Author's notes: This fic is set after Deathly Hallows, but ignores the epilogue for reasons of prompt-meeting.
Written for fire_juggler for the 2011 Glompfest on LJ, she asked for a fic that had the Malfoys living in the Muggle world, and discovered in a supermarket. Written as a pinch-hit, beta-ed by the wonderful jadzialove and fabbo raitala. All remaining daftness is me spiting their brilliance. Thanks also to the glompfest mod team for their general genius and specific tolerance of people who think they have a really easy workload, but then realise they do not (this would be less embarrassing were I not the boss).
Also, The Queen was not as bad a pub as it is made out to be in this story. Alas, it did end up a victim of gentrification. Sorry to actual residents of Brixton, I have doubtless cocked many things up, being only an occasional visitor.
Doing the Lambeth Walk
The Victoria Line was always gruesome compared to the Northern at this time of day. People had more bags of shopping, more pushchairs, more kids, the occasional bike and today there was one young girl with a giant suitcase.
Harry knew that half an hour later there would be a brief quiet period before the school rush began, followed by the proper busy period, then a slow tapering off into the night when the Tube was mostly exhausted workers and kids off on a night out. He'd have waited if he could, but the call had said it was urgent, so here he was on his day off.
Everyone piled out at Brixton, and the mood of the crowd lifted as they saw the escalators were working. Harry found himself behind the girl with the suitcase and in front of a young mother who was promising her four-year-old twins they could watch telly when they got home if they could just hold off having a meltdown until they got there.
Suitcase girl turned left, which was the way Harry was headed. Harry found himself close behind her as they waited to cross Coldharbour Lane. She was dressed primly and her bag was expensive, which were both a little out of place here. One of the aimless lads – Yoof, Celeste called them, and Harry had named this one Skater Yoof in his head – who spent their days skate-boarding on the concrete outside the library whistled at her, called her Princess and asked her if she'd like a black man.
She smiled sweetly and replied, 'No thanks, I've already got one,' before heading off towards Loughborough Junction.
Skater Yoof laughed, and his mates laughed at him and everything was fine. Harry grinned and turned into the library. Sure, Skater Yoof was a notable local bag-snatcher, but it was a point of honour that he only took from people who had it coming – Suitcase girl had just earned a pass.
Coming to Brixton was a bit like moving to Hogwarts for the first time, Harry thought. There were complex new rules surrounding most social interactions, and you were supposed to know them, even if they were never explained. Status was judged by the strangest of measures, and offence, once taken, was lasting. But outsiders could also be made welcome if they treated the locals with respect and played the game properly. And when all was said and done here, if you fucked up royally, the worst that was likely to happen was your wallet would be stolen or your nose broken, which made a pleasant change from wars and Voldemort.
Melly was waiting for him in the foyer. 'Hello Harry,' she said, kissing his cheek. 'She's up through here. She used to come in to read a few years ago, but I haven't seen her since. I thought she was living with her son in Essex, but apparently not.'
He followed her through into the first floor reading room, where an old woman was sleeping in one of the chairs, cheap nylon bags crammed with what seemed to be her worldly possessions stacked on and under the table around her.
'Gail?' Melly called out the woman's name quietly, then tapped her gently on the arm. 'Wake up, Gail. Harry's here, he's going to take you to the Centre and give you a nice safe place to sleep.'
Gail opened her eyes and blinked crossly at Melly. 'I was already asleep,' she said, crossly. 'And I like it here.'
'We've got electric blankets,' Harry offered. 'And free food and telly. There's a clinic, and a dance hall, and a garden, and loads of people, from families with little kids up to quite a few people of your generation who live with us.'
Gail peered at him suspiciously. 'Are you going to take my kidneys?' she asked.
'No,' Harry replied in all seriousness. 'No payment at all. There's a Trust that covers all the costs, so you can keep your kidneys.'
'Oh,' said Gail. 'Oh, well if there's a Trust, that's all right.'
Harry helped her to her feet and offered to carry her bags, which she graciously allowed.
Melly led the way out of the library. Chatting as they went she told Harry that Gail used to live nearby and was famous locally for walking at least ten miles a day.
