring the two of them. “What I do care about—what you should care about—is the fact that we have limited resources on our hands. If Potter is not completely deranged, fine. Excellent. We focus on following up on the information he provides us, and redirect the investigation that way. But the longer we wait to confirm that, the greater the potential for waste.”

“If we break him, we get nothing,” Granger snaps, tugging the folder out from under Severus’s hand. “He’s not ready to face something like that.”

Severus crosses his arms over his chest. “By any measure, Potter is already ‘broken.’ And yet he called, and you answered and brought him here to be involved anyways.”

“You could always just ask him, you know,” says Tonks. It earns her impossible looks from both of them; even Draco has to hold back a laugh. Granger? Severus? Ask someone what they want or are comfortable with? He thinks it’s an issue with them being so intelligent; neither can trust anyone else to think for themselves. “What?” Tonks says. “The only one who can tell us if Potter is ready for that is Potter himself.”

“Potter wouldn’t know a bus if it hit him in the face,” Severus retorts, at the same time as Granger says: “You haven’t even met him, Tonks.”

“Not that I think we should put much stock in what Weasley says,” Draco cuts in before they can get distracted again, “But what if he’s right?”

“About the cat?” Granger asks.

“No, about—what he said the other day. What if Potter’s a plant?” It seems kind of ridiculous, considering Harry looks about like a stiff wind could knock him over, but their grasp of how Voldemort operates is so tenuous, anything is possible. “If he’s here to intentionally misdirect the investigation… Have they pinned a motive on Moody’s death yet?”

The mention of Moody is what finally sobers Tonks. Perhaps she’d known him, and had worked with the RRS long before this case, not that Draco has ever seen her around, or perhaps it is the simple reminder that people are dying while they dither; either way, she shakes her head, lips thinning. “Mr Potter is being surveyed,” she says. “We will most closely be watching his movements and phone usage; currently he uses it so rarely that any changes to his behavior will be easy enough to track. And I expect that we will have a complete review of his background completed by next week. He has no criminal record, but…”

“But Voldemort could have had that altered,” Draco finishes. “It makes it quite difficult to trust in anything he says.”

“Do you think he’s lying that dramatically?” Granger asks.

“You don’t.”

“I don’t think it is impossible, but it is certainly unlikely. But you’re the one who went to interview him on Tuesday. You heard him speak yesterday; you’re living with him. If anyone catches an inconsistency, it will be you.”

That almost sounds like she trusts him to his job—and yet here Draco is, blinking at her like an idiot, rather than actually considering the question.

Does he trust Harry Potter? Well, that’s not quite it; he has very little reason to trust Harry as a person. But as a witness, as a key part of this investigation…

“I don’t think you can really fake fear like when he saw—when he thought he saw Barty Junior, yesterday,” Draco says slowly. “Or, you’d have to be a damn good actor, and from what I’ve seen of him, he has trouble keeping his emotions off his face. I’d be more concerned that…” He pauses, searching for a way to phrase what he has seen. “I’m with you in thinking he might need a psych evaluation. He doesn’t seem to know what is real or not. He says things—he says things like, ‘I don’t think my memory is that good’, or… What was it—oh, maths. On Riddle’s age. He was right, but said he got it wrong. He doesn’t seem to trust his own mind. Someone like that…”

“His fear is real, regardless of the source,” Granger agrees. “That much we can agree on. Which is part of why it is important to have someone with him at all times. The worst thing that could happen at this point would be for him to get spooked and make a break for it. Or, as I’m generally inclined to believe that he is telling at least the partial truth of his situation, that Voldemort sends someone to make him vanish.”

The way she phrases it is what really does it for Draco. “Make a break for it?” he echoes. “I’m not a jailer, Granger. Not a babysitter, either. We seem to all agree that he’s probably at least somewhat mentally unstable, but if you’re planning on having him committed, it should be at a hospital, not my flat!”

“I did not say that it would have to be you watching him. It would be ideal, considering that he is now living with you…”

“He’s an adult, not a child,” Draco snaps, ignoring the way Granger’s jaw clenches. She doesn’t take kindly to being told she’s overbearing. “And a free citizen, with rights . He was adamantly against any sort of custody, and he already asked if you were planning on imprisoning him. Which you replied ‘no’ to, I’ll remind you.”

“I agree,” Severus says, before she can reply. “If Potter is a flight risk… I see it more as an opportunity. Where he goes will be telling. Who follows…”

“For the last time, we are not intentionally putting Harry in danger,” Granger says. Snaps, really. “And that’s final, Severus.”

“It wouldn’t be us putting him in danger,” Severus replies. “He would be making his own choices, like Draco wants, and we would be keeping track of him, like you want. If it happens, I merely suggest that we take appropriate steps to take the opportunity as it is presented to us.”

“This is making quite a few assumptions about Potter’s character, in any case,” Tonks says, lifting her hand slightly from the arm of her chair. Draco glances at her—it might be easier to take her seriously if her leg wasn’t bouncing as she spoke, like a child trying her best not to get yelled at to sit still in school, but she’s been listening to their arguments politely enough, and even though Severus clearly dislikes her, even he stops to listen, so for the moment, she has the floor. “I mean, from what I’ve reviewed of your interviews, he sounds to me like a man who has been doing his best to cope with emerging from a traumatic situation, not like a pathological liar, or some sort of criminal plant, but someone doing the best he can on his own.

“And second, you’re both assuming that he would run, which I think is bullshit. What do we know for certain? That he’s terrified, and that despite this he has willingly stepped forward and risked his own well being to try to make it right.

And you’re assuming that he is going to snap under the pressure of the investigation, but it sounds to me like he’s spent his whole life dealing with his trauma on his own, and, well, sure, he might have a breakdown, but that’s before breakfast, and then he’s still got work to get to and an evil ex-boyfriend’s criminal empire to take down, so, there’s that, and none of you are likely to hear about it, anyways. And, uh, Draco, you say he can’t trust himself? Well, there’s a reason why people go to therapy—lots of reasons, really, but part of it is that talking to people about things helps, it’s like, sharing the weight of trauma, with an unbiased, outside opinion—”

She finally pauses, leveling them each with a considering gaze. “Though perhaps you are not an unbiased group, you are outsiders, not personally involved in the events that he has had to deal with, and pursuing the same goal of dealing with Voldemort, so—basically what I’m saying is that you’re Potter’s going to be personal squad of cheerleaders, and if you do your job right, you won’t have to deal with any of that.”

Severus looks especially put-out at the suggestion that he would ever do something like cheerlead a Potter, but Granger crosses her arms across her chest, though when she sits back in her chair, her back is a little less rigid than it usually is. Not quite a slump—Hermione Granger, proud of her working-class background though she might be, has far too much pride to ever slump—but a hair more relaxed.

“Well, if we are acting in loco therapist, we are definitely not putting him into unnecessary danger,” she says. “Besides which, we have barely cracked the surface of what information he has to offer. Dean and Ron are going to have a busy few weeks, organizing it together, and hopefully by the end of the month we will have a clearer idea of what we are dealing with, in regards to Voldemort’s… followers.”

If Weasley and Thomas are going to be handling Harry’s interviews for the next few weeks… well, it might be easier, seeing as Draco’s stuck living with him, not to see him at work during the day. The problem is, Weasley doesn’t understand the notion of subtlety, and while Harry may have come to them intending to provide information, it doesn’t mean he provides it outright. But it’s not Draco’s problem, at the moment, because it’s not worth arguing with Granger, and he has no doubt he’ll spend the next few weeks up to his neck in work, checking into all the addresses and names Granger grilled Harry on yesterday. Which leaves only one final concern:

“So are you going to tell Harry, or are you going to leave it up to me?” Draco asks.

“Tell him what?”

“Barty Crouch Junior? Timothy Crouch. Any of what we’ve discussed.” When it takes her more than a moment to respond, there’s nothing for it but to groan. “Please tell me you aren’t planning to keep this from him.”

“We simply must weigh our options,” she says.

“Weigh our—what benefit could there possibly be to keeping him in the dark? He was bloody terrified!”

“Again, I agree with Draco,” Severus says. “Restricting the information from Potter will only make him act irrationally, and an irrational Potter is the last thing we need on our hands.”

Frustrated, Granger turns her gaze to Tonks, but she receives only a shrug. “Sorry, but I’m with them, love,” Tonks says. “Strategy is all well and good, but you’ve got to decide whether you trust him or not. You’re including him in the investigation, so...”

Granger sighs again, and tries to glare at Draco—for daring to bring the topic up, he supposed—but Severus speaks again, looking warily at Tonks as he does so, as though he can’t believe he is agreeing with her.

“It will come out soon enough,” he says. “Sooner than you’d like. And when it does come out, when he realizes that you knew and did not tell him, he, being the emotional sort, will take offense to it. And when he takes offense, he will be less inclined to divulge information. He will personally dislike us, and he’s the sort who will let personal opinions get in the way.”

Draco doesn’t agree with that assessment, but he doesn’t vocalize it, because logic and utility will always trump sentiment with Granger, even with her soft heart. Personally, Draco’s of the opinion that if Harry finds a reason not to trust them, he’s probably not going to trust anyone ever again. Sure, it’d mess up the investigation, and yes, that would be a pain in the ass, but Draco, at least, is of the mind that taking what little faith Harry has left in the world and crushing it would be the worse crime.

Good God. He’s getting soft, softer than Granger, and he can’t even bring himself to resent it.

“If you feel so strongly about it, then you can tell him, Severus,” Granger says.

Yeah, because that wouldn’t be disastrous in every way. “I’ll tell him,” Draco says, before Severus’s scowl can lead to a spiteful agreement. “Though he really should hear it from you.”

“It will encourage him to trust you,” Tonks says thoughtfully. “I mean, Hermione’s in charge, and I’d bet my wig Potter’s got issues with authority figures. Your position makes him more likely to trust you. No offense meant.”

Wait—bet her wig? On the one hand, it’s something of a relief, knowing that the MI5 agent doesn’t always look like someone at a costume party where the theme is lesser-known comic book superheroes, but on the other— Of all the wigs in the world, she chose that monstrosity? To wear here? And Granger hasn’t kicked her out yet?

And how on earth is that a wig; it should be obvious—

“And, perhaps, the fact that they live together?”

Severus sounds irritated again. Yes, it is better that Draco tells Harry, if it’s not going to be Granger. He pinches the bridge of his nose.

Draco’s phone buzzes again, and he glances down at it, frowning as he realizes that he has twenty-six messages from Weasley. Presumably pictures of the dead cat, though he has to open them to be sure it’s nothing else regarding Harry’s situation that might be relevant to this meeting—

Nope. Dead cat. Lovely.

He looks up again and realizes he’s missed whatever retort Tonks issued to Severus, and sees that Severus is now openly scowling and preparing for a strike back, and Granger looks to be growing increasingly agitated, and for Christ’s sake. Working with Crouch Sr may have occasionally felt like working with an unforgiving robot for all you could not move an inch without being sure you had adhered to every law and procedure policy in the book (something which Draco has never been particularly suited for, given that he usually trusts his instincts first), but at least on Crouch’s team meetings didn’t begin and end with outright juvenile arguments.

He can’t even blame Tonks, really. This is why Severus is normally contained in his lab.

“Did we have anything else to discuss?” Draco asks Granger, hoping it doesn’t sound too much like he is begging to be released. “I’d like to get back to work. I’ve been trying to track down the landlords on the addresses Harry gave us.”

It had taken some time, the previous afternoon, for Harry to pour over Google Maps, trying to track down the various flats and houses that Riddle had used, though many of them Harry had only visited once or twice. Curiously, it seemed Riddle preferred to only make use of those numbered ‘7’. Which might have been useful for trying to track him down had there not been thousands of flats numbered ‘7’ in the UK.

“Have you had any success?” Granger asks.

Draco shakes his head. “Most haven’t gotten back to me yet, but it seems like several of the landlords have changed in the last eight years. In one of the townhouses, it seems there is a lovely family of five with three children ages six through fifteen who have lived there since the oldest was born.”

Granger’s frown deepens. “Was that at one of the buildings Mr Potter was certain of, or wavering on?”

“Certain.”

“Have you checked their names?”

“Not yet.”

“Run background checks.” She pauses. “If it turns up nothing… They may have sublet out the place while traveling. Or one of Riddle’s associates could have been house-sitting. We could ask Harry if he recalls signs of children.”

Could have been. For all they know, it could be Riddle living there, with three children, but Draco doubts that will be the case, either. “Not that Google Maps isn’t useful, but Harry’s working with poor imagery and eight-year-old memories. He might have been mistaken.”

“Possibly.” Granger sighs, and reaches into one of the drawers of her desk, withdrawing a notepad and pen, and begins to scratch down a thought. “I’d like for you—each of you, but especially you, Malfoy—to keep track of any inconsistencies or errors in Mr Potter’s information,” she says. She caps her pen again, returns the notepad to her desk, and picks up the file she’d set aside. “But keep your notes by hand.”

“You think Voldemort has access to our servers?” Severus asks.

Draco blinks at the suggestion. It is no more absurd than that Mr Crouch might be working for Voldemort, but at the same time—ridiculous. In order for Voldemort to have access to the servers, he would need someone on the inside, and—

Ah. He supposes he should be glad they don’t think it’s him, but really that is no comfort.

“I would not rule out the possibility. We know he has been able to remove traces of himself from other databases, which means he has people with access, or people with enough  skill to gain access.” Granger stands, this time, to return the file to the paper-sorter she had retrieved it from, and withdraws a stiff brown envelope, which she holds out to Draco. “Malfoy, you’re free to return to your work. However, when Ron and Mr Potter return, I need him to complete the forms in here, authorizing our withdrawal from his security deposit box. That data has the potential to supersede all our concerns regarding the credibility of Mr Potter’s information.”

“Can we even use that information?” Draco has to ask, though he takes the envelope as he rises to his feet. “Harry said he did steal it, after all.”

“For the purposes or the investigation, yes. In terms of taking to court…” Granger sits back down, heavily, as though it had taken all her strength to be upright. Maybe it had. She’s been known to go days without sleeping. “It is more complicated. I’ve been in contact with Amelia Bones regarding the situation; she’s rather amused that she was named in Harry’s will.”

“Should you be trusting her with that information?” Severus says sharply.

“Amelia is reliable,” Tonks replies shortly.

“She did play a large part in Barty Crouch Junior’s incarceration,” Granger agrees. “As well as the Carrows’. I rather doubt she is working for Voldemort.” Her eyes return to Draco, considering. “In any case, I am less concerned about the court battle, at this point,” she says, “than I am about getting that data and seeing what it was that Mr Potter took that would be valuable enough to keep him alive.”

“He did say it was encrypted,” Draco points out. “We might not even be able to use it.”

But Granger looks to Tonks, and a grim smile plays on her face. “Oh, we know just the man for the job. I’m sure you’ll appreciate him. Now get back to work, Malfoy.”

If that isn’t ominous, Draco doesn’t know what is. He escapes while he has the chance.

Chapter Text

When Harry opened his eyes, he wished he had not, and shut them again, but the damage had already been done.

It was bright, wherever he was, so bright he was wincing at the light as it burned red through his eyelids. He must have groaned, too, because there was small sound, a voice breathing out, ah , and then the bed shifted beneath him and something moved to block the light. His eyes blinked open again to find—a hand, coming straight down to land on his forehead, fingers unfurling and pushing the bangs from his sticky forehead.

“Good morning, Harry,” came the murmured greeting, and Harry relaxed. It was Tom. It was alright.

But then the hand moved away, and Harry groaned as Tom shifted just so, and the bulb behind his head was glaring down at him. He tried to move his arm—

His arm was numb. Everything was numb.

“Tom?” he asked, and his voice came out strained.

Tom seemed to realize about the light, as he twisted around more, fully blocking the light again. He had the faint traces of a smile on his lips—and Harry realized he had just called him ‘Tom’ flat-out. He’d always thought the name, since he’d finally learned it a year and a half ago—better than thinking of him as ‘the Suit Guy’—but actually saying it? Obviously they’d crossed the boundary of customer and cashier, probably even before Tom had given him the key to use his bedroom in Anthony’s house, but Tom was… in a different league from Harry. Everything else aside, he was an adult with money and the means to achieve things, while Harry was…

Still, it would probably have been weirder if Harry had called him ‘sir’, right at that moment. All things considered. There Harry was, in bed, and Tom sitting on the edge of that bed, and…

And?

“Do you remember what happened?” Tom asked, as softly as he had spoken before.

Harry tried to shake his head. Tried. It was weird, the light haloing Tom’s head being so painfully bright and while his vision was going dark, but it was also too painful to really be concerned about things being weird. Tom made that little sound again, and his hand reappeared, fussing with the pillow behind Harry’s head.

“We think you might have a concussion,” he said. “Someone’s coming out to have a look at you, but he won’t be here until morning. And we have to make sure there’s no broken bones.”

Broken bones? A concussion? “What…?” he tried to ask.

“We’re not entirely sure.” Tom’s voice loses a bit of its softness. “Suffice to say, you turned up at the door looking like death warmed over, and Antonin nearly had a heart attack.”

He pauses, and then reaches for something—a washcloth comes into view, and Harry might have protested if he didn’t feel so dirty . This bedroom was, as far as Harry recalled from the last time he’d been here, above all else clean, and he really felt like he ought to have had one of Aunt Petunia’s icy scrub-downs, like he did when he was a kid, long before he set foot here. And the water soaking the cloth Tom dabbed at Harry with was pleasantly cool.

“I’ve taken the liberty of calling you out sick from work. I told the management that you were in a car accident walking home from school.”

“A car accident?”

“Would you rather I have told her your Uncle assaulted you?”

Oh.

Finally it clicked. Uncle Vernon, screaming—that could have been any day, but he’d caught Harry with a plate of leftovers, never mind that Aunt Petunia had said he could have them, and Harry had thought he could just wait it out. Then it turned into other insults, and then Vernon grabbing for him, and Harry ducking under his arm, intent on running out of the house and not coming back until the man was asleep, at least, except Vernon had managed to grab him again, and when Harry broke free, his foot had found air behind him and he’d tumbled down the stairs. And then—time had seemed to fragment. He remembered Vernon charging down the stairs after him, he remembered running down Privet Drive, blood pounding in his ears, he remembered ducking down the alley between Wisteria Walk and Magnolia Crescent, and then—

Nothing. He must have made it here by a subconscious effort. Returning to a safe place.

“I fell down the stairs,” he said, tongue thick.

The wash cloth stilled. A bead of water escaped, slipping down his forehead and the curve of his neck, making him shiver. And then Tom leaned in a bit closer, his face close enough that Harry could make out the stillness of his eyes, unblurred, and that made him shiver, too.

“Don’t ever make excuses for them, Harry,” he said, and it was barely more than breathing out. “Filth like that doesn’t deserve your compassion. Don’t waste it on them.”

Harry nodded slightly, never mind the pain. Tom searched his face, but pulled away the washcloth from his face and reached for something out of Harry’s field of vision, a cup or bowl of water from the sound, and it was like a weight was lifted off Harry’s chest. He forced himself to breath again, trying not to make it too obvious.

“I meant,” he said, “I was trying to get away, because he grabbed me. And when I did, I fell down the stairs.”

Tom didn’t say anything to that, but he did reach slowly behind Harry’s head, slipping his fingers between his skull and the pillow. He didn’t prod, exactly, but his fingers brushed a spot that’s so tender Harry’s breath hitched. Tom barely seemed to notice, just withdrew his hand just as carefully, surveying his fingers. Harry couldn’t see anything on them—which he supposed was the point.

“I suppose we should consider it lucky that your skull did not split open,” Tom said.

“Yeah,” Harry replied with false cheer that wasn’t convincing anyone. “Lucky.”

Of course, even if his cheer had been convincing, it would have just annoyed Tom further. As it was, Tom huffed, and swiped at Harry’s bangs again, fast enough Harry didn’t have time to be uncomfortable at the familiar touch that he was now awake enough to shy away from, before checking his watch. “The doctor won’t be here for another four hours,” he said.

Harry frowned, and shifted. He winced as his arms dragged across the sheets—they must have been damaged in the fall, too—but it was a small pain. The type of pain he could ignore as he used his elbows to prop himself up. He didn’t make it far, and his head was pounding by the time he was halfway to sitting, not the dulling pressure like his brain was trying to exit the back of his skull he’d felt resting on the pillows but an all-encompassing ache, and he had to position himself carefully, keeping Tom between him and the light. But he kept himself upright, somehow—

“I can’t have a doctor look at me,” he said. “If it’s a concussion, they’ll just tell me to sleep, anyways, so… They ask questions. They report things back to the government. They…”

“This one works for me. He won’t report anything you don’t want him to.”

Harry’s frown deepened. “Private?”

“In a sense.”

“I can’t afford that—”

“He works for me,” Tom repeated. “It won’t cost you anything. Your brain is the most vital organ in your body, Harry. Your mind. We don’t fuck around when it comes to taking care of your brain.”

It was always weird, to hear Tom swear. Even when he was angry, he rarely stooped to it, preferring words that cut to words that bludgeoned.

“But I—”

“I imagine you would find it unacceptable for me to locate your relatives’ home and burn it to the ground with them inside?”

Burn it—“What?”

“If you would prefer that, let me know now, as it will save us all much trouble.” Tom spoke matter-of-factly, as he always did when he was suggesting something so—so outrageous that Harry honestly could not tell whether he was being dramatic or not. “But as you are the conscientious sort, then at least allow me this small part in helping you.”

Harry didn’t know how to respond to that. Damn Tom, phrasing things like Harry would be denying him something by… It was ridiculous. Worse, Harry couldn’t say for certain whether Tom was being manipulative, or if he actually meant it. He didn’t like to think the former, but the latter… Harry did have a clue what that would look like. Someone caring like that.

