A/N: Largely set in a dystopian US of the sort favoured by James Cameron (though without Terminators), slight case of the Margaret Atwoods. This story contains a great deal of gruesome politics, small amounts of romance, and barely any comedy. Many thanks to raitala, jadzialove, pingrid and deense, and the hp10k team on lj for their beta-ing help. And, obviously, this all belongs to JKR and the people who make money from her stories.
I believed in free will. Believed we all had it.
Believed that I picked and chose, that every step was taken of my own volition.
Which was absurd, because I grew up watching Imperiuses being used blithely. And yet I tell you that I chose to be here.
Here in the mud, cold and watching. My father would shake his head if he could see me, crouched in the damp, miles too far from the Canadian border, guarding a group of frightened Muggles. He would ask if shivering in sleet was absolutely necessary in my quest to polish up the name Malfoy. And then he would put his cloak around my shoulders.
I remember when it all began. The four planes hitting their targets: those towers, the Pentagon, the White House … the news reached even me, and I wandered out into the Muggle world that night to see the endlessly replayed video.
In the grainy footage you could make out the figures of the President and his security detail running for the helicopter. They nearly made it. The men who were guarding him flung him ahead at the last moment, as though yards would be the difference between life and death.
The Daily Prophet gave the attacks a column on the front page, but it was a Muggle issue in those days. President Cheney came, and shortly thereafter went, but not before beginning three wars and appointing Ann Hartman Vice President.
She almost passed us by. I knew her name, but little more. On my infrequent jaunts through the less appetising side of London I saw newspaper banners with their strange, still photographs of her rigid smile and hair. They came with words such as 'Crusade', 'Revoke' and 'Impeach'.
It was only later we would learn she had run roughshod over her own laws and government. At the time, she was half a world away, and we were still rebuilding.
Then came Boston. As President Hartman stood before a crowd, a gunshot rang out.
I've seen the film. Everyone has seen the film. Endless times.
Most to apportion blame; but I feel for the man. Datura Appleton had seen his last president die of stress, the one before in flame. He just wanted this one to live.
You can see the speed of his wordless spell, faster than the crack of sound. He spotted the gunman before any of the security did. The bullet can be seen on the digital footage, small and stationary, its momentum stripped away by the spell. Appleton is not in the camera's focus, but I like to think that blurred expression on his face was horror, in the second before he Apparated away, when he realised what he had done.
It could have all been explained; the shot went wild, sometimes you never find these things, save that the bullet came to a stop three inches in front of Hartman's face.
The Iranian who shot it was dead before people even understood what was happening. The media who were covering the event were in disarray. Half of them failed to understand what they were seeing when Hartman reached out in front of her face and plucked the bullet from the air – Appleton had made a beginner's error, the force that he had stopped going forward had been enough to keep it up for seconds.
And even then, if we had held our tongues, it would have been all right. But the American Ministry, long frustrated at the fact they were separate from the Muggles' seat of power – and, if you listen to Granger and her mob describe it, jealous of the relationships that we have always enjoyed – saw it as an opportunity to Build Bridges.
They say Hartman gunned down the Minister of Magic with her own gun.
One Auror made it out of the meeting alive. Irene Truscott – she went directly to Appleton's, trying to beat the news. But she was too late. He had killed himself, leaving only a scrawled apology.
Truscott was the hero of the day. Previously considered a good administrator, she went straight to the Wireless Networks and put the message out. Leave now. Leave everything that you cannot carry. Apparate, or fly by night, or use the Floo Networks. Head for Canada, head for Mexico, head for Los Angeles if you must because we have friends there. Just go, and go today. We will keep you safe as long as we can.
She was as good as her word. The Aurors sent their families packing and stood by the Floo hubs for as long as they could. Thousands escaped.
But Hartman moved swiftly, too. The minute the news went out, she called in her forces. I remember Pansy's father saying that she would never get it through their 'Parliament'. She did not try. She dismissed both houses and declared a state of martial law.
Many Squibs and those passing as Muggles were handed over. Oh, there were thousands of innocents. The strange, the frightening, the New Age – Hartman had been looking for an excuse to act, and here it was on a platter. But there were enough who were real and who knew things. And Hartman told Homeland Security to do their best. They did.
Floo locations were given away under torture; they cut them off one by one, then finally worked out how to track the Network. The Ministry held out for four days, with Truscott galvanising the defence. In the end, she was one of only five lost when the missiles came in. She had forced everyone else out, promising to follow immediately.
I was at the Manor when the news broke. Father threw the paper down in disgust and left breakfast. Mother looked at me across the table, afraid.
'Are we safe?' she asked me.
I promised her I would find out. And there was only one place I could go.
I had no right to ask, but I did anyway.
It took me hours to find him, and even then I had to yell across a crowded street to grab his attention. But my bark of 'Potter!' stopped him mid-stride.
I could not read his expression as he saw me, and indeed, his first words were 'What are you …', but then he shook his head. 'Not today, Malfoy. Whatever you've come for, I just can't manage it today.'
I was beside him by then, and I could see the lines around his eyes, the shadows about his face. 'One question,' I assured him.
'Is it as bad as it seems?'
A humourless smile moved swiftly across his face. 'Worse. Have you read the Muggle papers?'
I shook my head. 'I only know that they know about us, that the Statute was broken.'
A grim laugh came from him. 'They don't see it like that. They call us terrorists,' he said. 'Satanist terrorists, who have been waging a long and extensive campaign against America.'
'I thought Truscott had saved them all,' I whispered, shocked, thinking of loud, gaily dressed witches and wizards who had appeared in social seasons past.
Potter's voice grew quieter. 'She did. Almost all our people made it out. But the truth of the matter is that we're not Hartman's targets anymore, she's going after Muggles. So half the Americans want to go back in, and the Canadians and Mexicans have promised help. I'm off to … there's a meeting …
'Look, I can't talk about it. It will be in the papers tomorrow. Can you see me then? Come to my office. We should talk, anyway, I've been wanting to.'
