Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 5000 words
Summary: The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 27
Ginny gasped, but Eddie didn't even look up. All his attention was on the two-way mirror. Ginny's heartbeat was so loud she thought he must hear her for certain, but he continued to display no signs of being aware someone else was watching him. She tiptoed away from the kitchen doorway and slipped back into bed, removing the Disillusionment Charm. Her first impulse had been to rush into the kitchen and peer at the two-way, to see who was controlling Eddie. How long? How long had it been since he was Imperiused? She hadn't noticed anything until tonight, which could only mean that she had been dating him since after he'd been cursed.
The bedside clock ticked the minutes away, and still Eddie didn't return. Who had been on the other side of that mirror? What could she do? Should she alert the Aurors? Harry was supposed to be coming back later today -- if she asked him, he could do something for Eddie. But would he? No, she wouldn't ask for Harry's help. Hermione, though -- she had been an Unspeakable. Maybe she would know something... Ginny realised with a sinking feeling that Hermione would be as useful as an umbrella in the desert; she was leading some sort of crusade against the Ministry now, and she'd wanted to involve Eddie in it. Ginny hadn't worked out how to broach the subject with him yet, but now it seemed like a stroke of luck.
Weren't Unspeakables supposed to possess arcane knowledge? Maybe Hermione could free Eddie from the curse, somehow. Ginny had two choices: approach the Aurors or the Unspeakables officially... or ask for Hermione's help. If she went to the Ministry, Eddie wouldn't be blamed for anything, but he might lose his job. Anyone exposed to the Imperius Curse for long became susceptible to it, and the Department of Mysteries probably didn't want any weak links; it was a wonder Eddie had even succumbed to the curse. No, she couldn't go to the Ministry with this. Especially not with Kingsley Shacklebolt behaving as he had been.
The bedroom door opened with a faint whoosh. Ginny shut her eyes and began to breathe deeply. Her nerves had steadied somewhat, and she didn't want to confront Eddie -- whoever was controlling him might find out he was compromised, and there was no telling what they'd do to him. Eddie climbed into bed, clearly trying to be very quiet. Ginny wondered if this was her Eddie, not wanting to disturb her sleep... or if it was the Imperiused Eddie, instructed to be quiet so she couldn't see his vacant eyes. Would it do any good to tell him she knew? Would it put him in danger? Who would want to control an Unspeakable? Too many questions -- unless she went to Hermione, who, as long as Ginny could remember, always had answers.
She didn't sleep well that night. She heard Eddie get up and leave for work around six, then lay still in the quiet bedroom, listening to the awakening city outside. Hermione would be at the shop already, wouldn't she? She and Ron and George seemed to be putting every spare moment into their resistance movement, and Hermione had always been an early riser. Within an hour, Ginny was approaching the shop. A trickle of drunken revellers ducked out of Knockturn Alley further ahead, hurrying to be gone before Hit Wizards began patrolling the shopping areas.
The Augurey-shaped sign outside Ron and George's shop opened one eye. "Closed," it told her. "Can't you read?"
Ginny rolled her eyes and went around to the back of the shop. The door there stood open, and she could hear faint voices from inside. As she made her way towards the laboratory, she wondered how she could best get Hermione away from her brothers. She didn't want them to know about Eddie, especially not Ron.
But Ron wasn't there yet. George and Hermione were standing by that map Ginny had seen, and George looked keenly focussed on what Hermione was saying, at least until he saw Ginny. "You're pale," he said without any humour in his voice. "What's happened?"
Ginny opened her mouth to lie, but found she couldn't. "It's Eddie," she said. "He's been Imperiused."
"Oh, no," breathed Hermione, lifting a hand to her mouth. "Not him."
"Don't worry," said Ginny hastily. "I hadn't told him about you yet."
"No, no," said Hermione, shaking her head, stepping forward to take Ginny's hands. "We've known for some time that the Death Eaters must have had someone on the inside; there was no other way for them to get the Conference Globe designs."
"We didn't even think of the Imperius Curse," said George. "Thought they had someone working for them willingly."
"Death Eaters?" asked Ginny, blinking stupidly. "Did you say Death Eaters?"