“I don’t want you to have to pay for it either. It’s not worth it.”

“It is to me. But if you do not understand, then I should make it clear: when I say he works for me, I mean he works only for me. If he has a patient, it is because I decided he should. If I decided that instead of tending to you he should stand beside your bed and sing drinking songs, then that would be his job. Money does not factor into the matter.”

There was any number of things wrong with that statement, but when Harry’s headache got so bad he thought surely his skull was going to crack right down the middle for the pressure and Tom’s hand appeared at his shoulder to ease him back down, what Tom said was, “Don’t worry. I won’t subject you to his singing. He’s a downright awful singer.”

“That’s not…” Harry began, but he was feeling too awful to really hold up his protests.

“But you’re right. He will tell you to get lots of rest, even if you’ve managed to avoid a concussion,” Tom said. “There is one slight problem, however…”

“Problem?” Harry echoed.

“Mmm, yes. That’s my bed you’re sleeping in.”

Harry stared blankly at him for a minute, but when the words went through, he sat up again so quickly his vision went spotty. Tom grabbed his shoulder again, this time more firmly, keeping him from scrambling out as quickly as he could, mortified that he was imposing—

“I apologise, Harry; you’ve misunderstood. I don’t mean to kick you out. In fact, I will need to stay on hand, in case your condition gets worse as you sleep.”

“You have to work in them morning?” Harry pressed, trying not to squirm away from the hand on his shoulder too obviously, but hyper-aware of it, and not only because of how tender the skin beneath his shirt was. “I’m—I’m sorry. You don’t need to—I can—”

“Did we not just discuss the value of your brain?” Tom asked, and he sounded stern, now, so Harry nodded, not wanting to upset the man more, not when he was already imposing. “Good. I simply need to know if you are made… uncomfortable by my solution.”

“Solution?”

Tom didn’t answer, only pushed Harry back down into the pillows and stood up. When he moved out of the way of the light, Harry heard the hiss escape his mouth as he shrank back from the light like some sort of bad Dracula impersonation.

But then the room darkened, and as Harry willed his eyes to open again, to figure out what Tom was doing, he heard the man’s soft footsteps go around the bed, and a moment later the bed shifted again, creaking.

When Harry opened his eyes hand turned his head to look, he found Tom stretched out on top of the covers on the other side of the bed, about as far away from Harry as he could reasonably be, but head off the pillow, looking at him, waiting, as if in question. Harry swallowed and nodded, even as he turned his head to stare up at the ceiling again, his heart pounding in his chest. He’d never shared a bed with anyone before. On the rare occasion he’d travelled with the Dursleys—before they’d accepted that he wouldn’t burn down the house the moment he was ill—he’d been left to the chair or floor if there’d only been two beds.

“I can go sleep on the couch,” Harry whispered—something about turning off the lights alway made him whisper.

“If this makes you uncomfortable, then we can do that,” Tom replied. He didn’t whisper. He wasn’t… “Though there’s only the one, and I’d prefer this to spending the night in an armchair, if you can bear with it.”

Tom was good at that. At making it sound like Harry’s offers would only cause more trouble for both of them.

“You don’t have to watch me, I mean,” Harry clarified. “I’ve had a concussion before; it’s not that serious. You don’t need to waste your time watching me.”

“I don’t have to, no. But need…”

And then: silence. Harry’s eyes were adjusting to the dim light, nothing but the glow of a streetlight outside the thin plastic blinds, but that just made the blurred room clearer. “Where are my glasses?” he asked.

“On the bedside table. But the lenses are cracked. I suppose it’s lucky that they didn’t shatter into your eye, too.”

Cracked? “Are they still useable?” he asked. He’d taped the frames together more times than he could count, when Dudley had snapped them in half, but the lenses… he’d only gotten new ones last year…

“I suppose you could salvage the frames.” Tom sounded unimpressed by the idea. “If you would permit me the opportunity, I dare say I could help you find a pair better suited to your face. Those chunky plastic ones aren’t flattering at all. They make you look like a child. And they hide your best features, rather than accentuate them.”

That had rather been the point of them, Harry thought, and they’d always served well as a wall between him and everyone else. But for some reason, the thought that Tom did not like them was… uncomfortable. What it was specifically…. Well, Harry certainly did not want to look like a child in the man’s eyes, and Tom was the type of man who wore tailored suits and sweaters that probably cost a month’s worth of Harry’s paychecks. He had good taste, was that it? But also expensive tastes, and Harry…. Well, Harry worked at Tesco, and spent most of his money on food and for him luxury was secondhand clothes that at least came close to fitting.

“My Aunt normally pays for them,” he said. “She’ll probably just pick up whatever’s cheapest.”

“Your Aunt shouldn’t be allowed to dress a mannequin, let alone someone who has to live with the consequences of her purchases,” Tom replied.

Harry almost wanted to laugh. Of all the things to critique Aunt Petunia for—her fashion sense? He didn’t though, because, well, she didn’t care in the slightest what Harry looked like, but to be honest, he’d be lucky if she bought him new glasses at all. If not, then it would be on Harry, and with his limited paycheck, he’d be buying the cheapest and then begging the store to mark them down from that.

Harry yawned instead, sinking back into the pillow. They were both quiet for a few minutes, but Harry, as tired as he was, felt wide awake in how aware of every movement Tom made, every breath he took. A car went by outside, brightening the room for a moment, and upstairs, someone shifted about—

“I can arrange things for you, you know,” Tom said quietly, breaking into the silence. “To deal with your relatives. Permanently. You wouldn’t ever have to go back to them. They wouldn’t be able to hurt you again. You or anyone else. You wouldn’t even have to know about it. They could just be… gone.”

It was… confirmation, of a number of things, hearing Tom say it. And for a moment, despite knowing he should be horrified, knowing that he should, by all logic, working out a plan to run—despite the way he offered it as matter-of-factly as something smaller, like, I could just drive you to London, save the cost of a train ticket, if you’d like , which really ought to make the bizarre situation even worse—and yet he wasn’t horrified or even nervous, despite knowing an offer like that from a man like Tom must be didn’t come without a tapestry of strings attached—

It wasn’t horrifying. It made the breath catch in his throat, not because he’d ever take an offer like that—God, he couldn’t even imagine—but because Tom had offered. And—hell, the fact that he’d even offered, giving Harry the choice, not letting Harry suffer entirely without options or, worse, going and carrying out what Tom apparently considered a viable solution without even asking Harry about it—Harry didn’t know what to do with the sudden closing of his throat, not out of fear but out of something he couldn’t name, out of disbelief that someone who would offer to have his relatives… killed ? He couldn’t even think it… That someone like that could treat him like… like…

Like a person worthy of respect. Not a boy who worked in a shop, a freak orphan left on his Aunt’ and Uncle’s doorstep.

“Thanks,” he managed to whisper.

Tom seemed to understand that it was a rejection, because he didn’t make a sound for a long minute. “Well,” he finally said. “If you change your mind, for dirt like them that offer will always be open.”

Dirt. Ironic, Harry thought, considering how particular Petunia had always been, making him vacuum, dust, and mop practically every other day. “For someone like you,” he said, trying and failing to stifle a yawn that stretched the words out and made his skull ache, “they’re not worth the time.”

More silence. Harry finally let his eyes shut, sinking deeper into the pillow—and then Tom’s response, almost too quiet too be heard. “No, but you are.”

Harry’s eyes fluttered open again, searching the dark blur of the ceiling for some sign he hadn’t imagined the words—that he wasn’t dreaming—

Then there was that hand, reaching over to brush the hair off of his forehead, and Harry couldn’t muster the strength to remember why he’d thought that unpleasant, before.

“Get some sleep, Harry,” Tom murmured. “I’ll wake you in the morning.”



This time, when he opens his eyes, he keeps them wide open, but the damage has already been done.

 

LONDON. SATURDAY, 20 OCTOBER, 2007. 07:15.

 

It is only seven o'clock, but then again, Draco is normally out running by now, an awake and impossibly functional human being. Harry is not. Over the last week, he has fallen into the habit of taking his shower while Draco is gone, which times well to having breakfast fixed by the time Draco comes back, and having eaten and ready with tea or French Press coffee by the time Draco has made his reappearance transformed in one of his pressed shirts and jackets. Not that Draco’s ever asked for it, but whether he drinks it in the cup or fishes out a travel mug, he never objects to extra caffiene to carry him through his morning routine.

Not today. This morning Draco has company. If the pair’s clumsy return to the flat at around three AM is any indication, Draco won't be up for a few hours yet, and in no shape to go out running when he does. And so Harry’s slipped out early, a book tucked under his arm and knit cap pulled down over his unwashed hair, and searches out the bakery that Draco usually stops at on his run, less than a block away from the flat. It is just opening as he arrives, and Harry settles into a table tucked away around a shallow corner from the counter with a mug full of coffee and a croissant.

He tries to focus on his book, but from his position he can’t help but hear the conversation between the employees behind the counter as they gossip about a recently-fired co-worker, and watch them interact with their regulars—the majority of those who would be in this early. He sips his coffee, finding it a pleasant change from the blend that stocks Draco’s cabinets and the swill from the office, and is surprised to find he feels at ease here. Perhaps a transference from the seven years he had to try and learn to stop looking over his shoulder, and the familiarity of the quiet of opening hour, before the morning rush—he assumes they will get one here, a number dropping in on their way to work or whatever Londoners do on Saturday mornings, some having the same tired conversations about running late and the same order of coffee as they head to the same exact places they’ve gone for years on end, the cashier catching the new haircut or the new jacket or, if nothing else, commenting how chilly the weather has gotten, just to pass the time.

Harry can easily admit that he misses it. The familiarity, the routine—even the rhythms of pulling a shot and steaming the milk and washing the pitchers, the rote technical aspects of the work. But until the investigation is over, and Tom caught, or killed, or Harry is done away with himself, the closest he will get to the work he has known is cleaning the RRS’ horrible coffee machine and distributing out mugs as he searches for a way to be useful.

He shakes his head, bemused to catch him thinking about work on the weekend—not even the investigation, but his ‘internship’. He’s supposed to be relaxing. Disconnecting from the job, as Ron advised him— go out, have a beer, get laid; don’t think about the case . That’s what Draco is doing, clearly.

As soon as he thinks that, he wishes he hadn’t. He has headphones, and a good library of music on his laptop to block noise out, but, well. Draco isn’t used to having a flatmate, and he’d been pissed, or maybe just hadn’t cared. Harry is going to have to watch his tongue, later, or he’s going to make things needlessly awkward. With any luck, Draco won’t mention anything, not even to apologize—not that Harry thinks he will; it is his flat, after all, and he hadn’t really wanted Harry there, and had warned him. If he does bring it up…

God. It’s been years since Harry has had to deal with anything close to that sort of awkward conversation.

Enough of that—his book; his book can distract him. All he has to do is read the words, process them properly as sentences, delve into the story—

But what if, Harry thinks. What if the person—the man, he assumes, though he would not want to place limits on Draco’s sexuality without discussing it with him, and has absolutely zero desire to have that discussion—what if that person who has been in the flat, who has had access to the space while both Harry and Draco were, presumably, asleep—and maybe not this week, but down the road— what if Draco’s one night stand turned out to be one of Tom’s—or one of Voldemort’s, more likely, as the individuals of lesser importance would never see past the name—

For fuck’s sake; he’s being ridiculous. This isn’t Charnell Hill, where you could count the queers on one hand, or Little Whinging, where the very acknowledgement of homosexuality was considered blasphemous. A thrashing-worthy offense, at least according to Uncle Vernon and a bad portion of the kids in school. The book, he thinks; no point dwelling. He’ll just read for a few hours, then maybe text Draco a carefully worded inquiry before he heads back—he still needs to ask Granger about getting his messaging paid for, so it will have to be within 160 very expensive characters—and if he still is nervous, and nervous enough to overcome the awkwardness of the situation, he’ll have a conversation with Draco about his concerns.

...maybe. Not like he can demand a background check on each of Draco’s one-night stands, and he can only imagine what a mood killer it would be to say, ‘Sorry, my flatmate needs to check that you aren’t only coming in to murder him in the name of Voldemort’... And it might be taken as an insult, too, like he’s suggesting Draco could only get a hook-up if they had ulterior motives surrounding Harry, which… well, Draco’s fit enough, and he knows it, too…

But that’s a problem too. Harry remembers, all too clearly, the New Years Eve parties, and the worst thing about them was the sheer amount of people. They may have all been in masks—perhaps the only way to bring together a large portion of a criminal empire is to ensure some level of anonymity and plausible deniability—but it isn’t the identity of the people that matters. It’s the sheer number, the knowledge that there are several hundred people out there with direct enough involvement in Tom’s dealings to be invited, and able to get to London, and without other plans for New Years Eve, so many he probably walks past one on the street and squeezes up next to another on the tube every day. And perhaps their family members—but again, they had to know, to be there, didn’t they? Harry hadn’t been given any warnings not to speak about this or that, and he had heard conversation regarding shady business dealings that he hadn’t fully understood or wanted to understand. And—

And nothing. It’s all just fear. Grabbing smoke. And it’s the weekend. He doesn’t need to be remembering; he can save that for during the week. He’s spent the last five days with Ron and Dean, drawing up profiles of the people he remembers. Literally drawing: Dean is an artist. Harry gives him a description, and as Dean works on the sketch, Harry talks to Ron, explaining who they were; naming them, as best he can, listing anything he can remember. And then Dean shows him the sketch, and Harry points out the differences, as best he can—it’s a long, arduous process, and as he’s been so focused on trying to remember exactly what people look like, he’s been, even more than usual, spotting them in crowds—

Like now. It’s so easy to look out the window, spot that man coming down the street, and let his overactive imagination fill in the details blurred by distance until the face becomes Barty’s. He even dresses like Barty: that long, dramatic coat—

Harry laughs slightly, shaking his head and he looks down, picks up his mug, and takes a slow, deliberate sip of coffee, trying to drown out the sickening helplessness. Damn it. He’s spent eight years, almost, working to the point where he could get through a day without thinking about Tom. Sure, he’s had rough patches. He once called out sick for three days in a row when someone showed wearing a tie patterned exactly like one Tom had, green with silver diamonds—and the number of times he’d woken up convinced Tom was in the room with him, and no matter how impossible it was for a second person to have physically fit within the limited space he had, no matter how thoroughly he checked every inch of the apartment, and tested the doors and the windows to be sure they were locked, he couldn’t shake the feeling, and would jump at every shift of shadow—and it wasn’t just Tom, it was everything; conversations that hadn’t been kept from him but he’d never wanted to hear, coming through doors; glimpses of things he’d never wanted to see, when he forgot to turn his head; faces he didn’t want to remember—

God, he’s fucked up. Not just the shit he’s been running from, but, well, the whole seeing people thing; that’s generally a sign that something’s gone wrong in your head, isn’t it? And he hasn’t even told them the worst of it; he’s been touching on things with Ron, but doing the profiles, it’s easy to speak in generalizations. Or stories, but not the right ones. Oh, Anthony. Antonin. He preferred working with a knife. Kind of a ridiculous guy—he had a switchblade he’d keep in his pocket, and if you started to piss him off, he’d flip it out and start cleaning his nails. If you were smart, you’d shut up fast; if you were Barty, you’d egg him on…

He takes another sip of coffee. It’s gone cold sitting there while he’s been trying to read, or, rather: lukewarm, which is worse. He needs to do better. He’s here, stuck in London, to try and help catch Tom. Not talking about—not giving specifics, it’s only drawing things out. They don’t know what stories there are to ask him about, so how could they? He needs to tell them. If he can’t say it, he needs to write things down. He needs to acknowledge—

But not today! Not today. It’s Saturday, and he really should focus on his book. Let it take his mind away from all this. From Tom, from Draco’s company.

But his gaze drift back the window again, to the man coming down the sidewalk. He may be out of his mind, but there is some benefit to being paranoid. And it will only take a quick glance and measured, logical thought to relax.

Harry frowns, and then freezes. His eyes widen.

It’s him. It has to be him. He knows that face.

Barty.

But Draco told him—

He blinks, slowly, hoping that when he opens his eyes it will have been nothing more than a trick of the light, but Barty only gets closer.

Granger’s information said he was dead, and that he’d probably seen a brother. But either Harry is seeing things, or Barty’s alive, and stalking down the street, glaring at a cellphone in irritation, barely changed for the eight years since Harry’s seen him: Straw blonde hair, looking darker for the drizzling rain plastering it to his face, a thick grey scarf wound round his neck over the black peacoat, tailored in such a way as to make him look taller and narrower than he already was, and while he is hunched ever so slightly to look down at the cell phone in his hand, he walks with the same lanky stride, approaching the bakery—

No. It’s not. It can’t—

Does Harry run? Barty hasn’t seen Harry yet. He—he can’t be here for him, or Harry would never have seen him. Or would have looked him in the eye, and let him know. It could be an intimidation tactic, to keep popping up where Harry might spot him, but then again, Barty doesn’t have a subtle bone in his body. And Tom being Tom, if he wanted something subtle done, he would do it himself. And if Barty wasn’t there to kill him, then he’d just…

What, sit down across from him over coffee, and discuss things that ought to have been close-guarded secrets in the anonymity of a public location? Behind him, Harry can hear the sounds of the espresso machine, and he can smell the fresh pot they’ve brewed, so it’s not so hard to imagine, to transpose—to remember when he—when—

No! No. Barty—he didn’t—he isn’t Tom. And he’s been locked up so long, he wasn’t—it doesn’t matter if he’s been—it doesn’t matter. He’s not coming to— But he still could; still could glance up and spot Harry and only the dice of fortune would know where they would land: a bullet in his throat or a falsely amicable conversation across a wobbly table. He could still— Barty’s getting closer, still looking at his phone, and Harry’s frozen, years of learning how to disappear into the background escaping him as his limbs stay unnaturally ridgid, his eyes wide and watering against the fear of blinking and missing the sealing of his fate, his breath caught, and Barty—

Barty’s supposed to be dead.

Dead.

He barely glances at the bakery as he goes past. For a moment Harry thinks—but no, he keeps moving, and Harry barely has time for a moment of relief before Barty makes it to the corner just as the light changes, and so he’s stuck there, waiting, glancing up and down the street, maybe fifteen meters from Harry, only glass in between.

Harry’s hands are shaking as he moves one slowly to pull the glasses from his face and flips open his cell phone with the other. His hair is covered by the knit cap; it will have to do. The best Harry can do is keep an eye on him until he’s gone, and—

And get proof. What he hadn’t been able to get last time. Some lasting evidence to show for his fear, because one way or another, if he’s gone further ‘round the bend or if Granger’s bizarre stories are true and he’s wrong—even then, he needs proof.

He takes a picture as soon as the camera loads. When the screen reappears, he zooms in, hoping for something usable. And then a third time. And—

Okay, he thinks, slowly and deliberately, watching the screen and forcing himself to try and asses the situation for a moment, because Barty’s still standing there, and while he’s making a valiant attempt to distract himself with the pictures, the knowledge that Barty is right there—

But Granger said it wasn’t Barty he’d seen, it was his twin brother. Harry hadn’t known how to feel about the story they’d told him—he’d never heard Barty talking about a twin, after all, and—but what reason would they have to lie to him? He’s been working with them, even going so far as to move to London for the sake of the investigation, and the feedback from Dean and Ron has mostly been positive. So that is probably just… Timothy Crouch, Barty’s identical twin, taking a normal and legal stroll around the block. Right.

Yeah, no; fuck that—he knows what he’s looking at. Barty had been the only one to treat him like a friend, among Tom’s people, and Harry—he knows Barty. The way he walks, the way he holds himself. Either it is ‘Tim’ Crouch, and he’s just as much a predator on the prowl as Barty was, or it is Barty, and—

His breath catches in his throat as Barty turns, brows furrowed at something he sees as his eyes sweep over the front of the building—but Harry doesn’t shake or dart back. His hands are as still as he can make them as he risks taking another picture, and by the time the camera has reloaded Barty has turned, facing the crosswalk again, looking down at a cellphone he must have drawn from the pocket of his heavy overcoat again.

And then—

Something startles him, and he looks sharply up, away down the street, and his scarf shifts down, exposing the extent of his neck, and there, like a harsh shadow, a trick of the light—

Harry takes another picture, and hopes to god it is in focus.

The camera reloads just in time for the light to change, and Harry tries to track Barty’s progress across the street, but the pixelated images move in dizzying jerks, and then he disappears out of view, heading away down the street. Away from Harry, and away from the apartment.

Harry stares at the screen, waiting to see if Barty will come back into view—having collected the gun he intends to off Harry with from a parked car, perhaps, not that it would be a practical hit in grey London morning daylight—and it’s only when the door opens that he is startled from his focus. He quickly puts his glasses back on, trying to give the customer who had just come in a surreptitious once-over, confirming that she is not anyone he recognized before looking back down at his phone. His hands are shaking so bad his thumb slips from the button to escape the camera application twice. He tries not to think, watching the animated loading symbol spin on screen once he goes open the photo gallery. If he thinks, he’s going to start down the rabbit hole of assuming the images will be blurry once again, or that his phone will have malfunctioned and not saved any of them—or worse, they’ll be there, and be completely clear, but the person won’t be Barty but a complete stranger—or they’ll be devoid of any people at all— Yes; it’s better if he doesn’t think. No use doing anything but waiting…

And then it loads.

