And I'll Tell You No Lies
Harry's breath caught in his throat as the alarms went off, their shrieking only adding to his panic and bewildering jumble of emotions. Damn, they were supposed to get so much farther - he growled in frustration and pushed away the hand reaching for him.
"No! Get out!" Harry stepped back as the Floo powder burst into flame uselessly.
"But you'll get-
"Doesn't matter! I'll slow them down!"
"NO! Come with me!"
Harry couldn't suppress a grim smile. "You're the one who didn't want me too involved."
"To protect you, you idiot! They'll catch you!"
Harry swore under his breath and threw another handful of powder into the Floo, then shoved and shouted, "Little Whinging!"
"Bastard!" was the last word Harry heard as the Floo powder flared again, just before a spell he'd only just learned in training hit him and he froze and toppled over.
"Did you know Malfoy was going to try to enter the building?"
"Did you know what he intended to do once he was inside?"
"Did you give him the password?"
Well that was quick. Harry blew out his breath. "Yes."
Ron's eyebrows went up. "Why did you give him the password?"
"You know why," Harry muttered.
Ron nodded and went on. "Did you know what he was going to do in the Department of Mysteries?"
Ron nodded again and scribbled something onto his parchment. "Did you go with him?"
"What did he do in the Department?"
"I'm not sure."
Ron narrowed his eyes. "All right, then, what did you see him do?"
Harry bit his lip. "He walked to the end of the corridor."
Ron nodded and looked down at his parchment, writing rapidly. "What did he do there?"
"I don't know."
Ron looked up again. "Why not?"
"I didn't go with him."
"What did you see him do?"
Harry tried to suppress the image of a blond head disappearing around the corner of the corridor- "He went around the corner."
Ron's eyes gleamed in triumph. "What was around the corner?"
"I don't know."
"Really," Harry said, irritated. "What do you expect me to say?"
Ron's eyes narrowed again. "I expect you to tell me the truth, Potter," he said curtly.
"Fine." Harry crossed his arms. Ron scribbled a few notes on his parchment, and Harry took a few calming breaths.
Time. He needed time, he needed to block as much as possible, because whether what he'd done was called 'trespass' or 'break and enter' or 'aiding and abetting,' he knew he was in the right, because he had to trust... but then, he couldn't trust, could he? His mind said one thing, his heart said another, and a part of him distantly told himself he should also be observing this internal tug-of-war for some later use, but that was really putting far too much on his plate right now. And Ron was looking up again.
"Why are you protecting him?" Ron asked.
"Because he's doing this for a good reason."
"Are you serious?" Ron looked at him askance. "You think Malfoy is acting for the greater good?"
"Do you know what that reason is?"
"No," Harry admitted. Bloody hell, this did sound daft. And it wouldn't, if he could just explain... what he'd already been told, at all costs, not to explain. Bugger!
"So you don't know why he took the things he did?"
"No." Harry bit his lip. Damn it!
Ron's eyes gleamed again. "Thanks, mate!"
Harry cursed under his breath. "No, that doesn't count, you already knew he took something."
"We didn't know at all," Ron said with a smirk. "We only knew he went into a room."
"Couldn't you ask the Unspeakables who were on duty at the time?"
"If they already know, they're not telling us." Ron turned over his parchment. "So, what did he take?"
"A stone, a net, and a leather harness," said Harry dully.
Ron frowned. "How big a leather harness?"
"Big. Maybe three meters across."
"What colour - no, actually: describe the leather harness."
"Grey, leather. Looked like a harness that would hold a large animal."
Ron's head snapped up. "He took something that looked like it could go around a dragon?"
Ron scribbled frantically. "And what did he do after that?"
"He walked out."
"How did he get past the wards on the fourth level?"
"Used my wand."
"Oh Merlin, you're joking." Ron sat back, shaking his head in dismay. "You just gave your wand to someone who'd just committed a felony?"
Harry bit his lip. It did sound daft, and he wanted, so much, to explain to Ron why and how it had seemed so right - and still seemed so right - to trust, even though he had precious few logical reasons to do so. But it would be futile. He couldn't explain adequately, and could vividly imagine Ron's baffled expression, should he try.
Hell, he could imagine what he'd think if he were in Ron's position right now.
Nothing could have prepared him for this, he realized. What he felt, and what he was supposed to feel, were so weirdly and hopelessly muddled that he couldn't really make heads or tails of what was what. And it was so disorienting, the sharpness of the emotions and impulses, good and bad: excitement, uncertainty, trust, confusion, protectiveness--
"Right." Ron looked at him, nonplussed. "So did you honestly think..." He shook his head and forcibly brought himself back to the interrogation. "How long did you think it would take for you two to be caught?"
"I didn't know. I hoped I could get him out of the building at least."
"Did you realize you might be caught?"
"It didn't seem as important as the mission."
"The mission," Ron repeated. "Even though you have no idea what the mission was about."
Harry squirmed. "No."
"Are you daft? What was supposed to happen if you and Malfoy got separated?"
"He'd left a parchment for me."
"At The Three Broomsticks."
"Exactly where at The Broomsticks?"
"The men's, Disillusioned on the ceiling."
"How were you supposed to see it?"
"The password was Rosmerta."
"And it was supposed to show itself to you if you said that?"
"Time!" said Auror Sullivan, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
Ron gave him a huge grin. "Thanks, mate. That was very informative."
"Sod off," Harry muttered. "And don't look so bloody pleased with yourself."
"Well, he's got cause to be," said Sullivan. "He got you to admit Malfoy got in with the password you gave him, that he went to the Mysteries floor, took three objects, and that you gave him your wand to get him past the fourth level. Not bad for five minutes."
"He missed the fact that--"
"Stop," Sullivan interrupted Harry. "You can't tell him anything else about it. Remember, he's doing a follow-up tomorrow." He turned to Ron. "Not bad," he said grudgingly. "Although you missed the why. Why would an Auror help a suspected criminal like Malfoy?"
Ron's brow furrowed. "I assumed... when he said - well it's just the simulation, right? There's no reason."
"He said, 'You know why,'" said Sullivan. "That's a classic evasion. You assumed it was because of the simulation, or because he's been told to believe Malfoy was doing something good, and didn't bother to dig deeper."
Ron nodded, somewhat abashed.
Sullivan turned to Harry. "That was not bad, Potter."
"Not bad?" Ron repeated, laughing. "About the only thing he didn't give up was the colour of his underpants!"
"No he didn't," said Sullivan, and Harry smirked at Ron. "He didn't tell you why he was helping Malfoy, or what he thought Malfoy was going to do with the objects he took. He just told you he didn't know for sure; I'm sure he's got some ideas, and you could have explored them. You were good, asking him to describe things instead of prompting with colours and shapes, but completely missed something I think you'd be wise to hone up: letting him hang himself with his own words."
"Right, fair enough," said Ron.
"Remember, he's under Veritaserum. He can't help answering. You just have to ask the right questions, and listen carefully to the answers."
"Speaking of which, can I get the antidote now?" Harry said. "This is rather unpleasant."
"Right." Sullivan took a flask out of his briefcase and held it over a small goblet, giving a tsk of annoyance when nothing came out. "Damn, I told Owens to replenish the Veritapara. Sorry, Potter, I'll go get it, I have to go to the Apothecary anyway. I'll bring it to the cafeteria. You two may as well go."
"You all right?" asked Ron as they made their way to down to lunch.
"Yeah, fine, it's just a bit unnerving, not being able to control what I say. You do all the talking, all right?"
"It's that bad?"
"Remember the Imperio exercises?" Ron winced and Harry stifled a chuckle. Between Ron's involuntary striptease and Seamus' lusty rendition of 'I Feel Pretty', most of their training group was still smarting from that particular lesson. "It's a lot like that. All you can do is try to be vague; you really can't control it at all otherwise."
"How would you know what Imperio was like, Mr. Too Cool to Make a Singing Arse of Himself?" Ron said irately. "Bloody hell. Vague. All right, I can be vague. I'll just pretend I'm dodging Hermione asking me about my studies."
"D'you know who you're paired with?"
"I thought I was paired with you," Ron said, opening the cafeteria door.
"I was told they try to mix up the pairs for the second round."
"Bugger." Ron rubbed his forehead. "I dunno, I don't really want to... I mean, some people wouldn't have much moral reason not to take advantage--"
"You know they said they're being careful who they put together for these exercises."
Ron snorted. "Says the bloke who got paired with Malfoy as a fellow Suspect." He shook his head. "I just hope it's not MacLaggen. Or Carmichael."
"That pretty redhead from France seemed nice enough," Harry said, then winced. He really hadn't meant to add the adjective.
"Nice enough, yeah," Ron grinned. "Pretty? I'll have to tell Rousseau you said that."
Harry rolled his eyes in a way he devoutly hoped came off as merely annoyed, instead of furtive or shifty.
"So what happens?" asked Ron, loading his tray with fish and enough greasy chips to make Mrs. Weasley proud and Hermione ill. "You're introduced to your partner in crime, given a set of facts, and then what else?"
"You're told why you're helping them," said Harry, picking out his own lunch. "Then you're given the Credulaserum to make you believe it, and then," he sternly willed himself to sound matter-of-fact about it, "you're 'emotionally bonded' to them." Ron's eyebrows went up and Harry cleared his throat. "You commit the crime - well, you try to, anyway. I really thought we'd get a bit farther than we did." He pushed away the memory of the excitement of watching Malfoy calmly and efficiently rip right through wards and past security measures, the thrill of 'we're getting away with it!' - with a little too much emphasis on the 'we' - "And then after you're arrested, you're given Veritaserum so you can't hide what you know."
"So why were you supposed to be help - ah no, never mind, don't answer that," Ron said, and Harry gave him a grateful smile, telling himself his relief was only due to Ron recognizing the seriousness of their training. Once upon a time they wouldn't have hesitated to use any means necessary to ease their way through classwork, but this was a little different. Auror Training was teaching them vital skills they would need in the future. Getting Hermione to help them write essays - or rather, write the essays for them - was fine for Hogwarts, when they were kids; not here and now.
"D'you really believe it, then?" Ron asked curiously. "That you've got a good reason for helping him?"
"Credulaserum makes it make sense even without the bond thing. I mean, you know it's there, but you still feel like what it makes you believe is perfectly possible. It's a bit confusing."
"What's with the bonding, then? Just to make you feel connected to them in some way, like friends or family or something?"
Harry felt his stomach do a little whoop, not nearly as pleasant as the whoop it had given when he'd seen Malfoy this morning after the bonding. "Erm, something like that, yeah. Depends on the person, I think. I'm not sure; they don't really explain it that much before they cast it."
"Why would they do it, though? I mean, if you've been given Credulaserum, you're already into it, you're already believing you've got to commit the crime, right? What's the point of bonding you?"
"Dunno." Harry paused, chewing thoughtfully. "I think it's maybe because the Credulaserum makes you think you're right in committing the crime, but the bonding makes you... feel it." Feel rather a lot, actually, but he decided he'd rather get polyps than discuss that part with Ron right about now.
Ron gave a cynical snort. "Right. Because Malfoy needs potions and spells to make him feel it's all right to break the law. Waste of good potions, that."
Harry bristled slightly. "Says a bloke who's broken into both the Ministry and Gringotts?"
Ron laughed. "Fair enough." Then he frowned slightly and leaned forward. "I dunno if it's just a rumour or what, but I heard one of us was told they were in love with their fellow Suspect."
Harry shifted uncomfortably.
Ron wrinkled his nose. "Ugh, imagine getting that with Malfoy." He shuddered and Harry squirmed inwardly. "Hope they don't do that for me. The birds in the program are all fit enough, I suppose, but I would not want to explain to Hermione why I'm mooning over somebody else for a week."
"How would she even know?"
Ron chuckled. "Firecall every two days, mate, she'd figure it out." He shook his head. "You're lucky Ginny's not as strict about that." Harry abruptly became very interested in his kidney pie. "Don't get me wrong, I miss Hermione, and I like talking to her... only, not every other bloody day."
Harry nodded uncomfortably and tucked into his lunch, then looked up in relief as Sullivan came hurrying to their table. "Sorry, Potter, the Apothecary's out to lunch. Literally. You've got cell detention after lunch?"
"Just tell the Aurors taking you down to the dungeon to stop by the Apothecary first. She should be back by then."
"Right." Harry nodded and Sullivan hurried off again.
Ron gave him a grin. "Too bad, mate. Don't worry, I won't keep interrogating." He took another bite of his fish. "Yeah, anyway. I can't imagine getting the fall-in-love kind of bond. Bad enough being bonded at all, if it's to somebody like Malfoy."
"It's not that bad," said Harry.
Ron snorted. "Sure. Malfoy. Arrogant git. Why they let him into the Unspeakables I'll never understand."
"He had to go through interviews and tests just like everybody else, you know," Harry said, and wanted to smack himself. Veritaserum didn't mean he had to let loose with everything coming off the top of his head.
Ron laughed. "Listen, mate, I know, you're still high on your bondy-whatsit and Credulaserum, but please. He's a complete tosser. Always has been, always will be."
"He's competent," Harry pointed out. "You know they'd failed out about a third of his group by Christmas, and almost half by Easter."
"He paid someone off, then. Or used his influence."
"What influence? His father's in Azkaban."
"Right, this isn't the right time to talk about this with you," said Ron, chuckling again. "I'm taking the mickey out of you when this wears off, mate. You defending Malfoy like he's your favourite teddy bear."
"He's not," Harry said irately.
"I know," Ron clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Still. Defending the pointy-faced git. It's hilarious."
"Not that pointy-faced, either," Harry muttered, and Ron, damn him, laughed out loud.
"Oh, you are so going to regret this," Ron said, and took a bite of his fish. Harry looked up gratefully as other members of their training group joined them at the table.
"Harry, how was your session?" asked one of their fellow trainees.
"All right--" Harry began.
"You can't ask him about it, right?" Ron broke in. "If you haven't done yours already."
Cormac MacLaggen rolled his eyes. "So if it's something he's not supposed to talk about, he can just say so."
"'Fraid not. Harry here is deep under Veritaserum."
The others laughed.
"Thanks, Ron," said Harry.
"It's a great opportunity, don't you think?" said MacLaggen unpleasantly. "You could ask him just about anything." Harry rolled his eyes and Ron gave him a sheepish grimace. "Say, Harry, who was your first crush?"
"Cho Chang," said a half-dozen voices.
"All right, something a little more personal... who was the first person you slept w--"
"MacLaggen!" said Seamus hastily. MacLaggen raised an eyebrow at him. "Try and remember he's dating a fellow Auror's sister, mate." MacLaggen looked at Ron speculatively and seemed to be weighing the costs and benefits of continuing along this line of questioning, but a quick look around the table disabused him of the idea that it might be worth it.
