Draco Malfoy revels in routines. It isn’t the sort of thing that gets reported in Witch Weekly or Wizardry, or even in the society pages of the Evening Prophet, which last does run shots of him from time to time, and once polled its readership on “Malfoy & Potter: Friends or Rivals?” beneath a photograph of him and Potter standing aimlessly outside the Ministry, with an extremely blurry woman descending the steps behind them. It had provided Nymphadora Tonks, who had been the woman in question, hours of barely-hidden amusement; his mother had had the photo clipped and filed. It is one of five photos of him that have been brought out by various publications in the two years since the Dark Lord’s demise, and of those two were taken in the immediate aftermath, during his father’s trial and arraignment, and a third during his funeral. Two photographs in as many years, then, and he has sunk out of public memory very cleanly: hardly anyone stares at him in the street these days, in his grey Tracer’s outer robe with its long sleeves and deep pockets, and his fair hair tucked under a black skull-cap that matches his inner robes.
He has developed a love for the mundane that informs his every waking hour: he Floo-calls his mother shortly after awakening; prepares breakfast in his miniscule kitchen; bathes and dresses and leaves his flat by nine of the morning; and walks the length of Phroog Alley before entering Diagon beside Madame Malkin’s and is within the Ministry of Magic well before ten. He could as easily use the fireplace in his own flat to Floo in—and does when he’s slept in or is slightly unwell—but the walk through Diagon to the Leaky Cauldron makes him feel at one with the people around him: it makes him feel safe, to walk around in an indifferent crowd. In the months between his father’s death and the beginning of his Apprenticeship, he had spent his mornings most often in Luminaire’s Library, working his way steadily through Astronomy and then Arithmancy, before Flooing to Surrey in the afternoon to dine with his mother; he still visits her every weekend, but suspects she is relieved when he forgets, or is prevented by other engagements. He knows that she worries about him because he has heard her do it—at length and volume—but it is usual, after all, to be altered by war and by adulthood, and he is at peace with his life and its routines.
The Ministry of Magic at ten in the morning is in a state of controlled chaos, with the maintainers finishing their work and the lifts jangling into place in time with the fireplaces firing up and extinguishing themselves. In the early days he used to arrive some time before his shift began, in order to sit at the foot of the Fountain and look around; but it had made him a trifle too conspicuous, and he had, besides, swiftly learnt to appreciate every extra minute of sleep that he could wrangle out of his day. From the Atrium to Level Two is about a minute and a half, if he’s lucky, which is time enough to settle himself. Auror Headquarters had once been pinned safely beyond the heavy oak doors that lead to the right, but has spilled over since: his father is responsible for at least two of those cubicles, his aunt and uncle between them for at least five. He can barely breathe till he’s worked his way through the warren of cubicles, to the doors on the left, opening into the cavernous dimness of Tracers’ Headquarters, which is only beginning to fill up. The Den, with its long tables and high shelves, has felt like a transported piece of the Slytherin Common-Room to him since he first set foot in it. Sometimes it is a little too like: scrawled into the surface of his unit’s table in colour-changing ink and execrable handwriting is the legend “I Love Severus Snape”. Hemmings had grinned and changed the subject decisively when he’d asked her, and he’d shortly afterwards met Nymphadora Tonks, which had made things much more comprehensible.
He has managed to beat Hemmings to the office for once, and Salacia Bones, though that last happens quite often. Bones is many things, but she is not an early-riser, and—while they do not really have night shifts—often stays as long as the maintainers let her in order to supervise late-running experiments: she’s never yet blown up anything. This is more than can be said of Auror Tonks, who has destroyed—collapsed, exploded, melted down—three cauldrons in the year and change Draco has known her, despite not having any real reason to even be in the Den. The last had been one of Bones’ cauldrons, and Hemmings had had to put her in a body-bind for a half-hour before she would promise not to skin Tonks and turn her into shoes. Tonks had avoided them for the remainder of the week and on her return had brought Bones the biggest pack of Ice Mice Draco’d ever seen. Draco had reacted to the whole affair by locking his personal cauldron and supplies in his locker at all times when he wasn’t working on it: he’d decided to give his mother a set of cosmetic philtres for her birthday, and the last thing any of it had needed was her niece bumbling through and destroying them; they had turned out quite satisfactorily in the end, though she had sat quietly looking at them for long enough that he’d grown concerned. Severus, of course, had sniffed disdainfully and pronounced it work any capable fifth-year could have done, but his eyes had been warm on Draco all through dinner.
