and you can use my skin
to bury your secrets in
- fiona apple, "i know"
1//London - England
Harry will never get used to the number of photographs Muggles take of dead bodies. Every corpse in his memory is strobe-lit. It makes going to nightclubs hard. Well, harder.
He's glad Ginny isn't going to be another disco-ball body in his head. They don't call him until she's already in the morgue. And even then, he doesn't have a professional role to play. Doesn't even have to ID the body - her brother's already done that, and Harry understands why they didn't call him earlier, why he had the first news of it from the afternoon news bulletin where her death was the top-billed item.
She's important, these days. Was. Clever, photogenic, writing with dazzling vivacity about the bright future of magic and mundane worlds combined. She was Britain's first wizarding celebrity, if you don't count Harry, and most people don't. Her second book is still on the bestseller lists. He passed whole window displays filled with her face on the way here.
"Courtesy," the constable said on the phone. "Guvnor thought you might appreciate the call."
Harry leans back against the sterile wall and scrubs a hand over his face. Tries to remember when he last slept. He was in Lancashire seven hours ago. Join the Wizard Corps and see the world, or at least the arse-end parts of it that held pathetic two-bit covens that the government deemed dangerous. You won't have time to scratch yourself, of course. You'll spend all your time flinching at sudden noises and looking over your shoulder, sure that the Phoenix Front has finally caught up with you. And the first time in six months that you see your last remaining school friend, she'll be lying on a slab.
"Alright, Potter?" He looks up as the Constable comes into the viewing room, balancing two corridor-dispenser cups of tea on a file. "Y'look like you're about to throw up."
He smiles weakly, and accepts his tea, sipping politely. "Is that the post-morten?"
"Yep." She waves the report. "Wanna see?"
Harry is almost certain this falls out of his jurisdiction, and hence she shouldn't be offering, but he just shakes his head. Doesn't want to get anyone in trouble. "They told me it was cut-and-dried. Definitely an accident."
She nods, with a sort of cheerful fatalism. "Pretty much. No sign of the Front, if that's what you mean. Just a courier van running a red light. Bam. Sucks, dunnit? I mean, she's bloody famous, even been on TV, and she's a witch, and she gets skittled by a car. Makes you think."
It does. It makes Harry think that if she'd had a wand, she could have saved herself, Contained Wizarding Act be damned. Oh, and if she hadn't had that brand... It's still there, on her body, slashed across her upper arm. He'll see it, if he looks, so he doesn't.
The Constable has said something else, he realises. "What?"
She says it again, jerking her head at the body on the other side of the glass. "She was pregnant."
Ginny's apartment is hushed and waiting. And locked, but when they took away his wand (a chance to be the shining example of integrated wizarding and mundane governance, we're all the same now after all), they gave him a new one. A set of skeleton keys, along with a lengthy lecture on responsibility and repercussions.
He doesn't think twice before letting himself into her flat.
Things have changed since he was last there. Of course. It's been six months of answering machine tag and emails and last-minute-put-off arrangements for meeting for coffee. She's moved the potplant closer to the window and it looks better for it. There's a new stain on the rug, red wine by the looks of it. He should have made the effort to see her last week. But they'd sent him to sodding Wigan.
He doesn't know why he's here. Except she's pregnant, was, and she hadn't told him, hadn't even mentioned she was seeing someone.
He doesn't want to ransack the remnants of her life, so he's reduced to the surfaces. Poking at the artwork on the walls and opening drawers without touching their contents. There's a new dress - pale blue, feminine, this season - hanging on the wardrobe with the tag still attached. He wants to break something, but it's all hers.
Drifting towards being on his way out, he comes across a letter, shuffling through the detritus on the hall table. It's addressed to someone he doesn't know - "Dr. M. Feret" - in Argentina, but when he looks at the address, he just feels something.
The letter isn't sealed. The first line reads "Dear Draco".
"I'm going on holiday."
Griffith chokes on his coffee. "You sodding what? I don't think so, sonny."
Harry watches him steadily. He hasn't bothered to close the office door behind him, and out of the corner of his eye he can see that outside, the secretary and the comms boy have stopped gossiped and started gawking.
"Don't think you can pull your mysterious magical intimidation on me, boy," Griffith says. "You don't frighten me, I know you've been branded. And you're under contract, so if you think you can just swan about declaring that you're pissing off when I've got a situation in --"
"I don't care if you have a nudist witch colony in Piccadilly," Harry says, but he kicks the door shut before leaning forward, pressing his fists on the piles of paperwork. "I have a lead on Draco Malfoy."