I had no idea what he was babbling on about, but he had been honest with me. I was less so with him. 'I'll try,' I told him.
I went straight home to pack.
Mother and Father did not try to talk me out of it, but before I left, Father came to visit and gave me a book of defensive spells his Father had left him. Mother came to see me with the blue box.
I had been avoiding that box for years. When it had arrived, four days after the end of the war, I had been about to open it before spotting Potter's name on the return slip. I knew what it was, then, and gave it to Mother to dispose of. She had refused, saying I would want it one day.
I nearly left it the second time, too. My new wand was perfectly good, and who needs two? But I had traded on the man's kindness, so I opened the box. There, as I knew there would be, was my old wand, and, what I had not guessed, a note.
One life-saving apiece. I think that means we should try starting over, but with civility and maturity this time, on both our parts. Don't rush your answer, come and see me when you have one. -- Harry
I took the note, as well as the wand.
It was easy to find our people from what Potter had told me. The wizarding community in Niagara on the Lake had always been strong; it was the work of two days' Apparating to reach them. I had not expected to find them surrounded by UN forces, but an uneasy alliance had been forged.
No one used the words wizard or witch. The blue-bereted troops referred to religious and cultural refugees. It was an open secret, but not discussed. Just as the UN troops were conducting 'exercises' in Canada, and not ignoring the veto that had been forced through the Security Council.
Muggles were flowing across the border, some by cars – having come through the northern safe areas, still unreached by Hartman's troops – some by foot. They brought stories of those who had been too slow to leave, of strafing from planes overhead, of light aircraft brought down. A plane made it in the night I arrived; it had flown hugging the ground from Ohio. Some of our people were still coming out, too. They said they had not known where to go; some had been warned by Muggle neighbours that they were in danger, others had given up trying to tough it out.
I had thought it would be hard, offering help, gaining their trust. I had forgotten grace. Ernie Macmillan was there. He saw me, grimy and tired in the crowd, and came to me.
'I want to fight,' I said, before he could open his mouth. 'I want to help.'
He nodded. He took my arm and led me to a town library, filled with our people. He whistled for attention, and when he had it, he announced, 'This is Draco Malfoy. He was at the Battle of Hogwarts with me.' Afterwards he told me that he couldn't see the point in mentioning which side.
That week I went over the border with the first wave and, aside from delivery runs and brief rests, I've been there ever since.
We take it in turns to deliver them to safety when we have collected a group. Herd the Muggles together and Apparate them if there are enough of us, protect more mundane transports if there aren't. They call us their technical advantage – no one uses the M word, except the children. There were plenty of them in the early days as the more farsighted scattered. Now it's mostly people who thought they were safe. Believers and conservatives for the most part, but gay, or Muslim, some Jews, some just unwed.
The Canadians tell us they always knew this would happen. The Americans say they never believed it could.
The North East held out; in the first months they held as far south as New York. California left the Union, and formed the Free Western States of America – FWSA – with Oregon, Washington and Nevada. Alaska and Hawaii joined, the former by small margin but the vote carried and held – they were still, they said, a democracy. For a brief shining moment, we looked to be winning.
Then Hartman authorised the use of small nuclear weapons. Though our people managed to contain the blasts, many were felled by the effort. It was a mistake on Hartman's part. A brace of senior generals defected to the FWSA, bringing troops and hardware.
But we were 279 witches and wizards down.
The use of nukes, as they call them, was the last straw for Britain, indeed for most of the wizarding world. From a tacit allowance that some of its citizens would go to fight, a new policy of active support came in. Aurors, Unspeakables, Hit Wizards and Healers were sent over. And, of course, he came.
We'd already been invoking his name. At first it was just to our people. 'We saw Harry Potter beat worse odds,' we said. Enough Muggles heard us that they began to use it as a talisman, too. The children even made up a chant to go with their skipping games, hampered only by the fact that so few useful words rhyme with 'Potter'.
We heard of him, good news travelled fast. He was in California with Secretary Powell, in Seattle with the Unspeakables working on closing down the Americans' IT. It was weeks before I saw him.
We were fifty miles north of Allentown, and we had not been able to outrun Hartman's troops. We had forty Muggle refugees with us that night, behind our defence, but too scared to strike out on their own.
The attack came at dawn. There weren't enough of us to both defend and strike back. We held our line solid, no artillery made it through, and Ernie blocked their radios. But it was a matter of time. If they kept up the offence and held us down, eventually we would need to sleep, and lose.
We didn't turn when we heard the cheers behind us, but we hoped. And there they were. Two dozen, fresh and strong. They were clean. It seems absurd to mention, but the most reassuring thing about them was their cleanliness. They had not been sleeping rough for weeks, they had come to us fresh from the bosom of civilisation.
I recognised most of them, but it was him my eyes flicked to every time I had a second's respite. He took the line not ten feet from me, and added his spells to ours. His arm was straight, his stare focussed.
I had seen him like this once before, certain, splendid.
I half-hated him, even as I followed his lead in targeting their weapons. But that was just habit. He wasn't my childhood enemy any more, he was the most famous wizard in the world. And he was still rubbish at killing people.
The armoured vehicles were spewing infantry as they realised their artillery had failed. Potter Stunned a few, I threw Reductos at them, not caring that I left broken limbs in my wake. They were the enemy; they wanted all of us dead. Sooner than I would have imagined, they were out of options. None of them were dead, but their weapons were damaged or disabled, most were injured. They fell silent, then a cry of, 'We surrender, do you have a medic?' rang out.
Potter nodded at one of his team, who I did not recognise. He went forward with three others. I didn't even have time to roll my eyes; we had too many of our own to check on.