"Don't ask stuff like that," said Seamus. "Say, what's your favourite Quidditch team?"
"The Hornets," said Harry, and winced.
"That's low, mate," said Ron. "Just for that I'm not going to defend you now. What's your favourite Celestina Warbeck song?"
"Cauldron of Love," said Harry, annoyed, as sniggers broke out among their tablemates. "Keep it up and when you go under I'll ask you what Lavender called you when you were going out with her. And I'll do it in front of a supervisor."
"Yeah, Won-won, people in glass interrogation rooms shouldn't throw stones," said Seamus, and the rest of the table sniggered.
"Ooh, is it safe to ask what pet names Weasley's sister has for him?" asked MacLaggen, and Ron and Harry traded a quick look.
"Shut it, MacLaggen," said Ron. "Come on," he gestured to Harry, and they moved farther down the table to a chorus of good-natured teasing. "That's better. You know, you should go under Veritaserum more often. Then we wouldn't have to sit with him at all."
"What can you avoid saying, anyway?"
Harry thought for a moment. "Dunno. Feels like if it's a rhetorical question, you don't have to say anything. And... maybe if the questioner's being sarcastic? It's really weird, though, I'm not sure I understand all of the exceptions."
"Must be. Like, if I ask you what's the meaning of life?"
Harry waited for the Veritaserum to kick in. "You're not actually asking it," he said after a moment.
"All right, then. What's the meaning of life?"
Ron blinked. "True enough, I suppose." He thought for a moment. "How do you know what's rhetorical?"
"Hm... I think if it's something I know you know, and I know you don't actually expect an answer, I don't have to answer."
"I dunno, try something."
"All right, what's the colour of your hair?"
"Black." Ron laughed. "All right, that didn't work," Harry said sheepishly.
"Then how did you avoid telling me why you were--" Ron stopped himself. "Right, no, can't go there." He thought for a moment. "Why did you go into the Auror program?"
"Lots of reasons."
Ron nodded thoughtfully. "It sounds like you can evade if it's not a definite yes-or-no. If there's only one answer, you can't."
"Yeah, sounds about right."
"All right, which do you prefer, birds or blokes?"
Ron started to laugh, then stopped abruptly. Harry's stomach dropped to the floor.
"... what?" Ron asked after a second.
"It's worn off, has it?" Ron asked.
Ron narrowed his eyes. "What's your middle name?"
"Date of birth?"
"July 31, 1980 stop, please," Harry whispered, closing his eyes.
"You're dating Ginny."
"No, I'm not."
Ron gaped at him for a moment. "Is this why not?"
"Attention all trainees," called out Auror Trainer Sullivan. "Interrogators for this week, report to Room 7. Suspects, please report to the Aurors who will be taking you down to the holding cells." There was a chorus of ribbing as the trainees acting as Suspects groaned and got up, approaching a group of Aurors who smirked good-naturedly and waved magical handcuffs at them.
Ron abruptly pushed his chair back and left, leaving Harry staring after him, his heart pounding.
"Potter!" said Sullivan. "Wake up! You're under arrest, remember? By the way I got your Veritapara, you don't need to go to the Apothecary."
Harry stood up and hurried towards Sullivan, feeling numb. He took the vial and mumbled hasty thanks, and tried to ignore the churning in his gut that had nothing to do with the foul taste of the potion he downed.
Harry waited impatiently as the Trainer for their second session rattled his files about and hemmed and hawed importantly. Bloody officious oaf. He'd fawned at Harry the entire time he'd been commenting over the reports written by the four participants of today's session. Harry's had apparently been absolutely brilliant; Ron's, slightly less so, Unspeakable Trainee Joanna Varley's acceptable, and Malfoy's a total disaster, for no reason Harry could understand. Other than possibly having been written by a Malfoy. Malfoy was taking it remarkably calmly.
Harry glanced over at Ron, who was determinedly re-reading the notes from his first interview, and wished with all his heart that they'd had a chance to talk about what had happened the day before. Wished Ron hadn't left before Harry finally got the Veritaserum antidote, then spent a long and uncomfortable night getting intimately acquainted with the Auror Department's dungeon.
He scratched surreptitiously at the itchy drab grey prison uniform he now wore and wondered what Malfoy thought of his own dark brown robes. All the Suspect trainees, Auror and Unspeakable, had been confined in different cells, prevented from speaking to each other. Which had been quite a nightmare, as Harry tossed and turned in his cell and wondered what Malfoy was doing, if he was all right, and tried to comfort himself with the reminder that this was nothing but a training exercise, and that while the Ministry dungeon might be dark and unpleasantly musty, being made to sleep there was hardly cruel and unusual punishment.
It didn't help much. Especially when his mind helpfully pointed out that the Auror dungeon was harmless enough, but Malfoy was an Unspeakable, and who knew what kind of Unspeakable things happened in their cells?
It was probably a good thing the Suspect trainees were kept apart. If Malfoy had been there, Harry just might have fallen all over himself trying to reassure himself that Malfoy was all right, and embarrassed himself even more. He was having a time not doing that right now, as a matter of fact.
And Malfoy might have been worried about him, too. Wasn't that an unsettling thought. He glanced surreptitiously at Malfoy, taking in his slightly weary expression, slightly bloodshot eyes. There was a very faint resemblance to how he'd looked in Sixth Year, and Harry wondered what he'd gone through the night before.
And oh, shit, now Draco was looking at him, and Harry turned away, cursing the blush staining his cheeks, firmly telling himself to get a grip and not read anything into the fact that Draco looked almost... concerned about Harry?
Malfoy. Malfoy looked concerned. Not Draco.
Harry pushed his glasses up impatiently and glanced at Ron, across the table from him and Malfoy, and wished again that he'd been able to talk to Ron before being dosed up with Veritaserum again.
"All right, then," said Trainer Philips briskly. "Here we go, Day Two of the simulation and Part Two of your interrogation. Remember this is supposed to be about trying out interrogation techniques and practicing working with other Departments, but you are also encouraged to bring in other aspects of your training, such as your knowledge of Dark objects, or spells to counteract Dark Charms, that kind of thing. I'd also like to remind you again that although you two," he nodded at Ron and Varley, "get points for discovering facts relevant to the case, and you two," Harry and Malfoy, "get points for concealing them, your overall score will mostly reflect the way you discovered or concealed. For example, if you asked very good questions but your opponents were simply more skilled at concealing than usual, your score will not be affected all that much. This is very different from real life, boys and girls."
Harry suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. Malfoy didn't.
"Malfoy and Varley, you will be doing your interrogation first. Weasley and Potter, you go after them. Weasley, during the first interrogation I encourage you to observe closely Varley's interrogation methods. Unspeakables are taught slightly different techniques."
He glanced down at his notes. "Now, Weasley and Varley, neither of you figured out the nature of the relationship between the Suspects in your first interrogation, but as somebody seems to have had loose lips about one of the other groups, the Training Committee decided to reveal those particular facts to all the Interrogators." He looked up and gave Harry an apologetic smile. "Sorry to break it to you two," he said to Ron and Varley, "but this pair," he nodded towards Harry and Malfoy, "is supposedly... erm, deeply in love."
Ron nodded, his face blank, and Varley snorted. "Malfoy, somehow this doesn't surprise me," she said scornfully. Malfoy remained stony-faced and focused on Philips as if Varley hadn't spoken at all. She turned to Harry. "Potter, you poor man. Must be hellishly uncomfortable for you, yeah?"
Harry shrugged uneasily. "Fairly, yeah."
Philips gave him a sympathetic smile. "Thanks for not making a fuss about it. It's all part of the 'respect for diversity' rubbish the Ministry's so keen on these days."
Harry's eyes narrowed, and Ron looked up from his notes, a frown on his face. Malfoy looked away, a small smirk playing about his lips. Philips cleared his throat. "I'm all for it, you understand. It's a good thing, really, mostly." Harry stared at him, not sure what he was supposed to say, as Malfoy covered his mouth and gave a small cough. "Making sure there's no repetition of the horrible things that happened to Muggle-borns. Erm, I have a lot of Muggle-born friends, you know," Philips said, almost babbling now.
"But you think it's being taken too far with gays?" Harry asked.
Philips tilted his head slightly, unable to deduce anything from Harry's neutral tone. "It's what the Ministry wants. Always ready to do whatever the Ministry wants."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. Harry crossed his arms. "Funny, that didn't work out so well for Muggle-borns a year ago," he said, disliking Philips more with every second and forcing himself to remember that the man was his superior, and in charge of grading his performance through this part of the simulation.
Philips cleared his throat. "True enough." He cleared his throat again. "Anyway it's, erm, not that I have a problem with poofters."
Varley sniggered. "Dumbledore was one, according to that woman Skeeter."
Philips gave Varley a quelling stare. "As if anyone could believe what Skeeter says." Malfoy's eyes were bright with evident amusement, and Philips shuffled his papers. "Now, erm, once again, do remember that once the clock starts to tick, you are to remain in character. Ready?" He looked at Varley, who took a quick breath and nodded. Philips waved his wand at a small clock, which obediently began ticking quietly.
Harry relaxed slightly as Varley started in on Malfoy, but quickly found himself having to suppress the urge to stop the questions, or take her to task for her hostile manner, or at least jump in and defend Malfoy. Because this wasn't a trainee interrogating a fellow student and play-acting hostility; this was vicious. This wasn't like him and Ron, who could act as opponents if need be, but respected each other deep down.
Or rather... had respected each other. Before yesterday.
"How did you get past the shielding and Confundus Charms on the objects?"
"I used spells from Inne Fable's Law Enforcement Charms and How To Evade Them."
"Right, of course. The fact that Fable's books have been banned in England is naturally of no consequence to you."
To be fair, apparently there had been some on the Training Committee who had questioned the wisdom of allowing Ron and Harry to be paired as Suspect and Interrogator, but in the end the Committee had simply told them to take note of any times when they let each other off easy out of sympathy. There hadn't been any yesterday; Ron had been focused and got a lot of information from Harry. But it had still felt friendly, even through the mock-hostility.
Harry glanced at him, wondering if it would be the same when he got his chance to interrogate Harry today.
"So you expect us to believe this had nothing to do with your political beliefs before coming into the Unspeakable Training Program, then?"
"It does have something to do with your beliefs?"
"No," said Malfoy, annoyed. "I expect you to believe it has nothing to do with my past. Because it doesn't."
Damn, Varley hated Malfoy. Really hated him. The sneer, the scorn dripping from her voice, all of it, was thoroughly heartfelt, and was giving Harry a most ungentlemanly urge to throttle her. And Malfoy wasn't exactly fond of her either, though he was answering her politely enough. Only the occasional clench of his jaw or a narrowing of his eyes betrayed him, as his voice remained steady and controlled, and more than a little distracting to Harry.
It wasn't just the bond spell; it couldn't be. There was just something about his voice. The voice that had so often been sneering and frankly snotty in school had turned calm and professional, and Harry didn't know whether the change was due to simple maturity or to the pressures Malfoy had been under since... well, since his father had gone to prison, he supposed. The many trials Malfoy'd had to endure had changed him profoundly, and the brat Harry had hated for so long had become a man worthy of admiration and respect. Not to mention worthy of ogling.
Oops, too far. Harry reminded himself to concentrate and keep in mind that a lot of what he was feeling was due to Creditulaserum and a bond, and if he could fight off Imperio he could bloody well fight this off too. Never mind that so far, he'd had almost no success in doing so.
Right. The interrogation.
"What did you do then?" Varley asked.
"I took the objects I needed."
"What were they?"
Ron frowned and passed Varley the parchment he'd written on the day before, Varley pushed it away without looking at it as Malfoy listed the stolen items.
She hadn't figured it out the day before, Harry realized. He felt a completely irrational surge of pride in Malfoy, followed by a wish that he'd been able to keep the information from Ron as well.
"Didn't he tell you--" Ron began, and Varley tsk'd impatiently.
"You showed me this yesterday, Weasley," she said. "But the objects weren't on his person when we arrested him."
"Where did you arrest him?"
"That's classified," she said.
Ron rolled his eyes and sat back. "So much for inter-Departmental cooperation," he muttered, then glanced at Philips sheepishly. "Erm, sorry, scratch that," he said. Philips gave him a small smile and murmured a quick spell, erasing the comment from his notes.
"Where did you put the objects?" Varley asked Malfoy, ignoring both Ron and Philips.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I designed a spell to make them vanish to a place I didn't know," he said. "I can't tell you where they are."
Varley blinked at him. "Then how can you find them?"
"I can't. I just didn't want them to fall into the wrong hands."
"Whose hands?" Varley said.
"Aurors," Malfoy said evenly. "Or Unspeakables."
"Those objects were being held by Unspeakables," she pointed out.
"The wrong hands," Malfoy shot back, then pressed his lips together and looked distinctly annoyed with himself. Harry had the impression that he was wondering whether the intensity of his distrust of the Unspeakables was genuine, or due to Credulaserum, and was thrown off balance by his inability to tell for sure. Harry could certainly sympathize.
"Where were you trying to go when we apprehended you?"
"I don't know that either," said Malfoy.
"Nice evading, Malfoy," said Varley, giving him a thin smile. "But you can stop dancing. Potter already told us everything. We know where your meeting place was supposed to be."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Nice try, Varley. Potter couldn't have. I didn't tell him."
Varley pursed her lips, slightly annoyed. "Why not?"
Malfoy didn't look at Harry, but his lips pressed together briefly. "Because I didn't want to get him any deeper into trouble."
"So much for protecting your boyfriend, Malfoy," she said, sneering. "He spent the night in even worse accommodations than yours."
Harry rolled his eyes. Somebody was enjoying this a little too much. And what was that about Auror cells being worse than Unspeakables? What, did the Unspeakables house their detainees in Rooms of Requirement?
"What do you think of him?"
Malfoy blinked. "Of Potter?"
A blush rose in Malfoy's cheeks. "I love him."
Malfoy shrugged helplessly. "Why does anybody love anybody else?" he said, and Harry reflected that he himself could probably answer the question pretty well. Hopefully nobody would ask him, because the answer would probably involve embarrassing observations about Malfoy's hands, his trim build, his voice... but maybe the bond spell worked differently in different people.
Varley was smirking slightly. "Is it his looks?"
"Partly," said Malfoy tightly.
"That too, partly."
"Want to take him home and snuggle him?"
"Not snuggle, no," said Malfoy, and bit his lip and looked down. Ron and Philips sniggered.
All right, enough was enough. Harry glared at Varley and leaned forward. "That's not - there's no reason to ask--"
"You're both here to be questioned, Potter," Varley interrupted, though she'd startled slightly as he intruded into her personal space. "I have my reasons for going here, and I don't need to defend them to you."
