leveltwomods: (mod level two)
[personal profile] leveltwomods posting in [community profile] hd_level_two
Episode number and title: 4 - Sleeping Beauty and the Beast
Episode writer: [livejournal.com profile] catsintheattic
Episode editor: [livejournal.com profile] nathaniel_hp and [livejournal.com profile] vaysh11
Warnings/content: **
Episode summary: There’s a young woman in St Mungo’s who’s been in a coma for nine years. Potter is a basket case, but can also handle himself as a professional. And Malfoy isn’t half bad.




“Here boys, drink up.” Hannah placed two fresh butterbeers in front of Harry and Neville.

“So, congrats on your promotion!” Neville raised his mug and pushed it against Harry’s.

“Promotion, my arse. It’s more like a dead post to keep me quiet. You should hear the others; dust cases they call my work. Everyone else is busy with the murder of Opal Leach. You must have read about it.” After a nod from Neville, Harry continued. “It’s simply not fair, you know? I’m as capable as any of them, and yet I’ve been pushed to the sidelines. Doesn’t matter how shiny my new title. Did you see the tongue lashing I received in the latest edition of the Prophet?”

Neville gave a non-committal grunt.

“Of course it was good to finally clear Sirius's name. And we did find out who actually killed Karkaroff. Not that this case made a whole lot of difference. But the sheer mass of those cases – it’s like I pick my next one at random. And for every case I pick, there are tons of others left without investigation. An intriguing death here, an unusual contact there, or a familiar name. It’s becoming increasingly harder to justify what I do to the public. And to myself.”

“Maybe I can help you with that.” Neville coughed into his elbow. “I was wondering, Harry, if ... the Prophet and public opinion aside ... if you’re allowed to pick your own cases now.” His hands tightened around the mug.

Harry snorted and took another sip of his ale. “You sound like you have something particular on your mind.”

“Did you ever come across the case of a Sarah Longbottom?”

Harry shook his head. “Longbottom? Really? Related to you?”

“She’s my Uncle Algie’s daughter.”

“The one who hung you out of a window?” Harry chuckled.

Neville winced. “The same. Sarah's been attacked as a child, about the time when Voldemort and his lot ran the show. Been in St Mungo’s ever since, and no one ever found out what happened.”

Harry dropped the humour, fast. “That’s ... that’s awful. A child attacked and no culprit found.”

“Exactly. And I thought that ... well ... I could at least ask you ... That is, if you are to pick your own cases now.”

“That’s actually the one thing they let me do.”

“Uncle Algie and Aunt Enid never got over it. They still visit her every week. It would mean the world to them if you could find out what happened to Sarah.”

***


Back at the Ministry, Harry picked up a fresh carton box on his way to the archive in the dungeons. According to Neville, the evidence in the Sarah Longbottom case had been scarce. Very likely, there was no need to bring a trolley.

He shouldn't have bothered to even bring a box. When Harry finally found the file, his hands and robes dusty from digging through the boxes of parchment and magical items collected over the ages, it was nothing more than a disappointingly thin folder. Purple. An assault case. Not wanting to get any more dust on it, he resisted the urge to open it right away and rode the elevator back to Level Two. While he passed the Auror offices, he noticed they were deserted. A buzzing noise came from one of the meeting rooms. So they were busy discussing the hows and whys of the Leach case again.



No need to socialise and show his face then. He could just as well take the file outside of the DMLE and have a coffee around the corner. At least it tasted a lot better than the crap they brewed down in the cafeteria.

Harry had just settled with a triple caramel cappuccino and was ready to open the folder, when a familiar voice called out his name.

“Hey Potter, fancy seeing you here.” Draco Malfoy stood in front of his table, a copy of the Financial Prophet tucked away under his arm. “Shouldn't you agonise in our fancy office over which cold case to pick next?”

Harry waved the folder at him. “Done already. And then I took my work out into the sun. No need to stay inside where everybody is just busy giving each other a pat on the back for how great they are.”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “Jealous? Who'd have thought the famous Harry Potter would fall so low.”

“It's easy for you to say that.” Harry glared at Malfoy.

“Why? Because I couldn't possibly fall any lower?”

“What? No. That's not what I was saying. I just...” Harry waved his hands around in frustration. “I want to make a difference. Not just kicking up the dust of cases no one cares about. And being given shit for it by the Prophet.”

“He wants to make a difference.” Malfoy turned his face towards heaven. Then he looked back at Harry. “Honestly, Potter, you are making a difference. What about clearing the name of Sirius Black? That was important, wasn't it? We found Helena Malfoy and solved the murder of Igor Karkaroff - we made a difference there, too. Right? So why don't you offer me a seat at your table and we take a look at this measly folder of a case file.”

For a moment, Harry wanted to dismiss Malfoy's little speech as the words of someone who was just too full of himself. But if he wanted to be fair, Malfoy had a point. He gestured to one of the free chairs at his table. “Be my guest.”

“Oh darling, I thought you'd never ask!” With an exaggerated wave towards the waiter, Malfoy ordered Darjeeling, please. He threw one look at Harry's cappuccino and declared Harry a plebeian for drinking a brew made of more than two ingredients.

And then, they both bowed over the file to study its contents.

In 1997, Sarah Longbottom, age nine, daughter of Algie and Enid Longbottom, had been found catatonic in the garden behind their home. Closer investigation revealed that she had scratches and bruises all over her limbs and face, like she had been running through shrubbery in panic. Before her accident, Sarah had never expressed any signs of magic. Algie's involvement in bouncing his eight year-old nephew Neville in 1988 to force out his first signs of magic had been mentioned to the investigators, and for several weeks, Sarah's parents became suspects in the case of their own daughter. Algie was even questioned under Veritaserum and protested his innocence. In the end, the Aurors handling the case concluded that, had Algie truly decided to bounce Sarah from the second floor of the family home, she couldn't have survived the fall. Her parents were cleared, but the true attacker was never found.

“This is vile,” Malfoy said.

Harry nodded. "They closed the case a year after the attack. With so many Death Eaters on the run, no one found the time to chase after a phantom.”

Malfoy's face showed no reaction. He turned around another sheet of parchment. “It says here she was admitted to St Mungo's. Do you think she's still there?”

