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The Garden by ciararose

Format: Novella
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 37,750
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Harry, Cho, Seamus, Draco, Pansy, Blaise (M), OtherCanon
Pairings: Draco/Pansy, Other Pairing

First Published: 12/17/2010
Last Chapter: 04/25/2011
Last Updated: 04/25/2011

Summary:



Banner : Hayley Jade

They say the whole world used to be paradise. An infinite garden, where nothing existed but beauty and truth, blooming every season. Then evil slithered in, spreading roots, seducing the inhabitants into wickedness. Now the once-sacred Garden of Eden is a poisonous place, rich and fertile soil for liars and thieves, and the innocent are lost in the night like blossoms floating in the wind. That's when they seek him. He finds what's lost.


Chapter 1: SCENE ONE
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, APRIL 13th, 2003

They were not the kind of people I usually see. That should have been my first clue that this was far beyond an ordinary case. They were older, and dressed too well for the neighborhood, coming down the street looking nervous and glancing over their shoulders. A couple, maybe in their forties, but well taken care of: the woman with her hair done nicely, and the man wearing an expensive hat over his bald spot. I knew they had to be coming for me from the second I spotted them across the street- I just didn't know why.


It only took a minute for the story to come tumbling out. Usually, people hesitate. They don't want to elaborate, they don't want to think about their own guilt and how it lead them to be sitting in the chair across from me, a cigarette-scarred desk between us that they rest their hands on like it will anchor them in the churning sea of their own misdeeds. But these two were chattering nervously before I even sat down, the man twisting his handkerchief in his hands and the woman taking great gulps of air in between trembling sobs. She wasn't crying- maybe she had no tears left- just shaking in a rhythmic, heaving way.

"Our daughter, Rose," the woman said, and the man fumbled in his wallet for a photograph. His hand was shaking when he slid it across the table and I let it sit, for the time being, without looking at it. I didn't need to, I could see it already. She'd be pretty like her mother looked like she was when her eyes weren't red and swollen. She'd be young. She'd be smiling because she had parents who loved her and crept down dark alleys, desperate to help her but unsure where to turn.

"She's just out of Hogwarts," the man explained, and his wife nodded tremulously. "Excellent marks, never a spot of trouble. But as soon as she's home she starts acting strangely; staying out too late, with people we'd never seen before, keeping secrets. We thought- we thought it was normal. Youth, you know," he said, and he tried for a shaky smile. I thought about returning it- people always say my bedside manner leaves something to be desired- but I never can bring myself to be too reassuring. It gives people a lot of hope, relaxes them. Sometimes they shouldn't be too hopeful, or relaxed.

"Then, just a few weeks ago, she started staying out for days at a time. She'd come home one morning without a word to say to either of us and looking pale as anything. We tried to talk to her about it, she didn't want to hear a word," the man continued, looking anguished. "And then... and then... three weeks ago, she leaves, and doesn't come back. We've been round to all of her friends, everywhere they say she hangs about, but no one's seen or heard from her."

Not much to go on. Not a lot of ways for this to end. But they wanted to pay up front. 'Anything you can find,' they said. It was too good of an offer; they were desperate. I asked about the usual suspects, but they were clueless. They said she didn't have a boyfriend. I looked at the picture. She was pretty, happy, warm. There was no way this girl was wandering around town without catching anyone's eye, but the parents seemed sincere. So they didn't know. Well, a young girl confides in her friends. I'd have to start there.

When they left, I advised them to stay in the street, where the lamp light was strongest. You never know what's lurking in the darkness these days.




It's raining again. The streets of London are shallow pools and in the night the pavement is dark as spilled blood. But it doesn't seem to bother him as he heads down the street, head tilted so his hat can keep the rain out of his eyes, his hands deep in the pockets of his raincoat. Draco knows, from the parents description, that Rose Zeller liked to get a taste of the nightlife. So she has friends roaming the slick streets of London tonight, somewhere, and he is on his way to find them.

He turns down the back alley and taps the bricks with his wand, waiting as the archway reveals the entrance to Diagon Alley. It's like stepping into daylight, with neon colored lights flashing everywhere he looks, shining from windows and doorways and reflecting off of the rain drops as they fall in an endless technicolor firework. If she was just out of school and looking for a party, this was where she'd have gone: the Alleys. It had still been a shopping district when he had left school, but he could imagine the appeal to a barely-of-age witch: one endless party, dance clubs that didn't close until the sun had risen, the pulse of youth and rebellion permeating every building. Once the shops had closed, after Kingsley's murder and the Splintering had begun, it had been a wasteland: streets full of empty, unwanted buildings occupied only by mice and the desperate. Easy enough to tear down a few old shops, expand underground, and let the dusk-to-dawn festivity begin.

The first few places are useless. The barkeepers have never seen her, the doormen have never seen her, or she looks just like every other girl who comes in and out and they can't be sure. On his third try he strikes gold: a barmaid who says she's been in and out, but not in the past few weeks. The barmaid is leaning on the counter, looking up at him through long eyelashes, her voice melodic.

"Any friends inside?" he asks her, and she tilts her head as she looks, her long blonde hair swaying in straight tendrils across her neck. She points to a distant table, as she pulls her hand back, her fingers brush his arm. He thanks her and turns his back and can't see, but can imagine, her tiny frown at his dismissal.

He makes his way to the back table and finds a rowdy group: six or so eighteen-to-nineteens, talking over each other and over the pounding music. Draco can be patient enough; he sits at a nearby empty table and waits for the group to thin. When it does, he's left with two girls, their eyes wide and bright with excitement, speaking low enough that he can't hear a word in the bass-heavy atmosphere. He stands up and slides into the seat next to them. He's good with girls, especially girls who like a little risk. They like the cold way he looks at them, they think they can warm his heart. They like that he's a little dangerous, a little too controlled. It takes a while for them to become afraid of the man behind the smooth exterior. This is lucky for him. He enjoys the company and the soft, warm touch of women but he has no taste for the love that they tearfully demand, eventually, before storming away. He enjoys challenge. Most women are easy and the ones who are not are the ones he remembers. These two girls will fold like petals in the wind.

"Ladies," he gives them a nod and they look at him in surprise. He's older, but not by much, and he doesn't look like a freak. He can see the wary interest growing in their faces, but they're cautious. You can't trust strangers in the Alleys. They've heard stories of what can happen to pretty girls like them when they get too friendly with someone a little too dangerous and with just enough power not to fear getting caught.

"What's your name?" one of them, the bolder one, asks him. Her friend is pretty in a bland, nondescript way, but this one's eyes are dark and narrow, with a hint of exoticism. She is more confident, more attracted by the idea of a dark, smoldering stranger.

"Ben," Draco replies, and within minutes they are laughing, amused by his smooth talk and cool manner. The nervous one is Yvonne, the other Nancy, and he takes advantage of their warmth.

"I'm looking for a girl. I'm told you might have been familiar," he says loudly over the music. "Rose Zeller?"

He doesn't bother with an elaborate pretense. These ones are working hard at playing dangerous games, but they're innocent, fresh and unsuspecting. They liked to toy with the idea of risk: darkness, strangers, a close and sweaty dance floor and the reputation of the Alleys. But they wouldn't go any farther. They looked at one another and exchanged rolled eyes when they heard the name.

"She doesn't come here anymore. She thinks she's too good," the bold one says, and the other gives an agreeing laugh.

"What do you mean?"

"She and her stupid boyfriend stopped coming. They were always saying they had 'important' things to do," the other, the nervous one, chimes in, eager to be a part of the conversation. "And then they stopped showing up. You know, it's a good thing we don't have prat boyfriends." Her friend gives her an embarrassed prod and they both giggle.

"Where did they take their business?" he asks, careful not to push too hard, to arouse their suspicions. But they only shrug.

"I saw them across the street, at Potions," the bold one says. "Kevin was talking to some guys, but Rose looked like she wasn't excited."

"Kevin the boyfriend?" Draco confirms, making a mental note of it.

"Kevin Whitby," they echo simultaneously, then turn to one another and giggle. Draco stands up.

"Where are you going?"

"Forgot to feed the cat," he shoots back over his shoulder.

He makes his way back to the entrance from which he came. On the way, he passes the barmaid, and she looks up as he walks by. She follows him with her eyes. He has time to spare and she's got plenty to offer in the way of entertainment. He could turn back to her, sit down at the bar, order a drink and give her what she wants- a few hours of pleasant, suggestive conversation. Some jokes to laugh at. An invitation and a cold, brisk tone in the morning so that she can leave and tell herself she was blameless, that he was an arse, and she guiltless for her indiscretion. But there's no telling what her agenda might be, especially not in the Alleys. Any other night he might be interested but tonight he's got another woman on his mind, and this one he's being well paid to track down.





He heads out and searches for the place the girl mentioned, 'Potions'. It isn't quite across the street, it is further down the alley, and Draco wonders if that is quite as ominous as it seems to him. The further down the alley, the closer to the other, unmentionable side of Alley Town: Knockturn Alley. It's not the kind of place a sweet, excited teenage girl would wander into accidentally. Knockturn Alley is the very heart of Dynasty territory, the center of the web from which their silken lines spin. It's the kind of place only players who know the game very well ever venture.

He passes groups of people, some standing in circles huddled beneath awnings against the downpour, others alone, lighting a lone cigarette and struggling to keep it burning. Ahead of him, Draco sees a solitary figure leaning against a wall. He doesn't appear to be doing much of anything; he simply stares out into the rain, his eyes wide and blank. Draco has heard rumors of some new craze sweeping through, some illicit substance that is gaining popularity with University students. The man certainly looks as though he's seeing something otherwordly. But Draco has no interest in the activities of drug-addled students, only in the activities of two, and that trail leads him to the doorstep of Potions, a busy-looking pub that seems to be designed around the familiar Potions classroom at Hogwarts.

It's clever designing, but Draco isn't swept up by an emotional barrage of schoolboy memories. It's only been five years, of course. Perhaps he's too young yet to know the pangs of nostalgia. He takes a seat at the bar and keeps his eyes open. What he learns after a few minutes of observation is interesting: most of the crowd is oblivious, telling loud filthy jokes and running from table to table in a dizzying rotation. A few are dancing on the platform representing the teacher's desk, their heads bobbing to repetitive music. But a few fairly quiet patrons occasionally slip up the stairs in the back corner, disappearing and not returning.

He turns to two young men sitting in stools adjacent to him, who are boasting loudly about the number of Firewhiskeys they've had and arguing one another's claims. Merlin, it's loud in here, and boiling. Everywhere he turns there's another group of men and women, smashed, falling out of their stools, the witches wearing robes that exposed more skin than they covered. These are not the people he knew in school, the arrogant and competitive young men drinking from forbidden flasks in the common room and plotting future careers, the haughty and clever socialites taking pleasure in their own superiority, both sides playing a graceful, well-scripted dance between rebellion and a proper public face. This is loud, dirty, shameless. He's used to upper crust, and he's sinking into the messy center of the Alleys' apple pie. He's not in his element here, but he's confident in his ability to playact. If he wasn't a good liar he'd be dead.

"What's upstairs?" he asks of the man next to him, skipping an introduction.

"Private party," the man replies, barely glancing over his shoulder.

He moves around a bit, discreetly dropping names, looking for anyone who might have had an ear to Kevin's business there. But it's a tough crowd tonight, no one talks, no one has a clue bigger than their own sense of self-preservation. These are the kinds of people who can go deaf faster than a curse can cross a room when it's convenient for them. There's nothing for it. He'll have to try a direct approach.

He heads for the stairs with supreme confidence. That and a hard attitude have gotten him into tight places before. But he's only halfway up the steps when a women in a cocktail apron descends, looking at him with a quick eye. Damn.

"I'm sorry sir, this party is private," she tells him, blocking his way.

"Who's birthday is it?" he asks her casually, leaning against the banister so she has nowhere to slip by.

"Somebody with a real nice family," she tells him, raising an eyebrow. He knows what that means- whatever game is going on upstairs has more players than are present tonight.

"Didn't I tell you? I'm the birthday boy's uncle," he says to her, and carefully steps around where she's standing still, looking at him warily. "Don't worry, I prefer to be anonymous," he assures her, and slips a galleon into her apron pocket as he ascends. He always tips his waitress.

She makes no move to stop him this time. Perhaps she's simply not used to such pushy customers. Most people make a real effort to stay out of the way of private business in the Alleys. Draco's finding himself down here more and more. The waitress needn't be concerned: it's in his best interest to keep his head down. Nobody really likes a snoop. When he reaches the top of the stairs and follows the sound of voices down a corridor to a room on the left, he stays quiet and he stays hidden, around the corner, listening to the raucous laughter within. They're playing cards; he can hear the slap of the stiff material on a table.

"I've got ashes," someone says, with a groan. His fellows rib him for a moment before a few more fold, and the game is over. Draco hears the clink of glasses.

"How much money do you think you've lost so far, Jimmy?" asks a gruff voice.

"It's the drink, fellas. I can't trust myself when I've knocked a few back," the other man replies, and his friends laugh at the joke.

"Well that's pathetic, seeing as we don't trust you when you're sober," someone shoots back, and the laughter resumes.

"How's business?" Jimmy asks, presumably to someone specific.

"Got blocks to push tomorrow," comes the answer. "Harlow's got me making house calls three times a week. But who's complaining? 'Low says push, I push."

"Unless you want to eat sparks," comments another, and a nervous chuckle ripples around the room. Draco doesn't follow half of what they're talking about but he knows the name; Leon Harlow, a big shot on the Knockturn side, also called Leon Low by those who know him. So Kevin Whitby was dipping his toes in the Dynasty water. There's no way these are major players, not if they're still here and not on the other side of the Alleys. They're feet, wand men, little fish compared to the bosses. And Kevin had been in with them. So how does Rose fit in?

He's heard enough to move forward and there's no way he'll get any of them to talk, these are close-mouthed men for the sake of their own skins. He backs down, descends the stairs into the crowded pub below, and goes in search of the chatty waitress. She leaning on the bar, making a meal out of writing out a ticket. He slips between a few other patrons to her side.

"Bored by the party?" she asks him, avoiding his eyes.

"I don't like cake," he replies. He takes the photo of Rose from his pocket, slides it across the bar to her side. She doesn't pick it up but he knows she's looking. "This girl ever visit the scene upstairs?"

"Maybe I've never seen her," the waitress dodges shrewdly, turning to him and abandoning her half-written ticket.

"Maybe you haven't," he shrugs. "Her brother will be sorry she missed his birthday party. He might be upset. I'd send her an owl if I knew where to find her."

She bites her lip and looks down at the photo again. She wants to help, he knows, and so he waits in silence. Good people always talk in the end, when their consciences work them over. This girl is good. She's in the wrong place with the wrong crowd. She's tipping like a teapot in the hand of god and he waits nearby, ready to pour himself a cup.

"She came in with a touchy kind of guy. But she works the crowd downstairs, never up. She made a lot of friends. Someone said she was looking for a leg up."

"On what ladder?"

"She liked to play girlfriend," the waitress shrugs neatly. "That's all I know."

It's been a productive night and he's picked up the scent. He leaves her by the bar and heads out, back into the night where the rain has slowed and drips from roofs and gutters in a drumming rhythm that keeps time with his footsteps and the flow of his mind working the puzzle. So Rose had followed her boyfriend when he wanted to get a piece of the action, but she was headed in a different direction, trying to make connections, feeling her way up. And she found out she couldn't get what she wanted with the Potions crowd. So what was she looking for? 'She liked to play girlfriend', the waitress said. What did that mean?

He's nearly out of the Diagon Alley when it clicks into place. Of course. A girl looking to make a name for herself without getting into the boy's club, she had only one way to go, and this side of the Alleys never would have gotten her there. She must have realized it, gotten hungry. Or maybe Kevin wanted a bigger piece of the pie than the scraps he was sharing with the boys upstairs. They got greedy and they got in deeper.

So he has a destination. It's been a while since he's been on that side of town, and the last time ended on shaky terms with a few of the inhabitants. They know him there and not everyone likes him. Perhaps he ought to start keeping better company, or at least avoiding jobs for the people who'd just as soon kill him if he ever lost his uses. He's not a saint; he'll take any job for anyone who has the gold and wants to part with it in exchange for his unique skills. Sometimes that's put him on the wrong side of the law, sometimes on the wrong end of the moral spectrum. But he doesn't discriminate and he sleeps just fine at night, probably due to the fine sheets he's paid for with somebody's blood money. A clean conscience isn't worth its weight in this town. What's valuable is information, and that's what he offers. For a fee.


Chapter 2: SCENE TWO
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EXCEPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, DECEMBER 18th, 2002

C.P.T. has someone up for election now. New Reigners are furious. No one seems to know where they're getting the gold from. They've bought out half the Daily Prophet for ad space and the Reigners hands are tied. With economy going the way it is seems like no one asks questions anymore as long as someone hands them a voucher stamped for the month and doesn't murder anyone in public. They might actually gain votes if the victim was a tax man. No one in the Prophet will publish any connection between the C.P.T. and the Dynasty if they like their necks the way they are. The Ministry is still fumbling around, trying to figure out who on their payroll is actually working for them and who's feeding the Dynasty their information.

Since the Connell case wrapped it's been quiet. May be safe to start picking up some new clientele. No one in the Dynasty is going to make trouble as long as I keep finding their witnesses for them. There are enough old friends lying around in the ranks to warn me if I need to keep a low profile. Looks like they stopped trying to bring me in once they realized I was the one who fed the Ministry Connell. I didn't bother to mention his friends in the Alleys.

Pansy says she knows who the new faces are for the C.P.T. but she didn't share. Probably the same slick bastards hanging around the Club on Friday nights. I told her maybe she'll be the future Prime Minister's girl and she said she hates business suits and cheap brandy. She put a goddamn Christmas tree in the living room last night. It takes up all the space but I can't be bothered to take it out. The extra light is useful. I'd have made her take it with her but she was already gone by the time I woke up. Predictable Pansy.




It's the heart of Knockturn alley, set in the darker, quieter street behind Diagon Alley, where the late-night revelers rarely venture. The businesses here cater to a different social group: the powerful few and the many that surround them, some looking for a little shared glory or gold, others with their own agendas, none of them without an ulterior motive or two. It's the center of the Alleys, the heart of the London district where the Dynasty is law and the Ministry has no authority. It's a dangerous place to be, the very valley of death, but for those who know how to play the game, it can be the land of milk and honey. And Draco knows how to play, he's a natural, raised in the cradle of power and discretion even before the Splintering spread the seeds for the lush jungle here.


He's familiar with the place, though he can't be called a regular. And the place is familiar with him. He doesn't bother with the approach he took in Diagon Alley; nothing that simple will work here. He's not an insider, but he knows a few and he can fake it enough to make his way around. He heads directly for the largest building, a grand looking place with light glowing from the beveled glass at the top of the double doors. As he steps under the awning, the muscle in front looks up, a glowing cigarette in his hand.

"You like to play some risky tricks, friend," says Joel Davis, shaking the ash off the end of his smoke.

"Old habits," Draco acknowledges. Joel witnessed the last time Draco came around, as well as his somewhat hasty departure. Draco remembers him from school, he was a few years below his year. "How's your sister?"

"Ask her yourself," Joel suggests, nodding to the door. "She's inside."

Draco nods and opens the door. He's immediately greeted by warm air and a soft babble coming from the room at the bottom of the sweeping staircase before him. Sultry jazz drifts up from a piano which plays itself in the corner. This is not the same wild night out occurring just a few streets away. This is something much more sinister. The girl at the top of the stairs takes his coat, but he slips his wand out of it and into his pocket first. He descends the stairs without drawing attention to himself; the room is large and crowded, smoke drifting over the heads of the occupants who stand around in small groups or sit at tables or bars, drinks in hand. A few couples drift smoothly across the dance floor at the other end of the room. Everyone wears fine suits and satin dresses, accessorized with fur stoles and diamonds and silk pocket squares. It's a wealthy, sophisticated crowd of criminals and Draco fits right in. He crosses the room to the bar and orders a whiskey from the bartender who pours with a style no one working on Diagon Alley could hope to master, all the while exchanging smooth patter with two women sitting at the end.

Draco spots a few familiar faces. Some from school, others who used to drift in and out of the Manor during the War, almost unrecognizable dressed up, without the black robes of Death Eaters. Some he's seen in the papers: here the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, there the owner of a winning Quidditch team. Standing in a corner smoking a cigar with a small knot of men, a petite blond on his arm, is a celebrated member of the Wizengamot. Reporters and politicians, Aurors and businessmen, they all mingle here with confidence, protected by the elite society they serve.

