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16 February 2014 @ 02:49 am
Fic: A Young Radical's Guide to Love part 5  
Part four


In fact Potter surpassed himself. Draco had just thanked the ladies and gentleman of the press for meeting him at such short notice when the four Aurors appeared in the middle of the Atrium, Potter covered in blood and holding up Peters with one wiry arm while keeping his wand trained on three disarmed criminals with the other; Williamson holding two of the culprits limply in his huge hands and Holroyd struggling with the third.

“I need a MediWizard,” Potter shouted, and two ran out from the Ministry First Aid room. He handed Peters over to them and moved to help Holroyd with his prisoner.

Draco didn’t remember moving, but he was walking alongside Potter as they went for the lift and the cameras flashed behind them. He could hear questions being shouted, but was only interested in his own, “Are you all right?”

“Mostly not my blood,” Potter answered, tearing a strip from his tattered shirt to wipe his face. “The big one Williamson’s carrying decided we couldn’t arrest them if he destroyed the laboratory. Peters took the brunt of it, I only copped a few scratches. Can you find out how Peters is for me?”

“Of course.”

Draco shooed the photographers away from the MediWizards, who repaid his efforts with a short report that Peters would be fine, but was off to St Mungo’s for the night for a rest and a course of Blood Replenishing Potion. He then found himself having to give a quick summation of events to Ashgrove from the Prophet, while Luna kept herself quietly over by the lifts. Once he had sent Ashgrove running off to make his deadline, he joined her.

“You can’t keep spoiling us like that, Draco,” she teased, kissing his cheek in greeting. “If all your press conferences are as exciting as today’s, we’ll run out of column inches long before the election.”

“Are you coming up?” he asked.

“Yes. He’s all right?”

“He said he was.”

Draco hit the button for Level Two and tried not to look worried. It had all worked out well, really. Potter had been every inch the hero, and even the blood on his face had served only to accentuate his cheekbones. But there was blood on his face. Again. Draco remembered fire and his own screaming and a night of horror that had ended with Potter limp in that half-giant’s arms …

The lift pinged.

“Come on, let’s reassure Potter.”

The Auror office was in full swing as they walked in. The prisoners were being escorted to their holding cells, Williamson and Holroyd were being checked over for injuries, Armitage was looking up Peters’ home address, and Potter’s door was closed. Draco knocked, Potter would have every excuse for having his shirt off again and there was no point courting that sort of thing.

“Come in.”

“It’s me and Luna.”

“Come in!”

Potter had already changed. He was just buttoning up a fresh shirt, the blood-spattered remains of his old one lay on his desk, along with a punctured jerkin and a nasty-coloured bowl of water and towel. Potter gave a small shake of his head when he saw Draco’s expression, so Draco didn’t ask.

“They told me that Peters would be fine, he just needs a good night’s sleep and a dose of Blood Replenishing Potion.”

“Good news,” Potter said, Vanishing the detritus on his desk. “I’ll visit him at St Mungo’s. I have to go and see his wife before she hears about this from another source.”

“The wireless weren’t there,” Draco assured him.

“Even better news.” Potter took his formal Auror robe from the back of his chair and swung it on. “Hermione sent word that she’s coming straight up. Do you two want to go home with her and I’ll meet you there later?”

“Should we save you some dinner?” Luna asked.

“That’d be great.”

“And you’re fine?”

“Fine.”

The door was pushed open with vigour. “Harry?” Granger interrogated.

“I’m fine,” Potter replied, holding up both sides of his hands. “Small scratches, all healed. Got to go. Take these two back to yours and I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

“Save you dinner?”

“Luna’s a step ahead of you.” Potter walked through the still-open door. “Armitage, you’re with me. Williamson, can you fill in comms until handover? Good man.”

Granger waited until his voice had faded before she asked, “Is he really all right? Timms said he saw him when he came in and he looked as though he’d gone three rounds with a thresher.”

“There was an explosion and one of the other Aurors was hurt. It was mostly the other man’s blood.”

“Is he going to be all right?”

“Yes.”

“I suppose that’s less awful than it could be. Anyway, we should be off. Get out of their hair in here.”

Luna and Draco fell into step with her as they left. Granger chatted about difficulties with the new house-elf legislation as they made their way through the halls, and it wasn’t until they were back on a briskly chill London street that she sighed and tilted her face into the wind-blown drizzle. “I swear, after today, it’s going to be an absolute joy to go home and try to explain to Parkinson why Muggles need curling irons.”

Draco found himself patting her shoulder, and telling her he knew exactly how she felt. “But you did it. Shacklebolt and maybe even Potter will probably get all the credit, but we all know it was you who made it work.”

“It was,” she said, grinning. “Cheers, Malfoy.”

“So have your parents been minding Pansy again?”

“No, they had to work today, too.”

Draco was startled. “You left her alone?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I asked my friend Vanessa to mind her.”

“Who’s Vanessa?”

“She’s my friend from primary.”

“I didn’t think you had any female friends. Except for Lovegood, and Weasley, who Ron tells me isn’t currently speaking to any of you. Sorry.”

“She’s speaking to me,” Luna corrected him. “Though she probably won’t be after the next issue of the Quibbler,” she corrected herself.

