Harry kills someone today.
He shoots them with a rifle, silencer on, a clean shot to the forehead. They drop from their broom and the cleaners come in, and he walks away without looking back.
He doesn’t think of them as individuals, his marks. He doesn’t give them an identity. It’s “they” not “him” or “her” or whatever name is written on their kill sheet.
He works for the Muggles, too. He uses a wand for that. He’s untrackable. There are urban legends about him.
Most people, most magical folk, don’t think Hit Wizards are really real. They talk about them like they talk about Unspeakables—the titles are part of the vernacular, but they’re part of the vernacular in the same way that Muggles talk about extraterrestrials. Do they exist or don’t they? Harry is proof that they do.
In the ten years since he was pulled from his Auror command into a dark, anonymous office and offered one choice—not a choice then, really, was it?—Harry has killed forty-one. Not forty-one people. Not twenty-seven men and fourteen women. Just forty-one. Forty-one was today.
He has barely made it back to his flat before the Floo flares and a greige, anonymous face calls his name. Harry stares at the fire, and the face stares back at him, features shifting constantly, unable to be identified.
“Snow,” says the face again. The voice is not masculine, not feminine. Harry isn’t sure if it’s even human or if his boss is some dark phantasm that occasionally assumes the body of one.
“V,” says Harry.
“The clock,” says V.
“Time’s not real,” Harry says. “Time’s a construct. My mother—”
“Was an ice princess in her time. I’ve seen her crystallised hair let down and fairies crawling up. When I—”
“Was young, I was all-knowing, and when I grew older, I knew everything, but everything was just—”
“The knowledge that I didn’t know, but I know—”
“You,” says Harry.
“I know you, Snow,” says V.
Harry sighs and slumps down onto his knees before the hearth. Security thus taken care of, he lets his guard down, lets the stress of the day flow out of his pores and into his floorboards, or at least that’s how he thinks about it. “Another?” he says. “I get two weeks. I always get two weeks. It’s in my contract.”
“I need it clean,” says V in their neutralised voice. “I need you for it.”
Harry wants to cry. He needs his two weeks. He needs the time to go out to dinner with Ron and Hermione, to take his goddaughter out flying and meet Teddy at the Three Broomsticks of a Hogsmeade Weekend. He needs to remember he’s human, too, or else, sometimes, he starts thinking he’s a “they”, too...starts wondering if he’s a real human with real human memories and a real human family, or if he’s just a construct, automaton with a silencer and a wand that’s seen so many Avada Kedavras that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to question the state of his soul.
“Can I wait until—”
“Start soon,” V says, shaking their head. “Three days.”
“It takes me that long to decipher—”
“We need it in a week, latest, Snow. I’ve limited the encryption,” says V, like it’s some gift. Their greige-coloured hand reaches through the Floo and holds a folded piece of parchment out to Harry, like a fourth year passing notes in Charms. Harry takes it, like a fourth year.
“A week,” says Harry. He always gets a month, sometimes more. It takes him that long to track down the good marks. He brings home souvenirs for Hermione and she puts them on hers and Ron’s mantle with beaming smiles and fond exasperation for his ‘wanderlust’.
“Thanks,” says V, and then they’re gone.
Draco can see it in the quiet way they watch him, like they expect him to snap right there in the Ministry canteen, like at any moment he might set down his teacup and, what? Blow up the building? Murder them all?
He could, he thinks idly. He frowns, takes a sip of tea, and exhales slowly through his nose as he leans back in his chair. He didn’t live in a house full of Death Eaters for as long as he did without picking up a trick or two. And he’s a Malfoy. Dark Magic is in his blood, and has been for nineteen generations. Twenty-three, if he counts back through his mother’s side. It’s part of what makes him a good Auror. He understands how criminals work, the spells they use, the way they think. He’s got the third highest rate of case closures in the DMLE.
It’s a bitter sort of irony that his success as an Auror is exactly the reason they all distrust him as they do. That the harder he works to show them that he’s changed, the more they suspect he hasn’t. When he tracks down a dark artefact, all they see is how he’s got the questionable connections to do so. When he correctly identifies a dark spell, all they wonder is what else does he know?
Every time he closes another case, brings in another bad guy, he can see it. It’s in their eyes, the wary way they watch him. It’s in their guarded posture, how their hands still linger near their wands even though the suspect’s safely in custody. It’s in the hushed murmurs of furtive conversations that cut off when he walks into a room. It’s when another nasty rumour about him circulates, when Lucius does something else to crumble whatever hard-won scraps of respect he’s managed to eke out since the last time, and Megan gives him that pitying look she knows he hates.
Knew he hates.
He thunks his teacup onto the table with more force than he needs to, and a wizard at the next table flinches at the sudden sharp sound of porcelain striking wood, his hand twitching for his wand. Draco sneers at him and stands, the legs of his chair scraping across the tile, the sound loud in the sudden lull of half a dozen conversations faltering at once.
Fuck them. Fuck all of them. For a moment, he indulges in a brief and vicious fantasy of fulfilling all of their lofty expectations, of lashing out with his wand and leaving the canteen a flaming ruin in his wake.
Then he sighs quietly to himself as he slings his messenger bag over his shoulder and stalks from the room, up the hallway, and to the lifts. His hand doesn’t quite tremble as he jabs at the button, but he feels shaky inside. Unsteady and off-kilter. Fuck, he misses Megan, and not just because he’s about to do something extremely stupid and he’d have liked to have someone at least try to talk him out of it.
But it’s Draco’s own fault she’s not here. He may not have been the one to pull the trigger, but he got her dead all the same. Set things in motion and showed her the path and gave her a nudge, and now he’s got nothing left to do but keep walking without her.
The lift arrives with a cheerful ding! The doors swish open and Draco steps inside. The two witches huddled near the panel of buttons don’t pause in their conversation, but the one speaking takes on a determinedly cheerful sort of tone and doesn’t look at him. The other peeks at him out of the corner of her eyes, shifts closer to her friend, and tightens her grasp on the strap of her handbag. A curious mix of outrage and amusement curls through Draco at that. Is she honestly concerned that he might steal her handbag? He’s capable of any number of dark spells, half the Ministry thinks he’s about to go off at any moment, and this woman is honestly afraid he might steal from her.
Amusement, Draco decides. He’s definitely amused because he can’t handle the alternative. It’s been a tough couple of months since Megan’s death. Two months, two weeks, and three days since she died. And he’s been doing sweet fuck-all since then. It’s standard procedure to remove an Auror from field duty when he’s lost his partner. But Draco’s been stuck with nothing but deskwork for over ten weeks now. He’s attended all the mandatory grief counselling, passed all his psychological evaluations with flying colours, and still they won’t assign him a new partner. At this point he’s an Auror in name only, and he’s pretty sure they’re not going to send him back out in the field again anytime soon, possibly ever. For the last two and a half months he’s been a glorified filing clerk, and there’s only so much filing one man can handle before he goes entirely mad, and perhaps that’s how he’s ended up here.
Perhaps this grand lapse in judgement in which he’s about to indulge is just due to boredom. Draco’s always been at his most dangerous when left at loose ends.
God, he misses Megan. His voice of reason. He was always so sure that he’d only gone so long without getting caught because of her mitigating influence. Always cautioning him, reigning in his wilder ideas. But right now she’s dead and he isn’t, so maybe he was wrong. He supposes it doesn’t really matter, but he still wishes she were here now.
They’d been together almost from the beginning. For the first two weeks after completing his training, Draco had been paired up with Harry Potter. And then when Potter had vanished without a trace, they’d put him with Megan Jones. He’d known her a bit from Hogwarts. Different houses, different classes and different sets of friends, different sides during the war, but he’d known of her and she’d sure as hell known of him. She’d been leery and suspicious, but as the weeks crept by and blurred into months, she’d come round.
It was Potter’s disappearance that brought them together. Draco had gone entirely obsessed over it, because anyone with a two eyes and a functioning brain could work out how suspicious the whole thing was. The open-and-shut investigation. The flurry of speculative articles in the Prophet that died down after only nine days. They’d go on for weeks about the most trivial of details, trying to unravel the mystery of Harry Potter purchasing coffee instead of tea, but they lost interest in his sudden and inexplicable disappearance in just a week and a half? It didn’t add up for Draco.
And it didn’t add up for Megan when he’d finally shared his findings with her.
The doors of the lift slide open and the two witches hurry out, the one with the handbag casting one last glance at him over her shoulder. There’s a wizard hurrying down the hall toward him, and Draco jabs the button for the Ministry’s lower level. The doors swoosh closed and the lift drops down.
He steps off in Filing and finds himself entirely alone. It’s a Friday evening and Draco hadn’t expected anything different. The Ministry’s emptied out for the weekend, mostly everyone gone home to their loved ones, their friends and families, their lives, leaving just the bare minimum of staff to keep the place running til Monday.
Draco thinks briefly of going to see his parents. He usually stops off at the Manor after work on Friday evenings. But Lucius made the front page of the paper again this morning when he slipped off to Diagon Alley and shouted at a Muggleborn witch with a small child. Mudblood was the kindest of what he’d called the child as he accused them of sullying the wizarding world with their inferior bloodlines. It’s to Draco’s misfortune that he’d done it in full earshot of a newspaper reporter, though at least he hadn’t hexed anyone this time. Narcissa would be beside herself over it but trying to put on a brave face. Lucius wouldn’t remember a thing. He never did, and Draco can’t handle that tonight. Not his mother’s brittle smiles and anxious hand-wringing, nor his father’s gentle confusion that might turn to violence and vitriol in the blink of an eye.
He slips through the door and walks quickly between the narrow aisles of dusty cabinets. He knows exactly where he’s going. He spent all week planning this. Two aisles over he stops, takes a moment to look over the labels on the filing drawers and opens one. His fingers skim across the tops of the folders until he finds the one he’s looking for. It comes out of the drawer and goes into his bag, and then he’s off again, three aisles over and two aisles back where there’s another drawer with another folder on his list.
Draco makes it to the final drawer on his list, marked Ros-Ryz, and has just slid it open when he feels the faint prickling of the Locator Charm wash over his skin. He shivers and the hair on his arms rises into goosepimples.
It’s okay, he thinks to himself. He’s prepared for this. The Ministry’s crawling with charms like that, has been for over a decade, ever since Potter the Boy Wonder and his two sidekicks broke into it during the War. Can’t be too careful after that, right? So now a net of Detection Charms sweep the building at regular intervals. They’re nothing more than platitudes, if anyone wants to get right down to it. Which no one does. When Draco first joined the Aurors, brimming with youthful enthusiasm and good intentions and determination to redeem his family name, he’d pointed out that the charms were barely more than security theatre; the regular intervals made them predictable and easy to avoid. And they were simple, easy to dismantle, easier to hide from.
But Lucius had just landed himself the front page of the Prophet in the first of what would become an unfortunate and ongoing pattern, and Draco hadn’t considered how it would look for the son of a disgraced Death Eater to suddenly become so concerned about Ministry security. He’d earned himself disciplinary action for poking into things that weren’t his jurisdiction, a note on his record, and extra monitoring. When the scrutiny had faded, Draco made it a point to examine those charms and wards as thoroughly as he could. Barely a year after that, Draco knew enough to circumvent all of them. Knew exactly what would trigger each of them, and could move through the Ministry as silent and untraceable as a ghost when he wanted.
He nudges his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, peruses the neat row of labels, and pulls out the last folder he needs and tucks it into his bag, then eases the filing drawer closed. He turns to leave. He’s done everything here he’d meant to.
He’s two aisles back when the door opens. Footsteps shuffle across the scuffed tile floor, and the latch catches with a soft snick as the door falls shut. Draco freezes, breathing shallowly through his mouth. The footsteps pause, shuffle forward, pause again, and Draco wills his heart to stop pounding. This isn’t anything more than shitty luck. There hasn’t been enough time for someone to come downstairs from the monitoring offices so it’s just someone who happened to have reason to go down into the lower levels of Filing. At seven o’clock. On a Friday night.
Draco moves carefully, listening to the footsteps moving off to the right as he circles round to the left. Hesitates by the end of the shelf. The footsteps went off down an aisle and have now fallen silent. He listens, waits, and makes his move, slipping silently across the open area between the stacks of filing cabinets and the door.
He’s nearly there, six steps away, five steps, four, three—
Draco freezes with his fingertips just brushing the doorknob. He sighs and drops his hand, turns around slowly. “Auror Ambroson.”
“What are you doing down here, Malfoy,” Ambroson spits at him, more of a demand than a question, the sneer in his voice blotting out the inquisitive lilt that would have turned his words into a query.
It’s the same tone he uses to interrogate the black market potion brewers dragged in off Knockturn Alley, the pilferers and prostitutes and purveyors of unsavory artefacts. It rankles to be spoken to in the manner of a two-knut-a-tumble rentboy. Rankles even more to know that it’s because of his esteemed lineage and impeccably pure blood.
Draco hitches the strap of his messenger bag up his shoulder, his fingers tightening around the strap. The folders inside feel like they’re burning where the canvas rests against his thigh. “Last I checked you’re not my superior,” he sneers back. “I don’t answer to you.”
Then he turns on his heel, jerks the door open, and strides down the hall to the lifts.
He knows it’s a mistake to aggravate Ambroson. Knows that it’s only going to make a precarious situation even more unstable. But Draco has neither the time nor the patience to deal with him right now. He steps into the lift and the doors slide shut. Alone, he indulges in a few minutes of nerves, eyes squeezed shut and a few deep, juddering breaths.
He’s composed himself by the time he steps out of the lift and into the Atrium. His bag bumps the back of his thigh with every step as he heads for the Floo.
There’s a good chance that this is going to get him nowhere but dead. But he’s come so far at this point that there’s nowhere to go but onward.
That’s what the kill sheet says, anyway. It means that, even if it doesn’t directly say it. Because Harry works for the Ministry—in some capacity, at least, even if his official record says he retired after that “botched mission” that landed him in St Mungo’s for a week—and if he works for the Ministry, he’s not just some hired wand—or gun, rather. The work he does is justifiable. It’s justice. He works for his country, and his country is a republic—the magical side, anyway. It’s not laudable work, it’s not work he’s proud of, but it’s necessary work. Harry has always taken the necessary jobs that no one else has the stomach for.
It’s just that he’s never deciphered a kill sheet and seen Draco Malfoy’s name on it. Or any name he recognises, actually. But it’s there. After six hours, a dull quill, three cipher keys, and a box of takeaway Thai, it’s there: Draco Malfoy, and all his known details. There’s even a photo—cropped strangely, like there’s something in the background Harry isn’t supposed to see.
Harry sets his fork down and leans forward, gripping the edges of the parchment, the quill squashed between paper and palm, bleeding ink all down his wrist. He stares at the kill sheet, but the name doesn’t change.
There was a time, when Harry was still young and idealistic and his morals were very much black versus white, that he’d thought he might get assigned a hit on Lucius Malfoy. He’d thought that someone ought to be, at least. He’d thought he might enjoy that assignment. Maybe that’s why it never came. Lucius Malfoy’s still alive, and he goes to the same charity functions as Hermione, still as slimy a motherfucker as they come, and quite probably loony, but Hermione says she doesn’t care as long as he keeps funnelling money into the Muggleborn Education Fund. So Harry doesn’t care either.
Name: Draco Lucius Malfoy
Address: 49 Church Street, Bristol
But now he’s got slimy Lucius Malfoy’s relatively unslimy son on a kill sheet, and Harry can’t help but wonder: why this and not that?
What thing has Draco done that was so wretched, so wrong, so evil, that it’s got him a kill sheet before his own murderous father?
He calls V back immediately. “Don’t do Aurors,” he grits out.
V doesn’t even hesitate. “You do now. This one’s bad.”
Harry presses his lips firmly together. “How do you know?”
“Not important,” V says. “But he is. Trust me. Just do your damned job, Snow, before the Department makes you someone else’s job.”
“That a threat?” Harry asks. He hopes it is. Fighting for his own life would be a novel thing, although he isn’t entirely sure he’d bother.
“Goodbye, Snow,” says V, ignoring him. The Floo goes cold.
”Fuck!” Harry says to his empty flat.
Harry glances at the window. Just now breaking twilight. Harry usually likes twilight. It’s his favourite time to work. It makes him feel half-alive, like his marks. They breathe before he shoots them, and then they don’t, and in the time between when Harry deciphers their kill sheets and when the bullet hits, they are like a passel of Schrodinger’s cats: both alive and dead and neither at once.
He puts on his black hoodie and steps into the twilight. He ignores the feeling in his gut that tells him it doesn’t matter if the Department okayed it; taking a hit on an Auror is risky as fuck, and even after a decade, he isn’t sure that the Department will have his back if this goes bad. Or the even deeper feeling that says the Department is hoping that it will.
Harry pauses beneath the boughs of an ancient yew tree, letting the shadows fall all over him like demiguises, wrapping him up tight and warm and invisible. He stands within it, a lethifold waiting.
Harry checks his watch and sighs silently; CSI is on. He steps forward, crossing the wards he’s already dismantled and moving round to the back of the house to enter through the kitchen.
The neighbourhood is dying, too. No one looks, no one cares, and Harry would’ve thought that sad once. Now he just thinks it’s easier for him to get in and out undetected. The locking spells on the kitchen door are Malfoy-strong but not paranoid-strong. For a terrorist, Malfoy is remarkably un-paranoid.
Harry doesn’t think about all the years of study and training and idealism that got him to this point, the point where he can unward even a Malfoy’s defenses without having to put his head into it. And he doesn’t put his head into it. Harry doesn’t put his head into much of anything these days because if he does, then he begins to hear his joints clicking and whirring like a robot’s and his brain chirping and scrolling binary code like a computer. He’s sure that once, a long time ago, he was at least mostly human. It was when he was learning these skills and thinking they would make him a fine Auror.
Inside Malfoy’s flat, the kitchen is a mess. There are boxes of mostly-uneaten takeaway covering the countertop nearest the door and the dishes in the sink are weeks old. Harry takes note of the disarray, filing the information in his head under a heading that says: Habits - absent-minded, distracted, busy, or lazy. It’s too soon yet to tell. He moves into the living room on silent feet, notes the single wall to his left, backing up to the kitchen that’s completely covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
Harry’s almost startled by the movement his own reflection causes, but even that is beyond him these days. He takes a seat in the armchair in the left corner, next to the mirrored wall and half-hidden in the inherent darkness of corners away from windows. He pulls his gun out, attaches the silencer, pulls his legs up on the seat cushions, and wraps his arms around his knees, waiting. He feels a vague sort of guilt at messing up the upholstery, but it’s not like it’ll be a bother for long.
Harry hasn’t seen Malfoy in exactly ten years, now that he thinks about it. It was the day he was pulled off Auror duty and shoved into this nightmare. Malfoy hadn’t been his partner for more than two weeks then. Harry hadn’t even had enough time to stop distrusting him. Which, on reflection, is probably not a bad thing. He wonders if he would’ve seen this coming if he’d still been an Auror. He wonders if he could’ve stopped it, if Malfoy was really evil all this time or if he’s just a Malfoy and he doesn’t know any better than to be a dipshit.
It’s only twenty minutes before the kitchen door opens again. Harry’s been staring down the hallway across from him and contemplating the colour Malfoy would’ve painted his bedroom, or if he would’ve bothered at all. Given the state of this place, Harry isn’t sure. There’s the muffled crinkle of a paper bag being set on the kitchen counter—takeaway again. Malfoy sighs, drops something heavy onto the floor with a fabric-muffled thud—messenger bag—and walks into the living room. He turns right without spelling on the lights, heading for his bedroom, and then he freezes.
The back of his t-shirt says “Revolve” in a fancy script. In the mirror, it says “Revolve” again because Harry’s always been a little dyslexic. Or maybe not dyslexic, but he reads words backwards just as fast as he reads them forwards, and he knows how to write his name so it says “harry” both upside down and rightside up.
But for a second, when his back is stiffened just so that the last two letters disappear from the mirror, it looks like “loveR”, and Harry doesn’t know what to make of that. Malfoy’s got another bag in his hands. He lowers it to the floor and slowly turns. Lover turns with him, revolves away.
Harry’s still got his arms wrapped around his knees, the gun hanging from loose fingers. He watches, silent, as Malfoy’s eyes find the glint of metal and focus on it. Malfoy knows what a silencer looks like and he knows why they’re used, who uses them. Harry knows Malfoy recognised him the moment he turned around, but Malfoy’s always been careful and considered. When Malfoy’s eyes finally leave the gun and move up to Harry’s face, he flinches.
In Harry’s experience, they always flinch at the gun, not at him. No one ever suspects Harry Potter will kill them. It works in his favour, gives him that extra moment before they react, so he doesn’t bother with disguises in his work. He never has. It’s just his real life that he covers his face for.
Malfoy closes his eyes and says, “I’ll be with you in just a moment, Potter.” He turns again. He’s wearing glasses now—flashy blue ones with large, trendy, rectangular frames. The streetlamps refract on the lenses as he pivots, momentarily taking Harry’s attention before movement in the mirrors catch his eye again.
Revolve | loveR flashes again.
Harry doesn’t follow him. There are no other exits and the windows are warded up tight with electrocution curses. Harry put them there himself before he dismantled the ones outside. He waits, and in a few moments, Malfoy returns, taking a seat on the couch.
“I’ve been looking for you for ten years,” Malfoy says, pulling his feet up under him on the couch. “Did you know?”
Harry looks at him. “I’ve been around.”
Malfoy laughs; it’s a bitter sound. “No you haven’t.”
Harry nods. Malfoy’s right. No one’s seen him but Ron, Hermione, Rosie, and Teddy for ten years. Even the Weasleys only know he continues to exist because Ron swears to it. He wears Glamours when he meets his godson for lunch and he hasn’t been to Diagon Alley in six years.
Malfoy’s eyes flicker to the gun, still hanging insolently from Harry’s fingers, and back up to his face again. “You’ve been my case this entire time,” he says. “And now you’re here to kill me.”
Harry shifts. “Who gave me to you for a case?”
“No one,” says Malfoy. “I gave you to myself.”
Abruptly, he stands again, and Harry’s fingers tighten around the gun; he raises it and points it straight at Malfoy’s head. Malfoy swallows, his hands rising a little as if he thinks to ward Harry off with two upraised palms, but he drops them to his side again before they make it all the way up.
“I want to show you something,” Malfoy says. “Come with me.”
He turns, walking carefully to the hall. Harry can see the tenseness in his back; he’s half-expecting the bullet to come now, and Harry half-expects to deliver it. He gets up, though, gun still trained on Malfoy’s skull, and he follows him.
And then on the other side, there’s Malfoy. Regular Malfoy. Quidditch-playing Malfoy. Nose-stomping Malfoy. The very same Malfoy who, ten years previous, told Harry he’d rather stick his prick in a blender than be Harry’s Auror partner, and who’d subsequently left Harry both horrified and intensely intrigued that Malfoy knew what a blender was and the destruction one could cause to a man’s more delicate of appendages.
Harry feels his mouth tugging up in a very unfamiliar way. Malfoy turns around then, notes the expression, and produces an expression of his own, this one not unfamiliar: he’s definitely looking at Harry like he’s madder than a box of Chocolate Frogs. (He very well may be.)
“What on earth is wrong with your face, Potter?”
Harry firms his mouth and the unfamiliar twist to his lips falls away, so at least he doesn’t have to think about what it might’ve been. “Was thinking.”
Malfoy turns back to his lunatic wall.
“I’ve been searching for you since you disappeared,” Malfoy says, trailing his finger over a length of red string attaching two photographs together, one of Harry in his old Auror uniform and another that sends Harry’s heart racing because it’s him, too, only in one of his many disguises. That Malfoy could pick him out with so much changed is unsettling. Harry forces his face to remain neutral as Malfoy continues.
“I thought I’d found you a few times, but…” His voice trails off with the touch of his long fingers against the wall, and then he turns to look at Harry again, all bright grey eyes and sharp face. It’s such a very Malfoy look, so fierce and confident. He doesn’t even acknowledge the gun Harry still has aimed at his gut.
And in that moment, Harry knows.
Malfoy isn’t guilty. Malfoy’s no terrorist. It makes Harry’s stomach lurch in a horrifying way because if Malfoy isn’t guilty, then...was everyone else? He swallows hard, takes a step forward, faking interest in the wall of crazy. He tries hard not to stare at all the newspaper clippings, scrawled notes, pictures of bombings and so many of himself, so many of them in his disguises. He tries so hard not to react. Robots don’t react.
“What you got?” he asks, nodding to the wall. It’s like he’s forgotten how to speak in the ten years he’s been hiding from society. Even Ron’s commented on it. Short sentences. Gruff words. More meaning in his silences than his speaking. Hermione doesn’t do more than purse her lips at his failing grammar these days. He clarifies, because Malfoy’s not in his head like Harry’s in his head: “With the strings.”
“The thing is, Potter,” Malfoy says, following his gaze, “There’s someone in the Ministry taking out people who vocalise certain...ideals. For a long time, I thought you were taken out, too; your disappearance was too easy, and as the other Auror who was allegedly at that ‘mission gone wrong’ that got you ‘retired,’ I know sure as fuck it never happened. They just never thought I’d risk sounding crazy to claim there was a conspiracy. But then I started finding little things that suggested you were still alive. And now I’ve got the connection to solve it. You.”
“Me?” says Harry.
The look on Malfoy’s face is kind of tragic. Doesn’t really make any sense until he next says, “I couldn’t figure out how they were covering their tracks so well. I thought they had you doing it for them. I just never really believed this was how they were using you. A lot of good people have come up dead in the past ten years, and I know at least one of them was looking for you.”
“Megan Jones,” Malfoy says, and Harry flinches because that name is familiar. He’s got a vague flash of dark brown hair and gappy teeth laughing at him panicking in third year Herbology when his Mandrake started wailing. “My partner,” Malfoy adds.
“Explosion,” Harry says, feeling the words come up his throat like vomit, and about as welcome as it, too. He remembers the name being vaguely familiar now, and him trying as hard as he could to ignore that when he took the hit. “About three months ago. Bullet to the head, blew up the potions warehouse after. To cover. Didn’t even need cleaners. Forty.”
