Nothing. There was nothing. Not a curse, not a hex, not a jinx. Not so much as a bloody good luck charm on the blasted thing.
Disappointed, Draco dropped the locket back onto the scarred wooden work surface in front of him and gave it a few last futile pokes with his wand. The locket just lay there, glinting dully in the bright light of his lamp and utterly failing to react to any of the diagnostic spells he cast over it.
He’d been positive that it’d have something on it. The fellow from whom he’d acquired it had been reassuringly shady, skulking about all bundled up in a heavy black cloak in the middle of August. His dark eyes had skittered back and forth, snagging on every shadow as if expecting a full battalion of Aurors to pop out from around the nearest rubbish bin and arrest them both right then and there. It’d made the transaction take twice as long as necessary, and by the end of it Draco had been tempted to ask the man whether he was trying to get them spotted by taking so bloody long. Keeping witnesses to a minimum was the first rule of this sort of business, and Merlin save him from amateurs. Draco had learnt that lesson himself all the way back when he was a child sneaking sweets from the Manor kitchens before supper—to say nothing of all the experience he’d gained in the most recent turn his career had taken.
Sighing, he swept the locket into the top drawer of the work table to be dealt with later. No curses meant that the unsavoury seller’s suspicious behavior was most likely because the fucking thing was stolen, which made it worse than useless to Draco. A cursed object or two on subtle display was good for business, and easy enough to explain away as an honest mistake should the need arise; blatantly displaying stolen goods for sale, however, would attract entirely the wrong sort of clientele. Not to mention entirely the wrong sort of attention.
“Excuse me… Mr Malfoy?”
Draco looked up to find Celene, one of his two shop assistants, lingering in the doorway to his office-slash-storeroom-slash-work space, her flyaway blonde hair backlit from the brighter light of the shop’s larger main room.
“Yes, Miss Tipton?”
“There’s a gentleman here to see you. Says he’s got an appointment.”
Draco frowned. The way she said “gentleman” implied he was anything but, and in any case the man certainly did not have an appointment, seeing as how Draco didn’t have any appointments scheduled at all today. His first instinct was to send this fellow away without seeing him, but a small part of Draco couldn’t help but admire the man’s sheer fucking bollocks in waltzing in off the street and all but demanding an audience.
Intrigued and hopeful that this fellow might be exactly the sort of contact he’d been waiting for, Draco stood up. “I’ll be with him in just a moment,” he said.
After Celene hurried off, closing the door after herself, Draco took a moment to stretch the kinks from his shoulders and neck, and scanned the cramped little back room for anything that might need to be hidden away should he require this space for a private conversation. But he’d been wrapping up his day here, and most everything that needed to be put away already had been. The filing cabinet drawers were closed and locked, as was the repurposed china cabinet that he used to keep smaller items organised until they could be analysed, priced, and put out for sale. The work table was clear, aside from its usual clutter of tools, and a quick snap of his wand sent them clattering into their proper places on the narrow wire shelves hung from the wall. Draco flipped the pay ledger closed and pushed it aside, then turned off the dented brass lamp clamped to the edge of the work table.
Satisfied that he’d not left anything incriminating in plain sight, he cast a spell to seal the drawer in which he’d stashed the probably-stolen locket, and went out into the shop to see who presumed upon his time.
When he’d first acquired the shop from its previous owner, it had reminded Draco uncomfortably of the Come and Go Room, with its jumbled heaps of bric-a-brac piled up haphazardly with only claustrophobic little aisles between them. The first thing he’d done when he’d bought it had been to sort out the larger objects that were more junk than antique—broken chairs, a bureau missing one foot and half its drawers, a sofa with visibly lumpy cushions—and Transfigure the lot of it into sets of sturdy shelves. It’d taken him longer still to sort through the rest, to Vanish the useless bits and display the few remaining pieces that Draco could in all honesty call antiques on the shelves. And then it took longer still to make several trips abroad to acquire enough objects of interest to fill up the rest of the space. The result was a place he didn’t mind spending time in. Despite how he did his best to keep the cramped place meticulously clean and organised, the shop still remained dim and more than a little foreboding. But Draco didn’t mind that so much; this was Knockturn Alley, after all, and he’d needed his shop to maintain a certain je ne sais quoi to fit in.
And he’d certainly maintained it, if this gentleman’s arrival was any indication. The man waiting by the long glass display case-slash-counter that ran along the right side of the shop looked to be a costumed actor straight out of the ridiculously overblown plays Draco had a secret fondness for, the sort populated by painfully obvious ne’er-do-wells and fairy tale villains. This one was short, with greasy hair and at least a week’s worth of stubble, and robes that might’ve been fine once but were now, in Draco’s opinion, barely fit for a house-elf.
“Ah, Mr Malfoy,” the man said, smiling broadly. He offered one blunt-fingered hand for Draco to shake. His fingernails were filthy. “Alvin MacCrae. So glad you found the time to meet with me today.”
Draco gave MacCrae’s hand a disdainful look and made no move to take it. “You say that as if you’ve given me a choice in the matter.”
MacCrae’s smile only broadened as he let his hand drop. “But there’s always a choice, isn’t there? And here you are, right in front of me.”
Draco was beginning to regret leaving the back room, and entertained a brief but delightful fantasy of turning on his heel right now and leaving MacCrae for Celene to deal with. But, like it or not, it was in his own best interest to slog through the rest of this conversation, at least until he could determine whether this utter arsehole was of any use to him.
“You’re wasting my time,” he said.
“I most certainly am not,” MacCrae said, still smiling. “I’ve got a business proposition for you.”
Draco allowed himself to visibly perk up at that. “Oh?”
MacCrae chuckled at that. “Thought that’d get your attention.”
“And indeed you’ve got it,” Draco said, looking down his nose. “I’ll give you another five seconds to keep it.”
“That’s all I need,” MacCrae said, fishing in one of his pockets. His fingers curled into the shape of a fist and he began to withdraw his hand, then stopped and flicked a sidelong glance at where Celene was sorting through the day’s owl post. He shifted, putting his back to her, then took his hand from his pocket and unfurled his fingers.
In the centre of his palm lay a small vial, and inside that lay—
Draco snatched the vial and held it up to the light, squinting at the long golden hairs coiled inside. “These are…” he breathed.
“Extremely valuable,” MacCrae said, folding his arms over his chest and very clearly enjoying Draco’s gobsmacked expression. “As I can see you already know.”
Of course Draco knew. Everyone knew. Unicorns were a Class Four Protected Species, and for the hairs to be this pure gold, they must have been harvested from a foal. One not more than a couple of weeks old, young enough that it hadn’t yet begun to lighten to the silvery-white colour it’d become as an adult. Unicorn hairs were incredibly valuable both as potion ingredients and as wand cores, but they were also incredibly rare as the beasts they were attached to were notoriously difficult to catch—as well as extremely illegal to interfere with. Someone like Hagrid would harvest hairs that’d been shed naturally, snagged on shrubbery or caught on a low-hanging tree branch. But if MacCrae had enough of a supply to come here proposing to do business with Draco, he was going to guess that MacCrae hadn’t merely been stamping about the Forbidden Forest, plucking them from foliage.
“Did you kill it?” he asked, his stomach twisting.
MacCrae snorted. “Of course not. Just gave it a little haircut and sent it right back to its mummy.” His gaze sharpened and turned appraising. “Unless you’re asking whether we got its blood…?”
“No,” Draco said quickly, and scowled. “Absolutely not. Do I look like an apothecary to you? I haven’t got the facilities to store something that delicate. And in any case, I haven’t any idea where I’d even begin to find a buyer for such a thing. Blood would be entirely useless to me.”
Unicorn blood was an extremely powerful potion ingredient, and the blood from a foal even moreso. But there was practically zero demand for it. Everyone knew what happened to those who dared to drink the blood of a unicorn.
He examined the hairs in the little vial again. “You’ve got more?” he asked.
“Loads more,” MacCrae assured him. He was smiling again. “It’s foaling season, after all.”
While not exactly the opportunity which Draco had been awaiting, any such guarantee for easy Galleons was more than enough to catch his interest. The way MacCrae spoke implied that he was part of a larger operation, and Draco knew just who to contact about the unicorn hair.
Still, Draco hadn’t got to where he was today without an overabundance of caution, and he certainly couldn’t be too careful when it came to an offer this tempting. His sources at the Ministry hadn’t been able to turn up any indication of a formal investigation into him or his shop, but that didn’t mean that one didn’t exist. Aurors were, Draco had learned, a bunch of gossipy little bastards, but on rare occasion they did manage to keep their secrets. And after the complete hash Lucius had made of the family name during the war, the lure of catching a Malfoy would certainly be more than enough to encourage a bit of discretion, even almost twelve years later. Sending in a fellow like MacCrae to dangle an offer of easy Galleons in front of him was exactly the sort of sting Draco would expect the Aurors to set up, hoping to catch him red-handed.
Carefully, cautiously, Draco reached out with the faintest wisp of Legilimency. Not enough to reach into MacCrae’s thoughts, but just enough to skim the surface and pick up the faintest impression of his state of mind. Draco’s intrusion was light enough that it wouldn’t be noticeable unless the man was an extremely skilled Occlumens. And even then, well. Draco was still probably better. He still stood a fair chance of managing it undetected.
He slipped in, skimmed the surface, and was out again in an instant, without leaving so much as a ripple in his wake. He’d caught a bit of nervousness well-hidden by MacCrae’s cocky facade, but mostly eagerness and greed, and a certain sort of excited smugness that made Draco’s low opinion of the man sour even further.
Clearly he thought he could saunter in here and entice Draco into a partnership with the lure of some easy money. A partnership, imagine! This arsehole actually believed they were equals.
Well, MacCrae would find out for himself soon enough that they very much were not.
“Mr MacCrae,” Draco said with a tight smile, gesturing down the narrow aisle between two rows of shelves to where the door to the back room stood ajar. “Won’t you step into my office? I believe we have plenty to talk about that would be best discussed in private.”
MacCrae smiled broadly and clapped Draco’s shoulder companionably as he passed by and led the way to the rear of the shop. “Knew you wouldn’t be able to turn down an opportunity like this.”
“No,” Draco said pleasantly as he trailed along after MacCrae. “I must say, I certainly cannot.”
- - - - - -
“Harry,” Ron called for the second time, and this time he leaned around the doorway of Harry’s cubicle so that Harry wasn’t able to keep ignoring him.
Harry grunted vaguely in Ron’s direction and continued shuffling through the files spread out on the desk before him.
Ron waved a slightly crumpled Inter-Office Memo at him. “Robards wants us in his office in twenty.”
“Fine,” Harry said, slapping a file folder closed. Frowning, he pushed his chair back from the desk and looked around his cubicle. Honestly, this place made Harry’s old cupboard under the stairs look positively palatial. How the fuck he could have managed to lose anything in here was entirely beyond him.
“Twenty minutes, Harry,” Ron said again, exasperated.
“Heard you the first time,” Harry muttered, then, “Ah-ha!”
Bending over, he wrenched a handful of file folders from beneath the front left leg of his desk where they’d been wedged to keep it level. And there it was, the file he was looking for. Right on top. The leftover paperwork from the Williamson case had been hanging over Harry for weeks now, and this file was the last thing he needed to finish up his reports. And then this case would be done and over with and out of his life forever.
“He wants you to bring your file on Malfoy,” Ron said.
Harry’s head snapped up, the folder in his hands all but forgotten. “He does? I mean—why does he think I’ve—I haven’t got—“
“Thought that’d get your attention. Twenty minutes. Bring your file.”
“Did you rat me out?” Harry called after him as he ducked away. “Ron! Did you tell him I’d started a file on Malfoy?”
A moment later, Harry heard the creak of Ron’s desk chair from the adjoining cubicle. He glared at the blank grey wall that he and Ron shared, and contemplated lobbing the slightly-stale remains of his blueberry muffin at him. They’d been partners for long enough that Harry’s aim was pretty fantastic by now. He could land it dead centre of Ron’s desk every time, and sometimes, if he managed to catch Ron off-guard, he could even get Ron to let out a thoroughly undignified yelp.
Exhaling, Harry nudged the remnants of his breakfast away, then turned to the overloaded filing cabinets that lined the back wall of his cubicle. He hooked his fingers through the handle of the top drawer—he kept Malfoy filed under A for Arsehole—and tugged it open before he Accio-ed the proper folder.
Another quick spell swept all the other files on his desk into a tidy stack, which Harry pushed to the side to be dealt with later. Even though he knew the contents of Malfoy’s file by heart, he still took the time to flip it open and scan through its contents.
It’d started earlier this year, when Malfoy had suddenly turned up like the bad Knut he was. After he and his parents had gone through their trials and paid their reparations, Malfoy had fucked off to the Continent and stayed there for a while, getting himself into an entirely different sort of trouble as he slept his way through all the available witches and wizards he could convince to hop into bed with him, barely spending ten consecutive minutes sober the whole time he was abroad. At least according to the gossip pages, but the pictures that accompanied the articles were rather convincing that they hadn’t been inventing stories whole cloth.
Then barely a year later, Malfoy had returned home with as little warning as when he’d left, and effectively vanished from the public eye. Harry hadn’t been able to gather much information on this stretch of Malfoy’s timeline. There’d been no shortage of witnesses documented in the gossip pages of dozens of newspapers all across Europe, but here in the UK Harry found nothing but speculation. The Prophet had published a couple dozen or so articles over the years in their own gossip pages: that Malfoy was locked away in the Janus Thickey Ward at St Mungo’s, that Malfoy was off living secretly as a Muggle under an assumed identity with a Muggle wife and a job as a Muggle insurance adjuster, that Malfoy was dead and had been for years.
All Harry knew for sure was that Malfoy kept the Manor in good repair, paid his taxes each year, and so far as anyone could tell, didn’t venture out in public at all.
And then at the beginning of this year, after nearly ten years of nothing, Malfoy had made his return to the public eye by purchasing a dodgy antiques shop down on the less-savoury end of Knockturn.
The place practically made Borgin and Burkes look like Harrods, and had gone up for sale after the previous owner had been arrested and shipped off to Azkaban for fencing stolen property. When the Ministry had cleared the property for release, the owner had promptly listed it for sale, and Malfoy had purchased it for the truly outrageous sum of almost 250,000 Galleons. Since then he’d built it up into… well, Harry couldn’t exactly say that it was thriving, but the shop had certainly seen enough of an uptick in business that it was generating a little bit of a profit. Malfoy took a suspiciously hands-off approach to running his shop—he hadn’t even bothered to change the name after he’d bought it—dropping in a few times per month but otherwise having nothing to do with the day-to-day runnings of it. He’d also started making two trips out of the country each month like clockwork, allegedly to purchase more antiques to list for sale in his shop, but Harry had seen the shop’s first and second quarter taxes. They didn’t do nearly enough business to warrant all those trips.
Harry had gone to Robards with his suspicions, but the Head Auror couldn’t authorise opening an investigation on suspicions alone. So Harry had taken it upon himself to look into the matter on his own. He’d pulled up the relevant permits and filings from the Department of Small Business Regulations and looked into the backgrounds of the three shop assistants. He’d done a bit of light surveillance in his free time, and even stopped in once while disguised with Polyjuice.
All of it, unfortunately, had turned up nothing. As far as the Ministry was concerned, Malfoy’s shop was entirely above-board. None of the three shop assistants—Celene Tipton, Elisa Wray, and Desmond Dwyer—had any sort of criminal record. And all of Harry’s surveillance and his single foray into the shop hadn’t managed to catch anyone in the act of, well. Whatever underhanded business Malfoy was undoubtedly using the shop as a front for.
With all the trips abroad, Harry would bet on smuggling. All he needed to do was prove it.
Then the Williamson case had blown up and Harry had been too swamped with work to spend much time investigating Malfoy, other than occasionally adding a newspaper clipping to the small pile tucked away at the back of Malfoy’s file and doing a couple of quick checks with the Department of Magical Transportation to see whether Malfoy had continued to take his repeated trips out of the country.
Harry finished with the file and shut it, then stood up from his desk and went round to Ron’s cubicle. He kept it marginally more organised than Harry kept his own, but it was a far more cheerful sort of chaos, with loads of pictures of Hermione and his family crowded onto his desk, and about a dozen colourful crayon drawings from his nieces and nephews tacked to the drab grey walls alongside wanted posters and photographs of crime scenes.
“Well, they’re why I’m doing this job. It helps on the hard days, to be reminded that I’m doing this for them,” Ron had said when Harry’d pointed out the grisly juxtaposition it made, and really Harry couldn’t argue with that. It probably did help, he imagined. Harry had his friends, and loved them dearly, but Ron had family in a way that Harry could only dream of. All Harry had waiting for him after his shifts was a cramped little apartment and a grizzled old Kneazle whom he hadn’t adopted so much as she’d come in through an open window one evening and then just sort of kept on living with him.
At least she was understanding about all the late nights he worked, which was more than Harry could say for the last few people he’d dated. Ron and Hermione were both on him to start dating again, but he hated feeling as though he had to choose between his job and having a relationship. A lot of times, as had happened with the Williamson case, work took over and Harry didn’t have time to do both.
“Ready?” Harry asked, ignoring the way the thin file in his hand suddenly felt far heavier.
Ron paused to gulp the last of the tea from his mug, then hit it with a Cleaning Charm as he rose from his chair. “After you,” he said, gesturing down the long aisle between cubicles.
Robards’ office was near the back, tucked away in the corner behind the larger cubicles that served as conference rooms, and it only took a minute for Harry and Ron to make their way to it. As was his habit, Robards left his door standing ajar, signaling that he was available should anyone need him. Ron knocked briefly before pushing the door all the way open and leading the way inside with Harry following along right on his heels.
“Alvin MacCrae,” Robards said by way of greeting, and dropped a thick folder onto his desk with a heavy thump. “We’ve been keeping him under careful surveillance. He’s a small-time smuggler who’s part of a much larger network. Through one of our undercover agents, we fed him a small shipment of illegally harvested unicorn hair and explained that there’d be much more where that came from, provided he could find a reliable fence to move it along.”
“All right,” Harry said, his heart beating faster. His fingers tightened around the thin folder he held as he took a seat in one of the two chairs facing Robards’ desk.
“It seems your instincts were correct, Auror Potter,” Robards said. “He went to Ashby’s Imports & Antiques, owned by one Draco Malfoy.”
“I knew it,” Harry said. A sharp swell of vindication swept through him in a flood, followed a moment later by a wave of frustration that he hadn’t been allowed to begin an official investigation into Malfoy sooner.
“Unfortunately that’s when our trail disappeared.”
“So we organise a raid,” Ron said. “See if we can pick it up again.”
“You misunderstand me,” Robards said, folding his hands atop the thick folder. “I don’t mean that’s where our trail ends. I mean that’s where it disappeared entirely. All of it. All of the evidence we’d gathered against MacCrae, all records of the unicorn hair we passed off to him. Everyone involved in the case has no memory of it, and MacCrae himself has apparently vanished. I’m sure the only reason I still know about it was because we’d decided to route the case through the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, as most of the potion ingredients being smuggled were creature-based and we felt it fell more under their jurisdiction than ours. Their Department Head was keeping me updated as a personal favour, as one of the people involved in the smuggling ring was rumoured to be an ex-Death Eater. Imagine my surprise when I stopped by for an update and she had no idea what I was talking about.”
Harry sat up straighter, the dots Robards had laid out connecting to form one beautifully simple line. “You think that something tipped Malfoy off that the unicorn hair was a set-up and he’s paid someone off to make all the evidence disappear?”
Robards made a noncommittal sound. “As yet, we have no proof of anything of the sort.”
“But it wouldn’t surprise me,” Ron said. “Lucius regularly threw gold around to get his way. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to find Draco Malfoy following right along in dear old Dad’s footsteps.”
“And Draco isn’t stupid,” Harry added, because while he had a whole list of adjectives he’d cheerfully apply to describe Draco Malfoy’s character, stupid unfortunately was not one of them. “It’d make sense that he’d learn from his father’s mistakes. Lucius wasn’t exactly subtle about acting like laws were things that only apply to other people, and him being so blatant about it was part of what got all of the Malfoys into trouble, in the end.”
“Which means we’ve got a bigger problem than just Malfoy. So he’s being careful, good for him, but he can’t cover up an entire investigation all on his own. He’s got someone on the inside. Someone here’s been taking bribes,” Ron went on.
“Someone high up, if they’ve got the authorisation to call in an Obliviator,” Robards said. “And, of course, there’s no paper trail for any such orders. I thought to call for an audit of the department, but didn’t want to tip our hand.” He leaned back in his chair. “The only advantage we’ve got, gentlemen, is that no one else knows that we know. So you’ll understand that secrecy will be of the utmost importance on this case.”
“Of course,” Harry said. “When do we start?”
- - - - - -
This had been the longest day.
In general, Draco tried to keep himself to the back room as much as possible and leave the whole dealing-with-customers bit of running a shop to the other two, who both had far more patience for it than he did.
But Elisa had called off sick today, which normally wouldn’t have made much of a difference in Draco’s day-to-day business at the shop. And for the morning, it hadn’t. A total of two people had stepped foot through his door, a Muggle-born boy and his frazzled-looking Muggle mum, who’d got lost and wanted directions to Gringotts. Draco’d sent them on their way, and then taken his lunch at precisely twelve o’clock. And then the parade had begun, an endless stream of customers who all seemed like they’d come by explicitly to annoy Draco.
Some browsed without buying anything, some tried to haggle for lower prices, some were clearly hunting for anything Dark Arts-related, and one had attempted to shoplift a pair of antique silver candlesticks and was very much made to regret his poor decision. Hexing that arsehole out of his shop had been the high point of Draco’s day.
Draco sighed to himself. He’d was very much looking forward to going home and putting his feet up, having some dinner and relaxing with a nice glass of scotch and the tawdry murder mystery novel he was currently halfway through, but he forced himself to finish closing up the shop properly. He charmed the last few smudgy fingerprints from the glass counter—and why no one seemed capable of looking through the glass without putting their grubby hands all over it, he had no idea. A few more quick cleaning charms tidied up the rest of the shop, sweeping the scuffed wood floor clear of dirt and removing the dust from the shelves. Last, he wiped the dust from the single display window at the shop’s front, carefully manoeuvring his spells around the spider who’d set up a web in the top corner.
Satisfied with the state of the shop, he tucked his wand away, fished out the heavy set of keys from his pocket, and Accio-ed his hat from the back room. It was black, pointed and broad-brimmed with a thick black satin sash and a long black feather poking up from it. It looked like something Draco’s great-grandfather might have turned his nose up at as being too old-fashioned. But vintage wizardwear was in with the younger Muggle-borns and Half-Bloods these days, and so here was Draco with his ridiculous hat.
“Good evening, Desmond!” called Forsythia, the old witch who owned the apothecary next door, as Draco stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine.
Draco smiled wide enough to show off the dimples in his Glamoured face as he locked the door to his shop, and gave her a nod that he knew made the stupid feather in his stupid hat bob charmingly. “Good evening, Forsythia. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bright and early, I’ll be here,” Forsythia agreed, and returned to sweeping the front stoop of her shop.
Draco gave her a jaunty little wave, and turned down the street. This was the part of his day he always savoured. Not just going home, but how blissfully anonymous he was as he walked the few streets it took to get there. As himself, his white-blond hair was practically a beacon for how it drew attention, his sharp features impossible to mistake for anything but a Malfoy. Stares and whispers followed him in his wake, the attention entirely unwelcome, and Draco could practically feel the rumours springing to life as he passed by. But as Desmond Dwyer, who shared Draco’s height and build but whose features were perfectly bland and unremarkable, no one even gave him a second glance.
There was something freeing about it, this ability to truly be himself rather than feeling as though he were constantly struggling to get out from beneath the reputation he’d earned as an idiot teenager. Even something as simple as saying hello to his neighbour felt like that. He knew that Forsythia wouldn’t be half so friendly to Draco Malfoy as she was to Desmond; he’d bumped into her once on his way into the shop when he’d been wearing his own face, and the look she’d given him had been frostier than a Chilling Charm.
Him, a Malfoy, getting that sort of reception on Knockturn. It was something of a marvel how little respect the family name garnered these days. Draco could remember coming here with his father when he was a child, and the sort of attention Lucius would draw. How passersby would watch with awe, how polite and deferential everyone would be. The way they would hasten to get out of his way.
Not that Draco wanted that sort of attention from anyone. But it’d certainly be better than what he got now.
At least money was still worth something, at least in the quantities he had it in. Otherwise, sometimes he thought he wouldn’t be tolerated in society at all, even here on Knockturn.
He reached the end of Knockturn and stepped out onto Diagon, making his way up to the less flashy end of it, beyond all the shops that would be crowded with schoolchildren gathering last-minute supplies before they all went off to Hogwarts next week. Most of the shops on this end of Diagon had already closed for the evening, including the one beneath the little flat Draco rented as Desmond Dwyer. It was a bakery owned by a French couple who’d despaired at the lack of proper patisseries they’d found after moving to wizarding London, and decided to remedy the situation by opening their own.
Another thing Draco enjoyed about being Desmond: starting off each morning with a strong coffee and a fresh croissant.
The patisserie was closed now, but a huge stack of eclairs were stacked on display in the front window, a bit hazy through their Preserving Charm, and Draco couldn’t help but give them a longing look. Maybe he’d take a break from his usual croissant tomorrow morning and have one of those, he thought to himself as he unlocked the narrow door at the building’s corner and gave it a bit of a shove to force it open—no matter what spells Draco tried on it, it always swelled and stuck when the weather was warm like this—and made his way up the steep staircase that led to his flat.
