Keep me from the snare which they have laid for me,
And from the gins of the workers of iniquity.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
Whilst that I withal escape.
(Psalm 141: 9-10, spoken by Annie in Twin Peaks episode 29, “Beyond Life and Death”)
It was a soft and subtle darkness, one that obscured and descended upon the familiar. Harry uncurled and rose from the lumpy mattress on the floor and let his eyes skirt the shadows of his dingy flat. He’d grown so used to it, he found himself able to walk around and fix his morning tea without so much as a lumos. Eight months. Eight boring months spent in a monotonous routine, undercover in Edinburgh.
It wasn’t the Edinburgh Harry knew from previous missions or holidays. Instead, he spent his days in the seedy, shadowy alleys of the Travertel Quarter, establishing his alias and making connections. Since the Aurors had been given approval to use new, charmed prosthetics for disguises in lieu of Polyjuice, there wasn’t a reason for the department to deny Harry the fieldwork he had so desperately craved. To his complete horror, he’d been stuck playing Ministry mascot, being paraded around the scenes of Dark magic raids and arrests as a familiar image to instill comfort in the masses and fear in the enemy.
It wasn’t until he botched an interview with the Prophet and was called into the Head Auror’s office that he’d finally worked up the courage to vocalize his misery.
“I’m tired of being in the spotlight, Robards.” He sat and fell into a dejected slouch. He sent a stern look at his superior. “I want to be out there making an actual difference. I want to be doing real work.” He added a cautious, “sir.”
Gawain Robards offered Harry a slight smile. With a knowing nod, he said, “I figured as much, Potter. That--uh--interview you gave at Howland’s Creek was a complete nightmare.” Robards glanced around his desk, eyed a thick folder, and returned his gaze to Harry. “You’ve never been deep undercover, I’d imagine?”
Harry couldn’t stop himself from smiling. Taking Polyjuice as a child to infiltrate the Slytherin dormitories didn’t quite count, did it? “No, sir.”
“I hear Scotland is lovely this time of year.”
It’s not, Harry frowned as he stared at himself in the mirror. Or should he say, Edinburgh wasn’t lovely for his alias, Archie Eversworn.
He looked mostly like himself, the mop of untidy black hair as haphazard as ever, long enough to tie back. But his face had been charmed with prosthetics, altered to be quite unrecognizable. His nose was much wider, his forehead more pronounced and missing the signature scar. They’d done something to his cheeks as well, making them fuller, more rounded and lessening the line of his jaw somehow. The ministry tech had insisted on charming his eye color, but Harry flat out refused to let them.
“I barely recognize myself as it is! We can leave my eyes as they are,” he protested. He’d turned to Ron for confirmation. His friend had just shrugged.
“I wouldn’t give you a second glance,” he said.
Harry pointed to the frowning lab tech. “See?” With reluctance, the lab tech agreed to his demand, but insisted he change his glasses from the signature rounds to the more stylish wayfarers. Lastly had been the vocal charm which changed his somewhat deep voice to something a bit more whiny.
A pounding on his front door echoed through the studio. Harry rolled his eyes and went to answer it. A familiar voice yelled, “I know you’re there, you wreckless fiend!”
Harry threw open the door and scowled at his neighbor from across the hall, Garland Umphrey, a sixty-something year old drunk and known criminal. “Good morning, Umphrey,” Harry said. He met the man’s beady eyes. “What have I done now?”
“Don’t take that tone with me, scoundrel. I know you’ve taken my commemorative silver etchings of the 1898 World Quidditch Emporium!”
“I’ve not the faintest idea what you’re going on about. Excuse me, I have to get to work.” Harry stepped past him and closed his door. He cast a ward on it and briskly walked towards the stairs.
A disgruntled hmph and heavy steps followed him. “Listen, boy. I know you’ve been into my things! You better return them to me or by the Pleiades you will feel my wrath!” Last week it had been his collection of goblin wedding hats that had disappeared. Harry found them at the pawn shop across the way, recently traded for a stack of Alwyn and the Briarclucks records, which coincidentally, he later heard blasting from Umphrey’s flat on his way home.
Harry turned around and gave the man a stern stare for a long moment and then broke out into song. “Hop on my broomstick, baby, don’t think twice, don’t just say maybe,” he sang, trying hard to mimic the crooning styles of Alwyn Bristleby. He wiggled his eyebrows at Umphrey and descended the stairs.
He’d spent the first days establishing himself, or Archie Eversworn, by renting a flat above The Laughing Fox. The raucous pub sat two blocks down from the suspected main base of operations of the potions ring he’d been tasked to infiltrate. It took him three weeks to figure out the half a dozen or so grunts in the Travertel Quarter were just the tip of the operation. Harry saw crates of raw materials, but never witnessed brewing taking place there. He’d spent his nights losing at cards and drinking heavily, trying to gain credibility in the underworld community. No one seemed to pay him too much attention, and he found that he blended in without having to do too much to prove himself.
“I think it’s the face,” Ron had said. “It’s just the face of someone you’d rather forget.” Harry thanked him for his honesty. “What mate? S’not like it’s your actual face.”
After another two weeks, he’d traced raw material deliveries to a more upscale neighborhood, Cremfig Heights, and the glamorous Ashtyl Hotel. Five days after that, he’d landed himself a job there.
Sadly, the hotel manager, Valentine de Russo, gave him little leeway, inhibiting the discovery of illegal activities. After months of laboring as a day shift porter, he’d been promoted to afternoons and nights. Harry could hardly believe it when Valentine slapped his shoulder, handed him the master spell key, and told him he was irreplaceable to the team. With a bit more freedom and use of the master spell key, Harry discovered the kitchen shut down early on Thursday evenings. All he’d managed to find out was the hotel’s owner liked to have a cards night with his friends, at least according to some of the other porters.
Harry made his way out of Travertel and to cleaner streets. He passed by a busy floo-cafe, a few high end clothing shops, and Higgins Handles, the premier Quidditch supply shop in the greater Edinburgh area. He averted his eyes from a new Nimbus window display and focused on the brick wall across the street. It too had changed since he’d last passed.
Giant parchments plastered the brick, MISSING - BERTRICE ZIVANTUS - PLEASE CONTACT THE DMLE. 1000 GALLEON REWARD FOR ANY INFORMATION LEADING TO HER DISCOVERY. Harry paused to stare at the face of a young girl smiling, no more than fourteen or fifteen, waving to the world. Zivantus? That was the name of a rich philanthropist who had a big disagreement with the Ministry a while back. The girl had to be his daughter.
He passed several familiar faces of pickpockets, hustlers, and otherwise low level scoundrels. Harry missed being able to walk the streets carefree and unencumbered by thoughts of who might be watching his every move.
He’d expressed his prickling paranoia to Ron during his last Floo-chat. Every other Sunday morning, Harry apparated to a tiny magical shop just outside the city. The elderly owners let him use their Floo in exchange for yard work. The Ministry had utilized them in the past, he was sure, but if they had any idea he was an undercover auror, they never admitted it.
“Now you’re paranoid because no one notices you.” Ron had shaken his head. “Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted, mate?”
The caress of a light downpour roused his thoughts, and Harry cast an Umbrella Charm and broke into a jog. While it was true that he found great relief in shedding his very public persona, Harry found that being undercover for so long made him feel as if he’d lost pieces of himself. As he approached the Ashtyl, he headed towards the service entrance but almost fell over when a red blur ran through his legs and threw him off balance.
A kneazle, a cat-like creature with deep red markings, blinked up at him and then darted away down the street. Harry thought it odd such an animal would be around the service entrance, let alone wandering the streets. It must have been lost.
Harry meant to inquire at the main desk if any guests had mentioned having the pet, but Valentine gave him a list of tasks as soon as he saw Harry. The normally chipper man was distracted. “We’ve been shuffling guests around, changing room assignments,” he explained. “It’s been a hectic morning.”
He dealt with the noise complaint on the tenth floor as best he could, but there wasn’t much to be done. Careful not to offend, he insisted that the vacationing couple should tear each other to shreds within the confines of their sound-proof warded room. On his rounds, he checked on a few house elves he’d taken a liking to, and one of them mentioned the penthouse had the Do-Not-Disturb Charm on for almost an entire day.
“That’s odd,” Harry said.
Grimbie nodded. “Yes, sirs, and we hasn’t been able to clean or deliver new items. Our routines is all messed up. Messed up, yes.”
“I’ll look into it,” Harry assured the elf. He went to the lift and then realized he’d misplaced his master spell key. Valentine seemed preoccupied when Harry told him about the penthouse and barely registered Harry’s confession that he lost the spell key.
“Here,” Valentine stretched out his arm, his spell key in his grasp. He hadn’t even looked up and was sifting through papers on his desk with his other hand. “Use mine.”
Harry nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
On the way up to the penthouse suite, Harry wondered if he’d get a break in the case. It was a Thursday and the hotel seemed quieter than usual. Maybe he’d finally be able to sneak about and get a new lead. As the thought of asking the house elves for help popped into his mind, the lift stopped and the doors swished open.
Harry glanced up. Floor fourteen. Not the penthouse. He took a brief look. No one was waiting for the lift. On instinct, he moved to press the button and get moving. Until--“I can’t believe you’ve been lying this entire time!”
The raised voice carried from farther down the hall. Harry leaned forward and peered out of the lift as recognition dawned on him. His heart started beating wildly, and he blinked. It can’t be, he thought. He knew that voice. When his eyes found the figure standing at the far end of the hall in front of an open door, Harry’s mouth dropped.
It was him. It was actually him. His face, his features, his voice.
“This whole thing has been one lie after another!” the other Harry hissed. His arms flailed about in anger and then Harry finally realized what the other was wearing: a black mesh shirt and rainbow striped trousers. “Wait. This is when--” And then the other Harry turned and stared straight into Harry’s eyes, shock but also some odd form of understanding evident. He took one look at Harry in the lift and then threw himself through the open door and slammed it shut.
Harry stood dumbfounded, unmoving, and after a few moments the lift doors closed on their own and once again he was on his way to the penthouse. At the ding, the lift doors opened. It took him a few seconds, but he shook himself and stepped out into the top floor entryway. He didn’t notice the odd burning smell until he was right outside the doors. In fact, he’d barely registered anything until his foot scuffed on something. He looked down at the floor.
There on the white marble was a torn and blood-stained piece of the front page of the Prophet. Without thinking, Harry picked it up and put in his vest. The action seemed to rouse him from his thoughts and that’s when he realized the double doors to the penthouse were on fire. He recognized the thick mix of smells of the air--spell residue, burnt wood, and the metallic and sickening scent of blood.
“This coffee is old,” Igora Stramitz stated flatly before drawing the styrofoam cup back to her lips and downing the rest of the stale, bitter liquid. To her right, her partner, Felix Zaha, shook his head.
“You’d think the hotel would brew a fresh pot for law enforcement,” he replied, loud enough for the bellhop and hotel manager lurking in the corner to hear. If they heard, their terror stricken faces never showed it.
“You’d think.” Stramitz frowned. She kept her gaze trained on the steady stream of Aurors coming in and out of the partially charred penthouse doors. She waited until she recognized a senior official from the Edinburgh home office and then made a casual approach. “Auror Phillips, isn’t it?” Stramitz asked.
Phillips narrowed his eyes. “What is missing persons doing here?” He shot Stramitz and Zaha a cold glance before he turned back to the penthouse entrance and shivered noticeably. “This is dark, dark magic. A homicide. Or something.”
Felix had already started to answer. “We believe this incident has possible ties--”
“--probable.” Stramitz interrupted without a pause.
Felix continued, “Has probable ties to an ongoing missing persons case.” He pursed his lips but kept his focus on Auror Phillips. Igora had a good twenty five years on her partner and felt Felix had a lot to learn about the intricacies of language and technique.
Speaking of language, Stramitz blinked at Phillips. “What do you mean ‘or something’?”
Three minutes later and a mere fifteen feet into the penthouse, she’d stopped in her tracks, dumbfounded. The opulent and gaudy suite looked like a war zone. Merlin--Igora had fought in the war, and nothing had ever looked quite like this. Holes burnt through the furniture, bodies strewn about and missing limbs, blood splatter everywhere.
“Are those burns?” Felix asked to no one in particular as he knelt by the plush sofa and stared through the multiple holes in it, some of which with edges that still had dying embers.
Stramitz listed the scene before her, “The guy on the bed was torn in half. Another guy had his arm ripped off.” She glanced up. “There are bite marks on the ceiling.”
“Was this a magical creature attack?” Felix turned to Stramitz. “In the middle of downtown Edinburgh?”
“Multiple bite marks in the ceiling,” Stramitz repeated. She turned away from the scorched wall and its bite marks and focused on the man--half the man--on the bed. The wound pattern looked familiar. He wasn’t torn--“That man was bitten in half.”
Felix bit his lip. “What does this? A spell? A...dragon?”
“They have a witness,” Phillips offered when he came back into the suite.
“Oh yeah?” Felix arched a brow. “How big are his teeth?”
The witness--Archie Eversworn--was a porter who had been late to work and had taken his precious time making his rounds to check on the penthouse earlier that morning. And he’d also misplaced his employee master spell key that allowed him into any room in the hotel. Felix took point on the interview and came down on Eversworn hard. The porter was innocent, Igora was certain, but he was definitely hiding something.
“This doesn’t look good, Archie,” Felix repeated for maybe the fifth time. “You were late to work, late to check on the suite in question, and your spell key is missing? It all seems very--”
“Confluent,” Stramitz narrowed her eyes and the porter’s green eyes widened.
“Yeah,” Felix continued. “A lot of pieces coming together and pointing to you.” Eversworn stared at his feet. Felix met Igora’s eyes and waited for her approval before mentioning the spell log. “Now, the security spell log got scrambled in the minutes before you say you entered the penthouse. Any reason you can think of, Archie, that the security system would malfunction like that?”
“What?” the porter breathed. “No, of course not.”
Stramitz took a step forward. “So you didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary on your way up to the penthouse?”
The porter gulped, and Stramitz thought he looked oddly familiar when he stared back at her. She made a note to send out inquiries on him to all the other DMLE offices before the end of the day. Eversworn took a breath and asked, “Did you have the log for the fourteenth floor?”
“I just told you the logs were scrambled. Now, did something happen on the fourteenth floor, Archie?”
“Yes,” he said, then shook his head. “No,” he rushed. “I mean, er...maybe?”
Igora stopped herself from smiling. “You do realize you stated every possible response to the question?”
“So which is it?” Felix said.
Eversworn huffed. “No, I didn’t see anything.”
“Don’t leave town, Mr. Eversworn.” Igora raised her brows.
On their way out of the hotel, Phillips asked if they’d got anything out of the witness. Igora brushed him off, but he persisted. “You didn’t tell me how your case was connected to this--this incident,” Phillips stuttered.
“We didn’t,” Igora agreed.
Felix turned around, rolling his eyes at her. “The man in the bedroom,” he said.
Phillips blinked. “Marwan Zivantus?”
“We are working the missing persons case for his daughter, Bertrice Zivantus.”
“And you think it’s possible the two cases are connected?” Phillips’ face scrunched in disbelief.
Stramitz raised her brow. “Rich Pureblood’s daughter goes missing and a week later he’s killed in--” she motioned obtusely “--an oddly bizarre and violent manner?”
“It’s probable the two incidents are related,” Felix offered and then walked away.
They headed back to the office, and Igora knew they needed to make sure the case stayed in their control. She barked out a list of things for Felix to finish, sent out her inquiries to the other DMLE offices, and requisitioned all the necessary supplies for a long haul stake out. When Archie Eversworn finished his shift, they’d be ready to find out what he was most definitely hiding.
Harry couldn’t believe it. Ron was going to kill him. He’d somehow managed to screw up his first ever assignment. Eight months, eight bloody months, completely wasted. As he walked back to Travertel, he allowed himself one small beacon of hope. Maybe he’d be able to salvage something. Maybe there was still a chance, another angle, another job--
The echoes of his conversation with Valentine made him cringe.
“They think it’s connected to something bigger,” the hotel manager whispered as they watched Investigators Zaha and Stramitz leave.
Harry blinked, unsure what he should or shouldn’t say. He was still questioning his decision to maintain his cover despite his instincts--internally screaming he needed to do something. But there was also a suspicion in his gut that told him that what happened in the penthouse had nothing to do with his case. There was also the scene from the fourteenth floor which still had him reeling. “Like...criminals?”
Valentine scrunched his face and gave a slight shake of his head. “No. Say...while you were in there, did you see any type of animal?”
“Animal?” To be honest, Harry wasn’t sure of anything that he saw. They walked to the employee locker room and stopped. “Like a dog?” Harry blurted. Then he remembered the kneazle. Before he could say anything, Valentine had raised his hand.
“No, not a dog.” Valentine studied Harry and then abruptly added, “Also, you’re fired.”
“What?” Harry burst. “Why?”
Valentine began walking back to his office, and Harry followed. “You’re just too involved in this,” the older man replied.
“I was just doing my job!” Harry said, trying not to raise his voice.
“That remains to be seen.” Valentine blinked back at him.
Harry’s mouth dropped. “You think I’m connected to it?”
Valentine smiled, “Absolutely not.”
“But you just said I was too involved in it!”
“You were too involved in the events of today, yes.”
“How can I be too involved if I was just doing my job?” Valentine simply stared back at him. Harry, desperate to see out his shift and try to find any intel from the Thursday night card games, pleaded, “Can I at least finish out the shift? You have no one to replace me.”
“No, it’s an instant termination.” Valentine shook his head and started to pry the porter’s jacket off of Harry’s shoulders. “Everyone is replaceable.”
Harry shook his head incredulously. “You literally said at my performance review that I was irreplaceable.”
Valentine motioned for Harry to take off his dress pants and said, “The you from then was irreplaceable, but the you from today is completely replaceable. See to it that you get your things and don’t set foot in here again. Thank you, Archer.”
Months of working there and Valentine couldn’t even be bothered to remember his name. Maybe Ron was right, Archie Eversworn was forgettable. After he’d changed back into his street clothes and gathered his personal items, Harry felt too dejected to say goodbye to anyone and immediately left.
He couldn’t bring himself to send word to Ron yet, so he meandered his way back to his flat in a downtrodden haze. Just as he started to think there might be hope, some way to fix the situation, he tripped over something and fell to the ground. A loud hiss echoed in his ear, and he caught the blur of a red kneazle before it hurried across the street to find refuge in an alcove.
He mildly recognized it as the same kneazle from earlier, but his gaze focused on the bloody page of the Propheton the ground before him. It must have slipped out of his pocket when he fell. Harry turned it over and examined the print for the first time.
New Players Called Up for Quidditch National Team - Barton Hunterpot has named the provisional squad for the next series of friendlies against Ireland, Croatia, and Pakistan. New names among the players featured are Heidi McTavinton, Bart Martin, and Ginevra Weasley.
He smiled. Well that was something. He shoved the paper back in his pocket and went home. At least something went right for someone today, he thought as he entered the side entrance of The Laughing Fox.
Harry took slow steps up to his flat and paused in front of the door as the dulcet tones of Alwyn and the Briarclucks drifted over from Umphrey’s flat. Something about the depressing melody of “You Cracked My Cauldron and Now We’re Done” brought Harry’s spirits crashing back down again.
How could he have let this happen? He’d had one job and messed everything up. He let Ron down, and Robards, and missed the chance to prove he was more than just the Boy Who Lived Twice. He was capable. He just needed to figure something out. Maybe there was a way to infiltrate the potions ring from the inside, if only he hadn’t lost access to the hotel. Harry kicked the door frame. He shook his head, sighed, and opened his door.
He walked into his flat and marched to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. Harry didn’t realize all the lights were on until he’d grabbed the kettle and turned to the sink. He started to glance around and then heard a bang from the other side of the studio, turning just in time to see a figure in the window ground his feet on the floor and stand straight.
Before Harry could put the kettle down to grab his wand, the blond figure had disarmed him.
“You,” Harry breathed. He took in the lithe frame of Draco Malfoy dressed in head to toe black robes.
“Hello,” Malfoy said, staring at Harry. His face revealed absolutely nothing. There was no trace of exertion or discomfort after having, apparently, climbed the building and crawled through the window. Grey eyes fell to the kettle in Harry’s hand. “Are you making tea?” Malfoy snidely commented.
Harry went for a knife, but Malfoy lunged across the room faster than he’d anticipated and whacked it out his hand. They stood close for a moment before Harry took a step back and ran into the counter. With his arms still raised in a defensive stance, he asked, “How did you get in here?”
Malfoy blinked. “The window. Obviously.” He pointed to the tea kettle. “Will you make tea or shall I?”
Harry frowned. Then he realized Malfoy was breaking into Archie’s flat. Malfoy had no idea he was talking to Harry Potter. “I don’t make it a habit of inviting intruders to sit and stay for tea.”
“You think I’m intruding?” Malfoy almost sneered, but it actually looked like half a smile. He held Harry’s gaze for longer than was comfortable and then peered around the flat. “It looks as if you might need some intrusion in your life.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Harry said, suddenly unsure if he was more incensed at the slight against him or that Malfoy was expertly distracting Harry from the fact that he’d been caught breaking in. Harry looked around and reminded himself that Malfoy didn’t know who he was.
Malfoy strolled over to the couch and sat down with a graceful fluidity. He leaned back and stared at his nails. “You’ve had a sudden brush with the strange and extraordinary, haven’t you?”
Harry narrowed his eyes at Malfoy. “A strange burglar in my flat, yes.”
“A series of events have unfolded, all quite odd and seemingly unconnected, but similar in that they were peculiar or unexplainable?” Harry crossed his arms. Malfoy continued, “You have had quite a boring time as of late, unsatisfactory, monotonous, no success to speak of--at work or in the bedroom--but then today something changed. Suddenly there is a swirl of bizarre activity surrounding you.”
For a second, Harry couldn’t breathe. He thought of the lift ride and seeing some version of himself down the hall arguing with an unknown figure. His memory flashed to the scene at the penthouse. Then he shook his head and rolled his eyes. Malfoy was just deflecting, and he was most definitely up to something. Harry replied, “The only strange thing that’s happened recently is you, Draco Malfoy, breaking into my flat like you own the place.”
“I’m sorry, have we met before?” Malfoy gazed back at Harry. His head tilted slightly to the left, causing a strand of hair to fall out of place near his temple. Harry stared at it until he realized he had to answer. Then he realized he’d been staring, shocked that he almost blown his cover.
“Out!” Harry yelled and thought accio wand. It flew into his hand and he raised it right at Malfoy.
“Alright. I see this is going to be more difficult than I anticipated.”
Harry scoffed. “What exactly are you on about? Why are you here?”
Malfoy stood and took a step toward Harry, looming over him with the confidence and solidity of someone not on the end of another wizard’s wand. “I’m here because you’re going to be the key to helping me solve this strange case that I’m on.”
“Me? Case? What are you talking about?”
“The murder in the penthouse,” Malfoy rolled his eyes, as if Harry should’ve known. “All signs point to you being the key. But then again, if you didn’t find the state of the penthouse as odd or extraordinary, then I’m not sure I have the right person.”
“Get out!” Harry shouted again and pointed his wand straight into Malfoy’s chest.
“Alright,” Malfoy said, unphased. He made his way to the door, opened it, and then started to say something, but Harry shoved him into the hallway and slammed the door shut. He slid to the floor and banged his head against the wall. Something in the attic above him clattered, and he threw his head into his hands. “What in Godric’s name is going on?”
Icarus Sableton was not a stakeout enthusiast. At forty-three years of age, he was an operative, a planner, a man accustomed to sitting back at headquarters and watching the pieces fall where they may. While he didn’t necessarily believe stakeouts to be beneath him, five hours in Scotland with Cormac McLaggen had Icarus wishing he’d never agreed to join the Pandora assignment.
“They’re arguing.” McLaggen sat next to him with a sight magnifier trained on the window of the stranger’s flat.
Icarus closed his eyes and tried to summon more patience. At this rate, he should’ve run out hours ago. “I can hear that,” he managed to say back. His grip on the charmed listening device tightened and the voices from the flat became muffled for a moment. Icarus took a breath and loosened his fingers.
“Should we move?”
“No, the mission is observe and protect,” Icarus said, bringing the mental tally to sixteen times he’d had to repeat the basic tenant of their assignment. Silence finally settled between them, and he thought for a moment he would have some peace.
“I have a clear shot.”
“Don’t take it.” Icarus turned and saw McLaggen with his wand raised, licking his lips and smiling.
“Do I take it?”
“Don’t--” the words barely left his mouth before he heard McLaggen mutter a Stunning Spell that went flying across the alley through the open window of the flat. Icarus watched in horror as it ricocheted off a sconce near the door and flew somewhere into the ceiling inside. The stranger had shoved Malfoy through the entrance and slammed the door, missing the spell by mere inches.
McLaggen’s shoulders sagged. “Missed.”
Icarus sighed. “Thank Salazar for that. Pack up, we’re following the target.”
“Was that a spell?” Igora craned her head around to try and get a view of the building across the way from Eversworn’s flat. “What just happened?”
Felix lowered his thermos and shook his head.
They’d set up across the street from The Laughing Fox and expected a slow and boring night watching drunks fall out of the seedy pub. Upon finding out Eversworn lived above such an unsavory place, Igora felt even more justification in her belief that he was in fact hiding something. What she hadn’t expected was to watch a strange, well-dressed man expertly scale the building and break into Eversworn’s flat.
Felix pointed out the window. “Look!” The strange man in question came out of the side entrance and calmly strolled down the street. There was no mistaking the pointy features and long blond hair. Igora’s eyes bulged when she realized Draco Malfoy had just made contact with their person of interest.
A few moments later, movement from the building across the alley caught her attention. Two men in standard Ministry covert-ops robes rushed out from the entrance and crept in the shadows. They kept a safe distance from Malfoy. Igora snorted. “That looks like a standard Auror stakeout.”
Felix tilted his head and turned to her. “Is the guy we’re tailing meeting up with another guy who is also being tailed by other people?”
“That appears to be the case,” she replied, but Igora felt something entirely bigger was at play.
After having recovered from the break in and subsequent kicking out of Draco Malfoy, Harry left his flat to walk around and clear his head. He’d put up extra wards and sealed the window just in case Malfoy had any idea of coming back while Harry was gone.
At first he thought he might sneak back into the Ashtyl to spy on the card game, but his feet took him past the hotel to the border with Muggle Edinburgh. The air felt heavy around him, as if it held some sort of answer to his problem but wasn’t ready to offer it up. With every step he took away from Travertel and Cremfig Heights, Harry felt more and more at ease. He needed to start from scratch if he was going to salvage this assignment. He stopped by a pub for a pint before he headed back, wandering the smaller side streets of the area.
He wondered absently what Malfoy was up to in Edinburgh and how the man he thought was Archie Eversworn might be inclined to help him. Last Harry had heard, he had been kicked out of a Ministry training program for questionable test results in the field. Harry had felt a tinge of sympathy for Malfoy. Since the war, he had done nothing but try to right the wrongs of his family with charitable reparations, outspoken support of progressive ideas throughout the Wizarding World, and trying to join the Ministry, though Harry, for the life of him, could not remember what department he’d applied to. Hermione had mentioned Malfoy once after coming to the pub from a big meeting
“Why would the Department of Mysteries be meeting with Malfoy?” Harry blurted.
Hermione’s eyes bulged. “Historical fact checking. The Malfoy archives go back for ages, Harry. If there is one thing Purebloods excel at more than anything, it’s detailed record keeping.”
“And Malfoy just let you rummage around in his family’s archives?” Harry frowned.
Ron snorted. “He doesn’t have much of a choice, does he?”
