Title: Interregnum [Chapter 32]
Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 4100 words
Summary: It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 32
"Professor Snape had a mother?" asked Millicent, baffled. She had always assumed that Severus Snape had emerged fully formed from whatever hell had borne him.
Granger just sat and stared at the list, blinking as though wishing she could unsee it. "Eileen Prince," she whispered. Millicent could practically hear gears creaking underneath all the hair.
George scratched his head. "Ron, didn't you and Harry--"
"Yeah, we did," said Ron. He turned to Granger. "I'm pretty sure I know where Snape's family lived. Me and Harry went back there a couple of years ago -- he wanted to see where his mum grew up. Since they were supposed to be neighbours--"
"We need to tell Harry," said Granger, whose ability to pay attention to anything around her seemed to have disappeared all of a sudden.
Malfoy's wand hadn't been difficult to find, half-submerged in a mud bank that still bore signs of struggle.
Facing the American Aurors was a different story. Harry stood outside the safe-house, hidden by the Invisibility Cloak, wondering what he was going to tell them. Sean and Jake had had no real reason to hide Malfoy aside from whatever he must've told them about Harry. So Harry just would have to be careful with what he said. He had no authority here, not since this morning's announcement. He didn't even know where he stood with Robards. All he knew was that he was determined to complete this investigation, with or without official sanction, and for that he'd need to make the Americans his new best friends.
Before he could move, the door opened. Jake strolled out, followed closely by Sean, both of them in Muggle clothing. Sean carried a map.
"Silloth," said Jake. "That's what she said."
Sean held up the map, wrinkled his forehead, and turned it around. "Here it is," he said, poking at the map with his finger. "I don't know why they can't just come here."
"Stacey's still mad at me," said Jake. "That's why."
Sean hooked an arm round Jake's neck and tugged him forward. "Tried apologising?"
"Twice," said Jake as he extricated himself. "Didn't work. She'd been after the Cavallone kid for three years, but how was I supposed to know that?"
"She'll get over it," said Sean, trotting down the steps. He nearly brushed Harry, who froze. Silloth. The Americans were meeting there -- at least three of them. Should he follow? Yes.
Jake and Sean disappeared around the corner. Harry Apparated.
Silloth was a tiny town on the Solway coast, and it didn't take Harry long to find them: within five miles, Auror brands could be used for tracking. By the time he caught up to them with point me, the American Aurors, all six of them, were sitting on the harbour steps by a promenade, eating fish and chips. Harry got as close to them as he dared, but they seemed to be having a reunion of some sort and mentioned nothing about the case. Strange people. Harry left them to it and went back to London. He couldn't stay in the open for too long; any Aurors the new and improved Kingsley could spare were probably trying to search for his brand already. Plus it would be dark soon, and he needed to convince Ginny to go back to the safe-house. He'd deal with the Americans tomorrow.
The kitchen was quiet but for Kreacher, who sat next to the stove, supervising a pot and muttering under his breath. "Master Harry," he croaked unenthusiastically. "There were Aurors outside earlier."
"Kreacher sent them away," said Kreacher with a sly look. "Kreacher said Master Harry has gone back to America."
"Thanks, Kreacher," said Harry, grinning. It wouldn't take long for the Auror Department to work out that Harry hadn't gone to America, but any time bought was good. He had no illusions about outrunning the Aurors forever. Just long enough to finish this.
He hurried up to the spare bedroom, intending to leave Malfoy's wand with Ginny, but she was fast asleep in an armchair by the window. Harry looked down at her for a few long moments, waiting for his heart to start beating faster, but it never did. Ginny was lost to him irrevocably; he'd never quite been able to believe that until now. The future he had dreamt of -- a wedding, Christmases at the Burrow, the sound of tiny feet in these gloomy corridors -- would never come to pass. Not with Ginny.
Harry turned away sharply and walked to the bedside cabinet. He placed Malfoy's wand there and turned to leave, but Malfoy's eyes flew open.
"You found my wand," rasped Malfoy.