“I have a number of female friends. Vanessa’s my oldest, and she’s a Muggle, so if she’s still there I’ll expect you to be charming.”

“I’ll be delightful. How did you stay friends with her when you were away at school all the time?”

“Letters, catching up in the holidays … Look, we may not be as close as we were when we were eight, but I’ve known her my whole life and she’s important to me.”

“I was just curious. It can’t be easy juggling worlds, I admire your work to stick with an old friend. How did you explain Pansy to her?”

“I told her she’s from uni, and she’s frightfully posh, so she’s mostly useless, but basically nice, which is at least true on a majority of points, I think.”

“I didn’t think Parkinson would be able to pass for a Muggle for a whole day,” Luna mused.

“She spent the weekend reading magazines and watching telly. She’ll be fine, they were going shopping and then planning to get their nails done.”

Draco blinked. “You have a Muggle girl friend who likes getting her nails done?”

“She’s a visual artist. Shut up.”

“You’re a constant source of amazement to me, Granger.”

Draco, not being stupid, had already Apparated before Granger’s elbow made it to where his midsection had been.

He knocked on her front door the instant after Granger and Luna appeared behind him. A tall red-haired girl answered, with another, shorter, version behind her, and it took Draco a moment to recognise the second as Pansy.

“You must be Vanessa.”

“I am. And you must be one of Pansy’s awful friends, who she’s been telling me scandalous stories about all day.”

“I’m the nice one.”

“Ha! Hi Hermione. How was it all?”

“Murderous. I can’t believe it’s only the second month of term. Ness, this is Draco Malfoy, he’s doing Divinity, and Luna Lovegood, Botany, specialising in Botanical History.”

“Lovely to meet you both, sadly, I have to run. Paul’s coming by to pick me up for his opening in half an hour and I need a shower and a change.”

“Another time,” Draco said with a smile.

Granger pushed past him to hug her friend. “Thank you so much, I owe you!”

“Don’t be silly, it was heaps of fun and Pansy paid for our nails. See ya, Pans!”

“See ya, Ness! Next time we’ll get a pedicure, too!”

Pansy let them all in and led them through the house to the kitchen, flicking the switch on the kettle before she grinned at Granger.

“Vanessa’s rumbled you.”

“She’s what?”

“She knows your secret.”

Granger raised her eyebrows expressively.

“She informed me, strictly on the quiet, that she knew you were Security Service and that I was to relax because she would certainly not be mentioning to anyone that I was a foreign operative – apparently my English really is excellent and all I need to do is become more familiar with shops and no one will know I’m not a native.”

Granger blinked. “She thinks we’re spies?”

“Give her credit, she’s not stupid and you’re obviously something.”

“I’d think I’m obviously a student: I’m always lugging books around.”

“You disappeared for a year, and you are never, ever hungover on a weekday morning.”

“My oldest friend thinks I’m a trainee James Bond.”

“I thought she was very clever, it’s a reasonable explanation that fits all the known facts.”

“Who’s James Bond?” Draco whispered to Luna, who shrugged in reply.

“My cover story already fit all the facts. Small, new, private university for very smart people. Easy!”

Pansy shook her head. “You shouldn’t have told her I went there, too.”

“I told her you were doing English.”

“It’s good news, really, if you ever accidentally kill anyone, she’ll assume they were a terrorist and help you hide the body.”

Granger’s face briefly showed that she was considering an immediate testing of this concept, but it passed. “Sit down,” she said. “I’ll make the tea.”

Draco took advantage of Granger’s search for the good mugs to fill Pansy in on the day’s events. She had a good laugh at the idea of Blaise the ferret, but was not as impressed with the rest of their accomplishments as he had expected her to be.

“I mean, yes, it’s obviously brilliant that you’ve managed to overturn centuries of unfairness in a weekend – good work, Granger – but that doesn’t get me any closer to going home. I ironed all the smocks for Amelia’s dental nurses this morning, I was that bored.”

Granger nearly dropped one of the mugs. “You used the iron?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. But it was very dull spellwork.” Pansy sighed. “I know that it’s nowhere near as bad as you had it, Granger, but I miss my Mum and Dad.”

Granger passed her a mug of sweet tea and patted her shoulder. “We’re doing what we can, Parkinson.”

Luna was staring at Pansy’s purple-tipped hands. “What was it like getting your nails done by a Muggle?” she asked.

“What? Oh. Good. Fun. They give you a hand massage and ask if you have any plans for the evening. And the Muggle stuff is much easier to get off than ours: Ness changed her mind on her colour and they just wiped the first one off.”

“It looks great,” Luna complimented.

“You did very well with Ness,” Granger said.

“Well, she’s just like us, isn’t she? Except without magic.”

And Pansy looked completely nonplussed when Granger spontaneously hugged her. Draco smiled. He didn’t mind it when Granger and Potter treated them as though they were a little simple on some matters. They did the same with Ron, after all.

Luna was the only one who had grown up in their world who seemed to have an instinctual understanding that Muggles were a far lesser threat than other wizards. She had cheered him up sometimes, in the dungeons during the war. Told him they could all run away together if things got worse. They would get work on the stage and he would be her beautiful assistant. Dean would be their manager and Mr Ollivander would manufacture Amazing Feats to Astonish the Eyes.

