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16 February 2014 @ 03:10 am
Fic: A Young Radical's Guide to Love part 7  
Part six




v. Draco





It was harder to buy an evening dress than Draco had imagined. He found the shop again without difficulty – the window display hadn’t changed since their last visit. It was even the same shopgirl. Helpfully, most of their eveningwear was one-off pieces, rather than in multiple sizes, so he didn’t have to guess at Pansy’s dimensions. Less helpfully, there were a great many black frocks with plunging necklines.

He and the girl took to standing in front of the mirror, with Draco holding each frock before him as Pansy had been doing when he saw her, trying to work out exactly which one it had been. Half an hour, many frocks, and the disapproving looks of two local matrons who had muttered to each other that there was no way he could fit his shoulders into that one, he and the still-giggling assistant had found what they were reasonably certain was the right one.

He was still smiling when he reached home. Mother was busy with Father, so he sat down to read for a few hours to stop himself changing twelve times before he went to Potter’s. For a brief moment he let himself remember Potter’s hip, sharp in his hand, and the lithe strength of him in Draco’s arms, and the fluid line of his neck as it dipped beneath its loosened collar. Draco forced himself to concentrate on his book, wanting to follow everything through in reality before he indulged it in fantasy.

So well did he concentrate that the house-elf had to clear its throat twice before he noticed her.

“Master Draco? Master has a guest.”

Draco looked up, and past the elf, to empty air.

“Master’s guest is downstairs in the reception hall,” the house-elf informed him, with only the slightest suggestion that guests who came traipsing all over the house weren’t her fault.

“Of course. I’ll follow you down. Who is it?”

“Miss Periwinkle Brown.”

Draco assumed he must have invited her at some point. He’d certainly asked her to come out flying or out for a drink. Maybe she’d decided that Thursday afternoon was the ideal time to take him up on the offer. He could see her pacing from upstairs, and she looked up at the sound of his feet on the stone steps.

“Draco!” She ran up the stairs and hugged him briefly. Before he could be more than surprised, she let go. “All right. Grab your broom, some money and some clothes. You can stop at my house tonight, we’ll find you somewhere safer tomorrow.”

“Peri, what …”

There was a loud banging at the door. “I’m too late …” Brown whispered.

“Mr Malfoy?” a voice called.

“Relax, it’s Wellingham.” Draco left Peri on the stairs and went down to let Wellingham in. He was immediately gripped in another fierce hug by a sleet-coated secretary.

“Thank Merlin!”

Draco looked up at Peri in confusion.

She came back down the stairs. “My friend Claire from MLE came down to find me. She says there’s a warrant out for your arrest. It’s meant to be top-secret, though, I suppose our secretary and your secretary are quite good friends …”

“You’ll have to run, Mr Malfoy,” Wellingham said, his voice a little muffled by the wool of Draco’s jacket.

“We’ll have to shut the door and go inside out of this vile weather and come up with a coherent plan while you dry off,” Draco told him.

Wellingham nodded and let him go. In the garden behind him there was a sudden crack of Apparition and crunch of shrubbery. Draco pushed Wellingham inside and stepped out with his wand drawn.

“My dear boy!” Abernathy shouted, righting himself and trotting towards the front door. “What are you doing out here alone and exposed?”

It took Draco a minute to drag them all inside and send one house elf for refreshments and towels, another for a bag of his clothes and money, and a third for his mother. In the ensuing cacophony he heard three different versions of the same news, and at least seven perfectly useful offers of escape routes.

“It’s instant dismissal if I’m found stealing any signed visas,” Peri was saying.

“Don’t worry, I stole a batch from you a few weeks ago just in case.”

“Oh.” Peri finished drawing her own pilfered permit from her pocket with an embarrassed shrug.

“You brave and resourceful girl!” Abernathy congratulated her.

She smiled at him, and Draco kissed her forehead as he ushered her into the downstairs drawing room ahead of him.

“Does anyone know if the warrant has reached Aurors yet?” he asked.

There was general head shaking. “Does it make a difference?” Wellingham asked.

“Potter can’t delay in coming to search for me without handing Percy lethal ammunition against him. I should move quickly. And you should all get back to the Ministry before anyone spots you’re gone.”

“Rubbish,” said Abernathy. “I’m having a meeting with one of my more valued staff. Wellingham, who possibly should have consulted me before haring off on his own, but we’ll overlook it this time, is here to take minutes and Brown very thoughtfully agreed to come with me to explain some of the finer points of Magical Transportation for a conference we’re planning in the new year.”

“You really are the best boss in the Ministry, sir,” Draco said with a smile.

“And yet you spend all your time with Potter,” Abernathy replied with a too-knowing look.

“They’re busy on the campaign, sir,” Wellingham pointed out, all innocence, which made Draco feel tremendous fondness for the young man.

“That will be Mother,” Draco said, hearing footsteps outside the door.

