15th of February
The world was afire. Every sense was bombarded. People weaved in between one another, shouting louder for every word to be heard. Shoulders brushed past lightly, some others pushed their way through—they were faces in faces in faces. The crowd was just a hurricane of bodies.
Mundungus Fletcher slipped a hand into the pocket of his worn torn coat and let out a low, satisfied chuckle. The feel of notes grazed his fingertips, soft and smooth to touch. Muggle money, but the importance of that paper was not lost on him. He removed his hand and smelt his fingers. It was a smell that would never get old.
Across the grounds, a loud gunshot was heard, and the PA screamed to life. The man talking listed off names, speaking so fast that his words never paused. That was an art Mundungus could never understand. How could anyone talk that fast without magic? He shook his head. Muggles: madness.
He was tempted to leave, but the thundering of hooves drew his wandering brown eyes back to the racetrack ahead of him. It smelt of horse dung and grass and mud, and he loved it. Breathing in deeply, he drowned out the cheering and the shouting of the people around him and focused on the steady, rhythmical thundering of the horses’ hooves on the racetrack ground.
Lost in the moment, he stuck his head forward, looking beyond the crowd. The group of jockeys and horses were rounding the corner. Stuck in the euphoria, he could not hold back the smile as his heart began to thump hard and fast against his ribs, keeping in time with the hooves. The sharp CRACK of jokeys’ whips drowned out the rallying cries of the crowd surrounding him, and he joined in on the screaming with them. He didn’t even have a bet on this race.
The group of horses streamed passed. It was going to be a nose-to-nose. The Muggles had giant flat things to work out winners though—good thing too, Mundungus mused, absently slipping his hand into his pocket again. He had some pretty close bets today.
Once the race was over, the crowd slowly retreated. Mundungus joined them. He had had a damn good day, and he was ready to finish it with a refreshing fire whiskey from the Leaky Cauldron. His wife would probably kill him for coming home late, but his winnings from today would buy her a nice bunch of roses to shut her—
Er, quieten her down.
He left the racetrack with an unmistakable jaunt in his step. Slowly, as he walked on, the sounds of the track died away, and he was bathed in the silence of suburbia. Finding a deserted alleyway, he promptly Apparated to his favourite pub, where his usual barstool sat, empty and awaiting.
“You’re looking mightily please with yourself, Dung,” came the sweet voice of the Cauldron’s landlady, Hannah. “What’s worked its way under your bonnet?” She eyed him suspiciously. “Nothing illegal, I hope.”
Mundungus chuckled, and took a seat as Hannah poured him a drink. She was a pretty young thing, with curly blonde hair and soft, rounded cheeks. She had only recently acquired the pub, just over six months ago, but in that time she had grown a soft spot for the conspicuous and suspicious old man.
“Nuttin’ bad, ’Annah,” he answered, taking his drink. He drank it greedily in one gulp, and motioned for another. “Just ’ad a good day.”
Hannah poured another shot of whiskey. “Oh? That’s good. More money for me, then.”
She grinned at him as he glowered, turning to a new customer that had entered. Before engaging him though, she let out a small ‘Oh!’ and slipped Mundungus a note.
“A man came in and dropped this off. It’s for you.”
Mundungus grabbed the note, studying it suspiciously in the dull light. I have a proposition. Meet me in Knockturn.
“Who was it?” he asked.
Hannah shrugged. “He had a hood on, and didn’t say much. Posh voice, though. Probably a lot of gold ta spend.”
Indeed. Mundungus downed another glass and scratched his unshaven chin, mulling his fortunes over. He could practically see himself now, once he had that Muggle money exchanged. Why, he would be rolling in the galleons! Rubbing his hands together to warm them, he bid goodnight to Hannah and slipped out the back door of the pub. Diagon Alley’s iconic wall loomed in front of him.
He tapped the bricks with his wand. The path of Diagon opened up before him, and he took the road in a hurry. Shops were closed, streetlamps flickered on, and the place was deserted. It was slightly ominous, and in honesty, very suspicious. However Mundungus felt no fear; he had had his fair deal of shady interactions. After all, he wasn’t put in Gryffindor for nothing.
