Harry managed to get through the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday with no further trouble. There was a small amount of trotting around after the Acting PM and listening to people swear a great deal, which Harry was starting to suspect was how government actually happened, but nothing more arduous. Wednesday was going well until his phone chirped an SMS alert.
He managed to read it without having to resort to the instruction booklet. It was Malfoy: Have intel. Meet lunch to discuss? 12.30 suit?
He checked his email for any changes to the afternoon's roster before sending back an acceptance.
'Was that Mike?' Emily asked.
'No, a friend,' Harry replied.
'You have friends?' she teased. 'I've never heard anyone but Mike call you.'
'I have loads of friends!' Harry protested. 'My best ones are just travelling at the moment, and I'm stuck here for work.'
'Is that a subtle way of asking if I have a girlfriend?'
Emily laughed. 'I was thinking boyfriend, but sure.'
Harry looked at her, startled.
'Ooh, hey, sorry,' she got up from her desk and came to sit opposite his. 'I didn't mean to cause offence, you just had that vibe, you know?'
'Vibe?' Harry asked weakly.
'That whole "gender is no issue, my coolness sees straight past such boundaries" vibe.'
'You think I'm cool?'
Emily laughed. 'I hang out with you, don't I? So you must be.'
'I did snog my ex-girlfriend's brother once,' Harry admitted.
'HA! Yes, that's the vibe I'm talking about,' Emily cheered.
'But he's incredibly attractive and has no scruples about plying young people with alcohol. I think everyone in England has probably snogged him at some point. And everyone in Romania.'
'And you've not introduced us because?'
'You're too good for him, Em.'
'Good boy. So, when Draco was asking after you? He was …'
Harry laughed. 'Probably looking for information for his new book, Ways in Which Harry Potter Deeply Irritates Me.'
Emily regarded him for a moment. 'You know, that is not the vibe that I have about him.'
'Do all your vibes have a homoerotic subtext?' Harry asked.
'Most of them,' Emily admitted. 'I went to an all-girl school. On a related topic, have you read Draco's latest piece in The Spectator?'
'Malfoy writes for The Spectator?' Harry blurted in surprise.
'Hang on.' Emily ducked back to her desk and returned with a copy from her handbag. 'There you are, have a read.'
'I'm almost as surprised that you buy it,' he teased.
'Boris Johnson article, he's my secret Tory crush.'
'He'd mock you for your bolshie views then shag you in a cupboard,' Harry warned.
'A girl can dream,' Emily winked at him. She went back to her desk and worked on the plans for Friday's funeral.
Harry picked up the magazine and began to read. And then he had to try very hard not to laugh – indeed, not to giggle. A Generation Lost: Our war on the young was a thinly disguised rehash of A Generation Lost: Grindelwald's war on Europe, with 'Hoodie' replacing 'Death Eater' and 'Mindless Consumerism' standing in for Grindelwald. The section on the Dumbledore/Grindelwald duel in the original had been rewritten as a critique of public education, but the vast majority was a time-efficient recycling of ideas.
'Good, isn't it?' Emily asked him.
'It's as though he's here talking to me,' Harry replied.
Which naturally meant that his phone buzzed.
Are you dressed properly? I can get us in somewhere swish, said the SMS.
Am dressed in suit and tie, as always. Harry replied.
Excellent. What, even in the bath?
See you at 12.30.
Harry looked up to find Emily watching him.
'What?' he asked.
'You know, there is such a thing as predictive text.'
'Can never get the hang of it.'
'The twenty-first century is just a rumour to you, isn't it?'
'You have no idea.'
Emily turned back to her planning, and Harry set himself to reading this morning's batch of warnings culled from threatening emails. Some days he wished they would forward him the originals, as he was dying to know how the people who managed the IT traffic learned to alert security to the fact that next year's Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling would not be a safe venue for the PM unless the troops were pulled out of Iraq.
All too soon it was lunchtime. 'I'm off out,' Harry said.
'Lunch with Draco?' Emily asked with a suggestive eyebrow waggle.
'It's business. He's teaching me how to behave at State Funerals, I'm teaching him how to dispose of nosey co-workers.'
'Good thing I work with you,' Emily winked.
'You tell me that every morning.'
'Give Draco my love!'
Malfoy was waiting for Harry when he emerged. 'I have news!' he declared.
'So you tell me. Are we walking? You can tell me as we go.'
'And miss surprising you with your mouth full? All right. We are walking, and you are listening.'
Harry nodded his agreement.