Harry shrugged. “Why wouldn't she? Unless she died, she'll still need the kind of care that can't be provided by her parents.”

Malfoy picked up his cup, threw one disgusted look at the cold tea and put the cup back on the saucer. “Well, then, what are we waiting for? We should go and take a look at her, talk to the Healers. See what we can find out before we pay a visit to her parents.”

***


Sarah Longbottom was a silent eighteen-year-old on a bed at the fourth floor of St Mungo's. She had the same light-brown hair colour as her cousin. But where Neville Longbottom's features were still round, Sarah's face looked almost gaunt.

“It's not easy to keep her fed,” the Healer said with a look into Potter's anguished face.

Draco wanted to curse. He'd suspected that Potter wouldn't deal well with meeting a victim that was helpless and still suffering. In spite of Potter's overall professionalism, he would get too close and personal and involved. And it was even worse with Sarah here, a young woman related to one of his friends, wasting away in a state that was neither life nor death. It was a marvel, to be honest, how Potter could still be that compassionate, after losing his parents and fighting a war. Yes, he once had held the attention of the wizarding world. But he wasn't Dumbledore's pampered boy any longer. These days, he was nothing but a grunt in the belly of the Ministry, and his means were limited by the length of his leash. Potter on a leash... Now that was a more uplifting thought.

“Malfoy?”

Draco was startled out of his musings to find Potter glaring at him.

“I wonder what's so funny about this case...”

Draco quickly schooled his features into an expression of earnest concern. “Sorry, I got distracted.”

The Healer cleared her throat. “You've seen the patient. Is there anything else I can do for you?” The look she gave them down her nose said that she hoped not.

Potter shook his head. “No, thank you. You've been very kind.”

Her expression softened a bit. “I hope you will be able to shed some light on this case. Maybe even find who did this to her.”

Not that the medical staff had been any help in narrowing down what this meant exactly. Sarah was unresponsive, but her medical file offered all kinds of suggestions about the source of her ongoing predicament, and not one could be ruled out completely.

They left the room together, and the Healer lingered, obviously uncertain about how much longer she was required to accompany them.

Draco gave her a quick smile. “Thank you for your time. We'll see ourselves out.”

“Could you've been any more impolite?” Potter hissed as soon as the Healer had vanished around the corner.

“I wasn't being impolite, Potter. I only didn't slobber over her like a Crup begging for a stick to be thrown. It's called acting like a professional.”

“You... you wouldn't know professional when it danced naked in front of you.”

“Naked? Who said anything about being naked?” A tall good-looking man with brown hair grinned at them from where he'd just stepped out from another room.

Definitely shagable, despite the ugly lab gear he wore - those protective goggles were the kind Draco only put on when things were about to explode, not as a fancy head wear. But a guy who threw a quick innuendo at strangers - Draco would have to add this one to his list of potential dates. He and Benjy were going out, but that didn't mean they were exclusive. If there was one thing Draco couldn't stand, it was a clingy bloke.

“Hey, gorgeous. Do we know each other? What are you doing in a place like this?”

“Malfoy!” Potter hissed, elbowing him in the ribs. “Don't you recognise Roger Davies?”

Davies. Davies. Davies, who was currently curling the left corner of his upper lip into a sneer. Oh... that Davies. “You captained the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. And you took that French half-Veela to the Yule Ball, right?”

Davies lost the sneer and stroked his chin, looking pleased. “Fleur Delacour, yes. Quite the catch, eh? Almost all of the boys were smitten with her.” He threw a sideways glance in Draco's direction. “She married the oldest of the Weasley blokes, right?” he asked, nodding towards Potter. “What are you two doing here anyway? Your families are all right, I hope?”

If the speed with which Davies turned the conversation to marriage and families was any indication, he probably wasn't a very good candidate for Draco’s list. Just a general joker, then, who enjoyed tuning in on awkward conversations about dancing naked. Draco shrugged inwardly. Davies’s loss, really.

“We’re good, Roger. Just visiting on a case. You look like you're working here, am I right?”

Now, look at Potter. Always trying to improve his conversational skills. Davies seemed to like it, though. He was practically preening.

“Why, yes, I do. I'm leading a team of researchers for St Mungo's. We collaborate quite closely with the Ministry, in fact. I can't really talk about it - I'm sure you know how it is, Potter, being one of the youngest Aurors in history.”

And wasn't it interesting how he excluded Draco from the conversation?

Potter babbled on about how he and Davies both were making the world a better place by saving kittens from treetops. This was really getting boring.

Draco made a show of looking at his pocket watch. “Oh, look, is it that late already? Potter, can you afford such a long break from work? Davies, it was fun, but we should dash.”

Davies held up his hands. “I wouldn't want to come between you and your work. See you around - maybe we could go to a pub and catch up on old times.”

Potter nodded. “I'd like that.”

“It's a deal, then.” Davies turned around and strode away.

What a twat. Well, at least he had a nice arse.

“Now, what? Is there still time enough to go and see Sarah's parents?”

They'd Apparated back into their office. Potter was clutching the folder with Sarah's case as if his life depended on it.

“We should wait until tomorrow. I'd like to make a call before we drop in on them and announce our visit. Don't want to barge in on them all of a sudden.”

Draco nodded. “That makes sense.”

“I may also call Neville. Ask what he knows.”

“You think the parents won't tell us everything?”

“No. But... you know how it is. Families talk all the time, and he might have heard something that gives us a different perspective on the case.”

Families talked all the time - that was probably the case if one grew up among Weasleys. Draco held his tongue. His comment likely sounded wittier in his head and would probably rile up Potter too much. Teasing him was fun, at times. But not at the cost of their work. Draco took pride in his hard-won expertise and professionalism. A mere joke wasn't enough to risk the burgeoning work-relationship he had with Potter.

“Malfoy? Have you fallen asleep? No Weasley joke?”

Draco only cocked an eyebrow. “Why bother when you can think them up all on your own.”

Potter grinned. “True enough. I'll owl you the time for our appointment with the Longbottoms then.”

***


The door of the small Longbottom cottage was closed, and all their knocking didn’t open it. Harry let his hand sink.