"Oh," said Hermione and squeezed Ginny's fingers a little too tightly. "Oops."
George sighed. "Look, she's up to the tip of her nose in this now."
"Harry's going to kill us," said Hermione, shaking her head.
Ginny raised an eyebrow. "I'm still here, you know."
Hermione led her to a chair. "Sit down."
Ginny did. Hermione did most of the talking. Partway through the tale, George went to let the saleswitches into the shop. He returned with an apoplectic-looking Ron, but Ginny barely noticed them. It was like reading a book, except she knew all the characters. When Hermione was done, Ginny sat looking at her for a full minute.
"So the Death Eaters are back," she said, her tone flat.
"I'm afraid so," said Hermione. "And if I free Eddie from the Imperius Curse, they'll know someone's onto them."
Ginny frowned. "But if you don't, he'll be giving them information--"
George leaped up as though a bee had just stung his arse. "I think I know how to do it without them knowing. Like the Globes and the Ears?"
Hermione's jaw dropped. "Oh my God, you're right," she said. "We could--"
"Yes, and then--"
Ginny looked at Ron, who looked as clueless as she felt. Hermione and George were jabbering at each other excitedly, both rummaging through a stack of parchment next to the world map.
Ron coughed. "D'you two mind telling us what on earth is going on?"
Hermione turned to him, as though just realising he was even there. "Right. Look. Just before Ginny came in, I was explaining to George how the Death Eaters were able to sabotage the Conference Globes. I based my design on the way the brain processes hearing -- basically it receives sound vibrations from the ear and then translates them. What I didn't think about was that sound vibrations can come from sources other than the naked air -- for example, if I plugged your ears and pressed a powerful speaker to your jaw, you would still be able to hear, because your jawbone and teeth can serve as conduits for sound. There'd be some signal degradation, obviously, but--"
"What's a speaker?" asked Ron, scratching his head.
"A Muggle thing that reproduces sound," said Hermione impatiently. "It doesn't matter. The point is that the mechanism in the Conference Globes is more sensitive than the human ear, and for it vibrations from the jawbone would be just as strong as those it picked up from the air."
"Whose jawbone?" asked Ginny.
"Nobody's," said Hermione. "It's just an analogy -- when I designed the Globes, I left a back door open without realising it, and the Death Eaters used it to feed their own passwords to the device and make it able to operate on a different, hm, frequency than normal. I was able to modify the Transsieve to pick up that signal once I knew what I was looking for."
"What does that have to do with Eddie?"
"The brain's full of these back doors," said George. "Translatable Ears use a similar trick, feeding new information to the brain without the brain's owner realising it consciously. Once the Ear is removed, the information is still there, but it can't be used without the Ear. It's an external conduit."
"And the Imperius Curse is nothing but a set of instructions," said Hermione. "As long as those instructions remain intact, the caster can't know the victim's been freed. The curse can't be broken, except by the victim; it can only be diverted into the subconscious mind and rendered useless. I can open up a back door to fool the Death Eaters into thinking the curse is still active."
"But what about the things they make him do?" asked Ginny, who didn't understand a word of Hermione's explanation, but really didn't want to deal with the inevitable pitying look just now. "If he stops doing them, they'll know something's up."
"I doubt they have him doing a lot of things these days. I'm convinced they only needed him to steal the Conference Globe designs," said Hermione.
Ginny shook her head and told her everything she'd heard in the kitchen that night. "They want him to do something in New York, and it sounds really bad."
George leaned against the map. "Two weeks," he said. "He's got to do it in two weeks."
Ginny squinted. "You think they won't try to make him do anything until then?"
"No guarantees," said George with a shrug. "But don't you think it's likely? You've been seeing him for months and this is the first time you witnessed anything like this. It would be a huge risk to micromanage him. They're dealing with the Department of Mysteries, not a bunch of Filing wonks."
"It would stand to reason they don't use him unless they need to," added Ron.
"What if you're wrong?" asked Ginny. There was a lump in her throat, but damned if she was going to start crying. Until now, she hadn't realised how important Eddie had become to her. "I don't know much about brains and back doors, but I do know Eddie. He's not going to do whatever they told him to do if he's free. And then they'll come after him. Hurt him."
