Abusing The System
"They are both being held on suspicion of assault and public disturbance," Auror Smith informed them. "Draco will be transported to Azkaban as soon as documentation of his probation violation is completed."
"Wait!" Lucius barked. "This is utterly ludicrous! Where is your proof that he has committed a crime?"
"He doesn't need to have done so, Mr. Malfoy," Auror Winger said smugly. "Only to have been involved in any sort of altercation. That's the law, and that was the condition of his sentence."
Lucius pressed his lips together and tried to stifle a scowl of disdain for these two miscreants. "Do not waste your time or mine with this rubbish. I will secure a barrister to help settle this immediately."
"Good luck with that," Smith said coldly as the two aurors walked off.
A quick inquiry with the Secretary to the Minister of Magic found that Minister Shacklebolt was away for the day and unaccessible. Deputy Minister Arthur Weasley was a possibility, but Lucius hesitated to ask him just yet, for the obvious reason that they had hated each other in the past. The other option was Minerva, who could attempt to send an owl to Kingsley asking for intervention. They stood discussing their next move when Hermione approached them.
"Hello, gentlemen," she said, immediately noticing their tension. "Why are you here?"
"Hermione, I'd forgotten you'd started your internship," Severus said, squeezing her hand when they shook in greeting.
Hermione shook Lucius' hand as she answered Severus. "It's very part-time. I'll normally be off on Tuesdays, but the other intern had an emergency, so I'm filling in. What's happened?" She listened intently while Severus recounted what they knew, watching Lucius struggle to contain his panic and rage. "You two go ahead down to have your allotted visit with Harry and Draco. I'll be along soon."
"What would you be able to do, Miss Granger?" Lucius asked tightly.
"Hermione," she corrected him with a reassuring smile. "And I'll do what I do best, of course. I'll research and gather the facts."
Lucius was made to wait nearly an hour to see Draco. The holding area he was detained within was otherwise empty, and there was no clear reason to justify the delay, but the indifference in the attitudes of Aurors Smith and Winger was chilling. It gave him time to ponder just what might be going through Draco's mind as he sat alone, fearful of what was coming. In this past year of aftermath to the Final Battle, Lucius had tried to be as demonstrative of his affection with his son as he was with Harry, but Draco had not been particularly receptive. That could be for a multitude of reasons, first and foremost being unadulterated rage and resentment on Draco's part for his father's past misguidance. But Lucius' biggest fear was that his son didn't believe he was loved that deeply. And why should he? Lucius had been terribly strict and demanding of him all of his life. And to what end?
Sitting here now, having heard nothing of Draco's experience today, he was hard pressed to control his agitation.
"You are allowed five minutes in the cell with your son," Auror McAnthony finally told Lucius stonily. "Five minutes. Just through there."
A door slid open to admit Lucius to a small sterile room, slamming shut as soon as he'd stepped inside. His son was more distraught than he could remember seeing him. "Come, Draco," he said. His heart wanted to break as his boy launched into his arms and held on for dear life.
"I didn't do anything wrong, Father!" Draco shuddered, still feeling the burn of the stinging hex but needing his father's comfort too much to complain. "I only shielded against the attack. I didn't even deflect. Why won't they test my wand?"
"We're getting help with this, son," Lucius said. "Minister Shacklebolt is not on site today, and I'm finding that quite suspicious." He mulled over the likelihood of being able to get Draco out of here any time soon.
"I can't bear for Naomi to find out about this," Draco whispered, resting his chin on father's shoulder. "And I'll lose my slot in the Summer Club, and my chance to finish at Hogwarts."
"Do not despair. We will have to play along with their game until we find out exactly what it is," Lucius told him.
"It was Blaise and Raj, Father. This was entirely about me," Draco said. "It was pathetically transparent. They wanted to taunt me into fighting them. The aurors showed up before the dust had even settled. They've said I'll be going to Azkaban today."
