Title: Interregnum [Chapter 26]
Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 4100 words
Summary: No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 26
Once she was sure McKenna wasn't going to look back at the crowd, Hermione started to walk out after him, doing her best not to hurry too much. Heaven only knew what the Hit Wizards outside would consider "not peaceful". An arrest would have added credibility to her cover, but there was little she could do to help Robards from Azkaban.
Robards. He would know more about this, wouldn't he? McKenna was an Auror, after all -- Hermione couldn't see how he'd be doing this without Robards's say-so. She watched McKenna Disapparate with Smith and took off in the direction of the shop.
George unlocked the back door for her, yawning. "Greetings, wanderer. What news from the people who go bump in the night?"
"Party broke up early," said Hermione, letting the door click shut behind her and walking through the corridor next to the laboratory, George at her heels. "Bill McKenna showed up with an entire wing of Hit Wizards and arrested Smith for sedition."
"Is anything ever going to go right for us?" moaned Ron from his perch by the map. He looked tired.
"At least I didn't get arrested?" offered Hermione.
Ron looked alarmed. "They were going to arrest you?"
Hermione shook her head, hiding a smile. "They didn't seem to care about anyone but Smith. But I want to know why he got arrested."
After she explained her thoughts on Smith and Eva to Ron and George, they were both nodding.
"She makes no sense," said George. "I want to meet her."
Hermione rolled her eyes and pulled out her two-way. "I'm sure she'd love to meet you too, especially if she knew what you've been up to these past few weeks. Gawain Robards."
The mirror's surface shimmered briefly, and then Robards's pipe came into view. "...bloody thing on? Hello?"
"Mr Robards, it's Hermione Granger."
"How did it go?"
Hermione told him. As she did so, Robards angled the mirror so that she could see his face. He looked as dumbstruck as she had felt upon seeing McKenna arrest Smith.
"I haven't even seen McKenna today," he said finally. "If he's out there arresting people, he's doing it on his own time and someone else's orders."
Hermione, George, and Ron exchanged glances. "This does bear out my theory," said Hermione. "Eva Kay must be behind this arrest, but why, if she's also behind the so-called resistance movement?"
Robards shook his head. "I don't know. Perhaps we made a mistake when we chose to discount Rubric C."
Hermione took a deep breath. She had had similar thoughts lately, coupled with enormous amounts of guilt. They'd managed to keep their background investigation hidden for now, but who was to tell how long it would last? Once Eva Kay became aware that someone knew about the King of Kings and what it did, it would become difficult to invoke Rubric C.
It sickened Hermione how easily she could think of it as "Rubric C", rather than as the cold-blooded murder of her boss. She still thought of him as her boss: she had to, if she was to keep going despite their mounting difficulties. If she stopped believing they would see Kingsley as himself again, he would no longer be Kingsley. He would be the subject of Rubric C.
"Mr Robards--" she began, but he waved his pipe at the mirror.
"No, hear me out. I'm willing to let it play a while longer. It can't hurt to make the Muggles forget all about us. Kay's methods are hm, radical, but they're working. If we can free Kingsley and have him take the credit for mending the Statute breach, so much the better."
"What about the parents of Muggle-born Hogwarts students?" George broke in. "Do you think Kingsley's going to be happy to take credit for those?"
"The Wizengamot has ordered a freeze on that," said Robards. "The professors were having trouble keeping the students under control; children were starting to escape the grounds and head home. It'll be in the Daily Prophet tomorrow. I don't know how long the Wizengamot can hold her off, though."
"They don't even know they're holding off some mental old lady," said Ron. "They think it's Kingsley."
"As I was saying," murmured Robards. "We'll let it play for now. I don't think she'll try to move again on this matter until after Christmas break. After that, we must act."
Christmas break. That gave them approximately four months to find out who Eva Kay really was. Considering that they were almost nowhere after two months, Hermione had little hope for the future. But she had some.