She had kept them all going with her hope. Built a shell around them. It hadn’t lasted. Dean Thomas hadn’t spoken a word to him since he escaped. Draco couldn’t blame him.

“Drink your tea,” Granger told him. “Before it gets cold.”

They all helped with dinner. Draco wasn’t much use, but he knew how to lay cutlery, so he did the table. Granger’s parents arrived home while things were bubbling on the hob, followed in short order by the evening special of the Prophet and Potter in his new campaigning clothes.

He stopped at the door of the kitchen, taking in the sight of Granger stirring, Luna and Pansy assembling a salad and Draco hunting for condiments. “Dumbledore would burst with pride if he could see this,” he teased.

“Hufflepuff,” Pansy declared, throwing a mushroom at his head.

“Is that the paper?”

“Just arrived,” Granger replied. “You’re on the front page, looking suitably heroic. Nice lengthy piece on your team’s work against illegal potions, and an editorial inside asking what it will take to fund the Aurors properly in this day and age. Equally nice piece on page five that includes an illustrated diagram on how Zabini escaped through the drains and encourages school children to think twice about keeping secrets that might lead to national security incidents. There’s a photo of Malfoy and promises for a tell-all interview tomorrow, sounds more positive than not, judging by the photo choice. I think we can count that as a resounding win for round one.”

“Where’s Ron?”

“Running late. He should be here soon. OK, that’s ready. Luna, can you pass me the big blue bowl? Harry, you take in the bread, Malfoy, the pepper grinder is over here. In we go.”

Dinner was civilised and pleasant, the only difference to home being that one had to physically pass each item as it was requested by others. Though Granger did Enlarge the last of the bread when she realised she had underestimated how much they’d need. Ron joined them while there was still plenty of food left, and brought the news that he’d been talking tax cuts with some of his fellow traders.

“Ron, you can’t seriously want a tax cut,” Potter complained. “You only pay fifteen per cent at the top level.”

“Outrageous,” Ron and Draco replied in unison.

“It pays for St Mungo’s, and the Ministry, and bursaries for Hogwarts and all the rest of the infrastructure that makes everything run.”

“We pay forty per cent,” Mrs Granger said. “It mostly seems to go on politician’s travel allowances.”

The rest of dinner was spent discussing the yoke of oppression under which British Muggles laboured, though with a stalwart defence of something called the NHS. Draco strongly suspected Mr and Mrs Granger of thoroughly enjoying themselves.

When the others got up to clear, Potter asked him to stay for a moment.

“I made a list,” he said, pulling a scroll from his pocket. “All the old families you might know, who I know weren’t on Voldemort’s side, and who have a history of political involvement. I thought we should choose our targets.”

Draco took the scroll and the offered quill and ticked the names he knew well enough to organise a visit. Potter read over his shoulder, pointing at one of the ticks.

“I thought we might visit the Bletchleys tomorrow.”

“They’re all the way down in Rhossili.”

“Yes. So I’ve scheduled the morning off for both of us.”

Draco was confused. “It’s not that far, we can Apparate in one jump.”

“I thought we might pop across to Swansea for brunch after.”

“Oh.”

“Not that I’m building any epic personal theories …”

Draco smiled. “Of course not. Though you might not be entirely wrong if you were.”

“Who could resist Nott’s sweet rabbity eyes?”

“I can just as easily go back to hating you.”

“After you’ve voted for me. So, meet you around nine?”

“I’ll head home and get in touch with the Bletchleys now. Quarter to nine at the coffee house, they’re a short walk from there.”

“Excellent. Wear shoes you can climb in.”

“Where are we going to climb? I thought we were politicking, not taking in areas of natural beauty.”

“No reason we can’t do both.”




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





Draco ended up wearing not only sturdy boots, but also a boiled-wool coat the next morning. And, as he waited in the lee of the whitewashed cafe, he was grateful for both, as the Gower Peninsula had decided to demonstrate why it was most often described as ‘exposed’, ‘wet’, and ‘windy’.

Potter wasn’t late, just less early. He was wearing his new coat, but with less citified trousers and shoes visible beneath it. While Draco was sure his own face would be best described using terms like ‘pinched’ and ‘dripping’, Potter looked like an advertisement for Travelling Tonic – “five miles of good country air in every spoonful”.

“Come on,” Draco said. “They’re expecting us.”

In fact, Harry was expected by more than just the Bletchleys. They had invited all the nearby witches and wizards to breakfast, and thirty-four people politely listened to Potter’s policy platform, then asked questions and made comments for the next forty-five minutes.

Potter had come prepared this time and had filled the first third of his notebook with queries, names and things requiring investigation by the time they broke for tea.

“That went well,” Draco said, quietly.

Before Potter could answer, a small, grey-haired witch bundled up, took Potter’s hand, shook it heartily and said “I don’t suppose you remember me, Auror Potter?”

“Doris Crockford, you were one of the first people I met on my first trip to Diagon Alley …”

“Oh! Now to think you’d remember such a thing!”