Malfoy looks horrified and it takes a moment for Harry to realize why. He feels sick again but it only lasts for a second because it always only lasts for a second, if it comes at all. He can’t even dredge up the emotion to hate himself anymore. He’s so far gone past damaged that he’s become an entirely new thing where “damaged” means “working fine”. But if Forty was Malfoy’s partner, then Forty was an Auror. And Harry doesn’t kill Aurors. The Department knows that. He’d told them the day they forced him to sign his life away; Harry tells V again all the time. V always said the Department respects conscientious objections.
And yet V gave you this hit on Malfoy, anyway, didn’t they, Potter? Harry thinks. Something isn’t right here. There are at least twelve ways this could be a set-up, another four that it could be a clerical error. If he kills Malfoy over a clerical error, the Department will handle it; if he kills him for a set-up, he’s on his own.
If he doesn’t kill him, the Department won’t kill Harry. Doesn’t matter what Snow says about them coming after him; they won’t. They’ll start with Teddy because he’ll be out shopping for school supplies in Diagon this month, and “public” and “tragic” are things that happen sometimes.
“I gotta kill you,” Harry says when he finishes his calculations. He’s killed one Auror and they didn’t Kiss him for it; he has to kill this one, too, because Rosie is also often easily accessed when Hermione takes her to dayschool in the mornings before work. There’s something incredibly fishy about this whole thing, and the only thing Harry can do keep the situation under his own control right now is not let on that he knows it. “If you don’t turn up dead, they’ll know I skipped. Can’t skip. They’ll just send someone else after you, and no one else is gonna do you clean like I will.”
He raises the gun again, feeling sorrier than he’s ever felt, but a job’s a job, and what’s another innocent life on his soul now that he knows there’s some there already? His entire world view’s been destroyed in the span of fifteen fucking minutes, but those fifteen minutes don’t change anything else. He’s got to do it, or someone’ll do the people he loves instead.
Malfoy doesn’t flinch. His eyes flicker to the barrel and then defiantly back to Harry. No one ever looks at Harry. They watch the gun, like seeing the bullet exit it will make it hurt less to know they’re about to die. Harry doesn’t think it would. He’d rather close his eyes. Malfoy doesn’t do either, though, and it’s unsettling. Harry shifts on his feet. His hand’s getting sweaty; it never gets sweaty anymore.
“You’re going to kill me knowing that doing so will be adding more dirt onto your own grave?” Malfoy asks, voice steady. He swallows. His eyes don’t waver. “What do you think’s going to happen when all us loose ends are tied up and it’s just you left?”
Harry shrugs. “Welcome it.” But he makes a note to get Ron, Hermione, Rosie, and Teddy out of the country first.
“I’m not a terrorist,” Malfoy says.
“I know,” Harry says. These words are harder to say. “They’ll just send someone else,” he adds again, because saying it feels like it offsets the horror of what he’s about to do a little bit. Not even close to enough. “You won’t even feel it. Close your eyes, I’ll make it easy for you.”
“No,” Malfoy says defiantly. “Look me in the eye when you shoot me, you fucking cowardly prick.”
Harry flicks the safety off. “I’m no coward.” The word sounds hauntingly familiar to him. Where’s he heard it before? He can’t recall, but it’s so very—
“Aren’t you?” Malfoy says, sneering. “Can’t even keep yourself from killing an innocent man because you’re too scared to examine your own fucked up life choices.”
“I never had a choice!” Harry says. He spins around and grabs at his hair, half wishing he’d accidentally shoot himself in the fucking head while he’s at it, but of course he never does. He’s too good at this shit to do that.
“Please.” It’s not begging. It’s sarcasm. Fucking Draco Malfoy is mocking him in the face of his own impending death.
Harry spins back around, angrier than he’s been in...in...he can’t even remember being angry at all since his head’s such a stagnant swamp of apathy and avoiding looking at himself in the mirror for fear of seeing something he won’t like, so it’s been a fucking long time. He stalks forward and presses the barrel of the gun to Malfoy’s temple. “I didn’t have a choice,” Harry says again, quieter. “I’ve never had a choice about anything. Not anything.”
“Spare me your histrionics,” Malfoy says, still not swiveling his eyes towards the steel touching his fragile skin. The barrel clinks against his stupidly vibrant glasses. “You just don’t want to have to make any difficult choices, so you go with whatever’s easiest.”
“I despise you,” Harry says. “I’ve always despised you. I should kill you just ‘cause of that, even if you’re not really a terrorist.”
Malfoy shrugs. “That would be poetic, wouldn’t it? Who’s the real monster? Those awful Malfoys or the Boy Who Lost His Shit?”
“What else am I s’posed to do then, Malfoy? If there isn’t a body, then they’re gonna know you’re not dead, and if you’re not dead then they’re gonna send someone else after you until you are. And believe me, you don’t want any of us other arseholes after you. At least I can almost remember being human. Some of these hit wizards weren’t ever.”
“Not if I disappear.”
“Can’t disappear. They’ll find you. They always do. I always do. And anyway, I’ve never failed a job before. If I do now, they’ll come after me next. If you don’t show up in the mortuary, it’ll be worse for both of us.”
“How about a body double, you fucking idiot?”
Harry pauses. “A body double.”
“St Mungo’s has plenty of dead bodies,” Malfoy says. “We can just Glamour one to look like me. If I put my signet ring on it, it’ll even give off my magical signature to a casual observer. Then destroy most of the body so the transfiguration becomes permanent. My parents will refuse to allow the Ministry to perform an autopsy, so no one should find out.”
“I like all of that except the part where you’re an idiot,” Harry says. “St Mungo’s is gonna notice a body missing, and they’ve got nasty wards. I know. I broke ‘em once to get to an attendant.”
Malfoy’s mouth twists. Harry ignores the sick answering twist in his gut at the realisation that even Malfoy is disgusted by him. What does that say when Harry’s life turns even the stomach of a Malfoy? He covers it by adding, “Muggle hospital.”
“Ah, right,” says Malfoy, nodding. The street lights outside glint against Malfoy’s glasses, which make him look oddly vulnerable. It’s a strange thing to think about Malfoy, even though right now, he really is vulnerable. He’s so good at looking in control, even now. Harry wonders if his glasses make him look vulnerable, too, or if it’s just that Malfoy needing something as pedestrian as glasses to see shakes Harry’s world, such that it is, up a little bit.
Harry sighs. Is he really considering this? He can’t consider this. He has to just do it. It’s just fucking Malfoy. No one’s even going to miss him. Not Harry anyway. Harry hasn’t missed him for ten years; he can go the rest of his life knowing Malfoy’s dead. Might even make life better.
It won’t, though. Deep down, a place he isn’t even sure he has anymore, a “deep down”. He hasn’t got anything deep down anymore, except maybe he does a little bit. Maybe he’s got a Deep Down enough to know that while he can’t ever forgive himself for the acts he’s committed, if he goes into this one knowing that Malfoy’s innocent, knowing he’s willingly breaking his own code of honour for nothing except that he values other peoples’ lives more than Malfoy’s, well...he knows that’ll be worse. There will be no “better” to anything if he goes through with this.
It’s just, couldn’t Malfoy have been a jerk-arse fucker who secretly strangles kittens or something? If he had been, then maybe Harry could pull this trigger.
Potter’s become better at keeping his thoughts to himself since then, but Draco can still tell what he’s thinking. It’s in the slight narrowing of his gaze, the barest quirk of his brow. The way his fingers tighten almost imperceptibly around the grip of his gun. How he keeps his body angled just enough toward Draco to keep him in his line of sight.
He’s thinking: Malfoy is a fucking lunatic.
Draco supposes that he really can't blame Potter for that. He glances at what he thinks of as his wall, though it takes up nearly two: photographs and newspaper clippings, incident reports and witness statements and performance reviews pilfered from hundreds of Ministry files, the whole mess dotted with Draco's own scribbled notes on scraps of parchment and then crisscrossed with dozens of coloured strings, tying all of it together like some sort of mad spider's web. Yeah, he doesn't blame Potter at all for thinking he's nuts. But luckily for Draco, Potter at least seems to think that he’s a fucking lunatic who’s maybe onto something, because he has yet to pull the trigger. Instead, he followed Draco into the bedroom and looked at his wall and listened to Draco’s explanations. And even if he’s now looking at Draco like he suspects him of having gone entirely off his trolley, Potter thinks what Draco told him had enough merit to warrant coming up with a plan to keep him alive.
For now, at least.
Draco’s a good Auror: good reflexes, good instincts, steady nerves, and vicious when he needs to be. Back when they’d been paired up, Potter hadn’t had that last bit. But it’s there now, in his eyes and in the casual way he’s still holding the gun. Somewhere over the years, Potter’s changed. Draco finds it equal parts comforting and unsettling. It means that they’ve actually got a chance in hell of seeing this thing through. It means that if it all goes tits-up, Potter won’t hesitate to take him down.
Draco reaches out, plucking his fingers over a length of red string tacked from a photo of the unsolved Ministry bombing to a newspaper clipping about a Muggle man’s mysterious death, detailing how he dropped dead in the middle of a coffee shop for absolutely no reason. The string vibrates gently, calling Potter’s attention.
“We should go,” Potter says without turning, though Draco can feel his attention shift fully away from the wall. Onto Draco.
Draco nods to the gun. “Mind putting that thing away, then?” he asks, and Potter turns his head and looks at him. Draco resists the urge to take a step back. “For fuck’s sake, I’m not going to try anything. They want me dead. Right now, you’re the best hope I’ve got for staying alive.”
As frightening as that is. Draco thinks he’s probably fucked either way, but it’s not like he really expected otherwise. And this is for a higher purpose.
“Get your things together,” Potter tells him. He doesn’t put the gun away, though he turns so his back is against the wall and he’s holding the gun on the side farthest from Draco. “We’ll need to move fast once we get the body.”
That’s probably as good as he’ll get. The gun in Potter’s hand is still making him nervous as hell. It’s taking every ounce of his self-control to keep from staring at it, but Draco keeps his eyes on Potter’s, nods once, and rounds the bed. The duffel bag he packed after Megan’s death is right where he left it at his bedside, the last thing he walks by when he gets into bed at night and the first thing he trips over in the morning. He moves slow, keeps his hands visible as he bends to pick it up and loops the strap over his shoulder.
“That everything?” Potter asks. His facial expression doesn’t change and he doesn’t sound surprised. But there’s something dubious about the way he says it.
Draco resists the urge to look around the room. To see it as Potter must see it. The bedding rumpled and wrinkled and well past needing a wash. The pile of laundry heaped in the corner. The cluster of empty mugs on his bedside table, stacked with a few bowls and plates and forks from before he’d given up on cooking and skipped straight to takeaway every night.
And his wall, of course, and all the detritus that came with its creation scattered over every flat surface: crumpled papers, inkpots and quills, scissors, scraps of string, paper clips and pushpins and file folders everywhere. He tightens his hand around the strap of the duffel bag. He can’t leave his wall behind.
“I knew there was a good chance I’d need to disappear,” he says as he swishes his wand at the wall. All the pictures and papers untack themselves and sort into neat stacks, the pushpins rattling quietly as they gather together, the lengths of string winding themselves into neat little balls, the few unsortable things—a piece of cloth, a broken pair of sunglasses, a handful of owl feathers—fitting in where they can, and the whole thing packs itself up in a nearby shoebox. Draco shrinks it with another spell and tucks it into his duffel bag. Potter’s gun twitched up at him the moment he drew his wand, and Draco resolutely avoids looking at it. “I just need my bag from the other room as well.”
Potter nods and uses the gun to gesture to the door, inviting Draco to lead the way.
He takes two steps toward the door, then turns back and snatches the half-crumpled pack of cigarettes off the nightstand and crams it into his pocket. No fucking way is he facing the oncoming shitstorm without the steady comfort of nicotine. He’d picked up the habit from a Muggleborn boyfriend he’d had a while back. Ditched the boyfriend after a few months but by then the cigarettes were around for good. He’s tried to quit once or twice, but these days he can’t see any reason to give up the most stable relationship he’s had so far in his life. Smoking is a small comfort in the face of everything else, but Draco will take whatever he can get.
He catches Potter giving him a disapproving frown, and Draco ignores it. None of his fucking business what Draco chooses to do, and anyhow Draco’s supposed to be fucking dead right now. Might still be, in the next few days. In any case, it’s not as if Potter’s really got a leg to stand on when it comes to questionable life choices.
Draco sweeps by Potter and into the hall, and indulges in a quick rub of fingertips against where the cold metal of the gun’s silencer kissed his temple. He feels jittery and nauseated, sick with nerves, twitchy with the strain of keeping it all from showing. Potter had pressed the gun sharply to Draco’s skin; Draco wonders if it left a mark. He’s always bruised easily.
By the time he makes it to where he’d dumped his messenger bag on the kitchen floor, his nerves are crawling from keeping his back to Potter. Potter is disconcertingly silent. Despite keeping his ears perked for the slightest sound, Draco only catches the odd footfall here and there, and only then because Potter doesn’t know which creaky floorboards to avoid. He’s half surprised when he makes it to the kitchen without getting shot. He wishes Potter would put the gun away.
Moving slow again, he takes up the bag and loops the strap over his other shoulder. The spicy scent of curry hangs tantalising in the air. It makes Draco’s stomach turn and growl at the same time, hungry and queasy all at once. He got garlic naan to go with it. It’s probably gone soggy in its own steam by now. He thinks of the evening he should have had, sitting on his bed and scooping distracted forkfuls of curry and basmati rice into his mouth with the flimsy plastic fork that came with his supper while browsing through the files he’d taken, maybe cutting them up and adding them to his wall just for something to do while he waited to be caught.
Draco had gambled on the fact that they’d send Potter after him, that their shared history would be enough to make Potter hesitate long enough for Draco to convince him. He still can’t believe it’s actually worked.
He’d been so careful when he took the files, tripping just enough of the security charms to attract attention, circumventing just enough more to look suspicious. Turns out he needn’t have bothered. They’d sent Potter after him too fast for it to have been in response to anything he’d done down in Filing. He wonders what he’d done that tipped them off, if it was just that he was Megan’s partner or if it was something more. For a moment he nearly asks Potter what had got him caught, but bites back the question. Potter won’t know. You don’t bother to explain to a handgun why you’re killing someone; you just point it and pull the trigger.
There’s a click as Potter flips a lightswitch, and Draco finds himself in a small entryway. It’s warm and very cosy, with dark wood floors partly covered by a dark red rug. A wooden bench sits beneath a row of coat pegs, and three pairs of wellingtons are in a neat line beneath that, two practical black pairs and a small pair of red ones nestled between them. A fuzzy red knitted scarf hangs from the farthest peg, even though it’s well into August.
“Leave your things there,” Potter says, pointing to the bench. “I’ll be right back. Don’t move.”
He moves off into the rest of the house before Draco can argue. Not that Draco wants to argue. Frankly, he’s glad to have a minute to himself. Draco drops his bags on the bench and squints into the next room. Potter doesn’t bother to turn on the lights in the rest of the house, so all Draco sees are the shadowy shapes of furniture. He listens for any sound of Potter moving through the dark rooms, but the house is dead silent in that empty sort of way that, if Draco didn’t know better, he’d swear he was alone. He feels strangely vulnerable, standing in the light of the entryway, unable to see or hear where Potter has gone.
He sighs and takes off his glasses to rub his eyes, then puts them back on and rubs a hand through his hair. He rolls his shoulders and paces the length of the small room. The floorboards creak softly beneath his feet.
He’s been digging into the mystery of Potter’s disappearance for so long, first alone and then with Megan and then alone again, that it had taken on something of a fantastical air to it. Like an old familiar daydream suddenly turned reality, and Draco doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
He’d understood that if he ever managed to find Potter, he might have to give up everything. He just hadn’t understood what that would feel like.
Draco glances over at his bags, his whole life packed up small and crammed into canvas. He peers into the darkness of what he presumes is the living room. He listens, but can’t hear anything.
It’s Potter, he thinks, that has him feeling like this. Potter’s always been able to get under his skin, throw his entire world off-balance. Even though he’s doing exactly what Draco hoped he would do—listening to his explanations and helping him blow this case wide open and not killing him, especially the not killing him—he’s so different from the Potter that Draco knew all those years ago and it’s damned unsettling. It’s not just his looks, the unruly black hair shaved down to dark stubble, the trademark black glasses swapped out for a nondescript wire pair. It’s in the way he holds himself now, the air of casual violence that lingers in the wake of his every move. And his eyes, still that brilliant bottle-green, but now as cold and sharp as smashed glass.
All the turbulence of his adolescence, all the death and danger and the Dark Lord himself couldn’t put that look in Potter’s eyes. Draco wonders what finally has. He turns away, paces back down the length of the entryway, and rubs a hand through his hair again.
Draco flinches, turns quickly and finds Potter staring at him. He steps fully out from the shadows of the living room, and Draco sees that he’s not holding the gun in his hand anymore. Draco knows better than to think he’s not got it on him. He has a silvery bundle of faintly shimmery fabric tucked under one arm.
“What’s that?” Draco asks, partly from curiosity, partly to cover his nerves.
“Invisibility Cloak,” Potter says, and frowns at him when Draco gapes. “How else do you expect to smuggle a body out of the hospital with a bunch of Muggles around?”
Draco just shakes his head, still staring at the Cloak. “I’d heard… but I thought it was just a legend. Is that really…?”
Potter shrugs. “Does it matter?”
Of course it bloody well matters, Draco wants to spit back at Potter. He’s got one of the fabled Deathly Hallows right there in his hands, plucked straight out of myth and folklore and as real as anything. Draco was brought up on the Tales of Beedle the Bard, had fantasised about the Cloak and all the things he could do with it, had even played make-believe with one of his bedsheets while indulgent house-elves pretended to be unable to find him. And Potter’s acting as if it’s as common as newts’ eyes.
Probably because to him, it is. The wave of indignation and seething jealousy that wells up in Draco is as warm and familiar as a favorite jumper, and fits him surprisingly well after all these years. He’s been so focused on trying to find Potter again that Draco’s managed to forget how much he hates the stupid bastard sometimes. He doesn’t think that he can respond to Potter without shouting, and if he lets the tenuous thread of his self-control snap, he’s not sure he’ll be able to regain it. He’s barely holding onto his composure as it is. He bites back his words.
“Let’s go,” Potter says again when Draco continues to say nothing.
He takes Draco by the elbow, and Draco doesn’t flinch, and then they’re gone.
“Your glasses, too,” he says.
Draco frowns. “What about my glasses?”
“You can’t wear them in there,” Potter says slowly, over-enunciating each word like he thinks Draco’s being a complete idiot.
Draco is perfectly intelligent, thank you very much, and he’s never taken well to anyone implying otherwise. “Why the fuck not?” he snaps.
“They’re blue,” says Potter, and when Draco just stares at him blankly as he tries to figure out what the fuck that’s got to do with the price of fish, Potter rolls his eyes heavenward and makes an impatient tsk, actually fucking tsks at Draco like somebody’s fucking grandmother. “They stand out. You’re breaking into a hospital to steal a dead body. The last thing you want to do is stand out. You don’t wanna be memorable.”
Draco gives his glasses a defiant nudge back up the bridge of his nose. “Unless you want to take the time to dye my hair, I’m pretty sure I’m already plenty memorable. The glasses won’t make a difference.”
“And, you know, I rather enjoy being able to see properly.”
Potter glares at him for a moment, and Draco stares him down. It’s easier when all Potter’s got in his hands are clothes. Then Potter rolls his eyes again and shoves the Cloak at Draco. He picks up a scrap of paper from the ground and Transfigures it into a name badge and hands that to Draco as well.
“I can’t believe you’re trusting me with this,” Draco says, stroking his fingertips over the Cloak. It’s cool to the touch, the fabric remarkably thin but drapey. It reminds him a little of skimming his fingertips across a pool of water.
He doesn’t realise he’s spoken aloud until Potter snaps at him, “I’m not.”
“You don’t think I’m gonna let you go in alone, do you?”
“No. You’re not coming in with me,” Draco says, raising one hand as if to stop Potter. He thinks better of it before his fingers make contact with Potter’s chest. He can practically feel Potter’s magic crackling through the air around him, which only proves his point. His arm drops back to his side. “You can’t.”
Potter’s eyes narrow. He’d never liked being told what to do back during their short stint as partners, sure as fuck doesn’t like it any better now. “I can’t,” he repeats, slow and challenging.
“You can’t,” Draco repeats, just as slow. “You know that Muggle electricity and machines are susceptible to unstable magic. You’re off-balance from all this…” There’s really no good word to sum up the complete shitstorm they’ve both landed themselves in, so Draco just flaps a hand and skips over it. “And never mind my glasses, I think it’ll be pretty fucking memorable if half the equipment shits the bed at once and patients start dying because of it.”
“And your magic isn’t unstable?” Potter demands. His fingers dig into the soft fabric of Draco’s bundled-up shirt.
“No,” Draco says evenly. “It’s not.”
Potter stares at Draco for long moments, and Draco resists the urge to squirm under that piercing gaze. Then he gives Draco a curt nod. “You get one hour. Then I’m coming after you.”
It sounds like a generous amount of time, but it’s really not. Not when Draco has to figure out a way in, find the mortuary, find a suitable body, and smuggle it back out, all while dodging the Muggle staff. “That might not be enough—”
“One hour,” Potter repeats. “And then I’m coming after you.”
Draco stares at him and sees no room for compromise on this. Potter waiting outside is likely as much bargaining as he’ll be allowed. He swallows and nods. “One hour,” he agrees.
His spine itches right between his shoulder blades when he turns his back to Potter, a corner of his brain still half-anticipating the impact of a bullet. He doesn’t look back, just swings the Cloak over his shoulders and disappears.
The itch between his shoulder blades doesn’t.
Potter didn’t give him directions to the hospital, but it turns out Draco doesn’t need them. He sees it as soon as he steps out of the alley and onto the pavement. The large white stone building takes up most of the block, and when he approaches he can read the words St Bartholomew’s Hospital emblazoned on one wall.
Hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak, it’s easy enough to sneak in on the heels of a Muggle. Once inside it’s a bit trickier to get into the staff areas and find the mortuary. But from there it’s just waiting until he’s alone. It’d be simple to just Obliviate the young woman bent over one of the steel tables. He could have a body and be gone in a matter of minutes. But he’s reluctant to use magic in here. There’s computers and all sorts of Muggle electronics whose delicate insides won’t withstand a spell being cast nearby. Even though the patients down here are all dead and won’t be affected by the electric things suddenly dying, Draco doesn’t want to leave a trail if he doesn’t have to.
So he finds a nice out-of-the-way corner to tuck himself into and settles down to wait.
His time is running alarmingly short when the woman sighs and straightens. Draco’s suddenly alert, watching as she strips off her stretchy white gloves and pitches them into a bin, then leaves the room.
Draco’s on his feet and out of the Cloak as soon as the door’s fallen shut behind her.
He grabs the gurney from where it’s parked against the far wall and wheels it over to the drawers, and goes through three of them before he finds someone he thinks will do. The age and race are totally wrong, and the weight’s a little off, but this bloke’s the right height and Draco really doesn’t want to look through the rest of the drawers, not just because his time is running out. He zips up the black bag again and slides the gurney beside the open drawer.
“Sorry, mate,” he mutters as he grabs the bag and hauls it onto the gurney.
He shoves the drawer shut, tosses the Invisibility Cloak over the body, and makes the unfortunate discovery that the invisibility part of the Cloak only works when it envelops something entirely, and why the fuck didn’t Potter think to mention this little detail?
Draco doesn’t bother wasting effort on swearing, just spreads out the Cloak, bunches it up like a rising curtain, and begins to wrestle it under the body bag little by little.
He’s about halfway done when he hears voices in the hall. He freezes as the murmur of voices and accompanying footsteps draw near and stop outside the mortuary. The knob turns and Draco’s stomach sinks to his toes. Fuck his shitty fucking luck, and fuck Potter, and he’s going to have to Obliviate someone and—
“—really can’t, sorry, I’ve got loads of work.”
A woman’s voice suddenly become clear as the door opens a fraction, and Draco can see her hand curled round the edge of it, short nails, no nail varnish, no jewelry. Practical. He takes out his wand and aims carefully. There’s no way this isn’t going to leave a magical trace, but what choice has he got?
“Come on, Molly,” comes a man’s voice, a bit farther down the hall but still clear. “You know I make the best biscuits.”
Go, Draco thinks, go on, go with him. Go have a biscuit.
“I can’t, sorry,” Molly says again, and the door swings open another inch. Draco tightens his grip on his wand.
“They’re shortbread,” the man says, his voice sing-songy and wheedling.
There’s a pause, and Draco holds his breath as he prays the woman will do what the bloke says and just go have a damned biscuit.
“Shortbread?” she echoes.“I… well, I suppose just one wouldn’t hurt anything.”
“Exactly,” the man says. “And it’s not as if any of your patients are going anywhere, are they?” He laughs at his own joke as the door shuts again, and normally the sort of people who laugh at their own jokes irritate Draco to no end, but in that moment he doesn’t care because biscuit bloke’s just saved Draco’s arse.
He gets the Cloak the rest of the way under the body bag and tucks the front securely closed. The bag disappears and as long as no one touches it, the gurney appears empty. Draco gives it a shove, wistfully thinks of Lightening Charms, and gets the hell out of the mortuary.
It’s easier than he was afraid it’d be to get the body out of the hospital. Only one person questions where he’s taking the empty gurney, and Draco tells him that one of the wheels is loose and he’s taking it for repair. The man buys his story readily enough, and in no time Draco finds himself at the back exit of the hospital. No one’s around, so he hauls the body off the gurney and stashes it behind a skip just outside, gives the gurney a shove back down the hallway, and goes to find Potter.
Upon impact, the bullet would enter Malfoy’s skull and exit the back just below his crown. Given Harry’s preferred handgun model and the size of bullets used, the exit wound would likely be between two and four square inches. All that fucking hair would go with it.