He continued on. Knockturn Alley had been completely shrouded in the darkness this particular night. If it weren’t for the hand that shot out to grab his arm, Mundungus would have walked straight past the alleyway.
Startled by the contact, he spun around, his wand pointed at the man who had grabbed him. He was tall, Mundungus had to give him that—a good ruler length taller than Mundungus himself, in fact (not a great feat, though—he wasn’t exactly known for his height). The man was decked in fine, black robes, with the hood mysteriously covering his face.
He laughed coldly. Mundungus’s skin erupted with goosebumps.
“Calm yourself, Dung.”
He knew that voice—that drawl. Mundungus lowered his wand, but only slightly, as the man pulled down his hood. Cold, grey eyes pierced through the night, and a smirk graced the man’s face.
“Master Malfoy,” Mundungus greeted. “Ya lookin’ more an’ more like dear, ol’ Lucius.”
“Thank you,” Draco Malfoy drawled. It wasn’t intended as a compliment, but Mundungus wasn’t going to say that. “Here—for coming.”
He looked down. Draco held out a small coin purse in the palm of his hand. It would have at least contained fifty galleons.
Acknowledging the shock on his face, Draco added, “I understand my father and yourself did not have ... uh, the best business interactions. I am not my father.”
Mundungus grabbed the purse. “Oh, no! ’Coruse not, young Master! Ya doin’ well.”
“Well, very good. Then put your wand away.” Draco’s tone had taken on a cold, business-like quality. Despite the voice in his head telling him not to, Mundungus obliged, slipping his wand back in his pocket. “I’m looking for something, and I have it on good authority you possess it.”
Mundungus eyed Draco warily. “Whose authority?”
“A dead man’s. Some people just tell you anything when you’re about to kill them.”
Mundungus’s blood ran cold. The night air froze his limbs, and he watched, transfixed, as the young Malfoy began to pace back and forth in front of him.
“Goyle,” Draco ordered.
A huge shadow of a man loomed out from behind Draco, walking towards Mundungus. He was at least six and a half foot tall, and had nearly 110 kilograms of muscle to accompany that. He cracked his knuckles and grabbed Mundungus’s arm in a vice-like grip.
“You see, Dung,” Draco began, pausing in his pacing to face the older man, “I was going to make this a pleasant interaction, but then I remembered something: the day of my father’s funeral. You remember?”
He was too old for this. What had he been thinking, following the location on the note. Knockturn? In the dark? At least dear, young Hannah would look for him if he didn’t head back soon. But what if she was too late? What about his wife?
He tired to wriggle out of the giant’s grasp, but it was useless. “Whatta want, ya filthy Death Eater?” he growled.
Draco sighed, stepping forth and punching Mundungus square in the jaw. Pain reverberated through his skull and white spots clouded his vision. He was sure if the man had not had a hold of him, he would have fallen to the ground.
A sigh. “I didn’t want to do that. You should not have said that.”
Draco was close now. Mundungus stared at him. Bruises and cuts covered his face, throwing ominous shadows across his pale, pointed features in the dull light.
“Wha’ happened to ya?” Mundungus breathed.
Draco shook his head. “You see, when I look back to that day I came home to you rifling through my father’s belongings, I realise I should not have let you go.”
“That’s not ya style,” Mundungus said. His voice was filled with fear. “Ya gonna kill me?”
“No.” Draco stepped back from the man, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a long, gold chain. He held it up, where it glinted brightly even in the dull light. A beautiful, ornate ‘M’ dangled at the end. “Malfoy family heirloom. A present for my great-great-great grandmother from the king of the time. Priceless, as I’m sure you know.” His grey orbs locked onto Mundungus. “This was what you were looking for, right?”
“I have this,” Draco said, voice rising over Mudungus’s pleas, “so that you would not lie to me. I’m not going to torture you—people will say anything to make the pain stop. I’m sure you would prefer it this way, anyway.”
