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16 February 2014 @ 02:37 am
Fic: A Young Radical's Guide to Love part 3  
Part two


The Ministry was quiet before nine, so there were only a few pairs of questioning eyes turned in their direction as they walked quickly towards the lifts. Harry noticed that Malfoy trailed him by half a step and had affected a hangdog expression, which was either a clever piece of misdirection on his part, or a legitimate expression of his feelings.

Kingsley’s secretary was at her desk, drinking a cup of tea and reading through the Prophet when they knocked at her door.

“Harry! How are you, dear?” she asked.

“I’m well, thanks, Miss Lankyn. Is Kingsley in?”

She almost got away with it, but Harry caught the fleeting expression that crossed her face before she replied with seeming sincerity, “I’m so sorry, I’m not expecting him for another hour.”

He responded in the traditional Auror way. “That’s fine, we’ll wait in his office.” And was opening Kingsley’s door before she could get to her feet, shouting a protest.

Kingsley was asleep at his desk, a bottle of Ogden’s Finest empty beside him and a noticeable fug of evaporated whisky and perspirated wizard filling the room.

“Shut the door!” Miss Lankyn hissed.

Harry did, with him and Malfoy inside it.

Malfoy looked very pale, even for him.

“Don’t panic yet,” said Harry. “We don’t know the circumstances. This could be a one-off thing.”

Malfoy nodded, but then prowled the room until he found the bin, from which he lifted another six empty bottles.

“Bugger,” said Harry.

“And it’s a sad indictment on the Ministry’s cleaners, too,” Malfoy replied, but the attempt at levity came with a hollow-eyed expression.

Harry refused to admit defeat. “What’s the best sobering potion you know? Or is there a charm that works better?”

“Potion 220 has the best combination of speed and minimal side effects, I think,” Malfoy replied after a moment’s thought. “What’s your favourite?”

“Don’t know, don’t drink,” Harry answered, opening the door. “Miss Lankyn, a large pot of black coffee, a jug of water, a vial of Potion Number 220, and a plate of fried bread and eggs, please.”

“What do you mean you don’t drink?” Malfoy asked once the door was shut again.

Harry shrugged. “I just don’t. It seemed best not to, in case I couldn’t stop once I started.”

Malfoy stared at him.

“What? It’s a perfectly rational decision. I need my wits about me at work, and out of work I’m forever being accosted by journalists and scary young women.” And you can’t Apparate away with your pants intact if you’re pissed, he didn’t say.

“No, it is a perfectly rational decision,” Malfoy agreed. “That’s why I was surprised. Interesting to hear that you agree with me on the scariness of young women. Amazed the Prophet hasn’t picked up on that one.”

“Ha ha. All right, do you want to lift the Minister up and I’ll see if I can wake him?”

“No.”

Harry looked at Malfoy. That was the shortest period of self-interested cooperation he’d seen since … since every other time he and Malfoy had interacted. He tried to keep the frustration off his face. And obviously didn’t succeed entirely.

“We should leave him unconscious until the potion and the coffee get here,” Malfoy explained. “Meanwhile, I’m going hunting.”

“For what?”

Malfoy started opening doors, the first several of which revealed hidden bookshelves. “Clean clothes for a start.”

“Good idea.”

Harry knew which door led to the Ministerial bathroom and lavatory, having spent endless late nights here in the days after the war. He went in and filled a basin with cold water and checked there were clean towels in case Kingsley wanted to shower.

“Found the closet,” Malfoy sang out. “Several changes of everything, so we should be able to make him look respectable.”

“There’s a full shaving kit in here, I think it’ll be fine,” Harry called back.

Malfoy appeared in the bathroom door with a set of fresh clothes, which he hung carefully on the hooks behind the door, in order of dressing. “Do you think we ought to get him cleaned up and dressed while he’s out cold? He’d smell better.”

“He’s bigger than he looks, even with the two of us we’d have a hard time manhandling him.”

“There are spells for that,” Malfoy assured him. Harry raised his eyebrows and Malfoy shrugged in response. “After the War, my peer group was less perfectly rational than you.”

A sharp rap on the main door signalled Miss Lankyn’s return with a tray of necessary supplies and an icy glare for both Harry and Malfoy. Harry ignored it and sent her back out to stand guard.

“Let’s just wake him up,” he said. “All right. Do I give him this potion straight?”

Malfoy nodded. “Pour a glass of water first, it tastes vile and he’ll want to wash it away quickly.”

“Thanks.” Harry poured the glass, lifted Kingsley’s head up and poured the potion into his gaping mouth, holding his head at an angle designed to help him swallow rather than choke.

The effect was dramatic. Malfoy leapt forward to grab Kingsley’s hand before it could close around his wand, and Harry pushed the Minister back into his chair.

“It’s me, Kingsley, it’s Harry!”

Shacklebolt drew in a racking breath, then screwed up his face.

Harry thrust the glass of water into his hand. “Drink this, it will take the taste away.”

Malfoy poured a mug of steaming coffee and spooned sugar into it. Kingsley finished the water then took the coffee and downed it as quickly as possible before holding the mug out for a refill. After a long sip of the second, he was restored enough to put the mug down and focus on the two of them.

Harry retreated round to the other side of the desk and Malfoy followed.

“Might I ask what possible reason you could have for this unwarranted invasion of my privacy?”

Shacklebolt’s eyes were hooded, but Harry could see the anger in them. He paused to assemble his thoughts before he began speaking, aware that things could easily go very wrong here.

