Disclaimer: All characters and situations are based on those owned by J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury, Warner Bros., etc. No money is being made, nor is any trademark infringement intended.
Author's Notes: Although I'm classifying this as H/D, it's really more pre-slash. Their relationship will be developed further in the sequel, Two Solitudes. So, if slash offends you, you might not want to read this. Also, I want to thank my wonderful betas carnilia and Valedro for all their help.
It was like a never-ending detention with Snape – cutting potions ingredients until his fingers were stained and sore, labelling bottles until his eyes watered from peering so closely at the parchment in the dim light. The pay was nothing to brag about either. He hated it all, but the worst was that his thoughts were free to wander as he completed the mindless tasks. And the only place for them to wander was into darkness and misery.
At last the clock landed on five, and Draco grabbed his jacket, buttoning it up against the cold February evening that waited outside. Home was a long thirty-minute walk away, since he couldn't Apparate and didn't have the money for a taxi. Not that he'd use such a blatantly Muggle form of transportation.
Home. Yeah, right. The miserable flat that he lived in wasn't home. Home was tall glass windows and lofty ceilings and soft feather beds. Home was his mother calling him in for tea. Home was his father drumming his fingers on the desk in the study. Home was currently a burned hulk, slowly falling apart.
Draco bit his lip and tried to think of other things, but there wasn't anything else to think about. Not since Azkaban. No. He wouldn't think about that place ever again. Ever.
It began snowing, the flakes drifting down from the darkening sky. He remembered Hogwarts when it was snowing, and how they would sit in front of the fire in the common room, planning snowball fights for the next day. Greg and Vincent would sit there, blinking in the light, nodding while he detailed exactly where they should stand for the best shot at Potter. Vincent – dead. And Greg? He didn't know where Greg was. He had been released from Azkaban a few weeks before Draco. What was Greg doing without him and Vincent? He had never been good at coping on his own.
Draco stumbled and stepped into a puddle. He leaned against a bench for a moment, trying to push away the shadows. They kept creeping in at the corners of his vision, and the night was already dark enough without them. The old Mark on his arm burned briefly, and he shuddered. It wasn't fair that on top of everything else, that had to keep on hurting him. Voldemort was dead, but he still managed to torment his followers.
No. Not a follower. "I never followed you," Draco muttered into the darkness. The snow fell more thickly, and he imagined he could hear laughter ghosting his way on the wind. But you did what I told you to. Is there a difference?
Draco staggered on. "I didn't want to. You made me."
Didn't want to? Come, Draco, don't lie to yourself. It wasn't that hard to make you do anything.
"I was frightened."
Yes. You are a coward, aren't you? Useful for a few simple matters, but ultimately worthless.
"Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!" Draco blinked, breathing heavily, and realised he was standing in front of his door. His fingers trembled as he fumbled for the key. He finally managed to turn the lock and stumbled inside. His mind was just registering the fact that he hadn't felt the usual tingle of the wards, but by then it was too late. There was a flash, and the world exploded in front of him. Blinding pain hit him, and he slid swiftly into unconsciousness.
The smells of a hospital assailed his nose when he woke. Not dead, then.
"Malfoy? You awake?"
Or maybe he was dead and in hell. "Potter. What are you doing here?" he rasped, opening his eyes. Or trying to open them. He put up his hand and found a bandage wrapped around his eyes.
"They need to be covered," Potter explained. "There's a healing salve on them that works best in the dark."
Draco squirmed around a little and found that other parts of him hurt as well. He felt like he had been slammed into a brick wall, which, on reflection, may have been what had occurred.
"There was a bomb," Potter said.
"Yes, I believe I had worked that part out," Draco snapped.
"You're lucky to be alive."
"Yes," Potter said firmly.
"So, I'll ask again. Why are you here, Potter?"
"I've been assigned to figure out who wants to kill you, Malfoy."
"Malfoy, someone put a bomb in your apartment. Usually that means they want you dead."
"I meant the part about you being the Auror assigned to the case, you idiot."
"I'm not happy about it either, Malfoy," Harry muttered.
Draco sighed. "Well, get on with it, then."
There was a rustle of parchment. Harry cleared his throat. "Have you noticed anything suspicious recently? Anything out of the ordinary?"
"No signs that anyone had broken through your glamour or the spells surrounding your apartment?"
"Okay, then," Potter continued, sounding increasingly irritated. "Can you think of anyone who would want you dead?"
"Let's see – anyone whose family or friends were killed by Death Eaters, anyone who suffered because of Death Eaters, anyone who hates Death Eaters – basically the entire wizarding population, Potter."
Harry made a frustrated noise. "You are not helping here, Malfoy."
"You're the Auror, Potter. Go find the answers yourself."
"That's what I plan on doing, but I need a little something to get started with. I don't know all the details of your life, Malfoy."
"So I've fallen beneath the notice of the great Harry Potter? What a shame. I'm crushed, Potter. My life is ruined."
"You haven't fallen beneath my notice," Harry growled. "I've been busy."
"Oh, that's right. You have to save the world on a daily basis, don't you? How silly of me to forget."
"Look, Malfoy…" Harry began, but the door opened and a Healer came in, cutting him off.
"Time for some sleep, Mr. Malfoy," she said briskly. "Your body needs to rest." A potion was thrust in front of his nose.
"I don't want a sleeping potion," Draco protested. The shadows could always find him when he went to sleep. Usually he could wake himself up, but he couldn't fight a sleeping potion. He would be trapped. "I don't want any," he repeated, a note of panic intruding.
"Nonsense, Mr. Malfoy." He heard the Healer approach and suddenly his head was being tipped up, and the potion was being forcibly poured down his throat. He choked, but couldn't help swallowing. He fell back into the pillows. He could hear the shadows laughing at him.
"Try to think up some answers before I come back, Malfoy," Potter said, and for a moment his voice shone in Draco's mind, holding the shadows back.
"Don't go," Draco whispered, but Potter didn't answer, and then the shadows took him.
Harry stood frowning down at Malfoy. Had he just said 'don't go'? It was probably the potion talking, as Harry couldn't imagine a time or place where Malfoy would be saying that to him. "How long will he be out?" he asked the Healer. "I'll need to question him again."
"Only a few hours," she replied. "I didn't give him a strong dose."
Harry nodded. "I'm going to be setting up some wards around this room. I'll authorize you and any other medical staff to get through, but if anyone else tries, an alarm will go off."
Harry gathered up his notes, and then paused. Malfoy still had the same white- blond hair, but he looked dreadfully pale and thin. Harry wondered what emotions he would see in those grey eyes if they could open. Hate? Disdain? Or maybe something else? Malfoy's hair lay tangled on his forehead, and Harry found himself smoothing it out. Malfoy had always been so put together. Harry's eyes wandered down Malfoy's throat and then his gaze was caught and held by the black mark on Malfoy's arm – the snake and the skull. Shuddering, he turned away.
Malfoy's apartment – or rather what was left of Malfoy's apartment – was a mess. It was full of ashes and soaking wet from the sprinklers. Harry carefully examined the remains of the bomb and the spells on the door. Whoever had broken through the protective spells had to have been good. A simple spell would have shown they had been tampered with, though. Harry felt a flash of annoyance, wondering why in the hell Malfoy hadn't had the sense to check the wards before entering. Then he remembered – Malfoy didn't have his wand.
A vague sense of guilt at forgetting this fact assailed Harry. His wand was such a part of him; he couldn't imagine being without it. But Malfoy would probably never hold his again. That had been the deal. The Ministry would put former Death Eaters into the wizarding equivalent of a witness protection program. They couldn't use magic and were practically cut off from the wizarding world. Because they couldn't protect themselves, the Ministry would. Or was supposed to, Harry amended, looking at the shattered room.