'So. You may have already come to this conclusion, because once I did I realised how obvious it was, but if you have, you've not told me.'
'I have told you everything I know,' Harry insisted.
'I find that so easy to believe,' Malfoy quipped. 'In that case, you'll kick yourself, as I did. Remember when I took the job with Communications, there was a write-up in the paper?'
'Vaguely …' Harry tried to look innocent.
'Right, well, every incident before that was simply opportunistic, taking advantage of whatever came to hand. Since then, every single attack has been somewhere near one of us. Whoever it is, they know we're here, and are targeting accordingly.'
Harry shook his head. 'The broom incident in Kent,' he reminded Malfoy.
'I was inside having a few drinks after a casual game of cricket.'
'You play cricket?'
'I do now.' They walked a few more steps before Malfoy added, 'Not well, I'll grant you.' After a few more steps, he added, 'Shut up.'
'I am laughing at something completely unrelated,' Harry lied.
The restaurant was as posh as Malfoy had implied. And new, every surface was gleaming, every con very mod.
'Emily sends her love,' Harry said as they were seated.
'Send mine back. How is the dear girl?'
'Very well, save she confessed she has a crush on Boris Johnson.'
'Don't we all?'
Harry looked up from his menu. 'I swear on my parents' grave that if you are ever involved in a sex scandal with Boris Johnson …'
Harry shook his head. 'There's no point, I'll be dead from laughter, so I won't be able to do a thing.'
'Emily's more his type,' Malfoy replied primly. 'Though I hear he's rediscovered monogamy in a bid to win friends and keep his wife from doing nasty things to his privates.'
'I will give you twenty Galleons if you never talk about the private parts of an MP ever again.'
Malfoy put his hand out. 'Done.'
'I only have pounds, you'll have to collect tomorrow.'
'I'm having the vichyssoise and the dory. You?'
'Baby garden salad and the salmon.'
'Excellent.' Malfoy called the waiter over and gave their order.
It was a civilised lunch. Malfoy confessed to shameless self-plagiarism when it came to the Spectator article, declaring that tight deadlines left a man no choice. Harry admitted that he had coerced some juvenile offenders into going straight by telling them the unvarnished truth about his childhood and pointing out that, comparatively, they had nothing to rebel about. Also, they were pissing him off and he had their home addresses.
'But you never kill people,' Malfoy laughed.
'True, though I have been known to accidentally forget to unpetrify the odd troublemaker. Leads to nasty bladder situations after about six hours.'
'Ooh, harsh. Speaking of which,' Malfoy pushed back his plate with its few scraps of remaining fish. 'Back in a moment.'
Harry distracted himself with looking around. The large main room was packed, he could only imagine that Malfoy had called on one of his new but well-placed contacts to snatch a table. It was surprising how many faces he recognised, all from the papers.
'Potter, you have to come and see this!' Malfoy was walking quickly towards him, grinning from ear to ear.
'I was just going to look at the dessert menu.'
'Later, this is too good to miss!'
Harry let himself be dragged from his chair, though he dug in his heels when he realised Malfoy was dragging him to the lavatory. 'I really don't think there's anything in there I need to see,' he protested.
'Just when I think that Muggle ingenuity has impressed me as far as it ever will, something else appears,' Malfoy told him.
'Oh, all right.'
Malfoy led him in through the men's door, then towards a cubicle.
'Malfoy!' Harry protested.
'No, it's great, wait till you see!'
Cursing his curiosity, Harry allowed himself to be led inside. The cubicle was about the size of a Ford Mondeo, and the door shut as seamlessly as a Bentley's behind them. Then the loo lid raised and a gentle music of rainforest sounds and birdsong began, at a volume just loud enough to disguise the fact that the occupant may have had two servings of the Italian beans for lunch.
Harry couldn't help grinning. 'Insane.'
'Brilliant.' Malfoy corrected. 'And, just wait …' Malfoy reached forward and dropped the lid back down. The loo flushed, to the accompaniment of a waterfall's roar in the soundtrack.
Harry couldn't help laughing, and when the door opened automatically and bumped him as it did so, he turned with a broad smile. To find himself looking at the surprised face of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
'He was just showing me the automation, Dr Williams,' Harry stammered.
'Don't listen to him, Your Grace,' Malfoy corrected, enfolding Harry in an embrace from behind and pressing a warm kiss to his cheek. 'But rest assured that this is a loving and committed relationship.'
Harry suspected that even his toes might be blushing.
The Archbishop shook his head slightly with a small smile on his lips. 'Don't forget to wash your hands, boys,' he said, and disappeared into the furthest cubicle.
