Title: Embittered Battles

Rating: Eventually M. Currently PG-13 (currently rated for language)

Fandom: Harry Potter

Part: One of Two

Pairing: This chapter is pre-slash. The next segment will be Draco/Harry. Also Ron/Hermione

A/N: I've tried to create a half-way believable Malfoy-as-Auror fic, which will eventually be slash. It is pro Ron and Hermione as characters.

Summary: Harry, Ron and Hermione are stunned when it is revealed that as part of an obscure Magical Reparations law, Malfoy is indentured as an Auror for the next ten years. They're even more stunned when Malfoy and Harry are forced to act as partners, not merely for training, but for the insidious plots of Dark Wizards, and gradually an understanding develops. Slash

Hermione rolled her shoulders and stared out the window. In front of her was a blank sheet of paper, and an already dipped quill, but for the first time since she had joined the office she didn't feel like paperwork. Sighing she leaned over and picked up the letter which was worrying her, and read through it for the thirtieth time.

Dear Miss Granger,

We are pleased to tell you that your application to be an Auror has been accepted, and that you scored 160 on the written test, and 130 on the practical. Please report to the Aurors head office in Enforcement Block 3 tomorrow. Thank you.

It was signed by the Selection committee and beneath it in vibrant purple ink Kingsley Shacklebolt had scrawled, Congratulations Hermione! She smiled, but it faded from her face, as the sober thoughts came rushing back. She had succeeded true enough. She'd have been lying if she hadn't thought it was likely, apart from Harry she was probably the most equipped witch or wizard of her generation with knowledge of the Dark Arts, and practical application of prevention. It wasn't her she was worrying about though, or Harry. It was Ron. What would happen if both she and Harry had been accepted and Ron hadn't? She didn't know if they'd received the news yet, and that worried her. Harry wouldn't think it was anything to bother about especially- just like she'd stayed at her desk, but Ron... the thought trailed off. Ron would have been here instantly, jubilant or at least sent a memo. She sighed then made a decision. Getting up, she took a tiny pinch of Floo powder from the jar- no more than she needed since they were charged by the gram, and threw it into the fire. "Office 1031," she ordered.

Harry looked up as the fire turned green for a moment to warn of an entry, then spat out a slightly singed witch. "Hermione," he greeted, and hurried to give her a hand up. "Did you get your letter?" he asked. She nodded, letting her smile speak for itself. He returned it. "Enforcement Block 3?"

"Yes. You?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I'm pretty pleased. It'll be good to get out of this office." The Ministry required applicants to the Auror force to spend a year in a desk job at the Ministry, while they were being tested. Harry had been assigned to Archives, Hermione to Magical Law and Ron surprisingly to the Control of Magical Creatures department. All three of them, used to constant action for the last couple of years had champed at the bit to be doing something more action flavoured. Harry down in the extensive Archives section, swore there was a conspiracy to keep him away from anything interesting.

"Have you heard from Ron?" She blurted out.

Harry looked at her, grin fading. "No," he murmured. "Do you think we should go find him?"

"No need," a voice from near the doorway interrupted. They turned round instantly, feeling obscurely judged. It was obvious from Ron's face that the news wasn't good. He was the sheet white he sometimes went from pure rage, and the hand holding his crumpled letter was shaking slightly. "Enforcement Block 7," he ground out. Harry and Hermione looked at each other in puzzlement. 

They'd researched the job a bit, but neither of them knew what Ron was talking about. "It's a nightmare," Ron spat bitterly. He glared at them, and they could all feel what he wanted to say, and was itching to shout at them. Out of respect for their friendship he was keeping it in, but it was obvious what he was thinking. The Boy Who Lived and the Girl who Studied had done it again, and he was left by the wayside.

"Ron," Harry said gently. "What's Enforcement Block 7?"

Ron stared at him as though he'd forgotten that he was there. "People who fail the Auror exam, can sometimes get seconded to Magical Law Enforcement. They can take the exam again after five years."

"But that's a pretty good job," said Hermione quite bewildered.

"It's not what I want!" shouted Ron with frustration evident in his voice. He glared at them both, "it's bloody rigged. You know who got in? Malfoy! How do you explain that?"

Hermione's mouth dropped open. "Malfoy? How on earth?"

"Precisely," said Ron, and all the anger seemed to go out of him suddenly. "I've got to go tell Mum and Dad," he said quietly. Then he looked at them both, and tried to smile. "Congratulations." He backed through the door and was gone. Harry and Hermione stared at each other opened mouthed, thinking exactly the same thing. Malfoy?

"I'm going to ask the Minister," Harry said firmly. "They can't let Malfoy in, and keep Ron out." Hermione nodded fiercely, and they took the lift to Kingsley's office. There were a couple of other people waiting there, both of who they recognised from the Auror tests, both with tense unhappy looking faces. They were shown in together, and reappeared only minutes later, looking even worse. Harry and Hermione let themselves be scanned- purely a formality, and then were shown in. Kingsley was sitting at the desk, writing furiously. When he saw who it was, he smiled.

"Congratulations," he said cheerfully. "Excellent results both of you. The examiners were unanimous. Now what can I do for you?"

Hermione spoke first, and her voice quavered a bit, she didn't want a reputation as a troublemaker even before the first day, but this was important. "We wanted to ask about Ron."

Kingsley's smile faded. "Miss Granger I cannot divulge other candidates performance reports. I'm sure you understand that. If Mr Weasley was rejected for full Auror training, I cannot say why."