It wasn’t. It was Ron Weasley with his wand drawn and a wary expression.

“No hexing!” Draco said quickly. “They’re all friends, come to warn me.”

Ron walked in and nodded at the others. “All right, well, I’m here to take you away.”

“Don’t be angry, Mr Weasley, but I’m not going to let you,” Wellingham said, staring nervously up at Ron but holding his wand firmly pointed.

“To hide,” Ron clarified. “Take him away to hide.”

“Oh.” Wellingham lowered his wand.

“You’re a good friend, Broderick,” Draco told him. Broderick blushed, and then blushed more deeply when Peri put her arm around his shoulders.

There were more footsteps outside, this time lighter and more rapid. His mother walked quickly in, carrying a bag and followed by two house-elves who were trying to carry it for her. She looked straight to him and relaxed at his smile and nod.

“Apparently you’re leaving us for the evening, darling. Do take care, and send word. I’ll go and find out who I need to hex to sort all this out.”

“Mrs Malfoy …” Abernathy began.

Ron took Draco’s arm. “We should go.”

Draco dragged his mother close with his other arm and breathed deeply. “All right. Mother, stay here with Abernathy. There will be Aurors, be polite. Broderick, get Peri back to the Ministry and check she’s not in any trouble …”

Abernathy interrupted him, “If she is, tell them it’s my fault and I’ll explain when I get back.”

“Thanks, sir, and can you …”

“I’ll stay with your mother as long as she needs me.”

“I owe all of you,” Draco said. “And will, with luck, see you all soon.”

“Very nice, come on.” Ron dragged him out the door. “Can we Apparate from inside?”

“Yes. Where are we—?”

A sharp lurch and a stumble and they were in a well-lit room with timber floors and painted furniture. A sugar bowl and butter dish sat on a green table, with crumbs suggesting they may have been left out after breakfast. Nearby was a capacious sofa with blue cushions and a low table in front of it covered in a set-up chess board, chess books and Quidditch magazines.

“Sorry about the landing,” Ron apologised. “This is my place, you should be safe – no one in their right mind would think I was harbouring you. You can kip on the sofa if you need to, the spare room’s full of things from the shop – don’t touch any of it unless you want to vomit, piss blue, turn into a canary or fart like a trumpet – there’s food in the pantry, wireless, mags … I can’t stay long, I promised George I’d be quick, but we’re downstairs, so if you need anything, just stomp around heavily and I’ll come up.”

Draco was still trying to catch his bearings. “Did Potter send you?”

“No, Hermione. She’s got a spy network in that Ministry that scares the bejesus out of me. Knows far too much, though I will say the whole place seems to leak like a sieve. Anyway, she came to me the moment she heard and I set off for you. George knows, so if he sticks his head up here, you don’t need to hide. And for Merlin’s sake, don’t hex him!”

“But she, you …” Draco inhaled and exhaled slowly. “I’m not convinced that it’s worth risking yourselves for me.” And because he was honest, he added, “Again.”

Ron stopped moving, and gave a half-smile. “I’m not entirely convinced, either,” he admitted. “Because you were such a little shit at school. But so was Percy – in a different way – and you’ve been one of the few people consistently reminding the others that he’s a person, too. You’ve changed. And maybe I’m a bit less black-and-white than I used to be, too. I get it now that everything has consequences. I didn’t before. So I don’t think I should expect you to be smarter than I was.”

Draco wasn’t going to say a word.

“Ok, maybe at potions, but I leave you for dead at business,” Ron said, and winked, and Draco realised they might actually be friends.

“Thanks, Ron.”

“I’m not taking you home for Christmas, mind.”

“Merlin no.”

“And if my parents still want to hate you and all your family …”

“Right and proper. My mother’s not an enormous fan of yours, in truth.”

“Well, your aunt …”

“Psycho.”

“Completely.”

They smiled at each other.

“OK. Right. Well, you settle down for the afternoon, I need to get back to work. I’ll let Harry know you’re here so he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“Are you …”

“We are so not talking about the two of you.”

“I was going to say are you sure your brother’s all right with having me here?”

“He suggested it.”

“He …” Draco was so surprised that he couldn’t find words.

Ron shrugged. “You remember at the end of the war, when Voldemort came out of the forest and we all thought Harry was dead?”

Draco remembered a long moment of horror, seeing Potter still and prone, his father blank and broken. Only his mother’s calm and steady face as his eyes found hers had given him any hope. He nodded.

“You remember how Voldemort said that if we laid down our wands and stopped fighting, everyone would be forgiven?”

Draco nodded again.

“That’s what George said to Percy. He said he didn’t think we were much chop if we were being out-done in the courtesy stakes by Voldemort.”

Draco wasn’t sure it was appropriate to laugh, but he did anyway.

“Exactly,” said Ron. “Put your feet up and get some rest, I’m back to work for a bit. You can only get up here through the shop, so anyone coming up the stairs is safe. Anyone coming in through the window is a burglar, feel free to whack ’em one.”

