Time: 2:31 am
Date: April 3, 2020
The day I find the person who orchestrated this is the day they will wish they never had been born.
Time: 3:07 am
Date: April 3, 2020
I'm lying here in bed, unable to sleep. Pleasepleasepleaseplease be all right.
Time: 4:23 am
Date: April 4, 2020
I hate Ron Weasley, but I hope he's as good an Auror as you insist he is. Because if he doesn't find you soon, I'll go mad. You... Come home, damn it. Wave those hands of yours! Break lots of arms and legs, and come home.
Time: 4:26 am
Date: April 4, 2020
I know that this is insane--typing you emails when you've been kidnapped--but, no, I haven't gone completely around the twist. It's just that I can't sleep and if I don't do something with my hands I'll smoke another cigarette and my lungs really hate me right now and DAMN IT TO HELL I'M GOING OUT OF MY FUCKING MIND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Time: 4:28 am
Date: April 4, 2020
Since I'm awake...
You know why I refuse to perform sex magic on you? Yes, I know that I always deflect that request with a tease or a blow-job, and it must puzzle you no end. Since those were the only magical spells I did for years and years, I'm probably the world's foremost expert on sex charms by this point. I'm answering this now, not because I think you're not coming home, but because you need to know this when you do come home. You need to know a lot of things, I suppose, but one confession at a time.
I want you to arch up in pleasure at my hands and mine alone. I can see you smirking: Draco, your ego, mate. Could it get any bigger? I doubt it, but that's only part of the equation. I want nothing between us. Because we have so much fucking baggage as it is. Not of our making, but it's there: your children, my family, your marriage, my past. I need to know that when you cry out my name, it's because of me. Me. With all my baggage. I need to be sure that you're sure who is touching you. Without props (although that can be fun; we haven't done water sports yet; you'll love it. Trust me). This isn't insecurity talking; we both know that I don't have an insecure bone in my body. It's the firm knowledge that the baggage is enormous. Propped up around us in haphazard piles. In fact, it's my (admittedly) outlandish sense of self that demands that there be nothing between us but our sweat.
I realised recently--you have a way of turning on the introspection, which is ridiculously ironic because you are one of the least introspective people I know--that the sex magic I used on my, oh, let's call them paramours (tricks is far too trampy), was a way of keeping my distance. There was a veil of magic between them and me. None of them saw the real me. They paid for and got what they wanted. The coquette. The sexual tease. The vamp. The bad boy. The good boy. Whomever and whatever they wanted. After all, they were paying for it (and let me tell you, I earned every single effing cent). I was quite accommodating, providing the cheque was good. But they never, ever got me.
Way to be a cliche, Draco.
Time: 5:21 am
Date: April 4, 2020
From: Draco Malfoy
You will be pleased to know that your Weasley and I (aren't you proud of me, I didn't even type Weasel--although I wanted to) have more or less set mutual antipathy aside. He still treats me like a whore and I still treat him like an idiot, but we're not letting it get in the way of the investigation.
I am trying. Really, Harry, I'm giving it my all. Because my enormous contempt for Weasley can't hold a candle... You once said that I'm the most single-minded bastard on the face of this earth. True. All I have right now is time, and when you have a brain like mine, obsession is just another word for breathing.
Which makes me think of us.
I'm assuming that at some point the children will come around. Because, hello, single-minded bastard. As I have bucket loads of charm, I need to ferret out (pun intended) their weak spots, and, naturally, exploit the holy hell out of them. The day I can be defeated by children is the day I don a pair of canary yellow Crocs accessorised with day-glo green socks and march into Dolce and Gabbana. I would rather chop off my feet with a clam knife.
But conquering the wizarding world en masse?
I must confess, as the alleged culprit who ended the twenty-year run of the Harry and Ginny Show: of that I am much less sanguine. If the Prophet had any balls, they would have a special edition on "Draco Malfoy, Fairytale Killer!" Dear Readers, just ignore that gay man in the corner who looks like Harry Potter and talks like Harry Potter and, oh my, is Harry Potter (!) and who happens to be just as much a participating partner in this crime against humanity! Newsflash! He fucks arse like he was born to it! Oh wait! HE WAS!
Aside from the not insignificant you-are-gay-and-I-did-not-make-you-gay issue, it does irk me--irk in the sense that it makes me so livid that blood pressure meds are so in my future--that people have conveniently forgotten that you were in the process of divorcing that woman before we even reconnected. For the love of Merlin's dick, people! Do the fucking math.
It doesn't help that your ex has yet to meet a camera she doesn't like, frequenting the most obvious watering holes wearing that woe-is-me expression. Merlin's arse, she bloody well hates you, doesn't she? Not that I can blame her, because if you had said to me after a twenty-year relationship, "By the way, that homo thing? Passing fancy..." Words cannot express the outrage I would feel, so yes, I do understand. Plus, I do have to give her some points, because that endless publicity? How Slytherin of her. She does it solely to make you squirm, doesn't she? Pushing your Prophet button without even half trying. If she were anyone else, I might send her a little note of congratulations on a job well done. As it stands, thanks to her current PR campaign, it's debatable whether I'll ever be able to set foot in Diagon Alley again without dodging hexes left and right. They can't hate you--that wee matter of you killing Voldemort and all--so it's open season on Draco Malfoy.
I know you'll shake your head when you read this and insist that everything will be all right. And it's not like you've ever given a toss about popular opinion. I mean, look at the shirts you wear.
Oh bugger, my brain is spinning and I'm so tired and please, please, do the impossible like you always do. Come home.
"It's been three fucking days, Weasley!"
I stopped to give him a truly filthy glare--if I could temporarily transform my eyes into lasers, he'd be nothing but a puff of smoke by now--and then resumed my frenetic pacing across the width of my lounge.
"I fucking well know how long it's been, Malfoy. We get remedial counting in addition to learning nifty spells. Let's go through it again."
"Fuck!" I shouted at the top of my lungs. "I've told you and Shacklebolt what happened a million times."
I marched over to my front door, flung it open, and stared at the glazier sitting on my front stoop taking a coffee and fag break.
"If you don't get those windows on the second floor fitted and puttied within the hour, I am personally going to break your--"
"Kitchen. Now!" Weasley ordered. He grabbed my arm and dragged me down the hall as I screamed, "One finger at a time. With a ball-peen hammer. Then I'm going to--"
With one hand he manoeuvred a chair out from under the kitchen table and then threw me into it with such force that I nearly toppled backward onto the floor. It was the first crack in his armour that I'd seen in seventy-two hours, and for some reason that made me feel a hell of a lot better. As I reached for my fags, I took a deep breath--Christ, that hurt--and realised that if I had any more cigarettes that day I'd have lung cancer by morning. I began to count instead. If I was lucky, by four thousand and fifty-nine I would regain enough composure to string together a rational sentence.
I'd only got to twelve when a tentative, "Boss?" came from the doorway leading to Renzo's basement apartment.
In the two seconds between my, "Ron Weasley. He's working on Harry's kidnapping. Renzo and Mario. They're my jack of all trades," and Weasley's professional scrutiny of Renzo's tattoos, Renzo had sized up Weasley as a cop and Weasley had sized up Renzo as an ex-con. One night at the club where Renzo used to work as a bouncer, I made the mistake of asking one of the bartenders whether all the rumours regarding Renzo's prison exploits were true. I'd assumed it was just a bit of macho posturing among thieves. He laughed riotously for a while, dried the corners of his eyes with his towel, and in between chuckles, said, "You're joking, right?" Yes, of course I was joking. First thing the next morning I requested a bonus for him.
Mario, per the usual, was lurking a couple of steps behind Renzo.
Once Harry and I had mended fences over the timeturner nonsense, we'd begun an insane bi-continental romance. I spent two partial weeks a month in London and the rest of my time here; he spent the majority of his time in London, save the two weekends a month visiting me in New York. The rest of the time he did Auror-ish sorts of things, while I continued my mission to elevate smut to an art form. My bank account, if nothing else, was proving I had a leg up on the competition. So to speak.
Having charmed his way through wizarding Britain, Harry was quickly cutting a large swath through non-wizarding New York. Sam, my tough-as-nails Sam, treated him like a kid brother despite his being five years older than she was; DavyD was constantly checking out his arse; and it was a contest between Stephan and Courtney over who adored him more. Even Caroline liked him, and I didn't think she was genetically capable of liking anyone except her stockbroker and her hairdresser. Oh, and her buyer at Barney's. Even Renzo and Mario liked him, but they were still wary, watching him to make sure he didn't nick the silver when my back was turned.
"Renzo, would you mind making us a pot of tea?" What I really wanted was a snifter or four of Napoleon, but I'd have to make do with a cup or two of Earl Gray.
"Mr. Weasley, no word on Mr. Harry?" Renzo asked in a subdued voice. Because the answer was, clearly, no. Because I could feel that pinched look to my face that always preceded an epic meltdown, and Renzo might be something of a brute, but he wasn't stupid; I suppose he felt he needed to ask.
Weasley didn't answer, just shook his head.
We sat there in silence for several minutes while Renzo fussed with the water and kettle and Mario set the table. Placing a plate piled high with biscotti, he accompanied it with a pointed look and said, "The chocolate-dipped ones. Your favourite." Yes, my stomach and back were beginning to meet. No matter. Even if it were my last meal, I'd have given it a pass. Because, well, Harry.
Weasley ignored the food as well, only acknowledging Renzo with a tired smile as he set the teapot on the table. Just as Harry had changed, so had the Weasel. I really shouldn't call him that anymore, except that he still looks like a weasel--just as I imagine I still look like a ferret (the pointy chin only having gotten pointier). That inferiority complex the size of a small African nation that had dogged him all seven years at Hogwarts was finally gone. The set of his shoulders now conveyed a menacing aura. A confidence. A knowledge that when the shit came down, he'd survive or at the very least take a number of people down with him.
Not that I was afraid of Ron Weasley. The day that happened was the day I threw myself off the top of the Empire State Building.
In response to the non-verbal pack-animal dynamics that can materialise between men of a certain stripe, Renzo and Mario were immediately cowed by Weasley--something I noted in the mental "Hmmm" file. Once I said, "Thanks," a tacit signal to leave, their relief was so palpable that they practically scampered down the stairs to their lair. A discreet wave of Weasley's wand and the door shut behind them, followed by a Silencing Charm powerful enough to rattle my teaspoon against the saucer.
"Why haven't they sent a ransom note or an announcement to the Prophet advertising their coup? Head Auror, Harry Potter, Kidnapped by Death Eaters. All hail Voldemort Wannabes."
Weasley didn't answer me right away. He paused, sipped, added a half teaspoon of sugar, and then said in a quiet voice, "Suspect they aren't interested in publicity. They're just putting the screws to us. By Friday we'll hear something. Can't imagine they'd string it out much longer because the longer they wait, the more opportunity for Harry to escape or hex their sorry and monumentally stupid arses."
"Do you think they know about his wandless magic?"
Weasley shrugged. "Dunno. Since we haven't heard a thing, I'm assuming they're not completely stupid. If I were them, I'd keep him in a full body bind and let him piss in his shorts."
I wanted to throw something, pound my fists against the walls, just, something. I thought I'd reached my limit two days ago, and yet the anxiety kept ratcheting up, minute by minute, hour by hour, until I thought I'd go mad. My magic, kept under wraps for twenty years, was going berserk. I'd blown out my windows no less than six times in the last three days, shattered the chandelier in my dining room, and reduced to dust thirty thousand dollars worth of Baccarat crystal.
And my best hopes for getting Harry back rested on the shoulders of a man who categorically despised every single fucking centimetre of me.
"Weasley, I know you don't understand any of this--" I refrained from commenting on his barely audible, "Bloody right" "--but I've just found Harry again, and I'm not going to lose him. To anyone. Not to some Death Eater bent on revenge, not to your bitchy sister--"
"Oi," he protested.
"Oh, please, don't bother to deny it. I went to school with her, too. Leopards don't change their spots. Not to you and your wife, no matter how much dirt and disapproval you two shovel in my direction."
"You sort of handed me the dirt on a silver platter, now, didn't you?"
Oh Merlin, the old, "you disgusting, poxy prostitute, you," bit.
"Fuck off. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and wonder if it's my homosexuality that's at issue or the fact I peddled my arse."
The first and last dinner I had at their house--where we were supposed to make nice for Harry's sake--the pair of them spent the entire evening taking pot shots at me. Clearly, they knew exactly what Draco Malfoy/Dee de Poitier had done in the twenty-year interim. Harry did his best to redirect the conversation: he chatted about New York, tried to interest us in something unclassified at the Auror's office, interjected a funny anecdote about one of his hell-spawn, anything to derail what was clearly a train wreck about to happen. It didn't matter. They were determined to trash me from one side of Ottery St. Catchpole to the other.
