Title: Executioner's Summer
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Warnings: Violence, gore, heavy angst, multiple character deaths, no epilogue.
Summary: As Harry watches the Death Eater executions from a distance, summer lies heavy on the land.
Author's Notes: This is a dark and twisted little one-shot from a world where all is not happy in the summer immediately after the war.
The heat was a dragon, and it had them all inside it.
That thought came to Harry Potter one afternoon as he was walking home after the trial, surrounded by his defensive group of elite Auror bodyguards. He frowned and put his head on one side to regard the thought, not sure what had made it occur to him. Generally, he didn't have that sort of poetic musing. Why would he? He lived in a world of hard realities.
The hardest realities of all had started when he killed Voldemort.
But, when Harry looked around, he thought he understood. The thought had come to him because it was inevitable, because theirs was a world of stone and flame.
People hurried past each other in the wizarding part of London with their heads bowed and their eyes on the ground. Everyone had someone who had been killed in the Death Eater attacks after the war. The Death Eaters had decided to get revenge for the death of their Lord and had attacked everything and anything, demanding that the Aurors and the Ministry release Harry to them.
Harry thought he would willingly have gone to save some lives if he had been given the choice. He wasn't. The Ministry snapped their defiance back and held Harry safe in their clutches, giving him Aurors who followed him even into the loo, to guard against the possibility of someone using a Portkey in there.
And they accelerated the trials.
Harry wiped one hand across his forehead. The Auror walking on his left, a woman named Jenna Perkins whom Harry had come to know as much as he knew any of them, clucked sympathetically and cast a Cooling Charm. Harry nodded his thanks, although, strangely, it didn't really help. He could still feel the heat outside the charm, lying around them like a skin tent that contained the breeze blowing on his face.
"Nasty weather," Perkins remarked, wrinkling her nose. She had a cute face, Harry thought, and sometimes he wondered how she had ever become an Auror. When she wrinkled her nose, though, he could see it. That pulled her lips back from her teeth and showed the ferocity that lay behind her mask—that lay behind the face of anyone who was calling himself or herself an Auror right now. "We'd all be a sight easier if it was gone."
Harry nodded without speaking. Speaking felt like too much effort in this heat. In this summer.
He was keeping count, in his head. He didn't know if anyone else was, except the official record-keepers at the Ministry. The Prophet continually inflated the numbers to get more readers and "hearten" the "besieged" wizarding world, and Harry had quickly understood that the crowds who came to watch the trials were waiting for the spectacle of death and revenge. One trial was the same as another to them.
Sixty-three executions since the summer began.
Narcissa Malfoy spoke the single word as the Aurors led her forth into the broad, open courtyard where the Ministry held all the executions. She didn't sound as if she was pleading, Harry thought, surveying her in wonder. She walked with her head up and her eyes wide open, and she looked as if she knew the costs of what might happen if they had to drag her in: her last moments wouldn't be honorable ones, and the crowd would go from silent to baying in an instant. She spoke the negation as if she could wipe this all out of existence with the word.
On the other side of the courtyard, the Dementor waited.
It floated next to its handlers and stared at the woman condemned to die at its mouth with hidden eyes. They always left the hood on, Harry had noted, until the last minute. Then the Dementor would pull back the hood and stretch its jaws wide, taking the victim's soul into them in such a way that everyone in the courtyard would be able to see it.
It was meant to be impressive. But the strange thing, Harry thought, was that it was also meant to be a warning to the watchers that any of them could also be arrested and executed by the Ministry if they were found "aiding" Death Eaters, and yet they never seemed to take it that way.
Or maybe he was imagining that message.
It was possible. He had been informed that he was imagining a lot of things in the last few months, by the Ministry and by Ron, who was glad that the trials were happening and the executions were happening. It was revenge for Fred, he said. And for Tonks and Remus, and for Moody, and for Snape, and for all the others who had had to die because their side wasn't strong enough, fast enough, and there were Death Eaters everywhere.
Ron clutched his wand when he said that, and stared into the shadows. Harry wondered if he knew that he did.
Or what his eyes looked like, when he did.
They were blind, all of them, Harry thought, the summer pouring into their faces, the sweat pouring into their eyes.
And he no less than the rest, standing here and watching the executions and wondering if there was something he had missed, because he was the only one who seemed to feel differently. If everyone else enjoyed it, then didn't that mean that he was the odd one, the outsider who had to justify his presence, instead of the rest of the wizarding world?
It should be. At least, it seemed to make sense to him that way. Harry didn't know if it made sense to anyone else.
The Ministry Aurors with their chains drew Mrs. Malfoy across the expanse of ground between her and the Dementor. She made that noise of refusal one more time, and then, amazingly, went to meet her fate, her head lifted, her feet tapping out small, urgent sounds on the stones.
The Dementor pulled back its hood and bent over her. Harry blinked, seeing the sun glare off the back of the Dementor's head. He didn't know that he had seen that before, and wondered if it was something he had missed in the executions before, or a delusion now.
A delusion, he thought. Had to be. Everyone else had said and done so many strange things since the end of the war that he had learned to distrust his own perceptions. What were the chances that, if a madness had taken over the wizarding world, or a curse, as he sometimes thought, instead of a normal desire for revenge, he would be the only one left standing outside it?
And yet, sometimes he thought that maybe other people felt the same thing about the lack of justice in the executions, and the strangeness of the evidence that always turned up at the last minute, to show that the Death Eaters in question had in fact committed heinous crimes, even when it seemed the worst thing they had done was sit about with snake tattoos on their arms, torturing when Voldemort asked them to. But since he only saw the Weasleys and his Auror bodyguards, and the Death Eaters and the crowds at a distance, he didn't know if anyone else thought the same things.
The Dementor sucked out Mrs. Malfoy's soul. Her body fell to the ground and lay there, still. Harry knew it would be burned before the day was done. The Ministry had reassured the people who depended on it to keep order and enforce justice that there was nothing to fear from that, that the soulless bodies couldn't feel anything anyway.
Harry knew that was true. And he felt almost nothing by now, stained by the blood and the heat since the end of the war.
But he still turned his head away when they carried the body off.
"Malfoy's trial is going to begin soon."
Harry started and looked up from his cup of tea. He'd been sitting in the Weasleys' kitchen and watching the shadows of his Auror guard pass back and forth outside the windows. He turned around now and paid attention to the conversation between Ron and Hermione for the first time. "What do you mean? I thought the Malfoys were all dead."
"Oh, no," Ron said, and gave him a slow smile. It made Harry's heart tighten when he thought of how different that smile was from the one that Ron would have given last year, but the summer had changed them all. "They killed his parents, sure. But cowardly little Draco Malfoy himself was in hiding. They managed to convince someone to turn him in at last, and now there's going to be a trial. Which is all the git deserves," Ron added, sounding vicious.
Turn him in, Harry thought, and swallowed a new gulp of tea to give himself time to think. Because that sounds so much better than "betray."
Hermione caught his eye and gave him a strained smile. Harry knew that she didn't agree with the executions as much as Ron did, but she was swept up in the Weasleys' grief, too, and in the casualties of the war that kept coming more and more to light every day. The Death Eaters had tortured all sorts of people in little villages that they'd never known about, until the Ministry began to check and update its records. And Harry had heard her say that sacrificing her parents' memories was as hard as anything that Voldemort's favorites had to go through.
Sometimes he heard her crying at night, when they were staying in the same house. But she never had any tears in her eyes in the morning. Harry thought the heat had dried them.
"I'll be glad when he's dead," Ron said, standing up and moving to the window so that he could look out, too. Harry had no idea what he was watching. The parched and withering grass, perhaps, or the shadows of the Aurors in his turn. "Then maybe I can stop thinking of death and start thinking of life."
Hermione stood up and went to put her arms around him, leaning her head on his shoulder. Ron reached up and stroked her hair, but he never, Harry noted, took his eyes off the withering world outside.
"He'll be all right," Hermione said, when Ron had left the room. "I'm sure he will be, once he has a chance to stop hearing about death every day and reliving Fred's death every time he does."
Harry nodded back, and wondered who Hermione was trying to convince, him or herself.
"Draco Lucius Malfoy, you are accused of torture, of complicity in torture, of cooperation with the World's Enemy, of…"
The voice of the Ministry's official accuser did rather tend to drone on, Harry thought. He couldn't blame Malfoy for the tense look on his face or the way his arms flexed and rippled in their bonds, but he didn't understand how the crowd could be interested, turning their faces back and forth between the accuser and Malfoy like fans at a Quidditch game.
The Wizengamot's old courtroom had been suitable for secret trials, but not for the public ones that the Ministry had insisted on for the Death Eaters and other Dark wizards who had come out of the war, and not for all the people who wanted to watch. So they were trying Malfoy, condemning him and the others, in a field not far from Hogsmeade. Harry didn't know who had suggested the site first, but since the Death Eaters had done so much damage to Hogwarts, he reckoned it was appropriate.
If anything could be.
