Also, thank you so much to everyone who's been leaving comments on the previous chapters -- between Big Bang and RL, I've been absolute crap at responding, and I hope to get to it ASAP. ♥
Title: Interregnum [Chapter 21]
Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 3200 words
Summary: He whose face gives no light shall never become a star. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 21
Draco's eyes cut to the drawer of Potter's bedside cabinet. It was pulled out a bit, but not enough to see what was inside. Had Potter stolen all the pictures Blaise had taken that night? Had he dared? But Draco was afraid to look inside the drawer in case it made a sound and woke Potter. He had lingered too long already. Quietly, he picked up the photograph again and eased it into his pocket. It was his, after all. He backed out of the bedroom, eyes on Potter. Shame and anger mingled with his sorrow, yet his breath stuttered as his eyes fell upon the duvet stretching across the swell of Potter's hip. He remembered an image from that other time: Potter clad in jeans tight enough for a heart attack in any gay boy, let alone one who made a hobby of defiling straight men.
Draco turned away and stumbled towards his bedroom. He hadn't thought about sex much since Blaise's death. Whenever he did, he saw Blaise go down in the doorway to Draco's flat, his impish smile turning into a staring grimace. He often dreamt of Blaise's hands caressing him, and though the fingers were cold as death, Draco welcomed the touch until Blaise's face came into focus, the smile fixed upon his face like a wax impression. I miss you, Blaise would whisper, but his lips never moved: the sound was a hiss from a lifeless chest, and the stink of decay clung to it as it slithered across Draco's face.
That wasn't what Draco wanted to remember, and so he avoided thinking about sex altogether: he hadn't had sex with anyone but Blaise in a long, long time. Now Potter lay in bed next door, ripe for picking and dangerous enough to be interesting, and Draco's imagination tirelessly conjured up things that could happen between them here in this Muggle house. Potter had nowhere to run; he was in hiding too. It seemed apparent that Potter had a thing for him, else why would he steal a photograph of Draco sucking cock?
"Does it shame you?" whispered Draco, addressing the door as he stood in the middle of his bedroom, overcome with the flood of half-forgotten sensations. "Does it make you hate me even more?"
Potter could make a worthy addition to his mental trophy case, no doubt, but the idea of pleasuring Potter held zero appeal. He was Harry Potter, forever Draco's enemy even if they had to walk the same path for a time. No amount of attraction would change that. Potter was content to let Draco slide down into depression, without a thought to spare for Draco's losses: his mother, his father, and the man he loved. For Draco loved Blaise, and though Blaise had probably known it, it was a bitter thought that he would never hear of it. Worse, Potter had not let Draco grieve in peace, neither for Blaise nor for the minds of his parents. He deserved pain for that, not pleasure. Never that.
Draco sat down in the armchair by the window. Outside, a streetlamp's light bled yellow onto the pavement. A tabby cat trotted across the bright patch and disappeared into darkness. Draco longed to follow it, but whilst the prison he'd built in his mind steadily crumbled, the real prison remained. Only an Auror could take him out of here. What could he do?
"I can't believe it's over," said Ginny, walking out of the showers into the changing room.
Cho sat atop one of the benches in her knickers, rubbing moisturiser into her legs. "It might not be over for one of us," she said, looking up.
Ginny bent slightly and flipped her hair back, relishing its heavy slap about her shoulders. "I doubt they'd pick a rookie for nationals," she said. "Besides, even if they do decide to replace Lynch, you wouldn't be going back until December."
Cho got off the bench and began to root in her clothes bag. "True, true. So how are you planning to fill the time between practices?"
Ginny got out a hair brush and stood in front of the full-length mirror, tilting her head to one side. "Eddie's asked me to move in with him."
"That's new," said Cho, pulling her robes over her head.
"Not really," admitted Ginny. "He asked before he went to Brazil, two weeks ago. So I'd have time to think it over."
"Isn't it a little fast?"
This was one of the things Ginny liked about Cho: she wasn't the sort of friend who acted like she owned you and got offended if you didn't tell her everything about your life. She took things in stride; a lesson, Ginny suspected, she had learned from the trauma she'd been through as a teenager. She grinned at Cho from the mirror. "A little, yeah."
