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.
Harry awoke some indeterminate time later, incredibly groggy, to hear Malfoy say, "The attack didn't happen. I've taken the liberty of having the house elves pack your things."
Harry sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "Where're my glasses?"
Malfoy handed them to him; they must have fallen off while he slept. "So would you prefer to Apparate or Floo?"
He couldn't quite make sense of what Malfoy was saying to him. "How long have I been asleep?"
"The better part of a day," Malfoy said. "It's October second, quarter after five in the evening."
No wonder he was disorientated. "Okay," Harry said slowly, "so what were you saying about Flooing?"
Malfoy looked at him as if he were some sort of exceedingly stupid fungus. "The attack didn't happen yesterday, so you're free to leave any time now. I had the house elves pack your things."
"You had them—no, Malfoy, I'm not free to leave. Remember the conversation we recorded? The attack is going to happen on 'the first of the month'—not the first of October. It could be next month, or . . ." Or the month after that, but if that were the case, Malfoy was going to be on his own. Harry was not optimistic about what would happen to the Committee if these Death Eaters didn't make their move on November first. "I'm here until this attack happens," Harry said. Or until November second, whichever came first.
Malfoy scowled at him. "I don't remember this being part of the deal, Potter. But wait, is this another of those things where, if I fight you on it, I go to Azkaban?"
Harry badly wished he hadn't issued that threat. There had seemed nothing else to do at the time, but now he thought there must have been other options.
Like what? Anyone but Malfoy would have been happy to accept Committee protection. Anyone but him. He wished his charge was a normal human being, like an elderly witch in Kent.
But he was stuck with Malfoy, and things were what they were. He thought of what Hermione would do in this sort of situation, and said quietly, "I'm sorry I said that."
"That's nice, Potter. But does that make it not true?"
Harry hesitated. "No. It doesn't."
"Right. Forgive me if I'm not terribly enthusiastic about spending the next . . . how long, exactly? . . . in your company, but generally I prefer to choose my own companions rather than having them foisted on my under pains of imprisonment." He turned to leave, but paused in the doorway. "If there's a Death Eater attack, I'll be in my office."
Harry winced as Malfoy pulled the door of the drawing room shut behind him.
The best thing to do probably would have been to go upstairs and go to sleep, but Harry had been asleep for the better part of twelve hours and wasn't particularly inclined to sleep any more. He was awake and viciously hungry. When was the last time he'd eaten? He wasn't sure. Dinner the night before last, maybe? All day yesterday he'd been too nervous to eat more than a bite or two of anything.
Malfoy didn't serve dinner for another hour and forty-five minutes, so Harry wandered towards the kitchen and talked a house elf into fixing him a sandwich. It was an amazing sandwich. He didn't know what was in it, some kind of meat and cheese and something else, but that didn't matter, he was starving and it was delicious.
After he finished eating he went back to the drawing room and firecalled Ron, who'd just gotten home. "I talked to Malfoy this morning," Ron said.
"Yeah. You were asleep. You looked exhausted, mate, I didn't want to wake you."
"Did you tell Malfoy the threat wasn't over, that I was staying here?"
"Yeah," Ron said. "He said he'd expected as much, but that he wanted to hear you say it."
"He acted like he had no idea it was coming when I talked to him half an hour ago," Harry said. "What a git."
"You just woke up half an hour ago?" Ron said, amused.
"I hadn't slept in two days," Harry said.
Ron raised an eyebrow.
"Sick of being pregnant!" Hermione yelled from the kitchen.
Ron smiled. "Two more weeks."
"You'll let me know as soon as you take her to St. Mungo's?"
"Don't be daft, mate, of course."
"Dinner's ready, Ron," Hermione said, walking into the room. "Leftovers. Molly's been coming by every other day and cooking for us," she explained. "You hungry, Harry? We've got plenty."
"No, thanks, I just ate. I can't, anyway. Malfoy and whatnot."
"Oh, right," Hermione said. "How is he?"
"A right git."
Hermione smiled. "This might be twelve years overdue, but I'm going to say it anyway: it might be worthwhile to try to be the more mature person when you're around Malfoy."
"I don't think it's possible to act older than eleven when you're around him," Ron said.
"I'd best be getting back," Harry said. "I'll let you two eat dinner."
"Talk to you tomorrow?" Ron said.
"Yeah," Harry said, and with that he Apparated back to Malfoy's house.
After October first, Malfoy was still doing his damnedest to ignore Harry's existence. He still read the newspaper all morning and wrote letters till noon and read all afternoon. Harry wondered whom he was writing those letters to. He didn't seem to have any friends, not that Harry had ever seen, anyway. This must actually be what Malfoy's life was like, he'd decided. There was no way anyone could maintain a ruse for this long.
Whether it was a ruse or not, Harry's own life had begun to fall into the same routine as Malfoy's. He'd resented it at first, but now it was almost comforting to know exactly what he should be doing at any given hour. He knew too exactly where to find Malfoy if he wasn't in Harry's sight, in case of emergency, in case the attack came early.
The daily routine had made Harry hyperaware of Malfoy's whereabouts, although he tried not to show it. But on a Monday night towards the middle of October, when Malfoy disappeared for a time after dinner, Harry was all too aware of it. He didn't let it bother him for a while. This was Malfoy's house, after all, and Harry wasn't there to spy on him.
But when an hour had passed and Malfoy still hadn't reappeared, Harry began to worry that something might have happened to him, that he'd fallen in the bathroom and was drowning in the toilet or something—he realized midway through this thought that he was acting like he was Malfoy's babysitter, which was ridiculous, and yet he couldn't stop himself from going on a hunt for him.
He wasn't in the drawing room, where Harry had been. He wasn't in the study or the library or the kitchen or anywhere else Harry could think of. He'd canvassed nearly the entire house before it hit him: Malfoy must be in his bedroom.
