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16 February 2014 @ 02:53 am
Fic: A Young Radical's Guide to Love part 6  
Part five



“Sorry about the meeting,” Harry apologised.

“You have a proper job,” Malfoy reminded him.

“Was there anything important?”

Malfoy shook his head. “We’ve slipped another point in the polls, nothing to be concerned by, though I’m a little worried that the number intending to vote seems to be dropping, too. Angelina’s down doing a mailout with Doris and the ladies, Adrian Pucey wants you to stop by next week to judge their All County Best Experimental Produce and Livestock, and Witch Weekly would like to try another interview and are very sorry about that last one. They say she’s never fainted around a celebrity before, and thank you very much for taking such good care of her.”

“You don’t have to do my schedule,” Harry told him, smiling.

“Someone has to. Johnson’s always gallivanting off, or popping round to check something with Ron – between you and me, I think she rather fancies George.”

“How are we standing in the polls?”

“Still strong, though I was hoping for a bump after Theo’s piece in the last Quibbler. Still, Percy’s interview in the Prophet doesn’t seem to have helped his numbers, either. He should have said no to the photo.”

Harry gave the joke the small smile it deserved.

“How are you?” Malfoy asked.

“Good. Tired. How are you?”

“Same.”

And Malfoy did look tired, but at least it was simple fatigue, not that worn-thin greyness of the other week. The hollows around his eyes were gone now, replaced by dark smudges that almost looked as though he was wearing them for artistic effect.

“How are your parents?” Harry asked.

“Mother’s well. She had a great interview on Monday, no fainting, she ended up taking the lady from Witch Weekly out for tea and a spot of hat shopping, I think they’re booked on a garden visit next week.”

“It’ll get her out of the house.”

“Yes. She needs that.” Malfoy’s expression spoke volumes, but he looked away before Harry could say anything. He always looked away.

“Have you had lunch?” Harry asked.

“No. It’s only just gone eleven.”

“I’m starving. I want to go out and get something good. Somewhere I haven’t gone before. Lunchtime adventure. D’you want to come?”

Malfoy had nodded before he gave himself time to think, so Harry took off his robe and Dragonskin boots and put on his political shoes, suit jacket and coat. He undid one shirt button to annoy Malfoy, but received only rolled eyes as a reward.

Harry laughed, and checked his reflection in the bookcase glass. “That’s Muggle enough. You’ll do as you are, Malfoy. Do you want to borrow a scarf?”

“Thanks, it’s arctic out there.”

John Dawlish was waiting outside Harry’s door as they left his office. “Higgs is doing very well. Weasley says he wants to talk with you when he’s done.”

“I’m off to lunch,” Harry announced.

“I didn’t see you in time to deliver this message,” Dawlish replied with a wink.

It was raining again as they emerged from the Ministry, seriously this time. Harry put up his umbrella and waited while Malfoy opened his.

“Are you sure they’ll find Higgs innocent?” Malfoy asked, pulling mittens from his pocket.

“Unless Percy’s corrupted the whole Wizengamot.” Harry answered. He smiled as Malfoy held his umbrella with his chin.

“What?”

“Just your mittens. You won’t be able to make rude hand gestures at me until we go back inside.”

“I can improvise,” Malfoy said, and demonstrated.

“Woolly duck isn’t half as offensive as you think it is.”

Malfoy shook his head in mock despair, which turned real as his umbrella tilted and water dripped onto him. “It’s not even winter yet, and it’s bloody miserable.”

“Do you want to walk?” Harry asked. “I like walking in the rain.”

“I never walk in London,” Malfoy admitted.

“Do you want to start?”

“Sure.”

Whitehall was filled with the sort of people they both avoided at work, so they kept going. Harry took Malfoy’s arm and guided him through the chaos of traffic around Trafalgar Square.

“I’m quite capable …” Malfoy declared, just as Harry dragged him back from certain death beneath a black cab.

He ducked his face beneath Harry’s umbrella and whispered hot and fast in his ear, “These people are insane.”

Harry couldn’t deny it, as the driver of a Number 9 bus attempted to make Percy Weasley’s life infinitely simpler.

Tourists chased them away from the National Gallery, a good bookshop lured them down Chandos, and by the time they were halfway to Covent Garden, Malfoy informed Harry that he was now officially starving, too, and wet, and tired of being buffeted by other pedestrians, so he was going to eat in that Italian place across the road and Harry could do what he liked.

They opened the door, and the smell of the food confirmed it was a good choice. Two seats at one end of the communal table in the middle of the room were empty and available, despite their lack of reservation.

Malfoy insisted on ordering for them. “You’re having the chicken in white wine and garlic, because it’s least likely to show up in photos if you end up in a paper-worthy disaster this afternoon.”

Harry didn’t mind, it sounded good. “Justin came over last night. He brought news from Blaise. He says hello to you and Pansy, and that he’s following all the news. Very excited to hear about his new skill set, he plans to break into our homes and wee in all the corners.”

“I suppose we deserve that,” Malfoy grinned. “I do, at least.”

Harry leaned towards Malfoy’s ear and whispered, “I say we make him stay on the farm until he learns to transform into a ferret.”

