hd_hols (hd_hols) wrote in hd_holidays,
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HAPPY H/D HOLIDAYS, [name redacted]!

Author: celandineb
Recipient: [name redacted]
Title: The Aconite Ambiguity
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco, references to past Draco/Astoria and Harry/Ginny
Summary: Draco Malfoy is being held under suspicion of murder, and Head Auror Harry Potter must investigate the crime.
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): None.
Epilogue compliant? Not really. Both Harry and Draco are divorced and children are not mentioned.
Word Count: 7061
Author's Notes: [name redacted], you said you liked mysteries, so I gave it a try. Sorry, no smut, but if you want a smutty coda at a later date I will write one for you!




The Aconite Ambiguity

"Why should I believe you, Malfoy?"

Harry leaned against the barred door of the cell, his eyes weary. He had had just under five hours' sleep in the past seventy-two, and only kept going now on coffee and sheer nerve. First there had been the long surveillance to catch a black market trader in chimaera eggs, and then, just when Harry had hoped to go home and get some well-deserved rest, Draco Malfoy had been brought in on suspicion of murder, and Harry now had to deal with that. Sometimes he wished his subordinates were a little less enthusiastic and a little more aware of what else he had on his plate.

"Because I'm telling the truth," said Draco through gritted teeth. "I had nothing to do with Viola's death."

"Superior Red wine is produced only by the Malfoy Apothecary," Harry pointed out. "The bottle was found on her bedside table, half-empty, and a test of the remaining liquid indicated that the wine had been adulterated with a solution of aconite. Malfoy Apothecary records show that you purchased a bottle of Superior Red five weeks ago, and you gave it to Ms Otterbein for her birthday two days later, did you not?"

"Yes," Draco had to admit.

"There's no sign that anyone else touched the bottle, or even knew about it, besides yourself and Ms Otterbein, and no indication that anyone else wished her harm. You, however, had dated her for several months, and were overheard arguing with her when you broke up last week; three witnesses heard you threaten to hex her."

"Hex her, yes," said Draco. "Viola was horribly possessive. After no more than a dozen dates she was talking about what we should name our children! It was ridiculous. When I told her that I wasn't interested in moving our relationship along so quickly, she wanted to 'talk it out', and simply wouldn't listen to me. I threatened her with the Horn-Tongue Hex just to make her shut up. But I never hurt her physically, never even threatened to." His arms were folded; he clenched his hands tightly over his elbows. "I'd more or less decided she wasn't someone I wanted to continue seeing, actually, but I don't have to kill a woman to get her out of my life."

Harry raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.

"I don't!" said Draco urgently. "Someone else must have tampered with the bottle, somehow. Give me two drops of Veritaserum, and I'll prove I didn't kill her."

"Can't do it," Harry said. "You know that Ministry regulations forbid that. Sorry." He said the last word automatically; he didn't really feel regret. The physical evidence pointed toward Draco, or the Aurors wouldn't have arrested him to begin with.

"Never mind." Draco turned away, his shoulders slumping. "I should have known you would never believe anything I said. I could tell you that it was raining and you'd look out the window to see. I could tell you that... never mind. Just leave me alone. You've already made up your mind what the truth is."

Harry left the cell, closing the door behind him with a metallic snick. "Your solicitor will be here tomorrow," he said through the bars. Draco ignored him. Harry shrugged. He was glad to have resolved the smuggling case, and not surprised that Draco denied his guilt over murder.

He rubbed his eyes and yawned. The paperwork for both the murder and the chimaera egg deal could wait until tomorrow; if he didn't get some sleep, his write-up of the cases would make no sense anyhow. Fourteen years as an Auror and he still loved his job, but the paperwork he could happily consign to oblivion. It wasn't as if anyone ever read any of the reports. They were filed and forgotten.

At home Harry stood under the warm water of the shower, grateful to wash off the grime of the past three days. He nearly fell asleep standing up and stumbled into bed without bothering to eat or even clean his teeth.

The next morning he munched on toast thickly spread with blackcurrant jam as he glanced over the headlines in The Daily Prophet. Draco's arrest had not yet made the paper, somewhat to Harry's surprise. He supposed that the Malfoy family solicitor had pulled strings to keep it quiet. Thinking the case over, Harry still had no doubts that Draco was the culprit. It beggared belief that the Malfoy Apothecary had added an aconite-based potion to that particular bottle of wine over a thousand years ago; the only way that the poison could have gotten into the wine bottle was for someone to have put it there, deliberately and recently. Draco had purchased the bottle and given it to Viola. He was the obvious person to have poisoned it.