That was fine. It was only ten o'clock and usually he stayed downstairs reading until eleven or so at least, but maybe tonight he was tired and wanted to catch up on some sleep. That was his choice, of course, and Harry definitely had no business knocking on his bedroom door, but he did it anyway.
There was no answer. Maybe Malfoy really was asleep. But then again, he also wouldn't be answering if he were unconscious on his bathroom floor, would he?
Harry tried the knob. To his surprise it turned easily in his hand. "Malfoy?" he said tentatively as he stepped into the room. There was no reply and it was incredibly dark in the room. Somewhere in front of him Harry heard a soft sound. "Malfoy?" he repeated, a little louder.
Still no reply. "Lumos," Harry said. There was a great rustling on the bed in front of him, but not fast enough to keep him from seeing a woman's naked buttocks and back arched over Malfoy. The woman screamed and pulled the covers up to her chin. From what Harry could see of her, she looked disturbingly similar to Malfoy's mother.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Potter," Malfoy said. "Can't you knock?"
"I did," Harry said irritably.
"Well. We're kind of in the middle of something, so if you don't mind . . ." Malfoy gestured towards the door.
"Actually, I do mind," Harry said. "Can I speak with you? Now?"
Malfoy rolled his eyes and stood up. He was wearing a pair of briefs, thank God, but Harry could see even through them that he was half-hard. "Right now?"
Harry could feel himself blushing furiously. "Yes. In the hall."
Malfoy followed him out and shut the door. "Okay, Potter, what's so fucking important that it couldn't have waited until the morning?"
"This," Harry said. It was difficult to concentrate when Malfoy was practically naked right there in front of him. "This . . . thing you're doing. Who's the girl? Do you know her? Can you prove she isn't under Polyjuice or Imperius, that she's not going to kill you the moment you turn your back on her?"
"Good God, Potter. She's a call girl. Her name is Bridget, and I've checked her thoroughly for potions, curses and signs of Dark magic. She isn't going to kill me." He considered. "Well. If I don't come back to bed soon, she might."
"Send her home, Malfoy."
"You heard me."
"You haven't got the right to order me around in my own house, Potter."
"You've got a whore you didn't tell me about visiting you tonight and you're telling me I can't order you around? She's an enormous security risk, Malfoy!"
"I think I can manage to keep from bringing in a murderous companion without your help, thanks, Potter, and I don't care what—"
"I'll just be going then, shall I?" said Bridget from the doorway. She'd put her robes back on and looked more like Malfoy's mother than ever.
"Sorry, love," Malfoy said.
She smiled a little. "Some other time, eh?"
He smiled back. "Floo Powder's on the mantelpiece."
She nodded and closed the door behind her.
Harry waited a couple of seconds, until he was reasonably sure that she was gone, and then said, "Look, I don't care what you want to do with your, er, time, but if you're going to bring someone into the house, let me know, damn it!"
Malfoy smiled slowly. Harry wasn't entirely sure it was an expression he liked. "Why
Potter, you're jealous."
"You aren't getting laid, are you? You should have told me. Bridget has plenty of friends."
"I don't need your help getting laid!"
Malfoy was still smiling. "Sure you don't."
Harry had the sudden, incredible thought that Malfoy was propositioning him, but then he regained control of his senses. "Really. How many girls do you know that don't want to sleep with the hero of the Second War?"
"You don't actually use that to get girls."
Malfoy was right, he didn't. But that didn't mean he couldn't. The problem was he didn't actually want to get girls. He wanted Malfoy. "Whatever. I want to be tied into your wards."
"You already are."
"Not entirely. I know if someone breaches them or tries to breach them. I want to know if anyone crosses them at all."
"Trying to spy on my personal life, Potter?"
Harry scowled. "I'm trying to protect you, you git. I don't care who you sleep with," he lied.
Malfoy looked at him appraisingly. "Fine. I'll do it in the morning."
Harry badly wanted to tell him to do it immediately, but decided that Malfoy was unlikely to have any more late night visitors this evening. "Thanks."
As he turned to leave, Malfoy called out, "Hey Potter?"
"Knock a little louder next time."
He must have looked as pissed off as he'd felt all day, because after dinner the following night Malfoy said, "Potter, what is your problem?"
Harry looked up sharply. Malfoy was staring at him. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"It's something to do with Bridget, isn't it?" Malfoy said.
Of course it was something to do with Bridget. She had been a major security risk, whether Malfoy's wards had let her through or not, but Malfoy had kept his word and tied Harry into the wards first thing that morning, before breakfast even. It was a bit distracting, really, hearing a chime in his head every time an owl arrived, but maybe he'd get used to it. He'd never been tied into wards before, after all. Grimmauld Place was still under the same Secret Keeper it had been under during the war: a Squib in Essex named Mary Jane Malarkey.
Yes, Bridget had been a security risk, but nothing had come of it. The fact that she'd been a risk wasn't the problem. The problem was that he was jealous of her, of a call girl, because Malfoy had wanted her and not him.
He knew it was ridiculous. Being around Malfoy was always going to be torture, he knew that, yet here he was, acting like he'd just stuck his hand in boiling water and not expected it to be hot.
So was it, Harry's problem, something to do with Bridget? "No, not really," he said.
Malfoy looked at him appraisingly. "You really haven't been getting laid recently, have you?"
"It's really none of your business whether I'm getting laid or not. I don't care who you're sleeping with," he lied, "so you can just stay out of my love life, all right?"
"No," Malfoy said, "it's not all right. You're pissed off because you aren't getting laid, and it's pissing me off to be around you."
"You don't have to be around me all the time," Harry snapped.
"Actually, yes, I do. Or have you forgotten that you're meant to be my bloody bodyguard? What with all the time you've spent walking around looking angry I can see how it would be easy to forget. But since you've stuck me with your constant presence, you might as well be less of pain in the arse."