“It’s hardly unwarranted, and you’re not a private person, you’re the Minister,” Malfoy said, with no pause at all.

Harry was impressed that Malfoy did not quail under the look Kingsley turned on him.

“I’ve had enough of rubbish leadership from the Ministry. I thought you’d be better, because you’re brave, and decent, but people are doing awful things and you’re pretending they’re not happening, which makes you little better than Fudge.”

“Mr Malfoy,” said Kingsley.

“Yes, sir?”

“Could you perhaps scold me a little more quietly?”

“I could, sir,” Malfoy said, lowering his voice.

Kingsley drank more coffee, then more water. He rallied enough to make a stab at the bread and eggs. Harry sat quietly, exchanging nervous glances with Malfoy. After a few minutes, Kingsley put down his knife and fork.

“I take it the two of you just barged in?”

“Yes.”

“Didn’t feel the need to make an appointment?”

“It couldn’t wait,” said Malfoy. “Someone has to stop Percy Weasley before he sends us all spinning back down the path to civil war. Friends of mine are being unfairly arrested and if you don’t step in, something irreparably terrible is going to happen, and more terrible things will follow that.”

“You exaggerate, Mr Malfoy.”

“He does, but not by much,” Harry said. “There’s a lot of anger among the Aurors about Ministry power being used to round up members of the community who really haven’t done anything wrong. Again. If the old families don’t turn on Percy, our own people might.”

“Quite a few of your people come from old families, you know,” said Malfoy.

“I know. And so far they’ve been restrained and appropriate. But if we keep going down this path, I’ll be obliged to openly rebel against myself. I’m not saying wand-drawn assaults, but people have been talking about hexing him with boils, or handing him a one-way Portkey to rural South Georgia.”

Kingsley shook his head. “There’s no point asking me to solve the Percy problem. I’ve tried to rein him in, he won’t listen.”

“Then remove him!” Malfoy insisted.

“I’d like to. But I sent notice of my resignation to the Department Heads last night, so I’m afraid it’s too late.”

“Backdate the directive,” Malfoy said over Harry’s shocked silence.

Kingsley laughed at that, and made another stab at breakfast. “What sobering potion did you use?” he asked after swallowing a few mouthfuls.

“220,” Malfoy answered.

“Good choice. Hangover’s lifting already.”

Harry found his voice. “So, what? You’re just giving up? Just going?”

“Yes.”

“Kingsley! You can’t. You can’t just walk away and let them win!”

Kingsley finished chewing his mouthful. “I’m not letting them win, I’m just walking away. I’ve spent the last couple of years attempting to run a law-based rational Ministry, it’s resistant to all rationality. I’m done.”

Harry shook his head. “No. It’s not nine yet, we go around to the Departments and we take those letters back.”

“It’s Department Heads, we have until ten,” Malfoy added encouragingly.

“Let it go, Harry. I’m out.” Kingsley pushed his breakfast tray away and smiled at both of them. “Because I realised yesterday that I was going through a bottle of whisky a month when I started and now I’m down to one every three days – and yes, most of one a night last night, Mr Malfoy, and unlike several of my predecessors I have no intention of dying in this job. I’m going to buy a boat and go sailing.”

“How is that not letting them win?” Harry didn’t bother trying not to sound bitter.

“Because I plan to throw my full support behind you as my successor.”

Harry’s only memory of the next two minutes was Draco Malfoy’s laughter, which died out quickly. The next thing he knew he was walking down the corridor towards the lift and Malfoy was chasing after him saying his name.

“Potter!”

Harry stopped.

“Potter, are you all right?”

“No.”

Malfoy caught up with him. “You just walked out, I thought you were Imperiused for a moment.”

Harry looked around. There was no one within hearing distance, but he kept his voice low regardless. “It’s not fair, I’m only twenty and I am absolutely sick of constantly having to fix problems that I had no hand in creating. I want to not give a damn and have no one looking to me and to go out late at night dancing with inappropriate witches and perhaps I want to dance with some inappropriate wizards, too, because why should you have all the fun? And maybe I’ll just say bugger it and snort illegal potions and do whatever it is young people do when they’re allowed to live their own lives instead of having to sort out everyone else’s fucking messes.”

Malfoy patted him on the shoulder, and didn’t say anything sarcastic. He watched him with steady grey eyes, just undemandingly there.

“It’s not an unreasonable want,” Harry added after a moment.

“It’s not,” Malfoy agreed. He waited another moment before he added, “Though it’s not as though you have any of that now, being Acting Head Auror.”

“But I chose that.” And he had. Robards had come stomping down the hall and called in the senior staff – “you might as well come, too, Potter, since you stick your nose into everything” – and he’d stood still when everyone else took a step back and he’d agreed that it would work when Robards had laughed and said he’d like to see Weasley go up against Potter in the press.

Malfoy said nothing.

“What do I do?” Harry didn’t expect an answer.

“You run for Minister, or you devise another plan to defeat Weasley, or you get everyone at risk out of the country,” Malfoy replied matter-of-factly. “Three options. Pick one.”

“You think it’s that easy?”

“No. None of that will be easy. But those are the only options, so you need to decide which one you’re prepared to do. And I will do what I can to help you. Unless you fail, in which case I will leave you in whatever mess you’ve created and get my people out without you.”

He was right, Harry realised. Those were the only options.

“Come with me.”