And yet... Draco had insisted on his innocence. That was only to be expected, but he had even offered to take Veritaserum to prove it. Perhaps he had prepared in advance and taken an antidote? Harry frowned. Draco could not have had wind of his arrest before it happened; the Aurors were always very careful about that. If Draco had not taken an antidote, then he might be telling the truth. In which case, who had murdered Viola Otterbein, and why?

By eleven o'clock Harry had written up his report on the chimaera egg black marketeers and was back standing in front of Draco's cell.

"If you're innocent, as you claim, then who do you think is guilty?"

Draco's eyes widened. "You believe me after all?"

"Let's just say that I want to be absolutely certain that the murderer doesn't get away with it... whoever the murderer might be." Harry bared his teeth in what was less a smile than a grimace. "So if it wasn't you...?"

"I don't know," said Draco, shaking his head. "I didn't really know Viola very well. She had had at least one bad breakup before me, she told me about that, so maybe her ex-boyfriend did it?"

Harry pulled out his wand and Summoned a chair. This conversation might take a long time.

"You dated Viola for what, five months? She was serious enough to be talking about children's names, you told me so last night. You gave her an expensive bottle of wine as a birthday gift, and yet you're claiming you didn't know her well?"

"I didn't," Draco protested. "We had dinner together a few times, went to a couple of concerts and plays and so on. I gave her the wine for her birthday because it was easy to get, and I didn't know enough about her tastes to choose anything really personal. She didn't talk about herself all that much, not to me anyhow. Maybe to her girlfriends."

It could be true, Harry supposed. "All right, then, what was the name of this ex-boyfriend you mentioned who might have borne a grudge?"

"Septimus Capper. Sep, Viola called him."

Harry vaguely recalled a tall skinny boy with mousy hair, from Hufflepuff. Not a likely candidate as a murderer, he thought, but then who really was?

"She broke up with him, I assume?" he asked.

Draco nodded. "From the little bit she said, he sounded terribly creepy. He followed her around, even to work, and didn't want her to spend time with her other friends, not even her women friends. I thought he had given up -- Viola broke it off maybe six months before our first date, and she'd gone out with a couple of other wizards in the meantime -- but maybe not."

"I suppose he could be a suspect," said Harry, and made a note to look into Sep Capper's history. An actual alibi couldn't exist since there was no way to tell for certain when the wine had been poisoned, but there could be evidence of possible guilt; for instance, if they found aconite in Capper's flat. "Anyone else?"

"Not that I know of, not by name anyhow." Draco took a deep breath. "I have to say, I appreciate that you're willing to look again. I didn't expect that."

Harry wasn't quite sure how to take Draco's remark, so he just shrugged. "As I said, the important thing is to catch the right person. I don't twist evidence to suit my preconceptions. We'll re-examine our evidence and check up on Mr Capper, just to be certain."

He left, feeling Draco's eyes on him as he walked away.

The file on Viola Otterbein was on Harry's desk; it didn't take long for him to read through it. Ron had been the Auror in charge. His report did make it seem that Draco was the prime suspect, but Harry knew Ron well enough to read between the lines and be reasonably certain that Ron had not pursued other possibilities as thoroughly as he might have done had it been anyone other than Draco. In Ron's place Harry might have done the same. As Head Auror, however, he couldn't afford the luxury of letting old grudges affect his actions. The evidence might point to Draco, yet there were enough gaps and uncertainties that it was not at all impossible that Draco was telling the truth, and Sep Capper -- or someone else altogether -- could be guilty of Viola's murder.

"Nigel!"

Nigel Puddeley's head popped up over the screen around his desk. "Yes, Head Auror?"

Harry sighed slightly. Nigel was new to the Aurors, and hadn't relaxed around Harry yet, no matter how often he was told that Harry preferred everyone in the department to be on a first-name basis. "Could you go down to the Ministry Archives and ask Hermione Granger to investigate and see if there is any antidote against Truth Serum that lasts longer than twenty-four hours?"

"Yes, sir. Anything else?"

