The rain is a joke by now. Draco's never seen so many umbrella charms in his life, their glistening, transparent domes flickering with each raindrop that hits and rolls down the edges of their shields. "How about this weather, eh?" has replaced all other perfunctory greetings. Draco thinks about saying it to the Auror next to him--Douglas, if Draco's remembering his name correctly--but he doubts he'd get more than a grunt in reply. Not the right occasion for perfunctory greetings and complaints about the weather.
The occasion is homicide, did he forget to mention that? And the shackles glowing around Draco's wrists identify him as the killer. Though the Aurors' only other choice was one Ginny Weasley, the former Mrs Chosen One and current star Chaser of the Holyhead Harpies, so Draco understands how they made their decision. Draco Malfoy, ex-Death Eater, now somewhat underworld-adjacent… He really didn't stand a chance.
Not that he isn't narked about it.
The body lies just a few feet away in the thickening mud in front of the Harpies' changing rooms. Zacharias Smith, Junior Auror, dead at twenty-five. Ruthless and ambitious from what Draco's heard. Moderately liked, mostly respected, though his (former) colleagues don't bother with an umbrella charm for him. His dark blond hair is plastered against his skull, his blue Junior Auror robes are drenched and sink ever so slowly into the mud, as if they're merging together, dragging Smith down into a soggy grave. No less than he deserves, Draco thinks, amused. Though he can't feel too superior; no Auror has bothered to cast an umbrella charm for him either. He'd do it himself had his wrists not already been shackled behind his back, but Douglas relieved him of his wand before Draco even had a chance at a hello. Or a "How about this weather, eh?"
Ginny Weasley stands huddled between two of her brothers, staring blankly at the ground. The body and a half dozen Aurors separate them, but when Ginny lifts her head, she finds Draco immediately. Her gaze narrows. A particular expression comes over her, somewhere between doubt and confusion, simmering beneath the contempt that's always there in the unhappy occasions they've run into each other in the past. Draco can't be sure. Regardless, he feels pinned in place by her eyes until he's distracted by a glare from the surviving twin, George, and the other, Percy, pulls her under a protective arm. As if Ginny Weasley needs it.
Draco snorts and looks away, and Douglas grunts questioningly. "That wasn't for you," Draco replies, "But could you be a dear and loosen these restraints?"
Draco doesn't get a reply, nor does he expect one. Not when the soggy rain-soaked air turns crisp in one particular human-shaped place to his left, and then a figure fills it, snapping into existence and striding forward as if he'd Apparated mid-march. He heads directly for Ginny (is that disappointment rearing up in Draco's throat? Or phlegm? Draco coughs. Just phlegm then.) no charm to repel the rain from his tousled hair. He has the presence of an Auror--Draco notices even Douglas stiffening next to him as if suddenly in the company of a superior--but Draco knows he's anything but.
Harry Potter, private dick. Draco snorts at his own little joke.
"Not coming to my rescue, are you?" he asks, though he's too far away to be heard. But Potter glances sharply over his shoulder at Draco, frowning.
Thunder groans across the sky. Douglas grabs his arm, and Draco's yanked into Apparation via side-along. Away from the miserable rain, the muddy ground.
Away from Harry Potter.
Three Weeks Earlier
The Floo chime startles Harry out of an impromptu snooze. His chair wobbles as his feet come crashing down from his desk, and a case file, precariously balanced on his lap, slides off, scattering parchment onto the floor. Harry's glasses slip to the tip of his nose. He removes them, rubs his eyes, and puts them back into their proper place to find Hermione's head flickering green in his hearth.
"Bad time?" she asks, her sarcasm dampened somewhat, so instead of getting his hackles up and preparing for some good old-fashioned Granger nagging, he leans into his flash of concern instead.
Any other time, he might expect a "you should lease a proper office instead of working from your home" speech, or carefully rehearsed concerns about his professionalism. "You'll not always be able to attract clients with your name, Harry," is a common refrain, and one that particularly rankles because Harry is actually bloody good at what he does; he hopes his reputation reflects that rather than the whole 'Chosen One' thing, but deep down, he knows that's part of it. He'd complain (more) but it pays the bills.
But instead of offering to help organize his files and tidy up the place, Hermione stares in silent worry. It's enough to get Harry off his chair and he kneels in front of her.
"What's going on?"
"She doesn't want you to know, but I think you should. She needs your help, Harry."
The 'she' Hermione refers to is obvious and Harry feels a familiar clenching in his gut. He remembers when thinking of her brought red-hot need, and later, that incredible lightness of joy. But now, it's like a phial of acid in his stomach, an erosive swirl of never-ending shame.
It must show on his face, though Hermione would know regardless. She reads him like a well-worn, thumb-smudged book.
"You know I wouldn't come to you unless…"
"I know," Harry says. "What's happened?"
"Ginny's at St. Mungo's. She's been cursed."
"He's put on some weight, hasn't he?"
"Must be the divorce. I heard she cheated."
"No, it was him."
"Didn't you see Friday's Prophet? The slag."
"That was after, Felicia. Do keep up."
"Who throws away a man like Harry Potter?"
Harry ducks his head and hurries through the lobby at St. Mungos, snatches of conversation following in his wake. He tries to ignore them, but his teeth clench anyway. It doesn't matter that he's been a gossip columnist's dream since his teens, he never got used to it. And the fact that he saved Wizarding England from death and tyranny years ago apparently came with a blanket invitation to nose into his personal life. For life.
That's a depressing thought. Maybe if he screws up a bit more, the press and the rest will tire of his dysfunctional adulthood and leave him to make a mess of things in peace.
Hermione meets him on the third floor outside a patient's room. The sleeves of her Healer robes are pushed up; tendrils of hair fall from her messy bun into her face. There's a weariness drawn in the lines of her eyes, a slight frown on her lips, and Harry wonders just how long she debated before Flooing him. Just how long has she been working on healing Ginny?
The open door behind her beckons. Hermione starts to say something, but Harry doesn't hear her. Instead he steps around her and into the doorframe. Ginny lies on a narrow hospital bed, her privacy curtain pushed out of the way, bunched at the wall. Dark red spots stipple her left cheek, spreading all the way down her neck until the collar of her mint green hospital gown hides them from view. She looks peaceful, asleep. He hasn't seen her like that since…
Ginny. Beneath the blankets, her side of their humble double bed. He thinks of the moment they picked it out, how they dismissed the bigger options, how they liked to cuddle close and sleep entwined and the extra space would just go to waste.
Her breathing is soft, even. Harry dresses silently in the dark with only the soft glow from his wand lighting his way. He's about to whisper, "Nox" when he catches sight of her again, red hair fanned out over her pillow, one arm carelessly tossed over her head. She's frowning, and guilt churns in his stomach. But not enough to prevent him from walking out the door.
Harry blinks, and he's back in the hospital room. Ginny's breath quickens. Her eyes dart back and forth under her eyelids. A storm gathers outside the window and with the first flecks of rain against the glass, Ginny's eyes pop open. She sits straight up, turns her head to him, and her face twists ugly. Lightning flashes. He's never seen such a sneer on her lips, so much rage in her face that she's vibrating with it, vibrating with the thunder roaring outside. Not even that night when he left her in bed, and she waited until he was out the door to follow. Not when she found him in an alley with his pants around his ankles, balls deep in another man's mouth.
"I hate you," she says. Her eyes go black with it. "I hate you! I hate you! I HATE YOU!"
Harry is knocked back with the force of her words. He stumbles a couple of steps. Someone tugs his arm; someone else shouts, "Get him out of here." But Ginny's face is a vortex and she screams at him and screams at him; Harry can't tear himself away.
All of the sudden Ron steps into view, and the connection snaps.
"I'm sorry, mate," he says. Harry barely registers the apology, barely registers Ron full stop, before the door slams shut in his face.
He stares at it, the blank white door, the small square window inset at eye-level now fogged over for privacy.
"Sit down." Hermione's voice reaches him and he feels the weight of her grip on his arm. She leads him away from the door. He sags. Fortunately a row of white plastic chairs lined in the hallway catch his weight. Hermione perches next to him. She still hasn't let go.
"No," Harry says hoarsely. But his chest loosens and he takes a deep breath, rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses before letting them fall back into place. "What… what was that?"
"I'm sorry. I should have closed the door but…"
It comes to him, and the reason does nothing to soothe the last few minutes. "You were testing a theory."
"Yes," Hermione says. She's apologetic, but not ashamed of her actions. Harry supposes in some way he deserved the gut punch, but a little warning would have been nice.
Ginny's face… He remembers the storm in her brown eyes when she'd found him. Their marriage had felt dead for months when desperation drove him into that alley. And it was desperation, he told himself then and tells himself now. Stuck inside something that was supposed to be bliss forever, but turned into a cage, like their bed, a narrow cramped place with no space to just breathe. Ginny had felt it too; he knew it in his bones, not that either of them admitted it. But she'd had her own alley encounter, the details of which were splashed across the Prophet's latest weekend edition. Even though it had happened three months ago, right after HarryandGinny became just Harry, just Ginny.
At least she'd waited until the divorce papers were signed.
The Prophet was sent the pictures anonymously, though who knew why someone would hold onto them for so long before turning them over. Harry himself was sent copies the day after the… incident. Someone who claimed in the accompanying Owl that they were trying to be "helpful". Someone who had taken great pains to hide their magical signature.
Helpful, my arse, Harry thought at the time.
After the Prophet exposé, he'd tried reaching out to Ginny to see if she was being blackmailed, perhaps. Harassed in any way. His Owls came back to him, unopened, unread.
But all of that was nothing compared to the piercing hatred in that room. No matter how much they hurt each other, Ginny could never hate like that. At least that's what Harry tells himself; he can't bring himself to contemplate anything else.
"It's the curse," Hermione is saying. "I knew it had a target--"
"Other than Ginny?" Harry blinks his eyes. Focus he tells himself and tries to ignore the cramping in his gut. He tries to treat it like another case, nothing to do with him. Only…
"And I suspected it was you," Hermione replies. There goes that delusion. "But it would have taken weeks of analysis to figure that out."
"So, you reckoned you should just throw me in a room with her and see what happened."
"That's about the whole of it, yes."
A familiar wave of irritation prickles his skin. He tamps it down before he barks out his question, because that's not the whole of it, not nearly at all. His temper lately has been simmering just beneath the surface, lashing out at the slightest provocation. Sometimes his anger is like those months after Sirius died, when all he wanted to do was scream and break things so the world outside matched the brokenness of his heart.
But he's not 15 years old anymore. And no one is dead. Not unless you count his marriage.
"What's going on? Who cursed Ginny?"
"I don't have all the details. What I know is this: This morning, Ginny received a Howler. Instead of a message, when she opened it, there was a small explosion and she was exposed to a substance, a potion of some kind; we're still tracking down exactly what it is. Ginny managed to put up a shield, so her exposure was limited but--"
"Her face, it looked like she'd been burned," Harry says, forcing himself to speak calmly. But the anger is there, just beneath his skin. Looking for a target. Whoever did this to her seems like a good one.
"Yes and the curse was delivered via this substance, it's related to Imperio and similar to Amortentia but… twisted." She scrunches up her face. "Frankly, I've never seen or heard of a potion exactly like it before, but Ron knows something. A recent Auror case. I'll let him tell you."
"What's the curse supposed to do? Make her scream at me a whole lot? Because really, no one needs to dose her for that."
Hermione gives a wry smile, like she can tell his humour is forced. "I wish it was just that. But we believe it was designed to force her to kill you. Someone wants you dead, Harry."
Harry wants to laugh. It's an altogether inappropriate response, but it bubbles up inside him anyway and he chokes it back.
Someone wants him dead. You'd think that would be practically mundane nowadays. Though cursing his ex-wife to murder him is definitely a new way to go about it.
"Yes, well." Hermione sighs, whether at his lack of response or just out of weariness, Harry isn't sure. She tugs at the elastic holding her bun in place and her hair falls around her shoulders. She pushes it back again, twisting it up into a knot, catching all the escaped tendrils and pulling them back into a refreshed but messier bun.
"Believe it or not, that was the curse at less than half-strength. We're flushing her system, though, and she should be free of it in about an hour. Why don't you get something to eat in the canteen and come back after? I believe she'd like to see you once her mind is her own again. And Ron…"
Harry nods, though he highly doubts either of them want him sticking around. Still, Hermione is pleased at his agreement. She squeezes his shoulder before she gets up and disappears behind the fogged-over door.
The twisting in his gut makes eating food an unlikely proposition, so Harry grabs a double shot of espresso in the canteen and settles into a corner table to wait. Someone's abandoned Daily Prophet lies open in front of him. He catches sight of a headline, but he only makes it through half of "Marriage Troubles? The Real Reason Chosen One Quit Aurors" before he balls the paper up in his fists, the loud crackle not nearly enough to calm his outrage. He'd rather scream and destroy the whole stack of them sitting on the rack just inside the canteen, but he's already getting a few worried glances from around the sparsely populated room. He takes a deep breath, transfigures the paper ball into a frayed grey baseball cap and shoves it on his head, pulling the brim down over his scar.
Not that he's fooling anyone.
The divorce happened three months ago. His "retirement" from the Aurors? Two months before that. He'd blown up his life, blown it up good. Did he think about how painful all of it would be? Or did he just make a snap decision after another snap decision with no planning, no careful consideration, rushing full steam ahead away from his life with as little thought as he'd rushed into it after the war.
He just wanted to be free. And despite the pain, despite the strain on his friendships, despite the bloody Prophet covering his fuck-ups in glorious, sensational, painstaking detail (whether factual or not), Harry can't bring himself to regret it.
He takes a sip of his now lukewarm coffee. This is why he doesn't just sit around by himself with nothing to occupy his time. Too many thoughts he wants nothing to do with.
Just then, a flash of blond catches his eye. A bloke walking quickly past the canteen. Harry barely gets a glimpse, but it's enough to make him suck in a breath, to make his heart pound. Even here. Even now. Even with the reason he's waiting around in this place. Blood courses through his veins and the acid-sting of guilt quickly follows.
"It's not him," Harry says to himself, under his breath, soft enough that no one can hear, but he's the one who really needs to listen. The blond was too dark. Too messy. He would never.
He lets Harry mess it up though. Let's Harry scrunch it up and tug on it so it falls into his eyes while he--
"Stop it." This comes out louder, enough that a woman two tables over narrows her eyes at him and the barista behind the counter gives him a confused stare.
Harry downs the rest of his coffee and leaves before he can make even more of an arse of himself. If it's not time to go back, he'll just wait it out in the uncomfortable plastic chairs outside her room. He feels even more like a git now for sticking around than when he first agreed to it.
Harry remembers the hat just before he arrives back at Ginny's room and yanks it off, folding it into his back pocket.
He knocks. Ron opens the door. Is it just Harry's imagination or does Ron hesitate before he takes a step back to let Harry inside? It's hard to tell. Ron is a closed book nowadays and his expression is guarded; the only thing seeping through the mask is worry for his sister.
The last time Harry saw Ron, he was sombre and still hurt. He'd told Harry he needed space. The time before that? Ron had punched him square in the jaw. The bruise lasted weeks. Harry couldn't bring himself to heal it.
"Hey," Ron says now, his blue eyes armoured, his jaw set in a firm line. Harry nods in reply. Ron's hard to look at, but the only other person in the room is Ginny. She sits up in bed, arms crossed at her waist where hospital blankets are bunched around her. She must hate being stuck here. She always did before, with her numerous injuries from Quidditch, always trying to bribe Healers to send her home early, promising to take her potions and rest. Usually they'd agree; Ginny could be charming. It makes Harry glad that Hermione's the one assigned to her case because he knows she'll never fall for it.
"I'm not going to apologize," Ginny says, breaking the silence that had descended in the room while Harry stood awkwardly, trying not to look at either of them.
"I'm not here for that."
"So why are you?" It's hard not to read the edge in her voice as nastiness, but Harry deserves it. He tries to let it roll off his back, but he can't help it. It still hurts. Once upon a time, she loved him.
"Hermione…" he says and then trails off, looking helplessly at Ron. Ron lets him spin a bit, and it's a reminder, a stark one, that no one in this room is apt to lend him a hand.
He wishes Hermione were here.
Ron sighs, though, and throws out a line to keep Harry from sinking.
"I asked Hermione to tell you to stick around after… she figured out what she needed to figure out."
Ginny glares at her brother. Clearly this is news to her.
"This potion Ginny was dosed with, it's new. We've had a couple cases crop up where it's been used; we had a sample in evidence, but the lab tainted it somehow while they were trying to analyse it and it exploded, so." Ron lets out a breath.
All at once it hits Harry: It's painful for Ron to ask him for help. This feels like fourth year all over again, but worse, so much worse. This isn't an adolescent, idiotic fight. They aren't going to one day decide they were acting mental and punch each other in the shoulder and let it all go back to the way it was. No discussion, no hashing it all out, just friends again. They may never be that again. Mates. Not like they were.
The realisation devastates him. His stomach sinks but he tells himself to suck it up. This isn't the time to lose it over what he's lost. What some people would say he took up with both hands and violently threw away.
"Maybe you can see if your… contact has any way of getting ahold of some. Or any information on a supplier. Or if he is dealing in…"
"He's not," Harry says, cutting Ron off before he can make an accusation, though Ron stiffens and Harry knows he hasn't done any himself any favours.
"Oh, of course he wouldn't," Ginny says sarcastically, and Harry sighs, rubbing his face.
"I'll get into it though. I can help."
Ron nods. "Thanks."
Ginny harrumphs. Harry knows if she had her way, he wouldn't be involved at all, but there's nothing she can do about it.
"There's another thing. Ginny has a stalker."
"This has nothing to do with that!" Ginny interjects hotly. "And it's not -- I wouldn't call it that."
"You don't know that, Gin," Ron says. He turns back to Harry. "She's been sent some disturbing letters and more than once, she's sensed someone following her. A couple times, there's been someone at the house, though they were gone by the time I got there."
Ginny's face is bright red, the same colour as the burn marks on her cheek and neck. She fists the blanket at her lap; Harry's grateful she doesn't have access to her wand in here with the murderous glare she's shooting at her brother.
"This?" She raises one hand and points to her cheek. "This is not my stalker. This is some sick bastard who's under the delusion that I have any effect on my ex-husband's life. If only they knew, right? I certainly didn't."
Another body blow, straight to the chest. He'd like to argue. He'd like to deny it. It isn't true, of course it bloody isn't. Just because things got so miserable between them, it can't erase what they had, even if they hung on long after it had ended.
But the pain in Ginny's eyes, it blots out everything else. There would be no use; she isn't in a space to listen. And Harry can't blame her for that.
So instead he just says, "I can look into this stalker. It's part of -- it's the kind of thing I do all the time. Wouldn't be a problem."
"The Aurors have it," Ginny says, voice firm, cutting off any reply Ron was about to make.
"Are you--?" Harry asks Ron and Ron quickly shakes his head.
"No. I tried, but they said it was a conflict of interest. She's family. I'd be too close to it."
"Who did they put on it?"
From the looks on their faces, neither is keen to answer. Ginny looks away towards the one window in the room. The rain spatters the glass, blurring any view outside.
Finally, when perhaps they realise Harry isn't just going to turn around and leave the room without prompting, Ron answers.
"It's Smith. He's the lead."
Ginny won't look at him. Ron's gaze drops to his own shuffling feet. Harry, for his part, takes a step backward as if he'd been shoved by an invisible hand.
"Smith? Zacharias Smith?"
"Erm, yeah," says Ron halfheartedly.
"And that's not a conflict of interest?"
Harry pulls the tattered grey cap out of his back pocket; a couple whispered words later and it's The Daily Prophet again. It's not the right edition, but as Harry thumbs through the pages, he's certain to run across a recap… and he does, middle of page six. It isn't the full spread of the Weekend's cover, but a single moving shot of an alley. A black-and-white Ginny appears tugging at her skirt, the buttons of her blouse done up wrong and gaping at her stomach. And here comes Smith, behind her, wearing a big, dumb smile.
Harry's about to shove it in both their faces when he looks up and sees Ginny glaring at him. Oh sure, the glare is familiar; it's almost warm in its familiarity now. But he knows her well enough that he can see the shame behind it, the vulnerability she's trying so desperately to hide with her anger.
"Leave me alone," Ginny says, a command, but Harry hears the plea underneath. He balls up the paper and tosses it in the bin, and without a word to either of them, does as Ginny asks and leaves.
Ron catches up to him just outside the door. A hand on his arm pulled back quickly as if Harry's too hot to touch. Harry swallows back his hurt.
"I know she doesn't want me to, but… I'll get a copy of her file from Smith and send it to you. The letters… the incident reports."
"Yeah," Harry says.
"I know he's not ideal, given the situation. He wouldn't have been my choice, but he really is the best available right now. He's doing a good job."
"Ron… please. I don't want to hear about it."
Ron's jaw hardens. It's as if he's offended that Harry dares to have feelings about the man who banged his wife the moment she was available. Yeah, maybe he doesn't deserve to have them; maybe it isn't fair. But feelings don't exist within the bounds of what's deserved or fair.