The late evening shift was leaving the Auror offices as they arrived, and the day team were filtering in. Hester Armitage waved at Malfoy, who smiled back. Harry left him with her and looked around for Williamson. At the tea urn, as usual.

“I need a favour,” Harry told him.

“Morning, Harry. Anything except paperwork,” Williamson replied with a grin. He had been next in administrative line under Robards, so Harry’s turn as Robards’ stand-in had come as the greatest relief of his career.

Harry spoke quickly. “There’s a political situation that’s about to go totally arse-up and I can’t avoid being involved in it. I’m going to keep the team out of it as much as is possible, but to do that I need to run away for a few hours and make plans. Can you manage without me this morning? The rosters are all done, Dawlish will be in soon to run Operations, and you can reach me by owl if there are any emergencies.”

Williamson stared at him. “You’re not going to leave me as Acting Head, are you?”

“No,” Harry assured him.

“Good. Well, in that case, absolutely. Happy to help. Just, don’t go having anything horrible happen to you.”

“Promise. And keep this quiet, could you? The news will be out soon enough, we don’t need a round of Chinese whispers preceding it.”

“As the grave.”

Malfoy was chatting animatedly with Armitage when Harry returned. He had his wand box out, and was blathering on about offering to donate it to the inevitable Potter Museum, “but of course, Potter, being modest, said they’d be fine with a replica.”

“He’s right behind you, you know,” Armitage said.

“Of course he is.” Malfoy turned around. “What are we doing?”

“We’re headed off. Hester is going to let everyone know that Williamson is in charge this morning and I should be back by lunch.”

“Sir,” Armitage said, not quite saluting.

Malfoy kept pace as Harry hurried them towards the lift again. “If we hurry, we can catch Hermione before she leaves for work,” Harry told him.

“Because …?”

“Because I want to talk this through more people before I make a decision.”

“OK. Good idea.”

Harry looked at him, but there was again no sarcasm. He would need to adapt to being on the same side as Malfoy. Though he had always wondered if that hadn’t been true by the end of the war, too.

“I’m going to Apparate there once we get outside. Do you want me to Side-along you, or would you rather Apparate there yourself?”

“Side-along would be safest, wouldn’t it?” asked Malfoy, looking at him a little suspiciously.

“I’ve never Splinched as much as a hair,” Harry promised.

“All right.”

They moved quickly through the Atrium, which was starting to fill up with Ministry staff, and left against the incoming tide. Outside, Harry turned his collar up against the rain and led them to a quiet alley he often used for Apparating, wondering as he always did what the CCTV monitors made of the regular stream of Londoners walking towards the alley but never reappearing past it.

Malfoy hesitated. “Are you sure I ought to go with you?”

“I thought you were on board.”

Malfoy looked at his shoes. “I am on board. I’m just not certain I’m also welcome. Especially at someone’s house.”

This was no time for shyness. “Come on, and be nice to the Grangers.”

Before Malfoy could say anything more, Harry took his arm and Apparated them both to the hedge-shielded porch of the Granger’s home in a quiet, tree-lined North London street.

Harry knocked on the door, which was opened a few seconds later by Hermione, brush in hand and shirt half-buttoned. “This is not a good time,” she said.

“It’s about to get worse,” Harry told her.

She rolled her eyes, but let them in. “I’m running hugely late. Pansy insisted I show her how everything works four times and Ron’s been chatting with my Mum about potato waffles as though they’re haute cuisine.”

“No one in your department ever gets in before ten,” Harry reminded her.

“I try to. Come on through.”

“Morning, Granger,” Malfoy said. Harry gave him points for politeness, and noted that while he was carefully observing everything as he walked through the house, the look on his face was simple interest.

“Morning, Malfoy. Did you want to say hello to Pansy?”

“Could I?”

“She’s in the living room with Dad, looking at videos.”

“Looking at what?”

Harry was glad Malfoy had said it – it sounded less rude coming from him.

Hermione led the way through the timber-panelled front of the house to the plushly carpeted living room, with a dark wood television cabinet and alphabetised collection of compact discs arrayed on shelves. Mr Granger was sitting on one of the leather sofas with Parkinson, clicking a remote control and producing a still image of Hermione and Mrs Granger holding a plate of birdseed and being mugged by parrots on the television.

Parkinson watched intently as the pictures came to life on the screen. “Oh!” she declared, clapping her hands in unfeigned delight. “Your pictures move like ours!”

“Not quite,” said Hermione, from the door.

“Draco!” Pansy waved. “I’m learning Muggle things from Mr Granger!”

“Morning, Pans. You having fun?”

“Loads! Morning, Potter. You look grim. Any news?”

Harry shook his head. “That video is really crisp,” he said, looking at the screen, which did not shudder or jar as Dudley’s old tapes had always done.

“It’s digital minidisc,” Mr Granger said.

Pansy nodded politely, and Harry realised he was doing the same, both pretending they understood.

“The light is captured by the lens and encoded on the disc, which you can then play again and again,” Mr Granger explained.

“And you tell the light what to do?” Pansy guessed.

“No, the light comes from events as they actually happen, so see, there’s Hermione about to have a parrot land on her head.”

And indeed, the screen showed her bearing up bravely as a parrot anchored itself in her hair and screeched raucously until she reached up a seed-bearing hand. Pansy laughed immoderately.

“Thanks, Dad,” said Hermione.

“So, this is what actually happened?” Pansy asked.

