[Note: Originally published 2010-06-15 in other places, reposted here. If you've encountered it already, my apologies.]
Other Notes: Written for sugareey for hds_beltane. Beta'ed by winnett, who asked some really important questions and cut out all the unnecessary crap. XD.
April 28, 2006
When the Partner Expiry Alert charm twisted around Harry's heart and knotted about his wrists, he sat bolt upright in his chair and blinked at the wall across from his tidy desk. His desk was tidy because Malfoy had flung a charm on it right before they left on their last undercover mission. He claimed, in his poncy manner, that in a week after their return Harry would be eaten by his own feral paperwork. While Malfoy would be fairly pleased to see this happen (damn well bloody satisfied, Potter), that would mean even more paperwork to be done on his part. Harry had given him the two-finger salute; Malfoy had tripped him so that Harry had stumbled and nearly lost their Portkeys (really, who would make a Portkey out of a buggerin' bit of string?) and it had just been business as usual.
Harry had returned from his part of the assignment about an hour ago, trailing a drug-dealing group of wizards. Malfoy had not, which wasn't too unusual in itself. He had been doing the dreary undercover bit: playing an addict to the new illegal potion the Ministry had been trying to tamp down on for months now. (Malfoy claimed it was because they wanted to get their greedy little fingers on Astro all for themselves). Harry had assumed he was simply skiving off for an hour or so before returning to pester Harry... not that Harry minded too much.
But now... Harry squeezed his eyes shut as the charm yanked ruthlessly on him and then went slack. No. It couldn't be-
Barely ten seconds later, a crumpled memo squeezed itself under the door and flapped up to Harry, fluttering around his face in a rather anxious manner. "Auror Potter," it said in Shacklebolt's admirably calm voice, at odds with the panicky crinkling of the parchment. "If you would come to my office, please."
Harry scrambled out of his chair; it fell, just as Malfoy always warned it would, and darted for the door. His robes fluttered out behind him as he rushed down the corridor and burst into the Head Auror's office. Shacklebolt's massive frame was positioned in front of his Floo. His bald head gleamed in the dancing firelight, and when he turned around, his dark eyes were tired and sad. As Head Auror, he felt it too... felt it every time one of his Aurors fell. The expression on his face was enough confirmation for Harry.
"Harry," he said in a tone that was so heavy that Harry actually staggered under the weight of it; he groped out for one of the plush armchairs Shacklebolt kept in his office. One of the seats slid over to him helpfully and Harry sank into it, resting his elbows on his knees and setting the heels of his hands against his closed eyes.
No more Malfoy getting into a strop because Harry didn't make his tea right; no more sly innuendo that Harry never fully grasped; no more fine blond hair fanning out on Harry's shoulder when Malfoy was sloshed and insisted that Harry take him home in a tack-see. So many little, annoying, amazing things that added up after nearly four years of being partners with the hugest berk in the world (apart from Snape, that was) and here it all stopped. There would be no more.
Harry took a deep, trembling breath, figuring that he'd have to visit the tiny Auror Counselling office for the first time since he'd taken up this Auroring shite... maybe lie on that couch that Ron said was really very comfy and talk to Susan Bones about this sudden dark space that had opened up to his left, where Malfoy usually strode along, doing his best impression of a vulture.
Harry felt a hand settle on his shoulder and squeeze briefly. He nodded, not wanting to move as yet, submerging himself in flitting memories of Malfoy's presence in his life. Therefore, he thought he was reliving a vivid memory when he heard Malfoy say: "What's wrong with you, Potter? Who died and left you all a-blubber?"
Harry frowned. He let his hands fall and stared at Shacklebolt, who was gaping uncharacteristically in the direction of his window. Harry turned his head so slowly that he could feel the tendons in his neck creak, and then gaped himself.
Malfoy, the git, was standing in front of said window, his arms crossed, scowling at them. He was fully dressed in his Auror gear; the glass and wood of the window behind him was quite discernible. The weak magical daylight that streamed into the room passed unhindered through his tall, lean body.
"What is it?" Malfoy demanded as both Harry and Shacklebolt remained mute with shock. He gazed down at himself, as if wondering if he had spilled anything on his robes. He too stared for a very long time, before raising his head. "Well," he said in a more subdued manner. "Bugger."
Harry hovered in the dark corridor which led to the Department of Mysteries, waiting Hermione to come out and explain what had happened to Malfoy. Well, he knew what had happened, didn't he? It was frighteningly tragic; Malfoy's mum was going to be inconsolable. In the meantime, Malfoy was currently being questioned by the Unspeakables; for what reason, Harry couldn't quite say.
Harry was already assigned to locate his partner's body and bring it home for a proper funeral; it would probably do well for some closure and maybe to help send Malfoy 'on'. On to where, Harry wasn't too sure; heaven was probably too good for the git, but he didn't think Malfoy deserved hell either. Who was he to say, anyway?
He stuck his hands into the pockets of his robes, stroking the comforting shape of his wand. When Hermione opened the plain black door and slipped out, he practically pounced on her.