"You'll tell me what you hear from--?"
"Yes," Harry says firmly. "I'll Owl him as soon as I'm home."
"All right," Ron says. He stands awkwardly, as if he doesn't know what to do with his hands or his feet. As if he doesn't know how to bid Harry goodbye. After a moment, he just frowns, then turns and disappears back into Ginny's room, shutting the door with a resounding thud behind him.
Harry could take the Floo, but instead chooses to walk the ten blocks to the nearest Apparition point, blending in with the sparse population of Muggles who've chosen not to forego whatever their plans were for the day because of the afternoon storm. Holding umbrellas, mostly black, Harry stands out for his lack of one. He could make the standard umbrella charm more Muggle-like, giving color and weight to the normally translucent rain gear, but the rain feels good falling on his head, rolling down his cheeks. Wetting his clothes and making them heavy, sodden. His socks squelch in his shoes as he walks; his skin begins to feel clammy. It works.
He's a little disappointed when he reaches the Apparition point, halfway down an alley off Bleaker St., behind a refuse dumpster a head taller than him and three people wide. But whisky waits in his flat. Sod it if it's not yet five. He's having a proper drink. Or three.
Harry's flat opens directly into his kitchen. There's a small, squat square laughingly called a foyer, but it's not much of a buffer. It is the only place his wards allow Apparition though, just inside the front door. The first thing Harry does when he arrives is toe out of his shoes and he leaves them to dry in the entranceway. He moves into the kitchen, ridding himself of his soggy jumper, and tosses it and his wet socks into the laundry basket. The flat efficiency wash/dry stackable is in a closet off the kitchen so he keeps his dirty laundry there too. His desk doubles as a kitchen table. His laundry is done steps away from where he prepares his food, that is when he can get Muggle electricity and magic to play nice. He thinks about how it all drives Hermione a bit mad, regardless of the fact that she doesn't live here. That's easier to think about than anything else right about now.
With a flick of his wand, Harry lights a fire in the hearth that's set in an archway, straddling the kitchen and living room. It was hastily added when the building was converted for witches and wizards and looks like an afterthought. Harry sometimes drags a kitchen chair over so he can sit close and warm up; there isn't room for anything else. The home he shared with Ginny had two Floos, one in the kitchen and one in a separate living space with pillowed sofas and armchairs, enough seating for the whole Weasley clan. Harry had wanted it to feel like Hogwarts, like the Gryffindor common room, and would have done the whole thing up in reds and golds had Ginny let him get away with it.
Harry shoves away the intrusive thoughts. It's a waste of time and he doesn't want to let them linger long enough for that slight pang in his chest to grow. He takes a glass from the cupboard, filling it with water and transfiguring that to ice because he forgot to fill the ice trays again. He pours himself a healthy draw of Ogden's Old and downs it in one go. It's mid-range and honeyed, smooth with just enough of a bite to warm his insides. As he's pouring himself another, a voice surprises him from behind.
"Are you going to offer me one or must I forever go thirsty?"
Harry waits for a breath, lets the sweet, impatient drawl of Malfoy's voice wash over him. He's irritated with how much it soothes him, how his shoulders relax a little, the tension in his back drains. He pretends it's the alcohol, but who is he really fooling?
"Dramatic, as always," Harry says. He takes another glass from the cupboard, fills it three fingers, no ice. Malfoy likes his whisky neat. He prefers a better brand, but he'll have to make do.
When Harry finally turns around, he finds Malfoy in the living room just through the archway off the kitchen. He's perched on the arm of an easy chair, elbow casually resting on the back, long legs crossed at his ankles. The chair is a Weasley hand-me-down that Ginny let him take because she thought it ugly. It is ugly, puffed up and covered in brown and orange swirly plushness, some kind of tufted faux velvet with brown corduroy buttons. It's a monstrosity; it's also the most comfortable thing Harry's ever owned. Malfoy, long and lean, with his straight grey trousers and thin blue jumper looks its opposite in every way. Pale and angled. Sharp. Cool.
God, he wants to ruin Malfoy. Push him onto the chair, twist his fingers into that perfect coif of blond, sink onto his cock and ride him until he forgets about this day and sweet oblivion takes over.
Instead, Harry crosses the short distance and hands him the glass of whisky. Their fingers brush when Malfoy takes it. "How long have you been here?"
Malfoy shrugs. That could mean minutes; it could mean Malfoy's been around long enough to nose through his underwear drawer. It's happened before.
"Your wards are shit, Potter," he says instead of answering.
"You could Floo first. Or buzz up from outside the building like a normal person and wait until I get home."
Malfoy scoffs like it's an inane suggestion. It is. Harry can't imagine a universe where Malfoy would willingly hang about outside in the rain for him.
"What are you doing here?" Harry asks. Malfoy's lips pull into a sly smile.
"I need a reason?" His voice drops low and heat flares over Harry's chest. Can Malfoy see how desperate he is for it? Harry tries to keep his desire carefully hidden because what they have… it's just casual. Just sex. And Harry doesn't want to need it as much as he does. But even if he has trouble lying to himself, he definitely doesn't want Malfoy to know about it.
Business first. That's how these things go. Business first, so Malfoy doesn't ever realise how much he's gagging for it.
"I was actually going to Owl you," Harry says, clearing his throat when his voice cracks.
"Guess I read your mind." Malfoy straightens and pulls a small phial from his pocket, setting it on the end table within reach. The liquid swirls a pale green, tempting him. Harry can't remember how long it's been since he's taken a dose. A fortnight? Maybe longer. Is it better to get fucked or get high to forget about his life for a while?
This is how he met Malfoy again, after the war. Busting him for dealing in illegal potions. But after a careful investigation, Harry found this was all Malfoy was trafficking in: GreenDream, a potion using THC; basically the wizarding equivalent of a marajuana pipe without the harsh scrape of smoke in your lungs. Illegal, and yet, who were Malfoy's clients? People suffering the after effects of being held under Cruciatus and other dark curses, who just needed some relief from the pain from time to time. Maybe some of the younger set who were looking for an escape every now and then, or just to get high and have a good time. Nothing dark or dangerous about it, as long as one didn't try Apparition or flying a broom before the potion wore off. Alcohol is as much of a risk for that sort of thing, and SoberUp potions work on both. But the Ministry salivated over the arrest, ready to throw Malfoy in Azkaban, a second chance to punish him because there were certain folk in the Wizengamot that thought Malfoy got off too easy with just parole in the Death Eater trials. In the spirit of healing, no one student-aged was sent to Azkaban, but bitterness ran deep in certain quarters.
So Harry scuttled the paperwork. Slipped Malfoy's solicitor proof of a technicality that bollocksed up any chance of prosecution. He would have been sacked had he not been The Chosen One, the Ministry far too afraid of the public fallout from that.
Harry quit and saved them the trouble.
Malfoy found him a week later, outside a Muggle pub of all places. He must have followed Harry just so he could spit in his face and sneer, "I don't need you to save me, Potter." A spike of adrenaline. Nameless desire flooding through his body. His wife so clearly disappointed in who he turned out to be, yet her dismay was coiled up tight and tucked inside. Ron, his best mate, pulling away, only able to make awkward small talk about Quidditch or what he hoped Molly would cook for dinner that Sunday. He wanted someone to spit in his face. Someone to scream at him, shake him, hate him. Harry grabbed Malfoy and shoved him up against the brick wall, steps away from the pub's front door. They struggled, clawing at each other, shoving each other round and round until it was Harry's back against the wall and Malfoy's knee pressed between his legs, his cock thick and hot and pulsing against Harry's thigh. Moments before, Malfoy had swung a wild punch and scraped Harry's lip, and now they were rutting against each other, Harry clinging to Malfoy's waist, the coppery tang of blood in his mouth as he shuddered through his release, Malfoy following right along after.
A little thrum makes its way through Harry's body, straight to his cock. He licks his lips and shakes his head no at Malfoy's offer to get high. "That's not why I wanted to see you."
Malfoy smirks. He leaves the phial where it is and pushes off the chair, walking closer. Swirling his glass of whisky in one hand, his fingers drag along the edge of Harry's undershirt, still damp from being stuck under his soggy jumper. Harry shudders and resists closing his eyes. Business first, he tells himself, a weak plea and hastily ignored. Malfoy slips his hand beneath Harry's shirt and rests his palm against Harry's stomach, tickling the fine dark hairs around his belly button and the line leading down below his jeans.
"You're all wet," he murmurs and starts to undo the flies of Harry's jeans one-handed. He slips his hand down under the loosened waistband, beneath Harry's pants and wraps a fist around Harry's rapidly hardening cock.
Harry forgets to breathe.
"Is this why you wanted to see me?" Malfoy whispers. He just holds Harry's cock, thumb ever so slowly dragging along the shaft. His cock jerks and Malfoy leans close, lips grazing over Harry's ear. "Say yes."
Malfoy, the utterly irresistible prick, Vanishes their glasses without bothering with his wand or taking his hand off Harry's dick. "Show off," Harry manages to rasp as he sinks his fingers into that perfect coif of blond, then drags his blunt nails along the shorn sides. Malfoy pulls back, and their eyes lock. Malfoy smiles, a slow slide of his thin lips, revealing the line of his perfect white teeth.
And then Malfoy kisses him.
He kisses Harry hard, giving his cock a squeeze but regretfully pulling away, and Harry whines into his mouth at the lack of him. But Malfoy tugs on Harry's shirt and Harry's fingers fumble over Malfoy's flies, and it's a tangle of arms and twisted fabric and biting hard kisses and kicking trousers away. He loses his glasses somewhere in the middle, he hopes they don't get broken again this time, but that stray thought is quickly lost in the scramble. Malfoy finds Harry's cock trapped between their bodies. He strokes him again until Harry's rock hard and flushed a beet red, a tiny bead of liquid bubbling up at the tip. Draco swipes his thumb over it, then smears it over his own lower lip. He pulls Harry in for another kiss, hard and swift, just long enough for Harry to taste himself.
They stare at each other for the space of a heartbeat. The storm rages outside, rain beating against the glass-paned door leading out to Harry's balcony. Harry steps back, turns around and bends over.
They do end up on that ugly old chair, only Harry's braced against the arm, being stretched wide with Malfoy's spelled-slick fingers. Harry sinks deep into the sensation, into the strain of thighs, the arch of his back. "Just do it," he finds himself begging, not realising he's said anything aloud until the words are out of his mouth and Malfoy's chuckling, his warm breath ghosting over Harry's neck. Malfoy pulls free, but Harry barely has time to ache for the loss of him when he lines his cock up and slides ever so slowly inside.
This is when Malfoy takes his time. This is when Harry's head hangs low and his eyes close and the rest of the world falls away. Harry breathes into the stretch, breathes into that knife-edge between pleasure and pain. Everything goes quiet. Malfoy's palm skims his thigh, pursuing a path up his side and around to his shoulder. His other hand gripping vice-like on Harry's hip. He holds Harry still; Harry feels Malfoy's breath inches away from his skin, the faint brush of his hair, now messy and falling into his face, skimming just below Harry's neck. Malfoy's heartbeat thuds between them, the pulse of his cock so deep inside.
Then Malfoy starts to fuck.
He sets a bruising pace, and Harry bears down and takes it. Loses himself completely in the rhythm, in the heat, in the pounding of his insides and the harshness of Malfoy's breath. His cock thumps against his stomach with every thrust until Malfoy gasps, "Wank yourself, fuck--make yourself come--" It's almost automatic the way Harry obeys. He fists himself in quick, short jerks, trying to last, but heat flares over his thighs and his orgasm overtakes him in a rush. His whole body goes impossibly taut as he spills himself over his fingers, a few short spurts spraying the ugly chair. Harry sags, but Malfoy's still going, pounding fast and hard. Harry's forehead drops to the arm of the chair, a bone-deep satisfaction filling him up; he uses his remaining strength to squeeze himself around Malfoy. Malfoy jerks still, then one shallow thrust…another and then--
"Fuck--" Malfoy chokes out, and he throbs hard inside Harry. Harry trembles all over as Malfoy's orgasm washes through him anew.
Half the time they fuck, they don't bother with the whole clothes-taking-off business, but in these times that they do, Malfoy rarely stays nude for long. He allows some time for recovery, leaving his head resting on Harry's back while his breathing slows, but all too quickly, he's up and moving about the room. Before Harry's finished pulling on his boxers, Malfoy's fully dressed, neat and tidy. Except for his hair. It still falls in his face, and it's the only thing that gives a whiff of what they've been up to.
Harry takes his time dressing. He finds his glasses sitting neatly on the coffee table between the two glasses of whisky Harry assumed Malfoy had Vanished earlier. He smiles, ducking his head to hide it. After Malfoy grabs his drink, he heads towards Harry's balcony, swinging open the glass doors. The storm has calmed; the rain's down to a light trickle, but grey clouds hide away any hint of an afternoon sun.
Harry's balcony is small, criminally small according to Malfoy, with just enough space to step out and perhaps lean against the curved iron railing. Malfoy does this now, though he faces inward. His face comes into focus after Harry slips on his glasses. Now dressed, Harry hits the ugly chair with a quick Scourgify--he'll have to clean it more thoroughly soon, but he can't be arsed to do it just yet--and collapses in it, throwing his feet up on the coffee table. The room fills with the sounds of Muggle cars sloshing through puddles in the rain-soaked street below.
"Merlin, I could use a fag," Draco says, swirling the whisky in his glass.
"You could always have a go at…" Harry tips his head to the phial of GreenDream sitting on the end table, amazed that it's still upright after the pounding Malfoy gave him. He's already a bit sore; even his most comfortable chair can't completely soothe him, but Harry's glad that it doesn't. The twinge in his backside, the soreness of his muscles, the hand-shaped bruise he's likely to develop on his hip over the next few days. They're marks on him. Marks he's chosen.
"You know I don't partake in my own product."
"Shame. It's really good."
Malfoy smirks. "Go on, if you'd like."
"Let me guess. We've got business?"
The way Malfoy asks, like he already knows the answer, sends an uncomfortable shiver down Harry's spine. He never did master Occlumency. Never tried after those disastrous lessons with Snape. But he'd like to think he would notice Malfoy probing his mind. Harry's not sure if Malfoy's a Legilimens or not. They haven't exactly shared their improved skill set since school. The first time Malfoy did wandless magic in Harry's presence, it was a surprise, and gave him a kind of warm feathered feeling inside, like the comfort of a blanket from his childhood that he'd consciously forgotten until then. It was a weird sensation but nice in a way that's hard for him to articulate. Now he's used to it. Malfoy likes his little wandless tricks, likes to show off. He's even taught Harry a thing or two on the rare occasions he's feeling generous.
Harry nods in answer to Malfoy's question, though he's loathe to bring it up. Sex has muddled his brain up nicely; he doesn't want to think about the rest of his day just yet. But Malfoy's not one to stick around for dinner, so Harry better get on with it.
Malfoy comes inside and starts to close the balcony doors, but Harry stops him. "Leave 'em open. Just a bit."
Malfoy does as he asks, leaving the glass doors open just enough to let in a cloudy draft of light and the soothing pitter-patter of the last of the rain. He goes to the sofa, a respectable brown (an effort to match the chair, though nothing ever looks quite right with it) and perches on the edge, never one to get too comfortable.
Harry takes a long drag off his whisky, emptying half the glass in one go. He sets it down and leans back in his chair. Malfoy raises an eyebrow as if to say, Go on already.
"There's some new potion that's hit the market, erm, the black market, I guess. A twisted love potion, sort of, with a side of Imperio."
"Devil's Juice," Malfoy says immediately. Harry's not sure if he's happy Malfoy knows exactly what he's talking about or not, though it does make things easier.
"I need a sample. Or information on who's selling it."
Malfoy's gaze narrows. "Is this for a case?"
"What do you think? I want some for myself?"
Malfoy's lips quirk briefly at the suggestion, but any humour in his expression doesn't last long. He sips his whisky before answering. "You should stay away from this."
Harry shakes his head. "That's not an option."
"Turn down the case."
Harry can't help it. His curiosity is piqued. It isn't often Malfoy seems rattled, but he does now, looking increasingly uncomfortable on Harry's sofa. "What do you know?"
"Nothing," Malfoy says much too quickly. He can't quite meet Harry's eyes. "Rumours…" he adds, perhaps sensing that Harry's not going to let this go at just nothing. Malfoy swallows a healthy bit of his drink, stalling, Harry thinks. Harry sits quietly and waits. He isn't always the most patient, but his interrogation training kicks in without thought. Wait. It was drilled into him. Wait and more often than not, the suspect will be compelled to fill the silence.
Finally Malfoy says, "Enough to know that I'd be smart to keep my distance."
Malfoy doesn't want to give details, and short of dosing him with Veritaserum against his will…
Malfoy isn't a suspect, Harry reminds himself. This isn't an interrogation and Harry's not an Auror anymore. Harry takes a deep breath and lets it out slow.
"Ginny was dosed with it." He didn't want to mention her name, and feels somewhat guilty for doing so, though he can't pin down why. Just a vague sense of unease that doesn't fade when Malfoy's eyes widen slightly.
"Your ex-wife hired you?" There's something in his expression that Harry can't define. He shifts in his chair. Malfoy's looking directly at him now and Harry wishes he wouldn't.
"Not exactly. She's got a stalker; this might be related and it might not. But I promised Ron I'd look into it. I need your help." Harry's not sure why he doesn't mention the target on his own back; if anything Malfoy might understand self-interest better than any other reason Harry's asking for this favour, but Malfoy's face goes rigid for a split second, then the mask slips on in the blink of an eye. He's unreadable again, cold. When he gets like this, it makes Harry question whether he knows anything about Malfoy at all. He keeps his mouth shut.
"Always saving people, aren't you, Potter?" Malfoy murmurs. No derision in his voice, no snide tone, no judgement at all, besides perhaps a touch of weariness, so faint Harry questions whether it's there or he imagined it.
Malfoy rises. He leaves his half-empty glass of whisky on the coffee table and heads towards the door. Harry twists around and calls out after him. "Will you help me?"
"I'll be in touch," Malfoy says, without looking back. He Disapparates the moment his feet hit the foyer, before Harry can ask if that's a yes or a no.
It's a long wait before the file Ron promised arrives. Harry spends the time wrapping up his only other open case, a missing family grimoire that had disappeared when the matriarch passed a month previously. The daughter hired Harry and it hadn't taken long to figure out the grimoire had been removed by her aunt (the matriarch's sister) without the daughter's knowledge. Fortunately the legal question of who should actually inherit the heirloom falls well outside Harry's purview. Unfortunately that means it's no longer a distraction from the interminable wait. No word from Ron. No word from Malfoy. Harry holds back the urge to Owl either of them, figuring neither would appreciate it, and it might possibly delay things, at least on Malfoy's end. Hermione has nagging down to a fine art where most of her friends are inclined at worst to respond to her with fond exasperation. He doubts he'd get the same from Ron or Malfoy.
But two days later, a large package arrives, carried by two tawny owls Harry recognises from his time in the Auror department. His balcony doors are currently open, letting in a rare bit of sun. It's still raining, has barely stopped over the last 48 hours or so, but the afternoon offers sun showers instead of the gloomy grey-skied storms. The owls fly through the open doors with a swift grace and set the package down on his coffee table. They then proceed to shake their feathers and start to groom while Harry fetches owl treats from the kitchen.
"Poor things," he murmurs, setting a few treats down in front of each owl. "If you'd like to wait out the rain, you can rest up here." The owl on the left, the darker of the two with a deep nearly-black stripe feathering down between his squinty gaze, hoots at Harry in offense and flaps his wings. He takes his treat with a snap of his beak and flies out into the world, presumably back to the Ministry. Harry remembers him now: Fredrick, the owl who takes his job as seriously as Percy Weasley, and is just as uptight, if that's possible for an owl. The other one, Daisy, with the heart-shaped face and gentle white feathers mixed in with the tan, takes her time with the treats left behind. She then flies up towards the ceiling, lands on a wide beam bisecting the living room, and settles in for a nap.
"Smart girl," Harry says, bittersweet. He hasn't owned an owl since Hedwig, but perhaps he'll steal Daisy away from the Ministry and give her a much deserved holiday.
Harry turns his attention towards the package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, radiating with magic. It requires Harry's magical signature to open, a smart precaution, but Harry's not certain he's disappointed or relieved Ron chose to go this route rather than hand-deliver the file. He takes it to his desk-slash-kitchen table and carefully unwraps it, but parchment starts to spill almost immediately from the overstuffed file. Letters, dozens and dozens of them. They can't all be threatening, can they? Sure enough, at a closer look, Harry sees they've been sorted somewhat, a smaller pile of them together at the top, each tagged with a red sticker that shimmers under the light.
Better than that, they're not copies, but originals. Harry stops shuffling through them as soon as he realises it and opens his desk to retrieve magic dampening gloves. He doesn't want to contaminate them any further than he might already have. Smith likely had them tested already if he's at all competent at his job, and Harry knows the same tips and tricks he learned at the Academy; he's not likely to find anything overlooked. But since he's got the originals, he might as well be thorough.
