For the Public Good
Seven years had been long enough to make Harry believe it was all right.
Not perfect. Bureaucracy still moved at the speed of continents, people were still selfish and democracy in the wizarding world was still more a theory than a practice (though, in light of the stupidity, sometimes this helped). But things were all right. He could relax a little.
Then came July.
The Ministry offices were far enough away from the bombings to miss the physical blasts, but any shock to the organism of London will be transmitted to the rest of the city within minutes, and so the scream of sirens and rush of bodies away alerted Harry and Dawlish to the disaster moments before Aurors and Unspeakables descended on their offices.
Or, more accurately, ascended. The days of underground offices were past and now Harry looked out from his Charing Cross window at a crowd of pedestrians, many muttering urgently into their phones, others stopping to share news with concerned faces walking in the opposite direction, faces that gaped, turned, and joined the exodus.
He was dimly aware of Dawlish talking to someone beside him, then his arm was touched. Flora Monash, one of this year's Auror intake, stood nervously beside him. Harry nodded to her.
'It's Muggles, sir,' she said. 'Explosions on the Underground.'
'So not us.' Harry tried to keep the relief he felt inside, because it wasn't any less a disaster. He turned to Dawlish, who had assumed a spot at Harry's window the minute it became clear something was wrong. 'Can we send people out to help?'
'Need to hear back through channels first,' his superior replied, tersely. 'Could take days at the rate this lot move.'
'But if Aurors or Healers happened to be in the area?' Harry suggested.
Dawlish grinned. 'They'd be duty-bound to render quiet assistance. And I am urgently in need of some Muggle supplies.'
Harry smiled. Dawlish may not have been the most sophisticated Head Auror in the history of the MLE, but he did things rather than called for meetings and advisors. Harry hoped that Dawlish was only joking with his endless talk of retiring: he'd been surprised how much he'd learned as his deputy.
Quickly, Aurors, Healers and Potion Makers armed with soothing beverages spilled out onto the streets of Muggle London. By 9.45 am, Harry was thinking they were doing a good job.
If only they'd thought to look on the buses.
'You won't like it,' Kingsley assured Harry, passing him a cup of tea. 'But I'm convinced it's the best plan available to us.'
Harry held back a sigh as he accepted the dainty porcelain cup. In the days since the attacks, all parts of the Ministry had been on edge. Debates about when and how the Wizarding community could and should involve itself with Muggle politics had dominated The Daily Prophet, and most of the pubs and cafes Harry had found himself in.
His closest friends all had Opinions, and he agreed with most of them. Which was a shame, because for the large part they were wholly contradictory.
'So for the next few months, you'll be on duty as the Prime Minister's bodyguard,' Kingsley told him. 'And we're putting a man inside his policy staff, too.'
Kingsley shrugged. 'You're passably fluent in Muggle. I need someone who I can trust and who can do the job competently. I'm afraid that means you. Dawlish agrees, though he hates to lose you.'
Harry nodded. 'And who's going into the policy side?'
He wasn't imagining things, there was a definite pause before Kingsley answered. 'I advertised for someone to fill that position, and the best candidate was selected by a committee. You won't need to work with him, you'll each report separately to me.'
Harry smiled. He knew what was coming next.
'I know that you and the Malfoys have a spotty history …'
'Kingsley,' Harry interrupted. 'It's all right.'
The Minister raised his open hands. 'He really is the best person for the job.'
And while Harry may not have liked that fact, he acknowledged it to be true. After two years of quiet reflection, Draco Malfoy had bounced back onto the public scene and spent the last five involving himself with Causes, such as lobbying Hogwarts to teach modern wizarding history, printing articles that attacked The Prophet when he perceived it to be biased, writing the seminal A Generation Lost: Grindelwald's war on Europe and its sequel, Two Generations Destroyed: Voldemort's manipulation of Grindelwald's legacy. Even Harry had read them, and while he hadn't agreed with every page, there had been enough in there to make him think.
'You want someone who looks and sounds the part, that's Malfoy.' Harry shrugged. 'I can keep a civil tongue in my head when our paths cross, I've learned something in my time here.'
Kingsley grinned at him. 'Believe me, I despaired at first, but you surprised us all by learning there's an inside voice.'
'You've been spending too much time with the Americans.'
'Our vital allies in this time of global trouble?' Kingsley rolled his eyes. 'Just thank whoever you believe in that I'm using you for domestic politics. They're keen on having Legilimens stationed at every airport. I despair.'
'There's just one thing,' Harry said. 'The Muggle media will be all over Malfoy wondering where he's been. He has the right family and the right attitude, but went to the wrong schools and universities as far as Whitehall is concerned.'
Kingsley smiled. 'Don't fret too much, he's been publishing in Muggle papers, too, you know. Drool Britannia: A once-great nation's slide into chavdom was his, I quite enjoyed that one. And he's attended enough parties at the Palace for people to know who he is.'
There was a long moment of silence as Harry tried to comprehend what he had just heard. 'The Palace? The one with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh?'
'The same. And, of course, his mother and the Princess Royal have always been fond of each other, even though Narcissa was only in second year when Anne was doing her NEWTs.'
'Princess Anne's a witch?'
Kingsley frowned. 'Have I never mentioned any of this before? That's very remiss of me, I apologise, I assumed you knew. Yes, and the Queen insisted that she attend Hogwarts, since she felt that she herself had missed out by being home-tutored. As a matter of protocol, Charles was tutored in addition to his Muggle schooling, but for Anne it was a simple matter of constructing a public schooling pretence and then shipping her off to Scotland. She always was the strongest of them.'
'Of them? You're telling me that the Royal Family are witches and wizards?'
'Of course.' Kingsley grinned. 'A good Obliviate can be vital to the health of the realm.'
'The Queen and Philip?'
'Charles, Harry and William?'
'Oh yes, though Charles is more into that new EcoArithmancy these days.'
'Andrew and Edward?'
Kingsley grimaced slightly. 'Andrew, yes, alas, Edward, Squib.'
'Well,' Harry conceded, 'that does explain a lot.'
'Back to the mission, will you do it?'
Harry smiled. 'Do you even need to ask?'
It took a little time to sort matters in both governments, but a few days before his twenty-fifth birthday, Harry found himself holstering a gun that had minutes before been a wand.
'We've tracking spells on you and Malfoy,' Kingsley told him. 'So if things go bad, we'll know where you are and can get you out. Your watch is connected to the Floo Network if you need to contact me quickly, or you can phone me, though there's no certainty that I'll work out how to answer it in time.'
'You press the green button,' Harry told him with a smile.
'Easy for you to say, I go to press it and I take a photo of my nose. It's alarming having the thing flash there.'
Harry stifled a laugh. 'I'll Floo when I can,' he promised.
'Good lad. Now, does that watch still tell the time?'
Harry flipped the cabriolet watch over to its mechanical side and looked at the face. 'Ten to nine,' he read.
'Right,' Kingsley declared. 'Time for you to meet your new boss.'
Harry's arm was grasped firmly, and the sudden displacement of Side-Along Apparition sent his stomach sideways. They appeared in a spacious, comfortable office, in which a neatly dressed man was working at a large desk.
He looked up at the noise, smiled welcomingly and rose from his desk with his hand outstretched. 'Always good to see you, Kingsley. So this is the young man you were talking about?'
Kingsley took the hand and smiled. 'It is. Harry, I'd like you to meet the Prime Minister. Tony, this is Harry Potter. Young, but very good in a tight corner, and far more experienced than his age lets on.'
'How do you do, Harry?' the Prime Minister asked him.
'Well sir, and yourself?' Harry replied.
He had been vaguely familiar with the government before the last few weeks; since the war he had tried to refamiliarise himself with aspects of the Muggle world lest he ever need hide from parts of the Wizarding again. But childhood memories die hard, and in his mind, some part of the phrase Prime Minister would always evoke pussy bows and immovable hair. The first was unthinkable here, as to the second … he suspected this PM might envy his predecessor's predecessor.
'Very well. Been a difficult month all round, but at the same time, I am never so proud to be British as I am when I see how we respond to times of deep crisis. Don't you agree?'
Discarding all the non-politic answers that flew treacherously to his wizarding lips, Harry nodded. 'Our lot could learn from yours, sometimes,' he replied.
Kingsley smiled a wry approval that only Harry saw. The PM's smile was broad and inclusive, and his grip on Harry's shoulder was firm. 'I firmly believe that the closer ties between your Ministry and our government can only lead to a stronger future for Britain and one that will see us maintain security and growth as we move forward into the new century.'
'Absolutely,' said Harry, not quite sure what they were talking about.
'Kingsley tells me that you'll be prepared to defend me with magic. Is that true?'
'Absolutely,' Harry repeated, on surer ground this time.
'Sounds utterly fascinating. I hope for all our sakes that it's not necessary, but I have every faith in your abilities if it should be. I know that Kingsley is a man to be trusted and in whom I have always had the utmost belief.'
'Er, thanks,' Harry replied, startled to find himself shaking the PM's hand again.
'I only wish I had more time to spend with you this morning, but I see you're rostered on from next week, so I am sure we'll have a chance to chat soon,' the PM said, moving back behind his desk.
'Yes, sure, good to meet you … Sir.' Harry thought it was a closing, but wasn't entirely certain, as the Prime Minister was still smiling at him in his welcoming way.
'See you on Friday, Tony,' Kingsley said, putting a hand on Harry's arm. A moment of inertia and they were back in the Ministry, with Harry feeling slightly wrong-footed.
'How did he strike you?' Kingsley asked, smiling.
'He kept talking, and it all sounded very pleasant, but I'm not sure that any of it meant anything,' Harry replied, honestly.
Kingsley grinned. 'Just remember that. As long as you hold onto the fact they're all politicians, you'll be fine.'
Harry smiled. 'Aren't you one, too, Mr Minister?' he asked, teasingly.
'Oh Merlin, no,' Kingsley answered quickly. 'I'm the only person who was left standing after the rest were AKed or Crucio-ed. It's not the same thing at all. Only reason I haven't quit yet is that all the options are worse.'
Harry looked up at him sharply. 'Don't even joke about it. I remember what happened the last time there was a politician in your job.'
'So do I,' Kingsley replied reassuringly. 'So do I.'
It was a simple cover. After training and the start of a sterling career with the Met, Harry had allegedly spent the last four years with MI5 before being seconded back to Specialist Protection. Official secrets meant that he was unable to talk about his work, but his athletic frame, quiet good humour – and a very small amount of confounding – meant that he slotted into the team quickly and cleanly. There were two dozen of them in the core unit, several of whom remembered Kingsley from his time with the PM in the 1990s.
Harry found himself moving easily into their world: agreeing that Cherie was better than her public image, shaking his head at the younger set, wondering what on earth Gordon Brown was thinking half the time, marvelling that anyone could take the American administration seriously.
His regular partner, Sergeant Emily Burns, was only a few years older than him and they got on well. She helped him find his feet, he helped her by stepping back whenever handsome young men required frisking.
Malfoy's integration into the Prime Minister's communications staff was apparently somewhat less subtle. 'Hill's Bells! Toffy Tory Totty Snaffles Blair Comms Dep Prize!' blared one of the less respectable headlines. Harry wished that he hadn't pinned it to his corkboard when Malfoy sauntered into his office, a little over a week into his placement.
His former schoolmate raised one eyebrow in a move that spoke of much practise. 'Apparently, totty used to be strictly used for girls,' he drawled, collapsing lazily onto the chair on the other side of Harry's desk. 'Not sure I hold with this broadening of definitions. Leads to all sorts of dilutions, like fulsome. I miss that. Useful word.'
'Good morning, Malfoy, is there anything I can do for you?' Harry asked politely, aware that Emily, who was also in the office, was mouthing 'PHONE NUMBER!' behind his guest, while pointing at herself and then making disturbingly descriptive gestures.
'Thought we should catch up. Haven't seen you in years. Now we're working together, we should exchange notes, wash each other's backs, as you lot say.'
'Watch,' Harry corrected.
'Ah,' Malfoy smiled. 'That makes more sense, but sounds less generally entertaining. So, lunch? I'll pay.'
In his years as an Auror, Harry had learned a few tricks. Letting a situation play out until he found his feet within it was one of the more useful. 'You'll pay?' he asked with half a smile. 'This is the longest conversation we've had in seven years and you open it by reminding me you're rich?'
Malfoy's cool veneer barely dropped. 'So are you. What's your point?'
The rest of the smile arrived on Harry's face. 'There we are. Back to normal. Lunch sounds fine, we can pay for ourselves. I have a full hour today, but that's all, so nothing fancy.'
Harry nodded. 'In the cafe. Is one good for you?'
'Splendid.' Malfoy unfolded himself from the chair and brushed his suit 'See you there.'
As he turned to leave, he made a display of surprise at seeing the room's other occupant. 'Good lord, Potter, have you no manners at all? Could you not have introduced me to your delightful colleague?'
Emily grinned, and stood, reaching across her desk to shake the proffered hand. 'Sergeant Burns, pleased to make your acquaintance.'
Malfoy reached inside his pocket and withdrew a square of parchment. 'Draco Malfoy, communications advisor, and the pleasure is all mine. Potter has a history of working with brilliant and attractive women and they all hate me. So you should call me and let me take you out for a meal at some point in a bid to let you make up your own mind.'
Harry groaned. 'They hate him, Emily, because he's dreadful.'
'That's all right,' she laughed. 'I'm armed.'
Malfoy grinned charmingly at both of them, then took his leave.
Emily shook her head in mock despair at Harry. 'How can you not have introduced us? What is wrong with you? I told you I fancied him three days ago and you never said a word about being friends with him!'
She sighed dramatically, then opened her eyes suddenly wide. 'Oh my god, he's gay, isn't he? Of course he is, look at that hair.'
Harry waited until she was finished. 'We're not friends,' he told her. 'We just knew each other when we were growing up.'
'Right, I see …' She broadened her Mancurian vowels and shortened her corresponding consonants. 'The two of you, silver spoons in place, probably played polo against each other every weekend …'
'Emily, you could not be more wrong,' Harry replied, shaking his head. Then, in fairness, added, 'Except about the sport.'
'HA! I knew it. Toff in cop's clothing!'
Harry couldn't help laughing at that. 'That is correct. I am in fact a spy for the Liberal Democrats.'
'Oh god, bleeding heart bourgeoisie. I should shoot you now, it would be a kindness.'
'You'd not get away with it this month,' Harry replied ruefully. In the aftermath of the bombings, and another failed attack, an innocent man on the Tube had been gunned down and the Metropolitan police had all been subject to a ream of memos. Half of Harry's induction had consisted of ways of telling the differences between a terrorist (swarthy, speaks Arabic (replacing the previous ruddy, possibly speaks Irish model)) and a Brazilian (swarthy, speaks Portuguese).