They were still laughing when the food arrived. Halfway through eating, so did the group who were booked on the main part of the table. Harry found himself pushed up against Malfoy, surrounded by loud, arm-waving Italians. Conversation became impossible, so they ate instead, plates pushed so closely together that Malfoy helped himself to some of Harry’s chicken and Harry stole a few bites of osso bucco. He was sure that both were delicious, but in all honesty he was far more focussed on the warmth of Draco Malfoy’s thigh against his and the slender wrist that bumped his own whenever Malfoy used his fork.

“Sorry,” Malfoy apologised again.

“Don’t be.”

Malfoy’s look lasted just long enough for a touch of curiosity to reach it, but then it slid away to the last of his food. Harry supposed they were done and asked for the bill. “I’m paying,” he told Malfoy, brooking no argument.

“Just as well, I have no pounds.”

Outside it was still raining, but the streets were quieter.

“Do you want to keep walking for a bit?” Malfoy asked.

Harry happily agreed, and fell into step beside him.

“How’s Theo?” asked Malfoy.

“He’s all right. Managed not to out himself as a non-Muggle yet. He’s been telling people he was raised on a commune. Happy to be writing, even under a pseudonym. Luna’s promised him a regular gig under his own byline once everything has blown over.”

“Good. He’ll enjoy that.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Stay on at DMC, I thought. Why?”

Harry shrugged. “I’ve just been trying to work out what I’ll do if I win the election. I’ll need help, good advisors. You’ve been really useful to work with these last few weeks.”

“Are you offering me a job?”

“I’m asking if you’d want one if I was in the position to offer it.”

“And leave Abernathy?”

Harry gave up. “You’re right, no point making any plans until we know what’s going to happen.”

“Is that man going to walk on that rope?”

Harry followed Malfoy’s pointing finger. A knickerbockered young man had tied a tightrope between the two portico columns at the east end of the Actor’s Church and was standing beside it, looking for an audience. Alas, they were all inside.

“Come on!” Malfoy ran ahead, and Harry followed him to the church, under the pediment’s shelter.

Enthused by his audience, the young man climbed onto his rope and walked up and down it. Malfoy applauded enthusiastically. Harry took the change from his Muggle money pocket and dropped it into the bag provided for donations. He waited for the acrobat to do something else, but apparently today was for walking practice.

A group of tourists came wandering out from the market, saw the show and came over to join them in their rare spot of dry. Harry followed Malfoy back to the false door in the church wall, behind the newcomers.

“So,” Harry said. “Walking in Muggle London. Slightly less glamorous than I may have made it out to be.”

“It’s fun,” Malfoy said. “I’m even warming up.” He took his mittens off and offered one to Harry, who took it and inspected the workmanship.

“I like these little knitted geese,” Harry said.

“I think they were meant to be dragons,” Malfoy admitted. He pointed at one of the designs. “See? That bit’s a tail.”

Harry nodded, watching Malfoy’s dextrous fingers as they traced the stitches. He looked up. “You have nice hands,” he said.

“Don’t.”

“You always look away. I’ll stop if you’d rather.”

Malfoy sighed. “Potter, I know you’re trying to be nice. I know you’re trying to be supportive and inclusive and all jolly broomsticks, but really, you’re just a tease.”

“I thought I was trying to give you a hint.”

Malfoy looked up at that. Brow furrowed and lips parted for words that took a few seconds to come. “Potter, you’re an idiot.”

Oh well. Harry kept his sigh silent. “So you’ve always said.”

Malfoy’s hand on his jaw was firm, but his lips were gentle as they met Harry’s and lingered for a moment. “Hints are for schoolboys,” Malfoy whispered with a smile.

Harry began to smile back, but then he spotted the owl headed for them, and the applause of the crowd as the young man finally did something interesting covered up the choice selection of swear words he invoked.

Malfoy’s momentary expression of surprise evaporated as the owl alighted on Harry’s shoulder and pecked his ear for attention.

“Of course,” said Malfoy. “Nothing involving you is ever going to be easy.”

“I’m sorry.” Harry unlaced the message from the owl’s leg as quickly as he could, and sent it on its way. He read quickly. “Percy. Demanding I come in right now.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No.” Harry reached up and touched Malfoy’s cheek, because he could now. “You stay safe. Percy’s going to be in a foul mood and I’d rather he expend it on me.”

“Hex him if it gets grim,” Malfoy said, leaning his face into Harry’s hand. “We can always run away to New Zealand.”

Harry smiled, and kissed him, and then made himself stop. “I have to go back,” he whispered, their heads still bent together.

“Go,” Malfoy said. “Come and find me afterwards.”



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




Percy Weasley was very good at yelling. His face went red, and his nostrils did this weird thing where they simultaneously flared at the base and narrowed at the tip of his nose, rather like the Muggle Prime Minister, now Harry thought on it.

“… no business calling in Tiberius Ogden before my department could assess the matter fully!” Percy finished.

“But Higgs is entitled to legal representation,” Harry reminded him. “And you’d assessed the matter fully enough to obtain a warrant.”

The redness in Percy’s cheeks darkened. “Higgs is an Undesirable!” he hissed.

The word stopped Harry’s thoughts in their tracks. “Do you even hear yourself anymore, Percy?”

“Ogden’s demanding Higgs be tried tomorrow. It’s an outrageous imposition on the department, and a slap in the face of prisoners who have been waiting patiently for their own trials.”

