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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 12 : Visitors
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Harry jumped and looked at the doorway but Padfoot wasn’t there. Frowning, he turned his attention back to the locket and dropped it in surprise. There was an eye in each window, dark and intelligent, watching him. 

The eyes sent a strange, tingling sensation through his scar. Harry was frozen. The eye flashed and turned red and slitted, and then it spotted Harry. He watched and slowly drew his wand out of his pocket.

Don’t try it,” the locket hissed.

“What?” Harry asked, shocked.

The best you can hope is to shoot sparks at me, boy, perhaps not even that.”

Petrificus Totalus!” he said defiantly. Nothing happened.

I told you not to bother.” A moment later, Padfoot’s head bloomed out of the locket and his body followed. He was too solid to be a ghost, and he wasn’t transparent either. Harry was still reasonably new to the whole concept of magic, but he was fairly certain this was not normal. “You’re weak,” Locket-Padfoot told him.

“I-what?” Harry said, puzzled.

Can’t even defend yourself against a locket. I don’t know why I even bother.”

“Bother with what?”

With you, idiot boy. I only took you in to keep a promise to your father. It’s not worth it. I should have left you with your Aunt. I’d take Azkaban over this. At least there I didn’t have to put up with children and house elves.”  Harry frowned. “Have I upset you, kiddo? Let me guess, you miss your mother and father? I do too. And I actually knew them. Thanks to you, they’re gone. You killed them. You’re the reason they’re dead.”

Harry shivered and his scar tingled again.

“Who are you?” he asked Locket-Padfoot.

I’m your godfather, Harry Potter.” Harry shivered again. Locket-Padfoot and opened his arms. “Come here,” he said. Harry took a step backward. “Harry, come here.” Harry shook his head. “Harry, now.”

“No,” Harry said, taking another step back.

I just want a hug,” Padfoot said smoothly.

“Padfoot!” Harry called over his shoulder.

Stop calling me! I’m right here!

If Locket-Padfoot didn’t like it then Harry thought that was a very good reason to keep doing it. “Padfoot!”

Shut up!” Locket-Padfoot took a step toward Harry who threw another Body-Bind at him. The spell passed right through, as if it was smoke, though he looked far too solid for that. Locket-Padfoot reached for Harry, who dashed out of the door and slammed it shut. There was a thump on the other side. Harry put all of his weight against it, desperately trying to keep whatever it was contained. It thumped again, almost knocking him over. Another thump, and the door groaned. Footsteps. Harry tensed.

There was a loud - almost deafening - scream from the drawing room and then everything fell silent. Harry waited for a few seconds and peeked under the door. He couldn’t see anything and it was still quiet so he tentatively took a step away. He waited and then when things were still quiet, pushed the door open.

The locket was sitting innocently in the middle of the drawing room floor, a few feet from where it should have been, and it was still open, the dark eyes watching his every move. He scratched his scar absentmindedly and took another step forward, wand still raised and then, suddenly, the locket snapped shut and all but blew the room apart. He was knocked off of his feet, back out onto the landing and lost track of things for a few moments.

Next thing he knew, Padfoot was leaning over him, face pale.

“Kiddo?” Harry’s scar prickled and without thinking, he wrenched his arm free and rolled away, wand raised. “Harry? What’s going on? I heard shouting and-”

“The locket,” Harry said, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t know how, or why, but it opened. You came out of it, you were talking to me, but it wasn’t you...”

Both glanced into the drawing room, which had been destroyed. It was as if a bomb had gone off, but without the fire, if one didn’t count the scorches on the walls from the burst lamps.

Things had been blown off the walls, the windows were shattered, as was the glass on the cabinets, the Black tapestry was lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, the couches had been overturned - one had a large hole in it, with stuffing pouring out - and the rubbish bag had exploded in a mass of paper, metal and little pieces of wood.

Glass crunched under Padfoot’s trainers as he stepped into the room. He reached for the locket, swore loudly and then retracted his hand.

“What?” Harry asked, stumbling forward, wand raised.

“It’s hot.” Padfoot prodded the locket with his own wand and it floated off the ground to sit in the air between them. “What exactly were you doing?” he asked, examining the locket with narrowed eyes. It was unharmed.

“I don’t know! I was just trying to open it.”

“How?”

“I don’t know!” Harry cried again. “I was pulling it but it wouldn’t open so I got frustrated and told it to open and inside- inside-” His eyes widened. “The note! Regulus’ note!”

“You found it?” Padfoot asked, eyes wide.

“No- Yes- Maybe-”

“Harry, you aren’t making any sense.”

Everything seemed to be making perfect sense to Harry, though. “What if the note’s in the fake locket?”