But they're not who Draco came to speak to. In fact, the famous and wealthy men are not the stars of the room, not the centers of attention. That honor is reserved for the women. They're the beautiful and dangerous mistresses of Knockturn Alley, the elite group known affectionately as the Alley Cats, though one would do well not to call them that to their faces. Their job is almost entirely to entertain the clients and friends of the Dynasty bosses, but this is not a collection of pretty faces and they serve their masters well. They know more than they'll ever reveal and they're queens of manipulation, witches with a hundred secret motives and faces that would melt the devil's sulfurous heart with an innocent pout.

It's an exclusive group and there's no easy way in. But if Rose had high ambitions and a connection in the Dynasty, this might be where she envisioned herself. The Dynasty is almost entirely a gentleman's club, with a few exceptions.

But he doesn't have to fight his way into their circles, as Rose would have. He already has an in. He stops a cocktail waitress on her way past, her tray empty. She turns a smile on him and when she speaks her voice is gentle and appealing.

"What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for someone," he says, scanning the room with his eyes over her shoulder.

"We're all looking for someone," she replies with a soft laugh.

"Is Pansy here tonight?"

Her eyes widen and her laughter grows for a second. Then she shakes her head. "So you're one of those," she observes. "I wouldn't have pegged you. Turn around, Cassanova, and good luck to you."

His eyes have already left her when she walks away and she's not surprised. He turns to the other side of the room, over his left shoulder, and he wonders how he missed her before. She's facing him but her head is tilted away; she's speaking to someone beside her and the one listening watches her like a dying man receiving his last rites and an exclusive invite to absolution. She's dressed in something elegant and black and the smooth curve of the fabric over her skin hides a tongue sharper than Salazar's sword.

He waits for her to see him and after a minute or so she does, and with a wordless glance of dark eyes she let's him know he's been acknowledged. But it's a few minutes before she excuses herself from her company and she crosses the room slowly, stopped every now and then by another patron. She knows he's watching and she likes to keep him waiting. He stands up and stakes a claim in a quiet spot near a fireplace, away from most of the crowd, and watches her approach, amusement shading his face.

The smile she gives him when she reaches his side is both alluring and impenetrable. She's not the most beautiful woman in the room, not quite: her forehead is a little large and her eyes a little small, her nose a little snubbed, her top lip overshadowed by her lower. But somehow she wears her imperfections like a silk gown and the dangerous wit and smooth melody of her words are what draws a man in like a moth to a candle. He thinks it must be similar to the appeal of extreme sports but he wouldn't know, he's never been a giant chaser.

"I didn't think you played with these toys anymore," she says softly, glancing around at the nearby company.

"I guess I'm still a child at heart," he shrugs. It's been months since he last saw her but the gap is typical and will go unacknowledged. She doesn't accept sentimentality and he doesn't offer it. "How's the crowd?"

"It never changes. Would you like me to introduce you?" Her voice drops slightly and the bright glimmer in her eye turns wicked. "I've got a friend in the league who could get you free Quidditch tickets."

He laughs at that, because she knows she can't play him and she never stops trying. "Darling, someday you're going to wake up with somebody's hands around that pretty neck," he warns her. She only smiles.

"Will you miss me?"

"Like smoke misses fire," he assures her flatly, raising his glass slightly to her. "But that will pass."

"What brings you down to the Club, looking like a tortured soul in good robes? I'm afraid the only salvation we offer here is in liquid form."

"I don't think it's the drinks that bring the suits, with respect to the fine work of the barman," he suggests. She tilts her head a little to the side in shy, sweet agreement and the innocent glance is almost believable. "But I have business here. I'm looking for my lost kitten, have you seen her?" He passes the photo of Rose Zeller to her and she glances down at it for half a second.

"And here I was thinking you just came to see me," she says with a little sigh. She gives him a glance through long, black eyelashes and her fingertips softly touch the skin of his forearm. Her smile is devious. She's putting on a show for him for her own amusement and she doesn't care that he isn't fooled. He waits for her. There's no forcing Pansy into a conversation she doesn't want to have. After he's remained still and silent for a full minute she loses interest and looks down at the photo with cool indifference.

"She's a sweet little kitty. I only play with big cats," she dismisses, handing him back the photo.

"Who do you know who might have taken an interest?" he asks, stowing the picture back in his pocket and eyeing her closely.

"We don't do a lot of charity work around here," she points out, her tiny sneer regally disdainful. "But once in a while we get benefactors who like their company a little more innocent. Lana Diver handles that sort of thing, it's not my area of expertise," she admits, and at this he laughs again, and she raises an eyebrow at him.

"If there's ever been an innocent freckle on you, Pansy, it was gone by the time you learned to speak."

"You should know, you've seen them all," she shoots back, and just like that the amusement is back on her face. Conversation with Pansy is less of a foxtrot and more of a quickstep performed on a knife's edge, and she'd have a man's heart breaking for her even as she pushed him down on the blade. It would be a waste of time for the poor soul, of course. Pansy doesn't love men with hearts to break.

"I suppose you're not as memorable as you think," he lies and is rewarded with a cold answering look.

"I'd slap you if I didn't think you'd enjoy it."

"A man's got to get his kicks somehow." He drains his glass and sets it down on the tray of a passing cocktail waitress before he turns back to her. "Keep an ear out, would you? I'm going to go see if I can swim with the big fishes."

"Watch out for bait," she responds with a parting glance, and heads back the way she came, her long hair swaying gently across her back. He watches her go before he grabs another drink from the bar and begins moving through the room, picking up snatches of conversation, making a point of not lingering anywhere too long. He's looking out for the one Pansy mentioned, Lana, and keeping a low profile. But he learns nothing of immediate interest and so he changes tactics, sitting down at a table and waiting to see who emerges from the woods.

"So, have you finally decided to claim your place in the land of plenty?" asks a familiar voice, and Draco turns to see Adrian Pucey sliding into the chair beside him. He's an old schoolmate and a past client who owes Draco a favor for helping him out of a tight spot involving gold he owed to someone more important than he, and he's been pushing Draco to use his connections to get in on the action ever since. His words are slightly slurred and he lounges in his chair with the air of a self-absorbed, bored teenager looking around for someone to entertain him.

"I'm open to the possibility," Draco hedges, and he's thinking quickly, calculating the best direction to take and how much he might be able to learn.

"I't's an golden opportunity," Pucey states, nodding his head decisively. "I'm telling you, Malfoy, there's no better place to be with the state the country's in. Look around you. Look at these people. The politics, the business, man. It's all happening in this room."

"I've heard business is doing well," Draco says cautiously, watching the other man out of the corner of his eye. He decides to take the jump and drops his voice lower. "Someone said there's a new angle on Harlow's end," he reveals conspiratorially. It's a risk but he doesn't think Pucey is in a state to be suspicious and he keeps his tone confident, as though he knows exactly what he's talking about.

"Who told you that?" Pucey asks urgently, and Draco wonders if he's gone too far, but it's too late to back out now.

"Kevin Whitby," he informs Pucey, watching him for signs of recognition. The other man gives a low whistle.

"Whitby? He's dirt, man. Worms. I can have you sleeping in the clouds. Besides, word is he's on the out with the management."

"What did he do, waltz with the wrong broad?"

"No, he tried to tango with Teddy, is my guess. As far as I know he's flown the coop."

Draco is about to ask him to elaborate but the man stands up and smooths his slicked hair back. "Excuse me," he says, and nods toward a woman who's beckoning him toward her with a smile. He's out of his seat faster than Draco can say a word and already crossing the room.

He should have known it wouldn't be easy. He's forgotten how many different pieces of the puzzle it takes to start to make a picture around here. All he's learned so far is that is Rose got in, she didn't get far. So he decides to try one more hand of cards and he has the barman point him in the direction of the mysterious Lana. She's a petite blonde, green-eyed, with a face like a china doll and a voice sweeter than Fizzing Whizbees. But she loves to play the silent game and Draco's got no read on her.

"What's your story, slick?" she asks him.

"I've got a girlfriend likes to make friends," he says to her. "She's cute like you. What do you do with the new girls?"

"Is your girlfriend here?" she asks him and steps a little closer, and her vanilla perfume is warm and inviting. For the love of Salazar, these women are going to drive him absolutely mad. It's like talking to a Sphinx who speaks sign language backwards.

"Sorry love, I'm a loyal kind of guy," he says, stepping back.

"That's sweet," she observes. "What's your girlfriend's name?"

"Daisy," the lie slips out easily.

"You know, I have Seer blood," she says, and he thinks he may have mental whiplash.

"Do you?" he asks exasperatedly.

"Yes. Do you want me to read your palm?" She picks up his hand without waiting for a reply and turns it over. Her hands are warm and soft and she traces the lines on his palm with a feather-light touch. "You're a dangerous man, Draco Malfoy," she says without looking up, and he stiffens slightly, but he supposes he's known enough here that she could have learned his name. "You have more than a few enemies. But a few friends, as well. And that girlfriend of yours- what was her name? Rose?"

He pulls his hand away sharply and she's looking at him with a delighted expression.

"How do you know that?"

She laughs, a tinkling bell. "You need to relax, slick. Pansy told me."

Pansy. Of course. This would be her idea of a twisted joke. Lana's stopped laughing and now she eyes him haughtily, sizing him up.

"Alright, let's say I knew her. What's it to you?"

"I'm a friend of her parents," Draco says, deciding on giving her most of the truth. He won't take a chance on trying to pull one over on her- if she's anything like Pansy she'll decide whether to help him or not purely on a whim and the truth might earn him favors. She pauses.

"Rosie was just playing dress up. The lifestyle wasn't good for her," the woman says to him flatly. She leans against the wall behind her like a thoughtful schoolgirl, looking up at him to watch for his reaction.

"When did you send her off?"

"I didn't," the woman says, shrugging. "She quit the scene on her own, as far as I know. One night she just up and disappears. Guess she didn't go home to mummy and daddy."

"What about the boyfriend?"

"Don't know him," she says sweetly. Draco is unsatisfied and she can read it in his face. "Hey, cowboy, I helped you out because you're a friend of a friend. Don't huff and puff at me. This little piggie has business to take care of."

She gives him a tiny waggle of her fingers and sashays away. Draco surveys the room for a moment and then heads across it to the stairs to get his coat. He's done all he can for one night. At the top of the stairs he looks down and sees Pansy, leaning against a doorway behind the bar. She's looking up at him, her eyes partially in shadow beneath a wisp of dark brown hair. She gives him a glimmer of a smile, looking mischievously entertained. She's dangerously alluring and well aware of it. She'll turn on him in a second if the idea amuses her. He's known her since he was a kid and he doesn't trust her for a moment. He considers the possibility that he might be wildly in love with her. It seems likely. But he prefers to remain optimistic and think that perhaps he simply hates her so much he can't get it out of his mind. He wouldn't be surprised if he can't tell the difference.






A/N:
Just to clarify, yes, the entries above from Mr. Malfoy are traveling backward. The story below moves forward.


Chapter 3: SCENE THREE
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, August 13, 2002

Connell case wrapped last night. I found him holed up in a hotel in the South, still stuffing gold in his pockets when I came through the door. You'd think, with the might of the Dynasty after him, that a man might rethink his priorities, and save his own skin rather than the money, but I suppose if he's stupid enough to go running off with Dynasty gold you can't expect much. His friends at the Club aren't happy with me, they know I dropped names to the bosses. It may be time to keep away from Knockturn Alley for a while.

The rest of the world is going to hell, as usual. After the fiasco of the last election there's a lot of talk about the new party. They call themselves the Campaign for Preservation of Tradition, which would be amusing if they weren't entirely serious. Some people suspect Dynasty backers. I don't suspect, I think it's pretty damned obvious, really. But they're not afraid to show their pretty faces in public anymore, not with the Ministry in the shambles it is. Whoever's leading the charge on the Ministry is playing it smart this time. I guess the boys have grown up from the days of public assassination and thievery.





Rose's trail is cold. She wasn't in deep enough or long enough to make much of an impression. But Kevin clashed swords with somebody and there's a good chance someone knows where he is and how he got there. And Draco has a feeling that Rose would have followed him. She seems like the loyal type. Something about her photograph makes him think of Pansy. It's a stupid thought: Pansy was never that naive and never that innocent. But she had the same vibrant energy, the same ambition. But Rose attached herself to the wrong man and now she has someone like Draco looking for her, which is never a sign that your life is on the right track.

He knows if he finds Kevin it will lead him to Rose. But finding Kevin is proving tricky enough. Someone knows where he is but that someone doesn't feel like sharing. Draco needs a loose thread to pull before he can unravel the whole thing. So he goes hunting. Kevin lives in a dodgy neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood where your neighbor would just as soon curse you as lend you a cup of sugar. The kind of neighborhood where despair lay as thick on the ground as midwinter snow blackened by villainous boots. The kind of neighborhood where a landlord will look the other way while you magic open a door, if your bribe is generous.

Kevin Whitby's flat is dirty and cluttered. Every surface is occupied by discarded papers, dirty dishes, or junk. Draco steps inside gingerly and closes the door behind him, leaving him to navigate the room by the light from the streetlamps outside. He won't risk lighting a lamp and alerting anyone who might be watching. But he has to move slowly, stepping around the crowded floor space, keeping his eyes open for anything relevant. He checks the desk first. Not much here; a few old scraps of parchment, an empty ink bottle, and some letters with an official looking heading. He picks them up and reads them in the dim light. They're from the London University of Magical Occupational Studies. Kevin Whitby as a schoolboy doesn't fit the bill Draco's been writing for him in his head, but the letter clears things up. He's on academic probation for abysmal attendance. So why pay the hefty bills for a LUMOS education if you don't go to class?

IIt's just one more thing in a long list of numbers that don't add up to much at the moment. He'll see what he can make of it later. In the meantime, he tries the kitchen, but is driven back by the smell almost immediately and heads instead to the bedroom.

It isn't any neater here than the rest of the place but it is much colder. The window is open and there's a pile of post on the sill that flutters dangerously in the wind. Draco darts across the room and picks it up before it can blow away. It's damp on one side, the parchment stiff and cold. This post hasn't been touched since it was delivered, sometime during the rain. And the kitchen smells like rotting food. Kevin hasn't been home for days at least.

It's not the worst crime he's ever committed in the course of business and so he doesn't feel any twinge of discomfort as his tears the first envelope on the bottom of the stack open and pulls out the parchment inside. The letter is really little more than a note, written in untidy, blotched handwriting:

Wit,
Where are you? The boys won't wait much longer. Three days, man.


It was unsigned. He turned to the next. On the page were written a strange series of numbers and symbols:

18.5.267-04/30

He had no idea what to make of it but he slipped it into his pocket for future reference. The last letter was not much longer than the first.

Whit,
You're late. I couldn't keep them off any longer. Low's out for blood. Keep your neck clean.


It isn't threatening. It's short but not sweet. And it's in the same handwriting as the first. Someone was looking out for Whitby, or trying to, but perhaps as much for their own skin as his. Other than that, the flat looks clean. There's a picture of Rose and Kevin together sitting on the coffee table. It's one of the few things in the apartment that isn't dusty or stained but that means very little; maybe it was moved recently. They look happy, young, and he's struck once again by how very out of place they are mixed up in this business. How did they get in so deep? Kevin is a dimwit and Rose an innocent and whoever was pretending otherwise had something to gain for it.

So Whitby had a real friend, somewhere. But where? If he really was enrolled at LUMOS, it's a good place to start. He may not go to class anymore but maybe someone remembers him from before he disappeared and knows why. Draco has had about enough of this place anyway. He has a feeling things will get messy enough soon without lingering here any longer.




The building isn't impressive from the outside; it's disguised as an empty warehouse on a clean but quiet street. But the inside of the University is grand and impressive, with all of the elegance that marks it as a building with ancient magical legacy. The hall is high ceilinged and wide, and his footsteps echo as he crosses it. It's quiet. He's young enough to look like he could be a student but he can't quite erase the sharpness in his gaze, nor the direct and dark confidence that marks him as something else. He never actually attended the school, though for much of his life it had been part of his intended future. Things didn't go exactly as planned. He knows Pansy went for a year or so, until she dropped out to pursue her fortune elsewhere.

He gets past the woman sitting at the reception desk without so much as a second glance. Her nametag reads Wendy, and he makes a note of it. He's looking for some kind of Admissions office, or a room of records, anything that might tell him what kinds of groups Whitby was involved in or who he knew. He has to go down a few halls to find it but eventually he does, a fair sized room with a large plaque reading "Admissions Records".

It's the kind of place where they're likely to have security of some kind but he doesn't hesitate when he opens the door. He learned a long time ago that there's very little a good bluff can't get through, especially with some luck, charm, and gold. Luck is finicky, charm he can fake, and gold he can get when he needs to. And he's always had an eye for people, for what makes their blood boil and what makes them fold like pages of a book in a stiff wind. It's what kept him alive when he had little else of value to offer in the Dark Lord's army and it serves his purposes now.

He steps into the room with confidence. The space is cut in half by a long countertop, behind which a witch sits flicking her wand lazily at a pile of papers which obediently shuffle themselves, and a wizard sits with his quill moving over a very long piece of parchment, looking weary. Behind them are several identical doors leading to what Draco presumes are file rooms, and a short corridor that disappears around the corner. He makes his way past the two behind the desk without looking at them, striding forward purposefully, and he dares to think it might actually be that easy when the woman looks up.

"Excuse me? Sir?" she halts him, and he turns around, fixing a pleasant look on his face.

"Oh, sorry, ma'am. I'm the new file clerk, Wendy just sent me up for training in the back."

She looks confused but not suspicious and sits down without another word. It's strange to him how easily people trust, how quickly they can be convinced of one's honesty with a few words or a meaningless show of emotion. There are too many people who would have plenty to gain by his destruction for him to be so cavalier about his confidences. But the woman at the desk has nothing to fear from him, after all. He's only after one thing, and as soon as her back is turned, he slips into the filing room to look for it.

The drawers are labeled alphabetically. He finds one marked with a 'W' and slides it open quietly. It's almost comical how helpful the labeling is, and he finds Whitby's papers within a minute. He studies the information. Whitby began as a mediocre student and only got worse as time went on. His grades slipped dramatically at a turning point around two months ago. Something happened that distracted him from his studies. There's no mention of any clubs or teams he's joined, nothing that indicates he was particularly close to anyone. Useless. But there, at the bottom of the page, something curious. It doesn't make sense, but the information is clear. Strange.

With a decisive movement, Draco shoves the papers back into the drawer and shuts it again. He retraces his steps, back out past the two behind the desk, back into the hallway and back a few turns, to the signpost that points him in the right direction. Another few turns, up a flight of stairs, and across to a hallway that is divided in two. He's looking for 301. He turns right accordingly and passes rows of identical doors, each neatly numbered. Student dormitories. Some are decorated with posters or messages pinned there by friendly visitors. He walks past a group of students who don't look at him, distracted by the young man in the center showing off something in his notebook. A little further on, a young woman sits in front of her doorway silently, her eyes wide and staring at nothing, but no one pays any attention to her and Draco walks past her without pausing.

Room 301. The dormitory registered to Kevin Whitby, who rents a flat in the slums and doesn't attend classes. Clearly he doesn't need it for living in, so what does he do with it? From what Draco saw of his apartment he's far from wealthy. Chances are he has a roommate. Draco knocks.

The door opens a crack after a long pause and a young man with a blank expression puts his face in the gap.

"Kevin Whitby?" Draco asks, though he doesn't think so.

"Wit isn't here," the young man replies slowly, as though he barely understood the question. He looks Draco over. "You should have a Visitor's pass."

"Forgot to bring it," Draco says. "Have you seen Whitby around?"

"Are you... a client, or something?"

He has no idea what it means but he'll take his chances. It might get him somewhere in this dimwit's mind. "Yes. Where is he?"

Instantly the other man's demeanor changes: he's suddenly wide eyed, respectful, though still slow. "Oh, er, Kevin isn't available. All of his business is being handled by... er, hang on, I have a card."

He pats his pockets and comes up with a grimy business card, the edges dulled. Draco slips it in his pocket. "What happened to Kevin?" he asks again.

This time, the man's eyes shift. He looks nervous, edgy, as though he's trying to think fast through his own thickness. "Don't know," he says unhelpfully. "He just disappeared. Look, I have to go, alright? Check the card." He's already closing the door, backing away out of sight, into the gloomy room. Draco's standing in front of a closed door.

He was lying, and he wasn't very good at it. Draco's seen a lot of liars in his business, and he is one himself, a good one, when he needs to be. But it's harder to tell what exactly he was lying about. He knows something about where Whitby is, but whether or not he himself was involved in Whitby's disappearance is questionable. He doesn't seem to have the grey matter required for an operation like that. But he used the nickname 'Wit', the same as on the notes in Whitby's apartment. He might have sent them. But if he did, his supply of loyalty had run short as soon as a meaner face had showed up wanting to take over Whitby's corner.