“Ron!” Hermione warned.
“Well, he doesn’t!” Ron protested. “If he says no to the Ministry, they’re bound to think he’s hiding something.”
Harry nodded in agreement. He took a sip of his pint and asked, “What were you even looking for, Hermione?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” She considered it for a moment and then sighed. “But I did find some rather interesting documents about the family’s unicorn herd.”
“There are unicorns at Malfoy Manor?” Both Harry and Ron raised their eyebrows.
“There were before the Statute of Secrecy.”
Harry shook his head. “That was hundreds of years ago! What could you possibly need to know from that time?”
Hermione broke his gaze and looked down. “I found it incredibly fascinating, is all.”
“It’s a wonder how you get any work done in that place, but I guess we’d never know either way, would we?” Ron mused. He turned to Harry and started raving about the new beater for the Cannons, and they never discussed Malfoy again.
Harry could hardly believe that Malfoy had broken into his flat, even if Harry was undercover and frankly unrecognisable. What did Malfoy want with Archie Eversworn and what in Godric’s name was he talking about, ‘strange occurrences’? Why did he care about what happened in the penthouse?
While it was true that Harry had mostly been living a mundane, routine life, it was in a particular service to his actual job. While he could--maybe--have described it as having been boring the last few months (which he did in fact think that very thought only that morning before he left for the hotel), Harry certainly didn’t consider his actual life boring.
Incidentally, Edinburgh had been his first real case as an auror. He’d spent years doing one thing after another for the Ministry as their poster boy, all the while his personal life dissolved into weekly pub nights and random family gatherings. He’d been going through the motions with Ginny since the War ended and by the time she signed with the Holyhead Harpies, it was almost like nothing had changed when they ended up breaking things off.
So what if he often graciously refused to be set up with anyone? What if he told a few lies here and there to get Ron and Seamus off his back about dating? No one ever seemed to understand how difficult it was for him to find a person who could see Harry for who he was and not what he had done or what he could do for them. He wasn’t trying to be boring, boring just seemed to be the only thing available to him.
When Harry realized that everything Malfoy had said was basically the truth, he glanced up from the walk to quite unfamiliar surroundings. As he made his way back in the direction of Travertel, heavy raindrops started to fall and forced him to dash under an awning. He couldn’t remember if he had crossed into Muggle Edinburgh or not and didn’t want to chance casting an Umbrella Charm, not that he’d have much success. The weather turned torrential in a matter of moments. He settled against the wall and stared out into the bleak, grey haze.
How could Malfoy have been right? Harry thought. How did he know about the strange occurrences Harry had seen and the bizarre day he’d experienced? Once again, his thoughts flashed to the sight of himself on the fourteenth floor.
Suddenly something warm brushed up against his leg, and Harry almost jumped. Weaving its way between his legs was the bright red kneazle he’d seen earlier in the day. Three times now, he thought. Harry knelt down to pet it.
“You’ve been all over the city today, haven’t you?” he asked. His hand pet behind the animal’s ears and down its neck until he hit a leather strap. Beneath its long, thick fur, there was a collar. He turned it around and found a tag with the name Guinevere followed by an address in the city. “You’re far from home, aren’t you? Let’s see if we can get you back.”
It only took a few minutes for the clouds to dissipate and the storm to pass. Harry picked up Guinevere and headed towards the main road. He checked the time and realized it wasn’t too late to take the kneazle home, so he made his way across puddle-laden walkways and darkening streets.
As he approached the townhome on the edge of a once nice but now dilapidated neighborhood, Guinevere tensed in his arms. He placed his hand on top of her head to calm the kneazle, scratching her ears. He proceeded to knock on the door. A stout, older woman answered and peered at him through large, thick glasses.
“Yes?” she said and then her gaze fell to the ball of red fur in Harry’s arms. “Oh! You’ve found her!” The woman stepped forward in a rush, grabbed the animal, muttered a quick “Thanks” and then slammed the door in Harry’s face.
“Well,” he said, unsure of what had transpired. He took a few steps onto the walk and then peered back at the house. A pair of eyes watched him from the front window, alert and curious, and somewhat familiar. Harry took a step forward and leaned over to get a closer look at the figure. A pale, brunette young girl returned his gaze with a blank stare that sent a shiver down Harry’s spine.
It was Bertrice Zivantus. He was sure of it. He’d seen her on the missing posters. But as soon as he’d realized it, she’d disappeared from the window and in her place was a dark, swaying curtain.
Harry made his way back to his flat, his mind going in circles. How could he go to the authorities with what he knew? How could he explain the kneazle somehow leading him to the missing girl’s location? Did it have anything to do with the penthouse murders?
The whole thing was incredibly, undeniably strange.
The next morning, Harry drafted a quick coded message to Ron and rushed out of his flat to head to the owlery. He’d barely made it out the door before he caught sight of Draco Malfoy, leaning against the opposite wall of the alley.
“Busy today?” he inquired. Harry rolled his eyes and turned to the street. Malfoy approached, stood in front of him, and raised his brows waiting for a response. He looked sharp and presentable in a navy suit and waistcoat with a grey tie.
“Yeah, I’m busy, Malfoy,” Harry snapped.
“Doing what, exactly? You’ve been sacked.”
Harry wondered how on earth Malfoy knew that. His mind wandered back to their brief encounter the night before and Malfoy’s intuitive statements. “Yes, well, I’ve got to see to that now, don’t I?”
Malfoy placed himself in front of Harry and gave him an earnest look. For a moment, Harry felt disarmed by the intensity held in those grey eyes. “I know you saw what happened in that penthouse, perhaps yesterday you saw more than you’re letting yourself believe. The threads of fate have woven us together for whatever reason. You and I must follow these events to their conclusion. Which,” Malfoy paused and tilted his head, “hopefully will end with us solving the murder of Marwan Zivantus.”
“Marwan Zivantus?” Harry’s gaze snapped to Malfoy’s. The last sentence was the first thing out of the other man’s mouth that made any bit of sense. “That’s who died in the penthouse?”
“He was among the murder victims, yes,” Malfoy nodded.
Realization hit Harry. The kneazle had been at the hotel where Marwan Zivantus died. The kneazle led Harry to the dead man’s missing daughter. Harry remembered just then that Valentine had said the investigators had asked if they’d seen an animal. “Hang on,” Harry said, still utterly confused as to how Malfoy was involved. “What gives you the authority to inquire into his death?”
“Well, he hired me to do so, of course.”
“He hired you,” Harry repeated flatly.
“Yes,” Malfoy said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Six weeks ago.”
“A man hired you to investigate his own murder six weeks before it happened?”
“At the time, I myself thought it very strange as well, but here we are.” Malfoy seemed to realize something and turned back to Harry. “I seem to remember you having full knowledge of my identity, but I confess, I’ve not the slightest clue what to call you.”
Harry studied him for a moment. Perhaps if Malfoy was connected to the crimes, Harry might be able to help find the truth. “Archie Eversworn,” Harry replied.
Malfoy’s eyes narrowed, as if calculating the information. His face returned to a neutral stare and he moved on. “So it’s settled then, Eversworn. You and I are going to solve...”
Harry couldn’t stop thinking about Bertrice Zivantus in the window the night before. Her blank stare haunted him. A sinking feeling settled in his stomach at the thought of her father being one of the bodies in the penthouse.
“What is it? Have you connected something to the case?” Malfoy asked, the slight hint of hope surfacing in his voice.
Harry shook his head. “There is no case, Malfoy. Good day.”
He still had to get word to Ron about the unlucky turn in their investigation, but Harry considered going to the DMLE and telling them what he knew about Bertrice. He didn’t want to lose his alias, but the safety and well being of a young girl was on the line. It took about ten minutes until he reached the owlery, maybe a little longer than usual since he kept looking over his shoulder. He wouldn’t put it past Malfoy to follow him but felt secure that the blond hadn’t tailed him.
When he arrived outside, Harry couldn’t bring himself to go in. He pulled out the letter and clutched it in his hand. Should he tell Ron about the missing girl? Maybe it was something larger at play. It certainly felt like it. He closed his eyes and pictured the sight of himself from the fourteenth floor, his uncharmed face, wearing rainbow striped trousers and a black mesh tank top. Harry replayed the exact moment his green eyes stared straight back at him. The threads of fate have woven us together for whatever reason. He almost heard that last thought in Malfoy’s voice and shuddered.
“Who on are earth is Roonil Wazlib?”
Harry jumped. Draco Malfoy had leaned over his shoulder and read the front of the letter.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Harry flushed in anger, and maybe a bit of embarrassment. He was so sure he hadn’t been followed.
Malfoy shot him a coy smile. “Yes.”
“It’s right here with you, solving the case. So are you going to mail that or stare at it longingly all day?” Harry meant to turn and face the other man, to summon some snarky reply, but to his surprise, Malfoy pressed a hand to Harry’s lower back and urged him forward toward the entrance. He leaned in close to Harry’s ear. “I’m sure Mister Wazlib is eagerly waiting for your message.”
Harry took the final step and let himself inside the owlery. After securing the letter with a rather exuberant barn owl, he paid the postage and then turned around to find Malfoy staring at him.
“Did you have a pleasant evening after I left?” Malfoy asked. The darkened space seemed to cast shadows on the blond’s face, making him look tired and much older than when Harry had last seen him. Maybe Harry hadn’t looked at him closely until now, but Malfoy almost appeared haggard, at least as fatigued and worn as Malfoy might allow himself to look. He dismissed Malfoy’s appearance and considered his question. Bertrice Zivantus flashed across his mind. “Eversworn, the look on your face would indicate some sort of understanding, perhaps even deduction happening. It’s quite an odd look on you. Are you alright?”
“I saw Bertrice Zivantus last night,” Harry whispered.
Malfoy blinked. “Come again?”
Harry walked out of the owlery and into the brighter, overcast haze. Before he did anything else, he was going back to that house. He was going to help that poor girl.
Igora pushed her way through the overcrowded halls of the Edinburgh DMLE Main Office. From what she could tell, the vultures were swooping in on the Penthouse Incident, everyone from Improper Use of Magic to the Beast Division of the DRCMC. If it meant there’d be fresh coffee in the breakroom, she could forgive the mob.
She caught a glimpse of Auror Phillips at some point, clutching a thick file and looking like he’d slept in his clothes at the office. She didn’t envy him or the headache today would likely bring. If he was busy corralling the masses, it meant she actually stood a chance of getting ahead of the rest.
“Stramitz,” Felix greeted when she finally made it to their office at the farthest end of the building.
She didn’t give him a glance. Igora turned her back and shrugged out of her cloak, hanging it up on the rack. “I almost feel like we should share what we know, but Phillips already looks like he’s about to break under the pressure.”
A throat cleared and Igora turned around. Between their desks, in one of the ancient lounge chairs they’d stolen from Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, a very familiar man sat. The red hair gave him away immediately. If Igora hadn’t recognized him from the War, she’d have recognized his distinguished crimson auror robes.
Felix put out his hand to introduce the guest. “Stramitz, this is--”
“Auror Weasley,” Igora interrupted. Her mind raced. What could bring one third of the Golden Trio to their office? Possibly one of their open cases? Surely there was no reason for him to come himself. Igora faked a smile and held out her hand in greeting. “Igora Stramitz.”
Ron Weasley stood and towered over the room, broad and confident, smiling back at her. He reached over and shook her hand, and they exchanged forced pleasantries, inquiries about the London offices, until finally, Igora steered the conversation to the reason for the visit.
Weasley glanced between her and Felix, cleared his throat and pulled a parchment from his pocket. “I was responding to the inquiry you sent out yesterday about Archie Eversworn.”
Eyebrows raised, Igora moved to sit at her desk. She had not been expect that. “You have information about our person of interest?”
“That’s the thing,” Weasley frowned. “He’s not involved in whatever you’re looking into.”
Her brows raised higher. “And you know that because--?”
“He’s an integral part of an ongoing investigation.”
Felix leaned forward. “He’s a C.I.?”
Igora snorted, remembering the indecision and complete inability of the man to conceal his instinctive reactions. “There’s no way that man is an informant.”
Weasley shifted his weight and crossed his arms. Igora realized he must’ve assumed he’d be able to march into their office, say his piece, and that would be the end of it. She didn’t doubt he had his reasons, but in her experience, defensive and protective coupled with secretive did not usually lead to making the most responsible decisions. “I’m telling you, Eversworn isn’t involved and you need to drop it.”
Finally, Igora thought. Her forehead relaxed and she narrowed her eyes. “Eversworn knows something about our case; I would bet my life on it.”
They shared a long, pointed look for longer than was comfortable, which was interrupted by the breeze and whoosh of an Inter-Ministry memo flying onto Felix’s desk. Igora took advantage of the distraction to make a point. “See,” she pointed to the parchment Felix had begun unfolding. “If Eversworn was simply part of your investigation as an informant, you would follow the code of action for such circumstances. And you’d have sent it by post.” Igora watched as Felix read whatever was in the message, then continued, “There are ways to tell other departments to lay off informants for such situations. Instead, you made the mistake of coming up here yourself, against what proper procedure dictates.”
Weasley glowered at her and his shoulders tensed.
“You’re hiding something, Auror Weasley,” Igora stated. Felix huffed and Igora leaned to the side to get a view of her partner who she’d briefly forgotten was even in the room. “What is it?”
“Bloody unbelievable,” he muttered. He crumpled the letter and tossed it over to her desk. “Home office says the ops-team we saw last night is ‘out of our purview’and we are not to acknowledge them.”
Weasley huffed, half a grin forming on his lips. “Do not disturb,” he said. “Typical Department of Mysteries nonsense.”
“The DOM?” Igora tilted her head to the side and caught Felix’s gaze. That made things interesting. That meant Draco Malfoy and Archie Eversworn were caught up in something complex, probably tremendously important.
“Wait,” Weasley turned to Felix and then back to Igora. “Where did you see an ops-team?”
Igora couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “Outside Archie Eversworn’s flat.”
Pansy Parkinson was rarely on time. By her own admission, she cultivated tardiness as a means of control. “Never do what they expect,” she wrote to Draco once. “They weigh us down with their expectations.” She’d tried her best to ignore his honest reply of “No one expects anything from us. That’s the problem.” But she found herself oscillating between trying to subvert opinions and caring far too much about maintaining the appearance that she didn’t care.
“You’re late.” The attendant at the Ministry Check-In frowned at her, and Pansy returned his lack of greeting with a scowl. The young wizard pointed to the sign in sheet. “Sign in and sit in the waiting area. A case worker will be with you shortly.”
Pansy stared at the man, picked up the quill, and wrote her name quite forcefully without breaking his gaze. Something about his demeanor bothered her, and his judgment washed over her. Did he recognize her face or her name? She didn’t allow herself to hold on to such questions. She made sure to glare a bit before she turned around and found a plush chair in the waiting room. Perhaps this wouldn’t be one of the days to forge a new image for herself.
She adjusted her pencil skirt and tried to get comfortable. The wait times at the Ministry were notoriously unpredictable, and since she had no hint as to why she had been called back from Brussels, there was no way to know if she’d be there half an hour or until her next birthday. The last time she’d been summoned to the Ministry, she’d assumed it was a simple witness statement for a forfeiture of assets. Pansy had just finished one of her biggest acquisitions, a charmed seventeenth century walnut wardrobe that de-wrinkled and freshened all of the garments within. On her way back to Britain, after having partied and celebrated accordingly, she’d been flagged as suspicious by one of her fellow Portkey travelers and was subsequently kept for questioning in a Ministry holding room for over twelve hours. The officials involved got the authority to riffle through her things and read all the documents in her possession. It wasn’t until Draco had come storming in with a cease and desist that they backed off and released her.
That reminded her--she rummaged around in her briefcase for the rest of her unread post and decided to sift through it. Letters from random admirers, people begging her to take on their cases, and a few, heavy parchments from her close friends and family. She opened the letter from her goddaughter, scanning over a rather long rant about a birthday party, a lake house, and a father hell-bent on ruining her life. Pansy smiled at the ability of young teenagers to devolve into hysterics over the slightest problem. It reminded her of herself at that age. At least, before the War. As soon as she saw Draco’s neat script on the letter underneath, she tossed the others aside and ripped his letter open.
At first it was the usual comments about their mutual interests and acquaintances; Greg’s catering service was booming, apparently; Blaise had won an award for his expose on some winning Quidditch team throwing matches; and as always, Draco passed on the warmest regards from his mother, Narcissa. After that, without fail, would be the repetitive and unvaried line, “Work is more of the same,” which to Pansy’s continued annoyance revealed absolutely nothing about Draco’s busy and mysterious professional life. She’d always write back and tease him, “You’re either an escort or an Unspeakable, and either way, I’d die if you would just finally kiss and tell.”
Only this letter held no such statement. The regular news was followed by a plea:
Pansy, dear, I don’t wish to alarm you, but your close family friend Bertrice Zivantus has gone missing. I am in contact with her father and can assure you that we are doing everything within our power to find her. There is no need to return early from your trip, I only wished to keep you apprised of the situation. Love, Draco.
“What?” Pansy practically shrieked. She grabbed her things and rushed to the Check-In where the attendant had been speaking with a petite Ministry official. Pansy ignored the fact that she was interrupting their conversation and said, “I’m sorry, something has come up and I have to leave.”
“Pansy Parkinson?” the small woman practically squeaked.
Pansy nodded. “Look, I realize you’ve summoned me and it must be somewhat important if I had to come back all the way from Brussels, but the girl who’s practically my godchild has gone missing and I’ve only just found out and I--”
“Oh dear,” the woman shook her head and her face flushed with pity.
“What?” Pansy cried, shaking her head back and forth. Suddenly the pessimism she’d worked so hard to bury came bubbling up to overwhelm her. She fought back a sob. “What is it?”
“Why don’t you follow me to my office?”
Tears pooled in Pansy’s eyes as she trailed behind the woman down the main hall of the Atrium into a division office she didn’t recognize. As soon as she read the sign outside Family Affairs Ministry Liaison, something cold and bitter shot down her spine. “Can you tell me what this is about, please?” I’m starting to panic, Pansy thought and forced herself to take a deep breath.
The woman stopped at an empty desk, took her place behind it, and motioned for Pansy to sit. Aurora Thistlewick, according to her desk placard, calmly opened a folder and gulped. “I’m sorry to be the one to inform you of this terrible news but--”
“Oh, Salazar, no,” Pansy whimpered.
“Marwan Zivantus is now deceased, which leaves guardianship of his daughter, Bertrice, to you.”
“WHAT?” Pansy yelled, in shock, relief, and perhaps a small pinch of wistful affection.
The force of Pansy’s outburst caused Aurora Thistlewick to shoot back in her chair.
“I apologize,” Pansy gathered what little composure she could find. In her clarity, she remembered Draco’s letter, and narrowed her eyes. Perhaps later she might regret the tone and the look she gave the poor Thistlewick woman. Most likely not, though. “Wait a moment. You want to sign over guardianship of a child to me, who according to my best friend has been missing since--” Pansy pulled out the letter and noted the date, “--last Tuesday!”
“We have two highly experienced Ministry officials working on the case,” Thistlewick assured. “It’s all very messy up there what with the murder of Mister Zivantus.”
Pansy laughed and then schooled her face into something once again neutral and hopefully terrifying. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I will sign whatever paperwork you have for me while you write down the names of both officials on the case, the names of the officials involved in the murder investigation, and any other pertinent information that will help me navigate the so-called mess that is the Edinburgh Ministry offices.”
“This is practically Muggle Edinburgh, Eversworn. Where are you taking me?” Malfoy walked beside him, and Harry could’ve sworn he didn’t remember inviting the git along. He was about to say as much, but Malfoy asked, a hint of worry in his voice, “Don’t tell me she’s all the way out here?”
Harry shook his head and pointed to the familiar townhome on the next block. “Just there,” he said. Malfoy swatted Harry’s hand down and pulled him to the side of the houses. “What are you doing, Malfoy?”
“We can go in from the back, through the garden.”
“You plan to break in?” Harry wasn’t sure why he was surprised. “Have you not met your weekly quota of committing burglaries?”
Malfoy almost sneered but seem to catch himself. “And what was your plan, knock on the door and calmly ask whoever is holding her captive to politely give her up?”
Harry frowned. “Who said she was being held captive?” Malfoy broke their stare and pretended to be interested in the vines crawling up the lattice of a nearby home. Harry took a step closer and made Malfoy look at him. “The papers and the signs just say missing. What do you know that the rest of us don’t?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Malfoy still refused to look at him.
Unable to stop himself from exhaling irritably, Harry took a step back and crossed his arms. The added space between them drew a look from Malfoy. If he knew more than he was saying, Harry had to get as much information as he could, which meant going along with the ridiculous break in idea. It also meant they might rescue Bertrice, if she was in fact in need of rescuing. So Harry stepped to the side and pointed to the back of the row of homes. “Well, then, lead the way.”
They found their way around the first couple of gardens easily enough. It wasn’t ideal, but apparition was risky around homes with any number of possible wards to counter magic. Harry refused to let Malfoy’s athletic ability impress him and turned his back the second time Malfoy backflipped over a fence. “Is that necessary?” Harry couldn’t stop himself.
“Absolutely,” Malfoy droled. “Isn’t it obvious, Eversworn? I haven’t met my backflip quota for the week.”
“Get on with it.”
Malfoy took his wand out and approached the backdoor of the townhome. “Alohamora.”
The door opened.
“I can not believe that actually worked,” Harry breathed. Malfoy grinned back at him and then pushed through the door. Harry took out his wand and followed.
The house was dark; it took a few moments for Harry’s eyes to adjust. They didn’t focus in time to see a massive stack of newspapers directly in front of him. He was an inch from colliding with it when Malfoy pulled him sideways against his chest. Malfoy put his index finger over his lips and jerked his head toward the other side of the room.
Guinevere, the kneazle, sat on top of the endless piles of newspapers. She stared at them and they back at her for close to a minute. For a moment, Harry could swear the thing looked angry with him. Then, in a blur of red fluff, the animal lunged at Harry and dug her claws into his right upper leg.
“Silencio.” Malfoy pointed his wand at Harry just as he started to scream out in pain. Then he roughly grabbed Harry’s wrists when he attempted to swat the thing off of him. Malfoy whispered, “Let me take it,” and proceeded to wait an insufferable amount of time before carefully prying the claws off of Harry’s leg one by one. Then Malfoy lifted Guinevere and curled her into his arms.
Harry glared at the two of them. Enjoying yourself? he mouthed at Malfoy.
The other man replied with a satisfied smirk.
Rolling his eyes, Harry brushed passed them, careful not to touch the stacks of papers. Merlin, there had to be thousands of copies. He made for the door out of the room. No lights shone in the hall, and he motioned for Malfoy to follow. When Harry turned to see if Malfoy was close, his face practically collided with the kneazle. Harry sent Malfoy a glare, and mouthed What are you doing?
“She likes me,” Malfoy whispered and the thing nuzzled his chin.
Harry decided to ignore them until he found Bertrice. He crept down the hall, passing two closed doors, until he found an archway leading to a parlour. As soon as he glanced inside, he recognized the blue curtains at the end of the room. And sure enough, Bertrice sat half perched in a chair and in the window, gazing out. Harry was about to get her attention when Malfoy waved in his face and pointed to the opposite side of the room.
“Yes, I know what the others are saying.” It was the voice of the woman who’d answered the door the night before. Harry followed the sound and saw her bent over, head in the Floo. He practically tripped over himself in the doorway and fell into the room with a thud.
Harry froze as Bertrice turned to face him but then the woman in the Floo shouted, “Guinevere! Quit swatting the pendulum!” Bertrice glanced at the fireplace and then back at Harry, noticing Malfoy standing behind him. Harry motioned for her to move closer to him.
She slid off the chair and comfortably fell on all fours, making her way across the room to Harry with a predatory look on her face. Harry had a sinking feeling there was something very wrong with Bertrice Zivantus.
“You can’t possibly blame me for this! I voted against it!” the woman shrieked into the Floo.
“Get up,” Malfoy whispered and pulled Harry by his jumper. As soon as Harry was back on his feet, he rushed to Malfoy’s other side and back to the room full of newspapers. Malfoy took a few seconds to catch up. He returned to the room with the kneazle still in his arms and licked his lips. “Now, you can’t possibly tell me that wasn’t strange.”
Harry pursed his lips and glared. Malfoy was about to say something else but something pushed him off balance, sending him straight into a stack of papers almost as tall as him. There was a grunt and a hiss, and the papers went flying in all directions. When they’d settled, Harry saw Bertrice sitting in the doorway looking pleased.
“Guinevere!” the woman’s voice carried down the hall. Bertrice turned toward the sound. “Oh there you--” the woman appeared in the door behind Bertrice but stilled as soon as she noticed Harry. Recognition washed over her face and she shouted, “You!”
Harry flew forward, grabbed one of Malfoy’s arms, and pulled him toward to the backdoor. He was about to apparate both of them out when Malfoy shook off his grip and turned back to the house. Harry tried to shout NO but he was still under the Silence Charm and nothing came out. Self preservation was about to win until he saw a blond blur rushing back through the door. Harry apparated to the edge of the row of homes without a second thought.
He stood with his hands on on his knees, panting, and jumped when the kneazle came flying from over the fence, landing next to his foot.
“Merlin!” Harry shouted, shocked that he actually made a sound. A moment or two passed before Malfoy flipped over the top of the fence in a graceful spectacle. Harry glared at him. “So, you’re just throwing animals around now?”
“Kneazles always land on their feet.” He smirked. “As do Malfoys.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Why’d you take the damn thing, anyway?” He found himself absentmindedly rubbing his right thigh where Guinevere’s claws had dug into him.
“Leverage, of course.”
Icarus saw the look of exasperated disapproval on the man’s face and briefly thought he’d never relate to another person more in his life. Whoever Archie Eversworn was, he definitely wasn’t who he led on to be. He managed to break a record by not trying to strangle Draco Malfoy. Though, admittedly, it was still early in the day, and Eversworn looked well and truly irritated.
“Target has acquired an animal,” McLaggen said.
Icarus was envious of Eversworn’s self control. “Yes, I see that.”
McLaggen turned to Icarus, frowning. “Are we going to bring him in? He’s just broken into that poor woman’s home and stolen her pet.”
“Did you even read the mission report?” Icarus took a few deep breaths, reminding himself he’d need the other man at some point when things inevitably escalated.
“I, uh,” McLaggen’s icy eyes fluttered for a moment and his jaw tensed. “I sifted through the files.”
Icarus had started gathering their things and taking down the deception wards. “Sifted?” He stopped. “You didn’t read about Pandora?”
“Of course I read about the damned box!” McLaggen, to his credit, was an action man through and through. Leave it to him to study the threats, all of the threats , and not the simple task before them.
“Right now, McLaggen, our only mission is to observe this afflicted target. The others--” Icarus paused and threw up a mental wall. He couldn’t let himself go down that line of thinking. The box had unleashed all manner of curses on those in the Ancient Chamber. Icarus would have nightmares if he thought about any of the others. Malfoy had been lucky. “The others aren’t in our periphery.”
And then, in an odd turn of events, McLaggen focused on Icarus with a pointed, serious stare that pinned him frozen. “Not yet, at least,” McLaggen replied and then kept dissembling their gear like nothing had happened. Icarus, on the other hand, stood motionless as a dreadful realization pushed to the front of his thoughts.
The other six Unspeakables who’d been cursed were still unaccounted for.
“No bloody way,” Felix said, his eyes wide and mouth dropped open. Igora turned back to the scene outside The Laughing Fox. A quartet of aurors were interviewing people on the street.