"Is he alright? Well, he's obviously not alright, but is he doing well? What I mean, as well as Malfoy can be, you know how he gets." Harry pressed his lips together at Hermione's slow blink and shook his head before trying again: "Sorry. I'm just-"
"He's fine enough, considering the circumstances," Hermione said with a small, crooked smile. It wavered and she stepped close, putting her arms around him. Her robes smelled a bit smoky and her hair tickled his nose, but he squeezed her, grateful for her concern. "Oh, Harry," she murmured. "I'm ever so sorry. I... I knew how you felt."
Harry swallowed. Of course Hermione would have picked up on that.
"S'alright," he said in a rough voice, pulling away and sniffling. "Can I... I'd like to see him."
Hermione furrowed her brow, and then nodded. She led him back to the black door and they went through it into the circular room. Their reflections wavered under their feet in the floor, the dark surface was that polished. As soon as the entry-door clicked shut, the curved walls began to rotate, moving around the other doors until Harry was quite confused.
"Don't look at them," Hermione advised as she headed purposefully towards their left. "It'll make you dizzy."
"Are we going to the Death Chamber?" Harry asked as calmly as he could manage; something must have seeped into his tone, for Hermione whirled and looked at him with large, shocked eyes.
"Of course not, Harry!" She shook her head at him, the frizzy waves bouncing around her face."I could never do that to you, could I?"
He smiled wanly and she smiled back, turning around to continue.
"Offices," she commanded clearly and the room stopped spinning; a door right in the line of their path clicked open, and they exited into another corridor, this one decidedly more cheerful than the last. It was very un-mysterious, Harry thought, as they made their way down past tall arched windows, which reflected the nightscape that filled London's cramped streets far above. Bright lights hovered in regular intervals near the high ceiling, and as they paused by one door, Harry could have sworn he heard one give off a tiny yawn.
"We were wondering why he hadn't moved on," Hermione said."Most ghosts remain on this plane because they claim to have massive regrets over unfinished business. Malfoy says he has no such regrets... but he kept asking for you. We even had to stop the interview because he was getting agitated."
"Oh," Harry said. 'Agitated' was apparently Hermione's way of saying 'a towering rage'.
"This is where I am, by the way." She nodded at the door that had H. Weasley in black letters across the frosted glass.
"Never been to your office before," Harry observed, smiling; then his smile slipped a bit, like a landslide ready to happen. "Not the best first time, yeah?"
Hermione's shoulders twitched into a helpless sort of shrug. It was so odd to see that type of expression on his resourceful friend. "Go on. I'll be down the hall in the kitchenette... there's tea, if you like?"
Harry shook his head, one hand already on the round handle of the door. "No, thanks. Call you when I- when we're ready." He pushed open her office door, and stepped into the dimly lit room. Flicking on the nearby light-switch, he gazed around her cluttered office, wondering where Malfoy had gotten himself to. He was just turning about to go back and ask Hermione, when something pale and gauzy flew right into his face, yelling, "BOO!"
Harry skittered back, his heart beating nearly out of his chest as he drew his wand. He nearly blasted Hermione's over-stuffed bookcase to bits, before he realized that Malfoy stood right next to him, ghostly arms folded over his nearly transparent chest.
"Malfoy!" Harry gasped out. "You very nearly scared the life out of me, fucking git!" he snapped and then swallowed, hearing what he'd said. "Malfoy, I-"
"Lucky you, Potter. At least you have some life to spare, don't you?" Malfoy sneered at him, and leaned back against the wall. As Harry sat down on some of Hermione's crumpled parchment, he vaguely wondered how Malfoy could do that without fading right through the solid brick-work.
"Come off it." He considered the pinched expression of his partner, so recently departed. "Malfoy-"
"Spare me the sympathies." Malfoy looked away, every line of his body rigidly held. "I'm slowly coming to terms with my new state, so don't burst into tears, you'll embarrass me."
"I'm sorry, though," Harry said quietly, and a lump developed in his throat. "I really am. I should have been there."
Malfoy shook his head, the movement jerky. "You couldn't have been. The floating through walls bit is dead useful anyway, but I haven't figured out how to possess someone as yet." He glanced back to where Harry was seated. "When I do, Potter, rest assured that I will crawl into your skin and do something about your hair."
Harry felt a sudden glow infuse his insides; Malfoy was still very much the same bit of shit. There was something comforting about that fact.
"What's it like?" he asked. Malfoy rocked his head from side to side, thinking.
"Cold," he finally answered. "Like there's always a draft but I can't find where it's coming from. That sort of thing." He grew brisk, moving his arms down so he could clasp his hands around his back. "Now, we've got to tell my mother and father first, so we need to go to the Manor. Shacklebolt's probably gone over, but-"
"We'll go as soon as you want," Harry said quietly and Malfoy nodded.
"I'm sure I've been murdered. When you find the bastard who did this, I give you permission to go all out, Potter." Malfoy's eyes lit with a dangerous sort of gleam. "None of that noble shite when you're avenging my demise, thanks ever so much."
Harry tilted his head back, gazed up at the ceiling and tried to figure out if he was going to laugh or cry.
April 29, 2006
Facing Malfoy's mother with Malfoy's ghostly form shimmering by his side was downright horrible.
About an hour after sending an owl to the Manor, Harry was given access to Apparate into what appeared to be a relatively small and quite cozy sitting room. He was surprised when Malfoy simply appeared right beside him, standing in front of a crackling fire.