A sneer of digust crosses his face. He has no sympathy for this snivelling excuse for a youth. He hasn't got much moral ground to stand on, as far as judgement goes. He operates according to what serves him best and he doesn't risk his own neck or his money bag for any ethical dilemna. But there are a few wands he just doesn't wave and betrayal is one of them. The man who signs his checks is the man he works for and there's nothing else to it. It doesn't matter what he thinks of the man, whether he's a saint or Lucifer himself (and that's a private joke, clever if not particularly amusing). It sounds like Whitby's friends felt otherwise and it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. And they're probably guilty of another thing he can't stand: carelessness. He's lived his whole life walking on thin ice and he's seen plenty of men fall in. You learn to be careful when you rub shoulders with the kind of people who wouldn't shed a tear at your funeral unless they were well paid for it.

And of course, he doesn't tolerate disrespectful conduct in front of witches. That one his mother taught him. She's a fine woman.




The address on the business card is a puzzle. It appears to lead to a blank wall. But Draco's nothing if not persistent and so he takes out his wand and begins to surreptitiously tap the wall, feeling it with his fingers, as the first drops of rain begin to fall from the darkening sky onto the back of his neck. It takes a minute or so, but there- a think line of light appears where his wand touches the stone. He touches it again and traces the line this time, drawing the outline of a door which glows for a second before appearing in the wall.

There's light behind the door but no noise. No telling what might be inside. It's risky, but he's used to it. He turns the knob.

Inside it what appears to be a kind of workshop. He's standing at the end of a short corridor which leads to the larger room. It's clean and warm inside and as soon as he steps into the room he can tell he's alone. There's no sign of the man who supposedly operates here, whose card reads Thomas Coal and gives no indication of his occupation. On one side of the room sits a large pile of crates, on the other, a solid wooden table bearing a wireless and some tools, and a few rolls of parchment. Draco looks around for a moment, double checking that no one waits in hiding. The lamps are lit, but no sixth sense tells him that he's being watched.

He crosses the room to the crates first. They're neatly stacked, and one is left helpfully open. He peers inside. It's filled with unmarked, small boxes. He picks one up and tugs the top open. Inside rests a small quantity of iridescent powder, shimmering in the light of the lamps. It looks like some kind of potion ingredient, maybe. Whatever it is he's not tasting it.

He puts the box back and crosses to the other side of the room, where he picks up one of the rolls of parchment. It's filled with names, as well as several columns with a series of numbers and symbols similar to the one he found in the note in Whitby's flat. He jots down a few of the names on a scrap of parchment and shoves it in his pocket for later reference. It seems like every time he follows a lead, he comes up with ten new questions. It's not a good sign. He's beginning to feel like he should hurry.

He's just considering waiting there to see whether Coal shows his face when he spots something under the table. It's some kind of string, leading behind. He kneels down and picks it up. It's something familiar but he can't place it. He follows it around the table to it's source and then he stands, his hands in his pockets, his eyes cast down onto where the string attaches to the trainers on the feet of the dead man on the floor.

Chapter 4: SCENE FOUR
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, April 21st, 2002

Big news from the Prophet today, for once. Local elections were disrupted by a handful of riots in the evening. Started out as a few protests, some arguments back and forth, general disruption, but spread pretty quickly. From the pictures in the papers it looks bad. All of London was in Diagon Alley, it seems, screaming at one another, breaking windows, and then some rumor spread that there were men in masks coming down the street and of course people panicked, trampled all over one another trying to get out.

The strange thing is that no one can figure out what started it, or where the rumor came from. Some people are starting to say it was orchestrated. It makes sense, the Dynasty would love to disrupt elections, but that's a bold move. If it was them, they're celebrating in Knockturn Alley now: the Ministry is in a complete shambles trying to clean up, arrest anyone they can, and everyone in the city is screaming about compensation and a stronger Auror force. Waste of time, if you ask me. If they knew how many Aurors spend their time in the Club drinking brandy with the Alley girls or playing cards, they might say something different. I may drop by to have a look around myself tomorrow night, for curiousity's sake. I have a few things to look into for a new client anyway. And I told Pansy a month ago I owed her a drink, if she doesn't get to collect soon she might get bored and send some other poor schmuck to drag it out of me.




The man lying on the ground is young, four or five years younger than Draco himself. In death, he carries no burdens, but something about his face suggests that even in life he was little more than a kid, doing his very best to act hard in a hard world. Draco can't be sure, but he'd bet a handsome amount that he's found Kevin Whitby.

Another man might be moved by the sight, might be angered at the loss of young and promising life. Draco stands with his hands in his pockets and a blank expression. He's no stranger to death, death and he have been respectful aquaintances since one night when Draco was sixteen and somebody burned a mark into his arm. And he has no illusions of grand tragedy. A young man is dead here and hardly anyone will notice. Maybe his parents, his close friends, but the world will not miss the man Kevin Whitby will never grow up to be. It's the anonymity of it, the sheer pointlessness of it that bothers Draco, bothers the hell out of him. But he's got a job to do and no room now for sentimental mistakes.

He crouches beside the body. It's cold and stiff. Whitby didn't die in the past few hours, he's been gone for a day at least, if not two. No sign that he died of anything messy, but Draco didn't think there would be. The Dynasty likes to keep their hands clean. But he's laying at an awkward angle, one arm half bent under his torso, his feet tucked beneath the table. It's a strange way for someone to fall. And the thin layer of dust on the floor around him looks smudged, disturbed. Whitby didn't die here. He was placed here by someone, levitated, probably, on purpose.

So what does that mean? Who dumps a body in their own workshop and then leaves, without turning out the lights? It doesn't make sense, unless someone else put the body here and left it for Coal to find. It would explain the lights, the positioning of the body behind the table. Someone wanted to scare the daylights out of Coal, but why? And who was it?

It's distasteful but it has to be done. He gingerly searches the dead man's pockets, trying to touch him as little as possible. He tugs on a sleeve and the body moves slightly. It reminds Draco of the way they used to twitch on the ground when he stood over them with his wand outstretched, pushing the curse out, trying not to vomit. But he doesn't have time to think of that now. Most of the time, he's able to push thoughts of the war away, but sometimes they intrude, slithering back in like a snake around locked doors. Now he concentrates, staring at a patch of dusty concrete until his mind is clear, as his Aunt Bellatrix taught him a long time ago.

There's a dead man on this floor and somebody knows why. He won't be alone for long, not if they wanted Coal to find the body. Whitby's pockets are full of junk: a few coins, a spare quill. There's a small fold of parchment in his pocket. Draco unfolds it. It looks like a stack of scraps, things he jotted down, a few names and numbers in that same familiar but still meaningless arrangement. Draco slips the stack into his pocket and stands up. Coal hasn't found the body yet, of that he's sure. A man doesn't find a body in his workshop and leave it sitting there. No, this little surprise is still waiting. But once he sees the dead man Coal's sure to clam. Nothing more efficient at sealing a man's mouth than a corpse on the ground.

No, Draco has his own ideas. As long as Coal doesn't know Whitby is dead Draco has one up on him and he intends to keep it that way. He waves his wand over the body, and it begins to rise, floating into the air like a sick marionette puppet. Draco lowers Whitby into a crate and with another flick of his wand he seals it. There's nothing else to be learned here. He turns and walks back to the door, his macabre luggage floating along behind him. He waves his wand and the crate vanishes. He'll keep it in his office until he finds something else to do with it. In the meantime, he'll follow it there. He has thinking to do on this one and he's seen quite enough for the day.




He apparates to the outside of the building and ducks inside quickly to avoid the rain that's pouring down in fat, heavy drops like righteous tears from the sky. He stops on the ground floor to check the mail. Nothing, nothing, and a card from his mother. The world could be splitting beneath her feet and she'd still be sending thank you notes and planning dinner parties. She still behaves with all of the regal dignity and discipline that she did when she ruled over Malfoy Manor.

He takes the stairs up the the fifth floor where his flat and office await, accessed through the same tiny hall. When he steps out of the stairs, coat already half off, he finds another surprise waiting and can't decide if it's good news or not.

"Hello, angel," he says to her, as she stands up from the bench where she sat waiting. She smiles: he's pleased her with the sarcastic nickname that he gave her years ago. Her coat is still rain-speckled so she hasn't been waiting long. He steps forward to the door and unlocks it. Once in a while, when he's annoyed with her, he'll bring her into his office and make her sit with a desk between the two of them until she learns to play nicely. Now though he lets her into the flat, locking the door behind him. She hasn't raised his temper yet and besides, it's a bad idea to let Pansy catch you with a corpse in your office.

She follows behind him and when he pauses to take off his coat properly she slides it from his shoulders for him and hangs it up on the coatrack behind her as though she's welcoming him into her own home.

"I'll light a fire," he offers when she takes off her own coat and reveals the thin red fabric she's wearing beneath. She's shivering already; his walls are thin and the cold outside creeps in like they weren't there.

"I guess I didn't dress for the weather," she admits, tilting her head and looking down modestly.

He laughs. "Yes, you're delicate," he says dryly. "If that storm were colder than you we'd all have frozen in our beds."

She smiles again, with a little twist of her head as though agreeing with him, and sits down on the sofa. It's one of the few pieces of furniture in the sparse room. He doesn't have much interest in interior decorating and the flat is small enough without elaborate furniture. There are few personal effects, just a picture on the table in a plain frame of his mother and father on their wedding day. He doesn't keep very many mementos and leaving them scattered about the place makes him feel cluttered.

He lights the fire and fixes them both a drink. He knows what she likes. She hates the taste of alcohol but she drinks it because, as she once said, "a little burn feels good, every once in a while."

"Did you find your lost pet?" she asks when he's sat down. She has her legs curled beneath her and her shoes sitting carelessly on the floor. He's forgotten how different it is to have her here, rather than seeing her in full costume at the Club. She's still full of more twists than a Gringott's cart but she's comfortable here, not quite so sharp. It's this Pansy that he sees a little in Rose's picture, the Pansy that might have turned out a little more innocent if things had gone a little differently. On the three occasions where she's told him, once casually, once resentfully and once playfully, that she loves him, it's always been this Pansy who said the words.

"Not yet," he replies, shrugging. "It's starting to seem like I ought to be looking fast, though."

"Poor girl," she says, and it sounds as though she might be sincere. He supposes she can afford to be generous.

"I don't suppose you've come with any useful information," he points out, raising an eyebrow at her. Any time he looks at her his gaze falls somewhere else, not because he's avoiding her eyes but because he tries to read her like a map: here a slender wrist holds onto the too-large glass he's handed her.

"Yeah, I did, as a matter of fact," she says, and now he's paying attention. "But maybe I'll keep it to myself. Don't rush into business, darling, I'll think you're in a hurry to be rid of me," she evades, and something's not quite right about her hurt expression. Sure, it's silly as ever, but she seems to be trying too hard.

"Maybe I am," he says, taking a drink. "God knows I'm tired and I've had enough riddles for one day." He makes to stand up, but she catches his hand and stays him, though she must know it's a bluff.

"Alright," she says, pulling him back down. He sits once more, facing her with an expectant frown. "Yes, I've got words for you about your little business. Whitby's back," she says matter-of-factly.

Draco's thrown by the statement. He knows Whitby's not back, in fact, Whitby's closer than she could possibly know. So why does she want him to think that he is? She's got some ace in her sleeve and he won't get to see it until he gets to the end of her puzzle so he plays along, leaning back into the arm of the sofa. She's got a hidden motivation and he doesn't trust it.

"Really? Well how about that. I suppose I'll just have to stop by the Club tomorrow and have words with him," he says, quirking his eyebrow at her.

She's biting her lip and it's brilliant, reluctant and charming, hypnotizing like a snake handler's song but he knows he's the snake in this story and he isn't going to buy what she's selling. "You could let me do it," she suggests, tilting her head at him. "Why would he talk to you? He doesn't know you from Adam."

"Oh, and you think you can play Eve, do you?" he says with a slight laugh. He sits up and leans forward, observing her closely with his hands on his knees. "Now there's a problem with that idea and I'd have thought it was obvious. I can't let you talk to him because I don't trust you, as you well know, and for good reason. So why don't you tell me why you want me to stay away from the Club?"

She sets her drink down with emphasis and stands up, seeming restless, her hands twined together in front of her as she walks away from him. He stands up too, draining his drink, and leans against the back of the sofa while he watches her. Turning around, she seems to give up and comes back to him like a remorseful seraphim, perching on the arm of the sofa and waiting while he turns and stands in front of her, his hands in his pockets, waiting.

"Just this once, Draco. I know you don't trust me but will you listen to me? Stay out of it. I'll ask him anything you need, but don't come back, you'll only dig yourself in deeper," she suggests, and when he looks amused, she slides from the arm of the sofa and stands a few inches away from him, her hand touching the side of his neck warmly. "They'll be after you, Draco, they'll do anything to stop you from looking any further into this. Rose is fine. She doesn't need your help. But I do. Please, if you won't save your own skin, do it for mine."

Her eyes drop as though she's ashamed and she turns her head to the side, the picture of despair. In the light from the fire he can see what she's showing him: the dark shadow of a bruise beneath her left eye, tracing her cheekbone. He raises his hand and brushes it with his thumb, clearing away the fine powder of makeup that she's worn over it.

"And they did this to you, did they?" he asks, anger coloring his words with dark baritone. She nods silently, her eyes closed.

His hand moves from her cheek to her chin and he cups it, turning her face back to his forcefully, though he's careful not to hurt her. Her eyes open and she stares at him in surprise.

"Are you quite finished, angel? Is that the end of your sad little story, meant to make me angry and gather you up like a broken china doll and promise anything you ask? Well good, because I've got a story of my own for you. Kevin Whitby isn't back because Whitby is dead. I've just come from the workshop where I found his body. So I suppose if I agreed, you were going to go back to the Club and return with some wonderful happy ending to feed me, about how Rose is fine, she's gone skipping back to her parents like a good girl. So why don't you tell me why you really want me to back off, Pansy, because, while it was a nice touch, that little mark on you, if the bosses were laying hands on you you'd be a different color, or dead."

There's resentment burning in her eyes now, beneath the single swoop of dark brown hair that's fallen into her face. He releases her and she shakes it away, defiant.

"Alright, you're very clever," she says, pulling her wand from the bag she's left on the sofa and tracing the bruise on her cheek with the tip. It vanishes instantly.

"It wasn't your best work," he says bitingly. "Which makes me something's rattled you. So why don't you try the truth and see how far you get with that?"

Her face is still defiant but she's not ashamed, she simply hates getting caught. "Fine," she agrees, sitting back down on the arm of the sofa. There's something exhilarating about her anger and he watches her now because it's difficult to look away. "I meant what I said. They're on your back. Someone at the University tipped them off. You've really fallen into it on this one, Draco. There's a lot of people with a lot of money and that's a lot of incentive to make sure that you don't go digging up something you're not meant to."

"Oh yeah? And what's the operation that I'm not meant to dig up?"

"As though they'd tell me," she says, raising an eyebrow. "All I know is they know I know you and they sent me to try and discourage you from furthering your advances."

"There you go with that truth thing again," he says, crossing the room to her swiftly. "Now don't tell me you don't know because I'd be seriously surprised if there was anything you weren't aware of that happens in that Club. Now maybe what you meant is they don't know you know and that's just fine with me but you're not doing yourself any favors, love."

She's silent for a minute, her blue eyes shining darkly like the moon on water, before she shakes her head. "I don't know any details," she says firmly. "All I know is they're running something out of the University. Some kind of recruitment but they're gathering gold on it too. That's why they've hired all of these fools from the bottom of the barrel."

"Anything to do with Leon 'Low? 'Blocks'?" he asks her, watching her closely.

"Yes, that's it," she says, leaning her head to the side with her eyes on him, so that her hair spills off of one shoulder and reveals a pale expanse of her neck. "Blocks. That's what they're selling to the students."

He remembers the strange substance, like potion ingredients, that he found at the workshop. Blocks- a term for the tiny boxes it was sold in. And the new craze among the students, the mind-addling drug that no one can trace. The blank stares. It all fits.

"So the Dynasty is pushing mind benders on the students, getting them addicted, recruiting them young," he says aloud as he works it out in his head. "It's a pretty good plan except that they're running two operations simultaneously. They want in on the Ministry, they have elections coming up. Can't risk anybody tying one of their cookie cuttter politicians to the deals. You're right, Pansy, this is a bit more than I was expecting," he admits, raising an eyebrow at her.

"So why don't you back off? You'll only get yourself in trouble. And Draco..." she says, then she hesitates, and this time it seems genuine. "They know we've been tied in the past. They're not feeling very generous toward me at the moment and they want me to reign you in. If you don't pull back it's falling on me."

He looks at her with all of her intoxicating darkness and he knows what she means and furthermore, if she gets pulled under because of this, it's his doing. He always knew they'd get him for something. Well, now he's dragged Pansy into it, and she's sitting pretty in the snake's den as long as he keeps digging. He puts a hand on her waist.

"You've really got a talent for hooking bad men, don't you?" he asks, and the corners of her lips twitch into a smile.

"That's why you love me, isn't it?" she asks, her eyes smouldering beneath her eyelashes.

"Who says I do?" he challenges, and he pulls her closer and she presses her lips to his, and he can taste the whiskey on them and it's sweeter than he's ever tasted it and more bitter than he could imagine. He pulls away and she's quiet, beautiful in her stillness.

"Let me worry about the bosses," he says, while her fingers press warmly into where his pulse beats in his neck. "You can tell them you spoke to me. Tell them I don't know anything, that I'm still looking for Kevin. You're already dancing on thin ice and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. Don't go back to your place. When you leave the Club let someone walk you until you've Apparated, someone you trust. You can stay in a hotel but don't tell anyone where. I'll try and keep you out of it but I can't make promises, alright?"

"I'm a big girl," she assures him, looking haughty. "I can walk the wire for a few days. And what are you going to do?"

"Rattle the cages and see what comes crawling out at me," he says, with a confident smirk.





Chapter 5: SCENE FIVE
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, FEBRUARY 12th, 2002

It's in the papers that Avery was taken in yesterday. I don't know what he did to the Dynasty to displease them enough to get him sent over but it must have been bad. Mother's worried that they'll want more gold now and I've no doubt she's right, but I don't see what exactly we're supposed to do about it. It's gold or Azkaban and gold looks like a fair price to pay no matter how much it is. Besides, it can't be more than what she spent trying to keep my father out and since the Dynasty's protection has proved more effective than the traditional route, it seems to me like we've upgraded.

Oh, and they found McMillan. In an alley. No way of telling how long's he been there, with the snow he's probably frozen twice over. No marks on him but they wouldn't be bothered, he was just loud, not powerful. But of course, he was that way in school, from what I can remember. And he didn't have the sense of when to pipe down and keep his neck covered then either.





He wonders vaguely when she would slip out if he never went to sleep. Then again, he doesn't think she does it because she's ashamed of herself. She does it because it marks the line she can't cross, the line between occurence and meaning. She's more wayward than a blossom floating on the April wind and that suits him just fine because he's always craved the taste of things he can't control. Another man might call him unhealthy and she sinister and another man would be right but then again, if she was healthy and sweet and loved him the way she should he'd have broken her heart or left her alone a long time ago. They're both two missteps away from Hell and dragging each other toward the edge and he doesn't think he would change things, if he could.

But there's another woman in his life now, one that he's never met and hopes he might get a chance to while she's still alive. Somebody out there has dumped her boyfriend's body in the workshop of Thomas Coal and Draco doesn't know who, but he bets Thomas has some ideas and he has a few thoughts on how to get the man to share.




He doesn't bother knocking. He strides into the workshop like Salazar Slytherin himself, hand on his wand but not nervous, looking assured, confident. It's a good way to rattle a man, they assume you have a reason to be cocky that they don't. Indeed, Thomas Coal, or someone sitting in his chair, looks up at the sound of the door banging shut and shakily drops his quill, his eyes darting over Draco's face. He's a thin, rather nervous looking man, with fussily neat hair and glasses, and he looks like he's used to being intimidated.

"Thomas Coal?"

"That's me," the man says with an obvious swallow, and Draco's almost surprised he doesn't stutter.

"Oh good," Draco says, sitting down opposite him without an invitation.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" Thomas asks him, his eyes still darting between the door and Draco's wand.

"My name is unimportant unless you'd like to send me a Christmas card and frankly, I don't think you will," Draco replies with mocking cheer. "However, you could say I am a friend of Kevin Whitby's, and I am here to find out exactly what you know about his whereabouts and what he's doing."