Harry broke in. "But why Malfoy?" he asked. "How on earth could Malfoy be better than Ron? At least Ron won't be a threat to the department."

"Ah. I wondered when this would come up," Kingsley said quietly. He gestured towards the chairs, and both of them sat. "I will only explain this once Mr Potter. Have you ever heard of the Neutralisation and Reparation Act?"

Harry shook his head, not surprised when Hermione started talking. "That hasn't been used in over two hundred years Minister!" She turned to Harry. "It's very complex, but the upshot is that the Ministry may in certain cases require the services of an individual who is implicated in crimes, yet has not enough evidence against them for Azkaban. They don't use it anymore since the Regulations concerning Unbreakable Vows were created, which forbid one to be extracted from the unwilling. Which means... Malfoy must have given his willingly. Why on earth would he do that if there is not enough evidence against him for Azkaban? And why would you want Malfoy to work for you?"

"Very good Miss Granger. Mr Malfoy has indeed volunteered his Unbreakable Vow." His eyes slid towards Harry. "I assure you Mr Potter, the finest magical law experts have assessed the words for loopholes and certified it watertight. As to why, we may not have enough evidence against Mr Malfoy, but his father is already in Azkaban, and his mother looks ready to join him. Mr Malfoy offered his services for a minimum of ten years, in order that she be allowed to live out the rest of her remaining life in peace. I assure you it was in the Ministry's best interests to accept. Mr Malfoy was an excellent candidate with the required examination grades, and good practical knowledge. 

And in case you think he is getting off too easily, I assure you that the life of a Malfoy within the Ministry Auror department will be neither easy nor enjoyable. In fact I look to both you and Miss Granger to minimise any unwarranted behaviour."

They sat there for a moment digesting this, until Hermione sighed. "I can't say I'm happy with this Minister. But it's none of my business, and as long as Malfoy stays away from me, then I shall from him." Harry nodded his assent, his anger now tinged with puzzlement as to Malfoy's motives. Kingsley was already looking back down at his papers, his brow furrowed.

Once outside Harry lent against the wall, and looked at Hermione in bewilderment. "This is crazy. Why would Malfoy allow himself to become little more than an indentured servant?"

"A little less than one in fact. An indentured servant can buy themselves out, but Malfoy can't release himself from his contract until he's served ten years. There's got to be something that Kingsley is hiding from us. I wonder why Malfoy's house and things weren't seized. And I can understand why the Ministry might want him. I might dislike him, but you must admit that he's an accomplished wizard. Even mending that Vanishing cabinet would have been outside the capabilities of a lot of adult wizards."

Harry knew the answer to that one at least- Mr Weasley had explained it to him. "Apparently Malfoy Manor's tied to the Malfoy line. It's cursed or something, so only the Malfoy's can own it. Probably the same with the belongings. Beside Lucius Malfoy had everything sewn up legally years ago, so Malfoy junior inherited ages ago with provisos of course." He shook his head. "I'd better head off to work," he said reluctantly. "Trent checks on me all the time." He privately doubted that Trent had ever actually left the Archive. He and Hermione parted at the lifts.

Since comparatively few Aurors were in operation, it cost so much to train and use them, it was only a small group that gathered outside Enforcement Block 3 early the next morning. Harry and Hermione were there first, two women who Harry remembered were called Marie and Elsa respectively, and three men apart from Malfoy. Malfoy kept himself to himself sitting slightly away from the rest, and seemingly absorbed into his book on Tracing Charms, that Harry remembered vaguely as being on the reading list they were supposed to glance at in their spare time. He would 

have looked completely relaxed to most eyes, but years of knowing his worst enemy had given Harry sharper eyes, and he could see the tapping fingers and the slight lines of worry. Serves him right thought Harry silently, and looked away. The others were looking at Malfoy curiously as well, and apart from Hermione with scorn in their eyes. Everyone was dressed in the light purple robes of an Auror in training.

Suddenly the door opened and a statuesque woman swept out, clad in the vibrant robes that marked a full Auror out. She looked down at the seated group, and started speaking. "I'm Griselda, and I'm in charge of Auror training." She swept her eyes sharply across the group. "Training only lasts for two months, but it is an intensive two months, and I won't have any slacking. There are separate training schemes for those things that you will not have learnt elsewhere, and I expect you to put your backs into it. I warn you now any fighting within this group will be punished. A second offence will lose you your job. Aurors need to depend on one another for support and backup, and learn to disregard personality clashes- and there will be many. Nobody who becomes an Auror is especially easy to get along with."

Someone whispered. "But most of us aren't Dark Wizards."

Griselda carried on as if she hadn't heard. "I shall pair you up into partners, and you will rotate from one activity to another. These partners are not permanent, though they will often end up as such. Right, first up Hermione Granger and Adolphus Ringle on emergency medical spells. Thomas Harbour and Marie Jones on identification of Dark objects. Elsa Ambleton and Lucas Sullivan on confrontation, and hostage rescue. Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy on defensive spells. The fifth activity will concentrate on miscellaneous lessons including some Magical Law so you know you and your prisoner's rights. Now pair up, and I'll speak to you in turn." Harry moved towards Malfoy, seeing out of the corner of his eye Hermione greet a tall, good-looking brunette man. Ron's going to go mad he thought. He flopped down next to Malfoy who didn't look up.

Harry sighed. They were a tiny circle of silence amidst the babble around them. A minute later and Griselda approached them. "Right you two. Room Seventeen, and your teacher's name is Mr Smythe." Her sharp eyes raked them up and down. "I shall be very displeased if you fight remember that." She moved onto Hermione and Adolphus.