Harry leaned on the railing of the wooden ring that surrounded the field and kept the seats for the jury, witnesses, attending officials, and accused away from the place where the commoners gathered. Kingsley and other Ministry officials had offered him a chair in the circle, but Harry had refused. He said that he thought he'd had too much attention already and he didn't want to distract the press from the progress of justice. That had been enough to satisfy Kingsley, and the other Ministry flunkies hadn't cared all that much.
The heat rippled over the ground, strongly enough to make tiny mirages start up from the corners of people's eyes. Harry wondered if others were seeing trees and water. He kept seeing hooded Dementors everywhere he looked.
The accuser finally reached the end of the long list of crimes for which Malfoy was charged, and paused. "What is your appeal?" he prompted, because Malfoy appeared not to know that he had to provide the audience with its entertainment now.
Malfoy lifted his head. His tension had gone. Harry saw the contempt he felt for the people around him, the ones who weren't on trial for their lives, in the pale pink of his cheeks and the bloodless press of his lips, the narrowing of his eyes.
"It hardly matters," Malfoy said. "Since you'll find me guilty anyway."
The crowd bayed, the accuser sighed, the Head of the Wizengamot intervened to demand silence and remind Malfoy that only evidence would condemn him, and the trial began.
As they led Malfoy to his chair, he turned his head and caught sight of Harry. To Harry's surprise, that was the only thing that seemed to shake him. In moments he had turned his head the other way and clamped back down into silence and boredom.
That pose never wavered again, although they kept him there all day, answering questions, in the midst of that summer.
"What did he mean by that?"
Harry frowned and took refuge behind his glass of cool lemonade. Ron was pacing around the kitchen and staring out the window towards Fred's grave, the way that he often did when he was angry. Harry had expected he would be gleeful after the first day of Malfoy's trial, which had revealed evidence and witnesses that he had tortured many innocent people for Voldemort, not only Death Eaters.
Instead, he was obsessed with one answer that Malfoy had made, and hadn't let it go since they had come back home.
"What?" Hermione asked. She was on the other side of the table, watching Ron with exhausted eyes. Harry thought of telling Ron that he was making her upset and sick, but he didn't think Ron would care, and he didn't want to watch Hermione hurt by his indifference.
"Why did he say that he had nothing to do with Fred's death?" Ron spun around and pounded his fist down in the middle of the table. Hermione jumped. Harry had anticipated something like this, and simply watched in silence.
It occurred to him suddenly that he did a lot of that, and he wondered why.
The answer was simple, swift, and brutal.
Because I'll only get one chance to act, and I want that chance to matter.
Harry shook his head and attended more to what Ron was saying. Sometimes his own mind puzzled him, especially since the war, when he seemed to observe more facts but absorb them more slowly.
"Because he didn't," Hermione said, carefully, as though she didn't know why the words mattered to Ron. "Because he was over on the other side of the castle when it happened, and he didn't cast the curse or anything like that."
"But he must be lying." Ron's eyes were bright and feverish as the heat shimmers outside, and he turned and stared at Harry. "You know that he must, right, mate? You were there. You saw Fred die."
"I never saw who killed him," Harry said. He was being careful, too, he realized. The obsession in Ron's eyes struck him as wrong. Of course, Ron had wanted Fred's killer arrested from the beginning, and they had never found him—or her. It was Harry's opinion that the killer had probably been executed without confessing to the crime, because they couldn't remember who had died from one particular spell in the chaos of the battle.
But he couldn't say that to Ron. For Ron, Fred's death was the center of the universe, and he couldn't grasp that that might not be true for everyone.
"But Malfoy is almost the only one left," Ron said, and turned away again, fingers clenched into fists and then opening, as if he was casting a handful of dust away. "If he didn't do it, who did?"
Hermione sighed. "We might never find the one who did it, Ron. Would that be so terrible?"
"Yes!" Ron spun around and stared at her. "If we don't have vengeance, how are we ever going to have peace? We might lie awake for years, wondering where Fred's killer is and if they managed to escape after all. You know that some Death Eaters fled Britain when they first started hunting for them and found refuge on the Continent. What if his killer was one of them?"
"Then they'll get brought back by the extradition treaties that are already in place," Hermione said firmly. "The Ministry is committed to not letting any of them get away, Ron. It will be all right. You'll see," she added, and reached out an arm to catch his and bring him back to the table. "You'll see," she added gently.
Ron sat down, head bobbing as though it was being pulled on a string. "Yeah," he whispered. "Kingsley wouldn't let them get away. He's a lot more committed to our future than Scrimgeour was. I have to remember that."
Harry sipped his lemonade and watched the dust hanging in unfaltering arcs above the ground. The sun struck and glared through it, and he was reminded of the glare above the Dementor's head when he had watched it suck out Mrs. Malfoy's soul. He closed his eyes against it.
Malfoy looked up. He had refused to pay attention when they called him by that name at first, and they had removed him and brought him back in the custody of two burly Aurors. Harry hadn't seen any visible bruises, but Malfoy had walked more slowly and with his head bowed as though he wanted to make sure his feet were still there. He hadn't missed a cue after that.
Harry found himself leaning forwards. Today, he had accepted a seat as close to the wooden circle as possible, although still not inside it. He had felt an inexplicable distaste about doing so.
"Prisoner," the accuser repeated. "There is evidence that you killed the young wizard known as Fred Weasley. What say you to this?"
Malfoy sat up straighter. Harry wanted to take his eyes off him and look around for Ron, who he knew had contrived to get the question submitted, but he literally couldn't look away from Malfoy now. He had to know how he would plead.
If he knew for certain that Malfoy had killed Fred, he would…
Harry didn't know what he would. Sometimes he thought the summer had paralyzed his will, cooked it to death as it seemed to be in the midst of cooking them all.
"There is no evidence but what that crazed Weasley has in mind," Malfoy said. He licked his lips. They were cracked, Harry saw. They hadn't given him any water all day. "I didn't kill him. I wasn't in that part of Hogwarts when the battle started."
Harry heard a shout from the side, where Ron was seated. He was probably upset that Malfoy had called him crazed, or maybe that Malfoy had denied all knowledge of Fred's death. Harry leaned further forwards, focused on Malfoy alone by this point, waiting, along with him, for what the accuser would say next.
"There is evidence," the accuser said, and his voice was thin and dry. "Do you wish to reconsider your answer?"
Malfoy laughed. The sound was so unexpected that Harry actually flinched. He had thought it was something else for a moment, he told himself, trying to settle his unsteadily beating heart. A Dementor moving in, or a cry that Voldemort had returned, or—something. Something that would allow him to live with himself and his timidity.
But aren't you timid already, if you've let the trials go on this long without attempting to object to them?
"What does it matter?" Malfoy asked. He stood up, as far as he could stand with the chains on his wrists that linked him to the chair arms, and stared around the crowd. Most of them flinched with his eyes' passing, Harry noticed, as he hadn't seen them flinch from any other person. Harry didn't, and Malfoy stopped and gave him what looked like a tiny nod of acknowledgment before he went on. "Why should I care? You'll sacrifice me to this twisted notion of justice that you have no matter what I say. I might as well stick to what I know to be the truth. I can't hope for real justice, or real mercy, so I'll die in the embrace of truth." He flopped into his chair suddenly and tilted his head back so that it rested against the bare wood. "Of all the unexpected ideals to die with," he murmured. "My father would be ashamed of me, but he's not here. You won't understand, and you are here. That's the way it is."
Harry waited for the accuser to continuing his questioning. He did, but only after a long pause that Harry knew the Ministry would disclaim later. They would say that of course their man had been shocked, but it had been because Malfoy had the audacity to claim that the trials were farces of justice.
The honesty, Harry thought, staring at Malfoy with his heart beating and his chest aching as it hadn't ached all that long, numb summer.
The honesty to say what we should all be saying.
"He has to admit that he was Fred's killer. I'll make him admit it."
Harry caught Hermione's eyes and shook his head. She had started to rise to go to Ron, but she settled back with a little frown. They were in Harry's house this time, his Auror guard standing outside the drawing room and politely pretending not to listen, rather than in the Burrow. Harry thought that made a difference in her self-confidence. Hermione practically was a Weasley now, and had adopted the Burrow as home.
"Listen, Ron," Harry said, watching as his friend picked up a cushion from the couch and manipulated it back and forth, so that rents appeared in it and stuffing leaked out of them. "You can't change reality. If Malfoy didn't kill Fred, then he didn't. You should look elsewhere so you can find who really did, instead."
Ron whirled around towards him and stared, a muscle bulging in his jaw. Harry stared back. He wanted to say that his friend looked alien, but in reality, he looked no stranger than the face Harry had watched in the mirror that morning as he cast his Depilating Charms.
We've been in a dream all summer, the lot of us, the whole wizarding world. It's one of those dark fevers that I heard about in primary school. They take the Muggle world sometimes. Everyone passively goes along with something they know to be wrong, because it's—it's hysteria, or something like it. It gets into your heads, and it changes you from the good person you thought you were into someone who can watch evil and not turn a hair.
Harry was ashamed of how long he had been asleep and sick with that fever, but he couldn't waste time being ashamed, the way he would have when he was a kid, before or during the war. What he had to do now was obvious. But he also had to wait, because moving too soon would take the chance away from him and, what was far more important, Malfoy.