"If they sent you then you already know I don't know where Whitby is," Coal replies nervously, with an attempt at a confident look. Draco notices he does not seem surprised to hear the name.

"Oh, perhaps I've started with the wrong question," Draco muses aloud. "Why don't we start with how exactly Whitby came to be dead in your workshop?"

With a wordless noise of shock, Coal immediately begins looking around him, as though he's going to find a corpse he hadn't noticed before sitting in the chair beside him. "What? Dead? Where?" he says shakily, jumping to his feet. The act seems sincere. But Draco didn't really think he killed Whitby, anyway. Somebody either wanted someone else to think he did, or wanted Coal to think he's next.

"You're lying," Coal concludes, turning on Draco with a flustered stare. "What a thing to say to a man, Merlin. You guys have some real control issues."

Draco withdraws his wand and points it casually over his shoulder. With a deafening BANG!, the crate in which he stored Whitby's lifeless body appears and crashes to the floor of the workshop. The lid slides helpfully off, revealing a limp trainer. Coal gives a yell and backs up several feet, his back hitting the cabinets behind him.

"Oh, I'm not lying," Draco says, raising an eyebrow at the man. "Actually, I found him lying beneath this table yesterday, right about where your feet are now."

If he could lift his feet off of the ground, Draco is sure he would. As it is, he gives a frightened twitch. "You killed him," he says to Draco with wide eyes. "What are you going to do, kill me too? How am I supposed to make your bosses gold if you do that, huh? Sell from beyond the grave? What more do they want from me?" He's yelling now, frantic and frightened, and Draco waits until he silences himself, his eyes narrowed and his forehead slick behind his glasses.

"Calm yourself," Draco says flatly. "I'm not going to kill you. I don't work for the boys at the Club. I just need to know what happened to Kevin Whitby."

Coal laughs at that, though it's a weak, shaky noise. "And I'm supposed to believe that? Am I not moving fast enough, is that it? They want me to sell more well they'd better find a new market, students don't have unlimited income, you know. You show up here with Whitby's corpse in a crate and I'm supposed to believe you don't work for them?

"Yeah, you are, Coal, because if I was one of the Dynasty boy's you'd be dead or in excruciating pain by now, considering the amount of information that keeps spilling from your trap. You ought to practice a little restraint if you plan on living much longer."

That quiets him down quickly enough, though his forehead is still shining with sweat. He sits down again, dropping into the chair like he's exhausted himself, wiping his brow with a clean hankerchief. "Alright, let's say I believe you," he says, though his expression says otherwise. "Why do you want to know about Whitby? Who are you working for?"

"Actually, I don't much care about Kevin Whitby," Draco admits, shrugging. He pulls Rose's picture from his pocket. "Who I'm really looking for is his little girlfriend. But her trail is cold and Kevin's is dragon fire so I thought I'd see what I could dig up that might lead me to her." He pushes the picture across the table.

Coal doesn't look at it. His eyes are wide again, but not frightened anymore, now he looks desperate. He doesn't even glance at the photo. "You're looking for Rose? Have you seen her? Who sent you? She didn't do anything, none of this is her fault!" he says, his words falling from his mouth in quick jumbles.

"Slow down, you'll give yourself an asthma attack," Draco says, raising an eyebrow. "Her parents hired me. I'm not going to hurt her. What I need to know is who knows where she is."

"I know where she is!" Coal bursts out, waving his arms. "They've taken her, they have her locked up! Because of me!"

"Alright, alright. First of all, that's not actually a where, that's a 'with who', although I'll take that too if you're offering. Second of all I can't do anything for her if I don't know what in the name of Merlin you're on about, so back up. Start at the beginning." He pulls out a roll of parchment and grabs the quill off of Coal's table to take notes. Coal looks eager to talk now, ready to spill information in a way that could get him killed if it were anyone but Draco sitting across from him.

"I used to work with Kevin. At the University. Well, he handled most of that. He was the seller. I just made the stuff, I was better at it. That's how I met Rose," he began, and into his face comes the kind of glow that only a woman can give a man, the kind of glow that usually makes a man act stupid. "Kevin, he was a lowlife. He was just dumb muscle. But Rose, she was sweet, perfect. She followed him around everywhere, did everything he asked. He was dragging into some really messy business. She was so much smarter than that, so much better than this shit, but he always made her believe she was no good without him."

He looks bitter, shakes his head. Draco motions for him to continue. "I kept telling her to walk. You know, she didn't need this kind of thing. She could have been legit, really made it somewhere. One night she came running in here, dripping wet from the rain. She said Kevin was all hopped up on the stuff, acting crazy. Then he came bursting in after her, started saying all these things..." His voice is low and despairing. "Making accusations. About Rose and I. I thought he was going to kill me but he just said he was going to ruin me forever. Then he grabbed her and dragged her out. And I just sat here. I didn't even go after her, I was just a bloody coward, too afraid for myself." He's overwhelmed, drops his head into his hands in despair. Draco thinks he might be about to cry and he's alarmed by the idea. He never could handle tears. But when Coal's face emerges it's dry and pained.

"He did what he said. He started messing with the blocks, making them bad. No one wanted to buy anything from here anymore, it was making people sick. So somebody from the Dynasty came and started tossing me around, wanting to know why the blocks were bad. I told him I thought Kevin was doing it. The next thing I know, Kevin's disappeared and they drop a note on my door saying that I had better make up for the money they lost on him."

His eyes are hollow. "That's all I know," he says, and Draco believe him. Draco stands up, parchment in hand, and paces a short length of the workshop, thinking aloud.

"So you're sweet on Whitby's girlfriend and he knows it. He's spitting mad but not a killer so instead he goes after the business end, starts giving you a bad reputation with buyers. But he's not very smart. The Dynasty doesn't like that and they take him out of the picture for it. But now they've lost gold over it, a lot of gold. So they put the squeeze on you to make up the debt and to make sure you do they take a little leverage: Rose." Coal is nodding slowly, his expression almost blank with despair. "Cheer up," Draco suggests, his hands in his pockets. "They won't kill her as long as they need you."

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" the other man asks incredulously, and Draco shrugs.

"It should, it's a better deal than Whitby got," he points out. "Now who was running the operation?"

"If I tell you that they'll kill me," Coal replies without conviction. Draco rounds on him sharply.

"If you don't tell me there's a good chance you'll never see Rose again. You already let her go once, do you want to take that risk again?" Perhaps he's being insensitive but empathy was never a strong suit of his anyway and the man needs a good shaking.

"Alright, alright!" Coal replies. "Look, I never knew who the top man was. Just who I reported to. It was Leon's men who came around. But there was a drop point, where they took large loads, sometimes."

He spouts the address and Draco jots it down on his parchment.

"One more thing," Draco says, his tone dark. "If they come asking don't pretend you haven't seen me. They won't buy it. Tell them I came looking for Kevin and you sent me to the school. They shouldn't bother you much," he adds, going for reassuring but arriving somewhere closer to indifferent.

"Fantastic," Coal replies sarcastically, at last looking like he's calmed down a bit, though still shaky. "Just do what you can for Rose. I'll take them of them on this end."

Draco thinks privately that Coal taking care of them would be a sight to see, but at least the man has confidence.




The address belongs to a pub. It's an old building, the kind of establishment that outlasts wars and famines, the kind that will always be open as long as there's some poor old sap dragging his tired feet across the threshhold. The sign is faded and peeling and it's closed for the morning. Draco unlocks it and turns the knob, but it sticks. He turns it harder, a sharp twist of his wrist. It breaks off. He puts his shoulder to the door and pushes hard, then harder, and the wood around the frame splinters enough for him to get it open. He's made a bit of a mess.

Making a mental note to repair it on his way out, he steps over the threshold into the dark room. No one has coming running at the sound of him breaking their door into pieces and he supposes that they only operate at night anyway. Still, he keeps his wand held out and ready as he checks the corners of the room, peering into the darkness where the dim light from outside doesn't penetrate. There's nothing here. Just a few rickety tables, an old fireplace, incomplete without the equally dust regulars sitting around. There are two staircases in back: one leading to an upper room and the other below, behind a door, disappearing into the darkness of the cellar. If he were going to run large quantities of drugs out of a room, it would be this one. He choses the cellar.

At the bottom of the stairs he lights his wand. There's another door here and another lock but this one is much newer, and opens easily once he unlocks it. It swings forward like a beckoning hand in the semi darkness and he follows. The cellar is large, too large for the room about it, and it's clean, but the floor is covered in boot prints and drag marks that show someone had been doing some heavy lifting. There are no crates here at the moment: perhaps they just cleaned out. But there's a table in the back covered in parchment and a few empty boxes scattered around. The air down here is frigid and dry, sharp. Something about the room puts him on edge. He crosses it a bit more hastily than he might have otherwise.

He begins to rifle through the papers but he's having trouble concentrating. It's dark outside the circle of light he holds in his hand and he keeps thinking he sees something move in the darkness, always just beyond his field of vision. It's the kind of foolish fear that everyone feels at one point but Draco can never quite shake it, it's always just behind him, breathing lightly on his neck. Maybe it's because he's never been the courageous type or maybe it's because he's seen nightmares become real. He has stood in the dark before and seen figures slither from the shadows and they didn't disappear, didn't melt into innocent shapes mistaken for something sinister. He's seen blood spilled and heard screams of the kind that worm inside a man and coil there, alive and slippery, and always they emerged from the darkness.

But he's got a job to do and time might be running out for the girl unfortunate enough to be counting on him and so he shakes his head and focuses, though he can feel cool sweat on his brow now. Usually he finds it easier to shake off the thoughts of the war, but sometimes they drag on him, hold onto his shoulders while he tries to walk forward with their bony hands digging into his skin.

Something catches his eye and he seizes on it like an offered hand. It's the same pattern repeated, but maybe because he's in a different state of mind or maybe because of the light, he sees it differently now.

45.2.-04/12

The last part looks to him like a date and the month being April it makes sense. Whatever the rest of it means he doesn't know precisely but he can guess it's the particulars of the shipment being made. That would be why the room is empty, then, they made a large shipment just a few days ago. But beneath the line of numbers is another piece of the puzzle and this one is a little more abstract:

1 Spcl. To Ted. Extra for trouble.

1 Spcl. That could be one special, something seperate from the usual order. And he's heard the name Ted before dropped at the club. But what kind of merchandise causes so much trouble that the operator wants to charge extra for it? Something unique, then, maybe hard to come by. Or maybe the thing itself was giving him trouble. In which case, the thing might be a person: Rose? Is this cryptic note a reference to a girl that came through here, shipped like a piece of meat? There's nothing else like the note on any of the papers, and he can see that as he goes further through the pile they get older and less relevant. But if she was here she had to leave a mark somewhere. A person doesn't pass through a room without any trace.

He casts his wand light into the corners, over and under the table, but he finds nothing. If she was here, where did they keep her? She must have been unconscious, there's no room they could have locked her into. So she'd be lying on the ground. He turns his gaze to the floor beneath his feet and walks, sweeping it with his eyes. There, near the table but not too near. A button. It's not much but it's something. It's decorated with a flower. Not something any of the Dynasty's muscle would be likely to wear. It's not proof that she was here, he could be wrong, but his instincts say differently. She was in this room, and recently. He's getting closer. Now he just has to see how close.





Chapter 6: SCENE SIX
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, NOVEMBER 17th, 2001

Saw Pansy yesterday. She's looking well. She said she'd stay, but she's taken a project on, keeping some fool from France entertained while the bosses try and negotiate a deal of some kind. He's taking her to dinner tonight. They've got a valuable resource in her and they know it: I doubt the Frenchman will be going anywhere any time soon, not as long as she's batting her eyelashes at him. Six months ago she was a strictly Club girl, and now they have her handling big business. I asked her how they got so desperate but really, there's no one better for the job. She might consider keeping her assignments to herself in the future, however.

Now that they've gone public face and taken over the Alleys- and they have, you can barely walk down the Knockturn Alley if you don't know someone- they've got a nice new nickname in the papers. They're being called the Blood Dynasty. Sweet ring to it, I suppose. They must be loving it down at the Club- a Dynasty, it fits. They're all members of the same royal family, and it looks like the beginning of their reign. Pansy likes to joke that this makes me the Prodigal Prince.





She's got herself set up comfortably. Of course, Draco wouldn't be surprised if it was all on the bosses' dime. It's a nice room on the top floor of a nice hotel and she stands on the veranda like a queen overlooking her subjects, her hair blowing in the fierce wind. He imagines catching it in his fingertips but he remains where he is, his back to the view of the city, leaning against the sturdy stone railing and watching as the orange glow of the lights from below illuminates the curves of her face.

"If you're catching her ankles like you say, don't you think you might be wasting your time being here?" she asks, her head tilted to the caress of the wind.

"Why, do you want me to go?" he replies, shaking the ash off the end of his cigarette and watching it float toward the city that lays sprawled below.

"If I did you'd be gone already," she observes and he nods his acknowledgment of this truth.

"It's never a waste of time talking to you, Pansy. You always tell me something useful, whether you mean to or not."

She doesn't reply right away and he watches her. Perhaps it's because lately he's been thinking about how thin the wire that they're walking really is, or maybe it's that the brush of the wind and the glow of the city makes him reckless, makes him think of how things might be different. Maybe he's getting older and wondering what he's going to do with his life when half of him still lives in the shadows, when at twenty three he's already growing tired of the weight of memory on his shoulders. Whatever the reason, he looks at her and he sees himself holding onto her like an anchor in a storm, wrapping his arms around her until her protests quiet and she lets herself melt. He imagines himself taking her away, leaving behind the Club and the Alleys and his tiny flat in a bad neighborhood, his poor mother and her broken pride, leaving all of the dead and the cheerfully dying, the lost women, the hollow men, all of the goddamn pointlessness of it. They'd go someplace beautiful and lonely and she'd have some dreams in her eyes, not the enchanting darkness that occupies them now.

He imagines it with cool detachment, without a change in expression. People like them were never meant to live lives like that. Then he hands her his cigarette and turns around, leaning his weight on his palms, pressed against the stone, while smoke spills from between her blood-stained lips. She puts the cigarette out, grinding it into the weathered surface of the balcony rail.

"So Teddy's connected?" she asks after a moment of silence.

"According to the note at the drop point," he replies, watching her closely. "Doesn't say how he's in on Whitby but I've got a feeling that if anyone has a thumb on Rose's pulse it's him. I don't want to spook him."

"No," she agrees. "He won't hesitate if he thinks you're hot to him. But he has a friend in the Auror office whose wife doesn't know he likes to play at the Club. If you work him over from that angle, he might tell you something useful," she suggests, turning her head to him, her shoulder brushing his arm as his slides his hands into his pockets.

"What, no charades tonight?" he says, raising an eyebrow at her. "Does this Auror friend owe you money?" There must be a reason she wants him to play that card or she wouldn't have given it up so easily.

"He wasn't a very good date," she says simply, the hesitation reading only in the slight parting of her lips. "He doesn't like his ego bruised. Sometimes he bruises back."

It's a more candid response than he expected and he should be grateful for it but instead his fist clenches in his pocket. "Damnit, Pansy," he says through tight teeth, and she turns her gaze away from him, the only sign of contrition he'll receive. She doesn't make apologies and he shouldn't expect her to, he knows her business, but sometimes it hits him when he's not quite braced for the blow.

She turns and heads inside, through the double doors and onto the plush carpet. He follows her after a moment of letting the wind blow across his face and erase the treacherous thoughts that creep into his head like parasites, threatening the control that he's worked diligently to preserve since he learned the consequences of losing his temper. He's cooler now as he crosses the room and finds her sitting near the fire, staring out into the night through the doors.

"What's his name?" Draco asks shortly.

"The Auror? Perall," she replies, and they lapse into silence once more. It's a contemplative one as Draco plots his next move. Then he turns back to her and she raises her eyes slowly, deliberately, to his, and he wonders what she's so deep in thought about.

"If I put the squeeze on Perall for thoughts on Teddy, they're going to feel it at the Club," he warns her. "They already asked you nicely to trip me up. They might not be so nice after this."

"You think I can't handle myself?" she asks him with a questioning quirk of her eyebrow.

"I know you can," he replies, a sardonic smirk coloring his words. "But even you're not going to be able to flirt your way out of this one, angel."

"Maybe not," she allows, her fingertips pressing thoughtfully against the curve of her jaw below her ear. "What do you want me to do? You're making life difficult for me, Draco," she says without a hint of chiding. She's merely making an observation.

"Take a vacation," he suggests. "Tell them you're going to see your mother. By the time I'm finished they'll know it was nothing to do with you anyway."

"My mother's dead," she reminds him with an amused expression.

"They don't know that," he points out, and he stands up to fix himself a drink from the crystal bottle on the side table. When he sits back down again she looks thoughtful once more.

"You've got too many lines on that forehead for twenty-two," he says carefully, seeing the creases of concentration in her brow. "Relax the focus and tell me what's twisting your brain around."

"I think you enjoy messing with people who don't enjoy being messed too much, you know," she admits simply.

"Do you worry for me?" he asks, unable to keep a note of amusement out of his tone. It closes her up, snaps her expression shut faster than a door can slam.

"I've known you since we were children, doesn't that make me entitled?" she observes, standing up and passing her hand over his shoulder as she walks behind him.

"Oh, is that why?" he asks, his eyes watching her carefully. He follows behind her until she stops, her gaze on the city outside, the bare skin on her shoulder so close in front of him he can almost feel it's heat on his neck. She leans down and picks his drink up off the table.

"Yes," she says firmly, turning around swiftly so that he can smell her perfume floating on the air she's stirred. Boldly, she takes a sip from his glass, her expression dangerously smooth. She's magnificent to him in that moment, in the semi-darkness, lit from behind by the orange glow of the sky with regal coolness in her gaze like a painting of a long-dead empress reigning over some exotic land. She hands him his glass when she's done making her point and he takes a drink. It tastes like her.




It's cold out but not as cold as the mood he's in as he descends in the phone-booth lift to the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic. He's been here enough times that he vaguely knows the layout, but he still checks sign posts wherever he goes. The hall seems darker than he remembers it, but he knows it's only the absence of that hideous fountain. After the Dark Lord fell, someone thought to remove the enormous tribute to Muggle-hating in the middle of the hall, but nothing has ever replaced it. Maybe no one cares anymore.

He had left her before the moon had fully risen. He had a few things to do. She wanted to light a fire under his temper, well, she succeeded. Maybe it isn't such a bad thing. It feels good to be angry, to have someone at whom to direct his generally piss-poor attitude. He has spent so long pushing things to the back of his mind that it's refreshing to hold on to his hatred. Maybe some of the things he's angry at have nothing to do with Perall. Maybe he's angry because he's too young for this shit, because he had a whole future that was ripped from him, because the world took everything that he was entitled to and broke it all. That's the kind of anger that doesn't fade with time. And sure, he's angry at Pansy for telling him this, for using him like a deadly instrument because she knows how he'll react. But unfortunately for Perall he's fallen into Draco's path like a wolf wearing the sacrificial lamb's disguise. And besides, Draco doesn't like men who treat witches like meat. His mother taught him better than that, if not better than much else. And she is a fine woman.

He came in the evening because most workers will have gone home but Perall is an Auror and they're busy people these days. Perall is probably busier than most, trying to play good boy to the Ministry and soaking up the booze in the club at the same time. It's a good bet he's still in the office. If he isn't, Draco will have to find him somehow. He doesn't feel like coming back tomorrow.

Whether it's Draco's good fortune or Perall's bad, there's a light on in the office with the Auror's name on it and Draco pushes the door open unceremoniously. He's surprised the man in the middle of paperwork but he doesn't reach for his wand, too secure in his own power to believe that anyone could come walking into his office and curse him out of his chair, which Draco does, with relish.

The BANG! of the curse is too loud but Draco isn't bothered. Odd noises are common enough at the Ministry and there was no one in the corridor outside. The man is slumped in a corner, looking up with wide eyes, but he's trained for this kind of thing and he's fast as lightning as he darts toward his wand lying on the table. Draco strides toward it but he doesn't get there in time and he has to step quickly to the side to avoid the curse that grazes his cheekbone as it flies past. Perall has training but Draco is backed not only by the element of surprise but also by the energy of fury and with a flick of his wrist he sends the other man's wand spinning toward the ceiling and catches it in his hand.

"Ready to chat now, Perall?" he asks of the other man, who is pressing his back against the wall, panting. Draco sits down casually at the chair in front of the desk and gestures for Perall to take a seat.