'Still can,' Gail insisted. 'When me knees are feeling up to it.'
'We can walk to the Centre,' Harry suggested. 'It's on Kellett Road.' It was less than five minutes at an amble, while a taxi could take forever to arrive.
'Will you carry all that all the way?'
'Good boy. All right, then. It's good to see young boys who still help old ladies. Though I don't think much of this Centre if you're their idea of a staff member. You look like you're on your way home from university.'
Harry smiled at her teasing. She definitely wouldn't want to know that he was the Centre's idea of a Trustee and Chairman, too. 'They give me all the lovely jobs, like coming to visit Melly and meeting you,' he said
'Oh, you're silver-tongued. Come on, then, sunshine, let's be off. But you call and make sure he hasn't killed me for my organs, dear.'
This last was addressed to Melly, who promised faithfully to drop by in person after work.
Harry led Gail down towards Saltoun Road, chatting as they walked. 'So we'll set you up in your room, and then you can have a nice cup of tea or a meal if you'd like, and you can nap or there's lots of activities and other people you can chat with if you prefer. Would you like us to call your son?'
'Oh no, dear,' Gail said. 'He threw me out. Told me I had to go or he'd set the dogs on me.'
'That's a bit rough,' Harry sympathised.
'And it's not as though he even owns any dogs,' Gail continued.
Harry nodded. A year-and-a-half ago he would have been appalled on Gail's behalf, but he had learned. It was more likely that her son was frantically searching for her and that missed meds, or a worsening of Alzheimer's, or some other medical problem had been responsible for her arrival at the library. Celeste or Rob, the Centre's doctors, would be able to take a look at her once they reached the Centre. Fingers crossed Gail would have a check-up and a nap and be home in time for dinner.
Celeste was in the main common room when Harry and Gail arrived, so he handed Gail over with introductions and promises of tea on his return, then took her bags up to the nicest free room available. Checking the door was shut, he Transfigured one of the teacups on the dresser into a large bunch of flowers.
Gail and Celeste were walking into Celeste's surgery as Harry came back downstairs. 'All right you two?' he asked.
'Absolutely fine,' Celeste replied. 'Gail's agreed to help me out with my studies by letting me give her a quick physical, so I can practise.'
It was a line she often used with patients who were a bit disorientated. Some resisted being looked at by a doctor, but most were happy to help out someone who looked young enough to be a student. Celeste was 15 years older than Harry, but would have passed for his slightly older half-sister.
'She's too sweet to be a doctor,' Gail said, shaking her head. 'In my day, they were all old men, not pretty girls.'
Harry grinned at his colleague. 'Times have changed, Gail. Now, I have to fill out your forms to make sure the Trust pays for all your food, can you let me know what your last name is, please?'
'Oh, everyone just calls me Gail, dear. It's what I prefer.'
'Melly told me that on the phone,' Harry agreed. 'But the Trust won't hand over the cash without your surname.'
'Of course. Bureaucracy, I know how it is. It's Atkinson, dear, Gail Atkinson. I used to live around here, you know, I remember that library girl when she was at school.'
'Terrific! Would you like some late lunch after your check-up?'
'Thank you, dear, that would be lovely. Something hot, and a nice pot of tea.'
'Anything you don't like?'
'Tripe and tongue,' Gail said sharply. 'Can't stand em.'
'Me either,' Harry agreed. 'Celeste? Have you had time to eat today? No? OK then, I was thinking I'd make the three of us up something nice.'
'Yes please,' Celeste said, waving him off. 'Whatever you have going will be fine.'
Harry popped into his office and made a few calls to set in motion the search for Gail Atkinson's son, then ducked beneath his desk when he caught sight of Jan Phillips before she caught sight of him. She was a formidable general manager, but she did have an appalling habit of involving him in every problem the Centre faced.
Her argument that he was, on paper, the boss held no sway with him. The way Harry saw it, he was here to help out and pay bills, not to be essential. He'd had enough of being essential to last him a lifetime. Two, even. Money didn't make him special, it just made him able to employ good managers and buy good coffee for the staff room.
Her shoes clipped all the way to his door, but the resigned sigh she gave made it clear that she assumed he had hoofed it before she had run him to ground.