"Handy, that," he observed. Malfoy didn't respond, but turned towards the door as it was pushed open.
Narcissa entered, her hair long and loose, pale strands lying against the wide collar of her plain dark-grey robe. Harry was so taken-aback to see her clad in such utilitarian wear, before he realized that she was in mourning. Her face was devoid of any enhancement, magical or otherwise, and Harry could see faint lines bracketing the corners of her mouth and eyes.
"Auror Potter," she said in a raspy tone as her red-rimmed gaze landed on him.
Harry swallowed and said, "Mrs. Malfoy."
"Forgive my husband's absence," Narcissa continued, and the gritty texture of her voice smoothed out a little. "He is dealing with our loss in his own... unique manner." Her gaze snapped to her son, the bright orange of the flames seen clearly through his body. Harry actually saw her crumple, like a delicate flower subjected to a malicious gust of wind. He was about to whip out his wand and summon her a seat, when the nearest plush armchair moved towards her under a familiar wash of magic. Harry turned to give Malfoy a very curious glance but he was staring at his mother, a gamut of emotions crossing his face.
When Narcissa whispered brokenly, "Oh, Draco, my darling," he strode to her and knelt at her feet. He reached out to touch her hands, which had gone up to cover her mouth, and made a harsh noise as his hands passed right through her slender wrists. She flinched and tears rolled out of her eyes.
"Mother," Draco murmured, and hung his head. "Mother. Don't."
Narcissa's shoulders shook. Harry, who had always thought her a frosty bitch who had taught her son very well, felt filled to the brim with sympathy and a healthy dollop of empathy. He wondered what Lucius's 'unique manner' might be. The man was probably locked up in some dim library either researching Dark methods to restore his son to life, drinking himself senseless, or both at the same time.
After a few moments in which Harry felt that cloak of bereavement settle on his shoulders, Narcissa wiped at her cheeks with the pads of her fingers. She reached out as if to smooth some wayward hair back from his forehead, and her fingers trembled when they passed right through his temple.
"Mr. Potter," she said as she replaced her hands in her lap.
"When you've found Draco's... when you've found him and brought him back, I want you to tell me how this happened." Her gaze, hard and unyielding, locked with Harry's; they burned with the same light as Draco's did inside Hermione's office. "If there is someone to blame, then I'm sure my husband and I have some grave words to share with them."
Harry began to say something to the tune of Mrs. Malfoy, I'm sure that the Wizarding justice system is capable of dealing out appropriate and fair punishment, but the look in her eye said clearly that 'fair' and 'appropriate' were words that held no meaning right now, at least in relation to Draco's death. Narcissa gave him a nod that seemed as if she sealed any killer's fate just by thinking about it. Her expression softened as she returned her attention to the spirit of her son.
"Didn't I tell you that this was a perilous career?" Narcissa asked; to anyone else, it would have sounded as if she was scolding her dead son. Harry, who saw the overwhelming sadness welling in her eyes, knew otherwise. "But of course, you had to put yourself out there, didn't you? Why couldn't you have left it all to someone else?" She didn't look at Harry as she said this, but he got the point. "And now..." Here, she turned her palms up and spread her fingers in a motion of just look at this.
"I know, Mother," Malfoy said. Harry thought it was a good a time as any to slip out into the corridor and give them a little more privacy. He edged to the door and opened it, nearly tripping over a waiting house-elf in his haste to make a clean getaway. To his surprise, Malfoy drifted right through the door into the hallway and glared at him in a rather translucent manner.
"Potter," he said in dangerous tones. "I'm sure I taught you more manners than that."
"I was giving you both a bit of breather!" Harry protested and frowned at Malfoy's sneer. "What?"
"When you move, I move. So if you leave the room, then I leave the room and do believe me when I say that it's not a nice feeling to be dragged away from your crying mother. Not nice at all."
"Wait," Harry began and shook his head, trying to clear it of Malfoy-induced cobwebs. "You have to follow me around? Malfoy, you can't be haunting me... are you?"
"I don't know." Malfoy's tone was sharp. "All I know is that even when I was with Granger, I wanted to find you and… hover about."
Flummoxed, Harry said, "Hermione said you were getting all tetchy with the Unspeakables over that. But why?"
Malfoy made an impatient movement with his hands. "Again, Potter, I don't know, I haven't been doing this for very long, have I? Now, if you please-"
"Hang on a moment, I have something to ask you. Did you summon a chair for your mum just now?" Harry asked and then answered his own query: "Yes, you did. Next question: can ghosts do magic?"
Malfoy said, "Of course ghosts can do magic," but he said it in a very uncertain manner, and then glowered at Harry for making him sound as if he didn't really know.
"I'm just saying that it's strange," Harry said.
Malfoy's dark glare grew ice-tipped thorns. "And I'm just saying that you will get back inside the sitting room this minute so I can finish breaking my mother's heart. I cracked it a little when she found out I was a bloody shirt-lifter, but this whole dead thing will finish the job, I wager."
"That's not funny, Malfoy," Harry told him in a voice that wavered just a bit. "Okay, a little funny, but only because I'm used to your brand of morbid humour by now."
Malfoy studied him for a very long time. "You're very lucky that I exposed you to a very high level of cutting wit, Potter," he finally said. "Now that I'm dearly departed, it should serve you well."