Potter followed me back. Ernie was helping to hand out tea and whisky among our forces; behind them, our Muggle guides, were reassuring their people.
'You can come out,' I called. Most had hidden inside the old house we had been caught near; a few had gone down to the cellar, where they would have been trapped like rats had we failed. One family, the smart ones, I thought, came in from the perimeter of the woods. They had been ready to keep running, through the undergrowth, trusting that no one would have an accurate count of how many we were.
'Is it over?' one of our guides, Mary, asked me.
'We won,' I told her. 'Reinforcements arrived in time.'
Potter walked after me, silent, watching.
Mary smiled at him. 'Thank you. Thank your team for us. I was worried about Ernie, Blondie and the gang.'
The corners of Potter's mouth flicked up at that, and stayed there in response to my look.
Mary looked at his face closely. I could see her playing over the words to the rhyme in her head, … with his lightning scar and glasses, Harry Potter kicked their asses …
I gave a small nod, 'Potter, this is Mary. She's our local knowledge. Mary, Potter, All England Champion Dark Lord Defeater.'
The name moved ahead of us, people came swarming out to see for themselves. Potter stayed close to me, drinking a cup of tea that found its way into his hands.
'I heard you were here,' he said after a few minutes.
I shrugged. 'Seemed the right place to be.'
'That's your old wand.'
I put it away. 'Familiar is faster in a place like this,' I said, not a real explanation.
'You didn't need to come here to prove anything to me, you know,' he said.
I looked at him then. It took a moment for the words to come. 'I'm glad you're here,' I told him. 'It'll be a real boost to morale for everyone to see a genuine old-school American-style ego.'
To do him justice, he laughed.
With twenty-four extra wands, we Apparated the refugees easily. Scarborough was the drop-off point that day, and we were finished before lunch. Muggle forces came down with us and took the surrendered troops into custody. I expected Potter to be whisked away and subjected to debriefing or whatever people at that level of power do after a mission. But he stood around with me and Ernie, and Finnigan from school, who had come with him.
'… never been so happy to see anyone in my life!' Ernie was saying.
'You seemed to have the situation mostly sorted,' Potter teased.
'Yeah,' Ernie drawled. 'I was going to send Malfoy out to lecture them on their thoughtlessness in holding us up, giving the rest of us an opportunity to escape. You don't want to get on the wrong side of this one.'
He knocked my shoulder with his, to show that he was joking. Potter understood; Finnigan eyed me nervously.
'People have been known to turn their weapons on themselves rather than listen to me go on,' I told Seamus.
He looked from me to Ernie several times before deciding it was a joke. 'Harry said he thought you'd changed, guess he was right, eh?'
I raised an eyebrow, but Potter declined comment. Ernie suggested we all head back to Niagara. Scarborough was full; the main refugee work for the east coast was handled there. In Niagara we had a flat that we theoretically lived in and a pub that we actually drank in. And if nothing else, he and I could change our clothes and pick up our post.
I expected Potter to say no, to have more important tasks, but he said yes. He took a minute to tell Lovegood, who was on his team, where he was going, then came back and stood beside me.
'Side-along?' he asked. 'I hate Apparating blind unless I have to.'
I took his arm. 'Sure. Hold on.' And with that, I stepped us through space.
He stumbled as we landed; I had forgotten to warn him that the garden was uneven. I caught his arm and steadied him, receiving another of those bright smiles in thanks. 'Is this where you live?' he asked.
'Upstairs. Ernie, too. Mary and her girlfriend live downstairs, the Muggle who owns the place lives next door. She takes care of the garden.'
I looked around. He was right, it was. I'd missed the best of the summer, and had mostly seen it through half-closed eyes staggering towards a shower and a comfortable bed, or out to drink and home drunk. But there were roses blooming blowzily, and honesty going to seed. The gardenias planted along the wall were filling the air with their fragrance. He must have noticed the surprise on my face, because he walked over to the roses and breathed in a lung-full of their scent. 'It's easy to forget, isn't it?' he asked. 'Simple things like the beauty of a garden, that flowers smell good.'
'Not so much forget as have no time for at the moment. It will still be there after the war.'
He looked at me. 'Why are you here?'
'Proving myself to you, obviously.'
He grinned. 'Your mother said you came over as soon as the crisis began.'
'Can't have Muggles killing wizards, that's completely against the natural order.'
He laughed at that. Ernie and Seamus appeared then, declaring that we should find pints of ale and vanquish them.
'It's not even eleven o'clock,' Potter protested. 'Is the pub even open?'
'It's always open,' Ernie assured him. 'It's where we mix with the Muggles and everyone can get the news out quickly.'
'And we can get pissed if we need to,' I added. 'Some days it's the only logical option.'
Potter nodded. 'You don't need to remember every day.'
'We do today,' Ernie announced. 'It was all going to poo before your lot turned up. So today we celebrate! We shall ask for pots of the finest ale! And cake! And then more ale and then dancing and then we stagger home to sleep it off!'
'It's still not eleven,' Potter reminded him. 'We'll be staggering home around six tonight.'
I felt a little disloyal to Ernie, but I couldn't help laughing.
'Showers first,' I decreed. 'You two clearly slept in a nice hotel last night, but Macmillan and I spent the evening on patrol in the wilds of Pennsylvania. And there was little sylvan about it.'
'I wasn't going to mention the smell,' Seamus said, grinning.
He and Potter followed Ernie and I up the stairs. We left them in the sitting room, told them to make free with the fridge's contents. Ernie took the main bathroom, I went to the one I had added to my room, which was somewhat bigger on the inside than on the outside.
