Diagon Alley was never quiet, but today it was quieter than usual, especially for the first week of August. In a normal year the street would have been echoing with the noise of hundreds of young wizards and witches wandering from shop to shop- purchasing new robes from Madam Malkin’s emporium, browsing the years spellbooks from Flourish and Blotts, or eagerly perusing the shelves at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes for items that had definitely not been listed on their letters from Hogwarts.
But in August of 2011 it was mostly parents doing the shopping, and most looked even more anxious than usual to be done with it. The handful of youngsters present were being shuffled from shop to shop quickly by watchful adults, wary of exposed and public spaces. It was more than a year into Slipfang’s Rebellion and although the goblin who had leant his name to the conflict had been dead almost as long, his followers had neither surrendered nor abandoned the fight. The witches and wizards crowding Diagon Alley acted as though an attack might come at any time.
But even in this atmosphere, an observer might have noticed a slight relaxation and easing of tensions that seemed to spread gradually through the crowd as the brick wall that led to the Leaky Cauldron tavern magically disassembled itself to admit a man with untidy black hair. He was dressed in the muggle style, wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, and he was distinctly average in both height and build. The only thing that stood out about him was an old scar in the shape of a lightning bolt on his forehead. Harry Potter smiled politely as he noticed wizards around him begin to stare in his direction. He had just passed his thirty-first birthday a few days before, marking his twentieth year since entering the wizarding world, and he had been receiving similar stares for most of those years.
On his first day in Diagon Alley, he had been known as the ‘Boy Who Lived’- the one who had somehow survived a killing curse from Lord Voldemort, the most powerful Dark Wizard in history, ending Voldemort’s first reign of terror in the process. Years had passed, Voldemort had returned and he had become the ‘Chosen One’, prophesied to be the only one who could stop the Dark Lord a second time. More years of war and death had passed, and at age seventeen he had proved the oracle right by destroying Lord Voldemort permanently, thus becoming “The Hero of Hogwarts”.
To Harry himself, he was just one of hundreds who had put their lives on the line to protect the people they cared about. In the eyes of Wizarding Britain, however, he was the hero who had saved their country twice. He knew that even as the new war with the goblins dragged on many were still expecting him to save them again. It was Harry, after all, who had led the Auror Office the past four years. Harry had also led the team of aurors that responded to Slipfang’s attack on Hogwarts, barely preventing the goblins from detonating a massive cache of muggle explosives beneath the castle. And it was Harry who had killed Slipfang himself in a desperate battle in the Forbidden Forest. For a brief period it had seemed as though the rebellion had ended and Harry was again the savior of the Wizarding World.
But since the attack on Hogwarts and the burning of Hogsmeade the previous June hardly a week had passed without news of some attack- usually a robbery or the kidnapping or attempted murder of a single witch or wizard, but there had been much worse days. A few weeks after the Hogwarts attack the bodies of five Gringotts Goblins had been discovered in Yorkshire- a letter from SCOURGE to the Daily Prophet had declared them traitors. A dozen goblins armed with stolen wands and muggle firearms had rampaged through Ottery St. Catchpole in November, attempting to loot wizard homes for wands or Goblin artifacts before local wizards had organized themselves and driven them off. The Knight Bus had been attacked and all passengers held hostage in April while ferrying Hogwarts Students home from the Easter Holidays. In July a muggle explosive device had been set off in Knockturn alley, destroying two flats, killing one wizard and injuring more.
Harry could tell that every witch and wizard in Diagon Alley that day had the Knockturn Alley attack on their mind. To most British Wizards, even those who renounced anti-muggle prejudice, Muggles were thought of as bumbling but largely harmless when they were thought of at all. Few wizards had reason to think of the more lethally effective aspects of Muggle ingenuity. To strike so close to Diagon Alley, Magical Britain’s public square, with a weapon that was so poorly understood, had spread terror in a way none of SCOURGE’s attacks had since Hogwarts.
Harry turned away from the watching crowds and stepped aside to make way for a tall, blonde and distractingly beautiful witch. Harry could almost feel the shift in people’s gazes from himself to his sister-in-law, who was turning heads in a way that mere fame could never match. Fleur Delacour Weasley quickly appraised her surroundings before turning to usher two children through the gap in the brick wall before it magically closed.
The first child through the doorway was a boy, thirteen years old but already on the way to an impressive adult height, though his gangly frame had yet to catch up. Teddy Lupin’s hair was dark and wavy at the moment, though that was liable to change without notice.
