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Chapter 9

Author's Note: Thanks to everyone for the fantastic reviews! I really am quite honored by your attention to my story.

P.S. Lucius will reappear, I promise.

 

Chapter 9

He was still my cousin…

His first sensation was a crippling pain in his head, followed by a vague sensation of nausea that was, unfortunately, growing more and more concrete as the seconds passed. Ron groaned, rolling out of bed and tripping over the scattered clothes and magazines that adorned the bare floor as he stumbled quickly across the bedroom and into the tiny bathroom adjacent. He wretched, feeling his stomach twist inside him and groaned again, regretting deeply the night before and all the rum he had drunk. His skin felt clammy as his fingers brushed too-long locks of hair off of his forehead. Ron groaned again, sitting slowly on the bathroom floor and wondering painfully why he did this to himself night after night.

"Its because you miss her, isn’t it?" The voice came from across the bedroom, and Ron jerked his head quickly to see who was standing there. Harry slipped out of the chair he was sitting in, wearing his white Auror’s robes adorned with the traditional crimson sash. The sight made Ron feel even more useless. Harry Potter, a respected auror, and his best friend, Ron Weasley, sick on the floor.

Ron looked down at his pale hands, long spindly fingers, and short ragged nails. "Not anymore," he said with a sigh. "I still love her. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that, but—" he hesitated, sighing, and looked back up at Harry. "—Its more than that, now. I feel… I’m useless, Harry." He looked around, waving his hand in the general direction of the rest of his flat, pausing in his speech a moment to fight another wave of nausea. "I have a job that is effectively leading me nowhere, a ratty one-room flat that wouldn’t impress a beggar---" He sighed. "I need a new track, Harry. It isn’t Diana anymore."

Harry hesitated, then made his way over and offered Ron a hand up before pulling a vial of potion out of his robe sleeve. "Its from Hermione," he said quietly, "to help you get over your hangover." Ron smiled in thanks and downed the potion in one gulp. He leaned against the bathroom sink and ran a hand through his hair. Harry hesitated, still watching his best friend in concern. "So if it isn’t Diana, then you don’t mind her marrying Draco?"

Ron looked up at Harry, narrowing his eyes slightly in thought. For a moment, he looked angry, eyes tinged green with a tangible veil of jealousy. Then he softened. "Don’t get me wrong, Harry. I still hate the little prat, but…" he paused again, looking reluctant to speak. "…but if Diana’s happy, then I guess… then I guess this is what I want for her. I don’t like it, and I don’t know what she’s thinking, but if she’s happy…" he sighed again. "That’s what’s important." He looked up at Harry, seeming for a moment in the dim light of the bathroom to be a child again, fourteen and burning with an inner desire to be someone, to do something important. "I don’t want to be poor, Harry," his voice came as a whisper. "I saw what it did to my parents, I saw the regret in their eyes when they couldn’t afford to buy us real clothing or new brooms. I don’t want that to happen to me, or to my children." He smiled lopsidedly. "As if anyone would ever want me."

Harry remained silent for a moment in light of this new development, quietly contemplating the consequences of this confession. "I understand, Ron," he said after a moment, his voice soft. "And I think I can help you."

Ron looked up at him, fiery red hair falling back from his face. "You can?" His eyes were hopeful, his face reflecting a tense anticipation.

Harry smiled, nodding and pulling a silver chain out of his sleeve, extending his hand and placing it in Ron’s hand. Ron felt his hand grow heavy, then cautiously reached out to turn the pendant over with his free hand. "Harry, is this--?"

He shrugged. "Its on a probationary basis, you understand. My superiors don’t like it." He flashed a grin. "But we’re out an auror, and I need a partner."

Ron looked up at Harry, eyes wide in absolute ecstasy. "Harry, I don’t know what to say."

Harry arched an eyebrow. "You can start by saying you’ll take the job." He grinned again, turning and starting out the door. "Now get dressed. I’ve got some work to do and I want to give you the tour."

 

***

Abby was inspecting the third floor room directly overlooking the master bedroom's balcony. It was a dusty and disused room that was now apparently being used for storage, as it was filled with stacks of ebony wooden chairs and tables of varying sizes and colors. In one corner an ordinary broom stood, gathering dust. Apparently it had once been charmed to sweep on its own, as every once in a while it shivered from handle to bristles and made one or two feeble twitches.

The window was the only portion of the room that was sparkling clean, and Abby could understand why the house elves would choose to clean this. It was a cathedral-style round stained glass window, brilliantly shining in deep reds, greens, blues, and golds. She stopped to appreciate the design for a moment, a single crimson rose, thornless, with a twisting stem emerging and blossoming emerald leaves which framed the lower half of the picture. This was backed by a bright azure sky interrupted by a golden sunset.

"I wonder," she murmured in awe to herself, "how such a beautiful thing could exist in such a horrid house."

"Its not so horrid anymore." Draco's voice made her start and spin swiftly to face him. He was leaning casually against the door, all in black save for his pale skin and hair. His eyes were deeply shadowed, and he seemed filled with remembrance. "It was, years ago, a dark house filled with ugliness." he narrowed his eyes slightly, straightening and taking a few steps forwards. "You could put your hand to the wall and feel the screams of the souls who died here. Their suffering thickened the air and their twisted bodies crowded your mind when you tried to sleep." Abby watched him silently, voice caught stubbornly in her throat as she listened to him speak.

