“I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t show you that.”
The archivist in front of Draco wrung his hands and stared at the ceiling for a moment. Then he looked back at Draco and said, in a firm voice that the trembling of his lip belied, “No.”
“Reconsider your refusal,” Draco told him, and leaned back against the basalt wall behind him. The Ministry archives were on the level above the Department of Mysteries, but they shared the same gloomy décor. Draco had long since decided that was to keep anyone from actually taking documents out of there. “I’ll wait.”
The archivist stared at Draco and swallowed. Then he turned around and knelt before the small fireplace behind his curved desk. Draco smiled and looked around lazily.
Other Aurors passed him, seeking birth records and the like on their latest victims or criminals, nodding at Draco even as most avoided his eyes. And there were Unspeakables, clad in grey and riddles, always with spells that obscured whether they were carrying a book or a scroll, a folder or a ledger. Ordinary citizens cringed their way into the further corners or huddled at the tables under the clusters of enchanted lights. Shelves loomed into the distance like gigantic trees.
Draco was just craning his neck to see if he could catch a glimpse of the shelves of birth records, where he needed to go, when the archivist in front of him cleared his throat again. Draco turned back to him.
The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, Auror Malfoy.” At least he looked it, too, Draco thought, even as his hand went automatically to the shaft of his wand. “The orders came down yesterday. No one is to have access to Harry Potter’s birth records.”
Draco simply stared. It had cowed better wizards than this. The archivist bowed, and bowed again. The ugly soul-mark on his cheek, which looked like half a cup, flickered in and out of sight as his long brown hair swung against his shoulders.
“From the Minister himself,” the archivist whispered.
Draco stepped back. So that’s why the glare didn’t work. It never did on people who were more afraid of someone than they were of Draco himself.
“Very well,” said Draco. “I shall remember that you tried to help me…”
The archivist blinked and looked up in astonishment. Draco let him have a glimpse of the hawthorn wand strapped to Draco’s side, and he turned away again.
“This time, at least,” Draco said. “I hope the next time, you can be even more helpful.”
The man nodded hard enough that his hair hit his desk with a rasping sound, but Draco didn’t stay to hear it. He had turned to take the stairs. In his current mood, it would be better for him than the lifts.
He bounded, and as he did, his brain turned in slow circles. Minister de Berenzan was the one who had assigned him to track down Potter in the first place, and it was common knowledge that Potter had gone missing—and run headlong into Dark magic, the Ministry thought now—after looking at his birth records.
It was apparently the first time Potter had ever seen them, since he’d grown up outside the wizarding world and then appeared not to have known they existed.
Draco knew he didn’t need to know exactly why Potter had disappeared. He had the Ministry’s evidence, from Potter’s flat, of Dark Arts texts and ingredients that were illegal to purchase. They could arrest Potter on that basis alone, although it might have been a little much to assign the Ministry’s top Auror to such a case.
But Draco wanted to know what the enemy looked like from inside his own head, not simply the Ministry’s point-of-view, and de Berenzan knew that.
Draco let his face fall into neutral lines as he stalked back to his office, something that still made people avoid him.
Well. He’d do without the information. Pleading with de Berenzan would do no good, not when the man wanted to see Draco fail almost as much as he wanted to use his skills. Marshall de Berenzan was Muggleborn and had never forgiven Draco for the way he’d walked away unscathed from the war.
A walking away due to Potter.
Draco shrugged at that, and reached for the pile of information he did have, to revise it before he began the chase. Potter had had years to claim Draco’s unfulfilled debts, including the ones Draco owed Potter for saving his life during the war. He’d never done so.
And now, he was prey.
Draco looked around slowly, turning in a complete circle to do so. Potter’s flat was small and dark, and not because it was night. Draco hadn’t lit the fire or the candles that stood in large rings around the room. He didn’t want to disturb the last place Potter had been seen any more than the Aurors already had.
Draco felt a stir of contempt twisting in his heart. Did no one recognize the configuration and placement of the candles? Was he the only one who thought such details noteworthy instead of irrelevant?
Of course, Draco knew the answer to that question. The Ministry disliked him enough that they would never have relied on him or promoted him or publically called him their best Auror if they had a choice. But they didn’t, because no other Aurors had the skills Draco did.
One of those was enough familiarity with the Dark Arts to know what the candles were. Draco moved to the side, tilting his head, and yes, there was a red candle on a small ledge inside the fireplace, exactly where he had expected. The other Aurors hadn’t seen that. Their reports talked about a ring of white candles alternating with black, which meant, they had thought, that Potter was trying to summon the powerful forces of chaos magic Muggles called demons.