Emily threw a rubber at Harry's head, and reminded him that they had a meeting.
Twice a day, the members of the team who were on backup duty met to discuss the PM's schedule. In theory, it was a way of planning ahead, pinpointing possible danger spots and strategising accordingly. However, since everything was now treated as a Code Red or at least Code Bright Orange, in actuality these sessions mostly involved ranting and gossip. As Emily and Harry walked in, the rest of the team was mid-discussion.
'We should just lock them all away before they can do any harm,' Colin Andersen was saying.
'Which all?' Mike Featherstonehaugh asked. 'Everyone from the Middle East? All Arabs? All Muslims? All English men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five?'
'Ooh! I vote the last one!' Karen Matthews weighed in.
'Me too,' Emily agreed. 'They're allowed out when they can convince a panel of women they're no danger.'
'You'll miss the SAS when they're gone,' Colin warned with a grin.
Karen laughed. 'That lot are so obsessed with their shiny boots and carb intake, they'll be the second set let out after the baristas.'
It wasn't that different to the Auror squad, Harry had quickly learned. It sounded as though everyone was speaking rubbish, but when you listened, you learned. For example, Karen was talking with Shanti Bedi about some of the first aid she had seen administered after the attacks.
'It was amazing, there were people with burns to their faces and hands, and these doctors were just spraying them with goo, and they were right as rain. They said it was a special skin repair emulsion, they just had to stay out of the sun for a week afterwards.'
Harry made a mental note to congratulate whichever Healer had added that bit of impressive nonsense to his or her spell.
'Hope it comes out in cosmetics soon,' Shanti sighed. 'The rate we're going, my face will be eaten by dark circles before the year is out.'
She was right, they were all tired and overworked. Harry hadn't realised that things were this bad in the Muggle world, but bombings aside, there were protests most weeks and death threats weren't unknown.
'… the goss,' Emily was saying. Harry realised he had been listening to the wrong conversation. 'Potter has a lunch date with hot Malfoy from Communications.'
Harry sighed as his workmates stopped their individual conversations to hoot and whistle approval. 'Very supportive,' he muttered. 'But it's more of a "hello I used to torture you when we were lads and now we work together let's pretend we were friends" lunch.'
'Ouch,' Mike sympathised. Harry had heard some of his stories of life at Harrow, and knew he understood.
'Is he gay?' Emily asked. 'Shanti bet me a tenner he was and you may as well put me out of my misery.'
'No idea,' Harry replied. 'He had a girlfriend at school, but that never seemed to go anywhere, and then he was always surrounded by other boys and young men. He could have been shagging the sheep for all I know.'
Shanti grinned. 'Wouldn't surprise me with that lot.'
A low-level war existed between Security and Communications. The latter were all for putting the PM out among the people, the former for sticking him in a locked room. Conversely, Security liked it when the PM spoke up on issues of national safety (provided the word Iraq wasn't mentioned) because it made doing their job easier. Communications wanted him to smile, wave, and shut the fuck up until it was time for the next general election.
Sheep shagging was at the kinder end of Security's suspicions about Communications. Sadly, they'd never be able to lock the lot of them up before someone alerted the media to outrageous infringements of personal liberties, so a truce of sorts was maintained.
'See if you can find out where they're hiding Blunkett!' Colin advised.
'His dog ate him,' Karen muttered, earning her cries of 'Shame!' from the others. The minister's guide dog, Sadie, was a great favourite around the House, despite the fact she was an incorrigible food thief at official functions.
With half the meeting gone, it was time for business. 'Harry, Em, you're both on for tomorrow,' Mike advised. 'Tony asked for you, so clearly he needs the pretty young things to look in touch with the younger generation. Wear sensible shoes, you're going on an outing.'
'Any idea where we're off to?' Harry asked.
'Wiltshire, big do on at Stourhead. Garden ladies and organic girls, as well as the National Trust set. Keep an eye out for anti-hunting wallies in addition to the standard enviro-mentals. Colin and I will be there with you, but you'll have point.'
It was already the third time since he had joined the team that Harry had been specifically asked for. The first two times he had assumed it was so that he could be on hand in a high-risk situation. Now he was coming around to the view that it was all to have young faces in the background of the press coverage, which he didn't begrudge: Muggle politics seemed to be an endless, internecine struggle for public goodwill, which sadly seemed to be in increasingly short supply.
'Anything special?' Emily asked, jotting down notes.
'Big sunglasses and sunblock.' Mike suggested.
The rest of the meeting consisted of drawing lots for the shift after Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions. What had once been one of the vied-for spots in the political week had declined in popularity with the government. Now the PM was likely to be in a foul mood afterwards, and the media and senior members of the opposition were liable to appear from nowhere in particularly invasive ways. After the PMQs, the PM and family were off on hols, and Harry would be staying behind with the team minding the Deputy.
They didn't conclude until a quarter to one, Emily shooed Harry out with a warning that he would be late, and he ran off, grateful.
He was quite looking forward to this lunch. Despite the fact that Malfoy had been involved in a vigorous campaign of reinvention, Harry felt comfortably superior in their current roles. He was already a part of the team, while Malfoy stood out so thoroughly that he was noticed in all corners. Harry had even heard one of the porters despairing that the new fair chap had no idea how to call a cab.
Perhaps, Harry thought happily to himself as he walked quickly, Malfoy was going to ask for tips on Muggle living. In which case he would be gracious and supportive, and delight Kingsley – and Hermione and Ron when they returned from abroad – with stories for weeks to come.
Malfoy was waiting for him outside the restaurant, looking down at something in his hands, and Harry couldn't help smiling at the sight of him in a suit and tie. Then he realised, Malfoy was punching out a message into his phone, and the phone was one of those big, technically complicated ones that did things.
'Potter! Good to see you!' Malfoy exclaimed, looking up. 'Let's go in, I'm starved.'
Harry shook his head and followed in silence. He had a phone that made calls and sent messages, and this morning had seen a moment of personal triumph when he had learned how to set the alarm to remind him of his meeting.
'Draco! Looking well!' boomed a voice as they walked into the brightly restaurant.
'Stephen! As are you!' Malfoy replied with a wave.
'Now you're just showing off,' Harry muttered.
'Temper, Potter,' Malfoy muttered, clearly enjoying himself. He weaved through the lunch crowd to the cafe and a small table, placing an order for drinks on the way. When they sat down, he flashed a brilliant grin at Harry. 'Good to see you again. Still the same cranky pants Potter. Give me a moment …'
He cast a Charm. Harry watched in surprise as the smooth polish of Malfoy's manner melted into a relaxed if slightly peevish expression. 'Apparate, Flitwick, werewolves! Oh thank Merlin for that. Right, say what you like, they'll just hear political jargon from us.'
'Apparate, Flitwick, werewolves?' Harry laughed.
Malfoy poked out his tongue. 'Don't you find it exhausting? I suppose you grew up with this lot, so you're used to it, but for me it's like when you find yourself in a room filled with old ladies and small children and all you want to do is swear. After five minutes I can hardly hold in the urge to float pens and make the staplers do little dances.'
Harry nodded before he could stop himself. Rumbled, he confessed. 'Sometimes, when no one is looking, I Apparate about five feet from where I was standing. I suspect it plays merry hell with the video surveillance.'
Malfoy nodded. 'I cast Charms to untie and then retie my shoelaces under my desk. It's the little things that stop one going quite mad.'
'So why'd you take the job?'
'Why did you?'
Harry looked at Malfoy for a long moment. 'It's good to see you doing … all this,' he concluded lamely
'All this frantically scurrying about attempting to rebuild the family name and influence?'
'I'm trying to be nice. Why did you ask me out for lunch if you were just going to be sarcastic?' Harry sighed.
'Because you're the only person who I can say Apparate, Flitwick, werewolves to and not have them asking for a drugs test.'
'And because, regardless of what Kingsley thinks, I think we ought to be working together.'
Harry was surprised. 'I thought you were just here to keep an ear out, so we know what's happening, like me.'
Malfoy opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the arrival of the waiter. Both of them ordered quickly, Harry could almost feel Malfoy's toes tapping with impatience. As soon as they were alone again, he resumed.
'You must have noticed, people are talking about us!'
'They're talking about you, but only because you insist on dressing so outlandishly. I've blended right in,' Harry declared.
Malfoy rolled his eyes. 'Not us, us! Witches and wizards! Haven't you heard an unusual amount of talk about strange events? Someone in the Obliviators is not doing their job!'
'Oh.' Harry remembered Karen and Shanti's discussion that morning. 'Now that you mention it …'
Malfoy was grinning. 'People are talking about me?'
'No. I lied,' Harry said quickly, knowing it was too late.
'I'll have you know that I have spent ages researching Muggle culture. This suit is extremely high fashion. People think I look very nice. Emily who you work with would agree, I'm sure.'
Harry closed his eyes. 'I am not having this conversation.'
Malfoy laughed. 'You're too easy, Potter. You should have at least told me that Emily had me down as a Taleban sympathiser.'
'Actually, she thinks you're …' But it was too late, Malfoy was talking again.
'There's quite the pattern when you know to look for it. The Solstice do in Kent was written up as UFOs, there was a report on "Hijinks at Kings Cross" when all the kids came home from Hogwarts, and I've been hearing all sorts of mutterings about the response to the bombings.'
'Me too,' Harry agreed. 'But I thought it was just the sort of thing that happens in a disaster, a few slip by. They seemed to have been rationalising it away innocently enough.'
'This time. But there's a pattern, Potter. Someone is drawing attention to us.'
'Malfoy! It's good to see you!'
Harry nearly knocked over his glass of water at the sudden intrusion. A solid man, with a familiar face and somewhat Scottish accent stood by their table. Malfoy stood up and shook his hand.
'Chancellor, good to see you, too. This is my friend, Harry Potter, we were at school together.'
'Ah.' The Chancellor winked at Harry. 'Say no more. Clearly matters of important business afoot, I'll leave you to it.'
Harry watched him leave, astonished. 'That was …' He racked his brain until the right name appeared. 'Gordon Brown.'
'Yes, he's wooing me,' Malfoy sighed.
'Wooing you? But he's not …'
'For his staff,' Malfoy interrupted quickly. 'He thinks he'll be PM before the year is out.'
'Will he?' Harry asked, interested despite himself.
'Probably not. I think Tony will see off at least one more Leader of the Opposition before he leaves.'
'Anyway, he knew!'
'Of course he did, he's the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Second-most important politician in the country.' Malfoy waited until Harry was nodding as though he already knew this before he added, 'And he's one of us. You don't think that anyone that grumpy assumes high office without the odd vial of Felix Felicis, do you?'
'There's a wizard in the government?' Harry was genuinely surprised.
'And a witch, but I'm not telling you who. Didn't Shacklebolt tell you anything?'
'He doesn't give up other people's secrets,' Harry replied automatically.
To his surprise, Malfoy smiled. 'I suppose he doesn't. Oh good, food's here.'
Malfoy was halfway through his salad when he continued. 'So, I've been paying careful attention, and it seems that either there is someone taking advantage of situations to draw attention to us, or else helping to orchestrate some of the situations to show Muggles we're here.'
'But that's insane,' Harry pointed out. 'He or she would be endangering everything. Have you told Kingsley?'
'I've only told you.'
'We should call him.' Harry reached for his watch, but Malfoy's hand closed over his wrist before he could flip it to the Floo side.
'We should wait until we're certain he's not involved first,' Malfoy said. 'I respect Minister Shacklebolt a great deal, but he would be the first person to tell both of us never to assume someone is innocent just because we like them.'
'Kingsley? You're joking.'
'I admit it's unlikely, but I want a little more before I bring him in on this.'
Harry shook his head, Malfoy was sounding like Dawlish. 'So why are you telling me about it, then?'
'Because I have to tell someone, and you're too unimaginative to be diabolical.'
'I can't decide if that's the most complimentary insult or insulting compliment I have ever heard,' Harry said with a smile.
Malfoy grinned. 'It's good, isn't it? So, working together, are you up for it?'
'As long as we tell Kingsley as soon as we have something concrete.'
'Provided he's not part of the concrete, certainly. In the spirit of partnership, there's something I should tell you.'
Harry was intrigued. 'Oh yes?'
'I've tied your shoelaces together while we've been eating. Sorry.'
Harry felt the spell that undid the knots and retied them properly. He wished he could have stopped the laugh that bubbled up out of him, but it was too quick.
Malfoy smiled, a proper smile. 'Come on, finish up, you need to be back at work in ten.'
In the end, they Apparated from one dark alley to another, and were all but giggling at their naughtiness as they walked purposefully into the House.
'Are you on the Stourhead trip tomorrow?' Malfoy asked.
'Of course, chance for a side-trip home in the evening. I'll see you there.'
Harry nodded. 'I'll keep an ear out. Oh, and Malfoy?'
'Flitwick to you, too, Potter.'
Harry had thought they would be driving down to Wiltshire, or perhaps catching the train. But, while Malfoy and sundry other bodies who were attending the event did leave at eight to be guaranteed a spot at the ten o'clock opening, he and the other security staff joined the PM on his plane.
It was an uneventful trip, the politicians nattered on about Important Matters, Harry and Emily looked out the window. Funnily enough, Harry had only ever been on two other planes, and never across England. He was surprised at how few trees there seemed to be from the air, on the ground and at broom level, everything seemed much greener.
At RAF Lyneham they transferred to a helicopter, which made Harry wish fervently that he was on a broom. Or a geriatric dragon, for that matter. The journey didn't take very long, soon they were disembarking on a broad swathe of lawn behind a large house.
On the other side of the house was an array of pavilions and reams of bunting. The Prime Minister was met by a bevy of be-hatted ladies and escorted in the direction of tea and cakes. Harry and Emily walked close by him, Harry looking about them while Emily kept a close eye on the ladies for any surreptitious hatpin action.
Harry spotted Malfoy in the distance, with a gaggle of photographers and cameramen tailing him. They nodded slightly to each other.
'You still haven't told me if I'm wasting my time,' Emily whispered to him.
'Ask him yourself,' Harry whispered back.
After a cup of tea and a tiny slice of cake, the PM stood on a small dais and made a well-received speech about cultural heritage, before announcing an increase in funding and the completion of some act of significant restoration that passed Harry by.
'This has been a walk in the park,' muttered Mike over Harry's headset. 'And I suspect we are about to make that literal. Heads up.'
Sure enough, the garden ladies were enjoining the PM to walk the Circuit Path, and he was being led.
'Buggeration,' Mike grumbled in their earpieces. 'All right you two, stay by his side, I'll go ahead with some of the uniformed, Colin, you organise those behind. And let's just hope that no one's had the sense to hide in a bloody tree.'