"Don't give me that rubbish!" Harry turned to Philips. "Is she allowed to just--"
"The simulation got them to fall in love for a reason, right?" Varley said. "And we're supposedly interrogating them together for a reason too. Right? I'm just trying to figure out why."
Philips nodded apologetically. "I'm afraid she's right, Potter. Sorry. And please don't interrupt again. You're all supposed to stay in character until the interrogation is over."
Harry crossed his arms and set his jaw, but sat back again. Malfoy shifted in his seat, moving slightly closer to Harry.
Varley nodded, writing on her parchment. "Why didn't we find anything at The Three Broomsticks' men's room?"
"The password wasn't supposed to work for anybody but Harry."
Harry gulped. Harry. Not Potter. Malfoy's lips pressed together in evident annoyance at himself.
Varley smirked. "And what was Harry supposed to get from the parchment you left him?"
"Information about what I was doing. And what to do next to protect himself, if I'd been arrested."
"Why did you put a trace on him?"
Harry blinked. "What?" he asked. Ron gave him a sharp glance and Malfoy looked away, his cheeks darkening slightly.
"He put a trace on you," said Varley. "You didn't know, did you?"
Harry shook his head. "No I--"
"You're not interrogating Potter yet," Malfoy said sharply.
Varley glanced at Philips, who nodded. She turned back to Malfoy. "You didn't tell him about the trace?"
Harry pressed his lips together. Damn it. Malfoy hadn't trusted him.
"I was worried that he would be compromised."
"In what way?"
"That somebody might wonder what he was doing. Try to trace where he was going. Make him do something I should know about."
"Is that all?" Varley smirked, glancing from Malfoy to Harry and back. "There wasn't any lack of trust here, was there? Keeping tabs on your boyfriend, to make sure he wasn't going to double-cross you? Did that have anything to do with it?"
There was a slight hesitation. "A bit," Malfoy said, through gritted teeth, and Harry couldn't suppress a sense of betrayal and outrage, which was ridiculous. And a sense of guilt as well, which was even more ridiculous. "Mostly it was for his own protection."
That had to be true. Harry took a deep breath.
Varley nodded briskly. "Not entirely, though. No honour among thieves, is there?" She paused and gave Harry a brief apologetic glance, then cleared her throat and continued.
Malfoy was actually pretty good at this, thought Harry as the questioning continued, but Varley was better. Harry kept his face impassive as Varley asked one question after another and Malfoy tried to sidestep them and failed over and over. And now they knew that he had intended to go to Finland to capture and ride a dragon using a magical net and harness, that he needed a dragon to get to a mountain that could only be entered on dragonback, that he'd suspected a fellow Unspeakable of wrongdoing - which Harry hadn't been sure of, himself - and--
"Where did you go after the Ministry?"
"I Flooed to Little Whinging, where Potter sent me," said Malfoy.
"I Apparated to Leeds."
Harry immediately suppressed the urge to gape at Malfoy, or react in any way at all.
"And then you caught me," said Malfoy irately. "At the Apparition spot in Southampton."
"Why the stop in Leeds?"
"I didn't know how quickly you'd be able to trace me," Malfoy began, but Harry was no longer listening to Varley draw out the story from him, because he couldn't take it in, because what had just happened could not have happened.
Malfoy had lied. Dosed up on a full goblet of Veritaserum just like Harry, taken at the same time as Harry had taken his - and he had flat-out lied. It was one of the few things they all knew for certain: nobody could actually beat Veritaserum. Evade it, maybe. Not beat it, not without Veritapara. And Malfoy had.
He'd lied, and Harry didn't have the first idea how he'd done it. And if he'd lied about this... what else could he have lied about? The fact that he'd kept Harry in the dark for his own good? The fact that he was trying to prevent something bad from happening? Had it all been a sham? Damn it, he should've known, Malfoy had just been using him, the manipulative bastard--
Harry abruptly reined himself in. Of course it had all been a sham. It was supposed to be a sham, that was the meaning of the word "simulation," and these feelings of betrayal he was experiencing were unpleasant but they didn't mean anything. They weren't real.
They felt bloody real, though. And it didn't just have to do with their simulation personas. If Malfoy had betrayed him because this simulation required him to, that was hard to take for simulation-induced reasons, but he also felt betrayed by the real Malfoy he thought he'd been getting to know as a fellow Ministry trainee. Malfoy had been acting a hell of a lot more decent during training than at any time in the last seven years, but now he'd possibly just callously flipped Harry to save his own skin... which might be what he was supposed to do, as a trainee and in the simulation, but damn it--
Wait. If Malfoy had been using Harry during this simulation, shouldn't Harry reveal that? He was supposed to pretend to be an Auror who had helped his lover go against the Ministry, but now he was finding out his lover had been hiding something from him. All personal feelings aside, shouldn't he, as a responsible Auror, open his mouth and tell the Interrogators that--
"And did Potter know that's where you were going?"
"Potter didn't know." Malfoy met Harry's eyes briefly. "I didn't tell him the whole truth about a lot of things."
"Why not? You didn't trust him? Your... lover?"
"I told you, it was for his own protection. I needed him to help me do some things, but I didn't want to put him in more danger than I had to."
Harry felt a glow of warmth at Malfoy's words - and then a surge of anger. Was he lying, still? How could he possibly tell?
"Time!" said Philips. "And over to you, Weasley."
Right. Harry deliberately didn't look at Malfoy as Ron made a few last-minute notes, despite the overwhelming urge to do... something. Anything.
He started slightly as he suddenly felt Malfoy's hand brush his under the table. The brief contact was over almost before he noticed it. He shifted slightly and brushed his leg against Malfoy's.
... and they were probably under all sorts of surveillance right now. Not exactly the time to be playing footsies under the table, was it?
Damn it. They were supposed to have their behaviour and emotions affected by this bloody bond, but knowing that so much of it was artificial made this excruciatingly confusing. He brought his attention back to Ron's interrogation as Ron went over all the facts of the case and Harry tried to ignore the very real support he felt from Malfoy sitting silently next to him.
God, this was hellish. And he was probably going to have to explain all of this tomorrow: his thoughts and feelings, all of it, in an official report. The very idea filled him with low-grade nausea.
"You knew Malfoy intended to go to Finland?" Ron began.
"Did you suspect?"
"Because I saw a Finnish dictionary in his possession, and there are dragons in Finland."
As far as he could tell, Ron's manner was almost no different towards him today. There was a certain coolness, he was looking down at his notes more than usual, but if anything, he was a bit... less sure. Yesterday there'd been no holds barred. Now...
Damn it, Ron, snap out of it, he wanted to say. I'm gay, not an alien all of a sudden. I'm your best mate.
He didn't say it.
"Did you ask Malfoy where he was going next?"
Yeah, there was a definite difference between today and yesterday. Ron sounded matter-of-fact, focused, whatever else on the surface... but he wasn't putting his heart into it. He was just going through the motions.
"You said you didn't know what Malfoy was going to do. Why did you help him?"
"I trusted him," said Harry, glancing briefly at Malfoy and seeing a warmth in his eyes that steadied him. Despite the fact that apparently Malfoy hadn't completely trusted him. "I trusted that he was doing the right thing."
"What did he say to make you think that?"
"He was suspicious of something that was happening among the Unspeakables."
Ron glanced at Varley. "Why wouldn't he tell you what it was? No, don't look at him, look at me," Ron said sharply, "and answer the question."
"He said, 'I don't want it to be true, and I don't want you involved in case I'm wrong.'"
"Did he tell you why he was no longer an Unspeakable?"
"Did he say anything about it?"
"He said, 'I had to leave them.'"
"Did you think he quit?" asked Varley. Ron gave her a small glare, then sat back with a 'go ahead' wave of his hand and let Varley take over.
"He didn't, Potter. He was fired."
"Doesn't change your opinion of his trustworthiness?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really."
"Just because you're fired doesn't mean you did anything wrong." Beside him, Malfoy made a soft sound of approval.
"Do you know who fired him?"
Varley gave him a grim smile. "Do you suspect who fired him?"
"His supervisor, McAllister," he said, and gave Malfoy an apologetic glance. Malfoy shook his head slightly, but gave him a small smile.
Ron frowned. "Why would you think that?"
"Because he spoke very highly of McAllister before. Then all of a sudden he stopped." And Merlin it was bizarre, knowing that the knowledge about Malfoy speaking well of McAllister, then suddenly ceasing to mention him, was a complete magically-induced fabrication.
"But you didn't know what he suspected McAllister of?" asked Ron.
"And you didn't know what the parchment he'd left for you at The Three Broomsticks said?"
"He didn't discuss any of this with you?"
"So what did you think after you were arrested? That he was off doing whatever heroic thing you thought he was doing?"
"I didn't know," Harry said, impatiently. "For all I knew he was off stripping for Bowtruckles. I didn't know the Unspeakables would pick him up in Southampton ten minutes after you'd got me."
"How did - hang on," Ron turned to Varley, confused. "Did we tell him Malfoy was picked up in Southampton?"
Varley rolled her eyes. "I got Malfoy to tell us that, Weasley," she said, pointing to a line on her parchment. "Pay attention."
Ron coloured up. "Right. Right, yeah." He quickly scanned Varley's notes.
Snap out of it, Ron, Harry thought at him, despite his relief at Varley jumping in.
Ron suddenly looked up suspiciously. "Wait. How did you know it was ten minutes after you were arrested?"
Harry cursed silently. "I cast a trace on him."
Ron and Varley gaped at him. As did Malfoy.
"On Malfoy? You put a trace on him?"
Damn it. Malfoy was staring at him, looking betrayed, and wasn't that a bit of hypocrisy?
"Because you didn't trust him?"
"Yes. Partly." He swallowed and met Malfoy's eyes. "I did trust him, mostly. But I also wanted to know what he was doing. He hadn't told me."
"Because he didn't trust you."
"I did," said Malfoy, then pressed his lips together and looked away.
"I know. I did too," said Harry, and there was no reason to say it, other than the fact that he hated to see that look on Malfoy's face, his eyes shuttered to hide his sense of betrayal, and he knew exactly how Malfoy felt right now. "You said what you were doing was important. I trusted you."
"So," Ron broke in. "You knew he Apparated to Leeds right after we picked you up?"
"No," said Harry, his heart sinking again.
"When did you know?" asked Ron.
"Right after you picked me up."
"You just said you--" began Varley, and Ron leaned forward with excitement.
"You knew something right after we picked you up, but it wasn't that he went to Leeds, then Southampton, was it?"
"No," said Harry.
"What was it?"
"That he went to Wiltshire. Not Leeds."
"But he said..." Ron trailed off, frowning at Malfoy, who was now looking amused for some reason.
Varley's mouth had dropped open.
Ron looked at Philips, whose face was a perfect neutral blank, and the silence stretched.
"He's not under Veritaserum!" Ron said abruptly.
"Time!" said Philips, grinning widely.
"Was he - was, wait, how could--"
"Malfoy's not under Veritaserum?" said Varley, flabbergasted.
"No indeed," said Philips. "Well done, Weasley."
"But... how..." said Varley.
"But we watched them both drink the potion right in front of us!" said Ron.
Yes we did, thought Harry, and one of us nearly got hard at the sight of Draco's head tilted slightly back and his throat working as he swallowed down the contents of the goblet. For a brief, horrified moment, he wondered if he'd said it out loud.
"Yes, you watched them," said Philips. "But I gave Malfoy enough Veritapara to counteract the Veritaserum before that, when I brought him up from the dungeon. This simulation is supposed to test your ability to act under unexpected, and sometimes fairly improbable, circumstances."
"Oh well that's just unfair!" said Varley disgustedly, sitting back.
"Life's unfair, Varley," chuckled Philips.
Philips raised a hand and looked at his watch. "Now, I'd love to discuss this further, but you four have only ten more minutes before we end the simulation session. You can consider yourself out of character as of now, obviously, and I'd like you to write your first impressions of the exercise in the next couple of minutes. Then we'll have a short debrief before breaking for dinner, after which time the Suspects will get their regular clothes back and be sent on their way and the Interrogators will get to do some very exciting filing. Or rather, the Auror ones will... don't know what you Unspeakables will be doing. You probably can't tell me."
There was a busy silence, while they all wrote out their observations and Harry tried very hard to focus on his report and not on a replay of everything Malfoy had said, everything that hadn't been necessarily true - and everything that had probably been embarrassing for Malfoy to say, but that he'd said anyway, to hide the fact that he wasn't under the influence of Veritaserum...
"All right, then," Philips asked the room at large once they were done. "Observations? Malfoy?"
"I've observed that Weasley's a bit of a twit," he said dryly. "I've also observed that Varley doesn't know her arse from her elbow."
"Thanks, Malfoy," said Varley.
"And your co-conspirator?"
Malfoy shook his head and took a deep breath, obviously reluctant to speak. "That was a terrible interrogation, Potter," he said. "You gave up everything."
"Thanks, Malfoy," said Harry, stung, the memory of the slight brush of Malfoy's comforting hand on his making him angry. "I was a little off-balance, what with you showing you were fighting off Veritaserum."
"That part was very good, though," said Philips unctuously. "You didn't give that away to the Interrogators at all."
Varley narrowed her eyes. "His own interrogation didn't go well, though. He's the one who let it slip that he knew Malfoy had been picked up ten minutes after him." She looked at Weasley. "In fact, you weren't very good at yours either. You didn't get much more information than I did. Other than the trace Potter cast on Malfoy, you got nothing new that mattered."
"Other than figuring out that Malfoy was lying, you mean," Ron said pointedly.
"Still. The famous team of Potter and Weasley didn't exactly shine," Malfoy said, and Ron glared at him.
"They're friends, though," said Varley. "That was the problem."
"You're supposed to be able to shake that off," said Malfoy. "Otherwise what's the point of the exercise?"
"Fair enough," said Ron quietly, to Harry's mild shock. "I didn't do that bit so well. Don't blame Harry for that."
He met Ron's eyes, a rush of relief going through him at the apology in them.
"Very well," said Philips. "Your reports are due tomorrow, including all the observations about the bonding, the dungeons, the interrogations, your reactions to Veritaserum, all of it. Interrogators should focus especially on the observations you made of the Suspects under Veritaserum. You can use a Pensieve to examine your memories, now that you know Malfoy was faking it, and see if you can detect differences between him and Potter during this interrogation. Oh and before I forget, Potter, you need Veritapara." He waved a wand at the small briefcase he'd brought into the room, enlarged it, and stuck his hand into it.
"When do we get the bonding spell taken off?" asked Malfoy.
