Word Count: 29,000
Summary: Five years after the war, an assassin is after Draco Malfoy, and it's up to Harry Potter to protect him.
DISCLAIMER: All characters, situations, etc. belong to J.K. Rowling. Some spells in this fic come from the movies, not the books, but all come from the Lexicon.
Author's Notes: Written for emeraldpen, whose full request can be found here. Thanks to the marvelous actriz_k for the beta.
On the morning of October twenty-fifth, Harry opened the Daily Prophet and read,
LUCIUS MALFOY FOUND DEAD IN PRISON CELL
OFF THE COAST OF SCOTLAND—Lucius Malfoy, 49, was found dead in his Azkaban cell late last night, according to a Ministry spokesperson.
A guard making the rounds shortly after eleven p.m. noticed Malfoy slumped over in the chair in his cell, in what the guard described as "a funny position." The guard called out to Malfoy, but there was no reply. He called for back up and, under the supervision of Azkaban warden Plumbly Fitzwilliam, opened the cell.
The guards reported that Malfoy was non-responsive and did not have a pulse. Prison physician Agnes Oswald pronounced him dead at 12:03 this morning. Apparently he died of natural causes; Oswald cited no signs of foul play.
Malfoy was serving a sentence of life-imprisonment for his actions as a Death Eater and public enemy before and during the Second War . . .
He wasn't sorry that Lucius Malfoy was dead, not after everything he'd done, but God, Malfoy . . . He thought to hide the paper, but before he did, Malfoy appeared in the doorway, clutching a letter that bore the Ministry seal. He looked horrible. His eyes were rimmed in red, and his hair was mussed, as if he hadn't bothered to fix it since he'd awoken. He was still in his pajamas. He padded into the room and put some toast on his plate. He showed no signs of actually wanting to eat it.
"I'm sorry about your father," Harry said.
"You hated my father," Malfoy said flatly.
Harry couldn't very well lie about that. "I did," he said. "And I don't see how you possibly couldn't, too, seeing as he tried to kill you—"
"I don't expect you to, Potter."
"—but what I was going to say is, I'm sorry you lost your father, anyway."
Malfoy didn't reply.
"If there's anything I can—"
"I don't want to talk about it, Potter," Malfoy said. He put the toast in his napkin and stalked out of the room.
Harry tried to eat breakfast but found that he wasn't hungry. Malfoy had gone into his bedroom and locked the door, he discovered. Harry gave him some time, figuring that that was what he wanted, but when lunch came and went without a sign of him, Harry went and knocked on the door.
"What do you want, Potter?"
Harry pressed his ear against the door. "To make sure you're all right. Can I come in?"
Malfoy didn't reply, but a few seconds later he unlocked the door and threw it open. "Do I look all right?"
He had showered and dressed, and his eyes weren't red anymore. "Yeah, but—"
"See, this is why I didn't want to be around you earlier. You feel bad that my father is dead, so you're going to try to comfort me, maybe hold my hand a little—"
"All I wanted to do was make sure that you're okay," Harry said. "That's all."
"I'm okay," Malfoy said bluntly. "So why aren't you leaving?"
Harry made an exasperated noise. "Malfoy, look—"
"Are you going to try to comfort me, Potter? Kiss it, make it better?"
"Malfoy . . . "
"I don't want comforting, Potter."
"Fine!" Harry snapped. "Fine. You don't want comforting. I get it." And then, because clearly he no longer possessed a brain, he said, "What do you want?"
At first Malfoy looked as if he badly wanted to tell Harry to fuck off, but then his expression shifted. "Come here, Potter."
Harry should have known to be wary, and yet he stepped forward. Malfoy pulled him into the bedroom and closed the door.
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Harry repeated, though the gist of it was obvious: Malfoy was pulling him towards the bed, unbuttoning Harry's shirt.
"I want," Malfoy said, "to fuck you through the mattress."
Harry swallowed thickly. He meant to offer up some sort of protest, to mention that when he'd fantasized about this sort of thing, Malfoy was always the one on the bottom. But Malfoy's father was dead, and this was something Harry could do for him; and Malfoy was stripping them of their clothes and pressing Harry down into the bed and now didn't seem like a very good time to stop and remind Malfoy that they'd never actually fucked, per se, and judging from the expression on Malfoy's face Harry doubted that he would stop no matter what Harry said.
Usually when they had sex Malfoy just did what he wanted and saved the talking for later, but right now he seemed to be in an ordering kind of mood. "Spread your legs," he said, Summoning some lube from the bed stand. He slicked his fingers and pressed one of them into Harry's arse. It felt strange and a little uncomfortable but not entirely bad, but then Malfoy inserted a second finger.
"Fuck," Harry said, "fuck, ow, that burns."
Malfoy ignored him and scissored his fingers. After a moment it hurt a little less, and Malfoy inserted a third finger. Harry leaned his head back against the mattress, more comfortable now that the burning sensation had passed—
And without warning Malfoy pulled his fingers out, flipped Harry onto his stomach, and pressed his cock against Harry's arse. One of his hands was on the bed by Harry's side; the other was positioning his cock so that the head was pushing into Harry's arse. He hit a ring of muscle that Harry couldn't seem to unclench, because there was just no way Malfoy's cock could fit in there.
"Um, Malfoy . . . "
"Stop being such a pussy, Potter," Malfoy said, and thrust deep into him.
"Fuck," Harry bit out. Malfoy was pushing further into him, how was that even possible? He was going to feel Malfoy's cock in his stomach in a minute, it was so long. Logically he realized that Malfoy's cock wasn't, actually, that long; he'd become rather familiar with it lately, as a matter of fact, but good God, how was there still more of it to be pushing into him?