Harry waited until her footsteps died away, then Apparated out, just to be on the safe side.
The beauty of the Tesco carpark was that unless you were actually breaking into a vehicle, no one gave a damn what you were doing. And even then, they were only likely to raise a protest if it was actually their car. Harry had been horrified the first time he appeared less than ten feet from shoppers – he had thought the quiet bit down the back near the trees would be safe – but the couple just continued loading their shopping into their boot, and the toddler who gaped at him was too young to be able to tell anyone about it. Since then, he'd repeated the experiment on many occasions with the same results.
He jogged across the carpark today, narrowly avoiding being backed into by a Ford Mondeo. Inside, he grabbed a basket and began his usual haphazard route about the aisles, once again failing to remember where anything was.
He'd found the nice bread that Celeste liked, grabbed three containers of the good pre-prepped soup that really did taste as though a house-elf had made it and was just about to pick up some double cream to go with the treacle tart he planned to pick up at the cake shop on the walk back when he stopped dead.
'Digestives. Who names a biscuit after a bodily process? It's revolting.'
Harry shook his head. For all the world that sounded like …
'You say that every time, darling, but you do like the chocolate ones.'
Harry carefully put his cream into his basket before he just-as carefully crept over to the next aisle and peeked slowly around the corner. Three fair-haired people were standing there. Which didn't mean anything. There were loads of people with blond hair in London, and statistically, quite a few of them would sound like …
'Narcissa, I may like them, but that doesn't mean I need to approve of them.'
For a second, Harry wondered if this was the moment he finally lost it. Hermione had warned him that people had strange reactions to stress, which was her explanation for his determination to bury himself in the Muggle world for the last twenty-two months. But just as he opened his eyes again after screwing them shut, the rearmost figure of the trio turned around and Harry found himself staring at a gaping Draco Malfoy.
So, clearly, the world had gone mad. That was no reason why lunch should be delayed any further, it was already gone three. Harry spun on his heel and marched off to pay for his groceries.
He had made it most of the way down Aisle Three when he heard a fiercely whispered 'Potter!' behind him.
A sensible man would have kept going, Harry told himself as he turned around.
White-faced, Malfoy reached out and poked Harry's arm. 'Oh, Merlin's pants, I was hoping I was hallucinating.'
'What are you doing here?' Harry asked, unable to think of anything less banal.
'What am I doing here? What are you doing here?'
'I work nearby.'
'Draco?' Narcissa Malfoy's clear tones could be heard above the bustle of afternoon shoppers and radio, and through at least two aisles-worth of shelving.
'Shit. Right, you have to go. Don't let them see you. And whatever you do, do not tell people you saw me here!'
'If you have to be a prick, at least tell them we were at Waitrose. Sainsbury's at a pinch.'
'But what are you …'
Malfoy shoved him without malice in the direction of the '10 items or less' sign, and Harry took his place in the queue behind a woman complaining to her husband that the lack of grammar in public signage was a symbol of the decay of Civilisation as we knew it. Harry found himself agreeing, and was halfway back to the Centre with a treacle tart and his bag of groceries before the reality of the last quarter hour hit home.
'Fuck me …' he muttered.
There was a laugh from his left. He looked up to see Skater Yoof standing nearby.
'That is so not gonna happen,' the boy said, shaking his head.
'Hilarious,' Harry replied.
'Now that, that is true.' And with that he jumped onto his board and sailed off across the concrete.
Harry watched him go, wondering if he should get a message to Ron and Hermione. But what was the point? It was unlikely he would see the Malfoys again. They were part of the Wizarding world, even if they were, for reasons doubtless obscure and inexplicable, slumming it in pursuit of biscuits.
He was not.
Draco Malfoy was waiting outside the Centre when Harry arrived at work the following morning.
'How did you find me?' Harry called out as he walked towards him.
'It wasn't hard.' Draco pointed upwards to a sign that read Godric's Hollow Centre.
'Oh. Right.' Harry stopped a few feet away, and frankly stared. Malfoy himself had changed little in the nearly two years since they had last crossed paths. He had gained a little weight, his face had lost the hungry and drawn expression it had worn at the Battle of Hogwarts, and perhaps there was a little more colour and muscle to him.
