Fantastic Beasts and How to Tame Them: A Guide for the Seasoned Auror
1. The Road to Norway
'Honestly, Moody,' Kingsley Shacklebolt was standing in the door, an eyebrow raised, 'didn't your holiday start yesterday? Shouldn't you be at home, doing something spectacularly interesting?'
'Sod off, Shacklebolt. You know very well that it did.' Moody glared at Kingsley with his good eye while the magical one was scanning the hallway outside his office, mostly to ascertain that nobody else was on their way to bother him with their holiday cheer. 'I'm working. I assume you are familiar with the concept?
'I've thought of it. You know, on one of the rare days when I actually went home before nine. What is it you are doing?'
Kingsley stepped into the office. Moody pushed the file in front of him away. Clearly Kingsley was a man with a mission and not one Alastor condoned. He'd bloody work when he saw fit. He'd been busy trying to create a decent structure for the training of the new Aurors and had had little time to think of the case. The case.
'Trying to find some time when people won't disturb me, like during the holidays.' Moody sighed. Obviously Kingsley wouldn't go away before he had explained himself. He could of course hex the idiot, but it would cause even more commotion. 'I'm working on a case. My last. Before I retired the first time, that is. Don't like the fact that it was never solved.'
'Death Eaters? No, that was before Voldemort returned, yes?'
'It was assumed that Dark Wizards could be involved which is why I got the case in the first place. She just disappeared, she and her father, one day to the next. You'd have heard of her. Sally-Anne Perks. But Death Eaters? 'Don't know about that, laddie.'
'Don't you "laddie" me. I'm too old for that.' Kingsley shook his head, then frowned, as if he was thinking. 'I'm not sure. Ravenclaw girl, a first-year?'
'That's the one. Left for the summer with her father; he picked her up at Hogwarts and nobody has seen them since. Traced 'em to Mey at the tip of Scotland. Her mum was devastated.' Moody rubbed his face, avoiding the part where half of his nose should have been. 'We had Death Eaters on the loose, yes, but it was before Voldemort revealed himself. No matter how much I detest the lot, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Although it would be just like them, hexing somebody in the back, the cowards. It is unfortunately rather difficult to abduct other witches and wizards when one is sitting in a cell in Azkaban, or I'd have them-'
'You think it's unfortunate that they can't hex anyone from Azkaban?' Kingsley laughed, a deep, booming laughter. 'You're priceless!'
'Mark my words, Kingsley! You are becoming too careless. Hand any of the Death Eaters out there a wand, and we'll see new and inventive long distance curse-work,' Moody growled, knowing that he, too, perhaps should be a tad less vigilant these days. Moody leant back in the deep chair. The dry old leather creaked loudly. He fixed both eyes on Kingsley. 'And if I were you, which I, thank Salazar and all his horrible little minions, am not, I'd be careful not to let that hero of yours, Snape, get away with taking his wand into Azkaban. Last thing I heard is that his visits to the place are increasing. He's up to something.'
'Snape? Don't you think he'd had war enough as it is? The reports say that he's merely visiting Malfoy—the older Malfoy. He's not in a shape to present any danger.'
'Not yet, no. And go away, Shacklebolt. Unless you are going to help me with this.' Moody had had it with all the hero-worshipping and Kingsley's humanitarian ways. Everybody knew that Snape was ambiguous at best and his friend was just about as reliable as a rabid tiger. 'I'm trying to work here.' Moody pulled one of thick folders marked Perks, Sally-Anne, MCF 2389-0099 closer and sent Kingsley a look that indicated that there were other folders to go through. It took only a minute for Kingsley to get that he was unwanted unless he decided to be useful. Not as slow as he used to be, the lad.
Moody didn't look up as Kingsley remembered how to be an Auror and began reading through one of the other files.
It took several hours before Moody had examined the entire pile of files. He knew every word, every picture, every testimony. Every time he opened those files he hoped that he'd overlooked something, just a comma, a line of thought, an idea he hadn't pursued. Nine years, and still this one case kept him up at night. There had been so many deaths, so many losses, but it was still Sally-Anne's mother's anguished cries he heard in his nightmares. The battles were straining, the fights and the wounds painful, the losses many. But no one had been like this devastated, broken woman who'd lost both husband and child to the unknown. It would have been easier, had Death Eaters taken them and killed them. It had been final, the end. Nothing like this, this horrible, relentless waiting and passing of time. Moody didn't like children much, but he disliked that there had been no clean cut, no cruel reality even more. He wanted to solve this riddle, or it would haunt him to his end of days, and surely beyond. There was no way that Moody would find himself to be haunted in the afterlife by a snivelling girl and her father. There were limits.
Outside, darkness had fallen. The enchanted windows mirrored only Moody's office, a blurry image of the large desk and of the bookshelves lining the walls. Moody yawned and stretched. 'I was thinking,' he said, breaking the silence for the first time for hours, 'that a drink and dinner at the Leaky wouldn't be too bad right now.'
'Don't push it, laddie. The Head of Aurors does not in any way earn what the Minister for Magic earns, so again, your treat.'
'Perhaps I should just have you fired? Then I'll be happy to treat you.' Kingsley's grin was sharp and white.
'Do! Please! I'll live happily ever after, not having to deal with you and all your new ideas. Vacations and what not.'
'You'll just waste away without me.' Kingsley snorted. 'And as much as I hate to admit it, I assume I have to keep you here to ensure some sense-' Kingsley stopped. 'Well, sense might not be the right word. Order. Someone to ensure that the Auror Headquarters are in order. '
'Hah, I think not. And if you are so keen on order, why all this holiday nonsense?'
'To make certain that you have time to work on old cases, obviously.' Kingsley got up and grabbed his leather coat. 'Are you coming, or do I have to get drunk all by myself?'
'Thought you'd never ask.'
The Leaky Cauldron was half-empty, or half-full, depending on point of view. Dinner had been nice and the Firewhisky even better.
'So, what are your plans for the holidays?' Moody poured some more Firewhisky for Kingsley who, if one had to be honest, and Moody usually was, was getting rather pissed. 'Spending time with the fish?'
'Not likely.' Kingsley's speech was rather slurred. 'I have plans, I'll have you know.' He reached for the glass and threw down the drink. 'At least I have someone at home. Fish.'
'Ouch, that hurt. Because I don't have any fish. Unless a tin of sardines counts?' Moody's voice was knife-edge sarcastic. Mostly because Kingsley's stab hit a sore spot. 'I'm too old for that shit. And who'd have me, the way I look? Not exactly the model Minister, like you. You've got no excuse.' Moody knew that Kingsley was extraordinarily picky and valued his time alone. It wasn't for the lack of willing witches and wizards, that much was certain. But he still wondered why Kingsley hadn't settled down.
'Because I like my aquarium?' Kingsley burped discreetly and hogged the bottle. 'And who'd want me, the way I'm never at home, putting the good of the wizarding world above all else?'
'Not me, for one. I like my lovers to be more... '
'I'd have said "blind", but whatever suits you.' Moody laughed, refusing to let through the slight bitterness of his involuntary solitude. He and Kingsley would have been priceless. They would have driven each other insane in the long run and more insanity was not precisely what Moody needed. As much as he loved the man as a friend and a colleague, a relationship between them didn't work. Kingsley was too independent. Moody was the protective type and liked his lovers to appreciate that side of him. It had taken them exactly five weeks to sort that one out fifteen years ago. It had been one long discussion about work. Sex had merely been an afterthought. They were simply to similar to be lovers, both strong and independent and hard-working. There had been too little of the passion and dependence that Moody wanted in his life. He knew that Kingsley had been a bit more invested in their relationship than he; it still made him wistful that he hadn't been able to love Kingsley the way he deserved it. He'd hurt Kingsley then. But instead of having a relationship that was barely acceptable, they had developed a friendship that neither war, nor peace had managed to break. It was better than having a spouse anyway, to have a friend like Kingsley. That way they would never be over. It was stable. Kingsley was stable. Robust. Except when it came to drinking.
'You've had enough of that,' Moody growled and snatched the Firewhisky back, partly to ensure that nobody managed to hex or poison the bottle. 'Think of the fish. I assume you'll spend the entire day tomorrow looking at their little fins flailing. You can't do that with a headache.'
'Oh, shut it.' Kingsley crossed his arms and glared at Moody. 'Just because you've got things to do...'
'And so would you had you not forced half the Ministry on holiday. Odd Muggle idea.'
'I couldn't very well violate my own decree.' Kingsley looked annoyed. 'People have been working hard. They deserve time off. Most of them actually do have families to spend time with.'
'So had Mrs Perks. And--speaking of something to do--so would you, if you'd care to jo-'
'I could-' Kingsley interrupted, 'come with you. To investigate.' He rubbed his forehead, as if he was trying to think a bit clearly through the haze of spirit. 'I still have four weeks. The fish become boring after four hours. That leaves me three weeks, six days and twenty hours of immense boredom. I'm certain my neighbour is willing to feed the fantails while I'm gone.'
Moody made a smile that made his crooked mouth pull uncomfortably at the scars that criss-crossed his face. 'Took you long enough to come to that conclusion.' He poured the remains of the bottle into his glass. 'And no, you can't have more. We're going to see Mrs Perks at half ten tomorrow and you, my friend, is going to look like an Auror. Without a hangover.' Moody blessed his galvanised intestines. Not that he was prone to drinking; people found him mad enough as it was, but his size and the many treatments for injuries he'd gone through since he first entered the Ministry's law enforcement left him rather unaffected by alcohol, probably some kind of cumulative effect. Kingsley, on the other hand, had the size, but not the stamina.
It wasn't the first time Moody helped Kingsley to reach the small flat he kept in Diagon Alley so that he didn't have to go back to the house he owned in Huddersfield, except during the weekends. Thank Merlin for small favours.
Moody even remembered to feed the fish before he left.
It was a few minutes to half ten when Moody stepped out of thin air next to a low hedge that surrounded a small farm house garden. A Crup and a litter of young puppies were playing on the neatly cut lawn. The adult Crup turned around and barked loudly as Kingsley appeared more or less on top of one of the small ones.
'Not sure of your aim this lovely morning?' Moody growled as he scanned the surroundings. His blue eye was searching the backyard as Moody directed his normal eye at Kingsley. 'Why didn't you take a potion, you idiot? As far as I can see you're aiming more or less at a Splinching, the way you carry on. Have you forgotten everything I taught you?'
'I have. Taken a potion, that is. And guess who showed me the coordinates for the Apparition yesterday, Alastor Moody.' Kingsley sent Moody a pointed glare before he picked up the puppy he'd almost stepped on. It was unharmed, for it stuck its tongue out and attempted to shove it up Kingsley's nose. It was wagging its forked tail eagerly. 'I haven't forgotten anything. And you-' he told the tiny Crup, '-will stop that immediately!'
Moody always thought the Crup had an uncanny resemblance to a Jack Russell terrier that his uncle once owned, but the wizarding Crup was nothing like a terrier, and not just because of the forked tail. The wizarding world's favourite dog breed had a strong and ferocious antipathy towards Muggles. Moody picked up one of the puppies too, a friendly little fellow with a brown patch over one eye. 'Like me, are you? With that eye,' he said, scratching the puppy behind the ear before he carefully returned it to its brothers and sisters.
Kingsley put down the puppy he was holding, too, petting the adult dog which was bouncing to get his attention.
'It was hers, Minister Shacklebolt. The dog. Sally's. His name is Wagtail. After the Weird Sisters' singer.' A stately witch stood in the door to the low-ceilinged farm house. She watched the two men anxiously. 'Are there any news, Moody? Since you-' The witch suddenly looked as if she was going to cry. 'They are dead, aren't they? That is why you're here... with the Minister?' Her mouth became a thin line of sorrow and loss. 'If they're dead, just tell me!'
Moody had performed that particular task too many times, telling family that one of their loved ones hadn't made it. The next step was to go inside, make tea and listen to crying, questions and disbelief. He sighed, grateful that it wouldn't be today. 'No. No news, other than yet another attempt to find out what happened.' He stepped closer, putting a hand on Mrs Perks's arm. 'Maybe a cuppa, if you don't mind?'
With each their steaming mug of tea, Kingsley and Moody sat down at the large kitchen table. The table was ancient yet sturdy and looked as if it had been there since the house was built. It was a very nice kitchen. It would have been even nicer with a family seated on the bench along the wall. Now there were just two Aurors and a mother without her child, a wife without her husband. It was a very sad kitchen, too.
'I'm not letting go of this case,' Moody said, determined. 'It is simply not that simple. No one disappears like your husband and Sally-Anne. No magic traces, no inappropriate use of underage magic, no rumours of Death Eater activities, no apparent reason. None of you are Muggle-born, so that should rule out even the most fervent of Pure-blood supporters. Unless we are dealing with a wizard gone mad.' Moody made a grimace. That theory would certainly be interesting to pursue: he could think of a few who'd probably think that he himself had disposed of the girl and her father. But even he was not that kind of mad. He was just a bit paranoid and what was wrong with that? Didn't mean that he was wrong, he had enemies enough to last him a very long lifetime. Being vigilant kept one alive.
'I know, Moody. I'm grateful for all you've done.' Mrs Perks turned the mug in her hands, looking wistfully into the tea, as if she could see some kind of revelation there. 'Why now? And why have you brought our Minister? To be frank, it scared the stuffing out of me at first. I really thought that... You know...' She shrugged, shoulders still tense.
'I was an Auror once. I'm not here as the Minister for Magic.' Kingsley looked at the woman in front of him, a woman who'd once been beautiful but whose grief had wiped most of the beauty away. Her blond hair had a tinge of grey, even though she didn't seem to be much older than forty. 'I, like Moody, have decided to use my holiday to do a bit of investigation. We have worked together for years. I doubt that Moody has overlooked anything, but a new angle, a different look might help.' Kingsley reached out, squeezing Mrs Perks's hand for comfort. 'I know you have done this a hundred times by now, but could you, please, tell me what happened when Sally-Anne and your husband disappeared? It's important to me. The Auror accounts do tell, but not everything.'
The small dog approached the table and sat down next to Mrs Perks. Moody reached down and stroked Wagtail's head distractedly. He'd heard the story enough times to know it by heart, but Kingsley hadn't. It was important, just as Kingsley said, that he heard the words himself: the intonation, the importance of some events as experienced by the woman who were caught in the evil snare of her never-ending loss. Moody realised that Mrs Perks was looking at him. He nodded slightly. 'Please?'
Mrs Perks closed her eyes, as if recalling the day was still very painful. It probably was. 'He left on the day before the end of term. He wanted to take Sally to Norway, we have relatives there. He took off on his broom; he'd taken Sally's also.' Mrs Perks opened her eyes and they were heartbreakingly sad. She sighed and frowned. 'Anthony, Tony—my husband—he was looking forward to it, to spending time with Sally. They were to visit my brother in Austrheim. He and Geir get along swimmingly, and Geir has a daughter same age as Sally. The girls, too, are such good friends.'
'They never got there,' Kingsley said. 'Austrheim?'
'No. Obviously.' Mrs Perks took a sip of her tea. 'They met up at Hogwarts. Nothing strange, nothing suspicious. Tony talked with Professor Flitwick before they took off. He was very satisfied with Sally's progress. Praised her ability in Charms. Nothing unusual at all. Madam Hooch, too, was content; she had nothing to criticise. She said that Sally would be fine, crossing the North Sea to Norway with Tony. He's good on a broom. Really good.' She frowned. 'That's the odd thing about this: there is nothing unusual at all. Even the weather. Fine day. And we didn't fight before he left, never did, to be honest. It really was a fine day. He wasn't ill, or distraught or anything but his usual self. Sally too, or so they say, she was just excited about a long holiday spent with her father and uncle.' She looked up at Moody. 'You traced them to Caithness. To Mey. And after that, nothing. Just... vanished.'
'Yeah. One of ours, a Squib who works at the grounds at Castle Mey saw them there on the day they left Hogwarts. Our enquiries in both Muggle and wizarding towns on that part of Caithness led to absolutely nothing. We assume they wanted to see the castle, perhaps take a break before they went over Shetland and Orkney to go north.' That was the strange thing about this riddle. Everything had been so normal. Unless somebody was lying, there was no indication of any conflicts. Moody had no reason to believe so. Mrs Perks had volunteered to take Veritaserum; but Moody had been confident that she had nothing to do with her husband's sudden disappearance. Not least because she had thirty witnesses with whom she'd been speaking at the time when her family mysteriously dematerialised. She'd been at a meeting at the local gardening society most of the day.
'What kind of broom?' Kingsley's eyebrows book-ended two deep wrinkles on the bridge of his nose. 'Both brooms. Year, state, materials.'
Moody's one eye widened. This was exactly why it had been such a good idea to bring Kingsley Shacklebolt. Oh, they'd asked that question, all right, about the brooms. They had asked it to be able to identify them if they were found, but Moody's very qualified guess was that this was not where Kingsley was going. The man appreciated a good broom and rode them better than most. Kingsley, Moody was certain, had half a love-affair with the 1996 World Cup Firebolt he had purchased for an insane amount of Galleons a few years ago, not to speak of how fondly he spoke of his notoriously unreliable Twigger 90. Moody knew exactly where Kingsley was going, and he could have hit himself hard for not having seen that angle.
'Oh.' Mrs Perks looked surprised. 'It's been nine years, Minister. I remember the brands, but I'm not sure about the details.' She pursed her mouth, thinking. 'I have pictures. If that helps?'
'Definitely. If it's not too much for you.' Kingsley smiled, that kind, reassuring smile that always made wizarding folk and Muggles alike trust him. Moody sometimes wished he'd had that talent. Although scaring the crap out of people worked too. He sent Kingsley an appreciative nod. Brilliant mind, the lad.
It took a few minutes before Mrs Perks returned with the pictures. She handed them to Kingsley. 'That's the year before-' She didn't finish the sentence, but sat down, scratching Wagtail behind the ear as the animal appeared from under the table where it had been asleep. Moody leant over the table to be able to see the photographs while his magical eye was busy keeping the area around the house under surveillance. The first picture showed a young, slender girl with a distinct resemblance to her mother. The girl was very pretty: blond and slender. Her smile was of that sunny, happy variety that lit up the surroundings. Like her mother would have been, had fate not been so cruel to her. The girl on the picture was holding a broomstick.
'Comet Two Seventy,' Moody said. Even he recognised the well-known racing broom brand. 'Some broom for a girl of twelve.'
'Not the worst pick of the lot,' Kingsley contradicted. 'Relatively fast, but easy to handle, and light. A 1988 model, if I'm not mistaken.' Kingsley lined out a form with both hands. 'The wedge-shape of the handle, that's 1988. Good quality, despite its age. See there, it has been fitted with new tail twigs. Hawthorn, I think. Haven't seen that before; good choice. Apart from that, we both know quite a few small girls who handle their brooms in ways that make you and me look like we know bugger all about flying.' Kingsley tapped at the picture. 'Not the best broom for a long distance flight, though.' He put the photo down and looked at the picture of Anthony Perks.
'A Swiftstick. Do you know how old it was, Mrs Perks? When it was serviced last?' There was a tinge of worry in Kingsley's voice.
'No... I-' Mrs Perks face was tense and hard as if she was trying not to cry. 'He took good care of it. Had regular service. At least once a year. He loved that broom. Beech, I think. Very light.'
Kingsley nodded, his expression under firm control now, Moody could see how Kingsley had put on a mask of professionalism. 'That is most helpful. I'm sorry if looking at the pictures upset you, but it was necessary. It could be important.'
Moody knew. Without asking, he knew already what had gone wrong and why they hadn't found any remains. If Kingsley couldn't keep neutral, keep calm, then there was certainly reason to worry. Mr Perks and his daughter were probably lost in the North Sea and the sea had eaten up the brooms and their bodies, and that was all the explanation they'd ever have. On brooms that were not strong enough for the heavy North Sea winds, they'd flown into death's embrace. So many unnecessary losses. If only they'd kept vigilant. If only they had assessed the risks properly before crossing. If only he'd seen it, seen what Kingsley had seen. It might have solved the riddle years earlier. Moody sighed deeply, and the sound made the dog jump and bark. 'Good boy,' Moody said and patted Wagtail on the head. 'Constant vigilance. Good.'
'Did you keep Sally's room?' Kingsley said quietly. 'And may I take a look at it?'
'No.' Mrs Perks's voice was hard. 'I mean, yes, you could take a look, but I didn't keep it.' She rubbed her eye, maybe wiping a tear away. 'I hope. Every day I hope that they'll come back, but I am not naive, Minister Shacklebolt.' This time there was no hiding of the tears. Mrs Perks pulled up an handkerchief from her pocket. She blew her nose and dried her eyes. 'And if she came back now, she wouldn't be my little girl any longer. She'd be a woman. Her things are in the attic. Moody knows where. I... I can't-'
Moody did. He'd looked at her things so many times that he felt as if he was a part of the girl's childhood. He knew her preference in teddy bears. He knew that Sally-Anne Perks preferred to sleep with a Muggle plush tiger. He knew that she'd preferred blue to pink and green to yellow. He knew that she was a talented girl when it came to potions, too. 'We'll manage.' Moody stood, politely ignoring Mrs Perks's distraught expression. 'I know the way.'
The boxes of toys and clothes stood in a corner. They were rather dusty. 'She hasn't touched them for a while. That's good. Won't be so hard for her, then.' Moody shook his head, as if the denial of facts could erase the tragedy. 'It was our theory. That they'd crashed. Only it seemed so unlikely. Good flyers, good brooms in good shape.' Moody huffed. 'I hadn't thought of the brands. That it mattered which kind of broom as long as Perks was handling it well.' Moody didn't waste time on berating himself this error. It didn't change anything but the fact that they would have found the bodies. 'So, tell me.'
Running a finger through the dust of one of the boxes, Kingsley, too, sighed. 'It's horrible. Poor woman. It's much worse, somehow, than the casualties of war.' He blew the dust off his fingers. 'The Swiftstick. It's a good broom, but it has one fatal construction error: it's is slow when it comes to a quick ascent. It sometimes loses power entirely and simply drops. If they flew at a low altitude and Perks miscalculated the height of the waves there is no way he could get away fast enough. And with a girl of twelve? No, Moody. The sea got them, I'm more or less sure of it. It's either that, or they've crashed somewhere on land, lost their wands and-' Kingsley scratched his cheek. 'We have to investigate, of course. That bloody broom. A racing broom that can neither accelerate, nor ascend? It had to happen.'
It seemed as if the investigation would be a journey with a very unhappy end. Of course they were dead, there was little doubt, but the question of why they had died had never been answered. Kingsley's hypothesis was the best Moody had heard. 'So this time we go up there to look for less than bodies. And if what you suggest is right, we need to look at the Muggle newspapers and hospitals. Accounts on findings of human remains. If the sea has left anything, that is.'
'At least we can calculate a bit. The average speed in that weather and on those brooms.' Kingsley leant against the boxes. He sneezed as a cloud of dust rose. 'It's not going to be anywhere near precise, but at least it might give us a slight hint on where to start searching. They could have ended up on the shores of Orkney or Shetland, for that matter. It'll be guesswork. Both their route and definitely also if we find any remains. How ironic, Kingsley mused, 'that a choice of transportation that seemed so much more safe than international Apparition turned out to be their downfall.'
At Moody's feet, Wagtail let out a sad whine. He pressed its nose to the boxes, sniffling and whimpering.
'How did that dog get up here?' Moody looked down at the animal. 'He's not allowed, he gets depressed and just about as cheery as if he'd had an encounter with a bunch of Dementors.' Moody bent down and picked Wagtail up. 'Little idiot,' he told it. Wagtail squirmed and licked Moody's cheek. 'You miss her still, right?' Turning to Kingsley, Moody said, 'they're fiercely loyal. Unfortunately they hate Muggles with a similar ferocity. Perfect watchdog for the Pure-blood family.'
'But they're nice dogs. And the family is not Pure-blood.' Kingsley opened a box and rummaged around in it. He held up a hair brush which made Wagtail whine even louder.
'Shhh,' Moody stroked Wagtail's back. 'Technically they're not dogs, just look like 'em. But yes. As long as they're taught not to attack Muggles, or worse, eat them. They eat anything. Scavengers.'
'Interesting creatures. Keen noses?' Kingsley raised an eyebrow questioningly.
Moody was getting where he was going. 'You want to bring Wagtail? You think he could be of any use? It has been a very long time since his owner disappeared.'
'He was sniffing at the boxes and the brush, wasn't he? Can't hurt to have another nose with us.'
Moody laughed loudly, despite the bleakness of it all. The irony was too funny to ignore. 'Seeing I am bringing but a half? I assume you're right. Perhaps that loyalty of theirs really count for something—something useful. It'll save us some work if he really is bound to Sally so tightly. Poor thing. Maybe it'll do him good.'
'If he can help us determine whether any remains of brooms or bones are what or who we look for it'll do a hell of a lot more good than that.' Kingsley held up the brush. 'Let's bring this too. Can help as a reminder for Wagtail.'
Moody couldn't agree more. 'Let's go ask, then. Maybe Mrs Perks will understand and let us take him with us.'
2. Of Brooms and Bastards
'What do you think?' Kingsley pointed at the large map on Moody's desk. 'Would they go via Shetland or turn east after Orkney? He followed a line with a finger from Orkney to Fair Isle. 'North or east here?'
Moody looked at the map thoughtfully. 'With the girl? Orkney to Fair Isle to Shetland. Make a break there, and then directly to Bergen, inland to Austrheim. Mr Perks did not, apart from his poor choice in brooms, seem like a man who'd take any risks.'
'Apart from his choice in brooms, no.' Kingsley grabbed a piece of paper from one of the heavy bookcases. He wrote something on it with a Muggle pen.
Moody leant in to look at the numbers. 'Math was never my strong side. Explain that to me, I have enough to do as it is.'
Kingsley huffed. 'You used to be a brilliant navigator yourself. You're just lazy.'
'There's that. Now, what does it mean? Do your neat little numbers bring us any closer to finding them?'
'Bastard,' Kingsley mumbled affectionately. 'If we calculate distance, wind, endurance and take into consideration the condition of brooms and riders, I think there are two areas that need our immediate attention. Here,' Kingsley pointed at the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland, 'and here.' The other location was a north-eastern Orkney island. 'At Orkney it's of course the wind and the waves that are problematic.'
'And the mainland?' Moody agreed with Kingsley's first argument. He'd flown to Azkaban times enough to have experienced the strong winds and the huge waves of the North Sea. For an inexperienced rider they were frightening. But the tip of Scotland?
'They took a break there, at Mey, then disappeared. Which means that they were tired already, they'd flown from Hogwarts. They were probably not prepared for the weather—at least not physically. Even on a good day, the coastal winds are strong. The change could have brought the Swiftstick to its limit. Assuming that Perks had it serviced recently, a sudden push could have harmed it so that the more forceful winds would have torn it apart.'
'Remind me that I have to go buy a new broom before we leave.' Moody's trusty Cleansweep Thirteen suddenly seemed unreliable and old although Moody's constant vigilance also included his broom. He had flown it to Azkaban many times, but if they were going to brave the North Sea for four weeks, perhaps it was time for a change. Moody's idea of vigilance when it came to brooms was that safe was much, much better than sorry. And sorry he'd be. His Gringotts vault would probably be a bit on the empty side since he needed a quality broom. 'Which one will you take?' he asked, knowing that Kingsley surely would bring something like the latest Firebolt with custom spells and double cushioning charms.
'Your Cleansweep is perfect for the occasion. Just make sure to have it looked over before we leave.' Kingsley smiled as if he'd read Moody's mind. Chances were that he had. 'And I'll ride my Oakshaft 79.'
'An Oakshaft 79? Didn't know they still made them. It's a broom more than twenty years old? Is that a good ide-'
'Eighteen-seventy-nine. Hundred and twenty years and a bit. It's the best long-distance broom ever made. First Atlantic crossing was made on one. Very stable. Made to resist high winds.'
'What kind of flowers do you want for your funeral?' Moody snorted. 'Over the North Sea on something that can be labelled as antique at best, junk at worst?' Had Kingsley gone mad?