Mundungus looked at the locket. His heart had lifted its dead weight, and he sighed with relief. He wasn’t going to die. He swore if he got out of this, unscathed, it would be the last—absolutely the last—shady business deal he would do.
Draco spoke, voice quiet, “Sorry... I ... I know now if I didn’t let you go on that day, I don’t know what would have happened in... So... thank you.”
Mundungus blinked. He was perplexed. Was the kid on some kind of drug? His eyes were in focus, so probably not... But what in Circe’s tits was he talking about?
Draco looked up, glancing towards his companion. A flash of sadness passed over the Malfoy’s face.
“Sorry, right, business. I understand you raided Yaxley manor?—You don’t have to answer, I already know,” he added, somewhat cheekily, as Mundungus shifted uncomfortably. “Did you find anything... unusual?”
Indeed he did. It had been a strange thing, and one that had made the thief very, very distressed. Though a simple cube, it shifted and changed inside itself when touched, and produced a strange, low buzzing sound. He had sold it almost immediately, but what would have been a relief, did not feel as such. In fact, when he sold it, he felt nothing but despair for a few days.
He explained this to Draco, who nodded as if he expected this. “Very well. Goyle.”
The giant released his grip, and Mundungus was freed. His arm throbbed painfully from where the man had held it, and he rubbed it gingerly.
“Here.” Draco passed over the necklace. “I have more coin, if you wish to cooperate further.”
Well, he had just promised himself that he would end these shady interactions, but Mundungus did love coin. Perhaps a little too much.
“Wadda ya need?” he asked.
“The name of the man you sold it too,” Draco said, pulling another coin purse out of his robe pocket.
Too easy. “Alistair Martin.”
Draco smiled, passing over the purse. “Thank you, Dung. Until we meet again.”
With a loud CRACK, the two men disappeared from the street. Mundungus shook his head. He was in desperate need for a drink. Or two. Or eight.
“Alistair Martin,” Draco repeated for the sixth time, voice heavy with thought. “Alistair ... Martin ... Hmmm ... Have you heard of him?”
He looked up at the looming figure of Gregory Goyle beside him. They were back in Wiltshire, walking up the street towards Malfoy Manor. It lay at the end of the road, casting an ominous shadow down the street as the moon lingered behind it. Trees shrouded the road, but it was lit brightly by the lampposts on this particular night.
Goyle shrugged. “Nup.”
“Didn’t think so,” Draco grunted. He studied Goyle suspiciously. “What’s wrong?”
There was a time in his life where Draco would not have ever asked such a thing. Goyle was always fine. He was a constant. He was there for Draco no matter what. But that time had come and gone; where the young Malfoy had once believed that Goyle needed him, age and time had proven that he could not have been more wrong. He needed Goyle. He didn’t have any siblings or many friends—none, really—and Goyle was about the closest thing he had to both a brother and a mate.
He was ... grateful, for his companionship.
Goyle looked down at him. “You gave that thief a lot of money. The necklace, too.”
Goyle had always spoken in short, simple sentences. Draco was still not sure if it was because his brain couldn’t process too much information at once, or if he just didn’t care for conversation.
Probably a healthy mix of both.
“Hmmm, I suppose I did,” Draco mused. “That necklace was worthless to me, however.”
Silence settled between them as they begun the descent up the drive to the manor. Goyle broke it with a hefty grunt, and a, “Seems a waste.”
Draco stopped walking, smirking as Goyle turned to him. “Are you trying to tell me something, Goyle?”
The giant man was looking extremely uncomfortable, shuffling his feet and coughing slightly. Draco chuckled, walking passed him and up the steps to the door.
“I suppose I could pay you more. No one else would put up with me to be my bodyguard.” His face darkened slightly. “And I haven’t died ... yet.”
Goyle shadowed next to him. “I shoulda been there when—when those idiots got ya.” His voice was saturated in undisguised rage.
Draco smiled. “T’is alright, Goyle. It was unavoidable. I will endeavour to reward you better for your efforts.”