"I did," said Harry. "Are you feeling better?" He'd tried to put what happened out of his mind and had been mostly successful, but here and now, at the sound of Malfoy's voice, knowing he wore nothing underneath that sheet, Harry felt his face burn at the memory of how Malfoy ended up in this bed.
Malfoy nodded. "Weasley's better at healing magic than she lets on," he said. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Harry bit his lip. His shirt collar felt too tight. "Listen, what happened--"
"Nothing happened," Malfoy interrupted. "I passed out. I'm supposed to be dead. You couldn't take me to St Mungo's, so you brought your girlfriend to help."
"She's not my girlfriend," said Harry. "And you know that's not what happened."
"No, I don't," said Malfoy with a pointed glare. "You chased me, I passed out, I woke up here, all's well that ends." He dropped his voice and added, "You know it's better this way."
Harry looked at him. "Yeah," he said, frowning. Malfoy could use all this against Harry easily, so why wouldn't he? "It's like you said."
Malfoy eased his head back down and shut his eyes. "Go, or you'll wake her."
Harry still wanted to kiss him.
Hermione. Why was she calling so late? Harry snatched his two-way out. "Yeah?"
The last time Harry had been here, Spinner's End had been bathed in sunlight. It had made his mother's childhood, glimpsed only once in a hazy memory, seem more real -- here was a swing set and there was a little brook, filthy but lively against all odds. And further off was the small wood where Lily and Petunia Evans had first met Severus Snape.
Now, all was dark, and the swing set creaked, unseen, like a hoary tree fed up with its lot. Severus Snape had been dead for years, and his mother waited in the decrepit house up the street. George and Ron had come here an hour before to ascertain someone was home. The area outside Snape's house was fit to burst with Decoy Detonators rigged to explode at an unwary touch. Millicent was up one of the trees keeping watch, but Harry didn't think they'd need to worry about Obliviating any of the Muggle neighbours. Everyone slept.
Eileen Prince had disappeared shortly after her husband's mysterious death, when her son was about to leave Hogwarts. Everyone had assumed she was guilty and in hiding; it hadn't occurred to the Hit Wizards to find out if she might've left the country under an assumed name. Millicent and Patrick's investigation had led to the right answer -- both in that long-ago crime and this newer, bigger one. The only thing Harry still didn't understand was why. Truth be told, he didn't care. He wanted Kingsley back and order restored, even though there would be no normal life for him to return to.
A silent streak of blue light whizzed across the front door to Snape's -- Eileen Prince's, now -- house. George had disabled the last of the Intruder Charms. A moment later, a dark shape flew up over the roof -- George had mounted his broomstick and gone to join Ron to keep watch above. Harry raised his lit wand and swept it down in a wide arc. Up ahead, three shadows moved underneath the long-dead streetlamp: Kayla Singh, Jake Cook, and Dennis Lee. Americans all, but they were all the Aurors he could use right now. He hadn't contacted Robards about the raid; he hadn't dared.
Beside him, Hermione checked the Transsieve at her belt and the Extendable Ears she'd hooked up to avoid it making noise. She nodded to Harry. All clear.
"Malfoy?" whispered Harry.
"Still here," replied Malfoy, who was hidden underneath Harry's Invisibility Cloak.
"Keep pace," murmured Harry. He gestured to the rear guard -- Sean Aldworth, Stacey Moran, and James Stanton -- to follow and moved towards the entrance, where the others were already waiting. Kayla twirled her wand, and the door opened into a gloomy entranceway, beyond which Harry could faintly make out the kitchen where a little boy had once cowered in a corner whilst his mother and father shouted at each other.
The nine of them walked single-file, quiet, wands at the ready. The last thing Harry was going to do was underestimate Eileen Prince -- surprise may be on their side, but who knew what the woman was capable of? They needed to get in sight of the King of Kings. It couldn't be summoned by anyone except the Guardian. Harry moved to the front of the line and motioned for the others to wait. There were no Intruder Charms inside.
Homenum Revelio. The grid appeared, but it didn't seem to represent this house at all. It was a single-level dwelling, but the grid showed three floors, with a faint human shape at the bottom. What the hell? Harry glanced at Hermione, who pointed at the floor. Oh. Underground. That was bad. What if the house had secret passages like Hogwarts? Harry hadn't even thought of that.