It wasn’t anything special—as clean and tidy yet bland and unremarkable as Desmond Dwyer’s face—but Draco had still developed a sort of fondness for it, with its plain wood furniture and cheery blue and yellow rug and shadow boxes of painstakingly pinned butterflies hanging on the walls. Draco didn’t give two shits for entomology, but Desmond Dwyer was a bit mad for it. He’d done some cursory research into it, enough to keep up his cover at least, when he’d unearthed the shadow boxes from the pile of junk that’d come with the shop, but so far had not had to put any of it to use. But going off to hunt up new insects for his collection made for a convenient excuse to explain his absences when he needed to travel to the continent.
Normally, Draco spent at least a couple of hours here in Desmond’s flat each evening. He didn’t think that anyone was watching Desmond’s movements but one could never be too careful, and it would look far too suspicious if Desmond came home every evening and then showed no signs of being present. So Draco normally ate his supper here and read for a bit, maybe took care of some paperwork or did some research, so that there would be smoke from the chimney and light spilling from the windows after dark. But he had other business to attend to this evening.
Hanging his ridiculous hat on its peg by the door, he went into the small bathroom and turned on the lights.
Facing himself in the spotty mirror above the dingy little sink, Draco drew his wand. The threads of magic holding his Glamour together were easy enough to unravel and he could do so with one quick yank of intent, but he always preferred to do it facing a mirror, to do it slowly, to see for himself as Desmond Dwyer melted away and Draco Malfoy once more took his place.
The wire-rimmed glasses went first, carefully removed and folded up and set aside. Then the hair, lightened from brown to blond and shrunk down into a shorter cut. A pause here, to arrange it into its usual style, parted on the left and swept neatly to the side. Then the forehead grew, the eyebrows thinned and peaked, the eyes cleared from the deep brown-black of freshly tilled soil to a stormy sea-grey. Nose, cheekbones, and chin all grew more pronounced, the mouth thinned. The teeth subtly changed shape and went a little crooked, two moles on the neck vanished, and the ears shrank just a touch. Lastly, the skin cleared of its faint smattering of freckles and paled a couple of shades.
Exhaling, Draco set his wand aside, and couldn’t help but feel a bit off-balance by this break in routine. It felt strange to be himself in Desmond’s flat. Normally he waited until he was home to undo the Glamour, but he needed to stop by work to file some reports, and it wouldn’t do at all to have Desmond’s face seen around the Ministry.
It only took a few minutes to change into a plain set of black robes, and he was ready to go. Stepping up to the Floo, Draco tapped his wand three times to the mantle.
“Unspeakable Malfoy, authorisation code 76-25T. Requesting private Floo connection to the Department of Mysteries, please.”
It took a couple of seconds for his Floo override request to go through, but then the flames sprang to life and turned green. Draco stepped inside and let himself be swept away.
- - - - - -
“Shit,” Harry said as he whacked his shoulder painfully against the doorframe between the kitchen and living room. “This is never going to work.”
“Make it part of your character,” Ron said from where he was sprawled comfortably on the end of Harry’s sofa, bottle of beer dangling loosely from one hand. “Whatsisname can be sort of clumsy. Plenty of people are clumsy.”
Harry scowled at him and even that felt strange, his face creasing in places that felt just different enough to be thoroughly disconcerting. Polyjuice really was the most disorienting thing, and Harry was beginning to remember why he hadn’t volunteered for undercover work since he’d been a Junior Auror. Access to Polyjuice had actually been his motivation back then, when Harry was desperate for a shag but immediately post-war had been far too recognisable to have one night stands without ending up in the papers for weeks afterward. It’d worked perfectly in that regard, but he’d never really enjoyed the feeling of inhabiting someone else’s body.
The bloke that the subdivision in charge of disguises had picked out for him was both taller and broader than Harry, and he wouldn’t have thought that a couple inches and a couple stone would make all that much difference, but he just couldn’t get his brain to wrap around the fact that he was in a differently-shaped body now. This was the third time he’d knocked into something, not used to the breadth of his shoulders or his new height. Ron had nearly laughed himself sick when Harry had brained himself on an open cupboard door in the kitchen that Harry was used to being able to walk right under.
“Have you picked a name yet?” Ron went on.
“I dunno,” Harry muttered. “Whatsisname’s got such a nice ring to it. Might just go with that.”
“I guess it ought to be something I’ll respond to,” Harry went on, continuing to walk around the room. “Harold’s a bit too on the nose, though, isn’t it?”
“Harvey?” Ron suggested, then wrinkled his nose. “No, that’s not any better. Hector? Herbert? Hubert?”
Harry gave him a sceptical look. “Do I really look like a Hubert?”
Ron shrugged. “I don’t know what a Hubert looks like, to be honest. Mostly I think you still just look like a Harry. Even with…” He paused, gesturing vaguely to Harry’s person, “…all that.”
“Useless,” Harry muttered, and went into the bathroom to get another look at his Polyjuiced face.
The bloke whose hair had gone into the Polyjuice potion was handsome enough, Harry thought, but not so handsome he’d be turning heads left and right. Pleasant, that was the word he was looking for. He had gently curling brown hair, big hazel eyes with long lashes, and a generous mouth. His face was a bit squarer than Harry’s own, and he didn’t need glasses to see. He was friendly-looking, approachable. The sort of person Harry might be tempted to buy a drink for in a pub, if he was being honest.
“Are you a Hubert?” he asked his reflection, then scowled, because Ron—damn him—was right. What did a Hubert even look like? “Who the fuck am I?” he asked Ron, flinging his arms wide as he walked back into the living room and catching the tips of his fingers painfully against the metal pole of a floor lamp. “Fuck, ouch.”
Ron snorted. “Someone incredibly clumsy is all we’ve got so far.”
Rubbing his smarting fingers, Harry gave him a glare. “Useless,” he said again. “Disguises is giving me an entire wardrobe, why can’t they just give me a name and a backstory too?”
“Because both of those are probably easier to remember if you come up with them yourself?” Ron asked. “Also, have you seen who works in Disguises? Leave it up to them and you’ll be stuck with something like Archibald Bertram Haverford Fitzjames III.”
Harry gave Ron an appraising look. “You came up with that name awfully fast.”
Ron grimaced. “My Great-grand-uncle, twice removed. We don’t much talk to that branch of the family. Always putting on airs, as Mum says. And anyhow, Robards submitted the request for undercover support for someone who’s investigating an apothecary dealing in illegally obtained Exploding Fluid in Glasgow. If they assigned you a name and backstory, it might be totally wrong for investigating an antique shop in Knockturn.”
“I hate it when you make good points,” Harry grumbled.
“It does happen occasionally,” Ron said cheerfully, toasting Harry with his bottle. “Oh, are you going to do an accent?”
Harry scowled at him, but didn’t have time to reply further because the fireplace crackled to life just then, and Hermione’s head appeared in the glowing coals. “Ron?”
“Tag,” said Hermione flatly. “You’re it.”
Sighing, Ron set the bottle aside and levered himself off the sofa. “What’s Mum done now?”
“She’s got flower samples,” Hermione said darkly, and Harry didn’t think it was his just imagination that the coals began to smoulder hotter, crackling and popping furiously in the hearth. “About a thousand of them, and they’re all pink.”
“I’m sure she’s just trying to help…” Ron tried, but he was wincing as he said it.
“One. Thousand. Flowers, Ronald. One thousand pink flowers! Are you sure we can’t just elope?” She paused a moment before adding plaintively, “I know how excited you are about the cake we’ve picked out, but we can take it with us.”
Ron’s gaze went a little distant, like he was imagining it as Hermione’s face disappeared from the coals and the green flames flared to life in the fireplace. He sighed again and gave Hermione a kiss on the forehead as she came through the Floo. “I’ll take it from here, see if I can’t talk her down again,” he said, and then murmured as if to himself, “We’ll save the cake-and-eloping as our backup plan.”
A moment later he was gone.
It was Hermione’s turn to sigh as she flopped onto the sofa and grabbed Ron’s abandoned bottle of beer to take a long swig. “Fuck, what a day it’s been. Work was impossible, and the moment I get home, Molly shows up with practically an entire florist’s shop. I’ve honestly no idea how she managed to get it all through the Floo. You’re lucky that as best man you haven’t got to deal with any of this nonsense.” She frowned at Harry, brow creasing in a look that was more amused than sceptical. “Who on earth are you supposed to be?”
Harry shrugged. “We were sort of working that out. Ron thinks I ought to stick with an H name, but none of the ones we can think of seem to fit. Wait—how’d you know it’s me?”
“The way you’re shoving at the back of your hair.”
Harry snatched his hand away from his head. Shit, he hadn’t even realised he was doing that.
Hermione waited a moment for him to be suitably impressed with her powers of observation, then smirked and gestured at him with the bottle. “Also, the jumper was a bit of a giveaway.”
Harry looked down. He’d forgot he was wearing one of his Weasley jumpers, the navy one with the lime green H on the front and a hole in the elbow that Harry hadn’t yet got around to asking Molly to fix for him… for a couple of years now. He really ought to remember to ask her next time he was at the Burrow. At the very least, it’d probably buy Ron and Hermione a few minutes’ reprieve from wedding planning madness. Ron was the last unmarried Weasley, other than Charlie, who’d made it clear that he was perfectly happy with his dragons and had no intention of ever settling down, and Molly was going a bit overboard trying to help with the planning.
Privately, Harry thought that part of it was that Molly didn’t think Ron and Hermione would ever be tying the knot. But then Ron had recently been injured on the job, critically enough that only immediate family was allowed in to see him, and even though Ron’s paperwork had Hermione listed as his emergency contact, it’d taken an agonisingly long time for them to verify. When she’d finally been allowed back, she’d proposed to him on the spot, and Ron had been so loopy from pain potions that he’d actually cried. Harry was kind of sorry he’d missed it, but Ginny and George had done a dramatic retelling of it for him.
Molly had cried too, and then gone entirely mad with fussing over every tiny detail.
“Did the hair thing really give me away?” he asked instead, because otherwise Hermione would spend the next hour ranting about wedding things and Harry was meant to have his disguise and backstory in order by the time he went in to work tomorrow.
Hermione shrugged and took another drink of beer. “Probably wouldn’t have on its own, but paired with the jumper it was fairly obvious.” She gave his feet a pointed look. “Along with those awful socks of yours. You really ought to replace them.”
“They’re still fine,” Harry said, even though both of them had holes in the toes and they really were ready for the bin. “And I’ve got a whole wardrobe coming from the subdivision in charge of disguises for undercover work, so I promise I won’t be wearing anything with my initials on it to work. Right now I’m just trying to get used to moving in this body. And come up with a name.”
“And how’s that going?” Hermione asked, drawing her legs up and tucking her feet under her bottom.
“Rubbish,” Harry said, and went into the kitchen to get himself something to drink, and found that the cat had come back in through the open window and was crouched on the counter, staring at him with her enormous gold eyes. “Hey cat,” he said, passing by to the refrigerator to get himself a Butterbeer.
“You still haven’t named her?” Hermione asked, following him in.
“I think we’ve established by now that I’m really bad at naming things. Together, Ron and I couldn’t come up with anything better than Hubert for my undercover persona,” Harry said, popping the cork from the bottle. He gave it a waggle, waved it back and forth a couple of times, then tossed it into the living room. The cat watched where it landed, then gave Harry a disdainful look and made no move to chase it.
“Yes, but you’ve had her for two years now,” Hermione said, reaching out. The cat gave her a delicate sniff, then allowed Hermione to scratch under her chin, eyes narrowing to slits in feline bliss. “You ought to call her something.”
“I do,” said Harry, taking a drink of Butterbeer. “I call her cat. Don’t judge our relationship,” he added when Hermione rolled her eyes at him.
“She’s not even a cat!” Hermione said, exasperated. “She’s a Kneazle!”
Harry shrugged. “Cat, Kneazle. It’s not like she knows what she is, or cares what I call her.”
“Well, at least you’ve given up denying that she’s yours,” Hermione said.
Harry just shrugged. He’d maintained that for about a year, but it was hard to deny that the cat was his when she had her own food and water bowls taking up valuable space on his postage stamp-sized kitchen floor, and most mornings he woke up with her on his pillow, curled comfortably round his head like a furry hat. She still came and went as she pleased, though, through the kitchen window he now left cracked open year-round. “She’s her own cat. More of a flatmate than a pet, really,” he said. He offered her his fingers, and she gave him one rub with the side of her face before looking away and staring fixedly at a blank spot on the wall.
Harry let her be and led the way back into the living room. He settled down on the opposite end of the sofa from Hermione and sighed. “I’m remembering why I don’t ever volunteer for undercover work.”
“Is coming up with a name really so hard?”
“I’d like to see you come up with something if it’s so easy, then,” Harry said, half-hoping that she actually would.
She said it with such a straight face that it took Harry a moment to twig onto why that name sounded familiar. He burst out laughing.
“I can’t!” he said. “I run into one Muggle-born and it’s all over.”
“Clark Kent,” Hermione said, warming to it now. “Peter Parker. Oh! I’ve got it! Peter Harker. You said you were looking for an H name, yeah?”
“Wait…” Harry said, because that one wasn’t half-bad. Still not quite right, but close.
Hermione snorted. “You do know I was joking. Harry, I wasn’t serious. Peter Harker is a terrible name.”
“But what about Peter Harper?”
“Peter Harper,” Hermione repeated, thinking it over. “Actually… that’s not bad. Close enough to have a bit of a joke with it, but far enough away for plausible deniability.”
Harry grinned at her. “Well then, Peter Harper it is.”
He held up his bottle, and Hermione obligingly clinked with him. “To Peter Harper,” she said, grinning back at him.
- - - - - -
Friday afternoon found Draco in an enormously sour mood. He was meant to be in France by now, but instead here he was, lingering in the back room of his shop because on Wednesday a man had come in asking for a job. And, unfortunately, every person who showed that amount of interest in his shop was a potential lead that Draco had no choice but to follow up on. So he’d cancelled his Portkey straightaway and stayed in London.
He hadn’t been in the shop on Wednesday to see the man for himself. Desmond had been working that day, but in a case of extraordinarily poor timing, he’d stepped out of the shop to go pick up some lunch for himself and Celene, so she’d been the one to speak to the fellow when he’d come by.
“He seemed quite keen,” she’d commented, arching her eyebrows as she handed over the man’s curriculum vitae and three letters of reference.
Quite keen indeed. When his other shop assistant, Elisa, had applied for a position, all she’d said was that she’d seen the notice Draco had posted in the Prophet and thought that working in an antiques shop sounded better than waiting tables at a pub, which was where she’d been at the time. Draco had asked a few questions and she’d seemed competent enough, and as he’d had no desire to continue doing job interviews, he’d hired her on the spot.
A brief investigation into her background turned up nothing untoward, and Elisa quickly proved herself to be a wonderful asset to the shop. Also, the register was never off when she was the one in charge of running it—unlike Celene, who always managed to miscount the Knuts. Many things about being a shop assistant weren’t exactly Celene’s strong suit, but Draco made do. After all, he himself was probably worse at it. At least Celene had a little more patience with daft customers than he did.
The fact that this man had come in when Draco hadn’t been advertising any job openings had been his first indication that perhaps everything here wasn’t what it seemed, and the CV on fancy parchment and letters of reference had sealed it for him. So Draco had taken his time checking up on him, using up all of Thursday to conduct his investigation into this Peter Harper’s background, following up on his references, and putting together dozens of paper trails to reconstruct as much of Harper’s past as he could.
On the surface, everything seemed to be perfectly in order: Peter Roland Harper, born 1 July 1986 in a small town in Surrey to Roland Matthew Harper and Eleanor Jane née Smythe, both deceased. Harper had attended Hogwarts, and though the name didn’t strike Draco as familiar, he wasn’t surprised to not recognise it. His time would have only overlapped with Harper’s during that last hellish year when Draco had been so preoccupied with keeping himself safe that he could have attended classes with the second coming of Merlin and he wouldn’t have noticed. But all of Harper’s paperwork was in order with the Ministry: the record of the Trace placed on his wand and the official notice of its removal once he was of age, his OWL and NEWT scores. He’d sorted Ravenclaw and received a handful of detentions for minor infractions, mostly breaking curfew, along with a handful of times he’d been caught trying to sneak into the restricted section of the library. His scores were mostly Es and As, with a single P in Divination.
From there, Harper had spent a year abroad, visiting a dozen different countries on the continent, but spending longer stretches of time in France, Germany, Romania, Estonia, and Norway, according the Portkey applications he’d filed. Then he’d returned home and entered into an apprenticeship as a Curse-Breaker. He’d nearly completed it before dropping out, then spent a few years bouncing through various jobs, mostly of the shop assistant variety, before vanishing entirely for the last year and a half.
Try as he might, Draco couldn’t find a single thing to document what on earth Harper might have been up to during that time. No records of employment, no Portkey applications, not so much as a signed lease agreement. During that stretch of time, Peter Harper had disappeared so thoroughly that it was as if he didn’t even exist.
Pura had been around for a while, starting off as a minor cult, but they had only really begun to organise themselves enough to attract real attention from the authorities about two years ago. So Harper’s absence fit with their timeline if he was indeed part of their flock. It would explain the mysterious disappearing act he’d done a year and a half ago, and would explain why he seemed so keen to work here. And why his conversation with Celene here in the shop the other day seemed to be the very first thing he’d done upon resurfacing from wherever he’d gone off to.
Draco’s heart quickened at the thought that this might finally be the contact he was waiting for. From the very beginning, he’d rather thought that setting this whole operation up as bait was a long shot at best, but now that it looked to actually be paying off, it made everything worth it. The extended leave of absence he’d had to take from his research, the long days playing shop assistant and dealing with an endless parade of annoying customers, putting himself back into the public eye like this, playing up all the worst angles of his family name and reputation, all the speculative Prophet articles, the constant tedious trips abroad… everything.
This had all seemed like a grand adventure when they’d first approached him about using his tarnished reputation and a shady antiques shop as bait and going undercover, but by now Draco was more than ready to get back to his quiet life. His own life.
Sighing a little to himself, Draco reached for Harper’s CV again to give it one last read-through before the man himself arrived.
He’d only just finished when Celene tapped lightly on the door and pushed it open. “He’s here,” she said.
Draco stood and smoothed the wrinkles from his robes with a quick flick of his wand. “Wonderful. Thank you,” he said, and mentally added punctual to the list of what he knew about Harper as he followed Celene back to the front of the shop.
In all of his digging into Harper’s background, he hadn’t managed to turn up a single photograph, and the man waiting near the long glass counter wasn’t at all what Draco expected. He’d been envisioning someone similar to MacCrae, an overtly shady fellow dressed like he was auditioning for a bit part as one of the villain’s henchmen in a play. But the man who turned toward him with an agreeable smile and a hand ready to shake was the sort of person Draco wouldn’t have glanced at twice if he’d passed him on the street. He was handsome, in a sort of understated way, and dressed nicely—but not lavishly—in a fashionable set of grey linen robes with bright silver fastenings.
Draco took his hand and gave it a shake. “Peter Harper, I presume,” he said.
“You presume correctly,” Harper replied with a smile that was just a tiny bit cheeky. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today.”
“Truth be told, I have been thinking about hiring another shop assistant,” Draco told him, gesturing to where he’d arranged an 18th century French occasional table near the end of the counter, flanked by a couple of accent chairs with needlepoint cushions depicting sickeningly charming scenes of pastoral life on each seat. He let Harper stand uncertainly by it for a moment—Draco had taken care to leave the price tags on prominent display—before sitting down himself. When Harper had awkwardly levered himself down into the seat across from him, Draco continued, “You really came along at a fortuitous time.” He let the imperious arch of his eyebrows convey the unspoken, that is, if you don’t disappoint me.
Harper sat stiffly in his seat. “That’s good to hear.”
“Mm,” Draco said, folding his hands in front of him. “Tell me, Mr Harper, why do you want to work in an antiques shop?”
“Well,” Harper said, relaxing a fraction. “I’ve always been fascinated by items of a certain value.”
“Is that so,” Draco said, leaning back. He tapped the table before him. “What can you tell me about this table, then?”
“Beyond that you’re selling it for 280 Galleons?” Harper asked, smiling a little. His eyes never once flickered to the price tag to check himself, and Draco mentally added observant to his growing list of things he knew about Harper. “Not a thing, I’m afraid. But that’s not what I meant by items of a certain value.”
“Oh? And what did you mean, then?”
Harper’s eyes scanned over the assorted pieces of jewellery in the case beside him. He reached out and tapped a fingernail casually against the glass. “I mean that I have a particular interest in things like… for example, that ring there, the one with the ruby.”
He’d identified the single piece of cursed jewellery in the entire case. At a glance, and without so much as touching his wand. Draco’s heart thumped. That was no small feat, and Harper had done it effortlessly.
“You have quite an eye for valuables, I see,” Draco said.
Harper gave him a small smile. “I believe that I do,” he said. “And I was hoping you might have a use for someone of my talents.”
Draco studied Harper for a long moment, considering. He very much wanted to do to this fellow what he’d done to MacCrae, to skim the surface of his thoughts to see if he could get a feel for just why he was here. But he was strictly forbidden to use Legilimency on a suspect. All magic left a trace, and the trace Legilimency left on the mind was maddeningly similar to that left by the Imperius Curse—easily similar enough that it could sink an entire trial, allowing a criminal to walk away a free man no matter how much evidence of his crimes they had against him. While using it on MacCrae had been a calculated risk—Draco’s intuition had told him that MacCrae was an ordinary street criminal, entirely unconnected to Pura—he didn’t dare use it on Harper.
His intuition now told him that Harper was something different, something far more dangerous. If he was truly the contact that Draco had been waiting for, he didn’t dare do a single thing to jeopardise getting him locked away. Draco’s superiors at the Ministry might be willing to occasionally look the other way in the name of getting things done, but things were very different now that he was working on a case under the jurisdiction of the International Union of Magical Cooperation. With so many different countries involved, the IUMC had to be far more strict when it came to enforcing their rules and regulations. Draco couldn’t put the entire investigation at risk just because he’d been impatient. He’d simply have to do this the hard way.
“Well,” he said at last. “I suppose we could make this work. I’ve already got three shop assistants, but Celene and Elisa are both part-time, and that doesn’t leave Desmond as much time to handle our new acquisitions as I’d like for him to have. I’m certain that we’ll have need for a man of your…” He paused, allowed his gaze to flicker toward the ruby ring, “…exceptional talents. Perhaps once we get to know each other a bit better.”
“Whenever you need me,” Harper said with an affable little smile. “And whatever you need me for.”
“Well then,” Draco said, putting out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to have you aboard, Mr Harper.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” Harper replied, smiling, and gave Draco’s hand a firm shake. “When do I start?”
- - - - - -
Bright and early the following Monday, Harry counted out his Polyjuice pills for the day into a small tin. Some utter genius had worked out how to distill Polyjuice from a thick potion into these little capsules. They hadn’t managed to make the taste any less disgusting, but at least Harry could swallow it quickly this way. The pills also meant that he didn’t have to keep swigging from a flask to keep up his disguise. Harry snapped the tin shut and set it down beside his glasses, the frames of which he’d Transfigured into an unobtrusive gold wire pair that quietly said reading glasses, rather than screaming I need these because I’m half-blind otherwise, as his glasses usually did. He ought to leave them at home altogether, but even with his Polyjuice disguise’s perfect vision, he didn’t feel comfortable without them, and he figured the risk was minimal so long as he kept them in his pocket. He didn’t want to appear too suspicious too quickly, so he needed to be careful.
He’d taken great care, along with Ron and Robards, to make Peter Harper’s background just suspicious enough to catch Malfoy’s interest, should Malfoy choose to dig into it using whatever Ministry contacts he obviously had. Harry needed to present himself as just the right sort of shady, to imply that he had the sort of talents that Malfoy might find useful, if he himself were into the sort of dealings that they suspected he was. Ron had been concerned that presenting himself that way straight off would be pushing too far too fast, but Harry and Robards didn’t think that Malfoy would hire him otherwise.
Harry was meant to let his falsified background do most of the work in catching Malfoy’s interest. Pointing out that cursed ring had been something of a spur-of-the-moment gamble, one that Harry had been forced to take. Harry didn’t know shit about antiques, but he did know Dark Arts, and being able to sense them was one of the only lingering effects from having held a bit of Voldemort’s soul inside him for so many years. He may not be able to speak Parseltongue anymore, but Harry had an eerie, almost preternatural ability to sense Dark magic. The handful of cursed objects in Malfoy’s shop resonated with him in a way that he couldn’t entirely explain, but had no trouble whatsoever honing in on. Panic that he was blowing the interview had caused Harry to point out that ring, but luckily Malfoy had leapt on it like a fish lunging for a baited hook.
Now all Harry had to do was keep it up.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slow, Harry picked up his first pill of the day, noted the time, and popped it into his mouth. Polyjuice transformations were never pleasant, and Harry kept his eyes shut and did his best to breathe through it until his skin finally settled. Thank god these pills were more potent than the liquid form of the potion, and he wouldn’t need his second dose for another four hours. Opening his eyes again, he turned to the full-length mirror hung from the back of his wardrobe door and reached inside for one of the sets of robes Disguises had given him to wear as Peter Harper.