"Oh, you lived in Egypt, Malfoy? What did you do there? Travel guide, were you?" leering emphasis on the word "guide." As if they didn't know exactly what I was doing in Egypt. "We understand you're in the..." pause, "magazine business." "We go to Spain every summer for a couple of weeks. Have you been to the Costa del Sol? Oh, you have. Were you travelling by yourself?" Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
I put up with this heckling for over two hours until finally I snapped. "Yes, I had a marvellous time in Spain. I was rentboy to the Pretender to the Greek throne. He had a cock the width of Wales; it nearly split me open." And then, because smoking drives that awful Granger insane, I lit up at the dinner table.
After that one dinner, our cards were on the table, and no amount of coaxing on Harry's part--the crafty bastard tried to blow-job me into having dinner with them again--was going to make me suffer through another evening being the butt of their intolerance and scorn. One thing hadn't changed: Malfoys do not grovel. Or at least we didn't until three days ago. Now, I'd lick Weasley's boots if Harry asked me. Because Harry wasn't here to ask and he might not ever be here to ask and--
"Yeah, well that's just the cream in the coffee, now isn't it? Being a first-class bastard in school--"
"For the fuck of Merlin. That was over twenty years ago. May I suggest beating to death a different horse? This is pointless. I refuse to argue about the teenager I was at Hogwarts."
Weasley knew only one story. Draco Malfoy, pure-blood prat, son of notorious Death Eater scum Lucius Malfoy. There was another Draco; the Draco that Harry knew, but I hadn't had the luxury of showing that to anyone else then. I'd been too busy trying to dodge fate.
I reached for my cigarettes and then pulled my hand back with a jerk. I'd give myself cancer and nicotine poisoning if I lit up another. I spoke to the table because if I looked at him, I'd hit him.
"I've only said this, oh, something like five thousand times in the last three days, but it bears repeating. If it's Death Eaters, I might be able to give you some insight. Limited insight, I'll grant you, since I've not been fortunate enough to be in their charming company for over twenty years. But if you tell me who survived the war and is not currently in Azkaban, it will narrow things down. There are only a couple of people who could carry out something of this magnitude, and if you give me names, I'll give you a thumbs up or down."
"Rate yourself mighty highly, don't you?" he mocked.
"I'm not swapping insults with you." It took every ounce of control I had not to finish off that sentence with a particularly snide "Weasel." "First of all, I'm too damn tired, and second of all, the two of us at loggerheads is not going to get Harry back safe and sound." I looked up. He was watching me, blatantly casing me out. I had nothing to hide. I sat up straighter and thrust my chin forward just a bit. You don't fuck a majority of the scions of European royalty without forging brass balls the size of Quaffles. "Let's try this again. Do you think it's Death Eaters? There are but two responses, and because I'm an absolute peach of a fellow, I'll give you two hints: one is yes and the other is no."
"Maybe," he said in a bored tone. "Like I've said five thousand times in the last three days, not really in a position to discuss confidential material with someone who walked out right before the shit hit the fan, leaving the rest of us to risk our lives while he lay flat on his stomach with his arse in the air for the taking. More tea?"
My inner bitch was just dying to haul him out of that chair, throw him against the wall, and shake some sense into him. I'm slender, but I'm strong. Granted, those hours I spend at the gym are in the name of pure vanity; however, it has the added bonus that I could probably lift all fourteen stone of him without breaking a sweat. Although maybe not right now, since I hadn't eaten for three days and was living on cigarettes. Harry, I chanted over and over in my mind. This isn't about you, this is about Harry. I was quite proud of myself when my voice betrayed none of the rage and frustration I was feeling. Good god, fuck me Circe, I actually sounded calm.
"I know their strengths and their weaknesses. I might have been gone for twenty years, but I grew up around them. Leopards, spots, and all that. I had dinner with them. You sit next to someone and watch them hold their knife, you learn things about a person that doesn't translate into a dossier or a piece of parchment."
He sighed and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, I noticed they were as bloodshot as mine. He probably hadn't slept more than a couple of hours in the last three days either.
"It's not that you're gay. Charlie, my brother, yeah. And it's not that you bent over for anyone with a chequebook. Bothers Hermione, but I could give a toss. It's you. Speaking of leopards and their fucking spots." He looked up and gave me the once-over. "Nothing in the last three days has proved to me that you're any different than the selfish, arrogant prat you were twenty years ago. And as much as I'm sorry that Harry and Gin didn't work out, it's not like I didn't see it coming. But you. You, I don't get."
I shrugged. "We fit, Weasley. There is no other word for it."
"You mean you like to fuck each other," he sneered.
"No," I said with deliberation. "Not that I won't deny that he's a bit of all right in the sack, but it's..." Curse him for making me say this out loud. "I have this pathological need to own, and he needs owning. In equal measure. Sick and twisted, perhaps, but, yes, fit is precisely the right word."
That got him.
"Bugger," he muttered and downed the rest of his tea. Because I knew Harry well, but he and Weasley had been joined at the hip for nearly thirty years. He knew Harry's neuroses better than his own.
"First things first. Get your effing magic in check so that you're not replacing your effing windows every three effing hours. The indeterminate gas leak excuse has run its course, and we're nearly at the point of having to Obliviate your entire block. So tell me again. From the beginning. Then we'll talk Death Eaters."
"We need my staff."
Naturally, he put up a motherfucker of a fight. Pointing out that once this case was over, he was already responsible for Obliviating the kidnapping scene from their minds. Plus, he'd been getting a million different kinds of shit from his American counterparts, who wanted to be there when he Obliviated them. How he'd already filled out a six-inch-high stack of forms so that he could wipe their minds clean the American way, and he really didn't relish going through all this again because I needed my hand held.
Merlin's dick, give me patience.
"Weasley, I know you're going to find this hard to believe. Although it might appear--on the most shallow and fleeting of impressions--that I'm some sort of poncy queen who routinely has hissy fits over the state of his manicure, nothing could be further from the truth. I am not the sort that needs hand holding. I'm the sort that tends to bash other people's knuckles if they reach for my hand. I'm making this request because my staff and I act better as a team. On the magazine, we work together--"
"Really? Big pow wows about whose dick you photograph for the pillow-biter of the month?"
"No, that's my bailiwick. Perk of the job. It's more along the lines of all of us debating about running a story on the progress of an AIDS vaccine versus national hot lines for physical abuse. Yes, there are a number of pages devoted to dicks and other wank material, but on the other pages are actual articles. Articles about issues that mean something to the community. We work as a team; fill in the gaps. It's not an accident that we have the largest circulation here in the U.S. for a men's magazine. And a surprisingly large number of those subscribers are straight."
He yawned. Could I possibly hate him more? Why, yes, surprisingly, but smashing a teacup into the side of his head wouldn't bring Harry home.
"It's not all about shoving your dick up someone's arse with lube that's water-based, tastes like strawberries, and doesn't stain your shorts!" I shouted. He narrowed his eyes; I had a brief moment of satisfaction knowing that his hatred of me had just gone up a few notches. Fine. Just as long as we were on the same page: getting Harry back. "I know you've interviewed them separately, but there is the slight chance that together we might come up with something."
He remained unmoved, that Weasley-esque face of his determinedly blank.
"They're my House, Weasley. Lush House."
His face softened just the slightest.
"Have to clear it with Kingsley," he grumbled.
"Then clear it with him," I said through gritted teeth. I looked at my watch. "It has now been forty-six hours and thirteen minutes since Harry was abducted. Chop fucking chop, Weasel."
I instructed Renzo to order a case of Singha (cold if he wanted to keep his job) and enough take-away Thai food to feed a small army. I still didn't have an appetite, but I was now fairly staggering. Since I was teetering on the verge of hypoglycemic shock, I was betting Weasley was, too. We couldn't have that. Weasley needed to maximise what few brain cells nature had given him. I took some comfort in the fact that Renzo and Mario were giving him a two-foot wide berth; they certainly thought him dangerous enough. And if we were dealing with Death Eaters, dangerous was very much a good thing. Plus, Harry trusted him, which more or less put me in the position of trusting him, too.
I normally didn't grace my dining room table--a stunning Louis XV marvel I'd purchased with birthday money received from that drunken (but rich) lout Didier--with cartons of take-away, but there were too many of us to fit into the kitchen. Renzo, slightly proprietary about my furniture, hissed under his breath at every grain of rice that fell to the tabletop; Mario took one look at the food and left--muttering something about ordering a pizza for him and Renzo; Courtney picked at her food, saying it looked "weird"; Stephan complained about the dearth of vegetarian options and did we know that cattle grazing was destroying the Amazon--all the while heaping his plate high with great mounds of Gaeng Masaman Nua; and DavyD didn't even bother to pretend to eat, just kept pounding back the beer and repeating every now and then, apropos of nothing, "You're a wizard? He's a wizard too?" gesturing with a beer bottle in Weasley's direction.
Once again proving that the day I hired her had been the happiest of days, within ten minutes of sitting down Sam had taken charge. She ordered Renzo to leave the room and take a Valium while he was at it, screamed at Mario through the door to the kitchen to bring Courtney a couple of slices of pizza when it arrived, grabbed the beer bottle out of DavyD's hand, filled up a plate with food and ordered him to get a goddamned grip and eat, in that order, and told Stephan to shut the fuck up. With Weasley, she did nothing more than give him a stately nod. And me? She noted that if I didn't eat something, I probably wouldn't be able to get it up when Harry came home.
"She's good. I'd hire that one in a heartbeat," Weasley whispered in my ear.
"She's a Muggle, and even if she weren't, you can't have her. I'd go spare without her," I admitted and picked up my chopsticks.
"So, Harry comes every other weekend on the tail end of the weeks you spend here in New York?"
"You could set your watch by it." I sighed.
"Fucking you has done something to his brain," Weasley scowled.
Sam didn't even bother to hide her grin.
"Well, in contrast to how positively tickled pink you and your wife are with our relationship--you two just can't hide the love--his children loathe me, so I spend as little time at the London flat as I can. Two weeks out of the month at most, and not even a full week. I take the Concorde on Monday morning and hightail it back here on Friday morning. Harry usually Portkeys in on Friday night and out on Sunday evening. Not that this is news to you, but the weekends he doesn't spend here, he either parks himself with you and your lovely wife--do give her my regards--or Floos into Hogsmeade to visit those horrible guttersnipes he calls his children."
"I'm godfather to one of those guttersnipes, so watch your gob. So anyone planning a kidnapping would just have to watch him for a couple of months, three at the most, and then waylay him at your office. Which is just what they did."
"Were the people that took Harry wizards, too?" DavyD asked.
"Would you stop fixating on this wizard business?" I snapped. I didn't have the heart to tell him that as soon as this case was over, he'd have no memory of this entire incident.
Weasley gestured with his wand at DavyD. "Spitting image of Zabini."
"So I've been told."
"Renzo and Mario--"
"Yes, Crabbe and Goyle, and before you say, it, yes, Sam is Pansy, only tall and blonde." Once Harry had pointed it out, it was ridiculously obvious that I'd filled in my emotional gaps with successful stand-ins for my old friends. The only people I hadn't replaced were Harry and my parents. Who were, of course, irreplaceable. "I told you, they're my House."
"Stephan and Courtney?"
"Theo on a neurotic day--"
"Well, I never--" sputtered Stephan.
I whipped around and barked at him, "Do we really want to bore Weasley with your window ledge fetish, Stephan?"
He crossed his arms in a mother of a pout, but was at least silent about it.
"And Millicent on a good hair day. Speaking of which, Courtney, I cannot stand that mop any longer. Sam, make an appointment for Courtney with Patricio. My treat. Can we please get a fucking move-on as Harry is still kidnapped and I am three minutes away from losing it?" I shouted.
"Just checking out the lay of the land. Might help knowing we have a bunch of Slytherins here. Go over it again, Malfoy. You lot? Add anything that might be important. Something Malfoy didn't see or didn't remember."
"Who's Malfoy?" whispered Courtney to Stephan.
Sam rolled her eyes.
"Courtney, do not quit your day job, which is being my copy editor, at which you are brilliant. Since Harry and I started--" Weasley narrowed his eyes, daring me to be crude. I'm capable of taking the high road. Not that it's much fun, but I can do it. "--seeing each other," I paused for effect, "again, he Portkeys here, and Renzo drives him over to the office. Most Fridays it's just the two of us for dinner, but I always take the staff out for a big riotous food and booze fest when we put an issue to bed. There's a little pizza joint in Greenwich Village we all love that serves a Caesar salad that's six pounds of garlic and a few sprigs of romaine. I bring the wine because enamel on my teeth is a good look for me and the rot gut they serve there melted one of my crowns--"
You buy them dinner." Weasley said it in a flat tone, as if all inflection had been hexed out of his voice.
