Title: The Logic of Dreams. Part 3/3
Part One | Part Two
Ron starred at the pamphlet in his hand, reading the name over and over again, and wondering when it would finally sink in.
Ed Kappington. The Director for the Centre of Wizarding Rights was a man by the name of Ed Kappington.
So, the first Report was not implausible, after all. It had clearly shown that Harry would receive a letter stating that Hermione may be in danger from her boss. And Hermione’s boss was Ed Kappington. The pieces of the puzzle were settling into place . . .
But that didn’t change the fact that if Harry killed this Kappington fellow to save Hermione then it could be argued that the killing was justified. And it seemed to Ron that a justified murder was not something for which a man should be sentenced to life in Azkaban!
Suddenly, the way to save Harry . . . and with him, the integrity of the Pre-Curse Programme . . . was crystal clear. Ron didn’t have to destroy the Reports and thereby risk his job and a Ministry inquiry. He just needed a good barrister!
Not even bothering with the elevator, Ron Apparated to the Report Inspectors’ Office.
“Euan!” he called. “I’ve got . . . Euan?”
Bugger. The git must still be outside having a smoke.
But before Ron could Apparate to the front steps and grab Euan by the scruff of his neck, the Report Generators’ Pensieve began to steam like a cauldron of boiling water. The second Report was ready . . .
There was no time to waste. The other Auror departments almost certainly knew about the predictions, and Harry was almost certain to be arrested. And once he was, who knew what would happen? The situation would be out of Ron’s hands . . .
Making up his mind, Ron drew a deep breath and plunged his face into the Pensieve. It had been two years since he’d last done Report Inspection work, and it took him several minutes to find his bearings amidst the swirling fog of images. The visions from the Report Generators were always jumbled and confused – less a coherent narrative and more a loosely-knit sequence of vivid snapshots, almost completely devoid of context. Often it took multiple viewings before an Inspector could make sense of what he saw, but unfortunately, Ron didn’t have time for multiple viewings.
At first, he was utterly disoriented. A plain-looking brown-haired wizard was stepping off the Knight Bus somewhere in a nondescript Muggle neighbourhood. He was clutching his ID card like a talisman, but otherwise he looked like any other regular bloke. Then the scene shifted, and Ron saw a flash of blue neon – a sign of some sort – advertising cigarettes. And then there was a repetitive sound. It took a while before Ron could even recognise it as the dripping of a tap. And then there was a figure in a dark, shabby, little room, and Ron was looking down on him as though he were floating just beneath the high ceiling . . . The man beneath him was lying on his side in the middle of a large bed, his knees nearly drawn up to his chest and his face buried in his hands. It was only after Ron saw that the man was weeping and that the name he whispered was “Draco,” that he realised he was seeing Harry. Although where Harry was – and why he was there – Ron couldn’t even begin to guess. The only thing Ron was sure of was that nothing in the vision indicated that Harry intended to kill Ed Kappington . . . or anyone else for that matter. And the next glimpse he had, of a large man in Hermione’s flat surrounded by concerned-looking Aurors, only confirmed that belief. Report Generator Number Two was obviously the odd-man-out this time. He or she hadn’t predicted a murder. Which meant . . . which could only mean . . . that it was the third Report Generator who had provided the majority vote. And it was going to be the third Report Generator who was going to determine if Harry was a murderer . . . or if the system had made a mistake.
And regardless which of these two possibilities prevailed, it was still going to rock Ron’s world to its foundations. There was no way around it.
“Abercrombie! I thought you were going to smoke one fag, not ten. Come on, already!”
Euan dropped his cigarette on the stone step and stubbed it out with the toe of his boot before turning slowly to face Ron.
“I said, come on!” Ron yelled, waving at him urgently. “The Second Report Generator’s prediction is ready. I’ve seen it!”
Euan cleared his throat.
“Uhm . . . I forgot my badge . . .”
“Don’t worry, we’ll use mine,” said Ron distractedly. “Come on!”
Euan trotted up the stairs and followed behind Ron as he ran to the elevators and began punching the buttons.
“It’s rather odd, actually,” Ron said, half to himself and half to Euan. “Report Generator Number Two had the minority report this time. I mean, hadn’t we determined that if there is going to be a dissenting report, it’s always going to be Number Three? He’s the loose canon. Never Number Two . . .”