'Two-one,' Malfoy whispered into Harry's ear.
Harry could feel the laughter bubbling in Malfoy's chest. It sent his blood hammering through his veins, throwing him completely out of kilter. Malfoy's arms hadn't moved, and Harry was increasingly conscious of them, to the point where he was not sure flustered would be an overstatement.
With horror, Harry realised that he had leaned back against Malfoy, and that his cheek was still inclined towards Malfoy's lips, so close, in fact, that he could feel the muscles of Malfoy's face move as he drew breath to say something mocking.
'Can't you ever be serious?' Harry snapped, and pushed himself away – and straight out of the lavatory.
He paused at their table to pick up his jacket and continued out of the restaurant. He was tired of Malfoy embarrassing him, of taking this whole assignment lightly, of underestimating how easy it was to go wrong in this world. That was what was making his heart thump and his cheeks burn. Fury. Nothing else.
In fact he was so furious that he was going to … was going to …
'Oh cock.' Harry stopped on the street corner and took a few calming breaths. He looked around. Malfoy hadn't followed him. His phone hadn't made a noise, either. Fine. In that case, he was going to walk back to Westminster and spend the afternoon guarding the Acting Prime Minister.
It was a good spot of guarding, if Harry said so himself. Mike had been surprised when he'd turned up half an hour early, but five hours later, the Acting PM was well and secure, and the Houses of Parliament were still standing. Harry took this as a win.
He'd also made friends with two of the Palace of Westminster Division officers, which was handy, because they had uniforms rather than suits, which meant there was always somewhere to stash a few snacks, as Tim had assured him he'd come to appreciate the first time they were trapped at an endless speech day. Harry was buying Tim and his partner Niall drinks next Tuesday evening, and was oddly looking forward to it.
Among other things, it took his mind off the long list of mental apologies to Malfoy that he had composed over the course of the afternoon.
He had no idea how to go about making any one of them. 'So sorry, momentary panic when realised what I was reading as erotic was you being ironic' would never do. Similarly, 'Horrifying realisation that you're actually attractive' somehow lacked the tenor he was reaching for and 'Not quite sure whether I panicked at the fact you went the snog or the fact that you were joking' wasn't it at all.
He'd more or less settled on 'Sorry for being a humourless twat, but it's not every day I strike a small blow for human rights in front of the head of the Anglican Communion'. It didn't quite address all the issues, but had the advantage of ignoring several of the more confusing ones totally.
Emily was already gone when he made it back to their office, so Harry logged in to see if there were any emails that needed to be dealt with before he left.
He had been there for less than five minutes when Malfoy appeared in the doorway.
'Have you done with your huff Potter?' Malfoy asked, and waited a moment for a response. When none was forthcoming, he went on, 'Only it's been five hours and there's a lot of work to do. It's been a very good huff, I think you can call it successful – it skirted the borders of sulk without ever tipping into petulance, very fine work, almost Malfoyesque.'
Harry felt a smile flit across his face.
Malfoy took this for assent, and came into the room, lobbing his armful of papers onto Harry's desk. 'You really do have no sense of humour,' he announced. 'No wonder you never appreciated any of my brilliant jokes at school.'
'They were all designed to make me look like an idiot,' Harry pointed out.
Malfoy did not say a word, very pointedly.
Harry groaned. 'Why would I need to do that, Potter?' he asked in affected tones. 'When you are so brilliant at it yourself.'
'It's as though you read my mind!' Malfoy said gleefully.
'I thought you said we had work to do,' Harry reminded him.
'We do. I talked to our polling people, they've pulled up a list of subscribers to all the Muggle papers that photographs of you or I have appeared in. I thought we could cross-reference them with Muggle-born witches and wizards. It won't help if he's not a subscriber, but we could be in luck.'
'You have access to subscriber lists?'
'Throw enough money about and you can buy most things,' Malfoy said airily. 'Legally,' he added at Harry's sharp look.
Harry nodded, took his gun from its holster and transformed it back into a wand. 'So much easier to use this way.'
He rummaged through the notes in his drawer and pulled out a scroll that Kingsley had sent him several nights ago, listing all the Muggle-related witches and wizards the Ministry had records of. 'Right.' With a firm tap of the scroll, and of Malfoy's print-outs, and a command of 'Collatio!' Harry cross-referenced the two for commonalities.
Pieces of paper soared up from Harry's desk and an unseen nib scratched names across them.
'YES!' cheered Malfoy.