Harry reviewed the facts of the case, as he picked through the debris. Malfoy was living under the name Simon Blackstone and posing as a squib. He worked in a potions supply store – a job that didn't require the use of magic. A complex glamour surrounded Malfoy at all times, giving him brown hair and eyes, and a physique totally unlike his real one. No one was supposed to know that Malfoy was here.
Someone had figured it out, though. Unfortunately, Malfoy was correct in his assessment of the large number of wizards and witches who could be possible suspects. Still, if Malfoy was right and his glamour hadn't been penetrated, that meant the perpetrator had to either work in the Ministry or have friends there. It was the only way they could have gained access to Malfoy's file and found out where he was.
Harry turned over some shattered bricks. Malfoy really was lucky that he hadn't died. Am I? Malfoy's voice drifted back to Harry. It had held such a note of despair and unhappiness before Malfoy managed to quench it in his usual acidic tones. Frowning, Harry looked around at what was left of the apartment. What kind of life was Malfoy leading, to sound like that? Feeling slightly like an intruder, but reasoning that it was for the investigation, Harry wandered into the rest of the apartment, peering into drawers and cabinets. There wasn't much. A few pieces of furniture, no paintings or pictures on the walls. The clothes in the closet looked shabby and worn. A cabinet by the bed revealed several dark blue jars filled with a potion. Harry opened one and sniffed. Well, it looked like Malfoy was dabbling a bit in illegal potions these days. Harry had encountered this one before – it put the drinker into a relaxed, numbed state. It also had the potential to induce a coma if too much was consumed. What an idiot, to be messing with this stuff.
Wrenching open a drawer, Harry pulled out a faded Daily Prophet which was wrapped around something. It opened to reveal a photograph, slightly torn on one edge. It was of Draco and his mother and father, posing in front of elaborate velvet curtains. Lucius and Narcissa stared haughtily out, hardly moving. Draco was fidgeting a little and sneaking glances at something outside of the picture frame. It looked like Draco was perhaps fourteen in the photo. He looked exactly like he always had at Hogwarts – expensive robes, perfect hair, and a slight sneer on his lips. So different from the man Harry had seen today. For a moment, Harry felt he would give anything to go back to that time, when they had fought about nothing more important than Quidditch matches and traded insults in the vaulted halls of Hogwarts.
Slipping the photograph in his pocket, Harry turned to go. As he approached the door, though, a glimmer caught his eye. Bending down, he picked up the object, turning it over in his hand. It was a piece of metal, about the size of a Galleon. Etched onto it was a picture of a snake being struck by a lightning bolt.
"Ever seen anything like this?" Harry asked, throwing the token onto Ron's desk.
Ron picked it up. "No. Looks like some representation of you taking out Voldemort. Where'd you find it?"
"In the ruins of Malfoy's apartment. I'm guessing whoever planted the bomb left this behind."
Ron looked at Harry and cleared his throat. "How is that going? You and Malfoy, I mean?"
"It's fine," Harry said, slightly annoyed. "We're both adults now, you know."
"Yeah, well, I'm sure Robards would reassign you. Patterson didn't know anything about the history you two have when he gave you the case."
"It's fine, Ron. I can handle it."
Ron looked unconvinced, but nodded. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Harry staring at the token and Ron fiddling with some parchment. "So, Harry, have you heard from Ginny lately?" Ron asked, trying to sound nonchalant and failing.
"No, I haven't. I thought we agreed we weren't going to talk about that anymore."
"I know, I know. But you should get out more, Harry, meet some new people if you don't like your old friends now."
"I do like my old friends, Ron. And I still like Ginny, just not in the way you want. We're not at Hogwarts anymore. Both of us have changed." Harry sighed. "Hermione put you up to this, didn't she? Merlin's beard, you'd think she could leave it alone."
"Sorry, mate, but I promised I'd ask," Ron muttered.
"Yeah, well, I have to get back to work." Harry scooped up the token. "If you hear anything about this, let me know."
Harry arrived back at St. Mungo's to find Malfoy awake again and fumbling with a tray of food. "Feeling more cooperative after your nap?"
Malfoy started and dropped his fork. "Not really," he muttered.
"Too bad. Those are some interesting potions you have in your flat. I think these days the Ministry's slapping a thousand Galleon fine on anyone found possessing them."
Flushing, Malfoy crossed his arms against his chest. "I told you, I don't know anything, Potter."
"Let's start back at the beginning, shall we? It's been fourteen months since you got out of Azkaban, right?"
Malfoy didn't respond. The flush had faded from his cheeks, leaving them pale and cold. "Isn't that right?" Harry repeated.
"Yes." Malfoy was clutching the thin hospital robe he was wearing, knuckles white. Harry shifted uncomfortably. He didn't like thinking about Azkaban – it brought up memories of Sirius and the Dementors. He had tried to have the Dementors permanently removed from Azkaban after the war, seeing as how they had supported Voldemort, but the Ministry had overruled him. The wizarding populace had demanded assurances that Voldemort's supporters would be securely held in Azkaban, and with Voldemort gone, the Dementors were once again the most expeditious answer.
"Have you had any contact with old acquaintances or friends since then?" Harry continued, pushing away the memory of his mother screaming.
"No. I don't even know where most of them are. Or else they're dead," Draco added bitterly.
"What about new friends? Are you sure you can trust them?"
Malfoy turned his head away from Harry. "I don't have any."
"What about your co-workers, then?"
"Most of them don't last very long – it's not exactly a job that draws the best and the brightest."
"Well what do you spend your free time doing, then? Are there places you frequently visit where someone could spot you?"
"You discovered what I do with my free time," Malfoy said dully.
Harry laid down his quill. He thought about Malfoy when they were at Hogwarts – involved with the other Slytherins, receiving sweets from home every week, and bragging about his connections to Voldemort. Nothing Malfoy had experienced growing up would have prepared him for the realities of serving Voldemort. Malfoy had found that out sixth year, and Harry had seen what it had done to him then. Nothing could have prepared Malfoy for Azkaban either, and it looked like his time there had destroyed him even further. No friends, a horrible job, resorting to mind-altering potions – it wasn't right.
Not right? This is Malfoy, remember? Harry frowned. It was Malfoy, that was true, but still… He had felt sorry for Malfoy at the end of sixth year and the feeling was now returning full force. Malfoy had paid with two years in Azkaban for believing what his parents told him and behaving like a bastard because of it. They had both been through hell, but at least Harry still had friends and a home and was slowly recovering. It looked like Malfoy was sliding further down into the darkness – he wasn't even being given a chance to pull himself out.
"Are you done, then?" Malfoy asked, interrupting Harry's thoughts.
"Yeah, I guess so." Harry hesitated. "Look, is there anything I can get for you? Anything you need?"
"Besides you to be gone? No."
Still acts like a bastard, though. Harry stood up. "Fine. I'll get the Healer."
"Wait!" Malfoy called out.
Harry paused. "What?"
Malfoy licked his lips nervously. "Don't let them give me another potion."
Malfoy's hands were convulsively kneading the sheets. "Because…" he faltered. "Please. Please don't let them."
Or maybe not quite such a bastard. "I'll ask," Harry promised.
The Healer waved his request away. "Nonsense. The sleeping draught contains a healing potion as well. He needs to be asleep to let his eyes heal completely."
"But it hurts me," Malfoy protested softly.
"Don't be ridiculous," the Healer said coldly. Harry watched her eyes travel to the Dark Mark; her lips thinned. "Don't make me bring in the orderlies to restrain you."
"Look, it will be okay," Harry said, distressed by Malfoy's evident unease. He hesitantly laid his hand on Malfoy's shoulder. "I'll be back in the morning."
Malfoy sat tensely for a second and then slumped back into the pillows. He drank the potion when the Healer handed it to him. "You'll be here?" he asked thickly as the potion pulled him toward sleep.
"I'll be here."
