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16 February 2014 @ 02:43 am
Fic: A Young Radical's Guide to Love part 4  
Part three




iii. Draco




It had been years since anyone from the press had asked for Draco’s opinion on Harry Potter. For a half-second, he was tempted to give the same old answers, but this time it mattered.

“As you’ll know from our Reconciliation campaign for the Department of Domestic Magical Cooperation, Auror Potter has a strong grasp of the social needs in Wizarding Britain. No one is more aware of the costs of the recent war than he, nor more focussed on rebuilding a strong, transparent and law-based Ministry to prevent a repeat of recent abuses.”

“You don’t think he’s too young for the job?” asked the young witch with her curtain of flaming curls.

“He’s only a few years younger than Weasley. And you know what they say, new brooms sweep clean. I’ve never seen anyone as adept with a broom as Potter. Don’t tell him I said this, but he’s a better flyer than even me.” Draco winked slightly, worried that he may be overdoing it.

“It doesn’t concern you that Harry can only count on two votes out of nine?”

“I’ve seen him fight successfully against worse odds.”

“And the rumours that this morning’s Department Heads meeting concerns changes to that voting system?”

“You’d have to ask the Department Heads.”

“Can you comment on the rumour that Harry has received Royal approval for his bid for Minister?”

“You’d have to ask Her Majesty. Or Auror Potter.”

“And your opinion on Percy Weasley?” the journalist asked, pushing her glasses up onto her nose in a manner that invited confidence.

“Percy Weasley is a dedicated Head of MLE, but I do not agree with much of his current policy direction.”

“What Harry Potter calls the ‘Great Distraction’?”

“Yes.”

“Because you agree with Auror Potter that the Ministry is spending time and money chasing down targets who were lowly cogs in the Death Eater machine?”

“I believe the term Potter used was ‘innocent’,” Draco said, allowing a touch of acerbity to creep into his voice.

“You would describe Albert Runcorn as innocent?” the journalist asked. Draco wished he had paid more attention when she introduced herself. “He was a senior Ministry official at the time of You-Know-Who’s control.”

She had him on a weak point there. “I’m not sure about Runcorn. That will be for the Wizengamot to decide. He was just following orders, but if the Wizengamot decide that he was doing so with too much vigour, I wouldn’t argue with them. What’s disturbing about Runcorn is that he’s been in Auror custody without a trial for four months.

“But for all that he’s a case with a lot of grey area to it, Mafalda Hopkirk’s not. She was dragged in weeks ago. No one could reasonably accuse her of doing anything with vigour. Now she’s sitting in a cell, without a trial date, for no greater crime than being too afraid to run away from her job when it became something shameful.”

“What about Ottillie Goyle, the woman whose son tried to kill you, along with Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley? Would you say she was innocent?”

“I would. And that wasn’t Greg, it was Vincent Crabbe, and he was only trying to kill Potter, he was just useless at that, as he was at most things.”

“But Mrs Goyle?”

“Mrs Goyle is a middle-aged witch who used to bake biscuits by hand for her son’s friends when they visited from school. She may not like Muggles and she may have been willing to ignore what was happening during the war as long as it kept itself out of her house, but her only crime, if you can call it that, was not slapping some sense into her husband and not telling her son that he was being a bloody idiot long after the point at which it was obvious that anyone still willingly following Voldemort was either criminally insane or a fool.”

“And that was the point where you describe your family as unwilling followers?”

“I’m on record, extensive record, as saying we’d been that for years.”

“And Pansy Parkinson?”

“Innocent.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“Hopefully somewhere far away.”

“Percy Weasley describes her as a vital source of information …”

“He’s mistaken.”

“And you know this because …”

“Because she was never there,” Draco snapped. “In the midst of all that grim horror where people laughed as they decided who would live and die, there was no Pansy Parkinson, no Blaise Zabini, no Mrs Goyle with her biscuits. Voldemort’s inner circle was not made up of schoolchildren and mothers, it was made up of zealots. And those of us who had the misfortune to be close to them were mostly hostages.”

“But Vincent Crabbe signed on.”

“Vince was an idiot who did whatever his father told him to. And Greg was stupid enough to follow him and his own father …”

“And you?”

“I know exactly how they thought because I was the same a few years earlier.”

“But then …”

Draco inhaled slowly. “You know what happened then. You’ve read every single one of the Auror transcripts and many, many interviews. You know that Voldemort set me up as a sacrifice to punish my father, and that Snape and Dumbledore worked to save me. You know that we were living in fear in our own home, and that when we had the chance both Mother and I did what we could to protect Potter, who was so obviously the only hope for any of us by then. You can raise your eyebrows and look disbelievingly at me all you like, but it’s not going to change the facts.”

“So you’re saying that you know Parkinson and the others are innocent because you’re not?”

“I’m saying that I’m a lot less innocent than they are. And since I’ve managed to live a blameless life since the war and actually do a little bit of good, I think it’s a poor policy to suggest that they are unable or unlikely to do likewise. We’re pursuing the wrong targets.”

She smiled at that. “Thank you, Mr Malfoy. So I take it you’re in full agreement with Potter that we should be hunting affirmed Death Eaters like Rowle and Macnair.”

“Absolutely. They are genuine dangers to the Wizarding community.”

“And the rumours that you’re officially joining Potter’s campaign team?”