'Good thinking!' Harry agreed.
The scratching continued.
'Oh,' said Malfoy.
Some two-hundred-and-thirty-odd names later, the paper fluttered back down to Harry's desk.
'Bugger,' said Malfoy.
'It was still a good idea,' Harry said, consolingly.
'Fat lot of help, though,' Malfoy muttered.
'Malfoy,' Harry said in a low voice.
'Could you please change that back to a Union Jack?'
The familiar meshed crosses in the corners of Harry's and Emily's nameplates, and in the frosted glass on the door, had been replaced by the circled stars of the European Flag.
Malfoy grinned, and whispered a spell to reverse the change. 'It's the way of the future, you know. We'll join the Euro one day.'
'You scare me when you speak Muggle,' Harry confessed. 'I keep fearing that someone will decide you should run for a safe seat and then we'll all be doomed.'
'I would usher forth a new golden age of enlightenment and prosperity.'
'I would move to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,' Harry promised.
'You would not.'
'I've always fancied the idea of Skopje, lovely mountains, fresh air, bracing broomrides of an early morning.'
'Thank you so much. Anyway, should we have a read through this list to see if any names jump out?'
Harry picked up the papers and glanced down the first page. He shook his head. 'Too many people staying in touch with both worlds, I'm afraid. Looking at this, our most likely suspect is Hermione.'
'I knew it!' Malfoy crowed. 'Sooner or later the pressure of associating with you and Weasley was always going to cause that girl to snap.'
'She's in Canada, with Ron'
'I suppose her spells would have been more interesting, too.' Malfoy sank back in his chair. 'Well, that was it for my brilliant plans. What do you have to suggest?'
Harry shrugged his shoulders. 'Nothing. I think we're just waiting now until he or she strikes again.'
'Probably a he,' Malfoy muttered.
'Yes,' Harry agreed.
'Probably at the funeral,' Malfoy surmised.
'Yes,' Harry agreed.
'Probably time you admitted I'm smarter than you,' Malfoy chanced.
'Not quite as smart as you think you are, though,' Harry corrected.
Malfoy grinned. 'Worth a try. So …'
'Are you going up on the plane tomorrow afternoon?'
'Yes, Emily, Mike and I are all flying up with you lot.'
'Good. I'll see you then.' Malfoy stood up and went to the door.
He turned back. 'Yes?'
Malfoy smiled brightly. 'Of course you are.'
It was a sombre plane-load the following afternoon. Robin Cook had been well-liked by many, and admired by most. Harry spotted Malfoy at the front of the jet with the rest of the advisors, they exchanged quick nods.
There were buses to take them from Edinburgh Airport to the hotel. The Acting-PM would be arriving in the morning, but the Chancellor and several other ministers were already there. So it wasn't a surprise when the hotel's bar turned into a quasi-wake-cum-party meeting.
Mike warned Harry as he walked in. 'Angling for preselection over by the piano, discussing how to do-in Tony in the corner – not a competent one among them or I'd run them in, Brown and his mates on why Scottish Labour is the sole thing keeping the party alive, and over there, the secretaries Cook used to flirt with, weeping genuinely into their G&Ts.'
'So get in, grab a drink and get out, yes?' Harry asked with a smile.
'You may want to contemplate room service.'
Harry sidled through the packed room until he reached the bar. 'Triple Scotch on the rocks, please,' he asked.
'Any particular type, sir?' asked the barman.
Harry looked at the three shelves of whiskies behind the bar and realised that it wasn't a lightly asked question in these parts.
'He'll have that Ardbeg,' said a familiar voice and a hand pointed over Harry's shoulder. 'Really Potter, a triple? Turning to drink at last. It was always a matter of time.'
'Didn't think I'd make it back for a second,' Harry replied. 'Thought I should set myself up for the next while.'
'Well in that case … Excuse me? Yes, we'll just take the bottle. Can I get a bucket of ice and some glasses? The Burgundy Suite, thank you.'
'Of course you have a suite. And you're assuming I'd like to join you for a drink.'
'You'd have a suite, too, if you ever remembered to spend any of that money you have. And you do want to join me, I have cable and it's showing the polo; it's like Quidditch but with horses!'
Harry laughed and picked up the ice and glasses. Malfoy took the whisky and the two of them made their way through the crowd with a few hellos and good evenings along the way.
Malfoy was right, suites were better than rooms and polo was surprisingly like Quidditch; without the Seeker, of course, and with slightly less violence. 'It amazes me that people who have no access to even Skele-Gro think that's a sensible thing to do with their bodies,' Malfoy commented.