His discussion with Malfoy had made him even more convinced that someone at the Ministry was involved. It didn't sound like Malfoy had much contact with the wizarding world, so whoever had set the bomb must have known about the protection program. Which meant it was time for some research. Harry sighed. He hated research.
The filing section was always dimly lit and freezing cold. Harry peered through the darkness until he located Terrence hunched over a ledger book, scribbling away with his pen.
"Terrence? I need some information."
Terrence looked up and sighed heavily. "Very well." He cast a regretful look at the ledger book.
"I need to know the names of everyone who has looked at Draco Malfoy's file."
Terrence went to his small desk, overflowing with parchment, and extracted a book from underneath. He opened it and scanned the pages. "Let's see here. Ah, yes. No one had checked out that file until you had it sent up to your office yesterday, Mr. Potter."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive," Terrence said, snapping the book shut and looking offended.
Harry scrubbed a hand through his hair. "You keep a record of every person who comes in here to look at something, don't you?"
"Yes." Terrence glanced at his watch. "As well as the specific file they check out."
"Can I see that, then, please?"
Some more rummaging, accompanied by loud sighs, produced a huge stack of papers, bound together loosely. "Goes back three years. I can fetch earlier ones if you'd like," Terrence offered, a slightly vindictive gleam in his eye.
"No, this is good, thanks," Harry said, hastily. "I'll bring it back when I'm done."
Back in the comparative warmth of his office, Harry began flipping through the dusty pages. It was very dull and boring, and required Harry to peer closely at Terrence's miniscule handwriting. After half an hour, he had the beginnings of a pounding headache and decided to continue in the comfort of home. Technically he supposed he shouldn't remove this from the Ministry, but he had at least a few hours of reading to go.
Opening the door, Harry stepped over a pile of books that Hermione kept sending him to read. He made some toast and then settled onto the couch with the registry. Before long, though, the letters started swimming before his eyes, and his head started nodding forward.
He was in the maze, searching for the Goblet of Fire. Heaviness weighed down his limbs, making moving difficult, but he stumbled forward. Suddenly, he tripped on something and fell down. Cedric's empty gaze stared up at him. "I thought you were a hero, Harry," a voice said. He looked up to find Draco staring down at him accusingly.
"I tried," he protested. "I tried."
"But you failed," a cold voice came from behind him. Harry turned to find Voldemort towering over him, wand raised. A green light burst from his wand, and Harry ducked as it flashed past him. There was a thud, and Harry turned. Draco was lying on the ground, his eyes already glazed over in death.
With a jerk, Harry sat upright. He was drenched in sweat, and his heart was pounding. A dull pain throbbed in his scar. It's okay, he told himself. Voldemort is dead. Shaking, he got up and made himself some tea, then returned to the registry.
By midnight he was through. He looked at the list he had made. Out of all the names listed, only three had looked suspicious. One was a receptionist, checking out a file on a man named Brian Jenkins. Another was an official from the International Magical Cooperation Office, looking up reports on Muggle baiting in Surrey, which seemed totally unconnected to his job. Finally, there was Parvati Patil, a fellow Auror now, who had looked up Vladimir Trestrokov, a rogue vampire. The problem was that Vladimir had been captured in Bulgaria last spring. Harry remembered reading about it in the Daily Prophet, but Parvati had checked out the file in October. Harry hated to put a fellow Gryffindor on his suspect list. It was probably connected to some case she was working on now. Parvati had been a staunch supporter in the fight against Voldemort. This also meant, Harry conceded, that she might be continuing the fight long after it should have been over.
A loud tapping noise brought Harry slowly awake. He peered at the clock. Half past five. He hadn't fallen asleep until two, thinking about Malfoy and who wanted him dead. He also kept thinking about the dream and seeing Malfoy's blank gaze. The image bothered him more than he liked to admit. Once, he would have given anything to have Malfoy out of his life forever. The tapping continued, and Harry rolled over to see an owl at his window. Stumbling up, Harry let it in and removed the parchment from its leg. St. Mungo's….Draco Malfoy…suspected attempt…wards tampered with.
Harry only waited to pull on a robe before Apparating.
"Mr. Potter, I'm sorry to call you so early, but I felt you should be notified as soon as possible," the night-duty Healer panted. She was trotting behind Harry, as he strode down the hallway towards Malfoy's room.
"Tell me exactly what happened."
"It was only half an hour ago – I was sitting at my desk when suddenly the alarm went off for Mr. Malfoy's room. I rushed up here, but no one was around. I know the wards you set up around his room will trigger the alarm if anyone tries to break them. Mr. Malfoy was sleeping, so that seemed the only reason the alarm could have gone off."
Harry skidded to a halt in front of Malfoy's door. He checked the wards. The Healer's suspicions were confirmed. "Someone has been messing with them. Dammit. It's supposed to be a secret that Malfoy is in here. Did you tell anyone else?" he demanded, rounding on her.
"No, Mr. Potter," she squeaked, backing away.
Only Harry and the Aurors who brought Malfoy to St. Mungo's knew that he was here. It was looking more and more like someone at the Ministry was involved. Harry wondered if Parvati had been on that Auror team and felt sick. "Not a word to anyone about this, understand?"
The Healer nodded.
"How soon until Draco can be moved?"
"We should be able to remove the bandage around his eyes this morning, Mr. Potter. He could leave after that, although he'll still be quite sore for a few days."
"I'm going to go in and talk to him now. Then I want you to get him ready to leave. I'm not going to chance keeping him here when his cover's blown. I just need to clear it with my supervisor."
The Healer nodded again, and Harry slowly opened the door. Malfoy was curled up in bed, his back to Harry. Harry started to step inside when his foot hit something on the floor. He bent down and saw what it was. His stomach squirmed, and he felt a flash of anger. The snake and the lightning bolt glinted up at him.
Why are you hiding, Draco? You can't escape me.
Go away? Where would I go? I'm right here inside you, Draco. You can't get rid of me that easily. And we get along so well. What would you like to see this time, Draco? Your mother? Her death wasn't easy, you know. Losing Lucius, of course, drove away what was left of her sanity, but she still screamed at the end.
No. No. I don't want to hear it. I don't want to see.
But we have all the time in the world, Draco. And it's so fun to play.
Someone was shaking him. A voice. A real voice was talking to him. He opened his eyes, or tried to. They were bandaged. That's right. He was in St. Mungo's, and this must be – "Potter. You'll dislocate my shoulder if you keep that up."
Potter quit shaking him, but kept his hand on Draco's shoulder. "How are you feeling?"
There seemed to be an actual note of concern in Potter's voice. Draco couldn't remember the last time someone had spoken to him like that. Couldn't remember… No. He reached up and gripped Potter's hand. It was firm and solid and warm. Slowly, the shadows receded from his mind. "Better," he managed.
"Good." Potter gently disengaged his hand from Draco's. Draco felt himself flush with embarrassment. And yet, Draco wished he could touch Potter again, just to make sure –
"You're really here, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm really here," Potter replied, sounding amused and also worried. "I told you I would be, didn't I? Are you sure you're feeling better, Malfoy?"
"Yes. But I don't…I don't like not being able to open my eyes. It's too dark," he finished in a whisper.
"Well, the Healer is going to be taking off the bandage this morning," Potter said, the note of concern back. He sighed. "Which brings me to my news, none of which is good. Whoever planted that bomb knows you're here. They tried to break through the wards this morning. I need to get you moved to a safer place."
"Doing a bang up job of protecting me, aren't you, Potter? Almost attacked and killed in a hospital, for Merlin's sake."
"Well you weren't attacked or killed," Potter pointed out, sounding annoyed. "Look, just be ready to go when I get back."
Draco listened to the sounds of Potter leaving and the Healer coming in. She began to unwrap the bandage around his eyes. He wondered what Potter looked like now. His voice, at least, hadn't changed. It was also nice, Draco admitted privately to himself, to no longer have that voice speaking to him solely in tones of disgust and hatred. Not that he would tell Potter that.