“Of course,” Padfoot breathed.

“If it was just about taking the locket,” Harry said, saying the words as they popped into his head, “he wouldn’t have bothered with the switch. He wanted Voldemort to find it.”

“We’ll have to go,” Padfoot said.

“Go?”

“To the cave. Maybe Voldemort hasn’t found the note yet-”

“It’s been nine years,” Harry said doubtfully.

“Yes, but he’s been dead for most of them.”

“But... if it’s that important-”

“He wouldn’t want to draw attention to it,” Padfoot said. “If he’d gone skulking off to a cave in the middle of nowhere every few weeks, someone would have noticed. Even Death Eaters aren’t that thick. And, even if he did check on it, who’s to say he opened it? Even if there’s just a word or two in there... something to go on. It’ll be worth it.”

“And if there’s not? What if he’s already been there and read it?”

“There’s no way of knowing without being there,” Padfoot said. “There’s got to be a way of seeing if the locket’s there before drinking the Dementor’s Draught. If we do that and the locket’s not there, we can leave again without disturbing anything.”

“And if it is?”

Padfoot smiled grimly. “I spent seven years living with Dementors,” he said. “I can handle it. Besides, Kreacher’s been a few times now, and we’ve got all of Reg’s old things... It’s not like we’re unprepared.”

“We? I can go?” Harry asked, unable to believe his ears.

“Personally, I’d rather you stay here,” Padfoot said. “But...”

“But what?”

Padfoot brushed Harry’s fringe aside, revealing his scar. “But,” he sighed, “you’ve probably got more of a right to be there than I do.”

“So I can go?” Harry repeated, stunned.

“There’ll be rules,” Padfoot warned. “You’ll stay on the shore. You won’t be allowed to come with me on the boat, or to the island.” Harry opened his mouth to protest but Padfoot’s expression said he wasn’t open to negotiation and that was rare enough that Harry shut his mouth again and nodded. “You’ll learn the spells I think you’ll need.”

“What spells?”

“I’ll write a list,” Padfoot said. “And lastly, if things go badly, like they did for Reg and Kreacher, and I tell you to get the hell out, you’ll listen.”

“And what, leave you there?”

“If it comes to it,” Padfoot said, his expression unwavering.

“But-”

“Harry, if you can’t handle it, you won’t be going,” Padfoot said. Slowly, Harry nodded. “Lovely,” Padfoot said, clapping his hands together as if Harry’d agreed to wash the dishes instead of leaving him to die. The mood lightened so abruptly Harry felt a little startled. “Now, help me clean this mess up.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon fixing the drawing room and setting up a safe place for the locket. In the end, Padfoot restored one of the drawing room cabinets and sent Harry to comb the rest of the house for other things they could put in there so the locket wouldn’t stand out as much.

After that was done, Padfoot cast a number of spells on the cabinet to keep the locket safe; there was an Alarm Spell which would ring if anyone touched the cabinet, a Shield Charm to protect the cabinet or its contents from being damaged, a Permanent Sticking Charm on the cabinet’s feet to stop it from being bumped, moved or stolen, a complex Locking Charm on the door of the cabinet, and an Attention-Diversion Charm on the cabinet to make it seem insignificant.

Even so, Harry didn’t like it and was very much looking forward to finding out what it was and how to destroy it.

*                      *                     *

Two days later, Harry was in the library, poring over Regulus’ old copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade One - Padfoot’s, Harry had learned, had been destroyed three days into his first year in an incident involving fireworks and James’ owl, and his parents had refused to buy him another one - when Padfoot came in. He sat down across from Harry and fixed him with an unyielding grey stare.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked.

“Well enough,” Padfoot said with a sigh. “Are you sure you want to come with me to this cave?”

Harry hesitated for a moment and then nodded. “Positive.”

Padfoot sighed again, seeming unsurprised and pulled a scrap of parchment out of his robes. “Before you’re coming anywhere, you need to know all of this,” he said. “All right?”

Harry glanced over what was actually quite a comprehensive list:

- Fire-Making Spells

- Light Charm

- Severing Charm

- Stickfast Hex

- Body-Binds

- Trip Jinx

- Apparition

“All of it?” Harry asked, his eyebrows shooting up. “I have to be able to Apparate?” Padfoot fixed him with a steady look and Harry sagged into his seat. “I was just checking.”

“Some of it you might be able to learn on your own,” Padfoot said. “Some, like the Light charm and the Body-Binds, you already know.” Harry cheered slightly at that thought, but knew Apparition was going to be the hardest thing. He still struggled with the non-verbal magic-seeing incantation, for Merlin’s sake! “The rest I’ll teach you. Any questions?” Harry shook his head.

