The assignment arrived by folded, flying paper just after lunch. The folded note spun dizzily through Draco’s shared office, crashing itself nose first into the edge of his desk before falling pitifully to the floor. Across the room, his officemate, a tired looking wizard by the name of Martin, glanced over in mild disinterest. Draco leaned over the side of his chair and plucked up the note, unfolding it over his most recent case notes. He was sorely behind, and could use with a day of catching up.
But playing catch-up seemed to be the last thing that this loathsome department was about to let him do. Lips catching downward at the corners, Draco’s eyes scanned the note.
Please report to Ampitheatre 16 at 13:00 for new field assignments.
Hannah Ellingsworth was the head Curse-Breaker. She was also every bit as inconvenient as she could possibly be when it came to making sure that Draco had only the barest amount of time possible to finish the unwieldy paperwork that came along with each new field assignment. Draco was sure that Ellingsworth wasn’t very fond of him. Which, well… fair. There were few and far between that were fond of Draco by his family name alone. He’d only just begun to have small talk about the weather with Martin, and they’d been sharing an office for just over a year now.
Nowadays, he kept to himself. Not that he had been particularly social before , but now he found himself to be muted. He tried to call up some of his more rancorous behavior from his school days (the good ones, that is), but he was just tired . After… after , Draco had kept to himself, sat for his N.E.W.Ts, and then paid a very generous donation in order to even be seen for his interview with the Ministry.
At least he was smart. That, Draco could say with certainty. He’d gotten marks in seven N.E.W.Ts and that was enough to slap down on Ellingsworth’s desk in a hope that maybe he could get by without a big to-do over his name. Everyone else might have found some serious joy in remembering the punishment his father got when the war had ended, but, well… He was his father, and Draco couldn’t bring himself to feel much more than a hollow emptiness every time someone said, “Oh, Malfoy? Lucius Malfoy’s son?”
For Draco’s part (small as it was, in the grand scheme of it all), he had sat on a very tense and uncomfortable trial, seventeen and frightened and squirming while his bare-bones character witnesses testified that he had been acting under the duress of his parent’s wishes, and threat of death. Which he had, but that didn’t stop the guilt and the nightmares and the knowing that he could live to be a hundred and still not quite reach the redemption he owed.
He’d been acting under something else, too. Maybe just a little. Something that Draco was worried might still be inside of him, generational, passed from father to son. Something dark, something evil, that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to escape. It was the starring number in the many nightmares Draco had found himself plagued with since the last dregs of his teenage years. His own hand, lifting his wand, doing things he couldn’t fathom to speak in his waking hours. He often thought that it said something about him, something good , that he woke horrified and shaking and pouring sweat.
Taking his wand, Draco tapped the back of his wrist. A glowing 12:48 appeared before he shook it away.
“Field assignments,” Draco said, standing up from his seat and grabbing his Ministry-issued robes from over the back of his chair. They weren’t as nice as ones he would have tailored for himself, but he supposed that kept him humble.
“Mm,” Martin grunted, and didn’t look up from his notes. Draco noted that a paper airplane had not come for Martin.
Draco left him behind and headed out into the hall. His wing of the Ministry was mostly quiet, not bustling with witches and wizards like the rest of the place. Curse-breakers were particularly hands on, and Draco spent most of his time out in the field, or working on paperwork. He liked curse breaking. It was just this side of challenging, while leaving the grunt work of catching the cursers to the Auror department.
Amphitheater 16 was a bit of a walk from his office, which sat tucked at the very end of a long series of halls of his particular wing. Of course, like most things surrounding him these days, Draco was entirely sure that this office placement wasn’t by chance. His name was on the office, after all, right underneath Martin’s. No one wanted to walk by the golden-font Malfoy everyday. And so Ellingsworth had shuttered him away. Again, though, like most things, Draco had come to find that this suited him quite well.
Ellingsworth was just clearing her throat at the bottom of the amphitheater when Draco scooted in through the doors. She was a tall witch, perhaps in her late forties, with sandy hair that was never out of its severe ponytail. He dropped to sit in the back row. There were a scattering of other Curse-breakers there, in their dark green robes. Moreover, there were an equal number of scarlet-robed Aurors, all straightening their shoulders to attention when Ellingsworth began to speak.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, her voice needing no projection. The particular theatre they were in was on the small side. Draco’s eyes scanned the backs of heads, trying to pick out familiar coworkers. He could see Amelia Tucker, if only because he could recognize her perfect pin-curls anywhere. The Aurors were more of a mystery than his own department, by miles. Draco steered clear of them if he could in common areas of the Ministry, but since their department was at least three floors beneath his own, he didn’t have to worry about it.
“I have your new assignments,” Ellingsworth said, waving about a stack of files in her hand. She was clearly speaking to the Curse-breakers, most of whom were glancing across the unspoken divide between themselves and where the Aurors were sitting. “The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has graciously decided to loan us a few bodies for these particular assignments. You’re each going to be paired up with an Auror, and the two of you will work together. This is more of one assignment that I need everyone here working on. If you’re currently working on a caseload, those cases will be offloaded onto others in the department.”
Draco sat up a little straighter. He wondered if he was summoned to this meeting by mistake. It wasn’t that he was a poor Curse-breaker. He was good at what he did, but Ellingsworth didn’t seem to want to bother with all the fuss that it would be sending a Malfoy out onto the more extreme cases. Draco had spent the last year and a half toiling through domestics and old, feeble family curses.
This seemed important , and Draco already felt as if he were chomping at the bit to do something substantial.
“There’s been an uptick in curses placed in highly concentrated Muggle areas throughout North America,” Ellingsworth continued. “We were asked by the American Bureau to loan some of our best Curse-breakers. Their own resources are getting stretched thin.”
Draco’s stomach did flip then. Best .
“Your Auror will be there in case an apprehension needs to be made during your investigations. Now…” Ellingsworth paused the way she often did when she was about to drop the other shoe on an assignment. “Hands up, please, how many of you have traveled to North America previously.”
Two Auror hands went up, and one Curse-breaker.
“Right,” Ellingsworth said. “Martinez and Harper, you’ll be partnered. We’ll discuss Apparition for the two of you. The rest of you will be expected on flights to America and Canada in the morning. I trust each and every one of you remember that earning marks on your N.E.W.Ts in Muggle Studies was paramount for your positions.” Her eyes glowered over them all, and one of the Aurors was shifting uncomfortably.
Draco’s own stomach fell. He did earn a N.E.W.T in Muggle Studies, because it had been paramount for a position of dealing with Muggle populations. He hadn’t had to deal with Muggles until now, and he wracked his brain to even remember what a flight was supposed to mean in terms of Muggles. It wasn’t something he’d ever studied beyond the required courses in Hogwarts, and after the war he had, more or less, just hoped that he could skirt ever having to talk to anyone about blood purity ever again in his life.
Shame bloomed fresh in Draco’s gut and he pursed his lips tight together. He wondered now if he had been chosen less for his abilities, and more as a punishment. Wouldn’t it be a laugh, just absolutely drole, if we sent Malfoy of all people to slum about with Muggles? He was feeling less certain by the second. It was common knowledge that Ellingsworth was a… had been… her parents were… Draco’s brain shuttered through several different iterations of what he was trying to parse through, jerking to a halt before he finished a purist thought.