"The counter-charm specialists will be available at six," said Philips, apparently having a bit of trouble finding the Veritapara, judging from the clanking of various objects in the briefcase. He frowned and stuck his head into the briefcase.
"A little eager, are we, Malfoy?" said Varley, and now Harry's heart was doing a weird jittery dance of mingled relief and anger. This whole thing would be over soon... but part of him didn't want it to be over. He didn't want the feelings to go away. The excitement, the uncertainty, the extra sensitivity to Malfoy's presence... they weren't all bad feelings.
Why was Malfoy so eager to have it gone, then?
Malfoy wasn't dignifying Varley's comment with a response, and Varley smirked. "I'd almost think you were really a poof, the way you've been acting."
"It's part of why we put trainees through this," said Philips, surfacing from the briefcase with a small vial in his hand and giving Harry another apologetic smile. "You lot are going to be Aurors and Unspeakables. You need to know what it feels like when your own will is compromised, and what it looks like when one of your colleagues is under some sort of outside influence. It's the only hope you have to fight it."
"Dunno, I don't think it's quite right, 'respect for diversity' aside," said Varley. "The Powers That Be could've done this to somebody other than Potter. Nasty thing, being forced to feel all sorts of unnatural things towards all sorts of unnatural people."
Harry clenched his fist and reflected that if Veritaserum was as good as eliciting honest emotional responses as it was verbal responses, both Varley and Philips would have a very different opinion of how this interrogation had gone than they probably did right now.
"How do they make it work, anyway?" Varley asked Philips curiously. "Wouldn't it be a little tricky to get the bonding spell to work against someone's normal orientation?"
Philips uncorked the vial and poured its contents into a small goblet. "No, not really, though apparently people feel dizzy if it changes them. Dizzier the more... disorientation the user feels."
Varley groaned at the pun. "So, were both of you suitably disoriented?" she asked, smirking at Malfoy.
"Yes," said Malfoy.
"No," said Harry.
There was a long, frozen silence.
"Erm." Philips glanced down at his watch. "It's five o'clock. The next group will be needing this room, I suppose. Although they may be late. We still should go. Out of the room." He was babbling, again, and Harry stomach felt like lead. "Oh - here's the... the Veritapara."
Harry took it and drank it down, noting his hands were shaking slightly and trying to force them to stop, trying to ignore the blank shock on Philips and Varley's faces.
"Thanks," he said, and handed the goblet back to Philips, who hesitated a moment before taking it from him.
"I'll, we have to, the Trainers are to meet after this, we're going to - you should all go to dinner," Philips said, then hastily stood up and nearly ran from the room.
"Nice working with you, Weasley," mumbled Varley. "And Potter. Malfoy, you're due in Wandless tonight," she said, before she too bolted.
Malfoy picked up his notes and stood up. He gave Harry a long stare, and Harry was suddenly aware that there wasn't any of the derision or disdain he would have expected. At last Malfoy gave him a small nod and left the room as well.
Harry closed his eyes and ran a hand through his hair.
Bad enough Ron had found out. He'd thought about this endlessly, wondering how to bring up the topic and how to explain and how to word everything and had finally decided to tell Hermione and then ask her for help, because for the life of him he had no clue at all how to tell his best mate. Granted, part of the problem involved the fact that he was supposedly dating said best mate's sister, but still, the idea of breaking this to Ron had been a huge dilemma... and now in less than two days he'd also ended up telling one of his supervisors, an Unspeakable trainee who was almost a perfect stranger to him, and Draco Malfoy.
He put his head in his hands and just let the silence wash over him.
Finally Ron cleared his throat. "Why did you agree to it, then?"
"What?" Harry raised his head.
"Being given Credulaserum and told you were in love with some bloke?"
Harry looked away. "Because I didn't want special treatment. And because... because it would be a little hypocritical, don't you think, to refuse it when I actually could be in love with some bloke anyway?"
Ron rolled up his parchment and left the room, his expression blank, leaving Harry staring after him for the second time in two days.
You have nothing to feel ashamed of.
You are who you are. If other people don't like it, that's their problem, not yours.
Anybody who can't accept you for who you are is a prejudiced idiot, and you don't want them in your life anyway.
Ron is not one of those people. He's just having trouble accepting this right now. You hope.
Harry repeated the words over and over to himself as he silently ate his dinner and tried to ignore the growing buzz of gossip in the cafeteria. He'd arrived a few minutes after Ron, and found the room filled to capacity. Seamus had cheerfully waved him over to the trainees' table, the only empty space among them next to Ron, who didn't look up from his soup as Harry sat down. Harry tucked in to his food listlessly and glanced over at where Philips was sitting with a group of Trainers, catching him staring before he turned away.
The next time he looked up, the Trainers around Philips were all shooting Harry incredulous stares, and looking utterly gobsmacked.
Like flash photography, every time he glanced up he could measure just how far the news had spread. A group of heads huddled together, then there would be a startled frisson, glances at Harry, and then quick turning away.
Harry sat, eating his dinner without tasting a single bite and feeling more and more exposed, and more and more... angry. Resentful. At Philips, at Varley, who was sitting by herself and didn't look like she'd spoken to anyone but who had asked the question in the first place... even at Malfoy, silently eating his dinner at the edge of a group of Unspeakable trainees, meeting Harry's gaze every time Harry looked in his direction, something undecipherable in his eyes.
Bloody Malfoy, no Veritaserum making him say whatever daft thing was going through his head during their session. Sod him, thought Harry resentfully. Sod them all, every last one of them.
There was a certain relief mixed in with the discomfort and anger, though. He'd been afraid of what people would think for so long, afraid he'd never have the courage to live honestly, and now that the decision had been made for him part of him wanted to grab the nearest bloke and kiss him, just to end any lingering doubts. Except that the bloke nearest to him was Ron, so that was pretty much right out.
"Mate, you won't believe what they're saying about you," said MacLaggen, dropping into the seat next to Harry. And since when had he been 'mate' to MacLaggen?
Ron's mouth opened and Harry knew that he was about to stand up for him and deny the rumours, and he suddenly had enough.
"If what they're saying about me is that I'm queer," Harry said evenly. "Then it's all true."
And now his appetite was effectively gone. He pushed his tray back and walked away, leaving a tableful of his classmates gaping after him.
Home. He was going to go home. Where he didn't have to deal with smirks and sneers, or the unsettling presence of Draco Malfoy. With all the tensions and uncertainties. Where he didn't have to do anything other than prepare for tomorrow's class and the memorial.
Bloody hell, the fucking memorial. He groaned inwardly. That was tomorrow afternoon, with a charity Quidditch game scheduled for the evening, where he would be expected to play for the public along with other well-known people, and Malfoy was one of them and once upon a time that would've been insufferable because Malfoy himself was insufferable, but now it was because Malfoy was rather fit and Harry was getting good and tired of pushing away the effects of this stupid, stupid bond. Even the aftereffects would no doubt play merry hell with his game performance. Especially combined with the fact that he'd be up there, wondering how many of the people watching him were thinking nasty things about him, and Malfoy - wait, he'd thought about Malfoy already. Now he was sort of obsessing. Bugger all this for a lark.
"Good night, Mr. Potter!" simpered an eager young secretary from the fourth floor as he made his way to the locker room, and Harry couldn't help wondering if she'd still be simpering at him after the gossip train finally reached her.
He stalked into the locker room, eager to get his cloak and his things and go home--
Fuck. He still had to get the Credulaserum antidote, and get the bonding spell taken off.
Or he could do that tomorrow. It wasn't like he was going to be anywhere near Malfoy again today... but the assistant in charge of the bonding spells would be sure to tell the others that Harry hadn't gone in, and the last thing he wanted was more rumours about him, maybe linking him to Malfoy even more. He closed his eyes miserably. He and Malfoy had been getting along fairly well, that was the hell of it, before this stupid simulation and now that was probably completely royally scuppered and who the hell thought it would be a good idea to use a romantic bonding spell in a simulation, anyway? Whose brainwave had that been?
He heaved a sigh, pulled himself together. He would change, and then go get the counter-spell, then go home. He opened his locker door.
"Harry!" Ron called after him.
Harry turned, startled. Ron strode up to him, his jaw set.
"So you broke up with Ginny, then," he said.
Harry sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. Last time we went to Hogwarts."
Ron frowned. "I thought you'd just had a fight."
Ron shook his head. "You're... you're seriously blowing off my sister, who's been in love with you for ages, over some... confusion, or something?"
"It's not confusion!" Harry said angrily. "Look, I love her, all right? I really do. And I wanted things to work. They just don't. Nothing happens when we're together."
Ron abruptly turned a little greenish, and Harry blew out his breath in frustration. "No, I don't mean... not just that kind of 'nothing happens'. I just... you know when you left us? Me and Hermione?"
Ron's lips pressed together and Harry winced. Genius move, bringing that up. "I spent a lot more time watching for you than watching her dot move around--"
"Her dot, on the Marauder's Map. I would look at her, but mostly I was looking for you, seeing if you'd gone back to school."
"What did you think I meant?"
"Nothing," said Ron hurriedly. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Don't you think, if I was really in love with her, that I would've paid more attention to her? Even if I wasn't... if I wasn't gay," he said, the word heavy on his tongue.
"But how can you know for sure? A year ago you were happy and straight and--"
"A year ago I'd just spent the last seven years thinking I'd probably never live to be eighteen," Harry pointed out. "It wasn't like I'd had a lot of time to ponder greater questions of sexuality and all that. I wanted to live happily ever after, and that meant a family, and... and I didn't see the point in thinking about it in more detail, because I thought it might never happen."
Ron crossed his arms and sat back. "What changed?"
"Life changed," Harry said. "I changed. I don't want what you want, Ron. I don't look at girls and hope their skirts ride up so I can see their knickers. I don't..." and that was probably enough. There was no point in saying more. Saying that he thought about blokes, and touching them, and kissing them, and how being near Draco Malfoy had become more than a little uncomfortable, all artificial-bonding issues aside.
"So is there anybody you do fancy? The way you don't fancy Ginny any more?" Harry bit his lip and Ron nodded, his expression stony. "There is, isn't there?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really. I - look, the bloke I'm interested in..." He swallowed. "He wouldn't be interested; I'm pretty sure he's not gay."
"Who is it?"
"Come on." Ron was angry now, really angry. "You've ditched my little sister, who waited for you for a whole bloody year, and you want me to say that's just fine, when I know she's probably crushed. You don't think I deserve to at least know that much?"
Harry looked away.
"Who is it?" Ron said coldly. "It's not Malfoy, is it?"
Harry pushed up his glasses and wearily rubbed the bridge of his nose, then settled the glasses back down. "Yeah. OK? As a matter of fact, it is."
"All right, ladies and gentlemen, everybody take a seat, with your simulation groups," said Auror Trainer Sullivan, and Harry breathed a short sigh of relief as the trainees began to sort themselves and take out their parchments and quills. The discomfort of trying to not notice people who were trying to not watch him was getting on his nerves more than he'd thought it could. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine himself back in the Great Hall during second year, when everyone thought he was the Heir of Slytherin, or fourth year, when he had supposedly cheated to get into the Triwizard Tournament, or fifth, when he was supposedly an attention-hungry liar.
With the notable difference that this time, what people were whispering about him was the truth. He couldn't exactly comfort himself that hopefully eventually his name would be cleared.
Varley approached and sat down next to Ron, with Malfoy taking a seat next to Harry, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief at the difference in his reaction to Malfoy. The attraction was still there, as it had been for months now, but instead of the distracting near-obsession of the last few days, this was more of a muted awareness tugging at his consciousness. Slightly sharper than before the bond, but manageable. Apparently the counter-charmer, though cool and distant with him when he'd gone to see her, had been competent, at least. The one thing good thing about Harry's day so far.
It hadn't helped at all that his breakfast had been marred by The Daily Prophet's story on page two, about his scandalous personal revelation of the day before. Thankfully the front page was taken up with articles concerning the one year anniversary of the end of the war, or his own news would have been on the front page, but that wasn't much comfort right about now. He'd been supremely unsurprised to see it penned by his very favourite reporter, and featuring quotes from some of his favourite people.
"I think it's rather irresponsible of him to make such a lifestyle choice when young children are looking up to him," says Pansy Parkinson, who attended Hogwarts with Potter.
Which did have a certain humorous aspect to it. The girl who had wanted to sell him out to Voldemort, accusing him of irresponsibility. Classy.
"This does make it a little more difficult to swallow that his closeness to Dumbledore was purely a mentor-protégé relationship, doesn't it?" says Dolores Umbridge, who taught Potter Defense Against the Dark Arts three years ago. "It was clear to me even at the time that there was something highly improper going on between those two."
That one had been a little harder to stomach. The idea was... rather horrifying.
Interestingly, it seems many of Potter's close friends and associates have either known all along, or were unsurprised by the revelation that the Boy Who Lived is a homosexual. No comment could be obtained from any of his colleagues in this year's Auror Training Program. One can only wonder whether they are being diplomatic, or are afraid of angering Potter, who, although unquestioningly brave - some would say recklessly so - is also rumoured to be unstable and dangerous.
More puzzling is the lack of commentary among known detractors of Potter. Draco Malfoy, a member of this year's Unspeakable Training Program and a longtime rival of Potter, had little to say when asked his opinion.
"His personal life is his business," said Malfoy, rather rudely. "If he can be an effective Auror, who cares what he does in his free time?"
Harry had read over the words, over and over. His personal life is his business, said Draco. Malfoy.
Harry glanced at his teammates surreptitiously as he took out his notebook. He didn't need to. None of his teammates were looking at him.
"All right, Finnigan: let's start with you," said the Trainer, and Harry dutifully inked his quill and tried to keep himself looking interested for the next half hour. Seamus had failed to discover that his Suspect, Cormac MacLaggen, had actually committed a crime himself, instead of merely aiding and abetting his Unspeakable co-Suspect, who was a distant cousin, and who was trying to get a banned potion from the Unspeakables in order to try to cure their mutual grandmother of a rare magical malady. Francois Rousseau had discovered that last fact, and was reproved for not having shared the information with Seamus. In the second group, Tracey Davis had figured out things about Eddie Carmichael that even his own mother didn't know, but their Unspeakable teammates had done a dismal job from beginning to end; the Interrogator had not managed to figure out that his Suspect and Carmichael were trying to overthrow the Minister, and the Unspeakable Suspect had answered every single question posed to her and only avoided spilling everything because of the complete incompetence of her Interrogator. Neither Interrogator team had guessed that one of their Suspects wasn't under Veritaserum.