But finally Harry felt Malfoy's balls against his arse and the hand that had been guiding his cock gripped Harry's shoulder. Harry finally remembered to breathe. After a few moments of lying there with Malfoy on his back and not moving, though, he said, "Can't say I've ever been fucked up the arse before, but generally I though movement was part of sex."
Malfoy smirked against his neck. "I'm just enjoying the fact that I've got Harry Potter taking it up the arse."
"Get over yourself, Malfoy, I'm—" But before he had a chance to finish his thought, Malfoy pulled out a bit and thrust back in, his balls slapping against Harry's buttocks.
"God," Harry said. Malfoy rolled his hips and the tip of his cock hit something that made Harry's brain explode. Malfoy snaked a hand between Harry and the mattress to grab Harry's cock. He had barely touched it before his cock hit that place inside Harry again, and Harry was coming harder than he'd ever come in his life.
Distantly he registered that Malfoy was coming too, coming deep in his arse, and that should have seemed disgusting but wasn't, since Harry wasn't entirely capable of thought; he'd just had an orgasm whose aftershocks could probably be felt in London or maybe Africa.
Malfoy continued to lie on top of him for a moment, but then pulled out and slid to Harry's side, panting a little. His eyes were closed.
Harry rolled over to face him. "You feeling any better?"
Malfoy opened an eye and glared at him. "If you ever ask me that again, I'm going to fuck you so hard you can't walk for a week."
Harry suspected that he'd already done that, but still, he half hoped that Malfoy meant it less as a threat and more as a promise.
A couple of days before November first Harry began to feel nervous. Moody had said from the start that the people who were planning this attack would likely have Malfoy's house under surveillance, but only now did Harry feel, when he looked out the windows, that he was being watched. Ron ran some diagnostic spells on the area around Malfoy's house to see if he could detect the watcher, but he came up blank. Either Harry was imagining things or these people had found some way to hide themselves from Ron's spells. He wasn't sure which of the options was better, but no one had ever managed to shield themselves from Ron's detection spells before.
The feeling that he was being watched did not diminish, but nothing more ominous happened before the first. As darkness fell on the night of October thirty-first, though, Harry's nervousness grew. Malfoy too was jittery, in contrast to his utter calm the first time they'd been through this ordeal. Harry hadn't mentioned the sensation that he was being watched to Malfoy, but he couldn't help wondering if Malfoy had felt it nonetheless, if Malfoy felt as he did, that October first had been a trial run, that this was the real thing.
The Committee was as prepared as it could possibly be, and there were a dozen Aurors who could Apparate in at a moment's notice. There was nothing to do now but wait.
The windows of the drawing room afforded a good view of the front of the estate. They would wait there. Harry tried to read Quidditch through the Ages, thinking to calm himself with the familiarity of the words, but he couldn't concentrate. He went to the windows. In the twilight he could see the shapes of the trees that lined the drive but little more. The trees had fully shed their leaves now, and the grass had browned, though the first frost had yet to come. He didn't feel, as he had for the past few days, that he was being watched, but that did nothing to diminish his anxiety. If the people who had been watching Malfoy's house weren't watching it anymore, Harry wondered what they were doing instead. Nothing good, he was sure.
By ten o'clock Harry was sweating through his shirt. He didn't remember having been this nervous ever before, not about killing Voldemort, not about anything. He hadn't had to think about killing Voldemort at all. When the time had come for Harry to kill him, he had done it; he had not allowed himself to be distracted. He was good at focusing on what needed to be done, at forgetting all but the essential thing, at being single-minded, but that was when he was in motion. He'd tried to learn patience, but he didn't like waiting; he didn't like inaction.
He found himself checking the time constantly. He couldn't stand it; time wasn't moving at all. He took his watch off and stuffed it in a drawer. Less than a minute later he pulled it out and replaced it on his wrist.
"Potter," Malfoy said, "stop it. You are making me insane."
"Sorry," Harry said. He sat back down on one of the couches and tried to be still. He needed something to think about. He tried to recall the Cannons' past season, what teams they'd played against and when, the final scores, the highlights. He forced himself to concentrate. That was what he needed, something to concentrate on other than how slowly his watch was ticking . . .
Finally it was 11:45, almost midnight, almost November first. He had the horrifying thought that the attack might not come until tomorrow night, when it was almost November second, a whole day away—no. There was no way his nerves were going to make it until then, no way.
"Potter," Malfoy said. "In case—if something happens, I just wanted to say I don't . . . actually hate you."
Harry almost laughed, he was so nervous, but Malfoy's expression was sincere. "I don't hate you, either, Malfoy."
"I mean, I did hate you, for a long time," Malfoy added rapidly. "And I was pissed when you moved in here. I kept hoping that you'd just leave if I was dull enough."
"Wait a minute. You mean you aren't actually that boring?"
Malfoy laughed, and Harry felt some of the tension in the room lift. "Great Salazar, no. I'm worth thirty million Galleons, Potter. I haven't got an heir, and not much chance of producing one lately, either—"
"I'm not likely to give you one," Harry agreed.
Malfoy waved him off. "I was referring to the fact that my fiancée broke off our engagement four years ago, but yes, that too."
"Pansy Parkinson was your fiancée," Harry said, remembering. "But her family fled the country at the end of sixth year—good God, you weren't already engaged then?"