I was quick washing the grime of the last few days away. We used spells in the field, but there was nothing like the feeling of warm water or the smell of soap. When we moved in, I'd sent home for some of Mother's best towels, Ernie had declared that repaid any debt to him in full – he'd been afraid that good linens would mark him as soft, but since it was my doing, he was all for it. As I wrapped the warm dryness around me, I had to agree. Little in life surpassed good towels.
I came out into my room to dress, and found Potter napping across the foot of my bed. That was unexpected, but I gathered my clothes quietly and dressed in the bathroom. By the time I came back out, he was snuffling quietly into the blanket. I left him there and went to find the others.
Finnigan was asleep on the sofa, with Ernie looking on, amused.
'Potter's passed out on my bed,' I said.
Ernie raised an amused eyebrow. 'I had no idea you were that close. Or boring.'
'Hilarious. Shall we leave them or follow suit?'
'How hungry are you?'
'It can wait.'
'Nap, then. Wake you by three?'
'Sounds good, I'll wake you if I get up first.'
That's the thing I like about Macmillan, no fuss. I returned to my room, and in a fit of charity slipped off Potter's shoes and threw a blanket over his feet. Then I grabbed my pillow and a spare blanket and curled up on the chaise beside my desk.
Movement woke me some hours later. It was Potter, sitting up and looking for his shoes. He was crumpled and wild-haired and with an imprint across the left side of his face from his glasses.
'At the end of the bed,' I directed him.
He was only a little startled by my voice. 'Thanks,' he said. 'You could have kicked me off, you know.'
'You were already sound asleep when I came out of the shower. Seemed a shame to wake you.'
'I just sat down for a minute to wait for you, next thing I knew, I was waking up.'
'It's all right, Finnigan conked out on the sofa, too, so Ernie and I decided to follow your lead. It's only two, still plenty of the day left.'
Potter nodded and tried to smooth back his hair. 'I came in to tell you that your Mum sent her love, she came to see me.'
I had guessed, given how unlikely he was to visit the manor.
'She asked me to look for you, see that you were all right. Remind you to keep safe, that sort of thing.'
'I'm all right, as you can see.'
Potter looked around, and began to smile again. 'Only you would decide that a wartime billet ought to have a library.'
'A gentleman needs his comforts,' I reminded him. I kept Ernie's jacuzzi a secret out of friendship. 'Will you see her again?'
'If I can get back to England, yes.'
'Tell her I'm doing well. Tell her I'm helping with the refugees, tell her I'm based in Canada.'
He nodded, understanding. 'I'll tell her about the library.'
I smiled, then. 'What's going on back in the world?'
'Most countries have condemned Hartman. Europe is taking in a good proportion of the refugees, sending aid for more. The UK has taken most of the wizarding displaced and unwed Muggle couples. Denmark opted for the gays, France is taking the Muslims, Germany the Jews and yes, it is open season on political point scoring, but people are being housed, and that's what matters.
'The UN convened in Geneva for crisis talks just before I left, they're still going. If it's not the US representative blocking debate, it's one of the aid nations dependent on them. And the FWSA is petitioning for the US seat, or one of its own, and saying that the US veto cannot stand because Hartman's America is not the United States.'
'That's bound to have gone well.'
'Secretary Powell has trebled Governor Davis's security team.'
'And wizards, witches, troops, are they sending more?'
'Slowly. They're nervous. No one wants to get involved with American problems. Only Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The usual suspects. Not enough of a force to make it easy, but, combined with the Muggles, enough, I think, to win.'
It was absurd how reassuring I found him. But I had seen my father and Voldemort afraid of this man when he was still a boy. All of that symbolism was still there. Even the Muggles had wanted to touch him this morning. He was on our side and we would win.
That afternoon he was on our side and we would drink. I could lie now and say that we drank gallons and it barely touched us, but all of us were underweight and underslept and the truth of the matter is that a handful of pints saw us singing our way back to the flat before ten that night.
We manhandled Ernie into his room, and propped him on his side with pillows fore and aft, since the likelihood of him being able to control the relentless call of gravity was fairly minimal. Finnigan told Harry and I that he loved us, and that I was a good, good man, who could buy his drinks any night, and that he would be needing the sofa for sleeping on now if we didn't mind.
'You can have my bed,' I told Potter. 'I wasn't lying, the chaise actually is comfortable.'
'Don't be silly, you take the bed. I can take the floor, I am famously tough, ask anyone.'
'You're a goose. And a guest. Take the bed. Do you want a toothbrush? Pyjamas? Anything?'
Potter had kicked off his shoes and was undoing his belt. ''s good. Grab a toothbrush in the morning. Too hard now.'
'No standards, Potter, that's your problem. What would Weasley say?'
'Ron would say "worry about it tomorrow".'
'Girl Weasley, thickie.'
'She'd say "not my problem".'
I stumbled into the bathroom and brushed my own teeth. As much to escape the sudden male bonding as to remove the furred layer that had attached itself to my mouth. A shower was out of the question, but I managed the loo and a splash of water on my face.
But Potter wasn't done. He was waiting outside the bathroom as I left, shirt open, just underpants on. 'Full bladder,' he told me, and moved past me with not quite enough room between us.
I shut the door behind him and counted to ten. I was still making up the chaise with sheets when he came out. He came and stood beside me.
'While I'm still drunk,' he said, 'I just wanted to do something, but you have to promise not to punch me.'
'Sure,' I replied, warily.
And then he put his hand on my jaw and tilted my head and kissed me. I was too startled to do anything more than kiss back. After a minute he rocked back on his heels and looked at me with a satisfied expression.
'Yeah, that's what I thought. Night, Malfoy.'
'Night, Potter. You're very weird.'
He smiled, slipped between the sheets, and was asleep almost immediately.
I climbed between my own sheets and tried to find the clarity needed to think about it, failed, and fell asleep myself. When I woke up, Potter and Finnigan were both gone and Ernie had breakfast on.