That shuts him up. Harry watches the heavy earthmoving equipment of Griffith's mental shift. "Draco Malfoy?"
Harry smiles with no mirth at all. "You know the one. Interpol's most wanted, bombed the building works at The Hague, presumed head of the Phoenix Front. Ringing any bells?"
Griffith scowls. "What's the lead?"
"I might be able to find out where he is."
"We'll need to see --"
Griffith's eyebrows shoot up. "What do you mean, no?"
Harry leans back. "I mean this is mine. I pursue it alone, none of your stupid monkeyboys arsing it up this time."
Griffith looks thoroughly unimpressed. "And what happens if you find him?"
"Then I'll bring him in. He's been branded too, you know. I was there."
There's a long moment, as Griffith stares into his coffee cup, when Harry thinks he might have done it. Then his boss looks up and says, "Don't be fucking ridiculous, Potter."
Harry almost feels relief. He takes a deep breath. "This happens my way, Griffith, or I walk. Contract or no, I'm gone, and you'll probably find me, but not before I've caused so much damage to the public image of your fucking Inter-Occult Division that you'll think Voldemort was your fairy godmother. Are we clear?"
He flys out of Heathrow on Monday.
2//Buenos Aires - Argentina
The address on the envelope turns out to be a nightclub in the central district of Buenos Aires. As soon as Harry catches sight of the sign over the doorway, he knows this is the place. "Hecate's", it declares in neon letters, backed up by a lurid red pentagram.
He has to admit, the last place he expected to find Malfoy was a nightspot cashing in on the risque glamour of the forbidden occult. Yet there's no doubting it. The faint drizzle this evening hasn't deterred a long line of lithe young things huddled outside, all sparkles and flutters and bare, unbranded limbs. The route to their scintillating night out is being blocked by Gregory Goyle, same old brainless slab of muscle, the sleeves of his black t-shirt rolled up to bare his brand.
Disinterested eyes skitter over Harry as he jumps the queue. "I have a letter for Malfoy," Harry says, and Goyle looks slightly more alert. He holds out his hand, but Harry just shakes his head. "His hands only."
Goyle frowns, but lifts his hand to his collar mike. "Ms P," he says, "guy here asking for DM."
And a piece clicks satisfyingly into place for Harry. "Tell her it's Harry Potter," he says, and Goyle looks at him hard.
Pansy is waiting for him in her office, suspended above the club floor and so well insulated that the thumping music is a distant heartbeat.
"You look good," Harry says. She does. Her hair is sleek, her face full, the body under her stunning red dress spectacular and almost entirely natural. Of course, the last time he saw her she was tied to the table, screaming pain, anger and a hundred horrible curses upon his head as the brand seared into her flesh.
He wanted to apologise afterwards. He always did. But he's had enough of people spitting in his face.
She lights a cigarette, the flare throwing her face into weird shadows. "How the hell did you find us?"
Harry tosses the letter onto her desk, but leans forward to hold it in place with one finger when she reaches for it. She glares at him, but tilts her head to read the envelope, and then sits back in her chair, perfectly nonchalant. "Don't know what makes you think it's him."
"Oh, come off it," Harry snorts, taking the letter back. "DR M Ferret?" It would make him laugh, if it didn't make him want to hit someone so much. She shrugs. "And the fact that the letter's addressed to him. Inside. By name. It's not a very fucking common name, Pansy. Especially not for Ginny Weasley to be writing to."
She starts at that, stares at him wide-eyed. Like that, she looks almost young again. Almost like none of it had ever happened. Does she really think he'll be fobbed off, even after the address has led him to her? That's practically proof by itself.
"Do you work for him?" he asks, and she frowns. "For the Front?"
She's watching him so steadily, her face could belong to someone else. The cigarette in her fingers burns down without her recognition, the ash growing and wavering precariously. "We're a tiny element," she says finally. "A halfway house. We launder some money, receive goods and messages. Sometimes people. We're just a safe conduit."
Harry hasn't expected to find Draco here since he stepped inside. He nods. "But if Ginny's writing to Malfoy here, then you know how to get the message to him."
"You don't want to forward the letter to him."
She's not asking, but he confirms it anyway. "No, I don't."
Pansy notices the state of her cigarette a second from disaster, and stubs it out. "I don't know where he is," she says briskly, pulling over a blank notebook and tapping her pen with a scarlet-manicured fingernail. "But I can pass you on to someone who might."
3//Brisbane - Australia
After the air-conditioned airport and the air-conditioned taxi, the lazy sauna heat of the Brisbane afternoon wraps around Harry as he waits for the converted warehouse face of the building to acknowledge his presence in some way. There's no movement on the street. Harry leans on the buzzer again.