They’d given him enough to nearly fill the wardrobe all on their own, which was just as well since Harry had packed up his own clothing, along with everything that could potentially identify him as Harry Potter. He didn’t think it likely that Malfoy would personally come poking about his flat, but Harry could remember any of a dozen times off the top of his head when Malfoy had come skulking around after Harry when they were back at Hogwarts. It’d been easy enough for Robards to take care of changing the housing records at the Ministry; according to the newly filed paperwork, Peter Harper lived here, and Harry Potter shared a flat with Ron. Harry and Hermione had combed the flat and in the end, they’d been able to fit everything identifiably his into his old Hogwarts trunk, which Hermione had taken with her to the flat she shared with Ron for safekeeping.
Harry pulled out a set of light-coloured robes and quickly got dressed, double-checked that he had all the fiddly silver fastenings up the front of it done correctly, tucked his “reading glasses” and the tin of Polyjuice pills and a few Sickles and Knuts for buying lunch with into his pockets, and slipped his wand into the hidden holster sewn into his right sleeve. Disguises had given him a new wand to use as well, twelve and a quarter inches of red oak and dragon heartstring, which responded readily enough to Harry’s magic that it didn’t impede him in his day-to-day spellcasting. But there really was no substitute for one’s own wand in an emergency, and Harry believed in being prepared for the worst. His new wand went into a narrow pocket sewn to the side of his robes, leaving just the carved handle jutting out within easy reach, but it was the slight weight of the wand in his sleeve that gave him comfort.
Out of habit, he turned to the mirror to attempt to do something with his hair, and was surprised to find that for the first time in his life, he didn’t need to. Whichever bloke they’d got the hair from, he was incredibly lucky. Harry swept an experimental hand through his new hair, and watched the curls flop back into the sort of casual disarray that looked like he’d spent an hour in the bathroom working on, and amended his assessment of this bloke to really fucking lucky. Idly pondering whether it was possible to Polyjuice just someone else’s hair, Harry picked up his shoes, patted his pockets to make sure he had everything he needed for the day, gave the cat sleeping at the foot of his unmade bed a pat good-bye, and left his bedroom.
Standing before the Floo a few minutes later, Harry was momentarily overcome by that anxious-excited feeling that had vibrated through him before the first day of school each year.
“All right,” he murmured to himself as he scooped up a handful of Floo powder. “Here we go.”
Moments later, he stepped out of the Floo in the Leaky Cauldron, and only a few minutes after that he arrived at the narrow gap between buildings that was the beginning of Knockturn Alley.
Though he’d been down it any number of times in his adult life, both for work and on his own time, there was still something about it that made a little bit of a flutter start up in the pit of Harry’s stomach. Squaring his shoulders and doing his best to look like he was just going about his business, Harry stepped out of the bright mid-morning sunshine of Diagon and into the cooler shadows of Knockturn.
It only took a few minutes to reach Malfoy’s shop, and Harry hardly passed anyone by on his way to it. Mornings on Knockturn tended to be quiet, at least once the sun came up.
All too soon, Harry found himself standing outside the shop, a narrow stone building with a high, peaked roof. The wooden sign reading Ashby’s Imports & Antiques in fading black script creaked quietly on its hinges where it hung above the heavy iron-banded oak door. The shop’s single display window held a pleasing display of what Harry assumed were antiques, but just looked like junk to him: a battered brass cauldron etched with runes, a collection of stirring rods fanned out before it, a cluster of empty glass bottles, a stack of leatherbound books, two crystal candy dishes, several candlesticks of varying height, and a broad silver tray holding a full china tea service painted with tiny periwinkles. The sign propped in the corner of the display window still read Closed, but the door opened only seconds after Harry knocked on it.
“Perfect timing,” said the man who’d opened it, stepping back to let Harry in before he reached over to flip the sign in the window to Open.
Harry hadn’t really expected that Malfoy would be there on his first day, because training a new employee seemed like something that Malfoy would think was beneath him. Harry’d sort of thought it’d be Celene; from the way she’d bustled around the shop during Harry’s interview, he guessed that she’d been working there for a while. And besides, Malfoy had been almost polite to her, which likely meant he respected her to some degree, which meant that she was more than up to the task of seeing to a new employee.
But as far as he could tell, right now it was just him and this bloke, whom Harry presumed to be Desmond Dwyer.
“Peter Harper?” the man asked over his shoulder as he headed back to the counter, where he had the register’s contents half-organised into neat stacks. “Sorry, I’m running a bit behind this morning. I’m Desmond, I’ll be getting you acquainted with the shop today, just as soon as I finish up here. Do you prefer Peter?”
“Harper, please,” Harry replied with a friendly smile. “I spent seven years as Harper while I was at Hogwarts, and I just kept on once I left.”
“Ah,” said Desmond, nimble fingers counting Knuts into little piles of twenty-nine. “I was at the Ontario Academy of Magics. It’s in Toronto, in Canada.” He shrugged a little sheepishly. “Mum was at Hogwarts during the first time round with You-Know-Who, and when the rumours he might be back cropped up, she had me across the Atlantic before you could say Portkey.” He shrugged again and went back to counting.
“Oh,” Harry said, pieces slotting into place. His quick look into Desmond’s background had revealed that the man had been born and raised in Lincolnshire, but his accent was tempered by something Harry hadn’t quite been able to put his finger on. But spending his formative years abroad probably would’ve done it, all right. “Your mum’s a smart woman,” Harry said when the silence had stretched on just a beat too long. “If I could’ve been anywhere else, I would have been.”
Desmond gave him a tight smile. “I can only imagine,” he said, then flapped a hand at the rest of the shop. “Why don’t you take a look around? Start getting a feel for what we’ve got here. And then as soon as I’m finished, we’ll go over your duties.”
“Right,” Harry said. “Sounds great.”
Desmond went back to counting coins, and Harry meandered over to the nearest shelf, browsing slowly along its length. He didn’t have the least interest in the array of china teacups and their matching saucers displayed on it, nor for the delicate glass figurines arranged beside the teacups. But he didn’t want to make a beeline for any of the cursed objects he’d been able to feel humming just on the edge of his senses since the moment he’d walked through the door. He thought that Desmond might be someone Malfoy trusted—after all, Malfoy had trusted him to guide Harry through his first day—but there was no way to know how deeply any of the employees here were involved in Malfoy’s business… if they were even involved in it at all.
Until proven otherwise, the approach he, Ron, and Robards had decided he’d take with the employees was simply to be friendly to them, to get close and gently press for information about Malfoy, and how much they knew, and if they were involved in anything illegal themselves. Once he had a better feel for them, Harry would evaluate his next steps from there.
He reached the end of the shelf and rounded it to the other side, passing by a cluster of incredibly creepy porcelain dolls in frilly dresses whose glass eyes seemed to follow him as he walked by. Books were after that, then neatly-folded stacks of age-yellowed linens, and finally there it was. Amid several wooden boxes with propped-open lids to display the silver nestled against satin linings was an arrangement of souvenir spoons in a wooden display rack. And one of them, a gleaming silver spoon with a cartoonish witch and the name Salem in swooping script along the handle, was emanating enough Dark magic that Harry could practically feel his teeth vibrating with it.
From the other side of the shelf, Harry could still hear the steady click of coins being stacked, and a quick spell confirmed what he’d already known; the curse on the spoon was passive, needing to be activated. Harry put his chestnut wand away again, then picked up the spoon and turned it over in his hands.
Without further spells, he couldn’t tell what exactly the curse did, just that it was very old and very, very powerful. But he closed his eyes and reached out with his senses anyhow. As expected, didn’t get anything more than that. He was just debating whether it’d be worth the risk to get out his own wand and cast a few detection spells to get more information about the curse when a sudden touch on his shoulder startled him. Harry fumbled the little silver spoon he held, and Desmond’s hand shot out Seeker-quick and plucked it out of the air.
“Sorry,” he said, replacing it on the display rack. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“My own fault,” Harry said, half-distracted by the strange sense of déjà vu that’d suddenly overcome him. Had he and Desmond met before? He managed to dredge up a friendly smile. “Lost in thought.”
“A habit I’m afraid you’ll have to break here,” said Desmond with a rueful smile. “Mr Malfoy frowns on idleness, and if he catches you at it, well…”
It was a perfect opening to press him for more information on Malfoy, but before Harry could say a single word, Desmond continued.
“And on that note, I’ll show you what needs doing round here. There’s plenty to keep busy with, but we’ll start with the register, I think.”
“Sounds good to me,” Harry said, and had no choice but to follow Desmond back to the counter.
- - - - - -
Draco had already counted the register well before Harper arrived to begin his first day at the shop, but he’d wanted an excuse to watch him for a bit, to gather his thoughts and weigh what approach he ought to be taking with him. So he pretended he hadn’t finished and encouraged Harper to wander a bit, and waited to see where he would go and what he would do.
And of course, he went straight for the spoon. He took his time, and a somewhat roundabout way to get to it, but Draco knew exactly what was in his shop, and kept a closer eye on the four cursed objects than anything else—especially the three that weren’t locked up securely in the case. The ring was the most dangerous, enchanted with a variant of the Jilted Lover Curse, but the spoon was a close second in sheer malevolence. Somewhere over the decades, some witch or wizard with a nasty sense of humour had enchanted it with a powerful Immolation Curse that would only respond to Muggles. It’d taken the IUMC Curse-Breakers several weeks to disarm it, leaving the curse intact but twisting a few subtle strands of spellwork so that in the unlikely event the spoon made its way out of the shop and into the hands of a Muggle, the curse would harmlessly self-destruct the moment it tried to activate.
On the other side of the shelves, Harper had gone very quiet. A quick Muffliato over the coins let Draco dump them back in the register without a sound, then he crept quietly around the end of the shelf. Harper was angled away from him, and though Draco couldn’t see his hands, there was a vacant space on the display rack where the cursed spoon ought to be.
This was clearly a man with extensive knowledge of the Dark Arts. Draco could see why Pura had recruited him, and why they’d sent him in here to scope out Draco’s shop. He kept a small stash of cursed objects hidden away at his flat—his own flat—and he’d have to start funneling them into the shop to see if he could use them to really catch Harper’s attention, give him something to report back about, and speed this whole process along.
Entirely absorbed in whatever he was doing with the spoon, Harper didn’t react at all to Draco’s approach, and when Draco reached out to touch his shoulder, Harper startled so badly that the spoon slipped right out of his hands.
Draco was incredibly, immensely, grateful that this curse wasn’t one that would have affected him even if it hadn’t been neutralised, because he didn’t even think. It’d been years since he’d last played Quidditch, but some instinct deeply buried in the back of his brain had his hand shooting out and snatching the shiny thing straight out of the air before the rest of him could even process that it was falling.
“Sorry,” he said, turning half-away to put the spoon back in its slot on the display rack. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“My own fault,” Harper said, and aimed another of those gregarious smiles at Draco. “Lost in thought.”
“A habit I’m afraid you’ll have to break here,” Draco said, aiming for apologetic as he willed his heart to stop thumping quite so quickly. “Mr Malfoy frowns on idleness, and if he catches you at it, well…”
Draco suppressed a wince even as he said it. It always felt so strange to refer to himself in third person, and he especially despised having to talk about himself as the person he’d been rather than the person he’d worked so hard to become. Turning, he hastened to move the conversation away from himself, leaving Harper to follow along after him as he made his way back up to the counter.
“And on that note, I’ll show you what needs doing round here. There’s plenty to keep busy with, but we’ll start with the register, I think.”
“Sounds good to me,” Harper said agreeably.
“That’s most of what you’ll be doing here, I’d imagine,” Draco explained, leading the way over to the gleaming brass behemoth squatting on the end of the counter closest to the door. He couldn’t quite smother his amusement at the look on Harper’s face when he came around the end of the counter and got a look at the business end of it. “Don’t worry, it’s far less complicated than it looks.”
“I can’t imagine it being more complicated than it looks,” Harper said, still staring at the expanse of shiny buttons.
“I thought the same thing when I first laid eyes on it,” Draco said as reassuringly as he could. It wasn’t even a lie. More than the stacks of junk strewn around the place, the sheer number of buttons on this mechanical monster was the one thing that very nearly made him walk straight back out the door, take the nearest Floo to the Department of Mysteries, and inform them that they ought to find someone else for the job. “But it doesn’t take so long to figure out. And either myself or Celene will always be here in the shop with you if you need help.”
“That’s a relief,” Harper said. “All right, let’s give it a go.”
As Draco had suspected, Harper picked it up quickly, much more quickly than Celene or Elisa or even Draco himself had figured it out. He’d have to be especially careful around him. Most criminals, in Draco’s admittedly limited experience, were rather dim. But Harper so far appeared to be as clever as he was observant, which made sense. Pura wouldn’t have got as far as they had by now if they’d filled their ranks with idiots. There was just a difference between knowing that in the abstract, and seeing it on display right before his eyes.
“Excellent, you’re brilliant at this,” Draco said, pushing as much warmth into his voice as he could, and Harper looked up at him, pleased at the compliment. Something in his expression was shockingly genuine, and Draco hadn’t realised how thin some of Harper’s other smiles had been until just now, when he had something to compare them to. Responds well to praise, he added to his mental list. “This is most of what you’ll be doing here, at least until you learn more about our stock. In the meantime, either myself or Celene will be here to answer any questions that customers might have. Otherwise, everything is labelled and priced, and all you’ll need to do is ring it in. When we haven’t got any customers in, you’ll be expected to keep yourself busy cleaning.”
Harper looked around, and Draco didn’t need Legilimency to know what he was thinking. All of the shelves and their assorted contents were perfectly free of dust, all of the furniture shone. The long glass counter held not a single fingerprint and the floors were so clean that… well, Draco certainly wouldn’t want to eat off them himself, but someone with lower standards probably could.
“I know,” Draco said. “But Mr Malfoy doesn’t take kindly to loafing about. It’s best to at least look busy.”
“Is he difficult to work for, then?” Harper asked casually.
Making polite conversation, or angling for information on Malfoy? It was hard to tell, but Draco had to assume it was the latter.
“Not so much,” Draco said. “Celene and I tend to run this place ourselves on a day-to-day basis. He’s not around very often.” He waited to see whether Harper would keep pressing for information.
And Harper didn’t disappoint.
“Oh? Why not?”
“Well, he’s rather busy, isn’t he?” Draco said, coming to a decision on how he ought to handle Harper. He thought he’d get the best results by giving Harper the impression that Desmond was also involved in Malfoy’s criminal activities. Give him two targets to aim for instead of one.
And, as distasteful as he found it to play up the worst angles of his family’s tarnished reputation, he thought it would only help him to invent a bit of tension between his undercover persona and Malfoy. He’d play Desmond as someone who was trusted but not particularly well liked—and who didn’t particularly like Malfoy in return—and that would set up a tempting target for someone who was looking for more information on Malfoy and his corrupt operation. A fiercely loyal employee would keep his secrets, but someone who wasn’t treated well and obviously resented it? That was exactly the sort of weak spot just begging to be exploited.
It wouldn’t do to simply jump in, though. He’d build up to it slowly. Build up some trust with Harper before he started letting slip little hints that he and Malfoy didn’t quite get along.
“He’s got loads of things to see to,” Draco went on, and then steered the conversation back to himself. “That’s why he’s got me, mostly. To keep things here running.”
“You mean the register and the cleaning?”
“Well, yes. That. But besides that, I also assist with new acquisitions,” Draco said. “Malfoy makes regular trips abroad to acquire new merchandise for the shop, and some of it needs to be seen to before it can be put out for sale.”
“Seen to, how?” Harper asked.
“Well, antiques aren’t always in the best shape. Some need a bit of sprucing up, or minor repairs. And of course everything needs to be thoroughly examined, to make certain that we know exactly what we’ve got and that we list it for a fair price.”
“Oh,” Harper said, and there was that very casual tone again. “So you know everything there is to know about everything in the shop?”
“Precisely,” Draco said, and smiled. And he’d best end it there. He wouldn’t want to push too far too fast. “Come along. I’ll show you the chore list. Now, all of these have got to be done each day…”
The morning passed by quickly, and at five past noon, Celene came in to begin her shift. Draco handed Harper over to her, and announced that he was taking his lunch.
With Harper’s whereabouts accounted for, Draco seized the chance to do a search of Harper’s flat. He knew that IUMC had planned to do a sweep this morning while Draco kept him occupied in the shop, and that a full report would be available for him to read later this evening. But he wanted to see it for himself, to try to get a better feel for the man and see what he might learn that could potentially help him in his side of the investigation.
Harper lived in a small flat on the ground floor of a three storey building that straddled the line between magical and Muggle London. The wards were basic, and it only took Draco a couple of minutes to find a weakness and slip through. Gaining entry into the flat itself was easy enough from there thanks to a window left open in the kitchen, protected only by two mild charms: one to keep insects out, and the other as a temperature barrier between the air outside and inside.
A quick Notice-Me-Not Charm ensured that the neighbours wouldn’t be asking Harper any nosey questions later, or worse yet—Floo-Calling the Department of Magical Law Enforcement about a break-in. And then it was as simple as pushing up the window and clambering inside.
Which, to be fair, was rather easier said than done. The window was very small and Draco was very tall, and in the end he was grateful that the Notice-Me-Not saved him from the indignity of anyone witnessing him awkwardly trying to lever himself through the window and over the counter and safely down to the floor. The safely part of that was something of a near miss, when his hand slipped and he nearly made the trip down to the floor face-first, but he caught himself and managed to get his feet under him in time.
Breathing a little hard as he straightened his robes, Draco paused and looked around. The kitchen was cramped, and mostly bare. There were a handful of dirty dishes stacked beside the sink, with far more forks than their meagre number ought to warrant. But that mystery was solved when Draco opened up the ice box and found several boxes of takeaway. A pair of bowls painted with cartoonish fish skeletons sat on the floor, one filled with water, the other with a few crumbs in the bottom, and Draco figured that most likely explained why Harper had the window left open.
The rest of the flat didn’t take long to go through, being mostly as bare as the kitchen had been. There were some small personal touches scattered around the place: a knitted blanket tossed over the back of the sofa, a half-worked crossword puzzle from The Quibbler left on the coffee table, the bed with its duvet flipped hastily up rather than being made properly, a couple of half-used rolls of wrapping paper shoved in the back of a closet. But what struck Draco was the lack of personality. There were no photographs, no mementos, no kitschy souvenirs, no heirlooms. Though the flat felt settled into, like Harper had been here for a while, it didn’t feel terribly lived-in.
And it brought Draco no closer to learning anything useful about Peter Harper. It wasn’t that he’d expected to find anything conveniently incriminating left lying about—in his initial impressions, Harper struck him as too clever and careful for that—but he’d hoped to find something he might be able to use.
Instead, the only things he’d learned were that Harper kept his flat fairly tidy, didn’t appear to cook for himself, and owned a Kneazle.
An incredibly large one, Draco discovered when he returned to the kitchen to find an enormous black beast perched on the kitchen counter, watching him intently with lantern-like yellow eyes.
“Hello, there,” Draco told it softly, slowly extending his hand for it to smell.
The Kneazle gave his fingertips a single disinterested sniff, then hopped down off the counter and sauntered away into the living room. Draco let it go, and lingered a few minutes longer in Harper’s kitchen, mulling it over.
He’d never given much thought as to what a criminal’s flat might look like, but it wasn’t this. Of course it wouldn’t be like in books and plays, a theatrically dark bolthole brimming with Dark magic. But then again, he supposed that the Manor didn’t look like a criminal’s home either, and just look at everything his father had done.
That path of thought didn’t bear going down again, so Draco put it from his mind and turned back to the window.
He had to get back to work.
- - - - - -
Working with Celene was all right, Harry thought, even though she spent most of the time that Desmond was gone for lunch going over the same information that Desmond had already covered earlier that morning. He listened as attentively as he was able, nodded in all the right places, and let her talk. Because, according to Desmond, apparently the alternative would be cleaning things that very obviously didn’t need to be cleaned.
“And of course, if you have any questions at all, either myself or Desmond will be here to help you. Until you get your feet under you, you’ll share your shifts with one of us.”
“Is that everyone who works here? I thought I remembered Malfoy mentioning a third employee.”
“Mr Malfoy,” Celene corrected. “Call him by his surname alone at your own risk. And yes, that’d be Elisa. She’s mostly here at the weekends. She’s Muggleborn, and attending uni. Desmond and I switch off who’s here with her, to give the other one of us a bit of a break.”
As they’d talked, he’d noticed that Celene had the faintest trace of a French accent, and when conversation about work trailed off, Harry asked about it—just making polite chit-chat to keep getting to know her—she explained that her parents had sent her to Beauxbatons.
“And you?” she asked politely.
“Hogwarts,” Harry told her.
And then the door to the shop swung open and they’d both quickly tried to look busy in case it was Malfoy.
It hadn’t been, but that was it for their conversation. Later on that afternoon, he tried again, this time pressing her for more information. Desmond hadn’t been too terribly specific about what else was occupying Malfoy’s time these days, and Harry hoped that she might tell him more.
“All of this has to come from somewhere,” Celene said dryly, gesturing expansively to the painstakingly organised shelves that ran the length of the shop and the antique furniture displayed around the room’s perimeter. “And the sign outside does say we specialise in imports.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Harry said, rolling his eyes a little. “It just seems a little odd that Malfoy does all the acquiring himself.”
“And why do you think that?” Celene asked. She aimed a cleaning spell at the doormat, then cleared a spider web from the front window with a brisk flick of her wand.
“Dunno,” Harry shrugged. “He just seems above it, is all. Like, hasn’t he got better things to do with his time?”
Celene shrugged. “Perhaps he enjoys it,” she said.
“So, what, this shop is his hobby?”
Celene shrugged again. “I wouldn’t know,” she said. “I only work here.”
Desmond came back just then and sent Harry off to get his own lunch, which he spent at the Leaky, holed up at a back table and making notes about his day so far. When he finished both his lunch and his notes, he tapped the paper with his wand, charming it to look like a grocery list before he folded it up and slipped it into his pocket. Then he popped another Polyjuice pill into his mouth and washed it down with the last swallow of his pumpkin juice before he stood up and left the Leaky.
When he returned to the shop, Celene disappeared into the back room to review some post from collectors searching for very specific antiques, leaving Harry alone with Desmond. And again Harry was overcome by the odd sense of déjà vu that’d hit him that morning when Desmond had caught the dropped spoon. There was something familiar about him, in the way he stood or the way he moved. Something about the way he gripped his quill in his long, spidery fingers in particular sent a distant bell pinging faintly in the back of Harry’s brain.
It wasn’t until later that week when Malfoy came sweeping into the shop and Harry saw them both at once that he really put it together. Malfoy and Desmond were of a similar height and build, and they both had what Aunt Petunia used to refer to as “piano hands.” Which must have been the association Harry’d unconsciously made between them that started all this off, when Desmond had caught the Salem spoon.
But that was where the similarities ended. Malfoy was pale and pointy, while Desmond had much more pleasant features, and the most endearing little scattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks, like he spent time in the sun. Malfoy was buttoned up tight in a heavy set of black robes with a dramatically flaring hemline, while Desmond was more casual, wearing a set of cream-coloured linen robes open over trousers and a thin sage green jumper.
That, and Desmond was actually quite nice to spend time with, while Malfoy was still as stuck up as ever. He barely spared the pair of them a glance as he went striding by and disappeared into the back room.
At least he gave Harry an opening to press Desmond for more information.
“I think this is the first time I’ve seen him since my interview. He doesn’t come around here much at all, does he?” Harry asked, staring at the closed door behind which Malfoy had vanished.
“Not often,” Desmond said without looking up from the silver he was busily polishing. “Comes swanning in about once per week, mostly to check over my work, and then goes off again.”
He sounded bothered by it, and Harry could certainly understand the irritation of having someone come along for the sole purpose of looking over your shoulder to check that you were doing your job properly. But something in Desmond’s tone suggested more.
Desmond had said a few other things over the last week that suggested that there might be some tension between himself and Malfoy, and Harry had been debating over when he ought to push him on it.
Harry held his tongue for a moment, then glanced at the door to the back room. With Malfoy actually here, this seemed to be the right time. He lowered his voice. “You don’t like him much, do you?”
Desmond snorted. “Not much to like, is there?”
“No,” Harry said with a grimace. “I suppose there’s not.”
Desmond gave him a shrewd look. “You say that as if you’ve had personal experience with Malfoy. I wasn’t aware the two of you had met.”
“We haven’t,” Harry said, backtracking quickly. Fuck, he was bad at this. “I mean, not before now, at least. But, well, people do talk.” He shrugged. “He’s got quite a reputation, hasn’t he?”
“Well that’s certainly true,” Desmond said, going back to his silver.
“So,” Harry said slowly, “if you don’t like him all that much, then why do you work for him?”
Desmond paused in his polishing and seemed to weigh his next words very carefully. “For the opportunities, of course,” he said.
Harry’s breath caught. “Opportunities?” he echoed.
“Desmond,” Malfoy’s sharp voice rapped out from the doorway to the dim little back room. “A moment of your time, if you’re not too busy chatting.”
Harry’s temper sparked, even though that imperious tone wasn’t directed at him. Beside him, Desmond set down the silver knife with a sharp clack, dropped his rag atop it, and stalked across the shop. Harry took a deep breath and tried his best to keep his borrowed face from showing any sign of his dislike for Malfoy, for the way he spoke to Desmond or for the fact that Harry had finally seemed to be getting somewhere useful and Malfoy had ruined it.
