“Want an apple?”
“No, thank you, Angus.” Draco could barely conceal his irritation. “How long did you say Harry would be?”
“Don’t you call him Potter any more?” said Angus, pawing through Harry’s fruit bowl. “I think he liked it."
“And I think your opinion on the matter counts for squat,” hissed Draco.
Angus picked out two rosy apples and placed one, with undue solemnity, into Draco’s lap. “He usually goes for a shower at this time. You’re early.”
“I’m aware of that.” Draco ran a hand through his hair, which was rather greasy. Alexandre had announced his intention of accompanying his brother on a shopping trip and then going into Diagon Alley. Draco couldn’t risk meeting Alexandre in the street, so he’d been lurking around St Mungo’s for hours, waiting for the very opening of visiting time.
“You can tell the future with apple skins,” Angus informed him. He produced a small silver knife from his pocket.
“You can, if you’re a credulous witch who thinks they’ll spell out the initial of her future husband,” snorted Draco. “You might as well try reading the future in cheese for all the good it’d do you.”
“Tiromancy,” said Angus, peeling the apple skin away from the flesh with a sinuous movement. “Predicting the future in the veins of fully mature cheese.”
Draco stared at him. “And what does it say, then, cheese? That you’re going to be having a dairy product sandwich in the near future?”
Angus pulled the last part of the apple skin away with a flourish. “Well, it told me some other things. Like, there will soon be a parting of the ways. You’ll have to leave. But it was a bit confusing, because it also said you’ll be leaving your face behind. Maybe you’ll die.” Far from looking horrified or delighted at the prospect, Angus merely looked puzzled, as if he couldn’t remember where he’d left his keys. Except, of course, he was too young to possess any keys.
“Charming,” said Draco. He watched with a sneer as Angus bit into his apple, spraying juice on Harry’s now scarlet bedspread, and tossed the apple skin over his shoulder at the same time.
“Could you do me a favour, and check the initial?” asked Angus. His brow sported a fine sheen of sweat.
Draco debated refusing, but he had nothing better to do. To show the boy his place, he took his time about it, pushing himself off the bed with a grunt and a grimace. He was absorbed in whipping the boy’s legs a little with his embroidered robes and so didn’t immediately register what he was seeing on the floor.
It was nothing less than a perfect E. “Well, what do you know,” he murmured, marvelling despite his general distaste for divination.
“It’s an E, isn’t it!” Angus burst out. He spun around, showing a face creased with effort. “Yes, I was right!”
“Lucky guess,” drawled Draco. He prodded the skin with his toe so that it swung into an F shape.
Angus’ eyes fluttered shut. “Her name is Eleanor,” he said in a dreamy voice. “She’s going to be taller than me, and have a pet bullfrog, and blonde hair like yours.”
Draco had been on the point of snapping the boy out of his reverie, but it was he who snapped. “What do you mean?” he snarled, pushing Angus’ shoulder. “I have black hair! Black!” He grabbed a handful of it to prove his point. “Can’t you see?”
“Well, yes, but it was blonde before, and it will be again,” replied Angus, with the air of someone reading the weather despite having Draco’s fingers imbedded in his skin. “That’s what I see.”
“How do you see that, you little freak?” said Draco and, as Angus opened his mouth, “No, don’t answer. Just keep your fat mouth shut. Nobody likes little boys who go around making up stories.”
“Nobody likes me anyway,” stated Angus. “I’m going to get bullied in school.” He squinted. “Robert, I think his name is. He’ll fall off a cliff and die when he’s twenty-two.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Draco was frightened by Angus’ calm, authoritive air. “Do you expect me to believe it’s true?”
“You know you have to believe it’s true,” said Angus.
Draco swallowed into a throat that had turned into sandpaper without his noticing. A commotion broke out at the other end of the room and Draco, grateful for the distraction, moved forward for a better view. Angus slipped past him and made for a table full of silver instruments.
It was Harry. Of course it was Harry. Draco’s heart juddered, because it had recognised him before Draco had let his brain do likewise. Harry looked as if he was in preparation for embalming followed by a full Egyptian burial, so swathed was he in white cloths. As Harry and an advance guard of three dove-grey people -- Peter among them -- came closer, Draco saw that Harry was in fact wrapped in towels.