Hartman's next move took us by surprise. She pulled out of both Iraq and Iran, leaving two shattered nations behind.
With that peculiar sense of decency that only Americans could manage, the commanders divided their forces according to beliefs and family. Two thirds returned to Hartman's America, the other third went to the FWSA and Canada and, after brief reunions with their loved ones, joined the resistance there.
They say that Hartman wanted to haul all the returning commanders up before Courts Martial, but that the certainty of mutiny stopped her. As it was, the troops who reinforced on our side barely covered the UN forces diverted to peacekeeping in the Middle East.
But they came with hardware and expertise, and news. Many of their former comrades had gone home out of loyalty, not belief, and what they found was disturbing. Reports of re-education camps abounded. Captured witches and wizards were held in high security, wands quarantined, constant surveillance and solitary confinement for each of them.
Our people started talking about running the war our way. Go on the offence. Send house-elves in to grab our people – they could cut through anything Hartman's forces had in place. Send in Hit Wizards to take down Hartman and her Administration, then rebuild the government from those members in exile.
Others argued that it was up to the Muggles. The loose coalition of Americans in Canada, in the North East, and the FWSA, as well as the many small groups active inside Hartman's territories, had a name now: the Free America Movement. They negotiated with Canada to fund the relief and refugee efforts in return for allowing troop movements through their territory. Mexico declared neutrality, in return for Hartman ceasing aggression on their borders and allowing the refugee camps to operate there. The UN supported the FAM, but handed the logistics to Secretary Powell and General Petraeus, who had emerged as leaders.
They said no to the wizard-led plans. Pointed out the need for political stability after the war, the fact people were still telling themselves we were only a highly sophisticated force that they were lucky to have onside. If we took the lead, they would need to admit what we were, who we were, and we would never be wholly safe again.
I agreed. It was better this way, if slower. We were constrained by the many Muggle rules. No Potions in the water supplies, no Imperiuses, no pulses disabling electronics indiscriminately – apparently too many Americans relied on power to live. The Unspeakables laboured to find spells that would focus on Hartman's troops' military tech alone.
It was ironic, because Hartman had no such qualms. The depleted uranium casings on ammunition took out dozens of us before we worked out what they were and how to shield against them – radiation was not something we learned to block at school. There were rumours she had anthrax, was planning to poison the water, but Powell and Petraeus launched their offensive and she was suddenly on the back foot.
The main forces spilled out of the west. Hartman had made the fundamental error of reinforcing the north, thinking we would hit from Canada, too. But our troops merely held the line across Washington and Oregon, it was from Nevada and California that the planes took off and the armoured vehicles rolled.
They televised this war, too. Smart bombs had never been smarter than when we guided them. Civilian casualties were genuinely minimal, and in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, neighbourhood militias rose up in support of the FAM. There was solid resistance to the incursion in Utah and Texas, but mostly outside the major cities. Potter was there, in Texas. I saw him twice on the news in the pub, heard others call his name.
Ernie pointed out, both times, that he owed us drinks. I had grown genuinely fond of Ernie by this point.
Hartman mobilised the remaining reservists and sent them in to the active front. We took this as our chance and began rescues far beyond what our troops could support. Intelligence reports had shown heavy refugee activity streaming into the North East as people broke cover to flee ahead of the fighting and fears of a crackdown that would follow a loss by our side.
Our border had shifted again; we held land south of the Great Lakes now, but Hartman had defensive actions trying to re-take most of the territory. Those who came on foot walked towards Michigan if they could. The Upper Peninsula was thought to be the better route for cover, but there was more of a refugee railroad organised on the lower, with boats transporting those we could not reach.
Trying to transport, at least. There were sinkings; one fishing trawler went down with forty-seven souls. But even that worked in our favour. The locals were outraged, and fishermen who had previously been neutral began taking their boats out in cover patterns.
It wasn't all goodwill. We came in for one pickup to find the safehouse burned to the ground, the doors and windows sealed from the outside. They had thought the locals were sympathetic, but they had just been biding their time until there were a decent number in hiding. Ernie made me come home without striking at the town. But the word got out. Business from outside the town dried up suddenly. Fish supplies stopped without explanation, and the dairy two towns away found themselves unable to sell there, due to 'production issues'.
For the most part, it was back to arduous days Apparating into territory we barely knew. One of our team was shot, Lovegood heard about it and volunteered to fill in. After a few weeks she became a regular with us.
We went out, we found Muggles, we brought them back. Now and then, we would find one of our own people. Half the time they had decided to stop risking discovery, the other half the time they turned and went back deeper into Hartman's territory, to find the next pair of lesbians pretending to be sisters, the next Afghani family living in the attic of a manse. It was a common joke that Hartman's next target would be the Episcopalians – one we took seriously enough to have a contingency plan for.
It was exhausting and mostly banal. We had long ago stopped learning all their names, though every now and then a Muggle on the street would press a small gift into our hands, or hug one of us, then walk away smiling.
I did not see him in the flesh again until well into November. It was another run into Michigan, one of the last with good weather. The FAM activists in the area had organised to take this group out through Muggle channels, but Hartman had reinforced Sault Ste. Marie and they were trapped outside Rosedale in a farmhouse that had good supplies but bugger-all cover.
We Apparated in at night, one of our guides had spent the afternoon going through his holiday photos until he found one of the actual farm we were going to. It was a splinch-free arrival, but badly timed, a car was going past as some of us appeared. There were fourteen Muggles, and the farmer's family of five. With thirteen of us it was doable, all of us could manage a double side-along for the short distance over the border at least.
We moved quickly, but Muggles always have something they can't do without. It was a dog and a cat this time, and by the time the cat was caught, I could hear the helicopters. Ernie and I ran outside to shield while the others Disapparated. I tried to count the cracks, but once the artillery started, it was impossible.