'I'll swap it for two sparkling new 2002 Firebolts and,' Kingsley hesitated, 'five thousand Galleons. And that's what I'd let my best mate have it for. Could probably get twice the amount on the open market.'
'That good, eh?' Moody raised his eyebrows. Not even if it had a handle inlaid with gold and precious stones. 'And they say that I'm mad...' Moody pointed at the dog which was sleeping in a cardboard box in under the desk. 'If your broom is so brilliant, you will be carrying that little monster. That way I can crash my broom without worrying about bringing it back alive. Your broom is obviously more safe than Gringotts.'
Moody sat back in his desk chair. He let the magical eye survey the maps, thus remembering every detail of them. He closed his one eye, trying to concentrate. Kingsley's theories sounded well-founded. Rarely had Kingsley miscalculated anything and Moody could find no faults in his arguments. They had four weeks to make a serious attempt if they stuck to the two areas that Kingsley had pointed out. It could be done. For the first time in years, Moody knew that the investigation was moving forward and not pulled backwards with the passing of time. Now, if they found a place to stay in the area, somewhere that was not a Muggle hotel... that way they wouldn't have to spend time hiding whatever magical items they brought.
'Do we know anyone in that area?' Moody asked without opening his eye. 'Someone we can trust enough to let us use their property as our base?'
'At Orkney or Caithness? I'm not sure. Could ask Weasley.'
'Your secretary?' Moody nodded and opened his eye. 'He's running the Ministry for you while you're on holiday and you expect him to be a walking register too?' Percy Weasley probably read ministry decrees for a bit of light reading, so Moody wouldn't be surprised if he knew the whereabouts of any wizard alive. Moody liked a thorough man. Weasley was, if nothing else, thorough. Although some might call it "anal". Moody didn't mind that either. He understood stubborn persistence.
'I'll send him a inter-departmental memo.' Kingsley scribbled a few words on one of the approved sheets. It folded itself and shot off in the shape of a small aeroplane.
They didn't have to wait very long. Moody expected efficiency and Weasley certainly was efficient. Moody watched as Kingsley unfolded the reply.
'Oh?' Moody frowned. 'Does that mean that we have to find a dingy Muggle motel and Obliviate the entire staff every day for four weeks?' Not that Moody hadn't tried that before, but he'd much prefer to stay in a wizarding settlement; it made everything easier. Keeping alert in Muggle surroundings was straining. Also they wouldn't have to deal with Wagtail's obvious hatred of Muggles. Not that he wasn't obedient, but even to Muggles a snarling Jack Russell terrier was an annoyance. Besides, it would be more than inconvenient if the omnivorous creature ate a Muggle car. Or a Muggle.
'No. It means that we're going to Azkaban.'
'Aha. It's in that direction, Caithness, but... any explanation to why, because I can just as well tell you that I'm not staying there, if that's your plan.' Not in a million years would Moody stay in a place where his small tinge of paranoia would be substantially more than just a tinge. He was willing to admit that he was a bit on edge in the company of the witches and wizards he'd managed to get a lifetime's worth of draughty, icy, damp and boring accommodation. The witches and wizards would probably be on the edge too, even without the Dementors.
'Not quite.' Kingsley looked serious. 'We're going to see our old friend Lucius Malfoy.'
'Malfoy? Are you totally bonkers, man? Why? He's stark raving, or close.'
'Because, my friend, he might be the only man who knows how to find his father's unplottable manor on Dunnet Head.' Kingsley waved the memo from Weasley in front of him. 'Percy says it's in Caithness, just as far from this,' Kingsley pointed at the map, on the exact spot where he'd suggested that Sally-Anne Perks and her father had disappeared, 'as you can throw a Hippogriff.
'Abraxas Malfoy? But no one has heard from him for years! Not since-'
'Not since he left the Wiltshire manor to the lovely Lucius and he, too, disappeared from the wizarding world, no.' Kingsley smiled. It was a smile without any softness in it. 'During the summer when Sally-Anne and her father disappeared.'
It was the smiling sneer of a predator on the prowl.
'This doesn't look much like Azkaban, does it? It's the last time I let you Side-Along me.' Moody held on to Wagtail with one arm and his staff with the other. He looked at the dilapidated houses, the empty street. The rain was pouring, adding a dreary mood to the already so tired expression of the area. The houses across the street had boards instead of windows. They stared at the visitors with dead eyes. Moody's let his magical eye spin around. 'Not the best of places, this. No wonder that the man is such a mess.' He nodded in the direction of a narrow passageway. 'Why are we going to see Snape? Won't do us much good, not with his attitude.'
Kingsley pulled his travel cloak closer as if the cold rain was bothering him. Manchester in July certainly wasn't welcoming. 'We can't much blame him for it, can we? We were not exactly on friendly terms with him, any of us.'
'You're right. Spying doesn't endear you much to any of the involved parties. I wonder why Lucius still hangs on to him.'
'Probably the only friend Malfoy has left. Even the wife doesn't visit him any longer. She has other priorities now, if what one hears is true.' Kingsley looked uncomfortable. He rarely gossiped.
Moody stopped outside a remarkably ugly terraced house in poor condition. 'You'd have thought that Snape had used some of all those Galleons he earned for his books on a bit of refurbishment.' Moody knocked on the door, avoiding the spots where the paint peeled off in faded, brown flakes.
'You really aren't a man for second chances, Moody,' Kingsley said accusingly. 'Give Snape a break. I know he's anti-Muggle by heart—no doubt of that, seeing whose company he prefers—but he did fight for our cause.'
'Aye, and I'm a Grindylow. Snape fought for his own cause, the way I see it. You and your third chances, Kingsley. You'll regret trusting him.' Moody turned to look at Kingsley, rolling both his eyes to show his annoyance. Snape was notoriously unstable, but a formidable enemy, still. Moody understood the need to keep Snape on their side, for as much as Snape belonged to any side but his own. 'I'll trust him just as I'd trust a hungry Hungarian Horntail not to eat me for breakfast.'
'And I'll trust that you have the courtesy to state your errand and then bugger off as soon as humanly possible,' a velvet voice said. 'What do you want?' Snape had opened the door and stood, glaring at them with cold eyes from the top of the short stairs that led to his home.
Kingsley stepped forward, not without reason suspecting Moody to deliver a less than diplomatic reply. 'Hello, Severus.' Kingsley made no attempt to step inside. 'We need to ask you a favour.'
'Oh, what a surprise. Nobody ever asks me any favours.' Snape snorted and looked even more sour. 'What is it this time and in how many ways will I be maimed or killed before we're done? Do tell!' Snape rubbed over the scars on his neck. His thin mouth contracted in a dissatisfied grimace. 'I'm so excited I can hardly breathe.'
'Which of course saves us the trouble in the long run, so keep up the good work,' Moody mumbled. He knew he was being unfair. Snape hadn't made any attempts to take power, nor had he done anything since the war but to live peacefully in that dump of his, write a few books on the war and—most suspiciously—visit Lucius Malfoy. In Moody's experience a Death Eater was always a Death Eater. Snape as well, despite his work for the Order. Moody didn't think Snape's sympathies had changed that much: they still lay with those who, like the Malfoys, preferred the closed wizarding community. Those who saw Voldemort's minions as the only aspect of that party were mistaken. The supporters of a society without Muggle-borns had not disappeared although Voldemort had. Wagtail was looking at Snape curiously, despite its position, tugged under Moody's left arm. Its small body vibrated with a growl that was almost inaudible. Clever creature.
'Sweet. And don't bring that animal in if it's leaky.' Snape turned around, not extending any further invitation. He left the door wide open. Since it was possibly the only invitation they'd get, Moody hobbled up the stairs, his wooden leg clattering against the granite. He followed Snape into a small living room. It was slightly dusty, but the bookshelves and the furniture were of good quality and the wallpaper as well as the paint on the doors were new. It was a surprisingly cosy and welcoming room. Merry flames were dancing in the fireplace. A deep, comfortable chair and a small table stood in a corner. A pile of books and a mug indicated that Snape had been sitting there, reading.
Kingsley followed and yet again he took the lead. 'Thank you, Severus. We appreciate it.'
'I doubt it.' Snape stood with his back turned, looking out the window. 'Let's be frank, Shacklebolt. This time appreciation is not enough. You wouldn't be here, the Minister for Magic and his lame lapdog, if it wasn't important. I have a price. If you won't agree to it, you can find your help elsewhere.' He turned around. 'I don't care what it is, but I do care that you'll both owe me for whatever it is you want me to do.'
'So you are bargaining, even before you know what you're bargaining for?' Moody stared at Snape. The man was priceless, now that they were speaking of price. 'You are rather arrogant in your self-appreciation.'
'Feel free to find somebody else, Moody. I don't care. My price is that you both owe me a favour. When I ask for it. And I will not participate in anything that violates wizarding law.'
'At least you've learnt that. Wise.' Moody turned to Kingsley. 'Right. We can do without him. Not a problem. Just let me have half an hour with Lucius and he'll tell us everything we need to know.'
'No!' Snape stepped forward. 'Is that what you want me to do? To torture Lucius again? As if he wasn't tortured enough by Lord Voldemort! And you-' Snape had an expression of ferocious rage, his eyes shooting lightnings at Moody. '-you'll ruin him even more?' His right hand seemed, by its own volition, to seek for a wand.
'No one will torture anybody anywhere. Calm down.' Kingsley stepped between Moody and Snape. Kingsley's large body effectively blocked Moody from Snape's view. 'Please, Severus. Name your favours and we'll strike a deal. I promise you that there will be no torture. Of any kind.' Kingsley spoke slowly and deeply, almost as if he was trying to make a nervous animal relax. 'I know you're used to secrets, but I suggest we are a bit more straightforward.' Kingsley put a hand on Snape's shoulder. 'You see, Moody and I are working on an old case, unrelated to any Death Eater business. Sally-Anne Perks, you remember her?' he asked conversationally.
Moody had to bite his tongue. The case had nothing to do with Snape, but damned be it if the fool wasn't volunteering information to the enemy!
'And that goes for you, too, Moody,' Kingsley said. 'The war is over. Breathe. It's not state secrets, this.'
It amused Snape. One of his eyebrows moved upwards and his mouth twitched as if he was suppressing a smile. 'All right. And yes, I remember her. He,' Snape pointed at Moody, 'went to investigate. Not exactly the Auror he'd like to be, for he found nothing.'
A look from Kingsley was enough warning to make Moody study the book-lined walls and ignore Snape. The man was extraordinarily childish. Moody could easily overlook that. He wasn't prone to letting himself be goaded, but Snape was good, really good. Moody leant heavily against his staff, watching Kingsley's impersonation of The Good Auror. Strange how easily they fell into the roles they once had without noticing. Snape might be clever, but Kingsley Shacklebolt was just that much better. His calm confidence worked wonders, even on ambiguous war heroes.
'We're trying to solve the case, still,' said Kingsley softly, ignoring Snape's arrogance. 'Sally-Anne had a mother. She's a widow who longs for her lost-'
'Oh, come off it.' Snape sighed, irritated. 'Yes, yes, yes, I'll help. Stop trying to make me feel guilty. Won't work. At least that's one thing I had nothing to do with.'
Kingsley was quick on the uptake. 'Your price?'
'Lucius. Separate chambers, not a cell. Books, clothes, access to his Gringotts account. A fireplace and a separate bath. His own furniture. An owl. In a few years a thorough assessment of his illness and a neutral evaluation leading to a possible early release. He's not well and Azkaban makes it worse.' Snape was unapologetic in his outrageous demands. 'As for me, I want unrestricted access. It may keep him sane.'
'Why don't you say what you really want?' growled Moody. 'I mean, why be modest?'
'Take it or leave it. I'm not asking you to let him out, at least not right away. I know, too, what he has done.' Snape looked coldly at Moody who couldn't care less. If they were having a glaring contest, he'd win anyway.
'Some favour.' Kingsley looked less calm. He heaved a sigh. 'Moody?'
'Not likely. I'm against it.'
Snape laughed bitterly. 'Against it? You, who'd rather be crippled than to kill? I can tell you, Alastor Moody, that Lucius will die in there, under these conditions. He's a broken man and if nothing is done you could just as well have cast the Killing Curse at him right away and saved him the suffering. Have a healer look at him, and they'll confirm it. He was ill when you put him there, Voldemort's doing. It took you, Shacklebolt, half a year to convince the Wizengamot that letting the Dementors stay inside Azkaban's walls was inhuman torture. Those months didn't exactly make him better.'
'Slippery bastards, Malfoys.' Moody snorted. 'And we have Potter working to get the son out, arguing that he was under pressure. Not much stamina, the family. Wimpy lot, aren't they?' Moody detested the Malfoys intensely. Turncoats, traitors, utterly useless fools. And they were supposed to be the crown of the wizarding world? Moody would rather wear a pile of turd on his head.
'Funny how you understand so well the mother of a disappeared girl and not the father who was threatened by Voldemort, his son on the line.' Snape's voice expressed nothing but loathing. 'The Dark Lord would have killed Draco at the first sign of resistance from any of them. And Draco knew very well that his parents were kept hostages in their own house, thus forcing him to obey.' Snape's mouth had turned into a thin, angry line again.
'Should have thought of that before they let him in, shouldn't they?' Moody had no respect for people who betrayed their principles. But Snape had hit his only soft spot. He actually did understand the situation. The Malfoys' only heir had been at stake. How straining it must have been not to know whether their son was dead or alive. It still didn't excuse their support for Voldemort. Moody sneered. 'I can agree to better conditions and the visits. But Malfoy stays where he is.' Moody's electric blue eye swirled angrily and stopped suddenly, staring at Snape. 'And no wands inside Azkaban. Not yours, not his.'
'Gentlemen, please.' Kingsley held up his hands. 'Severus, we need you for this if we're to proceed with the case. What we'd like you to do is to help us speak to Lucius, to Mr Malfoy. We need him to reveal the whereabouts of his father. Abraxas Malfoy's manor in Scotland is made unplottable and we wish to speak with the man. Also, we'd like to draw upon your abilities as a former Potions master and Dark Arts specialist if needed. We might request that you go to Scotland with us as well.'
Moody listened, surprised. So Snape's price was high, but Kingsley was as cunning as any Slytherin. He certainly managed to get value for his Galleons.
'They're not speaking. Haven't done for years. Can't guarantee anything.' Snape crossed his arms. 'Our agreement is valid, no matter the outcome.'
'You work for us the next four weeks and Lucius will have a comfortable, separate chambers and as many healers as his vault allows him. The release is negotiable five years from now if you agree to further assistance as we see fit. And at a potential release, Lucius will donate a new special wing to St Mungo's, dedicated to those damaged by the war. If—and I underline that it is only a weak possibility—he is released, he'll be under parole. For the rest of his life. He'll be your responsibility and only released in your care. Deal?'
Snape obviously shared Moody's assessment of Kingsley's ability to negotiate. He stared at Kingsley with a surprised expression. 'A grave example of a mis-sorting. Hufflepuff, my arse.' He nodded. 'I agree.'
'You're awfully free with Malfoy's Galleons,' Moody said. 'What makes you think that he agrees?'
'He will.' Snape didn't offer any elaboration. 'Draw up the agreement.'
3. Agreements in Azkaban
Moody breathed in deeply and managed the last few steps on the steep stairs that led to the top floor of Azkaban's northern tower. He still felt a bit queasy from the Apparition. Two long-distance travels in an hour was a bit much, even for him. Behind him Snape was dragging the trunk that he'd brought: he'd insisted on getting Malfoy warm robes and a decent bed until better living conditions were provided. Handy charm, that, the one Snape had cast on the large canopy bed and the clothes to make them fit into the small trunk. Self-extracting when pulled out of the trunk. Would have been a great spell to know when he'd spent ten months in his own sodding suitcase with no bed, thanks to Barty Jr. And practical if one, like Snape, was not allowed a wand in Azkaban.
'Malfoy? Visitors.' The guard unlocked a heavy oak door and left them. The hinges creaked loudly as the door swung open, the sound echoing between the stone walls. Even on a summer day, Azkaban was cold and damp and disgusting. Centuries of dirt smelt worse than in the winter. Everything was mouldy. There was a grimy, green growth in the corners.
'I thought you wanted Azkaban turned into a decent prison,' Moody murmured, putting a hand on Kingsley's shoulder. He looked at the window in the cell's far wall. Now it had glass in it where there were just gaping holes and bars before. The Dementors were nowhere to bee seen. 'Improvements, indeed.' The trunk incident had left him a bit apprehensive when it came to being locked up. There was still room, a lot of it, for improvements in Azkaban.
'If it was up to me alone...' Kingsley's eyes were sad. 'Getting the Dementors out was my first priority. I'm working on it.'
Snape ignored them and stepped into the cell. Moody didn't follow. The cell was too small to contain four wizards comfortably. Also, the cell stank, like the rest of the place. Lucius Malfoy, or what was left of him, was standing close to the window, staring at the sky through the rusty iron bars. His prison uniform was unwashed and his hair was a tangled, dirty mess.
'The sky is so blue today. I saw seagulls. They haven't been here.' The voice was the same arrogant drawl, but the words came insecurely.
'They won't come again, love,' Snape said and put an arm around Malfoy's waist. 'It has been years since they were banished from the island.'
'Mm, you said that. Or maybe I dreamt it?' Malfoy cocked his head and turned to lean against Snape. 'You're absolutely certain?'
'I am. You need not worry.' Snape closed his arms around Malfoy. The embrace was more intimate than what would be expected between friends and Moody suddenly understood the reason for Snape's demands. He wanted to ask, but Malfoy's weak vulnerability made an impact on Moody, despite his hatred for Death Eaters in general and for the Malfoys in particular. He could wait. However, there was no doubt that Snape had told the truth as far as Moody could judge: Malfoy was definitely not well, he was close to breaking, not that it would bother Moody much. It might bother Kingsley, though, and a depressed Kingsley was not something Moody cared to deal with. He hated to admit it, but they had made the right decision regarding Malfoy's accommodation. Moody wanted the bastards in prison until they were carried out in a coffin, but he preferred revenge to be taken out on people who were sane enough to sense the impact of justice. Dark wizards had to pay for their crimes, but Malfoy was not in the possession of a full vault.
Without being accused of any appreciation of Azkaban's smelly grime, Snape did not let go of Malfoy. 'Minister Shacklebolt and Head Auror Moody are here,' he said, and turned Malfoy around with a gentle care that Moody had never seen Snape use before. 'They have agreed to let you have a better room in this shitty hotel. With a bath, too.'
The old Lucius Malfoy hadn't disappeared entirely. The silver eyes suddenly came alive. 'And the price?'
'Not one you'll have to pay. Except for a bit of help with locating your father's unplottable manor and a substantial donation to St Mungo's in a few years. Substantial, regarded by their standards. You won't even notice.'
'So you are paying for me. Again?' Lucius straightened up. 'You struck a bargain without consulting with me?' He shot Moody a look. 'I assume you got the better end of it, Severus?'
'A flat for you in here. Your vault opened. Access to clothes, books, everything you can buy. Healers at your leisure.'
Lucius frowned. 'And for you?'
'Access. To you. When I want it.'
'That is not what I asked. What is the price you will be paying for this? For me?'
Snape looked away. 'It's nothing. Four weeks of my life and my assistance with a few potions and such if they need it. No matter what, your conditions will be improved.'
'You were always better at war than at-' Lucius cut himself off. 'You're a fool. I can't let you do this, Severus. I am not speaking to them. I haven't seen my bloody father for almost ten years, thank Salazar, and I prefer to keep it that way. I have no idea where he's hiding.'
Severus Snape was not the only fool present. Moody realised that Malfoy was actually able to, well, love. He loved his son and he had loved his wife, too. And strangely enough Malfoy undoubtedly loved the ugly, thin man who, in turn, had loved Lily Potter so strongly that he'd upended the wizarding world for it. What a strange pair. Despite nothing had been said or revealed, Moody read the little signs. A minimal caress. The way a mere glance seemed to communicate everything. The readiness with which they were both willing to give something up for the other. Had Moody not detested the couple so much, it would have been touching. They were lovers, Snape and Malfoy, Moody was absolutely sure of it.
A door slammed somewhere in the tower and a cold draught blew through the cell.
'No!' Lucius' frightened cry sounded unnaturally loud. He clung to Snape. 'Not them!'
'Shhh, Lucius. It was just the wind. I told you, the Dementors won't come here.' Severus gave up pretending and kissed Lucius' dirty cheek. 'They can't. Need I remind you of the barrier that keeps them off the island?'
The sudden scare and the ingrained fear of the Dementors was too much for Malfoy. Moody shook his head as his eyes met Kingsley's. Snape was trying to comfort his lover, to no avail. Malfoy was ill, and more ill than Snape had let know. There would be no interview, no pressure, not until healers had treated the man. If they tried, it would be torture, mental torture of the worst kind, Moody had to admit. Whether good healers would make a difference... that would be up to St Mungo's now. Moody, despite the lack of result, did not intend to break the agreement they'd made with Snape. He had no intentions of turning into a torturer, either. Malfoy would get his flat and his healers.
'If you'll please wait for me. Outside.' Snape guided Lucius to sit on the bed. 'I'll help him get into some of the warm robes I brought. Unpack the bed. He's better when he's warm. I'll try to ask, but in this state he doesn't even remember his own name unless I tell him.' Snape's angry attitude had disappeared and one of immense sadness had replaced it. 'I'll stand by my promise to you, I just need to-'
'We understand, Severus.' Kingsley said quietly as he squeezed Snape's arm briefly. 'It doesn't change anything. Voldemort's inhumanity did not make his enemies inhuman. Lucius will have what he needs.' Kingsley turned, signalling to Moody that they were leaving.
'Yes. He will.' Snape, too, spoke quietly. 'Everything but his health and his freedom.'
'Right. So what do we now?' Moody sighed and leant against the cold stones in the small corridor. It had not been entirely pleasant to be confronted with the ruins of the formerly so proud Lucius Malfoy. It was hard not to feel a modicum of empathy. The depression that permeated Azkaban was getting to Moody, too. 'Except for going back and make a renewed attempt to reform and refurbish all of Azkaban?' Rubbing his brow, Moody knew he had to reconsider his hatred for Lucius Malfoy. He'd seen a different side of him, one that could not be discarded so easily. There was a human inside. A broken, ruined human, but a human nevertheless. The ethics that had always helped Moody fight for fairness, the ethics that had always told him to catch his enemy and bring them to trial were built upon the idea that all humans had the right to a fair treatment. That was why Moody had supported Kingsley from the moment he'd met the man, all the way until Kingsley had been offered the power he held now. Kingsley had never been wrong, arguing for fairness and humane treatment. Soft, yes, but never wrong. That Moody himself had lost limbs in the name of fairness and duty instead of just killing his opponents didn't count as "soft" in Moody's opinion. Bringing justice to the world was an important duty to him. Unjust revenge and unlawful killings had never been something that he approved of, however. Besides, it robbed him of the pleasure of seeing his opponent brought before the Wizengamot.
It was true, though, that Moody reserved a particularly deep disgust for the Malfoy family. Perhaps it was time to lay to rest some of the old hatred?
Kingsley had needed a moment of quiet contemplation too, for it took a while before he replied. 'Yes, what do we do now?' He fiddled with the golden hoop, thoughtfully. 'We do have another option. And now I berate myself for not having thought of it before.' Kingsley smiled. 'To be honest, I should berate you for not having thought of it, really, for you've been complaining about Potter's attempt to free Draco Malfoy for weeks. I do agree with him, with Harry. It is time. Malfoy has been in here long enough to satisfy the more vengeful members of our society. He did try to get out Voldemort's clutch after all.'
'Oh, surely he did.' Moody produced something that was meant to be a smile. ' But I like the way you think. Let Snape pick up the pieces of father and we'll go pull apart the son? I like it, Kingsley. It's a bit suspicious, though, Potter's interest in Malfoy's case. Anything between him and Draco Malfoy, you reckon? I mean, Lucius and Snape, they...'
'Hardly. The last thing I heard, yesterday, in fact, was that Harry was on his way on a four weeks' holiday to India. With Neville.'
'Ah. But they are just friends.'
'Moody, really!' Kingsley grabbed a handful of Moody's cloak and pulled him across the corridor to the stairs. 'Let's go bother Draco Malfoy. He might be willing to talk to us if we can guarantee that his release will happen a bit earlier than planned like, for instance, in an hour.'
Wobbling down the stairs with Kingsley following him, Moody did not turn around. 'You mean we're taking the little shit with us? To Caithness?'
'He'd want to visit his grandfather, don't you think? After spending the better part of two years in Azkaban, he must surely miss his family.'
'God, you're a ruthless arse when you want to be,' Moody growled. 'And I assume you expect me to refrain from killing the boy at some point during the next month?'
Kingsley's laughter boomed loudly in between the round wall of the tower. 'That would be clever. Unless you're so enamoured with Azkaban's interior that you'd rather reside in here than in your comfortable house in the foreseeable future.'
'Don't like the neighbours. He'll live. Perhaps. Could be an accident.' Moody didn't look forward to spending time with yet another Malfoy. He'd had it with the father long time ago. The son...He wasn't much better, a spoiled little brat who probably employed house-elves only to wipe his bony arse, or he would, had he not been incarcerated. Merlin, how he disliked the arrogant little turd. A coward of the worst sort, a bullying, simpering idiot. Hopefully the North Sea would rise up and swallow... Moody stopped that line of thought quicker than a Hippogriff gulped down a ferret. Sometimes his dislike of Death Eaters actually went too far. He'd not wish Sally-Anne's fate on anybody, not even Draco Malfoy.
It would be something of an exercise to bring the younger Malfoy with them: an exercise in patience and tolerance and it was needed. Moody was running out of it, the patience. Much to his displeasure he was feeling sorry for the Malfoys for the first time in his life and he wanted to get out of Azkaban before he turned irreversibly into a damned humanitarian. He had Kingsley covering that. Moody just wanted to be the usual grumpy old badger, not someone who'd help any buggering Death Eaters with anything, especially not anything that made their lives any easier to bear.
They went through the grand hall which had once been the glorious location of glorious feasts. The marble floor was grey with dirt. The black and white tiles were visible still and rotting tapestry still hung on to the ceiling's massive beams many feet above them. The state of the ancient castle was bordering disrepair.
They found the prison governor in a small office that might have been a servant's room centuries ago. The old wizard froze as Kingsley stepped inside.
'Minister.' The wizard hurried to stand. He bowed.
'I'll be brief. These,' Kingsley held out a scroll, 'are my orders regarding Lucius Malfoy and Mr Snape. I expect them to be executed at once. As in now. We'd like to take Draco Malfoy with us; he is to be released on parole in a few weeks anyway, and I'd personally like to assess his ability to fit into our society before I agree to his final release.'
The governor looked pale. 'It's highly irregular, Minister. I can't-'
'You can. He will be my responsibility, mine and Head Auror Moody's.' Kingsley smiled. It was the smile that told Moody that Kingsley was tired of being contradicted, tired of bureaucracy, that he was fed up with talking and needed doing. 'Hopefully you are not suggesting that Head Auror Moody and I are not qualified to handle a prisoner such as Draco Malfoy?'
'I'll get him right away.' The governor realised what he'd implied. He winced, then walked out the office, fidgeting, almost dropping the scroll in his attempt to deal with the embarrassment.
'You didn't even have to threaten him. Good job.' Moody sat down in the governor's chair. His leg was beginning to hurt. 'Haven't lost your touch.' Moody let his magical eye follow the governor as he hastened to fetch Malfoy. 'The man needs a good scare. This place is rubbish. People here need to learn a few cleaning spells that even I know, and I'm not one for household chores. I think I saw a dead rat in that hall.'
'There were at least three. Although I'm in doubt whether the third was dead or just dying.'
'We shouldn't have left Wagtail with the guard at the Apparition point. He'd have made merry with it and its family.'
'Bloodthirsty today, Moody?'
'Not particularly, only when it comes to rats and Malfoys, which in my book is one and the same thing.'
They could hear steps in the corridor and they both looked up. 'Shut up now.' Kingsley looked serious. 'We can't afford to alienate this one. We need Abraxas Malfoy's cooperation. Especially we need it if he turns out to be involved in Sally-Anne's disappearance. Draco is the only one who can lead us to him.'