Malfoy finally spoke. "Follow me." He swept down the corridor obviously knowing where he was going, and Harry strode to keep pace.

"Where were you assigned for the year then?" he asked, trying to make conversation.

Malfoy stopped, and heaved a breath. "Look Potter. I know you don't like me, and don't worry, it's reciprocated. So let's just take the sensible option and ignore each other. Then we won't have to make delightfully awkward conversation. In two months we'll be finished, and you can find yourself another partner." He started walking again, and Harry had to admit to himself that it would be easier not to have to pretend to be friendly, or find things to talk about. They entered the empty room in perfect silence, and sat down by the desk. Harry let his eyes glance over Malfoy briefly, the first time he'd seen the other man in at least a year. He was no more than an inch taller than Harry now, hair cut short, face tired. He looked little like he had used to, face even thinner perhaps, eyes darker. Harry wondered if he looked so different himself but had to doubt it.

After a minute a man stumbled into the classroom, still straightening wrinkled purple robes, and rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Potter and Malfoy?" he asked distractedly and didn't wait for an answer. "Good, good. Wands on the table please." He folded his long frame onto the chair and looked at them sharply. "I have you for almost two weeks, and there is a lot to cover. First of all defensive spells despite the title are not merely spells. This includes counter-curses, alleviating charms, general blocks, wandless magic to a small extent, and mind magic. I'm sure being Hogwarts students you are versed in general countercharms and jinxes, and as is natural you can't possibly hope to learn them all, especially since new ones are created. Thus general blocks come into existence- making walls spring up in front of you, glass shields, mirrored surfaces. Each has its different uses, and of course what is absolutely key is reaction time. You need to have these at the tip of your tongue, as you have limited time to react. Potter name a charm you'd use a glass shield for."

"Uh any disorientation spell."

"Good. Malfoy, mirrored surface, and why mirrored?"

"A spell like Turbus. The surface has to be mirrored because otherwise the spell will pass straight through, even with other solid items in the way."

"Well done. Remember the more easily a spell is blocked, the less likely an opponent is to use it. Unless of course they just want you busy for a moment- or behind some sort of shield for a particular reason. So the instant a blocker has done its work dissolve it. It's very rare a Dark wizard will use the same type of spell twice, and give you an opportunity to use the same shield."

By the end of two hours when they were dismissed for a break, Harry knew more about not only defensive spells but the psychology of the average Dark wizard than he'd ever been taught in one session in his life, and his fingers were sore from having to grip his wand constantly in case Smythe took it in his head to test him. He'd been hit with a Confundus charm, and Malfoy with a Stinging Hex that turned his fingers an itchy red that looked painful, until the counter-hex was cast. After a cup of coffee from the canteen, Harry headed back, keeping his eye out for the distinctive blond head of his partner. He saw him finally storming along, a look of white temper on his proud face and a tea-stain on the front of his robes. He was trying to Scourgify it off, but either his fingers were shaking from temper or he wasn't very good at household charms because nothing much was happening. When he saw Harry, he smoothed out his expression instantly, and Harry didn't bother to ask what happened. He knew he wouldn't be told.

Taking careful aim, Harry scourgified, and held up his hand humorously as Malfoy opened his mouth. "Yes I know you don't need my help but honestly how can you aim your wand at a stain at that angle?"

Malfoy stared at him, then his lips unbent a little. "I was actually going to say thank you," he quipped, as he stuffed his wand back into its pocket. After another punishing two hours, they were let go to lunch and told to report to the practice room afterwards. Malfoy didn't bother going to the canteen, but Harry spotted Hermione slumped over a table, her bag saving him a seat. Harry chose one of the rather wilted looking sandwiches that characterise canteens the world over, and pumpkin juice and sat down opposite her.

She lifted her head. "Hey how did it go?" she greeted him.

"Hard work," he replied, biting into the sandwich. "You?"

Hermione shuddered. "I never want to see another flesh-knitting charm again. I almost lost my breakfast when he slowed it down, to show how it worked."

"You were brilliant with our injuries last year of Hogwarts," he reminded her. "Not squeamish at all."

"I'm not squeamish! It's just I like things to work neatly, and there doesn't seem to be many rules about medical healing. We're doing bruises this afternoon. How's Malfoy treating you?"

"Surprisingly well actually. We haven't spoken really, but at least he's not making trouble. I hope this afternoon goes as well, I think it's going to be more practical." He nudged Hermione with his foot. Ron had entered the room in the mid-blue robes of the Magical Law Enforcement.

Spotting Harry and Hermione he made his way towards them, and of one accord they stopped talking about the Auror training, and began to talk loudly about maybe going out that evening. "Hi," Hermione greeted Ron with a smile. "You coming out with us tonight. Pub maybe?"

He smiled back at her, though it was a little taut. "No thanks love. I'm tired out already." Dropping into a chair, he let out a long sigh. "The food in here is awful," he remarked for about the thousandth time, staring at what was trying to pass for a chicken sandwich on Harry's plate. "Don't tell my mum though, or she'll make us packed lunches."

Harry poked at the lettuce glumly. "That wouldn't be so awful. I love your mum's food, you know that." His eyes glazed over a little bit. "Roast beef," he said dreamily. "With homemade horseradish sauce, and iceberg lettuce. I need to learn how to cook. Do you reckon your mum would teach me?" He sat up sharply when Ron flicked his hand, and grinned when he saw Ron and Hermione's faces.

