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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.

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