Fine lot of good it did; Malfoy gave Harry a single disdainful glance and then very pointedly snapped a strong Silencing Spell around the back room before shutting himself and Desmond inside.
What a massive bellend.
While Harry had certainly had his suspicions about Malfoy’s good character of late—or decided lack thereof—this, more than anything, convinced Harry that Malfoy really hadn’t changed at all since his days at Hogwarts. Still as snobbish and overbearing as he’d always been, never passing up an opportunity to lord his status over those he saw as lesser than himself. Still prancing about and acting as if the world owed him everything for the sheer dumb luck of being born into a family with massive amounts of money and a lineage better documented than the bloody queen.
What an arsehole.
To keep himself busy, Harry took up the rag Desmond had abandoned on the counter and picked up where he’d left off, polishing the butter knife and nestling it neatly away into its red-velvet-padded slot in the polished mahogany box of silver.
His anger carried him through polishing the rest of the silver, and Harry snapped the box shut and set it aside. The door to the back room was still firmly shut, and of course Harry couldn’t hear anything from the other side thanks to Malfoy’s charm. A glance at one of the many antique clocks that were displayed around the shop showed that they’d only been in there for about ten minutes, and Harry assumed they’d be in there a while longer. Malfoy had always liked the sound of his own voice, after all.
He wondered how Desmond was handling it. He hadn’t seemed pleased to see Malfoy, and even less pleased to be called back. He’d probably be in a right mood when he came back out, and Harry couldn’t blame him. He’d be the same, in Desmond’s shoes.
The idea came to him in a flash. If nothing else, this might be just the opportunity Harry had been waiting for to get closer to Desmond, and he’d be an idiot to not take advantage of it.
Tossing the rag aside, Harry reached under the counter and grabbed the sign that read Back Soon! in a cheerful green font. Hurrying to the front door, he propped the sign in the window and slipped outside.
- - - - - -
“How was that?” asked the Unspeakable currently wearing Draco’s face.
“You were an absolute arsehole,” Draco said. “It was perfect.”
The Unspeakable broke into a sunny grin that made Draco’s face look startlingly young. “Well then, now that we’ve got that out of the way and your new bloke out there will never suspect you of being in two places at once…” he said, settling down into the room’s single chair. “I’ve got authorisation to take your report, if you’d like. I thought I might as well, since I was headed in here anyway.”
Oh, wonderful. That’d save him a trip into the Ministry later today. “That’s very kind of you, Unspeakable…?”
“Jameson,” he said. “I work in the Hall of Prophecy.”
Draco’s eyebrows rose. “Really. I didn’t know they’d pulled anyone from Prophecy in on this.”
Jameson shrugged. “Just me.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask Jameson whether there was a prophecy regarding the outcome of this case, but Draco bit the question back. The Department of Mysteries valued its secrets, and the people who worked in the Hall of Prophecy most of all. He knew better than to ask.
“Authorisation code?” he asked instead.
Jameson drew his wand without complaint and extended it for Draco to touch the tip of his own wand to. “37-52P,” he said, and where their wands met sparked blue.
“76-25T,” Draco replied, and there was another flash of blue light.
They both put their wands away, and Jameson produced a modified Remembrall from one of his pockets so that Draco could give his report. It didn’t take overly long for him to do so. Peter Harper had been working in his shop for about a week now, and so far he hadn’t given Draco anything particularly useful to report back. At this point, he was starting to second-guess himself that Harper was affiliated with Pura at all. If he was, wouldn’t he have made some sort of move by now? Pura tended to work faster than this, establishing contacts quickly and pushing forward with their plans.
(He didn’t include this observation in his report; Harper was unquestionably up to something, and if it wasn’t Pura, well, Draco would simply deal with that as it came up.)
But beyond that, Harper was a great big bundle of contrasts that Draco found absolutely infuriatingly intriguing. He was calm and easygoing and friendly, but there was something harder in him, something darker. The ease with which he picked out cursed items spoke of extensive experience with Dark Arts, but he certainly didn’t act like any Dark wizard Draco had ever encountered before.
(He didn’t include any of those observations in his report, either.)
When he finished up, Jameson logged the time and his authorisation code, and then updated Draco on the most recent developments of the case. They’d seen no sign of Pura attempting to infiltrate the UK again, but another IUMC operative had caught them trying to smuggle a vial of sand from a Time-Turner—pure Time Magic—through Belgium into the Netherlands. They’d been working through an apothecary rather than an antiques shop this time, hiding the vial of sand in plain sight among a legitimate shipment of ground scarab beetles. It’d very nearly slipped through.
“They must be getting desperate if they’re resorting to breaking open the Time-Turners,” Draco said. Outside of the powerful containment spells worked throughout the hourglass apparatus of a Time-Turner, the sand itself was incredibly unstable, and this was the third time he’d heard of it being smuggled outside of its hourglass.
“Unfortunately, IUMC agrees,” Jameson said. “They suggest that one of your next trips to the continent include Belgium as a destination. They caught the shipment in Bruges, so you might consider starting there.”
“Has the sand been properly seen to?” he couldn’t help but ask, but assumed that it had been. They’d have called him in on an emergency Portkey, otherwise.
“IUMC had a qualified operative nearby, thank Merlin,” Jameson said. “It’s been taken care of.”
“Thank Merlin,” Draco echoed, and didn’t envy whichever poor bastard had been called in to deal with it.
When he’d decided to specialise in Time Magic as an Unspeakable, he’d never dreamt that he’d ever have to deal with it outside of its heavy containment spells. It wasn’t an adventure he cared to ever have for himself, but knew that he might very well have to before they finished this case.
“Well,” Draco said after Jameson had put the Remembrall away again. “I’d best get back out there.”
Jameson fished in his pockets and pulled out a tattered paperback. “Go on, then. I’ll just wait here for another twenty or so before leaving. That’s enough time, right?”
“Give it about thirty,” Draco said.
“Got it,” Jameson said, and kicked back comfortably in the chair before opening his book.
Careful to keep the door shut enough to not reveal Jameson lounging in a most un-Malfoy-like manner, Draco slipped back out into the shop and closed the door after himself.
Preoccupied with what he’d just been told, the smell of fresh coffee didn’t register until he rounded the end of the shelves and saw Harper slouching against the counter, two steaming paper cups sitting beside him.
“Where on earth did you get that?” Draco asked, surprised, as he joined him.
Harper gave him a grin. “Popped the Back Soon! sign in the window and snuck off. Figured Malfoy would keep you long enough for me to get back before you finished up.” He scooted one of the paper coffee cups a little closer to Draco. “Thought you might need something nice after that. He seemed as though he was in a mood and looking to take it out on someone.”
“Oh—I—” Draco paused and gathered himself, a little embarrassed how much the kind gesture had thrown him off-balance. “Thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.”
Harper gave him a smile, and toasted him with his own paper cup before taking a sip. Following his lead, Draco raised his own cup to his lips and took a drink. It only occurred to him as he was swallowing that maybe he ought to be more suspicious of a drink delivered to him by a suspected criminal. But Celene would be back from her lunch break at any moment, and Jameson-as-Draco was still in the back room. Surely Harper wouldn’t be mad enough to poison Draco with witnesses around.
“Everything all right?” Harper asked, brow furrowed in concern.
“Yes, sorry. Yes,” Draco said quickly, and then smiled, because this was definitely something he could use. His coffee only tasted like coffee and most potions took effect instantly. Which meant this wasn’t an attempt to dose him with something untoward. Harper had gone out of his way to do something nice for a coworker having a rough day. And that meant that Draco was earning his trust, getting closer to him. This was a step towards making progress on this case, and Draco sure as fuck meant to encourage it as much as he was able. The more of Harper’s trust he had, the quicker Draco would be able to get the information he needed out of him. “I was just—surprised that you know how I take my coffee.”
“I’m afraid I can’t take credit,” Harper said. “I’ve seen you come in with cups from there before, and luckily the barista working remembered you and how you like it. But,” he paused and smiled again, “Now I know for next time.”
- - - - - -
And there was a next time, and a next and a next and a next. After that afternoon when Malfoy had descended upon the shop and summoned Desmond into the back room for whatever scolding or lecture he had planned, the coffee had become a bit of a thing between them.
At first it had been friendly. Or, Harry had meant it to be a friendly. A perfectly innocent friendly gesture between coworkers. But now that Desmond had begun reciprocating, Harry was beginning to wonder whether Desmond hadn’t taken Harry’s perfectly innocent friendly gesture as something more.
Desmond had never mentioned a significant other, past or present, so Harry had no idea what exactly his preferences were. But sometimes he got the impression that Desmond was sort of flirting with him. Nothing overt, nothing definitive. But the way he’d smile, or touch Harry’s arm or shoulder to get his attention. The way he always seemed glad to see Harry when he walked through the door each morning.
He was clearly acting like a man nursing a bit of a crush, and that was absolutely something Harry could use. He’d decided only a few days in that he ought to focus his efforts on Desmond rather than Malfoy, simply based on proximity alone. It was hard to get close enough to wrangle information out of someone who only showed up once a week and spent a couple of hours holed up in the back room of the shop. Whereas he saw Desmond nearly every single day, and they’d spent lots of time talking. Not even about particularly consequential subjects, but things like Quidditch and current events. Harry was enjoying himself more than he really cared to admit. Yes, Desmond was a criminal, but he was also charming, with a surprisingly sharp sense of humour. It’d occurred to Harry that if Desmond weren’t a criminal, he’d be exactly the sort of person Harry would be trying to figure out how to ask on a date, and didn’t it just figure that the first person in this long to have struck his fancy was entirely off-limits to him?
He was getting pretty good at pushing those extremely unwelcome thoughts to the back of his mind and cramming them down deep. And at least there was a small silver lining to it all: Harry didn’t have to fake his enjoyment of their conversations. Or how he felt about the pastries that Desmond had begun to bring him along with his coffees in the morning. That was most definitely a silver lining as well.
“Oh,” Harry said, after biting into a croissant that was buttery and flaky and soft and still-warm. “You have to tell me where you got this. I need more of these in my life.”
“Mm,” Desmond said, leaning his elbows on the counter and watching Harry with a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “But if I did, you’d have no more use for me, would you?”
Harry took a deep breath, and took a chance. “I’m sure I’d still have some use for you,” he said, pairing his words with a gentle touch to Desmond’s wrist.
Desmond’s breath caught, and for one awful moment Harry was afraid that he’d fucked up. That he’d entirely mistaken Desmond’s friendliness for attraction, and this was pushing too far and he’d irreparably destroyed his chances with the best source of information on Malfoy. Then in the next moment, a slow, pleased smile spread across Desmond’s face, and Harry could breathe again.
“Well, in that case…” Desmond said, and then shook his head. “No, I believe I’ll keep some of my secrets to myself for a bit longer.”
“Not for too much longer, I hope,” Harry said, letting a little of his relief show.
Desmond returned his smile, a little shyly. “I suppose we’ll see, won’t we?” he said, low and teasing.
Yes, Harry thought, I suppose we will.
- - - - - -
Fuck, this situation had just got a lot more complicated, and Draco wasn’t at all sure what he ought to do. He’d only meant to be friendly to Harper, but looking back, he could see that perhaps he’d overplayed it a bit and had inadvertently given him the wrong idea that Draco was interested.
Which, now that it’d begun to play out, Draco saw that he could turn this to his advantage. But, fuck. He’d have to be far more careful in his interactions with Harper from here on out. He’d need to balance keeping up the appearance of romantic interest while not actually encouraging it to go anywhere—at least, not anywhere near a bedroom.
It wasn’t that he was necessarily opposed to sleeping with someone he barely knew. After all, he’d had a somewhat embarrassing number of one-night stands in his very early twenties, and still had the occasional one every now and again. But something about doing it as part of an undercover investigation to get information out of a suspect struck him as unbearably sordid.
How best to avoid putting himself in just such a scenario weighed heavily on his mind as he walked home that evening. The day had gone by quickly, and to Draco’s surprise had been only minimally awkward. He and Harper had exchanged a handful of smiles whenever their eyes happened to catch across the shop, and Harper had touched him a little more than usual: a hand on his elbow to get his attention, a palm pressed to the small of his back as he squeezed past. But nothing untoward, and their conversation had fallen back into its usual patterns without any more of the innuendo that’d dropped like a Confringo into the middle of Draco’s quiet morning.
Draco was still preoccupied with it the following day when he stopped in at the patisserie below his flat to pick up his usual coffees and breakfast for himself and Harper. Yesterday morning he’d been thinking that today he’d bring in the chocolate croissants, but he instead ended up walking out with a bag of a dozen chouquettes for them to share. That was an appropriately affectionate thing to do, wasn’t it? Moreso than just bringing two of something larger, as he’d done with the croissants? Fuck, it’d been so long since Draco had attempted to have any sort of relationship that he genuinely had no idea what he ought to do. He was already beginning to overthink everything and second-guessing all of his decisions, replaying every interaction over in his mind and wondering whether he oughtn’t have done something differently. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was entirely out of his depth here, and Harper was going to be able to tell just from looking at him that he had no idea what he was doing. And then all the rest of Draco’s lies would keep unravelling from there.
He took a deep breath and a fortifying sip of coffee, and told himself the same thing he’d told himself the night before, lying in his bed and staring up at his darkened ceiling while his whirling thoughts refused to quiet enough for him to sleep: the very best thing to do was to simply keep on exactly as he’d been. Whatever he’d done when he’d been acting friendly toward Harper had obviously been enough to capture his interest. Now all Draco had to do was keep that up while he waited to see what Harper would do next, and then he could simply follow his lead as they went along. After all, Harper had been the one to initiate this… thing between them, and he’d seemed so confident about it. Draco would be fine if he just used Harper as an example for what he ought to do next.
Easy enough, right?
That plan lasted right up until when Draco let Harper into the shop that morning, gave him a warm smile, and Harper promptly tripped over the doormat.
Draco would certainly not be emulating that particular action.
“Are you all right?” Draco asked, smothering a laugh as he held Harper’s elbow to help steady him.
“Erm, yeah,” Harper said with a sheepish smile. “Sorry, I’m not usually—” He broke off, then his smile turned teasing. “I guess you could say the sight of you really knocked me off my feet.”
It was such a ridiculous thing to say that Draco couldn’t help but laugh. “Poor job I did of it, you barely stumbled.”
Harper nudged him with his elbow. “I don’t know… I’d say you’re doing just fine.”
“Oh, well—I…” Draco groped for a response, something smooth and witty and charming, and oh Merlin, he’d already waited too long for his response to be any of those things, hadn’t he? Fuck it, he decided. Flustered was probably as good a response as any. Plus, it’d let Harper think he was the one in control. “Thank you,” he said, and gave Harper a shy smile, one that he knew showed off his Glamoured dimples.
Harper practically beamed back at him, and then his gaze caught on the paper bag sitting on the counter beside the two cups of coffee.
“What did you bring me today?” he asked, already leaning over to unfold the top of the bag.
“Chouquettes,” Draco said. “They’re, ah, little bits of choux pastry with pearl sugar on top.”
Harper glanced over at him, brow furrowing in question. “Choux pastry?” he repeated.
Draco shrugged. “Same thing that eclairs are made of,” he said.
“Oh.” Harper paused and fished one of the chouquettes out of the bag and popped it into his mouth. “Mm. I had no idea that’s what it was called. What an odd name.” He had a little bit of pearl sugar clinging to his bottom lip.
“I thought so too, but it’s actually because one of the earlier recipes used it for buns that resembled… you’ve, ah. You’ve got a little, just there,” Draco said, gesturing to his own face to point out where Harper ought to be directing his attention.
Harper sucked his lower lip into his mouth and released it a moment later, all shiny-pink and wet. “Did I get it?”
“Got it,” Draco said, gaze lingering for an extra moment or two despite himself.
When he caught himself staring, he looked hurriedly away and shoved a chouquette into his mouth. He could feel his cheeks growing warm and hoped that it didn’t show through his Glamour. Not that it would be particularly calamitous if it did; Harper would likely assume that any blushing Draco did was due to attraction. Not frustration, as it actually was.
Good Merlin, get ahold of yourself! Draco thought sternly. He was only pretending to be attracted to Harper—who, even if he wasn’t part of an international terrorist organisation, was very clearly involved in something that fell on the wrong side of the law—and he needed to keep his head about him. Keep his mental distance, keep in control. Draco was capable of withstanding the attentions of a pretty man without going to absolute pieces over it.
And then after this was all over and his life was his own again, he needed to go out and go home with someone he’d never see again and get himself spectacularly fucked. Because if all Harper had to do was lick his lips and Draco was staring, then clearly Draco was long overdue.
“All right there?” Harper asked, gently touching Draco’s arm.
Draco gave him a smile. “Never better,” he said.
And when he popped the next chouquette into his mouth, he made a show of sucking the sugar off his fingers.
To his immense delight, Harper’s gaze immediately went to his mouth.
Yes, all Draco had to do was keep himself in control, and this would all be over before he knew it.
- - - - - -
This morning, instead of bringing Harry his own pastry as he’d done the few mornings prior, Desmond had brought them something to share: a paper bag full of these really fantastic little puffed bits of shoe pastry dusted with pearl sugar. It’d been perfect, casual but with just the right amount of intimate. Their hands had brushed a couple of times as they’d tried to reach into the paper bag at the same time, and Harry really, really wished he’d been the one to think of doing something like that.
He also really, really wished that he knew which bakery Desmond kept getting this stuff from. Finding out was basically his secondary mission at this point. But the plain paper bags offered no clues, and the paper coffee cups were equally generic. And no matter how many times Harry asked, Desmond still wouldn’t share the secret.
Desmond seemed in particularly good spirits that morning, laughing and going along with Harry’s teasing. Harry had been worried that he’d blown it when he’d walked into the shop and immediately nearly fallen flat on his face, and really, shouldn’t he be entirely used to moving in this new body by now? He’d done the first thing that popped into his mind and turned it into a ridiculously cheesy bit of flirting, and thankfully Desmond had played along with it. Harry had seized upon the chouquettes as a distraction from how embarrassingly clumsy he still was in his Polyjuiced disguise.
(A very welcome distraction in more ways than one; they were fucking delicious.)
Then it’d all gone off the rails again. Desmond had pointed out that Harry had a crumb stuck to his mouth, and he hadn’t thought twice about licking it off. He hadn’t meant it to be part of the flirting, but when Desmond had blushed a truly endearing shade of pink and gone quiet, Harry had decided that, yeah, all right, that worked.
…right up until Desmond had turned the tables on him and sucked sugar off his fingers while peering at Harry from beneath his lashes as he did so.
And for all that Harry was well aware that Desmond was up to his eyeballs in whatever shady business Malfoy had running here, and for all that Harry knew that he was only meant to be faking his feelings here, he was caught entirely off-guard when a sharp curl of lust unfurled in the pit of his stomach.
Shit, when this case was wrapped up maybe he ought to let Hermione set him up with someone, as she’d been pestering him for months now. Clearly it’d been too long since his last relationship.
Thankfully a customer came in just then, an older wizard in impeccably pressed black robes, and Harry brushed his hands off on his thighs and hurried over to take care of him.
Only it turned out that the wizard had about a million highly specific questions about an antique silver tea service, so Desmond jumped in and Harry left them to it. In addition to giving him some time to think and space to breathe, Harry had sensed a new Dark object in the shop that morning, humming faintly on the very edges of his senses, and as with the rest, he knew he wouldn’t be able to tune it out until he knew exactly what and where it was. Under the guise of dusting the shelves, he made his way slowly to the back corner where a lavishly painted jewellery box stood between a set of tortoiseshell hair combs and a cluster of cut crystal perfume bottles. A few spells confirmed the presence of a curse, and Harry added a subtle Tracking Charm to it, so that if it ever sold he could report it to the Aurors and someone would be able to get it back.
Even though he could feel the other Dark objects when he focused on them, Harry still checked them out: the spoon, the pocketwatch, the crystal candy dish, the painting, and of course the ruby ring. All still present and accounted for. It was lucky for Harry that the shop didn’t see too much business, and he hoped that none of the occasional customers would accidentally buy any of them before he wrapped up this case and shut it all down. Usually, objects like these would be confiscated as soon as they were discovered, and then either de-cursed or destroyed. It really rankled him to leave them here, just sitting out, ready and waiting for any witch or wizard to wander by and pick one up. But what else could Harry do without compromising his cover?
“Thank Merlin,” Desmond said from behind Harry, and Harry only just now processed that he’d heard the front door open and shut a minute ago. “I thought he’d never leave.”
“Did he even buy anything after all those questions?” Harry asked, turning casually away from the jewellery box and sidling half a step to the right to put himself directly in front of the display of perfume bottles.
Desmond grimaced, and that was all the answer Harry needed.
“Right, of course. Silly question.”
“Very,” Desmond agreed dryly. “What are you doing back here? Hiding?”
It was all Harry could do to keep his gaze from flickering back to the jewellery box. “Just doing a bit of dusting,” he said, twirling his wand in a lazy circle.
Too late, he wondered whether it might’ve been better to indicate the jewellery box in some way, to force Desmond to acknowledge it in some way to see what he would do. But the moment for that had already passed.
Well, Harry was sure that another opportunity would present itself soon. For now, he’d just keep on as he had been, getting closer to Desmond and earning his trust. Surely if Desmond was working for Malfoy, and given how Malfoy knew that Harry was a man of certain talents, it made sense for him to have Desmond watching him and reporting back, right? So if Desmond reported back that he trusted Harry, then surely Malfoy would approach him soon.
At least Harry hoped he would. He’d give it just a few more days, and then perhaps he’d see what he could do about giving things a little nudge.
- - - - - -
Draco’s plan of following Harper’s lead was coming along perfectly. It was easier between them now, their banter coming more naturally, and it didn’t leave him feeling quite so flustered and off-balance as it had previously.
Maybe, after all of this was over and he had some free time, he ought to look into dating again. Because, Merlin help him, a part of him was actually beginning to enjoy what he had going with Harper. Yes, it was all for the investigation, and yes, Draco was well aware that it wasn’t real. But there was something undeniably gratifying about having someone else’s attention, and of late, Draco had found himself daydreaming about what it might be like to have it for real, with someone who wasn’t part of an internationally wanted terrorist organisation.
Well. Possibly part of an internationally wanted terrorist organisation. As the days went by, Draco felt less and less certain that Harper was a member of Pura at all. It was entirely possible that Draco’s shop had instead attracted the attention of a perfectly ordinary, garden-variety criminal. Someone who saw an opportunity for smuggling something illegal or restricted or what have you, and decided to seize his chance. Merlin, Draco was actually starting to hope for that. Fake flirtation and his better judgement aside, Draco was beginning to rather like Harper, and the Wizengamot would be easier to face than the justice meted out by the IUMC.
Of course, no matter how much Draco enjoyed his company, he knew that even if Harper weren’t part of Pura, a true relationship could never develop between them, given Harper’s familiarity with Dark Arts. It wasn’t that Draco didn’t believe in second chances, or that someone who’d begun down that particular path couldn’t turn away from it—he himself was proof that it could be done. But in order for that to happen, one had to genuinely want it, had to truly regret their actions. And in Draco’s experience, most people, once they got their first taste of Dark magic, had no desire to ever let go of the potent rush that came along with it.
Aside from some small, private part of him that couldn’t quite give up the fantasy of Harper’s redemption, Draco was very much a pragmatist. If Harper was as deeply into the Dark Arts as Draco suspected, the chances of him coming back from that were very slim indeed.
Which was a shame, because in addition to liking him, Draco could feel himself teetering on the precipice of liking him. It would be easy to let himself fall, he thought, which was why he could under no circumstances allow that to happen. This situation was already complicated enough, even without taking into account that all of this was happening with Draco under a Glamour and a false identity, but this one aspect at least was crystal clear. Harper was some sort of criminal, and no matter what kind he turned out to be, that made him off-limits to Draco.
Now if only Draco could figure out exactly what he was involved in, and how deep that involvement went.
Harper certainly wasn’t making it easy for Draco to get any answers out of him in that vein. Draco was somewhat reluctant to push the matter directly as Desmond, but Harper hadn’t responded to any of the cursed objects Draco was steadily filtering into the shop’s inventory. He’d just quietly check out each one as soon as it appeared, and each time he did, he did his best to hide that he’d noticed anything amiss at all. During one of Draco’s check-ins with IUMC, he’d suggested that he might get further with Harper faster if he were to approach him directly, as himself, to offer him a place in the smuggling aspect of the business that he was pretending to have going. But IUMC shut that idea down straightaway. Their resources were already stretched thin, and if Harper didn’t immediately open up about Pura, then they’d have to figure out how to fake a smuggling ring for Merlin knew how long. And, some higher-up had apparently decided, it’d make a more solid case against Harper if they were to let him make the first move.
Which left the fake flirtation avenue of the investigation. That, at least, was coming along nicely. Draco had to hope that as things progressed, Harper would soon confide in him more directly about what he hoped to get out of Malfoy. And then Draco would know once and for all whether he was affiliated with Pura or not. But even that had its difficulties. Harper seemed open enough when they were alone, but he’d jump whenever the door opened, disrupting their flow of conversation. Or if Celene was around, which was more days than not, he’d become reluctant to say much of anything of consequence. He and Draco would have long conversations about Quidditch or whatever bits of overblown nonsense were currently cluttering up the front page of the Prophet, but nothing that led Draco any further along in his investigation.