Moody rolled both eyes, the blue one swirled wildly and stuck, looking through the back of his head. He had to rub it to get it back in place. He sat back, arms crossed, determined not to say anything at all. Kingsley could do all the work if he wanted it that way.
The governor returned. The old man looked confused and stressed. 'Draco Malfoy, sir.' He pointed over his shoulder into the corridor. 'I'll go and find someone who can do the structural work on Lucius Malfoy's cell. I'll get a healer, too.' He stepped aside to let Malfoy in. They could hear him mumble angrily about modern methods and the world coming to an end as he went to execute Kingsley's orders.
'Remind me that I need to find a decent witch or wizard to take over this place as soon as we're back,' Kingsley told Moody who, true to his rather childish brooding, refused to reply. It didn't change the fact that Moody found it to be a very good idea. It was not a good idea, however, to air the suggestion in front of Malfoy.
'He'll learn soon enough,' Kingsley said. He was very good at guessing Moody's thoughts. 'If he cooperates.'
'Who cooperates?' Draco Malfoy looked puzzled. 'What did I do wrong now? Can't be much left, short of killing someone.' Malfoy managed to sound arrogant, despite being dirty, malnourished and clad in something that needed to go into the rubbish.
'If you cooperate.' Kingsley pointed at a rickety chair that leant against the wall for support. 'If you're brave, you can sit there.'
'Brave? Malfoy raised an eyebrow. 'I've been here for half a ear with Dementors making the place really cosy and warm for us, you know, with kisses and everything. I don't care about being brave any longer. In fact, it's so nice in here that bravery is the last thing I think of. It's just that relaxing.'
'Snape visited you much?' Moody growled. Draco's sarcasm was Snape-flavoured. 'Didn't know you knew the word, by the way. Brave.' Moody snorted, looking up at the tall, thin wizard in front of him. 'And bloody sit down before my eye gets stuck again.'
'I know the word "arsehole", if that helps any?' Malfoy spat, managing a venomous glare that worked despite his pathetic appearance. 'Or "psychopath" if you like that better. I understand that it is a Muggle word and since you're so fond of them, Muggles-'
'Shut up, both of you. And you, Malfoy, sit!' Kingsley raised his voice. Very unusual, he rarely needed to do so. 'I will not tolerate any of this childishness. From any of you. It stops this instant. If you persist, I'll go home, use four weeks on feeding fish and reading and neither of you will have what you want most. Is that perfectly clear to both of you?'
Moody knew he'd let his temper run away with him. Malfoy managed to push all Moody's buttons by his mere presence. All the wrong ones. He nodded. He'd stepped over the line, but still he found his mouth forming words he had had no intention of speaking out loud. 'He started-'
'Did not!' Malfoy straightened up, making the chair groan dangerously. He stank of prison. 'You've merely decided that I'm-'
'Auror Moody and Prisoner Malfoy, I have warned you once! As I always give people the benefit of the doubt and a second chance, I'll ignore your outburst. There will be no third chances.' This time Kingsley didn't raise his voice. It turned into a low, threatening whisper instead. 'Cease immediately or I'll Transfigure you into rats and set the dog on you.' Kingsley put his hands on the desk, looming over them both. Kingsley could be very intimidating when he wanted to.
Moody recognised the expression. There would be no more violation of Kingsley's orders. Despite having been Kingsley's superior for years, the situation was reversed now, and not because Kingsley happened to be the Minister for Magic: Kingsley simply exuded confidence and power that couldn't be ignored or matched. He'd had it with Moody, and shutting up, exactly as Moody had decided to do before Malfoy arrived, was the best solution to the problem. He needed Kingsley to go with him to Caithness and no matter how little he wished to admit it, he needed Draco Malfoy to go too. Unless they left the track that had pointed them in the direction of Abraxas Malfoy.
'You have exactly ten minutes to learn to love each other,' Kingsley said, his voice soft, slinky velvet. 'Or I will hex you both into something unpleasant.'
Malfoy had to pick up his jaw from the floor. Kingsley was not Fudge or any of the other weak minions the Malfoys had been used to dealing with. 'I understand. That part. About being... nice to, erm, Head Auror Moody.' He balanced precariously on the edge of the wobbly chair. His face contradicted his words; there was an expression of disgust that indicated that the suggestion not in any way suited him. 'The other part? If anyone would be as kind as to explain to me what this is all about?'
4. Nightfall over the North Sea
They were ready to take off. The evening was closing in on them; the sky had a tinge of that weak rose colour that announced the coming of the night. They would have to hurry if they were going to make it to Dunnet Head before it was too dark to navigate. With Snape and Malfoy on tow, there wasn't room for any chance accidents. At a top speed of sixty miles per hour with a good tailwind, Kingsley's ancient Oakshaft would slow them down, so they'd have to hurry. It would take them at least an hour and a half before they were over Orkney, and they had miles to go after that. With some luck, they'd be at their destination at nightfall, providing that Malfoy guided them in the right direction.
The unspoken threat that Malfoy would soon be reacquainting himself with his lovely room at Azkaban, did he not cooperate, was surely enough to guarantee that he'd do his best to assist them. Moody had seen the immense relief in Draco's eyes when he realised that he could leave the place and never come back unless he wanted to visit his father in his new and improved suite. It had done the boy good to see that his father was taken care of. One look at Draco when Snape told him that his father would be in good hands certainly showed that even Pure-blood bastards were able to love. It spoke in favour of the boy. Moody hoped these revelations wouldn't occur regularly. He'd have to be careful not to have a pinch of empathy for Draco Malfoy as well. Feeling sorry for his idiot of a father had stretched Moody's humanitarian side to the breaking point.
Malfoy did, however, look infinitely better clean and in one of Kingsley's transformed robes. In fact he looked so nice that Moody had a hard time recognising him as he'd returned from a much needed shower. Somebody had chopped off half of his hair with a wand and combed the rest. The short pony tail made Draco Malfoy look so like his father at that age that Moody for a moment thought that Snape had smuggled a wand into Azkaban and de-aged Lucius to get him out in some sneaky way. That was the trouble with the male Malfoys: they were evil personified—in a very nice package. Moody wasn't denying his appreciation of male beauty. The dark brown robe suited Malfoy a bit too well. Moody wrinkled his nose, the remains of it, as it were. He'd have to have his eyesight controlled and checked at Mungo's when they returned. To be on the safe side. That was the side Moody liked best.
'I'm going to ride with you?' Malfoy asked apprehensively and eyed Moody's standard broom. 'I don't have one any longer, a broom. And why aren't we Apparating?'
There was no way in hell that Moody would have Malfoy on his broom. Letting the boy ride with Snape would not be clever, either. The only solution was to let Kingsley take him. His broom was also the stronger. 'You can ride with Kingsley. I'm taking Wagtail,' Moody said, managing to be polite. Strangely enough Wagtail hadn't been as hostile to Malfoy as he'd been to Snape. The dog might not be as clever as Moody originally thought. 'And we're not Apparating because we've already made two long-distance travels today. Wouldn't want to Splinch the dog by mistake.' Moody put his wand in his wand pocket and grabbed his broom. Using it for balance, he shrank his staff and put it next to the wand.
Signalling to Malfoy to mount, Kingsley was ready to take off. Snape too, had prepared. He'd left his lover in the care of the healer whose urgency had been aided by a substantial amount of Malfoy Galleons. Snape looked solemn, but determined as he sat on his broom, hovering a few feet off the ground. He was in charge of their luggage and Moody found it quite reassuring for the safety of it that Snape was not riding an ancient relic but a sparkling new Firebolt 2002. At least one of them was in possession of a broom that had a reputation for being fast, reliable and handling like a hawk.
Kingsley held his broom steady as Malfoy mounted. 'Ready?' Severus, you first, I'll ride behind you, that way I can get a bit more speed out of this one. He patted the Oakshaft's thick, polished handle. 'Moody?'
'Ready.' He checked the makeshift sling that he'd made out of his second cloak. Wagtail had curled up in it, half asleep already. The dog would be safe and warm, hidden under Moody's heavy, black travelling cloak.
The sea was raging and the wind howled and bit at them at their ascent. Away from Azkaban's protective walls, the summer was far from friendly. The northern wind that had brought the Vikings to the shores of Orkney now brought a with it a whiff of ice and snow; a cold that not even July could erase. They turned their brooms south and rode the storm for a while until it was time to turn east inland. Snape's Firebolt took the side wind steady: it danced and fell back on course; Kingsley's Oakshaft was steady like a rock; with Draco riding with him, the broom was heavy and stable. Moody decided that he truly needed a new broom, no matter Kingsley's appreciation of the one he had, for compared to the Firebolt and the Oakshaft, his Cleansweep was abysmal. He fought to keep up and every time the wind decided to pull at him, the broom got out of course. He was cold and stiff. His hands felt like lumps of ice and the cushioning charm needed replacement.
Chased by the night, they didn't have a moment to spare, but Snape fell back. 'All right there, Moody?' he shouted. 'Keeping up?'
Moody nodded and waved Snape ahead. He'd rather have this over with as soon as possible. He hoped that Malfoy knew exactly where they were going, for Moody wanted a bath and a bed, even if he had to beg Abraxas Malfoy on his bleeding knees (or knee, if one were to be precise) to take him in. His broom dove and a wave broke under him, sending a spray of salt-smelling drops over his water-proof travel cloak. The sea was deep and black under him and he forced the Cleansweep up, he had no intentions of being pulled under by yet another wave.
It felt like years before they could see Orkney. The farms at Deerness lay as little shining spots spread over the easternmost island. A bit further in, Kirkness's streetlights were lit, outlining the town. The summer night was warm, now that they were flying over land. So tired that he was about to fall off his broom, Moody got a bit of second air. It was a relief not to fight the wind and the waves. His hands thawed a bit too. Wagtail sensed the change, woke up, yawned, turned around in his makeshift pouch and went back to sleep. Moody envied the dog. It was a brief reprieve, though. Soon they reached the coast and the wind became salt-tinged and rough. The darkness was barking at their backs, but they'd make it. They'd make it.
'10 miles to go!' Malfoy's cry was torn into pieces. 'Turn left a bit and look for the lighthouse!'
They could see the rotating lights from afar. 'Dunnet! Down there! My grandfather's house is just to the left!' Moody could not distinguish any house from the dark, storm-shaped landscape. The sea beneath them roared at the rocks which in turn gnashed at the sea with its sharp, stony teeth. The old lighthouse pointed accusingly at the unruly sea, sending its warnings over the darkening waters. 'There, on the cliffs!'
Still, there was nothing to see but sea and cliffs. Snape lowered the speed. He too, was looking for something that wasn't there. Moody suspected that Abraxas Malfoy had been generous with the concealment spells. There were Muggles in the area, although it wasn't exactly overrun by anyone. Moody looked again. The contours of a gigantic cliff appeared out of the darkness, rising steeply, suddenly, in front of them. They pulled the brooms upwards as not to collide with the wall of stone. From above, they could see the shape of the cliff shift.
Moody manoeuvred his broom closer to Kingsley's. 'I thought you said it was a manor house?' he told Malfoy. 'That's not a manor, that's a bleedin' castle!'
High on the storm-beaten cliff, a proud castle perched, almost like a bird of prey, a stone eagle, ready to take flight, spreading its wings over the sea. It wasn't a pretty castle, nor was it a castle for princes and kings. It was a castle for war, old and scarred by wind and battles. It was a castle old enough to have stood against the Vikings who had once raided the north. It was a castle of clan chiefs, a stronghold against the sea and the enemy.
'So? Can't expect my grandfather to live like a beggar, can you?' Not even hours of straining flight had taken the arrogance out of the Malfoy family's youngest member.
Moody pulled his broom to the left, circling the castle. There would be a lot of begging involved to live in such a place unless one had a very, very large vault at Gringotts. The towers rose towards the dark sky, threatening silhouettes against the pale moon. A banner was waving from one of the towers. It had a coat of arms emblazoned. Green silk, a winged golden horse prancing. The colours were barely visible in the waning light. Moody returned to Kingsley's side. He held his broom back to get closer to Malfoy. 'The banner?'
'Vert, Abraxan d'or rampant,' Malfoy's words were almost inaudible in the strong wind and Moody reached over to get a hold on Malfoy's cloak. 'A golden, prancing Abraxan on green,' Draco explained. 'We brought it with us when our family came over with William from Normandy. In 1066. The castle has been our property since Alexander I of Scotland awarded it to my many-times-great grandfather Robert for his services. That was in 1115. It's called Dùnaid Castle.'
It baffled Moody that the Malfoys had actually been in close contact with Muggles a thousand years ago. He wondered what had made them such a biased family, apart from Salazar Slytherin's attempt of convincing the wizarding world that it needed to segregate itself from the rest of the universe. Somehow he knew the most probable answer already. It had been what had hit them all, Pure-bloods and Muggle-borns alike: the Witchcraft Act. Oh, he knew. He knew how the Muggle king had forbidden all witches and wizards to use Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries to thentent to fynde money or treasure, or to waste, consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres, indeed. 1542 had been an annus horribilis for the English wizarding world, and the Malfoy family had five-hundred years of wizarding history to explain—or to cover up. Casting the simplest spell was now a capital offence and the wizarding population had gone into hiding. It was impossible to Obliviate the entire country. Besides, Henry VIII had not been a tolerant king. Moody knew little of English Muggle history, but it occurred to him that Alexander I of Scotland had been a very pious king, too, and not one, like Arthur Pendragon, in need of a wizard at court. 'What kind of services?'
'Our banner.' Draco pointed at the tower. 'The Malfoys have been known to breed the best destriers in Normandy, so that is what my great grandfather Robert did. Provided warhorses for battle. Spanish horses mixed with Abraxans. Those, he kept hidden from Muggle eyes, of course. We keep the line intact, though. I'm sure my grandfather will show you some of them if you want. He's very proud of his Abraxans.'
Malfoy leant forward to speak with Kingsley. Moody could hear a bit. They all needed to hold on to Malfoy to go through the wards.
'I don't know if I'm still allowed,' Malfoy said as Snape and Moody had taken their positions on each side of Kingsley's broom. 'I was... before. Grandfather... he won't let my father in, but I was here five years ago. Not since then. Grandfather does not like... Death Eaters. He got a bit odd when Grandma died, Father says.'
That explained Abraxas' sudden disappearance from the wizarding world. There had been rumours, some of which Draco Malfoy had circulated, but no one had known why Abraxas Malfoy had left Malfoy Manor to his son and simply vanished from the English wizarding society. Some said that Abraxas had died. As an Auror, Moody had known that the rumours of Abraxas's death had been vastly exaggerated, mostly since the man had been spotted in France, Norway and Bulgaria since then. If Abraxas had refused to take his Pure-blood prejudice to the extreme, thus separating himself from the families in the Pure-blood inner circle, the farthest corner of Scotland would not be the worst place to go. Anyway, Moody never understood this odd obsession with blood and lineage. But here, hovering over a castle that had its roots so deep into Scottish soil, so deep into wizarding history, he could to some extent see why some might appreciate it so much. Lineage could not, however, be allowed to become an excuse for oppression of other human beings, not as long as Moody had a say in it. He wasn't a bloody socialist, like Kingsley, but he believed in equality as something that applied to all members of society, not just to the ones who happened to own castles and manors.
'So? Are we staying up here, or are you doing what we pulled you out of Azkaban to do?' Moody growled. 'It's wicked cold up here.' A gust of cold air from the sea underlined Moody's argument.
'Oh, I'm so enjoying it,' Malfoy sneered. 'It's just, you know, warmer in this freezing wind than in my cell, so let me bask in the warmth.' The sarcasm was thick. 'Let me do my job, Auror Moody, I'm not interested in being cold and have a broken leg because the wards threw me off the broom.' Draco pointed at the left tower. It had a platform on top. 'Let's go down. If we can get to through to the tower, we can take the brooms into the courtyard from there.'
Kingsley sent Moody a look of warning. 'Better keep up that constant vigilance now.'
'I'm a good boy,' Moody growled. 'I'm not going to push him off. Not today. I'm too tired to dig a grave.'
Lowering his broom, Kingsley took them down. There were a few seconds of tension before they reached the weather-beaten platform. The tower looked like something that had survived a broadside from a battleship's batteries several times over. It was a relief to be able to get off the broom. Moody leant heavily upon the Cleansweep. His legs were shaking. It had been a very straining day and his physique wasn't what it once were, the missing body parts not taken into consideration.
'If I may use your broom?' Draco turned to Snape. 'It's probably safer that I come knocking on his door alone.' He looked at Moody. 'No, actually, it's not. If... if Auror Moody would-'
There was such deep insecurity in those words. Moody understood why. If his hypothesis was right, Abraxas Malfoy might not welcome his grandson with open arms. It was commonly known by now that Draco Malfoy had a tacky tattoo, similar to that of his father and his lovely Death Eater friends. If Draco was accompanied by one of the most famous Dark Wizard hunters in the wizarding world, however, it might ensure Abraxas's cooperation. At least it would save Draco from being on the unpleasant end of a hex.
Moody sighed and mounted his broom again. 'Get on.'
With his wand in one hand, ready to deflect any stray spells, Moody managed to get them safely to the ground. He heard Malfoy let out a relieved sigh. 'Yeah, yeah,' Moody said. 'Now go talk to your grandfather. I'll cover your, er, retreat, if necessary.' Moody stuck his wand up the sleeve. There was no reason to appear threatening. Things might accelerate soon enough.
Malfoy took a step towards the huge portal that seemed to be the main entrance, then turned. 'I don't... I...' Malfoy's mouth was tense. 'Thank you.' For an instant, the hard, cold expression disappeared. 'Thanks, Moody.'
That was surprising. Honesty and gratitude from a Malfoy? 'It's all right. On you go.' Moody watched as Malfoy walked up the stairs. Perhaps there really was a human being inside that arrogant little beast? Moody pulled out his staff and returned it to size.
A house-elf opened the heavy doors even before Malfoy had reached the top. Moody stepped forward, into the circle of light from the hall, dragging his wooden leg a bit. He held the Cleansweep ready.
'Sir is not home. Draco Malfoy must go away. Draco Malfoy cannot come into the house. Master says so.'
'Oh, nonsense.' Moody had had it. 'You, elf.' Moody whipped out his wand. 'This is a Ministry investigation, and we wish to see Mr Malfoy. Instantly. And you can tell Master that Draco Malfoy is assisting the Aurors and the Minister for Magic in our search, so there will be no more of this idiocy.' So much for diplomacy. Moody didn't look forward to spending four weeks in a Muggle hotel, but he was impatient, exhausted and really not in the mood for anything but a glass of brandy and a bed. 'Now, elf!'
Kingsley and Snape came flying down, preventing the pending confrontation. Kingsley stumbled as he got off the broom, the only sign of exhaustion he showed. 'Whoa, Moody. Careful, my friend. I'm not interested in sleeping in a barn tonight.'
Kingsley looked up at the house-elf who seemed quite determined to guard the entrance to the house. 'Where is your master, elf? We'd like a word. It is as Head Auror Moody so eloquently put it, Ministry business. The young Mister Malfoy is here because we have asked him to help us. Our apologies for bringing him here, if it doesn't suit your master, but it was necessary.'
The house-elf who'd been standing with its thin arms crossed over the impeccably ironed and cleaned tea cosy it was wearing said nothing. It just pointed across the courtyard. 'Master.'
A tall man in riding breeches and with a heavy oilskin cloak over one arm was standing in the door to something that might be a stable. The scent of hay and horses spread and made Snape sneeze. 'Allergic,' he said and rubbed his nose.
Ignoring the intruders, the man smoothed the long blond hair with a hand that showed that he'd been mucking out the stables. It was far from clean. He casually pulled off a long straw that had entangled itself in the hair. 'What's all this commotion about? Mr Bruce?'
'Sirs is Aurors and Minister,' the house-elf said. 'Is wanting to see Master with Master's grand-, with Mr Malfoy. Sirs wants to take him inside. Sirs says that he is investigates!'
'The Minister? Oh, yes. Shacklebolt. And Mr Snape, I see.' Abraxas Malfoy wasn't in a hurry. He walked slowly over the paved courtyard. 'Moody.' He acknowledged Moody's presence with a curt nod. 'Is it true? What Mr Bruce is saying? About... Draco?' Abraxas's face was finely chiseled, as arrogant as his son's. He did nothing to hide his displeasure. 'I am not used to uninvited visitors, so I assume that you have a very good explanation for this, Shacklebolt. Minister.'
Kingsley didn't even care to react to Abraxas's thinly veiled rudeness. Kingsley, too, took a few steps forward, standing a bit too close to Abraxas, on purpose violating his personal space. 'I'm not in the habit of visiting other people without a valid cause, Abraxas Malfoy.' Kingsley didn't offer any elaboration.
Abraxas was forced to look up. He didn't budge, either. 'Then state it. There is a reason that I live here, on the edge of the world and I can guarantee you that it is not because I cherish the influx of unwanted guests or wizarding politics.'
'I apologise for the lack of warning, but it was necessary. We are investigating a case.'
'And it was necessary to bring... that?' Abraxas made a minuscule nod in Draco's direction. 'I am not a lover of Muggle-borns, Minister, very far from, but I abhor Tom Riddle and his minions even more.' Abraxas's mouth became a narrow line of utter disgust. 'These people who so stupidly chanced every Pure-blood line alive in their foolish attempt to take over a world which is no longer truly ours... Now the Blacks and the Lestrange families are bereft of any direct male heirs. With Rodolphus and Rabastan wasting away in Azkaban there will be none. My son, that impotent fool, has left only that weak and useless boy you have brought. Such a waste.' Abraxas snorted derisively. 'Must you?'
Behind Moody Draco made a strange, strangled sound. Moody could feel something clutching at his travel cloak. He reached back, only to find Draco's hand there, tense and shaking. Moody suddenly pitied Draco. So many expectations, no matter where he turned. Moody patted the thin hand briefly. 'Easy,' he whispered, giving the advise he should have taken himself. 'Let Kingsley handle it. It'll be all right.' Draco had been so proud of his grandfather. It had been clear from how he'd described him. It had to be hurtful to be dismissed in such a way by someone he'd looked up to and admired. That was the price that Draco Malfoy had to pay for his thoughtless association with Lord Voldemort. Moody told himself not to care. It didn't work. He turned around. 'Kingsley will manage. Don't worry. Just keep calm.'
'I must.' Kingsley didn't raise his voice, if anything he became more quiet, more of a threat. 'Neither Draco Malfoy, nor Mr Snape are Death Eaters any longer. I assume you have kept up with the events after the war?'
Abraxas nodded and took half a step back. 'Mr Snape, yes. True to the cause. He,' Abraxas pointed at Snape, 'had the brain to realise that someone like that... upstart, Riddle, had nothing to do in our society. He is welcome in my house. But the runt there... No.'
'Am I to repeat myself?' Kingsley sighed deeply and took a step forward. 'I assume you heard me? Draco Malfoy is no longer a Death Eater and the Ministry has accepted that Draco acted under duress, both in regards to his initiation as a Death Eater and to his actions during the war. With this unhealthy obsession with blood and heirs, the threat of being killed violently or having one's parents suffer a violent death surely counts as duress? Even for you? Draco has been freed; he has paid his dues to the society we both share, even if it seems more like you have cancelled your membership. Is that so, Abraxas Malfoy, that you have decided not to be a part of our world, or will you assist your Minister when asked to?'
'You are a bit forward, man.' Abraxas pursed his lips. 'You're not like that other minister, the one who had my son's hand up his arse every time he spoke. Fudge. What an idiot. I think I like you better.'
'At least I can guarantee that no one has ever had their hand in my arse,' Kingsley said, keeping his expression entirely serious. 'And if I had allowed anyone the pleasure, I'd have made sure he was good enough with it to render me unable to speak at all. Moan, perhaps, but not speak.'
There was a very, very long pause. Then Abraxas Malfoy roared with laughter. 'Minister, really!' He patted Kingsley on the shoulder, as if he'd been a horse. 'You're right. Although a bit on the edge of it, I still am a part of the wizarding world. I'll help, since you put it that way. Abraxas shot Draco a glare. But he-'
'You haven't even put wards up to keep him out. Come on, Mr Malfoy. He's your grandchild.'
'There is a reason they made you minister, isn't there? A bit too clever, methinks.' Abraxas hesitated. 'Inside. I suppose you'd all like a bed for the night? It's late.' Abraxas turned around. 'You too, boy. We'll sort things out in the morning.'
'See?' Moody whispered to Draco Malfoy. 'It's going to be fine. You're a Malfoy after all.'
Moody realised that he actually didn't know whether that was a good thing, or a bad.
5. Bodies, Basements and Broom Cupboards
Yawning and stretching in the grand bed, Moody had slept surprisingly well. He lay, staring up into the canopy of a bed that had probably had generations of Pure-bloods sleeping in it. There were things to be said about those. Both the beds and Pure-bloods. The beds, to begin with, were scrumptious. The mattress had the exact right spring and the duvet was large and light. Moody suspected that it was stuffed with Abraxan feathers; he had rarely touched anything that soft. What a pity it would be if they had to arrest Abraxas Malfoy for the murder of Sally-Anne Perks and her father. Moody certainly wouldn't mind a few more nights in that particular bed. At the foot end of the bed, Wagtail had curled up; the lazy cur didn't as much as open an eye. Used to sleeping in. What a watch dog.
Reaching for his wand that he'd put within reach on the bedside table, Moody sat up to take down the extensive array of wards he'd cast on the thick oak door and on the windows before going to sleep. He disliked much the idea of being killed in his sleep, so he'd been a bit free with them, the spells. As the last ward fell, there was a knocking on the door. Wagtail, half awake, sniffed and growled at the door.
Moody raised his wand. If he was going to be attacked, lying in bed, he'd at least put up a fight. 'Enter!'
'Sir's breakfast. Is sir going to eat here?' Mr Bruce the house-elf was balancing a large tray on one hand. 'Sir Minister said to say that sir Minister has tasted the food and that sir Minister is well and not sick so other sir must eat.'
'How nice of your employer not to try to poison me,' Moody growled. 'Give it here. Has anyone touched it since the Minister touched it?'
'No, sir, only Mr Bruce.'
Moody took the tray. He sniffed the food suspiciously, then put the tray down on the bed. He probed at it with the wand, using a spell to determine whether the food or the coffee contained anything harmful. He didn't hope so, for the freshly baked croissants and the fresh fruit was just about what he wanted right now, that, and the black coffee.
'Does Mr Bruce have another name?' Moody poured a cup of the delightfully smelling coffee. 'Doesn't house-elves usually have names like Betty or Pippi or Toddy?' Not that Moody had much experience with house-elves. It was a bit beyond his reach. When he had a house like this, which would be never, he'd rectify that problem.
'Sir? Mr Bruce is Mr Bruce. Has been for two thousand years. Long before Malfoy sirs comes to Dùnaid, there is a Bruce here. First Malfoy sir offered first Bruce clothes but Mr Bruce knew that sir has offered by accident and taught first Malfoy sir to be good sir. The first Mr Malfoy sir called that Bruce Mr Bruce and we are now Mr Bruce because of first Master's kindness. Mr Bruce almost never have to iron his hands!'
Moody shook his head. None of the house-elf's babbling made any sense. All he got out of it was that the castle's house-elves were a bit more dim-witted than house-elves in general. 'Mr Bruce, then.'
'Sir is most kind.'
The house-elf disappeared. Moody wondered if there were more and if they were all called Mr Bruce. Judging from the size of the place there probably were more. Strong magic or not, one house-elf couldn't possibly manage the entire castle. He made a mental note of the fact that they'd have to search the place at some point. They would surely find a few Dark artefacts in a place like this, so even if Sally-Anne's case wasn't solved, it would be worth it. Moody still had wet dreams about the items and books they'd found at Malfoy Manor. He had to admit, though, that Abraxas Malfoy, for a potential murderer, didn't seem as caught up in the Dark Arts as his son and grandson. Mostly Abraxas Malfoy seemed to be caught up in a pile of horse manure, and he had looked the that way too, in riding breeches and with half a bale of straw in his hair. On the other hand, the man could be barking mad and have several victims buried in the basement. Moody almost felt elated by the thought.