Macmillan was shouting something when the explosion rent the air before us. I had just enough time to turn inwards, put myself between the blast and Ernie, when a vision of blonde hair and reaching hands appeared. She was there a quarter hour later when I regained consciousness, too. Lovegood had waited only for her Muggles to touch the ground before coming back for us. Ernie was unscathed, I was a bit battered.
'You were very brave,' she told me.
'I am sorry for everything I have ever done to you,' I replied.
'Don't be silly, Draco, you brought me food in the cellar, and told Ernie I was surprisingly crafty.'
They took me home, where the Healers spent a half-hour patching ribs and repairing minor internal damage. It wasn't so bad, really, and by the time I fell asleep, I wasn't in any pain at all. Though that could have been the potions.
I woke when someone sat on the edge of my bed. Of course it was Potter. Glasses perched on his nose to peer at me in the moonlight, and mouth poised to ask the right questions, give the right sympathy. He brushed my hair back from my face when he saw my eyes were open. I reached up and pulled him down to me. I was still a little groggy, so my lips hit the side of his mouth, but he breathed in sharply and turned his face to mine and I could feel his smile against my cheek.
I took off his glasses, he kicked off his shoes, and between us we did for his clothing and what was left of mine. He was cool from the night, and when I dragged him under the covers I held him still against the length of me for a moment, letting my warmth seep into him. And then his hands pushed me back into the bed, while his mouth moved down my neck and chest and finally wrapped itself around my cock and I undid half the good the Healers had done me with an almighty thump of my skull against the bedhead.
He sat back up swiftly. 'Are you all right?'
'Fine,' I assured him. 'Come here.'
He did. We fumbled, like the inexperienced muppets that we were, but two hands, two cocks, and a handful of minutes were all it took. Afterwards, we lay facing each other, foreheads touching, panting our breath back into a normal rhythm.
'That wasn't what I came for,' he said.
'Yes it was.'
'I came to see you were all right.'
'I am. Are you?'
He nodded. 'Yeah, yeah I feel …'
'As though I did something for my own reasons for the first time in years. And startled.'
I smiled. 'You started it.'
'I was drunk.'
'I'm on potions.'
'So if I get dressed and leave quietly now, you'll think you hallucinated all this by the morning?'
He laughed. 'Good.'
'Terrible,' I corrected him. 'I can never tell anyone.'
'Who'd believe me? You're famous for fancying girls.'
'Well, you are quite …'
'Don't say it.'
'And Luna and Ernie both saw me come in and not come back out.'
'I'll tell them you hexed me if you like.'
'No.' He tilted my face up to his and kissed me deeply. 'This happened and I don't want to pretend it didn't.'
He couldn't see my smile. 'You're very weird, Potter.'
He was still there the next morning. I woke to find the covers pushed back from my torso and him looking at the bruises there.
'You should have said,' he chastised me.
'It didn't hurt at all.'
Luna and Ernie had made breakfast for us all. They pointedly didn't mention the fact that we both came out of my room, or that Potter was wearing one of my shirts. In return I didn't ask why Luna hadn't gone home and why Ernie was looking so pleased with himself.
The owls found him before we finished the meal. He was needed in Texas; they were ready to begin the assault on Oklahoma tomorrow.
Luna hugged him tightly. 'Keep safe! And if the others are there, give them my love.'
Potter promised to. She excused herself, saying that Ernie had promised to show her the jacuzzi.
I fetched his jacket and his shirt from my room while he finished breakfast. When I came back out he was frowning.
'Ma– … Dra–'
I held up a hand to stop him. 'Malfoy. I like the way you say it.'
That slow smile returned. 'Malfoy. Stay safe, yeah?'
'I will. You stay lucky.'
'I will. Can I … can I come back?'
I nodded. And I couldn't help smiling. He took two steps and was there in front of me, pressing me back until I hit the table, hands in my hair and lips on mine and for both of us it was half kissing, half grinning. Then he left without another word.
When I looked round, Ernie was standing in his doorway, concern on his features. 'Do you have any idea what you're doing?' he asked me.
'None,' I replied, honestly.
'Do you want to talk about it?'
'Oh thank Merlin.'
Luna moved in with us, said it was only practical. We had a few weeks of little action, short runs to territories we knew well and which were half ours. Hartman called for a Thanksgiving Truce, the FAM and FWSA agreed.
And Potter appeared. We went straight to my room, determinedly did not talk about what we were doing, and then allowed Luna to stuff us full of 'culturally appropriate' sweet potato and garlic mushrooms when we finally emerged for dinner.
Luna waited until Potter had gone back to the Nebraska Front before telling me that she thought it was a good idea. 'You two always saw each other very clearly, Draco, and I think very few other people do, for either of you.'
'I saw him as a self-centred prick,' I reminded her.
'Oh he is,' she assured me. 'And so are you. Among other things. That's why it works.'
Ernie warned me to be careful. 'People die around Potter.' But Luna insisted it was only parental figures and I was anything but. I was grateful when they decided to devote more downtime to shagging and less to helping me sort my life out.
A week ago, December twelfth, with winter starting in earnest, we received word of a group in southern Pennsylvania. It was further than any of us had been, and none of our Muggle contacts knew the territory. That meant a magical-only squad, Apparating as far as we could, then walking or flying the rest. Flying was risky, since it was strictly banned wherever Muggles might see us. Teleportation they could explain away to themselves, but aerial broomsticks were out of the question.
We packed them, though. Most of us came from Pureblood families, so had the old trick of shrinking brooms – for quick getaways at Christmas. I taught the Muggleborns on our rare days off, using the emptier parts of Newfoundland to drill them. If one or two of my Father's spells were taught, too, it was all for the Cause.
Even Apparating and flying most of the way, it took us six days to reach the target. When we arrived, we were surprised to see candlelight in the windows and stables near the houses.
