A storm had hit overnight, blanketing Hogsmeade, and most of the UK for that matter, in a thick layer of snow. Draco could appreciate its beauty, even as he shivered beneath his Auror cloak while he and Potter visited the shops near the crime scene, trying to determine if anybody had seen anything. He'd had to continuously refresh his Warming Charms, and he wasn't sure if it was because his strength in casting them was growing weaker or that his body was just burning through them more quickly given the excessive chill. He wasn't built for this kind of cold—quite literally—and he was starting to think he'd need to find a long-term solution if he were to stay in England. It wasn't even noon and already he was beginning to flag, the energy he was utilising to keep his body functioning far exceeding what he was able to replenish. There was, of course, one solution he knew of, but he refused to even consider it.
He'd freeze first.
Unfortunately, that was beginning to look like a very real possibility, as Potter dragged them out once more into the snow.
"I looked into the surrounding businesses, and it looks like this café is open late. It would have closed around nine o'clock the night of the murder," Potter said as they made their way towards a cheerful-looking shop. The sign hanging above the door said Witch's Brew in a lurid purple font next to tiny renderings of a pointed hat and a gently steaming mug.
"Near time of death," Draco said thoughtfully. "Perhaps one of the customers or employees saw something."
Potter grimaced. They hadn't had much luck with anybody they'd questioned so far. "And if not, at least we can get a cuppa and warm up."
Draco nodded vehemently, already looking forward to a hot beverage. He was going to get the largest, sugariest item on the menu. Frankly, he needed the calories.
They started their morning interviewing the victim's flatmate, who seemed more upset over having to work out a way to cover half the rent than the death of his friend. Still, he had an iron-clad alibi, and no apparent reason to want Justin dead, so they'd eventually said their goodbyes and ticked him off the list. From there they'd walked from business to flat to business, hoping somebody would have something useful to tell them, but so far, nothing.
Hot air gusted over them in a shimmering wave of pleasure as Potter pressed open the door to the café, a bright bell tingling overhead. Draco's body gave an involuntary shudder of enjoyment, and he only just managed to stop himself from letting out an indecent moan. Fuck, that felt nice. Potter gave him a strange glance but Draco ignored it, too busy soaking in the balmy temperature and the fragrant scent of sugar and espresso. Potter immediately shed his robes, and sweat began to bead on his temples as if the shop was sweltering. Perhaps that was why he'd had that glint in his eyes as he'd looked at Draco, as Draco's robes were staying firmly on. He'd not felt so comfortable in ages.
There were a few customers in line and, as Draco and Potter weren't in any particular rush to leave the café, they joined the queue. Draco looked out one of the large front windows as they waited, taking in the street through the snow-flecked glass. There were a few spruce trees dotting the pavement, their dark-green boughs laden with heavy snow. Awnings and rooftops were similarly encumbered, and the streets were carpeted in a pristine crystalline snow marred by the occasional dirt-speckled footprint and the treds from the wheels of carts and cars as people went about their day. Despite spending many a weekend in Hogsmeade as a schoolboy, this was an area of town he'd never had cause to visit. This was a neighbourhood for residents and it was odd, seeing a place he thought he'd known so well in such a different light. Then again, Draco had plenty of experience with having his notions and ideas being turned on their head; one would think he'd be used to it by now.
An elbow nudged at Draco's side, bringing him back to the present, and he turned towards the register with a smile, immediately deducing that they were up.
"Hello," Potter was saying with a friendly smile. He peered at the barista's name tag. "Nice to meet you, Mariangela."
"Just Mari's fine," she interrupted before he could continue. She made a face. "Manager made me use my full name."
"All right, Mari. I'm Auror Potter, and this is my partner, Auror Malfoy. Do you have a few minutes to answer some questions for us?"
The girl looked at them warily. She couldn't have been older than twenty, pretty and fine-boned, with pale skin and straight black hair that Draco thought must be dyed because her eyebrows and lashes were pale as the snow falling outside. He didn't recognise her, but there was a heavy ring on her finger that bore a marked resemblance to his own family ring, the one he kept in a box at the back of his sock drawer; unable to part with it, but unable to look at it, either. Draco couldn't make out the crest but he'd bet she was a pure-blood, and likely one of the sacred twenty-eight. What she was doing working in a coffee shop was beyond Draco, but then again, a lot of the old families were hit hard with reparations. He'd not been back to England since the trials, and he wondered how many of the pure-blood elite had been reduced to working service jobs. Draco wasn't sure if the thought should fill him with glee or pity, but all he really felt with indifferent. They'd made their beds; nobody knew that better than he.