But the red candles, in the fireplace and on a small table shoved behind a door and in the next room when Draco moved to check there, changed both the colors and the shape of the “circle.” It was actually a spiral, the center closing in on a burned patch of carpet immediately before an overstuffed chair.
Draco knelt and drew his wand, murmuring a Revealing Charm. The other Aurors had already done this, but they hadn’t known all of the possible charms, and after the nonsense with being denied access to Potter’s birth records, Draco wanted to see everything else for himself.
The burned patch of carpet released a puff of smoke that smelled of lavender, of all things, and a twisting, smoky shape rose from it. Draco sat back and stared as the smoke resolved into a flower. Not an uncommon soul-mark, Draco thought with a faint frown, although half a flower was more common. When laid together with the mark on the wrist or brow or otherwise of one’s soulmate, it would form a complete picture, a complete blossom.
But Draco knew, like everyone else, that Potter’s soul-mark was a lightning bolt. Why was he summoning pictures of a completely different mark?
Unless the other rumors are true, and that lightning bolt was only the shape of the curse that the Dark Lord inflicted on him. Unless Potter’s real soul-mark was hidden underneath that. Draco had never given those rumors much credence, since Potter’s scar had faded since the war but never disintegrated to show another mark beneath it. On the other hand, he would never have thought Potter capable of rituals like the one the candle-spiral showed, either.
This was a ritual that was supposed to destroy the link between soulmates. Reveal the mark they carried, then burn the image with the candle fire called inwards to the center of the spiral. It would burn the mark on the caster’s arm or brow or face or wrist, and set the caster free of an unwanted relationship that others might expect them to pursue. Pure-bloods had used it for centuries when they found themselves soulmated to someone from an unsuitable family.
Highly illegal, of course. And also not something Draco would have expected from Potter, with his Gryffindor convictions of romantic love, and the high chance that he was soulmated to Weasley’s little sister.
Draco stood and looked around the room, again. He breathed slowly and felt his old convictions drop from him like baggy clothing.
He had to give up the idea that Potter was a Gryffindor romantic. That he was soulmated to Weasley’s sister. If he was, she would have gone with him on this run. And Draco would have more of an idea of what had made Potter take off in the first place.
He would search. But Draco was afraid that the mystery had been deepened, not clarified, by coming here.
“I won’t owe you anything after this, Malfoy.”
The flash in the eyes was the same as always, and the way Rose Sheldon kept her face turned away, and how her hand shook as she dropped the papers into his hand. Draco nodded and held out the flask of potion he’d brewed last night.
Sheldon shied back from him, eyes narrowed. She had brown hair and brown eyes with a hint of amber that had made Draco, the first time he met her, think she was a werewolf.
“I won’t take that foul stuff.”
Draco shook his head. “I’d just as soon as you did. I’d like to have it out of the house, and you can think of it as a farewell gift.”
Sheldon paused, eyes flickering from his face to the potion flask. Her hand shook again. Of course it did, Draco thought. It was a well-known consequence of taking the Lucid Dreaming Potion too much, disappearing into surreal visions of loveliness that the mind could control instead of drifting helplessly through.
Draco held the flask out, and waited. Lucid Dreaming affected the memory, too, blending reality with the things the drinker imagined. It was the only thing that had made it possible for him to keep luring her back so often, probably.
Or maybe not. Sheldon had been stupid enough to let herself get addicted in the first place, and stupid enough to go on taking the “gifts” that he gave her. Sooner or later, she would then come back to him for more of the potion, and offer to trade information for it. Sheldon didn’t work directly in the archives, but she knew how to get files from them. Draco had never asked her how.
There were certain things he needed to never know, so that he wouldn’t speak of them under Veritaserum.
“Oh, fine,” Sheldon snapped, and snatched the flask from his hand. “But only because you want to get rid of it.”
Draco nodded. He didn’t need to hide a smile, only the fine-grained lines of contempt that would spring up around his mouth otherwise. “All right. Good-bye.”
Sheldon slinked out of his office, although it was six in the evening and most of Draco’s fellow Aurors would have gone home by now. Draco had earned a reputation as someone who liked to stay late to commune with the files.
And that’s even true, Draco thought, as he opened the file. They simply never knew which ones those were.
Pondering the files Sheldon had got him—which unfortunately didn’t include Potter’s birth records—Draco thought that Potter’s flight was stranger than ever. Potter hadn’t been in trouble with the law, or dropped his friends lately, or been seen going into the shops where he would have had to purchase those books and ritual materials. It was only when he had vanished that anyone had got concerned enough to break into his flat, and the Ministry had started thinking of his disappearance as the flight of a fugitive rather than a kidnapping.