“I don’t have hypothermia!” he was protesting. “And I can walk. Honestly, I’m fine!”
“Which is why you almost collapsed in the shower,” said Peter, his tone one of gentle rebuke. He did have a velvety voice, Draco had to admit, rubbing at the sudden goose-pimples on his arms. Small wonder that Harry had latched on to him.
Harry was guided to bed without giving any indication that he’d noticed Draco, so Draco stepped towards him. He put his hand on an outlying region of terry towelling. Harry jerked, his cheeks trying to match his sheets.
“You’re here early,” he said.
“I can go away if you like,” said Draco with a small smile, because he was sure that Harry wouldn’t say yes. Even as he thought it, Harry was shaking his head, looking even more embarrassed.
“No, stay,” he said.
“You must be Michel.” Peter held out his hand as the other Aurors melted away. “I'm Peter Bagworth. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Everything scandalous and wicked, I trust?” Draco took the other man’s hand. It was like shaking hands with a baseball glove. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Most of it’s quite complimentary,” said Peter with a fatherly smile. “Harry’s taken quite a shine to you.”
Harry was huddling into his nest of blankets, looking distinctly sulky. Draco could guess at the source of his bad humour and couldn’t help but feel a glimmer of satisfaction at Peter’s patronising attitude. “What’s this I hear about a collapse?”
“I turned the shower on too hot, that’s all,” said Harry tartly. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Er, yes, well.” Peter rubbed his wrists together. “Would you like Michel to help you dress today, Harry? I’m sure you’d feel more comfortable having a friend do it.”
Harry looked aghast, but whether from Peter’s betrayal or apprehension about Draco seeing him in the buff Draco couldn’t decide. Whatever the case, Draco wasn’t about to let such a choice opportunity slip.
“I’d be glad to help, Peter. I did a spell working in a robes shop, so it should be easy enough.”
“Really?” said Peter, but with the empty courtesy of someone who hadn't the slightest interest. In any case, Draco didn’t think he’d like to know about Draco’s short stint in a Bulgarian strip club. “Thanks, Michel. I’ll see you later, Harry.”
“Bye,” whispered Harry. Draco bent to fetch some robes from the trunk, concealing his grin of glee.
“Would you like dark blue or teal?” he called.
“I don’t care,” sniffed Harry. “What the hell’s teal?”
“The dark blue it is.” Draco pulled out the robes and shook them. They sported tiny silver stars around the hems and necklines, as well as the mandatory mandarin collar. “Would this help?” He flicked his wand to create some basic curtains, which hung in midair between the bed and the rest of the room.
Harry swung his legs off the edge of the bed and stomped over to Draco, gripping his towel so tight his knuckles whitened. He snatched the robes away, with a fine disregard for wrinkling the linen, and said, “What would help is if you left me to dress by myself. I’m not a vegetable, whatever everyone else thinks.”
“Whatever Peter thinks, you mean,” Draco corrected him. Harry’s face fell. Draco was able to retrieve the robes and smooth them out with the minimum of fuss. “Look, sometimes it happens that way. If you’re straight, you’re straight, it’s pretty much incurable. In Weasley’s case it’s terminal.”
Harry managed a weak smile. “Why are you so mean to Ron all of the time?”
“Oh, he likes it,” said Draco airily. He leaned into Harry’s ear. “Closet masochist, you know.”
Harry gave a hiccupping kind of laugh. “He’d kill you if he heard that.”
“Oh, come on. He needs to lighten up. Definitely before you tell him that you’re …”
Draco found himself unable to finish and busied himself with straightening already neat robes. He was so surprised when Harry stilled his hands with his own that he gasped and tried to turn it into a cough, almost choking to death in the effort.
“That I’m gay?” Harry was smiling. “That I only dated girls because I was fooling myself that I liked them, but in reality I could spend hours trailing a boy I thought was a spy and yet only a few minutes kissing my girlfriend before I got bored? That’s going to go down well.”
“Two words: balloon and lead,” said Draco. His voice was a little shaky because Harry’s hands were still resting on his, light as pulsing feathers.