There’s several photos, which is a good sign, and even as small tiles he can see the dark silhouette of the coat. He swallows and opens up the first image—but it’s too zoomed out to tell. The next is zoomed in, but the face is turned away, and the next is blurry, but the fourth, oh the fourth—

It won’t be winning any photography awards, but it is clear as a the camera could have made it, zoomed in through a window down the street, and shows his face. It’s him—it’s definitely him. And the next photo…

Harry exits the photo gallery and moves to his contacts. He’s only got a handful saved, so Draco’s number is easy to find.

Predictably, Draco doesn’t pick up.

Harry pulls the phone away from his face and stares at it for a moment—alright. It’s barely eight thirty, and on a Saturday; he’s lucky that the bakery opened so early. And Draco had been so pissed—Harry almost feels guilty, thinking about being woken up with the hangover he just had to have to a God-awful phone ringing from on the nightstand, or wherever he’d dropped his jacket, more likely, some faceless bloke groaning at the rude awakening—

Almost, but he really doesn’t have the strength for it, because, damn it, that’s Barty fucking Crouch out there down the street, and Harry had to proof, and to hell with Draco’s one night stand—

The second time he calls, Draco picks up on the second ring. There’s an awkwardly long beat where Harry thinks his phone has just dropped the call, or maybe Draco just picked up for the sake of hanging up on him, but then:

“...hello?”

“Draco?” Harry says, trying to keep his voice above a whisper without it breaking from his nerves. “I… it’s Harry.”

“I’m aware of that.”

Well, that sounds more cognizant than anyone just rolling out of bed should be able to muster. Draco’s proved himself an early riser, these past few weeks, and, well, he’d warned Harry about him bringing company home, so he’s probably gone out and gotten sloshed like this before, and he doesn’t really seem like the type to let himself waste a way being idle because of something like a hangover—

“I’m at—the bakery. Um. The one you always go to.”

“And?”

“And I—I saw him.” There’s more silence from the other end, and Harry swallows. “Barty,” he says, only it comes out as a whisper, and he forces his voice to reemerge: “Barty. I, I saw Barty.”

More silence, then a slight rustling sound. “Harry,” Draco says. “You saw the profiles. The ones Granger had drawn up. He’s—”

“I know what they said. But I saw him.”

“Timothy,” Draco corrects. “It was his brother, Timothy—”

“It wasn’t. Draco, he was ten feet away from me. I saw him—it was him.”

“Ten feet—did he see you?”

Harry can hear the disbelief staining Malfoy’s question—or maybe it’s worry? Worry that his flatmate’s gone insane, maybe. “I got pictures,” Harry says, his voice sounding hoarse. He glances towards the counter, where a pair of middle-age women are chatting with the baristas, but they aren’t paying attention to him, and he’s half tucked out of sight, anyways.

“Pictures?”

“Proof,” Harry says. “I can show you—I can show you it’s him. That I saw him. They’re not blurry—not all blurry, this time. It’s not just… I have evidence.”

There’s a long stretch of silence, and then, from Draco’s end of the line, the phone crackles with the static of a slow exhale. “You said you’re at the bakery?”

“Yes,” Harry says. “The one you run by—”

“Stay there. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

The call cuts.

Stay there? Harry’s not about to leave, when Barty’s out there—unless he comes back. If he does, Harry decides he’s going to barricade himself in the toilet. He eyes the other customers warily, but is doubtful that Barty could be in disguise as one of the chatty women, nor the elderly man who glares back at Harry over the top of his newspaper. Harry resumes his surveillance of the street after that, and nearly topples out of his seat when he sees someone come around the corner—but it’s a woman in a velour tracksuit walking a medium-sized yappy dog. Harry glances around the shop, wondering if anyone’s noticed his panic, but the baristas haven’t got a clear line of sight on him, and the two women are leaving, taking their coffee to-go. The elderly man is still tucked behind his newspaper.

When Draco comes through the door, he nods to the baristas, pulls a bill from his wallet to drop on the counter, and comes to sit across from Harry without having said a word. They both stare at each other for a moment. Draco’s eyes, above the dark bags, study Harry, though his expression does not betray irritation or worry or anything else. Harry doesn’t mean to stare, but his gaze lingers for a moment on a line, bright pink and still slightly wet with ointment.

“The phone rang while I was shaving,” Draco says. His voice sounds rough, like his unshaven jaw. Harry looks down, then resumes his watch out the window.

“Sorry.”

“I called Severus. He’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“Not Granger?”

“He’s closer. And less smothering. And calling him is basically calling her, without having to hear her voice.”

The lapse into silence for a moment, and a barista appears with a drink for Draco, setting the paper go-cup on the table without a word, receiving only a nod in return. Draco closes his eyes to take a long sip, and when he opens them again he takes out his phone, turning it on long enough only to check the time, and sets it and the cup neatly aligned to the edge of the table. And then he folds his hands and looks straight at Harry, never mind that Harry is looking past his shoulder.

“Harry,” he begins. “Severus isn’t polite. He’s entirely irreverent—he doesn’t care about your feelings, or the gravity of the situation. He’s going to—” He pauses, and though his eyes only drift away for a moment, it’s enough to re-focus Harry’s attention to him. “—press you. On how you are certain. He might even dismiss you out-of-hand.”

That, Harry figures, is Draco’s way of telling him he doesn’t believe a word of what Harry said on the phone. “I know what I saw.”

“I understand that,” Draco says. He sighs, twisting the cup so the opening of the plastic lid is aligned to the table, then back, so the logo faces forward. “I’m trying to warn you. He’s not an easy man to deal with, and Granger won’t be here to tug back the leash. Add to the fact that he already doesn’t like you that it is Saturday morning…”

Under the table, Harry lets go of the section of his trousers that he’s been balling in his hand so that he can dig his fingers into his leg instead. “They why is he bothering to come?”

“He may be a bastard, but he is committed to… our job,” Draco replies, glancing towards the baristas, though one is on her cell phone while the other is cleaning the brew heads on the espresso machine. “And because I asked him to. And if you convince him of what you saw, he’ll convince Granger.”

“I think convincing Granger would be easier,” Harry says darkly. Maybe he should have called her directly…. But no, he can understand why Draco didn’t. Sure, Granger’s probably good at her job—the best, he hopes, since she’s at the head of the operation—but she probably wouldn’t give an amnesiac their own name without someone talking her into it. And… Draco was right: that someone would probably be Snape.

Only, Snape’s a bastard. A bastard with particular grudge against Harry. He tells Draco as much.

“Yes, well,” says Draco, taking another sip of his coffee to fill the silence. He frowns at the cup, then sets it aside, standing. “I’m going to order him some tea.”

Snape comes in while Draco is still standing at the counter, and greets him briefly. Harry tries not to flinch when Draco gestures to where he’s sitting, and if he sinks a bit lower into his seat, it’s because Snape is staring at him unabashedly as he comes and sits down without a word. He carries with him the faint stench of cigarette smoke. They’ve avoided each other faithfully over the last week, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Harry hadn’t noticed it before, but he usually notices that sort of thing.

Draco joins them a moment later, a mug in one hand and a small teapot in the other, setting both in front of Snape. “You said you have photos, Harry?”

“Yeah.”

His hands have stopped shaking as intensely, so it’s a bit easier to open the gallery. He selects the fourth of the photos he’d taken, the one relatively clear, with a good view of Barty’s face, and pushes it across the table towards them. Snape doesn’t touch it, but Draco pulls the phone a bit closer, leaning over the screen.

“Definitely looks like him,” he says.

Snape finally speaks, and his voice comes out low and gravelly. Draco may have already overcome the sad reality of being awake, but Snape, clearly, has not.

“So does Timothy Crouch,” he growls. “Twins, Potter. Identical twins. What he looks like is no clue.”

“It wasn’t just what he looks like,” Harry replies, doing his best to keep his voice level, where Snape has no problem with Harry knowing he’s being thought an idiot. “How he walked, moved—he has a, um, a really long stride. Saunter—he saunters. He did it exactly.”

“Considering you haven’t observed Timothy Crouch’s mode of walking, your no-doubt scientific analysis is entirely useless.”

Harry swallows down the bubble of anger swelling in his chest—it’s not worth it, to be angry at Snape. He’s just a sad, bitter man—and Harry  “Does Timothy have a snake tattooed coming up the back of his neck?”

They stare at him for a moment, and then down at the phone. “Please tell me you have a picture,” Draco says, when it’s clear the one they’re looking at doesn’t show any sign of it.

“The next one—the left arrow,” Harry says. “Left.”

Draco presses the button, and the other photo slides into place on screen. It’s a bit blurry, and Barty’s off-centered, his right shoulder disappearing off screen, but there, just above his scarf, they can see it: the head of a snake. Its long body is hidden under the coat, but Harry knows how is curves over itself, elegant like a calligraphic flourish from a distance but deadly and ready to strike if you got too close to the treasure it wraps around: a skull.

“I have one like it,” Harry says, and he reaches up with his right hand to pat his left arm. “Some of… some of Tom’s people did. Tom—he wasn’t directly involved, but there was a few of them, who’d known him for a long time, who considered each other… Well, Barty was the one who took me to get mine, after I turned eighteen. After—that’s when he told me he’d off me himself, if I ever betrayed Tom.” Harry swallows, and lets his hand fall. “Got in some trouble at school, for it, but disappointed teachers don’t really compare to…”

Snape cuts him off with a sharp hand motion. “You’re telling us you have a tattoo, identical to ones that several of Voldemort’s followers do.”

“I’m telling you Barty has the tattoo,” Harry says, irritated. This is about Barty, not him. About how the rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated. How despite Granger’s insistence that he’s safe staying with Draco, Barty was there. In their neighborhood. If he comes for Harry at the flat, Draco’s likely going down with him.

But Snape isn’t interested, he’s more interested in growling: “You haven’t seen fit to mention that there’s a clear way to identify those who work for him?”

Oh. “It’s only a few of… us, who had them, at least back then. And I’ve told Ron and Dean about the people I remember having them.” He lets his hand fall, and digs his fingers into his palm to try not to shout at the man. “The point is, I saw Barty’s. There’s no reason his brother would have it, because it was only people who were really… close to Tom, who ended up with one. I never heard of any Tim, or anyone related to Barty being with us.”

Snape continues to glare at him, though Harry’s eyes drift back to the street. There’s still a chance Barty might come back around the corner, and as irritating as Snape may be, he’s nothing but a gnat compared to Barty. A gnat who looks like he wants to throw the mug of tea Draco has poured him on the floor.

He doesn’t, though. Instead, Snape pulls a cell phone from his pocket, grinding his jaw as he dials a number.

“I don’t care what day it is,” Snape bites out, a moment later, into the receiver, cutting off whoever had picked up the call. “Barty Crouch Junior had a snake tattooed on the back of his neck. Does Timothy?”

There’s a pause on the other end, and then, though Harry cannot make out the words, he can just hear the tinny voice coming through.

“Yes it matters; I’ve got photographic evidence that—” Snape begins, but this time he’s the one cut off. His eyes slide over to Harry. “Potter.” Another pause. “Unimportant; it’s handled. Find someone to look into it. Things aren’t adding up.”

He spends close to a minute listening to the voice on the other end, after that, but eventually folds the phone shut and slides it back into his pocket.

“Granger?” asks Draco.

“And Tonks,” Snape corrects. Or, rather, Harry assumes it’s a correction, and that ‘Tonks’ is a person, not some sort of RRS jargon. Draco raises an eyebrow.

“On a Saturday?”

“Yes, frankly astounding that anyone would willingly subject themselves to other people on their weekends,” Snape growls, and it’s sarcastic, surely, but Harry’s not sure if the sarcasm is in reference to his having been called out here, or maybe Draco’s late night company, or maybe something Harry’s done, since Snape is glaring at him as he says it. “Potter” being the next thing he says, Harry expects the latter. “Can you contain your paranoia enough for the suggestion of a trip to prison to be made without instigating a fit of hyperventilation?”

It takes Harry a moment to parse that. “You want to go to the prison where Barty is supposed to have died,” he figures, because nothing else comes to mind.

“Crouch was not the only one detained in that facility,” Snape says, which Harry assumes means, ‘Yes’.

But Harry can’t overcome his hesitation. “Angus?” he asks. “You want to talk to Angus?”

“You’re going to talk to Mr Carrow, assuming you can manage not to run away screaming at the sight of him.”

Harry frowns a bit deeper. He can see the use: Angus and Barty were convicted together, and presumably kept in contact, so if anyone were to know how a dead man is running around London, it’ll be Angus. In fact, it’s only his continued imprisonment that has Harry shying from flat-out declaring Barty’s ‘death’ as a cover-up for an escape. If Tom had gone to the trouble to break Barty out, then wouldn’t he have broke out Angus, too? And the existence of ‘Timothy’ just adds a whole new layer of confusion. However…

“I’m not sure that he’ll want to talk to me,” Harry says. “I mean, he wasn’t as, um, obsessed with Tom as Barty, I mean, but if he hears that I’ve left, or if he’s already heard… I dunno how he’d react, really…”

“If he reacts at all it will have been an improvement,” says Snape. “As he’s previously refused any participation with his interviewer whatsoever.”

That sounds about right. Angus’s primary trait was his stubbornness, and while he certainly could talk at length, he wasn’t generally disposed to offer up information. Harry remembers what they had heard about the trial, how Tom, unlike some of his cohort, had been completely unconcerned over the possibility that his organization might be uncovered, because he knew his people. Alexa had given deliberately self-contradictory information. Barty had denied everything that was asked of him, and where he did not he was delivering snarky critique on the process that had him quickly off this stand. But Angus, when he was forced to speak, had simply replied no comment, like he was some sort of politician or celebrity avoiding scandal, rather than some no-name turned attempted murderer.

At the time, Harry had avoided newspapers and TV coverage of the trial, and had only heard the talk between Tom’s people about the case. They’d all followed it closely, since, as Tom reminded them, if they got careless, that was them. On trial, standing alone. No support from Tom or any of Tom’s connections. No defense or convenient alibi, only the expectation that they would let the trial move along quietly and not share any information, because if they did, Tom would know. And he had plenty of connections in prison, who would make your life that much worse—and you had better hope you ended up in prison. Not out where Tom could reach you directly. Not if you dared let anything slip.

If Harry had followed the news, maybe he would have known about Crouch Sr, who was supposedly Draco’s old boss and something of a bigshot in law enforcement at the time, but it had been October of 1999. He’d been busy fighting a war inside his own mind, trying to decide whether to give in to his situation and the life Tom would have him or to leave while he had the chance. And then, after Barty was convicted, figuring out how to pull it off. How to get out without ending up in prison himself—or dead.

Still, he had heard the stories. Typical Barty, they’d said, laughing at his contempt of court. Laughing to cover their own heightened nerves. Typical Alexa. Typical Angus.

He’d never been afraid of Angus the way he’s afraid of Barty. That is partially because Harry is only a few years younger than Barty, while Angus is the same age as Tom. Angus had always put up with Harry, but while they’d spent a good deal of time together, thanks to Barty, they had never been particularly close.

“He might punch me,” Harry tells Snape flatly. “Or he might laugh that I’d dare ask him anything. Or he might turn around and find a way to tell Tom, the second I leave.”

In his peripheral vision, he sees Snape raise an eyebrow, though Harry is fairly certain that if it were Snape in Angus’s position, he’d treat Harry to all three. “I was under the impression that you were with Mr Weasley in his assessment that your cat was murdered, and that, for whatever reason, Voldemort was behind it.”

Harry swallows the bubble of guilt at the mention of Hedwig. “I don’t think he doesn’t know, if that’s what you’re getting at. If he’d care to know, he knows. I just mean, it’d get back to him, that we’re asking about Barty. I thought that was what Granger is trying to keep from him. Specifics of what you do and don’t know.”

“Regardless of the Director’s opinion on the matter, you are a citizen, free to visit incarcerated friends at your own leisure.”

Harry squints at the street, watching someone board a bus across the street, though she doesn’t look familiar. Snape’s still laying on the sarcasm. Normally, Harry is good at this sort of thing. At figuring out what’s going through people’s minds when they speak that way. But Snape, Snape is impossible. Obviously ‘friends’ is ironic, but is he mocking Granger’s opinions? Or Harry’s inability to think of his own loopholes? Or… well, he’s going on:

“And as you have now had repeated sightings of a dead mutual acquaintance, I assume that such a meeting could only be to your benefit. And if it is the case that you are going to visit Mr Carrow, then as a representative of the RRS, currently investigating an issue the man is purported to be involved with, I can only suggest that you do so in such a way that benefits said investigation.”

Harry manages to drag his eyes away from the window for a moment, dropping them to his empty coffee mug. A vague thought that he hopes they have a good washer, or the sense to let the mug soak, for the dried rings his slow morning has left behind, so the baristas won’t have to try to squeeze in scrubbing it off, because the moment they try there will be a little rush and the mug will be forgotten in the sink, and the rings will only get more stubborn. That’s the life he left behind, for this. Making coffee one week, strategizing to take down Tom’s empire—or at least to determine if his dog is still hunting—the next.

He finally looks back to Snape, whose dark eyes are glittering with thoughts Harry can’t even guess at. He spares Draco a glance, too, but Draco just has that look of intense focus on his face. Like he’s trying to commit every detail of this conversation to memory. Or perhaps like he’s stuck on a thought from five minutes back, and now struggling to figure out where the conversation took a turn. Harry’s phone is still in his hand, already forgotten. He looks back towards Snape, fixing his gaze on the man’s left ear.

“So… you’re not planning on telling Granger?”

Snape’s mouth pulls back, and Harry isn’t sure if it’s a smile or a grimace, because nothing can be easy with this man. Damn it.

“Unfortunately, in order to send you in as would be preferable, which is to say, with surveillance equipment, we require authorization. And while I could provide it if Miss Granger were indisposed, she is not.”

“If you tell her, Harry, that you’re going to go regardless, she’ll come around,” Draco says. “She’d rather you not, but if you’re going, then she’ll make use of it.”

She’d rather he not. Harry looks between the two other men, and has a better sense of the situation. “You’ve been looking for an excuse.”

“Severus has,” Draco corrects quickly. He looks almost ashamed, Harry notices, and he supposes he should appreciate that. But he looks back to Snape, instead, meeting the metal glint in his eyes. He’s more familiar with that. He can trust it.

“Miss Granger would rather use you in baby steps,” Snape says. “But if you’re going to split open at the seams, Mr Potter, you’re going to do so regardless of our interference. One can only hope you can manage the courtesy of waiting until after your friends have been arrested.”

He may understand Snape better, but her certainly doesn’t have to like him. “I’ll do my best,” Harry says dryly, and asks: “What’s the plan, then?”

Snape’s mouth twists grimly upwards before he starts to speak again. It might even be a smile. And Harry can’t help but remember: Snape worked for a man like Tom, before. Before he betrayed him.

Figures Harry would trust someone like that.

Chapter Text

HM PRISON AZKABAN, WANDSWORTH. MONDAY, 22 OCTOBER, 2007. 14:56.

 

When Angus spots Harry, he freezes in place, and Harry’s heart does, too, threatening to squeeze itself up his throat because his chest is suddenly too tight to hold it. Harry pushes the feeling down, holding as still as possible as Angus crosses the room and sits down at the table across from him in equal silence.

“Harry,” he says at last.

“Angus.”

Angus starts as he hears the name—he’s probably been ‘Amycus’ full-time for the last eight years, but his legal name is too odd, to real for Harry. More staring, then Angus reaches up and runs his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead. He can only be in his thirties, even after all these years, but there’s some grey in there, and it’s cut neatly. He looks like he’s lost weight, cheekbones more prominent—he’s even got glasses on.

Still talks the same, though: “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, mate. How the hell—did he send you?”

“No,” says Harry cautiously, watching for any shift to his expression. “No, the other side.”

Another pause. “Law?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, shit.” His hand falls, clasping the other on top of the table. “I saw on the news—you actually went and called?”

That makes things easier. “I did.”

“Wouldn’t think you had the balls,” Angus says. “But, see, I figured you’d be dead by now. You weren’t—” He stops again. “Shit. Sorry, I… it’s been, what, eight years? Since I saw anyone. But you…”

“Still breathing, somehow,” Harry says. “But… It’s been that long for me, too. I left. Way back when. A few months after you, um… got caught.”

“You left?” Angus echoes, his voice dropping to a hiss, leaning in.

“You thought I’d be dead before Tom let me walk away, right? We all did. I just wasn’t going to stick around and let it happen, was I.”

“I thought you would’ve let him. No offense, kid; you were wrapped around his—finger. Tied up as my sister was. Half the time I thought he’d say ‘jump’ and you’d leap. After that business with—”

“Yeah, well.” Harry glances over to another table, the only other in use in the visiting room at the moment, where a woman with tears in her eyes is watching a man bouncing a toddler on his knee. “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

“I guess.” Angus sounds almost impressed, and maybe he is, since he asks: “How’d you do it? How’d you get him to let you go?”

It’s easier, somehow, to answer this question coming from Angus than it was when it came from Granger. Maybe because Angus already knows the danger of what Harry’d done, and whatever Harry answers he won’t have to try to explain why he’d risk it. “Took a bunch of his data, got a will notarized that would’ve sent it to the police if I kicked it. Threatened to kill myself if he came after me. Told him I just wanted to live my life in Surrey, not dealing with any more of his shit or the police or… anything else.”

“And that worked?”

Harry shrugged. “I… may have phrased it so it sounded like I just needed space, and I’d come back to him eventually, which is what he’d want to hear. And then spent seven years avoiding even looking too hard at traffic police, in case someone was watching.”

Angus shifts, eyes darting around the room, suddenly. “Are you being watched? By… Tom, I mean.”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Harry says, but he glances at the clock. They’ve only got an hour, at most, and Harry would rather leave sooner, if he can.