“Are you sure you made an appointment, Potter? This house looks like its owners have gone on a very long holiday, if you take my meaning.”

Leave it to Malfoy to rub in the obvious. “Of course I’m sure. I talked to Algie Longbottom and he told me to come for tea. Around three, he said. And don’t try to tell me tea is taken at five in the afternoon. Some people like to take it earlier, you know.”

Malfoy raised his hands in an appeasing gesture. “I didn’t say anything.”

“But you were about to, don’t deny it.”

Malfoy opened his mouth and closed it quickly when the door in front of them was opened slightly. A harassed-looking wizard peered through the gap. “Auror Potter?”

“The same.” Harry, suddenly self-conscious, tried to flatten his hair. “Algie Longbottom?”

„Yes.” The man eyed Malfoy. “You didn’t say you’d bring someone else.”

“This is Draco Malfoy. He is an Unspeakable and has been working with me as a research specialist on several cold cases.”

Longbottom moved an inch forward, effectively sealing the gap between door and frame with his body. “About that... I can’t allow you in.”

“Mr Longbottom, we want to find the people who attacked your daughter. Yesterday, you agreed to talk to me. Don’t you want us to help?”

Longbottom shook his head, then shrugged. He moved his weight from the left foot to the right and back again to the left. “Yes. I suppose. But... I don’t know.” He sighed. “It’s complicated.”

“Would you care to explain?” Malfoy’s voice was insistent, but at least a little warm.

Longbottom quickly stepped onto the front stairs, leaving the door behind him slightly ajar. “It’s about my wife, Enid. She’s been through enough.”

“I understand.” Harry nodded. Every new investigation would stir up the couple’s hopes again.

“No, Mr Potter, you don’t. This is not just about getting her hopes up. Do you know how much it upset her that we were both suspects to have attacked our own daughter? After I agreed to this meeting, I could think about nothing else. And I can’t put her through this again.”

“It’s different this time. You’re not a suspect. We’re merely trying to find out what happened,” Malfoy said.

“I can’t. Please, stop bothering us. I don’t even know why the case has been re-opened anyway. We certainly didn’t make a request.” Longbottom turned around and put one hand on the doorknob. “You’re wasting your time, Auror Potter.”

Harry’s heart sank, . Another case that would stay unresolved. Another crime that would be go unpunished. He only wanted to help, but he didn’t know how to reach this man.

Longbottom was almost through the door, when a soft voice spoke from inside the house. “Algie, don’t. I’ll do it. I’ll talk to Mr Potter.”

“Mrs Longbottom?” Harry held his breath.

A small woman gently placed her hand on Algie’s elbow. He stepped aside and made room for her. Her blonde hair hung lankly around her face as if styling it was too much of a bother. Her eyes were the saddest eyes Harry had ever seen, tired and worn from crying too much. He immediately felt a pang of compassion towards her.

“Hello, Mrs Longbottom.” He reached out and shook her hand, which was cool to the touch.

“Please, call me Enid. You aren’t like the other Aurors, the ones that came to our home to blame us for what happened to Sarah. I’ll talk to you, Mr Potter. I haven’t forgotten what you did for us. You fought bravely in the war, and I trust that you honestly want to take care of my Sarah. But he,” she pointed at Malfoy, “stays where he is. I’m not going to let a former Death Eater into my house.” The sadness in her eyes had changed to steel.

Harry turned towards Malfoy, expecting an explosion. Malfoy had gone white but for two pink dots high on his cheeks. He took one step backwards, away from Harry and the Longbottoms.



“It’s all right, Potter. I’m leaving. You do what you came to do. Just give me a call once you’re done, and we’ll talk.”

His voice was carefully controlled, but Harry couldn’t stop wondering. So many people still couldn’t see beyond what had happened during the war, and they attacked at the most unexpected moments. No matter how cocky his attitude and how great his reputation as a researcher, it couldn’t be easy for Malfoy.

Inside the house, Enid led Harry into the living room. Tea sat on a little heater on the table, and there were biscuits on a plate. The table was decked with three sets of dishes, and Harry sat down in the armchair he was shown. Enid took the sofa, while Algie took the second armchair across from Harry. He poured them all tea and settled with his cup, a watchful observer.

“Thank you, Enid, for talking to me. And please, both of you, call me Harry.” At her nod, Harry continued. “I’ve read the file and your testimony. I’d still like to hear it again from your perspective, if it’s not too much.”

Enid fumbled a handkerchief out of the pocket of her dress, dabbed her eyes with it and said nothing.

“But maybe we could start with Sarah. What kind of child was she? What did she like best?”

Enid sat a little straighter. “Thank you, Harry. It’s ... talking about her accident is hard. I’d rather talk about her, about the child she was before.” She paused for a moment, obviously collecting her thoughts. “Sarah ... she loved nature. She loved being outside. She had her own little corner in the garden where she grew flowers and herbs. It runs in the family; most Longbottoms have green fingers.” She gave a weak laugh. “I tried to interest her in edible plants, but for her, it was all about flowers. I used to say to Algie that she might become a Herbology teacher one day.” At this, Enid paused again and dabbed at her eyes. “Of course, that was before ... before I was certain she was a Squib.” A sob escaped her throat, and she shook her head.

Algie stood and sat beside her on the sofa to gently stroke her back. “You don’t have to do this, love.”

“Yes, I do. If there’s one chance of finding out what happened to her, it lies with Harry. He needs to know everything.”

Harry decided that this was enough of an opening. “You mentioned Sarah might have been a Squib. Why would you think that?”

“You read the file. She was nine years old! She never showed any signs of magic. Not the slightest.”

“Couldn’t she just be a late bloomer, like your nephew Neville?”

Enid flinched. “No. She was a Squib. And it was my fault.”

“Your fault? I find that hard to believe. What could you have done to cause a lack of magic in your daughter?”

“No! Stop it!” Algie called out. “This is going too far. What Enid thinks she did or didn’t is not related to the attack on Sarah.”

“It might be. Your wife at least thinks so. Don’t you think we should hear her out?”

“Enid? Love? Do you really want to go on?”