"No one's going to hurt him," said Hermione. "We'll free him and hide him. Harry's back today; he can take him to a safe-house."
"A safe-house? So I won't be able to see him until--"
"Fine, he can take you both," said Hermione. "Even if the Death Eaters decide to contact Eddie earlier than two weeks from now, after he fails to carry out his mission, they won't be able to get at him. But we need whatever time we can buy -- we can't tip them off just yet."
Ginny crossed her arms. "What about his job?" she asked. Her constricted throat made every word painful. She'd come here hoping Hermione could save Eddie, and instead she was going to put him in even more danger. "He'll lose his job."
Hermione gave her a dark look. "Would you rather he lost his job or his life?"
"Besides," said Ron. "Hermione's told you how things stand, hasn't she? Once Kingsley's free, he'll put things right again."
"And if we fail?" demanded Ginny. She swallowed, and a few tears ran down her face from the pain. "If we can't stop this Kay woman, whoever she is?" She would not cry.
"If we can't stop her soon, Kingsley will die," said Hermione quietly. "Robards will become the acting Minister, and he'll put things right."
Ron walked over to Hermione and embraced her. She was crying now, and Ginny noticed, startled, how thin she had become. "Let's do it then," she said. "I'll go to the Ministry in a few hours and ask Eddie to have lunch with me."
It was strange to be back in the Ministry. Nothing seemed to have changed, but Harry knew it was an illusion. Underneath the normalcy, a terrible storm was brewing, and unless they made a breakthrough soon, only murder would put an end to it. He nodded to Stangerson, making a mental note to ask her if she had any cousins, just in case he had to explain 'Eric Stangerson' to anyone soon. Bloody Malfoy. Harry's stomach churned at the thought of him, out there somewhere with Harry's Cloak. Hadn't Harry told himself never to underestimate the clever, duplicitous bastard again? He was so fucked. He knocked on Robards's door.
"It's open," came Robards's voice from within.
"Auror Potter reporting for duty," said Harry, entering.
"You don't look like you've just spent a month in South America," said Robards, taking out his wand and waving it.
Harry felt a chill course through his limbs. When he glanced at his hand, it was a soft golden brown. Of course. You couldn't avoid a tan in that kind of weather, not even if sunlight normally just made you turn pink. A minor detail, yet a crucial one, and he hadn't even thought of it. Somewhere along the line, Malfoy had stolen his wits. "Thanks, boss," said Harry. "I've been too preoccupied."
"So have we all. Kingsley told me to send you to him as soon as you reported in. He's been quite free with my men lately."
"What do you mean?" asked Harry. He'd always worked more with Kingsley than with Robards, but that had not been the case for the other Aurors.
"You'll find out, I'm sure," said Robards. "Go on; I'm sure he already knows you're here. He'll have my hide if I keep you too long. We'll talk later."
Harry nodded, walked out, and headed for the lifts. Dread crept through him as he ascended to the Minister's floor. What if something had gone wrong? What if Malfoy had been caught already? Even if he hadn't, it would happen very soon unless Harry could find him.
Kingsley was waiting outside the lift. "Harry!" he said. "You're looking very well."
"Thanks, Kingsley," said Harry, grinning. "You were right about the holiday. It's done me a world of good."
"Of course, of course," said Kingsley, ushering Harry into his office. "Sit down. Coffee?"
"No, thanks," said Harry. "I've had breakfast." He could hardly believe that Kingsley was not himself. Hermione had warned him, but seeing it was different from hearing someone speak of it. If Harry hadn't known the truth, he would not have suspected a thing. "How have things been?"
"Haven't you followed the news?" asked Kingsley.
"Not really," said Harry truthfully. "Mexico shut the news about the Statute breach out, and they don't care much about England anyway. There is one thing, though."
"What is it?"
"I'd like to understand why Hermione's no longer working for the Ministry. She told me to ask you about it."