Hermione pointed her wand at the floor, her eyebrows knitting together. A rectangle of light began to glow next to the stove. Harry approached it, beckoning to the others as he went. An unlocking spell sent the trapdoor swinging open. Harry cast Homenum Revelio again. The human figure downstairs hadn't moved.
The trapdoor led into a cavernous sitting room furnished more lavishly and decorated more elaborately than any room Harry had ever seen. Deep green silk and velvet everywhere, torches in massive silver sconces -- Malfoy must've felt right at home. Paintings hung along every wall, though none were moving. Harp music issued from the walls, and Hermione gave a little gasp of recognition. Harry didn't ask.
The tiny human shape in the grid moved. Harry held up a closed fist, then spread his fingers out. Hide. He reached out blindly and grabbed an edge of his Invisibility Cloak, then got a better grip on Malfoy's arm and tugged him towards the nearest bit of drapery. For all her cunning, Prince couldn't have been terribly concerned about intruders -- there were enough wall hangings in this room to conceal an entire troop of Aurors, never mind nine renegades.
Once hidden, Harry leaned as close as he could and murmured, "Stay close to me." Malfoy jerked his arm out of Harry's grasp. Harry could practically see the irritation on his face.
The figure in the grid began to move upwards as though riding in a lift. Maybe there was a lift--?
"Here," whispered Malfoy. The drapery in front of them became transparent, like that day Malfoy had caught Harry during the search of his Berlin flat and turned an entire wall transparent so Harry could watch Zabini fuck him. Harry didn't have time to relive the embarrassing events that followed, however: directly in front of them, the inside of the fireplace glowed. The logs inside disappeared, and a woman stepped out. She was the most beautiful woman Harry had ever seen, no doubt about it, but anyone could be beautiful with anti-aging potions and appearance-altering spells. The harp music swelled to a crescendo as she walked towards the largest sofa, and Harry wondered if she timed it that way on purpose.
Prince waved her wand, and a flute of champagne appeared on the table. She took a delicate first sip, then downed the rest as Firewhisky from a bottle. Harry's muscles were screaming with tension. He wanted to get the bitch now, before she suspected anything, but the King of Kings came first. Malfoy had explained that she would need to keep it close at all times and touch it often: she wasn't the true Guardian and thus had to rely on the thing's flesh memory to keep its loyalty.
Sure enough -- after refilling the flute, Prince bent down and slid a box from underneath the coffee table. From the box she extracted a tiny silver statuette of a lion. Harry felt material whisper at his feet. Malfoy had removed the Invisibility Cloak. He turned to Harry with the vacant look of one Imperiused, and Harry shrank back in surprise as Malfoy's eyes turned from grey to silver -- the exact colour of the little figurine in Eileen Prince's hands. Malfoy flung the drape aside with unexpected grace.
"Come," he intoned, and Harry understood at once that as much as the King of Kings was supposed to obey his Guardian, the Guardian was just as susceptible to the King of Kings. None of Malfoy's actions of the past few moments had been rational; they'd been guided by magic so dark Harry couldn't fathom it.
Anyway, he didn't have time for modern Dark Arts philosophy; the King of Kings was hurtling into Malfoy's outstretched hands, and Eileen Prince's angelic face contorted as she whipped out her wand. Expelliarmus.
Harry cast it with a suddenly vicious anger, and the force of the spell made Prince fall backwards against the sofa. Jake stepped out from behind another drape and picked up her wand, tucking it absently into his pocket. The others slowly emerged as well, each new face an obvious shock to Prince, who cringed visibly as they all appeared.
"Eileen Prince, you're under arrest for multiple counts of attempted murder, conspiracy against the wizarding government, and gross violation of numerous international laws," said Harry, approaching the sofa. The woman's eyes had turned into slits, but somehow she was still beautiful. "Under Paragraph Ninety-Six of Ministry Decree Eighteen-dash-Eight, due to the severity of your crimes, you have no right to a trial; your sentence of life imprisonment is immediate and irrevocable. You will be taken to Azkaban Prison upon--"
Prince began to laugh. Harry tried to continue speaking over her, but it was useless. Her laughter grew like an unseen beast. There was no malice or madness in it; she sounded genuinely delighted. As soon as Harry gave up trying to talk, she stopped laughing abruptly and turned to him. "Well done," she said, her voice cheerful. "You win and I lose; you don't have to look so stern."