“That’s right!” Mr Granger said, smiling at her and receiving a pleased smile in response. “What happens in magical pictures?”

“Dad, you know we’re not meant to talk about it,” Hermione said.

“Oh don’t be silly, Granger. It’s not as though magic’s a surprise to your parents. In our photos, the people keep a bit of their spirit, so if it’s your friends or family, they might be waving at you, or pulling funny faces, but if it’s your enemy and they see you, they might scowl, or turn around to snub you.”

“I wonder how they work?”

“I don’t know,” Parkinson said, sounding as though she wished she did.

“There must be some sort of spell that captures the moment …”

Hermione ushered Harry and Malfoy away from the door, leaving her father to run his theories by his attentive audience.

“They’ve been like that ever since she got here,” Hermione complained, leading them onwards. “Dad’s in heaven having someone to explain all his gadgets to, and she keeps breaching the Statutes of Secrecy.”

“Well, she’s right that magic isn’t a surprise,” Harry said, making allowances.

Hermione sniffed. She took them to the kitchen, where Ron was sitting with Mrs Granger at the breakfast table drinking tea. Mrs Granger stood up as they entered and smiled.

“Morning, Harry. We weren’t expecting you. Who’s your friend?”

“Um, Morning Mrs Granger. Malfoy, this is Mrs Granger, Mrs Granger, this is Draco Malfoy. From school.”

Harry was all-too aware that the name wasn’t new to her, but Mrs Granger actually had the sort of good manners his Aunt Petunia thought she had, so she smiled, and stepped over to them and said, “Good morning, Draco, would you like a cup of tea? And do call me Amelia.”

“No thanks, Mrs Granger,” Malfoy said. “I only had breakfast a short time ago. You have a lovely home, I’ve never seen such soft carpet.”

Harry held in his sigh of relief, but saw Ron’s behind Malfoy.

“So, I take it you’re all here to discuss what’s to be done about our house guest? She’s no trouble, you know. She even helped me with the dishes last night, once Hermione showed her how to dry.”

“We’re trying to sort it so she can go home,” Harry confirmed.

“I think that will make her very happy,” Mrs Granger said. “I’m going to leave you three, sorry, four to put your heads together and go and see what Pansy and David are up to.”

“Lovely to meet you,” said Malfoy.

“And you, Draco.”

Harry sat down opposite Ron, who waited until Mrs Granger had left and Hermione was shutting the door before he leaned across the table and whispered, “What’s gone wrong?”

“Kingsley’s resigned,” Harry said. “He wants me to run for Minister.”

“He what? Has he lost his mind completely?”

Harry had to laugh at Ron’s outrage, even if it wasn’t complimentary.

“Probably,” Malfoy said. “He says he’s going to campaign for Potter then head off sailing.”

Hermione stole Ron’s tea and took a deep sip. “Right. Well, we just have to talk him out of it. Turn it into a revival of his role as Minister.”

“I don’t think he can be talked out if it,” Harry said.

“Nonsense. He’s just not thinking clearly.”

“He was passed out drunk on his desk,” Malfoy corrected her.

Hermione put the tea down, Harry noticed that her hand shook a little. “Right. Well, in that case, he clearly wasn’t in possession of his full faculties, which means his resignation is null and void.”

“Hermione …”

Malfoy interrupted him. “He made it perfectly clear that he was through. The only question now is whether or not Potter throws his hat into the ring for Minister.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hermione wailed. “He shouldn’t even be running the Aurors. This is a complete and total disaster!”

“Cheers, Hermione,” Harry muttered, though he couldn’t fault her logic.

“Oh, you know what I mean. You’re barely out of school. If it wasn’t for being the Chosen Bloody Boy Who Whatever, you’d be a junior Auror, making cups of tea and handling all the paperwork. I love you dearly, but even I can’t pretend you’d make a brilliant Minister at this point. There’s just too much you don’t know.”

“I know.”

“Hang on,” Ron raised a hand. “Since when has competence been a requirement for being Minister?”

“Ron …”

“No, I’m serious. Sure, Harry’s crap, but he’s good at learning when he wants to, and he already has a clearer understanding of the actual problems facing the Ministry than most other people, and no-one’s going to expect him to know anything – sorry mate, you know it’s true, but – so they’ll take the time to explain things. And he’s famous for being pathologically suspicious and incorruptible, so that’s got to help.”

“Weasley’s right.”

“Cheers, Malfoy.”

Harry looked between them, not entirely certain how this had happened.

“And besides,” Ron continued, “Percy wasn’t quite twenty-three when he took over Magical Law Enforcement. Everyone forgets how young he is because he’s looked forty since he was fifteen. But if everyone in that department hadn’t been killed or sent to jail by the end of the war, there’s no way he’d be running it. Every point against you is a point against him, too. And since there’s no way he won’t be running, we may as well put Harry up.”

“You can’t be serious,” Hermione said, wide-eyed.

“Well what else are we going to do?”

“I have a lead on obtaining legitimate visa forms,” Malfoy suggested.

Hermione looked thoughtful. “That’s not a bad idea. Where from?”

“Brown in Permits. She’s keen for me to go down and help her with paperwork.”

“Periwinkle Brown?” Hermione asked.

“Lavender’s cousin? Left Hogwarts the year before we arrived?”

“That’s her.”

“Thanks, I’d forgotten her first name. I thought I could ‘misfile’ some of the travel permits and accidentally send them to Potter or Granger in internal correspondence. If they were missed and there was a big fuss, it would be easy to blame my incompetence because no one would ever suspect us of collaborating.”