Ellingsworth was Muggleborn , Draco forced himself to think. And that was fine . (It was.)
Still, he was now starting to see why she had summoned him here.
“Young and Travis,” Ellingsworth began to read. A Curse-breaker with brown skin and sleek black hair popped up from her seat, as well as a barbarian of an Auror, twice the width as Draco in the shoulders. They greeted each other rather shyly before Ellingsworth handed them a file, and gestured for them to sit back down and start going over it together.
“Billings and Grant.”
“Tether and Harkins.”
Draco watched as the Curse-breakers began to pair off with their Aurors, and his eyes flickered over the remaining few. From his seat in the back row, he couldn’t gauge much about the rest of the Aurors, but he was hoping for what looked like a slight witch with pale blond hair in a high ponytail, if only because she seemed pleasant and eager to be there.
“Malfoy and Potter.”
It was some cruel, twisted joke spun up by Ellingsworth to punish him, Draco was certain now. He could barely hear the rest of the soft murmur of the others in the room with how hard his blood was now rushing in his ears. A dark, shaggy head turned to peer across the Curse-breakers in the room, and then craned a little further over his shoulder. Draco caught his eyes, and it felt like all the air had just been sucked right out of the room. This was a joke. A sick, cosmic joke. He couldn’t fathom what he had done (recently) to deserve such a bloody cruel fucking joke.
From the looks of it, Potter wasn’t particularly pleased either. He stood and headed down to the front of the amphitheater. Draco hesitated, his heart pounding obnoxiously in his chest until it began to hurt.
“Now , if you would please, Mr. Malfoy.” Ellingsworth didn’t sound particularly lenient, so Draco forced himself to rise on legs that felt as if he had lost his bones. He kept his chin high, which gave him a look of arrogance more than confidence, as he made his way down to the front.
“I trust there will be no issues with the arrangement?” Ellingsworth asked, her voice sharp. Potter shook his head, his expression surprisingly blank. He hadn’t grown in height since the last time Draco saw him, sitting for their N.E.W.Ts together in Defense Against the Dark Arts, after everything, after everything . But he had grown in width, broader in the shoulders than Draco remembered. They hadn’t spoken back then, and it seemed as if Potter was about to see if he could make it through this situation without speaking to him now, either.
Draco followed suit and shook his head.
“Good,” Ellingsworth said, handing the case notes to Potter and dismissing them with a wave of her hand. They both hesitated a fraction of a second, then Potter took the lead back towards the seats, dropping down in the front row. Draco sat in the seat to his left, feeling like he was thrown back in school and being forced into proximity with the one person that hated him more than anything on the planet.
To be fair, the feeling was mutual. Had been mutual. Might still be mutual.
Draco had known , logically, that he and Potter both worked for the Ministry and that someday they might, perchance, cross paths. He hadn’t really given much more thought than that to what he might do, or say, or not do, or not say. He couldn’t help but wonder if Potter had given him the same consideration, or if he had put him out of his mind the minute he could.
Weasley, didn’t he follow in Potter’s shadow like a puppy? Had he become an Auror, too? Weasley’s career choices weren’t reported in the dailies, so Draco couldn't be certain. He was only lucky that he was not having to deal with the inseparable duo again. And the third, Granger. Granger , Malfoy knew without a doubt, was in fact somewhere in the Ministry. She prided herself as having completely revamped the Muggle Liaison Division, and that had been all over the dailies for weeks after it’s implication.
Potter flipped open the case file, but before Draco could, awkwardly, try and peer over his shoulder, Ellingsworth had called the last of the teams and was clearing her throat to get their attention again. Draco looked up, grateful to focus on anything other than the man beside him who seemed to be radiating with something unpleasant.
“You’ll find your case notes, boarding passes, and suggested packing list in your files,” Ellingsworth said. “As well as instructions on where to go and who to speak to when you get to your destination. You’ll also find copies of the American Bureau’s field notes. Read through the notes carefully. Go home, pack, and I expect to hear you’ve all boarded your flights tomorrow.”
Before Draco could turn his gaze back to Potter, he was up and out of his seat, making a quick exit from the amphitheater-- taking the whole of the case file, along with any information Draco might need, with him.
Hekate hooted in annoyance when Draco stepped from his fireplace into his quiet, London flat- the Wizard’s ward, thank you, just north of the entrance to Diagon Alley. His massive, Great Grey owl fluttered her wings in irritation on her roost, and it didn’t take but one sweep of the eyes around his sitting room to notice the white-faced barn owl sitting on his coffee table, looking quiet and dignified.
“Who let you in?” Draco muttered, irritated. It didn’t much matter, did it? If there had been ill-intent with the owl, it wouldn’t have gotten passed his wards with its wings still attached. The creature cooed lazily and stuck out its foot, to which a rather fat looking envelope was attached. Draco went quickly to unburden the owl, carefully undoing the twine and tipping the envelope over into one hand.
It was his copy of the case notes, rolled up and stuffed into a new envelope, along with his boarding pass that had his name and the time of his Muggle flight. There was more, too, and it spilled out of his hand and onto the coffee table. There was a hard plastic card with his Ministry ID picture, but it wasn’t moving like normal. It had his name, his weight , his height, and other identifying information that felt all too invasive to be plastered about on a card.
There was also a Muggle passport, which, again, had more information than Draco felt strictly comfortable just passing out to strangers in the world.
There was no note from Potter, but Draco assumed that the owl belonged to him. The owl peered at him somewhat expectantly, though Draco wasn’t sure what for. Hekate made an angry noise from her perch. She hated visitors, and pretty much every other living creature other than Draco. (He secretly like that quite a bit.)
He stood and went to open his window. “Go on, then,” he encouraged. The barn owl narrowed its already slit eyes and ruffled its wings before it took off with one great sweep of its wings, narrowly clipping Draco as it swept out of his flat and into the evening sky.
Shutting the window, Draco went to pamper Hekate, giving her a treat and rubbing his fingers through her feathers until she forgave him for even so much as looking at their earlier intruder. Then, he settled on his couch and looked over the documents and field notes that Potter had sent over. He found, folded up awkwardly underneath some of the more important bits, a sloppily written guide on getting to the Muggle airport, and how to get onto the plane. It certainly didn’t look like Ellingsworth’s handwriting. He wondered if she’d gotten herself a new assistant. If so, she really ought to complain.
He set it aside for the case notes, which were much more interesting. Curse-breakers in America organized everything differently, but all the same, he was able to understand this. This was his element. And even if Ellingsworth had chosen him to go to America as a punishment, he wasn’t about to let that stop him from doing what he was, quite frankly, excellent at. Even if he had Potter breathing down his neck the entire time, waiting for him to slip up and do something… evil, or whatever it is people thought he was up to, these days.
With a crack of magic, Dandelion appeared at the edge of the sofa, her big, elf ears bobbing as she rocked back and forth on her feet. The house elf beamed and wrung her hands in the bright yellow smock he’d had fashioned for her. Draco couldn’t help appreciating the anticipation of his needs.
“Mr. Malfoy will be wanting to eat dinner soon?” Dandelion asked, swaying on her toes, then back down again to the flats to her feet. Draco didn’t feel much like eating, but he knew he was going to have to.
“Something light, please,” he said absently, glancing up from the field notes. Dandelion looked at him like he was the sun, and he had a bit of a preen over it.
“Tilapia is pleasing to Mr. Malfoy?”