Clearly, Draco needed to figure out a way to get him alone and out of the shop, but he wasn’t sure how to do that without offering more than he was willing to give. Could a date just be a date, or would Harper expect more than Draco was willing to give? Merlin, he wished he weren’t quite so out of his depth here.
Luckily, Harper made the first move, and saved Draco from having to make any sort of decision at all.
“Hey,” said Harper on Thursday evening as they were closing up the shop for the day. “I was thinking… how would you feel about getting a drink with me after work tonight?”
“I’d love to,” Draco said right away, not bothering to hide his eagerness at the offer.
“Wonderful,” Harper said, grinning.
“Great,” Draco replied, smiling back. “Where did you have in mind?”
“How about the Three Thestrals? Do you know that one?”
“I know of it,” Draco said. It was very near his flat, down on the quieter end of Diagon. He’d walked past it a time or two, and it never seemed to be all that busy. Certainly nowhere near the bustle that the Leaky Cauldron saw on the regular, which made it perfect for a nice, intimate chat over drinks. “But I’ve never been.”
“I rather like it,” Harper said. “Their cottage pie is phenomenal.”
“I’ll have to give it a try, then,” Draco said, even though he didn’t particularly like cottage pie. He always found it too heavy, and perhaps just a bit pedestrian for his tastes.
Harper grinned. “I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”
“Desmond,” Celene said from the doorway to the back room. “A moment, if you don’t mind?”
Suppressing a sigh, Draco went to see what she wanted. “Yes?”
As soon as he cleared the doorway, Celene caught him by the arm and pulled him out of sight. “What do you think you’re doing, going out with him?”
He didn’t have any idea what he was doing, actually. He didn’t have the faintest bloody idea. But he prised her fingers from his elbow and gave her a cool look. “I know exactly what I’m doing,” he said.
“I don’t think you do. No one with that amount of Dark Arts knowledge is trustworthy, and you want to go out with him? Alone? Have you managed to forget what sort of man he is? Or what he might be capable of?” she hissed.
Draco’s mind flashed back to how casually Harper had picked out the ruby ring on display in the counter, or how he’d gone after each of the objects in the shop one by one, as unerringly as if they were singing out his name. “Of course I haven’t forgotten any of that,” he said, keeping his voice low through sheer effort of will alone. “But I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you.”
Celene opened her mouth to counter that, but the creak of a floorboard brought her up short.
“Erm, sorry, I—didn’t mean to interrupt,” Harper said, looking back and forth between them. “I just came to see what was keeping Desmond.”
“That’s all right,” Celene said, suddenly all sweetness and sunshine. The look she gave Draco said that this wasn’t over, not by a long shot. “Have a good time tonight, and I’ll see you both tomorrow.” She picked up her handbag from where it hung on a hook on the back of the door beside Desmond’s ridiculous hat, looped it over her shoulder, gave both of them a sharp nod, and left.
“What was that about?” Harper asked, looking after Celene’s rapidly retreating back.
“Nothing,” Draco said quickly. Fuck, he’d said that too quickly. “She just… well, she’s a bit protective of me. I got out of a relationship recently that was… well, not a good fit.”
“Oh,” Harper said. “Well, this can just be a drink between friends, if you’d rather. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that.”
“No. No,” Draco said, seizing upon the excuse he’d just come up with. This would let him have his Cauldron Cake and eat it too, so to speak. He could use their ongoing flirtation to get closer to Harper, but if he insisted that he needed to take things slow due to a recent break-up, then he wouldn’t have to actually do anything that would compromise anyone’s morals. He could also spare himself the embarrassment of having to include any such activities in his reports back to IUMC. A flash of mortification went through him just thinking about having to write down any sort of bedroom activities that might occur.
And best of all, it would keep Celene off his back. She really was far too nosey for her own good, sometimes. They were only colleagues, after all. Not friends, and Draco much preferred to keep it that way. As soon as Pura made contact, either here at his shop or elsewhere in Britain, then Draco would never see her again, so he didn’t quite see the point in getting overly-friendly with her in the meantime.
“No…?” Harper repeated hopefully.
“No,” Draco assured him. “I very much want this to be more than a drink between friends. But… I hope you understand if I’d like to take things a bit slow?”
“Of course,” Harper said quickly. “I understand completely. As slow as you need.”
Well. That was far easier than Draco had expected it to be. Although… did Harper sound relieved, or was Draco simply projecting his own relief onto Harper? “Thank you,” he said, wincing a bit at how prim and proper he sounded.
Harper gave him a baffled look. “For not being an arsehole about it? Your last relationship must have really been something…”
Draco’s last—and only— relationship had been Pansy Parkinson back at Hogwarts. “You’ve no idea,” he murmured, turning to take his hat down off its peg. He settled it onto his head, then turned back to Harper. “Well. Shall we?”
Smiling, Harper offered his elbow, and Draco took it, and together they left the shop.
On the way to the pub Harper had suggested, they made smalltalk about the weather and some of the customers who’d stopped by the shop that day. Draco practically held his breath as they passed by his flat and the patisserie below it, but Harper, fully engaged in complaining about a woman whose purebred Crup had relieved itself against the leg of a suit of armour, didn’t even notice.
At the pub, Harper held the door for Draco. “Why don’t you find us a table and I’ll go order. Any preferences?”
“Whatever you’re getting is fine,” Draco said, preoccupied with scanning the room.
Most of the tables were empty, with only a couple of witches settled in near the window with a whole mess of parchment spread out between them, and a young couple tucked away in a shadowy booth near the back. A handful of people sat at the bar itself, where the lone bartender was idly wiping off freshly washed pint glasses and putting them away. Harper leaned against the bar, perusing the list of drinks on tap scrawled on a large chalkboard propped against the wall.
Leaving him to it, Draco chose a table against the far wall of the room, away from the bar and about equidistant between the other two pairs of patrons. A minute later, Harper joined him, with two pint glasses filled with something deep amber.
“They’ve got a sour beer on tap that looks good,” Harper said, setting down one of the glasses in front of Draco. “But I wasn’t sure if you liked that sort of thing, so I got us ale. Figured that’d be safer.”
“Oh,” Draco said, touching his fingers to the frosty pint glass in front of him but not lifting it. “I do like sour beers.”
Harper grinned at him. “Next round, then,” he said.
Draco smiled back at him. “Next round,” he agreed, and took a drink. “Not bad.”
Harper snorted. “Thanks,” he said.
“Not that I doubted your taste,” Draco said. His fingers were wet with condensation and he wiped them on the edge of the table. “You are here with me, after all.”
That got a laugh out of Harper. “Someone’s full of himself,” he said.
The retort I’d like to be full of something else, popped unbidden into Draco’s mind, and the impulse to say it aloud was so strong that he actually opened his mouth. Every last ounce of his better judgement kicked in at once, mercifully before he could say anything, and he coughed awkwardly. “Ah, yes,” he managed. “I… get that. A lot.”
“Sorry,” Harper said, obviously misreading Draco’s sudden reticence. “I didn’t mean…”
“No, no,” Draco said. “It’s all right. Really.”
But Harper seemed as thrown off-balance as Draco felt. The conversation flowed awkwardly from there, in fits and starts about inconsequential things. It felt strange to be with Harper outside of the shop, in the same way that it’d felt strange to see Professor Snape turn up at the Manor back when Draco was in school. Draco drank his pint a little quicker than was probably advisable given the circumstances, but every time there was a lull in the conversation, he found himself picking up his glass for a drink. It was no small consolation that Harper was easily keeping up with him.
By the time they reached the bottom of their glasses, things felt a little easier. The ale had helped Draco to relax, and seemed to have done much the same for Harper. The most endearingly rosy flush had risen to the apples of Harper’s cheeks, and his smiles came a little quicker than they usually did.
“Shall I get us the next round?” Draco asked, already reaching for Harper’s empty glass. “Sour this time, right?”
“Please,” Harper said, nudging his glass into Draco’s waiting hand.
Despite the small number of patrons, Draco still had to wait a few minutes for the bartender’s attention, and that was all right by him. It gave him a moment to gather himself together. Merlin, it hadn’t been until he’d walked away from the table that he’d even remembered that he was only here as part of an investigation. That he was supposed to be doing his best to work any and all information he could out of Harper. Instead, here he was, treating it like it was an evening out with a friend.
Harper was most certainly not his friend, no matter how much Draco might enjoy his company. Harper was a suspect in an ongoing investigation, and for that reason alone Draco had to keep his distance
He made the mistake of glancing back to their table, and his stomach fluttered at the sight of Harper leaning casually back in his chair, long legs stretched out under the table
Draco took a deep breath, repeated all his reasons for keeping his distance, and told himself that he could do this.
The bartender finally made his way over, and Draco ordered. Then, pint glasses in hand and resolve newly fortified, he went back to Harper.
“Cheers,” Harper said, taking up his glass as Draco settled back down in his chair.
“Cheers,” Draco returned, and took a drink of his own pint.
“So,” said Harper after setting his glass back down. He propped his chin on his hand and leaned a little closer to Draco. “How did you get into the antique business?”
“The antique business?” Draco repeated. “You make it sound much more than it is. It’s just a job, really.”
“Oh, please,” Harper said. “I’ve heard you talk to customers. You know something about every single thing in that shop. It’s not just a job to you.”
Draco took a long, slow sip of his pint. “Well,” he said, “I suppose I like old things. You know, things with a bit of history behind them. I find it interesting, where things have come from, where they’ve been, how they’ve managed to end up where they are now. Everything’s got a story, and I like learning about them.”
“It sounds much more interesting when you put it like that,” Harper said. “To me, the stuff in there is just… stuff. Old stuff, or fancy stuff. But just stuff.”
“Mm,” Draco said, and took a sip of his pint to buy himself a moment. “You really mean to tell me there’s not a single item in the entire shop that captures your interest?”
“Oh, there are a few, I guess,” Harper said. “Tell me, does Malfoy do all the acquiring himself on his trips abroad?”
Finally, Draco thought, Finally we’re getting somewhere!
“Yes, he does,” he said, trying to keep his face neutral.
“And he’d mentioned that you assist with most of the new acquisitions?”
“That’s right,” Draco said. “Mr Malfoy has a good eye for quality, but some of the things he brings back require a bit of… finessing.”
“Hm,” Harper said, and took a drink from his pint. “You two must work quite closely, then.”
“On occasion,” Draco said. Then, “Why do you ask?”
“Oh. Well…” Harper hesitated, glanced around and lowered his voice. “I’ve got something of an eye for items of a… certain quality myself. I’d hoped that Mr Malfoy might have some use for me.”
“He might,” Draco said. Merlin, his heart felt like it was about to pound straight out of his chest. His face felt hot, his hands sweaty. He hoped that Harper couldn’t tell how worked up this conversation had him. He weighed his options for a moment, thought through half a dozen ways he might respond, then decided, fuck the IUMC. Harper was clearly pushing Draco for information here; a little pushing back wouldn’t hurt anything. “Though how useful he finds you would likely depend on what sort of organisation you’re part of.”
“Organisation,” Harper repeated blankly, like the thought hadn’t even occurred to him before this very moment. “Right, yes. I’ll… have to check with them. They’re the sort of people who value their privacy, if you understand what I mean.”
“Of course,” Draco said, his hopes both sinking and soaring at once. Harper had recovered himself nicely, but that initial surprise had been there. The likelihood that Harper was Pura had just dropped substantially, but this conversation had sealed it; he was undoubtedly into something illegal, but he wasn’t the person Draco had been waiting to catch. Even if he wasn’t lying about being part of a larger organisation—which Draco rather suspected he was—the fact that he said he needed to check with them told Draco everything he needed to know. There was no way Pura would have sent him in without a clear plan for when and how Malfoy ought to make contact with them. “Well.” He paused, lifted his glass. “To new connections.”
“To new connections,” Harper echoed and clinked his glass with Draco’s.
From there, their conversation fell back into the mundane. Draco meant to make his excuses and leave, as he felt that he’d got all the useful information he was going to get this evening. But somehow he ended up agreeing when Harper offered to order cottage pie for both of them along with round three, and then Draco had to pick up rounds four and five to even things out, and by that time it was past midnight.
“Shit,” Harper said when Draco pointed out the time. “Oh, tomorrow morning is going to be awful.”
For some reason this struck Draco as the funniest thing he’d heard in a long time, even though it was perfectly true. “Well,” he managed between bursts of laughter, “at least it’ll be bad for both of us? Misery loves company and all that?”
“Or I just love your company,” Harper said.
That pesky flutter started up in the bottom of Draco’s belly again. “I suppose I don’t need misery to love your company, either. But admit it, having someone else feeling awful right along with you really does help you feel better.”
“I admit it,” Harper said, standing up and stretching. “You’re right.”
“Admitting I’m right so easily!” Draco crowed. “Oh, I can see this relationship going fantastic places.”
Harper snickered. “Maybe I just know how to pick my battles.”
“Wise of you,” Draco said, nodding. “Very wise.”
“It’s been known to happen from time to time,” Harper said, putting his hand on the small of Draco’s back and guiding him between tables to the door.
It was all Draco could do to keep from leaning back into the touch. Harper’s hand was warm, even through the layer of his robes, and it made Draco want to know what Harper’s hand might feel like on his skin without anything between them at all.
He shouldn’t be thinking that. He shouldn’t be thinking like that at all, but fuck it. It was late, Draco was a little bit drunk, and that was all it was. Tomorrow, when he was sober and rested and his head was clear, it’d all become simple again. Fake flirtation for the sake of the investigation. That’s all it was.
“Let me walk you home,” Harper said as they stepped out of the pub and onto the street.
Draco’s stomach gave a sharp jolt at that. But his cover was solid, his flat deliberately set up so that anyone who came inside it wouldn’t see anything that he didn’t want them to see. Was that what Harper was asking for? Draco had never in his life been so tempted to say yes, but alarm bells were ringing in the back of his mind what a tremendously stupid idea that would be to go through with.
“I…” he began.
“I wouldn’t come up,” Harper added when Draco hesitated. “It’d just be a walk, I promise. But I’m not quite ready for this evening to be over yet.”
“I’m not either,” Draco said honestly.
Harper’s smile was soft and warm in the dim light of a street lamp, and that pesky flutter winged to life again. He’d had far too much to drink to give that anywhere near the sort of consideration he ought to, so he shoved down the little spur of rising panic at how strongly he was reacting to Harper. Tomorrow, he reminded himself, he could untangle all of these untoward thoughts tomorrow.
Because Draco didn’t think he had a hope of untangling them tonight. The moon was full, the stars bright, and the evening breeze held just a hint of a chill that felt delicious against his face. And when Draco reached over to lace his fingers through Harper’s, his heart pounded like he was a silly teenager with a crush again, and he couldn’t stop thinking that if this were real, it’d be perfect.
For the investigation. It was just for the investigation, he tried to tell himself, but when Harper looked over and gave him a smile and squeezed his fingers in response, Draco’s heart didn’t slow.
Diagon was empty this time of night, and it felt like he and Harper were the only two people in the entire city. They didn’t speak as they walked hand in hand back to Draco’s flat, and Draco found himself wishing that he lived even farther away.
But all too soon they arrived. “Well,” he said, slowing and tugging Harper to a stop outside the door that led up to his flat. “This is me.”
Harper looked up at the building, and of course his gaze snagged on the display of chocolate-drizzled profiteroles laid out under a Preserving Charm in the window of the patisserie.
He pointed accusingly at the window. “Ha!” Harper said, beaming. “I’ve found your secret bakery!”
“Hardly a secret,” Draco said and rolled his eyes. “It’s right here in the open, and I led you straight to it.”
“If it wasn’t a secret then why have you spent the last two weeks not telling me where it was?”
Draco shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t want to make things too easy on you. Where would be the fun in that?”
Harper rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “All the same, you’d better bring me one of those chocolate-pastry things tomorrow to make it up to me.”
“Mm,” Draco said, pretending to think it over, even though he’d already planned on doing exactly that. “I suppose I could, given how you’ve been such a gentleman, walking me home…”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Harper said, then sighed and gave Draco’s fingers another squeeze before letting go. “I guess I should let you go, now.”
“Right. Early morning tomorrow, and all that.”
“Right,” Harper echoed.
And before Draco could fully process what was happening, Harper leaned in, and Draco leaned forward to meet him, tilting his head just-so. The kiss was chaste, soft and warm and over far too quickly. Even in the faint light of a nearby street lamp, Draco could see Harper’s face go pale as he pulled away.
“Sorry,” he said, taking a jerky step back. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s all right,” Draco heard himself say as if from a great distance. His thoughts were spinning like a wheel stuck in the mud, racing and racing and going nowhere at all. “It was…” …really good, “…fine.”
“Right,” Harper said, shoving at the back of his hair. “Right, fine. Yes. I should—” He gestured vaguely behind himself, then turned and practically fled.
Standing alone on the street, half-stunned by what had just happened, Draco watched him go.
- - - - - -
“You seem chipper this morning,” Ron said when Harry stopped in at the Ministry the following morning.
“Fuck off,” Harry groaned, squinting in the too-bright lights of the Auror Department. Where in the fucking fuck did he leave his potions?
“I didn’t sleep with him, if that’s what you’re asking,” Harry muttered, continuing to dig through his desk drawer. He’d woken up this morning far more hungover than he’d anticipated, and none of the apothecaries would be open before he was scheduled to begin at the shop. He thought wistfully of the days in his early twenties when he could have drank twice what he’d had last night and got half the amount of sleep, and still hopped out of bed the following morning none the worse for wear.
“It wasn’t,” Ron said, “because I know you’re not that much of a bloody idiot.”
“I’ve got it under control,” Harry said, finally coming up with a couple of empty vials. “Shit. Have you got any Hangover Tonic? I’m out and nothing’s open before I have to be in to work at the shop.”
Ron gave him a disapproving look.
“Stop giving me that face, you look like Hermione,” Harry told him.
Ron’s disapproving look intensified. “You went out last night, alone, with a suspect in an active investigation, and got drunk enough with him to be hungover the next morning. Do you have any idea how bloody dangerous that is?”
“He’s a small-time smuggler,” Harry said. “It’s not like I went on a date with an axe murderer.”
“It was a date?”
“No, of course it wasn’t a date. I just let him think it was,” Harry said. He was very diligently not thinking about the fact that he’d kissed Desmond last night. He still hadn’t fully processed the fact that he had. “Look, I’m meant to be getting close to him, aren’t I? I’m doing my job. And I reported where I was going to my superiors, just like I was supposed to.” He huffed a sigh and went rooting through the drawer again in the hopes that some Hangover Tonic might’ve magically appeared in the last thirty seconds.
“Yeah, you told Robards, but not me,” Ron said. “I didn’t find out about it until I got into work this morning.”
Harry squinted at him. “Is that what this is about? You’re upset I didn’t tell you last night?”
Ron threw his hands in the air. “Yes! Yes, Harry, it is. Because we’re supposed to be partners. I’m supposed to be watching your back and keeping you safe, and I can’t do that if you don’t tell me when and where you plan to be doing stupid things.”
“I didn’t need you to keep me safe, because I was fine,” Harry snapped. “I’m an Auror, in case you’ve somehow managed to forget, and a damned good one. Why don’t you try trusting me to make my own decisions here?”
“Because it’s Malfoy,” Ron said.
Harry snorted. “I did not go out drinking with Malfoy last night,” he said.
“But Malfoy’s involved in all this, and I know you. I know what sorts of unnecessary risks you’ll take just to get at him. You’ve never thought straight where he’s involved—”
“Hogwarts was a long time ago,” Harry groaned.
“Yeah, it was,” Ron said flatly. “And yet you still went out of your way to collect evidence against Malfoy—”
“Because I knew he was up to something—”
“—even though there wasn’t an active case against him and—”
“—and I was right about it, wasn’t I?”
“—now here you are, going out and putting yourself in harm’s way!”
Harry took a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. “Ron. I’m fine. I was fine the whole time. If you have any objections with how I’m conducting myself on this case, you can take it up with Robards at our meeting tonight. Until then, I really haven’t got time to stand here and argue with you. I need to get to work.”
“Harry—” Ron began, but Harry pushed past him and strode off down the aisle between the rows of cubicles, and Ron didn’t try to follow.
He reached the lifts and jabbed at the button, then sighed and slumped against the wall. With Ron no longer right in front of him, Harry could admit that maybe Ron had a point. At the very least, Harry probably should have planned better, and gone into it with a stash of Sobering Solution, sneaking sips between pints so that he could really keep his wits about him while leading Desmond to think that Harry was drunker than he actually was.
But honestly, the whole plan had been a bit spur-of-the-moment. He’d asked Desmond, and then seized the few moments of privacy when Celene had hauled Desmond off into the back room to send a Patronus message to Robards. And honestly, if he hadn’t had a chance to send a message, Harry wasn’t sure that he’d have even bothered before going off to the pub.
Maybe Ron was right about the whole Malfoy thing. Was Harry really so obsessed with finally holding him accountable for his illegal activities that he was willing to do whatever it took to catch him? Honestly, Harry didn’t even know anymore.
Shit, he probably owed Ron an apology.
Later. He’d deal with that later. The lift arrived and Harry stepped inside.
Right now, he had to get to work.
- - - - - -
Draco couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened last night on his doorstep. It felt almost like a dream, like he’d only imagined it. But even now, if he played it back through his mind, he could still feel the phantom touch of Harper’s lips against his own. And, Merlin help him, he’d liked it. He’d been left wanting more.
He’d gone inside afterward and had a minor panic attack over it, then managed to talk himself down. Surely it was the drinks he’d had. It was the fact that he hadn’t been out on a date for so long, and then he’d had a somewhat inadvisable amount of alcohol, and he got mixed up. That was all. He was lonely, and mixed up, and in the bright light of morning everything would make sense again.
But in the bright light of morning, Draco only felt more conflicted.
It hadn’t been the drinks. He was dead sober now—and in considerable anguish, fuck, he hadn’t been hungover like this in years—and he still got that alarming fluttery feeling in the pit of his stomach when he thought of Harper: of Harper’s smile and how warm his hands always were when he touched Draco, how soft his lips had been and how gently he’d kissed Draco, and what it might’ve been like if he hadn’t been a suspect, if he’d just been a regular, ordinary bloke and Draco had invited him up to his flat last night and—
Fuck. He’d very nearly Floo-called Celene this morning and claimed to be sick, and asked her to go in this morning to cover for him. The only reason he hadn’t was because that woman could detect bullshit the way a Sneakoscope could detect Dark magic, and Draco had no desire whatsoever to deal with the fallout if she managed to pry the real reason out of him. If she even needed to. There was a good chance she’d go in, take one look at Harper, and put two and two together to come up with the fact that Draco had been a fucking idiot.
The man is a criminal, he told himself sternly. He may not be part of an international terrorist organisation, but he is still a criminal. You cannot have fucking butterflies over him.
But Draco had no idea how to make it stop.
For lack of any better options, Draco dragged himself out of bed and got himself cleaned up and dressed and ready to face the day. He delayed putting on the Glamour that would disguise him as Desmond, and braved the Floo with his queasy stomach and pounding headache to make a quick stop at the Department of Mysteries. Unspeakable Samuels, whose desk was across from Draco’s, went out more nights than not, and always kept a generous supply of Hangover Tonic in her top drawer. Draco nicked two of them, gulped down one, and then rushed back to the Floo.
The trip back was much better than the trip over had been.
After carefully layering on the Glamours and taking a moment to examine Desmond’s face in the mirror, Draco took the Floo to Desmond’s flat, put on his ridiculous hat, and went downstairs. He made his usual stop for a couple of coffees and bought a couple of plain croissants to go with them. At the last minute, he added the promised profiteroles to his order as well, and then headed over to the shop.
Running a bit later than usual, he only just beat Harper in.
“Well,” Draco said, looking at him. “You certainly look like you’ve felt better.”
Harper groaned in response.
“I’ll say it’s a good thing I decided to bring in an extra one of these.” Draco held up the vial of Hangover Tonic and gave it a little wiggle.
Harper’s groan this time was distinctly grateful. “Give it here,” he said, reaching out.
Draco handed it over, and watched as Harper swallowed it down and tossed the empty vial into the bin. Within moments he looked ten times better.
“Oh, my head was pounding,” he sighed. “Thanks. You’re a lifesaver.”
“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” Draco said. “It’s only a potion.”
“A very much-needed, much-appreciated potion,” Harper told him. “God, I feel almost human again.”
He looked better, but there was still something off about him. He seemed weighed down, more than the last remnants of a hangover could explain.
“Is something wrong?” Draco asked, aiming for casual as he opened the register and swept a handful of Knuts out into his waiting palm.
“Just… a friend,” Harper sighed, slouching over the counter. “He’s worried about me and I was tired and hungover and… shit, I think I owe him a really big apology, because in his place I probably would’ve reacted the exact same way he did.”
Draco patted his back consolingly, then poured his handful of coins onto the counter and began counting. Celene had rung in several purchases yesterday and Draco knew that the count would be off today.
“Would it help to talk about it?” he offered, when Harper didn’t say anything more.
“No, I… no, I don’t think so,” Harper said.
“Oh. All right,” Draco said. “Well, if you change your mind… and in the meantime, this ought to help.” He nudged the plain white paper box containing the profiteroles across the counter.
Harper opened it up and stared for a moment. “You remembered,” he said.
“Did you think I’d forgotten?” Draco asked. He’d meant it to be light and teasing, but the weight of the silence that came after it made it far more earnest than he’d intended.
