Harry's head jerked up of its own accord as the sound of the doorbell reached his ears. He stared around at the living room, still disoriented from sleeping, and glanced at the clock. It read eleven-thirty. Who came to visit at this hour? With a sigh, Harry stood up and heard several cracks from his joints as he stretched out of the position he'd been occupying for the past ninety minutes.
The doorbell chimed once more, persistently. Harry reached for the handle impatiently, wondering who the hell could be on the other side, and resenting the fact that he'd been woken up from some much-needed sleep. When he pulled the door open, he noticed two things: one, that Hermione was standing outside, with three or four other figures standing around behind her; and two, that it had begun to rain sometime in the past hour.
Hermione's look of relief when she saw him made Harry intensely curious. She hadn't given that expression since finding out she'd been accepted into the Ministry's Wizengamot programme, and even then, it had only lasted a couple of seconds. This one lasted for as long as she stood on his doorstep, and only vaguely faded away when he invited her and her companions in.
"I'm sorry to just drop in on you like this, Harry," she said apologetically, stepping inside and casting a couple of drying charms at herself. She turned back to the four people who'd arrived with her, and said in an authoritative voice, "Jones, Connor, you two stay outside and keep watch."
The two who were furthermost from Harry's doorway nodded and settled into twin attentive stances. Harry glanced back at Hermione, who shrugged and moved further into the narrow hall in order to let the other two cloaked figures in. One, he saw, was Nathaniel Winters, a colleague of Hermione's, but the other refused to remove the hood of his cloak, and Harry couldn't see his face.
Glancing uneasily at this newcomer, Harry ushered them all into the living room, closing the front door on Jones and Connor, who were still vigilantly keeping guard out in the rain. Just before the latch clicked into place, Harry saw them both relax and spark up a cigarette each; then the door closed properly and he shrugged and followed Hermione and the others into his living room.
They'd made themselves comfortable in his absence; someone had conjured up four mugs of tea, and one remained on the table, steaming gently, while Hermione and the one whose face was still masked were looking slightly more relaxed on his sofa. Winters stood over by the window, sipping from a blue mug, and the sounds of his slurping filled the otherwise silent room.
"So," Harry said, taking a drink of his tea. It was pleasantly warm and sweet, with a hint of some herb or other – he was no seasoned Herbologist, so he had no idea exactly which herb it was. "What was it you wanted, Hermione?" he added, looking at her questioningly.
She settled more comfortably in her seat, though the movement seemed forced and agitated to Harry. Putting her cup onto the coffee table, Hermione hesitated, and Harry was instantly suspicious. Hermione Granger did not hesitate.
"Harry, I didn't know what else to do," she said, fidgeting with her wand. "It was just … he arrived at the Ministry and demanded –"
Harry held up the hand that wasn't busy holding his wand. "Wait," he said, interrupting because Hermione had a tendency to speak in half-sentences and expect you to under stand her completely. "Who arrived at the Ministry?"
At this point, Hermione's shoulders sagged and she bit her lip indecisively; then she nudged the still-unmasked person next to her, and a pair of slim, pale hands extracted themselves from the robe sleeves and pushed the hood of the cloak back.
"Hermione," he said faintly. "What the hell is Draco Malfoy doing in my living room?"
And indeed, there he was. Tall, pale, sneering Draco Malfoy sitting on the threadbare couch, looking exactly as he had at Hogwarts. He was remarkably relaxed for someone who was wanted by the Ministry, and who was currently surrounded by six or seven of its employees.
Harry was instantly on his feet. He didn't waste time with his wand – he launched himself forward and put his hands to Malfoy's throat, squeezing viciously. There was a second in which Hermione and Winters did nothing but stare at the scene; and all Harry could see was Dumbledore falling in a blaze of green light over and over again; and the only reality that existed was one where he slowly but surely crushed the life out of Draco Malfoy. His hands tightened even further; Malfoy's face turned a pleasing shade of purple.
You killed him, you bastard, Harry thought, and the words came out – in Parseltongue, though he didn't realise this until the desperate fear on Malfoy's face changed to outright shock and he stopped struggling.
Then suddenly, hands were grabbing at Harry's shoulders, pulling him back, dragging him back to the real world, and he let go of Malfoy's throat, throwing him back with disgust. Malfoy immediately sucked in a couple of gasping breaths. Harry's breathing was completely even by comparison, and it was that, more than anything, that made him realise he could've done it. He could've killed Malfoy with his bare hands – and he would've smiled while he was doing it.
He would've deserved it, he thought darkly. And then he stopped.