“Aren’t rumours. Ronald Weasley asked me to come in to help with some of the non-policy issues.”

“Interesting choice.”

“He remembered my flair for publicity back at school.”

“And he’s fine with Potter standing against his brother?”

“It’s just an election,” Draco said, allowing condescension to creep into his tone. “It’s not another war.”

“Of course not. Merlin forbid. Well, thank you very much, Mr Malfoy, loads of good copy there. What are your plans for the rest of the day?”

“Good works, meditation on redemption, spot of charity.”

She beamed at him.

Broderick Wellingham stuck his head around the door. “Malfoy? Sorry to interrupt, but Abernathy needs you right away in his office.”

“Not at all, I think we’re done here?”

“Oh yes, quite done.”

Malfoy walked out, leaving whatever her name was to Wellingham. He’d read her byline in the paper tomorrow, with luck it would be beside a Death Eater Makes Good story, rather than one beginning Malfoy Declares Himself Guilty. He knocked on Abernathy’s door. There was no reply, but that wasn’t uncommon with the hard-of-hearing Department Head, so he opened the door and peered in cautiously. Abernathy wasn’t at his desk, but there was a large envelope propped up against a stack of books, with MALFOY written on it, so Draco took that as an invitation to enter.


Told Wellingham to get you away from that vulture of the press after fifteen minutes. I’ve been dragged into this meeting on the vote, hope to be back shortly, until then you can hide out in here. Make free use of the books, drinks in the bottom right desk drawer if it was particularly bleak. —A


Draco wished his job had more to it so that he could spend more time working with Abernathy, who really was an exemplary boss.

Wellingham knocked on the door a few minutes later, while Draco was still perusing the shelves. “She’s gone, Mr Malfoy.”

“Thanks, Broderick. Have you ever read anything by Geraldine Batterthwayte?”

“Murder mysteries, though with twists. I don’t believe the house-elf ever did it.”

“Sounds good.” Draco scrawled a thank you note on the back of Abernathy’s and left the title of the book he was borrowing, along with promises to return it swiftly.

“Are you with us today?” Wellingham asked.

“I’m not sure. I know Potter wanted to talk with me about this meeting, but I also suspect Abernathy wanted to talk with me after it.”

“I can come and fetch you when Abernathy returns,” Wellingham offered.

“You are worth your weight in gold.”

“If you could mention as much to Mr Abernathy …”

“I will. Though the whole department knows it. The whole Ministry, actually. Potter was telling me just the other day how reliable he found you.”

“Really?”

“Truly.”

“Cheers, Mr Malfoy.”

Draco headed out of DMC with a light heart. It had cost him nothing to make Wellingham smile, just as on Friday afternoon it had cost him only a little effort and a few hours of being gently teased to have Periwinkle Brown declare him nearly fully trained on her office’s systems.

And now to meet up with Potter, who, if the papers were to be believed, had spent the weekend meeting with everyone from the Department Heads to the Muggle Prime Minister and possibly even the Queen.

He had clearly spent at least some of that time talking with the rest of the Auror Corps, because it wasn’t just Armitage who greeted him with a smile this fine Monday morning.

Willamson waved his giant hand in his direction. “Malfoy! Potter’s waiting for you. Chop chop!”

“Hurrying,” Draco replied with a smile, staying out of arm’s reach. A friendly pat on the back from Williamson could send the average man flying.

Williamson’s shout obviously carried, as Potter was opening his door before Draco could even knock. “Come in. Ron’s here, we’ve been hoping you’d be able to get away before the Department Heads got out.”

“Sorry, had an interview with a woman from the Prophet.”

“How’d it go?”

“She was rude, intrusive and wrong-headed.”

“Standards of the Cuffe media, I’m afraid,” Potter said with a sigh. “My first week on the job was spent with Robards complaining to me that no one would let him arrest Barnabas Cuffe, despite him making the Prophet into a Voldemort fan magazine. Apparently he’s just got too much dirt on too many people.

“Anyway, glad you escaped. Hermione’s trapped at work, so it’s just the three of us, but I wanted to have a quick word before the meeting gets out and the whole Ministry loses the rest of the day discussing the new voting laws.”

“But how do you know …” Draco stopped himself. Potter was clearly certain he had the vote on his side.

Potter grinned. “Hermione spent Friday afternoon with Kingsley investigating the status of the Minister for Magic. Turns out, he’s actually above the Prime Minister under Wizarding Law, which makes him our official representative to the Crown. We called in a few ex-Wizengamot members to consult and they all agreed that Wizarding Law necessarily outweighs Muggle Law.”

“Which makes sense when you think about it,” Ron chipped in. “Otherwise the Statutes of Secrecy would be unworkable.”

“So what does this all mean?”

Potter’s grin widened. “Because the UK is a parliamentary democracy, every British citizen has a right to have their vote count in the formation of a Government.”

“Save for Wizarding Britain,” Ron added, with what Draco guessed was an attempt at an oppressed expression. “Who have been labouring under the yoke of tyranny until now.”

“What Kingsley and I have been arguing is that we’re currently the only British citizens who don’t have universal suffrage. The Wizengamot were all in agreement by last night: apparently we stopped trying to keep up with Muggle voting reform some time in the early 1700s.

