Your Smile in the White-hot Snow

Francis didn’t even move his head when the door creaked open, not a goddamn inch. “Ah, you came after all,” he said, licking his finger and turning the page in his book. “Did you tell them?”

“No.” Arthur closed the door behind himself. “I came alone, like you asked.”

“Good.” Francis set his book aside and stood, and his hand was on Arthur’s waist. He smelled of mint and red wine and lavender, it made Arthur dizzy. He pushed Francis away, too hard, Francis stumbled a little, catching his balance on the bookcase.

“I’m not here for that,” Arthur said sharply.

A dark look flitted across Francis’ face, almost too quick to catch. It had been ten years since he’d seen that look, the Hog’s Head, their meetings too few between and far too brief in those two years after Francis had graduated Hogwarts. Now, as it had then, it vanished in a moment, his face closing up, looking bored and aloof, later to press fingers hard at his throat. “If you’re not here for that,” Francis drawled, gliding back to his chair and taking up his glass of ruby-red claret, “then I can’t imagine what possessed you to call on me.”

Arthur’s hands clenched and unclenched, and he felt for his wand, tucked into his belt. Francis didn’t bat an eyelash. Arthur wanted to punch him in the mouth. “I’m here to take you in,” he said, wondering if Francis could hear the faint tremor in his voice. Of course he could. “You must have known when you sent me that letter that it would come to this. Did you really think I had any other option?”

Francis sighed, twirling his wineglass in his fingertips. “I had hoped that perhaps our history might negate my wanted status for one night, at least.” He drained the glass in one long, slow sip, before he set it down, licking his lips. “You must have known there’s no way I’d let you be the one to take me down. Did you really think I had any other option?”

“I can help you,” Arthur said, and the note of pleading in his voice made him hate himself. “If you’ll give them a few names, some information, anything, I’m sure they can reduce your sentence.” Arthur took a few steps forward and reached out his hand, held it hesitant above Francis’ shoulder, letting it rest on the back of his chair instead. “Francis,” he said, “you can’t keep wanting to work for them. Whatever they promised you in the beginning, even you have to realize now that they’re mad.”

At this Francis laughed, a rich sound Arthur hadn’t heard in ten years, like gold silk running across his ears. Fuck. “You ridiculous Aurors know even less than I thought you did,” he chuckled, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. “Or perhaps they neglected to tell you, considering our history.”

Arthur was back across the room now, his wand drawn. “What do you mean?”

Francis was up again, walking towards Arthur, and his eyes were wild and his grin was wide. “There are no names I could buy my freedom with,” he said. “I’m all there is. I did it all. What did they tell you? I can’t imagine where they would have got the notion that the, ah, incident was conducted by a group. My signature was all over it, the flourishes, the drama.”

Arthur’s pulse was thundering in his ears now. He backed up a few steps, until his back pressed against the wall. “You’re lying,” he said.

“Was it really so bad?” Francis said. “The wizarding world has seen far greater atrocities. In ten years’ time it’ll be barely a footnote in the pages of the history books. A single entry in the appendices, under ‘Attacks on the Ministry, 2011-2020, AD.'”

“And beneath it, ‘Casualties: 145, Deaths: 47,'” Arthur snapped. “Yes, how hilarious it will seem then, how gaily we shall laugh.” He was at a loss. “Why?”

“I did what was necessary. It’s the human condition, my love.” Here, Francis paused, and Arthur became painfully aware of his own ragged breathing. Francis leaned forward, catching the light in his hair. “Imperio,” he muttered.

Arthur almost swore, but he couldn’t; he hadn’t seen Francis’ wand, hadn’t even been looking for it, and now it was too late. Distantly, Arthur felt his hand unclench and heard his wand clatter to the ground, and he could hear Francis laughing again.

“I was intending to have an Auror tonight in any event,” Francis said, tilting Arthur’s chin up with the tip of his wand. “I am disappointed that it had to come to this, I’d hoped… well, no matter.”

Arthur could feel the airy trance overtaking him, like warm fingers stroking the length of his spine. He managed to bite the inside of his lip, hard enough to draw blood, the pain enough to stave off the complete loss of his wits for a few moments, though to what end he couldn’t imagine. Francis had the heel of his boot planted firmly on Arthur’s wand, and Arthur couldn’t have mustered the will to reach for it anyway.

Francis tsked when he saw the blood trickling out the corner of Arthur’s mouth.”You always were stubborn,” he said with a wry smile. “But that’s one of the things I loved about you, wasn’t it?”

“That, or one of the reasons you left me,” Arthur retorted. His head felt full of nothing, and he swayed a little on his feet. “It’s hard to remember, at this stage. What do you intend to do with me, once I’ve lost my will?”

“Hard to say.” Francis rubbed a thumb across Arthur’s lips, turning them red before bringing it to his own mouth and licking the blood away. “I could keep you here with me, like this, but it wouldn’t be the same, would it? It was always better when you fought it, it was best when my face was bruised. You can still speak, you know.”

Arthur felt his lips move as though from the other side of a dream. “You’ll use me as a spy?”

“That seems most appropriate. The attack on the Ministry was only the beginning, after all. What do you think I should do with you, if not that?”

Arthur gripped Francis’ hand. Had he done that? Francis seemed startled by it. “Do you remember the Christmas you tried to catch me a unicorn?” Arthur blurted out, not knowing why, only knowing it was important, so important. He heard Francis draw in a sharp breath. Arthur could feel wet on his cheeks, though he didn’t remember crying.

* * *

Arthur had to hand it to the muggles; for all the spells at his disposal, natural gas did the job of explosive as well as anything he could have conjured up. He watched as the old shack burned to the ground, roof collapsing in a cascade of orange sparks. He should contact the Ministry, tell them there was a dangerous dark wizard on the loose. Maybe they already knew. There was a box of matches and a broken wineglass at Arthur’s feet, and everything else was ash, Francis long gone.

It was snowing. Arthur tilted his head up and felt flakes landing on his face, and he breathed in deeply. He remembered tackling Francis into the snow as the unicorn barrelled past them into the woods. “I nearly had it,” Francis had pouted at him.

Arthur was on his knees, upturned face and outstretched arms. There was a clomp of footsteps coming from somewhere behind him, neighbours perhaps. Francis had smiled at him, a little cocky, like he always was back then. “I love you,” Arthur had told him, only once and never again.

“You’ll never have to tell me again as long as you live,” Francis had said. “I’ll always know it’s true.”

Someone was hoisting him up off the ground, calling his name. His face was wet again, and he wiped it dry on the back of his hand. “I guess I fit in after all,” he mumbled to himself. Slytherins were notorious cowards.

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