"I'm serious," said Cho, grabbing her own brush and padding over to stand next to Ginny. "You've only been together, what? Four months?"
"Almost five. But I went to live with Harry right after I finished Hogwarts."
"That was different," said Cho. "You were going out for years!"
"'Going out' is a bit strong," muttered Ginny. "'Pined for each other' would be more accurate. First he went off to fight Voldemort, then I went back to school, and he didn't."
"Do you think that's why it didn't work out?" Cho's tone was light, but Ginny knew what lurked beneath it -- the same thing that hid in her mother's eyes, and in Ron's. Are you sure you made the right choice when you broke things off with Harry Potter, Ginny? Are you really?
Ginny shook her head. "No. It didn't work out because Harry..." She sighed. "God, this is stupid, but Harry wasn't the perfect man I thought him to be. Don't even say it, Cho -- I know none of them are ever perfect, but I had a crush on him for years. I painted myself a picture of this dashing prince, and he turned out to be... not." Ginny gave her hair a vicious tug. "It was wrong of me to be disappointed, it was wrong to expect him to live up to my silly girlhood fantasies. But I couldn't help it." And that, she realised, was the first time she'd managed to articulate why she and Harry hadn't made it to Happily Ever After.
Cho shrugged. "You did the right thing for you. Never mind him. But he still carries a torch for you, doesn't he?"
"I think so," said Ginny. "I wish he didn't."
Cho ran her brush through her hair one last time and raised an eyebrow. "Has he tried to make trouble for Eddie?"
"No, he wouldn't do that," said Ginny. "Harry's really decent and fair. But--"
"--you don't know how far that fairness would go if you were to actually move in with your new boyfriend?" Cho finished for her.
"Harry met him once," said Ginny. "In Diagon Alley. It was quite awkward. But I dunno."
Cho pinched Ginny's upper arm lightly. "Do whatever makes you happy. I have to go. Lunch on Thursday?"
"Yeah," said Ginny. "Eddie's back from Brazil on Wednesday, so I'll probably have news."
"Let's hope it's good news," said Cho, shouldered her bags, and walked out.
Ginny gave up on brushing her hair and twisted it into a knot, murmuring a spell to keep it in place. Without anyone to talk to, she had no reason to linger in the changing rooms, so she dressed quickly and Apparated home. Her mother was in the kitchen, but Ginny didn't want to see her just yet. Talking about Harry had unsettled her more than it should have. She stole upstairs to her bedroom, wondering if this was one of the last times she climbed these particular stairs. The room hadn't changed much since her school days -- Ginny barely spent any time here even after the break-up with Harry. Thing was, everything here reminded her of Harry in some way.
How many hours had she spent on that bed, staring at the ceiling and imagining all manner of fantastic scenarios that involved her and Harry? First these were innocent things, like battling dragons side by side and then getting inexplicably married. As Ginny had grown, she had begun to dream of kissing Harry, of putting his hands where she wanted him to touch her. And it had been in this room that she had first kissed him in a way that told him she wanted more than kisses. Something to remember her by. She'd never meant anything with such sincerity before that moment, and yet she had been leading him on without knowing it. It was all too disheartening, and it wasn't a part of her life she wanted to dwell upon, because she felt ashamed.
"Ginny! Why didn't you tell me you were home?"
Ginny jumped, letting out a tiny yelp. "Mum, you scared me."
"Sorry, dear," said her mother. "Ron was here earlier and he said you need to stop by the shop just as soon as you can."
"Ron?" asked Ginny, frowning. "What would he want with me in the shop?"
"I don't know," said Molly with a frown to match Ginny's. "He refused to tell me."
The expression on her face -- both baffled and annoyed at once, as if she couldn't believe that her own flesh and blood would keep secrets from her -- was so familiar, so dear, that Ginny hugged her, on impulse. "I love you, Mum."
"Why, I love you too, dear," said Molly, extricating herself and taking a good look into Ginny's face. "What's on your mind?"