“Kingsley ran all this past the Muggle Prime Minister, who was outraged, you should have seen his little nostrils go all wide and puffy, and then we were all bundled into a car and taken to the Palace where I drank a lot of tea while several very stiff courtiers walked in and out and ushered first the PM and then Kingsley into the Royal Presence and I amused a corgi for half an hour and had two legitimate Duke of Edinburgh sightings – he’s very nice if you ignore the appalling comments – and the upshot of all this is that there’s actually no choice. Welcome to the new age of universal enfranchisement.”

Potter was actually beaming now, and Draco felt his own face curving into a smile. “You did it!”

“Well, Hermione and Kingsley did it and I ran around a lot and looked serious in the background, but yeah. At the moment it’s only voting on the top position, and candidates for Minister are subject to certain restrictions, but I think we may have just taken the first steps down the road to an elected Wizarding parliament.”

“Lord love a duck, we’re doomed,” Ron announced, dissolving the room into laughter.

“Anyway,” Potter said, “it means that we need to mount a campaign against Percy. Kingsley’s proposal calls for nominations to remain open for six weeks, with two weeks after that before the ballot. I think that if we come out early and make a strong stand to show that Percy’s position is flawed, we can weaken his support and encourage others to run. Then I’ll drop out at the end and we’ll throw all our combined weight behind the best candidate.”

“You’re running the risk that the best candidate at the cut-off date will still be you,” Draco pointed out.

“Surely that’s not very much of a risk?” Potter joked.

“In all seriousness, there is a real possibility that no one else will have the combination of integrity and popularity needed.”

“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me.”

“Are you all right, Malfoy?” Ron asked.

“Oh, go boil your heads.”

“He’s fine.”

“Don’t blame me if you end up Minister for Magic.”

“I’ve already thought about it,” Harry said. “I still think it’s unlikely, but if it comes to that, my first decree will be a term limit of one year for the first Minister under the new system. There are fewer than ten thousand eligible voters, so it won’t be that difficult or expensive to run another election that soon.”

Draco ran a quick column of numbers in his head. “Did you inherit Sirius Black’s Gringott’s account?” he asked. Potter nodded. Draco ran the revised numbers.

“You know, between the two of us, we could quite easily afford to buy this election at a very reasonable price and at a not-too-appalling cost to our own personal wealth.”

“Malfoy!”

“Weasleys’ is doing very well,” Ron said. “I’d be in for that.”

“No!”

“He’s going to be ethical,” Draco sighed, exchanging a rueful smile with Ron.

“Of course I am. That’s the cornerstone of our campaign, that we represent a moral authority lacking in the opposition.”

“Yeah, mate, of course it is. Malfoy and I were just teasing you.”

“Stop it before anyone hears you. I need you two on side and perfectly well behaved in public for the next two months. So far as anyone is concerned, Ron is the loyal friend who represents the hardworking businesswizard, and Malfoy, you’re a reformed soul making sure that the voice of the old wizarding families isn’t lost in all the upcoming changes.”

“Tax cuts,” Ron said, only half in jest.

Draco looked Potter up and down. “You need better robes. And a haircut. And to agree to that interview Witch Weekly tells my Mother they’d die to get from you. And then you need to go out and actually meet some old wizarding families and leave that sneering look of yours behind.”

“Sneering?” Potter sounded genuinely surprised. “When have I ever been sneering?”

“The very first time I met you,” Draco answered immediately, remembering the boy who had started off chatting with him with interest and ended up rushing off without a backward glance.

“You were the one doing the sneering,” Potter corrected him.

“I was no—”

“Stop.” Ron raised his hands. “Both of you, stop now.”

He shook his head with exaggerated mournfulness. “We have all been complete pricks to each other at some point in the last ten years. Admittedly,” he turned to Draco, “it was mostly us versus you, but Harry, you were an absolute twat in fifth year, and I was a complete cock during the war. I’ve spent the past few days operating under the assumption that we were letting all of that go and working together for the common good. Yes?” He looked at each of them in turn.

“Yes,” said Draco, readily.

“Yes,” said Potter. “Sorry.”

“Good. We’re moving on,” Ron said. “Unless either of you would like to congratulate me on my mature mediation skills.”

“You’re an example to us all,” Potter said, winking at Draco.

Draco managed not to laugh. “Truly, Weasley, if I was making badges now, the King bit would be unironic.”

“I should bloody well hope so. And he’s right, Harry, you are going to need new clothes and definitely new shoes, and you’ll probably need a private secretary to chase after you and mind your calendar. How can you be running the Aurors and not have a secretary?”

“I don’t need a secretary.”

“Actually, Ron’s right, you probably do. But it should be a private appointment paid for out of your own salary and not using Ministry resources. Good thinking, Ron. We’ll be able to make mileage out of that when your brother uses someone from within his own department.”

“Nice. Angelina Johnson’s looking for work. The county team she’s been flying for just went bankrupt and she doesn’t think she’ll be able to land a mid-season spot on another team.”

The name was familiar to Draco. “The old Gryffindor Quidditch captain?”

“Do you know how to get hold of her?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, she pops in at work occasionally to catch up and buy presents for her little cousins.”

“She’d be perfect.” Harry smiled at the two of them. “So?”

“This is quite mad,” Draco pointed out. “But it’ll be worth it.”

There was a knock at the door, and Wellingham appeared in response to Potter’s bellowed invitation to come in.