"Potter, we're aristocrats. Of course we were. We'd been engaged since birth. Close your mouth, it's not like there's anything odd about it."
"Not anything odd about it—Malfoy, there are more odd things about that than I can even begin to—"
But then the clock on the mantelpiece tolled once, twice, again: it was midnight. All the tension that had left the room returned immediately, and Harry fell silent. As the clock struck twelve Malfoy stepped forward and kissed him on the mouth. "For luck," he said.
Harry nodded tersely, unable to reply, and felt for his wand in his pocket. He drew it out and replaced it, drew it out again. They settled down to wait.
Harry's nervousness did not diminish but after a while his concentration did. It was hard to stay focused for too very long when they was nothing tangible to focus on. But sometime after three Harry found himself suddenly on alert, though there didn't seem to have been anything to trigger it.
Malfoy, who had slouched on the sofa, sat up. "What is it?" he said.
"I don't know." Harry went to the window. There was no one to be seen in the darkness outside, no hint that anyone was watching him, and yet the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. "I don't know," he repeated, 'but something's going to happen."
"Soon." Malfoy said. It was not a question. He stood up and drew his wand.
Harry did the same.
After Malfoy had tied him into the wards, Harry had insisted that he explain the way the wards worked, what would happen if someone tried to breach the wards. Malfoy told him that an alarm would sound in his head, but that different people didn't hear the same sounds. Malfoy heard a low whistle when an owl crossed the wards to deliver the paper, for instance, but Harry heard a high-pitched chime. Malfoy spent part of a morning tricking the wards to believe that someone was crossing the wards with Malfoy's permission, then trying to cross without permission, then trying to breach the wards, so that Harry could become familiar with the sounds of the warnings.
For Harry, the sound of someone trying to breach the wards was an ear-splitting screech. The sound of someone trying to cross the wards without permission, but not attempt to disable them, was a Muggle fire siren. But neither of those was the sound Harry heard sometime after three in the morning on November first. What Harry heard that was a low-pitched chime: someone crossing the wards with permission.
Malfoy was on his feet immediately. "No one could be crossing the wards," he said before Harry could ask. "I closed them off to everyone but you and me. You know that. You watched me do it."
Harry nodded. His senses were on high alert. He Summoned a pair of Omnioculars and looked out at the grounds. There was no sign of anyone out there, but then again they might have entered from the rear.
"Could you tell how many of them there were?" he asked. "From the sound?"
Malfoy frowned. "Two, I think. Maybe three. The alarm isn't as specific as I'd like."
No kidding, Harry thought. "But they haven't entered the house yet? They're still on the grounds?"
"No, we would have heard another alarm," Malfoy said.
As if on cue, a second chime sounded in Harry's head. Malfoy's eyes went big. "That would be them entering the house, I assume."
"Great," Harry said. That was his cue to call for backup. He felt in his pocket for the single Galleon it contained, felt for the center of it that, when depressed, would alert the Committee and the Aurors that the attack was happening. He touched his finger to the slightly raised center of it, and hesitated.
He gestured to Malfoy. Malfoy came forward and Harry leaned in to whisper against his ear. "Do you know where they came in?"
Malfoy turned and said into Harry's ear, "The back. Near the ballroom."
Almost the opposite corner of the house from where they were. The Committee and the Aurors would be using the charmed Galleon as a tracking device, and would be Apparating directly to where Harry was. The intruders were far enough away that the backup would be able to Apparate in without them noticing. And yet, the fact that the intruders had managed to get through the wards without a bit of trouble was bothering him. There was no way they could be anyone but the attackers, he knew that. But he wanted to see them. He wanted to know who he was dealing with before he called for backup.
During the war Harry, Ron and Hermione had spent a great deal of time concealing themselves from the Death Eaters. Sometimes they had had the protection of the Order, but not always: there simply weren't enough Order members to do everything that needed doing, and the Order's resources were stretched too thin. Probably they could have gotten full time protection, had the Order known what they were doing, but Harry had deemed it best to inform as few people as possible. As head of the Order, Moody had known, but he was the only one besides Ron and Hermione. It was safer for everyone that way, Harry had thought.
The downside of this was that their protection was not a priority for the Order, and so the three of them never knew when the Order would be around and when it would be called away elsewhere. They'd had to learn to protect themselves, and they had. Now, knowing that there were intruders in the house, Harry's survival instincts kicked in. Now that there was something to do, that he wasn't waiting any longer, he could concentrate on the essential thing, and did: the drawing room was good for watching the grounds, but it was located at the end of a hallway. It didn't give them many options. "We need to get out of this room," Harry whispered into Malfoy's ear.
Malfoy nodded and moved towards the door. Harry remembered himself and stepped in front of him. Me first, he mouthed. He was meant to be Malfoy's bodyguard; if anything happened to Malfoy, it was his fault. Malfoy looked at him for a moment but let him pass.
Slowly Harry eased the door open. It was silent in the hallway. The house elves had, per Malfoy's instruction, made themselves scarce for the duration of the night and day, so that they would cause no surprises if the attack came. Harry crept along the wall, grateful for Malfoy's foresight, and grateful too that Malfoy lived in a house whose floorboards did not squeak.
There was nothing to be seen or heard along that hallway. The intruders couldn't have made it through Malfoy's house that quickly, though: even moving briskly, it took three or four minutes to get from the ballroom to the drawing room, and if they'd been moving briskly surely Harry would have heard them. Once he and Malfoy approached the foyer, though, Harry's sense of awareness heightened. The intruders were near.