Before he can start though, a note catches his eye, something he missed earlier when he opened the package, affixed to the front of the file.
I need this back ASAP, before Smith figures out it's missing, if possible. Thanks for taking a look. -Ron
Harry sits back in his chair; he hadn't really thought about it, but he supposes now there's no way Ron could actually ask for permission to remove the file, especially not for the express purpose of sending it to an ex-Auror who quit in disgrace. So he'd lifted it. "Merlin," Harry swears under his breath. He'd better get to work.
Just as he finishes separating the file into three somewhat-messy stacks (Stickied fan mail, unstickied fan mail, and the handful of stalking incident reports) the Floo chime startles him. The familiar sight of Hermione's head pokes out in his hearth.
"Can I come through?"
"Yeah, of course."
Hermione disappears for a few moments, then arrives, feet first, in front of Harry's Floo. She presses a hand against the archway and takes a breath. "I always feel as if I'm going to fall face-first into this."
"That's why I Apparate."
"And yet, you don't let anyone else Apparate through your wards, so we all have to deal with this."
"Doesn't seem to stop Malfoy," Harry mumbles under his breath.
"Never mind." Harry waves her off. "You're one of the only people who visits, so I can add you to the wards. I just haven't bothered tweaking them. Cup of tea?" he asks, stripping off his gloves.
"That'd be lovely." Hermione moves into his kitchen, her gaze immediately going to his desk and the stacks of parchment. "I see Ron's been here." She has a sort of hopeful look on her face. Harry hates to disappoint her, but a part of him resents the fact that he has to, that she's clearly poking for details. Instead of facing her, he busies himself with the kettle, frowning at it instead of her.
"Delivered via owl," he says, trying to keep his voice light. "I believe Daisy's still resting in the living room if you want to say hello."
It's amazing how Hermione can pack in so much meaning into a single syllable. Harry braces himself for more, but to his surprise when he looks over his shoulder he finds Hermione just sitting in the spare kitchen chair next to his desk with her hands in her lap.
"How's Ginny?" Not exactly the safest change of topic, but he genuinely wants to know. He grabs two cups out of the cupboard and pours their tea. Milk for Hermione, no sugar. Two lumps for himself, but otherwise black.
"Fully recovered. I'm keeping her another day to make certain there aren't any delayed side effects, but she's fine. Much better."
"Are you going in later?" She isn't wearing her Healer robes, instead a simple brown jumper and jeans, but her hair's knotted up in her signature working bun.
"Day off," she says. Harry mocks a gasp as he hands her the tea. "But yes, I'm stopping in to check on her in a bit."
"I bet she'll be thrilled."
"She tried to bribe me yesterday. World Cup tickets." Hermione shakes her head. "I told her if she thought a bribe would work on me that clearly her mind hadn't fully recovered and I'd have to keep her longer. I think she's getting desperate."
"Sounds about right." Harry chuckles, though it comes out a bit pained. He wonders if it'll ever feel better, the fact that he knows Ginny as well as he does. If someday it at least won't hurt.
If Hermione notices, she hides it well and continues on like normal. "It's the main reason I'm checking in later. To make sure she hasn't bribed anyone else with World Cup tickets."
Harry gives her a wry look.
"All right," she says, throwing one hand up in submission. "I'd be going in anyway."
Harry's not sure Hermione's taken more than a handful of days away from St. Mungo's since she started there three years ago after her post-Hogwarts training with Madam Pomfrey. A day off simply means she checks in at least once, if not twice, on her patients rather than spending a whole shift there. He'd expressed his concerns before and she'd waved him off. "Healers are expected to keep these kind of hours, at least in the beginning," she'd told him and he never brought it up again. Besides, he knows what it's like to need to work; he's not one to talk with the hours he keeps.
"Have you found anything?" she asks, tipping her head towards the file spread across his desk.
"I actually just started looking," he answers, sitting down with his own tea.
"Can I help?"
"It's your day off. You should spend some of it doing…whatever it is you do to relax. Crack open Hogwarts, A History."
"Paperwork relaxes me," she says, only half-joking. "But seriously, I'm worried. About both of you. If I can help…"
"It is a lot of letters to sort," he admits.
"Got another pair of those gloves?" She smiles at him when he reaches into the desk drawer and procures his spares.
Truthfully, he's relieved; Hermione's company is soothing. Every time he and Ron have a falling out, he spends most of his time with her. Last time it was camping and the stress of dragging around a piece of Voldemort wherever they went, certain they were going to fail or be killed or both. In fourth year, though he'd never tell her this, he found it incredibly dull. A lot of trips to the library. A lot of studying. No stealing off to the kitchens to beg treats off the House-Elves or late nights in the common room with a couple butterbeers pinched from Seamus' secret stash.
These aren't exactly the happiest of memories.
But every time, Hermione is a steady, reassuring presence, and he feels a rush of gratitude as he splits up the file, handing her a stack of the unmarked fan mail after they both put on their gloves. He wants to apologise for every moment he's been irritable or cross with her, though he likely will be again before the afternoon is done. Words won't come. So instead, he returns her smile and hopes somehow she can read him, as she usually does.
They settle in, Harry in his usual spot at the centre of the desk, Hermione on the narrow end, sorting through her stack. Harry starts with the letters marked with the red label, assuming that these are the ones that Smith marked as suspicious or requiring further testing, but the first is simply a short note and it's signed.
To: Ginny Weasley
I need to talk to you. Can we meet in person? It's important.
Harry swallows thickly. He barely knows Dennis, but has two striking memories of him. One, when he first came to Hogwarts and arrived in the Great Hall with all the other first years, sopping wet from falling into the Great Lake and brimming with excitement. And the second, at the Hogwarts Memorial where the names of the fallen were carved into a newly built castle wall; Dennis had been the one to inscribe his brother's name. His hands shook so badly McGonagall had to assist him in the end.
"Does Ginny know Dennis Creevey?" Harry asks, though if either of them should be able to answer, it's him.
"Only from school, I believe. Though I suppose they could have gone to the same grief group."
"Right," Harry says, trying to remember if Ginny ever spoke about the grief group sessions she attended, but that was years ago, before he and Ginny even got married. She hadn't kept up with it for long, if he's remembering correctly.
He sets aside the letter in a separate space; it isn't at all threatening and Harry has no idea why Smith marked it as such, but something niggles the back of his brain. It's important; he doesn't know why just yet.
The next few, though, leave him with more questions than answers. One is from a girl still at Hogwarts who writes how Ginny is her hero. A handful are just regular fan letters, speaking to Ginny's talent or their hopes for the Harpies that season. A couple are a little intense and ask personal questions; there's one marriage proposal in the bunch. They make him uncomfortable, but he's well aware of the type of Owls fame can attract and these don't seem out of the ordinary.
"What's Smith thinking?" Harry mutters under his breath when Hermione sucks in a quick breath, catching his attention.
"Harry--" she says haltingly and quickly passes a piece of parchment over to him. It's crisp with a greenish tint, the colour standing out from the rest of the stack. Harry scans it, his stomach knotting as his eyes race over the words. He takes a deep breath and forces himself to slow down, starting again at the beginning.
Your hair is like fire. I will use it to burn everything and everyone until all you have left is me. You will be free and happy. I can do this for you. I will do this for you. I know what's in your heart.
Yours now and forever,
"This is the one." Dearest Gin. It makes him ill. "He knows her."
"Or he thinks he does," Hermione says quietly.
"What the fuck is Smith playing at? Marking up a little girl's letters when this one is sitting right here."
"What are you talking about?"
"This stack I've been going through. The ones tagged in red. They're all pretty innocent."
"Maybe those are the letters he's cleared?" Hermione offers. "We don't know his system."
She's far too rational for Harry's tastes.
"So that's all he's gone through? What has it been?" Harry grabs the stalking incident reports and quickly scans dates. "A month." Harry sits back in his chair. He feels like he's taken a Bludger to the stomach, yet again. "It's been a month? No one told me."
"Harry…" Her appeasing, careful tone just irritates Harry further. He grits his teeth.
"Fine, I get it. She didn't want me to know. I get it." He stands and starts to pace. He needs to move, and he follows a short track the length of his small kitchen, clenching and unclenching his gloved fists at his side. "But this is the progress Smith's made? A dozen letters marked, maybe cleared, maybe not? He either doesn't care or he's bloody stupid and he's sabotaging this investigation, one way or the other. Why they handed him this case--"
"Harry! Stop." Hermione jerks to her feet, startling him, and he freezes, mid-pace, in front of the desk. "You're not exactly impartial, are you?"
"What does that mean?"
"I don't blame you." Hermione lets out a deep breath. "I'd have a hard time not lashing out at him if I were in your shoes. But you don't know that he's incompetent. Or uncaring. He could have other cases he's working or assisting on. Before Ginny was cursed, this might have been a low priority."
"You're defending him?"
"No." Hermione takes a deep breath. "But getting upset at Smith is not going to help Ginny or yourself."
She's right. He knows she's right. That's the worst part. Because the irritation still tightens his spine, angry energy licking at his skin. He wants to punch someone, almost anyone, present company excluded. He'd prefer it be Smith, but any willing body would do at the moment.
"Let's go through the rest of the letters and see if we can find more from this X person," Hermione sensibly suggests. Harry gives her a swift nod, not trusting himself to speak just yet. He needs a drink. Something stronger than the cooled tea at his desk. But cold tea will have to suffice.
In the end they find five more letters, each on that same green-tinted parchment, some more disturbing than the others, all signed with simply the letter X. In one he requests she burn a set of robes he finds unflattering. In another he speaks of the way she flies on her broom and goes into great pornographic detail of what that inspires. It makes Harry's skin crawl and his stomach sour like he's drunk a bad batch of firewhisky. Worst of all, none of the five letters are tagged. Regardless of what Hermione said, Harry's certain Smith is mucking the whole thing up. He keeps his mouth shut, though. She's right; he isn't exactly unbiased. But something in his gut tells him this file doesn't add up.
Hermione reluctantly leaves him to go check on Ginny at St. Mungo's, and Harry tries to hide his relief. He puts the file back in order just in case he needs to return it on short notice, but leaves those five letters out on his desk, along with Creevey's. Either Smith doesn't think they're important or he hasn't seen them yet. Either way, he won't miss them if Harry has to return the file a little light. He's not giving these letters back until he's run every test he knows how to do. His confidence in Smith is nil.
Harry strips off his gloves and casts a standard magical signature identifier, but the only letter that gives him a result is Dennis' and it simply confirms the named signed at the bottom is the same bloke who wrote it. Nothing suspicious there. The other five, the ones signed "X", come back frustratingly blank.
"Of course it couldn't be that easy," he mutters.
Carefully, he sweeps his wand slowly over the first green letter, the rather pornographic one, and casts Revelare Idetitatum Abyssi. The spell is designed to break down any nullifying charm work on an object to find a magical signature, but isn't often used as it has the nasty side effect of destroying said object when its work is done. But he's got four more; it's worth the sacrifice.
It'll take at least an hour for the spell to do its work. Harry busies himself by cleaning up the kitchen. It doesn't take long to clean two empty tea cups and rinse off the sink though, so Harry wanders out into the living room. Daisy hoots softly. Her feathers give a little tremble and she closes her eyes again. Weariness seeps into his bones and he looks longingly at his sofa. A nap might not be a bad idea.
He lies down, stuffs a throw pillow beneath his head and settles in, a gentle rain lulling him to sleep.
There's a tugging at Harry's jeans. The unthreading of a button, the creaking slow slide of his zipper, teeth gently released. His cock stirs, hardening with anticipation. The heat of a fist, the smooth slide of lotioned fingers. Like silk around him, slippery hot.
"Wake up," a voice whispers. That haughty drawl pulls Harry in from the darkness. But it's a struggle to open his eyes. The world skews sideways. The blurry shape of Malfoy kneels next to the sofa. He jerks Harry's cock, rough and awkward. It still feels sinfully good.
"What're doing here?" Harry asks; his words come out slurred.
"Your wards are shit, Potter." Malfoy cackles. His laughter is harsh, like sharpening knives. "I can Apparate anywhere. See?"
He disappears, yet somehow Harry can still feel his fist around his cock, yanking at him almost painfully. Harry scrubs his eyes, and Malfoy reappears on his ceiling, perching next to Daisy on the beam. There isn't enough room even with Malfoy crouched over, practically doubled in two. But somehow he fits.
"Don't hurt her," Harry tries to say, but the words get stuck in his throat. Malfoy hears him anyway.
"You don't trust me, do you?" he says. He drags one long finger along Daisy's head, fluffing her feathers. She coos, traitorously.
"That's my owl."
A loud crash, like a strike of lightning. Malfoy Apparates again, reforming on Harry's lap. He brings with him a spray of water like misting rain. Harry blinks his eyes; he can't move to wipe his face. He can't even struggle to try to knock Malfoy off of him.
"Because you don't want me off," Malfoy says. He winds his hand between their bodies; though the sensation of his fingers around Harry's cock never left, at least now it makes sense again.
"Stop reading my mind."
"Why? It's easy and fun." Malfoy leans down and kisses Harry's jaw. Harry throbs, his muscles going tight. He's almost there, if only he could move, if only he could get a bit more friction.
But then everything goes still. In the blink of an eye, Malfoy hovers over him, face to face, noses nearly brushing. Harry can't feel Malfoy's breath, but his hair is wet and it drips onto Harry's forehead.
Malfoy's mouth never moves, and yet Harry hears his voice clearly.
"I'm not the one you need to worry about."
Another loud bang and Harry jerks awake. He blinks his eyes in the fading afternoon light. The rain has whipped up into a storm once more and his doors swing against the walls with the wind, a rhythmic drumming that must have pulled him from his dream. His cock is still hard, his jeans half-undone, but at least his hand isn't stuffed down his pants. At least he didn't come in his sleep like a randy pubescent.
"Fuck." He wills his erection to go away, but it thrums at him stubbornly. It's easier to give in. He grips his cock, a pale echo of the sensation from Malfoy's hand. Harry thinks of the weight of him, settled on his lap; a false memory, but so strong he can still feel it. He'd wanted to buck up against Malfoy, or maybe Malfoy could slide down and pull his cock out, wrap his lips around it and let Harry thrust up--
Harry thrusts into his fist instead and comes with a stifled cry to the image of Malfoy's mouth around him, looking up with piercing grey eyes.
He sinks back into the couch and catches his breath. His hasty release cools on his stomach. He Vanishes it before it can get sticky and slowly puts himself back together. A glance above and he finds Daisy still napping, cooing quietly in her sleep. At least she didn't see, though Merlin knows Hedwig caught him more than once; he always felt slightly dirty rubbing one out in front of his owl.
The dream-memory of Malfoy perched above with Daisy makes him laugh now. "Your wards are shit, Potter," he says in a poor imitation of Malfoy's drawl. So ridiculous, dreaming about Malfoy popping all over the place. Yeah, Malfoy's proven more than once that Harry's wards are a child's charm to him, but Harry never bothered upgrading the standard set that came with the flat. He's certain he could tweak them, up the levels to make them harder for anyone to slip through, including Malfoy. Harry's just never been bothered. People manage to find him regardless of his wards, but the standard set keeps most out.
Harry inhales sharply. A cold chill slithers down his spine. He never upgraded the wards at the house he shared with Ginny either.
"Shit," Harry curses under his breath just as a chime rings in the kitchen. His spell is finished. Harry dashes in and stops short at his desk.
Hovering over a pile of ashes that was once a piece of parchment is a thick black X. No magical signature found. No culprit identified. Nothing.
Harry's heart drops.
Anyone that can hide their identity this well? They won't be stopped by standard wards. Harry finds a spare scrap of parchment and dashes off a quick note to Hermione, hoping that she's still at St. Mungo's with Ginny.
"Keep her there," is all he writes then quickly rolls and seals it with a thumbprint of wax. Waking up Daisy with a gentle trill and luring her down with a few treats, Harry tells her, "I'm sorry. I wouldn't send you out in this unless it was an emergency." Daisy cocks her head and takes another treat as he attaches the scroll. She hoots gently, then spreads her wings and flies off into the rain.
Harry hopes she comes back.
Harry's boots crunch on the soggy gravel leading up to the house. The small cottage sits back from the road a ways, cloaked with shady oak trees in the setting sun. Harry feels the wards as soon as he reaches the fence that surrounds the property; they envelop him gently as he pulls open the gate. It still squeaks. He'd never got around to fixing it. Never got around to a lot of things.
"Damn it, Gin," he murmurs as he closes the gate, sliding the bolt to lock it. The rain beats hard on his umbrella charm, a constant drumming in his ears. He pulls out his wand and starts to walk the perimeter when a light switches on inside, catching his eye. It comes from the kitchen, and he sees a figure moving behind the closed curtains, a fuzzy shadow that gives no hint to an identity. Too tall for a House-Elf, even if Ginny had one, which she doesn't. It could be Ron or even Ginny's mum, but Harry can't be certain.
Adrenaline floods his body, heart thumping a bit faster, and his muscles tighten, spoiling for a fight. He creeps along the porch and with a silent Alohomora unlocks the door. He's dismayed it's so easy to break in, but currently that serves him well. He moves silently toward the kitchen, one step at a time, trying not to rush and alert the intruder. Wand at the ready, Incarcerous at the tip of his tongue, Harry bursts into the kitchen.
A scream; a tea cup falling, shattering on the tiled floor. Harry jerks back his wand and barely manages to keep the spell from flying out of his mouth.
"Merlin's saggy knickers!" Ginny braces herself against the counter. Fear is written all over her face, but it starts to drain as soon as Harry registers it. Her breath comes hard.
"What're you doing here?" he asks. He doesn't mean for it to come off as harshly as it does, but his body hasn't quite got the memo that there are no enemies to vanquish at this time.
"You mind not pointing that thing at me?" Ginny motions to his wand.
"Right, sorry." He stows it and takes a deep breath, trying to calm his heartbeat. "I thought you were an intruder."
"Clearly, I'm not."
"You were supposed to be at St. Mungo's."
"So you thought you'd break in while I wasn't around?"
This conversation isn't going well, not that any of his conversations with Ginny have in recent history. "God, no. I was worried. I sent a note."
"Worried." Ginny closes her eyes for a minute, letting out a big sigh. She takes out her wand, and Harry tenses for a split second until he realises she's simply Vanishing the tea on the floor and levitating the remains of the tea cup onto the kitchen island. It's from a set her family gave them. A wedding gift. It's clear she's going to try to put it back together, though it didn't break cleanly.
It feels weird enough being back in this house. He doesn't need to focus on a bloody tea cup.
"I was concerned about your wards. About your safety. I wanted to check them before you came home and then I saw someone in the house, and--"
"Me. The person who lives here."
"I didn't know that, Gin!"
Ginny flinches when he says her name. Guilt swirls in his stomach, but it's quickly replaced by prickly irritation. What, he can't say her sodding name any longer? He almost asks her; his lips form a sneer before he even registers it, but he manages to catch himself and takes another deep breath. He isn't here to provoke a fight, no matter how easily he seems to fall into the pattern.
"What about the wards?" she asks, albeit grudgingly.
His words come out in a rush like he's afraid she's set a ticking clock and will stop listening as soon as it goes off. "They're the standard set and they should be stronger. I never upgraded them, and your stalker, I was worried he could get through--"
"I upgraded the wards," Ginny cuts him off. So focused on his explanation, it takes a second for Harry to process what she means.
"A month ago." Ginny takes a small container out of a drawer and starts to place the pieces of the broken tea cup within it. "When this all started. Ron helped me. I can barely Apparate into my own home now."
"But I got through fine."
"Of course you did." She stops her sorting, the last piece placed, but she keeps looking at the container as if she can will the cup back together with the force of her stare. "Merlin, you're so thick sometimes."
She says that last under her breath, but Harry hears her clearly; it grates. "Then explain it so even a dumb idiot like me can understand."
Ginny whips her head up, brown eyes dark like hard flecks of flint. "I could have disabled our wards and started over, erased you completely from this house. But I didn't, all right? God, it doesn't matter." She turns away from him and heads to the kettle, filling it to presumably make a fresh cup of tea. For herself, only. Harry knows better than to expect one.
"This isn't your job anymore," she says to the kettle. "You can't just--" she cuts herself off. "The wards are fine. Just go."
"I can't just what?" The question is out of Harry's mouth before he can stop it. She's right; the wards are fine. He doesn't have any business here any longer.
But it's out there. Ginny turns around. She sets the kettle on the stove and lights it with the tip of her wand. It's quiet for a long time, so long that Harry second guesses himself. Maybe she's not going to answer. Maybe she didn't hear him at all.
But then she sighs and faces him, no longer averting her gaze. "You can't act like you're still my husband."
"I… I wasn't," Harry says. The shock envelopes him completely. It's the last thing he thought she'd say.