Draco found a quiet corner and let things progress at their own pace. He had envied this once, the way people revolved around Potter. Now he was happy to be out in his own little erratic orbit. They looked excited about something, so he paid attention and discovered that Doris Crockford was forming a Witches for Potter auxilliary, who would be happy to manage Potter’s mailouts, and did he have any badges?

“We’re expecting a delivery tomorrow,” Draco said, rescuing Potter from a blank look of confusion. “I’ll make sure the first box is forwarded out here. And I’m afraid that if I don’t get Auror Potter back on schedule soon, there’ll be no hope of catching up with the campaign.”

It still took twenty minutes for him to leave this time – everyone wanted their hand shaken, and any number of photographs were required, along with a few signatures on last night’s Prophet. Draco was even asked for one of his own, across this morning’s cover, where his own face smiled out alongside the headline Harry Potter: how he won this Death Eater’s vote.

Bletchley walked them out, thanking Potter for his patience. “You’re serious about winning, aren’t you?” he asked, looking around to check they weren’t being overheard.

“Unless a better candidate comes along,” Potter answered, with more honesty than Draco thought necessary.

Bletchley took a breath before he spoke. “Make sure anyone better than you believes what you two have been saying in the paper. My girl was seeing a Snatcher for a while during the war. He didn’t tell her what he did, she didn’t even find out until nearly at the end, and she sent him packing when she did, but, well. It matters that you win, Harry.”

Harry shook his hand, and promised to do his best.

By the time they walked up to Seamus’s cousin’s place in Swansea, it was well past ten, and Mr Muffles was yapping away merrily inside. The door opened as they were walking up the path, and Theo appeared, with Mr Muffles running circles around his feet and a lithe blonde pushing her hair back into a ponytail.

“See you tonight, yeah?” she asked, stepping away a little at the sight of Draco and Potter.

“Yeah, tonight. Er, Karen, this is Draco and Harry. Lads, this is Karen.”

Both sides exchanged how do you do’s as she put up her umbrella and walked past and away, turning once for a private smile and wave in Theo’s direction.

He looked at them in mild confusion. “I thought we were keeping quiet? Is anything wrong? You don’t look well, Draco.”

“He’s just underslept,” Potter said. “We were in the area and just wanted to stop by to make sure you’re doing well. And apparently you’re doing very well.”

Theo grinned. “It’s Muffles. All the girls love him, with his silly furry face, don’t they, mate? Karen’s a vet nurse, so we got talking in the park on Saturday morning. And then we talked some more …”

“Well done, you. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that things are slowly progressing in our favour. I’ll pop back in a week or two to fill you in. Until then, stay out of trouble.”

“Cheers, Potter. You get some sleep, Draco, you look wretched.”

“Politicking,” Draco explained. “Huge, complex plots and plans, no time for sleeping this week, but I promise I’ll nap all I can next.”

“Good man. OK, well, I guess I’ll see you?”

“See you,” Potter said, and Draco muttered something along those lines, but was too busy not tripping over as Potter took him by the elbow and led him briskly up the street. Before he could complain, they were Disapparating and Potter had dragged them back to Rhossili, a few miles from the Bletchleys’.

This close to the water, the wind whipped more damply, which improved Draco’s frame of mind. “All this and we’ve still not managed breakfast,” he complained.

Potter smiled at him. “Theo has terrible taste.”

“He does,” Draco agreed. “But it’s all right.” And it actually was all right. Fancying Theo had been little more than a habit, really. There were plenty of other fanciable dark-haired men who didn’t cavort with Welsh painted floozies.

“I had a plan that the three of us would hike out on Worm’s Head and have a picnic and I’d be called back to London,” Potter admitted.

Draco looked out at the rainswept cresting islet under the grey cloud, with its low causeway just above the tide and the seabirds wheeling above. “You have a strange idea of romantic getaways.”

“Shut up, have a sandwich.”

They were at least good sandwiches. Food put everything into a far better perspective, and Draco found he was able to smile quite easily.

“That was very thoughtful,” he said. “A complete failure, and probably always doomed, but very thoughtful nonetheless.”

Potter looked guilty. “It seemed the least I could do. I can’t do anything to really fix the situation your friends are in yet, so this seemed like an easy way to say thanks for all your help.”

Draco grinned. “It’s my fault. I should know better than to fall for straight boys.”

“It’s not your fault, and I’m willing to bet that quite a few of the boys you think are straight, aren’t.”

“That’s very encouraging, Potter. I’ll be sure to make a note in my journal tonight that you think I am less statistically doomed to singledom than experience has suggested.”

“You keep a journal?”

“Shut up. Are there any more sandwiches?”

There weren’t, so they left the rocks and the birds to themselves and headed back to the Ministry.




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








iv. Harry





The first polls were very good. Fifty-nine to thirty-eight in Harry’s favour, with three per cent undecided and sixty-one per cent of eligible voters registered and planning to vote.

Percy was frigidly polite when they encountered each other around the Ministry, and Malfoy had shared with him his list of corridors, stairwells and goods lifts almost never frequented by Percy Weasley.