Gunpowder residue on his face and the mirror behind him, which will shatter. Shame about that mirror. It feels like it’s important somehow, like maybe it means something, only Harry’s not capable of getting meaning out of much of anything anymore, so it’s probably moot.
He paces to the mirror and back to the chair, measuring the distance again. Exactly six and a half feet.
“How tall are you?” he asks.
Malfoy gives him a funny look, except nothing’s funny to Harry anymore. “Six-three.”
“Mm,” Harry says. Then, “The glasses’ll fall off.” Fuck those damned glasses. Too obvious and Malfoy won’t get rid of them because even as a dead man walking, he’s concerned about his bloody style. “You keep pushing ‘em up. They’re loose.”
“What?” says Malfoy. He pushes his glasses up again, probably self-consciously.
“You’ve been wearing those a long time?” Harry asks. And for the second time, he points out: “They’re noticeable.”
“I know they’re noticeable,” Malfoy says. “That’s why I got them.”
“When I shoot you, they’re gonna fall off,” Harry says. “You’ll fall backwards into the mirror. Your head will snap to the right ‘cause of the bullet’s momentum and the entrance angle, and they’ll sling off your face when it drops, landing...about there,” he decides, pointing at a spot on the ground near Malfoy’s feet.
Malfoy looks disturbed again. “Can you stop saying you like it’s really going to be me? And how do you know all of this? It’s…” he trails off, mouth firming.
“It’s my job, dumb-arse,” Harry says. He looks at the mirror again. “The cleaners are gonna come anyway,” he says, almost to himself. “They let the Muggles have it most of the time when it’s in a Muggle neighbourhood, but there’s something important about you. They’re gonna come so they can report back. I only do explosions when something’s gone wrong and it might leave a trail. Why would anything go wrong when I kill you?”
“I imagine I would put up a fight,” Malfoy says dryly.
“No, wouldn’t have time,” Harry says. “I don’t hesitate.” He ignores the fact that he hesitated today. Big time. “No, I’ll say my silencer failed. I staged the explosion afterwards so the Muggles wouldn’t think it was a gunshot.”
Malfoy’s face pales, as if he’s imagining the course of his life had Harry really not hesitated today. It would’ve been a very short course. Thinking about life continuing on without you is disturbing. Harry read a Nabokov once and on the first page it was talking about a man who’d seen pictures of a baby carriage taken in his house a few weeks before he was born, and the sickening realisation that he hadn’t existed yet and no one even cared. Maybe that’s what Malfoy’s thinking about right now, that there would be seven billion people who wouldn’t care if his brains were blown out and his guts exploded all over the living room.
Or maybe he’s thinking about the argument they’d had the morning that Harry was summoned down to Level Nine and how neither of them had ever got to grunt out a fake apology to the other before Harry’s life disappeared and his ability to sleep at night went with it.
Or maybe he’s just trying to keep his lunch down with the nauseating stench of formaldehyde and death filling up the house and the body that, now Glamoured, looks exactly like Malfoy. It doesn’t really bother Harry that much, but then again, not much does.
“Go outside and wait for me,” Harry says, and doesn’t examine this strange need to be kind to Malfoy of all people. He doesn’t bother to add, ‘And don’t run off’ because Malfoy’s smarter than that. Malfoy doesn’t move, so Harry stares at him until he does. When the kitchen door slams behind him, Harry turns his attention to the body laying next to the settee. They’re running short on time now. They’d had to stop outside of London to Glamour the body so that the house wouldn’t have any suspicious magical residue anywhere near it when the cleaners come in, and it’s already going on midnight. He hauls the body up to the mirror and tries to figure out the best way to get it to stand up without the use of magic.
It takes him only five seconds to determine that he needs Malfoy to hold it up for him, but another thirty before he can stomach the thought of asking him to come do it. Harry prowls over to the kitchen door and sticks his head out.
“Come back in.”
Malfoy glares at him from his spot at the bottom of the stairs. He’s smoking. He takes another long drag off the cigarette as they continue to stare at one another, the end flashing bright orange and sullen-looking.
“Now,” Harry adds, and Malfoy rolls his eyes, but flicks the cigarette into the shrubs and follows Harry in.
“Come here,” he says. “Need you to hold the body up. The head needs to be at the right spot.”
“Oh, fuck no,” Malfoy says. “I’m not standing here while you aim a gun six inches from my face.”
Harry aims the gun exactly at his face instead, and Malfoy swallows, still looking sullen. Harry clicks the safety off. “You rather I aim it zero inches from your face?” he asks.
Malfoy huffs, but does bend to haul the body up. “Like this?” he asks, as a torso identical to his own flops over his forearm.
“That how you normally walk into a house?” Harry asks. “‘Cause if it’s not, then no, dumb-arse, not like that.”
There are two things that provide Harry with amusement these days. Seeing his godson play Quidditch is one, rare as that is. Seeing his goddaughter dominating a junior fencing match is the other, but getting away to see one of those is just as rare. This moment, watching Malfoy manhandling a dead person who looks exactly like him into a position a living person would take while wearing a scowl that Harry hasn’t seen since fifth year has just become the third item on the list.
“His head won’t stay up,” says Malfoy, who Harry now notes is surprisingly strong. All that Auror training, he supposes. He remembers it being particularly ghastly during Academy.
“He’s dead,” Harry says.
“How am I supposed to get it to stay up without magic?” Malfoy asks.
“Pull it up by your hair.”
“Not my hair,” says Malfoy. “And I thought we decided you were going to stop referring to it as ‘me’ since it’s really not me. It better not be me, Potter.”
“Shut your fucking trap for a minute and just hold his sodding head up by the hair or it will be you, Malfoy.”
Malfoy yanks the white-blond hair up and the man’s pointed face follows, eyes staring vacantly into Harry’s own. Harry studies it for a moment. So this is what Malfoy will look like when he’s dead. Interesting. He raises the gun. Malfoy holds himself and his head as far away from the body as he can, and manages to give Harry a death stare at the same time.
Harry sights the angle, then lowers the gun to take a quick walk around the two Malfoys. Good spot for entering the room, good angle for turning in surprise. Bullet’s still going to shatter that mirror on exit though, and Harry just really doesn’t like that. He does a last check to make sure everything’s in place: Malfoy’s Auror robes are on it, Malfoy’s shoes are on it, Malfoy’s watch in the pocket, his signet ring on the little finger, his receipt from takeaway in the front pocket. Two galleons in the back pocket.
“This isn’t getting any lighter,” Malfoy grunts.
Harry ignores him and goes to sit in the chair he’d occupied when the real Malfoy first walked in. He pulls his knees up onto the cushions and steadies his arm over one leg. He aims at the dead Malfoy.
“Let go as soon as you feel it hit,” Harry says. “We want it to fall as natural as possible.”
Malfoy nods once, stiffly.
Harry fires. The silencer does in fact work, so the only sound is a heavy thump and Malfoy’s sharply indrawn breath. Then the crunch of bone, a wet splatter, fourteen stone of body slamming into a mirror, the crash of shattering glass, and then Harry’s sigh as he begins to unscrew the silencer and put his gun away.
Malfoy’s breathing is still loud. Harry looks up from his position on the floor where he’s zipping up his case. Malfoy has yet to move from the spot he held the body in. He’s staring at the body. There’s a long, chunky streak of blood and brains trailing down the mirror to the body slumped at the bottom. Malfoy’s blood-splattered face looks horrified.
“What?” says Harry. “It was a good shot. They’ll believe it.”
“That’s my face,” Malfoy whispers. “And my hair stuck to the mirror up here.”
Harry follows his gaze. “Even better.”
“I’m going to be sick,” Malfoy whispers.
“Do it in a bag,” Harry advises. “We can’t leave anything here that would be abnormal and we can’t Vanish it.”
“A bag,” Malfoy repeats, voice high.
“Yeah, you got like thirty of ‘em in your kitchen.” Malfoy doesn’t move, so Harry sighs again, stands, and retrieves an old bag of takeaway Indian from the kitchen table. It smells pretty off, and when he hands it to Malfoy, all the colour drains from his face and he sicks up immediately, fortunately into the bag.
Harry takes it from him, knots it up, and loops it around his wrist to dispose of later. “Feel better?”
Malfoy shakes his head and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “No, but I haven’t got anything left to expunge, so I’ll be okay.”
“Good,” says Harry. Malfoy continues to stand there, so Harry adds, “Now go outside and smoke or whatever.”
He goes, and Harry is once again alone with the only company he ever has: dead people. He goes about his business setting up the explosion spells and double checking he’s remembered to stage all the forensics things the cleaners will look for, and then he cranes his head around the kitchen door to make sure that Malfoy is occupied with having a nervous breakdown. He is, so Harry crouches down in front of the body. The signet ring on the little finger is a nice touch, he’ll give Malfoy that, but it won’t be enough to fool forensics.
Fortunately—is anything about Harry’s life fortunate anymore?—he has something they don’t. He closes his eyes and breathes in, remembering the sharp, spiky feel of Malfoy’s magic. It’s like a landscaped hedge of hollys—thorny and prickly and entrancing and unnaturally orderly. So obviously not the way his magic would’ve formed if left to do so on its own. Harry wonders, only for a moment, if the extreme disarray Malfoy lives in is the other swing of the pendulum, the other extreme from how his magic tries to make him, or if this amazing clusterfuck is what his natural balance would’ve looked like on its own.
It’s not hard to call up the memory and feel of Malfoy’s magic. It’s vivid in Harry’s mind; so vivid he can almost feel it rolling over his skin, almost breathe it in. It reminds him of Hogwarts, and Hogwarts is always a good memory, when he can dredge it up. He usually can’t.
Harry sighs, gathers up the feeling of Malfoy’s magic all over his skin, and scours it off, pushing it inside the bloody body before him. He can’t bear the feel of something so nostalgic for very long anyway. The body glows briefly once, and then the replicated magical signature settles into the dead man. Harry stands and wipes the blood on his hands onto his jeans.
Harry’s had a decade to think about what made the Department single him out for this horrid job. He’s certain it was an offhanded comment to then-Head Auror Dawlish: ‘His magical signature is weaker than yesterday,’ he’d said of a suspect. At the time, he hadn’t realised how impossible it was to be able to sense magical signatures without a device or spell.
In the years since he figured out why the Department wanted him, he has always been grateful that they never found out he can spoof them, too.
But he’s never felt this sort of bone-deep exhaustion. It seems strange to him that after everything he’s been through, everything he’s seen and done, this is what makes him want to give up. That after how far he’s come, just one night in Potter’s presence is enough to make him feel like he could quit. Right now, right here in the entryway of this little house. He could just stop and let the rest of the world happen around him. It feels like a fuse in his mind has blown and cut off all his feelings. He thinks he should feel angry. Terrified. Anxious. But instead he feels vacant. Unnaturally calm. He thinks of the people he’s encountered on his Auror cases. Victims with soft voices and that thousand-yard stare that said they’d endured as much as they could. The word ‘shock’ floats at the periphery of Draco’s mind.
“Get your things,” Potter says. “I’ll show you where you’re staying.”
Draco indulges in a quiet sigh but doesn’t say anything because where he’s staying probably involves a bed, and he’s more than ready to be unconscious for a while. He feels like a clock that’s wound down, all the coiled-up tension of earlier gone. He hauls the straps of his bags over his shoulder and trudges after Potter.
Potter flips on the lights this time, and Draco blinks, nudges his glasses back up the bridge of his nose as he looks around. It’s all very cosy in a tastefully quaint sort of way, dark wood furniture draped with cheerful knitted throw blankets and coordinating accent pillows, several potted plants near the brightly-curtained windows, framed photos and an assortment of knick-knacks on the mantle. They seem like a random collection until it clicks that they’re all travel souvenirs: a small porcelain Venus de Milo, a little blue and white china creamer in the shape of a cow, a tiny flamenco dancer in a red dress, a metal miniature of the Eiffel Tower, a teacup painted with the Acropolis.
Draco makes a slight detour round the armchair to get a better look at a set of photos on the bookshelf, and isn’t at all surprised to see Granger and Weasley and a small bushy-haired ginger girl he assumes is their offspring. In a smaller frame off to the side is a photo of the small girl with Potter. She’s barely out of infancy in this photo, and seated on Potter’s lap. He cradles her in his hands to hold her steady, and there’s an almost-smile on his face that grows warm and fond when he looks down at the girl. He looks more like the Potter that Draco remembers from Hogwarts, the one who sat across the Great Hall and laughed with his friends. Draco wonders how long ago this photo was taken, if that version of Potter is gone for good or just buried deep.
Across the room, Potter makes an impatient noise, but Draco doesn’t have it in him to be hurried. He nudges the corner of the frame, straightening it so it lines up with the others, and looks up. “What’s her name?”
Draco had hoped maybe asking about the girl might spark even just a flicker of that warmth he saw in photo-Potter’s eyes. A hint of a smile. Any sort of reaction that shows Potter cares about something.
The reaction he gets isn’t the one he wanted. Potter’s eyes narrow, his expression shutters, goes hard and cold. He reaches behind himself without looking, turns a knob, and pushes a door open.
“You’re staying here,” he says. “We leave in the morning. Don’t use magic. I don’t want anything to lead back to Ron and Hermione.” He doesn’t mention the girl, probably making a point of it because Draco had asked about her.
Draco shrugs. “I was just asking,” he says, ignoring Potter’s terse instructions, “because you look close to her. She’s Weasley and Granger’s child. I’d imagine they’d have named you godfather.”
“We’re not talking about this,” says Potter.
Draco searches his face for something, some small sign of compassion or caring or anything, then mentally berates himself, because how open about his emotions would he be if he were a hired killer?
“Fine, fine,” he says, walking to his room. Exhaustion overwhelms his curiosity again. “Goodnight, then.”
“I’ve set the wards. You won’t be able to leave,” Potter tells him, then turns and disappears down the hall.
Draco goes into his room, dumps his bags on the floor, and closes the door. There’s no lock on the inside, not that a lock could stop Potter. Still, Draco thinks he might feel better if the door locked. He might also feel better if he had even the slightest bit of evidence that the man down the hall from him was anything other than a killer, that there’s even the smallest bit of humanity left in him. Potter’s all he’s got right now. If Draco has to trust someone with his life, he’d prefer to know there’s at least an ounce of humanity left in them. Trusting someone like the person Potter has become, who’s all rough edges, cold and hard and angry by turns, well… it’s not exactly reassuring.
“Fuck,” he mutters to himself. His head feels stuffed with wool, his thoughts slow and sluggish, his body heavy. His mental crisis about going on the run with a hired killer will have to wait until morning. He just doesn’t have the capacity to deal with it right now.
He’s too tired to even bother getting ready for bed properly, just kicks off his shoes, strips off his trousers, tosses his glasses onto the nightstand, and flops down on top of the quilt. He snags the corner, rolls over to wrap himself in it, and drops into sleep between one breath and the next.
She’s on the covers of magazines all the time; somehow, in the months after the War, she became a femme fatale in the eyes of the wizarding world, and that title never really went away. Pureblood girls copy whatever cloak she wears during the season; Muggle girls wear her brand of jeans; all of them spell their hair like Hermione’s when they aren’t around their parents. The name Hermione has turned up seven times in the Magical Birth Registry in this year alone. So it really shouldn’t have surprised any of them that when a couple of pureblood girls saw her chatting on a ‘Mobile Floo’, they needed one, too.
Harry, for his part, hates the motherfuckers.
His handler requires it nonetheless.
“Hello Snow,” they say upon answering. Harry grunts in reply. They go through the song and dance of verifying one another’s identities and then V says, “Did you do it?”
“It’s done,” Harry says.
“Quicker than you thought it would be.”
“Hmm,” Harry says. “I suppose.” He stares out at the dark gravelled beach across the road. He tries to remember if he’s ever been swimming in the ocean.
On the other end, V sighs into the receiver. “Alright, Snow. Take your two weeks.”
Harry grunts again and disconnects. It’s late, but he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to sleep. He does well enough on an hour or two of sleep a night. With every year that passes, his requirement for human things becomes less and less. He’s sure one day he’ll wake up and never even need to piss again. For a long time, Harry sits out on Ron and Hermione’s holiday house porch and watches the waves come in over Tintagel.
When Rosie was a baby, he’d played with her in the water just over there. He remembers her squealing, red curls plastered to her head and brown eyes huge and delighted. Had he gone into the water then? Yes, he must have. That was when he was still trying to hold onto his humanity. It’s been a long time since he’s bothered with that. He doesn’t know what he’s doing right now. With Malfoy, with the Ministry, with anything. It feels like something a human would do, and he’s definitely not one of those anymore.
Sometime after four, when civil twilight is starting to make an effort at showing up, Harry heaves himself to his feet and goes back inside. The light is out in Malfoy’s room. That’s good. At least one of them will be human in the morning.
Just as he’s flushing the last of his hair down the toilet, his mobile buzzes. Harry freezes. It isn’t often that he gets a text message, and when he does, it’s always important. He locks the bathroom door even though he knows Malfoy’s still sleeping, and pulls the phone from his pocket.
Dept knows it’s not M, the text reads.
Harry experiences the sudden and dizzying feel of his stomach falling several stories, just like Number Forty-One’s body did when it fell from the broom. How? he texts back.
The response, when it comes, is only one word, but there is more power in that one word than in any firefight, whether with wands or guns.
“Oh, fuck,” Harry whispers.
And yet, V hasn’t called him, and that’s seriously worrying. Adrenaline surges in his veins and his head clears of all extraneous thought until the only things he can process are those related to this situation, what it means, and how he’s going to get him and Malfoy out of it. Because if the Department knows he hasn’t really killed Malfoy, and they haven’t bothered to tell him so, then they also know he set up the scene on purpose, and that means they know he’s a traitor now.
If he’s a traitor now, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Department to also extrapolate that he’s been a traitor before, but—no. That’s unimportant. What’s important is that he knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’s been set-up. And further—if they’ve found the body and tested the aura, then they also know that one of them can do some funky shit with magical signatures.
Killing an Auror—that’s a capital offence, punishable by a public Kissing. It’s not the only reason Harry always refused to take hits on Aurors and cops, but it was one of them. Another was a deeply ingrained feeling of loyalty to a department he never really got to be a part of. And anyway, the only thing worse than being Kissed is having that agony put on display for all of the wizarding world, so they can watch you scream and writhe and lose control of your bowels when your soul leaves you and your body forgets that it’s meant to sustain.
But the thing is, Harry’s in quite a quandary now. There are only two ways a Trace comes off a wizard. The first one’s easy enough: the caster removes it. The second is less easy: the wizard dies. When the wizard dies, his magic dies, and then there’s nothing left to attach a Trace to. He’s sitting in Ron and Hermione’s holiday house with a ticking bomb. The longer Malfoy’s alive, the closer the Tracers in the Department will come to finding them, and then they will be found.
So if he’s being set up, he has to assume that someone’s going to rat him out if he kills Malfoy. And if he doesn’t kill Malfoy, he’s putting his family in danger.
Fuck it, he thinks, and pulls his gun from his jacket. His life is meaningless anyway. So what if he’s being set up? He’ll just take Malfoy out, then take himself out, too, then Ron, Hermione, Rosie, and Teddy will all be safe. He doesn’t even know why he’s been putting it off. It’s not like he ever expected to be anything ridiculous like redeemed, even though lately he had been—well, that’s unimportant.
He reaches for the doorknob. Down the hall, the sound of a poorly hummed rendition of a Kooks song emanates from Malfoy’s bedroom. Muggle music. What kind of magical terrorist listens to Muggle music? It’s a song that Ron sings sometimes, and it always surprises Harry because you’d never think to look at him that Ron could sing, but then he does and it just blows all of them away every time. Even Hermione always looks at him differently when he sings.
Later. Harry will shoot him later. He just needs a minute. He slips from the bathroom and into the kitchen, silent as death. Fuck, he is so utterly fucked.
It feels like too much, the explosion and his faked death and the total destruction of his entire life to date. He wonders if the Ministry’s identified the body as him or if they’ve worked out it’s a Muggle. He wonders if anyone’s told his mother yet. Fucking hell, how is this his life? It feels like something out of a wireless drama.
He takes a moment to remind himself that he’s been through worse than this. Seen worse. Done worse. He survived a war. He can survive this too.
“Come on, Malfoy, keep it together,” Draco murmurs to himself, rubbing a hand through his hair. It feels lank and in need of a wash.
He drags himself out of bed, tosses the rumpled quilt sort-of back into place, and digs in his duffel bag for clothes. The house is quiet when he steps out of his bedroom. There’s no sign of Potter, but that doesn’t mean anything, and Draco doesn’t bother to look for him. He searches for a shower instead, and it doesn’t take long to find the bathroom.
Draco turns the water up as hot as he can stand, hot enough to sting and turn his skin pink. He closes his eyes and lets it wash over him, tries to imagine the water washing away his tension. But last night’s events keep replaying through his mind, the explosion they rigged at his house, his entire life in ruins and burning right before his eyes. The Muggle wearing his face with a hole through it, the blood and brains spattered across the broken mirror, his own face pale and slack and dotted with blood reflected back at him a dozen times in the cracked glass. The sudden nausea when it sank in how fucking close it’d come to that body being him. He feels sick now, light-headed and reeling. He crouches down, puts his forehead between his knees, and lets the water pound onto his back until it goes tepid.
He straightens up and turns off the water. He wonders if Potter’s already cleaned up for the day, then decides he really doesn’t give a fuck whether Potter’s forced to take a cold shower. He feels marginally better as he towels off and gets dressed, and is grateful that his little breakdown happened in the privacy of the shower because he sees the looks that Potter gives him, hears the irritation in his voice. He views Draco as a liability, as dead weight. The fact that he needs Draco for all the inside knowledge he’s spent the past decade digging up, well, that just makes Potter resent him all the more. Draco doesn’t need to be giving Potter any more reason to think he’s weak or useless. It was bad enough that he’d thrown up in front of him last night, though Draco thinks that he might’ve been able to hold it together if Potter hadn’t shoved a bag of rancid takeaway right under his nose.
Draco takes a moment to draw in a couple of slow, deep breaths, holding the steamy air in his lungs for a few seconds before blowing it slowly out. It’s not as calming as a cigarette would be, but it’ll do.
Back in his room, he gets his glasses from the nightstand, jams yesterday’s clothes into his bag, and does a less half-arsed job of making the bed. Then he goes to find Potter.
He’s sitting at the kitchen table with a half-empty cup of coffee in front of him. There’s still some left in the pot, so Draco pours himself a cup before he sits down across from Potter.
“We’re leaving,” Potter tells him without preamble.
Draco accidentally inhales the sip of coffee he’d just taken. He manages to clear his throat with a minimum of coughing and sputtering and says, “What?”
Potter gives him that look again, the one that says that he thinks Draco’s next to useless. “We’re leaving,” he repeats slowly. “Today.”
“Why?” Draco asks. “I mean, why can’t we just stay here? Your friends have kept the secret of your disappearance for years, so clearly you trust them—”
Draco breaks off as it belatedly clicks. It’s not his friends that Potter doesn’t trust; it’s Draco. Of course it is. All the history and bad blood between them comes rushing back in an instant, weighing down on Draco’s shoulders. He thinks it shouldn’t rankle nearly this much. He and Potter were never anything to each other, but fucking hell, Draco’s just given up his entire life and torched every bridge behind him. He’d have thought that’d entitle him to a little bit of trust. He picks up his cup, intending to keep his mouth occupied with coffee until he can trust himself to speak.
“Got nothing to do with trust,” Potter says. “There’s a Trace on you.”
Draco freezes with his coffee cup halfway to his mouth. “What?”
“There’s a Trace,” Potter repeats. “On you.”
It says something about Draco’s frame of mind, he thinks, that he’s not even the least bit irritated that Potter’s doing that talking-to-an-idiot thing with him again. It’s like there’s an unspoken ‘dumb-arse’ following every sentence.
Draco’s hands tighten around the cup and he very gently sets it back on the table. “How do we get rid of it?”
“The caster takes it off, which I don’t reckon they’re inclined to do.” His eyes are sharp and chilling as they meet Draco’s. “Or you die.” He pulls an exasperated face then, mocking what Draco feels is a very legitimate concern, given the circumstances. “Don’t look at me like that, Malfoy. If I was gonna kill you, I’d’ve done it last night while you were sleeping.”
There’s a certain distance in Potter’s stare that makes Draco wonder just how close it came to working out like that. Draco wonders why he decided not to do it. He forces himself to pick up his cup again and take a sip.
“Right,” he says. “So they know I’m still alive. And that means the scene we set up yesterday tipped them off that you’ve gone rogue.” And there’s his answer. If they know Potter’s not on their side, then Potter’s got nothing to go back to. Killing Draco at this point wouldn’t solve anything. The coffee feels like it’s eating at his stomach, and he pushes the cup away. “Do they know where I am? Can they tell that through the Trace, I mean?”
Potter shakes his head. “Don’t work like that. They know you’re alive, cause the Trace is still working. But it takes time to work out an exact location. Hermione’s got good wards here. Should muddy things up enough that it’d be hard to find you. Gimme your wand.”
“My wand?” Draco’s hand automatically goes to his sleeve where he keeps his wand holstered. “Look, I get that you don’t trust me, but—”
“Told you already, got nothing to do with trust,” Potter snaps at him. “Every time you do magic it echoes back down through the Trace. Makes it easier to find you. We leave now, move around a lot, you gimme your wand, we might—might—get through this alive.”
“No,” Draco says. “What if they do find us, then what? I have to run to you to protect me? I keep my wand. Believe me, I’ve got enough reason to keep from using it, seeing as how it’ll get me dead if I do.”
Potter just looks at him, then gives him a curt nod. He finishes the last of his coffee, then takes his cup and Draco’s to the sink where he cleans them with a few spells and puts them back in the cabinet.
“I don’t understand why we can’t just stay here,” Draco says. “At least for a little while, at least long enough to plan out what we’re going to do next. You said the wards are good—”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Potter snaps at him. “You got a lot of people that want you dead. And now they’re after me too because I didn’t do what I was supposed to and kill you when I should’ve. Took enough risks staying here last night. Last thing I wanna do’s stay here longer. I can’t drag Ron and Hermione into this, and Rosie…” He bites off his words and turns away. “Get your things.”