"Mate, you need to get yourself a girlfriend," Ron said seriously. He stuck his tongue out at Hermione. "I never fantasise about my mum's food anymore." He started laughing when Hermione turned red. "Honestly Harry, you should have a look out. What about those girls who are in Auror 

training with you?" He tactfully avoided any mention of Ginny. His sister had elected to take a year out, and travel the world before taking up her position with the Holyhead Harpies, and was currently backpacking her way through Zambia. Nobody knew exactly where she and Harry stood- except that at present they weren't together.

Staring at his plate, Harry made a face at it. "Elsa has a voice that could shatter glass. Honestly she could defeat a Dark Wizard by squawking at him. I'd like to survive a date with intact eardrums. Surely that isn't too much to ask from a potential girlfriend? And Maria is either a lesbian or asexual."

"Why?" said Hermione with a dry voice. "Do men always assume that a woman is a lesbian simply because she isn't interested in them? Maria is not a lesbian, but she prefers blondes. Besides would it be such a problem if she was?"

Ron and Harry shared a look. Hermione sometimes got an idea in her head, and wouldn't drop it until they'd responded, and from long years of friendship with the fervent witch, they knew that this subject was one of them. "Um there is nothing wrong with um you know gay people," Ron replied. "Especially not with queer women." He gave Hermione a speculative look. "Why? Have you ever thought about it Hermione?" His grin was positively laviscious, and Hermione flamed a brilliant red again.

"None of your business!"

"That means yes," Harry laughed, as he stage-whispered to Ron. "And no Hermione, I don't have a problem with gay people. You of all people should know that." He arched a brow at her, and she grinned back. Both of them knew the incident that he was referring to. When their applications to the Ministry of Magic had been accepted, the three of them had gone on a batter in London, doing Kilburn Road. As the drinks had flowed, all three of them had respectively become sentimental, lecherous and tearful. When they'd stumbled into a gay bar, Harry hadn't put up much of a fight against the advances of one of the tall good-looking patrons, and Hermione had never let him forget it. Afterwards Harry had explained that he wasn't gay as such, just appreciative of other peoples good looks. She had told him he was just being greedy.

"Go gay if you want to," mumbled Ron through a mouthful of half stale carrot cake. "Just never make me watch. And not Malfoy. Because that would be too weird for words."

Harry looked at him. "You think there's a force strong enough on God's green earth that would make me put my mouth anywhere near him?"

Ron grinned. "That's the truth if I've ever heard it." He pushed the cake towards Harry, who broke off a piece, and chewed thoughtfully. "How are you getting on with the Devil's Own Ferret?"

Chewing, Harry looked up. "All right I suppose," he said with a shrug. "We haven't spoken at all, but he's competent, and hasn't made any snarky remarks so far. I can put up with him during training, and wait for another partner. I heard through the grapevine that he plans to be a Solo after graduation." A Solo was a rare case of an Auror who chose to work alone, usually due to personality flaws. Glancing at his watch he groaned. "We should head off. Anyone know where the practice room is?"

Ron nodded. "Yeah, it's near the Law Enforcement Block. I'll take you there if you want."

"Cheers mate," replied Harry, and kissing Hermione on the cheek they set off.

The next few weeks passed as quickly as any that Harry had ever had, seemingly full to the brim of new spells, new people and new ideas. Harry discovered that he had a true affinity with the job, things seemed to slot into place easily for him, and there was no denying that of the entire body of trainee Aurors- including those on their year probation, him and Malfoy learnt the fastest and made the best team. They consistently topped the score-chart in the practical activities, and while neither of them was fond of the other, the snippiness that had marked their school career together was 

notably absent. They ignored each other outside of classes, and tolerated each other within. Harry didn't enquire as to why Malfoy so often seemed to have things spilt down his robes, or why he looked so permanently angry, even though he had seen himself how the officials in the building, seemed to go out of their way to bump into him, especially with hot tea or coffee in his hands. Malfoy was perfectly able to take care of himself after all, he just didn't seem to want to.

When at the end of six weeks training, they were sent with a team of four Aurors to a routine stakeout, just to see how a surveillance operation worked, nobody expected it to go as thoroughly arse over teakettle as it did. The house was the supposed centre of an illegal potions ring, which was work usually left to the Law Enforcement forces. However the Potions being sold were associated with Dark Magic, and that necessitated a detachment of Aurors as well. When the tell-tale shimmer of anti-Apparition wards appeared around them though, they realised something was wrong. Bessie Talbot who was easily the best at Charms began immediately working to take them down, the other five shielding her, wands out.

Harry was so busy keeping an eye out for the inevitable attack, that when Malfoy said "Fuck," he didn't register it at first. Then a strong hand closed around his wrist, and he was dragged away from the other Aurors by Malfoy. Harry's first thought was 'I knew we couldn't trust that git.' Malfoy was still running, while shouting out to the other Aurors. "Above, you fools."

On instinct Harry looked up, and it was his own turn to swear. A golden shimmering net was descending on the Aurors, who like Harry had whipped their heads up. Harry recognised it immediately. Colloquially known as the Draining Net, it dampened all magical energy in those it trapped under it. It meant there were at least seven Dark Wizards in the area, and that meant, that this had been planned. Only Malfoy, Harry and Bessie weren't trapped- the instant Bessie had realised what was happening she had woven a charm of protection around herself. It would hold for the amount of time it took to get away from the Net, but it also meant that she would have to abandon breaking the Anti- Apparition Wards. She made her decision, and scrambled towards them, wand out. "Expecto Patronum," she cried, and a silvery Labrador erupted from her wand, and vanished into the distance. "I don't think they mean to fight," she said breathlessly. "They're buying enough time to get the equipment, and potions moved from the house. Back up should be here any minute."