Ron knew he was rambling, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
With a ping, the elevator doors finally opened, and Ron and Euan stepped inside. But before Ron could punch the basement button, a blurred figure suddenly appeared at the glass doors and shouted his name . . .
“It’s Harry!” Ron exclaimed. “Euan, hold the elevator. I’ll be right back.”
Puffing (when had he got so out of shape?), Ron ran back to the main doors and pushed them open.
“Harry,” he panted. “Where did you go? I’ve been . . .”
“I’ll explain later. Look, I need to talk to you. It’s really important . . . ,” Harry said, his voice equally breathless. Wherever he had come from, he must have run all the way.
“Of course. Of course. Just come on in. There are no guards here this time of night . . .”
“Hold on one second,” said Harry, patting his coat pockets. “I’ve got to get something.”
Ron watched as Harry went down a couple of steps and stooped to pick something up. And then, all of a sudden, Ron was no longer looking at Harry, but at the plain-looking bloke he’d seen board the Knight Bus in the Predictive Pensieve . . .
“What the . . . ?”
“I’ll explain later,” said the man-who-was-also-Harry. “I’ll put it down when we get to your office, and then I’ll be myself again . . .”
Ron laughed, feeling suddenly almost giddy, and for a moment it was just like old times.
“It’s been awhile,” he said fondly, as they trotted to the open elevator.
Harry glanced at him quizzically.
“I mean, since you’ve been yourself,” Ron clarified.
Harry-cum-Ned smiled sadly at the unintended irony in Ron’s words.
“Isn’t that the truth,” he said. “And don’t I know it.”
“So, this is it. The sanctum sanctorum of the Department for the Eradication of Unforgiveables, Dark Spells and Deadly Hexes,” said Harry as they pushed open the glass doors to the Report Inspectors’ Office. “It looks just like any other DMLE wing, if you ask me. Where are these mysterious Report Generators who want to send me to Azkaban?”
Ron gestured to a desk, and Harry took a seat.
“Beyond that wall,” he said, pointing. “From what I’ve heard, they basically live their whole lives in one room. They don’t need to sleep because their lives are basically one long dream already. All they do is sit in armchairs, eat, and use the toilet. I think the caretaker walks them around some, so their muscles don’t atrophy completely, but basically, that’s it.”
Euan stirred in his chair in the corner, and Ron and Harry turned to him.
“Isn’t . . . isn’t there any way at all to get into their . . . uhm . . .chamber?” he mumbled.
Harry sighed. He’d known it would be awkward seeing Euan again, but he hadn’t realised it would be this awkward. Euan hadn’t said “hello” – or even looked at him – since Harry had arrived. If the circumstances were anything but what they were, Harry would have taken him aside and tried to find out why he was still so obviously upset. After all, they’d only dated for a couple of months. It wasn’t like Harry had strung him along for years or something . . .
“Don’t you remember your training, Euan? There’s an emergency door on the other side of that bookcase there, and the secret phrase that reveals it is always some passage or another from Shakespeare. I don’t know who comes up with them,” he chuckled. “Some witch with a degree in Muggle Literature or something. Let’s see. I just got a memo with the new phrase this morning.”
Ron reached into a pocket in his Auror robes and pulled out a folded piece of parchment, which he tossed to Euan.
“Last month it was . . . hold on, let me see if I can remember it. ‘But as I travelled hither through the land, I find the people strangely fantasied; possessed with rumours and full of idle dreams. Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear . . .’”
Despite the closeness of the air around them, Harry shivered.
“Seems rather bleak for such a utopian endeavour,” he murmured.
“The phrases always mention dreams. I suppose it’s someone’s way of making the time pass or being clever. Who knows?”
“‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep . . .’”
Harry and Ron both turned toward Euan.
“Abercrombie! Have you gone completely mental?” Ron shouted. “Did that cigarette suck all the oxygen from your brain or something? That’s the current secret phrase. Say it out loud in this room, and suddenly we’ll be looking at the faces of three catatonic Death Eaters! Merlin, Demeter and divine Diana! Are you out of your mind?!”
Euan clapped a hand over his mouth as his face turned a mortified shade of red. Ron stared at him for a long moment.
“Seriously, Euan,” he said. “If the stress is getting to you, I can send you home . . .”