Kingsley spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "I've had to institute some severe policies to try and deal with the breach. One of them was the decision to temporarily suspend all Muggle-born Ministry employees, for security reasons. Believe me, I miss Hermione's capable mind more than I can say. But if I had kept her on whilst letting all the others go, there would have been riots."
Harry nodded slowly with a deliberately hesitant expression. "I... see."
Kingsley didn't seem to notice Harry's discomfort. "I do have a task for you."
"I hope you don't want me to work the Conference Globes," muttered Harry. "I never did understand how they--"
"No, no," said Kingsley. "I need your help in Knockturn Alley. The smugglers are getting out of control."
Harry didn't even need to feign shock. "I thought McKenna would have taken care of it by now."
"McKenna's off the case," said Kingsley. "You'll remember he was a Hit Wizard before the Compound. Right now I need Hit Wizards more than I need Aurors, so McKenna's been helping train new recruits. The black market's thriving like never before. I have to make sure it's kept in check."
One thing was different, Harry realised. Kingsley kept saying "I" instead of his usual "we", as though he was the Ministry. He frowned even deeper. "Didn't you say you would need my help with sorting out the Statute breach? Before I went on holiday?"
"I do," said Kingsley. "But I need the smuggler situation resolved sooner, and there's no one who knows it better than you."
"But I'll need men," said Harry in his best stubborn voice. "Hit Wizards. How do you expect me to deal with a dozen smugglers' rings by myself?"
"More like three dozen, these days," said Kingsley. "And naturally I'll make your old teams available once you've got a plan in place. The whole thing shouldn't take longer than a few months, I don't think. Besides, I'm hoping that by then we'll no longer need an increased Hit Wizard presence."
Harry suppressed a shudder at the thought of what Kingsley actually meant by that. "Fine," he said, with a touch of reluctance for good measure. "It'll be nice to finish the job, I suppose. Even if I do have to start from the beginning."
"That's the spirit," said Kingsley. "I knew you wouldn't let me down. Now, I've got a meeting in three minutes, but do drop by later -- I want to hear all about your holiday."
"Will do," said Harry, heading out the door. As he shut it, on impulse, he leaned close and listened.
"...regarding the whereabouts of Millicent and Patrick Vaisey."
Harry sprang back from the door, cast a quick glance around, and darted towards the lift. Shit. He could only hope the Vaiseys hadn't left a trail. He needed to tell Robards about this and discuss their next move, but when he got to Robards's office, it was empty.
"Gone up to see the big boss," said Stangerson as Harry stood, bewildered, outside Robards's office.
Harry's head suddenly felt as though it were still in Colorado's heat. Sweat-drops beaded on his forehead, and he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. There wasn't one there, but he felt the rough edges of Malfoy's photograph. Fucker replaced his Invisibility Cloak with that piece of filth. What had he been trying to say? That the Cloak and the photo were equal in value? What a joke. "You've got a cousin named Eric, haven't you?" he asked, turning to Stangerson.
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Eric, sure. He's a bit of a wanker, though; never had much to do with him."
"Fitting," murmured Harry. "Thought so," he said for Stangerson's benefit. "I think I might've spent part of my holiday with your cousin."
"Ugh, I don't envy you," said Stangerson.
"Well, it's all over now," said Harry with false cheerfulness. "Back to the grinder; another day, another Galleon; plus all those other beautiful sayings about work." He set off towards his cubicle.
Behind him, Stangerson snorted. "Hear, hear. See you, Potter."
Harry sank into his chair and looked blankly at his desk. When he'd left, the pile of letters in his IN tray had been three high. Now, he couldn't even see the tray. It was as though a parchment-and-envelope volcano had erupted all around it. With a sigh, he began to go through the mess. Reports on the Death Eaters in Azkaban... a love letter from that one witch in Campbellford... a memo from Experimental Charms, wrongly addressed... a death threat... a "confirmed" Voldemort sighting... His hands sorted the paperwork with detached precision, but his mind was elsewhere.