Sure enough there were several people leaving the house, bearing things, all with blurred faces as they managed to Apparate away. Harry looked at Malfoy, who recognised the look on his face instantly- side benefits of hating each other for years. "Always the hero Potter," he murmured in exasperation, but turned to Bessie. "Bessie you stay here, and work on the Anti-Apparition charm. Me and idiot-Potter are going to storm the house, and try to break the focus on the Draining Net, before they blow the place up, and spell-bind the other Aurors."

Harry grinned, and without another word began sprinting towards the house, well aware of Malfoy thudding alongside him, Malfoy's slightly longer legs giving him a bit of an advantage. That was until Malfoy knocked him off balance. Harry hit the ground with a thud, and felt the distinct magical signature of a Dark curse whistle by over his head. Malfoy was still running, wand out, conjuring a magical shield around himself. Harry stood up, and began sending stunning curses at the group of wizards who had turned to engage them in battle. Three of them had Vanished, leaving four of them to face Malfoy and him. One of Harry's jinxes caught the man nearest him, who cursed and Apparated away, like all the others, he was obviously unaffected by the wards, and Harry made a mental note to find out how to do that. Malfoy had successfully stunned another.

He finally reached Malfoy's side, slightly breathless from firing at the two remaining Wizards. Then 'Excorius' came flying towards him. Harry's mind went totally blank, and stupidly all he could remember was that it needed a mirror to repel it. At that moment he heard 'speculum genero'and the mirror that was suddenly in front of him blocked the spell. At that moment, he heard Malfoy shout, 'get the crystal.'

Mind suddenly clear, Harry said clearly, "Accio crystal," and it flew towards him. Growling the wizard Apparated away also, and the house in front of them blew up. Malfoy was busy conjuring ropes from his wand, and tying up the man he'd stunned. At that moment the Anti-Apparition Wards vanished, and twenty Aurors appeared on the scene. Looking up he vaguely recognised a woman called Iris Perry.

"Good work, Potter," she said smiling at him quite warmly, then grasping his sleeve. "I'll Side-Along you to Shacklebolts." Before Harry had time to point out that there were two of them, they were gone.

Kingsley listened carefully to everything Harry said, then smiled at him warmly. "Damn fine show Potter that. Go get some rest, take the day off."

Harry was still bewildered. That was not how he'd expected his first Auror raid to go. Generally there had been a lot more spell work, and a lot less partnership in his imaginings. When he stepped outside of the office, he walked quickly to the foyer. Draco was resting on a bench there. Harry had no idea why he said what he said next, and so flippantly as well. "So Malfoy, still want to be an Auror? He could not have guessed at the nerve his words would touch.

Draco strode towards him, his face white with temper. "Shut the hell up Potter," he hissed. "You don't have the faintest conception of what this is like for me." He twisted his hands in Harry's robes and slammed him up against the wall. "I'm here for ten years Potter. Ten years. And in that time I will have to watch ten years worth of Aurors be promoted over my head, people who are ten years younger in seniority to me, because nobody will ever fucking promote a Malfoy again, no matter what I do. It won't matter how many Dark wizards I capture, it'll always be the ones who get away who will make the news. People will whisper if I fail, and suspect it's because I've got ties to the offender. So I have to be the best of the best, and I'll still be stuck as a Level 10 field Auror for the rest of my career. I'll be scarred and broken, because the shielding charms I'm issued with, will be defective or just plain broken. And there'll always be fucking bullshit excuses as to why I'm not promoted. 'Too young, not enough experience, worthier candidates, and never the bloody truth. You're a Malfoy, and you're Dark, and that's all you'll ever be.

He dropped Harry, and took a step backwards. "Your precious Muggles have a saying. It takes a thief to catch a thief. Well it's exactly the same. It takes a Dark wizard to catch a Dark wizard. So shut your ignorant fucking mouth. I'm not a Death-eater who is secretly plotting to kill you behind your back. I'm trying to keep my innocent mother out of Azkaban. You think what you hear when you're near Dementors is bad? Try being in her head. I owe you my life Potter, and that is partly why I saved yours." His face twisted with hate. "But you owe my mother yours. Try paying your debts." He clenched his fists and turned away, hurrying down the corridor.

Harry gasped a breath in, feeling as though he was being strangled by the twisted collar of his robes. He untangled them, and stared at the retreating blond figure. Much though he hated to admit it, Malfoy made sense. Harry owed Narcissa Malfoy his life. He had told the Ministry that, but he obviously hadn't done enough, if Draco had, had to offer his Unbreakable Vow under the Neutralisation Act to keep her out of Azkaban. He set his teeth, and groaned. Malfoy was an unspeakable prick, but he was right. Harry had been out of order to suggest that this was easy for him.

Bringing his Gryffindor courage to the fore, Harry went to find Kingsley. The former Auror was surrounded by parchment and looked frazzled beyond belief, as he sorted through the piles, muttering about tidying spells ruining his system. When he saw Harry, he smiled wearily. "Hey Harry," he said, and used his wand to flick out a chair. "I heard about your sally." He gave a sympathetic grimace. "I'm sorry you have to work with Malfoy, but you're the only one I trust to give him a fair chance to be honest with you. Besides I heard that he pulled you out of the way of some spell. Well done, that's the secret of working as a team."