"Azkaban? What do you mean, Azkaban?" Harry exclaimed, staring, aghast, at Robards.
"It's the safest place for him. If you're right, and someone in the Ministry is behind the attacks, they'll be able to find out if we put him in a safe house somewhere. Visits to Azkaban need the personal clearance of the Minister. We'll be able to make sure no one who isn't supposed to is going."
"We can't put Malfoy back in Azkaban! We're supposed to be protecting him!"
"And that will be protecting him," Robards insisted.
"No. I'm afraid Azkaban has already hurt him too much. He's frightened. I'm not going to let him be put back in that place. It should have been destroyed along with Voldemort."
"Then where do you suggest? Can you think of anyone you trust who would be willing to take a former Death Eater into their home?"
Potter arrived back shortly after Draco had finished breakfast. It had been much easier to eat with the bandages off, and he had gulped it down ravenously. His eyes were still a little sensitive to light, and his body still felt like a mass of bruises, but besides that he was all right. Well, as all right as he was ever going to be.
Draco scrutinized Potter closely while Potter conferred with the Healer. He was slightly taller than Draco remembered. The scrawniness had been converted into a wiry kind of toughness, but Potter's hair was as messy as ever, his eyes just as green. And the scar was still there. It seemed that other people could not escape their pasts either.
"Ready to go?" Potter asked, coming up to him. He looked tense. Probably upset that he had to chaperone Draco Malfoy to whatever new hell the Ministry had dreamed up for him.
Draco stood up. "Yes."
"Good. We're going to be Apparating – it'll be safest that way, and hopefully no one will be able to find out where we've gone."
"Which will be?"
"Not here," Potter muttered, glaring at the Healer, who hurried out the door. Reaching into his robes, Potter withdrew a folded bundle, which he shook out. An Invisibility Cloak. "You're going to wear this."
"So this is how you pulled off all that stuff at Hogwarts." Draco tried to keep the envy out of his voice, but failed. "Not brains or stealth – a stupid cloak."
"Just put it on, Malfoy," Potter growled, and Draco complied. It felt wonderful, soft and silky, and he couldn't see his body when he looked down.
Do you like being invisible, Draco? I can make it permanent if you want. I'll drink you up until there's nothing left. Would you like that? Darkness, forever.
Gasping, Draco clawed the cloak off him and flung it away. "No, not forever, not forever," he mumbled, shaking.
Harry stepped closer. "Are you okay? What happened?"
Harry was fading to a dark shape, as the shadows closed in. "Not forever, not forever," Draco pleaded, but they kept coming. His skin began to grow cold. Suddenly, warm hands were on his shoulders; a warm voice was speaking in his ear.
"It's okay, Draco. You're safe."
The shadows drew back a little. Draco blinked, and a brilliant green filled his vision, vibrant, alive. The green resolved itself into Potter's eyes staring into his own. "You're safe," he repeated.
Draco gripped Potter's arms. "I can't wear that."
"That's fine. You don't have to. We'll just move a little faster, that's all."
Realizing he had Potter's arms in a death grip, Draco let go, but Potter kept his hands on Draco's shoulders for a few more moments. "Do you feel up to Apparating?" he asked at last, taking away his hands.
Draco stifled the urge to grab them and keep that wonderful warmth. He nodded instead.
"I'll get us as close as I can, but we'll have to walk a little ways. No one should be watching, but…" He trailed off and took a firm grip on Draco's arm. The familiar squeezing sensation followed, and then Draco was blinking against the bright sunlight that flooded his vision. Harry immediately began pulling him along, and Draco stumbled several times before his eyesight cleared.
They were on a dusty road, apparently in the middle of nowhere. Empty fields, spotted with snow, stretched to either side. They crested a hill; below them was a small village, nestled in a hollow. Draco felt a familiar despair welling up inside. "What will I be doing now, Potter? Mucking out some Muggle farmer's stable?"
"Shut up and keep moving, Malfoy," Potter said, dragging Draco down the road. His eyes were scanning the fields and the sky, and Draco noticed his wand was out, although held discreetly at his side.
They stopped at the outskirts of the village, and Potter turned up a side road. At the end, hidden partially by the trees, was a small house. It looked fairly new, although the paint was beginning to flake away in places. Potter pointed his wand at the door when they arrived, muttering some sort of spell – after a moment Draco recognized it as one to dismantle a ward – then stepped inside. Draco followed. Expecting bare walls and no furniture – the Ministry hadn't given him any before, after all – Draco was surprised to see a comfortable sofa – although it was coloured a horrible orange – along with several chairs, a fireplace with the remnants of a recent fire, and books and pictures scattered about. Looking closer at a photo, he realised it was of Potter and his two friends at Hogwarts. "This isn't your house?" Draco asked incredulously.
"Yes, it is," Potter said.
Peering out the window, Harry scanned the surrounding area. There was no one in sight, but he felt uneasy. It wasn't a secret that he had the Malfoy case, after all.
"Why did you bring me here?" Malfoy was asking, looking askance at the sofa, whose stuffing was poking out of one arm. Trust Malfoy to expect a bloody four-star hotel.
"Because the alternative was a cell in Azkaban," Harry snapped. He wished he hadn't said it the moment the words left his mouth. Malfoy went dreadfully pale and sank weakly onto a chair.
"You were…you were going to send me back there?" His hands had begun shaking.
"Robards was going to send you back there. But you're not going, so don't worry about it." Malfoy's eyes were going slightly glassy, like they had back at the hospital. It reminded Harry of how Sirius had looked sometimes, when he thought about Azkaban.
Malfoy took a few shuddering breaths and glanced at Harry, his eyes clear again. He had an odd expression on his face, one Harry couldn't place. Silence fell, broken only by the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece.
"Would you like some tea?" Harry asked at last. He wasn't quite sure what to do with Malfoy, now that he was sitting here in Harry's living room.
"Uh, yes," Malfoy replied, looking equally discomfited.
Harry escaped into the kitchen. He took his time making tea, and when he finally reappeared, Malfoy was up and looking out the window. "It's so bright and sunny here," he murmured when Harry entered. "It reminds me of – " He cut off abruptly, came back to the sofa, and sat down.
"Of what?" Harry inquired, pouring tea.
"Of – of the breakfast room. We used to have breakfast there every Saturday, and the sun always came in through the windows. The windows…" Malfoy's voice trailed off. Looking up, Harry was alarmed to see that he was staring at nothing again and his hands were clenched in fists.
"Malfoy!" Harry said loudly, and Malfoy started, his gaze focusing on Harry. "Are you sure you're feeling okay? The Healer said the damage to your eyes had healed, but maybe you should go back."
Malfoy fumbled for his teacup. "No. No, I'm fine. It's okay."
Silence fell again. Harry wracked his brains desperately for a conversation topic, but could think of nothing.
"So, where are we?" Malfoy finally asked again.
"Godric's Hollow. This was where my parents' house stood. Before Voldemort destroyed it," he added quietly.
"Cheerful place to come live."
Harry shrugged. "I guess it feels like home to me. Hogwarts had always felt like home, but when I came here... I feel closer to them. To my parents, I mean." Realizing suddenly just whom he was saying these personal things to – that last bit he hadn't even told Ron and Hermione – Harry stopped and looked defiantly at Malfoy, daring him to say something scornful.
Malfoy just stared into his teacup, though.
Sitting back, Harry slipped his hands in his pockets, stretching out his legs. His hand encountered the token he had found at the hospital. He looked over at Malfoy. Should he tell him? He probably should. Malfoy might know something about it.
"I've never seen it before," Malfoy said when Harry showed it to him. "Looks like something your fan club came up with."
"I had nothing to do with this!"
"Of course not," Malfoy sneered, his eyes glittering. "You just saved the world from the Dark Lord, bringing light and hope to thousands. Except, of course, those of us unfortunate enough not to have been on your side."