“Then send them to the Wizengamot, too,” Harry replied, keeping his voice level.

“They haven’t been cooperating with our investigations,” Percy snapped. “I’m not losing valuable intelligence resources to fit in with your political agenda, Auror Potter.”

Harry felt his skin tighten. “But surely their legal representatives have complained?”

Percy looked at him with contempt, and Harry, through his shock, shared the emotion. He had blithely assumed that being transferred out of the Auror Holding Cells and into MLE custody had represented only a geographical change for Runcorn and Hopkirk. How he could have been stupid enough not to check?

“You do not dictate the workings of MLE, Auror Potter, you would do well to remember that.”

“Laws do, Percy. Laws.”

“Don’t presume to lecture me.”

Harry had come to the end of his never lengthy stretch of patience. He walked out of Percy’s office, reminding himself that Mr and Mrs Weasley cared for their son and it would therefore make Christmas extremely difficult if Harry were to hex him.

Hermione found him halfway down the corridor. “I’ve just come from Aurors, they said you might be here,” she greeted him. “How did it go?”

“I didn’t hex him,” Harry replied.

“Ah. That well. In that case, I bring good news. We’re having a meeting in your office. Kingsley and Mr Ogden are there, they want to talk about Higgs.”

“Excellent. I want to talk about prisoner rights within MLE.”

Tiberius Ogden was much as Dawlish had described him. Although elderly, he was keen and focussed. “I’m very pleased your department’s brought me in on this,” he told Harry. “There have been a lot of corners cut since the war and we stand the risk of losing all credibility with the populace. You can’t expect the average witch or wizard to have respect for the law when the law works on prejudice rather than on process, can you, young man?”

“I would hope not, sir,” Harry agreed.

“Kingsley and young Hermione have been running me through their research on the franchise question. Lovely piece of work – fine legal mind in you, young lady. Now, we’ve heard from Miranda Goshawk, she will be chairing the Wizengamot tomorrow, the hearing is set for ten in the morning, and to be honest with you, I don’t foresee any difficulties with Higgs. I have a number of Muggleborns testifying that he assisted them with hiding from the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and young Mr Malfoy has offered to testify that he never heard the name Higgs mentioned by any of the Death Eaters he was associated with.

“But I strongly suspect that this case is about more than Mr Higgs, yes? Now might be an excellent time to stop playing your cards so close to your chest, Mr Potter.”

“There are quite a lot of cards,” Harry warned him.

“Then you’d best start at the beginning.”

Harry self-edited a few times as he went. There was no reason to incriminate others, so he spoke only of arranging to have Nott kept safe, and of knowing that Parkinson was similarly well-cared for and Zabini also somewhere secure. He also omitted Kingsley’s encounter with the table. Hermione and Kingsley voluntarily incriminated themselves when he had finished.

Ogden was smiling at the start of the story, but by the end, he was shaking his head. “Happily, I am an independent wizard these days and under no obligation to report any of you. But I must say that you have all crossed a legal line here. I understand that you were doing it in response to the Ministry crossing a moral one, but morality is not subject to being tried before the Wizengamot.

“I will grant you that this secret rebellion is better than open insurrection, but Kingsley, you and Mr Potter must know that your personal popularity will not protect you from prosecution if Percy discovers this.”

“It’s no different to saving people from the Muggleborn Registration Committee,” Harry said, keeping his voice level.

“No, but I believe that action had you named Undesirable Number One,” Ogden replied. “I think it would be best for Wizarding Britain if we attempt to prevent you re-attaining that status.”

“Give Percy time,” Harry said tightly. “I’m sure he’ll remember that I passed on several opportunities to go up against Voldemort before I judged the time to be right.”

“Are you finished Mr Potter?” Ogden asked, with an eyebrow raised. Harry said nothing. “Moving on, then. I believe it would be best all round if future actions were kept within the letter of the law. For my part, I will be encouraging those entrusted with upholding that law to take a more active role.

“For now, let’s focus on the people already in custody. Mr Runcorn has been held for an egregious length of time without counsel, and Mrs Hopkirk has also gone far too long. I am particularly concerned with her case as there seem to be no plausible grounds for holding her. I think the Wizengamot would have ample grounds to complain about her treatment, don’t you, Kingsley?”

Kingsley agreed. “Harry, pass me that quill and some parchment. I’m going to write to Miranda Goshawk now and ask her to step in. It’s my fault, as Minister, I should have demanded oversight on them both.”

“I’m the one who didn’t think to ask what happened past our cells,” Harry corrected him.

“It’s Percy’s fault for being a pillock,” Hermione corrected them both. “And the system’s fault for not adequately separating out the judicial, law enforcement and punitive arms of our society. If you start with a rubbish system, it’s no wonder you end up with a rubbish outcome.

“Kingsley, I’ll send your letter; this is going to take more than an hour or two, so I’m going to get a message off to Ron and ask if he can meet us here later. Luna’s up at her place with Neville working on the Quibbler, but I think it wouldn’t hurt us to see if the Prophet is up for a little input if you’re up to giving another interview, Harry. Do you want to call Malfoy in?”

Harry was so proud of himself for not even pausing. “He’s been developing contacts, let’s give him a chance to use them. I’ll track him down and let him know.”