Harry kept waiting for an attack in the paper, on his youth, his probity, his hair … But the most criticism he had received had been from Malfoy telling him that Harry was possibly the most hopeless figure of political influence he had ever seen, “so forget everything I have told you about cultivating a powerful inner circle and just be your righteous little self, no matter what I say. You may as well see if it can get you elected, and at least it will be truth in advertising.”

He had, nonetheless, dragged them out to dozens of meetings with “key constituents”, now armed with badges and pamphlets, and some really quite natty rosettes stating “Vote 1 Potter”, lovingly created by Doris Crockford’s ladies.

There Harry had found himself in a number of conversations very similar to the one he had had with Mr Bletchley. But, disconcertingly, he had also had a few of his supporters take him gently aside and suggest that perhaps it would be best to let the whole issue of ‘innocent’ victims go for a bit, because why upset people? Wouldn’t it be better to win the election first and then do something?

The first time it had happened, Harry had embarked on a lengthy explanation as to why they couldn’t afford to revisit the days of the Muggleborn Registration Committee, and Malfoy had been forced to intervene when the neatly dressed witch had replied “But surely it’s better to just teach everyone responsible for that a lesson?”

Harry had to admit that Malfoy’s smooth smile and “But just think of how much it would cost us in taxes to pay for holding all those prisoners! And you’d have to lock up me and Mother, which would be a terrible shame, because I believe she’s planning quite the celebration if Potter wins, you’ll come, won’t you?” was a far more effective response than his own outraged sense of propriety.

Malfoy had kept an eye on him after that, and the second time, he had been there to insinuate himself into the discussion in under a minute. It was remarkable how hard people found it to insist that anyone remotely connected with Voldemort should be made to pay with Malfoy’s birdlike expression of interested listening turned on them. Harry had found it hard to keep a straight face.

Work was the biggest difficulty, balancing the demands of the campaign with an actual job. Peters recovered quickly from his injuries, but the weather added terrible gales to the rain and floods of the past two months and they were needed to pull double shifts helping out with rescues up in Yorkshire.

Malfoy came along a few times, allegedly to make sure Harry stayed out of trouble and in frame if any photographers appeared. He proved to be surprisingly useful at rescuing livestock, flying in and out on his broom, avoiding local farmers, who were relieved to see that some of their best breeding stock had had the good sense to travel to whatever high land was available to them. Harry strongly suspected him of enjoying it all, a charge Malfoy strenuously denied. It was good to see him flying again, though. He smiled when he flew, and he didn’t even mind that his hair ended up whipped into tangles. Which suited him far better than his usual sleek grooming, Harry thought.

Halloween saw the only real awkwardness – he was still invited to the Weasley’s party, and Ron and Hermione insisted he come, as did Mr and Mrs Weasley. Ginny was gracious, after a rocky start.

“Have you spoken with Bill?” she asked.

“I was just over playing with the baby. He’s so happy!”

“He is,” she agreed. “And he doesn’t mind that you’re working with Malfoy?”

“Not that he said.”

“I still think he got off lightly.”

“Ginny …”

She shrugged. “I know. I think I’d probably be willing to concede on him if only his father was in Azkaban.”

“I don’t think he’s doing very well …”

“I’d prefer he not be doing at all.” She caught the tension in Harry’s expression, and relented a little.

“I mean, I suppose it’s very admirable that you can work with someone who was on the other side, but I just keep thinking back to when you were a baby, Harry. If Dumbledore and the others had worked to imprison everyone who’d supported Voldemort then, then he wouldn’t have had enough followers to come back.”

And he couldn’t argue with her, because the two of them knew better than anyone how much better things could have been if Lucius Malfoy had spent the nineties detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. “I’m still on the track of Rowle and Macnair. I will catch them.”

She patted his arm. “I know you will.”

“How’s Dean?”

She smiled, and looked away. “Good. Easy, uncomplicated.”

“Sorry, Gin.”

“Wasn’t your fault.” She looked back at him, with a different smile. “What about you? Anything exciting going on that’s not playing out in the papers?”

“Epic game of Exploding Snap with Kreacher last night.”

“Living on the edge, Harry.”

They were still laughing and chatting without difficulty when Percy arrived. He spoke with his parents first, but after that made a straight line to Harry.

“Heads up,” Ginny whispered.

So good to see you here, Harry,” Percy greeted him.

“Percy. Good to see you. How are you?”

“Oh, very well, very well. Not doing as well as we’d like in the polls, of course, but there’s plenty of time for that. Shaping up to be a two-horse race, it seems.”

“Plenty of time for others to throw their hats into the ring,” Harry countered.

Percy waved the idea away. “Oh, I can’t see that happening, can you? Straight up choice between Harry the Hero and Percy the Pillar of the Ministry.”

Harry was glad that Percy led the laughter there, he hadn’t been sure it was a joke. Ginny, for all that she was still unhappy with him, stayed stalwartly by his side.

“How’s the hunt for Zabini going?”

“A lot of false leads. He might be out of the country. His mother has extensive contacts throughout Europe, we’ve sent identification images to all the major centres for distribution.”

“And Parkinson?”

“Hasn’t been seen at all.”

“Not hiding with your mate Malfoy?”

“We’ve searched there three times. You’re welcome to send in one of your teams.”