"Nothing," said Ginny, grinning. "I'd better go and see what my brother wants."
"Don't you want dinner first?" called Molly, clearly exasperated.
But Ginny was already halfway down the steps. "I'll eat with Ron and George!" She didn't stop to listen to her mother's opinion of 'that nonsense your brothers call food'.
Diagon Alley was oddly deserted -- it was still hours before closing time, but few people strolled upon the cobblestones. There was an air of suspicion that reminded Ginny uncomfortably of the days when Voldemort had reigned at the Ministry -- she had experienced the same chill walking through the corridors of Hogwarts. She hoped Kingsley Shacklebolt knew what he was doing with all these odd changes he kept introducing to minimise the impact of the Statute breach. But with the Nationals ending, Ginny hadn't had much time to think about politics.
The bell over the door to George and Ron's shop tinkled, and Jezebel, the saleswitch, looked up as though surprised to see a customer. "Oh, it's you," she said, and directed her attention back to Witch Weekly.
"Yes, only a member of your bosses' family," said Ginny lightly. She could see why Hermione didn't like the bint. "Have I ever told you that George and I are quite close?" she asked, walking past Jezebel towards the back room. "No? Pity. He dotes on me just a bit. Little sister, you know. Can't refuse me anything." With that, Ginny walked into the back room and closed the door without looking back at Jezebel. She opened her mouth to tell George that they needed to look for better help, but the words shrivelled in her throat as she realised that the back room of the shop -- usually cheerfully chaotic -- had transformed into something straight out of the comic books she used to steal from Ron: a secret underground facility for planning evil.
"Oh, there you are," said George.
He was standing in front of a large world map that now occupied the entire left wall. He spared Ginny a glance as he greeted her but went back to squinting at the map right away. The laboratory door stood open -- an impossibility if Ginny had ever seen one. Inside the laboratory sat Ron, which proved to Ginny that she must have fallen asleep in her bedroom and was now participating in some kind of bizarre dream.
"What's going on?" she asked. An arse backed out from under the writing desk -- moved carelessly to the corner, the piles of parchment all askew -- and in a moment, Hermione was straightening up and walking over to give Ginny a hug.
"Long story," said Hermione.
"I've got time," replied Ginny, still staring in astonishment at the unlikely sight of Ron inside George's laboratory.
"Are you crazy?" demanded Harry. He couldn't believe what Hermione had just told him. They were going to try and enlist the help of Eddie Carmichael, Ginny's new boyfriend, to spy inside the Ministry.
"It's the only way," pleaded Hermione. "You know full well I was too busy with Kingsley's work to cultivate any relationships with any of the other Unspeakables, and right now we know nothing!"
"There's got to be a way to do it without involving my g-- erm. Ginny," said Harry, and flushed. "Do I need to remind you we're dealing with Death Eaters? How do you know Carmichael won't give Ginny up if he's caught? What if she gets hurt?"
"Nobody will get hurt," said Hermione, her voice grave. "We haven't told her anything about what really happened -- she thinks we're fighting the injustice of the new law, and that's what we'll tell Eddie, too. Ginny's involvement is minimal; she's just the intermediary. We approach her, she puts us in touch with him. She knows nothing beyond that."
"Don't ask me to like it," said Harry. He suddenly didn't care that he had only a week left in which to dig up some crucial clue to this whole mess: he wanted to go back to London, to see Ginny -- right now. "Listen, I've got to go," he said, seeing Biggs walk into the diner for their nightly meeting. "I'll call you when I get home."
He clicked the mirror-cum-mobile shut and thrust it into his inside pocket. It was a bad move, for it reminded him of the missing photograph that usually occupied that pocket.
"You look like someone just shot your puppy," remarked Biggs, taking a seat opposite Harry.
"Just back home. Things are bad," said Harry. He had come to genuinely like Biggs despite his grandstanding and occasionally prickly attitude, but he didn't feel like talking about what he'd just heard. He hadn't even had time to process it.
"Some good news oughta turn that frown upside down," said Biggs. The waitress brought him coffee without bothering to ask: they were here every night and they always ordered coffee.