“I bet you were,” Angus says, eyeing Harry. “He would’ve enjoyed sticking the little shits on the job, waiting to see who complained first. Maybe not after all this time… But you might not have known. Some of them are damn good at slipping into a crowd.”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Harry says but Angus holds up a hand before he can get any further.

“You said you’re here for the cops.”

“Yeah.”

“It might have been eight years, but I’m still not going to—”

“I’m not here for information about Tom. It’s—I saw someone. One of… one of us.”

Angus frowns. “Alright. And?”

“And,” Harry says tightly, “It was Barty.”

They stare at each other for a moment. “Well, shit,” Angus repeats.

“You don’t look surprised.”

“Was he looking for you?”

“He’s supposed to be dead.”

Angus jumps when the toddler lets out a wail—  

she’s banged a foot on the table, and the man bouncing her holds her out to her mother in alarm. Angus sits back down, leaning a bit closer. “If Barty’s looking for you, and you screwed him… I’d get your lawful friends to get you a lawful ticket out of the country.

“Why aren’t you surprised?” Harry presses. “You have to have heard about his death.”

“And a new identity, if they can get you it, because lord knows—”

“Angus. He was here with you, wasn’t he?”

Angus sighs. “That’s why you came to me, instead of my sister.”

“I’m pretty sure Alexa would rather gut me than tell me anything.”

“‘Alexa.’” Angus laughs slightly, shaking his head. “Haven’t heard that name in a while… yeah, she would, at that. Or she would’ve, eight years ago, as eagerly as Barty would’ve. I haven’t seen her since. She could be a changed woman by now.”

“She’s not here?”

“Men only. Women are down the street, and never the two shall meet.”

“Oh,” Harry says. He’s avoided researching how prison works at all, even in the mad rush of browsing the internet the night before he called the RRS. Seemed like it would just be asking for it. “So. Barty.”

“Barty,” Angus agrees, but his lips thin. “No offense, Harry, but I don’t really owe it to you to tell you about this.”

“It’s not about owing.”

“If you’re gonna say ‘it’s about doing the right thing’, I swear this conversation is going to end right now, with my fist in your face.”

Harry snorts. “Yeah, cause either of us have ever done the right thing. I’m not that dense, you know.”

“You’re with the police.”

“And they’re ‘doing the right thing’?” Harry asks. He’s matching Angus in the volume of his voice. “I went to them, and in my mind, Barty was locked up here with you. And then they tell me he’s dead, and that’d be fine, too, except he’s not. I saw him. Very much alive, very much not dead.” He fixes Angus with as firm a stare as he can muster. “If I wanted to die, I would have stayed with Tom. I don’t. I want to live. If Barty’s out there—”

He cuts off.

“If Barty’s out there, he’ll either kill you or drag you back,” Angus finishes.

Harry jerks his head in a nod. “You don’t owe me shit, Angus. But I’m not here for the police. I’m here because I want to live. So I’m asking, anyways.”

Angus squints at him. “You do, don’t you,” he mutters, and crosses his arms. “You know, when you were a kid, I thought Tom had picked you up since there was a good chance you’d off yourself and spare him the trouble.”

“Yeah, well, you also thought I wouldn’t get myself out.”

“I didn’t think anyone could get out. Unless they were coming to join me here.”

“Because if Tom didn’t deal with them, Barty would,” Harry says.

Angus nods, slightly, and finally gives another sigh. “Yeah, alright, then,” he says. “I’ll tell you. But Harry—if they catch him, I’ll testify, get myself a shorter sentence, yeah? But if not, I am not on the record, you hear? Police come see me and he’s still out there, I know nothing.”

“Barty, or Tom?”

“Jesus,” Angus says. He reaches his hands up, pushing the glasses away to massage his temples. “Barty. I’ll testify that it’s him. The only way they’re bringing Tom in is with ten bullets through him, and I’m not sure even that’d kill him. I’m not the one with a death wish; you’re just one crazy-ass motherfucker.”

“Crazy, maybe, but we already established I don’t want to die,” Harry says. He hadn’t really expected anything else—even eight years in prison wouldn’t shake the siblings’ loyalty to Tom. “So. Barty.”

Angus leans in again. He regards Harry with the focus that differentiates him from his more passionate sister, that makes them deadly as a pair. “Your know about Barty’s dad?” he asks.

“Barty Crouch Senior?” Harry asks, getting a short nod from Angus in return. “Yeah, they told me about him. Publicly disowned Barty when he was caught. Law enforcement’s scandal of the year, mangled his career climb.”

“Right,” says Angus. “Except, see, he’s still a big-shot. Out of the spotlight, but plenty of influence. Plenty of favors owed. And… How about Barty’s brother. They tell you about him? His twin?”

“Timothy Crouch,” Harry said. “Who has been living abroad in Germany for several years.”

“Right,” Angus said. “Bart and Tim, awful camp of old Bartimeus, don’t you think?”

“I guess.”

“Well, see, thing is, Tim got sick, a few years back. Real sick. They needed an organ donor—they tell you about that?”

“No,” Harry says. He’d gotten the greatly abbreviated version, courtesy of Granger’s excessive classification.

“They wouldn’t. So, Barty, them being twins, he was the perfect match. Some bending of the rules, and it’s all sorted: Barty leaves the prison for a few days, long enough for the surgery and then recovery, Tim gets his transplant, ‘cause it’s not like Barty needs two kidneys, wasting away in here. The surgery is a success, Barty is brought back… only something goes wrong on his end. They say it’s an overdose on the pain medications for recovery, and that his body couldn’t handle having only one kidney after all and shut down. Meanwhile, Tim is better than ever before, making a full recovery. They arrange for a quiet cremation, no real funeral, and Tim heads back to Germany. You catch my drift?”

“They switched,” says Harry. “How? Wouldn’t—someone had to have noticed?”

“Well, I noticed,” Angus replies. “But that was because I was covering for him. They told the prison staff there were complications in the surgery. Kept his pain meds up, so everyone just thought he was too high to function, yeah? And he died pretty fast—overdose. Intentional. He hadn’t wanted to suffer, or to risk drawing it out and exposing the scam. Tim’s body really couldn’t handle having just one kidney, since it was useless already. They cut him open and took one out, for posterity’s sake. And it was Tom’s surgeon who did it, too. You remember him?”

“Wormtail,” Harry says. He remembers Wormy. A good enough surgeon, though he had despicable bedside manner. Tom had him operating under about five different aliases, back in the day.

“Yeah, him.” Angus sneers. “Doctor Maggot.”

“So, Tom was involved in breaking him out,” Harry assesses. What he doesn’t say is, but he’s left you here, because surely Angus has already had the thought. Angus’s sibling is the wrong sex and dimensions for a convincing swap, but that wouldn’t stop Tom. Still… Harry thinks back, trying to remember, but—“I don’t remember meeting any Tims. And I didn’t know Barty had a brother.”

“Tim wasn’t part of it. Sure, he knew Barty was mixed up with the sort of people dear old daddy chased down for a living, but he just liked to smoke pot and drink a lot and paint pretty pictures and didn’t care what his brother got up to.”

“He painted?” Harry asks. Drugs and alcohol, he can understand; Barty had never believed in any form of abstinence. But painting…

“Barty studied architecture, didn’t he ever tell you? Tim told their folks he was going to do the same, then switched halfway through. It’s impressive shit he did; I’ve got a few drawings of his Barty left behind. I’d show them to you, but, well…”

Harry shakes his head, trying to clear the unnecessary information. “But why would Crouch Sr go along with it?” he asks. “He—he’s not one of Tom’s, right? Everyone told me he’s as by-the-book straight-laced as they come…”

Angus shrugs. “Who knows? He’s wealthy and successful and has power; that’s enough for plenty of people to think their own rules don’t apply to them. But Tim was dying, and he’d just lost his wife the year before… Don’t think I’ve ever seen Barty cry like he did when his mum died. It was horrid, him being stuck here… maybe Crouch just didn’t want his only son to be left locked up.”

“Or maybe Tom had something on him,” Harry says.

“Of course Tom had something on him; it is Tom we are talking about,” Angus scoffs, but then he glances around the room nervously. Harry knows the feeling; even when there is no way Tom could possibly be listening, he still inspires paranoia. “In any case,” Angus goes on, lowering his voice again. “That’s all I know about it. I’ve been stuck here, and I haven’t heard from ‘Tim’ since.”

To tell the truth, when Harry had walked into the prison, he’d half expected to find out he was imagining things, that despite the photographic evidence, it hadn’t really been a snake tattoo he’d seen on Crouch’s neck, or that maybe Tim had gotten it in honor of his brother’s death. Or that Angus wouldn’t talk to him at all, or that he’d get a fist to the face and that would be the end of things. This—this story of deception, or twins switching places, one dying and one walking free, confirming what he had already known in his gut, what he’d desperately wanted not to be true…

His head falls, and Harry lifts up a hand to run through his hair. Angus’s habit. “This is completely ridiculous,” he says, but it doesn’t come out as more than a whisper.

“Isn’t it just,” Angus says. “How’d you know it was him, anyways? They told you about Tim, didn’t they? Your police friends?”

“A gut feeling, and… good luck,” Harry admits. “Or bad. I dunno. I’ve seen him a few times, since I… The second time, his scarf slipped, and I could see the tattoo.” He’s suddenly very conscious of the position of his arm, just in front of his face, and of the ink snake lurking underneath his sleeve, and the fact that Angus has a similar one coiled around his ankle, an identical match to the one on his sister’s leg. He lets it drop again, setting his hand on the table. “If Tim had one of those, it would have meant he was Tom’s, anyways, and since you were stuck here with Barty, you’d’ve known.”

“Glad to be of service.” Angus’s eyes track the motion of Harry’s arm. He must be having the same thoughts. “Don’t suppose you’ve gotten yours removed, while you’ve been making this statement of yours.”

“Statement?” Harry echoes. The look on Angus’s face, one eyebrow raised, is enough to make Harry roll his eyes. “It’s not a statement. And, no; I haven’t exactly been rolling in riches, making coffee. It’d be cheaper to get it covered.”

“But you haven’t.”

“It’s fading.”

Angus smiles—smirks, really. “So you’re still one of his, really.”

Harry flinches, before he can stop himself, and tries to cover it with a scoff. “What?”

“Look at you. Still living your life wrapped up in his. Might as well have stayed with him, for all the good it’s done you.”

Says the one who’s spent eight years in prison. “If I’d stayed with Tom, I’d’ve ended up in here with you, or dead, depending on how quickly he got bored.”

“Bored? He wouldn’t have.”

“He would, and you know it. It was fucked up, that I was with him at all.”

“Well, yes,” says Angus. “But he wasn’t going to get bored with you. It was more likely that you’d make him angry, and he’d decide to teach you a lesson. Get you sent here until you begged him to get you out. He’d probably have had me make things extra miserable for you, and Barty playing babysitter—”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I bet he would’ve visited,” Angus pushes. “Every week, same time. And you would’ve sat there giving him the silent treatment, while he kept going on and on, all polite, and eventually he would’ve said something so wrong you’d have snapped and spoken, and then you’d’ve been even angrier, but he wouldn’t— “

“Shut up already,” Harry growls.

“—have cared, and— You know I’m right.”

“It doesn’t matter, because I left. I left, and I’m going to help them bring him down, Angus. Look forward to seeing a lot more of your old friends in here with you.”

There’s a beat of silence, and then Angus bursts into laughter. The man at the other table startles and stares at Angus, and then at Harry in shocked disbelief, but Angus couldn’t care less. “You want some advice?” he asks between chuckles.

“From you?”

“Don’t be cocky, brat.” The laughter cuts off as abruptly as it started, and Angus eyes narrow, bearing into Harry, daring him to look away—but there’s worse than Angus out there. There’s Barty—there’s Tom. A man wasting his life in prison is nothing compared to them.

Angus seems satisfied by what he sees, because he gives his advice, unwelcome as it is, with the utmost sincerity:

“The only way you’ll ever be free of him is to put the bullet in him yourself. I’d go for his throat. You can aim well enough. And even if he survives, well, at least you won’t have to listen to him talk anymore.”

 

-

 

Outside the prison, Harry climbs into the back seat of an unmarked black Land Rover and immediately reaches under his shirt, pulling at the wires taped to his skin until the microphone comes loose, tossing it over to where Snape sits in the other seat, a laptop perched on his knee, staring at Harry. He and Draco are both staring at him, actually, but for the moment Harry can’t look at them. He’s— It’s still too close. He feels vaguely sick. He takes the transmitter, black casing about the size of a wallet, from his pocket, and drops it into the bag it had come from, which sits between their seats on the floor.

“Was that enough?” he asks, ignoring the way his voice shakes as he tugs his shirt back into place. “Do you believe me now?”

Snape doesn’t say anything which, in Harry’s opinion, is the best possible outcome. Instead, Draco speaks, voice slow, halting.

“We… heard from Granger. While you were in there.”

Harry stills for a moment, trying to decide whether he should care about that, then busies his hands by retrieving his phone from the pouch on the back of the passenger-side front seat, powering it on. Not that he’ll have any messages, but he’d felt strange without it. Snape had insisted he leave it in the van—God only knows why.

“And?” he asks. “We were already here. I was already talking to him.”

“She knew that,” Draco says. “She knew, but— She wasn’t calling about that.”

Harry finally forces himself to look up, meeting Draco’s troubled gaze. A spark of fear flutters through him, and he wants nothing more than to stamp it out before everything goes up in flames.

“What is it, then?” he demands, but Draco hesitates.

“Crouch,” Snape finally says, voice level. “Barty Crouch Senior. He’s dead.”

Chapter Text

LONDON. TUESDAY, 23 OCTOBER, 2007. 04:48.

 

The scream is what jolts Draco awake again. He sits up straight, heart suddenly pounding, as the sound cuts off. Was it real? Is he still dreaming?

But there’s no one unexpected in Harry’s room. None of Voldemort’s men broken in to collect the traitor. Draco sighs in relief, but it is short-lived; after all, Harry is thrashing against the bed, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, letting out strangled cries, almost like he is being suffocated—and maybe he is, in the nightmare. Even though Draco had turned on the light, Harry hasn’t woken.

He drops what he’d grabbed in his frantic rush from his room—a shoe, he realizes, though he hasn’t enough time to wonder what he could have done with that if someone had been here—and steps closer to the bed.

“Harry,” he hisses. There’s no reason to be quiet, really. Louder: “Harry, wake up.”

But it can’t be so easy, of course. Draco eyes the glass of water balanced on the book on the nightstand, but there’s no need for dramatics. They might not be particularly close, but Harry’s clearly having a pretty dramatic nightmare, and the sooner Draco wakes him up, the sooner they both get back to sleep. So he comes up around the bed, says Harry’s name once more, and when there’s no response except another violent thrash against the covers, he grabs Harry’s shoulder and gives him a firm shake.

Harry’s eyes snap open, fixing quickly on Draco’s face. Oh, thank—

Before he can even let go Harry’s hand has shot out from under the covers, grabbed Draco’s arm, and in a show of strength completely flipped him onto the bed, and somehow the full weight of Harry’s body is pressing down on his chest and—

It’s only by instinct that he manages to push Harry off, but before he can get a word in Harry’s thrown his elbow into Draco’s gut, and as his vision goes spotty the other arm comes up to press down into Draco’s throat, pushing down into his windpipe, and one of his arms is being held in a bruising grip but the other is only stuck under Harry’s knee—

that’s it, his only chance—

he pulls, but his eyes and lips feel like they’re swelling to bruises from the lack of air, and—

There! He yanks his hand out from under Harry’s leg, and grabs wildly for Harry, and on the second try manages to get a grip on the back of his t-shirt and, with every last ounce of strength he can muster, pulls back—

The collar catches on Harry’s neck, and the pressure against Draco’s throat abates just enough to allow a gasp of breath to fill his chest, and his vision goes spotty again, a sharp, stinging, living pain cutting through him—

But he doesn’t have time, because Harry throws his arm back, breaking Draco’s grip, and then the hand is on Draco’s neck, fingers wrapping and digging into the skin beneath his ear, thumb pressing into the tender flesh under his jaw, and Draco opens his mouth, frantic to speak, but in a flash of unfragmented thought he wonders if Harry will even hear him, when he’s snarling like a beast, narrowed eyes and grimacing brow so filled with anger—

No, it’s not anger, it’s—

Terror. Absolute, unbridled terror.

“— Harrrrrr—” Draco manages, a single, strangled hiss of air—    

And then Harry’s eyes widen, and he jumps up off the bed, back and away from Draco, who gasps for breath.

They stare at each other, panting for breath.

“I’m—oh, shit, Draco, I’m—I didn’t mean to—I thought you were—”

He stumbles into the dresser, and yelps as he collides with the sharp corner. Draco manages to sit up, though it makes his head spin, and his lungs are frantically trying to fill to the point that they’ll burst, or break open his ribs, but Draco can see Harry, chalky and frantic, eyes darting around the room like he’s certain someone is going to jump out from behind the curtains or the closet door, and shakes his head. “You’re—fine—” he tries to assure him, only to descend into a fit of coughing.

“Jesus, I’m—did I—”

Harry’s shaking, and despite having just been woken from sleep, looks like he’s about to collapse. “Sit down before you fall down, Harry,” Draco rasps.

“Shit—I’ll… I’ll make some tea for you. With honey. It’ll help. And…”

He cuts off as Draco coughs again, and scampers out of the room.

After a moment, Draco follows him, rubbing his throat, his heart still pounding in fight-or-flight indecision, throbbing in his ears and disrupting Draco’s best attempts at logical thought. Whatever the dream had been about, it must have been bad, for him to attack Draco like that. Harry looks shell-shocked. His hands are shaking so bad Draco thinks he’s going to drop the mug he’s trying to grab from the cupboard. If he tries to pour the water, he’s going to spill it all over himself. Draco comes into the kitchen and grabs Harry, pushing him towards the table, and, to his surprise, Harry goes, flopping into the usual chair.

The pair of them stay silent as Draco retrieves two mugs and tea bags and a jar of honey from one of the beekeepers down in Wiltshire. There are luckily two tea strainers in the drawer—he thinks Harry must have gotten one, though maybe they’ve been there all along—and the tin of his mother’s favorite herbal blend is still half-full. When the kettle gets close to whistling, he pours water over the strainers, watching as it darkens against the white ceramic of the mugs. Never mind that his hands are shaking too.

“You’re stronger than you look,” Draco says after a minute. The sound of his voice makes Harry flinch, but Draco supposes there’s no helping it and decides to not bother with being careful. He’s too tired, anyways. Now that his heart has stopped pounding, his body is remembering he had been asleep. “And you seem to know self-defense.”

Harry looks down at hands, and, after a long minute, lets out a sigh. “Yeah,” he says. “I do.”

“Did you take classes, after you left?”

Harry shakes his head. Draco adds a generous spoonful of honey to his own mug, though it will doubtless be sickeningly sweet, and comes over to the table, setting the unsweetened mug down in front of Harry. Harry glances at it, then glances towards Draco—to make sure he got himself tea, no doubt, as that was his intention—before he slowly reaches out and cups the mug in both hands. He doesn’t lift it off the table, yet. It’s probably safer that way.

Draco waits, blowing on his tea long enough to take a sip. It hurts to swallow, but Draco’s had plenty of practice keeping discomfort off his face, not wanting to distract Harry from answering the question. If his upbringing did anything to prepare him for his future in the RRS, it was to be an expert at holding his tongue. Others, who are less comfortable, will fill the silence if you leave it for them. And Harry… whatever guilt still weighs on his shoulders from his time with Riddle, it gives Draco the upper hand. All he has to do is wait.

“I—I was, uh—” Harry begins. He rubs his eyes, and Draco realizes he’s left his glasses in the other room, in his panicked guilt. “I was mugged. In… ninety-eight. After I’d moved from the Dursleys…” He swallows, glancing at Draco. “It was, um. Homophobically charged.”

Draco’s stomach drops. He—like so many who have dared being visibly gay while in public—has been harassed, had slurs shouted at him and threats made, and he knows a person or twenty from the clubs who’s been a victim of violence, but he’s so far been lucky to keep safe himself. The benefit of keeping himself locked deep in the closet in his day life, and keeping his body obviously fit so only an idiot would try to take out their insecurities on him when he’s out at the clubs. “A hate crime?” he asks, and the hoarseness of his voice is not entirely from the physical damage.

Harry shrugs slightly, the shirt shifting around his shoulders. “Dunno if they’d’ve called it that,” he says. “Least at the time. Some bloke going by saved my arse before things could get too…” He swallows again, Adam’s apple bobbing, and twists the mug of tea in his hands. “I’d been beat up before, you know? But it had always been… I couldn’t fight back against my uncle, not if I wanted to keep the roof over my head. And he didn’t really want to… one punch was usually enough for him to get his point across. When I was—I didn’t even try to fight back, because I didn’t know how.”

“Was that what you were dreaming about?” Draco asks. “Getting mugged?”

He can see the way Harry stops breathing for a moment, and regrets asking, but then Harry shakes his head. “No,” he says, quietly but firm. “No, and I don’t want to talk about it, either.”

“Alright,” Draco says, but he would be lying if it wasn’t a red flag, that he wouldn’t. He has answered pretty much every question they’ve thrown at him about his time with Riddle, and here he is bringing up the abuse he’d faced as a child, treating it, once again, like something that was troublesome but no more than a fact of life… Draco would shudder to imagine what sort of things Harry Potter doesn’t want to talk about.