"See if there are any records available on Septimus Capper. I believe he was a Hufflepuff at Hogwarts, and he would have left school in, oh, 2000, 2002, somewhere in there. That's all for now."

"Yes, sir." Nigel fairly sprinted out of the room.

Twenty minutes later he was back with a thin folder with Capper's name on it.

"Ms Granger says that she doesn't think there are any long-term antidotes for Truth Serum, but she'll research it and have an answer for you on that by tomorrow," he said respectfully, handing Harry the folder.

"Thank you, Nigel," Harry dismissed him back to his usual tasks.

There wasn't much information on Sep Capper, but what there was tended to bear out Draco's allegation. He had been admitted to St Mungo's three times, twice for treatment when former girlfriends had put multiple hexes on him after he wouldn't leave them alone. One of those girls had been employed at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and George Weasley had not only banned Capper from the premises, he had filed a complaint against Capper for loitering and harassing her while she was at work. Certainly it would be worth investigating him.

"Yeah, I knew Viola." Capper said in a surly voice when Harry tracked him down where he worked at Potage's Cauldron Shop. "What about it? She dumped me almost a year ago."

"When was the last time you saw her?" Harry leaned against the counter.

Capper shrugged. "I saw her around from time to time, in Gringotts, or the Leaky Cauldron. She worked at Madam Primpernelle's, just a few numbers down from here, you know. I don't remember a specific day."

"I gather that you took the breakup pretty hard," Harry noted. "Didn't want to let her go." He made it a statement, not a question, but Capper answered in a defensive tone.

"She didn't know when she had it good, with me. I could have told her that a sod like Malfoy would just string her along, take what he could get from her, and then leave her."

"So Viola left you for him? I was under the impression that it was several months after she broke off her relationship with you before the two of them began dating."

Capper scowled. "Who told you that, Malfoy? He's lying. Viola was looking for someone to give her the life she wanted. She didn't believe I could do that, and she thought he could."

"Are you willing to let the Aurors look over your flat, to clear your name of any suspicion?" Harry asked him.

"No." Capper's expression closed off. "I don't trust you people not to plant evidence against me."

"You can be there when we go through," Harry offered. "Tonight perhaps, and get it over with. I can always get a letter of authorisation from the Minister of Magic to permit a search without your agreement."

"All right," Capper agreed after a pause.

"You're off work at five o'clock? I'll have my team at your flat then, waiting for you." Harry didn't bother to add that he would also have an Auror at the shop to ensure that Capper didn't flee, or leave early to destroy evidence. He still didn't know that Capper was anything but innocent, if a rather nasty piece of work, but best not to take chances.

He assigned Ron to pick up Capper, and himself waited with Nigel at Capper's flat. They began the search at eighteen minutes past five, and finished a bit less than two hours later. Capper had aconite among his possessions, all right, along with a number of other potions ingredients. He claimed to be doing some personal research on an improved doxycide, and there were scribbled notes on parchment that bore that out to some degree, but that didn't mean he couldn't have also poisoned Viola's wine. Ron might have cut a few corners in his search of Draco's flat, but he wouldn't have missed the presence of aconite there, and Draco had had none in his possession.

Indicative... but not proof.

That evening as Harry ate leftover cottage pie for his dinner, he missed Ginny's presence. They had had their share of problems, more than their share really, hence the divorce, but she had always been a good listener when he was wrestling with a difficult case. It helped to talk it out, to get his thoughts straight.

Instead he took a long walk, ignoring the light drizzle that misted over his glasses within moments. The movement soothed him, and he began mentally to lay out the facts as he knew them.

Viola Otterbein had died from aconite poisoning. The only aconite in her flat was in the bottle of Superior Red wine that was open and half-drunk by her bedside. The bottle -- or at any rate, a bottle of that wine -- had been given her by Draco Malfoy several weeks earlier, for her birthday. It was highly unlikely that the wine had been poisoned before Draco had had it, since it was a thousand-year-old vintage. On the other hand, there was no trace of aconite in Draco's flat, whereas there was a substantial quantity in Sep Capper's, and Capper and Viola had had a relationship with a stormy end, to the degree that Capper had stalked her in an effort to get her to come back to him. So Capper had both means and motive, whereas Draco seemed to have had the opportunity.

