Okay, here it is: My Scratched Hearts Challenge entry:
Title: The Best of All Possible Outcomes
Author: Colibri Vert
Author's email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beta: Erin & Erin
Rating: NC-17 for graphic m/m sex and violence, not necessarily in that order
Challenge Scenario(s): B) Assassin!Harry - In this, Harry must be a highly skilled and experienced assassin; he meets someone who makes him reconsider his path. This *must* include a sympathetic original character who is later killed in action. Also included, per the rules: A duel or a fist fight between Draco and Harry; and a scene where one character cross-dresses to spy and communicates a message to his contact through fan language.
Summary: The year is 2010, and someone's been murdering prominent figures in the British government. Auror Draco Malfoy is tapped to solve the case. But things have a way of getting complicated.
Warnings: D/ofc, OMC/h, D/h. Graphic sex, (perhaps gratuitous) violence, lack of value judgments. Fic done for the "Scratched Hearts" challenge at Crossing the Line.
Warm flesh beneath his fingers--slick with sweat, and acrid. The softness of fat and solidity of bone beneath.
"Please," the man says, and grunts. A struggle, a dance.
A lance of pain through his gut, through his heart. His fingers press deeply into the fleshy face, about the heavy head, gaining purchase. Hair keeps them from slipping.
His muscles contract deliciously and the wet, popping sound of fused vertebrae snapping, reports like a gunshot through his head.
The man is too portly to lift so he is left there, on the bed, whilst his killer fetches a wet bath flannel and makes quick work of wiping the man's sweaty face down. He is still warm.
He tucks the dead man in, pulling up the sheets, then slips away into the night.
"Surely, it can't mean nothing, this long-standing cooperation between us."
"Of course it means something." He's so very tired, Mathilda had been sleeping terribly for an entire week, now, her pregnancy wearing on her in this, her eighth month. "But the Edict of Separation was put in place for a reason, and the fact that your...Inspectors are unable to rid you of this threat, is none of our concern. Surely you can't have forgotten that we've never assisted you in these types of cases before."
"Well!" Indignant. The man puffs himself up like a cockerel, though he is no youth and already commands quite a presence. Donald thinks the man was elected more for his face than his mind, though the latter is nothing to sneeze at, either. It's simply taken a somewhat secondary position to his libido, over the years--the five years Donald has held this office, and has known Leonard Ainsworth.
"Convince me, then, Mr Ainsworth! Or take your tantrums elsewhere. Why has this anything to do with us?"
Ainsworth seems satisfied with the opportunity, though he hides it well. "This man has eluded us for nearly a decade, Durkiss! And his targets are becoming more and more prominent. The last two have been Members of the House of Lords, for God's sake! Two months apart, and both poisoned whilst in the open, with people milling about! It's not natural. We have CCTV recordings of both simply walking, then putting a hand up to their necks, then dropping to the ground. Surely you can see why I think this may have something to do with...your people."
Donald can admit that it sounds a bit peculiar, but, "What are CCTV recordings?"
Ainsworth is surprised, but overcomes this quickly and with all attendant grace. "I'll show you," he says, well accustomed to the other minister's Luddism. Their acquaintance has been the longest such between British Prime Minister and Minister for Magic in modern history. He loads the disc into the player and switches on the screen. It takes only moments for him to navigate to the time stamps he wishes to display.
"Ah, yes," mutters Donald, moving closer to peer at the still photos appearing on the telly-screen he has seen many times, but never thought over-much about. It stands just across from the enchanted portrait.
"Here, now," says Ainsworth. "This man walking here, this is Lord Attwood and his wife." He steps through to the next still. "Here, you see his hand travelling, then against his neck. Here, he falls to the pavement, his hand covering his neck there. There are too many people about for a projectile weapon to have been used, say our inspectors. But the site indicates some sort of poison-laden dart pierced the skin perfectly, above Lord Attwood's carotid artery. His death was nearly instantaneous."
"There seems to be a bit left out...?" Donald finds it fascinating, this technology, but he's uncertain why they would choose to capture so few photos, if they are looking for a murderer.
Ainsworth waves the comment away negligently. "The stills are captured once per second. We should have been able to see the assassin in one of the frames from one of the many CCTV cameras throughout the area, but we cannot. He may as well be a ghost."
"It's unlikely a ghost would have access to poison darts," Donald says thoughtfully, "nor the capability of utilizing them." He is intrigued. Could it be there is some renegade wizard, who has been terrorising Muggle London for the past decade? Merlin knew there had been enough malcontents after Voldemort's too-ambiguous demise. Without a final, decisive, publicised victory, the wizarding world had drifted back into a sort of half-life, marred by fear and overcompensation.
Donald himself has had many assurances, by former Death Eaters turned to the Light, that Voldemort is dead. Three years after the final battle, the Dark Marks had simply faded from his followers' skin. But most regular folk had no understanding of these things, and life was only slowly returning to the uneasy normalcy that had reigned prior to Voldemort's last rise. A goodly number of Death Eaters had simply disappeared, presumably into the Muggle world, though most had been impossible to locate, and resources for the hunt had been drastically cut, even before Donald's appointment. There was simply no indication that a new witch or wizard had the ambition to take Voldemort's place, and so, it was not a priority.
Ainsworth barks an uncomfortable laugh. "I wasn't serious," he says, then more weakly, "about the ghost."
"Oh...well, I suppose if you'd like to give me the information you have on this assassin, I will pass it on to the Department for Magical Law Enforcement and see what they can do."
"Excellent," says Ainsworth, immediately moving behind his desk to open a drawer. "I've printed hardcopies of the information, since everything's online in our secured network and I know you haven't access."
Donald has no idea what the man is talking about, but he takes the black-bound...well, it looks a bit like a book, though rather shoddily bound, using metal rings and unsightly covers. It must be obvious he's never seen the like, for Ainsworth takes it back and places it on the table.
"Here," he says and snaps the rings apart.
"Oh, dear!" Donald exclaims, too startled to be embarrassed.
"You can take the pages out and replace them as needed."