“Abernathy sent word the meeting’s breaking up, Mr Malfoy. Did you want to see him now or should I let him know you’re here?”

“I’m going back with Wellingham. Abernathy’s one of the good ones, so make sure you come and see him as soon as possible.”

“I will,” Potter said. “Are you going to be over at DMC for the rest of the day?”

“There or Permits with Brown.”

“All right, I’ll find you.”

“Cheers, Draco,” said Ron.

“Ron,” said Draco, managing to keep most of his surprise from his face. “Potter. Talk soon. Good work.”

Wellingham managed not to ask any questions until they had reached the lifts and were safely ensconced behind the closed door with no one else inside.

“Are really you working with Auror Potter on his election, really properly and not just to mess with the Prophet?”

“I really am,” Draco said.

“Brilliant.” Wellingham pressed the button for their floor. “I knew he wasn’t just playing nice for the posters. I told you that you’re not like the others, Mr Malfoy. You’re one of us, no matter how many stupid letters you get. So does that mean you know what this morning’s Department Heads meeting was about?”

“You don’t? What kind of a Secretary doesn’t know all the gossip?”

“Oh, I know, I’m just trying to determine whether or not you know.”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you what I know, in case what you think you know isn’t actually what I know …”

“That’s ridiculous.”

Draco smiled enigmatically, and Wellingham was still teasing him when they made it back to DMC.

Abernathy met them at the department doors, smiling widely and with most of DMC milling in the foyer behind him. “Come in, you two. I bring tidings of great joy!”

Potter had been right about the Ministry doing nothing else for the rest of the day. Abernathy broke out the Champagne and ordered in sandwiches to allow the team to “gather in convivial comfort” while he explained the new legislation. He also performed a brief mime of Percy Weasley’s reaction and told everyone they were to swear they hadn’t seen Malfoy in days and make their largest filing cabinets freely available for him to hide behind should it be necessary.

After lunch Draco abandoned his department to see if things were any more sensible down in Permits. In fact they were less so, with Brown being one of the few even making an attempt at doing anything more than discuss the morning’s events.

She swooped at the sight of him. “Come in, come in, before this lot spot you and pump you for information!”

Once her door was closed, she shook her head sadly. “And here I was thinking we were friends, only to learn you have completely held out on me about all the good gossip.”

“We are friends,” Draco insisted. “Or at least, good acquaintances on the way to becoming friends. I see that you have no qualms about pumping me for your own information, by the way.”

“You could have told me you were in cahoots with Potter on Friday.”

“I don’t think we were in cahoots on Friday,” Draco told her. “I think we were still in a secret conspiracy at that point, though he did give me back my wand. Cahoots probably started with Saturday’s Quibbler where he announced his candidacy and stated that I’d be a key supporter.”

I heard he gave you the wand back on Thursday afternoon,” Brown teased.

“He meant to, he forgot. I had to stop by early on Friday to pick it up.”

“Too busy secretly plotting?”

“I think we were too busy being startled that neither of us was attempting to hex the other.”

Brown grinned. “Alicia Spinnett is running a book on when that’s going to start up again, you know. She owled me twice on Saturday to say that the Ministry had a moral imperative to check you both for being Imperiused. So, is he serious about running for Minister? Did the Queen really decree that we get a popular vote?”

“Yes, and quite possibly yes, that part of his story was all very confusing.”

“You’ve spoken with him today?”

“We had a short meeting.”

Brown whistled. “You really are one of the inner circle. Tell me, are the rumours true about the three of them?”

Draco gaped. “Periwinkle Brown!”

“What? I’m not saying they are, just that enquiring minds want to know.”

“No they don’t. No rational person would want to know that. Though for what it’s worth, I sincerely doubt it, Granger has a blind spot for Ron’s many failings, but she’s all too clear on Potter’s.”

Brown laughed. “More seriously, was everything OK with him after Weasley tore strips off him last Friday?”

Draco tried not to let it show that this was news to him, but he was too slow to stop the concern reaching his face. “He didn’t say …”

“It may not have been anything major,” Brown backtracked. “Just, I saw them down in the Atrium and the way Weasley was marching him out of there, and when I caught up with my friend from MLE later, she told me there was a lot of shouting behind closed doors up there. Something about the Aurors failing to bring someone in.”

“Pansy Parkinson?”

“That sounds right. From what Claire was saying, it sounds as though she’s a real threat.”

Pansy Parkinson?”

Brown nodded. “Wasn’t she the one who infiltrated Hogwarts to hand Harry Potter over to Voldemort?”

Draco didn’t know where to begin. “She was a student at Hogwarts, and she never met Voldemort. She made one panicked comment when she thought they were all going to die. She’s only a threat to attractive young men and tasteful choices in nail varnish.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

Draco took one of her hands. “Peri, it’s in all the books. It was in the paper at the time.”

“Yes, but the Prophet isn’t reliable. Cuffe has always been a mouthpiece for the Establishment. You weren’t there, Draco. Lavender used to tell me about a secret paramilitary organisation at school in those days.”

“It was Dumbledore’s Army. Lavender was in it. Potter led it.”

“Well, that’s not what people are saying now. I mean, why else would the Aurors be after Parkinson?”

“Because Percy Weasley is a mad man?”