Harry shook his head. He was missing something, somewhere. Viola would never have let Capper into her flat after their breakup, and yet she had not owned the wine until recently. How could Capper have poisoned it? But why would Draco have done so? A little research in back issues of The Daily Prophet had shown that Draco's name had been romantically linked with a good dozen other witches over the past decade, since the end of his short-lived marriage to Astoria Greengrass, but he had been telling the truth when he said that he didn't need to resort to extremes to end a relationship. There was no indication whatsoever that any of those other dalliances had ended anything but amicably.

The next day, Harry received a note from Hermione to say that she could find no antidote to Truth Serum that was effective for more than six hours at the outside. If Harry could get permission to use it on Draco, that might demonstrate his innocence... or guilt. He filed the paperwork to begin the process, and went to tell Draco that he had done so.

"Do you think they'll allow it?" A spark of hope flared in Draco's eyes.

Harry shrugged. "I'm the one who originally pushed to make it restricted, to be used only in limited circumstances. So it's hard to say."

Draco gave him a curious look. "Why did you do that? Wouldn't it make your job a lot easier if you could just make every suspect take Truth Serum and know for certain if he was guilty?"

"Easier, maybe, but..." Harry didn't quite know how to explain. "It seemed to me wrong to interfere with someone's will that way. That's the kind of thing that Dolores Umbridge did, and I didn't want to follow her methods to any degree. It's worth having more trouble to be fair, I think. But since you specifically wanted to take the Truth Serum yourself, they're likely to grant permission."

"I hope so." Draco's throat moved as he swallowed. "Thank you for telling me that you've asked."

"You're welcome." Harry hesitated. "I requested permission to use it on Capper, too, you might as well know. He's also under suspicion now. But he didn't press to prove his innocence this way... so it's possible that the Wizengamot might not allow its use on him, and then by extension not allow it for you either. Which wouldn't be reasonable, but they're not always reasonable in my opinion."

"No," Draco agreed with a twist of his lips.

"I'll let you know if and when I'm authorised," said Harry. "There will have to be at least two witnesses besides myself, and usually a couple of members of the Wizengamot would be chosen for that. I should hear within a day or two."

It was actually the fourth day before he received word that the request had been granted, and that he could administer Truth Serum to both Draco Malfoy and Septimus Capper, who was now also in custody. The witnessing elders of the Wizengamot were to be Tiberius Ogden and Flavia Mockridge.

Draco was brought into the room first. Gravely Harry offered him the vial with its measured four drops, and equally gravely Draco swallowed the dose.

"Did you kill Viola Otterbein?"

"I did not kill her," Draco said.

"You gave her a bottle of Superior Red?"

"Yes."

"Did you in any way tamper with that bottle?"

"No."

"Do you have any knowledge whatsoever -- actual knowledge, not mere suspicion -- of who might have killed Viola?"

"No."

Harry and the two elders looked at each other.

"You'll remain in custody until the dose wears off," Harry told Draco. "Then you'll be free to go."

Draco nodded, and allowed himself to be taken away.

The guards brought in Septimus Capper, who drank his dose much more reluctantly than Draco had.

"Did you kill Viola Otterbein?" Harry asked again.

"No."

Harry blinked. He had been certain that if Draco wasn't guilty, Capper must be; there seemed to be no other likely suspects. Was there any other way to ask the question?

"Did you ever tamper with a bottle of wine that Viola owned, a bottle of Superior Red?"

"No."

"Have you ever directly or indirectly administered aconite to any human being, whether witch, wizard, Squib, or Muggle?

"No."

Again Harry exchanged glances with the elders.

"All right, you'll be released once the Truth Serum has worn off," he told Capper. "The Ministry thanks you for your cooperation."

Capper looked relieved, but surprised. "You're not going to ask me about anything else?"

"No, I'm only allowed to question you with regard to this case."

"Oh." The surprised expression remained on Capper's face as he was led out.

"What now, Head Auror?" Flavia Mockridge asked.

"If neither of your two suspects is guilty..." added Tiberius Ogden.

"I know." Harry sighed. "Viola Otterbein is dead, and we don't know any more than we did to begin with, except that neither Malfoy nor Capper is responsible. I'll have to start all over again."

"We wish you luck," said Tiberius, and Flavia nodded agreement.

Harry went to see Draco before he left the Ministry building.

"I'm glad that you're innocent," he said, meaning it.

"Really? Why? Doesn't it make your job harder?"