"Yes. Why is that so surprising? Harry likes them, and I make tons of money and they don't, and I will deny saying this, but they really are top-notch, every single one of them, and they work like effing dogs for me. I'm a selfish bastard, but I'm not stupid and I appreciate all they do. I really want for nothing in this life--except my boyfriend stripping my dick right about now--and why not front for dinner once a month? I did mention I was stinking rich, didn't I? We shouldn't overlook the ransom angle. Once a month, I buy my staff dinner. Harry joins us. After we're stuffed to the gills with pizza and decent red wine, we stagger over here and finish off the evening with pitchers of margaritas. Mario's brother plays the trumpet in an excellent mariachi band, and, well, in the summer it becomes a block party thing. Ole."
Weasley muttered, "Fucking ponce," and looked at Sam. I could see her trying to hide a grin as she began fishing for her cigarettes in that gargantuan leather monstrosity that is nothing short of a portmanteau but she calls a purse. At my pointed cough, she stalled her hand. I'd just cleaned the Aubussons, costing me something on the order of $5000.
"If I can't smoke, you can't. Go outside on the back porch if you must. Call me petty and irrational, but I've just had these rugs cleaned and given that I'm out $20,000 and counting because I keep destroying my windows with errant magic--we won't even mention the crystal--I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't light up." I reached into the sideboard, found a pack of Nicorette gum, extracted some for me, and threw it across the table at her. "Yes, I am a total fag whore, but dry cleaners are just a fancy name for extortionists as far as I'm concerned, and I am determined to refrain from cleaning my rugs again until sometime in the next century."
"Is he always like this?" asked Weasley.
"He's a little more manic than usual, but basically, yes," she said as she glared back at me.
"I'm sure it's your nicotine addiction giving me those death stares and not you."
She gave me a completely insincere smile. I bared my teeth at her.
Weasley rolled his hand for me to keep going.
It had been a normal Friday at the office. Everyone was putting on their coats to head over to Luciano's; or rather, four of us were putting on our coats. DavyD was in the process of threading his arms into some kimono-like garment with something like eight sleeves--he had just discovered Chinese opera. And people call me gay! Giddy with post-production relief, we were all looking forward to something of a night on the town on my dime. Harry stepped off the elevator, a grin on his face just for me, and an enormous orchid in his arms. My heart lurched in the best possible way, because while he merely has to look at any plant to kill it, he knows how terribly fond I am of orchids. He hadn't gotten more than two feet across the lobby, his grin getting even wider at the look on my face, when ten people cloaked in Glamours Apparated into the foyer. Within two seconds we were all petrified, with Harry cast into a full-body bind complete with ropes, blindfold, and gag. Three of them sidled up to Harry, Side-Along-Apparated away, and the rest of them followed suit.
"...and we lay there for six hours waiting for the spell to wear off."
"Malfoy, we'll start with you. Give me your impressions. You've had a couple of days to think about this. I don't want what happened exactly, but ideas, no matter how vague." He made a quick sweep around the room with his eyes. "Any of you get a different impression or disagree with Malfoy, pipe up."
With a wave of his wand, a Quick Quill and a roll of parchment materialised out of nowhere, at the ready to take notes. DavyD's eyes nearly hit the wall. Yes, Weasley was going to have his work cut out for him Obliviating this crowd.
"I think the orchid cinched it. The pot must have been at least ten inches in diameter; he needed both hands to carry it."
"Why in the hell didn't he use a Redego Charm?"
"Redego Charm?" echoed DavyD.
"Ignore him. Because..." This hurt like holy fuck to say. "He knows how much I love orchids and he wanted me to see it in all its glory, not some miniature version."
Weasley and I exchanged looks because, yes, that was the sort of person Harry was.
"What does a Redego Charm do?" asked Sam, who was snapping on her gum furiously. She must have been dying for a cig, but didn't want to leave the room in case she missed something juicy and incriminating. Something that incriminated me, of course.
"Think shrink ray," I said, and stifled a yawn.
"Then, don't you think that he probably wouldn't carry it like that the whole way? Would he shrink it, then unshrink it when the elevator door opened?"
Weasley brought his lips together tight and then relaxed them. "Yeah, he would, so I'm thinking that the orchid just played into their hands rather nicely."
"Maybe not," I interjected. This certainly wasn't the time or place to go into Harry's Muggle upbringing, and how it was always something of a shock to him that he could do magic. In wizards, the interface between the human and the divine is seamless. His Muggle persona marched side by side with his wizarding persona, a faint seam there. Perhaps it was something of a blessing. Given how magically powerful he was, if he'd been brought up by wizards, his abilities would have surpassed Dumbledore and Voldemort combined. He had enough burdens to bear; magical power beyond all reckoning he didn't need. Although right now it would have been a nice bonus. "You know how he often does things the Muggle way because it's not innate in him. Not like you and me."
"Muggle way?" piped up DavyD.
"Ignore him," said Weasley. "You're right. Only last week I found him trying to soak out a mustard stain on his shirt instead of using a simple Cleaning Charm."
"He's something of an idiot that way," I said softly.
"So he's got this bloody orchid in his arms, and these blokes Apparate in. Malfoy, anything about the Glamours that's worth mentioning?"
Scrunching my eyes shut, I willed my brain to recreate every single solitary nuance. Nothing leaped out at me.
"I told you and Shacklebolt this already. They didn't speak, so I can't peg their voices. They must be English wizards because they Glamoured themselves into Griphook, that nasty Goblin at Gringotts." I turned to DavyD. "You repeat any of those words and I'm going to beat you to death with my chair. Choosing Griphook says to me that they wanted me to see them. That I'm integral to this. Why not just Glamour themselves into any random face? Why not snatch him in the elevator?"
Weasley nodded. "Why not use a Disillusionment Charm so that you couldn't see them properly? Yeah, they wanted you to see them. So why not here? Your place. Why the office?"
I rolled my eyes. "Malfoys invented the word 'ward,' Weasley. I doubt even that curse-breaking brother of yours could break the wards here. And the office isn't warded because why should it be?" I realised my voice was getting more and more strident, but we still didn't know anything more than what had been obvious three days ago. It was meticulously planned. They knew Harry. They knew me. They knew I was living as a Muggle and that my wand was concealed. "A surgical strike, Weasley. Harry wouldn't know what to react to first. Save the Muggles? Save me? Save himself so that he could save us? Ten of them total, four wizards, one to target each Muggle, which left two for me and three for Harry. There was one fellow who stood off to the side, clearly the ringleader. Whoever it was, they knew what they were doing."
Oh yes, it went like clockwork. At the sight of the Goblin-like faces, the Muggles froze, horrified. Courtney got out one agonised peep of terror before all of them were immobilised. Two were on me like white on rice, and with my wand in my boot, I was a sitting duck. Harry's senses were flipping marvellous because his eyes were in the process of widening as he heard the split-second pop of the Apparition.
"He knew, Weasley," I said in a monotone. "I saw his eyes. If he hadn't been carrying that fucking plant, he'd have been able... Half a second and he'd have... For me, he brought that fucking plant... He'd have..."
I got up so violently my chair clattered to the floor, but I cared not a whit. Racing upstairs to my room and throwing myself on my bed, I screamed, "FUCK!" into my pillow over and over again at the top of my lungs. Because Harry had brought me the plant because of the fight we'd had. Because I'd threatened to end our relationship. Because I'd demanded he choose me or his children.
Because I am a fucking idiot.
All my trepidation, all my fears that my reentry into the wizarding world would be a clusterfuck of astonishing proportions, had proven to be spot-on. On the personal front, my father's well-earned sobriquet as Voldemort's right-hand man hounded me from the second I set foot in Diagon Alley. Aunt Bella was often mistaken as his right hand. She was not. She was his partner in madness as well as his consort--Uncle Rodolphus more than willing to cede her to the Dark Lord; one didn't want to look too closely at those marital dynamics. The pro-Potter types despised me for what they deemed colossal cowardice, and the pro-Voldemort types (and, yes, there were quite a few who'd supported him but ducked under the radar and were now well established within the new order) condemned me for not staying and fighting by my father's side. Because it was assumed I'd been shagging Potter. Which was, well, true. I was completely and utterly screwed. Condemned by all. Consequently, Harry and I lived mostly a Muggle life in Britain--socialising occasionally with the magazine's U.K. staffers and having the odd dinner with Pansy (whom Harry hated but put up with for my sake) and Blaise (whom Harry actually liked).
My life became rather Jekyll and Hyde-ish, but without the psychopath part. When in Muggle publisher mode, I found myself reaching for my wand; when in wizard mode, I had a constant hand on my Blackberry. The only time I didn't feel like I was wearing the emperor's new clothes was when I was with Harry. That, and only that, kept me sane. Unfortunately, it also kept me in this half-limbo between worlds, both of my well-shod heels on particularly slippery banana peels.
With him, I slowly began to rediscover the sexuality of my youth, a passion that wasn't motivated by dollar signs, hormones, or boredom. Most men can pretty much make it with a milk bottle, and that raw primal need had stood me in good stead during my whoring years. Once my face in the mirror told me it was time to leave while young enough to make it my choice instead of time's choice, I frequented New York's gay bar scene, where I was only interested in one-night stands with tasty-looking brunets. Lately, however, I'd come to find plain old-fashioned go-to-a-bar-and-pick-your-temporary-poison sex boring. Looking back, it was all too obvious that my heart wasn't there to give. Some colour-blind orphan who could barely string a sentence together had been cock-blocking the competition for years. Deservedly so. Because what no one else got was that they wanted to own me, when I wasn't the type to be owned. I must own.
God, we were both gagging for it. In addition to shagging yours truly, Harry was starved for it because he'd been denying his homosexuality for decades; I was gagging for it because it was Harry. Sliding into me wasn't about Harry's pleasure, it was about mine. Because my pleasure was his pleasure. Not that I didn't give as good as I got, because at a certain point it all becomes a circle, but I had a good twenty years of pleasing others under my belt, and here all I had to do was arch in response to his touch and he'd be deliriously happy. Because he could do that to me. Because I ached for him. My dual nature didn't faze him. Harry still loved "Draco" and was crushing madly on "Dee." Which, inexplicably, resulted in me feeling whole. When I was with him, it was the only time I was "one"; neither Draco nor Dee, but a mishmash of the two. Some days Dee dominated and some days Draco. I was a work in progress.
Aside from those days when I felt as if had a starring role in some cheesy R. L. Stevenson adaptation for wizarding audiences, I was as thrilled as Harry to rediscover me. Draco me. I loved being able to cast magic again without fear--wasn't that the boner of all boners, and I quietly reconnected with what was left of my former life. Not that there was much left. Mother was my first priority, naturally. Then Pansy and I took up where we'd left off twenty years earlier, a friendship largely based on two-hour lunches, a fondness for martinis, and a strikingly similar fashion sense. Where you find Pansy, you find Blaise.
Yes, the Slytherin reunion thing was going well.
On the Potter front? Not so well.
Given that Weasley and Granger didn't bother to rein in their disapproval in my presence, Christ only knows with what contempt they spoke of me behind my back. Harry's children loathed me. I am prone to hyperbole, but in this case, I don't use that word lightly. The twins (a last ditch effort by Harry and Ginny to keep their marriage together--Morgana and Merlin, could they have been any more idiotic?) were far too young to understand what was happening. Still toddlers, they spent most of their time with the She-Weasel. But as I predicted, I became the scapegoat for the older brood's understandable rage and confusion over their parents' divorce. Our first meeting in Hogsmeade at Madam Puddifoot's was an unmitigated disaster, and, unfortunately, on par with all subsequent attempts by Harry to unite the various parts of his life. The enmity of the three older children--now at Hogwarts--was staggering. The first words out of that utter arse James' mouth was, "Merlin, Dad. If you were going to turn gay and get a boy toy, I'd have gone for someone with fewer miles on him." Albus didn't say a single word the entire hour other than a sullen, "Hullo," and Lily kept kicking at my ankles under the table, uttering a totally false, "Sorry," every time her boot met my mine.
The occasional visit to our flat was no better. James kept up the sarcasm, Albus continued to pout, and Lily gave new meaning to the word "diabolical." As it became clear to them that I wasn't going anywhere, that their father wasn't having some gargantuan midlife crisis that manifested itself in sucking cock, the enmity increased. I put Lily down as the ringleader of the worst of the sabotage. As they couldn't do magic, they resorted to putting salt in the sugar bowl, breaking dishes "accidentally," tromping in mud, spilling pumpkin juice, that sort of thing. Of course, Harry and I being wizards, these antics were more annoying that anything else, because a quick Reparo and a few Cleaning Charms solved whatever their cretinous little minds could come up with. It got so that from the minute they arrived to the second they Flooed back home, my wand was at the ready. The lipsticked messages on all the mirrors were tiresome--"Malfoy, go home!" "Malfoy, you are a bastard," "We hate you!" and my personal favourite, "Death Eater Whore," all in Lily's untidy scrawl--but manageable. But when she ground an entire tube of "Passionate" into the leather of my treasured Eames lounge chair, leaving the spent tube on the seat in a blatant "Fuck you," I blew up.