After Teddy came a younger girl with long blonde hair much like that of the witch who had preceded her. Victoire Weasley was the spitting image of her mother in miniature, with the same silvery-blonde hair and eyes that were deep pools of blue. Only a smattering of freckles gave a hint of her Weasley heritage. She made her way into Diagon Alley after Teddy, continuing the monologue that had been going almost non-stop since she and her mother had arrived at the Leaky Cauldron by Floo Powder.
“... and obviously we all know maman would have been in Ravenclaw if she’d gone to Hogwarts, but since Papa and Uncle Ron and all the others on his side of the family were in Gryffindor and of course there’s so much more of them on that side too logically it makes the most sense that I’ll be in Gryffindor with you Teddy…”
“Makes sense to me.” Harry cut in, catching Victoire by the shoulder as she made to hurtle past him into the street. “But try to stay close to your mother alright? Things are tense here, let’s try to keep track of each other.”
“Okay, Harry.” She flashed him a brief smile which seemed to brighten even the sunny August day before turning back to Teddy and continuing her thesis.
“All Summer like this.” Fleur muttered to Harry. “I just thank god she has someone else today whose ear she can talk off.” Fifteen years in England had improved Fleur’s command of the language immensely though her breathy voice retained more than a trace of her native French accent.
Harry smiled. “I’m just glad that she’s still looking forward to Hogwarts- that she’s not afraid I mean. She might make a Gryffindor after all.” He consulted a parchment that Teddy’s grandmother had given him this morning. “Most of what we need is at Flourish and Blott’s, though Teddy could use some new robes as well. Do you want to hit Malkin’s and Flourish and Blott’s together first then we can look at the apothecary and get Victoire’s wand at the end of the day?”
Fleur shook her head. “We have her wand already, we made sure to get her matched in Brittany when we visited my mother in June. With all the troubles I had heard of children unable to find proper wands in England.”
Harry nodded. Wand thefts were a headache he had been dealing with at the auror office since even before the Rebellion started. “Good idea, well that should shorten this trip. I still think we should stay together so-”
“Violet!” Teddy’s voice interrupted their deliberations.
Harry turned to see Teddy waving over Victoire’s shoulder at a girl who had just stepped out of Flourish and Blotts. The newcomer was around the same age as Teddy, though small for her age. She was dressed in fashionable dress robes of green trimmed with silver and her hair was freshly and professionally styled, none of which could quite conceal her overall homeliness. The girl smiled when she saw Teddy, though the look faded as another figure emerged from the bookstore behind her.
Draco Malfoy had lost some of his white-blonde hair and gained a few pounds and a well-trimmed beard in the years since he had been Harry’s nemesis at Hogwarts. Like his daughter he wore fine, green-and-silver dress robes and he carried several well-laden shopping bags. Malfoy caught Harry’s eye as he stepped into the street. Harry nodded politely but was surprised when Malfoy took Violet’s hand and the pair crossed the street. Teddy grinned and went to meet the pair and after a moment Victoire followed him silently.
Malfoy let go of Violet’s hand and offered his own to Teddy. “Teddy Lupin I believe? I don’t think we’ve ever met but Violet speaks highly of you.”
Harry and Fleur made their way over as Teddy took the offered hand, looking uncomfortable. “Er- Thank you sir, Mr. Malfoy.”
Malfoy’s eyes turned to Harry again. “I imagine your godfather has spoken of me as well.”
“No -er- I mean…”
Harry spoke up. “May I help you, Draco?”
Malfoy placed his hand on his daughter’s shoulder and spoke. “Violet, go ahead, talk to your friends.” Then he turned to Fleur. “Madame Weasley, may I borrow Harry for a moment? I have some business I need to discuss with him.”
Fleur looked to Harry who shrugged. “Maybe just take them into Flourish and Blotts Fleur? They shouldn’t stand around in the street. I’ll meet you all in there shortly.”
She nodded and frowned at Malfoy as she led the children across the street, leaving the two of them alone.
Malfoy reached into his pocket and casually drew his wand, careful to avoid any sudden movements. Harry raised his eyebrows when Malfoy murmured ‘muffliato.’ before he pocketed the wand again.
“A little melodramatic don’t you think?” Harry asked.
“I won’t waste your time Potter. Minister Travers is planning to introduce a new War Powers Act to the Witan next month. He expects it to fail and trigger an election.”