Kingsley signed his name to his parchment. “Excellent. I’m going to bully Armitage into breaking out the good biscuit stash and making a large pot of tea. Tiberius?”

“I’m going to sit here and wait for you to all come back.”

Harry found Malfoy in his tiny DMC office, feet up on his desk and reading a book with Don’t Mention Evans emblazoned across the cover in lurid type.

“Geraldine Batterthwayte at her finest,” Malfoy told him. “Don’t you ever knock?”

Harry shut the door. “I need you.”

Malfoy grinned. “Not sure that’s appropriate in the workplace, Potter.”

Harry grinned back. “I need you to get the Prophet to come in for an interview.”

“Disappointing.”

“If it’s any consolation, I have plans for the other.”

Malfoy stood up and put the book down. “I do, too.”

Harry liked the way Malfoy’s mouth curved up at the edges, especially when it was conveying wholly improper suggestions. It was a sign of how much the universe hated him that he needed to ignore them and open the door again quite soon if they were to have any chance of making it back to the meeting.

“Later,” he promised.

“Come on, let’s wheel out the next act in this political circus,” Malfoy replied, kissing him lightly as he went for the door. Harry caught at Malfoy’s hand, just to have the feel of its slender weight fresh in his memory.

It was for the best that Hermione had gone to speak with Ron, Harry wasn’t the least bit sure that the smiles on his and Malfoy’s faces would have passed her muster. But Kingsley and Ogden were head down over a set of scrolls and Armitage was swearing at the tea urn when they walked in, so by the time Hermione returned, Harry was knee-deep in legislation and Malfoy was negotiating a time and place to meet with the journalist from the Prophet.

“They’re sending Tobias Leamington,” Malfoy said, over Ogden’s head. “He’s not as exciting a prosodist as Skeeter, but he is more reliable with the facts.”

“He wrote that Zabini ferret piece, didn’t he?” Hermione asked.

“Yes.”

“Droll wit, I liked it. Mr Ogden, I’ve gathered those incarceration records you wanted.”

Miranda Goshawk arrived a little before five, and Kingsley and Ogden both set off with her to Percy’s office. Harry and Malfoy took Leamington off to the Leaky to conduct the interview over butterbeers. Forty-five minutes later an owl from Hermione found them there, suggesting that it might be to Leamington’s advantage to return to the Ministry with Auror Potter.

Harry’s main familiarity with Miranda Goshawk had been as the author of school textbooks, but he also knew her as a renowned scholar and respected scientist. No one had mentioned she was absolutely terrifying.

She was a small woman, with neat grey hair and neat green robes, but she had a very big voice, and as Harry ushered Leamington and Malfoy out of the lift on Level Two, he could hear it all the way down the corridor.

“You may very well have been feeding her, Mister Weasley, that doesn’t mean she’s been eating. Any fool can see she’s lost a lot of weight and why you haven’t had a senior MediWizard in to take a look at her is beyond my guessing. She’s distraught! She wants to see her husband and her children, and you haven’t even told her that they’ve attempted to visit her!”

Percy must have said something at that point, because Hopkirk’s next words were bellowed, and as Harry rounded the corner, he could see her standing on the toes of her boots, jabbing her finger up towards Percy’s rapidly purpling face.

“It may very well be within the letter of the law as it stands but I will thank you to remember that those are unrepealed laws from a time when this Ministry was far from its best!”

Harry hurried them all past, keeping Malfoy on the far side of the corridor, grateful that Percy was too busy to do more than send a hate-filled glance in their direction.

Armitage rolled her eyes at the sight of them and went to put on more tea. Harry busied himself with introductions: “Tobias Leamington, this is Kingsley Shacklebolt, Tiberius Ogden, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley …”

Leamington immediately began quizzing them for background information on his Potter piece, which led to Ron cheerfully volunteering the fact that he snored when he had a cold and Hermione supportively stating that he could be relied on to do his fair share of the washing up if you were ever stuck in a tent with him.

Leamington’s journey into Auror headquarters was well worth his time. In addition to invaluable ‘colour’ for his Potter interview, he was the man on the spot when Goshawk returned and needed to shout at someone about the deplorable breakdown in legal process within the Ministry. Hermione volunteered her office for them to talk, and led them out the back way, to avoid passing Percy’s again.

It was an unlooked-for success. Harry grinned at Malfoy, who grinned back. For a moment, he forgot there was anyone else in the room, until he realised that Ron was staring at them in horror.

Before he could say a word, Ron raised his hand and walked quickly over to their side of the office and whispered, “We’re not talking about it. We might never talk about it. You are absolutely not talking about it in front of Hermione, her head will explode.”

He looked at Malfoy and shook his head. “And I let you call me Ron and told my sister you weren’t that bad. She is going to kill me. Or you. Or all three of us.”

“Ron …”

“Why couldn’t it have been Justin? He’s a perfectly good blond. Don’t worry, Malfoy, If it comes to the crunch, I’ll tell Ginny you were Imperiused. Harry was bound to lose it at some point.”

“Ron …”

“Weren’t you listening? We’re not talking about it!” Ron pretended he had heard Kingsley call and bounded back over to the comfy chairs.

“That went much better than I imagined it would,” Malfoy said, fingers brushing Harry’s beneath the edge of the table.

Harry laughed.

