- Story Summary:
- SLASH. London, 2003, and two old enemies have become partners in crime. But the wizarding world is out to disrupt Harry's none too peaceful existence ... sex, guns, rock n' roll, drugs and bad language abound in a fast paced romantic thriller.
- Chapter Summary:
- SLASH. London, 2003, and two old enemies have become partners in crime. But the wizarding world is out to disrupt Harry's none too peaceful existence ... sex, guns, rock 'n' roll, drugs and bad language abound in a fast paced romantic thriller.
- Author's Note:
- Please be aware that this story contains
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 15TH, 2003.
Rain trickled down the windowpanes. Down below, in the courtyard, a lamplighter was at work.
“Well. I suppose it's time to go.”
Ron looked around his office. His things were stacked up in cardboard boxes, the lids straining to stay shut. It was funny, he thought, no matter how little stuff you move in with, by the time you move out you seem to have acquired enough to make moving awkward.
He picked a framed photo out of the box. The people in the picture were smiling and waving. It had been taken in June, 2001, on the day he had qualified as an IBME operative. It showed him and the rest of his graduation class, all holding their scrolls, dressed in the ceremonial uniform of the organisation.
Ron choked back a slight cry. He replaced the photo in its box, and then walked over to the wall, where the scroll hung, framed. He unhooked the frame, and read the words back to himself.
I, his tutor, Commodore Godfrey Bowman do hereby certify that Captain Weasley is fit to practice and to serve under the Terms and Conditions of the Bureau as set out in the Handbook.
Witnessed this day by Commodore Euphegenia Whitley DMV.
Arch-Chancellor, United Kingdom Section, Thomas Powell.
Supreme Arch-Chancellor Idris Tumbaye (Malawi).
Supreme Mugwump (ICW) Albus Dumbledore.
The Bureau expects that its Operatives will perform their duties to the fullest of their abilities, never shirking from danger or from fear. As an Operative of the Bureau, your writ extends above that of the Interior Magical Police Force of all 126 signatory countries to the International Confederation of Wizards, with the exception of France, whose government has opted out as usual. As such, you are expected to practice with the utmost integrity at all times, and set an example to those you lead.
Ron heaved a great sigh, and set the certificate down on top of the box.
“Fuck,” he said bitterly.
He cast his eyes quickly around the office one last time, wondering if he had missed anything, when his eye was caught by a copy of the London Evening Standard, which had been discarded in the wastepaper basket.
POLICE LINK ARSON ATTACK TO GANGLAND SCENE. MYSTERY DEEPENS, it read.
Ron picked it up. There was a large, colour photo of Harry, looking very self-satisfied, and another one of Wilbur Malone next to it.
'Police investigating the destruction of an Islington flat block by fire are placing the blame firmly at the centre of a turf war smouldering in London's gangland scene. The block, which was owned by, and home to club baron Harry Potter, was gutted in a devastating blaze last night, believed to have been arson. Wilbur Malone, against whom the Metropolitan Police have been working without success for some years, is believed to be behind the attack, which may be revenge for snubs by Mr Potter in the past. Mr Potter, currently recovering from a car crash in a private hospital in Surrey, was unavailable for comment. Although prison reform advocates hold Potter up as a success story of the criminal rehabilitation system, which enabled him to open up his first gym, there are many in the force who believe Mr Potter's business empire to be little more than cover for a significant criminal organisation …'
Ron's eyes drifted back up to the photo. There was something very strange about Wilbur Malone, now he came to think about it. His gaze was drawn inexorably to the man's eyes. They were unlike any eyes Ron had ever seen before. They seemed somehow inhuman.
The office door opened at that point, and Sirius came in.
“Want a hand with the boxes?” he asked. “I can carry some stuff down to your car, if you'd like.”
“Yeah,” Ron said, not really listening. “Have a look at this, will you?”
Sirius raised his eyebrows inquisitively, and took the paper from Ron.
“What exactly am I looking for?” he asked.
“Look at his eyes.”
“Notice anything odd?”
Sirius nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Yes … actually, I do.”
“His eyes? Malone's, I mean.”
Sirius nodded again. “Yes. They're sort of funny looking, aren't they? Kind of catlike. How bizarre.” He folded the paper neatly in half, and handed it back to Ron. “Think you might be onto something, do you?”
Ron wasn't immediately especially sure. “Possibly,” he said. “It might be nothing … it might just be a funny photo. Light can play funny tricks with photographs, sometimes.”
“All the same,” said Sirius, hoisting one of Ron's cardboard boxes off the desk, “it is kind of strange, don't you think?”
“Yes,” said Ron, only half aware. Cogs were beginning to whirr round and round and round in his brain.
“I suppose there's not really a lot we can do about it,” Sirius said. “The Group Commissioner wants us out of here within the hour. Unauthorised personnel aren't allowed inside the building.”
“If I could … I mean, if I still had clearance … I'd race down to the archive and absolutely fucking ransack it,” said Ron. “Look at his face. I'm surprised I didn't spot it before, but it looks so much like him I'm amazed I didn't spot it before.”
“Well … don't beat yourself up over it,” said Sirius. “If you want, I can give it to Remus … or ask him to check out the files for you. Mind, he'd be risking his neck, and you know Remus. He doesn't like sticking his head over the parapet.”
Ron tucked the paper into the other box, and picked it up. “Come on,” he said. “We'd better get out of here.”
Sirius looked around the office one last time. “What about that picture?” he asked, pointing to it. Hanging on one wall was another photograph – taken by Colin Creevey many, many years ago, it showed Harry, Ron and Hermione grinning manically.
“What picture?” Ron asked.
“The one of you … with Harry,” Sirius said.
Ginny was waiting at home with Cameron as Ron's Saab pulled onto the driveway. She peered around the curtain as the headlights flickered and died.
“Come along, sweetie,” she said. “Dad's back!”
Cameron scrambled off the sofa, where he had been watching Star Wars again, and ran through into the hall. Ginny followed him and opened the door just as Ron was taking his keys out of his pocket.