Harry made an infuriated noise. "Protecting you from Death Eaters is not actually the same thing as keeping you entertained. What do you want, some kind of bloody song and dance act?"
"I imagine it's hard to concentrate on being a bodyguard when all you can think about is how infrequently you're getting laid," Malfoy said.
"I can concentrate just fine."
But no, Malfoy apparently was not capable of such a thing. "I don't want to die because you refuse to get laid."
Harry couldn't do anything but stare for a moment. "Malfoy, that is the least logical thing I've ever heard you say."
"You're not getting laid," Malfoy continued, "and so all you're thinking about is how you're not getting laid—"
"Just stop talking, Malfoy."
"—lots of nervous energy to work off, you should really—"
But he was still talking: "—do something about it, don't you know that it isn't—"
Harry wasn't sure, afterwards, what made him do it. All he knew was that he wanted Malfoy to shut up and he also desperately wanted Malfoy, and between those two facts he'd managed to grab the front of Malfoy's shirt, pull him forward and kiss him.
It wasn't a long kiss, but it was hard. Harry registered the way Malfoy's eyes flared wide, the firmness of the teeth behind Malfoy's lips, and then his senses caught up with him and he pulled away.
Malfoy's fists unclenched slowly at his sides, as if they too were still trying to process what had happened. Malfoy wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said something that ended in, " . . . Potter?" Harry didn't know what the rest of it had been, didn't want to know. "Forget it," he yelled back at Malfoy, just for something to say, and he was down the hall and down the stairs and he didn't know where he was going, except that nowhere in this house was far enough.
What had he done? He hadn't realized what he was doing until it was almost done, but that didn't excuse it. A thousand times he'd thought about grabbing Malfoy and kissing him, but he'd never thought he would actually do it. He was going to have to pull himself off this case. It had been stupid to assign himself to it in the first place. Someone else could have done it, Daphne or Ron . . . Neither of them would have gone about attacking Malfoy. You couldn't go about molesting the people you were supposed to protect, even if they were Malfoy.
Harry just kept walking; he didn't realize he was heading for the drawing room until he was already there. He lay down on one of the couches and beat his head against the cushions. Stupid, stupid. He was going to have to turn the case over to someone else. Ron couldn't do it, not with Hermione almost due. Maybe Daphne: she was small but vicious; she wouldn't let the Death Eaters kill Malfoy. She wouldn't let anything bad happen.
It was too late to do anything about it tonight. First thing in the morning he would firecall Daphne. He had no idea what he was going to say to her, but right now he just didn't want to think about it. He pulled out his battered copy of Quidditch through the Ages and began to read. He spent half an hour on the section about Quodpot before he realized he wasn't seeing the words. He put the book down, took off his glasses and slumped his head against the cushions. He tried not to think.
He barely slept at all, and he was awake well before dawn. It was way too early to firecall Daphne, even at home. He still didn't have any idea what he was going to say to her. "Malfoy was talking to me about whores and I kissed him"? "I've wanted Malfoy since the war and I just couldn't stand it any longer"? He couldn't tell her that. Hermione was the only one who knew how he felt about Malfoy. He couldn't tell Daphne Greengrass when he still hadn't told Ron, his best friend since he was eleven . . .
Maybe he could tell her he'd decided he'd be more useful supervising the case from the office . . . No, she'd never believe that. No one would. He'd never been able to stand being a rear general, to the unending frustration of the Ministry bureaucrats, who were worried he was going to get himself killed off during a Death Eater take-down. Which was stupid, really: Harry's one great talent had always been Not Dying, and he figured he might as well use it. Nobody would be willing to believe that he was suddenly becoming a rear general now. They'd want an explanation, which would leave him right back where he was now.
He would think of something, though. He had to.
He checked his watch. It was still early. He could go directly to the kitchen and get something to eat from the house elves and go up to his bedroom. He would use the back steps, the ones furthest from Malfoy's room. Malfoy would never be the wiser.
But the universe hated Harry Potter some mornings, and there were no house elves in the kitchen, nor was there any food to be seen. He wandered towards the dining room, where, undoubtedly, Malfoy would be, because this particular morning he would see fit to get up early. Harry had wanted to avoid Malfoy for longer than this, possibly for the rest of his natural life, but it was going to have to happen eventually, and it might as well be now, because sometimes the best thing to do when you don't want to do something is to go ahead and get it over with.
Harry walked into the room and, sure enough, there he was, sitting at the head of the table and buttering a croissant. "Morning, Malfoy," Harry said cautiously.
Malfoy glanced up long enough to say, "Morning, Potter," then returned his attention to his breakfast.
Harry had been so worried about what he could say to Daphne that he hadn't even thought about what he was going to say to Malfoy. But here Malfoy was, acting normal enough. He didn't seem to be in hysterics or anything. He was sitting there eating his breakfast as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all.
That was a good idea: pretend the whole thing didn't happen. Astonishingly, it seemed to work. Malfoy read the paper throughout breakfast and Harry ate his eggs and buttered toast and everything was fine. Harry was starving. He hadn't realized what an appetite he'd worked up, worrying over what to do about the situation. The fact that Malfoy was acting as if it hadn't happened at all was brilliant.
And the rest of the day it really was as if nothing had happened at all. Malfoy might have been a little less talkative than normal, but that was it; that was nothing to worry about. Everything actually seemed to be fine. Nothing had happened. Good.
Harry was all right with that, with pretending the kiss hadn't happened, and he might well have successfully never mentioned it again had Ron not firecalled him at ten the next morning. "Harry, I'm at St. Mungo's. Hermione's in labor."
"I'll be right there," Harry said, unthinking. He was about to Apparate when he remembered Malfoy. Harry swore under his breath and turned to go find him, but found that Malfoy was already there. He must have just walked into the room.