It was his clothes that were the most remarkable thing about him – a bizarre combination of Muggle and Wizarding. Harry recognised Quidditch trousers and boots, with leather strapping extending to his knees, but these were topped by a T-shirt featuring a spray-painted rat underneath a short coat. Harry had a horrible feeling that Malfoy might be considered cool by people who cared about these things.
'What are you doing here?' he asked, then frowned a little at his own rudeness.
Malfoy's lips tightened, but he made an effort to keep his expression neutral. 'I came to see whether or not you were going to tell people you'd seen us.'
'What does it matter?'
'Oh for f–' Malfoy made a visible effort to control himself. He took a breath. 'I am concerned for my family's safety,' he said formally, 'and would like to know whether or not you may have compromised it.'
'Of course I haven't,' Harry said. Then, because Malfoy had been trying, added, 'I haven't told anyone, and I won't tell anyone. Though I can't see what you're worried about, everyone knows that you and your mother helped me survive Voldemort, and there's an unspoken agreement to give your father a pass thanks to the two of you.'
Malfoy blinked at him. 'Why on Earth would you think we were worried about your side?' he asked.
'Yes. Quite.' Malfoy gave a small, slightly bitter smile.
Harry rallied. 'Well, no one will hear about you slumming it in a Muggle shop from me. Though what you were doing there, I'll never know.'
'We were buying food,' said Malfoy, speaking slowly, as though to a small child.
'You were what? And why?'
'To eat, Potter. And because stealing is wrong.'
'But you live in Wiltshire,' Harry said, feeling stupid even as he spoke the words.
Malfoy shook his head. 'You are out of the loop.'
'But this is Muggle London.'
'Yeah, I know. So what in Merlin's name are you doing here?'
Harry looked over his shoulder at the Centre, then back to Malfoy. He wanted to say that he was doing important things and making vital changes to the lives of people often lost between the cracks of government services, but what came out of his mouth was: 'Hiding.'
'Me too,' said Malfoy. 'After all these years, we finally have something in common.'
Harry smiled a little at that. Malfoy rolled his eyes.
'Anyway,' Malfoy said, in tones that indicated he was keen to bring the conversation to a close. 'Thank you for your silence. I'll try to make sure that we stay out of your way.'
'You mean you're local?'
'Potter, who travels to Brixton to shop?' Shaking his head, Malfoy turned and began to walk towards Brixton Road.
'Lots of people,' Harry muttered, then went into work.
He called it work, but Harry suspected that it was just what he did to stop himself being lost between the cracks. Though he was good out on the streets, offering shelter to those who might need it. If things went pear-shaped, he had a wand in his pocket, which had been handy on more than a few occasions. And people generally liked him. He was pleasant looking and young. Old ladies thought he was a nice boy, young men thought he was one of them, middle-aged people thought he was a social-work student.
Hardly anyone outside the Lambeth Town Planning Advice Centre knew that he was the Chairman, even half the employees thought he was the work-experience boy. Jan was the public face of Centre Management, and Celeste, Rob and a team of trained professionals did most of the actual work. Harry filled in the gaps where he could, but – money aside – he wasn't important, despite Jan's insistence he be kept 'in the loop'.
That made him happy.
This morning, the Front Building's main common room was filled with families, kids being strapped into jackets and backpacks, ready for the weekly centre outing – the Museum today. Some of them were residents, others from their Childcare facility, and a few were friendly locals who had become official Friends of the Centre and received invitations in return for cake stalls and letters to the council supporting programmes.
Harry waved at a few smiling parents and kept going. In the large common room, the oldies were setting up for Wednesday Waltzes. Jan was in there helping to move the tables and Harry quickly backtracked, spotted only by Bill Knight, a permanent resident who winked and said nothing as Harry slipped silently away.
Harry continued on through the Centre, past the clinics and craft rooms, out the back door and through the large garden, then through the security fence and another garden and into the Back Building where the other half of the Centre's work was done.
When he found her in the main clinic there, Celeste was just dispensing the last of the morning methadone from the pharmacy. Bek Woods – four weeks so far in the residential programme – smiled apologetically at Harry as she took her cup.