Draco watches helplessly as Potter goes stomping away down the hall. Weak, a corner of his mind whispers to him. Useless. He’d got Megan killed because he hadn’t been careful enough and now he’s repeating his same mistakes. He didn’t even think to consider the danger to others. It’s been so long since Draco thought of anyone other than himself, and even he’s expendable under the right conditions. It’s no wonder that Potter’s irritated with him.
Draco shoves his chair back and goes to his room, loops the strap of his messenger bag over his shoulder and takes up his duffel bag, pauses to give the room a quick once-over before he goes back out to find Potter.
Potter’s waiting by the door with a knapsack slung over one shoulder. “Got everything?”
Draco nods, and Potter leads the way outside. The morning light is soft and cool, diffused through the hazy layer of fog that hasn’t quite burned off yet. The Weasley-Granger’s cottage is the only one within view, and the countryside around him as far as Draco can see is lushly green in a way that reminds him of Wiltshire.
“Where are we?” Draco asks, hopping over a flower bed planted with zinnias.
“Nowhere we’re gonna be for very long,” Potter tells him, heading across the garden.
“If we’re not going to be here for very long then what does it matter if you tell me?” Draco asks, trying for reason.
Potter just grunts at him like some sort of inarticulate caveman and continues tromping through the dewy grass toward a large shed.
“If we’re driving, I’m probably going to see signs,” Draco points out. Unless Potter plans to blindfold him or lock him in the boot, he’s tempted to add, but doesn’t want to give Potter any ideas. He settles for adding, “I can read, you know.”
“Cornwall,” Potter says shortly. “We’re in Cornwall. And soon we won’t be.”
“Where are we going?” Draco asks, jogging a few steps to catch up with Potter.
Potter barely pauses to flick a glance at him. “I’m sure there’ll be signs. Since you can read and all.”
Draco resists the urge to respond to Potter’s sarcasm in kind. Sniping at each other won’t make this situation any easier on either of them. But since Potter’s back is to him, Draco lets himself roll his eyes.
They reach the shed and Potter hauls the door open, gesturing for Draco to go inside before him. Though it makes Draco twitchy to have Potter at his back, he doesn’t argue about it. His attention stays focused behind him, listening for any sound that Potter might make, half his brain waiting to hear the click of a gun being cocked. This inattention is why he misses the slight waver of magic as he steps across the doorway of the shed.
It’s always disorienting as fuck to step into something that’s bigger on the inside, even worse when he’s not expecting it. On the outside, it’s just a shed, maybe a little larger than he might expect a shed to be, but still common as newts’ eyes. But on the inside it’s one of the nicest garages Draco’s had the pleasure to step foot in.
He barely has the presence of mind to step aside for Potter to follow him in, because right before him is an MGB in British racing green. It’s in gorgeous condition, its paint gleaming under the garage lights and unmarred by so much as a fingerprint, with a black leather interior and glistening chrome wheels.
There are other cars, too—a Toyota SUV, a Peugeot and a Volkswagen, and off to one side is a battered black motorbike with a sidecar—but Draco barely spares them a glance. The MGB is what holds his attention.
Draco circles it slowly, and drags the tip of his finger over the curve of the left headlight. He notices Potter looking at him oddly. “What?”
“Most people don’t look at their spouse the way you’re looking at that thing.” Potter shakes his head. “Never would’ve guessed you’d be interested in cars.”
“I worked a case my third year as an Auror,” Draco says, continuing his circuit, trailing his fingertips lightly over the MGB’s fender. “Couple of wizards thought it’d be funny to enchant Muggle cars to do all sorts of strange things. Misuse of Muggle Artefacts had the case until the steering wheel in one of the cars turned into a devil’s food cake while they were on the motorway. Two people were killed, three more injured. I learned to drive after that and…” He shrugs. “I just like cars.”
He doesn’t mention that he’d met his then-boyfriend through one of the many interviews he’d done for that case. Vintage cars were something of a passion for… Alec? Adam? Something starting with an A. Funny how Draco can hardly remember the bloke’s name, but he remembers every detail of the 1966 Sunbeam Tiger he’d learned to drive in. He gives a mental shrug and lets it go. He doesn’t much like thinking about how many of his mannerisms and interests were picked up from past relationships.
“So, we’ll be taking this one?” Draco asks without much hope. He’s pretty sure he already knows the answer to that.
Sure enough, Potter gives him a scathing look and walks over to where the Toyota RAV4 sits at the other end of the garage. It looks sturdy, reliable, and, with its subdued dark blue paint, utterly unremarkable. Draco frowns as he lets his eyes sweep over the compact SUV. He’s never much cared for large cars like this, and compact SUV is an oxymoron that pisses him right the fuck off. The MGB is much more his speed, but he knows Potter won’t go for it so he doesn’t bother to argue.
“You and memorable,” Draco mutters. “Well. At least this one matches my glasses.”
Potter gives him a sour look that cheers Draco considerably. “Get in,” he says.
“I can drive, if you’d like,” Draco offers.
“You got a license?” Potter shoots back at him, and doesn’t even pause for an answer as he swings open the driver’s side door and climbs in.
“Yes,” Draco tells him. He’d got it after moving into his Muggle house so he could drive regularly without worrying about upsetting the Muggle authorities. It’s much more fun than traveling by Floo and makes him far less queasy than Apparition. His own car is a battered old Ford in nondescript silver. Potter would probably love it.
“Well,” Potter says after moment. He was clearly expecting Draco to say no. “You don’t know where we’re going. Get in.”
“Fine,” Draco says. He tosses his duffel bag in the back, drops his messenger bag in the front footwell and buckles himself in. Driving this ugly thing isn’t worth arguing about. Now, if Potter had listened to Draco about taking the MGB they’d be having an entirely different conversation.
Draco gives the car’s sleek green curves a last longing look as Potter starts up the SUV and pulls out of the garage, which wavers and pops back into a shed as soon as they pass through the doorway. Potter closes it up behind them with a wave of his wand, and then they’re pulling out onto the road.
Every last trace of Potter’s body language is broadcasting the same message. His eyes focused relentlessly forward, the tight clench of his jaw, the tense set of his shoulders, the way his hands curl around the steering wheel, all of it says I don’t want to talk. Draco wonders if it’s because of him that Potter’s like this, or if Potter’s just like this around everyone now. For a moment he’s tempted to push him—he bets Potter would have an absolute fit if Draco tried to have a cigarette right now—but instead Draco gropes beneath his seat, finds the lever, and slides the seat back as far as it’ll go, both to give himself some extra legroom, and also to get himself out of Potter’s peripheral vision.
It’s fascinating how quickly Potter relaxes. Not much, to be sure, but his grip on the steering wheel eases so his knuckles no longer stand out white. Draco lets his gaze slide up, over Potter’s wrist and up his arm, following it all the way to his shoulder where his gaze slips up to Potter’s face, taking advantage of this quiet moment to really look at him.
He’s so different from how Draco remembers him, and it seems strange how big a difference a new set of glasses and a haircut can make. There’s a small scar near the hairline on Potter’s left temple, and Draco wonders whether it’s recent or if it’s always been there and just been hidden by Potter’s messy hair. Potter’s other scar, the famous one, has faded almost entirely.
Draco chews at his thumbnail, a habit that’s always annoyed him to no end when other people do it, and annoys him even more when he does it himself. He stares out the window without really seeing the passing scenery. He wonders how Potter sees him, whether he looks so different to Potter as well.
He sneaks a glance at himself in the sideview mirror: the blue-framed glasses catch his attention first, and then his pale hair falling softly over his forehead. It always catches him a bit off-guard how old he looks. Somewhere deep in Draco’s brain, he always expects to see himself as he was years ago, just barely into his twenties and still brimming with youthful optimism and enthusiasm and determination to make a difference. That was well before he really began to dig into the mystery of Potter’s disappearance. Before he discovered just how deep the rabbit-hole went.
These days, he mostly just looks tired.
Draco glances over at Potter again, who’s still staring determinedly ahead. He wonders how different things would be if he and Potter had stayed partners. Whether they would have learned to get along. Whether Draco ever would have found out the things he knows, or if he would’ve gone through his life, innocent and blissfully unaware. He wonders whether Potter would still know how to smile. Whether either of them would have been happy. He likes to think they would have been, because he’s pretty sure neither of them know how anymore.
With a small sigh, he turns back to stare out the window. It’s pointless to think about these things. This is the path his life has taken. It won’t do him any good to ponder what other paths he might have gone down.
Harry nearly swerves into the auxiliary lane. He recovers soon enough and ignores Malfoy. Malfoy refuses to be ignored.
“I asked you a question, Potter.”
“So answer it.”
“Do it,” Malfoy says. “Tell me.”
“Not gonna tell you.”
“Why not? Are you a coward?”
Harry grits his teeth. “Not a fucking coward, just not gonna tell you.”
Malfoy is silent for a brief moment. Then he says, “Well, why do you think you got recruited to murder people?”
Harry doesn’t like this question any better than the last, but maybe if he gives Malfoy something, he’ll shut up. So he says, “I’ve got this talent thing. I can sort of smell other people’s magical signatures. Not smell, exactly, but I think I sense ‘em in the same way as I smell things or hear things or touch things. Just know it, I guess.” He glances at Malfoy to find him staring back at Harry with wide eyes. Harry turns back to the road, swallowing uncomfortably. “Anyway, suppose that’s why they wanted me. Nice skill for a Hit Wizard to have, knowing he’s got the right person before he kills ‘em.”
“I guess so,” Malfoy says. Harry thinks this’ll be the end of it it, but then Malfoy says, “How many people did you say you’ve slaughtered?”
Harry grips the steering wheel tighter and grits out, “Not gonna fuckin’ tell you.”
Malfoy gives up—not without huffing—and they somehow make it the remaining three and a half hours to one of Harry’s preferred hiding spots in Clocaenog Forest without speaking another word to one another. It’s a beautiful thing. There’s a part of Harry that toys with the idea of turning right instead of left and heading for the Forest of Dean, but the Harry that camped there doesn’t exist anymore. He died right next to Number One. And anyway, the farther away from the Ministry they are, the harder it’ll be to locate them.
Harry parks the car away from the road, under the cover of some trees and shrubs that’ll probably drop paint-stripping berries onto the bonnet.
“What are we doing?” Malfoy says when Harry turns off the engine.
Malfoy rolls his eyes, grabs his bag, and exits. Harry will give him this at least: Malfoy is very light of step. He manoeuvers through the woods, over leaves and fallen branches, with barely a sound. His awareness of his own surroundings is immediately apparent, and Harry wonders why he never really noticed this in school, because now that he thinks on it, this isn’t something Malfoy learned in the Academy; it’s something he’s always had.
Not so for Harry; he didn’t learn the necessity of such a thing until after the clusterfuck of Number Three. Or rather, Mouse made sure he learned it after that. He thinks maybe that was about the point that he really shut it all down, really made the effort to become un-human. Funny that just when he was ready to give up on his humanity, someone came along who knew all about his atrocities and still didn’t want to give up on him.
Harry chooses a spot for the tent based on eight criteria that he refuses to share with Malfoy because he’s not stupid. Hunted or not, Malfoy’s a former Auror and an eternal Slytherin: he’ll always be dangerous.
By now, the spells to anchor wards to three trees come as naturally to him as taking a leak. He remembers the concentrated look Hermione always wore when she was lining the spells up and somewhere in his chest, he feels a twinge. Probably heartburn. He has a bad stomach these days. Malfoy shivers when the wards activate, which is a good sign because Harry’s so accustomed to the feel of his own magic that sometimes he can’t even tell when it’s being used.
“Isn’t that a bit paranoid?” Malfoy asks when Harry sets the third ward.
“Paranoid’s saved my arse more than once.”
“Whatever,” says Malfoy.
Harry drops his sack to the forest floor and shoves an arm in, feeling around the bottomless bag for something resembling his tent. Hermione’s bags have improved since her first beaded one during the War, but Harry still uses one of her earliest prototypes and it doesn’t have the shelving and locating spells embedded in it like her newer ones do.
The tent itself isn’t hard to set up alone, especially after having done it so often in his life, but it might’ve been nice if Malfoy had even made a perfunctory gesture of offering to help, but no, he just stands in the goddamned clearing with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at a couple of red squirrels fucking in one of the conifer trees.
Finally, he gets the tent up and ducks through the door, heading straight for his bed in the corner. Harry drops down on it and just sits there for a minute, too mentally exhausted by this situation and his life and Malfoy to expend the effort to even lay down. The wall facing his camp bed hasn’t changed in the ten years Harry’s been using this model. It’s wide and empty, like Malfoy’s bedroom wall had looked after he packed up his Wall of Crazy. He blinks heavily, trying to remember if he’s had a combined total of six hours of sleep in the past week. No, probably not.
The tent flap rustles a few minutes later. Malfoy’s pointy face peeks in, his eyes widen fractionally—Harry only notices because of his hours logged behind a sniper rifle—and he steps fully inside.
“Nice place,” Malfoy says.
Harry grunts. “Keeps the rain off.”
Malfoy sits down on the bed across. Harry can feel his eyes on him but he doesn’t look over, not until the sensation becomes almost like a crawling over his skin. Their eyes meet. In this lighting, Malfoy’s got the greyest eyes Harry’s ever seen. He blinks rapidly, taken aback. This whole situation is making him batty. Ten years Harry’s been on his own, never having more than an hour of conversation with anyone over the span of several months, and most of that with people he’s later killed, and now he’s had Malfoy within throwing distance for twenty-four hours.
“I’m hungry,” Malfoy says.
Right, hunger. Too human a feeling for Harry most days. He tips his head towards the icebox. “Should be something in there,” he says.
Malfoy crosses to the kitchenette and begins pawing through everything. Even from this distance, Harry can see he’s unimpressed with the offerings, but then again, when has Malfoy ever been impressed with anything that wasn’t his father?
“There’s no crisps,” Malfoy points out.
“Wouldn’t be,” Harry says, staring at his wall again. “I don’t eat ‘em.”
“Who doesn’t eat crisps?” Malfoy says. Harry can hear the curl in his upper lip without bothering to turn and look at it. “Besides women, I mean.”
“Me,” Harry says.
Cabinets open and shut again. “No biscuits, either.”
“Don’t eat those, either.”
“Malfoy, there’s some hummus in the icebox. Just eat the fucking hummus.”
“I don’t like hummus,” Malfoy snaps.
Harry cranes his neck around. “Then starve for all I care, you annoying wanker.”
Malfoy huffs. A few minutes later, he returns to his bed with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon. He fits three spoonfuls into his mouth, staring at Harry all the while, before Harry can’t take it anymore. Watching Malfoy eat is going to send him right over the edge.
“You know how much saturated fat is in that? Everything in moderation, you idiot.”
Malfoy shrugs and sticks another spoonful of peanut butter in his mouth. “I have a high metabolism.”
“Won’t have one if I kill you.”
“Won’t need one then,” Malfoy replies.
Harry huffs. He can’t even deal with Malfoy right now, not if he plans on staying sane, which he needs to do in order to get them both through this mess. Which reminds him: “What’ve you got in all those files?”
Malfoy slants his eyes at him, lips wrapped indecently around the spoon. He pulls it out and then stands to retrieve his things and drop the spoon in the sink. When Malfoy returns to his bed, he upends the entire shoebox on it, papers, files, photographs, evidence bags, all tumbling to the duvet.
“You’ll be unsurprised to learn that what got me started on this, ah, quest, was being pissed off.”
Harry snorts. “Not surprised,” he agrees.
Malfoy almost smiles at him. “Well, I was. And rightly so. We’d only been partners for fifteen sodding days before they snatched you away from me. Like I wasn’t good enough to be the fucking Boy Who Lived’s partner, despite all of those ridiculous magic aptitude tests that said we were obnoxiously compatible for working with one another. I remember Weasley being so hot that I scored a ninety-eight-point-seven per cent match with you and he only got a sixty-four-point-one.”
“The point, Malfoy,” Harry says because he remembers that day, the day announcements were made, and it was such a good day, right up until that announcement. And even after it, Harry’d been miffed, but he’d still be so goddamn happy that he’d made Auror, even Malfoy couldn’t bring him down from the high of it. He doesn’t like to think of things like that, things from when he was a person.
“They wouldn’t tell me what happened to you,” Malfoy says. “I was there with you on that mission. I know it didn’t go wrong. You didn’t get hurt. You weren’t in a private room at St Mungo’s with deathly injuries. You were my fucking partner, and I knew you were fucking right as rain, and they knew I knew it, but no one would tell me a damned thing.
“They put me with Megan next—we were an eighty-nine-even per cent match—but when you never showed up in public again, I started to dig. Funny things came up...a lot of funny things.”
And this is when Malfoy stops and sits down next to his pile of things. He stares at Harry with these weird eyes, like they’re making connections even now, and those connections have to do with Harry. He shifts uncomfortably on the bed, and frowns at Malfoy. “Like what?”
“Like that not long after you disappeared, so did the Director of the Floo Network Authority.”
Harry freezes. Sylvia Herringbone was a bad person. She was stealing money from Floo taxes and funneling it into an extremist organisation bent on destroying magical government. He doesn’t tell Malfoy this, though. He doesn’t want to give him any ideas, doesn’t want him to know how far gone some people are; how willing they are to destroy the lives of countless other people for some fucking vague ideal of a “greater good”.
Fuck Greater Goods.
He grunts and turns away from Malfoy, suddenly exhausted. “We should sleep. Need to be rested in case we have to move quick.”
The following two days follow in much the same manner. Harry leaves in the mornings to get some fishing in so that have shit to eat, although Malfoy won’t eat fish because he’s a dipshit. At night, Malfoy is annoyingly chatty. He talks about things that happened when they were in Academy together, about people they were in Academy with. He talks about Kingsley and Dawlish and Megan Jones, whose name makes Harry’s stomach curl every time he hears it now. He’s already killed an Auror, and he hadn’t even known it. The Department told him to kill an Auror, and he did it because he always does what they say. He didn’t even try to look into her background; just took her undercover disguise—a purveyor of illegal potions that had killed three children—at face value. They tell him the people he’s killing are bad, and he believes them because he doesn’t have the energy anymore to fact-check.
How could the Ministry have tasked him with taking out one of their own Aurors? It just doesn’t make sense to him. And another—Malfoy—Number Forty-Two, or he would’ve been. There’s something ironic about that number. Harry hates when Malfoy talks about Megan.
But most of all, he hates when Malfoy talks about Ron. He hates that Malfoy’s spoken to Ron more times than Harry has this decade. He hates that Ron signs off on Malfoy’s reports (or did, anyway) and not Harry’s reports. In another world, Ron would have been Harry’s reporting officer, too. He’s been Deputy Head Auror for two years now, and it was six months before Harry even found out about it, as he’d been in Malaysia for a year and a half tracking and taking down a magical human trafficker.
Every now and then, Malfoy will slide past Harry in the tight confines of the tent and his hand will land on the lower part of Harry’s back as he does it. It sends weird shivers up Harry’s spine. Weird shivers he hasn’t felt in a hell of a long time, and certainly not for a Malfoy and certainly not for a man, so it can’t possibly mean what he first thinks it means. That’s just stupid.
Like Malfoy. Malfoy goes through Harry’s entire stash of peanut butter and lager, flatly refusing to eat any of the fish Harry catches to cook. In truth, Harry’s not usually hungry, but fishing gives him an excuse to get away from the tent—and from Malfoy. He never thought he’d have the patience for a task as monotonous as fishing, but these days, he finds it gives him a few moments to think of absolutely nothing at all—and when your life is like Harry’s, that’s a rare pleasure indeed.
He goes out early the third morning at camp, ignoring Malfoy’s bitchy ‘Where are you going?’ and finding himself a spot he likes at the lake. It’s after noon by the time he convinces himself to go back. The fish aren’t biting anyway. Being around Malfoy is...uncomfortable. Oddly uncomfortable. Harry’s not the type to feel uncomfortable, but there’s something about Malfoy that’s baked his brain like a damned pot roast, and he’s all peas-and-carrots upstairs.
It’s not like he wants to spend more time with Malfoy, but even he can’t take more than five hours or so with only himself for company. Maybe if they just focus on planning what to do with all this evidence Malfoy’s found, he can get through it.
No, the point of contention between them is the cooking. More precisely, Potter’s cooking. Somewhere over the years, he’s become some sort of health-obsessed nutter in the kitchen, which is absolutely ridiculous because Draco clearly remembers him loading up his plate with bacon every morning at Hogwarts, and god, Draco would just about kill for bacon right now. But Potter’s the one who organized their food supply and there’s none to be found.
There’s plenty of leafy green shit, though. Loads of vegetables and fruits and all-natural this and whole grain that and low-fat everything else. Just that morning, Potter had set a bowl of oatmeal down on the table in front of Draco, without even any butter or a little bit of brown sugar to dress it up. That shit’s barely palatable under the best of circumstances, and really what is it with Potter and foods with the consistency of paste? Oatmeal and hummus and, really, ugh. When Draco had mentioned that eggs and bacon were perfectly acceptable breakfast foods and maybe they could try that instead, Potter had lectured him about the benefits of complex carbohydrates and the dangers of cholesterol and saturated fat until Draco told him to go fuck himself. Potter had just shrugged and said that’s what they had, and Draco could eat it or he could starve.
So now, he’s putting his foot down. He’s spent the entire afternoon loitering outside their tent so he can catch Potter as soon as he returns from tromping about the woods. Today, Potter returns blessedly fish-less—Draco hates the smell of cooking fish and how it lingers in the tent for ages afterward—and Draco presents him with a sheet of paper.
“What’s this?” Potter asks, frowning down at it.
“A shopping list,” Draco drawls in his best impersonation of that damned talking-to-an-idiot voice Potter’s always pulling on him. He barely resists the urge to add, ‘dumb-arse.’
“I can see that,” Potter shoots back. “Why the fuck’re you giving it to me?”
“Because,” says Draco, folding his arms over his chest. “You’re going shopping.”
“We’ve got enough food,” Potter says, making to step around Draco and go into the tent.
“No,” Draco says, moving to block his path. Potter glares at him but Draco doesn’t back off. “You’re going to Apparate your arse to the nearest bit of civilisation and get everything on that list.”
“Really,” Potter says flatly. “And why am I gonna do that?”
“Because if you don’t, I will.” Draco stares him down. “My hand to god, I will.” They’ve been out of peanut butter and lager since yesterday, and Draco refuses to eat anything that fits Potter’s idea of appropriate.
They engage in a prolonged staring contest that takes Draco straight back to meals in the Great Hall. He looks Potter dead in the eyes, and waits. Potter breaks first, rolling his eyes heavenward in a melodramatic display of why me?
“I can’t believe you,” Potter growls at him. “On top of everything else, you’re gonna throw a tantrum because you can’t stand to eat properly for a while. And you’re willing to put both of us in danger over it. You haven’t changed a bit, have you? Still the same selfish motherfucker.”
He Disapparates without another word, leaving Draco alone in the forest. It should irritate him to see that Potter thinks so little of him, but at this point Draco really doesn’t give a fuck.
Just so long as Potter comes back with bacon.
Draco sucks the red dust from the crisps off his fingertips, wipes his damp fingers on the thigh of his jeans, and closes up the bag before he turns to survey the cupboards. Might as well get dinner started. He feels like making beef bourguignon—hearty and thick, and rich enough to suit his tastes—but in unexpected deference to Potter’s health-consciousness, Draco decides to leave the red meat out of it. Mushroom bourguignon tastes nearly as good, and maybe Potter will be a little more receptive to it if it’s vegetarian.
For a while, he loses himself in the steady rhythm of chopping vegetables. He hums to himself as he works, a Kooks song that’s been stuck in his head on and off for the past couple of days. It’s been far too long since he’s cooked, he decides as he finishes prepping the vegetables and begins to melt butter in a pan. For years, he’d used cooking as a way to destress after a long day at work, sort of as a replacement for the potions work he quit doing right after he left Hogwarts, except without the danger of something exploding if he fucked up or his attention lapsed for a moment. And it was something he could share, a simple pleasure he could give to other people and take pleasure in himself. His boyfriend, if he happened to be seeing someone at the time, but most nights it was Megan.
And then somewhere over the last year he’d stopped doing it so often, and then when Megan died he’d quit doing it altogether. Draco dumps the sliced mushrooms into the pan and gives them a stir. The sort of strain he was under towards the end of his Auror career—and on his own mental calendar he’s marked the end of his career at the precise moment Megan died and he’d been removed from active duty—wasn’t the kind that could be alleviated by something so mundane as chopping vegetables or stirring a pot. And maybe he’d have found other escapes, alcohol or drugs or meaningless sex, but he’d needed to keep his wits about him as he worked his way deeper and deeper into the conspiracy he’d spent the last decade unearthing. So he’d clung to his cigarettes and the occasional pint, and thrown himself into his work. He couldn’t find a way to escape the stress of working against the Ministry, of knowing that if he got caught he’d be sent to Azkaban—or worse. So he’d embraced it. Made it every moment of his life. Ate, slept and breathed it.
And now everything’s in motion. An avalanche that Draco doesn’t have a prayer of controlling. All he can do is try his best to stay one step ahead of it and hope he doesn’t end up buried. And… oddly, there’s a sort of comfort in that. This is out of his hands. He’s done all he can, and whatever happens will happen. It’s all set in motion, every step he’s taken has led him here, and now all he’s doing is following along the path he’d spent the past ten years laying out.
He’s already finished adding things to the pan and is just simmering it down to the right consistency while the egg noodles finish boiling when Potter returns. He freezes in the doorway, brow furrowing as he inhales, the air inside the tent heavy with the scent of simmering vegetables and red wine.
“Go wash up,” Draco tells him, stirring the pan. “This’ll be done in a few minutes.”