"I hadn't realized Granger was pregnant," Malfoy said.
"It's Weasley now," Harry said. "She and Ron've been married for three years."
"What were you planning on doing today?" Harry asked, although if Malfoy were planning on doing anything different than the usual he'd eat his own foot.
"I've a number of very important things to do. Why?"
"Could you possibly do them later? I've got to go to St. Mungo's but I can't leave you here alone. I could get one of the other Committee members to watch you, I guess, but that would take too long to figure out—"
"I don't need a bloody babysitter, Potter," Malfoy said darkly.
"That's not what I meant," Harry said, frustrated. "Look. I don't want to argue with you right now. My two best friends are having a baby and I want to be there for them, and could you just—do you think you could come along? Please?"
Malfoy looked at him for a long moment. "I'll need to send some owls from St. Mungo's."
"Fine," Harry said, surprised. "Great. Let's go."
Harry might have wondered why Malfoy had agreed to go along so quickly, but now was not the time for that. He was filled with a sense of urgency that only heightened when they arrived at St. Mungo's and saw a line of people ten long waiting to speak with the receptionist. He couldn't wait that long.
"Excuse me," he said loudly. "Excuse me! Where's the maternity ward?"
"You'll have to get in line, sir, and wait like everybody else," the receptionist said without looking at him.
"I need to know where the maternity ward is!" Harry yelled.
"Blimey, that's Harry Potter!" said a man in line in front of him.
"Harry Potter is having a baby?"
"I'M NOT HAVING A BABY," Harry said firmly. Then to the receptionist: "I'm looking for Hermione Weasley."
"Hermione Weasley's having Harry Potter's baby!"
"Just tell me where the bloody room is!"
"First floor, Creature-Induced Injuries," the receptionist stammered. "I'm sorry, Committee Chief Potter, if I'd had any idea Mrs. Weasley was having your child . . . "
But Harry was already past the desk, Malfoy in tow. Malfoy was looking entirely too amused for his own good. "I knew the three of you were close, but really, Potter, I had no idea," Malfoy said slyly.
Harry ignored him. The lifts were all full. "Fuck," he said with feeling. "Stairs, where are the bloody stairs?"
Malfoy grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "Potter. Calm the fuck down. You'd think this really was your kid Granger's having."
Somehow through the nerves that had overtaken him, Harry was aware that this was the first time since the kiss that Malfoy had touched him. He was very close to Malfoy's face, and his cock was beginning to stir, and Malfoy had been holding onto his shirt far longer than was really necessary. Finally Malfoy flushed and released Harry.
"It's Weasley," Harry said when he'd found his voice. "Hermione Weasley. Look, about this. It's Ron and Hermione, I—" He realized he had no idea how to explain to Malfoy how he felt about the two of them. "Never mind. I just need to be there."
Malfoy's interruption had slowed him down enough for a lift to arrive. It seemed to take forever to ascend to the first floor. Harry had time to wonder about why Malfoy had held onto his shirt for so long—did it mean that he was still thinking about the kiss, too? It had to—and then about halfway up Harry realized that the receptionist hadn't told them which room was Hermione's and that he had no idea how he was going to find it.
He needn't have worried. As soon as the lift doors opened, he saw Ron standing in the hall.
"Harry! She kicked me out, mate, can you believe it?"
"Yes," Malfoy said, smirking.
"What the fuck is he doing here?"
"I'm meant to be his bodyguard," Harry said out of the side of his mouth. "I couldn't very well just leave him."
"I'm right here," Malfoy said. "Just saying."
"Shut the fuck up," Ron said.
"Ron," Harry hissed. That was just what they all needed, for Ron and Malfoy to hex each other to bits while Hermione was having a baby.
Malfoy didn't really look like he was going to hex Ron to bits, though. Mostly he just looked amused.
Ron, on the other hand, still looked furious. Distract him, Harry thought. "How long since Hermione kicked you out?"
That did it. Ron deflated instantly. "Half an hour, maybe? It's driving me crazy. I can hear her straining in there. How'm I supposed to stay out here?"
Right on cue, a groan came from the other side of the door.
"Fuck it, I'm going back inside," Ron said. "I can't just stay out—"
Harry stepped in front of him. "Why don't you go get some . . . some coffee or something, and I'll talk to Hermione for you, okay?"
"Coffee," Ron said, latching onto the idea. "Yeah. I'll get some coffee."
"You do that," Malfoy said. Luckily Ron was already halfway to the lift and out of earshot. "Weasley doesn't need any coffee," he said to Harry. "Sedatives, more like."
Harry grinned in spite of himself. Ron's nervousness had rather put his own jitters in perspective.
When he knocked and opened the door to Hermione's room the first thing she said was, "Ron Weasley, I told you to stay out!"
"It's Harry," said Harry. "And, er, Malfoy."
Hermione's eyes flew open. "Well, that's a little awkward, isn't it?"
She was wearing a hospital gown but it wasn't covering anything below the waist at the moment. Thankfully Malfoy was enough of a gentleman that he'd averted his eyes. Harry, on the other hand, had been friends with Hermione long enough that this shouldn't be awkward, or so he told himself. He kept his eyes on her face, nonetheless. A nurse was touching the tip of her wand to Hermione's belly. "Aren't you Harry Potter?" the nurse said, starstruck.
"Never mind," Harry said. "How're you doing?" he asked Hermione.
"High as a kite," Hermione informed him. "Ron was driving me insane. Did you see him in the hall?"
For someone who'd just proclaimed herself high as a kite, Hermione seemed remarkably lucid. "Yeah. I sent him for coffee."
"Good God, that's the last thing he needed," she said.
"He needed something to do. He was about to hex Malfoy through the wall."