'Nearly kicked it,' Bek said, then downed her medicine in one gulp before scooping up the remains with her finger and licking it clean.
'It's all good,' Celeste reassured her. 'You're looking heaps better than when you came in, Bek. Got a bit of colour back.'
'Have to look my best, lot of handsome boys around here,' Bek replied, winking shamelessly at Harry.
Harry grinned. 'You're out of my league, I'm afraid,' he said, gallantly.
'What's a few decades between friends?' she asked, before taking herself off to her comfy chair for the next hour to do puzzles as she did every morning.
Celeste smiled brightly. 'You're early.'
'You mean here before lunch?'
'We value whatever time you can give us, Harry,' she said, with a wink. 'I tell myself that you're off managing your complicated investments on the days when you don't turn up before lunch. Or at least, that's what I tell anyone who asks.'
'You're not far wrong,' Harry admitted. 'I'm usually wandering about trying to think up ways we could do more here. This place counts as an investment, even if the returns are atrocious.'
It didn't really matter to him that the money went in one direction only. After the war, the remainder of Sirius's money had been added to Harry's Gringotts account. Apparently the Blacks had never formally disowned their eldest son, nor spent much on anything after Regulus died. The sum was beyond tidy, and it had filled an already well-stocked vault.
Harry had been at a loss for what to do with it, and himself, so when Hermione suggested charity work – thinking he could be useful at St Mungo's – he had demanded she sit down and help him decide on a good Muggle charity.
She hadn't argued. She and Ron had thought he was going through a phase, and just needed to be supported until he was ready to return to the wizarding world. Instead, she'd turned up with armfuls of brochures and put aside two nights for him.
After he'd dismissed dozens for being too narrow in their focus, and was on the verge of trekking to Tanzania to pay for wells, she'd remembered that Justin Finch-Fletchley had spoken about his mum's frequent fundraisers.
Justin had been happy to arrange a meeting – happier still to hear from Harry – and Mrs Emma Finch-Fletchley had insisted Harry meet her sister-in-law Beza Fletchley, who had apparently been Naomi Campbell before Naomi Campbell – 'Though unghastly, of course. Actually interested in politics rather than just associating with politicians. Brilliant woman, really. I just organise a few donations, she's genuinely involved.'
Beza had offered Harry a world of options, from land-mine control in Chad to school tutoring programs for girls in Afghanistan. But she had also mentioned one closer to home and to her heart. Her daughter Celeste had a struggling clinic in half a Brixton terrace, but she wanted to add a rehab centre, and then a baby clinic nearby. 'You know, the sort that actually has doctors and can help with sick or under-nourished kids when it's early enough to make a difference.'
Harry had met Celeste that evening, they set up the Trust two days later. Their first step was to buy the rest of the terrace and push the rehab centre through planning, which they managed in record time with enormous public support. Now the Centre had grown to consume most of the buildings around it, with Celeste's expertise and his gold backing it.
Once a month he would slip under his Invisibility Cloak and make the trip to Gringotts to authorise a deposit into his Muggle accounts. The goblins were never very happy to see him there – understandably – but they refused simple modern inventions like direct deposits and authorised regular payments. Instead he just pretended not to hear the murmured accusations of dragon theft and vault-breaking, and left as quickly as possible.
Celeste had been the main power behind the works, commissioning the changes and forcing the building works through in a fraction of a time they would normally have taken. The local council were highly sympathetic – 'It's because of my looks,' she had told Harry. 'They'd never let you get away with it, but I tick enough New Labour Priority boxes. Which is hilarious when you consider that I grew up with private everything and you grew up in a cupboard under the stairs.'
But she had made him feel valued, and as though he was a genuine ally, and that was all he had wanted, really. Best of all, she treated him as a friend, and she didn't ask questions.
'Well, you can chalk up another good result for your books,' she told him. 'Gail's gone home. Her son arrived just after you and Melly left last night. He'd been looking everywhere. The Met were able to get onto him nice and quickly. Turns out she missed her pills the other night, and was then too confused to remember to take them in the morning. He'd popped out for a meeting, and by the time he got home, she'd packed up and left. They've got some good nursing services over their way, I've put him onto one. He wants to keep her at home, says she usually likes it there. She was very happy to see him.'