He expects Potter to argue, maybe interrogate him about what ingredients he’d used, maybe try to calculate the calories per portion or something, but amazingly Potter just does as he’s told. Draco listens to his footsteps fading down the hall as Potter makes his way to the bathroom. When the door clicks shut behind him, Draco smiles to himself and goes searching through the cupboards for a colander.
Potter returns just as Draco’s scooping egg noodles onto plates.
“You did all this without magic?” Potter asks. He sounds dubious, and Draco doesn’t miss the way his hand twitches for his wand, like he’s tempted to check for any stray magical signatures around the kitchen.
“Of course I did,” Draco says. He refuses to let Potter get to him and ruin the first decent meal Draco has had in months. “Surprised to see that I’ve mastered the fine art of cooking the Muggle way?” He holds out one plate to Potter. “Hold this.”
Potter scowls at him, but accepts the plate. “Not like they taught this at Hogwarts,” he mutters.
Draco shrugs and scoops a generous portion of mushroom bourguignon onto the heap of egg noodles. “It’s been a long time since Hogwarts. I know how to do all sorts of things I didn’t learn there.”
“I know,” Potter says, taking a deep breath, inhaling the fragrant steam rising off his plate as he carries it over to the table. “Far as I know there’s not a class about how to be a complete arsehole, and you’ve always managed that just fine.”
The complete lack of rancor in Potter’s voice throws Draco off-balance for a moment. His words fit the sort of antagonistic sniping they’ve always done with each other, but the tone certainly doesn’t. Draco busies himself with finishing his own plate, then replies lightly, “But if there had been a class on being a complete arsehole, I would’ve earned an O on my N.E.W.T. Wouldn’t even have had to study for it, I imagine.” He sits down across from Potter.
Potter grunts in what Draco is almost sure is amusement, and scoops a heaping forkful of noodles into his mouth, and the whole thing is just so bloody weird that Draco decides the best course of action is just to let it go. They’re having a remarkably peaceful meal together, and Draco doesn’t want to do anything to upset that. Like instigate another argument. Or tell Potter exactly how much butter he used in what they’re eating. Best not to talk at all, actually.
He focuses on his own plate, and spears a forkful of noodles and mushrooms. When he bites down, he resists the urge to moan aloud. God, this is fucking good. Would be better with the beef, but after three days of nothing but peanut butter and a few sneaked servings of wild rice—the least offensive of what Potter’d made, palatable even if it had been almost unbearably bland—and the tent stinking of fish every evening, Draco’s more than willing to make a concession or two. He watches Potter eating and there’s something about it that’s nice in a way that precious little in Draco’s life has been in almost too long to remember. Probably not since Nicholas, the last man Draco had dated, but he’d only lasted a month or two and that had been almost a year ago.
He realises abruptly that he’s thinking of boyfriends and Potter in the same span, and stuffs another bite of noodles into his mouth while he tries to figure out where in seven fucking hells his brain made that connection. Sure, Potter’s fit as fuck, always has been. But he’s also Harry fucking Potter and Draco knows better than to add any more complications to this already-fucked-up situation. If one of the people in a relationship is a hot mess, things can still work out okay; that’s not the case when two fucked-up people get involved with each other. That’s just asking for trouble, and Draco should know better than anyone. He’d learned that lesson the hard way a few years back with a fucking gorgeous bloke who called himself Stardust even though his name was actually Robert. And it’s a lesson Draco really ought to have figured out before then—never trust a man who makes up an exciting new name for himself. They’re all bugfuck mad.
In any case, Draco’s self-aware enough to recognise that he’s got the market pretty well cornered on crazy. If he’s going to get involved with someone else, it certainly won’t be with someone who’s got so many issues he forces Draco to be the sane one by default. And Potter here’s got so much baggage he could fill up the Hogwarts Express all on his own.
“What?” Potter says, and Draco realises he’s staring.
“Nothing,” he says, ducking his head and nudging his glasses back into place when they slip down his nose. He scrapes his fork over his plate, gathering the noodles into a neat pile. “Just wondering how you like it.”
“S’fine,” Potter says through a mouthful.
They finish eating in silence.
Harry refuses to acknowledge the bacon in any way.
The river by their current campsite is chilly, especially this time of morning. Normally, Harry would’ve brought a thermos of orange juice or coffee with him, but he had to get out of there before he glanced at the skillet. He chooses a spot on the bank and sets up his line. At least fishing is going better today. It’s only ten by the time he’s caught three fish, which is enough for both lunch and dinner, assuming Malfoy will eat it, which he probably won’t.
He stands, careful of where he steps on the slippery, lichen-covered rocks, and stretches his arms over his head. It’s so peaceful out here. They’re in Scotland today, but it could be any forest anywhere, really. He once read Walden Pond over two nights in a hostel in Bangalore and ever since he’s wished he could step out of this life and into Walden. Being here is almost like that, even knowing that Malfoy’s just back at the tent slowly killing himself with saturated fat, which is no worse than the slow death Harry’ll get when it gets out that Megan Jones was his mark.
And it will get out. Harry has no delusions on the shelf-life of his soul. Not anymore, anyway. Not after seeing all of Malfoy’s collected evidence and hearing all of his conclusions. Harry’s done the calculations in his head and the chances of Malfoy being wrong are so low as to be negligible. There is an underground terrorist organisation; Harry’s known this for years. Most of his kills are people in it. What he hadn’t known was that at its head is someone in the Ministry, and that same person is playing both sides.
He bends down to grab his fish and then begins the trek back up the side of the little gorge to the small forest and their tent within it. The forest is abnormally quiet. That’s the first thing that alerts him something’s wrong. There’s always birds and frogs and shit. Always something moving somewhere in a forest. But there isn’t right now. It’s quiet as a grave, and that’s probably what he’ll be in soon if his instincts are right.
Who’s he kidding? He won’t get the dignity of a grave.
Harry slinks carefully over the underbrush, careful to make no sound at all. He nears the wards and his heart stops in his chest. There are two cloaked wizards poking around twenty feet from the wards-edge. Oh fuck, Potter, he thinks. You fucking predictable twat. You should’ve known better than to camp here. If someone’s got it out for you, of course they’ve been following. Of course they know your usual haunts, you stupid prick.
Harry glances at the tent, visible only because he’s the one who set the wards. The tent flap is closed, but Malfoy’s probably in there doing the fucking crossword while he eats his bacon butty.
Harry pulls his gun from his trousers and takes a handful of steps towards the wards, watching the wizards from his lowered vantage point just beyond the rim of the gorge. If he can just make it inside the wards and get Malfoy, their shit, and the tent packed up without being spotted, then they can get the fuck out of there without Harry having to reach Numbers Forty-Two and Forty-Three.
He takes one step and hears the unmistakable crack! of a breaking branch beneath his foot. The wizards spin around, wands out and Harry ducks down beneath the edge again. Green light flashes past his shoulder and he yells, ”Fuck!” out of surprise more than anything else.
Are they really starting with deadly force? He peeks over the edge, aims, and fires once then ducks down again. He hears the bullet hit flesh, and then the aborted scream that means it was a kill shot. No one fucks with him. His aim is too fucking good.
The other wizard yells, “Snow! We have you, you son of a bitch! Where the fuck is Malfoy? Just come out!” This is followed by the sound of measured steps, and all Harry’s thinking is Malfoy better stay behind those goddamned wards, and then—Snow. They called him Snow.
They haven’t a clue who he really is.
Just another pair of hired wands, just like him. He listens for the footsteps to come nearer, waiting for the moment that they will be close enough for him to take another shot.
“Got you, Snow,” a cold voice says, to his right. Too far to his right. Harry jerks in surprise and turns, his foot slipping from the gorge-wall. The Hit Wizard aims and green light flares up from the tip of his wand as he prepares his spell. Harry aims his gun, throws himself from the wall to the river below, feels himself falling, the air rushing cold and misty by his face as he pulls the trigger. Avada Kedavra rushes by his face, the kickback of his handgun catches him by surprise, and his shoulder jerks, spinning his fall off course. He hits the rocky shore of the riverbed with a sickening crunch that starts in his ankle and reverberates up the entirety of his leg. His gun flies from his hand and splashes into the rapids. There’s a thump and a splash as the second Hit Wizard’s body falls down the gorge into the river.
Harry breathes quickly. He assesses. Now that there’s no immediate danger, pain flares up, embroiling his entire body in nauseating waves of agony. He clenches his eyes shut and grits his teeth, mentally preparing himself to stand the fuck up and get the fuck out of here. They have to move now.
Another crunch of leaves forces him to open his eyes, and he’s so hopped up on pain and adrenaline that he could probably tear some fucker’s head from his shoulders right now, but it’s just Malfoy, standing at the edge of the gorge with Harry’s spare Glock in his hands, holding it like a fucking twat who has no idea how to hold a gun.
“How th’fuck,” Harry pants, “did you get into my gun case?”
He can see Malfoy’s shrug even from this distance. “Undid your wards.” His eyes slide to the body floating face down on the river, black cloak fanned out like a bird’s wings. “Those the only two?”
Harry nods. His vision’s starting to fade. Fuck this hurts. He doesn’t remember a broken bone hurting this much when he was twelve. Malfoy puts the gun in his belt and makes his way down the side of the hill to Harry. “You’re going to have to help,” Malfoy says when he reaches him. “I can’t carry you alone without magic.”
Harry grits his teeth and nods. Malfoy helps him get his arm over his shoulder and eases him into a standing position with so much fucking gentleness and care that it makes Harry want to punch something, or maybe that’s the pain.
“We gotta go,” Harry grits out. “Right now.”
“I know,” says Malfoy. “Where?”
Harry shakes his head. “I dunno, somewhere new. I’m too predictable. They must’ve found me here because I’ve camped here before. We gotta go somewhere I’ve never been.”
Malfoy takes one look at him and says, “How about Brighton?”
“Fuck off,” says Harry. “Gotta keep camping. It’s not a holiday.” He thinks back to the Hit Wizard calling him Snow. Snow would never go back to the Forest of Dean because he’s never camped there. But Harry Potter has, and no one but Ron and Hermione have ever known that.
Back inside the wards, Harry packs up their tent with efficiency, all the while hanging onto Malfoy’s shoulder. They wards are down and they’re out of there in under twenty seconds. When they pop back into existence in the Forest of Dean, after an exhausting and painful chain of Apparitions, it’s the same spot he and Ron and Hermione had landed in that first time during the War.
Harry doesn’t know whether it’s the overwhelming self-hatred he suddenly has for himself at seeing this place and remembering the time when he was a good person doing good things or if it’s the pain of landing on his motherfucking broken ankle, but he only manages to gasp out the spell to set the wards before his vision fades and he blacks out. He doesn’t even fight it this time.
“Won’t get you sent home,” he says.
Malfoy starts, and for a split second Harry’s afraid he might actually shoot himself, but Malfoy’s got his finger wrapped around the trigger guard and not the actual trigger.
“You’re awake,” he says.
Harry shifts on the bed, propping himself up, and pain flares through his leg. He looks down to find that Malfoy’s wrapped his ankle in what looks like strips of bedsheet and propped it up on a couple of pillows.
“I wasn’t sure what else to do,” Malfoy says. He sets the Glock on Harry’s bedside table.
“Get my bag,” Harry tells him. Like Hermione, he’s prepared for almost every eventuality. He’s got enough healing potions stashed away to supply a small hospital.
Malfoy gets the bag and hands it to Harry, and Harry takes out the potions he’ll need. Malfoy watches critically as he lines them up on the bedside table.
“You’re not taking anything for the pain?” he asks.
“Hate that shit,” Harry says, and takes a swig of Skele-Gro. “Fucks with my head.”
Malfoy frowns, but doesn’t argue. Just watches as Harry finishes dosing himself, then picks up a large jar of salve to heal the cuts and bruises he got from falling down the gorge.
He tries to do it himself at first, but it’s difficult when even the smallest motion sends a jolt of pain lancing through his leg.
“For fuck’s sake,” Malfoy mutters and snatches the jar away. Harry starts to protest, but Malfoy cuts him off. “We’ll be here all fucking day at this rate.”
Harry clenches his jaw and lets him. Keeps his eyes closed because the sight of Malfoy’s slender fingers dabbing the salve onto his scrapes makes his stomach twist. Malfoy finishes quickly, and as much as he hates to admit it, he feels better afterward. The pain of his ankle is much more bearable without the other dozen scrapes and bruises shrieking accompaniment to it.
The metal lid of the jar rattles as Malfoy screws it back into place. “I didn’t use magic.”
“I didn’t say you did.”
Malfoy peers at him over the tops of his glasses, then pushes them distractedly back up his nose. “You didn’t have to say it. I can see you thinking it. How else would they find us, right?”
“They got lucky. That’s all,” Harry says. “We need to figure out a plan. Can’t just keep running like this. We need to put an end to this.”
“I’ve been working on that,” Malfoy says. “While you’ve been off fishing each day.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t come up with a plan before now.”
Malfoy gives him an inscrutable look. “Who says I haven’t?”
The pain in Harry’s ankle is ratcheting up as the Skele-Gro kicks in. He hasn’t got the patience for Malfoy talking in bloody circles. “Do you have a plan or not?” he growls.
“I have a back-up plan. More of a last-resort, really.” He shrugs. “There are good men and women at the Ministry. I’d rather they didn’t get caught up in this. What I didn’t know was how deeply you were involved. I had my suspicions about what they were using you for, but I didn’t know for sure.”
Harry bristles at the statement about him being used, but he can’t refute it.
“Just as I’ve got my suspicions about what exactly is going on, but again, I don’t know for sure.” Malfoy’s eyes follow the dubious glance Harry sends across the room at the Wall of Crazy that Malfoy reassembled their first night camping, pinned against the canvas of the tent by his cot. “All my evidence, while ample, is circumstantial,” he says tartly.
“Well, what does all your circumstantial evidence point to?”
“A spell. It works something like a modified Fidelius Charm,” Malfoy explains. It’s like a switch has flipped: his eyes get bright and his voice sharpens, gets clipped and quick, and he even starts gesturing with his hands. Harry’s reminded of Hermione in full lecture-mode. “Except it’s not just on the building, it’s on the people too.”
“But you can’t—”
“But you can,” Malfoy cuts him off. “It’s tied into the wards of the Ministry. And into those bullshit ‘security spells’ they’ve got all over everything.” His hands leap up to form air quotes as he speaks, then flutter back down, quick and jerky like sparrows. “And now no one there can see what’s right in front of their noses. They forget things that ought to make them suspicious. It keeps everybody nice and calm and following orders like good little pawns. Lets them keep peace and order by killing anyone who looks like they might make waves, and no one bats an eyelash. They’re trying to make sure another Dark Lord never arises, and in doing so they’ve stepped into the void he left and become something just as terrible.”
“Who’s the Secret Keeper?”
“That’s the thing,” Malfoy says. “Because the spell is so big and so complex, the Secret Keeper is less like a Secret Keeper and more like a, a…focal point of sorts. With a normal Fidelius Charm, if the Secret Keeper dies then the secret they’re keeping dies with them. But according to our research, we thought that if the person at the root of all this is killed, then the whole net of spells unravels. Everyone will see what they’ve been missing all along. If we kill this person, we reveal everything. We were in the process of replicating and testing our theory when Megan…” Malfoy blinks and trails off. “When she was killed,” he finishes.
Harry lets it go. “So, all we gotta do is find this ‘focal point’ and kill ‘em, and that’s it?”
“I have it narrowed down to several suspects,” Malfoy says. He gets up and paces over to his wall. “It’s someone high up in the Unspeakables, I think.” He folds his arms over his chest and stares at the centre of the wall where he’s pinned three grainy photographs, each with a blurry figure in black Unspeakable robes. “But they all guard their identities so closely. We’ll have to get into their offices to find out who they are, and get close enough to take them down. Those wards were more difficult to unravel, and I wasn’t able to get through them without arousing suspicion.”
Harry’s ankle throbs. He grits his teeth and shifts on the bed, but the pain doesn’t ease. “Thought you aroused suspicion on purpose. Got me to come after you.”
“Yes, but not like that. I’m pretty good at getting past wards,” Malfoy says, and can't seem to resist sliding a smug glance at the Glock lying on the bedside table. “But the ones the Unspeakables have set up are like nothing I’ve seen before. And if I’d messed about with them, I’d have been a threat. The way I did it was as someone who was nosing too close to the truth, but not a serious-serious threat.”
“The truth,” Harry mutters, and a thought occurs to him. “Wait, if this Fidelius is over the Ministry, how come you’re not affected?”
“I already told you, I’m good at getting past wards. I know how to circumvent all those security spells. And the better I got at learning to avoid them, the less the modified Fidelius worked on me. That’s the problem with it. It’s so big and so complex that you can see around the edges if you look long and hard enough.” He shrugs, staring across the tent at his wall. “At first I was just interested in finding you. But the longer I looked, the clearer it all became.”
Harry runs through facts in his head, going through everything he knows about the people he worked for, the methods they use, the resources they’ve got at their disposal. “Three weeks,” he says. “That’s long enough to plan how to break into the Ministry. We’ll just have to be real careful in the meantime. Move every day. We should move now…” He starts to get up.
Malfoy’s over by his bedside in an instant, pressing him back to the mattress with gentle hands. “No, right now you’re going to take a dose of pain potions and sleep for a while. Don’t argue with me, Potter. Regrowing bones hurts like fuck. I’ll wake you around suppertime and we’ll move then.”
A part of Harry wants to argue, but the rest of him is so preoccupied by the pain that he takes the dose of potion that Malfoy pours for him without complaint. Malfoy helps him settle back into bed, tucks the blankets around him and even fluffs his goddamn pillow.
“What are you, Florence Nightingale?” Harry mutters. “Go away.”
He closes his eyes and lies still, listening as Malfoy clears up the potions from the bedside table. Lining up some of them, the ones Harry will need to take later, and putting the rest away. He thinks Malfoy will walk away after that, go stare at his Wall of Crazy some more or go sit in the doorway again. But instead he feels gentle fingers brushing through his hair.
He grunts, tries to open his eyes, but they’re so heavy. “What’re you doing?”
The fingers disappear. “You hair grew back. While you were sleeping.”
“Yeah,” Harry sighs. “It does that.”
And he’s just on the edge of drifting off when he hears Malfoy murmur, “You should let it. I like you better like this.”
The minor scrapes and bruises from his fall are healed as if they’d never been. And the swelling around his ankle’s gone down, but he’ll have to wait until Potter’s awake before he’ll know whether it’s fully healed. He tucks the blankets around Potter’s shoulders, brushes a curl of hair away from his eye, and leaves him to sleep.
Outside the world is dark and a bit damp. It rained yesterday and a heavy dampness still lingers in the air, a close and muggy sensation that Draco can feel pressing against his skin. But the sky is relatively clear, the stars on display, though already dimming as dawn approaches. He picks his way carefully to the edge of the cliff and sits down near the edge to watch the stars fade into sunrise. There’s a lighthouse way off in the distance, so far away that he didn’t notice it during the daytime yesterday. But the dark reveals its light twinkling, blip-blip-blip, steady as a heartbeat, as regular as breathing.
He shifts where he’s sitting, digs in his pocket for his cigarettes and lighter. Plucks one from the crumpled pack and lights it in a quiet rasp of flint and a warm flash of light that’s muted by his cupped hands. He drops the pack and lighter on the rocky ground beside him—no sense in putting them away since he knows he’ll need another before too long—and inhales, the cigarette flaring a warm and comforting orange. The smoke prickles as he draws it deep, and he pictures it curling through his lungs, holds it there for a breath, and then exhales and watches it dissipate. As always, a little of his tension fades with it.
It was easier yesterday, when Potter was sleeping off his first round of pain potions. Then Draco had been able to keep himself busy with planning in between checking on Potter in regular intervals to make sure his injuries looked to be healing properly, and rousing him once just long enough to Apparate and set up camp again, and get some dinner and another dose of pain potions into him. For a moment Draco considers going back into the tent and getting some more planning done, but the potions will have worn off by now and he’s oddly reluctant to wake Potter from the first long stretch of natural sleep he’s had in god knows how long.
The sky greys and the stars fade and the lighthouse once again loses itself to distance as the sun cracks the horizon. Draco breathes deep and watches it climb into the sky, lets it warm him as it lights the world. The landscape stretches around him, grey rock and green grass as far as he can see, and though it’s been a long time since Hogwarts, the part of Draco that spent years surrounded by silver and green is comforted by the familiar colors. If they’d set up camp closer to the shore he might be able to hear the waves crashing against the rocks, but this far back it’s utterly silent. With his back to the tent, he can almost pretend that he’s the only person on the planet.
Draco has no idea how long he sits out there by the cliffs, but it’s a couple of hours at least. Long enough that he’s had to shift positions several times to stay comfortable, even stand up and stretch once or twice. Long enough to go through almost half a pack of cigarettes, even though he’s trying to make them last. Long enough that he’s sweating a little in the sunshine. He knows he should go back into the tent, wake up Potter and have breakfast. They’ve been here a little half day at this point, but after yesterday’s events Potter will be eager to move again. At the very least, Draco should be studying his wall, sorting through the files and documents for the hundredth time, trying to piece together new clues and form new connections between them.
But he’s reluctant to give this up, this peaceful interlude between the scare of Potter’s fall yesterday and whatever new shit today will bring. Besides, an hour or two won’t make any sort of difference. Might even make a good difference, let Draco clear his head a little and come back to everything fresh.
A flash of movement at the peripheral of his vision draws his attention, and Draco turns to see Potter making his way toward him. He doesn’t seem to be limping, but Draco asks anyhow, “How’s your ankle?”
“Little stiff,” Potter says, sitting down beside Draco. “But fine. What’re you doing out here?”
“Just sitting. Watched the sun come up.” He shrugs. “Thinking about things.”
Potter grunts. Then, “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“Figured you needed the rest if you weren’t up on your own.” Draco scoots a bit closer, leans in to check Potter’s ankle for swelling.
“Oh,” Potter says as Draco leans close, soft and breathy, barely a word, and Draco holds very still as Potter leans into him, turning his face to the curve of Draco’s neck. “You smell like sun.” He sounds a little surprised, a little raw. He leans in closer, the tip of his nose barely brushing Draco’s skin. “You know that smell? That toasty-skin smell, like you get after going to the beach? When Rosie was little I’d take her out, and we’d spend all day on the beach, looking for interesting things on the shore. She’d smell just like that when I’d carry her back to the cottage…” He trails off, leaving Draco frozen in the silence that follows.
There’s something unexpectedly gentle about Potter just now, and Draco hardly dares to breathe. He’s reminded of the rabbits that live near the Manor, how one sudden movement can send them racing off, leaving Draco with just a glimpse of brown fur before they vanish into the shrubbery. He’s got no idea what to do with this, Potter leaning against him in and talking more at once than he’s heard from him yet, and smelling his neck and the whole thing is so bizarre. Draco doesn’t know what to do, whether he should back away slowly or try to press forward. Worse, he doesn’t know what he wants to do.
Before he can make up his mind, Potter turns away from him, sitting up straight and staring off into the distance with an embarrassed cough. Draco finishes checking his ankle as quickly as he can and sits back.
“Anyhow,” Potter says briskly, drawing away and standing up with a small frown. “Gonna put coffee on. You want any?”
“Yes,” Draco says, even though he has coffee every morning and Potter doesn’t need to ask by now. “Please.”
He watches Potter stiffly make his way back to the tent and disappear inside, while Draco toys with his lighter and tries to figure out what the fuck just happened. Did they really just have some sort of fucking moment out here?
After a few minutes Draco decides that Potter must still be muddled from the pain potions. He stands up, stretches the kinks from his spine, dusts off the seat of his trousers, and goes inside for a cup of coffee.
They’ve barely spoken a dozen words to each other since that morning on the cliff, and Draco doesn’t press it. Potter dims the lights with a curt Nox, and Draco climbs into his cot, tugs the blankets over himself, and stares at the vague shapes of his wall in the near-darkness until he slides into sleep.
It feels as though he’s barely closed his eyes when he comes awake, baffled for a moment as to why until he hears it again: a soft murmur from Potter’s end of the tent. He turns onto his back in a gentle rustle of sheets and then keeps very still, listening. There’s another soft rustle of sheets from Potter’s bed, then a half-strangled moan.
Worried, thinking maybe it’s Potter’s ankle, Draco’s halfway out of his bed when the moan shapes itself into a word.
It takes Draco’s sleep-muddled brain a few moments and another groan and rustle of sheets from Potter to make the connection. Rose, Potter’s goddaughter. He’s having a nightmare.
“Lumos,” Draco murmurs, tucking his wand into the waistband of his pyjama bottoms and cautiously approaching Potter’s bedside.
Potter’s twisted himself up in his sheets with his thrashing, and Draco grabs him by the shoulder and gives him a firm shake. “Wake up!”
Potter comes awake with a jolt, sitting up so quick that he nearly cracks his forehead against Draco’s nose. His eyes are wide and panicked for a moment and he half-gasps out Rosie’s name before he blinks around, then goes still.
“You were having a nightmare,” Draco says.
Potter scrubs a hand through his unruly black curls. “Yeah.”
Now that they’ve both covered stating the completely fucking obvious, Draco doesn’t know what else to say. Mostly he’s preoccupied with an entirely inappropriate urge to touch Potter’s hair. Potter just didn’t look like himself with his hair shaved down to stubble. With it grown back to its usual unruly mess, he looks gentler, somehow. And familiar. This is the Potter that Draco remembers. But he doesn’t say any of that aloud, and the silence stretches awkwardly between them.
“You were calling out Rosie’s name. Do you, uh, want to talk about it?” Draco offers after a while, because he feels as though he should, not because he really expects that Potter will want to.
He’s surprised when Potter actually answers.
“She was almost killed,” Potter says. “It was close. Real close.”
Draco settles himself on the edge of Potter’s bed, his movements slow and careful. He’s reminded of a rabbit again, ready to run at the slightest false move from him. “What happened?” he asks quietly.
“The attack on the Ministry,” Potter says. “Remember about a year back, someone’d rigged one of the Floos to explode, and it chained through the entire bank of them? It was all over the papers for a while.”
