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Agent Hopkirk Says I Love You

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"Voldemort's poison has been insidious," I say to my boyfriend of almost ten years. "Today our worst enemies are people who fought on our side during the war."

Something sharp sits on my lover's tongue, something about Potter using big words again. Then with a sigh it's gone, and he says, "Your worst enemies are treacle tart and freckled gingers. Those are the poisons you have to watch out for." He slides his arm around my no longer slender waist, and what can I say? I've always had a thing for redheads.

It must have shown on my face because he rolls his eyes, but lets me touch his hair, which is still white-blond without the slightest hint of grey. We've been talking like this ever since we've been together.

When I turned my back on England, I had dreams of leaving Draco Malfoy as well. There was no other reason for my desire to split up with him but his unshakable calm and his unsurpassable talent of rubbing me the wrong way. If I had to characterise the man Malfoy had become, it was by this odd combination of acceptance and obstinacy. Hermione will tell you he was like this even in school, but I don't remember Malfoy being so self-possessed back at Hogwarts.

Everybody knows how we met for the first time – the refused handshake, the reciprocal taunts, the house animosity that exploded into fist fights and hexing duels, the fierce competition as Seekers, how we had been on different sides in the war. Rita Skeeter made sure the world knows about all of those so-called facts, if in glossy, lurid colours that they never possess in my memory.

Only very few people know how we met for the second time. This is how it happened:

I was still working for the Department of Law Enforcement then, and living in number twelve, Grimmauld Place again, after the divorce. Ginny took the kids, mostly because the house was as grim and old a place as it had always been. Kreacher had died a peaceful death at Hogwarts, and I lived there by myself. Interior decoration has never been high on my list of priorities.

Instead, I had turned the house into a headquarters of sorts, for all the disgruntled odd and sundry who were dissatisfied with how things were going in wizarding England. Dissidents, the Office for Improper Usage of Magic (IUM for short) called us. Pius Thicknesse had just been confirmed as Minister for the third time, and he held on tight to his power, doddery with age, but supported by the likes of Dolores Umbridge. Her pink blazed through the Ministry's corridors brighter than ever. She ran the IUM. It had become a secret police under Thicknesse's reign, surveilling everybody who dared to use magic in a way that the Ministry didn't consider the right way. The IUM made Voldemort's rule seem clumsy and innocent. They had the Muggle-born Register under their control, a bureaucratic monster. Wand issue had become highly regulated; only very few of the old wand-makers had survived the changes. The IUM mistrusted Muggle-borns and pure-bloods alike – the former were accused of usurping magic, the latter of abusing it.

It had been another long evening of heated discussions and Firewhiskey. Dean had brought Muggle take-away from the Indian place down the road from Grimmauld Square. I had fallen asleep on one of the chesterfields in the library. When I awoke in the middle of the night, dirty cut-crystal glasses and plastic plates were strewn all over the tables. I started thinking about breakfast, whether there was any pumpkin juice left. Suddenly I felt another presence with me in the library. Someone was breathing regularly, a soft and calming sound. It came from one of the upholstered chairs at the fireplace.

"Who's there?" I called.

A rustling could be heard, then unexpectedly a dark male voice answered, "Who the fuck do you think, Potter? It's Draco ... Draco Malfoy."

I recall being struck by the weirdness of Malfoy's name. Pure-blood names are not fashionable anymore. Today, everybody names their children Edward or Jane or Rose or Hugh. Not even Harry has become popular, something I had been dreading ever since people told me one day I would single-handedly save the wizarding world. To name your child something posh-sounding like Draco, though, would be considered a faux-pas of major proportions today.

"And who let you into the house?" I asked. The old Fidelius Charm was still in place, and only friends could come through.

He was quiet for a moment, then said with a voice as calm as if he'd just awoken in his bedroom in Malfoy Manor, "Blaise forgot me."

I had become friends with Blaise Zabini, sort of. He ran a successful business selling ancestry documents for Muggle-borns on the black market. Two years later, he was arrested and ended up in Azkaban. Things clicked into place then, and I remembered Zabini showing up late, with someone I took to be his current lover and never gave a second glance.