At the moment he’s trying to reduce to its component parts a potion that incorporates a glamour and a Transfigurative spell into its matrix, and coming up short. He has been slogging over it for the best part of the last two days, and Hemmings has nodded approvingly about his progress thrice, but he feels curiously frustrated about it. It is not an especially familiar feeling: he is used to prodding at the edges of a puzzle and unravelling it string by slow string, and had spent months carefully plotting murder at sixteen. But this is a slippery thing not joined too well at the edges, and curiously woven together. And it is strangely hungry in a way that is worrying and makes his left forearm ache in sympathy. He puts it away, carefully clamping the lid down, and places it in his locker, charming it locked before trying the locks on the others’: it’s coming on twelve, and it’s better to finish scutwork before noon. Bones’ locker has a timed lock with four hours to go till the contents need to be examined, but Hemmings has left a note tucked under her full cauldron instructing him to siphon off a vial and deliver it to Witchhammer at the third desk among the Obliviators on Level Three when he has a minute, and “for love of Gungnir, Draco, nick back our unicorn hair from Robards’ table before he comes, bastard’s run through half our supply”. Hemmings is always careful to avoid the usual Wizarding epithets, which tend to run to the Arthurian, not that it isn’t easy to see why, with her name. Some parents are simply thoughtless.
He lifts the coil of unicorn hair before he leaves the Den, and Cecil Dwight at the next table nods agreeably at him and leans over to steal—or more probably steal back—a vial of wormwood extract. Cecil Dwight is Muggleborn, and doesn’t really know enough to hate him. It is indifference of a sort that he has been craving for two years, and he and Dwight are consequently close friends. Some months ago, he’d even advised Dwight—who had been evicted from his flat because of the noxious fumes that kept escaping from beneath his door—to take up residence in Phroog Alley, which is inhabited by Ministry underlings and where the maintainers are used to loud explosions and inexplicable smells. For a tense moment he had thought Dwight would embrace him, or start weeping, but then Hemmings had called for him before anything quite so awful had happened.
Witchhammer is visibly disappointed to see him delivering the vial, instead of Hemmings, but is quite quick in signing off on the receipt, which is a relief in itself: he’s been held up for ages by people who want to use him as bait to get Hemmings to dance attendance on them, and once by a very determined Unspeakable who was adamant about not speaking to underlings. She’s in by the time he returns, inevitably accompanied by Tonks. He knows they live together because Bones told him as much in a threatening voice that was terribly amusing because of his own proclivities, but he’s confident he would have deduced as much without any such informative threats: he’s rarely met a couple as obviously cohabiting as Tonks and Hemmings, and his parents, whatever else their sins, had been mad for each other till the day his father died. Tonks is in the Den at any moment when she’s not actively involved in running down criminals, and her usual excuse of working with Hemmings is pathetic enough to barely deserve the name: Aurors do work in close conjunction with Tracers, and people being what they are, do develop favourites with whom they get on better, but only Robards and Longshanks work with anything like similar frequency, and Longshanks barely goes in the field anymore at all. And Robards is her husband, so in all it doesn’t do much to disprove or counter the sickly sweetness of Tonks mooning so very visibly about Hemmings. Were he younger he would have made glowing, glittery banners that proclaimed their love in the most insulting way possible and hung them over their table: he’s tempted to, anyway, but it’s unlikely to get much of a rise out of either of them. Nobody around him much reacts to any of the pranks he wants to pull most of the time. Well, there’s always Potter, whose desk is stuck most of the way into Tonks’ cubicle, and whose reaction to almost everything will be a thing of many-coloured splendour. Thank Merlin for Potter, really, or he’d have to admit that he’s become a responsible adult.
The way Hemmings squints at him as he approaches is quite reassuring in its own way. Tonks turns to look at him, and grins widely. Her hair is a bright red today, and falls to her waist in tight curls. She looks almost like a Weasley, if one can ignore the face, which is very and decidedly Black. “You look happy.”
“I’m thankful for the presence of Harry Potter in my life,” he returns, because honesty has achieved for him lovely things in the past. “And I’m man enough to admit that I’ve not the slightest notion about further deconstructing this.” He’s careful to avoid Tonks while pulling the cauldron out of his locker. It is still the same unprepossessing grey slime it was earlier; he’d been hoping that allowing it to settle might help unweave the glamour away from the matrix better.
Hemmings pokes at the mixture carefully with her wand, and a little of the glamour winds around it. In the light it has a silver sheen, but collapses under its own weight back into the cauldron. “What have you ascertained as yet?”
“It’s got a glamour on it, that’s the one that seems to want to come loose. But there’s a transfigurative spell in the matrix, which is fairly... clingy.”
“And the potion itself?”
“That’s what’s worrying me, really. Without the two spells I’d think it would be a basic Polyjuice, if one that’s extended a lot longer than the usual samples, but I’ve seen that done before this.”
He opens his mouth to lie, and then catches the way Tonks is curved towards him, the alert way in which her body is poised to leap. Hemmings is dawdling at the edge of her desk, one hand still clasped idly about her wand, but she’s closer to him than either of them usually sits. He opens his mouth again, nearly gasping with anger. “Is this a test?”
Tonks smiles at him again, easy and unaffected. “You’re in the MLE, lad; everything’s a test. Go on, then.”
“It looks like a good philtre, on the surface of it. Transfigurative matrix for the potion, glamour as overlay. It’s complex, but I’ve seen more and worse. But it’s got shoddy craftsmanship, really, the edges aren’t neat, the glamour’s been coming half-off since afternoon before last. But that’s as far as I can unweave it, it won’t fragment the way something like this should. There’s something in it that’s holding all of it together, and it’s got more power to it than something like this ideally should. And I’m afraid that it might be Dark.”