Halfway across the foyer was the main staircase leading up to the bedrooms. Harry hesitated as they moved towards it, thinking strategically. From the rear of the house there were two different routes the intruders could have taken to get to the foyer, one through the hallway that led past the kitchen, and the other through the shorter, more direct route that led through the center of the house. Both hallways came out on the far side of the staircase. The stairs would provide a decent amount of cover for them, as long as—he heard a sound—the intruders weren't—
—upstairs. Harry threw himself to the ground, rolled and came up on his feet. He couldn't see who'd thrown the curse, but it had come from the balcony. "Reducto!" he yelled, and the railing exploded.
There: one of them, tall, wearing a Death Eater's black hood; and there: the second one, also hooded, but shorter.
"Everte Statum!" Harry yelled, and, "Stupefy!"
The Death Eaters dodged both of them neatly. The taller one threw a Blasting Curse. Harry cast a second Stunning Spell and missed again, just barely.
"Tarantallegra!" someone yelled from behind Harry, and only then did he remember that it was Malfoy. He was meant to be protecting him. He still hadn't called for backup. He thrust his hand into his pocket and felt for the coin, found it, depressed the center. He whispered the word to drop the wards so that the backup could get through, and then he was dodging curses, throwing up ones of his own. Behind him Malfoy was doing the same. Harry was acting swiftly and without thinking about what he was doing—this was what he was best at, not thinking but doing—and so the thinking part of him was free to feel pride in Malfoy, in the fact that he was fighting and not hiding, even though his life was at stake.
The thinking part of him was also free to wonder why the Death Eaters had yet to actually try to kill Malfoy . . . But then another of his curses destroyed more of the railing to the left of the stairs and the taller Death Eater fell through the gap. The smaller Death Eater screamed, "Arresto Momentum!" and the taller one landed on his feet, recovering quickly enough to throw a Cutting Curse at Harry. He twisted out of the way but slipped on some of the rubble from the railing and the curse caught him on the side. He cried out and threw curses at the Death Eaters; he didn't even know what spells he was casting, only that he wanted to cause them pain. In the part of his mind that was removed from all this he was aware that he needed to capture these Death Eaters alive, to learn if they were working alone or under contract, to find out why they'd come after Malfoy, to try them for this and other crimes . . . He knew this and yet could not stop himself. One of his curses struck the smaller Death Eater, who screamed, and Harry raised his wand to cast another curse, the final blow—
But then from behind him he heard people casting Binding Spells and Containment Charms, saw the spells flashing through the air, and knew that the backup had arrived. It was the Aurors, he saw immediately. It didn't occur to him to wonder where the Committee was; the Aurors were here and they were rushing forward. There were too many of them for the Death Eaters to fight. The situation was under control.
Harry turned to look for Malfoy. It wasn't hard to find him. He was standing in the corner opposite the steps and staring, paralyzed, down the hallway to the left of the stairs, where someone Harry had never expected to see again was standing.
"Father?" Malfoy said, eyes wide.
Lucius Malfoy raised his wand and yelled, "Avada—"
Harry's wand was up. He opened his mouth but he was too slow, too far away, he had no way of stopping Malfoy—
And out of nowhere someone yelled, "STUPEFY!" and Lucius Malfoy crumpled to the ground. Emerging from the hallway behind him was Ron, followed by the rest of the Committee.
"Sorry we're late," Ron said.
Harry resisted the urge to laugh hysterically and grinned at him for a moment, and then went over to Malfoy, who was shaken but not visibly injured.
"You're hurt," Malfoy said.
"No, Potter, you're hurt. Your side . . . " He pointed.
Harry looked down and saw that his entire left side was soaked in blood. "I'm fine," he repeated, and then the world went black.
Harry awoke at St. Mungo's some time later. Malfoy was at his bedside.
"Hey," Malfoy said.
Harry sat up a bit and tried to reply but his throat was parched. Malfoy handed him a glass of water. He took a sip and tried again. "Hey. What happened?"
"You caught a Cutting Curse," Malfoy said. "You lost a bit of blood."
"Ah," Harry said. "You're okay, though?"
"Yeah," Malfoy said. He looked as if he were going to say something more, but just then Ron rushed into the room.
"Harry! You're awake!"
Harry sat up all the way, wincing at the twinge in his side. "Yeah, still hurts a little, though."
"Seeing as you lost more than half of your blood, I'd be surprised if it didn't," Ron said.
Harry looked at Malfoy. "A bit of blood?" he said.
Malfoy shrugged gracefully, his expression unreadable.
"Would you mind giving us a minute?" Ron said to Malfoy.
Harry was about to say that he could stay, that whatever Ron wanted to say could be said in front of Malfoy, but before he could do it Malfoy said, "Of course," and left the room.
"I'm glad you're awake," Ron said, clicking the door shut behind Malfoy. "You've been out for the better part of two days."
Harry sat up straighter. "I have?"
"The Healers said you were just exhausted," Ron assured him. "You're going to be fine. It was just that you were up the whole night before the attack, and then losing all that blood."
Harry nodded. "So what time is it? What day is it?"
"Two in the morning on November third."
"No kidding. Next time wait till a decent hour to wake up, why don't you?" Ron said. He grinned. "Don't worry about it, mate. I'm just glad you're all right."
"Me too," Harry said.
"Malfoy's glad, too," Ron said, a little too casually.
Harry froze. "Why do you say that?"
"He was by your bed almost the entire time you've been here."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Look, I know about you and . . . " he trailed off, making a gesture that somehow described exactly what Harry and Malfoy were.