"What do you mean, forgot?"

"Blaise got drunk and Apparated home."

I began to remember things. Zabini was a professed bisexual, and his reputation was even worse than his mother's. Malfoy, of course, had always been gay. I must have been pissed like hell that I had not recognised him.

"You were wearing a green shirt, no robes?"

"Something like that. Blue shirt, actually. Muggle, too, Potter. Burberry, to be precise. You've heard of Burberry dress shirts, haven't you? Blaise spilled the shit you've been serving for whiskey all over it. I've been sleeping in somebody's robes."

I stood before him, in jeans that I'd been wearing for the last week and a wrinkled jumper that reeked of sweat from having been slept in.

"Those are my Auror dress robes, Malfoy. When you leave, please take them off. Red's never been a good colour on you."

"There's a pin stuck here. It's worked itself into the upholstery." He moved around so I could see. Git.

"That," I said, "is my Order of Merlin First Class, and you know it."

"So bloody sharp, it kept me up all night."

"Who can blame it," I said. Finally I looked at Malfoy. I hadn't seen him in years. Still slim, still pointy, a bloodied crack in his lip, the sign of Blaise Zabini's fabled ferocious sexuality. By this time, it was getting light outside.

"Stop staring," Malfoy said.

I stepped away from the chair and stood near the window with my back to him. There were the muffled sounds of a body wrapping itself into heavy cloth. The chair creaked, bare feet slapped on the parquet flooring.

I didn't turn to watch him get dressed, only heard that he put his shoes back on. The day had begun in a very strange way.

Then some awkward manoeuvring in the hallway when Malfoy looked for the bathroom, and I was already heading towards it. My trousers were unzipped because they were too tight and I had opened the fly last night before I fell asleep. Malfoy had my Auror robes draped around his shoulders. They barely covered his pale, bony chest. I didn't look for scars but I was tempted to. We got past each other with some difficulty, then I pointed him to the right door and went for the upstairs bathroom myself.

A shave and a quick bath always restore me to a certain sharpness of mind, Head Auror material even though I had been demoted three years prior. I was ready to leave for the Ministry, to go work on my cases.

Ten minutes later, I went down to the kitchen to find the table set with tea, toast and marmalade, also cold fried kippers, for some reason.

Malfoy had put his shirt back on. The faint outline of the spill was still visible. I wondered what kind of spells he was allowed if he couldn't even cast a decent cleaning charm. If Umbridge had her way, no wizard or witch with a Dark Mark would be doing any magic at all. The small cut in Malfoy's lip was clean, a darker pink on his pale pink mouth.

"It's true," was all I said, "your shirt is blue."

We had breakfast, making small-talk. It was all easy, smooth, even amiable, as if we were both trying to prove that years of hostility didn't mean we couldn't share a friendly meal after a night of drinking.

Malfoy got his things together, he put his wand up the sleeve of his shirt and said, "I'm off."

"Thank you for a most pleasant morning."

Suddenly I heard him say, "I'll be here around six."

"Good," I said.

I thought of the time Ron and I had broken into the Department of Mysteries, to visit Snape's portrait that had been banned from Hogwarts. We had just been about to call the greasy old git, when a tall witch stopped us. She was dressed in simple black robes, the kind Unspeakables wear. But the sly, dangerous air around her spelled hit-witch loud and clear.

We both got very tense and said, "What's going on?"

And she said, "You wouldn't happen to remember what animal Severus Snape's Patronus was?"

Ron said, "A silver doe, moon-bright and with big, long-lashed eyes."

The hit-witch said, "Thank you. You can go."

"Where?" we asked.

"Wherever you wish," she answered. "You are free. Head Auror Potter, Auror Weasley."

I hadn't been Head Auror for a year. Ron and I made our way back out, resetting the wards we had dismantled. At the time, I had been struck by how normal and at the same time absurdly dangerous the conversation had been. And now I had a similar impression from Malfoy's "I'll be here around six."