“No,” Euan said quickly, and then cleared his throat again. “No, I’m fine. I just wasn’t thinking . . .”
“That’s clear enough,” said Ron. He frowned at Euan for another moment before turning to Harry.
“So, as I was telling you in the elevator, Report Generator Number One predicts you will murder this Kappington fellow, and Report Generator Number Two predicts that you won’t. Although, why Number Two’s vision showed you in a Muggle boarding house somewhere . . . ?”
“Actually, I was in a Muggle boardinghouse somewhere,” said Harry. “But that’s another thing I’ll explain later. Have you seen the Third Report Generator’s prediction yet?”
“No, but it should be ready any minute now,” said Ron. “In the meantime, shall I put on the kettle . . .?”
“Actually,” interrupted Harry. “Before you do that, I need to tell you something, Ron. But I don’t want you to going spare, all right? I just want you to listen to what I have to say and then tell me what you think. Can you do that for me?”
Ron frowned and folded his arms across his chest.
“I don’t know when you started thinking I was such an irrational nutter, but, yeah, I think I can hear you out . . .”
“That’s not want I meant,” Harry said, sighing. “It’s just that what I’m about to tell you involves Hermione, and I just know from experience that you don’t always think straight when it comes to her.”
“Well, I’ve already received a heads-up that she’s somehow involved,” said Ron, rather darkly. “There was something in the First Report Generator’s prediction about an anonymous letter and you thinking Hermione might be in danger . . .”
Harry drew in a sharp, startled breath.
“Holy shit!” he said in an awed whisper. “You saw that?”
“That is what I was trying to tell you earlier, when we were talking in your flat,” he said. “The Report Generators predict the future, Harry. And they predict it accurately.”
“I’m beginning to believe you,” Harry murmured, still sounding awed. “Which makes what I have to tell you all the more urgent.”
“Well, then tell me,” said Ron. “I promise not to go spare. At least not until we get this whole thing sorted. After that? Well, then all wagers are off.”
“Fair enough,” Harry said, smiling. “All right. Here’s the short version: Hermione and this Kappington fellow want to bring down the Pre-Curse Programme and the entire Department for the Eradication of Unforgiveables, Dark Spells and Deadly Hexes with it. They think it’s unjust, that it’s based on nothing but faith, and they think my case is the perfect opportunity to make the public listen to their side of the argument. And, frankly, given everything that’s happened to me in the last twelve hours, I’m not sure I don’t agree with them . . .”
As Harry was talking, the lines around Ron’s eyes and mouth grew steadily tenser until his face looked like it was carved in stone.
“I see,” he said, after Harry told him about the rally and the plan to stand him and Kappington side-by-side for all of the Wizarding community to witness. “And what? You’re now thinking this is a bad idea? A good idea?”
“I don’t know what to think!” Harry cried. “That’s why I came to see you.”
Ron stood from his chair and began pacing the length of the office. It was several minutes before he spoke.
“I understand that you’re upset,” said Ron, but when Harry gave a snort of ruefully incredulous laughter, he held up his hand. “But you have to realise that this is bigger than just one person – even if that person is Harry Potter . . .”
Harry’s face must have gone positively white with rage because suddenly Ron’s tone turned conciliatory.
“I don’t mean it like that, mate,” he said. “I just mean that for the first time in history, a society – our society – has managed to completely eliminate the threat of violence and crime. Our children can grow up without fear, Harry. Our pensioners don’t have to be afraid of being mugged in Diagon Alley. A witch who leaves her abusive husband won’t have to wonder if he’s waiting, wand in hand, to Avada Kedavra her when she walks into her flat one night. It’s a gift, Harry! A fucking gift! And, yes, we have You-Know-Who to thank for it, but that doesn’t change what it is – and what we can do with it!”
Ron came over to stand in front of Harry and placed his hands on Harry’s shoulders.
“Listen, mate. I’m willing to wager the Third Report Generator will predict that you’re not going to kill this Kappington fellow. Which means that somehow, someway, something went wrong. To my knowledge, no one has ever been ordered arrested before on only one out of three reports. So, obviously something is fucked up . . .”
Harry shifted uncomfortably, and Ron dropped his hands.
“But that’s just it,” Harry said, his voice level and deliberate. “The system clearly isn’t infallible. What if Hermione is right, and innocent people are being sent to Azkaban?”