They sent Ogden home at ten, so he would be fresh for the morning. Goshawk had already left, and Leamington had long since run back to the Prophet’s offices with several scoops and an aching quill hand. Kingsley declared he was done at midnight, and at two, Hermione announced that they were all looking like wraiths and that if they wanted to be of any use the next day, then it was time to go home. She stood up and stretched, frowning as her joints popped.

“Let’s get you home,” Ron said, then added. “I’m sure Harry and Draco will want to leave with us?”

“I’m just going to tidy up all the cups and plates,” Harry replied.

Ron glared at him, but clearly wasn’t going to talk about it, even though his eyes stayed narrow. “Fine. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Harry waited until the door had closed behind them before he started picking up tea cups. Malfoy helped.

“You could stay at mine tonight,” Harry offered, taking the teapot from him. “It’s a lot easier than Apparating to Wiltshire.”

“It is,” Malfoy agreed, “but we both need to get some sleep, and if I’m with you, I don’t think either of us will be focussing on sleep.”

“It doesn’t factor at all in my plans for you,” Harry admitted, the smile sliding onto his face matched by Malfoy’s. “But my plans didn’t include any of this, either. I want us to be back at lunch, with a free afternoon and evening.”

“I want all of this to be over, so we can see whether or not …”

“We can,” Harry assured him. “We can make it work. You heard Ron, he wasn’t even properly outraged.”

“Let’s try sleeping with each other before we make any long-term plans,” Malfoy cautioned.

Harry’s smile widened. “I thought you were the one advocating for common sense with what remains of the night. My vote’s definitely for not-sleeping. I’m quite happy to try coffee or one of your foul-tasting potions and we have six perfectly good hours before we need to think about coming back in here.”

Malfoy put down his pile of dishes and brushed the biscuit crumbs from Harry’s jacket. Harry moved to free his own hands, but Malfoy shook his head, his smile now just amused. “Knowing my luck, the Ministry would catch fire and you’d be hard-pressed explaining why you responded to the emergency summons in my trousers. C’mon, let’s get rid of these dishes.”

They took the tea things out to the kitchenette, and Harry quickly spelled them clean, despite Proudfoot and Savage volunteering their night-watch junior for the duty. Back behind closed doors, Malfoy passed Harry his coat, then caught his hand, and drew him in for a lingering kiss that made Harry think that New Zealand was in fact an attractive option, with many areas of significant natural beauty.

“Let’s just get to the weekend,” Malfoy whispered against his cheek. “I’ve cancelled both of your speaking engagements, and sent generous donations instead.”

Harry let himself feel the weight of Malfoy against him and the slight abrasiveness of his cheek for a moment before stepping back, just far enough to make himself let go. “The weekend,” he agreed. “It’s only a few days.”




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




Kreacher took one look at Harry the next morning and turned around to make coffee. “Five hours sleep is insufficient for a young wizard,” he croaked.

“Sorry Kreacher, did I wake you up last night?”

“As if Kreacher would be asleep when his Master is out in who-knows-what peril.”

Harry listened to the house-elf’s lengthy grumbling with good grace, flicking through both papers as he did. He had been relegated to a note on page three of the Prophet apologising for the delay on the promised feature which would now run in the afternoon edition. Page one and two was Leamington’s lengthy Wizengamot Chief Condemns MLE Prisoner Treatment, which included lengthy quotes from Goshawk, strident denials from Percy, and four short paragraphs in which Mafalda Hopkirk’s husband and children each simply stated their desperate need for her to come home.

The Quibbler was mostly given over to a long story, titled Every Death Eater I Ever Met: an insider tells of those who waged war and those who fought alongside them by anonymous. Terence Higg’s name was notably absent. The editorial was a personal piece from Luna, speaking of her fear that her father would be next arrested, and how blurred the line had become between those who had done real wrong and those who had only made mistakes.

Even if Tiberius Ogden had not spent the previous day constructing an unassailable case, Harry would have felt full of confidence as he left for work that morning.

Dawlish and Williamson had taken over his morning casework so he would be free to attend the trial and he was able to make his way down to the courtrooms early. Luna was waiting for him in the corridor outside. “The public seating is filling up,” she said. “Neville’s inside saving us a couple, but we’d better hurry before he falls asleep.”

Luna was looking pale herself, but she brightened as Harry thanked her and Neville and praised the Quibbler. “I think it’s one of our best,” she agreed. “Though I wish we’d had space for a piece on Tintookies that’s come in.”

A small wizard came in and called for silence. The Wizengamot began to file in, and the court was in process.

Luna took hold of his hand halfway through proceedings. Although it had been his own plan, Harry was astonished to see how thoroughly it succeeded. A long succession of witnesses for the defence – including Malfoy – refuted Percy’s short list of charges. Harry watched Malfoy intently through his testimony, but Malfoy looked directly at the members of the Wizengamot, shooting Harry only one fleeting, relieved smile as he stood down. Before a half hour had passed, Miranda Goshawk held up her hand to ask if there was any further evidence the Ministry had yet to produce.

“We believe that the prisoner …” Percy began.

“No, Mr Weasley, you mistake me. I didn’t ask about your belief system, I asked about evidence.”

Through clenched teeth, Percy declared there was no more at this time.