"No, he wasn't," Hermione said. "I had the nurse confiscate his wand. I thought he might curse his foot off by mistake."
Harry didn't have to look at Malfoy to know that he was smirking. "Probably a good call."
A second nurse came into the room. "What are you two doing in here? Shoo!"
"They can stay," Hermione said.
"No, it's okay, we'll wait outside," said Harry.
"When Ron gets back, tell him he can come in," Hermione said. The second nurse gave her a phial of some green potion, which she threw back. Her jaw went slack. "This is good stuff," she said.
Ron was back entirely too soon, clutching a large and empty coffee cup. "What'd she say?"
"She said you could go back in," Harry said, pitying Hermione. He wondered if there was any way Ron could get some of whatever that phial of green stuff was. He wondered too if it could overcome half a gallon of caffeine.
Ron grinned maniacally and went back into the room. "Wish me luck!"
As soon as the door shut, Harry slumped down against the wall.
"I wonder if that door can be locked from the outside," Malfoy said.
Harry looked up at him. He'd been thinking something remarkably similar.
But Ron wasn't ejected from the room again. Things were silent for a while. Harry caught Malfoy's eye once or twice, but neither of them said anything, and each time Malfoy scowled and looked away, flushing. Harry meant to say something to him, but before he could think of what to say, a few cries came from inside, with long pauses between them. They continued for some indeterminable length of time, and then there was a long scream and Ron stuck his head out the door. "Harry! It's a girl!"
Harry scrambled up off the floor. Malfoy followed him into the room, but stood just to the side of the door once inside. Harry walked right up to the bed. Hermione was sweaty and exhausted-looking but smiling, and resting on her stomach was a tiny red ball of a baby.
"Isn't she gorgeous?" Ron said.
Well, no: she was purplish and wrinkled and too little to look entirely human, but she was Ron and Hermione's daughter, so that was something. But Ron wasn't really looking for an answer. "What're you going to call her?" he asked.
"Ginevra," said Ron.
"Ginevra Anne," Hermione said. She paused for a moment. "We thought it was appropriate, considering."
It took Harry a minute before realized that it was the fifteenth of October.
October 15, 1997 was a Wednesday. It was warm in London, but in Ottery St. Catchpole it was unseasonably cold.
Ginny Weasley hadn't returned to Hogwarts after all; the school had not reopened the year the war began. Molly was happier with that, really. She wanted her daughter near her in those dangerous times. She would not even consider allowing Ginny to help Harry, Ron and Hermione with the secret mission they would not talk about. She wanted her daughter near her.
The first frost had come early to Ottery St. Catchpole, and Molly had set Ginny to renewing the charms that protected the garden vegetables from the cold. Ginny wore her winter cloak. Molly was inside renewing the Heating Charms that warmed the house, a messy business full of banging and clashing metal. She did not finish the job until well after noon, at which point she went outside to call her daughter in for lunch.
Only then did she notice that the vegetable garden was unusually quiet.
At first she thought Ginny might have gone inside without her noticing. She went back into the kitchen and called Ginny's name, but there was no answer.
She went back out into the vegetable garden. She forced herself to walk slowly, looking under each plant. Beneath the spinach leaves, she found Ginny's wand.
Her death was immediate, painful and excruciatingly public. The Death Eaters had gained control of the Wizarding Wireless Network and broadcast the death of Ginny Weasley on every station. The Aurors had arrived at the Burrow just a little too late to trace her captors; the signature left by Apparition had newly gone cold. Ginny's captors had come upon her quickly: the last spell her wand had cast was one to protect the tomato plants, and she was not the type to go without a fight.
Some of the Aurors were in the kitchen with Molly, asking her questions. One of them had thought a bit of music might calm her down, and so it was that Molly was listening when Voldemort came on the Wireless and announced that he had captured her daughter, that he was personally going to rip the heart from Ginny's chest and crush it between his fingers as it stopped beating.
The Wireless was silent as Voldemort gave Ginny time to beg for her life. But she did not do it. She did not say anything at all.
There was the sound of rending flesh and a terrible scream. Then there was silence.
The Aurors found her eventually, of course. But then it would have been hard not to find her: the Death Eaters had hung her body from the top of Big Ben, and the Muggles had not failed to notice. The Obliviators didn't even try to alter the Muggles' memories. The Ministry issued a statement to the Muggle police: a serial killer was on the loose, a madman who didn't look entirely normal. The description of Voldemort was not inaccurate. If any Muggles had any information, they should call a hotline set up for that purpose, run by wizards with good knowledge of Muggles. Nobody was suffering under the delusion that a Muggle would get close enough to Voldemort to identify him and live to tell about it, but having the hotline seemed to make everyone feel better, feel that something was being done to stop the person who had torn the heart from a girl's body, crushed it in his fist, and dropped it to the ground beneath her dangling feet.
The hotline didn't make the wizarding world feel any better, though. It only showed them how far away they were from the end of the war.
It was after ten p.m. by the time Harry left with Malfoy. Ron and Hermione had asked him if he wanted to be the godfather, and he'd said yes, of course; how could he not? He wondered what Sirius had felt like when his parents had asked him to be Harry's godfather. Sirius had never married, as far as Harry knew. He wondered if Sirius had ever been in love, if he'd ever planned on marrying . . . Harry had never thought to ask him about it. He supposed Lupin would know.
But here he was, Harry, godfather to his best friends' kid, unhappy and alone, and that was mostly the only way he'd seen Sirius, the brief time that he'd known him . . . It was just, damn it. He tried not to think about Ginny anymore. He'd thought about her a lot, at first, thought about how if he hadn't pushed her away, if he'd kept her near him, maybe the Death Eaters wouldn't have been able to catch her alone . . . Really he shouldn't have dated her at all, even for those few weeks, because even though he'd broken up with her it hadn't been enough to protect her, had it? Someone had figured out that she meant a lot to him anyway.