“Look,” said Ron emphatically. “I’m not saying that’s impossible because clearly your case indicates as much. But what’s worse? Sending one innocent man to prison, or letting a guilty man go free and condemning an innocent victim to death. Huh? Tell me! Because that’s the choice we’re left with, Harry. I mean . . . I mean, what if that innocent victim were my Mum . . . or . . . or Lavender . . . or even Hermione? What if that innocent victim were Draco, Harry? How would you feel . . . ?”
But Ron had crossed the invisible line being legitimate persuasion and emotional terrorism, and Harry leapt from his seat. Ron stepped back instinctively.
“Do . . . do you even realise that’s the first time you’ve ever said Draco’s name, Ron?” Harry cried, his voice quavering with scarcely suppressed emotion. “Do . . . how? . . . How can you . . .? I . . .”
It was only when he looked back on it later, that Harry could appreciate the fortuitousness of what happened next. Because if he had gathered his thoughts sufficiently to make a coherent response, it was likely he would have said things that could not be unsaid. But luckily, for both him and Ron, the Predictive Pensieve began to steam, and Ron’s attention was instantly diverted.
“It’s ready!” Ron cried. “The third prediction. Euan, come here . . . no wait, I’ll do it. Harry . . .?”
But Harry was literally still shaking.
“I . . . I’m sorry, Ron,” he said through clenched teeth. “I think I need a minute. Or some air. Or something . . .”
“Euan!” Ron barked. “Show Harry where the gents’ is. I’m going to take a look at the prediction.”
And before either Harry or Euan could respond, Ron had already plunged his head into the Pensieve.
Harry and Euan found themselves staring at each other from across the room. Until this second, Harry had actually forgotten he was present.
“Er . . . , actually, I’m all right, Euan,” he said. “I saw the gents on our way in. You don’t need to come with me, or anything. I mean, I’ll be fine. It’s just . . . er . . . well, yeah. I’ll be back in a minute.”
And before anything else could go horribly wrong, Harry rose for his chair and fled the room.
The Third Report Generator’s predictions were always the hardest to make sense of, and when he was a Report Inspector, Ron had rarely even bothered to pay them much attention. After all, by the time the third Report was ready, the previous two had usually predicted the crime. So, the Third Report Generator’s input was more or less superfluous. Which was a good thing. Because out of the three of them, his (for some reason Ron was virtually sure he was male) were always the most difficult to decipher.
And this prediction was even worst than usual. If everything didn’t depend on it so precariously, Ron would have simply thrown up his hands and given up in frustration.
At first all he could see was a room.
It was large and lit like an institution. Harsh, unforgiving and unnatural light that cast no shadow yet still managed to conceal as much as it remorselessly revealed. There were no windows, and to Ron’s confusion – and horror – no doors. Just bare concrete. A large round wooden table and three large wooden chairs. And then Ron blinked because suddenly the chairs were no longer empty. Instead they seemed to hold shadows. Grey, hunched-over shadows. But how could there be shadows when the light came from every angle? No, those couldn’t be shadows Ron was seeing. They had to be . . . they could only be . . .
Suddenly, it was all Ron could do not to push himself up and away from the Pensieve. Because suddenly he knew what he was seeing. But how? And why? After all, this vision was supposed to be of Harry, not of the Report Generators themselves. But before Ron could make sense of any of it, a door suddenly materialised in the wall, and a man rushed into the room. A man in Auror robes. A man who looked exactly like . . .
Ron gasped out loud as Euan looked quickly from one side to another and then drew his wand and Stupified a witch in white robes who rose, startled, from a desk in the far corner. Their caretaker, Ron thought dimly, although the realisation scarcely had time to register before Euan was turning his wand on one of the three hunched figures. In the violent flash of green that followed, both the figure and its chair were thrown backward, and the force of the curse blew the deep cowled hoods from the other two figures’ heads. Ron had only a fleeting glimpse of dark hair and unseeing dark eyes, before the second figure was thrown backward by a second violent flash of green . . .
Ron half expected the vision to flicker and go black like a malfunctioning Muggle tellie, but it didn’t. Which could only mean that Report Generator Number Three was still alive. The only one left still alive . . .