“Well, yes, that’s true, I suppose. But you have to wonder, don’t you? I mean, you can’t trust everyone, can you?”

Just as Draco was beginning to despair, there was a knock at the door and Potter popped through it, displaying that gift for timing that had so rarely worked in Draco’s favour in the past. Now, however, the universe seemed to be making up for past wrongs, as Draco’s “Potter, is Pansy Parkinson a threat?” was met with a snort of laughter and “Merlin no. Only to herself, given her taste in boyfriends.”

Brown said nothing, and her face fell into the lines of stunned awe that people’s faces often assumed in the presence of Potter.

“Periwinkle Brown, isn’t it?” Potter asked with a smile.

“Yes, yes it is. And you’re Harry Potter.”

“That’s right. I was at school with your cousin. Lovely girl. Just come to steal Malfoy away if you’re done with him?”

“That’s fine. We weren’t getting any work done today anyway.”

“No one is.” Potter grinned. “Cheers, Periwinkle. Catch you round?”

“Catch you, Harry.”

Draco managed not to roll his eyes at the flirtation packed into those three words.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Peri.”

“Right, bye Draco. Bye, Harry …”

Draco led the way out of Permits. Various voices sang out their hellos to Potter as they went past. Potter had a smile or wave for each.

“I suppose I should be congratulating you on your ready transformation into a politician, Potter, but seriously, is Level Six the headquarters of your fan club or have you just promised to give everyone in the Department of Magical Transportation an increase on their salaries?”

“People are just excited about the vote,” Harry replied, pressing the button for the lift.

“No one is that excited about a vote, Potter.”

“They are if it means they won’t have to work for Percy, have you seen the unpaid overtime the staff in his part of MLE are expected to put in?”

Draco was about to tell Potter this was no time for levity when he noticed the light for Level Eight was shining, not for Level Two.

“Where are we going?”

“Diagon Alley.”

“Together? In daylight?”

“You said I needed new clothes.”

“I have work to do.”

“No you don’t. Besides, I cleared it with Abernathy. He says I can borrow you for as long as I need you.”

“And I thought he liked me.”

“Cheer up, you can spend the afternoon mocking my dress sense and criticising my appearance.”

Draco shook his head. “Stop joking. I’ve just had a very disturbing conversation with Brown, who seems to be labouring under the impression that Pansy’s a dangerous war criminal.”

The lift pinged and the doors opened before Potter could reply. Draco followed closely on his heels as he strode to the nearest Floo, and took a large pinch of powder from the communal pot. “Coming?” he asked.

“Oh good grief …” Draco complained, but stepped into the fire as Potter announced their destination.

Once their insides had caught up with their outsides at the other end, Potter picked up the conversation. “Quite a lot of people think Pansy’s dangerous, Malfoy. That’s why Percy was able to have the Wizengamot make out a warrant for her arrest.”

“But it’s so patently ridiculous!”

“I know that, and you know it, and across the country, maybe three or four hundred people know it, but with the media announcing first that she was a person under suspicion and now that she’s managed to elude capture, it’s easy to create a public image of Pansy that has nothing to do with the actual one. It’s not like straight after the war when we were trying people like the Lestrange brothers and Travers. Now they have to create villains, and not enough people know or care about the truth for it to matter.”

Draco’s conscience reminded him that Potter was talking from experience, so he didn’t argue, but … “It’s different when people blame me. I deserve it. I did some very bad things …”

And then Potter momentarily took hold of his hand and squeezed it and Draco’s thoughts were all derailed by the smooth strength of that grip.

“You did stupid things because you were young. And then you did good things when you realised the horrible mess you’d got yourself into.”

Draco’s bark of laughter was more than a little bitter. “Good things? Were you in a different war to the one I was in, Potter?”

“You didn’t try to stop me taking those wands from you.”

It was literally breathtaking the way that Potter could leap from shaggy-haired imbecile to genius with no steps between. Draco remembered the joy of simply letting go, and the idiot hope that Potter might kill him, and let him finally escape.

“I couldn’t have stopped you if I had tried,” he said.

Potter looked at him and shook his head slightly. “You didn’t try.”

Draco looked away. “You have this bad habit of making announcements regarding things on which you can have no certainty.”

And then Potter bloody well took his hand again, and Draco had no choice but to look back.

“I am absolutely certain,” Potter said, “that you acted to protect me that day.”

“Well then I’m glad one of us is.” Draco snatched his hand away. “Come on, before someone takes a photograph and decides you’re on the verge of arresting me. Madame Malkin is only open until four and she has the best range of professional worsteds. You could try Twilfitt and Tattings, but they’re a bit less robustly masculine in their range and we should be playing up the fact that you look as though you eat Percy Weasleys for breakfast.”

The thing with Potter, Draco mused as he spent the next hour approving and rejecting robes, jackets, coats, trousers and scarves, was that he had this untenable faith in decency. It wasn’t so bad when he directed it at people like Pansy, because she was sweet, really. But it was another thing entirely for Potter to assure him that his own actions had been rooted in a fundamental goodness. As far as he could recall, they had been rooted in desperation and panic.

Perhaps it was all just Potter’s immense fame, which saw everyone smile at him, his life a series of cheerful hellos, no queues at any Floo, a dozen looks of invitation from young witches as they had walked here – and Draco had to admit that he was good looking, but not that devastating – maybe you started to see the world through rose-coloured glasses when it arrayed itself for your pleasure.