"Look, can't you manage them? I don't expect them to love me. I don't even expect them to like me, but as your partner, I want them to respect our house and our relationship!"
Harry had gone into pout mode, wrapping his arms around himself. He looked both guilty and resentful, as if I had every right to bring this issue to a head, but still, why was I bringing this issue to a head?
"Give them time. They're just teenagers," he mumbled.
"Time? Fine. I'm heading out right now and buying shares of MAC, because at the rate your daughter's defacing this house with tubes of lipstick, their stock should shoot up. At the very least I'll make some money out of her insufferable behaviour."
I pointed a finger at him. "Do not deflect this conversation. They come to this house and behave themselves or I don't want them here. I'm not the reason your marriage broke up and I will not be cast in that role."
His arms dropped and he got that thinning of the lips that meant it was going to be a fight.
"No, but can't you understand that it will be rough for a while?"
"Rough!" I screeched. Looking back, it wasn't my finest hour. "I cannot do this anymore! It's been a year. That week at Christmas was the worst fucking week of my life. Remember those wonderful spring hols? We bring them to New York and they whine the entire fucking time. Or I should say that James and Lily whined, because I have yet to actually hear Albus speak."
I took a precious week off, gave Renzo and Mario a week in Miami Beach, and had those hellions to stay. As Harry bounded up the stairs with their luggage, I faced the three of them and said in a quiet voice, laced with as much venom as I could muster--not an inconsiderable amount--"I find one thing broken, missing, defaced, or out of place in this house and I will, I swear on my father's grave, hex you so fast your eyeballs will spin. I will maim you. I could give a rat's arse that you are children. Are we clear?"
They behaved but complained the whole time. First off, the food was horrible. New York cuisine! They must live on pizza and bangers and mash, because they turned their noses up at Indian, Thai, Burmese, Chino-Latino, Guatemalan, Brazilian, Chinese, Japanese, and tapas. Central Park. Boring. The Natural History Museum. Boring. The Met. Boring. Fifth Avenue and all the marvellous department stores--even a special trip to Saks and the MAC counter there. Boring. A boat ride to the Statue of Liberty. Boring. Not even a day at Gravesend Lane, New York's equivalent of Diagon Alley, impressed. Boring.
Harry and I had taken to spending most of our free time down in Gravesend when he was in town. I relished being able to walk down the street as a wizard and not get spat on or have to keep my eyes constantly darting about for a discreet hex cast my way. I now avoided any wizarding locales in Britain. The last time Harry and I were in Diagon Alley, I deflected no fewer than four Bat- Bogey Hexes in ten minutes. A spit in the face was the least of my worries.
The thought that summer was just around the corner and that we'd have those nasty children off and on for three months...
"Them or me!" I'd shouted and Apparated to an alley near the Connaught, booked a room, and drunk myself to sleep.
I'm sorry, so sorry, Harry. I'm so, so sorry, I murmured into my pillow.
"Nervous breakdown over, Malfoy. We need you downstairs."
I had no idea how long he'd been standing there, watching me having my conniption fit. I raised myself up.
"We had a fight. He brought me that plant to make up."
I braced myself, expecting Weasley to blame me, to upbraid me. He didn't, much to my surprise.
"If it hadn't been then, it would've been another time," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. "They were just waiting for an opportunity. Now downstairs, or I'll Levitate you myself. That DavyD sees you floating into the room and he'll piss himself with excitement."
True. And I'd just reupholstered the seats of my dining room chairs.
We were halfway down the stairs when I put a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks, Weasley."
"Don't thank me. Get your arse in the dining room."
The table had been cleared. Sam, having worked her way through the entire pack of Nicorettes, was now chewing on her forty-dollar manicure. I Accioed another package from my bedroom and threw it across the table.
"Everyone else has corroborated your version of events, Malfoy. Glamours can only conceal so much. What about the height and weight of the kidnappers?"
"Well, there's that one with the slight limp," said Courtney.
"The one who had the limp?" Weasley repeated. "I didn't see that in any of the reports." He sounded calm, but his hand had tightened around the beer he was holding.
"I told that other, uh, wizard. The tall Scottish one with the handlebar moustache and yellow teeth."
"That fucking McLaggen," Weasley said under his breath. "Which kidnapper was that?"
"The one who stood in the corner watching. He started forward when the three men who attacked Harry were sidling up against him before they disappeared. One of my legs is shorter than the other, so I notice that in other people. This man's shoulder dipped--just a little--when he moved."
That was that.
"Rabastan Lestrange," Weasley and I echoed each other.
Another hour of painstaking repetition and we were done.
While everyone else was getting on their coats, Sam pulled me down the hallway away from the others.
"You need this more than I do right now," she said in a low voice. Fishing into her handbag, she pulled out a small handgun; one of those guns that is the size of a toy but isn't a toy. The sort of thing a woman would buy. Right then and there I vowed never to filch cigarettes from her again. I might lose an eye rummaging around in that sack of horrors. "Here."
"Sam, I don't--"
"Yes, you do," she insisted.
"What in the hell are you doing with a gun?" I whispered in as frantic a whisper as you can whisper with it still being a whisper. "You're going to kill someone, most likely yourself."
"No, I'm not. Maybe the next bastard that tries to rape me." That shut me up. Because it implied that she'd been raped. "The safety's on. Do you know anything about guns?"
I nodded, took it from her, double-checked that the safety was on, and stuffed it into a front pocket of my pants. I'd stash it in some drawer later.
Sadly, yes, I knew far too much about guns, thanks to the Haagen years.
Still rather young and new to the flesh trade, I hadn't realised that with some men you cut bait early, no matter how much money they had. The illegitimate son of the illegitimate son of the Danish king Christian X, Haagen's delusions of grandeur were so, well, delusional, that they shocked even me--someone who was no stranger to outlandish delusions of grandeur.
Fancying himself some modern day Bror von Blixen with a dash of Hemingway--he wrote very bad short stories--Haagen dragged me on safaris, where he insisted that I, too, slaughter animals for the fun of it. My shots went wide; his did not. We spent most of the year in Paris at his chic flat in the heart of the Latin Quarter, which was lovely, and the hunting season in Kenya on his estate forty miles outside of Nairobi, which was torture. The walls were covered in the "trophies" he'd bagged, and to this day I cannot bear to even hear the word "lion" and not get angry all over again.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with men who resent being gay--the Terry Boots of this world--he'd begun to turn on me. A year into what had been relatively benign interaction, he changed. Initially, it was the occasional sharp remark. Then it became the odd and cruel remark. By the end of year two, he was out-and-out baiting me. It became a contest between the two of us to see how many more paycheques I would collect before I walked out.
On a mild spring day--why do all the major changes in my life occur in spring?--we were sitting on the veranda of the Kenya place. We'd just finished lunch. Mentally debating whether or not to leave him this week or the next, I realised with no small amount of irritation that I should wait to dump him until we'd returned to Paris, because flights out of Nairobi were ridiculously expensive.
"Dee?" he said in that half-Danish, half-faux English accent he'd adopted shortly after he'd met me. "You're really quite worthless with a gun, aren't you?" He looked up from cleaning and oiling his latest purchase: an antique four-bore monster that had reputedly been used by Hemingway to kill himself. Like I believed that nonsense, but he seemed quite happy. There's a sucker born every minute. Where he found bullets for it, I'll never know.
"Oh, I don't know. Hunting's just not my thing. More of a tennis person," I said blithely, refusing to take the bait. It wasn't like he could dispute my prowess on the tennis court, and I really wanted him to pay for my plane fare out of that bloody country. The graft and greed hadn't yet reached the epic proportions that now make Nairobi uninhabitable, but it was beginning.
"Fancy a little target practise?" he asked as he threaded the bullets into the chamber and snapped the breech closed. Before I could answer, he yelled, "Oba!"
His verbally abused and quite competent manservant came running out of the house.
"Walk out one hundred yards and put this on your head." He plucked an orange from a bowl on the table and threw it at him.
Oba caught the orange, but did not move.
"He's joking, Oba," I said quickly.
"No, I'm not," he insisted and pointed the gun at me.
I could see Oba deliberating. Haagen was a damn good shot, but one hundred yards out, with a gun that had a kick on it like a motherfucker...
"Unless you want to do it?" he said with a sly grin.
"Sure," I agreed and reached for the gun. He deftly removed it from my reach.
"Uh, uh, uh. You miss? I get to practise on you."
He was not cruel, he was mad. Oba's eyes widened. Haagen had absolutely snapped. He'd reached the point where he hated me, but he couldn't live without me. I wasn't sure he actually intended to kill me or was just intent on breaking my sang-froid, but if he blew my face off, he certainly had the money to pay the large bribes necessary to keep this hush-hush. And it wasn't like someone would come looking for me if I disappeared.
I held out my hand for the gun. "If I make it, you'll write me a check for fifty thousand pounds. In fact, write it now. I won't miss."
"Oh, Dee, you are so droll," he chuckled, got his chequebook, wrote me the cheque, threw it on the table, and gave me a broad, teeth-for-days grin as he handed me the gun. I pocketed the cheque.
If I didn't go through with it, I suspected he would shoot us both.
Oba obviously had the same thought, because he gave me an inscrutable look before walking out a fair ways, stopping, and then turning around and placing the orange on his head. He stood very still.
I turned to Haagen and said, "If you stop that cheque, I will tell everyone, everyone, Haagen, that you are the lousiest fuck on five continents. You won't pull for a decade." I couldn't believe I'd wasted two entire years on this man. Another lesson learned.
I hadn't fired this gun before, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I toyed with the idea of turning the gun on him and taking out his shooting arm, but he was well connected in this world and it would be my word--that of a whore--and Oba's--that of a black man--against Haagen's--who played darts with the local police chief on Thursday nights. My wand was secreted in my overnight. Bugger. Nothing for it.
I raised the rifle to my shoulder, gauged the weight, did some lightning-fast Arithmancy, and aimed. Once a Seeker, always a Seeker. I blasted that damn orange right off Oba's head. After determining that he hadn't been hurt, I pointed the gun at Haagen.
"Oba!" I shouted. "Come here!"
He ran over, muttering some hysterical gibberish--not that I could blame him. I cut him off by handing him my handkerchief to clean the bits of orange off his face. "Do you have a passport? Good. Go pack your bags, then mine. You're excellent at what you do and I need a valet. You're not staying in this house another minute. I'm catching the first plane out of here and you're going with me. You'll love Paris."
Haagen opened his mouth to protest, and I raised the gun so that the barrel was an inch from his mouth.
Oba stayed with me for years until his mother insisted he return to Kenya and marry. I found him a job at one of the larger Nairobi hotels. Haagen blew his sorry brains out five years later.
Yes, I knew guns.
With tremendous relief, I saw Sam and Courtney trundle off into cabs, while Renzo and Mario piled Stephan and DavyD into the Jag and drove them back to the flat they shared in Brooklyn. Weasley and I had the house to ourselves.
We headed straight for the lounge. Me to stretch out on one of the leather couches, trying valiantly not to throw up, Weasley to Firecall Shacklebolt. After my reunion with Mother, I'd done some minor "magicking-up" of the house. With one hand on my stomach to curb the nausea--Uncle Rabastan, Christ on a bicycle, it couldn't get any worse--I boomeranged in and out of bouts of raging gastrointestinal suckage, catching bits and pieces of Weasley's conference with Shacklebolt about this new development. I hope McLaggen had his resume up to date, because his job wasn't worth a tinker's damn.
When the call ended, Weasley flopped down into one of the club chairs with a gigantic sigh of exhaustion. I turned over to face him. "Do you want to spend the night, Weasley? I've got plenty of room. Under the circumstances, I think it wise to set our mutual antipathy aside for a bit."
"Agreed. Don't have the energy to be shirty with you, anyway. Thanks, Malfoy, but no. Hermione and I have a room over at Hezzlewhite's in Gravesend Lane. She arrived this morning. Heading up the liaison team between us and the Yanks. She's coming over in a cab, actually, to pick me up. She tried to Apparate into your place and strained an eye muscle in the process. You're right. This place is better warded than Hogwarts. You've got the whole effing block sealed off."
I didn't bother to hide a smirk, imagining the extreme irritation on Granger's face as the wards held. "Apparate out, then." I yawned. God, I was so tired, and yet short of a handful of Ambien and someone whacking me in the forehead with a mallet, I was too wound up to sleep tonight. "Nothing to stop you, and now that I think of it, I need to change that."
Weasley grinned--a weak grin but a grin nevertheless. "Give you this one for free, Malfoy. Never been great at Apparating, and now? I'm so bleeding exhausted it'd be a miracle if I made it in one piece anywhere."
"You must be exhausted, handing over blackmail material just like that. Why didn't McLaggen put that bit about the limp in his report?"