But maddeningly, the vision had shifted, and Ron was no longer looking through his own eyes, but through somebody else’s. Somebody who squinted and blinked in the cruel light as though he were being wakened suddenly from a dream. And through the confusion and terror that suddenly seized Ron’s heart, he felt a stab of blinding joy. Like a needle made of lightning, it pierced him, and scattered the fragments of his dreams into splinters and shards . . . because . . . because he’d seen . . .
Ron had never seen Harry look like he did now. His expression wild. His face whiter than white. His eyes . . . there were no words to describe Harry’s eyes! Greener than the ocean. Greener than a hilltop in May. Greener than the Avada Kedavra that tore from his wand and caught Euan in the chest, propelling him backwards and breaking his body against the wall like so much kindling. And then Harry was running headlong towards Ron, stumbling over a body and the remains of a shattered chair. And then Harry was on his knees. Tears welling in those terrifying beautiful eyes. And Harry’s hands were cupping his face, and Harry was kissing him – his lips his eyes his nose his jaw . . . and Harry was saying one word. One word. Over and over and over.
And suddenly Harry’s arms were around him, and he was trying to embrace Harry back, but it was all too much, too soon, and then there was a cry, of “Wait! Harry, stop!”and Ron looked up to see himself, arm outstretched, rushing through the door, as if he could still stop what had happened, as if there was still time . . .
Suddenly, somewhere in the distance, as though in the back of his mind, Ron heard a sound. A crack and a crash and a thud and a woman’s scream. And when at last, he realised the sound had come from the room behind him and not from the Pensieve, Ron pushed back violently and fell on to the floor, just in time to see Harry rush through the doors of the Report Inspectors’ Office, wand drawn, and leap over him where he lay, still too stunned to move.
And then from a doorway Ron had never seen before came a flash of brilliant green.
The Report Generators had been right.
Harry Potter was a murderer.
Of all the things Harry had imagined Draco might say when he first awoke, “so, this is what it feels like to be dead” was not among them.
Startled, Harry turned from the hamper of bed linens he’d been folding, his hands stilled in the middle of their task. But Draco’s eyes were as flat as his voice, and Harry had to turn away and compose himself before he could trust himself to answer.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, his back to the sterile hospital bed. Through the window, the sun shone weakly onto the bowed head of a man in a wheelchair. As Harry watched, the man held up his hand to shield his eyes and gazed down at the sidewalk below. Since he’d come to work at St. Mungo’s, Harry had noticed the man did the same thing everyday, at exactly the same time, as though he were expecting a visitor. But no one had ever come. Not once in the whole month that Harry had been here . . .
Draco didn’t answer his question. Instead he asked, “what’s he waiting for?”
Harry turned again to face him, expecting an impish glimmer in those flat, grey eyes, but there was nothing. Not even a question.
“I don’t know,” Harry replied. “I’ve never asked him.”
Draco sighed and turned his head to look straight up at the ceiling.
“Maybe he’s waiting for someone he loves to die,” he said.
“Why would he want that?”
Draco turned his head again and stared at the man for a long time, and Harry found himself doing the same. After a minute or two, the man and the window seemed to merge into one dimension until Harry would have sworn they were one and the same. The sun shone around him like a halo.
“To keep him company,” Draco said at last as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. Harry turned to look at him, and Draco closed his eyes again and whispered quietly, so quietly that Harry almost didn’t hear.
“It sucks to be dead,” he said. “Almost as much as it sucked to be alive.”
The second time Draco awoke, about a week later, the first thing he said was, “you, again,” and once more, Harry had to turn away and compose himself.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s right.”
Draco was silent, and Harry started ironing the hospital robes the girl from the laundry room had delivered earlier that morning.
“What’s your name?” he asked after several minutes.
Harry took a deep breath.
“Ned,” he said. “Ned Noodginton.”
Draco made a sound that could almost have been a snort of laughter if it hadn’t sounded so exhausted. So defeated.
“My condolences,” he murmured and fell back asleep.
The third time Draco awoke, he was crying, and Harry had to pinch the soft skin on the insides of his elbows to keep himself from pulling Draco into his arms and rocking him like a baby. Instead, he drew a chair over to Draco’s bedside and sat down.
“When . . . does it . . . stop?” Draco asked, his voice hitching on the words.
“When does what stop?” Harry asked.
“The dreaming,” Draco whispered.