Finally it was their team's turn. It seemed they'd done relatively well. Ron and Varley had interrogated competently, though neither Interrogator had managed to find out Malfoy had suspected Unspeakable McAllister of trying to recreate some of Voldemort's more dangerous magic, and had needed a dragon to travel to where McAllister was going to be carrying out his nefarious plot in order to stop him. No one but Malfoy had known that the parchment Malfoy had left for Harry wasn't actually hidden at The Three Broomsticks with a password Rosmerta, but at Honeydukes, with the password Katie Bell, to be discovered only after Harry himself went to try to find the parchment at The Three Broomsticks, because Malfoy hadn't trusted that Harry wouldn't let slip the information if questioned. And nobody except Malfoy knew that Malfoy had also intended to go to Antarctica, not Finland, had only been learning Finnish to throw off a search if he was unable to steal the Mysterious objects without arousing suspicion, and that the elf-stone had nothing to do with anything, and had only been taken to confuse the Aurors.
The rustle of murmuring and complete lack of joking or teasing when Sullivan said the relationship between Harry and Malfoy was a romantic one was telling, and deeply uncomfortable.
Finally the last group was done, they had learned all they could, and although they were supposed to have another half an hour of time scheduled for the debrief, the trainees began to put their things away.
"One last thing, ladies and gentlemen," said Sullivan. "Now we're going to tell you what even the Suspects didn't know."
There was a rustle of surprise. Sullivan grinned at them.
"Settle back down, everyone. MacLaggen and Hopkins: that Banned substance? It's no good for your fictional grandmother's condition. It's only of use in Necromancy. The Healer who told you about it and wanted you to take it was working for Jezebel's Apothecary. Yes, the illegal one that we tried to shut down last July."
MacLaggen's eyebrows went up as Sullivan waved his wand at the display board behind him, and it filled up with all the ways in which MacLaggen and Hopkins had been fooled.
"Carmichael and Brent, the Minister For Magic is, in fact, not a werewolf." There was a general chuckle around the room.
"But his absences from the Ministry... and we saw him change!" protested Carmichael.
"That memory was implanted in you," said Sullivan.
"Well, obviously, it's a simulation!" said Brent.
Sullivan rolled his eyes. "Aside from that. That particular memory was implanted in you by someone else." Sullivan waved his wand at the display board and the facts of the case went up.
"Malfoy and Potter, McAllister's not actually planning on doing anything. The evidence connecting McAllister to suspicious activity was planted by fellow Unspeakable Katie Bell. She wanted you to obtain the dragon net and harness for her, and was going to take them so that she could carry out her own evil little plans. She was going to make the Goblin's Dragon War of 1823 look like a Sunday picnic."
Katie Bell smirked at them. "Mwahaha," she said, and Sullivan gave her an amused look.
"She also planted the evidence against Malfoy, that made McAllister fire him and set him up to look suspicious when the objects were discovered to be missing." Suddenly Sullivan looked a bit uncomfortable. "Her, erm, motivation had to do with her... history with Malfoy."
Malfoy's lips pressed together and Harry couldn't help feeling sympathetic. There had been no reason to make that - or the Three Broomsticks location, password Rosmerta, or any of it - part of the facts of the case, other than to have people once more pass around the story of Malfoy's near-murder of Katie with a cursed necklace two years ago. He briefly wondered if Sullivan had had any hand in that part of the simulation creation. Somehow he didn't think so. Sullivan seemed too much of a professional to be as petty as that.
And it wasn't the first time he'd seen Malfoy subjected to this kind of thing during their training, for all that Unspeakables and Aurors didn't train together all that much. Harry felt a surge of resentment on Malfoy's behalf.
"Now. Why are we telling you this?" Sullivan asked, clasping his hands behind his back. "This exercise should have taught you many things. Obviously, it's supposed to teach you interrogation and interrogation-avoidance techniques, and give you some practice in interdepartmental cooperation, and give you a feel for what it's like to have your will influenced by an outside force - whether it's Credulaserum, Imperius, Confundus, or some spell or potion you haven't even heard of. You are also supposed to observe what it looks like when that kind of thing is happening to a colleague." He paused, and looked around at the trainees seriously. "And it should also teach you to follow orders. You Suspects were convinced you had good reasons to be doing what you were doing, and it wasn't only due to you being dosed to the gills in Credulaserum. You honestly believed you were in the right. You are going to be law enforcement officials. You cannot afford to go against the Ministry the way you did."
"Excuse me, sir," MacLaggen broke in. "That's not very fair, is it? Next week's Suspects will already know that that's what they're supposed to be learning."
"They won't, don't worry," said an Unspeakable from the back of the room. "You'll still remember this conversation, but they won't."
"Back to the point," said Sullivan, giving MacLaggen a quelling look, "I want all of you Suspects to remember these situations. Remember how certain you felt. Remember how easily you broke laws and regulations to reach your goals. You two," his stern gaze now included MacLaggen's partner, "your grandmother was sick, so maybe it was all right to steal a Banned potion? If this had been a real case, the potion would've wreaked havoc on the wizarding population of Britain." He faced them all. "Follow orders, people. Go with what the Ministry and the regulations say. No matter what you think is going on, no matter what you think you may know. It's too dangerous to do otherwise."
Harry and Ron glanced at one another as the trainees murmured to each other, most of them nodding seriously and seeming to agree.
"Are you serious?" asked Harry.
"I beg your pardon?" said Sullivan, frowning, and Harry suddenly realized that this was the first time Sullivan had made eye contact with him today.
"Potter," Malfoy said in a low, warning voice. Harry bit his lip. Damn. This really wasn't the right time to do this. But he couldn't just let it go.
"Are you serious," Ron stepped in, "that we should follow what the Ministry says, no matter what? That's the lesson we're supposed to swallow here?"
"Do you have a problem with this, Weasley?"
"Yeah, I've got a problem. It's a load of bosh."
A general murmur of alarm went up from the room.
"I beg your pardon?" said an older Unspeakable. "Was the oath of loyalty to the Ministry you took just words to you, then?"
"No, it wasn't," Ron said angrily. "I'm loyal, yeah. And I'll follow orders, normally. But we're part of the largest Auror training group in decades for a good reason, right?" He looked around the room in disgust. "How many Aurors and Unspeakables had to be sent to Azkaban for having carried out crimes for the Death Eaters, just last year, while still following Ministry orders, because the Death Eaters had taken over the Ministry? Bloody hell, didn't we learn anything?"
"That is completely out of order, Weasley," said Trainer Philips, over the low rumble from the rest of the group.
"They do have a point, you know," said the elderly wizard next to him mildly.
"We've been running this particular simulation for decades," said Philips. "It's a standard part of training."
"Perhaps this part of it shouldn't be," said the elderly wizard.
"Oh really?" said Philips. "You think everyone should be given special consideration?"
"No," said Harry. "Everyone should use their brains, and follow their consciences."
Philips stared at him. "No matter what bizarre... choices their consciences lead them to make?"
Harry clenched his jaw. "Yeah."
"Excuse me?" said one of the older Aurors incredulously. "Are you putting your eighteen-year-old world wisdom ahead of the accumulated wisdom and experience of your supervisors?" He scowled at Harry and Ron. "You two shouldn't even be here. You didn't even finish your seventh year--"
"Oi, they didn't finish it because they were busy trying to save all of our arses!" snapped Seamus.
"We were asked to come into this program," said Ron furiously. "We didn't ask to come in without NEWTs."
"You could've turned down the offer, then," said an Auror who hadn't spoken up yet.
"But you didn't," added an Unspeakable next to her. "You came in unprepared, and now you expect everyone to kiss your arse?"
"No," said Harry. "But I don't expect to have you act like we wormed our way into the program and don't have any right to be here."
"You wanted us," added Ron, and Harry felt the warmth of his support like a blanket around him. They might be on shaky ground right now, but at least they were standing on it together.
"What do you think, Varley?" asked Philips. "Do you agree with them?"
Varley's eyes widened and she suddenly looked very young. "I... I don't know," she stammered, turning red. "I'd have to think about it."
"Malfoy? What do you think?"
Malfoy looked startled and nonplussed for a moment, then glanced at Harry and his face went unreadable.
"I asked you a question, Malfoy. Do you agree with your teammates?"
Malfoy narrowed his eyes. "Yes. The rest of the training exercise was useful. But I don't agree with the moral you're trying to teach us."
Ugly mutters broke out around the room.
"Typical Malfoy, think they can do whatever they please."
"He's just sucking up to Potter."
"Got a little too in love with the idea of being in love with him, did you Malfoy?" somebody called out from the back of the room, and Harry opened his mouth to give a sharp retort but something made him pause. Malfoy's arms were crossed and his jaw was set, and Harry somehow got the distinct feeling that Malfoy would not thank him for interfering.
"Hoping to do a different kind of arse-kissing there, are you?" sneered an Auror sitting near the trainees.
"Leave him alone, you hypocritical bastard!" Tracey Davis snarled at him, and Harry remembered she was a Slytherin too, from their year. The room erupted into chaos - and then Sullivan clapped his hands and shouted for order.
"We will continue this no doubt fascinating discussion tomorrow when we reconvene tomorrow," he said. "Right now, the Ministry is allowing all employees to take the time to attend memorials. The one at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is starting in three hours." He looked around the room, seeming a bit at a loss.
Philips spoke up. "People, try to put this behind you. Remember we are both celebrating our liberation from tyranny, and mourning the deaths of those who did not survive You-Know-Who's reign."
"Pompous arse," muttered Ron, and Malfoy sniggered.
"Malfoy," said Harry, approaching Malfoy at the lift. "Erm, thanks."
Malfoy glanced at the other staff waiting for the lift and trying to ignore Harry. "For what?"
"For not turning on us in there," he said, feeling rather horrendously awkward.
"I agree with you," said Malfoy, seeming just as uneasy.
"Why?" said Ron curiously.
"I agreed with you even before you said it," said Malfoy. "You might want to remember I got a firsthand look at the folks who were all for Ministry loyalty, back when they could've stopped the Dark Lord, and didn't."
"Still," said Harry. "You didn't have to take a stand. You could've just waffled, like Varley."
"Varley's a certified twit," said Malfoy scornfully.
"Seemed pretty smart to me," said Ron.
Harry and Malfoy looked at each other, and Harry was surprised to realize they were almost sharing a disbelieving smile.
"What?" said Ron, defensively. "The Interrogators spent some time together the other night, doing extra training for the second interrogation. She's not as big a bitch as she seemed during the session."
"I haven't heard a civil word come out of her mouth since we started training," said Malfoy.
Ron shrugged. "I think it's political," he said.
This was a regular conversation, Harry realized. The three of them were interacting, voluntarily, not because of an assignment, he and Malfoy had no fake emotional bond between them... and nobody had yet thrown a hex. What a difference a year could make.
"See you later, Malfoy," said Ron, and turned to Harry. "Come on. Mum's said we should stop by The Burrow before going to the memorial." Harry nodded to Malfoy and turned to go with Ron - then stopped and turned back.
"Malfoy?" he said.
Harry cleared his throat. "Erm. I also wanted to thank you for... well."
Malfoy stared at him curiously.
"In the paper, this morning," said Harry. "Skeeter came to you for a quote. Thanks for not giving her one."
Malfoy dropped his eyes and Harry realized to his astonishment that he was blushing.
"You're... welcome," said Malfoy stiffly.
"Why didn't you?" asked Harry.
Malfoy shrugged. "Your private life is your own business."
Harry nodded. "I appreciate it. Thanks."
Ron cleared his throat. "Harry, I'll meet you at the Floo, all right?"
Harry blinked. Well. Unexpectedly alone with the man he'd had a profound crush on for the last two days, and who even now was worrying at the edges of his consciousness, though thankfully much more manageably now.
"Are you going to the memorial this afternoon?" asked Malfoy.
"Yeah. You?" asked Harry.
"I'm... supposed to."
"Do you not want to?"
Malfoy looked away. "Not really. I'm playing the memorial Quidditch game, but that's not the same, and considering what some people thought of that..."
Harry nodded sympathetically. Some of what had been said when it came out that Malfoy had signed up for the charity match had been... less than charitable.
"It's... I probably wouldn't go today, if I weren't an Unspeakable and already in the public eye," he admitted. "I'm sure there will be plenty of people who won't want anyone from my family there. But if I don't go, it'll just give them more ammunition against me." He shrugged, then almost smiled at Harry. "Although thanks to you I don't really have to worry much about being the centre of negative attention today."
Harry surprised himself with a small laugh. "True enough," he chuckled. "We'll see you there, then."
He walked away, and Harry mused over the morning, slowing down as he caught up with Ron at the Floo.
"Ron. Erm." He paused. Damn it, this was so awkward. He'd imagined the one-year anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts would be difficult enough, but had never in his wildest dreams thought he might have to be dealing with an unintentional outing at the same time.
"Are you sure I should come with you?" he asked, and Ron gave him a puzzled look. "Your mum reads The Prophet, Ron," he pointed out.
Ron's eyebrows went up. "Bloody hell, yeah. I forgot about that. Bollocks."
Harry sighed. "Why don't I just meet you at Hogwarts?" he suggested.
"No, don't be daft," Ron began, frowning.
"Look, you've got enough on your plate with... with all your family's going to be dealing with today." Which was probably an understatement. "I'll finish up some work at the library, then join you at the memorial. One o'clock?"
Ron's shoulders slumped slightly. "All right," he said, and turned away.
Harry turned and plodded to the Ministry library, almost empty as the building cleared itself out so that the staff could attend the memorial services or be with their families. He pulled out his parchment and quill and Moste Useful Speles: Expelliarmus Through the Ages, and tried to organize his thoughts. Let's see... he had the final write-up of his Expelliarmus research, a surveillance class report to finish, and an assignment on Foresight spells. He glanced around the library again, noticing that Malfoy was there too, in a dark corner of the library, with a large stack of blank papers and an empty book before him. He didn't appear to have noticed Harry's entry, as he peered closely at what looked like a blank piece of paper, then wrote something on the page which left no mark as far as Harry could tell. As Harry watched, he frowned and scratched out whatever he'd written and scribbled some more, leaving the page just as blank as before.
Go figure. Unspeakables.
The Wizard's Wireless was on in the background, a muted hum of inoffensive and relentlessly dull music. Harry supposed that was out of respect for the one year anniversary. The sound was soothing, distracting Harry from the morning's paper and the training session and even Malfoy's presence, and he soon found himself actually immersed in what he was doing. It certainly made homework easier when you were truly interested in what you were learning. Even Divination was interesting when taught by a competent teacher, and figuring out useful Divination spells for criminal investigations was actually somewhat fascinating...
He was deeply immersed in Criminal Dream Analysis when the music ended and a radio announcer's voice came on.