Igora turned to Weasley. “Still think your man is innocent?” Weasley paled. Igora smiled and approached one of the aurors, a stocky fellow she didn’t recognize who was interviewing a young, nervous woman. “I’m Igora Stramitz with Missing Persons,” she nodded in introduction. “We’re here for an interview. What exactly is going on?”
“Bastien Queensbury,” the man replied, his eyes skirted over her, then behind to Felix and Weasley. If he recognised the redhead, it didn’t show. Queensbury turned to the pub and said, “There’s been a death.”
“Who died?” Weasley stepped in and towered over Queensbury.
The shorter man considered him for a moment. “Garland Umphrey.” Weasley’s face relaxed with relief. Queensbury’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you looking for?”
Felix was about to answer, but Igora raised her hand to silence him. “Umphrey? Is that the old man in 2B?”
Queensbury nodded. “We’ve been watching him the last two months in relation to the theft and illegal resale of rare and dangerous charmed memorabilia.”
“Was his death related to your case?” Igora asked.
As if trying to decide whether he should divulge any more information, Queensbury shared a long look with Igora before ultimately giving his somewhat calculated reply. “We aren’t certain, but we are looking for the man who rents the flat across the hall.” He pulled out a notepad and read off the name, “Archie Eversworn.” Igora didn’t have to look at Weasley to know he was the one behind her who had a sharp intake of breath. Queensbury didn’t miss it either. “Our specialist believes the Stunning Spell that ultimately led to Umphrey’s death originated in Eversworn’s flat. The bartender from the pub said he heard them arguing yesterday morning. He’s now a person of interest.”
“Excellent,” Igora smiled.
Harry was halfway to the DMLE when Malfoy finally caught up to him.
“Eversworn,” Malfoy called. Harry glanced over his shoulder and scoffed when he saw that Malfoy was still cradling the damned kneazle in his arms.
“I’m going to the Ministry,” was all Harry could bring himself to say.
Harry stopped. “That’s it? You have us break into someone’s house to get Bertrice, we proceed to leave her there, and now you’re fine with simply going to the Ministry and having them handle it?”
Malfoy shot Harry a careful look. “There was obviously something very wrong with that girl. You couldn’t help her. Perhaps they can.”
“And you didn’t think to grab her? Apparate out with her? Or were you too busy cooing over that dreadful animal?” Harry pointed to Guinevere, who hissed in response.
“There’s something special about this kneazle. I rather like her.”
“She attacked me.”
“What’s not to like?” There was a satisfied look on Malfoy’s face and it reminded Harry of their time at Hogwarts. He expected the look to morph into an outright sneer but was shocked when Malfoy simply winked at him instead and then turned his attention on the ball of fur in his hands.
Harry bit his lower lip, confused. “Alright then,” he finally managed to say. “I’m going to go tell them what I know now. Actually, you know what? You should tell them.” Harry thought it was a rather ingenious test to prove if Malfoy really had noble intentions. “I’m a person of interest and they’ll just make too many assumptions. It should be you.”
“You’re a person of interest? That would imply that someone, somewhere finds you interesting.”
“Malfoy, will you go or not?”
Malfoy acted as if he didn’t hear him and continued to coo at the kneazle, rubbing her belly as he cradled her like a baby. “I don’t trust the authorities to solve this case,” Malfoy finally said.
Harry rolled his eyes, “But you trust me? We’ve only just met.” The blond didn’t acknowledge Harry’s words. He simply carried on doting on the red devil. Harry gave up and walked the rest of the way to the Edinburgh Main Office.
He’d been there twice before. The first occasion had been under quite dire circumstances. There had been three werewolf attacks in a matter of days and half of the wizarding community in Scotland were in a panic. It was one of the few times Harry had been able to get out into the field with Ron, and though they didn’t do much more than canvas a few neighborhoods, it had felt good to be a part of something again.
Ron had been on loads of missions by then. He’d made his way around the department and got assigned different cases and different partners, and Harry had the suspicion Robards was grooming Ron for a very specific job. Harry might’ve envied Ron from time to time, especially when he found himself being paraded around as the face of the New Ministry. But most of his jealousy boiled down to wishing he could make a difference. Harry wanted Ron to be a successful auror, Merlin, he’d love to be taking directions from Head Auror Weasley some day. In fact, that would be where his envy might stop. Harry didn’t want the responsibility of a managing position. He just wanted an actual bloody job.
You had a job, he thought to himself. And you screwed it up.
That reminded him of the second time he visited the DMLE in Edinburgh. Harry accompanied Robards for a high priority interrogation, one of the last known Death Eaters, too dangerous to be moved.
“I just need you to stand against the wall in the background,” Robards had said before they Flooed to Edinburgh. “Look menacing. We don’t want to screw this up.”
Harry did as he was told, mostly because he was interested to see how Robards approached the situation. It ended up being a fascinating game to watch as Robards picked at the man, whittled his statements down to nothing, cracked open the lies. In what seemed effortless, the Head Auror pulled valuable intel from the man within two hours, and it ended up saving the lives of four curse breakers in a standoff outside Newcastle.
At the time, Harry had been grateful to see a textbook technique executed so well and rather ruthlessly. But as he approached the doors of the DMLE, he realized he’d probably never get a chance at a proper interrogation himself.
“Good morning,” a voice rang. To the left of the entrance, Harry recognized one of the investigators that interviewed him at the hotel. Stramitz, maybe? She was leaning against the wall, casually holding a half gone cigarette. Harry found it an odd coincidence since she was the person he was coming to see.
“I have some information for you,” Harry said, and then regretted it. He kept forgetting he was a questionable low-life and someone the investigators would likely distrust, accuse, or even jail.
Stramitz smiled. “I bet you do.”
Harry followed her through the main entrance, down a crowded hallway filled with preoccupied aurors rushing around, until they reached an office at the back of the building.
“Here we are,” she said and led him inside. He briefly noticed Stramitz’s partner before a familiar figure to the left caught his eye. Harry turned so fast and blinked that he almost fell over.
His best friend stood next to an empty desk, arms crossed, with a look of hopelessness Harry hadn’t seen on Ron’s face since their school days. He was giving Harry the dejected stare he used to give essays he’d come up short on. “Har--Have you lost your bloody mind?” Ron stammered, and Harry was sure he’d almost said Harry’s name. His suspicion was confirmed when Ron, visibly anxious, added an awkward, “Archie?”
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but he really didn’t know where to start. Had Ron gotten his owl yet? Harry looked between Stramitz and her partner before he decided it was safe to ask. “I sent Mister Wazlib a letter this morning.”
“Well he didn’t get it, mate,” Ron shook his head. He stared at the the ground. “These here have some questions for you.”
“I gathered that,” Harry replied.
Stramitz went to stand next to her partner, whose desk plate said Felix Zaha. “Firstly, Mister Eversworn, was there a reason you came in to the office today of your own volition?”
Harry stole a glance at Ron, who looked increasingly sick.
“Yes, I saw something,” he finally said.
Zaha cocked his head. “You saw something?”
Harry blinked. “I remembered something that I saw.”
“Enlighten us.” Stramitz crossed her arms.
“I remember seeing a kneazle outside the hotel. It left out the service entrance when I got there.”
Stramitz and Zaha shared a look and then Zaha cleared his throat. “And you think this is important?”
“Valentine asked me if I’d seen an animal in the penthouse? I just thought--” he paused. How could he get out of this? “I took down the address on its collar.”
“You took down the address on a lost kneazle’s collar and then set it loose again?” Stramitz’s eyebrows rose in disbelief.
“No, it--er--it sort of attacked me. And then ran off.”
“I see,” Stramitz said. “And where were you last night?”
Harry felt the blood drain from his face.
She leaned in and pressed her palms to the desk. “Did you happen to see or hear from your neighbor, Garland Umphrey?”
Felix stood up and walked around the desk. “Would you mind surrendering your wand for a diagnostic?” He smiled and Harry turned to Ron, but he was staring at the floor. Zaha added, “It’s just to check the spells you’ve cast in the last day or so.”
“I--uh--” Harry looked back at Ron. He finally met his gaze.
“I think you should, mate, just to clear your, uh, name,” Ron said.
Harry sent Stramitz a glare. “You can’t possibly think I’m responsible for killing Marwan Zivantus!”
Stramitz stood up and licked her lips. “Now how could you possibly know that name? We haven’t released the victims to the public.”
“And don’t say you recognised him,” Zaha added. Harry felt a collective shiver run between them. The carnage in the penthouse left few defining features on the bodies.
Harry lied. “I just knew the name on the reservation.”
Zaha and Stramitz shared a look. Then Zaha held out his hand. “Well you aren’t under suspicion for that incident. But you are a person of interest in the death of Garland Umphrey.”
“Umphrey’s dead?” Harry burst.
“They’re saying the Stunning Spell that led to his death ricocheted off something from your flat.” Stramitz was still smiling and it made Harry uneasy. “Well? Do you have an explanation for that?”
Harry shook his head. After a bit of deliberation and another oddly concerning look from Ron, he agreed to let them take his wand. They made him wait in the hallway while they did the procedure. Harry wasn’t sure what Ron was doing in there, but he trusted him to have his back if anything else would happen.
Pansy stepped out of the Ministry Floo, took one look out the window, and realized she hadn’t packed for Edinburgh. The mist blanketed the outside, and she shivered just thinking about it. Everything in her suitcase was suited for business in Brussels.
“Fantastic,” she muttered to herself. She’d need to apparate to the Ashtyl as soon as she met with the investigators on Bertrice’s case, and maybe after that she could Floo home and get proper clothes. She exited the Floo Chamber and headed straight for the main desk.
After quite a bit of back and forth which included a possible slight flung at the Parkinson name followed by Pansy’s detailed opinion on the attendant’s asymmetrical face, she received a visitor’s pass after explaining she was there on behalf of Bertrice. “You could’ve opened with that,” the attendant muttered.
“I’m sorry?” Pansy glared. “I’m a witch, aren’t I? This is my Ministry, is it not?” The man just tossed her pass onto the counter and went back to a Special Edition of The Quibbler on ‘The re-emergence of soul-sucking Soblipoms! Move aside vampires! By Luna Lovegood’. Pansy rolled her eyes. “And where will I find Missing Persons?”
Without putting down the flaming rubbish bin of a publication, he said, “Straight down the main hall, all the way in the back.”
“Thank you for your service,” Pansy said through a sneer. She followed the main hall all the way to the back. She saw the brass sign indicating it was the correct office, but the door was closed. Pansy watched a man pace back and forth in front of it. She cleared her throat.
The man looked up through a mess of black hair and sighed when he saw her, stress and panic etched across his features. Is this what she was to become? A heaping mess of worry over Bertrice? She took a step forward and asked if he was alright.
As if surprised, he met her stare and stammered out a quick “Fine” before he ducked his head down again and shoved his hands in his jeans pockets. For a moment, Pansy thought she’d recognized him. But the longer she looked at his face, the less she thought so.
“Have we met before?” she finally asked, unable to shake the feeling.
He fixed his green eyes on her and her stomach dropped. Blinking back the memories of another pair of fierce green eyes, and the night she’d spend her entire life trying to forget, Pansy turned away just as the door to the office opened.
A man stepped out and handed the green-eyed man a wand. “It checks out,” the man said. “But don’t leave town.”
And then, as if she hadn’t been taken back to the shadowy years of her past already, Ron Weasley burst out of the open door. If he noticed her, he didn’t acknowledge her, just quickly grabbed the green-eyed man and rushed up the hall and into another office. The door slammed and Pansy jumped. Something clawed at her, a vague thought that she’d just come face to face with the start of her reckoning. Waves of uneasiness hit her, fear, and some sort of dark, aching regret.
“Is there something I can help you with, miss?” The handsome man that had emerged from the office was staring at her with a smile.
She looked him up and down, from his delightfully fitted, well-tailored robes to his perfectly shined Ferragamo loafers. Pansy took a breath and introduced herself, watching the man’s face for when the recognition would hit.
It never did. His smile stayed steady, and a genuine warmth radiated through her as he held out his hand and shook hers. “Felix Zaha,” he said.
“Felix, I’ve just arrived from London. They named me Bertrice Zivantus’ guardian.”
His face filled with concern. “Come inside, my partner and I are working on the case.”
Pansy followed him into what looked like a typical Ministry office. The far wall had half a dozen missing posters taped across it. She finally lost it, her eyes filling with tears as the faces on those posters laughed, waved, and stared at her with hope. When she saw the last poster, of Bertrice, she couldn’t stifle her sob.
She heard Felix explain to his partner in a quiet voice, “Igora, this is Miss Parkinson. She’s been named guardian of Bertrice as per Marwan’s last will.”
“I see,” was all Pansy heard. She turned to the other person in the room. A rather beautiful older woman, wrinkled around the edges but almost timeless in her demeanor, held out her hand and motioned for Pansy to sit. Without even thinking about it, she sat in the chair across from the woman and listened. “My name is Igora Stramitz. I’ve been assigned to Missing Persons since before the First War. I have found over two hundred of my cases, one hundred and sixty four of them were alive. When I tell you right now that I believe we will find Bertrice alive, it’s not out of hope or unfounded reassurance. My experience is telling me she’s out there.”
Felix held out a handkerchief. Pansy took it, offered him a thankful look, and blotted her eyes. She hadn’t realized how many tears had spilled down her cheeks until that moment. “Thank you,” was all she could bring herself to say as she looked from Felix to Igora. She realized they were probably sincere, but they were first and foremost investigators. They were likely judging her every reaction.
Pansy figured the truth was the easiest way to get them on her side. “I’ve been in Brussels until this morning and only just heard about Marwan.” She felt another wave of emotions surface and clenched her jaw. “He and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but Bertrice has been one of the only things in this world that’s stayed pure since the War.”
“I know we can’t stop you from worrying,” Felix offered, “but we have leads on the case. We won’t stop until we’ve found her.”
“Thank you,” Pansy offered him half a smile. She gathered herself and stood to leave. “I’m staying at the Ashtyl. Please keep me updated.”
“We will,” Felix nodded.
“Ouch!” Harry swatted Ron’s hand off his shoulder.
As soon as he’d slammed the door shut, Ron’s face flushed red. “Harry, mate. What in Godric’s name do you think you’re doing?”
“Me?” Harry appealed. “I haven’t done anything! If you’d gotten my message, you’d know what happened.”
“Clearly I haven’t. So you’re going to have to explain it to me.” Harry took a breath and then recounted the events of the last twenty four hours. He left no detail out, except the scene he’d witnessed on the fourteenth floor. While it weighed on him, Harry was sure whatever it was had no relation to any of the cases, let alone would it reassure Ron, technically his handler, that all of Harry’s mental faculties were still intact. “So let me see if I understand this,” Ron said finally. “You’ve been fired from your job for walking in on Marwan Zivantus’ murder scene, only to somehow discover his missing daughter later that night? And--” Ron gazed around wildly, “--whilst you were off returning the kneazle and saw Marwan’s daughter, someone killed your neighbor while they were in your flat, which you and Draco bloody Malfoy had only just vacated.”
“I know it sounds--”
“You’ve gotta ditch Eversworn,” Ron interrupted.
Harry frowned. “No, really, I can’t--he’s the only way into the hotel.”
“There’s other ways, Harry. That face is more a liability now than an asset.”
Harry wanted to object. But he knew Ron was right. “I swear Malfoy knows more than he’s let on. I think he trusts me, er, Eversworn. It might be the only way,” Harry postulated. Ron shook his head and Harry sighed. “Fine,” he relented. The disappointment of wasting eight months on something only to fail made him a bit sick. He eyed a desk chair and pulled it forward. When he sat, he shot Ron a look of resignation.The lab tech who’d applied his charms said it would be more painful getting them removed than put on, and suddenly Harry regretted giving in so easily.
“This is going to hurt, isn’t it?” Harry gulped.
Ron nodded and handed him a vial filled with a milky chartreuse potion. Harry downed it and waited. His face began to feel very hot, almost burning. Then the stinging sensation hit him and he squeezed his eyes closed. It was as if thousands of pimples were being popped on his face. The brief agony of that was followed by something cool and light. Harry opened his eyes and realized the prosthetics had slid off his face and onto the floor, and a cold, naked sensation washed over him as the air kissed his real skin.
“Yeah,” he ran his hands through his hair. “Rest in peace, Archie.”
“More trouble than he was worth,” Ron said.
They exited the building at a brisk pace, Harry eager to get away from the investigators and Ron complaining about needing lunch. They headed to a small cafe that was out of the way of the more heavily trafficked wizard areas. When Harry finally felt the sun on his face, the odd warmth made him shudder. He was certain he’d felt the sun on his face with the charms, but somehow they’d left his skin feeling so incredibly cold.
“Alright?” Ron looked over as they walked.
Harry nodded. “Yeah, it’s just the charms wearing off I guess.”
“”Mione said she thinks they need to put a time limit on them. Says she doesn’t trust that the charm won’t eventually bond to the person’s magic.” Ron stopped and grabbed Harry’s shoulder. “Could you imagine, being stuck as Archie Eversworn?”
The thought made Harry sick. Or was it his stomach? Harry hadn’t realized how hungry he was. They finally reached the cafe and ordered sandwiches. When Harry asked after Hermione, Ron’s face went quite pale.
“I’m not sure. She started a project for the Department of Mysteries and I haven't seen much of her since.”
Harry nodded. He knew from the two previous projects Hermione had worked on for the Department of Mysteries that Ron’s statement was all he was going to get on the subject. Merlin, that was probably all Ron even knew and he was engaged to her. “I saw Gin made it on to the provisional national team,” Harry said through a mouthful of ham sandwich.
Ron dropped his drink. “What? Where?”
“The Prophet had it yesterday morning.”
“No they didn’t,” Ron frowned. “They’re announcing the team tomorrow.” Harry wasn’t sure how he could be mistaken. “Maybe it was a list of potentials,” Ron finally offered.
Harry’s frown deepened and he stared at the table. The article was in his pocket in his dirty pants back at his flat. “Maybe.”
Something crept into his mind just then. Harry put down his sandwich and sat back in his chair. He couldn’t stop himself from thinking something odd was happening to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on what exactly it was. Ron interrupted his thoughts.
“I know you’re worried about this Zivantus case, but you should leave it to the professionals, Harry.”
The simple implication that Harry wasn’t up to the task unspooled his anger. “I am a professional! I’m an auror just like you, just like them.” Harry realized his voice had risen, and tried to rein himself back in. Quietly, he pointed out, “Besides, they’d rather chase down flimsy leads like Archie Eversworn than actually try to solve their case.”
Ron shoved a chip in his mouth. “I spent a lot of time with them this morning. They’re not as daft as you’d think.” Harry sent him a look he hoped showed his disbelief. “Alright, Harry. Why don’t we go to the hotel after lunch and check it out? I have access to the crime scene.”
“No,” Harry winced. “There’s no reason we need to see that horrific mess again.”
“Well is there anything else, maybe something they missed?” Ron offered.
Harry shook his head, but then it occurred to him that something had gone wrong with the warding system, something unexplainable, and it happened around the same time that he saw himself on the fourteenth floor. “Maybe there is.”
Hermione Granger hid behind her copy of Enchanted Hedgery and Why Building Well-Trimmed Walls Led to the War. For many countless reasons, she was finding it increasingly hard to finish the award-winning text. For starters, the Ashtyl Hotel Bar and Lounge was blasting the obnoxious defunct boyband Jinxes & Joes. It was also the middle of the afternoon and yet the establishment overflowed with tipsy witches and wizards, all attempting to speak over the others.
Most especially though, Hermione’s attention was drawn away for the very fact that Draco Malfoy sat five tables to the left, at the bar, huddled in deep conversation with Pansy Parkinson. Hermione took a deep breath and repeated her new mantra in her head: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul as the pull of something cosmic tugged her in his direction.
It was no use, she knew, to try and fight it. But she still wasn’t quite used to the new reality that her autonomy was compromised. She peered around the cover of the book and stole a look at Malfoy. He looked mostly the same as the last time she’d seen him, apart from a residue of exhaustion evident in his wrinkled clothes and dark under eye circles.
“May I offer you a refill?” the waiter towered over her. Hermione uttered a small noise of surprise.
She shook her head and ducked back behind the book.
“Would you like to order some food? An appetizer perhaps?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” she hissed. She tried her hardest to give the man a look that said Leave me alone or I’ll hex you into next week. It must have worked because after she pulled her beanie down farther, he’d left to check on another table. She settled back in and returned her gaze towards Malfoy.
He and Pansy sat facing each other, their shoulders almost touching as their faces leaned forward in a give and take of whispers. They had a familiarity only showcased between the best of friends or lovers, and Hermione kicked herself as her curiosity peaked, wondering what exactly they were to each other. She let out a disgruntled sigh of frustration, suddenly willed with the notion that she should be doing something else. This is ridiculous, she thought. She didn’t have to do it.
No, another version of her voice echoed. She didn’t have to do it. Her previous line of thinking flashed across her mind and despite all her usual logical notions, Hermione let herself indulge in the fantasy that she could control what was happening to her. Maybe if she brewed the Potion for Dreamless Sleep with better precision, or added some sort of counterpart to stop sleepwalking. And maybe if she found a quiet, secluded place, far from anyone, she might be able to stop the drive to match lovers together from rising up and taking over her every thought.
It had started with the two men assigned to her when she woke on the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s after a routine inspection of Pandora’s Box went horribly wrong. Hermione had opened her eyes, and it was as if a new world had blossomed. When she looked between the two of them, Healer Redmance and Cursebreaker Humblebud, all Hermione saw was caged potential, the invisible hands of Eros beckoning the unity of lovers.
“You two love each other,” she said, and then threw a hand over her mouth in horror. She managed to keep her newfound romantic zeal at bay long enough for them to discharge her. It didn’t stop her from noticing the way Redmance made Humblebud laugh, or the lingering look of longing on the latter’s face. She’d smiled and thanked them for their help, wondering what on earth had really happened to her in the Ancient Room.
It didn’t end there. After being released into Ron’s care, she spent a few days held up in their cottage. For the first time in her life, Hermione couldn’t find solace or comfort within the pages of a book. Not even Hogwarts: A History. Instead, her gaze was drawn to the commotions outside, the neighbors going about their days. Those interactions which some might find trivial, or ordinary, even Hermione herself before the Pandora incident, she suddenly studied with an insatiable rapture.
“Ron,” she began at breakfast the next day. “Did you know Mrs. Brambleboot orders take away from the deli down the lane?”
Ron brought over a cup of tea for her and shook his head. “Doesn’t surprise me. We order from them almost twice a week, they’re bloody brilliant.”
Hermione grinned, “Yes, but not once has old man Rogers delivered ours.”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
Ron scrunched his face. “That the oldest bloke I’ve seen in recent memory doesn’t often do their deliveries?”
“They’re meant to fall in love,” Hermione concluded.
“Have you gone mad?” Ron shoved a biscuit in his mouth. Hermione handed him a napkin while he chewed. “Katherine Brambleboot’s a widow. Her husband died of dragon pox years and years ago.”
“Yes,” Hermione stared at him. “So marrying once means you can never fall in love again?” It was strange that she didn’t see a shred of Eros’ potential in Ron. But then again, she didn’t see any when she looked at herself in a mirror either. There were a few others, she’d noted, who didn’t register in her mind as potential matches. But the widow and the old deli owner, now they were a perfect match if she’d ever seen one. Ron shook his head and gave her his usual You’re absolutely right face and continued shoving biscuits in his mouth and washing them down with tea.
Hermione remembered that morning so vividly, almost as if she’d watched it happen from outside herself. A part of her held such an aversion to meddling or even commenting on the romantic affairs of others. But some sacred, small sliver of her psyche had awakened with the curse. Hermione knew it was Eros causing her sudden ability to see love all around.
She barely recognized her voice when she walked into the deli and told old man Rogers that Mrs. Brambleboot’s favorite flowers were hydrangeas. She could hardly believe she waited by the window for hours to see him hobble down the widow’s walkway and knock on her door, an overflowing bouquet of blue and white flowers in his arms.
And Hermione couldn’t honestly believe she felt such pure, unabashed joy at the small, innocuous smile that lingered on Mrs. Brambleboot’s lips, and the brightness that filled her eyes when she saw Rogers blush.
She managed to tame her giddiness by the time Ron returned home from work, only to be swept up in something else entirely. She suddenly noticed the little gestures he did for her, subtle touches of tenderness and care. The way his finger wrapped around one of her curls when he bent over to hand her a cup of tea. The towel left folded over the tub for her when she went upstairs to take her bath. And when she went to bed, she leaned over, and waited as Ron put down the morning’s Prophet to grasp her face. The moment their lips met she burned with the spark of something a thousand times greater than what she’d felt that afternoon watching her matches fall in love.
Eventually, she was able to quiet her drive to match people together. But over the course of the next month, it would flair up at random times and draw her in. So much so, that she’d dream about the couples whose potential she saw. That’s when she took the Potion for Dreamless Sleep and ended up sleep walking into to the Brightlawn Commons in her night dress, searching out the seamstress and the junior auror who had made eyes at her.
Hermione felt imprisoned by the curse, hostage to its drive to bring love to those who otherwise were without. She debated with herself over the very nature of the curse, if its inherent power lessened the ability of those involved to consent to conditions. But it wasn’t as if she was going around dosing people with Amortentia. She could merely see things they couldn’t and rallied for their happiness by trying to enlighten them. But was love truly the biggest gift she could give? Was it really love’s potential she saw between two individuals or merely the peak of passion woven with some complex idea of compatibility? What of knowledge, and history, and proven actions? What did Eros really know?
She looked back up from behind the book and watched as Malfoy laid a comforting hand on Parkinson’s. Eros hasn’t been wrong before, Hermione rationalized. Her dreams had led her here, and part of her questioned it, but the heart of her knew it was real. She’d found one half of her next match.
Now, she just needed to find Harry.
“Sableton, we have a development.”
Icarus chanced a glance at his partner with little hope that what would follow might not test what was left of his patience. But to his surprise, McLaggen was blushing. “What?”
He turned away from Malfoy and the woman at the bar and followed McLaggen’s line of sight. From where they had perched in the kitchen, they had a good view of most of the lounge out the order-up window. It had been an odd experience watching Malfoy embrace the raven haired woman and then proceed to comfort her. McLaggen indicated that he’d recognized her as Pansy Parkinson. It appeared now as if McLaggen had recognised someone else.
Icarus squinted and tried to get a better view of the woman in question. She wore a black beanie over most of her head and sat hunched behind a large, green book. “Is that--”
McLaggen breathed, “Hermione Granger.”
A sudden ruckus in the kitchen stole their attention, and Icarus turned in time to see Draco Malfoy draw his wand and aim it at them.
“I know you’ve been following me, and I’m getting dreadfully tired of repeating myself; you are wasting your time.” Malfoy scowled.
Icarus stepped forward, hands raised, and replied, “This isn’t up to you.”
“What?” Malfoy dropped his wand arm back to his side and casually put his other hand on his hip. “They think I’m dangerous, do they?”
“No one said that, Malfoy,” Icarus said, just as McLaggen chimed, “Yes.” Icarus turned to the other ops man and glared. McLaggen shrugged. “We don’t understand what exactly is going on with you,” Icarus clarified. And he knew Malfoy understood, so why was he angry?
“As opposed to what is afflicting Santi, Tresden, Larson, or Granger?”
The man crossed his arms and looked almost petulant. “Larson’s affliction, now tell me, do you have an ops-team following him around or are you just letting him run wild like Tresden?”