Harry swallowed and looked away from the odd sheen in Malfoy's eyes. "Let's get back in, then, and break your mum's heart a bit more."
"Potter," Malfoy said in deep horror as he stood in the middle of Harry's flat and gazed around. "Every time I'm here I wonder if there's an actual living area underneath all this squalor."
"Get off it," Harry said tiredly; Apparating from London to Wiltshire then back again had made him very sleepy; not to mention Malfoy harping on everything in the vicinity. "Going to check if I've gotten any messages, don't go anywhere."
"Where can I go?" Malfoy wondered and then eyed the pile of dishes in the sink suspiciously. "Potter, I think there's a new life-form evolving on your plates, there."
Harry ignored him. The flames in the Floo were tinged blue and purple, indicating that he indeed had messages. Kneeling down on the worn grey mat, he tossed a pinch of Floo-powder and intoned, "Harry Potter's answerFloo."
The answerFloo said, "Harry Potter is having one unheard message," in a mechanical but decidedly house-elf-ish manner. The flames spat out an image of Ron's worried face.
"Harry, give us a ring when you get back, yeah?" His broad shoulders lifted and sank back down. "I'm really sorry about Malfoy. He was a right ferrety git-"
"Someone clearly hasn't moved on from the misspent days of their youth," Malfoy muttered.
"-but he was your partner and you worked well together." Ron sighed. "Hermione says to tell you that we're here for you, if that helps."
"Can't come up with his own condolences, I see." Malfoy stuck his ghostly head out from the door of the fridge and pulled it out again. "Potter, this box, what's it for?"
"To keep food cold," Harry responded as the fire went back to its normal state. "You know that, Malfoy."
"So I do." Malfoy pursed his lips. "Yet, I always seem to expect real food and not just half-opened bottles of beer and a piece of cheese that looks older than the Manor."
Harry got to his feet and brushed off his robes. He opened his mouth to say something and ended up letting out a huge yawn.
Malfoy actually laughed, a half-exasperated, half-fond sound. "Get to bed, Potter," he jerked his chin in the direction of the narrow corridor that led to Harry's bedroom and the small extra room he kept odd things in, little items he'd saved after the sale of Grimmauld. "You need your rest. After all, you start avenging me tomorrow, and avenging is hard work, I wager."
"Okay. You can, uh, kip where you like, I don't know if you'll float right through the covers-"
"Bed," Malfoy said firmly. Harry stumbled off to brush his teeth and roll into his sheets.
Harry snapped awake in the middle of the night, wiping tears from his cheeks. The dream hadn't been very scary; it had even started out rather nicely. He'd been on the rocky bank of a small but lively stream with Malfoy, laughing at something and calling him 'Draco'. Draco had been sitting very close, whispering very naughty things in Harry's ear. Harry didn't remember what he had said, exactly... but he remembered blushing at it.
Then the dream changed, as dreams do, to Harry standing in a quiet church, looking down at Draco stretched out in a coffin, still and pale.
"Mourning for me?" Malfoy murmured from out of the darkness and Harry jumped.
"Fuck," Harry said hoarsely and gathered up the rumpled duvet against his chest. He used a fistful of it to rub at his cheeks."What- have you gone off your rocker, lurking over there like that? That's bloody creepy."
"I was bored," Malfoy drawled. "Ghosts can't even nap, I've found. Did you know you were giggling in your sleep? Before you started to cry, that is. Also, I think I want a cigarette or even one of those monstrous Cuban cigars."
"You..." Harry shook his head at Malfoy's random conversation. "You've never smoked, Malfoy. I don't think you can smoke now, anyway."
"I know. But being a ghost makes one want to live a bit on the edge, I find."
Harry cleared his throat. The darkness in his room was almost solid, but as his eyes did their best to adjust, he could make out a faint glimmer in the corner, near his armchair. Malfoy was probably seated in it.
"When we find your body, will you... you know. Move on?" Harry grimaced at the way his voice sounded small, like a lonely child.
"I don't know. That's probably my unfinished business, if you subscribe to the nattering of the Unspeakables, that is."
"Oh." Harry pulled up his knees and wrapped his arms around them.
"Will you miss me terribly?" Malfoy asked. "If I move on, that is."
"I will," Harry answered without hesitation. "I... I like you very much."
"How comforting," Malfoy said, but there was thread of pleased amusement woven through the wry fabric of his tone.
"No... I like you. As in... fancy you."
A very long silence spun out and Harry bit his bottom lip.
"Let me get this straight," Malfoy said in a very reasonable tone. "We've been partners for near four years now, am I right?"
"And how long have you... fancied me, Potter?"
"I don't know," Harry said miserably. "All I know is that I didn't like you much at first, you were so annoying, but... it changed."
"Of all the times to shed your heteronormative leanings, Potter. Really."
Harry let out a loud breath. "We're partners. Couldn't have happened, anyway."
"Ohhh. Following all the rules now, are we?"
Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation."I didn't say anything because I didn't want it to get all complicated."
"I'm a Malfoy." Malfoy said in a low tone that caused Harry to stifle a shiver. "It's already bloody complicated."
"If I had said something, though," Harry said, feeling hesitant and awkward, "would anything have happened? Between us, I mean."