Except he had turned around in the middle of a war and flown into a fire and …

“Oh for Merlin’s sake, Potter. You cannot wear that coat. It’s yellow.”

“It’s mustard.”

“You look like a dirty canary. Take it off.”

Draco wished he wouldn’t grin like that. People were going to start to think they were friends, and then they’d have to use each other’s first names and he was already saying Ron and if his father was ever coherent enough to take all of this in, it might actually kill him.

“What about this one?”

“Better. Ministerial. You want to stick to black, charcoal and navy, for the most part. Keep flashes of colour small: ties, scarves, gloves. You can get away with red socks at a pinch, because you’re young and sporty, but you don’t want that to be the first thing people see when they see you. You want to make them think of power, and success.”

“Then I should just campaign in my Auror robes.”

And of course he was right: because that was how they all saw him. Potter the defender, Potter the protector.

“Auror robes are for Auroring. I thought you wanted to be Minister for Magic. You’re going to need to project steadiness and reliability, hug babies and kiss old ladies. Possibly the other way around.”

“I’ll be voting for you,” Madame Malkin said, smiling as she pulled down a box of scarves for his selection.

“Thank you,” Potter replied, with easy charm.

“I remember the first time you came in here,” she went on. “I knew you were destined for great things, even then.”

As far as Draco could recall, she had known he was too skinny for the school trouser in his leg length, offered him a matching belt at half price, and popped a hem on a too-large robe because he was “so very likely to have a growth spurt at your age”. But he supposed that it was Potter, and people had so rarely let the truth matter when it came to him. And he was going to see Pansy and Theo safe.

“What do you think?” Potter asked.

He was wearing a charcoal suit, with a black overcoat, red scarf and gleaming black shoes. He was devastating.

“You’ll do,” Draco said, brusquely. “Do you have time for a haircut?”

There were wizards waiting at the barber’s, but they all declared they had plenty of time and would be honoured if Potter would go ahead of them. News had spread quickly, as two promised Potter their votes, while the third pressed him on the possibility of opening up the potions trade with Europe.

In less than half an hour they were back outside with a slightly neater Potter brushing specks of hair from his face. “So. You were saying that I should meet with some of the old families. Where do you think we ought to start?”

“With a written invitation,” Draco said, exasperated. “You can’t just turn up on their doorsteps and say, ‘Hello, sorry if I was responsible for sending any of your relatives to Azkaban, can I count on your vote?’”

“I was expecting we’d start with the non-Death Eater set.”

“Fine.” Draco thought for a moment. “Adrian Pucey works on his parents’ farm. They should all be there. Though it’s probably not the best place for your new clothes.”

“Cleaning charms work wonders. Can you get us there?”

“Now?”

“I’m all dressed up. Williamson is holding down the fort in case of emergencies.”

“You don’t want to wait until they might have had a chance to read about the new laws in the paper? Until you’ve developed some cohesive policies?”

“The Prophet afternoon edition should be out already. I’m just dropping by, shaking hands, taking the temperature of the electorate.”

“Fine. Don’t blame me if your shoes are ruined.”

They had a clear patch of street, so Draco Disapparated them direct to the Puceys’ part of Cumbria. He immediately wished he’d thought to borrow one of Potter’s new scarves, as it was a good five degrees cooler than it had been in London. Despite his warnings, the farm was gridded with paved paths, all swept clean, and the long-haired sheep and horses dotted around the verdant fields could have been advertising Vertiman’s Veterinary Vitamin Potions, so perfect were their coats.

Adrian was at the side of the farmhouse, working at repairing some agricultural contraption, which he put down at the sound of their arrival.

“Draco! What brings you … here with Potter?”

At least he looked bemused rather than appalled, Draco thought.

“Politics! Potter’s running for Minister, or have you been too busy breeding three-legged chickens to keep up with the news?”

“Rather three-legged chickens than being caught up in all that London mess. I take it you’re here to sweet-talk the olds?”

“Just have a quick chat with the three of you about what the new voting laws will mean,” Potter said. “Nice butter churn.”

Adrian gave a small smile. “It’s a good old piece, but the spells need refreshing, and the blades needed buffing. I’ve been waiting for a fine day. Done now. Come on, they’re inside. May as well have a cuppa while you’re here.”

Draco didn’t ask how Potter knew what a butter churn looked like. The answer would only be something distressing, like helping Hagrid to optimise Thestral dairy opportunities. Instead, he followed them inside, hoping that the Pucey’s were actually as equable as he recalled.

Mr and Mrs Pucey weren’t expecting guests, but like most countryfolk, they were prepared, and a fresh pot of tea was quickly made and currant buns popped on the table, along with fresh butter, jam and cream. The afternoon Prophet was folded on the corner of the table, with news about the voting reforms just below the banner.

“I suspected we’d be hearing more,” Mr Pucey said, “but I didn’t suspect we’d have the Acting Head Auror making a personal appearance hot on the heels of the news.”

Potter’s smile was suitably self-effacing. “Actually, I’m here because Malfoy has been making it very clear to me that half the problems affecting the Ministry at the moment come from us being overly focussed on micromanagement and underly focussed on the actual needs of the wizarding populace. So when he told me I ought to get out and listen to some needs, I thought I may as well start early.”