“Excellent. And,” Padfoot said, “let’s agree now that neither of us are going to get worked up over this. We’ll go when we’re ready, not before.” Harry nodded, privately thinking that could be years from now if Padfoot didn’t change his mind about the list.

“I don’t want you missing sleep over this, or getting stressed. That goes for me too. If I seem worried - and that might just be because we’ve got the entire Ministry looking for us - feel free to give my nose a swat or hex me or something. And, if at any point you feel like you can’t handle what we’ve got to do, you let me know. Deal?” Padfoot held out his hand.

Harry shook it. “Deal.”

“Brilliant.” Padfoot got up, browsed the library for a bit - all the while grumbling about the lack of organisation of the shelves - and then selected a heavy book called, When The Dead Walk. 

He shuddered at the picture on the cover and opened it, scanning the contents with a frown. Harry closed his book and shifted closer to his godfather so that he could read too. Padfoot flicked through until he found the page he was looking for and then pushed the book between them.

Inferi are corpses, reanimated to perform a sorcerer’s bidding. Unlike Zombies, they have no ability to think for themselves, though they share the same rotting, grey skin, the same inability to articulate correctly and the same mainly-human appearance. Inferi are territorial and so make excellent guards, with the only person that is truly safe from them being their creator.

They are aggressive if provoked but are often selective with their victims, choosing to attack the highest perceived threat first. They are also resistant to many spells, curses and hexes due to their rotted nerve endings. Inferi are considered nocturnal and so will rarely be seen during day hours; sunlight along with fire is one of the few things able to hinder these humanoid creatures.

Below was a particularly graphic - moving - photograph of a witch being attacked by a tall Inferius. Harry shuddered, feeling sick, and even Padfoot looked revolted. The passage continued on but the Harry didn’t understand what it was saying so he gave up on that and returned to his book.

He flicked to the index and searched for Fire-Making spells. There was an entire chapter on elemental magic and while water, plant and ice magic wasn’t going to be terribly useful, Harry thought wind magic would certainly be worth knowing, and so would fire. He read for at least an hour on the theory and then left to go and practice in the drawing room fireplace since the library one was already lit.

Making fire, as Harry quickly learnt, was remarkably easy, but controlling it was not. Padfoot managed to save the drawing room couches and Harry agreed rather sheepishly, that he’d use the training room in the future. A little surprisingly - or maybe not, given what Padfoot had done in his own childhood - he wasn’t at all mad.

“Just disappointed,” Padfoot said, examining the slightly scorched curtains. Harry felt like his stomach was in his feet. He’d have much preferred anger. “Next time you want to set something on fire,” he said sternly, “at least try to get that sodding tapestry.”

Harry blinked and then a little disbelieving laugh slipped out of his mouth. Padfoot winked, ruffled his hair and headed back upstairs to the library, leaving Harry staring after him.

*                    *                  *

“Wotcher, Lupin,” a cheerful voice said.

Remus turned, smiling. “Hello, Nymphadora- sorry, Tonks.”

“Much better,” she said, her hair returning to the purple it was today. She hesitated and then said, “I read in the Prophet you found Harry Potter.”

He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive... Those two words had been a constant mantra in his head ever since that day in London. “And that he escaped?” Remus asked ruefully.

“Yes, that too. It’s true then?” Remus nodded, his good mood fading somewhat. “Poor kid.”

“If the Ministry had been there five minutes sooner we would have had them both,” Remus sighed. He was still incredibly annoyed over that and though he tried to keep it out of his voice, it still came through.

Nymphadora gave him a sly look. “Is that why you hit that Auror?”

Remus glanced at her sideways and smiled slightly. “It’s remarkable how many people know about that.” And it was, considering the Prophet hadn’t published that part of the story.

“Dad’s with the Ministry,” she said, shrugging. “Muggle Relations. He was one of the first people there after they took you.”

“I see.”

“Are you still volunteering, or are you not allowed to?”

“No, I’m still searching but Lucius Malfoy’s becoming harder and harder to take orders from.” He had begun to refuse letting Remus onto the Manor grounds and if Remus asked why, always responded with a smooth comment about not wanting a broken nose like poor Rufus Scrimgeour. They’d been conducting their meetings through the Manor gates, lately.

“I’ve met him a few times - he’s my uncle, did you know?” Remus, who did know this, nodded. “Utter bastard and my aunt’s a snob, or at least I think so. Mum doesn’t seem to know what to think and Dad’s smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself.” Remus smiled slightly.

“Tonks!”