And then Harry lets out another sigh, and his hands come up to lace through his hair and tugging his head down. “Sorry,” he says. “I’ve… Draco, I’ve… Ah, fuck it, I’ve seen shit like you wouldn’t… Well, maybe you— I… there hasn’t been time to really… I’ve been working with Dean on the profiles, but I haven’t…”

“Look,” says Draco, because Harry is so awkward it is making him embarrassed, and Malfoys don’t do embarrassed. “It’s… Five in the morning, we don’t have to…”

“I’m sorry,” Harry says, when Draco trails away. Malfoys don’t do heart-to-heart, emotive chats, either. He stares at Harry for a moment, searching for something to say, and—

“I was going to throw water on you. Would that have been better?”

Harry looks at him blankly for a moment, and eventually produces a sound that must be a nervous laugh. “Maybe just a loud noise?”

“You didn’t wake up when I called your name.”

Harry pauses, and then looks down at his hands again. “I… I haven’t lived with anyone for years, and I… With Tom, I never…”

Draco gets the point, though Harry does not finish the sentence. Presumably he and Riddle had been sharing a bed—not that Draco’s going to ask, God no and the two of them were a bit closer than the near-strangers that Harry and Draco still are, after only having met each other two weeks ago. Maybe Riddle, being closer to Harry, wasn’t as alarming to have in his space when he was abruptly awoken. Or maybe the dreams he’s having now feature Riddle and things that hadn’t been an issue at the time. There’s any number of possibilities, and while Draco can think up more of them, the conversation continues to be far more personal than Draco could possibly feel comfortable with. He takes a long sip of tea, instead—

It’s revolting, the amount of honey he added. And what he really needs is an ice pack, not steaming tea.

That would probably alarm Harry too, though.

“Then maybe I’ll throw a pillow, if the chance arises,” he says, once he’s cleared his throat of the honey. “Or maybe it won’t come up again. You’ve… had a few stressful days.”

Harry shakes his head at that. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says quietly. “It’s only going to get worse, until Tom’s caught. I knew that coming in.” His eyes flicker up briefly. “I shouldn’t have… I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Draco repeats. He—he’s said that already, right? “I’ve only known you two weeks, but I’d say you’re not the type who would lash out physically. You already said you didn’t try to fight back—I bet whoever trained you had more trouble getting you to land a punch than anything else, yeah?”

Harry blanks at him slowly, something shifting behind his eyes. Darkening. The same firmness as when he said he didn’t want to talk about his dream. “Yeah.”

Draco takes another sip of his tea to fill the silence when Harry doesn’t look up. The conversation doesn’t seem to be helping anything, and—Draco can feel the skin aching around his throat. He should probably check that the skin isn’t broken, and get some bruise cream on it either way. “Well,” he says as casually as he can, standing, lifting the mug by the rim to take it with him. “You might try going back to sleep, or reading, or something.”

“Are you?” Harry asks.

“Oh, you know, I might as well get out on my run a bit early,” Draco says. It is past five, now. He’s run earlier, when his own sleep was troubled.

Draco waits for a moment, but Harry doesn’t look to be moving any time soon, so he turns to head back towards the toilet, and is nearly out of the room when—

“Barty,” Harry says, so quietly he might not have said it at all. “It was Barty who taught me how to fight.”

Draco turns back, and has to refrain from expressing his alarm. Harry has hunched over even further, hands folding and twisting in his lap, not looking at Draco or his mug of tea or anything at all, really. He looks the expression of despair.

“He’s a fighter, then?” Draco asks. A killer, perhaps—there was no evidence that Crouch Sr had been murdered by his son—and God, it still feels impossible, for Crouch to be dead—but Harry had been certain—and killers don’t have to be fighters. Not even killers who shot with sniper rifles from the woods behind a house through a window to where a man was working on a laptop late on a Sunday night, ignoring the chicken breast and frozen vegetables he had warmed up for his dinner, ignoring the glass of Sauvignon Blanc in favor of reviewing the budget reports for his department.

“A fighter,” Harry echoes. “Yeah. And… a killer.”

See? But Draco gets the feeling Harry means something else, so he asks, “What’s the difference, in this context?”

Harry’s hands still, tightening into tight fists. “He never fights with anything less than the intent to kill.”

What? “Never?”

“He might not go through with it, but… He’ll get to that point. Where he holds your life in his hand. And maybe he’ll decide you’re not worth the hassle, or that you’re worth more alive, but you never really know.”

Draco squints—the hassle. The hassle of killing? “Must have been some teacher.”

“He liked me,” Harry says. “He wanted me to succeed. To grow. That didn’t mean he was going to pull any punches.”

“Was that what you were dreaming of?”

Harry doesn’t answer, but he looks up, and his eyes are wary. “I know what he’s capable of,” he says. “If you see him coming for you… get out of there. Fast. And hope he doesn’t have a gun.” His eyes flick to the clock on the wall. “Have a good run.”

Chapter Text

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. TUESDAY, 23 OCTOBER, 2007. 14:35.

 

The collar of Draco’s shirt with his tie holding it securely shut is enough to hide the bruise that has darkened his throat by the time they head to the RRS Headquarters. And Granger’s out of office and Draco doesn’t normally chat with anyone during his mornings, and if his voice sounds a bit raspy, well, there’s been a cold going around, anyways, and it’s not like anyone would suspect Potter, the intern who spends most of his time hanging around Dean Thomas’s office or trying to work magic on the coffee machine, of getting the best of a trained officer and nearly strangling him in the early hours of the morning, and really everyone’s too distracted by the unspoken assumption that Voldemort had Crouch killed that no one’s paying enough attention to care. It doesn’t even require any real effort on Draco’s part to distract his coworkers—he’s had cases of keeping evidence of his sex life from being discovered that proved more difficult than this.

And it’s not that he’s trying to pretend the incident never happened (he couldn’t, with the bruising on his abdomen, though he’s not about to tell Harry about the shades of red, green, and blue, and it’ll be a few weeks before he considers going back to the clubs, to be on the safe side), it’s just—well, most of the people here don’t need to see past Harry’s politely friendly, if somewhat distant, work mask. Most of them don’t even know that Harry is living with Draco. Only those who need to, for Harry’s safety. And he’s not about to strike up a conversation with Weasley, even if Weasley weren’t off with Harry and Thomas drawing up profiles, or speak to anyone else—except Brown and Patil when he makes the mistake of going up front during the time that both occupy the desk, but he is definitely not trying to chat with either of them, merely defending his choice of tie—

It is almost a blessing, that most people here dislike him. It’s so much easier to avoid the ones he can’t stand when the feeling is mutual.

On the other hand, when the one person he can talk to is socially disinclined, not having anyone else is… frustrating. Severus barely responds when he comes in and says hello, not even berating him for being late with the tea, nor answering beyond a shrug when he asks if Severus knows where Granger is at for the day.

“Apparently,” Draco finally comes out and says directly, setting the tea down on the counter by Severus’s laptop, “Harry was friends with Barty Crouch Jr.”

Severus grunts. Grunts. Hopeless.

“Are you listening to me?” Draco wonders, glancing around and locating the stool over by one of the microscopes, a few meters from Severus’s current workspace. Severus has taken the swivel chair, and seems to be the mindset that including more than the sparse minimum of seats will prevent anyone from sticking around to chat.

Not that anyone else would. Except maybe Granger, but she doesn’t have time for something as frivolous as socializing.

“Potter, Crouch Jr, other words,” Severus mutters.

So he is listening, he’s just being an arse about it. Draco debates leaving him to his sulking, but he has come all the way down here. And Severus hasn’t kicked him out yet, and for all his bristling whenever Harry is mentioned, he seems to have a vested interest in his involvement in the case.

“Aren’t you curious?”

Sighing, Draco leans forward, peering towards Severus’s screen. If it were something confidential, Severus would have minimized the window the moment Draco walked in, but he hasn’t. What that isn’t confidential could possibly be so interesting it has him completely ignoring—?

Draco blinks. And then he blinks again, slower, but what he sees doesn’t change. Severus is staring at a loading bar. Literally staring at a loading bar. An unmoving loading bar, like it holds all the secrets of the universe.

After the initial sting of it wears off, Draco has the presence to be worried. Severus has been known to hyper-focus, sometimes, and while it normally does not hurt anything, to stare so intently at a fucking loading bar when he could be doing literally anything else—

“Severus?”

Severus shifts slightly, letting out something of a sigh. “Is it so surprising?”

What? Oh—Crouch Jr. So… Severus was listening. Or was he? Draco settles back onto the stool.

“He’s almost terrified of Junior than he is of Riddle.”

Severus still doesn’t move, but at least this time he gives a proper answer: “Crouch’s threat of violence was made in the case of Potter’s betrayal, was it not? It would not be such a stretch to imagine that Potter’s betrayal of not just Riddle, but of his, ah, friends within the group would increase the likelihood of the threat being carried out.”

Well, it’s true, but… Draco reaches up to loosen the tie from his neck, then thinks better of it. He clears his throat instead. It just makes the bruise ache. “Harry hasn’t sounded particularly close to any of them, in his reports,” he says. “Though even his descriptions of Riddle have never made it sound like they were in a close relationship. I suppose.”

“I doubt anyone would prefer to recall the fonder aspects of a relationship.”

“I guess not,” Draco says, but he is unsure. Better to remember the fond than the worst, he would think, and that is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? For all the prodding of the initial interviews, Granger hasn’t had time in her schedule to allow for another, and Harry’s been working with Thomas and Weasley on profiling the rest of those Harry remembers being involved, but they haven’t gotten to specifics, either way. Sure, they took addresses and names, but whatever Harry had seen that convinced him that Riddle was dangerous, whatever crimes he had witnessed—or even been a part of—they haven’t discussed.

Perhaps Granger thinks that if it is important, Harry will bring it up. But even after Harry jumped him last night, it took him tea and a good dose of guilt to admit the difficulties he was facing, and even then he’d avoided talking about whatever it was that set him off in the dream.

“And what, exactly, has led you to determine their supposed friendship?” Severus asks.

Crap. Well, Draco had come down here to talk to Severus about it, hadn’t he?

“Last night,” he says, “He had a nightmare.”

He can almost feel Severus rolling his eyes through the back of his head. “And, what, you went and held his hand and bonded over it? Sang him back to sleep?”

“And he seemed to be under the impression that he was being attacked,” Draco says, pointedly ignoring Severus’s snark. “I attempted to wake him up, and…”

And he jumped Draco and tried to strangle him, only that doesn’t seem the most diplomatic way to put it. But the point seems to get across either way, because Severus finally turns away from the damn loading bars. His eyes zero in on Draco’s neck automatically—there’s no hiding anything from Severus; he’d notice a hair out of place on Draco’s head—and he starts up out of his chair, and before Draco can register what he’s doing Severus has taken two ridiculously long steps and yanked on Draco’s tie—

“Hey!” Draco says, because really, you can’t actually just—just grab someone by the tie like that, but Severus slaps his hands aside without noticing, fixated on—on the bruises, no doubt. Draco can only imagine they are all sorts of fun colors by now. He really should have worn a sweater today… He’s done that before; no one would have thought it weird…

“Have you reported this to Granger?”

Severus’s hands are shaking, and while Draco knows that the expression of dark rage isn’t directed towards him, it still is enough to make him swallow. An enraged Severus is never something pleasant to face…

Crap. He’s probably gone and made things worse for Harry, who Severus already has some special grudge against. That was not the goal here.

He pushes Severus’s hands aside, more forcefully this time. “I’ve sent her an email regarding the new information about Crouch, but she’s obviously more concerned with Crouch Senior—with Mr Crouch, at the moment,” Draco says. It was the first thing he had done, when he had arrived and found her out of office for the day. “Don’t you be getting any ideas, Sev. Harry looked like he was about ready to hang himself, when he realized where he was and who I was.”

“If he was too coward to do so himself, I would be happy to assist him—”

“Stop that,” Draco says, more forcefully. He shouldn’t have made the comment to begin with, knowing Severus would only build off it; when it comes to someone like Harry, whose mental state is clearly in disarray, discussion of suicide and violence should not be made lightly. Worse, Severus looks like he is serious. “You’re overreacting. It was an accident, and he was scared out of his wits—and I was trying to tell you about him and Crouch. Stop getting distracted.”

He sees the way Severus’s eyes narrow, and braces himself for a shout—but no, Severus steps back, and backpedals all the way to his chair, where he sits down. Not entirely comforting that he’s squeezing the armrest like that—

“Stop,” Draco repeats. “Can I go on, now?”

“I fail to see how any explanation could possibly justify assault.”

“I didn’t say it did; I said it was an accident, not assault.” Not that Severus has patience for accidents. Or anything, really. Probably the best way to spare Harry any additional grief is just to move on—so that’s what Draco does. “Anyways, we didn’t talk about the dream, no, because he was still shaken up by it. But he did tell me that Crouch Jr taught him how to fight.”

“Teaching someone how to fight is not friendship.”

Draco bites back a comment about Severus’s knowledge of friendship—he is, after all, Lucius’s friend, and despite his coldness, does care deeply about those he lets in. Why else would he react so dramatically to a bit of bruising?

“No, but that was how they became friends. Spending time with each other, day after day, and he’d stick around, not just for sparring—he said Crouch liked him. Wanted him to succeed.”

“Yes, clearly Potter is a charming, successful individual.”

Draco crosses his arms over his chest, holding back a groan of irritation. “Look, Severus, I don’t know what your problem with him is, but could you at least respect that I don’t blame him for this?”

Severus’s eyes narrow ever so slightly, and then he turns around, back to his computer. Great. So he’s gone from directly disregarding Draco’s opinions to simply not listening to him.

“You are ridiculous,” Draco says, when after a minute it is clear that Severus is not going to answer the question.

“Am I.”

“I’m trying to discuss the changing details of the case with you, and you’re throwing a hissy-fit.”

“Wrong twice within one sentence. Impressive.”

“Oh, really—”

“We knew already that Potter was one of them. He was in a sexual relationship with someone he has identified as a murderer. He was, while perhaps not friends, at least close acquaintances with Amycus Carrow; you heard how they spoke. And Crouch Junior—Potter would not be so afraid of him unless he knew what there was to be afraid of. Really, Draco; do you believe that just because he has come forward to bring Voldemort down now, he was always so willing to do so? Do you believe that just because he hasn’t confessed to any crimes, he has not committed them? Don’t be naive.”

Severus doesn’t turn around as he spoke, so Draco’s glare is seen only by his back. It’s a good glare, too; very disapproving. “You’re still throwing a hissy-fit.”

“Being concerned about your physical well-being is not ‘throwing a hissy-fit,’ nor is working, which is what I was doing before you came in to have a chat.”

So he has graduated now from passive-aggressive to patronizing. Draco takes a long breath in. Severus has many, many problems, emotionally speaking, but chief among them is his habit of responding to his own anger by pissing off everyone around him. Draco, despite his years of practice, has always been irritatingly susceptible.

“What are you looking at, anyway?” Draco asks. “And why are you here, anyway? I would’ve thought they’d have co-opted you for the initial investigation into…”

Into the death of a major figure in law enforcement. Something like that, they should be pulling out all the stops. Draco was glad, for the moment, that he wasn’t still back at the Serious Fraud Office. They had been the ones who had reported him missing when he hadn’t shown up at work. They were the ones stuck in the office now, trying to keep an essential part of law enforcement running when their boss had been bloody sniped—

But Draco was here, in the RRS, involved in the investigation into Voldemort and, now, Crouch Jr., and he could at least do something… only, unlike Severus, he wasn’t the sort to get called in special to work on an investigation.

Then again, Severus had never cared for Draco’s boss. A no-doubt mutual feeling, if the two had ever met.

Severus doesn’t look up as he waves over to the laptop open on the counter under the window. “That’s the results on Potter’s cat.”

“That does not answer my question, firstly, and secondly, there’s been nothing but a loading bar on your screen this whole time. If that is what qualifies as ‘working’ down here, maybe we should re-assign Weasley, to up your productivity.”

“Perhaps we should. He would be interested in the results on the cat, whereas you…”

Draco snorts. “I’ll read the bloody report, give me a minute.”

It takes a few minutes to wake the screen up, and when it does, Severus has to recite the password for him to type in, which is a seemingly random string of numbers and letters.

When he does get it open, what is open on the screen is a Word document, all 12-point Times New Roman, single-spaced and painfully dense, peppered with tables and graphs and diagrams. Draco is no stranger to heavy reading, but there’s something about poorly-formatted text on a screen that makes him want to scroll through as quickly as he can.

He doesn’t, but for a minute it seems like he might as well, because he can’t make heads or tails of it. First, there’s the trouble of jargon—Draco’s not entirely sure, but he thinks one of the earlier pages is a list of substances tested for and their relative prevalence within the samples, which were the bowl of food Weasley had brought back and the contents of Harry’s cat’s stomach. Draco was fairly certain that the document had been created based off a template, as there were several graphs without any data, not to mention blanks in the tables.

Which is all very well and good, except that it takes a good ten minutes to wade through the first fifteen pages before he realizes that he hasn’t really processed any of it. He scrolls down to the last page, and then back two, to where there is writing, and that he can skim well enough to get to the conclusions. Intentional poisoning of subject: likely. DNA evidence of suspect: not found in sample.

“So Weasley was right,” Draco says with poorly disguised scorn, pushing his palms into the edge of the counter to prop himself up. It’s not that he doesn’t know that Weasley can on occasion be a decent enough, just-above-average investigator with unsettling intuition, its that the rest of the time he’s such a bloody nuisance it is always an affront to Draco’s consistent quality of work.

"Was he?" Severus asks.

"Didn't you read this?"

"It is inconsequential."

Draco closes his eyes to keep himself from rolling them, leaning harder into the counter. "Just because the victim is a cat doesn't mean it's not still a violent crime."

"And yet there is scant surveillance near Potter's flat, there was unlikely to be any forensic evidence of the crime, so without a confession, there is unlikely ever going to be any form of legal retribution and, as it happens, Potter already knows that he is at risk of being threatened by violent criminals, one of whom seems a likely suspect in murdering his father not forty-eight hours ago, so yes, whether or not Potter's cat was or was not poisoned is inconsequential, all things considered."

Draco supposes he's right. If the results had come back and the cat had... had a heart attack, or something, things would be no different, really. There isn't anything any of them can do with the information, except that if they do ever catch whoever did it Draco supposes they could encourage the court to make it part of the sentencing to be banned from keeping pets, even if they ever got out again.

Perhaps they can use it to motivate Harry out of the terse state he's been in since they left the prison.

"It does seem rather pointless," Draco agrees. "So much that... why should they have even bothered with it, do you think?"

"Intimidation tactic."

"But it's not as though Harry's not already terrified," Draco says. "Though maybe they don't know that. Maybe they think he has forgotten it, and that's why he's here."

Severus grunts.

"It's more he's acting despite his fear. Or because of it—either or." He pushes up off the counter, straightening up, and closes the laptop. "But even if he weren't afraid, what would doing a cat do? He seemed well enough aware that being murdered was a possibility before the cat was dealt with." Draco pauses, and glances over his shoulder again. "Are you listening to me?"

Severus doesn't reply, and Draco turns around more fully. There's a rare expression on Severus's face: one of complete and utter bewilderment. The screen he's been waiting for, Draco sees, has finally loaded, and Draco can see that it is some layer of the police record database that he hasn't got access to. There's scans of fingerprints, and beneath that, a black and white photo. It's not high-quality, and Draco has to resist the urge to squint at it, but from what he can see it is a young man, early twenties, with shoulder-length and prematurely receding hair, large front teeth, and an upturned nose.

"What are you running prints on?"

"This is ridiculous," Severus says.

"What?" Draco asks. "That man familiar?"

"That man is dead. Twenty-six years dead."

Draco frowns, looking closer, but Severus hasn't scrolled down past the images to reveal the names. "Who is he?"

"The sample DNA was taken from the envelope... but the form was current, recently printed..."

"DNA? The envelope from the flower shop?" Draco asks. "I didn't know you'd gotten any useable evidence out of that. I thought it was clean—or contaminated."

"It was," Severus says suddenly, and he suddenly breaks out of his bewilderment, scowling and exiting out of the window, never mind that he'd spent so long staring, waiting for it to load. "Obviously there was an error."

Draco frowns. "You're awfully certain that man is dead," he says. "But faked deaths seem to be in vogue for this investigation, so..."

Severus looks at Draco sharply. Severely. "Peter Pettigrew. He died twenty-six years ago," he says, "at the hands of your mother's cousin, Sirius Black, a supporter of Grindelwald, as Grindelwald went after the Potters, who were Black' and Pettigrew's mutual friend. The scene of his murder suggested some form of exsanguination. Whatever the actual way his death played out, it was slow, and painful."

Draco blinks several times. Sirius Black. One of the cousins the family as a rule does not talk about, though from what little he had heard on the matter from his mother, Draco had assumed that Sirius was more like Andromeda, rebelling against the main family's staunch conservative values, not that he was a... murderer. He'd known, of course, that it was related to Grindelwald, just like Bellatrix, Draco's aunt, had been imprisoned in relation to Grindelwald, but as Sirius wasn't as close a family member Draco had never bothered to look into his case.

Still...

"I'm just saying. This investigation has gotten strange enough..."

"He's dead," Severus says shortly. "And the sample was from months ago, and the databases are questionable in their reliability, in any case. We will simply have to wait for next February, and see if Voldemort is still interested in sending Potter flowers."

February. Draco sighs. "Or perhaps the work Harry is doing with Weasley and Thomas will lead to the conclusion of this matter before then."

"You have been in charge of tracking down the addresses he was able to provide, have you not?" Severus asks, folding his arms and leaning back against the counter. "And all of those leads have been followed, inevitably, to dead ends. No?"

"I have not finished the list."

"Don't fall into the trap of wishing things would move quickly, Draco. Cases come here because they have reached only dead ends elsewhere. We are auditors to what has already been done, the fine-tooth comb taken to a beach in search of an earring."