Harry sighed. “I can’t comment on political matters…”
Malfoy ignored him “I’ve heard that Hermione Granger is planning to run for Minister when the government falls. Is that true?”
Harry’s eyebrows went up another half-inch. Nobody outside the family was supposed to know that yet. “Dunno, why don’t you ask her?”
Malfoy’s expression did not waver. “I don’t believe that it would be wise for her to do so.”
Harry snorted. “Well if there’s one thing Hermione likes it’s unsolicited advice from a Malfoy.”
Malfoy did not look amused. “This isn’t a joke, Potter. I’m not here for the pleasure of your company. Travers picked this law as his hill to die on because he believes he can win by running on it and get the legitimacy to deal with the goblins as he pleases. If he wins he won’t need to worry so much about how it would look sacking the Chosen One- kicking you out of the Auror’s Office will probably be his first act of his second term.”
Malfoy was right as far as it went. Travers had been looking for a way to sack Harry since the start of his Ministry. Promoting Harry to head of the Auror Office had been one of Minister Shacklebolt’s last acts before leaving office. Harry knew that Minister Travers had always viewed Harry as a loyalist to his defeated opponent, not to mention a latent political threat. Harry suspected that the possibility of Harry running for Minister himself kept Travers up at night, which was likely why Harry still had a job three years into this Ministry. But Harry knew all of this already, and the fact that Travers was playing politics with the management of the Goblin Rebellion was new information but unsurprising given Harry’s experience with the man.
Harry shrugged “Whether this is true or not, I’m not sure what your interest in this is. Shouldn’t you be dancing on my grave right about now?”
“Potter, don’t be a fool and don’t assume I’m one either. My daughter was at Hogwarts when the goblins attacked. She’ll be going back there in a month. Do you think I care about a schoolboy grudge when her life is on the line? We both know you're the best man to run the Auror office. Merlin, everyone in Britain knows it except Stephen Travers.”
Harry looked back at Flourish and Blott’s. Through a window he could see Teddy and Violet peeking at the two of them. Malfoy’s surprisingly earnest words were forcing him to take him seriously for the first time. He looked back at Malfoy.
“Well, Draco I didn’t know you had so much faith in me. Looking at the Prophet and the Quibbler these days I think you might be the only one.”
“People are scared and tired, Potter.” said Malfoy. “The war is going badly and Travers is doing everything he can to make you the face of it, and the Prophet reporters are eating it up because putting your face on a broadsheet sells papers. Travers is playing politics with this and he’s doing it well but I don’t trust him to fight this war, much less end it.”
“But you don’t trust Hermione to fight it either?”
Malfoy sighed. “Whether I do or not isn’t the issue. She’s spent her entire career since Hogwarts trying to free House Elves and pay reparations to the Goblins. Just last year she was representing a Goblin family before the wizengamot. People aren’t going to forget that she’s been on the same side as SCOURGE and they sure aren’t going to forget that she wants to take their house elves away.”
Harry snorted. “How many voters even own House Elves to free?”
“Enough to matter and you know it. And the ones that do are the ones who matter most. The ones who own shares in the Prophet, and the families with permanent seats on the Wizengamot. And even the ones who don’t have Elves remember that the Hogwarts Elves betrayed their children to Slipfang last year. Elf and Goblin liberation isn’t going to be a winning issue in the middle of a war with the Elves and the Goblins, Potter.”
“The elves at Hogwarts weren’t acting willingly.” There was real anger in Harry’s voice for the first time “Most of them were compelled and they helped save the students after they were freed.”
“Good luck fitting that on a campaign poster.” replied Malfoy. “‘Granger preaches Surrender’ has a better ring to it. Look as I said this isn’t about you, me or Granger; it’s about reality. Granger would be a longshot even if there wasn’t a war going on- her pushing on the SPEW nonsense is half of what brought Shacklebolt down. In a different year you might bet on the long odds of electing the first Muggle-born Minister on a platform of upending our whole society, but it’s foolish with this much on the line. Wizards here aren’t just thinking about our Goblin trouble you know. They see what’s going on in America. If Granger runs on the same Elf Rights and Liberalization platform she’s been pushing for the last 10 year it will be easy to paint her with the same brush as Abraham Thorn.”
Harry frowned at that. He somehow doubted that Malfoy’s motives were as disinterested as he claimed. The Malfoys may not have had a House Elf anymore and it had been a long time since they had openly preached pure blood supremacy, but they were still an old family with plenty to lose from any adjustment to the status quo- or any full accounting of the costs of the last war. For a moment Harry considered whether this might be some trick or trap or other act of bad faith on Malfoy’s part.