He looks to Hemmings for approval, and she nods. “That’s about what I’d have said. But why do you think it’s Dark?”
“It makes my arm ache.”
“Right underneath the Mark, eh?” He nods, right hand twitching with the effort involved in not clamping it tightly over his left forearm, but Tonks doesn’t look overly invested in harassing him about his adolescent politics at this later date. Instead she says, quite companionably, “It might not be Dark, really, those are labels we’ve come up with much later. The only Unforgivable till about a century ago used to be the Cruciatus. But it’s probably got an affinity to it. Alright. Anything else you want to add?”
What he wants is to drop his cauldron clattering on the floor and bolt madly back to Surrey and his mother. But being in the MLE is something he’s decided for himself, and being a Tracer is something he enjoys, and in a few years if he’s lucky he will have to do this in front of the Wizengamot with his family name and professional reputation at stake. So he straightens his spine and squares his shoulders within the shapeless weft of the Tracer’s robe, and tucks a fold between his fingers before saying, as formally as he can make himself, “Any Polyjuice potion wants a part of the person one is transforming into, but preliminary analysis of this philtre shows that it would prefer, and is likely to be more reactive to, bodily fluids like blood or ejaculate. This vindicates Auror Tonks’ theory of old magic, but I would suggest also brings it close to what we now customarily call Dark magic, especially in light of its sympathy to my Dark Mark, which throbs slightly but consistently when in proximity with the philtre.”
Hemmings says, “Draco, you’re doing excellently well. Is that all of it?”
He deflates at her voice. “It can be applied externally. It should be alright for ingestion as well, so I don’t know why that should be the case.”
Tonks says, “Well, Muggles are usually a little queasy about putting stuff in their mouths which has semen or blood in it.”
He stares. “Someone is giving this to Muggles?”
“Someone’s selling it to Muggles at rather high prices, and we’re not entirely sure why, but that’s the gist of it, aye.”
“It would be a fillip to criminal activities, wouldn’t it? And they don’t know about Polyjuice, so people would get off scot-free.” It’s quite ingenious, really, and the shoddy work won’t matter for Muggles. Merlin’s Balls. “But that doesn’t explain why blood or semen, or really why the glamour or the transfiguration, or any of it. Plain Polyjuice would do the trick, surely?”
Hemmings says, “It would. This philtre is not being sold to criminals to the best of our knowledge. It’s being sold to a group of very desperate people who are being told that it will solve all their problems.”
“To look like other people? Pardon me, but that still sounds like criminals to me, or perhaps like fugitives. Something of the sort.”
“Have you ever heard the term transsexual, Malfoy?”
“No, but I assume it has something to do with having the wrong set of genitalia. That’s about how it sounds, at least. What of it?”
“Imagine being a Muggle,” Tonks says, “and knowing that you’ve been born in the wrong body, and not having recourse to any glamour or spell or charm or course of potions to alter yourself enough even to begin to be easy in your skin, of never being able to make your reflection mirror what you know to be your true self, of being imprisoned within your own flesh, and to know that the only way in which you can change is to give a Muggle Healer a lot of money and to let them cut into you with knives. And now imagine being told that you can give a lot of money, but a lot less than you had thought, to some peddler and spill a vial on your hated skin after adding your blood to its contents, and that will suffice to change you to a form you have yearned for; that it will be quick, that it will last, that it will not hurt overlong or overmuch. And then imagine having done all of that, and giving thought it had worked, and then, when you’ve begun to build a new life, imagine waking one morning and finding yourself trapped again in your old, hated form. You’ve spent a fair bit of money, you’ve no idea how to find the man again, and you’ve no real notion as to what has been happening throughout, but you know that nobody will believe you if you told them. Imagine all those things, lad, and tell me what you would do if it were you.”
Her hair has leached colour as she has spoken, and she looks in the cool light with her dark curls and her sombre, beautiful face like Aunt Bella might have, if Aunt Bella had ever cared about the troubles of Muggles. He says, stung into honesty, “I think I’d kill myself. Is that what’s been happening?”
“Five suicides in the last month. But we at the MLE are only interested because we don’t like Muggles getting their hands on magical solutions, even when the damn things don’t work as advertised.”
“Of course. And why is it falling to the Aurors instead of the Patrol?”
“Draco.” Hemmings’ voice is reproachful, and she leans very carefully into his line of sight, “You said it yourself, it involves Dark Magic.”
He resumes some scrap of his formal stance. “I am glad that you have decided to act upon my advisement, Auror Tonks, and would like to extend an offer of assistance to be used on your discretion.”
She mirrors his pose, tall and unsmiling. “As I am to act upon advice from you, Apprentice Tracer Malfoy, I must extend to you the offer of rendering your previously offered assistance upon the occasion of detaining the perpetrator of the aforementioned criminal activities, should you so choose.”
Draco says, trying to hold on to the dignity of a moment before, but very aware that he sounds rather like a first year being told he can go to Hogsmeade, “You want me to come with you on a C&C?” A Hufflepuff firstie, Merlin fuck, but Capture & Contain is the bread-and-meat of an Auror’s career, and to be formally requested on one with his first year of Apprenticeship barely done, and with his name and what she knows too intimately of his life has knocked him quite entirely off-balance. He feels delightfully buffeted by good fortune, bruised and unbelieving.