"Ah," Harry said, flushing. "How'd you, um. From Hermione?"
"Not as such, no. She didn't know about now, that is. She knew how I, er, during the war . . ."
"You were obsessed with him," Ron said. "I knew about that."
Ron grimaced. "It was pretty obvious, mate."
"Ah," Harry said eloquently. "Well. I, ah, told her about it. After the war. I was drunk," he said by way of explanation, then added, "I didn't mean to keep it from you."
When he looked up, though, he saw that Ron wasn't mad. "Probably for the best, really."
"I'm sorry," Harry said.
Ron shrugged. "Don't worry about it."
They were silent for a moment, which Harry took as a cue to change the subject. "So what's happened since I've been here? Was that really Lucius Malfoy?"
"Yeah, it was him. We checked him for all the known glamours and watched him for Polyjuice, but it was really him."
"But he was meant to be dead."
"Yeah," Ron said. "That's what they thought at Azkaban, too. Daphne went and interviewed the guards who called in the doctor. All three of them took Veritaserum willingly. None of them was an accomplice, and they all really believed he was dead. They said he looked like he'd died in his sleep. She would have interviewed the Healer who pronounced him dead, but he was missing."
"Missing?" Harry said.
"They found him after Daphne left," Ron said. "He was responsible for burying the dead, too. It seems that he took Lucius Malfoy, whom he thought was dead, over to morgue—which is a room attached to the Healer's cottage—and Lucius overpowered him, took his wand and killed him before fleeing to the mainland."
"Why didn't anyone pick up on Lucius's magical signature when he Apparated?"
"That's just the thing. We don't think he Apparated. The Auror techies ran tests on the wand Malfoy was using. They confirmed that it had belonged to one Smithfield Witherson, Azkaban Healer, and they also said that the last spell that wand had cast was the Killing Curse on said Azkaban Healer."
Harry puzzled over that one for a moment. "It's not impossible to get from Azkaban to the mainland without using magic," he mused. "Sirius did it." Somehow I can't see Lucius Malfoy swimming the North Sea, though. Maybe there had been a boat. That wasn't the biggest thing that was bothering him, though. "How did he fake his own death in the first place?"
Ron shrugged. "Beats me."
Harry tried to think of ways to fake one's own death when one was working from the maximum-security section of Azkaban. He wasn't coming up with many options. "So what day did Malfoy escape?"
"The twenty-fifth, presumably," Ron said. "The Healer had been dead for about a week when the guards found him."
"The twenty-fifth," Harry repeated. The day the article about his death had run, Lucius Malfoy had actually been alive and free somewhere in Britain. "So no one thought to check on the Healer during the week between then and the attack? Did no one in Azkaban get sick in that whole time?"
"Guess not," Ron said.
Harry sighed. "So what was Lucius Malfoy doing for that week?"
"Nothing that required magic, that much we know," Ron said. "I put out feelers to some of our Muggle contacts and got one hit. Lucius Malfoy withdrew the entire contents of a Muggle safe deposit box in Surrey."
"What the hell would he want with a Muggle safe deposit box?" Harry said.
"I can answer that, unfortunately. Remember how Malfoy said he created his own wards?"
"I'm not entirely sure how that's related," Harry said.
"Just bear with me here for a second."
"Yes, I remember how Malfoy created his own wards. Go on."
"Right, well, guess who taught him Arithmancy during the summer?"
"I have a feeling I know where this is going."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Ron said. "So daddy was good at Arithmancy, and taught his son how to make really good wards. Except the wards had one catch."
"That daddy could get through them."
"Not exactly. That anyone who possessed fifteen pints of blood from the creator of the wards and had an excellent knowledge of how the wards worked could convince the wards to let them pass."
Harry let that sink in for a moment. "Fifteen pints of—there isn't that much blood in a person's body. You couldn't get that much even if you killed them and bled them dry."
"Exactly," Ron said. "Oh, I forgot: it has to be fifteen pints, willingly given."
Harry thought instantly of Malfoy when they were twelve or thirteen, how nearly every sentence he'd spoken had begun with My father this or My father that. And things became clear in his mind. "What you're saying is that when Malfoy was little, Lucius bled him?"
"He must have been really young when Lucius did it," Ron said grimly, "because he doesn't have any memory of it having happened."
"Any evidence of a Memory Charm?"
"None that we can find."
Harry nodded slowly. "So that's what was in the safe deposit box? Fifteen pints of Malfoy's blood?"
"Lucius couldn't have possibly known what he would do with all that blood when he took it, though."
"I had Terry talk to Aubrey Chisholm, the Ministry Potions expert," Ron said. "Apparently there are lots of things Lucius could have used that blood for, the majority of them not very pleasant."
"But Malfoy hero-worshipped his father," Harry said. "Remember how he was when we were at school? If Lucius asked him for blood, he would have slit his wrists and asked how much."
"Usually you take someone's blood to gain an advantage over them," Ron said.
Harry thought of fourth year, when Pettigrew had taken his blood so that Voldemort could regain a body—blood of the enemy, forcibly taken—and nodded.
"Lucius might not have known what he was going to do with the blood then, but Malfoy was his heir. Malfoy might have done everything Lucius wanted when he was little, but once he got older, if he tried to stray from what Lucius wanted . . ."
Harry shuddered involuntarily. "Where is he now? Lucius, I mean."
"In the Ministry's maximum-security holding cells."
"Have you tried interrogating him?"
"Yeah. The man's insane, Harry. That or the wiliest bastard I've ever met, and I know he's a wily bastard. I've never met anyone who can talk his way around Veritaserum like that who isn't insane, though."