They looked at each other for a long moment, and Draco wasn’t at all sure anymore whether they were just talking about pastry.
“No,” Harper said quietly. “No, I didn’t think you had.”
Silence stretched between them again, and this time neither of them broke it. Draco honestly had no idea what to say. He still had no idea how he felt about Harper, or last night, or any of it. For today, he only hoped to lose himself in the rhythm of running the shop, and hope that somewhere along the way it might sort itself out.
- - - - - -
That evening, Harry walked Desmond home and said good-bye, then headed to the Leaky where he took the Floo back to his flat. He killed some time filling out his reports and waiting for the Polyjuice to wear off, and when it did, he changed into a plain shirt and pair of jeans he kept stashed at the bottom of his wardrobe and took the Floo to the Ministry where Robards and Ron were waiting for him.
“Hm,” Robards said, shuffling through the stack of parchment that Harry had brought, then slapped it face-down on the desk in front of him. “Why don’t you save me some time and tell me if there’s any new information in here worth reporting.”
“Not… as such,” Harry admitted. Other than a few more cursed objects making their way out onto the shop’s shelves, things were pretty much as they had been since the last time he’d checked in. Desmond’s smile flashed through his mind, and he quickly smothered the thought.
(Harry might have left a few minor details out of his report.)
“You mean to say that you’ve made no progress worth mentioning since you checked in last week?” Robards asked wearily.
And the week before that, and the week before that. “I’m aware,” Harry sighed. Three weeks in, he’d expected to have made far more progress by now than he actually had. “But I really think I’m getting close to getting something useful out of Desmond. He was asking after my contacts, wanting to know more about the organisation I worked with, said Malfoy might find them useful. I’m going to try to set up a meeting with Malfoy himself in the next week, try to push at him directly over it.”
“I hope that you can get something useful out of him, because we certainly haven’t been able to find anything useful here at the Ministry,” Ron said, folding his arms over his chest and slouching lower in his chair.
“I’m also going back to the shop tonight,” Harry said. “Malfoy and Desmond are always in and out of the back room, and I haven’t had a chance to search it since last week.” He’d slipped inside during Celene’s lunch break, while Malfoy was abroad to look at antiques in Belgium and Desmond had taken the day off—something about hunting for a rare sort of moth native to Scotland? Apparently the man liked insects, which so far had been the most off-putting thing Harry had learned about him. Other than being involved in criminal activities, of course.
But when he’d searched the back room, Harry hadn’t found anything of note. Just a cursed pocketwatch, which had turned up on a shelf the following day, neatly labelled and listed for sale.
“Why haven’t you done so before now?” Robards asked.
“I didn’t find anything useful the first time I searched, so I haven’t thought it worth the risk of trying a second time until now,” Harry said. “But Malfoy is out of the country again, and Desmond is home for the evening, and Celene is out of town visiting family this week, and Elisa only works weekends. If I go tonight, the risk will be minimal, and there’s always a chance I might find something incriminating.”
Robards nodded. “I trust your judgement. Just see that you don’t get caught.”
“I don’t intend to,” Harry said, and Robards flapped a hand in clear dismissal.
Harry headed out of his office with Ron right on his heels.
“D’you want back-up?” Ron asked as they stepped out into the hallway.
“No, but thanks,” Harry said. “I really don’t think I’ll need it.” He paused, sighed. “Honestly, I think this is a waste of time to search again. But it’s another box to tick off the list.”
Ron clapped him on the shoulder as they stepped into a lift. “Well, I hope you’re wrong and you do find something.”
“Me too,” Harry said. He was more than ready to be done with undercover work. Give him a nice, straightforward duel any day. Then he sighed. “Listen, Ron… about this morning.”
“Say no more,” Ron said. “Really. It’s this case, isn’t it. It’s driving me a bit mad, too.”
“So, I took some stupid and unnecessary risks and then was an arsehole about it this morning, and you might’ve overreacted a little bit?”
“Just a little bit,” Ron said with a hint of a smile. “I reckon that makes us about even.”
And just like that, things between them were fine. Ron really was the best friend Harry could have asked for. He probably still owed Ron some sort of proper apology, though. When all of this was over, maybe he’d buy Ron some things from Desmond’s secret bakery.
They shared a lift downstairs, said good night and parted ways in the Atrium, where Harry stepped into the Floo. He was only home long enough to feed the cat, and then change into a Harper-sized robe and to take another dose of Polyjuice. As soon as his appearance settled into Harper’s familiar features, Harry stepped back through the Floo and out into the Leaky, and from there headed down Diagon to Knockturn.
Knockturn Alley during the day had nothing on Knockturn at night. Wrapped up in a dark cloak, Harry was just one among many who didn’t want to be noticed. He kept his head down, and everyone he passed did the same. He reached Ashby’s Antiques & Imports without incident, and hesitated the barest instant before passing it by, peering sidelong from beneath his hood as he did. The windows were dark and everything was quiet. Harry went to the end of the street before he turned around and went back, pacing himself so that he arrived at it with no one else around. With one furtive glance up and down the street to ensure that he was as alone as he could be, he slipped down the narrow gap between the shop and the building beside it.
The back room had one narrow window, which Harry thought would be the best place to get inside undetected. No one would be able to see him from the street from back here, and he didn’t want to run the risk of someone noticing him going in through the front door and potentially mentioning it later. Everyone else at the shop would know that Harry didn’t have a key, nor did he have a good reason to be sneaking in at night.
He glanced back over his shoulder to the mouth of the passage to make sure he was alone, and something crunched loudly underfoot. Harry froze, a tingle of warning tickling its way up his spine. Keeping his wand tucked beneath his cloak to shadow it as much as possible, he risked a Lumos. Broken glass glittered in the stark blue-white light of his wand, and Harry’s stomach dropped as he looked up at the window.
Broken. Someone had smashed it—from the inside.
“Shit,” Harry muttered, and then saw the bloody handprint smeared on the window sash. “Shit.”
He drew his own wand, the length of holly slipping easily into his hand, and cast several sealing and protection spells over the window to preserve any evidence, then used a modified Leviosa to boost himself up.
The back room was empty as far as he could tell, the door to the main part of the shop shut tight. Quickly, Harry wriggled through the window and dropped as quietly as he could to the floor. Another couple of charms preserved the bloody footprints tracked across the floor, the blood smeared on the doorknob.
Even though all the evidence around him pointed to the killer already having fled the scene of the crime, Harry still paused for a moment at the door to listen carefully for any sounds from the other side, and heard the soft creak of floorboards. Was the victim still alive? Had the killer returned, or was there an accomplice who hadn’t left yet?
“Lumos Maxima,” Harry whispered. Holding his breath, taking a moment to pinpoint where the sound had come from, he flung open the door—
—and found Desmond standing over Celene’s body, a bloody knife clutched in his hand.
- - - - - -
Draco had just finished eating his dinner when he remembered that he’d left his hat in the back room at the shop. It didn’t matter to him, Draco Malfoy, that he’d left the hat, but it certainly mattered to Desmond Dwyer. Desmond was never seen out in public without the stupid thing, and he had a few errands that he needed to run tomorrow morning to keep up his cover.
Indulging in one long groan, he sent the dishes soaring across the room and into the sink, shoved his feet into his shoes, and headed for the door. He had no idea why he’d ever thought that stupid hat was a good idea in the first place. It was ridiculous, and annoying, and now he had to go out again when he was just one short Floo trip away from being home for the evening.
Well. At least he hadn’t already gone back to his own flat and undone all his Glamours. It was small, so far as silver linings went, but he would take it.
Downstairs, Draco stepped out into the quiet evening, locked the door after himself, and started down Diagon. It was pleasant out tonight, a little warm for Draco’s tastes, but clear and cloudless with just a slight breeze. He passed a handful of other people before he reached the entrance to Knockturn.
He’d always hated Knockturn at night, even as a child when he’d accompany his father on some clandestine business that was best conducted beneath the cover of darkness. It should have felt like a grand adventure, but instead Draco couldn’t stop imagining eyes watching him from the shadows, or danger lurking round every corner. He’d been embarrassed by it back then and done his best to cover his nerves with bravado, even going so far as to insist on accompanying his father when he hadn’t been invited along. As an adult he didn’t need to prove anything to anyone and, in any case, he’d had no reason to visit here at all, much less at night.
At least until earlier this year. Merlin, he couldn’t wait for this to be over.
Well. He’d be quick. In and out, and he’d be back home and in his own bed in no time at all.
He unlocked the door and slipped inside, lighting the lamps with a casual wave of his wand. He managed another three steps into the shop before his brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing.
Blood. So much blood. And in the middle of it, Celene, sprawled face-down.
Even though he knew that she couldn’t have survived that amount of blood loss, he still ran to her side, crouching down and groping at her wrist for a pulse. Her skin was cool to the touch, and Draco let go, stumbling back.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, she was dead. Fuck, she was dead. What should he do? IUMC, he had to contact them. They’d know what to do. And the scene, he had to preserve the scene, keep the evidence safe and secure until they could get here. That’s what they did, didn’t they? Aurors, and all of them? At least, that’s what happened in all the murder mysteries he’d ever read, all the radio dramas and plays.
And then Draco saw the knife.
The last time Draco had seen it, it’d been propped up on a shelf, displayed between two copper kettles and the selection of fine silverware. Now it was tossed carelessly on the counter, droplets of blood spattered around it, the blade itself coated from tip to handle.
Draco cast a sealing and stasis spell over it, which would hopefully preserve any evidence on it until someone who knew what the fuck they were doing could come in and take over.
But his spell fizzled and slid off the knife like oil on a hot pan. He tried again, and then a variant of the spell, with the same result.
Casting the sealing spell on his hands instead, Draco picked up the knife by the handle and immediately felt the hum of active magic. A few diagnostic spells later, Draco saw that the reason his own attempt to cast on the knife had failed was because someone had already encased the knife in a heavy series of charms that would repel any and all of the incredibly faint magical traces that might otherwise be left on an object that had been handled by a witch or a wizard. Draco had heard of such spells but never seen one in use before. They worked best when cast in magical spaces, pulling in every scrap of trace magic from the surrounding area and muddling it all together into the magical equivalent of static so that the caster’s magic was irrevocably fused with all the rest.
He didn’t think that even the talented Curse-Breakers at IUMC could do anything with it, but they’d likely take a crack at it regardless.
He nearly dropped it when the door to the back room slammed open. Practically blinded by the bright light of a Lumos Maxima, Draco could barely make out the man holding it.
“Stupefy!” the dark figure shouted, and Draco barely managed to get a Protego up in time to repel it. “Bombarda!”
Draco dove behind the counter, and the spell hit a 19th century German vase and shattered it. “Wingardium Leviosa!” he snarled, and sent the enormous brass cash register hurtling across the shop.
“Confringo!” the man shouted. The twisted remains of the register slammed into the ceiling, sending a shower of Sickles, Galleons, and Knuts raining down in a clatter. Draco curled up, covering his head as they pelted down over him. An instant later, the register smashed down into the counter in a spray of broken glass and glittering baubles. It’d missed Draco by only a couple of feet.
Harper, Draco’s stunned brain belatedly realised as he dove for cover behind a shelf. He recognised that voice. The wizard he was duelling was Harper. Oh fuck, Harper had murdered Celene. Draco couldn’t remember the last time he’d fucked up this badly. He’d thought he’d had everything under control. He’d thought Harper was harmless, and now Celene was dead because of him.
“Throw down your wand and come out with your hands up!” Harper shouted. “You’re cornered back there, you can’t get away.”
Well fuck that. If Harper wanted to murder him too, Draco was bloody well going to make him work for it. Gritting his teeth, he tightened his grip on his wand, took a few quick panting breaths, and popped out from around the end of the shelf.
“Petrificus Totalus!” he shouted, and Harper deflected it.
Draco’s wand wrenched itself from his hand and went skittering across the room, magical ropes still spewing from the end of it and tangling across two wingback chairs and a small curio cabinet. But they’d tangled round Harper first, pinning both his arms to his sides, and that was all that mattered. Draco strode to him and yanked the wands from his hands, the lit one sputtering and going out, leaving Draco blinking spots from his eyes. He kept it trained on Harper as he bent down to retrieve his own wand.
“You’re under arrest,” Harper snarled, struggling against his bonds, “for the murder of—”
“What?” Draco yelped. “I’m under arrest?”
“—for the murder of Celene Tipton—” Harper continued.
“You’re the one who’s—I didn’t kill her, you did!” Belatedly, it sunk in just how smoothly Harper was reciting his lines. Like he’d done this before. Like he’d done this before quite a lot. The pieces slammed together in a rush—the only explanation that made sense. “Wait. Wait wait wait. You’re law enforcement? You were here undercover?”
Harper glared at him.
“Fuck,” Draco said. Belatedly, he realised he was still holding the bloody knife, and dropped it to the floor. “You’re law enforcement.”
“I’m an Auror,” Harper said.
“And I’m an Unspeakable. I’ve been working undercover as well,” Draco said, and if they hadn’t been standing six feet from a corpse, the baffled surprise on Harper’s face might’ve even been funny. “I’m going to release you now.”
“I’ll need proof you are what you say you are,” Harper said.
“As will I,” Draco said, and cast a Finite. The ropes of the Incarcerous Spell went slack and fell away from Harper, setting him free.
He half-expected Harper to attack him, but Harper just stood up cautiously.
For a few long seconds, the both of them stared at each other, each waiting to see what would happen next. Then Draco very slowly, very carefully, gave Harper both of his wands back.
“Here,” Draco said, and then even more slowly extended his wand in Harper’s direction. Though he took care to keep the tip aimed well off to Harper’s left, he still saw Harper’s wand twitch. “You’ve got authorisation codes, haven’t you? Check me.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Harper slowly raised his wand and held it out to Draco.
“Authorisation code 76-25T,” Draco said, touching the tip of his wand to Harper’s, and it sparked blue.
“Authorisation code AU-2715,” Harper replied. Their wands sparked red, and a wash of relief went through Draco. “I’ll need to see your wand as well.”
Draco handed it over without complaint, and watched as Harper cast Priori Incantatum on it, pulling out the last dozen or so spells Draco had cast in a rapid stream. Mostly kitchen charms from making dinner, and then cleaning spells beyond that from closing up the shop.
“What are you…?”
“Checking to see if you cleaned yourself up,” Harper said, handing the wand back. “That amount of blood, you’d have got it all over yourself. Forgive my scepticism, but I lived through the War. Just because someone works for the Ministry doesn’t automatically mean that they’re one of the good guys.”
Draco hadn’t even considered that, and inwardly he cringed. Just hours ago, he’d been convinced Harper was irrevocably embroiled in illegal activity. Just minutes ago, he’d been convinced Harper was a murderer. One flash of sparks, and now Draco was convinced of his innocence, even though he’d been through the War too and ought to know better than to assume anyone was exactly what they claimed.
Something in Harper’s expression softened, and he held out his own wands. “Would you like to check mine?”
Draco barely glanced at them. “No, that’s all right. I figure if you’d really killed her, then I wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation with you right now, would I?” He shook his head. “Can we—sorry, I can’t, with her here—” He turned and hurried into the back room without waiting for a response.
Harper followed closely behind and gently swung the door shut just enough to block Draco’s view of the body. It helped, but not much. Not enough to keep his hands from shaking. He felt weak and jittery, and a little like he was about to be sick.
“Are you all right?” Harper asked. “Here…” He Conjured a glass and filled it up with an Aguamenti, and pressed it into Draco’s hands.
Draco took an automatic sip. “Thank you.”
“It’s all right,” Harper said. “I know how jarring it can be. Were you and Celene close?”
Draco took another sip of his water and set the glass
aside. He shook his head. “Not especially, no. We were working together, that’s all.” But he’d still known her, and liked her well enough. He'd seen her almost every day, she’d become part of his routine, and now she was dead.
Harper nodded, and something in the way he was watching Draco said that he understood all too well what this was like. Which, of course he would. Harper was an Auror.
“How did you find out about Pura?” Draco asked. “I thought they were keeping it just to the Unspeakables for now.”
“Pura?” Harper repeated, confused. “No, no. I’m here investigating Malfoy.”
Draco blinked at him. “Malfoy? You’re investigating… Oh fuck, of course you are.” He flopped down onto the room’s single chair. He’d been so focused on attracting the attention of Pura that since Harper showed up, he’d barely thought at all about what would happen if he attracted the attention of the Aurors. Certainly not beyond assuming that some of the higher-ups in the Department of Mysteries would take care of it, the same way they’d taken care of MacCrae. And here was Harper, thinking that he was investigating a simple case of, what, smuggling? Selling dangerous Dark artefacts? Suddenly, Draco felt completely and utterly exhausted. “You’ve absolutely no idea what you’ve stumbled into, do you?”
“Erm, no, not really,” Harper admitted, eyes flicking back to the doorway that led out to the rest of the shop. “I’m beginning to get the idea that I really don’t.”
“Fuck,” Draco muttered, rubbing at his eyes. He sighed. “Celene wasn’t a shop assistant. She was undercover.”
“Another Unspeakable?” Harper asked, blinking down at him. “Is Elisa an Unspeakable too?”
“No, and no. Elisa is just,” Draco waved one hand vaguely at the doorway, “She helps out on weekends. But Celene was from the Law Enforcement branch of the International Union for Magical Cooperation.
“Oh,” said Harper, sounding suitably impressed. “Well, shit.”
As well he should. The IUMC’s Enforcers were the very best that each country had to offer. Celene had been assigned to Draco partly as his protection and back-up, but mostly to take charge should Pura take the bait and reveal itself. Draco was good in a duel, had the experience and the spell knowledge to make a formidable opponent of himself in most instances, but Celene would have absolutely flattened him. Ultimately he was only here as bait, and to handle any Time-Turners that might find their way into his shop, should the ruse prove successful.
A cold curl of fear coiled through him. Anyone who could do that to Celene was someone that Draco had no desire whatsoever to meet. They had to have caught her unawares—the shop would be in shambles otherwise, because she’d have fought back with everything she had if they’d given her even half a chance to have done so—but that didn’t make him feel much better.
“How much do you know about Time-Turners?” Draco asked, pushing aside his rising panic and tamping it down tight. He could fall apart later, in the privacy of his own home.
Something in Harper’s expression flickered. “Not much. I, erm. Sort of used one, once. But I don’t really know anything about the magic behind it.”
Draco nodded. “All right. We haven’t got time for the long explanation, but the short version is that the sand inside is the magical bit that actually allows the user to travel back a short distance through time, and the rest of it is only there to keep that magic under control. Each Time-Turner has twelve hundred and twenty-six different spells worked into it.”
“Twelve hundred?” Harper repeated, voice rising incredulously.
“And it needs every single one of those spells to keep it safely restrained so that it can be used. Time magic is incredibly dangerous and unbelievably unstable,” Draco said. “And that’s in the hands of someone who’s trained for years how to properly handle it.”
“Like me,” he agreed. “Which is why I’ve been pulled from my research in the Department of Mysteries to assist in this case.”
“Then this is bad, isn’t it,” Harper said, expression drawing tight.
“Very.” Draco rubbed at his face. “The group we’re after, they call themselves Pura.”
Harper frowned at that. “I’ve never heard of them.”
“You wouldn’t have. I hadn’t, before I was brought in directly,” Draco said. “They’re a terrorist organisation that’s been steadily gaining momentum over the past couple of years. Up until now they’ve been mostly active in North and South America, with a few outposts in Australia and continental Europe. Last year, however, they’ve reached us here.”
“I’m an Auror,” Harper said firmly, with the utter conviction of someone who thought he couldn’t possibly be wrong. “If a terrorist organisation has been active here, we would have heard of it.”
“You wouldn’t have,” Draco said again. “They’ve been deliberately keeping a low profile. They’re working on smuggling all the time magic they can get their hands on to strategic points all over the world. IUMC’s been chasing them down as fast as they can, but Pura has their operatives spread out everywhere. Every time they catch one, another one pops up somewhere else.”
“Then maybe they ought to tell law enforcement in those countries what’s going on,” Harper said, and Draco could see him getting worked up. “We could help. Who else would know our own countries better than us?”
“You would cause a mass panic,” Draco said. “Bring in that many people on a threat of this scale, and someone’s going to talk.”
“We wouldn’t—“ Harper began.
“Someone would. They would. Do you honestly believe that every single person in the Auror Department would keep this a secret? From their parents? Their spouses? Their children? You’re telling me that every single person would set aside their own personal attachments for the greater good and let their families and friends sit in harm’s way? Look, the reason they’re smuggling time magic is because they’re using it to build what are, essentially, bombs. They’re going to place them at strategic intersections of ley lines all over the world and detonate them all at once. If it goes right, it’ll set off an unstoppable chain reaction that will affect the entire world.”
“So, what, they’re trying to undo time?”
“More like trying to undo reality. They’d be ripping this world down to its very foundations, and with the right knowledge in the right place with the right magic, they can rebuild it all right back up to suit their ideals.”
“And their ideals are…?”
“No Muggles. They want to make the whole world magical. Think the Death Eaters, except You-Know-Who was a bit of a selfish arsehole about the things he wanted, far too focused on besting Dumbledore and completely bloody obsessed with Harry Potter. And most of the Death Eaters were only along for the ride because they thought it would benefit themselves, with money or power or a convenient way to get rid of political enemies or old grudges. No, these ones are smart and focused and completely, utterly convinced that they are doing the right thing.”
Harper seemed to slump. “Well, shit.”
Succinctly said. There was no one more dangerous than someone who believed they were right. Once they believed that, there was no reasoning with them.
“That’s if their plans go right, mind you. If they go wrong, they’re just going to set off a lot of very large explosions and kill a very large amount of people. We were brought in by the International Union of Magical Cooperation. They’d tracked a Time-Turner being smuggled across Europe, and then lost it at our borders. Working together, we managed to get it back. They were using a junk shop in Birmingham as a front, and we intervened before they could send it on to its final destination.”
“So you knew that Pura would be looking for a new shop to smuggle more Time-Turners into the country,” Harper said.
“Exactly. And Draco Malfoy very generously agreed to use his connections and his family’s reputation to help us set up as tempting a target as we could put together.”
“So why haven’t the Aurors been brought in on this?” Harper flapped a hand to cut off Draco before he could reply. “I know, mass panic and all that. But they’ve brought in Unspeakables, and even Draco Malfoy, who’s just a civilian. Why wouldn’t they bring in a few Aurors as well?”
“Because IUMC has got their own affiliates. Celene was one of them, out of the French office.” Draco spared the barest moment to think wistfully of his nice quiet desk down in the Department of Mysteries, where he’d worked in blissful ignorance of all of this. “They’re only bringing in people on an as-needed basis. I specialise in time magic, and while Pura hasn’t built any of the bombs yet, so far as we know, some of the Time-Turners have been broken open so they can transport the sand inside more easily, hiding it inside of whatever they think they’ll be able to sneak across borders. Remember how I said how dangerously unstable it is? I’m one of the few people in the world with enough knowledge to handle it safely, and they need every single one of us they can get.”
“Well, I know about it now,” Harper said. “I’m in this whether they like it or not.”
“Yes, I suppose you are,” Draco sighed. “But how involved you are isn’t up to me.”
Harper sighed the weary sigh of someone well-used to dealing with bureaucracy, and if Draco had any lingering doubts as to whether the man really worked for the Ministry, this would have dispelled them on the spot.
“So what now?” he asked.
Draco’s gaze flickered back to the doorway. “I need to notify my IUMC contact. And I think that you ought to come with me when I do.”
- - - - - -
Harry knew of the International Union for Magical Cooperation. Of course he did. Everyone did. It was just that he’d never expected to have anything to do with them personally, not again. They’d actually come sniffing around him, not too long after the end of the War. They’d been keeping tabs on Voldemort, both during his first rise to power and his second, but had ultimately decided that so long as Voldemort kept his shit contained to the UK, there was no reason to involve themselves in what they considered a local matter.
(Apparently a handful of murders in Albania hadn’t been international enough for them.)
So they’d stood by and watched it all play out from the sidelines and then once it was over and safely settled, they’d been only too happy to come swooping to try and recruit Harry for themselves. He had potential, they said, and he would make an excellent Enforcer for them. They’d tried to tempt him with promises of adventure, of prestige and power. He’d told them exactly where they could stick their very generous offer, joined the Aurors, and not looked back.
From what Desmond had explained to him of the current situation with Pura, it didn’t sound like IUMC’s policies had changed all that much since then. Meddling when they felt like it, stepping back when they didn’t. Pulling in select people to assist and keeping all the rest in the dark. No surprise this had all gone pear-shaped and ended with someone dead. Harry could understand not wanting to take out a front page announcement in the Prophet about Pura, but good Merlin, at the very least all the relevant Department Heads in the Ministry ought to have been briefed about it, and a handful of trustworthy Aurors recruited as well, instead of bringing in outsiders. Harry wondered whether the Minister even knew about it; all this secrecy didn’t seem like the sort of nonsense that Kingsley would tolerate.
Harry and Desmond finished locking down the shop with wards, sealing it up so that no one else could access the crime scene before they made their report. No one else had a key, and the chances of a break-in were tremendously slim, but one thing Harry had learned over the course of his life was to never say never. If something could possibly go wrong, it very often would.
Satisfied that the shop was as secure as they could make it, they hurried out of Knockturn and over to the Leaky which had the nearest publicly accessible Floo they could use. A few minutes later, they burst out into the Ministry Atrium. They strode past the fountain and, without speaking, diverged at the security stands.