"Oh, all right...." He takes the book from Ainsworth's hands when it is re-proffered. "I'll just be going, then."
"You'll keep me apprised, of course," Ainsworth hints.
"Of course," Donald agrees, then floos home.
Harry stands in the shower for five minutes, scrubbing at his hair, then skin, with a bar of white soap. He uses the single white towel to dry himself, from the top of his head down to his feet, then fastens it about his waist. He shaves, using an expensive disposable razor and a travel-sized shaving foam, then reaches into the shower to retrieve the soap and washes his hands again. He removes the disposable contact lenses and tosses them in the bin, then snakes a hand out to retrieve his glasses from the table, just outside the toilet door. He listens for silence, nearly a minute passing, before he emerges to the flat's single room.
Two steps forward to the bed, ten from one end of the room to the other. One small window sits above the kitchenette's sink, looking out to a red-brick wall. There are two entry-points to the room, including the window, and no one ever passes the window. Harry sets water to boil in the microwave, then opens the foil cover on his chow mein Pot Noodles. He stands and waits the two minutes, then opens the door before the beep, because he hates the noise. Unfortunately, he has little control over life outside his studio flat. The silence is broken by passing traffic round the other side of the house, by the telly a storey above, by a crying baby. Inside, there is only the gentle, seeping sound of boiling water against freeze-dried noodles in plastic.
He leaves them to steep, pulling out black jeans, a black tee, and black socks from his duffle bag. They are all relatively new and little-washed, the colour remaining deeply black. He stirs the noodles a bit, then returns to find his mobile. There is only one message--"Pmt x-frd. Mtg 18-10-10". That's days away, so he scrolls through the headlines instead and finds one of interest. "Lord Carlton found murdered in hotel room. No suspects taken." It's the third Member of Parliament so far, and it had gone off perfectly, just as the others. He sits on the bed, feeling nothing, then stands again to retrieve his supper.
"You must be joking. I can't stomach Muggle relations."
"I'm not joking, and neither is Minister Durkiss. He's asked that I put my best man on this assignment."
"Could we possibly, for once, pretend that someone else can approach my level of proficiency? After all, there is a renegade werewolf pack out there which is not capturing itself."
"While that may be true, would you also concede that you haven't caught it yet either?"
He can feel the colour staining his cheeks, but it is a flush of anger, not embarrassment. "It's been one day," he says tightly.
"Ah, yes, then you've not done much work on it yet, have you." She drops the book on his desk and retreats with a smirk. "The sooner you nab him, the sooner you can resume your usual assignments."
Draco hasn't a large cache of insults that apply to wealthy, attractive, pure-blood witches like Auror Hazelton, but his feelings toward her are quite negative anyway--except while he's fucking her. She is bloody perfect while he's fucking her.
He turns to the decidedly Muggle-looking book and opens it, crinkling his nose at the complete lack of aesthetic appeal in its hard, black cover and metal rings. The paper is thin and white and tasteless, the typeface uninteresting. It is, however, exceedingly easy to read, though surprisingly boring, given what it says.
Apparently, a multi-agency task force has been tracking a certain assassin for the better part of ten years, and while they aren't certain every killing is his, they are certain about many--twenty-two in fact. They suspect the assassin has been working for even longer than this, though his targets at that time were so obscure, as to fade into the already appalling death toll of Muggle society.
As he reads on, he is struck by the task force's proficiency. Considering their lack of useful tools, (not even a wand!), how they've managed to find a pattern to even link together the twenty-odd murders is beyond him. In many cases, there had been no traces left at the scene, and thereÕd been no witnesses thus far. A few times, hair or other DNA (Whatever that is) had been retrieved and those times, the samples had matched. 'Subject is Caucasian with black hair. No other physical data known.' Well, that certainly narrows it down a bit, Draco thinks irreverently. And if the 'subject' is a witch or wizard...well, the information is nearly useless.
The victims' profiles are somewhat more interesting. The earliest had mainly been middle-tier heads of crime syndicates, moving on to higher tiers and culminating with two actual bosses. An apparent hiatus had followed, during which several related murders appeared toÕve taken place in America. The task force had posited warring heads offing each other in turf wars.
Next on the list is an international businessman, apparently of some renown in Britain, murdered three years ago. The dates indicate that another hiatus follows, though there is apparently no similar relocation, and now there is this re-emergence, with two members of the Muggle parliament murdered in close succession, in public. There had been hundreds of witnesses in one case, and yet no one had seen the killer.
Draco is intrigued. "Jules?"
"Don't call me that," Draco says, standing and taking the Muggle tome with him to Jules' desk.
"Don't call me Jules, then."
Draco has heard this many times before, but he really doesn't care. He would much rather be called 'Drake' than accommodate Julian's preference to be free of that particular moniker. "How many outstanding Death Eaters are you tracking now?"
Julian snorts. "Now Draco, why on earth would you ask about something as completely boring as that?"
Draco tends to deride Death Eater clean-up as the very basest of base assignments, and to chide Julian mercilessly for allowing himself to be stuck with it. He sighs melodramatically. "Because I've been forced to assist the Muggle Prime Minister with an international murder mystery," he says, with all due self-importance, though he makes it sound frightfully dull. "It appears some witch or wizard has decided to terrorise the Muggle world for the past decade and the police have been unable to capture him."
"Ah, I see," says Julian, who happens to be Muggle-born.
"Apparently, this person has offed two Muggle Secretaries or some such, in the past months."
Julian seems confused for a moment, then understanding dawns. "You mean those two Lords of Parliament?"
"Of course," Draco says, though he's not entirely certain. It seems they would be the same, though he has no idea how many Muggle parliamentarians are offed daily.
"Well you know, there was another murder just last night," Julian says excitedly, then pulls out one of those grey, lifeless Muggle newspapers and shows him the front page. "This morning's edition of the Guardian," he explains and points to the top headline, which says, 'Third Peer Found Murdered'. "Lord Carlton was found murdered by cleaning staff in a room at One Aldwych. It's a posh London hotel."