"All the other Death Eaters in Britain have been tried," Ron said. He spoke quietly, but his words rushed along. That should have told me something was wrong a long time ago, Harry thought sadly. Ron has the fever worse than the rest of us. "The ones they thought had escaped justice, didn't. They've been killed by the ones who found them. There's only him left. Do you understand, Harry? Him, and it's over."
"Well, that's a good thing," Harry said staunchly. "That way, everyone will finally have peace or justice—" the Ministry had a policy against calling it revenge "—and we can all go back to our normal lives."
He tried a smile, but Ron gave him a dead look. "How can I do that, if he won't admit that he killed Fred?" he whispered. "I have to know. My life isn't worth anything without knowing."
Harry turned to Hermione in alarm. This was worse than he'd thought it was, and Hermione was the only one who could soothe Ron with any hope of success.
But Hermione hesitated, looked at Harry, and then turned back to Ron with what Harry thought was reluctance before she said, "Even if he won't admit it, that's fine, Ron. We always knew he was a liar."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, then snapped it shut again. That was exactly the sort of thing that would start them suspecting that he wasn't sick with the fever anymore. He leaned back and picked up the lemonade again. Malfoy didn't need Harry to defend his honor. He had done it well enough himself yesterday.
"But I want to know," Ron said, and his voice had the snarl of a chained dog in it.
Harry shook his head. "What if he won't tell you? What if he doesn't know? It could have been someone dead. The Ministry just might not have brought the question up in the right way when they were trying them."
"There's a way to find out," Ron said, staring over Harry's head at the wall.
Harry looked at Hermione to see if she knew what their best mate was talking about, but she looked just as blank. She did stand up and go to Ron, though, rubbing his shoulders in soothing motions and speaking in a low tone. Harry watched Ron stand there for an alarmingly long moment before his shoulders relaxed and he began nodding, sometimes speaking when Hermione questioned him.
I have to end this, Harry thought, rubbing his thumb over his palm. To free Ron as well as Malfoy. He'll never be quiet until he learns about Fred. That means I have to come up with some answers for him.
Even if they're fake.
"Harry Potter to see Draco Malfoy."
Harry shivered a little as the iron gate in front of him ground open. The Ministry had decided that Azkaban wasn't good enough, or secure enough, for the Death Eaters; too many of them had escaped from it. Harry had never been to the Steelhold, the prison they'd built to encase those who hadn't had their trials yet.
But now he had.
It was a single huge block of iron, with the walls and the doors so solid that Harry couldn't imagine someone getting through them with a sledgehammer. The Ministry could, though, and had decorated the building with wards at every weak point, and some at points that Harry would never have thought of as weak. He stepped forwards and found himself in a dark tunnel, an entrance hall with no windows. The light came from fiercely burning, spluttering torches on the walls.
"Even those can become traps," said Auror Perkins, who had accompanied Harry into the Steelhold and seemed anxious that he be impressed. "They'll reach out with ropes of fire if someone tries to escape. Or help someone else escape," she added, with a tone of disgust in the back of her voice.
Harry nodded silently. He had already realized that nothing disgusted the Aurors, and Ron, and other people under the spell of this summer, more than a traitor.
Even if the traitor had only been trying to bring some fresh food or water to the prisoner. They'd flayed the woman who tried to help Narcissa Malfoy. She'd still been crying when they gave her soul to the Dementors.
Another reason for Harry to hold back until he knew he could do something for Malfoy that would save him beyond doubt. Too soon, and all Malfoy would have was someone to share his isolation.
Perkins marched him forwards. Harry passed round door after round door, all of them set into metal walls, all of them made of studded metal themselves. He swallowed, his skin crawling. The doors led into small and cramped cells, he knew, and looked more like doors to bank vaults than places where living people were kept. Harry thought now that he'd been avoiding the Steelhold because he must have instinctively sensed that it would snap him out of his half-daze, the one that had somehow made him all right with executions.
I have to do something.
They reached the end of the first corridor and turned. At the second door beyond the corner, Perkins halted. "Here," she said, and reached out to lay her hand flat on the door, murmuring a few half-song phrases. It reminded Harry of the spells that Snape had cast over Malfoy after Harry used Sectumsempra on him.
Let me stand in a different relationship to him this time, Harry prayed silently as the door swung open.
The room beyond was dark, and Harry didn't think it was his imagination that the darkness was more savage than the pools of shadow that lingered under the torches outside. They had used charms to make it frightening, he thought, and his heart gave one disapproving beat. Wasn't it enough that the people held here were alone, in metal, egg-shaped chambers that wouldn't allow them to stand up? Did they have to be scared, too?
Perhaps the Ministry thinks it doesn't matter, when they're scared of their executions anyway, Harry thought, and ducked down to enter the cell.
Perkins shook her head and held him back with one arm. "There are wards that will destroy anyone else who comes in," she murmured to him. "You'll have to speak from out here. And hurry," she added, glancing over her shoulder. "The others Aurors will have to take him out to the trial area soon."
Malfoy turned towards the light and looked up at them.
Harry's planned words caught in his throat. Malfoy's face was pale and chiseled, stripped down to bare essentials. He had thin, wiry muscles, and his body was slender to the point of starvation. Harry had known that kind of hunger. He half-closed his eyes as memories of the Dursleys swam in front of him.
Yet, stripped-down or not, Malfoy still had words.
"You don't have to come all the way here to gloat, Potter," he murmured. He moved, and Harry saw dark stains spreading across the floor beneath him and on his flanks. At first he thought Malfoy was bleeding from untreated wounds, but he understood when Malfoy shifted to the side. Malfoy was sweating. There were no Cooling Charms in his cell. "You could have done that easily enough at the trial."
Harry swallowed, torn between horror, pity, and caution. He glanced once at Auror Perkins, who only gave him a curious glance, as if she, too, wanted to know why he had come here, but would never do anything so impolite as to ask.
"I—I didn't come to gloat," Harry said. "I came to ask if you had any idea about who might have killed Fred Weasley." It was part of his errand, after all, he told himself. If Ron knew the truth, then he might relax, and wake up from his daze that much sooner. And then there would be one less voice urging Malfoy along the path to death.
Malfoy seemed to spasm. It took Harry a moment to realize that he was laughing, with almost no saliva left to do so.
"Why would you trust me?" he asked when he recovered. He sounded genuinely curious, and he leaned forwards with his eyes fastened on Harry's face. Harry was reminded of times that they had confronted each other in the corridors of Hogwarts. Fuck, he had seen Malfoy there only three months ago, when the Battle of Hogwarts had ended and this summer hadn't yet dawned. "You have every reason to think that I'm a liar, same as your blood traitor friend."
Perkins stiffened beside Harry and acted as if she would aim her wand, but Harry touched her arm lightly. He was gambling now, hoping that she took his actions as a sign of innate mercy and compassion, laudable if misguided, rather than a sign that he was interested in Malfoy's fate. "You said that you were telling the truth—out there," Harry said, feeling rather absurd at making a gesture with his hand beyond the prison, but he thought Malfoy would understand anyway. "I want to think that there's some honor even in an imprisoned enemy."
Malfoy leaned nearer, and then nearer still, until Perkins made a warning sound under her breath. Even then, the way that Malfoy eased back on his elbows might have been coincidence, rather than because he respected her warning. "Interesting, Potter," he murmured. "You're the only one who's said something like that."
Harry licked his lips. He wanted to apologize, but that was absurd. He had been part of this great machine that had ground Malfoy almost to pieces, and at the same time, he wasn't individually responsible for any of it.
Besides, apologies weren't what Malfoy needed. He needed water and escape. Freedom. Justice.
A tall order for Harry to provide those, but he had awoken late. It would have to happen.
"I'm sure other people would have said it, if they thought of it," Harry said, his eyes locked on Malfoy's face. He hoped that Malfoy could somehow read his mind through them, and so read the message that Harry didn't have the courage to speak in front of Perkins right now.
Malfoy slowly narrowed his eyes and twisted his neck to the side. Perhaps he was reading it, Harry thought, his hope rising. Certainly Malfoy would have no reason to be so interested in an old schoolboy rival unless he thought that rival could give him something.
"Or if they thought it at all," Malfoy murmured. "Yes, Potter, perhaps you're right. Perhaps there are lots of good people out there, just ready to prove themselves if I give them a chance." His irony could have scored the metal walls.
"Of course there are," Perkins said stoutly. Harry thought both of them ignored her. He did, at least. His heartbeat was fast enough by now to make his body sway as he stood there. He hoped that Perkins didn't notice.
Malfoy leaned further forwards, so close that Harry could see the small flecks of blue in his eyes. "Or perhaps there's only you," he said. "The only one who would ever care. The only one who could make a difference."
Harry inclined his head once, then said, "Keep dreaming, Malfoy," and turned to go. He wished that he dared conjure a glass of water for Malfoy, but he wasn't going to waste his chance—their chance—on something that stupid. Besides, the Aurors wouldn't want Malfoy to die of dehydration before the trial. They would give him something to drink before long.