Harry took a sip of his coffee, steadying his nerves. "Good news?"
"Got a tip on a non-magical in Berkeley who might've been contacted. He's showing signs of a badly cast Memory Charm, so much that people around him started to notice."
"Who's he?" asked Harry.
"Nuclear physics professor," replied Biggs.
"Shit," said Harry. "This could be it."
"You bet. I think you ought to bring Princess Twinkletoes with you."
Harry sniggered. Biggs's dislike of Malfoy had been plain from the start, and Harry couldn't say he blamed the man. "Why do you call him that?"
"He practically oozes privilege," said Biggs with a shrug. "Probably never had an honest day's work in his life. But he might help us ID the perps if we can reconstruct enough of the professor's memory to put in a Pensieve."
"We'll take him," said Harry. "When do we leave?"
"Sometime later tonight, but I'm not sure yet. I figure I'll just come get you at the house when the time's right."
"Sounds good," said Harry, rising. Excitement had replaced cold dread, and for that he was grateful. "I'd better go tell Malfoy."
"Go ahead. I'll grab a bite to eat and wait for my boys to give the signal."
"Thanks, Biggs," said Harry earnestly. "I really appreciate everything you've done."
"We ain't out of the woods yet," said Biggs, but Harry could tell he was pleased.
He hurried behind a Dumpster and Apparated to the safe-house's back garden. The house looked as empty as ever, though Malfoy wasn't asleep on the living room sofa this time. That had badly startled Harry the night before, seeing Malfoy slumped like that. His first panicked thought had been that Malfoy died. Harry could still feel Malfoy's warm neck beneath his fingertips; he had checked him for a pulse and taken away another sensory memory he didn't need. And then the photograph had gone missing. Had Malfoy taken it? That made no sense. If Malfoy were to find that photograph in Harry's possession, he would go ballistic and start gibbering about Harry's obsession with him again. How perfectly ridiculous. Just because Harry found enjoyment in watching Malfoy suck cock didn't mean anything. He had been too long without a girlfriend, that was all. Not just any girlfriend, either. It was Ginny he wanted -- Ginny or no one else. No wonder he'd started noticing men in the wrongest ways.
Besides, Malfoy was usually too scared to venture out of his room these days; it was a stretch to think that he would have gone into Harry's room, even if Harry was asleep at the time. No, Malfoy didn't have the picture. It must have fallen behind the bedside cabinet and then somehow got lodged behind the bed. Harry would move the bed later and find it there, dusty but no worse for the wear. He was sure of it. And soon enough, Harry would be going back to England whilst Malfoy stayed here. It would be all right.
The door to Malfoy's room was ajar, and Harry could hear the shower. Maybe he'd take a look round just to be safe. Maybe Malfoy did get up the courage to go inside Harry's room, found the picture, and was hiding it, waiting for the best time to spring his newfound knowledge on Harry. If possible, he wanted to avoid that surprise, though he honestly had no idea what he would even say to Malfoy if this train of thought proved true.
He tiptoed into Malfoy's bedroom and realised it was no longer the pigsty it had been yesterday. The leftovers were gone, the curtains back in place, and the room smelled of freshly laundered linen. Malfoy's armchair still stood by the window. Harry's stomach gave an involuntary twinge. He had stood in this doorway so many times over the past few weeks, looking at the motionless figure in that chair, wondering if he could do anything to get Malfoy out of his catatonic state. He wasn't stupid; he knew Malfoy needed help, but Harry couldn't get anyone else to help him, not with the stakes as high as they were. He was angry at Malfoy for losing his shit like that despite knowing it was unfair. He was angry with himself for feeling compelled to stand and stare at Malfoy's motionless figure, at his prim pale pink line of a mouth.
The irony of searching through Malfoy's things for something that actually belonged to Malfoy didn't entirely escape Harry, but he just wanted to know where the picture was. He didn't want it back. He just didn't like not knowing where it was, that was all.
"Did you lose something, Potter?" The shower had stopped without Harry noticing, and now Malfoy stood in the bathroom doorway, towel round his hips, his pale hair a fluffed nimbus.