Harry reached out and brushed Draco’s fringe out of his red-rimmed eyes.
“What is it that you dream about?” he asked.
Draco swallowed, but he didn’t move away from Harry’s touch.
“When I was alive,” he said. “I dreamt of death. But now them I’m dead, I dream of being alive.”
Harry ducked his head before Draco could see the tears welling in his own eyes.
“You’re not dead,” he said gently.
Draco was silent for so long that Harry thought he had fallen asleep again when at last he spoke.
“I think my name was Draco Malfoy.”
Harry inhaled sharply.
“It still is,” he said.
“And I think . . . I think I was not a bad person when I died. I can’t see how I could have been . . .”
He gazed at Harry appealingly as if Harry held some kind of key or was capable of bestowing some kind of favour.
“I . . . I can’t remember what I did before I died, but I remember that . . . that someone good loved me once.”
Harry could only nod.
“Will you tell them that?” Draco asked, his eyes pleading with Harry’s. “When it comes time for them to decide? I don’t remember much, but I remember that his name was Harry, and I remember that he loved me . . .”
“No one’s going to be deciding anything,” Harry said, trying to sound soothing even though his heart was breaking. “The decision has already been made. You’ve been exonerated, Draco. The only thing that anyone’s deciding now is how much you’re owed in compensation after all that was unjustly done to you . . .”
Draco frowned, obviously confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“The government,” said Harry. “The Ministry . . .”
“So, even the sodding afterlife is run like a bureaucracy!”
Harry shook his head.
“I keep trying to tell you. You’re not dead.”
Draco just blinked at him, and Harry felt like he was watching the meaning of his words finally take root in the sandy soil of Draco spell-damaged mind.
“Then . . . then, where am I?” he asked.
“You’re in the hospital. St. Mungo’s.”
Draco stared at him.
“You’ve basically been in a kind of coma for seven years.”
Draco continued to stare at him.
“You were discovered by Voldemort on your final undercover assignment and essentially held captive – first by Voldemort and then by the Ministry. You and two others, actually. But that’s all over now. You’re free, and you’ve been exonerated of all suspicion . . .”
“Harry,” Draco murmured, and Harry started, wondering if the impossible had happened, and Draco had finally seen through his disguise.
“It was Harry who found me.”
Harry sighed and nodded, unsure whether to feel crushed that Draco hadn’t recognised him or relieved. The moment had passed, and he was Ned Noodginton once again.
“He promised he would,” he said, his voice happy and sleepy. “And he promised that when he did . . .”
“. . . that he would tell the world that he loved Draco Malfoy and fuck them if they couldn’t handle it.”
Draco nodded, his eyes closed.
“How do you know that?”
“Because it was front page news in The Prophet.”
Draco’s eyes flew open again, although they remained somewhat blurred and unfocused. The Healers had said it would be like this for months, if not years – that Draco would be trapped between dreaming and waking to some degree, probably for the rest of his life.
“Can I see?” he murmured.
“What? The paper?”
Draco nodded, fighting to keep his eyes open.
Harry reached for the drawer in his bedside table.
“There are things you don’t know yet,” he said nervously, handing Draco a folded copy of The Prophet.
“What do you mean?” he asked, his voice suddenly fierce despite his obvious fatigue. “What happened to Harry?”
Harry swallowed and took a deep breath.
“He’s a fugitive accused of murder,” he said. “And when the Aurors find him, and you’re well enough to testify, the Ministry plans to call you as a witness. And not just a witness. Their star witness.”
“Did you see today’s Prophet?”
Ron looked up from his desk and saw Euan Abercrombie standing at his office door.
“You’ve got to be joking,” he growled. “I wouldn’t wipe my arse with that rag, let alone ruin my breakfast by reading it.”
Without waiting for an invitation, Euan came in and sat down in the chair facing Ron’s desk.
“Harry’s finally turned himself in,” he said.
Ron started, spilling coffee down the front of his robes.
“Turned himself in,” repeated Euan.
“Bloody hell!” cried Ron. “Why? We were never going to find him. I mean, here he’s been Noodginton for three months, and the Aurors haven’t been able to figure it out. Why the hell didn’t he just stay where he was and let me and you and Hermione sort this whole bloody thing out? He could have hired himself out as Malfoy’s private nurse when they released Malfoy from St. Mungo’s. He didn’t have to reveal himself, and once Malfoy was out of St. Mungo’s and living at home, Harry could have told Malfoy he was Noodginton . . . ,”
Ron rose from his desk and began pacing.