It did sound good. “Thank you,” Draco confirmed, and Dandelion disappeared again with another crack. His flat wasn’t particularly large. It was… big, but more modest than the Manor had ever been. There was two bedrooms, an office, the sitting room, the kitchen, and a loft over the main foyer that mostly sat unused. He imagined that Dandelion had taken it for her own and made a little nook up there with trinkets she found pleasing that had been brought back from Draco’s field assignments.
Speaking of… his attention zeroed back down onto the papers in his hands now.
Date : 05/22/2002
Location : Hurricane, WV
Lead Investigator : █████ ████
The information that was redacted was done the old fashioned way, which meant even a sneaky tap of Draco’s wand wouldn’t reveal what the Americans felt was too much information.
Initial investigation of H found subject ████ ███████ (female, 26, Muggle) inflicted with Dark Magic resulting in compulsive need to remove own bottom-left rib. Present damage to subject was self-inflicted. Healer ████ called upon to assess damage. Damage included broken skin, object-wounds and bruising. No rib removal present upon arrival of Healer ████. Curse-Breaker ████ reported that upon attempts to restore subject to un-cursed state, subject would beg for lower left rib to be removed. Three (3) counter-curse attempts were made before successful removal. Subject was Obliviated.
The field notes went on like that- pages of them, some longer and more involved, others one or two sentences detailing the personnel present, the nature of the curse, and what happened after. The more gruesome ones put Draco off his tilapia when Dandelion brought it out for him to eat at the sofa rather than the dinner table. Some of the descriptions sent his skin tingling, the scars across his chest a reminder of what these curses could do, what magic could ruin, and what it couldn’t fix.
He had an urge to sent Hekate off with a note to Potter. What the fuck??? He imagined writing. It wasn’t his fault that any serious Curse-breaking had been all but off limits to him for the past year and some change. This was his first real shot at proving his worth and it was already proving to be nauseating. Some of the longer field notes made him dizzy with the amount of detail, as if the writer had been under his own curse to fill every line on the parchment with enough detail to leave the backs of Draco’s eyes stinging.
By the time Draco decided he was done for the night, his head was reeling. When he set aside the field notes, the rest of the package came back into focus, strewn across his coffee table. He had to pack, and he had to figure out how to get to Heathrow, and he had to figure out how to even get on a Muggle flight. Draco rarely felt out of his depth in this job, if only because Ellingsworth was determined to keep him on dry land.
Dragging himself to his feet, Draco gathered up the rest of the notes, including the scribbled instructions on how to get to the airport , and headed through the flat to his bedroom. It was going to be a long night, he supposed, and he didn’t plan on getting much sleep to begin with. He could only hope that he and Potter didn’t kill one another before they got to America.
Airports? Airports. Bad. Draco’s sleep-addled brain couldn’t manage much more than that as he weaved uncomfortably through Muggles who seemed even more serious about personal space than wizards were. The scribbled directions were hard to read under the best of circumstances, and felt almost impossible to parse while he was trying to navigate an airport . To Draco’s knowledge, and airport was simply a large building where Muggles went to torture themselves because they hadn’t figured out a more efficient system of traveling long distances.
There were so many signs that pointed exactly nowhere. Draco considered himself intelligent. In fact, he was certain that he was above average intelligence. And yet, a Muggle airport was proving to be even more challenging than the fourth-year hedge maze. Even thinking about it, even in such vague terms, causes a twinge of displeasure at his temples.
Draco managed to work out where to go with his luggage- charmed, of course, so that any Muggle looking at it would find it to be perfectly average. His scribbled note had said the Muggle workers would peek inside his baggage while he went through security, which Draco found a touch obscene. Still, he took it to the Muggles behind the counter, and stood in awe at how slow and inefficient this whole ordeal was. When he finally had his baggage checked, a line at his security gate had formed, and was moving at a crawl.
The morning’s anxiety was starting to slow it’s simmer in his stomach, if only because the entire ordeal was turning out to be more mundane and boring than Draco could have possibly imagined. He had his little plastic card with his non-moving face and all of his far-too-invasive information, as well as the little paper boarding pass with all sorts of letters and numbers that Draco couldn’t possibly hope to parse. The scribbled note had said that he had to find the terminal (which he had already done) and the gate , which on his pass said 34.
The wand was a tricky business. The note had said to cast the same glamour over it, and not touch it until he’d gone through security. It was shoved into the leg of his boot now, just sitting hidden underneath his trousers. When Draco got to the front of the line, he fumbled quite stupidly handing over his boarding pass and the falsified identification card. The tired Muggle working his side of the line didn’t even glance twice, and waved him through.
There was more , because on the other side of the line there were… Draco could only picture them as gateways. They looked like metal and plastic door frames that were stood side by side, with lines of people waiting to go through them. Down at the end, one beeped loudly, and the Muggle trying to shuffle through stepped back and dug in his pockets before dropping a clatter of Muggle coins in a basket, sat on another machine that toted bags and purses and shoes and jackets through a metal maw and out the other side.
No , Draco thought desperately. This is far too much. I’m backing out . I’ll go back. Sod my luggage. Ellingsworth is trying to kill me.
A hand touched him plainly between the shoulder blades. The touch was so unfamiliar that it took all of Draco’s muscle control not to jump out of his skin. It was brief, this touch, only long enough to gather his attention to the man sidling up to his left. Potter looked far more at ease and put together than Draco could ever hope to have managed. He had some kind of bag strapped to his back, with more comfortable Muggle clothing than Draco had thought to wear. It took Draco a moment to really comprehend that Potter was there, standing by him, looking less furious than he had the night before at the assignment briefing.
“Just follow my lead,” Potter said, not really looking at him when he spoke. His voice wasn’t filled with camaraderie, either. It was a bit flat. For his part, Draco felt his stomach turn watery in relief.
Draco wondered if half-bloods and Muggleborns just learned this kind of information by osmosis, or if Potter had taken his share of Muggle flights. Where would he go? Everyone and their grandmother knew about the horrific Muggles that Potter had grown up with. It was practically the new hero’s journey, told to little witches and wizards at night to get them to go to sleep. Still, Potter seemed to know exactly what he was doing, putting his things onto the conveyor belt, emptying his pockets of Muggle money.
Draco felt foolish, but he followed Potter’s lead just as he’d instructed. He was vibrantly aware of eyes on him. Or perhaps he was simply imagining it. He felt as if every single Muggle in the place could tell that he was not one of them, that he was an outsider trying to figure out their customs. When it got to be his turn to pass through the upright door frames, Draco drew up short and hesitated. The Muggle man on the other side, looking tired, waved him through with increasing impatience while Potter looked on, having already crossed, looking…
What was the look on his face? Smug seemed wrong, but perhaps something close to the enjoyment of seeing Draco debasing himself among the Muggles.
Passing the metal gateways was harmless. In fact, nothing even beeped. He gathered up his things on the other side and felt brightly accomplished.
Potter didn’t tell him to follow, but Draco did all the same, forcing himself not to feel a rush of shame at falling a step or two behind him. This wasn’t his father’s world, not anymore. He had no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed for not following archaic, pureblood customs. Potter still wasn’t looking at him, which suited Draco just fine. This whole ordeal felt like it was going to be endless in the first place. He would rather not bite each other’s heads off before they even got on the… what was the Muggle word for it?