Weasley groaned. "Because he's an arrogant effing sod. His excuse was that they were Muggles and, therefore, their testimony was worthless. As if their eyes didn't work just as well as ours." Weasley waited a few beats before saying in a quiet voice, "So, we're going to have to bring you in and grill you about your family."
"Weasley, I'll do my best, but it will be pre-war."
My reunion with my Mother had its do's and don't's. Do talk about your job as a supremely successful magazine editor; don't talk about your years as a high-class prostitute. Do talk about your life in Switzerland; don't, for Merlin's sake, talk about what you or father did in the war. "I'll give you the contact information for my mother. We don't talk about the war or post war because I really don't relish saying to my mother, 'Yes, I fucked myself sideways for fifteen years. You?' I know nothing about the war years. Exile meant exile, Weasley."
"Right," he murmured, not bothering to hide the skepticism in his voice.
I would have chucked a pillow at him, but my stomach was doing some alarming back flips and I needed both hands pressing down to quell the nausea.
"I didn't even know my father had died, you berk. Speak to my mother," I repeated. "She never got the Mark, but she and my father were extremely close."
Although blood is thicker than water with my mother. My father cut me from the family the minute he'd discovered my defection. She'd restored me the minute after she'd buried him. That first Christmas we were united, she put the deed to the Manor in my stocking. I'd visited his grave, but I couldn't enter the house. I hadn't been back since. It sits empty, maintained by house elves for a family that hasn't stepped across the threshold in ten years.
"She's fond of Harry. She'll help you where she can. Warning, though: insane ambition was my father's bailiwick, not hers."
If you didn't know her well, you'd have assumed that the slight wrinkle to her forehead when the Death Eaters were holding court was nerves, hosting so many, with the chief guest being no less than Lord Voldemort himself. She couldn't openly scorn them, not with her sister and husband arm in arm with the Dark Lord, but when everyone had left, she and my father would have enormous rows about how he was gambling everything, our very lives, on the whims of a megalomaniac. My father couldn't deny Voldemort's megalomania--it takes one to know one--but he was convinced that the Dark Lord would be successful, and then the Malfoys would be second only to him. How could a skinny, half-blind orphan defeat the greatest wizard who'd ever lived?
It got so she couldn't even lay eyes on the Carrows without her lip curling in disgust. The only person she willingly talked to was Snape. He always stood apart from the others, and given what little Harry had told me about Snape's complete and utter betrayal of Lord Voldemort, it all made sense now.
She barely tolerated Avery, Dolohov, Selwyn, Yaxley, and Greg's father; they fell squarely into the category of thugs with a capital "T," those you could count on to do the really vile stuff. Then there were those who were DEs because of the pure-blood mania: your Notts, Parkinsons, Crabbes, Flints, and Uncle Rodolphus. Then there were the power-hungry ones, those willing to sell out to the highest bidder, for whom Voldemort's currency was good: Macnair, Mulciber, Rookwood, Jugson, and Travers. My father was something of an equal-opportunity Death Eater: should the occasion warrant it, he could be brutal, was racist beyond all reckoning, and power-mad. At the top of the heap were the Death Eaters who were absolutely fucking insane: Voldemort, of course. Aunt Bella. Uncle Rabastan.
"How bad is it, Malfoy?"
I sat up and looked Weasley right in the face. Why sugarcoat it?
"I am keeping my dinner down only by dint of enormous will power. After Harry's parents were killed and it looked like Voldemort had been defeated, my father laid low for a bit. When I was eight, he began rebuilding his power base. I don't think he was particularly grief-stricken at Voldemort's supposed demise. In fact, I got the impression that he was rather put out that he'd come back. Because Voldemort didn't share power. Everyone was a lackey. There were grades of subservience, of course, but I can't imagine my father relished being a lackey first class."
"Must have been a right bitch."
I couldn't help but chuckle.
"Weasley, I've had all the surprises I can stand for one day. Please don't shock me by divulging that you have a sense of humour. Anyway, suddenly we were giving lots and lots of parties. Evening soirees. Garden parties in the spring. Christmas fetes. A New Year's Ball. Even at those large dinner parties, where a wide-eyed, curious boy might hide behind the drapes and listen to every word, most discussions were in veiled code or allusions. But two things became clear: Snape was acknowledged as a genius in Potions, and Uncle Rabastan a genius at performing the darkest of Dark Arts spells. Wizard-wise, my father was his only serious rival, and even then, I wouldn't have placed any bets on him winning a fight between the two of them."
Family legend has it that no one was surprised when Rodolphus Lestrange and Bellatrix Black married. As the Black family manse was known as Dark Arts Central--even more so than Malfoy Manor; Mother was more of a lady-of-the-manor sort, as opposed to Great Aunt Walburga, who was more of the lady-of-the-maniacal sort--and given that the Lestrange family's Dark credentials were without peer, it was just a question of which brother got the fair Bella's hand. I guess Aunt Bella had all the psycho one marriage could handle, so Rodolphus won by default.
The Lestrange family, although well known for its semi-aristocratic make-up, had a murky, unsavoury past. In France, they had their semi-aristocratic bloodline to brag about, but not much else. The French equivalent of Borgin and Burkes, they had scraped a living out of selling Dark artifacts in a cave-like shop under the Pont de Neuf Bridge. Like my Malfoy ancestors, they were victims of the Great Wizarding Purge of 1794 during the French Revolution, but they arrived in England with sacks of Galleons, with no explanation for their abrupt about-face from rags to riches. It was suspected that they'd been trafficking in nobility, rounding up fleeing Muggle aristocrats and handing them over to Robespierre's thugs for a fee.
"You know how arrogant I was as a child, Weasley."
"You?" he said with not a little sarcasm.
I gave him the finger.
"Even I was afraid of Uncle Rabastan." When he entered the room, laughter would cease, people's voices would drop. Everyone went on their guard. "He would look at you, and there was nothing there behind those eyes. No spark. I never saw him smile. He would bring his hands together, steeple them, fingertip matched to fingertip, and he would study you, with such a clinical and dispassionate gaze that it was impossible not to feel that you really didn't matter. Not a jot. That if you were writhing in agony, on fire, he would watch because he'd never seen someone on fire and, my, wasn't that fascinating? At a certain temperature, your eyeballs melted!"
Weasley didn't move, but his face and shoulders hardened as all his muscles tensed up.
"There were only two people in this whole world my father was afraid of: Voldemort and Rabastan Lestrange."
We were so fucked.
Granger arrived shortly thereafter. At the rat-tat-tat of an impatient horn, I temporarily disabled the wards. Without even so much as a brief look between us, Weasley and I raised our wands at the ready; no better time for an ambush than when opening a door. But there was no ambush, just Granger, one eye markedly bloodshot and her face the colour of parchment, with pronounced parentheses of fatigue etched on either side of her mouth.
"Malfoy," she said by way of greeting me, but didn't glance in my direction. Running a hand over Weasley's forehead, she murmured, "Oh, Ron, have you got any sleep in the past three days?"
He leaned into her hand and sighed. "I'll catch a few winks back at the hotel." He turned to me. "Malfoy, I'll Firecall you. You're going to have to talk to Shacklebolt in the morning." He paused and added with a poor attempt at nonchalance, "If I hear anything, I'll let you know."
I nodded and opened the door wider, trying not to be completely obvious that I wanted them out of my foyer right now. I had things to do.
Surprisingly, I got a brief hug from Granger before they left. I was too tired to either accept it or reject it. Whatever. My affection for Harry was genuine, and I trusted that as much as they despised me, they would give me that.
I waited five minutes. Then I Firecalled Mother.
When I was seventeen years old, Voldemort began marshaling his "troops," and as the Black family mansion was under control of the Order, Malfoy Manor was designated as Death Eater Central. It wasn't as if my parents had a choice.
What it really meant to be a Death Eater became all too apparent. Writing those letters to Harry was the height of folly--I knew that with every scratch of my quill across the parchment--but I didn't have a hell of a lot of options. Voicing my fears to Vince or Greg was out of the question. They'd tell their fathers, who would tell my father. Pansy? I adored Pans, but no. I needed to talk to someone who understood that war was breathing down our necks and we weren't children anymore, but we sure as hell weren't adults, and the person you had just passed in the hall might be the person you had to kill next week. Or be killed by. As much as I hated him--not to mention that he irritated the living fuck out of me; that stupid hair!--I knew that of all people, Potter was the one person who would not only understand my fears and frustrations, but share them.
I grew up that year. More or less. Oh, I was still an immature sod. I don't think I fully matured until I was around thirty-six. By that time I'd had a year of editing Lush under my belt, and one day I experienced this epiphany: I didn't have to fuck anyone I didn't want to. Ever again. Which resulted in a quasi-celibate existence until Harry came along. I suppose a psychiatrist would have had a field day with that. Yes, that year was a personal watershed. Not only did the impossible happen--I fell head over heels in love with Harry Potter--but my eyes were permanently opened.
On many fronts.
Even if I didn't have the emotional skills to deal with the facts, I couldn't deny them. That my father, as much as I loved him, was a weak and craven man. I stopped at actually thinking of him as truly evil, because who in their right mind wants evil and father in the same sentence? What I couldn't ignore was that he'd do anything to advance himself under the guise of noblesse oblige. Fortunately, my mother, whom I loved but had never understood until that year, was made of fucking steel. Even as she stood by my father, playing hostess to Death Eaters with her usual impeccable style and grace, she began secretly moving her inheritance into Swiss bank accounts. It was some of her money that Snape had handed to me, with instructions to flee.
Sit through one Death Eater meeting, and it didn't take a genius to realise that if the Death Eaters didn't start cannibalising themselves soon, then Voldemort would. Ten days short of my seventeenth birthday, over the course of four hours, I watched my life as I knew it irreversibly start to shatter.
It was late May. Ostensibly, we were hosting a garden party. In reality, Voldemort was holding his first official war council at our house. The garden smelled of damp and lilacs. We'd had nothing but incessant rain from February through mid-May, and the roses were just beginning to bud. I stood on the terrace, watching an army of house elves clean the cobwebs and nine months' worth of muck off the outdoor furniture. Looking out over the grand expanse of the Manor's garden--my mother's passion--I inhaled the gentle scent of flowers on the eve of their first full blooming. If I'd known that this was the last peaceful moment I was to have for the next three years, I would have savoured it much longer.
As my mother is an organisational genius--there is part of me that honestly believes that had she been in charge of the Death Eaters, Harry would have lost the war--the party went off without a hitch. My father sat at one end of the table, my mother next to him on one side, and me next to him on the other. Voldemort sat at the other end with Aunt Bella to his right, Pettigrew next to her, Uncle Rabastan to Voldemort's left, and Snape on the other side of Uncle Rabastan. The stars of the latter two men rose and fell depending which side of Voldemort's crazy they landed. Uncle Rabastan was currently in the ascendant or Snape was in temporary disgrace. It didn't matter where anyone else sat.
After discussing the usual pleasantries, who'd been tortured that week, which wizard or witch should be AK'd next, Voldemort hissed, "Lucius." The way he said father's name still gives me chills, that half-serpent tongue of his caressing all esses. I swear he got a hard-on every time he uttered an esse or a cee. "I trust Draco knows where his loyalties lie?"
By that point I'd accepted getting the Mark as a fait accompli. In fact, I felt like sticking out my arm and saying, "Oh fuck, let's just get this over with."
My mother had a much different agenda.
"My Lord," she said in a cool, calm voice, ignoring my father's frantic hand gestures under the table signalling her to be quiet. "Surely that would not be wise until he's out of school. His presence at Hogwarts is invaluable. What if he inadvertently reveals he has the Mark? Even grown men have been known to react when you Summon your followers. Should it occur during classes, he will be expelled. That, I believe, would not serve your purpose at all."
That's the thing about megalomaniacs: everything is seen through megalomania-coloured glasses. The bare-knuckled grip she had on her teacup told me she knew this was a profound gamble, but Voldemort, normally astonishingly perceptive, was always a whore to his own vanity. It was that "not serve your purpose" that saved me.
"Yes, Narcissa"--he loved saying her name, too; Merlin, what a sick fuck--"excellent point. The day you leave Hogwarts, Draco."
It was an order.
The rest of the table went back to its usual state of half-bickering as they jockeyed for position.
After everyone had gone, I went up to my room, flung myself on my bed, and curled up into a tight ball. Confused and angry, my mind spinning out of control, I began cataloguing what exactly being a Death Eater entailed. Glory for the House of Malfoy? Not so much. Torture on command? More to the point.
At dusk, my mother entered the room. The curtains were drawn tight, the room so dark that I could barely make out the shape of her. She sat down next to me, glass in hand, and I smelled the sweet, sharp odour of that cognac she and father drank. She proceeded to nurse that cognac for over an hour without saying a word, the room growing darker and darker until she was virtually invisible. Occasionally she'd stroke my forehead in an affectionate caress, running her fingers through my hair, but still she said nothing. When the glass was finally empty, she hurled it into the fireplace.