And I had an appointment at 5.30. To make matters worse, it wasn't with a friend, but with Borgin. After that there was supposed to be a dinner, celebrating the opening of a new bookstore in Knockturn Alley that six weeks later was already closed down again.

I owled to cancel the appointment, the dinner invitation I ignored. I used the Floo to rush home from the Ministry. I found myself thinking: I should have given Malfoy my address so he can come in despite the Fidelius Charm.

I waited. He arrived close to six at Grimmauld Square, standing in the little park. When I opened the door, he stepped in, followed by a house-elf who was carrying a box. Malfoy Unshrunk it, then ordered the house-elf to unpack bags full of food, eggs and a smoked ham.

"You do whatever you have to do," he said, "and I get all of this ready." The elf was already lighting the stove. Its tea-cosy was embroidered with the Malfoy crest.

Suddenly I had a wild thought: maybe Malfoy got me mixed up with somebody else, with some dear and close friend. Maybe the world has really gone mad. Maybe Malfoy has finally cracked.

We ate supper, I sat down in the library with the files of my current cases. Malfoy supervised the house-elf, Hanny by name, doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen until everything gleamed and sparkled like it hadn't in years. Then he pulled back the curtain from Aunt Walburga's portrait. The old hag had done nothing but scream at me for two years, and now she suddenly conversed most pleasantly with Malfoy. When I stepped into the hallway later, Aunt Walburga had fallen asleep in her ornate chair.

I started to notice a few small changes. In the downstairs bathroom, some foreign flasks had appeared above the sink. Something green was draped over the bed in the spare bedroom, a set of bespoke robes were hanging at the coat rack. Even the scent in the air was different.

It grew late. Malfoy asked, "Would you like tea? Or do you care for a cup of that awful concoction the Americans drink?"

"Tea. And it's called coffee, Malfoy."

He smirked, and we drank tea with some kind of gingerbread cookies. I hadn't eaten gingerbread in about thirty years.

Suddenly I noticed that it was one in the morning. Time to go to sleep, it would seem.

Malfoy said, "I'm going to use the downstairs bathroom."

I sat in the library, drank a beer, read last Tuesday's Prophet. When I went upstairs and looked in the spare bedroom, Malfoy was asleep, in the very same bed that Regulus Black had slept in most of his life. Instead of my Auror robes something striped covered his chest, something silver and green.

I lay down on my bed and listened. Not a sound came through the doors. No soft steps in the hallway, not even the smallest rustle from the spare room that in my mind had already become Malfoy's room. There was no sign that he either wanted to jump or murder me in my sleep. I waited for about ten minutes and then also fell asleep.

In the morning, everything went just as before. A slight awkwardness when we passed each other in the hallway, I took my bath in the upstairs bathroom, there was tea with milk waiting for me in the kitchen.

This time, Malfoy said, "I'll be delayed. I'll be here after eleven, so don't worry."

I went off to the Ministry, then to a party at the Quibbler that someone put on because their daughter had made it into the Auror Corps.

I met an American wizard who invited me to his hotel. He kept saying, "Wonderboy, pour me some more of that piss brew you Brits have for whiskey."

My friends were planning to go to a clandestine meeting, some dissident place in Knockturn. A leader of the Free Wands movement was speaking; I've met him, a sharp, polite man who had convinced the pure-bloods to join. Afterwards, Luna was putting on a show of experimental magic. It was rumoured she would be performing an advanced version of the Protean Charm.

In a word: temptations by the bucket. But I hurried home. I was late getting back to my madhouse.

When he arrived that evening, I said, "Malfoy, we need to talk. It seems to me we have to get some things out in the open. Something strange is going on. I have to ask you a few odd questions. Do you mind if I ask them straight out?"

"Go on," he said, his face calm as the Hogwarts Lake at dawn.

I asked, "You have no place to live, right?" It was not an implausible deduction. Malfoy Manor had been seized by the Ministry after a fierce and prolonged lawsuit that had killed Lucius in the end.

Malfoy got slightly offended, more precisely, he huffed and showed some surprise. "Why do you say that? I own a flat on Eaton Square. Why do you ask?"