"I know that," Draco says. "But none of the previous investigations had contact with Harry, or with the Carrows, or known about Crouch Jr, or..."

Draco trails away. It's... difficult, to dwell on the subject, but he never particularly liked his former boss. He appreciated him, for his workaholic attitude and his no-nonsense approach to, well, everything, and since he has come to the RRS he has definitely come to miss the tight ship Crouch ran, free from residual school-age drama and childish behavior, but he did not like the man. He wasn't particularly likable. He was cold, and known for his sometimes excessive adherence to the rules as written, and would have spent the time he used to eat and sleep working if could have, and Draco hadn't even known that he'd had children, or married.

He hadn't liked Crouch, but he had respected him as something certain in the world, a seemingly permanent installation at the head of the SFO. His death, sudden and distant as it had been, is disorienting, even to Draco, who isn't walking into the office expecting to have twenty messages from the man on his desk anymore. Even more disorienting are the details about Crouch's life that have come to life... it still seems ridiculous to think Crouch could have a convicted criminal and a pothead artist for sons, and the idea that he helped on break out of prison while sentencing the other to death... It throws everything into question.

"You don't think," Draco says slowly, "That Mr Crouch might have been... running interference on the previous investigation, do you?"

Severus stares at him blankly for a moment, but then his eyebrows creep up towards his hairline. "Sabotaging a legal investigation?"

"If he was being blackmailed..."

"Undoubtedly he would choose death over breaking the law."

"But what about shame?" Draco pushes. "All this... He must have spent years rebuilding his reputation, after the scandal around Junior. If they were going to blackmail him with something... they had something that was enough to get him to participate in organizing a crime. Breaking one son out of prison, surgically killing the other, assisting Barty in assuming Tim's identity..."

"He would have, in theory, been motivated by familial attachment," Severus says. Coolly, because Severus has little respect for anyone's family attachments if he is not close to them, which in practice means little respect for any family aside from Draco's.

But Draco shakes his head. "Either he was being blackmailed, or he chose to find a way to switch his sons on his own, which mean contacting Voldemort's people for assistance... and if he did, then what did they get out of it in return?"

"Other than Junior's return to the fold?" Severus asks, but his eyebrows haven't come down. "I see your point. It is... plausible, that Crouch could have used his influence in order to disrupt an investigation. He might even have been able to do so without attracting notice, having devoted himself so thoroughly to the study of criminal fraud. But even if he was... if there was any cover-up, it couldn't have been at the hands of a single man, no matter how much power he held."

Severus pauses, and when he speaks again it is much softer. "Grindelwald was able to amass power by making his operatives within the government feel simultaneously watched and isolated. They were on their own, acting with the utmost caution not to be discovered... and while they knew that there were others, they could never tell who it was. If they decided to turn traitor by going to the police... there was nothing to ensure that the officer they went to wasn't also working for Grindelwald. But they could not drop any hints, because then someone out of the fold might suspect, and at the time, if you were suspected of working for Grindelwald, if they could not prove it they would destroy your reputation some other way. The fear of being caught up in the conspiracy was enough to drive people to, unwittingly or dim-wittedly, participate in the conspiracy.

“If Crouch worked with Voldemort beyond the effort to exchange his sons... if he managed something as… large-scale as a cover-up to this extreme, then he was not working alone. Not nearly alone. And if that is the case…”

Severus pauses, not as one of the regular moments of dramatic tension he employs so frequently, but to tilt his head, one ear up, and study through the windows that line the hall in front of his lab, and then to glance slowly back towards his computer. His voice drops again, barely audible.

“If that is the case, not even Miss Granger’s paranoia will be enough for us.”

Chapter Text

 

 

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. FRIDAY, 26 OCTOBER, 2007. 16:33.

 

“...and here we have Wormtail, or Doctor Maggot, who is the same doctor who Carrow said did the surgery on the Crouch twins.”

It’s just after four, on the last Friday of October, and Severus stands at the edge of the group of those aware of Potter’s true role in the investigation, a mug of tea in hand. Granger has gathered them in one of the many meeting rooms at the RRS Headquarters, and the group is standing in front of a large pinboard wall, examining papers pinned up one by one.

One portion of Severus’s thoughts are fixated on a ball of red string in a drawer in his lab. It would be so easy to make a mockery of this, and turn the display into a web, like they might have twenty years ago, when the computers were as likely to catch on fire as they were to be suited for their jobs—though most of the others in the room wouldn’t remember that. They’re too young. They would think it was just a plot device in those horrible police dramas they still show on the telly… Not that Severus ever intentionally watches that drivel.

Instead, the papers—drawings of faces done in pencil, accompanied by profiles of information amassed over the last two weeks, recollections gathered in the long hours of discussion between Potter, Weasley, and Dean Thomas, the sketches’ artist—are being arranged in two evenly spaced rows like this is a gallery showing, not a discussion of suspects of organized crime. Thomas and Weasley are doing the majority of the presenting, as Potter is apparently not good at addressing crowds and has been casting looks of longing towards the door whenever he thinks the audience is distracted.

Though perhaps it is not his audience he wishes to escape. Perhaps it is the rows of faces filling the wall behind him, who he has spent seven years and ten months running from. This Potter would rather hide—his one sensible trait, Severus thinks.

The drawing that Thomas pins up of ‘Doctor Maggot’ is perhaps the least useful of the line-up so far, as the face is covered in part by a surgical mask. But above it are beady eyes, too small for the round, prematurely balding head, sparse eyebrows worsening the impression that there is far too much flesh in the construction of this face.

What really grates on Severus’s nerves is not the inclusion of the mask, but that his mind is filling in the information that goes underneath it: an upturned nose, thin lips that only pull back from the uneven teeth they cover on one side when the man nervously smiles, and a mole—but was it above the lips or below it? And why, for the love of God, can he not place the source of these untrustworthy details?

“...I only saw him when I was in a bad way,” Potter says, something of a relief from Weasley’s obnoxious yammering, reading the details of the summary ( late thirties, now late forties; nasally voice; nervous laughter), though considering it is Potter’s voice, it really isn’t a relief at all.

“But he was a surgeon,” Granger says. “Which means that he must have studied somewhere, and perhaps is even licensed. Was he English?” Potter nods. “You don’t recall his proper name being used?” And when Potter shakes his head, she asks: “Do you know where the nicknames came from?”

Potter hesitates, looking as though he would rather not answer that. He was probably the one who Christened the man Maggot; his father certainly was not above name calling—

But then Potter says, “It was all I ever heard him called by. He… There’s some of the aliases he used, in the—” He pauses and points to the copy of the report in Granger’s hand. “—profile. Thing. But no one ever called him by those. They… Tom’s people didn’t seem to like him very much. They said Tom had fished him up out of a dumpster somewhere, that he was a gutter rat, and that…”

He trails away.

“Alleged crimes,” Thomas says, clearing his throat when the silence drags, “Include any number of surgeries made in violation of laws around medical practice, as well as operating under aliases, as expanded on page eighty-one—”

There’s a rustling of pages as those who have achieved the security clearance to obtain their own copies of the report, which Severus has already read through, having grown weary of Weasley’s droning on about Rowle, a man who died back in 1999 and had been pinned up second of the twenty faces on the wall.

“—but most recently, the surgery removing the kidney of Timothy Crouch, leaving him to die while assisting in the prison escape of Barty Crouch Junior.”

“Harry also says he did cosmetic and reconstructive surgery,” Weasley adds, looking to Potter again, who is scuffing his shoes on the floor like a child.

“He pointed out that having a notable scar on my face would be a liability, that he could reduce it,” Potter mutters. “…Tom might have punched him for that, if he hadn’t been distracted.”

They all stare at the portrait a while longer, but this meeting has dragged out, and it is a Friday of a long, tense week, and nearing the end of the work day, and sometimes Weasley can display a bit of sense. “And, finally,” he says, gesturing for Thomas to pin up the last drawing. “The man himself.”

This image is different. More precise than the others. There’s small details included—a subtle trace of markings near the left corner of the lip, not just smudged pencil but a series of minute scars, like an animal’s claws had torn that face open. Or perhaps the jagged edge of a broken bottle. Or any number of things.

A detail you would have to get close to to recognize, to see regularly in order to describe well enough not to look out of place.

There’s little resemblance to the drawing taped up on Granger’s wall upstairs. This man has a wide brow and cheekbones over somewhat sunken cheeks; heavy-lidded, deep-set eyes; a straight but not precisely narrow nose. The combination, while… attractive, Severus supposes, if approached from that perspective, also makes the man’s skull particularly prominent, an impression only accentuated by how pale Thomas has left the man, with harsh shadows. A regal face, perhaps would be an apt descriptor, but an unsettling one as well, like one of those aliens in movies who have been designed to look not quite right.

“Our quarry,” Granger says gravely, breaking the silence. “Tom Marvolo Riddle. Voldemort. Yes?”

For whatever reason Weasley and Thomas seem incapable of answering on their own, though they have led the discussion thus far. They look instead to Potter, who has studiously trained his gaze towards the ceiling over the door. It is a waste of all their time, to ask participation of him here, when it so obviously triggers psychological distress; it will stretch further this already dragging meeting, and hinder whatever work awaits Potter after. See how long it takes him to answer? “Yes,” he finally manages, voice soft, but it seems to take all the effort he can muster, just to breathe that word.

“Of course, Harry’s memories are of a man seven years younger, and Riddle is going on thirty-eight at the New Year, but Harry did feel that I made him look too old, so perhaps this image is more accurate than not,” Thomas says. “Anyway, in terms of basics: black-brown hair and eyes, fair skin…”

He prattles on, listing details readily available in the written edition of the report, which Severus largely tunes out in favor of studying the image, knowing that this should be the most telling, considering it was Riddle himself who Potter claims to have been the closest to. And as they were, at the time, bedfellows, Potter should have the clearest, most intimate image of the man’s face.

And yet…

The image is almost disappointing. Severus supposes, by this image, that Riddle can pass as an everyman, if he wishes, because there’s no hint to his nature captured here. A fault of Thomas’s work, perhaps? Or is Riddle really so blank-faced that he might just as well have been an overworked but well-paid bank employee, a nobody without even a spark of malice of brilliance or anything—

It’s just a drawing. And even if it were a photograph, it is impossible to accurately read faces for things like emotions and thoughts. Severus shakes his head, refocusing back onto the discussion.

“Key details to look out for include scarring at the edge of the mouth, though it is barely noticable and easily concealed; a small mole on the left cheekbone, almost at the hairline, again easily concealed. He had no tattoos or piercings or other body modifications in December of ninety-nine, and Harry says he is unlikely to have obtained any since.”

Thomas pauses, shuffling his papers, glancing over to Weasley. “As for crimes…”

“If we tried to list them all we’d be here the rest of the day,” Weasley says, taking over. He’s scratching at his chin, and doesn’t seem to notice that he’s doing so. “Especially as Riddle is the head of his group, not necessarily the active player. But there's some trends in the major undertakings. Financial, like with the Nimbus Company scandal back in April last year… Political, including several instances of corruption and blackmail that we have about forty percent certainty on their being related, and several with less. Smuggling of items such as illicit drugs and firearms, and the movement of people across international lines, both as cases of illegal entry into the country and human trafficking. Several cases of premeditated violence and homicide, including, presumably, being behind the case of Barty Crouch Junior and Alecto and Amycus Carrow, and allegedly the following death of their victim, Benjy Fenwick. A number of deaths of persons involved in the Grindelwald case, over the last two years, we have tentatively linked to him, though those are still in the very preliminary stages of investigation. And, potentially related, we’ve reason to believe the recent all-too-recent murder of Barty Crouch Senior was carried out by his son, Barty Junior, or, perhaps, another of Voldemort’s cronies in his name. And…” Weasley pauses, his jaw tightening so much it is a miracle he manages to get the words out: “Destruction of property in the bombing of the house of former RRS Director. Alastor Moody.”

There’s a silence over the room at that. Crouch is one matter; most of the RRS know of him, but few had the misfortune of meeting him, tied to his work as he always was. Moody, on the other hand… Everyone in this room had worked for the man, except Potter, who shifts from foot to foot and stares at the floor like a guilty child, and Draco, who does not visibly react to either mention, only stares stonily into space. There’s only a handful of others gathered in the room, the sum total of those privileged with the knowledge that Potter is more than a mere intern. Tonks, of course, though she is uncharacteristically subdued, sitting at the table with, today, jet-black hair, a silent observer. Mary Cattermole and Harriet Edgecomb, two of the six permanent specialists who manage the 24-hour tip collection and assessment job; Dirk Cresswell, who specializes in financial analysis and had been the one in charge of the team that had tied the Nimbus scandal to Voldemort; Angelina Johnson, who manages the recording equipment in the interview room and is transcribing the meeting from a seat near the door, and Dennis Creevey, who has a knack for tracking down security footage and other media containing images of suspects matching Thomas’s profiles.

Creevey was the last person Moody had hired. Granger, who had all but taken over by that time, had come complaining to Severus about it, probably because she expected that he, being generally unimpressed by everybody, would agree with her, which was better than sympathy. He’s not going to last three months, she’d insisted. He’s a good kid, and talented enough, but that doesn’t mean he’s cut out for this sort of work. And when it gets to be too much, he’s smart enough that he’ll leave.

Severus doesn’t particularly care for the kid, but then, Creevey was also the one who went through the records of Grindelwald’s murders to make comparisons to what had happened to Moody last summer. Thinking too long about the Grindelwald case is enough to get to any officer, for how he had corrupted the system and killed the honest ones who tried to bring him down. Creevey lost sleep, but it hadn’t slowed down his work. And he’d lasted past those first three months, and has now been working for the RRS for over a year.

It isn’t that Granger is a poor judge of character, she simply tends to coddle people, and seems convinced they will break at any given moment, despite how she piles more and more onto her own plate. It’s part of why Severus doesn’t pay any attention when she says things like, If you send Harry to talk to Carrow, he’s going to break, or, Don’t tell Draco about Lucius. It’s too cruel.

Of course, he only pays attention to about a third of what she says beyond that. Which is about a third more than he pays attention to the majority of the world. Unfortunately, in meetings such as this one Severus is forced to humor Granger and listen to Weasley’s whining voice. At least having to mention Moody’s explosive end has reminded the boy that this is not a game.

“The Nimbus scandal aside,” Thomas finally begins again, pulling the room out of its collective paralysis. "Voldemort is more certainly connected to several organized crime groups. While only a handful of those recently questioned seemed to have any real knowledge of his group—which is to say, they shut up the moment anyone asked them anything, and refused any further questioning. But pretty much everyone we brought in had some recognition of the name. They mostly seemed at a loss as to what roll he had to play in their organizations, only that he was to be feared and respected, and not to cross any of his people. And on the flip side, he almost certainly has connections within the government, across any number of offices and agencies, including, undoubtedly, law enforcement."

Thomas, to his credit, does not let his gaze linger on Severus as it slides over the room. "More than likely," he says, "within the RRS as well."

There is an immediate murmuring of alarm, mainly from the back, where Cattermole and Edgecomb are huddled. Though they are trained to maintain perfect composure while on the phone for the tip line, off-hours they are almost as irritating as Brown and Patil with their emotional gossip.

"Which is why there is such a small group of us gathered here," Granger interjects, her voice projecting firmness and composure so clearly that it is obviously being faked. "And why we have already had everyone in the room briefed regarding the need for absolute confidentiality."

Severus had not been briefed, but he supposes Granger trusts his ability to keep his mouth shut. She really shouldn't. Mistakes like that can be deadly. Of course, Severus is not going to go and share information, not when he has spent the last twenty-six years under constant scrutiny, but considering that he has regular contact with Lucius, who is under investigation—

And who is due to make a phone call to invite Severus to some club in London any week now. It has only been a few months, but Lucius does enjoy dragging Severus out into society, even after all these years of proving that it never ends well. Which means that Severus is going to have to devote some portion of his time creating an alternative investigation for Lucius to butt his nose into... Perhaps he can redirect to the continued idiocy ruling the main investigation into Moody's death... hm...

"Those are only the parts of Voldemort's influence that we've managed to uncover in the investigation proper," Thomas adds. "Now, while Harry only had limited contact with the regular activity of Voldemort's group, he did have some details to add. Harry?"

Potter looks at Thomas blankly. Good God, did they not organize their presentation before the meeting—or had Potter not been paying attention? Probably the latter. Probably thought he could just get on flying by the seat of his pants—

"I think it's mostly in the report," Potter says slowly. "I mean... You know the sort of things he is doing. Was. Drugs, probably—I mean, dealing them, or, uh, having people deal—he was clean, himself."

"Never tried the product?" Cresswell asks, the first words from his mouth since they'd entered the room. It seems to startle Potter, who looks at him warily.

"He was clean," Potter repeats. "There were, um, well, the rest of us, if there was any question about anything... I mean, like..."

He's floundering, and Severus can practically hear the thoughts rattling against his skull, not quite making it into words and sentences.

"See, that is the sort of information Harry can provide us that our investigation won't turn up on it's own," Weasley jumps in. "Personal things, about what sort of person we are dealing with. So, he didn't like to get his hands dirty. Useful to know, if we're trying to determine whether to pin something on Voldemort, right? Go on, Harry."

Potter still looks bewildered (as would anyone, in the face of Weasley’s forceful encouragement), but he shrugs, and his eyes drift up toward the door again, though this time it is more in thought than a need to escape.

"It's not that he didn't like to—he was involved in things, directly, as far as I know," Potter says. "Anything he had someone else do, he wanted to be able to do it himself—and if he couldn't do it as well as them, that made that person more useful. Like Maggot, and... and Barty. Tom could..."

He swallows, and is so self-conscious about it the whole room is oozing with embarrassment for him, to Severus's disgust. But he does manage to go on, which is... well. It saves them the trouble of waiting or asking.

"Tom could fight, he could… kill, he could charm people and recruit and... and everything. Everything. But he couldn't follow someone else's lead. Barty... to a certain extent, he could. He was probably as good a marksman as Tom, and as good at walking in and out of a situation without anyone noticing anything, you know, weird about him having been there, even if he'd shot a guy..."

Potter trails away, having lost track of the direction of his rambling and abandoning the ship before it sinks entirely. It’s… pathetic, in the gentlest of terms, and hard for Severus to reconcile. His parents weren’t this awkward. Lily was self-assured, occasionally flustered but rarely halting, always eager to move forward, always ready to adapt to whatever challenge was thrown her way. Potter was… self-assured as well, but in a completely asinine, egotistical, self-righteous way. Potter—this Potter, Harry, if Severus must—has gotten nothing of their… strength of character, except perhaps a touch of Lily’s stubbornness and a hair of Potter’s arrogance. And all his other hair as well, wretched as it ever was.

If Severus were kind, he might put in some comment, here, redirecting things back towards focus. Severus has never had delusions about his character. He watches Potter flounder instead, not even able to take pleasure from it, but definitely not going to throw a Potter any free ropes.

Granger is kind, or at least impatient, because she’s the one to cut the looming silence short. “So he does not always delegate the grunt work, is what you’re saying?”

“Er…” Potter shifts again, tugging at his sleeves so they completely cover his hands. “Well… he—he wasn’t going to go sell dope on a street corner, but he’d probably know the name of the kid who was doing it, even if the kid didn’t know him.”

And now he’s kicking his left heel with his right foot—he just can’t stop twitching for half a second, can he? For Christ’s sake.

“But,” Potter adds, “If he thought someone needed a reminder about where they stood, and it wasn’t the sort of thing that needed Barty to go in and f—and bash heads, that he’d do himself.”

“Do you have an example?” Granger asks.

Potter frowns, slightly, and then, finally, he goes still. Cautious. “Yeah,” he says after a moment. “Um… we went to this restaurant, at the last minute, kind of a smallish, French place. Not… completely out of the ordinary, except that he got up as the check was coming to go to the toilet, and on the way back, stopped by this other table. He was all… apologizing, to the woman there, for interrupting, claiming to be a coworker, that she must be the man’s wife, that he’d heard so much about her and her… her trip to… Greece, and then… He switched, asking if the guy’d made any progress on that big project at work. The woman asked, and he told her is was strictly confidential, and he had every confidence the guy—”

He pauses abruptly. “Auggie,” he says after a moment. He glances towards Weasley, who is already fishing a pen from his trousers to write it down, never mind that Johnson’s at the door. “That was what he called him. He said… Very important business. A lot of ways things could go wrong; a lot of things depending on it. But of course, we’re all confident that Auggie will pull it off. He assured us he could.” Another pause, Potter licking his lips, as though the adjustments he’d made to his voice to quote had dried them out. It was… odd, hearing him change his voice. He speaks softer, in a way, or at least with rounder edges and a warmer tone, but it’s almost… familiar. More pleasant than his regular voice, though… not suited. “And we would hate to see him fail, with all this on the line.”

Potter makes a little gesture with his hand, but aborts it just as quickly.

“That’s it?” Cresswell asks after another gap of silence. Potter glances at him, frowning.

“It was just a reminder,” he says. “That Tom—that Voldemort could show up at any moment, demanding debts owed, and maybe he’d be gone again just as quickly, but you never knew when he might show up. You never knew if you were being watched—or how quickly he would strike back if you did anything against his interests.”

If Potter’s nails weren’t kept so drastically short, he’d be tearing through the skin of his palms, by how tightly he’s clenching his fists. And what part had he played in this little vignette, Severus wonders? He claims to have been a bystander, inculpable… yet surely Voldemort had some reason to bring him along? A man bringing a teenage boy to a restaurant draws attention, when the two of them are so clearly unrelated.