"I know it," Draco says distractedly, already assuming this murder is related. "So you've known about these murders already?"
"Well, I certainly didn't know they were related," he says with a shrug. "The papers haven't said it, though the first two were too similar to seem a coincidence. I honestly can't figure why anyone would bother with them, though. None of these three are names I even recognise."
"Did you ever consider it might be a wizard murdering these Muggles?"
"Not at all," Julian admits. "They haven't any relation to the wizarding world either." He takes a deep breath, then pulls out a scroll. "Fifteen Death Eaters on my active roster," he says, "and I've found no traces of any of them in the UK. Most fled to Eastern Europe initially and have kept on the go."
"And how do you manage to trace them from your desk here, hmm?" Draco asks, without the least show of respect.
"You know as well as I, the level of priority of my assignment."
"Ah yes," Draco agrees. "None. Shame, that. I suppose those Death Eaters shall remain safely out of Ministry hands unless one of them happens to be our fabled assassin." He pulls out his wand and mutters a quick duplication spell over Julian's roster. "I'm off," he says, then unfurls the roster to place it inside the Muggle book.
"I'll be certain to inform the Head Auror," calls Julian after him.
"Why thank you, Jules," Draco replies, before he is out of ear-shot. It is always most satisfying to have the last word.
The noise is somehow soothing in this context, though he never finds it so in any other. He avoids crowds and open spaces. He avoids eye contact with strangers. He wears black leather gloves on most days, and a black beanie covers his crew cut. He sits in a dark corner, nursing his first (and only) lager of the evening. He cannot bear the thought of being at all impaired.
"Would you like some company?" says a soft voice, but it startles him nonetheless. He had seen the man's approach--had watched it, even. He'd never expected the man to halt here, before him, and speak. The man indicates the empty chair across from him and quirks an eyebrow. He is well-dressed, well-groomed, and has a little cross earring in his right ear. It's very discreet, in silver. He is also someone Harry recognises as a regular here.
"No," Harry replies, but his voice is too unused and sticks in his throat. He blushes and feels like he should be beyond this stage in his life. He's been thirty years old for several months, now. He clears his throat, then says, "All right."
The man's face breaks into a smile of such radiance, it takes Harry's breath and makes his stomach churn. He immediately wishes to escape, his eyes skirting the room behind his new companion, counting the number of pissed patrons pottering about between him and the egress. There are four, but it is only 8 o'clock.
"I'm Stephen, by the way," says the man, still smiling, though not quite so radiantly as before.
"Alex," lies Harry.
"Pleased to meet you, Alex," says Stephen and holds out his hand for several seconds, whilst Harry merely stares at it. He has not removed his gloves, and the beanie remains on his head. He blinks wide, innocent eyes at Stephen, who seems to find him strange but charming, and draws his hand away again. "So...I've seen you here before."
Harry doesn't show surprise, but he is uncomfortable with the fact that someone has noticed him. He will never return here again, certainly. "Oh," he says.
Stephen snorts, then shakes his head in answer to some internal thought, Harry supposes, before saying, "A man of few words, yeah?" He leans forward then, and Harry is compelled to lean slightly away from him. "I've come over to meet you because I find you irresistibly attractive," he says conspiratorially, as if the only party he might wish to hide this information from isn't the one he's just told it to. "We needn't talk to fuck," he says.
And so that is how it begins. Harry is completely dumbfounded by the man's boldness. "What?" he asks, his voice now sounding the twelve-year-old he is feeling.
Stephen's smile only grows. "I suppose I should first ask you whether you realise this is a gay pub," he murmurs, as he remains perched on his elbows, halfway across the table.
Harry's eyes flit about the room again, and he notes the rather even mix of men and women in groups, and the way the couples are all homo. But he had known it was a gay pub. After all, it's called 'Wilde's' and has an etching of the great libertine himself beside the door. "Yeah," he says unthinking.
"Ace," says Stephen, "not that it isn't blindingly obvious you're blue." Another winning smile tinged with desire blinds Harry. "It remains only to decide whether you'd enjoy a bit of good-natured sport for the evening. And before you answer, I must inform you that I play exceptionally well with others; and that you shuffling off alone tonight would be a spanking great waste."
Harry's jaw has gone slack. He's actually too shocked to remember his fear. But he's also too shocked to speak.
"I'm really a very handsome bloke, when you get past the boorish exterior."
"Er," manages Harry, as ever, the model of eloquence. His speaking skills could never have made anyone proud.
"I've a flat not far from here," says Stephen.
Harry thinks he can't remember the last time he'd been laid, outside of work. The need did occasionally arise in his work. His looks were a weapon in his arsenal, along with all of the others, and sometimes the most powerful of them all. Sex was a brilliant way to build trust, even for men. Still, it had been years since he'd slept with a mark.
Thinking about work calms him. He is breathing now; inhaling, exhaling, and feeling nothing. He measures Stephen from crown to ribs and is not disappointed. "I think," he says, "I should enjoy having you in my field of vision for the very short term."
And so they leave together, Harry listening to the night and marking their passage, as they walk the short distance in silence. He is smaller than Stephen by several inches and must weigh several stones less. It is unsurprising, because Harry is small for a bloke and Stephen is an inch or three over six feet.
The apartment house has security, and Harry ensures that Stephen is between him and the CCTV camera. The flat is on the third storey and posh, with wooden floors and Scandinavian furniture and a wall-mounted, flat-screen display, nearly as wide as Harry is tall. "Would you like anything?" Stephen offers, as he removes his brown leather jacket and hangs it on a peg behind the door. It matches his couch. "The bar's there," he says and points to a well-stocked bar in the far, sunken corner of the flat.
Harry turns to see it behind him. He thinks Stephen must pay thousands per month for this place, unlike the hundreds he pays for his own. He startles when Stephen is suddenly against his back, hands closing, gently, about Harry's shoulders. "Or I've ecstasy or coke if you'd prefer."
Harry cringes internally at the thought, but manages to keep his reactions hidden. "I'm all right," he says and gently extricates himself from Stephen's grip so he can turn and face him.