"Um, well, no reason really, er ... It seemed to me ... I thought ... All right, then another question, completely between friends who beat the shit out of each other all through school. And I know it sounds mental, all right. But are you perhaps ... attracted to me?"

There was a pause. I felt myself blushing. We were in the library, on the chairs in front of the fireplace. Malfoy moved his long legs.

Finally he said, "I don't make claims on you."

That's how he put it. Claims, he says, I don't make. Followed predictably by, "Only if you want me to. Do you, Potter?" And a smirk.

Then a pause that was even tenser than before, for me. He pulled his features into that imperturbable expression, the look in his eyes as cold and sharp as the edge of a schoolboy's trunk.

Here I started thinking, perhaps after all that he had gone through, nothing could touch Malfoy anymore; that he was above feeling any distinction between a one-off with Blaise Zabini and moving in with me. Above feeling something other than sexual attraction for another man. Even above the idea of a place of permanent residency.

"All right then, one last question. But don't get mad, and if I'm wrong, just forget I've ever asked. To make it short, there is just one more possibility: you wouldn't by any chance be employed by the IUM?"

Anything is possible, I thought. I knew I was under IUM observation, 24 hours, seven days a week. I was, after all, the disgraced poster boy of the war against the Dark, and Harry Potter was a household name to wizarding kind. Williamson had reprimanded me more than once for unrestrained behaviour and thought. I slept around, drank rather a lot, shot my mouth off. Just the other day, the Quibbler had published an interview with me that wasn't exactly presenting the Ministry in a favourable light. Maybe they thought I had finally defected to the dissidents, and assigned Draco Malfoy, of all people, to me.

Now, I thought, Malfoy really will start yelling. If I'm wrong, he'll raise the roof. And if I'm right, he'll raise it even more.

I heard him say, "No. I work at Madam Primpernelle's in Diagon Alley." And then, "If you don't have any more questions, Auror Potter, let's end this charade and have some tea."

That was how everything began.

During the day I would run around the Auror Office, trying to build cases when it was clear the Wizengamot only convicted those criminals who didn't have enough clout or money to buy their way out. I'd return home upset, humiliated and bad-tempered.

Malfoy would ask, "Would you like tea? Or a cup of your coffee," pronouncing it like coffee was home-brewed, undiluted absinthe. We hardly ever talked. There were only brief, business-like exchanges of information. He'd say things like, "Someone named Dursley was on the Floo", or "Do you ever wash your robes, Potter? You know my house-elf is pretty daft with a cleaning spell."

My frustrations with the Ministry did not interest him in the least, and truth be told I didn't ask him questions about whatever he did in the backroom of Madam Primpernelle's, either. Our madness rather took everyday, commonplace forms.

My routine changed somewhat. The few blokes who had shown some interest in me called less and less often. Well, why call when the face of a gorgeous man kept showing up in the flames of my fireplace? We remained absolutely unknown to each other. Malfoy was unbelievably silent and so cool and composed I sometimes wondered whether he'd suffered some mild form of a Dementor's Kiss. This was not the tense silence of the spoilt loudmouth, and not the menacing silence of the vicious member of Umbridge's Inquisitorial Guard. This was the silent calm of a rock on the shores of the Hogwarts lake, listening absently to the concentric waves that rolled ever back and forth against it.

A week went by. At work, Ron watched me with constantly raised eyebrows. Ginny came by Grimmauld Place, took one look at Malfoy's room and smirked at me. Saturday morning I couldn't stand it anymore. I said, no, shouted, "Malfoy, listen to me. Let me be completely frank. We are living like a bloody couple. For all I know we could be married. But we are living together without ever having talked about it. We drink tea, we keep house, this annoying house-elf of yours is doing my bloody laundry. Please, tell me: what does it all mean? I'm going mental here."

Malfoy looked at me with calm and almost friendly eyes. "Am I in your way? Do you want me to leave?"