“Hello, Cam,” Ron said dejectedly, as the tiny boy flung his arms around his waist.
“What's wrong, Daddy?”
Ron scooped Cameron up from the ground. “Daddy can't go back to work any more,” he said, in a voice without emotion. “He's decided to look for a new job.”
“You can fly the Minellium Falcon!” Cameron exclaimed.
“I don't think Daddy would be a particularly good pilot,” said Ron. “He'd be too tall to sit in the pilot's seat. Have you had your dinner?”
“I had sausages,” said Cameron. “With mashed potatoes. And baked beans too.”
“Sounds yummy,” said Ron. “Hello, Gin. You save any for me?”
Cameron giggled. “Auntie Ginny said they make me fart.”
“Yes, very probably,” said Ron.
“Do you want to come and watch Star Wars with me?” Cameron asked. “It's the bit where Jabba the Hutt's got Princess Leia in the chains again …”
“Maybe later,” said Ron. “I'm going to go and do some dinner for Sirius and me.”
“Don't have beans, Dad,” Cameron said, as Ron deposited him on the hall floor again. “Your farts stink!”
The boy dashed off into the sitting room.
“And don't slam the bloody ….” There was a crash. “Door.”
“I'll put you some sausages on, if you'd like,” Ginny said, as Sirius staggered through the door, carrying the last of the cardboard boxes.
“It's okay,” said Ron. “I think there's some steak in the fridge. Sirius, fancy steak and chips?”
“When did I ever refuse a steak?” Sirius asked, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“You look whacked,” said Ginny.
“I am whacked,” Sirius said. “I've been carrying boxes for your fuckwit of a brother all afternoon. Ron … allow me to tell you now, once and for all, that you are a lazy, lazy sod.”
“Come through into the kitchen, then,” said Ginny. “At least let me put the kettle on.”
“Did you eat with Cameron?”
“Yeah, I'm full up,” said Ginny. From the sitting room they could hear the sound of the volume on the telly creeping up and up, ever so slowly. Ron fished the errant newspaper out of its box.
“Something wrong?” Ginny asked.
“What do you make of this picture?” Ron asked, handing her the paper.
Ginny surveyed it. “It's a photo of Harry,” she said. “It's not an especially good photo of Harry, mind you.”
“The other one.”
Ginny looked at it. She raised her eyebrows, puzzled.
“It looks like Phil Mitchell,” she said. “Only with Voldemort's eyes.”
“It's the man who burned down Harry's apartment building,” Sirius explained. “Or at least, the man the Muggle police think did it.”
“Phil Mitchell burned down Harry's house?” Ginny asked. “That's quite some plotline …”
“Gin, this is serious!”
“I know, I know,” said Ginny. “God, you two are like a couple of wet weekends –”
“Well, losing your job does that,” Ron snapped.
Ginny looked slightly shamefaced. “Yeah,” she said. “I suppose. Sorry, guys. Let me do the cooking to make up for it, yeah?”
Ron gave his sister a hug. “I'm sorry, sweetheart.”
“I am too.”
Ten minutes later, they were all sitting round Ron's kitchen table, nursing large cups of tea, whilst Ginny performed a defrosting charm on the steaks. Ron had a microwave, but it was only for show, and never actually plugged in. Magic worked quicker anyway.
“I still say it's odd,” said Ron. “A suspicion is forming in my mind that Malone is not nearly all he seems to be.”
“How do you mean?” Sirius asked. “Let me see the photograph again.”
Ginny took a baking tray down from one of the cupboards. “I have to say, Ron,” she said. “I think you're making a fuss over nothing. I mean … you've mentioned Malone before. He's a gangster who was a wizard at one time. I don't see how he can actually be the Dark Lord.”
“No, neither do I,” said Ron. “I wasn't theorising that he was. All the same, the idea is quite intriguing.”
“You've seen Malone's file, though,” said Sirius. “It's totally legitimate.”
“He's led quite a mysterious life,” said Ron. “I mean … we only know the barest amount about his past and his background. It leads me to wonder, you know.”
“Plenty of people are mysterious,” said Sirius. “Plenty of people do things to cover up stuff. Remember when they found out that the Malfoys weren't Purebloods after all?”
Ron snickered. “Yeah … that was funny.”
“A skilful bit of manipulation, a bit of fabrication and a few swift memory charms,” said Sirius, “and you too can create a whole new family tree, free of Muggles.”
“Memory charms!” Ron exclaimed. “That's it!”
“Here comes the train! Toot, toot! Big Boy is coming into the tunnel!”
“Sod off, Draco.”
“But Harry! You haven't touched your mush.”
“I don't want to touch my mush.”
“But you have to touch your mush, Harry. Please touch your mush?”
“I don't want to eat it. It's all brown.”
“Nothing wrong with brown,” said Draco.
“It's not mush,” said Draco. He picked up the little card. “It says here that it's chicken casserole.”
“Well, it looks like mush to me. What's for pudding?”
Draco picked up the spoon, and prodded pudding. “Looks like pink,” he said. “Pink wobbly stuff.”
“What does it taste of?”
Draco prodded it with the spoon again. The spoon bounced off. “It won't give,” he said.
Draco dug the spoon into the blancmange, and popped a bit of it into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully for a few seconds before swallowing. Then he said, “It tastes of pink.”
“Well, I'm not eating it,” Harry said miserably.
“You have to eat something. Your mush is congealing, look.”
“Put the telly on.”
“I said no, Harry. You're going to eat some dinner and then we're going to have a civilised conversation,” Draco said.
“But I want to watch the telly,” Harry said.
Draco looked at his watch. “It's seven fifteen,” he said. “What the merry fuck is on telly at seven fifteen?”
Harry shrugged. “Watchdog?”
“I'm not letting you watch those twats poncing around,” Draco said.
Harry was doing the mournful thing with his bottom lip. Draco, despite himself, melted again.