“Will do,” Draco promised. “And say thanks to your brother for me.”

Ron’s flat wasn’t huge, but it was comfortable and pleasant. There was more colour and less mess than Draco would have expected, and a whole shelf of Geraldine Batterthwayte. He found the one he was reading – Abernathy’s copy was safely back at the Ministry – found his page and sat down to wait. Somewhere between ruling out the handsome Quidditch player as the killer and finding out whether or not the quail had been laced with henbane, he fell asleep.

It was dark when he woke up. The lights of Diagon Alley twinkled in through the light curtains, and Potter was standing there.

“Sorry,” Potter said, squatting down beside the sofa. “I was trying not to wake you.”

“When did you get here?”

“Just now. Ron’s still at work, so’s Hermione. I had a huge shouting match with Percy over the fact we haven’t apprehended you and stormed out. The advantage to him still thinking of me as a slightly dramatic fifteen year old is that I can bunk off an hour early and no one is shocked.”

“I thought it was later than that.”

“No, just raining again.”

The inappropriately early Christmas lights of the second-hand bookshop across the road glinted on Potter’s glasses.

“Are you all right?” Draco asked.

“I’m fine. Hermione’s moved Pansy to Ness’s for a few days, just to be safe. Seamus says Theo’s fine, and over at that girl’s house half the time anyway. Justin’s taking Blaise visiting at one of their studs in Ireland for a week, and is threatening to teach him to ride. They’re all safe.”

“Are you all right?” Draco repeated.

“No,” Potter answered, honestly this time. “I’m angry, and I’m worried. Percy’s coming after you based on your own testimony in the Higgs case.”

“It was always a risk,” Draco admitted.

“But nothing has changed since the end of the war, and it wasn’t enough to indict you then.”

“Yes it was. Shacklebolt just chose not to. Because you were grateful to Mother. And because you were too stubborn to pull me out of an inferno and then send me off to Azkaban.”

 Potter took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I’m not letting him take you,” he said, looking up at Draco.

There was just enough light to see in the green in Potter’s eyes, “Course you’re not.” Draco reached out and pushed Potter’s hair back from his face. “You need another haircut.”

“It just grows,” Potter said distractedly, and let Draco’s hand on the back of his head pull him forward until their lips met. He was off balance, then, so Draco took advantage and dragged him all the way onto the sofa, rolling so they both ended up on their sides, just fitting. Potter still had his damp coat on, which was probably just as well, given it was Ron’s sofa and he would presumably rather not have to burn it.

“I’m serious,” Potter said, moving back just enough to give space to the words. “I’m not putting you at risk.”

“It’s going to be all right,” Draco said. “I left Mother with Abernathy, I’m sure they’ve come up with something.”

Draco felt the shift of Potter’s cheek against his own as he grinned. “You should have seen them when we turned up to search the Manor. Percy insisted on coming along, and your mother followed him about silently glaring in a fury, while Abernathy critiqued him on policy and practise at every turn. I’m afraid Percy probably thinks they’re having an affair.”

“Mother will be amused and Abernathy will be flattered.”

Potter’s lips played over Draco’s jaw, and for a moment Draco let himself delight in the sharp line of Potter’s nose against his cheek and the soft fall of Potter’s hair as its ends brushed the side of his face. Then Potter leaned back.

“I should stop,” he whispered. His eyes were wide in the half-light, and his lips flushed.

“You should,” Draco agreed. “Ron doesn’t want to burn his sofa. You look nice without your glasses.”

“I have a plan,” Potter promised.

“I know you do.”

“It just involves waiting around for a bit.”

“So we’ll wait. We can lie here and watch the lights changing colour.”

It involved a little shuffling, and Draco needed to reach out and pick up Potter’s glasses so he could actually see the shifting pattern on the ceiling as anything more than a blur of tones, but even with Potter’s coat buttons digging into him, Draco had rarely felt as comfortable as here feeling every one of Potter’s breaths both against his ribs and trailing gently through his hair. He almost felt gratitude towards Percy for this moment.

He must have drifted off again, because he woke to feel a blanket being pulled up over them both, and Potter stirring slightly behind him.

“What time is it?” Potter whispered.

“Quarter to six,” Ron replied quietly. “No rush. Let him sleep for a bit.”

“I’m awake,” Draco mumbled. “More or less.”

He sat up and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We should get up, before Hermione gets here and her brain explodes.”

“I’m going to have to break it to her at some point,” Ron said with an exaggerated sigh. “Though I confess I’m hoping she’s so busy working on the house-elf legislation reform that you two get through the whole whatever it is you’re doing and go back to hating each other before she notices.”

Draco blinked at him.

“It might work! That’s how Harry’s relationships have always gone before! Two or three years of low-key pining followed by a brief fling then flaming disaster. He has form.”

“Thanks, Ron.”

Draco couldn’t help but laugh at the annoyance in Potter’s voice.