Stephen smiles again, though this time thoughtfully, and his eyes flick upward from Harry's eyes to his beanie. "Can I remove this?" he asks, and brings a hand to rest against the soft wool.
Harry saves him the trouble by pulling it off himself, then scrunching it up between his gloved hands.
"How old are you, Alex?" Stephen asks, then takes Harry's hands in his own and begins to remove the gloves, letting the beanie drop to the floor.
"How old do I look?" Harry replies. His life has become a long string of evasions, over the years.
"Twenty-four, twenty-five," says Stephen.
"Good guess," says Harry. It's the age he would have given anyway. "You?"
"Thirty-seven," says Stephen. It makes his lifestyle that much more impressive.
"Finance or management?" Harry asks.
Now Stephen's lightning smile returns. "Both," he says. "Finance Manager for Guardian Media. You?"
Harry remains impressed. "Clerk in a music shop," he says, which isn't true, certainly, but at least is work he has done before.
"Indeed," says Stephen, then tosses Harry's gloves onto the sofa. "Do you prefer beds or...?"
Harry shrugs. He'd never really thought about it. Sex was a fine thing all round, generally. It had been quite some time since he'd had much choice. Glory holes and back rooms are not the dens of safe, exploratory play one might guess. "I'm rather...inexperienced," Harry says and Stephen darts his tongue out to lick at suddenly drier lips. He is getting hotter. Soon he will be hot enough that Harry will be able squelch his overreaching paranoia.
"May I kiss you?" Stephen asks, and Harry wonders what world he has ended up on, that a man would ask permission. So he pulls Stephen close, until their lips touch tentatively, until they are kissing, until Stephen is devouring his mouth, and Stephen is reaching under the hem of Harry's overlarge, black, woollen jumper, then pulling it up and over Harry's head. They separate only for the split second it takes for the jumper to disappear onto the couch, then again as his tee is unceremoniously added to the rest. He feels Stephen's greedy hands travel his torso, and then--
"Holy bloody hell," Stephen groans into his mouth and pulls away.
"Wha--?" Harry is in a daze. It's been so long, and his cock is a pulsing bar of iron in his pants. There is no blood left for higher brain function. This would worry him if he weren't already in such a state.
Stephen barks a laugh--short but truly amused, it seems. "My God, Alex. You're perfect," he says, then pulls in to devour him again, this time even more enthusiastically than before.
Harry quickly sinks into abandon, enjoying the soft-skinned hands pressing against skin grown accustomed to pain. His own hands are bony and callused and very, very strong, and right now they are wrapped about Stephen's so-tender neck. He can feel the powerful, speeding pulse of blood through arteries and the slick wetness of lust-fuelled perspiration. Stephen is moaning against his neck as he bites and licks and attempts to remove his own shirt. Harry hears a button skitter across the wooden floor-boards and Stephen whispers a delighted, "Fuck," against his skin. It tickles, distracting Harry from his own lust to squeeze. "I'm sorry, I need a bed," says Stephen, still breathless, and pulls away again, taking Harry's hand and pulling him ungracefully through a door, into a bedroom as posh as one might expect, considering the bar.
It is still dark when Harry lands on the bed, propelled there by Stephen's lust alone, he thinks, but then the glow of recessed track-lighting suffuses the air and he sits up onto his elbows in order to watch Stephen undress. "You must spend every free moment training, yeah?" Stephen says huskily, his eyes shining with his want. Harry thinks it feels nearly oppressive, that gaze--that it's difficult to breathe under the onslaught of that desire. But he's flattered, certainly. And Stephen obviously uses a great deal of his money on health clubs, for he is perfectly cut. "Do you use the YMCA?"
"Dojo," Harry offers--one of a very few truths he will offer tonight. "You?" He begins to open the buttons of his own fly, as Stephen is so obviously driven to distraction by Harry's looks, and can't lose his own kit fast enough. Stephen's trousers finally fall and he stands in grey, conforming silk shorts. His tan is too perfect for nature, as is his physique.
"Personal tuition," he says with a smirk, "five days." The man has more money than he knows what to do with, apparently.
But Harry's jeans are opened, now, and he rises, gracefully this time, from the bed to let them drop. His own black boxer-briefs have been washed a few more times than they were made for and are now unattractively greyish.
It hardly matters, for they are at his ankles in a heartbeat and then he is back on the bed, drowning in hands and tongues--there must be fifteen, at least, of each--and gasping as a mouth closes round his fiery prick and he...just...comes. "Bugger," he sighs, then, "sorry."
Stephen's face appears above him in a moment and there is no indication he has just been sorely disappointed. What a nice man. He is smiling. "Dry spell?" he says sympathetically.
"As I mentioned," Harry agrees.
"Well..." says Stephen, then squeezes one of Harry's buttocks gently, whilst taking a deep breath through his nose. "Might I fuck you anyway?" he asks.
Harry nods. He'd also been a nice man, once. Long ago. A nice boy, at any rate.
Stephen kisses Harry gently again, though Harry knows it is a struggle for the other man to slow himself down. He can feel it in the tension of Stephen's body, beneath the pads of his fingers. But he also notices that Stephen reaches into a bedside table and comes back with condoms and lubrication, which he merely places on the bed beside Harry's head, before kissing his way down to Harry's balls and lavishing them with attention. It takes several minutes before he realises Stephen is massaging his perineum, and he is quite thoroughly languid before Stephen's tongue strays further down.
Harry pulls his knees up under his arms to give Stephen better access, then melts into the deliciousness of having a tongue lapping at his entrance. Yes, yes, yes, he thinks, and then the tongue breaches him, and he remembers why he's missed this. This, the rimming and this, the sex and this, the not being alone every bloody second of the day. He rolls over onto his stomach when coaxed, and enjoys the lubed fingers pressing into him, allowing the anticipation to grow in his belly. It's been so long, his prick is already perking again. He thrusts it languidly against the silken sheets beneath him.