Enid nodded. She unfolded the handkerchief and blew her nose. „You really think that knowing my guilt will help you with Sarah’s case?”

“Please, Enid. I can’t be sure unless I know.”

She took a deep breath. “I was already past the age of child-bearing when I had Sarah. Algie and I married in 1962, right after I’d left Hogwarts. But it took us more than twenty-five years to conceive a child, and when Sarah was born in 1988, I was already forty-three. It didn’t feel right. A mother shouldn’t be that old. All during my pregnancy, I worried that we had been too selfish, trying for a child when I was well into my forties. Most of my friends had had their children twenty years earlier. But my mother wasn’t young when she had me, and I tried to reassure myself. I am not the most talented witch, but I was doing okay. I never expected this to happen.”

“You can’t think that the attack on Sarah was related to your late pregnancy.”

“No. But it’s why she was a Squib. And that must have diminished her chances of recovery, don’t you agree?”

“My father’s mother was older, too, when she had him. He was the Head Boy of his year, and played Chaser for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He taught himself how to—“

Enid cut right through him. “Don’t try to tell me that I’m wrong. Your grandmother was just luckier than I was. I know what I did. A mother always knows. She knows when her child is hurt. And she knows when she’s to blame. There are no pretty words and excuses to cover up what I’ve done.”

Harry was at a loss for words. On the mantelpiece, pictures of Sarah showed her at every age. The earlier pictures showed her at various activities; she was playing in the garden, tending to her flowers, blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. The later pictures were all taken at St Mungo’s, with Sarah lying in bed, or sitting in a chair by the window, supported by her mother’s arm around her shoulders. Those later pictures could have been Muggle - so significant was the lack of movement in them.

Enid noticed Harry’s gaze. “We still take pictures on her birthday. Act as if she’s a normal, happy child.” Her eyes filled with tears.

“I’m so sorry.” Words weren’t enough to express how much. “I should probably go.”

“You do that. Please find out who attacked my child.”

Harry took her hand and shook it. “I will, Enid. I’ll try my best.”

***


When Draco didn’t find Potter in their office the next morning, he simply Apparated to the café at the corner. And there was Potter, sipping one of those horrible concoctions. Draco ordered a tea for himself, moved Potter’s papers aside in lieu of a greeting and sat down.

“I’m sorry Enid treated you like that,” Potter blurted out. Well, he never had been famous for avoiding what was uncomfortable.

“What? Like she thinks I attacked her daughter myself? Potter, I didn’t know you were such a bleeding little heart.”

Potter’s face coloured an embarrassed red. “I just wanted to say ... it can’t have been easy for you.”

Draco shrugged. “Yeah, well ... Some people will never change. And they think the same of me.” He cleared his throat. “Now to more important matters: What did she tell you?”

Potter launched into his retelling of Mrs Longbottom’s testimony so fast that Draco thought he must have been quite glad to change the subject. Not that Draco was keen to discuss his role in the war with the most famous figure-head of the victorious side, either.

A sudden hooting startled both of them out of their conversation. A small brown Ministry owl landed on the free chair at their table. It held an office memo out to Potter.

“Fan post?” Draco quirked an eyebrow, while Potter took the memo from the owl. It hooted again, much softer, and waited.

Potter scanned the memo and shook his head. “No. It looks like Algie Longbottom just Apparated into my old cubicle, looking for me. Great. I’ll never live that one down.” He scribbled an answer on the back of the memo and attached it to the owl’s leg. “Sorry, I have no owl treats.” His gaze brushed the biscuit that lay forgotten on Draco’s saucer. “May I? You never eat them anyway.”

Draco waved a hand at him. “Go on, Potter. Ruin a perfectly healthy owl with extra sugar.”

Potter took the cookie and gave it to the owl. It nibbled at Potter’s hand before taking the treat. “See, she likes it.”

“Of course she likes it. That doesn’t mean it’s good for her.”

“Health freak.”

“Sugar addict.”

They watched the owl take off, and minutes later Algie Longbottom Apparated to the entrance of the café. He walked over to their table in quick strides.

“Thank you, Mr Potter, for seeing me on such short notice. I didn’t know how else to reach you.”

“It’s Harry, remember?” Potter shook Longbottom’s hand. “Don’t worry about interrupting. You wrote you had some information?”

“I’d like to add to my wife’s testimony.”

“Please, take a seat.”

Potter fixed his gaze on Longbottom’s face to show him that he was listening. Draco tried not to make a noise, just in case Longbottom remembered that he didn’t like talking to former Death Eaters.

“Enid told you about Sarah, how she thinks she’s a Squib. She’s wrong. My little girl, she isn’t a Squib. She’s a late bloomer, just like Neville.”

“And why would you think that?”

Longbottom leaned in closer and lowered his voice. “I have no proof, but I think I’ve seen signs of magic from Sarah, once or twice when we visited her at St Mungo’s. Whatever trauma she’s been through, it stopped her magic. That aside, she would have been a fine witch. My wife’s not to blame. A mother’s age has no influence on the magical ability of the child.”

“Why not tell Enid?” Potter’s voice was full of concern. “Why let her suffer all the self-blame when you were sure that her age wasn’t the cause for the complications in Sarah’s recovery?”

“I can’t. I can’t stir up more pain than Enid’s already been through. First, I tried to convince her. Don’t you think I tried? Of course I did. But I have no proof. And me arguing upset her even more. Sometimes I think she can’t bear the hope. She just can’t.” Algie wiped at his eyes. “And that’s why I let it go. But I’m sure – Sarah has magic.”

***


When Draco opened the office door the next morning at seven, Potter was already at his desk. He looked like he hadn't slept at all.

“Last night, I went down into the archives and did some more digging, and look what I found. Three more cases similar to Sarah's. All of them unsolved, just like hers.” Potter was excited enough to jump right into the case. “Oh, and by the way, I also talked to Neville. He didn’t have anything to add about his aunt and uncle, so that’s a dead end.”

“Last night? You went down into the archives after we came back from the Longbottoms? Do you ever do something other than work?”

Potter waved three more folders at Draco, one black and two purple. There was still dust in his hair – a little more personal hygiene would add so much to his appearance. But he had probably slept right here at his desk. Draco resisted the urge to wipe away a thick black streak from behind Potter's left ear.