Despite the frowns on the uniformed police who jogged past them, it was a pleasant walk around the huge garden. The path circumnavigated a large lake-cum-river, with views to a series of classical structures. Harry cast a surreptitious spell to warn him of attacks so that he could look about with a little more impunity. Everything in that garden spoke of wealth, and taste, and age. It reminded him a little of the Malfoy grounds, what little he had seen of them as he had been dragged through the gates, but where they were formal and imposing, this place was natural and delightful.
As they passed the first mile in the walk, most of the garden ladies stopped to 'take in the view'. The PM kept going, setting a cracking pace that left behind most of the media, and a good percentage of his own staff, save for security.
He grinned at Harry and Emily as they struck out on their own. 'This is more like it. Lovely day for a walk!'
At which point Harry's warning spell alerted him to the presence of magic. He looked back sharply, but Malfoy was oblivious, chatting merrily to the man from the Wiltshire Times, with his hands empty and attention thoroughly diverted.
Harry moved closer to the PM and looked about. It took him a moment to realise that the wind was picking up, and then it was inescapable; a howling flurry of leaves burled towards them. Beside him, the PM stumbled, Emily caught his arm to steady him.
'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Mike, over their earpieces. 'Where did that come from?'
'I think some cover might be called for,' the PM announced.
Harry had already concluded the same, but there were giant trees with alarmingly creaking boughs wherever he looked. Mike and Colin came in from their point posts, along with the uniforms, all looking increasingly concerned.
And then Malfoy was there beside them. 'This way,' he said, and began to walk rapidly down the path.
The way curled around to the lake, and there by the water was a large grotto, covered in rock and pebbles. Malfoy led them swiftly through an archway and inside. 'If you move to the back, there are some marvellous sculptures that will divert you until the wind blows over.'
The uniformed police went first, Colin, Emily and the PM followed, along with the remaining press, pollies and horticulturalists. Harry was left with Malfoy at the archway, watching the wind whip waves across the broad lake outside, with Mike standing beside them, frowning.
Harry chose his words carefully. 'I didn't know you knew these gardens.'
Malfoy shrugged. 'It won't shock to you learn that the Hoares are distant relatives. Bankers, you know, so a little déclassé. Although this branch of the family died out before I was born, I came here several times as a boy when there were no tourists about.'
A half-smile curled Harry's lip. 'Doesn't shock me at all. In fact, I should have guessed.'
Mike looked out past them. 'This isn't natural,' he said, shaking his head. He looked from Malfoy to Harry. 'Is it your lot?'
'Despite rumours, Communications staff aren't omnipotent,' Malfoy evaded smoothly.
Mike leaned back against the wall. 'I knew about him,' he jerked his chin to indicate Harry, 'but I guessed about you. I saw your shoelaces tie themselves on your second day and knew I was right.'
He smiled at the carefully blank faces that were presented to him, and went on. 'Before I took to this line of work, I spent 20 years in the British Army. I was in the cavalry for most of that time, almost entirely with the Kings Royal Hussars – very fine regiment. We were on the ground in Kosovo in 1999. While I spent most of that time commanding a squadron of tanks, we weren't always inside those tanks. I saw a lot of strange things that year. The strangest thing was a man who killed an Albanian refugee not 50 feet from us. Pulled out a stick, a stick mind you, flashed a green light, then simply disappeared as the Albanian fell down to the ground.
'Stop fidgeting, Mr Malfoy, there's a point to this anecdote. When I came back from the Balkans, I was ready to retire, and the Met was keen to poach me, so I came into this role quite quickly. Shacklebolt had left suddenly earlier in the year, but he came back several times to talk me through aspects of the job that the man who had filled it temporarily had not been up to date with.
'As part of this, he walked me around several parts of the city that represent serious security issues. On one such walk, we had the misfortune to find ourselves between two groups of criminals who had decided to solve their problems with guns. I drew my weapon, Kingsley drew a stick.
'He protected us first, then he immobilised every one of them. Then he turned to me and apologised for the fact that he was about to alter my memories. I told him about Kosovo.
'Kingsley said to me "If you tell anyone, they will treat you as a fool." And I rather think that would be the case, were it not for the fact that the two of you already know. So, is this your lot?'
'Lot?' said Malfoy.
'Yes,' said Harry. Malfoy kicked him, as subtly as possible.
'Right.' Mike nodded. 'Is there anything I can do to help, or should I leave the two of you to see what you can do.'
'Nothing you can do,' Harry told him.
'In that case, I'm going back with the PM, do what you can to sort this, I'll radio in to let people know where we are and what's going on. Is this likely to be endangering the other guests?'
Malfoy sighed. 'Weather spells are notoriously difficult and energy consuming. I'm fairly certain that it will just be very localised. The witch or wizard is probably very near.'
'Good, update me when you have details. And don't for a moment think it would be a good idea to wipe my memory the minute I turn my back.'
'No, sir,' Harry promised.
They watched him walk away, then Malfoy looked back out through the archway, taking in a deep breath. 'Speaking as a student of human behaviour, I find it fascinating that Shacklebolt chose not to Obliviate him. Why do you think he did that?'
Harry reached for words. 'I think sometimes it's a mark of respect between equals to give more information that you would with anyone else …'
'That's quite an interesting argument when you view it from the legal perspective …'
'Sometimes it's acceptable to break the law if you know what you're doing!' Harry snapped.
Malfoy looked at him with slight surprise.
'Oh shut up,' said Harry.
'I didn't say a thing.'
'You thought it loudly. Can you see anything out there?'
'It's raining now. Can't see much at all.'
Malfoy was peering out across the lake, so Harry nipped out of the archway and scanned the ground to either side of the grotto and what he could see of above. There was no one there, and he was battered by the wind and rain by the time he ducked back inside.
'Merlin, you're soaked,' Malfoy muttered. 'See anything?'
Harry shook his head. 'Just lots of leaves. Whoever's causing this can't keep it up for long, there's just too much magic being expended. I thought it was a cover for an attack at first, but now I think this is the attack.'
'I know, but that's not feeble power causing it. Which leads me to suspect there's another motive.'
Malfoy digested this. 'I was right, someone is showing we exist.'
'It's possible. Or one of us could have come over all anti-Iraq.'
Mike's voice crackled over Harry's earpiece. 'I've spoken to the people back at the house, they say it's blue skies up there, so they expect this to blow over quickly. Do you have any reason to believe differently?'
Harry pressed his transmitter and replied, 'No, I think we should be out of here in under five.'
'Good. Keep me updated.'
'It's clear back at the house,' Harry told Malfoy. 'Do you think it's getting lighter out there?'
Malfoy looked. 'I do.'
He turned his attention back to Harry. 'I suppose the good news is that whoever is doing this thinks that ruining suits and devastating hairstyles is an effective method of political protest. So that's quite a nice change from our perspective.'
Harry ran a hand back through his hair.
'Give it up,' Malfoy advised. 'Yours was pre-devastated. Though I like the clingy wet wool, that's a look you can carry off.'
Harry rolled his eyes and cast a quick drying spell.
'You are something of a spoil-sport Potter, aren't you?'
Again, Harry's traitorous laughter bubbled up.
'You know,' Malfoy told him. 'You're a lot more fun than you were at school. So do you think there's a chance I'm right with my theory?'
Harry shrugged. 'You're a lot less evil than you were at school. And yes, you could well be onto something. Do you still think there's a chance Kingsley's involved?'
'Where is he today?'
'Bulgaria, signing a treaty.'
'Looks as though he's off the hook, then. Should we tell him tonight?'
Harry nodded, then peered back outside the archway. 'Looks as though it's clearing up. I'll let Mike know. There might even be time for a slice of cake before we leave.'
As it turned out, there was time for cake and tea, since the PM was enjoying being fussed over. Mike gave Harry and Malfoy a nod of approval as they all walked back, but said nothing more. Emily spent the trip back to London marvelling at the strangeness of it all – by the time Harry escaped work that evening, she had turned the whole episode into another reason why global warming needed to be stopped.
He was a little late returning to the Ministry. Kingsley and Malfoy were there waiting for him, the latter with a series of scrolls spread out on the Minister's desk, as well as cuttings from Muggle and wizarding newspapers.
'Harry, glad to see you. Do you think there's anything to all this?' Kingsley asked in welcome.
'Eminently possible,' Harry replied. 'It's starting to seem a remarkable list of coincidences, and today's display was quite pointed.'
Malfoy smiled at him. 'Told you,' he said to Kingsley.
'I hate to say it, but he's probably right,' Harry agreed.
'Right, I'm pulling the two of you out of there, we need to limit our exposure as much as possible.'
Malfoy's response was much smoother. 'I'm not sure that's the best decision, Minister. When you look at what's happened so far, today is the only time that the perpetrator seems to have instigated an event, rather than take advantage of something that was already in action. And although the weather spell was impressive, it was forceful and lengthy rather than deadly and short. What does that tell us?'
'Whoever's behind this probably isn't a homicidal lunatic,' Harry said, nodding.
'I think they're trying to make a point,' Malfoy agreed. 'I think they have some reason to want to expose us, and if we can find that, we can find them.'
'That's the same line of reasoning that basic Auror training would suggest, Mr Malfoy,' Kingsley said 'But it doesn't make it safe to have the two of you in such high-profile positions. If you were exposed, the consequences could be dire.'
'I disagree. If we were "exposed" as you say, the machinery of politics would move to protect us. We are on the inside, we have not done and will not do anything to threaten the government, in fact we are working to defend it. We have a support network thanks to who we are and the positions we hold, and they will move swiftly to close ranks around us.'
'Or expel you.'
Harry shook his head. 'I have to agree with Malfoy. They all hate each other down there, but they work like mad to keep each other safe and in office. As long as we weren't threatening their power, they'd not be threatened by us. We're as British as they are, after all.'
Kingsley thought for a long moment. 'All right. I'll set a team of Aurors after whoever this is. Keep an eye out, let me know if you have any new information. And try not to get into trouble.'
Malfoy waited until they were in the corridor outside Kingsley's office before he grinned. 'That's a relief. I'd hate to lose my entertaining budget so quickly.'
'You have an entertaining budget and yet you took my money for lunch yesterday?' Harry managed not to smile this time.
'Oh Potter,' Malfoy said fondly. 'You're not entertaining.'
'I can be,' Harry said without thinking.
Malfoy's eyes widened and a wicked grin crossed his face, before he purposely pursed his lips and went to call the lift.
The Minister's office was still in the old Ministry, when it had been broken up after the war, none of the other departments had wanted to stay there, so it had been turned over to endless undersecretaries and other agents of direct government.
Harry was glad for this. He would not have fancied working in this building, with all its memories. The vaunted security of the single location had availed them little in the end, and putting a little physical distance between the Aurors and the Ministry itself had served to remind both parties that they were independent.
The ding of the lift's arrival put an end to his reverie.
'It's about the only thing we have in common,' Malfoy said, holding the door open for Harry. 'Lifts,' he explained, at Harry's bemused expression. 'Although I have to give them some credit for their clever electronic work-arounds. And I must say that their food is very good.'
Harry did smile at that.
'Shut up,' Malfoy said.
'I did not say a thing.'
As they went in opposite directions after exiting the Ministry, Harry wondered how he was ever going to explain this all to Ron.
Malfoy appeared just before lunchtime the next day, just as Harry was strapping on an ankle holster.
'You could just ask me to leave,' he joked.
Harry ignored the attempt at humour. 'Sorry, Colin's off sick, so I'm with Mike on post-PMQs. I'm wondering if it's overkill to take pepper spray?'
'Ooh,' Malfoy sympathised. 'Tough luck. They tried to rope me into that one for media management, I claimed an allergy.'
'Anyway, I can't do lunch, sorry.'
'Not at all, I was actually going to ask if the delightful Emily was available.'
'She is!' Em sang out cheerily. 'And she has two hours before she needs to be back, so it can be somewhere expensive!'
Harry shook his head at the betrayal. He turned to Malfoy. 'You behave,' he warned.
'I shall be a model of decorum. She will have no desire to shoot me, and will end the meal speaking highly of my courtesy,' Malfoy assured him.
Emily laughed. 'No need to be completely perfect. A spot of goss, secrets from Harry's dim dark past, game of footsie under the table, all perfectly within the boundaries of a successful lunch.'
'I may be in love,' Malfoy assured Harry.
He left with Emily on his arm, and Harry couldn't resist calling after them that revelations of dim dark pasts could work both ways. He took Malfoy's extended middle finger as a token of farewell.
Harry met up with Mike at the gun locker, where they both deposited their weapons before heading into the House proper towards the Commons chamber. They fell into step with each other, Mike smiling reassuringly at Harry. 'Don't let it worry you. I imagine you've faced more terrifying things than a gaggle of journalists.'
'Yes, but you make this lot sound almost as bad,' Harry confessed.
'If things look grim, one of the uniforms usually ducks out and phones through a hot story from somewhere else in the city,' Mike confessed. 'And if worse comes to worst, I have pepper spray.'
'I nearly brought some,' Harry confessed.
'You're a natural at this job,' Mike congratulated him.
They were outside the doors with minutes to spare. Two of the Palace of Westminster Division officers were stationed there, and Mike took the opportunity to introduce Harry.
'He's new, so if he comes running back this way in ten minutes, it's just because he hasn't had met the full parliamentary press gallery before. Hide him until I can collect him.'
Constable Peters and Sergeant Rae agreed they would, and Harry was pleased that he was welcomed enough to be patronised.
'Did the PM have a good day at the Dispatch Box?' Mike asked.
'There was a certain air of "please let this be over with so I can go on holidays",' Sergeant Rae admitted. 'And they're winding up. Here they come.'
The officers of the house escorted the PM to the door, where he was handed over to Mike and Harry. They fell into step beside him, eyes peeled as they strode through the halls. The PM tapped his foot as Harry and Mike retrieved their weapons, but smiled, to show it wasn't directed at them.
The actual doorstop was fairly painless; three questions on Iraq, one on the leader of the Opposition and when the PM felt he was likely to retire, one on the PM's holiday and one on the inquest into the shooting of the innocent Brazilian. The PM handled them all smoothly, then walked to his car, Mike climbed in after him, Harry had run to the other side and took the rear reverse seat opposite them.
'That went well, I think,' said the PM.
'Yes, sir,' Harry and Mike agreed.
'So, Mike, how is young Harry settling in? He did well yesterday, I thought.'
'Yes, sir. Quite well.'
'That was baffling weather. Still, global warming and all. I hear that you're staying behind to protect Prescott, Harry, is that right?'
'Don't let his sentences confuse you. Pick out the subject and the verb, then just rearrange the rest to fit.' The PM appended a broad grin to show this was a joke.
'Yes, sir, have a good holiday,' Harry replied.
'Relax, Harry, I'm sure you'll do a splendid job, I'll be thinking of you while I am snorkelling.' The PM appeared to play that sentence back in his head, and added, 'Though not in any dubious fashion. Strictly a professional concern.'