Draco’s intimately familiar with that incident. There’s three separate newspaper clippings of it on his wall, and he witnessed the aftermath firsthand. The entire Floo bank blown out, chunks of stone scattered across the Atrium of the Ministry, dust clouding everything. It was his first experience with an attack on that scale, bigger than anything he’d seen since since the Battle of Hogwarts, and for a moment he’d been lost in memories, the cries of wounded, everything around him in chaos. And then his Auror training had kicked in and he’d done what he could to help. Incredibly, only three people had been killed, though dozens had been injured. The Ministry had been forced to shut down the entire Floo Network for six days until they’d repaired the damage. Draco had pulled almost twenty hours of overtime that week.
“She wasn’t even supposed to be there,” Potter goes on. “They were all going on holiday, but Hermione had to drop off some last-minute paperwork. And Rosie wanted to go with her…” He sighs. “They were just about to step through the Floo when the whole thing went up. Rosie caught the worst of it. She spent almost three weeks in St Mungo’s, and for a while they didn’t know if she’d wake up…”
“I’m so sorry,” Draco murmurs. It was terrible enough to witness it as a bystander, but the horror of having a loved one caught up in violence like that comes back to him in a great rush. Draco lived with that constant terror during the War, and that sort of fear never really leaves you.
Potter sighs and turns his face to Draco’s shoulder, one hand creeping across the sheets to clutch at his knee, fingers curled into the soft cotton of his pyjama bottoms. Draco can feel Potter’s warm breath, and he gives in to the urge to brush his hand through Potter’s hair. Potter goes stiff for a moment, then relaxes into the touch.
“I just don’t know what I’d’ve done if I’d lost her,” he says, his voice muffled.
“I’m sorry,” Draco says again, feeling utterly useless.
He doesn’t know what else to say, and Potter doesn’t say anything else. They sit together for a long time, until Draco moves to stand up and Potter’s fingers tighten around his knee. He hesitates, unsure what Potter wants from him. Potter’s head is still resting against his shoulder and Draco shifts an experimental fraction closer to Potter, feels Potter ease up a corresponding fraction. Draco moves slowly until he’s stretched out on the bed, and Potter moves with him. Potter’s forehead is still pressed to Draco’s shoulder, his fingers still touching Draco’s leg. The toes of his right foot brush Draco’s left ankle.
Three tentative points of contact are all it takes to thoroughly unsettle Draco. There’s a part of him that’s missed this, the simple pleasure of lying in bed with another person. But that other person here with him is Potter, and it’d be a thousand different sorts of stupid to start anything with him. Potter’s a killer and Draco’s not exactly a saint himself. The two of them together would be like iron oxide and aluminium powder. All it’d take is one spark to set off an uncontrollable fire. And the way he and Potter clash, they’re nothing but sparks. Potter lets out a long slow breath and presses his forehead more firmly against Draco’s shoulder.
Fuck it, he thinks. It’s too fucking early to be thinking about the repercussions of this, or to try and sort out his own mixed-up feelings. He’ll deal with all of this tomorrow.
Draco’s just drifting off when Potter jerks against him. He blinks muzzily and lifts his head from the pillow to find Potter staring straight up at the ceiling of the tent.
“Malfoy,” he says. “You cast a Lumos.”
Draco’s blood freezes in his veins as he comes fully awake in an instant. He thinks back, and with sickening clarity he remembers slipping out of bed and lighting the tent with a thoughtless spell. “Shit,” he says.
Potter shoves him out of bed. “The wards,” he snaps. “We gotta go. Fucking move.”
He doesn’t give Draco a chance, just drags him out of the tent, turns and hits it with a spell as soon as he’s clear. It ripples and folds in on itself and Potter stuffs it into his bag. There’s a rustle of leaves from behind Draco, and he spins, his wand in hand and pointed into darkness. Another rustle from beside him, and fuck, is someone there? Is it the wind? An animal?
A Stunner comes lancing out of the darkness, and Draco barely gets up a Shield Charm in time. The Stunner deflects with a bang! and a flash of red sparks goes jetting off into the treetops. Someone shouts, and that answers that fucking question.
“Hold on,” Potter says, shoving the bag into Draco’s hands.
A spell zings by overhead, and Draco flinches even though it didn’t even come close to hitting them. Potter grabs Draco around the waist and then there’s the sickening twist of Apparition and they’re gone, appearing, disappearing, appearing again in a quick-fire series of jumps. Draco keeps his eyes squeezed shut and tries to take deep, even breaths as they skip through more locations than he can count. He tries to keep relaxed, keep his knees bent a little to absorb the impact of landing. He leans back against Potter, making himself as pliant as he can, falling into each twist as Potter pushes off as soon as the ground solidifies under their feet and they jump again.
His head is spinning, and he doesn’t realise they’ve come to a stop until Potter rips the bag from Draco’s hands and gives him a shove forward. He stumbles, twigs and gravel poking the bottoms of his bare feet, his eyes flying open. It takes him a moment to recognise they’re back in Clocaenog Forest, the Toyota a little dusty and now spattered with purple-tinged bird shit, but otherwise just as they left it. That’ll be a bitch to get off, and a distant corner of Draco’s mind is relieved that the MGB is safe in its garage back in Cornwall. The rest of him is busy fighting down a wave of nausea from the Apparition and praying that he doesn’t throw up in front of Potter. Again.
“What the fuck are you doing? Get in!” Potter shouts at him from the driver’s seat. He starts up the engine with a rumble that sounds far too loud in the still night air.
Draco yanks open the door and flings himself inside, Potter throwing the car into reverse and flooring it even before Draco manages to get the door shut. He grabs for it, nearly falling out, and then Potter jams the car into gear and the door bangs shut on its own, almost catching Draco’s fingers. Draco gropes along the inside of the door beneath the handle, searching for the button to lower the window because his stomach is in full revolt by now. He leans his head out, the air rushing in his face, blowing back his hair and whooshing in his ears. Draco draws in deep, gulping breaths and wills himself not to sick up down the side of the car. Not that it’d make much of a difference with the amount of bird shit crusting the paint, but he’d still rather not make that sort of spectacle of himself if he can avoid it.
It takes a minute or so before he feels that he’s no longer in danger of embarrassing himself. He slumps back into his seat and fumbles his seatbelt on, securing it with a click that’s barely audible over the roar of the engine and the rush of air from the open window.
“You okay?” Potter asks gruffly.
“Yeah, fine,” Draco says, combing his fingers through his hair. “Apparition like that always gets me.” He pushes the button to close the window. The rush of air quiets, and Draco takes off his glasses to rub at his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he says softly. “I fucked up.”
Potter doesn’t say anything, but his hands tighten around the wheel. With each second that ticks by, Draco’s nerves stretched tighter and tighter as he braces for the explosion that’s sure to come. He’s got no excuse for that fucking Lumos, other than he’s a complete fucking idiot and he may very well have just got them both fucking killed, not right now, not right this minute, but down the road. Draco’s triggered it, set the events in motion. Apparition’s difficult but not impossible to track, and while chaining jumps together like Potter did will definitely slow their pursuers down, it won’t stop anyone who’s truly determined to find them.
Now they’re down to how far Potter can drive before the wizards on their trail can work through to the last Apparition jump. Whether they can drive far enough to get out of range of their detection spells in time.
“Yeah,” Potter says. “Yeah, you really did.”
His voice is gentle and heavy with disappointment, with no trace of the anger Draco was afraid of. Somehow, that makes it worse.
They don’t talk for a long while. Potter focuses on driving, and Draco stares out the window, alert for any sign of them being followed. There’s nothing but darkness, slashed only by the headlights of the Toyota.
“Where are we going?” Draco asks after the eastern sky has begun to grey. He thinks of that sunrise he watched from the top of that cliff. Just yesterday, though it feels like longer.
“Liverpool,” Potter tells him shortly without taking his eyes from the road.
Draco frowns at him. “Isn’t that in the other direction?”
Potter slants him an exasperated look. “Not gonna drive straight there, dumb-arse,” he says. “We’ll take the long way, muddy up our trail. Have to keep moving every day. Maybe stick to populated areas for a while since they know we’ve been staying in remote ones so far.”
”Right,” Draco sighs. He leans his head against the window. The coolness of the glass feels wonderful against his skin but it’s uncomfortably hard against the tender skin of his temple, and painful every time the car hits a bump. Draco doesn’t move; this small pain is less than he deserves, but at least it’s something.
Draco trusts Potter to keep them safe. That’s why he didn’t say anything about the decision to go to Liverpool. He figures Potter’s got a plan, a good reason for choosing Liverpool, of all the bloody places. But he begins to doubt that plan when the streets they drive through become increasingly dodgy, the buildings growing shabbier by the block.
It’s difficult, but he manages to hold his tongue. Potter’s bound to be testy after a long day of driving (though in all fairness, Draco did offer to take a turn and was refused) and it’s still floating at the forefront of Draco’s mind that it’s his fault they had to spend the day driving to begin with. Potter hasn’t said anything about that, much to Draco’s surprise. He’d asked Potter about it, somewhere around hour four. Potter had replied that as much as Draco may act like it sometimes, he wasn’t actually a complete fucking idiot. They both knew that Draco fucked up and there wasn’t any point to talking about it. They didn’t say much of anything else after that.
Draco’s dubiousness grows when Potter parks the car outside a motel that’s clearly seen better days. He trails behind Potter as he marches into the lobby and pays cash for a room for the night. The man at the desk gives them a knowing look, and Draco scowls and looks away as Potter takes the room key. They take the creaky lift up to the second floor, and Potter unlocks the door to their room.
The room is about as horrifying as he expected it to be; the sorry state of the lobby and hallways had mostly prepared Draco for what he should expect. Shabby walls with peeling paper and water spots on the ceiling. Faded bedding, threadbare carpet. He doesn’t dare look in the bathroom. And worst of all, there’s only one bed. Despite having climbed into Potter’s bed last night, the idea of having to share with him on purpose is a truly frightening thought.
He can’t hold it in any longer. “Couldn’t you have found something better than this?” Draco bursts out. Money’s not exactly a concern for either of them, he honestly doesn’t understand why Potter couldn’t have driven to a nicer hotel. Or—and Draco never thought he’d say this—
have found them another secluded section of forest to camp in.
The look Potter gives him is equal parts exasperation and amusement. “Really, you’re gonna bitch about this? ‘Cause I saw what your house looked like.”
“That’s different,” Draco grumbles, scuffing at a stain on the carpet with the toe of one shoe. “That was my mess. This is other people’s. And other people are disgusting. At least Scourgify the bed for me, will you?”
Potter snorts as he digs through the bag, pulls out a clean shirt. “You forget we’re here to lay low? No magic unless it’s an emergency.”
Draco eyes the bed dubiously, because right now the alternative is eyeing Potter as he strips off his shirt and pulls on the clean one, and he’s pretty sure that way lies madness. “I’m fairly certain this qualifies.” There’s a black spot on the comforter that looks like a cigarette burn, and he suspects that might be the nicest of what’s on it.
Rolling his eyes, Potter drags a blanket out of his bottomless bag and throws it at Draco. “Sleep on that and quit bitching.”
“Fine,” Draco says. He flaps the blanket unfolded and spreads it over the bed. “But if I catch something, I’m going to blame you.”
Fortune favours the bold and all that rot, so Draco figures he might as well get it over with. He flops down onto the bed, and feels more relieved than he probably thinks he should when nothing bad immediately happens. He wonders whether there’s a spell to detect bedbugs but doesn’t bother to ask since Potter made it clear that he won’t be casting anything if no one’s either bleeding, on fire, or otherwise in dire straits.
He lets his eyes drift shut, and is thinking idly how strange it is that he should be so tired after doing absolutely nothing all day when Potter’s mobile vibrates. Draco cracks his eyes open as Potter digs it out of his pocket, frowning as he thumbs through the options to read the text.
“Who’s that?” Draco asks, propping himself up on an elbow. He’s heard that text alert go off three times since he and Potter started this little adventure, twice while Potter was zonked out from the pain potions, and despite his many attempts, he couldn’t figure out the passcode to unlock the mobile. Now he can’t hold the question in any longer.
“A friend,” Potter answers distractedly. Then, “Motherfucker.” He grabs the bag off the floor and jams his mobile back into his pocket. “Get up, we’re leaving.”
“What?” Draco says, already on his feet. There’s only one way to interpret the grim look on Potter’s face. “They found us? How the fuck did they—”
He cuts himself off, because Potter’s all business, and Draco can tell he’s not going to waste time on conversation.
They leave the room, Potter easing the door shut behind them so it doesn’t slam.
“Lift or stairs?” Draco asks, keeping his voice low, already edging away from the room.
“Stairs,” Potter says. “Could get trapped in the lift.”
They hurry down the hall, and Draco catches sight of the floor numbers above the lift switch from the ground floor to the first.
“Stairs it is,” he says, picking up his pace. “Lift’s coming up.”
The lift arrives at their floor with a cheerful ding! and Potter shoves Draco into the stairwell and gets the door shut quickly and quietly just in time. There’s a small pane of glass in the window and they jostle each other like children trying to get a peek through it. They end up with their heads pressed together, Potter’s unruly hair tickling Draco’s cheek. Two men exit the lift and head back down the hall, away from the stairs, toward the room Potter and Draco had just come from. And though Draco doesn’t recognize either of them, he knows they’re wizards. They’re both wearing robes, which doesn’t bode well for any Muggles who may or may not get in their way. Doesn’t bode well for Draco and Potter, either. Means that violating the Statute of Secrecy is the least of those men’s concerns.
“Come on,” Potter murmurs, tugging at Draco’s sleeve before he turns and heads down the stairs.
“Who’s this person who warned you?” Draco presses as he follows Potter down the first flight.
“Will you shut the fuck up?” Potter snaps back. “These aren’t storybook bad guys you can just sneak past, no peripheral vision and deaf as a post. If you keep running your fucking mouth then someone’s going to fucking hear you.”
Draco scowls at the back of Potter’s head, but he does lower his voice. “How can you be sure you trust them? How do you know you aren’t being set up?”
“Just know, is all,” Potter tells him. “They’ve never led me wrong before. Now seriously, shut the fuck up.”
Potter’s got an edge to his voice, the same one he had when he showed up in Draco’s living room with the intention of killing him, so Draco does as Potter suggests and shuts his fucking mouth. Potter’s all business now, curt and dangerous. And he trusts Potter, Draco reminds himself. If Potter trusts this person, then by extent so does Draco. As for exactly who they are and how the fuck they know enough to send a warning, well. They’ll have that conversation later.
“We’re gonna run for the car,” Potter tells Draco as they reach the ground floor. He peeks out the door and motions for Draco to stay close.
They stride across the lobby, past the empty front desk, then out and across the cracked pavement of the car park. Draco’s spine itches just between his shoulder blades, but the crawling anticipation of danger eases as they approach the car. They’re nearly there, they just have to get in and take off and then they’ll be safe.
They’re just six paces away when Potter jerks to a halt, throwing one arm in front of Draco to stop him.
“Back!” Potter says, grabbing at Draco and shoving him away from the car.
Draco doesn’t question him. One thing about Potter is his instincts are flawless, always have been, and although he hasn’t always trusted Potter, he’s always had the utmost respect for Potter’s eye for danger. They’ve barely started to turn away when the car explodes.
Ears ringing from the blast, stunned and reeling, Draco might’ve stumbled if Potter hadn’t kept a bruising grip on his wrist and kept him steady, kept him moving back to the motel. They reach the pavement and Potter turns, pulling Draco to the side, heading for the narrow space between it and the next building.
They’re almost there when a sudden impact to Draco’s shoulder spins him half a turn and sends him crashing into the wall of the building. His glasses fly off and clatter to the pavement. He staggers, catching himself against the rough brick as a numb sort of heat spreads up his shoulder and down his arm and he has just enough time to think to himself ‘Oh fuck, this is going to hurt’ before the pain hits, crashing into him in one great wave, so intense he feels like he’s drowning. He’s been under Crucio before, and right now he’d rather be under it again, given the choice. Crucio is all-encompassing, so overwhelming that there’s no space to think about the pain, the pain’s just there until it becomes everything. But this isn’t like that, it’s focused on his shoulder and it’s not so bad he can’t think. But all he can think about is how much it fucking hurts.
He claps his hand to his shoulder as Potter hauls him along, and every step sends a jolt of agony coursing through him. More bullets ping off the brick face of the building, raining little puffs of red dust onto them, and then Potter’s got a Shield Charm around them and bullets ping off that too. Blood is pulsing between Draco’s fingers, soaking his shirt at an alarming rate. He feels sick and dizzy and oh, this isn’t at all how Draco thought it would end.
It’s no use being afraid of death. Draco always knew it was a possibility, had prepared himself for it, and he’s more or less made his peace with it by now. But what had always followed him around was the nagging anxiety of it. He expected it, but had no idea about the details, the how and when and where and why of it.
But now those questions are answered: shot, here and now, because he’s a fucking idiot. And it’s a relief to finally have it happening. It’s over now and he doesn’t have to worry anymore.
His vision is greying around the edges, and still he’s being dragged stumbling along the pavement, even though they’re around the corner and safe for the moment.
“Potter,” he says, his voice very clear and calm and oddly distant.
And then his knees buckle and he’s gone before he hits the ground.
The adrenaline retreats and he’s left feeling as though he’s been beaten up while performing a season-changing ritual. If he has an ounce of magic left in his core right now, it’ll be a fucking Merlinmas miracle. Inside, he starts to panic. It’s a slow climb from Apparition-dizzy and tired to Oh, fuck, that’s a major artery, but when it hits him, it’s an emotional blow he hasn’t felt for years, not since they almost lost Rosie, and it takes him another few precious seconds to even recognise what the fuck this strange feeling even is.
“Get your shit together, Potter,” he growls to himself. “Hermione taught you this shit in the War. You know what you’re doing.” His magic wants to go wild, but it’s so depleted that it can’t, and that, at least, is a blessing.
He pulls his shirt off and rips the jersey fabric into strips. Blood doesn’t bother him; Harry’s never been squeamish. But Malfoy’s blood—for some weird-arse reason, that’s bothering him. He manages to get a tourniquet fashioned around Malfoy’s bicep, but his brachial artery is still dousing everything around them with blood. Harry feels his eyes begin to burn. He blinks hard and pulls the cloth tighter.
“Fuck you, Malfoy,” he grunts. “This was my favourite black t-shirt.”
Malfoy doesn’t respond. His lips are blue now. Or are they always blue? He’s such a pale, pasty motherfucker, they might always be blue. He ties another strip of cloth around Malfoy’s arm and the bleeding slows to a trickle. Malfoy’s not moving.
Harry slaps him. He doesn’t stir. “Wake up, Malfoy!” He still doesn’t stir.
“Okay, think,” Harry says. “You aren’t stupid, Potter. You don’t fall apart under pressure. You’re shit at healing spells. You’re magically exhausted anyway. This arsehole is bleeding out or maybe dead. What are your options?”
It takes him only a second to come up with a solution. It takes him ten more to brute-force his magic to comply. Apparition on a depleted core feels like being gutted. It still feels better than looking at Malfoy’s blue mouth.
They are there in that clearing for less than a minute, but it’s still enough time for a petrol tank-full of Malfoy’s blood to pour onto the grass.
All this Muggle blood in his system is going to seriously dampen Malfoy’s magic for a while, Harry thinks. Malfoy will hate that. But at least he won’t—
Harry’s mind comes to a rushed stop. He looks at the Muggle monitors, watches Malfoy’s heart beating almost imperceptibly, but it’s still there, somehow. He’s going to live.
He’s going to live, and if he lives, then they’ll just be running from these douchebags their whole lives because the only way to get a Trace off is to have the caster remove it...or to die.
He thinks back to that text from Mouse he got in the hotel room. It’d read only: GO! and that’s all Harry’d needed to spring into action. He’s never met this mysterious person who’s saved his arse three times in the last decade, doesn’t even know if they’re a man or a woman, magic or Muggle, though he suspects they must be at least a squib. He just knows that when Mouse texts him to go, he goes. Mouse has been texting him a lot more frequently since this Malfoy shit started. He’d woken up from two after breaking his ankle in that gorge. Inside job, Mouse’s first text had said. And then the second, But you knew that. Assuming you’re knocked out on pain potions. Text when awake.
The third text, received after his terse, Awake, alive was only:
Don’t let M die
As he stands there watching the doctors and nurses fighting for Malfoy’s sorry life, his phone vibrates again. He pulls it out under the cover of his invisibility cloak and checks the screen.
Make it to Muggle hospital? it reads.
Harry’s chest constricts. He doesn’t know how Mouse always seems to know where Harry is and when Harry’s in trouble, but Mouse does. He types back, Yes. How’d you know that’s where?
It’s only a couple seconds before he gets his reply. Logical place. M going to live?
Harry looks through the window into the surgery room. Yeah, he’s still going to live. Harry doesn’t know what the fuck is wrong with him because he doesn’t know whether this is a relief or horrifying. He just knows Malfoy’s going to live. Looks like it, he says.
This time, the reply takes longer, like Mouse doesn’t know if it’s good or bad, either. Que sera sera. And then, his mobile goes quiet. He slips it back into his pocket and watches the Muggle healers working. In the absence of his phone making noise, his mind fills the silence. At once, he runs through seven different possibilities for the remainder of their lives. All of these possibilities run short. No matter what they do after this, there’s no escape for Malfoy. Harry doesn’t have a chance of honouring Mouse’s request; he has the sinking sensation that nothing he can do will keep Malfoy alive, not long-term, anyway. At Harry’s best estimate, they can make it another six days before they’re taken down.
He doesn’t know if that’s long enough to enact the plan Malfoy’s come up with. In their planning, they’d given themselves three weeks. It’s all been for nothing, Harry thinks. His heart starts rushing in the most confusing and terrifying way. All of this, all these weeks with Malfoy, all this time spent trying to get to the bottom of this corrupted scheme, all the nights in that tent, away from the world and his job and his life and himself feeling like he could be someone, anyone, worth loving—
All for nothing. Because they’ll never solve this thing while Malfoy has a Trace on him, and he’ll never not have that Trace on him. Illegal or not without probable cause, he’s got one, and someone down in the dungeon-esque labyrinths of the lower Ministry will know exactly where he is whenever he casts the simplest arse-wiping spell, for the rest of his life, all three to six days of it. It’s no life for a Malfoy. It’s no life for anyone.
But there’s an eighth option. It gives Malfoy no further days, but it gives Harry as many as eighteen. With eighteen days, he could just maybe finish what they started. And while neither of them will make it out of that alive, at least they can take down that motherfucker in the Ministry and leave the world safer for good people like Ron, Hermione, Rosie, and pretty much everyone who isn’t Harry or Malfoy. They might both be total shits, Harry moreso than Malfoy these days, but they can make up for at least some of it this way. Their deaths will do good for the world, just as at least Harry’s life has done bad.
And there is an infinitesimal chance that this might not turn out like magical theory promises it will. There’s an infinitesimal chance that one of them might get more than those three to eighteen days.
Harry slips his hand into his pocket and checks for their shrunken bags. Still there. All of Malfoy’s notes, his photographs and files, his Wall of Crazy, is safe in Harry’s pocket. Harry can do this without him—if he has to. He can solve this last case for Malfoy, the Auror who never was, if he really has to, but he has an idea—a stupidly brilliant idea. And if it doesn’t work, better Malfoy go this way than at the hand of one of those fuckers chasing them.
Carefully, he pushes open the door to surgery and slips in. No one notices him. They’re still working frantically to save Malfoy’s sodding life. He gets as close to the table as he can because he really doesn’t want to accidentally hit a doctor or nurse instead. He’s careful not to let any part of his wand show, draping the hem of his cloak over Malfoy’s foot, then sliding the wand along the skin of his ankle, just beneath his trousers.
He scrapes the bottom of his gut to draw up enough magic to do what he needs to do. But it’s not magic that’s the problem, really. You have to mean it. Bellatrix taught him that once, long ago, and he’s never forgotten it. But Harry’s had a lot of years to learn nuance, and there are a multitude of reasons a man can mean a spell.
“Avada Kedavra,” he whispers.
Malfoy flatlines. The monitors begin to scream. Doctors and nurses are speaking rapidly in terminologies Harry doesn’t understand. Their voices are loud and forceful and they move together like ants crossing a river, a unified front that works so rhythmically they must be a hive mind.
Come on, Harry prays silently. Come on, bring him back. He watches the Muggles with a sniper’s eye, his ears pick up every command as if they’re spoken in slow motion. Some nurse brings a cart in with the defibrillator and another rips Malfoy’s shirt off and attaches the paddles to his chest. Everything moves so quickly that Harry feels like he’s standing still while time races past him. Has he really just done what he thinks he did? He needs to take it back. He has to take it back. The monitors are squealing and so is his brain. He takes a step forward to undo his damage, however the fuck he could do that, and he collides with a nurse who looks completely baffled before a doctor yells at him to ‘Hurry the fuck up, we’re losing him!’“Clear!” another yells and Harry scrambles back, pressing himself against the wall. His heart is going to explode in his chest, just like Malfoy’s will if they shock him again. Surely the human body can’t withstand such a horrid thing?
Again. They do it again. And again. The corners of Harry’s eyes are starting to feel unusually wet. His breath is coming so fast he thinks he might hyperventilate, or maybe he’s already doing so.
Someone’s leaning over Malfoy, giving him mouth to mouth and chest compressions to keep oxygen in his bloodstream between shocks. “Clear!” the doctor yells again.
Malfoy’s body jerks with the shock, arching up like London Bridge and then falling down again. He’s going to have the most horrid cramp in his back after this, Harry thinks. It happens again and again. It seems like forever since that stupid machine beeped with the sound of Malfoy’s weak heartbeat, like it’s gone on so long that Harry might’ve never even heard that sound to begin with. He’s beginning to forget what it sounds like at all.
And then it comes again and it’s so jarring that he stumbles backwards and knocks over a metal tray of scalpels. He scrambles out of the way, but no one’s paying attention to him. One of the younger nurses thinks she did it and she looks as though she’s about to cry as she gathers everything up. The doctors and nurses breathe a collective sigh of relief as Malfoy’s pulse remains in attendance.