Prince bent forward and held her hand atop the champagne glass, as though hesitating whether or not to pick it up. She finally did pick it up, and then leaned back against the sofa, every inch the mistress of the house receiving a bothersome but mildly amusing guest. She took a sip of the champagne and smiled. "You look just like your father."
"Madam Prince, I must ask you to submit to the authority of the Ministry," said Harry, who had absolutely no idea what to do; never in his career had a suspect ever behaved like this.
"My name is Eva Kay. Eileen Prince died with her son. The son your father helped send to an early grave. Your father, your turncoat bitch of a mother, and the rest of them. His father, too," she spat, nodding at Malfoy, who stood holding the King of Kings and muttering something under his breath.
"Madam Kay, if you insist," said Harry, who was definitely not going to listen to her excuses, especially if they involved his mother. "I must ask you to rise and submit to be bound so that you may be taken to Azkaban Prison. Otherwise, I must force you to comply." The regulation phrases rolled off Harry's tongue as though he hadn't been sacked earlier that day. But he had the authority to make the arrest: he still had his brand.
Prince took another sip of champagne. "I don't think I shall," she said, and tapped the base of the flute with a lacquered fingernail. "I think I'll quit whilst I'm ahead."
"Accio champagne flute!" cried Hermione, her voice so shrill Harry thought he'd go deaf. The flute sailed out of Prince's hand, spilling golden drops on the polished floor. "Moran!"
Stacey Moran sent a jet of black light towards the flute, which disintegrated in a shower of purple flakes. "Pure belladonna root extract," said Moran gloomily after sniffing one of the flakes. "She'll be dead within a minute."
"What if we give her an antidote?" demanded Harry.
Hermione and Moran both gave him slightly scornful looks.
"Against belladonna root?" asked Moran. "An antidote will just make her suffer before she dies, even a bezoar. What do they teach you in Auror school?"
"She put the poison into the champagne just now, before picking it up, but I didn't realise," stammered Hermione, looking apologetic now. "I'm sorry, Harry."
"Mmm, yes, for a Mudblood you're quite astute," trilled Prince, her words slurring a little.
"You married a Muggle," snapped Harry. "What do you care about her blood?"
"People change, little Harry," said Prince serenely. She folded her arms across the chest. "It's a pity I won't leave behind a beautiful corpse, as the Americans like to do." Her forehead shone with sweat.
Jake growled low in his throat. "You had Buck Fallon killed, you bitch."
He started towards her, but Sean restrained him. "She's dead anyway."
"Why?" demanded Hermione in a trembling, high voice. "Why did you do it? What did you want?"
"What did I want?" repeated Prince, wheezing. "Tell me, little girl. What would you want if you came home to your son after twenty years and found him dead and forgotten? And when you read his notes -- the memoir that no one will ever want to publish, if you find out he sacrificed himself? All to make sure your precious Ministry-approved way of life wasn't threatened." She coughed wetly, shuddering. Her hands were balled into tight fists. "What... would you want?"
There was a brief pause where Harry thought she'd keep on talking, but her eyes rolled back and she fell over, convulsions wracking her delicate frame. Harry, Hermione, and the six Aurors stood frozen. Malfoy still muttered over the King of Kings, lost to the world.
Kayla Singh broke through the tableau; she rushed to Prince's side, but the woman was already still. The others approached the sofa as though sleepwalking. Harry joined them, too, still stunned. The woman on the sofa appeared to have shrunk: death had reversed the effects of her potions. Her sallow skin was a mass of wrinkles, and her liver-spotted hands seemed claw-like, gnarled fingers grasping at invisible ropes, clinging to life even in defeat. Harry looked away.