"I can take care of myself," she continues, as if he hadn't spoken at all. "And I've people to call for help. I always did. I don't need you to come play the hero. It was charming when I was eleven but now… Now it's insulting."
Heat flares in his chest, across his face. His jaw hardens. The anger comes on so quick, he's in the throes of it before he knows what's happening.
"Ron asked for my help. Hermione asked for my help. I wouldn't even have known about any of this if it wasn't for them. I'm not acting like your husband. I'm not your husband; I'm well aware. But fuck me for caring, right?"
"I didn't ask for your help. I didn't ask you to care!" She's yelling and he wants to yell back. He wants to scream at her and put a fist through the wall. It's not going to help, but it would feel so good. At least in the moment. After, he'd feel terrible. So instead he closes his eyes and counts to ten and tries to breathe through the anger.
The kettle whistles. The stove switches off. Liquid is poured into a cup.
Harry opens his eyes. "You're not being fair."
Ginny laughs. It's harsh and mocking and makes his teeth hurt like a fork scraping across a plate.
"Godric help me," she says.
"Fine. I'll leave."
"I'll return the file. Even though--"
"The file? You stole my case file?"
"I didn't steal it! Your brother stole it."
Ginny makes the noise she always makes when she's angry or frustrated and can't form words; it sounds like a hippogriff's high-pitched screech.
"I'm giving it back, even though your boyfriend is mucking up the whole thing. But you don't need my help, so--"
"No, I don't," she snaps coldly before Harry can finish speaking.
So he clamps his mouth shut and walks out of the kitchen and keeps going, right on through the front door. He stomps down the walk, itching to get free of the wards so he can Apparate. He doesn't care where, just far and away. Hermione appears at the gate. He unlocks it for her and waves her in, barely registering her wide concerned eyes.
"Guess she found someone to take those World Cup tickets," he says. He doesn't wait for Hermione's response. As soon as he's past the wards, he Disapparates.
Anyplace but here.
Harry arrives at home. It's dark, but he doesn't bother with lights; there's enough from the moonlight to see around his flat. His balcony doors are still open and let in a misty breeze. He looks up at the hanging beam and finds it shadowed and empty. He's not surprised; Daisy isn't his owl. Still, he's disappointed. He can't bring himself to close the doors just in case she's sent out again and needs a safe place to rest.
"Bloody maudlin git," he mutters under his breath. Upset over an owl. He's the height of ridiculousness. His choices for the rest of the evening are to get drunk or sleep. Or Floo Malfoy. As soon as he thinks of it, a great yearning comes upon him. It's how he knows it's a bad idea. Besides, Malfoy doesn't like it when he Floos. "Can't be too careful," he's always saying. Harry just figures Malfoy prefers to show up on his own schedule or according to his own whims. It's never bothered Harry before, the way things work between them. He doesn't know why he feels irritated over it tonight.
"Sod it all." Harry's never been one to turn down a bad idea. He grabs a handful of Floo powder and tosses it in the fireplace. Green flames burst forth and settle into a nice crackling fire. He kneels before it and calls Malfoy's name.
He's never quite got used to the sensation of his head floating apart from his body. The ground is solid below his knees, his hands braced on the bricks in front of his fireplace. He can even feel the heat licking at him gently. And yet his head is on an ethereal tether, miles away. It makes him vaguely seasick.
Malfoy comes into view, legs first, ankle resting on his knee, the pointed end of his boot facing his hearth. A glass of wine in one hand, resting on the arm of his sofa. In the other, an open book, about two-thirds through. He wears readers with thin rectangular black frames. His lips are pinched at one side. Harry can't remember the last time he's caught Draco unguarded before. Vulnerable. Maybe not since sixth year.
He clears his throat. "Hey, Malfoy."
Malfoy starts. It lasts a brief second but his surprise is hidden away by the time he glances at the Floo. He shuts his book, sets down his wine and removes his glasses. They vanish from the tips of his fingers. Carefully stowed someplace safe, Harry assumes.
"Can I come through?"
"No," he says. "I've asked you not to Floo."
Harry can't decide if Malfoy's annoyed or not. If so, he hopes it's just Malfoy's standard annoyance, the kind Harry can cheek right out of him. He puts on a smile and teases, "And yet you haven't blocked me."
Malfoy's lips quirk. It's amazing what a simple twitch of his lips can do to Harry's insides. "An oversight."
"Fine. If only to stop your whinging."
In the minute it takes Harry to rejoin his body and come back whole, Malfoy has a fresh wine glass in his hand, the bottle hovering nearby at an angle, filling it nearly to the brim. He hands it to Harry once Harry finishes shrugging off the Floo powder that clings from his journey. Malfoy twitches his nose at the mess, then waves his hand, Vanishing it.
"Fresh out of whisky," Malfoy says. It's almost an apology. Harry gulps the wine down halfway in one go, and Malfoy winces. "It's meant to be sipped, you swine."
"You've moved." Harry ignores the insult, and takes in Malfoy's new flat. The furniture, he recognises. Matching sofa and armchair done up in white and pale blues; the glass coffee table Harry nearly fell through one time during a bit of frantic frotting (Malfoy managed to redirect his fall to the sofa, barely breaking his rhythm); the built-in shelves, filled to the brim, but warped into a new shape to fit a new space. Candles set on end tables, burning a woodsy citrus scent like driftwood and orange blossoms that Harry's come to associate with Malfoy. But the flat itself is brighter, if less spacious. There's the living room he stands in with a small kitchenette in one corner tucked behind a half-wall. A staircase spirals in another corner that Harry assumes leads to the bedroom. Unless Malfoy sleeps on the sofa. That he can't imagine.
The wireless plays softly from a table behind the sofa, some jazz composition Harry doesn't recognise. Not that he should; he knows nothing about jazz.
"Where are we?" Harry wanders over to a large window, curtains tied open on the frame to display the view. A rocky seascape, gently lapping water. Somewhere on the coast, then.
"That would be telling," Malfoy answers.
"What? If you do, you'd have to kill me?" Harry glances over his shoulder. Malfoy's settled back on the sofa, glass of wine in hand.
"Nothing so dramatic. I'd simply move. Again."
Harry turns back to the window and watches dark clouds surf the sky. It's going to rain. Harry wonders if the storms just follow him around now. "I would find you."
"No doubt," Malfoy says. "I expect you're here looking for an update?"
"No… actually. I'm not."
Harry hears a faint hint of an "oh" not fully formed, and he smiles to himself. He likes surprising Malfoy.
"Refill your glass, then?"
"I didn't come for the wine, either."
The sofa cushions shift; soft footsteps approach that Harry knows he wouldn't hear at all if not for Malfoy's boots. His wine is taken from his hand and set down on a nearby table. Hands ghost under his shirt, pulling it off over his head. Malfoy starts undoing his flies from behind, arms wrapped around his waist. Harry closes his eyes as the first flecks of rain hit the window.
Malfoy takes his trousers and pants down; Harry's cock springs forth, half-hard and growing. Tension ramps up through his body, but it's a different kind of tension than he's been feeling all day. A good tension, full of anticipation and desire and arousal flooding through him. Malfoy sinks to his knees, palms grazing over Harry's thighs, around to his buttocks. Harry braces himself against the window, fingers slipping along the glass. He lets out a low moan as Malfoy's tongue works magic, licking and probing him; Harry spreads his legs wider and arches into him. He wouldn't ever think to describe rimming as relaxing, but his whole day drops away and he loses himself in Malfoy's mouth. A scrape of Malfoy's teeth along one butt cheek. Slick fingers working inside, working him open. Malfoy uses his tongue and his fingers until Harry can't wait any longer. He wraps a hand around his cock and tosses himself off as a flash of lightning hits the water and waves start to crest higher and higher. Rain lashes against the window and thunder rumbles across the sky and Harry comes with a cry, drowned out by both.
He presses his face against the window and breathes heavily, fogging over the glass. He allows himself a moment before he kicks free from the mess of his trousers and pants and turns around. Malfoy's still on his knees, licking his lips, the corners of his mouth turned up. His eyes sparkle in the candlelight; face flush and glowing. Harry cups his face, drags his thumb along the sharp angle of his cheek.
God, he wants to take this man apart.
His orgasm still thrumming through him, Harry tugs Malfoy up to his feet and pulls him into a kiss, hard and unrelenting. He sinks his fingers into Malfoy's hair, tugging on a handful until Malfoy lets out a soft moan into his mouth. Malfoy's so very good at breaking him down, Harry wants to do the same. Needs to the same. He pushes Malfoy to the sofa until he falls onto it, legs asunder. Harry kneels between Malfoy's knees and starts working on his belt buckle, hastily sliding it free before getting to work on the button and zip. He doesn't bother taking Malfoy's trousers down, just finds his cock and pulls it free and holds it until he feels Malfoy throb in his hand. Lightning flashes over Malfoy's face. They look at each other, gazes locked. Something passes between them, something Harry can't name. He presses his face to Malfoy's groin, letting Malfoy's cock drag along his cheek before he takes the head and swallows Malfoy down. He takes in all that he can, wrapping his fist around the base that won't fit, and starts to suck. Malfoy's hand comes to his head, fingers threading through his hair. He bucks into Harry's mouth, lips falling open. Harry stares at him. Watches the arch of his neck, the jut of his chin as his head falls back, his Adam's apple bobbing. A powerful awe spreads through him, that he should witness this, that he should cause it.
Malfoy's hips start to move in quick jerks. Harry braces his hands on Malfoy's thighs and feels them quiver beneath his palms. A tight squeeze of his hair, Harry slides down and takes Malfoy in deeply. Malfoy throbs hard; his chest undulates and he starts to shake a little bit, tiny little shivers running up and down his body. A high-pitched keening noise erupts from Malfoy's lips; he tenses all over for the space of a breath, then floods Harry's mouth in great spurting pulses. Harry swallows every drop.
After, Harry drops his head on Malfoy's thigh, a light sweat cooling his cheek. Malfoy rakes his hand through his hair, blunt nails along his scalp, and Harry thinks he could stay like this for a long while.
So he doesn't.
He pulls himself up, finds his clothes scattered by the window, and hastily pulls them back on. He grabs his abandoned wine glass and drains the rest, but before he can set the glass back down again and take his leave, the wine bottle appears, filling it anew.
"Figured you were ready for a refill now," Malfoy says. When he turns around, Malfoy's put back together and sipping on his own refreshed glass. His hand rests on the sofa next to him; Harry can't tell if it's an invitation or not, so he sinks into the armchair instead. It's not as comfortable as his easy chair back home, but it'll do.
He's tired, a good kind of tired, and the wine is tasty and giving him a nice little buzz. "How did you learn to do all this?" Harry asks, gesturing to the still-floating bottle as Malfoy directs it back to the table with a flick of his hand. "Wandlessly?"
He expects a glib reply, so he's surprised when Malfoy answers quite seriously. "It's House-Elf magic. I made Dobby teach me when I was young. It's why it's all domestic shit, like refilling wine glasses and Vanishing messes."
And Apparating through wards, Harry thinks, but doesn't say aloud. "Dobby didn't like you much," he says instead, trying to ignore the little tug of his heart.
"Yes," Malfoy says. "I was cruel to him. I was cruel to a lot of people back then."
It's the closest they've ever come to talking about their Hogwarts years. Malfoy stares at his wine, gold glinting off the glass in the candlelight. It glints off his white-blond hair too as it falls into his eyes.
"I'm close to finding a source on Devil's Juice."
Somehow Harry isn't surprised at Malfoy's change of topic, but a little part of him is disappointed. Maybe relieved too. He's not certain he's up to getting into their past after the day he's had, no matter how relaxed the combination of an orgasm and wine is making him.
"You can stop, if you want."
"Why is that?"
"You wanted me to stay from this anyway, didn't you?" Harry tries to sound casual but there’s a certain tension in his voice that gives him away. "Well, I'm officially staying away. Ginny…" Once again her name feels like a curse while he's sharing space with Malfoy. "She's asked me to back off. So I am."
Malfoy snorts. "That's rich."
"I'll pay you, whatever work you've put in so far. The standard rate."
Malfoy bristles, not even trying to hide his annoyance. Harry can’t blame him; who knows how much time he’s wasted on this already?
"Can I ask, when your ex was dosed, why were you called in?"
"I know how Devil's Juice works, Potter. I've done my research. The potion causes a sick sort of obsessed love, similar to Amortentia, but there's another component. A compulsion, like Imperio. Tell me, what was your ex-wife compelled to do?"
Somehow Harry guesses Malfoy already knows. He hardly ever asks a question to which he doesn't know the answer. Harry flushes hot, embarrassed and uncomfortable, but he hasn't the faintest idea why.
"She was supposed to kill me," he mumbles.
"What was that? Your ex-wife was drugged in order to murder you? Did I get that right?"
"God, you don't have to be such a sarcastic git about it."
"And yet, she's asked you to stop investigating, is that it? Just trust the Aurors on this one?" He sneers, sloshing his wine as he gestures with a dismissive wave, displaying just how he feels about the Aurors getting it right. It’s a feeling with which Harry can relate. He likes most of his fellow ex-colleagues, but Smith isn’t one of them. If it were anyone else, maybe Ginny’s demand wouldn’t irk him so much.
Malfoy leans forward, setting down his wine. "Did you make any progress on the stalker?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure her stalker is the same person who drugged her."
"The one who wants you dead. And wants to put her through the trauma of not only dumping you, but murdering you as well."
"She didn’t dump me. The divorce was mutual."
“Please, Potter. I was there." He's almost teasing, but as he leans back and picks his wine up again, his voice goes soft. "You don’t have to pretend in front of me.”
Malfoy on his knees in a dirty alley. Harry's invisibility cloak shimmering as Ginny swept it off her shoulders. The pain in her brown eyes. Malfoy rising to his feet. He'd touched the back of Harry's hand before he'd walked away. Harry remembers it all.
"Do you honestly want to give up?" Malfoy asks.
"No." Harry swallows thickly. "I don't."
"I thought you wanted me away from this?"
Malfoy stiffens slightly and takes a sip of his wine, taking his sweet time swallowing. Finally he says, "That was before I knew you were a target."
A prickly warmth spreads through Harry's chest. He coughs and looks down at his wine until he feels Malfoy's gaze move away.
"This stalker, he's dangerous. I don't know how he managed to drug Ginny with a Howler. He covers his tracks so well… I tried Revelare Idetitatum Abyssi on one of his letters and… nothing. I haven't the faintest idea who he is."
"Do you have any more letters?"
"I might know a spell, something the Academy wouldn't have taught you." 'Something Dark' remains unsaid.
"I'll bring you a letter tomorrow."
Malfoy finishes his wine. He doesn't Leviosa the bottle for a refill. Harry stands up, figuring that's his cue.
"You could stay," Malfoy suddenly says. He stands too, hands stiff at his sides before he stuffs them into his pockets. "The sofa, it's comfortable."
Harry smiles faintly. Is he disappointed Malfoy didn't offer his bed? God, he's not certain. He doesn't feel certain of anything it seems like. "My bed is just a Floo ride away. I should go. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," Malfoy says.
Before things can get even more awkward, Harry pinches a bit of Malfoy's Floo Powder and tosses it into the fire. He glances over his shoulder. Malfoy's looking at the floor, but he catches Harry's eye for a split second before he starts to busy himself with righting throw pillows that fell out of place during their… activities. Harry turns away and calls for his flat. He steps through and promptly falls right into his archway.
His flat is dark and empty, moonlight faint. Maybe he should have picked Malfoy's sofa after all.
Sunlight casts its warm gaze, gently stirring Harry awake. He blinks his eyes. He can barely believe it. A clear day? It's a minor miracle. But when he pads out into his living room, the wide open balcony shows grey clouds drifting in. He left the doors open all night. The balcony is soaked, and the rain grazed the hardwoods at least a foot inside. Harry closes the doors, his bare feet cold against the damp floor. He'll have to dry out the wood properly or else it'll warp, but first coffee. He's useless without coffee.
"Sick of this rain," he mumbles to himself as he wanders into the kitchen, but just through the archway, he stops short. Something niggles the back of his brain. Something's off. His arms break out in gooseflesh, a powerful shiver going through him.
And that's when he sees it. His desk, empty. Wiped clean. Not even the ash from his failed spell remains.
The file, the letters, all of it. Gone.
"Fuck!" Harry paces the length of the kitchen, hands curling into the hair at the nape of his neck. Ron's going to bloody murder him, save this stalker the trouble. Why didn't he work on his wards last night? So worried about rushing to Ginny's home, he didn't even think about his own. Left his balcony doors wide open too, all because he's soft on a bloody bird.
Harry stops in front of his desk and scrubs his face. When he pulls his hands away, it's still empty.
"Fuck," he curses again. When was the last time he saw the file? Was it after Ginny's? Did he even look before he went to Malfoy's? Think, Potter. His inner frustrated voice sounds a bit like Malfoy. He groans aloud. If only he hadn't left the flat. If only he had strengthened his wards. If only he hadn't left his doors wide open. If only, if only…
Maybe Ron came and took it. Or Ginny snuck inside to teach him a lesson. His hopes are the definition of hanging on by a thread, but they're all he's got. And his only choice is to suck down his pride and ask them.
"Fuck," he shouts again, allowing himself a moment to put his head in his hands and scream into his palms. He takes a deep breath, straightens his shoulders. "Pull it together," he tells himself quietly, and makes his way back to the bedroom.
While getting dressed, he decides to check with Ron first, if only to delay Ginny's inevitable wrath. Not that it's going to be all that pleasant with Ron either. Ron's likely already at work this time of day, which means trudging back into the Auror offices; Harry hasn't set foot in the place since he unceremoniously quit.
He takes a chance and attempts to Floo directly, rather than go through the Atrium at the Ministry. Slip in through the back door, as it were. The Aurors' Floo is only to be used in emergencies, and will only work if no one's revoked his clearance yet. As he steps into his hearth, he prepares to be bounced right back into his archway, but to his surprise, he actually makes it through, only knocking his elbows once on the trip before arriving in the small receiving foyer.
"Three cheers for bureaucracy," he says under his breath. The foyer is small and sooty and only contains a Floo and a door directly across the way with a small window at eye-level. That leads directly to the Junior Auror cubicles. Harry hopes that he can just grab Ron's attention quietly and pull him into the foyer, no one else the wiser. As long as there're no emergencies between now and then.
With Harry's recent luck, he isn't counting on it.
Harry peeks through the window and scans the limited view for Ron's bright ginger hair. The floor is mostly empty from what he can see. There are a couple Juniors, Douglas he thinks, and maybe Lisa Cullen over near the coffee and tea station, a couple others hunched over their desks in cubicles, Harry guesses doing paperwork or the like. But no sign of Ron. Harry sighs.
He's contemplating just how long he can risk hiding out inside the foyer when a file sitting by itself in the middle of a desk catches his attention. It looks like it could be any standard Auror file, but Harry glimpses the red labels sticking out the top and a note affixed to the front, just like the one Ron wrote him. Odds are, it's Ginny's file.
Ron must have taken it; that's the only explanation. Maybe Smith noticed it was gone and Ron came over early with no time to wake Harry and let him know. Though why Ron would leave it exposed on his desk, Harry has no idea. Still, it's not Harry's problem any longer. He should turn around and Floo home before he's caught.
And yet. There's Malfoy. And Malfoy's spell. And the tantalizing possibility that Harry can finally learn who's been harassing his ex-wife and who wants him dead.
Harry peers through the window again. No one's looking this way, at least no one he can see. The desk in question is only two cubicles down and Harry knows exactly what he's looking for. He can dash out, grab the first green parchment he finds, and dash back to the Floo foyer in no time at all. If only he'd taken the time for coffee, maybe he would have thought to grab his invisibility cloak. Would make the whole thing a lot easier. But now that he's got his eyes on the file, Harry doesn't want to leave without a letter. He figures it's not much of a risk given how empty the offices are.
Harry takes a deep breath and lets it out in a rush. He grabs the doorknob and turns it slowly, wincing with the low creak of the door opening. Quick and quiet, fast as a Seeker tailing a Snitch, he sneaks through the door and zeroes in on his target. He counts his steps to keep his insides calm, and holds his breath. At an arm's length away, he reaches out his hand and--
Someone clears their throat behind him.
Harry freezes for a heart-pounding second hoping it's just someone merrily working at their cubicle with a frog in their throat.
"Can I help you?"
No such luck.
Harry straightens. Act like you've every right to be here, he reminds himself before turning around. But standing before him is the worst person who could've caught him. Tall and skinny, with dark blond hair and the same upturned nose Harry remembers from the first time he had the displeasure of meeting him.
"Smith," Harry says. Smith lifts his eyebrows in a silent question and Harry quickly adds, "I'm here to meet Ron."
"He's in the field. Surprised Peebles didn't let you know at the front. Unless you snuck past him." Smith laughs like he's made the wizarding world's funniest joke, but it's so obviously fake and forced, and full of "I'm-better-than-you" airs. What can Ginny possibly see in this arsehole? Not that it matters or is any of his business. But Harry wonders what her taste in men says about him?