“That could actually work. Harry, what were you thinking?”

“I was starting to come around to Pansy’s idea of giving Percy a bad case of boils,” Harry admitted. Though in truth, that was more for his personal satisfaction and less as an actual plan of attack.

Ron shook his head. “No, think about it: if you run for Minister, you can get all of this out in the open and turn the tide of public opinion. Even if you lose, Percy will see sense if enough people stand up to him.”

“Then why don’t you just go and talk to him?” Malfoy asked, and again, he sounded genuine.

Ron’s answer was just as sincere. “I’ve tried. He tells me I’m too young to understand and that I’m missing the big picture.”

“But … but that’s stupid. I mean, I think you’re an idiot and even I’ll admit that you have a better perspective on the failings of wizarding politics than most people I know.”

“Thanks, Malfoy. I still think you’re a pompous little turd, but I have to say that you’re a very sound judge of character these days.”

“Not at all. So what about your family? Your parents, your brothers? There must be someone he’ll listen to?”

Ron shook his head. “Mum and Dad have tried to steer clear of all of it. Bill and Fleur have just had a baby, Charlie’s back in Romania, George is focussed on the shop, and Ginny … Ginny thinks Percy hasn’t gone far enough.”

“Bloody hell …” said Malfoy, turning to Harry. “No wonder you two …”

Harry looked away and Malfoy didn’t finish the sentence.

“So,” he said instead. “You think Potter should run for Minister? I’m fairly convinced he’d be appalling at it, but better than your brother. And perhaps the horror of those two candidates would inspire someone decent to throw their hat into the ring.”

“Exactly,” Ron agreed. “There has to be a quiet, competent person running one of the Departments who could be persuaded to come in as a compromise candidate and save us from either of these numpties.”

Malfoy smiled at that. Harry wondered if that was a sign of the End Days.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hermione snapped. “Even if any of this was rational, none of the Department Heads are going to vote for Harry! So no compromise candidate is going to come forward when all they’re guaranteed to do is to piss off Percy.”

“Abernathy from Domestic Magical Cooperation might vote for Harry,” said Malfoy. “He hates Percy.”

“See? There’s a vote already and we haven’t even begun to campaign,” Ron said.

“One out of nine,” said Hermione.

“Camberwell of Sports likes me,” Harry added, just to show he wasn’t friendless.

“Two. Still hopeless. And there’s no point campaigning, Percy holds all the cards. Harry has nothing he can offer the Department Heads unless he’s prepared to lead an Auror revolt, and that’s not going to happen.”

The energy that had been bubbling up between Ron and Malfoy as they made their plan seeped away in the face of cold logic.

“It’s a shame it’s not a popularity contest,” Malfoy sighed.

All eyes slowly turned to him.

“Oh,” said Malfoy.

“Oh no,” said Harry, but it was too late. Even Hermione was smiling.

“I’m going to get in touch with Kingsley and then Luna, see if she can get a short issue of the Quibbler out today. It’s outrageous that Muggles have representative democracy when we don’t.”

“Too long denied our rights as citizens and Britons,” Ron agreed.

“It’s probably against Magna Carta,” Malfoy chipped in.

“This is my life we’re ruining,” Harry said, aware that none of the others were paying any attention to him.

“We can use the campaign to put focus on the injustice of Percy’s prosecutions. Ron, we need a catchy name for what he’s been doing, something we use as a label in the media. Malfoy, do you think you could convince your mother to write something for Witch Weekly supporting universal franchise? They’re always running photos of her, so I think they’d jump at an article.”

“I’m sure she’d be on board. She’ll think it’s suitably ridiculous.”

“What about the Reign of Intolerance?” Ron suggested. “Or the War on Relatives?”

“The Great Distraction,” Malfoy offered. “He may believe in what he’s doing, but everyone else has just been letting him go along with it because it’s cheaper and easier than getting their act together and hunting down Rowle and Macnair. And we should be hunting them, they’re complete bastards who willingly killed people.”

“Nice,” said Ron. “It makes it sound as though it’s all been towards furthering his political ambitions.”

“It’ll infuriate him,” Malfoy said. “Because he seems to genuinely believe he’s doing something good.”

“He does,” Ron agreed. “But maybe it will wake him up to himself. Merlin knows logic’s failed to get through to him.”

“And Malfoy can work with his mother to convince more of the old families that it’s a good idea. Now that they have less influence in the Ministry, they might come on board as a means of reasserting power, or at least keeping it from being concentrated in the opposition’s camp.”

“Good thinking, Granger.”

“It gives us a perfect excuse to bring Malfoy into the fold,” agreed Ron. “So it won’t look weird when he’s working with Harry or coming down here to visit Pansy. We could say he’s running the media for Harry’s campaign.”

“And what will we do if I win?” Harry managed to ask.

“Tax cuts for the small businessman,” said Ron.

“Emigrate,” said Malfoy.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry,” said Hermione. “The whole point of you running is to show that it’s fine to stand up against Percy and to encourage others to do the same. If we can get a popular vote up, you’ll actually stand to do quite well and then when you withdraw and throw your support behind a better candidate, they should win.”

“But who? We keep mentioning a compromise candidate, but no one’s coming up with any names.”

“We’ll think of someone,” Hermione assured him breezily. “The priority is to get the idea of a public vote out first thing. We should go straight to Kingsley, have him announce the idea as part of his retirement statement to the Prophet.” Hermione stood up and tucked her shirt in, satisfied.