When Stephen presses his slick cock into Harry, it is a most welcome intrusion, and though he can barely breathe through the pain, it is a most wonderful pain--the sort of pain your mind remembers as pleasure. It's the sort of pain that makes his cock throb in time, and he is even more grateful when Stephen coaxes him up to his knees, then reaches round to pull him off in time to the thrusts, murmuring unimportant, comforting nonsense in his ear. "Alex," Stephen whispers, "perfect Alex. So tight."
As the thrusts speed, Stephen becomes more vocal, his whispers turning to moans and grunts. The pounding seems to last forever, and Harry feels no pain halfway through, numb and too focussed on his own impending climax. Stephen has to let go of Harry's prick in order to increase his speed, so Harry takes over his own masturbation, the room thick with musk and come, and the duelling sounds of Stephen's pleasure and the percussion of skin against skin. Harry is rushing now, his blood screaming through his veins, and then he gasps and spasms and erupts, ribbons of pearl arcing through the air, then staining the burgundy sheets. Stephen growls in triumph, then speeds to his own release, his final thrust so forceful, only his own hands grasping Harry's hips keep Harry from landing in his own come with Stephen atop.
"Fuck, yes!" Stephen exclaims, then pulls out of Harry and leaps to his feet, suddenly all energy. "Yes, yes, and yes, Alex!" He is walking away, toward a door. To the toilet, Harry assumes. "Yes!" Water runs, the toilet flushes, water runs again. Harry collapses to the sheets, no longer concerned about the spunk. He is nearly asleep when Stephen returns, not fifteen seconds later. "Bloody brilliant," says Stephen. Harry thinks Stephen may just talk in his sleep, so that he never needs to stop talking. At least he doesn't say anything offensive.
Harry manages to get up, then. "Do you have a flannel, or...?" and he indicates his belly.
"So, so lovely," Stephen says and shakes his head musingly.
Harry waits a few moments, then says, "Flannel?"
"Oh, sorry. In the loo. Have a shower if you like. Do feel at home."
Harry thinks he can feel Stephen's eyes on him as he passes on the way to the loo. It's a small WC but perfect, really. It even has a bidet, though he has no idea how to use one. There is a towel-warmer which holds three yellow towels, three hand towels and three flannels. Obviously, Stephen has a maid service. Harry closes the door, then avails himself of a flannel and the inexcusably gorgeous shower, all polished chrome and white ceramic and frosted glass. He takes a warm towel and is slightly uncomfortable with how thick it is. It feels unwieldy and unnecessary, and adds to his discomfort at having his routine broken. He has to control his breathing to calm himself, but he leaves the loo as quickly as possible, doing his best to fasten the towel about his waist.
When he returns to the bedroom, Stephen is still naked and lounging prone on the bed, reading from a portable PC. He is beautiful. There are faint freckles on his shoulders despite the salon tan, which means he must occasionally vacation in the sun. Also not unexpected. Harry moves toward the bed to retrieve his pants.
"There's a hamper in the loo, left of the door," Stephen says with a smile.
Harry goes to find the hamper, tosses in the towel, and slips his pants on before returning to the bedroom. His jeans have been hung over the back of a lounge chair at the far side of the room, so he heads that way.
"You needn't go, Alex," Stephen says, then snaps the computer closed. "You're very welcome to stay the night." He places it on the bedside table, then stands, his cock a lewd bit of distraction, still a bit large from their session. "I'd really enjoy the company."
Harry considers it. He considers that tomorrow is Thursday, and that he has nothing pressing until the 18th, five days hence. He considers that a bit of unpredictability added to his schedule cannot hurt. He's nearly due to relocate anyway, and then this will all be moot. Besides, the fact that Stephen wishes to fit in a few more fucks before morning is only to be expected and means nothing. So he approaches the bed, struck again by the man's blinding smile. He has to look away until Stephen turns, to turn down the sheets and climb in. He then beckons to Harry with a smile and wraps him in warm, strong arms as the lights dim to black.
"Well, your mood certainly has improved," she says, pulling her hair off of her back where it has begun to cling to her perspiration.
"It's a far better assignment than IÕd initially expected," Draco says, rolling out of bed and padding to the bath. "I'm convinced it's a renegade wizard. I've a meeting with the Coroner's pathologist in fifteen minutes." He spells himself clean, spells his hair to its usual perfection, then winks at himself in the mirror. His image cocks an eyebrow, but looks impressed nonetheless.
"In Muggle London? At this time of night?"
"Why yes, Auror Hazelton," he teases, returning from the loo. "However shall you get along without me?" He dodges a pillow with grace and bows. "Cassiopeia, then. Is that better?"
"Yes," she says, pouting. "I hate it when you call me Auror Hazelton in bed."
"We're not in bed, darling."
"And I hate it when you say 'darling' with such blatant sarcasm."
"I would apologise, but I simply can't be arsed about you at all." A flick of his wand causes white pants and undershirt to dance onto his body. Another, and a Muggle shirt, suit and tie appear, to join the rest on his (admittedly perfect) form. It would never do, for Draco Malfoy to pull his trousers up one leg at a time. "Don't wait up--I shan't return tonight."
"How ever did I think having a tumble with you would be a good idea?" she mutters.
"I don't believe you were thinking at the time, lovely Cassiopeia, for you knew even then that I am nothing if not a right bastard. Good evening to you." He bows, removing an imaginary hat before straightening and leaving the room. It can be tiring, always performing, but there is really no other way for him. He floos to the Leaky Cauldron, then Apparates from there to just outside the Westminster Public Mortuary in Horseferry Road.
Inside, the pathologist has only just arrived, and he approaches at Draco's entrance. "Mr Malfoy, I presume?" he asks.
"Dr Sonnenfeld. A pleasure."
"Please, Mr Malfoy. If you'll follow me." They travel a short corridor, then move through doors into another, which is more brightly lit. There is an examination room at the end of the corridor, which they enter presently. The smell reminds Draco of a potions laboratory. "I'm told by the Coroner you are to have full access to the cadaver...?"
"Yes. Were there any foreign objects removed from the body?"
"None at all."