“Did he now?” Mr Pucey was amused. “A Malfoy recommending listening to others. Things are changing.”

Cups of tea were poured and buns served all round before any of the Puceys ventured any policy suggestions, but once Adrian suggested that surely the current comprehensive cheese legislation could be replaced by something shorter that called for accurate labelling and guaranteed non-lethal ingestion, they were off. In the space of twenty minutes, Draco learned that the wizard on the land felt that half the current tariffs were too high, the other half too low, the lack of research funding into soil spells nothing short of shameful, and the need for post-war spell cleansing on some of the prime agricultural land north of the border nothing less than desperate.

Potter, bless his earnest little face, was taking notes. Even Draco could start to feel himself being charmed. It was those straight shoulders. They could confuse an uncertain young wizard.

“And you’re saying that it can take you two years to have your assessment for tax credits after a bad year agreed to by the Ministry, but in a good year you’re expected to pay them within three months?”

“That’s right,” said Mrs Pucey, gratified that he had been paying attention.

“That hardly seems fair. I think six to twelve months for each would be more reasonable.”

“Well, if you could swing that, we’d happily vote for you,” Mr Pucey said with a smile.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Potter promised.

“If you’re still in the running, lad. I’m guessing you’ve not seen this …” Mr Pucey flipped over the Prophet. There, below the fold, in large-point type, was ZABINI ESCAPE: Is Potter’s inexperience endangering us all?

“Bugger,” said Potter.

“You’d best be getting back to London, son,” Mr Pucey said. “But if you can get yourself out of this one, you can count on us.”

Draco would have Apparated them away there and then, but Potter insisted on thanking Mrs Pucey and Adrian for the food, and congratulating the whole family on the beauty of their farm, while thanking them additionally for their time and input. It was the better part of ten minutes before they walked out the front door.

“We need to get in and manage this straight away,” Draco said as soon as the door closed behind them. “You need a plausible explanation as to how Blaise got out, and why you haven’t recaptured him yet.”

“I know. Sadly the truth is, because we left the doors unlocked and all looked away for twenty minutes, but that’s not going to go down well in the papers. I’ll have a chat with Dawlish and Williamson. See if we can get any help in from Robards. They’ve been doing this far longer than me and are old hands at the less proper parts of Aurordom.”

“Good thinking. You should change back into your uniform before you talk to the media.”

“I agree. Madame Malkin said she’d have everything back at my office by the time I got there, so if we call a press conference for, say, four? That should give us time for everything and still make the evening edition if they put out another special today.”

“Sounds reasonable. OK, hold on, I’m going to Apparate us in directly …”

The Atrium was swarming with journalists, Draco could even see Luna Lovegood’s fair hair behind her burlier colleagues.

“Sod,” Potter whispered.

There was no hiding. “Mr Potter!” “Auror Potter!” “Harry!”

A tall wizard made it to them first and thrust a radio microphone in front of Potter’s face. “Harry Potter, what do you have to say in response to the allegations that your ineptitude was responsible for the escape of Blaise Zabini from Auror custody?”

Potter was so busy blinking at the burst of camera flashes that he said nothing.

“Auror Potter can hardly be blamed for not knowing that Blaise Zabini is believed to be an unregistered Animagus,” Draco heard himself say.

Potter’s look of quiet surprise was as nothing to Draco’s own, which he fervently hoped the photographers would be registering as nervousness in front of the assembled throng.

“What sort of animal can Zabini turn into?”

“A ferret.” Draco would have kicked himself, but it was too late now and it would undermine his credibility to start committing acts of self-harm in front of the media.

“And could a ferret find its way out of Auror custody, Mr Potter?”

Potter found his voice and took a step forward, much to Draco’s relief. “As Mr Malfoy has just informed you, Zabini is not registered as an Animagus, which means that we were detaining him in a standard cell. I am afraid that it is possible for small animals such as ferrets to escape under such circumstances, as there are a number of ventilation shafts and drains that could be accessed by a mustelid.

“Obviously, we were fully prepared for and able to prevent any escape attempt by a full-sized wizard, but as you will know, the Animagus transformation is one of the few pieces of traditionally wandless magic, so we were at a disadvantage, despite holding Mr Zabini’s wand in secure custody.

“The irony in all of this is that the Auror department had asked for funds to upgrade all of our custody suites in this year’s budget, but when the MLE allocation was dispersed, we were refused funding for this financial year.”

“Would that have kept Zabini under wraps?”

“It’s impossible to say with certainty, but I believe it would have been more likely.”

“This isn’t the first time you’ve complained about Auror funding levels, Mr Potter.”

“Nor will it be the last.”

“Mr Malfoy! Mr Malfoy! Who knew about Zabini’s abilities?”

Draco stepped forward again. “Most of us at school had heard the rumours. Vince Crabbe, Greg Goyle, Theo Nott and Pansy Parkinson had all been told that Zabini was working on a number of esoteric transformation skills, which I firmly believe he mastered. Auror Potter has only found out in the last half hour, and was just heading back in to redirect his department’s search parameters.”

“Mr Malfoy! Did You-Know-Who value Zabini’s ability to transform himself?”

“I don’t believe they ever met.”

“Auror Potter, what do you have to say about your department’s low success rate in arresting alleged war criminals over recent months?”

“My department can’t arrest people who aren’t there,” Potter announced.