"Wait," said Robards. "I just got a Floo memo from Night Dispatch." He disappeared from the two-way, leaving Hermione with a view of an expansive bay window framed by hideous paisley curtains. Whoever Mrs Robards was, interior decoration was clearly not her forte. Robards reappeared in the mirror, grim-faced. He held up a piece of parchment, folded in half. "Zacharias Smith was summarily tried by the Minister about a minute ago."
"He can do that?" asked George. He wore an uncharacteristically sober look.
"In very extreme circumstances, yes," said Robards. "Smith was exiled from the wizarding community. They snapped his wand."
Draco leaned sideways against his bedroom doorframe and smirked, watching Potter disappear down the stairs. In the days since their last encounter, Potter had avoided him so carefully that Draco was idly beginning to question his own existence. Soon, Draco would be following his own path sans Potter, and a large part of him regretted that he would never see Potter break. There just wasn't time. It disturbed him, how much he wanted it. Wanted Potter's clumsy hands on him, Potter's frightened eyes above him, Potter's... Fuck. He'd got hard, and wasn't that just perfect? A fitting testament to Draco's enormous personal fortitude. Blaise's funeral flowers hadn't even died away yet. Not that Draco had bothered to attend the funeral. If he had been better prepared, if he hadn't lost the plot the way he had, he could have escaped, he could have done things differently. He could have done right by Blaise.
But he couldn't wallow in that now; not when he was so close to finally getting away. As irony would have it, Potter was the only thing that kept Draco from dwelling on Blaise's fate, and so he followed Potter downstairs. He threw a cursory glance at the sofa as he passed through to the kitchen. Potter sat in front of the television with his hands behind his head and his legs spread. He didn't seem to notice Draco walk by, but he moved his hands down into his lap and crossed his legs, almost casually.
"Subtle," murmured Draco to himself as he opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of that odd beer Americans drank through a lemon.
Once again defying his expectations, Potter walked into the kitchen. Draco faced him, eyebrow raised, unopened bottle in hand. His heart beat ever faster. Had he underestimated the situation? Was Potter going to make his move now? Was he already--
"You're staying here," said Potter.
Definitely not what Draco had expected. "What do you mean?" he asked.
"We have to move you to a different safe house, but you're going to stay in America when I leave tomorrow."
"The hell I am," said Draco. All vestiges of warmth were fleeing from his belly. "You've got no right--"
"Fuck rights," said Potter with the look of a long-suffering parent. "You can't--"
"No, fuck you," spat Draco, furious. "You can't tell me what to do. I'm not your prisoner, you have no right to detain me, and if you think I'm not already going straight to the Wizengamot after this is over--"
"Fuck the Wizengamot," said Potter evenly. "I'd rather take my chances with them than with you getting yourself killed."
"Oh, how touching," murmured Draco, lowering his eyes slightly. "I didn't know you cared."
"I don't care about you," replied Potter, glowering. "But you're the only one who can help Kingsley. And you will help."
Draco pressed the top of his cheek against the refrigerator door and grinned, despite his overwhelming desire to grab his wand and start casting Stunner after Stunner at Potter's self-important head. "Well, I think you're afraid of me, and that's why you want me out of your sight." Potter glanced up sharply, clearly incredulous. Draco grinned wider. "You don't want to deal with all those inconvenient feelings below your fancy Auror belt."
"Dream on," spat Potter, and began to walk out.
"Does everyone else know what a coward you are?" called Draco. "Afraid of sticking your cock in my mouth --"
"Yeah, well, d'you blame me?" said Potter, turning around with a vicious glare. "Looks like men who stick their cocks anywhere in you die too young."
Draco was so stunned he actually took a step backwards. If he hadn't known better, he would have said that even Potter looked aghast at his own words, but of course he couldn't be. He really had no regard for Draco's loss; it was no more than Draco should have expected. But Draco was stronger now; he wouldn't spiral the way he had after Blaise's death. He'd regained his ability to rein himself in when needed. He had no time to grieve properly; he couldn't spend any more time sitting in the armchair by the window, watching the Muggles' antics. He had to break free first. And as he remembered the armchair, the missing piece of the plan he'd been nursing for weeks fell into place. Without a word, Draco left the kitchen, leaving his beer on the counter.