Harry licked his lips nervously. "Sir," he said quietly. "I want you to release Malfoy from his Unbreakable Vow." There was silence, and Harry plunged on nervously. "Narcissa Malfoy was never a Deatheater. She was never marked by Voldemort, she did nothing to assist in his plans. She stood by true, and let people die, but half of Wizarding Britain did that. Then finally she saved my life, by risking her own in lying to Voldemort. She knew that Voldemort was an excellent Legilimens, yet she pitted her Occlumency against his, to protect me. It is utter madness to use her as a hold over Malfoy."

Kingsley stared at him quietly for a moment, then sighed. "It's too late Harry. I'm sorry. An Unbreakable Vow cannot be broken, nor can you be released from it. The Wizengamot was... most outspoken against the Malfoys. Even your testimony was not enough to completely save Narcissa, thus the bond was extracted from Draco."

Silence filled the room again. "That's not right," Harry said firmly. "Without Narcissa I would have died a second time, and we would have lost. I owe her my life, and I need to repay that." A wild idea came to him, a horrible one but it could perhaps mend things with Malfoy, if they truly were going to be partners. "What about Lucius Malfoy? Could you modify the Unbreakable Vow so it is Lucius Malfoy who is kept out of Azkaban?"

There was a loud crack. Kingsley had slammed his hand on the desk. "Now you're being the mad one," he said coldly. "Do you want a riot on our hands? Do you have any idea how furious people would be, that a proven Deatheater was released. One who killed and tortured his way up Voldemort's ranks?"

"He didn't want to by the end," Harry said softly, remembering the Malfoy family huddled together in the Great Hall, and the look of horror he had seen on Lucius's face when he realised his son was in danger.

"That's not the point Harry. I'm not releasing him. I have no idea why you've suddenly taken this case up, but it stops right here. I admire your determination to see justice served, but this is simply not appropriate behaviour." He sighed and looked at Harry. "There truly is nothing I can do. I'm sorry."

"It's just not right," finished Harry as he tossed back a shot of Firewhiskey and looked into the sympathetic faces of Ron and Hermione. "She did save me, and Malfoy just saved my life today. Surely I owe them something?"

Hermione patted his shoulder. "I don't think you do," she said comfortingly. "You saved his life, so it's merely a life-debt repaid. Narcissa isn't in Azkaban, and that is partly thanks to your help. "

"Yeah," Ron joined in. "Hermione is right you know. I feel sorry for the git though funnily enough. I mean he was an absolute arsehole in Hogwarts, but..." he shrugged awkwardly, "well, that's past now isn't it?"

Hermione looked at him, and her face was alight with a warm glowing pride, that made Harry happy even just to look at it. He had known that Hermione had despaired through Hogwarts of Ron ever maturing, and being able to look past school preconceptions. She had even confessed to Harry a year ago, that she didn't know if she would be able to stay with someone who couldn't mature and move on. Now it seemed that their relationship had truly blossomed, and both Hermione and Ron were better people for it. Suddenly Hermione fiercely hugged them both, crushing them together in arms that Auror training had made even stronger. "I'm so glad," she whispered. "I'm so glad I have both of you , you know." She sat back, and wiped her eyes. "Whoever thought we'd end up here," she smiled shakily. "Alive, well, happy, together. Hell, feeling sorry for Malfoy, working with him, not even disliking him really."

Harry smiled at them both. "Yeah, all three of us with great jobs, family, and great friends." He poured more whiskey into their glasses to defuse the emotion of the moment, and they clinked them gently together before swallowing. "So how are you getting on with Adolphus?" Harry asked Hermione.

"Great," replied Hermione happily. "He's becoming a really good friend, and he's really hard working, which makes a change from my other friends," she said slyly. "He's invited me to his wedding, and he wondered if you and Ron would like to come as well. Ron as my date, you because he wants to try to get to know his colleagues better. He said there should be an invitation arriving in the post soon, if you'd like to."

"Who is he marrying?" asked Ron curiously. "Do we know her?"

"Yes, remember Susan Bones the Hufflepuff? She was in the year below him at Hogwarts, and they've been going out a year. Totally head over heels for each other, to be honest with you. A happy ending for all concerned," she finished with a small smile. "I'll get us some food from the kitchen."

The instant she left the room, Ron shot closer to Harry. "Harry," he whispered. "Do you think I should do it?" At Harry's puzzled expression, he clarified. "Should I ask Hermione to marry me?"

Harrys' face expressed complete bewilderment. "Why would you suddenly think about that?" he whispered back.

"I dunno. Maybe she was hinting when she talked about their happy ending," Ron fumbled for an answer.

For a moment Harry was still, and then he began howling with laughter. "Ron," he managed to choke out, "trust me, if Hermione wanted marriage, she wouldn't hint. Think it through a bit more perhaps, we're all young, there is no rush. I mean you haven't even moved in together." He thought about the expression Hermione's face would have on it, if she was proposed to- polite bewilderment probably, and started laughing again. Ron eventually saw the funny side as well, and even his lips started to twitch. Hermione entered, waving the food along with her wand, and looking as though she knew better than to ask what the joke was about.

Hermione sat back down between them, and stretched back with a sigh. "You could bring Malfoy," she remarked casually. "To Adolphus's wedding."

Harry almost choked on the pizza slice he was devouring, and leaned over and placed his hand on Hermione's forehead. "Are you running a fever Hermione?" he asked, and looked at Ron. "Does she look flushed to you? I could have sworn she just told me to date Malfoy."