"So you'd rather I'd let Voldemort win? You'd rather be suffering under him still – living in terror?"
Malfoy winced, and he turned his face from Harry. His hand was rubbing his arm – where the Dark Mark was branded. "No. But – but I'm not sure I want to be alive in this world either."
Harry's anger drained from him, replaced by sadness. "I'm sorry."
Malfoy took a deep breath. "It's not your fault, Potter."
"Well, I don't have to like it when people use me to represent their personal vendettas," Harry muttered.
"Any ideas about who's behind it?"
"Not really. Someone at the Ministry is involved, though."
They sat in silence for a few more moments. "But if I want to find out I'd better get back to work," Harry said at last, standing up. "There's plenty of food in the kitchen. Bathroom's back there. But don't leave the house. For one thing, the wards won't let you back in, and then there's always the chance someone might be watching."
Malfoy nodded. He looked tired and depressed.
"There are plenty of books if you feel like reading," Harry went on. "Hermione keeps nagging me to read them, but I haven't gotten around to it. There's a chess set over in the corner, although the pieces are impossible – never do what I tell them. Of course, I do usually lose, but still."
"Oh, just go, Potter. You're giving me a headache."
"Right, well, I'll be back this evening," Harry muttered, and left, closing the door rather more forcefully than necessary. Really, you'd think Malfoy could show some bloody gratitude.
Draco sighed when Potter left. On the one hand, he hadn't wanted Harry to leave. Harry talking, just being there, seemed to keep the shadows away. In the silence, he could feel them again. But it was also uncomfortable being here in Potter's house. He didn't know what to say or what to do, and Harry hovering around had been making him nervous.
Getting up, Draco wandered into the other rooms of the house. There wasn't much – bathroom, kitchen, and Potter's bedroom. Besides the living room, that was it. All rather untidy. Still, it was so much better than that miserable apartment he had been living in. This was comfortable and warm, filled with wonderful sunlight. Draco spent a long time leaning on a windowsill and staring outside. He made himself a sandwich and settled onto the sofa, picking up one of the books that were lying all over. As he flipped through the pages – some dull historical tome, full of footnotes, typical of Granger – it struck him that he was happier than he had been in…well, in a long, long time.
Too bad Potter had to come back, Draco mused, but then stopped. No. It wouldn't be the same without Potter. It wouldn't be so comfortably messy, the couch wouldn't be such a hideous colour, and Draco wouldn't be there. It was Harry who had brought him here. Harry, who appeared to be so genuinely concerned about Draco's life. And it was that, more than anything else, which was bringing these faint stirrings of happiness.
Arriving at the Ministry, Harry immediately began inquiring into the aberrations he had found in the records the evening before. The secretary, blushing, admitted to Harry that she had been looking up a potential boyfriend for her sister. They had suspected he might have been in trouble over some illegal enchantments in the past, which had proven to be the case. Harry sternly told her that those records were supposed to be confidential, although the secretary seemed too taken with staring at his scar and smiling at him to pay attention.
The International Muggle Cooperation Officer became very upset, grumbling about interfering young Aurors. He did, however, show Harry the lengthy report he had been preparing for a French conference and the section that needed the information he had looked up in the Auror archives. Harry apologised and beat a hasty retreat. That left just one person.
"So, Parvati, how are things going?" Harry asked, approaching Parvati with what felt like a lead weight in his stomach.
It was lunchtime, and several Aurors were sitting around the staffroom, chatting.
"Harry! I haven't talked with you in ages, it seems. Things are going pretty well. Padma and Justin are engaged, you know."
Harry offered his congratulations, feeling worse than ever over his suspicions. "So, any interesting cases?" he inquired casually.
Parvati laughed. "Nothing more exciting than some hexes gone wrong at a family gathering. Although I hear you're working on quite the case, Harry."
"How did you find out about that?" Hexes by embittered relatives seemed to have nothing to do with a convicted vampire. His heart sank.
"Oh everyone's talking about it, Harry."
"You weren't on the initial team that found him, were you?"
"No. Hinksley told me about it though, when he came back. Always trying to brag about the dangerous things he has to do." Parvati giggled. "Although it sounded like Malfoy was unconscious the whole time." She tossed her hair. "The Ministry should never have let him out of Azkaban."
Harry felt a flash of anger. "Voldemort practically forced him to join, Parvati, and then threatened his family to make him do things. He was just a kid, for Merlin's sake."
"I can't believe you're taking his side, Harry." Parvati shook her head. "He's a Death Eater."
"He was a Death Eater," Harry retorted, his anger increasing. "People should be given the chance to change."
Parvati snorted. "And you really think Malfoy will ever change? He was a slimy, Dark-Arts-loving git at Hogwarts, and he'll always be that way. It's people like him who supported Voldemort in the first place. People are dead because of him, Harry. And many of them were my friends. Our friends. I thought you, of all people, would hate the fact that Death Eaters are walking around free."
"Well, I guess you're wrong," Harry declared and stalked from the room.
"Parvati?" Ron stared at him in amazement. "Look, Harry, what she said certainly makes it clear that she doesn't like Malfoy, but that's not a crime. And I bet most of the people in this building would say the same things she did."
"But she could have been looking up Malfoy's file, instead of Vladimir Trestokov's, when she was in the archives. And she knew he was in St. Mungo's. Hinksley told her."
"Pretty thin evidence, Harry," Ron said skeptically.
The trouble was that Ron was right. It was very circumstantial evidence, certainly not enough to justify arresting and interrogating Parvati, which was all Harry could think of to do. Casual questioning had turned up all it was going to. Harry paced around Ron's office. The only other lead was the token, and that looked like another dead end. There was no mention of it in any other Auror report.
"So where is Malfoy, anyway?"
Harry paused. He trusted Ron, of course, but the Ministry wasn't the best place to be discussing this. Taking out his wand, Harry cast a spell against eavesdropping. "Is that really necessary?" Ron asked, looking surprised.
"Yes. I'm not taking any chances."
"Well, all right then, where are you hiding him?"
"He's at my place."
"What? He's in your house? He's a Death Eater, Harry!"
"He's a former Death Eater," Harry snapped and then stopped at the hurt look on Ron's face. Harry could hardly believe it. Here he was defending Malfoy. Again. But – "The alternative was sending him to Azkaban," he muttered.
"Well that seems a right better place than your house, Harry!"
"I couldn't send him back there, Ron. He's been there long enough already, and I think it…I think it hurt him pretty badly. Remember Sirius? I can't stand to see someone else with that horrible dead look in their eyes."
"He deserved it, Harry! He has the Dark Mark – he supported Voldemort!"
"He didn't really want to, I don't think. Not when he found out what it really meant."
"But what about Dumbledore? And who knows what horrible things he did afterwards!"
Harry thought about a boy crying in Myrtle's bathroom. A boy who didn't have any friends. "He only did that because he was frightened."
"So? We've – you've done lots of things even though you were terrified! It's not an excuse, Harry. It's not an excuse for trying to kill people."
Harry was silent for a few moments. "You're right," he admitted at last. "But Malfoy didn't have you and Hermione, like I did. He didn't have anyone who supported him, Ron, no one who encouraged him to be different."
Ron opened and closed his mouth. "I can't believe this, Harry. You standing up for Malfoy! I think it's a bad idea – him staying with you."
"Well, there's nowhere else for him, so you'll just have to get used to it. Anyway, it's only temporary – once I find whoever is behind this he can leave."
Harry stopped for takeaway before Apparating home that evening. It was weird to see lights on in the house when he arrived. It was weirder still to find Malfoy sitting on the couch, engrossed in a Quidditch magazine.
"I see you found the kitchen," Harry commented, staring at the plates and bowls piled up on the floor.
"You need to get yourself a house-elf, Potter."
"Afraid of sullying yourself with a little dishwater, Malfoy? Because I will not be doing your dishes for you."