Back in his bedroom, Draco stopped in front of the armchair, staring at it. The biggest obstacle in every plan he'd formulated over the past weeks had been that Potter would take his wand if Draco was to leave the house for any reason. Without his wand, Draco could do precious little. But it wouldn't occur to Potter to check Draco's wand, would it? He could be handed a different wand, and he'd pocket it and forget about it until it was time to give it back. The problem was obtaining a fake wand -- Geminio didn't work on wands because the cores resisted duplication, summoning the nearest wand in Boulder wouldn't work because of the protective enchantments around the house, and he couldn't conjure a wand out of thin air.
But Draco's favourite armchair had four stout wooden legs, almost identical in colour to Draco's wand. He didn't need a core; Potter wouldn't bother testing the core. He was too sure that he had Draco where he wanted him -- cowed, helpless.
"Geminio," whispered Draco. A fifth leg appeared on the armchair's left side, slightly less substantial in appearance. He severed the real leg and hefted it in his palm. It was lighter than he'd thought it would be -- probably hollow on the inside -- but it had more than enough weight for a successful transfiguration. A moment, and Draco held two identical wands in his hands. The fake one felt simply like a piece of dead wood in his hand -- Draco's real wand practically thrummed with magic by comparison. Potter wouldn't notice, though. He would be too preoccupied with making sure Draco didn't cause a scene. Now, for the second part of his plan.
Draco tiptoed out of his room onto the landing. Biggs must have arrived in the meantime: he and Potter were talking in low voices, and the television was off. Draco decided to wait until Potter walked Biggs to the door. Little fucker was the epitome of politeness with everyone but Draco. In the meantime, perhaps he could learn something useful. He sat down on the floor next to his room and leaned sideways against the railing.
"...wish you would've told me the extent of it," said Biggs with obvious disapproval. "I said when we went to Berkeley, he smells like desperation. If he feels cornered, he might hurt someone. Or, more likely, himself. Then where will you be?"
"He likes himself too much for that," said Potter. "Besides, I don't intend on letting him keep his wand. He doesn't need it here anyway." Draco smiled to himself. Keep talking, you bastard. Keep telling yourself you've got things under control.
"He's not a prisoner," said Biggs. "He's obnoxious, but he didn't do anything wrong, did he?" There was a pause, and Draco would have bet his left ear that Potter had shrugged in response. Biggs went on. "From what you've just told me, he's pretty much lost everyone he cared about. He's gotta be hurting like a motherfucker. Maybe it's better if you take him home."
Potter muttered something unintelligible.
"You're the boss," said Biggs. "Philly it is. I'll come get you in an hour."
"I'll see you out," said Potter.
Draco got to his feet and dashed across to Potter's bedroom, hoping Potter would turn the television back on. The room looked abandoned, save for a bulging rucksack at the foot of the bed. The Invisibility Cloak lay folded at the top. Draco took it out. From his robe pocket, he drew the crumpled photograph Potter had once stolen. He dropped it into the rucksack and drew the zip over it. Hastily stuffing the Cloak into his pocket, Draco hurried back to his room.
He had barely had time to settle in his armchair when Potter entered after a perfunctory knock. "We're moving you in an hour," he said. "Pack your things."
Draco ignored him and stared out at the street, where a toddler chased a harried-looking cat around the lawn.
"Look, Malfoy, what I said before. I was out of line." Potter sounded like a child whose mother was making him apologise for breaking a neighbour's window.
"Save it," said Draco. It was clear that Potter had told Biggs nothing about what had really happened until Draco had mentioned Blaise. And now Biggs's disapproval was making Potter feel... what? Inadequate? Unprofessional? Both? Draco didn't matter in any of it. But he had Potter's Invisibility Cloak and a decoy wand in his pocket: his freedom. He could afford to be patient for a little while longer.