Hermione batted his hand away with amusement shining in her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous Harry. I don't think you should date him. I think that you should bring him as a friend to the wedding. Adolphus hasn't invited him, even though he wants to get to know the other Aurors, and I think we should act as Kingsley trusted us to act, and treat him the same as anyone else, try and bring the other Aurors round a bit."

Shrugging, Harry replied. "I wouldn't really have a problem with it, except that Malfoy and me can't even call each other by our Christian names, let alone spend time in each other's company after working hours. Besides he's proud, and he'd instantly spot what we were doing, and that would just make him angry, and ashamed." He held Hermione's gaze for as long as he could, then dropped his eyes, laughing. "If you truly insist then I'll ask, but I'm telling you he'll say no."

Ron looked at his girlfriend with pride. "You always do the right thing," he murmured. He stretched out, and stared into the roaring little fire. "You know, I'm glad I didn't become an Auror," he mused. Hermione and Harry remained silently. It was the first time Ron had chosen to refer to it himself. He continued. "It would have been too predictable wouldn't have it? The three of us joined at the hip still, even though I'd probably have hated the entire job. This way it all kind of balances out. We're still a trio. Me and Hermione have our thing," he squeezed her hand softly, "and you and Hermione work together, so it all works out really." He looked at Harry, his eyes darkened. "You know that don't you Harry? That it doesn't matter what you do, we'll be there."

The next day, Harry saw Malfoy, before Malfoy saw him. He was sitting outside the small room where they were being taught the basics of Magical Law that day, head flung back, fast asleep. He looked as exhausted as it was possible for one human to be. His robes were crumpled, and his hair could have done with a brush nearly as bad as Harry's. He looked human. When Harry sat down beside him, his eyes flickered open, and he sat up, wearily passing a hand in front of his face. "What time is it?" he mumbled.

"We've got ten minutes until we start. Shall we get a coffee?" The last time Harry had suggested this, he had got a cold uncomprehending stare, but apparently lack of sleep dulled Malfoy's glaring abilities, because he simply nodded and dragged himself up to walk alongside Harry to the small coffee room in the next room.

Pouring himself a black coffee, he looked at Harry. "Shacklebolt told me what you did," he said bluntly. "Thanks. I know they'll probably never let Father out, but at least you tried." His white-hot fury of the day before seemed to be forgotten. He ran his hands through his hair, and sighed. "I'm sorry about yesterday." The words were said grudgingly, but they were said. "Things are never as clear as they look, and to be honest my mother gave me a piece of her mind. Said she didn't expect repaying, and that I could look upon my stint in the Aurors as penance for how stupid I was."

"That's a little bit harsh," said Harry. "I feel bad for not having done more. I honestly do, she did save my life after all. Besides I didn't thank you for saving my life which I should have done. Instead I was just a bit rude."

If anything Malfoy looked amused. "I didn't save your life Potter. It was a Flaying curse. It would have skinned your back and incapacitated you for the duration of the duel, but it probably wouldn't have killed you." He tipped his coffee back, and refilled it.

"Yeah, but while I was lying on the ground, writhing with pain, he probably would have finished me off," pointed out Harry dryly. Sighing, he looked around him. "I think I expected that when Voldemort died, that all this would die with him. The Dark Magic, the Dark wizards, that somehow it would just fade away."

Malfoy looked at him, grey eyes serious. "Don't you know about Dark Magic Potter? It's addictive. It's like nothing else in the world, you must have felt it. Everybody has a side of their soul, that they don't want the light to see, every hatred, every repressed anger, every grievance. Dark Magic feeds into that, into feelings of arrogance, every nasty emotion we've ever felt. It's powerful, because it has an everlasting source of emotion to latch onto, because as humans we feel more hate than love, more anger than peace. Voldemort gave an outlet for those emotions, and did more damage than I think anyone realises."

Harry listened intently. If anyone knew about this, it would be Malfoy. When he stopped, he spoke up. "Go on, please."

They walked back the way they'd come. "Voldemort did two things. One he created pools of Dark Magic, that could be... used. Nobody knows where they are, only his innermost sanctum. Unwilling recruits... they would bathe in it. It would take a strong mind to prevent such saturation from entirely filling you with hatred. They would come out literally dripping with magical intensity. Anyone who lives even near one, would slowly but surely feel their mind becoming corrupted with dark thoughts and feelings. Any good impulse would be buried. Not all of them are Death-eaters, many are just normal people with that bad luck of being exposed to dangerously high levels of Dark Magic. They're the people who torture and kill, and are never found out because they won't be doing it in the name of any cause either Dark or Light, but because it'll seem the only thing that assuages the emptiness within, even for a moment." He paused for breath. "I'm telling you this, because someone ought to know Potter," he said harshly. "My word counts for nothing, even under 

Veritauseum these days. They persist in believing that the Death-Eaters found some way of subverting it, even though that is impossible. I refuse to give a Wizard's Vow to tell the truth, I'm not going to end up like Thomas the Rhymer."

"He's real?" asked Harry. "I thought that was merely a legend."

"True Thomas was a Muggle-born in the thirteenth century, who was unaware of his talents. He met the Dark Lady of the time, and when she demonstrated her magic, he thought she was a fairy queen. He had a gift of prophecy, one of the first Seers, but she was afraid that he would lie to her, so she bound him by a Wizard's Vow to tell the truth always. Unfortunately that extended to all areas of his life, so he became known as the Truth-teller to his own folk, who also thought he was mad when they asked where he'd been and he told them he'd been visiting with the Queen of Fairyland."