Harry paused and looked back over his shoulder. Malfoy was lounging now against the far wall of his cell, the curved, egg-shaped wall that wouldn't allow him to lie down fully, any more than it would allow him to stand. His smile was bright and savage in the faint light that fell across his face as the door started to swing shut.
"Those clothes suit you."
The door clanged shut. Harry looked down at his simple, grey robes, cloak, and boots in bewilderment. What did Malfoy mean? If that was meant to be another coded communication between them, Harry had to admit that he didn't understand it.
"Like him to say that," Perkins huffed, all but dragging him out of the Steelhold. "He would think of sex at a moment like this, when it's almost too hot to see and he's going to die in a few days."
"Don't you mean that he's going to have justice delivered to him in a few days?" Harry asked softly.
"Er…" Perkins blinked at him and then recovered. "Of course. Yes. What did I say?" She was all but babbling now.
So it begins, Harry thought grimly as he walked down the sandy slope outside the Steelhold. The Ministry is going to start arresting people who aren't Death Eaters next. It has to, because the fever isn't over and the Death Eaters are almost gone.
He looked over his shoulder once. The Steelhold crouched under the sun like a grey dragon, uncaring of anything except to devour.
Harry snorted bitter laughter as he understood what Malfoy's last remark on his clothes had meant. They blended in with the metal walls, and made him look just like part of the machine.
But then Harry fell silent as he remembered another association that grey could have.
Neutrality, standing halfway between the Dark and the Light.
"I ask you again, Mr. Malfoy." The accuser's voice never wavered or varied. Harry wondered where they had found him. He was an old wizard, Harry could see that from his grey beard, but he wasn't part of the Wizengamot—or at least, Harry couldn't remember him sitting with them during the trials. Harry had never heard his name, either, only the title of his office. "Did you kill Fred Weasley?"
"I'll answer the only way I can." Malfoy's voice sounded better this morning, Harry thought. Maybe they had given him more water this time than usual before they led him out of the cell. He was looking at the accuser only, instead of turning his head to stare into the crowd the way he usually did.
Maybe he's given up hope of rescue.
I wish he wouldn't.
"I didn't kill him," Malfoy was going on. "I don't know who did, but that person is probably dead, with the way that you've killed everyone who bears this on their arm." His left arm rattled as he tried to raise it, and the crowd broke into disgusted howls. Harry stood there with the sounds buffeting him and thought again that they sounded like a pack of hounds rather than a group of wizards. "But I can't prove that. So the best course is just to say that I didn't, and for you to let it go."
But Harry knew already that the accuser was incapable of doing that. Whether Ron had bribed him or whether he was simply interested in the question on his own account, he would repeat it.
Sure enough, after a few moments in which the accuser seemed to wait for Malfoy's defiance to die away—it didn't—he continued, "Where were you during the part of the battle when Fred Weasley died?"
"How the fuck should I know?" Malfoy was grinning now. Harry wondered if he was the only one who could see an edge of desperation to that smile, and hoped so. "I don't know when he died because I was in some other part of the castle entirely, and I can't tell you what was going on from minute to minute."
"Mr. Weasley's death made several stones collapse," said the accuser. "A large part of the castle. You must have noticed that."
Malfoy leaned forwards in his chair. He had got his second wind, Harry saw, another blast of courage. God knew where he had got it. Harry knew he wouldn't have had any himself under the same circumstances. "Have you ever been in battle, Accuser? Were you at the Battle of Hogwarts?"
There was a little silence. Harry wondered why the crowd wasn't screaming about Malfoy's daring, and then decided that they were all shocked that he had had the daring in the first place.
The accuser said, "No, Mr. Malfoy, I was not there. I was in a few battles during the first war with You-Know-Who, however."
"Then you ought to know," Malfoy said, his voice as intense as the one he had used to talk to Harry in the cells. Harry found himself feeling oddly jealous towards the accuser. Only he should get to hear Malfoy talk like that.
He promptly shook his head and rested his forehead against his palm. Whoa, Harry. Think about something else.
"You ought to know," Malfoy continued, "the way that your perceptions change in battle, how time stretches and warps. I didn't notice anything outside what kept me alive at the moment I did it. I don't know when the wall collapsed. I didn't notice when Fred Weasley died. You can ask me again and again, but my answer won't change."
The accuser turned and looked at an Auror who had stood behind his chair. She nodded and handed him a document. The accuser took something out of it—something small, which looked like a photograph, Harry thought—and tapped it with his wand. Then he threw up a screen of colored light in front of the crowd.
"This says otherwise," was all the accuser said, before the photograph leaped out of his hand and enlarged itself, filling the screen.
Harry stared. It was an image of Malfoy standing next to a castle wall, holding his wand against the stones and whispering to them. As they began to fall, the Malfoy in the picture whipped around to face his audience, his eyes wide, as if he didn't realize that anyone had been taking his photo.
"It can be proven that the wall you caused to fall is the one that killed Fred Weasley," the accuser said calmly. "We can all see the proof here."
The voices from the crowd now, wordless shouts and cries of Malfoy's name and all the insults ever devised, fell on Malfoy like a new set of chains. Harry was petrified in his seat. For a moment, his belief in Malfoy's honesty wavered.
And then he thought, again, of all the "evidence" to "prove" that Death Eaters were more involved in certain crimes during the war than anyone had thought they were which had surfaced at the last moment—the moment when some people might have started to believe their denials.
The picture might have been genuine, but there was no reason that the wall had to be at Hogwarts. The Malfoy in the photograph looked a bit younger than he did now, Harry thought. It could have been taken last year.
Of course, the accuser showed the picture only long enough for the crowd to work itself into a shrieking, shouting frenzy, and then took it down again. So there was no time for anyone to ask questions or work through any such niceties of doubt.
He found himself glancing around for allies, but there was nothing but hatred in all the faces he could see. Even his Auror guard, whom he had come to know, who were patient and kind with him and tended to answer all his questions, looked unquestioning.
Well, that leaves me, then.
Harry sat on his bed that evening debating what he would need. He couldn't make a physical list, because someone would find it, and he wouldn't be able to answer the questions that would produce. He would just have to make it in his head and hope that he didn't forget anything.
Enough money for Malfoy to live comfortably somewhere else; that was certain. He couldn't come back to England the way things were now, and Harry didn't know when the fever would calm down. Perhaps it would with the end of summer, but that was still a month away. Harry wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead and cast a Cooling Charm again. One of the Aurors near his door stirred, but fell silent, probably because they'd checked for the presence of hostile magic and realized there wasn't any.
A means of getting away. That made Harry really hesitate, because he didn't know how to make a Portkey and it would be suspicious to ask. They would be watching the Floo network, and he knew there was a special watch kept on brooms along the coasts, too. Even innocent wizards from France had to wait a long time before they could come into the country. Apparition between countries wasn't possible.
A wand. Harry didn't know what had happened to Malfoy's original wand, and he didn't know a way that he could find out. Perhaps it would be for the best to seek "reassurance" of the Aurors, to make sure that the big, bad, nasty Death Eater wouldn't be able to hurt Harry even if he got out of prison. They might tell him then.
Food for a few days. Harry knew that Malfoy would get to someplace soon where he could buy things to eat, but he would need time to recover—at least enough to cast a decent glamour—before he tried his luck in a wizarding village.
Those were the most essential things. Of course, when Harry thought about all the other things they needed, like the keys to Malfoy's cell, he despaired a little, but he shook his head and kept his mind on his original list.
At least by the time dawn came, he had decided on the means that he would use to get Malfoy away. There was only one chance. They were watching brooms, but they had specifically scorned Muggle means of transport, because they believed—probably correctly—that no Death Eater would know how to use them anyway. Harry couldn't drive and didn't think it would be a good idea for Malfoy to take a train across England, but he could Apparate Malfoy to the coast and get him a boat. That would probably be the best and safest thing to do.
If anything can be safe.
If Harry looked out the window, he imagined that he could see the reluctance of anyone else to believe Malfoy was innocent lying above the ground like the summer heat.
"I was just wondering what had happened to Malfoy's wand."
Harry hated asking that directly, but he didn't have any choice. He had spent most of the afternoon talking about how dangerous Malfoy was and how he didn't feel safe around him, but his Auror escort had only patted his arms and head and cooed at him, instead of offering information. Harry hoped they wouldn't think of any of the motives behind the question.
Well, they probably won't, given that they believe you're afraid of him and that you only went to see him in prison to ask about Fred.
Perkins glanced at him, wrinkling her nose slightly in that way she had. "Oh, don't worry about that, Mr. Potter," she said cheerfully. "The Ministry took away all the Death Eaters' wands. They put them in a safe hiding place."
Harry gaped at her, and he didn't have to exaggerate his astonishment much to get it up to her standards. "They didn't destroy them?"
Perkins chuckled. "Why would they? Of course not. They had to keep them because they want to make sure that no one manages to trick the Dementors into not sucking out their souls. It's possible, you know, given that they were You-Know-Who's allies during the war," she added meditatively. She glanced up and down the street that led to Harry's house, as if she wanted to make sure that Voldemort wouldn't come back from the dead and hear her talking like that. "If the wand goes dull and won't cast after the Dementor's through, then that means the soul of its master is really gone."