Ah, right. Plane . And as they weaved through the long, wide halls, Draco could see them out of the floor to ceiling windows that peered out onto the tarmac. With no frame of reference, Draco almost skidded to a halt looking out the windows. The planes were enormous, metal contraptions that took up more space than any single thing that wasn’t estate ought to do. Further out, Draco could see some of them rolling across the asphalt, looking as if they were narrowly avoiding clipping one another with their wing spans.
Those things fly? Those are flights? Draco felt the words getting ready on his tongue, but the terminal was so crowded with Muggles that Draco didn’t want to risk drawing eyes on them. And, if he were being truthful, he didn’t feel like striking up a conversation with Potter, either. Potter wasn’t talking, and that suited Draco just fine for the time being.
Their gate was all the way at the end of one of the long, window-lined halls. They found seats facing the tarmac, and when they sat, Draco allowed there to be three seats between them. There was a flat, black box hanging on the wall with information that was already printed on their boarding pass: LHR to CLT 9:03. Boarding 8:40. Draco wasn’t stupid enough to pull out his wand to check the current time, and there weren’t any clocks hanging about.
“You’ll have to say something to me at some point, you know.”
Those were the most words Draco had heard Potter say all at once in years, and they immediately stroke a fire of irritation in his chest. He wasn’t not saying anything.
“You weren’t talking either,” Draco said, his voice practiced and cool. “In fact, I think I remember one of us stormed out of the amphitheatre in a strop and I don’t believe it was me.”
He glanced from underneath his lashes, peering sidelong at Potter to catch his expression. He was looking at him with that same expression that seemed so complicated to Draco. Was he making fun of him? Draco couldn’t tell, and that put him on edge. He ground his molars together, forcing himself to stare straight out the windows.
“I didn’t even know you were working at the Ministry,” Potter said. “So imagine my surprise when I’m told I’m being shipped off to who-knows-where and it’s with you .” His voice sounded different then, and Draco’s jaw twitched, almost turning to look at him and just barely resisting the urge. “Come on,” Potter said, in a tone that sounded like goading. “Were you pleased?”
No, but that wasn’t the point. Draco hadn’t thrown a tantrum. Not that he had been raised better than tantrums. To be fair, he might have done, if Potter had struck around long enough to find out.
“It’s me ,” Draco repeated instead, mocking Potter’s intonation with a drawl.
“Come off it,” Potter said with a snort. “You’re not insulted.”
...No, but that wasn’t the point .
Finally, Draco turned his head to look at him, and found Potter staring right back. His expression behind his glasses was calm, maybe amused. Draco still couldn’t suss out what it was about Potter’s face that made him feel as if he was being gently mocked. The three seats of space between them seemed excessive now, but Draco wasn’t about to be the one to move. So they sat, at an impasse, staring at one another in an increasingly uncomfortable silence.
“How did you land a job at the Ministry, anyway?” Potter asked, sitting forward in his seat a tad so he could rest his elbows on his knees. The motion was so relaxed that Draco found himself envious.
“I paid a lot of money,” Draco answered, because it was true, and because he didn’t feel like flagellating himself in front of Potter. It was the answer that he would have expected, anyway, and Draco was unsurprised to see the tension in his expression change. Potter’s face shuttered closed, and whatever amusement that he’d found in the situation was immediately brushed away.
“Right,” Potter said, voice flat. “Of course you did.”
I also sat through my N.E.W.Ts like everyone else , Draco thought, quite bitterly.
The conversation dropped off, after that. Draco preferred the silence, so he didn’t bother to try striking it up again. Potter didn’t seem keen, either, and so they sat with their three chairs between them, each staring out over the tarmac and waiting for the Muggle announcer to tell them it was time to start boarding.
When it was time, Draco’s brain caught up with where he was, and what he was about to do. He had to get inside one of those metal contraptions rumbling across the asphalt outside. He couldn’t quite comprehend the thing getting off the ground without magic. Getting onto the plane involved another long hall, though this one was warm and cramped. Draco shuffled, awkwardly, just behind Potter as they were shuttled like cattle. The end of the hall opened up flush with the door of one of the planes, roaring hot air. A young Muggle woman stood just inside the doorway, smiling and waving them into the plane.
It was small . Well, no. The whole contraption was big enough, but inside Draco felt the need to duck his head just a tad as he shuffled awkwardly down the middle aisle, rows and rows and rows of seats on either side of him, and then one more on the left-most side. The seats went nearly all the way to the back end of the space. The first few rows were much roomier, and Draco’s stomach sank the further Potter lead them back into the plane towards their own seats. Each row seemed to get smaller and more cramped than the last.
Finally, Potter stopped by a row pretty far back, though there were still ten or so rows to go behind them before the seats ended. He said nothing as he swung his bag off his back and lifted it up into a compartment that opened up over the seats. Draco, having brought nothing on board with him, simply slipped into the middle seat while Potter took the window. That was fine with Draco, if only because he was certain his stomach might drop out of his arse.
Flying, fine. Brooms? Absolutely in his element. But this? This ? The seat was too small, and there wasn’t nearly enough room for his legs. They kept bumping up against the seat in front of him, and his arms felt too long and his shoulders too wide. He pressed his hands awkwardly in his lap and squeezed his elbows against his ribs. Potter, when Draco glanced, looked blessed with the same ease as he had in the terminal. His long limbs seemed to fold up just the way necessary to make sitting in these seats halfway bearable.
Both of them were incredibly careful not to touch.
As the plane filled up, the Muggle attendants kept walking up and down the aisle, checking the overhead compartments. On Draco’s other side, a small Muggle woman, perhaps their age, had settled in with little wires connected to her ears, which connected to a little white rectangle in her lap. For all the things that Muggles did without when it came to magic, Draco was, frankly, floored by the amount of things they had.
Several Muggle attendants stood in various intervals down the aisles of seats as the plane shuddered and rolled its way away from the little loading dock. Draco tried to pay attention, but his blood was rushing so hard in his ears that all he could focus on was keeping his vision from going tunnelled. He was brave . He wasn’t bothered by things. He’d wished he’d maybe studied a little harder about Muggle transportation, because the only thing he could focus on was this behemoth metal creature being unable to lift itself into the air, or perhaps growing too heavy somewhere over the water.
Potter was fine, which was annoying, but not enough for Draco to focus on it.
When the plane rolled itself for a while, there was a heavy rushing noise as it began to pick up speed, now in a straight line. The momentum made Draco feel as if he had left his stomach several hundred metres back on the asphalt. When the whole nose of the plane tipped up, Draco gave into instinct and slammed his eyes shut, breathing embarrassingly deep through his nose. He couldn’t imagine what Potter was thinking, how much fun Ellingsworth had imagining him in this exact scenario.
Potter’s voice was quiet and close, right by his shoulder. Draco peeled open his eyes, his stomach and head not quite in sync anymore as he felt the weight of the ground drop away from beneath his feet. He looked, and Potter was leaned back away from the little oval window, and below, London was spreading out, smaller and smaller, the buildings and trees and roads looking like miniatures.
It made him dizzy, and Draco closed his eyes again, instead.
“I don’t like that,” Draco said, stupidly.
“Not quite like our flying,” Potter agreed.