“Three more? And they are similar how?”

“Some element of Sarah's case can be found in each of the others. The year they were found, the age, their lack of magic. But they don't share a lot of similarities, either with Sarah's or with each other. It's all just bits and pieces. Here, have a look.” Potter opened one of the purple folders. “Cedwic Filch, found in 1997, the same year as Sarah. Age seven. He died half a year later in St Mungo's. Difficult nourishment conditions, it says here.” Potter glared at the pages, turning them. “Difficult, my arse. And before you ask me, yes, he's a distant nephew of Filch.”

“Was he a Squib, too?”

“The papers don't say. He never showed any sign of magic until his accident.”

Draco made a non-committal noise for Potter to continue.

“The second is one Joanne Midget, age eleven. Her case is the most recent, set in 2001. She showed erratic signs of magic, but didn't receive a letter from Hogwarts. She survived the attack. In July 2002, her parents moved to the US and took her with them.”

Draco took the other purple folder and retrieved a parchment with a Ministry stamp on it. “Here’s a note that says they claimed their daughter had been attacked while they visited Hogsmeade on a family trip.” He handed the parchment to Potter, and two pictures slid to the ground. Draco bent to retrieve them. The first showed a blonde, pig-tailed young girl in a pink dress, waving at the camera. The second showed the same girl, curled up in a corner. Her pink dress was torn, and her arms were raised protectively in front of her face. They were covered in cuts and pricks, as if she had been mugged or dragged through thorns.

Draco swallowed hard. Potter's lips were pressed together in a tight line.

“It says here that her injuries resisted treatment. The Healers claimed it must be her erratic magic acting against the ointments and spells they tried. Her parents filed a complaint. They had Joanne released and moved to the US hoping to get better treatment for her.” Draco knew that his voice was slightly unsteady. Those cases really took a toll on him, and Potter didn't seem to fare any better.

Potter opened the black folder. “This case here’s even earlier than Sarah's. Connor Lane, age nine, and his older sister Mary, age thirteen. Both were found dead in their parents' home, while they'd been away on a shopping trip. Mary was a student at Hogwarts. Her wand was drawn, and Priori Incantatem revealed several protective spells. Connor, like Sarah and Cedwic, had shown no signs of magic until the accident.”

Draco realised he was chewing his lip. It was a bad habit, but he couldn't help it. “They were all between seven and thirteen years old. Some of them died on the spot. Some of them survived the attack. One was a Hogwarts student, one had erratic magic, and we don't really know about the others.” He dragged his hands through his hair. “This makes no sense. There is no pattern.”

Potter shook his head. “There has to be. We just don't see it. Maybe we're looking at this the wrong way. It might be possible that not all children were attacked by the same criminal. But what if the Squib cases were connected? What if someone out there was hunting children without magic?”

“But how do you explain Joanna Midget and Mary Lane? They clearly had magic. And Algie told us that he thinks Sarah is magical, too.”

“Yeah, but the attacker didn't know that.”

Suddenly Draco realised what Potter's muddled thinking was leading up to. "Potter, you are still too involved in the Opal Leach murder. The attacks on Sarah and these other children happened years ago. This is not some ongoing conspiracy against Squibs. Jacob Wilfing was a potioneer, for Merlin's sake. And Mary Lane was a Hogwarts student. She was a witch.”

“I am not saying that Opal Leach didn't get me wondering. And I know our Longbottom case has nothing to do with the current murders. But Mary could have been collateral damage, got in the way while trying to defend her brother. You have to agree that it is an odd coincidence that in all these cold cases the victims were wizarding children with little or no magic.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Potter, you actually might be onto something. So, let's, at least for the moment, disregard that some of those victims had magic, and go with the idea that they were attacked because they were Squibs. Or maybe, I might add, because they had 'wrong' magic? Do I follow you?”

Potter nodded. “Go on.”

“If this is true, we have a motive. We still need a suspect and the means of the attacks. A lot of people hated Squibs at the end of the nineties.”

“Unfortunately, we have plenty of Death Eaters to choose from.” Potter's face was dark and brooding.

“Well, we can't arrest them all. I think it's time to question Sarah.”

“You want to do what? What part of 'catatonic' don't you understand, Malfoy?”

“I don't want to talk to her. I want to perform Legilimency on her, take a look into her mind. It will be similar to what I did with the Muggle witnesses on the case of Sirius Black. All we need is the permission of her parents.”

“And how exactly are you going to get that?”

“It looks like we’ll have to ask them.”

“You know that her mother hates you, right?”

Draco looked Potter in the eye and gave him his cockiest grin, the one he usually reserved for hitting on exceptionally hot blokes. “What? Are you afraid of a challenge?”

***


Despite their recent success in finding more cases that might be related to Sarah's case, Harry was done for the week. Friday night, and for once he left the office in time for a couple of quiet drinks in the Golden Hind. It was the right crowd to wind down, no one would bother him or question him about the time he wasted on dust cases. Dust cases - the Prophet had come up with the name and it had stuck. Harry hated it. It sounded uncaring and mean, like the victims of the unresolved cases were just clutter and dirt to be swept aside and thrown out. And yet he had started calling them that inside his head, too.

"What's eating you?" Thomas, the bartender, asked, placing a fresh beer in front of Harry. "Trouble at work? Missing a love life?"

He gave Harry a wink, and Harry winked back. It meant nothing, just friendly concern from his favourite barman. "Just people being people. You know how it is."

Thomas nodded and pushed a bowl of peanuts towards Harry. "Here, have some nutrition with your ale."

"Thanks." Harry sipped his beer and occasionally picked at the nuts, scanning the crowd.