It took them less than three minutes to find Higgs innocent, with a vote that would have been unanimous, had Elphias Doge not abstained due to missing quite a bit of the testimony by inadvertently falling asleep.

Once the session was declared over, Harry pushed his way through the audience waiting to congratulate Higgs in pursuit of Percy. He managed to reach him just outside the doors.

Percy looked around to see who the running feet belonged to, and his jaw tightened as his gaze came up. “Very clever, Harry,” he said.

“Percy, come on, you knew Higgs was innocent. Even you couldn’t pretend otherwise.”

“I know you think what he did doesn’t matter. That’s patently evident from the company you keep these days.”

Tiredness made it hard for Harry to keep a lid on his anger. “I’m just happy the system works,” he snapped.

“The system worked with Gregory Goyle,” Percy snapped back.

“Because he was guilty.”

“Yes, well. I suppose there will always be some cases we lose on technicalities.”

“Percy …” His words sounded horribly familiar to Harry. In as calm a voice as he could manage, Harry started to discuss the issue: “You were in there, you heard the evidence. Higgs did nothing wrong.”

“We obviously have diverging views on ‘wrong’, Harry.” Percy turned and started walking towards the stairs.

“Percy, Perce!”

Percy paused, and looked back over his shoulder.

Harry shook his head. “This isn’t what Fred would have wanted.”

Percy’s look hardened. “What the hell would you know?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer, strode off.




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The party overflowed from Harry’s office. Higgs’s parents had been hesitant about their son returning to the Auror offices, but he had assured them they would be among friends. Tobias Leamington had been asked to join them on condition it all stay off the record, but he had apologised and said he had to get back to the Prophet in order to file his story on the case.

Angelina was in London today, so it was she who managed snacks and butterbeers and earned Armitage’s eternal gratitude. They ended up tucked in a corner complaining about Harry’s appalling treatment of new staff, consoled only by the facts that he was uniformly awful and paid well, both of which they imparted to him when he stopped by to check they had drinks.

Malfoy had been commandeered by Williamson, who was regaling him with stories of Aurorly near-misses, including the one in which Harry had been cornered up a very large tree. Harry caught his eye, but Malfoy’s smile assured him he didn’t need rescuing.

Ogden took pride of place at the top of the conference table in Harry’s office, and was halfway through an excruciatingly lengthy explanation of why the Wizengamot’s decision should stand as a precedent for future cases when Harry felt someone take his arm.

“Harry…” it was Hermione, with the afternoon Prophet in her hand. She drew him down the table away from the others and slipped the paper onto the table in front of him. He looked down at the front page. Malfoy appeared at his side, his hip brushing Harry’s own as he looked at Harry, questioning.

“Read it,” Hermione said.

Prophet Prisoner Protest Rights Ministry Wrongs! the headline exclaimed. In a dramatic day at the Ministry of Magic, the Prophet’s report on Wizengamot concerns regarding the detention of witches and wizards has been endorsed by MLE Department Head Percy Weasley.


“Clearly standards have been allowed to slip within the Department,” Weasley told this reporter, “and we thank Miranda Goshawk and Tobias Leamington for bringing this issue to our attention. Rest assured that I will now be assuming personal oversight of the issue.”


“What the hell?” Malfoy muttered, reading over Harry’s shoulder.

Harry shook his head. “He’s made it sound as though he’s driving the solution,” he muttered, trying not to distract the others.

“But he’s the problem,” Malfoy hissed.

Hermione nodded. “It gets worse.” She turned the paper over. There was a large photograph of Kingsley, beside a headline that read Under the Influence?.

“It’s that witch who interviewed me,” Malfoy said, pointing at the byline. “Sidonie Hemlock. Not very nice.”

“Multiple empty bottles in the office bin …” Hermione read in a whisper.

“Argh!” Malfoy groaned quietly. “I knew I should have Vanished them!”

“We all forgot,” she said, reaching across Harry and patting his arm in consolation. “This is the bit that worries me.”

Harry followed her finger and read the offending paragraphs.


Since departing his office, Kingsley Shacklebolt has been tireless in promoting Acting Head Auror Harry Potter as his replacement.


Potter, justly famed for his efforts in the recent war, is nonetheless notably lacking in political experience and has attracted a degree of criticism over several of his advisors.


One senior Ministry figure, who wished to remain anonymous, was scathing in his condemnation of the young hero, saying, “We’ve had our entire system of government overturned by a drunkard and a wet-behind-the-ears girl in the service of a young man who seems just a little too keen to acquire power.


“Two-and-a-half years ago Harry Potter declared he wanted nothing more than to step out of the public eye, but since then he has repeatedly popped up in the public discourse, usually in the same unexpected company. I can’t help but wonder what or who lies behind his agenda?”


“Bloody hell.” Ron had arrived while Harry was reading, and was peering over Hermione’s head. “That’s hardly fair, bet you wish you’d kept the Elder wand now …”

Harry smiled grimly. Ron patted his shoulder. “Still,” Ron said, looking back at the paper, “it’s not all bad.”

They all leaned down to read the words Ron had spotted: William Camberwell, Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, was happy to go on record saying that he didn’t believe a word of the rumours. “Shacklebolt was always the steadiest of Ministers. Not a single case of anyone being Imperiused, blown-up or murdered on his watch, which is more than you can say for anyone else in living memory.