Even all these years later, I can hear still the sound it made.
Ignoring my gasp of surprise, she turned back to me and said in her usual unflappable tone, "You will get that Mark over my dead body."
"No buts, do you hear me?"
She grabbed me by the shoulders, hauled me up into a sitting position, and shook me once, hard. "Your father is blind, Draco. Blinded by his ambition. For the next year or two, you will have to walk a tightrope. We will all have to walk a tightrope. And if we are very careful, if we don't misstep..." Here her grip turned into an embrace. "We will survive," she finished in a whisper.
"Mother?" I said in a loud voice. Despite it being four o'clock in the morning in Lausanne, she was awake, parked in front of her fireplace, waiting for news. "It's Uncle Rabastan."
"That is unfortunate," she replied.
I had nothing to say to that because it was six different kinds of horrible and we both knew it.
"Shacklebolt and Weasley agree?"
"I shall be there in precisely one hour. Dismantle the wards," she ordered, and then the fire went out.
A hand-wringer? Hardly. Despite the fact I hadn't cast any serious magic in twenty years--Accio-ing the lube, a few Cleaning Charms, and the occasional Apparate were about as strenuous as it got these days--I spent the next hour cataloguing the nastiest spells I'd ever learned. I was rusty beyond belief, yes, but if intent were half the battle... Given the rage and despair eating my stomach lining, I could probably have cast an Unforgivable without a second thought, but no. That was the one thing I would not do. I was not my father's son. But that didn't mean I wasn't prepared to do everything and anything short of that to get Harry back.
Mother Portkeyed in precisely on the hour. I couldn't imagine the favours she must have called in to obtain an illegal Portkey to New York at five in the morning.
She waved an impatient hand. "Friends in high places. I need a cup of tea." As I led the way to the kitchen, I grabbed the bottle of Napoleon off the sideboard.
I bustled around the kitchen getting the tea on, my nerves so shot that I dropped the creamer twice and the sugar bowl once.
"I wish you had house elves, Draco," Mother complained, as she repaired and refilled the creamer for the second time.
"I do," I insisted and gripped the teapot with two hands so that I could get it to the table without dropping it. "They just aren't magical."
"Those Vincent and Gregory replicas?" she said, with marked disapproval in her voice.
"I like them, and more importantly, they like me. They'd do anything for me."
"Watch them. Vincent did some very nasty things during the war. Gregory was..." She paused and sighed. "Like most of your generation. Caught up in the momentum. Let it steep just a minute more."
She touched my hand to stall it as I reached for the teapot to pour, and then wrapped her hand around mine and squeezed. Like most fine-boned English women, she hid her age well. Her hair was white, but on her it said chic as opposed to old. It wasn't until you looked down at her hands--roped with veins--that her real age showed.
"You're not wearing the ring your father gave you."
"I gave it to Harry," I said, unable to bite back the mulish tone of my voice. That ring was a symbol of everything I had repudiated. My father, my magic, my country. I felt like a fraud wearing it.
"Whatever your father did, and I am not excusing him, he loved you."
Overwhelmed by rage, a white-hot anger that had me shaking, I wrenched out of her grasp, stood up, and began pacing, willing myself to calm down with every step, before every plate, dish, cup, and glass I owned shattered into dust.
"Draco, you must--"
"Mother, please shut up!" I shouted. "Nothing says 'I love you' like disinheritance. Did he burn me out of the family tree? Is there a fucking scorch mark around where my name should be? Did he--"
And this is why my mother is without peer. Because I expected her to upbraid me, to reprimand me for my belligerence. She stood up, and in a trice she'd crossed the room and wrapped her arms around me, holding and rocking me as if I were a child.
"My boy," she muttered. "My poor, poor boy."
I suppose it had to happen. That I finally had to sob out my anger and despair, albeit twenty years too late. Over the fact that I hadn't had a choice. Leaving was the greatest gesture of love I could possibly have made. Not that my father saw it in that light. Obviously. When I'd cried myself out, my mother steered me toward the table and pushed me into a chair.
Without saying a word, she handed me a teacup that was half tea, half Napoleon. I finished it in one large gulp and held out my cup for another. She arched one eyebrow and didn't even bother with the tea, just filled it to the brim with Napoleon.
"Harry was my lover. When..." I rolled my hand. "Before I left England." I imagine she'd gleaned that by now, but it was past the time we could afford to pussyfoot around any subject.
Lips pursed into a tiny frown, she liberally doctored up her own tea. "Yes, I got that."
No mistaking the tone of that voice.
"Look, I didn't plan on falling for him. I just did. In some ways it saved me, and in some ways it made my life impossible. If it hadn't been for him, I--"
If it hadn't been for Harry I would have stayed and compromised and looked the other way. Whatever "sins" I had committed over the last twenty years, at least I had no problem looking at myself in the mirror every morning, which would have been debatable had I stayed in England. That damned if I did, damned if I didn't business. Help Harry, betray my father. Help my father, betray Harry.
"You couldn't have--"
"Told you? No." My voice was too sharp, too shrill, but damn it to hell.
Because if I'd told her she would have asked me to stay, to help Harry defeat Voldemort. I would have been in the exact same place, in the lose/lose situation of choosing between my lover and my father, but I would have actually had to do it, as opposed to choosing neither. Although I'd somehow mustered up enough guts to leave Harry and my father, I doubt I could have said no if she had asked me to stay.
"I see," she replied in a clipped tone, and in the time-honoured English tradition of staving off a fight, she poured herself some more tea. I had been little more than a boy when I'd left, and now I was a cranky and very much adult man. We were still struggling to redefine the boundaries between mother and son.
"The Death Eaters?" I asked.
"Rabastan was sentenced to twenty years. Some insisted that he receive the Kiss, but in the end the Wizengamot decided to incarcerate him. Fools. He was paroled last year and promptly disappeared. The Aurors contacted me, suspecting me of harbouring him or at the very least giving him assistance of some sort."
"I hope you told them to go hell."
At Harry's insistence, the Malfoy bank accounts had finally been unfrozen. She'd lost half of it to war reparations, but that still left a goodly chunk of change. The Ministry had no more power over her.
"Don't be stupid, Draco," she snapped. "You were back in England by that time. I stood to gain nothing by refusing to speak to them. In fact, I was almost...chatty."
I smiled, because "chatty" is precisely the wrong word I'd use to describe my mother.
"I suggested they search for him in New York. A branch of the Lestrange family resettled there after the Terror. He has cousins here, I believe."
I didn't hear the rest because Harry and I had been window shopping in Gravesend Lane on a surprisingly warm afternoon last December. We were walking and talking; I'd been telling Harry some of my more salacious episodes as a high-class tart--those deemed far too raunchy for the book--and he was alternately turned on and absolutely shocked. We weren't paying attention to where we were meandering, and accidentally turned into Cursus Crescent, the American equivalent of Knockturn Alley, which was just as unsavoury as its British counterpart. We didn't get very far before we realised our mistake and hoofed it out of there. But we must have been seen and then followed home to the brownstone.
And evidently plans had been laid.
"Draco," my mother said in a sharp voice, as if she'd been repeating my name several times.
"Sorry, I was just remembering. Last December Harry and I inadvertently stumbled into the grotty part of the wizarding section of Manhattan. He must have seen us then. Not as if I've changed."
"Most likely," she agreed. "I follow the Prophet religiously, and I've never seen any mention of you living here in New York, so yes, I think we can safely deduce that he or someone he knows saw the two of you. Whether it was that day or some other time, your presence in Gravesend Lane would have caught someone's attention. Anything your Potter does is news. Now. Dolohov is out of the equation. He was the last person in Britain to be given the Kiss for his role in killing that werewolf, Lupin."
"Put down with a silver bullet. The Prophet said you could hear his screams in France." The satisfaction in her voice was audible.
That got a delicate snort.
"I seriously doubt that the Parkinsons or the Flints are involved. They got a dressing-down by the Wizengamot and their estates were sequestered, but no prison terms. They were never part of the inner circle anyway, no matter what that social-climbing hag Prudence Parkinson says.
"The Carrows, Macnair, Mulciber, Avery, Rookwood, Selwyn, Travers, Yaxley, Gregory Goyle, Senior, and Hadwyn Crabbe all received ten-year terms. Rodolphus hung himself before he could be brought to trial. I don't think it had anything to do with returning to Azkaban. I believe it had to do with Bella's demise. Strange, considering. Rabastan would be too intelligent to use the Carrows. They were nothing more than thugs and rather stupid thugs, and their years in Azkaban left them mentally crippled." She paused. "More mentally crippled. Mulciber died in prison, as did Rookwood. That leaves," she began ticking them off on her fingers, "Macnair, Avery, Rookwood, Selwyn, Travers, and Yaxley. How many did you say there were?"
"Hmmm." She drummed her fingers against the table. "I suppose he could have recruited others. The cousins, perhaps? I cannot see either Gregory or Hadwyn involved in this."
Given that Vince and Greg were carbon copies of their fathers, brutish and easily manipulated--albeit ridiculous loyal--I was hard pressed to see why not.
"For one thing, they aren't particularly gifted wizards, and Rabastan's ego is quite in check. He wouldn't need a coterie of boot-licking toadies around him."
"Is this accurate?" I handed her the list, which only brought home a thousand times more plainly in my mind that this was our fathers' war and not ours.
Running her eyes down the parchment, Mother nodded. "Rabastan would only use those wizards who had brains and magical expertise."
"So, we've narrowed it down to whom. Now the what. Why me?"
She let the parchment flutter to the table. In a tired voice of "been there, done that," she said, "It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with your father."
Magic is very specific. To cast spells requires that the caster hold a concept in his mind. To Transfigure a teacup into a leaf, you must think about a teacup turning into a leaf and all that would entail. To cast a Patronus, you must think of something marvellous, something that made you happy. I've always had the greatest of difficulties casting that spell, which, of course, says to me that I've never been truly happy. If you must have happiness in your soul to cast a Patronus, then you must have evil in your soul to cast an Unforgivable.
"Draco, please sit down."
"No," I replied and kept pacing back and forth. Why do all roads lead back to Lucius Malfoy? Will I never escape him?
"I miss him dreadfully. Still," she added. "I'll come in from my bridge game and throw my gloves on the hallway table in frustration--there's always one idiot who can't bid to save their life. Tea will be waiting for me in the sitting room. I'll pour myself a cup and say, 'Lucius, you'll never guess what that truly moronic Durilda von Statenberg did today,' and turn to him. And he won't be there."
I stopped for a second. I had nothing to say to that. Because to say anything would force me to acknowledge that I thought of him every day, several times a day. Not that I had imaginary conversations with him. Which seemed, hello, a little on the crazy side. Obviously, I needed to move Mother to New York ASAP.
"I do this about three times a week. I do not deny he did truly horrible things. He also did truly marvellous things."
Slowly, her face crumpled into its true age. Not wrinkled so much as careworn and sad. And, oh Merlin, beaten. Then just like that, her features righted themselves into her usual patrician, confident, and somewhat stern mask.
"I love him no less."
We were getting into "evil and father" territory--or certainly "evil and husband" territory. I resumed my back and forth across the kitchen, refusing to acknowledge that ridiculous statement.
Although the rest of the rooms on the main floor of my house were spacious and inviting, the kitchen had been the domain of downtrodden Irish servants, and was, therefore, little more than a big closet with a sink and a stove. As I ate out most nights of the week, I'd never remodelled like my neighbours had because I would have had to give up my downstairs office. Stupid me. Because when you need to pace, a pokey ten-foot-by-eight-foot kitchen does not cut the mustard. God, for another four feet!
"Ignoring me does not make this go away," Mother snapped. "Do you remember that dreadful afternoon at the Manor right before your seventeenth birthday? When--"
"How could I forget?" I snapped back.
"If I'd been privy to your clandestine love affair," she raised one eyebrow in definite condemnation, "it might have made things easier. Regardless, I had no intention of allowing you to become another of the Dark Lord's victims. I had already lost my husband to him; I'd be damned if I was going to lose you. That day I chose you over your father."
She filled her own teacup with cognac, and drank half of it down in one swoop.
"I never told him it was my money that you used to flee. I couldn't bear for him to know." Her voice kept getting lower and lower. I had to strain to hear her. "I have never regretted it. We were forced to make choices, Draco. He chose his path, thinking it would bring the Malfoy name into the pantheon of wizarding history. He got his wish," she said with a grimace. "But--"
"That doesn't justify what he did," I growled, furious at her for making excuses for him. "I don't even know the half of it, and it disgusts me to think--"
She got up from her seat, marched over to me, and threw the rest of her cognac in my face.