“What's wrong, Harry?”
“I want to go home.”
“You can't. Not till tomorrow evening. I know it's hard, but you have to trust the doctors. They know what they're doing, you see –”
“I don't think you quite understand me,” Harry said, drawing the bedclothes up around his knees and pushing the foul dinner further away from him. “I want to go home.”
“Harry – we went through this. The police have done all they can but they don't know who did it –”
“That's not home,” said Harry.
“No, that's just a place to get some sleep, have food and shag in,” Harry said.
“Where's home, then?” Draco said.
“I want everything to be back like it was,” Harry said.
“Hogwarts? I somehow don't think they'd let you –” Draco began.
“No, you silly arse. Home home.”
“But I didn't think you had …”
“Yes. There. I want to go there,” Harry said. “I want to go back to my cupboard. I wish none of this had ever happened.”
Ron was just leaving the building as Hermione passed him, heading in.
“Oh. Hello, you,” she said. She looked flustered. Her handbag was stuffed full of tissues and she was wearing a very thick woolly hat.
Ron hastily tucked the books he was carrying inside his carrier bag.
“Coping?” she asked.
Ron nodded. “I was just doing some … research …”
“Oh yeah?” Hermione asked. “You … in a library?”
“Don't look so shocked,” said Ron. He lowered his voice. “Actually … I'm out looking for a job.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth he realised how utterly ridiculous the lie sounded.
“In the National Library of Magic?” Hermione exclaimed. “Exactly what sort of job are you after, Ronald? Because you sure as hell aren't going to get one in there.”
“Okay … I was looking up spells,” said Ron. “Spells to do a certain thing.”
“Like what?” Hermione asked. “I have to prepare for a case but it's very boring … maybe I can help find something relevant?”
“Spells to … well … alter memories,” Ron said. “I have a little theory about Harry, which I want to follow up.”
“I see,” said Hermione. “Well. Good luck. Are you off to grab some lunch?”
Ron nodded. “I checked out the canteen in there,” he said. “But it looked foul. Besides, I'm off to meet Sirius.”
“It is foul,” said Hermione. “There's a really nice little sandwich bar round the corner, though,” she went on. “They do wonderful panini. Look, Ron, I'll see you later, yeah? Ginny's asked me out to tea at the Ritz, of all places.”
“You're making up?” Ron asked brightly.
Hermione grimaced. “Well … I'm not exactly sure,” she said. “I hope so. Anyway, see you around, yeah?”
She waved as she disappeared into the Library, and Ron suddenly felt a pang of regret.
Sirius was sitting at a table in the Pentagram when Ron showed up ten minutes later, having run all the way. He was nursing a solitary pint of ale, and looked very, very miserable. He had clearly not shaved in some time, and what had been a trendy masculine stubble was developing into a straggly beard with a speed that would have stunned Gandalf himself.
“Sit down, why don't you?” he said, blankly. “I ordered some food. I hope you don't mind.”
“No, not at all,” Ron said. “I might go and get some myself –”
Sirius gestured to the menu card. “Knock yourself out, kid,” he said.
“You look pissed off,” Ron said, as he extracted the pile of books from his bag, and laid them on the table. “Have you had any luck?”
Sirius shook his head. “I'm on the fucking scrap-heap,” he said. “Nobody, and I mean absolutely fucking nobody wants to take on someone my age. I'm on the scrap-heap and I'm only forty-six.”
“Something will turn up, I'm sure,” said Ron. “Did you take a look at those application forms I got for you?”
“Every last one of them was bollocks,” said Sirius, annoyed. “I don't want to do anything like that. Working with the police was the only thing that ever made me happy. Now they've pulled me off the Muggle force and chucked me out of the IBME … I don't know what I shall do.”
“You could always become a security guard,” said Ron, only half-listening as he scanned the menu.
“Don't take the piss, you twat,” Sirius said darkly. “Anyhow, what about yourself?”
“I spent all morning in the Library,” said Ron. “I got these out. I thought they might help us a bit.”
“It's a start,” said Sirius. “What did you get? 'Memory-Induction and Psychic Magic' by Whitlam Jones. Sounds good.”
“I was reading it earlier,” said Ron. “There's good stuff in there, for sure.”
“Excellent,” Sirius said. “This one looks good. 'Powers You Never Knew You Had And What To Do With Them Now You've Wised Up.'”
“That one's mainly a self-help guide,” said Ron. “But I figured it might help us a bit.”
“I'm impressed,” said Sirius.
“Did you speak to Remus and Avon?” Ron asked.
Sirius nodded. “By phone, earlier,” he said. “Avon's got cold feet, but he at least says he isn't going to turn Remus in –”
“And how is Remus?”
Sirius grinned. “Finding his feet,” he said. “He'd been hankering for promotion for some time.”
“And was he helpful?”
Sirius nodded. “He photocopied the records we were after,” he said. “I picked up these photos earlier. He owled them to me.”
He produced from within his smart, black designer robe a brown envelope, of the sort that might more usually have contained a bung. He handed it to Ron.
“Take a look, why don't you?”
Ron opened the envelope, and took out four glossy prints. Two of them were grainy, black and white prints of some sort of ceremony. Dark, insubstantial figures were moving around a fire.
“Surveillance took those two in 1998,” said Sirius. “This is the last recorded photo of Voldemort in existence. He's the tall one, shrouded in the pale white robe.”
“I see him,” said Ron. “Is that a cauldron?”
Sirius nodded. “That is indeed a cauldron,” he said. “There's obviously some sort of rite going on here. The reconnaissance team took the next one about twenty minutes later. Take a look at that one, it's a lot clearer.”
Ron moved on to the second print. “I don't see Voldemort in that one,” he said.
“Oh, he's there,” said Sirius, pointing to a figure standing, motionless in the background. “See?”
Ron looked back at the first photo. “He looks shorter,” he said.