"Biggs is taking you to Philadelphia," offered Potter. "They have underground tunnels the Aurors use. You'll be able to go out sometimes."
"Ooh, a prison with supervised walks. I can hardly wait."
"It's for your own good," said Potter.
Draco turned and craned his neck to look at him. His blood simmered. Ever since Potter had walked into Die Hitze weeks ago -- and even before that, when he had stolen into Draco's flat and behaved as though it were his birthright to go through Draco's things -- he'd treated Draco with nothing but constant disrespect. Yes, he had saved Draco's life. Yes, Draco's continued life was important to him. Those things, combined with Potter's sex appeal, had confused Draco for a time, made him develop a sort of misguided crush on Potter. But now he understood that for Potter, this had not been personal, aside, perhaps, from the sex, if they could call it that. Potter was doing his job, and he would have done everything the same way if he were dealing with someone else, down to trying to bait them into committing a crime just so he could arrest them. Draco was a non-entity, a mere step along the way to Justice or Truth or whatever it was Potter pursued in his life. It shamed Draco to think how personal it had been for him, how much it had mattered that it was Potter, and not some other Auror set to look after him. Potter had slipped and made it personal earlier, in the kitchen, and he now regretted it, because clearly he wanted Draco to remain a non-entity.
"I hope I never see your face again as long as I live," said Draco slowly and turned away. The toddler and its feline prey were gone; water fountained from an invisible source in the middle of the lawn, bright drops sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
He heard Potter cross the corridor and tightened his grip on the armrests. If Potter discovered the missing cloak, Draco would still be able to escape -- short-sighted as Potter had proven to be, he wouldn't think Draco had any other surprises in store. The fake wand was heavy in his pocket. His real wand he had transferred to the left, fearing that he might mistakenly give the real wand to Potter when the time came. He took it out, muttered a spell, and let his belongings cram themselves into the rucksack Potter had given him in Berlin. He left the lube. Let Biggs make of it what he would.
He slung the pack over his right shoulder and walked downstairs. Potter stood by the sofa, his own rucksack hanging from his back. He looked away as Draco approached, and let out a surprised yelp when Draco grabbed his collar and pulled him in for a vicious kiss. Draco had planned it to disorientate him, to leave him reeling, but he had not expected Potter to respond, and he pulled away, heart thudding too heavily against his ribs. The game was over. They stared at each other. Potter's eyes were dark, intense, his lower lip still wet. Draco wished he could see his face in about fifteen minutes, when Draco planned to be long gone.
The front door opened. Draco reached into his pocket and let his fingertips linger on the Invisibility Cloak's fabric.
Biggs walked in. "Ready to go?"
Draco let go of the Cloak and took out the fake wand. "Here," he said, offering it to Potter.
Potter shook his head. "I'm going home," he said, not meeting Draco's eyes.
Draco's heartbeat slowed in terror, but Biggs tucked the wand away absent-mindedly. "You'll like it in Philly," he said, in that new, cautious tone of voice he'd been using ever since finding out about how Draco had come to be here at all. "I've got a friend there, she works with crime victims. Thought you might like to meet her."
"Is she a psychic analysist?" asked Draco, eager to keep the focus moving away from the fake wand. He let his eyes cloud over. "Blaise liked them."
"Come on, let's go," said Potter, his voice rough.
They walked out together. Biggs turned to mime locking the door for the benefit of any Muggles who might be watching. Draco stood off to the side and tried to get as much of the Invisibility Cloak in his fist as he could. As Biggs began to turn around, Draco withdrew the cloak and tossed it over himself, then, with his wand still in his pocket, he concentrated on the alley behind that ratty diner he remembered. He turned on the spot, aware of movement behind him, of Potter saying something in a low and urgent voice, of Biggs's dark hand reaching for him. It was all oddly distant as he gave in to the pressure of Apparition, so welcome after all this time.