Smith looks at him expectantly.
"I'll leave him a note then, before I go." Harry starts to turn toward the desk; maybe if he dithers enough, Smith will leave him be and Harry can still get his letter before Smith notices just what file is sitting on Ron's desk.
But Smith's next statement stops him in his tracks.
"That's my desk. Weasley's is across the aisle. Don't you remember? Well, you haven't been an Auror for quite some time. Never were the most observant either."
Realisation spreads through Harry like frost spidering across a window as a Dementor drifts by. Smith moves past him and lays his palm on the file possessively. "Were you wanting this back?"
Harry's heart begins to race. His fingers curl into fists at his sides, magic pooling at his palms. It takes all his willpower not to reach into his pocket for his wand.
Smith was in his flat. His home.
"Careful," Smith says. Harry's jaw twitches. He doesn't try to hide his anger, that slow burning rage melting the ice inside. Smith's expression flickers and he takes a step backwards, squaring his shoulders. "We are in the middle of the Auror department. In which you are trespassing."
Choking him would almost be worth the time in Azkaban.
"Stay away from my case," Smith says.
"Or what? You'll steal my tin of biscuits next time?"
Smith's mouth twists into a sickly slanted smile. He taps the case file with his fingers, one by one, like rolling down a piano scale. Directly on top of Ron's note that Harry stupidly left affixed to the top.
"I could have Weasley's badge for this. Removing another Auror's file? Destroying evidence? He might even serve some time in Azkaban."
Anger courses through Harry, hot and thick like lava. But under that, the sting of shame, just as hot and burning his cheeks. He'll never forgive himself if Smith carries through with his threats.
"Are we agreed?"
Harry nods swiftly, tasting bile at the back of his throat.
"I'll just keep this in a safe place then." Smith carefully peels Ron's note free and folds it before stowing it away in his robes.
"Don't fuck this up, Smith," Harry says. "Pay attention to those green letters."
"Don't worry your pretty little head, Potter." Smith's smile is all white teeth and thin lips. "I know what I'm doing. And now I think we'd all feel much better if you left. Properly."
Harry understands what Smith means by properly when he starts herding Harry towards the front desk and away from the door to the emergency Floo. "I know the way," he snaps over his shoulder about halfway down the aisle. Smith falls back, but Harry can feel Smith's gaze on his back, tracking him until he's out of sight.
Peebles starts when Harry reaches the front desk. He barely looks older than a sixth year; must be his first month on the job. Harry remembers long overnight shifts at the front desk when he was first starting out at the Academy, bored out of his skull unless he could convince Ron to skive off for an hour or two and beat him in a game of chess.
"You're fine," Harry says as Peebles starts to rise, his eyes widening. Ah, the look of recognition. The awe. Harry feels a bit bad for the kid. He's nothing special.
"You're Harry Potter."
The kid flushes and Harry feels a curl of regret for his sarcasm, but he's tired. It's only half-ten and already this day blows hotter than Fiendfyre.
"I thought you qu--didn't work here anymore?"
"Just catching up with mates." Harry starts to wave the kid off and leave when his eyes catch on the entrance to the Aurors' Owlery behind the desk. An idea lifts his chest. "Hey… it's Peebles, right?"
"Yeah," the kid flushes again, but this time Harry can tell it's with pride. Because Harry knows his name. In a few years, he'll be over it.
"I heard Douglas say he needed you on my way out. He's over by the coffee station."
"But… I'm not supposed to leave the desk."
Harry feels vaguely guilty but he stuffs that deep down as he waves off Peebles' concerns. "Oh, that's not a big deal."
Peebles gets up, but he hesitates, shifting his weight.
Harry inwardly winces at what he's about to do, but sod it all, right? Something good needs to come out of this visit. He flashes his 'Chosen One' smile. The smile that charms when Harry needs information. He most recently used it when he needed another drink from a bartender after he'd been cut off.
"Don't worry. It'll be fine."
Peebles gives a little shaky nod, and finally makes his way into the offices, proper. As soon as he's out of sight, Harry dashes behind the desk and heads straight to the Owlery.
Five minutes later, Harry's on the lift, heading down to the Atrium with Daisy perched on his shoulder.
"We're almost to your new home."
Daisy hoots approvingly, and suddenly the day doesn't feel like absolute shit any longer. Harry smiles wide.
Harry sits on the pavement in a tucked away corner outside Eeylops Owl Emporium, clutching his invisibility cloak close. He has a good view of the display window of Quality Quidditch Supplies, but it's still hard to keep track of Ginny's movements with an alley of shoppers between them. An old D.A. coin hums quietly in his pocket, though, keeping a lock on her location via a tracking spell he placed on her that morning as she left her house (he, already hidden under his cloak, of course), so even when she's out of sight, he knows he hasn't lost her.
Desperation. It's driven him to this. No file. No contact from Ron. (Harry dashed off an Owl to him as soon as he'd left the Auror department, but wasn't surprised when Daisy returned empty-winged.) He never had Ginny's cooperation in the first place. Malfoy… he's all Harry has left. He's back on the trail of Devil's Juice, and Harry? Harry's been reduced to stalking his ex-wife in the hopes that he can catch her actual stalker doing the same.
He's been on stakeouts before. They're a natural part of his current job, as well as his old one. But he's never felt dirty like this. Never felt so invasive. If Ginny ever finds out… when she finds out, the explosion will be massive. But Harry doesn't know what else to do.
So he follows her. Today is shopping for new Quidditch gear with her sister-in-law Angelina, wherein the brief time he's close enough to hear their conversation, he learns that Ginny's been benched until this situation with her stalker is resolved (for the safety of the team), and that Angelina doesn't understand what Ginny sees in Zacharias Smith either. "Didn't you crash into him while he was commentating a Quidditch match back in school? Because he's such an arrogant git?" she asks and Harry forgets himself, snorting at the memory. Angelina glances over her shoulder, but Ginny doesn't seem to notice as she tells Angelina, "that was when we were kids. He's matured, you know," and they continue walking down the alley. Harry holds his breath and falls back; he shouldn't be eavesdropping at any rate. He refocuses his attention on the witches and wizards around them but finds no one suspicious thus far.
This is how his week goes. Quidditch practice wherein Ginny sits in the stands and watches, and Harry prowls the circumference of the pitch, coming up empty-handed once again. Lunch with Ron at the Leaky, in which Harry badly wants to listen in but staunchly stays outside, wishing he could charm food through the door as his stomach rumbles. He even has to sit through a date with Smith; he takes Ginny to the new restaurant on the alley, Stir the Cauldron, and lauds her green robes. "You look fantastic in those, love. So sexy." Harry's not even eavesdropping this time; Smith's voice is just that loud. Harry waits for Ginny's response (a repeat of her Bat-Bogey Hex wouldn't be amiss, and would shut him right up) but of course she smiles and thanks him, and then they're through the door and into the restaurant, leaving Harry with a nauseated stomach.
While she's home during the day, Harry snatches a kip in his flat and makes peanut butter sandwiches for overnight snacks. At night, he skulks just outside her wards and walks the property. It's the one place he knows her stalker has shown up before, and every night he's certain the stalker will make an appearance again.
It isn't until the next Tuesday evening when Ginny's routine changes. His coin warms and he feels a slight tugging in his chest. She's Flooed, her usual method of travel, but the destination feels much farther away this time. Not the Harpies' Pitch. Not Diagon Alley. Not the local shops. Harry squeezes the coin in his pocket and blindly Apparates, hoping he'll end up out of the way, wherever he lands.
He arrives with a pop in the middle of a crowd surging on both sides, a flurry of black robes, most no higher than chest level dashing down the lane. Students. Hogwarts students. Rushing back towards the castle before curfew. Harry dips between gaps in the crowd, unavoidably bumping into a couple of students before he makes it safely to the side between two shops. One bloke, little twig of a fellow, stops with an "Oi" and looks around in confusion until his mate grabs his robes and tugs him along.
The sign above creaks with the gentle wind, and in the fading sunlight, the carving of three broomsticks crossed at the handles swings in and out of the shadows. Hogsmeade. He hasn't been back here since making an appearance at a fundraiser for the restoration of the village after the war. One of the few times Harry found his fame useful.
A woman with long ginger hair tied up in a ponytail rushes by him. Ginny. Harry stuffs down his nostalgia and falls in step behind her as the sun dips below the line of shops and lamps flicker to life, lighting their way. She travels all the way down the main artery in quick short strides, only slowing a few paces away from Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop. She steps inside. Harry wants to slip in behind her, but he's one step too slow to make it, and the door swings shut in his face.
Harry sighs and steps back before darting along the front of the tea shop to follow Ginny's movements through the windows. The cramped tables with their light pink tablecloths and fussy lace napkins are mostly empty. Ginny heads directly for one of the few still occupied. The man stands when Ginny approaches. His eyes dart around nervously. He's a short, slight bloke, maybe in his very early twenties, with mousy brown hair and a brief twitchy smile. Something about him pings Harry's memory. They sit; the stranger's face turns serious. He looks down at the table and his lips begin to move. He glances up for a moment, and something in his expression slots him into place.
Harry sees his letter in his mind's eye as clear as if he were back at his desk, looking down on it. I need to talk to you. Can we meet in person? It's important. He's even more disappointed he didn't make it inside now, especially as Ginny's face goes taut, a dawning horror in her eyes. Harry rushes over to the door--maybe someone will come out and he can slip by them--when the sky darkens and the clouds burst open in cold sheets of rain. The rain comes fast and thick, and Harry knows he's completely fucked. He can already see the rain warping around him, bouncing off his cloak and giving his position away. He dashes across the lane to a closed shop and ducks under its awning, hoping that he hasn't been spotted. But he's even farther away, and Madam Puddifoot's windows begin to slowly fog over; he can barely see Ginny and Dennis at their corner table now, just two blurry shapes with a pink blurry shape between them. He sighs and resigns himself to wait.
That's when he sees it. The flicker of a lantern glints off a figure, the rain angling oddly around their shape. Someone under a Disillusionment Charm, a good one, but there's only so much a charm can do when faced with this kind of weather. The stranger stands in the middle of the street, facing the tea shop, either oblivious or uncaring about their exposure. Harry carefully withdraws his wand and slips just the tip through the front of his cloak.
Harry holds his breath as the being begins to take form in front of him, features slowly revealed like the rain is washing the charm away. He holds tight to his wand, braving a few steps into the street and preparing for a quick Stupefy-Incarcerous combo when the body coalesces into a man Harry instantly recognizes: Zacharias Smith. Smith's glaring into the tea shop, jaw locked, fist curled around his wand at one side. Suddenly he seems to notice he's been exposed, and he quickly twirls his wand in tight circles and disappears into the rain again. Harry stares after him, dumbfounded, watching the glint of the streetlamp and the oddly angled rain as Smith's invisible form dashes the opposite way and completely disappears. Whether he's sticking around under another awning or if he knows his charm work was nullified and didn't simply fade on its own, Harry hasn't a clue. But Harry's exposed himself out here in the rain, and so he dashes back to cover and runs headfirst into a body-shaped barrier that emits a surprised gasp after Harry stops short.
Harry brandishes his wand so quickly, his cloak slips off his shoulder and hood falls back, revealing his face.
"Stupefy!" he yells just as he hears, "No, Potter, wait--"
But it's too late; the spell hits and a moment later there's a great thud of a body hitting the pavement. The Disillusionment Charm slowly fades and Malfoy lies crumpled on the ground, knocked out cold.
"Shit!" Adrenaline courses through him and Harry doesn't even think before he drops down on top of Malfoy and pulls his cloak over both of them. Malfoy's cheek is cold, but his breath comes slow and steady, warm against Harry's neck. They can't stay like this; who knows if Smith is still around? Any second he might be rushing over to take both of them into custody. Clutching Malfoy close, Harry Disapparates, tugging him along for the ride.
They arrive at Harry's flat and fall directly into his great ugly chair with a loud thump. Harry lets the cloak fall down his shoulders as he leverages himself up on the arms of the chair. Malfoy's eyes flutter open. Harry meets his gaze. The question is on the tip of his tongue, but Harry can't bring himself to ask it. There's an uncomfortable twist in his stomach.
"As much as I usually enjoy being pinned beneath you…" Malfoy says.
"Right, right, sorry," Harry manages to get to his feet, and Malfoy adjusts so he's sitting up in the chair properly, but he doesn't try to stand. Gingerly rubbing his stomach, his eyes flick up to Harry's.
"Any pain-healing potions around?"
"Er, I've got Skele-Gro?"
"Probably not going to help," he says dryly.
Malfoy nods, and Harry makes his way to the bathroom to grab it. When he comes back, Malfoy's lifted up his jumper and the bottom of his button-up shirt. A bruise is already forming where Harry's spell hit, a splotchy red blooming across his pale skin. Harry kneels on the floor next to him and dips his fingers into the viscous fluid, then gently rubs over the surface of the bruise. There's a simple explanation. He's certain of it, isn't he?
Malfoy winces, his stomach tightening beneath Harry's touch, but he lets out a slow breath and eventually starts to relax.
"Thanks," he says quietly. "It's feeling better already."
"Good." Harry finishes up, but remains, staring at Malfoy's stomach, the slick dark bloom of a bruise. He wants to kiss it. Wants to kiss Malfoy's stomach and rest his head there, and feel the magic do its work. Harry snaps out of it, and closes up the container, wiping the remaining goo onto his jeans. Malfoy wrinkles his nose at him, but says nothing. No insult. No sarcastic offer of a Scourgify. Or simply wandlessly casting one as he often does.
He's recovering, Harry reminds himself. He sits back on his knees as Malfoy pulls his jumper down, hiding his injury.
"Aren't you going to ask?" Malfoy says.
"Wanted to make sure you were all right first." It isn't the complete truth and the knot in Harry's stomach grows.
"I had a meeting at the Hog's Head. To pick up this." Malfoy reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small phial filled with a pinkish liquid swirling with a ribbon of red. "Careful," he says as he passes it to Harry. Harry stares at the red twirling in the phial, momentarily captivated. "The compulsion is inert in the sample, but you'll still fall head-over-heels in love with me if you're exposed."
Malfoy's lips tic up in a smile. Harry snorts to cover up the fact that his heart's just flipped. Even while his brain races to find a reason why Malfoy would be all the way at Madam Puddifoot's if he was coming from The Hog's Head.
He sets the phial on the end table and erects a stasis charm around it, which will hopefully keep it safe and intact until he can get it to Ron.
"Did you find the source?" Harry asks. His voice sounds odd in his ears. Malfoy's eyes narrow for a split second. But then his face relaxes into its normal shape. Angled jaw. Neutral eyes. Lips tight at the corners.
"I'm still digging, but everything is anonymous thus far. They're careful to hide their identities. The person I met smelled of polyjuice. I tried to follow her, but she Disillusioned herself before she got to High Street."
"And that's when I ran into you? By Puddifoot's?"
"I was there for a bit. Before our collision. I didn't know you were there. Obviously." Malfoy sinks back into the chair. Harry's thoughts flip over on themselves, like a Snitch buzzing around that he just can't quite catch. He rises, squeezing Malfoy's knee, then withdraws his hand quickly. He doesn't know why he did that. He doesn't know why he can't seem to just ask Malfoy directly. Why were you there? Why did you hang around? Instead he just takes the phial and the pain-relief salve to his potions cabinet in the bathroom, feeling Malfoy's gaze at his back.
"Who knew something so ugly could be so comfortable?" Malfoy says when Harry returns. "Though a redesign wouldn't be amiss. There are charms I could teach you."
Harry perches on the sofa, forcing a smile. "Maybe after you've recovered." Warmth radiates from this pocket briefly and he suddenly remembers the coin and Ginny. He'd just left her without a thought to go back. He touches the coin and closes his eyes. She's home, and fine, presumably. Harry lets out a deep sigh.
"Why aren't you asking me?" Malfoy says quietly.
"What should I be asking?" Playing dumb doesn't work on Malfoy; Harry wasn't under the delusion it would, but he still feels chastised by Malfoy's slanted look.
You're being paranoid. Ridiculous. Malfoy isn't a suspect.
"Harry," Malfoy says. His name out of Malfoy's mouth makes Harry catch his breath. Malfoy's jaw hardens ever so slightly and his eyes flicker with something like pain. "Do you really think I--"
"No," Harry says quickly. "No, I don't. I've just had… it's been a long few days. Following Ginny. Not sleeping." Harry waves Malfoy's concern off as he tries to stuff down his own guilt and unease.
Malfoy doesn't seem mollified by this and his eyes reflect Harry's suspicion. "After I lost the woman, I saw your ex-wife with Creevey. I had one of these on me…" He pulls out a long pale, stretchy string from his pocket. An Extendable Ear. No idea how he acquired one, but that isn't the pressing question on Harry's mind at the moment. "I didn't know if you were there or not, so I decided to listen in through the window. At least until the rain forced me to take cover before my Disillusionment Charm became useless."
"What did you hear?"
"Creevey's the one who took those pictures in The Prophet. The ones of her and Smith."
"What? That's not pos-- why?"
Malfoy shakes his head. "That's all I heard before the rain started up."
"Did he admit he sent them to The Prophet? Or to me?"
Harry's cheeks warm under Malfoy's surprised gaze. "I got a preview weeks before they hit the stands."
"Well, that's lovely," Malfoy says with a dour smile. "I don't know. I didn't hear much. Only that it had been weighing on him and he'd wanted to tell her for some time."
"Shit," Harry mutters under his breath, leaning back into the sofa. He takes off his glasses and scrubs his face, the blurry view of the glass doors coming into focus when he rights his frames. Rain, following him all the way from Scotland, starts to fall, beating a gentle drum against the balcony.
Why would Dennis Creevey have taken those pictures? A running assumption in Harry's mind, ever since he'd found out about Ginny's stalker, was that he and whoever took those pictures were one and the same. But Colin's little brother? Sulking around, following Ginny? A visceral memory of Colin with his camera, the bright flash of the bulb, waving excitedly as Dennis arrived, soaking wet and beaming wide. I just hope he's in Gryffindor! Keep your fingers crossed, eh, Harry?" How annoying Harry had found both of them. Neville, carrying Colin's lifeless body. Dennis' hand shaking as he carved Colin's name into stone.
"You're thinking too much." Malfoy touches his arm; Harry hadn't even noticed when he'd moved to the sofa. Malfoy slides his hand up Harry's arm, the backs of his knuckles skim Harry's jaw. He tips Harry's chin, takes off Harry's glasses and Leviosas them to an end table. Harry's heart starts to pump a bit faster, a stirring beat. He closes his eyes as Malfoy brings their lips together. They kiss gently, almost too gently. Malfoy's lips softly part and Harry opens his mouth to him, opens himself; the touch of Malfoy's tongue makes him dizzy. Harry threads his fingers into Malfoy's hair and tugs. Malfoy gasps into his mouth and their kiss turns hard, Malfoy's teeth playing over his lower lip.
"Take me to bed," Malfoy breathes against Harry's lips.
Malfoy wants to go to his bed. Something unfurls in Harry's chest and the moment feels so delicate, as though if he breathes too hard it'll be whisked away in the gathering storm outside. He stands and Malfoy stands with him, the palm of his hand resting lightly on Harry's. Harry looks into Malfoy's eyes and finds vulnerability there. Trust. Malfoy stands before him, completely unguarded, eyes lidded with desire, and Harry feels like a fool for ever doubting him. He squashes his misgivings and shoves them to the back of his mind as he squeezes Malfoy's hand and leads him down the hallway to his bedroom.
Malfoy tugs Harry's shirt up as soon as they're through the door. His palms skim along Harry's chest before he pulls the shirt over Harry's head. Malfoy's jumper is next, tossed hastily to the side. Harry starts to work on Malfoy's button-up, fingers fumbling down as he goes, but he manages to undo each one, all the way, tugging Malfoy's shirt tails out of his trousers to finish. He spreads open Malfoy's shirt, pushing it off his shoulders, revealing Malfoy's pale, taut torso and the light white scar zigzagging over his chest. Harry dips down and runs his tongue along the slightly raised skin. Forgive me, he wants to say, but the kiss of his lips is all he has, and he follows the slash of the scar all the way down Malfoy's stomach, sinking to his knees. Malfoy threads his fingers through Harry's hair, letting out the barest hint of a moan. Harry reaches the waistband of Malfoy's trousers and quickly undoes them, shoving them down around Malfoy's hips. He presses his face into Malfoy's groin, feeling him grow hard against his cheek. Harry's mouths Malfoy's erection through his pants, Malfoy gently thrusting his hips as he swells too big to fit.
Malfoy's voice sends a skittering of arousal through him. He wants to hear Malfoy moan his name, in his bed, tangled in his sheets, completely undone. Malfoy tugs on Harry's arm, and as soon as Harry gets to his feet, Malfoy pulls him into a kiss. His mouth, open, tongue dipping inside, their bodies pressed as close as they can be. Harry feels Malfoy's erection against his thigh, hard and hot, rubbing against him. He wants to feel Malfoy against his skin. Fuck his clothes. He pulls away to shove his jeans and pants down and kicks them away. Malfoy hooks his thumbs on the waistband of his pants and pushes them down, his hard cock bouncing free. Harry wants to sink to his knees again, take Malfoy into his mouth, feel him throb and pulse, suck him down, but Malfoy has something else in mind.