“So he would intimidate people,” Granger says. “Was it always like that—subtle, public—when he did so?”

“I don’t think there’s any always with Tom,” Potter says. “And… no. But… if he wasn’t being subtle, it probably wasn’t intimidation any more—at least, not for you. I—you have to understand, I did have some self-preservation? If they were going to attack someone, I—I was going to be the kid outside in the car with no clue what was going on, not the one inside with the bloody knife and smoking gun.”

“Inside of where?” Cresswell asks.

It figures there would be contention between Cresswell and Potter. Cresswell is an analyst; he likes specifics. Severus doesn’t work with him often, because Cresswell leads his own small team, a team purposefully designed to approach whatever subject the RRS is pursuing from a completely separate angle, and they only come together for briefings like this or when one team or another has made significant progress.

“Wherever,” Potter says. “An abandoned building in a rundown part of town. A warehouse or barn out in a field somewhere. Someone’s basement or garage or… whatever.”

“And you would just… sit outside.”

Ah, Severus had been doing so well. There’s a certain shifting in the room when he speaks, as there always is, either from their distrust of his history or dislike of his character. Potter doesn’t seem to pick up on it, because he just glances Severus’s way.

“If I had the option to be away from anything criminal, I tried to choose to be,” he says. “Especially when I was in school. When I left… it was difficult to avoid. And Barty…” His face crinkles, as if in pain. “He liked to encourage me to…” He glances towards Cresswell, licking his lips again. “To try the product, as you put it. He was a very social user.”

“But Riddle wasn’t,” Granger says. “And… did he approve, of you, using?”

Potter shrugs. “As long as Barty was around to get me out of trouble, he didn’t… And once Barty was arrested, I didn’t… I had an excuse to stop.” He shuffles his feet again, voice getting even softer. “Anthony suggested I take over some of Barty’s old work, the making connections on the street, since Barty used to drag me out with him, but Tom… He knew I would’ve hated it. I wasn’t… charismatic enough, to go around chatting people up, and… Ruining people’s lives is not my thing. Getting people hooked on something, dependent on a dealer, that’s…” He shrugs. “The way the world works, if you ask that sort of person, I suppose.”

Thing about that answer is that it isn’t one. Not really. He didn’t confirm that he always stayed outside, he said he ‘tried to choose to be.’ He didn’t say whether Riddle did or did not approve of his using, he just redirected to another point where he had chosen to avoid breaking the law.

He is good—fantastic, even—at avoiding blame. At finding the words that make him sound better than he is. At framing the story in a way that separates him from Voldemort and his criminal activities.

Which means, to Severus, two things.

First: if they try to rely on him for specific information, it will take a good deal of questioning, to find ways to work around the areas Potter won’t touch on, to get as much of the story as possible. Which is, Severus supposes, what they are already doing: getting big picture details from him

Second: Potter is hiding something. Potentially many somethings, but Severus thinks it is more likely he is hiding one big aspect to the story. One thing that was serious and criminal and enough to make the boy leave Voldemort’s group, because leaving, as Severus knows from experience, is almost always more dangerous than staying, unless there is a reason to go that makes it worth risking death, risking a life with so much potential to be made horrible. One thing that is much worse than failing to report criminal activity, failing to report, potentially, several murders, that is worse than being a teenage drug user, worse than being caught up in crime ring, because all those, Potter has admitted to freely enough.

One thing, Severus imagines, that is enough to have Potter leaping out of bed to strangle his Godson, who he seems to like well enough, when he’s not busy sending him guilty looks and trying to find ways to apologize for his existence without saying anything.

Someone’s watch beeps—five o’clock. The room shifts again, not, this time, out of disgust, but out of the restlessness any office worker is bound to feel as they reach the end of the week. None of them dare to show it too obviously, of course, but it is clear to all of them that the meeting is at an end, never mind whatever other stories Potter might have for them.

“Alright,” Granger says, drawing the focus back in. “We will cover more on these subjects at a later date, of course. In the meantime: Plan of action. Harry, I want you to start in on a new project, laying everything you can out chronologically. People, places, events—Ron will help you find a good format… Include the information we’ve gathered here, as relevant. And anything else, any stories like that, put them there.”

“Wouldn’t reverse-chronologically be more useful?” Weasley asks.

Granger shot him a cool look. “We can always read it backwards,” she says. “Find a method of organization that will keep things manageable and organized. Limit entries to under one page, at most, if possible, though if you generate more detailed materials keep them accessible. Understood?”

“Clear as the Thames,” Weasley says, shrugging.

Potter just nods.

Infuriating, the both of them, but Granger moves on. “Dennis, you know what to do—start with Riddle, but that Doctor—see if there’s anything you can pull up on the aliases. I’d bet he’s got a real medical degree, in reconstructive surgery—check the early eighties, perhaps late seventies.”

“Got it, boss,” Creevy says. “I’ll see what I can pull up.”

"Dirk, any progress on the Wasps?"

Ah. The Wasps. A rugby team who have recently been tied up in a number of gambling, corruption, and drug scandals; blah, blah, blah. Severus despises rugby, almost as much as he loathes boxing and more severely than he is bored by football.

"Negative, ma'am," Cresswell replied coolly. "I'll see if I can draw up photos from the party Jones OD’d at. See if any of the descriptions match." He looks sideways at Potter. "Or perhaps we'll take them straight to the source?"

“Go through what you gather and identify who you can, first,” Granger advises. “I’m sure Harry will have a good deal on his plate next week, with the chronology, but we’ll find a way to work it in. Right, Harry?”

There's no reply—Potter is staring into space. Granger clears her throat. "Right, Harry?" she repeats.

He starts, skin flushing. "I—sorry?"

Granger purses her lips slightly, trying, clearly, and failing to retain her patience, and looks back to Cresswell. “We’ll work out a schedule next week, after we’ve all had a bit of a break, I think, Dirk.”

“Yes, well,” says Cresswell, crossing his arms. “I’m sure we all need it.”

“Yes. Mary, Harriet: divide and conquer. Go through the summary records over the last five months, spot-checking for anything relevant to what we’ve discussed today. Angelina, I want this meeting transcribed in full, and anything not already in the report added in.”

She pauses, glancing around the room, finding who she hasn’t addressed. “Dean, the Met has you booked next week, we’ll talk after that. Malfoy, I want your current list cleared by Tuesday, then add in any specifics from this report. We’ll aim for you to overlap with Ron and Harry by next Friday, drawing up annotations for leads, contact, et cetera. Understood?”

Draco nods. By the wall, Thomas is miming the gesture.

“Beyond that, I want everyone with clearance to read through this report, in full, marking for any questions, or points which look like they should be followed up on. Barring any developments, we will reconvene briefly next Friday, to redefine our actionables as necessary. Any questions?”

There’s a silence, and a few people shake their heads.

“Very well, then,” Granger says. She pauses. “Again: all copies of this report are to be kept on the premises, locked when not in use, and in strict classification. If you have reason to grant anyone else on your teams access, it is going to have to go through me, and it is going to have to be a damn good reason. We’ll see about getting a reduced version of profiles once Dean is back from the Met next week. Until then… keep things close, people.”

With that, the room begins to clear, most of them eager to wrap up their work for the week and head home, except for perhaps Cattermole, who works the evening shift for the tip line, but is near the door so first out anyways. Cresswell apprehends Creevy on the way out, and it takes Johnson a minute to shut off the recording equipment and wheel her cart out, which leaves Potter, who Granger has signalled to stay behind; Tonks, who has finally stood from her chair, managing not to trip as she approaches the wall for a closer look, and Weasley and Thomas, who turn to start taking down the drawings again.

One other person hasn’t left. Of course not, because Draco is determined that his security clearance on this case ought to be higher than it is, and looking to solve the discrepancy by acting like it has already been resolved. Or maybe he’s just sticking around in case Granger tells Potter he is free to go for the weekend, now that the project is complete, so Draco can claim the same benefit, offering to drive Potter home, seeing as they live together—

Live together well enough to strangle each other. Or for Potter to go after Draco, which—well. Severus can glare, but Potter is completely oblivious to him, staring at his feet and glancing only occasionally up to the drawings and quickly away again, as though he is worried that they’re going to come to life on the page and come after him—  

Harry looked like he was about ready to hang himself, when he realized where he was and who I was—

Why on earth had Severus agreed to the plan of housing Potter with Draco? They should have had him committed—or anywhere else, away from his Godson. Even Severus’s place would have been… ‘better’ was not the right word, but… no, not ‘less offensive’, either…

Severus sighs, running a hand through his hair, pulling it away from his face—and that’s when he sees Draco’s face. The boy— man— his godson has been beside him this whole time, tight-lipped, and perhaps it could have been his usual reticence in the company of those he disliked. But that wouldn’t account for the way he keeps glancing back a ways, to one of the earlier drawings—Severus can’t tell which.

He doesn’t need to know which. The point is, Draco recognizes one of them, and considering Lucius is under investigation for possibly working with Voldemort—

“Weasley, Thomas,” Severus says before he can think better of it, and the two men turn around. “Get out.”

There’s silence for a moment, and then Weasley’s face goes as red as his hair, and he starts, “Now, look here—”

“We have matters to discuss that are outside of your security clearance,” Severus says, and he meets Granger’s eyes, gesturing to Draco.

“We have full clearance!” Weasley protests. “We put together the bloody report, you—”

“Malfoy,” Granger says, cutting him off. “It’s up to you.”

Draco blinks, finally looking away from the wall. “Sorry?”

“Whether to allow them to stay. It is… your personal area of expertise, so your decision as to who to bring into the know, at this stage.”

Draco’s eyes flicker with comprehension, and then disbelief, but he gets over it quickly, and slides his gaze slowly to the two men by the wall, who simply look confused. Luckily, he does not take long to make up his mind. “Thomas can,” he says. “Stay, I mean. I don’t think Weasley is… the right person, for this sort of information.”

“Oh, that’s just typical,” Weasley groans, but Granger simply nods.

“Very well,” she says, and gestures towards Weasley, and the door.

“Come on, Hermione,” Weasley protests. “You can’t honestly be letting him make decisions on classification, when he’s got the same stick up his—”

“Ron,” Granger says, more forcefully, and he cuts off, gaping at her. “Please shut the door on your way out.”

For a moment, Severus thinks Weasley is going to keep on arguing with her. But while the two of them have always been… friendly, in a different sense than how Granger is with most people, in the end, he respects her. Enough to whirl around and storm out—well, he does manage not to stomp, and not to slam the door, but it gives the same impression.

“Malfoy?” Granger asks as the door clicks shut. “Do you recognize one of them?”

Draco doesn’t answer her, posing his own quiet question instead: “Have you ever met my father’s driver, Severus?”

Severus blinks, scouring his memory for the name. “Mr… Gab, was it?”

“Mr Crabbe,” Draco says. “He has a son. A few years older than me. Vincent. Wanted to be a professional boxer. Ran around Wiltshire with me… me and Greg.”

“Vincent,” Potter echoes, as Severus tries to recall whenever he’d last seen Lucius’s driver, and if they’d ever spoken to each other, and if conversation had ever turned to his son. And if Lucius had been at all interested—

But if there was a connection, Lucius would never have let Severus know. Very little stood between the two friends, but when it came to matters of breaking the law, with Lucius being a politician and Severus working for the RRS they had long agreed to mutually keeping each other entirely ignorant.

It had taken several long-winded arguments to get Granger to understand that, and Tonks, in the end, who had laid the matter to rest between them. Tonks, who probably had access to a larger portion of the Grindelwald case, who probably understood better Severus’s attitude that if he held all his acquaintances to a rigid standard of legality there would be no one left.

“You recognize the name?” Draco asks.

Potter shrugs, and gestures to one of the portraits back down the line. “They always chose similar sounding names, so they’d respond better. Victor named himself after Victor Krum.”

“The heavyweight boxer?” Surprisingly, it’s Granger who asked.

“Yeah,” says Potter. “He… was heavily-built, fancied himself like Krum. You didn’t point out that Krum was faster than he was strong, not unless you fancied Victor showing how he didn’t need speed, so long as he could land just one punch.”

Severus frowns. Boxing, really. Krum must be a fairly recent player on the stage—Tobias had always followed boxing with an unhealthy fervour. Tried to get Severus to learn, when he was a kid, except it had always felt like his dad was just looking for a way to beat on him legally, so he’d always made sure to disappear if the topic came up.

“Did he have a birthmark?” Draco asks. “Your Victor?”

Potter tilts his head, considering. Most of the profiles they’d moved through more quickly than Riddle’s, only giving note to the excessively obvious and the ones who’d had the tattoos Potter had mentioned previously. There hadn’t been time to linger longer; they’d only pinned up thirty of the most pertinent, and even then, moved quickly, considering that these were seasoned criminals they were dealing with.

“On his left arm, right?” Potter asks slowly, holding his up like they need clarification, gesturing to his wrist. “He had the bright red ones. Ran up over his boxing gloves.”

“You didn’t think to include that in your list of identifying marks?” Severus asks. Hands aren’t usually covered and are something anyone in law enforcement knows to keep an eye on, so an obvious mark on them is definitely useful information.

“I didn’t know him that well,” Poter says, frowning. “I mean… me and Barty were at the gym a lot, which was the only reason I ever really met him. I wouldn’t have…”

Potter pauses after that, opening and shutting his mouth a few times in search of the appropriate words, but really, Severus thinks he’s said enough. If this ‘Victor’ was Vincent Crabbe, the son of Lucius’s driver… it wasn’t such a stretch to think he had been put in contact with the group through his connection.

God damn it, Lucius. Doesn’t he realize there’s a reason why Severus left Grindelwald’s service? Doesn’t he understand—

Then again, it is Lucius. He may be Severus’s oldest living friend, but he has never been good at relating other peoples’ experiences to his own.

“He always did say he was going to be a boxer,” Draco says. Potter glances at him and frowns, as though he can’t see how that relates—has he lost track of the conversation so quickly, fish-brained in his short-term memory, even though in the long term he can apparently remember birthmarks on people he hardly knew?—but he shrugs, and when he speaks, it is as though Draco had not interjected.

“Tom’s people—you could probably divide them into groups. Victor was… well, a thug, and expendable. Man power. There’s more, um, involved people, people like Barty, who were… well, Barty wasn’t exactly organizing, but he was closer to Tom, and definitely had seniority over people like Victor. Maybe Anthony is a better example? Antonin. He was more, um, managerial. Not that he couldn’t be violent, I mean, but…”

Thank God for Granger, cutting in so they don’t have to listen to Potter stumble over his words. “Like soldiers and officers?”

Potter considers it, and jerks his chin down in assent. “Soldiers and officers,” he echoes, “And politicians and war profiteers.” He shrugs, as though shaking off the metaphor before he dives too deep, and glancing back to the drawing. “Someone like Victor—Tom would have known him as well as anyone else, ‘cause that’s what he does. Knows people. Even the kid someone picks up off the street with the promise of a hot meal for some courier work—he always knows. But Victor was…” He swallows, licking his lips, eyes darting briefly to Draco. “A soldier. A nobody. Expendable.”

And where does Potter fit into this metaphor, Severus wonders. Is he the civilian he tries to present himself as—or a spy? A snake in the grass? What is a war without a bit of espionage?

“Regardless,” says Tonks, “If he is who Draco thinks he is, that could be a strong point to go off of. We can have him looked into, traced… And Draco’s connection will make it easy enough to get pictures of him, to confirm.”

“I’d check our databases first,” Draco says stiffly.

“Has he been arrested?”

“I haven’t seen him in years. But I’d bet ten quid he had a record before he was sixteen.”

“And your father… let you be around someone like that?” Granger asks.

She sounds rather earnestly baffled… the clear mark of a girl whose childhood was sheltered and whose parents were supportive. Not that Draco did not grow up sheltered—how could he not, when he spent the most of his time on an estate wanting for nothing?—but while between Severus’ and Narcissa’s efforts Lucius had been steered towards a milder form of parenting than he had been raised with, Lucius had never been cut out for fatherhood.

“His driver’s son? What, you think he’d tell Sergei his son wasn’t good enough to be my friend?” Draco snaps.

Severus pinches the bridge of his nose. There’s a wound that runs deep. Lucius had told Draco off for his choice of friends several times, though not the ones that were children of people who worked for him, clearly. Never mind that Lucius, as a teenager, had ignored Abraxas’s own warnings about a stick-limbed mill boy with bad grooming.

“I more meant that he’d let you be around someone with a knack for trouble,” Granger clarifies. “The type who might get you into trouble.”

“Lucius’s parenting aside,” Severus cuts in, before they jump down that rabbit hole, “We have a course of action. Find a proper photograph of Crabbe, see if Potter recognizes it. And if he does have a record…”

If he does, there’s a chance to troll for patterns. Patterns and accomplices and anything out of the ordinary in a delinquent's records.

“Not to put a damper on things,” says Tonks, “But even if it is the same person—birthmark aside, it would be one hell of a coincidence, and as useful as these profiles are, there’s a good chance that the resemblance between the drawing, which comes from Harry working off his memories and describing them to Dean, so between that and what Draco remembers from when he was a kid, there’s a lot of room for error, right? But even if it is, there’s always the chance that Voldemort’s had his records wiped, if he’s not currently in prison. Considering how difficult it has been to find the paper trail for anything else.”

There’s a bit of silence as that sets in. Severus supposes it might be grounding to the rest of them, to be reminded that this sudden wealth of information doesn’t necessarily put them any closer to finding any answers.

“Well,” Thomas says as the moment stretches, opening up the folder he’d brought the drawings down in and rifling through the papers. “I can’t speak for Draco’s memory, but I don’t think we have a whole lot to worry about regarding the accuracy of Harry’s. If there are any errors, they’re more likely from my end, not his.”

He draws out a stack of papers held together and steps forward towards the table that stretches down the center of the room, pulling off the paperclip and spreading them out over the table. They are drawings of the same person, Severus realizes, stages in development, the earlier versions drawn over the top of with ballpoint pen, each one along the way becoming more refined until the last, which is shockingly akin to—

“These are the drawings we did of Barty Crouch Junior, first on the list, before we had confirmed anything about hime,” Thomas says, and he sets one final page down, next to the final drawing. A photograph—the mugshot Tonks had uncovered for them. “Before Harry had seen him from closer than across a street, through a crowd. And yet the level of specificity he was able to go into, working with me…”

It is uncanny. Impossible, even—this drawing is almost as detailed as the one they had pinned up of Riddle. Glancing at the earlier drawings, Severus can see where Potter marked to move the eyes first closer together, then slightly apart on a later stage; a pair of red lines over the nose indicates the precise point where there’s a bend in his nose.

“But, of course, when Draco came to show Harry the mugshot, the first thing Harry did was critique how off he had still been.”

Potter’s arms are folded across his chest, but he wraps them tighter at Thomas’s incredulous laugh. “Look at the ears,” he says. “That’s a big thing to miss.”

It takes Severus a moment to spot the difference: the lobes are fully attached in the drawing, versus partially detached in the photo. Such a minor thing, but it seems to cause Potter such agitation, having been wrong—having a glitch in his memory—

And then it becomes clear to Severus. “You have eidetic memory.”

Potter glances up sharply, but the look on his face does not align to shock at being discovered. It is a confused frown, but before Severus can rephrase the term, Potter says: “There’s no such thing. At least not in adults. It’s a myth.”

That, Severus will concede, though he narrows his eyes, wondering how someone like Potter would come to know that. Research of his own circumstance? “An exceptionally sharp memory, then,” he says, and gestures back at the arranged drawings. “Or do you think just anyone can recall that level of detail?”

Potter shakes his head—disagreement? But his eyes do not focus again, even when he directs them towards Severus, and the shaking would perhaps be more accurately described as a jerk. “I don’t remember them because I want to.”

His voice is lower than Severus has heard it. Rougher. As drastically separate from the boisterous, childish voice that James Potter had carried into his rapidly terminal adulthood—though this Potter, Severus reminds himself, is several years older than James Potter ever reached. A thought that tastes uncharacteristically bitter in Severus’s mouth.

“You’d rather we spared you the inconvenience?” he asks—anything to spit it out.

Potter’s frown hardens to a predictable glare. Good. They have returned back to solid grounds.

“I’d rather I didn’t see these faces in strangers I pass on the street, only to blink and realize they’re someone else. I’d rather I didn’t freak out over spotting people I might have seen once, who don’t even recognize me. People who came into the shop and were only just barely connected to anything, but my brain was turning them into messages, threats—or, yeah, from seeing someone across a crowd, and not knowing whether I really saw them or not. I’d rather—”

He cuts off abruptly, lips curling back into a brief sneer—but he looks down, at the table again, eyes wandering across the drawings. And when he speaks again, his voice is more in control: “These probably aren’t even that accurate, in any case. I didn’t know most of them as well as Barty.”

It’s a poor transition. Not enough to throw Severus from his rapidly forming ill-advised diagnoses, and, unfortunately, not enough to dim the brightness in Granger’s eyes. She’s been piecing together her idea of Potter with the same collection of evidence that Severus has, but she has always tended to rely more heavily on her emotions. As such, she does not hold back from letting her image of him be blurred by things like pity and empathy, two things which Severus has no use for.

But it’s Draco who valiantly carries on, as though Potter’s outburst was nothing out of the ordinary. He is, of course, used to Severus’s prodding.

“From the pictures we have of Crouch, I’m inclined to agree with Severus,” Draco says.

“Believe what you want,” Potter says. “Just don’t go putting too much faith in these drawings. Photos—those are more useful.”

Severus can see Granger rearing to say something—but he catches her eye and shakes his head. Potter is… some sort of perfectionist, clearly, which Severus thinks is for the best. If he wants to lay everything out to the last detail… well. More detail means more chances to slip. To reveal whatever it is he is so carefully guarding. Which is something he ought to bring Granger in on, as she probably pities Potter too much to suspect him of anything. And Tonks, Severus supposes.