Icarus didn’t know what to say. Howard Larson had been an Unspeakable with the Department of Mysteries for almost fifteen years, with not a single thing tarnishing his record of service. He’d been in the room with the others, knocked out cold when they’d found them. All the Department knew was when he woke up at St. Mungo’s, Larson had left a path of stone bodies in his wake.
“You’re the only one who has stayed on the grid, Malfoy.”
“Imagine that. Could it possibly be because I haven’t turned anyone to stone with my stare? Or brought famine to a horticulture show and caused a riot? Inspired a Ministry work retreat to break into a sudden orgy?” Malfoy raised an eyebrow.
McLaggen stepped forward and glowered at Malfoy. At first, Icarus thought Malfoy had got a rise out of him. But Cormac took a breath and shook his head. “You might not be an obvious threat to public safety. But each artifact and curse in that box had the potential to be cataclysmic, Malfoy. At least with Larson and some of the others we know what they’re capable of.” McLaggen turned to Icarus and then back to Malfoy. “We’ve been watching you for days. Do you even know what you’re doing?”
Malfoy paled and stared at the floor. In a less combative tone he said, “Do not keep following me.” In an even smaller voice, he added, “I will come back with you as soon Bertrice Zivantus is found and the next of Eleven comes to get Zivantus’ Timepiece.”
“We don’t take orders from you,” McLaggen smirked.
“Leave,” Icarus directed at McLaggen. The man furrowed his brows but Icarus just said, “Go.” With a look of confusion and suspicion, McLaggen left the corner of the kitchen and went out into the lounge. He didn’t have the clearance to hear what they were about to discuss. Icarus took a step forward and stared at Malfoy, who had managed to make his face neutral once more. “You know about the Timepiece?”
Malfoy scoffed. “The worst kept secret in the Department is that Zivantus still had it.”
Icarus Sableton shivered at the thought of the Iniquitous Eleven and what it meant that one of them would be coming. “Do you know where it is? Where Zivantus kept it?”
Malfoy studied him and replied, “No. Of course not. Do you think he would trust someone like me with that information?”
“If you don’t know where it is, then who does?”
Malfoy shrugged. “I’m just a lowly junior Unspeakable afflicted with an ancient Grecian curse.” He smirked. “What do I know?”
Harry felt a bit odd walking in through the main entrance of the Ashtyl Hotel as himself. He and Ron had apparated there and decided to try and and poke around under the guise of aurors in the Penthouse investigation. Harry wasn’t sure if they were looking for clues to the murder or to Bertrice’s situation, or some way to connect the two together concretely. He just had the feeling he would know it when they saw it. And that Draco Malfoy was somehow very much a part of it.
“Hermione?” Ron exclaimed. Harry looked at Ron and followed his gaze to the entrance of the hotel lounge. Harry’s mouth dropped.
Hermione rushed over to them, a large book clutched in her arms. “Oh thank God you two are here. I’ve just run into Cormac McLaggen and--”
“Blimey, Hermione, what are you doing here?”
“Well I--” she looked back and forth between them with her mouth open.
“You’re here for work?” Ron offered.
“I am, yes,” she nodded, though Harry thought something about her seemed off. Hermione gestured around with one of her hands. “I’m here for work.”
A flash of platinum blond hair stole Harry’s attention, and he craned his neck around to see Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson leaving the lounge and heading for the lift. Harry lurched forward, an involuntary pull to confront the blond, but Ron pulled him back. “He doesn’t know it’s you, mate,” Ron said.
“What?” Harry frowned. “He doesn’t know I’m me?”
“You were Archie Eversworn,” Ron reminded.
Hermione wove her arm with Ron’s and huddled together with them. “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Malfoy is up to something,” Harry said without thinking. Hermione fixed him with a confused look. “I mean--he’s connected to the murder of this Zivantus fellow and the daughter--”
“Zivantus?” Hermione frowned.
“Marwan Zivantus,” Harry repeated. “Why did you--” He stopped when the vague memory surfaced from the news, that Zivantus had been on the outs with Ministry. Harry lost his focus staring at Malfoy.
Ron leaned in close to Hermione’s ear. “Why? Did you work with him?” Harry cursed the Unbreakable Vow Unspeakables had to take. The only way around it was if someone’s life was in danger. Well, as far as Harry was concerned, Bertrice’s life was in danger. “Merlin, Harry. That’s why Hermione’s here!” Ron shook his friend and got Harry’s attention, he’d been staring after Malfoy at the lift even after the doors had closed. “They must suspect Malfoy had something to do with it and they’re--” Harry’s eyes followed the arrow above the lift as it dialed its way up the floor numbers. He waited with baited breath for the arrow to stop at fourteen.
Hermione started, “Ron, that’s not--” but Harry pushed his way passed his friends and went to the lift.
Ron caught up to him, “You shouldn’t go up there, Harry.” Hermione approached. Ron sent her a look to chime in.
“I don’t know Ron,” Hermione said. “Maybe he’s supposed to go up there.”
“Bloody hell,” he muttered as the three of them got in the lift and went up to the fourteenth floor.
The problem with having a line on the interconnectedness of all things meant Draco Malfoy experienced a disappointingly low number of surprises. In fact, he could only remember one time he’d been surprised since the curse overtook him six weeks before. But as he and Pansy stepped into the lift and turned around, a wave of something akin to surprise hit him like a bludger to the stomach when his eyes took in a very addled, angry Harry Potter in the lobby.
It didn’t surprise Draco when Marwan Zivantus had approached him to help solve his own imminent murder. Zivantus’ future thread had been weak, almost blurred. He’d half expected there to be more to the story than Marwan let on. When Bertrice went missing, Draco had already prepared by making connections to active threads and attributing them to the respective people. He still didn’t have most of them identified or know how they related back to Marwan, but it was a jumping off point. Pansy having been roped into this flaming, rubbish fiendfyre of events felt par for the course. The only thing that ranked as unexpected was when he’d followed a bright and electric thread to the hotel porter’s flat and was met with Potter’s stunning green eyes.
That was the real surprise. Draco would be lying to himself if he felt any real shock at finding Potter swept up in the current mess of events. Apart from Pansy and his parents, was there really anyone else Draco was tethered to more than Potter? They were destined to be thorns in each other’s sides, rivals, enemies, and now--well, Draco wasn’t sure what Potter was, though he always knew who he was. The Boy Who Lived, the boy who refused his offer of friendship, the boy who beat him at every game they’d ever played. The boy who saved your life, Draco almost winced.
But what was Potter even doing in Edinburgh? How was he connected to the penthouse? Wasn’t it his prerogative to soak up all the accolades and parade himself around the Wizarding World without actually ever doing anything? He’s already done enough, Draco cringed again. He saved you. He saved us all. Potter must have been working a case, but what in Salazar’s name had the Savior done to his face? When he’d seen him in the flat, Draco had to hold back a burst of laughter at how ridiculous Potter had looked.
No, Draco hadn’t really been surprised to find Potter there. His initial reaction had been one of memory, fleeting, painful, something that sent a phantom burst of pain across the skin on his chest and into his heart. But that was always his default reaction to Potter. It was something he’d grown accustomed to experiencing on the rare occasions their paths crossed. He was so used to it, Draco was sure he’d shown no visible reaction at all when he realized Potter was the porter.
Judging by Pansy’s worried brow, however, Draco had quite a visible reaction when he realized Sableton and McLaggen had been tailing him. She was still bothered by it even after he’d confronted the pair of them and then pulled her out of the lounge.
“Are you angry that they’re tailing you because it’s their job,” Pansy grabbed his arm and stared up at him, “Or because they’re tailing Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater?”
Draco had kept his gaze cooly trained on the pair of green eyes staring back at him in the lobby. Potter had removed his charmed disguise, and Draco felt a twinge of relief at the sight of him, if only because Eversworn’s bloated face had no business harboring those eyes. When the doors to the lift finally closed and broke the trance he’d been in, he shook himself and answered, “The two aren’t mutually exclusive, Pans. I am Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater, and I work for the Department of Mysteries.”
“I know you can’t tell me anything,” Pansy sighed. “But maybe you can explain why a disguised Potter was being questioned in relation to Bertrice’s disappearance?” Draco turned to her then, the soothing relief of her fierce and inquisitive mind a consolation, and he felt his features soften in affinity for her. She quirked an eyebrow and added, “And maybe why you couldn’t take your eyes off each other just now?”
“Irrelevant,” Draco rolled his eyes. The lift doors opened and ushered them out.
Pansy followed him to his room and watched him use the spell key followed by a series of precise wand movements to open his door. He glanced at her, but she maintained her unimpressed Get on with it look, pushing past him into the room as soon as the locks were undone.
“How do you know this is Malfoy’s room?” Hermione asked.
Harry’s jaw clenched. “I just know, okay.” The scene of himself, oddly dressed and irritated, flashed across his memory.
Hermione sighed. “You haven’t been following him again?”
“I have absolutely not been following him,” Harry bristled. “If anything, he’s been following me.”
“Malfoy broke into his flat,” Ron offered. And at that, Hermione wore a look of mild confusion.
Harry reached for the door. The anticipation prickled from his neck down his spine, and he mildly wondered why. He somehow knew Malfoy and Parkinson were on the other side, and with them, any number of clues and answers. As he hesitated, the cool metal of the doorknob in his palm, Harry wondered why it felt less like an entrance and more like a precipice; as if the moment Harry walked through the doorway, he would be jumping off the point of no return. The rush of purpose flooded him, and he opened the door.
The trio walked in to a superior suite decorated in lavish, deep tones of green and blue, earthy and yet extravagant. Harry recognised the layout as they entered the sitting room, an open set of double doors led to the bedroom behind the seating area. Malfoy and Pansy sat on the sofa, staring at the group of them in expectation.
“It took you long enough,” Malfoy finally said. He leaned forward and reached into a bowl of fruit on the coffee table. Looking pleased, he grabbed an apple and sat back. “Did you get lost on the way up?”
Harry was sure he did a terrible job hiding his surprise. “You expected us?”
Hermione leaned in and whispered, “You were leering at Malfoy from across the lobby.”
Harry turned with the intention of correcting her--he unequivocally had not been leering at Malfoy, perhaps glowering, sneering maybe--but then something odd caught Harry’s eye. In the corner of the sitting room stood a large case board covered in photographs, notes, and Cerforth Hippolyle’s It’s Solved Then! Every Color Case String. Harry and Ron practically fell over moving to get a better look at it.
Zivantus was pinned to the top of the board and a lovely photo of Bertrice underneath his. To the right, a series of names and photos of people Harry didn’t recognise. Places like Jones Distillery and Hantocrave Downs were listed and had various colors of string connecting them to individuals on the board. Pinned down the center, a large clock face with the hands at a quarter to seven had lots of strings connecting to people and places. On the left, Harry recognised what could only be a Gringott’s vault inventory list of items, some of which had missing written in neat script next to them. There was also a blueprint of the hotel, and to the farthest left of the board, a photo of an older woman labeled Gertrude Lockhart.
“This isn’t bad work,” Ron said absentmindedly. When he realized he’d said it out loud, he slapped a hand over his mouth.
Harry turned around in time to see Malfoy’s lip quirk. “Thank you, Weasley.” His grey eyes flitted to Harry. “I had help.” Harry gave him a questioning look. Malfoy stared at his apple and asked, “Did you have a productive visit at the DMLE?”
Harry almost choked. “I’m sorry?”
“You met with the investigators on Bertrice’s case, did you not?”
“Even if I hadn’t recognised you the moment I first saw you, you’re wearing the exact clothes you had on earlier this morning. The only thing that’s changed is the absence of those awful disguise charms, of which I am ever thankful. It’s hard to admit there was something worse than your actual face, but here we are.”
Hermione took a seat in one of the armchairs, staring at Malfoy with wide, blazing eyes. Harry couldn’t gauge the emotion. Was it anger? It looked like something closer to expectancy. Hermione sat back and settled into the chair, “And yet, you allowed the pretense to continue. Why?”
“Hang on--” Harry stepped forward. “You didn’t think it was odd that I was in disguise working as a hotel porter?”
“If you hadn’t noticed, Potter, there isn’t a single thing about this case that isn’t an odd but coordinated obfuscation.”
Harry took that as a deflection. Malfoy’s stare lingered on him, and Harry narrowed his eyes. It was true, the events of the last day had been truly bizarre. Even though behind him stood a detailed case board, and Malfoy himself had admitted that Zivantus had hired him, Harry held on to the belief that Malfoy was still hiding something.
“Our first priority should be finding Bertrice,” Parkinson interrupted Harry’s thoughts. She was looking at Hermione but pointed to Malfoy and Harry. “These two idiots found her this morning and left her behind with some hoarder with a newspaper fetish.”
Just as Harry was about to correct her that Malfoy was the one who left Bertrice behind, the red kneazle revealed its presence and jumped into Parkinson’s lap. Startled, she turned to Malfoy, mouth agape as the kneazle nuzzled against Pansy’s neck.
Malfoy wore a triumphant smile that floored Harry. He took a step back at the sight of it, unsure if he’d ever seen the Slytherin flash a genuine one in his presence. Malfoy reached across the couch and gently pet the animal. “I wouldn’t be so sure we left her behind, Pans.”
“What?” Parkinson squawked. She froze.
Harry rolled his eyes. “You can’t be serious?” Malfoy shot him an unconcerned look. Harry added, “I saw Bertrice and the kneazle in the same room, this thing--Guinevere--is not her.” He waved his arms emphatically.
“You’re assuming I meant she was an Animagus or a shifter of some sort,” Malfoy said. “I, too, saw Bertrice’s person in that house, and she exhibited some strange behavior.”
“Well,” Harry started, but then he realized Malfoy was right. “It was only strange in that she didn’t seem in immediate danger, and she didn’t have any intention of leaving with us.”
Malfoy smirked then. “You didn’t find it odd that she slinked across the ground on all fours or that the woman of the house referred to Bertrice as ‘Guinevere’?”
Harry wanted to have a comeback but before he could think of anything, Parkinson had leaned down and grabbed the kneazle’s face and whispered, “Are you Bertie?”
The kneazle licked her nose and then nodded its head up and down.
“This is insane,” Harry turned to a stunned Ron. “That thing attacked me!” They ended up standing by each other as Parkinson, Malfoy, and Hermione started running all sorts of spells and charms on the kneaz--Bertrice, apparently. Both Hermione and Malfoy tried their hand at Legilimens but with little avail. While the three of them began brainstorming ideas, Harry and Ron turned back to the case board and tuned the others out.
Harry studied the right side, the faces and names he didn’t know. His eyes skirted over their characteristics until he saw something he did recognise. One of the men in a photo wore a necklace that Harry had seen before. The pendant was the infinity symbol, only each side had a pair of eyes with the circles. He’d seen it before on a few of the men in the potions ring he’d been investigating. Merlin, he’d seen them only a few weeks into his investigation. That felt like a lifetime ago.
He whispered his revelation to Ron as his best friend copied down the case board to a small notebook. Ron drew the symbol from the photo and then put the notebook away in his robes. “Sorta looks familiar, yeah?” he whispered to Harry.
Felix dropped the stack of parchments on his desk and sat back in his chair. “It’s official, Stramitz. Archibald Eversworn has only been on the Ministry’s radar for the last eight months.”
“Interesting,” Igora nodded.
“You were wrong then.” Felix couldn’t hide his smile and Ignora snorted.
Felix elaborated on his theory that Eversworn was a poorly picked informant, or even undercover auror. Igora shook her head, “No, there’s something else going on with him. Don’t forget that it was Draco Malfoy we saw climb into Eversworn’s flat. The man has a Department of Mysteries tail on him!”
That reminded Igora to check the files she’d requisitioned from the main office. She didn’t want to jump to her own biased conclusions in regards to Malfoy, but the young man was a known former Death Eater. She found the unnervingly thin stack on him and flipped through it. Since his trial and release, Malfoy only came up in Ministry paperwork with an application into the auror program and subsequent removal from said program. The reason for his expulsion simply stated Shows promise, unlikely to progress.
“What does that even mean?” Felix asked.
Igora shook her head and read on. The Ministry tracked Malfoy’s charitable donations, of which, there were many. But the most interesting find in his file had to be the copied pages of the Minister’s calendar, and the four official meetings Malfoy sat with him. “Doesn’t that strike you as odd, if he’s involved in criminal activity? He’s not flagged. He’s not on some watch list. He’s meeting privately with the Minister of Magic, for Salazar’s sake!”
Felix frowned. “So what are you saying?”
She was about to close the file and admit that she didn’t know, but a familiar tapping at the window stole her attention. She got up and let the owl in, grabbed the note, and fed the creature a treat. The note had been hastily scribbled, but she could tell it was from their informant at the Ashtyl Hotel. She ripped it opened and scanned it.
“Why are you smiling?”
“Felix, get your cloak.” Igora couldn’t help it. She was grinning madly. They walked to the Floo Chamber, Felix nagging her to tell him. “Our girl says she saw Draco Malfoy enter the hotel with a red kneazle.”
“Like the one Eversworn saw? Come on, Stramitz, that’s nothing.”
She licked her lips. “Not long after, Pansy Parkinson met with him in the lounge and then they went up to a room. They were followed by Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Harry Potter.”
“The Golden Trio?”
Igora stopped and held up her hand just as they approached the oversized fireplace. “Remind me again what floor Eversworn asked about in his initial interview?”
Her partner stared at her in disbelief before finally answering, “The fourteenth.”
“All five of them and the kneazle are on the fourteenth floor right now.”
Hermione glanced at Harry and Ron as they studied the case board. She and Malfoy had little luck confirming or denying that the kneazle was Bertice, although the creature had only positive responses to everything Pansy Parkinson said, which spoke volumes to Hermione. It had to be her goddaughter.
“Granger,” Malfoy said in a low voice. Hermione turned to him. “Do you understand any of what’s happened to us?” It was in that moment Hermione forgot the details of the case. All thoughts of the potential that flashed between Malfoy and Harry disappeared. It was easy to get distracted from the fact that they had been cursed, especially when the others present in the Ancient Room seemed to get the worst of it. The worst of it, she cringed. Maybe she didn’t have a Gorgon-curse, but she still felt the grave despair of someone held hostage to an alien force. Hermione was about to ask if Malfoy had heard from anyone else, but Parkinson leaned in.
“Hermione,” pleading eyes met her own. “What do you make of this?” Parkinson pulled out a folded parchment and handed it to her. Still in a bit of a shock that she’d used her given name, Hermione eventually grabbed it. When she opened it, she gasped, and it drew the attention of Harry and Ron.
Hermione asked if she could read it aloud. Parkinson considered it and then nodded. She read:
To whom it may concern:
We have Bertrice Zivantus and we won’t return her until our demands are met.
The agreed upon amount of inquollis anicorpus folia
Guinevere, the kneazle
Marwan Zivantus’ Timepiece
Hermione’s voice faltered after that. For a brief moment she locked eyes with Malfoy, before clearing her throat and continuing:
The drop off will be on the main field at the Aubigny Sports Centre in Haddington,
1 o’clock in the morning
Do not involve the Ministry
“What--when did you get this?” Hermione asked.
Parkinson frowned. “The owl showed up as soon as I checked into the hotel.”
“If anything,” Ron joined the huddle and sat in one of the armchairs. “This proves that his death and her kidnapping are connected. I’d reckon Marwan had contact with them before…”
Ron’s thoughts filled Hermione’s head with questions. “Does this mean they didn’t kill him?” she asked. “If they wanted all of this from him, what would possess them to exact the massacre in the penthouse?”
“You all can worry and talk yourselves in circles, but I have to get this stuff together and do the drop,” Parkinson stated, the hint of panic in her voice. Malfoy reached across the sofa and placed a hand on hers. The kneazle pushed herself under their fingers.
“Hang on.” Ron shook his head. “What’s inquollis anicorpus folia? Why are they asking for a plant?”
Harry finally found his voice and added, “I’ve never heard that mentioned in Potions or Herbology.”
“Be honest, Potter, were you ever listening in Potions or Herbology?” Hermione shot Malfoy a look of warning and started to ask Parkinson if she knew anything about Marwan’s potential herbological ties. Did he have a greenhouse? Did he own any companies that produced products from plants? With every question, Hermione grew more frustrated because Parkinson simply did not know the man or his dealings well enough.
“There is someone who might be able to help us,” Harry offered. When everyone turned to him he shrugged. “Neville.”
Hermione had a thought, and suddenly, she felt the curse raging inside her again. “Yes, Harry, you’re right. You, Malfoy, and Parkinson should go to Hogwarts and ask for Neville’s help. Even if he can’t, maybe you can search the Restricted Section for any information on the plant, and perhaps--” Hermione pointed to the kneazle “--historical instances of body swapping?”
“And that leaves you and Weasley doing what exactly?” Malfoy quipped with a raised brow.
“I already have a few leads to chase down thanks to that board of yours,” Ron offered and he and Malfoy stared each other down for an uncomfortable minute. Finally, Ron titled his head and said, “You might have to explain to me what Gertrude Lockhart is doing up there though.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes, but the hint of a smirk crept over his features. “Well, if you must know.” While he explained that a man in Cardiff had seen Marwan’s participation in a charity event run by Gertrude Lockhart and had begun stalking Marwan, Hermione pulled Harry aside and out into the hallway.
Harry look dazed, as if it took a moment to realize what happened. He stared down the hall toward the lift, a disoriented look on his face. He then flattened a bit of his hair back absentmindedly.
“So, you’re going to trust Malfoy?” Harry said quietly.
Frustration washed over Hermione, but she tried to keep it hidden. How could Harry still be caught up in the idea that Malfoy had a hand in the crimes? Even after he spoke up for Malfoy at his trial, Harry still had his head in the past. “Well,” she tried to find a way to get to Harry, “you have been working with him.”
Harry crossed his arms. “I’ve been trying to find out what he really knows about all of this.”
“And what have you found, Harry?” Hermione pointed to the room. “You’ve seen the board, the ransom note. Seems to me like he’s telling the truth.”
“The truth? You believe that?” Harry took a few steps away from her. She could see the anger taking over. “You believe that Zivantus hired him to investigate his own death?” Hermione ignored the look of complete disbelief on his face. “How?”
She panicked, “Divination, perhaps.”
“You don’t believe in that!”
“But we’ve seen it be real on occasion, haven’t we?” Hermione briefly thought of Sybill Trelawney and her mostly pathetic devotion to the practice of Seeing. Shuddering, Hermione continued, “I’m not saying it isn’t odd, but maybe Zivantus hired Malfoy to solve it. Maybe there’s some sort of contract or Vow involved.”
“An Unbreakable Vow.”
“Maybe. His death and Bertrice’s situation are connected. Maybe he knew it and thought Malfoy would solve his murder and save his daughter.”
“But why hire Malfoy? Why not go to the authorities?”
Hermione shot Harry a pointed look. Her mind screamed He is the authorities! Just trust him! But before she could form an actual reply, the room door swung open.
“And then he claimed that he was Gertrude Lockhart,” Malfoy walked past Hermione and Harry, Ron at his side listening intently. “And that the person running the Remember Me Please Charity Ball was an imposter.”
Parkinson joined them and they all stood in the hallway staring at each other awkwardly. “Right,” Hermione finally said. “You three go speak with Neville. Ron and I will work the other leads.” Her pulse raced with the involuntary thrill at thought of Harry and Malfoy forced to work together with a snappy Parkinson looking on. And then she cringed, her rational side almost disgusted to the point of sickness. She took a breath and composed herself. Hermione glanced at her watch, “Meet back here before eleven tonight.”
“What about the rest of the things on the list?” Parkinson asked. “How are we supposed to get everything they’re asking for? At this point, all we have is the kneazle.” She glanced at the door to the room with a worried expression. “And I don’t want to give her up.”
“Leave the rest to me,” Hermione assured. She watched as the three of them walked to the lift and didn't miss the challenging look Harry sent her before the doors had closed. She didn’t take it to heart and hoped her intuition to send them off together would help the case and not end in disaster. “Okay, Ron,” she turned to her fiance. “You need to follow up on--”
He interrupted her with a kiss. It caught her by surprise, but she welcomed the warmth and familiarity of Ron’s lips, the comfort of something real and solid before her. It steadied her where before she’d been unravelling to the threads of the case and the curse.
“I haven’t seen you for days, ‘Mione,” he whispered after pulling away.
She swallowed her guilt. “I know, work has been--” she tried to finish the lie, but it didn’t quite take. Perhaps she’d been operating under the mistaken belief that the curse might somehow right itself, or the Ministry would find a way to easily reverse it. But the time would come, sooner rather than later, when Hermione would have to tell Ron that something was wrong. It would have to wait until after they saved Bertrice. “We need to concentrate on this. You go follow up on the names you copied down.”
Ron’s face drew into a soft smile. “You saw that, did you?”
“Even if I hadn’t, I know you, Ronald Weasley,” she pointed a finger into his chest. “You’re a sucker for a well-organized case board.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“I’ve got to head into the Ministry,” Hermione frowned. The very fact that the ransom note mentioned a Timepiece was troubling enough, but the realization that Marwan Zivantus had still been in possession of his was terrifying. The man had been booted from the Ministry, and the only thing that saved him was the fact that they could never tell anyone why he’d been fired. Hermione knew the Iniquitous Eleven were given a wide berth, allowed to get away with any number of crimes if it meant time was protected. So Zivantus had to have done something truly horrific to be removed from the Eleven.
They made their way to the lobby. “Have dinner with me before you go?”
Hermione sighed. “You know we don’t have time for that.” She stood on her toes and kissed him goodbye. “Ron, I--” She wanted to tell him everything, to explain that she might disappear for awhile if the Ministry saw fit. Instead, she smiled. “I’ll see you back here at eleven. I love you.”
When she Flooed to the Ministry and made her way to Level Nine, she didn’t anticipate being met by a team of ops-agents led by Cormac bloody McLaggen.
If there was ever a question whether or not Pansy had served her penance for transgressions past, the answer would be a firm and resounding NO. She handled the glares and the judgment, not always with poise and dignity, but she generally withstood it without losing her last shred of composure.
However, after apparating with Draco and Potter to Hogsmeade, Pansy felt like she was losing her mind. The pair of them argued over everything. Only it wasn’t quite arguing. Salazar, it was almost like a lover’s quarrel. First, Draco insisted they go straight to Neville, but Potter wanted to send an owl ahead of them. “I’ve seen you at the owlery, Potter. Snails send letters faster.”
Potter huffed as they made their way down the steps of the hotel. “Oh, you mean when you lied to my face?”
“As I recall, it actually wasn’t your face, and I never once lied to you,” Draco drawled. He turned to Pansy and held out his arm. “Sidealong, dear?” Pansy took the offered arm and watched Draco quirk an eyebrow at Potter. “If you’ve got an owl to send, I suppose we will see you when we see you.” And then they disapparated.
Potter caught up to them less than a minute later. “If we hurry,” he panted, “maybe we can catch him before dinner.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes, each of them probably reacquainting themselves with the scenery. It had been ages since Pansy had come to Hogsmeade, let alone Hogwarts, in fact, it might have been years. A part of her ached with the good memories she had there, while other parts of her cracked at the thought of all the pain that followed those wonderful times.
Finally, Draco broke the silence to suggest they try the greenhouses first. Potter countered that Neville usually took his afternoon tea in the castle after lessons. Pansy sensed an affront on Neville Longbottom on the tip of Draco’s tongue, so she decided to change the subject.
“I never thought I would be rushing back to Hogwarts so soon.”
Draco let out a harsh laugh. “It’s a bit too soon for my liking.”
“No one is making you come along, Malfoy,” Potter muttered under his breath.
That was it. Pansy parked her boots in the ground and grabbed Potter by the sleeve. “What is your problem, Potter?” The action made him jerk backward and his glasses practically flew off his face.