“We were so close in our negotiations with the New Wizengamot. They’d nearly agreed to drop the charge from murder to manslaughter, and with my testimony and yours, there was no way they would have sent him to Azkaban . . .”
“Ron,” Euan interrupted. “You’re forgetting one very important fact. You and I didn’t actually see what happened in that room. I mean, I was lying unconscious behind a shrub, and you . . . ”
“Dammit, Euan,” said Ron, “I did see what happened. It saw it in the Predictive Pensieve, remember?!”
Ron knew, of course, that Euan was not the enemy, but nonetheless, his exasperation still threatening to boil and spill over. He’d been arguing the same thing over and over again since that night, and he was fucking sick of it. Why couldn’t people just see the truth? After all, it was right there in front of them, staring them in the face? Yes, Harry had killed a man, but he had done so in defence of another. For years, people had been willing to imprison a man for life on nothing but a vision in a Pensieve, but Merlin forbid they allow the same vision to be used to exonerate him . . .
Euan sighed and shook his head wearily.
“Have you even listened to anything the prosecutor has been saying, Ron?” he asked gently.
Ron stopped pacing and glared at him.
“I may not have made top marks in my year,” he said pointedly. “But I’m not a moron. I know what the government is saying about Malfoy not being an actual, technical person at the time Kappington was killed, and thus saving his life couldn’t be justification for taking another’s, but that’s complete shite! I mean, they plan to put Malfoy on the stand, for Merlin’s sake! How do they plan to simultaneously make him human and inhuman for the sake of the same case?!”
“But, Ron,” said Euan quietly. “You’re forgetting . . .”
“What?” cried Ron. “What am I forgetting?”
“You’re forgetting all those people in Azkaban who never received trials. Who never got to even commit their crimes, let alone argue that they might have been justified. The Ministry isn’t going to recognise a defence to murder, because how can they do so and still justify four years of imprisonment without trial? What you’re advocating would call into question everything the Report Generators . . . and Draco . . . predicted. You’d be calling into question countless convictions and an entire system. Do you really think the Ministry would permit that, Ron? Just for one man, . . . even if he is Harry Potter?”
Ron froze at the sound of his own words echoing back to him, and suddenly the stress – and guilt – of three months seemed on the verge of consuming him. Numbly, he dragged himself back to his chair and collapsed into it.
Ron starred down at his official Auror robes. At his badge. At his embroidered Ministry seal. At his gold embossed paperweight with the Ministry’s crest, which the Commissioner, himself, had given him on the occasion of his promotion.
“How did it happen?” he murmured wonderingly, although who, exactly, he was addressing, he could not say. He looked up at Euan, his expression suddenly lost and boyish and confused.
“How did it happen?” he repeated. “How did something that was so good go so bad?”
It was a situation Harry remembered all too clearly.
A cavernous room. A chair with chains. A sense that many of the people whose faces peered curiously back at him had already made up their minds before they could be bothered to hear the evidence.
For two weeks he had come here. For two weeks, he’d been wakened in his cell before the sun rose and Portkeyed straight into this room. This chair. And yet nothing had changed. Despite Hermione’s assurances and Ron’s relentless lobbying, the charges had not been dropped, or even lessened. He was still here. Still accused, still bound, still unable to go to Draco’s side. And this was despite the fact that Hermione had already disclosed Kappington’s plan to discredit the Pre-Curse Programme. And despite the fact that only yesterday, she’d testified to how Kappington had installed a tracking spell in the ID they’d given Harry, and how once he’d realised that Harry’s resolve was faltering, he’d decided to take the situation into his own hands by “disposing of” the Report Generators himself. Despite the fact that Euan had already testified about Kappington assaulting him and knocking him unconscious when he’d stepped out for a smoke. Despite the fact that a dozen Aurors had witnessed the body they believed to be Euan Abercrombie turn into that of Ed Kappington. And despite the fact that a world-famous Forensic Potions Master had testified to the posthumous effects of Polyjuice . . . .
Harry sighed. The law had let him down. Reason and justice and the certitude of friends had let him down.
