The Nott estate reminded Harry Potter of Malfoy Manor. It was, however, much less foreboding, though perhaps that was only because Harry had never been imprisoned there. The halls were stark white and house-elves clambered in and out of the place, some of them greeting their master, while others seemed to simply want to ogle at Harry himself.
"I hope you will excuse the mess, Master Nott," the elf called Galdron said, his small hands clasped behind his back. "You see, Lady Nott has been a bit upset as of late."
Theodore Nott didn't seem at all worried about the supposed mess, but perhaps that was because there was no mess. Everything appeared to be perfectly placed, sans an elf that sobbed on a small bench in the hallway. Galdron shot the elf a resentful glare and she quickly collected the skirt of her dress and scurried away, repeating "Master cannot see! Tilly is not done!" over and over again.
"She has been acting up again, sir," Galdron explained, sourly. "If it were not for her constant whining all about the house, the rest of us would have already resolved the mess I spoke of. This morning she tracked dirt in from the garden."
"I will take care of it later," Nott said, nonchalantly. "For now, I'd like to see my wife."
The elderly house-elf (to Harry, he resembled Kreacher), snapped his fingers and the wall that had seemed quite solid had disappeared. A winding staircase replaced it, surrounded by dozens of portraits that looked a lot like the ones in Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Nott thanked Galdron and climbed the steps, seemingly immune to the nasty comments that the portraits began hurling at him. Harry instructed his team to stay downstairs with the house-elf and made the ascent with Nott.
"Is he back?" a pug-faced woman complained. "I wonder how he would feel knowing Draco Malfoy has been coming around during his absence."
Harry frowned, wondering what business Draco Malfoy had with the Notts. It seemed his childhood nemesis had not only been making himself busy with the Minister for Magic, but with old friends too.
"Hopefully, he will leave that dreadful woman!" a bucktoothed portrait spat back.
They were nearing the top step when Harry decided to ask, "Were you aware Draco Malfoy was spending time with your wife?"
"No," Nott replied, simply. They reached the top stair, which seemed to end in blackness, but when Nott tapped his wand against the railing, a wide corridor was revealed. "Only mine and Pansy's wands are able to access this hallway. But the house-elves could let anyone in, theoretically."
Harry nodded and followed the wizard down the long, violet hall. He was not sure how long they had been walking when Nott stopped in front of a black door and knocked several times. It seemed like it had been ages.
"Galdron, I told you, only come up here if—" The door opened and Pansy Nott's eyes widened. "Th-Theo?"
Theodore Nott could not even get out a response before the woman had thrown her arms around his neck, chanting sweet nothings and repeatedly calling him "bunnums". While the tacky nickname reminded Harry of Ron and Lavender Brown in their sixth year, the reunited husband and wife still made his heart ache. Until then, he did not realize just how much he had missed Ginny since he had been in Cornwall.
Pansy, still latched onto her husband's arm, turned to Harry and whispered, "Potter, you—you brought him back. You saved him."
For the first time in his life, Harry smiled at who he once knew to be Pansy Parkinson. Admittedly, he liked Pansy Nott much better.
She turned on her heel, tugging Nott along with her. "If you'll just wait downstairs, I have a few thousand Galleons in a safe up here. Name your price. My thanks to you..."
Harry held up his hands. "I don't want your gold, Pansy. We actually—well, we actually need to be prepared. Iadeth Travers is on the loose and your husband seems to believe he could be coming for the both of you. Now, I want you to lock yourself here in this room and—"
"Travers?" Pansy hissed with disbelief. "Where's Rowle?"
She muttered something under her breath that Harry couldn't quite make out, but he would have sworn the last bit of it was "Malfoy".
"I'm coming to help," Nott said, firmly. "This is my home and I will protect it." He looked down at his wife, but only slightly, as she was not as short as Harry remembered her being. "Pansy, I want you to stay up here."
She glared at him, though she clearly wasn't angry enough to detach herself from his arm. "Absolutely not! I've been sequestered away in this room for far too long, and I won't do it anymore, Theodore. I'm not just some pet you can cage up whenever you like!"
"Pansy, it's dangerous—"
"I don't care! If I have to spend another minute looking at this foul purple color, I'll vomit," she exaggerated. "Speaking of which, remind me to have the house-elves paint it grey up here. Yes, that will be much better..."
"I want to be downstairs in my home, Theodore! Not this—this hovel!" She let go of him to gesture the bedroom. Harry certainly would not have considered it a hovel, but Pansy had always seemed a bit spoiled. "Surely, you won't tell me I can't do what I want."