Harry’s chuckle broke the tension. He reached up to wrench off the towel that had been wrapped in a turban around his head. Draco’s hands felt as if the skin had been ripped from them.
“Are you sure you’re going to be all right?” asked Draco.
“Oh, yeah.” Harry smiled again and broke Draco a little more. “They’re all panic merchants around here. Anyway, the main reason I acted like I wanted help dressing was so that Peter. You know.”
“There’s plenty more where he came from,” said Draco, with absolute authority.
Harry slid past Draco to dig some boxers from the trunk and quirk his mouth. Draco hadn’t thought of them, not being in the habit of wearing underwear. Although only sensible, it was a habit that excited Stefano quite unreasonably.
“I think I was just afraid that he was the only one,” Harry was saying. “I want to, but … it’s not something you can shout about. Peter was the only one who seemed even a bit gay, and now he’s straight. I just thought.” He made a complicated gesture with his hand, which seemed to incorporate javelin throwing and a shark attack. “He seemed interested.”
“Harry.” Draco strove to keep his voice calm. “Quite probably he was. You are basically ravishable. But he’s got a classic case of the freaks -- afraid of what he seems to want. Those kind are no good, trust me. Too many issues.”
Harry stared at him, his cheeks burning. Draco’s hand went to his mouth, wondering what he’d said or done to merit such an intense gaze.
“Ravishable?” repeated Harry.
“Oops,” said Draco.
They goggled at each other for a long time, right up until Draco was struck by the ridiculousness of the situation and released a harsh laugh. For all that Harry pressed his lips together to hold back his amusement, all he ended up doing was laughing through his nose instead.
With exaggerated care, Draco laid the robes on the bed. He swooped down and unwrapped the towels from Harry’s ankles. With his back turned, he began folding them. A moment later, a soft rustling told him that Harry was getting dressed on his own.
Draco smoothed his hands over the towels, thinking back on what Rosaline had let slip during their last night together. Something about dizziness and fainting becoming more frequent as time went on. No wonder Peter was so worried. Perhaps it was the reason why Peter didn’t want to get close to Harry.
He turned in time to see Harry clutching the bed spread with one hand and the front of his robes with the other, taking deep breaths. His face was draining of blushes and leaving behind only faint smears, like blood on porcelain.
“Harry.” Draco dropped the towels and fetched up against Harry’s shoulder, shoving his own underneath Harry’s arm. “You should have said something!”
“I’m … fine.” It took him two exhalations to lie.
Draco hoisted his arm around his neck and used what little leverage he had to push Harry back against the bed. His legs were looped over the edge, but the rapid rise and fall of his chest showed that he needed support more than comfort. Trying to summon up his meagre supply of first aid skills, Draco pressed his fingers to the pulse skittering along Harry’s neck. It seemed fast, but Draco had no idea if that was normal. He clambered upwards to clamp his palm over Harry’s forehead, which was icy cold. That Draco was certain wasn’t right.
“I’m going to get help,” said Draco, but Harry’s fingers snaked around his wrist and hung on. For all that he was freezing to death, his grip was strong.
“It will pass. Stay.”
For the second time, Draco obeyed. It was becoming something of a habit.
“At least let me get some blankets.”
Harry shook his head. “Your hands are warm.”
Draco knew he only meant on his forehead, but he couldn’t not smile and was more relieved than anything to see a faint flush building across Harry’s cheeks.
“Did anyone ever tell you,” whispered Harry, “that you have a dirty mind?”
“Tell me? I give lessons,” said Draco, tucking Harry’s robes close to his body. “Here, give me your hands.” Harry obediently proffered them, clasped together as if in prayer. Draco chafed them between his own, then raised them to his mouth and breathed on them.
“Am I going to die?” asked Harry. Draco looked down at him. His eyes were closed, long lashes lying like spiders’ legs against his pasty cheeks. His damp skin dropped back, leaving behind the shape of his skull.
“Yes,” said Draco. Harry’s eyes snapped open, wide and fearful. “Everyone’s going to die, you idiot. You’re only a hero, you’re not immortal.”
Harry relaxed, his shoulders settling against the red bedspread. The whiteness of his skin and the blackness of his hair against the ruby cloth made a shocking contrast. Draco felt a bit like Snow White’s mother, excepting the depraved thoughts that were harder and harder to repel for any length of time in Harry’s presence.