"I don't know what I want. I want to understand. Friendship I understand. Fucking I understand. I understand everything but you moving in here and behaving as if you're my fucking boyfriend. If you were spying for the IUM, then everything would be normal. I would be happy, really. There would at least be some kind of logic. But this way –"

Malfoy was silent then he said, "If you want me to go, just say so, Potter." And then, narrowing his sharp, steely eyes a little, "If you want to fuck, it's all right."

"What do you mean, it's all right?"

His eyelashes lowered even more, his voice sounded even calmer. I couldn't help noticing how bright his eyelashes were, and how dark his eyes. "We can get off together if it makes you feel better."

"No, no," I said. "What for?" Could I really dare, I thought, destroy this crisp-cool composure, by having Malfoy sweaty and panting and coming undone by casual sex?

About two more weeks passed and then what saved me was Firewhiskey. I got drunk at another party at the Quibbler and made it home around one in the morning. Then ... Well, how shall I put it best? I forgot myself, encroached, took the wrong road, just like the future inmate of Azkaban, Zabini. I came on to Malfoy in the most embarrassing, needy way, and he took care of my straining erection just like he was taking care of the rest of my life. It was not love, and it was certainly not a momentary weakness. It was an attempt to ward off chaos. When he pierced my arse, I screamed at how good it felt, how right, how finally all made sense.

The stone I threw sank without a ripple to the bottom of the lake. Malfoy moved into my bedroom the next day but we didn't even start addressing each other by our first names. Hermione lectured me about how calling your lover by his last name was a sign of lingering distrust and avoidance of true intimacy.

A year later, Albus was hurt badly in a Quidditch accident at Hogwarts, and I brought him to Grimmauld Place. That was how Malfoy and I got to know each other. For Christmas that year we had both Albus and Scorpius stay with us.

As a boyfriend I was a dubious catch. In the following spring I was fired from the Auror Office, and for years I had no steady work. I had the tarnished reputation of a disqualified contestant of a Triwizard Tournament. My powerful magic made me suspicious; nobody wanted to hire me as a private detective or give me any curse-breaking work. I grew more and more bad-tempered and less and less careful.

The Thicknesse Ministry had proclaimed a new course of cooperation with Muggles (within the limits of the Statute of Secrecy, of course) while at the same time insisting that Muggle-borns had to procure documents of magical ancestry before they were issued a wand. The discrimination of magical creatures took new heights; werewolves were all but banned from public life. Even wizards and witches of colour and homosexuals were accosted for carrying a wand when obviously it was their skin colour and their sexual conduct that did not conform to what the Ministry called the new British wizardry. Dolores Umbridge stood in the way of public declarations that women's magic was weaker than men's. But it was only a matter of time until she would be removed, too, and replaced by another pale-faced wizard with mediocre magic but a wife and 2.3 kids at home.

In the summer the next year, an interview I'd done with Luna on the deplorable state of wizarding Britain was published in an influential newspaper on the Continent. I began to have foreign acquaintances. They sat in the Black library until late at night and gladly drank Ogden's while they snacked on Bowyers sausages. I kept a shabby, one-room office at Diagon, and my landlord, Gambol, used to mutter in a threatening way, "The people you know. Real Sturgis Podmore types. Troublemakers." In the autumn of that year my name was again mentioned on some Russian wireless.

My politics did not interest Malfoy. In general he took no interest in accomplishments as such. It was like he'd never had any ambition at all. There were days when I wondered how he'd ever sorted into Slytherin. His limited outlook, confined to brewing beautifying potions in the backroom of Madam Primpernelle's, seemed a part of his limitless capacity for accepting things as they were.

In this way, my life came under the rule of two opposing elements: an ocean of dissident non-conformism rose to the left, to the right stretched the untroubled calm of pure-blood well-being. And I stumbled along in between.

Meanwhile, Malfoy had left his job at Madam Primpernelle's and had been hired as an editor by Obscurus Books, which had risen from a small schoolbook press to one of the leading publishing houses of the wizarding world. This surprised me. I didn't know he had any interest in books, just as I didn't know a lot of other things about him and still don't, to this day.