Draco made a noise in the back of his throat, and leaned his head back against the seat. The knots of his braid pressed against his skin. It seemed every aspect of this was designed to be as uncomfortable as possible. He kept his eyes shut and tried very hard not to think about the miniature London just below his feet, or what the ocean might look like when he would, inevitably, look out the window again.
Nine hours. Nine .
Though he stood up all of three times to use the rickety, shaky, terrible, awful loo in the back of the plane, Draco still felt as if he’d run the entire length of Hogwarts’ grounds by the time the plane touched back down to the tarmac at CLT (which, Draco learned once the pilot announced over a little electronic intercom, stood for Charles Douglas International Airport).
After just taking off, Potter had spoken to him exactly twice. Once, it was tell him to budge up so he could go use the loo. The second was to ask Draco if he knew the name of their contact once they got to the other side. (Draco did; his name was Gregory Yeltz.) Even as exhausted as he had been getting on the plane, Draco hadn’t slept a single wink. The pitching and churning of the plane in the air had made him almost nauseous.
Though they’d left at nine in the morning, and the flight had been nine grueling hours , it was only one in the afternoon when they landed in Charlotte, North Carolina. Getting off the plane was more of an ordeal than getting on, because all of the Muggles stood up as soon as the plane had pulled into the gate, which effectively caused the whole aisle to get backed up. Draco took back all his earlier marveling at the Muggles’ ability to create the flying machine in the first place, seeing as they couldn’t form an orderly queue to save their lives.
When, finally almost twenty minutes later, they shuffled off the plane with the rest of the Muggles who had been sitting far back, it was into another little hall connected to the door of the plane. Between the edges, Draco could feel heat , and see flashes of bright sunlight. His brain felt sluggish. The furthest Draco had ever gone on a holiday was Paris, and the time change wasn’t as dramatic as this. The length of the flight had been exhaustive, but it was still the middle of the day in America.
They weaved through more Muggles, the American ones largely less concerned about personal space. Draco would be happy when he was back at home in his quiet, empty flat, taking an entire week off work after having been forced to brush shoulders with so many strangers. At the very least, Potter seemed just as annoyed about this as he was, and they even exchanged one annoyed glance when a woman barged her way between them walking in the opposite direction. They would have to collect their luggage from some other part of the airport, and while Draco would have been clueless on his own, Potter’s half-blood, Muggle-like instincts seemed to pull them right where they needed to go.
There was lots of standing about in an airport. There was standing about to get into the damn place, and then more standing about to get on the plane, then standing about inside the plane, and now there was standing about waiting for the holes in the wall and the looping conveyor belt to spit out their luggage. Draco’s wand hand itched. He could accio the damn thing and be out of here in minutes.
Potter seemed used to standing. His luggage came out first, and Draco felt quite stupid indeed to be standing waiting for his to come around.
“Do you know where we’re supposed to be meeting Yeltz?” Draco asked, following after Potter through the crowds of Muggles.
“Yeah, he should be-- oh, there.”
As they came out of the terminal, a short, squat man with dark hair and a sweaty face was holding a little sign with POTTER printed across the front. Draco did his best to stamp down any annoyance. He was here, too. In fact, he was imperative to helping out the American Bureau of Magic. Potter was an Auror, he probably couldn’t break some of the most common curses. It wasn’t his forte. Draco, on the other hand. It was his art .
The sweaty little man got all red in the face as they approached, nearly dropping his sign. “Mr. Potter,” he said, in a voice that had the strangest, rolling accent that Draco had ever heard. It was almost impossible to understand him with the way he drew out every single vowel. “Well, if we aren’t pleased as peaches to see you here.”
Oh no , Draco thought.
“Er, likewise. Yeltz, is it?”
“Yes, sir,” Yeltz said, gesturing for them to follow. Draco fell just behind them on Potter’s left, while Yeltz practically bounced with each step on Potter’s right. He hadn’t been addressed.
“We’ve got y’all all set up,” Yeltz said brightly. “Got the best stuff, I’ll tell ya. Y’all know how to operate a Muggle car?”
Draco wished he wouldn’t say that so loudly. They were moving through an open atrium now, towards a small office door that none of the Muggles seemed to notice. Yeltz let them in, and inside there was a cozy little space with a few desks, and, thankfully, another few wizards working at them.
“Sorry, don’t mind all the mess,” Yeltz said, rubbing his hands together. “Temporary space, set ‘er on up on account of all y’all comin’ through here.”
Draco hadn’t seen any of the other Curse-breakers or Aurors. He wondered if the Bureau had requested more than just his group that Ellingsworth had sent over.
“It’s fine,” Potter said, in a voice that seemed to convey that it was, actually, fine.
“Kind of ya, Mr. Potter,” Yeltz said, dropping the sign on one of the desks. Potter’s name drew the attention of the two wizards working at the desks in the room, their eyes tracking them. “And this your Curse-breaker, here? I don’t believe I caught your name.”
Draco hadn’t given it to him, but now his stomach was sinking again the way it often did when he had to announce himself to another wizard. Clearing his throat, Draco nodded shortly. “Draco Malfoy,” he said.
“Well, Mr. Malfoy, it’s a right pleasure,” Yeltz said, reaching his hand out. Draco shook it, a little confused. It only occurred to him after Yeltz had dropped his hand that his surname didn’t carry much, or any, of the same weight that it did back home. It was fully possibly that Yeltz had never heard of him. Potter, sure. Every witch and Wizard their age or older knew his name. That was sensible. But who knew the minutiae of names involved in a war that didn’t even happen on your continent?
For the first time in Draco’s life, he felt the soothing balm of anonymity.
Almost giddy, Draco barely caught Yeltz laying out what he had for them. He was pulling out keys from a box on top of his desk, and a folded paper-- a map, Draco realized belatedly. Yeltz set two… boxes? Plastic boxes? Not really boxes, because they seemed to be devices. Rectangles with plastic and a screen, maybe. He also had stacks of Muggle money, the paper kind. It didn’t look anything like the British Muggle money, either.
“So, we mapped everything out for you on here,” Yeltz said, opening the map. “Don’t you worry none, this baby is charmed to let you know if you’re goin’ off path. Figured it couldn’t hurt none, long as no Muggles get a hold of it. Course, woulda done the same to the car, but… well, best not risk it.”
Yeltz spoke so fast and slurred, dropping ends of letters and drawing out vowels that it was almost impossible for Draco to follow him. Thankfully, Potter was looking like he was having the same amount of trouble. Or, maybe not so much. It wouldn’t do if neither of them knew what they were supposed to be doing from here.
“Right,” Potter said, nodding. Liar .
“So, we got your path all set up here,” Yeltz said, spreading open the map to show them. Draco stepped closer, leaning just over Potter’s shoulder to see better. The map had bright red lines detailing where they were to be going. There were fat, red dots marking towns and cities that now sounded familiar from the case files that Draco had read. Exhausted as he was, Draco couldn’t quite stop his brain in time before it began conjuring up some of the more explicit field notes that the American Curse-breakers had written up.
“First town is about two hours north of here,” Yeltz said, tapping a spot on the map. “What we got here is to have y’all go on and go back through places our Curse-breakers already been through. We got a lot of these incidents cropping up, and not enough bodies to go back through and figure out who’s causin’ a racket. Might not be the most exciting thing, what with all the work been done. But fresh eyes, now, can’t deny the value of that. Y’all said one of you could drive?”
“I can,” Potter answered.