Trouble was, Harry wasn't sure where exactly. He just knew it was wherever Malfoy had gone. How long would it take him to get here, without any money? Harry hoped Malfoy would have sense enough not to touch his Gringotts account. It was doubtful that the Death Eaters would watch it, but the possibility existed. The minute Eva Kay learned that Draco Malfoy was alive, everything would be lost. Kingsley's job for him was demeaning -- not to mention that the idea of it must've come straight from Eva, to keep Harry busy -- but it gave him an excuse to be away from the office, to go out looking for Malfoy. It was the ideal assignment, really, rankle though it did.
"Where are you?" he murmured, lifting an envelope close to his face to read the tiny lettering of the address. He suddenly felt Malfoy's mouth on his again, a phantom yet unrelenting pressure. Why had Malfoy done that? Just to confuse him? Or did Malfoy... no. The situation was bad enough without speculating on Malfoy's motives. Harry just needed to find him before someone else did.
Don't lie. You want to see him. You want to ask him about the kiss. About the other thing, too. You want to understand what's happened to you.
That small, nagging voice again. What Harry wouldn't give to be rid of it. He just wanted Malfoy safe so Kingsley could be helped. He wanted his Cloak back. That was all. It didn't matter that he felt awful about what he'd said to Malfoy yesterday. The feeling would pass. Besides, he'd apologised. He'd acknowledged it had been wrong, but Malfoy had to go and kiss him anyway, to try and fuck with Harry's head. It wouldn't work.
Millicent stared out at the castle looming in the distance. She had never thought she would be back at Hogwarts again -- the school was the students' realm. Even parental visits were rarely allowed, except when a student was ill or had to go home early. Would she and Patrick send their children here one day? The thought alone made her feel somewhat unreal: last year at this time -- hell, even three months ago -- she would never have thought that she would contemplate children so soon. She turned away from the castle's silhouette and went back inside the Shrieking Shack.
It was important that they weren't seen; as new Auror recruits, they were supposed to be at the Compound learning all sorts of trade secrets, and if word got out they were elsewhere, there'd be trouble. So they'd chosen this hiding place. If any brave locals ventured close enough, the place could be made to appear haunted again. Granger had been right; there really were no ghosts or Boggarts here. Not that they would have stopped Millicent. She and Patrick needed to be close to Hogwarts for however long it took them to narrow down the identity of Eva Kay. Now all they had to do was find a way inside.
Patrick looked up from his Daily Prophet as she entered. "It hasn't moved, has it?"
"Hogwarts. You've been going outside to look at it as if you're afraid it'll run away."
Millicent made a face at him. "I think I have an idea," she said. "Did we buy quills and parchment? Ink?"
Patrick pointed at a large sack emblazoned with the Flourish & Blotts crest. "Essentials of the spy trade. I picked some up while you were haggling for that ratty owl."
"Tofflesby is a good owl," said Millicent. She'd named the creature after her wedding planner, in a bout of superstitious hope for similar efficiency.
Tofflesby hooted excitedly and soiled the floor of his cage. "QED," said Patrick and wrinkled his nose.
"He'll do," said Millicent. She pulled out a stack of parchment and broke the protective nib off a quill. Patrick got up and walked closer to the window -- it was too dark to write in the rest of the house, and they didn't want anyone seeing light in these long-dead windows.
Dear Neville, Millicent wrote. I've got something important to tell you. Please meet me by the Hogsmeade train station at eleven o'clock tonight. Love from Hannah Abbott
"Abbott?" asked Patrick, and then his face cleared. "Oh. She was with him at our wedding. You think it's a thing between them?"
"I have no idea, but she's the only person I could think of. I can't sign my own name."
"That's right, you can't," said Patrick, gesturing at the Prophet on the collapsing sofa. "All post is still being screened, even though they've stopped going after the Muggle-borns' parents."
"Oh, so they're screening the teachers' letters officially now?"
"Not officially," said Patrick. "But Kingsley's dead thorough, always has been."
"I wonder what your mother thinks about all this."
"I wish I knew," said Patrick, picking absently at a fraying curtain as he peered out at the Forbidden Forest.
Millicent folded the letter and tied it to Tofflesby's leg. "Take this to Neville Longbottom at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," she told him. "And don't return right away. Fly south first, then double back."