“You’ve done quite well in your examinations,” Hemmings says. “I was planning a party, but this might serve better. You will be asked to join Aurors in the field occasionally in your second year, Draco, and more often in your third.”
“You can always just refuse,” Tonks says. “I’ll just take Harry instead.”
“No! I mean, that’s unnecessary, I’d be honoured to accompany you.”
“Merlin, if I could bottle your rivalry... Well, Malfoy, I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning, finish up whatever experiments you’ve got running. It wouldn’t do to come back to find all your things spoiled, would it?”
“Should I also get my affairs in order and write my will?”
“‘To my mother, everything?’ That won’t take too long.”
“I might have a mistress stashed away in the wilds of Essex.”
“And three daughters, all sired between the ages of sixteen and twenty. I think I’ve read that somewhere.”
“It was an unauthorised biography. All proceeds went to my illegitimate children.”
“Growing children do need so very many things.”
“Clothes and food and toys if they’ve been very very good and listened to their mother.”
Hemmings slams both hands palms-down onto the table. The philtre sloshes over the lip of the cauldron in a long grey smear, and she looks discomfited for a moment before choosing instead to barrel on. “Dora, go write your reports instead of dawdling. No, go now, I’ll talk to you when I’ve time, Kingsley’ll have both our heads if he catches you skiving off. Draco, do you have my unicorn hair? Excellent. Now, today I’m going to teach you an emulsion which I can’t believe you don’t know already. I know Severus had other things to be concerned about but that’s no reason for sloppy teaching. There. Catch your breath, she’s gone.”
He says, “I’m not afraid.” It seems important to have her know that; she’s spent a year forcing him through tomes and rolls of parchment and sat up with him to observe and oversee his experiments: when he was brewing his mother’s present she dug up vials of the most delicate rose-cut crystal for him.
“With your name you wouldn’t have sought out the MLE if you were the cowardly sort.”
“Thank you for the few flowers.”
“Stop using my lines on me, Draco. It’s alright to be a little wary, the last time you were out in the field you’d a mask strapped on and were butchering innocents.”
“But I’m a big boy now, and I know right from wrong?”
He tries out a smirk, but Hemmings stares at him quietly till he lets it drop, and then pats his hand. “Put away your cauldron and get a spare from supplies. I meant it about the emulsion.”
He is accosted the next morning in the Atrium by a large redheaded man in a shockingly purple jumper who presents him an enormous bouquet of red roses and declares undying love at enough volume that several people stop to stare at them. It is excruciatingly embarrassing, but particularly so because the man seems familiar. After a beat, he realises that the familiarity is drawn from years of school and at least three different faces. “Auror Tonks,” he drawls, “are you impersonating a Weasley?”
“Not any one in particular,” she says, and pouts like a child, sticking out an overturned lower lip. “What gave me away?”
“Men,” he says in as accurate an imitation of Severus as he can manage, “do not usually proposition me.”
“Crying shame. They should.” She taps her wand against his bouquet, transforming it into a package inefficiently wrapped in brown paper. “I didn’t think you would have Muggle clothes. Try these on; you can shrink them to size.”
The clothes are a match for Tonks’, if rather more sober in colour, and they look quite well, quite convincingly Muggle, shrunk down to fit his frame. He supposes that he should be amused that she—or, as he suspects, Hemmings—selected a jumper almost the exact colour of his work robe, but he is too grateful for the scrap of familiarity. Muggle clothing strikes him as vaguely indecent, like wearing only a set of long underwear: it covers everything, but far too closely for real comfort and, unlike Wizarding garments, exposes too clearly the real lines of the body, all the fragile infirmities one might want to keep hidden. He is grateful, too, that it is nearing the end of September, or he might be expected to go about in his shirtsleeves. Tonks awards him an approving nod when he emerges from his cubicle, and reaches to snatch the skull-cap from his hair. He has been letting it grow in the last few months, and it tumbles now almost to his shoulders. It is very like his father’s, fair and fine like spun silver, though it is nothing like as straight. He conjures a ribbon to secure it.
“Don’t tie it up, it softens your jaw.”
“The softness of my jawline is likely to be relevant to this case?”
“A fair bit, actually.” She grins at his look of disbelief. “We are presenting as a couple looking for the magic solution to our problems, and much as I hate to play to set notions, you fit the bill at the moment rather better than I do.”
“Even though you’re in fact the woman?”
“I’m the metamorphmagus; I think you’ll find that it is to our strategic advantage to have me in a form that is stronger than my usual choices.”