“As for Potter, one of the loveliest natural fliers I’ve ever seen. You’re not going to convince me that anyone who can handle a broomstick like that is going to waste time on political espionage.”


Harry felt himself starting to smile, and even Hermione giggled softly beside him.

“See?” Ron said. “It’s going to be fine.”

Harry turned to Malfoy, who wasn’t there.

He looked around, and saw him excusing his way past Aurors towards the door.

“What’s up with …?” Hermione began.

“Go,” Ron said. “I’ll make your excuses if you don’t come back.”

Harry squeezed his elbow in passing, then hurried after Malfoy.

He caught him just as the lift arrived. “Where are you headed?”

“My office.”

“Because …?”

Malfoy’s look was vintage Harry Potter Is An Idiot, though with kindlier overtones than the traditional version. Harry stepped into the lift with him and pressed the button for Level Five.

“You read the paper,” Draco said as the lift moved. “I’m a liability for you. I’m taking a step back, until the campaign’s over. As long as I’m standing near you, some of the mud they fling my way is going to hit you, so I should just remove you from the line of fire.”

Harry took his hand. “You’re talking utter bollocks,” he said.

The lift door opened at Level Four and Malfoy dropped Harry’s hand as Urquhart from Creatures stepped in. An uncomfortable minute later, the doors re-opened at Level Five and they both stepped out. Malfoy did not say a word as he led them up the corridor at a fair clip, but Harry rehearsed new speeches with every tap of Malfoy’s heels on the tiles.

Wellingham stood up as they walked in. “Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter …” but sank back at Malfoy’s promise to be with him in five minutes.

Malfoy paused at his door long enough to allow Harry into the room, then shut it, and locked it behind them.

“No,” said Harry.

“It’s not up to you.”

“Yes it is. It’s my campaign, my reputation. I don’t care.”

“And they are my friends you will be leaving out in the cold if you don’t win.”

Harry could see the effort it cost Malfoy not to be angry. He was breathing quickly, colour high in his pale cheeks. Harry felt a tightness in his chest that had nothing to do with the argument.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

And then Malfoy crumpled a little and Harry never knew which one of them moved first, but he did feel the lamp he knocked off the desk with his hip as he let Malfoy bend him backwards over the desk and he felt Malfoy’s teeth brush his lower lip as their mouths came together urgently.

“Mr Malfoy? Are you all right?” There was a sternly staccato knocking on the door.

Malfoy drew back, laughing softly, and rested his forehead against Harry’s shoulder. “Fine. Clumsy,” he called through the door.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Wellingham double-checked. “And Auror Potter’s alive, too?”

“Fine, thanks,” Harry called.

“Potter was telling me his taxation policies and I was trying so hard not to laugh, I knocked a lamp over,” Malfoy told the door.

“All right, then.”

“He’s a good fellow, really,” Malfoy told Harry’s collarbone.

“If I can sort things out, will you stay?” Harry whispered, lightly kissing Malfoy’s temple, trying not to think about Malfoy’s hand on his hip, because that would definitely doom the rest of the desk.

“Why don’t we just wait to see how Leamington’s piece comes out in tomorrow’s Prophet?” Malfoy looked up at him through long lashes. “Maybe we’re making a huge issue out of nothing.”

“Exactly. And I bet Cuffe will be polling on the back of this afternoon’s issue, too, so we can see exactly how badly we’ve been hit, and deal with it accordingly.”

Malfoy shook his head. “This was a really sexy position about forty-five seconds ago.” He took a step backwards, hauling Harry up with him. “Politics ruins everything.”

“You’re the one who promised Wellingham you’d only be five minutes,” Harry reminded him.

“Yes, well, why should you be the only idiot in the room?”

Harry caught Malfoy’s hands and twined their fingers together. “Tonight,” he said. “There’s nothing booked, nothing that can’t wait. Come to my house.”

Malfoy nodded, and Harry kissed him, but lightly, because they both needed to be presentable in about ninety seconds and Merlin knew there were already enough rumours flying around this Ministry.

“OK. I’m going back up to the party and then I’ll visit Sports to see if I can have a word with Camberwell, thank him for his support if nothing else. What are you up to?”

“Wellingham probably has a stack of things for me to sign. And I need to pop down to Penzance to buy that bloody dress for Pansy. After that, I think I’ll head home early, spend the rest of the afternoon with Mother. See how she’s holding up with all the rain. What time will you be home?”

“Eight at the latest.”

“I’ll see you there.”

Harry nodded, and was about to open the door when Malfoy stopped him, rearranged his shirt and robe and smoothed down his hair. “Better,” he said. “Now go, before I mess you up again.”

“Don’t forget our appointment,” Harry said, stepping though the door. “And sorry about the lamp.”

“I never liked it,” Malfoy called after him.

Harry smiled at Wellingham, who eyed him suspiciously.

Back in the Auror offices any number of strays had showed up to spend their lunch hours scoffing Potter-provided snacks. Harry didn’t mind. No work had come in, though also no word on the Hopkirk trial, which was concerning, because Harry knew they still had a fair whack of the interview paperwork in their possession.

Ron took him aside to let him know that he had managed to explain Harry’s absence without “you know, explaining”. Hermione and Angelina both came to check that all was well, and Harry assured them that it was, for now.