Harry swallowed queasily. He had never once considered that that might be the reason for keeping wands, and it seemed unnecessarily sadistic on the Ministry's part, too; a sign of how much they had to doubt instead of trust that they were really conquering their enemies.
But it worked to his advantage, so he couldn't be that sorry about it.
"But they're out of England, at least?" he persisted. "Please tell me they are." He softened his voice and looked over his shoulder in turn.
"Well, no." Perkins looked a bit uncomfortable now, but she still smiled. "They're in a secure room at the Ministry. The only Aurors who can access them are the ones, like us, who can open the cells in the Steelhold—the absolutely trusted ones. There's no reason to fear corruption among us."
But she looked at another of the Aurors as she said that.
"Why the fuck are you buying a boat, Harry? Why are you being so frivolous?"
Harry took a deep breath and turned around. He had just come back from Gringotts with his Auror escort, and he had several bags of Galleons at his feet. Not all of it was for buying a boat, though he doubted that Ron wanted to know that. "Because I want to," he said defiantly. "I didn't get to have a bloody normal life during the war, and now I can't have one because of all the people out there who might want to kill me. But I can go sailing and ensure that I relax a little. That's going to be my holiday before we go back to Hogwarts in the autumn."
He wanted to laugh as he said the words. Hermione and Ron both still acted—well, at least Hermione did, and Ron too when he wasn't ranting on about Malfoy—as though school would start again in September and everything would be normal. Harry wondered how in the world anything was going to be normal again. How long would it take people to realize what they had done, and condoned?
Well, I didn't wake up until I heard Malfoy speak like that at his trial. I reckon I can't blame people for taking a long time to open their eyes.
But in the meantime, he had a friend to convince of his lies. Harry tried to look as indignant and innocent as possible, and wondered if it was ever possible to do that when you were lying. On the other hand, there were plenty of times that Aunt Petunia had been sure Harry had done something wrong when he hadn't, so if you could look guilty when you were innocent, it ought to be possible the other way around.
Ron stopped ranting and stared at him. His face flushed more deeply for a moment, and Harry braced himself for a yell, but Ron's color faded.
"Sorry, mate," he said in a tone of wonder. "I didn't think about that. I reckon—all the trials and the way that people were dying in the war, they filled my mind. Of course you deserve a holiday."
Harry gave him a cautious, relieved smile. He wasn't entirely certain that Ron would maintain that attitude, but it was a good beginning. "I would ask you and Hermione to go with me," he said, "but the kind of boat I can afford will barely have room for me and a few guards."
"Why do you need to take guards?" Ron asked. "Who can hurt you on a boat out in the middle of the sea?"
Harry held his breath for a second. If he could just encourage Ron's line of thinking to take this course, it would be a massive help to him. "Well," he said, hoping that he sounded open to being convinced, "the Ministry thinks the Death Eaters are so clever that they still haven't caught them all. So it would be best if I maintained the guard, just for a while."
"Oh, fuck them!" Ron's grin was blazing across his face the way it had when he and Harry were planning some devious Quidditch play that would catch Slytherin by surprise. "Malfoy's the last. That's why I need to know if he killed Fred or not," he added, sinking into brooding for an instant. Visibly, he shook himself out of that and went on. "You deserve to have a little fun by yourself."
Harry hated asking the next question, but he had to, he absolutely had to, throw off suspicion as long as he could. "But wouldn't you and Hermione want to come with me, if there was enough room on the boat?"
Ron stared over his shoulder at the far wall for a minute. Then he shook his head. "Hermione and me—we need some time by ourselves, mate. We need to think, and recover. It might be just as well if you weren't there." He winked at Harry.
"Yeah," Harry agreed, trying not to show how much Ron's words had struck him. "Well, if you can convince the Ministry and Kingsley that I ought to be allowed to go off by myself—because I don't think they'd listen to me if I tried it—then I will."
Ron clapped him on the back. "Count on me, mate."
He bolted out the door, looking excited to have something to do that didn't connect with Malfoy and the trial and trying to find out who killed Fred. Harry kept smiling until he was sure Ron wouldn't suddenly pop back in. Then he sank down into a chair and took a deep breath.
What would happen to him, after he had got Malfoy away?
There was no chance that he wouldn't be suspected. Given what he would have to do to open the cell and get Malfoy's wand back, suspicion would point a big fat arrow straight at him. The Ministry might be reluctant to drag Harry in for a trial and the Dementor's Kiss, but Harry didn't think anyone was in control of what happened in the British wizarding world right now. Even Harry could be executed because of this fever, and an escape would only bring it to a grand pitch and probably encourage the end Harry saw: the Ministry executing doubtlessly innocent citizens who had said or done the wrong thing at the wrong time.
He couldn't come back home. He would have to make a home somewhere else. Harry stared at the Galleons around his feet and shook his head. He had taken the money out so that he could buy a boat and food and give some to Malfoy for living expenses. Was there enough for him to flee, too?
Probably not. Harry rose solemnly to his feet. He would have to tell the Aurors to escort him on a second trip to Gringotts.
And what then? Where am I going to go? Malfoy probably does have a better chance of living somewhere else than me, because everyone he knows is dead—his friends, his parents—but my heart and life are here.
Well, no one knew about his plan to free Malfoy yet. He could always buy a boat and sail away on it himself, the way he had told Ron he would. He could give up the plan and just watch Malfoy be executed with the rest of them.
Harry pushed his hand into his fist when he thought of that.
"It doesn't matter how many times you speak to me, Potter. I've determined to die speaking the truth, and I won't say I killed Weasley when I didn't."
Harry took a deep breath and glanced at Perkins, who had once again escorted him into the Steelhold and brought him to Malfoy's cell. She had done it reluctantly, but when Harry said that he was sure he could persuade Malfoy to tell the truth, she'd agreed. The trial had dragged out longer than the Ministry wanted, and only Kingsley's regard for Ron, and Ron's friendship with Harry, had ensured that they went on asking Malfoy questions about Fred.
Perkins looked back at him now with an air of slight impatience and twitched her head. "If you can't convince him," she muttered, "the formal sentencing will be tomorrow and the execution on Saturday. They've already spent too much time and resources on this one prisoner."
She doesn't even bother acting as though the execution might not happen, Harry thought dully. It's a foregone conclusion.
He had known what he would have to do, but it was still with a faint sense of loss that he took up his wand.
"Imperio," he whispered.
Perkins jerked in surprise, her lips opening as she turned to look at him. And then she froze, head hanging slightly to the side. Her eyes had a soft, dreamy expression in them that Harry recognized from the time when Crouch had cast the Imperius Curse on Harry and his classmates in fourth year. He was glad that she looked like she was distracted rather than completely out of it. They wouldn't get out of the Steelhold if she was stumbling over her own two feet.
Harry flinched a little. He knew Malfoy was trying to suppress the emotions that rioted just behind the smooth surface of that single word, but still, hearing them was nearly unbearable.
"I know," he said, not taking his eyes off Perkins. "Jenna. Can you hear me?" He thought she might respond better to her first name than her last.
She nodded and straightened up. Harry leaned nearer and spoke in a soft, commanding voice. He didn't want to do it, but if he had cast the Imperius Curse in the first place, then he was committed, the decision made.
"I want you to act absolutely normal when we're around anyone else. You can't betray what happened to the Aurors or to the Ministry, all right? You have to answer questions the way you would usually, except that you'll be lying about what happens with me."
Perkins nodded. "I can act that way," she said, and then she blinked and her eyes focused on Harry. "But I have to obey you."
Harry nodded. He still didn't glance at Malfoy, although Malfoy had begun breathing with deep, harsh pants, as though the air in his cell had grown hotter than it had been so far. "Yes. And you're going to go into the room at the Ministry where they keep Death Eater wands, all right? Not telling anyone. You'll find Malfoy's wand and bring it back to me."
A faint frown crossed her face. "What does it look like?"
"Hawthorn," Harry said. "Unicorn hair. Summoning the wand by name should bring it to you." He glanced at Malfoy, wondering if he was looking for extra confirmation on the state of his wand or reassurance.
Malfoy's eyes burned. Meeting them made Harry physically uncomfortable. But Malfoy said hoarsely, "Yes, that's right."
Harry nodded and turned away again, glad that he could do so. "You will bring the wand to me. I'll be waiting in my house. You'll tell the other Aurors that the Minister needs to see me for a private, urgent consultation—and if anyone stops you with the wand on your way out of the Ministry, you'll say the same thing, and that the Minister has asked that this not be discussed for the moment. When we Apparate, we'll come to the Steelhold and you'll open the door of the cell to free Malfoy. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Perkins said in a slightly dazed voice.
"You aren't to tell anyone about any of this," Harry said. "Nothing. And you'll act normally."
"Yes," Perkins said, and smiled.
Harry licked his lips and leaned briefly against the wall outside the cell. He was sick and shaking, but he couldn't take the time out to bury his head in his arms and tremble as he would have liked to do. He had other things to learn. "Are you sure that they'll execute Malfoy on Saturday, Perkins, and not tomorrow?"
"Certain," Perkins said, and she did sound certain. "They need at least a day for the excitement to build and for everyone to realize what a solemn event this is. This is the last of the Death Eater trials, after all. We really don't have anymore."