Nymphadora and Remus spun to face a boy in Slytherin robes. Remus’ hand closed around his wand, just in case, but she didn’t seem at all worried. “Wotcher, Tom!” she said brightly.

“Hi- Who’re you?” he asked, spotting Remus. He seemed to be deciding whether to reach for his own wand.

“This is Remus Lupin,” Nymphadora said quickly, apparently noticing Tom’s wariness.

Surprisingly, he didn’t ask anything more than that; Remus supposed he trusted Nymphadora’s judgement, and thought, maybe, House rivalry might have died down a little... Or perhaps Tom was just an exception. “Have you seen Weasley?”

“Which one?” Nymphadora asked, looking mischievous.

Tom scowled. “Not Joseph. Why anyone would look for that git is beyond me.” Nymphadora made a sound that Remus took to mean she agreed.

“You mean Roger?” she asked with eyes just wide enough to make Remus think she was up to something. Tom made an annoyed noise which confirmed his theory. “No? Well, let’s try the cousins then... Percy?”

“Charlie,” Tom sighed.

“Oh! You wanted our Weasley.” Tom pursed his lips. “He’s with the girls,” Nymphadora said. “Not sure where.”

“Very helpful,” Tom muttered, rolling his eyes. “Thank you... Nymphadora,” he said, and took off without another word.

“Durban!” Nymphadora shouted. Tom threw a grin at her over his shoulder and kept running. “Slytherins!” she huffed.

“You’re welcome to go after him,” Remus said, beginning to walk again.

“I’ll get him later,” she said, shrugging.

“All right,” he said, continuing forward. Nymphadora made a funny noise, as if to point out that Remus was walking toward a wall and then decided against it.

“Are you here to see Dumbledore?” she asked instead.

“Yes, I am,” he said, lifting a tapestry that concealed a staircase that would take him up two floors. Dumbledore’s office moved every year - Remus suspected it was to keep students and teachers alike on their toes - and this year, it was on the third floor.

“I never knew that was there,” she said, her dark eyes widening. She followed him through, expression curious, but she stumbled on the step. She jumped right back up again, her hair a very pale pink, before Remus could even offer to help. “I’m horrendously clumsy,” she sighed. “It’s all my mother’s fault.” She glanced around with interest. “Where does this come out?”

“Third floor. By that suit of armour that swears at everyone,” Remus said.

Nymphadora laughed. “Charlie learned everything he knows from that.”

“He can thank James and Sirius,” Remus said, smiling slightly. “They taught Rudy everything.”

“Sirius... as in... Black?” Nymphadora asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” Remus said bitterly.

“And James... not James Potter?” she asked.

“Yes, another of my friends,” Remus said, smiling now.

“I think I remember him,” she said thoughtfully. “He’s Harry Potter’s father?”

“Yes.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “And Rudy?” she asked.

“It’s self explanatory, really,” Remus said, lips twitching.

“I don’t... Rudy...?”

“Because he’s rude,” Remus said. He twisted his mouth. “Sirius has always had something of a fascination with name puns.”

“He’d probably have a field day with mine,” she said darkly. “Not that I’m ever intending to meet Mum’s cousin, but still...”

“He used to say you were an ‘adorable’ child,” Remus said, remembering suddenly.

Her mouth dropped open and her hair turned a bright, sunny yellow as she laughed. “Dora... adorable... That’s awful!” she cried.

“It is. But when your own name’s Sirius...”

“What was your pun?” she asked.

“I didn’t have one like ‘adorable’ but he made up a rhyme at some point in first year.” She watched him expectantly until he gave in with a sigh. “Loony, loopy, Lupin.”

Nymphadora laughed. “That’s one of Peeves' favourites!”

Somehow, that didn’t surprise Remus. “James gets credit for that,” he said, grinning despite himself. “James’ pun had something to do with ‘pottering’ around - if he was walking too slowly, for example,” he added, forestalling her next question. That joke had stopped in sixth year when James decided it might hurt his chances with Lily, but it had been earned a place in Sirius’ speech at James’ wedding.

“The three of you sound so funny,” she said, smiling. Her mouth twisted a little. “Even Black.”

“There were four of us, actually. Peter Pettigrew was our friend as well.”

“The boy- man that Black...?”

“Yes,” Remus said quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Nymphadora said.

“It was years ago,” Remus said. Although it feels like it was yesterday.

Remus pushed a place on the seemingly solid wall in front of them and it slid open. “What the fuck are you doing there?!” Rudy demanded, his armour creaking. “Don’t you sodding ignore me, you bastard! I asked what the fuck you were doing!” He shook his shield at them. “And you, slag! Come bloody back and look at me when I’m bloody speaking!”