'They have plaster, and orthopaedic surgeons,' Harry reminded him. 'You know, I bet we could play this on brooms with some decent low-level flying.'
Malfoy looked at him in wonder. 'All these years I've been wrong, you are actually a genius!' he declared.
'It's true,' Harry agreed.
'Or, I could be drunk,' Malfoy countered.
'You've had half a small glass.'
'This Muggle stuff is lethal compared to firewhisky,' Malfoy pointed out.
'Yes, but even then, Scottish babies consume more than that in breast milk.'
Malfoy looked at him. 'That's a very disturbing comparison,' he said, after a moment.
Harry's phone rang, he punched the answer button.
'You're not in your room,' Mike barked tinnily.
'How do you know?'
'Because I'm outside it banging on your door. Are you with Malfoy?'
'Yes,' Harry looked up at his companion guiltily.
'That's good. Bring him with you, I'm pretty sure this is one of yours.'
'Trouble?' Malfoy asked.
'I think so,' Harry replied. 'Mike says we'll need you.'
'You've got me.'
Mike met them in the lobby by the lifts. 'I am hoping that this is one of yours, because if it's not, the local plods will have to handle it, and I can't see it ending prettily.'
'What is it?' Harry asked.
'See for yourself,' Mike replied, holding the front door open.
A unicorn trotted past, silver-white with a gleaming horn. It was fully grown in height, but fine in body and with a trace of a colt's colouring. Ahead of it, a small scrum of photographers ran backwards, snapping away merrily. The unicorn's golden hooves rang out on the cobbles, as it moved nimbly without a single slip.
'Yep,' Harry sighed. 'That's ours.'
'Or a lovely tribute to Robin's passion for racing!' Malfoy added in a loud voice. 'That's excellent work on the special effects, I wonder who it's escaped from?'
Once the surrounding witnesses were nodding loudly and muttering about ways to catch the 'sweet horsie', Malfoy turned to Harry and hissed, 'Well, come on then.' And set off after it.
Harry jogged along beside Malfoy, flipping his watch over to the Floo side as he ran. 'Kingsley?' he called. A muttered reply sounded at his wrist. Harry raised the watch to his mouth and whispered pantingly. 'We're in Edinburgh, there's a unicorn. Can you send Obliviators? And someone who's trained in Magical Creatures? And maybe some virgins?'
'Save planning your evening until after we've caught this bugger,' Malfoy grumbled.
'Oh hush, I could have suggested we were already sorted in that department.'
Ahead of them, the unicorn had decided to put on a turn of speed, and had barged her way past the photographers. 'This is where we need brooms!' Malfoy complained.
'Hold on.' Harry grabbed Malfoy's arm and Apparated them to the end of the street. The unicorn was only ten yards from them, looking both ways at the cross street as though trying to make up her mind. After a second, she turned in favour of the Princes Street Gardens.
'Go on,' Malfoy said, resignedly.
Harry Apparated them into the gardens, where dusk had given everything an edge of mystery, all immensely enhanced by the serene pale creature that trotted onto the lawns before selecting a willow to stand under.
'How long do you think before the Ministry back-up arrives?' Malfoy whispered.
'Shouldn't be long, they have a tracking spell on us.'
'Should we wait back here and keep an eye on it? Or go in and try to – do you apprehend a unicorn?'
Harry looked about. There were people in the distance, and still some walking about the streets they had run up. 'Probably best if we can contain it,' he decided.
'Don't do anything stupid,' Malfoy warned. 'For once.'
'Shhh.' Harry put a hand in front of himself and began to walk towards the unicorn. 'Hush now, lovely, who's brought you here? This is a long way from your home, and nowhere near as pleasant.'
'It's a unicorn, Potter. Not a cat!' Malfoy muttered behind him.
Harry ignored him. 'Dear girl, look at you, all frightened under the tree. Are you going to let me come close to you? See this gun? It's really a wand. Look, there's some rope we've made. Can I put it around your neck?'
'Potter, that's close enough.'
Harry paid no attention. He was underneath the edge of the willow now, and close enough to see the panting flanks of the beast before him, and the huge, knowing eye that was turned towards him.
'I don't want to capture you,' he said. 'Just make sure you get home safely. This is definitely not a safe place for you.'