What the fuck were you doing? A rather more hysterical voice had spoken up and was now drowning out the intense, animalistic rage that had enveloped him.
He was aware that Hermione was staring at him with undisguised horror; she had never seen him this angry, never saw how he had dealt with those on the Dark Side during the war, and now she was shocked. Winters looked uneasy, and his wand was out, though he didn't know whether to aim at Harry or Malfoy, if the wavering wand-tip was anything to go by. And Malfoy …
Malfoy looked impressed.
Which made Harry shudder and want to curl up in a corner somewhere, and fervently ignore the evil little voice in the back of his head that kept saying the world would be a better place with one less Malfoy in it. It was harder than he thought it would be.
Harry collapsed in his chair feeling decidedly ill. To think he could have – would have … he slammed the brakes on that particular thought immediately. His anger had subsided now, going as quickly as it had come, and he still wasn't sure what had made it flare up inside him like that in the first place. Ever since the end of the war, since he'd defeated Voldemort, Harry had felt as though he was always living on the edge, that his moods were continually swinging towards the extremes, the slightest thing able to set him off. He supposed it was partly to do with engaging in battle so young, and probably also because he was still quite young; at nearly twenty-two and with his history, he wouldn't be surprised if he had a mental age of fifteen still.
The silence in the living room was now almost unbearable. The other three were still staring at him: shocked, uneasy, impressed. He could stare down Winters, no problem, and Hermione would probably back down eventually, but Harry had a feeling Malfoy's gaze wouldn't be so easy to get rid of.
"Well?" he said finally, his voice quiet. The sound seemed shockingly loud in the room nonetheless.
Hermione was the first to recover; she put her wand away, took her seat again and attempted to act normal. Winters followed her actions after a moment's hesitation. Malfoy was still staring at Harry, who glared at him darkly and then pretended not to notice.
"Malfoy's here because he –" Hermione began, but Malfoy cut across her.
"I need your help, Potter," he said bluntly.
Whatever Harry had been expecting him to say, it definitely wasn't this. He stared at Malfoy with almost comic disbelief, and said, "What?"
Malfoy scowled. "I said –"
"I know what you said," Harry interrupted. "What the hell are you talking about, Malfoy? Why would you need my help? Last I heard, we we're on different sides."
"We're not in the middle of a war anymore, Potter."
"Doesn't matter. There's still a load of your kind running around somewhere."
Malfoy looked very frustrated as he said, "My -? Oh." He caught on very quickly. "I see."
Before anyone could say anything more, Hermione held up her hand. "I think it's probably worth hearing what he has to say, Harry," she said levelly. "Then we can decide what to do with him." Her voice was heavy with purpose.
"Fine," Harry shrugged. Then he turned to Malfoy. "Go on then," he said sharply. "Talk."
The look on Malfoy's face was enough to tell Harry that ordering him about wasn't the best way to get some answers, but Harry was past caring. It had just gone midnight, and by looks of things, he wouldn't be getting any sleep anytime soon. He slid down further in his seat as Malfoy began to speak.
It turned out that the Death Eaters were, despite Ministry efforts, still up and running, though without a leader to direct them, they were like so many wandering sheep. However, several of the remaining Death Eaters were fighting among themselves for supremacy throughout their ranks – to become the next Dark Lord, as it were. Malfoy's parents had recently been killed by a couple of Death Eaters who'd decided it was the Malfoys' fault that Voldemort had been destroyed, so Malfoy had left them for good.
So he says, Harry thought to himself.
"But it's Julius Nott and what's left of the Lestranges in charge now," Malfoy informed them. "And they're all powerful enough to take over where the Dark Lord left off. They'll probably be successful as well," he added, "none of them care enough about you, Potter, to get distracted by wanting to kill you."
Harry snorted, but said nothing. Malfoy was probably right: Voldemort had failed because he cared too much about getting revenge on a teenage boy. Nott and the Lestranges wouldn't mess about with petty vengeance; they'd kill him outright, before he had a chance to defend himself. So Malfoy was telling at least part of the truth. That didn't mean Harry had to like it. Although he was slightly daunted by the fact that Malfoy had travelled all the way from Aylesbury – wherever the hell that was – on a broom that wasn't meant for flying long distances, with several Lestrange-induced injuries, and even managing to survive crashing when the exhaustion got too much.
Harry quickly shoved the vague awe down and pretended Malfoy hadn't done anything he couldn't do, and do better. He did, however, want to know what any of this had to do with him; if it was just a matter of selling out his former associates, then why had Hermione brought Malfoy here and not to the head of the Auror department?