"Get on the bed, on your back," he tells Harry, pushing him lightly in that direction. Harry follows his instructions, falling into the pillows, legs splayed. Malfoy crawls on top, between Harry's thighs and slots himself into place. They kiss again as their hips began to move in a syncopated rhythm, Harry rocking up to meet Malfoy's thrusts, chasing that friction, that heat, that stinging pleasure as the head of his cock slides against the narrow dip in Malfoy's thigh, following the line of his hip bone. He could come like this, come so easily with Malfoy's weight pinning him to the bed, their bodies sliding together, grinding and bucking, so much sweet friction.
But Malfoy stops. He sits up, adjusting to balance his weight on his knees. He wraps one hand around Harry's erection and gives him a slow stroke, wordlessly spelling his fingers slick. He cups Harry's balls and then slides lower. Harry pulls his knees to his chest, straining, as Malfoy lightly traces his rim, toying with him, teasing him, circling his hole but not yet breaching. Harry wants to beg, but he meets Malfoy's gaze and what he finds there leaves him silent. They breathe together.
"Do you trust me?" Malfoy says. He goes completely still, hand wrapped around the base of Harry's erection, finger pressed against Harry's hole, but unmoving. Harry takes a breath. He wants to say yes. Yes, completely. But the word gets stuck in his chest, lodged like a muscle cramp.
"Harry." Those two syllables, breathed, soft as a lover. They glide over Harry's body in a gentle caress and yet make him want so much, his chest threatening to burst. Malfoy presses his palm just above Harry's cock. His fingers curl into the thatch of black hair there. Harry wants to keen at the lack of his grip. His dick twitches helplessly.
"No is an acceptable answer." But hardness creeps into Malfoy's eyes. His chest tenses.
"I do," Harry chokes out. "I trust you."
"Are you certain?"
Harry lets out a shuddering breath. "Yes."
Malfoy smiles, something dangerous glittering in his eyes. Before Harry can question it, he slips one slick finger inside and Harry arches into him. Malfoy stretches him a little, but withdraws before too long. Harry likes it like this, with very little prep and Malfoy stretching him the rest of the way with his cock. Harry craves it sometimes, though he's never confessed. Somehow Malfoy always seems to know.
Malfoy lines up and fucks inside in one long, slow thrust. Harry closes his eyes and feels every inch of him. He leans into that edge of pain, a faint moan escaping his lips. Malfoy settles inside and stays there, braced on his hands on either side of Harry. His mouth falls open. He goes so still. Harry runs his hands down Malfoy's chest, around his back, down his hips as far as he can reach, soaking up all that smooth skin.
Their eyes lock.
"I want to try something," Malfoy breathes. "Can I?"
Harry's nodding before he even thinks to ask what. Pleasure radiates through his body; he wants Malfoy to move, to fuck him properly, but he can't deny how good it feels to be stuffed full.
"You won't be able to tell me to stop, but I'll know. I promise."
The words float over him, but don't quite sink in until Malfoy pulls out and thrusts back in, setting up a smooth, unhurried rhythm, and then Harry's lost in the pleasure of it, of Malfoy moving inside him, the roll of his hips, angling in just the right spot that makes Harry see stars. He'd agree to anything, like this. Anything so long as Malfoy never stops.
He feels hands ghost up his chest, though Malfoy's are still on the bed, holding his weight. But the invisible touch grows stronger, reaching Harry's collarbone, dancing over to the base of his neck. A nervous thrill beats through his chest. Malfoy thrusts faster; hands wrap around Harry's throat. The pressure tightens with each thrust and Harry chokes out a breath. Malfoy's eyes bore into him. Trust me. Harry's not sure if Malfoy's said it aloud or if the words are only in his head. He braces himself against the headboard; Malfoy rocks inside him, hard and fast. Harry's breath falters and dips, low and shallow. A dizzying pleasure skitters over him, pinpricks of pain dancing through his body. He can't breathe. Trust Me His head grows fuzzy. The ethereal hands around his neck squeeze tight. Yes. Blackness seeps into the edges of his vision, panic seizes his chest, and then--
Everything happens at once: The pressure vanishes; Malfoy thrusts in hard; a great gust of oxygen rushes into Harry's lungs and his orgasm surges through him, a raptured euphoria like he's never experienced. He falls into it, his release blasting through him like a Reductor curse. He's shaking when he comes down, whole body set aquiver. Malfoy's head is thrown back and Harry barely registers the throbbing inside him, that Malfoy's coming inside him. Malfoy pulls out and collapses next to Harry on the bed.
Harry catches his breath with a heightened awareness of every inhale, every release. He listens to Malfoy next to him, doing the same. He catches the rise and fall of Malfoy's chest out of the corner of his eye. The world seems sharper. Colours bright. He feels every molecule of air as it ghosts over his skin, keenly aware of the press of Malfoy's hip against his own and the small place where their elbows touch.
He can't decide if he's angry. Malfoy's crept inside him; knows him in ways that Harry's never dared to share with anyone, like he's taken a peek inside all the little treasure boxes Harry's carefully hidden inside himself, opened them up with nothing more than a simple Alohomora.
He's not sure how long they lie there, silence spreading between them save for the sounds of their breath. Harry looks at the ceiling, following a spidery crack that mars the otherwise blank canvas. He feels Malfoy's gaze on his cheek.
"How do you Apparate through my wards?" Harry asks. He slants his eyes towards Malfoy. If Malfoy's surprised by the question that breaks the silence, he doesn't show it. "Don't give me this 'your wards are shit' rubbish either. Or that it's House-Elf magic."
Malfoy takes Harry's hand and presses their palms together. "Our magic is linked. Can't you feel it?"
A faint buzzing tickles Harry's skin; it's warm, like a gently licking candle flame. The next thing he knows, Malfoy casts a wandless Scourgify over Harry's stomach, and his cooling, sticky release vanishes, leaving behind a warm, fuzzy comfort.
"When you won my wand and then gave it back to me. We linked. It's rare, but it can happen. I didn't realise myself until--"
Harry shifts to his side. He cautiously places his hand on Malfoy's stomach. Malfoy doesn't move, just breathes, slow and deep. Their eyes meet. Harry stills himself and tries to reach out, magic unfurling through him and gently probing outward; it's nothing like his accidental Legilimency with Snape, but he feels Malfoy's swirling emotions. Desire and fear, the conflict between what he craves and what will keep him safe. Harry pulls away, though part of him immediately wants to reach out again, sink in deep, explore every nook and cranny. But he resists; he can't imagine Malfoy letting him in so willingly.
"I can't read your mind, but I can feel you, sometimes. Feel what you're feeling. What you need. Especially when you're…unguarded."
"That's how you knew I wanted…that." Harry can't quite bring himself to say the words out loud, even though his secret desire is well exposed at this point.
Harry shifts to his back. Outside the window, the sky is clear. Moonlight drifts in, casting its cold gaze across the bed. Malfoy starts to rise and Harry knows at once that he means to leave. He touches Malfoy's arm, turns his head and lets his magic ask the question.
Malfoy's lips turn up at the corners. He answers by settling back into the bed and drawing the covers up over them both. He curls to his side, pressing his forehead into Harry's shoulder.
"But I want breakfast in the morning," he says, voice muffled against Harry's arm. Harry sinks into the warm of Malfoy's body pressed close.
"Done," he says.
He listens to Malfoy's slowing breath and drifts off to sleep.
The first thing Harry becomes aware of when he wakes is the state of his breath; there's a rancid aftertaste in the back of his throat and it hurts when he swallows. Soft hair tickles his chin; there's a weight on his chest. Bleary-eyed, Harry identifies said weight as an arm thrown over his middle and a head tucked close under the crook of his arm. Malfoy. He snores lightly and Harry lets a smile cross his lips because he's not awake enough to stop it, though somewhere in the back of his mind, he's grateful Malfoy can't see.
Harry shifts with the intention of catching a little bit more sleep when he hears the Floo roar to life in the next room. Footsteps echo across the hardwood floors. He's still drowsy and not quite awake so it takes him a moment to put two and two together, then his whole body tenses. He eases out from under Malfoy's weight. Malfoy mumbles something in his sleep and turns over, curling on his other side. The hard planes of his back gleam in the morning light, the sheet pooled around his waist. Harry forgets for a moment what he's doing and then another footstep rings out, this one closer, and it snaps his attention. He slips out of bed, hunting for his wand when--
"Harry? Are you having a lie-in?"
Harry recognises the voice and relaxes for a split second until the bedroom door opens and Ron steps through.
"Oi! Bloody hell," Ron exclaims. His hands fly to his face, covering his eyes. Harry looks down, realising he's still nude. Not that Ron hadn't seen him starkers back in their Hogwarts days, but Harry guesses Ron's reaction has more to do with his bed companion than anything else.
Malfoy turns over, opens one eye. "Weasley," he greets. Then he pulls the sheet up and over his head and settles back down. Harry stifles a groan. Of all the days for Ron to pop in, he picks this one. But there's nothing to be done about it now. Harry grabs his pants and jeans from the night before and starts to put them on.
"I'll just wait out here," Ron says. He blindly backs up, hits the door frame with his shoulder and curses under his breath before he sensibly turns around and shuts the door behind him.
Harry grabs his t-shirt and throws it on. "I'll be back," he tells Malfoy. Malfoy mutters something incomprehensible and pokes a hand out from under the sheet to wave him off.
He finds Ron pacing in front of the sofa. He stops when he sees Harry. Harry ruffles a hand through his hair; he knows it doesn't help the whole post-coital look he's got going on, but it's a habit anyway.
"Coffee?" Harry offers. Ron ignores him.
"He spends the night?" Ron sounds weakly annoyed and perplexed all at once. It could be worse, Harry supposes, but it still gets his hackles up and he has to stifle his initial reply, Only after he buggers me senseless, because that wouldn't help things.
"Did you really come here to ask after the state of my relationship?" It's only after the word comes out of his mouth that Harry realises he's inadvertently let a little truth out, something he hadn't quite admitted to himself yet. But after last night, he can't really deny it any longer. He and Malfoy. There's a lightness in his chest with the revelation, sort of a heady giddiness that he doesn't want to hide, but he must. And that's sad. Even as strained as things are, he still considers Ron his best mate. Under other circumstances, he might be telling Ron about it. About this developing thing between he and… Draco. That for the first time in months, he might be finding a little happiness again. He would have told Ron differently. At some pub, perhaps, definitely after a few rounds but before they both got too sloppy. He'd like to think that maybe Ron would've found a way to be happy for him, even if it took some time.
"No, I…" Ron shakes his head. He looks suspiciously towards the bedroom and withdraws his wand. For a heart-stopping moment, Harry prepares to grab Ron and physically wrest the wand from his hand, but Ron only casts Muffliato. Harry lets out the breath he's been holding.
"He's sleeping. Not eavesdropping." Though Harry can't imagine Malfoy's getting much rest at the moment with a new incessant buzzing in his ears.
"I don't want to fight. I came with good news."
"What is it?" The question comes out sharper than Harry intended, and Ron frowns briefly, but presses on.
"Dennis Creevey turned himself in this morning. He's confessed to everything. The stalking, the photographs, the letters--even the Howler. The whole lot."
"What?" Harry has to sit down to take in the news. "Wait--he just what? Walked into the Ministry and surrendered?"
"Smith has been on him for a couple days, I guess, and was surveilling him when Dennis walked right up to him and turned himself over."
"So Smith brought him in." A curl of suspicion unfurls inside him.
Harry leans back on the sofa, looking down at his knees. It doesn't feel right for this to be over so soon. Just like that. And it doesn't make sense. He supposes if Smith was following Creevey, that explains his presence at Puddifoot's the night before. And according to Malfoy, Creevey was confessing to Ginny that he'd taken pictures of her, of both her and Smith, but…
"Why would he want me dead?"
Ron stows his wand and sits in the Weasley arm chair, but doesn't sink back. He's still a bit tense all over and keeps glancing towards the bedroom like he's afraid Malfoy's going to slink out and parade around the flat starkers.
"Ron," Harry says, snatching his attention. "Did Dennis say why he wanted me dead?"
Ron shrugs. "I haven't heard. Smith's still got him in interrogation. I'm sure he'll get an answer."
"It doesn't make any sense."
"He's mental. Obsessed. Anyone going around dosing people with potions and writing disturbing letters isn't going to make any sense."
"Maybe it wasn't about you. Maybe he just wanted Ginny to cut you out of her life for good," Ron says, an edge of frustration seeping into his voice. "If he wanted her all to himself--you should hear him. He thinks he's having this whole relationship with Ginny. It's bloody creepy."
"You sat in on part of the interrogation?"
"Observed for a bit. Until Robards chased me out. You should have seen Dennis. He--Merlin, he looked nothing like the kid we knew. He seemed sort of dead inside. His eyes..." Ron shivers, scrunching up his face. "I'm just glad it's over."
Harry thinks back to the night before and the short amount of time he had to observe Dennis Creevey. He seemed nervous and a bit twitchy, nothing like Ron described. Something about the whole thing itches the back of his brain. Harry's about to question Ron further when Malfoy stalks out of the bedroom. Fortunately for Ron's sake, he's fully dressed, though his hair sticks up adorably at the back of his head and he looks rather rumpled all around.
"I'm leaving so you can…" he says a bit too loud, gesturing towards his ears, and Harry remembers Ron's Muffliato charm. He casts a wandless Finite Incantatum, the first wandless spell Malfoy ever taught him, and Malfoy lets out a breath of relief and smiles tightly. "Thank you."
"I'll Floo you later?"
Malfoy nods stiffly, and a little bit of Harry's earlier giddiness deflates. He'd promised breakfast. That's clearly not going to happen now.
He disappears through the Floo in a roar of green instead of his usual Disapparation. Harry stares after the empty place he left behind.
"Smith's getting put on the Devil's Juice case."
"What?" Half distracted by Malfoy's absence, Harry isn't certain he's heard Ron correctly.
"He asked for it, and because of this solve…I guess it's good. I'll get to know him a bit better since he and Ginny are…" Ron waves his hand back and forth as if he's forgotten the word 'dating' or maybe he means they're a couple now, officially, or any number of things, none of which Harry cares a wit about at this point in time.
"Speaking of, er… Malfoy," Ron continues. He drums his fingers on the arm of the chair, a nervous habit he picked up while they were studying for the Academy exams. It used to drive Harry bonkers, but the annoyance pales in the face of the warning drone that's making Harry's blood start to pound. "Does he know anything, about a source, or…?"
Harry rises, automatically heading towards his bathroom to hand over the sample when his brain rewinds their conversation and he stops short. It hadn't quite sunk in until this moment. He turns back to Ron and when he opens his mouth he finds himself saying, "No. He doesn't know anything."
"Ah, well," Ron says, and guilt rushes through Harry, fast and thick. He's not quite certain why he's lied. His gut churns. He could take it back right this minute. Claim sleepiness or that he misheard Ron's question, but he can't quite make himself. He can't look at Ron's face, and now Harry's halfway around the sofa for no good reason. He does an about face and heads towards the kitchen instead.
"I'm going to make some coffee if you want some."
"I should get going. I'm supposed to be cataloguing evidence collected from Dennis' flat." Ron stands and follows him partway towards the kitchen, stopping in front of the Floo. "Maybe another time? Or well… Ginny's off the bench now and her first match back is tomorrow, against the Falcons. I've managed to convince Hermione to take the afternoon off and go with me. If you want to join us. If that wouldn't be… too weird."
Ron smiles tentatively. Harry's stomach twists. Ron's extending the olive branch, even after Harry just pissed on him and convinced him it's only rain.
"Yeah, it's a plan," Harry agrees, though honestly the last thing he wants to do is watch his ex-wife play Quidditch. But he can't turn down Ron, not when there's a chance that things might get better between them.
Ron heads to the Floo, throws a handful of powder in the fireplace. But he stops. The fire crackles. He turns around, his face flushing pink beneath his freckles.
"Thank you. For what you did. Helping Ginny. I know she…wasn't keen. But if Smith hadn't solved it, I know you would have."
Harry swallows thickly. He isn't quite certain how to reply. "What if it isn't Dennis?"
"But it is."
Harry frowns, mirroring Ron's expression, and he wonders if he hasn't made a mistake. Another one.
"Did you look at that file? It was a mess."
Ron huffs. "As if your paperwork was always up to snuff."
"And there was a letter in there from Dennis -- his magical signature was clear. The other letters--the disturbing ones--they were on totally different parchment and completely masked. Do you think Dennis is really capable of that? And Smith, he threatened me. He threatened you--said he was going to get you sacked and thrown into Azkaban--"
"Harry!" Ron snaps, effectively cutting Harry short just as he was working up to a good long rant. His blood pounds in his ears. Ron's scowling at him, and part of him regrets saying anything, but what if he's right? What if Dennis is completely innocent and Smith's arranged this whole thing somehow?
Even in his head he sounds like a paranoid, jealous ex-lover.
"He told me," Ron says. "He wasn't actually going to. He just--look, he's a bit intimidated by you, all right? He wanted to solve this for Ginny. Be the hero. You can't actually blame him for that, can you?"
Harry is struck by what a pretty little story that is. But if Ron thinks it's genuine… Ron, who works side by side with Smith every day. Smith's an arsehole, yes. Always has been. But if there was a chance, wouldn't Ron be the first to be wary? Harry fists a hand into his hair, squeezing tight before dropping it.
"You know I still care about her. I just want her to be safe."
"I know," Ron says. He reaches out and squeezes Harry's shoulder briefly, a wistful frown on his lips. "But she's moved on. And by the looks of things, so have you. And I'm… I'm trying to be happy for you both. I really am, mate."
Fuck. Harry's halfway between the desire to shake Ron's shoulders and pull him into a bone-crushing hug. But he just stands there and nods, unable to form any kind of reply.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
"Yes," Harry manages.
Ron turns, steps into the flames, and the Floo whisks him away leaving Harry alone with his bad breath, a budding stomachache, and suspicions he can't seem to shake.
Lighting flashes in the distance, briefly brightening the cloudy grey sky that blots out most of the sun's rays. But the weather hasn't deterred any Quidditch fans judging by the size of the crowd. Several people walk with wands aloft, umbrella charms active, though the rain hasn't quite started yet. Wind whips through the stairway beneath the stands and Harry wishes he'd thought to bring a jacket. He makes his way up with the other spectators, their excited titters fraying the edges of his nerves. He blames his grumpiness on a lack of sleep. The few hours he managed, he tossed and turned, and dreamt of walking through Hogsmeade in his old Auror robes. Dennis Creevey darted through the shadows. Harry gave chase. His voice echoed through the deserted street, pale and pitiful. Help me. Harry had woken to sweat-soaked sheets with the image of a black-eyed Dennis Creevey, peering at him from the dark, lingering on the backs of his eyelids. It's been hours and the dream still clings to him like mud sticking to his boots.
A group of school-aged children dash past him, one of them knocking Harry with an elbow, but funnily enough, that gets him out of his funk and brings a smile to his lips. He thinks of Ron and Hermione and their giddy rush through the stands during the World Cup so many years ago. How long has it been since the three of them attended a match? A year? Maybe longer. Hermione never has the time, and Harry started ducking out of Ginny's matches months before their marriage ended.
He makes his way to the Harpies' friends and family box and is barely through the door when Hermione rushes over to give him a hug.
"Thank you for coming," she breathes, squeezing his shoulders. He can't remember the last time Hermione was so excited for Quidditch. Ron stands, holding his hands in front of himself oddly as if he doesn't know what to do with them, but he does smile and Harry smiles back. Hermione maneuvers him to the seat next to Ron in the front row and takes the one on his other side. Subtlety was never her strong suit.
The teams fly out. Harry cheers with the rest of the box as each member of the Harpies is announced, but he's distracted by his desire to pull Ron aside and find out if he's heard anything more about Dennis. He tells himself to be patient. Wait for a good time. He's just not certain a good time is going to magically present itself.
Ron hollers especially loud for his sister. Harry looks through his omnioculars and zooms in on Ginny's face. There's a steely determined set of her jaw as she flies around the Pitch to her starting position, her red hair done up in a pony-tail fanning out behind her. He remembers her first professional match and the wide giddy grin she'd worn that day. She'd told Harry after that she'd been chastised by her captain for looking like a first year. "How're we supposed to strike fear in the other team's hearts if yer grinning like that?" But she said she hadn't been able to help it. Harry misses that grin now in a hazy sort of way, and for the first time, thinking back to the early years of their marriage doesn't hurt.
But there's no smile today, only a grim resolution in the tightness of her eyes. Her captain must be proud. The wind plays havoc with her robes. Harry's played in this kind of weather before; he knows the extra difficulties that come with flying against the currents, wind trying to toss you from your broom. But at least if she's playing, he knows she's safe.