The unicorn, it seemed, had come to the same conclusion. Without a moment's warning it spun about and sent a hoof crashing towards Harry's chest. Fast reflexes saw him turn and take the blow on the side, but it was enough to send him flying. In a daze of pain he looked up and saw the unicorn charging towards him, horn lowered …
And then it was over there, and he was being held by two strong arms, and lowered gently to the ground while a set of questing fingers ran down his arm, ribs and shoulder, finding pain after pain.
'You're an idiot, Potter' murmured a shaking voice in his ear. 'I should have let that poor thing run you through, and would you stay still? You could be badly hurt!'
'I'm all right …'
'You bloody well are not. That collarbone is broken for a start, and I think a few ribs have gone. Lucky you have no brains to knock out.' Malfoy finished searching and tucked Harry's right arm across his body. 'Hold on, I'll prop that in place.' He took off his jacket, folded it, and placed it under Harry's elbow. Then he removed his tie, hitched the centre around Harry's wrist and tied it around his opposing shoulder. 'That should make it more comfortable.'
Harry looked up, Malfoy's face was pinched and red. 'Thank you,' Harry said.
Malfoy shook his head. Then he bent down and swiftly kissed Harry's forehead. 'Don't ever do anything that stupid again!' he hissed, and had stood up before Harry could even react.
'Ministry's here, I'll see if they have a Healer.'
Harry watched Malfoy walked away, and decided that he must have suffered a head injury after all.
The Magical Creature experts made short work of capturing the unicorn, and the Obliviators followed its path back to the hotel, tweaking memories where they needed to. Malfoy found a Healer, and Harry had his collarbone and four ribs quickly reknitted.
Kingsley did not look pleased. 'Someone must be close at hand for each of these attacks, yet not only are the two of you missing them, so are my teams. It's becoming embarrassing. By the way, Malfoy, good work saving Harry.'
'Someone had to, and I could only imagine the media response if I stood by while he was gored.'
'It wasn't going to gore me,' Harry protested.
'No, it was galloping towards you with its head lowered to say "Look! My horn is so shiny! Would you like to touch it?"'
Harry and Kingsley both looked at Malfoy with their eyes wide.
Malfoy thought a moment, and when his brain reached the place that theirs had, shook his head. 'That's just wrong.'
'You two should go back before you're missed,' Kingsley said quickly. 'We'll clear up here.'
'Let us know if you find anything,' Harry said.
'And you let me know if you do,' Kingsley replied.
They kept quiet until they turned onto the Royal Mile. Harry glanced at his companion as they walked back to the hotel. Malfoy's eyes were set determinedly on the road ahead.
'Thank you,' Harry ventured.
'I can't believe that even you would be that stupid,' Malfoy muttered
'It seemed quite tame,' Harry said in his own defence.
'Unicorns dislike boys, Potter, and adults. Guess what you are?'
'An idiot,' Harry sighed.
Malfoy smiled briefly. 'Yes. That's right.'
'Was I hallucinating, or did you kiss me back there?'
There was the slightest falter in Malfoy's stride, but his voice was crisp and even. 'It was the rush of adrenaline, and the subsequent relief that I wouldn't be in for a mile of paperwork cataloguing your demise.'
'Oh,' Harry nodded. He waited until they were almost at the hotel before he added, 'It was nice.'
Malfoy rewarded him with a stumble this time.
Mike was there. 'Your lads have swept through, everyone's talking about what a lovely tribute that was. Good work. Did you catch him this time?'
Harry shook his head. 'We were too distracted by the unicorn. Those things can be dangerous, you know.'
'I can imagine.' Mike looked up and down the street, what crowds there had been were dispersing, and the long twilight was starting to hint at darkness. 'Though I have to say, it was quite beautiful when it was here, just trotting along the street, following the photographers.'
Malfoy looked up sharply. 'It was following the photographers!'
'Well, they were scurrying backwards ahead of it to take shots,' Mike qualified.
'No,' Malfoy insisted. 'When we came out, it wasn't moving tentatively at all, it was moving in a straight line towards the photographers! It was only after we started chasing it that it had to think about where it would go and ran for the park!'
Harry replayed the scene in his memory. 'I think you're right.'
'Which means …'
'I can't believe that one of your press gallery is a wizard and you haven't noticed!' Harry spluttered.
'I can't believe one of them's a virgin,' Malfoy replied. 'Where did they go?' he asked Mike.
'All in the bar, I think. Do you want a hand?'
'Shoot anyone who runs from us!' Malfoy declared.
'Or just grab their arms and don't let them pull anything from their pockets,' Harry suggested.
The three of them strode back inside the hotel and to the crowded bar. The media contingent stood out, with cameras and voice recorders dangling from their shoulders. Harry peered at their faces, and was shocked to recognise one of them.