“Not at all. No sign of Nott? Flint? Ottilie Goyle? What about Rowle and Macnair? How much energy are the Aurors putting into looking for all these fugitives, Harry?” Percy’s voice was quickly losing its veneer of bonhomie.

“That will do, Perce.” Mr Weasley had approached quietly, and his voice was not raised, but it was unmistakeably definite. “I won’t have you upsetting your mother on a holiday. We’re about to go upstairs and wish the ghoul all the best for the season, so you behave. You, too, Harry. No politicking.”

Harry had promised, Percy had sniffed and walked away.

Ginny put her hand on Harry’s arm, holding him back for a moment while the others assembled at the stairs. “Be careful,” she said.

“It’s OK, Gin, I know it’s political, not personal.”

“I’m glad you do. I’m not sure Percy does. I don’t want you being hurt, Harry. That’s what I worry about.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s Percy. He’s a bit ruthless, but he’s all right, really.”

She had shaken her head, and told him that she used to find his naivety charming, but now it only made her nervous. Then she had gone to say hello to Ron and Hermione, because even if they weren’t talking, they were still family.

His first interview with the Prophet had gone as well as could be hoped, given it was with Rita Skeeter.

“Just look at you, Harry,” she said as they walked through into his office. “Who would have thought you’d come this far in just a few short years?”

“I believe you finished the last chapter of my biography with the prediction I was destined for further greatness,” he couldn’t help teasing. Rumour persisted that there had originally been an additional paragraph in which she added an alternative that he would have a complete breakdown and withdraw from the Wizarding world to live out his days as a hermit, but that her publishers had deleted it in line with prevailing public sentiment.

“Quite right,” she beamed. “I knew from the time of our very first meeting that you were extraordinary. Now, let’s get down to business.”

She was pleasant enough, asking how he found it running a department in which he was a junior member. It was a good question, and Harry was pleased to be able to talk about the cooperative work atmosphere of the Aurors.

“In reality, most people want to focus on fieldwork, so I’m little more than a glorified office boy,” he said.

“But you attend Departmental meetings?”

“Not as a Department Head,” Harry clarified. “The Aurors are asked to meetings where there are policy and procedural issues that concern us, because, operationally, we’re so distinct from the rest of MLE. But when it comes to Ministry policy, we stay out.”

“And yet you’ve involved yourself in the biggest policy shift of our time, with this new voting system,” Rita said, then quirked an eyebrow in a leading manner.

“That was more an accident of circumstance,” Harry said. “Wrong place, wrong time. Kingsley decided that he was going to act right then, and Hermione and I happened to be standing in front of him.”

“Remarkable how often fate chooses to play these little tricks on you.”

“I’ve often thought so.”

“And now you’re a candidate! With a healthy lead in the polls, though rumour has it that may be softening a little. Does it concern you that you’re seen as a single-issue candidate?”

“A single …?”

Skeeter adjusted her glasses and smiled brightly. “Oh, I know it’s early days yet, but many of your speeches since announcing your candidacy have concerned what you’ve described as ‘innocent’ victims being persecuted under some alleged Ministry over-zealousness …”

“Many of them are innocent, and imprisoning people because they’re related to criminals seems to me more than over-zealous.”

“So you’d agree that’s the main focus of your campaign?”

“Not the only main focus, I’m also very concerned about tariffs, and taxes. Did you know that witches and wizards working in the agricultural sector receive minimal Ministry research investment and support, and are subject to punitive taxation schedules?”

She had kept writing while Harry talked at length about reforms that could make the current system simpler and fairer, several times giving Hmmms that sounded approving.

“Because it’s about equity,” Harry said, buoyed by her interest. “We need a Ministry that treats everyone fairly, otherwise we’re just going to repeat the same old mistakes.”

“So are you saying that we should just forgive everyone who wronged us in the past in the interests of building a peaceful future? What about justice for all those who suffered and were lost?”

Harry raised his hand to stop her. “Not ‘everyone’. But can you honesty tell me that you think prosecuting Mafalda Hopkirk delivers justice to anyone? When we haven’t even found Thorfinn Rowle yet?”

To do her credit, Skeeter’s story had covered all of his major points, and even been accurate on most.

She had been right about the polls softening – they slid back by three points that week – but Malfoy said it wasn’t worth worrying about and Hermione agreed that once the first flush of excitement had ebbed, Harry was always bound to lose some of his popularity as people gravitated to what they perceived as the safer option. “Even though we know he’s a risky bet, and historically he’s been wrong every time he’s gone up against you, people look at him and see a conservative figure, ignoring the fact that his policies are actually pretty radical.”

“And you still have a fifteen point lead,” Malfoy had added.

Overall, the first two weeks of what he supposed he should admit was a campaign passed without major incident, but experience had taught Harry better than to relax when a few weeks went by without disaster. So it was really only a sign of his own foolishness that he was caught out by the arrest warrant for Terence Higgs on his desk when he came in that morning. In fact, at first he couldn’t even recall who Higgs was.

He was still staring at the warrant when Malfoy arrived for their morning meeting.

Malfoy took one look at his face, then took the paper from his hands. “Slytherin Seeker, first and second year. I replaced him, he focussed on studying for his NEWTs, and Vanished all my underwear. Thoroughly nice chap, actually. If it hadn’t been for the risk of coming face to face with some of his cousins during the war, I’d have expected to see him lining up on your side.”