No he decided. The Draco Malfoy Harry knew pretty much only cared about one thing and that was his family. If anything would get him to reach out after decades of belligerence it would be their safety. This wasn’t a trick or a school boy insult, Malfoy at least thought he was being helpful. And if what he’d said about Travers’ plans was true he had given Harry valuable information. Harry figured he at least ought to take the warning seriously.
“So who would you rather see run, Draco?” he asked, grateful for the Muffliato charm now that he was dropping the pretense.
“You.” Malfoy said immediately. “That’s what Travers is scared of and he should be.”
Harry sighed. “Even if I wanted to, which I don’t, and even if I would make a good Minister, which I wouldn’t; I’m kind of busy right now, what with fighting a Rebellion and all. The place I need to be right now is right where I am, running the Auror Office.”
Malfoy didn’t miss a beat. “Bill Weasley, then. He’s older and more experienced, he’s a war hero, he’s got experience with the goblins…”
“He’s practically running the Goblin Liason Office.” Harry pointed out. “He’s half the reason we’ve still got communications open with the Gringotts directors and probably half the reason they haven’t backed SCOURGE already. He can’t just take a time-out on that job to run for Minister or we’ll be back to square one until we can find another go-between the goblins trust.”
“If Granger is Travers’ opponent, he’ll win and both you and Weasley will be sacked by the new year.” Malfoy retorted.
“Maybe. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time you’ve bet against her and lost.” Harry was finally losing patience. “Your advice was appreciated, Draco, I’ll pass it along.”
The part of Harry that was still a schoolboy felt a twinge of satisfaction to see Malfoy fume.
“Since you mentioned Thorn.” Harry continued. “I actually had some business to discuss with you as well. Concerning some recent decisions by the Hogwarts Board of Governors.”
Harry had to admire the speed with which Malfoy’s face became studiously blank. “Then your business isn't with me, I don’t have a seat on the Board.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Perhaps not, but when my office contacted the DME to inquire about the logic of inviting an infamous Dark Wizard’s daughter who’s been kicked out of every Magical School in America to study in Britain in the middle of a Goblin Rebellion, I was curious to learn that those speaking in favor of the decision were the same five who always seem to come up with a reason to do whatever Draco Malfoy hopes they will.”
Malfoy shrugged nonchalantly. “If the board found that the applicant’s right to a Magical Education was being infringed upon for reasons of discrimination…”
“Right, there are a lot of bleeding hearts on the Hogwarts Board of Governors.” Harry was not smiling now. “If I have to ask you again, Draco, it will be as an auror not an old school chum.”
Now it was Malfoy’s turn to sigh. “There is nothing sinister about it Potter, merely the type of ‘favor for a friend’ our society runs on. The Malfoys and the Thorns have connections going back more than four hundred years. Both family’s fortunes have had their ups and downs but despite the vagaries of politics that bond has been a resource both of our families could call on. Helping the young lady pursue her right to an education was simply holding up the Malfoy’s end of the deal for this generation.”
“Thank you for the history lesson. I hope scratching Abraham Thorn’s back doesn’t endanger your daughter at Hogwarts.”
Malfoy shook his head. “Now you’re the one being melodramatic. And misinformed. As far as I can tell the girl is no dark sorceress. If anything she reminds me of yourself at that age. Truly Potter, you have far more pressing matters to deal with. I believe we are done here.” Malfoy turned and, seeing Teddy and Violet still watching from the store window, beckoned to his daughter. Violet disappeared from the window and stepped into the street to join them.
As he took Violet’s hand, Malfoy turned to Harry one more time. “Good luck and good hunting Potter, I hope you will consider my words in the spirit in which they were meant.” With that father and daughter walked off towards the Leaky Cauldron and out of Diagon Alley.
Harry did not join Fleur and the children in Flourish and Blotts, instead he waited in the street, considering Malfoy’s words until they emerged, arms laden with books.
He would pass the information on to Hermione and Ron, he decided, but he doubted it would affect Hermione’s plans. The information about Minister Traver’s plans might at least be valuable.
As Harry guided his niece and godson off towards the next wizarding shop he did spare half a thought for the young witch that would be arriving soon from America. But Malfoy was probably right- Harry had far more important problems than a fifteen year-old delinquent, even the daughter of an infamous Dark Wizard. Alexandra Quick would be the Hogwarts Professor’s problem to deal with.