It was the typical early Friday evening crowd, just people kicking back and switching gears. No one was too flamboyant, only that couple in one of the dimly lit booths , that made quite the spectacle of themselves. Both had a seeker-light built, and both were all tarted up. The brown-haired one, with his back to Harry, wore a pair of jeans ripped in strategically interesting places. The other, whose face was hidden in the crook of hot-trouser-guy's neck, wore a slim-fit white leather suit and a dark button down shirt with silver markings that screamed filthy rich even from a distance. Though Harry had to admit that the shirt contrasted beautifully with the bloke's white-blond hair. Hair that reminded him strongly of one Draco Malfoy. But while Malfoy wasn’t above making a spectacle of himself and his lover, Harry was sure he wouldn’t indulge publicly in his usual relaxation technique while working on a case as tragic as Sarah's. Malfoy was a pleasure-seeking hedonist, but he wasn’t cold. Sarah’s fate had touched him as deeply as it had touched Harry.

Harry would have liked nothing better than to take his mind of the case for once. Torn between envy and embarrassment, he couldn't stop squinting into the darkness of the booth. The blond bloke was groping the other's arse. If the loud groans coming from his partner were any indication, he had his technique right down. The men turned slightly, and Harry could see the blond licking a glistening trail along the other's collarbone. He could also see the tell-tale pointed nose of Draco Malfoy.

This couldn't be true.

“Looks like you're enjoying the show." Thomas interrupted Harry's staring. Harry turned to face him and felt his face grow hot. It really was way too warm in the pub.

Thomas gave him a good-natured grin. “I can’t say I blame you. Benjy and Draco are some of the hottest blokes to look at. And they really like to show off together."

The hotness on Harry's face changed to flaming. He turned to get another look at the two. It was indeed Malfoy, and his lover, Benjy. Harry had just refused to believe what his eyes had been telling him all along. The ridiculous hair alone was a dead give-away, not to mention Williams’s trousers. Harry's brain had probably ignored all the facts because he wanted to give Malfoy the benefit of the doubt. With a case like their current one, a girl taken before her adult life had even begun, Harry doubted anyone could launch into a full make-out session, in a public bar, too, of all places.

But Malfoy clearly was as callous as he took care to make everyone believe. It wasn't an act. Where other people had a heart, Malfoy had a stone. Or perhaps just a fat, greedy dick.

Malfoy grabbed through the rips of Williams’s jeans, digging his fingers deep into the flesh of the man’s arse. Harry swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. Then, with a twist, Malfoy turned Williams around and pulled him hard against his chest and groin. Malfoy’s hands were all over Williams, tweaking a nipple through his shirt, rubbing at the bulge in his jeans, and Williams was panting without any restraint.

Harry stood and tossed a few coins onto the bar. "I'm done for the night. Keep the change."

So much for relaxing with a few quiet drinks.

***


Draco placed one of those frou-frou coffee abominations on the desk in front of Potter, a triple-caramel whatnot. “Here, I brought you one of those coffees you like so much.” He dumped the rest of his stuff onto one of his large boxes and didn’t bother closing the door. The room needed airing anyway. “How was your weekend?”

Potter only glared at him and continued reading the files. He didn’t even touch his coffee. Strange ... the last time they’d seen each other had been on Friday, and they’d parted amicably. Potter had actually laughed while saying goodbye. He’d said he might meet him later at the Golden Hind, but had never shown up.

“Potter, talk to me! What’s with the stone-walling? Kneazle got your tongue?”

Potter looked up at him. “Does it matter? You didn’t need me to get through the weekend fine, did you?”

“Awww, come on, don’t hate!”

“How not, when you did everything you could to make an idiot of yourself.”

“Care to explain?” What in Salazar's name was Potter going on about?

“You and Williams certainly didn’t hesitate to have a go at it on Friday night.”

So Potter had been to the pub, after all.

Draco shrugged. “Yeah, well, what’s it to you? And why didn’t you come over to say hello like you said you would? Was the company not good enough to satisfy your fine taste?”

“You were practically shagging him in public!”

Oh, so this was where the broom was flying. The damn hypocrite. “I wasn’t shagging him. We were getting ready for a great night out, in a gay bar, where lots of people like to get in the mood before they get their rocks off. I did nothing out of the ordinary. You’ve seen it before. You’re just blowing a fuse because it was me and Benjy.”

“You’re damn right. I’d never thought you’d be such an insensitive bastard. I thought you’d changed. But I guess I was wrong.”

“Insensitive? What’s that got to do with it?”

“Did you ever think of Sarah? Or her parents? I bet all you think of after you leave the office is how to shag your boyfriend into a mattress. Or whatever other piece of furniture you can find.”

“Oh, so this is what this is about? I was enjoying myself while on a case. And that makes me an insensitive bastard?” Draco felt his temper rise. “Get the message, Potter: Not everybody does the self-flagellating lambada you prefer to call a life. Sarah’s condition won’t improve if I make myself miserable. Our investigation won’t run any smoother if I stay celibate for the weekend.”

Potter looked utterly uncomfortable, squirming in his seat as if he wanted to make a run. If Draco hadn’t heard from Potter himself how much he was into guys, he’d taken any bet that Potter was embarrassed. But ...

Draco narrowed his eyes and fixed Potter with a stare. “Maybe you’re jealous? Maybe going for an occasional blowjob with a Muggle doesn’t do it anymore for you? Or maybe ...”

-- Potter was fidgeting like a first year in front of McGonagall now --

“... maybe you finally started thinking how great it might be to be out and proud.”

Potter jumped up and shut the office door so fast that the bang echoed through their office. “Shut it, Malfoy. Do you think I’m interested in the next rumour popping up? It’s bad enough as it is. They don’t have to think of me—“ He broke off, clutching the edge of the desk with white-knuckled fists.

“Think what, Potter? That you’re into blokes? Don’t you know that hiding from girls in a gay pub will do that to your reputation?”

“No one knows for sure. And they can’t know. Skeeter dragged my entire childhood through the dirt. Can you imagine what she would do with information like that? I’m not willing to go through such a shitstorm again.”

Draco whistled. “Harry Potter, the Golden Boy of the wizarding world, a coward. Who would have thought?”

“Shut you fucking mouth.” Potter slashed his hand through the air in one quick motion.

“You don’t get it, do you? You can’t hide forever, unless you never want to be happy and in love. You're Harry Potter. There is no way you’ll ever be with a guy and not come out to the public. You still have their attention, no matter what you do. Forget about Dawlish. You’re still a hero to a lot of people. Just think about Enid Longbottom.” Draco’s voice grew louder with every sentence. “You have the power to convince them, make them reconsider their prejudices. But instead of being out, you hide behind the image of a teenager who was too busy fighting for his life to even consider that he was oogling other blokes.”