He is about to argue that physical strength is irrelevant, when it occurs to him with the force of a speeding Bludger that the opposite is likely to be the case. Their perpetrator sells these philtres to Muggles, is likely to frequent Muggle localities, and Tonks is trying to prevent Muggle casualties. They are dressed as Muggles in order to avoid detection, so this should have been immediately evident, but the clothes in themselves were traumatic enough to momentarily veil this truth. Tonks’ efforts to minimise harm to innocent bystanders is commendable, after all, even if they are only Muggles, and in any case he doesn’t want to force the Obliviators to do any more work than they absolutely must since Hemmings is almost certain to send him trotting all over the Ministry toting every piece of paperwork generated by the whole affair, whether or not the Tracers have any need for it: she feels that it does him good to see the consequences wrought by his actions. He opens his mouth to say something vaguely laudatory, and instead says, “You do care a lot about Muggles, don’t you?”
Tonks looks at him as though contemplating a stunner at close range, and then pivots to stare into the tarnished mirror of the loo, her face scrunched up in concentration. “I think they usually get the short end of the wand, yeah. And I think we tend to treat them more roughly than we ought.”
“You sound like Arthur Weasley.”
“Arthur does more good than ever you’ll know, lad; that’s no insult you’re offering.” She holds up a hand to silence him, imperious; it is a familiar gesture that is strange enough on her to be actually effective. “And just recently Muggles’ve been caught in the middle a time too often while wizards try and kill each other, and then they’re left alone with nobody to explain what happened. My grandparents were on the road when Voldemort collapsed bridges; they were five minutes from driving onto one, they might’ve died that night.” She scowls viciously at her masculine reflection, and her hair turns a vivid purple to match her jumper.
It is a good bit of magic, the more so for being inimitable, but Draco has heard very little since she said the word Voldemort, and understood nothing. There is a stifled buzzing in his ears, and he imagines that his Dark Mark is aflame beneath his clothes. But it doesn’t do to show such weakness. “Were they alright, your grandparents?”
“They’re fine. Look, it’s also a bit of a favour for the Muggle Prime Minister, alright? Kingsley got to be friends of a sort with him some time ago, and one of the kids who died was a friend of his niece. And given how much trouble we caused a couple years back, it’s politic to occasionally do nice things for them, especially when we need to catch this bastard anyway.”
Formulated in this manner it sounds far more sensible than anything he’s heard or imagined: a bit of hippogriff-trading amongst collaborators who do not entirely understand each other. He suspects, from the look in Tonks’ eyes, that she’s humouring him. “I though Gryffindors were supposed to be honest.”
“No, Malfoy. We’re supposed to be courageous. Nobody ever said anything about honesty.”
In the mirror he looks pale and determined, a slender young man with hair nearly the colour of his shirt’s collar spilling onto the grey of his jumper, and long fingers fidgeting with the half-inch of sleeve showing past the cuffs. Tonks comes up behind him and sets a hand on the jut of his hip, clearly signalling every move, and draws him carefully close. She is a good few inches taller than him and a good deal broader, the hideous clothing doing little to disguise the height and heft of her assumed form. They make a good-looking pair, he supposes, and thinks abruptly of how Blaise would react if he could see them. It is absurdly funny. “Oh, for a camera.”
Tonks grins easily at him. In the mirror they look in love. “Think of the scads of people we could traumatise and shock.”
“Think of Potter’s face,” he murmurs wickedly, and then draws away a little to allow her room to double over in peals of laughter, clutching her stomach.
She takes a full minute to straighten. “You’re a terrible influence, lad. Really I shouldn’t laugh. Come along, then.” She shoulders through the door before he can come up with a fitting rejoinder, and then he has to run after her, awkward in his too-revealing clothes.
He catches up with her in front of Apparition Point Seven, waiting at the end of the short queue. “I hate these clothes.”
“They’re good for running in,” she offers. “Or you could always wear a skirt and be really desperate to get your hands on the philtre.”
She’d make him do it, too, and circulate photographs among those Ministry workers who know both who he is and that skirts—and skirt-like garments—are of a rule only worn by Muggle women. Potter will never stop laughing at him. And the truly terrifying thing is that he’d let her, if it really was necessary for any bit of MLE work. He ducks his head, happy that he’s tucked safely behind her. “Where are we going?”
“Streatham. Don’t worry, I’ll take you,” she says, and then it’s their turn to Disapparate, and she grabs him by the elbow and pulls him into a Side-Along.
They Apparate in an alley behind a garbage tip, and he pulls away from her furiously. It hasn’t anything to do with her, and really she’s no way of knowing it, but it unsettles him to be pulled along like this. He feels nauseous, as always, and gives in to a probably paranoid urge to affirm that all his extremities have arrived with him.
“Satisfied I haven’t let you get Splinched?”
“Not entirely, but it’ll have to suffice.” He straightens carefully, and tries to pretend that all his wariness pertains to the physical. “Where are we headed?”
“Just down one block and across the road. But this is a sheltered spot. Stop behaving as though you’ve got no clothes on, Malfoy, come along.”
It is harder to do than she seems to think, but Tonks, like many Aurors, prefers to keep her outer robes unbuttoned and fluttering around her legs like a second cloak, and can often be seen in a close tunic and loose trousers in lieu of full-length inner robes: she might be quite easy in these clothes. Then, too, there are the Muggle grandparents, whom he’s always entirely discounted. In his mind, in the last year, her father has loomed unpleasantly large, tainting her with his Muggle blood, but he has remembered as a source of comfort that she shares very nearly half a dozen relatives with him: their mothers are sisters, and he has traced in her changing features the overhanging Black jaw, the aquiline nose, the large, deep-set eyes. He likes her rather too much to have consciously remembered that she is only a half-blood, that she has grown up with a Muggleborn father and Muggle grandparents about whom she is concerned; he wonders what similar concessions she has made for him, or whether his father is all she sees in his face, and Aunt Bella, who tried to kill her and succeeded in killing Sirius Black.