'Yes, sir,' Harry replied with a smile.
The rest of the ride back to Number 10 passed uneventfully, it wasn't until they were inside the residence and listening to the PM's wife calling out a welcome that Harry realised it was going to be one of those days. There was a cloud of fairies flitting up and down the staircase.
At the base, beside the newel post, Leo, the youngest Blair child, was watching in quiet fascination.
The PM stood still and calm. 'Are they dangerous?'
'No,' Harry assured him. 'Just annoying. They're like butterflies with slightly more brains.'
'Try not to upset Leo, would you, Cherie need never know.'
Harry nodded, and moved to the step beside the child. 'Hi Leo. My name's Harry and I have to take these fairies home to the woods. Do you want to help me?'
Leo nodded enthusiastically.
'Right. Well, do you have a water pistol?'
Leo looked between Harry and his father. The PM nodded. 'I do,' Leo confided. 'But don't tell Mummy, because she doesn't like guns.'
'Right. Well, I have a very special gun that's like a water pistol, except instead of spraying water, it sprays sleep. Do you want to see it?'
Leo nodded cheerfully, quite convinced this may be the best day ever. Following Harry's instructions, he put his hand on the gun beside Harry's own, and followed the movements of the disguised wand as Harry put the fairies into a bewitched sleep.
The boy laughed as the small, bright creatures all fluttered slowly to the floor and began to snore gently on the steps. 'I thought they weren't true,' he told Harry. 'But they are!'
'They are,' Harry agreed. 'But you must keep it very quiet because they're meant to live in the woods and there aren't many of them. If everyone knew, they might be endangered.'
'Like tigers,' Leo nodded sagely.
'Exactly.' Harry took off his jacket and fashioned it into a bag. 'Want to help me collect them all? I'll make sure they go home where they belong.'
Leo, Mike, Harry and the PM all scooped up the snoring fairies, and deposited them gently in Harry's suit jacket.
'Are you going to make him forget?' Mike whispered.
Harry shook his head. 'I don't like Obliviating children, and people put down anything odd they say to imagination, anyway.'
With the last of the fairies collected, Harry thanked Leo for his help and carefully lifted the bundled jacket.
'You should probably deal with that now,' the PM told him.
'Report when you get back,' Mike ordered. 'I want to know how they made it in here. I'm assuming they don't frequently take up residence in buildings.'
'Sometimes, at Christmas, if you promise them whisky and honey,' Harry explained in the interests of honesty. 'But not generally.'
'So this was a security breach. That's two in two days. One of your lot is up to something and I want some answers.'
'Me too,' Harry sighed.
The PM scooped up his son and began to climb the stairs. 'Goodbye, Harry!' Leo called over his father's shoulder. 'Goodbye fairies!'
Harry waited until they and Mike had climbed the stairs before he Apparated away. A half-hour later, as he roused the last of the fairies and sent it into the woods near Ottery St Catchpole, he wished, not for the first time, that Ron and Hermione were not on holiday. His quick Floo call with Kingsley had not set his mind at ease.
'Who in their right mind sends fairies as a political statement?' he asked the nearest tree.
If it had an opinion, it kept it in.
Emily was still at lunch with Malfoy when Harry made it back to the office, so he went straight to Mike's to report. Colin, who shared the office, was on holiday duty, with Karen, Shanti and six others, so there was no reason to talk in code.
'Has one of your lot gone mad, or is this some sort of campaign?' Mike asked.
'Not sure yet,' Harry admitted. 'If it's a campaign, it's by one of our less frightening members.'
'You're just assuming that because it's been low-key so far,' Mike interrupted.
'No.' Harry sighed. 'We're not good at subtle. If this was someone who wanted people dead, they'd be dead by now. He or she just wants us noticed. From our perspective, that's a disaster, from your perspective, it's a manageable situation provided you have some useful cover stories in place to explain mass hallucinations.'
'Do you have people investigating?'
'Yes. Kingsley has a team on it, and Malfoy and I are keeping our eyes out, too'
'Report to me when you have details, then.'
Emily was just sitting down when Harry returned to their office. 'Do not speak to me for at least five minutes, my tongue is still too happy for work,' she declared.
Harry raised an eyebrow in surprise.
'Food, you pervert!' she declared. 'Delicious, lovely, yummy food, with only the tiniest amount to drink because I am responsible.' She closed her eyes and smiled for a moment. 'Though I suspect that they put something addictive in the desserts.'
'So you had a good time?'
'An excellent time. He spoke very highly of you, by the way. Said that he was beastly to you at school, but when he and his family were in awful trouble, you went to enormous lengths to help them out.'
Harry fell the last few inches into his chair. He had received two politely worded notes from Malfoy, the first straight after the war in thanks for saving his life, the second some months later in thanks for the return of his wand and Harry's testimony that his family had been largely coerced in their involvement. He'd never imagined that Malfoy still thought about it.
'Was it tax evasion?' Emily was asking somewhere in the distance.
Harry roused himself. 'Not at liberty to discuss,' he replied, with a smile.
'From the way he was describing it, sounded as though Russian gangsters were holding them all hostage. That's it, isn't it? Something like that?'
'Something like that.'
'Anyway, he's definitely gay, not a single attempt on my virtue, and he complimented me on my shoes. Still! Someone to go shopping with! I shall ingratiate myself to the point where he buys me a pair of Louboutins for Christmas.'
'Maybe he just liked you as a friend,' Harry suggested.
Emily gave him a look of dark meaning. 'I don't think I'm his type at all,' she assured. 'Which is fine, god knows I'd be insane to start sleeping with people from Whitehall; it's not as though I'm a minister.'
'Good point, you should find yourself a handsome shoe designer.'
'Or massage therapist!'
'Or quiet billionaire!'
'All good options,' Harry agreed.
'I just want someone devastatingly handsome, smart, funny and not completely evil,' Emily sighed.
Harry nodded. 'Don't we all?'
Surprisingly, nothing went wrong for the next eighteen hours. Emily was rostered on for one of the early shifts with Prescott, leaving Harry alone in the office, which was a perfect opportunity to read through The Daily Prophet and see if there were any clues worth following.
He was down to the Quidditch results when he heard the hurried footsteps outside the door. Stuffing in the paper into a drawer, Harry watched as the handle turned quietly and the door opened. Malfoy slipped panickedly into the office and shut the door firmly but silently behind himself.
'What's wrong?' Harry asked, reaching for his wand.
'He who must not be named!' Draco whispered.
'Voldemort?' Harry was frankly sceptical.
Draco rolled his eyes. 'Nearly. Peter Mandelson.'
Harry opened his drawer to retrieve the Prophet, trying very hard not to smile. 'Why's he after you?'
He didn't look up as Draco flumphed into the cushioned visitor's chair on the other side of the desk.
'Please,' said a smug drawl. 'Even you can't deny that I scrub up well.'
Harry glanced up with mild surprise. 'No, I suppose not. So, why are you hiding? Wouldn't he be useful in climbing the political ladder around here?'
'Mandy?!' Draco sputtered. 'Merlin, no, they hate him! And besides, he's old. I can't see myself taking up toyboydom for this job, but if I had to, it wouldn't be with a geriatric.'
Harry tapped a few keys on his desktop computer. 'He's only fifty-one,' he announced after a few seconds' search.
'Potter!' Malfoy protested. 'There are limits to my commitment to the cause. Besides, that's more than twice my age. If I have to schmooze for information, it should be with attractive people, such as the lovely Emily. Anyway, Prezzers hates Mandy.'
'JP, the acting PM. And since he only barely tolerates me, I should side with him in the hating Mandy stakes, for now at least.'
'You've met him?'
'Prezza? Of course. He's always popping into Communications, which is ironic, I know.'
'What's he like?'
'Big, growly, and an incredible chip on his shoulder about his upbringing. The two of you should get on really well, actually.'
'Did he have an evil genius trying to kill him throughout his formative years?' Harry asked wearily.
'No.' Malfoy thought for a moment, then added, 'He failed his Eleven Plus exams, but it's not really in the same category.'
Crisp footsteps came closer outside. 'Merlin's balls, it's Mandy!' Malfoy exclaimed and leapt from his chair to run around the other side of Harry's desk, which he promptly ducked under.
'Get up, you idiot, it's just one of the uniforms walking by.'
The door opened again, and a tall, well-dressed man popped his head in. 'Hello,' he greeted Harry with expensive vowels. 'Just looking for someone. You alone in here?'
'Thought I heard you talking to someone.'
Harry began to sense that Malfoy had been right to flee. 'Radio comms. Can I help you? Only this is a secure area and you really shouldn't be unescorted.'
'Oh no, that's fine, I'll keep looking.'
'Not at all.' Harry reached forward and pressed a buzzer on his desk.
A police constable appeared beside Mandelson. 'Can I help you, sir?' he asked Harry.
'This gentleman has lost someone and is wandering about alone, could you escort him to a public area?'
'That won't be necessary, I'm a former member of the House,' Mandelson explained patiently.
'Do you have a visitor's pass and security clearance?' asked the constable.
'I'm a European Commissioner, you'd think they'd brief you lot on us.'
The police constable nodded politely. 'You would, sir, but I am afraid that as the rules stand I will have to escort you. We can look for your friend on the way. Was it a gentleman or lady that you were looking for, sir?'
And with a hand on Mandelson's elbow, the Constable directed him away, closing the door behind them.
Harry became aware that Malfoy was tugging on his trouser leg. He pushed his chair back and looked down. A look of pious devotion was directed back at him. 'I love you,' Malfoy averred.
'Get up, you idiot.'
Malfoy clambered to his feet and resumed his seat. 'Seriously, I owe you. What about lunch tomorrow? And this time I'll pay.'
'Tomorrow's Saturday, we're not at work this weekend,' Harry reminded him.
Malfoy shrugged. 'I live in town these days, I thought you had a place here, too.'
'How do you know I don't have other plans?'
'Because every date you've had since you broke up with the Weasley girl has been listed somewhere in the paper.'
'Not all of them,' Harry muttered. 'Besides, I could be planning to go on a ramble, or have a game of Quidditch, or something else.'
'Excellent. Nothing you can't cancel, then. One o'clock? I can pick you up, you're at Grimmauld Place, aren't you?'
'Do you ever do anything other than lunch? We do have a case to work on, two actually.'
'And we will discuss them over lunch!' Malfoy rose to his feet. 'You always wanted me to learn about Muggle culture, Potter, you should be thrilled that I am embracing it.'
'Thrilled,' Harry echoed. 'Come on, I'll walk you out, I'm on the afternoon shift. And you owe Constable Rhys Jones a bottle of something decent.'
Malfoy had emailed his secretary and arranged for a bottle of decent whisky before the two of them separated. Harry would have hated him, but he was too busy planning to buy a phone that could email.
Harry was paired with Mike this time. The Acting PM's schedule was a doddle compared to the normal workload: parliament, a few lunches with ministers, three or four public occasions over the next fortnight, and three diplomatic functions.
'How're you holding up?' Mike asked him. 'Still enjoying it all?'
'Not what I'm used to,' Harry confessed.
'I welcomed all the paperwork when I got here,' Mike laughed. 'Made a nice change.'
The two of them met with the rest of Prescott's security team and swapped positions with the bodyguards going off duty.
'Easy day, he's in a good mood,' the older guard said in passing.
A few minutes later, the door they were standing outside burst open and a large, red-faced man followed by a flock of public servants stormed out.
'They can pull their heads out of their arses for one minute and think about the working man, can't they!' he blustered, as the security detachment took their places around him. 'Because not everyone in this country grew up with a silver spoon on his feet! It was bad enough when Thatcher pulled this sort of crap, but when we have a Labour government in power and young men are still joining the army because it's the only way they can finish their schooling, it's time we hung our heads in shame.'
Harry was astonished. He had thought Malfoy was speaking hyperbolically, but Prescott lived up to the warnings.
He trotted along with the group, scanning the ground ahead as he had been taught. They were halfway to the cars when the warning spell that he had renewed that morning gave an alarm.
In the air above the small yard where the drivers waited was a message picked out in fiery letters – 'MAGIC IS REAL!'
The Acting PM took one look at it and shook his head. 'This is what it's come to. Half the nation living in slums with no decent schools, and some overprivileged twat with a laptop thinks this is an appropriate message to send to government. Well let me tell you, sunshine,' he yelled to the general surrounds. 'You'd be better off spending your time looking for ways to fix health and education in this country and making those fuckers in the City pay their taxes, or some hoodie is going to come along and whack you over the head for that computer. Clever stuff, though, I'll grant you that!'
Mike raised an eyebrow at Harry, who shrugged his shoulders in reply. The message was already fading, and he couldn't see where it had come from. There seemed no point in holding back, so he climbed into the car and peered from the windows as they drove away.
After dropping the Acting PM at his home, the two bodyguards took up positions outside. There was a period of comfortable silence before Mike leaned in Harry's direction to attract his attention.
'Your people just don't have the hang of political protest, do they?' he asked.
'Not as such,' sighed Harry.
Harry woke late the next morning, and spent his shower calmly contemplating the beauty of the summer day that he could see through the top half of his bathroom window. Then he remembered he was having lunch with Malfoy.
It wasn't, he told himself as he dressed, as though he disliked Malfoy anymore. In fact, the man had gone out of his way to be pleasant over the last week. It was just that … Malfoy was a work person, and Saturday was a day for friends. But then, if Malfoy was taking him out for lunch on a Saturday, did it mean that he considered Harry a friend?
Or did he want something?
'That'll be it,' Harry told himself.
'What's that?' Kreacher asked from the doorway.
'Just worked something out, Kreacher. I'm out to lunch with Draco Malfoy today, so no need for you to cook anything.'
'Narcissa Black's son? Horrible boy, used to pull Kreacher's ears,' the old house-elf grumbled.
'That's the one. He's improved a bit with age.'
'Harry will warn Kreacher if he brings the Malfoy home?'
'Harry will,' said Harry, pleased. The loss of 'master' had been his birthday wish this year, and a week later the honorific was still gone.
'There is toast, yoghurt and juice if Harry would like some breakfast. And Harry was going to fix the moving picture box for Kreacher.'
'Of course, I'll do that first.'
Harry had bought a television after the war, and Kreacher had found it a diverting entertainment. Harry hadn't the heart to tell him that it wasn't a case of wizards aping Muggles. Every now and then the level of magic around the house caused the power to surge, Harry let Kreacher believe he had to re-do the spells, rather than click the circuit-breaker.
At about half past twelve, Harry suddenly rushed back up to his bedroom and changed his shirt to something more formal. Then he grabbed a jacket to match. Then, appalled at himself, he changed his new glasses for his old ones. At five to one, he changed them back.