Malfoy made a small sound. Harry tried not to imagine why. "Good. Then we'll escape tomorrow." He turned to Malfoy. "I have a boat. I know it's not much, but it's the only way I could think of that would allow you to get out of the country without magic and without smuggling you overland in some insanely complicated scheme. We don't have long before they realize you're missing, or I might have tried a train or something."
Malfoy was staring at him now with an even more painful expression. Harry winced. It was like the expressions on the faces of people who said that he had become the sun and center of their universe after he defeated Voldemort, but worse, because Malfoy was looking at him for something he hadn't even finished yet.
"Anyway," Harry said, with a small cough. "I have some food and money for you that should enable you to survive until you can find a permanent place. Can you—is there anything else you can think of to add to the plan?"
"Yes," Malfoy said in a raw voice. "This."
He reached out, closed his fingers on Harry's shirt, and dragged him close to smash their lips together.
Harry gasped. This was a press of dry lips to dry lips; Malfoy had no moisture in his mouth, and Harry's appeared to have dried up. Malfoy's tongue dragged along his face, warm and snaky, darting back and forth so fast that Harry felt as dazed as Perkins. Malfoy's hand clenched at his shoulder and then at his arm, as if he was seeking bone and flesh and didn't find enough to satisfy him in the first location.
Harry stepped back and glanced anxiously down the corridor, but so far no one else had appeared. Apparently the Steelhold had no wards to tell the guards when the prisoners kissed people. Or cast Unforgivables, for that matter, which was something he should have thought about before, Harry decided.
"What the fuck, Malfoy?" he whispered.
Malfoy said nothing. Harry had to look back at him to find him lounging against the wall of the cell, smirking. For the first time since they'd dragged him into the trial circle, he looked like the schoolboy Harry had known, hated and fought with and rescued from Fiendfyre.
"I swore to live and die in honesty," he said. "And this is how I swore I would thank anyone who would save my life."
Not another word would he say, no matter how Harry glared. In the end, fearful of lingering too long, Harry had Perkins shut the cell door and all but ran for the entrance.
The boat was perfect. Or not perfect, Harry thought, but he needed it to be, and for that reason, he wouldn't slight it. He took a moment to run his palms over it, realized that his hands were shaking, and stepped away from the boat again, closing his eyes until he thought he had himself under control.
When he could calm down, he looked again. The boat was small, but Harry knew that he could trust it to keep afloat in the water. Or at least he thought he could. But that would get into questions about what he was doing with a boat when he had no idea how to sail it, and he cut his thoughts off again.
The boat was made of metal. It had a motor. It also had oarlocks and a pair of oars. Harry didn't know whether the owner had wanted the oars in case the motor failed, or installed the motor later. He had asked the goblins in Gringotts to look around for a boat for him, partially as an apology for taking out enough Galleons to make them gloomy. This was the one they had found for him.
It had protective wards on it, too. Harry thought he would have to improve them, but then again, the time element was crucial here. If Malfoy couldn't get across the Channel and lose himself on the Continent before the Ministry started casting tracking spells, then he was probably going to die anyway.
"Harry? What are you doing?"
Harry shrieked like a little girl—the product of nerves, he told himself, not any more pressing problem—and whirled around with his wand in the air. Hermione blanched and took several steps back from him. Harry licked his lips and shook his head, trying to relax. He had told his Auror guard to keep everyone away while he was down on this little beach in Surrey checking the boat, but that wouldn't have included his best friends, who had access to his house, his wards, and his presence at all times.
"I'm looking at places for wards," Harry said. "I don't want water able to swamp it." He hesitated, and then decided that it was time for another risk. He had already been forced to move faster than he had thought he would, after all, thanks to using the Imperius Curse on Perkins. "And I'd like to avoid tracking spells, too."
Hermione, who had been admiring the boat, looked up at him with a little blink. "Oh, Harry, I don't think that's a good idea!" she said anxiously. "What happens if someone needs to find you?"
Harry shrugged. "I reckon they can send me an owl." He didn't know of any spells that could keep owls away. Then again, he also didn't think anyone would automatically send an owl after Malfoy. "But I want—I want some bloody privacy, Hermione. Yeah, they let me shower and use the loo by myself sometimes, and they leave me alone long enough to do things like check this thing, but someone always knows where I am. I want to get in a fortnight or so of being alone and unknown before Hogwarts starts again."
"Of course," Hermione said, and came forwards to hug him. "God, I wish I could join you, Harry. But I really have to stay with Ron." She drew back, her eyes filling with tears. "I don't know what it will do to him if he never finds out who killed Fred. Malfoy was his last chance, and what is he going to do when that's gone?"
Harry stood there, heart aching, and listened to her talk about Ron. He wanted to say many things.
If you thought he was wrong, why didn't you stop him?
If you really think that we'll never know who killed Fred, then why didn't you say something before now?
Do you care at all that they're planning to execute someone we know, someone just our age?
But he had sat through too many executions of his own to really want her answer to the last question. He couldn't say that he was a good role model of engaged, committed action himself. If he had acted earlier, he might have saved the lives of Narcissa Malfoy, and Lucius, and other Death Eaters who he didn't know and didn't think had really hurt anyone. Granted, the Malfoys had a special reason to claim his protection because Narcissa had defended him from Voldemort and Malfoy had saved his life, but he still could have done something. Set up a network of sorts to help people fleeing from Britain, maybe.
This was his desperate, last-minute attempt, and he was already starting to think that it might not work.
But at least it would work better than leaving Malfoy to his fate.
"…so I think your holiday is a great idea," Hermione finished, and raised her wand. "What kind of protective wards are you thinking of?"
Harry came out of his trance with a start, and gave her directions. He wondered what his friends would feel when they realized what had happened—assuming they realized it in all the chaos. Since he and Malfoy would both be gone, Harry reckoned it was possible that they might think he had taken the boat and Malfoy had escaped some other way.
Would they feel betrayed? Upset? Angry with him?
Well, it doesn't matter one way or the other. I'm not going to be there to see it.
Lucius had surprised them all.
He had waited until they dragged him into the execution court to face the Dementor. Until that time, he had gone tamely, holding his head so high that Harry would be surprised if he could see down his pointed nose. He had acted as though he knew his fate and was resigned to it.
Perhaps they hadn't expected much trouble out of him, now that Harry thought about it. He already knew that he was condemned. On the other hand, his wife and son were only imprisoned. They might have thought that he would go quietly to his death in hopes of securing mercy for them.
Instead, when they were in the middle of the stone court and approaching the Dementor, Lucius braced his legs, lifted his chained wrists, and brought them down sharply against his arse. There were a few laughs, here and there, as though people in the crowd thought that Lucius was publicly spanking himself.
Harry, with war-trained reflexes, was already on the ground when the first curses started flying.
They came from overheard, from the boiling clouds that never dropped any rain, and people began to die. Harry looked around and tried to find Ron and Hermione, but his Auror guard was on their feet around him, defending him from the spells with wards, and he couldn't see them. When he'd tried to stand up, Perkins had pushed him flat again, with a snarl about staying where he was and appreciating a good thing while he had it.
Harry rolled on his back and stared at the sky. Were people up there on brooms or dragons? Or flying horses or carpets, maybe? He couldn't see anything, and he knew that would increase everyone's terror.
He could barely feel anything, either, beyond concern for his friends and an elementary curiosity. When he remembered it later, after he thought about what Malfoy had done for him, he knew that he hadn't awakened yet. The heat and the strange sleep that it had cast his conscience into—or that he had cast his conscience into—hadn't broken yet.
Then the curses stopped. Harry rolled over and blinked, and saw that most of the Aurors were still standing. A few in the crowd had been injured, and some had died, but they were mostly fighting their way back to his feet as he watched.
Harry was naïve enough to wonder what the attack had been for, and to think it wasn't well-organized, since it didn't seem to have accomplished anything.
He paused when he was starting to get up, though. In the middle of the field no longer stood the chained Lucius Malfoy with his guard around him, making sure that he got to the Dementor instead of turning aside and running the other way. Instead, Lucius lay on the ground, half his head gone from a spell that had turned the ground black beside him. Some of his Aurors had died, but that hadn't been the goal of the attack, and Harry knew it, then, crouching on the withered grass and staring in silent fascination.
Lucius Malfoy had preferred to choose the method of his death, if he had to die at all.
They had never found the attackers, although the Ministry had immediately widened its net and arrested more of those Death Eaters they might otherwise have left alone. Harry didn't know how many other people had died because Lucius had.
But on the other hand, in the midst of a hopeless season, he didn't think that Lucius would have made the choice differently had he known the consequences.
And if he had to wake up from a nightmare of the baked ground and Lucius's brains lightly steaming alongside it, Harry liked to think that rescuing Lucius's son would have helped make up for a little of the violence he had himself participated in.
"Here it is, sir."
Perkins had started calling Harry "sir" since he used the Imperius Curse on her. Harry thought it probably made things more comfortable for her mind, when she started behaving in unfamiliar and unaccountable ways, to treat him like he was Head Auror.
I'll never be Head Auror now.