Draco couldn’t possibly imagine how or when, but then again, there had been several long years that he and Potter hadn’t even so much as laid eyes on one another. Maybe Potter had picked up some particularly useful Muggle skills during his summers away from Hogwarts, or maybe even after the war. Draco, for his part, had not . Muggle life was completely beyond him. He knew what a car was, of course. Living in London was just about impossible without having to cross into the Muggle wards and dodge those monstrosities trying to cross the road.
They had to drive one, apparently.
“Why can’t we floo?” Draco asked, frowning. “We came all the way here on a Muggle… thing.”
“Airplane,” Potter supplied.
“Airplane. What’s the point of Muggle transportation? You’ve got brooms in America, don’t you?”
Yeltz’s face got all pink in the cheeks and he looked even sweatier.
“Surely we do, Mr. Malfoy,” Yeltz said, and Draco could tell that the color and the sweat was from being insulted, rather than intimidated. “But we got someone out there cursing left and right in Muggle communities. Ain’t doing anyone any good if we have you scootin’ about on your brooms. All this is outside of the Floo Network, I’m afraid.”
Draco’s expression tightened, one lip curling up. “I trust we’re allowed to have our wands .”
Yeltz’s face looked like it was about to balloon up and off his neck. Potter shot Draco a look and shouldered himself in between them both.
“Don’t mind him,” Potter said. “It was his first time on a plane. He’s crabby.”
Yeltz didn’t seem all that soothed, but perhaps it was the novelty of the bloody Savior of their World standing right in his office, just another body to boss around, that brought his attention away from Draco. Yeltz’s face stayed red and damp as he began to fold the map back up. “Well, alright then. These here are some useful Muggle technology,” Yeltz continued as he pointed to the two little rectangles with screens. One was grey, and the other was a garish pink.
“Right, phones,” Potter said, easily. “I know how to use them.”
Yeltz’s eyes flickered to Draco. “How about you, Mr. Malfoy?”
“I’ll learn,” Draco said dully.
That seemed good enough for Yeltz, because he didn’t address Draco for the rest of the briefing. Back home, Draco had assumed that people disliked him more for the infamy of his name more than anything. Now, though, he was starting to see that he had gotten… a bit out of touch with other people. He didn’t have to speak to the Wizard he shared his office with, so he never did. He had a few conversations with the people he helped out in the field, but barely. All he had to do was go in, do his work, and leave.
And there were no friends in his life, not really. He had some correspondence with Zabini, but not much, and only by owl. Parkinson was married and having a most fabulous time being rich and pureblood in France. So, maybe he had lost his touch with people. Not that he had ever been particularly charming, but he had at least known how not to make others balloon up with indignation (if that hadn’t been his goal to begin with).
Now, though… Draco felt something deeply uncomfortable begin to unfurl in his chest. He followed after Potter and Yeltz, leaving the little office with their map and their keys and their Muggle phones. Back out into the atrium, where the afternoon sun was still high up in the sky, visible through the high windows. Yeltz lead them back through the airport, dodging hurrying and irritated Muggles. When they emerged outside, it was in some kind of concrete structure, filled with evenly spaced, quiet Muggle cars. Yeltz lead them through the rows, towards the very end, where a black car was parked. It was quite big, with four doors and a fifth in the back that looked as if it opened upwards.
“You should make it to the first spot alright,” Yeltz said, his disposition sunnier now. Draco wondered if it was because he was about to be rid of him for the foreseeable future. They put their bags in the back (“the boot,” Yeltz called it) and then, finally, they were free to leave. Draco got in the passenger side door, having to fold himself up a little as he climbed in. The seat was pulled forward a little too far, and his knees brushed up against the dashboard.
Potter didn’t seem as squished, but then he had considerable less leg. Despite having traded his Muggle world for the Wizarding one, Potter seemed far more comfortable than Draco thought he had the right to. He was navigating every new situation that left Draco’s head reeling with enviable ease. Draco wanted to shout at him to look a little confused, please, for his own dignity. Draco watched as Potter stuck the key into a slot, and twisted it.
The car roared to life, but Draco was expecting that, at the very least. His seat rumbled under his legs, and he leaned heavily against the back, blinking stupidly out the front window. To his credit, Potter did seem to know what he was doing as he backed the thing out of the spot it had been parked in, and managed to get them going front-ways again. It was quiet in the car, despite the dissonant sound of the engine.
Alone, more or less, for the first time… ever.
No, that wasn’t quite true, was it? Draco’s mind flashed, stupidly, back to their youth. They were alone in the train carriage when Draco had slammed his foot into Potter’s face. They were alone in the bathroom when Potter had… Draco’s mind jerked to a stop, his skin prickling uncomfortably beneath his shirt. As the car moved, it moved in fits and starts, Potter seeming to know exactly what to do as he pulled out into a sea of other cars on the road. The motion made Draco nauseous, and he found himself clenching his fingers tightly around the edge of his seat.
It was worse than the plane. What was wrong with Muggles that they kept inventing metal contraptions for transportation and making them the worst experience known to man, magical or otherwise? His stomach twisted unpleasantly every time the car went vaulting forward, and then slowing to a quick and shuddering stop.
“Where did you learn to operate this thing?” Draco found himself asking, if only to find something to focus his attention on other than how exhausted and ill he felt.
“Hermione,” Potter said. “Never got around to it before.”
“Why’s that?” Draco pressed. Potter, who had spread the map out over the dashboard in front of them, took a turn when it asked, quite pleasantly, if they would please take the next right. The motion made Draco’s stomach lurch, and he felt all the more miserable.
“Oh, you know,” Potter said, voice honey-dipped in sarcasm. “There had been a war on, and all.”
Draco lurched a little as the car rolled to another stop. He closed his eyes, not able to handle the cars and buildings sweeping by. It was nothing like taking the train, with it’s set track and it’s familiar scenery. Even the sway of the train had become familiar over the years. Draco couldn’t tell if this was just how Muggle transportation was, or if Potter was just a particularly bad driver.
“Come off it, I beg of you,” Draco said, sounding pitiful to his own ears. “I feel like I might actually hurl.”
There was a beat of silence, in which Draco was certain Potter was glancing at him to see if he was being sincere. Then, he said, “Don’t throw up in the car.”
Draco didn’t throw up in the car, but it was a near thing.
Eventually, the lurching of the vehicle came to an end, once they left the city of Charlotte, exchanging the maze of buildings and webbing of streets for trees and trees and more trees. The roads rose and fell in a way that left Draco’s stomach floating in his torso, but for the most part it was more manageable than city driving had been. He took to look at the map instead, charmed to tell them whether or not they were going the right direction. When he tapped the names of the cities and towns, the map showed little miniature layouts, and Draco filled the first hour of the drive with that.
The air between Potter and himself was mostly silent.
The first marked town on the map wasn’t exactly a town. Laurel Fork was just a little smattering of buildings, more like, located along the highway. It wasn’t even in North Carolina, as far as Draco could tell. According to the map, they would drive right across a state line into Virginia to get to it. As he tapped the map with his wand to show a miniature of the town, the state of the town didn’t look promising.
“Where are the field notes?” Draco asked, peeking over his shoulder into the back seat of the car where Potter had tossed his backpack. He reached behind and pulled it into the front seat, wedging it down between his feet.
“Front pouch,” Potter replied, glancing over at him. “Why?”