"Yes, but no one ever promised that being an Auror would be easy. To my knowledge I've never put an innocent wizard or witch in Azkaban, and I'd like to keep it that way."

Draco cocked his head. "Idealism. After all these years. I'm impressed."

Harry thought he detected sarcasm in Draco's tone, and reacted defensively. "Not something you know much about, is it?"

"On the contrary." Draco spread his hands wide and smiled. "You might be surprised at what I hold as ideal."

"Such as?" Harry asked the question before he remembered that Draco was still under the influence of the Truth Serum.

"You."

The word fell into silence.

Harry looked at Draco, who flushed, but didn't say anything more.

"I'm your ideal?"

Draco nodded.

"But... all the witches you've dated. And Astoria, your wife. Ex-wife." Harry shook his head. "Maybe that's why the ex, but then why keep dating?"

"I couldn't have you," said Draco simply. "Viola and the others were, you might say, protective camouflage. My parents would be less than pleased if they knew I prefer men, and I wasn't willing to push their acceptance for anyone but you." His face became even redder. "I wouldn't have chosen to tell you this, you know."

"I'm sorry," Harry apologised. "It was wrong of me to have asked you when you aren't able to control what you say."

"You're not offended?"

"No, 'offended' isn't the right word. Surprised. A little flattered, and very surprised." Harry thought it over. "Quite flattered, actually."

"Probably good that you didn't know before, though, or you might not have put through the request to use the Truth Serum."

"No, I would have done that anyhow," Harry said almost absently. He was still pondering the implications of Draco's startling statement. He was surprised, and not at all offended, and that in itself was surprising. "Er. With four drops, it will be about another hour before it wears off and you'll be free to go."

"I understand." Draco leaned back, striving to appear relaxed and almost achieving it. "So was Sep Capper the guilty party?"

"No, he took the Truth Serum too, and he's innocent. I'm back to square one," Harry admitted. "I really have no idea where to look next."

"Aconite isn't that easy to buy," Draco said. "Maybe look into who purchased some shortly before Viola's death?"

"That's about all I can do at this point," said Harry. "It's possible that whoever killed her owned the aconite long since, but I don't have any better ideas to pursue."

"I wish you luck. Viola was pushier than I might have cared for, but I honestly don't know of a reason why anyone would have wanted to kill her, and I'm sorry that she's dead." Draco ran his hand through his hair. "I can say that now without it just sounding self-serving."

"Yes." Harry didn't really want to stay and converse until Draco could leave; he might again ask something personal by accident, and learn things he wasn't expecting. "Look, I need to write up some reports."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to keep you from your work. I'll just wait here. Another hour, right?"

"A little less now. There's a clock on the wall there. You could actually leave any time, we just discourage it since the Truth Serum is still in effect and there could be unexpected consequences."

Draco chuckled. "As has been demonstrated already. I understand. I'll wait."

Harry returned to his desk and wrote a brief report of the results of the Truth Serum administration on both Draco and Capper, then began jotting notes about what he needed to do in order to continue to pursue Viola's murderer. Checking up on aconite purchases did seem to be about the only thing he could do; there was no further physical evidence, and looking into Viola's personal relationships had not suggested anyone who might have had any reason to kill her, besides the two men now proven innocent.

He had put the piece of parchment aside to glance over some new information on a rumoured werewolf gathering -- it wasn't quite illegal for such a group to get together, but after Fenrir Greyback and his pack had fought for Voldemort, restrictions on werewolves had been tightened -- when he heard a cough.

Draco stood in front of Harry's desk, smiling a little nervously.

"I, er, wanted to let you know that I'm leaving."

"All right." Harry raised his eyebrows. "You didn't have to check in with me, you know."

"I know." Draco paused. "What time do you finish work?"

Harry shrugged. "It depends on when I've done whatever I need to that day. Sometimes six-ish, sometimes I don't go home at all."

"Today? I wondered if maybe you'd like to have dinner. I thought we could talk about Viola; maybe together we could think of other possibilities to pursue whoever killed her."

"I could do that," said Harry slowly. After Draco's earlier confession, he was fairly sure that the other man had more in mind than just a discussion of Viola's death, but it wasn't as if he'd have to accept any offers. He could keep this strictly professional. In fact, it might be a good idea to feel out Draco and make sure he didn't have any thoughts of retaliation against the Aurors for having arrested and detained him. He glanced at the time. "I can probably wind things up here in a couple of hours. Did you have somewhere in mind?"