There was a knock at the door. Draco leapt from the sofa to the dining table in almost one move, Potter stood up and tried to smooth his clothes and hair back into place and Ron turned the lights on before he opened the door.

Armitage barrelled in.

“Sorry for the delay, sir,” she said. “I got away as quickly as I could. I had to buy a Skiving Snackbox downstairs because I thought I was being followed.”

“Take it out of expenses tomorrow,” Potter told her.

Draco looked at Potter. “Is there anyone in your department who isn’t in on this conspiracy?” he asked.

“Gallagher, Savage, May …”

“You right, Draco?” Armitage asked.

“So far. Though no one’s told me many details about what’s going on.”

“Hermione’s due in a few minutes,” Ron said. “We should wait until she gets here.”

“She and Angelina were just behind me,” said Armitage. “Your brother was going to close up and then follow them up.”

“I’ll put the kettle on.”

There was a rap at Ron’s window while the water was boiling. Draco would not have been surprised if it had been rappelling Aurors at this point, but it was in fact an owl, delivering the evening edition of the Prophet.

As bad luck would have it, Potter was nearest the window, so it was he who retrieved the paper and held it up so they could all see the headline: POTTER POLLS PLUMMET.

“Well,” said Ron, “the good news is that you won’t have to attend all those meetings …”

This time it was a key in the door, and Granger bustled in carrying an armload of scrolls and papers. George Weasley and Angelina followed her, each with more.

“Sorry I’m late,” Granger apologised. “I had to wait for Goshawk to send me copies of all her files. She’s with Kingsley and Tiberius and they’re going through all of this tonight, too.”

“All of what?” Draco asked.

“Your case files. Harry sent us all word as soon as the warrant hit his desk. Ooh, is that tea? Ron, you’re the best.”

Draco felt as though he should thank Granger, but she’d already stepped past him to drop her files on the table. So he passed over both of his chocolate biscuits instead. She took them with a smile.

“Tiberius thinks that it is extremely iffy that the warrant was based on your own testimony. While it is entirely possible to incriminate yourself in front of the Wizengamot, none of your statements were new, and all have been on file with the Aurors since 1998, so to wait two and a half years before doing anything about … well, it reeks of a political decision. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be public knowledge yet …”

“Hermione …” Harry held up page five, which declared Draco Malfoy Sought For Questioning.

“Bugger. No, it’s fine. We will come up with something. If I can bring Goblins to the negotiating table, I can come up with a plausible explanation for all this.”

“I wish I had more biscuits now,” Draco said, smiling. “Thanks, Granger.”

“It’s all right. You’re part of the team. I’d do as much for Pansy, even if she keeps trying to sneak in and straighten my hair in the middle of the night.”

Draco managed not to laugh. “Is she all right?”

“She’s fine. Ness, on the other hand, is convinced we’re in the middle of a training op. And please don’t ask me to explain that all to you because life is too short. Pansy has her head around it, so you can ask her when we’re all sorted.

“All right, everyone got a cuppa? Come over here, I’m going to need all hands.”

She divided the paperwork up into piles and distributed them around the table. “I’m putting you all to work, because we only have tonight to sort this one. The scrolls with blue ribbons are Malfoy’s Auror testimony from ’98. The ones with red ribbons are from the Wizengamot this morning. Two of you need to pair up and compare those to see if there was anything new introduced this morning. I’m going to plough through these books of case law, if anyone wants to help, I can show you what we’re looking for. The loose sheets are notes Miranda and Tiberius sent, along with a copy of the warrant. It would be great if Harry could take a look at the warrant and if someone could read through the notes and let us know anything pertinent, that would be brill.”

Hands reached for the files. Draco gave a small cough for attention. “Sorry, it’s just, I still haven’t been told what’s on the warrant.”

“Oh.” Granger looked embarrassed. “I thought Harry would have …”

“No, because it’s stupid.” Harry stepped forward and took the warrant from the pile on the table before Draco could reach for it.

He went on, tense and terse. “Percy’s accused you of providing material support and assistance to Voldemort. It’s the same charge we used to prosecute any Death Eaters that we couldn’t tie to a specific crime.  He’s also told me that he plans to lay further charges for the attack at Hogwarts in 1997, but he needed to look up your birthday to see if you’d already turned seventeen.”

“I had.”

“I know. But I didn’t tell him.”

Draco nodded. “The thing is,” he said, “I am guilty. I did do those things. I’m not like Higgs. Having me front the Wizengamot isn’t going to expose any great injustice, it’s going to show that I spent the war making stupid choices. All this work isn’t going to pay off, it’s just going to damage the rest of you for defending me. I think I’d be better off just running.”

Granger bit her lip and looked crossly down at her pile of books. Potter looked as though he was about to launch into one of his occasional speeches, but George Weasley beat him to it.

“Malfoy, I confess I’m not an expert on your life, but as I understand it, you were acting under threat of being murdered, and also having your mother killed. Yes?”