He nodded to Malfoy, then began to edge around the crowd, so he could approach his suspect from behind. It was surprisingly easy. A few moments later, he reached out a hand and plucked a wand from a pocket, then poked it into its owner's back and whispered, 'Dennis Creevey, I am going to have to ask you to come with me to answer a few questions.'
Harry really wasn't expecting Dennis to drive a pointy Creevey elbow back into his newly repaired midriff and then take off like a hare towards the doorway.
Malfoy tripped him as he ran past, and Mike caught him, nimbly spinning him about and handcuffing his hands behind his back.
Mike looked up at the suddenly silent bar, and the photographers all raising their cameras. He raised a warning finger. 'National security! No photos!'
The photographers put their cameras to their faces and prepared to push a volley of buttons.
'Oh for Merlin's sake!' Malfoy cast a general Obliviate around the room. 'Little blondie is drunk and Mike is taking him back to his room before he vomits on anyone.'
The cameras went down, and a chorus of 'Night, Dennis' and 'Don't let the big man stay with you unless he buys you dinner!' followed them out. Harry brought up the rear, still half-bent over.
'Nice work,' Harry complimented.
'I cannot believe the safety of our nation is reliant on people like the two of you,' Malfoy muttered, pressing the lift button. 'We'll take him to my suite, it's the quietest place till Kingsley gets here.'
'Kingsley!' Dennis protested. 'You can't hand me over to the Ministry! I demand to be dealt with in a Muggle court of law!'
Mike bundled him into the lift and pressed the button for the tenth floor. 'What's a Muggle?' he asked, after the doors had closed.
'Wizarding slang for non-magical,' Malfoy replied crisply.
'And if you wanted a Muggle court, you should have committed Muggle crimes,' Harry chimed in.
Dennis slumped back into silence.
Mike paused at the door to Malfoy's suite. 'Do I want to know what he's going to say?' he asked Harry.
'Probably not,' Harry replied truthfully.
'All right then, I'll hand custody over to you. He will be treated fairly, won't he?'
Harry smiled. 'I can guarantee that these days. In fact, he'll probably be treated with great leniency, his brother was killed at the Battle of Hogwarts in '98.'
'I definitely don't want to know what that means, do I?'
Harry shook his head. 'See you tomorrow, Mike.'
'Nice and early, we need to do a run-through before the funeral.'
Malfoy opened his door and Harry bundled Dennis inside and over to the sofa, where he sat him down.
'Can you take these handcuffs off?' Dennis asked politely.
Harry shook his head regretfully. 'Not till Kingsley gets here. I'd rather not run the risk.'
'Oh, as though I could overcome the two of you.'
'Given the fact you've been out-manoeuvring us for the last fortnight, I'm not leaving anything to chance,' Harry sighed. 'But if you need anything to eat or drink, we can get that for you. Hang on.' He pulled out his phone and called Kingsley, and when that resulted in a long ring followed by a busy signal, he flipped over his watch and Flooed him.
'Does Kingsley have one of those, too?' Malfoy asked.
'Can I get one? I like the cheery little glow!'
'Harry? Is that you?' boomed Shacklebolt's voice.
'It is, sir. We've apprehended the culprit, it's Dennis Creevey. We're up in Malfoy's rooms.'
'I'll be there in a few minutes.'
'Right.' Harry flipped his watch shut. 'He'll be here in a few minutes,' he announced.
'We heard,' Malfoy replied with the smallest amount of eye-rolling he could manage.
Harry pushed back his hair. 'I still can't believe you failed to recognise Dennis! You hang out with the media set all the time!'
'Yes, but I don't pay any attention to them,' Malfoy protested.
'We know that,' Dennis piped up. 'Everyone says you're nearly as obnoxious as the PM.'
'Oh shut up, at least I read your papers and watch your silly broadcasts.'
'He was at school with us for years,' Harry pointed out.
'Was he in our year? Or Slytherin? I had a lot on my mind in those days.'
'Committing acts of evil and getting away with them,' Dennis muttered bitterly.
'Seriously, shut up. I have been Mr Atonement for years now.'
'Both of you stop sniping,' Harry brokered. 'I still can't believe it's you behind all this mess, Dennis.'
Dennis Creevey looked up tiredly. 'Me? Of course it's me.'
Harry shook his head. 'But why?'