Draco dug them out, flipped through the papers until he found the one labeled Laurel Fork, VA . “Brushing up,” Draco answered. He pushed the map back up onto the dashboard and lay the field notes out across his lap. He could feel Potter’s eyes flickering away from the road and across the cab of the car.
Date : 03/20/2002
Location : Laurel Fork, VA
Lead Investigator : ███ ███████
Muggle family reported in LF to be cursed with complex DM. Family found in farm house 3 minutes outside of LF. Investigators ███████ and █████ found subject ██████ (Muggle, female, 34) to be suffering from curse-induced paranoia. Subject ██████ (Muggle, male, 37) found deceased at the scene. Deceased subject found with larynx removed in kitchen. Subject ███ (Muggle, male, 13) locked inside downstairs bathroom. ███ seemed alarmed but not under influence of curse. Subject ████████ (Muggle, female, 19) found with quarts of blood on hands and clothes in upstairs left hand bedroom. Blood was not her own. ████████ found to be under same curse induced paranoia as ███████. Curse-breaker █████ attempted one (1) anti-curse on subject ██████. Attempt only exacerbated paranoia. Auror ███ extracted subject ███ out of the home, and subject was taken to Augustine’s Hospital of Magical Maladies for memory modification.
Subject ████████ became hostile after Curse-breaker █████ attempted counter-curse. Auror ███ cast Stupify to stop attempt at physical attack with a kitchen knife. Knife was wet with same blood, suspect to be from deceased subject with removed larynx. Subject ████████ was removed and taken to Augustine’s Hospital of Magical Maladies. Final subject ██████ successfully counter-cursed by Curse-breaker █████ after two (2) attempts. Subject was moved to Augustine’s for memory modification. Crew called in to extract deceased subject.
“This might be easier to parse if Americans allowed any pertinent information through,” Draco said, looking up from the field notes. “Who are we supposed to talk to that was actually there if there’s not a single name in this report?” He half wished that they would have blocked out the unnerving imagery for a Muggle with a removed larynx.
“Gruesome, these curses, aren’t they?” Draco said, more to himself than Potter. The sun was inching through the sky, getting fatter and heavier, and it came hot through the window. Potter had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, and the sun fell through the window across them, putting them in danger of making them browner than the rest of his skin.
“Yes,” Potter answered, his voice strange and hard.
Annoyed, Draco tried his best to ignore the sudden mood swing. Fine , it was fine that Potter still held onto grudges from the war. The fact that Draco couldn’t figure out what he was doing or saying that caused Potter to go from polite to cold didn’t matter either. They were stuck together, and they would have to just get their job done as quickly as Muggle transportation allowed so that they could go home and resume their previous lives of never running into each other. He folded open the map again, following the little red line from Laurel Fork to the next town: Roanoke.
He was just flipping through the field notes to find Roanoke when Potter made a frustrated little noise in the back of his throat. “I don’t understand,” Potter said, finally.
God . Draco paused, lifting his gaze. This wasn’t fair. He was trapped in a metal machine that’s only purpose seemed to be to make his stomach flip over itself. He had no escape from whatever was about to come pouring out of Potter’s mouth.
“What don’t you understand?” Draco asked, irritated that he had to play along with whatever game Potter had devised in his head to torture him for the remaining hour of this drive.
“You,” Potter said.
Oh for the love of Merlin.
“I’m not interested in making myself palatable,” Draco said, sharply. “I don’t think it much matters what you do and don’t understand about me.”
There was a beat of silence. Then, “The last time I saw you, I think you would have rather cursed yourself than get on a Muggle plane. Or in a Muggle car. Or sign up to go investigating entirely Muggle communities.”
“Well, I didn’t sign up,” Draco said, teeth gritted. “And this is my job. Which, I might add, I’m incredibly skilled and talented at. Do you think Ellingsworth just sent me along for a laugh?” (She might have done, but Draco wasn’t going to let Potter know that.) “The last time you saw me, mind, was when we were seventeen. Did you imagine I might still be? Or why don’t we be honest: you didn’t think of me at all, and I didn’t think of you, and now we’re stuck in this bloody Muggle car together for Merlin only knows how long. So, why don’t you continue not thinking about me, and I’ll continue not thinking about you, and in three months, or whatever, we can go back to Britain and keep not thinking about each other for the rest of our lives.”
Draco’s voice had raised past the appropriate level for such a small space, but once he’d finished speaking he felt a little mortified. He stared firmly down at the field notes in his lap, trying very hard to manually control the blood in his veins so that it didn’t all go rushing up to his face. For a quiet moment, it seemed as if Potter was about to let it drop.
If only Draco were to be so lucky.
“You really think you got the short end of the stick after the war, don’t you?”
No, Draco thought, irritated. He wasn’t going to dignify that with a response, so he just kept staring at the suddenly illegible words of Roanoke’s field notes. He couldn’t focus, what with the blood rushing so hard in his ears.
“Poor Malfoy,” Potter said, in a far more snide voice that Draco had thought him capable of. “You were just a kid, is that it? Is that the excuse you’re going to go with? You were seventeen, and so you just didn’t know that the things you were doing were reprehensible?”
“I had my day in court, Potter,” Draco said, voice stiff. “And if I recall, you were not called to testify against me.”
“I was, actually.”
Draco’s head snapped up, and he could feel his expression fumble messily through several emotions before he shuttered it closed. “You didn’t come,” Draco pointed out. He couldn’t decided if he felt angry or relieved. Did Potter not show up because he believed Draco innocent, or because he couldn’t be bothered to care what happened to him either way?
“No,” Potter agreed, his brows drawn tight over his eyes. His nose scrunched, putting his glasses a little off center. “I didn’t think I had to. I wanted to trust you’d get a fitting punishment for your part in the war.”
Draco’s fitting punishment had been a slap on the wrist, and confiscation of his wand for eight months. In comparison to some of the other Slytherins caught up in the war their parents had begun, it was practically a vacation. In comparison to his own parents, it had been nothing at all. Father was gone. He hadn’t repented, in the end. To the very last, he had dug in his heels and even when it was over, even when he could have lied, he held his chin proudly (Proud of what, Draco often had to wonder?) and accepted the Kiss with misplaced dignity only the Malfoys were capable of.
And mother… they didn’t speak. For her part, at the very end… Draco tried not to think too hard on what his mother had done for Potter, because if he did they would have to talk about it. Draco often wondered if Potter had gone to her trial and told them what she had done for him at that very last moment in the Forest. Did he speak at her trial or did he trust that she, too, would get a fitting punishment? The year-long confinement to the Manor without her wand had been fitting to Draco, who had to sit and watch his mother, young and beautiful, almost wither away without father.
“I don’t suppose you were pleased with my sentencing then,” Draco drawled.
Potter made a noise, kind of like choking on spit. “No,” he agreed. “I think they went easy on you because you were sixteen when you… When it all happened. And then…”
“And then I had him living in my home,” Draco said, his voice sounding dull even to his own ears. “Every wretched day after, in every single corner of my childhood home. The Wizengamot felt that was enough to prove that I acted under duress, coercion or threat of death .”
“Suppose it doesn’t matter if that’s true or not,does it?”
It felt quite like cold ice being thrown down his spine. He didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing. And what could he say, really, in the long run? He wasn’t about to tell Potter that he was a changed man or whatever. Not because it wasn’t true, to some extent, but because he was certain that it wouldn’t matter. Especially since Draco couldn’t even pinpoint what about him had changed, not really.