"How dare you judge!" she hissed. "I didn't judge you when you left without a word. Without even a good-bye. When those once-a-year Christmas cards ceased. When I lost both my husband and my son. My only son. I never gave up looking for you. I wrote letters. Cultivated friendships with people I despised in the hopes of gleaning the briefest of hints that you were still alive. Did you do any of that? Or did you just accept that I'd died?"
I jerked back as if I'd been slapped.
"I-- I-- I sent those cards and they kept coming back and then..." Probably some disgruntled Ministry type bent on revenge had refused to forward them on to Switzerland. How petty. I wondered how much satisfaction they'd got out of that nasty little bit of skullduggery. Well, I bet they weren't laughing now, with my love affair with Harry Potter on the front page of the Prophet at least once a week. "I didn't know what to do because I couldn't... Couldn't... Come back to England and face... Him. Father," I choked out.
"Oh, my dear,” she whispered. Her eyes teared up for one second. She raised a hand as if to touch my face, and then let it fall to her side. In a more normal voice, she said, "I apologise. That was wrong of me." With a wave of her wand she dried my face and returned to her seat. "Will you please sit down. That pacing is somewhat irritating."
Which was Narcissa-speak for, "If you don't stop pacing, Draco, I'm going to hex you." I sat down with as much ill-grace as I could manage.
"Did your Potter judge you?"
I shook my head. Oh, he was hurt and a little churlish, but the minute he set foot in my office he was carrying a metaphorical bouquet of forgiveness. Not that I understood that until later, but Harry, a victim of the past if ever there was one, doesn't let the past rule him.
"Then take a leaf from his book," she said, her voice cold. "I've walked that tightrope for years, Draco. Years," she bit out sharply. "And you will walk it, too. You will accept that your father was deeply flawed, and you will revel in the fact that he had many, many gifts, and that his rage at your defection was in proportion to his love for you."
"He would have killed Harry," I replied in an equally cold tone. Because that was as true as it gets.
"Yes," she admitted. "Just as your Potter would have killed him."
"No, he wouldn't have," I countered, and here I should have been triumphant, because that was the last thing Harry would have done. "Unless he had no choice and maybe not even then."
So my "win" only meant that my father truly was a horrible, evil man.
Mother studied me for a minute and then acknowledged, "Perhaps you got the better man. It doesn't change things. I loved your father. He loved you. He was, simultaneously, a wonderful and despicable person. Nothing will change that. At some point, Draco, you will have to come to terms with who he was and accept the fact that he loved you and mourned you as much as any other father. You died for him in many ways. Others would suppose that the greatest tragedy of his life was throwing his lot in with Voldemort. I think his greatest tragedy was that he never reconciled his feelings regarding you and died with that enormous conflict eating away at him." She let that sink in and then said, "Don't be the same kind of fool."
That remained to be seen, now, didn't it? Bugger. Bugger squared. Risking a partial lung collapse, I made a grab for my cigarettes. With a deft hand, she pushed them out of reach.
"How did he die?" I blurted. The question that had been on the tip of my tongue for over a year.
"He killed himself."
"What?" Groping for the cognac bottle, I didn't even bother with a cup; I just took an enormous slug directly from the bottle.
"No one else knows, and they will not know." Tilting her head, she levelled a particularly stern and penetrating look at me, and I knew that I could never tell Harry; I didn't have the right. "I've only used the Imperius curse once in my life and it was when a Healer came to perform a diagnostic spell on his body."
I stared at her. Even if I hadn't been up for three days straight and the love of my life hadn't been kidnapped by my twisted, evil uncle, I still wouldn't have been able to completely process what my mother was telling me.
"Initially, he relied on a Glamour, even in his sleep. He was able to sustain it for a number of years, but as the illness gradually ate away at him, it got to be harder and harder. At first, he kept it on until we retired to bed. Then he'd cast it whenever I came into the room. He spent every waking moment at his desk in the library, researching cures, hunting among the darkest of Dark Arts tomes. He refused to have any lights on near the end. Kept all the curtains closed. I lived in almost total darkness for two years, usually the light of the fire the only glow in the room. But it didn't hide how shrivelled, how old, how ill he was: his skin waxen; that gorgeous hair gone--his scalp covered in tired wisps of grey. Then he didn't even have the energy to cast a Glamour. When that happened, the nightly doses of Dreamless Sleep grew larger and larger, until..."
Her voice trailed off into nothing.
"Try to stop him?" She folded her arms in front of her on the table and laid her head down so I couldn't see her face. Out of the side of her mouth she said, "No. He'd watch me watch him, increasing the dose night after night until, finally, it was enough. I'm still not sure what he expected of me: to challenge him or applaud him. This was yet another road I could not follow him down."
Merlin, I hated him. For making me choose no one. For forcing my mother to witness his nightly courting of suicide. For welcoming evil with open arms and then being shocked to learn that evil has no rules.
"But that's not what really killed him. I have no evidence to back this up, but I believe that evil killed him."
I took another slug of cognac.
"Come again?" I said with a rasp, only some of that due to the rush of alcohol scouring my vocal cords.
She lifted her head and stared off into a far corner of the room. "Evil," she said simply. "The Healers at St. Mungo's put it down to some mysterious illness that was eating away at him, day by day, hour by hour, but I think differently. I believe that all the evil he committed reached a tipping point and turned inward to consume him." She faced me and then thrust her chin up in a defiant gesture. "A pollution of the soul."
Not only did I think this was woo-woo bollocks of the first order, but it was extremely disconcerting that my most grounded and no-nonsense mother was trying to sell this tripe. I endeavoured not to sound snide, but it had been an awful few days.
"Oh, please. If that were the case, Lord Voldemort wouldn't have survived much beyond his third birthday."
If anyone had had "bad seed" written all over him, it was that wanker.
"Think what you will," she replied and followed it with a minute shrug, which was very French and completely incongruous coming from her decidedly English shoulders.
And then I thought of Harry. Who'd been abused and starved and orphaned and who had an inner core of decency that permeated every single spell he cast. Perhaps Harry and Voldemort are/were examples of the extremes--wedded to their fate--and the rest of us straddle fate's highway. We are left to choose. I could have so easily gone the other way--I'm ashamed to admit--tamping down all my misgivings because doing so would have meant basking in my father's approbation and love. Drowning out any moral doubts by shoving all responsibility for my actions onto his shoulders.
But for Harry.
My nerves were at the absolute fucking breaking point and if I didn't-- It was a little bit of a fight between my common sense and my nicotine addiction, but nicotine won. It usually did. Refusing to glance anywhere in the vicinity of my mother, I leaned over the table and snatched up the pack of fags. I shook a cigarette out of the pack and willed my hands to stop shaking so I could light the fucking thing. Ignoring my lungs' protest, I sucked in a metric ton of carcinogens like it was my last taste of dick. Nicotine, I love you.
"Why didn't they chuck him in Azkaban with the rest of them?" Because that was where he belonged, even though I could never voice that out loud to anyone but her.
"That is an absolutely filthy habit, and if it's the last thing I do, I'm going to break you of it." Narrowing her eyes, Mother gave the fag cradled between my fingers a disgusted sneer and went on. "After you left, it freed me somewhat. I was able to assist the Ministry in small ways. I fed them enough information so that I could legitimately demand your father be kept out of Azkaban, but not enough that they couldn't legitimately freeze access to most of our money. There were," here she paused, "negotiations," which was said in a determined tone. I imagine that she'd had something quite juicy to hold over the Ministry's head, because the hue and cry of not imprisoning my father must have been fierce. "Not that it was easy. There were several offensives, largely orchestrated by your father, and, fortunately, all of them failed.
"Unfortunately, the Dark Lord didn't know the meaning of the word fail. When your father failed--repeatedly--he broke him. Had him stand for hours while he held court in the Manor. Asked him to pour the tea. Fetch the mail from the post owls. He treated your father like nothing more than a house elf. By the end of the war, Lucius could barely cast spells, his confidence was so shattered. Most people would say good enough for him."
I swallowed a very large lump in my throat.
"That must have been horrible. To watch, I mean." Pride was my father's life's blood. I couldn't imagine him being ground under the Dark Lord's heel, enduring the knowing smiles of idiots like the Carrows.
"You have no idea," she said in a flat voice. "After the defeat of Voldemort, life was marginally better. At least the killing had stopped. Your father spent the last years of his life in complete and utter exile. He never left the Manor. He couldn't bear to be scorned by a world he'd once held in the palm of his hand. When the Healers at St. Mungo's gave up, he petitioned the Wizengamot for permission to visit Rabastan."
"Surely, they wouldn't be that stupid," I said, incredulous.
"Of course not. Naturally, he was turned down. But I know that they maintained some sort of correspondence for years. Guards were bribed, I imagine. Your father and Rabastan had no peers in terms of their knowledge of the Dark Arts, and I suppose he asked Rabastan for his help. Anyway, your father believed that the Dark Arts would cure him. Of course, believing what I believe, it merely hastened the process. Evil cannot cure evil."
Before I could finish my question, the backdoor opened. Renzo had returned from Brooklyn. Circe, they'd been an age.
"Problems on the bridge? Where's Mario?
"Stephan asked me to give you this," he said in a tired voice. In his hand was a bottle of Napoleon. How sweet of Stephan. As much as he irritated me, he really was a--
As I reached for it, my mother screamed, "Draco!" but to no avail. Renzo shoved it against my hand and magic yanked us away.
We tumbled onto a floor, my knees crashing against cold stone. Before I could raise myself up, a familiar voice said, "Kill him."
The malevolent green light of an Avada Kedavra blinded me.
Amazed I wasn't dead, I rolled upright, only to see Renzo's prone figure on the floor, his face frozen in that peculiar agonised rictus.
"No," I whimpered and lunged for him, hoping to feel a heartbeat, something. Bent over, I reached into my boot for my wand.
"Expelliarmus," Rabastan remarked in a bored voice, and the wand flew out of my hands as another spell flung me against a wall.
"Don't be stupid, Draco."
I wiped my face clear of tears. Yaxley and Travers stood behind Uncle Rabastan.
Tall and as ramrod straight as ever, he hadn't changed at all. Never ostentatious--his passions didn't run to the worldly--his wizard robes were of plain black silk, and his long, dark hair had been pulled back in a tight knot at the nape of his neck. When I was a child, he'd reminded me of a panther: claws out, teeth bared, always poised to kill.
Large and dank, the room we'd landed in was obviously the bowels of some seedy pub. Wine casks lined one wall, beer kegs the other. With no windows and only one door, it was unlikely I could make my escape. I'd have to wait for a more opportune moment. Merlin, was that the sweet odour of blood intermingled with the cloying scent of cheap wine and hops? I prayed my imagination was running wild.
He ignored me.
"Remove it," he ordered Yaxley, who hadn't weathered the last twenty years nearly half as well. Bent and wizened, Yaxley spit on me as he passed, Levitating Renzo's dead body out of the room.
"Harry," I demanded.
"Travers. Bring in Potter," he ordered in a lazy drawl.
Travers Levitated Harry in. I was in such shock that I couldn't even react. The only way that I knew it was Harry was that the lump of body being brought into the room was wearing a hideous orange polo shirt--albeit stained heavily with blood--the exact replica of what he'd been wearing on Friday night before he'd been kidnapped. All his limbs twitched minutely--his hands, feet, elbows, and knees jerking uncontrollably--a sign that he'd been subjected to repeated bouts of Cruciatus. And his beautiful face was swollen and torn beyond recognition. They'd kicked him, over and over again. He hung there with his arms up, as if held by an invisible hook. I said a silent thank you that he was blessedly unconscious, because if he'd been awake he'd have been in agony. They'd broken his hands; his fingers were splayed every which way in a tortured tangle.
"You are made of much sterner stuff than I would have given you credit for, Draco. I expected you to be quite distraught. Considering." He pointed his wand at Harry's mangled body and then gave a sly glance at my crotch and then Harry's.
I was not going to give this bastard the satisfaction. I'd had my one moment of hysteria over Renzo, but that was it. I needed every single bit of cunning and smarts that I possessed to get us out of this monumental clusterfuck.
I raised one very nonchalant eyebrow. "Shows how little you know me, Uncle. Seems a little like overkill. If you'd wanted my help, surely you could have sent me an owl. As it is now, you have Aurors in two countries targeting your soon-to-be dead arse."
Travers shouted, "Crucio!" and I writhed on the ground in utter and total agony for five minutes, my screams so harsh and raw that my voice was nothing more than a rasp for days afterwards.
Then the agony stopped, just like that. I curled up into a ball, trying to stop the ensuing waves of nausea, but to no avail. Cognac, tea, and remnants of dinner all came up. Over the sounds of my retching, I heard my bastard of an uncle remind Travers, "We don't want to kill him just yet. We need him."
"Yet" being the operative word. I had some time.
"As I said," I croaked out, speaking out of the side of my mouth in between bouts of vomiting. "Owls. Work like a charm."