Leaving the idea of Abraxas as their main suspect, Moody took a tiny bite of the croissant. It tasted of butter. He took another bite and hoped that he wouldn't get killed by whatever sort of unfortunate ingredients it might contain. Then again, if Kingsley was still alive, then Moody was willing to take the chance for the croissant was delicious. Moody looked at the bread basket as he finished the first piece. Wagtail managed to drag himself closer, staring intently at the bread. The dog seemed to regard bread as more important than guarding. There were three croissants left. Moody gave Wagtail one and took another for himself. He poured a second cup of coffee and scratched Wagtail behind the ear. He could get used to this.
Voices echoed through the grand hall. The hall stretched upwards into a canopied ceiling, the walls decorated with tapestries and paintings. Moody stopped for a moment to admire a painting of two Abraxans flying over a loch. The painting was in full size and very impressive. He couldn't remember having seen anything like it. The flying palomino-coloured horses were beautiful. He was pulled out of the admiration. The sounds from downstairs indicated that their host was quite annoyed with Kingsley.
'You are suggesting that I should have anything to do with their disappearance?'
'I don't suggest anything, Mr Malfoy. I am doing my job, following any possible lead to solve this case.'
'I thought your job was to be the Minister for Magic.' Abraxas Malfoy's voice had the same slow drawl as his son's, but there was none of the arrogance. That had been replaced with anger.
Moody hesitated. At the top of the stairs he looked over the bannister. He could see nothing but a few plate armours and a large table with a gigantic vase placed in the middle of the hall. If Kingsley was trying to get information out of Malfoy, it wasn't going too well. The question was whether Moody's presence would be helpful or just make things worse.
'My good man!' Malfoy sounded deeply offended. 'I let you into my house, entirely against my will and only out of the goodness of my heart and out of pity for my misled and, to say it mildly, malnourished grandson. Out of respect for you as the Minister for Magic. There is little left of that now, I have to inform you, Minister Shacklebolt.'
Moody took a few steps. He didn't care whether Kingsley and Malfoy found out that he was listening to their conversation, if one could call it that. Their skirmish was more adequate. Only Abraxas Malfoy wasn't done.
'To think that you lured your way in under false pretence.' There was a loud bang and the sound of something breaking. Either someone had dropped a plate or thrown it.
Kingsley didn't reply to the tirade right away, a sure sign that Kingsley was annoyed.
'To the rescue, then,' Moody growled. He didn't much feel like a hero and if Kingsley's famed talent for diplomacy wasn't enough, there was probably little he could do. The pleasant sensation of being full, clean and well-rested was replaced by one of annoyance. They couldn't afford to alienate Abraxas Malfoy. Partly because there was a chance—or a risk—depending on how one looked at it, that Malfoy was actually innocent and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Moody wasn't in the habit of judging people unfairly, not even the Malfoy family, although it was very, very tempting. If Abraxas carried on like this, Moody was willing to make an exception. However, if Abraxas had nothing to do with Sally-Anne's disappearance, his help would be convenient. No, they had to keep up appearances when it came to the Malfoy patriarch.
Moody grabbed the bannister with one gnarled hand and used his staff to support himself as he hobbled down the stone stairs to the hall. He groaned. He was still sore where the fitting of his wooden leg had rubbed against the thin skin of his inner thigh. He was careful not to put all his weight on the leg. Sometimes long-distance flights had its disadvantages and Moody agreed with himself that he'd experienced most of them since yesterday. He felt uncomfortable without his wand and stopped to make certain it was close at hand in his open wand pocket. There might be need for a hex or two. Carefully he peeked into the dining room, covered by the door in case there were any stray curses floating around.
'You went to live here, when? Wasn't that the summer holiday after Draco's first year? The same summer when Miss Perks and her father disappeared? The same day, in fact, according to your house-elf.' Kingsley's voice had taken that soft, cold tone that always worked so well when he questioned potential perpetrators. 'Were were you that day, Abraxas? Mr Bruce has a rather selective memory when it comes to that exact date. A very convenient loss of memory that happened the moment the elf realised that you'd made it cover for you.'
'I do not remember having allowed you the use of my first name. That's what comes from allowing members of the working class in places where they do not belong.' Abraxas's aristocratic face contracted into a grimace of utter disgust. 'How on earth did you manage to convince anyone that you'd be a good choice as Minister, Kingsley ?'
'So I'm fine as long as I don't threaten you ? Yes, now we recognise the true Pure-blood again. Always demanding privileges.'
'I am demanding nothing but common courtesy, Kingsley. I do simply not appreciate this underhanded way of doing things.'
'That, from a Malfoy?' Kingsley sounded as if he didn't believe a word.
Moody couldn't agree more. A straightforward Malfoy? As rare as snow in Sahara. Moody took a deep breath. He could muse upon Abraxas Malfoy's personality later.
'Whoa!' Moody stepped into the dining room and put his staff down hard enough to make a dent in one of the marble tiles. 'Hold your horses, both of you!' It was a distinctly strange situation. Usually it was Kingsley who had to calm Moody down; he'd saved Moody several times from making the mistake Kingsley was now making. 'Kingsley, stop.' Moody's glared at Kingsley with a look that told him that he didn't care one Knut whether Kingsley was the Minister for Magic or not. 'Sit, lad! Over there.' He pointed at the chair farthest away from Malfoy. It was intolerable that he had to stab his partner in the back like this, but if their investigation had any salvageable pieces, Moody had to pick them up by himself. 'And you, sir,' he told Abraxas, 'please, put that plate down! No! On the table!'
Leaning his staff against a chair, Moody pulled out another. He'd placed himself strategically at the middle of the long mahogany dining table. Luckily the coffee pot had evaded Malfoy's casual handling of the chinaware. He could do with another cup. 'Could you both please sit down and count to...' Moody realised that "ten" would be far from enough. '-whatever it takes to get out of kindergarten. And then, please, tell me it is a curse, for I have rarely seen two adult men behave so stupidly.' Moody poured coffee for himself. He didn't care to ask neither Kingsley, nor Malfoy whether they wanted any. He put his wand next to the plate, pointedly making an unspoken threat out of the action. He'd use spells if necessary.
Kingsley sat down in the chair at the end of the table. He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. 'I might have gone a bit too far. My apologies, Mr Malfoy.'
Moody looked at Malfoy at the other end. The man looked as if he was in pain. 'I am not used to being contradicted. By anyone. I might have overreacted. And my comment on class was entirely unfounded.'
'Is that an apology, Malfoy? Because if you want it to be, I think you need to work on it a bit.' Moody looked at Malfoy with his good eye while the magical eye turned to see what Kingsley was doing.
Malfoy huffed. 'I suppose it is. Apologies, Minister.' He pushed the remains of a plate away from where he sat and summoned a coffee cup. 'While I understand why you are here, I would have liked it to be less of a surprise that you are actually accusing me for whatever crime it is that you are investigating, Head Auror Moody. I assume you are able to see that?'
The magical eye flashed blue as it whipped around and looked at Malfoy. 'I am. We usually do not begin our investigation in this manner. However, questioning you is merely routine: we cannot in good conscience ignore the task.' Moody was lying, of course. It was not routine, it was necessary because Malfoy was the only one close to a suspect they'd ever found. 'If you'd please be patient and answer our questions. I assure you that it is merely to exclude you from our list of-'
'Your list of suspects. It must be a very long list. Mr Bruce. The other house-elves. Me. I am not exactly dim-witted, Auror Moody.' Abraxas turned his head and looked at Kingsley. 'I left Wiltshire and England as not to deal with this kind of constant conflict and suspicion. My son... he'd have pulled us all into Voldemort's web. I am a peaceful man, Minister Shacklebolt. As long as I am left unprovoked. By Tom Riddle, or by you.'
'I most certainly hope there is no comparison.' Kingsley sounded strangled. He leaned forward and put his hands on the table. 'And I did not provoke you.'
'Ah, you did, and there isn't.' Malfoy's mouth dragged upwards at the corners, as if he was hiding a smile. 'You are better looking, but not as ruthless. You have a lot to learn. Hufflepuff, weren't you?' Malfoy's questioning eyebrow described a perfect arc over one grey eye. 'Kingsley.'
Moody couldn't stop himself from laughing out loud. 'You've been quite bored out here, haven't you?'
'A bit. But the Minister is amusing to toy with,' Malfoy admitted and looked like a cat who'd caught a fat mouse. 'May I keep him?'
Kingsley managed to keep quiet. He just shook his head and sighed.
'I don't think that was a yes,' Moody said. 'So, if you're done trying to kill each other,' he smirked, remembering what Kingsley had told him in regards to Draco yesterday, 'you have ten minutes to learn to love each other, so we can get on with the investigation. And if you,' Moody pointed at Abraxas, 'have anything to hide, it'd be easier if you just told us. We'll find out anyway.'
'It'll just be more fun to let you find it yourselves, wouldn't it? For me, that is. How long do you plan to stay?'
'Mr Malfoy.' Kingsley seemed to have found his voice again. 'You really do not want to do that.'
'Oh, but I do. Four weeks, you said?' Abraxas looked at Moody, 'I might be a tad bored, yes. I could let you into the dungeons. To see if you can sort out the bodies down there. There are a few.'
'What?' Kingsley stood. 'You admit-'
'I admit nothing. They were left there... around 1200, if you ask me, but it'd still be interesting to see what you'd get out of it, had I not told you.'
'Mr Malfoy, you do not regard it distasteful to have unburied bodies in your basement?' Kingsley looked as if he was going to be sick.
'Not particularly. They're Muggles, I think. And they are, to be more precise, skeletons. And while we're at it, could we go back to "Abraxas"? If we're to love each other, we have to work on it, and "Mr Malfoy" sounds so impersonal.'
'You're just doing this because I made that comment about Fudge's arse, aren't you? Do you really have skeletons in your basement?' Kingsley sat down again, desperately trying to catch Moody's good eye.
Moody ignored him deliberately. That should teach him. He'd made the bed, now he could lie in it, what with all his talk about loving and good relationships with Malfoys.
Abraxas wasn't discouraged in any way 'No,' he said. 'I am doing it because you made that comment about your arse, and I do have skeletons in the basement, if not in the cupboard where yours seem to be hidden. Together with a few other things. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.' Malfoy's mouth formed an arrogant, knowing smile.
'And I'll show myself out,' Moody said and stood. 'Perhaps a few hours in the not-so-pleasant company of Mr Snape will make me appreciate this odd form of... whatever it is, but interrogation is not it. Let me know when you're done so I can do my work as nobody else seems to be willing to participate.'
Abraxas got up. 'If you'd just give us half an hour to work out our, let's say, indifferences. After that I'll be happy to assist you.' Abraxas casually let his fingers slide through his long hair. 'No, that's a lie. I won't be happy, but I'll still do it. Come back here at twelve. Bring truth serum. I do not appreciate being the main suspect in a murder case. It might disturb my ability to enjoy lunch. Mr Bruce has the key to the dungeons. You may use it when you like. There are of course a few interesting things hidden down there, but I leave it to you to figure out where they are. Can't help you with everything, can I?'
'Lumos maximus!' Moody flicked his wand. The light from the floor above lit up the bottom of the old stone staircase with a weak light. The basement smelt surprisingly clean, as if somebody regularly took care of it. Moody whipped his magical eye around to see through the walls, but it was impossible. They were either too thick or the rooms too dark. He couldn't see a thing.
'Move. I'm not going to stand here all day, watching your back.' Snape was in his usual merry mood. 'I'd rather we did this today, but if you have other plans, let me know.'
'Yes, because rushing into a basement belonging to a De-, to a Pure-blood wizard connected to known Death Eaters, that is such a brilliant idea. One of your best.' Moody turned around. 'Constant vigilance, Snape. I thought you'd learnt by now.'
'Yeah, yeah. I'm over the vigilant part, if you haven't noticed.'
Moody somehow understood. Being a spy pretending to be a spy for the other side had to be a bit straining and one would probably need to relax after such an ordeal. Moody knew he could learn from that. There weren't Death Eaters lurking to kill him behind every door. Only behind some of them. 'At least show a bit of alert attention, then,' he growled. 'Unless you know precisely what's in this sodding dungeon. That Abraxas... he likes to take the Mickey out of us.'
Snape laughed. 'There's a reason why Lucius and he never got along well.'
Moody stepped forward with care and scanned the dark corridor before he looked over his shoulder. It was a rare occasion that Snape volunteered any personal information. 'He seems quite odd, Abraxas.'
'He was very strict, though.' Snape pulled out his wand and cast another scanning spell. 'And he has humour. Something that one cannot say about Lucius, despite his other qualities.'
Lucius had qualities? Moody had never thought of Lucius Malfoy as a person containing any positive aspects whatsoever. 'A clash of personalities, then?'
'Yes. Abraxas was always more interested in breeding than in politics.'
'And yet he has only one son?'
'Horse-breeding. He's not the only Malfoy who was forced to marry, despite-' Snape cut himself off, probably realising that he'd said too much.
Stopping at a closed door with a heavy iron lock on it, Moody turned to look at Snape. 'Like Lucius?' He wondered exactly how long Snape and that horrid person had been together.
Snape's face was neutral. 'Like Lucius.' His expression betrayed nothing. 'I was twenty-two and the Dark Lord had just killed Lily,' Snape volunteered, quite surprisingly. Maybe the war had made him mellow. Snape huffed and continued speaking. 'Abraxas insisted on finding a wife for Lucius. Lucius knew he had to marry, so he did. Draco had just been born when... We were best friends, Lucius and I and we'd been... experimenting a bit, before Narcissa. It was cold comfort at first,' Snape said quietly. 'That is what you wanted to know, isn't it?'
Moody fiddled with the lock. It opened easily; a simple Alohomora did the job. 'I was curious, I admit. It's not something you do out of the goodness of your heart. Do you-'
'I do. After twenty years, two wars and Merlin knows how many betrayals from both sides? Yes. I certainly do. Very much. Satisfied?'
Holding up a hand to stop Snape from stepping closer, Moody pushed the door open as he covered himself by leaning against the stone wall. 'It's none of my business.'
'You're damned right about that. But you saw him. Saw that... he and I...' Snape peeked around the wall into the open room, lighting it up with a flick of his wand. 'Empty.'
Moody nodded and moved on to the next door. It unlocked as easily as the first. The room contained the same. Nothing. 'Do you think he's hiding anything in those rooms? Behind the walls, or under the floors?' The room was neatly cleaned, there was no mould or dust anywhere. 'And Abraxas? Does he know? He treated you quite kindly.'
'Seeing that I helped save the wizarding world from the Dark Lord, that is what could be expected, even from him.' Snape crossed the corridor and unlocked yet another empty and impeccably cleaned room. 'How many house-elves does that man have? Don't they have anything proper to do?'
'Except for cleaning the basement? Doesn't look like it.' Moody locked the room again and went further down to the next door. In the dim light from his wand he had to use both hands to turn the padlock in an angle so that he could open it without ruining it. 'So, does he? Know?'
'Since before Narcissa. He found us... in flagrante. He wasn't pleased. Said that it was better to forget and think of an heir and the family.' Snape leant against the door frame, waiting for Moody to open the door. 'Never accepted it, but he stopped trying to make us stop when Narcissa got pregnant. Never sat well with him, despite. She, on the other hand, knew all along. Accepted it. A very tolerant woman. Lucius loves her, though, in his own odd way.'
Moody's magical eye turned to look at Snape. 'Sounds as if he knew what he was talking about, Abraxas. About marriages of duty.'
'Not too posh to keep double-standards.' Snape's voice was bitter. 'I suppose I should thank him for having suffered marriage, despite his... inclination.'
'Runs in the family, eh?' Moody was... not shocked, that was not how he'd describe it, but he appreciated the insight. It was strange though, that men who were less than interested in the women they'd married would be so obsessed with their family line. One could consider it an explanation, though, for the lack of Pure-blood heirs and the way those single heirs were cherished and pampered. Again stepping aside, Moody opened the third door, pushing it open with the tip of his wand. It creaked and swung into the darkness.
'What's that smell?' Snape's nose wrinkled.
'Urgh.' Moody stepped back. 'Let me guess, no house-elves in here?'
Snape flicked his wand. 'Shall we find out?'
'Yeah.' Moody raised his wand and stepped into the room, ready to counter any traps.
'Salazar's suspenders!' Snape cried out. 'Ow!'
Moody cast an Engorgement charm on Snape's light charm. A clear light filled the room, bright as sunlight.
'Clever wand-waving. So they really do teach you something useful in that Auror school of yours?' Snape was rubbing his knee. He'd hit it on the stone sarcophagus that stood to one side. The lid had moved. The opening let out a smell of something very dead.
Moody was just about to take a deep breath, but stopped himself in time. He held the sleeve of his robe over his nose. The room was much larger than the others. Several stone coffins were placed around the walls. A crucifix hung between two tiny openings which allowed almost no light into the cellar. They could see the courtyard. The small chapel was in the same impeccable state as the rest had been, except for the smell of decay. 'This is what I hate about being an Auror,' Moody mumbled into the robe. 'Bodies.' He feared what he would find. It was helping little that they wouldn't need to look far to find the murderer if this was where Sally-Anne's body was hidden.
Pushing the lid further off with his boot, Snape looked into the sarcophagus. 'That wasn't put here last week. My best guess is last millennium. During one of the Crusades.'
Grimacing, Moody looked at the remains. ''Hm. That's a surcote, right? The body was clad in armour. What had once been a piece of fabric lay threadbare on the chest of the rusty chain mail. 'If I'm not mistaken, it has a cross on it, yeah?'
'A Muggle crusader.' Snape pushed the lid back on. 'Incredible how they can still stink so much. It's nothing but dust and bones. Want to check the others?
'Not really. Let's do it.'
Five crusaders later, they were no closer to finding Sally-Anne Perks, but Moody was ready to sick up. It wasn't´even particularly comforting to know that a house-elf would mop it up immediately. 'At least he warned us that he kept bodies in the basement.' Moody pushed the lid on the last sarcophagus back in place. 'Can't say that he was lying.'
The sound of steps on the stairs rang through the dark dungeon. 'Moody? Severus?' There was a pause. 'Helga's handbag, what's that godawful smell?' Outside, Kingsley gagged. 'Rosa potentum!' A heavy scent of roses spread in the cellar. 'Did you find anything?' Kingsley stood in the door opening.
'As Malfoy said: around 1200.' Moody lowered his wand and the spell that had helped lighting the room faded. 'The skeletons.'
'Don't know whether I'm disappointed or relieved.' Kingsley pointed at the coffins. 'At least they are buried, sort of, and not just lying around. Strange place to keep a mausoleum.' He held his wand up to create a bit more light.
'It probably made sense at that time. Abraxas isn't a person who'd use it for anything but to preserve the Malfoy history. Whatever that history might be,' Snape added knowingly.
'Malfoy wants to see you, Severus. He asked for you.' Kingsley shook his head. 'And I'm decimated to be at his beck and call as a messenger. What is it with that man?'
'I could ask you the same,' Moody murmured and hoped that Snape would bugger off so he could ask Kingsley that particular question. 'Should we go and look at the next room? I could do without the roses—they're giving me a headache. Not as bad as the sickly smell of rotten corpses. It's more nausea- than headache-inducing, though.'
Snape went upstairs to have a talk with his father-in-law, although Snape probably wouldn't call him that. Moody shut the door to the mausoleum and cast a charm on it to prevent the sickly stench to spread in the cellar.
Moody moved to the next closed and warded door. If the basement stretched under the entire castle it would be a very long day.
'Are you going to help with this?' Prodding at the lock with his wand, Moody examined the door. The door was different from the few others they had unlocked. It had more locks and a padlock. Putting his hand on the wood, the door hummed with spells. Moody could sense something dark behind it, a curse or a hex. Even the door frame and the walls were reinforced with spell-work; an intricate net of spells, some benevolent, others felt malicious and disgusting.
Kingsley, too, sensed them. He used his wand to trace the net. 'I can detect a repelling charm. I think that's the one which makes us feel so uncomfortable.'
'And here I thought I felt uncomfortable because my superior is acting like a ten year old school boy and I've just inhaled the smell of thousand year old dead corpses.' Moody let go of the lock. 'Are you going to explain that to me?'
'The corpses? Yes, they are usually dead. If you didn't notice.' Kingsley sidestepped the question. 'Otherwise they'd been zombies, and then we'd be in trouble.'
'Kingsley Shacklebolt!' Growling, Moody took a step forward with his wand raised.
'All right! He got to me. Abraxas. I think maybe I'm becoming a bit too used to, let's say... the wielding of power. To people being so sodding subservient. He couldn't care less that I'm the Minister for Magic and he's about as polite as an angry werewolf. I think I needed that. He's everything I hate, and yet...'
'He's a Malfoy. '
'That too. But he's... I've never...' Kingsley lacked words. Not something that happened very often. 'It's more the fact that he so easily pulled me out of the part I play. I was suddenly Kingsley and not the Minister for Magic. I might have forgotten who's most important to me; Kingsley or the Minister for Magic. That I'm me and not public property of the wizarding world. I have no intention of becoming yet another Fudge. Or a Scrimgeour, bless him, poor sod. Malfoy gave me a reminder that I'm human and that I only hold power as a token in return for being trustworthy and fair. And to be fair, our intentions were to use Abraxas and his grandson.'
Moody thought about it for a moment. 'You can't allow yourself to slip in front of a man like that. He's dangerous.'
Kingsley laughed, almost bitterly. 'Slip? Just because I'm handsome, intelligent, powerful, charming, confident, perfect in general and on top of that without any known flaws, I can't have an occasional pause from the pedestal? Come on, Moody! We both know I'm not super-human as some might believe. Only close. You, of all people, should know.'
'Yeah, I suppose you've got a point.' Moody nodded. He knew that Kingsley was right. Everybody expected the Minister for Magic to be the image of perfection. The wizarding world's citizens tended to forget that their leader was a human being. Therein lay the allure, Moody guessed. Malfoy's allure. Abraxas Malfoy was rich, handsome and intelligent, in any way matching what Kingsley had. And he, Abraxas, hadn't bought it, Kingsley's assumed perfection. He'd treated Kingsley like an equal, not like a semi-divine being. 'So, he didn't bow to your omnipotence and he stood his ground when you tried to bully him into confessing?' Moody leant heavily against the wall, trying to take some of the weight off his bad leg. 'Fantastic interrogation technique, by the way,' Moody added sarcastically. 'Not something we're going to pursue in the future, right? And what does it mean, all that shit with you and Malfoy?'
Kingsley groaned. The questioning wasn't to his liking. He squeezed his eyes shot, looking embarrassed. 'Does it have to mean anything?' He paused. 'You're not going to believe me, are you?' Heaving a sigh, he continued explaining. 'It means that Malfoy is probably the most intriguing, enigmatic and infuriating person I've met in ages.' Kingsley fell silent. He turned around, once more giving the locks a go. Unsuccessful, he stopped. 'It means that I'm going to leave the investigation, anything that includes Abraxas, to you.'
Moody smiled. He knew Kingsley so well, currently better than Kingsley knew himself. 'Just to be on the safe side?'
'Just to be on the safe side. We both appreciate that one.'
'And if he's our man? A murderer? He is a Pure-blood. Wouldn't exactly come as a surprise.' Moody cocked his head and looked searchingly at Kingsley with both eyes.
'Then... nothing.' Kingsley's expression revealed nothing, either. 'Then we'll bring him in, he'll be put on trial and convicted. Gets to spend the rest of his life in Azkaban.'
'You're attracted to him, aren't you?'
Knowing when to pursue a topic, Moody wisely began casting an array of spells and charms at the unruly locks. None of them worked, but a few rattled the mechanism. He managed to keep silent only for so long. 'That plate-throwing thing this morning... childish. Expensive.' He left the attempt to unlock the door once more. 'And the bickering from the moment you sat foot in his courtyard?' Moody straightened up. 'He's flirting with you. Shamelessly.'
'By throwing plates at me? You really want to do this by yourself, don't you?' Kingsley rolled his eyes.
'He's a Malfoy, Kingsley. You're the Minister for Magic. "Inappropriate" barely covers it.'
'Another word from you and I'll make you eat your bleeding wand.'
'Snape says that he's gay. Abraxas. You need to be careful.'
Kingsley made a choking sound. 'Do you want salt and vinegar with that wand or do you take it au naturel ?'
'Shutting up now.'
Ten minutes and fifty spells later, Moody was ready to blast in the door. 'Either he's taking the piss out on us again, or he's really hiding something interesting in there. Do we have Galleons enough to facilitate a repair?' That door is going to die,' Moody growled, his annoyance shared equally between Malfoy and the oak door. He raised his wand.
A house-elf popped out of thin air. 'Sirs cannot ruin door! Sirs is making a mess! Sirs is not allowed to go in, that is Master's private room!'
Kingsley looked at the elf. 'And you are?' Turning to Moody, he asked, 'that is not Mr Bruce, is it? I can't tell the difference.'
'No. Another tea cosy.' The elf was wearing a tea cosy embroidered with the Malfoy coat of arms for a skirt and a tartan tea towel around its neck.
'Mr Stewart.' The house-elf looked quite self-important. 'Mr Stewart is cellar-elf.'
Ah, the elf with the cleaning obsession, then. Moody looked down at it. 'And would Mr Stewart be as kind as to open this door? Otherwise Mr Stewart will have a very busy day cleaning up the mess after we've torn the wall down. We wouldn't like that. Mr Stewart's cellar is very neat and clean. The cleanest cellar we have ever seen, isn't that so, Kingsley?'
Kingsley bent down to be face to face with the elf. 'Oh, yes. It is extremely neat. I wish we had house-elves as competent in the Ministry. It would make our work so much easier if everything was this neat and orderly. Mr Malfoy must be very happy to have such good elves to help with the castle.'
The elf sniffled and dried his long nose with a pristine little handkerchief. 'Sirs is very kind to say so.' The critter got a strange, calculating look in it eyes. 'Mr Malfoy says that I must not let sirs in. Iron hands, Mr Malfoy says.' Mr Stewart sneezed and blew his nose. 'Mr Malfoy says I cannot tell nice sirs that the spell to open the door is Inobscurus Portus. Clean the stables, Mr Malfoy says, if Mr Stewart tells. With toothbrush.'
'There, there.' Kingsley patted the elf's bony hand. 'Then don't tell us and everything will be fine. We promise not to make a mess or take down any walls.'
'Sirs is very kind to Mr Stewart!'
Moody hurried to try out the spell. He'd never heard of it before, so it was surely something Malfoy had come up with by himself, which, if Moody had to say so, made him even more scary. It was complicated spell-work, he knew that when he realised how the advanced net of repelling spells, locking spells and mood spells vanished at the tap of his wand. He wasn't just the eccentric loner with too many Galleons to spend. Malfoy knew what he'd been doing down here.
Kingsley agreed, for he placed himself with his back against the wall on one side of the door. 'Ready?' Kingsley shot a spell at the door to push it open. Nothing happened except that a soft, yellow light lit up the room and the adjourning corridor. 'What the-'
Moody peeked around the door frame. 'It's either a trap, or we can sit down at the fireplace and have a drink. Okay, so it's before lunch, but still.' With the utmost care Moody stepped into the room. He moved his wand to detect any dangers. 'I think it's safe.'
'You think ?' Kingsley laughed. 'Ten years ago, you'd have Malfoy swear an oath upon the heads of his children, guaranteeing our safety, before you'd said that.'
'Not as mad as I once was, you mean? I think peace and the lack of Death Eaters do that to you. Less stress, less paranoia.' Moody stood still, letting his magical eye slide over the book cases and the cupboards that lined the walls. There was a workbench in one corner and shelves with various potions and herbs on them. A few old chairs and a sofa were placed in front of a fireplace. 'Books on magic, none of which we haven't seen before, and a bloody desk for broom-polishing. And I kid you not. One of the vials says Fleetwood's High-Finish Handle Polish!' Moody walked over to the desk. A set of silver Tail-Twig Clippers were mounted on the wall. It had the Malfoy coat of arms engraved on it. 'I didn't take Malfoy for a broomstick enthusiast.'
'Broomsticks?' Kingsley looked curious. 'Hm.' He looked at the shelves. 'Looks as if he knows what he's doing.'