“I could have said no.”

“You were sixteen for most of that year, and a complete idiot for all of it. And you did your level best to balls it all up. From what Harry’s said, Dumbledore was playing some complex double-hander there and I have no doubt that he could have stepped in and stopped things if he wanted to, so he’s just as guilty as you are.”

“That’s very comforting, but …”

“And you spent the next year a virtual prisoner in your own home surrounded by psychopaths, which sounds a lot like punishment to me. So shut up, and let us help you.”

“That was beautiful, George,” said Angelina, admiringly.

Draco sighed.

“Oh, stop being so dramatic, Malfoy,” Hermione snapped. “You’re the line. More guilty than you, stuff ’em. Less guilty, save ’em. As guilty, save, because it’s always better to err on the side of charity.”

“Sorry. Thank you. You, too, George. Granger, please stop being cross, you’re making me very nervous.”

Granger harrumphed. “All this drama is stopping me from reading.”

Draco sat himself down and started to go through Ogden and Goshawk’s notes, while George and Angelina compared the testimonies and Armitage helped Granger. Ron supplied everyone with quills and parchment for notes, then went to assist with the case law.

“This warrant was signed by Elphias Doge,” Potter said after a few minutes. “It’s all in order, but he never signs warrants these days. He’s been taking a back seat for years now, says he hasn’t been well. Rumour has it he’s only stayed on the Wizengamot for the free lunches and stipend.”

Granger nodded. “You’re right. He’s exactly the sort of person you’d go to for a signature if you wanted to slip something shady through, because he’s not been at his best since Dumbledore died. Good work, Harry.”

“Goshawk says to ask me whether I was told that I could choose to withhold information that might incriminate me,” Draco read.

“Were you?”

“I was when I was interviewed under Auror caution in 1998, I wasn’t before giving testimony on behalf of Higgs.”

Granger grinned. “Yes! That’s good news. Everybody keep going. More like that!”

After twenty minutes, Hester Armitage found a case in which the Wizengamot had declared that eighteen months was an unreasonable length of time to wait between being questioned and being brought to trial and had thrown the case out accordingly. Admittedly it had been for attempted assault with a cauldron, but Granger assured them that “every precedent counts. And that could have been really rather serious.”

Draco was almost starting to enjoy the camaraderie of working at a shared problem, when there was another knock at the door. He looked to Potter, and then to Ron, both of who gave small shakes of their heads. Granger stood up without a word and took Draco’s arm, leading him into the bedroom, while Ron and Potter drew their wands.

“Harry,” a voice shouted through the door. “It’s Williamson, open up.”

“It’s all right,” Potter said, and went to the door.

Draco heard Granger’s small sigh of relief beside him and smiled in agreement at her.

Williamson looked grim as he came in. “Sorry, Harry. We need you to come back in. You too, Hester. They’ve found Walden Macnair’s body in Spondon Wood, near Derby, and pear-shaped doesn’t begin to describe the way it’s going in there.”

“But there’s so much …” Armitage began to protest, but stopped at the look on Potter’s face.

It was quite complimentary that Potter was that conflicted, thought a small part of Draco’s brain, but the far larger part was occupied saying, “Spondon Wood? That’s where Unity Fraser lives. ”

Potter frowned. “I’ve heard that name before.”

“It was on your list. The one you made of all the old families who hadn’t involved themselves in the war.”

“You didn’t tick it.”

“No. She may not have lifted a finger during the actual war, but she’s Thorfinn Rowle’s great aunt and she’d curse you on sight.”

“Rowle!” Williamson exclaimed. He looked at Potter. “Do you think?”

“It’s an awfully big coincidence … Williamson, sit down. Run us through what’s happened.”

Williamson sat, George fetched him tea and several biscuits, which he made short work of as he spoke. “A group of kids were searching for a lost dog in the woods last night. They say they saw people firing ‘green lasers’ and shouting, and when they went to investigate, there was a tall man who turned the laser in their direction, so they all ran away and rang the police as soon as they got home. No details on the man, other than height, but Rowle is tall. The local coppers ran a sweep this morning and found the body. Our Derbyshire liaison was able to have a look at it an hour ago and he says there’s no doubt, it’s definitely Macnair. They found the dog safe and well, by the way.”

“What’s a laser?” Angelina asked.

“A type of light – what a Muggle would think a Killing Curse looked like,” Hermione answered. “Malfoy, this woman …?”

“Unity Fraser. She’s Rowle’s great aunt, and has always been close to his family. She hates almost everyone else, famously anti-social. It would be the perfect place to hide, anyone who came looking for him would have to contend with a vicious, screaming old witch, and even if they didn’t give up in the face of her, Rowle would have plenty of warning.”

“How do you know all this?” Williamson asked.

“She’s my great aunt, too.”

