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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.

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

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