"You did perform the post mortem?"
"Yes, Mr Malfoy."
"All right. I will need to perform my own tests, if you don't mind. Do you have a calling card?"
"Of course." He fishes in a pocket, then hands it over. "Shall I leave you, then?"
"Thank you." Draco waits until the doctor has left, then pulls out his wand and wards the doors. From a pocket, he retrieves his duffle and restores it to normal size. Inside there are several scrolls of parchment, as well as glass phials and jars. And a shrunken table, which he restores, to rest his duffle on. He places the calling card beside it.
He holds his wand just above the cadaverÕs head, then runs it in a straight line toward its feet. It is a standard medical charm and shows him that, apparently, the man's neck's been broken. More useful, is that he can see that there is trauma beneath the skin, indicating handholds. He takes a sheet of parchment from the duffle, then uses a spell to transfer the impressions of those hands to it. Unfortunately, there is nothing more.
On to the next stage, then. He uses another spell to examine the body for anything foreign. Most of it is added since the murder--sutures primarily. But here and there is a bit of perspiration. He adds the doctor's signature (lifted from his calling card) to his spell to rule out that source and there--on the cadaver's face, seeped into the skin. The killer has left a smear of his own perspiration, and a few cells of skin. Draco summons this foreign matter into a phial, then sets it aside as well.
The next stage is a long-shot. The man's been dead too long, but protocol is clear. Draco attempts a specialised form of Legilimency, to see if there are any memories remaining in the dead man's brain. But there are none. In fact, the brain is highly traumatised, from its removal and replacement into the cadaver's skull. Draco's lip curls in disgust, though he doesn't realise it.
Unfortunately, there are no further tests he can perform on the body itself. The sample he has collected, however, is far more promising. He returns to the phial and his kit, pulling out another phial, though this one is coloured. Then, he removes a miniature pensieve. He transfers the sample to the coloured phial, swirls it once, twice, thrice to the right; once, twice to the left, then drinks it in one go.
A second passes, perhaps two, before he is doubled over in pain. But it is nothing to what follows: A vision of ginger hair in flames, and of a melting face. Two figures intertwined in hideous death. It is a vision he had shared--a vision he remembers, as if it were yesterday. It is a vision of the deaths of Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, and Draco Malfoy suddenly has no doubt who this Muggle assassin is.
Harry is already awake when Stephen's alarm chimes. It's lovely, like the rest of the flat. The clock has a sun-spectrum light on it, that has been brightening for the past twenty minutes. Now a little Zen-chime is struck by a tiny wooden mallet. Harry could lie here and listen to the sound for hours.
He feigns sleep as Stephen stirs, and places a gentle kiss against the back of his head. An equally gentle hand runs from his hip to his knee, then withdraws. The alarm is shut off as Stephen rolls off the opposite side of the bed, then heads for the loo. Now left alone, Harry turns to lie on his back, staring at the cream-coloured ceiling and wondering whether staying here last night had been one of his better plans. Three times, he'd been awakened by his insatiable host. The first time, Stephen had been kissing his neck and pulling him off. The second and third, the man had actually been pressing into him.
If he were to be perfectly honest with himself, Harry would have to admit that he'd enjoyed the sex immensely; and under duress, he would also admit to enjoying the company. He might even be inclined to admit that he enjoys the accoutrements of wealth--the comfortable bed, for a start, and the shower that gives consistently warm water.
None of these admissions are important in the grand scheme, for in reality, Harry is a murderer, and even in Britain, he would go to prison for a very long time, if he were to be caught. With a successful extradition, the Americans would be able to kill him. So he must remain vigilant, and he cannot draw attention of any kind. Stephen is far too rich, to not draw attention.
Still, it is a tempting dream--he's so tired, and so empty, and sometimes it seems that feeling nothing on a beach in Fiji would be preferable to feeling nothing in a dingy bedsit in Bloomsbury or Camden Town. Certainly, feeling Stephen's cock pounding him into silken sheets is preferable to both.
Stephen emerges in a cloud of steam, naked and radiant, and Harry thinks he may already be getting addicted to the sex. He knows without doubt that if he were to stretch now, and make some little sound of questioning, that his host would be over him in seconds with a jutting cock and a hot mouth. So he lies perfectly still, and watches from beneath nearly closed lashes, as Stephen dresses in extremely expensive Nike fitness gear, then takes a garment bag from the wardrobe.
The man kneels at the side of the bed and lays his burden over a knee. "Alex?" he whispers quietly, and runs the back of his hand against Harry's face. Harry opens his eyes slightly, to see a somewhat less radiant version of Stephen's smile. It is still lovely. "Sorry to wake you...I'm off to my training, then work. I won't return until seven or so tonight."
"Sorry," Harry says, realising with a start that he should have been up as well, and leaving.
But before he can sit, Stephen is pressing a warm hand against Harry's sternum. "You needn't get up. I'm only waking you to say goodbye. There's a toothbrush for you in the loo. And I've left a key here," he says and points out a key on the bedside table. "There's money on the bar, under the mug, if you'd like to order food, yeah? Or whatever you like." He takes a moment to think, then, "If you've work today..... Well, I'd be very pleased if you came back. But if not...." He trails off and searches Harry's face again. Harry can't tell if the man has found any answers, but he accepts the kiss against his forehead without flinching. "It was good knowing you, Alex."
"Yeah," says Harry, so very eloquently he could almost kick himself. Only, he's quite used to it. "Ta."
Stephen's smile broadens again, and then he is up again and sweeping out of the room, leaving only a clean, slightly herbal scent and the memory of his presence. The latter will linger far longer in Harry's mind.
He dozes later than he should, then wakes feeling surprisingly refreshed. Normally, extra sleep only feels detrimental, but he'd got less sleep last night than was his habit (and infinitely more sex). So he goes to the loo, takes a clean flannel, then showers using the same soap Stephen had used. It smells just as lovely now as it had on Stephen, he thinks. He finishes, dries himself, then opens the new toothbrush. It's still wrapped in cellophane and paperboard. He brushes his teeth, then decides to nose about a bit, as he'd been planning to do last night.