Harry looked at him, surprised. “You mean, you and Rowle …”

“Second cousins. It’s not that unusual to have family connections among the Pureblood families. She’s related to you, too, I think. My other great aunt married Ron’s great uncle, so it all links up.”

“That’s just …”

“Small population. Most of the older families are related if you go back a handful of generations. Ron’s actually quite brilliant for snagging the only good-looking witch in his peer group who’s not one of his extended family.”

Hermione beamed at Draco.

“Well, there’s Gabrielle …” Ron mused, then ducked away from the inevitable smack.

“So it sounds as though there’s a good chance Rowle is there …” Potter said. “We should go in. Tonight. The longer we leave it the more likely he is to move on.”

Draco frowned. “Potter, I’m not being poetic when I call her a vicious witch. She’s roughly as dangerous as Rowle is.”

“Then we’re best off going in under cover of darkness.”

“You don’t even know what the house is like inside,” Draco protested.

“Do you?” Potter asked, hopefully.

“No, but I could find out,” Draco realised.

“Your mother?”

“No, but …” Draco let his glance slide over to the paper, which was still on the sofa, turned to page five.

The others followed his line of thought at different speeds. “Brilliant,” said Williamson.

“No,” said Potter.

“Are you sure she’d take you in?” Granger asked.

“She might say no to me, but she’d say yes to my mother. Mother’s one of the few people Great Aunt Unity likes. If she received a letter asking if I could hide there, I think she’d say yes.”

“Your mother would never send you into danger like that,” Potter pointed out.

“No. But I’ve been able to forge her handwriting and signature for years.”

“Forge? Oh …” Hermione said, but kept her thoughts to herself.

“How dangerous would it be?” Armitage asked. “We’ve been doing such a good job of keeping you alive and at liberty up until now.”

“Not very, Great Aunt Unity thinks I’m useless, but harmless, and Rowle was kinder to me than most of the other Death Eaters.”

Armitage looked at him thoughtfully. “So you’d be able to get in without a great deal of risk.”

“And,” said Draco, “more importantly, I’d be able to get Rowle out. He’s going to be much easier to capture outside in the open.”

“No,” said Potter. “You’re a civilian.”

“Oh, when has that ever stopped Aurors in the past?”

“It’s not a bad plan,” Armitage ventured.

“It’s a very good one,” Williamson corrected her. “If anything starts to go wrong, we can send Narcissa Malfoy in to defuse the situation.”

“You can’t involve my mother,” Draco protested, just as Potter said, “We’re not doing it.”

Granger reached across the table and tapped Draco’s arm for attention. “How long has it been since you’ve seen your Great Aunt?”

“About a year.”

“After the war. And she was all right with … with how you …”

Draco’s nose screwed up at the memory. “She told mother that it was a shame I wasn’t very useful, but that my father had always been a bit dim, so it was only to be expected.”

Granger, kindly, didn’t laugh. “It sounds as though she doesn’t think you’d be up to much in the way of duplicity and scheming.”

“That’s true.”

“No,” Potter said. “You’ve been all over the papers working with me for weeks. If she’s read any of that she’s going to know that you’re suspect.”

“Or that I’ve been trying to ingratiate myself with powerful allies to keep myself safe,” Draco pointed out.

The moment of silence that followed was uncomfortably long. Clearly the idea had never occurred to Potter before.

“But in that case,” said Ron, “surely you’d have sucked up to Percy. He’s the Department Head, and he’s much easier to impress with a bit of judicious flattery and a few nice gifts.”

“You tell me this now.” Draco gave an exaggerated sigh, and the tension left the room. “Anyway, my point is that there are a lot of good reasons why I might want to associate with all of you without liking any of you. In fact, I seem to recall that was my original plan, but Armitage won me over with her cups of tea and shortbread biscuits.”

“And your relatives would expect you to be doing what you could to rebuild networks of influence,” Granger said, smiling at Draco’s attempted humour.

“Exactly. So rather than being suspicious, my being seen with you in the press could be read as a sign of competence at last, from my Great Aunt’s perspective. And the fact that you were part of the team that came to the Manor looking for me today would add credibility to that.”

“Let me be perfectly clear about this,” Potter said, “since the rest of you seem to have forgotten a few salient points. To the best of our knowledge, Thorfinn Rowle killed Walden Macnair last night. He’s killed before, and he has no reason not to kill again. I would put my money on Malfoy against most people if it was a question of Potions or debating, but he’s not the fastest when it comes to duelling and he’s not the most ruthless, either. I am not going to send him in against a murderer.”

“You’re not,” said Draco. “I am.”

“No.”

“Shut up for a moment. I know Rowle, you don’t. He’s belligerent and violent, but in the same way a bear is; if you annoy him, or if you’re his enemy, he’ll lash out, but he’s not like my Aunt, who took actual pleasure in hurting people. And he’s not very bright. The others used to give him grief over that sometimes, Macnair in particular. I’m guessing Macnair said one cruel thing too many and Rowle struck him down.