"It's done," said Malfoy in a hollow voice. "Shacklebolt's free." He clutched the silver statuette to his chest and leaned heavily against the wall behind him, his face even whiter than usual.
"Who was her son?" asked Sean.
"He was our teacher," said Harry quietly. "And the Order's best spy. He died alone." After a pause, he added, "She was right about that, you know. He didn't deserve to be forgotten."
He turned swiftly and made for the stairs back to the kitchen. Hermione could take the rest from here; he felt ill and he wanted to be alone. They had won, but the victory tasted like bitter ashes. Harry wanted to breathe the night-time air, to tell the watchers outside that all was well, to pretend for a few minutes that life would go on as before, after this.
People change, little Harry. Eileen Prince had said that. Maybe it was time for him to change.
"I'm taking him home."
"Madam Vaisey," said the Healer, assuming a look of absolute authority. "That would be exceptionally unwise."
"I didn't say I was wise," said Millicent loftily. "I said I am taking my husband home."
"His condition can't possibly improve without qualified professional care," said the Healer, crossing her arms as she stood in the doorway to the closed ward. "I must urge you to reconsider--"
"I've got your qualified professional care right here," said Millicent, thrusting the book she'd brought under the Healer's nose.
"The Care and Feeding of Your Squirrel? Is this some sort of joke, Madam--?"
"It's not a joke," growled Millicent. "Now let me through."
It was no contest, really; Millicent was twice the Healer's size. Five minutes later, she was holding a bewildered-looking Patrick's hand and marching him out of St. Mungo's.
She wasn't going to pull an Augusta Longbottom and sit by, waiting for St Mungo's to do something they already said they can't. Millicent's ambition since childhood was to become an Obliviator. Now she would become the first Obliviator to understand and reverse the effects of the Fog, even if it took her whole life to do it. She would get him back, no matter what.
Patrick made a chittering noise that bordered on disapproval. Millicent, who had been on the verge of tears, now burst out laughing. "Come on, Mr Grumpy," she said, leading him away from the hospital building. "We're going home."
The guitar's song flowed smoothly through Jake's fingers into the crisp autumn air, ranging far across the promenade. The sea sang along, making the music sound like a part of its own incessant whisper. It was off-season, and there were hardly any Muggles to witness the three wizards sitting on the harbour steps, eating fish and chips and talking in low voices. The sky's white glare obscured the horizon beyond the sea. A seagull swooped down, quick as a ghost, snatching a piece of halibut from the greasy paper in Draco's lap.
"You're welcome," said Draco, who'd had no appetite in the first place. "Stupid bird."
Jake stopped playing. "Hey, don't insult the local wildlife."
"Some wildlife," snorted Draco. "Those things are worse than cats."
Sean looked at his watch. "Time to go, boys," he said. "The Portkey's in an hour."
Draco tossed the rest of the chips onto the rocks beneath the promenade. The seagulls there first scattered then converged, falling upon the food in a frenzy of harsh cawing cries. As Draco rose, the man who'd been sitting on the steps a few yards away from them looked around. Draco's stomach lurched unpleasantly. Potter had come after all.
"Should we--" began Jake, glancing in that direction, but Sean shook his head.
"Leave him be," he said. "If he really wanted to talk to us, he would have."
The three of them began to walk towards the street, Jake carrying his guitar across his shoulders, like a broomstick. Draco wanted to get away as fast as he could. And yet he felt drawn to Potter; the further he walked, the more he felt the tug of an invisible rope compelling him to turn around, to go back, to get in Potter's face, to feel Potter's stubborn, awkward hands on him again. But what had happened must remain in the past, for he and Potter would always walk a different path. Still, a traitorous part of him wondered what it would be like for the two of them, without secrets and power plays. Without the past. He was too afraid that Potter would see that in his eyes if he turned around, so he walked on, noticing too late that Sean had asked him a question.
"Sorry?" managed Draco, attempting a friendly grin. He suspected it looked insincere.
"I said, are you going to visit us one day soon?" Draco's bared teeth didn't seem to bother Sean overmuch.
"I might," said Draco. "I just might."
When he finally turned around to look at the promenade, Potter was gone.