If she sees his hated lineage in his features she has managed to repress her repulsion splendidly all this time, and now wraps a large hand carefully about his wrist to guide him through the automobiles and their foul, billowing smoke. It looks primarily a residential area, if a little dilapidated, and children stare curiously at them. “School’s not started for the Muggles yet?”
Tonks stares at him. “How on earth would I know? It’s just down here, Merlin, what a cliché.”
They’ve stopped in front of a playground, and while he doesn’t entirely understand what she means, the whole thing does look a little sordid. Some children are playing at the swings, and a contraption that looks to be essentially a lot of metal rods fastened into a hollow cube. Five children only a little older than them have died in a month; the eldest was twenty, some days younger than Draco himself. He wants very badly for none of these children to die; it is an emotion of which his father would have greatly disapproved. “Are you sure our perpetrator’s here?”
“Yes, I think so.” She’s spent the time scanning the playground while he’s been staring fixedly at twelve year-olds, and now tilts her head towards a couple of teenagers perched on the low wall of the playground. Both are smoking, and the boy has a bottle in his hand that looks to contain liquor. They don’t look particularly desperate to him. Tonks says, “No time like the present, Daniel, my love. Let’s make some friends, come along.”
His first day at Hogwarts, nearly a decade ago now, he had proffered friendship to Potter and been rebuffed; Blaise he had known already and Pansy as well, if a little less, and Crabbe and Goyle had fallen easily into line in a sort of linear urge, flanking him like their fathers had flanked his. At the Ministry he hasn’t tried, though Dwight certainly considers him a friend, and he supposes Hemmings might regard him fondly. He has never had to make friends in the way Tonks is suggesting, and is certain he’s awful at it.
As they approach, the boy looks up at them, smirking. “No need to ask why you pansies are here.” He feels Tonks’ hand tensing around his wrist, and turns his own to stroke calming fingers over hers.
“Oh, that’s right, because you want to become a girl, is that right? You don’t want to stay a man, is that it, you faggot?”
The girl beside him slaps him upside the head lightly; it looks a practiced, tired gesture, done automatically. “Don’t be a dick. You lot looking for the tambourine man?”
Tonks grins at that. “Bit old for you, isn’t that?”
“I like a man with a good voice, what can I say? And you’re one to talk, like you’re so much older’n us.”
“Fair point. Public school will do that to you.” She perches on the wall near them, and tugs him down next to her. “Hector O’Malley. This is Danny Matthews.”
The girl reaches over and shakes first Tonks’ hand, then his. “Sally Wells. This one’s Louie.”
The boy stiffens uncomfortably, shoulders up around his ears. “Don’t call me that.”
“D’you want to introduce yourself, then?” She sits back with an economy of movement that is emphasised by her scanty clothing: a many coloured shirt and a short skirt with torn stockings and boots with high heels; her hair is pulled roughly away from her face. He is speaking to Muggles who think he is one of them, and their skin looks fragile in the morning light, paper-thin: it would be so easy to let their thick blood run to the ground in great heavy gouts.
The boy shudders and says, “Louise. It’s Louise.”
Tonks takes him—her?—gravely by the hand. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Louise.”
Louise says, “You going to ream me out for being a liar?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. He does come every day, then?”
“Last week or so, yeah. How’d you hear it?” If he’d met Louise on the street, sight unseen, he’d have put a careful fifty yards between them. The girl’s sitting like a cornered Kneazle, ready to lash out at any moment.
“Friend of mine got hold of some last month; by the time we heard and went ’round to where she’d bought it, he wasn’t there anymore. We got really worried for a while.”
Sally says, “I’m not sure I believe it yet; seems impossible.”
Draco says, without inflection. “It’s like magic.” Tonks looks up at him in one sharp movement, and he smiles disingenuously at her. “It’s difficult to trust.”
“Too good to be true.”
“But can you imagine Mum’s face if it works?” Siblings, then, which settles things rather better into place: the sulking of a child who knows she’ll be taken care of.
Louise smiles, on cue, a grudging smile. “She’ll have one of her fits. Your parents,” she says “how d’you reckon they’ll take it?”
Tonks is still looking at him, and there is a tension in the bones of her hand. But this is too easy to spend thought on: the answer rolls off his tongue. “My mother won’t be happy but she’ll settle down. My father would’ve had my hide, but he’s dead.”
“For which we are all devoutly grateful.” She’s looking over his head, eyes narrowed and the beginnings of a frown creasing her forehead: the tension in her body has grown, and he doubts now that it has or had to do with him. “Is that our man?”
