The Babbling Fox was a charming tea house just a stones-throw from Diagon Alley. Astoria had come to appreciate the place since last visiting there with Cortewalle, and had taken to having a morning pot of tea there now that Lyndon had moved his daily meetings to a more appropriate venue.
That particular morning the weather was fine, and Astoria had taken a seat on the second storey terrace overlooking the Cawl Gardens while waiting for her sister to join her.
She gave off the impression of someone deeply at peace, eyes closed and lounging in the sun - but Astoria couldn't sweep Marsh's offer from her mind. It wasn't such a crazy idea, really. Being from out of town meant she would be unpredictable. She could use whatever tricks in her arsenal she wished to without it being overtly obvious. At first glance, things seemed to run a bit differently here, but the more she thought about it, the more the idea had appealed to her. Marsh was right - same shit, different country. So why did she still hesitate?
A smokey smell began to invade her senses and Astoria's nose wrinkled in distaste. Hebridean Brandy. Her least favourite of the Dragon Brandies. And Hebridean tended to be the choice drink of stuffy purebloods besides. Who on earth was drinking Hebridean at this hour of the morning, in a tea house?
Astoria opened one eye, then the other.
Who else but Draco Malfoy?
He stepped in front of her, casting a shadow that blocked her sun and warmth. He cut a genteel figure in suit and robes, the barren stone-grey of his eyes in stark contrast to the shining halo the sun gave his blond hair. Her hand rose to shield her eyes. Oh yes - if there were two opposing forces in the world, struggling for supremacy, the light had lost this man long ago.
"You're in my sun," she said, effectively dispensing with the pureblood courtesies. She had no doubt she was reinforcing the British opinion of brash Americans, but damn Draco Malfoy's opinion.
For a moment she thought he wasn’t going to move, then he took a seat at the next table.
He rested his back against the chair as his robes stilled, the slight breeze hardly stirring them - a testament to the quality of the fabric. His right arm came to rest flatly on the edge of the table, displaying a heavy-set ring on his fourth finger that was likely pure silver and goblin-made. A tiny serpentine creature had been wrought in the centre of the silver setting. Had Astoria applied herself to learning pureblood heraldry, she would have recognised the symbol as the wyvern of the Malfoy family crest.
“The Fox again, Greengrass?” he asked, as if he knew precisely where she was every morning - which, she realised, he probably did.
There was a refined and courtly way of British politics that lent it a more elegant mien than the bluntness of Salem that Astoria was accustomed to. Even the subtle implication that she was being followed seemed somehow much more civilised. This wasn't a new experience, but while she'd had people tail her during past elections, never had it been prompted so quickly. She felt a familiar thrill rise. "Am I considered enough of a threat that I'm being followed now?" Astoria asked.
"Until you make a decision either way, you're considered of interest," Draco clarified. Grey eyes lazily swept the length of her and flicked back to her green. "Marsh does have a sense of humour," he said. "A freelance American dropped into Lyndon's chicken pen of do-gooders and wowsers? We'll see how it plays out."
His commentary had her biting back a grin. "Did you have a point beyond tipping me I was being surveilled, or did you just want to disrupt my morning?"
"I actually had planned on drinking more, but it seems the last on my list of things to do today has become the first. We Malfoys are nothing if not flexible.”
Draco stretched his legs out and turned his face to the sun, silent for the moment, and Astoria felt no need to break the silence. The bird-call from the Gardens below them was in soft counterpoint to the murmur of the inhabitants of the tea house, and Astoria closed her eyes again. She could almost imagine there wasn't an ex-Death Eater sitting in one of those ridiculous wicker chairs.
"I had hoped you would join me at the Three Brothers tonight," Draco said, breaking the peace.
Well, there was only one reason Malfoy would want to meet with her. She'd been invited to the table, and now Malfoy was holding out the chair, offering her the deck of cards - your deal - all because Marsh had made her an offer she hadn't yet refused. The message was clear: in or out, make your choice.
"My indecision must really be pissing you off if you're wasting your time tailing me from Honeydukes to Gambols," she said.
Astoria half hoped she would see some sign that she'd irritated him, but he only cleared his throat. "Morning Daphne."