The real bitch of it was that Harry didn't know if he'd ever been in love with her at all. Much as Dumbledore had touted Harry's ability to love as his greatest strength, Harry wasn't sure if it hadn't all been bullshit. He cared deeply for Ron and Hermione. He would kill anyone who tried to harm them—had done, during the war. He supposed he loved the two of them if he loved anyone. But Ginny? He had gotten along with her well, thought her beautiful, wanted to throttle anyone else who was interested in her . . . He'd assumed he would marry her, though he'd never spoken of it to anyone, just the same as he'd assumed Ron and Hermione would marry. That was at the end of sixth year, before Ron and Hermione had so much as kissed, but it was obvious where they were going.
But what he'd felt for Ginny, was that love? He had no idea. He'd figured he would marry her, but he had no idea what would have actually happened. She was dead and Ron and Hermione were alive and married and happy; they'd just had their first child, and Harry could see the other children they would have as clearly as he'd been able to see their marriage back when he was sixteen. Their lives were going exactly as they'd been meant to, whereas Harry had nothing but a string of failed relationships with women in whom he'd had no real interest and a useless, awful attraction to Draco Bloody Malfoy. It would have been bad enough if he hadn't gone and kissed him. He'd been following Malfoy's lead for the past two days, pretending it hadn't happened, but who the fuck was he kidding? He wanted to know what it felt like to curl his tongue around Malfoy's tongue, to crush him up against a wall . . .
No. What he really wanted was to go back to a time before Ron and Hermione had known that they wanted each other, before he dated Ginny, before he ever thought of Malfoy as anything other than the most annoying git to walk the face of the earth. He wanted to undo what had been done, do it again differently, and better.
Failing that, he wanted a strong drink.
There was a bottle of brandy in one of the drawing room cabinets. Harry wasn't really much of a brandy drinker. He thought you were supposed to pour it in a glass and swirl it around before you drank it, or was that cognac? He didn't know or care; he was more of a beer kind of bloke, but liquor would get you drunk just as well and quicker, wouldn't it? There were glasses in the cabinet, too, he saw now, but he didn't bother with them. He unstoppered the bottle and took a swig. It burned a little going down, but he took a second swig and it was better. By the third sip he could feel the warmth spreading out from his stomach. This was good.
Suddenly he was certain that he couldn't stay in the house any longer. He had to get out. It didn't matter where he went, as long as it was to a pub.
He pulled out his wand and thought about pubs, dark ones with long bars and lots of liquor, and when he opened his eyes there was one in front of him. This was great. He walked in and announced, "I need a beer."
He sat down at the bar and banged his hands on the counter. The bartender handed him a pint and Harry took a long sip and slammed it down. He picked it back up and drained the rest of it.
"Another," he said.
"Are you all right, sir?" the bartender asked.
"I'm great," Harry said cheerfully. "Great. M'girlfriend died six years'go. T'night. Could I get that beer?"
"Shit," said a man further down the bar. "That's shitty luck, that." He hailed the bartender. "Give him another on me."
. . . Vodka was great, vodka. He loved vodka.
. . . "think you need to go home, sir."
"'M not drunk. 'M good. 'Nother beer."
. . . Man in a shirt. Black one. Tall hat. Holding beaters bat, why's he holding beaters bat, this's a bar, not a Quizza—Quizzi—Quidditch field. ". . . need to leave now, pal."
"'M not leaving."
" . . . drunk. You're leaving."
"'M not drunk!"
"Come on, mister."
Not leaving, can't—hit him, make him stop, not leaving, make him stop—
Outside. Cold. Hard thing on wrists.
" . . . drunk in public, assault—"
Got to leave. Apparate. Hand things on wrists. Wrists things. Can't move. Concenpate. Concenpate.
Warm. Inside. Not at bar.
It was like having a bucket of icy water dumped on his head. His head was throbbing; he was going to puke . . . He wasn't drunk anymore.
"Hello, Potter," Malfoy said.
Harry registered a number of things very quickly: he was standing in the hallway outside Malfoy's bedroom; his hands were cuffed behind his back; his wand wasn't in his pocket; his nose felt like it was broken; a wand was trained on him, and behind it Malfoy looked furious.
"The thing I dislike about Sobriety Charms," said Malfoy, "is that they don't help you remember what you did while you were drunk. But don't worry; I'm sure we'll be able to piece it together. You started in the drawing room, where you drank the better part of half a bottle of brandy." He held up the telltale bottle and dangled it in front of Harry's face. "Then," he continued, "you Apparated to a pub. That would have been around ten-thirty, when I felt you cross the wards. Sometime between then and now you got ragingly drunk, got your nose broken, and got arrested for public drunkenness and for attempted assault of a police officer." Malfoy held up an official-looking slip. "I assume the broken nose and the attempted assault are related."
Malfoy was standing too close to him. Harry took a step backwards and his cuffed hands hit the wall. "I don't remember precisely," Harry said. Surreptitiously he tried to pull his hands from the cuffs. He couldn't do it; they were locked tight.
"I don't guess it really matters what exactly you were doing," said Malfoy, stepping towards him. "The better question is, why was Harry Potter trying to get himself drunk in the first place?"
"It's really none of your business—"
"Yes, it is," Malfoy said. "You made it my business. Considering how concerned you were that I go under your bloody Committee protection, you'd think you would be doing a better job of actually, you know, protecting me. But who am I to criticize the Boy Who Just Won't Die?" Harry really didn't like the expression on Malfoy's face, the catlike grin. "I'd like to remind you of a couple of things, Potter. You just abandoned me to get ragingly drunk at a Muggle pub when you're meant to be protecting me, first off. Secondly, the last time I checked, the gossip column at the Prophet was under the distinct impression that you were straight. I imagine they'd be very interested to hear what I could tell them . . . "
"Are you threatening me, Malfoy?"