"There's a little Muggle restaurant, Italian." Draco named the street. "I thought somewhere non-wizarding might be more discreet. Whoever the real killer is presumably knew I was the prime suspect. Seeing the two of us together might tip him off that I'm no longer under consideration."

"True," Harry agreed. "All right. I'll meet you there at half past six, unless there's some kind of unexpected crisis. If I haven't turned up by seven, that's what's happened, but I don't anticipate anything of the sort."

"See you then, Harry."

No crisis intervened. Harry took the Floo home to wash up and change quickly; an Auror's working robes weren't exactly suitable for a Muggle restaurant.

He arrived only a few minutes late. Draco was already seated, and lifted his hand to signal Harry that he was there.

"I think the tagliatelli di castagne here is excellent," he said conversationally as Harry sat down. "You might enjoy the gnocchi, too. Both of those are in a mushroom sauce. Or if you want something meatier, the maialino arrosto is very good." He pronounced the Italian without hesitation.

Harry glanced at the menu and was relieved to see translations of the names. "The suckling pork does sound good. Thanks for the suggestion."

Draco grinned at him. "No trouble."

They gave their orders to the waitress. Then Harry said, "Did you have any ideas about Viola? I'm going to pursue the aconite purchase angle, but since it was weeks ago now, I don't have very high hopes. There's no evidence of any break-in, which suggests the wine must have been tampered with by someone Viola knew and let into her flat, but there's several weeks in which it could have happened, any time between her birthday when you gave her the bottle and her death."

"And it definitely wasn't Sep Capper?" Draco sounded disappointed.

"Not unless he managed somehow to overcome the Truth Serum," said Harry. "If he'd been a Ravenclaw, I might entertain that as a possibility, but he didn't strike me as clever enough to have a chance of doing that, not when he'd been in custody for several days before taking it, and without advance warning."

"No, you're right, it's impossible."

Their antipasti arrived and interrupted the conversation briefly.

"Maybe it wasn't a romantic partner," Draco picked up the thread again. "Someone from where she worked? Either another of the salesgirls or a customer?"

"I can't imagine a dissatisfied customer of Madam Primpernelle's going to a specific salesgirl's flat and poisoning her wine," Harry said. "If someone were that unhappy with their beauty potion, they'd either go for Primpernelle herself, or the shop in general, I would think. I suppose there's a chance it's a co-worker, but the initial investigation didn't turn up anything in that area. They all seemed to get on fairly well, no fights over boyfriends or anything of that sort, and they didn't lend each other money that we could find out. Viola hadn't been promoted over any of the others to cause professional jealousy, either. There simply doesn't seem to be any reason."

Draco prodded at a mushroom with the side of his fork. "I know she wasn't pregnant, certainly not by me."

"No, she wasn't. Never had been. No medical conditions of any significance; it's not as though she could have given someone a disease that they took revenge on her for." Harry took a bite of the pork, which was delicious. "She seems to have been an attractive, generally well-liked woman, if maybe a bit of a social climber."

"I wouldn't quite put it that way." Draco flushed. "This is going to sound conceited."

"Don't worry about it." Harry's voice was dry.

"Right. Well. I told you that she was pretty pushy when it came to our relationship -- she very definitely had hopes of marriage, and I hadn't yet made it clear that I was not interested in going in that direction -- but, well, if Capper stalked her, she came awfully close to stalking me. She wouldn't leave me alone, kept sending me notes via Owl Post and so forth."

"Your point being?"

"I don't know that I have a point, just that she wasn't quite as nice a person as you might think. No one likes to speak ill of the dead, so you're not likely to get a balanced picture of her from most people."

"You're willing to be negative," Harry noted. He finished his glass of wine and poured a bit more from the bottle they were sharing.

"Her death ended up putting me in a Ministry cell for the better part of a fortnight," snapped Draco. "I think I'm being fairly restrained, under the circumstances."

Harry raised his hands. "I agree, you are. And you may very well be right in your assessment of Viola; I just don't see that it gets me much further in figuring out who might have killed her. There are three points to consider in pursuing a crime: motive, means, and opportunity. The several weeks of time between you giving her that bottle of Superior Red and her death means there was a large window of opportunity. Aconite isn't available in every corner shop, but it's not all that difficult to obtain either. Motive is my best chance of a lead, and there doesn't seem to be anyone with a clear motive, not now that both you and Capper are out of the running."