A year later, he entered into a conflict with the authorities. His publishing house had issued a limited edition of Severus Snape's posthumously published Magical Essences. A very small number of copies were set aside for the staff. But some people were entirely passed over and included among them was my lover. He went to see the owner of Obscurus Books, Augustus Worme Junior, and stated his claims.

In answer, Worme Junior said, "You do not quite grasp the complexity of the political situation. The largest part of the edition has to be sent abroad. We are obliged to throttle the voice of pure-blood propaganda."

"Throttle mine," Malfoy told him.

From then on, a partial, fellow dissident understanding formed between us.

The years went by, our children were growing up. James, Lily and Ginny would come to visit. When home for the holidays, Albus used to point his wand out the window and produce a shimmering dove. Nobody was allowed to do a Patronus Charm these days, least of all a boy barely out of Hogwarts.

We had little money, what with the Malfoy estate confiscated and my Gringotts vaults blocked. We quarrelled often; I would blow up, my boyfriend would be silent. Silence is an enormous weapon. It ought to be banned by law, by a statute as powerful as the Statute of Secrecy. I was always complaining about not having any future as an Auror, about the wizarding world sinking into a mire of prejudice, corruption and favouritism.

Malfoy would say, "Make it your business to expose every instance of Ministry fraud, every new law that's been bought by money. You can still be an Auror even if you're no longer working for them."

I used to think, What the fuck is he talking about? What's the use of a one-man campaign to get some small Ministry crook exposed? Even I got offended, though for no reason. We had widely diverging priorities. I put the emphasis on the shared effort, Malfoy on getting things done. And he was right. You can only conquer by establishing facts. All of world history bears this out.

I knew so little about my boyfriend that I was constantly taken aback. Anything that could shake him out of his imperturbable calm took me by surprise. Once, he hexed a bloke who'd said something insulting in the Leaky. To be honest, I was even pleased. It meant that Malfoy's passions could still be roused. But this happened rarely. Most of the time he was cool as a cucumber; nothing would get under his skin.

In the late 2020s, emigration to the Continent began. The big Longbottom-Abbot trial had just ended, with the Leaky closed and Neville joining Zabini in Azkaban. The old pure-blood families warded their estates and kept to their tight-knit circles. Muggle-borns were escaping from the wizarding world to live amongst Muggles. Close friends were leaving the country; Hermione was one of the first. There was no longer a place in wizarding England for a Muggle-born witch as powerful as her. Ron was fired from the Aurors, because of association with a known dissident. In the Black library, we had endless discussions about whether to leave or not. I kept insisting, "What would there be for us to do? It makes no sense to run from one's home. If fighting criminals is a reprehensible activity to this Ministry, then our place is in Azkaban."

Malfoy gave no opinion. He seemed to have become even more silent. The days dragged on in endless, depressing talk at the kitchen table, frequent trips to the Portkey office, meetings around odd Portused objects to see people off, and long conversations at night.

I remember well the day in February when Malfoy came home from work and said, "That's it. We're leaving. I've had it."

I tried to argue. I talked about Albion, about magic being rooted in the soil of one's forbears, about the benefits of enduring intense social pressure, about how we didn't speak Russian and the provinciality of St Petersburg where Hermione had gone. I even spoke of the softness of English rain, something for which I'll never forgive myself.

But Malfoy was already leaving the kitchen to make a floo-call. I blew up and went of to stay at the Burrow for a month. When I returned, Malfoy handed me a stack of papers to sign for Albus who had decided to leave as well.

I said, "What? Already?"

"Yes," he said. "Everything is settled. We have the documents in hand. I am sure they will let us leave. It could happen within the next two weeks."

I was stunned. I hadn't thought it would happen so soon. More to the point, I had hoped Malfoy would talk me into leaving with them. After all, it was I who had been most outspoken about the failings of the Ministry. Those were my cases that had not been tried before the Wizengamot. I was the one just a hair's breadth away from becoming the Ministry's Undesirable No. 1 again.

From then to the day they left I walked around in a kind of daze, mechanically did what had to be done, greeted guests at the door and saw them off.