A moment later, he was collapsing against the diner's wall, alone. He didn't have much time. After the initial shock of his escape wore off, Potter and Biggs would know where to start looking -- there were precious few places in this state that Draco knew well enough to Apparate. Still wearing the Invisibility Cloak, he hurried to the back of the diner. A girl with two enormous pigtails and pounds of caked-on eye-shadow sat atop an overturned milk crate, smoking. Behind her were two lengths of fence, concealing the diner's rubbish bins from the street. Draco ducked into the little enclosure and sent a weak Stunner at the Muggle; she could throw it off in a half hour or so.
"Dusty," he called. If this didn't work, he would have to hide amongst the Muggles for a while. He really hoped it wouldn't come to that.
Crack. Yes. House-elf magic really did work anywhere in the world.
"Master Malfoy?" croaked a tiny voice at his elbow. It was odd, hearing German here, surrounded by ripening American rubbish. The elf was shaking. "Dusty is hearing things. Dusty cannot see the Master, but the Master is here! Dusty is a crazy elf!"
"You're not crazy," said Draco.
"Ah!" cried Dusty. "Dusty is hearing voices! Dusty must punish herself!" It rushed towards one of the lengths of fence, but Draco held out his hand so that the elf smacked into it.
"I'm under an Invisibility Cloak."
"Master?" Dusty began to cry. "They said Master had d-d-died and Dusty had to l-l-leave..."
"Well, I didn't die," said Draco impatiently. "Good thing you had brains enough not to tell anyone that. Good elf. Now get me out of here."
Ginny walked barefoot upon cold slabs of marble amid a silent colonnade. Far in the distance, the painting of a rose glowed eerie-red against a backdrop of darkness. Icy numbness enveloped her with every step; it felt like walking through melting snow. She would reach the painting or she would die. The air grew colder, and so focussed was she on her target that it was as though she weren't moving forward at all: the painting crept closer to her as she walked in place. The columns sped past her, and she was running, certain that if she didn't reach the painting and the rose, all would be lost.
The painting rushed in towards her, a perfect rectangle of utter dark, and the rose was not a rose at all, from this distance. It was an eye, blood-red and malevolent, one of a pair that had plagued Ginny's dreams since she was a little girl. She stretched an arm out to shield herself; her fingers met solid ice. The shock of it made her gasp, and she sat up squinting in the gloom. Blindly, she reached for Eddie, wanting to lessen the chill in her hands, but he wasn't there.
"Eddie?" Ginny pulled a sheet up over her breasts and sat up straighter.
"Go back to bed," said the bedside clock grumpily. "It's two in the bloody morning." Where was Eddie?
Ginny got out of bed and slipped on a dressing gown, listening. Nothing. The flat was silent, and outside there was only a distant train's lonely blare, dying away as she padded across the bedroom. As she neared the door, she realised there were voices in the kitchen -- no, one voice, distant and tinny.
"...your new assignment."
"Wha--" she began, but another voice -- Eddie's -- joined the first one.
"In two weeks."
"Yes. We have arranged for some of your research to necessitate access to the Deparment's library," said the tinny voice. "You will be given a small package to leave inside the Secretary's reading room."
Department? Secretary? Was this about Percy? But he was Undersecretary...
"Purchase an Invisibility Cloak. Make sure you cast a Disillusionment Charm along with it."
"Won't the reading room be guarded against that?" asked Eddie. Ginny felt ill. This was not legitimate, whatever it was about. She needed to find out who was the tinny voice's owner. She needed to know whether it would do any good to confront Eddie about this.
Ginny backtracked with careful steps, and found her wand on the bedside cabinet. She cast a Disillusionment Charm over herself and crept back out along the wall, crouching, not daring to go past the doorway. Instead, she stuck her head out until she could see inside. Eddie sat alone at the table. In front of him was a two-way mirror remarkably like Hermione's.
"You will leave it underneath the chair," said the voice from the mirror.
"Yes," said Eddie. "I understand." His features were perfectly blank, his eyes dead.