Malfoy was waiting outside. 'I was just about to give you a call.'
'If I'd known you were running early, I'd have come out sooner,' Harry said. 'Where are we eating?'
'A great little Thai place I've discovered. You'll love it. You do eat Thai, don't you?'
'I'm surprised you do,' Harry confessed.
'Research, Potter, research! I've been studying Muggles for years!' At Harry's look, Malfoy shrugged. 'Well, nearly a year, at any rate. Long enough to form some insights and develop some tastes.'
'I know for a fact that you only learned how to order a cab last week,' Harry told him.
'Yes, but that's not something that anyone thinks to cover in the theory,' Malfoy explained. 'It's quite easy to miss. I was going to catch one here to show you how quickly I mastered the technique, but I'd rather Apparate if that's all right by you.'
'Too far to walk?'
'Too hot.' Malfoy took Harry's elbow and led him into a dark corner of Grimmauld Place. 'Hold on,' he instructed.
Space shifted, and when Harry's feet hit the ground again, it was in a chaotic part of the city smelling of spices and with loud street chatter banging on close by. He looked at Malfoy in surprise.
'I told you, research.'
They emerged into a small street market, where a young man tried to sell them sunglasses, crossed the road and walked into an incense-filled fairytale of South-East Asia. Gold elephants and a mile of silk dressed the foyer, beyond which were rooms full of tables covered in beaten metal, with cushions instead of seats.
They were shown to their cushions by a dainty Thai girl, who advised them that the specials of the day included basil chilli duck and whole-baked salmon with green curry.
Malfoy sat cross-legged and indicated for Harry to take the cushion opposite.
'It's not exactly dignified, is it?' Harry noted.
'You were always on at me for being too concerned with ceremony,' Malfoy pointed out. 'I thought you'd like this sort of thing.'
'Mostly I'm looking forward to watching you meet curry,' Harry admitted.
'I'm thinking the pad thai,' Malfoy replied.
Harry said it lightly, but Malfoy's face and shoulders tensed.
With an effort of will, he put a smile back on his face. 'You can't goad me into things anymore,' he said pleasantly. 'We're not at school.'
'Hang on.' Harry was confused. 'When have I ever goaded you into anything? You did all the goading as I recall.'
'And I cannot be goaded into an angry debate, either,' Malfoy stated, serenely.
'I'm not angry,' Harry protested. 'I just want to know why you think I was the one doing all the goading when you were the one who actively made my life miserable.'
'Oh, I think we both went some distance down that path,' Malfoy replied, with just a hint of testiness. 'You-Know-Who saw the Malfoys as easy prey once my father was in Azkaban.'
'Your father tried to kill me,' Harry pointed out as reasonably as he could.
'He did not. Maim at worst.'
The waitress returned and forced a temporary cessation. They ordered a set of small dishes to share as starters, Harry chose the duck and Malfoy asked for a tofu in red curry. Then both of them cast spells to disguise their conversation to passers by.
'Besides, you broke my nose!' Harry whispered as reasonably as humanly possible.
'You attempted to eviscerate me, I hardly think a broken nose compares.'
'I had no idea that would happen. Anyway, you were about to Crucio me!'
'Oh, I was saying it. It wouldn't have worked, I was too upset.'
'Right. This is officially the stupidest conversation I have ever had,' Harry declared. 'Tell me whatever it was that you wanted to, I'll update you on the last couple of days, we can scoff the fish cakes and see if they'll do the mains as take-away.'
Malfoy looked at him in disbelief. 'You seriously think that the whole reason I asked you out to lunch was to pursue some form of agenda.'
'Well, it's not as if we're friends.'
'No,' Malfoy's voice was suddenly tired. 'But I was trying to be friendly.'
'Fuck.' Harry dropped his head into his hands.
'Language, Potter!' Malfoy smiled weakly.
There, approaching their table, was Dudley Dursley, his still-impressive solidity covered in decent tailoring and waving a BlackBerry.
'It is you!' he grinned. 'I've been trying to get hold of you for days! Wish you a happy birthday. How are things?'
'Not too bad, Dudley. You?' Harry's voice was warm, but he didn't invite Dudley to sit. He felt a certain measured affection for his cousin these days, too much to drag him into this meal at any rate.
'Yeah, good. Just lunching with my broker, we're doing well in the market, though I'm not sure I want to stay in: I see one more good year before America starts going under.'
'What does that mean?' Malfoy leaned forward, and seemed genuinely interested.
Dudley looked at him, startled. 'Sorry, I'm interrupting. You're that chap working with David Hill, aren't you? Saw you in the paper. Good to meet you. Good to see you, Harry, I'll be off.'
'No, no,' Malfoy patted a cushion at the table beside theirs. 'Stay. I want to know why you think America will go under.'
Dudley laughed nervously. 'Best not, the market might react "adversely" as they say.'
He turned back to Harry. 'It's good you're meeting new people. Nice to see you out and about in the world. Give me a ring some time.'
Malfoy made vigorous pointing gestures behind Dudley's back, and Harry gave in. 'Sit down, Dudders, at least have a lassi or a coffee. Malfoy here will apparently die if he doesn't have a chance to talk with you. And he's not new, he's from Hogwarts. In fact, you two would have had a lot in common in the past.'
Dudley pulled up a cushion and sniffed with self-deprecation. 'What, you tortured him for years and then he saved your life?'
Malfoy gaped like a fish.
'Oh.' Dudley bit his lower lip. 'Sorry. Jesus, Harry never mentioned you.'
Malfoy gaped like an affronted fish.
Harry couldn't help smiling. 'You'd have hated each other. Or exchanged tips. Draco Malfoy, this is my cousin, Dudley Dursley.' He turned to the newcomer. 'And yes, before you ask, we're both out and about in the world because something is up.'
'Like last time?' Dudley asked, nervously.
Harry shook his head. 'No, not the same level of thing. Someone's trying to expose us to the world at large.'
'Witches and wizards.'
Dudley snorted. 'Won't work! Doomed to failure. Whoever it is has no idea what they're doing.'
Harry was intrigued, but Malfoy was faster. 'Why do you think that?'
'Stands to reason, doesn't it?' he explained in patient tones. 'When we were young, this one was always doing things that were just plain weird, but whenever I tried to tell anyone he was a freak, they'd start making up excuses for him. We make up excuses for anything weird. Sometime's it's actual science, and sometimes it's just us not wanting to think about what it would mean if the excuse wasn't true.'
Malfoy nodded. 'That's quite profound.'
'Well, I didn't come up with it,' Dudley demurred. 'It's in books. I read it, and I thought it was a good explanation of things. And you can stop grinning, Harry, I can read, I just choose not to most of the time.'
'I'm not grinning. Smiling in a sympathetic fashion, perhaps.'
'Grinning.' Dudley clambered up from the cushion. 'It was good to see you, Harry, lovely to meet you, Draco, but I really have to be off. Besides, I'm interrupting. Go back to where you were before I lumbered in.' He clapped Harry on the back and resumed his way out of the restaurant.
'Nice fellow,' Malfoy approved.
'Now,' Harry conceded.
'I believe we were in the middle of a stoush,' Malfoy reminded him. 'But food's here, so we should hold off resuming it.'
Trays of money bags, fish cakes and satay sticks appeared before them. They loaded up their plates and began to eat, each being sure to take less than half of each dish.
After a few minutes, Harry pushed his plate away and took a deep breath. 'I'm sorry. You're right, you've been nothing but friendly, helpful and professional, I've been impatient and judgemental, I apologise.'
Malfoy put down his satay stick. 'I accept your apology,' he replied. Then thought for a moment and added, 'I'm sorry, too. And let's not go into the list of why, it would take forever and make me look worse than I am.'
Harry laughed. 'I accept your apology,' he replied.
They resumed eating. After a few minutes, Harry added, 'And you're not that bad. You've improved with age.'
After a few minutes more, Malfoy conceded, 'I haven't wanted to break your nose for years.'
After Malfoy had made it through half the bowl of red curry and only had to resort to two yoghurt lassis to keep his mouth from exploding, Harry thought they might have actually bonded.
'You know, we do have business to discuss,' Harry admitted. He shared the details of the previous two incidents, Malfoy produced a clipping from one of the tabloids that declared: 'Flying Man On Broom! Witnesses at Rolvenden's Ewe & Lamb swear they were still sober when they saw a lad larking about above the treeline on Wednesday evening …'
'He's getting cocky, whoever he is,' Malfoy muttered.
'At least we know it's a he.'
'Or a witch who's good at glamours, or Polyjuice, or flat-chested and with short hair. We're no closer to running them down than we were at the beginning of the week. I thought you were a crack Auror! Are all investigations this drawn out and fruitless?'
Harry raised his hands helplessly. 'Normally we have clues. Or at least obvious motivations. What do we have here? Someone who doesn't like the Statute of Secrecy? About the only person I can leave out of the investigation is your father, he loves it.'
'It's true. Most of the purebloods do. It's the Muggleborn and mixed families who have issues with it.'
'Which means we're only looking at about forty per cent of the population.'
'Whoever it is, they're relatively pleasant.'
'I'll remove the three homicidal lunatics from our sample.'
'They're really good at Charms.'
'That's actually helpful, save that we have no centralised listings of what witches and wizards are good at which magic.'
'I find it unconscionable that a Ministry which kept tabs on the bloodlines of the population failed to keep track of something so basic. Hang on, that's my phone.'
Harry picked at his duck while Malfoy took the call, then pushed his plate aside as he watched the expressions on Malfoy's face.
'What is it?' he asked the moment the call ended.
'Robin Cook is dead,' Malfoy told him, genuinely shaken,
Harry knew the name but couldn't place it.
'The little bearded one,' Malfoy reminded him. 'The one with ethics. He spoke out against going to Iraq. He's had a heart attack climbing a mountain. Dropped dead, they weren't able to revive him.'
Harry frowned; Malfoy's eyes were swimming. 'Did you know him?'
'I only met him twice. But he was decent. There aren't many decent people in politics, in our world or the Muggle one. And it's stupid. If he was one of ours we'd have been able to fix him.'
'You don't know that. Sometimes people just die.'
Malfoy sniffed, and used the opportunity afforded by a dismissive hand wave to wipe his eyes. 'Really, Potter, when was the last time you heard of a witch or wizard dying of natural causes that weren't extreme old age?' He popped his phone in his pocket and motioned for the bill. 'Anyway, I'll have to go in. We need to have some words on the record and the bloody PM is on hols.'
'Surely he'll come back.'
'Wouldn't bet on it, they hated each other.'
'Oh.' Harry thought for a moment. 'I'll come with you.'
'There's no need.'
'I haven't anything else on. Besides, you look upset, I should Apparate us, or grab a cab.'
Malfoy pulled a set of notes from his wallet and left them on the table. 'Up to you.'
Harry caught up to him as they walked towards the door. 'Fine, then I'm coming.'
Malfoy didn't acknowledge Harry, but fell into step beside him. They walked silently for a few minutes, until Malfoy stopped near a dark corner. 'I should be at the office,' he said.
Without a word, Harry took his arm and Apparated them to the one surveillance-free spot that Downing Street still had.
The news was only just breaking, journalists were arriving in cabs and waving at Malfoy as he walked inside.
'Is it true?' one shouted.
Malfoy quickened his pace. Harry swapped sides to shield him from the cameras.
Inside Number 12, it was chaos. Two men Harry did not recognise were crying, a young woman was making cups of tea, and David Hill was shouting that the only thing worse than the PM not coming home, was the PM coming home.
Malfoy squared his shoulders. 'I need a typist,' he called to the general assembly. Then he turned back to Harry. 'I'd better …'
'I'd better go,' Harry agreed.
Malfoy nodded. 'Thanks,' he said.
'Thanks for lunch.'
'See you Monday?'
'See you Monday.'
The office was a sombre place when Harry walked in early Monday morning.
'Dreadful, isn't it?' Emily asked.
Harry agreed. 'At least it was quick, he wouldn't have felt it.'
'His poor wife!'
Robin Cook's wife Gaynor had been on the mountain with him and tried to revive him until the emergency helicopter arrived. Harry didn't want to think about her sense of hopelessness too much, it was too familiar.
'I was with Malfoy when we heard the news, he took it hard,' Harry told her.
'He would, Robin Cook wrote to him and congratulated him on Drool Britannia, he was telling me how proud he was of that letter when we had lunch.'
'Oh, cock,' muttered Harry.
'Anyway, check your email, I bet you're on funeral duty with me, so it'll be off to Scotland.'
Harry fired up his computer. Sure enough, he was rostered to make the Edinburgh journey on Thursday afternoon, then on guard all through the ceremony on Friday.
'It's all right,' Emily assured him. 'Prezzers won't be doing much more than standing around looking unhappy. And at least he'll be sincere. It's a mercy the PM's not coming back, really, we'd have to look out for the congregation more than crowd.'
Emily shrugged. 'You ready for Monday morning briefing?'
The MP's death had cast a pall over everyone, and with a third of their number away guarding the PM, it was a quiet meeting, quickly done with. On the way out, Mike tapped Harry's shoulder.
'Are you free today?' he asked.
'I'm not rostered on,' Harry replied. 'And there are no ongoing investigations current.'
'Good. Do you think Mr Malfoy from Communications might be available?' Mike's tone was pointed.
'Won't he be busy today?'
'Give me a moment.' Mike pulled out his phone and punched in a series of numbers. 'Colonel Michael Featherstonehaugh here, could I please speak with David Hill? Thank you. David? Mike. Can we borrow your Malfoy for the day? Terrific. We'll send a car.'
He put the phone away. 'He's free now. I need the two of you to take a little trek down to Wiltshire. The local plods tell me there's a giant arrow in the sky.'
'Pointing at a part of the county that apparently no one had noticed before this morning.'
'Of course it is.' Harry rubbed his forehead. 'Has the arrow done anything?'
'Just pointing.' Mike clapped him on the shoulder. 'Go and pick up Malfoy. You can take the BMW, it will get you there fastest of our fleet.'
'You have some secret way of getting about, don't you?'
'We may have.'
'Does it involve brooms? Don't tell me. Pick him up in the car and then do what you will, just sort this and report back to me.'
Harry grinned and trotted off. The BMW was the team's joke, as it was a large and completely unsubtle vehicle, useful only for speeding through streets in an impressive manner. It made the whole drama of obtaining a driver's licence completely worthwhile.
Malfoy raised his sunglasses to peer into the tinted windows when Harry pulled up outside Number 12, and rolled his eyes when the passenger window rolled down.
'I hope you don't expect me to let you drive me anywhere?'
'Islington, then we ditch the car and Apparate,' Harry reassured him, reaching across and opening the door.
'Where are we off to?' Malfoy asked as he clambered in.
'You have to promise to stay calm.'