“Are you saying that someone is warning them?”

“I’m merely pointing out that of eight recent warrants, six people have been coincidentally not at any of their known addresses or places of employment or entertainment when we have gone in search of them. If that’s all, I’m late for a meeting.”

The press chased them through the Atrium, but Luna managed to make it to the front of the pack and blocked any of the media from entering the lift behind them. “Mr Potter,” she said, with a wink. “Is it true that you and Kingsley Shacklebolt have an invitation to dine with the Duke of Edinburgh?”

“Actually, that is true,” Potter replied, as the lift doors pinged and closed.

“Really?” Draco wasn’t sure why he was surprised.

“I don’t think anything will come of it, he was mostly wanting to know if we had any magical ways of dealing with annoying members of the media.”

“And you told him?”

“That it would be against the Statutes of Secrecy to turn certain editors into toads.”

Draco started to laugh, and Potter joined in. “A ferret? Really?”

“It was all I could think of at short notice.”

“Very selfless of you. Do you have a description of this ferret?”

“Oh, it’s Blaise. He’d be a sleek charcoal with a classic black mask. Archetypal ferret, of course, probably the longest, slinkiest and canniest ferret of them all.”

“And these esoteric transformation skills?”

“Hair spells, you know Blaise …”

By the time the lift reached Level Two, they were both reduced to giggling and had to run down the corridor and close the door of the Auror department behind them.

“I hear,” said Williamson, looking at them both with Extreme Disappointment, “that we are now on the hunt for a fugitive ferret.”

“Sorry, sir,” said Armitage, holding up her radio guiltily. “I had it on for the music, but the newsflash just came over.”

Out of charity, Draco didn’t look at Potter. If ever the man had needed a straight face … But then Williamson winked, and Armitage started to laugh, and that grim blond wizard who had previously scowled at Draco came out from behind his desk, tears in his eyes, and it was all much sillier than Aurors ought to be.

“It was all Malfoy,” Potter was saying. “I was about to make some vague statement about not being able to comment on an ongoing investigation and he comes out with this inspired nonsense and I suddenly remembered that Gawain had padded out our last budgetary request with those super-duper cell designs and now it looks as though we’re a hardworking team, consistently let down by a lack of departmental support.”

Williamson patted Draco on the back and sent him several feet forwards. “Well done, son!”

Potter tapped the nearest sheet of paper with his wand, producing an image of a very Zabini-esque ferret. “Circulate this freely. Ask people to look in their chicken coops.”

“You realise we’re going to spend the next week running all over the countryside on random ferret sightings?” Armitage asked.

“If it means we’re too busy for any of Percy’s witch hunts, so much the better,” Potter replied, heading towards his office. “I’m prepared to sign off on the full overtime allocation for this month, so get busy.”

“Madame Malkin sent round a pile of clothes, I put them on your desk,” Armitage called after them.

“Cheers, Hester. Come on, Malfoy. We need to get a step ahead here.”

Draco closed the door to Potter’s office behind them and turned around to find Potter with his shirt off. He turned back very quickly.

“Seriously?” Potter asked, making a sound that sounded distressingly like taking off his trousers.

“You … you have a lot of scars,” Draco said, determinedly not thinking of shoulders. Definitely not thinking of the muscles descending Potter’s torso beneath them.

“Most of us do,” Potter replied lightly.

“Most people prefer to get changed with a little privacy.”

“You were just at Madame Malkin’s with me in and out of my trousers a dozen times.”

“This is hardly the same,” said Draco as a barely-worn ten-Galleon shirt landed on his head. “There, I was looking at the clothes.”

“You can turn around, I’m decent. Right. Are we going to assume that was Percy driving the press corps?”

Draco threw the shirt back at Potter, who caught it with one hand while still lacing up his Dragonskin jerkin with the other. “It has to be, doesn’t it? Who else would have known enough names to get in touch with to get them all here so quickly? I even saw that nice old man from Which Broom in amongst the pack.”

“So he’s not going to play nicely?”

“I’d assume not. And judging by the fact you seem to be donning Auror riot gear, I take it you’re planning to … Potter, you can’t kill him, Ron would be upset.”

“I’m not going to kill Percy, I’m not going to kill anyone. I’m going to arrest an illegal potions manufacturer in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The file’s right here, it came in while we were out.”

“You were planning arrests at the same time as taking off your clothes?”

Potter grinned. “When you say it, it sounds wrong. I should be less than two hours if you want to wait here, I’m off to Hermione’s tonight and thought you might like to come.”

Draco pulled Abernathy’s book from his pocket. “I have something to read. I’ll wait outside so no one can suspect me of going through your things.”

“I trust you. But wait outside anyway, Hester’s rostered on for communications, so she’s going to be stuck here and she can use the company. Hermione should be popping in around five-thirty, you can head off with her if I’m not back in time.”

“Can I let the Prophet and Quibbler know you’ll be bringing in a genuine criminal this afternoon?”

“That would be attempting to make political mileage out of my legitimate responsibilities.”

“What about if I asked them to hold the evening edition and made myself available to answer questions on Blaise Zabini’s schoolboy antics in the Atrium at ten to five?”

“I’ll see what I can do. All right, let’s break the news to the team. Williamson, Peters, Holroyd, kit up. Armitage, you’re minding Malfoy.”



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Part five