Harry wasn’t satisfied. “I’m really not convinced this is a good idea, and I’m even less convinced it’s something I want to do.”

Ron looked sympathetic. “It’s a pretty crappy idea, really,” he agreed. “But I think it might be the best one on offer. And it won’t be for long. Just the campaign. You’re looking at what, six weeks, max?”

“Weasley’s right,” Malfoy agreed. “It’s not a great plan, and finding someone else to be Minister should be a priority, but allowing the general public to have a say in the matter means that Weasley – Percy – bloody hell, I’m going to have to call you Ron just to make sense, aren’t I? Don’t take it as a sign of affection, it’s merely for clarity …”

“Noted.”

“… Ron’s right, it will allow Weasley a comparatively gracious exit if his plans are voted down, compared to having him removed. Even if we all think he’s a bloody idiot, it’s always better to leave your enemy’s dignity intact if your enemy is just an opponent. Save the utter destruction for the genuinely bad guys.”

It was unexpected consideration, and Harry was pleased to see Ron nod in agreement.

“Also, it makes things less fraught with revenge scenarios if you lose,” Malfoy added. “Which is something I try to always consider, now.”

Harry was very proud that none of them as much as smiled.

“That’s settled then,” said Hermione, tying back her hair with a band from the end of her brush. “All right, I need to grab my bag and robe on the way through, Ron are you headed in now?”

“May as well.”

“Who’s minding Pansy?” Malfoy asked.

“My parents have Fridays off, she’s going shopping with Mum later to get her some more Muggle clothes.”

“She’ll love that.”

“She’ll drive the shopkeepers mad wanting to ask about everything. I’ll never understand why you lot who grew up in the Wizarding world can’t accept there are some Muggle things that are just as matter-of-fact to us as things like the Floo and wands are to you. Come on, straight back through, Malfoy, we’ll Apparate from the porch. Mum doesn’t like us doing it inside, says it rattles the glassware.”

“Hermione,” Harry said. The others stopped and looked at him, expectantly. “I’m going along with this, but under protest.”

“Well, naturally.”

She led the way out, asking Malfoy if Pansy was always so chatty.

“She is,” he admitted. “But it’s not all bad. She …”

She was talking as they came up to the living room door. “So that’s how you both ended up in Australia?”

“Yes,” that was Mr Granger, “there’s still some debate about the necessity for that.”

“Oh no, no it was necessary. People died. Horribly. But it was very brave of her, it’s a very difficult spell. There was no guarantee you’d ever remember her when she went to lift it. She must love you very much to risk that much to keep you safe.”

“She does things like that,” Malfoy whispered.

Harry could see Hermione’s face. He reached out and took her hand before they all, without conferring, took a few silent steps back down the hallway then reapproached the living room with louder tread.

Hermione wasn’t the only one surreptitiously wiping her eyes.

“Oh, here you all are,” said Mrs Granger with a smile. “All sorted?”

“We have a working plan, thanks, Mum.”

“Good good. So, we’ll look after Pansy today and you can fill us all in tonight after work.”

“I will. We think we’ve come up with something that will work really well, though it might take a bit longer than we were hoping.”

“Not to worry. Pansy’s no trouble. Just make sure you find a way to let her parents know she’s all right, will you? They’ll have been worried sick since yesterday.”

“I will, Mum.”

“You’re a good girl, Hermione.”

Harry wondered if he oughtn’t sneak the rest of them away so the Grangers could have a moment, but apparently they were done, because Mr Granger was telling Hermione he was planning to cook her favourite for dinner, so she should make sure she was home on time, and now Malfoy was hugging Parkinson and they were all being bundled out the front door.

Ron wrapped his arms around Hermione and Apparated them away quickly, presumably so she could be quietly emotional in the back office at Wizard Wheezes before heading into work. That left him alone with Malfoy, on a vine-covered porch behind a neatly clipped wall of hawthorn.

“Sorry you got shafted,” Malfoy said, his breath clouding in the lingering morning chill.

“I’m used to it,” Harry admitted.

“That went better than I expected, though. Usually one or the other of those two is hitting me.”

“I was impressed with you and Ron.”

“New times, new approaches.” Malfoy’s mouth quirked up with honest good humour.

Harry smiled, too. “Right. I’m back into the Ministry to launch my political career, apparently. You?”

“I should probably go home and let Mother know what I’ve just volunteered us for. Then I’ll head in and see if Brown needs help with her visas.”

“See, you have backup plans that don’t involve me throwing myself on the altar of public ridicule.”

Malfoy grinned. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

Harry grinned back. “So, you’ll write and let me know how it goes?”

“I’ll write.”

Harry watched him go. He supposed there was nothing for it but to go back and set the plan in motion. He hoped Luna and Neville had managed to get a good night’s sleep, they were going to need the Quibbler if there was any hope of driving real change.



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Word of Kingsley’s resignation had not yet broken out around the Ministry, so Harry was able to make it to his office un-molested. Williamson and Dawlish descended on him with questions.

“It’s Shacklebolt, isn’t it?” Dawlish led with. “He’s asked for two Aurors to attend a press conference at two this afternoon.”

“Oh bloody hell.” Harry grabbed his robe from the back of his chair. “I thought he’d wait a little longer. I have to talk with him before he does anything.”

“Is he resigning?” Williamson asked.