"I'm perfectly capable of washing dishes, Potter. I just prefer not to."
"Well, too bad. I hope you like Chinese," he added, putting down the bag.
Malfoy attacked the food as though he hadn't eaten in weeks. Harry sat on the floor and watched him. "Looks like the Cannons are going to be last again." Harry nudged the magazine with his foot.
"Well, what do you expect with that abysmal offence? In game seven, against Wimbourne, they should have gone for a front and center attack instead of hanging around by the goalposts."
"But they did keep the score low," Harry argued. "Wimbourne has the top Chasers in the League, but they only made a few goals."
"And the Cannons made a lot fewer. It's obvious, Potter…"
Ten minutes later, they were both down on the carpet, using their chopsticks to diagram Quidditch moves. Harry kept feeling like he was in an alternate universe or something, sitting here, having an actual conversation with Malfoy. It was a lot nicer, he admitted to himself, than hexing each other.
"I think I ate too much," Malfoy groaned, looking at the empty cartons.
Harry grinned. "I think so too. Along with half my pantry, by the looks of it. You'll be getting fat if you don't watch it, Malfoy."
"Shut up, Potter. Just because you look like an underfed puppy doesn't mean we all have to."
Harry stood up and stretched. "Well, I'll leave you to do the dishes, Malfoy. A nice, hot shower sounds very appealing right now."
Malfoy grabbed Harry's robes. "Not so fast, Potter. If I do have to wash the dishes, you are going to dry them. And I'm only doing it because you have a wand and I don't," he added, heading for the kitchen. "Otherwise I'd hex you into next week for even suggesting it."
Harry picked up some plates. "You wish, Malfoy."
Potter disappeared into the bathroom after the dishes were done, and Draco heard the sounds of a shower running. A shower sounded wonderful. He always felt so foul nowadays, covered in potions ingredients that no amount of scrubbing seemed to get off. No wonder Snape's hair was always so greasy. A fresh change of clothes wouldn't go amiss either. But that would mean asking Potter for some of his, and Draco was loath to do that. Potter was already feeding him, sheltering him – it made him feel poorer and lower than ever. He had gotten used to wearing second-hand clothes and eating the cheapest brands, but having to depend on charity…It was too humiliating.
But you're nothing now, Draco. You have nothing, not even your pride. No money, no wand, no magic, no friends. How does it feel, Draco, to be all alone? No one would miss you if you died. No one would care.
"G-g-go away," Draco stammered. "I'm not nothing." The lights were going dim, and a cold wind seemed to be blowing.
Yes you are. You always have been. Your father pleaded with the Dark Lord to kill you instead of him, you know. He thought you were nothing.
"That's not true."
Of course it is.
Tears were running down his cheeks, but he couldn't stop them. Where was the lamp? Why was it so dark? He couldn't see, couldn't hear anything, except the darkness.
"Malfoy? You still awake out there?"
He sobbed with relief. Harry was here. He wasn't alone.
"Draco? I have some extra clothes if you want to borrow them. I'm a little shorter than you, but I think they'll fit okay."
Draco pulled himself to his feet, wiping at his eyes. The light was back; the shadows driven away. Potter came into the room, carrying a bundle of clothes. "You okay, Malfoy?"
Draco nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
"Oh, while I think of it…" Potter took something out of his pocket. "I found this in your apartment. Thought you might like to have it back."
It was his picture. His picture of when everything was perfect. Draco grabbed it eagerly from Potter's hands. The darkness couldn't ruin this. It might have infected all of his memories, but the picture was still clear. He stared at his mother and father. They had loved him. Hadn't they?
"I have an empty frame, if you want it," Potter was saying, quietly.
"I'll just keep it like this." He added 'thank you' before he could stop himself.
"Of course." Potter sounded startled but pleased, and looking up, Draco caught a smile on his face.
Draco lay on the couch later, covered by several blankets. He was staring up at the dark ceiling. Potter had disappeared into his bedroom, and the light under his door had gone out awhile ago. The couch was warm and soft, and sleep beckoned to him. Draco was fighting it, though. He knew what was waiting for him. The potion helped silence the shadows, but Potter had probably poured it all down the sink. He would be lucky if Potter didn't mention it to the Ministry. Potter didn't seem to have a drop of alcohol in the house, either. Draco had looked. Merlin, what was he, a bloody monk? He still couldn't believe he was really here. And that Potter and he had refrained from ripping out each other's throats.
Harry woke suddenly, jerking upright in the darkness. He fumbled for his glasses. Two in the morning. Something had woken him up. He listened intently, but there was only silence. He was about to lay down again, when he heard it – a muffled cry. Draco.
Harry leaped out of bed and rushed into the other room, wand at the ready. "Lumos," he cast and quickly looked around. No one was there, no one but Draco, who was tossing around on the couch. His hair was plastered to his sweaty forehead and he was shaking all over. "Draco, wake up!" Harry knelt down and shook Draco's shoulders. "It's only a dream!"
Draco's eyes snapped open. "Stay away!" he cried wildly, struggling to get out of the blankets. "Leave me alone!"
"It's me, Harry. You're safe." He grabbed Draco's arms. "Calm down."
Draco sagged limply in Harry's grip. "They won't go away," he whispered.
"The shadows. The darkness." Trembling, Draco shut his eyes. "Ever since Azkaban…They're always there, waiting for me."
Harry's heart constricted painfully in his chest. He smoothed Draco's sweaty hair away from his forehead. "But you're not in Azkaban anymore. You're safe."
"It doesn't matter," Draco whimpered, and tears began sliding down his nose. "I try to fight them, but I'm not strong enough." His breathing quickened and he stared past Harry's shoulder, his eyes wide and frightened.
"I won't let them get you."
Draco mutely shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut again.
Harry fumbled for one of Draco's hands and gripped it. After a moment, Draco gripped back.
"You're bleeding," Harry murmured, feeling something wet under his fingers. He drew Draco's arm up to the light. The Dark Mark was there, with red gashes across it, where Draco had dug his fingernails in.
"It burns, sometimes," Draco whispered.
"My scar does, too," Harry said gently. "But you can't let it make you hurt yourself. Come on, let's get that cleaned up."
He led Draco into the bathroom. Draco slumped against the sink, shivering, while Harry cleaned and bandaged his arm. "It's disgusting, isn't it?" Draco said. "And it will never go away." A note of hysteria intruded on his voice.
"But it doesn't mean anything, now."
Draco shook his head. "It's always going to be a mark of evil and hatred."
"Only if the people who have it continue to stand for those things. If they don't – if they turn away from everything Voldemort stood for – then it can never be terrifying again."
"It's easy for you." Draco finally focused – glared – at Harry. "You and your famous Gryffindor courage. I – I've always been scared – and – and weak." His eyes began to glaze over again.
Harry shook him. "That's what it wants you to think. The darkness. Don't listen to it."
"I try, but I'm not strong enough."
"You're strong," Harry insisted. "You didn't kill Dumbledore, did you?"
Draco hesitated. "Only because I was too afraid."
"No. Because you knew it was wrong. Look what happened to the Lestranges and Crouch in Azkaban. They came out more horrible and evil than ever, but you didn't." Harry reached out and brushed Draco's hair off his forehead again. "I wish you had never had to go there."
"You won't…Don't leave me alone."
"Of course not."
Draco woke up slowly. He was warm and comfortable. For a moment he couldn't remember anything, and then it came back to him. Last night. Falling apart like that in front of Harry, admitting he was a coward. He even seemed to remember Harry tucking him back in the blankets like he was seven years old.
Draco fell back into the pillows with a groan. It was so humiliating. Worst of all was that it had been wonderful to have someone reassure him that everything would be okay. And Harry had said he wouldn't leave Draco alone. In the bright light of morning, Draco felt that perhaps he could fight off the shadows, like Harry had said. But no…after Harry found whoever was trying to kill him, Draco would be packed off to some other miserable excuse for a life where he could spend the rest of his days hiding under a glamour, alone. After all, Harry had no reason to keep Draco around.