"That's crazy," Harry said in wonderment. What was even more crazy he thought silently, was that he was having a more than civil conversation with Malfoy. To the extent that they seemed friendly. Remembering his conversation with Ron and Hermione last night, and the invitation he'd got by owl post this morning, he gritted his teeth. Time to do the real apologising. "Malfoy, fancy coming to Adolphus Ringle's wedding? He wants to get to know the other Aurors a bit better, and it might be fun. You know, as a friend." He almost stumbled over the word friend. It was too weird to be using it in the context of Malfoy.

Malfoy stared at him, and Harry had the awkward feeling of grey eyes piercing him, raking through him for hidden motives. "No thanks Potter. I doubt either me or Adolphus wants to get to know the other one better. Besides who would want a Dark Wizard casting a gloom over the proceedings." His smile had a bitter edge to it, and he swept ahead to where their Magical Law teacher was waiting for them impatiently.

The class was much more difficult than Harry had thought it would be. Wizarding Law was like Muggle in that it was convoluted, and that there were loopholes, but in their basic treatment of criminals very different. Prisoners had much fewer rights than Muggle criminals, and if convicted then almost no right of appeal. Extreme force could be used to take down those suspected of the Unforgivables, and if you were proved innocent then you could not claim anything. Add that Wizarding law viewed all previous judgements as the Wizarding equivalent of obiter dicta, and that precedent did not apply except as said obiter dicta, and Harry couldn't understand how Hermione, lover of all things neat and organised had survived a year in the Department. As far as it seemed to 

him, as long as he gave at least one warning, he was practically authorised to use anything except the Unforgivables, and they had no right to anything except a Magical Law expert- if they had the money, if they didn't they had to present their own defence.

Malfoy wasn't even bothering to take notes, instead choosing to doodle in the margins of his parchment, and stare at the old dried stick of a woman who was teaching them. When she turned round to find a book of cases to give to them to read, Harry took a chance and quietly flicked his wand at a piece of parchment, tearing it in half, and sending half over to Malfoy. Whatever he wrote on his half should appear on the other, and vice versa.

Why aren't you listening?

Why should I bother?

It's part of the course, and you'll have to retake it if you fail.

My father was convicted last year Potter. Do you really think I didn't read up on as much law as I could?


Yes Potter it really is that obvious an answer. Now pay attention. I'm not failing this part because you don't know the difference in the way you treat a pregnant witch from an ailing wizard.

A heavy book slammed on the desk in front of him, and Violet Marchbanks looked down at him disapprovingly. "I hope you're paying attention Mr Potter. I expect you to know the correct legal formula to use in time of arrest within ten minutes."

After two more hours of boring legal trivia, Harry had fallen asleep twice. It was almost as bad as History of Magic, and he didn't know how Hermione hadn't been driven round the bend by a legal system that to put it bluntly was an absolute mess, and hideously unfair to boot. Malfoy disappeared as usual at lunchtime, and Harry found Ron in the canteen, sheepishly eating what was definitely a packed lunch. He flushed red when he saw Harry looking at him in amusement. "You needn't laugh," he grumbled. "Hermione made you one as well." He pushed a white plastic container towards him. "It's not half bad actually."

Inside were ham sandwiches, an orange, a bag of crisps, and a spelled container of tea. Harry laughed. It had been years since he'd had crisps, they were pretty unknown to the Wizarding world, and Ron was shaking the bag curiously. Harry began eating his sandwiches. "Where is Hermione?" he inquired with his mouth full of sandwich that was definitely better than the canteen special.

Ron shrugged, and managed to rip open the bag of crisps. "She said she'd be here in a few minutes," he mumbled, and ate one of them. Swallowing he looked at Harry. "They taste weird," he said blankly, but continued eating them. "How was your lesson mate?"

It was Harry's turn to shrug. "Boring, like History of Magic." Ron winced in sympathy. Harry hesitated for a moment, then seeing Hermione come up and sit down beside him, he made up his mind. "Malfoy told me something odd earlier." In a few words he told them both about the pools of magic. To his relief neither of them raised the idea that Malfoy could have been lying.

Hermione leaned towards him, an anxious crease in her brow. "Harry, this is really important," she said earnestly. "If Malfoy is right, then a lot of innocent people are being corrupted, and there are a lot more recruits out there without the Dark Mark or any identifying feature. If he can't convince Kingsley that there is something wrong, then you have to. Those pools have to be found."

Harry shook his head. "Malfoy said only those in the inner circle knew the location of them." He didn't need to say anymore. Nearly every single one of those inner Death-eaters was dead, some of them at their hands. Then a thought struck him, and in one of those mysterious moments of group telepathy that the three of them occasionally seemed to share, it seemed to have struck the other two as well. "Lucius Malfoy," breathed Harry, though he could not prevent the small shudder that ran through him.

Hermione nodded, her face solemn. "Malfoy senior would know," she said quietly. Then she tapped her fingers against the table. "What if it is a trick?" she asked quietly. "What if Malfoy knew that you would think of Lucius Malfoy, and fed you that story in order to get him out."

"It's possible," allowed Harry. "But I really don't think so. His Wizarding Vow was really thorough, and that would definitely count as causing harm, or attempting to subvert the Ministry. I hate to say this, but I am inclined to believe him. I mean he saved my life, I owe him at least the measure of giving him a hear-out of what he has to say, don't I?"

Well almost 10,000 words. This was planned as a one-shot, but I realised there was no way I could make this slash in that space, so I've chaptered it. The slash will be in the next 10,000 words. Please review!