“I can’t …”

“Because if he is,” Dawlish interrupted, “we’ll need you to look the other way while we take Weasley out of the running. It’s one thing wilfully misinterpreting all his requests as head of MLE, as Minister, he’d be a damn sight worse.”

“What do you mean take him out of the running?” Harry had to ask.

“Wilds of Patagonia,” Williamson suggested.

“Broken leg,” Dawlish offered. “I’m not comfortable with the idea of a Minister ordering us to work against the law, again.”

“It’s not going to come to that,” Harry assured them. “There’s a plan. It’s ridiculous, but the horrifying truth is that it could well work. I’ll fill you in after Kingsley’s announcement.”

“His two Aurors?” Dawlish asked as Harry threw his robe on and hurried out.

“Whatever he wants. I’ll be back!”

Miss Lankyn’s expression was lacking in its usual geniality when Harry made it to her office but she opened Kingsley’s door for him with little more than a harrumph. Hermione was already there, with quill fast at work on a long scroll while Kingsley dictated.

“ … All candidates must have held or currently be holding a position equivalent to or greater than Head of a Ministry Sub Department for a period of no less than – Harry, how long have you been running the Aurors?”

“Three months, sir.”

“No less than three months. Positions in European Ministries, as Senior teaching Staff at Hogwarts School or Senior Fellows at any of the nine European Academies of Higher Education will be considered equivalent providing the candidate is a British citizen with demonstrated experience and expertise in the interpretation of British Magical law. What am I forgetting, Hermione?”

“We haven’t put any thought into how the vote ought to be run, yet.”

“We’re really doing this?” Harry asked.

“We really are, if you’re prepared to forgive me and take it on?” Kingsley answered, and he looked so different from the man who had been face-down on his desk not two hours ago that Harry couldn’t find it in himself to be angry.

“All right. But if I end up winning, I’m decreeing that the Minister is personally responsible for inspecting every Quidditch pitch in the UK.”

“It’s an under-regulated area,” Kingsley replied with a smile. “Hermione tells me that you hope to shake a better candidate out of the woodwork with this general election plan.”

“It wouldn’t take much to be a better politician than me. But yes, if we can broaden the number of people who select the Minister, then we can broaden the pool of people we choose from, too. Though I liked that criterion you just wrote.”

“I thought it was important to have something like that if we’re going to the general public, otherwise we’d end with one of the Weird Sisters,” Hermione said.

“Do you need me, or are you two all right to keep going?”

“Do you know anything about the relative merits of first past the post and proportional voting systems?” Hermione asked.

“No.”

“Then we’re fine without you. Press conference is at two, main Atrium, wear your Auror robes, look neat.”

“Right. See you then.”

“Harry …” Kinglsey’s voice stopped him. “Thank you.”

“It’s all right. At least it’s going to give the Prophet something else to write about so they’ll ease up on their hunt for Phantom Death Eaters.”

“Exactly. Go off and see if you can devise a popular tax break.”

“Merlin’s socks …” Harry didn’t dignify that with a reply, though halfway back to his office he realised that he could cut the import tariff on dittany and offset the loss with a reduction in Ministry redecorating budgets, which were frankly ridiculous. He mentally shook himself, and also gave himself a slap on the back of his head to be on the safe side.

Dawlish raised eyebrows as Harry walked back into the Auror offices. “No need for Patagonia yet,” Harry told him, which Dawlish acknowledged with a wink.

“Owls for you,” Armitage sang out as Harry opened his doors, and indeed there were, two, sitting quietly on the back of his chair and managing not to crap on anything.

“You are well-behaved,” Harry complimented them, looking for coin pouches and not seeing any. Both private, then.

He attended to the Little Owl first, it held out a leg that had its message tied on with a length of brocaded ribbon sporting crested M’s down its length.


Have spoken with you-know-who regarding plans in motion. All satisfactory. Am proceeding as discussed. Will contact you later in the day regarding execution.


Only Malfoy could have written a cryptic note that sounded more incriminating than the actual facts, Harry thought. He turned to the Eagle Owl, whose note was slotted into an elegant silver legband.


Please meet with me in the kitchen garden at Malfoy manor at your earliest convenience. You will be able to Apparate or fly in with safety. If you are unable to attend in the next two hours, please send a message nominating an alternative time and place with this owl. I ask that you not inform Draco of this note. Sincerely, Narcissa Malfoy


Of course. Because there hadn’t been enough awkward meetings today.

“Williamson, Dawlish!” Harry shouted.

They both appeared, and tried to pretend they were surprised when Harry told them he’d be heading back out.

“It won’t be for long. No more than half an hour. I’ll fill you in on everything before the press conference.”

“Neither of us are going to end up having to run the department, are we?” Dawlish asked nervously.

“With any luck, we’ll have Robards back soon, so we’ll all be safe.”

“That’s fine, then. On your way, we’ll keep everything ticking over until you get back.”

Harry was most of the way out of the Ministry when Camberwell from Sports flagged him down. “Good to see you, Harry m’boy. Wanted to warn you. Weasley’s on the lookout for you. Heard some wild rumour you’re planning to run for Minister, apparently. S’pose you’ve heard the news. Wanted to say, if it’s true, I’d be happy to vote for you. Happy and proud. Not a thing Weasley can do to me or any of mine, so he can stick it as far as I’m concerned.”

Harry’s grin was completely unpolitical. “You’re my favourite Department Head, Camberwell,” he said.