“Piss off, Parkinson.”
“No, you piss off, Potter!” she yelled. Pansy stuck a finger into his chest and then pointed to Draco. “Can’t you see that I’m here for Bertrice? Would I trust Draco with this if for one second I believed he’d had something to do with it?” Pansy paced between them, shaking her head. “Your stupid, inflated schoolboy rivalry, your ridiculous stolen glances, the taunts, the jeers, the misplaced assumptions--can you put the idiocy aside and be adults so we can save a child’s life? This is serious!”
She saw Potter gulp and heard Draco sigh.
“If I hear another--” she shook her head and decided to let it go. “Throw you to the squid myself,” she grumbled and stomped up the path.
If Draco felt a little bit guilty after Pansy’s outburst, he blamed Potter. Draco had been baiting him all afternoon, so for that, he was at fault. But it was almost as if the very presence of Draco set Potter off. Maybe it was their close proximity and the landscape changing from the wet streets of Edinburgh to the traveled paths of Hogwarts. With each forward step, Draco could feel the weight of the his own past pulling him inside himself to the places he had come to fear the most. For every level of Hell he’d experienced during the War, he supposed Potter went levels above him.
The three of them fell in step and walked in silence the rest of the way to the castle. With Pansy between them, Draco briefly imagined a world where he could commiserate with Potter on the shared wrath of her silver tongue. What a scene that would be, he thought. But that was a slippery road, imagining anything to do with Potter.
The cool Scottish air around him should have given him chills, but instead the pull of a greater purpose left Draco feeling electric. It was as if the threads of Fate were beckoning him forward. He hadn’t felt a connection to it so strong since he’d been hit with the curse.
At the entrance to the castle, Potter cast his Patronus--a large, majestic stag, clearer and crisper than Draco’s white stoat had ever been. They watched it rush off into the castle and Potter turned to Draco and Pansy. “Just letting the headmistress know we’re here.”
Draco didn’t doubt Potter maintained a close relationship with Minerva McGonagall. Perhaps that was a major difference between the two of them. Where Potter might seek to maintain his bonds to the places that held both good and terrible memories, Draco doubted he possessed the strength to rise above the darkness. Or maybe he still let the fear of its power over him prevent him from even trying.
“Draco, are you coming?” Pansy stood inside the doorway staring at him. She didn’t say anything else as he composed himself and for that he was grateful. They followed Potter inside and headed to the staff lounge.
They hadn’t got far before someone blurted, “Harry!” There in the hallway stood Neville Longbottom, tall and lean and beaming with a bright smile. Draco had barely blinked before Potter practically disappeared in Longbottom’s arms for an embrace. The familiarity between the two Gryffindors left Draco with a warm sentimentality tainted by a twinge of regret. “I haven’t seen you in months.” After they’d separated, Longbottom looked over Potter’s shoulder, his happy demeanor deflated at the sight of Pansy and Draco. “What are they doing here?”
“We’re working a case, Nev,” Potter explained, his face shifted from obvious joy to an earnest determination. “And we have some questions for you.”
“Me? I’m not sure how I can help you.”
A thoughtful expression took over Potter’s face, and he bit his lower lip. Draco gulped at the sight of it. He thanked Salazar when Pansy stepped forward and explained the time constraints, then suggested they use Longbottom’s office to discuss the case further. The Herbology professor nodded and led the way to the greenhouses. Pansy followed next to Longbottom, leaving Draco to trail behind with Potter at his side.
Trying to recover from whatever had just overcome him, Draco said, “I barely recognise you, Longbottom.” After the words left his lips, he realised in another time and place, they might have been misconstrued as mocking. Draco quickly added, “Teaching must suit you.”
He glanced sideways and smiled at the complete astonishment that had taken over Potter’s face. Draco leaned over and whispered, “Don’t die of shock, Potter.”
Harry rolled his eyes, but Draco noted the hint of a smile. The group approached Neville’s office at the back of the main greenhouse without any other conversation.
The greenhouse was just as Draco remembered it, wild yet methodically organized, with the heavy scent of earth and lively magic. Longbottom used the same office at the back that Pomona Sprout had occupied. He led them inside and gestured for Pansy to have a seat in a large armchair near the desk. She adjusted her skirt and a mild look of annoyance crossed her face. Draco could practically hear her unspoken complaint about having to galavant about in her travel apparel. Their eyes met and he grinned.
“I apologise for the lack of seating. I don’t normally get so many guests at once,” Longbottom said as he leaned against his desk. A shift of parchments near him rustled, and a large, green toad hopped out and onto Longbottom’s lap.
“Trevor?” Potter asked.
Longbottom shook his head. “This is Trevor-deux, I’m afraid.”
Potter nodded. “My condolences, Nev.”
The other Gryffindor sighed and then blinked between Potter and Pansy. “So how can I help?”
“Well,” Potter began with a long pause as if choosing his words wisely. “We need to get our hands on some inquollis anicorpus folia.” Longbottom’s eyebrows rose halfway up his forehead and his mouth fell open. His stare shifted to the ground at Potter’s feet, and he shook his head.
“That’s--that’s going to be impossible, I’m afraid.” He looked back up at Potter. “Inquollis anicorpus in all its forms has been extinct for over a century. I’m sorry, Harry. But even if it wasn’t,” he added with a stern determination, “I wouldn’t--no sane Herbologist would touch the stuff.”
Draco jumped at the admission. “Could you elaborate as to its properties, perhaps? What was it primarily used for?” Longbottom visibly tensed, as if he suddenly remembering he was under the appraisal of the two other people in the room.
“Please,” Pansy stood. “A young girl’s life is in danger.”
Longbottom digested her words and then crossed his arms. “It was called the Soul Catcher for the longest time. Not much is known about its properties, but it was the main ingredient in two potions on the first List of Forbidden Elixirs issued by the Ministry in 1709.”
“Neville,” Potter said. “What potions?” After a half a minute of silence, Potter asked again, louder.
“Rapio Animam,” Longbottom finally managed to say, followed by a much quieter, “Metempsychim Compello.”
Draco’s heart sank as he translated the Latin in his head. “Draco?” came Pansy’s questioning voice, but all he could do was meet Potter’s eyes as he whispered, “It seizes the soul. It--the second one is a fusion of Ancient Greek and Latin. To compel the transmigration of the soul.”
Potter’s green eyes almost popped out of his head. “No,” his features crumbled into a grimace. “There is no way…”
“Harry,” Longbottom started to say, but Potter was still staring at Draco.
“You were right,” he finally said. And Draco looked away at the admission. Another moment, he would have have relished in Potter’s acknowledgment. But nothing felt right in confirming his suspicion that Bertrice’s soul had been swapped with the kneazle Guinevere’s. While it meant they had answers, the details provided by Longbottom had no hope for a viable solution.
The room sank into silence. Draco was thankful no one else seemed to be able to recover from the revelation. He felt as if he was suddenly drowning in his own fear, as his understanding of the situation shifted from fundamentally dire to potentially catastrophic. Finding Bertrice had been the priority, the only thought in his mind. But the threads of this case had pulled him into something dark, with every step forward revealing inexplicable developments. It left Draco desperate for something pure, something that made sense. The curse urged him to push through, to follow the threads as they connected even if he didn’t understand their connections.
But every part of him struggled against it now, especially the part that recognised the nervous stare on Longbottom’s face. Draco reeled himself back to the moment at hand, clearing his mind. He asked, “Could some sort of reverse potion be formulated? Perhaps with Full Moon Fluxweed? Or--”
“It would be near impossible,” Longbottom shook his head and looked to Draco. “This is a dark, unnatural magic. It rips the self from the body and puts it somewhere it isn’t meant to be. The only reversal would be using the original potion again.” His gaze shifted to Potter’s and he asked, “Are you--is this happening? Have you come across it in your case?”
After a few moments, Draco turned to see why Potter didn’t answer. He’d gone pale and still as a stone, his eyes closed and his posture rigid. Without a moment's hesitation, Draco crossed the room and put a hand on Potter’s shoulder. “Harry.”
He wasn’t sure if he was somewhere else. Another place or another time, a view of himself in flashes of unmoving panic and terror as he fell deep into the well of helplessness. It was happening again, he told himself.
The warmth of a hand on his shoulder stopped him from spiralling. The voice pulled him back. He turned toward the sound and opened his eyes.
Malfoy wore a pained expression, his eyes searching Harry’s in an unspoken question. For the briefest of moments Harry found it strange and somehow comforting that he could read Malfoy so well. Or maybe it was the other man’s skill at Occlumency. Harry shrugged out of Malfoy’s grip and turned to Neville.
“We don’t have knowledge of the plant or potion,” Harry managed to say. “But we have reason to believe someone does. They’ve--uh--used it.”
Neville’s eyes went wide.
“Why,” Pansy broke her silence, “would the kidnappers think Zivantus would have access to an extinct plant?”
Harry rolled his eyes as she divulged too much information by asking the question.
“Zivantus?” Neville gulped. “Bertrice Zivantus?”
Harry put a hand up. That was it. Malfoy stepped forward like he had something to say, but Harry whipped around and shot him a look to stay quiet. Trying to gather his thoughts, Harry said, “Unless Zivantus did have access to the plant.” Malfoy raised a brow in question. Harry repeated the ransom note in his head and continued, “...when it wasn’t extinct. Do you think when they say ‘timepiece’ they mean Time Turner?”
Malfoy’s eyes bulged. Harry couldn’t help but throw him a slight smile. Who had the crazier theory now? He cocked his head as he felt a rush of something being shared between them, connecting them, something charged, and he almost couldn’t look away.
A knock from the door echoed through the office. Harry snapped his head to see who it was. A mess of long blonde curls poked through the opening door, “I had to wait for the mad clouds to pass outside Hagrid’s, but--”
“Luna?” Harry breathed. Stepping into the room with a basket in her arms, Luna Lovegood smiled as she took in the others.
“Hello Harry,” she greeted. “Neville. Draco. Pansy. I didn’t realize it would be a group tea today, but I think I have enough Black Bean Hoof Brittle to go around.” Luna walked in, set her basket on the desk, and pulled out a food box. “It’s said to help stop Tinsel Gnats from nesting in your armpits.”
Neville shook his head, laughing. “I thought you were waiting to try this recipe until the hols?”
Luna pulled out a thermos. “I told you Nev, we keep tinsel up at the house all year round.” She turned to Harry and Draco and said, “For some reason the Tinsel Gnats are especially bad right now.” After transfiguring enough cups for everyone, Luna poured the tea and distributed it. “So what are we consulting on today?”
Neville spit out his tea. “What makes you think--”
“Harry’s an auror. Pansy works with rare, charmed objects, and Draco--” Luna turned her perceptive gaze on the blond and sized him up in her inoffensive and impartial way. “Draco doesn’t rest until the problem has been fixed.”
Luna opened the food box and served them each a slice of the brittle. Harry wasn’t sure if it actually qualified as brittle if it oozed out of its spongy layers.
Pansy took a look at the plate and set it on one of Neville’s crowded bookshelves, then fixed Luna with a calculating stare. “How do you know what I do, Lovegood?”
The question had been lingering in Harry’s mind as well. He hadn’t had time to ask Parkinson, and unsurprisingly, their paths had never crossed since--since the days after the Battle of Hogwarts.
But Neville answered before Luna, whose mouth was occupied in an awkward looking series of movements that resembled chewing. “Hagrid won’t stop raving about that antique carved Scandinavian sideboard you found him.” Pansy blushed, and Neville turned to Harry. “It’s charmed to warm at different climates depending on what animals you need to store in it.”
The mention of Hagrid put a smile on Harry’s face. For a few minutes he was able to talk and catch up with his friends, the spiralling delirium he’d been in earlier wiped from his thoughts. After Pansy finished telling them about the strangest object she’d ever procured for a client, she asked Luna what kept her busy.
“I have an investigative article in this week’s Quibbler about celebrity changelings. It’s a real shame we lose so many figureheads to these shameless monsters.” Luna turned to Harry. “I thought you’d been a victim a few weeks ago. Someone had spotted you at that wizarding nightclub in Edinburgh dancing with a lovely mature ficus.”
“What?” Harry coughed. He was used to wild rumors but the fact that someone had put him in Edinburgh set off alarms.
Luna leaned over and patted his arm. “Don’t worry, no one believed it was you.”
Igora wondered if the Ashtyl Hotel would be able to thrive in the coming years with all the changes the New Ministry was implementing. Not only was their Floo Room spotless, but the entire place, penthouse crime scene aside, had to be the cleanest building she’d ever set foot in. But the rumors kept circulating that reforms were coming in regards to House Elves and indentured magical creatures, which would impact the Ashtyl and the larger service industry. But the Ashtyl Hotel, and Igora, were preoccupied with a murder investigation, so the Ministry would have to wait in turn.
She and Felix made their way into the lobby and headed toward the lift.
“Investigators,” rang a voice from nearby. Ignora was met by the beady eyes of the auror, Bastien Queensbury. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “It saves me the trouble of writing a formal letter.”
“You have something to share with us?” Felix cocked a brow.
“Yes,” Queensbury nodded, something shrill in his tone. “The Home Office has deemed your case a part of mine and reassigned you. I will need all your case notes and files.”
Laughing, Igora walked away.
“Stramitz,” Queensbury warned. “There is extensive evidence Umphrey was working with Zivantus to sell dangerous stolen goods on the black market. This has been deemed the highest priority and my auror task force will be solely responsible for the investigation moving forward.”
“And Bertrice?” Igora raged. “Who is going to be responsible for finding that poor girl?”
The short man frowned. “We will do everything we can.”
She huffed, her breathing a harsh rhythm bouncing between seething rage and heartbreaking disappointment. Felix stepped forward and shook his head, “Right, you’ll do what you can between raiding the warehouses and returning the high priced valuables to their rich owners.” He turned to Igora. “I forgot it was an election year.”
“Just owl me the files,” Queensbury waved them off. “Move on to your next case. That’s an order.” He walked away and disappeared down a hallway. Igora practiced even breaths.
“We are not moving on,” she said. They needed a sudden discovery to change their direction. Igora needed a break in the case. But more importantly, she needed a cigarette.
Reining in McLaggen had apparently become Icarus Sableton’s full time job. He talked him down from giving Granger Veritaserum, but her wand had been confiscated. Icarus reluctantly agreed with that action.
“We have to protect people,” McLaggen said.
Icarus nodded. “Yes, but Granger came in willingly. She just confirmed her curse is manifestly harmless.”
McLaggen frowned. “Love can be very dangerous.”
“I bet,” Icarus said doubtfully. Frankly, the Eros Curse seemed like one of the more manageable afflictions. Manageable in that it didn’t cause immediate death or destruction, although love was known to lead to both of those things in the worst of circumstances.
He debriefed Granger without McLaggen, and when he asked if the two had a history, Granger snorted and crossed her arms. She grew increasingly frustrated and demanded to speak with the Pandora project leader.
“There was an emergency,” Icarus explained, and he tried not to laugh. He really did. Chuckling, “They found Garius Santi--let’s just say, in a tight situation.”
“Garius?” Granger questioned. “Have they identified his curse?”
Icarus thought about one of the Department of Mysteries’ senior-most officials parading down the catwalk in a dress and full makeup and nodded. He shook the thought and addressed the matter at hand. They wanted Granger to help bring in the others and then assist in breaking the curses.
“I can’t help you bring in the others!” she said. “I’m--I’m---well, I came in as a courtesy.”
Granger nodded. “Marwan Zivantus has been killed, and his Timepiece is missing.”
“We’re aware.” Icarus found it increasingly unsettling the amount of Unspeakables outside of the Time Chamber who knew about the Iniquitous Eleven and their Timepieces.
“Are you aware,” Granger raised her brows, “that there is some sort of soul-swapping cult scouring Edinburgh for the missing Timepiece?”
Icarus grabbed his jaw and closed his eyes. “What--?”
“I don’t have time to explain, Sableton, I just need a pocket watch resembling a Timepiece and a portkey permit for the Ministry Barracks.”
Icarus was still hung up on the soul-swapping cult in Edinburgh part. “Why--?”
“Why should you let me, Hermione Granger--a bright and loyal servant of this Ministry and a decorated war hero--have a few trivial requests in the face of a potentially horrendous Ministry blunder becoming truly calamitous?”
“Let’s go with that.” Icarus had a sinking feeling that no matter what happened after this moment, he would be doing paperwork for the rest of his life.
“If you allow me this, and you let me leave tonight,” Granger offered, “I will come back tomorrow. I will spend every waking minute helping bring in the others and finding a solution to the curse.”
“Deal,” Icarus breathed. “But you get a tail tonight.”
“Fine,” Granger agreed. “Anyone but McLaggen,” she said, just as Icarus added, “It’s gonna be McLaggen.”
Longbottom didn’t ask any other questions, but offered them a few books and suggested reading on the subject of inquollis anicorpus. He flipped through the pages of one of the books and pointed to an etching of a large, leafy plant. “Doesn’t look like anything special,” Pansy muttered.
Potter thanked his friends and followed Draco and Pansy out of the greenhouse, and the sudden shadow of the situation cast itself back over them. They stayed silent as they made their way back through the castle. Draco tried to imagine something they could do. But even if they could get Bertrice/Guinevere back safely, how would they switch them back?
Marwan Zivantus’ Timepiece. He felt around in the pocket of his waistcoat for the cool metal of a pocket watch.
A figure in the entrance hall stepped out and startled them. “There’s no way I can convince you to stay for supper, Potter?” McGonagall asked, steely gaze fixed upon the Gryffindor. She walked into the light and Draco barely recognised her. Without the strain and stress of the War, she appeared years younger, almost youthful in appearance and demeanor. Her promotion to Headmistress certainly suited her.
Potter gave her a genuine smile and shook his head. “Sorry, Headmistress. It’s this case. We have to go.”
McGonagall glanced over Harry’s shoulder and smiled at Draco and Pansy. “It’s a joy to finally see some of the best minds of your year working together at last.” They parted ways with Potter’s promise to not be a stranger. “The open invitation goes for all of you,” she called after them. Draco was perplexed by the lingering warmth from the encounter but accepted the feeling.
When he was certain they’d made it down the path far enough to be out of earshot of anyone, Draco cleared his throat. He wasn’t sure how to tell them about the Timepiece. He wasn’t even sure if he could tell them about it. The only thing he knew was the threads were seizing, the way forward narrowed, and the only way through was to go back.
“There’s one thing that bothers me,” Potter rushed to speak first.
“Only one thing?” Draco glanced at him and smirked. He had to look back at the path to watch his steps as the fading light drifted below the horizon, but he was certain Potter had smiled.
“If they could swap souls with anyone in the world,” Potter asked, “why did they choose Bertrice and a kneazle?”
“Maybe they didn’t,” Parkinson offered. “Maybe--I don’t know--maybe it was an accident.”
Potter stopped and grabbed Draco’s shoulder. “Or maybe you were right about the kneazle.”
Draco drank in the boldness in Potter’s eyes and grinned. “I think confirmation that the soul-swapping plant scenario is in fact somehow real has established that I was right.”
“No,” Potter rolled his eyes. “The kneazle. It was leverage.”
Igora threw her fourth cigarette down on the ground and stamped it out. She knew less than a dozen wandless spells, but the most used one, disappear cigarette butt, ended up being more magic than she’d done all day. Standing outside the hotel entrance seemed to both calm and stress her, as she went over every detail of the case in her head.
She and Felix had done everything by procedure. She couldn’t tell if she was missing something, if they’d somehow made a mistake, or them losing the case boiled down to someone else’s ego. Or maybe they had stepped on someone’s toes. Who? Igora wondered. Ron Weasley? The Department of Mysteries? She briefly remembered the Golden Trio had trekked into the hotel. Harry bloody Potter? No, whoever had taken the case from them was gravely mistaken if they thought Igora would stop looking for Bertrice Zivantus.
She lit another cigarette and stared out into the street. Felix had gone back to the office, but Igora had felt it in her bones that she was needed at the hotel. Her instincts had only ever failed her with lovers and the lottery, so she waited stoically in the cool drizzle of the early evening.
The pop of an apparition pulled her from her thoughts. Igora peered around the decorative bushes. “Helga help us,” she whispered at the sight of Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, and Harry Potter huddled together at the bottom of the Ashtyl’s steps.
“I’ll go check on Bertie,” Parkinson said. Igora dropped her cigarette in surprise. Her eyes followed the woman’s form up the steps, noted the collection of books slung under Parkinson’s arm.
“Why don’t you go with her?” Malfoy nodded to Potter. “I could use a few minutes to clear my head.” His hands were stuffed awkwardly in the pockets of his waistcoat.
Potter fixated on Malfoy. “Are you sure you’re alright?” Potter took a step and closed the gap between them. Now that was interesting, Igora cast an amplifying charm to hear their conversation -- “Sonorus.”
“It wasn’t the Black Bean Hoof Brittle, was it?”
Malfoy raised a brow. “Are you implying Lovegood can’t make an adequate brittle?”
“I--I just--” Potter stammered and--Igora leaned forward, Was he blushing?--he ran a hand through his loose hair. “I guess I owe you an apology.”
“So not only do you save the entire Wizarding World, but now you apologise for Loony Lovegood’s abysmal attempts at sweets?” Malfoy smiled and stared back at Harry Potter with a gaze of reverent admiration. “Were I in your position, I doubt I’d do the same.”
Something simmered between the lines, and Igora wasn’t sure what it was. Weren’t these two sworn enemies? Rivals, at least? Potter had spoken up for Malfoy at his trial. But this? Igora wasn’t sure if she was really looking at the same people. Hang on, she thought. Why did Potter’s clothes look so familiar?
Potter’s face relaxed. “All the same. I guess I’ll leave you to your thoughts.” He turned around and climbed the steps. As Malfoy’s eyes followed Potter’s form, the blond dug something out of his waistcoat and gripped it in front of him.
After a few moments, he finally looked down and opened his hand to reveal a golden pocket watch. Malfoy inspected it for a moment with a shrewd eye and then fiddled with the dials.
“Look Malfoy, about what happened at Neville’s,” Igora hadn’t seen Potter descend the steps, and apparently, Malfoy hadn’t noticed either judging by the horrified surprise plastered across his face. Potter’s gaze fell to the golden watch in the other man’s palm.
Without pause, Potter lunged at Malfoy.
Igora saw the crash of limbs and then a bright, blinding white light. She blinked several times in recovery, only to see the spot in front of her completely empty. The two men were gone.
Harry felt as if he’d been falling for days, but his feet had never left solid ground.
And then there was something solid and warm pressed against him. It smelled like forest and sunshine and Hogwarts. Someone. “Malfoy,” Harry pushed the man away. The force sent the blond stumbling backward, his arms outstretched to balance himself. Harry zeroed in on the golden watch in Malfoy’s right hand. “That wouldn’t be a Timepiece in your hand? Would it?”
With wide eyes, Malfoy responded by shoving the object in question into his pocket.
“That wouldn’t be,” Harry stepped forward and poked a finger into Malfoy’s chest, “the Timepiece? As in the thing on the ransom list? Marwan Zivantus’ bloody Time Turner?” Harry couldn’t stop his blood from practically boiling with anger. Just when he’d decided he could trust Malfoy, the git proves that he can’t be trusted. “I was right,” he said, chest heaving. “I was right and you laughed at me. You had it this entire time.”
Malfoy’s features molded into something neutral, unreadable. “I didn’t actually get the chance to laugh at you. Lovegood walked in before I could ridicule your assertion.”
“Unbelievable,” Harry muttered. He turned around and stared up at the hotel entrance. “If I hadn’t come back, what were you going to do?”
It took so long for Malfoy to answer, Harry considered that he’d walked away. But then finally he replied, “I was going to find a time to ask Marwan about the plant. About the kidnappers.”
“That was your plan?”
“I don’t know, alright, Potter,” Malfoy’s voice rose in volume. Harry turned back around. Malfoy actually looked flustered when he added, “I didn’t think we had any other options left.”
Harry sighed. He could see the hopeless frustration in his eyes, and he’d be lying if he hadn’t felt the same way too. “Why don’t we go inside and talk it over with Pansy?”
Malfoy’s jaw clenched, but he tilted his head and gave Harry a slight nod.
They walked into the hotel, shoulder to shoulder, in silence. Harry felt his anger subsiding, but the trust he’d built up in him had disappeared, leaving him hollow. What else had Malfoy kept hidden? As they stood and waited for the lift, Harry tried to look anywhere but at Malfoy. His eye caught the stack of Daily Prophets on a nearby table.
“That can’t be right,” he murmured. The paper had the next day’s date on it. He went to grab the top copy and unfolded it. He recognized the main article under the fold--the one about the new Quidditch roster.
“Let me see that,” Malfoy whispered in his ear, and Harry practically jumped. He hadn’t noticed him come up behind him. He handed Malfoy the paper and watched the grey eyes focus on one of the front page stories. Garius Santi named runner-up in the Miss Wizarding World Pageant - breaks record for oldest contestant and first ever male runner-up. Harry recognized the middle-aged man pictured in a alluring pose in a fuschia ball gown. “That’s the top most Unspeakable!”
Malfoy shot him a glare. “When you rammed into me, you sent us into the future, Potter.”
“Oh,” was all Harry could think to say in response. Then he looked back at the photo. “How is that your first reaction to Santi placing second in a beauty competition?” Malfoy shoved the paper into Harry’s chest and stalked out of the hotel muttering something about “Bloody Narcissus”.
Sighing, Harry went after him. When he caught up, Malfoy was tuning the Timepiece, adjusting several sets of arrows on different dials on the face of it. His lips were parted, as if baited and waiting for the culmination of something imperative. “Grab a hold of me, Potter.”
“What?” Harry burst.
“Last time you had barrelled into me,” Malfoy smirked. “I’m sure if you treat it like a side-along, it’ll work just fine.”
Harry stepped up and grasped Malfoy’s upper arm, the slight touch warm and electric.
“Where--when are we going?” Harry stammered, still taken aback by the tingle in his hand.
Malfoy’s smirk deepened and his eyes crinkled. “Back,” he said.
“Back when exactly?” Harry said. Malfoy winked, and then Harry was overwhelmed by the familiar feeling of falling with his feet planted firmly on the ground.
There was only so much one-sided conversation that one could have with a goddaughter whose soul was trapped in a kneazle’s body. Pansy had waited almost twenty minutes for Draco and Potter to come up to the room. She’d spent half of that time changing into something more appropriate for a ransom drop off and investigative trekking across Scotland. Staring at herself in the mirror, she smoothed the lines of her soft camel trench coat and lined the collar over the white silk blouse. Thick, black wool trousers completed the look, topped with a black fedora. If she was going to experience her undoing, she would at least look amazing.
She checked the time. They still had almost four hours until everyone was supposed to be back. Pansy’s nerves were making her sick. What if Hermione actually acquired all of the ransom demands? Would they take everything except the damned plant in exchange for Bertrice? How would they switch them back? She was going to talk herself into a oblivion if she kept on.
Pansy decided to flip through the books Longbottom gave them. She read about the history of inquollis anicorpus. Apparently at some point in the fifteenth century, a terrible wizard, Alexandr the Hornswoggler, tried to take over Russia using the soul-catcher. His attempt to get Ivan III almost succeeded but was stopped when one of his victims attacked him. The text was vague about who the victim was, merely stating that Alexandr died due to injuries from a wild goat stampede.
“A drink,” she said as Bertie slid against Pansy’s boots. She closed the book and stood. “I need a drink.”
Pansy found the hotel bar just as crowded as it had been that afternoon. She managed to steal a seat and order a Finisterial Calamité, her favorite drink. The bartender had just brought her the delightful green concoction, when the seat next to her vacated and another warm body shimmied up into it.