"Okay, Malfoy," he said eventually, when the blond seemed to have finished his story. "This is all very nice and everything, but why do you need my help?"
Malfoy shot him an annoyed look. "I was coming to that," he shot back and then took a deep breath. His face, Harry noted, had paled considerably, and he no longer looked cocky and sure of himself. There were beads of sweat on his pale forehead as well. Harry shot a quick glance at Hermione, only to find that she'd already noticed the change.
"Malfoy," she said quietly. Her voice was far too gentle for Harry's liking, and he narrowed his eyes at her. Malfoy looked up at her, noticeably wincing. "Are you alright?" Hermione continued.
"O-of course I'm alright," Malfoy tried to snap at her, but neither Harry, Hermione nor Winters missed the slight waver in his voice. "I don't need your help, Mudblood!" he added with a sneer.
The slur was one step too far. Harry leapt forward in his seat, so that he and Malfoy were barely inches apart. They glared at each other fiercely.
"Don't," Harry said softly, his voice like ice, "speak to her like that. I'm warning you."
If he'd been expecting Malfoy to say anything, he was sorely disappointed. The blond rolled his eyes and remained silent. But his eyes didn't stop rolling; they carried on going until all Harry could see were the whites. He blinked, and then noticed that Malfoy's face had gone oddly slack and that he was shaking slightly.
Harry got as far as the "Wha –" in "What the hell?" before he was pushed aside by an alarmed Hermione, who was joined immediately by Winters.
"He's going into shock," Hermione said quickly. "His injuries must be worse than he said."
Before she'd even finished her sentence, Winters had his wand out and was running it over Malfoy's trembling body, assessing the damage. Harry watched them, efficient for all their anxiety, and then glanced back at Malfoy's ashen face. He'd never seen Malfoy do anything other than sneer or scowl or smile unpleasantly, so the sight of his face devoid of any emotion caught Harry by surprise. And then, when Hermione or Winters muttered a spell to stop the shaking, Malfoy looked so still and corpse-like that Harry shuddered, nauseated, and had to look away.
Two minutes later, Winters announced, in an uneasy voice, that Malfoy had three broken ribs, a broken ankle, a cracked wrist, and a hairline fracture to his skull. "Probably caused by his crash," Winters suggested. "He could have some damage, concussion at the very least. There's a couple of infected wounds as well. Nothing too serious, if we catch them in time."
Harry glanced at Hermione, who seemed to be thinking hard. "Why didn't anyone heal him before he got here?" he asked, his voice strained. Blood he could deal with, broken bones he could deal with, but head injuries and seizures made his stomach turn. And for no reason Harry could think of; he'd seen plenty of the former two in his life, surely they would affect him more than wounds he couldn't see.
"He refused any medical attention until he'd seen you," Hermione sighed, wishing she'd insisted that Malfoy get checked out instead of going straight to Harry's.
"Know any healing charms?" Harry asked, running a hand through his hair distractedly. "I only know the basics."
"I think you're the last person to suggest a healing charm, Potter." Winters glanced up and fixed Harry with a sneer.
"I think you can fuck right off, Winters," Harry retorted without thinking. At Hermione's impatient tutting, he turned to her and said, "Well have you got any better ideas?"
"Childish bickering is not the solution, Harry," she snapped. "We need to get Malfoy to St Mungo's before he …he – I don't know, goes into a coma or something!"
"Look, just put a stasis spell on him, then we can decide what to do." Winters' suggestion was met with relief from Hermione, grudging acceptance from Harry. When Hermione nodded, Winters performed a complicated pattern with his wand; a ray of sky-blue light hovered in the air inches above Malfoy's chest, then it slowly sank into the cloth of his robes and disappeared from sight.
"There," Winters said in a satisfied voice. "Now we've got about an hour until the spell starts to have negative damage on his body. Right now, we need to decide a few things."
"What things?" Hermione asked sharply. "The only thing we need to do right now is get Malfoy to St Mungo's. There's nothing we can do until then."
"He's a wanted criminal, Hermione!" Winters argued. "Once the Ministry find out we have him in our custody, they won't wait to throw him in Azkaban. I don't blame them," he added, sending a venomous look in Malfoy's direction.
"Oh, for heaven's sake! He's on the verge of death and you want to condemn him to jail! Harry, tell him this is insane … Harry?"