He opens the medicine chest and is immediately stunned.
What in bloody--? He thinks, but doesn't get much further. The entire chest is filled with little prescription bottles--like those you'd get from the chemist. Harry doesn't recognise a single name, other than the name of his host. These bottles all belong to Stephen Heay.
He closes the chest carefully, so as not to disturb the contents any more than he already has, then returns to the bedroom to dress. In the sitting room, he finds that Stephen has left lights burning for him and so, Harry has no difficulty avoiding furniture on his way to the bar. There, as promised, sits an overturned mug, and inside is a roll of banknotes. There are ten ten-pound notes, ten twenty-pound notes, and ten fifty-pound notes. Harry's stomach attempts to wrench itself out of his body--it is excruciating. Eight hundred pounds, he thinks. He sets the fortune back under the mug and wipes his hands on his jeans. He wonders whether Stephen perhaps thinks him a prostitute, but it doesn't fit. And it's far too much money. So Harry stops thinking and leaves, only taking the key so that he can lock the door behind himself. He will simply return it in the Post.
He walks the few miles from Soho to Camden Town, finds his training kit and moves on to the dojo. He trains there every day, as do the others in Janus's employ--at least, the others whose work is of a more physical nature. This is not truly an open dojo, though a few classes are taught by the Sensei, as a front. Harry is far earlier than usual, however, and is alone, today. He performs his katas, then trains with a bag and does his isometrics--push-ups, crunches, pull-ups on the bar. Two hours pass by the time he is stretching, and then another half hour is gone and others have come in. None of them say much--most offering only a nod or a grunt. Only Kallas, (and Harry is fairly certain that isn't his given name), says more than two words: "Early today, then, Henry."
Harry simply nods, then waves and heads off again, back to his flat. He does not think about Stephen.
Draco is still shaken when he returns to the Aurors' offices in the morning, though neither his mental nor emotional state is anyone else's business, and so unapparent to their eyes. A litany of impossibility plays itself repeatedly through his mind: Harry is dead. Harry has to be dead. He'd left Draco after learning that only his own sacrifice could defeat Voldemort. He'd left despite Draco's insistence there must be another way. He'd left Draco alone, when all they'd had left was each other. Bloody Gryffindor. And Harry hadn't returned. Surely that meant Harry was dead, for why would he not have returned to Draco? It's inconceivable.
A voice finally breaks through his distraction and he answers without thought. "Yes."
"To my offices, please."
So Draco follows Head Auror Hazelton to her offices and closes the door. He looks at her expectantly, feeling nothing at all for her. It's not so big a change, really. He'd not felt much for her before, either--only lust. Occasionally.
"Anything interesting last night?" she asks, as if he should already have realised she would wish to know this.
"Nothing useful," Draco lies. "Bloody Muggles have taken the entire body apart, then reassembled it again. The pieces are deader than the whole."
She sighs. "It was worth an attempt, anyway...." and then she peers more closely at him. "Are you all right?"
"Of course." His eyes are cold, however, and he does not know that they used to be less so, when looking at his girlfriend. Now, when she looks into his eyes, she sees...nothing. Nothing but a flat puddle of quicksilver. She does not know how she so quickly lost his regard. It saddens her, but she is less than shocked, certainly.
"Well, then," she says. She's never been one to beg for a lover, and certainly not one so hopelessly damaged as Draco Malfoy. Perhaps he's found some new conquest who is more interesting--more beautiful, more cultured, more pure-blood...wealthier, perhaps--though finding another woman more all of these things than Cassiopeia Hazelton, would be difficult in this post-war era. "What is your next course of action, Auror Malfoy?"
"The Muggles claim to have more evidence from previous...events. I will begin there."
She nods, then dismisses him without further comment. He is still the best Auror they have.
Draco is relieved his meeting with her has gone so painlessly. Even he can admit to being too focussed on more important things, just now. Like how he is going to find Harry. But he'd known Harry. Three years, they'd been an item. Three traumatic years. But Merlin, they'd been perfect together. Harry had been Draco's equal in every respect. His perfect match. He'd been furious when Harry left, and convinced he would never forgive the idiot for his heroism. But Harry had died, and ten years had passed, and now....
Draco will comb Muggle London, person-by-person if need be. But he knows where he'll start: Soho.
He's not certain why he's walked in here, and he thinks he may look slightly disreputable in his beanie and overlarge clothing. He never had got used to the way Draco had wished to dress him....
But thoughts like that are right out. Instead, he considers the twenty-five quid he has in his pocket and ends up at the rear. The place is deserted but for the young woman in a white coat. "Can I help you, sir?" she asks, and smiles.
"Er," says Harry, still at a loss. But then he says, "Can you tell me what Truvada is?"
She cocks her head and looks at him peculiarly. Then she says, "It's a combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir. A 2-NRTI. But I think you'd like a simpler explanation?"
Harry blinks at her dumbly.
"It's part of a treatment regimen for HIV."
"Oh," Harry says after several seconds silence. "Thank you." And then he leaves again, his mind reeling. Truvada had been the only name he could recall from Stephen's medicine chest this morning. That means Stephen is HIV-positive...that he's dying....
But he hadn't looked sick. He hadn't seemed sick at all. In fact, he'd seemed far healthier than most blokes Harry noticed walking along the pavement. He saw so much overweight lately, and so many red faces hinting at hypertension to anyone with eyes to see.
Harry wanders to the bazaar at Camden Town and loses himself in fetish and goth shops, shops for club kids, art shops, and smoke shops. He stops in at an Indian restaurant and has a curry for dinner, then wanders the further hours until sunset. It's nothing spectacular, grey as the day had been. The dinginess merely deepens, and then he finds himself moving on again, his mind drawn inexorably back to Stephen and his lot. The man had seemed so...so happy. So warm and affable and gregarious. And so...open-hearted, Harry supposes. He can't recall the last time he'd felt so special; and in a way that hadn't been completely emasculating. Being the Boy Who Lived had always felt more like a death sentence placed on some random fool, than it had like being appreciated for his own soul. It's an unfortunate thing that he no longer has a soul. Poor Stephen. Harry has a feeling Stephen deserves so much more than the husk of a man Harry has become.