“It seemed funny back then,” Remus muttered as they rounded a corner, “but he’s hardly setting a good example for the first years.”

“He’s made someone cry every year I’ve been here,” Nymphadora said cheerfully. “And he bothers Filch terribly but Dumbledore says he’s a part of school history and all that...”

Remus shook his head, unsurprised. “So how’s school?” He’d last seen her in early April, but now, N.E.W.T.s were imminent, if they weren’t already happening; he remembered the first week of June as an extremely stressful one.

“I had my Potions exam yesterday,” she said, smiling. “I think that went well enough; it was free choice on what we brewed so I did stages one to four of the Wolfsbane Potion. I was going to do one to four of Veritaserum but three people in my class chose that, so I went for something a little different.”

“Impressive,” Remus said faintly. “I-I’ve heard it’s rather complex.”

“It’s not too bad,” she said thoughtfully. “Stage five is probably the hardest and I didn’t have to do that.”

Remus managed to swallow. “What’s next as far as exams go?”

“Charms tomorrow,” she said. “Transfiguration the day after – which is easy, thank Merlin! - then Defence and Herbology on Friday.”

“So you’re just revising today?”

“Procrastinating, really,” she sighed, waving a hand at Remus. “I told Alfred I’d meet him in the library straight after breakfast to go over Charms but here I am, talking to you.”

“Tell Alfred I’m sorry,” Remus said apologetically.

“He won’t even notice. He’s mooning after Jaquiline Gamp but everyone knows she fancies Pius Thicknesse.”

“I see,” Remus said, having no clue who any of these people were.

“Honestly, I think it’s ridiculous, fussing over who fancies who like we’re eleven again.” She threw her hands up in the air and her hair turned an odd shade – like a mix between green and orange. “If someone likes someone, they should just come out and say it.”

“Blunt,” Remus observed.

“I want to be an Auror, not a politician,” she said with a shrug.

“Are you sure?” Remus asked, grinning. “You seem to have some fairly strong opinions.”

“Positive,” she said with a shudder. “And I don’t think that I have ‘strong opinions’. I just think that people should act their age.”

“You act far older than seventeen,” Remus said.

“No, I don’t,” she said, her hair turning pink. “It just seems like it because everyone else is busy acting like first years.”

Remus disagreed, but couldn’t be bothered trying to argue, since they’d reached the stone gargoyle that was the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. “Lupin,” the gargoyle said. “Password?”

“You’re on first name terms with Dumbledore’s gargoyle?” Nymphadora asked, impressed.

“Don’t ask,” Remus said, flushing slightly. “It has a lot more to do with James and Sirius than it does with me.”

“I remember Potter and Black! Say hi to them for me, would you?” the gargoyle said.

“Er...” Remus said, his eyes darting to Nymphadora’s uncomfortable expression. “Sure.”

“I’ll see you later,” Nymphadora said holding out her hand. Remus shook it, giving her a warm smile - and tried to ignore the way her eyes widened as she took in his scars, though thankfully she didn’t comment - and then she set off down the corridor, tripping a little on the hem of her robes.

“Do I have to wait for you all day?” the gargoyle complained.

“No, sorry. Lemon Drop.”

“Kept me waiting for nothing. And here I was thinking you didn’t know the password...”

“You’d have let me in anyway.”

The gargoyle winked and leapt aside. The wall behind it parted, revealing an extremely familiar stone staircase. Remus stepped on, and a moment later found himself standing outside Dumbledore’s office door.

He reached for the brass knocker but a deep voice called, “Come in!” before he had a chance to touch it.

Shaking his head, Remus stepped into the office. “Good morning, sir,” he said, shutting the door.

“Ah, Remus! I thought perhaps you’d got lost!”

“No, just distracted.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Have a seat, dear boy.” Remus conjured himself an armchair and sat. “Would you care for a sweet?”

“No, thank you. I just had breakfast.”

*                    *                     *

“Draco,” Mother said mildly.

Draco stopped playing with the buttons on his waistcoat at once. “Sorry, Mother,” he said, letting his hand fall to his side.

She gave him a gentle smile. “Do make an effort tonight.”

“I will,” he said, waiting until she turned away to grimace.

“Draco, I mean it,” she warned, turning back to him. “I don’t want a repeat of last time. I couldn’t look Audra Crabbe in the eye for weeks.”

“It was one pudding,” he protested weakly. “I didn’t even mean to blow it u-” Mother caught and held his gaze. “Yes, Mother,” he said, picking at his silver-embroidered waistcoat. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“I should think not,” she said coolly.