The only thing that made any of it bearable was the fact that this morning Draco was here with him, and he was looking at Harry, and it was not at all how he had looked at Ned Noodginton.
Harry had already been retrieved from his cell on the last day of his trial and chained to the chair before the prosecutors had sent for their star witness. For Draco, and Harry watched him enter, his eyes searching for Harry’s until he found them. And they were furious and awake and alive and anything but flat.
Harry felt himself release a breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. Draco was all right. For the first time, Harry admitted to himself that he hadn’t been sure that Draco would be strong enough – physically or mentally. It had been so long since he’d seen that spark, that unwavering conviction, that Draco was capable of.
How had he lived without that for all those years, Harry found himself wondering. Perhaps what he’d thought was living had only been a long and lonely dream. A dream that was over now. Regardless of the verdict.
“Mr. Malfoy,” said the Minister, his voice oily and obsequious. “We appreciate your willingness to testify today. Please make yourself comfortable and do not hesitate to let my assistant know if you should require anything.”
Ironic, Harry thought, that they should care about Draco’s comfort now. But if Draco had even heard the Minister, he did not show it. Instead, he kept his eyes on Harry’s as he walked carefully to the witness stand, and dizzily Harry found himself recalling a thousand moments just like this one. A thousand times he’d glanced up from a textbook and found Draco watching him. A thousand times their eyes had locked high above a Quidditch pitch. A thousand times a room and everyone in it had melted away, as inconsequential as a dream, and left them alone, wands drawn. A thousand times they’d shared a joke without saying a word, leaving the other Order members blinking and mystified. A thousand times they’d felt something for the first time, the sensation of mouths on skin, of bodies tangled together in rumpled summer sheets, and their eyes had flown open, breath held, searching the other’s gaze for what each knew the other felt. And could not help but feel . . .
“Please. I want . . . I want us to stay the same.”
Suddenly, Harry recalled another moment. An evening in early May beneath a chestnut tree. It had been a cold, wet spring, and the frost had left the ground reluctantly. Harry could remember the scent of it still clinging to the edges of things, and even at the time he’d thought that this - this - is what new and impossible love must smell like. A slow thaw after a long winter. He’d watched as Draco tucked his hair behind his ear, his face averted as he spoke.
. . . and don’t you dare say I’ve gone mental, Potter, because, really, it’s not as though you can talk . . .
What had Draco been saying? Something about not wanting to be friends because what he wanted was so much more than friendship, and it wasn’t like he, Potter, needed any more groupies anyhow. Harry had listened with only half of his mind, letting the other half focus on Draco’s face and the way Draco’s hands alternated between nervously tugging that lock of hair and ripping up clumps of new grass and wet earth and throwing them just outside the ring of shadow that encircled them.
“Why would I think you’re mental?” Harry asked bemused. “A prat? Well, maybe . . .”
“Because,” Draco had replied. “I told you. I dreamed this . . .” He paused to gesture with his hand at the hill on which they sat, at the tiny unfurling leaves on the chestnut’s branches, at the whole night descending around them. “I saw it. And it was just like this.”
He turned to Harry, his face full of awe.
“It was meant to be,” he whispered. “Don’t you see? You and I were meant to be.”
Harry had been in no mood to argue. After all, he’d been waiting for months for Draco to get over himself and give in to what he was so obviously feeling. But even as he’d let Draco pull him into that first perfect awkward kiss, he’d thought, well, of course you saw it, silly! You were the one who brought me here, who made this happen, who chose this very moment to say these words. But he’d never said it, and Draco went on believing – as it seemed he needed to – that their relationship had been preordained.
“I think,” Draco had told Ned Noodginton the night before Harry Potter turned himself in, “that I dreamed Harry back to me. And the only way I knew how was to make him a murderer.”
Draco had swallowed hard and turned away, while Harry had frowned but said nothing. Just as he’d said nothing that evening beneath the chestnut tree.
“If he’s guilty,” Draco had continued, furrowing his brow and enumerating each point on a finger as though he were working out a logic problem. Some strange Arithmancy of the soul. “ . . . then so am I. If he’s still alive, then I cannot possibly be dead. If I’ve been asleep, then everything he did was nothing but a dream. And if he could save me, then I can save him.”
Draco’s words still turning in his head, Harry felt himself smile, and just like Harry knew he would, Draco smiled back.