"Talk his way around, how?"
"He would just open his mouth and start talking about the weirdest things, like badgers, in response to questions about how he escaped from Azkaban. We tried giving him higher dosages, tried different questioning methods . . . Much as I hate to admit this, I kind of wish Snape had been there. That Ministry potions lady just wasn't cutting it."
"Did you get any kind of motive for why he was trying to kill Malfoy?"
"He said something about killing the traitor and getting his reward, but Harry, he's completely nutters."
"Getting his reward?" So Malfoy had been right about the motive. It was just that neither of them had expected Lucius to be the assassin . . . He tried to think if he had any more questions for Ron. He didn't.
They were silent for a moment and then Ron said, "I'm glad you're all right."
"Yeah. Me too."
Ron nodded. "I'm going to go home. Haven't seen Hermione and the kid in a day or two, thought it might be nice to make an appearance."
Harry grinned. "Tell them I said hi."
"Could you, er, send Malfoy back in? When you go?"
"Sure," Ron said, but Harry really needn't have asked: Malfoy was back at the door the minute Ron opened it. Ron let Malfoy in and then slipped out himself. "Bye, Harry. Malfoy."
Malfoy nodded to him. "Weasley."
"Hey," Harry said.
"Hey," Malfoy said. He was still standing by the door, fidgeting. Harry had never seen him fidget before.
"I'm sorry about your father," Harry offered.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Malfoy said without rancor.
He considered. "I don't know. I'm sorry that he wasn't actually dead?"
Malfoy smiled wanly. "I wish he were. I'd rather him be dead than be alive and trying to kill me."
"He's insane, Ron said."
"He's fanatical," Malfoy said. "There's a difference."
"He believes Voldemort is still alive."
"I seriously doubt that." Malfoy looked at him pointedly. "You weren't there when Weasley interrogated him, Potter. I was."
Harry sat up straight, too quickly. "You were? What?"
"I wasn't in the room, Potter, don't be an idiot. I was watching through a one-way mirror. Fascinating invention. You've got to give Muggles some credit. Anyway, my point is that my father's insanity is selective. He was able to recruit two men from inside Azkaban and mastermind his own escape."
"He thought killing you would solve all of his problems," Harry said flatly. "If that's not insane, I don't know what is."
"I know," Malfoy said, "but saying he's insane makes it sound like he doesn't know what he's doing, and he does. He knows exactly what he's doing. He's spent so long in Azkaban that he's gone twisted, but that doesn't excuse him. You know what I'm the most pissed off about?"
"That I mourned the bastard. I was actually sad that he was dead. I guess I thought there was still something left in him of how he was when I was younger." Malfoy's jaw set. "Clearly I was wrong."
Harry could only nod.
"I won't be mourning him again," Malfoy said. "When he actually dies, I mean."
Harry couldn't help but crack a bit of a smile at that. After a moment he said, "I'm just glad you're all right."
"Likewise. But if you tell anyone I'll have to kill you."
Harry swallowed. "I, er, might've told Ron. About, uh . . ." He made the same vague gesture Ron had made earlier.
"Ah," Malfoy said.
"Do you, er—"
"If you ask me if I want to talk about it, I am going to hex you," Malfoy informed him.
Harry decided that this was a good time to change tacks quickly. He blurted out the first thing that occurred to him. "Why'd you name your house la maison jaune?"
Malfoy looked at him for a moment. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"I was just curious," Harry said with a shrug. "I'd been wondering for a while, and there were all those long stretches where you just wouldn't talk to me, and there never seemed to be a good time to ask . . . "
Malfoy did not rise to the bait. He waited a moment and then said, very seriously, "It's called la maison jaune because—listen closely, Potter, you might have missed this—it's a house, and it's yellow."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I caught the staggering lack of creativity, yes. Why the French, you git?"
"Ah," Malfoy said. "Well. My mother taught me French when I was very small. She never told me why I should learn it; I thought it was just the sort of thing a rich pureblood should know, and I wasn't exactly wrong about that, but the real reason was that my parents planned to flee to France should the Dark Lord ever rise again. I didn't figure that out until Pansy and her family disappeared. My mother helped Pansy with her French pretty often—Pansy's mother wasn't as good at French as mine was . . ." Malfoy shrugged. "I talked to Cheswick—Mr. Parkinson—once, after they came back, to confirm that hiding in France had been my father's plan, too. It had been."
"Why didn't you leave before? Surely Lucius could have realized that Voldemort had returned after he regained a body," Harry said, gripping the duvet.
Malfoy shrugged. "I don't know why he didn't leave then. Cheswick didn't, either, though. The Parkinsons waited until the end of sixth year, after Dumbledore . . . At any rate. About the house. I bought it just after I'd gone to see Cheswick, when he told me in no uncertain terms that I would not be marrying Pansy. I named the house in French, knowing they'd hear about it . . . I was a little bitter."
"So you couldn't marry Pansy because . . . what, her father was smart enough to flee to France when yours couldn't?"
"I'm over it, Potter. My father would have said the same to Pansy, were our families' positions reversed."
Harry stared at him and let that sink in for a moment. "But didn't you love her?"
Malfoy shrugged. "That didn't have anything to do with marrying her. Marriage between pureblooded families is about power, Potter. I didn't have the kind of power my family had been able to offer hers when we were born."
Harry didn't really know what to say to that, so they were silent for a minute. "What are you going to do after they release you?" Malfoy said finally.
"Go back to the Committee, I guess," Harry said.