Desmond went to the one on the far left, and Harry went to the one on the far right, gave his name as quietly as he could and handed over his wand for inspection. After passing through, he and Desmond regrouped by the lifts, and took them down to level nine. Harry had only been down here once in his life, but the long, dim corridor lined with flickering torches looked exactly the same as it had fifteen years ago. Exactly the same as it had been in his nightmares.
It was for the best that Desmond didn’t give him any time to reminisce. As soon as the grates of the lift clattered back, he was off, striding purposefully down the corridor, and Harry had to jog a few steps to catch up with him again. At the end of the corridor he barged through the door and into the circular room. It was dark, lit only by blue-flamed candles set around the wall at regular intervals, spaced out between dozens of unmarked black doors.
As soon as Harry cleared the doorway, the circular wall began to spin dizzyingly fast, the blue candle flames blurring into a solid line. Desmond didn’t even hesitate as he strode across the floor.
He whipped his wand in a spell and flung it back over his shoulder. Harry’s ears filled with an unidentifiable buzzing that drowned out whatever Desmond was saying. He countered the Muffliato a scant second later, and Desmond’s voice rang out clearly once more.
“—tion code 76-25T, here to see the IUMC official currently on duty. I am in need of an immediate audience with him. My request is extremely urgent.”
The spinning walls snapped to a halt just in time for Desmond to shove open the door that stopped in front of him, and Harry hurried through on Desmnod’s heels before it could swing shut, leaving him behind, and found himself in a small antechamber. A plain wooden door stood across from them.
Even through his annoyance that Desmond had so easily kept Harry from overhearing his real name, Harry could still practically feel his heart flip over in his chest. He’d always had a bit of a thing for competence, and the way that Desmond had wordlessly cast that spell at him without breaking stride or missing a beat in what he was saying or even looking back at him had Harry’s pulse racing a little bit faster, had him feeling like he couldn’t quite catch his breath.
It occurred to him in a sudden rush that Desmond was an Unspeakable. Which, yes, obviously, but if Desmond was an Unspeakable then that meant that he was one of the good guys. He and Harry were on the same team here. Harry had spent the last week or so wrestling down his burgeoning attraction to Desmond and wallowing in conflict over feeling attracted to a criminal in the first place, and when he’d completely fucked up last night and kissed him, he’d spent today beating himself up over it for much the same reason. But if Desmond—or whoever he truly was—was an Unspeakable, then that meant that something more with him wasn’t forbidden. Harry’s investigation into Malfoy was over, and there was no longer any sort of conflict of interest. There wasn’t anything standing in Harry’s way.
Obviously now wasn’t the time to bring any of that up. Harry had much bigger issues to deal with right this moment than the sudden increase in likelihood of his love life taking a miraculous turn for the better.
The wooden door swung open, and Desmond strode inside. Harry followed along after him and found himself in a large and bustling room. Two long rows of desks formed a sort of aisle down the centre, with shelves and filing cabinets lining one wall, and several Floos on the other. All around, people were bustling around with stacks of parchment, sending and receiving memos from each other, and conducting furtive Floo-calls.
“As you can see, IUMC’s made themselves right at home,” Desmond muttered to Harry, then proceeded to ignore all of it as he headed for a doorway at the back of the room.
He didn’t bother to knock, just shoved the door open and barged into what turned out to be a small office. The man behind the desk looked up, and then did a double-take when he saw Harry.
“Who is—” he began, and Desmond cut him off.
“Celene is dead,” he said flatly.
The man’s gaze flicked back to Harry. “And I assume that you haven’t brought me her killer.”
“No,” Desmond said. “He’s not. This is Peter Harper. He’s an Auror.” He glanced back at Harry. “Harper, this is Cartwright. He’s one of the people in charge of the UK branch of the operation.”
“Now that we’ve all made each other’s acquaintance,” Cartwright said dryly, “I think you had better explain to me what happened to Enforcer Tipton and why exactly you’ve brought me an Auror.” As he spoke, he pulled a sheet of parchment from the top drawer of his desk and inked his quill.
“I don’t know what happened,” Desmond said. “I’d forgotten something at the shop and gone back for it, and I found her there. They didn’t use magic, they used a knife.” He paused and swallowed, and Harry barely kept himself from reaching out to touch him, to offer what small amount of comfort he could. “Harper is here because he was investigating Draco Malfoy, and when he assumed that I was the one to have killed her, I had no choice but to explain what was really going on.”
“I see. Do we need to dispatch any Obliviators?” Cartwright asked, the tip of his quill bobbing vigorously as he wrote.
“No, I don’t think so,” Desmond said. “It was after hours, no one should have seen anything.”
“I didn’t see anyone around, either,” Harry added.
“I’ll request one be kept on standby, then, until we are absolutely certain. And the crime scene?” Cartwright asked without looking up.
“Preserved,” Harper answered. “And secure.”
“Mm-hm,” Cartwright said. He wrote a few more lines, then folded up the parchment and a tap of his wand sent it sailing away into the next room. “It will be dealt with.”
“I don’t understand,” Desmond said. “How did they even find her?”
Cartwright folded his hands on the desk before him. “Enforcer Tipton was part of a secondary operation. We caught wind of Pura sending a couple of operatives into the UK to investigate ways they might smuggle Time-Turners into the country. We allowed some information about your shop to leak to them, suggesting that we’d set it up specifically to draw their interest. We’d hoped that it would garner quicker results than simply sitting back and waiting to see if they picked your shop as their new front out of how many thousands of others.”
“And you didn’t think this was at all useful for me to know?” Desmond snarled. “You used me. Like bait in a trap.”
“We didn’t think it was relevant for you to know. Enforcer Tipton was apprised of the situation.” Cartwright gave Desmond a steady look. “And, if I recall, the whole shop was set up with you as bait in a trap, and you had no objection to that. We gave you a chance, and when it didn’t attract the sort of attention we’d hoped it would, we simply decided that the trap would be more effective if it were of a different sort.”
“You should have told me,” Desmond said, and Harry could see how his balled-up fists trembled with impotent rage. Truthfully, Harry was impressed that he was keeping himself so tightly controlled. Harry wasn’t at all sure that he could have stood in Desmond’s shoes and done the same. He’d likely have been shouting by now.
Cartwright was frowning now. “You are aware of what a delicate operation this is, and what’s at stake if we fail. An overabundance of caution may make all the difference. Enforcer Tipton needed to know; you did not. That’s simply all there is to it. Now,” He turned to Harry. “How did you come to be involved in this, Auror…?”
Harry deliberately ignored that he was being prompted for his name. “Your attempts at secrecy backfired on you,” he said, and Desmond stepped hard on his toes. “There was a smuggling case involving illegal potion ingredients, and the Department Head for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures was keeping Head Auror Robards updated as a professional courtesy.”
Cartwright waved his wand and a file came sailing up out of the filing cabinet. He flipped through it. “Ah, yes. The incident involving Alvin MacCrae.”
“Yes,” Harry said. “He was a known smuggler, and had been deliberately handed valuable ingredients so that the Ministry could track down his contacts and shut down the whole operation. He went to Malfoy’s shop, and then not only did he vanish, but suddenly no one involved with the case had any memory of it. We assumed that Malfoy had a hand in that, and I was assigned to go undercover in his shop.”
Cartwright listened through Harry’s brisk recounting of how he’d ended up there, then pulled out a memo and began to write again. “And what did you learn?”
“Not much of anything,” he admitted, gaze cutting sideways to Desmond for a moment. “Which makes sense, since I was looking for evidence of Malfoy smuggling illegal goods into the country, and he wasn’t doing that.”
“And why were you at the shop tonight?”
It was on the tip of Harry’s tongue to reply that, as Cartwright didn’t necessarily need to know that, Harry would be keeping that information to himself. But Desmond correctly read Harry’s intentions from whatever expression his face made just then, and stepped on his toes a second time.
Harry took a breath. Desmond leaned harder onto his foot.
“I was investigating,” he said. “I had reason to believe that no one would be around the shop that night, and I was taking the opportunity to conduct a more thorough search.”
“I see,” Cartwright said. He set his quill aside and tapped the memo with his wand. The square of paper folded itself up into a paper aeroplane and zoomed out of the office. “It’s unfortunate that you found yourself mixed up in this. But I’m sure you’ll understand that in an operation as crucial as this one, we can’t allow any loose threads.”
“The Obliviators will be here momentarily,” Cartwright continued. “I’ll deal with Robards and whoever else in the morning.”
Harry’s heart leapt, but before he could react, Desmond said, “No.”
Cartwright looked taken aback. “No?” he repeated.
“No,” Desmond said again. “He’s more useful with his memories intact. He’s only involved in the first place because you Obliviated so many people last time. In fact, we could really use his boss’s help with this as well. Respectfully, I’d suggest bringing Head Auror Robards in. We could use him to cover up what really happened tonight, and should we find ourselves in need of Aurors, we’d have two ready to go, and wouldn’t have to waste any time bringing anyone up to speed on our case. And Robards would be able to tell us whose discretion we might count upon, should we need additional support.”
Cartwright leaned back in his chair, clearly considering this. “You make an excellent point, Unspeakable. But for now it goes no further than the two of them. Have you told anyone else of what you’ve learned tonight?”
“No,” Harry said quickly. “We came straight here.”
“All right, then. Make sure you continue to tell no one else. I’ll make an appointment to speak with Robards myself first thing tomorrow.”
“And what should I do?” Desmond asked.
“Nothing for the moment,” Cartwright told him. “I’ll need to consult my colleagues about where we’ll go from here, and dispatch a team to take care of your shop. We’ll be in contact tomorrow.”
That was clearly a dismissal, and Desmond snagged Harry by his sleeve and practically dragged him out of the office, out of IUMC’s UK headquarters, across the circular room and down the dark corridor to the lifts.
“What an arsehole,” Harry said as soon as the lift’s grate had slammed closed with them safely inside.
“You don’t need to tell me,” Desmond said. “I’ve been stuck working with those pricks for months now.”
“Thank you, by the way. For stepping in when he wanted to Obliviate me.”
“I’ll admit it wasn’t entirely selfless,” Desmond admitted, glancing at Harry and then away again. He hesitated, clearly working himself up to say something, and Harry’s breath caught. “I couldn’t stand the idea of you forgetting me. The, ah. The flirting wasn’t all for keeping up my cover. I mean, it began that way. But there’s something about you that…” He trailed off, clearly embarrassed
“Shit,” Harry said with a little laugh. “I’ve been trying to talk myself out of it. I thought you were a criminal.”
“I thought you were a criminal,” Desmond said, laughing too. “But now that I know that you’re not…”
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t,” Harry said. He felt as though he were floating. “Is there?”
“Oh, there are still plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t,” Desmond said. “It just so happens that I don’t particularly care about any of them.”
“Is this… just tonight?” Harry asked.
Desmond stepped in close and curled his fingers into the lapel of Harry’s robes. “Why don’t we start with tonight and see where it goes from there?”
This time, Desmond kissed Harry. And unlike the gentle kiss Harry had given into last night, this one was explosive, possessive, almost overwhelming in its intensity. Harry gave in, melted into it, let Desmond have control. And good god, did he know what he was doing. Harry hadn’t been kissed like this ever in his life, so desperately, like Desmond would die if he couldn’t have Harry.
A distant part of Harry worried that this was only an outburst for the remains of the adrenaline high they’d both been on; they’d walked into the scene of a murder, fought each other, and then Desmond had dropped the details of the Pura case on Harry like a bomb. What if this was only an outlet for a stress-filled evening?
But the rest of Harry wanted this, had wanted this for days now, and hadn’t Desmond said that he wanted this too?
Harry pulled Desmond in closer, sweeping his hands over the long line of Desmond’s back, and gasped when Desmond grabbed at his arse to pull their hips together. This wasn’t the first time he’d snogged someone while Polyjuiced into a different body, but there was always something a little strange about it; the unfamiliarity of doing something so intimate in someone else’s form didn’t quite let him lose himself in this the way he wanted to, and gave him just enough space to think.
“Shit,” Harry said, pulling back from Desmond. He slapped at the panel of buttons, jabbing at the one for level two. “Sorry, not you. I need to check in with the Head Auror.”
“Right now?” Desmond asked, and Harry couldn’t help but lean back in to kiss him again.
“Right now. I need to update him before Cartwright gets at him tomorrow. Sorry,” he said. “I’ll be quick, I promise I’ll be quick.”
“You’d better,” Desmond said as the lift slammed to a halt and the golden grille slid back with a clatter. “As quick as you can.”
“I will,” Harry said, and had never meant anything more in his life than he meant that. “Quick as I can.”
He leaned in and stole one more kiss, then turned and hurried away down the hall to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. He thought there was a good chance that Robards hadn’t yet gone home for the evening. The man practically lived here, and it was something of a running joke in the Auror Department that he slept at his desk.
Still, it’d been less than an hour since Harry had reported in earlier this evening. He’d gone straight to the shop from there, and Robards had had an impressive array of paperwork stacked on his desk…
Luck was on his side. Harry hurried between the rows of cubicles, and turned the last corner just as Robards was locking his office door.
“Sir!” he called, jogging forward, and didn’t remember that he was still in his Harper disguise until he quite suddenly found himself staring at the business end of Robards’ wand.
“How did you get in here?” Robards demanded, wand never wavering.
“It’s Harry. Auror Potter,” Harry said quickly. “There’s been a development you need to know about immediately…”
- - - - - -
Watching Harper walk away from him, Draco was afraid that this small amount of time apart would give him time to think, to cool down and come to his senses and realise what an incredibly, ridiculously, momentously, astronomically bad idea this would be if he went through with it. That he’d turn around and walk away. His mission was finished; Celene was dead, Pura knew that Ashby’s Antiques & Imports was a baited trap, and as of tomorrow, there was no longer any reason for Desmond Dwyer to exist.
He could walk away and Harper—whoever he really was under his disguise—would never be able to find him. Draco would never see him again. Really, it would be the smart thing to do. To disappear and let his and Harper’s lives continue in separate directions.
Instead of a comfort, the thought of walking away now and vanishing from Harper’s life with no way for either of them to ever find each other again filled Draco with a panicked sort of desperation. It made him want to grab hold of Harper and never let him go.
“All right,” he murmured to himself. “That clears that up.”
Even if this was a mistake—a massive, monumental, monstrous mistake—it was undoubtedly a mistake worth making. He had to give this a chance, see where it might lead. Even if it ended poorly, at least then he’d know he tried.
Another thought occurred to Draco just then: Harper still had no idea who he truly was. His mind looped back through all of the times that his name had come up in conversation. Clearly Harper knew of Draco, and had formed some rather unflattering opinions of him based on that. But Draco’s reputation was largely based on who he’d been at school, and—more recently—by how his family’s name had been irrevocably sullied by his and his parents’ actions during the War.
Many years had gone by since then, and Draco had changed. He’d well and truly changed, and had worked hard to do so. Surely Harper would be able to see that, based on their weeks working together. That in a lot of ways, Desmond was a more honest representation of who Draco truly was. Being free of his face and his name and his past allowed him to simply be in a way that he never felt quite able to do as himself.
Still, the flutters in his stomach turned from excited to anxious. He knew that he needed to reveal his true identity. If he was just after a night or two of sex, then it wouldn’t matter, the same way that it didn’t matter that he wasn’t honest with the Muggles he occasionally slept with. But Draco wanted more. He wanted a real chance to make something of this thing with Harper. And he couldn’t do that as Desmond.
As much as he wished he could put it off a little longer, he knew that it would be best to get it over with quickly. His true identity would only come as more of a shock the longer he kept it hidden, and if Harper were to react badly to it… well. Draco would rather get it over with right at the start, before he had a chance to get any deeper into this than he already was.
But, Merlin, he didn’t want to.
The minutes dragged by, and Draco’s nerves stretched tighter and tighter. But then Harper appeared at the end of the hallway, and Draco had to fight down the urge to go to him. He waited until Harper was nearly there, then pushed the button for the lift. The grate clanged open and he stepped inside, waiting until Harper joined him before asking, “Everything all right?”
“Yeah, I told Robards what happened so he’ll be prepared for his meeting with Cartwright tomorrow.” He looked over at Draco and gave him an endearingly crooked smile. “So now I’m all yours.”
Draco took a deep breath and pushed the button for the Atrium. “Before we do any of that, I think I should tell you… My name isn’t really Desmond…”
“And my name isn’t really Harper,” Harper broke in.
“I assumed it wasn’t,” Draco said, and good Merlin, why had he thought that the best time to have this conversation was whilst trapped together in a lift? “But if we’re doing this, we ought to—at least, I ought to—”
“And we will, but—Look. Peter Harper won’t exist anymore after tonight. Neither will Desmond Dwyer,” Harper said, reaching out and taking Draco’s hands in his own. “Why don’t we take tonight to say good-bye properly, and then tomorrow we’ll start over. As ourselves.”
“Yes,” Draco said, seizing on the offer before his better judgement could tell him to do otherwise. “Yes, that sounds—”
Words failed him, and, unable to come up with anything that could properly convey his gratitude and relief, he hauled Harper over and kissed him soundly. He shouldn’t go along with this, he really really shouldn’t, but Harper had suggested it. All Draco had done was agree. If it had been Harper’s idea in the first place, then it wasn’t really deceiving him to withhold his identity just a little bit longer. Was it?
Then Harper pushed Draco up against the wall of the lift, and Draco stopped thinking of anything more than the feel Harper’s mouth against his own, Harper’s fingers digging into Draco’s hips.
The lift banging to a halt at its destination was enough to catch his attention. Draco seized Harper by the hand and started pulling him towards the long bank of Floos, but Harper dug his heels in and tugged Draco to a stop.
“I don’t know what your Floo is called…” he began.
“Fuck,” said Draco. He hadn’t even been thinking of how he’d be giving Harper his identity along with his Floo address. “Side-Along?”
“Perfect,” said Harper. “Yours or mine?”
As much as Draco wanted to see where Harper lived, taking Harper back to Draco’s would only make it easier if tomorrow morning he reacted badly when Draco revealed his true identity. He could just leave, that way, instead of being forced to kick Draco out.
“Mine,” Draco said, and they hurried to the row of tiled squares that denoted the official points where Apparition into and out of the Ministry was allowed. “Close your eyes.”
Harper obediently shut them, and Draco gave him a quick kiss before taking firm hold of his arm and whisking them both away.
They appeared in his bedroom, and it only took him a few seconds to wave his wand and clear away everything that might give away his identity. There wasn’t much, only a handful of photographs, an old Slytherin jumper that he still sometimes wore around his flat, and a heavy leather journal embossed with his initials. He did a last visual sweep, but Draco kept things neat; anything else incriminating was put away, and as Harper had been the one to suggest the delay in revealing their identities to each other, Draco didn’t think he’d go snooping.
After a moment’s hesitation, he pushed up the left sleeve of his robe and Glamoured the Dark Mark from his arm.
“All right,” he said. “You can open them.” And realised just then that the best course of action would have been to take them both to the flat above the patisserie that he rented as Desmond.
Well. Too late for that now. And before he could dwell on that any further, Harper was kissing him again. In any case, Draco likely needn’t have bothered putting away the few things that he had, as Harper had barely spared a glance around the room before focusing in on Draco.
Hands on Draco’s hips again, Harper walked him backwards to the bed and gave him a nudge. Draco let himself fall, scooting back to get his head on the pillows. A moment later, Harper was on him, one thigh slotting between Draco’s. Draco wasn’t hard yet, but he was getting there, and—rolling his hips up against Harper—he could feel that Harper was getting there too.
The surreality of it all slammed into Draco a moment later. He had Harper, a man whose identity he didn’t even know, here. Here, in his home, in his bedroom. He was certainly no stranger to having a one night stand, but it’d been a while since his last. And he’d never taken any of them back to his.
“I don’t do this,” he panted against Harper’s mouth between kisses. “I never do this.”
Harper eased back, frowning a little. “Are you saying you don’t want to?”
“Fuck no,” Draco said, and dragged him back into another kiss.
He pushed his hands between them and attacked the fastenings of Harper’s robes, and a moment later felt Harper’s hands fumbling with the buttons on Draco’s. After a moment, Harper groped between them and came up with his wand, and cast a spell that had every button popping free of their buttonholes at once. Tossing his wand aside, Harper rolled over so that Draco was on top, and tugged his open robes off his shoulders, leaving him in just his pants.
“Fuck you’re pretty,” Harper breathed, sliding his hands up Draco’s thighs, over his hips, up his sides. “Is this really you?”
“Everything but the face,” Draco said, gesturing vaguely at his head. “Glamour.”
Harper frowned a little bit. “I’m Polyjuiced,” he admitted. “I’m not really…”
He trailed off, and Draco frowned. “Do you not want to do this while Polyjuiced?”
“It’s not that,” Harper said. “I mean, it’s a little weird, but. This, erm, won’t actually be the first time I’ve done this. Not for a while, but, yeah, not the first. It’s just, I don’t want you to think I look like… this…”
“I don’t care,” Draco said, leaning down and planting a firm kiss against his mouth to cut off whatever he’d been about to say about himself. “I don’t. I want this. I want you. No matter who you are or what you look like.”
He paused for a moment to untangle his open robes from his legs and wrestle them out from underneath his arse, and flung them aside before he leaned forward and nipped a teasing kiss against Harper’s mouth. His fingers went back to the fastenings of Harper’s robes, working them open one by one, until Harper reached up and caught Draco’s wrists, holding him still for a split second before yanking him off-balance, tumbling him down into another kiss.
Draco lost himself in it, in the plush press of Harper’s lips, the way Harper’s hands swept warm up the length of his back. He was fully hard now, and Draco revelled in the feel of that firm length nestled against his arse. Those familiar flutters in his belly stirred to life again at the thought of that hard length would feel pressed deep inside him.
When the kiss finally broke and Draco looked down to continue his work on getting Harper out of his robes, he found that all the fastenings were already undone.
“You were taking too long,” Harper said.
Raising an eyebrow, Draco lifted his hand with a flourish and snapped his fingers. He didn’t use wandless magic too often; it was extremely draining and his control over it wasn’t always the best. Luckily, this was one of the times where the spell fired off flawlessly, and it was entirely worth it for the look on Harper’s face when his clothing Vanished.
“Quick enough for you?”
Harper looked absolutely fucking delighted even as he scolded, “Fuck, those were my robes!”
“Oh please,” Draco said. “You already said that you don’t look like this. They weren’t going to fit you after tonight, anyhow.”
“No,” Harper said. “But they weren’t mine. Fuck, Disguises is going to have my arse for losing them.”
“I’m sure you’ll come up with a suitable excuse. Lost in the line of duty or something else dashingly heroic.”
Harper snickered. “They won’t believe that for an instant.”
“Mm,” Draco said, leaning down to steal a lingering kiss and run his hands over Harper’s chest. “Well, I suppose I could intervene on your behalf.”
“On my behalf?” Harper repeated. “You’re the one who Vanished them in the first place, you tosser!”
“In that case, I suppose I’ve really got no choice but to make it up to you…” Draco said, starting to slide down Harper’s body.
But before he could finish, Harper twisted sharply, hooking one leg around Draco and swiftly flipping Draco onto his back and pinning him down.
“Excellent idea,” he said, tucking his fingers into the waistband of Draco’s pants. “You can start by letting me suck that gorgeous cock of yours.”
Draco’s mouth went dry at the thought, but he managed to reply, “You don’t know that it’s gorgeous. You haven’t even seen it yet.”
Slowly, so slowly, Harper dragged Draco’s pants down over his hips, leaving them stretched around his thighs. “See? I knew it,” he murmured, and leaned down to press a soft kiss to the flushed head of Draco’s cock. “Gorgeous.”
“For the love of fucking Merlin,” Draco said, halfway to begging and dear Merlin he didn’t even care. The touch of Harper’s lips to his cock lit him up like a fire, and he felt like he could burn up from inside out. “Don’t tease.”
“All right,” Harper said, and sucked him all the way down in one go.
Draco made a punched-out sound that he might’ve been embarrassed by if he’d only had enough mental space left over for such things. But every inch of his awareness was overwhelmed by the hot, wet feel of Harper’s mouth around him. Draco could only watch helplessly as Harper bobbed his head, moaning around the length of Draco’s cock, his pink lips sealed tight around him. He pulled back, swirling his tongue around the tip and sucking hard, and Draco whimpered and curled up halfway to sitting.
One of Harper’s broad, warm hands splayed against his chest and gently pushed him back to the mattress. He didn’t even pause in what he was doing; if anything, he sucked at Draco with renewed vigour, his other hand dipping lower to fondle Draco’s bollocks and then lower still, tracing the curve of his arse but not quite pressing where Draco wanted him most.
Draco spread his legs, one arm flailing out towards his bedside table. He groped for the handle, wrenched open the top drawer just far enough to get a hand in, and came up with a bottle of lube. Wordlessly, he pushed it at Harper.
Harper laughed around Draco’s cock, and the vibrations practically made Draco’s eyes roll back. Harper pulled off with an obscenely wet sound and licked his lips.
“Is that how we’re doing this?” he asked, his voice low and warm and teasing.
“Yes,” Draco told him. Then, “Unless you’d rather…?”
“No, that’s all right,” Harper said, popping open the bottle. Draco watched enraptured as he drizzled lube over his fingers. “We’ve got to save something for round two, don’t we?”