The Crime Scene barriers were long gone, but Draco's Berlin flat still had a sinister feel to it. It was clean -- Dusty had had nothing to do but tidy up, all these weeks -- but the events that had driven Draco from here still inhabited the air like faceless ghosts. It took him five minutes to step over the threshold where Blaise had lain. "Do you know where they took him?" he asked Dusty.
The elf shook its head. "Mr Zabini was taken away in a Muggle machine. Dusty could not follow without orders."
The sitting room curtains blocked out the morning, and Draco was reminded of the time he'd caught Potter snooping around in his mother's bedroom. "What about the Auror, Potter? Did you see him?"
"Mr Potter took Master's father away. He came back later and stole some of Master's things. Dusty has punished herself every day for failing to stop him."
"He only stole one thing," said Draco. "The rest he took because I told him to. Why didn't you try to stop him?"
"Dusty heard Mr Potter say to the German wizards that Master was dead. If Dusty showed herself, they would have known Master couldn't be dead. Dusty knew Master was alive, but Dusty didn't think Master wanted anyone to know that. So Dusty hid in a cupboard until people stopped coming back."
"You've done well," said Draco. "I will give you clothes--"
"NO!" cried Dusty, falling to its knees and stretching out its arms towards Draco. "Please, Master, Dusty will be better--"
"Stop wailing," said Draco, scowling down at it. "I wasn't finished. I have to give you clothes so you can leave this flat. We're going to England. You can enter my service again at Malfoy Manor."
The elf choked back a sob. "M-Master..."
"I said, stop it," said Draco. "Get my things packed." Potter would come here first, he had no doubt. He wished he could leave his belongings to avoid tipping Potter off, but the emergency stash of Galleons he kept in his bedroom wouldn't stretch too far, and he couldn't simply walk into Gringotts and ask for more. Dead men generally couldn't do that. "I can't stay here much longer."
"Yes, Master," croaked Dusty, and hurried towards the bedrooms.
Draco sat down on the sofa and threw his head back, closing his eyes. He couldn't stand being here. He couldn't shake the feeling that at any minute, Blaise would pop up next to him. He was glad he had Dusty; he didn't think he could handle going inside his bedroom. Or his mother's bedroom, for that matter. He wondered how his parents were doing. They had enough money to stay in St Mungo's for the rest of their lives, but Draco had no intention of giving up on them -- there had to be a cure, somewhere. As soon as the danger passed, he would take his parents home and hire people to care for them. There would be an ocean of Galleons for anyone who could bring their minds back. But first, he had to stop those who threatened his family, Crabbe first of all.
Draco gripped the sofa cushion in his fist and squeezed. Something sharp jabbed his wrist. He opened his eyes: it was a steel-reinforced quill pen of German make. Engraved upon it were the words Happy Birthday from Theodore.
"I can't find it anywhere," said Blaise with a vexed look. "Call me crazy, I love that thing."
"Why?" asked Draco. "It's so bulky. Or is it the engraving's high sentimental value?"
"It's proof of progress," said Blaise with a long-suffering roll of his eyes. "Proof that wizardkind is moving forward and trying to break away from our antediluvian traditions."
Draco scoffed. "I like our traditions. Anyway, it'll turn up."
"You're sure you haven't seen it? Accio quill pen!" The pen flew up from wherever it had been on the floor and poked Blaise's outstretched palm. "Ouch! There it is."
Draco took the pen out of Blaise's hand and dropped it onto the sofa next to him. "Never mind your fucking gadget," he murmured, leaning close to lick the droplet of blood off Blaise's palm. "I've got something else here for you to play with."
Something was emitting a pitiful whine, and at first Draco thought that Dusty had decided to have itself a good cry for the road, but then he realised it was him. He still clutched the steel pen in his hand. His nails dug into his palm, but that pain was nothing, an afterthought. This was the first time he'd been truly alone since Blaise's death, and the sense of loss was keener than ever. His eyes were dry, but he couldn't stop the sound coming from his throat. He let it turn into a shout, rage and sorrow filling the flat's dead silence. This was no time for tears. He didn't care if the neighbours heard him. Sometimes you had to scream.