Sirius nodded. “Yes. True,” he said. “In fact, in the second photo, Voldemort has apparently lost about a foot and a half in approximately twenty minutes. Now, that isn't actually possible without some form of reincorporating magic. Possibly a Polyjuice Potion?”
“It's a thought,” said Ron. “Who is that chap?”
“That fellow's name is Stephen Byers,” said Sirius. “He's a Death Eater who walked free after the trials in 1998. Apparently a big shot Muggle politician now. One the Aurors have been keeping an eye on. Look at him in relation to Voldemort, and you can quite easily see just how the height changes.”
“So what do you think it means?” asked Ron. “Might my theory be right?”
“That Voldemort has apparently adopted a Muggle alias, and is hiding himself?” Sirius asked. “Well, it is possible, I suppose. But the evidence simply is too flimsy. There's just far too much of it that appears circumstantial. There's nothing to prove that that potion is Polyjuice at all. Hell … it could be melted cheese for all we know. They might have been having a fondue party.”
“That actually seems quite unlikely.”
“Yeah, I thought you might be going to say that,” said Sirius. A waiter was hovering over them.
“Can I take an order, sir?” he asked Ron.
“Yeah … uh … scampi and chips for me, please,” said Ron. “Can I have a side of onion rings?”
“No problem. Any drinks?”
“Pint of Best, please.”
“So, where were we?” Sirius took up his pint and sipped greatly of it.
“The other two photos?” Ron asked.
“Oh, yeah, sure. Right,” Sirius said, putting down his glass again. Someone, somewhere in the pub was playing a flute very loudly and very badly. It clashed terribly with the muzak, which was a compilation entitled 'Songs You Hoped You'd Never Hear Again, Volume 5.' The bar staff were looking livid.
“These look like they're closed circuit TV screen captures,” said Ron. “The quality's awful –”
“These are the most recent photos of Malone that Remus could find in the IBME archive,” said Sirius. “That first one was taken in a branch of Dixons in Bromley, a couple of weeks back.”
“Can't make it out at all,” Ron said.
“Ah, actually, it tells us more than we think it does,” said Sirius. “See here, look at that one back at the Death Eater's knees up.”
“What am I looking for?”
Sirius pointed. “The other man on the right. We've got a positive ID on him. His name is Goyle, and he's currently doing twenty five years in Azkaban. His height is six foot one. This photo was taken from a distance of about thirty feet away. This information allows us to calculate that dear, darling Voldemort, who is standing slap bang next to him, is about five foot three in that photo, give or take a few inches. Now look at the other one.”
Ron picked it up.
“See that security gate?” Sirius asked. “The one he's walking through. It's exactly five feet high. Malone is, again, a few inches over that. About five foot three.”
“And how tall is Malone?” Ron asked.
“Five foot three,” Sirius said. “How weird is that? But there's more –”
“I should hope so,” said Ron. “Knowing Malone's height doesn't really give us much to go on.”
“Check this. File photo,” said Sirius, pointing to the last remaining print. Ron looked at it closely.
“The eyes match,” he said. “Well I'll be … it wasn't a trick of the light.”
Draco leaned against the wall, and sighed deeply. This was too much for him. He was a hedonist, for fuck's sake. A pure, unrepentant, hedonistic little slut. This life was boring him.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps coming along the corridor towards him. It turned out to be Neville Longbottom, wearing a very sharply cut navy blue suit, which made Draco, in his comfy flared jeans and designer sweater (this one had, for some reason 'Philadelphia City Morgue' written across the back) feel positively underdressed.
“Afternoon, Drake,” Neville said cheerily. He was holding a large file under his arm, which appeared to contain Harry's Muggle medical notes. This file was quite large. “Hold that for me.”
Draco took the file. “No peeking!” Neville instructed, stooping to tie up his shoelaces. Draco looked hurriedly away from the other man's arse.
“Okay then, Drake,” Neville said.
Draco put a hand on Neville's shoulder. “Please don't call me that,” he said through gritted teeth. “I find it really annoying.”
Neville looked taken aback. “Okay. Sorry, mate,” he said. “How's Harry been?”
“They sent me outside while the doctors check him over,” Draco said unhappily. “I … I was talking to him last night, and I think he's gone a bit …”
“That's not precisely the word I'd use, but yes.”
Neville rocked backwards and forwards on his heels. “That isn't altogether surprising,” he said
“I love him,” Draco said, softly.
“Oh, Draco, I understand,” Neville said. “I really do, I'm not a shrink for nothing. And Harry loves you, too.”
“He's never said so,” said Draco, raising his eyebrows.
Neville shrugged. “Maybe he doesn't need to,” he said, “but it's very much there. I can see it when he talks about you. But I don't think he recognises it.”
“I don't think Harry can recognise love,” Neville said. “I don't believe he's capable of it.”
“Maybe he's scared,” Draco said. “I'd be scared. You know back at school we used to taunt him. We thought he was making it all up.”
“The whole 'locked in a cupboard for ten years and fed scraps' thing,” said Draco.
Neville's eyes narrowed. “You might have done,” he said. “I believed every word of it.”
“You were a Gryffindor,” Draco said.
Neither of them said anything for a good ten seconds.
“But it was all true,” said Draco. “I look at Harry and I … I seriously admire him. Father may have been a complete arsehole … but I was never treated like that!”
“I idolised him,” said Neville. “I suppose I still do.”
Draco nodded. “I was jealous of him,” he said. “I thought he was making it all up, and that he was some jumped-up little orphan boy from a cushy foster home out attention seeking. I felt bloody awful when I found out it was true, but by then I couldn't do anything about it. We'd sort of set in motion this reciprocal train of hatred.”
Neville chuckled. “You do talk some good metaphors, I'll grant you, Malfoy. I'll have to use train of hatred on my clients. It could be a major new psychological innovation –”
“Anyway,” Draco cut in. “I admire him for what he's been through. But it also scares me. It scares me because I don't know what he's thinking, because he's so reserved, so surrounded by walls on every single side, and God knows I've tried to break those down over these last few years. But there's still so much he'll refuse to talk about. He'll shut me out if I so much as mention Hogwarts. Harry scares me because I don't know what he's capable of. And I just know he's going to do something awful if we don't help him.”