'Well, now of course I am starting to panic.'
'Our friend has struck again in Wiltshire.'
Malfoy gripped the dashboard tightly. 'Drive faster,' he ordered.
They parked the car on Grimmauld Place, then Apparated to the top of the Malfoy's driveway.
Harry looked up, Malfoy followed suit. A giant red arrow, seemingly made of smoke, pointed downwards.
'I,' Malfoy announced, 'am going to commit homicide.'
'We,' Harry corrected, 'are going to disperse that.'
They sent up wind spells, then walked away from the house in search of witnesses.
It didn't take long to find someone from the nearby village with a video camera.
'Did you see that?' Harry called as they came up behind him.
'Been filming it!' he replied, brandishing his camera.
'Bloody amazing. I hear it's a test of a new type of flare.'
'Really?' the villager nodded in understanding. 'That's brilliant that is. What'll they think of next?'
Harry and Malfoy kept walking. 'Now what?' Malfoy asked.
'We Apparate a little way round the boundary of your place, find the next conveniently positioned gawper, and repeat the performance. I reckon five or six people ought to be enough to get the news out.'
Malfoy nodded. 'It's manipulative and dishonest. I like it. Give me a moment.' He stopped and took out his phone, then punched a message into it. 'Just told my mate on the Wiltshire Times that was not a military test and that the press office has no official comment, though if he is desperate for an angle, the safety of our round-the-world yachtsmen and women is a major priority for this government.'
'Nice. Shall we?'
They found a further fifteen people in their next four stops, including six members of the local constabulary. Harry was very pleased with the flare excuse; it had the advantage of sounding plausible at the same time as allowing for a raft of military functions that would see people naturally divert their attentions away from this area.
Within a quarter hour the smoke had blown away and the skies were clear again. Harry smiled at a job well done.
Malfoy sighed. 'I suppose I should go and check on my parents.'
'Merlin, do we have to?'
'No, we don't. You can go back. I, on the other hand, will be throttled if they learn I was here and didn't stop in.'
Harry shook his head. 'Will they hex me on sight?' he asked.
Malfoy looked at him, surprised. 'I shouldn't think so.'
'Then let's go.' Harry started walking back towards the Malfoy driveway.
'You don't have to,' Malfoy called from behind him.
'No, but I feel I ought to.'
Malfoy caught up to him. 'This is a gesture, isn't it? Because you're feeling badly about the other day.'
'It's nothing of the sort.'
'It's very nice. I appreciate it. Though if you're going to come over all Gulf War Syndrome, you should stay outside.'
'I am not going to come over all … Where did you learn that phrase anyway?'
'I keep telling you, research!'
'Anyway, I can't imagine your parents are thrilled that you're working for Muggles.'
'Working with Muggles,' Malfoy corrected. 'And it's for the greater good.'
'So they're not impressed.'
'They pretend it isn't happening.'
'So I'll be a diversion, then.'
'Good point. Warn me if you start to come over all faint and I'll whisk us back to town.'
'I'll try to vomit on you, rather than the carpet.'
And then they were at the gate. The wrought iron rearranged itself into a face and began to ask the purpose of their visit.
'Open or I'll Apparate past you,' Malfoy replied.
'Welcome home, Master Draco,' the gate replied.
'It doesn't sound happy to see you,' Harry noted.
'It's never happy, it's a gate,' Malfoy pointed out.
Happy or not, the gate must have alerted the house. They were no more than halfway down the drive when Harry spotted the two elder Malfoys walking swiftly towards them.
'Draco, darling! A visit! And you've brought a friend!' declared Narcissa. 'Oh, it's Mr Potter,' she added when she drew closer.
Harry and Narcissa regarded each other with the polite manner of two who had been instrumental in saving each other's lives, but saw no reason for that to interrupt years of studied and mutual disdain.
Lucius, on the other hand, laughed when he saw who it was. 'You go off to be the saviour of the Muggle world, and you bring back a role model. Was there ever a more diligent boy?'
'Ignore him,' Malfoy muttered. 'He's turned to sarcasm in his old age.'
'Mrs Malfoy, Mr Malfoy, good to see you both,' Harry greeted them with politeness.
'And you're here because?' Narcissa asked.
'We work together, Mother,' Malfoy reminded her in tones that suggested they had been through this. 'Mummy's in denial,' he told Harry archly. 'But they'll both feel a little silly when I tell them there's been a big red arrow in the sky pointing at the Manor for the last hour.'
Narcissa and Lucius both looked up immediately.
'We destroyed it,' Malfoy declared with a roll of his eyes. 'Obviously. Potter here is a crack Auror and I am not a complete nong, we're not going to come sauntering down the driveway saying "Ooh, look! Mortal peril! Someone should do something about that."'
Narcissa and Lucius frowned at Malfoy for a minute, before they recovered their poise.
'I just can't get used to you in those dreadful clothes,' Narcissa sighed.
'I hardly think we were in mortal peril, the wards have stood up to worse,' Lucius clarified.
Malfoy fell a few steps behind them as they walked to the house, and walked beside Harry who was trying very hard not to laugh.
'It's nice to see they're not actively evil anymore,' Harry said, reassuringly.
'Oh they are,' Malfoy corrected. 'They've just narrowed their focus.'
Harry noted that the Malfoys weren't short of house-elves; two small denizens winked in and out of the sitting room they were shown to, depositing trays of sandwiches and pastries, and jugs of iced drinks.
Narcissa Malfoy served Harry a plateful and a glass of something lemony. 'Quite safe,' she smiled. 'Draco would never forgive me if I poisoned one of his guests.'
'So you two work together,' Lucius said conversationally. 'What are you working on?'
Malfoy's face said clearly that this question had been asked many times in recent weeks, so Harry took the opportunity to answer it. 'We're working with the Muggle government to attempt to lessen the opportunity for and impact of terrorism.'
Lucius sniffed. 'I think the extent of the problem has been grossly overstated.'
Harry kept his temper. 'Fifty-two innocent people were killed last month, it is a significant issue.'
'Muggles. A one-off. And it's nothing like the number of them who were killed by people who can't control those cars of theirs.'
'They don't kill fifty-two at a time,' Harry reminded him. 'There's a qualitative difference, regardless of the number of dead. Your son is helping to ensure the security of the nation and the seamless cooperation of Muggle and Wizarding governments, which will lead to a safer Britain and a more secure wizarding world.
'And it's not a one-off, I remember when I lived with my Aunt and Uncle, the IRA was always blowing things up.'
'Oh no,' said Lucius. 'Half the time that wasn't the IRA, that was us.'
Harry stopped mid-rant. 'Us?'
'My us, not yours.' Lucius grinned rakishly at Harry's bemusement. 'We'd find an Irish Muggle, Imperius them, and have them phone in a bomb alert.'
'But … but why?'
Lucius regarded him seriously for a moment, then gave a short shake of his head. 'Explain as I might, Mr Potter, I fear the subtleties of Death Eater humour would be lost on you.'
'That's enough.' Harry turned his attention in the direction of the voice, and decided it was a strange world when Draco Malfoy was the sanest person in a room.
'We just wanted to check that you were unharmed. Since you're obviously fine, we should get back to work. Come on, Potter, finish your drink.'
Harry gulped the last of it down and put the dripping glass carefully down on the polished surface of the table. 'Good to see you both,' he nodded.
Malfoy's parents saw them to the door. Lucius shook his son's hand, and Narcissa gave him a hug and a kiss.
'Take care, Draco,' she advised. 'I suppose you could do worse than be working with Potter, he does have the most astonishing luck. And it is just working. It's not as though you have to do it.'
'Yes, Mother, I can stop any time,' Malfoy replied with resignation.
Harry knew that he should just keep walking, but was unable to resist the opportunity. 'It's not just working, though, is it? Draco told me he loved me for the first time last week.'
Malfoy looked at Harry with a brief flash of horror, which melted at his parent's gasps. 'In fairness,' Malfoy told them conspiratorially, 'he does look adorable in women's clothing.' He held out his arm. 'Shall we?'
Harry took it and pinched viciously where neither Lucius nor Narcissa could see. 'Indeed,' he said, with good grace.
They walked a little distance before Apparating. 'One-all?' Malfoy asked as they went.
'One-all,' Harry agreed.
The news beat them back to the office. Mike couldn't hold back his laughter as he showed Harry the lead story of the online Wiltshire Times: 'Brit Boffins On Point!' it declared, with a blurry photo to match.
'Of course,' he said, 'the next thing you know, the MoD boys will actually develop something like this.'
'It really would be useful for round-the-world sailors,' Harry offered.
'I suppose the Australian navy could do with some help spotting all those capsized French in the Antarctic. Nice work, Potter. Tell Malfoy thank you from me, too. Are you two any closer to finding out who's behind all this?'
Harry shook his head crossly. 'I can tell you who it's not. We've constructed a short list of the population who are all capable of actually doing this sort of work, but Kingsley and our police are going to take some time to work through everyone on it. Malfoy and I are keeping our eyes peeled around here, but by the time we spot his handiwork, he's usually long gone.'
'Do your best. So far it seems to be under control, and that's all I ask for.'
'Oh, and Harry?'
'Did you have Peter Mandelson escorted from the premises last week?'
'Good work. We'll make a proper copper of you yet.'
Harry managed to get through the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday with no further trouble. There was a small amount of trotting around after the Acting PM and listening to people swear a great deal, which Harry was starting to suspect was how government actually happened, but nothing more arduous. Wednesday was going well until his phone chirped an SMS alert.
He managed to read it without having to resort to the instruction booklet. It was Malfoy: Have intel. Meet lunch to discuss? 12.30 suit?
He checked his email for any changes to the afternoon's roster before sending back an acceptance.
'Was that Mike?' Emily asked.
'No, a friend,' Harry replied.
'You have friends?' she teased. 'I've never heard anyone but Mike call you.'
'I have loads of friends!' Harry protested. 'My best ones are just travelling at the moment, and I'm stuck here for work.'
'Is that a subtle way of asking if I have a girlfriend?'
Emily laughed. 'I was thinking boyfriend, but sure.'
Harry looked at her, startled.
'Ooh, hey, sorry,' she got up from her desk and came to sit opposite his. 'I didn't mean to cause offence, you just had that vibe, you know?'
'Vibe?' Harry asked weakly.
'That whole "gender is no issue, my coolness sees straight past such boundaries" vibe.'
'You think I'm cool?'
Emily laughed. 'I hang out with you, don't I? So you must be.'
'I did snog my ex-girlfriend's brother once,' Harry admitted.
'HA! Yes, that's the vibe I'm talking about,' Emily cheered.
'But he's incredibly attractive and has no scruples about plying young people with alcohol. I think everyone in England has probably snogged him at some point. And everyone in Romania.'
'And you've not introduced us because?'
'You're too good for him, Em.'
'Good boy. So, when Draco was asking after you? He was …'
Harry laughed. 'Probably looking for information for his new book, Ways in Which Harry Potter Deeply Irritates Me.'
Emily regarded him for a moment. 'You know, that is not the vibe that I have about him.'
'Do all your vibes have a homoerotic subtext?' Harry asked.
'Most of them,' Emily admitted. 'I went to an all-girl school. On a related topic, have you read Draco's latest piece in The Spectator?'
'Malfoy writes for The Spectator?' Harry blurted in surprise.
'Hang on.' Emily ducked back to her desk and returned with a copy from her handbag. 'There you are, have a read.'
'I'm almost as surprised that you buy it,' he teased.
'Boris Johnson article, he's my secret Tory crush.'
'He'd mock you for your bolshie views then shag you in a cupboard,' Harry warned.
'A girl can dream,' Emily winked at him. She went back to her desk and worked on the plans for Friday's funeral.
Harry picked up the magazine and began to read. And then he had to try very hard not to laugh – indeed, not to giggle. A Generation Lost: Our war on the young was a thinly disguised rehash of A Generation Lost: Grindelwald's war on Europe, with 'Hoodie' replacing 'Death Eater' and 'Mindless Consumerism' standing in for Grindelwald. The section on the Dumbledore/Grindelwald duel in the original had been rewritten as a critique of public education, but the vast majority was a time-efficient recycling of ideas.
'Good, isn't it?' Emily asked him.
'It's as though he's here talking to me,' Harry replied.
Which naturally meant that his phone buzzed.
Are you dressed properly? I can get us in somewhere swish said the SMS.
Am dressed in suit and tie, as always. Harry replied.
Excellent. What, even in the bath?
See you at 12.30.
Harry looked up to find Emily watching him.
'What?' he asked.
'You know, there is such a thing as predictive text.'
'Can never get the hang of it.'
'The twenty-first century is just a rumour to you, isn't it?'
'You have no idea.'
Emily turned back to her planning, and Harry set himself to reading this morning's batch of warnings culled from threatening emails. Some days he wished they would forward him the originals, as he was dying to know how the people who managed the IT traffic learned to alert security to the fact that next year's Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling would not be a safe venue for the PM unless the troops were pulled out of Iraq.
All too soon it was lunchtime. 'I'm off out,' Harry said.
'Lunch with Draco?' Emily asked with a suggestive eyebrow waggle.
'It's business. He's teaching me how to behave at State Funerals, I'm teaching him how to dispose of nosey co-workers.'
'Good thing I work with you,' Emily winked.
'You tell me that every morning.'
'Give Draco my love!'
Malfoy was waiting for Harry when he emerged. 'I have news!' he declared.
'So you tell me. Are we walking? You can tell me as we go.'
'And miss surprising you with your mouth full? All right. We are walking, and you are listening.'
Harry nodded his agreement.
'So. You may have already come to this conclusion, because once I did I realised how obvious it was, but if you have, you've not told me.'
'I have told you everything I know,' Harry insisted.
'I find that so easy to believe,' Malfoy quipped. 'In that case, you'll kick yourself, as I did. Remember when I took the job with Communications, there was a write-up in the paper?'
'Vaguely …' Harry tried to look innocent.
'Right, well, every incident before that was simply opportunistic, taking advantage of whatever came to hand. Since then, every single attack has been somewhere near one of us. Whoever it is, they know we're here, and are targeting accordingly.'
Harry shook his head. 'The broom incident in Kent,' he reminded Malfoy.
'I was inside having a few drinks after a casual game of cricket.'
'You play cricket?'
'I do now.' They walked a few more steps before Malfoy added, 'Not well, I'll grant you.' After a few more steps, he added, 'Shut up.'
'I am laughing at something completely unrelated,' Harry lied.
The restaurant was as posh as Malfoy had implied. And new, every surface was gleaming, every con very mod.
'Emily sends her love,' Harry said as they were seated.
'Send mine back. How is the dear girl?'
'Very well, save she confessed she has a crush on Boris Johnson.'
'Don't we all?'