The house-elf had followed them. 'Sirs cannot touch! Sirs mustn't makes dirty Masters things. Master likes flying things. Brooms and large horses with wings and aeroplanes. The house-elf nodded. Flying things.'
'Aeroplanes?' Abraxas was a certainly eccentric if the elf actually was talking about the Muggle invention. 'What's behind that door?' Moody supported himself against the back of the threadbare sofa. The door had a sign on it that read "Broom Cupboard".
'No, no, no! Sirs cannot go in there!' The house-elf looked livid! 'Nobody is allowed in Master's room. Mr Stewart does not know spell. Mr Stewart does not have key. Master says that Mr Stewart cannot has. Cannot knows!' Mr Stewart placed himself in front of a narrow door between two book cases. 'Master says so!'
Kingsley put a hand on Mr Stewart's shoulder. 'Please go and fetch us a cuppa. I won't go in there until someone else has opened the door for me.'
'If sir says so.' The elf was appeased. It disappeared.
'Clever Kingsley.' Moody approved. It was important not to put house-elves in a situation where their masters, in this case the lovely Abraxas, would punish them unfairly or excessively. They had rights now, the house-elves, but if they weren't interested in using them, there was little the Ministry could do to prevent such punishment. 'I suppose that leaves me to be the one who opens the chamber?' Moody regretted that he hadn't brought his staff with him. He growled at the wooden leg as it pinched him. 'Damned thing,' he sneered and leant against the door. It had a small padlock on it. Moody casually sighed, 'Alohamora', expecting yet another hour fighting a stupid door. The padlock smoothly opened. 'What in Merlin's name? There we go.'
'None.' If there were, Moody couldn't detect them or see them. He tried, but as with the other rooms, darkness was impenetrable. 'Either he's more clever than we thought, or he told the house-elves a lie so they won't go in there and clean.'
Moody took a deep breath. He hoped it wasn't a trap. Malfoy was a bit too entrepreneurial with his spells for Moody's taste.
Kingsley, too, readied himself. 'So, open for me,' Kingsley said and grinned. 'Can't disappoint Mr Stewart.'
Moody kicked the door open with his wooden leg. 'After you, Minister.'
'Oooh! Merlin's beard, is that a 1936? Blimey, it is a 1936 Oakshaft! The best model they ever made!' Kingsley sounded elated and Moody hurried after him into the room. 'And that. That's a Nimbus prototype!' Kingsley's eyes shone in the candle light. Christmas certainly came early this year. He turned, his robe swirling around his body. 'And here... Moody...' Kingsley's voice was filled with awe. 'These are Medieval brooms. Hand-crafted, Medieval brooms... Good Lord!'
Brooms were mounted on the walls. Small brooms, old brooms, new brooms. Cheap brooms and priceless brooms. Abraxas was quite the collector. Moody sighed. This was fate as its evil worst, for with this discovery there was no doubt that Abraxas Malfoy would be the perfect man for Kingsley. Kingsley even liked him. There were a few drawbacks, as for instance the incompatibility of political views and the Death Eater family but nothing that couldn't be worked around after the scandal had died down.
The realisation hit Kingsley, too, although Moody suspected that Kingsley knew already. 'Oh, bugger!'
Moody didn't say anything. It wasn't his decision, but they both knew that Kingsley had to pull out of the investigation entirely. Before anyone could question his motives. Especially since there was something fishy about Abraxas. As long as there was the slightest risk that Malfoy was caught up in the case, Kingsley had to go somewhere else. Moody pretended to have found something interesting in the other end of the small room to allow Kingsley a moment of solitary contemplation. A few lesser brooms were placed in a dark corner. One of them was a Comet Two Seventy, the same broom as the one Sally-Anne had when she disappeared. Moody weighed it in his hand. It was light and had a good balance. He examined the broom. If Sally-Anne's had been in a similar condition, it wouldn't have crashed because of poor maintenance. Moody looked at the perfect tail twigs. 'Kingsley?'
'Did any of the Comet Two Seventys have hawthorn tail twigs? Out of the box?' Moody felt that odd, electric feeling he always felt when he was on the right track.
'No. The only one I've ever seen was on that picture of-' Kingsley stopped. 'Moody?'
'Yeah.' Moody looked at Kingsley with deep regret painted on his face. 'I'm sorry, lad.'
In his hand he held the broom that had once belonged to Sally-Anne Perks.
6. Reluctant Relations
The desolate hills were rough and naked. A few crippled trees held on to what little soil the landscape of rocks and wind offered. The land and the sea were empty, vast spaces. Not even the summer made the coast welcoming in the slightest. A small footpath led between rocks and hills to the shore; a shore which differed from the rest of the land only because it was closer to the sea that pounded relentlessly against the foundation of stone.
It was so easy to lose one's foothold here. Kingsley knew that was what he'd done, lost his footing. He had walked on rocky ground and he had lost balance in a way that he had never thought possible. He sat down in a sunny spot out of the wind. Leaning against the sun-baked cliffs, he stared blindly at the sea.
He'd been like that before, a rock in a sea of raging waves. Always calm, confident, collected. He stood against Voldemort. He survived a war.
And yet, here he was, on the edge of the world, no longer the same calm man as he was before. Twenty four hours and one haughty, arrogant, intolerable murderer later, Kingsley Shacklebolt was in deeper waters than he'd ever been before in his life. Nobody had infuriated him way that Abraxas had. Infuriated and intrigued. Like quicksilver, Kingsley thought. Beautiful, unpredictable, slippery. Dangerous. Poisonous.
Kingsley pulled off a handful of grass, distractedly tearing the leaves apart into little bits that scattered with the wind. His fingers smelt spicy and green when he finally realised was he was doing. He closed his eyes, but it did him little good: it was too easy to recall Abraxas's handsome, strong features, the shining hair, the charming crow's feet that were the only signs of his age. Then there was his lean and wiry body and the long legs clad in tight breeches. Thinking of Malfoy like that certainly wasn't a good idea. Abraxas Malfoy was as guilty as could be and not a man that Kingsley should have any form of opinion on, other than the opinion an Auror and Minister for Magic would have of a criminal.
It was as Moody had said: the connection was inappropriate at best, impossible at worst. And worst it had certainly turned out to be. It had been impossible from the moment they met, the Pure-blood elitist and the socialist Minister.
But Kingsley had seen the attraction in Abraxas's eyes, felt its faint echo in his own heart. Magnetism. Repelling, pulling. It was the promise of passion and it was exciting, but it had merely been a moment's attraction, nothing more. Forgettable. He had to forget.
Only it had been fifteen years since Kingsley had suffered Moody's rejection and he hadn't since met a man as intensely interesting as Alastor Moody.
Fate was a cruel bitch if Kingsley were to say so. Now that he thought of it, he understood Alastor's rejection a bit better. Passion, he'd told Kingsley, I need passion. No matter how much Kingsley denied it then, they were two friends, trying to figure out whether friendship was enough to bind them together as lovers. It hadn't been. Only now Kingsley truly saw why. He had been in love with Alastor, but there had been none of this unsettling, electrifying sensation that churned in his stomach by the slightest thought of Abraxas Malfoy.
At least he'd learnt a lesson. Now he knew how passion felt.
Slowly he got up from the damp grass and went up the path from the coast to the castle. Above it the Malfoy banner waved in the wind. Kingsley wondered who was going to take over the Abraxan farm. Draco, perhaps. He wondered whether Moody had already taken Abraxas to the Ministry holding cells. He, too, should go. The Wizengamot would have to be assembled; the case against Abraxas Malfoy was of the utmost urgency.
Kingsley realised that he was being rash. Moody had probably not even finished his interrogation of Abraxas. Instead of going back to the house, he changed direction and went towards the building he assumed held the Abraxans. Kingsley wasn't very skilful when it came to beasts of the winged variety. He was much more experienced with those who had the Malfoy name to them. He would like to see for himself what it was with those creatures that had kept Abraxas Malfoy in self-imposed exile for the better part of a decade.
As the clock struck twelve, Moody took a deep breath before he opened the doors to the dining room. He had to be calm. It had taken him years to find a vital clue in this ice-cold case. But now it was there, the end, and it did not feel like the triumph it should have been. Kingsley's disappointed expression had been all he needed to take away the pleasure of finally getting somewhere. Sad... it was truly sad. Despite his eccentric ways and his political opinions, Malfoy, Moody had to admit, was pretty decent, Pure-blood elitist or not. The man understood the rules of a democracy, he was as close to being a humanitarian as any Malfoy would ever be, so it was strange that Malfoy had taken matters in his own hand and killed the girl and her father. Motive? There was none, at least not an obvious one. It was nothing but a small pebble, but something was grating.
The house-elf had removed any signs of the morning's slight accident with the tableware. Abraxas was sitting at the end of the dining table, reading the Daily Prophet. He put it down as Moody entered. 'I've taken the liberty of ordering tea. Surely Veritaserum will go down better with a drop of Earl Grey?' Raising his eyebrows questioningly at the sight of Moody carrying a broom, Abraxas took the paper, unfolded it and pushed it over the table. 'Mr Bruce does not appreciate brooms on the table. If you'd please?'
Malfoy didn't question why he'd brought the Comet. So Malfoy expected that he'd be arrested for the murder of Sally-Anne Perks and her father? Moody put the broom down on the newspaper. Underneath it a picture of playing children and a headline that said "Summer in Wizarding Brixton" filled most of the page. Maybe the journalists were on holiday too. Tomorrow the headlines would be much more interesting. 'Where have you hidden them?' Moody asked. Abraxas had been rather straightforward. It saved time. 'Not in the basement, clearly?'
'Hidden what? Would you be as kind to express yourself a bit more precisely?'
'The bodies. Sally-Anne Perks and her father.'
'Are we going there again? I told you, or that lovely Minister of yours, rather, that I had nothing to do with their disappearance. I'll repeat it, if you were too dim to understand it the first time, which I doubt. Mad-Eye Moody is after all legendary, although it seems to be that you're about to repeat the mistake that Kingsley made earlier.'
'And what mistake would that be?' Moody's magical eye moved quickly around to secure the perimeter. Malfoy had servants who might come to his aid if he attempted an escape.
'The mistake of thinking I did something I did not without the slightest sliver of proof.'
'And you call this, what?' Moody pointed with his wand at the broom. 'Sally-Anne's broom hidden in your cellar behind an intricate net of locks. I'd call it a sliver of proof all right. Bit more than a sliver, to be exact.'
'Salazar! Are Aurors all so extremely dim-witted, or is it just you?' Abraxas sighed impatiently. 'On with it man. I have no idea who the broom belonged to. I... found it lying around.'
'Yeah, I'm sure you did. Lying,' Moody sneered. 'So. Are we going to do it quickly or do I need to hear your pathetic excuses and tall tales before you confess?'
'I confess nothing. I found the broom, or I think that's the one.' Abraxas calmly poured himself a cuppa. 'So, the Veritaserum, man. What are you waiting for?'
'Oh, no. Snape is presently here and we both know that a good Potions master can procure an anti-dote for the truth serum. That is not how we play, Malfoy.'
'Whenever you want to change your mind, let me know. It's so entertaining not to have any bloody idea what's going on in one's own house. But do carry on.' Malfoy studied the gigantic chandelier hanging from one of the thick beams, ignoring Moody.
Reaching into his pocket, Moody pulled out a Ministry-authorised PortaPensieve. The small bowl grew until it was the size of a medium-sized bucket. Tapping it with his wand, Moody waited until the Pensieve had filled itself with a clear silvery-liquid. 'Your memory of the incident, please. It's either that or Azkaban.'
'Our family residence, it seems. Azkaban.' Malfoy's voice was flat. 'I hear my son isn't well. That is why I spoke with Severus. News about Lucius. Despite his foolishness and his inclination to follow those stronger than himself, he is my son. At least I think so. His mother swore that he was. I have doubts at times.'
Moody's patience had left and had no intention of returning. 'Mr Malfoy, if it is true, and you have nothing to do with Sally-Anne's death, please, cooperate. If not for your own sake, then for Ki-' Moody shut his mouth hard. 'You wouldn't like to abandon your horses for long, would you?'
'You are right, Auror Moody.' Abraxas sighed, then smiled. The smile was almost honest. 'I wouldn't want to leave when there are so many interesting things to do here.' He smirked. 'Your superior, for instance. If I may?' Abraxas reached for his wand, slowly, as not to appear threatening. He concentrated, then pulled a thin silver thread from his head, carefully guiding the memory into the Pensieve. 'There. It's brief, but it confirms what I've said all the time. I do not know anything about Miss Perks or her father.'
'You are not entirely normal, are you?' Moody couldn't keep his mouth shut. Malfoy certainly was one of a kind. Apart from all the other members of the family, but none of those were anything like Abraxas.
'Isn't it just annoying, when you think of it, that your abilities as an investigator turn out to be nothing but sheer dumb luck,' Malfoy said acerbically 'And no, I'm not.' Abraxas was unapologetic. 'Normal, thank Salazar. And go ahead. I'm not going to hex you when you have your head buried in that.' He pointed at the PortaPensieve.
With his magical eye firmly set on Abraxas, Moody plunged into the memory.
'Drink, Haizum,' Abraxas told the flying horse. 'It isn't single malt, but it'll have to do until we get back.' Haizum's bronze wings were folded in neatly as the Abraxan stepped into the pond carefully. As it bent down to drink, Abraxas looked around, almost as if he was expecting company. He looked anxious. Haizum took yet another step into the water which, at its deepest barely reached the horse's hocks.
Seated high up on the gigantic Abraxan's back, Malfoy looked extraordinarily alert for someone out for a casual ride, or flight, rather. Moody concentrated on the surroundings. There was nothing unusual to see: an over-grown garden and a house that looked more like a ruin than a proper house.
The horse raised its head, water dripping from the muzzle. 'See anything?' Abraxas asked affectionately. Perhaps we should get into the air?'
Haizum took a step towards the brink on the other side of the pond, an action that brought the front part of the large beast all across the pond. 'What is it?' Malfoy looked around once more as if to make certain he was alone, still. The horse kicked with a hoof in the ground.
'A broom?' Abraxas swung his leg over Haizum's neck and slid down carefully to the ground. 'Odd.' He picked up the broom from the mud. 'Odd, indeed.' He turned to Haizum. 'Let's go find out what this is about, shall we?' The horse knelt down one one leg, allowing Abraxas to mount easier. He patted the animal on the neck. 'Up.'
Moody watched as the Abraxan and its rider soared into the sky. They followed the coastline of what looked like a small island for some time. There was no doubt that Abraxas Malfoy was looking for the witch or wizard who had left the broom.
'Return.' Abraxas rode the winged horse into a steep dive towards the sea. 'Back to Dùnaid.'
The last of the memory showed that Abraxas carried the Comet down to the broom closet in the cellar.
Moody nearly chocked on the memory as he moved his head from the Pensieve. Although the memory had confirmed Abraxas's words, it did not answer all questions. Moody had them ready before he was able to see Abraxas clearly with his good eye. 'Where is this? Why didn't you report the findings?'
Abraxas looked less than satisfied. 'Oh, I thought you said something like, Yes, Mr Malfoy, we're so sorry that we accused you of this terrible and vile crime, which we now know that you did not commit. We are willing to admit that the Malfoys are able to tell the truth, please, accept our sincerest apologies, but I must have heard you wrong.' Abraxas pulled his tea cup closer and studied the content for a moment. 'They don't teach you to apologise for mistakes in that little Auror farm of yours?'
'Maybe in that alternative reality you are living in, Malfoy. You know, the one where the Malfoys are the rulers of the known universe. You haven't exactly been cooperating, have you?'
Abraxas just shrugged. 'Why would I? I am not the one who came barging in here, like a band of... ' He looked annoyed, a common occurrence in Malfoys.
Tired of Malfoy's beating around the bush, Moody left any potential polite attempts to get answers to his questions. By now, Moody had a certain appreciation for Malfoy's tactics: detours. He did not want to let Abraxas out on a mental limb again. 'Location, Mr Malfoy. Where is this island?'
'I assume it will take all afternoon and still end with you, threatening me with a quick trip to see Azkaban from inside? If I refuse to tell you?'
'Damned right you are. Location?'
'Hypothetically, you're not perchance-'
'Location!' Moody roared and slammed a hand down on the dining table. The china rattled.
'All right! I have other things to do than sit here all day listening to you trying to sweet-talk me into confessing this or that. Isle of Drear.'
'The Isle of What ?' Moody frowned and his eye whipped around wildly for no apparent reason than his anger. 'What the bloody hell were you thinking? What business did you have at a place which is made Unplottable by the Ministry? There is a reason that Regulation of Magical Creatures hid the island in the first place!' Moody was stunned. Not since the latest attempt to investigate the island and the deadly dangerous creatures that lived there had any witch or wizard been allowed on the premises. That was more than twenty years ago. 'Quintapeds are some of the most dangerous creatures in the wizarding world. Abraxas Malfoy, tell me that you did not remove one of the beasts from that isle.' Moody was angry, truly angry. Wizarding law seemed to apply to the Malfoys as guidelines at best, something to be ignored entirely at their worst. It pissed off Moody even more that Abraxas didn't seem to care one Knut about his outburst.
'Are you done?' Abraxas sipped his cup of tea with an expression of extreme boredom on his handsome face. 'Then it wouldn't be too much to expect from the head of Aurors that we speak as civilised wizards, would it?'
Moody counted to ten, then to twenty. It didn't help. 'Explain,' he demanded. Given the fact that his next words would be a very unpleasant hex of choice, he found it more than sensible to say nothing.
'I thought I just did. I found the broom at the Isle of Drear, I have nothing to do with Miss Perks's disappearance and I am tired of this. Is there anything in that explanation that you do not understand, Head Auror Moody?'
'Before I kill you personally, I would simply love to know what you were doing on that island,' Moody said with a low and sugared tone of voice. 'I am sorely tempted to throw you in Azkaban for your lack of cooperation, Malfoy.' Moody smiled sweetly. 'You have ten seconds. Or I will send you there to realise that there are worse things in life than to admit having violated a Ministry decree. And it would probably teach you, too, that Aurors in general do not take it lightly to be toyed with. By anyone.'
'I'll make certain to keep that in mind in my future communication with Minister Shacklebolt,' Abraxas pushed his chair back and got up. 'Unfortunately I do not have time to talk to you any longer, Auror, for my horses need feeding.'
'Oh no, you don't!' Moody whipped his wand and sent the chair pushing at Abraxas's legs, forcing him to sit again. 'When you've explained what you were doing at Drear!' Keeping the wand out, half-way threatening, Moody glared at Abraxas.
'I use the Quintapeds for battle practice. It's so hard to find good help these days, and one must upkeep the old traditions. The beasts are rather effective opponents. One's lance work needs to be on par with the demands of-'
'Lance work? And they say that I'm mad!' The magical eye almost popped out of its socket. 'We're not in the Middle Ages, man.'
'And such a pity it is. I have a reputation to uphold; I breed the best Abraxans and Abraxan crosses in the world. Their ability to work in the battlefield is unquestionably what keeps them so healthy. The Spaniards use bull fighting; I use the Quintaped instead of the Quintain.'
Moody stared blankly at Abraxas. 'Whatever the hell a Quintain is, you're out of line. The Quintapeds are human, Malfoy.'
'Some say. No one has ever proved it. The Ministry's attempt to Untransfigure the beasts into their alleged human shape was a spectacular failure, especially since the creatures did not cooperate.' Abraxas sighed. 'And a Quintain is an instrument used in lance work. A shield on a rotating arm with a sand bag at the other end. It hits the riders over the head if they miss the shield. A quite annoying device. Useful, though.'
'And the Hairy MacBoons... the Quintapeds... are more fun to use? You're barbaric. No matter if legend is true and the Quintapeds truly are the descendants of the Transfigured MacBoon family, you are using innocent creatures for-'
'Flesh-eating, human-devouiring, clubfooted, five-legged innocent creatures, mind.' Abraxas seemed more interested in finding split ends in his hair than in Moody's empathy for the Quintapeds. 'It's for practical reasons, too. No Muggle can find the Isle of Drear and I can fly my Abraxans without fear of getting spotted. I do not want to cast concealment charms on my stock every day. It ruins their skin. The Abraxans'—not mine. And by the way, I don't kill them, the Quintapeds. Merely play with them.'
'You do that a lot.' It wasn't a question. 'Play with people. The world is merely created to function as a playground for you?'
'More or less.' Abraxas didn't even have the decency to pretend otherwise. 'Although I can be very serious when I wish to, though. I've mentioned before one gets a bit bored up here. I think the MacBoons are too, for they seem to find it rather exciting when we fly there. I should take you and that nice young Minister of yours.'
'I am not going to participate in your disgusting animal cruelty excercises,' growled Moody. 'You must be out of your mind.'
'Coming from someone who condones the use of dragons in the Triwizard tournament, the use of mermaids and Grindylows for wizarding games? Not to speak of the Goblins—they're notoriously cruel. Oh, I heard about their torture of watch dragons. Or what about the Crup you brought? Doesn't wizarding law require their tail to be removed so that they look like some kind of Muggle dog? Barbarian habit! So don't accuse me of animal cruelty!' Abraxas actually looked offended on behalf of the creatures in question. 'And as I said, I do not hurt them in any way, I merely play with them. I don't amputate their limbs, a fact that you, if anyone, should be able to appreciate. I do not hex them or take their eggs. I don't think they lay eggs, in fact. Have never seen any nests. Maybe they eat them?' Abraxas shrugged but the smirk on his face told Moody that he had yet another triumph up the sleeve. 'I assume that is an adequate explanation, Auror?'
Moody merely nodded, using all his willpower to ignore the insulting comment on his missing leg. 'Unfortunately.'
'Now, now. Not so vengeful. I will make it up to you. I suggest we take the Abraxans out for a little... survey of the area tomorrow. If you believe that the broom I found really is Miss Perks's, then you must be bursting with a need to explore. What better and safer way is there? Going on a broom certainly isn't worth a try. You'd have the beasts on you in a minute, and they will eat you. Abraxans are bred to fight and intimidate. Beats a broom any time.'
Moody felt as if Abraxas had gobbled him up already. He certainly wanted to—no, needed to—explore the Isle of Drear and if half of what Abraxas said was true, it would be dangerous business. Going on one of the huge horses with a man who knew the isle like his own pocket would decimate the risks considerably and if there was anything that Moody appreciated it was decimated risks. Merlin's beard, Abraxas was annoyingly cunning. Still, he wasn't as dangerous as the other beasts they had to encounter, the human-eating MacBoons.
'An offer you cannot resist, hm?' The arrogance was absolutely staggering.
'Fuck you, Malfoy,' Moody sneered and got up, aggressively hammering his staff into the marble floor. 'Fuck you.'
'Ah, no, thanks, although I am sure you'd be fascinating in bed. I have other plans in that regard. And be in the stable at nine tomorrow,' Malfoy shouted as Moody slammed the door to the living room so hard that he could hear the chandelier rattle. Moody could hear Abraxas's laughter as he managed the stairs to his room as fast as the damned leg allowed him.
The stables were surprisingly nice and light. The structure was altered magically, Kingsley realised; the advanced spell-work in the basement made it plausible that the work was done by Abraxas, too. It had been necessary. Although the castle's ceilings were high enough for a half-giant, there wasn't room for the huge horses. Almost twice the size of a Muggle horse and with a wingspan of almost thirty feet, space was needed.
Kingsley walked down the neatly swept aisle. The building looked empty. There were no loose-boxes, only what looked like a large indoor barn on one side, strewn with sawdust. There was a long row of feeders on the wall. A giant gate on the far wall was open, leaving it to the Abraxans whether they wanted to stay inside or not. The stable smelt of hay and mash and of the single malt that the Abraxans preferred to drink. It was a pleasant place, at least seen from Kingsley's point of view; he had no idea whether it was suitable for the beasts.
Outside the sky darkened and a gust made the hay and sawdust whirl. One of the animals came flying through the gate in a flurry of wings and wind.
'Oh!' There was little else to say for the horse was magnificent, there was no other word to describe it. Kingsley had never seen an Abraxan, except in wizarding photographs. Those pictures had been as close to reality as a toy cat was to a tiger. The animal was truly spectacular. The dark palomino was glowing in a deep bronze. The wings, tipped with silver, shone in cold red and golden. The long mane and tail were pale white. Kingsley had never seen anything as beautiful and proud in his entire life.
The Abraxan made a snorting sound as it folded its wings. It raised its head, studying Kingsley closely. There was an odd intelligence in the dark golden eyes. The horse snorted again and stepped closer. Kingsley tried to recall what he'd learnt about the beasts, but apart from their strange drinking habits, all he could remember was that they needed forceful handling. A bit like their owner. Sighing deeply, still ambivalent and sad about the result of the investigation, Kingsley stepped back. The horse cocked its head and took a step forward. Despite his height, Kingsley felt small when the gigantic horse looked down at him. He froze, then forced himself to relax. He wasn't made of hay, so the beast probably didn't care to eat him. He had ridden Thestrals. They were carnivores and still none of them had tried to take a bite. He'd be safe.
A muzzle the size of his own head descended from above. The horse breathed out, a warm stream of hay-scented air. It snorted again and Kingsley realised that it was sniffing him. The muzzle was silken-soft as the horse examined his bald head, then his ear. The muzzle was surprisingly agile. The Abraxan nibbled at Kingsley's golden hoop and it made him laugh. Funny that such a big animal should possess such tenderness. He reached up to touch the horse's neck. The coat was short and hard and slick, a contrast to the incredible softness of the muzzle. Tryingly, Kingsley scratched it, his hand disappearing in the waterfall of a white mane. The horse craned its neck, making little movements with its muzzle. Kingsley smiled; if this was forceful handling, he was good at it. 'You like that, don't you?' he asked the animal. Of course he didn't expect a reply.
'Yes. He does. He's quite cuddly, the old boy.'
Kingsley turned around so quick that it made the Abraxan startle.
'Calm, man. Do not scare my horses.' Abraxas's drawling voice, on the other hand, had a calming effect on the Abraxan. It hummed, a dark, but welcoming sound. 'Yes, good boy,' he told the horse. 'Good boy.' He stroked it affectionately. 'I see you've met Halcyon. He's the backbone of my bloodline. He's retired now, has only a few mares this year. Got him for a welcoming home present from my father when I left Hogwarts. It's quite an honour that he cares to speak with you.'
Flabbergasted, Kingsley was unable to react for a second. He reached for his wand, then relaxed. 'Trying to escape justice, Malfoy?' Kingsley scrutinised Abraxas. He didn't look much like a criminal on the run. 'I didn't take you for a coward. Shouldn't you be on your way to the Ministry with Moody?' Kingsley knew he probably should Petrify Malfoy and wait for Moody to collect him. Hidden under his robe he clenched his wand hard.
Abraxas smiled, an annoyingly superior smile. 'Not today, no.' The smile widened and he stepped closer. 'Today I have other plans.'
Kingsley realised that his retreat was hindered by a large bale of straw. Unsure of Abraxas' intentions, not to speak of why he was here at all, he readied himself for a fight. 'And those plans are?'
'I am going to take you for a ride,' Abraxas said and took yet another step forward, close enough to touch. He placed a hand on Kingsley's chest, something that made Kingsley gasp in surprise and sudden need. 'I have the distinct notion that you wouldn't mind a good, hard ride.'
Kingsley managed to get a grip on himself and on his raging emotions. He didn't even dare to think the thought of a ride with Abraxas to an end. 'Are you nuts? You should be in prison for murder by now, not running around like-'
'Come on, Minister Shacklebolt. It'll be fun.'
'Fun?' Kingsley managed to control himself. He straightened up, looming threateningly over Malfoy. 'I have to arrest you, and-'
'And you don't want to do it, but your pure Hufflepuff heart tells you to because it will be for the good of the wizarding world and all that?' Abraxas looked up at Kingsley, not intimidated at all.
Exasperated and desperate Kingsley grabbed Abraxas' arm. 'You know that already, so do not mock me.' He made a grimace. 'Abraxas, I have to.'
'And if we... hypothetically... imagined that I wasn't a murderer, then what?' Abraxas shook his arm to get it out of Kingsley's grip. 'Then what, Kingsley?'