“Now, now, Narcissa,” Father said, striding into the drawing room. He was dressed similarly to Draco, in black trousers, a black waistcoat embroidered with silver and long black robes. Hydrus walked in after him, dressed in an identical garb to Draco’s, but green instead, like Mother’s dress robes. “Accidents happen to the best of us.” His eyes met Draco’s identical ones. “Isn’t that right, son?”

“Yes, Father,” Draco said, relieved. “I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Speaking of promises, Father, I know Bosworth will behave,” Hydrus whined, petting the rat who was in its usual place on his shoulder.

“I’ve said no,” Father said crossly. “Take him upstairs and leave him there.” Hydrus let out a loud, angry noise and stomped back upstairs. “Go and fix your hair,” Father told Draco.

“Yes, Father,” Draco muttered and fled. He walked quickly - not daring to run but Father was in a bad mood - out of the drawing room, down the corridor to the foyer and then up the large staircase, down another long hallway and into his bedroom. He crossed the room, ignoring Roquefort’s squeaks from inside his cage, and ducked into his bathroom.

His reflection stared back; a thin face with a pointed chin and his father’s grey eyes. His father’s face, just like Aunt Bella had said during their last visit, though not quite as blank. I’m getting better at it, though, he thought proudly. Better than Hydrus, anyway.

He reached for the little silver pot on the marble bench-top and scooped up a lump of gel. “Bit much, isn’t it?” his mirror asked.

“No,” Draco snapped, sleeking a loose hair into place. When he was finished, he looked just like the photographs he’d seen of his father at a young age. Even his expression matched; calm and content, if a little bored. Good, now- CRACK! “Dobby!” Draco gasped, jumping away from the little elf. “Don’t do that!”

“Dobby is sorry, young Master,” the elf squeaked, sinking into a hasty bow that made his ears flap, “but Master is sending Dobby to be getting young Master and is telling him to be quick, sir.”

“I’m going as fast as I can,” Draco said, annoyed.

“Master is saying now, young Master,” Dobby said, his huge, green eyes wide as he wrung his filthy pillowcase.

“All right,” Draco snapped. He grabbed the elf’s skinny forearm and his bathroom spun, distorted and then disappeared altogether to be replaced by the drawing room. Draco stumbled, gasping for air, but a strong hand on the back of his robes didn’t let him fall. Dobby vanished again.

“And you remember my youngest; Draco,” Father said, squeezing his shoulder to the point that it was painful. Draco blinked, his vision readjusting.

“Yes, but not so young anymore; happy birthday, Draco,” fat, old Roderick Crabbe said, scratching his pointed beard.

“Thank you,” Draco said politely; he wasn’t supposed to add a ‘sir’ when he was talking to the Crabbes or Goyles because they weren’t purebloods, although they liked to claim otherwise.

Audra nodded. “He was responsible for the pudding incident, was he not?” Draco’s cheeks burned but his father’s hand wouldn’t let him move an inch.

Mother laughed loudly. It was a high, tinkling sound, like ice shattering. “I’d forgotten about that,” she said bestowing Audra with a smile. The other woman returned it before her attention was claimed by two-year-old Cyril. Mother shot Draco a pointed, though not angry, look.

“Do you remember my Vincent, Draco?” Roderick asked.

“Yes,” Draco said, casting a wary glance over at his brother and the stout boy with a pudding-bowl haircut. They’d met a number of times in the past; Draco wasn’t terribly fond of the larger boy but he’d always gravitated toward Hydrus so it wasn’t an issue.

The fireplace flared green and tall, square-jawed Ernest Parkinson stepped out, followed by his thin, sickly-looking wife Sonja and his daughter Pansy who had dark hair like her father, big brown eyes like her mother and a button nose that came from neither parent.

They’d just finished greetings when the Greengrasses arrived; rotund, little Marius, his beautiful wife Parmenia and their daughters; Daphne was the eldest - the same age as Draco - blond with a long face and her twin sisters Astoria and Vivienne who were a year younger. 

They both had dark hair but the similarities ended there; Astoria was tiny in height and build while Vivienne was taller - almost as tall as Daphne - with blue eyes quite unlike Astoria’s hazel.

The Notts arrived shortly after; old, silver-haired Leopold, young, brunette Eleanor and her daughter Catherine. Theodore wasn’t Eleanor’s son - his mother had died a few days after he was born - but he was there too; he was a lanky boy with an overbite who was a few months older than Draco.

Everyone wished him a happy birthday with varying degrees of sincerity and Draco nodded politely and thanked them all accordingly. The Gamps - the biggest pure-blood family aside from perhaps the Weasleys - weren’t coming for which Draco was grateful; where the Weasleys had sons, the Gamps had daughters and they were giggly and annoying and Draco didn’t want them at his birthday dinner.