"Who the hell are you?" Perall asks without acknowledging the invitation. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

"You're asking the wrong questions," Draco warns, twirling the man's wand in his hand. "What I'm doing is holding your wand and telling you to sit down. What you should be asking is 'Do I want this stranger to curse the fear of Slytherin into me? Go ahead and think on it. I'll wait."


There is silence while the wheels in Perall's head grind painfully. He isn't stupid, but he is thrown into stunned dazedness by the sudden appearance of the young man with dangerous intentions. After a moment or two he sits down, stiffly, trying to preserve some dignity. "What is it that you want? Money? Do you honestly think you can threaten me?" he asks, glaring contemptuously.

"No," Draco says simply. "I don't want money. I do think I can threaten you, but not with this wand. This is just to show you how very willing I am to make your evening unpleasant. What I want is a little time and cooperation from you, and in exchange for this favor, I'll do you the favor of not telling your wife- for starters- where you spend all those nights she thinks you're working late at the office."

"You listen to me, swine-" the Auror shoots out of his seat and braces himself against the desk, his face just inches from Draco's and spitting with rage. Draco is happy to interrupt him, this time quickly knocking him back into his seat with an Impediment Jinx. The man sits, his chest heaving, looking quite mad.

"No, why don't you listen to me, Perall," Draco suggests, his voice low and cool, his eyes narrowed with anger he's working to control. He's enjoying using the wand on the man too much. He has none of the hesitation, the discomfort in using his wand on another person that many wizards have. He's seen it slow many a man up in desperate times. But that was one aspect of being one of the privileged few to bear the mark that he enjoyed: knowing that he had the power and no one could stop him from using it. It is an intoxicating, dangerous feeling. Combined with his desire to cause the man pain- though that is merely justice- it is a thin line he is walking. "There's nothing stopping me from leaving this room right now and exposing you for the corrupt, greedy, spineless bastard that you are except that you have information which interests me. Now I'm impatient. So you can either tell me what you know about Teddy and Rose Zeller, or I can be on my merry way."

There is surprise in Perall's expression but it's quickly covered by shrewd calculation. He's sizing Draco up, seeing whether he makes a worthy opponent to play with. Apparently he is, because the Auror leans back and speaks with a matter-of-fact tone.

"Teddy has a lot of business. He knows a lot of people. Maybe this Rose girl was one of them. There are girls hanging around sometimes, you know, looking for his attention. He's an important man."

"Yes, but Rose wasn't one of them, was she?" Draco asks, watching Perall closely for a reaction. "So let's say Rose isn't hanging around. Let's say she's being pushed around, maybe held close. Let's say Teddy had someone taking care of her. Who would that be?"

The auror leans forward with a strange look in his eye, almost amused. "Teddy is a careful man. He's smart. He keeps his business close to home. Really close to home, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," Draco said with a slight frown. Close to home. Did that mean she was at the Club? "How would I go about getting an audience with Teddy?"

"Oh don't worry," the man suggests, his casual tone slightly marred by the excitement creeping into it. "He'll know you're coming. He has a lot of eyes. He'll want to talk to you. Maybe he'll let me get a piece of the fun when he's finished with you," he says with a growl.

"Yeah, maybe," Draco says absently, and then with a quick flick of his wand, the man is hoisted in the air by his ankle and yelling. Another flick of the wand and Draco has silenced him. He leans forward, looking into the Auror's sweaty face. "Maybe I'll take care of you now, Perall. Maybe I'll drop your body off in Teddy's office like you did Kevin Whitby's, give him a warning. Do you think I won't? Look at me and tell me I won't," he challenges, and the man's eyes dart to his face automatically. "No, you're right, Perall. See I may be a corrupt, greedy, spineless bastard just like you, but I'm not stupid, unlike you, so I'm going to let you live. But you're not going to go back to the Club anymore, understand? You're going to go back to your wife and stop playing prize fighter with the girls in the Alleys," Draco says slowly and clearly, his voice barely above a whisper, though he can see by the alertness in the Auror's eyes that he has caught ever word. "Understand?" he asks, and removes the silencing spell momentarily.

"I never touched that Rose girl," the Auror says quickly, infuriated. "You're fucking crazy, man. I never touched her."

"This one's not for Rose," Draco shrugs, and he lets the man fall, with a deafening crash, onto his desk.





Chapter 7: SCENE SEVEN
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, MAY 10th, 2001

Rumor has it that the old crowd is coming together again. They've been talking about it since the Minister, but it's always been a few words here and there, a couple of whispers. This time it sounds like everyone is whispering the same thing. Some kind of political or business opportunity, I don't doubt. The Prophet is printing rumors about a new rise of the Death Eaters, a new Dark Lord, that kind of nonsense, but they're looking in the wrong direction. Secretly, they were all glad to see Him fall. That's the great irony of it. His most loyal followers were also the most grateful to be done with him, even the ones who landed in Azkaban. I'd like to see what the Prophet would write about that. Maybe I'll owl them.

I haven't heard anything definite yet but I can see where the wind is blowing. Hell, the country's falling apart, first the Minister, then the elections, the economy- it's fertilizer for anyone with gold to spend and an agenda to push. Things happen fast around here now, too fast. The ones who aren't in prison certainly have the gold, and they don't have any problems with cursing a few uncooperative noses to get whatever they want. Somebody loses power, somebody gains it. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see what grows.





Once again, it's raining. The water hits his shoulders and runs off in slick patterns, the sky's blood and tears dragging him down like the world is trying to hold him back from the arena he's about to enter. But he shakes it off as he stalks the night streets. He's in no hurry. They're not going to run away from him now. Tonight, someone is going to answer for the sinful games they're all so fond of playing. Joel Davis stands at the door again as though no time as passed. He gives Draco a nod, but doesn't speak tonight. Maybe he senses that the other man is not in the mood for chitchat. Maybe he knows there's nothing to be said. Draco passes through the doors with all the confidence of a man entering the gates of the Minotaur's layer but outwardly he keeps his hands steady and his smirk smooth.

The house is full tonight. It's the rain that brings them in. Everybody likes to feel the warmth of a good fire, company, the smell of smoke and the soft tickle of a beautiful girl's perfume. When the rain and snow fall, when the sky burns and the buildings topple around them, they will shelter here. The room opens up below him like the den of some dark beast, pulsating, writhing with the gentle and graceful movement of the bloodthirsty elite. Draco is content to sit at the bar and do some observing before he tries anything rash. He doesn't have much of a plan, but then again, he never really does. He has the name of his prey and he's quick with a wand and he'll either come out of this with Rose Zeller, or in some very serious trouble. It's a risk. It's always a risk. But a man learns soon that there is nothing to do but continue forward.

He's just about to get up to begin his inquiries when a complication arises, caught in the corner of his eye. It's wearing a nice dress and a bad attitude. He allows himself a sigh before making his way through the crowd to her side. She couldn't make it easy, of course not.

"I don't see your mother in this crowd," he points out to her.

"If you did, you'd need your head looked at. But by all means, continue to point out the obvious, it just sends me," she says lazily, and he lets out a strange kind of angry chuckle.

"What are you doing here, Pansy?" he asks her seriously, raising an eyebrow at the bold and unapologetic stare she gives him in return.

"I got bored," she replies simply, glancing up at him through her eyelashes, and the sweetness of it makes him want to shake her.

"You got bored?" he repeats, dropping his voice low as someone passes close to them. "Do you really enjoy the Club so much that you want to get yourself locked up here like Rose Zeller? Or do you just like doing everything you're told not to do?"

Her gaze is too earnest on his face when she answers. She's a perfect picture of sincerity with none of the innocence. "I couldn't let you come alone, Draco, I couldn't sit at home and think of you here, not knowing what was going to happen. It was killing me," she says with broken grace. A better actress would have squeezed out a tear but she can't quite make it that far. Nor can she fake tenderness, instead she adopts a radiant glow of angelic devotion. He understands. She's punishing him for the audacity of challenging her, for his parting words the last time they met. Maybe there's a hint of truth to her words or maybe he just likes to think that there is, but either way she's doing a fine job of putting both of their necks in the wand's way. She sees the anger glow hot in his eyes and the curtain falls on her performance. Just like that she's soft and sorry.

"Maybe it's time we quit," she says enigmatically, her eyes glancing down at the floor

"What, cigarettes?" he asks her sarcastically.

"Each other," she clarifies quietly, raising her gaze to him. Her stare is simple and sincere and demanding. "There's a lot of things that can come of you and I and not one of them ends with 'happily ever after'," she observes.

He knows that she's right in the same moment that his fist tightens with reflexive tension. Sure, she's got a point, but there's no logic in her and he knows, as she does, that she won't walk away. If she doesn't love him- and whether or not she does is not a simple answer- than she needs him, for the simple reason that he's the only honest thing left in her life.

"I'm not sure happily ever after was ever in my storybook, love," he observes. "And to be honest you're no fairytale princess either."

"You don't think your life would be simpler without me in it?" she questions.

"Simpler? Sure. Easier, too. And it would certainly improve my work, save me having to waste time mucking through what you tell me to find what's truth and what's your twisted version of it. Save me having to waste my time talking to you in these tight little circles. You just couldn't listen to me, could you?"

"So ask me to leave," she dares him, and for a moment he's silent, considering her, while she avoids his eyes by staring into the icy depths of the water in her hand. There's no winning with her. Even when he's right she turns the tables on him until he doesn't know which way is up, until he's arguing backwards, and he's tired of it. He's angry and he's about to say things he'll regret.

"No, Pansy, I'm not going to," he says darkly. "So this is what your little rebellion is really about. You want me to throw my hands in the air and tell you that I'm in love with you, Pansy, that I'll do anything if you'll stay safe. You want to hear me beg you to go so you can tell yourself you've won something. So that you don't have to admit that maybe you've lost your grip a little, let go of some of that control. So I'll do it for you." He moves closer to her and places his hand on the side of her neck, his thumb pressing against her jaw. "You love me, Pansy, you're absolutely mad for me and you can't stand it. That's why you lie, why you like to play these games that you know very well don't work on me. That's why you're here. But you shouldn't have bothered, angel," he says, releasing her with bitter sharpness. "All you've done is put both of us in danger and piss me off, reminded me of what a goddamned fool I am for letting myself get twisted up in you. Maybe you're right, we should quit," he finishes, his jaw clenched.

He doesn't have time for this. He can't turn around but he can't be trying to keep her in sight while he's working, either. Rose, innocent and virtuous, is waiting somewhere for someone to help her and here is wasting time with this dark angel, a woman whose good deeds can be counted on her fingers and whose bad intentions are as numerous as stars in the night skies. But he's fallen into the fool's net that is Pansy and he's tangled now, or maybe he always was. So she wants to dance around him like he's ones of the saps in suits who comes to gaze at her with sparkles in his eyes, well that's fine. He's got a well of anger to draw from and he's recently found the tap.

He is cold and quick and she doesn't have time to say a word before he has turned away from her and begun to stride away. But he catches a glimpse of her face and he can see where remorse is making cracks in it, spilling out the frustrated sorrow beneath. She's genuinely sorry and he doesn't care. He doesn't have time to care. He leaves her there and hopes that she'll find her way out on the right path.

They say if you love something, let it go, and if it comes back to you then you're meant to keep it. But he never had her in the first place. Maybe he never will.

And now, to business. Somewhere in this room is a man with a secret and that secret is Rose Zeller. So where do we keep our secrets? Draco asks himself. Buried as deep as we can.

There's a door behind the bar from which the occasional figure emerges. No one appears to be watching it but Draco doubts that no one is. He doesn't have much choice in the matter unless he wants to wait around for another opportunity and his instincts tell him time is running out. In a second he's made up his mind. He crosses the room quickly and ducks behind the bar. The barman's back is to him as, with deft and practiced hands, he twists open a bottle. Draco eyes the room for pursuit, sees none immediately, opens the door with one hand behind his back and slips around the threshold.

Behind the door, the gentile noise of the room outside is cut off abruptly. He can hear nothing but the sound of his own coward's heartbeat, which is mounting with each step he takes down the plushly carpeted hall. There are doors on either side, some open, some shut tightly, and the end of the hallway another passage opens. It's a maze and he's the rat scurrying through in search of his treasure. He scurries fast. There's no telling what's behind each door and he doesn't like the odds that come with opening them, so he skips the closed, hoping that somehow he'll get lucky enough to find some direction. It's only a matter of time before someone comes into this hall and when they do he doesn't think he'll be welcomed with open arms. The first few rooms are deserted- just a few dark storage rooms for the booze, a lounge where a fire crackles merrily for no one, and somebody's office. The level of quiet here sends a shiver of discomfort across the back of his neck.

Nothing. At least nothing on the surface. He isn't sure exactly what he's looking for, but he'll know it when he sees it. They'd never be so crass as to leave a girl chained up to somebody's desk, no, they're much cleaner than that. He doesn't know Teddy but everything about this whole operation speaks to his caution, his clever manipulation. Draco thinks back to what the Auror said about Teddy seeing him coming. He doesn't like that, not one bit. His mind darts back to Pansy in the other room and he shakes his head. There's nothing he can do for her now.

He turns the corner at the end of the hall into the other passage and finds himself facing another row of doors. The place is a goddamned labyrinth. He takes no comfort in the fact that he hasn't seen anybody yet, in fact, it makes him suspicious. Something's off here. His best chance is to find the girl and get out as quickly as he can, forget Teddy, come back another day to close the door on this business, maybe out in front of some witnesses. He doesn't like being in another man's territory. He slides around another door frame and finds himself in yet another empty room and his palms begin to sweat. He's reminded of a coiled serpent, sliding up behind him silently, waiting to sink it's teeth into his flesh. Immediately he snaps his head around but sees nothing and he presses his palms to his eyes, tired as an old man, reminding himself to shake it off, man, shake it off. He's got a job to do.

But perhaps there was something to the feeling after all. He senses movement in the shadows behind him, near the door. He stills, tries to see from the corner of his eyes, his hand sliding toward his pocket and his wand. A slight draft brushes his cheek as the door moves slightly. He tells himself he's imagining it. But he tenses, waits half a second, and whips around with his hand already drawing his wand, just in time to see the burst of red light in his eyes before the curse hits him square in the face, and the world goes peacefully dark.


Chapter 8: SCENE EIGHT
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY, MARCH 15th, 2001
It's been hell on the streets for a few weeks now, ever since the Minister. The Ministry's a wreck, trying to get it all together, not just politically speaking, but for the public as well. Meanwhile, half the drunken louts in the Leaky Cauldron have apparently formed some kind of organization and taken to shouting in the streets, the usually nonsense, about the breakouts from Azkaban and the lack of security, it's all very bland, frankly, but people seem to be listening. Of course, no one wants to take responsibility for the fact that if security was increased at all, they'd all be shouting down about 'violations of rights' and 'freedom of the people'. Circe, it's like no one can get any satisfaction these days unless they're screaming something from the rooftops. Oh, and the looting. That's started this week. Bloody fantastic. As though the neighborhood wasn't stale enough.





Everything burns.

He's swimming up from an ocean of fire and the flames are consuming him. There's been a war and the sky burns. He thinks of the Muggles, burning the world to ash to power their gadgets and factories. His father burns for his greed and his helplessness. His mother will burn for her weakness and sorrow. The guilty and the sad, the angry and the desperate, together cast down into flames for their sins. The laughing men and the graceful women. Pansy will burn and the secrets in her three a.m. eyes will melt and hiss. He has already burned, burned in the shape of the mark on his arm, which singes through his flesh and into him, his thoughts crumbling into soft ashes that leave streaks of grime on the floor.

His head is burning.

He opens his eyes.

There's nothing to see. The darkness is so complete that he wonders if he has awoken at all. He wonders if maybe this is what death is like, if he'll remain sitting on this cold and unidentifiable surface in the unrelenting dark for all eternity. The thought sends his pulse racing in panic and he thinks he might be sick, as though the coward that lives beneath his skin is crawling up through his throat. But it passes. The dead do not shake. The dead don't feel the course fibers of thick rope wrapped around their wrists.

Gradually, though his eyes still see nothing, he becomes aware of a presence somewhere in front of him. He feels the disturbance of the air that is their soft and gentle breathing. He strains his eyes toward the space in front of him and eventually discerns a shape, less of an image and more of an absence of darkness, some feet away. He does not struggle with the bonds behind his back, not yet. There is little chance that he'll be able to undo them and as long as the figure in front of him assumes he's unconscious, he'll have more time to think of a way out of this shit. But just as the idea occurs, there is a sound like a wretched gasp, and a light flares in front of him so unexpectedly that he closes his eyes, momentarily blinded. When he opens them again he can see that the figure has lit a candle with their wand. Long, shining locks of black hair catch the light of the candle as she brings it closer to him.

He can see now from the dim light that he is in a windowless chamber. Behind her is a short corridor leading to a strong door. He is seated in the only chair in the room, his hands tied between the slats behind his back. She takes a seat atop a small table in front of him and slightly to the right, and sets the candle down beside her, so that only the left side of her pretty face is illuminated. She looks vaguely familiar but he can't seem to place her face. It could just be the darkness, but he thinks there is something softly sad about her, like a forgotten ghost.

"Don't try and untie them, they won't loosen," she warns him. Her voice is clear and sweet in the darkness.

"I wasn't counting on it," he acquiesces, keeping an eye on her. She obviously one of the stars of the floor upstairs, missing out on her opportunity to flirt her way into the papers by being down here with him. They probably caught her in the hallway on her way out and stuck her with babysitting duty. She's silent for a few minutes, alternating between watching him and keeping her black eyes on the flame of the candle.

"What did you do, anyway?" she asks him at last, interrupting his feverish calculations of his chances.

"Asked too many questions, got too many answers," he shrugs, and a faint smile flickers across her face.

"Didn't anybody ever tell you not to pick fights with the kings of the playground?"

"No, I guess nobody did," he admits. She's quiet again and he watches her. He wonders how she ended up here, in this club on this street, doing what she does. Each of them has a different story and not many of them are happy ones. This girl is as unlike Pansy as she could be; she's soft and sweet and quiet, but still possesses that air of quickness, that thing that marks all of the girls here as having seen too much sorrow, having pain to hide behind their pretty faces. He wishes he could remember where he knows her from, wishes he could say her name and give her the comfort of being recognized for what she once was.

"What were you looking for down here?" she inquires curiously.

He considers lying but some instinct tells him to tell the truth. "A girl. Her name is Rose. Her parents hired me to try and find her." There's a slow but deliberate intake of breath. "You know her?" he asks shrewdly, and she pauses before answering.

"Sure, I know Rosie," she replies at length, and does not elaborate.

He lets her stew for a second, considering his words carefully. "Can you tell me where she is?" he asks.
"No," she answers softly. "I can't."

"But you know, don't you?"

"Yes," she says even more quietly than before. "Her parents. That's sad. She's a sweet kid."

"They need her home. This isn't her business, she doesn't belong here," he says in as gentle a tone as he can muster.

"I know," she agrees. She shifts her weight, leaning forward and then dropping lithely from the desk with all the grace of a weightless spirit. She moves toward him and kneels in the darkness, her face close to his. It is so familiar as to be distracting but he still can't give a name to the picture in his head. Her straight black hair drifts with her slightest movement. "You want to help her," she states.

"Yes," he says simply.

"That's why I can't tell you. There's goodness in you, Draco Malfoy, more than maybe you realize. Don't you see that's why I can't let you find her? They'll kill you and you'll be no good to anyone anymore," she finishes in barely a whisper, and her hand touches his cheek softly enough that he could almost have imagined it. There's sorrow in her words, a simple and short tragedy told in the briefest of sentences. This woman was an innocent too, once, until, lost and alone, she stumbled her way into this world, and there was no one, not even a coward and a liar like himself, to pull her out again. She is not strong enough, she does not have the magnetic and fiery power that Pansy has which makes her so good at thriving in darkness. This is a woman who will be consumed here.

The sorrow of it echoes in his ears and he wishes he could find the compassion in himself to comfort her, to give her some peace in her silent sorrow. But the weakness of it makes him cringe away like she's revealed something shameful. She stands up and her face is in shadows once more, the light of the candle blocked by her slim body.

"Untie me," he suggests, his voice low and demanding.

"I can't," she denies him, and he sees her head shake slowly.

"Untie me," he repeats, "I'm leaving this place one way or another, with or without your help. I'd have a lot better chances of getting out alive if you would give me a hand."

She is silent for another minute. He can see the dim shine of her dress robes in the dark. She's trembling. With one hesitant, quiet step, and then another, she slowly moves around to the back of his chair. He feels the shift when she kneels and the softness of her fingers as they touch his hands, feeling the ropes there, exploring them with slim and nimble fingers. Within seconds, he feels them loosening, and in less than a minute the drop to the floor with a dull noise. He stands up and rubs the feeling back into his wrists.