Harry stares at him on the bed, pale and dirty and beaten up, but living. And then he turns and runs from the surgery.
He remembers being shot, though the particulars of the pain itself remain something of a blur. He remembers it was bad, but his brain hasn’t retained the full extent of it, for which he is grateful. The edges of the room are a little blurry, and Draco remembers his glasses flying off. If there’d been a mirror behind him instead of a brick wall, if the shot had been a little higher, it would have all happened just as Potter described that first night.
There’s a rustle of movement from his bedside, and he turns his head to see Potter curled up in a chair, blinking sleepily. The muzziness fades from his eyes between one second and the next as he unfolds himself from the chair.
“Malfoy, thank god,” Potter says. He’s by Draco’s bedside in an instant, leaning close. “How do you feel?”
Draco takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Potter reeks of that burnt-ozone smell that comes from too much Apparition. The chain of jumps he made must’ve been at least twice as long as the others they’d made together, and thank fuck Draco was unconscious for that. His stomach turns over just thinking about it.
“How long?” he asks. His voice comes out as a rough croak.
“About four hours,” Potter says. “If you’re feeling up to it, we need to go.”
“God, okay. Just give me a couple minutes,” Draco says. He lets his head fall back against the pillow.
“Just a couple,” Potter says, his gaze flickering to the door. “We’re kinda not supposed to be in here. Too many people around in the recovery room, I had to cast a couple of spells to get them to put you in a private room.”
Draco blinks at him. “You cast in a hospital? Around all the electronic things?”
Potter shrugs. “I was pretty drained from Apparating. Spells barely worked at all, didn’t have enough extra magic in ‘em to fuck with anything. Didn’t leave enough of a trail for anyone to track.”
Draco looks at Potter just then, really looks at him, the way he’s pale with dark circles under his eyes. How his movements are slow and deliberate, how he’s holding himself hunched over a little. He’s squinting his eyes slightly, like he’s got a headache and even the dim lights of the hospital room bother him.
Potter turns away, letting Draco rest as he gathers up his belongings. When he’s got everything collected, he helps Draco peel the tape off the back of his hand. To Draco’s horror, he discovers a needle stuck into his vein—Muggle doctors are practically barbarians, it’s a wonder they get any Healing done at all. Draco’s stomach turns over and he can’t watch as Potter carefully slides it free and tosses it aside, then he helps Draco sit up all the way and slide his legs over the side of the bed. He helps guide Draco’s feet into his trousers and together they get them pulled up and fastened, but Draco’s feeling muddled enough from the pain medicine that it’s not nearly as humiliating as it should be, having the Chosen One do up his trousers. Potter loops Draco’s good arm over his shoulders and helps him stand. Draco’s a little wobbly and he’s irritated to find that he has to lean on Potter for support.
“Apparating out’s gonna be easiest. Can you manage?” Potter asks. “I’m completely drained.”
“But won’t they find us?” Draco asks with a frown. “You said with the Trace I can’t do magic.”
Potter shakes his head. “You…When you were in surgery, you died. Technically. Your heart stopped, and they brought you back, but the Trace is gone now.” He presses Draco’s wand into his hand. “Go on. Get us outta here.”
It takes a few seconds for Draco to work out his destination. Then he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and concentrates. Everything twists, including Draco’s stomach, but one jump’s not bad. He sinks backward without looking, and perches on the edge of the bed before he opens his eyes.
“Oh, my god,” he murmurs, pressing a hand to his forehead. He feels dizzy and sick, far worse from a single jump than he should be.
“Transfusions,” Potter says in an oddly regretful tone. “You nearly bled out, they had to replace your blood with transfusions from Muggles. It’ll probably fuck up your magic for a while.”
“Would’ve been nice of you to tell me that before you let me Apparate,” Draco mutters, finally opening his eyes.
Potter just shrugs and looks around the bedroom. “Knew you’d be fine. Where are we?” he asks.
“An ex-boyfriend’s place. He’s got a cabin he goes to on the weekends sometimes. He’s a solicitor in London so there’s no chance of him coming out here during the week,” Draco says. A flicker of worry passes over Potter’s features, so he hastens to add, “And we broke up over a year ago so there’s no reason for anyone to connect us. It’ll be safe for tonight, just until we can figure out where to go next.”
It says something about Potter’s state of mind that he just sighs and nods, accepting that explanation easily. “Just for tonight.” He digs in his bag, pulling out jars and bottles and vials, and entire stock of healing potions. “We’ll get you fixed up and call it a night, yeah?”
Draco reaches into the bottomless bag while Potter sorts through the potions, and drags out his messenger bag. He digs around in it and finds his spare glasses and puts them on. Shame about losing the blue ones, he’d loved those frames. His spare frames are rectangular and black, and while Draco knows he looks damn good in them, they’re nowhere near as striking. Maybe he’ll try to Transfigure them when he’s feeling up to it. Now that he can use magic again.
Potter finishes arranging the potions and takes care of himself first, downing the contents of three different vials in quick gulps. Draco recognises potions to stabilise his depleted magical core, and though his magical reserves will have to rebuild on their own, Potter looks worlds better after the potions. Less peaky, and though he still seems tired, it’s nowhere near the pale exhaustion he was showing just moments before.
He helps Draco out of the hospital gown and unwraps the bandages from around his shoulder and chest.
“What happened here?” Draco asks, prodding at the edge of a large uneven burn across the left side of his ribs. There’s another one higher up on the right side of his chest. They’re not serious, but it’s more than a little alarming that he doesn’t remember how he got either of them.
“Got ‘em when you died,” Potter says, not looking at Draco. He sorts through the potions he’d laid out until he finds a vial. “Here, drink this.” He unscrews the top of a jar while Draco does as he’s told, and then continues. “The doctors used a jolt of electricity to restart your heart. That’s where they put the paddles when they shocked you. Hold still, now. This’ll sting.”
“Oh,” Draco says, and falls silent as Potter reaches out and gently dabs a thick paste onto the bullet wound, then again, “Oh.” Sting was an enormous fucking understatement, but Draco grits his teeth and bears it.
“Sorry,” Potter mutters, but doesn’t speed his movements, just keeps applying the healing paste with the same meticulous care. When he finishes, he uncaps a second jar, rubs a different salve on top of the first.
Draco closes his eyes, feeling the potions work. There’s a few moments of an uncomfortable crawling sensation as the potions work deep into the wound, then an odd tugging itch as his skin knits back together. He looks down to find that the wound’s scabbed over, still an angry red but clearly on the way to mended now, and when he gives his arm an experimental stretch he finds that the pain is gone almost entirely. He’ll likely be sore for a few days and he’ll undoubtedly end up with one hell of an ugly fucking scar, but he’ll be fine. Potter rubs a different salve into the burns on his chest, those fingers that wrap deadly around a gun or a wand now incongruously tender. Potter’s frowning a little in concentration, his nose scrunched up in a way that Draco would have called adorable had it been anyone else, and the whole thing feels so unbearably intimate that Draco’s alarmed to realise that he’s getting a little hard from it. He can feel himself blushing as he looks away.
When he finishes, Potter wipes off his hands on his trousers and sits down on the bed beside him, his fingertips loosely curled around the edge of the mattress. Draco looks down at how close their hands are and he’s overcome with the sudden irrepressible urge to touch. When he thinks back on it later, he’ll blame it on the Muggle painkillers still making their way out of his system. Or maybe the lingering effects a near-death (actual-death? does it still count as death if he comes back?) experience makes him irrational. But whatever the cause, he finds himself giving in to the urge before he can stop to think it through.
He takes a deep breath and shifts his hand a tiny bit closer to Potter’s, spreading his fingers until the very edge of his pinky brushes against Potter’s. He holds still, staring down at the floor as Potter’s hand flinches away. And then, incredibly, Potter moves his hand back. Draco’s so surprised that he nearly snatches his hand away. Potter’s fingers are stiff where they overlap his own, but they don’t move away. Slowly, cautiously, Draco turns his hand palm-up, and Potter links his fingers through Draco’s.
It’s fucking surreal, sitting here on a bed after having nearly died, and holding hands with Potter, and even that surreality is arousing. And all the things he’d told himself earlier, about how they don’t need the complication and the situation’s already fucked-up enough as it is and how a relationship between them would never work, are swept aside in an instant. This isn’t some happily-ever-after, and no one’s saying anything about a relationship; this is comfort, pure and simple. And besides, the odds are looking pretty damn good that neither of them will be around long enough to deal with anything like consequences.
He gives Potter’s fingers a squeeze, and Potter startles, then turns reluctantly to look at him. His eyes are wide and uncertain and so very green, and Draco doesn’t think about it, just leans in and kisses him. Aims for his mouth but loses his nerve at the last moment and ends up pressing his lips to Potter’s cheek. Potter jerks away like he’s been burned.
A hot rush of embarrassment sweeps through Draco at his own stupidity and how entirely he’s misread the situation. He starts to disentangle his fingers from Potter’s, his mind spinning for an excuse. Potter makes a low sound in his throat, nearly a growl, as he lunges at Draco, pressing him down to the bed. His hands are fumbling at Draco’s trousers and oh god, Potter can probably feel his erection, but his hands are there, right there and then he rocks his hips, grinding down against Draco’s thigh and he’s just as hard.
Draco squeezes his eyes shut and whimpers as Potter gets his trousers tugged down and wraps a hand around his cock. There’s the clink of a belt buckle and the rustle of fabric as Potter shifts atop him, straddling him, and then there’s a hot, hard length pressed against his own. Potter wraps his hand around both of them and strokes, and Draco arches his back against the mattress, bucking up to meet Potter’s strokes.
It’s messy and undignified and glorious and over far too soon. Potter comes first with a breathy grunt, and the feel of his cock throbbing against Draco’s is enough to tip him over the edge.
He’s still languishing in the warmth of his post-orgasm haze when Potter rolls off him. Draco blinks his eyes open and pushes up on one elbow, watching as Potter turns away from him and zips up his trousers. Draco pulls his own back up but doesn’t bother to fasten them. He sits up, frowning now, because Potter’s still not looking at him.
“Hey,” he starts gently, but Potter just shakes his head and walks to the door.
“Get some sleep,” Potter tells him without looking back. “We’re leaving early.”
And he’s gone, leaving Draco baffled and wrong-footed and inexplicably hurt. His first instinct is to go after him, to force him to explain what the fuck’s going on, how he could pin Draco to the bed and wank him and then run away without a single word about it. But he doesn’t. Potter’s defensive and Draco confronting him will only lead to a fight. And frankly, he’s just not up to it right now.
Draco sighs and flops back on the bed, exhaustion and his injury and a really brilliant orgasm all catching up to him at once. His eyes slide shut and he doesn’t fight it as he turns his face into the pillow.
He’ll deal with this tomorrow.
“Motherfuck,” Harry mutters to himself. ”You touched his dick and you liked it, didn’t you?” Yeah, he really did. And isn’t that just some shit? Ten years he’s gone without touching another human being, at least seven or eight of those he hadn’t even been able to get an erection, so far from humanity was he by then. He’s a robot and robots don’t get fucking turned on, especially by other men and especially by Malfoys.
But that’s not really true, is it, Potter? he thinks sourly. Remember fifth year? And sixth, too, if you’re honest? And if you’re gonna be honest, you might as well own up to those weird-arse dreams you used to have during Auror Academy and the seven shots of whiskey it took you to face your life when Dawlish announced you’d be paired with Malfoy.
“You really are a fuckin’ coward, Potter,” he mutters as he scrubs shampoo through his hair more forcefully than he needs to. He should shave it off, but then Malfoy had said he likes it, and that’s all Harry needed to forget the fuckin’ spell. He lets Malfoy think it’s because they can’t use too much magic, but it’s not like Harry couldn’t find an electric shaver somewhere in a good-looking gay man’s cabin. And he is good-looking. Harry saw the pictures on the mantel. Some of them still have Malfoy in them.
The water starts going cold too soon, and while Harry’s body can withstand pain and temperature extremes beyond most people’s ability, he just doesn’t have it in him right now. He’s exhausted both physically and magically and probably mentally, too. He cuts off the water and perfunctorily towels off, leaving his shins and feet still wet as he slides under the covers in the guest room. He suspects that he’ll be up for hours mulling over the rose-velvet feel of Malfoy’s prick in his hand, but he’s asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.
The difference this time is, when he wakes up, he’s not alone.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Malfoy’s saying, his voice high and a little frantic even as his hands smooth warm and gentle down Harry’s shoulders. “She’s okay, she’s safe, she’s fine.”
“Rosie,” Harry says, the dream still fading slowly around the periphery of his brain.
“She’s fine,” Malfoy says again. “She’s okay.”
Yeah, she’s fine, but she was so close to not being fine. Harry remembers the terrifying, endless days that she lay in a bed at St Mungo’s, not even breathing on her own. He remembers the sallow, sunken looks on Ron and Hermione’s faces as they sat with her, Hermione still missing half her hair from the explosion, the skin on her right side pink and shiny from where she’d tried to turn her own body into the fire to keep Rosie’s safe, but it hadn’t been quick enough. How could it have been? She’d been right there at the grates, one foot already stepping into the fire, when the explosions had gone off.
They never did catch the motherfuckers who set those bombs.
After that, Harry had started hating himself a little bit less. He was the one who took out the crazies. Maybe he’d get assigned to take down this particular motherfucker, and nothing would’ve ever given him even half the pleasure.
But it’s been a year, and the Ministry is apparently no closer to finding that fuck than they were in the clusterfuck of minutes that followed the explosions.
Malfoy moves slowly, deliberately, sliding his hand down Harry’s arm, across his hip, and then cups firmly between his legs. Harry’s breath hitches, and Malfoy leans closer, his eyes so pale in the dim light spilling in from the hall. Harry can’t believe Malfoy’s doing this, can’t believe how much he wants Malfoy to be doing this. Malfoy gives him a squeeze and something deep inside Harry snaps. All he can think of is their earlier encounter, the heat of Malfoy’s body against his, the thrill of another man’s cock pressed against his own. He doesn’t think of what came after, the shame and shock roiling through him, condensed into a great big ball of confusion. All he can think of is how he felt and how goddamn long it’s been since he’s felt anything at all.
He growls low in his throat and pushes Malfoy to the bed, climbing atop him and pressing his face into the curve of Malfoy’s neck as he grinds against him until Malfoy’s just as hard. Malfoy responds eagerly, rocking his hips up against Harry and making these breathy little gasps that drive Harry half out of his mind. He pushes down his own pyjama bottoms and kicks them free, then yanks at the drawstring holding Malfoy’s up around his skinny hips. Gets them down and off, rolls Malfoy over onto his front, then hauls him up on his hands and knees and pushes his cock against his arse.
“Wait, wait,” Malfoy pants. He lunges for the edge of the bed, snags the top drawer of the bedside table with his fingertips, and jerks it open. He pulls out a tube of lube and shoves it at Harry. “Use that.”
Harry fumbles with the tube in his eagerness, drops the cap and hears it hit the floor. He squeezes too much over his fingers and slicks up his cock as Malfoy presses his face to the pillows and arches his back, offering himself up to Harry like penance. Harry doesn’t deserve things like this, left them all behind a long time ago and didn’t look back. He lines up and pushes inside.
Malfoy’s breath hisses out between clenched teeth as Harry sinks into him, groans as Harry draws back and slams into him again. A distant corner of his mind knows that he’s being too rough, but Malfoy doesn’t shy away from him, just keeps groaning into the pillows. His elbow jerks as he wanks himself while Harry fucks him. Harry twists his hands in the soft fabric of Malfoy’s t-shirt, presses hard against him, his hips snug against Malfoy’s arse.
“Oh god, Potter,” Malfoy gasps as Harry thrusts deep.
Harry can feel his body trembling, then tighten and throb around him as Malfoy comes. Harry fucks him through it, his own orgasm approaching like a wave crashing against the shore. It breaks over him, rolls him over, pulls him under, and he spills himself into Malfoy’s body.
When it’s over, he feels wrung-out, limp and loose and oddly empty. He sags forward, bearing Malfoy down to the bed with him, and it’s a few moments before he gets off him, flops onto his side. Malfoy whimpers as Harry slips out. Harry thinks he should probably say something, do something. But the silence is palpable, how it stretches between them, punctuated only by their breathing.
Then there’s a quiet rustle as Malfoy turns onto his side. His hand creeps across the sheets between them and his fingertips brush against Harry’s. And this, Harry thinks, he should definitely say something about. But he’s got no idea what, and the silence keeps stretching between them, and then he’s asleep before he figures it out.
Moving carefully, he turns over so he can see Potter. His hair’s grown back again—Draco didn’t notice last night—and falls over Potter’s forehead in an unruly tangle. Slowly, he reaches out and cards his fingers through it. It’s softer than it looks, thick and glossy, and utterly addicting. Draco’s always loved a man with touchable hair. It feels odd to be touching Potter like this, but bloody hell, Draco had Potter’s cock up his arse just a handful of hours ago. He thinks that entitles him to a bit of harmless hair-touching. He combs his fingers through it again, and again, before it really sinks in what the fuck he’s doing and who he’s doing it to.
Draco takes a deep breath and edges out of bed. He nearly makes it to the bathroom when Potter’s eyes snap open.
“I…” Draco begins, feeling like the world’s biggest pillock. “Shower.”
“Sure. I’ll go make coffee,” Potter says, not quite meeting his eyes as he pushes himself up.
“Yeah, okay,” Draco says. “I’ll just be a few.” He slips into the bathroom and shuts the door while Potter’s still hunting for his pants. He stands dead-still and listens, hears the floorboards creak as Potter leaves the bedroom. He sighs and turns away from the door, and decides that the conversation he’s going to have with Potter will be hellishly awkward whether he spends the ten minutes prior to it worrying over it or not. He opts to enjoy his shower.
Draco is careful as he pulls off his t-shirt; as he expected, his shoulder is still sore, a sickly yellow bruise spreading down his arm and across his chest. He turns on the shower and leans close to the bathroom mirror to examine his injuries while he waits for the water to warm. The patchy burns on his chest are healing beautifully, the angry red already fading to pink. The bullet wound looks much better than it did just yesterday, scabbed over entirely. He idly picks at the edge of the scab, but it hurts a little bit so he stops.
The water stings when he steps under the spray, so he turns it down to a pleasant warmth. Thinking of Potter waiting for him in the kitchen, cup of coffee ready for him, he doesn’t linger. He washes quickly and steps out of the shower, snagging a clean towel from the neatly folded stack on the shelf and unfurling it with a quick snap of his wrist.
Mindful of his injury, Draco gingerly pats a corner of the towel against his shoulder, then briskly rubs the water from the rest of his body. He’s bent over, drying off his legs when something on his ankle catches his eye. Draco wraps the towel around his waist and tucks it securely closed, then props his foot up on the closed lid of the toilet for a better look.
There’s a scar nestled in the slight hollow between his Achilles tendon and the bony knob of his ankle. It’s shiny pink and shaped like a small lightning bolt. Draco’s only seen one other scar like it in his lifetime, and everyone in the Wizarding world knows exactly what spell made it.
“He wouldn’t…” Draco murmurs to himself, even though he knows Oh yes, he goddamn would. “Son of a bitch.”
As much as he doesn’t want to admit it to himself, he can’t deny it. Every step of the way, Potter’s shown the utmost willingness to do whatever he feels needs to be done. Draco had known that from the very beginning, had accepted it, even welcomed it in the face of what they’re trying to accomplish. Draco had a Trace on him, and that Trace left both of them vulnerable. Draco was already on the verge of death, in a Muggle hospital, surrounded by Muggle healers. It’d been a risk, but a calculated one. One that’d paid off.
Draco rubs at this ribs, where the skin is still a little sensitive from the freshly-healed burn. “Son of a bitch,” he says again, soft and helpless, because as hurt and angry as he is, he can’t say for certain that he wouldn’t have done the same.
He entertains the brief notion of confronting Potter about it, but has decided against it by the time he finishes dressing. They’ve got too much to worry about right now for Draco to be inciting any such disagreements, especially since he isn’t quite certain how he feels about it to begin with. And Potter’s likely to still be off-balance from what had happened between them last night. He’s probably not in a stable frame of mind right now.
Draco takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it slowly out. Then he opens the bathroom door and goes to get dressed.
So he makes bacon and eggs for Malfoy. And coffee, too. It’s fancy shit from South America, single estate, organic, fair trade, probably comes from beans shit out of the arses of an endangered species of free-range spider monkey who are fed only organic bananas and, of course, the organic coffee beans.
He hears the shower turn off, then Malfoy clodding around as he gets dressed, and decides to add another pat of butter to the eggs. This guilt thing never gets any easier to deal with. A few minutes later, Malfoy comes in, wearing only his trousers and socks. The bruises on his arm and shoulder are turning sickly yellow and have spread into his chest. There’s another bruise at his sternum from the chest compressions, and it looks angry and painful. The burns are pinkening as they heal, but they shouldn’t scar too bad.
It takes him a moment to realise he’s been staring at Malfoy’s chest, and that Malfoy notices it. He looks away, his face burning. “Made breakfast,” he grunts.
He can feel Malfoy’s body nearing his, standing only inches behind him as he looks over Harry’s shoulder into the frying pan. “That smells good,” he says, and his voice sends shivers all up and down Harry’s spine. “Didn’t think you knew how to cook good food.”
Harry shrugs. He’s made enough breakfasts in his life, mostly for the Dursleys. There are a few things that one just doesn’t forget how to cook, even if one would prefer to eat steel-cut oats and a greens smoothie for breakfast oneself. Malfoy continues standing there for far too long. Harry’s forearms tense, his veins bulging out as he clenches his hands around the handles of the pan and spatula. Finally, Malfoy moves away; Harry begins to relax when he hears a chair being pulled out at the kitchen table.
“We should move soon,” Harry says. “We’ll need to get cash and guns and a few spare wands. Then...then we’ll go for the Ministry. I thought we’d have more time, but we aren’t gonna, so. We need to do it soon as possible.”
Malfoy’s eyebrows shoot up. “A few spare wands…” he repeats slowly, like the very idea is incomprehensible, and ignoring the salient parts of Harry’s comment, which are the parts where they’re about to have infiltrate the goddamned Ministry of Magic so they can take out one evil person, and they will undoubtedly be caught and hopefully killed. Because being killed is so much better than being Kissed, and that’s sure as fuck Harry’s fate if he’s ever taken into custody.
“Yeah,” Harry says, just as slowly. “A few spare wands. I’ve got some stashed. Have to switch out every now and again when things go awry. Doesn’t happen so much now as it used to, but better safe than sorry, right?”
“Right,” Malfoy repeats. He’s been looking at Harry funny all morning, like he’s suddenly decided he isn’t sure if Harry’s sane or not, and while that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to wonder, it’s kind of fucking stupid to wait until now to wonder it.
“So eat your breakfast and then we’ll go,” Harry says. He turns back to the cooker to gather himself, which he’s never had to do before in his fucking life. Fucking Malfoy coming back into his life and fucking everything up. He was just about at a point where he both felt completely numb and like he was starting to do some go—no, don’t think about that.
“Are we not going to talk about this huge fucking Erumpent in the room?” Malfoy asks.
“Nothing to talk about,” Harry says, though even he knows the words are a lie. There’s got to be something to talk about, got to be something to say for all these electric currents he’s got going through his body since Malfoy walked into the kitchen. It’s like being shanked in the kidneys over and over, but in a good way. Or maybe a bad way. He just wants to touch Malfoy, wants it so much it makes him want to sick up all over himself, too.
“Really,” Malfoy drawls.
Harry spins away from the cooker and stalks from the kitchen. “Really,” he tosses over his shoulder as he passes through the door. He can feel Malfoy’s eyes on his back the whole goddamned way.
Where Draco goes next, as it turns out, is just over to the neighbour’s. With no Trace on his magic, all it takes is a quick Confundus and the woman’s quite agreeable about letting him take her car, in fact even gives him the choice between a Volkswagen Touareg and a BMW Z4. Draco is sorely tempted by the Z4 but he can only imagine the fit Potter will have if he returns from his mission with a candy apple red roadster. Draco smiles at the thought and takes the key to the Touareg.
Potter’s collected all their things and is waiting for him at the base of the driveway. Draco grudgingly gets out and lets him take the wheel. They get on the motorway and head for London. The current plan is to ditch the car somewhere in the city before Draco’s Confundus wears off and the owner reports it missing, catch the first train they can find, and hole up for a while and sort out the particulars of breaking through Ministry security. They’ve been on the defensive for too long; now it’s time to strike back. They don’t have three weeks anymore, but Draco would like a day or two at least.
They’ve been on the road for a couple of hours when it happens.
Draco’s just taken a sip from his bottle of water and fumbles the cap. It bounces off the edge of his seat and into the footwell, and he’s just bent over to grope for it when there’s a sharp crack and a bullet slams through Draco’s headrest. The car swerves and Potter swears, and Draco stays hunched low in his seat as he peers into the wing mirror. There’s a dark car behind them.
“What the fuck,” Potter demands, glaring in the rearview mirror even as he slams down on the gas pedal and the car surges forward. “Bunch of dumb fucks, shooting at a moving car. Spell’d be easier to hit us with.”
“Jesus Christ, you would be criticising the way they’re trying to kill us,” Draco snaps. “Does it really fucking matter?”
“Doesn’t make sense, is all,” Potter mutters. Then, “Hold on.”
Draco barely has enough time to ask, “What?” before Potter wrenches the wheel, cutting sharply across two lanes of traffic and nearly taking out a Honda. He swears the car rises up on two wheels as they make the turn, and then they’re flying down the exit ramp. Potter doesn’t slow as they approach the roundabout.
There’s no way they’re going to be able to take the sharp curve of it at speed. Draco grabs for the assist handle over his door, holding on tight and bracing himself as best he can. Potter deftly dodges a motorbike and then there’s a great jolt as they bounce up and over the kerb, the engine revving as the tyres dig into dirt and grass. There’s a sharp clack! as the wing mirror clips a signpost, folding it neatly in against the side of the car, and then they bounce over the far kerb with another jolt and Potter steers the car onto the entrance ramp.