Harry was incensed. “This is stupid.”

“Should I go and warn him? I can deliver him to Luna’s for the day.”

Harry rubbed his eyes. “It was bad enough when it was people who at least had some sort of tangential connection with things, but now Percy’s just grasping at random names.”

“I think Terence went out with Penelope Clearwater for a while,” Malfoy suggested, eyes full of mischief.

“That’s probably worse.”

“It probably is. What are you going to do?”

Harry wished he knew. He could remember Higgs now. Tall, friendly and fair. He’d even congratulated Harry on a couple of his catches during Quidditch games. And now Percy wanted him brought in on suspicion of “Harbouring Known Enemy Agents During the War”. Which probably meant made a cup of tea for a Snatcher.

“Fuck it, I don’t know.”

“Language, Potter.”

“I can’t not go. Can I? What do you think?”

“If you don’t go, you’re openly defying the Ministry.”

“And if I do go it’s a travesty of justice.”

“’Fraid so. If you want to swear a bit more, it’s all right.”

Harry thought. “Malfoy, did you see Higgs at all during the war?”

“Not once.”

“Heard his name mentioned? Received post?”

“Not a whisper.”

Harry decided. “All right. Let’s play Percy’s game, then. Can you call Williamson and Dawlish in?”

Harry should have shooed Malfoy out for the discussion that followed – hearing it made him into a conspirator – but he was reassured by Malfoy’s grim nodding as he outlined his plan.

“We could just refuse,” Williamson said when Harry had finished speaking.

Dawlish shook his head. “We can’t publicly stand in opposition to the Ministry.”

“We’d be on the larger side if people had a choice.”

“No,” said Dawlish. “If it comes to that, we go to the Wizengamot and ask that Percy be removed, or we strike, or we stage a straight-up coup. But we can’t say that we’ll support some directives and not others or we end up back in that quagmire of a Ministry where no one had any idea who could be trusted. I won’t go back to that.”

“You let Zabini escape,” Williamson reminded him.

“I was tasked with arresting him. I did that. It was up to my conscience how far I extended myself to hold an innocent young man once it became clear he wasn’t going to receive a fair trial. If MLE chooses to leave prisoners in temporary Auror holding cells for days on end, they can’t blame me for the results. It’s their own fault for failing to follow their own procedures. And that’s what worries me here, Harry. They’re not following their own procedures, so why should the Wizengamot? Can you guarantee the outcome of all this?”

“No,” Harry admitted. “But if Higgs is up for it, I say we test our laws, and we trust our people.”

Can you trust them?” Malfoy asked quietly.

“That’s what we’re going to find out.”

“I’m going to fetch Granger the minute you leave.”

“Good. No – fetch Luna instead. We’ll need good media coverage if this is going to work.”

“Luna, then Granger.”

Dawlish took one of Harry’s quills and a scrap of parchment from his desk. “You’ll need someone recognised to speak on behalf of the defendant if we’re going to bring Higgs in. This is Tiberius Ogden’s address. He was a very good Wizengamot member in the old days: fair and lawful. He helped me after the war, told me that he was always available for the Auror corps.”

“Cheers, John,” Harry said.

Malfoy took the parchment and tucked it into his pocket. “Luna, Granger, Ogden. I’ll start now. Good luck you lot.” He looked at Harry. “Try not to get damaged this time.”

“I’ll do my best.”

He didn’t need to try very hard. The three of them went to execute the warrant, Williamson taking the rear of the house as per protocol. Harry knocked on the front door, which was opened by an older version of the boy he had known at school.

“Potter,” Higgs said with a smile. “Don’t tell me you’re here to arrest me, too?”

Harry held up the warrant.

Higgs’s eyes went wide. “You’re kidding.”

“I wish I was.”

“But I …”

“We know.”

Higgs took a deep breath. “All right. Well, what should I bring with me? Can I tell someone? I’m going to assume this will take more than a couple of hours to clear up.”

“Is there anyone else here?”

“No.”

“In that case, I should caution you that you are officially in the custody of the Auror service and that your words will be recorded and may be used in evidence against you. If you would prefer, we can begin a Dictation Spell now, or you can choose to commence that during your formal interview at Auror Headquarters (say later).”

Higgs looked surprised at Harry’s interjection, but said clearly, “I do not want this section of our discussion recorded.”

Harry smiled and went on. “You can have your legal representative attend, or we can appoint one for you (you should let us appoint one for you, Higgs, Malfoy’s chasing down one of the best). The charge is Harbouring Known Enemy Agents During the War, and we will be seeking a warrant to search your premises, or you can grant us permission to do that now (grant permission, Terry).”

Terence looked nervous, but said, “I’m fine with you having a look around. Is it just the two of you?”

“And Williamson out the back. Let us in, put the kettle on, and we’ll talk you through what’s happening.”

Higgs made tea for them, and Harry explained their proposal.

“So you want me to be a test case?” Higgs asked at last. “Thrash it out in the courts in front of everyone.”

“That’s right, lad,” said Dawlish.

“And if I lose?”