Malfoy muttered, "Potter, I'm sitting in your bedroom effectively haunting you. Why do you think that is?"
Harry blushed and didn't answer.
He blushed even more, though, when Malfoy said, "Potter. Harry. For what it's worth... I must admit I feel you're a bit of unfinished business as well."
"We've both been idiots, then." Harry snuggled back under the covers, oddly comforted by Malfoy's shimmering presence. He knew what Malfoy was going to answer, even mouthing it as Malfoy spoke, because it was the same thing every time:
"No, you've been an idiot."
In the middle of his small smile, Harry went right back to sleep.
April 30, 2006
"Yeah, I seen 'im." The bartender for the Stoat and Hare, a massive, affable man with the unlikely name of Lovely Dave, squinted through the Floo at the photograph that Harry brandished at him; it was an image of the last known disguise that Malfoy had been working under. "Come in around two nights ago, right Larry?" He yelled this last over his shoulder. There was a garbled response that indicated some confusion and Lovely Dave bellowed, "Black hair, looked a bit like a rat! Drank two pints, didn't he?"
"Oh yeah!" Larry hollered in response from what seemed like about four feet away. "Two pints of our very best, so he did."
"Know who he came in with, Dave?" Harry asked, pulling back the photo to gaze down at the moving image. Malfoy was in his favourite dark wig and glasses, appearing as meek as a baby-rabbit as the image went from a side-on shot to a frontal one. It was brilliant disguise, especially with those brown Muggle contacts.
Even Lovely Dave hadn't recognized him; Lovely Dave was sharp as tacks and knew Malfoy's and Harry's middle names, he was that dedicated to his best customers, so it was a bloody fantastic disguise that didn't rely on the time-dependent Polyjuice, nor on Glamours that put out a suspicious level of magic.
Every attempt at scrying for Malfoy had been fruitless. It seemed as if his body had simply disappeared into thin air. The last resort would be for Harry to summon Malfoy's body; the Statute of Secrecy would be shot to shit if Muggles spotted a dead bloke zooming through the air, but he was almost desperate enough to try. Almost... but not quite. He didn't know if it would work, anyway, especially when the scrying had turned up blank, but he was willing to go all out with that, if the time ever came.
"'e a suspect?" Lovely Dave asked in concern, his gruff voice breaking through Harry's mental meandering. "I could watch out for him for you, if'n you like, Auror Potter. Alert you if he comes back, right quick." Lovely Dave's eyes gleamed with the prospect of helping out the Aurors. If it wasn't for his cursed right side, he always told them ruefully, he'd be in the ranks too.
"I just need to know who else he came in with, Dave," Harry said with a slight smile, looking up to where Malfoy leaned against the plain mantel, just out of Dave's view. Malfoy shrugged again; no matter how much he concentrated, he simply couldn't recall the events of that entire night, much to their mutual disappointment.
"Dodgy type," Lovely Dave sniffed. "Funny robes, wore a tophat like some old dandy."
Jaques Levereaux, Malfoy mouthed at Harry, straightening up as excitement dawned in his eyes.
"Thanks a mill, Dave," Harry said as his smile grew wider. "You've been a great help. Say hello to Larry for me."
"My pleasure," Lovely Dave answered with his own warm smile. "Give your partner my best, yeah?" He waved cheerily and disconnected, apparently not noticing the way Harry's smile dimmed.
"I knew you went over to the Stoat," Harry said, getting to his feet and bending to peer at Malfoy's neat notes scattered over his desk. "Pity you can't remember anything before going there. And you didn't write anything down."
"Auror here, Potter." Malfoy tapped the side of his nose. "Can't be leaving a trail."
Harry rolled his eyes.
"Auror, not James Bond," Harry told him fondly, thinking about the time he'd rented a few 007 movies for one of their off-duty nights. Malfoy had sat on his couch, warm against Harry's side, grey eyes luminous at every wonderful explosion. "And you very well could have left a trail for your partner. Are you sure you can't remember anything at all?"
Malfoy dropped the smug expression and shook his head, contemplative. "Quite. I... I do remember a green flash." His lips drew into a thin line for a moment. "That might have been an AK that got me."
Harry swallowed hard and then nodded.
"But the last memory I had... last clear memory, I should say, was of you." He stared at Harry, who fought down a blush. Malfoy smiled very slowly. "Can't be helped. I tend to think about you a lot."
Harry felt as if his cheeks were on fire. Trust Malfoy to get more sly and saucy since he was now untouchable. "Well... er, so we know where you were and who you were with. Problem is... where did you go after?"
Malfoy shrugged and then frowned. "Wait. There was... someone talking about the news? I'm not sure... that's not helpful at all, is it."
"...the news?" Harry echoed, drawing his eyebrows together, and then groaned. "Oh, we've been idiots."
"You've been an idiot," Malfoy said automatically. "What have you been an idiot about now?"
"I didn't think," Harry berated himself, rummaging through the tangle of papers on his desk. "A regular bloody newspaper would have helped, probably would have solved this all-"
"What are you on about? Watch out," Malfoy warned as a tower of parchment and files near Harry's head shifted ominously. He twitched out an almost transparent hand and a wave of magic washed over Harry, steadying the massive stack. "Potter, I've always told you that all that paperwork is going to kill you one day, but that might not be bad, since you'll probably join me in the hereafter- what is it?"