The dark car made it off the motorway behind them, but Potter’s shortcut left the roundabout in chaos and now it’s caught behind a lorry. Draco takes a few deep breaths and tries to convince his body that a heart attack is neither necessary nor helpful at this time. Meanwhile, his brain is still panicking, not quite accepting the fact that they made it off and then back onto the motorway without killing anyone.
“They’re shooting at us because there are too many witnesses,” Draco says, unclenching his fingers from around the assist handle above the door. “If they used spells, the DMLE would catch wind of it and there’d be an investigation. They use guns, it’s a Muggle problem.” And Potter’s little roundabout stunt leaves Draco angry enough to add, “Dumb-arse.”
Potter just sends him a glare, and says, “Fix the mirror.” He steers through a narrow gap between vehicles and pulls ahead.
Draco rolls down his window and reaches out to unfold the wing mirror, just in time to see that their pursuers are catching up to them again, and worse, there’s now another dark car speeding right along with them. He opens his mouth to point it out, but from the way Potter’s glaring into the rearview mirror, Draco knows he’s already aware.
“You’re gonna need to drive,” Potter says. “Just get your leg over here, put your foot on the gas and I’ll—”
“Fuck no!” Draco says. “Do I look like a fucking stunt driver to you?”
“No, but you’re all I got,” Potter snaps back. “I can’t drive and shoot at the same time, now get your foot over here.”
“No,” Draco tells him. “I’ve got another idea.” He sucks in a deep breath. “Potter. I need you to trust me.”
Potter slants a dubious look at Draco, and there’s a long pause before he says, “Okay.”
Draco doesn’t give Potter a chance to ask for details. He unclicks his seatbelt and squirms his way into the rear seat. He grabs the bag from behind Potter’s seat and loops the strap securely over his shoulder, then leans back into the front to push the passenger seat up and out of the way as much as he can.
“When I say now, I need you to turn left as sharp as you can,” he says, getting into position. “Okay?”
Potter starts to turn to look at him, then clenches his jaw and focuses on the road ahead. He nods once, curtly. Draco doesn’t look behind him, doesn’t look back at the two cars that are surely gaining. He just watches traffic out the left window and when there’s a sizable gap between vehicles, he launches himself forward, yelling, “NOW!”
Potter wrenches the wheel just as Draco hits him. The car spins and Draco takes the momentum of that twist and turns it to his advantage, deliberation, determination, and—the world spins sickeningly, rushing, twisting, and Draco keeps his eyes shut tight—destination.
They hit hard, feet slamming into the unforgiving cobblestones, still spinning, and they crash into a wall, stumbling against each other and falling to the ground. Apparating from a moving car is one of the riskier things Draco’s ever done, but a calculated risk. The spin of turning on one’s heel just before Apparition absorbs and diffuses the momentum of travelling such a great distance. Travelling at a high speed needed a bigger spin to safely diffuse their extra velocity, and even if their landing was a bit rough, he and Potter are alive. Bruised and shaky, but both of them have had worse broom crashes than this; they’ll be fine.
There’s a moment when Draco wonders whether everyone on the motorway with them is also fine, but he puts that worry aside. It’s always so easy to avoid thinking about the consequences of his actions when he isn’t there to witness them. All that matters is the car is undoubtedly wrecked, and that means their pursuers will have a tough time tracking their Apparition. Especially since Draco’s magical signature will still be muddled from the transfusions of Muggle blood he was given. And if there were casualties, Draco will never see their faces or know their names. He can live with that.
Among the concerned exclamations from startled bystanders, Draco thinks he catches Potter’s name. Fuck, that was fast. He staggers to his feet, grabs Potter’s arm and hauls him up.
“Come on,” he urges, ignoring the witches and wizards standing nearby. So far no one’s approached them and Draco intends to be gone before anyone has the idea.
Potter blinks around, his eyes going wide. “You brought me to Diagon Alley?” he demands.
“Needed a Floo. Come on,” Draco repeats.
He could have gone to a less-crowded place, but Diagon Alley is the center of Wizarding Britain. Lots of Wizards, lots of homes and businesses, lots of Floos. He needs that congestion, that dense tangle of pipes and conduits, for this to work.
Potter gives Draco a glare that lets Draco know he’s going to be in for it later, but Draco’s not overly concerned about it. This was nothing to what he intends to do, and frankly he’ll be surprised if Potter remembers to take him to task over Apparating them to a public place.
He grabs Potter by the sleeve and drags him along. There’s a tailor’s just up ahead, and Draco bursts through the door with Potter on his heels.
“Door!” he snaps, and Potter hits the door with a locking spell while Draco turns to deal with the shop’s occupants.
There’s an elderly witch with a dozen pins poking out from her pursed lips and two children, twins, probably first years getting fitted for their first sets of robes. Draco hadn’t realised that it was time for school already. He hits all of them with a set of Body-Bind Curses, Summons all the pins from the witch’s mouth with an off-handed Accio so she doesn’t choke on them, and dodges between racks and shelves holding bolts of fabric, heading for the Floo. He unslings the bag from his shoulder and roots around in it for his messenger bag. He finds it, drags it out, and shoves the enchanted bag into Potter’s arms.
“Go to Weasley’s cottage, where we stayed the first night,” he tells Potter.
Potter glares at him. “I told you. I’m not going to involve—”
“They’re involved whether you like it or not! They’re your friends and anyone with a brain in their head will have already made the connection.” Draco snaps. Fucking hell, they haven’t got time to stand here and argue. “They’re obviously still tracking us somehow, and we need heavy wards that’ll hide us. Trust me, I have a plan so no one can track us through the Network. Go through, open the Floo for me. And as you go, I need you to cast the strongest Aguamenti you can. I need you to flood as much of the Floo Network as possible.”
Something flickers in Potter’s eyes, but he nods. Draco can see that Potter’s reluctant to give up control of the situation, but he also knows they haven’t got time to argue about it. And Draco got them out of the car safely. He scoops up a handful of Floo powder from the container on the mantle and he’s gone in a flash of green flame.
This is the delicate part, but he knows what he’s doing. Has got the timing down perfectly and has seen that this works. Draco digs in his messenger bag and pulls out a small glass sphere, about the size of a marble, hollow and filled with a small chunk of metal. Caesium is Draco’s favourite element, but only because no one will let him have any francium.
Probably for the best. He doesn’t quite understand all the particulars of ‘radioactive’ but apparently the Muggles universally agree that it’s a bad thing.
He takes a deep breath, holds it, blows it slowly out. Inside he’s all fluttering nerves, but he clamps down on it, pulls himself sharply under control. He casts several spells over the glass sphere, an Engorgio until the metal inside is roughly half the size of a Bludger, then a precise spell to fracture the glass and another one right after to hold it together. Lastly, he activates the motion charm on it. Similar to the enchantments on a Snitch, the moment he lets go the sphere will fly away.
Draco hadn’t been aware of the tension in his shoulders until it suddenly eased. He’d been worried about prepping the glass; his magic’s still responding sluggishly to his will. But that was the worst of it. Now it’s all down to stamina, and he’s going to push his magical reserves to the furthest edges of their capabilities and it’s going to hurt. But it will work.
He gathers a handful of Floo powder and tosses it in, and calls out his destination. Steps into the flames and hits the glass sphere in his hand with a Geminio as he’s swept away.
God, Potter’s one powerful fucking wizard. The first time, he and Megan had to plan a primary explosion to break through a water main, but Potter’s done it all with just magic. And his magic probably hasn’t recovered fully. Draco marvels even as he channels more magical energy into the Geminio.
Floo travel is disorienting at the best of times, everything swirling and green, quick flashes of other rooms glimpsed through grates. But this is even worse, trying to hold onto the glass sphere in his hands while it writhes and bucks, copies dropping into the water behind him, flying away down other branches, and the clatter of glass spheres rattling around the metal passage soon grows deafening. Draco can feel the strain on his magic as the effort of holding the fractured spheres together multiplies as they do, but then he’s at the end of his journey. He drops the original sphere, releases the spell holding it together, and hurls himself into the Weasley’s living room.
He turns, aims his wand, and calls up a Shield Charm. It hurts like fuck, scraping up that last bit of magic and bending it to his will. The Shield Charm flickers and warps, and it feels like dragging sandpaper through his insides, but Draco grits his teeth and bears it, and the Shield settles and fits neatly into place, sealing the Floo.
“What—” Potter begins.
But he’s cut off by the explosion. The Shield Charm holds, wavering alarmingly but not breaking as bits of stone and sooty water splatter harmlessly against it. The mantle shakes so violently that the painted teacup teeters off the edge and shatters on the hearth.
“What the fuck was that?” Potter demands when the last echoes of the explosion have faded.
“Caesium,” Draco says, dropping wearily into a chair. “Reacts violently with water. Can’t track us moving through the Floo Network if the Network’s in pieces. I… may have tinkered with it a bit to up the reaction. All the spells holding the Network together will have been disrupted. Took them almost a week to fix it last time, can’t imagine they’ll be much faster this time round.” He rubs tiredly beneath his glasses. “God, I feel like I’ve been run over by the Knight Bus.”
Potter stares at him. “Where the fuck did you even learn all this?”
Draco shrugs. “Around.” He doesn’t want to tell Potter that his first boyfriend had been a University student reading Chemistry. One night they’d got drunk, and Draco had cast an Engorgio over a few shards of sodium Martin had swiped from the lab at school, and then chucked them into the Thames one by one. And so had begun Draco’s long and surprisingly useful fascination with explosions.
Martin was the only one Draco ever broke the Statute of Secrecy for. He vaguely wonders whatever became of him, then shakes off the thought.
Potter stares at him for a long moment, and Draco can practically see all the pieces line up for him and fall into place. “You,” he says. “You planned the last Floo bombing.”
There’s no point in denying it when the evidence is so clearly spelled out in muddy soot splashed over the hearth. “Yeah.”
Malfoy’s mouth firms until his lips disappear almost completely. “I’m sorry you had to go through that but I’m not sorry I did it. She lived, and it was for a greater purpose.”
“A greater fuckin’ purpose, he says,” Harry scoffs, and spins around because he can’t even look at Malfoy’s fucking face right now or he will send a Reducto up his fucking nose into his fucking brain.
“Yeah, a greater fucking purpose,” Malfoy repeats. “You remember those, don’t you? Rather like the modus operandi of your old mate Albus Dumbledore, the bloke who thought all children who weren’t in Gryffindor were expendable. Actually, come to think of it, he seemed to think you were expendable, too.”
Harry spins back around, wand in his left hand and Glock in his right and presses both of them into Malfoy’s sides. “Don’t you fucking dare,” he growls. “This isn’t anything like that. You don’t know anything about it.”
Malfoy shrugs, still not afraid of Harry pushing guns and wands into the soft parts of his flesh. That doesn’t mean he’s brave; just means he’s fucking stupid. “Have you started to wonder how those arseholes found us today?” Malfoy asks calmly.
Harry presses his lips together. “I was getting there.”
Malfoy’s face has gone all hard and emotionless; reminds Harry of when they were in sixth year, which was a shit fucking year for everyone, as he recalls. “You’ve got a Trace, too,” Malfoy says quietly.
Harry jabs the wand and gun further under Malfoy’s ribs, just to be a dick, and then steps back, running the hand with his wand in it through his hair. It still feels weird to have it. “I know,” he says. “Well, I figured. I was starting to figure.”
“How’re we going to get it off you?” Malfoy asks.
Harry gives him a look. “They don’t come off, Malfoy. I told you that.”
Harry shudders, remembering. “Yeah, you were a lucky cunt. They don’t come off for normal people.”
“You aren’t normal,” Malfoy points out. “Yours can come off, too.”
Harry laughs sharply. “Nope, not normal,” he agrees, “but I’ve had two chances already. Two more than everyone else. I won’t get a third.”
“Why not? Muggle technology will work just as good on you as it did on me.”
Harry pauses. “Did you ever...did you ever see anyone? Or...you know, talk to anyone...while you were out? You know what I mean?”
Malfoy looks suddenly uncomfortable. “I had a dream,” he says. “I talked to Vince. It was so weird; I used to dream about Vince all the time, after the War. I used to relive that moment every night in my sleep. I’d reach out for him every night, but he’d just look at me. He’d never take my hand and get on the broom with us. He’d never even speak. It’s so stupid; I never even saw him after we got separated. There wasn’t a time when I tried to reach for him in that fire. But then I dreamt that we were standing there and Fiendfyre was burning all around us, and when I reached for him, he took my hand and showed me how to get to the door. He told me I could stay or I could walk out. I walked out. I left him again.”
“You wanted to live,” Harry says. “You made the decision to come back when the Muggles shocked you. They can start your body up again, but they can’t force you to live. You chose to live.”
“I guess so,” Malfoy agrees.
Harry nods. “See, thing is...I don’t think I would make that decision again. Haven’t got anything to come back to anymore.”
Malfoy’s face closes down. “Right. Well. In that case, we’d better see about getting this over with so you can go back to your meaningless life.”
Harry nods. “Mm, I suppose that’s a good idea. I have clearance to Level Nine, but if we’re both being hunted, then I’ll have to do something special to get us in. It’s near enough to fool-proof, but we’ll want to be quick any—”
“Pause,” Malfoy directs him. Harry narrows his eyes, but does stop talking. “What do you mean by ‘something special’?”
“Well, remember when I told you I could read magical signatures? Fact is, I can change mine to feel like someone else’s, too.”
“Are you fucking kidding me,” Malfoy says, and it’s not a question. He strides over to Harry’s bottomless bag, pulls out his own messenger bag, and starts rifling through it before pulling out a stack of newspaper clippings. He slams them down on the table, one by one. “President of Magical State of Morocco assassinated during visit to London, Falmouth reserve player indicted...Former Hufflepuff’s magical signature found at old classmate’s murder scene...Foreign Ambassador Amethyst Gardner’s husband charged in Muggle-method domestic murder. These all you?”
Harry scowls. “All me,” he affirms. That Malfoy’s somehow noticed a link between all these murders is, frankly, terrifying. Harry’s desperately grateful that the Department was never half as smart.
“I fucking knew it,” Malfoy whispers. He turns away and paces a few steps before spinning back around. “I’m surprised you never thought to put my signature at one of these crimes. Looking for a scapegoat, here’s a handy Slytherin just waiting for his chance to be wrongly sentenced to Azka—”
“I never would’ve used yours,” Harry says. There’s an insistent note in his voice that he’s not used to hearing in himself, and it startles him nearly as much as Malfoy, who blinks a few times before shutting his mouth.
“Why not?” Malfoy eventually says.
Harry shrugs. “Only used bad people’s signatures.”
“And I’m not bad?”
Harry’s mouth thins. “Well, maybe you are now, but I never knew it then...and anyway, wouldn’t’ve fit with the deaths. You weren’t even remotely connected to any of ‘em.”
Malfoy sighs. “Whatever. This isn’t important right now.”
No shit, dumb-arse, Harry wants to say, but doesn’t. Instead, he says, “Who’re our suspects, and how’re we gonna know we’ve got the right person?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Malfoy says, returning to dig into Harry’s bottomless bag. He pulls out a scrap of cloth that Harry recalls having been tacked to his Wall of Crazy. It’s fine, heavy wool the colour of Auror robes, save for a nasty black scorch that nearly burnt through it. When Malfoy hands it to him, the cloth is damp and pungent with the smell of wet sheep. “Thought you could use that talent of yours and tell me whose magical signature is on this. I was hit with a heart-stopping spell a couple months ago. Fortunately, I over-ward my work robes and it didn’t make it through. Whoever cast this spell is the one in charge.”
“How do you know?” asks Harry.
“Because the attack came the night I removed myself from the Fidelius spell.”
Harry clenches his fist around the cloth. Thing is, he recognises the extra signature on this cloth. Or should he say, he recognises both extra signatures on this cloth. There’s Malfoy’s of course; Harry can feel the extra ward and protective spells woven into the fabric. But there’s another set on top, and it’s this set that actually blocked the heart-stopping spell. The signature of that top layer is one Harry knows intimately. He shared a House with it for six years; he shared a tent with it for nine months; it’s a signature that’s cooked for him and protected him and healed him; it’s a signature that feels so warm and vibrant in his hands that he can’t help the ache in his chest it causes him.
“Hermione,” Harry whispers.
Malfoy freezes. “Granger?” he says, incredulous.
Harry shakes his head. His eyes feel hot. “She didn’t attack you. She saved your life. It’s her wards on this robe that stopped the spell. Why would she do that for you?”
“She’s just a solicitor,” Malfoy says. “We’ve worked on a few cases together for the Department, but I can’t say we have a particularly lively working relationship. If anything, I get on better with Weasley, much as it pains me to say.”
Harry runs his fingers over the scorch mark. “I know the other one, too,” he says. “The one that cast the spell.”
“Ah, fuck,” Malfoy says.
“Who’s your handler?”
“Dunno,” Harry says, and he’s never regretted that more than in this moment. “Never actually seen their face. Or even heard their real voice. They’ve always had a spell over ‘em to neutralise both.”
“Touching level of trust you’ve got going on after ten years,” Malfoy says.
Harry shrugs. “Didn’t really care. Knew I could always pick ‘em out if I had to, if we ever came in magical range of one another.”
“Good, because you’re going to have your chance,” Malfoy says. “If your handler is the focus for this spell, we’ll both be getting in magical range.”
“Right,” Harry says. It feels good to have a plan; feels good to be able to get this shit over with so good people can be safe. Then maybe his life won’t be weighted entirely to evil.
“My handler always calls me after normal business hours, so I reckon they’ll be in the Ministry late. We’ll go tonight, get in, identify the mark, take ‘em out, and then get out. Or try to, anyway. If this spell falls like you suspect it will, then chances are the whole Ministry’ll go into a panic. Aurors’ll be everywhere. If I’m apprehended, I’ll be Kissed as soon as they ask me more than my name under Veritaserum. Likely you will, too, once they hear about the Floo bombings. I’m not going out like that. Throw some of that explosive shit at me if it comes to it. Just a little bit, though. I don’t want the whole Ministry going up in flames.”
He starts going through his bags, making sure his wands are in good working condition and his Glock is loaded, extra bullets shrunken in his pocket.
“Since you mention it,” says Malfoy, “I’ve got a contingency plan. If things were to go awry.”
Harry pauses his preparations. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I spent a long time learning the network of security spells woven into the Ministry’s wards,” Malfoy says evenly. “So much so that I had extra time to add some spells of my own.”
“What kind of spells?” Harry asks warily.
“The fuck, Malfoy!” Harry says. “We can’t blow up the entire fuckin’ Ministry. This isn’t a fuckin’ Michael Bay film. It’s people’s lives.”
“It’s nighttime,” Malfoy begins, in that overly-reasonable voice Harry is beginning to hate. And also like, weirdly enough. “Only a few people will even be in the building. And us. If it comes down to it, I’ll be a dead man anyway. What do I care?”
“We’re expendable,” Harry agrees, and Malfoy’s eyes narrow, “but you can’t just kill the overnight janitorial crew and the intern reading Witch Weekly at the front desk and sweep it up under ‘collateral damage’ because you’re bitter about your life choices. It’s not right.”
“Well, Mr Righteous-Never-Murdered-Anyone, you can think of your own Plan B and then let me know what it is if we end up needing it,” Malfoy says tartly. He grabs his messenger bag and flings it up on his shoulder. “Are you fucking ready?”
“Fuckin’ ready,” Harry sighs. He’s probably going to die tonight—they’ve got a Trace on him; the chances of him being able to pull off a hit in the Ministry of Magic without getting caught are less than zero, and he refuses to be sentenced to a Kiss. He just wishes he would’ve got to watch just one more episode of CSI beforehand. He was really starting to get into the story.
They’re standing outside the phone booth mentally going over their plans in Harry’s case, and probably regretting loads of life choices in Malfoy’s case. Or maybe he’s going over plans, too. He has that look on his face, the one that says he’s thinking really hard about something. It makes Harry want to kiss him again.
He leans over, presses his mouth to Malfoy’s. It’s clumsy and sort of hits the edge of his mouth and cheek all in one go. Malfoy jumps in surprise and Harry pulls back awkwardly.
“What was that for?” Malfoy demands.
“Just wanted to,” Harry says, face hot. “Sorry.”
“No, I…” says Malfoy, and his expression changes slightly. He brings his hand up to Harry’s jaw and angles their mouths together again. “Just surprised me, is all,” he breathes against Harry’s mouth. “I get tetchy when I’m anxious.”
“I know,” Harry says.
“Fuck off,” Malfoy says, and presses their lips together. It’s even better than the first time, feels even more intimate and invasive; feels even more like it’ll be the last time Harry ever gets to feel something like this. He kisses Malfoy back softly, and it feels more intense than anything else they’d done. Sex was okay; that was to get off. Kissing though...you did that only because you had something to say that words didn’t quite do it for.
When Malfoy pulls away, Harry feels a little bit lighter somehow. He steps into the phone booth, Malfoy following, and they close the door behind them. Harry dials MAGIC on the keypad and when the automated voice asks him his business, he tells her, “Performance review meeting with my supervisor.”
They each get a name tag that reads ‘Reporting for demotion’ and attach them to their shirts.
The lobby is empty, as expected. Even the front desk is unoccupied, which is also expected, since no one hardly ever comes in at night, and those who do have security clearance to their levels. Whatever grunt or intern who got stuck with tonight’s shift has wisely chosen to bugger off to the break room and a staticky wireless. They take the lifts down to Level Nine and Harry passes his registered wand over the door handle, the first of many new security implementations post-Voldemort. It chimes with validation and the lift doors slide open.
There’s a circular room with a set of revolving doors, all the faces mirrored. The lift door closes behind them and that door is mirrored, too. Malfoy spins slowly around, looking at each of the doors. Something catches Harry’s eye and he inhales sharply.
“What?” Malfoy says and begins to turn back.
Harry stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “No, don’t.” Malfoy stills again, and there it is— the word caught just right against the seam of the door so only five of the seven letters are visible. LOVER repeats endlessly, getting smaller and smaller until it’s altogether illegible. Harry can’t look away, can’t see anything but the text on the back of Malfoy’s t-shirt, the screenprinted letters peeling at the edges, curling over Malfoy’s sharp shoulder blades and falling against his spine.
“You were wearing that shirt the night I almost killed you,” Harry says. “What does it mean?”
Malfoy looks over his shoulder, shudders, and turns back, dislodging Harry’s hand. The front says REVOLVE, too. Harry hadn’t noticed that until now.
“Nothing. I took it from an ex-boyfriend. I liked to think that it symbolised my life, that even if I was facing one direction once, I could face another if I just turned around. I wanted to turn something around.”
Harry nods. He doesn’t know what to say to that. “It’s this door,” he says, choosing one four from the lift. It’s not always the fourth door, but Harry can feel V on the handle, so that means right now, that’s the door that leads to whatever office suite V inhabits.
He’s about to turn the handle when his mobile buzzes. Text message. He never gets those, except for from one person. Maybe one or two a month from Ron and Hermione, but not at midnight. Warily, Harry takes his hand from the door knob and retrieves his mobile.
Harry you better not be in the fucking Ministry right now
His heart races. It’s from Mouse’s number, but Mouse has never called him Harry...has never called him anything at all, in fact. Who are you?? he types back quickly, fingers flying over the touchscreen so fast that it autocorrects to something completely unintelligible four times before he slows down enough to type properly.
There’s no response. A second later, his mobile begins to vibrate again, this time with an incoming call. RON WEASLEY, and a picture of Ron’s face, zoomed in too close to the camera when he’d not yet figured out how selfies work, flashes on the screen.
Harry slides his thumb across the screen and puts the mobile to his ear.
“Harry,” Ron says, voice tight. “The fuck are you doing in the Ministry?”
“How do you know?”
“Fucking Trace, Harry,” Ron says. “Tell me you haven’t got Malfoy there with you. If he dies before he ends that spell, we’re all fucked.”
“Fucking hell, Ron,” Harry says. “You’re Mouse.”
“Who the fuck cares, Harry?” says Ron. “Hermione’s just got home with word that the Unspeakables cleared the Ministry as soon as your magical signature was picked up in London. She—”
“Why would Hermione have access to Unspeakable goings-on?” Harry asks.
“Come on, Harry,” says Ron, and Harry blinks several times in quick succession as everything starts slotting neatly into place in his head. “You know she’d never be happy just doing litigation. You and Malfoy need to leave right now. She’s coming in.”
“No,” says Ron. “The Head of the Department of Mysteries. Octavia Rosier. Your handler, Harry.”
“You knew all along,” Harry says. “You both did.” His gut feels like it’s boiling with shame. He’s tried so hard to keep this heinous thing from Ron and Hermione, has tried so hard to protect them from his evilness, and all along, they’ve known.
“And we knew you were the one sending the DMLE those anonymous tips on rogue Hit Wizards, too. Everyone’s got a job, Harry. Yours was to take out the rubbish; ours was to take care of you. Now get the fuck out of the Ministry before Rosier shows up.”
Behind him, the lift groans as it moves away from their floor to the main level. Someone else is in the building with them. Harry spins around, mobile still pressed to his ear. “You said the Ministry’s been evacuated?” he asks Ron.
“Okay,” Harry interrupts. “I gotta go. Tell Teddy and Rosie—”
There’s a ding! as the elevator car stops on Level Nine. Harry drops the mobile to the ground and pulls out his wand and Glock. He aims them both at the lift doors. They slide open, and a familiar greige face in a familiar greige robe steps out of the lift. The air is soaked with the feel of protective spells, V’s magical signature almost sickly rich. It’ll be hard to get through those with a spell; maybe even harder to get through with a bullet.
“Hello, Snow,” says V. The voice is the same as always.
Harry turns to Malfoy, sees the beautiful text of his shirt, the beautiful colour of his eyes reflected a thousand times in all of the mirrors around them.
“Don’t forget your contingency plan,” he tells Malfoy, and then he fights.