His mind still defaulted to his Pureblood upbringing. There was no point in pretending it didn’t.
“No,” Draco agreed. “It doesn’t. So, if you wouldn’t mind…” He lifted the field notes in his lap, giving them a little wave to show that he was otherwise preoccupied. Potter’s eyes darted away from the road for just a moment, before returning straight ahead.
“Which one are you reading?” Potter asked, seeming to only begrudgingly be allowing the topic of Draco’s war crimes to drop.
“Roanoke,” Draco answered, trying to stretch his legs out underneath the dash. There wasn’t much room for his limbs. “So far there seems to be a theme of removal . The bottom left rib, in Hurricane. The larynx in Laurel Fork. And…” Draco paused, eyes scanning over the three short paragraphs provided by the Roanoke investigative team. “Ah. Eyeballs, in Roanoke.”
Potter’s face scrunched up unpleasantly. “I noticed that,” he said. “I read through them last night.”
Last night felt like two nights ago to Draco, now. But he supposed that was the dregs of Ministry work. He hoped after they looked about the crime scene in Laurel Fork that they could immediately find some place to rest. He wouldn’t say no to being unconscious for the next twelve hours. “Before or after you realized you’d stormed out of the amphitheatre with my copies and had to send them to my flat by owl?”
“After,” Potter deadpanned.
“Gracious of you.” Draco traced the red line of the map with his finger, intending to follow from Roanoke to the next town, but just as he was, the map made a pleasant ringing noise.
‘Farmhouse three minutes outside Laurel Fork,’ the map singsonged. ‘ Arriving in ten minutes. ’
Draco wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to see what was left inside the farmhouse three minutes outside of Laurel Fork. The next ten minutes went by in silence, Potter carefully following the maps pleasant directions through the empty roads. When houses began appearing, they were run down and small, with cars few and far between parked at the ends of dirt drives. When they pulled up to the farmhouse in question, the map pinged happily, then went silent. Potter drove the car all the way up the dirt road, until it was parked unevenly just in front of the porch steps.
When the engine cut, the air was still and silent. Not even the late afternoon bugs felt welcome here. Draco opened the door and slid out of the car, his feet somewhat shaky underneath him. He could hear Potter on the other side, following his lead. There were magical wards around the house, most likely set up by the Bureau’s Curse-breakers in order to keep Muggles from wandering inside and destroying any evidence before they could come back and go over it. Draco made to lift his wand and remove the wards, but Potter had done so before he could even reach inside his trouser pocket.
Foolhardy as ever, Potter was the first to climb the steps of the porch. When Draco followed, he felt an unpleasant sensation crawl up and down his spine. Whatever curse had been cast here had done more than curse the residents. It felt as if it had taken root in the very floorboards, magic that nipped at his heels as he followed Potter from the creaking porch and through the front doors. Inside, the foyer held the same unpleasant energies. Draco couldn’t tell if he was especially attuned to curses from his line of work, or if Potter had an exceptional poker face.
Draco wanted to ask if he could feel it, but for the most part, Potter seemed unfazed by the house. It was making Draco dizzier than he already was from the flight and lack of sleep, and the regrettable feeling as if he had traveled backward in time. He sidled past Potter in the foyer, following the creaking hall further back into the rest of the house. The floor plan opened up into a small sitting room, opposite of which was a cramped doorway into the kitchen.
Draco turned the corner and regretted it almost immediately. His expression crumbled, and he looked away from the dried blood on the linoleum. “Looks like the Bureau didn’t bother to clean up in here,” Draco said over his shoulder. Potter had gone the opposite way off the hall, into the sitting room instead. At Draco’s words, Potter scoffed.
“Somehow, I’m not surprised,” he said. Draco stepped aside as much as he could in the doorway to the kitchen as Potter came up beside him, looking inside. “At least they got rid of the body.”
“Mm, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Draco drawled. Potter didn’t laugh.
Stepping out of the door frame, slithering as close to the wall as he could so that he didn’t brush by Potter too closely, Draco backtracked down the hall to the foyer. The stairs lead straight up to a loft, and then another hall way. Upstairs left-hand bedroom. Quarts of blood on her hands and clothes . Draco followed the stairs up. They were noisy under his feet, but the sound seemed to become swallowed by the residual magic that lingered from the curses.
At the top of the stairs, a railing looked down over the foyer, and a hallway lead back into the house. Draco could hear Potter’s footsteps below, heavy and plodding and almost reassuring. Draco drew his wand from his pocket, holding it loosely at his side as he followed the hall. He could see already there was only one bedroom on the left-hand side, at the very end of the corridor. The other two rooms on the right-hand side stood open, but untouched. They looked as if the Muggle family that had lived in this house had simply stepped out for the afternoon.
The left-hand bedroom door was closed. That didn’t bode well for the uncomfortable feeling in Draco’s stomach. He opened the door with a flick of his wand, rather than taking a chance on touching it with his skin. It swung open with a slow creak, the sound feeling to Draco as if it were being swallowed up by the left-over crackle of magic, just like the steps. Inside the room, blood was smeared in patches on the floor, the bed, the walls. Draco tried to imagine what had been going through the Muggle girl’s mind when she had been up here-- perhaps after finding her father in the kitchen, or perhaps after removing the larynx herself? His mind shuttered uncomfortably through several images before he forced himself to focus on the room itself. Other than the blood, it was just a girl’s room, though perhaps a touch rustic. A dress hung over the back of the vanity chair, as if she had been readying herself for the day before…
Draco turned anti-clockwise in the center of the room and found himself face to face with a mirror, hung up on what he supposed was a closet door. He looked dreadful . Wisps of white-blond hair were falling unattractively from the plaits of his braid, and his face looked paler than usual. He took a moment to stare, displeased, at the deepening bruises underneath his eyes. Looking at himself made him feel just about as dead on his feet as he looked.
Scowling, Draco stepped closer and nudged the closet door open with the toe of his boot, so as to hide the mirror between the back of the door and the wall beside it. It took him a solid moment before realizing what his eyes were seeing on the inside of the closet door, dripping fresh rather than dry and turning copper from age. Shock, that’s what it was, that feeling that turned the blood in Draco’s veins to ice. Shock, and maybe fear. For the longest time, Draco had come to enjoy a life without fear, but his body remembered it well.
His blood pumped noisily in his ears, causing a steady, thrumming twitch just below his jaw. When he tried to call for Potter to come up here, the only thing that exited his throat was a hoarse little whistle. When he tried again, his name came out proper and loud. Draco couldn’t tell if it was as calm and collected as he hoped, but by the thunder of feet on the stairs, he could surmise that no, it wasn’t.
Potter stood for just a moment in the doorway, stupidly asking what , before he stepped into the room, turning to face the open closet door. Draco found himself watching him, hoping for a reaction as strong as his own, or perhaps just visible. It felt like something cold had found its way underneath Draco’s rib cage.
“That’s…” Potter’s expression grew taut. His eyes flickered wildly, from top to bottom of the inside of the closet door.
“Yes,” Draco said.
He looked back, and the sight of the freshly blood-drawn Dark Mark made the one on his own wrist, covered still by the drawn sleeves of his shirt (and his own shame) throb in sympathy.