“I was with Ginny, don’t you forget that.”

Draco shrugged. “That was years ago. So you’re bisexual then. Who cares? And when was the last time you touched a woman, anyway?”

Potter said nothing.

“Yeah. I thought so.”

Potter sputtered. “You’re not helping.”

Potter was probably the worst kind of closet-case Draco had ever met, but Draco knew he had to keep nudging him. No matter how insensitive Potter thought him to be, Draco knew a thing or two himself about the fears of coming out.

“It’s all right, Potter. I get it. And I’m not going to tell anyone.”

“Just stop pushing me.” Potter stood with his back to the door, tense like a deer poised to take a flight.

“You can run now, but don’t forget that we are meeting the Longbottoms this afternoon.”

The door closed behind Potter with a bang.

Draco threw a look at the untouched coffee on the table. The foam had shrunk into itself and a sickly sweet aroma wafted through the small room.

What a basket case.

***


Potter showed up at three in front of the Longbottoms’ cottage. His shoulders were drawn together and his whole back looked tense, but he nodded towards Draco in what resembled an actual greeting and then raised his hand to knock on the door.

Algie opened. “Harry. Mr Malfoy. You said you needed to talk to us again. What is it?”

“May we come inside? And it’s important that you talk to both of us this time, since Mr Malfoy is the one who will explain what we would like to do.”

Mrs Longbottom had silently come to the door. Her face betrayed no emotion. “If you must ...” She stepped aside, motioning for them to follow her. Algie gave her an astonished look but stayed silent. She led them to the living room and offered them a seat, but no tea.

They had agreed that Potter should take the lead and then hand over to Draco when the couple had been warmed up to what they were about to suggest.

“Enid. Algie.” Potter coughed, and then leaned forward in his seat. “While we were investigating Sarah’s case, we found more cases like hers. Similar in some aspects, but not in others. Nevertheless, we’ve come to suspect that someone has been hunting children whose magic was developing differently, or who didn’t have any magic.”

Mrs Longbottom nodded slowly. “Go on, Harry.”

“To find out more about the profile of a possible perpetrator, it would help us a great deal if we could examine Sarah more directly. We were hoping for your consent to perform Legilimency on her.”

Algie almost bolted out of his armchair. “This is outrageous! How dare you!”

Mrs Longbottom placed a hand on his arm. “Wait, love. Hear him out.”

Potter waited until Algie had settled down. „We’d like to perform Legilimency on Sarah hoping to retrieve her last conscious memory and shed a light on her attacker.”

Mrs Longbottom gasped, but quickly caught herself. “And that would be possible? The Healers never mentioned Legilimency could be done with someone in her state.”

“This is where Mr Malfoy’s expertise comes into play.”

Her eyes widened, but she still refused to look at Draco directly.

Draco took his cue from Potter and cleared his throat. “I’ve studied various advanced magical methods concerning the mind, among the a more refined method of Legilimency.” He waited until she finally made eye contact with him. “Legilimency under normal circumstances, with a person who is awake and fully conscious, will result in not just a flood of images, but also in the person’s reaction to the intrusion. They might want to hide some of their thoughts and memories, and so they push others at the forefront of their minds. If someone is very advanced at this kind of self-protection from Legilimency, we call them an Occlumens.”

Mrs Longbottom smiled, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Tell me something I don’t know already, Mr Malfoy.”

“The more the person under Legilimency is in a state where they can’t control their conscious thoughts, like when they are very drowsy or under the influence of certain potions, the less organised their minds become. Images will most certainly flood the Legilimens as soon as he gains access. Therefore, the Legilimens risks losing his sense of direction under the onslaught of images, especially when he’s looking for a specific thought or memory. The person under the spell is never at any risk.” Draco made a pause, but when neither one of the Longbottoms came forth with a question, he continued. “Wizards and witches studying Legilimency have continued pushing the boundaries of the spell and developing methods for the Legilimens to stay grounded while under performance.” He leaned forward in his seat. “If you let me, I could try to retrieve Sarah’s last memory and see what she saw when she was attacked.”

No one said a word. Algie was kneading his hands in his lap, watching his wife. Mrs Longbottom stared into space, biting her lip. Finally, she set her eyes back on Draco. “And you, Mr Malfoy, would risk performing this spell out of the goodness of your heart?”

Honesty was the only way to win her over. And she would never believe him if he didn’t give her a more complex reason.

“Not entirely. As far as I know, no one has ever tried to perform it on a person who’s been catatonic for such a long time. I certainly welcome the challenge. But I also want to help and find out what happened to your daughter.”

“Mr Malfoy is the best and most capable man for the job,” Potter declared. He leaned forward. “You might finally know what happened to Sarah. You could find closure.”

“And it wouldn’t harm her? She wouldn’t have to relive the trauma?” asked Algie.

Draco shook his head. “According to the Healers, her conscious mind is gone. It would be only me, sifting through whatever memories still float in her subconscious.”

“But even then you would need luck to find the right one and to make any sense of it.” Mrs Longbottom’s tone was sharp and interrogating.

“This is true. But I expect the memory to be accompanied by feelings of great fear and distress. Her emotions would be my compass. I’d feel them, too.”

This time, the small smile that played around Mrs Longbottom's lips reached her eyes. Draco had to suppress a shiver. “If we give our consent, you’ll have to agree to reveal everything you find out to us first. Only then, after we give our consent that you may use your findings, will you be allowed to include them in your official investigation.”

Potter uttered a noise of protest, but Draco cut through it. “I understand.” He stared at Potter and silently begged him to play along. This woman would never give up the shreds of control she had over her daughter’s life. “I think we can agree to that.”

Mrs Longbottom looked at her husband, then back to Potter and Draco. “You have our consent. We visit Sarah every Wednesday. It might be best if you accompany us to not alert the Healers.”

Potter shook his head. “No. We’re not doing this like criminals. This is a Ministry investigation, and I’m not going to sneak into St Mungo’s and put Mr Malfoy’s reputation at risk.”