And then he was sucking Draco’s cock back into his mouth and pressing a finger into Draco’s arse, and fuck, round two? At this rate, Draco wasn’t at all he’d even survive round one.
Torn between pressing up into Harper’s mouth and rolling his hips down against Harper’s fingers, he found himself trapped in place, nearly vibrating with tension as two opposites pulled at him. One finger became two, and fuck, that was brilliant. Draco rocked his hips down, pushing himself harder against Harper’s fingers, and Harper’s other hand came up to pin his hips to the bed.
Draco had never really thought that this would be something he’d enjoy, but the casual way that Harper put Draco where he wanted him and then effortlessly held him there was making some dark corner of his brain light up like fireworks. He could get away if he needed to, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to stay where Harper put him, wanted to be good for him.
“Enough,” Draco gasped as his pleasure crested. “That’s enough, if you don’t want me to—”
The fingers inside him went immediately still, and Harper pulled off his cock agonisingly slow, the lingering drag of his lips and tongue almost enough to send Draco hurtling over the edge. He looked up at Draco from beneath his lashes, his lips wet and very pink, and Merlin help him but it took every ounce of Draco’s self control to keep from shoving himself right back in.
“Are you ready for me?”
Draco’s gaze swept down Harper’s body to where his cock hung thick and heavy between his legs, flushed red and already leaking at the tip. A small part of him wished that they’d waited to do this until they were both back in their own bodies, but the rest of Draco couldn’t wait to have that inside him. He’d meant what he’d said about not caring what Harper truly looked like, but he’d always had a particular weakness for a nice big thick cock, and he wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity.
He nodded fervently. “Yes.”
Harper gave his flank a playful smack. “Then turn over for me. On your knees.”
Draco hurriedly obeyed, grabbing a pillow to tuck under his chest. Harper’s fingers trailed down the insides of his thighs, eliciting a shiver, and then nudged his knees wider. For a long moment, Draco was left throbbing with unfulfilled anticipation, and then he felt the mattress dip as Harper moved into place behind him. His warm hands took Draco by the hips, tilting him where he wanted him, and then an instant later came the blunt press of a cock against his arse.
Hitching his hips up to give Harper a better angle, Draco exhaled slowly and closed his eyes, savouring the long, steady push of Harper’s cock inside his body.
“Fuck, you feel good,” Harper growled when he bottomed out, hips pressed snug against Draco’s arse.
In reply, Draco rocked his hips back, shifting Harper inside him and taking him just that little bit deeper. Harper groaned, his fingers tightening around Draco’s hips, holding them as close together as they could possibly get for one instant before he drew back and snapped his hips forward, thrusting hard.
“Oh,” Draco breathed as Harper dove straight into a driving pace. “Yes, yes. Just like that—”
It was all he could do to wrap his arms around the pillow as all of his coherent thoughts dropped off a cliff and into a roiling sea of sensation. Draco lost himself in the demanding rhythm Harper had set, his whole world narrowed down to the heavy drag of Harper’s cock inside him, the bruising grip of Harper’s fingers around his hips, and the way his pleasure mounted, pulling tighter and tighter until with no warning he could feel himself crossing that point of no return, cresting in long seconds of impossibly sharp pleasure that felt like they stretched out thick and sweet as taffy. And then he tumbled headlong into his orgasm, coming with his cock untouched.
Dimly, he registered Harper reaching his own completion, shoving himself as deep as he could inside Draco, the heavy throb of his cock as he emptied himself into Draco’s body.
For a minute they both stayed where they were, and then Harper pulled out and Draco toppled slow-motion to the mattress. A moment later, Harper flopped down beside him.
“Shit,” Harper said with a laugh. He rubbed a hand over his face. “Remember how I was talking about round two? I think I need some recovery time before we even think about that.”
“Agreed,” Draco said, stifling a yawn. He had the wherewithal to grope for his wand to clean them up, but couldn’t find it. Must still be in his robes.
“Here, let me,” Harper said, sliding his hand beneath the other pillow and coming up with his wand. There was something familiar about that length of wood, but his orgasm-drunk mind couldn’t quite process why.
Harper waved his wand and Draco felt the cool sweep of a cleaning charm rush over him like a fresh breeze.
“Mm,” he said, snuggling deeper against his bed. “What a gentleman.”
“I do aim to please,” Harper said, tucking his wand back under his pillow and rolling over to face Draco.
He hesitated a moment, as if unsure whether he was still allowed to touch Draco now that their cocks were no longer involved, and Draco had no qualms about dragging him in closer, hiking one of his legs over Harper’s and draping an arm over his waist.
Draco closed his eyes, pressing in closer to Harper. He normally wasn’t much for post-sex cuddling, but fuck it. Everything about this situation wasn’t what he normally did. And Harper was warm and solid against him. And though he only meant to rest up for that promised round two, he slipped off to sleep between one breath and the next.
- - - - - -
Harry woke up the next morning feeling incredibly relaxed in the way that only came from having had truly, amazingly fantastic sex the night before. For a few long minutes, he only snuggled deeper into his pillow and relished the way he felt warm and loose and… happy. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d woken up and felt this way.
Rolling over, he squinted at his bedmate, and couldn’t make out much beyond a tangle of brown hair against the white pillow. Was Desmond’s Glamour still in place? Had it faded overnight?
Half-blind and more than half-asleep still, Harry stretched one hand out, groping on the bedside table for his glasses. But he’d fallen asleep still Polyjuiced into his disguise, and his glasses were still safely tucked away in his pocket and not in their usual place beside him. His flailing hand only managed to succeed in knocking the bottle of lube into the bedside table's half-open top drawer.
“Accio glasses,” he murmured, and a slim wire pair came zooming out of the tangled pile of clothing he’d dropped on the floor.
Smiling to himself a little and fully planning to make full use of that bottle of lube again this morning for that promised second round, Harry pushed himself up onto his elbows and dragged himself the few inches across the mattress it took to reach the drawer, hooking his fingers into the handle and tugging it open.
There was the lube, easy to find as the drawer was almost shockingly neat. Harry’s own bedside table held the necessities—lube and a couple of sex toys—but mostly it was a jumble of junk. Desmond’s, in comparison, was practically empty. Just a couple of paperbacks, a couple of handkerchiefs, a few potions in single-use phials, and—
Harry found himself reaching out and picking it up even before his brain finished registering it as familiar. The thick silver signet ring was heavier than he’d expected it to be, or maybe it was the stylised Malfoy family crest on its face that made it feel as though it weighed a thousand pounds as it lay innocuously in the palm of Harry’s hand.
The man behind him was still Glamoured, but there was no doubt in Harry’s mind who it was that he’d fucked last night.
A gentle touch against Harry’s elbow startled him enough that he fumbled the signet ring, sending it tumbling to the hardwood floor where it landed with a damningly loud clunk.
“What was that?” Malfoy asked from behind Harry.
“Accio ring,” Harry said, catching the signet ring neatly and offering it back to Malfoy without looking back at him. “I knocked the lube into the drawer and—I know it’s you, Malfoy.”
“Well, fuck,” said Malfoy, and this time his voice was no longer swaddled in the sort-of Lincolnshire accent he’d affected as Desmond.
Harry huffed out a helpless little laugh. “Shit,” he agreed.
There was a long pause, and then a quiet “Finite,” and the soft rustle of bed sheets. Harry steeled himself before he turned around. Even though he’d known it, expected it, tried to brace himself for it, the sight of Draco Malfoy sitting in bed with only a sheet draped over his lap was a shock. For long seconds, they just stared at each other, and Harry wished he hadn’t been so fucking stupid last night.
Because this had been his brilliant idea in the first place, hadn’t it? He hadn’t been ready to let go of his feelings for Desmond quite yet, and hadn’t been ready to see what would happen when he revealed himself to be the Boy-Who-Lived. So he’d impulsively said that they should keep their false faces on for one last night, just to say goodbye, just so he could have this one night still wrapped in blissful anonymity, and then they would start fresh in the morning. And now Harry wanted—desperately wanted—to be angry at Malfoy for this, for deceiving him this way. But it’d all been his idea, and now Malfoy was sitting here looking just as helplessly stunned as Harry felt.
What a fucking cock-up this was.
Harry cleared his throat. “This is what you were trying to tell me last night, wasn’t it? Who you really are.”
Malfoy nodded once, jerky. “Yes. I thought… I was worried how you’d react when you found out, and I thought it best to get it over with as soon as I could.”
“I guess I should have let you finish, then,” Harry said.
Malfoy laughed, dry and helpless. “It would have made today easier, yes.”
The surreality of it all finally cut through the worst of Harry’s shock. Here he was, sitting in bed with Draco Malfoy, holding a perfectly civil conversation after having some of the best sex of Harry’s life. Where was the shouting? Where were the hexes? He’d just fucked Draco Malfoy, and now they were just sitting here talking? His teenage self would be horrified. Shit, his three-weeks-ago self would have been horrified.
Had it only been three weeks ago that he’d been so convinced that Malfoy was engaged in criminal activity? It felt like a lifetime ago. For one wild moment, Harry wished that he could turn back time. Even just yesterday morning, everything had made so much more sense. And now everything felt like it’d been turned on its head and nothing would ever make sense again.
“But I saw you,” Harry said helplessly. “I saw you and Desmond—you—at the same time.”
“Polyjuice,” Malfoy said. “Another Unspeakable came in Polyjuiced as me. I couldn’t take the risk of someone putting it together that Desmond and I never appeared in the same place at the same time. If it happened once and we made it memorable, that was usually enough to throw off suspicion.”
“Well,” Harry said. “It worked.”
Malfoy didn’t seem to have anything to say to that. For long moments they just stared at each other, and Harry looked at Malfoy—really looked at him—for the first time in years. He still wasn’t exactly Harry’s idea of handsome; he was far too pale and pointy for that. But the warm early-morning sunshine slanting in through the window lit his hair up gold, and made his eyes look a startlingly clear shade of grey. If he’d been anyone else, he’d be someone that maybe Harry wouldn’t mind waking up next to. But he wasn’t. In this quiet, golden light of morning, Harry could feel the heavy weight of their shared history dragging at him, and he just couldn’t.
Harry swallowed, took a breath, and said, “I think I had better go.”
Malfoy nodded and hitched the sheet higher so that it hid his hipbones. “All right,” he said.
Harry hesitated, then slipped out of bed to retrieve his robes, wrapping them quickly around himself and doing up all the fastenings with a quick spell. His pants were… somewhere. He scooped up his socks and jammed them into his pockets, crammed his feet into his shoes, and then had to turn back to the bed to get his wand.
Malfoy was still sitting there, motionless. He wasn’t looking at Harry. This should have been unbearably awkward, but instead Harry just felt sort of… sad. Looking at Malfoy studiously not looking back at him, Harry was overcome by a peculiar sense of yearning for what might have been, had either of them been anyone else.
Turning, Harry left without looking back again.
- - - - - -
After Harry left, Draco stayed in bed for, Merlin, he didn’t even know how long. The silence in his flat seemed to hold a heavy, shocked sort of quality to it, and Draco’s mind felt like a gear that’d slipped out of place, spinning and spinning and spinning.
I had sex with Harry Potter.
Even now, he still couldn’t quite process it. He’d recognised that voice, that messy mop of hair, before Potter had even turned around. Seeing his face here in Draco’s bedroom had felt like being punched—ears ringing, whole world knocked askew. Before drifting off to sleep, he’d fretted over what Harper’s reaction might be to finding out that his true identity; he’d never considered the possibility that he might have a reaction to finding out Harper’s.
It wasn’t much of a consolation that Potter had been every bit as stunned as Draco. Surely that was the only reason they’d managed to stay so civil this morning, instead of resorting to hexes and shouting. And then Potter had gone, and now Draco was…. here. Still trying to wrap his head around the fact that last night he’d had sex with Harry Potter.
And Merlin, it’d been incredible.
Groaning, Draco rolled over and dragged the pillow over his head. Maybe if he could go back to sleep, he’d wake up to find that all of this had been a very long, very bad dream.
He’d gladly have wallowed in bed all day, but unfortunately he had a job and responsibilities. So eventually, Draco made himself get out of bed and cleaned up and dressed, and headed into the Ministry, where he had a meeting with St Martin, another of the IUMC higher-ups to whom Draco had been reporting. She reviewed the statement he’d given to Cartwright the night before, and then she calmly informed him of what had transpired overnight.
His undercover assignment was officially terminated, his shop repossessed by the Ministry on grounds of “suspicion of illegal activities,” and Celene’s murder thoroughly covered up. The IUMC was already investigating it as part of the case, and they had several leads on the Pura operative who’d been responsible for it. The flat he’d let as Desmond Dwyer had been cleared out, and Desmond himself officially no longer existed.
So when St Martin told him that his expertise was required in Poland, Draco readily agreed.
He no longer had anything holding him here, and the more distance he put between himself and Harry Potter, he thought, the better.
His Portkey left that very evening.
- - - - - -
“C’mon, mate,” Ron said, nudging at Harry with an elbow. “You’ve been moping for weeks now.”
“Something’s obviously wrong,” Hermione put in from where she sat on Harry’s other side. “Come on, Harry, you can talk to us.”
Harry slouched deeper into the worn cushions of his sofa. “I’m not moping,” he insisted, just like he’d been insisting for the last week and a half that he was fine. Which he was. Because the alternative was that he wasn’t fine because he was moping over Malfoy, and that didn’t even bear thinking about.
Neither of his friends bought it. Of course they didn’t; they knew him far better than that.
“Are you still upset about Desmond?” Ron asked. “Because it’s not your fault. Apparently he had everyone fooled.”
“I’m not upset about Desmond,” Harry said. And it was even true, sort of, because Desmond didn’t exist.
Which had made him the perfect scapegoat. The way that Robards and Cartwright had come to an agreement that they “tie up” the case Harry’d been working was to blame the whole thing on Desmond. He’d snuck in right under Malfoy’s nose and was using his shop as a front. He’d confessed to the whole thing and been sent off to Azkaban. Ron had been shown the falsified arrest documents, and Harry had been forbidden to tell him anything otherwise.
Harry hated lying to his best friend like that, but what else could he do but go along with it? He didn’t particularly care that he’d been directly ordered by Robards not to involve Ron with what he knew of Pura, and fuck the IUMC. But if he explained that much, then he’d also have to explain about Malfoy’s true involvement. And Harry really, really didn’t want to do that.
So life had gone on, and Malfoy had gone… somewhere. Something to do with Pura, Harry was guessing, because he seemed to have vanished entirely and no one would tell him anything about where he’d gone. Harry had made a small effort to find him, sending him an owl, then a memo down to the Department of Mysteries, then turning up at Malfoy’s flat one evening after work and finding it dark and presumably empty. They’d left things unsettled between them, and a month ago Harry wouldn’t have given two shits about trying to smooth anything out with Malfoy. But now he couldn’t stop thinking about all the time they’d spent together at the shop, and couldn’t stop wondering just how much of Malfoy had been in Desmond.
After all, aside from how aggressively he’d pushed the flirting, and the sheer ridiculousness of some of his lines, Harry hadn’t really pretended to be anything other than who he was. And he couldn’t stop wondering whether it might’ve been the same for Malfoy.
He couldn’t stop thinking about that night. He couldn’t stop wondering whether Malfoy still thought of it, too.
Some small, overly-optimistic part of him hoped that if only he could find Malfoy and talk to him, then he might be able to find some closure. In Harry’s mind, they’d agree that they’d both made a huge mistake, agree to leave it in the past and never speak of it again, and Harry would miraculously be able to move on.
“He even had Malfoy fooled,” Ron went on, and Harry bit back a groan. “He managed to creep in and run a smuggling ring right under Malfoy’s pointy nose.”
“Can we please stop talking about Malfoy?” Harry moaned, letting his head loll back against the sofa cushions.
There was a moment of silence where Harry didn’t need to see them to know that Ron and Hermione had just exchanged A Look.
“Sure, mate,” Ron said a second later. “Whatever you want.”
Whatever he wanted. Right.
What Harry wanted was for that morning to have never happened. What Harry wanted was to be able to stop thinking about it, and about Malfoy, and about their night together. What Harry wanted, more than anything else, was Desmond back.
But that was ridiculous, because Desmond had never even existed. All along it’d just been Draco Malfoy with a strong Glamour and a stupid hat.
And what did it say about Harry that he knew all of that and still missed him?
- - - - - -
Draco had believed—really, truly, honestly believed—that a bit of time and a lot of distance would help put Harry Potter from his mind once and for all. He really shouldn’t have been at all surprised to find that it didn’t work. After all, Potter had always had something of a knack for turning up where he wasn’t welcome.
Exhausted, Draco closed and locked the door of his hotel room with a lazy swish of his wand and flopped down on the narrow bed. He’d nearly died today, and still all he could think of was Potter.
They’d lost another Enforcer. She’d got too close in the chaos, and been aged sixty years in half a second. She’d been sent off to the Polish equivalent of the Department of Mysteries where they were currently working out how to de-age her back to herself, but she wouldn’t be returning to work any time soon. It’d been a near thing for Draco himself, but he’d got the Time Magic safely contained again, and they now had two Pura operatives in custody. It’d been a success, and Draco was glad of it. But it meant that he was no longer needed here. During the debriefing of today’s events, he’d been informed that he was being sent back to London, to continue his research until they had their next lead and had need of him again.
Draco wasn’t at all sure how he felt about that. Most of him wanted to stay out here, wanted to keep trying to lose himself in this work. Over the last six weeks, he’d been all over eastern Europe, until last night when he’d ended up back in Poland when IUMC tracked down a couple of Pura operatives assembling uncontained Time Magic into a bomb.
It’d been incomplete and even more unstable that Draco had feared. What might have happened if it had gone off didn’t even bear thinking of, given that they were in the middle of a major Muggle city.
It made sense for him to go back home in the meantime, until they had their next lead. He needed time and space and quiet to untangle what he’d seen today from the terror and the mayhem that tinted those memories, to analyse what Pura had been trying to do, and to incorporate into his research a way to safely defuse it. It made perfect sense.
But a part of him was still reluctant, because Harry Potter was in London.
And the one tiny traitorous part of him that practically leapt for joy at the thought of the two of them being in the same city once more?
That scared him more than any partially-assembled time bomb ever could.
- - - - - -
For the dozenth time, Harry lamented the fact that Ron had won their coin toss for which one of them had to come downstairs to Evidence and deal with this. They’d busted an illegal potion lab the week prior, and still had yet to receive the itemised list of everything that had been seized in the raid. He’d hoped to see Hyacinth, who reminded Harry uncomfortably of Madam Pince, but was otherwise all right. She wasn’t exactly friendly, but she was about as down-to-business as they came, and Harry was always in and out of here in a flash when she was handling his requests.
But he knew his luck, and had been disappointed but not the least bit surprised when he’d walked in just as Hyacinth left on her afternoon break. Which left Patrick watching the front desk.
Patrick was young, only just out of Hogwarts, and he stared at Harry like he’d personally hung the moon and pinned all the stars in the sky to boot. He did the same thing to Ron, to a somewhat lesser extent, the way he did with anyone who’d fought in the War. He also took for-fucking-ever to do anything, and both Ron and Harry agreed that he probably took his time on purpose to spend more time basking in their heroic presence, as Ron liked to put it.
But Ron had won the coin toss, just as he’d won the last four. Harry was convinced he was cheating, but fuck if he could figure out how.
He sighed and slouched against the counter, watching as Patrick very slowly sorted through paperwork, carefully initialing each item on the list. There were a lot of items on the list. The illegal potion lab had been set up in an abandoned warehouse, and the warehouse had been very full. Harry watched Patrick slowly initial his way down another page, slowly blot the ink dry, and slowly set it aside, and wondered whether there was a way for him to order dinner and have it delivered down here, because at this rate they’d be here until tomorrow.
“—and of course we apologise for any inconvenience,” Auror Fitzgerald said as he pushed into the room.
“That’s quite all right. I’ve cleared my schedule for the day.”
Harry had barely noticed when the door opened—Evidence was busy and people had been in and out constantly—but the sound of Malfoy’s stupid posh voice had his head snapping up.
The sight of Malfoy for the first time in nearly six weeks sent Harry’s heart jolting against his ribs. For the briefest moment, Malfoy looked similarly shocked to see Harry. Then his expression shuttered and his features settled back into that haughty look that made some stubborn little part deep down inside of Harry want to punch him in his stupid pointy nose.
Auror Fitzgerald looked around. “No Hyacinth?” he asked.
“On break,” Patrick said. He did a comical double-take when he recognised Malfoy, and then looked at Harry like he expected him to leap into action and, what? Arrest him? Unfortunately, it wasn’t a crime to be a complete and utter tosser, so Patrick was out of luck there.
Harry stared at him, face blank, until Patrick went back to perusing his paperwork.
He waited a minute before risking a glance over at Malfoy, and could tell from the stiff set of his shoulders and the perfectly neutral look on his face that Malfoy had definitely been watching Patrick.
“Shit,” Harry muttered to himself, the idea of what he needed to do next blossoming in his mind all at once. He turned on his heel and strode out of Evidence.
“Auror Potter?” Patrick said, perfectly baffled.
“Contact Auror Weasley,” Harry called over his shoulder. “He’ll finish up with you!”
He broke into a jog once he was through the doorway and out of sight. Too impatient to wait for a lift, he took the stairs, bolting down them two at a time. He didn’t know how much time he had to get to Diagon and back, but he thought it best to hurry.
When Harry arrived back at Evidence just ten minutes later, Malfoy was nowhere to be seen and Hyacinth was back at her post behind the desk. Harry rushed up to her, ignoring the way Patrick gaped at him.
“Did you help Draco Malfoy?” he asked breathlessly.
Hyacinth looked at him over the tops of her half-moon spectacles. “Are you asking in an official capacity?”
“No,” he said. “But it’s important.”
Hyacinth’s mouth pursed into a thin line as she studied Harry. Whatever desperation she saw on his face had her shrugging. “He just left.”
“Thanks!” Harry called over his shoulder as he rushed out, and ignored the way Patrick called after him.
He hurried down the hall. He hadn’t encountered Malfoy on the stairs so if luck was on Harry’s side, he might catch him at the lifts. They’d been running slow all week. And—yes! There he was, standing in front of the grate.
“Malfoy!” Harry called, and Malfoy’s shoulders went tight. He jabbed the call button for the lift several times in rapid succession.
The lift didn’t arrive before Harry caught up to him, and Malfoy exhaled slowly without turning around. “What do you want?”
“Nothing,” Harry said. “Well, almost nothing. Just to give you this.”
Malfoy hesitated, and for a moment Harry thought he wasn’t going to turn. That the lift would arrive and Malfoy would step inside and Harry would be left here, standing in the corridor like a fool.
But Malfoy did turn, and Harry’s heart beat just a little bit faster. “Here,” he said, thrusting the paper bag at Malfoy.
Malfoy took it as cautiously as if he expected to find it stuffed full of live scorpions. He gave Harry a suspicious look, then unfolded the top and opened it up. The suspicion slid off his face, and his eyebrows jumped in surprise. “You…”
“I just thought, you know,” Harry said with a shrug, as the tantalising scent of fresh-baked chocolate croissants filled the air between them.
“I don’t know,” Malfoy said, folding the bag shut again. “Why don’t you tell me what you thought?”
Of course, the lift chose that moment to arrive, slamming to a halt before them. The grille clattered back, and just in case either of them had managed to miss all of that commotion, a second later the lift gave a cheerful little ding! to announce its arrival. A harried-looking witch clutching an enormous armload of scrolls squeezed between them and hurried down the hall, and every word Harry had practiced over and over in his mind on the way back here dried up.
“Well?” Malfoy prompted.
He said it impatiently, but there was something more in his voice, the faintest hint of pleading. And that gave Harry the courage to go on.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he blurted out.
Malfoy’s expression remained terrifyingly blank.
“And I know this isn’t what either of us would have chosen,” Harry went on. “But I liked Desmond. Really liked him.”
“Desmond doesn’t exist,” Malfoy said curtly. “He never did.”
“Not on his own, no,” Harry said. “But he was still you. And I want to find out whether all the things I liked about him are things I might like about you too.”
“It was one night, Potter,” Malfoy said scathingly. “It didn’t mean anything.”
His words were sharp, but Harry didn’t miss the way his hand had gone white-knuckled where it clutched the top of the paper bag. He was afraid, and Harry wasn’t going to let him fuck this up for both of them.
“It did,” Harry said. “It means that I want to find out whether we could have that as ourselves. It means that I want to get to know you. I means I want a chance.”
Malfoy studied him for long moments, and said nothing.
“And I think that you want the same thing,” Harry said. Because he remembered how Malfoy had kissed him. You didn’t kiss someone like that unless you wanted more. “All I’m asking for is a chance.”
Another handful of long seconds slipped past, and Harry’s heart pounded as he waited.
“You didn’t bring coffee,” Malfoy said.
Harry blinked, thrown by the non sequitur. “Erm, no? I was in a hurry, I didn’t want to get anything that could spill.”
“Well, then,” Malfoy said, and turned and stepped into the waiting lift. “I believe we need coffee to go with these croissants and the rest of this conversation. Will you join me? It’s not a date, mind you. It’s just a conversation.”
Harry’s whole body went trembly with giddy relief and he followed Malfoy into the lift. A moment later, the grille clattered closed. “It’s a start,” he said, and couldn’t keep the smile off his face.
And to his delight, Malfoy finally smiled back. “It’s a start,” he agreed.