'Then I'd be willing to-' Kingsley shut his mouth. There was no reason to hand Abraxas Malfoy more power than he already had. 'Nothing.'
'Nothing? Liar. But let that rest now. You may take Halcyon, he'll carry you safely; he likes you. You're not dead, so he likes you. I'll take Haizum, he's Halcyon's son.' Abraxas turned his back to Kingsley and whistled. Looking over his shoulder at Kingsley, he made a smirk that Kingsley had seen before. It was the look that every Malfoy he'd ever met used when they were entirely satisfied with themselves. 'And relax. Cleared of all charges. You didn't think your faithful knight would let me run free if I had murdered that girl, did you? He is quite fierce, old Moody. I like him. We share a certain... preference for not fitting into that lovely normal box that some people seem to favour.'
Another, smaller, Abraxan landed in the paddock. Kingsley just watched the horse, feeling utterly confused. No one had ever been able to drag him into this kind of emotional Knightbus ride before. His trademark calm was not only rattled, it was downright tilting. 'And you planned to tell me that, when?' Kingsley said, his throat tense with anger. 'What are you playing at, Malfoy?'
'I am not playing. I am very, very serious,' Abraxas said. He turned around to face Kingsley, stepping so close that he could smell Abraxas's aftershave, a scent that smelt a bit like the stable; hay and fresh air and spices. 'Auror Moody flipped through my memories. I had nothing to do with the girl or her father or what happened to them. The hands you thought were bound so tightly suddenly seem to be untied.' Abraxas licked his lips. There was a light of desire in his steel grey eyes. 'So, Minister Shacklebolt... are you going to ride with me so we can get that murky brain of yours aired out a bit?' Abraxas pursed his mouth and sent Kingsley a look that could only be seen as seductive. 'You see, it pains me to see a young Minister for Magic being so confused about what he wants.'
It was really hard for Kingsley not to whip out his wand and hex Abraxas Malfoy right there and then.
It seemed that he had met his match. In more ways than one.
Kneeling down with some difficulty, Moody looked under the bed. 'Wagtail?' The Crup seemed to have disappeared. Waving his wand, Moody attempted to summon the dog with a gentle Accio, only Wagtail was out of the spell's range. He didn't dare use a more forceful spell; he did not want to harm the small dog. He got up, groaning as the wooden leg pinched him. He sat down on the bed, the mattress dipping under his weight. He felt old and worn out, tired of being toyed with by Abraxas Malfoy, physically tired of having travelled and explored and investigated to a degree where his body was warning him that he was pushing its limits. Glad that their investigation had brought them a step forward with the discovery of Sally-Anne's broom and Malfoy's memories, Moody wasn't sure whether he liked the fact that Malfoy was innocent.
It could be, if he had to admit it, that he was a little bit jealous. Not that he wanted Kingsley, that time was long gone, but the way that Kingsley looked at Abraxas... Moody knew that he would never have anyone looking at him with that tension and desire ever again, not with his ravaged body and his ruined face. But he knew where this was going, with Kingsley. It would have been better if Malfoy had been guilty and sent to Azkaban. Now, when Abraxas and Kingsley were both free to do as they liked? It could only move in one direction: towards disaster.
Moody sighed deeply. He wanted Kingsley to be happy. Hopefully they'd just shag like mad, then realise the improbability of a relationship between the two and everything would go back to normal. If not, Moody would be there. He'd have Kingsley's back through a scandal, exactly as he'd had his back during their Auror days, during the war. The Minister for Magic was strong and loved enough by the people to be standing, even after... Even after Abraxas. Nevertheless, the obvious attraction between the wizarding world's most powerful man and the an infamous Pure-blood wizard was an unexpected and unwanted complication of a case that was complicated enough as it was.
Another deep sigh escaped Moody. His leg was annoying him. He pulled up his robe and loosened the straps carefully. He leant the wooden leg against the bed. His skin was red and chafed. He waved his wand to conjure a salve. He rubbed it in, hissing at the sensation of the cold lotion. He waited a bit until the red marks had disappeared, his skin healing nicely. It wasn't that he wanted to put the leg back on; he'd much rather lie on the soft, comfortable bed and think: about Malfoy's memory, about the island, about the Minister's folly. And last but not least he wanted to think about how to use the information he'd discovered to move the case forward.
He had to find Wagtail first, though, if nothing else, then because he liked having the small dog around him. Moody never had a dog before, but he liked it, the close contact with the small beast. He should get one. If he could bring it with him to the office on work days, of course. He'd like that, to have a Wagtail of his own. Vigilant little critters too. A very nice trait, in Moody's opinion. And the dog didn't care one bit about scars and missing limbs. There was a lot to be said, now that Moody thought of it, about having a dog.
Moody strapped his leg back on and got up from the bed. Perhaps Mr Bruce had seen the animal? Moody wasn't well versed in the use of house-elves, but he assumed that it was probably enough to just call their name to summon one. 'Mr Bruce?'
Mr Bruce popped out of thin air. 'Sir called?'
Ah, so that was how it worked. Nice to know, in the highly unlikely event that he got one himself. 'The Crup, Wagtail? Have you seen him? He was supposed to be here, in my room.'
Nodding eagerly, Mr Bruce said, 'Young sir has taken Mr Wagtail. The house-elf pointed at the window. It had a nice view of the coastline. 'Young Master Malfoy sir is down there.' Mr Bruce looked around, as if he wanted to be certain that no one was listening. 'Master Malfoy is distraught, sir. Sirs... sir and old Mr Malfoy sir is speaking and young Master Malfoy is...' Mr Bruce put a hand over his mouth. 'Mr Bruce mustn't tell.'
Apart from figuring out the house-elves' dialect, a bit different from the one he'd heard at Hogwarts, Moody thought he was getting the hang of it, asking the elves questions. 'Of course not. Young Malfoy went to the beach with the dog because he was sad? He was listening to me talking to his grandfather?'
Mr Bruce nodded again. 'Mr Bruce cannot tell sir that Master Malfoy was crying. Young Master Malfoy said so.'
'That's all fine. Mr Bruce is a very considerate house-elf. Please, don't tell me anything, then.' Moody summoned his travelling cloak. The wind was strong, so it would probably be cold, despite the summer sun. Moody slung the cloak over his shoulders and grabbed his staff. 'I'll go and find Master Draco. Make sure he's all right.'
'Sir is very nice sir!' Mr Bruce sniffled and disappeared.
A bit unsettling, with all the popping in and out, in Moody's opinion.
As Moody went down the path in the direction that Mr Bruce had pointed him, two Abraxans appeared high up on the sky. Moody looked up, following the animals as they flew east. Each Abraxan carried a rider on its back. The sight made Moody smile. Abraxas said that he went for what he wanted. He hadn't been lying. If Moody hadn't found it so hard to find any positive traits in the witches and wizards who had supported Pure-blood supremacy and ultimately Voldemort, he'd have liked Malfoy. Certainly nobody forced Abraxas Malfoy to do anything he didn't want to do. To be fair, Malfoy had made a decision not to support Voldemort at all, even distancing himself from his only son. Pondering upon that fact, Moody realised that he'd have liked someone like Abraxas on their side. A bit too autonomous to Moody's liking, but much better than the sheep that had been sitting at home, doing nothing while they let a seventeen year old boy fight their battle for them. At least Abraxas had taken a stand and expressed his displeasure. He wondered why Abraxas had given up the Wiltshire manor and not just kicked Lucius out. Perhaps there was some kind of Pure-blood insider rule? Wouldn't surprise him.
A bit further down, close to the steep drop below the castle, Moody spotted a lonely figure, huddled against a few low rocks, as if the small wall of stones could protect him from the sea and the harsh northern wind. There was no sign of Wagtail. A flock of seagulls hovered on the upwind, their dissonant cries grating at the cliffs, drowned out by the noise from the waves below. The air tasted of salt. Draco Malfoy looked very small and very vulnerable, there on the edge between the land and the ocean.
Not exactly prone to feeling sorry for his former enemies, Moody had to admit that he felt a little bit sorry for Malfoy. He'd just been released from prison and the only one who seemed to care was Potter and he, too, had taken the advantage of the Ministry holiday, so nobody actually bothered with the little shit. His grandfather didn't care much about him, his father couldn't and his mother was, as rumour had it, in the process of creating a new and better life for herself, which just showed that the woman was in possession of her faculties. Narcissa Malfoy didn't know, of course, that her son was out of Azkaban. Even Snape who had pampered the boy for years, seemed to have withdrawn. Didn't sit well with Snape, Moody thought, that Draco had refused the help Snape had offered him, but instead insisted on being a big, bad Death Eater all by himself. With little success. Quite the failure, Draco Malfoy.
Moody hobbled across the stony ground. He realised that Malfoy was only wearing the thin robe that Kingsley had lent him when they dragged Malfoy out of Azkaban without warning. One should think the lad's grandfather have had the sense to give the boy decent clothes. What did Abraxas expect? That Draco had carried with him from Azkaban a range of trunks stuffed with the latest fashion from Twilfit and Tattings? Moody decided that he needed a word with Abraxas about that. Not the least because he thought it would annoy him to be reminded of the fact that he was neglecting his only grandson. The prospect was promising, it would be a pleasure to direct attention to the shortcomings of the older Malfoy.
'Malfoy? Malfoy?' Moody's voice was silenced by the wind, almost as if it tried to press the words back into his throat. 'Malfoy!' he tried again, louder.
Malfoy looked up, almost shyly. His face was tear-streaked and a bit puffy. It was a relief to know that the Malfoy beauty did not survive a good weeping. He was holding Wagtail in his arms. The dog looked annoyingly comfortable. 'Can't you just leave me alone,' Malfoy sneered, the sneer ruined entirely by the sobbing. 'Or are you going to arrest me, too?'
Looking at the shivering mess that was Draco Malfoy, Moody reacted before he could think. 'You're cold,' he said gruffly, stating the obvious. He pulled off his travelling cloak and wrapped it around Malfoy's bony shoulders. Malfoy was far too thin. 'You shouldn't be out here in a robe like that.'
'What do you care?' Malfoy snapped. 'All you want is to throw me back into that awful place together with my father and grandfather.'
'Now that you mention it, yeah.' Moody sat down on the rock that Malfoy was leaning against. 'There are a few problems, doing exactly that. Kingsley has seen to it that you're not going back to the gaol, although it pleases me to no end that you're on parole more or less indefinitely. Your grandfather, on the other hand... the last time I saw him he was in the process of luring Kingsley towards the highlands on one of those overgrown posh ponies of his.'
'With the Minister?' Malfoy looked up, surprised. 'But... you told him that he'd-' He stopped crying.
'Didn't your mum teach you not to listen to other people's conversations?' Moody wondered for a moment whether his magical eye needed service if Malfoy truly had been lurking somewhere during the interrogation of Abraxas. 'Yes, with the Minister. Your grandfather is no longer a suspect, Malfoy. I know it must feel strange, but there is actually one of you lot who hasn't done anything wrong.'
'But you said that we're all... you... we...' Draco started sobbing again, making it impossible to understand what he was saying. 'My grandfather...'
'Shhh,' Moody said in a tone that was supposed to sound calming. 'It can't be that bad. You're not going back, and you have Potter vouching for you, change of heart and all that.'
'I can't do anything right,' wailed Draco. 'My grandfather hates me and Severus hardly speaks to me any longer. And... and my father, he's... every time he sees me he looks as if he thinks the Dark Lord is here and wants to kill me!' A few large sobs shook Draco's thin body.
'Malfoy? Malfoy, stop!' Moody had some experience in comforting people, but not people like Draco Malfoy. 'Listen to me! You're being unreasonably pathetic right now. You are not twelve, are you?' Moody didn't wait for a reply. At least the sobbing wasn't getting worse and the stream of tears hadn't turned into a flood. Quite promising, since Malfoy was a spoiled little brat and not used to being contradicted. 'You're out of Azkaban, your father is getting treatment, your grandfather has not been arrested, so stop your bloody whining,' Moody growled.
Draco looked up at him with wide, scared eyes and Moody understood that he might have been a tad too harsh. 'And your grandfather will come around. Be patient. Didn't I tell you it will be all right?' Moody patted Draco on the shoulder clumsily. His gnarled hands were not made for comfort. 'Don't you trust me?'
'Y-yes.' Draco winced. 'I do.' He was clutching a handkerchief in one hand. He wiped his nose with it.
That was surprising. Moody had never thought that Draco Malfoy would trust anyone, not after, well, after Voldemort's abuse. 'Then stop crying and grow up,' Moody said, offering the only comfort he could think of. 'You'll realise that things become easier when you don't behave like you're twelve all the time.' He softened, keeping his hand on Draco's shoulder. 'You need to learn to stand on your own two legs. At least you still have both of them. A pity not to use them.'
'Why are you so nice to me?' Malfoy blew his nose. It was red. 'You hate me!'
Moody removed his hand. 'That's a pretty big word to use, Malfoy. You're a right berk, yeah, but hate? No. I think you mistake justice for hatred. You do understand why you were spending some time in Azkaban, yes?' Malfoy looked as if he was going to burst into tears again. Maybe a bit of practice, comforting crying Pure-blood wizards should be a part of the curriculum for new Aurors? 'Malfoy, you do realise that had you not been sitting in that cell for a reasonable amount of time, somebody would have taken a hex to your back for revenge? No vigilance would have helped you. A sense of fairness and punishment... it... ' Moody snorted, annoyed. 'Kingsley does that so much better, the diplomatic explanations.' He threw his hands in the air and aimed for the abbreviated version. 'Okay, you're out, and that's fine, sort of. You had a change of heart, I can accept that, even if it happened a bit late. Seventeen years late. But you won't make that mistake again, running around, flashing your hatred for Muggles. Since you've had your redemption holiday in Azkaban, no one will probably try to kill you now, especially if you shut your big gob about Muggles and Muggle-borns, what with Potter being your knight in shining armour and all.'
Draco laughed in between sobs. 'Moody, that is not very comforting, you know.' He turned, trying to get up. He dumped Wagtail who started to run around eagerly in circles, perhaps hoping for a longer walk. 'I did have time to think. In Azkaban.'
'And yet the first thing you did was to accuse me of Muggle favouritism.' Moody too got up with some difficulty. He groaned. His leg hurt like hell. 'You should look to your grandfather. I do not like him much, and I do not like his opinions. But he recognises that violence and war is not the way, not for anyone. He's a right bastard when it comes to Muggles, but at least he's a polite bastard. He's unfortunately entitled to his opinions as long as he doesn't violate any laws or hurt people.' Hurt people I care about, Moody could just as well have said. 'Learn from him, that way you'll be able to cherish the fact that I will not be the lucky lad to put you back into your cell. Not for the lack of want, that is.'
Draco had collected himself enough to be snide. 'Forget what I said about being nice. You're a git!'
'Thanks. Because you are such a darling yourself. And come on, let's get you back and into something more suitable than Kingsley's old robes, shall we?'
'Yes. Please.' Draco switched to his decent side once more. 'It was really nice of Minister Shacklebolt to lend me one.'
'You've got that right,' Moody said. 'Perhaps there is hope for you, still.'
7. Reseach and Reinforcements
The following day was as windy and cold as yesterday. Moody had slept brilliantly; usually he woke up several times during the night. He blamed the amount of physical strain. The bed was wonderful and Moody found it increasingly tempting to sleep in, something he hadn't done in years. It was hard to be vigilant while sleeping well into the day.
Dressed and ready, Moody braced himself and opened the door to the dining room. The large doors swung open with a loud creaking, making the wizards present look up from their breakfast. There certainly had been a change. Kingsley and Abraxas were sitting next to each other instead of, as yesterday, opposing each other. Abraxas was seated at the the end of the table, Kingsley on his right hand. They looked friendly. A bit too friendly, in Moody's opinion. A investigative look at Kingsley's relaxed face earned him a frown. Moody knew Kingsley well enough to know that he wouldn't get an answer to the question he couldn't ask, not without appearing the jealous and meddling old fart that he was. He hurried to sit down at the chair he'd used yesterday, the neutral zone at the middle of the long dining table. Snape was sitting at the other end, near the door, entirely ignoring the others. He had his nose buried in what appeared to be this morning's issue of the Daily Prophet. He had a huge mug of coffee in front of him. Not the early bird, Snape.
Draco was lounging at a chair opposite Moody's spot. He was wearing a brand new robe in pale blue and silver. The loose sleeves were lined with silk and a thinner robe underneath it had very narrow, longer sleeves which graced Draco's knuckles. He was wearing several silver rings, which he showed off as he played with a wand that he definitely hadn't brought with him from Azkaban. One of his grandfather's wands, perhaps. A heavy cloak was slung over the back of the chair. It had a collar of something furry and probably very expensive. Perhaps it was Mr Bruce who had cut Draco's hair again. The short braid looked neat. Moody had to admit the boy looked good—for a Malfoy. 'I see your grandfather took my advice not to let you die from something terrible, like a cold.'
'Hardly.' Draco looked Arctic and arrogant. 'I am his grandson, am I not? He had these sent from London yesternight. By special order from Madam Malkin's.'
'Don't push it, Draco.' Abraxas's cold eyes graced Draco with an icy look. 'Surely Madam Malkin is willing to let me return everything you haven't yet used.'
'You were a twit before, and you're a twit now, those fancy robes don't make any difference,' Moody growled, glaring at Draco. The boy was incredible. He turned to Abraxas. 'Couldn't you have ordered him a new personality while you were at it? The one he has is rubbish.'
'At least I only have one.' Draco looked like a kicked puppy, small and vulnerable, but with bared teeth, ready to bite.
Okay, he deserved that. Draco was at least trying to behave, in between all the haughty posturing. 'That was uncalled for.' Moody couldn't stop himself. 'I'm sorry. It can probably be mended, that personality of yours. With a good spanking once in a while.' Moody sent Draco a look that was an exact copy of the haughty expression he seemed to favour.
'Moody!' Kingsley's low voice had regained its calm force. It was the Minister for Magic speaking. 'Those ten minutes I gave you and Malfoy are long gone. Work on it, man.'
Surprisingly it was Abraxas who had the sense to stop the bickering. 'I have asked Mr Bruce to pack food and drink for us. We're leaving in an hour. You, Kingsley, will ride with me, Draco, if you'd take Auror Moody, please.'
'But you are the one who has experience with my Abraxans in combat, yes? I do not assume that you would actually like Auror Moody come to any harm, now that he and the Minister for Magic has been so very helpful to you?' Abraxas looked like a man who would not tolerate any resistance. 'You are able to do a bit of lance-work and Halcyon knows you well. End of discussion.'
Draco looked meek. 'Yes, Grandfather.'
'And my presence is purely ornamental, I assume?' Snape put down his paper. His mouth was a thin, discontent line. 'Is there any apparent reason that I am here and not at home? Or better, visiting Azkaban to assure that my lover is getting the treatment I bought him?' Snape folded the paper and placed it neatly next to his plate. 'Fine, if you want me to read, drink Abraxas's good coffee and relax. Waste my time; you have paid for it.'
'Severus, it would be very kind of you if you would stay. As long as we haven't explored the isle, there is no knowing when we will need your expertise.' Kingsley spoke quietly. 'It's a matter of a few days. I understand that you care about Lucius; as soon as we have started the preliminary investigation of the site, I am certain that we all will understand that you would like to go to Azkaban to assure that Lucius is well.'
The politician hadn't lost his touch. Moody admired Kingsley's way of turning things his way without rubbing his opponent the wrong way. As intimidating as Kingsley could be if crossed, he mastered to the fullest the ability to argue with the Snapes of the wizarding world. And win. Admirable trait.
'My potions laboratory is on the second floor. Ask Mr Bruce to open it for you. You're welcome to use if it you like. I have rather a lot of rare ingredients in store. Feel free to take what you need.' Abraxas knew how to sweeten the offer.
'If you say so,' Snape just huffed and took his mug. 'I suppose I can tolerate the situation yet another day. For Lucius's sake.'
Moody and Kingsley walked together towards the hall. Standing on the granite stairs leading into the courtyard, Moody wasn't able to hold back the question that he had wanted to ask all morning. It wasn't his business. He felt possessive nevertheless. 'Did you?' Moody would rather know now.
'Did what?' Kingsley arranged his cloak and fastened with a pin. The pin had a dragon's head in one end. It hissed at Moody. Wagtail, who was tucked under Moody's arm gave a short bark. It made the dragon head stop. It looked offended.
There really wasn't any polite way to ask. 'With Abraxas. Have sex?'
Kingsley's brown eyes were quite capable of looking very cold. 'If you'd expressed the same interest for my needs fifteen years ago you wouldn't have to ask. Then I'd been in your bed this morning.'
Breathing in, as if the punch had hit physically where it was meant to hit, Moody met Kingsley's eyes. He knew he was being punished for his untimely interference. 'You're right. But I still care about you. You're my best friend, Kingsley. I bloody care!' Moody wanted to tell Kingsley how much he'd wanted it to work between them, but time had passed and it was in the past.
'It isn't the first time I've had an affair. You never behaved like that before.' Kingsley paused. 'Why is this different? Apart from that I don't really have an affair because it is utterly impossible.'
Moody took one step down, carefully leaning against his staff. 'Because it's the first time it feels as if you're serious.' Moody walked the last few steps down. He turned around and sighed. 'I could say that I'm a bit jealous but you know that I'd be lying. I'm worried.'
'Jealous, now? Really?' Kingsley sounded amused. 'No. The answer is no. I didn't have sex with him. Of course not. There is nothing to be jealous about. We went for a ride. Abraxas is a very... cultured man. It was a pleasure.'
'And I'm not, just tell me,' Moody half-way joked. 'Not that sophisticated, eh?' He put Wagtail down and the dog ran off, possibly to find something interesting to eat. Horse manure seemed to have an almost magnetic attraction to dogs.
'Ah, you're a gem, Alastor. And you aren't that uneducated. A diamond in the rough, yes, but you're pretending half of the time.'
Laughing, Moody brushed a hand over the scar that ran from his his temple through the eyebrow and down his cheek. 'And the cutter made a grave error. Diamond, indeed!' For a moment he considered what would have happened had Kingsley and he met now instead of fifteen years ago. Kingsley had been handsome then, but he's become so much more. Moody abandoned the thought. It would never work. The thought of it did, but in reality, things were different. Not least because Kingsley had other priorities now, which basically was what annoyed Moody to no end. He'd been Kingsley's mentor, his lover, his friend, his comrade in arms. He couldn't continue to feel this kind of... ownership. It had been what had pulled them apart. Moody was a protector, Kingsley wasn't one who needed protection. The same thing would happen all over again.
Abraxas was checking his horse's harness. Draco was waiting at the drawbridge, as if he didn't think his grandfather wanted him near. The Abraxan had several big leather bags and a pair of heavy stakes attached to its back. 'Lances?' Moody reluctantly moved into the reach of the animal.
'You wouldn't want to go to Drear without them. Halcyon is perfectly able to keep the Quintapeds at a distance, but it earns them a few kicks. Or he just steps on them. Lances are safer. For all of us.'
'Why not brooms?' Moody found it complicated and excessive to take the horses. 'Faster, smaller. No excessive weaponry needed.'
'Easier to break. You'd not want to come too close to a Quintaped on a broom. You'd be dead in a minute and eaten in five. If you fall off an Abraxan he'll defend you with his life. I am not teaching my stallions to fight for the fun of it, Auror. As I told you before, the blood-line, its health, depends on my ability to choose the right animals for breeding. Testing them in combat, or in a similar environment, like the Isle of Drear... It is crucial to preserve a breed which is thousands of years old. Those which don't make it, those which can't work properly... they're sold or, well, eaten. Taste quite well. That Muggle scientist, Darwin, he knew what he was talking about. Adaptation to the environment.' Abraxas tightened the girdle on his horse and pulled the lances to see if they were tied to it properly.
'Sounds cruel to me.' Moody stroked the horse on the flank. 'You don't feel connected to them?'
'I do.' Abraxas smiled, an honest smile. 'Now, this old boy here, Halcyon. There isn't the amount of Galleons in the world that would let me part from him. Ever.' Abraxas nodded in the direction of the smaller Abraxan. 'His son there. Same deal. Not for sale, not for giving away, not for anything but to stay here until the day they die.' Abraxas crossed his arms and looked at Moody. 'I am a selfish person. But for him,' he stroked Halcyon on the neck, 'for his son, and for a few of the mares down in the meadows, I'd give anything. Anything I own. My life. As would they. It's a two way street, loyalty. Sometimes, Auror, I include people in that small, very exclusive circle.' Abraxas's eyes flickered for an instant. Moody knew where he was looking.
He nodded. It was as if Abraxas had seen through Moody's defences, seen his reluctance, his slight jealousy. 'I see.'
'I think you do, Alastor Moody, I think you do.' Abraxas rubbed the horse on the neck affectionately and went to check his own. Kingsley was standing next to the animal, smiling.
Abraxas had offered Moody a tiny bit of honesty, a small insight in what lay behind the façade of arrogant superiority and occasional sarcastic jests. God help him, he was beginning to like Malfoy. As long as it didn't become a habit. Glaring at Draco, who finally had cared to move, Moody was sure that it was a habit he wouldn't fall into that easily.
'Help me up,' Draco insisted. 'You do not expect me to be able to climb; I'm weak and malnourished.'
'And rude too, growled Moody. 'Say "please, Head Auror Moody". If you can. If not, I guess I'll just have to learn to fly the horse alone. Leaning by doing.' Draco was incredible. Moody wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, however. They had dragged him out of Azkaban, he was, precisely as he said, malnourished and weak. One thing he wasn't, though, was stupid. Moody had heard enough about Draco Malfoy to know that. Yesterday it had worked well to ask Malfoy to act like an adult. A bit rough on the edges, that plea, but it had worked. Firm and determined. That worked. 'How was it, Malfoy. You are not twelve. You have learnt to ask nicely, I'm sure.' Moody put a hand on Draco's shoulder, letting it weigh heavily on the bony frame. He squeezed, none too gently. 'Once more. And politely this time, lad.'
'Please, Head Auror Moody.' Huffing, Draco managed to look precisely as offended as a Hippogriff who'd just been told that it could do with a bath and a toothbrush.
'That's more like it!'
The Abraxan whinnied and kicked the ground impatiently. 'No,' Draco said calmly. 'Stop that.'
Halcyon turned his head and snapped at Malfoy.
'Oi!' Draco straightened up and took a few steps towards the horse, almost stepping into it. 'Hold it, boy.' Draco let his hands slide over the saddle and girdle. 'Ah.' He pulled out a handful of mane that had stuck under the leather. 'He doesn't behave like that without reason,' Draco said. 'He's a clever old goat.'
Moody suddenly felt uncomfortable so close to the large horse. It wasn't as if he hadn't ridden a Hippogriff or a horse, or a dragon, for that matter, but the Abraxans were fierce, bred for combat as Abraxas had explained and he was actually in over his head with this. Draco, on the other hand, had known these powerful animals most of his life and it was evident that he handled them with confidence. It made Moody realise that Malfoy probably wasn't a coward in all aspects of life. Moody recalled Hagrid telling him him how Malfoy had treated that Hippogriff they'd saved from the Ministry's executioner, Buckbeak. Draco had appeared determined and dominant. Not really the way to treat a Hippogriff, but the Abraxans clearly liked a handler who knew his worth and didn't back off. It was strange with the family, the Malfoys. If one got close to them, they seemed to have hidden qualities, aspects that moved them a bit closer to being acceptable. Barely acceptable. As long as they kept their Pure-blood rubbish to themselves, that was.
Cocking his head, assessing Draco critically, Moody didn't try to be diplomatic. 'If you used that attitude a bit more, you'd actually be tolerable company. One could almost be led to believe that you are a real adult and not merely twelve.'
'Thank you,' Draco replied sweetly. 'I cannot possibly say how much your advice and appreciation mean to me.'
Moody wondered briefly whether Abraxas would hex him if he actually hit Draco. 'You have been with Snape for too long.' Whether that was a good thing or a bad had yet to be determined. Trying to stay unprovoked, Moody changed the subject. 'What about that pony? Are we going to stand here and chat, or are we going to ride?' Moody didn't look forward to it. He felt comfortable on his broom, but this large and unpredictable animal... Not so much. Moody whistled; Wagtail came running with his mouth full of something Moody didn't care to know the origin of.