A lanky man in his middle twenties, years too old to be on the playground and clearly not too familiar with it, has wandered up past the swings, eyes darting shiftily. He looks like a wizard inexpertly disguised as a Muggle, clinging to familiarities: the long, frayed coat is very nearly a travelling cloak and the loose trousers are of the sort worn by people who find robes too constricting—porters and drivers and Ministry chauffeurs and Aurors. He has a leather satchel slung over one bony shoulder, the straps gripped tightly in both hands. Everything about him looks vulnerable, terrified. There’s scarcely a thing to distinguish him from the children awaiting his arrival.
Louise pulls herself to her feet, staring with a terrible hunger at the peddler and his wares. And there is, of course, a difference between them. She says, “I should let you lot have first go, shouldn’t I?”
Tonks says, “Don’t be absurd.” She stands, offers Sally a hand up, and then Draco. “It’s only a matter of minutes in any case.”
Sally puts her arm around Louise in a quick, one-armed embrace, kisses her short, sandy hair. “I’ll buy it for you, if you want. You can just watch.”
“No. I’ve to do this myself.” She doesn’t walk like a girl, she walks like a boy trying too hard and becoming a caricature of femininity, hips swinging ridiculously and legs nearly tangling.
Tonks tugs him close in a parody of comfort, and whispers in his ear in the guise of a kiss pressed to his hair, “If I catch you so much as thinking about your wand, my lad, you’ll never be let outside the Den again.”
He nuzzles at her, the tip of his nose brushing her jaw. “Can I think about your wand instead?”
She laughs like a school-boy, delighted and embarrassed. He wonders how long Hector and Daniel have been lovers if a weak bit of innuendo can still elicit that response. But then Hector, being a Muggle wouldn’t understand a joke that Daniel, being a Muggle wouldn’t know to make.
When she pulls away, Sally is staring at them blankly, keeping her eyes on them to avoid looking over their shoulders to Louise hesitating in her approach, tilting from one foot to the other, in vile trainers like Potter wears. She colours defiantly when she catches the staring, says, “This is how people buy drugs. I hate this.”
“We don’t need to stand so far away, do we?” He hates the stretch of the playground between them, the way Louise is moving further from them with every step. If he has any sense, the peddler will make a grab for her the moment he realises he needs a hostage.
“We might spook him. It can’t be legal, can it? Prolly some sort of government experiment.”
“I really doubt that,” Tonks says, takes both their hands, one in each, and begins to amble towards the peddler. “Scientist gone rogue, more likely.”
“You think it’s a joke?”
“I dunno what to think,” Tonks says, and her plummy accent is slipping, down past an assumed life at Muggle public school into the alleys and lawns of her Muggle grandparents’ modest home. “But it’s giving me the creeps to stand here, ’s true enough.”
“Nobody’s making us,” Draco points out, and Sally sets her jaw and steps forward.
Nothing happens. Louise finishes her purchase and walks at speed into her sister’s arms. The peddler shifts his bag a little and tries out what he probably thinks of as a reassuring smile. Tonks taps him on the shoulder once and pulls away. Bludgers released, game on.
In the last two years, two photographs of Draco have been published in matters unrelated to his father, and three of the latter sort; when he was younger there would be two or three every year. It’s not much—it’s nowhere near his parents’ notoriety and certainly not a scrap on Potter’s. But it is something, and their peddler seems to have a long memory. Draco is still a good ten yards away when he gets recognised, and things start moving fast: the peddler takes to his heels, Tonks in violent pursuit: for a woman who knocks into everything, she is surprisingly graceful at a dead run.
The Muggles panic, and Draco finds himself, hating every moment of his new philanthropy, engaged in keeping the younger from ingesting the philtre. Louise might be a statuesque woman some day, but is at the moment a scrappy seventeen year-old who is inarguably better at Muggle boxing than Draco, and Sally has wicked sharp heels and elbows and knows how to use both to devastating effect. Draco manages to palm the philtre early on, before Louise knows to distrust him, and hangs onto it desperately; his wand is tucked into the waistband of his trousers, and he can’t get a hand to it. Distantly, he is aware of children running away and people screaming, but his immediate world shrinks to the glass vial cupped in one hand, and the points of pain where the Muggles are connecting. The two converge abruptly, the vial shattering in his hand when Louise makes a final grab for it and misses, sending him reeling to the ground.
The world goes dark.
He comes conscious with yellowing grass prickling at his cheek, Tonks’ hands wrapped around one of his, an unpleasant lightness in his flesh. She pushes him down when he tries to sit up, presses him into the cold ground with one hand heavy on his chest, the other still cradling her wand and his hand. His vision has not returned fully, he cannot make out which hand is hers and which is his.
“Did you get him?” he manages, and Merlin, he must have really taken a pounding, his voice sounds like he’s been thrown off his broom, shocked and high.
Tonks nods grimly. “He’s lying beside you right now... no, don’t try to get up. I’ve called for help, we’ll get you patched up in no time, I’m no good at this sort of thing. Stay down, lad.”
“It doesn’t hurt any worse than Quidditch. Let me up, will you, there’s something stabbing at the back of my neck.”