The day of departure came at last. A crowd gathered at the Portkey Office, mostly my drinking mates and the assembled Weasley clan. We said good-bye. Malfoy looked completely unfazed as he stepped into the Portkey terminus. Charlie had given him a pair of dragon-hide boots as a going-away present. For a long time afterward, I had dreams of holding on to the scaled tail of a dragon, flying over hot flames that licked at my feet. Scorpius held the Portused cup in both his hands. My youngest son was wearing clumsy Muggle sneakers; he looked bewildered. That was the year Albus looked so young and shy I thought he'd never grow up. Then they touched the cup, and we waited for the spell to whisk them away. But there were Portkeys activated every few minutes, and I almost missed it when it was their turn.

I started to miss them already on the way back from the Ministry and made a detour to Fortescue's. They were selling liquor from under the counter, with the Leaky Cauldron still closed. I started drinking straight from the bottle.

The ice-cream vendor said to me, "At least bend down."

I said, "It doesn't come out well that way."

From that day on my entire life changed. I was overcome with agitation. The only thing I thought about was emigration. I drank and thought.

Malfoy wrote owlcards that were like coded messages.

The white nights in Petersburg are lovely. Today we were at the Hermitage. Albus is well. Prices for house-elves are ridiculously low.

His owlcards were loaded with fated acceptance. Narcissa read them over and over again, trying to find some shred of emotion. But I knew that was useless.

I will now sit down and outline the events that followed:

The accusations of performing Dark magic and promoting a life-style of pure-blood (ha!) decadence and vice; the signed oath not to leave London while under investigation; Investigator Yaxley; some unexplained beatings down on the ninth level of the Ministry; a series of broadcasts on Russian wireless; arrest and trial before the Wizengamot; nine days in Azkaban; unexpected release; summons to the Department of Magical Transportation.

Mafalda Hopkirk waited for me at the Department of Magical Transportation. She told me, politely and amiably, "You ought to emigrate, Harry. Your boyfriend has left, and you should have left long ago."

Just to be contrary, I said, "Draco and I split up. I thought when he left our relationship was over."

"Splitting up would be a mistake. The Ministry would like to see your little family reunited," Hopkirk said, smiling broadly. "After all, you love them, don't you?"

"Who is them?"

"Malfoy and the boys. Well, of course you love them."

It was in this way that my love for Draco Malfoy became a fact, and the person to stand witness to it turned out to be a secret agent from the IUM. Hermione keeps joking about how one day she will Polyjuice as Mafalda Hopkirk again and give the two of us her blessings.

I tried to make up my mind about where I wanted to be. I could make out two real poles of my world: the known, native, suffocating England here, and the magical, half-fantastic Russia there. Here, a stymied life among fewer and fewer friends and ever more enemies. There, only my accidental boyfriend, his son and mine. The tiny island of my lover's hard-won serenity and acceptance. All my hopes were there. I don't know why I gave Agent Hopkirk a hard time.

Six weeks later, Narcissa and I were in France. The chimney pots on the roof of the University of Paris reminded me of London, the part around the Old Covent Garden. The only serious detail of the city's landscape were the bridges across the Seine. The bridges that I discovered on the third or fourth day to be Pont Marie, Pont Louis Phillipe, Pont d'Arcole, Pont Notre Dame, Pont au Change, and Pont Neuf. Their grey stones stood up against the darker grey of the river. Rent boys were waiting below at the pier. They didn't look as if they'd be going anywhere.

We settled into a little hotel called Hôtel de la Bretonnerie. Narcissa read Kipling day and night. I wrote letters to friends at home, a short report for the Quibbler, mostly elaborating on my non-existent dissident exploits.

By that time, Malfoy had settled in Russia. His owls were more laconic than ever.

I have a job, brewing potions for the Sestroretsk Infirmary. Scorpius is in training at the Mint. That son of yours has been flying try-outs for the Petersburg Pinnacles and I'm afraid they will hire him. Tell Mother we live near the Mariinsky Theatre. Our neighbour is a rather agreeable spawn of the Karkaroff family.