'Amish, or Mennonite,' Ernie guessed.
A bearded man came out of the closest building, and ushered the twelve of us in. 'You are welcome in this house,' he assured us.
Inside were the families, packed and waiting. They told us they had sat there from sundown till midnight for the last few days, knowing we would come around those hours. Two Muslim families and one Jewish, with their children all mixed in together, older ones helping the younger. One grandmother, wiping dirt from everyone under twelve. In all, seventeen people, which was manageable, but slow.
'We would like to keep them here,' said the man who had greeted us. 'But we have children out in the world and they say that our communities will be searched soon.'
I was surprised. 'They haven't been before?'
'We do not bother the world, and the world does not bother us,' he replied with a shrug. 'Except now the world is changing.'
The grandmother, and I'm still not sure which family she belonged to, shook her head. 'It will not stay like this,' she assured him. 'I have seen this before, it cannot last.'
The farmers had given the families extra clothes for warmth, so the children wore quilted anoraks with oiled canvas hooded capes over the top. They would need them, it was bitter out and rain threatened.
'Funny, isn't it?' Luna whispered as the farmers and the refugees said goodbye to each other – neighbouring families had come in to press gold and letters into the hands of those leaving. 'Their religions don't matter, but it was religion that caused all this mess.'
'Excuse me, Miss?' It was the farmer, who had overheard. 'It wasn't religion. It was fear, and ignorance. I know that sometimes worldly people believe they are all the same things, but they are not.'
Luna took his hand in apology. 'Here, I can believe that,' she said, gently.
I heard what she did not say. It was a question we had asked ourselves many times, how did so many decide that supporting their President outweighed the rule of law? How did a people put ideology ahead of everything else? Our Muggles had tried to explain, but they did not need to convince me. I had seen my own family do the same.
These people were swift. A quarter hour saw us teamed up and ready to go. Luna and I had two adults each for the first leg, Ernie, Miranda and Thaddeus Apparated ahead to provide shields. We had two new witches with us on that trip, Clara could take two, but Megan was only comfortable with one. After the thirty-second delay, none of our advance had returned, so we followed. We had spotted rest points on the way down, this one was forested and quiet and we were able to pause for a little while before the next Apparation.
It was the second stop that brought us undone. When our advance did not raise an alarm, we followed, only to find the three of them retching on the ground. In the four days since we had passed through, so had a battle, and the toxic shell casings littered what had been an abandoned farmstead.
I shouted 'Go!' and the young ones obeyed, snapping out to our first Alternate point in this part of the state. Luna grabbed Ernie, I grabbed Thaddeus and Miranda, and we followed.
I barely made it. Both of my Muggles came through intact, but Miranda lost her long plait and Thaddeus had two fingers missing off his right hand. Luna left Megan to tend to Ernie and came to staunch Thaddeus's bleeding.
'In my bag, the green potion, feed some to him, some to Miranda, then take a swig yourself,' she ordered.
I obeyed. It calmed Thaddeus, and Miranda stopped trying to throw up on an empty stomach. I only noticed my own nausea when the potion dispelled it.
'Have you had any?' I asked Luna as she slathered Thaddeus's hand with Regrow and bandaged it neatly. When she shook her head, I held the bottle for her to drink from.
'What can I do?' I asked.
'He's sitting upright, drinking something.'
She relaxed then.
I patted her shoulder reassuringly. 'I'm going to check the Muggles.'
We had kept them all intact, which was remarkable, but they were worried.
'Should we move inside the building?' asked the Jewish mother.
'Once I've checked it. We'll need to rest for a while.'
Her husband touched my arm. 'Are you all right? Those three, they took sick …'
'Depleted uranium,' I told them. 'It works faster on us than on you. Ernie says it's because we're more susceptible to radiation, even though we can shield it. We just didn't know we'd need to there, and it's a complex sp– … technique.'
'Spell,' said the husband. 'We know what you are.'
'Spell,' I agreed, knowing he would invent his own fictions soon enough.
He came with me to check the building, another farmhouse left behind as the war became real. This one still had tins of food, running water and all its windows. We were in luck, Mordecai – that was his name – whispered happily.
He went to fetch the others, while I tried to discover how far our luck extended. A surreptitious flight confirmed it was nowhere near as far as I would have liked. We were behind their lines, and there were troops fifteen miles to our east and twelve miles to our west. Both groups were moving north, for now. I came down on the far side of the farmhouse, and completely botched my landing, only just managing to shrink my broomstick back to pocket-sized before the two oldest Muggle girls came out to see what the noise was.
'Get back inside!' I hissed. 'For all you know I could have been a soldier!'
'Too handsome,' one of them flirted.
'There are plenty of handsome soldiers who will shoot you as soon as look at you,' I reminded her.
Megan had taken charge of organising food. We had rations for the trip back, thinking it could stretch to two nights, but the tinned food was all good, and Mordecai had found a gas camping stove and lamp. Soup was found, heated and poured into mugs. Soon we were all sitting in the kitchen, on the table or the benches, and sipping warmth.
Miranda was recovering fast, but Ernie and Thaddeus still looked sick. The rest of us were a bit the worse for wear, but nothing on the scouts. They had gone out looking for humans, and had taken too long to realise that it was the ground that was the danger. Their illness, and our quick escape, had meant the rest of us suffered perhaps five seconds' exposure, compared to nearly a minute for each of them.
I caught Luna's eye, she left Ernie in Clara's care and followed me into the next room. 'Will they live?' I asked her, bluntly.
'Yes. But they will need to rest for a day or two.'
'I don't think we have a day or two. I went up, enemy sightings east and west.'
'Could you see how far we are from the border?'