Staggering upright, Draco went into the bathroom. The house was silent. Harry must have already left for work. Draco stared into the mirror. What if he could break free from the past? What if the shadows did stop tormenting him? What then? His family was gone. Everything he had been taught to believe in was overthrown. The thought of spending the rest of his life cutting potions ingredients made him want to cry, but who would hire an ex-Death Eater? You're ours. Now and forever. You can never get rid of us.
No. Harry had said he had to fight them. He could change. But into what? What was he without his money, without the pride of the Malfoy name?
Harry was spending a fruitless morning. He kept worrying about Draco, unable to keep his mind on anything. He had hated to leave Draco alone that morning, but hadn't really wanted to be on hand when he woke up. It was so hard to reconcile his memories of him with what Draco was now, and the fact that Harry's hatred for him had evaporated somewhere along the way. He didn't know what he felt about Draco now. But he should have done something when Draco was sent to Azkaban. Told the Ministry about what he had heard on the tower, about how Draco was being forced to do Voldemort's bidding. He had never even bothered to find out what Draco had been doing since he was released. He'd had no idea how terrible Draco's life was.
Stomach churning with guilt, Harry finally grabbed his cloak and left. Maybe he hadn't done anything before, but he was certainly going to do something now. And since Parvati was his best lead, he would start with her.
Finding Parvati's address was simple and legal. What Harry planned next, however, was complicated and very definitely illegal. He only prayed that Parvati didn't decide to go home early.
Wearing his Invisibility Cloak, he cautiously approached her back door. Thankfully, it appeared that Parvati was not heavily into home security. She had put up only one simple ward, which Harry easily dismantled. The back door proved a little trickier. Alohomora didn't work, but Harry had spent last summer being tutored by Fred and George in the fine art of picking locks.
The house wasn't large, and it didn't take long for Harry to go through it. He began to feel better as each room revealed nothing which could connect Parvati to the attacks on Draco. The post was lying on a table in the hall – the Daily Prophet and an unsealed letter. Harry opened it.
Parvati – Justin picked it up this afternoon. Come by this evening. I'm making spaghetti, so plan to stay for dinner.
Harry remembered Parvati mentioning that Padma and Justin were engaged. Looking around the tidy house, Harry shook his head. Ron was right. He was insane to suspect Parvati. She and her sister and Justin were moving on with their lives. Parvati appeared happy, and she had a wonderful job at the Ministry. True, she disliked Draco, but he couldn't blame her for that. It didn't mean she was trying to kill him.
Draco was pacing around the living room when Harry got back. "Have you found them?" he snapped when Harry came in.
"Not yet," Harry said wearily, sinking onto the couch.
"So just how long am I going to be your prisoner here then, Potter? Months, years, while you bungle around?"
"I'm not bungling around," Harry retorted. "And you're not my prisoner."
"No? Well it certainly feels like it. At least before, I could go outside when I wanted to."
Harry took a deep breath. He shouldn't shout at Draco. He was beyond that now, and Draco didn't deserve it, but it was bloody difficult when Draco was being so bloody ungrateful.
"…cooped up in this house," Draco was going on. "You could have made it a little bigger, Potter. I suppose spending all that time in that cramped hovel of the Weasley's rubbed off on you."
Harry was on his feet. "That's rich, coming from you. Ron and his family have a home, and that's a lot more than some dingy flat full of drugs!" They glared at each other. "Remember, there's always a cell waiting for you in Azkaban. If you don't like it here, you can leave anytime you want!"
Draco paled, but he lifted his chin in the air. "I don't want to spend my whole life hiding. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I don't need you hovering over me all the time."
"You don't have a wand. You'd be helpless if you're attacked again." Harry scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Look, I promise I'm doing all I can to find these people. Can't you just stay here a little longer?"
"I'll go mad if I have to stay in this house one more second. Can't we go out somewhere?"
"It's too dangerous," Harry protested. "Our one advantage is that they don't know where you are."
"Well I don't see anyone hanging around in the bushes. Can't we just go outside for a minute?"
Reluctantly, Harry acquiesced. They went and stood in the yard. "There, happy?" Harry asked. "Can we go back in now?"
Draco gave him a cool look. "Is there a pub down in that village?"
"Yes, but we're not going there."
"Why not?" Draco started down the hill.
Harry ran after him and grabbed his sleeve. "Because it isn't safe!"
"You just said no one knows where I am, Potter. Anyway, you look like you could use a drink, and Merlin knows, I need one."
Draco was off again before Harry could say anything. Gritting his teeth, Harry hurried after him. "If you get killed," he warned, catching up, "it will not be my fault."
Harry wasn't sure, but he thought Malfoy sniggered. Bloody stubborn idiot!
"It's not bad," Draco commented, looking around. "For a Muggle establishment in some backwater village, that is. Perhaps if we were out in the light where I could actually see instead of in this pitch-black corner." He glared at Harry.
"We have less chance of being seen back here," Harry explained for the fifth time. "You've already made everyone suspicious by asking for a Firewhiskey."
"It's not my fault Muggles are too stupid to have real drinks."
"You're the one who wanted to come in the first place," Harry pointed out, which seemed to shut Draco up. After a few moments, though, he spoke again.
"Do you know-" Draco paused. "Do you know what happened to Greg? Gregory Goyle?"
"Uh, no," Harry admitted, feeling guilty again. "I can find out, though, if you want."
Draco nodded. "He wasn't really a friend. But…well, I guess I got used to having him around."
It was really quite nice, Draco reflected, sitting here with Harry, sharing a drink. He wasn't quite sure what Harry had ordered for him, but it didn't taste too bad. And it was warm, bright, and the shadows were nowhere near him.
Harry was fidgeting around, though. He kept peering over the back of his chair at the other patrons and looking pointedly at his watch. Draco sighed and finished his drink. He stood up. "We better go before you have a nervous breakdown." Harry looked relieved and put some of that strange Muggle money on the table.
Outside felt colder than ever after the warm pub. Draco shivered. Harry kept peering at the rooftops as they went down the street, so Draco was the first to see the figure. It was hooded and cloaked, just like the Death Eaters, and Draco felt a horrible flash of fear. But instead of a wand, it was holding some silvery piece of metal.
"There's someone…" Draco started to say, but Harry had already turned. There was a bang and suddenly Harry was yelling, "Get down!"
Draco landed on the ground with a heavy thud, Harry on top of him. "Stupefy!" Harry shouted, sending the spell towards the figure. Or, where the figure had been. Whoever it was had disappeared.
"Get behind me," Harry commanded.
"What was that thing they were holding?" Draco asked, getting to his feet.
"A gun. A Muggle weapon," Harry added when Draco looked confused. "Come on. The Muggles will have heard that; they'll be coming outside to see what's happening, and I'd rather not have to Obliviate the entire town. I just want to check one thing."
Harry went over to where the attacker had stood and bent down to the ground. Grimly, he showed Draco what he had picked up: another token. Draco heard doors opening down the street. Harry grabbed his arm, and they Apparated, appearing in front of Harry's house.
"See, I told you something like this would happen," Harry said, pulling him inside. "Lucky for us, whoever that was didn't know how to handle a gun. Shot right over our heads."
The rush of adrenaline was fading away, leaving Draco feeling weak and shaken. He sank down on the sofa. So close. Wouldn't you like to be with your mother and father, Draco? We'd love to have you join us.
"Why don't you just let them get me?" He poked dejectedly at a piece of stuffing. "It would be easier on both of us in the end."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Harry demanded, sounding angry.
"It means that no one is happy I'm alive, including myself, but I could make a lot of people happy by dying."
"Well you wouldn't make me happy."
Draco looked up at him. "Really?"