“You’re wasted as an Auror,” Camberwell replied with a grin of his own. “Though I confess I’ve always been keen on recruiting you to the national Quidditch side rather than see you sink yourself further into this den of iniquity. Even Wood says you’d be a benefit and he’s a hard lad to please.”

“National Quidditch programme is my number one campaign promise,” Harry said with a wink. “Better health through sport!”

“Good lad. I’ll tell Weasley I saw you heading off in hot pursuit of lawbreakers.”

“Cheers, Will.”

Buoyed by the vote of confidence, Harry decided to Apparate to Wiltshire. Flying in would have given him more opportunity to reconnoitre, but if Malfoy was willing to trust him, then this was the least he could offer in return.

He didn’t manage to appear in the kitchen garden itself, having only the vaguest notion of the layout of the grounds, but his guess it was at the rear of the manor was rewarded by the sight of a walled garden with late stone fruit loading down overhanging branches. The clouds overhead were threatening, but although the ground was damp beneath his feet, it wasn’t actually raining, which was a pleasant change from London.

He walked up to the gate and knocked as he entered. Narcissa Malfoy was inside, dressed in a simple grey robe and seated beside a table bearing tea. She stood up.

“Mr Potter. I’m very pleased you could make it. Please, won’t you join me?”

Harry took the seat she offered and accepted a cup of tea.

“I hope you don’t think me rude for asking you to meet in the gardens, but it occurred to me that the house might hold nearly as many unpleasant memories for you as it does for me.”

“It’s a beautiful garden,” Harry said. And it was, even down to the buzz of bees labouring over the purple of artichoke flowers.

“Draco tells me the two of you are working together now,” she began.

“It seemed logical, rather than duplicate efforts,” Harry replied.

“I agree. He also tells me that Minister Shacklebolt lost his bottle this morning.”

Harry suspected she may have been punning, but her face was so serious he didn’t dare smile. “He did. But Malfoy, sorry, Draco, had an idea that should see everything right. In fact, it could actually lead to a genuine improvement in the way we govern.”

Narcissa smiled. “He’s a clever boy.”

“He is,” Harry agreed. It was true, after all.

“That’s why I’ve asked you here for a chat. I know your time is valuable, so I’ll be brief.”

Harry put his tea down and looked at her attentively.

“It’s … I want to …” She frowned and took in a deep breath. “After the war, you acted as though you owed me a debt. You spoke out to protect my family, and you treated me with grave courtesy, as though you were trying to repay something.

“But I never saw that. To my mind, when I lied to … to Voldemort, I was repaying you for news of the safety of my son. And if what you said in the battle afterwards was true, your sacrifice played a part in keeping him safe, which was another thing I owed you.”

“I didn’t think the two of you were …” Harry began.

Narcissa held up her hand to stop him. “I want you to feel indebted now. I want you to remember every atom of gratitude you ever felt you owed to me. Because I am going to ask you for something and I want to believe you will feel obliged to do it.

“Take care of him. Keep him safe. I don’t care what you have to do, who you have to sacrifice in the process – Pansy, Blaise, me, even Lucius. Keep Draco safe. He thinks that by standing beside you he is out of the line of fire, but we both know that he is making himself a target.”

She had a genuinely beautiful face, Harry realised. She had it schooled in an expression of helpless pleading, which gave emotional weight to her words. But while that might be artifice, her hands weren’t. They were white and clenched in her skirt, where she thought he couldn’t see them beneath the table. And she was holding them there to stop herself from reaching out and begging, whether because she was too proud or because she could already see how nervous the emotion in her voice had made him, he couldn’t say. Those hands convinced him.

“I will keep him safe,” he promised. “He’s trusting me, I’ll defend him. And I’m going to keep Pansy safe, too, and Blaise, and Theo and Mrs Goyle and you and … If your husband stays out of things, I’ll make sure he stays safe, too.”

“Oh, he will,” Narcissa said.

Harry heard the edge to her voice. “Is he …”

“He’s as well as can be expected. Thank you for your time, Auror Potter. Rest assured that you will have what support I can muster during your upcoming campaign.”

It was a courteous dismissal, but it was definitely an invitation to leave. “Thank you. I should get back to the Ministry …”

He was nearly at the gate before he heard her quiet “Harry …” He turned back. “You’re very young. And once again you’re being asked to sacrifice … Do you ever wonder if the Magic world asks too much of you?”

“It’s my world, too,” he said. “And what’s the worst that can happen this time? Percy’s not Voldemort.”

“No. But don’t let that blind you to the fact that he will see you as the enemy. And that will make him cruel.”

“I’ve had worse.”

She smiled at him. “Good luck, Mr Potter.”

“Thank you, Mrs Malfoy.”

It was a quick journey back to the Ministry, but it still gave Harry time to think on the contrast between Malfoy’s parents. He couldn’t imagine ever giving a damn about Mr Malfoy, but Mrs Malfoy, for all her hauteur, was different. Maybe it was just that she was beautiful. Maybe it was because she had risked everything for her son, the way his own mother had. Or maybe it was because he was trying to construct a context for Malfoy, in which he could genuinely be what he now appeared to be.

As Harry stepped out of the Floo into the Atrium, he was still deciding between reassuring Dawlish and hunting down Malfoy for a quick chat. What he should have been doing was concentrating on his immediate environs.

“Harry!” boomed the voice of Percy Weasley. “I’ve been all over the building looking for you. Time for a chat?”



~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~>~








Part four