Nott went to say something, but faltered. "Just think this through is all I ask. Like I said, it's dangerous."
She made a high-pitched sound that Harry could only describe as a declaration of resolve.
"Alright, then," he said, "sounds like she's decided. Let's get a move on, yeah?"
Even though Nott seemed unconvinced, he knew how to pick his battles. Harry wouldn't argue with Ginny if she sounded so sure of herself, so as a married man, he thought Nott made the right choice.
Downstairs they went, earning confused glances from Nelson Melman and Phoebe Humphries. Pansy Nott clung to her husband's arm once more, but she was still a pure-blood, and she could not help but give the grand tour of their home. As she sauntered in and out of each room, Harry realized that most of the rooms and hallways had one feature in common: fireplaces. While it was aesthetically pleasing, he was afraid they may pose a problem.
"The grates aren't all connected to the Floo Network, are they?"
"No," Pansy replied. "Only the one in the main sitting room and one on the third story. The one upstairs you'd need to know the right phrase for."
Harry nodded. "Well, I've made sure no one can Apparate in or out. He was traveling by broom, though, and that could be an issue. The protective enchantments will slow him down, but not for long."
"We have our own protective enchantments as well," Pansy said, dreamily. "He would be hard-pressed to bypass those and yours both, I imagine."
"It's not impossible, though." Harry did not feel it was necessary to remind her that Jeremy Preachwell, of all people, had gotten past the estate's wards before.
Humphries looked around the giant house, squinting. "It'd be better if you gave us the vase. We could draw him out."
"For the last time, we don't have the vase!" Theodore Nott scowled. "If we did, we would have given it to them long ago. You think I'd put my wife in danger over some mantelpiece knickknack?"
"But if you could tell us who does have it," Harry said, seeing his chance, "and then we could possibly have this all resolved in no time. Fish him out with the vase, and put him back in Azkaban where he belongs."
Pansy Nott opened her mouth but shut it as soon as she exchanged glances with her husband. The couple, much like Ginny and Harry, were able to communicate without saying a word.
Harry sighed. "Pansy, I hate to bring it up in case he was here for a—" He met Nott's eyes. "—different reason, but why was Draco Malfoy visiting you while your husband was gone?"
Disgust lined her features and for a brief moment, Harry saw the pug-faced girl he remembered from school. "He heard of Theo's disappearance and came to check up on me. We're old friends, though I'm sure I don't have to remind you of that."
It was of no use. Draco Malfoy had something to do with the case, but the Notts were not going to admit as much—not when they were in the same room, anyway. If Malfoy had been anyone else, it would have been easy to justify a quick shakedown. Unfortunately, he was wealthy, he was smart, and he was involved with the Minister for Magic, so without evidence, Harry had no choice but to wait until he had Pansy on her own. Without her husband in the room, she might just tell him what he wanted to know.
There was nothing left in Britain, at least not for Irina Petrov. Despite how little she remembered of Russia, she decided that it was truly her only option, after everything that she had witnessed. Of course, there was no way to Apparate so far away, and because she was on the run, she could not get a legal Portkey either. A single background check would tell the Ministry that Vitaly Petrov was her father, and because of the nature of his crimes, she knew she would be brought in for questioning. Fortunately for her, she did not need a legal Portkey. Dabbling in the Dark Arts did have its perks, after all.
"All the way to Moscow?"
"Yes, Ardus, all the way to Moscow," Irina said with a roll of her eyes. "Getting me halfway there isn't going to help me much, is it?"
"Alright, alright," Ardus Castle muttered, pressing his wand against an old, battered glove. "You know this is gonna cost ya. If the Ministry finds out—"
"They won't." Irina crossed her arms. "How much do you need?"
He looked deep in thought for a minute, until finally, a mischievous grin made its way onto his dry, cracked lips. "A hundred and fifty Galleons." The grin grew wider. "Or a kiss."
Irina shuddered and dug deep in her knapsack. "A hundred and fifty, it is." She felt the cold sensation of metal and she pulled a handful of gold out. After counting seventy-eight Galleons, she reached back in the knapsack to retrieve the rest. By the time she had piled the gold on the table before him, she only had twelve Galleons left. She only hoped Russia's cost of living was as cheap as her father let on.
Ardus looked a bit annoyed, but reluctantly accepted the full amount and went back to fiddling with the glove. "If anyone asks where you got this, I had nothing to do with it. You understand me?"
"Yeah, fine, whatever. Can you just hurry it up?"