"Yes, really." Harry sat down next to Draco on the sofa. Reaching over he rubbed his thumb over Draco's cheekbone. "Dirt," he explained.
It was too much. "Don't do this to me," Draco snarled, jerking away.
Harry looked hurt. "Don't do what?"
"Don't pretend that you care about what happens to me. I know that as soon as you solve this case you'll go back to pretending I don't even exist."
"I wouldn't do that," Harry protested.
"No? Well what are you going to do then?"
Harry stared at him for a few moments. "I'm going to try to get your wand back," he said at last. "If you can protect yourself, you won't have to go into hiding again."
Privately, Draco doubted the Ministry would ever let him have a wand again, but felt a glimmer of happiness, nevertheless, that Harry thought he deserved to have it back.
"There's a pattern to the attacks," Harry told Ron. "Both times the attacker hasn't used magic. A Muggle bomb and a Muggle gun."
"An ironic form of justice, I suppose, for a Death Eater."
Harry nodded. "I snuck into Parvati's house yesterday," he continued, ignoring Ron's startled exclamation. "There was a letter from Padma, saying that Justin had picked up something. What if it was the gun? Justin's Muggle-born. He would know all about guns and could easily find out about bombs."
Ron raised his eyebrows. "So now Justin and Padma are in on it, too?"
"You could take this seriously."
"Sorry, Harry. But, they're Gryffindors. Well, Parvati is anyway, and Justin was in the DA. And Malfoy's just a, just a…"
"Just a what, Ron?"
"Well, saying that it is the twins and Justin, which I really doubt, but if it is…Harry, would you really arrest them and send them to Azkaban? They were on our side. They helped us defeat You-Know-Who. Would you turn them in for Malfoy?"
Would he turn in Parvati, Padma, and Justin for Draco? He remembered Justin introducing himself in Herbology. Dancing with Parvati at the Yule Ball. And Draco – capturing Harry for Umbridge, breaking Harry's nose at the beginning of sixth year. Draco, who had the Dark Mark, the sign of the man who had killed Harry's parents.
Slowly, Harry opened the door. Draco was asleep on the couch. Harry walked over to him. Draco's hair was falling in his eyes again. Harry brushed it to the side, and Draco stirred. He opened his eyes, blinking against the light.
"What did you wake me up for?" Draco demanded peevishly. "Contrary to popular opinion, the sight of you does not bring me tremendous joy. Unless, of course, you're here to tell me you've solved the case, which, given previous demonstrations of your abilities, I doubt."
Harry laughed. "Are you always so cheerful when you wake up?"
"I'll take that for a yes. Budge over." Draco grudgingly shifted to a sitting position and Harry collapsed next to him. It was lovely, here in the sun. He felt his eyes closing.
"Do you miss them?" Draco asked.
"Miss who?" Harry murmured.
"All the time."
"So do I. Do you think that's wrong? To miss people like that? Death Eaters?"
"I don't think so," Harry replied slowly.
"Do you know…do you know how they died?"
Harry sat up and looked at Draco.
"It's just that, sometimes, in my head," Draco faltered, avoiding Harry's gaze. "They say my mother went insane and was tortured. And that my father told the Dark Lord to kill me, instead of him," he finished in a rush.
"Do you believe that?"
"I don't want to," Draco said softly.
Harry sighed. "I don't know how they died. Voldemort killed them, or other Death Eaters did, but that's all the information we have. But, if you would like…I know where they're buried."
Draco was silent for a few moments. "Can I go see them?"
There weren't any headstones, just numbers, stuck in the ground. "You're sure these are the right ones?" Draco asked Harry, who nodded.
It was a barren plot of land, surrounded by a rickety fence. Snow covered everything, and the wind was blowing. Slowly, Draco knelt down at the foot of the graves. "We have a family cemetery. It goes back centuries. Elaborate graves, of course. Some have these horrible stone cherubs on them. One headstone is at least ten feet high – I think it was some warlord from the twelfth century or something…" Realizing he was babbling, Draco fell silent. Harry stood quietly behind him.
He knelt there, his knees becoming colder and colder. He didn't know how long he would have stayed there in the snow, except suddenly there was a voice behind him.
"Out of the way, Harry."
Draco turned. A woman was standing there, her wand pointed at him.
"Parvati," Harry acknowledged, sounding resigned. "So it was you. How did you find us?"
"Never mind that. Get out of my way, Harry."
Harry didn't move. "Are Justin and Padma in on it, too, then?"
"Yes," Parvati affirmed. "I knew you were getting suspicious, Harry. Justin kept insisting we use Muggle methods, but I managed to convince them today that we needed to finish this thing now. By the way, thanks for leaving your house, Harry. Those wards would have kept me out for quite awhile."
"Why?" Harry sounded sad.
"Why?" Parvati repeated, surprised. "I thought that would have been obvious. It's like I said the other day. Having Death Eaters wandering around is dangerous. Pretty soon we'll have a new Dark Lord on our hands. Now stand aside, Harry."
Draco was still kneeling in the snow. He felt numb. This was it.
"No." Harry stepped forward, completely shielding Draco.
"Don't worry, Harry," Parvati said impatiently. "You aren't going to be blamed for this. I have it all figured out. After I kill him, I'll stun you. You can say they came from behind and you never saw who it was."
"I'm not going to let you kill him, Parvati. Now give me your wand."
Parvati laughed. "Oh, stop it, Harry. I know you hate him as much as I do."
"I don't hate him." Harry took a step toward her and Parvati raised her wand a little higher. Harry stopped, but continued talking. "This is exactly why I fought Voldemort, Parvati. So the hatred and the killing would stop. You can't do this. Please don't do this."
"Get out of the way, Harry," Parvati ordered, raising her voice. "If you don't get out of the way, I'll – "
Whatever she would do, Draco never found out. Harry moved fast. He hit Parvati in the legs, carrying her to the ground. Parvati shouted hexes, but Harry had her wand hand in a firm grip. Slowly, he wrenched it away from her. "Stupefy!" he shouted. Parvati went rigid.
Breathing hard, Harry stood up. He went over to Draco and gave him his hand, pulling him to his feet.
"You okay?" Harry asked. Draco nodded. "I have to get her to headquarters, and then dispatch a team to pick up Padma and Justin."
"You're really going to turn them in?"
"Yes. They broke the law. We can't let them run around, trying to kill people."
"And… is that the only reason?"
Harry studied Draco for a moment. "I'm doing this because you deserve a chance at life. And it's going to be a chance free from the echoes of Azkaban and isolation from the wizarding world, if I have anything to say about it." He smiled. "Anyway, you've become something of a permanent fixture in my living room."
Perhaps, Draco thought, he did have a chance at defeating the past.
Harry looked down at Parvati, lying in the snow. He felt tired and sad, as though he had just lost instead of won. Wouldn't it ever end? Then he looked back at Draco. Draco looked cold and somewhat dazed, as if he didn't believe what had just happened. Harry wasn't sure he did, either. Even if he didn't hate Draco anymore, he still didn't really like him. He felt so raw and nervous around Draco. But he didn't regret what he had just done. Maybe it was time to make sure the hatred and pain of the past really was gone. Harry held out his hand. "I know we can't go back in time, but maybe we can try again."
Draco stared at him. Then, slowly, he shook Harry's hand.
"Friends?" Harry asked.
"Friends," Draco agreed. Harry grinned, and Draco gave him a tentative smile back. It was the first time Harry had ever seen Draco really smile, instead of his usual malicious sneer. It made him look nicer, less pinched and pale.
Harry turned back to Parvati and levitated her into the air. There was going to be an amazing uproar about all of this, he knew, and an uphill fight ahead. Harry shot a sidelong glance at Draco, who was looking back into the graveyard, the smile gone from his face. Harry wanted very much, he realised, to see it back again.
"As the essence of courage is to stake one's life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that the possibility exists."