That damned little smile again. “As you wish, Harry. If you believe there’s anything still to risk of Mr Malfoy's reputation. In that case, my husband will inform the Healers of our consent.”

“This is very kind of you. But if you just sign this form here, we’re good. We’ll owl it to the Healer in charge, with the time and date of the investigation, so that they can prepare Sarah.”

“Then we will meet on Wednesday at ten at St Mungo’s.”

“Ten is too early.”

Everybody looked at Draco.

“The procedure is quite exhausting and I’m going to need more time to prepare. 2 p.m. would be ideal.”

“We can do that, can’t we, love?” Algie asked his wife. “We will visit Sarah in the morning and then wait for Harry and Mr Malfoy.”

Mrs Longbottom nodded. Then she signed the form.

***


Harry arrived at Malfoy's flat two hours before they were to meet with the Longbottom family. Malfoy had packed a ton of equipment.

Harry felt queasy. At the sight of Malfoy’s stuff, he realised that he’d never given any thought to what performing Legilimency might demand from Malfoy.

"Why are you so green around the gills? It's not anything you ate, Potter? I would hate you to ruin my carpets. Some of them are family heirlooms."

Harry shook his head. "No. I'm just surprised that you need so many things to perform a spell."

"I'm not just performing a spell. I'm conducting a scientific experiment which I'd like to document." Malfoy snorted, grabbed a box and pressed it into Harry's arms. "Here, hold that, will you? I'm almost done."

The box held a variety of parchments, quills, and a big spell book. With a triumphant crow, Malfoy retrieved a dark cloth from a rack. "I knew I'd have it somewhere."

Harry eyed the cloth. "What do you need this for?"

"Blackcurrant. It's the perfect colour. It'll make for a great contrast in front of the camera."

Harry didn't resist the impulse to roll his eyes. He was about to thrust the box back into Malfoy's arm - the lazy git could carry his stuff himself, after all - when Malfoy suddenly froze to look Harry right in the eye.

"Before we Apparate ..." Malfoy cleared his throat. "I'd like to say something about the other day."

Oh no. Now Malfoy would tell Harry how shitty he'd been about Malfoy and Williams practically shagging in the booth at the Golden Hind. Harry knew about his tendency to lose joy and sleep over his cases, and how he expected the same from others. But then again, he'd never begrudged Ron and Hermione their couple time. If he was completely honest with himself, he hadn’t lost his shit over Malfoy enjoying himself. The truth was he couldn’t stand the thought of Malfoy touching Williams, with his greedy moans and eagerly reacting body. So fucking compliant.

“Potter? Are you with me?”

Harry focused and found Malfoy looking at him, his brows furrowed. “Sorry. I was ... distracted. I’m sorry. You wanted to say something.”

“Backing me up against Enid and telling her that I was the best man for the job. That was pretty decent of you, Potter. You didn't let your personal opinion of me get in the way of the case. I always admire a professional."

The praise stung. Malfoy obviously still thought that Harry hated his supposed lack of morals. "I want what’s best for Sarah, and that's you. By the way, you aren't half bad, Malfoy."

Malfoy made this little motion with his head, like a cat listening to a mouse running through the grass. He always did that when something caught him by surprise. "Not half bad, eh Potter?"

"You showed some real compassion for Sarah. And for her parents, too, in spite of Enid's ... hostility."

"Aww, Potter. You sap. You're not so bad yourself." And then, Malfoy smiled.

It was a beautiful, almost inviting smile. A smile that made Harry stupid enough to want to talk. "Nope, Malfoy, not by a long stretch. So tell me, why do you do it, really? Why help Sarah?"

"You mean, aside from the scientific honour it will bring me?" Malfoy shrugged. "I guess it's ... it's the right thing to do."

"The right thing?"

Malfoy was fumbling with the hem of the cloth he was still holding. And if Harry had been certain about one thing concerning Malfoy, it was that he never, ever fumbled.

"She got attacked because someone most certainly tried to get rid of Squibs, right?"

Harry nodded. "So far, this is our hypothesis."

Malfoy coughed. "The way I see it ... in the war ... enough happened to all kinds of people. You know ... Squibs, Muggles ... Muggle-borns." He coughed again. "And I ... and my family ... we weren't exactly innocent." He stared into space, as if afraid to meet Harry's eyes. "So once I started thinking, I mean, really thinking, how it had all come to happen. And I thought I should ... do something about it. You know? About my role in the war, and all that." He fell silent. The tips of his ears were flaming red.

"Are you telling me that you try to atone for what you did during the war?"

Malfoy shrugged. "Something like that, yes."

"But you were ... just a boy. They closed your case. Hell, they even closed your father's case."

"And what exactly does that prove? It's worth nothing, as long as I don't adapt ... change ... whatever you call it." Malfoy tore the box out of Harry's arms. "It's my responsibility, and if I can help clear up one case or another, this is what I'm going to do." With a bang he was gone.

Really not half bad. Quite a decent bloke, in fact.

Harry pictured the entrance of St Mungo's and Apparated.

***


CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO


Date: 2013-09-28 12:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] serilla.livejournal.com
Oh Draco - tyring to atone for things in his past. Maybe now Harry might go a bit easier on Draco. Great chapter. :)

Date: 2013-10-01 12:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fantasyfiend09.livejournal.com
I'll comment on the fic at the end of Part 2, but THE ART!!

Harry crouched down with that slim and lonely file. Harry's face is just wonderful.

Draco, as Enid throws his past in his face. I loved the Longbottoms and how their suffering was etching into their faces. And Draco looked so proud and well so humble in that moment. It's beautiful!

Date: 2013-10-04 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] catsintheattic.livejournal.com
The art is so beautiful. The haggard faces of Algie and Enid, Enid's accusatory posture, and Draco trying to keep his composure. Harry finding Sarah's file. I really like the colouring in both pieces a lot, how the colour highlights the folder and Harry's Auror robes and Draco's hair.

Date: 2013-11-09 10:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] omi-ohmy.livejournal.com
That description of Malfoy moving like a cat listening to a mouse in the grass was just wonderful!

Date: 2013-11-21 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] indyonblue.livejournal.com
The art is just wonderful here!