Harry looked up from his menu. 'I swear on my parents' grave that if you are ever involved in a sex scandal with Boris Johnson …'
Harry shook his head. 'There's no point, I'll be dead from laughter, so I won't be able to do a thing.'
'Emily's more his type,' Malfoy replied primly. 'Though I hear he's rediscovered monogamy in a bid to win friends and keep his wife from doing nasty things to his privates.'
'I will give you twenty Galleons if you never talk about the private parts of an MP ever again.'
Malfoy put his hand out. 'Done.'
'I only have pounds, you'll have to collect tomorrow.'
'I'm having the vichyssoise and the dory. You?'
'Baby garden salad and the salmon.'
'Excellent.' Malfoy called the waiter over and gave their order.
It was a civilised lunch. Malfoy confessed to shameless self-plagiarism when it came to the Spectator article, declaring that tight deadlines left a man no choice. Harry admitted that he had coerced some juvenile offenders into going straight by telling them the unvarnished truth about his childhood and pointing out that, comparatively, they had nothing to rebel about. Also, they were pissing him off and he had their home addresses.
'But you never kill people,' Malfoy laughed.
'True, though I have been known to accidentally forget to unpetrify the odd troublemaker. Leads to nasty bladder situations after about six hours.'
'Ooh, harsh. Speaking of which,' Malfoy pushed back his plate with its few scraps of remaining fish. 'Back in a moment.'
Harry distracted himself with looking around. The large main room was packed, he could only imagine that Malfoy had called on one of his new but well-placed contacts to snatch a table. It was surprising how many faces he recognised, all from the papers.
'Potter, you have to come and see this!' Malfoy was walking quickly towards him, grinning from ear to ear.
'I was just going to look at the dessert menu.'
'Later, this is too good to miss!'
Harry let himself be dragged from his chair, though he dug in his heels when he realised Malfoy was dragging him to the lavatory. 'I really don't think there's anything in there I need to see,' he protested.
'Just when I think that Muggle ingenuity has impressed me as far as it ever will, something else appears,' Malfoy told him.
'Oh, all right.'
Malfoy led him in through the men's door, then towards a cubicle.
'Malfoy!' Harry protested.
'No, it's great, wait till you see!'
Cursing his curiosity, Harry allowed himself to be led inside. The cubicle was about the size of a Ford Mondeo, and the door shut as seamlessly as a Bentley's behind them. Then the loo lid raised and a gentle music of rainforest sounds and birdsong began, at a volume just loud enough to disguise the fact that the occupant may have had two servings of the Italian beans for lunch.
Harry couldn't help grinning. 'Insane.'
'Brilliant.' Malfoy corrected. 'And, just wait …' Malfoy reached forward and dropped the lid back down. The loo flushed, to the accompaniment of a waterfall's roar in the soundtrack.
Harry couldn't help laughing, and when the door opened automatically and bumped him as it did so, he turned with a broad smile. To find himself looking at the surprised face of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
'He was just showing me the automation, Dr Williams,' Harry stammered.
'Don't listen to him, Your Grace,' Malfoy corrected, enfolding Harry in an embrace from behind and pressing a warm kiss to his cheek. 'But rest assured that this is a loving and committed relationship.'
Harry suspected that even his toes might be blushing.
The Archbishop shook his head slightly with a small smile on his lips. 'Don't forget to wash your hands, boys,' he said, and disappeared into the furthest cubicle.
'Two-one,' Malfoy whispered into Harry's ear.
Harry could feel the laughter bubbling in Malfoy's chest. It sent his blood hammering through his veins, throwing him completely out of kilter. Malfoy's arms hadn't moved, and Harry was increasingly conscious of them, to the point where he was not sure flustered would be an overstatement.
With horror, Harry realised that he had leaned back against Malfoy, and that his cheek was still inclined towards Malfoy's lips, so close, in fact, that he could feel the muscles of Malfoy's face move as he drew breath to say something mocking.
'Can't you ever be serious?' Harry snapped, and pushed himself away – and straight out of the lavatory.
He paused at their table to pick up his jacket and continued out of the restaurant. He was tired of Malfoy embarrassing him, of taking this whole assignment lightly, of underestimating how easy it was to go wrong in this world. That was what was making his heart thump and his cheeks burn. Fury. Nothing else.
In fact he was so furious that he was going to … was going to …
'Oh cock.' Harry stopped on the street corner and took a few calming breaths. He looked around. Malfoy hadn't followed him. His phone hadn't made a noise, either. Fine. In that case, he was going to walk back to Westminster and spend the afternoon guarding the Acting Prime Minister.
It was a good spot of guarding, if Harry said so himself. Mike had been surprised when he'd turned up half an hour early, but five hours later, the Acting PM was well and secure, and the Houses of Parliament were still standing. Harry took this as a win.
He'd also made friends with two of the Palace of Westminster Division officers, which was handy, because they had uniforms rather than suits, which meant there was always somewhere to stash a few snacks, as Tim had assured him he'd come to appreciate the first time they were trapped at an endless speech day. Harry was buying Tim and his partner Niall drinks next Tuesday evening, and was oddly looking forward to it.
Among other things, it took his mind off the long list of mental apologies to Malfoy that he had composed over the course of the afternoon.
He had no idea how to go about making any one of them. 'So sorry, momentary panic when realised what I was reading as erotic was you being ironic' would never do. Similarly, 'Horrifying realisation that you're actually attractive' somehow lacked the tenor he was reaching for and 'Not quite sure whether I panicked at the fact you went the snog or the fact that you were joking' wasn't it at all.
He'd more or less settled on 'Sorry for being a humourless twat, but it's not every day I strike a small blow for human rights in front of the head of the Anglican Communion'. It didn't quite address all the issues, but had the advantage of ignoring several of the more confusing ones totally.
Emily was already gone when he made it back to their office, so Harry logged in to see if there were any emails that needed to be dealt with before he left.
He had been there for less than five minutes when Malfoy appeared in the doorway.
'Have you done with your huff Potter?' Malfoy asked, and waited a moment for a response. When none was forthcoming, he went on, 'Only it's been five hours and there's a lot of work to do. It's been a very good huff, I think you can call it successful – it skirted the borders of sulk without ever tipping into petulance, very fine work, almost Malfoyesque.'
Harry felt a smile flit across his face.
Malfoy took this for assent, and came into the room, lobbing his armful of papers onto Harry's desk. 'You really do have no sense of humour,' he announced. 'No wonder you never appreciated any of my brilliant jokes at school.'
'They were all designed to make me look like an idiot,' Harry pointed out.
Malfoy did not say a word, very pointedly.
Harry groaned. 'Why would I need to do that, Potter?' he asked in affected tones. 'When you are so brilliant at it yourself.'
'It's as though you read my mind!' Malfoy said gleefully.
'I thought you said we had work to do,' Harry reminded him.
'We do. I talked to our polling people, they've pulled up a list of subscribers to all the Muggle papers that photographs of you or I have appeared in. I thought we could cross-reference them with Muggle-born witches and wizards. It won't help if he's not a subscriber, but we could be in luck.'
'You have access to subscriber lists?'
'Throw enough money about and you can buy most things,' Malfoy said airily. 'Legally,' he added at Harry's sharp look.
Harry nodded, took his gun from its holster and transformed it back into a wand. 'So much easier to use this way.'
He rummaged through the notes in his drawer and pulled out a scroll that Kingsley had sent him several nights ago, listing all the Muggle-related witches and wizards the Ministry had records of. 'Right.' With a firm tap of the scroll, and of Malfoy's print-outs, and a command of 'Collatio!' Harry cross-referenced the two for commonalities.
Pieces of paper soared up from Harry's desk and an unseen nib scratched names across them.
'YES!' cheered Malfoy.
'Good thinking!' Harry agreed.
The scratching continued.
'Oh,' said Malfoy.
Some two-hundred-and-thirty-odd names later, the paper fluttered back down to Harry's desk.
'Bugger,' said Malfoy.
'It was still a good idea,' Harry said, consolingly.
'Fat lot of help, though,' Malfoy muttered.
'Malfoy,' Harry said in a low voice.
'Could you please change that back to a Union Jack?'
The familiar meshed crosses in the corners of Harry's and Emily's nameplates, and in the frosted glass on the door, had been replaced by the circled stars of the European Flag.
Malfoy grinned, and whispered a spell to reverse the change. 'It's the way of the future, you know. We'll join the Euro one day.'
'You scare me when you speak Muggle,' Harry confessed. 'I keep fearing that someone will decide you should run for a safe seat and then we'll all be doomed.'
'I would usher forth a new golden age of enlightenment and prosperity.'
'I would move to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,' Harry promised.
'You would not.'
'I've always fancied the idea of Skopje, lovely mountains, fresh air, bracing broomrides of an early morning.'
'Thank you so much. Anyway, should we have a read through this list to see if any names jump out?'
Harry picked up the papers and glanced down the first page. He shook his head. 'Too many people staying in touch with both worlds, I'm afraid. Looking at this, our most likely suspect is Hermione.'
'I knew it!' Malfoy crowed. 'Sooner or later the pressure of associating with you and Weasley was always going to cause that girl to snap.'
'She's in Canada, with Ron'
'I suppose her spells would have been more interesting, too.' Malfoy sank back in his chair. 'Well, that was it for my brilliant plans. What do you have to suggest?'
Harry shrugged his shoulders. 'Nothing. I think we're just waiting now until he or she strikes again.'
'Probably a he,' Malfoy muttered.
'Yes,' Harry agreed.
'Probably at the funeral,' Malfoy surmised.
'Yes,' Harry agreed.
'Probably time you admitted I'm smarter than you,' Malfoy chanced.
'Not quite as smart as you think you are, though,' Harry corrected.
Malfoy grinned. 'Worth a try. So …'
'Are you going up on the plane tomorrow afternoon?'
'Yes, Emily, Mike and I are all flying up with you lot.'
'Good. I'll see you then.' Malfoy stood up and went to the door.
He turned back. 'Yes?'
Malfoy smiled brightly. 'Of course you are.'
It was a sombre plane-load the following afternoon. Robin Cook had been well-liked by many, and admired by most. Harry spotted Malfoy at the front of the jet with the rest of the advisors, they exchanged quick nods.
There were buses to take them from Edinburgh Airport to the hotel. The Acting-PM would be arriving in the morning, but the Chancellor and several other ministers were already there. So it wasn't a surprise when the hotel's bar turned into a quasi-wake-cum-party meeting.
Mike warned Harry as he walked in. 'Angling for preselection over by the piano, discussing how to do-in Tony in the corner – not a competent one among them or I'd run them in, Brown and his mates on why Scottish Labour is the sole thing keeping the party alive, and over there, the secretaries Cook used to flirt with, weeping genuinely into their G&Ts.'
'So get in, grab a drink and get out, yes?' Harry asked with a smile.
'You may want to contemplate room service.'
Harry sidled through the packed room until he reached the bar. 'Triple Scotch on the rocks, please,' he asked.
'Any particular type, sir?' asked the barman.
Harry looked at the three shelves of whiskies behind the bar and realised that it wasn't a lightly asked question in these parts.
'He'll have that Ardbeg,' said a familiar voice and a hand pointed over Harry's shoulder. 'Really Potter, a triple? Turning to drink at last. It was always a matter of time.'
'Didn't think I'd make it back for a second,' Harry replied. 'Thought I should set myself up for the next while.'
'Well in that case … Excuse me? Yes, we'll just take the bottle. Can I get a bucket of ice and some glasses? The Burgundy Suite, thank you.'
'Of course you have a suite. And you're assuming I'd like to join you for a drink.'
'You'd have a suite, too, if you ever remembered to spend any of that money you have. And you do want to join me, I have cable and it's showing the polo; it's like Quidditch but with horses!'
Harry laughed and picked up the ice and glasses. Malfoy took the whisky and the two of them made their way through the crowd with a few hellos and good evenings along the way.
Malfoy was right, suites were better than rooms and polo was surprisingly like Quidditch; without the Seeker, of course, and with slightly less violence. 'It amazes me that people who have no access to even Skele-Gro think that's a sensible thing to do with their bodies,' Malfoy commented.
'They have plaster, and orthopaedic surgeons,' Harry reminded him. 'You know, I bet we could play this on brooms with some decent low-level flying.'
Malfoy looked at him in wonder. 'All these years I've been wrong, you are actually a genius!' he declared.
'It's true,' Harry agreed.
'Or, I could be drunk,' Malfoy countered.
'You've had half a small glass.'
'This Muggle stuff is lethal compared to firewhisky,' Malfoy pointed out.
'Yes, but even then, Scottish babies consume more than that in breast milk.'
Malfoy looked at him. 'That's a very disturbing comparison,' he said, after a moment.
Harry's phone rang, he punched the answer button.
'You're not in your room,' Mike barked tinnily.
'How do you know?'
'Because I'm outside it banging on your door. Are you with Malfoy?'
'Yes,' Harry looked up at his companion guiltily.
'That's good. Bring him with you, I'm pretty sure this is one of yours.'
'Trouble?' Malfoy asked.
'I think so,' Harry replied. 'Mike says we'll need you.'
'You've got me.'
Mike met them in the lobby by the lifts. 'I am hoping that this is one of yours, because if it's not, the local plods will have to handle it, and I can't see it ending prettily.'
'What is it?' Harry asked.
'See for yourself,' Mike replied, holding the front door open.
A unicorn trotted past, silver-white with a gleaming horn. It was fully grown in height, but fine in body and with a trace of a colt's colouring. Ahead of it, a small scrum of photographers ran backwards, snapping away merrily. The unicorn's golden hooves rang out on the cobbles, as it moved nimbly without a single slip.
'Yep,' Harry sighed. 'That's ours.'
'Or a lovely tribute to Robin's passion for racing!' Malfoy added in a loud voice. 'That's excellent work on the special effects, I wonder who it's escaped from?'
Once the surrounding witnesses were nodding loudly and muttering about ways to catch the 'sweet horsie', Malfoy turned to Harry and hissed, 'Well, come on then.' And set off after it.
Harry jogged along beside Malfoy, flipping his watch over to the Floo side as he ran. 'Kingsley?' he called. A muttered reply sounded at his wrist. Harry raised the watch to his mouth and whispered pantingly. 'We're in Edinburgh, there's a unicorn. Can you send Obliviators? And someone who's trained in Magical Creatures? And maybe some virgins?'
'Save planning your evening until after we've caught this bugger,' Malfoy grumbled.
'Oh hush, I could have suggested we were already sorted in that department.'
Ahead of them, the unicorn had decided to put on a turn of speed, and had barged her way past the photographers. 'This is where we need brooms!' Malfoy complained.
'Hold on.' Harry grabbed Malfoy's arm and Apparated them to the end of the street. The unicorn was only ten yards from them, looking both ways at the cross street as though trying to make up her mind. After a second, she turned in favour of the Princes Street Gardens.