She pulls down her goggles in preparation for the coming storm, and just in time as well, as the sky opens up a moment later, drenching the players in the space of a minute or two. The wind brings the rain right into the box, spraying a mist over the first row.
"Do you need help with your glasses, Harry?" Hermione asks, then casts Impervius before he can answer. The players flying through the storm, Hermione's spell, it viscerally reminds Harry of that match in third year when Malfoy dressed up as a Dementor and tried to scare him off his broom. Harry chuckles to himself; ickle Malfoy was such a git. Hermione bumps him with her shoulder and says, "It's good to see you smile."
Despite a few mumbling complaints around from others in the box, when the whistle blows, everyone seems to forget about the weather. He and Ron fall into an easy conversation about the Harpies' best strategy, and Ron catches him up on recent stats; they've never struggled when it comes to Quidditch, but it's the first conversation between them in months that doesn't feel loaded, and Harry lets himself put off bringing up the case. It's hard to keep track of the match, even with his omnioculars occasionally catching enough action to give him a play-by-play. With the storm, the players turn into blurs of green and grey, zooming about the Pitch. Bludgers fly, one darting awfully close to their box, and everyone leans back with a gasp until it stops short and peels off back into the action.
George and Percy arrive in the box, both greeting Harry rather frostily, not that Percy's ever been particularly warm. But George's snub, while not unexpected, still stings. While Ron catches them up on what they've missed so far, Hermione nudges him with her elbow.
"Ron told me about yesterday."
"What about yesterday?"
Hermione blushes, and at that, Harry knows exactly to what she's referring. "I didn't realise you two were… serious."
"I dunno about serious," Harry says. "But er, maybe." He really should have expected this conversation, but it throws him for a loop. Hermione stares at him with an intensity she usually reserves for studying some thick tome in the library. It makes his skin itch and he wants to duck his chin. He's not quite certain what she's looking for, but whatever it is, she seems to find it, and she nods at him once, her gaze relaxing.
"I have to confess, I was sort of hoping when I Flooed you weeks ago, you and Ginny might reconcile."
"I know. It was a daft idea. I just thought…" Hermione shrugs sheepishly. "At least things with Ron are better, aren't they? I've had a talk with him. Well, several."
Harry tries to stifle a groan but he fails, and Hermione rolls her eyes. "Honestly," she says. "You both are so stubborn, if I didn't intervene…"
Harry glances to his left to see if Ron has overheard any of this conversation, but he's staring at a translucent field mouse that's crawled on his lap. It's Robards' Patronus. Harry would recognise it anywhere.
All the colour drains from Ron's face. Harry's pulse quickens. He tries to listen in to the message the mouse delivers, but just then the Harpies score, and the roaring cheers in the box peak to a crescendo. The mouse twitches its whiskers and jumps off Ron's lap, skittering by their feet until it fades into nothing.
"What is it?" Harry asks.
"I'm being called in." Ron visibly swallows. " It's Dennis Creevey. He's dead."
Hermione sucks in a breath. Harry's heart thuds loudly in his ears. Ron stands and Harry quickly follows, putting a hand on Ron's arm to stop him from rushing off. "What happened?"
"He hung himself in his cell. That's all I know." His voice is flatly numb. He bends over to kiss Hermione's forehead and murmurs something Harry can't hear. A moment later, he dashes out of the box, the door swinging closed behind him.
Harry sits. He feels Hermione's hand on his arm in a distant way, as if he's lost a bit of sensation. The crowd cheers. Someone yells that they've seen the Snitch. But all Harry can see is the ghostly image of his dream, all he can hear are Dennis' weak pleas. Help me.
The rest of the match goes by in a blur. Time seems to speed up all around him. Restless and jittery, he's a useless lump, and for the first time, he keenly misses being an Auror. He would've been called in with Ron; maybe he would have been the Auror assigned to guard Dennis. Maybe if he'd been there, he could have stopped Dennis, or saved him. Or maybe Dennis wouldn't have ever been arrested in the first place. Something is off. The feeling of wrongness pervades every single one of his senses. He'd leave the match early if he could figure out something useful to do, somewhere to go. Some way to make things right.
The Harpies win; by all accounts of those chattering excitedly around him, it was a tense, close match, but Harry missed most of it. Hermione asks if he wants to walk down and say hello to Ginny, but he demurs and she doesn't press. "I need to get back to St. Mungo's anyhow," she says, though she eyes him worriedly. He gives her a quick hug and leaves the box before she asks him what's wrong, belatedly realising he'd forgotten to say goodbye to both George and Percy. Not that they didn't ignore him through the whole match itself.
Harry Apparates home and immediately begins to pace. Daisy hoots at him from above and flutters down, landing on the coffee table. She sticks out her leg and blinks at him. "I wouldn't know who to write," he says, but he grabs a couple of treats from the kitchen for her anyhow. He'd let her out to hunt, but the rain comes down in thick sheets outside, lightning flashing across the sky like a strobe light. He walks over and looks through his glass doors and finds the street below mostly deserted. But a pair of Muggles wander by, two women holding an umbrella between them, though it's not very effective with the wind whirling around them. They don't seem to mind getting soaked; they swing their arms and one throws back her head and laughs. The other woman's face lights up and she pulls her companion close into a kiss. The umbrella drops to the side, and the rain flattens their hair so it sticks to their foreheads, water rushing in a puddle at their feet.
Malfoy. Harry fills with longing. He watches the women kiss for a moment before turning on his heel and heading straight to his Floo.
When he sticks his head through, he's met with an empty sofa. The lights are off; Malfoy must not be home. "Malfoy?" he calls out a couple of times, just in case Malfoy's upstairs or somewhere out of sight. But the echo of his voice is the only answer he gets. He's not certain what possesses him, but Harry decides to Floo over anyway. He steps into Malfoy's living room. There's an eerie stillness in Malfoy's home, like all the personality has been drained without its owner around to animate it. But the wards rise up and surround him, gently prodding at his magic until they recognise him and float away in acceptance.
He shouldn't be here. Not without Malfoy, but Harry can't make himself turn around and go back to his flat, with only Daisy for company, looking up at him with her wide, wise eyes, so Harry settles down on Malfoy's sofa to wait for him to come home. The last few days catch up with him. His limbs feel heavy with sleep and he yawns, resting his head against a throw pillow. He doesn't mean to drift off, but his eyes close of their own volition and it isn't long before he's dozed off, lost to the world.
A faint whining wakes him. A ghostly tongue slobbers against his cheek. Harry blindly tries to push whatever it is away, but his hands meet empty air. He opens his eyes, rights his glasses that had gone askew during his impromptu nap, and finds a translucent Jack Russell terrier panting in his face. Harry jerks to a sitting position, his lingering grogginess washed away in a flood of alarm.
The dog cocks his head, his eyes sweet and patient, but when he opens his mouth, Ron's panicked voice fills the room.
"Harry, can you find Ginny? Something's happened and Robards won't let me go. But Aurors were dispatched to the Harpies changing rooms at the Pitch. She must be there. Please hurry."
Harry bolts to his feet before Ron's message even finishes echoing through the empty room, and calls out for his flat as soon as he's tossed the Floo powder into the fireplace. He catches himself against the archway with the flat of his palms, then heads to his bedroom and finds the old D.A. coin in the top drawer of his end table. All he can think is thank Merlin he hadn't disabled that tracking spell yet in case Ron's wrong about Ginny's location.
With the coin squeezed in his hand, he Apparates as soon as the wards allow him to do so. One moment he's striding quickly to his foyer, and in the blink of an eye, the ground shifts beneath his feet to muddy grass. He's soaked almost instantly, but doesn't bother with any protection charms. His eyes lock onto Ginny huddled between George and Percy outside the door leading to the Harpies changing rooms. Percy holds her snugly, his arm around her shoulders; something terrible must have happened for her not to be struggling against him. Relief that she's safe fills his lungs with each breath he takes until he gets close enough to see the worry in her eyes.
"Malfoy," she says to him when he approaches. He doesn't understand why until she lifts her chin in the direction behind him and he turns around, frowning. A half dozen Aurors mill about. Someone's taking photographs, the flash of a bulb lighting up his peripheral vision; another Junior erects a crime scene barrier, a floating red beam that only Aurors are allowed to cross. But two Aurors part ways, and Harry sees him. Draco. His blond hair drenched, his button-up shirt clinging to him like a second skin. He stands next to Junior Auror Douglas with his hands behind his back. Douglas grabs Malfoy's arm and all at once everything slots into place.
Malfoy's in custody.
"You have to help him," Ginny says from behind. Percy tuts, but Harry barely registers the sound.
Malfoy stares at Harry. Their eyes meet. Malfoy tips his head to the side and gives a one-armed shrug. Harry strides forward, but before he can take two steps, Douglas side-alongs Malfoy away.
"No!" he shouts, but his voice is swallowed up by the rain. He starts to turn back to Ginny to ask what Malfoy's been taken in for, when he sees it: the body. A man, face-down in the mud. Dark blond hair. Blue robes that match the other Junior Aurors in the field. The truth sinks in like Harry's stepped in quicksand.
It's Smith. Zacharias Smith.
A camera's flash bulb whirls up; a picture is snapped. The body's briefly lit in a haloed glow.
"What happened?" Harry asks.
Ginny looks pained. She glances at Lisa Cullen, another Junior Auror lingering nearby, and Percy clears his throat.
"She isn't allowed to tell you."
"As you should be aware from your time in the Auror department, protocol dictates she give a full and complete statement to a representative of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement before speaking to anyone else about the incident."
"Screw protocol! Malfoy was just arrested. Is it for--" Harry cuts himself short. He can't quite bring himself to say it. He hasn't even allowed himself to think it. He can only hope this is just some dreadful misunderstanding, some awful accident that caused Smith to end up face down in the mud, life drained away.
Percy clears his throat. Harry swears to himself if Percy says one more word about anything, he's gonna punch him in the nose. How's that for protocol? But George nudges him and Percy remains blissfully silent. For once.
"Harry, I…" Ginny sighs.
Harry tries to sense what's behind her eyes, reaching out with tendrils of magic, hoping that somehow he'll be able to read her; that their marriage, however over it might be, will give him a way in. But there's nothing, just a frustrating blank wall. But she steps forward quickly and grabs his arm.
"Nothing is like it seems," she whispers, her breath harsh against his ear. She steps back just as fast before Percy can physically yank her away, as it looked like he was preparing to do.
Her words don't clear anything up, unfortunately. But he can't ask her to clarify. Not with Percy glowering next to her. Not with Lisa Cullen approaching directly now, telling the group that the Aurors are ready for Ginny's statement. Ginny walks to the edge of the field with her brothers, looking back once over her shoulder. But it isn't at Harry. Her gaze, haunted and blank, is reserved solely for the body.
Harry watches them Disapparate, and despite the remaining Aurors at the scene, he feels terribly alone. He swipes a hand through his hair, water sluicing off like a shaking wet dog, and finally decides to put up his umbrella charm. Though it's too little, too late, and his skin grows clammy and cold. Any minute now, some Auror will ask him to clear the area. He has no business here. Not anymore. But Harry can't bring himself to leave. Instead he stares at the body, at Zacharias Smith, as the Aurors Leviosa him out of the mud and flip him over. Eyes wide open, he gazes unseeing at the sky above.
A crack of Apparation startles Harry. Ron appears across the field and comes jogging over, wand lit and held aloft over his head, his umbrella charm flickering in the light.
"Your sister's gone," Harry says when Ron's within earshot. "Being questioned."
"I know," Ron says. "Robards sent me here for you." He takes a breath. "We're reinstating you for the next twenty-four hours."
"If you agree. Obviously we can't force you, but--"
Ron grimaces. "That's the thing. I can't tell you unless--"
"Oh bloody hell, yes. I agree. Reinstate me." Harry comes off as annoyed, but in reality, his blood starts to thrum and a sense of purpose fills him. Moments before, and all day in fact, he's felt like a powerless wanker, but now with the might of the Auror department behind him, maybe Harry can actually get some answers.
And maybe he can save Malfoy.
"Come on, let's get you changed. I'll brief you on the way," Ron says, and Harry gladly jogs with him to the edge of the field until they both can Apparate away.
Three powerful charms later, Harry finally approaches the state of somewhat-dry. His hair still curls around his ears, slightly damp, but his skin doesn't feel wrinkled and shrivelled up like a prune any longer, thank Merlin. He pulls on his Auror robes. Not technically his, but a spare set kept in the Auror changing rooms. He watches in the mirror as 'Potter' is temporarily stitched by autonomous spell in small block letters across his heart as soon as he snaps the robes into place.
"Go over it again," he says to Ron, who sits on a sofa nearby, drumming his fingers on the arm.
"Smith was scheduled for desk duty in the tombs today." The tombs being the Aurors' nickname for their temporary holding cells in which those who are arrested wait for either charges to be officially filed or dropped by the Ministry. "Midway through his shift, he reported an emergency to Peebles, and told him to cover the desk. Dennis was the only one in the tombs at the time, and at some point between Smith leaving and Peebles arriving to take over, he'd managed to hang himself with the bed sheets off his cot."
Harry doubted it happened as quick as all that. He would guess Dennis was dead before Smith ever left his post. He keeps that thought to himself, though, but the more he learns from Ron, thanks to his temporary Auror badge giving him access, the more he's certain that his original suspicions about Smith are correct.
"After that, no one knows where Smith went before he ended up outside the Pitch after the Quidditch match," Ron continues. "He didn't file a report or give Peebles any specifics. No emergency requests came through official channels, and he didn't notify me, his current partner, of his whereabouts." His knee jitters in a nervous beat. Harry knows he'd much rather be with Ginny right now; his body tilts towards the door leading to the conference room where she waits with Percy. George was sent home, as technically, he isn't allowed to stay while Ginny gives her statement. But she is allowed a legal advocate, even though she hasn't been arrested, and Percy picked himself to fill that role. Honestly, Harry thinks it's a smart move. No one knows the minutiae of Ministry codes of law like Percy Weasley, save the members of the Wizengamot. And perhaps not even them.
"Has Dennis' body been sent for autopsy and analysis?"
"Dennis' death was ruled a suicide. And it's not why Robards reinstated you."
Harry knows this, though Ron hasn't revealed the reasoning behind Robards' decision yet.
"Just… trust me. Pull some strings. Have the body tested for potions or lingering spell work. Can you ask Hermione?"
The Ministry does rely on St. Mungo's for full autopsies when required, though they rarely take that step as most causes of death are made obvious by specialised spells taught in the Academy. As far as Harry knows, Hermione's never been called on for that particular task either. But she's the only one Harry trusts to be thorough.
"I'll try," Ron nods, then he stands. "Smith's death has been ruled a homicide. The initial spellwork shows he was strangled to death, though there's no physical evidence, so we know it wasn't done manually."
A spell. A curse. Two ghostly hands, tight around Harry's neck. Harry steps backward. He swallows thickly.
"They're testing Malfoy's wand, obviously, but… the reason Robards reinstated you. It's Malfoy. He asked for you. He said he wouldn't talk to anyone else. You're to get his confession."
Harry can't breathe for a moment. It feels like a giant hand is squeezing his heart. He touches his neck. He can still feel Malfoy's thumbs on his throat. He'd asked for it, wordlessly, his secret desire.
But Malfoy hadn't used his hands, and he hadn't needed his wand, either.
"He said he wanted to confess?" Harry asks weakly.
"No," Ron says. His blue eyes fill with a mixture of empathy and regret. "He just said he would tell the truth, but only to you. But Robards is expecting a confession."
Why would Malfoy do this to him? Ask for the one person who knows with certainty what he's capable of?
"Harry," Ron says. He lets out a deep breath and puts a hand on Harry's shoulder. "You can't help him. So if you're trying to figure out a loophole, a technicality… they won't just let you quit this time. It's murder. You'll be in Azkaban right along with him."
"You've already decided he did it," Harry says with a hard edge to his voice. But it's hypocritical of him and he can't quite work up to anger. Not when his own guilt wraps thickly around his heart because he's thinking the exact same thing.
"At least you'll treat him fairly. Right?"
Harry nods, but it's a small comfort.
"We should get Ginny's statement first," Harry says, but Ron quickly disabuses him of that notion.
"Robards is doing it, personally. Smith is--was one of our own. He'd probably be the one interrogating Malfoy if he didn't think granting Malfoy's request was more likely to get results."
Harry closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. A Bludger bounces around inside his stomach, but he tries to calm down. Suck it up, Potter. But his inner voice sounds just like Malfoy, and all he can think about is Malfoy in his bed the day before, his back bared and gleaming in the morning light. He wants to go back in time, convince Malfoy to stay there in his bed and hide out from the rest of the world. All of this? It'll just be some nightmare that Harry will wake up from and forget with the press of Malfoy's lips.
But when Harry opens his eyes, he's still in the Auror department, his temporary robes heavy on his shoulders.
"Are you ready?" Ron asks, and Harry nods, trying to project a certainty that he doesn't feel.
Malfoy's been placed in interrogation room number five. Harry walks down the corridor, Ron and Cullen filling in behind him. Cullen waves her wand, activating the observation window, then she sits at the desk just outside the door and takes out a Self-Writing Quill, poising it over parchment.
Harry steps towards the window. Douglas stands guard in one corner, staring straight ahead at the wall. Cullen activates the speaker, but the room is silent save for the occasional exhaled breath.
He finally lets himself look at Malfoy. He's sat in a chair at the table, long arms resting along the surface, sleeves rolled to the elbow. It looks as if Douglas might have taken pity on him and cast a drying charm, but his shirt is still dampish, and sticks to his chest. His wrists are encircled with magic-dampening cuffs, attached to the center of the table by a chain. His hair falls into his eyes. He tries to brush it away, but the chain isn't quite long enough, so he jerks his head, flipping his hair back. It stays this way for less than a minute, then falls into his eyes again.
"Are these really necessary?" His drawl comes out tinny and canned though the speaker. "You've already confiscated my wand."
No one else knows how little Malfoy needs his wand; the cuffs are standard. Douglas doesn't respond, according to protocol, probably well aware they're being watched. Malfoy's eyes briefly flick over towards Harry, like he can see him through the window, though from his side, it should appear as a plain slate grey wall.
"His solicitor's been informed of his arrest, but he's agreed to speak before she gets here," Ron says to him quietly. "Robards wants you to take advantage of the time. Specifically he said, don't dally."
"Got it," Harry says, mouth going dry. If he waits until he's ready, he'll be lingering outside the room until dawn, at least. So Harry stiffens his shoulders, and opens the door.
Douglas straightens, spine like a rod, but it's Malfoy that captures Harry's attention. A flicker of a smile lifts his lips, but it's quickly contained.
"You're in uniform," Malfoy notes with a hint of surprise.
"Temporarily reinstated," Harry says, "in order to grant your request."
"I half-expected Robards to ignore it," Malfoy says. "I'm pleased he didn't." Malfoy briefly lets down his facade to show Harry his words are genuine, but a moment later, his face returns to its guarded state, projecting an aura of slight arrogance as he relaxes in the chair.
"They want you to talk."
The air is thick between them. So many things Harry wishes to say, but he can't. He has to play the role of an Auror now, strictly by the book, and pray Malfoy knows what he's doing.
He wants to dismiss Douglas, send him out of the room, but his presence serves to remind Harry that others are watching, and he doesn't want the false intimacy of being alone with Malfoy to cause him to forget. He takes a seat on the other side of the table and rests his hands on top. Malfoy sets his hands back on the table as well, inches away. Harry stifles the sudden urge to touch him; it's almost impossible to stop himself, so he withdraws his hands to his lap.
The script flows out of Harry's mouth automatically, as if no time has passed since he last sat in this chair.
"You understand that you have a right to a legal advocate present during any questioning. You've agreed to waive that right."
"You understand any statements made will be recorded in an official transcript, which may be used against you in court, should the Wizengamot choose to do so."
"You understand that should doubts arise concerning your statements here, you may be required to take Veritaserum in order to confirm the truth." Harry stares hard at Malfoy, looking for any hint of nervousness in his reply, but he simply says, "Yes," again, in the same rote tone.
Harry sits back in his chair. The formalities are over. He's conflicted on where to begin; the most pressing question is the one that he's most afraid of being answered. His chest flutters with nerves, but he tamps them down and charges ahead.
"Did you kill Zacharias Smith?"
"No," Malfoy replies immediately, and Harry lets go of the breath he's been holding. He's well aware Malfoy could be lying, but he was mostly afraid Malfoy had planned on confessing. He's happy that particular fear is unfounded.
"Did you witness Auror Smith's death?"
"Yes. It was…terrifying." A certain look passes over Malfoy's eyes, as if recalling the details does bring a genuine horror. Harry studies his expression, but can't work out if he's putting on an act.
"Start from the beginning."
"The beginning? When I arrived?"
"Yes. Why were you there in the first place?"
"I'd attended the Harpies match against the Falcons today, and after it was over, I decided to try my luck at obtaining Ms Weasley's autograph."