Draco knocked on the large doors in front of them. He was starting to get sick of them constantly being locked, but it was probably for the better. He sighed.
So, I have the location of an Object and a name that means nothing. Why can’t anything just be straight in and out? All this running around ... I hope it’s worth it. I just hope this Alistair Martin hasn’t grown attached to the Object yet.
Draco shuddered at the thought, closing his eyes briefly. A small squeak on the other side of the door had him smiling slightly.
“Pokey.” He opened his eyes.
“Masters Draco needs—”
“To give Pokey the password, I know. Memento Mori.” The door swung open at Draco’s words, and Goyle walked in, heading directly to the kitchen. Typical. Draco looked down at the little elf at his feet. “You could enchant the door to open at the password, Pokey.”
“Pokey doesn’t know that spells, Sir.”
Pokey stood to the side to let Draco in, looking up at him with big, violet eyes. She wore a simple white sack that Daphne had taken to drawing flowers and rainbows on. It looked like the house elf had just tied herself up in wrapping paper.
“You’re a free elf,” he said, shrugging off his robes and hanging them on the rack by the door. “Learn it.”
“Pokey does not have the time, Sirs,” she piped, matter-o-factly. “The other spells on the house take up all Pokey’s time.”
Draco yawned, walking through the entrance hall. “I guess that makes sense. Anyway, I might go to bed—if you see the rest of the team, tell them there will be a meeting in the dining room tomorrow morning.”
Pokey jumped in front of Draco’s path to the stairs, nearly tripping him over in the process.
He growled. “What?”
“Mistresses Astoria wants to see Master Draco in the office,” Pokey said. She then quickly scurried away to the kitchen, possibly to prevent Goyle from tearing it down in his search for food.
Of course she wants to see me. He sighed. I really don’t have time for this.
With heavy steps, Draco made his way up the elaborate staircase, shuffling down the hall. The door to his study was closed, and he hesitated briefly, hand above the handle.
I could turn around now, deal with her later. She needn’t know, right?
Words and memories swirled in his mind as he stood isolated in the hallway. He remembered a time when seeing her did not cause his heart to sink. A time when his stomach would flip when her blue eyes locked on his. A time—a memory—that he had been clawing haplessly for the other day when he kissed her.
It had been a mistake. And so was this.
Another sigh. He glanced down the hall, towards his bedroom. Then, distracted momentarily, as if it were moving on its own accord, Draco’s hand pushed open the door.
Astoria stood by his large, mahogany desk, twisting her hands around and around in apprehension. To the left, the fireplace crackled loudly, casting its warmth throughout the room. Red, velvet curtains were drawn closed and the candelabra above was alight, brightening the entire area and revealing the evidence of Draco’s seclusion. Papers, books, quills and miscellaneous objects scattered the surface of his desk.
She was as beautiful as ever. Every part of his body itched to touch the soft curls that cascaded down her back, feel how soft she was beneath his—
Stop. Just stop.
He walked forward, hesitating before veering straight towards the whiskey cabinet to the right. Draco grabbed a bottle, uncorked it and drank deeply.
“How did you go?” Astoria asked softly, turning to him.
He jumped. Her voice was tugged him forwards, like the soft plucking of guitar strings or the call a wren, breaking the unsteady silence between them with ease. Forcing his steps away from her, he walked to the table and slammed down his bottle, relishing in the harsh sound.
The room was too small. They were too close.
Compelling himself to speak, Draco said, “I have a lead. Better than nothing. Pokey said you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, I ... I wanted to talk about ...” She began to pace back and forth across the room, twisting her hands more furiously around each other. “About us.”
“Can this not wait?” he choked. “Could we perhaps not do this... ever?”
She stopped pacing to turn to him, blue eyes sparkling curiously in the light. “I need to clarify what happened at Yaxley Manor, so it doesn’t ... I don’t ...”
“You don’t want to talk about this now,” he ventured.
Her eyes sharpened. “I think I do.”