Ardus glared at her for a second, but tapped his wand against the glove several more times. It wasn't long before he leaned back with a sigh. "It's done, then." Irina reached out and he smacked her hand. "Only touch it if you're ready!"
She took a deep breath and nodded. Everything she knew so well was about to change, but after all that she had been through, perhaps change was not such a bad thing.
After a day as long as Hermione Granger's, there was only one person that she wanted to see. The wait for the fireplaces was far longer than she would have liked, and as she felt the pull of the Floo Network, relief washed over her. Willow Ale Court was mere seconds away.
Finally, she came to a halt and let out a cough. Traveling by Floo often made her choke a bit, so naturally, she preferred Apparition whenever possible. Nevertheless, she gladly wiped the soot from her cheek and stepped through the grates, eager to take in the familiar aroma of Draco Malfoy's home. To her dismay, she did smell a familiar scent, but it was not of hardwood and Fraser—it was the same expensive perfume she had smelled many weeks earlier.
"Minister," Narcissa Malfoy acknowledged her, disdainfully.
Hermione blinked a few times, her vision still cloudy from flecks of ash. Three ghostly faces stared back at her, two scowling and one apologetic. Evidently, her long day was far from over.
"Narcissa." Hermione echoed the woman's tone. "Lucius."
"It seems you are even more foolish than I thought," Narcissa said, coolly, sitting down in the nearby armchair. She crossed her legs. "I have to assume you've been instructed to stay away from my son."
"Well, I might remind you that I don't always do as I'm instructed."
Lucius narrowed his eyes. "Yes, it seems you and Draco have that in common."
"My parents were just leaving," Draco said, escorting Hermione to the sofa. "Weren't you?"
"We were doing no such thing!" Narcissa scowled. Even in the armchair, she was far too close for Hermione's comfort. "You may not be aware of this, Minister, but somehow, Thorfinn Rowle and Iadeth Travers escaped Azkaban and somehow, your Aurors let Travers get away a second time!"
"I'm aware," Hermione muttered. She was just as unhappy about it as they were.
"And are you aware that he will be coming for Draco?"
"Bloody hell, Mother, she just got here and already you're hounding her!" Draco shouted. "If the two of you would be so kind as to leave me and my guest—"
"We will not!" Narcissa Malfoy insisted. "Draco, you cannot let this—this woman blind you! You must go to France before it's too late!"
"France?" Hermione inquired, slowly. She knew of their house in France, but never did she think Draco would actually consider going there. He had a son to think about. "Draco, what is she talking about?"
"Nothing. I'm not going anywhere."
"Narcissa, we cannot force him to use his head," Lucius said, slyly. Hermione felt his cold gaze on her. "He simply cannot control himself when it comes to the Mudblood."
"Don't you dare call her that!"
"You prove my point, Draco," Lucius sneered. "We ought to be going, Narcissa. Clearly, there will be no convincing him while she's here."
Narcissa folded her hands in her lap. "No. I will not leave my son in harm's way because of some Muggle-born trollop!"
Hermione wanted to stand up for herself, but she knew it was hard to argue when she was, technically and very publicly, cheating on her husband. Instead, she ground her teeth together.
"Trollop?" Draco breathed. It had been years since Hermione heard such hate in his voice. "How dare you speak of her in such a way! Mother, I have never raised my wand to you, and I do not want to start tonight, but if you utter one more ill word of her, you will leave me with no other choice. Do you understand?"
"Who do you think you are? Threatening your mother like that!" Lucius hissed. Narcissa simply let out a derisive laugh, one that only seemed to come through her nose. "After she birthed you, raised you, bathed you! You ungrateful, Mudblood-fucking—"
That was all it took. Draco seized his wand and pointed it at his father's throat. "Do not test me, Father."
Lucius's Adam's apple jerked with a gulp. "Narcissa, it seems we have overstayed our welcome."
"If your son wants to die for this woman, then let him," Lucius said, his voice raised. "It would not be the first time he embarrassed this family."
Narcissa stood up and quickly walked towards her husband, her watering eyes fixed on her son. "Draco, please, see reason."
"I could ask the same of you," Draco growled, lowering his wand. "I do not want any bad blood between us, but when you are under my roof, you will respect her. Do I make myself clear?"
"Come, Narcissa," Lucius said, sourly, holding out a hand to her. "We can only hope this won't be the last time we see him alive."
Narcissa emitted a loud sob and took his hand. With tears streaming down her face, she Disapparated with her husband.