Malfoy's grin grew wider. "Oh, Potter. You're so good at this self-righteousness bit. As if you didn't threaten me with Azkaban if I didn't go along with your Committee protection plan."
"I was just telling you the way things are!"
"Yes? Well, I'm doing the same. Now, Potter," Malfoy said, "I'll be more than happy to keep your secrets, but I'd like some answers. What exactly was it that drove you to drink tonight?"
"Ginny died six years ago tonight. Or yesterday by now, I guess."
"I'm aware. That's not what did it, though, is it?" Malfoy stepped closer.
Harry swallowed and tried to back up, but his cuffed hands hit a wall. Fuck. He was hard, there could be no denying it, and Malfoy was close enough to reach out and touch him. Damn it, he didn't need this.
"Tell me, Potter." Malfoy touched the tip of his wand to Harry's neck.
Harry was tired and miserable and had a throbbing headache, and suddenly he just didn't give a fuck. "Fine. You want to know, I'll tell you. My two best friends just had a baby, on the day the girl I was supposed to marry died, and nothing in my life is going the way it was supposed to—"
"That's what drove you to drink? That your life isn't some happily-ever-after story? Get over yourself, Potter."
"I don't expect you to understand, Malfoy," Harry snapped. "It's just—I gave up everything, everything to win that war, and Ron and Hermione are married and happy; it's like the war never happened, and I didn't come out of the war with anything I wanted—"
"Wow," Malfoy said.
"You actually are as self-absorbed as I always thought you were." Malfoy shook his head. "I almost can't believe it. It's like it never occurred to you that you aren't the only one who lost something in the war, whose life didn't turn out exactly as he'd meant it to. You think I wanted to lose my mother, my fiancée, the Manor? It was fucking awful, Potter, but I got over it, because I had to. You can't just keep thinking about what might have been until you go insane and have to be put down like a mad Krup." Malfoy paused. "I take that back. By all means, do. It would save the world from miserable, whining heroes.
"And Potter? Don't tell me you never get anything you want."
He reached out and grabbed Harry's crotch.
"I don't want this," Harry lied desperately—he'd never thought this would happen, never, and now that it was happening he didn't know what to do about it—but Malfoy just gripped him tighter and the hitch in Harry's breath betrayed him.
"But you don't even like me," Harry said.
"Are you really so much of a Gryffindor as to think that liking someone has to have anything to do with this?" Deftly he undid Harry's flies and gripped the length of him and after that there could be no arguing.
Harry's arms were crushed between his back and the wall and they were beginning to hurt from the odd angle but he didn't care. Malfoy's fingers ran down the length of him, fondled his balls, caressed the head, the slit—Harry tried to concentrate on exactly what he was doing so that he could remember it later, but Malfoy was going faster, faster until he was coming so hard his eyes squeezed shut and even after he opened them again he saw black for a moment.
Malfoy looked inordinately pleased with himself. "Do you know how I knew you wanted that? Other than the fact that you were hard the moment you recognized me?"
Harry was too busy recovering from his orgasm even to attempt snarkiness. "How."
Malfoy grinned. "You're the most powerful wizard in Britain, Potter. You could have opened those handcuffs with a thought, and you were so busy staring at me that you never even tried." Malfoy waved his hand and the cuffs disappeared.
Harry loosed his hands, wincing as his shoulders popped back into their normal positions.
"Good night, Potter."
Harry started. "Malfoy, what the—"
But Malfoy had already gone into his bedroom and turned the lock in the door.
"Fuck," Harry said with feeling, though what it was that he was feeling, he couldn't have said.
He was exhausted and hung over and confused, and the only thing for it seemed to be to go to bed and deal with it in the morning. This was a disturbing habit to be falling into, but the moment his head touched the pillow Harry just didn't care anymore: he was fast asleep.
Harry would have had a major bit of thinking to do the next morning, were it not for the fact that Malfoy grabbed him the moment he stepped out of his bedroom and shoved his pajama bottoms down. That rather took care of the first question Harry would have had for Malfoy, which was, "Was what happened last night a completely random thing?"
But he still couldn't stop himself from saying, "Malfoy, what are you doing?"
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "I should think that would be obvious."
"No, I mean—in general."
"You're fucking kidding me, Potter. You want to talk about it? Let me make things easy for you: I want to get laid. So do you, obviously." He looked pointedly at Harry's cock, which was standing at attention. "Is there really anything else you want to discuss?"
Yes, lots of things, but Malfoy was undoing his own flies and he was hard, too; Harry's cock was leaking already at the sight of it. He really shouldn't want Malfoy this much, it wasn't healthy; he was still hung over and he wanted something greasy for breakfast, but Malfoy had grabbed Harry's cock and was pulling him off and saying, "Reciprocation, Potter, would be nice," and God, breakfast could wait.
Malfoy's cock was heavy in his hand, longer and thinner than his own. He'd never touched someone else's cock before but he had the idea that it couldn't be that different from pulling himself off. Malfoy arched his hips up towards Harry's hand and made a sound deep in his threat and he was coming and that did it for Harry: he could feel the orgasm building and he too was coming . . .
After a moment Harry recovered enough to let go of Malfoy's cock and wipe his hand on his pants.
Malfoy too wiped his hand on Harry's pants.
"Hey!" Harry said.
"There's no sense dirtying mine, too," Malfoy said logically.
He had a point, but still—fucker. "I'm going to go change clothes," he said pointedly.
Malfoy grinned. "See you at breakfast."
Harry woke up abruptly in darkness, disoriented. He was in a bed, but it didn't seem to be his own—
Of course it wasn't. He hadn't slept in his own bed at 12 Grimmauld Place in nearly a month. He was at Malfoy's house.
