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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.


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.

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