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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.


"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."

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