Draco ignored them, fiddling with the horse's harness instead. 'Give me a leg up.'
Moody raised his eyebrows. 'A what?'
Draco faced the Abraxan with a hand on the saddle. He looked over his shoulder at Moody. He lifted his left lower leg. 'Put a hand under my knee and one on the ankle. At the count of three, push my leg straight upward.'
'Ah.' Moody did what he was told. Draco's leg felt thin and fragile in his rough hands. Above him, Draco slid into the saddle as easily as if he'd ridden a horse every day of his life, which was probably more or less what he had, minus the time in Azkaban and at Hogwarts. 'And how, pray, do I get up there?' Moody, being a tall man, couldn't even look over the back of the Abraxan but was more or less eye to eye with the horse's shoulder.
'Not my problem,' snapped Draco. 'Perhaps, if you try, "please, Mr Malfoy," I might help you.' The location five feet above Moody's head didn't do much to make Draco less arrogant or superior.
'Or I could try "help me or I'll turn you into a toad, Mr Malfoy," and see if that's more efficient.'
'And how, pray, am I supposed to help you, if all I can do is to quack at you? I thought Aurors were supposed to be the wizarding world's elite, you know, extraordinarily bright. Did they make an exception in your case, Auror Moody?' Draco's taunting wasn't entirely malicious. 'I'm sure they did. Out of mercy.'
'Far from being a stickler for detail, ducks quack. Your grasp of biology is a bit wonky, yes?' Moody smirked. 'Ducks are those small birds with feathers on them.'
'Oh, a bit like your brain? Except a duck is larger, smarter and has fewer feathers?'
'Ten minutes. And they were over two days ago, Alastor Moody!' Kingsley's voice boomed across the courtyard. 'Today, gentlemen. Mount the damned horse and let's get going. One would think that the two of you find it more entertaining to bicker at each other than to actually get the case moving!'
'Look who's talking!' said Moody and glared at Kingsley who looked far too comfortable, sitting behind Abraxas with his arms around him.
'That, coming from you?' said Draco, at the exact same time, looking from Kingsley to Abraxas.
The Moody and Draco looked at each other. Moody couldn't stop himself from grinning. 'Kettle.'
'Black,' Draco said and for the first time since they'd dragged him out from the gaol, he smiled, openly, honestly. 'And that's no lie.' He fumbled with a strap and lowered a stirrup far enough down for Moody to place his foot in. 'You put your foot there. The strap is charmed, works a bit like a lift. Just wait until you're in the proper position, then slide yourself into the saddle.'
'And you couldn't have used that, why?' Moody fumbled with the stirrup. He stopped and caught Draco's eyes. He looked amused. He grabbed Wagtail and held him so Draco could reach.
'I wouldn't have had the pleasure of letting you service me, would I?' Draco put Wagtail under his cloak. The small dog managed to push his head out at the collar.
'Oh, I'll service you all right,' Moody growled. 'Just you wait until I get up there, laddie.'
'Promises, promises.' Draco stuck his tongue out. 'Has it ever occurred to you, Auror Moody, that you are quite entertaining to tease?'
With some difficulty Moody managed to get his wooden leg over the saddle. He slid onto the back of the Abraxan. The saddle pushed him forward, in close contact with Malfoy. It was tight and uncomfortable. He couldn't avoid contact. 'If that tongue of yours ran any faster, you could rip it out and use it for racing,' Moody said. 'And if your grandfather did the same, think of all the fun we could have, what with a bit of betting and you and Abraxas, all silent.'
'You'd be bored within an hour, Auror.' Draco shifted and moved forward a bit. 'Put your arms around me. Try to follow my movements. Leaning too much to one side during turns disturbs Halcyon's balance. My grandfather has taught them to react to weight distribution. He does not believe in force when it comes to training the Abraxans.'
Taking a deep breath, Moody did what he was told. There were several reasons why he did not look forward to the flight. One of them was a bit more embarrassing than the rest. It had been a very long time since Moody had last held another man in his arms. He hoped that his dislike of Malfoy and the general awkwardness of the situation would be enough to ward off any unwanted reactions, but sometimes dislike was not enough to conquer an instinctive physical response. Maybe a spell could work? Moody reluctantly wrapped his arms around Draco's waist. Even through the heavy cloak, it was obvious that Malfoy was too thin. 'Some say that forceful handling is necessary... to break them in?' Moody said, trying to divert himself as he adjusted to sit more comfortably. Unfortunately it also brought him closer to Malfoy. 'Madame Maxine-'
'Some say. I don't. Madame Maxine has the subtlety of an Erumpent when it comes to handling Abraxans. The woman has no refinement whatsoever. One would think she has never heard of reinforcement and animal behavioural psychology!' Draco sounded almost offended. 'Force never did anyone any good in horse training,' he huffed. 'Giants, pfft.' Draco shifted in the saddle, something that might have been a sign, for Halcyon started walking. Draco patted at the lances that were tied to the harness below. 'How do you think a knight would fare in battle, depending on his horse and its abilities entirely for survival? How do you think he'd do if the animal didn't understand and trust him? He'd be dead, Moody. Instantly. A scared horse; worse, a horse scared of its handler... it doesn't work. Trust... that's what's important. That's what it's all about. Being firm, but not breaking anything. Trust, least of all.'
'I see.' Abraxans had size and intelligence. Fighting them to break them did not make sense, not the way Malfoy explained it. 'Like in people.'
Draco froze, then relaxed. 'As with people.' He sent Moody a look. 'And I hope you trust me right now. Hold on tight!'
Moody didn't manage a reply before Halcyon's gigantic wings unfolded and the horse cantered a few strides before it took off, rising towards the sun on white wings, reflecting the golden morning. The large horse moved languidly, the enormous muscles stretching and contracting as it climbed the sky and cut, fast as a swordblade through the wind, towards north.
'Merlin,' Moody gasped, unable to breathe. He was used to speed. The powerful old stallion wasn't merely faster than a good broom. It was much faster; it was fantastic. Moody had never felt like that, this symbiosis between wizard and animal. A broom was a broom. Dead. But the Abraxans, so beautiful and strong, chose to work with their riders. Moody could sense a slight shift from Draco and the instant reaction from the horse. It was almost as if Draco had grown wings and was braving the blue sky by himself. This constant but silent conversation held a magic of its own. Moody couldn't stop himself from being impressed. The arrogant little brat had a side that he'd hidden well. Halcyon would not trust someone who'd break that trust, not if what Malfoy had said was true. Draco reached back and pulled off the tie that had held his braid together. He traded his fingers through it, letting the wind play with it. The blond hair was the same colour as Halcyon's long mane. Draco turned a bit, looking at Moody, the hair whipping around his face. He looked happy.
'Freedom,' Draco said and Moody knew exactly what he meant.
It was a short flight. Abraxas led the way. As the small island finally became visible, Moody found it easy to understand that it had been so difficult to discover. The Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had done a very good job. Not only had they made the Isle of Drear Unplottable, but the entire island seemed to be shrouded in a Disillusionment charm. It made sense. The beasts on Drear were highly dangerous; Orkney and Shetland were close; the area had quite the Muggle traffic between the Scottish mainland and the islands to the north. That neither Moody, nor any of the Aurors who had worked on the case had realised that there was an island hidden spoke volumes of the wizards and witches who'd hidden the isle from the public eye. Clearly a talented lot. One thing that Moody could deduce from all this hiding was that Tony Perks and his daughter had not planned to visit the small piece of land. It had been a good idea to hide the island from wizards and Muggles alike. There was no way that Tony Perks and Sally-Anne could have stumbled upon it except by accident.
Abraxas fell back and signalled to Draco that they should circle over the isle. Abraxas had done that countless times before. He'd just never thought to look for a stranded girl and her father, so Moody wasn't surprised that he hadn't found any more traces. The cliffs and the small forest that spread on the southern side of the isle would hide any remains. And in case that was not enough, the Quintapeds would have seen to the rest. Pulling out a set of Omnioculars from his pocket, Moody scanned the area. His magical eye did not like the enhancement and rotated, trying to find focus by itself.
To the Northwest, huge cliffs rose. To the South, the forest spread on the lowlands, protected from the harsh wind from the North. The eastern part of the island looked much like the Scottish north-eastern coast: wind-crippled and bare. In the middle of the isle, on a hill, Moody spotted something that looked like the house he had seen in Abraxas's memory. He tapped Draco on the shoulder. 'Can you get further down? There!' Moody pointed at the shape on then hill, an overgrown skeleton of rotting wood and crumbling stone.
Draco nodded and turned Halcyon into a steep dive that made Moody gasp and hold on tighter to him. 'Shit,' he breathed. That horse was incredible.
It was a house, the remains of one. It lay dead and bare-boned, the black, broken rafters jutting out like a ribcage on a rotting corpse. The roof was more or less gone. No one had lived there for centuries. Moody tried to look through the layers of dirt and stone, but at that distance, his magical eye wasn't precise enough. There was no signs of any living being, except for large flocks of birds which fluttered nervously from the undergrowth as they passed over the trees at a low altitude.
With Abraxas and Kingsley in the front they flew further north. As they passed across a small spring, Abraxas pointed at it and Moody recognised it as the place where Abraxas had found Sally-Anne's broom. 'Let's go down here, if it's safe.' Safe was of course relative in the situation. They'd have to be extremely careful as not to end up as fodder for the Quintapeds. Moody's magical eye flashed bright blue and swirled erratically to survey the area. Everything was quiet. That could change, of course.
Draco said nothing, just wrinkled his nose or blinked with an eye or whatever invisible sign he used to communicate with the Abraxan. Moody was still a little impressed with the way the useless little twit actually turned out to be both useful and not as much as a whiny coward as he'd thought. Halcyon's large wings worked as he softly touched the ground. The stallion clearly was aware of the danger, for he immediately looked around, his ears moving. He was the image of constant vigilance and Moody appreciated it.
Draco unstrapped the blunt lances. 'Have your wand ready, but let me get to them first if possible. These, if used right, make less damage than a spell.'
Moody thought Malfoy might be right. In a pressed situation instinct could overrule the determination to use only defensive spells. 'I'll try to remember that.' Moody had no wish to lose more limbs, and since the Quintapeds had five legs, better one of theirs than one of his.
Abraxas landed next to them and made his preparations as Kingsley got off the horse. Kingsley had his wand at the ready. He still behaved like an Auror.
'Here, let me help.' Draco showed his nice side. Maybe he was only an annoying shit when he wasn't in danger? Moody waited until Draco had arranged the stirrup. With some difficulty he managed to get down from the huge horse. 'Careful.' Draco leant forward, handing Wagtail to Moody. 'Wouldn't want to lose him.'
'As long as I get the dog back alive, everything is fine?' Moody laughed. It sounded like a bark. 'Aye, I'll do that.'
'You too.' Draco's face was neutral. 'Be careful.'
Abraxas turned Haizum around. 'Secure that area, Draco,' he demanded. 'Kingsley, Moody, just concentrate on your work. We've got your backs. We don't have much time before the 'peds are here to see what is happening, so on with it.'
Trust. Moody looked at Kingsley asking silently the question he couldn't speak aloud. Kingsley nodded. All right. So their lives depended on the vigilance of two Malfoys, two overgrown ponies and a dog the size of a cat. Things certainly had deteriorated. 'So,' Moody said. 'Those rocks over there?' The cliffs looked as if a giant had ripped them apart and tried to assemble them once more. There were rifts and ravines enough to hide an army. 'It's a place to start.'
They concentrated on the deep rifts and half-hidden nooks. The years would have erased any trace of Sally-Anne or her father, exposed to the weather as the island was. Wagtail was sniffing around, caught up in all the new and interesting scents. It was difficult for Moody to climb over the cliffs; his leg wasn't made for this kind of work. He pushed at a rock that half-covered the entrance to what appeared to be a small cave. It didn't budge. He flicked his wand, moving the stone a bit. Behind him, one of the Abraxans moved around, its wings sending a cold breeze down Moody's neck. Wagtail was standing, one paw pulled up, hesitating.
He cast a Lumos into the cave. 'Kingsley, I think you'd want to look at this.' Moody looked at the remains that were scattered on the dirt floor. 'What the hell are those?'
Kingsley looked over his shoulder. 'A body? No...' He stepped past Moody and knelt in the opening, poking at the bones. 'It's an exoskeleton. A shell.'
'It looks like a spider.' Moody didn't like it. 'A big, fat, hairy spider. Are those...'
'Yeah. I think so.' Kingsley counted. 'Five legs. Yep.'
'Oh, cock.' The exoskeleton was huge. 'We better hurry.'
'Indeed.' Kingsley sent Moody a look that showed how little Kingsley appreciated the situation.
Moody moved on to look for anything that could help their investigation. A small ridge of rocks seemed like a promising place to continue. Behind it there was a small strip of more even cliffs, then a steep fall to the sea. Wagtail was running up and down, occasionally disappearing behind this rock or another. There was no sign of any Quintapeds. Abraxas and Kingsley kept close to each other. Moody watched Draco for a while. Malfoy looked like a small bird of prey, his head turning, alert, on guard, waiting for the hunt. Moody let out a quiet sigh. He hadn't thought it possible, but Malfoy was trustworthy. He knew what he was doing, and so, thank Merlin, did his arse of a grandfather.
Wagtail gave a warning bark. The small dog jumped up from behind a rock, strangely excited. It snorted, then tried to push its head down in a pile of stones. It gave another short bark.
'What is it, Wagtail?' Moody hobbled across the uneven ground. He looked around for the Quintapeds. Nothing, just the Abraxans hovering a few feet up to allow their riders a better view of the area. He looked down the ridge. No movement anywhere.
Whining, Wagtail started digging, pebbles and dirt flying.
'Oi! Kingsley!' Moody dragged himself to the top of the rock, using the staff to push himself up. 'Could you move these.' Moody pointed at the rocks that Wagtail had been digging by.
'These, yeah?' Kingsley cast a spell on the rocks at the top, carefully moving them as not to destroy any evidence. Wagtail got even more excited.
'Wagtail, stop.' Moody knelt down and put a hand on the dog's back. 'Not now, boy. Later.' There was nothing to see but dirt and a few insects, disturbed by the sunlight. Wagtail tried to push his nose under one of the remaining rocks. 'Could you move this one, please?' Moody used his wand to separate dirt and pebbles from whatever could lie there. Nothing. Moving by wand the top layer, Moody tried to poke at the dirt with his wand. In a corner under a rock it suddenly went through.
'Got something here.'
Kneeling next to Moody, Kingsley slowly pulled loose the rock with a more forceful spell. 'Help me out here. It's heavy. Won't want to squash Wagtail.' Moody added his spell to Kingsley's and they managed to remove the rock.
Moody breathed out loudly. 'It's going to take all day, if we're to rearrange the whole island.'
'We don't have all day.' Kingsley knew, too, that it was a question of time before the beasts would attack. He removed some of the dirt around the hole, enough to be able to put a hand in it. 'It's hollow.'
They dug the hole bigger, big enough for Kingsley to be able to look into it. 'I'm not really... If I don't have a head when I get up, I assume we found the Quintapeds.'
Moody laughed. I don't think they're small enough to get in that hole,' he said. 'But we'll know that for certain in a minute.'
'Oh, thanks for the support,' Kingsley said and used his wand to light up the small cranny. He wormed as much as he could of his upper body into the hole. He sat up again, rapidly. 'Wait.' He pushed his arm in, as if he knew precisely where to reach and what to reach for.
'This.' Kingsley sighed. 'Too big to be Sally-Anne's.'
'Yeah, I think so.'
Kingsley put the fleshless, crushed skull down on the rock they were kneeling on. He looked at it with an expression of defeat. 'We knew that there was no chance of finding them alive.'
'I know.' Moody felt very sad. One thing was to know that chances were slim, if nonexistent, another was to find the proof. It was, however, what he'd been looking for since the day he started the investigation. It was just very hard to feel any sense of triumph or victory. 'We have to do a few tests back at the castle. There are human-eating beasts loose on the island after all. Could be more unfortunate victims.'
Wagtail, too, looked depressed. Kingsley went back into the hole, examining it closer this time. 'A full body, a lot of broken bones and the remains of a broom.' Kingsley pulled out a bit of wood that still had the distinct shape of a broomstick handle. 'I think he might have crashed. It's hard to see, but the broom has lost its tail, so I guess my theory on the Swiftstick might not have been far off.' Kingsley nodded in the direction of the sea, only a few hundred feet away. 'He lost altitude and might have seen the island, aimed for it. So he tried to land, but the broom malfunctioned and he crashed into the rocks. Happened too fast for him to get his wand. Since the 'peds haven't taken the body, he might have crawled in here to die or to protect himself from the Quintapeds.'
'Yeah.' Moody agreed. As usual Kingsley was concise and clear. He shadowed with a hand over his eye. 'And Sally's broom where in that direction. They came flying in from the eastern side, the broom crashed, Sally continued, stopped as she realised that her father was down, she landed at the brook, then came running back to her father.'
'Who was, by then, already dead. Seeing that there isn't a bone in that body which isn't broken. The skull too. No. He couldn't have survived.'
And neither had, they both knew, Sally-Anne. Twelve years old, in shock, alone on an island filled with monsters, with her dead father lying on the ground? All they had to do now was to find her remains. If the Quintapeds had left any.
Wagtail began barking again. Moody looked up, alert, while Kingsley wrapped the skull and the piece of wood into separate bags. The two Abraxans circled them, both Malfoys concentrating on the surroundings. Moody tapped Kingsley on the shoulder. 'Up.' His eye swirled, discovering nothing. Wagtail barked again and ran down the ridge, then back up.
Kingsley made a curt nod. 'See anything?'
'No.' Moody's eyes followed Wagtail. 'Look at the dog.'
Kingsley looked up at Abraxas. 'Any danger?'
Abraxas didn't look down but kept his eyes on the area behind them. 'No. But I'd be careful. If Wagtail is-'
'Grandfather!' Draco's shrill voice alerted them. 'Quickly!'
They turned. From the steep cliffs that fell to the sea five large, spider-like monsters came charging.
'Moody, the dog!' Draco turned Halcyon towards the Quintapeds, the lance ready.
Moody pushed Kingsley towards Abraxas. 'On you go, lad!' They had to get off the ground and fast. There was no time for dawdling.
'Need help?' Kingsley hesitated, his eyes set on their attackers.
'On the horse. Now! Before both of us get killed. Haven't you learnt anything! Go!' Moody turned with his wand in one hand and his staff in the other, ready to face the monsters. He didn't wait to see if Kingsley was obeying orders; Moody knew he would.
Kingsley was fast for Draco and Abraxas charged almost immediately, the Abraxans' heavy hooves thundering across the ground. Moody hobbled down from the pile of rocks he was standing at. The Malfoys circled Moody and attacked the two closest Quintaped. Abraxas expertly used the lance to turn one of creatures over. It laid on its back, five legs waving in the air. It had difficulties turning. Draco was not as good. He managed to push the Quintaped away, delaying its attack. The monster returned the favour by breaking the lance with a violent blow with one of its clubfooted legs.
Wagtail was barking frantically at the Quintapeds. The smaller of them was separated from the others and ran back and forth, seemingly unsure of what to do with the dog. 'Wagtail! Here!' Moody cried, almost desperate. He could not go back without the dog. He simply couldn't! Deftly Abraxas overturned yet another Quintaped while Draco circled the group to chase away the smaller one. Moody's relief was great when he saw that Kingsley was safely in the saddle behind Abraxas. Moody's eye turned. This was getting a bit hairy. He tried to let his magical eye keep up with the smallest Quintaped, just to be on the safe side.
Moody stepped between Wagtail and the remaining two monsters. Haizum and Abraxas managed to tip yet another five-legged spider over the edge of the cliffs while Draco's attempt to turn over the last one cost him his second lance. 'Retreating,' he cried to alert Abraxas. He turned the great horse around, cantering quickly back towards Moody. Moody scooped up Wagtail who was still growling angrily at the Quintapeds.
It was that one second's divided attention that cost Moody his leg.
He realised his mistake even before the Quintaped lounged at him, trying to move away. Too late. The Quintaped was over him, slashing as him with whirling legs. He aimed with his wand, but the hex missed. Wagtail was running in between the legs of the monster, barking like mad. It diverted the beast's attack long enough for Moody to get up, only to realise that his wooden leg was broken.
Halcyon came charging, full speed. Draco stopped the horse and jumped from its back, the wand blazing hexes at the attacker. 'Get up, hurry!' he shouted, running towards the Quintaped which had decided that Wagtail could be a nice appetizer. 'No!' Draco cried and blasted a rock just in front of the beast. 'Wagtail!'
Moody found the magical stirrup hanging from the saddle. It was difficult since he had only half a leg to stand on, but he managed to get a hold of the strap. Halcyon sensed his distress. It bent one leg to make it easier for him to get up. With a relieved sigh he pulled himself onto the horse.
'To me! Halcyon, to me!' Draco sprinted towards the Abraxan with Wagtail in his arms.
Moody didn't dare use his wand to send Wagtail floating into the air. He needed both hands to help Draco into the saddle, for Halcyon was already on his wings, ready to be airborne. Moody reached down and grabbed Wagtail by the scruff of the neck. Draco was standing in the stirrup, clinging to the saddle as Halcyon's large wings quickly took them up above the island. On the ground, Haizum, too, took a few quick strides and shot into the air.
They were safe.
'Bloody hell. So much for vigilance, I think my eye is wonky,' Moody growled and helped Draco properly into the saddle. 'That could have gone terribly wrong.' Draco didn't reply. Moody could feel his breathing against his own chest, uneven and rash. He leant forward a bit. 'You all right?'
'Yes. No.' Draco turned a bit, enough for Moody to realise that he had tears in his eyes. 'I was so scared down there. So scared... And you're hurt?'
A good thing that Halcyon knew where to go, for Malfoy was losing it. 'Draco, calm down. It's over. You were very, very brave. And I'm not hurt, it's just the leg. The wooden leg.' Moody tightened his grip around Draco, offering what little comfort he could. 'You saved my life, or at least a few of the Quintapeds' lives. I might have killed some of them to get away. Wagtail's life too.' Moody stopped himself from saying something snide about Malfoys and bravery. It was not the time, seeing that he and Wagtail would have been monster food by now, had it not been for Draco's intervention. Moody had never deliberately killed a foe in combat. He wanted his enemies alive at any cost and he had the scars to prove it. He was glad it hadn't gone that far, making himself a murderer.
Abraxas caught up with them, nodding at Moody with appreciation. Then he turned to look at Draco and he was no longer cold and distant.
He was looking at Draco with an expression of unrestrained pride.
8. Night Shifts
The fire in the grand fireplace cast a golden light over the large drawing room and chased away the chill air that seemed to exist everywhere in the large house. The old paintings on the walls were almost black from age. The furniture had seen better days, probably around the time when Queen Mary was ruling Scotland. The sofa, however, was new, no more than a hundred years, give or take. It was also very comfortable. Kingsley found himself relaxing, listening to Abraxas and Snape bicker at each other about Lucius and Draco. Kingsley got the sense, though, that the two men liked each other, despite the growling. It was a bit like two smaller dogs, snarling and barking, not really serious. Kingsley found it amusing as well that Abraxas's opinion on Draco seemed to have shifted drastically.
'My grandson,' Abraxas beamed, 'has made me very confident that our line of Abraxans will be in good hands in the future.' Abraxas's eyes shone. He was very enthusiastic.
Snape coughed lightly. 'I think we have a fair understanding of that exact point by now. Since you've repeated it, what, ten times already.'
Abraxas ignored the thinly veiled hint that enough was enough. 'My grandson will need to choose a horse for himself before he leaves.' He sent Snape a look that told that he noticed his annoyance. 'I cannot believe that Lucius didn't see to that. It is tradition. Or it was.' His nostrils flared, almost invisibly. 'I am appalled that Lucius, of all people, sold the marvellous horse he got for his eigtheenth birthday. He was always an ungrateful son.'
Kingsley had no problems hearing Snape murmuring no wonder, with that father.
'Did you say anything, Severus?' Abraxas enquired acerbically. 'Or would you like a bit more of this very select, exclusive elf-made wine that I usually only serve for important guests?' He sat upright in a very large and deep wing chair. He looked very much the nobleman he could have been, had England not exploded in hatred and abolishment of witchcraft and magic five-hundred years ago.
'Yes. I did say something. I wondered why you cared to give the animal to Lucius in the first place. He was never really interested in them. Now he never will be. He is no longer fond of things that float in the air, you see.' Snape crossed his arms. 'If you, on the other hand, had been more interested in Lucius than in those horses...'
'Always the diplomat. Why don't you say what you really mean, dearest Severus?'
'You're a bastard. Satisfied?' Snape got up. 'I'll be in the potions lab. Tests on that skull you dug up. Going to take all night. So much more interesting than sitting here and pretending that I care.' Snape huffed and stormed out of the room. He slammed the door.
'He's merely worried about Lucius.' Abraxas threw his hands up, as if to apologise for Snape's behaviour. 'I can't say that I blame him. I've been worried about my son for many years. Both when he decided to join the madman and his tattooed clowns and now that he's not well. At least Draco seems promising.'
It wasn't that Kingsley was fond of Lucius in any possible interpretation of the word, but it was a bit harsh. 'Abraxas, really.'
'But you did see what Draco did? He is not as much his father's son as I thought. More like me.' Abraxas positively beamed. He poured himself another glass of wine. 'One more? A nightcap?'
Kingsley found it hard to understand that this boyish happiness came from the same man who'd tried for days to drive him more or less insane with all his convoluted and underhanded snark. It was a side that made Kingsley believe that Abraxas actually might be tolerable company in the long run. 'All right. One. Please.' Kingsley could do with another drink. The wine was very good, and so was, he admitted, the company. Although Kingsley still didn't know what to do with Abraxas, he liked his intellect, his cultured manners. And Kingsley wasn't tired, either. He did not want to go to bed, for he knew that he'd be thinking half the night of the fact that he could have lost his best friend today. It had been too long since the war. He'd forgotten how fast Death moved in from the side, striking at the most unexpected moment. He wondered if he was more affected by the incident than the two people involved, for both Draco and Moody had already gone to bed. Moody, of course, was rarely shaken by such banalities as almost getting killed; he was after all always prepared. For anything.
Pouring yet another drink for them, Abraxas abandoned the wing chair and sat down next to Kingsley in the sofa. Kingsley forced himself to breathe slowly. Abraxas's presence was stirring in a way that was almost impossible to ignore. Kingsley desperately clung on to what little calm he had left when it came to Abraxas Malfoy. It had been easier when he thought that Abraxas was a criminal. It wasn't quite what he'd expected from a trip that was supposed to be a quiet investigation of a mysterious, unsolved case, this... relation. He had indeed found a bit more than he'd been looking for. He looked up and realised that Abraxas was looking at him. 'Yes?'
Abraxas didn't reply. He put his glass on the coffee table and reached out to take Kingsley's too. Too caught up in the moment to react, Kingsley let him. Merlin, he knew it: thirty seconds more and it'd be too late. If he let the avalanche start, there was no turning back and no idea where he would end. One night. More. He didn't know. All he knew was that his confusion was gone. He had no choice, not really.
He had to see. He had to discover for himself what could become of it.
With a knowing smile, Abraxas leaned in and pressed his lips to Kingsley's. It was a firm, lingering kiss. Only a small, shivering sigh revealed that Abraxas, too, was affected. Kingsley's blood was rushing to all the right places. One kiss, one unfinished, brief kiss was all it took. Kingsley was no prude. He parted his lips, wanting Abraxas to take more than just the superficial touching of lips. Abraxas's tongue slipped into his mouth, stoking the fire that was already smouldering. Kingsley moaned, burying his fingers in Abraxas's lush hair. Lord, to have that long hair brushing over his naked body... Kingsley moaned again, deeper, louder. Abraxas's fingers were caressing his neck, cool, teasing strokes that did little to ease his need. Abraxas kissed him until their breathing became strained.
With a tangible reluctance, Abraxas let go. 'Good night, Kingsley,' he said softly. 'Until tomorrow.' With that, he got up. He left the drawing room without looking back.