He pulls a fragment of glass, doubtless from the phial, up from out of the ground and stares a little blankly at it. It’s roughly rectangular in shape, probably part of the narrow neck, and has only a little curve to it and blood smeared on the jagged tip. His fingers holding it are shorter and narrower than they have been in six years, and shaped subtly differently than they had been then.
Tonks says, quite in her own voice, “Draco.”
It is the first time in a year that she’s used his name. It is important somehow, he knows. But he’s too involved in struggling to sit up, look down at his own body, at the cut on his left hand that she has been healing. A very little blood is crusted onto the skin, mixed in with the glittering grey of the philtre. His palm is coated with it, narrow and beautiful. His Grandmother’s hands had been like this. When he had been very young, perhaps five, he had been taken to meet her, and she had held his face in her dry, warm hands, and kissed his brow. She had died soon afterwards, and his father had wept bitterly. It is the only time Draco had seen him crying, till he was sixteen.
He says, as coolly as he can manage, “Well, at least we now know it works.”
“You make a very beautiful girl,” Tonks assures him, and if he does not stop her from slipping an arm about his shoulders, it is because he is still a little dizzy.
Hemmings comes to fetch him to her flat, where she and Tonks have a panicked discussion about him in her kitchen while he leans against the table and stares fixedly at his hands. They’re safe territory, at least. There is the weight of unbound breasts beneath his robes, and a curious lack between his legs. His hands simply remind him of childhood and dead women. During a lull, he raises his head and says, “I want to go home. Not to my flat, you’ve said already, but to Mum. You can check up on me there, or Severus can, if you’d rather not be around her.”
They share a quick, wary glance. Tonks swings herself upright, and says, “We can’t stop you from going to her, of course, but really we’d prefer if you stay somewhere we can keep an eye on you without having to resort to the Floo. Things like that can be tracked and we’re trying to keep this out of official records. I trust I don’t have to tell you why.”
Arthur’s sword. Draco swallows, his throat suddenly dry. “No, that’s quite alright. Could I get some tea?”
Tonks hands him a mug of hot chocolate, which he would resent her for, except that it makes him feel stronger. One of their long series of DADA teachers had sworn up and down on it as a remedy for shock, and of course Madam Pomfrey administered it on all occasions. Firewhiskey would have been better, but he thinks it might have felt like drinking at his own wake. Here lies Draco Malfoy, a dutiful son. At least his father is dead already. “I can’t go to my flat.”
“No, you’ll need to be monitored,” Hemmings says. “You’re not in any danger, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be alone at the moment. I’d keep you here, but we don’t know how long this’ll go on, and a transfigured sofa isn’t a good plan in the long term.”
“I spoke to Kingsley when I went to stick Shunpike in the lock-up.” Tonks is quiet and grave now, the true self of her joking official facade the day before. “He thinks it would be a good idea if Draco went to ground in one of the safehouses the MLE maintains in Muggle London. There’s one barely a block from the Leaky Cauldron that’s ready to be put to use.”
“That’s the one Remus runs, isn’t it?”
“You’re putting me with Lupin?”
“It’s near enough Diagon that your Mum can visit without raising suspicion, and everyone knows we’re friends, so Morgan and I can check up on you regularly. And he’s one of very few people in similar positions whom I’d trust not to sell the story to the Prophet. Or just blab to their friends. Normally we clear out a safehouse before putting a witness or Auror in residence, but you’ll need the company.”
“It was just a question,” Draco says, “It’s not an uncommon name.”
Hemmings says, into the awkward silence, “Draco, give me the mug. Now, stand up, we need to get you into some better clothes.”
Draco stands, turns around, and submits to an egregious amount of prodding from Hemmings while Tonks fetches and makes neat stacks of clothing: undergarments and shirts and trousers and robes stitched for a woman shorter than he had been. It ought to suit very well just now: Hemmings and he are of a height. It is strange to not tilt his head down to meet her eye when she stands so close to him.
“I’ll take you shopping for clothes once you’re a little steadier on your feet,” she informs him. “Or you could make a day of it with your Mum.”
Going into Twillfitt and Tattings with his Mum and asking for chiffon or gauze to be made into a dress for him. Merlin. “Bit old to go shopping with a parent,” he offers.
He is afraid for a moment that he will need assistance with the unfamiliar snaps and catches of the undergarments, but it is easier to hook a brassiere than to climb into the convoluted embrace of his Quidditch gear, and he is not so very hurt. Bruises will bloom on his skin in some hours, and tomorrow he will be stiff and sore, but he can undress and dress on his own. He carefully refuses to look between his legs, but his breasts are inescapable: fortunately they are rather meagre, and almost disappear once he buttons the outer robe. In the full-length mirror in Hemmings’ bathroom he looks almost like himself, but curiously softened at the jaw and narrowed at the shoulder. The nose is the same, and the overall shape of the face: his eyes are a touch larger, and his mouth different in a way he can’t quite determine. His hips are broader than they were, though still quite narrow. He looks a slender, sharp girl, too thin for beauty, with pale features and pale hair tied away from a pointed face. It makes him slightly dizzy to walk, as though his body has settled closer to the ground.
Tonks looks up when he enters the kitchen again, nods and steps up to the fireplace.