Neville looked at the floor. “Draco … you don't need to tell me all this …”
“No, I feel better,” said Draco. “Perhaps I should book a session with you one of these days.”
“I do very reasonable rates,” Neville said, smiling.
“I never thought I'd say this,” said Draco. “But you're not half bad, Neville. Not for a wizard.”
“You're okay for a Muggle, too,” said Neville. Then he did something Draco had not been expecting him to do. He offered his hand.
Draco shook it.
“I'm glad I've met you again,” Neville said. “I'm glad … I'm glad for you and Harry. I think … I think you're right for one another.”
“And that blond on black colour combination is too sexy for words,” Neville said. Then he blushed. “I didn't just say that, did I?”
“I'm afraid so. Neville … I didn't know you cared.”
“I care about Harry's happiness,” said Neville.
“So, should he stay away, or should he go back?” Draco asked.
Neville raised his eyebrows. “Oh … he should come back to us,” he said. “I've spoken to people who know these things, and I think it'd be better for him. And before you fly off the handle at me, I'm not just saying that because I'm a mate of Ron's.”
“I believe you,” said Draco. He leaned back against the wall.
“I'm saying it because I genuinely think he'd be happier in the wizarding world,” Neville said. “Harry may not have been able to recognise genuine friendship, or even love. But it's better for him to be amongst people who genuinely care for him.”
“Even Weasley?” Draco asked suspiciously.
Neville nodded. “Even Ron. Ron's just emotionally stunted, that's all. He needs to get in touch with his inner child. Ron's carrying a lot of baggage at the minute, emotionally and such.”
“You're making Commodore Ronald The-Hot-Dog-Rammed-Up-My-Arse-Must-Have-A-Hot-Dog-Rammed-Up-Its-Arse Weasley out to be the victim?” Draco explained incredulously.
Neville nodded. “Oh yes,” he said. “Both of them are victims. Harry and Ron. Ron never knew why his best friend, the boy he idolised, and the boy who idolised him as a brother, left him. Platonically they were as close as it's possible to get without being lovers –”
“They were lovers,” said Draco. “Only once, though.”
Neville blushed scarlet. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I had no idea. Anyhow, that makes Ron's position even worse. The boy who he isn't sure if he loves or not is suddenly thrust out of his life –”
“Harry was shagging Ginny, too,” Draco cut in.
“Is there anybody Harry wasn't shagging?” Neville asked. “Was he working through the whole family or something?”
“Nobody was quite clear on that point,” Draco admitted. “I guess he could have been.”
“But Harry … Harry was … always … Harry was always … such a … such a ….”
“Such a virgin?”
Neville spluttered. “Well … yes.”
Draco leaned forwards. “Carry on with what you were going to say,” he said. “It's probably still quite relevant, actually.”
“Ron's all screwed up because he lost his best friend,” said Neville. “So is Harry, although getting either of those two pillocks to admit it will be like trying to … well … it'll be bloody difficult.”
“I understand,” said Draco.
The door to the bedroom opened at that point, and the doctor and nurse came out.
“Oh! You're with Harry?” he asked them.
“I'm his boyfriend,” Draco said.
The doctor shuffled his feet. “Quite,” he said. “Well, we're all done with the check-up. Harry's just getting dressed now, so give him a couple of minutes and then you can go in.”
“Thanks, doc,” Neville said. The doctor smiled, gave Neville a very strange look, and disappeared off down the corridor. He looked very flustered, almost worried about something, and was muttering, “Puzzling, very, very puzzling,” under his breath.
Draco turned to him. “Where were we?” he asked. “With Ron?”
“Oh, right. Well. Then Ron goes through marriage, children and divorce before he's twenty-three. I'm all for family values, but to have a child at eighteen is a bit too young, even for wizards,” said Neville.
“How old is Cameron?”
“Cameron was four just before Christmas,” said Neville. “He was born in December 1998. That's barely out of Hogwarts, Draco. They were barely out of Hogwarts and they married and had a fucking kid! The rest of us still think going to parties, getting hammered and sticking our tongues down the throats of complete strangers is fun, and they have a fucking kid!”
Draco privately agreed. It was fun.
“When did they divorce?” he asked.
“March 2002,” said Neville. “Hermione was still at law school, so she had no time to look after Cameron, and Ron was already a Commodore in the IBME. With a family the size of his, it made sense for the Weasleys to look after the kid. At least until Hermione wasn't so busy with her degree.”
“And why did they divorce?”
“Because they were totally incompatible,” said Neville. “It was doomed from the start. Even the people who'd been rooting for it to happen were forced to eat their words. Apparently they threw things at each other. It was horrible.”
“All this and Harry too,” said Draco. “I begin to feel sorry for them. Almost.” He looked at the closed door. “What's taking him so long?”
Ginny paid off the taxi driver, and it sped off down the street as she walked up the steps, the doormen holding the doors open for her, and into the Ritz Hotel. She could hear chamber music, a string quartet serenading the guests in one of the many lounges. Unsure quite what to do, she walked up to the reception desk, and asked for help.
“High tea? Right through there, madam,” the young man on duty said. Ginny would've gone out with him like a shot, but he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.
Thankfully, Hermione was already seated on a very valuable looking couch at a small, secluded table in a corner of the room. There was a silver tea service on the table, two cups, and a plate of cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
“I get the feeling,” Hermione said. “That apart from the waiters, we are the only British people in here.”
Ginny sat down, and removed her coat. “It's lovely, though,” she said.
“Isn't it, though,” Hermione replied. She picked up the teapot. “Would you care for a cup, Lady Virginia? It's Earl Grey.”
“That would be simply spiffing!” Ginny chortled.
Both of them fell silent.
“Flat's empty without you,” Ginny said.
“How're the cats?”