"Good luck," she says, as he checks his wand for his pocket and finds that, as he expected, it is missing. Damnit.

"I know you," he says, pausing in the doorway as he is about to leave the room. He looks back at her face, half illuminated in the flickering light of the flame.

"We went to school together," she says with a sad kind of smile. "I was a year above you."

"Chang," he remembers, surprised to remember the pretty girl on the arm of Cedric Diggory, years ago.

"You can call me Cho," she offers, and with a pause, and then a brief nod, he slips out of the room.




He needs his wand and he needs to find Rose and get the hell out of here before someone discovers he is missing. But the wand has to come first. He is in a passage which he did not encounter before, and there is no plush carpet down here, just cold and unforgiving stone. He's deep in the bowels of someone's dark, twisted fantasy with no wand and no way of knowing what might be around the next corner. At the end of the hall is an open door and he's more careful this time, moving as slowly as he can, scanning the room until he is sure without a doubt that it is empty. In it there's nothing but a dark wooden desk and a few bookshelves, a fire that does nothing to warm the cold stone of the walls and a cabinet in the corner. He does a brief and cursory search of the hiding place but he doesn't find his wand and he didn't expect to. If he's lucky it will be in the pocket of some dimwitted muscle somewhere and if he's unlucky than it will be with Teddy himself.

Down the passage again and at the end of it he finds a set of stairs that lead further down. His glances over his shoulder, back down the corridor, and thinks fast. He has a better chance of finding Rose than he does of his wand. Maybe somehow they'll get lucky and anyway, if he keeps wandering he'll never be able to find this staircase again and he has a feeling it's going to lead him to the girl. Making up his mind, he ducks into the stairwell. It's cold in here, and the stairs creak.

At the bottom is another corridor and he wonders how deep underground he is now. The thought makes his collar itch. This is one is dimly lit, less of a corridor and more of a short stretch of damp stone. There are two doors and only one is closed. He plants himself outside of it, to the left of the threshold, and takes a second to hope sincerely that there isn't a man on the other side with his wand held at chest level. Merlin, he's in deep. Deeper than he thought he would have gone.

The door is locked and he has no wand and for a moment he debates the task of leaving it, coming back with a wand, and trying again. Then he backs up, swallowing his hesitation at the uninviting prospect before him, and rams his shoulder into the door, near the handle.

The noise is loud and his curse of eye-watering pain is only slightly softer but he thinks- or he hopes- that it won't be heard upstairs. The wood around the door jamb has splintered slightly and now he takes his foot to it with only slightly more enthusiasm, bracing himself against the wall behind him and kicking at the weak point. Each impact comes with a jarring pain in his ankle but he can see the door weakening around the handle, and with a few more kicks, he's separated the wood enough to push his way through.

The inside of the room is in such stark contrast with the hallway that at first he is taken aback. There is soft carpet here, as well as ornate furniture: a desk, a comfortable bed, a small sofa. There is a fire in the grate and the room is warm, almost uncomfortably so. At first glance it appears empty. He stands in the center and looks around him slowly, because instinct tells him that he's in the right place. It's a comfortable place, sure, but the lock on the door makes it a prison nonetheless.

There is a noise so soft and reluctant that he almost misses it, coming from the other side of the bed. It is the gasp on a young girl desperate to become invisible. He moves slowly and keeps his distance. The last thing he needs is for her to become hysterical. At first, he sees only a glimpse of blonde hair, a small, curled up tangle of trembling limbs. Then she raises her head with wide eyes. She looks much younger than he knows she is, a little girl lost in the darkness of a bad dream.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he promises, and he can see by her unchanged posture that his reassurance is unconvincing. He is no good at softly shushing away the fears of the innocent. In fact, he feels distinctly uncomfortable. He thinks he might prefer threatening and intimidating to this delicate art.

"Rose?" he tries again, and the use of her name affects her, she begins to stir slightly. "Your parents sent me. I'm going to take you home to them, but you have to come with me, right now," he insists.

He can see exactly what he wanted to avoid beginning to take shape in her face. She opens her mouth and her voice is shrill and trembling.

"I don't know you. Leave me alone," she says says shortly, and he resists the urge to roll his eyes. He reminds himself that she's young and naive and terrified. But sympathy isn't his strong suit.

"Look, you can either come with me now, or I can leave you here and you can take your chances on your own, your choice," he offers, some of the disdainful drawl creeping back into his voice. Her eyes dart between him and the door and he waits impatiently. Slowly, she begins to untangle her limbs, and stands up on unsteady feet. She's small, with a pretty, youthful face, the kind of face where a frown doesn't quite belong. She sniffs a little, rubs at her face. He wonders with mounting horror if she's going to cry, but she doesn't, she simply approaches him cautiously.

"Okay," she agrees, and moves in a way that is unfamiliar to him, so that it takes him a second to realize she's about to grab his hand. With a quick movement he shoves both hands into his pockets.

"This way," he directs her, rather obviously, to cover up the awkwardness of his movement. He leads her through the splintered door and into the cold hallway, and she's trembling harder than ever as they climb the stairs. She's making an awful lot of noise, sniffling and whimpering as she is, and she almost stride blatantly into the hallway at the top of the stairs before he grabs her elbow and yanks her back.

He leans against the wall and pokes his head around the corner cautiously, then he freezes. Five feet away, standing with his back to them, is a wizard who would have put Crabbe and Goyle to shame. He's twice Draco's size, bent over to avoid hitting his ceiling on a low threshold as he shuffles his was down the passage, his arms stiff and apelike. Rose cowers behind, in the stairwell, as Draco ducks back. They can retreat down the steps for a few minutes until he passes, and hopefully leaves the corridor deserted. But as the giant wanders away, Draco spots a familiar strip of wood emerging from the back of his pocket. The ape has his wand. Draco contemplates the idea of trying to drop him with no wand and grimaces. The man is enormous. But Draco has the advantage of surprise and quick thinking, which puts him at least two up on the slow, stupid looking beast who is currently scratching his head as though in deep though about whether he'd like to turn left or right at the end of the hall.

Rose let's out a squeak when he darts out of the shelter of the stairwell and races up the corridor. Cursing her silently, Draco watches as the man cocks his head, listening, and then slowly begins to turn. Draco's already committed himself to the corridor and he gets close with just enough time to duck as the man catches his movement out of the corner of his eye and comes around swinging. His only advantage is in speed and he moves quickly, sending his elbow into the enormous gut. The man lets out a grunt and steps back, caught off guard. Draco doesn't wait, he follows quickly with a sharp jab to the man's jaw and ducks back as his arms come flying around like battering rams. He sees his chance as the man spins around, disoriented, and exposes his ample backside, and Draco darts forward. He knocks the large hand that is reaching for his own wand out of the way and his fingers close on the familiar wood of his, and only then does he realize exactly how vulnerable it had felt to be without it.

Even as he draws the slim piece of wood from the larger man's back pocket, the beast turns around, fumbling with a wand in his hand, but he's used to immobile, helpless opponents. Generally all he has to do is grunt threateningly and watch as they gasp and sometimes cry. But Draco is neither immobile or helpless and in a second it is over, the large man falls with a ground-shaking thud to the ground and his eyes shut even as the sparks of Draco's stunning spell fade above his motionless form.

He has to stride back to the stairwell to retrieve her; she seems petrified with fear. But Rose follows willingly enough, stumbling after him as he moves through the corridors with no clear idea of where he is going. Again, he is struck by how quiet the halls are. It seems too easy in a world where nothing is.

"Where are we going?" she whispers to him, and he finds himself ungenerously annoyed. He supposes he should make allowances for her state of mind, but he has never had patience for this kind of helplessness. He ignores her question and tries to hurry her along, glancing down other corridors that cross the one they're currently traversing and looking for anything familiar. He passes what he thinks is the room in which Chang quietly released him but he can't be sure, and he sees no sign of her. A few more twists and turns and he finds himself standing at the foot of another staircase. He figures there's nowhere to go but up.

With Rose following behind him he makes his way through the upper level. He's got his bearings now, and he moves faster, ignoring the soft noises of protest coming from behind him. A right, another right, and now he sees people, a few stray men in suits wandering the hall, a woman leaving a room and shutting the door behind her. He ignores them and if they notice his unusual speed they don't say anything that he can hear, he's already passed, heading for the door that comes out behind the bar. He has no idea what he'll find on the other side or what they're going to do about the people standing between them and the exit but he doesn't have much time to consider. He's taken the dive and there's nothing left to do but hope he gets a soft landing.

He comes through the door quick and clean, keeps his head down and his pace casual. Rose keeps pace with him but she can't shake the wide-eyed, terrified look in her eyes and she sticks out in the crowd like a bloodstain in the snow. But they're going to make it. They're moving fast and no one has darted across their path to stop them. Draco scans the crowd with his eyes while they pass through. He doesn't see Pansy anywhere. There's a sigh of relief lost somewhere between steps. He pays for his loss in concentration when a stunning spell goes whizzing past his nose so close that he can smell the devil's sulfurous cologne. One misstep and he may as well call his mother and say goodbye, because there's muscle behind them now and they're closing in fast.


Chapter 9: SCENE NINE
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EXCERPT FROM THE TRANSCRIPTS OF DRACO A. MALFOY DECEMBER 30th, 2000

Saw Mother for Christmas. She's doing well. She insisted on formality, of course, despite the fact that the dining room is about the size of my old closet. I think she wanted to make an effort, being the first Christmas since Father died. If he could see where she lives now, he'd probably have held on a little longer, if only for the pride of it.

But I couldn't stay long. I have to get back to the city, and as soon as I did, it was like walking into a warzone. It took me a little while to gather the facts, rumors were sprouting around like wildfire. Four days after Christmas, the Minister's maid walks into the drawing room and finds him cold on the floor, along with his wife and grown daughter. From what I can gather, it wasn't a neat execution, either.

The Ministry is scrambling to set someone up, half the world is screaming about the return of the Dark Lord, the other half is screaming about the rise of the Muggles, every pub is packed every night with people swapping horror stories about the war. As though they had any more to talk about. Seems like they'll never be over it, every messy thing that happens goes back to the start of it all. Oh, and I heard something in the streets the other day that made me laugh, believe it or not. Some old crocker on his soapbox, passing out "Elect Harry Potter!" badges.






He should know better by now than to trust in empty promises.

Suddenly there's a sharp cry from behind him and he knows without thinking that it's Rose; it's the sound of a young woman's hopeless pain, and when he turns around he sees that someone has grabbed her wrist and is pulling her backward. Draco slashes his wand at the hulking figure, which gives a grunt and lets go of Rose, but he's in the thick of now because he's used his wand against them in the middle of their territory and they can't let him get away with that. Ducking and darting forward with all of the Seeking skills he never got the credit for, he snatches Rose up by the waist and drags her forward, because she's limp with terror and useless with confusion. She's gotten her bearings now and she picks up the pace, but he can see already that it's too late, far too late for her, because there are men covering the exit now and more emerging from the back room every second, their wands drawn.

He has to act fast before they get their wits together. They're still confused, surprised by the unexpected ruckus and looking for leadership. Draco stops abruptly in the middle of the room and gives a tug to Rose's arm; the momentum swings her around, back to face him. He shoves his wand into her hand.


"Go," he says shortly, and goddamnit she has no idea what he's talking about, she doesn't belong in this chaos. "Go," he growls, motioning with the wand which she reluctantly takes. There's a stroke of good fortune in that she is too frantic and too afraid to argue with him or to insist that he accompany her, and she nods with a gulp and takes hold of the wand at last.

She's turning into space and someone is darting toward her and a voice cries out, "Stop her!" and then the CRACK!I of her Apparition fades and there's nothing but the last dregs of momentum swirling out of the scene, and Draco in the center of the room alone, wandless, and trying to force his heartbeat down from his temples.

Someone steps closer to him and instinctively he backs away, but of course he's surrounded, with nowhere to go. Suddenly his chivalry seems pointless indeed, because once he's dead and buried, there's nothing stopping them from plucking Rose up again at their leisure. He hopes her parents have the sense to make their place Unplottable. But he's done it and it's too late for him to change his mind, and all he can do is feel naked and vulnerable with no wand and no way out, and think vaguely of Pansy and what she'll do when she finds out about his untimely demise.

A hand emerges from someone's robes and there's a wand pointed at his heart. Draco almost hears the tiny intake of breath that will carry the curse on the way out, when an authoritative voice rings out from behind him.

"Stop," the voice says, and the hand is still as though it were the voice of God himself. Heads turn in the room with rapt attention as the Savior approaches. Draco follows the collective gaze.

The man is tall and dark-haired, thin, with sharp, angular features and an attitude of quiet focus that borders on compulsion. He enjoys the attention, he passes his pilgrims without glancing from side to side, and yet the slight curl of his mouth betrays his smugness. This is the elusive Teddy, the phantom force whom Draco has been approaching since the day Rose's blindly trusting parents stepped into his office. It is not the man's aura of smug superiority, nor the homage paid to him by the elite who surround his approach, which gives him away as the leader of the operation. It is the fact that Draco knows exactly who he is.

"Malfoy," the man acknowledges his opposite, inclining his head, as though he were welcoming Draco to a dinner.

"Nott," Draco responds with something less warm, but still calm. "Or should I call you Teddy now?"

He's surprised that he didn't put the pieces together before, but it fits now. Everything about the operation spoke of new blood, someone with a fresher, newer idea for business. And everyone Draco spoke to knew him, though he didn't immediately realize that they knew him far before he had ever been given a place in the Dynasty. Draco has known this man since they were eleven and someone he still doesn't feel like having a long catch-up chat. Theodore Nott, the tag-along sixth year, had always been a little on the quiet side, unobtrusive, but ever-present.

Draco had never known what lurked beneath.

"What, would you prefer to do the dirty work yourself, Nott?" Draco taunts him, the arrogance which flows hot and strong in his veins emerging at perhaps an inappropriate time.

"Dirty work? No, Malfoy, you're going to do that for me. Something you're used to, I believe," Theodore Nott replies, with a mocking tilt of his head.

Draco takes the careless remark with a cool exterior, although he is seized with a strong desire to throttle the man in front of him for his stupid superiority. "And how do you plan, exactly, to get me to off myself for you? You seem to underestimate my will to live."

Theodore settles for looking politely puzzled, and then makes a show of letting a smile crack his face, though it is less warm and more predatory. There is no grace in the performance, and Draco raises an eyebrow, unimpressed. "You misunderstand, Malfoy," Nott says with false gravity. "I don't care enough about you to kill you. Not right now, at least, although you have a habit of making yourself incredibly inconvenient sometimes. No, what I want you to do is retrieve Rose Zeller for me. I can't have her wandering around, spouting off secrets. And you're going to do it."

Draco holds his silence for perhaps a solid minute, waiting for an elaboration on the incredible confidence, but Teddy seems determined to play the role of misunderstood evil genius, and will give no quarter until asked. "Alright, i give up," he says at last, spreading his arms wide with a mocking smile. "Enlighten me as to why I should do that."

"Oh, I didn't say you should," Nott clarifies, and Draco sees the eyes of those surrounding him following the shake of his head with their eyes, as though enraptured. "I said that you would. And you will because I have something that you want, and I believe you will be willing to make the trade."

Draco is tired of the melodrama but not quite tired enough to wish someone would just hurry up and murder him already, so he plays along. "Tell me," he says shortly, not able to summon the effort to think of a witty response. He has a feeling he isn't going to like what Nott has to say.

"It would be much more effective if I showed you, I think," Nott admits, shrugging, and for a second the schoolboy Draco remembers is evident in his face. He's enjoying this, Draco realizes, enjoying playing the fisherman with the bait and waiting for Draco to take a fatal bite.

It isn't until now that Draco notices movement on the other side of the room, beyond the wall of silent watchers wearing dress-up finery. Teddy gives a nod to someone unseen and the commotion moves forward, sweeping through the crowd like an ocean wave. Now Draco can see that it is not a commotion, merely two very large and heavyset men, hulking through and pushing the people and either side out of their way. One of them, Draco sees, is the man whom he so rashly attacked to get his wand back. Draco rather regrets this now that he's wandless again, and facing the man head on. They don't seem to be carrying anything of importance and Draco turn to Nott with a raised eyebrow, expecting some dark miracle to reveal what he is supposed to be seeing.

Nott gives a nod to the larger man. With a dangerous leer, he steps forward and holds his hand out, which is large enough to conceal just about anything in the meaty palm. Draco reluctantly extends his hand beneath the larger, and catches what is offered to him, his fist closing around it automatically. It is fine and warm and delicate and he brings it to his eyes with strong feeling of trepidation, as though it is a tiny metal snake threatening to sink its teeth into his skin. He holds it up before the light and it sways hypnotically.

It's just a bracelet. Just a fine piece of gold chain from which dangles a metal flower, delicate enough to be real but cold in it's lifelessness. But suddenly the chain feels heavy to him, though it is essentially weightless. Suddenly it seems to drag not just his arm but his entire being into the floor and to the depths of the fiery Hell beyond. He doesn't know much about flora or fauna but he knows enough to recognize the blossom dangling treacherously from the jewelry in his hand.

Pansy..

"As I said," Nott says, this time slowly and quietly, so that those standing around- the ones who aren't still trying to see what Draco is holding, with confused looks on their faces- have to strain to hear. "I think you'll be willing to do whatever I ask of you now."



Chapter 10: SCENE TEN
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EXCERPT FROM THE JOURNAL OF DRACO A. MALFOY, OCTOBER 15th, 2000

Father's funeral. It was a lovely ceremony. Or so I'm told.

Pansy managed to crawl out of the woodwork and half-carry me home from the pub. Kind of her.


It's been four hours. He can't bother reading the clock but he can tell by the level of burnout dragging his limbs that it's sometime between two and four, in those blurred-together late and early hours of silence and solitude. There is something terrible about the early hours of the morning, when the windows are so black it seems like the world disappears beyond the glass. He's been sitting at the cigarette-scarred desk in his office since he got home, descending into a stinking pit of self-indulgent despair. He's been alternating between mocking himself for his uselessness and running in circle in his head trying to figure a way out of the crack he's been stuck in, his thoughts getting wilder and more repetitive as he works his way steadily through the open bottle of Firewhiskey before him. It's not a very productive use of his time but he's got nowhere to go and nothing to do, no brilliant ideas.

He's resting his elbows on the desk before him and he's so numb he doesn't at first notice when they start to cramp in protest. He leans back in his chair and closes his stinging, bloodshot eyes, rubbing his palms against them and feeling the sick sweat of the booze slick against his forehead. He can see his own reflection in the blackness of the night outside, fuck, he looks bloody terrible, his skin flushed and sickly and his hair sticking out in all directions, his eyes just red, bleary suggestions on his face. He's no fucking use to anyone in this state, no use to anyone anyway, it seems, since he can't manage to think of a way to hold on to the only thing worth having in this farce of an existence. It's like the punchline in the joke that is Draco Malfoy, Hey, look, watch me let her down, the only time she's ever needed anyone and it's going to be me, and I'm the prat with his face in the whiskey and no wand, isn't that funny? Isn't it just bloody hilarious? God, he has to stop drinking this crap before he really loses his mind, not like it has far to go anyway, he spend half his time in waking nightmares and the other half playing riddles. Pansy, Pansy, poor twisted Pansy, there is never anyone there to catch you when you fall.

She had seen from an early age the ugly facets of love and longing. Her father dead, her mother a well dressed widow seeking solace in the arms of a married politician. The man didn't like Pansy much, a dark girl with dark eyes that knew too many dark secrets. He liked the bottle better. She held dreams of freedom tightly in her unyielding hands, wanted nothing more than to be somewhere else, to wander, to see what the world had to offer her as its consolation for so much wasted time. And then there was Draco, cool confidant and the only guardian of her trust. And when he too let it slip from his grasp and crumble, when her mother died silently and all the dreams withered with her, Pansy built herself anew. She learned how to conceal truth with the glittering mask of an appealing lie. She learned how to distort and twist herself, too, to fit into whatever pretty picture she was tasked to fill. The first time he had seen her with one of them, some Quidditch player, his arm tight around her elbow, she had held her chin high and afterwards, when he yelled, when his furious words washed over her in ugly torrents, she had fixed a look of such perfect disdain on her face that he was almost convinced. Let the world see the unashamedly contorted creature it had allowed to flourish within her.

And he cannot even save this warped and fragile balance. It, too, will be stolen from them and he wonders if it was punishment for his sins or hers. He gets up and stumbles his way to the sofa, where he collapses with very little effort onto his side. Just a few hours of sleep, sleep with no images of death or destruction, that's all he wants. Everything will look better in the morning, and he'll wake up with an answer. He wasn't given an immediate deadline; there will be time to figure something out. It makes so much sense in his addled state that he is content to close his eyes, still in his robes, and ignore the uncomfortable aching in his back because he doesn't fit on the threadbare seat. Just a few hours.