“We will see,” Severus says, “When Draco gets a photo of his friend for us to compare. If that is all—if I could meet with you and Miss Tonks in your office, Director?”

Chapter Text

LONDON. SUNDAY, 28 OCTOBER, 2007. 21:00.

 

"Mother," says Draco, and he tries to sound happy about it.

Narcissa Malfoy looks back at him from Draco's laptop screen, the webcam image a poor imitation of her presence, but enough to carry her airs across the country to him "Draco," she says, like his name is a tragedy. "Darling, why on Earth has it been so long since you last called?"

"It was only the beginning of the month, Mother," Draco reminds her, and he doesn't have to pretend so much when he smiles at her expression of complete and utter disbelief.

"Only the beginning of the month," she says. "I bore him, birthed him, raised him--"

"And he did call, when he found the time," he finishes for her. "Really, Mother. How are you?"

"As well as can be managed, considering the circumstances."

"The circumstances?"

"Penelope Greengrass has got it in her head that we should have another ladies outing in November."

'Ladies outing' might sound like a picnic or trip to the museum, but when it comes to his mother and her friends, it usually means a trip out of the country for a long weekend full of sunbathing on beaches or drinks by the poolside. As long as the destination was hot, had plenty of air conditioning, and was not Britain, it was fair game.

"That sounds nice," Draco says, and, despite the painful poshness of the concept (something he wouldn’t have even recognized until he started working in law enforcement), he has to admit that it does. While much of the traveling of his childhood had been scheduled around his father's charity work, he can't remember the last time he had a proper holiday. He took time off to go down to Wiltshire, last Christmas, but he has barely been out of the country since University, and only for weekend shopping trips in Paris or Rome with his mother, the handful of times she has managed to drag him away.

"It might be, except Penelope has it in her head that we ought to go to Stockholm."

"In November?"

"Precisely," Narcissa says. "And while I do try to be patient with her, Violet Parkinson will go along with anything. She says it would be nice to ski. Ski! She can't even keep herself upright in heels, how could she expect to survive skiing?"

Violet Parkinson, Draco recalls, has a tendency to drink more than she really should at even the most civil of functions, and regularly has 'dizzy spells' that go along with it, which begin with her stumbling into someone important and end with her being half carried out by her husband at, as everyone has noticed, precisely the right moment to make an event of it. But she and Narcissa had known each other since they were children at Hogwarts, and then with Draco and Pansy being the same year...

(Pansy, to Draco's utter relief, had declared three things quite early on: her intention to work, her intention to marry a man she could boss around, and her intention that her man should have an appropriate career in acting, medicine, or banking. Had she declared instead that she was going to marry Draco, he had no doubt that he would be somewhere quite different in life from where he was. His sexuality wouldn't even have mattered—Pansy knew what she wanted, and what she wanted, she got.)

(It came, perhaps, from a childhood spent trampling all over her mother's flightiness.)

"And how's father?" Draco asks, turning the conversation away from the Parkinsons before his mother, who was less convinced than Pansy that a Malfoy-Parkinson joining is not in the works, can direct them into the topic of what she sees and inevitable: Draco's future marriage. That is a one topic that he will do anything to keep off the table.

"Well enough," she says. "I'm surprised you haven't seen him much recently; he's been fairly steady on in London the last few weeks. He's home now, of course—in Wiltshire, that is, for the weekend."

"It's been busy," Draco says. "I imagine he's been busy as well."

"Still, with the two of you both in Westminster, I simply can't understand it. Surely he could bring you in to the Gentlemen's clubs he frequents?"

Draco rolls his eyes. He doesn't think his father's idea of a club and Draco's are on quite the same page. Draco's clubs are much more about finding someone fit and getting laid, and Lord knows he's not going to get that sitting around in parlors as old men smoke cigars and drink whisky or brandy or gin.

"He can drag Severus along, if he needs to bring someone, but I am sure Father is more than content to go alone."

Or, Draco thinks before he can clamp down on his mind and spare himself the imagery, there's a good chance that his father is out not at the Gentlemen's clubs, but at more seedy institutions—or their high-class (meaning high-cost) equivalents—where he will be decidedly not alone. It has always been an unfortunate reality of Draco's life to know more than his fair share about his parents' sex lives, enough to know that his father's definition of fidelity is highly flexible and that his mother most certainly has had flings with men far beneath her status.

Thinking about his parents’ sex lives, however, will never be something that Draco enjoys. He shudders, and hopes it is not visible over the webcam.

“And how is work?” Narcissa asks.

Oh. Well, that is so much better. This is why he has been avoiding his parents, because there’s nothing like not being able to say ‘Father might be working with a criminal megalomaniac with deep corrupting roots in the state’ to make a conversation awkward.

“Work is… fine,” Draco manages.

“Fine?”

“Yes,” says Draco.

“Darling,” says Narcissa, “I am not sure whether to be insulted or to worry that you might have hit your head and regressed to your days of being a sullen teenager.”

Draco shrugs. He just has to… focus on petty problems. Things not related to the… broader… issues. “I’ve been forced to deal with Weasley more often than anyone sane could bear,” he says, and tries not to wince at how blatantly forced it sounds.

“Weasley,” Narcissa says dryly. She, unlike Lucius, does not fully comprehend the horror that is a Weasley. “Darling, you can’t be holding on to petty grudges from school, after all these years?”

“After all these years, he hasn’t gotten any less irritating,” Draco counters. Good, she’s gone for it. “And besides, I work for Granger—Hermione Granger, Mother. Severus must have complained about her where you could hear it before? She and he get along, which is the first hint—”

“I get along with Severus. As does your father— You get along with Severus, Draco.”

“Yes, but that’s different. She—she’s obnoxiously intelligent, and lords it over everyone else, and is insufferably bossy—”

“Have you considered pursuing a relationship with her?”

“I— what?”

“She sounds like your sort of woman, darling,” Narcissa says.

“Granger? I—Mother, that is disgusting.”

“It does create some ethics issues, but perhaps you could be transferred, if that were the case,” Narcissa allows. “But I don’t think you’d stand for anyone who wouldn’t argue with you—though you’d have to allow them close enough to—”

She stops talking abruptly, eyes going a bit wide, and after a beat, Draco glances down to the small window showing her view of him. And then spins around, quite quickly.

“Hey, Draco,” says Harry from where he stands in the doorway fumbling with the toothbrush hanging out of his mouth, somehow comfortable in only his pants and a t-shirt that had the words HERE COMES THE FUZZ emblazoned in block letters across it. He holds something up—“You got any more—oh.”

He’s spotted the screen, where Narcissa is still gaping at him. Draco quickly shifts so he is in front of the webcam.

“Sorry, didn’t know you were—I’ll ask later.”

He wanders back out of the room again. Draco slowly turns around. A moment later, Draco hears the sink in the bathroom run.

Narcissa waits, but Draco doesn’t have anything to say. "Who was that?"

Shit. She can't know who Harry was—not when Granger’s told him about his father's situation; Lucius definitely cannot find out—Shit! He needs an excuse—A reason for her not to mention it—something she wants to hear—

"My boyfriend," he blurts out.

His mother stares at him.

Shit.

No, wait, actually? Fuck. Fucking

"Your—"

"Please don't mention this to Father," he says quickly. Maybe the poor quality of his webcam has obscured some of his panic, and his mother hasn't noticed. Who is he kidding—even she looks shaken, and his mother never looks shaken. Fuck—

"Draco, darling—"

"Please, mother. I'll be down for Christmas. We can... Talk."

Her face smoothens. "Of course," she says. "Did you need to...?"

"Yes, probably. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Draco."

The video cuts.

Bloody. Fucking. Hell.

Did he just—he did, didn’t he. He—

Draco stands, slowly, and backs away from his desk. And then keeps moving, out of his room, because he is feeling a substantial urge to grab his laptop and fling it out the window, and he really can’t do that.

In the kitchen, of course, are cupboards full of dishes. He stares at them for a good thirty seconds before sitting at the table, which only has the paper cup Harry had brought back from a coffee shop. Which might create a mess, if he does fling it, but it won’t break anything. And he has a cleaning service for a reason.

He sits and lets himself wallow in despair.

Harry, predictably, shows up before he can melt into a puddle of goo and sink into the floorboards, the toothbrush gone but the other object—the cardboard tubing of a roll of toilet paper—still in hand. And, thankfully, a pair of pajama bottoms covering his skinny legs.

“Did you call me… your boyfriend?” Harry asks, an expression of bewilderment on his face.

“Yes,” Draco snaps, “Because I needed a reason for her not to mention that there’s some man wandering around my flat in his pants to my father.”

“I’m… sorry about that,” Harry says, slowly. “It’s just, I didn’t think you were, you know. Out.”

Draco’s hands twitch with the urge to fling something at the other man. “I’m not,” he snarls.

“Oh,” says Harry, his voice small.

“Oh,” Draco agrees.

The apartment is so quiet Draco can hear the clock ticking in the hall. "She seemed... Nice," Harry says, going for a diplomatic tone, which grates on Draco's nerves. "Like she cares for you, I mean. Maybe it won't be a big deal—"

"Don't be thick," he snaps. "Politicians only have gay sons when it is convenient, when they need political capital with a certain other group to get the votes or the funds or distract from something else or come back from the latest attack on their character as cold, self-centered egomaniac. Either my father rolls me out for his own gain, or he arranges a marriage, probably with Pansy fucking Parkinson, so no one thinks to doubt my public sexuality. And then it comes out anyways, five years down the road, and it's some bloody scandal because I'm a fucking Malfoy, and my father disowns me, and leads some Goddamn homophobic legislation so everyone knows he's a man of his heterosexual word, and meanwhile word gets around the RRS and I either get transferred again or lose my job entirely for 'unrelated reasons'—so no, Potter, it's going to be a big fucking deal."

Harry’s mouth opens. Shuts. He looks like he wants to disagree with Draco still, but then he does that thing where his shoulders hunch and his face becomes tighter, and maybe it’s because he knows what it’s like, except from the fifth minute Draco met him Harry had been out, and seemingly unbothered.

“I don’t think you’re likely to lose your job,” Harry finally says. “I mean, I’m there—I know I’m just an intern, and only really a witness, but no one who knows that I uh—no one’s bothered. And Dean—everyone knows Dean and Seamus are together, and no one’s trying to get them fired. And Snape’s there.”

“Severus isn’t queer,” Draco snaps. “He’s asexual. Exceptionally asexual.”

“I mean— Ace is ‘queer’... to a, uh, a lot of people, you know? I’m— But I mean—I meant, if he can stick around with no one firing him, you’re fine,” Harry says. “Him being, you know… a bit of a—well.”

“He’s a complete and utter bastard, you mean, but Granger finds him useful. I’m only there because she owed Crouch a favor, and now he’s dead, and it will only take one excuse—and that’s not the point, anyway!”

His voice must be getting louder than he intended because Harry’s trying hard not to stiffen again, and eyeing the door. Well, shit. Good going, Draco; scare the bloody abuse victim because of your personal issues—no, you know what? It’s Harry’s fault for just walking in on his call like that, and Granger’s fault for him being there in the first place. So Harry wants to run and hide? Fine. It’ll spare Draco the irritation of looking at him—

“I just mean,” Harry says, even softer than before, “I don’t think anyone at the RRS has it out for you because you’re gay. It… it’s different, you know. And… I think Granger would probably fire someone for making trouble over it before she fired you, ‘cause she has all those principles she operates by. And Snape—he’s a bastard, but he likes you, and—”

His voice cuts off, rather than dwindles, probably because Draco’s damn close to turning into that one guy from X-Men who shoots lasers out of his eyes, out of sheer spite. “Sorry,” Harry says, backing up even further. “I’ll just… yeah.”

Draco really ought to say something like, ‘it’s not your fault’, ‘what’s done is done’, or, ‘well, look on the bright side, Mother only looked like she was going to faint, not expire of shock directly’. He doesn’t. He doesn’t even open his mouth. None of those phrases are anywhere near his lips; what would come tumbling out instead would be ' get the fuck out of my flat,'  and there’s no reason to accelerate the process of the inevitable, explosive, perhaps even violent retribution that is currently growing in his gut—

Harry seems to sense it. He would have a good sense of that sort of anger, Draco imagines, and Draco can’t bring himself to feel bad or pity Harry for it as he scoots out of the room.

But he stops. Of course he bloody stops, right at the edge of the hall, hand resting on the corner, and looks back at Draco. For Christ’s sake—

“Hey, uh,” Harry says, stumbling over his words. Draco massages his temples, praying for patience— “Your mum… that your mother? She… I didn’t recognize her.”

What? Well, that much is obvious; the whole issue is that she’s seen him when she isn't supposed to have. “What?”

“I mean,” says Harry. “You… your father. He’s under investigation, right? And you recognized the drawing… And—I mean, I’m seven years out of date, but—I didn’t recognize her.”

Oh, Draco thinks, watching Harry flee. That was supposed to be comforting, wasn’t it. Only, to be honest, he hasn’t even considered his mother’s role in all of this. And hasn’t he, of all people, seen his parents in action, the pair of them working in their polished routine, his mother softly opening the door to conversation to let his father in to deal the real blows—or, more often than not, vice versa. Narcissa may seem harmless, the stereotype of a rich wife, with her shopping and her ladies’ outings, but Draco knows better.

If his father is working for Voldemort, there’s a high chance his mother knows.

She may even be working for him, too.

Fuck.

Now he has to tell Granger.

 

RRS HEADQUARTERS, WESTMINSTER. MONDAY, 29 OCTOBER, 2007. 08:45.

 

“You don’t have to tell them,” Harry insists quietly, his voice coming from Draco’s elbow.

Draco closes his eyes. Harry is trying to be useful; Draco knows he is. Just as he’d been trying to be useful last night, trying to replace the goddamn toilet paper, and this morning, when he’d made Draco a cup of tea and then fled and hid in his room until it was time to leave, and in the car, where they’d driven to Westminster in absolute silence, Draco’s nerves wound far too tightly to take the regular trip on the tube or even turn on the radio.

“Potter,” says Draco, just as softly as the door slide open. “Shut up.”

He leads the way past Patil, who gives Harry a bright-eyed wave and Draco a once-over and a raised eyebrow, for the bags under his eyes, no doubt.

“I’m serious,” Harry says when they’re past her and safely in the hall beyond. There’s only a handful here, an issue with the tube creating a huge back-up right at rush hour, but Harry still speaks quietly. Probably because he’s telling Draco not to do his job, and, in general, that’s not the advised thing to do while at your job site.

“Me too,” Draco says.

“Look,” Harry says, and he grabs Draco’s arm.

That brings him to a pause. He’s never seen Harry initiate physical contact. He usually shies away from it; even handshakes take a few extra seconds for him to gather himself. Of course, it would be when he’s trying to get Draco to break rules that he would break his own—not that Draco is going to change his mind. If it inconveniences Harry to be seen as a less-than-perfect undercover witness, well. All the better, in Draco’s irritated opinion.

So Draco stops, and turns towards Harry, and the look on his face must be murderous, because Harry drops his hand immediately. He doesn’t, however, let Draco get in a word—

“Look,” he repeats. “You don’t want to tell them about what happened, that’s fine. You can tell them I walked by in the background, or—or you don’t have to tell them at all. You weren’t on the job at the time. You shouldn’t have—”

“You really think I’m ever off the job, anymore?” Draco snaps, not even trying to catch himself. Not caring—until he sees Harry take a step back. Then he pinches the bridge of his nose. “I know how to do my job, Harry,” he says when he’s managed to bring his voice under control. “Please do not insult me be doubting my own, very personal, decisions. You might not understand this, but keeping secrets, concealing the truth, in the end, it always, always—”

“Malfoy!”

They both look up, and see Granger down the hall, sticking her head out of her office. She pauses, seeing them both there, and steps more fully out. “Harry,” she adds, in a much more level voice, stepping fully out. Of course she wouldn’t be so snappy with Harry. “Good, you’re both—I was about to call you.”

Draco gives Harry one last final look, and turns, leading the way down the hall. “Director,” he greets formally. Stiffly, because he had wanted to walk to her office and—and have some level of control, he supposes. Her looking for them, that’s… not expected.

She narrows her eyes at him, raising an eyebrow, but seems to stick to her agenda. “There’s been a change in plans—new intel. A new development. Come in, both of you; we need to discuss this.”

“Director,” Draco says again, even as she turns to go inside, following her. “We also need to—”

He pauses at the door and sees that inside, Severus and Tonks are already sitting at two of the chairs. There’s only one left; Granger is pushing her chair around the desk for one of them, presumably.

“—talk to you,” Draco finishes, with less enthusiasm.

Severus raises an eyebrow. He knows Draco too well. He’s one of the few people Draco is out to, as well, but that is less by choice and more because Severus—asexual, asocial Severus—has probably the most accurate gaydar known to man. He’s also about the worst person to have in the room when you’re trying to say ‘I fucked up’ and move on from it as quickly as possible.

As for Tonks… Draco has met her all of twice now. Seeing as she is

“Well?” Granger says. “Talk, then.”

Draco swallows, resisting the urge to clench his fist, and steps out of the doorway enough to let Harry go by and wave him towards Granger’s relocated desk chair. He shuts the door and turns around again.

It hardly matters, he tells himself sternly, keeping himself resolute. It was bound to come out one way or another.

“We’ve had a slight breach in security,” he says, not yet coming to sit.

Granger frowns, leaning forward to rest her hands on the desk, bracing herself against it. “Of what sort?”

“My mother,” Draco says flatly. “I was speaking with her—a video call—while clearly at my flat, and Harry did not realize, and came into the room and the image.”

Granger stares at him for a moment, then lets her head drop, sighing.

“What did you tell her?” Severus asks.

Now Draco does clench his fist. “As he was getting ready for bed, and only partially dressed,” he says carefully, “the easiest excuse to make for his presence was that he is my boyfriend.”

They all stare at him for a moment.

“Draco, you are an idiot,” Severus finally says, and Draco can only nod in agreement.

Granger frowns. “We can work with that,” she says. “Although, if she tells, ah, Lucius…”

“You did tell her not to,” Severus says.

“Of course,” Draco says. He finally sinks into the third chair—the one between Severus and Tonks. “But while I can hope…”

“What did you say?”

“I asked for her to wait until we could discuss things in person, over the holidays.”

Severus looks contemplative, but Granger frowns. “Is your mother the sort of person who would go against your wishes?”

“Normally? No, she respects my right to have a private personal life,” Draco says flatly. “But she tells my father everything eventually, and finding out your son is homosexual is generally something that disrupts the normal way of things.”

Another beat of silence. “She doesn’t know?” Granger says.

Now Draco has reason to glare at her. “Of course she doesn’t know!”

Granger’s hands come up off the table, a gesture of peace. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t assume. You just… have always seemed so comfortable, and so close with your parents, and…”

So… comfortable…?

“Well,” she says, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Seeing as you are good enough at getting a read on people, I hadn’t, you know, expected your parents to be in the dark about anything obvious. Apologies.”

“Anything… obvious,” Draco echoes.

“Well, yeah…” Granger is beginning to stammer. He hasn’t heard her get so flustered since they were in school, and suddenly she’s not the controlling, paranoid Director of the RRS, she’s, like him, a twenty-something faced with a social situation she hasn’t been equipped to handle—She’s glancing over at Severus, as though he could give her any advice—

Obvious?

Tonks, unlike Severus, takes pity on the both of them.

"Not to distract from this fascinatingly awkward conversation," she says, "But I have a meeting with the Commissioner in at eleven, so if we can save discussion of my cousin's sexuality crisis for after I am gone..." She pauses, though, and gives Draco a wide grin and a thumbs-up. "Good job joining the ranks of traitors to the old family name, though. Knew I liked you for a reason, kid."

Draco feels his eye twitching, though Granger, luckily, clears her throat to redirect things. "Yes, as... yes. We have more im— We have other things to deal with." She turns, pointedly, to Harry. "There's been a development in the case. And it involves you."

The way Harry doesn't react is about as telling as anything. He seems, to the plain eye, to ever-so-slightly relax; a trained response, no doubt, and one Draco hasn't noticed before now. One he probably wouldn't, except that he's already on edge—

Obvious? He isn’t bloody—

"How so?" Harry asks mildly.

Granger stares at him for a long moment—noticing the same thing that Draco has, or debating the wisdom of sharing information? "We received a phone call. To the tip line.”

Another pause, so Harry has to ask: “From who?”

“He wouldn’t say,” she says. Her eyes flick over to Severus, again, for the briefest moment. “Only that he works for Riddle, and has information for us.”

“What sort of information?”

She doesn’t answer, immediately, and Tonks takes over.

“He said Riddle knows you’ve turned on him, Harry,” she says, pity in her voice, but not too much.

Harry is silent for a moment. “Oh,” he finally says. “And… that’s it?”

“You’re not concerned?” Granger asks.

Harry shrugs. “I mean, I assumed he knew when I called, and then, you know, with Hedwig… I mean, my cat… It’s kinda…” He shrugs. “It’s not like I have to deal with… whoever it was. Directly, I mean. So, uh… no. Not really.”

And, Draco thinks, it’s not whatever Harry was afraid she was going to say. And what exactly was that?

“Was there more to the call?” he asks.

Granger glances over to him, though she quickly looks away, covering it by standing up straight and crossing her arms over her chest. “There was,” she says. “He refused to give more information, on the grounds that the operator was not aware enough of the situation to be worthwhile for him to speak to. He is supposed to call us back, tonight, late. And he wants to speak to Harry.”