And yet. He'd not even noticed himself using the key to get in the security door, nor knocking upon the door before him.
He's noticed it now, though--as well as the look of surprise on Stephen's lovely face as he stands there at the open door, in naught but a dressing gown and a sheen of wet, a towel draped across his left shoulder. "Alex!" he says.
"Er...sorry." Bloody eloquent.
"No, no. Come in. I'd hoped...." but not too fervently. The words remain unsaid, but Harry hears them anyway, and blushes.
"I took the key," Harry says, and holds it up.
"Of course." Stephen is overcoming his shock very quickly indeed, that impossible smile replacing his confusion. "Please, make yourself at home."
"I saw your medicine chest." Fuck fuck FUCK. Why do I speak at all?? It sounds awful, so accusing. And it sounds like an explanation for why he'd left, though he'd needed no such reason at the time.
It stops Stephen, but not in the way Harry is expecting. "Well, if I'd been overly concerned about you looking into my things, I wouldn't have left you here alone, yeah?" He smirks. "Certainly you'd expected no less, though? I'm actually doing quite well. Minimally symptomatic. And the meds are essentially a perfect fit for me. Quite fortunate. Do you mind if I get dressed? I haven't had supper yet--only just got in."
"I don't mind," Harry says, his confusion a nearly palpable thing. There is a little line between his brows.
Stephen notes it and stops. "Hang on..." The smile is gone. "Oh no...Alex." He sounds so disappointed, it makes Harry's belly clench.
"I'm sorry...." Harry says, though he has no idea why.
"You didn't know."
About the HIV. Had Stephen somehow expected him to know? "Did you tell me?"
One of Stephen's hands strays absently toward his ear, but he notices it once it touches. "I thought...you were at Wilde's, and you're queer.... But you don't know. The earring," he says and touches the little silver cross again. "It's a beaver ring."
"A beaver ring?" What's that to do with HIV?
"B H I V A," Stephen explains, a hint of smile returning, though it is sad, now. "British HIV Association. Queer men who are HIV-positive have taken to wearing the bhivarings so we needn't be concerned about how to tell any possible partners. This way, everyone is supposed to know from the start. It's a little plus symbol, you see?"
"Oh. Yeah... I didn't know."
"I feel terrible."
"Don't feel terrible. I'm not concerned. I was only surprised."
"I wore condoms every time I fucked you, Alex. I want you to know that."
"I'm not concerned," Harry insists, because he truly isn't. If he were concerned about his own death, he'd be in an entirely different line of work. "You could fuck me now if you like."
The effect is nearly instantaneous, from concerned gentleman to predator in a heartbeat, pupils dilated and a tongue darting out to moisten suddenly dry lips. "Ah--I believe supper might be--" but he doesn't pull away when Harry kisses him.
"You could have me for supper," Harry whispers against his lips.
But, "I can't skip a meal, Alex.... Constant vigilance. Food, exercise, meds. The triumvirate of my existence." So apologetic.
Harry takes another kiss, then lets him go. "I'll be here when you're ready," he says.
Stephen appraises him with shining eyes, then turns to jog into the bedroom. Harry is left standing alone, completely certain he has no idea what he's getting himself into, nor why. Only, perhaps, that it has something to do with Stephen's guileless nature and easy smile.
Jules never did ask him about Cassiopeia. It's a single point in Jules's favour. Another is the man's willingness to leave Draco be. This is vital, since their desks are in such close proximity, and since Draco has no intention of telling anyone what he has found (or failed to find) about Harry. He has simply come to work, then left almost immediately after, with his case. The Ministry is practically in Soho, so all he needs to do is change into Muggle clothing, then continue his search. Over the past three days, he's visited some twenty pubs, but he's had no luck so far. He'd been hoping for a glimpse, and so has been using a glamour, but most of the pubs aren't even open this early, and those that are have a different clientele than Draco would expect Harry to seek out. Older queens, mostly.
Today, Draco has come armed with a photograph. It's a wizarding photo, but one he's charmed to look like a Muggle photo. It's frozen in time, but otherwise, shows Harry's face clearly. He will spend today showing it about and hoping for recognition.
He is still dreadfully unsettled by the entire affair, and has begun to think that perhaps Harry's mind had been lost. Certainly, whatever ritual the shamen he'd fled to had forced him to perform, in order to kill him--and thusly destroy the final Horcrux keeping Voldemort from true, irrevocable death--would have taken a lot out of him. In this light, it should be less than surprising that Harry isn't himself. It isn't that he's a murderer--it's simply that he's lost his way, and likely fell in with the wrong people to show him back. It also explains why he never returned to Draco, which is a far more distracting problem for Draco, himself.
He walks into another anonymous pub and approaches another anonymous older man behind the counter. "Excuse me, sir," he says to the publican. "I'm looking for this man--he's been missing for some time," and he shows the photo.
The gentleman takes a glance at the photo, then shakes his head. "Don't think I'd recall if I'd seen him. We get loads of chickens in here, come evening hours."
Draco waits until he has eye contact, then performs a bit of subtle Legilimency. It's not exactly proper, but neither is his entire investigation, at this stage. Despite his lack of qualms, he's been singularly unsuccessful in gaining even a weak lead. This time, however, his ruthlessness has paid off. He sees a fleeting shimmer of someone who can only be Harry, dressed all in black, his forehead no longer bearing that telltale scar. Harry's hair is cut short. Excessively so, in fact. It pains Draco's heart, while somehow, also managing to be oddly attractive. Unfortunately there is only one visit in the publican's mind, and so this isn't a regular haunt for Harry. Still, it's something, and Draco is chuffed.
He withdraws gracefully from the man's mind, then smiles and thanks him before retreating. He'll continue his search with a slightly lighter heart, now that his hope has been restored. In the publican's memory, Harry had most certainly been alive.