Harry shook his head to drive the unwanted thoughts away. It didn't matter what Perkins called him, as long as the others didn't notice, and it didn't matter that he would never be Head Auror. What a stupid and selfish thing to worry about. It only mattered that Perkins had brought Malfoy's wand several hours before he was sentenced.
At first, seeing the wand look so small and ordinary, Harry thought that she might have brought the wrong one. But when he touched it, the thrum of familiar energy beneath his palm made him gasp. Yes, that was it. It was an effort to continue holding it. The wand seemed to tremble with the same fevered impatience that its owner must be feeling right now.
"Yes, thank you," Harry told Perkins. He had arranged to come out alone to meet her, again pretending there was some confidential business that the Minister needed to talk to him about, and that he had chosen Perkins as his messenger.
Harry hesitated, wondering if they should simply Apparate now, since Perkins had come back with the wand much earlier than he'd expected, and steal Malfoy away before his sentencing. The sooner Malfoy was out of Britain, and so the sooner Harry could grab his Galleons and disappear in a random direction, the better he would feel.
Then Harry shook his head and told himself not to be stupid. If he took Malfoy during the day, pursuit would be up at once, and they would hunt until they found him. If, on the other hand, he was sentenced first and then Harry took him during the night or at sunset, they would have many more hours before the execution. Those executions were always at noon, because it was the hour of brightest light.
Harry wondered if the Ministry ever would wake up and think about the implications of what they were doing.
He nodded to Perkins. "Tell the others to be ready. We're going to Apparate to the trial circle now. I want to be sure we have good seats."
"Yes, sir!" This was something Perkins understood, fully in accord with her own natural impulses, and she ran back into the house enthusiastically.
Harry bowed his head over the wand and smoothed his hands back and forth on the wood, trying to imagine that Malfoy could feel the soothing strokes on his own back across the miles.
Just a few more hours, Malfoy. Endure until then. Then I'll give you the gift I should have been able to give to your mother and father, too.
"What do you have to say for yourself?"
Malfoy rose to his feet with a fearless shine in his eyes. Harry tensed where he stood next to the wooden railing around the circle. He wondered if anyone would sense that something was different about Malfoy and have the wit to push the suspicion to a conclusion.
But it didn't seem so. Instead, the accuser waited with the same iron patience he had shown for Malfoy's denials that he knew anything about Fred, hands resting on his stomach. The crowd was silent, but when Harry glanced from face to face, he didn't see suspicion there—or at least no more than the generalized, ingrained suspicion that Malfoy seemed continually surrounded by. Instead, they wanted the drama. They wanted to hear Malfoy's last words and the sentence, and then go home to dream of the way he would die tomorrow.
Or be worse than dead. Harry reminded himself again of the dream about Lucius and the way that he had preferred true death to having his soul sucked out.
"I say," Malfoy began, and paused, turning in a slow circle so that his eyes could sweep over all of them. The crowd did burst into jeers then, and, in some cases, like Ron's, full-throated shouts of hatred. Harry stood in the midst of them, wondering if he should shout along so as not to be conspicuous, but remembering again that it was unlikely anyone would notice him.
Malfoy did do one different thing when his glance passed over Harry's face, but it was so quick Harry doubted anyone else had noticed it. His body gathered as if he was about to spring, and his eyes flashed. Harry saw desire, rough and raw, in his face.
Of course, most other people would think it was a sign that Malfoy still hated Harry. Harry glared back and folded his arms as if he was rejecting any plea for mercy that Malfoy might offer.
Malfoy completed his survey and then laughed richly. The crowd went silent; this seemed not to be what they'd expected. The accuser leaned forwards.
"I say," Malfoy said, "that I'm going to die fulfilling your ideals better than you have. I've told the truth, and you've manufactured proof to throw into these trials and suggest that everyone you've tried has done far worse than they really have. I'm going to die wrapped in dignity, and you've lost it all. You're only slavering for death now, for something common that comes to everyone in the end. I'll have something higher, better, a grander prize."
Harry exhaled slowly. He reckoned he could see why Malfoy would think dignity was a better prize.
He'd whipped the crowd up, though. Ron and a few people standing next to him surged forwards as though they would climb over the wooden circle. The Aurors were right there holding them back in the next second, but Harry saw regret in their expressions. He thought they would have been happy if Malfoy had been ripped to pieces now, because that would mean that he'd lose the dignity that meant so much to him.
Malfoy laughed again. His voice was fierce. His eyes were so bright that looking at them hurt Harry's own eyes. He refused to say anything more after that, but turned his head away and stared into the middle distance.
"You refuse to admit your complicity in your crimes?" his accuser asked.
Malfoy didn't turn a hair, but handed him a contemptuous smile. The accuser sighed, as though it pained him to pronounce the sentence.
"Draco Malfoy, for complicity in torture under You-Know-Who, for the torturing of innocent victims, for the refusal to tell us the truth, for the Dark Mark on your arm, and for complicity in the death of Fred Weasley, I sentence you to the Dementor's Kiss."
The voices shook the air with their shouts of approval, and people stamped and cried out and once again pressed up against the fence that separated them from Malfoy. The accuser shook his head slowly and sadly, as though he had wanted to help Malfoy but didn't know how to help someone who wouldn't help himself.
Malfoy stood in the middle of it with his arms folded. But it looked like a judging gesture rather than a defensive one. His eyes found Harry's again.
Harry shivered. He couldn't have been more chilled if they had been in a room alone with each other.
They went quickly into the Steelhold, Perkins giving the guards that stupid story Harry had cooked up about the Minister needing to see Harry. It was amazing what the guards would settle for when they were persuaded to, Harry thought. They nodded tamely this time and stood aside so that Harry could get in faster. He heard them discussing behind him, in subdued tones, how soon he would become Minister. He was so important to the administration already that it couldn't be far away.
Harry stiffened his back and wondered what they would remember of the conversation tomorrow. They weren't under the Imperius Curse and couldn't rationalize their actions like Perkins could. They would remember when he had come, and they would probably connect that to Malfoy's escape sooner than Harry wanted them to. He would have to use the Memory Charm on them before he left.
Again Perkins touched the door of Malfoy's cell and sang those soft, fluting phrases, and it opened. Harry discovered that, even though everything had gone well so far, he was a few moments away from fainting. He bowed his head and took several deep breaths, preparing himself as well as he could for what would come next.
Malfoy's voice was thick. Harry looked up hastily, fearing that they might have come and beaten Malfoy or something. If he was wounded, then they wouldn't be able to move as quickly, and then—
But Malfoy had been waiting for a different moment. He stepped across the cell and clamped his hands into place like chains around the back of Harry's neck, kissing as if he were starving for the taste of someone else's mouth.
Harry stumbled, nearly drawn into the cell with him, but found Malfoy's arms and managed to pull him out. Malfoy didn't let go of the kiss. Harry had to yank on his hair to get him to do so.
"What are you doing?" Harry breathed against his mouth. He wanted to shout, but the guards would hear, and it was a bad idea for other reasons. Once he started shouting, he thought, all the disgust of the last week would find its way out of him and wouldn't stop. "We have to leave."
"You're giving me my freedom," Malfoy said. "My life. But you're going to give me something else, too. I haven't had a decent wank since they arrested me. The atmosphere and the constant guard kept over me aren't exactly inspiring."
He bit Harry when he said inspiring, and Harry stuttered out a broken whimper before he shook his head.
"We can't—we have to get going—"
"It'll take less than five minutes for me," Malfoy breathed, and his hand plunged into Harry's robes. "And probably for you, too," he added in a voice that had grown thicker with amusement. "Have you been hard for me since I looked at you this morning, Potter?" His hand slid back and forth.
Harry tilted back his head and gasped for air. There seemed to be none within the confines of the Steelhold. His legs hurt, and his back, and his shoulders where Malfoy's clasped hands rested. His mouth was dry. The heat inside him made him sweat and grow sticky, and it was a parallel with the heat outside.
Perkins, spelled so that she was only able to watch out for him and not think that anything he did was wrong, stood solidly by. Malfoy clapped his teeth to on Harry's lip and leaned forwards, rubbing his cock against Harry's hip and leg—
And then his hand, because Harry had extended his hand without being aware that he was doing it.
Then he was participating, as much a part of this stupid, headlong rush to orgasm as he had been part of freeing Malfoy. His hand gripped slick skin and slipped off; he replaced it. His fingers ached with the force of his grip and with the way his head spun and with something more, anything, the regret that he hadn't woken up earlier—woken up in all sorts of ways.
Malfoy leaned forwards so that he rested on Harry more than the wall of his cell, which had supported them so far, and groaned soundlessly; Harry felt the brush of the air past his ear, stirring the tiny hairs there, which was the only way he knew Malfoy had released it. Malfoy's body jerked and twisted in his arms as if even pleasure was an experience of pain. And Harry's hand was wetter than it had been, with a liquid that he couldn't wipe off as easily as he did with sweat.
Harry came with the strength of that, and Malfoy stared into his face with eyes as dazzling as the metal of the Steelhold and kissed him with a mouth as implacable as its wall.
"Shall I Obliviate the guards, sir?" Perkins asked as they panted in their recovery, still leaning on each other like long-time lovers.