Potter’s life up to the moment of his disappearance seemed rather normal for someone honored and feted by the wizarding world. Invitations, charity work, some Auror training that Potter hadn’t completed.
But he had gone through enough classes on Stealth and Tracking to make it inconvenient to stalk him, Draco thought. That would be one reason they’d given this chase to Draco.
Draco settled slowly back in his chair and read the file again. Sometimes, that helped. That way, he had picked up on more than one clue that someone else had missed, unforgivably when it was staring them that openly in the face.
And then he found it. A line that made him sit up and stare. Then he went back and picked up another line, and another. He didn’t write them down on parchment, but linked them together like a string of pearls in his mind, until he had a complete necklace that would be another ornament to the grace of his intelligence.
Harry Potter did tell his friends that he felt lonely without his soulmate…He let them know that he was intending to search for his soulmate, according to Hermione Granger…He had more than once told his friends that he envied their close and constant bond, Ron Weasley recalled…Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger had discovered their matching soul-marks, the two halves of a crossed book and broom, at age eleven…Sometimes Potter remarked that he wondered what would have happened if he had gone to Healers and insisted that they take a close look at his curse scar from You-Know-Who…Granger remembers Potter coming to her house drunk one night a fortnight before he vanished, sobbing and saying that he wished one could choose whose soulmate one was…George Weasley noted a request Potter had made for “stones,” and remembers seeing a book on earth magic under his arm…
Draco nodded slowly. It was the sort of clue that would have been no use to any other Aurors even if they had noticed them, the same way most of them wouldn’t have known what to do with the clue of the candles forming a spiral in Potter’s flat. They hadn’t studied enough obscure branches of magic to apply them to this case.
But Draco had. And he knew there was an ancient ritual one could perform, not to destroy the soul-mark, but to actually change one’s soulmate. It was Dark magic, of course. Interfering with someone else’s soul-mark—even in the most “harmless” rendition, which changed the mark of an unborn infant and made them into the soulmate for the caster at birth—always was.
Draco was almost certain, now, that Potter had discovered his soul-mark tied him to someone he hated. Perhaps even, although Draco barely let his mind explore the edges of the delicious possibility, the deceased Dark Lord.
Softly, Draco touched the back of his left arm, and the soul-mark there that the fading Dark Mark almost obscured. It was half a flower, not so different from the image conjured by the smoke earlier that day in Potter’s flat.
If Potter had done the sensible thing and taken Draco’s hand that day on the train, then perhaps he wouldn’t have taken this idea about soulmates to extremes. Slytherin was full of people who were unhappy with their soulmates, who didn’t marry them or even sleep with them, who turned away from them to carry on the legacy of their families.
But instead, Potter had come up through Gryffindor, and seen his two best friends discover their soulmates in each other in his first year, and—from what little attention Draco had deigned to pay to gossip after he left Hogwarts—most of the other people in his House eventually do the same. Weasley’s parents were also soulmated, Draco was fairly sure. What Potter’s Muggle relatives had been like no one knew for sure, but it didn’t matter, since Muggles didn’t have soul-marks to begin with.
Potter, surrounded by pictures of sickening soulmate romance, without a good dose of reality to balance it, would have believed there was something wrong with him if he didn’t find his soulmate right away. Because he didn’t have a visible mark. Because he might have turned out to be mated to someone he didn’t want to be tied to.
So, instead of simply accepting that and working around it, trying to find romance somewhere else, he’d gone stampeding off into the wilderness to mess with ancient earth magic and get his chance at love.
Draco snorted. No one had ever told Potter, apparently, that some soulmates were born decades apart and one might be dead before the other ever reached a conscious age; that others were enemies and never overcame that; that some men had a male soulmate when they couldn’t bring themselves to sleep with men, and the same for women; that sometimes soulmates could be friends instead of throwing themselves into a great passionate affair to shine down the ages.
And other times, there were more important things to one or both of those people than engaging in any kind of affair. Draco knew very well who bore his soul-mark. He also knew that he was never going to approach her, because he disliked her and she would have been a liability.
Maybe I can be the one to introduce Potter to the truth.
Right after I arrest him for tampering with forbidden magic, of course. And find him.
Draco smiled a little. That would be a bit difficult, but only a bit. The ritual needed a special place as well as special kinds of spells and props. Perhaps three sites in Britain and a few in Scotland and Wales qualified.
Draco would find Potter, and get to have an entertaining conversation or two before he brought him in.
Yes, this is an interesting case after all.