“You don’t think I’m a hero, do you?” There was no accusation in the tone, only a matter-of-factness that startled Draco.
“You defeated You-Know-Who,” he pointed out. “You saved the world.”
“Answer the question,” said Harry, smiling.
“No,” whispered Draco, and kissed him.
At least, that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted it so badly that, for a moment, the fantasy superimposed itself over the reality. He could almost imagine Harry’s lips moving against his own, but it was a pitiful replacement for the feeling.
The curtain quivered and Angus ducked under it, coming up beaming. Draco jumped back from Harry before he realised that he was still a respectable distance away from him, for all that both their hands were clasped in Draco’s lap.
“I brought some cheese,” said Angus, with a significant glance at Draco that sent cold daggers shooting through him. “Want some?”
Draco breathed in a great lungful of smoggy air. He’d had to give Harry -- Harry, who was returning to a normal temperature after two hours -- a pitiful excuse about craving tea to get away. But the only thing he craved was Harry, which stunned him. He’d seen Harry at his most pathetic, shaking and sweating and smelling sour despite his shower, and all Draco had wanted to do was kiss him better.
It was a good thing that this business was nearly concluded, because Stefano was sure to smell a rat sooner rather than later. Then he’d be gone like a shot, taking his hair with him. Futhermore Draco was almost sure that the Aurors were not out searching for him en masse, that his retrieval was not a priority for them. Why, then, was he still here?
Because Harry had asked him to stay. Draco had never known any choice to be so simple and so stupid.
He bid adieu to the grubby street. It had been flirting with danger to even go outside, but Draco had felt a pressing need for perspective. What he got was an eyeful of the finest in London tenement housing and chewing gum stuck to his shoe, but it was hardly the worst the world could throw at him. That was waiting upstairs.
A confusing scene met his eyes: a large troupe of Aurors gathered around Harry’s bed, all silent.
“There you are.” Harry's voice was strong even though he was shivering underneath his eiderdown. “I want Michel to witness this, for the record.”
“Are you sure this is wise, Harry?” asked Peter, frowning. Draco thought for a heart-stopping second that Harry was going to come out, or make his will.
“I don’t know,” said Harry. “You decide if I’m a wise person, and if you do then it makes this wise. Michel, do you mind?”
“What are you doing?” asked Draco.
“Making a statement,” said Harry, with a ghostly grin. “I would like it noted that, as of this moment, Draco Malfoy is declared innocent of the murder of Albus Dumbledore.”
A low murmuring broke out among the dove-grey clad, putting Draco in mind of a far-off hive of bees. His own mind was clear, almost too much so. He just stopped himself floating up to the ceiling to observe events from there.
“Harry, we have written testimonies to the effect that Malfoy was guilty of collusion with Death Eaters and a feral werewolf and was responsible for bringing them into Hogwarts.” Peter's face grew stern when faced with Harry’s mutinous expression. “As a result of this, Dumbledore was murdered. All of them are automatically guilty of being accessories to murder, including Malfoy, whether or not he raised the wand himself.”
“Does that make me guilty as well?” asked Harry.
“What do you mean?” Peter motioned to one of his fellow Aurors. He now looked concerned.
“I was there. You haven’t listed me as a suspect. I haven’t given a statement -- until now, that is.”
“Harry.” Peter’s voice was gentle and, to Draco’s ears at least, most irritating. “None of those I mentioned said that you were there.”
Harry gave a snort. “That’s because they couldn’t see me. Or did you forget my Invisibility Cloak, the one Dumbledore himself requested that I keep on me at all times just before he died?”
“Yes, I forgot. But what has that got to do with anything?”
“Simple,” said Harry. “I am verifying the statements of the Death Eaters and Greyback. Malfoy was there, but he didn’t kill Dumbledore. Oh, he tried -- but it was Snape who did it.”
“Harry, each of those people has claimed to be Dumbledore’s killer,” protested Peter. “That’s why we’re still searching for Malfoy, that’s why none of them have been prosecuted. I know they were Death Eaters, but even that is not enough evidence to convict them of a murder for which they all claim credit.”