"Is this about the body they found yesterday?" the girl asked, her eyes wide as they darted towards the direction of the alley where the body had been found. She looked exhausted, dark purple circles staining the skin beneath her eyes, visible even through the thin layer of makeup she'd tried to conceal them with. Draco remembered all too well the sleepless nights he'd spent in the Manor, knowing that the Dark Lord was under the same roof. He imagined this girl must be terrified, aware that somebody had been murdered within spitting distance of the place where she worked every day.
"You heard about that?" Potter asked. Draco suppressed a snort while Mari gave him a disbelieving look.
"This is a small town, Auror Potter. I doubt there's a soul in Hogsmeade who hasn't heard of it."
Potter chuckled, and the sound rolled right down Draco's spine, warming him just as thoroughly as the shop had. His cheeks flushed, and if Potter noticed, Draco hoped he put it down to the toasty temperature.
"True enough. Were you working at all the day before yesterday?"
She nodded, wary once more. "Wednesday? Yes, two to ten. I closed"
"I thought the shop closed at nine?" Potter asked.
Mari appeared to be trying very hard not to roll her eyes. "For customers, yeah. But then there are all the closing tasks. It doesn't always take the full hour, but we were pretty busy Wednesday night and I was working by myself, so I didn't have time to clean and prep for the morning shift until after we closed for business. Didn't get out until five to."
Draco nodded. Before he'd been accepted into the Italian Auror programme, he'd worked a variety of odd jobs at coffee shops and restaurants. To say it had been an eye-opening experience for him would be putting it lightly. It was utterly bizarre to think that he had more experience in this area than Potter. Despite Potter's more modest upbringing, Draco was fairly certain his work as an Auror was the first and only job he'd ever had. Of course, attempting to overthrow a Dark Lord as a teenager didn't exactly leave a lot of time for a weekend job waiting tables.
"You said the shop was especially busy on Wednesday? Any idea as to why?" Draco asked
"It's been busy in the evenings all week, really," Mari said, pushing a lock of inky black hair behind one pale ear. "There's a big Christmas market a few blocks away, closer to the main square. It's open eleven to eleven throughout December. We've been getting a lot of people on their way to or from the market this past week."
"Right, that makes sense. Must be good for sales."
Mari wrinkled her nose. "Yeah, my boss is happy. But it also means we have to deal with a lot more people than we usually do, and they're not all sober."
Draco gave her a commiserating glance. He'd not had to deal with too many drunkards, per se, but a lot of people under the Veela Allure certainly acted as if they were sloshed. The Allure had been the first thing he'd learned to control but it hadn't happened easily, and he'd fended off more than his fair share of unwanted advances.
"That can't be easy," he said gently. Mari shrugged, but the tightness around her eyes and mouth belied her apparent indifference. "Did you experience that at all on Wednesday? Were there any customers who made you feel uncomfortable, or that stood out to you somehow?"
Her brow furrowed. "Do you think the killer might have come in here?"
"We don't know," Potter said, his voice soothing. "That's what we're trying to find out. If there was anything unusual about that night, anything that wasn't quite ordinary, we'd love to hear about it."
Nothing seemed to have particularly stuck in Mari's mind, not even when they showed her a picture of the victim. She'd shrugged and said that he was a regular, but couldn't recall one way or another if he'd come in that night, and after several more minutes of conversation, it was clear that she didn't have anything new to tell them. They ordered their coffees—a regular flat white for Potter and a caramel white chocolate mocha for Draco, in the largest size they had.
Potter took his coffee from Mari in exchange for his card—Draco really needed to remember to put in an order for some of his own, a process that would no doubt take years—and a promise to send him an owl if she remembered anything else. Draco took his drink and asked a final question.
"Do you know if there are any Veela that frequent the area regularly? Have any ever come to the shop?"
Her lips curled with something like disgust before she caught herself and schooled her expression. Distrust and suspicion sparked in her gaze as she seemed to fully take in Draco for the first time. She would have been young when the papers splashed Draco's status all over the country, but Draco's question must have stirred some long-buried recollection, because it was clear she knew exactly what Draco was now. Knew, and didn't particularly care for it.
Draco wasn't surprised. If she was a pure-blood, as he suspected, she'd likely have been raised with a similar disdain for Magical Creatures as Draco had been. The more things change…
"Not that I'm aware of," she said curtly. "They mostly stick to their own communities, and when they do come to town, they don't generally have a reason to visit the more residential neighbourhoods."
"Right," Draco said, flashing her a tight smile despite the sudden chill in her demeanour. "Thank you again for your help."
She nodded sharply before turning her back and picking up a rag to clean an already pristine bit of machinery. Draco sighed.
"What was that all about?" Potter asked as they stepped out onto the street. The icy air hit Draco like a physical blow, and he only just managed to stop himself from keeling over on the pavement. He fumbled for his wand, casting a forceful Warming Charm that left him winded, before taking a generous gulp of his coffee, relishing the scalding of his tongue as it warmed him.
