A note about review replies: I have, in the past, tried to reply to all of them.

This is no longer possible if I want to update weekly.

From this point on I have made the decision to only reply to those that I have something substantial to say. I am sorry about this. It was a hard decision to make. I like replying. It makes me feel closer to my reviewers. But I cannot if I want to update in reasonable time — which is both crazy good and unfortunate at the same time.

I still cherish them all.

Thanks for understanding.


Previously: "And if he hangs on a little bit longer than he needs to, well, Draco isn't protesting."


The street they appear on is small, narrow, dingy, and dark. It's not pretty. It hasn't been cleared away in some time — piles of litter clutter the shadows and a smell of cat urine hangs in the air. Draco wrinkles his nose slightly in an instant and he can practically feel himself shrinking away from any surfaces.

Harry, oddly, doesn't seem at all phased by their surroundings. He looks around curiously.

"Why did you know how to visualise this?" he finally asks, and Draco understand the look he's being given now.

"That, Harry, is a long story that we certainly do not have time for at the moment." And Draco whirls around with a sharp step, hands almost automatically lifting the hem of his cloak so that it doesn't drag, and he sets off down the alleyway. After only a moment, Harry follows.

"How far?" he asks.

Draco glances at him and almost smiles, though he isn't entirely sure why. There's something about the way that Harry intuitively follows him — about a half a step behind and a body's width right, almost always on the right — that just makes Draco want to either laugh, or snap at him to follow at his side like anyone else.

He does neither. Instead, he merely says, "Not long," and turns his head forward again.

The thought doesn't leave his head, and he weighs the benefits of asking and not asking for a moment, and then "Why is that your intuitive position?"

He glances back over his shoulder to see Harry frowning in confusion. "What?"

"That. You always follow on the right. Behind. Never beside. Rarely in front, either, even if you know where you're going. Your intuitive position is always a half a step behind me on the right. Why?"

Harry's frown only deepens. Draco, getting sick of looking over his shoulder, slows his pace a notch and watches as Harry automatically does too. "See, there? You just kept that position even though it meant changing your pace. Why?"

Something sparks in Harry's green eyes — determination, maybe? — and he deliberately takes a few quick steps, matching his stride to Draco's. "I don't know," he says, his voice calm and his words very considered. "I've never noticed it before." He falls silent for a moment before noting, "It might be a defensive familiarity thing. I feel… out of place."

He isn't looking up.

"You feel out of place walking beside someone? What about Granger, Weasley? You don't walk a half step behind them, not that I've noticed."

But Harry shakes his head. "That's entirely different, Draco," he says immediately. "The dynamics of three versus the dynamics of two… no, they aren't the same."

Draco stops abruptly without answering, staring at the grimy silver numbers on the face of a house."We're here," he says, gesturing toward it. He looks the building up and down. Three blocks has not taken them to a much better neighborhood. The tall buildings and narrow streets mean that little natural light penetrates the area, lending everything a creepy sort of aura. A creeping feeling makes its way up his spine, and this puts Draco immediately on edge. This feeling never leads to good things.

Almost unconsciously, he slips his wand out of his holster and grips it loosely. Harry follows his actions seconds later.

"Do you feel that?" he asks, his voice low.

Draco nods without a word.

After a long moment of complete stillness, Draco finally moves forward and raps his knuckles on the door. It echoes in the silent street. Draco looks behind him, still half expecting Harry to… compress, like normal people do in dangerous situations. Usually, shoulders hunch, the body automatically making itself a smaller target. It still surprises Draco that Harry is the exact opposite — if anything, he inflates. His shoulders go back, his breathing deepens, and he actually looks confident.

Yet he claims to have survived his Hogwarts years by luck. If that were true, he'd still be terrified. Just waiting for his luck to change.

After a moment, the door opens just a crack, a chain preventing it from opening much more. "Who're you?" A gruff voice asks.

Draco flashes his badge. Seconds later Harry flips his out as well. "Aurors Potter and Malfoy, sir. Are you Avior Burke?"

The man's eyes narrow. "An' what if I am?"

"Then we have some information you might like to know and some questions you might be able to answer."

"An' what if I'm not?"

Draco smiles. It is not a friendly expression. "Then you will tell us where he is, or you will be arrested for interfering with an ongoing investigation."

He scowls, and the door closes.

Draco can feel Harry stiffen in offense at the action, before the door opens again, this time lacking the chain. The man jerks with his head, gesturing for them to come in.

Draco turns to Harry and raises an eyebrow. Harry just scowls in reply. Draco smirks, and then he follows the man inside the house.

They are led through a dark hallway and told to sit on a couch that looks like it saw its last days ten years prior. Draco wants to wrinkle his nose, but he doesn't.

Harry sits very calmly on the couch. After a brief moment, Draco sits next to him. The man vanishes.

Silence descends.

"Where d'you think he went?" Harry asks after a moment.

Draco shakes his head. "I'd thought he was Burke, but if he left to get him…"

"Maybe he left for another reason?"

"But why?"

Harry shrugs, smirking because he knows that Draco hates it when he shrugs. "Maybe he went to get something?"

"Like what? What is so important that he'd leave a pair of Aurors in his house alone?"

"Maybe he's hiding something?"

Draco allows the conversation to drift into silence, knowing they don't want to still be discussing it when the man comes back. His eyes wander the room.

Ancient wallpaper is peeling. The wood floors are faded, worn to soft. The couch and the small table in front of it are the only pieces of furniture, and neither of them are against the wall — both are set precisely in the center of the room, which serves to make the room feel even smaller than it already is.

Draco leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, hands clasped loosely.

After minutes of silence, the same man who'd opened the door returns. He carries a tray with a kettle in the middle and three cups and pots of tea leaves around it. He sets the tray down and offers them tea.

Harry is too busy being shocked to reply. Draco nods because it's polite, because it is ingrained in him not to deny someone's offered hospitality. Not because he actually has any current desire for tea. He takes a cup and smells the two different canisters of leaves. Picking a darker leave with a sharper smell, he waits for Harry to snap out of his stupor, even as he waits for the man to pour from the kettle first.

The man almost smiles at his deliberate hesitation. "I'm not trying to poison you, boy."

"I'm not a boy."

"No, I suppose you aren't." Something dark lingers beneath the man's words. "Why are you looking for Avior Burke?" the man asks.

"Why are we looking for you, you mean?"

A gruff smile appears. "Yes, I suppose I do. How did you know?"

"You came back alone. If he were here, you'd have brought him. If he weren't here, you wouldn't have let us in. You're curious, but cautious. Smart."

"Don't flatter me, boy." Draco scowls his silent disapproval at the repeated name. The corner of Burke's mouth twitches.

"You still haven't answered my question," he says. "Why?"

"How well did you know your cousin Phineas?"

Burke shrugs. "Not well. Phin was a bit of a loner type, and so am I, to be honest. Neither one of us really bothered with the family thing. Why, what's he done?"

"Why do you assume it's something he's done?" Harry asks.

"Isn't it? Why else would the Aurors be here?"

Harry's voice hits that low, soft octave that it always does when imparting bad news. "Mr. Burke, I'm really sorry to tell you this, but… Phineas was found murdered in his home yesterday."

Burke blanches. "He's… dead?"

"I'm afraid so."

Burke truly looks like a man in shock. His skin pales. His eyes go wide, and he stares as though looking at something else entirely, something they can't see.

"How?" he finally asks. "Why?"

"A spell severed his carotid artery. He bled out in seconds. As for why… well, we were hoping you could help us with that, Mr. Burke."