“The cats miss you.”
“So do the plants.”
“So do I.”
Ginny handed her a plate for sandwiches.
“No,” Hermione said. “I am too. I'm sorrier.”
Ginny smiled. “I reacted badly,” she thought. “It's none of my business. I should've known that. It doesn't mean I approve of you and Charlie. But I don't want to lose you over it.”
“I'm sorry, Gin.”
“You're my best friend,” Ginny said, picking up her teacup. “We both fucked up. But I don't want us to lose each other because of it.”
Hermione looked slightly staggered. The relief on her face showed clearly.
“Well,” she said, “I have to admit I didn't exactly think you were going to be quite so –”
“Nice?” Ginny interrupted. “I can do nasty Ginny, if you'd like me to?”
“Not at all,” Hermione sipped daintily at her tea. “Care for a cucumber sandwich?”
“I think I might be tempted,” said Ginny.
They sat in silence for a minute or so, chewing gently on their sandwiches, whilst all from all around them came the happy chatter of their fellow tea takers.
“About Charlie,” Hermione said, suddenly. Ginny set her teacup down, and looked up.
“What about him?” she asked.
“Well. Obviously I don't want to embarrass you.”
Ginny smiled. “Dear me. Well, you did a damn good job of it.”
“Let's talk it through with him,” Ginny said. “We need this to be a family thing. Now, let's put all that silly nonsense behind us and talk shopping. What's new in the wild and wacky world of Hermione Granger?”
Hermione looked awkward. “Ah, well,” she said. “You're going to absolutely hate me for this. But I have got some rather good news I wanted to tell you …”
Harry wasn't especially sure what made him do it. All he was conscious of was of a dull ache starting somewhere in the pit of his stomach. A dull ache that seemed to speak volumes to him. His head hurt and his throat was dry, and fighting to get out of him all the while was a great howl of misery that he had stifled for so long.
He locked the door, and began to dress, pulling off his dreary hospital pyjamas. Draco had kindly gone down into Staines to get some clothes for him, and so they were only Marks and Spencer slacks and a burgundy red jumper, but they had been selected with impeccable taste. As Harry surveyed himself in the mirror, even he had to admit that he looked good.
Somewhere in the recesses of his brain, fixed there, like a limpet, was one, solitary mental image. He remembered his cupboard. He remembered not being a wizard. He remembered not being famous, not saving the world at the end of every school year. He remembered once again the Quidditch match where he and Draco had flown into each another. He remembered how it had made him feel. He remembered how breathless they were, how exciting it had been. He remembered the Halloween Ball, when they had devoured each other, kissing until they could kiss no more, their lips bruised and chafed and their limbs entwined in new and exciting ways and their clothes arranged in new and exciting combinations.
Harry wondered to himself who he thought he was kidding by keeping up this ridiculous charade. Deep down inside him a little voice was telling him that he had always thought boys were more interesting, that Ginny had been merely a way of proving to a fevered adolescent mind that he liked girls too, though maybe not much, because hadn't it been so much better when done with Draco, the Halloween moon bathing them in white light? Harry had to admit that, yes, it had been.
Harry craved normalcy. And he wasn't going to get normalcy. He'd always thought that he'd have kids … that he'd show them that he wasn't a bad person, and that they'd believe him. And if he took off with Draco, exactly what was going to happen to that dream?
No, Harry thought. Better by far that he should have the only thing that now seemed normal to him. Better by far to go back to the cupboard. At least there he had been free of emotions that he didn't know how to deal with, like love. Nobody at Privet Drive had ever loved him. Nobody at Privet Drive would ever tell him that they loved him.
The seed of an idea had caught root in his fevered brain and was blossoming rapidly. He was only a floor up. There were Draco's car keys on the table. He knew the way. Little Whinging wasn't especially far from Staines.
He felt bad about leaving Draco, about taking his car. But at the same time, he needed closure, and this was the way to get it.
He levered open the window, and climbed up onto the windowsill, where he crouched, catlike for a couple of seconds, listening intently for noise outside. The car park was empty, and he could see Draco's car.
He took a deep breath, and jumped. He landed on the soft grass below with a thud and a jolt that badly winded him. For a minute, he lay on his side, clutching the car keys in his hand. Then he got to his feet, and walked calmly across the car park. Nobody had spotted him. No nurses were running. No people in white coats were bearing strait-jackets and syringes. He had done it. He was free.
He knew, somehow, at the same time, that he was being perfectly irrational. He knew that he wanted Draco to follow him. He knew that he didn't want this, but he just couldn't bring himself to care any more.
He unlocked the car, and slipped into the driver's seat. Draco had discarded a packet of chewing gum in the glove box, and as Harry reached in for a stick, his hand contacted something cold and made of metal.
He took out the handgun, and experimentally pulled the slide. To his surprise, the weapon clicked, chambering a bullet. Harry wondered vaguely how many bullets there were.
He had a sudden mental flash of himself, standing in the hallway of Number 4, Privet Drive … just as it had been the last time he had been there. He had a sudden flash of watching them plead for their lives, and denying them.
“You killed me,” he said to himself, softly, as he gunned the engine and reversed the Lotus out of its space. “You killed me the minute you took me in.”
Petunia Dursley was despatched with grim swiftness. Vernon Dursley's head made a very satisfying splattering sound as Harry pulled the trigger, plastering his uncle's brains across the wallpaper. Harry would sadly never know what sound he made when he put the gun to his own head. He hoped he would sound relieved, but he would never know …
Draco had left a Nirvana tape in the cassette deck. Harry thought this wildly appropriate, and he pressed play as he pressed the accelerator down, heading south on his last drive.
Draco checked his watch again. It was a good ten minutes later.
“I wonder why he's taking so long,” he mused quietly.
Neville raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps he just wants to make sure he looks nice for you.”
Draco shook his head. “He's not usually quite so fussy.” He rapped smartly on the door. “Harry. You in there?”
There was no answer.