Harry had been staring at him with a half-incredulous, half-brain-explosion expression.
"You look like you're thinking awfully hard," Malfoy pointed out. "I quite fear for that blood-vessel in your temple."
"Tell you what we're going to do." Harry heard his own voice as if it came from a distance, because some vague sensation settled in his chest, where his hunches usually resided. He trusted those gut instincts implicitly, even though sometimes he had no idea where they were going to lead him. For what it was worth, Malfoy trusted them as well. "We're going to have a chat with another ghost. And I know the best ghost to ask. And then, we're going to get some newspapers."
Harry waited outside the Slytherin dorms with Malfoy, impatiently waiting for the interim House-ghost to show himself. He'd had to make quite a few calls to get the permission of his old Head of House, who was in Brazil on an international Magical Schools' conference.
"Auror Potter," McGonagall had snapped through the Floor; even her tan bristled at him. "Why didn't you ask Professor Sprout? Go on, in any case."
They had Apparated to Hogwarts and made their way down the stairs to the dungeon. Presently, after a lot of loud threatening on Malfoy's part, Snape sailed out through the damp-looking stone walls, glaring down his nose at them. Harry tried his best not to stare at the jagged puncture wounds in his neck.
"What is it," Snape asked in a tone which indicated he was preparing himself to care as little as possible, even as his sharp gaze focused on Draco nearly immediately. His heavy eyebrows lifted, grand display of shock and distress for the dour Professor. "I've lots of duties to do," he went on, still regarding Malfoy intently. "The Bloody Baron left quite a list when he went off on his break. Small children to terrify when they come in from classes, and so on."
"I didn't know ghosts got holidays," Harry admitted and Snape rolled his eyes.
"Ghosts are people too, Potter. Draco," he continued, voice almost gentle. "What has happened to you?"
Before Malfoy could answer, Harry jumped in quickly."Snape, can ghosts do magic?"
Snape sneered at him. "Of course ghost can't do magic, daft boy."
"But... Professor, I can," Malfoy said and gave Harry an uncertain look that was quickly covered over. Nonetheless, Harry took a step closer to him.
"Of course you can." Snape's lips thinned as the two Aurors looked at each other. He sighed heavily, as if begging the universe to take these two Aurors away from his sight. "You can do magic, because you are not dead."
When Harry turned to stare at Malfoy, his eyes looked as big as Harry's felt. Harry's internal hunch machine was churning on eight cylinders by now, but he couldn't find words at all, so he simply listened to Snape's droning at Malfoy.
"You are certainly not a ghost," Snape said. "Believe me, there is a subtle difference in the feel of your energy. This is some kind of a projection on the astral level, which is why he can still affect the world of the living."
"My body... it's still alive somewhere?" Malfoy voice was barely a whisper. "How... how can that be?"
"He died," Harry said. "I felt it. There's a charm—"
"A person can be dead for just a moment. So stop all this foolishness and get back to your body, Draco."
In the midst of his soaring, joyous sensation of hope, Harry had to share a look of dismay with Malfoy.
"We don't know where it is, actually," Malfoy admitted and his shoulders tensed when Snape gave him a look of sheer incredulity.
"Why not? It should be simple to go back to it, in any case. Try now," he commanded.
Malfoy nodded. He bent his head and clenched his hands into tight fists.
"Go, Malfoy," Harry urged when his ethereal shape began to fade; but, after a moment, Malfoy went returned to his former translucent level.
"I can't," he said, sounding drained. "It feels like I'm trying to push my way through the eye of a needle. It's impossible."
Snape's frown carved deep lines in his brow. "That can't be. Although... it is possible that the momentary death you experienced caused some trauma. It may be that some of your magical conduits are closed off."
"How do we open them again?" Harry asked, ready to sprint away and get everything done, to get Malfoy back, to have him solid and here again. Snape gave him a very sour glare.
"You're in luck. This is a good time of year, actually. The best time for supposed spiritual movement, I dare say."
"Beltane," Malfoy breathed, almost shimmering in his own excitement. "It's the season of Beltane, you mean. Right, Professor?"
Snape made a noise of disgust. "Beltane. Or if one is feeling particularly superstitious, the time of the Thin Veil. In actuality, it is simply one of those yearly events when the earth's natural magic is regenerated along specific boundaries."
"So... we can use those boundaries to help my own conduits heal," Malfoy said, his eyes shining.
Snape nodded, as indulgent and brisk to Malfoy as if he was a firstie again. "Correct. But you must hurry. The longer you remain in this state, the higher the risk... the closer to a true death. Do you understand?"
"What if I can't get back in? Into my body, I mean." Malfoy asked this with the crisp professional tone that Harry always envied, but he saw how Malfoy held himself, as if bracing for a serious blow.
"Why shouldn't you?" Snape snapped. "Isn't it yours? And why have you stuck yourself to Potter, by the way?" He held up a hand just as Malfoy opened his mouth. "Belay that. I've decided that I'd rather not know the reasons for your haunting choices, thank you."
A clattering noise came from behind them, that of large groups of students. Snape's face lit up with unholy glee; he was almost beautiful in his dastardliness.