Hamish was the only male Gamp and he was older than Draco and preferred his sisters’ and cousins’ company. Last were the Goyles - who had never been on time as long as Draco had known them. 

The Bulstrodes weren’t going to be there either, but that was okay because Millicent terrified Draco; she was big enough to eat him if she wanted to, but she was also much smarter than people assumed. She’d told him she was more Slytherin than he was, and Draco, in anger, had accidentally blown up his pudding. The worst part was he thought she might be right, even if neither of her parents had been Death Eaters like Father.  

“Terribly sorry, Lucius,” Aloysius said, stepping out of the fire. He was a thin man, cleanly shaven and with little hair left on his head. “Clementina’s running late again. How are you, Roderick, Ernest, Leopold?” There was a general murmur of ‘good’. “Oh! And Marius! How are you? I didn’t see you there.”

“I’m well, thank you, Aloysius,” Marius said, bowing his head.

“Mother’s on her way,” tall, solid Gregory grunted as he clambered out of the fireplace. “Happy birthday,” he said to Hydrus.

“It’s not my birthday,” Hydrus said, rolling his eyes. “It’s Draco’s.”

“Happy birthday,” Gregory said, turning to Draco, who simply nodded.

Aloysius watched his son with a grimace. “Shall we adjourn to the dining room? Clementina will find her way there, I’m sure.”

Everyone held their breath. “You would do well to remember that this is my house,” Father said dangerously, “and therefore my place - and not yours, Aloysius - to make such statements.” The room had gone deadly quiet. Aloysius opened his mouth to say something but Gregory shook his head once, and then he shut it. “Shall we adjourn to the dining room?” Father asked silkily.

“Yes,” Parmenia said with a gracious smile that diffused the tension. “Come, Marius, girls.”

“Hydrus, lead the way,” Mother said with a strained smile.

“Yes, Mother,” Hydrus said with a charming smile.

“Draco, see that Dobby’s keeping to schedule.”

“Yes, Mother.” Draco ducked out the right side door while everyone else went left. He walked down the dim hallway and down the cellar stairs. He entered the cellar - Draco didn’t think he’d ever known it to hold wine, though - and headed through the adjacent door quickly, not wanting to linger since there was something about the cellar that he’d never liked; it was always very cold down there, and it was always darker than anywhere else in the Manor. He walked - because Malfoys didn’t run, Father had said - down another corridor and then through another door into the kitchen.

“Young Master!” Dobby exclaimed bowing, as Draco perched on the edge of the worn wooden table in the centre of the room.

“Mother said to ask if you’re on schedule,” Draco said, sniffing curiously at the room; the oven was glowing orange and he could smell fresh bread, potato and meat. There was a pot of something delicious simmering on the stove and a set of knives were slicing carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and the like on the bench.

“Mistress could have called Dobby,” Dobby said, shaking his head. “Young Master shouldn’t have tired himself. Dobby knows how the young Master doesn’t like the cellar.”

“I’m not scared of the cellar,” Draco growled.

The little elf patted his knee tentatively before tottering over to check the soup. “Young Master can tell Mistress Dobby will be ready in time, sir,” Dobby squeaked, clicking his fingers to send the vegetable knives into the sink (which was currently filling with soapy water).

“Good. And get rid of the tomatoes. I don’t eat them.” Dobby made a little sobbing noise and hurried over to the chopping board.

Draco was able to slip into the dining room unnoticed, just like a good host should. The only person who seemed to realise he was there at all was Hydrus, who rolled his eyes and went back to his spiel about broomsticks. Theodore seemed genuinely interested but neither Vincent or Gregory seemed to have much idea what was going on. Draco went and sat in the empty seat between his brother and Daphne.

“We’ve both got Comet two-sixties,” Hydrus boasted, glancing around at the other children. “Father wants us ready for the house team.”

“At Hogwarts?” Gregory asked, frowning.

“Of course at Hogwarts, you idiot!” Draco said.

“Or Durmstrang,” Hydrus said. “Father’s still trying to talk Mother into it.” Draco was quietly certain that in this, Father wouldn’t succeed. Mother didn’t often argue with him, but when she did, she won.

“I didn’t think first years were allowed on the house teams,” Theodore said tentatively.

“They are at Durmstrang,” Hydrus said.

“Everything’s allowed at Durmstrang,” Daphne said, rolling her eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Draco asked.

“Just that Karkaroff is more relaxed than Dumbledore is,” Daphne said, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

“Are you really going to Durmstrang?” Pansy asked unhappily, staring from Draco to Hydrus.

Draco shrugged. “Wherever we go, we’ll be playing Quidditch.”