"Yes," Harry gasped out, before Malfoy took his chin and then took his mouth in quick succession, snogging strength back into him with quick darts of his tongue.
It took longer than Harry would have thought possible to pull free this time, and he muttered, "Fuck, Malfoy. What—why would you do that now, when you know they could catch us?"
"Because I swore to live and die in honesty," Malfoy said, his eyes bright. "And to take what I want, without any stupid hesitations and cringing to try and win mercy from people who won't give me any. And I wanted this."
He licked Harry's lips and stepped away. Harry helped him out of the prison, wondering why Malfoy didn't release his grip on Harry's neck. He didn't look so worn-down that he couldn't stand on his own.
Perkins had taken care of the traps and then Obliviated the guards. She did it without protest, and the guards never knew what hit them before they slumped. Harry reminded himself to take the Imperius Curse off her before he left England. He wasn't entirely sure the Ministry would hold her blameless, but the Curse made it more likely than otherwise.
They Apparated to the coast where he'd hidden the boat. Harry felt the wind smack him as he appeared out of the nothingness that stretched between one Apparition point and another, and swallowed a gasp. He didn't know why he felt so disoriented now, when most of the danger was gone.
Maybe it was thinking that he still didn't know where he was going to go.
Canada, he decided randomly. Or South America. Or America. Somewhere that there's a vast expanse of land where the British Ministry won't find it easy to track me. He reached up and absently rubbed his forehead. He already knew the curse scar didn't respond well to glamours. Well, that was what Muggle makeup was for.
I hate leaving Ron and Hermione.
But he had known what the likely end of this would be, and he had chosen to do it anyway. He could have gone back at any time if he had really valued staying with his friends more than he valued saving Malfoy's life, or standing up for his principles, or whatever high and noble-sounding name he wanted to give this.
He turned around. Malfoy, who still hadn't let go of his grip on Harry's neck, turned with him, and then seemed to realize something was going on and looked at him with sober attention. Harry nodded him towards the boat.
"I've put on as many wards and protective spells as I can," he whispered. He didn't know why he should whisper, when there was manifestly no one around but one lone gull poking listlessly at a rock, but he felt compelled to. "Some of them are of Hermione's weaving. You should be safe during the sail."
"If I can manage the boat," Malfoy muttered.
Harry looked out at the sea. The waves rippled in the wind, but they didn't look as if they were going to be eating anyone anytime soon. "You can make it," he said. "You can make it to France, anyway, and then you can lose yourself in the Continent. I think there are going to be other problems here."
Malfoy paused, eyes narrowing. "Why?" he asked after a moment. Harry could hear the rocks grinding in the back of his voice. He hated admitting that he didn't know something, Harry thought with a faint smile.
"Because the Ministry is going to turn on itself," Harry said. "They'll suspect me when I disappear, of course, but that doesn't mean they'll know how deep the conspiracy runs. I suspected they'd start accusing people who weren't Death Eaters after they killed you, since there's no one left who carries the Dark Mark. This will just make it happen a little faster."
Malfoy flinched, staring at the ground, and only then did Harry remember who the other people "carrying the Dark Mark" had been. He flinched in turn, sighed, and patted Malfoy's arm clumsily, hoping that would be enough.
"You want me to just—go off into the wild and make a new life for myself," Malfoy said in a low voice. "It's not going to be easy."
"I know," Harry said. "But it's got to be easier than staying here." He nodded at the boat. "There's enough money and food stored there that I think it should be easy for a few days, anyway. And you can find people to help you for enough money."
Malfoy stared at him in silence. Harry wondered if he was debating the best way to say farewell, and felt, for a moment, those hot, clenching fingers on his cock. He licked the salt off his lips and looked away.
"You don't know where you're going," Malfoy whispered. "You're sending me off to seek my fortune, but you're even more lost."
Harry shrugged. "If they catch up with me, I shouldn't know that much about where you're going, either. That way, they can't torture it out of me."
Silence. Malfoy looked at him. The waves crashed and reminded Harry that Malfoy wasn't the only being in the world, and the silence that had ensued wasn't real, only the result of his perceptions.
"You believe that," Malfoy said. "You believe that they're so far gone that they would torture their Savior."
Harry laughed bleakly. Malfoy hadn't seen his parents' deaths, but he must know about them. "What? Don't you?"
Malfoy's mind still seemed to be working on the private track it had started. "But you got me out anyway."
"It was the right thing to do," Harry said quietly. He suspected Malfoy might laugh and mock him, but it was the truth, and he felt as much sworn to tell the truth right now as Malfoy had been when he stood up in the trial circle.
Malfoy's fingers wormed about on the nape of Harry's neck. Then he said, "Come with me."
Harry stared at him, blinking. He waited for the laugh, the flash of a grin, the anger that would show him Malfoy hadn't meant the offer seriously and wanted to sneer at Harry for taking it that way. But Malfoy only looked at him with cold, sober eyes, made all the brighter by the light shining off the sea.
"You—I can't," Harry said, when he caught his breath. "Two of us, together? And with my scar so hard to disguise?" He made a clumsy gesture with one hand at his fringe, not because he intended it to be clumsy, but because his surprise made it that way. "We'd be captured, and dragged back, and executed."
"Come with me," Malfoy whispered. "You're the one who saved me. You're the only one in this whole fucking country who stood up to them enough to get me out of prison. I want you with me."
Harry shook his head. "This is ridiculous. I didn't save your parents. I was as much their murderer as the Ministry, because if I had used my influence earlier, I could have done something. You can't want me with you."
Malfoy gave him something that was very much like a look of feral joy. "You just told me that they'll kill you, even you, for the crime of freeing a Death Eater. If you had pleaded for my mother's life, my father's, then you would have died, and them too, and me in turn. I'm alive. You're alive. We shouldn't waste that."
"I—" The words caught in Harry's throat. He swallowed, and swallowed again. Malfoy watched him with patient eyes that burned with silver fire.
"How can you forgive me?" Harry burst out finally. "For murdering them? For nearly letting you die? It was chance that made me change my mind. When you stood up and said that you were going to die sworn to the truth, it woke me up, but that was chance. I'm not—I'm not as principled as you think I am, Malfoy, not really."
Malfoy drew Harry close, using that chain-like grip on the back of his neck. His eyes shone. His teeth were bared in an unnerving grin. For the first time, Harry thought he understood why Malfoy had kept that grip all this time.
"I'm not principled at all," Malfoy whispered. "I didn't tell the truth because it was the right thing to do. I made the decision, and stuck to it, because I wanted to, and having what I wanted was important in the last days of my life. Now I have many more days. It's my choice if I forgive you. It's my choice if I take you. Come with me."
Harry hesitated, staring over his shoulder at the slope behind him. Dark was falling fast. It wouldn't be many hours until they knew Malfoy was gone, and then started to suspect a problem with Harry.
"You have to go," he mumbled.
Malfoy's hands tugged on his neck. They felt like a sea current now, not like chains, drawing him along, out into the open vastness.
Harry shivered. "I never released Perkins from the Imperius Curse. I should go back and do that."
Malfoy's hands tugged. The gull that had been hopping about on the rock took to the air, wings wide-spread as it wheeled over their heads, white throat open in a cry that slashed across the waves like the silver fire in Malfoy's eyes.
Harry turned his head back again. No, Malfoy's eyes were keener and fiercer than any gull's cry could ever be.
"Come with me," Malfoy whispered.
Harry shivered again, and felt as if heavy chains were falling off his shoulders in turn, clanging to a floor of steel or stone that rang betraying reverberations.
But when he would never see the floor again, it didn't matter.
Malfoy lay down once they were in the boat and he had performed some kind of complicated charm that made a silver arrow hover in front of Harry. "That will guide you to the coast of France," Malfoy mumbled, his voice blurring with weariness. "Sail after it, and you should have no trouble."
He was breathing deeply a moment later, but his hand remained clenched around Harry's leg. Harry couldn't move without waking him, couldn't escape without breaking his fingers.
Harry looked down at the pale, worn, thin face, drowned in sleep now. And an admission came welling out of the deepest parts of him.
I don't wish to escape.
Harry tapped his wand uncertainly against the boat's side. Hermione had added all sorts of spells that ought to make the boat sail itself, or so she had said, and—
They sprang to life. The boat's engine roared. Harry gripped one of the system of complicated instruments in the front of the boat and aimed it after Malfoy's arrow. They began to move into open waters.
Harry looked back one more time, but his eyes slid in moments from the shore to Malfoy's still face. He reached down and wiped a hand hesitantly across the corner of Malfoy's mouth. Malfoy sighed and turned his head, rubbing his cheek against Harry's palm.
Harry knew nothing about what might happen next, but perhaps it would be all right.
He looked up. Grey before him, white above, where the gull skimmed past and dipped down to pluck something from the surface of the water. It made a contented sound to itself, almost like a chuckle, Harry thought, before it circled away again. It left black behind it, the dusk coming on. For the first time Harry could remember since the summer's beginning, it felt as if the evening would be cool.
Thunder cried out from the distance.
He half-shut his eyes, and let go.
They went free.