"Ah. Here come my charges. Now, if my services are no longer required, I have my House-ghost chores to undertake. Draco... Potter." He turned and strode back through the stone-wall which obscured the Slytherin entrance. The youngest students emerged from the staircase, drawing up short to see two Aurors at their doorway. Their eyes regarded Harry with typical Slytherin coolness and then brightened at Draco's ghostly projection standing beside him.
"Are you going to be another House-ghost for us?" one of them asked. What weird little buggers, Harry thought.
"Certainly not," Malfoy said but he smiled a little. "I'm not quite dead yet. This is just practice, you see, and you already have Professor Snape to entertain you."
The children threw half-terrified, half-thrilled glances at the stone-wall.
A frantic flurry of whispers broke out after Malfoy leaned forward slightly and whispered in a conspiratorial manner: "He was worse when he was alive."
Hermione's excitement and exasperation knew no bounds as a team of Unspeakables scurried about. Harry kept out of their way, pressed against the wall of her office with Malfoy at his side. In the Auror Department, Ron organized two small squads as well.
"Do you know how long we've been trying to get Professor Snape to help out in our office? But no," she grumped at Harry even as she grabbed a few books and tossed them at a nearby Unspeakable. "Beltane... what's the tetramorph for that again—"
"The Bull," this Unspeakable answered, and Hermione nodded so violently that strands of her hair fell out of the neat bun she'd tried to pin up.
"Right! Taurus! So the one of the foci must be earth-based... a rowan branch, yes? And candles, of course, to stabilize the movement of the energy through Malfoy's body-"
An Unspeakable trainee with wild eyes burst into the office with a stack of Muggle newspapers in his hands. He boggled at Malfoy for a few seconds, then hurled the newspapers at Harry and fled.
"Poor Orville," Hermione said. "He won't last another week here, I'm afraid."
Harry set the newspapers down and flipped through each one, scanning the lines of print. Malfoy peered over his shoulder.
"It should be in one of these," Harry muttered, his heart starting to sink when he couldn't immediately find what he was looking for. "Come on, come on."
"We can try a Word-Locator spell," Malfoy suggested, but right after he said that, Harry froze... because there it was. Right there in yesterday's Evening Standard, as plain as anything.
He turned slightly so that Malfoy could see the short article tucked away on the second page.
Despite inquiries from more than 60 people, officials say they have had no luck in identifying a young man who has been in a deep coma since he was taken to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on April 28.
"All have proven negative," hospital spokesman Avery Llandilo said Friday. "We've exhausted just about all the possibilities we can think of and still don't have him identified."
Doctors say the man appears to be in his 20's. He is slightly built, weighs about 10 stone and is about 1.83m tall. He has grey eyes and blond hair, although he had been wearing a dark wig and contacts when first admitted to the hospital. Adding to the mystery, doctors also say that they are not sure as to the cause of the man's coma, since there seem to be no apparent internal or external trauma.
The man was found at the intersection of Milman's Street and Ann Lane by a newspaper seller.
"The Stoat's Muggle entrance is on King's Road, near Ann Lane," Harry said. "Levereaux uses Muggle entries and exits more often than not. You must have gone that way with him and something went down. Maybe he had an accomplice, and they tried to pull a fast one on you."
"Good work, Potter," Malfoy murmured and then grinned smugly. "I'm so proud that some of my deductive reasoning has rubbed off on you."
"Fucking berk," Harry said, laughing lightly for the first time in days, and tossed the paper right through him.
May 1, 2006
The morning was quiet, the sky still almost completely pitch-black. Harry, Malfoy and another Auror named Lennox lurked at the back exit of Chelsea and Westminster, waiting for Ron's signal. To be exact, Harry and Lennox lurked, watching the dark and quiet sky with not a little anxiety, while Malfoy stood in the low brick wall. The wrought iron atop the brick ran through his body in addition with the foliage which was doing its own lurking all over the fence. Lennox stared at Malfoy warily.
Harry could barely make him out, which was good and bad, he supposed. Good, for he was almost completely hidden from sight; and bad, because all the leaves and metal stuck right through his chest made Harry strangely nervous.
The safety pin on Harry's lapel buzzed. Lennox reached up to where her own pin was fastened through her left earring.
"Finally," Malfoy said, stepping out from his hiding spot just as that hooking sensation caught behind Harry's navel and dragged him relatively close to Ron's location. When he landed, stumbling a bit, he found himself on a wide bridge with glass sides, Lennox trying to gain her balance as well while Malfoy shimmered into view with poise. The hospital stretched in silence above and below the bridge, white walls muted in the dark. At one end, near where a wheelchair stood abandoned near a large, dark painting, Ron motioned urgently at them, another Auror called Coxburn by his side.
"Hurry." Harry cast a quick Disillusionment charm, tapping himself on the head. He saw the other Aurors disappear almost completely as well, leaving only vague rippling shapes in the air. Malfoy's gossamer shape hurried beside them.
"There's this thing," Ron's voice whispered when they got to him. "I think you have to talk to it."
Malfoy eyed the intercom and then Alohamora'd it mercilessly. The little white box made a sharp, high-pitched squeak with a touch of feed-back and the door clicked open, just a crack. Then Malfoy passed right through the door itself, anyway, because he was a git like that. Rolling his eyes, Harry pushed it open and followed, hearing the soft steps of the rest of the rescue-squad behind him.