"And as we prepare to remember the sacrifice of those who died during the reign of You-Know-Who, and those who fought to end his reign, the wizarding world has been shocked by allegations that the main architect of You-Know-Who's demise is a homosexual." Harry felt an ache begin in his forehead at the announcer's smooth tone, and his prissy pronunciation of 'homo-seck-ssual'. "The Prophet broke the story this morning, and the wizarding world is in a tizzy trying to figure out what we think of this."
"Tizzy is pretty much how I would describe it, Howard, yes," said a woman's voice.
"Opinions range from disbelieving to outraged to amused. There are many who are saying that if true, these allegations do nothing to diminish the importance of what Mr. Potter has done for the wizarding world. Others say that while they still respect his accomplishments, they cannot in good conscience call him a role model any more."
"Well Howard, it's being pointed out, particularly among those wizards with close ties to the Muggle world," and Harry had to suppress a snort at her careful avoidance of the word 'Muggle-born,' a year after Voldemort's defeat, "that this is the kind of opinion we have to change in the wizarding world; our ways are conservative, and change slowly. Perhaps, they say, too slowly."
"Is that so?"
"Apparently in the Muggle world, a revelation of this nature would not be cause for alarm or dismay."
"Well, Wanda, be that as it may, still others remind us that even if the allegations are true, Mr. Potter is still a very young man. And many young people are... well, confused about their own sexuality, at least until they mature a little."
Harry sat, a blush heating his face and a desire to hex Howard making his wand hand itch. So he was either depraved or a confused child, was he? He suddenly wished Lee Jordan were on the radio right now, Lee would never have - but then, Lee was probably at The Burrow...
He caught Malfoy's eye across the library, and Malfoy gave him a small smile and a sympathetic shake of the head, then turned back to his own reading. The other three people in the library studiously bent their heads towards their work, except for one, who gave Harry a barely concealed sneer.
Bloody hell, there was nothing stranger than being on the same wavelength as Malfoy.
"And of course," chimed in Wanda, "once again rumours abound about the late Albus Dumbledore's sexuality, and questions about how close he and Potter may have become during Potter's formative years."
"Here to talk to us about this is a classmate of Potter's, Pansy Parkinson. Welcome, Miss Parkinson."
"Thank you, Wanda."
"Now, you were in Harry Potter's year, were you not?"
"Yes, I was. I can tell you none of us knew about this. None of us outside of Gryffindor house, anyway. Who knows what the Gryffindors knew; they were likely to accept anything Potter did, with no questions asked. He always got away with the most outrageous things at school."
"Didn't he do underage magic?"
"Yes, he did. He also performed magic in front of Muggles several times, and nobody cared. He was allowed to get away with it. Everybody still treated him like a hero no matter what he did."
"Yes, there are many people who admire him greatly. And many people quite disappointed in him right now. What would you say to that?"
"Well personally I've never understood why anyone idolized him. Honour him of course, as the person who was technically responsible for You-Know-Who's downfall, but see him as a role model? That's not quite right."
"It's interesting, though, not many people who know him personally have come out to speak against him."
"Probably because it's the memorial today," said Howard.
"Everybody still worships him, or is afraid of him," said Pansy snidely. "Which is why he wasn't disciplined back in school. He was very unstable, always has been. You know he almost killed a fellow student once."
"Yes, Draco Malfoy," said Wanda. "Who hasn't said much about this. He was not exactly known for being a friend to Potter; why wouldn't he come forward?"
"He's got his own reasons." Pansy's voice was suddenly rather tense.
"Why would he not back you up, though? You were in Slytherin House together, weren't you?"
"We were, yes," she said, her voice sounding angry. "But it's not like he'd know what house loyalty was if it came up and bit him in the arse." She paused. "Besides, I happen to know that Draco Malfoy is also gayer than a gift basket."
"What?!" said one of the others in the library faintly.
'A gift basket?' was the first thought that went through Harry's mind. Across the library, Malfoy's face had gone perfectly still, his quill stopped in mid-invisible word.
"Oh my," Wanda said. There was a small pause. "Now is that true, or are you trying to bring down Draco Malfoy because he is now an Unspeakable, going to play in the memorial Quidditch match, and you... are not?" There was a pause. "After reports of your actions during the Battle of Hogwarts, when you suggested handing Potter over to You-Know-Who--"
"That's nothing to do with it," snapped Pansy.
"Is it lack of House loyalty, or lack of loyalty to you?" said Wanda, her friendly manner gone and her voice strongly reminiscent of Rita Skeeter's on the scent of new scandal. "Has he broken ties with you because of the negative publicity over--"
"You people are all the same!" said Pansy, her shrill voice bordering on hysterical now. "I was scared, all right? I didn't see why the rest of us had to be killed just to protect one person. And most of you tossers who say nothing but shit about me would've done the same thing!"
"And it doesn't change the fact that Draco's queerer than a three-Knut coin, now does it? Couldn't get it up for a girl for all the Galleons in England!"
"And I should know, the freak, why do you think he was always such a drama queen whenever Potter was concerned? He wanted him, that's why. Wanted to take Potter and bend him over a desk and--"
"I think maybe that's enough," said Howard's voice hastily. "Thank you, Wanda, and Miss Parkinson - no, no that's really quite enough--"
But Harry wasn't listening any more, as he watched Malfoy's face flush, then go pale. Malfoy took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, before determinedly smoothing out his parchment and continuing his invisible reading, only a faint trembling of the hand that held the quill betraying his distress.
Except for Howard's smarmy voice on the radio, now apologizing for the inappropriateness of the little outburst on "this solemn day of remembrance," the silence in the library was absolute. Harry stared at Malfoy, his own work utterly forgotten, his mind a whirlwind. He glanced down at his work, surprised to note that apparently he was reading something to do with Divination.
Five minutes later Malfoy checked his watch and put away all of his things, his face still as perfectly blank as his parchment, then walked out.
The school grounds were full. It seemed as though most of wizarding England had shown up, with much of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales thrown in for good measure. Harry ignored the sidelong glances and outright stares, and not a few disgusted glares, as he wondered if maybe it might not have been wiser to have come with Ron's family after all. He might not have felt so exposed and alone, looking for them. Finally he spotted them near the seats that had been set up close to Dumbledore's grave, and Ron waved him over. He hesitated briefly, spotting Ginny standing next to Ron and looking rather put out, and Mrs. Weasley seeming a bit nervous. He steadied himself, and approached them.
"Dear, thank you for coming," said Mrs. Weasley, giving him a hug that didn't seem as warm and genuine as others she'd given him over the years. Harry felt a twinge at the loss, and wondered miserably if it was just due to shock and understandable distraction because of the day, or if she disapproved so strongly of him now that she'd never treat him like a son again.
"Harry, good to see you," said Charlie, taking his hand in a firm handshake and clapping him on the back. Bill, Percy, George and Lee merely nodded to him, their minds clearly elsewhere, and Fleur gave him a slightly chilly smile.
"You should have come to The Burrow, Harry," said Mr. Weasley.
Harry cleared his throat. "Erm, had some work I needed to finish up on. Besides... it's supposed to be a day for family."
"You are family, Harry," said Mr. Weasley reprovingly.
Hermione gave him a fierce hug, and they moved to sit down, all the Weasleys and their friends in a row. A small wizard in black started with a prayer and a blessing, as the audience quieted down. Soft murmurs and sighs, and a few sniffles and sobs, were heard through the crowd as the small wizard led them in paying their respects to the people lost one year ago.
Thank God he didn't have any kind of central part in this ceremony, thought Harry. He'd been asked several times and refused every single one, and it turned out to have been one of the wisest things he'd ever done.
They all sat in respectful silence as a Ministry official spoke about the lessons of the war, and then Kingsley reminded everyone of how far they had come in a year, with far less flourish and political posturing than had been seen in a Minister For Magic in all of Harry's memory.
Finally all those who had fought at the Battle of Hogwarts were asked to come stand in the front, and Harry again thanked God that he'd pushed to be just one of the people before the crowd, instead of The Boy Who Killed Voldemort Twice. Standing among students and their families, professors, members of the Order and the DA, and Hogsmeade villagers, it wasn't so difficult to face the crowd and note how many of them seemed to be whispering about him.
And then the formal part of the memorial was done, and they were all free to mix casually again. Which wasn't necessarily a good thing. Harry looked around, spotting Malfoy sitting stolidly next to his remarkably composed and serene mother, and wondered how either of them could manage that today of all days, in this place.
"Harry, it's so good to see you. I didn't know if you'd make it in today," said Hermione, giving him another hug.
"Of course," said Harry. "I wouldn't have missed it."
"I know you wanted to."
Hermione shook her head at him fondly. "I know, you hate being the focus of attention. I still think it would've been good of you to say something, though."
"Are you joking? After this morning?"
"What about this morning?"
"Harry," said Ginny, coming up to him. He eyed her warily. "Good of you to make it," she said. "Though Mum would've preferred it if you'd been at The Burrow."
"Erm." His feet suddenly seemed too big for some bizarre reason, and he inwardly shook himself impatiently. Ginny wasn't being particularly friendly, but she wasn't being cold or hostile, either. He should have known she wouldn't cause a scene. She had the same look on her face that she had when he'd broken up with her the first time. Not the defensive, angry look as when he'd broken up with her the second time.
"Yeah, sorry about that," he said awkwardly. "Are you... are you all right?"
A wry smile twitched Ginny's lips. "Not broken-hearted any more, if that's what you're asking about." Harry felt a blush heat his face. "There are more important things in my life than you, Harry," she said, slightly angry. "For example, supporting Mum and Dad through this day. Supporting George."
"I know that," he said, hoping he didn't sound as defensive as he felt. "Which was part of why I didn't go to your home. I thought you'd have enough going on, you didn't need to make today all about me."
Ginny's eyebrows went up, then she gave him a small smile. "Right, yeah, I suppose you would see it that way. It wasn't necessary, though. You could've come. You would've been welcomed."
"Right. I... I'm sorry."
Ginny nodded. "Well, that's that, then. Excuse me, I've got to go back to Mum."
"What was that all about?" Hermione said, baffled. "And why would you think Ron's family would fuss over you today? They've never been like that."
Harry finally clued in. "You don't know, do you?"
"Did you read the paper this morning?"
"God no," Hermione shuddered. "I couldn't stand to read yet another dose of Skeeter being self-righteous, or Ministry folks who sent Muggle-borns to Azkaban blithering on about unity. Why? Were they talking about you again?"
Ah. He blew out his breath. "The paper said I'm gay."
Hermione's mouth dropped open, almost comically. "You're joking."
"No, I'm not. I am gay, though. And I didn't want to be around the other Weasleys, when even Ron isn't comfortable around me right now."
"Gay. All right? Gay. Possibly bi, but I didn't particularly want to explain that one to Ron."
Hermione was blinking rather a lot. "Why not?"
"'But your sister made me hard' isn't something I want to say to him," he said impatiently, and Hermione blanched. "...or to you, to be honest," he finished, wincing.
"Thanks." Hermione shook her head, a bit dazed, then put an arm around him and hugged him close. "Come, let's walk down to the Memorial Wall. I think maybe you'd better tell me about this. Try to spare me certain... details, though."
Harry nodded and followed her.
The memorial had devolved into small groups of people chatting amongst themselves. Harry could thank Skeeter for one thing at least: he wasn't mobbed by people who wanted to shake his hand. Though there were several who did so - some reluctantly, some eagerly and annoyingly showing their support for him despite his latest public disgrace - most people were keeping their distance. It would've been nice if he'd been more warmly greeted by some of the present members the DA, but that couldn't be helped. Zacharias Smith was cool towards him, no surprise, but so were Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown. Not that big a loss, though still somewhat annoying and a little bit painful.
Neville was fine, though, as were Seamus and, to a lesser extent, Dean. It was good to catch up with them for a bit, though it didn't last long enough, as Dean and Seamus went to see Dean's mother and Neville went to his grandmother. Harry looked around and spotted the Malfoys, standing and talking stiffly with Andromeda Tonks, and went over to them.
"How's Teddy?" he asked Andromeda, and was annoyed to see note her distinctly uneasy air at his approach.
"Oh, erm, he's too young to understand any of this," she said. "I'll bring him when he's a little older, and talk to him about his parents."
"Mr. Potter, it's good to see you," said Narcissa calmly. "I never did thank you in person for what you did for my son. We very much appreciated it. I doubt he would have been accepted into the Unspeakables without your testimony at his trial."
He glanced at Malfoy, wishing he could read what he was thinking behind the tight control he seemed to keeping over himself. "You saved my life," he said to her. "And I did get your owl after the trials."
"It's not the same," she said. "Personal contact would have been more appropriate, although at the time I did not wish to impose upon you."
Harry nodded and cast about for some other topic, as silence settled among them.
"It's lovely weather for the memorial," said Andromeda, and Harry had had enough. The weather. Next they would be talking about Quidditch. Andromeda was clearly uncomfortable with him; whether that would extend past the time that it took for news of him to clear off the papers remained to be seen, but in the meantime he certainly didn't need to stay here and make everyone ill at ease. He glanced around, spotting Hermione again.
"Anyway, I just wanted to come by and ask about Teddy. Tell him I said hello."
"I will," said Andromeda.
He started to leave, then turned back. "Erm, Malfoy, could I have a word?"
Malfoy's eyebrows went up and he approached Harry, his expression guarded.
"I wanted to thank you, for not saying anything to the papers yesterday," said Harry. Malfoy blinked. "I know I already did, but... you could've said something. Your own private life might not have come out, if you had."
Malfoy made a dismissive gesture. "I doubt that would've made much of a difference. Pansy was pissed off that her own sins came up again. She just lashed out at whoever she could. Woman scorned and all that."
"She might not have, if you'd supported her instead of saying No Comment."
Malfoy shrugged. "If anything, this is probably for the best. With what the paper said this morning about you, the pressure's not exactly on me now, is it?"
He did have a point. "How is your mother taking it?"
Malfoy smiled bleakly at his mother, still making stilted small talk with Andromeda. "My mother's had to accept all sorts of difficulties in the last few years. Believe it or not, having me forced out of the closet is not the biggest problem she's had to face. It doesn't even qualify for the top ten." He shrugged. "Your own news has eclipsed mine. What else is new." He paused. "Except this time, I don't mind at all."
Harry chuckled. "I suppose not." Merlin, this was better than the last few days had been, in terms of emotional stability at least. So why did a part of Harry wish he was still under the influence of the bonding spell, so that he could maybe figure out some way to keep talking to Malfoy, maybe ask him what he thought of the simulation now that it was over, ask whether it had changed anything in how Malfoy felt about him, ask about whether Pansy had been telling the truth about...
Yeah, no. "Well. I'd better get back to Hermione," he said.
"Right. Say... hello for me."
He approached Hermione, who smiled at him and looked over his shoulder curiously.
"What were you talking to him about?"