Hades.

He opens his eyes and immediately wishes he hadn't. The ache in his head it matched only by the ache in his back from sleeping on the too-short sofa, his limbs are numb, and his mouth feels like sandpaper. He tries not to make too many observations through slitted eyes as he gets up and stumbles for a glass in the cabinet, before remembering that he has no wand. He could go back to his flat for water but the feels like too long a journey. Instead, he collapses back onto an armchair and rests his head in his hands, feeling like a helpless child again, and takes a minute to feel sorry for himself.

"Hello?"

The voice is muffled by the wooden door to the office and the shape of the person on the other side is blurred through the beveled glass. They pound on the door and Draco wonders how long they've been standing out there. He's content to pretend he isn't in; he has no desire to speak to anyone at the moment, least of all about business. But they continue pounding on the door and so for the sake of his aching head and the sharp pain that jolts through it with every knock, Draco clears his throat.

"Come in," he calls loudly, not bothering to get up from his slumped position.

The door opens and Draco doesn't look up, but he can tell by the gait of the visitor that they're male. Draco sees, from the corner of his eye, the man take off his cloak and remain standing in the center of the room.

"Malfoy, you look like shit," says the man, and his voice is familiar. But not immediately recognizable. Because it certainly sounds like, but please, for the love of Salazar, let it not be-

"Potter?"

Draco looks up and for a second he wonders if maybe he's still in the grasp of fevered firewhiskey dreams, because this would be too much, on top of everything else, too much irony. The other man is looking down at him with an expression of distaste in the eyes behind the stupid glasses, and he stands with his hands in his pockets and, Draco would bet, his fingers gripping his wand. He looks the same, right down to the uncombed hair and the heroic puppy-dog expression that Draco has a strong urge to curse off his face.

"Malfoy," Potter nods stiffly.

Draco stands up and makes a slight effort to compose himself, ignoring the dizzying nausea that rolls in his stomach. He waits for Potter to explain his presence, but the man seems to have gotten, if possible, even dimmer than the last time they had met. Draco doesn't have the patience for delicacy.

"Mind if I ask what the hell you're doing in my office?"

Potter shifts uncomfortably on his feet while Draco turns around and smoothes back his hair as best as he can, glancing out the window as he passes. The day outside is grey and colorless, the clouds the color of dirty pavement and promising neither rain or shine.

"It's... er, kind of a long story. Do you mind if I sit?"

Draco is seized strongly be the urge to reply Yes, but he's a big boy now and he has to restrain his impulses. "Go ahead," he shrugs instead, still not inclined to be polite. He takes a seat behind the desk as Harry sits in front of it, subtly moving his chair back an inch or two as he does so, so that they face one another with a good five feet between them, like soldiers on the opposite sides of a wartime trench. But they're not anymore, and Draco reminds himself of that. Still, that doesn't mean they have to be great mates, either.

"Get on with it," he says impatiently, gesturing at Potter to begin. He doesn't look at the other man's face, he's looking out through the window at those clouds, and wondering like a fool whether she can see them.

Potter makes a meal out of clearing his throat and adjusting the cross of his legs. "I hear you do a lot of business with the Dynasty," he says slowly.

Draco laughs derisively, shaking his head. This is the least of his concerns at the moment. "Is that what you're concerned about, Potter? You can tell your dogs in the Auror offices to take their noses off the trail. I don't dance with them at the Club. I'm an independent contractor," he explains, leaning back in his chair.

Potter's look hardens. He's got that look that says he's about to play hero and Draco doesn't like it. "Oh yeah? What are you doing going back and forth between their drop points then, Malfoy?" he says, and pulls a file out of the pocket of his robes. He opens it and withdraws a few photographs, which he flips onto the desk in a manner which he must have copied from someone with more finesse than he. They're all pictures of Draco leaving the various sites he's been inspecting, all taken from strange vantage points- doorways, bushes, rooftops.

"You've had someone following me?" Draco hisses, and now he's paying attention, leaning on the desk.

"What, did we violate your rights?" Harry laughs this time, mockingly. "Don't act outraged, Malfoy. We know what you've been doing. I'm surprised you're running errands for them like meat, and not sitting comfortably with the rest of your old Death Eater friends."

Draco's hand twitches but he has no wand to withdraw, and Harry sees the movement, and instantly tenses. Draco calms himself. No point in getting into a one-sided duel. He settles for glaring in his coldest manner at the man who sits across from him, looking infuriatingly smug, as though he knows what he is talking about.

"Well congratulations, Potter. You've managed to screw yourself over more thoroughly than usual. This time, not only have you come to threaten the wrong man, you've also completely bungled the operation you have accidentally uncovered. How did you get to be an Auror, again? Oh, and not to mention the fact that in this instance, when we might, for once, be on the same side, you've made me much less likely to tell you anything. You know, if anyone had seen your little photographer friend, you'd have gotten me and probably a few other people killed."

Potter looks uncomfortable indeed, shifting in his chair, while trying to make sense of what Draco is saying. He gives up after a minute. "What are you on about, Malfoy?"

Draco savors his success in confusing the man for a second before answering. "I'm not in with the Dynasty. I was looking into their business for someone else. And I've got nothing to do with their little operation at the University. I happened upon it in the course of my inquiries."

Draco is growing impatient with the meeting. He has other things he needs to be doing, more important things, though he has no idea what they might be yet. He needs to move fast if he wants to try and out-think Theodore Nott's diabolical plan. But he can't move the wheels in Potter's brain any faster and so he waits, tapping his quill against the desk insistently.

"What were you inquiring about?" the dark-haired man asks, and Draco sighs.

"Like I would tell you. Nothing for you to worry your head about."

"Look," Potter says, and he takes off his glasses to polish them on his robes for a second, looking weary. "If, as you say, we may be on the same side, then you may as well tell me what you know about the University and the drugs. We already know a fair amount, but we can't get them for anything. No one will talk to my Aurors, no one will talk to them undercover."

"That's because these people can spot an Auror in about a half a second," Draco points out with a shake of his head.

"But they talked to you, didn't they?" Harry Potter says, uncharacteristically shrewd. "You're just like them."

"Why thank you," Draco replies sarcastically. "Look, I need to take care of this my own way. It's a delicate situation."

"We could help," Potter offers, looking as though he doesn't quite know why he is saying the words. "Whatever you're trying to do, if you really aren't working with them, we might be able to offer you something. Resources."

Draco lets out a chuckle. "No thanks, Potter. I don't want backup from the dream team."

The other man's forehead is creased in consternation; he is struggling to hold back his frustration. "If you're trying to mess with the Dynasty, Malfoy, I have to ask you to back off. If they get spooked, our investigation is finished. We need to do this right, legally, get a solid handle on it before we go anywhere. Just give us a chance."

Draco stands up, turns his back on the other man, and contemplates. His eyes are outside, his mind farther still. If he lets Potter go on this one, he'll take Teddy and his whole operation down, and Draco won't have to do a thing. But where will that leave her? She isn't innocent. She has business mixed up with them and there will be no mercy for her. Sure, she won't be dead, but they'll lock her up for conspiracy, among other things. And even if she escapes the law, where would she go? He wants her out, sure, but that is her choice. And if she is forced into it, she could disappear like smoke, gone with the first draft of winter wind. He hopes she wouldn't do that. He can't be sure.

He turns around. "Sorry, Potter," he says, shrugging. "I'm doing this my own way."

"I could just arrest you now," Potter says boldly, standing up as well.

"For what?" Draco sneers. "Being an arse? Deliberate obstruction of the Potter hero brigade? And don't go sending anyone after me, either. I don't want or need your backup. But maybe I'll give you a push, if I decide to let you have a piece of it. No guarantees."

"Great," Potter sighs, grabbing his cloak. "Bloody fantastic. Thanks. Do me a favor, will you? Try not to kill anyone. I know that will be a stretch for you-"

"Enough, Potter," Draco snarls. He doesn't need to hear it, not from Harry fucking Potter.

"Look, you can't blame me. You look..."

"Yeah, you said."

"I was going to say you look like a man who's not sure how far he's going to go," Potter says slowly. Draco raises his eyebrow in wry acknowledgement. He turns around and allows Potter to let himself out, waiting until he hears the door slam a little more loudly than necessary.

"Potty," he adds quietly to his reflection, and enjoys the childish satisfaction it brings him. He sits down at the desk once more and sighs, leaning back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling. He still has no idea, nowhere to start, even. The only thing that will get Pansy out is Rose, and at this point, even if he wanted to bring Rose in, he has no idea where she might be. He's sure she'll have gone under by now, and besides, he's not sure he wants to get that ugly. He needs better leverage on them. He needs something they'll give him anything for.

That's what Potter doesn't understand, really, is how to operate in a world like this. He thinks he can just march boldly in and read them a statement. It's a dirty world, one where the line between good and bad, and right and wrong, is hidden beneath layers of gold and politics. But still, if Potter can get anything on them, maybe he'll succeed.

If he had a little leverage.

And there it is, in one quick spark, the beginning of an idea.


Chapter 11: SCENE ELEVEN -
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SCENE ELEVEN
 

It's witching hour and the hungry wicked are prowling the streets, the night moonless and as dark as their deeds. The world will be different when the sun rises and no one sleeping with a clean conscience and a peaceful soul will know it, but Draco does. He knows that business continues as usual in the disreputable corners of the Alleys and that the sad sinners there will only grow more hopelessly lost. He knows that the city is bustling and teeming with malevolent life, that the moon's absence will go unnoticed in the orange glare of the combined illumination both Magical and Muggle, not so different after all, both just dirty smudges in a night sky. But he's not going to witness it this time. He's gone where the sky is inky black and the wind high, where he can smell the cold in the air, where, far from the silly, coincidental havoc of the Alleys, the polished and glamorous life of real evil rears its pretty head. He's gone home.

 

Some distance ahead of him, the lights from the windows cut through the darkness so sharply, it's as though the house is a beacon, calling him in from the wild plains outside. But he doesn't go ahead just yet. He's got to take a minute to make sure he has a handle on the shakes that are quaking up from deep within. It's the past and the present all colliding and he can't afford to go to pieces now, he's got to blot out those voices in the wind and in his head, but god, sometimes they call so loud. He thinks of her telling him Cool it, Malfoy, the way her mouth forms the words, the soft breath of it. It helps, not a lot, but some.

 

He moves forward, up the path between the high hedges. He doesn't look at the place; he has his head down and his hands in his pockets and he walks with all of the grace of a condemned man walking to his own execution. He moves through the gates, which are open, and up the gleaming white gravel drive. Now he can hear them, the revelers, and see their shadows passing before the windows. They're having a party, every room filled with distinguished guests drunk on fine champagne and their own power. It's no coincidence. They don't do anything by accident. He knows, somehow, that this party is for him.

 

Not a single guard at the door, and no one even looks up as he steps through the wide front doors. It is an environment that encourages anonymity. The rooms are cloaked in half-light and crowded with faceless figures, smoke floats through the air and hovers over groups, bodies twirl and pass and float by like so many graceful leaves tumbling in the midnight wind. The air is thick with conversation and music and mystery. It's a minute before he realizes that the distorted, discolored faces floating by him are concealed behind masks, rather than a product of some twisted fantasy in his head. How perfectly appropriate for these demons in disguise, to hide behind delicately beaded and laced faces of decency that, in the end, conceal nothing.

 

He slips from room to room with his head down and trusts to the shadows and the smoke to conceal him. Lucky he knows this place better than any of them, that he comes here often in nightmares and daydreams alike. It looks, despite the darkness and the chaos, the same as it always has. Sickeningly so. It's easy enough to find a drunk and delirious guest slumped over a statue in a corner who doesn't protest when Draco lifts the mask from his face. He slips it on and he is one of them, dressed up and sinking down into their gluttonous depravity, drifting among them, as silent as the souls that they have forgotten they have. He believes in Heaven and Hell. He believes that Heaven is where the world is safe from him and his kind and Hell is the other side of the door in his mind which he doesn't dare open anymore. But there is something distinctly underworldy about this place and the laughing creatures that occupy it. The residents of everlasting fire, the demons and those who once were angels but fell and shattered into pieces on the hard surface of reality.

 

Therein lies the beauty of it, he thinks to himself, as he prowls the crowded corridors in search of his prey. They are not all evil, but they are all broken beyond repair. Joel and Tracey Davis, orphans since the war, entirely alone until this place opened its generous arms to them. Joel was just sixteen when his parents died. Thomas Coal drawn in by hopeless love. Rose by crippling dependence. Cho Chang, fallen into this pit when no one could hold her up anymore. And Pansy, of course. Pansy who was more broken than all of them. It was this place, he knows. This dark fantasy world that has given her the twisted strength to stop feeling the broken shards of herself rattling inside. He knows because he has stopped feeling his, too. But for him it was easy. No eager hands pulling him down into the flames. Just his own choices.

 

Thinking of it makes him angry but he doesn't realize it until he looks down and sees the shaking of his hands, clenched into fists. It's not like him to get sentimental. Perhaps it's the place. Maybe he made a mistake coming here, where there is no escaping the memory of the cracked and crumbled mess that is his life, everything he has ever known. But it is almost comforting, knowing he is not alone in the dank pit where the lost wander. Every one of these starved souls will accompany him to Hell, when his time has come.

 

No one notices him as he slips among them, too distracted by their own revelry. Somewhere in a room ahead, there is laughter accompanied by the soft clink of glasses. It's coming from the library and it sounds like a fairly large group. Instincts tell him he is in the right place, that they are waiting for him. The fire and brimstone gates are opening before him and he can't help but think that maybe it's an advantage, that the devil is familiar with the sound of his approaching footsteps. He has so much experience navigating the road to damnation. He slips around the doorway intending to surprise them, but their faces are all turned to him, looking mockingly expectant.

 

"Malfoy," Theodore Nott says, rising to his feet. "Welcome to the celebration."

 

The people seated around the table are mostly familiar to him, with a few exceptions. Witnesses to his weakness, gathered to watch the mighty fall. It's infuriating and it takes him a minute to remember how to walk while he concentrates on not blowing something up. No wand, no room for mistakes. He steps further into the room and keeps his eyes on Theodore, ignoring the others. They want a show. Well, they will get one. Perhaps not the one they were expecting.

 

"Nott," Draco greets him. "Interesting party."

 

"Well, we thought we'd welcome you home in style," Theodore shrugs, and Draco feels another surge of fury. It wasn't enough for them to blackmail and twist his family into debt, but they had taken his ancestral home and turned it into the scene of his destruction once more. They were sitting in his goddamned library, waiting to see him fall apart. "And all of your old friends are present."

 

"Including you, Nott," Draco replies, raising an eyebrow. "You haven't changed much, have you? Still playing games, I see." He approaches the other man slowly, his hands in his pockets, his stride casual. He keeps his eyes alert and ready, but he doesn't really think anyone is going to attack him. No, they are much more subtle than that. Besides, they have leverage on him. He is the one walking the wire.

 

"Look, Draco, no one wants to make this hard," Theodore says pleasantly. "But I don't see Rose Weasley with you. So what did you come back for? You'll only make things harder for her, you know."

 

Theodore smirks, and Draco's hand twitches toward the wand he doesn't have, and he thinks he might vomit, but all the while his expression never falters. Just a few more minutes. He is eroding, being broken down and dissolved in something corrosive. They have waited here for him on purpose and he has walked right into their trap. But he doesn't have to play this game much longer. The illusion of steel can crumble, but not yet, not quite.

 

"I didn't invite her," Draco admits. "I didn't think this was really her crowd."

 

Theodore's expression tightens for an instant and it gives Draco enormous satisfaction. "Oh? Well I don't see why you bothered returning, then, Malfoy. Unless you really are as masochistic as they say."

 

"Maybe I just like watching you sweat, Nott," Draco replies flatly.

 

There is a moment of tight silence and Draco becomes aware of the people still seated around the table, watching the exchange with sharp eyes. He knows he should be more careful, more delicate, but it has never been his best quality. Still, he will regret his boldness, he can tell already by the calculating sheen in Nott's narrowed eyes. This is a man with everything at his disposal and a tightly wound temper just waiting to snap. There is something animalistic in his gaze, something hungry and primal and wild, when he glances behind Draco's shoulder and gives a nod at someone standing there, and Draco knows, already, what he will see when he turns around. He knows it by the sweet anticipation in the air of the people here who can't help but see something grotesquely beautiful about breaking a man, about watching human will fall apart.

 

She is not bound, gagged, or blindfolded, no, nothing so archaic as that. So there is nothing to obscure the haunted hollowness in her wide eyes and in the delicate curve of her too-full bottom lip, trembling ever so slightly. She stands with pride, her chin held high, and he loves her for it. She is guarded by two beasts with wands, but they may as well not be there because they won't stop him, won't stand a chance against the savage rage that will propel him to her, and it will be easy to watch them writhe and twist on the ground, hell, he's done it before, not so hard when there's no other choice, and this time maybe he'll enjoy it, but he doesn't move because he knows this is what Teddy Nott wants to see. He is still and impassive and untouched. Choices must be made, after all, and he always calculates the best odds.

 

"Look, Nott," Draco says, sighing. He turns away from her and the expression on Theodore's face is frozen in surprise. "I don't have time for this shit. I came here to make a deal with you." 

 

"Oh?" Nott said, distracted, as he met the eyes of one of the bulky figures standing over Draco's shoulder. The sound of her tiny intake of breath should not be audible but it is deafening, roaring in his ears. But Draco can't afford for attention to be diverted now and so when she says his name, softly, he blocks out the noise and ignores her, accepts the sharp, agonizing sting of it, uses it to keep his focus. The noises slashes him open and he feels the blood trickling out of him and it keeps him alert.

 

"Yeah, Teddy," Draco says mockingly, the name bitter on his tongue. "I'll make you a deal. I won't have you thrown in Azkaban, if you give me what I want."

 

The silence is thick and satisfying but it only last a second before Theodore's sneering laugh cuts into it. "Going to sell me out, Malfoy?"

 

"Not going to," Draco corrects him simply. "Already have. The Aurors are currently ransacking your little hideaway beneath the pub. Maybe get a better lock next time,"  he suggests.

 

In the instant it takes Theodore Nott's face to contort with rage, his wand makes it out of his pocket. Draco is unarmed and useless and he waits for the curse to come. But it doesn't. Instead the calculation returns to Theodore's face and he calms himself.

 

"You're lying," he says simply, and Draco shakes his head.

 

"Have your muscle check," he suggests, and Theodore turns his head, meets the gaze of a man seated at the table, and nods. In an instant, the Crack! of Apparition sounds, and the man is gone.

 

"Even if what you say is true," Theodore says slowly, "What could possibly make me bargain with you now? If you've blown my operation and out us all on a wanted list?"

 

Draco reached into his pocket, ignoring the startled twitches of the other men at the table. He pulls out a roll of parchment, nods at them with a raised eyebrow and a smirk, and gestures to Theodore. "All of those papers with your name written so carelessly on them? I happened to rescue them before the Aurors could."

 

Nott glances at the roll of parchment, then back at Draco's face, looking rattled. Another Crack! sounds and the other man has returned. He steps to Theodore's side and whispers something quickly to him before taking a seat again. Theodore's gaze is cold when it returns to Draco.

 

"Alright, let's say I bite," he says. "You're saying you'll destroy those papers provided I bargain with you."

 

"Full marks," Draco drawled lazily.

 

"Well I don't believe you," Theodore replied, sneering. "You know why? Because you came all this way to rescue Miss Parkinson here- pathetic, you know that, Malfoy? And you're not going to let her go to prison too, are you? It would make for a pretty pointless trade. If I let her go, you'll destroy the papers, but if I don't, you'll send her to jail? You know her hands aren't clean," he mused. He stepped closer to Pansy and Draco could keep them both in his sights now, Theodore, looking cold and quick, and Pansy, silent and proud and softly shaking.

 

Draco is silent for a minute and the room waits for him to crack open and spill out onto the marble floors. But when he speaks, he's smooth and cold and simple.

 

"It would be a pointless trade. If I was trading for Pansy. What I want is for you to stop leaning on my mother for cash, and give me my manor back. Frankly," he added, and now he turned his gaze to her and raised an eyebrow, his expression carved from stone and cruel intent. "You can keep her, for all I care."

 




 

 


Chapter 12: SCENE TWELVE
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He doesn't look at her. And she says nothing. But there is the tiniest shift in her position that he senses from the corner of his eye: her lips part, her shoulders sink downward, even the burn of her gaze seems to dull. He doubts anyone notices. It is as though she has wilted.