"The hell you will," Lucius seethed. His hand caressed the back of Draco's head, and his tone was absolute. "You are my entire world. I will not let you suffer." Their embrace tightened in a shared desperation at this taste of manufactured injustice. Oh, how the tables had turned, and they both knew it.
"Has Harry been released?" Draco asked after a long moment.
"Not that I know of," Lucius said. "We ran into Miss Granger, and she will try to help." Realizing that time was running out, he said, "I've only a moment left with you. Draco, if you are here for a few more hours, please contain your temper. We will find a way to compensate for this madness when we are safely back at home."
"I will, Father."
A voice projected into the room. "Your allotted visit has expired. Please exit immediately."
Lucius squeezed his son hard and turned quickly away so that Draco wouldn't see how close he was to breaking down. He left the boy and passed through the door, emerging into the reception area with red eyes and a clenched jaw to the sound of raised voices and someone being told off.
A former student of Severus' finally appeared at the desk in the Holding and Processing lobby. He'd left his post abandoned for over an hour.
"Where is Harry Potter, Mr. Bolero?" Severus gritted out at his former student.
"Auror Bolero," Rory Bolero corrected him. "Potter's in custody until we can get to the investigation. We have other cases pending and have every right to hold him."
"And what will be the charge?"
"That is utterly absurd," Severus said in a voice of steel. "Harry Potter has never fired a spell at anyone without provocation, and I'll lay down galleons that he's cast nothing lethal in his own defense today. Have you done a priore incantatum?"
"No, Mr. Snape," Bolero told him indifferently as he shuffled papers on this desk unnecessarily.
"Why in the world not?"
"Because there is no indication that it's necessary." Bolero raised cold eyes to his former Head of House. "Auror Winger has gathered statements from the victims, and no other witnesses have come-"
"That is not true," Hermione said fiercely from behind Severus. He turned to see that she was marching determinedly toward them with a stack of forms. "You will stop this nonsense immediately. There were twenty people watching Harry and Draco walk down the street together. All twenty watched as first Harry, then Draco was attacked. Harry deflected, and Draco shielded. In self defense. It was Harry who cast the incarcerous on the one assailant. Draco did not use his wand again. Release them and stop wasting Ministry resources in your petty grievances!"
"Miss Granger, you have no authority to make such demands," Bolero sneered at her. "We have processes that we follow strictly. You and Mr. Snape may have a seat if you wish, while Potter is entered into the system. Malfoy is another story altogether."
Hermione looked at Severus. "Arthur is down the hall handling Draco's release," she said loudly enough so that Bolero could hear her. "This is the second time in recent days that I've seen him in action. He's quite impressive, and has no doubt spoken with the Minister by now about this sham." She grimaced at her next thought and leaned close to Severus to say, "Talk about adding fuel to the fire of Harry's loathing of this kind of systemic abuse of power."
"You are quite effective at getting around that abuse, though, aren't you?" Severus pointed out. Hermione's frown softened at his compliment. He held her gaze. "I'd still like to meet you for a late coffee tonight after your Uni lecture, if you'll be up to it."
"Of course," she smiled. "I was planning on it, Severus. I enjoy our talks. And not to worry, I'll apparate to Harry's and we can floo from there."
Arthur Weasley was standing in front of Auror Smith, looking far more authoritative than Lucius could ever remember seeing him. "You will release that boy, right now, without further delay, Mr. Smith. I have already exchanged communications with Minister Shacklebolt and he agrees that you have gravely overstepped your authority. Your blatant refusal to interview witnesses is thoroughly documented, as is your refusal to interview your suspects. You've not even recorded a statement from either Mr. Potter or Mr. Malfoy."
"I'm following the letter of the law, Weasley," Smith argued back. "I have not specifically violated either of their rights."
Arthur leaned in and put his face in front of Smith's. "Bollocks. You will be facing a full review with the Wizengamut for your antics. The days of that sort of misappropriation of power are in the past, young man."