"I just, erm, said thanks to him for not saying anything to Skeeter."
"Ah, yes, Ron showed me the article." Hermione shook her head. "Skeeter. May she rot in hell. It's not as though she's anything better to talk about."
"Did you hear about Malfoy?" Harry said, in what he hoped was a casual way.
"Oh God yes." Hermione suddenly narrowed her eyes at him. "You're not... you don't actually have genuine feelings for him, do you? Ron told me a bit about the simulation, but he seemed rather desperate to change the subject..."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Why does it have to be that just because we're both gay, I would necessarily be interested in him?"
"Other than the fact that you were just forced to be in love with him a couple of days ago, and there aren't a lot of out gay men in your life, and according to Pansy Parkinson he had a thing for you for years in school?" said Hermione. "No reason at all. So are you trying to chat him up? Here?"
"No! Of course not!" said Harry, and winced. That had come out a little louder than he'd meant it to. "I mean, even if I wanted to, it's not exactly the time and place for that kind of thing, is it? I mean, what with this being the memorial and all..."
"Everyone here is trying to get on with their lives," said Hermione. "Move forward. That's what you're doing."
"Yes. It's not quite where we thought you'd move, but..." she cleared her throat. "You have to admit, it certainly is moving."
"I wouldn't know where to start, though. If I was interested."
"Which you are," Hermione said crisply. "Don't waffle. Though I can't imagine why. Ron did say that he's been a different person since you all started training, but..."
"Ron said that?"
"More or less. 'Less of an annoying arrogant prat', minus some foul language. I think something Malfoy said this morning impressed him. So, you fancy him. What are you going to do about it?"
Harry found himself wondering if Hermione was ever as annoying to people who didn't know her as she was to her close friends. "How would I know?"
"Obviously first you'd need to find out how he feels," said Hermione. "Ask his friends." She paused a fraction of a second. "No, no that's a horrible idea, please don't do that." She chewed on her lip thoughtfully. "Invent a reason to call him. Compliment him. That works well."
"How would you know?"
"Excuse me, I am dating Ron."
"Excuse me, before you got there you had to send a flock of tiny birds to try to peck out his eyes."
Hermione paused. "Good point." She sighed. "This is ridiculous. You have dated before; this can't be that different."
"Yeah. I dated a girl who cried on me, and I only asked her out the first time by accident. And then when we went on our first date, she thought I was dating you."
"And Ginny was Ron's little sister. I kissed her in front of God and everybody, which I'm not going to do with Draco. Malfoy." Though the idea did sound remarkably attractive. He shook himself. "And then I broke up with her and then watched her dot for months."
"Yeah," said Harry glumly. "I was an arse about going back with her. I never even stopped to think about how I really felt about her." He sighed. "Besides, girls are different."
"Her dot, on the map. You know, the Hogwarts map."
"Right. Of course," Hermione said, sounding very relieved and blinking rapidly.
"What did you think I meant?"
"Her, erm, freckles," said Hermione hurriedly. "Are you just interested in Malfoy because of the simulation?"
"No, actually, I've been interested a lot this year. It was just a harmless crush, though. I didn't think... I mean, I was still with Ginny and all. Officially."
"This is a new definition of 'with' somebody, what with her being here and you being in London and barely writing two letters to her all year," Hermione pointed out. "Hm. D'you know who we need to help us?" she said, and Harry reflected only Hermione could go from shock to acceptance to meddling in his private life in under two hours.
"Hahaha. I thought you were being serious. How would Ron be able to help? He's gone out with a total of two people, and frankly neither approach he took is anything I'm eager to copy."
"He's good at strategy, he could--"
"All players in the Quidditch Charity Game," a loudspeaker suddenly squawked, much to Harry's relief. "Please report to the Quidditch hut. All players in the Quidditch Charity Game, report to the Quidditch hut."
"You're in that, aren't you?" asked Hermione. "You're playing Seeker?"
"No, Chaser. We're all taking positions we don't normally play." He paused. "Actually, Malfoy's a Chaser too."
"Playing for the same team?"
Harry chuckled. "Erm, yeah."
"Well that might help," said Hermione encouragingly. "Team spirit and all that."
Harry nodded. "Couldn't hurt, anyway."
"Right. Go on, then," Hermione said, and he headed off to the Quidditch pitch.
"You may be the worst Chaser in the history of this sport, Potter," said Malfoy at the end of the day, but his tone was mostly commiserating, not snide or condescending. "Why did you agree to this game again?"
"Same reason you did. And you're not much better," Harry pointed out.
"I didn't Chase a Bludger into our own goal, Potter."
"Yes, I could've done without that bit," said their captain.
"Sorry about that," said Harry.
"Ah well, no harm done, it was just for charity anyway. Although I would suggest that next time there's a game like this, maybe you should be a Beater. Or Keeper. Anything but a Chaser. We almost looked like the Cannons before Gupta caught the Snitch."
"You can't blame Potter for all of that, sir," said Malfoy. "Albright was too busy flipping off her broomstick to catch a single Quaffle. Besides, the other team was even worse than us."
"Yeah I thought the Monmouth Keeper was joking when he said he couldn't Seek if his life depended on it," said another player. "I don't think anybody's going to remember Potter or Malfoy today." He paused. "Not for their playing, anyway."
There a half-embarrassed snigger went around the room, and Harry found himself grinning tiredly. He lay back against the bench, relaxed and worn-out. The game had gone relatively well, all things considered. They'd won 180 to 120, and it had been mostly fun - for the players, at least.
The match had been for charity, and because people desperately needed the mindless distraction of a silly game in which none of the players was doing all that well, after the sorrow of the day. It was supposed to be a light-hearted end to a difficult day. It hadn't quite turned out that way.
Everyone had known there would be a bit of discomfort to the event; the inclusion of Malfoy and Albright had been somewhat controversial when it had been announced a month before the memorial. But they had been included as a sort of sop to those on the losing side of the war, though neither had actually been found guilty of any Death Eater-related crimes, and both had walked the party line since Voldemort's demise. Thanks to Rita Skeeter, though, they hadn't been the main controversy during the match itself. Much as Harry hated the blind adoration he got from some quarters, he knew the idea had been that there would be cheers and celebration from the stands when the The Boy Who Lived took to the air, not a confused babble. And when he was hit by a Bludger, there weren't supposed to be scattered cheers. Charlie and George Weasley weren't supposed to be hauled off the stand for belting a spectator who made the mistake of hissing "Serves the arse bandit right!" too near them when Harry was almost knocked off his broom.
Thankfully, it was done and over with, and right now Harry couldn't be arsed to care about what had happened. The aftermath of the training simulation, his involuntary outing, the memorial, and a hard-fought game, had left him with a sort of 'who the hell cares' attitude. He was tired, they'd played hard, and the team had come together in camaraderie of sorts, though who knew whether it would last past tomorrow. That was good enough for him.
Plus, it was nice to see Malfoy looking tired and flushed. He could admit that now. The man did fill out a Quidditch uniform rather nicely.
Suddenly there was a pop and a tiny female house elf appeared and squeaked with pleasure, handed Harry a warm, scented towel, and, nearly flipping herself over with delight at the sight of him, dropped the rest of her load of warm towels onto a bench and disappeared. A few seconds later Kreacher appeared, praising Harry soundly, distributing the warm towels the other elf had dropped, and handed out extra Butterbeer to every member of his team before disappearing back into the Hogwarts kitchens.
God bless house elves. They probably didn't read the Prophet or listen to the Wireless. And if they did, they didn't give a damn who a wizard wanted to shag.
"Well, I've got to get up early tomorrow," said one of Harry's teammates after he'd finished toweling his hair dry. "I'll see you at work, Malfoy. Good game, everyone."
Harry nodded, and closed his eyes as one by one their team mates and their friends left the hut. Briefly he wondered if the rest had left because they didn't want to change in front of two newly-outed shirt lifters, but found he really didn't particularly care.
He opened his eyes a slit, suddenly realizing that he and Malfoy were alone in the hut.
"So... what did you think of the game?" he found himself asking, and wondered if Hermione would be proud of him when he told her.
"Entertaining enough, I suppose," shrugged Malfoy, examining a bruise on his shin with a critical eye. "Interesting, trying out a new position."
Harry nodded. "I was thinking of practicing some more, myself."
"You know they were saying they might open up Ministry Quidditch again."
"They've been saying they might do that for a year, Potter," said Malfoy. "Even if they did, would you really want to join in?"
"Sure. There are a lot of empty spots to fill."
"All four teams already have Seekers. They all survived the war."
"They don't have enough Chasers."
"I was thinking we could try to get on one of the teams. We might make a good team, if we practiced together."
"You, me and Stebbins?"
Harry blinked. "Stebbins. Yeah."
Malfoy shook his head. "He wouldn't. Practice with us, I mean."
Malfoy looked hesitant, then shrugged. "He's gay."
Harry gaped at him. "What? Is everybody these days?"
Malfoy sniggered. "I found out Unspeakably, and I didn't tell anybody. But he's closeted as hell, and he's not going to want to risk being seen with you and me. Not now that we're out, unwilling or not."
"Ah." Harry nodded.
"Well... maybe you. Definitely not me. Besides, he'd probably think I was trying to chat him up if I asked him."
"Why would that matter?"
"You know what my popularity is like," said Malfoy evenly.
Harry hesitated. "D'you know something? You can't hide behind that excuse forever. You can't think you know how somebody's going to react to you based on how they did before."
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Really. Even if you did want to chat him up, who's to say he'd say no?"
Malfoy shook his head. "I would," he said quietly.
Harry rolled his eyes, annoyed as his post-game glow dimmed before Malfoy's pessimism. "Bollocks. You're a competent enough Unspeakable, you don't have a criminal record, and you're fit enough. You can't know what somebody's answer will be if you never ask the question." He rubbed a sore spot on his neck where a Bludger had caught him and wondered when he'd become such a coward that he couldn't just come out and say what he wanted to say to Malfoy directly, instead of faffing about with hints of 'somebodies' who might be interested in him.
Malfoy was silent for a few moments. "Maybe you're right," he said, and stood up. "Thanks, Potter. I'll let you know how it turns out."
Harry's brow furrowed. "How what turns out?"
"I'm going to see if I can catch Stebbins before he goes home."
"Ah. Good luck, then" said Harry, feeling as wrong-footed as he'd ever felt with Cho Chang. Malfoy gave him a small smile and headed out. Harry rubbed a spot between his eyebrows and contemplated picking up a bottle of Firewhisky or two before heading home.
No, that was silly. He wasn't devastated. Just annoyed at himself. As far as pick-up attempts went, that had to be one of his worst, in a short but glorious history of bad pick-up attempts.
Although maybe it would've been more successful if he'd actually been trying to pick up Malfoy. If he hadn't been so tired and relieved to no longer be so bloody tense around him that he'd just opened his stupid mouth and let whatever was buzzing around his head come popping out, and helpfully pushed Malfoy in the direction of the nearest available gay male who wasn't Harry.
He'd probably saved himself considerable embarrassment anyway. Malfoy had never given any non-bonding-induced indication that he was actually interested in Harry, Pansy Parkinson's pathetic diatribe aside. Better to just leave things as they were.
Suddenly the hut's door opened, and Hermione came in. "Oh good, you're still here," she said, pleased. "I was looking for you." She looked around the room. "Where's the rest of your team?"
"Home, I would imagine."
"Really?" said Hermione. "Do you want to see if you can ask him out?"
"Ah, no," said Harry, giving her a rueful smile. "Don't think that's going to happen."
Harry chuckled. "I told him he was attractive enough to find someone, and he took me up on it."
Hermione's eyes grew round. "Really?"
"...with the other Chaser. Who is also gay."
"God, there must be something in the water," she muttered, then sighed. "All right, I should've seen that one coming." Harry scowled at her. "Well you were never particularly good at romance with girls, Harry. There's no reason you should be any better at it with boys."
She did have a point.
What the hell, stupid idea anyway, thinking of Malfoy that way. He'd dealt with his feelings towards Malfoy long enough that it was habit by now - habit made somewhat tougher by the effects of the bonding spell and the realization that his feelings weren't that different, with or without the bloody thing, but still: he was used to this. He could certainly live with the disappointment.
"Are you all right?" asked Hermione sympathetically.
"I'm fine." He stood up and stretched, feeling a burn along his triceps. Definitely time to get back on a broom again, he decided, whether he tried to join the Ministry Quidditch league or not. Not like he was going to get to 'ride' anything else any time soon.
"Are you coming back with us?" asked Hermione.
"The Burrow," she said. "Mr. Weasley's gone to bail out Charlie and George, and Mrs. Weasley's invited everyone over. I think Ginny's staying here, though." She paused. "With, erm, Neville."
Harry's eyebrows went up. "Oh really?"
Hermione tilted her head at him. "I was wondering if that would upset you."
"Why would it? Are they actually together?"
"Not yet. He definitely wants them to be, though."
Harry smiled. "Good. He'll be good for her. Better than me, anyway."
Hermione gave him a hug. "Come on, let's go."
They left the hut and almost ran into Ron. "Oh, good, you found him," he said to Hermione, and gave Harry a small smile. "Let's go then."
They headed towards the castle, and Harry felt a twinge of envy as Ron reached out for Hermione's hand and the three of them walked together towards the special Floo the Ministry had installed for the memorial.
As they approached, Harry suddenly groaned. "Oh blast. I forgot my shin pads in the hut," he said. "I'll be right back."
"We'll see you at The Burrow, then?" asked Ron, and Harry nodded. Ron hesitated for a moment, then clapped Harry on the back. "Listen, mate, things are a little weird right now, what with... well, you know what, but... we'll get used to it. We'll just need a bit of time, right?"
"I mean, I doubt even you were all right with it right away, after you figured yourself out."
Harry chuckled. "No, I wasn't."
Ron nodded. "Wish you'd told me, mate. It might have been weird at first, but I still wish you'd told me." He took a handful of Floo powder. "I'll tell Mum you'll be along in a bit."
"Thanks." He watched Ron and Hermione flash out of sight, then wearily trudged back to the hut and opened the door, startled to note that Malfoy had come back and had changed out of his Quidditch leathers and into regular clothes.
Momentarily pitying himself for not having arrived a few minutes earlier, Harry asked "Did you not catch up with Stebbins?"
Malfoy's lips twitched briefly. "Oh, I caught up with him. Asked if he'd thought of practicing for a Chaser position, and told him you and I were thinking of doing it." A brief internal struggle to regress to age ten at the words 'doing it' possessed Harry for a moment, but Malfoy was still speaking. "He said no before I could even ask if he wanted to join us. Like he was terrified someone might see him talking to me. Don't know whether it's the Death Eater or the Gay, but whatever it was, he couldn't wait to leave."