Harry wanted to say that he couldn’t lose, but, while he hoped that was true, he wasn’t certain of it. “We’ll spring you as part of the all-out Auror rebellion that will inevitably follow.”

Higgs started to laugh weakly, then stopped when he realised that Harry wasn’t joking in the slightest. “You think it might come to that?”

“I hope not. But I think it very likely that the majority of my staff will refuse to continue working for a Ministry that is punishing witches and wizards on the basis of who they know, not what they’ve done. And if there’s a walkout, I’m walking, too. I’m not prepared to let us descend any further into this factionalised payback. That’s how wars start, not how they end.”

“And if I don’t want to risk it?”

Harry smiled. “Dawlish will try to arrest you, I’ll try to stop him, Williamson will probably be forced to Stun both of us. Should be plenty of time for you to escape in the confusion.”

Higgs grinned. “OK. Let’s give it a try. You’ll let my Mum and Dad know where I am, yeah? They’ll need to feed the cat.”

“We will. Terry, I need to take your wand.”

Higgs hesitated for a moment, then passed it over. Harry wrote him a receipt on the spot, and promised it wouldn’t be for long.

They filled up the cat-food dispenser and gathered a few items of clothing and a toothbrush for Higgs, then locked the doors and windows, making sure the cat flap was open. Then they left together, in the most civilised arrest Harry had ever made.

Malfoy had done his work well. Ogden and Hermione were there when they got back, arguing with Percy over whether he had a right to keep them out of the interrogation room. Harry quickly handed Higgs into custody, promised he’d visit as soon as possible, and hurried back to his office before he could be dragged any further into the debate.

Luna and Malfoy were waiting there, with Kingsley, who had been alerted by Ogden.

“Did you …?” Malfoy began.

“We’ve just arrested Terence Higgs,” Harry said, closing the door solidly.

“Percy’s over-extended himself this time,” Kingsley said, giving Harry a reassuring smile. “Higgs has a lot of friends who will come forward to speak up on his behalf.”

“He’s going to be our test case. Percy’s charged him with harbouring enemy agents, which, looking at the fine print, comes down to having his older brother, who was a Snatcher, and Theo Nott and his father, who are second cousins of his, stay at his house on a number of occasions through the war. I didn’t stay for long, but it looks as though Ogden plans to argue that there’s a massive difference between harbouring the enemy and putting up your relatives after a family function.”

“Percy will argue that any aid given to anyone connected with Voldemort is treason,” Malfoy said.

“But in that case, most of us are in danger,” Luna said. “Think about it, my father was willing to sacrifice Harry if it kept me safe, and Harry, you nearly got yourself killed saving Draco’s life, while Ron and Hermione rescued Gregory. Percy himself worked for the Minister when it was obvious he’d been Imperiused. He should be arresting himself if that’s the standard he’s holding people to.”

“I’ll be sure to suggest it to him,” Harry said.

“I’m serious. He’s playing one set of rules for one type of person, and another for the rest, and it’s not appropriate.”

“Which is what Harry is hoping the Wizengamot will state in their findings,” Kingsley surmised, looking at Harry over the top of his folded hands.

“When?” Malfoy asked. “In two or three months when they convene?”

Harry shook his head. “Terence has requested an immediate trial and Ogden is demanding it. It looks as though it will be tomorrow. Percy’s furious, but he shouldn’t have sought a warrant if he wasn’t ready to prosecute.”

Malfoy nodded. “That’s good.”

“If the Wizengamot are listening to Tiberius ahead of Percy, then it shows they’re concerned,” Kingsley said. “Perhaps these most recent cases have made them aware of the extent of the problem.”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Harry agreed. “Now we just need to capitalise on it to shift public opinion. In a way, Higgs is a gift for us. People can’t lie to themselves about him, not like Pansy, with her one infamous statement, or Nott, whose father was a Death Eater. If we can get people to look at him closely, they’ll see the ridiculousness of it all.”

“I can get an issue of the Quibbler out tomorrow,” Luna said. “I’ve got half a one mocked up and ready to go. If I go and see Theo now, we can have it on the presses tonight and out for breakfast in the morning.”

“You’re a gem, Luna.”

“Don’t thank me, Harry, thank Neville, he’s the one who’ll be sending out all those owls at the crack of dawn.”

“You thank him for me.”

She laughed brightly at that. “So, what would you rather: all reasons Higgs isn’t a bad’un; all reasons few of us are really innocent if these are our criteria; or half and half?”

“Half and half?” Harry asked Malfoy and Kingsley.

“Half and half,” Malfoy agreed. “Without prejudicing proceedings.”

“Keep to the basic facts,” Kingsley advised. “People don’t want to hear that there are problems in the heart of the Ministry. Most of the Ministry doesn’t want to hear that. Just tell the simple truth, without editorialising.”

Luna nodded. “Right,” she said, gathering her things and standing up. “I’ll see you tomorrow in time for the trial.”

“Good luck,” Harry said.

“And to you, too. If you have a chance, let Mr Ogden know we’d love to interview him.”

“I will.”

“I’ll come with you, Kingsley said. “I’m due to meet Tiberius.”

They closed the door behind them, leaving him alone with Malfoy.






Part six