Narcissa and I lived in France until the summer; she had insisted on Paris being our stepping-stone between London and wizarding Russia. It's such a long way that it has to be done in two hops, she said, and I secretly agreed with her.

We finally received our Russian papers and the appointed departure time. The short way to the Bureau de Portoloin seemed like an eternity. There was too little in this foreign city to interest me. I dreaded St Petersburg. The Portkey was a matryoshka doll, confirming my worst fears. The French witch who cast the Portus was dressed like a Muggle. I hadn't seen a Muggle-born cast a spell in public in years.

Friends were waiting for us at the Portkey terminus at Nevsky Prospekt, among them Dennis Creevy, who'd become a well-known photographer, with his wife and son. As soon as the greetings were over, they began railing against life in Russia.

"Buy a Bulgarian house-elf," Dennis said, "or even better, one from Estonia. Russian house-elves are crap. Too much pride in their socks."

I said, "Where is Malfoy? Where are the boys?"

Dennis handed me a note.

Make yourselves at home. We are on the Quidditch pitch. We'll be home around 8 o'clock. Hanny will serve you afternoon tea in case you get hungry.

Narcissa dropped the Portused doll and looked up and down Nevsky Prospekt. "This street is full of Muggles," she said.

"This isn't just a street," Dennis objected. "This is Nevsky Prospekt."

"What does that mean, Prospekt?" Narcissa asked.

"Avenue," I answered.

Dennis in the lead, we walked to their apartment. The Canal Griboedov reminded me of the wrong side of the Regent's Canal. Skyscrapers were conspicuously absent from the St Petersburg skyline. Malfoy lived on the third floor of a tall brick building. Dennis helped carry our trunks and Narcissa's hat-boxes up the stairs.

Then he said, "Rest up. It's only after two o'clock in London. Great time for a lie-down. I'll floo you tomorrow." And he left.

I had not expected, of course, to be met by a delegation of the Russian Ministry. But Malfoy, I thought, could have come to the Portkey terminus. We found ourselves in a half-empty apartment, furnished with a few expensive looking antiques that Malfoy must have had in storage from the Manor. There were four-poster beds in two of the bedrooms, a large French-style bed in the third. Robes were neatly folded on top of a trunk in the front-facing bedroom. Narcissa disappeared into the kitchen with Hanny. When she came back she said, "They have clotted cream here that tastes almost the same as ours."

Suddenly I felt incredibly tired. I lay down onto the four-poster bed and tried to decipher a Russian newspaper that had been lying on the bedside table. The contours of reality became fuzzy. Am I still part of the magical world, I thought. And where is my home? What is happening to me? And how will it all turn out? This new life already struck me as too commonplace to be significantly different from the one I left behind. I thought, too, How do you know when you love someone? What do two people need to have in order to feel kinship?

I woke up early in the morning. Outside the window, the squeaking of an old bicycle echoed through the street. There was someone beside me.

I asked, "Who's there?"

"Who do you think, Potter?" a calm male voice answered, and an arm slid around my waist. "You must have gained a stone since I left. You need to start getting in shape again or else they won't have you at the Russian Auror Office."

I said, "I doubt they will have me, no matter what shape I'm in. I just want to stay here. I hope that's all right."

"Of course you can stay. I have no objections, and I don't think the boys will mind. We love you, after all," he said, giving me his patented Malfoy smirk.

"Agent Hopkirk says I love you."

"Who's he?" Malfoy asked but he was already stroking my dick. He made love to me like he always does, slow and powerful, fucking me into the mattress until I forgot everything else.

Afterwards, the morning light was shining on Malfoy's pale skin and hair. I asked, "Where are Albus and Scorpius?"

"Asleep in their room." Then Malfoy said, "Stop staring."

I covered my face with the Russian newspaper and Malfoy got up, put on his dressing gown and asked, "Would you like tea? Or a cup of your awful coffee?"

At that moment, Albus appeared, with Scorpius half-naked at his side. I couldn't help oggling at the love-bites on my son's neck.

But that's another story.