“Hello, Pansy,” Lovegood’s musical voice rang across the bar.
Turning, she took in the sight of the Ravenclaw woman. Lovegood had tamed her hair back into a bun, but otherwise looked exactly the same as when Pansy had seen her last, which had been a little more than hour ago. “Hello, Lovegood.” Pansy raised an eyebrow. “Come to check me for Tinsel Gnats?”
“I didn’t bring any gold dust,” Lovegood put her hand on Pansy’s arm. “Why? Does your sweat smell like eggnog?”
Pansy snorted. “Lovegood, what are you doing here?”
The blonde looked away, staring at the collection of alcohol bottles against the back of the bar. “I sensed something when we were all in Nev’s office. I know most people consider me somewhat of a whimsical caricature of a witch, but I can be rather decisive, even useful.” She turned back to Pansy and gave her a soft smile. Pansy took a sip from her drink and Lovegood continued, “I could tell you were in great emotional distress and felt compelled to help in any way that I can.”
Pansy couldn’t tell if the bitter taste in her mouth was the liquor or her body’s reaction to yet another member of Potter’s clique offering assistance. The very idea of someone from that side of the War offering help to Pansy was farcical. Except the Golden Trio had bent over backwards, probably broken a thousand Ministry rules in the process, just to find Bertrice. Now Lovegood? Pansy suspected on rare occasions Lovegood displayed her dry and subtle sense of humor, but for the most part, the blonde was a sincere person and genuine oddity. Pansy took another sip and sighed.
“Alright, Lovegood,” she decided. “You can help by keeping me distracted until the others get back.” Lovegood smiled, and Pansy briefly wondered how such a person could be real. Most of their classmates would sooner see Pansy fed to the giant squid than help her, or Salazar, comfort her. She looked down and couldn’t stop herself from returning the smile.
“I wondered where Harry and Draco were when I saw you alone at the bar.” Lovegood draped an arm over the back of the barstool, striking a pose that had her facing Pansy. “But I’m sure they’re fine,” Lovegood continued and leveled Pansy with a calm stare. The weight of it made Pansy take another sip of her drink. “They’ve probably just found a suitable broom closet in which to work out their complex and abundant problems.”
Pansy’s drink came out of her nose in a stinging hurl of surprise.
“Oh, and you can call me Luna,” she beamed.
The tingle that spread across Harry’s body was the result of time travel and definitely not because Malfoy had been pressed against him. He ambled up the steps and into the hotel to try to shake off the feeling. Even though somewhere in the back of his mind he knew how it felt to travel through time, Harry was convinced it had nothing to do with Malfoy.
“Potter!” Malfoy hissed and trailed after him. Harry sped across the lobby in the direction of the lift. By the time Malfoy caught up to him, Harry recovered enough to remember he was still very angry with him. He grasped the rolled up Prophet in his hand and pointed it at Malfoy.
“I told you, we need to discuss this as a group.” Harry waved the paper around. “You can’t just make decisions like this when there are lives on the line,” he admonished as he reached out and pressed the button for the lift. “I’m sure Pansy will agree with me.”
“Well,” Malfoy frowned, “Parkinson will probably agree with you. But you’ll have to wait--” he pulled out and opened the pocket watch “--six weeks, two days, and fourteen hours.”
At the impact of the words, Harry’s demeanor sank. He should’ve realized Malfoy would do it. Their exchange before the second trip all but spelled out the other man’s intentions. Six weeks? Harry wondered, but then Malfoy’s voice played in his memory. “He hired me...six weeks ago…” He was hit with a welcome rush of clarity and said, “You’re going to go to Zivantus before he hires you. You think he’ll have the answers?”
“If anyone is going to shed some light on this ridiculous web of--” but Malfoy stopped. He stared around the lobby with wide, almost panicked eyes.
Harry pushed, “What if you going back like this is the reason he hires you in the first place?”
Malfoy had gone white, much paler than his usual complexion. “I can’t--I can’t think. I can’t focus. There’s too many threads.”
“Threads?” Harry rolled up the paper and shoved it into his waistband. Stepping forward, he wrapped his hands around Malfoy’s forearms and held him still. “What’s wrong?”
“They’re not linear anymore,” he was practically panting. Suddenly Harry’s anger was replaced with a growing concern that Malfoy might be hyperventilating. “Salazar,” Malfoy breathed, his eyes darted around out of focus. “They’re going in every direction. I can barely see.”
Harry glanced around, his heart pounding. Was Malfoy having a panic attack? If they were six weeks in the past, they didn’t have the room as shelter. He scanned the lobby. The lounge’s cloak room was dark, quiet, and they’d not attract any attention in there.
“Come on,” Harry pulled Malfoy forward until his arm locked snugly around the Slytherin’s back, leading them into the room.
From the outside, the lounge cloak room appeared to be small, no bigger than a broom closet. But inside, it housed rows and rows of racks and shelves containing not just cloaks, coats, hats, and accessories, but items of any manner of trade.
Harry ushered them to a far corner in the back, in the dark shadows of wizarding cloaks that had been left there from decades past. He pushed Malfoy against the wall and held his sides when he realized his eyes were twisted shut in pain. “Malfoy,” Harry whispered. There were droplets of sweat forming at the end of his temples. “Draco, breathe,” he said.
Something in Malfoy’s face relaxed. Harry waited minutes. Merlin, he wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Finally, Malfoy’s breathing was back to normal. When his grey eyes slowly opened and stared back at him, Harry didn’t know what to say.
A clamor at the entrance of the room made them break their stare and turn toward the noise. Two figures had entered the cloak room. Harry peered through a gap in the thick huddle of cloaks. It was the hotel manager, Valentine, and a shorter figure in a dark blue hooded cloak.
“I told you not to come here,” Valentine hissed. The look of outrage on his face was something so completely foreign to Harry, he almost thought he’d been mistaken in his recognition. But then, “This is my place of work,” Valentine added. “We can’t be seen together.”
“I wanted to tell you in person that I’ll be voting against you,” the woman seethed. Through her disdain, Harry knew that voice. It was the woman from the house, the one holding Bertrice.
Valentine scoffed. Harry was still in shock at his harsh tone. “And why would that be? We need more if we’re going to accomplish our goals. Zivantus controls the supply and holds our aspirations hostage in the process. This is the only way.”
The woman shook her head. “You want to risk the life of an innocent girl?”
“I want to hold the world on its knees, Carmen. Is that too much to ask?”
Harry gasped and stepped back into Malfoy. They fell into a shelf with a thud and something metal clattered to the ground. Malfoy grabbed him and crowded him into the cloaks on the other side of the aisle. Standing chest to chest, Harry leaned back as he felt Malfoy’s hand between them. “What are you--” but in the shadowy darkness he made out the shine of gold, and the next moment they were falling through time, once again pressed closer together than might otherwise have been necessary.
When the steady feeling returned, Harry didn’t move. Malfoy’s face was above his shoulder and he could feel his breath against his neck. The warm sensation of it hooked at something in his chest and made him lean closer.
“We should be safe,” Malfoy whispered and pulled away, stepping out from the cloaks and into the deserted aisle. “I’ve taken us forward a few hours.”
“Safe,” Harry shivered. “Right.”
He pushed the sudden emptiness that rose up back somewhere deep inside himself. He didn’t have the time to deal with his body’s reactions to Malfoy. And it wasn’t Malfoy, Harry told himself. It was simply a physical response to stimulus.
“Are you alright?” Malfoy asked.
Harry gulped.”I--I should ask you the same, Malfoy.” Harry’s inner turmoil was replaced with concern. Before they’d been interrupted, Malfoy had been on the verge of a panic attack. “What happened back there?”
Malfoy pursed his lips. “What indeed. Was that the hotel manager colluding with the kidnapper? Your boss is the mastermind behind this whole thing and you had no idea.” He added sarcastically, “Paint me surprised, Potter.”
Harry let out a frustrated sigh.
“It all makes sense now,” Malfoy declared. “Zivantus must have provided these malefactors with the inquollis anicorpus. They managed to figure out he had the Timepiece, and presumably used it to cultivate the plant, and now they’ve finally decided to extort it from him.”
“They switched Bertrice with the kneazle as collateral,” Harry added.
Malfoy smirked, “Leverage, Potter.” Harry’s gaze lingered on his lips. Realizing the distraction, Harry turned around and focused on a shaggy, purple fur coat.
“Wait,” he said. “When did Zivantus give you the Timepiece?”
“The night before his death,” Malfoy said, his tone possessing a leveled reverence.
“And what, Potter?”
Harry turned around. “Did he say anything? Give you any hint about how he got it or--”
Malfoy interrupted, “All he said was he hoped I would appreciate its value more than he had.”
“How vague and unhelpful,” Harry muttered. He noticed the line of worry on Malfoy’s forehead, a tense wrinkle above an expectant stare. The look he gave Harry was almost a plea, as if Malfoy could tell Harry saw right through him but implored him to let it go anyway. But Harry couldn’t let it go. Malfoy had been hiding valuable information the entire time, and all Harry could think was What else?
“I absolutely will not respond to Mrs. Vistrel again, Grimbie,” a familiar voice said at the other end of the room. “I can’t comprehend why someone would bathe in pumpkin juice.” Harry twisted around and could make out the vague form of Archie Eversworn. Himself.
Realizing they had to get out of the hotel, Harry searched around for a disguise. The purple fur coat seemed as good as any. Grabbing it, he threw it on and cast a quick glamour on himself. When he glanced at Malfoy, the other wizard was doing the same. Malfoy had donned a sleek black leather jacket and a bowler hat.
They waited for the other Harry to leave and then rushed out into the lobby. A man in the guest check-in queue stared at the pair of them as they fumbled forward toward the main doors. Malfoy locked eyes with the hotel guest, then slinked next to Harry, draped his arm over his shoulder, pulled him close, and winked. The man flushed and turned away toward the service desk.
“You know,” Malfoy drawled as they made their way out onto the street. He pulled away and put a few inches of space between them. “I always thought Gryffindor red was your best color, but this,” he pointed to the purple shag coat. “This suits you perfectly, Potter.”
Harry bristled and ignored Malfoy for the entirety of the next two blocks.
Luna Lovegood held out a piece of her chicken alfredo for Bertie. “No one cared to offer you a well cooked meal?” Luna asked, still looking at the kneazle. Pansy sighed and filled her wine glass again.
They’d returned to the room and ordered dinner service. Pansy explained the details of the case, and Luna listened attentively while petting Bertrice in her lap. But as soon as the food arrived and Pansy started eating, Luna’s focus shifted to kneazle, and Pansy listened in mild annoyance as the Ravenclaw acted out a conversation with the animal. It wasn’t as if she talked at Bertie, it was as if Luna actually carried on a discourse back and forth.
The idea that Bertrice’s soul had been switched into the body of a kneazle was still an unsettling reality for Pansy. She wasn’t entirely sure if Luna’s dialogue was an attempt to assuage the situation or if the other woman truly believed she was in the middle of a conversation about birthday parties with the kneazle.
“I understand the inclination of teenage girls to get wild,” Luna nodded and put another piece of chicken out. “Your father shouldn’t have insisted the party’s location be at an urban home. And then get mad about the noise.”
The kneazle meowed and then attacked the offered piece of chicken.
Luna smiled. “You’re right. A lake house would’ve been perfect.”
Pansy froze, a surge of recollection hitting her. She’d completely forgotten Bertrice’s last letter. The young girl’s angry rants had covered a page and half of parchment, detailing Marwan’s refusal to allow Bertrice a party at their summer lake house.
The kneazle put its paws on Luna’s knee and stared up at her.
“I’m sure he knew you didn’t hate him,” Luna pet Bertie’s head. “We always say things we don’t mean when we’re angry,” she looked up at Pansy, “or scared.”
Luna’s words hit Pansy like a gust of painful forgiveness, and the floodgates that had been holding back all her shame and guilt since the end of the War opened. She broke down, and it was in front of Loony Lovegood and the soul of her goddaughter trapped in a kneazle, for Salazar’s sake. The thought of it made her laugh for a brief moment between the tears and the sobs. It was freeing. Pansy realized she’d been carrying too much of the past inside her. It had been weighing her down, distracting her from the things that really mattered. Clarity felt like flying.
By the time she’d collected herself, she’d figured out how they were going to get Bertrice back in her own body. Never do what they expect. It was her own advice, and she planned on following it.
“Feel better?” Luna finally asked. She’d curled up on the sofa with one of Longbottom’s books, Bertie snuggled up in her lap.
Pansy wiped her face. “Yes,” she nodded. “And I’ve had a thought. What’s the best way to catch Tinsel Gnats?”
Draco convinced Harry to apparate with him to Marwan Zivantus’ home in the outskirts of Edinburgh. He realized he’d started thinking of him as just Harry, and supposed it might be a symptom of the time travel. Or maybe a symptom of having him pressed close. Or maybe-- it was “Draco.”
“Potter,” Draco distracted himself. “When are you going to take off that ridiculous coat?”
The other man furrowed his brow, “I thought you said purple was my color.”
Draco smiled, and then Potter smiled too. Good, he thought. It was back to Potter. “I didn’t want you to be embarrassed.”
“Your concern warms my heart,” Potter said as they walked toward the large gothic home down the private, warded lane. “Malfoy,” Potter pointed to the dark glasses on Draco’s face, “what’s with the sunglasses?”
“It’s part of my disguise.” Draco was suddenly awash with a flurry of different emotions, but most of all, he felt guilty for not telling Potter things which might be important. Draco didn’t know how to explain the curse, or how it had suddenly magnified tenfold since they’d gone back in time. Instead of linear threads, they extended outwards in all directions, connecting the two of them to countless people and places across their entire lifespans.
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“So?” Draco questioned. The sunglasses helped alleviate the sight of the threads when they went bright. Specifically, the threads between them, and a few of the threads he was following to Marwan’s house. “That’s not stopping you from parading about in Celestina Warbeck’s rejected wardrobe.”
“Nevermind, Malfoy. If you can see, by all means, leave them on.”
“Of course I can see!”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t see, I was just implying you don’t need a disguise, especially since Zivantus already knows who you are.”
A cool, smooth voice said from behind them, “Does he, though?”
“Helga, Salazar, Rowena, and Godric!” Draco jumped so high he thought for a moment he’d accidentally activated the Timepiece. When he landed and whirled around, Marwan Zivantus stared back at him, deep honey eyes and a tremendous scowl visible even in the lamp lit lane and with Draco’s sunglasses. The man’s wand was raised and he had a Capture-All Net in his other hand. “Marwan--”
“Have we met?” he interrupted.
Draco gulped. “We--” he glanced at Potter before answering. “We haven’t been introduced.” Draco looked back at Marwan and added, “Yet.”
Zivantus’ left eye twitched. “I see.” He studied them. “You’re Draco Malfoy,” he said to Draco. “And you’re sneaking onto my property with Harry Potter. Hmm?”
“Yes,” Draco nodded. “That does sum it up succinctly.”
The older man studied the two of them for over a minute. Draco realized they probably looked a bit ridiculous in their outdated, stolen coats from the cloak room, and him in his sunglasses. Zivantus seemed to come to a conclusion that Draco and Harry were at least credible enough to warrant further study. As a former member of the Eleven, he no doubt experienced odd meetings regularly. “Why don’t you two accompany me back to my house for a drink?”
Glancing at Potter, they agreed and Zivantus ordered them to walk in front of him the rest of the way. He’d been to the house a few times after Marwan had hired him, but never at night and never under such stressful circumstances. He could see the threads getting stronger between him and Zivantus, the threads connecting himself and also the ones extending from Marwan to the Draco he would hire in a few days time. Salazar, not just the sight of it gave him a headache, but understanding what he was seeing was bound to drive him insane. They needed to get what they came for and then go back to the future as soon as possible.
Draco thought he felt his bones quake when Marwan walked them in through the foyer. He couldn’t imagine what sort of wards the man had requisitioned when he’d been an active member of the Iniquitous Eleven, let alone the precautions he would take after falling out with the Ministry. They ended up in the main sitting room furnished with a few sofas, armchairs, a pianoforte, and a well-stocked cocktail trolley. Merlin, Draco would kill for a firewhiskey sour.
“So, Mister Malfoy, if you would illuminate me on why--”
“You’re dead,” Draco rushed, realizing there was no reason to hide the truth from the man who could inevitably jump to the future and find out himself.
Marwan’s face remained unchanged. “I see.”
“I’ve taken your place in the Eleven.” Draco lied. He held up the Timepiece and flipped it over, showing Zivantus the engraved number eight on the back.
“I see,” Zivantus repeated. He raised a brow. “And you’re breaking Article seven subsection four by coming here. Do the others know you’ve come? Did someone back in the Department of Mysteries authorize this, or have you followed in my footsteps and gone rogue?”
Draco panicked. “Bertrice is in danger.”
The older man’s nostrils flared. He’d finally gotten a rise out of Marwan. “Explain.”
“The cult you’re selling the inquollis anicorpus to is going to do something drastic. They want your Timepiece.”
“Malfoy,” Potter warned.
“Yes, Malfoy, listen to the Savior. I implore you to shut your trap before you create a paradox.” Something in Marwan’s demeanor had changed in the span of a few seconds. He walked to the bar, shoulders tensed, and said, “Shall I serve us some firewhiskey and wait for you two to be erased from my presence?”
A House Elf appeared with a pop and rushed to hand Marwan a sealed letter. Once he had it in hand, he started to walk in the direction of his office. Draco had spent hours talking to Marwan in that room, some about the case, and some about life for disgraced Purebloods in modern Wizarding Britain. Draco learned a few things from Marwan Zivantus; in his youth, his own drive to be better than everyone else was always going to conflict with his desire to be accepted by everyone else, and was responsible for many of his past problems. Ultimately, Draco had to strive to be better than his previous self if he could ever accept his place among those whose opinions mattered more than anything. Marwan had helped him see that.
Marwan waved to them as he left the room, “Excuse me.”
“Malfoy,” Potter rushed him and shoved him up against the nearby wall. He ripped the sunglasses off Draco’s face and threw them to the floor. “Are you an Unspeakable?”
Incidentally, Draco was at a loss for words. He wasn’t sure if it was the Unbreakable Vow or the fact that Potter had left no space between them. Maybe it was something in between the two. All he could do was concentrate on breathing and actively focus on a small fiber of something caught in the purple shag coat on Harry’s shoulder.
He didn’t want to think about how Harry’s frustrated reaction lit something inside of him, or how messed up that made him feel. Draco knew what love was. He knew what it meant to be tethered to someone and yearn for their happiness and safety. There were those he loved like his mother or Pansy. He knew of desire, of building up to the edge of oblivion and then shattering oneself after a moment of its touch. While many people would state that what Draco and Harry might have felt in their past was hate toward each other, Draco disagreed. Such a powerful emotion like hatred had few facets, to wish harm upon someone, retribution, revenge, and the complete dismantling of everything that person both loved and desired before their very eyes. As he’d come to understand them in that moment, Draco’s feelings for Harry weren’t exactly love, desire, or hate but instead a maddening combination of all three, never staying constant, always changing with the flicker of a stare or the wit off a tongue.
The threads he saw that connected them seemed to prove his point in the way they’d changed every time they touched, argued, agreed, or somehow comforted the other.
“Well?” Harry breathed.
“I think you know the answer to that.” Draco met his eyes. “I think you’ve known for a while, you just couldn’t admit it.”
Harry let go of Draco and turned away. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
The loss of contact almost hurt. “I’m not a bloody mind healer, Potter, how the fuck would I know what goes on in your scar-addled head?” Draco rolled his eyes and shook his head. He needed to tell Harry the truth, and he needed to keep a level head. “Because if I’m not in opposition to you, then it must mean, on some level, I’m with you.” Draco watched as Harry’s chest relaxed, shifting to something rhythmic and more even. His calm seemed to reach across the room and pull Draco toward him.
“Sometimes,” Harry started to say but stopped. He turned and gazed at Draco, who almost gasped at the disillusionment he found within them. “Sometimes it feels like I know everything about you, and sometimes it feels--” he shook his head “--it just feels like it will never be enough.”
“I’m cursed,” Draco rushed out. He thought briefly it might’ve been Harry’s raw honesty that compelled him to tell one of his last secrets. Harry’s eyes went wide and he took a step toward Draco, who shook his head and bit his lip. “There were six of us cursed,” he explained. “Granger included.”
Harry grabbed Draco’s hand. “What sort of curse? Are you two in danger?”
“Each curse is different, I can’t speak for hers, but mine is--well, it’s hard to explain. It’s like I can see Fate. I see the threads between people.”
Potter was quiet for a long time, but his hand remained firmly wrapped around Draco’s. “So all that nonsense about fate having woven us together,” Potter started.
“Turns out it’s not nonsense.”
“So these threads,” Potter said. “There’s one connecting us?”
“You could say that,” was all Draco could bring himself to say. How could he tell Harry? How could he find the words to explain the thickest threads he’d seen were the four that tethered them to each other?
Potter spoke up so Draco wouldn’t have to. “Is it because of the case? We’re meant to do this together?” Draco knew his face was betraying him. “Not the case then.”
Draco decided to explain what he understood about threads in generalities. “I don’t see them all the time. They appear in moments where the connections are relevant or simply close. There are threads for past links, present, and future. Threads for love, hate, or rather--variations of light and darkness. It takes a bit of time to learn the gradients, the colors, and their meaning.” Draco took a breath. “I think--because I’m a person with my own connections, not an outside force--I feel pulled to certain threads, drawn forward to act in service of my own inevitable design.”
“So there are multiple threads between us?” Potter took a step closer. Draco could barely breathe. Suddenly they were inches apart and all he could focus on was the fervency in Potter’s gaze.
“Past,” Draco nodded.
“I’d imagine,” Potter’s lips quirked.
“Present.” Draco swallowed. He couldn’t hold Potter’s gaze any longer so he stared at the threads connecting them, the array a blooming display of magnetic forces. Potter looked down, following Draco’s gaze. He spread his hand on Draco’s chest. The warmth of Potter’s touch almost burned him. A brief pause, and Potter looked up into Draco’s eyes and Draco wasn’t sure who said, “Future?”
They stood there so close, staring at each other with inexplicable anticipation. Draco realized he was leaning, closing the gap between them, physically, emotionally, he’d never dreamed of being that close to Harry Potter in his life. Potter’s eyes fluttered, and Draco thought Maybe.
“Harry,” he whispered.
Potter’s eyes shot open. “Is that a plant?” he breathed and pushed Draco away, rushing to the corner of the room near a large window. “Is it inquollis anicorpus?”
“I don’t know,” Draco acknowledged. “Give me a moment while the blood rushes back to my brain.”
Potter’s eyes darted to Draco’s crotch. He flushed and turned back toward the window. Was he embarrassed? Ashamed? Potter’s form seemed tense as he stood appraising the tall, leafy flora. “We have to get back for the ransom drop.”
“Not if we convince Zivantus to fix this mess!”
“You must know by now we can’t do that! We can’t change anything. Don’t you see?” Potter pointed to the large potted plant. It was nearly as tall as him. “We were always meant to come back and take it. It’s why this mess happens in the first place. If we don’t, you and I will cease to exist.”
Draco sighed. “You’re right.” He was at least still strong enough to admit he was losing the battle between reason and whatever in Salazar’s name took over his mind when Potter looked at him like he’d done moments before. “Grab the bloody thing and let’s go. We’ll have to get out from under these wards to apparate and use the Timepiece.”
Potter cast an advanced Levitation Charm on the plant and followed Draco to the parlour doorway.
“Where do you think you’re going with that?” Zivantus had come back from his office and stood with his wand raised at the far side of the room.
“Harry, go!” Draco shouted.
Zivantus threw a litany of spells at them and Draco rushed to block each of them. One got through and hit Potter in the leg, sending him tumbling sideways into the cocktail trolley. Draco faked a Bat-Bogey Hex and then came at Zivantus with an Incarcerous Spell. The force of it threw the other man against the wall. He fell to the ground, wrapped in thick, black rope, unmoving. “Harry,” Draco didn’t take his eyes off Zivantus. “Are you alright?”
A groan was the only response.
“Was that a Stinging Jinx?” Draco discerned Zivantus was at least concussed, if not completely knocked unconscious. “Well?” he turned and scanned the broken bar cart. Among broken bottles and split cherrywood, Potter sat up and sighed.
“Yes. And it feels just lovely soaked in Ogden’s.”
Draco rushed to help him up and ushered them out of the house. As they made their way to the border of the property and the end of the wards, they heard a commotion back at the house and an alarm sounded. “Come on,” Potter yelled, and ran with a slight limp, clutching the plant in his arms. The last thought Draco had before they disapparated was how ridiculous Potter looked in that purple coat, stains covering his clothes, with a leafy, green plant towering over him.
“This isn’t the Ashtyl,” Malfoy frowned. Harry rolled his eyes. “Where did you take us?”
Harry explained, “I figured we shouldn’t go back to the hotel, in case someone sees us. This is the alley outside that nightclub down the street.” Malfoy nodded. Harry set down the inquollis anicorpus and drew his wand to spell himself clean. Malfoy shot out a hand and stopped him. The touch sent a jolt through him and the memory of their almost kiss flashed in his mind.
“You can’t clean firewhiskey with magic, Potter” he said. “Are you mad? You’ll set yourself on fire!”
Harry laughed nervously, and then frowned when Draco didn’t say anything else. “Seriously? I am covered in more than just firewhiskey. I feel and smell disgusting!” Malfoy’s eyes traveled down Harry’s form and back up again. Harry gulped. Whatever had passed between them minutes before had changed something. It had lifted a barrier that for so long had held back a ferocious devotion, a mix of anguished desire and provocative sentiments.
“Irrelevant,” he said. He pulled out the Timepiece “Let’s go.”
Harry proceeded to complain that he wouldn’t leave until he changed his clothes. “I’m a bloody fire hazard!” he threw up his hands. Malfoy pointed out that they needed to hurry if they were to get back and reunite with the others before the ransom was due. Harry shook his head. “We are literally six weeks early for the ransom drop, we definitely have a few minutes to spare. I’m going inside to find clothes.”
“Nightclub’s don’t usually give people clothes, Potter.”
“No,” Harry smiled mischievously. “But clubbers are often in the habit of leaving them behind.” Harry levitated the plant and opened the side door to the club. They walked into magical fog and floating strobe lights, and it took almost a minute for Harry’s eyes to adjust. When he looked over at Malfoy, the blond wore a satisfied grin. “What is it?” Harry asked.
“Oh you know, just the perfect atmosphere for these ridiculous sunglasses,” he smirked. Harry couldn’t believe that Malfoy had grabbed them during their rush to leave the house. “Find me when you’re no longer wet and sticky.” He walked away and Harry lost sight of him in the sea of bodies on the dance floor.
Harry made his way to what looked like a coat check and shot the attendant a warm smile.
The attendant held up a ticket and said, “Coat and--” she looked to Harry’s right at the floating plant, “--ficus.”
Harry shook his head, “Oh no, I’m not checking the plant.” She raised a brow. Harry leaned in, “Any chance you’ve got an extra shirt back there? Pair of slacks?” He motioned at the mess down his front. “My date got upset with me and…” he trailed off.
“Funny,” the attendant said stoically, “I’ve never known a ficus to retaliate in anger.”
“Anyway,” Harry laughed uncomfortably. “The clothes?”
“Right,” she said and then disappeared down an aisle behind her. Harry waited a few minutes and then got worried, but she finally came back with a pile of folded clothes. “These look like the only thing I had in your size.”