'Why do you think? If anyone knows about the bastardry of this Ministry it's you. None of us were warned, none of us were told what we needed to know, just banned from seeking help from those we could trust, those who could have done something about it. Statute of Secrecy my arse, it was all about holding onto the reins of power.'
'But that's not …'
'It's not? Really. Because I thought you had the same experience I did, where you were sent this gilt-edged invitation to your dreams with no mention of the attendant nightmares. No hint of "In addition to your books, you might take a moment on Diagon Alley to find a friendly shopkeeper who's willing to discuss with you the minor war ripping apart our community." Not even in fourth year. They let us get on the train, Harry. Do you know what happened to us once we made it to school? You're Muggleborn. Guess.'
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Malfoy grabbed his arm and dragged him into the other room.
'Whatever you're about to say,' he said, 'stop. You'll be lying. You're not a natural liar and it doesn't suit you to try.'
'It wasn't like that!' Harry protested.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. 'So you feel that at all times the Ministry kept you appraised as to your rights as a member of the wizarding community and protected and defended those rights to the best of their ability?'
'It does now!'
'He's not talking about now. He's talking about seven years ago. He may not even have noticed that now has happened. Not everyone has moved on, Potter.'
Harry continued. 'I used to hate you, and then I felt sorry for you, and now I have spent the week trying to find excuses to be in your company.'
Malfoy blinked again. When he spoke, his voice was soft. 'I think the war broke Creevey. I know just how he feels. Except when everything was over, my family was miraculously alive. And then you spoke out for us and made sure we were treated fairly. So I decided that I'd start speaking for fairness, and justice, and all those other Pottery concepts you were always banging on about. But if my mother or my father had died, I think I'd be just like Creevey is now.'
'Pottery concepts?' Harry asked with a smile.
'Shut up.' Malfoy smiled back at him.
They smiled at each other. Then they heard the outside door open.
Creevey hadn't made it far down the corridor, the handcuffs made it hard to run effectively, let alone call for lifts or open fire escapes. Kingsley appeared with three Aurors while they were escorting him back to the suite.
Explanations were quick. Harry handed over his key and Kingsley removed the handcuffs.
'I will have to take you in, Dennis,' Kingsley told him gently.
'The Ministry always silences its critics!' Dennis spluttered.
'I think we might take you to St Mungo's first. Would you like your parents to meet you there?'
Dennis looked up at Kingsley's gentle expression and the tension left his body. 'That would be nice,' he said. "Will you make sure they get home safely?'
'I will. And I'll make sure you get home safely, too, once you're feeling better.' He turned back to Harry and Malfoy. 'Good work. I take it both of you will be happy to return to your original assignments.'
'Absolutely!' Malfoy declared.
'For as long as you need me here,' Harry replied.
'Good. Will you both be around this evening if there's anything further?'
'We'll be here,' Harry told him.
'Excellent. Come in and give me your full reports on the weekend.'
Kingsley and the Aurors left with Dennis, and Harry flopped down on the sofa. Malfoy poured them each a glass of whiskey, and ferreted out what remained of the ice.
'Here you are,' he said.
Harry accepted the glass, and raised it in a silent toast.
Malfoy sat down beside him and returned the gesture. They each took a long sip. Then Harry put his glass down on the table in front of them, took Malfoy's and did the same. Then he brushed Malfoy's fringe back from his face, tilted his jaw, and very gently kissed his bottom lip.
'Oh,' said Malfoy.
Harry leaned forward again and tested out Malfoy's top lip, which curved into a smile beneath him.
'When did you decide this would be a good idea?' Malfoy asked happily.
Harry grinned. 'I have to confess, I thought you looked very fine the first day I saw you at Westminster.'
'And yet you didn't say a word.'
'I hadn't any idea you'd be pleased at the prospect.'
'What more were you waiting for? I felt you up in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury.'
'I thought you were being ironic.'
'Potter, when have I ever been ironic about you? Sarcastic, certainly, but you can tell that by the rhymes and sing-song tone of voice.'
'Yes, well, there'll be none of that,' Harry said, sliding his hand from Malfoy's jaw to his collarbone.
Malfoy grinned with pure wickedness in his eyes.
'I've just noticed that Kingsley left Mike's handcuffs on the table.'
'I don't think I'm drunk enough for handcuffs, Malfoy.'
Malfoy leaned forward and nibbled the line from Harry's jaw to his earlobe. 'Can we revisit the option later in the evening?'
'If you're very good,' Harry replied, shifting on the sofa so that Malfoy's knee could fit between his thighs.
'Oh, I will be,' Malfoy promised. 'I will be.'