“Funny,” said Draco. “He shouldn't have taken more than a couple of minutes.”
“He's probably just getting ready,” Neville said, tapping his foot impatiently.
“He's been impatient to go home all day,” Draco said.
“Yes. Well, he can't just yet,” Neville said. “I have to assess him first.” He jiggled the doorknob. “Harry! Can we come in yet?”
There was no reply. Impatient now, Neville rattled the door again. “Hey! Harry! Open up.”
Draco looked at him. “Something's wrong,” he said.
Neville continued to rattle the door. “I think he's locked it,” he said.
“Shit!” Draco swore. He snared a passing orderly. “Can you get someone with keys to this door, please. Hurry, it's quite urgent!”
The orderly nodded, abandoned the trolley he was wheeling along, and dashed off down the corridor.
Draco thudded the door. “Harry!” he shouted. “Open this fucking door!”
Neville put a hand on his shoulder to restrain him. “Easy, tiger,” he said. “We don't know what's happened yet.”
The orderly came back round the corner, accompanied by a doctor whom Draco recognised to be the one who had come to see Harry earlier.
“What's the problem?”
“He's locked the door and he isn't letting us in,” Neville said.
The doctor looked at Neville oddly. “Who are you then?” he asked.
Neville thought on his feet. “I'm Harry's psychiatrist,” he said, which was only a half lie.
“Right, okay,” the doctor said. He pulled a bundle of keys out of his pocket. “This one ought to do it.”
He stuck it in the lock, and opened the door.
The room was deserted.
“Shit!” Draco yelled. “Where the fuck has he gone?”
Neville pointed to the window, which was hanging open.
“That way,” he said.
Draco moved swiftly to the window. He scanned the car park. “I don't see any sign of him,” he said, a note of panic rising in his voice. Then he noticed something.
“My fucking car's gone!"
The doctor paled. “I'll call the police,” he said. “Don't move anything.”
He dashed out of the room. Draco watched him go, worried.
“I don't want the police involved,” Draco said firmly. “It won't help anybody for the police to be involved.”
Neville nodded. “I understand that, Draco,” he said. “But the hospital has a duty to inform them if someone like Harry goes missing. It could be very dangerous. Harry himself could be dangerous!”
Draco wrung his hands. “I know,” he said, “I know how it appears. But I also know Harry. I know how to deal with him. I don't want to see him hurt.”
“We have to call them,” Neville said. “We can't not do.”
“We can't tell the police anything,” Draco said. “I've got to get to Harry!”
Neville nodded. “I understand. It could be disastrous,” he said. “I wish I could think of something.”
He fell silent. Draco was about to say something, but Neville got there first.
“I'll be struck off for this,” he began. “But take my car. Here are the keys. You must find him before the police get to him! It's vital! I'll try and hold them off as long as possible, but I can't make any promises. Do you have any idea where he might've gone?”
Draco nodded. “I have a vague idea,” he said. “Do you know of a village called Little Whinging?”
Neville nodded. “I don't know it well,” he said. “It's a few miles from here, near Woking. There should be an atlas in the seat pocket.”
“Okay,” Draco said. “Got it.”
The sign at the side of the road pointed to Great Whinging, Woking and Guildford. As soon as he was off the roundabout, Harry swung Draco's Lotus out into the fast lane of the dual carriageway, and eased past the Transit that had been diligently blocking him for the last two miles. He was getting into familiar territory, now. He could recognise landmarks that he had not seen for nearly ten years. There was the golf club, and there was the local Vauxhall dealership.
The dual carriageway ran out at the next roundabout, and Harry felt a sudden burst of sadness. He remembered this place. He didn't want to remember this place, but it was his home. All he had left.
He felt tears welling up behind his eyelids. He blinked hurriedly, and pulled the car over into a lay-by. The road ahead sloped down to a railway bridge. Just beyond the railway bridge Harry knew there would be a single, Victorian milestone at the kerbside, and two road signs. One of them indicated a T-junction. The other one said 'Little Whinging 1½'
Then it would be down the hill, past the stud farm to the mini-roundabout. Straight across and down past the industrial estate, past the new Barrett homes (that presumably weren't so new anymore) and then along the High Street. At the Post Office, he would turn left, go round the duck pond, down Bush Lane, and then right onto Privet Drive.
He suddenly realised that he couldn't do it. He looked down at the handgun, which was lying on the passenger seat. His resolve returned.
They would all die. He would show them.
Five minutes, later, he was walking up to the door of his old home. He had not made this walk in so, so long. It was so strange to see the house exactly as he remembered it.
He checked the gun one last time. Darkness had fallen, and the stars twinkled in a perfect, dark blue sky. The beech trees at the bottom of the garden, their bare branches just visible over the rooftop of Number 4, were silhouetted against it.
How beautiful life is.
Harry rang the doorbell.
There was no answer. Their car was parked on the driveway. It was brand new. Uncle Vernon always had a brand new car. They must've gone out somewhere, Harry thought. Well, then, I'll wait.
He pointed the gun at the lock, swallowed deeply, and pulled the trigger. There was a noisy thudding sound, and the door swung open.
Harry stepped into the hallway of his childhood home for the first time in seven years. He flicked on a light.
Nothing had changed. It even smelled the same.
Harry walked through into the kitchen. There were letters from the Loughborough University admissions department tacked to the corkboard. There was a bowl on the floor with 'Mowgli' written on it – that was new. There was a folded up copy of the Daily Mail on the table.
Harry opened the fridge. Inside it was normal. There were normal things. There were cartons of milk, half eaten heads of iceberg lettuce, a packet of bacon, a Waitrose quiche, a bowl of chicken stock, butter, cheese, a bottle of wine and several bottles of beer. There were Tupperware boxes filled with leftovers. Harry was quite, quite taken by that.
They're normal. I'm not.
He closed the fridge door, and scanned the letters from the University. Dudley was reading Sports Sciences with French. He was in his final year. How … normal.