"Malfoy." Her sister's greeting was decidedly icy. She claimed the chair next to Astoria. "You're being tailed? What a great start to the morning. The famous Malfoy hospitality strikes again."
"We do what we can," Draco replied wryly. His eyes had moved back to Astoria."I'm actually enjoying the hospitality of the Three Brothers with your sister tonight."
Daphne’s lips twisted sourly at this development.
Oh, this Malfoy would certainly make a good sparring partner.
Make your choice.
"If it's all the same to you," Daphne said, "you can take your hospitality elsewhere."
"A pleasure as always, Daphne," Draco said, obliging and rising from his chair. "Eight," he said to Astoria on his way past.
He was gone as quickly as he'd appeared, the smokey smell disappearing together with him.
Daphne gave her sister a long look. "You're not seriously considering dinner with Draco Malfoy?"
Astoria sighed. "Why not?”
"I feel like I should warn you."
Astoria’s eyes rolled as she turned her head, contemplating both the Gardens and the ease her siblings went about doling out their amateur advice. “How comfy is that armchair you’re judging me from?” Astoria asked.
“Shouldn’t you be asking Malfoy how comfy he finds his Death Eater’s mask?” Daphne pitched her voice lower, mindful of the tea-drinkers around them. "You were over in America for the worst of it, you didn't see. He let Death Eaters into Hogwarts in sixth year! He was there when Albus Dumbledore died, had his wand pointed right at him - and that's only the stuff we know about!"
Astoria wasn’t ignorant of her sister’s point: that Draco Malfoy was a very bad man. But while it was difficult for Astoria to marry the Death Eater to the shrewd and polished man of earlier - or even to the surly teenager she remembered from their Hogwarts days - theirs was an industry where reputations were made to be formidable, and her sister’s warnings may as well have fallen on deaf ears. “You think Draco Malfoy is the only man in the world with a dirty past -”
“- There’s also his father,” Daphne put in.
“I know, Daphne. And this won’t be my last time doing business with someone you disapprove of. I work at Gallows, for God’s sake. Would you please stop looking at me as the wayward little sister and start seeing me as just... someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about?”
Daphne shrugged and leant an elbow on the table. “Look at you as someone who knows what they’re talking about?” she repeated. “Sorry Tori, but I’ve seen you eat dirt and shit yourself. Older sister’s prerogative.”
Edward Cortewalle had been found wandering the moors near Pickering, memory erased and wand missing. He was admitted to St Mungo's for treatment and discharged just three days later. The mediwizard who treated him noted more than eight months of the man's memory had been erased, and advised that his short-term memory would be affected for some time. In an interview with the wizard who had found Cortewalle, the Daily Prophet reported he had been muttering "about pale horses, broomsticks and whatnot. Battier than the Bat Caves in Pennsylvania, innit?" They went on to suggest foul play, and although hitwizards investigated the matter they came up empty handed, further fueling the newspaper's speculation.
With Cortewalle incapacitated, Marsh was permanently named Lyndon's Campaign Manager.
To Ministerial candidate Lucella Miremont, the situation was ideal. She knew Marsh from his early days at the Australian embassy in France. And this Greengrass child they were in negotiations with couldn't hold a candle to Cortewalle's political genius.
Miremont knew she was of little threat at this point. With Rhodes and Corvus the clear front-runners, all eyes would be focused on them. Both would have to go down before she would become a target.
Her plan was simple. While the others busied themselves slinging insults and unfounded accusations, Miremont would centre her platform on the one issue that still divided voters straight down the middle. Considered taboo for centuries, it had come to public attention over fifty years ago in France, where Veelas had lobbied the Ministry and won the right to legally marry a witch or wizard. Miremont knew that if she sunk her money into bringing this issue to the fore, she would begin to rise.
Anti-half-breed and inter-species marriage advertising campaigns on billboards and in newspapers would begin to spring up all over Britain. It was trickery, a pitiless ruse, at the expense of a segment of the wizarding world that had been downtrodden for centuries. It really had nothing to do with making Britain any safer, or moral, or good, and everything to do with uniting people in the name of hate.
A/N - This chap is just a short one, I’m afraid. The next chap just had too much information to be dumping this on top of it as well. On a positive note, the last candidate has finally been introduced.