Draco ran a hand through his hair, strands catching between each finger and distracting him momentarily. He was so tired. “You almost got me killed.”
Astoria didn’t take to this statement very well. Her mouth formed a thin line of disapproval and she frowned, looking past his form and to the bookcase behind. “I was trying to stop that woman from manipulating you,” she breathed. Her voice was vulnerable. Breakable.
Something in Draco snapped, memories of their time together slipping fast through the cracks in the floor, disappearing down into the earth. Others swam into the edges of his mind—memories of nights alone, words tipped in bitterness and spite, accusations that were quick to blame.
The haze of time where he couldn’t remember if they were still together, or when she had moved from his room to another. When eye contact was avoided, and they just became a forlorn he.
His mouth tasted acidic as he spoke. “Right. Professional concern then? ‘He is not yours’ is just a professional statement.” He walked over to his desk chair, sinking into the leather with a loud sigh and closing his eyes. “I don’t want to argue with you. I’m tired. Go.”
“No.” Draco’s eyes snapped open, and he stared at Astoria, bemused. “I will not go.”
“Artemis almost killed me when you left him unattended,” Draco said, drawing out every word menacingly. “So excuse me if I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Isobel was going to—”
“Kiss me?” He lent forward, snatching the bottle of whiskey off the desk and taking a heavy drink. He slammed the bottle back down, emotions he couldn’t quiet explain firing up his limbs. “That shouldn’t worry you. You left me, didn’t you?”
“This was—I—” Astoria stumbled over her words, and she began to pace again, blue robes fluttering and rustling softly behind her. “You were so obsessed with that Object. And now ... you almost died and you kissed me and you—you are so selfish, Draco.”
Astoria stopped, burying her face into her hands. Her shoulders began to shake from her sobs, and he watched.
He just watched.
There was no movement apart from the shaking of the woman’s shoulders and the crackling of the fire. The space between the two felt like a canyon—no, a forest, where he stood at one end and her at the other. He couldn’t see her. He couldn’t feel her—not physically, or in his heart. She was as far removed from him as he was to her.
And he missed her.
Swearing under his breath, Draco wiped a stray tear from his eye and reached for the bottle. The alcohol slid down his throat, dragging all the memories and damn emotions down with it.
Eventually, Astoria took a breath and turned, straightening her back.
“I think ... professionalism is called for here,” she rasped.
He raised an eyebrow. The whiskey was starting to make the room spin.
Astoria continued, “After we broke up, I didn’t see you for weeks. You never spoke about it, I never heard your opinion. I think, I just needed closure.”
“I would have married you,” he breathed.
She bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Draco. I loved you, but...”
But. There is always a but.
He clenched his fists. She was tugging on his heartstrings, threatening to rip it out and spit on it. Well, he wouldn’t let it get that far.
“You want closure, then?” he growled. “Here it is: do not speak to me about anything but our work. Do not see me on personal matters. Do not come into my office. I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.”
If it was the alcohol speaking—which he was sure it was—it was too late to backtrack now. The room suddenly felt like a slip, tight and claustrophobic, as Astoria stared at him, horrified.
Four years of loving. Four years of giving her everything. There it goes.
Astoria’s voice pulled him back. “If that is what you want.” Harsh, final. She then turned to leave, pausing by the door briefly for a moment to look back to him. Her mouth opened, as if preparing to say something—
Then, as though it was nothing—as if the whole thing was ridiculous to her—Astoria shook her head, stepped forward, and closed the door forcefully, the loud banging of wood against wood reverberating through the mansion.
He was alone.
Frustrated—at himself; at her—Draco threw his empty whiskey bottle across the room, relishing in the chaotic sound of smashing glass against the marble, the skittering of the pieces across the tiles. He didn’t need her anyway.
A/N: Chapter 7 was taken down due to me getting cold feet... Im tossing up between deleting this story or re-editing it. Not sure what I’m going to do, really. But it will be finished, and continued! I just don’t know when or how – I’m sorry :( Reviews/critique/views are still very much welcome/needed :/
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