He was in Malfoy's bed.
Late last night they'd pulled each other off and fallen onto the bed, sticky and too exhausted to remember even to cast a Cleaning Charm. Harry had meant to close his eyes for just a minute before he got up and went back to his own room. He and Malfoy had been doing this . . . thing, whatever it was, for nearly a week now. And yet each time Malfoy kissed him, rolled their hips together, touched his cock, it was like the first time: Harry still couldn't believe it was actually happening.
Now it was the middle of the night. Harry wondered what could have awoken him, but then he saw that Malfoy too was awake in the bed beside him.
"Hey," Harry said, propping himself up on his side.
"Hullo," Malfoy said. His head was still on his pillow, but there was no way you could have thought he was asleep. In the moonlight filtered in through the curtains his expression was strange, neither guarded nor open.
"I was thinking about this attack," Malfoy said.
"What about it?"
Malfoy sat up slowly. "My wards are good, right? Boot said it himself, and Boot's one of the best names in the business. How many people are there who can disable wards like mine?"
The Committee had been doing a good deal of research into that very question, under Terry's lead. "Not many," Harry admitted. "A dozen, tops, in all of Britain."
Malfoy nodded. "And how many of them have Death Eater connections?"
"None that we could find." Harry looked at him closely. "You already know that, though," he said, sure he was right as he spoke.
"I made some inquiries," Malfoy said.
"Those letters you've been writing in the morning?"
"You've been discreet, I assume."
"No, Potter, I took out a full page ad in the Prophet. Of course I was discreet. Back to my point: there aren't any wards experts out there with Death Eater connections."
"And there aren't any Death Eaters still out there who could take down the wards," Harry added. The Committee had researched the matter from both directions. He added, "Not that we know of, anyway."
Harry realized two things all of a sudden: that this was the first real conversation he'd ever had with Malfoy, and that he'd never thought to ask Malfoy if he knew why someone was trying to kill him. He wasn't about to mention the former; he didn't want the conversation to stop. But as for the latter . . . Motive had never really been an issue with Death Eaters before—death and destruction, that was their idea of a good time—and Harry had never really wondered why anyone would want to kill Malfoy; it had seemed obvious. "Malfoy, why is someone trying to kill you right now?" he asked.
He rather expected a snarky answer, but instead Malfoy looked thoughtful. "I've been wondering about that, too," he said. "I mean, I've got plenty of enemies. The Death Eaters hate me because I defected and most everyone else hates me because I was a Death Eater. But it's been five years since the end of the war. The timing of it doesn't make a lot of sense."
"It doesn't," Harry agreed.
Malfoy looked like he was going to say something more, but then he hesitated. "There was an order," he said finally. "From the Dark Lord. That anyone who failed him must report for punishment. If someone didn't do it, the other Death Eaters were to bring that person back to him. They were told that they would be rewarded for doing the Dark Lord's bidding . . . That was what happened to my mother, you know. Even though she wasn't a Death Eater. My father had failed him, and I failed him, and so she . . . " He trailed off, but when he spoke again his voice was even. "They came after me, too. Two of them, not long after she was killed. They were trying to collect their reward." His voice was bitter.
"They tried to stun you and take you back to Voldemort," Harry said, remembering from having read Malfoy's file long ago.
"Unsuccessfully," Malfoy added. He paused for a second. "My father tried to kill me, too, you know."
"During the Final Battle."
"How did we not have this in the Committee file?"
"I didn't much see the point of mentioning it during my Wizengamot hearing. I didn't want my father to be sentenced to anything worse than he was already going to get."
"He tried to kill you, Malfoy!"
"He didn't succeed, did he? I don't think he was acting under his own volition, anyway. It's not important; he's in Azkaban for the rest of his life." Malfoy's tone made it clear that that was the end of that topic. Harry was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Malfoy could talk so casually about his father having tried to kill him when Malfoy continued, "Back to when you asked why someone might be after me, though, that was the first thing I thought of: the Dark Lord's order. It doesn't really make sense, though. If these people want to kill me, that's not what the Dark Lord would have wanted; and the Dark Lord is gone, anyway. They wouldn't be rewarded for it."
"Nobody would be killing you because of that," Harry said.
"Nobody sane, anyway," Malfoy amended.
Harry thought about that. He wondered how many of the Death Eaters could be considered, strictly speaking, sane. He thought of Bellatrix Lestrange, who had committed suicide immediately upon learning that Voldemort was dead. A number of other high-ranking Death Eaters had done the same. Harry had hated them all the more for it at the time. He was glad that Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban, suffering for what he had done.
"We made a special effort to go after the crazy ones," he said. "The ones who hadn't already killed themselves off, that is."
Malfoy smiled wanly.
They were silent for a moment. Malfoy lay back down as if to go to sleep and Harry thought to do the same. Just when Harry thought he was asleep, though, Malfoy said quietly, "I'm beginning to wonder if this attack is going to happen at all."
Harry too had wondered that. They had no suspects and no good motive. There had not been a single hint of Death Eater activity since that one conversation they'd recorded in Kent, and that had been the better part of a month ago. Even if there was going to be an attack, there wasn't anyone who could get through Malfoy's wards . . . It all seemed more and more improbable by the minute.
Harry looked down at Malfoy, meaning to voice some of this to him, but Malfoy's eyes were closed and his mouth was slightly open. He'd fallen asleep again.
Harry lay down and closed his eyes. He was still thinking about what Malfoy had said. What if the attack did never come? What if he just stayed here at Malfoy's house indefinitely, waiting for it?
It wouldn't actually happen that way, Harry knew perfectly well. The Committee was meant to be shut down on November fifteenth, and if the attack didn't happen on the first the Committee would be shut down for sure. But the thought of staying here with Malfoy forever wasn't all that bad, Harry thought as he drifted off to sleep.