The auror glared at Arthur without saying anything further, but he looked more enraged than intimidated.
Lucius wisely kept his mouth shut as the auror cast a charm to open Draco's cell. Draco emerged looking pale and deflated, lips pressed tightly together to suppress the tears that welled in the corners of his eyes. He came to stand beside Lucius. The two Malfoys waited while Arthur sent the aurors home for the day and called in replacements. When he finally faced them, Lucius could find no words to express his relief and gratitude.
"Arthur-" he tried, but his throat closed off.
The Weasley patriarch shook his head and held out his hand to shake with each of them. "It's done, Lucius. I would have done it for anybody, but I was especially motivated when I heard it was your son and Harry. I know how far they've both come, and I know the role you've played. There will be no record of this arrest to hold against Draco."
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley," Draco said brokenly.
"Not at all. Come, let's go get Harry."
A lightbulb flashed as Harry's cell door zipped open.
"Nice," he barked angrily at the Prophet photographer, who grinned and snapped another photo.
"Harry, how about a comment on what kind of trouble you've gotten into now?" Alec Corsi called out to him.
Harry had a lot of comments, but none fit for print. He kept his face averted so that the blasted reporter couldn't snap another shot of him.
"Come on, Harry, give us a comment!"
"He will not," Lucius said from beyond the crowd of journalists. His expression was like thunder, and somewhat reminiscent of the old Lucius Malfoy as he forced his way into view and jerked his head at Harry, who swiftly joined him and Draco, and the three of them followed Arthur Weasley down a long hallway.
"How in the bloody hell did the Prophet get access to this place?" Harry demanded.
"Do not give into your temper," Lucius warned him in a low tone.
"These four aurors are playing a sticky game here, Harry," Arthur said over his shoulder as he strode briskly along. "They think that they've protected themselves by staying within the legal boundaries of detaining a suspect. And perhaps they have done. You may not have much recourse in the lines of a formal complaint, but internally speaking, they've proven to be unworthy of their posts. We will be short four aurors as of now."
Severus and Hermione rose to their feet as they heard the approach of Arthur Weasley leading Harry and the Malfoys.
"Severus, Hermione," Arthur greeted. He hugged and kissed Hermione, shook hands with Severus and turned to Harry. "You're free again, Harry. Off you go, don't give it another thought then, alright?"
Harry snorted sarcastically but held his tongue as he shook Arthur's hand. "Thank you, Arthur. You really came through for us all."
"We all must be diligent to keep things on track," Arthur told them. "And I'd do anything for you or any friend of yours, Harry. You know that."
They said their good-byes and headed out.
Hermione walked to the street exit with them. "Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen," she said when they reached the street.
"Hermione, thanks," Draco said. He'd not yet shaken his fear and was speaking even more humbly than usual. He took her hand and bowed over it. "I'm in your debt, yet again."
Harry hugged Hermione hard. "I've lost count of the messes you've helped me out of."
And then Hermione headed out for her class and the four male wizards finally went for their very late lunch.
They were shown to an outdoor spot that had curved benches for seating that circled the tables. The server levitated over a set of menus. Severus passed them around.
"Order something large and full of calories, Mr. Potter," he instructed in a don't argue with me tone.
"You will not skip a meal," Lucius said sternly to Harry, then directed his attitude at Draco. "And neither will you."
"I hadn't even opened my mouth," Harry muttered as he opened the menu.
"Right?" Draco snarled, refusing to meet his father's eyes.
"Couple of mother hens," Harry added under his breath, knowing full well the older wizards had heard him. And, no surprise, someone sent the smacking hex at his backside. "Ouch," he commented off-handedly. Then to Draco, "So, what are you having, Blondie?"
Draco laughed in spite of himself. "I'll be having the Croque Monsieur."
"The croak what?" Harry asked with a skeptical look.
"It's good here. Try it, Potter. Trust me."
The server came to take their beverage orders.