“There you go, then,” said Harry. “Here’s your evidence: an eyewitness account. Or are you really going to believe their word above mine?”
“No, Harry, but you must understand --”
“Understand what? Georgia told me herself how much money has been wasted on the search for Malfoy. I’m not only giving you the chance to punish the murderer, I’m saving you thousands of Galleons.”
“It’s not as simple as that. Your experiences, your bias, your long illness -- these may count against your giving an accurate account.”
“Then give me Veritaserum,” demanded Harry. “Put my thoughts in a Pensieve! Come on, do I have to do all of this for you?”
An odd, twisted look stole over Peter’s face. Draco felt a flash of foreboding as Peter exchanged glances with several of his colleagues, all of whom looked grim.
“We can’t give you Veritaserum,” said Peter, slowly. “Nor can we magically extract your thoughts.”
“Why not?” shouted Harry. “I give you permission!”
“It’s not a question of permission. I don’t know if you took Muggle Studies at Hogwarts?” Harry shook his head. “A pity. Well, there are certain regulations when it comes to using magic on Muggles. In extreme cases it is permissible, such as the use of Memory Modifying Charms or any magic necessary to correct inadvertent spell damage. However, too much magic of this sort, and the majority of other magic, is almost toxic to Muggles. It can kill them.”
“What,” said Harry, his teeth gritted, “does this history lesson have to do with me?”
Peter mopped his brow with his sleeve, looking wretched. “I’m trying to say that it is a criminal offence to administer Veritaserum to a Muggle, for fear of causing them severe debilitation or death.”
“I’m not asking you to give it to some Muggle!” hissed Harry. “I’m asking you to give it to me!”
“That, I fear, is the point.” Peter looked around at his fellow Aurors once more, but none of them would meet his eye. “Your -- that is to say, in the battle -- a severe drainage of power -- certain difficulties arose --”
During Peter’s broken monologue, Draco observed that Harry became very still, like a statue. Only his eyes, which were flickering to and fro, betrayed any sign of life.
“Are you saying,” he said, his voice tremulous but trying not to be, “that I’ve somehow lost my magic? That I’ve turned Muggle?”
“Not so much Muggle,” Peter hastened to reassure him. “We’re working to --”
“No, not Muggle,” repeated Harry, his voice hollow. “A Squib. Only worse.”
“We have great hopes that our experiments will prove successful.” Peter sounded desperate. Harry ignored him, looking instead to Draco with imploring eyes. Draco stood rooted to the spot, overwhelmed.
“Shut up,” said Harry to Peter, who was babbling about new developments. “Go away.” He reached out, his movements clumsy, and snatched at Draco’s makeshift curtains until they shielded him from view.
“Well, that’s quite a coup for you, Mr Rodriguez,” said Peter, after a few minutes of dead silence.
Draco threw him a frozen stare. “You really are an idiot, Bagworth. Kindly don’t speak to me ever again.”
He stalked off, his head high, intending to exit the place with all due speed. He was halted by a monumental crash from one of the tables. His first instinct was to check if Harry had emerged because of it, but there was no movement from behind the curtain.
It was the table carrying the delicate silver instruments that had been upset. They had cascaded all over the nearby floor, some in pieces. In the very centre of the wreckage lay Angus, his body curled up like a fossil and surrounded by a sickly green glow.
At this precise moment that Granger appeared in the doorway, toting two or three children. She spotted Angus in seconds and swooped down on him, keening like a hungry vulture. She went to cradle him in her arms, crying his name, but was prevented by one of the Aurors.
“Leave him be, madam!” he commanded. Such was the authority in the voice that she shrank back, her hands to her mouth.
However, Angus did nothing more interesting than lie and glow in the ruins of what Draco judged to be some very expensive equipment. The Auror who had told Granger to stop waved an arm at another, who came hurrying over. She knelt by Angus, feeling his head and taking off his shoes so that she could have a go at his toes.
“Are you his mother, ma'am?” she said, raising her head to Granger. Granger nodded, her hands now captive to the two other children. Even they were silent for once, staring at the prone form of their brother.
“May I ask, then, if you have any history of Seers in your family?” asked the Auror.
“Oh, shit,” said Draco, and made a run for it.