They raced past a nurses' station and ducked around a corner; the lone young nurse stopped going through her files and blinked owlishly, not noticing when Malfoy poked his head through a cabinet just out of her line of sight and peered at a large chart pinned to the wall.
He retreated just as she swivelled around in her pink office chair, scattering her papers to the ground.
"I'm in Room 16," he said when he popped right through the wall beside Harry.
"Urgh, that's bloody creepy," Ron groaned as they hurried on, gazing on the numbers on the doors. Finding Room 16 near the end of a corridor, Harry hesitated before grasping the door-knob and turning it firmly.
There was really nothing that could have prepared him for the sight of Malfoy's body lying still under crisp, white sheets. His fine hair was brushed back from his forehead, and a tube went down through his nostrils from a bulky machine. Black wires snaked under his loose clothing to where a monitor kept up a steady green rhythm.
"This is why we couldn't scry for my body," Malfoy whispered. His eyes were huge as he gazed at his body. "All this Muggle equipment... they must have scrambled the spells."
Harry swallowed hard, and nodded. He turned to Ron. "We have to do this fast. Once we disconnect him, we only have a few minutes to get him to where the Unspeakables are waiting."
"Understood." Ron motioned to Lennox and Coxburn. They took up their places, one by his head and the other two by his feet, each placing a hand on him: Ron touched a shoulder, while Lennox and Coxburn each pressed their fingers to Malfoy's ankles. They aimed their wands in their other hands and waited for the signal.
"This has to be fast and precise," Harry told them. "At this range, our magic should work fairly fine, but just put a little extra in it, just in case, alright?" He turned to Malfoy. "Are you ready?"
Malfoy nodded, blinking rapidly.
"I'll see you on the other side soon," Harry said. He looked back at the waiting squad and said, "Now."
Wands twitched in a symphony of spells. The machines jerked and sparked, wires falling away. The tube was the worst; it twisted out of Malfoy's nostrils at a rate that was far too slow for Harry's taste and he banished it away. Ron reached down and picked up Malfoy's limp body with grave gentleness.
"Go!" Harry cried, even as he heard loud voices outside in the hall, heading towards them. He Apparated instantly, right to Stonehenge... where Hermione and the Unspeakables were waiting, having already prepared and shielded their activities against any prying Muggle eyes. They had been helped by the second squad of Aurors, who were now keeping watch outside of the outer ring of stones, making sure the views from the two roads on either side were sufficiently obscured for now.
"Here!" Hermione flapped her hands urgently, pointing to a stone table set up in the middle of the ancient monument, this wondrous marker of one of the earth's magical boundaries; Ron raced over and put down Malfoy's body on the cool, flat surface. Candles had been lit and set to floating all around, and Harry realized that Malfoy's head rested on a branch that had been twisted into a wreath.
"Is it time?" Malfoy sounded so quiet. Harry reached out a hand, his fingers brushing right through Malfoy's; his fingers twitched as if he had felt Harry's touch. "My body isn't breathing."
"A few more seconds." Hermione gazed at the eastern horizon. "Come on, Pleiades. Come on."
Harry saw the cluster of stars rising, the heralds of this magical rejuvenation. He could barely hear anything over the rapid drumbeat of his own heart... and then he seemed to detect a hum, so low on the register that he felt it in his bones more than heard it, coming on like an invisible train from the east.
The inner faces of the massive stones began to glow; the rough surfaces gained a luminous quality of moonlight, cool and blue-silvery, but growing brighter by the second. Nearly everyone, except Malfoy and the outside Aurors, squinted at the display of untameable energy; it was made visible, Hermione had explained, through the presence of the candles and rowan-branch. The stone-table itself started to shine as well, the light completely engulfing Malfoy's body.
The magic was in the ground; Harry could feel it, wild and strong. It was powering through, regrowing and renewing itself with meaningful determination. It sizzled through his skin, and sang in his ear. He watched through barely opened eyes as Malfoy stepped forward and disappeared into the light.
The natural magic shone and sang, and suddenly, it was gone. It had continued on, Harry assumed, speeding towards to the west. Harry darted to where Malfoy's body remained prone on the stone table. Of his spirit, there was no sign.
"Malfoy?" Harry touched his hair with one hand and gripped Malfoy's limp fingers with the other. He bent close and turned his head, not bearing to let Malfoy go, not even cast a monitoring spell; he couldn't feel or hear any respiration at all.
Harry breathed out shakily, feeling wings of loss and sorrow flutter in his chest. A bird sang nearby, and the horizon lightened; a new day bloomed right before his eyes. Hermione muttered something about a defibrillating spell, but Harry thought it wouldn't do any good now.
Then, as the sun's rays shot out triumphantly over the stones, Malfoy's fingers tightened around his.
Harry stared down at his gaunt face; his hair was messy, his eyes were blood-shot and accompanied by bags so large and dark that he looked like he'd been in a prize-fight and lost spectacularly... and Harry thought he was lovely all over.
"Welcome back to life, Auror Malfoy," Harry whispered to him and Malfoy's cracked lips curved upwards.
"Now that I'm not all ghostly, Potter," he rasped, "you'll just have to make do with me as I am."
Harry pressed a kiss to his cheek and said, "I'll live."