"You don't know what it was like, Abby Corelli. I lived in this house with him for fifteen years. He was a walking Imperious curse, he didn't need to cast a spell to make you do what he wanted. Fear was his incantation." He gave Abby a searching look, then turned to leave. "I have made every effort to wash this house clean of Lucius Malfoy's memory, but he will not leave."

Abby watched him go, arms folded with a slight scowl. "Just because I feel sorry for you," she grumbled, "doesn't mean I like you."

***

Harry remained still, in silent contemplation, as the junior Auror warily informed him of the break-in. He belonged to one of the lower ranks and was relatively new. Harry didn't know him very well, but could tell that he was feeling both frightened and ill at the same time. His face had a grayish tinge, and Harry noticed that his hands were shaking. His blue sash was loose around the white robes, which had a smattering of what appeared to be blood around the hem.

"Mr. Potter, unknown perpetrators gained access to the holding area where we were holding the muggle prisoner before his trial."

"And?" Harry's voice came out sharper than he had intended, causing the man to hesitate in his description.

"Well, sir," he winced, looking down for a moment, then back up before continuing weakly. "It is safe to assume that the muggle won't be standing trial, sir."

Ron hovered behind Harry, who was just beyond the threshold of the tiny cell where Dudley Dursley had been held. Blood was spattered across the walls, on the floor, over the ceiling. Once white and neat, the room now almost resembled a monochromatic Pollock painting that had been rendered on the inside of a cube of canvas. And in the middle of it all was Dudley, lying in the largest pool of blood, covered in deep slashes and lying completely still. At first glance, it seemed to be the gash on his neck that had finally done him in.

Ron turned away quickly, feeling his stomach twist in revulsion. Harry was still quiet, not moving in the middle of the carnage with a curious blend of emotions flickering across his face. It was a long time before Harry said anything.

"He was a murderer," he whispered at last. "he killed out of hatred, and he didn't regret it." He sighed, turning his head to where a message had been smeared in blood on one wall: MUGGLE TRAITOR.

"But he was also my cousin," he finished, and slipped off his cloak, crossing the room to place the fabric gently over the body of Dudley Dursley.

***

Night had fallen over Malfoy Manor, and it felt to Draco as if a great nightmarishly black cloak had fluttered over the grounds, slowly suffocating them in a burning wet haze. The moon was hidden by dark clouds tonight, and thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance. Abby had vanished shortly after sunset, presumably to lie in wait for the vampire. The only instructions that she left were to Draco; in no way was he to interfere with the vampire's call to Diana. He was sitting on the edge of the bed now, staring out at the night beyond with a lead veil gripping his heart and a sense of foreboding clouding his thoughts. Diana, beside him, was lying in bed, turned on her side and watching him with bright eyes. She was completely silent, too, pale brow wrinkled in worry. Slowly Draco reached out and lay a gentle hand on her shoulder, feeling the soft silk of her nightgown strap slide slightly to give way to soft skin beneath. She smiled, weakly, and opened her mouth to mouth out to him. I love you.

He smiled weakly, and then it happened. The breeze picked up, rustling the sheer curtains over the open door to the balcony, and a soft tune was carried on the wind. Draco could barely make it out, but the sound stirred up more fear in him than he could bear. He looked swiftly to Diana and saw with a rush of anxiety the struggle in her eyes to resist the melody.

"Go," he whispered reluctantly, wanting to pull her into his arms and forcefully hold her to him.

Diana looked away from him quickly, sliding out of bed and feeling the sweet lilting music draw her once more onto the balcony. She resisted looking into the mirror this time, but could see from the corner of her eye the flashing scenes haunting her once more.

She slipped past the sheer curtains, the cold breeze making her shiver and freezing her feet to the cold stone. She wiggled her toes, glanced around, and slid further outside, to the edge of the balcony. The grounds were still again, silent. There was a flutter beside her and she spun, quickly. The oppressive darkness yielded nothing but black, and she took a hesitant step backwards.

She felt her back press against something cold, and for a moment mistook it to be the stone railing of the balcony. Then a frigid hand slid around her waist and she knew she had been mistaken. She felt the walls of the musical spell collapse around her like glass, and fear rushed into awareness. She turned to struggle, but a powerful voice boomed out from above.

"Solaris!" A blinding flash of light shone out, and she felt the hand slip from her waist. She stumbled away, quickly, and turned in the fading daylight to see her attacker. Abby jumped lightly down from her position on the roof to land beside Diana, as Draco raced out from the bedroom beyond.

A man was lying unconscious on the stone, swathed in deep red robes. His face was pale and pointed, and two small glittering fangs descended between his pale lips. A mess of curly blonde hair seemed scattered by the fall and lay disorganized on his head.

Abby scowled. "God dammit," she hissed. "Adrian." As the last of the daylight faded, the man stirred, opening one eye and sitting up weakly. Diana took a quick step back and Draco leapt forwards, growling, but paused when he saw Abby remain still.

"Ah," the vampire said, rubbing his forehead painfully, "Hello, Abby. Fancy seeing you here."

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