 

But his attention is focused entirely on Theodore, who is looking at him in a new light. "I'm impressed," he admits. "I really thought you lost it a bit, Malfoy. You know, you could have been a valuable part of this business," he says, almost regretfully. 

 

"I'm not very good at following rules," Draco shrugs. Theodore nods thoughtfully.

 

"I suppose not. You know, if I was prudent, I'd just have you killed now."

 

A tiny acceleration of the pulse. "If you were prudent, you'd take the deal I'm offering you. If you were an idiot, you'd have me killed, and then let the Aurors come sniffing around when I don't report back to them," Draco replies.

 

"So you are smarter than you look," Nott sneers, but then falls silent. He seems not to know what to do now that he does not have the upper hand, and there is something caged about his expression that Draco doesn't like, something like an animal, cornered and desperate. He jumps in.

 

"It's up to you, Nott. Do you really think Rose Zeller is going to go to the Ministry? A scared little girl? Because the way I see it, you're going to have to take a chance either way. And I'm offering you much better odds, because I can tell you right now, I'll have no problems whatsoever turning you in. I only sent them over to the warehouse first so you would know I'm serious."

 

There is silence once more and this time it seems thin, like the air itself is beginning to drain out of the room, but Draco knows this is just him and he has to get out of here one way or the other. It's the tension of it combined with the horribly familiar setting and the thin-as-ice surface he was skating on beginning to build darkness up behind his temples. He blinks and rubs his eyes, trying to make the phantom spatters of blood on his vision disappear.

 

Theodore Nott is whispering to someone behind him and Draco realizes quickly how far he has stepped, because Nott looks nervous, and the other man is speaking fast and gesturing. And still there is a void to his right side, a hollow place where he does not allow his eyes to stray. But he feels blood grow thin and cold when Nott looks up again and he is not looking forward, but over toward that space, nodding, and the other man is whispering to the muscle that guards her, and she is moving forward.

 

He barely has time to be eternally grateful that she will not meet his eyes when one of the guards swings his hand and the back of it comes colliding into the side of her face with a sickeningly sharp sound. Her lungs betray her with an involuntary gasp, a small moan that sounds to his ears like rain hitting still water.

 

He barely glances at her. His face is blank and he is frozen, rooted immobile to the spot, silent.

 

"Well," Theodore says after a moment. "I suppose you've convinced me. You'll have to give us some time to get the deeds back in your name, of course," he says flatly.

 

"By all means," Draco replies, shrugging. "I'll be waiting for your owl."

 

He turns and leaves the room without a second glance.

 




 

 

Rain again. Perhaps it will continue to fall, determined to wash the city clean, not realizing that its sins are stained in blood and sweat and tears on the sidewalks. There will be no fresh, untainted beginnings here. He knows that as well as he knows anything but he still waits here, on the chair near the open window where the curtains flutter in the cold breeze of the downpour, swirls of cool afternoon mixed with strains of her perfume. He can't remember how long he's been here. His head is still echoing with the twisted fantasy that played out the night before in the house of demons. But the rain helps.

 

He doesn't turn around when he hears the soft click of the door swinging open. And she says nothing, though she must see him. Instead he hears the sound of her heels on the tile and then, after a second, the soft movement of bare feet. The rustle of a coat being hung up. The sound of tea kettle being placed on the stove. And then the sound of the door to the veranda opening and the soft sighs of the rain, louder now, gently lamenting the state of the world.

 

He gets up and follows her out. She's standing beneath an overhang, her eyes on the cascade of rain a few feet in front of her. She must be freezing with no shoes and no coat on but she doesn't shiver and she doesn't look at him.

 

"They'll kill you, you know that, right?" she asks him after a minute, her voice clear and melodic and simple.

 

"I don't think so," he answers, shaking his head.

 

"Oh?" she asks him, turning to him sharply, her eyes flashing in the gloom. "You think they'll just let you play them for fools and walk away? You think they care about some deal they made with you for a bloody house and some debt?"

 

"No," he admits, his forehead creased, staring at her. "I think they won't be in any position to kill me, as the Aurors arrived at the manor about an hour after I left."

 

She is silent then, a storm in and of herself, beginning to blossom into dark clouds of anger and, perhaps he is imagining it or maybe he just wants to see it, hurt. "You were lying?" she asks him, raising an eyebrow. 

 

 

"No," he denies, stepping closer to her. "I was bluffing."

 

He can see her considering it and his stomach is contorted with sick desperation, for her to understand. "About everything?" she asks after a moment, and surely the soft and almost inaudible hitch in her voice is just another whisper of rain.

 

"Yes," he admits. "The Aurors were coming before I even set foot in that party. I tipped Potter off but I gave him the wrong time. I had to get there first, so I could make sure- I mean, God, Pansy, did you really believe it?" he blurts out, his hands taking ahold of her shoulders and turning her to face him properly, her gaze hungry on his face. "I just needed them to let you go before the Aurors got there. And the only way they were going to do that was if I didn't care. You know that, right? Christ, I was trying to keep you out of prison," he says, his jaw tight.

 

"I know," she confirms, and he lets go of her. She is watching him with that storm building in her eyes, her hands twisting themselves into his collar as though it will keep him there, and he shakes his head at her. 

 

"I'm sorry," she breathes, and he can't look in her eyes anymore, but stares above her head into the rain. "I just-"

 

It is he who snapped first, who breaks through the soft layer of shushing wind and rain with his voice raised and sharp. "You're sorry?" he repeats, snapping his eyes back to hers. "Do you know what I risked? That if they didn't kill me, there was a good chance I'd go to prison, too?" his hands are at her waist now, pulling her sharply closer to him, her eyes locked to his. "Yes, Pansy, you knew. You knew the whole time and you played me like a goddamned violin." She is backing away from him now, into the path of the rain, and the water is sending dark current of curls into her eyes and running down her eyelashes. She is a goddess in the rain, half water herself, ever changing and never still, conveniently filling whatever void was left for her and impossible to hold onto for long. "Why did you do it, Pans? Why play that fucking game?"

 

He had taken hours to figure it out. Hours of waiting for her had given him the answer.

 

"They said they would kill you," she says, raising her voice through the water that spills over her lips. "If I hadn't done it, they would have, Draco."

 

"Convenient, isn't it, that you're such a good liar," he snarls, not caring about the freezing wind that is now quickly soaking him through. "So you volunteer to play kidnap victim and what- hope that I figure it out in time? Or were you hoping I wouldn't? That I'd go on thinking you were some poor victim and forgive you for everything?"

 

"They just wanted Rose back," she shakes her head, her palms flat against his chest now, her gaze searching his for any sign of calm. "Once you got her back, they would have let it all go."

 

"Well bully for them I had no way of getting her back even if I wanted to," he says sharply. "No, Pansy, this wasn't about me or Rose. This was about you taking control. Telling yourself you were doing me a favor so you could prove I'd do it for you, risk everything for you, and then maybe you could feel better about loving me. Maybe you could feel more secure. Because Pansy Parkinson never risks anything for anyone, no, you never take a goddamned chance do you, never trust anyone but yourself and perfect odds," he growls, and maybe she is crying, maybe that is why the rain on her cheeks is warm when he kisses her but it doesn't matter now, not when it mixes with the cold storm and falls to the ground the same way. He is unforgiving and she desperate and his kiss is cold and harsh.

 

"Enough," he gasps, pulling back from her, back into the dry shadow of the overhang above. She remains standing in the rain, her eyes staring after him. "I can't play hero for you anymore, Pans," he tells her, his eyes narrowed and jaw tight and his hands clenched into fists in his pockets. She says nothing, her hair hanging in wet, dark tendrils across her neck, a siren risen from the depths of the sea and here only as long as the storm could sustain her. 

 

She does not come after him when he leaves. He resents himself for the bitter disappointment of it.

 




 

 

He rests his elbows on the scarred desk in front of him, flipping halfheartedly through his case notes. It gives him no satisfaction that he has put a serious dent into the operations of the Dynasty. No, they'll be back, and now they'll want blood. But they'll have to be careful how they do it and he knows he can stay one step ahead. Besides, he doesn't run away from death anymore. He dances with the devil, a quickstep, a waltz, and one of these days he will slip and never again recover. Maybe some deep and haunted part of him is hoping for it. A rest for the weary. He's weary of the game, of trying to prove to himself that he's not a demon like the rest of them, of outrunning his own past.

 

But it goes on. And somewhere, someone will put his skills to good use. Maybe he did accomplish something good, rescuing Rose from the clutches of the Dynasty. Maybe he should do work like this more often. Someone innocent was saved and that has to mean something for the balance of his soul, right? 

 

He does not think of her. Or rather, he spends much of his time thinking about not thinking of her. He's heard some rumors, of course. But rumors never seemed to capture the fleeting essence of Pansy very well.

 

He remains in this tiny flat, despite the availability of the manor. His mother has moved back there and is beginning to rebuild some of the torn and crumpled parts of her once regal life. Even the roses are blooming again, under her guidance. But he knows he won't be returning. He doesn't mind it here, though it gets bloody freezing at night and the streets are filthy. He feels more at home here among the forgotten trash of the city.

 

A knock on the door of the office. Maybe this time will kill him, maybe it will damn him or save him or wake him up. Something to do, anyway. He rises and opens it and in steps a young woman with flowing golden waves of hair and a smile. She comes from money, he can tell instantly. This might mean trouble. He invites her to sit down.

 

"I was hoping you could help me with a bit of a mystery I have on my hands," she said, demure and sweet. 

 

"If I can be of service, I will," he replies, gesturing for her to continue. "Draco Malfoy," he introduces himself, taking her smaller hand in his own and shaking it briefly. Her skin is warm and fragile.

 

"Astoria," she replies, the name like the sweet sound of wind chimes. "Astoria Greengrass."

 




 

 

END.

 



 




If you have reached this point, thank you. For sticking with this story until the bittersweet end. I would also like to thank AquariaJasmyne, my dear friend, for her dedication to this story, because without her it would still be gathering dust on the archives somewhere around Scene Five. 

If you enjoyed this story, please check out the sequel coming soon, titled In Bloom. Featuring scandal, murder, love, lust, and of course, your favorite bad good guy, Draco Malfoy, as well as a cast of characters some old some new.

 

 


Chapter 12: SCENE TWELVE
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He doesn't look at her. And she says nothing. But there is the tiniest shift in her position that he senses from the corner of his eye: her lips part, her shoulders sink downward, even the burn of her gaze seems to dull. He doubts anyone notices. It is as though she has wilted.

 

But his attention is focused entirely on Theodore, who is looking at him in a new light. "I'm impressed," he admits. "I really thought you lost it a bit, Malfoy. You know, you could have been a valuable part of this business," he says, almost regretfully. 

 

"I'm not very good at following rules," Draco shrugs. Theodore nods thoughtfully.

 

"I suppose not. You know, if I was prudent, I'd just have you killed now."

 

A tiny acceleration of the pulse. "If you were prudent, you'd take the deal I'm offering you. If you were an idiot, you'd have me killed, and then let the Aurors come sniffing around when I don't report back to them," Draco replies.

 

"So you are smarter than you look," Nott sneers, but then falls silent. He seems not to know what to do now that he does not have the upper hand, and there is something caged about his expression that Draco doesn't like, something like an animal, cornered and desperate. He jumps in.

 

"It's up to you, Nott. Do you really think Rose Zeller is going to go to the Ministry? A scared little girl? Because the way I see it, you're going to have to take a chance either way. And I'm offering you much better odds, because I can tell you right now, I'll have no problems whatsoever turning you in. I only sent them over to the warehouse first so you would know I'm serious."

 

There is silence once more and this time it seems thin, like the air itself is beginning to drain out of the room, but Draco knows this is just him and he has to get out of here one way or the other. It's the tension of it combined with the horribly familiar setting and the thin-as-ice surface he was skating on beginning to build darkness up behind his temples. He blinks and rubs his eyes, trying to make the phantom spatters of blood on his vision disappear.

 

Theodore Nott is whispering to someone behind him and Draco realizes quickly how far he has stepped, because Nott looks nervous, and the other man is speaking fast and gesturing. And still there is a void to his right side, a hollow place where he does not allow his eyes to stray. But he feels blood grow thin and cold when Nott looks up again and he is not looking forward, but over toward that space, nodding, and the other man is whispering to the muscle that guards her, and she is moving forward.

 

He barely has time to be eternally grateful that she will not meet his eyes when one of the guards swings his hand and the back of it comes colliding into the side of her face with a sickeningly sharp sound. Her lungs betray her with an involuntary gasp, a small moan that sounds to his ears like rain hitting still water.

 

He barely glances at her. His face is blank and he is frozen, rooted immobile to the spot, silent.

 

"Well," Theodore says after a moment. "I suppose you've convinced me. You'll have to give us some time to get the deeds back in your name, of course," he says flatly.

 

"By all means," Draco replies, shrugging. "I'll be waiting for your owl."

 

He turns and leaves the room without a second glance.

 




 

 

Rain again. Perhaps it will continue to fall, determined to wash the city clean, not realizing that its sins are stained in blood and sweat and tears on the sidewalks. There will be no fresh, untainted beginnings here. He knows that as well as he knows anything but he still waits here, on the chair near the open window where the curtains flutter in the cold breeze of the downpour, swirls of cool afternoon mixed with strains of her perfume. He can't remember how long he's been here. His head is still echoing with the twisted fantasy that played out the night before in the house of demons. But the rain helps.

 

He doesn't turn around when he hears the soft click of the door swinging open. And she says nothing, though she must see him. Instead he hears the sound of her heels on the tile and then, after a second, the soft movement of bare feet. The rustle of a coat being hung up. The sound of tea kettle being placed on the stove. And then the sound of the door to the veranda opening and the soft sighs of the rain, louder now, gently lamenting the state of the world.

 

He gets up and follows her out. She's standing beneath an overhang, her eyes on the cascade of rain a few feet in front of her. She must be freezing with no shoes and no coat on but she doesn't shiver and she doesn't look at him.

 

"They'll kill you, you know that, right?" she asks him after a minute, her voice clear and melodic and simple.

 

"I don't think so," he answers, shaking his head.

 

"Oh?" she asks him, turning to him sharply, her eyes flashing in the gloom. "You think they'll just let you play them for fools and walk away? You think they care about some deal they made with you for a bloody house and some debt?"

 

"No," he admits, his forehead creased, staring at her. "I think they won't be in any position to kill me, as the Aurors arrived at the manor about an hour after I left."

 

She is silent then, a storm in and of herself, beginning to blossom into dark clouds of anger and, perhaps he is imagining it or maybe he just wants to see it, hurt. "You were lying?" she asks him, raising an eyebrow. 

 

 

"No," he denies, stepping closer to her. "I was bluffing."

 

He can see her considering it and his stomach is contorted with sick desperation, for her to understand. "About everything?" she asks after a moment, and surely the soft and almost inaudible hitch in her voice is just another whisper of rain.

 

"Yes," he admits. "The Aurors were coming before I even set foot in that party. I tipped Potter off but I gave him the wrong time. I had to get there first, so I could make sure- I mean, God, Pansy, did you really believe it?" he blurts out, his hands taking ahold of her shoulders and turning her to face him properly, her gaze hungry on his face. "I just needed them to let you go before the Aurors got there. And the only way they were going to do that was if I didn't care. You know that, right? Christ, I was trying to keep you out of prison," he says, his jaw tight.

 

"I know," she confirms, and he lets go of her. She is watching him with that storm building in her eyes, her hands twisting themselves into his collar as though it will keep him there, and he shakes his head at her. 

 

"I'm sorry," she breathes, and he can't look in her eyes anymore, but stares above her head into the rain. "I just-"

 

It is he who snapped first, who breaks through the soft layer of shushing wind and rain with his voice raised and sharp. "You're sorry?" he repeats, snapping his eyes back to hers. "Do you know what I risked? That if they didn't kill me, there was a good chance I'd go to prison, too?" his hands are at her waist now, pulling her sharply closer to him, her eyes locked to his. "Yes, Pansy, you knew. You knew the whole time and you played me like a goddamned violin." She is backing away from him now, into the path of the rain, and the water is sending dark current of curls into her eyes and running down her eyelashes. She is a goddess in the rain, half water herself, ever changing and never still, conveniently filling whatever void was left for her and impossible to hold onto for long. "Why did you do it, Pans? Why play that fucking game?"

 

He had taken hours to figure it out. Hours of waiting for her had given him the answer.

 

"They said they would kill you," she says, raising her voice through the water that spills over her lips. "If I hadn't done it, they would have, Draco."

 

"Convenient, isn't it, that you're such a good liar," he snarls, not caring about the freezing wind that is now quickly soaking him through. "So you volunteer to play kidnap victim and what- hope that I figure it out in time? Or were you hoping I wouldn't? That I'd go on thinking you were some poor victim and forgive you for everything?"

 

"They just wanted Rose back," she shakes her head, her palms flat against his chest now, her gaze searching his for any sign of calm. "Once you got her back, they would have let it all go."

 

"Well bully for them I had no way of getting her back even if I wanted to," he says sharply. "No, Pansy, this wasn't about me or Rose. This was about you taking control. Telling yourself you were doing me a favor so you could prove I'd do it for you, risk everything for you, and then maybe you could feel better about loving me. Maybe you could feel more secure. Because Pansy Parkinson never risks anything for anyone, no, you never take a goddamned chance do you, never trust anyone but yourself and perfect odds," he growls, and maybe she is crying, maybe that is why the rain on her cheeks is warm when he kisses her but it doesn't matter now, not when it mixes with the cold storm and falls to the ground the same way. He is unforgiving and she desperate and his kiss is cold and harsh.

 

"Enough," he gasps, pulling back from her, back into the dry shadow of the overhang above. She remains standing in the rain, her eyes staring after him. "I can't play hero for you anymore, Pans," he tells her, his eyes narrowed and jaw tight and his hands clenched into fists in his pockets. She says nothing, her hair hanging in wet, dark tendrils across her neck, a siren risen from the depths of the sea and here only as long as the storm could sustain her. 

 

She does not come after him when he leaves. He resents himself for the bitter disappointment of it.

 




 

 

He rests his elbows on the scarred desk in front of him, flipping halfheartedly through his case notes. It gives him no satisfaction that he has put a serious dent into the operations of the Dynasty. No, they'll be back, and now they'll want blood. But they'll have to be careful how they do it and he knows he can stay one step ahead. Besides, he doesn't run away from death anymore. He dances with the devil, a quickstep, a waltz, and one of these days he will slip and never again recover. Maybe some deep and haunted part of him is hoping for it. A rest for the weary. He's weary of the game, of trying to prove to himself that he's not a demon like the rest of them, of outrunning his own past.

 

But it goes on. And somewhere, someone will put his skills to good use. Maybe he did accomplish something good, rescuing Rose from the clutches of the Dynasty. Maybe he should do work like this more often. Someone innocent was saved and that has to mean something for the balance of his soul, right? 

 

He does not think of her. Or rather, he spends much of his time thinking about not thinking of her. He's heard some rumors, of course. But rumors never seemed to capture the fleeting essence of Pansy very well.

 

He remains in this tiny flat, despite the availability of the manor. His mother has moved back there and is beginning to rebuild some of the torn and crumpled parts of her once regal life. Even the roses are blooming again, under her guidance. But he knows he won't be returning. He doesn't mind it here, though it gets bloody freezing at night and the streets are filthy. He feels more at home here among the forgotten trash of the city.

 

A knock on the door of the office. Maybe this time will kill him, maybe it will damn him or save him or wake him up. Something to do, anyway. He rises and opens it and in steps a young woman with flowing golden waves of hair and a smile. She comes from money, he can tell instantly. This might mean trouble. He invites her to sit down.

 

"I was hoping you could help me with a bit of a mystery I have on my hands," she said, demure and sweet. 

 

"If I can be of service, I will," he replies, gesturing for her to continue. "Draco Malfoy," he introduces himself, taking her smaller hand in his own and shaking it briefly. Her skin is warm and fragile.

 

"Astoria," she replies, the name like the sweet sound of wind chimes. "Astoria Greengrass."

 




 

 

END.

 



 




If you have reached this point, thank you. For sticking with this story until the bittersweet end. I would also like to thank AquariaJasmyne, my dear friend, for her dedication to this story, because without her it would still be gathering dust on the archives somewhere around Scene Five. 

If you enjoyed this story, please check out the sequel coming soon, titled In Bloom. Featuring scandal, murder, love, lust, and of course, your favorite bad good guy, Draco Malfoy, as well as a cast of characters some old some new.

 

 


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