Harry had tuned out of the conversation after that blue light had hidden itself in Malfoy's prone form. He'd seen dead bodies before, but none had ever looked this … well, dead. It unnerved him horribly, but he couldn't seem to look away, even though Malfoy's face had taken on a bluish hue, and his chest wasn't rising and falling as it should have been. He shivered, and then noticed Hermione and Winters staring at him.
"What?" he said self-consciously.
"We're trying to decide what to do about Malfoy," Hermione said slowly. "Harry, is there something wrong?" she added as Harry's eyes drifted back to the figure on the couch.
"Can we go somewhere else?" Harry blurted out. "I can't look at him when he's like that." Nobody needed to ask who he was talking about.
They moved into the kitchen in silence; once they'd taken their seats, Hermione launched into the reasons why Malfoy had to go to St Mungo's before anything else. Winters didn't agree; he wanted to go straight to the Ministry, tell them about Malfoy, and then heal his injuries. Maybe.
"What do you think?" he asked Harry, who still seemed somewhat distracted by the unconscious body in his living room.
"Oh, I don't know," Harry replied, resting his chin on his hand in thought. "It's a bit cruel to let him suffer … On the other hand, this is Malfoy we're talking about. He could do with a bit of suffering. God knows he's been the cause of enough."
"That's not the point!" Hermione said in exasperation. "I don't care what he's done, I care about what he might do. If we don't heal him, if we hand him over to the Aurors right now, he'll go straight to Azkaban."
"So?" said Winters unconcernedly. Harry had to agree with him. He looked at Hermione, wondering why she cared so much about saving Malfoy's life when the arrogant bastard couldn't give a damn if she died tomorrow.
"I don't know if either of you know this," she said, clearly making an effort to be calm in the face of their indifference, "but the Ministry is in desperate need of people to infiltrate the last of the Death Eater camps so they can find out who's still walking free." The looks on both Winters and Harry's faces showed they didn't know this, but Hermione didn't stop to elaborate further. "If we can get Malfoy to work for us, he can spill all their secrets. I mean, he's already told us that the Lestranges and Nott are running around, trying to take over where Voldemort left off, hasn't he? Think how much use he can be if he's on our side."
"Look, I can see your point, Hermione," Winters admitted grudgingly, "but exchanging information doesn't change what he is – a goddamn Death Eater, through and through! Think of all the things that family's done, all the people Lucius Malfoy tortured and killed during both wars. And he let all those Death Eaters into Hogwarts in your sixth year, right? Look how that turned out!"
"Malfoy isn't his father," Hermione said quietly. At the looks on Harry's and Winters' faces, she shrugged. "Well he's not. He might be an arrogant little prat but he's willing to help us, and that should count for something. Besides, someone has to be the voice of reason around here."
"I really can't believe I'm saying this," Harry said to Winters, grimacing, "but she's right. If we help Malfoy, he might be able to help us in the long run."
"Fine." A muscle twitched in Winters' jaw, but otherwise he remained impassive. "But we can't take him to St. Mungo's if we're planning to keep him safe 'til after he spills the beans on his old pals. All Healers have orders to report known criminals and Death Eaters to the Ministry, patient confidentiality be damned."
"And what are you planning to do with him afterwards?" Harry asked suddenly. "I doubt anyone on the Wizengamot will wait to hear his story before sentencing him to life imprisonment, or something."
"Well, we'll figure that out when we come to it," Hermione said, clearly trying not to think that far ahead.
"I'm more concerned with what we're going to do with him now," Winters grumbled. "Since St. Mungo's is out of the question."
"And there are no safe-houses still in operation," Hermione murmured, almost to herself. "Short of putting him up in my office – and that would not be a good move right now – I think this is about the only place he can stay until we've got a case for the Wizengamot."
"Here? You want him to stay here?" Harry said incredulously. "Hermione, you … you can't be serious?"
"Well, where else do you suggest?"
But Harry wasn't having any of this. He stood up, pacing the room restlessly, almost swelling with anger. He was not, under any circumstances, letting Malfoy stay in his house. It wasn't just the years of enmity between them, or the fact that Malfoy was the most arrogant shit to ever grace the planet; no, it was the sight of Dumbledore falling in a graceful arc to the bottom of the Astronomy Tower that made Harry's blood boil. If he could get away with it – and maybe even if he couldn't – he'd have no problem using an Unforgivable on Malfoy.
And it didn't even help that keeping him out of Azkaban could help them get the rest of the Death Eater horde banged up in prison. The thought was like bile in Harry's throat – Malfoy didn't deserve to walk free, no matter how many secrets he spilled or old friends he stitched up.