"I'm sorry, Harry." Draco said it with genuine regret. "If I knew anything else, I would tell you."

"It's just frustrating. It doesn't seem like it should be so difficult a case," said Harry. "Look, let's talk about something else for a while. Whatever you want."

"Really?"

"Oh." Harry realised that he might have let himself in for potential trouble with that offer. Still, he had made it. "Sure. Why not? Unless you're going to belatedly confess that you are actually Voldemort in heavy disguise, I don't think you can make my evening any worse."

"No, I'm not. You already heard my big confession this morning." Draco looked down at his plate, chasing the last bite of chestnut tagliatelli. "I'd be stupid to think you'd had time to even think about that by now."

"Not really, no." Harry took a deep breath. "I agreed to come to dinner to talk about the case, not for any other reason. But... you told me the truth, so I'll return the favour and tell you that one big reason why Ginny and I split up is because I prefer men, too."

"I wondered," said Draco, his grey eyes glinting with reflected light as a car drove past on the street outside. "I never heard about you being in any serious relationship since your divorce, and I did keep my ear to the ground on that score, just in case."

"Yeah, well, my job doesn't exactly give me a lot of scope for dating." Harry shrugged. "With either men or women. I'm gone for days at a time, sometimes; I can't even keep an owl, I'm not certain to be home regularly enough to feed one. That was another big part of why things didn't work out with Ginny, and that's not something that would be different with a man."

"Some men might not mind," said Draco quietly. "If they understood how important it is to you. Just so you know that."

To Harry's relief, Draco didn't say anything more on the subject. Instead they talked about Quidditch, whether the Harpies or the Magpies were more likely to be that year's British champions, and ended the meal companionably by sharing a rum panna cotta.

The next day Harry began investigating sales of aconite in the several weeks preceding Viola's death. He began in Knockturn Alley.

"Never sold no aconite last month at all," the first wizard shopkeeper denied. "I keep careful records, I do."

He shoved a huge ledger across the counter at Harry, narrowly missing dropping it onto the floor. Harry squinted at the spidery handwriting and flipped back several pages to the dates he was concerned with. As the man had said, there were no sales of aconite recorded then.

"If this is accurate, you've nothing to be concerned about. Thank you." He shut the ledger and passed it back.

"What's this all about, then?"

"Murder," said Harry briefly, and left the man staring after him.

Not every shopkeeper was as cooperative as the first, nor did they all keep as thorough of records, but by lunchtime Harry had ascertained that only two purchases of aconite had been made in Knockturn Alley during the time in question, and he had the names of both customers. Neither was a name that had come up in the earlier investigations of Viola's death, but one never knew. He still had Slug & Jiggers to go to in Diagon Alley, and then there were the scattered establishments elsewhere in wizarding Britain, some of which sold only through Owl Post. He might manage one or two of those today, if he were lucky.

A ploughman's lunch at the Leaky Cauldron fortified him to go to Slug & Jiggers.

"Yes, sir, we did sell some aconite about three weeks ago," said the pleasantly wrinkled old witch behind the counter. "To a young lady. She seemed, well, not quite herself."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Harry.

"She seemed upset, like. I've seen her before, walking along Diagon Alley, and she was usually quite a happy-looking pleasant girl, but when she bought the aconite she seemed distressed. I didn't like to inquire, though." She looked at Harry with concern. "Is there a problem? It was a legal sale, she paid her Sickles and took her purchase right then."

Harry's head was spinning. Viola herself had bought the aconite that killed her? And if that was the case, had someone else put it in the wine, or had she committed suicide?

"I'm trying to find out who bought it to use as a poison," he said as gently as possible. "Do you happen to have the name of the witch who made this purchase?"

"We don't keep names, I'm afraid. She had long light brown hair, brown eyes in a heart-shaped face, average height." She pursed her lips in thought. "A mole on her right cheekbone. That's all I remember."

"You remember very well," said Harry. The description fitted Viola Otterbein too closely to be anyone else. "Thank you for telling me. Don't be concerned that it will cause any trouble for you or for Slug & Jiggers."

"Oh dear." The woman's eyes were wide and round. "This was a murder, then?"

"I don't think it was, after all," Harry answered her sadly. "Thank you again."