He's just lifting his hand to hammer on the door when it opens. The boy who's opened it is just that - a boy, at least seven years younger than Harry, pushing for ten. His brand, the end just visible under the sleeve of his t-shirt, has the faded look of being partially healed. They keep telling Harry that the kids who get done - the ones manifesting right now, branded as soon as they spark - will hardly have a mark at all when they're grown up. He doesn't know if he wants to believe them or not.
This boy has a mohawk, a phone clutched to his ear, and an annoyed expression. "What?" he demands.
Herry holds up the scrawled directions Pansy gave him. "I'm here to see the Potionsmaster," he says.
Snape hasn't changed a bit. His hair's a little longer, pulled back and fastened at the nape of his neck. His face is still pale, slightly more lined. His eyes are just as hard. He's unsurprised and sneering, pulling shut behind him a door to what Harry guesses, from the quick glimpse he's afforded, is a chemistry lab. "Potter. What a thoroughly unexpected joy."
"It's been something of a voyage of discovery for me too," Harry says. "I met with Pansy in Buenos Aires. She told me where to find you."
"On a travelling school reunion, are we?" Snape asks, rolling down the sleeves of his shirt. Harry notices, before it's covered, that some particularly talented tattoo artist has turned the Dark Mark into a dragon curling up Snape's forearm.
"No," he says. "I'm playing delivery boy for Ginny Weasley. She wrote a letter to Draco before she died."
Down the corridor, the boy laughs loudly on the phone. "No way!" he shrieks.
Snape doesn't blink, his eyes boring the same old holes in Harry's skull. "Not here," he says.
They go for sushi. The place is trendy and impersonal and though Harry feels like a sore thumb, Snape fits right in. He's willing to bet there isn't another brand in the place, and wonders how Snape's pureblood pride manages these days.
Sushi isn't really Harry's thing. He only has one little dish off the train before he starts dabbling his fingers in the leftover wasabi. Snape can't have had lunch already; he's getting quite a pile of empty plates beside him.
"We wondered where you'd got to," Harry says.
"By 'we'," Snape says, lifting another dish off the train, "I assume you're referring to that mockery of a department you work for."
Harry had been proud he hadn't started with an accusation; so much for politeness. "You're on the most wanted list, you know. Number three."
Hard to tell whether that's news to Snape. "Infamy palls after a while."
"Why Australia, of all places?"
Snape taps his fingertips on a paper napkin. "I told them I wasn't going anywhere I had to live like a pig or speak another language. And I certainly wasn't going to America." He doesn't quite pull a face, but his tone is expressive. And scathing.
"You're making drugs for the Front." Harry couldn't hold the accusation back any longer.
But Snape just nods, perusing the train. "Terrorism is an expensive business. It can't operate on zeal and vivacious rhetoric alone."
Useless. It's useless. Harry knows it. He looks out the window, at lazy people passing who've never even known what it was to hold a wand. "Pansy told me you knew where Draco was."
"Maybe." When Harry looks back, Snape's looking at him. "What did Miss Weasley possibly have to say to Mister Malfoy?"
It's like being back in school, that tone of voice that asks questions he knows you don't know the answer to. "I haven't read the letter," Harry says.
A single eyebrow lifts.
"I haven't. Not beyond the first line. Dear Draco. That's all."
Harry frowns. "Because it wouldn't be right."
Snape reaches for a fresh napkin with a cold smile, producing a stub of pencil that makes a faint scritch on the thin paper. "Potter, if you had had such a wholesome approach towards the finer details of what does and does not constitute 'right' while at school, I would not have taken exception to your conduct on quite so many occasions." He holds up the napkin, the pencil marks fluttering in the folds. "You will find Draco at this address. Should you be certain that you want to."
Harry takes it. "Why wouldn't I be sure?"
Snape just smiles.
4//Vladivostock - Russia
He has to fly to Tokyo, then transfer to Vladivostock, then find a taxi. It feels like he's been travelling his whole life, customs was appalling, his Russian's non-existant, and the taxi trip seems to go halfway to Siberia. Harry realises he should have checked a map before he came. Looking at the rabbit warren of streets, the looming spectres of old Communist high-rise, he wonders if it would help.
It's such a beautiful, fine day to be so bloody cold. The light glitters like frozen glass. Harry checks his napkin directions, and crunches across the frost-crisp grass to what he hopes is the right building. There's a concrete staircase going up forever and an old woman sitting on the bottom step, knitting. She says something incomprehensible, and Harry feels out of his depth.