"Ah," Malfoy said, his face suddenly, inexplicably cold. "I suppose you'll be by to pick up your things soon afterwards, then?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Harry said obliviously.
Malfoy made for the door. "Right. Good-bye, Potter."
"Malfoy, what? Wait!"
But he was already out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. Harry stared at it for a minute, uncomprehending. What in the world had he said to make Malfoy act like that?
Something about the fact that Harry was going back to the Committee had set it off. That didn't make any sense, though. That was Harry's job. It wasn't like he was going back to the Committee to the exclusion of ever seeing Malfoy again . . .
He meant to think about it more, he really did, but then a Healer came in and gave him a smoking blue potion and he fell immediately asleep.
Harry was released from St. Mungo's the following morning. He still felt a slight twinge in his side if he moved suddenly, but other than that he was fine. He needed to go to Malfoy's house and get his things, he knew. He didn't have any excuse to leave them there. He couldn't bring himself to do that straight off, though, and so instead of Apparating to Malfoy's house, he went to the office.
It was the first time he'd been there in a month and a half, Harry realized with a bit of something like nostalgia. Little had changed. To look at it, you'd never know the Committee was meant to be shut down in less than two weeks.
"Chief!" Marie exclaimed, throwing herself at Harry. "You're back!"
Harry patted her back and refrained from mentioning that she was squishing his injured side.
Everyone else was there, too, and while they weren't trying to squish him, there were smiles all around. Even Moody was attempting to smile, though considering how heavily scarred his face was, Harry rather wished he wasn't. It was a scary sight.
"Glad you're back, Harry," Daphne said.
"Glad to be back," Harry said. "So what'd I miss?"
"Other than a month and a half?" Ron said cheekily.
"The DUC's been pushing us to start turning things over to the Aurors," Daphne said. "Give them our supplies and whatnot."
Harry stared at her. "The DUC's still going to shut us down?"
Daphne shrugged. "They don't see any reason why they shouldn't."
"No reason why they shouldn't? What about the attack?"
"Ah," Ron said. "That."
Harry looked at them suspiciously. "What are you lot not telling me?"
"The DUC doesn't exactly know about the attack, as such," said Terry.
Harry stared at them all some more, and then Ron began to explain. "We wanted you to be the one to announce that there had been an attack," he said. "You're the one who's been saying all along that the Death Eaters were still a threat . . . It's your vicotry, and we wanted to let you go public with it.
"We didn't realize St. Mungo's would hold you for forty-eight hours, but even though they did, it's not an issue. The news is still contained. The only people besides us who know that Lucius Malfoy escaped are the Aurors and the Azkaban guards. The public doesn't know anything and neither does the DUC. So yeah, they're going ahead with the plan to shut us down."
"I see," said Harry. One thing Ron had said was sticking out in his mind: it's your victory. It was, at that. He'd been right: Death Eaters were still a threat. There was no way the DUC could shut them down now.
And yet, he hadn't been entirely right, had he? Yes, there was still danger from Death Eaters, but not from any new ones. The accomplices weren't Death Eaters. They'd been interrogated under Veritaserum, and they'd confessed to having been hired by Lucius Malfoy. It seemed they'd been solicited by owl; no one had been able to figure out how he'd managed to owl them from Azkaban, and he wasn't talking. They'd been paid ten thousand Galleons apiece to cause a distraction while Lucius killed his son. They would be convicted as accessories to attempted murder, but neither of them had actually attempted to cause harm to Malfoy, and so their sentences would be less harsh. And they weren't Death Eaters.
Lucius was. But he hadn't been at large, had he? He'd been recaptured immediately after the Final Battle. He hadn't been a danger to anyone for more than five years. The Committee's job was to track down and capture Death Eaters; it wasn't to make sure that, once justice had been meted out, it continued to be done . . .
Probably he was drawing an arbitrary line there. The Committee's job was to protect the public from Death Eaters. Just because a Death Eater had already been to prison once didn't mean he was no longer a Death Eater, or that it wasn't still the Committee's responsibility to protect the public. But the fact that there had been no new Death Eaters involved in the attack was giving Harry pause.
When the Committee was first created, it possessed a list of nineteen names of those who belonged to the inner circle of Death Eaters, compliments of the late Severus Snape. The Order had not known that Snape was still on their side; after killing Dumbledore he'd gone into deep cover. Only at the moment of his death, when he turned on the Death Eaters to give Harry an opening to kill Voldemort, did anyone learn of his true loyalties. After his death, Snape's solicitor had delivered a sealed envelope containing the names of and information about many Death Eaters, including the nineteen in the inner circle. It had been invaluable in supplementing the Order's own information. When the Committee was founded, less than two weeks after the Final Battle, all of that combined information came to it.
The Committee had been Harry's life for the past five years. It was meant to be a branch of the Auror Bureau and yet when Harry was appointed its chief at the age of eighteen, he hadn't so much as gone through Auror training. No one had argued with his appointment—he was the savior of the wizarding world, after all—but few expected him to be up to the task, either. He'd proved them wrong; he'd been more than equal to it. Of the nineteen members of Voldemort's inner circle, only five remained at large for more than a year after the war. Amycus Carrow had been the only one to evade capture for more than two years, and he had only managed that by sequestering himself off in a Muggle insane asylum in Lancaster. Were it not for the fact that he was still in possession of his wand and enough of his wits to blow the place to pieces, should the urge arise, Harry would have been tempted to leave him there.