He took a deep breath, and walked back out into the hall. Then he stooped beside the cupboard under the stairs. Gingerly, he tugged it open, and pulled at the little dangly light switch.
Of course, there was no evidence of the boy who had once lived ten long years in there any more. It was being used as storage for the Hoover and the Dursleys' ironing board. There was also a box of expensive Belgian Trappist beer. On the shelves where Harry had once kept five lead soldiers were trivial things. A roll of masking tape. A tube of Araldite. Some string. A pot of useless European coins, a couple of broken china ornaments, waiting to be repaired. An old Nokia phone, its screen smashed.
Something else caught Harry's eye. It was wedged underneath a plastic box containing Dudley's baby clothes. He tugged at it.
Harry felt tears welling up in his eyes. He stooped lower, clutching the sock, and eased himself into the cupboard. There was just enough room to sit down.
Then he took up Draco's gun, and pointed it at his forehead.
He pulled the trigger.
Having got directions in the newsagents, it was about six o'clock when Draco parked outside number four, Privet Drive. There was no sign of any police.
So, he thought. This is Harry's home.
Sure enough, his hunch had been correct. Parked on the driveway, boxing in a terminally unfashionable Vectra estate, was the Lotus. Draco turned off the engine, and climbed out of the Alfa Romeo. He surveyed the house. It was a bog-standard late 70s suburban home. The windows were leaded in an attempt to make it look old and a huge security alarm disfigured the front. The garden looked immaculately tended, and there were lights on inside. It was the very picture of Muggle normalcy.
He walked up to the front door, not noticing the splintered wood and broken lock, in the darkness, and rang the bell.
Nobody responded, so Draco tried pushing the door. It swung gently open with barely a sound, and Draco stepped inside. Even he had to admit that it looked quite pleasant and cosy, despite the thick, textured carpet and the floral print wallpaper. Directly in front of him a glass door led, presumably, into the kitchen. The light was on, but there was apparently nobody there.
He tiptoed carefully along the hallway, noting the presence of a cupboard under the stairs as he went. Tentatively, not knowing what he would find, he kicked the door open.
The kitchen was deserted.
There was no answer.
“Harry! I know you're somewhere in the house!” Draco shouted, becoming frustrated.
There was no reply from anywhere.
Draco walked back out of the kitchen, and into the darkened hallway. It was then he noticed a faint glimmer of light coming from under the cupboard door.
This time he heard a reply.
Draco pulled open the cupboard door, and Harry made no attempt to stop him.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Harry shrugged. He was hugging his knees and staring blankly ahead. The bare lightbulb dangling from the ceiling brushed against the top of his head.
“Go away, Draco.”
“So you recognise me,” Draco said, stooping down. “That's a good thing.”
“Fuck off, Draco.”
“Harry, you can't stay here,” Draco said. He reached out, and put a hand on Harry's. “You can't stay here. You'll get into all sorts of trouble. Please come home with me.”
“This is home,” Harry said. “This is how I want it to be. I should never have been a wizard. It was all a horrible mistake.”
“Don't be a prick, Harry. Come on.”
“I want to stay here,” Harry said. Draco felt Harry's fingers curling around his own. Harry inclined his head gently the other way.
“Look at me,” Draco whispered.
Harry's body seemed to convulse.
“I'm going to go,” said Draco. Harry's grip seemed instinctively to tighten.
“Don't leave me.”
“I … Harry … we have to go, sweetheart,” Draco said softly. “We can't hang around in cupboards all our lives. It'll give you terrible lower back pain and make it very awkward for our sex lives.”
“It smells of home,” Harry said.
“It smells of bloody pot pourri, Harry.”
Harry grinned through his tears.
“I fucking hate pot pourri.”
There was a still, exquisite silence. Then Harry handed Draco his gun.
“Please take it,” he said. “It's yours. It was in the glove box. But … but I think I would've used it. Only there weren't any bullets left. I shot the door open with the last one.”
“On your aunt and uncle?” Draco asked.
“If they'd been here,” said Harry.
Draco took the gun, and tucked it into the waistband of his jeans. “No longer a problem, Harry.”
“Do you remember something?” Harry asked.
“I remember lots of things.”
“I remember back at school,” Harry said, “when you said you loved me, and I said nobody had ever told me they loved me before. Not once. Ever.”
Draco remembered it well. “Carry on.”
“Nobody ever loved me properly,” Harry said. “And you were the first person who ever said it to me. Ever said it to me and meant it. You do mean it, don't you?”
Draco nodded. Harry's fingernails were digging into the skin on the back of his hand.
“I … I …” Harry choked. “I can't say it.”
His tears were flowing freely now.
“You don't have to say it,” Draco said. “I don't need to hear it.”
“I … I … I …”
“I don't need to hear it,” Draco said. “I already know it, Harry.”
“I love you.”
It that moment of cathartic release for Harry, Draco suddenly felt a great tide of emotion washing over them both. Harry collapsed into his arms, crying helplessly, and Draco found himself rocking backwards and forwards, as one might do to a baby.
“Don't leave me.”
“Harry, you great pillock. I'm not going anywhere,” Draco said. He was hyperaware with every fibre of his being of holding Harry tightly, and at that moment, he did not want to let him go. And he didn't think he could have if he tried.
“Love you,” Harry whispered.
“Me too,” Draco whispered back. He kissed Harry's hair as his sobs subsided, breathing the smell of shampoo deeply. His hands were involuntarily stroking his back. “I love you, too.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER ELEVEN.
Author notes: OTHER SOURCES:
Masklin and Gurder in 'Wings' by Terry Pratchett first discovered that blancmange tastes of pink.
To the beta readers, who as ever did a wonderful job. Thanks also to those of you who reviewed at Fiction Alley and Yahoo Groups. There was going to be a humongous thanks section, but I figured you'd sooner have the next chapter instead. A humongous thanks section in some shape or form will be back for Chapter Eleven, which I'm off to write now. If you liked this chapter, then click on one of the links below to review.