'Go on,' Malfoy said, resignedly.
Harry Apparated them into the gardens, where dusk had given everything an edge of mystery, all immensely enhanced by the serene pale creature that trotted onto the lawns before selecting a willow to stand under.
'How long do you think before the Ministry back-up arrives?' Malfoy whispered.
'Shouldn't be long, they have a tracking spell on us.'
'Should we wait back here and keep an eye on it? Or go in and try to – do you apprehend a unicorn?'
Harry looked about. There were people in the distance, and still some walking about the streets they had run up. 'Probably best if we can contain it,' he decided.
'Don't do anything stupid,' Malfoy warned. 'For once.'
'Shhh.' Harry put a hand in front of himself and began to walk towards the unicorn. 'Hush now, lovely, who's brought you here? This is a long way from your home, and nowhere near as pleasant.'
'It's a unicorn, Potter. Not a cat!' Malfoy muttered behind him.
Harry ignored him. 'Dear girl, look at you, all frightened under the tree. Are you going to let me come close to you? See this gun? It's really a wand. Look, there's some rope we've made. Can I put it around your neck?'
'Potter, that's close enough.'
Harry paid no attention. He was underneath the edge of the willow now, and close enough to see the panting flanks of the beast before him, and the huge, knowing eye that was turned towards him.
'I don't want to capture you,' he said. 'Just make sure you get home safely. This is definitely not a safe place for you.'
The unicorn, it seemed, had come to the same conclusion. Without a moment's warning it spun about and sent a hoof crashing towards Harry's chest. Fast reflexes saw him turn and take the blow on the side, but it was enough to send him flying. In a daze of pain he looked up and saw the unicorn charging towards him, horn lowered …
And then it was over there, and he was being held by two strong arms, and lowered gently to the ground while a set of questing fingers ran down his arm, ribs and shoulder, finding pain after pain.
'You're an idiot, Potter' murmured a shaking voice in his ear. 'I should have let that poor thing run you through, and would you stay still? You could be badly hurt!'
'I'm all right …'
'You bloody well are not. That collarbone is broken for a start, and I think a few ribs have gone. Lucky you have no brains to knock out.' Malfoy finished searching and tucked Harry's right arm across his body. 'Hold on, I'll prop that in place.' He took off his jacket, folded it, and placed it under Harry's elbow. Then he removed his tie, hitched the centre around Harry's wrist and tied it around his opposing shoulder. 'That should make it more comfortable.'
Harry looked up, Malfoy's face was pinched and red. 'Thank you,' Harry said.
Malfoy shook his head. Then he bent down and swiftly kissed Harry's forehead. 'Don't ever do anything that stupid again!' he hissed, and had stood up before Harry could even react.
'Ministry's here, I'll see if they have a Healer.'
Harry watched Malfoy walked away, and decided that he must have suffered a head injury after all.
The Magical Creature experts made short work of capturing the unicorn, and the Obliviators followed its path back to the hotel, tweaking memories where they needed to. Malfoy found a Healer, and Harry had his collarbone and four ribs quickly reknitted.
Kingsley did not look pleased. 'Someone must be close at hand for each of these attacks, yet not only are the two of you missing them, so are my teams. It's becoming embarrassing. By the way, Malfoy, good work saving Harry.'
'Someone had to, and I could only imagine the media response if I stood by while he was gored.'
'It wasn't going to gore me,' Harry protested.
'No, it was galloping towards you with its head lowered to say "Look! My horn is so shiny! Would you like to touch it?"'
Harry and Kingsley both looked at Malfoy with their eyes wide.
Malfoy thought a moment, and when his brain reached the place that theirs had, shook his head. 'That's just wrong.'
'You two should go back before you're missed,' Kingsley said quickly. 'We'll clear up here.'
'Let us know if you find anything,' Harry said.
'And you let me know if you do,' Kingsley replied.
They kept quiet until they turned onto the Royal Mile. Harry glanced at his companion as they walked back to the hotel. Malfoy's eyes were set determinedly on the road ahead.
'Thank you,' Harry ventured.
'I can't believe that even you would be that stupid,' Malfoy muttered
'It seemed quite tame,' Harry said in his own defence.
'Unicorns dislike boys, Potter, and adults. Guess what you are?'
'An idiot,' Harry sighed.
Malfoy smiled briefly. 'Yes. That's right.'
'Was I hallucinating, or did you kiss me back there?'
There was the slightest falter in Malfoy's stride, but his voice was crisp and even. 'It was the rush of adrenaline, and the subsequent relief that I wouldn't be in for a mile of paperwork cataloguing your demise.'
'Oh,' Harry nodded. He waited until they were almost at the hotel before he added, 'It was nice.'
Malfoy rewarded him with a stumble this time.
Mike was there. 'Your lads have swept through, everyone's talking about what a lovely tribute that was. Good work. Did you catch him this time?'
Harry shook his head. 'We were too distracted by the unicorn. Those things can be dangerous, you know.'
'I can imagine.' Mike looked up and down the street, what crowds there had been were dispersing, and the long twilight was starting to hint at darkness. 'Though I have to say, it was quite beautiful when it was here, just trotting along the street, following the photographers.'
Malfoy looked up sharply. 'It was following the photographers!'
'Well, they were scurrying backwards ahead of it to take shots,' Mike qualified.
'No,' Malfoy insisted. 'When we came out, it wasn't moving tentatively at all, it was moving in a straight line towards the photographers! It was only after we started chasing it that it had to think about where it would go and ran for the park!'
Harry replayed the scene in his memory. 'I think you're right.'
'Which means …'
'I can't believe that one of your press gallery is a wizard and you haven't noticed!' Harry spluttered.
'I can't believe one of them's a virgin,' Malfoy replied. 'Where did they go?' he asked Mike.
'All in the bar, I think. Do you want a hand?'
'Shoot anyone who runs from us!' Malfoy declared.
'Or just grab their arms and don't let them pull anything from their pockets,' Harry suggested.
The three of them strode back inside the hotel and to the crowded bar. The media contingent stood out, with cameras and voice recorders dangling from their shoulders. Harry peered at their faces, and was shocked to recognise one of them.
He nodded to Malfoy, then began to edge around the crowd, so he could approach his suspect from behind. It was surprisingly easy. A few moments later, he reached out a hand and plucked a wand from a pocket, then poked it into its owner's back and whispered, 'Dennis Creevey, I am going to have to ask you to come with me to answer a few questions.'
Harry really wasn't expecting Dennis to drive a pointy Creevey elbow back into his newly repaired midriff and then take off like a hare towards the doorway.
Malfoy tripped him as he ran past, and Mike caught him, nimbly spinning him about and handcuffing his hands behind his back.
Mike looked up at the suddenly silent bar, and the photographers all raising their cameras. He raised a warning finger. 'National security! No photos!'
The photographers put their cameras to their faces and prepared to push a volley of buttons.
'Oh for Merlin's sake!' Malfoy cast a general Obliviate around the room. 'Little blondie is drunk and Mike is taking him back to his room before he vomits on anyone.'
The cameras went down, and a chorus of 'Night, Dennis' and 'Don't let the big man stay with you unless he buys you dinner!' followed them out. Harry brought up the rear, still half-bent over.
'Nice work,' Harry complimented.
'I cannot believe the safety of our nation is reliant on people like the two of you,' Malfoy muttered, pressing the lift button. 'We'll take him to my suite, it's the quietest place till Kingsley gets here.'
'Kingsley!' Dennis protested. 'You can't hand me over to the Ministry! I demand to be dealt with in a Muggle court of law!'
Mike bundled him into the lift and pressed the button for the tenth floor. 'What's a Muggle?' he asked, after the doors had closed.
'Wizarding slang for non-magical,' Malfoy replied crisply.
'And if you wanted a Muggle court, you should have committed Muggle crimes,' Harry chimed in.
Dennis slumped back into silence.
Mike paused at the door to Malfoy's suite. 'Do I want to know what he's going to say?' he asked Harry.
'Probably not,' Harry replied truthfully.
'All right then, I'll hand custody over to you. He will be treated fairly, won't he?'
Harry smiled. 'I can guarantee that these days. In fact, he'll probably be treated with great leniency, his brother was killed at the Battle of Hogwarts in '98.'
'I definitely don't want to know what that means, do I?'
Harry shook his head. 'See you tomorrow, Mike.'
'Nice and early, we need to do a run-through before the funeral.'
Malfoy opened his door and Harry bundled Dennis inside and over to the sofa, where he sat him down.
'Can you take these handcuffs off?' Dennis asked politely.
Harry shook his head regretfully. 'Not till Kingsley gets here. I'd rather not run the risk.'
'Oh, as though I could overcome the two of you.'
'Given the fact you've been out-manoeuvring us for the last fortnight, I'm not leaving anything to chance,' Harry sighed. 'But if you need anything to eat or drink, we can get that for you. Hang on.' He pulled out his phone and called Kingsley, and when that resulted in a long ring followed by a busy signal, he flipped over his watch and Flooed him.
'Does Kingsley have one of those, too?' Malfoy asked.
'Can I get one? I like the cheery little glow!'
'Harry? Is that you?' boomed Shacklebolt's voice.
'It is, sir. We've apprehended the culprit, it's Dennis Creevey. We're up in Malfoy's rooms.'
'I'll be there in a few minutes.'
'Right.' Harry flipped his watch shut. 'He'll be here in a few minutes,' he announced.
'We heard,' Malfoy replied with the smallest amount of eye-rolling he could manage.
Harry pushed back his hair. 'I still can't believe you failed to recognise Dennis! You hang out with the media set all the time!'
'Yes, but I don't pay any attention to them,' Malfoy protested.
'We know that,' Dennis piped up. 'Everyone says you're nearly as obnoxious as the PM.'
'Oh shut up, at least I read your papers and watch your silly broadcasts.'
'He was at school with us for years,' Harry pointed out.
'Was he in our year? Or Slytherin? I had a lot on my mind in those days.'
'Committing acts of evil and getting away with them,' Dennis muttered bitterly.
'Seriously, shut up. I have been Mr Atonement for years now.'
'Both of you stop sniping,' Harry brokered. 'I still can't believe it's you behind all this mess, Dennis.'
Dennis Creevey looked up tiredly. 'Me? Of course it's me.'
Harry shook his head. 'But why?'
'Why do you think? If anyone knows about the bastardry of this Ministry it's you. None of us were warned, none of us were told what we needed to know, just banned from seeking help from those we could trust, those who could have done something about it. Statute of Secrecy my arse, it was all about holding onto the reins of power.'
'But that's not …'
'It's not? Really. Because I thought you had the same experience I did, where you were sent this gilt-edged invitation to your dreams with no mention of the attendant nightmares. No hint of "In addition to your books, you might take a moment on Diagon Alley to find a friendly shopkeeper who's willing to discuss with you the minor war ripping apart our community." Not even in fourth year. They let us get on the train, Harry. Do you know what happened to us once we made it to school? You're Muggleborn. Guess.'
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Malfoy grabbed his arm and dragged him into the other room.
'Whatever you're about to say,' he said, 'stop. You'll be lying. You're not a natural liar and it doesn't suit you to try.'
'It wasn't like that!' Harry protested.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. 'So you feel that at all times the Ministry kept you appraised as to your rights as a member of the wizarding community and protected and defended those rights to the best of their ability?'
'It does now!'
'He's not talking about now. He's talking about seven years ago. He may not even have noticed that now has happened. Not everyone has moved on, Potter.'
Harry continued. 'I used to hate you, and then I felt sorry for you, and now I have spent the week trying to find excuses to be in your company.'
Malfoy blinked again. When he spoke, his voice was soft. 'I think the war broke Creevey. I know just how he feels. Except when everything was over, my family was miraculously alive. And then you spoke out for us and made sure we were treated fairly. So I decided that I'd start speaking for fairness, and justice, and all those other Pottery concepts you were always banging on about. But if my mother or my father had died, I think I'd be just like Creevey is now.'
'Pottery concepts?' Harry asked with a smile.
'Shut up.' Malfoy smiled back at him.
They smiled at each other. Then they heard the outside door open.
Creevey hadn't made it far down the corridor, the handcuffs made it hard to run effectively, let alone call for lifts or open fire escapes. Kingsley appeared with three Aurors while they were escorting him back to the suite.
Explanations were quick. Harry handed over his key and Kingsley removed the handcuffs.
'I will have to take you in, Dennis,' Kingsley told him gently.
'The Ministry always silences its critics!' Dennis spluttered.
'I think we might take you to St Mungo's first. Would you like your parents to meet you there?'
Dennis looked up at Kingsley's gentle expression and the tension left his body. 'That would be nice,' he said. "Will you make sure they get home safely?'
'I will. And I'll make sure you get home safely, too, once you're feeling better.' He turned back to Harry and Malfoy. 'Good work. I take it both of you will be happy to return to your original assignments.'
'Absolutely!' Malfoy declared.
'For as long as you need me here,' Harry replied.
'Good. Will you both be around this evening if there's anything further?'
'We'll be here,' Harry told him.
'Excellent. Come in and give me your full reports on the weekend.'
Kingsley and the Aurors left with Dennis, and Harry flopped down on the sofa. Malfoy poured them each a glass of whiskey, and ferreted out what remained of the ice.
'Here you are,' he said.
Harry accepted the glass, and raised it in a silent toast.
Malfoy sat down beside him and returned the gesture. They each took a long sip. Then Harry put his glass down on the table in front of them, took Malfoy's and did the same. Then he brushed Malfoy's fringe back from his face, tilted his jaw, and very gently kissed his bottom lip.
'Oh,' said Malfoy.
Harry leaned forward again and tested out Malfoy's top lip, which curved into a smile beneath him.
'When did you decide this would be a good idea?' Malfoy asked happily.
Harry grinned. 'I have to confess, I thought you looked very fine the first day I saw you at Westminster.'
'And yet you didn't say a word.'
'I hadn't any idea you'd be pleased at the prospect.'
'What more were you waiting for? I felt you up in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury.'
'I thought you were being ironic.'
'Potter, when have I ever been ironic about you? Sarcastic, certainly, but you can tell that by the rhymes and sing-song tone of voice.'
'Yes, well, there'll be none of that,' Harry said, sliding his hand from Malfoy's jaw to his collarbone.
Malfoy grinned with pure wickedness in his eyes.
'I've just noticed that Kingsley left Mike's handcuffs on the table.'
'I don't think I'm drunk enough for handcuffs, Malfoy.'
Malfoy leaned forward and nibbled the line from Harry's jaw to his earlobe. 'Can we revisit the option later in the evening?'
'If you're very good,' Harry replied, shifting on the sofa so that Malfoy's knee could fit between his thighs.
'Oh, I will be,' Malfoy promised. 'I will be.'