"She doesn't appear to be a fan of Veela. Most people aren't. It's always interesting to see which puts people off: my name, or my status." Draco snorted inelegantly. "Usually it's both."
Potter looked like he wasn't quite sure what to say to that, and Draco couldn't blame him. Hadn't Draco treated people and Creatures just as terribly as a child, for similarly baseless reasons? He couldn't fault the people who thought the discrimination he faced now was just desserts, even if it wore at him, a constant tide grinding him down into dust.
"Anyway," Draco began, keen to change the subject. "As I suspected, we won't learn much about the local Veela population unless we go to the source."
"Which we're doing first thing Monday, right?" Potter asked. "I still think we should have gone today."
"Yes, and that's why you've been paired with a Being partner who understands them better than you do," Draco said primly. "Wizarding police showing up to an Aerie unannounced and with no notice would be taken as a sign of aggression. Best case scenario, we'd have immediately lost all possible goodwill and made the investigation that much harder for ourselves. Worst case, we'd have incited an incident. Besides, we had to interview the roommate this morning, and we're supposed to be visiting Justin's parents again this evening." The victim's parents had come in first thing that morning to identify the body and had been too distraught to speak with Harry and Draco further. They were planning to visit them later this afternoon after Justin's parents had a little more time to grieve and compose themselves.
Potter grumbled, but seemed to respect the wisdom of Draco's words. "So an Aerie is the proper term for a group of Veela?"
"Technically it means a 'lofty nest'; though Veela are found in many places, we do have a fondness for high ground. Generally, the word is used to identify a community of Veela. You'd think that Veela would be solitary Beings, more like birds of prey, but we actually need and crave companionship, which is why most Veela live in Aeries. There's usually a single Matriarch that the other Veela defer to, though she by no means dictates their entire lives. She acts like a governor of sorts."
Once again, Potters gaze had that ravenous, rapturous quality that told Draco he was hanging on to every one of Draco's words. It was heady, being the focus of all of Potter's attention, knowing that he was the reason Potter's pretty green eyes were sparkling with fascination.
Draco cleared his throat, knowing he'd be flushing if he wasn't so damned cold. "I wrote to the Matriarch of the only Aerie in the UK, up in the Scottish Highlands, Aingeal Tine, to let her know that we'd be calling on Monday."
Draco snorted a laugh. "Angel of Fire in Gaelic. Whoever founded the Aerie clearly had a sense of humour."
Potter's lips twitched into a smile. "Will having you there be more of a help or a hindrance?"
Draco beat back the instinctive urge to bristle. It was a good question. "I'm not sure. I'll be able to understand their customs and pick up their idiosyncrasies better than you given my background, and they might be more willing to talk with another Veela, especially we're all but accusing one of them of being the killer." He shrugged. "On the other hand, the local Veela have no cause to love a Malfoy, and Aeries do tend to be a little wary of outsiders, particularly ones with… no allegiances of their own."
"Because you don't belong to an Aerie?" Potter asked.
Draco nodded. It was true, but it wasn't the whole truth.
"It's also winter, and a large portion of their Aerie won't even be there, which might put them on edge and make them feel more vulnerable, so that's something we'll need to be aware of as well."
"What? Why won't they be there?"
"Veela... don't do well with the cold. Like many birds, Veela tend to migrate to warmer climates for the winter."
Potter's eyes widened. "Seriously?"
Draco couldn't help but smile. "Seriously. That's one of the reasons why I was so surprised by a Veela attack. There aren't that many Veela in the UK to begin with, and there are even less right now. The few that would have elected to stay are the ones that can withstand the cold. And if they can do that, then that generally means they've got a stabilising bond, which would make the loss of control we've seen with these murders highly unlikely."
"But not impossible."
"No, Potter, not impossible."
Potter looked slantways at him, seeming to hesitate before saying carefully, "Don't you think that we've moved past last names, Draco?"
That hadn't been what Draco had been expecting, and his step momentarily faltered. He'd never thought he'd earn the right to Potter's first name, and it felt strangely intimate as he said, tentatively, "I suppose we have, Harry."
Harry beamed, and Draco stumbled again, only managing to right himself by grabbing hold of one of Harry's firm biceps. He forcibly pulled his hand away and did not squeeze the hard muscle.
"So you must be pretty stable then, given that you're here alone in the winter?" Harry said. His tone was casual, but Draco couldn't help but feel he was being scrutinised.
Draco looked straight ahead and hummed noncommittally, hoping that would be answer enough.
He could sense Harry staring hard at him for a long moment, but thankfully he let it go… for now.
Draco had a feeling he wasn't off the hook just yet.