"I'm looking for..." Why hasn't he brought a picture? "Uh. Draco Malfoy?"
She cackles expansively, and he wonders if the syllables mean something else in Russian. Then she points upwards, and sidles across on the steps to let him past. She's still chuckling, her needles clacking, as he turns at the first landing, and she's lost from view.
If he's reading the numbers right, he's looking for the eighth floor. That impression is confirmed when he rounds the seventh and a half landing, and a blow from nowhere thuds into his stomach. Harry sees stars. Concrete's cold under his knees, and heavy hands twist his arm up behind him, a knee planted solidly in his back.
"Easy," says a voice like Russian sunshine, somewhere above him and a long way away. "Don't break anything."
Harry twists, blinking until his vision clears, until blurs resolve themselves into stairs leading up, and a man at the top of them. He's wearing jeans and a grey roll-neck sweater, his hair short and combed, and Harry can't imagine anyone looking less like the world's most wanted terrorist, except for the AK-47 dangling casually from his right hand.
"Hello, Potter," Draco Malfoy says. "Fancy meeting you here."
The apartment is scrupulously neat, but very small, and Harry's glad Draco told Crabbe to stay outside. Vincent Crabbe; not on the list because everyone thinks he's dead. Harry almost collapses onto the small table when he sits down.
Draco leans the Kalashnikov against the other chair. "Drink?" he asks, pulling two plastic tumblers from a cupboard, and a two-thirds-full bottle from the freezer.
"What is it?" Harry asks.
Draco snorts. "What do you think?"
"Isn't it a little early for alcohol?"
Draco moves the gun when he takes the chair. "When in Rome..." he says, rattling the lid off the bottle.
"I'm not in Rome," Harry points out as Draco pours.
"Exactly. So drink your vodka." Draco knocks the tumblers together, and Harry obligingly empties his. The liquor slinks into his stomach in a trail of fire, and he winces. "Much better," Draco says, pouring again. "Now, what the fuck are you doing here?"
Harry stares at the liquid in the tumbler. "Ginny's dead."
The bottle thuds against the table. "What?" Draco's voice is sharp. "She can't be."
"You know what I don't understand?" Harry asks suddenly, though he knows he can't already be drunk. "I don't know why the hell you're still fighting me. Are you just too fucking stubborn to admit I was right? It was the best thing to do, Draco."
Draco looks down, and Harry releases his wrist. Lifts his glass and empties it again. Pours for himself this time, but almost fumbles the bottle when Draco speaks. "It was the only thing to do." Harry looks up at his face, and it's made of concrete. "Turning us all over to the Muggles was the only way to stop Voldemort. You were right, Potter, they're better than us at that sort of thing. Once they had the knowledge to do it, they stamped him out so fast it was almost laughable. It was fucking brilliance." Draco downs his own vodka, and Harry's absently gratified to see his grimace, even as he passes the bottle.
"I'm not fighting you, you fucking arrogant bastard, and I'm not still fighting. That war ended the day you and the Muggles and that poor bitch Granger figured out how to make the brand. I'm fighting again. Because they are better than us at destroying what's different, at marking it off and rounding it up and grinding it down until it assimilates. And I don't know about you, Potter, but I don't want to live in a world where we're treated like fucking cattle." Draco takes a deep breath, wrapping his hand around the neck of the bottle. "And Ginny feels the same way."
"Felt." Harry blinks. "What?"
Draco's eyes are arresting. "Is she really dead?"
When it comes together this time, it doesn't snap. It's sluggish, from cold and alcohol and half the world behind him, but it crystalises into the sort of certainty that causes blindness if you stare at it too long. "You're not the leader of the Phoenix Front, are you?" Harry asks.
"No," Draco says.
Harry pulls the letter out of his pocket. His vision's blurring, but he can't be crying. He hasn't cried for her yet, why would he cry now? He blinks it away, and Draco's hand is at the other end of the letter, just there, exerting no pressure. "Traffic accident," Harry says. "She was hit by a van." There's a flinch of pain on Draco's face, so Harry adds, "She was pregnant."
Because Draco has a right to know.
Draco has a right to take the letter from Harry's numb fingers, to take the bottle too, to take them both over to the window, as far away as he can go in this Soviet shoebox of an apartment, over to the window where he's covered in light as he opens the envelope and pulls out the letter.
Draco has a right to read past the first line.
The AK-47 is leaning against the table, inches away from Harry's hand. But he picks up his vodka glass instead.
Firebrand by dee
Written for the Two Lines challenge.