“I’m not saying he’s secretly decent or misunderstood, but I am saying he’s a lot more like Gregory Goyle than he is like Voldemort. So I think that I’m very likely to be safe there. But you’re not, because if you get inside that house, he will fight like a cornered dog, and if I know my Great Aunt, the house itself will be filled with defences. But if I can get him outside, then you have the advantage of numbers, and clear sight lines, and I can Disapparate, or you can Stun me to make it look as though I’m not in on it. I’m making sense, Potter, admit it. There is much less risk to me than to you.”

And Draco knew exactly how unfair he was being, because to judge by his face, Potter was feeling exactly the same sick fear that he was at the thought of Potter going into that house without inside help, and there were too many people here to say a meaningful word about it. But since one of them had to be in danger, no matter what, Draco could only hope that Potter’s good sense would win out and he would go with the choice that represented less risk to fewer people.

“And just think of Percy’s face if Draco’s the reason you capture Rowle,” Ron said.

That clinched it. Draco could see the quick calculation in Potter’s eyes as he envisioned running the story through the press. Malfoy Vital to Auror Efforts was too good to turn down.

“We’ll need a signal in case anything goes wrong,” Potter said.

“And you’ll need an owl that can’t be traced back to any of us,” Granger added.

“If Draco can write the letter, I can get over to Swindon and send it from their central Owlery,” Armitage offered. “They’re open late.”

Ron passed Draco a quill and a sheet of parchment. “Do you want some sealing wax?” he asked. “I think George has some in the shop.”

“Only the type that changes seals to rude pictures,” George said. “Not very helpful here, sorry.”

“It’s all right, I don’t have any of the right seals, anyway. And she sometimes sends plain notes when she’s anxious. Give me a minute.” He took up the quill and tried to think like his mother. It was hard to start.

Potter stepped closer and looked at the blank sheet. “You should say, ‘I am asking you for a favour, and I will pay any price you want. Keep Draco safe.’”

And Draco looked up at him, startled at both the unfamiliar sound of his name on Potter’s lips and the fact that he knew exactly what his mother would say.

Potter looked back at him. “I’ve seen what she was prepared to risk for you,” he said. “In the war, remember?”

And then Potter stepped away, which was a relief, because Draco was absolutely certain Ron did not want Granger’s head to explode.

Draco wrote, careful to use the sweeps and curlicues of his Mother’s hand rather than the hurried angularity of his own. “We’re not going to be able to intercept any post getting to Mother, so I’m saying that I’m not going to wait for a reply, I’m just going to send Draco hot on the heels of this message, and if she can’t help, then she needn’t look to us for any assistance in the future.” He saw the look on Armitage’s face at that, and added, “My Mother is a lovely woman, but a little ruthless.”

He folded up the note and passed it to Armitage, along with a handful of Galleons. “Thanks, Hester. Choose the best owl. Mother would pay for express service and for a security charm. I’ve written the address on the outside, so she’d also pay for a sealed container in case it was intercepted. That should be enough, if it’s not, let me know.”

She hugged him quickly. “I’ll head off now. Give me half an hour’s start, I’ll get word to Harry if I run into any problems. Good luck, you.”

“And you.”

Draco watched Potter’s face as Armitage left. He was not best pleased, but he didn’t move to stop her.

“I’d like to keep going with all this while we wait,” Granger said. “Or do you two need to go back into the Ministry?”

“We should go back,” Williamson said. “Weasley’s expected back in around nine and Savage is probably going to kill the next journalist he catches trying to sneak in for information on Macnair.”

Potter nodded. “I’m just going to have a quick word with Malfoy.”

Draco looked up expectantly, but apparently Potter meant a quick word away from everyone else, which boded ill for poor Granger’s brain. Draco followed him into the bedroom at the rear of the flat.

“I’m not happy,” Potter said as soon as he closed the door.

“But it is the best option,” Draco replied.

“Yes, I can see that, but I still don’t like it.”

“You’d let Granger go. Or Ron.”

Potter frowned. “I’d hesitate with Hermione. She’s brilliant, and got me out of some terrible places during the war, but she’s a thinker, like you. Ron’s more Aurory – and yes, before you say it, I do mean a bit less prone to over-thinking a situation, because there are some occasions where it is best to hex first and think later.”

“I can be brave,” Draco assured him.

The frown disappeared from Potter’s face. “Oh, I know that. Did you think I wasn’t paying any attention?”

Draco smiled, but stayed carefully out of Potter’s reach, because quite aside from everything else, that was Ron and Granger’s bed and there weren’t enough words for the many levels of wrongness of that thought.

“It will be easy,” he promised. “I won’t be in any danger.”

“You’re lying.”

And he was, but there was no reason Potter should know that.

“I’m trying to avoid having to go on the run. And I’m trying to keep you from getting your head hexed off.”

“Just … Don’t take any risks. If it goes wrong, leave.”

“I will.”