Harry glanced at the rainbow pattern and sighed, thinking it was a bit loud. “Thanks.” He made his way to the loo. He cast a quick privacy charm by one of the sinks and then disrobed. He’d still had the rolled up copy of the Prophet tucked in his waist, but it had mostly been soaked through with a red, flowery-scented liquor. Harry tore off the front page to show Ron about Ginny, and tucked it into the purple coat’s pocket.
The Stinging Jinx had hit him in the leg and the skin around it was covered in big, red welts. He cast a healing spell, but it was only slightly successful in reducing the swelling and redness. He wasn’t in excruciating agony so he supposed it could wait. Then he washed himself clean using the sink, but still couldn’t quite get the feeling of alcohol off his skin. As soon as Harry put on the rainbow striped pants and black mesh shirt, he gasped.
“Aye,” someone said from the other side of the room. “You don’t look that good, get over yourself.” Harry stared at himself in the mirror. This was what he’d been wearing--his other self. Since the case had taken off, he’d completely forgotten.
“Are you done watering your plant? Some of us need the sink.” Harry apologised and rushed out. He threw on the purple coat and set out to find Malfoy in the crowd.
He found an area at the edge of the dancefloor and scanned the sea of people. All of them seemed to be losing themselves to the beat of a Lady Hippolyta song, and Harry wished he could join them and feel carefree for just a moment. He wanted to surrender his heavy burdens, to lose himself in the rhythm of a song and the feel of another, a beckoning touch to lead him toward something like weightlessness.
Harry hadn’t realized his eyes were closed until a hand softly curled around his waist and the space in front of him warmed with the promise of a sound body. He opened his eyes and took in the man in front of him, lines and edges softened by the kiss of darkened space, grey eyes revealing a rapture at the object of their focus. “Harry,” Draco whispered.
“Merlin,” Harry whispered and his eyes fell to Draco’s lips. “I don’t know where these feelings live inside me,” he leaned forward and pressed his mouth to Draco’s ear. “But they’re there, they’ve always been.” Harry pulled back so he could see Draco’s face, and his lips skirted the other man’s cheek in the process. When their eyes finally met, Harry nearly felt drunk with anticipation. He watched Draco watch him as he licked his lips.
Then the plant crashed into them and Draco stumbled backward. “What--” Harry looked around.
“Is it--” someone nearby started to ask. “It is! It’s Harry Potter!” The vicinity broke out in murmurs as bodies started flocking to his side. Harry looked around for Draco but he’d disappeared. All he had was the damned plant floating next to him.
“Harry! What are you doing in Edinburgh?” a woman shouted. A young man cut in front of her. “Harry! Is it true you’ve left the aurors to become a chocolatier?” Someone grabbed his shoulder and turned him around. “Harry! When is Ginevra’s baby due? Are you getting back together?” A hand slid into his from behind and yanked Harry out from the center of the mob. “Harry!?”
Draco pulled Harry away from the dance floor and rushed them to the side exit and into the alley, the plant floating not too far behind. Draco pulled out the Timepiece and began adjusting it. “Looks like Lovegood actually had the story right for a change,” he smiled.
“Come again?” Harry asked. He nestled the plant in the crook of his arm, resting it against his hip.
“Earlier, when Lovegood said you’d been in a nightclub,” Draco was grinning wildly, and Harry thought he’d never seen him look so liberated. “Said you’d been dancing with a mature ficus.” He leaned forward and grabbed Harry for the time jump. They ended up flush against each other. Draco’s breath danced against Harry’s neck, “Cockblocked by a ficus is more like it.”
And then they fell.
Hermione shuffled through the Ashtyl’s Floo Room and headed to the hotel room at five til eleven in the evening. She was still a bit flustered from her argument with Cormac McLaggen at the Ministry. He had insisted she leave without him.
“I will give you a ten minute head start,” he’d said.
Hermione replied, “It’s not a proper tail if I know you’re there. Just come with me.”
Cormac replied, casually, “I know what I’m doing,” and motioned for her to leave. So without another thought, she left.
When she got to the hotel room, she quietly knocked. After no one answered, she tried the knob and the door swung open. That was not a good sign. Wand ready, she crept inside.
The room was deserted. She quickly cast a few security checks and probes, but nothing showed up as alarming. There was a food cart in the corner of the parlour, two plates of pasta and an empty bottle of wine. She peered around for any other signs of her friends and that’s when she noticed a big, leafy potted plant about the size of a small child on the coffee table. A few open books were littered around it.
She dived into them and soon felt sick at the thought of what inquollis anicorpus could do in the wrong hands. The implications of soul-catching were reminiscent of Voldemort’s efforts to achieve immortality and great power. But if someone could simply gain power by changing the body they inhabited, they could be anyone, do anything, control governments, industry--hold the entire world hostage to their own whims.
She desperately wanted to know how the others had found it, but quickly moved on to figuring out how to approach the ransom drop. She had everything on the list: a phony Timepiece, the Galleons in a bag with an Extension Charm and tracker, and now the plant. Glancing around, Hermione started to panic when she realized the kneazle was nowhere in sight.
She looked everywhere, from under the furniture to inside the shower, until she finally noticed a note on the wardrobe that said PUT ONE ON. She threw open the wardrobe doors and was practically blinded by bright, flashing multicolored lights.
Hanging inside were four of the ugliest Christmas jumpers Hermione had ever seen. One depicted a snowman making several lewd gestures while another, much larger jumper showcased Father Christmas stuck upside down in a chimney with his feet flailing about and his butt crack visible. Another one lavishly featured multiple ornament orbs appearing and disappearing across its front while flashing JINGLE MY BALLS in bright green letters. Each one featured bright enchanted lights and one had a fireplace in the area over one’s navel, a roaring fire crackling in its hearth. There were even sparks.
The entire spectacle, note included, was so bizarre she felt that under different circumstances it would’ve been a funny joke. But the situation was dire and if someone said jump to save Bertrice, Hermione wouldn’t think twice before doing it. As it was the smallest of the four, she grabbed the lewd snowman jumper and put it on over her blouse.
Minutes later, after she’d been pacing back and forth in front of the plant, she decided to hide a timed Self-Kindling Charm on the soul-catcher -- just case they couldn’t stop the kidnappers from getting away with it. Frankly, it worried Hermione that the plant wasn’t as extinct as the texts had claimed.
Pansy Parkinson burst into the room a few minutes later followed not far behind by Luna Lovegood. “Luna?” Hermione’s mouth dropped. Luna held the kneazle in her arms. Then Hermione’s eyes almost popped out of her head when she realized the pair of them, and the creature, were covered, head to toe in gold dust. “What is going on?”
“We just negotiated a treaty with the Winter Solstice Fae of Devonshire,” Parkinson frowned. She wiped a hand over her forehead and left a streak of gold dust across her skin.
Luna nodded. “I told you, if you can reach an accord with Fae, you can do anything.”
Hermione baulked, “What are you doing making peace treaties with faeries? I’ve been waiting here almost an hour! No one’s shown up!”
“We’ve got it covered Granger,” Parkinson stated. “And no one said anything about a peace treaty.”
Pansy took a breath and reminded herself that their plan was flawless. Well, mostly.
“It’s going to be okay,” Luna sent her a smile. She held Bertie in her arms and pet her head absentmindedly. The kneazle was not pleased with being held so closely to the red flashing lights on Luna’s Christmas jumper.
“I don’t like this!” Hermione admonished.
“Do you think I like it either?” Pansy frowned. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get the gold dust out of my--”
Hermione interrupted, “It is not a good idea for us to go into a situation without having reconnected with the others. There are so many variables!”
They stood outside the hotel waiting for the right time to apparate to Haddington. It must have been an interesting sight to see: three women in various poorly fitted holiday jumpers, a large plant, and a kneazle.
“Where is Ron? Where are Harry and Draco? Where did the soul-catcher plant come from?” Hermione would not stop asking questions and shifting her weight from foot to foot.
“Who bloody cares,” Pansy rolled her eyes.
Luna leaned in and caught Hermione’s eye. “Do you trust Ron, ‘Mione? I’m sure he’s following the leads like he’d said.”
Hermione sighed. “Yes, but--what about Harry and Draco?”
“Unbelievable!” Pansy shook her head. “We are in a crisis and where have all the men gone?” Pansy shrieked. “We don’t need them. Fuck ‘em.”
Igora Stramitz didn’t usually celebrate holidays. She found it hard to experience joy if she still had an open case, if someone was still out there alone and separated from their loved ones. She’d certainly never worn a holiday jumper, let alone any jumper that had flashing lights and moving parts. Parkinson and Lovegood assured her that it was absolutely necessary to stay in solidarity with the Winter Solstice Fae, or Tinsel Gnats as Lovegood had called them.
Felix stood next to her, frowning at his own blue jumper as it flashed the phrase ROWENA’S LITTLE HELPER. “Tell me again how this is going to work?”
“Parkinson and Lovegood have bribed the Solstice Fae with the promise of a Christmas Come Early Party in exchange for their help.”
Her partner shook his head. “And we have to wear these because…?”
Igora blinked. “They help the damned things distinguish between friend and foe, okay?” She knew how absurd the plan was. She also had worked sixteen other kidnapping cases with ransom drops and never felt as secure about the exchanges as she did now.
The kidnappers had enough sense to choose a Muggle recreation area for the exchange. A place with no inherent magic meant it was easy to detect traps, wards, and other useful Ministry methods of capture. It also meant the kidnappers could disapparate at any time. Igora was surprised no one at the Ministry had ever thought of using Fae magic before. Although the small creatures were notoriously temperamental, their magic was so intuned with the natural world that if anyone cast regular and even more advanced probes, they’d likely not even notice the Fae were there.
When Pansy Parkinson had owled her to meet at the hotel bar, Igora had never imagined the woman would have such a story to tell. Parkinson ended up admitting that there was a Department of Mysteries angle to the case, so she couldn’t divulged all of the details. There were still inconsistencies with the ransom demands, but Parkinson assured Igora that as long as they protected Bertrice, and--oddly--a red kneazle named Guinevere, everything would be fine.
Everything Parkinson disclosed matched what Igora and Felix had seen and heard, so Igora had no choice but to offer her services and agree to help in any way that she could. She’d never imagined that would mean donning a Christmas jumper and waiting on the roof of an indoor Muggle swimming pool for a signal that the Winter Solstice Fae were loose and terrorizing the kidnappers.
“Is this the strangest case you’ve ever worked?” Felix asked, rousing Igora from her thoughts.
She turned to him, smirking. She’d worked missing persons a long, long time. “This might be the strangest in recent memory,” she offered.
A flash in the distance caught her eye. She and Felix dropped to their knees and peered over the edge of the building. The field below was slightly lit by the electric lights of a Muggle parking area nearby. They could make out two groups of hooded figures standing on either end of the open field below. Then a woman’s voice uttered, “Lumos! ”
Two figures stood closest to the building while the other four figures made their way to the middle of the field. Igora’s mouth fell open when she realized one of the four was Bertrice Zivantus. Felix tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to his watch. When Igora looked back to the field, the figures were clearly performing the expected security spells and checks on the area.
From what she could tell, Bertrice seemed alright. She clung to the side of one of the figures in the field and looked around with wide eyes. The poor thing was probably terrified.
Pansy Parkinson and Luna Lovegood, who clutched the red kneazle, came into view, both wearing obnoxiously colored, flashing holiday jumpers. They were followed by a third woman holding a large plant. Was that --it was--Hermione Granger, in a similarly ridiculous outfit mostly obscured by the plant in her arms. Igora pulled on her pair of red Weasley’s Wireless Extendable Earmuffs, hoping Lovegood hadn’t forgotten to bring one of the wireless ears with her.
“...wands on the ground if you want her alive,” a woman commanded. It looked like the figure next to Bertrice was the one that was talking, judging by the animated movements of her arms. The three young women threw their wands into the grass. “Now, hand the Timepiece and the money to my associates here, and carefully put down the inquollis anicorpus. ”
Igora tapped her partner on the shoulder and motioned in the direction of the other hooded figures who’d stayed back. Felix nodded and edged to the far corner of the roof to watch the pair of them. Igora focused back on the scene in the middle of the field.
“And what about Bertrice and Guinevere?” Parkinson asked nervously and Igora blinked. How had she not noticed Parkinson’s jumper was so oversized? It looked absolutely ridiculous on her, as if she were wearing a dress for someone three times her size. Parkinson added, “Will you switch them back?”
“Hand over the Timepiece and the plant,” the woman repeated.
Parkinson narrowed her eyes and pointed to Bertrice. “We will give them to you when we know Bertrice is back where she belongs and safe.”
After a few long moments of silence, the woman finally said, “I didn’t want it to be this way, you know.” She pulled something out from under her cloak and took a step forward, leading Bertrice. From what Igora could see, it looked like the woman held a set of vials. “Bring her forward,” she commanded to Lovegood. The blonde stepped closer, the animal in her arms. The woman handed her one of the vials. “Make sure she drinks it all,” she said. Then she turned to Bertrice, tilted the girl’s head back, and poured the contents of the vial into the child’s mouth. Lovegood cradled the kneazle like an infant, uncorked the vial, and slowly let the creature lap it up.
Very slowly. “Hand over the items,” the woman motioned for her associates to collect them from Parkinson and Granger. The two women handed them a gold trinket and a drawstring bag. “According to Bertice,” Lovegood said, “it doesn’t taste very good.” Igora glanced at the young girl and frowned. She hadn’t heard her say anything.
Two things happened simultaneously after that.
A purple bolt erupted out of Bertrice’s chest and struck the kneazle, followed by a red bolt going from the animal to the girl. The force of the energies ripped the creature from Lovegood’s hands and sent both her and it flying. Lovegood rolled across the grass.
At the same time, there was a loud POP and a man appeared in the middle of the field. Igora squinted in the dim light and was sure she had seen him somewhere before. She recognized his black-ops robes. He was from the Department of Mysteries ops-team.
When the bolts between to the kneazle and Bertrice disappeared, everyone out on the field looked stunned and stared around at each other.
Then Granger screamed something at the man who’d just appeared and Bertrice threw herself at Pansy Parkinson’s feet. The young girl rolled around feeling for something on the ground until she picked up one of the discarded wands and turned back toward her captors.
“You killed my father!” she screamed and cast, “IMPEDIMENTA!” at the leader of the group who had made her drink from the vial. Lovegood looked up from the grass, grabbed a large silver bell from her pocket and rang it repeatedly.
To the side of Igora, Felix shouted, “Expelliarmus!” and one of the two figures that had hung back from the exchange lost their wand. Felix added, “Stupefy!” and the figure fell to the ground. Before Igora could get a spell out, the other figure immediately disapparated.
She didn’t have time to dwell on it because as soon she looked back to the center of the field, she dropped her wand in shock. Hundreds of shining, silvery lights ascended from the grass and began swarming anyone who wasn’t wearing a holiday jumper. Parkinson had thrown herself to the ground and pulled Bertrice inside the oversized jumper.
Igora watched in horror as the other figures tried to swat the Fae, listened as they screamed in agony. After only a few seconds, the three kidnappers had fallen to the floor, writhing, while the man who’d apparated into the scene late screamed at Hermione Granger for help.
“You said you knew what you were doing!” she replied. Granger motioned to Lovegood after that and the blonde rang the bell again. The Fae pulled back and united in a swirl of tiny lights sinking back into the ground.
Igora and Felix rushed down to the field and took stock of everyone. Hermione Granger was binding the kidnappers and taking their wands, Luna Lovegood had gone after the kneazle, and Pansy Parkinson still had Bertrice Zivantus in a tight embrace, rocking back and forth and whispering in the young girl’s ear.
“Everyone’s alright?” Igora approached. Felix went to help Granger with the kidnappers. Igora gazed around in case the figure who had disapparated might come back.
The black-ops man rolled around in the grass and groaned. “I am not alright.”
“Everything will be fine,” Granger nodded, ignoring the man.
A few feet away, the large green plant burst into flames.
Granger continued nodding, “This is fine.”
“Malfoy,” Harry looked around the alley as the sun filtered in over the buildings surrounding it. “It’s daylight.”
Malfoy took a step back from him and looked at the Timepiece in his hand. He blinked, shook it, and then scowled. “I don’t believe this!”
“What is it? Where--I mean when are we?” Harry’s heart pounded.
“Thursday morning,” Malfoy’s voice cracked. “Quarter to seven.” Thursday morning? That was a few hours before the penthouse massacre. Suddenly Harry was winded, sick to his stomach but riveted with the sudden understanding that they were supposed to be there. He had been there, he reminded himself. It wasn’t someone on Polyjuice, it wasn’t someone soul-swapped with him, it was him and it always had been. He turned around and made for the street. “Where are you going?” Malfoy called after him.
“The hotel,” Harry said over his shoulder.
Malfoy rushed after him. “Harry! Wait! We can’t!”
“Yes we can,” he said, “And we already have. I’ve seen it.”
“What do you mean?”
Harry couldn’t help the sudden consummate smile on his face. “I saw myself that day. I was in the elevator, Draco, and it stopped on the fourteenth floor. Two people were arguing in the hallway outside a room, our room, and the person in the hallway was me. I was wearing this same outfit!”
Malfoy stared in shock. He blinked and then looked away. “You saw yourself?”
“And you didn’t think that was important? You didn’t think you should tell someone?” Malfoy’s voice rose, anger forging his features into a tense scowl. “You, Saint Potter, kept something hidden that could have potentially changed everything.”
“How?” Harry was getting angry now, too. “How would the knowledge of me being in that hallway, or some form of me, have helped?”
Malfoy let out an unsteady exhale. “It doesn’t matter now, does it?”
Harry rolled his eyes, “I’m going, you can come or stay here for all I care.” Malfoy pointed his wand at the plant and muttered something under his breath. The plant shrunk to the size of a chocolate frog, and Malfoy picked it up and put it in his pocket. “You couldn’t have done that earlier?”
The blond smirked. “You seemed to enjoy carrying it around.”
They walked the two blocks back to the Ashtyl in silence. Harry didn’t know what they would do when they got there. It was hours until the incident would take place. When they reached the hotel entrance, Malfoy stopped Harry from going inside. “I told you,” Harry started but Malfoy raised a hand to silence him.
“We should use glamours,” he suggested.
“It’ll be fine,” Harry said. “I’m not--I mean, Archie won’t be here for a few hours.”
Malfoy nodded and they went inside. Harry realized in that moment that Valentine would be there. “I want to hold the world on its knees,” the hotel manager had said. Harry suddenly became very angry. “Valentine is here,” he whispered. “We can--”
“Stop right there, Potter,” Malfoy commanded quietly. “As you said, in our pasts we have already been here. We obviously didn’t go after him this morning if he fires you later today.” Harry opened his mouth to protest but then realized he was right.
“Harry Potter!” Mortification hit Harry like a Stupefy as the man himself crossed the lobby to greet them. Valentine stepped up to the two of them, a giant smile plastered across his face. It made Harry sick. “Mister Potter, we are so thrilled to have you in the hotel.” Valentine nudged him. “You must have stayed under an alias last time, but it’s no worry. We here at the Ashtyl value our guests’ privacy.”
Harry realized he was expected to say something back. “Last time?”
Valentine’s eyes darted to Malfoy as he said, “A few weeks ago, of course! You dropped your cloak room ticket at Club Bezemkas. The gossip columns all reported that you stayed here. Anyway, my name is Valentine de Russo, I’m the hotel manager. If you’re in Edinburgh again, I would love to offer you a room for your trip. On the house.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes and faked a smile. “Yes, we had such a lovely time,” he purred. “We would appreciate it if we could have the same room on the fourteenth floor. It had such a beautiful view, didn’t it Harry?”
“Er--” Harry had barely been paying attention. All he could think about was stopping himself from tackling Valentine to the ground and arresting him for Marwan Zivantus’ murder and Bertrice’s kidnapping. A voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Malfoy’s pointed out that Marwan hadn’t even been murdered yet. “Yes,” Harry agreed finally. “It was a nice room.”
“Well, let me see if we can get you back in that room,” Valentine led them to the counter. He shuffled behind and sifted through some parchments. “What room number was it?”
Harry paled. He’d never looked at the number. He knew exactly where it was but he couldn’t even think of what the number had been. Merlin, he really had made a terrible hotel porter.
“1409,” Malfoy said.
Valentine nodded. “It’s available,” he furrowed his brow. “We’ll just have to move a few things around. And what colors would you like displayed, Mister Potter? Gryffindor Red?”
“Green,” Harry said, just as Malfoy answered, “Blue.” They turned and glared at each other and then Harry realized the room had been decorated in green and blue. “Both,” he finally said but kept his gaze trained on Malfoy.
“Fantastic,” Valentine snapped his fingers and the spell key appeared in his hand. “Here you go, Mister Potter. The house elves should have it decorated by the time you get up there. Please, if you need anything, do not hesitate to ask.”
Harry turned back to him and flashed a fake smile. “Thanks, Valencio,” Harry said and walked away, his jaw clenching so hard he thought it might break. He and Malfoy didn’t speak as they waited for the lift and went up to the room.
Hermione sat outside Ron’s office in the DMLE ignoring the various people who gawked at her. Still in the ridiculous Christmas jumper, she found herself both too exhausted to move and too busy reliving the events of the day. Not only that, but she still hadn’t heard from Ron and it was well after three in the morning.
After the Edinburgh aurors took over the scene in Haddington, Hermione made sure the others were alright. They were collectively in shock, mostly that their plan had worked but also because absolutely nothing had gone wrong. Bertrice was safe and sound and Parkinson seemed to soften with every passing minute in the young girl’s presence. Pansy’s relief was almost contagious until Luna mentioned Harry and Draco.
“Whatever they did, it worked,” Pansy said. She winked at Hermione, “Even if we did most of it.” Then Igora and another official, Auror Phillips, apparated with Pansy and Bertrice to the Edinburgh Main Office and Hermione was left with an addled Cormac McLaggen, and Luna, who appeared to be settling her arrangement with one of the Solstice Fae. The small winged man glittered bright in the darkness, and judging by Luna’s increasing frown, seemed to drive a very hard bargain.
McLaggen ordered Hermione to come back to the Ministry and to her own dismay, she did so without protest. After all, she had promised Icarus Sableton she’d come back and work on Pandora. She thought maybe she’d have a moment to breathe, and maybe a moment to explain things to Ron.
She bolted up from the bench and took in the sight of the love of her life. She couldn’t help the large sigh that escaped her and pulled Ron into a firm embrace. “Where have you been? I’ve been so worried, Ron.”
“I told you--” he started and pulled back to look at her. “Anyway, it’s alright now. I’ve just got in from the Edinburgh office.”
Hermione blinked. “What were you doing there?”
Ron titled his head, a proud smile on his face. “I apprehended one of the kidnappers. The one that got away, apparently. Igora Stramitz gave me a loose summary of what you did.” Ron’s gaze shined with awe. “Blimey, Hermione, I knew if anyone could pull it off, it’d be you.”
“But Ron, how did you find the kidnapper? Stramitz said the figure disapparated before they could even identify them.”
“I hate to say it, ‘Mione, but I owe most of it to Malfoy.” Ron opened the door to his office and led her inside. Taking off his crimson auror robes, he pointed to his chest and the Chudley Cannons 1892 Champions t shirt. “And this lucky thing,” he smiled.
Hermione bit her tongue. She was too tired to deal with his lack of self-awareness. Ron was convinced his favorite shirt was the reason he’d finished so many cases successfully. He’d smile, “Where would I be without it?” And Hermione would shove something in her mouth or change the subject. In the past, when she’d point out that the shirt was worthless, that it was Ron’s brilliant mind and his own abilities that were the reason for his success, Ron would get mad. He’d blush, stammer, and end up belittling the achievements he’d just been so thrilled about seconds before. Hermione liked to think of it as Golden Trio Syndrome. Ron seemed to compare every one of his various accomplishments to Harry or Hermione’s greatest accomplishments.
As painful as it was for her to let Ron’s callous disregard for himself go unanswered, she had the vague suspicion that soon he wouldn’t be able to ignore his own brilliance. Soon he’d be rewarded and the whole Ministry, the whole of the Wizarding World, would know what she’d always known to be true. And she hoped maybe then this amazing man would finally believe it.
“At first, I tried to run down some of the blokes on the board,” Ron explained. “But nothing really came of it. So I thought about the picture of Gertrude Lockhart, and what Malfoy had said about the connection to Zivantus.”
Hermione thought back to what she’d heard them say about it, but she’d missed most of it talking to Harry in the hallway. “I didn’t think there was much there.”
Ron nodded. “There wasn’t, but something about the name of the bloke who claimed to be Lockhart kept nagging me.” He raised his wand and cast a spell on the wireless player in the corner. A few seconds later, a song played that Hermione vaguely recognised. As soon as the chorus of the song rang through the speaker, she gasped.
“That’s Jinxes & Joes!”
“They were Ginny’s favorite band for ages,” Ron nodded. He went on to explain that the man who’d claimed to be Gertrude Lockhart was Edgar Lerille, the bassist of the boy band. Ron described that after he’d apparated to Lerille’s residence, he almost hadn’t had the stomach to interview him. “It was horrible,” he recounted. “The poor man--er--whoever he really is--he’s living in quite a depressive state. The home was a mess, smelled worse than the communal sock drawer at the Burrow.”
“But you did talk to him?”
Ron raised his brow, “Yeah well, I was about to leave and then I saw the band’s awards on the wall. Their first song, ‘The Smell of Sweet Amortentia’ had won Witch Weekly’s Afternoon Snog Award Winner.”
“While that should be criminal, that hardly warrants suspicion, Ron.”
“No, ‘Mione! It was the symbol!” He pulled out a quill and parchment and drew an infinity sign with eyes in the loops. “The men on the case board had this pendant. So I asked myself, how could some washed up bassist in Cardiff be connected to some bad blokes in Edinburgh?”
“So I asked him--uh--her...” It turned out that the last thing Edgar Lerille, or if they were to believe the story, Gertrude Lockhart could remember was accepting a complimentary room at the Ashtyl Hotel from their manager, Valentine de Russo. “He--sorry, she said she had went about her day, went to bed in her room, and woke up as Edgar in his hovel of a house.” Ron’s smile widened. “And the hotel manager? De Russo? He was the lead singer of Jinxes & Joes. So I apparated to his flat and waited for him to show up.”
“Let me get this straight,” Hermione stated. “The hotel manager of one of Britain’s most prestigious hotels, a fallen boy band singer, was the mastermind behind a soul-swapping cult and the kidnapping of Bertrice Zivantus?”
Ron shrugged, “Yeah, that’s about it, isn’t it?” Hermione had so many questions but she was so exhausted. Ron went into a few of his theories about why they’d targeted Gertrude Lockhart, and if the cult had gained access to more of the soul-catcher ingredients, they could’ve switched bodies with just about anyone in the world. “So, are we going to talk about what’s going on with this?” Ron pointed to the flashing jumper.
“I’d rather not,” Hermione sighed. “Now that I’ve found you,” she gathered the will to stand and headed to the door, “we have to track down Harry and Malfoy.”
“I just saw them down in the Atrium.”
Hermione burst, “What?”
“Yeah, that bloke from the--uh--your department,” Ron gulped. “Sableton? He was leading them out. They looked rough, but they were alright.”
Hermione sat back down, a million questions in her head. It could wait. It would have to wait. She was exhausted. “Oh thank God,” she managed. “We hadn’t heard from them since this afternoon.”
Ron snorted. “You should have seen what Harry was wearing.”
“Will you stop pacing?” Draco said irritably. “I can’t concentrate when you’re making your best effort to wear a hole in the floor.” Harry glared at him. They’d been in the room for about twenty minutes. Draco had set to work, making it look like he was attempting to repair the Timepiece. Harry had been wondering what they were supposed to do next. At least, he had been silently and yet somehow very loudly expressing himself with heavy sighs, shakes of his head, and the tense pull of his face.