"I'll have a butterbeer," Harry said.
"Make that two," Draco said with a little bit more spirit.
Lucius and Severus looked at each other, narrowed their eyes, and said in unison, "Whiskey."
"Ogden's," Lucius added. "At least the twelve year old."
"Neat," Severus said. He caught Harry battling a reluctant grin of amusement, as if the teen was trying to hang onto his rage from the day's events. "Alright now, Harry?"
Harry glared off into the distance. "I'd be a lot better if we'd gotten to shop for trainers. These ones are pinching my feet." He cast a look over at Draco. "How about you, Draco?"
"I'd be a lot better if this bloody stinging hex would wear off already."
"Stinging hex? They kept you in there without canceling that spell?" Lucius raged. "Where were you hit, son?" His nostrils flared in anger as he turned to lean behind Draco and pull his shirt up to assess where the boy indicated his injury to his back. "Your skin is quite inflamed. No wonder you're uncomfortable." He cast a counter charm to essentially cool the sting.
Draco visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Father." He pulled his shirt back down.
Lucius responded by rubbing his son's back. "I think I want the Croque Monsieur as well."
Severus slapped down the menu. "Yes."
A number of curious eyes were drawn to the wizarding foursome as they exited the cafe. Word had already spread through the small town that young Harry Potter had been arrested while in the company of Draco Malfoy. And here they were, with the two most controversial Slytherins alive, clearly having just finished a civilized meal, and clearly all sharing a deep friendship. Lucius and Severus were noticeably calm, probably due to the double whiskeys they'd imbibed. Draco was a bit less strained, but was eager to get back to the manor. Harry was pensive, somewhat distracted from the discussion going on without him.
"Harry, lad," Lucius chided, "where did you go just now?"
Harry blinked. "I'm sorry," he said, still thinking. "Arthur told me earlier that Ginny would be at the Burrow tonight. I need to go see her."
"Do you?" Lucius asked with a knowing tone. He stared at Harry for a moment, then lowered his head to whisper, "Has anyone taught you a good contraception charm, young man?"
Harry sputtered, but knew better than to try to deflect the question. "Yeah," he whispered back uncomfortably. "But I don't think I'll need it just yet."
"Uhm hmm. And from whom did you learn it? Certainly not a Weasley?"
"Sir-" Harry protested.
"Harry, there are hundreds of them." Lucius said.
Harry recognized the sarcastic humor and relaxed. "Ron taught me a good one. I know this because Hermione taught it to him."
"Excellent," Lucius said. Then he pulled Harry into a hug. "If you feel you need to talk about today, please come straight over." He squeezed Harry tighter for a second. "I love you, Harry. Be careful, alright?"
Harry was stunned. He looked up at Lucius as he stepped back. "I love you, too," he said spontaneously. That was the first time in his life he'd said the words out loud to someone. It felt wonderful, and clearly touched his pseudo guardian very deeply. He flashed Lucius a grin and turned right into Severus who grunted in surprise, but recovered by hugging him as well. "Oh brother," Harry griped into Severus' shoulder, "we've just given the crowd the show of the century." But he embraced his former professor tighter as he said, "I love you, Severus. Have fun with the lovely Miss Granger tonight."
"I beg your pardon?" Severus asked, openly shocked.
"I meant it. All of it," Harry said. "Thanks for helping me. I'll see you at home." He turned quickly to Draco and they did the complicated muggle-inspired handshake Draco had insisted on showing him earlier. "See you."
"Yeah, see you," Draco said uncertainly.
Harry was glad to see Lucius grasp Draco's shoulder and lead him down the street in the direction of The Leaky Cauldron. His blond friend needed his parents tonight. Severus needed whatever he got out of spending time with Hermione. And Harry needed to see Ginny.
A/N Well, now that you've read this far, you can see that I enjoy the process of character bonding. Usually after the bonds are nice and strong, something bad happens. Just saying… Thank you for reading!