“Because I like the way you look. I don’t want you coming back damaged.”

“I thought you were attracted to my mind.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

And Draco was certain that he had been out of arm’s reach, but one of them must have moved, because suddenly he was wrapped in Potter’s arms, and Potter was whispering “Be safe” in his ear and kissing his way along Draco’s jaw to his lips and Draco let himself stop caring about what people might think long enough to hold Potter and feel the shift of muscle in his back and the sharpness of his hips against his own and taste the bitter tang of coffee on his mouth.

But there were other people, and he did care what they thought. He stepped back.

“Stop now,” Draco told him. “Save that sort of thing for my triumphant return.”

“If they hurt you, I will kill them,” Potter promised.

“No you won’t,” Draco told him. “You’ll arrest them. And you’ll hit them with the full force of the law. And then my mother will probably try to sneak in and kill them and you’ll be tempted to pretend you didn’t see her… None of which is going to be necessary, because it’s going to be fine.”

Potter didn’t look happy, but he didn’t argue. “What time should we be in place?”

“Dawn seems like a sensible hour to get a bit of exercise in when you’re on the lam,” Draco suggested. “Sun’s coming up about seven-thirty, so a bit before that?”

“We’ll get there before seven. I’d rather put a watch on tonight, but …”

Draco shook his head. “The longer there are Aurors around, the more risk to me.”

“Exactly.” Potter reached into his pocket and pulled out a Galleon. “Take this, if you start to get worried, just tap on it and change the date. There’s a Protean Charm on it, so the change will go straight out to all the others and one of us will be able to get help to you immediately. It’s a lot subtler than sending out a Patronus.”

“Thank you.” Draco reached for the coin, and Potter took his hand. “It’s going to be fine,” Draco said. “Now let go, and open the door, before Ron starts having to explain anything.”

Potter squeezed his hand before letting it go. His hands were strong, and there was still a flying callus on his palm. Draco filed away the memory.

“And whatever you do, don’t let my mother know until I’m back safely, or she’ll kill you. And … and keep her safe, no matter what.”

“I will.”

“Door.”

Potter let go of his hand and opened it. “So we’re clear on the timing?” he said loudly as they stepped through it. “And any problems, just get out or call for help.”

“Absolutely. No heroics,” Draco responded similarly.

From the calculating look on Granger’s face, they were possibly the worst two actors in the world, but Ron, who was fast becoming Draco’s favourite, knocked a pile of scrolls off the table and Potter was able to gather up Williamson while she was berating him and picking parchment up from the floor.

“All right. If you come up with anything, send Angelina in. Everyone’s used to her popping in and out at all hours, so it won’t attract any attention. We’ll kip in the office tonight, and we’ll get word to the rest of you as soon as we can in the morning.”

“We’re going to keep going here for as long as we can and then I’ll send our notes to Kingsley,” Granger said.

“And I’m going to sit around making myself useful for another twenty minutes, then mess up my hair and suit and throw myself on the mercy of my fourth-least-favourite relative,” said Draco.

“Who are the … never mind,” said Angelina. “I’ve just realised I have no urge to meet them.”

“Two are in Azkaban, you’re safe.” Draco flashed her a smile. He turned his attention back to Potter. “Dawn, yeah? I’ll try to get us out on time. I’ll see if he wants to go up to the park near there. It’s on the same road as the house, and it’s a nice walk.”

“If you’re too close to him …”

“Just Stun me. It can’t hurt more than a friendly thump of approval from Williamson.”

Williamson grinned broadly. Potter looked at Draco, and Draco gave a small shake of his head, which was met with resigned acceptance and a general “Good luck” as Potter left. Ron jumped up and offered a fresh round of tea before Granger could start to do any thinking on that exchange, and Draco gratefully turned himself back to Goshawk and Ogden’s scratchy handwriting. Twenty minutes passed all too quickly.

It took another few minutes to make him look as though he had been authentically on the run and not holed up in a cosy flat. Angelina turned his hair into something resembling Potter’s birds’ nest, while George contributed a Nosebleed Nougat and Granger carefully scorched one of his sleeves with a just-missing jinx.

“You look awful,” Ron said approvingly. “I’ll hide your bag while you’re gone. If it all goes tits-up, I’ll find a way to get it to you.”

“Thanks. All right then, I should be off.”

He hesitated. “Thank you, all of you,” he said, quietly. “I know I don’t deserve any of the help you’ve given me, but I appreciate it.”

“Bloody hell, Malfoy,” said George. “It’s bad enough you’ve got Ron saying you’re not that bad. Don’t start me down that path, it’ll break our little old mum’s heart!”

Malfoy grinned. “Can’t have that, your mum’s scarier than mine.”

“And don’t you forget it.”

“Be careful,” Granger said. “Pansy would be insufferable about it if we let you get hurt.”

“Merlin forbid. OK. See you all tomorrow.” And before he could think too much about any of it, he Disapparated.


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Part eight