A hand on his arm stopped Harry's furious pacing. He glanced around to find Hermione staring up at him, brown eyes full of concern, apology, and that steely glint she got when she was about to make you do something, even if you absolutely did not want to do it.
"Harry," she said softly, "there's nowhere else for Malfoy to go. If he hadn't asked for you personally –"
"He what?" Harry cut in sharply, hardly able to believe his ears.
"Asked for you personally," Winters echoed, sneering. "Reckon he's hoping for a bit of amnesty, courtesy of the Chosen One?"
In one fluid motion, Harry had his wand pressed against the other man's throat. "If you don't shut your fucking mouth, Winters, I'm going to kick your teeth out through your arse."
"Harry, this really isn't helping!" Hermione snapped. "Nathaniel, get back in there and check on Malfoy, will you? And you," she added, turning on Harry with narrowed eyes, "you'd better get your temper under control before it gets you into trouble."
"That man is a complete tosser, Hermione," Harry said defensively, as the kitchen door swung shut behind her colleague. "If I didn't have Malfoy unconscious in my living room, I'd swear he'd Polyjuiced himself into Winters' double!"
"Be that as it may," Hermione said, lips twitching a bit as she fought not to laugh. "I would never have brought him here if he hadn't asked for you. I know how much you hate each other, and having him stay here is probably not good for his health or yours. But we have no other choice. The Ministry can't know he's walking free yet, and all the safe houses are being used to protect our spies and the families of all the top Ministry members. You, Nathaniel and I are the only ones who know he's even still alive right now, and I'd like to keep it that way long enough to find a way to get rid of the remaining Death Eaters."
There was no defence against her logic, much as Harry might resent it, and the only thing he could think to say was, "But why can't you have him?"
"Oh, yes, take him to my house, where I live with the most quick-tempered man in the world," she said sarcastically. "Yes, I can see Ron being absolutely thrilled at having to share the place with Malfoy."
"You know," Harry said crossly, "sarcasm isn't making me like this idea any better."
"Well, reasoning with you doesn't seem to work," Hermione said with small smile, and turned to leave the kitchen, but Harry grabbed her arm before she could open the door.
"Why are you really doing this? Honestly?" he asked quietly.
She looked at him thoughtfully for a second. "Honestly," she said, "it's because I keep remembering that night at Malfoy Manor. He had nothing to gain by pretending he didn't recognise us, and yet he refused to tell the rest of those Death Eaters who we were."
"But you still ended up getting tortured anyway!"
"Yes. But it's the thought that counts."
When Hermione and her compatriots had gone – after depositing Malfoy in the spare bedroom and a second cup of tea – Harry dropped wearily onto the couch, Banishing the empty mugs to the kitchen with a wave of his wand. He rubbed his eyes tiredly, then glanced over at the clock above the fireplace to check the time. Quarter to two. Christ. Just as well he didn't have Auror training tomorrow.
Bloody Malfoy … Winters had taken off the stasis spell while he and Hermione were still in the kitchen, and the git hadn't even had the decency to wake up after it was removed. He was still waxy and breathing shallowly by the time Harry had gone back into the living room, and all Hermione had been able to come up with in order to keep him alive in the short-term was a couple of charms to mend his broken bones, a quick spell to alleviate the concussion, and a sleeping potion to make sure Malfoy got the rest and relaxation he needed in order to recover.
"It should wear off in about eight hours," she'd informed Harry as she wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and prepared to leave. "Make sure he wakes up once it does, and if he doesn't, Floo me at the Ministry immediately. Oh, and it might be a good idea to read up on healing charms, as well. We can't get a Healer to see him until he's told us everything he knows, and goodness knows when that'll be, so it's best to be prepared for … well, for anything."
And with that, she'd kissed him on the cheek, motioned for Winters, Jones and Connor to follow her, and, once they were at the Apparition point fifty feet from Harry's house, had disappeared with a sharp crack.
With a groan, Harry dragged himself off the couch and traipsed up the stairs, yawning widely as he stopped outside the spare room and debated whether to check in on Malfoy or not. Figuring it'd be a poor lookout if Malfoy died in his sleep in Harry's own house, he turned the handle and pushed the door open.
Malfoy was laid exactly as Jones and Connor had left him – sprawled on his back, girlishly long hair fanning across the pillow, eyelids fluttering every now and then in REM sleep. The blankets were pulled up to his chin, reminding Harry of the covers people placed over dead bodies when they were pulled from the scenes of accidents, lowering them only so the family could identify the corpse.
God, Harry, morbid much? he thought to himself, and left the room.