I shook my head. 'Not enough points of reference. Listen, it's not that late, only about nine. I say we get everyone to sleep until four, then we Apparate in a single jump from here. We can't be more than one-hundred-and-fifty miles from Toronto; even doubling up we can manage that. I think Miranda can make it alone, and you and I can take three. I know we can do it, Luna.'
She shook her head. 'None of us can Apparate, Draco,' she told me gently.
'Of course we …' I stopped, she was shaking her head seriously now.
'Stand up, Draco. Now close your eyes. It's all right, I have you.'
She had caught me as I tipped and fell. The lack of coordination that I had put down to carelessness was more profound than I had thought.
'The potion cures the nausea straight away, but the damage to our inner ears will take a day or two to heal. We'd be splinched if we tried to guess at Direction like this.'
'We're trapped,' I whispered, not wanting anyone else to hear.
'We can fly.'
'A hundred or more miles in ten hours? Not three to a broom, and not with all those scopes trained on the airspace.'
'I can fly.'
I shook my head. 'I'll go.'
'I weigh half what you do, there's less of me to spot.'
I wanted to argue with her, but she was right.
Instead, I warned her. 'It was easy flying in a straight line, but I had to focus on turning, my landing was piss. Stay high as much as you can. There's enough cloud cover out tonight that you should be hidden. Take this.' I took off my outer jumper and held it for her to slip over her head. It was warm and with a tight knit that would help with the wind. 'We'll borrow Megan's cloak, that'll keep you nice and dry.'
She took my hand. 'I'll make it,' she assured me.
'Course you will. We should tell the others.'
'No, you need to tell Ernie.'
'I could just drug him into a stupor for the next twenty-four hours.'
'I might need him to lend a wand if we're discovered before you get back.'
'Keep him safe?' The eternal question.
I gave the only possible answer. 'I will.'
Her goodbye to Macmillan was murmured and kissed. He caught the hem of the jumper as she stepped away, but it slipped between his fingers. I loaned her my broom, it was the best we had. She promised to give it back soon.
I took the first watch, with Mordecai and his wife Sarah, and sent the others to bathe and rest. The other families washed first and took one of the parlours for their evening prayer. We could hear the soft whispers of their holy words, beautiful and strange to my ears.
'I suppose your people are all Pagans,' Sarah whispered to me as we walked past them.
'Merlin no! That's for Muggles.'
She was still laughing as we went our separate ways, to take our points around the house.
Half an hour later, some deliberately loud footsteps and small coughs signalled the arrival of flirting girl, Rachel, and her friend, Lena.
'We brought you coffee,' said Lena, handing over a steaming mug. 'Instant, and no milk, sorry, but two sugars. I know English people prefer tea, but I only know how to make peppermint.'
'That's all right, it's hot.' I was missing my jumper.
'Are we going to die?' Rachel asked bluntly.
'Eventually,' I replied, sipping my coffee.
'Tomorrow?' Rachel kept on. 'We know that Luna's gone for help, is she going to make it?'
'Almost certainly,' I said, honestly.
'And then they'll come, right? Your people, like, Harry Potter and that sort of thing?'
'They will come,' I promised. And they would. It just might be too late.
'OK. Well, that's good. Thanks. Do you need anything?'
I looked at their stuffed backpacks; our refugees rarely put them down. 'Don't suppose you have a book?' It was easier to stay awake and alert if you were doing something at the same time as watching.
'Algebra,' Lena apologised.
'The Nanny Diaries,' Rachel offered. They both laughed at the face I pulled.
'I have a notebook, and some pencils,' Lena said, rummaging for them. 'You could write or draw something.'
I thanked her, and took them.
That was last night. I slept for a few hours when the next watcher took over from me, then got up again at four and helped extend the forest out the back up to the house. If it all goes to hell, we've made a clear path that our Muggles can get through, but brambles for everyone else. Sarah calls it the Sleeping Beauty Plan.
There's a defensive rampart of earth with a ditch on the road side – around the house, but a goodly distance away. I have checked Ernie, Thaddeus and Miranda, and dosed everyone with more of Luna's green potion. We can see smoke from the wall of fighting in the north now.
Ernie has just walked past, says he's feeling fine now, no idea what all the fuss was about. 'Chin up, Malfoy,' he says. 'Potter won't let you die in a ditch.'
I smile back at him, he's right. If Potter knew, he would be here in an instant, and he would save us. But he is busy winning a war.
The rest of the time I have spent writing. Not in case of failure, because there will be no failure. This is not written to him, it is written to me. Written to remind me that he beat Voldemort with my wand, this wand. That almost everything he has learned, I have learned, too.
That I have memorised a small, black book of black spells and am not above using any of them if it means we will all survive this and make it safely home. And although I am every moment hoping that I will hear his voice, smell that Muggle toothpaste he uses, that this is what I always hope now, and is nothing to do with needing rescue.
This is written so that I will remember: I made each choice that brought me here, and, this time, my choices have been right.
Ernie is back. 'Luna will get through,' he tells me. 'Harry will save us.'
I shake my head. 'That's not what's going to happen,' I say.
'No?' There's an edge of sadness to his voice, but I smile at him, and he smiles back.
'We're going to save us,' I tell him. 'I'm going to. Whatever it takes. I'm getting us all home.'
Ernie's smile becomes a grin. 'Oh you are, are you?' he asks.
'Absolutely.' And now I grin, too. 'I'm a Malfoy, Macmillan. I've been playing by the rules lately, but today I'm playing to win.'
'Oh lord,' he sighs. 'Potter's contagious.'
'Potter,' I tell him happily, 'is going to buy us beers and say: "Merlin's pants, chaps, that was a tight one. Thank goodness Blondie has no scruples whatsoever."' I leave off the fact that he is also going to be insufferable, because it turns out he was right, and I am governed by the urge to impress him.
Ernie thinks, then nods. 'Beer, you say?' He sits beside me, looking up the road. I look down it, and together, we wait.