Carrow had been the last of the nineteen. There were other Death Eaters out there, of course, but most of them were doing their best to lie low and get on with their lives. There was a time when Harry would have sought out each one of them and ensured that they were punished for what they had done, but now . . .
The war had been over for five years, and everyone seemed to be moving on with their lives. Everyone but Harry. Okay, and Moody, but was that really who Harry wanted to turn into? Mad-Eye Moody?
Fighting Voldemort and the Death Eaters was all Harry had known ever since he was eleven. He couldn't imagine doing anything else. And yet the Amycus Carrow capture two years had marked something that Harry hadn't noticed at the time, or maybe he just hadn't wanted to: that the Committee had done what it was intended to do, that it had served its purpose.
With the attack on Malfoy, the DUC would have to revoke its mandate to shut down the Committee. The results of the attack were about the best thing Harry could have hoped for: no one had died or been incurably injured and they'd captured all of the attackers. It would prove to the DUC that the Death Eaters were still dangerous.
But the DUC still didn't know the attack had happened. By keeping the news of the attack quiet, Ron and the rest of the Committee had opened up possibilities Harry hadn't considered before. He could see very clearly two futures laid out before him. In one future, he called for a press conference immediately and announced the news of the attack. The DUC revoked its mandate, the Committee became a permanent branch of the Auror Bureau and Harry remained its chief.
In the second future, Harry accepted what he had long known, deep down, to be true: that the Death Eaters no longer posed enough of a threat to warrant the Committee's continued existence. He did not announce the news of the attack. Lucius and the accomplices were tried and sent to Azkaban, but quietly. The DUC never learned that the attack had happened, and the Committee was shut down as planned. But after that, what? Harry didn't know. He'd never envisioned a future in which the Committee did not exist. It was a terrifying thought, and yet . . .
Gradually he became aware that he had been silent for a long time. He looked around the room, at the faces of the Committee members, these people he had known for such a long time, looked at them and knew what he must do.
The Daily Prophet
November 4, 2003
LONDON—In a surprise press conference last night, Committee Chief Harry Potter announced that he does not intend to appeal the Departmental Usefulness Commission decision to dissolve the Committee.
"I have discussed it with my fellow Committee members, and we all agree that the Committee has served its purpose. We don't think that the wizarding world is entirely safe, or that it ever will be, but we do feel that the Death Eaters no longer pose a significant threat to the public."
The Committee's resources and funding will return to the Auror Bureau. The Bureau has offered positions to all of the Committee members, and while some of the members have taken them, the Bureau said that Potter has turned down the offer. When asked what he intended to do after the dissolution of the Committee was complete, he did not comment . . .
Harry placed his wand on the sensor pad at Malfoy's front grate and said his name, all too aware that this might be the last time he ever came to this house.
"Please come inside," the speaker box said.
The front gates swung open and Harry stepped onto Malfoy's drive. It was a cold morning. The ground was still covered with frost, though it was nearly ten o'clock. Malfoy's yellow house was bright between the barren trees.
Walking down the drive seemed to take forever and no time at all. Suddenly he was on Malfoy's doorstep, staring at the door. Harry had no idea what he was going to say to him. It would be easier, he thought, to turn around and walk away. He was only here to retrieve his things. He hadn't taken anything particularly important to Malfoy's house, had he? Some clothes, a battered copy of Quidditch through the Ages . . . nothing irreplaceable. If he'd forgotten anything important, he could have Malfoy own it to him.
He was being stupid. He knocked twice on Malfoy's door and willed himself to stand still. He barely had time to shove his hands back in his pockets before the door swung open. Behind it was not Posie the house elf but Malfoy himself. He was wearing a sweater and corduroys and socks and looked so Muggle that Harry couldn't help but smile. He hadn't known it was legal for a Malfoy to wear corduroys.
"Hi," Harry said.
"Hi," Malfoy said.
"I, er, came to get my stuff," Harry blurted.
Malfoy's expression was neutral. "Ah."
"The Committee's being shut down," Harry explained.
"I saw the Prophet," Malfoy said.
"The Committee's being shut down," Harry repeated. "So there's no reason for me to keep my stuff here, because the attack already happened and everything, and I have a house, anyway, and—" He clamped his mouth shut to stop himself from babbling any more.
Malfoy smirked. He stood there looking bemusedly at Harry for a minute. Harry ran a hand through his hair, self-conscious under Malfoy's scrutiny, and had the sense that Malfoy could see right through him.
And then Malfoy stepped to the side, his hand still on the door. Harry looked at him questioningly. He rolled his eyes. "It's fucking freezing out, Potter. If you're coming in, you'd better come now."
Harry wondered why Malfoy was looking so amused. He stepped over the threshold and Malfoy closed the door behind him.
The last time Harry had been in this foyer was during the attack, when he'd blasted away a good bit of the first floor railing. Malfoy had repaired it sometime in the past couple of days. You'd never know, to look at it, that an attack had happened at all.
Harry turned his gaze back to Malfoy, who had a strange look on his face. "I'll just be getting my things, then," Harry said.
Malfoy stared at him for a moment longer and then shook as a dog would shake off water. "Potter," he said, "don't be an idiot." And then Malfoy grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him firmly on the mouth.
Harry responded eagerly, sliding his tongue against Malfoy's, pulling him closer, but then he pulled back. "Are you sure? Because if you're not sure—"
"If you don't shut up, I'm going to hit you." Malfoy kissed him again, and this time Harry did not argue. A thousand thoughts flashed through his head, this will never work featuring prominently among them, but as he wound his tongue around Malfoy's he found that he did not care.