Higgs, who had not slept well the night before, ran out of steam by two and the party broke up with his departure. Williamson shooed out the strays, retrieving the last unopened packets of biscuits from one of the Juniors from the Invisibility Task Force. Angelina and Armitage bonded over cup and plate tidying, while Harry tried to put all the files he had stashed into a locked drawer back on his desk in something resembling their order of urgency.

With things mostly back to normal, he took a quick trip to Sports, only to find he had just missed Camberwell, who was off for an afternoon event with the Irish Quidditch captain, as part of the latter’s current book tour.

Leaving a note, Harry headed back to the lift. The doors pinged and opened to reveal Percy Weasley, who lifted his head when Harry stepped in.

Harry pressed for the doors to close, and didn’t say a thing.

“I hear you’ve been celebrating in Aurors,” Percy said as the lift resumed its journey.

“Paid for out of my own purse.”

“I would never suggest otherwise.”

“I hear you plan to improve prisoner conditions,” Harry said, trying for an encouraging tone.

“It’s what the public want,” Percy replied.

“And the right thing to do.”

“They wouldn’t be prisoners if they did the right thing.”

Harry sighed and turned around. “Percy, what’s happened to you? Sometimes I don’t think you even hear yourself. It’s as though you’ve gone back in time.”

Percy leaned forward. “Harry,” he said earnestly. “You’re the one who never listens. People want to see the perpetrators punished. You’re so naive that you refuse to see guilt when it’s laid out in front of you.”

“Then vote for us to fund an international hunt for Rowle and Macnair, Percy. If you’re so committed to punishing perpetrators, let’s grab a few that count.”

The lift stopped at Level Two and the doors opened.

“Auror Potter,” Percy said, stepping past him.

Harry waited for him to move down the corridor before he followed.

Angelina had a series of requests for Harry to attend events lined up, so they spent a productive hour selecting which ones to approve and which ones to hold in reserve in case everything went truly arse-up over the next few days.

“I think we can just say no to this nude calendar proposal,” she said. “Even if it is for orphans, I think they’ve already suffered enough.”

“Thank you very much for your supportive commentary. Send a donation.”

There was a knock at the door. Armitage poked her head in. “Sir, Leamington from the Prophet is out here. He wants to know if you have a minute, in private.”

“Angelina?”

“We’re done for now.”

“Show him in then, thanks.”

Leamington smiled apologetically as he came in. “I’m sorry to take up your time.”

“No, it’s fine,” Harry assured him. “Sit down.”

“I’m so sorry about that interview, too. They bounced my piece on you this afternoon for that rubbish from Sidonie.”

“Not your fault.”

“She’s Cuffe’s favourite, but the rest of us loathe her if that’s any comfort. I’m holding onto the story, going to make it part of a longer feature in the final week of the campaign, when it’s all head to head.”

Harry smiled. “Whatever you think best.”

“That’s not why I’m here, though.” Leamington leaned forward over the desk. “My sources in MLE tell me there’s something big on the way, and that it will blow this election wide open. They’ve sent me a note to look out for it later today, or first thing in the morning. That’s all I know, but I thought you should have a heads-up.”

“Sources in MLE?”

“Not the Auror department,” Leamington clarified. “MLE itself, Percy’s mob.”

“Oh.” Harry nodded. So Percy was going to attack him directly. “Thank you.”

“I’m sorry I can’t tell you more …”

“You’ve been a champion sharing this,” Harry said. “Forewarned is forearmed and so on.”

“Do you have anything you’d like to say on the issue?” Leamington asked, his last scoop still fresh in his nostrils.

“Not at this early point, but you’ll be the first I call,” Harry promised.

“Well, good luck,” Leamington said, and thrust his hand out. Harry took it, and had his own hand thoroughly shaken.

“You’re one of the decent ones,” Leamington told him. “They don’t tend to last around here, but you’re a stubborn little bugger, so I’m backing you.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, to Leamington’s rapidly retreating back.

Armitage stuck her head back around the door. “Things all right, sir?”

“Fine. For now.”

Harry wondered who Percy had found out about. If it were Blaise or Theo, the fallout could be minimised. Both Seamus and Justin had spotless records and could easily pretend they had been innocently hosting old school friends. Justin could plead that, being on a gap year between courses, he had been avoiding all but Muggle news so as to better bond with his family. And he had such an innocent face that he could probably get away with it.

If it was Pansy, they were probably sunk. But Ginny was the only person outside the loop who ever visited Hermione at home, and for all that she didn’t approve, she certainly wouldn’t snitch.

Perhaps he should write to everyone and warn them, but that would just be creating nervousness where there may be no need, and that was how mistakes happened.

Harry ran his hands through his hair until it resembled a small black haystack, then he reminded himself he was having company for dinner and tried to smooth it back down. He decided to produce another request for funding to send a team out in search of Macnair. If Percy was going to say that hunting for both remaining Death Eaters was too expensive, let’s see if they could budget for one.

“Sir?” Armitage stood at the door, holding an envelope nervously.

“Come in Hester.”

“Sir, this was just delivered from the Department Head.”

She put the envelope on his desk and slid it across to him. Harry picked it up and opened it. He unfolded the warrant inside and scanned down to the name. He took a sharp breath. Draco Malfoy.




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Part seven