'That's great news.'
'Yeah.' Celeste cleaned up the last of her dispensing gear and locked the bottles back into the safe storage. 'I liked the flowers you gave her, nice touch.'
She winked at him. She and Justin were close, and she knew Harry's secrets.
'It never hurts to give the oldies a smile. You're through earlier than usual.'
Celeste nodded. 'Wayne and Cherie are off the stuff. Been clean for three days now. They've been voluntarily providing urine samples, I think they're afraid I'm going to boot them out if they can't prove they're straight. Wayne's even looking for a job, says that if we can just keep them on until he can afford a few weeks' rent, things should be fine.'
'That's brilliant!' Harry grinned. Wayne and Cherie had been two of the Centre's first residents, and he had assumed they would be around for years.
'You see that, pretty often, really. People just grow out of using. You just have to keep them alive long enough. That's why it's so vital to have …'
'Good public health,' Harry finished the sentence for her. 'I know, you convinced me ages ago. Still, must feel good to see a success story.'
Celeste smiled wryly. 'I'll give it a month before I get really excited, but yeah, it's always nice. I think they were inspired by Emma and Neil. It's been a good month for our little junkies. I'll have to tell the psych mob they're all doing wonders. That'll go straight to their heads.'
Harry looked at her and shook his head sternly.
'Not even half a laugh?' she pleaded.
'Far too terrible.'
A loud burst of genuine laughter rang out from the television room.
'I bet that's that robbery,' Celeste said, smiling. 'Have you seen it yet?'
'I don't have a telly.'
'Go and have a look, it's hysterical. They've been playing it all morning.'
Harry trotted over to the doorway and poked his head in. He was just in time to see a replay of grainy patched-together CCTV footage, showing a security van being followed by a motorbike with blacked-out plates. The van bounced on a speed bump and its rear doors sprang open, catapulting one of the guards out and into the arms of the motorcyclist who had stopped just in time. The van continued on, with the other rear guard poking his head out to see what had happened to the first, just as the van itself went over a second bump and he suffered the same fate.
The motorcyclist, having dropped the first guard gently to the ground, was in place to catch the second – who was similarly deposited – and then the two large bags of cash that bounced out immediately after him. Clutching them to his chest he rode off at speed before either of the stunned guards outside the van could recover enough to do anything.
It was so absurd that Harry joined in the general laughter.
'Handed to him!' one of the younger residents shouted gleefully as a representative of the Met appeared on the screen, declaring that any information supplied by members of the public would be treated in strictest confidence.
'That is the luckiest man in London,' Bek declared.
'Nah, that's the guards. They'd have been splattered if he hadn't been there.' That was one of the temporarily unhomed boys – Harry could never keep their names straight.
'But he was clearly on his way to a blag,' said the boy's mate. 'He had his plates done and everything.'
'Then this one fell in his lap instead,' said the first lad, to general hilarity.
Harry slipped away. Jan would doubtless be looking for him in the Front Building, so he stayed in this one and went to the kitchen to help with lunch instead.
A voice sang out as he pushed his way through the swing doors. 'Harry, love! You brighten my morning!'
Mrs Gillray was always pleased to see him. The residents in the Back Building were meant to help out in her kitchen, but most were busy with training courses, or too concerned with their own problems. Of the remainder, there were several who were not encouraged to use a knife.
'Morning Mrs G. Thought you could use some company.' Harry set himself down with a pile of carrots and a peeler.
'You're a good lad. Though what I could really use is a coffee, Mr G snored like a bastard all through the night.'
Harry grinned. 'I can manage by myself for a bit if you want to go and grab one.' He pulled a fiver from his pocket. 'My treat, grab me one, too – latte with one.'
Mrs Gillray grinned and promised to be right back. Although the cafe was in the Front Building, Harry knew that she would be at least three-quarters of an hour, as her sister ran the kitchen there. He waited until she had left, then cast a quick spell to keep the doors shut, before managing two more to deal with the vast piles of vegetables set about the table. Satisfied, he pulled a book from his pocket and began to read.