“Clarice says first years aren’t allowed broomsticks,” Astoria said primly.

Hydrus snorted. “Father’s very influential at the school. If we do go to Hogwarts, he’ll apply for a position on the Board of Governors.”

“Can he do that?” Theodore asked, looking awed.

“Of course,” Draco said, waving a hand. “All this business with Harry Potter’s put him in Dumbledore’s good books. I bet I’ll have a place on the team before I’ve even unpacked my broomstick. And who’s Clarice?” Pansy rolled her eyes and started up a different conversation with Hydrus.

“Our step-sister,” Daphne said proudly. “She and Bertram were from Mother’s first marriage.” Draco sneaked a glance at Parmenia Greengrass, who was tracing the back of her husband’s hand while she laughed at a joke Clementina was telling. “How old are they?”

“They’ll be fourteen in on the twenty-fifth of June,” Astoria chirped from beside her sister. “Clarice is going to be an Unspeakable and Bertram’s going to be a professional Quidditch player.”

“What position?”

“Chaser,” said Vivienne. “And if he doesn’t get in, he’ll be a reporter for the Daily Prophet.

“Perhaps he’ll work with Father on the Harry Potter search,” Draco said.

Vivienne glanced at Father and frowned. “Perhaps,” she said.

“Are they going to find him do you think?” Astoria asked looking nervous. “They say he’s dead.”

“Who, Harry Potter? The Prophet says he’s dead,” Draco said, rolling his eyes. “Shows how much they know. I don’t think he’s dead, and neither does Father.”

“Mother and Father say he’s powerful,” Daphne whispered. Vivienne nodded.

“He is,” Draco said. “Father thinks he’ll be the next Dark Lord.”

“Is that why Sirius Black took him?” Daphne asked.

Draco shrugged, fairly sure that he wasn’t supposed to know as much about Sirius Black as he did. “Do I look like Sirius Black or Harry Potter to you?” he asked instead.

“No,” Daphne said.

“Then why in Merlin’s name would I know?” he asked coldly.

“There’s no need to be rude about it,” Astoria said, folding her arms. “She was just asking.”

Draco ignored her. “What makes you think I’d know?” he asked again.

“Well, your father’s involved,” Daphne said condescendingly. “Anyone with the intelligence of a Mountain Troll might think you knew something.”

“Well, I don’t,” Draco said, using his frosty voice to mask his lie.

“Oi! Greengrass.”

All three girls turned around. “Which one?” Astoria asked.

“Daphne. You’re hoping for Slytherin, right?” Hydrus asked.

She shrugged. “Either Slytherin or Ravenclaw.”

“Told you,” Theodore muttered.

“How did you know?” Vivienne asked, sounding interested.

He shrank under everyone’s scrutiny. “It’s not hard- Everyone here wants that.”

“I don’t want to be in Ravenclaw,” Hydrus drawled.

Draco nodded. “I want Slytherin.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Ravenclaw,” Vivienne said, and Astoria nodded angrily from the chair beside her. “Mother thinks I’ll be a Ravenclaw.”

“And I suppose you’re looking to go there too?” Pansy asked Astoria, looking mildly revolted. She’d never liked the twins much.

“I won’t be in Gryffindor or Hufflepuff,” Astoria said coolly. “I’d be happy with either of the others. You’re thinking Slytherin, aren’t you, Theordore?”

“Yes,” Theodore said and then hesitated and added, “but Ravenclaw’s not a bad alternative.” The twins beamed. Draco rolled his eyes; if Father had seen him doing that, he’d have been subjected to lessons on how to control his facial expressions. Clearly the Greengrass family weren’t as proper as they’d used to be. “Vincent, Gregory?”

“Slytherin,” both grunted.

“Me too,” Pansy said loudly, not wanting to be forgotten. “Mother was a Ravenclaw but I’d hate to be put there,” she said with a nasty glance at Astoria and Vivienne. “Ravenclaws are weak.” All three Greengrass girls and Theodore made noises of disagreement. “They are,” Pansy said, watching her mother with narrowed eyes; Sonja Parkinson had just returned from the bathroom looking paler than usual and a little clammy. “They’re weak.” The others exchanged glances - Pansy’s mother was sick and there was nothing the Healers could do for her - and stayed silent.

“Well,” Daphne said with a cautious glance at Pansy, “I suppose this little group will be sticking together. That’s nice, isn’t it?”

“‘That’s nice, isn’t it?’” Draco drawled, mimicking her. “Are you sure you’re not angling for Hufflepuff, Greengrass?”

The others - except for Daphne, who blushed - laughed. Draco leaned back in his chair, smug and completely content.


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