The thing that didn't seem to make sense, Harry thought when he was back at his desk and trying to decide how to put together his report, was why Viola had chosen to put aconite into the Superior Red. If she wanted to kill herself, why such a method? There were simpler ways, certainly. There had been no trace of the aconite's packaging in her flat, just the substance itself in the wine. Which argued for someone else having done the poisoning -- they might have removed the packaging -- except that that brought it back to the problems of motive and opportunity. No one else could be shown to have those.

If Harry had been still married to Ginny, he could have talked it out with her. That was impossible now, but Draco had been helpful to talk to before, and he had known Viola. Maybe he could shed some light on the situation.

He put through a Floo-call to Draco, who was distinctly surprised to hear from Harry again so soon.

"Yes, I can meet you for dinner again. Where?"

"Why don't you just come to my house about seven," Harry said. "I'll bring in some Chinese takeaway."

Draco's eyes widened. "All right. By Floo?"

"Yes, I'll set it so that it's open. Usually I don't allow public access, but that will be the easiest way for you to reach my place." Harry didn't bother explaining just how much trouble it had caused him when he had kept his Floo connection open; the number of inquisitive enthusiasts was remarkable. He could open it, then close it again after Draco was gone.

He nearly forgot to do so, however, only remembering just in time. Draco arrived with a thump in a cloud of ash less than two minutes after Harry had opened the Floo connection.

"Hi."

"Hi. I have the food on the table. We should eat before it gets any colder," Harry said.

He had chosen a variety of dishes, on the theory that he could reheat whatever was left over for dinners later in the week, since he didn't know if Draco preferred mild or spicy, meat or fish or vegetarian.

Draco took some of the pepper shrimp and a mild chicken in orange sauce, and rice, and dug in. "Thanks."

"No trouble." Harry piled his own plate high. "What would you say if I told you that it looked like Viola might have committed suicide?"

"What?" Draco nearly knocked over his water glass.

Harry nodded. "She, or someone who looked enough like her to be a twin, purchased aconite less than a week before her death. It seems pretty unlikely to me that she bought it for some other reason, and that someone else was the one who then put it into that bottle of Superior Red. I just can't figure out either why she would do it at all, or why she chose that particular means. What purpose did it serve?"

"It threw suspicion on me," said Draco. "She was pretty unhappy with me."

"An awfully extreme way to take revenge over a breakup, given that it wasn't that long-term or serious of a relationship. You implied that you'd never even had sex," Harry said.

"We hadn't."

"Right. But on the other hand, she got rid of the aconite packaging before drinking the poisoned wine. It wasn't found in her rubbish bin, or we might have considered the possibility of suicide to begin with."

"She could have poisoned the wine a day or two before she drank it, tossed the wrapping and taken out her rubbish," said Draco. "If she was wavering about killing herself, she might have set things up, changed her mind, then after thinking some more changed it back again."

Harry set down his chopsticks and considered it. "Could be. It makes more sense than any other explanation I've come up with; more than the idea that she set up her suicide in order to convict you of her murder. Viola wasn't a Slytherin, was she?"

"No, a Hufflepuff. Hard-working but not cunning, not really."

"That's probably the most likely solution I'll find." Harry sighed. "Not entirely satisfying, but better than leaving it unsolved. Without any kind of note or diary there's just no way to tell what was in her mind, either for method or motive."

"At least you have a reasonable and likely answer," Draco offered. "No black mark on your own record for an unsolved murder."

"True enough." Harry finished the last bite of his rice. "Want your fortune cookie?"

Draco broke it open, read the slip of paper inside, and looked over at Harry. "What does yours say?"

"You will find an unexpected pleasure," Harry read aloud.

"Mine says, Success is worth the wait," said Draco. His smile was speculative. "I've been waiting a long time. Do you want to see if I can offer an unexpected pleasure?"

"I think I just might," said Harry.

What happened next wasn't all that unexpected -- Harry had been with a few other men, here and there over the years, although to have Draco pinned beneath him was admittedly something he had never anticipated would happen -- but it was indeed pleasurable.

Viola Otterbein's death might never be fully explained, and no unnecessary death could be considered a cheerful event, yet Harry could not bring himself to truly regret what had happened; indirectly it brought him a happiness he had never thought he would find.

Tags: [fic], rated: pg, round: winter 2012
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