Harry finally had sat on the sofa to get off his nervous feet and had chosen to stare at the empty space that would eventually hold the case board. Draco decided to be honest with him, if only because it was the easiest way to stop Harry from thinking himself into a stupor. Pointing to the empty space, he said, “After I leave--after I left the penthouse this morning, well before the incident, I went to have some tea. I gathered my notes and anything Zivantus had given me and came to this room in the late afternoon.” Draco stopped and wondered at the coincidence that his room assignment later that day would be the very same room.
He could tell Harry was staring at him but Draco fixedly focused on the back of the Timepiece. “What--?”
“Your thoughts are louder than that infernal music at the nightclub,” Draco offered and dared to glance at Harry. At the mention of the nightclub, Harry tensed.
“Coming back was pointless,” Harry started. He shook his head. “We can’t even get Valentine.”
Draco frowned. “We wouldn’t know about him if we hadn’t come back.” He wondered if being taskless in the hotel room had caused Harry to regret the moments they’d shared earlier. If Draco thought back to those seconds where it’d seemed as if there was nothing but the feel of their own breath between them, he would feel exposed. Harry had peeled away layers he didn’t know he’d had, and he still wasn’t sure if that simplified his feelings for Harry or somehow made them more complicated. “And it wasn’t pointless to me, Harry.”
Harry crossed his arms and frowned, the unmistakable look of shame washing over him. So that was it, then? Draco supposed he should have realized Harry wouldn’t reciprocate. Was it their history? Draco’s Mark? Or the fact that he was a man? He put down the cool metal in his hand and leaned over to stare at Harry, suddenly unable to do anything else until he found out why. “Within these four walls, right now in this moment, can we promise each other honesty?”
“I’m always honest--”
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Harry,” Draco replied, hoping his brash tone would push Harry far enough to answer truthfully. Sometimes Draco thought Harry’s anger was the most honest thing about him apart from his loyalty, bravery, and empathy.
Harry’s face flushed with anger. “There you go! You want honesty, Draco? Half the time I can’t even think because you make me so bloody angry!” He shot up and walked into the entranceway, his back turned. He stood still for a few minutes, but Draco knew he wasn’t done. Harry’s next admission surprised him, though, “You were right. Back at Zivantus’ house.” Harry turned and focused on Draco, his gaze insecure. “You were supposed to be this irredeemable git. The lines were drawn, and it was easy.”
“It was comforting,” Draco offered.
“Yes! And you and I had our roles. You were horrible, Draco. You took the Mark, and you were horrible, siding with him. People died because of you,” Harry shook his head, working himself up again. He closed his eyes and took a deep, unsteady breath. “People died because of me too, though. And I always knew why you did what you did, and that made me even madder. I didn’t want to understand you. When you lied for me? When you shouted my name that night? It filled me with rage. You weren’t supposed to--” Draco couldn’t tell if his heart was sinking at Harry’s words or filling with some rare, twisted hope. Harry shuddered. “You’d changed.”
Draco hadn’t realized he’d been clutching his legs in a firm grip until Harry’s words sent a wave of relief through him and he’d let go.
“But now? You’re this--this good guy. You’re actively good, better than me even, bloody hell Draco you’re an Unspeakable!” Harry’s face washed with fear. “The magnitude of this case--the repercussions, what we could be up against--” Draco realized that not only had Harry been seeing him in a new way, but he’d been pulled back into a type of fearful uncertainty reminiscent of the days of Voldemort, and the line between the past and the present had blurred. As if sensing Draco’s understanding, Harry continued, “We’re on the same side now, we want the same things, it’s--” Harry walked back and stood across from Draco, the coffee table between them. He sighed, “Sorry, I’ve been ranting, and--I just--I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore. You’ve ripped me open with all of this spilling out in the middle of this case.” Harry sat in one of the armchairs, a look of defeat on his face. “I’m ashamed that this is all I can think about when Bertrice is still out there.”
Draco almost laughed as Harry’s words alleviated his fears. He licked his lips. “You know you’re the angriest person I’ve ever met, Harry,” he put up a hand to silence any reply until he’d finished. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; it’s just who you are. There will always be something that rattles you, it’s what makes you so, so strong, so ready to fight for something. To do something--instead of sitting and waiting for the outcome to reveal itself.” Draco smiled, “It took me a while, but I--” Draco thought about his curse, the threads of Fate pushing him forward, beckoning with the tease of possibility. He closed his eyes. “I’ve come to realize that I stayed in the shadows of mine and others’ doubts where it felt safe, comfortable,” his voice was shaking, “until it wasn’t safe anymore.”
When Draco opened his eyes, he gasped. He’d been so wrapped up in the words of his admission, he hadn’t realized Harry came and sat next to him. Green eyes bore into him as the other man asked, “And if not in the shadows of doubt, where are you now?”
“I stand upon belief,” Draco said, “and maybe--” he looked down and grabbed Harry’s hand. “Hope?”
Draco was sure the Timepiece had taken him to an alternate reality, a dream, a place he had no business being. Just the same, he had no business kissing Harry Potter, but when Harry grabbed his shirt and met his lips in a fevered rush, he couldn’t pull away. He couldn’t consciously allow himself to ever let him go.
After the initial contact settled, the charge of anticipation caused Draco to get bold. His hands slid around Harry’s waist, and Draco pulled him flush against him. The communion of their bodies started a fire simmering inside him, and he made a soft sound into Harry’s mouth.
Harry moaned in response and changed the angle of their kiss, his tongue cautiously asking for entry. Draco opened his mouth and let Harry press further. Hands twisted in Draco’s hair, nudged him to sit back at the whim of the man in his arms. He went pliant as the hands grasped his neck tenderly, and Draco thought maybe he’d do anything if Harry Potter asked him to. The proximity felt like being near to fiendfyre, terrifying and yet he couldn’t think to save himself. He’d rather give in to it.
Before he knew it they were horizontal on the sofa. Harry leaned over him and laid him bare with unpredictable tenderness, eliciting gasps from Draco. Within him, the desire and appreciation for Harry ignited, and with pioneering hands, Draco worshiped every inch of skin he could find. They got lost in each other, and maybe after that, they found themselves at last with no concealments, no shroud of obscurities.
When Draco managed a glance at the threads between them, he gasped at the revelation that they were no longer there. Part of him was scared by the sight, but another part of him realized that nothing had ever felt more right.
Harry woke with a startled grunt. He rolled over to find he was alone in the bed. “Draco?”
After there was no answer, he lay back down, staring at the ceiling. Every part of his body tingled, from the love bites on his neck to the innermost parts of his requited heart. He’d never understood the passion spoken of when others divulged having jumped into something physical on the slightest of whims. He’d always valued a cultivated relationship, something where trust and acceptance were monuments. But he supposed he and Draco had been slowly getting to that point over the course of the last decade or so. Harry laughed. If anything, their foreplay had started when they’d hit puberty. Draco’s words from earlier rang in his ears.
He’d been so nervous. The throwback to their earlier, younger and foolish selves might’ve made it worse in any other situation, but he welcomed the opportunity to laugh. And that’s how they got lost in each other--smiling and laughing--until the tease of desire became too much and all they could do was breathe each other in and bathe in the overwhelming collapse of the moment.
Harry sighed and tried to push the memory of Draco’s face when he came out of his mind. He shook his head, peeved Draco wasn’t there when he’d woke up. He decided to get up and put his clothes back on. Glancing at the time, he panicked, realizing he’d almost slept through the penthouse incident. He pulled the black mesh shirt over his head and then reached down for the the rainbow pants. That’s when he saw the Prophet page. “Merlin,” he cursed. He had to get it upstairs to the penthouse entrance. If he never finds it, the timeline could crumble.
Harry finished dressing and ran out to the lift. It was taking forever so he found the stairwell and rushed up to the top floor. He’d just reached the landing when a voice behind him said, “Misters Archie, sirs.”
He turned around to see Grimbie staring up at him. Harry blinked. How on earth did the House Elf know it was him? He put a hand up to his face just to make sure the charmed prosthetic had not somehow come back. His face felt normal.
“Sirs, the penthouse has on the do-not-disturb,” the elf said.
“Yes, I know,” Harry rushed. House Elf magic must have been impervious to the Identity Charms. He saved that thought for later and was about to reply that he’d handle the elf’s request. Then he realized he wouldn’t be the one to do it, the other Harry would. He also realized he had no way to get up there without the master spell key. “Grimbie, find me downstairs in a few minutes and tell me again.”
“Find the other you?” Grimbie asked.
Harry nodded in astonishment, “Yes. Find the other Archie, tell him about the penthouse. And can you do me a favor?”
“Anything for you, sirs,” he smiled.
“Bring me the other Archie’s spell key.” He smiled. “I’ll be waiting right here.”
Harry watched Grimbie snap his fingers and disappear. After a minute or so, he popped back into view. “Here, sirs,” he held up the master spell key. He thanked Grimbie and was about to turn away when another crazy idea popped into his head.
If he and Draco couldn’t get the Timepiece working again, they’d have to wait until their other selves used the Timepiece for the first time. Only after that could they rejoin the group and not worry about creating a paradox. But if something were to happen to him or Draco, they’d never get the plant back for the ransom drop. “Wait!” Harry said. “Grimbie, can you do me another favor?” The House Elf nodded eagerly. “I need you to look after a plant,” Harry started and then explained his plan. Once Grimbie understood, Harry thanked him again and then finally made his way to the top floor.
He stepped out into the entrance way and cautiously peered around. It was deserted. Harry eyed the closed doors to the penthouse suite. After a few seconds, he made his way to the center of the foyer and placed the red liquor-stained page of the Prophet on the ground. Then the ding of the lift’s bell rang, and the doors opened.
“I’d hoped I wouldn’t find you here,” Draco rushed out. “But I couldn’t see the threads, and I knew you would still want to change things.” He shook his head and grabbed Harry.
“No!” Harry protested. He pointed to the paper on the ground. “I came here it ensure everything happens the way it should.” Draco leaned in and gazed at him. The proximity sent shivers down Harry’s spine. “We need to get--”
Something roared behind the doors of the penthouse and both of them jerked their heads toward the sound. The sudden crashing of objects clanged and people started screaming. Harry blinked and the doors to the penthouse were suddenly on fire. The roar sounded again.
“I recognise that,” he whispered, memories from the Triwizard Tournament flashing in his mind. But how could a dragon be in the penthouse? “That’s a--”
A swift and powerful gust of wind blew past them and Harry stumbled backward into Draco’s frame. A silvery, opalescent form poked through the burning doors and large, cloudy eyes peered at them. Its long neck extended out toward them, and as the the Hungarian Horntail opened its mouth, Draco raised his wand and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!”
A bright and vivid white stoat shot out of the end of Draco’s wand and crashed into the dragon’s cloudy form, sending it reeling back into the penthouse. A few moments of silence passed, and Harry turned to Draco, completely stunned and breathless.
“Was that a ghost?”
Draco shook his head, “Ghosts can’t breathe fire or rip people apart.” Malfoy was shaking. “It must have been some sort of weaponized soul.”
Harry could hardly believe what he’d seen. He hadn’t been able to figure out what could’ve done the damage in the penthouse, but he never would have guessed a sort of phantom Hungarian Horntail had been responsible for all the carnage. “Thank you,” he breathed. He turned and kissed Draco. “You saved my life.”
“What is this?” a familiar voice rang from the other end of the entrance near the lift. Harry broke their kiss and craned his head. Another Draco stood in front of the open lift with a cup of tea and massive scowl plastered across his face.
“Stupefy!” the Draco closest to him shouted and the other Draco froze in place.
Harry looked around them and started to panic. “I thought you said you spent the morning away?”
Draco frowned, “That’s what I remember doing. Help me move him to the stairwell.”
They levitated the incapacitated Draco out of the main entrance and down the stairs to the fourteenth floor. After they made it to the room, Draco placed the other version of himself on the bed and ran to the nearby desk. He pulled a folded parchment from his waistcoat pocket and laid it on the desk. Grabbing a blank parchment, he began scribbling a message.
“What are you doing? Are you mad?” Harry rushed to his side, glancing between the unfolded note and the one Draco was writing, or rather, copying.
Follow the threads to their respective ends, Draco. No matter how strange, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Follow the bizarre and extraordinary events. You won’t regret it. And when it’s time to go home, the time will be a quarter to seven on Thursday morning. -Draco
Understanding suddenly filled him, followed by the realization that Draco must’ve had this note all along. Harry couldn’t stop himself from shouting, “Really, Malfoy?” He shook his head and ran from the room.
“Harry, wait!” Draco called.
“I can’t believe you’ve been lying this entire time!” he was halfway out the door. Harry turned back and glared at the man standing in the doorway. He couldn’t believe Draco had the nerve to keep something else from him, after everything they’d said to each other, everything they’d done. The omission felt like another betrayal. “This whole thing has been one lie after another!” He threw up his arms in frustration ready to ring the neck of the git staring back at him. Then he realized how familiar the scene was. “Wait. This is when--”
He turned and saw Archie Eversworn standing in the open lift down the hall, gawking back at him in horrified shock. Harry threw himself at Draco and pulled them back into the hotel room, slamming the door behind him.
“Obliviate!” Draco cast at his prone form on the bed. He gathered the rest of his things and made for the door.
“What are you doing?” Harry followed him out into the hallway. “We need to disappear until tomorrow night. We can’t let anyone see us.”
They argued for a few minutes until Draco admitted the Timepiece wasn’t broken. “Before you erupt, I will remind you that you kept your secret from everyone, just the same as me. Only I actually received a note from myself, in my own hand, mentioning the curse and such.”
“Draco,” Harry said through gritted teeth. “Take us back now before I throttle you so hard it sends you forward in time without me.”
Draco adjusted the Timepiece and Harry curled around him and waited a matter of seconds for the familiar feeling of falling to overcome him. When it subsided, he let go of Draco and turned back toward the hotel room.
“Ah ah ah,” someone tisked from down the hall. Startled, Harry jumped. Draco was scowling at the older man in Ministry ops robes.
“Sableton, what are you doing here?” Draco asked, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Well, I came to collect Zivantus’ Timepiece. I’m not the least bit surprised to find it in your possession.” The man narrowed his eyes and smiled. “You both need to come with me for a debrief.”
Harry scoffed. “Yeah, sorry, we’re a little busy.”
Sableton took a step forward. “It’s not a suggestion, it’s an order, Auror Potter. You and Unspeakable Malfoy have a lot of explaining to do.”
-/- [a week later] -/-
Igora was actually surprised. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. Harry Potter sat on the other side of her desk with a transfer request and sixteen letters of recommendation.
“Well, I want you to say ‘yes’ of course,” he smiled and his eyes crinkled. Adrenaline rushed through her at the odd familiarity of his gaze. “But I want to get the job because I’m qualified, not because of who I am.”
Ignora took a deep breath and motioned for him to hand over the documents. When Felix had been promoted out of Edinburgh to the London Missing Persons office, she thought she would continue on without a partner. Three days later, here she was, The Boy Who Lived practically begging to be her protege. He had absolutely no experience but his marks from the auror’s exams were exemplary, and then there was the fact that he was the Savior of the Wizarding World. Of course, that was irrelevant. Saving an entire group of people from one maniac was not the same as finding one person missing in what usually ended up being mundane and indeterminate circumstances. Usually.
“Well?” he looked down at the parchments.
“I don’t need to read these to make my decision. This was a waste of time for all the poor souls who had to write these.” She eyed Potter and wondered if the bravery and the recklessness had been reined in, even if only slightly. She thought he might not be half bad if he didn’t feel he had something to prove. “Why do you want to work in Missing Persons?”
Potter was silent.
“Let me rephrase that. Will you be able to get up every morning and push through difficult, almost hopeless situations? Will you be alright digging through people’s personal lives in an impersonal way, oftentimes making them uncomfortable, even causing them pain? Will you do that if it will help you reach your ultimate objective?” Igora leaned forward and held his stare. Will you wear flashing holiday jumpers if it means…She frowned. “Will you give everything to save the life of the person you’re tasked to find?”
“Yes,” Potter said.
“Yes to which?”
“All of it,” he pursed his lips. “It isn’t about me.”
There it was. Igora sighed and sat back. So the culmination of her legacy would be taking the great Harry Potter under her wing. “You’re going to end up transferring out by the holidays.”
He smiled, “I really don’t think I will.”
She eyed him. “You’ll have long nights, early mornings. If you keep your London address, the commute will wear on you.”
“I’ll get a flat here,” he nodded.
“Your personal relationships will suffer,” she stated. She shot him a coy smile. “You won’t see much of your boyfriend.”
Harry didn’t blink. “He’s a workaholic, too.” A second went by and then he’d realized what he’d said. “Hang on, how do you know about that?”
Ignora’s smile widened. “I have eyes,” she said. “Even if I didn’t, all Edinburgh talked about last week was Harry Potter’s trip and his very public arguments with Draco Malfoy.” She winked. “And your poor fashion choices which,” she nodded and looked down at his plain black suit and tie, “I’m glad to see today are solid fabrics.”
Icarus Sableton stood in the Atrium pretending to listen to Bastien Queensbury’s piercing complaints. On some level, he was grateful for his recent time spent with Cormac McLaggen as it increased his patience threshold.
“--and we’ve instituted several new inter-departmental mandates that require your full cooperation in these matters. I won't lose another career-making case because of your ineptitude!” Queensbury glared at Icarus. “Are you listening?”
“No,” he replied and turned his head at the sight of Unspeakable Malfoy. “Excuse me.” Icarus followed the blond and joined him in the lift. Once the doors closed, he turned and asked, “Still no urge to join the Eleven?”
Malfoy slowly turned and stared at him. “No, I should think not.”
Icarus shook his head. “You’re the first person to use one of the Timepieces who hasn’t been drawn in by the power.” He’d wondered at the ease in which Malfoy had simply handed the Timepiece back, later submitting himself to testing for the Pandora problem. “You don’t feel compelled to use it again?”
“I--I thought maybe,” Malfoy stared at the lift doors and frowned. “But what would I want to mess with time for? The way I see it, I’m quite happy in the present.”
The answer almost satisfied Icarus, but he still didn’t quite know if Malfoy could be trusted. The Iniquitous Eleven--or the Ten, as they were a person short for the foreseeable future--were rumored to be divided on how to proceed with choosing a replacement for Zivantus. Some viewed Malfoy as the heir apparent since Zivantus freely gifted the Timepiece to him. Others had their own ideas about who the next should be. But on the other hand, rumors of the Ministry cracking down on wayward departments meant the eyes that knew to look at the Eleven--or Ten--were going to be very interested in the events that had recently transpired. The group might not hold as much power as they’d like to believe. Well, apart from their autocratic control of Time. It would be a dicey path going forward for all parties. Icarus wondered if the blond could prove to be great ally in the coming days of change.
The lift reached the Department of Mysteries and Malfoy exited toward his office. “You have quite the level head, Malfoy,” Icarus said.
He was answering the other man’s statement, but also couldn’t help but think of Malfoy’s suggestion the week before during his debrief. He couldn’t forget the moment Malfoy had pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and slid it across the table. “I’ve saved some of the inquollis anicorpus leaves.” He’d added rather ominously, “Should the Ministry ever find themselves in a similarly dire situation.”
Icarus had been shocked to find out that Malfoy knew about one of the Department’s biggest and arguably best kept secrets. Only seven other people knew of it, and Icarus still hadn’t discerned if Malfoy had figured it out on his own or if he’d been told for some specific reason. When he’d finished with Malfoy and Potter, Icarus had walked the Charm-Sealed leaves of the plant in question to a specific shelf in The Room of Things that Are Forgotten, Misplaced, Unused, and Certainly Don’t Exist.
He’d had to pass several dozen rows and quite a few recognizable objects that stood out among the piles of the dangerous, the unwanted, and the broken. He caught sight of the Mirror of Erised, the Cloak of Dramatic Billowing, the Pensieve of Broken Memories, but decided to put what was left of the Soul-Catcher near some bit of flesh in a jar he’d long suspected to be Voldemort’s nose.
-/- EPILOGUE -/-
“As we’ve seen, the curses are radically different from each other but related in that they each pertain to a specific Greek mythos.” Hermione stared at her wall of notes. After two weeks of work, thousands of pages of Ancient Greek texts, hundreds of scrolls depicting different myths, and four very haughty, flirtatious members of the Grecian Ghost Society, Hermione had figured out absolutely nothing about the curses contained within Pandora’s Box. “Merlin,” she sighed and collapsed into a nearby armchair. The room was barren save for the large table that stood cluttered with books, parchments, take away boxes, and the very mysterious item in question.
She stared at the intricate silver box on the conference table. Every time she got an idea, it turned out to be nothing. The forging of the box? Completely normal. The carvings on the box? Typical of their time, perhaps more intricate than normal, but consistent with other findings. Hidden writings, spells, charms? Nothing but the ridiculous lock and key that was obviously made for ease of access and optimal destruction of the world.
Hermione let out a tortured groan and grabbed a parchment off the table at random. It was the list of victims and their curses. Her notes were scribbled all over the page.
Garius Santi - Narcissus, self destructive yet self promoting, beauty?
Elphie Bloomington - Aphrodite, orgy at retreat -- sudden drive to be a lovemaking counsellor
Timo Tresden - the goddess Limos - opposition to Demeter, harvest - starvation, ruined his wife’s prized crabapple orchard
Draco Malfoy - the Fates - destiny? Connection to the design
Howard Larson - Gorgon, isolation chamber St Mungo’s
Marianne Ashwell - Midas Touch - Gringott’s sublevel 118
Hermione Granger - Love and Lust - Eros
It was useless. She was never going to figure it out. The specialist from Athens was finally on his way, but she didn’t dare hope that he would find the solution. She missed Ron. She missed Harry. She missed the sunlight on her skin and the cozy warmth of her bed. Merlin, she’d slept at the Ministry more nights than at home.
“That’s it,” she decided. She’d make it home and sleep in her own bed that night next to her fiance. Hermione finished off the kung pao chicken and licked her lips. She’d made quite the mess of it but all her fruitless labors created quite the appetite. She stood and stretched, gathered her things, and then ordered the Chinese take away boxes cleaned with a thoughtless “Purimasseto.”
A red current leaped from Hermione’s chest and shot into the open take away container she’d just emptied. The top of the box closed and fastened itself shut while the whole thing vibrated for a few climactic seconds.
She stood stunned, unable to move, for nearly ten minutes. What had she said? She only meant to cast a clean up spell. Once she gathered her wits, she grabbed the closest book she could find. The Ancient Greek Reference Guide for Wizards and Witches of the Fourteenth Century only had obscure references to something similar but not exact. She threw the book behind her and grabbed the next one. Eight books later, she found the conjugation and translation and started crying.
Fieldspack’s Wonderous Epiphany of Ancient Greek Magic & Culture had an entire section on the thorough cleaning and purification process of disenchments, the often “troublesome and eccentric” cacophony of Ancient Grecian spells. Purimasseto was listed there, and she must’ve committed it to some part of her memory when she’d read the book through the first time days ago. Hermione didn’t question it, but later when they asked why she had placed the curse in a Chinese take-away box, she casually lied and said the silver box couldn’t be used to house the curses a second time.
One by one, the others came in and Hermione cast the simple spell to remove the curse, until finally, only Malfoy remained. He showed up mid morning two days later, a soft smile on his lips.
“Ready?” Hermione asked. He raised his brow and nodded, a look of uncertainty on his face. “It will work,” she assured him. “The others are all back to normal.”
He stared back at her. “Well go ahead then.”
“Purimasseto!” she cast.
She repeated the spell.
“I don’t understand,” she panicked and stared back and forth between him and the take away box. He followed her gaze.
“Is that--is that take-away from China Express?”
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Why aren’t you upset? The spell isn’t working! I can’t release you from the curse!”
Draco turned back and smiled, and Hermione was sure she hadn’t been so perplexed in a very long time. “You probably can’t release me from the curse,” Draco said, “because I’ve already been released of it.”
“What?” Hermione cried. “How? When?”
Draco smirked. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, but I think it was when I finally accepted my Fate, when I’d followed the threads and took my rightful path.”
“I see,” Hermione said, even though she really didn’t understand.
“Or it could’ve been when Harry fucked me into the mattress,” he added.
She shrieked, “GET OUT!”
Fifteen days later when the Ministry had given her the Order of Merlin, much to her dismay, she still couldn’t look Draco Malfoy in the eye. She had to keep reminding herself that Draco and Harry had been pushed together, not by her Eros meddlings, or some bizarre twist of Fate, but by the revolution of the self, the ability to change, and judging by the odd overheard conversation here and there, a rather frisky house plant.
-/- The Christmas Come Early Party -/-
“I look ridiculous,” Draco said under his breath as Pansy approached him. “I can’t believe I left a--” he stopped himself “--a once in a lifetime work experience for this.” The Ancient Room had jumped back into full testing again and a few of the other Unspeakables were slated to open a sealed urn from a great and ancient Chinese wizard that afternoon.
“What could go wrong?” Hermione had asked him.
He’d raised an eyebrow, “Something most definitely will.”
But instead of witnessing the great reveal, Draco stood in the corner of an enchanted igloo wearing a jumper covered in multi-colored stockings that read WELL HUNG across the chest. Pansy grinned and Draco decided immediately that she was having too much fun. “The invitation said bring a jumper or one will be provided for you,” Pansy said.
“Did it now?” Draco looked around for the mess of raven hair he’d walked in with. “Potter failed to mention that specific detail.”
“Hmm, well if you had shown up for the ransom drop like any good friend would’ve, you might’ve known about the jumper requirement,” Pansy said unapologetically. “But you were too busy…” she cut off at the sight of Harry approaching.
Harry smiled, “Hey, Pansy.”
She narrowed her eyes. “It’s Parkinson to you, Potter.”
“You let Luna call you Pansy,” Harry pointed out.
“Yes well,” Pansy lifted her chin. “Luna is a rare and special friend.” She glared at Draco. “Who single handedly helped me--” Blaise had come over from one of the buffet tables and pointed to his plate stacked full with chocolatey confections. “Oh,” Pansy eyed them. “Excuse me.”
Draco sighed as she saddled up next to Blaise and walked off.
Harry nudged Draco’s arm. “She’ll get over it. She knows we were at the Ministry.” Draco nodded and took a look at Harry. He bit his lip. Somehow Harry had managed the only normal looking holiday jumper at the entire party. It was red and white and deliciously fitted, littered with various snowflake patterns and small, blinking white lights.
“Your jumper is--” Draco simulated a yawn. “--making me long for the days of the purple shag coat.” He arched a brow. “And the mesh shirt.”
“Draco, shut up.”
“They should never be covered.”
“I’m walking away now.” Harry playfully glared and then broke his gaze to stare out at the rest of the party. Luna, Neville, and a few others were off dancing to a modern take on “Wizard’s Bells”, while a few groups stood mingling around the well stocked food tables. Harry’s hand reached out and grabbed Draco’s arm. “Is that Cormac McLaggen?”
He nodded. “Yes. Apparently, he entered into an accidental marriage contract with one of the Fae.” Draco sipped his hot toddy. “They’re having quite a time trying to find representation for the annulment.”
“That must be terrible for him.”
“Oh, no, my mistake, it is the Fae that wishes to have the annulment,” Draco corrected. Harry chuckled and the movement made a strand of hair fall over his eyes. Draco gulped. “I really do despise this jumper.”
Harry leaned in and whispered with hot breath against his ear, “You can take it off later.”