"Bugger," said Harry. "I'm sorry."
"So am I." Malfoy gathered up his things, frowning at a frayed piece of lacing on his leather elbow pad. "Wonderful. Free to be who I want to be... but nobody wants a Death Eater." He sat down and took out his wand, conjuring a repair kit, and glanced up at Harry. "Where are Granger and Weasley?"
"Gone back to The Burrow. I'm supposed to meet them there."
"Well, don't let me keep you, then," said Malfoy tightly, beginning to fuss with the lacings.
Harry picked up his shin pads and debated leaving for a brief moment. Sat down instead, and gazed at Malfoy thoughtfully. "Did you get a chance to see the new war portrait hall?" he asked.
Malfoy shook his head, concentrating on the laces. "Not that many people I'd want to see there. You?"
"Some other day. Not today." Harry watched Malfoy painstakingly unwinding the laces, and wondered how often he'd done that himself, letting the careful, precise work of maintaining sports equipment soothe him after a bad day.
They really weren't so different after all.
"Have you ever spoken to a portrait of someone you knew who died?" he asked.
"Nobody I was close to, no. You?"
"Dumbledore's. Right after the Battle."
Malfoy nodded. "Who would you want to talk to?"
"Professor Lupin. Fred Weasley. Colin Creevey." He paused. "Snape."
Malfoy nodded, briefly meeting his eyes. "Me too. Not today, but eventually. Though I can't think a lot of people will be too eager to speak to him, no matter how much of a hero he turned out to be."
Harry laughed. "No, probably not. I will talk to him though, some day. Not today. He'll probably only sneer at me anyway."
Malfoy smiled. "Probably. He wasn't your biggest fan."
"He'd probably want to talk to you."
"Maybe. I do wonder what he'd think of me joining the Unspeakables, though."
"Why did you?"
Malfoy shrugged. "I like it. I like solving problems."
"What kind of problems?"
Malfoy smirked. "I can't tell you. Or rather, I could tell you--"
"But you'd have to kill me, right." Harry rolled his eyes. "You people are so annoying when you do that. D'you know our own Trainers didn't know why your lot was doing the simulation with us? I mean, obviously you wanted to learn interrogation techniques, but you don't normally go out and investigate crimes, do you? Why do you need to know how to interrogate anybody? For that matter, why do you need a dungeon?"
"Again, I could tell you, but--"
"Yeah, got it."
"Well why did you go into the Aurors?"
Harry thought for a moment. "To be honest some days I'm not sure."
"You don't enjoy it?"
"I do, only..." Harry searched for the words. "Sometimes it seems almost too easy. Not the work itself, but the fact that I went into it."
"I... I'm eighteen and I've been doing what I'm supposed to do my whole life. I keep thinking it's... almost like a cliché. That I'm expected to eventually end up being an Auror and a role model for little wizarding children, and marry my best mate's sister and be surrounded by children named after my parents and friends..."
"Don't you want that?"
"Not all of it, not really."
Malfoy nodded. "Well I was supposed to follow in my father's footsteps, handle the Malfoy fortune, and be part of the leadership of wizarding society, once we were rid of Muggles and Muggle-borns."
"You've still got your fortune."
"I can't exactly lead anybody, though, can I? What with not exactly having the approval of the masses."
Harry snorted cynically. "The approval of the masses doesn't mean much, I don't think. They're likely to turn on you at any moment."
"True enough." Malfoy tilted his head to the side pensively, and tested the suppleness of the laces he'd just repaired, running them through his fingers and absently tugging on them. Harry firmly told himself he was nowhere near far gone enough to envy laces. Even leather laces. Besides, Malfoy was speaking. "My mother would like it if we had that back. Hence her pushing me to sign up for this bloody charity game. But the Unspeakables... well, they're respected and feared, but not really trusted by most people. Mother thinks I should've gone into Healing, or something equally praiseworthy."
"Why didn't you?"
"It's my life, not my mother's," said Malfoy. "It's not easy to make some choices, but I've done what people around me wanted me to do for most of my life, and it hasn't helped me get anywhere. I'm trying to do what I want now." He gave Harry a crooked half-smile. "Which is why I just tried for Stebbins instead of dismissing your idea as typical Gryffindor leaping before you look."
Harry nodded, suddenly rather sheepish. Not a comfortable feeling, realizing a Slytherin was showing more courage than he was at this particular point in time.
Malfoy finally finished with the lacings, retied them onto the elbow pad, then examined the pad and put it down, taking out his wand and making his repair kit vanish. He stood up, picking up his Quidditch equipment.
"You know what I said about not knowing the answer if you don't ask the question?" Harry said slowly.
"Yes?" Malfoy looked somewhat put out, on his way to the door. "I did ask. I know the answer now."
"I'm not talking about you asking anything." Harry stood up too. "What would you say if I asked?"
"Was Pansy telling the truth? What she said about how you felt about me during school?"
Malfoy coloured up, and Harry mentally kicked himself. "Sorry, that's none of my business--"
"We were kids, Potter," Malfoy said. He hesitated, then lifted his chin, almost defiantly. "Yes, I... I was interested, but I mostly just hated you. Besides, why would you care?"
"Because I've been thinking about you for ages," Harry said, and Malfoy's mouth dropped open slightly, grey eyes widening in shock. "I thought it was just a... sort of a crush, and being interested in what you were doing because you were turning out pretty different from what you were like at school, but the simulation... well, what I felt was weird, but not as much as it should have been, you know? I sort of realized that what I felt before wasn't just - before the simulation, that is - it wasn't just a crush." And he should probably really stop any moment now, because now he was babbling, and Malfoy hadn't expressed any current interest in him, after all.
"You did get the spell taken off, right?" Malfoy said slowly.
Malfoy nodded, and Harry didn't have a clue as to what he was thinking or what emotions were playing out behind his eyes. He tried to comfort himself that rejection wasn't one of them. Not right away, anyway.
"Did you feel any different after it was gone?" Harry asked. Malfoy's mouth opened, then closed, and Harry made himself push on, his pulse racing. In for a Knut, in for a Galleon, and Go Go Gryffindor. "I didn't. Not really. I mean, the intensity and all, the - some of the stuff that I knew was artificial, that was gone. But not... not being interested. That felt the same." Malfoy hadn't broken eye contact. "What would you say?" Harry repeated again. "If I asked?"
Malfoy ran a hand through his hair and blushed darkly, and Harry was suddenly tired of being cautious. What the hell, you only live once, he thought, and at least this time there weren't fifty people standing around watching - and he reached out and kissed him.
Malfoy pulled back, his eyes wide. Harry started to back up too - fuck, he'd gone too far--
"No, sorry, just - startled, that's all," Malfoy said, and dropped his bag of equipment. He pulled Harry close and kissed him back passionately, finally breaking for air to gasp, "I'd say yes, are you joking?"
Harry laughed and pulled Malfoy back into his arms and then he was lost. The part of him that could make sense of anything at all had the fleeting thought that the difference between this and what he'd had with Ginny was like the difference between riding a bicycle and flying - the exhilaration of having a man's body at his fingertips, all firm planes and the scent of Quidditch leather and wind and maleness, the hands running over his body sure and firm and strong, a rough tongue caressing his. He ran lips down Malfoy's neck, feeling him moan, hands wandering down his back to his arse, pulling them closer until he could feel Malfoy's hardness against his own.
"Fuck," he murmured, "fuck that's good. Oh fuck..." and his knees were growing weak and his heart was racing, and in the midst of the wash of sensations, the exhilaration of taste and scent and heat, the vague thought crossed his mind that he didn't want to waste any mental energy trying to keep his balance. He spotted the wall and pushed Malfoy towards it, and Malfoy laughed, a free, rich sound, as his back hit it and Harry braced a hand on either side of him. Malfoy dropped his head back, pulling Harry closer, and rocked up against him
Malfoy laughed again, and Harry vaguely remembered that they were in a nominally public place and anybody could come in at any moment, but it was a little difficult to hold on to that thought as he nipped the side of Malfoy's neck, where his pale hair curled a bit with dampness, either from the game or from what they were doing right now.
"Don't - oh don't stop," Malfoy moaned, shivering as Harry tasted the side of his neck. He tilted his head to the side, his fingers running through the strands of Harry's hair before urging him to press harder with his mouth, and the whimper that moved through him that was the sexiest thing Harry had ever heard.
Future note: Malfoy really, really liked having his neck bitten. Harry would really need to remember that, assuming he didn't die of pleasure right now from the way Malfoy was groaning and cradling the back of Harry's neck, unselfconsciously gasping in delight as Harry's tongue and lips and teeth roamed over his throat, and pressing himself more and more urgently against Harry, and oh--
He should've known that Malfoy would be like this. Taking, pushing, feeling everywhere, his hands now running over Harry's body quickly, demandingly. He'd been brought up to take whatever he wanted, and it was a bloody dream come true, to be what Malfoy wanted this fiercely.
And it felt like he'd wanted this forever. Like he'd wanted Malfoy forever.
They were both going to come, Harry realized, and really couldn't spare a thought as to why that might not be such a good idea. Everything had narrowed to Malfoy, the pulse at the base of his throat, his movements against Harry's body. The hand that suddenly moved to the front of Harry's trousers and cupped him through his pants, and if Harry had thought the sensation of grinding against Malfoy's length was amazing, it was nothing compared to the friction and purpose of Malfoy's hand on him, firm strokes that were going to - and he could do the same, he realized, and moved his own hand to Malfoy's cock. He glanced down briefly, swiftly unbuttoning Malfoy's trousers and slipping a hand inside, Malfoy's shocked intake of breath echoed by his own. Malfoy's cock was hard, and velvety warm against his palm, and Malfoy's hips jerked with each stroke, and suddenly somehow Malfoy's hand was curling around Harry's cock too, and Harry didn't even know how that had happened.
They were crying out with pleasure now, stroking each other firmly, bringing each other closer to completion, Malfoy's breath against Harry's lips as they gasped together, and as Malfoy's eyes squeezed shut, lights burst through Harry's consciousness and everything but the white heat of his climax tearing through him was obliterated in a shout.
They were still, panting. Harry's limbs felt like lead and his entire body was awash in the shock of what had just happened, heart still racing.
Merlin, he could sleep for a year after this. If he didn't fall on his arse first.
Malfoy took a deep, shuddering breath, and his fingers worked their way into Harry's hair again. Harry braced himself against the wall with his elbow, drawing away from Malfoy enough to meet his gaze.
There was laughter, and happiness, and a kind of dazed wonder in Malfoy's grey eyes. Malfoy smiled at him and rested back against the wall, and Harry chuckled.
"What?" asked Malfoy.
"Fuck, that was amazing," Harry said, his voice sounding happier than he'd felt in years.
"Merlin yeah," Malfoy said, then closed his eyes and groaned. "Only problem is I'm going to fall on my arse if I don't sit down."
Harry laughed. "D'you want to sit, then?"
"In a moment." He pulled Harry close again, then frowned slightly and looked down. "Erm."
Harry looked down too and sniggered. "Bit of a mess," he remarked, taking his wand and murmuring a cleaning spell over himself.
"Mmm, I'll clean up later," said Malfoy, his voice drowsy. "My wand's with my Quidditch things."
"Here, take mine." Harry handed Malfoy his wand, marveling at how natural it felt to do so, just as it had during their simulated 'crime'. His wand seemed to respond well to Malfoy, too, in much the same way as Malfoy's wand had felt friendly, somehow, in Harry's hands when he'd taken it from Malfoy over a year ago.
Their wands felt friendly in each other's hands. Off the top of his head he could think of about a dozen dirty jokes that could be made from that.
Malfoy gave Harry back his wand and they rested together comfortably against the wall, and God, this was amazing. Though really, it would probably be a good idea to draw apart before someone came in. Too bad nuzzling Malfoy's neck and just hoping for no interruptions for the next few hours felt like a much better plan.
"Mm, you didn't answer," he murmured against Malfoy's neck. Malfoy made a soft noise of inquiry. "About whether it felt different after the spell was off."
Malfoy was silent for a few moments. "It didn't. But not because of what you think." He pulled away slightly. "I wasn't really under the bond spell."
"What?" Harry drew back, puzzled.
"They cast it on me, but I counteracted it." Harry gaped at him. "I wasn't really under its effects. It... heightened some things. But I was in control of it, mostly."
"How? Is that also some Unspeakable thing?"
Malfoy regarded him seriously. "It's a... survival thing. From having lived with Death Eaters in my home, and learned how to not allow anyone to influence me."
"Nobody knew you were counteracting it?"
"No." He cleared his throat. "I will share what I did with the Unspeakables, eventually, only--"
"So... how you were acting towards me..."
"That was real," said Malfoy. "Mostly."
"But... why?" Harry knew from the moment the words were spoken that it was the wrong thing to say. "Never mind," he said quickly. Regardless of what they'd just done together, questions like that were a little too intimate for right now, and Harry didn't even need to access his inner Hermione to figure that out.
Suddenly he tensed, hearing murmurs outside the hut at the same time as Malfoy did, including one voice that sounded rather familiar.
Malfoy closed his eyes in dismay. "Bollocks. Skeeter. And she's..." Malfoy fumbled for his wand and muttered a spell, then groaned. "She's camped out right outside the hut. Along with a bunch of other reporters. They heard you came back to the hut, and they're going to try to interview you the moment you step out."
Harry scowled. "How did you - yeah, never mind, you could tell me, but. Are you sure they saw me? Did they see you?"
"They suspect I may be in here, but nobody saw me come back."
Harry glanced over Malfoy, taking in the rumpled clothing, the dishevelment, the air of being rather well-fucked. They could smooth out their hair - well, Malfoy could, anyway, Harry's hair was pretty much a lost cause on the best of days - and do up their trousers and remove certain stains, but their blushes were inerasable and in any case they had both just been outed today, so nobody was going to miss the obvious media-worthiness of them having spent over half an hour in a small Quidditch equipment shed... and there was no Apparition on Hogwarts grounds...
Suddenly he smiled. "Let's go, then." He straightened up.
Malfoy's eyebrows shot up. "What?! If we go out there now, they'll see us."
"I know. Who cares?"
Malfoy's eyebrows climbed even higher. "Excuse me?"
"So they'll see us. And they'll come to the obvious conclusion. And they'll talk about us."
"And we're not doing anything wrong." He tucked himself in and buttoned up.
"They'll think we are," said Malfoy, following suit.
"Are you insane?"
"No. I'm just tired of caring what other people say or think."
Malfoy stared at him. "So am I, but..."
"So. D'you want to? Give them something to talk about?"
Malfoy ran a hand through his hair, then suddenly gave him a grin. "Why not?"
They smiled at each other, and opened the door.
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