Draco crossed the room and sat beside Hermione on the sofa. His brows were knit together, though she could not tell if it was out of anger or sadness. Perhaps, it was both. "I'm sorry about all that. Even after all this time, they are still stuck in their ways."
"It's fine." She lay her head on his shoulder. "Really, being called a Mudblood was probably one of the highlights of my day."
He combed his fingers through her hair, splaying them as he met the inevitable tangles. "I can't imagine what the press has been like for you. They've been here all bloody day."
"The press has been the least of my worries. Ginny didn't take the news too well, and then, Ron—well, I tried to get him to sign the papers and he wasn't very happy about it..."
Draco frowned. "What did he do? Did he hurt you?"
She cleared her throat, unsure exactly how she was supposed to explain what happened. "Well, no, not exactly. He—he seemed to think you cursed me and he was quite keen on undoing it—or making you undo it, rather."
"Cursed you? Are you serious?"
"I am," she said, averting her gaze. "And I um—I don't know if I'll ever get him to sign those papers, being that he's in Azkaban now."
"Azkaban," Draco repeated. "What did he do to you to end up in Azkaban?"
Hermione took a deep, faltering breath. "He—he put me in a Full Body-Bind, but never mind that—"
"Never mind that? Granger, do you know why men do that to women? If he wasn't in Azkaban, I'd kill him myself! That filthy, disgusting—"
"He wasn't going to do that," she scowled. "He just—he thought he was helping me, so he could get you to undo the—well, like I said, he thought you had me under the Imperius Curse."
Draco pulled his hand away from her mane to run his fingers through his own. "I assume it was an Auror that got you out, then, if he's in Azkaban now."
Hermione nodded, deciding to spare him the details.
"And that was how you knew about Rowle and Travers," he concluded.
She nodded again. "Yes."
Draco inhaled and slapped his palms firmly against his knees. "Well, sounds to me like you could use a drink, Granger. I'd offer you one if there weren't a high possibility that we may be dueling with Iadeth Travers any second now."
"Rain check, then?" Hermione asked with a small smile.
Draco smirked. "If we survive, I'll break out the good wine."
Hours had passed, and Harry Potter had dozed off for the second time. With no sign of any Dark magic, he had made himself comfortable in a rather tall armchair. Unfortunately, his dreams were cut short by someone snapping their fingers in his ear.
"Wake up, Potter!"
Harry blinked several times, only to be met with a glaring Theodore Nott. Apparently, he was not the only one that was tired. Pansy Nott was curled up on the sofa, eyes closed and chest rising and falling. On the floor lay Nelson Melman, who was snoring just as loudly as Harry thought a dragon might.
"'Checking the perimeter', according to her," Nott said with a hint of disgust. "Don't know if I believe her, though. She kept asking about our wine cellar."
"Wine cellar?" Harry asked with a frown. "She shouldn't be drinking on the job."
"Yeah, well, I'd tell her that," Nott replied, collapsing into the armchair opposite Harry. "She seemed awfully worried about what you'd say to her after you lot were finished here."
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but as though on cue, Phoebe Humphries marched in and announced, "No sign of anyone trying to force their way in. If Travers was coming here, he'd've shown by now." Her mouth was stained a deep burgundy, and Harry decided that Nott had been right. She was paying a visit to the wine cellar.
"I'll make those kinds of calls, Humphries," he said, acidly.
Her mouth snapped shut and she swiveled around. The sound of shoes hitting stairs suggested she had made her way back to the wine cellar.
Harry looked back at Nott. "She's right though. Where else would Travers go? Anyone he might have a reason to visit?"
Nott's response was only a grunt. He was too sharp to fall for Aurors' tricks, and Harry cursed him for it.
"I need to know. I can't have him hurting someone. You understand that, right? You and your wife are interfering with an official investigation—"
Nott got to his feet. "You might want to get your subordinate out of my wine cellar, Potter—unless you want me to press charges for thievery? I still have plenty of friends at the Prophet that might be interested to know an Auror was drinking on the job when you were supposed to be focused on the capture of one Iadeth Travers, who you just so happened to let get away once already. In the same day, no less."
Harry sighed. Theodore Nott was going to tell him nothing, and with his wife asleep, she was of no use either. Then, as he thought of the accusations from the pug-faced portrait, he realized there was someone he could talk to—someone that was not Draco Malfoy.
Author's Note: I have been trying to get more updates out before I move in October, as I may not be able to update for 2-3 weeks at that time. I may finish the story before then, as long as some upcoming medical tests go right. Please review! Remember that reviewers can PM me one-shot/short story requests and, as long as they are within reason, I'll write them. :)
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