Harry nearly laughs, but manages to turn it into a cough at the last minute to hide from the official record how absurd he finds Malfoy's statement. To Malfoy's credit, his expression never changes, and he politely waits for Harry to clear his throat before continuing.
"The rest of the players came out, but Ms Weasley didn't emerge. It was raining rather heavily at this point, so I decided to give up. Perhaps try to catch her at a future match. I'd nearly made it to the Apparition point when I heard voices. I turned around and found Ms Weasley with Auror Smith. They were leaving together. I was debating whether or not to bother her, since she was with her beau, when another man arrived. He was tall, almost gangly, wearing a hooded cloak. Maybe black or dark blue, I'm not certain. He moved quickly, but very gracefully. And with the storm…it was so dark. I didn't get a good look.
"He attacked Ms Weasley, and of course, Auror Smith leapt to her defense. He fought the man off, but unfortunately, he got caught in some sort of spell. He was lifted off the ground. I could hear him choking, gasping for air."
Malfoy pauses; he looks down at his hands on the table. "I'm ashamed to admit, I was frozen in fear. I--maybe I could have interceded. I don't know."
He looks up, and Harry's amazed to find a glimmer of a tear in one eye. "Ms Weasley tried to cast something -- I believe a Patronus to call for help, but I can't be certain. But the man snapped her wand in two. I think that's when I started to rush back over the field, but it's a bit of a blur. Smith fell, facedown in the mud. I didn't know if he was dead at that point, but he wasn't moving. I managed to cast my Patronus, though I'm afraid it's not a spell I've mastered, and it failed after only a few seconds. But the man saw and must have assumed I'd managed to send for help. He ran off and had Disapparated by the time I reached Ms Weasley's side. After ascertaining she was unharmed, we both checked to see if Smith was breathing. As you know, he wasn't. With her help, I was able to cast a Patronus and send a message to the Aurors. I suppose you know the rest."
Harry exhales slowly. It's a fantastic story. Malfoy told it well. Harry wonders how long he'd been practising the tale. Maybe it's the whole reason he requested Harry to begin with. To give himself time.
And to hope that Harry wouldn't press on any particular detail that seemed a bit…fanciful.
"Will Ginny Weasley confirm your statement?" It's the last question Harry has, and he hopes to Godric the answer is yes.
The door opens, jolting Harry with a shock of surprise.
"She already has." Millicent Bulstrode strolls in, dressed in the traditional black Solicitor robes, but with a bright purple bow tie around her neck. She's cut her hair since the last time Harry saw her, and it's cropped close on the sides and sweeps up in a curl at her forehead.
"And I understand Draco's wand has come back clean. So unless you're planning to charge my client without a shred of evidence and an eyewitness report exonerating him, we're leaving."
Robards glowers in the doorway. "Release him," he says gruffly, not making the effort to hide even a bit of his displeasure.
A relieved smile threatens, but Harry manages to stifle it. He's startlingly happy as he unclasps the cuffs to free Malfoy's wrists, and chooses to ignore the uneasiness swirling in his stomach. Malfoy's lied, baldy; his story is fantastic, and Harry is almost certain, completely false. But he's free. And Harry didn't even have to slip Bulstrode evidence of a cock-up this time.
He catches Malfoy's eye, but Malfoy turns away too quickly, Bulstrode leading him out of the interrogation room like a bodyguard. He can't blame her, but he wishes there were some way to take Malfoy aside. To ask to see him later. Harry's palms itch and his earlier jitters come back in full force.
"Turn in those robes before you leave, Potter," Robards says after they've gone. He turns on his heel and heads down the hall, leaving Harry alone with Douglas, who still stares at the slate grey wall with the seriousness of the Queen's guard.
Harry walks through the department, heading for the changing rooms, when he sees Ginny through the open conference room door shaking Robards hand. Harry hangs back in a shadowed corner until Robards stomps away, thankfully in the opposite direction towards his office. Harry ducks into the room before she leaves.
Unfortunately Percy remains at her side, a tight frown on his lips.
"Can we talk? Alone?"
"I'll just be a minute," Ginny says to Percy. He departs, though it's clear he isn't happy about it. The moment he's through the door, Harry activates the room's privacy wards, thankful he still has access. Ginny sinks down in one of the chairs around the large conference table and puts her head in her hands.
Harry takes the seat next to her, pulling it out to face her. Her breaths turn short and shaky; she's trying not to cry. She doesn't want him to see. She never did. Harry looks down at his lap until he hears her breathing even out, slow and steady.
"I'm sorry," Harry says.
Ginny pulls her hands away from her face. She shakes her head. "For what?"
Harry opens his mouth, and then finds he doesn't have an answer for her. Is he sorry Smith's dead? As horrible as it is, he can't find an ounce of sympathy for what happened to him.
But he does have sympathy for her. He starts to put his hand on her shoulder, then pulls it back, unsure if she'd find it comforting. He stuffs his hands in his lap instead.
"Why did you lie for Malfoy?" Harry asks quietly.
Ginny takes a shuddering breath. "Who says I lied for him? Maybe it's the other way around."
Harry sucks in a breath. Gooseflesh breaks out over his arms.
"Dennis is innocent," she says. "I want to clear his name."
"Ron can help with that." It's an automatic suggestion, said without thought. Harry's still stuck in the moment before, the implications swirling in his head. He'd been certain. God, he'd been so certain. He feels relief and then the sticky guilt at that relief. At what it means; at what Ginny has to carry now.
She slants her eyes towards him. "He's dead. No one can help."
"It was Smith, wasn't it? All along." It's the only explanation. He should just leave Ginny be; she's been through enough for one day, but he needs to hear it. Needs to know the truth.
"Yes," Ginny says. "God, I didn't know. I swear I didn't, but I should have. I'm so thick."
"He hated you, you know? At first, I thought it brilliant. I was so angry and he let me be angry at you. He encouraged it. I thought he was only being supportive but… Zacharias has this way of making bitterness feel good."
He waits as she breathes. He watches her look at the table.
"He did the same thing with Dennis. Dennis had blamed you for losing Colin for a long time. They were so close. Do you remember, Harry?"
"Dennis took those pictures. Two nights ago, he told me. Said he never wanted to hurt me, just you. But when they showed up in the Prophet, he realised he'd been manipulated by Zach. Zach must have sent those pictures in. He thought I wasn't over you, and he always talked about doing something big. Public. Wanted to show the world I'd moved on, with him. I thought he meant something stupid like going to the Ministry Ball together. Not…" She squeezes her eyes shut for a moment, collecting herself.
"And then, Dennis turns himself in and confesses to everything--I knew it was wrong. But I--I thought I had time. I didn't know Zach was going to…Zach bragged about it, Harry. Bragged about everything. How he was untouchable. Could get away with murder. He only regretted the Howler. Said it was sloppy. If only I'd gotten the full dose, you'd be dead too."
The tears come then, fast and thick and unstoppable. She wipes her eyes with angry swipes.
"It's not your fault."
"Then whose is it?"
"I let him into my life. Let him into all of our lives. If I hadn't…"
She stands, wiping her face again. Harry grabs a piece of parchment from the table and transfigures it into a handkerchief. She takes it wordlessly. When he realises she means to leave, Harry stands as well, wanting to stop her, but unsure if he should.
But she hesitates at the door, hand on the knob. She twists halfway around, face in profile.
"Malfoy's a good bloke. He's an arsehole, but…he lied for me, he got arrested for me. He helped me. I'm pretty sure he did that for you. Treat him better than you--" She cuts herself off, shakes her head. "Treat him better than we treated each other."
Ginny leaves. The door closes behind her with a thud Harry feels all the way inside his heart.
Three hours earlier.
The rain pounds the grass, filling the ground with round puddles of mud that dot the field surrounding the Pitch. Draco's Disillusioned himself, but the weather renders the charm imperfect, so he hovers farther back from the Harpies changing rooms than he'd like.
Smith has been inside for a while. Draco checks the tracking spell attached to Smith's magical signature, which clings to the second phial of Devil's Juice he'd purchased. Smith had sold Draco both phials polyjuiced as the poor Ms Cullen. Draco suspects the other Junior Auror is set up to take a fall should Smith ever need an out. Creevey can't be the only patsy. Not if Smith is as involved in the potions ring as Draco suspects.
The door opens. Draco stiffens in anticipation as he watches Ginny Weasley run out, Smith hurrying closely behind. Draco peers into the omnioculars he nicked from a spectator dallying after the match, and zooms in. Smith yanks Ginny's arm and she whips around, yelling at him, the echo of her voice reaching Draco across the field, though he can't make out a word of it. A lovers' quarrel is Draco's assumption, but that changes when Ginny reaches for the wand harnessed at her thigh and Smith grabs her wrist. He twists it; Draco swears he hears the crack, then Ginny's terrified scream blots out the rolling thunder.
Draco's stomach twists up tight like a coiled snake. He drops the omnioculars as he crouches low, then sneaks across the field, hoping the beating of the rain will cover the sound of his feet squelching in the drowned grass. His instincts tell him to run in the opposite direction; find a dark corner and hide.
But there's Harry. The memory of his open, trusting green eyes. The feel of his palm against Draco's cheek. His emotions, his desires, stitched across his heart, offered so willingly.
Ginny's face twists in agony. Harry would never forgive him.
Draco steels himself and creeps closer. Just because he's not running away doesn't mean he needs to turn into a Gryffindor and rush in blindly.
"I have enough Devil's Juice to keep you drugged for years," Smith is saying when Draco reaches the changing rooms and huddles up close to the building. "I wish it didn't have to come to this, though it's better than killing you, I suppose."
"I'd rather die," Ginny spits. Her face is a mask of pain, but her voice is strong, steady. Smith raises his arm and SMACK his hand slaps across her face with a loud crack. Draco flinches. Ginny cries out, tears springing to her eyes. His grip is iron-clad around her wrist and he twists it further, even as he strokes one gloved-hand along her jaw.
"I hate it when you make me do that," he says, so quietly Draco barely hears it. Blood begins to pound in his ears.
Smith withdraws his wand. Draco carefully and quietly unsheathes his own.
"Once you kill Potter, it'll all be different. You'll see," Smith says. He flicks his wand, as if preparing to conduct an orchestra. The muscles in Draco's legs flex. He jumps out, away from the building.
"Stupefy!" The moment Draco casts, his Disillusionment Charm fades and the mud shifts beneath his feet. He aimed the spell directly at Smith's chest, but as he wobbles, the jolt of red light careens off-course and blasts the hand that's gripping Ginny's wrist.
Smith lets go, cradling his fist to his chest, but he spins his wand and jerks to a stop, aiming straight at Draco.
"Malfoy." Smith's face twists in an ugly sneer. "I don't have time for this."
Fuck, fuck, fuck. The never-ending chant beats through Draco in time with the wild rhythm of his heart. Protego! he shouts in his mind, but the shield charm only holds for a few seconds before it flickers and fades. He needs to concentrate, but his brain is uncooperative in his panicked state. Smith pulls back his wand arm and Draco recognises the movement, a haunting memory of Death Eaters, Voldemort, his father…
"Avada--" Smith's voice cuts out. His mouth falls open; he chokes for air. A rush of relief fills every muscle in Draco's body, a hefty shot of adrenaline. For a moment, he hasn't a clue what's happened, but he might only have a split second to take advantage of his good luck. He turns to Ginny, preparing to grab her and run to the edge of the field so they can Apparate away.
He stops short. Ginny stands before him, her injured wrist held tightly to her chest. She holds her wand at a sharp angle, green light piercing the night. The spell she casts loops around Smith's neck, slowly tightening. She lifts her wand and Smith rises from the ground with her movement. He waves his wand limply and it slips through his fingers, falling to the ground with a wet thump. He claws at his neck, mouth open, lips quivering as he gasps for air like a dying fish. Ginny grits her teeth, her jaw sharp as a diamond. But her hand starts to shake and Draco can see the spell quaking with her diminishing resolve.
She can't kill him. She's trying, tendons standing out in her neck as she strains, but the truth hits Draco as startlingly as Potter's stunning spell to his stomach: Ginny Weasley isn't built to kill.
Smith's croaks hiccup through the rain, but he's still breathing, however shallow it might be. Draco sheaths his wand. He doesn't pause to consider other options; there are no other options. Pulses of energy crackle down his arm, and narrowing his gaze at Smith's throat, he reaches out with his magic. It wraps and entwines with Ginny's spell, becoming as thick as a rope and just as solid.
Draco squeezes his fist, tightening his grip, rain dripping off his shaking knuckles. His nails dig into the palm of his hand until he breaks the skin. He feels the crack of the bones in Smith's neck as they fracture. Smith jerks once, twice, his face screwing up until it freezes in an exaggerated scream. The croaking stops. His whole body goes still.
Ginny drops her wand, and Smith drops to the ground, falling face down in the mud. Dead.
They both stand, staring at the body. Everything is quiet, save for the sound of Draco's breath, harsh and ragged in his ears. Draco takes out his wand. He casts a spell on Smith designed to detect a heartbeat. There isn't one.
"Is he dead?" Ginny asks, wand at her side. Her shoulders shake almost imperceptibly.
"Yes," Draco says. He crosses to her. "Ginny," he says, but she doesn't hear him, her eyes locked on the back of Smith's head. "Ginny!" he says louder. She snaps her head to him, jaw tight.
"You need to call the Aurors," he says. "I'm going to leave first, then you can call for help."
"I killed him. They'll send me to Azkaban." Her voice warbles with tiny shivers. She crosses her arms, holding on to her elbows. She's soaked through, thanks to the never-ending rain. They both are.
"It was self-defense."
"Against an Auror. Against my--" She closes her eyes. "I can't. I can't."
He should just leave her there. Let her brother handle it. He's an Auror, and Draco suspects they're all corrupt in one way or the other; he'll be able to get his sister out of any trouble.
What would Harry do?
Draco stifles a groan at his tormenting inner voice. Shut it. he says back. He's going mental, arguing with himself inside the chaos of his brain. They stand in silence. He has to make a decision. A plan starts to form, and he hates every bit of it.
"Give me your wand."
Surprisingly, she hands it over willingly, still in shock. Draco breaks it in two and tosses it to the ground.
"Oi!" That seems to snap Ginny out of her haze. "What did you go and do that for?"
"Listen. I have an idea."
What would Harry do? He'd jump on the fire, snuffing it out with his life if need be. Draco hopes with his plan, he'll fare a bit better.
By the time Harry leaves the conference room, everyone he cares about is gone. He assumes Malfoy left with Bulstrode as soon as his wand was returned. Ron is nowhere in sight. Harry turns in his robes with little fanfare. Privileges revoked. Ex-Auror once again. Surprisingly, a sense of relief comes over him when he's back in his normal clothes. He sneaks home through the emergency Floo, and Daisy hoots at him in greeting from her perch on the beam atop his living room.
"Hello," he says to her, but when his gaze travels down, he finds the balcony doors open. The storm has passed, but he can still smell the rain in the air.
Harry sucks in a breath. Draco Malfoy leans against the railing, facing out, looking at the cloudy night sky. He starts to turn with Harry's voice, and in a few long strides, Harry reaches him and pulls him into his arms. He buries his nose into Draco's neck, hands clasped around his back, holding tight, making certain he isn't a specter. That he's here, solid, standing in Harry's flat.
Daisy hoots again, several times in a row.
"Your owl hates me," Draco murmurs.
"She's just excited."
Draco drops his arms and Harry reluctantly lets go. He steps back, letting out a deep breath.
"I'm glad you're here."
Draco's lips lift into a brief smile, but it's erased by a look of resignation.
"I need to tell you what actually happened."
Harry shakes his head. "I spoke with Ginny. She told me."
"I know what you did for her. God, you could have been put away. Azkaban. If something had happened to you--"
"Merlin, just shut it." Harry cups Draco's jaw, moving close. "Shut up and kiss me."
Their lips meet and Harry slides his fingers into Draco's hair, blunt nails along his scalp. Draco opens his mouth, the taste of him a heady sensation. This whole day has enervated Harry, but blood starts to thrum pleasantly through his body now, Draco's kiss sparking him back to life.
Fire crackles from behind, and the whoosh of the Floo registers, but distantly, as if it's happening in some other place, far away. Someone clears their throat. Draco taps Harry on the shoulder as he withdraws, and Harry turns around to find a flushed Ron and a glittering-eyed Hermione standing in his living room.
"Sorry for interrupting," Hermione says. "We should have checked first to see if it was all right to come through."
Maybe Harry should pick up the habit of blocking his Floo when Draco comes over.
"We hit a snag with Dennis." Ron glances at Draco uneasily.
"I can wait in the other room." Draco starts to head towards the bedroom but Harry catches him by the wrist.
"Wait. Stay," Harry tells him, then speaks to Ron. "Did you talk to your sister?"
"Then you know you can trust Draco. He can hear whatever you have to say."
Draco's jaw tics, a splotchy pink colouring his cheeks.
"It's fine, Potter," he says quietly.
"No," Ron interrupts before Harry can reply. "Harry's right. I know what you did for Ginny." He shifts his weight awkwardly. "I don't know how to thank you."
Draco opens his mouth then closes it, as if he's not certain what to say. He ends up just nodding stiffly. Harry squeezes his hand, then lets go.
"What about Dennis?" Harry asks.
"Ron gave me access," Hermione explains, "officially requesting an autopsy through St. Mungo's. But I'd only just gotten started when Aurors arrived, revoked my clearance, and took his body away."
"What?" Harry furrows his brows.
Ron shrugs with a heavy sigh. "I don't know why. I tried to ask, but even Robards rebuffed me. His body has been classified for some reason. The official story right now is that this…man that attacked Ginny and killed Smith was working with Dennis. Ginny's stalking case remains open but I can't get any information on who's been assigned to it."
"There's something rotten in the Auror department," Harry says.
"Smith sold me two phials of Devil's Juice."
Harry turns to Draco in surprise. Ron and Hermione stare at him as well, and Draco looks increasingly uncomfortable under the weight of their attention.
"You didn't tell me," Harry says quietly.
Draco frowns. His eyes flick guiltily as if he can't quite meet Harry's gaze. "I wanted to be certain, with solid evidence." He lifts his head, addressing the whole group. "I suspected he was protecting whomever is involved with its production. I wouldn't be surprised if he was part of a larger network."
"Does that mean you have a sample?" Hermione's eyes light up. "I managed to sneak out a phial of Dennis' blood before the Aurors took possession of all of my notes and initial tests. His blood shares similarities to the workup I did on Ginny when she was dosed, but if I had the potion itself… I could prove Dennis was acting under the influence of it when he confessed."
"I've got a sample," Harry says. He heads to his bathroom to grab it out of his potions cabinet and catches a glance of himself in the mirror. Dark shadows circle his eyes like he hasn't slept for weeks, and his hair sticks up in odd directions, worse than it's ever been. He returns to the living room where everyone is smiling politely at one another, an awkward silence filling the air.
"Here." He hands the phial to Hermione, and Ron raises his eyebrows.
"You had this before, didn't you?"
"I didn't trust Smith."
Harry can see a million questions running through Ron's brain. How he wants to protest. The sting of Harry's betrayal in his eyes. But there's understanding too, and it eventually rolls around to acceptance.
"I wish I would have listened to you about Smith."
"You couldn't have known. And I have a history of running off half-cocked," Harry replies.
Ron snorts. "Maybe. But you're usually right. I'll try to remember that next time."
"We should go," Hermione says. Harry can tell she's itching to get to work, study the potion, her bloodwork, make those brilliant connections that only she can find.
"You two be careful with this. I don't know if they'll let the truth come out."
"You could come back to the Aurors," Ron says, a wistfulness in his tone. "Help us fight the good fight, root out corruption. All of that. We could convince Robards…"
Harry takes a breath. A part of him wants to accept, despite the upward climb ahead of simply getting reinstated permanently. The lure of dashing off to save the day…
He hears Draco's voice in his head from weeks ago when this all began. Always saving people, aren't you Potter?
That will always be a part of him, he suspects. But he looks at Draco, and he knows with stunning clarity that his future lies elsewhere.
"That's not me anymore," he tells Ron. "The Aurors, that life. I've left it behind."
"Yeah, I guess you have."
"But I'm here. If you need help from outside, I'm here."
Ron clasps his shoulder. Hermione pulls him into a tight hug. Harry sinks into their warmth and a tear in his heart stitches itself back together. Hermione releases him and they both step back, and with a nod and a wave to Draco, they leave through the Floo, disappearing in a crackle of green flames.
Draco had wandered over towards the balcony while he'd said goodbye, and when Harry strides over to join him, he greets Harry with a weary smile. Dawn breaks through the clouds. The sun rises, slowly brightening the sky, erasing the dark that futilely attempts to hang on in gleaming shades of blue. He takes Draco's hand. Draco rests his head on Harry's shoulder.
"Let's go to bed," Harry says. Draco murmurs his agreement. But they linger until the sun lifts itself over London, spreading its rays throughout the sky. It's going to be a beautiful day.