That, amazingly, got a laugh.
"Leave us," Rabastan ordered.
I crawled to a wall and propped myself up against it. It was down to the three of us, with Harry still hanging there like meat on a hook. I turned away from him to face my uncle.
"Cut to the chase," I rasped.
He cocked his head, and his mouth curled up at the edges. I wouldn't call it a smile, because that implies amusement. This was more like contempt laced with a little admiration.
"You really are a surprise." He twirled my wand in his left hand, while his right kept a firm grip on his own. "You must get that grit from your mother. Lucius disappointed us all."
"You are not fit to utter his name," I whispered and braced myself for another round of agony.
Surprisingly, it wasn't the Cruciatus this time. He marched over and backhanded me. And then it was all clear. Because it was like being hit by a child. He couldn't have cast a Cruciatus because he didn't have the energy. Because he was using all his energy to keep his Glamour intact. Because he was dying. Like my father. From evil.
"You want my father's notes."
He inhaled, a sharp sound that rattled when it shouldn't have. At his shock, the Glamour slipped, just for a second. I gasped because ravaged didn't begin to describe him. His eyes were sunk back into his skull, his skin, pocked with some unholy rash, was the colour of wet sand. He was little more than a breathing skeleton.
Then the Glamour snapped back into place.
He began pacing, eyeing me, considering me with a measured scrutiny that I'd never heretofore warranted.
"You really do surprise me, Draco."
He paused, glanced at Harry, and put his own wand down on a wine cask. He held up my wand so that I could see quite clearly what he was going to do.
I groaned. Oh that motherfucker. He snapped my wand in two and threw the pieces into a dank corner of the room. The death of my wand robbed me of breath, and a bone-wrenching sorrow washed over me.
"You're proving to be much more adept than I would have thought. Yes, his notes and the library at the Manor. Not that you would know, given that you've turned Muggle," he sneered. "But it contains the finest collection of Dark Arts books outside of Hogwarts. Although once quite expert, in his last years your father grew weak and sloppy. He most likely missed something. We shall Apparate to the outskirts of the Manor. You disarm the wards, and we will search the library from top to bottom. Once we find--"
Proving to me that, yes, despite everything, I was still my father's son, that I wasn't going to let Uncle Rabastan insult him without a fight, I shot back, "You're dying, aren't you? Do they know? The others? How weak you are? How it takes all your energy to keep that Glamour going? How--"
At that he hissed, marched over to Harry and twisted one of his hands. At Harry's shriek, I shut my mouth.
"I suggest you keep your nasty little remarks to yourself, or I'll break his legs as well," he threatened.
"Why? You could have strong-armed my mother to take down the wards, without involving me or Harry."
He cocked his head to the side, studying me, clearly wondering how much to divulge. Since it was obvious he was going to kill us both, I suppose he thought it didn't matter what he told me.
"Naturally, that would have been the optimum plan. I knew that your mother wouldn't have obliged unless there was added incentive. I had already made tentative plans to kidnap you to secure her cooperation. Then, you two just fell into my lap."
All those Prophet stories on the two of us. That ill-fated stroll.
"You saw us in Cursus Crescent?"
"Yes," he said. Uncle Rabastan had never, to my knowledge, ever expressed anything as normal as happiness, but he certainly looked smug and satisfied now. "From there it was a simple case of following you, determining your patterns--the wards around your house were quite impregnable: kudos; not even I could break them--and voila. Enough of this, Draco. I have Portkeys that will take us to the gates of the Manor--"
"Let Harry go," I begged. "You have me. My mother will--"
That was apparently the wrong thing to say, because I could feel waves of rage and unstable magic radiating off him, out of control.
"Do you have any idea of the total horror, the absolute wretchedness of what a year in Azkaban is like? Try twenty years," he hissed. "All because of him. My fellow Death Eaters and I have been waiting for this opportunity for decades. When we are through with him, they'll have to pick up the pieces with tweezers. "
"At the sound of a faint groan, I looked over at Harry. He was struggling to open one eye. Although his mouth was swollen and covered in bloody welts, he tried to say something. Maybe it was "Draco," maybe it was "I love you"; whatever, it didn't matter. I turned my head because damn it if I wasn't losing it despite all my resolutions, and there was no way in hell was I going to let that fucktard see me break down. I brought my hands to my thighs in an effort to literally get a grip, hold on to something, to anchor..."
Oh. My. God. Sam. You lovely, lovely woman.
It was still in my pocket.
Whether I could get it out of my pocket without him or anyone else seeing was another matter, but I had a chance. The gun was small. If I could grab it while we were Portkeying to the Manor, I could hide it in the palm of my hand. And if I got him alone...
I turned back to face Rabastan. "Let's go," I said simply, because the sooner we got to the Manor, the sooner I could shoot this evil son of a bitch.
"I knew you'd see reason. We shall bring Mr. Potter with us as insurance. I imagine that Portkeying in his state will be a trifle uncomfortable, but needs must." He smiled, first at me, then at Harry.
At which point all hell broke loose.
The pop pop pop of Aurors Apparating into the room was deafening. Curses started flying everywhere as Death Eaters appeared in response to Rabastan's roar for help. Lighting up the room like New Year's Eve on Times Square, spells from fifty-odd wands zinged and ricocheted off the walls. Harry! He wouldn't last a fucking second hanging there in the air, immobile and wandless.
I tackled him and we fell to the floor. Ignoring his screams of agony, I dragged him behind a beer keg to relative safety. The gun! The gun! Got to... Safety off... Christ, I needed... Every bullet had to count. As many wand arms as... Spinning around, I steadied myself on one knee and raised my arm, levelling the gun at the closest Death Eater. Rabastan was standing right there in front of me, not four feet away. As I aimed and fired, he shouted a curse I'd never heard before.
Oh. Pain. Oh, Christ. Blood. I smelled blood. Oh God, so much fucking blood...
I wasn't expecting to wake up, so it was something of a nice surprise. The shockingly cheap bed linen, lumpy pillow, and smell of disinfectant screamed hospital. Not St. Mungo's. We must have been at some wizarding hospital in New York. Motherfucker, my chest hurt. I eased a tentative hand underneath my hospital gown. Tracing the rough ridge of a scar that went from my neck to my groin--ow cubed!--I thanked Merlin my trolling days were over. Trying to pull when you look like you've just had a heart transplant doesn't make for sexy times.
On the mirror across from me, written in bright red lipstick, was a "Thanx Malfoy," encased in a heart.
From the angle of the window's light, it was mid-morning. Granger was asleep in a bed to my right, Harry in a bed to the left. A large bottle of Skele-Gro sat on his bedside table. I heaved a sigh of relief at the robust rise and fall of his chest. His face was still a damned mess, but time and the Healers would take care of that.
"Your mum's downstairs getting a cup of tea. She'll be back in a tick," someone whispered.
Weasley was sitting nearby, his feet propped up on a corner of Harry's bed, a Blackberry in his hand.
"Brickbreaker?" I said in a low voice.
"Yeah, passes the time. What's your high score?"
"Forty-five thousand, four hundred and twenty."
"You are a lying sack of shit, Malfoy," he grumbled.
"Seeker, Weasley," I smirked.
I flitted back into a little sleep until I heard him hiss, "Oh fuck!"
When I opened my eyes, he'd thrown the phone on the bed. "Level sixteen?"
"A motherfucking bitch," he groaned and then looked around to make sure that he hadn't woken his wife by swearing like a dockworker. She hadn't moved a muscle.
"Did I kill him?"
I half-hoped I had, and half-hoped I hadn't. Not that he wouldn't have been dead fairly soon anyway; he was little more than a walking corpse. If I hadn't been certain that he'd kill us the moment he found my father's papers, I would have relished giving them to him, knowing that each Dark spell he cast on himself only brought him closer and closer to what he feared most.
Weasley snorted. "Hardly. Missed him by a mile. Nearly took out Dawlish's eye, though. Lestrange is dead, thank Merlin. Saves us having to put him on trial. Unfortunately, the rest of them will have to go before the Wizengamot. Christ, nothing but overtime for the next year. These sorts of cases always bring the nutters out. Stupid gits thinking they want to be the next Voldemort. Anyway, Lestrange. Your mother Stunned him, which caused his heart to fail. By the looks of him, he was pretty much dead anyway. Cor, when that Glamour dissolved..." He shuddered. "Remind me never to cross her. I told Kingsley we should hire her as an Auror."
I chuckled, which hurt like holy fuck. "Ow. Don't make me laugh. What in the hell was my mother doing there? Is Shacklebolt mad?"
Christ on a fucking raft, was I ever going to have words with the Auror's office the second I was out this hospital bed.
"I wasn't joking and it's not like we had any choice. She cast a tracking spell on you right before you touched the Portkey. Not that we knew that. She Firecalled us the second that Portkey got you, we told her to stay put--that we'd take care of it--she told us to fuck off and Apparated Merlin knows where. That moved up the operation by about six hours, because the last thing we needed was four hostages on our hands. Took us ten minutes to gather up as many Aurors as we could find, and she Apparated in just about the same time we did. Cripes, she was effing amazing."
Granger stirred and we fell silent until she drifted back into a deeper sleep.
"My mother has never said the word 'fuck' in her entire life. How did you lot find us?" I whispered.
He rolled his eyes. "Shows what you know. I got five witnesses that will tell you differently. And the day I trust a Malfoy is the day I throw myself from the top of Gryffindor Tower. Tracking spell. That's why the Silencing Charm I cast in your kitchen was so powerful."
"I should be furious with you," I gave him the 'perturbed' eyebrow, "but for obvious reasons, not so much."
Weasley might have shed many of the hallmarks of his youth, but furious blushing was not one of them. Suddenly, his face went vermilion from the tip of his chin to the edge of his hairline.
"Thanks, Malfoy. You know. Harry. Doubt he would have--with all those curses flying about. Anyway, you were pretty amazing yourself back there." This was said in something of a mumble.
"I am amazing, Weasley. It's about time you admitted it."
"Pat yourself any more vigorously on the back and you'll tear open those stitches. I wouldn't go that far. I'm only at the point where I don't think you're a selfish git anymore."
A victory of sorts. If this life has taught me anything, it's to relish your victories, no matter how large or small.
He pointed his wand at me. "Plus, I think you're lying through your arse about that Brickbreaker score."
I gave him the finger but I smiled when I did it.
He shook his head, then said quietly, "We've already Obliviated the rest of your staff."
I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to stop the tears. My boys.
A hand touched mine. A hand that I knew better than my own.
It sounded more like "Dwa-o"--his mouth was still quite swollen--but even in a deep whisper I'd know that baritone anywhere.
I turned toward him and with great care raised his mending hand to my lips.
"Harry," I murmured and kissed his palm. He tasted of Skele-Gro and salt and England. Of home.
Time: 5:31 pm
Date: May 5, 2020
Re: Right eye and don't lie to me and I've taken care of it
How's that right eye? I know you were lying to me when you said it felt fine, so I took the liberty of making you an appointment at St. Mungo's for a recheck. Tomorrow at three. Thank me later.
The staff says hello. They bought the story that you were in a car accident hook, line, and sinker, so when you come on Friday, your bruises will have some credible backstory.
I finally got my new wand yesterday; it's taking some getting used to. For one thing, it seems to have a Puritan streak! How American! It gives me a hard time when I try to Accio the lube. To jerk off, you insecure git. I really don't trust these American wandmakers. I realize this is xenophobic in the extreme, but there is something so English about wand-making. I'm going to have Ollivander look it over when I come home next week. (I can't believe he's still alive).
I bow to the inevitable. A number of things are conspiring against me.
First of all, you. I'm not letting you out of my sight ever again. You're a train wreck! Your hands smashed to shit and nearly losing an eye! Only you could turn buying an orchid into an international incident and a two-week stay in hospital.
Second, these damn trials. Granger owled me the trial schedule this morning. Mon dieu, it will be a miracle if I can keep my job. I lied to Caroline that for the next year I'll have to take bucketloads of time off because I have a life-threatening illness. As I don't trust American doctors--she readily agreed with me; is there something about the American medical system I don't know?--I'm having my treatment in the U.K. I didn't say, "I have cancer," but I implied it. Usually, I have no problem lying, but her reaction--a little over the top--made me feel guilty. And I never feel guilty. I mean, it was as if she actually cared about me.
Third, it's time to bring my mother home. Open up the Manor. Switzerland is not good for her. She needs her garden. Plus, I plan on siccing her on Albus. Who would have thought that the lone hold-out of the "Potters Who Hate Draco Malfoy Fanclub" would be him?
Maybe we ought to switch things around. Move the staff to London. Spend most of our time in the U.K., the bits and pieces in New York. I'd like to keep part of the New York life, because my Blackberry is now as much a part of me as my wand, but the brownstone without Renzo and Mario...
And maybe I should quit smoking.
Well, no point in going berserk.