For a while Kingsley sat there, alone, staring into the flames. His desire was flaring hotly. Abraxas certainly knew how to inflame it. Not only that, he knew how to inflame it in a way that made Kingsley want to burn. He brushed with a finger over his mouth where Abraxas's lips had touched. He wanted more and so did Abraxas, that much was clear. But what Abraxas had told him in, well, no words at all, was that they were going to do this the right way, whatever that was and wherever it went.
The clock on the bedside table whispered a worried, 'Go to sleep, Auror Moody,' for the fifteenth time. Moody turned in bed once more, turning his back to the nagging little piece of magic. It wasn't helpful. He'd love to sleep. In fact, he would love it so much that he'd used almost four hours in bed, desperate for sleep. Instead he could just as well have been a chicken on a spit: too hot, turning and tossing. If he turned to the left, he had the moon shining in his face. He didn't want to pull the curtains; they blocked his view when he wasn't using his magical eye. When he turned to the right, he could see the contours of his broken leg, standing in the corner in all its charming mechanical glory. Every time he closed his eyes, he replayed in his mind the event that could have cost him his life. It would have, had it not been for the small dog who was lying next to him, snoring. He was alive because of the dog.
And because of Draco Malfoy.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. He was not as agile and vigilant as he once was. Far from being old, he had to accept that being half a man was not always enough. Although Moody's broken half was tougher than most whole men, it wasn't enough. He didn't like it when he was forced into early retirement, he didn't like it now. Having one's mortality shoved in the face was not really that interesting. 'You have to accept that you have limits, mate,' he told himself and turned in the bed yet again. It still pained him that two years of boring office work and occasional scoldings of the new Aurors to cheer things up had made him soft. It pained him even more that he was still able to be sentimental and self-pitying about it. And worst of all, it pained him that he was able to be anything at all because of Malfoy's timely intervention. 'But he did save you, so I suppose we'll have to thank him for that,' Moody said and stroked Wagtail tenderly. 'And who'd share my morning coffee with me but you?' Wagtail didn't reply. He just made a friendly growl and rolled over so Moody could scratch him on the other side.
When Moody looked at the clock again, he realised that he had actually fallen asleep. He frowned, staring into the dark, trying to figure out what had disturbed him. He reached for his wand on the bedside table; he wanted to be ready for a potential attack. The magical eye swirled and clinked in its glass. Nothing. He was just about to put the wand back and make yet another attempt to get some sleep when he heard a noise. He paused, then he heard it again. A low, long moan. Moody blinked. Then another, louder moan.
'Oh, you've got to be joking.' Wagtail woke up and looked at Moody curiously as if to understand his irritation. 'That certainly was fast.' Kingsley wasn't usually the person to throw himself at any handsome man he met. Abraxas turned out to be an exception. That was Kingsley's choice. As long as Moody didn't have to listen in on the result.
Then someone groaned; a more desperate, whimpering moan. Moody realised that the source of the groans probably wasn't what he'd thought it was. Or who. Unless of course Kingsley had a very kinky side that he hadn't told Moody about. It sounded as if someone was suffering.
Moody flicked his wand at the candles at the bedside table. He was about to summon his leg, then remembered the state of it. He pointed the wand at his trusty staff. 'Accio!' He was used to moving around without the leg at home, using only the staff. As he wouldn't exactly be able to run about, he'd move easier than with his broken leg attached. He kept his wand at the ready.
'Alohomora.' Moody opened the door to the corridor. He waited quietly until he heard the sound again; he did not want to burst into a room only to find out that Kingsley and Abraxas had decided to take their potential relation to another level.
'No! Please! No!'
Moody turned his head in the direction of the sound. That wasn't Kingsley. It was Malfoy, the youngest of them. Moody hobbled along the wall to Draco's room, next to his own. Moody froze, listening for anything suspicious. He should have put his eye in; now it was too late. The door was slightly ajar, so he waited to see if anything was happening that needed his interference. Behind him the low tick-tick-ticking of claws against stone told him that Wagtail had finally taken his responsibilities as a watchdog seriously.
'Don't melt the Hippogriff!'
The pleading groan made Moody smile. Malfoy was having a nightmare, talking in his sleep. He considered briefly to wake Draco up, but he doubted it would be taken lightly, if Malfoy, too, had trouble sleeping.
Malfoy was whimpering again. 'Run... Help. Help me, Moody!' The words were slurred but Moody's hearing was working well. Too well. Moody knocked softly on the door before he pushed it open.
'Malfoy? Draco?' Moody lit a candle with a wave. Draco lay thrashing, entangled in sheets and the heavy duvet. His nightshirt formed a bulky ring around his chest. 'Draco?' The only answer was yet another whimper. The nightmare certainly had its way with Malfoy. Then, in a flash, Moody understood. It had been some time since the Dementors had been the guards of Azkaban, but the damage they made wasn't as easily banned. The vacant places in the mind... It took time to fill them anew, to make a store of happiness and joy and safety to take up the space from the terrible emptiness and sadness the wretched creatures had created. Malfoy hadn't been exposed to them for that long, then again, Malfoy was a sensitive, nervous person.
Despite his dislike of Draco, Moody supposed that he'd earned a bit of compassion for his bravery. 'All right, all right,' Moody growled. 'Hold on.' Moody limped over the floor to the bed. He almost tripped over an ancient Aubusson. He glared at the rug. Wagtail sat down next to the bed, sniffing.
'Draco? Wake up.' Moody shook Draco's shoulder lightly.
'Father!' Draco sat up, confused and with blinking eyes. 'Wha-?' He sighed. 'Oh, God.'
'Moody?' Draco's was choking on his fear. He tried to remove the sheet that had tied his legs up. 'I had this terrible nightmare.'
'Really.' Moody watched Draco fumble with the bed linen. 'Here, let me help.' He got Draco out of the duvet's strong grip. 'Unreliable bastards, duvets. Constant vigilance, or they'll become unruly,' he said, half-way joking. He conjured a damp wash cloth out of thin air. 'Here. You're all sweaty.' He pointed at Draco's forehead where a long lock of damp hair was stuck. 'You'd want to look less messy.'
'I don't care!' Draco took the wash cloth nevertheless and wiped his face with it. 'All I care about is being able to sleep.' Draco managed to look exactly as feisty as a rheumatic Pygmypuff. His shoulders fell. 'I dreamt that we, us, were chased by a Hippogriff and it turned into the Dark Lord... I think he ate Wagtail. And your eye. He picked it out of-' He stopped. 'Sorry. I haven't slept properly for two years. No, longer, actually. Since Vo- Voldemort took over my parents' house.'
Moody could see, even in the dim light, that the dream had shaken Draco. 'Not the best sleeping draught, having the evil overlord moving in,' Moody said before he realised that he was being understanding. 'Or to have him threaten one's parents.'
'You're nice to me again. It's very confusing.' Draco sat back in the bed, pulling the sheet and the duvet up to the pointy chin. He shuddered. The night was cold, the castle's thick walls didn't allow the warm summer night to have any effect.
'This time you deserve it,' Moody said gruffly. 'And you are being decent again. That's quite confusing, too. Go to bed.'
'I'm not twelve! And I am in bed.'
I can see that. That you're in bed. As for your age... let's just say that chances are that you're growing up. Goodnight, Draco.' Moody turned around, grabbing his staff. He blew out the candle on the chest of drawers. He was cold; hobbling about in a draughty castle in the middle of the night wearing nothing but boxers and a nightshirt was hazardous to the health. He opened the door. Wagtail sat in the middle of the room, looking indecisive.
With the hand on the doorknob, Moody turned around carefully, balancing on one leg. 'What is it?'
'Could you... could you stay until I'm asleep?' There was an anxious note in Draco's request. 'Sometimes I dream they come back. The Dementors.'
'I thought you liked them better than me.' Moody was about to say something nasty, like pointing out who had put the Dementors in Azkaban in the first place or how many sleepless nights witches and wizards had had because of Voldemort. It would not be fair. Moody knew real fear when he saw it and Draco was afraid. Moody understood. He didn't see any Dementors when he was trying to sleep, but he'd had his share of nightmares and sleepless nights. This one, for instance. He knew himself well enough to know that an incident like the one today would linger a few weeks before it faded into the same grey porridge of run-ins, battles and accidents that he had had through the years.
Moody scratched his stubbly chin. 'Better give me one of the blankets, then. I'm not going to catch a cold because of you.' He sighed. 'Twelve.'
''s all right.' As long as he could bloody lie down and didn't have to limp around like a lame horse. Moody stoked the fire with a quick spell. A blessed warmth spread in the bedroom. 'Move over.' Draco moved. It was a very large bed, exactly as soft and nice as Moody's own. He fluffed a couple of pillows and sat down, leaning against the headboard. With the blanket over his naked leg and a half, he was quite comfortable. Wagtail jumped on the bed and curled up at Draco's feet. 'Goodnight,' Moody said.
Draco didn't answer. A few minutes later, his even, slow breathing revealed that he'd fallen asleep. Thank Merlin, Moody thought. He'd be back in his own bed in minutes. He decided to stay for a little, to be certain that Draco was sleeping soundly. Moody pulled the blanket tighter around himself. It really was a very pleasant bed. Lazily he waved the wand at the door and warded it. He needed to close his eye, just for a moment.
The fire had died out when Moody woke up, but he was pleasantly warm. It was light outside. He yawned and opened his eye, for a few seconds unsure of where he was. Wagtail lay snuggled up against his stomach, in deep sleep. Draco Malfoy lay next to him, his head on Moody's left arm, the blond hair in a messy tangle on the pillow. Malfoy didn't look so arrogant in his sleep, Moody thought. Carefully Moody entangled himself from any present dogs and Death Eaters. He couldn't believe how careless he'd been, falling asleep like that. At least he'd warded the door, but this was not vigilance, not even in the broadest sense of the word. He'd fallen asleep and slept better than he could remember having done for some time, without any thought for danger or threats from outside. So, apparently, had Draco. Moody sighed at his own irresponsible behaviour and got out of bed.
He took down the wards and slipped quietly back to his own bed without anybody noticing where he'd been.
He couldn't tell this to anyone, not even to Kingsley. He'd never hear the end of it. Falling asleep in a bed with a Death Eater next to him... Oh, his Aurors would make merry with his reputation from now on and into the next century if they ever found out. He'd be forever the laughing stock of the department. If no one hadn't managed to kill him first, that was, because he was getting lax. It was, however, likely, in which case he'd be fine.
It had been three days since the band of foolhardy halfwits had returned from the Isle of Drear. Severus was still discussing with himself whether it was a good thing or a bad that none of the idiots had been killed. Perhaps he'd been at home by now if they'd all been busy attending Moody's funeral. Despite the opulent luxury that was Abraxas's potions laboratory, Severus had places he would rather be. In Azkaban, for instance, and not for the sake of the charming location.
Suffering the company of fools was bad enough. To make matters worse, Shacklebolt and Moody had barged in, thrown a rotting skull on his desk (or Abraxas's, if one wished to be precise) and demanded that he found out how old it was and how long it had been detached from the body it once belonged to. At least it had given him something to do, other than to see his father-in-law make a fool of himself, almost wetting himself because of the Minister for Magic and his admittedly nice arse. Disgusting. Abraxas could use some of the dignity that Lucius... well, there was that. Voldemort had stripped Lucius of dignity as well. Wand, sanity, dignity. Voldemort hadn't been a modest man.
Irritated, Severus pulled out a range of ingredients for the potion he was making. He'd combined the reversed properties of an Ageing Potion with root of Asphodel. It was, to be honest, an absolutely brilliant idea. One of the house-elves had found a box of old Prophets and comparing the testing results of materials with exact dates was going well. He'd been able to distinguish April from March and was working on getting the years right. He suspected that any display in the Prophet issues of a picture of Elphias Doge tended to distort the result with a margin of ten years, give or take. Provisional testing of the skull had suggested, though, that its current state of decapitation had happened within a range of a year from the time that Perks disappeared. Severus wasn't satisfied, however. He wanted precision. If the Aurors wanted amateurs, they could have done the testing themselves.
Severus chopped a Jobberknoll feather into tiny pieces, careful not to let the fluffy little bits escape. It was an experiment, the feather. He hoped the memory-enhancing properties of Jobberknoll parts would merge nicely with the age-determiners in the reversed Ageing potion. He weighed the pieces of the feather carefully before he mixed them with the potion he had brewing in the finely polished bronze cauldron. He stirred five times clockwise, ten times counter-clockwise, then put on the lid. It would have to rest at least thirty-six hours, the longer the better. He was unsure of how concentrated the extract would be. He'd have liked to have a whole bird. Perhaps he should get one; he suspected it would concentrate the merging of time and memory if he used the bird's brain for the potion.
He could of course use it as an excuse to go to London. He could visit Lucius on the way. Azkaban was almost in that direction. If by "in that direction" one meant "a very long detour".
His relative peace was disturbed by a thumping sound from the corridor. Severus huffed. Moody could just as well have sent a herald to announce his arrival. He didn't care to turn. 'So, Moody, still short a leg?'
'Better that than short a head, if you ask me.' Moody's gnarled hand extended over the desk. He was pointing at the skull. 'Any news?'
'Not yet. I'm able to determine time within the margin of a year. It is simply not good enough.'
'It's an indication. Could do with something better than a rough estimate. You've got it nailed down to 1992-1993, though?'
'Yes. I have an idea for improvement. I was wondering whether more Jobberknoll parts or a denser extract would do any good.'
'Brain.' Severus turned. He leaned against the heavy desk that took up the entire wall underneath the windows. 'I want to concentrate the Jobberknoll's ability to store the memory of sound. I hope it will be possible to find traces of sound in all materials; if light makes an impact, why not sound? Minuscule traces, but they have to be there. It should help make the precision better also.'
'Seeing it is a common ingredient in truth potions, Jobberknoll.' Moody nodded. 'I'm not too bad with potions m'self; not in your league, but not bad.' He leant over the desk and studied the sheet where Severus had marked the changes in colour in the potion that denoted the passing of time. 'It works as a catalyst, then? Jobberknoll?'
'It does. Trying out feathers. It'll take a day or two before I can begin testing again.' Snape took the small vial that still held a few blue-speckled feathers. 'I'd like to have the entire bird. I think I'll have to go to London to get one. Might need a few days; I am certainly not going to go by broom.' Severus glared at Moody. The idea of travelling so uncomfortably when one could Apparate was horrible. He'd been over the North Sea on a bunch of over-prized twigs one time too many this month. Not even a Firebolt could ease the pain of hours of flying.
'You could send for one.'
'Give my regards to Lucius,' Moody growled. 'Going to find out if you'd been paid in full? Nothing wrong with that. No need to hide it, Snape.'
Severus ignored Moody's too-clever assessment. Mad-Eye Moody wasn't famous just for his unconventional looks. 'I thought I'd go look for anything that could lead to more information about the island and those beasts. Borgin and Burkes might have something.' Severus looked at the place where Moody's leg should have been. 'I am certain you had so much fun with those Quintapeds that you'd like to get to know them better.'
'Any ideas?' Moody's eyebrow shot up questioningly.
'A potion to calm them down a bit. Bring meat, add potion, feed the beasts. There's a possibility that you'll have your remaining limbs with you next time, too, without too much hassle.'
'As long as you don't kill them. We don't know how they'll react to potions.'
'Hence the research.' Severus lifted the lid of the simmering cauldron. 'This has to simmer for a day, preferably two. I'll charm it, no problem to leave it. I'll be back in time to do tests on it, so I can try to improve it. When are you planning to go back to Drear?'
'Abraxas says that Mr Bruce's wife is making a new leg for me. Carpenter, that one. Wanted to add a few features. Says Mr Bruce has taken a liking to me for some odd reason.' Moody shrugged. 'Could have mended it myself. Faster.'
Severus glanced at Moody's scarred hands. He didn't look like one who was any good with a knife. A wand would do, of course, if one knew the spells to carve out a leg as elaborate as the one Moody had. 'And that'll be done, when?'
'Anytime soon.' Moody smiled a crooked smile, the scar that ran down his cheek pulling his mouth to the left. 'Sally-Anne waited nine years. You should go see Lucius,' he said in a softer tone. 'We can wait a few days.'
Moody had always thought that Kingsley's lips were the most appealing part of his body. Yes, the man had a gorgeous arse and a nice, heavy cock, but the lush, soft mouth... Even after fifteen years, Moody remembered the sensation. Whether it had been on his lips or was sliding up and down his erection didn't matter: Kingsley's mouth was perfect. But right there, when it was glued to Abraxas Malfoy's arrogant, thin lips?
He didn't like it and he didn't like that he felt... envious.
Moody hesitated in the door to the drawing room. Kingsley was lost in the kiss; Abraxas wasn't particularly alert, either, except when it came to mapping out Kingsley's firm buttocks. Eagerly.
'Didn't your mum teach you that it's impolite to spy on other people?'
Moody turned around so fast that he almost slipped. Damned leg! 'Yes, and it obviously didn't help. What's your excuse, Malfoy?'
'Perhaps you'd want to join me in the library?' Draco looked in the direction of the drawing room. 'Are they doing what I think they're doing?'
'Didn't your mother teach you that it's impolite to ask silly questions? How would I know what you're thinking?' Moody leant heavily on his staff. 'Library?'
'Over there.' Draco pointed to a pair of heavy oak doors across the hall.
Moody followed. He had no intentions of spying. If he had wanted that, he'd use his magical eye.
The library was as libraries were, dark and dusty and with the pleasant smell of books and firewood. Draco closed the door behind them. The library was a large, but cosy room with nooks and crannies made up by the many book shelves. Moody sat down in the closest comfortable chair. He turned it a bit so he could watch the door. Draco sat down in an embroidered chair next to him.
'God, this is ugly,' Draco said. 'What do you think these are?' He pointed at a couple of animals at the side of the chair. 'Asses?'
'Erumpents. They're grey.'
'So are mice. And asses. Could be mice. I think that is a tail.'
'Got a point. That'd be a first. Thought they were horns.'
'Were they kissing?' Draco turned in the chair and hooked his legs over the armrest.
'What? The Erumpents?' Moody looked at the embroidered chair again. It could be. The person who'd made it had a rather alternative view on animal anatomy. Moody's brain caught up with him. 'Ah, Abraxas.'
'It's uncanny. It's my grandfather. He's old.'
'Yes, Malfoy. They were. Kissing. And don't you dare interfere!'
'Why would I do that?' Malfoy shrugged. 'Seen from my point of view it wouldn't be a bad thing, having the Minister for Magic in the family.'
'They were kissing, not getting hitched. Stay out of it.'
'He's hot. The Minister. He could do better.'
'Excuse me?' It shouldn't come as a surprise that others might find Kingsley appealing, although it was surprising that Draco Malfoy did. The Ministry had been intolerable for a while in the beginning of Kingsley's rule. Every unmarried witch and quite a few unmarried wizards had been circling the Minister for Magic like bees around a honeypot. It had taken a while for the collective hormonal poisoning to fade.
'Your eye? There is nothing wrong with it, right? You can see?'
Oh, he could see all right. His eyesight wasn't what it was fifteen years ago, but Kingsley looked better now, one didn't need two eyes to see that. Moody wondered briefly whether Draco, like his grandfather, preferred men. Could be. Ran in the family, that. Not that it was necessary to be interested in men to recognise the fine example of indisputable male perfection that was Kingsley Shacklebolt. 'And you, Malfoy, are the most impertinent little brat I've ever encountered. I don't need an eye to see that.' Moody deliberately let his magical eye swirl disturbingly to annoy Malfoy.
He ignored it. 'Thank you, Head Auror Moody, it's so sweet of you to say that,' he said, adding a healthy amount of sarcasm to the saccharine sweetness. 'It'd still be a perfect solution to our troubles, though. The Minister.'
'What did I just say?'
'Oh, the part about staying out?' Draco shrugged. 'I guess I forgot.' He sent Moody something that might have been a smile. Draco looked tired and the smile didn't reach his eyes. One would think the Malfoys, through the ages, had perfected the art of smiling falsely, but apparently not. There were dark shadows under Draco's eyes. Draco looked away. 'He got me out of that dreadful place. Kingsley. I'm not interfering. Promise.'
The little bastard actually knew the meaning of gratitude? It could be argued that it was stretching the meaning a bit; it was still surprising. Malfoy had layers. Interesting. 'Good thinking, Malfoy.'
Haughtily, Draco added, 'And now I don't have to thank Saint Potter for helping. Even better.'
'Don't push it, boy! Potter did a bit of the hard work, I tell you. Kingsley couldn't have taken you with us without getting in trouble, if Potter hadn't discussed your case with everyone, especially those in the Wizengamot, turning the tide for you. Better remember that. Plus the times when he helped you during the war. I'll help you with the thank-you notes, if you're unable to write them yourself. Incorrigible little idiot.' Moody rolled his eyes. He suspected that Draco knew very well that Potter had worked relentlessly to free him. He'd be a right fool not to acknowledge that fact.
'Yeah, I know. Potter is hopeless. I tried, but to no avail, he really is incorrigible.' Draco smirked.
'As long as you remember that quite a few people did theirs to help you,' Moody growled angrily. 'You wouldn't want to cross me on that one.'
It made Malfoy shut up. He'd had time to think in Azkaban all right. Moody hoped for Malfoy's sake that it was the right thoughts. He'd have to practise gratitude and humility, though, not concepts that Malfoys in general worried about. He studied Draco who'd decided to sit and mope. He really wasn't used to be contradicted, not that Moody cared. Others might be, but Moody wasn't fazed by Draco's antics. Draco, when left to himself, exuded a strange tristesse, a quiet, aloof sadness that made Moody believe that half of Draco's toffee-nosed posturing was nothing but acting to cover up his real feelings. Again he found himself caring for the boy, disturbingly so.
Draco yawned and rubbed his eyes. 'I'm tired,' he pouted. 'I had that dreadful nightmare again. I wish I could have a good night's sleep. Like when you-'
'Maybe a cuppa?' Moody suggested, interrupting. Firstly, he did not want to hear the end of that sentence. It was bad enough as it was. Secondly, he hadn't slept very well himself and he could do with a good cup of Earl Grey.
Draco sniffed as if he'd been on the verge of crying. Again. 'Yes, please.'
Mr Bruce popped out of the fireplace, as if he'd been listening. 'Sirs wants tea? Is sirs staying?' Mr Bruce looked positively bouncy. 'Mrs Bruce is done with sir's leg. Mrs Bruce will brings it to sir!'
Oh, bliss! He was getting a bit tired of all the limping around. Impossible to uphold any acceptable level of vigilance. 'That would be very kind of Mrs Bruce.' Moody didn't care to ask Malfoy whether it bothered him; it had been a long time since he cared about being discreet his eye and the leg, not that he ever bothered much. If people felt queasy, it was their problem. He was the one who had to suffer the loss of various body parts.
'You're always so polite to the house-elves. Why?' Draco put his legs on the floor and leant forward. 'It's not necessary.'
'You might think so.' The Malfoys' house-elf had suffered greatly at their hands, a fact that did little to endear Lucius to Moody in the first place. How sad if the son was going to take up the habit. 'What was it you told me, about the Abraxans? About their loyalty?'
'That force is unnecessary, obviously!' Draco glared at Moody as if he was utterly clueless. 'Positive reinforcement always works-' Draco shut his mouth almost audibly. 'Oh.'
'Not as far gone as I'd thought. Always know who to keep on your side. Potter and his friends owe their lives to a loyal house-elf, Draco. Never forget that. Not likely that you will, now that you're reminded of that particular day.'
Draco heaved a sigh. 'I'll try not to.' He pursed his mouth as if he were to say something. Moody expected something nasty.
Luckily the conversation was interrupted by Mr Bruce, who entered the library, carrying a large tray. Behind him a smaller house-elf followed. The elf was carrying an elaborately carved wooden leg. Mr Bruce put the tray down on the coffee table. There was tea and scones, a few delicious looking sandwiches and a bowl filled with chocolate biscuits. Mr Bruce waved the other elf closer.
'Mrs Bruce has made sirs leg, sir.' The smaller elf put the leg down and it took a few small steps to get over to Moody's chair by itself.
'That's-' Moody studied the leg. '-ingenious.' The wooden legs had elaborate carvings, just like his old one, but these were prettier. The carved pattern moved lazily: an Abraxan circling the leg at the widest spot, a small dog that looked very much like Wagtail was playing at the lower part. Other animals, foxes and birds and badgers, were pottering about, doing what carved animals did. The leg ended, not in a claw as the old one, but in a tiny hoof. Abraxan, probably.
'That is a very nice piece of work.' Draco was studying the carvings too with an expression of appreciation on his face.
Moody smiled broadly, impressed by the quality of the elf's carpentry. 'Thank you, Mrs Bruce,' he said in a formal tone. 'It is much better than the one that broke.'
'Mrs Bruce must shows,' Mr Bruce said. 'Shows sirs!'
Mrs Bruce snapped her thin fingers and the leg broke in two.
'What?' Baffled, Moody didn't react before the leg had put itself together. In a few seconds there was nothing to see. It was whole again. 'That's house-elf magic that did that?'
'Mrs Bruce knows how to do woodwork,' Mr Bruce said proudly. 'Mrs Bruce is good wife.' He pointed at the leg. 'Sir musts put on.'
Pulling his trouser leg up, Moody put the leg on. It fit snugly, lined with the softest, finest leather. He got up from the chair, shifting his weight to the leg. The hoof gave it a better balance. 'I won't offend you by suggesting that I should talk Abraxas into giving you clothes, but if I may shake hands with you?' Moody said kindly to the blushing Mrs Bruce. 'If there is nothing else I may give you in exchange?' Moody knew little about house-elves, he did know, though, that they appreciated to be treated with respect and kindness.
'Shake hands with sir?' Mrs Bruce dried her extraordinarily long and pointy nose. 'That is... so... Sir is very nice.' Shyly she held out her hand and Moody took it. Both house-elves looked very pleased. They bowed and disappeared.
'Now you're being nice again.' Draco sat, with his hand under his chin. 'You're a strange person, Moody.'
'Are you keeping a list?' Moody ignored Malfoy's evaluation of his personality. He pulled out his wand. He scanned the new leg for any spells that were not supposed to be there. He didn't expect the house-elves to have any evil plans with his leg, but better safe than sorry. The leg was fine, although the house-elf magic was a tad foreign to Moody. 'Clever little creatures,' he said. 'More to them than meets the eye.'
'A bit like you,' Draco said. 'Full of surprises.'
Kingsley and Abraxas were done kissing, for Kingsley entered the library alone. 'Abraxas is looking for you, Draco.'
'Still on with the messenger service? Quite the luxury, having the Minister for Magic at his beck and call,' Moody said. 'What's next? You sprout feathers and turn into an owl?'
Kingsley showed Draco with a wave that he wanted the chair he was sitting in. 'He was quite adamant, Abraxas. Something about choosing a horse.'
'A horse? He said that he'd let me, but...' Draco stood. He looked pleased. 'I think I might have been forgiven.' He smiled, this time the smile didn't only reach his eyes, but it altered his face, making him look pretty.
'Good for you,' Moody said teasingly. 'I always wanted a pony for Christmas, but did I get one? Guess it's a thing for the landed classes. Damned hard to keep in the loo in a second floor flat, ponies.'
Strangely enough, Draco wasn't offended. 'You could have bought one. I mean, a decently sized bathroom. Not exactly poor, are you, with your position.' He smirked. 'Our toilets at the Manor are large enough to hold several ponies.'
'So could you—buy a pony. Instead of waiting for your grandfather to take pity in you and give you one. But, oh, wait. That'd mean you have to work and earn money.' Moody didn't think that Draco had done as much as one day's honest work in his entire life. He probably didn't have to.
'Dearest Auror Moody,' Draco purred, 'We Malfoys do not buy things. We inherit them. The difference between us and... people.'
'And you have obviously inherited your grandfather's annoying habit of making fun of everything as well as your father's foul disposition.' Satisfied with his come-back, Moody crossed his arms and leant back, waiting for the impact. Teasing Draco Malfoy had turned out to be an interesting pastime.
'Touché, Moody.' Draco opened the door. 'At least I know who my father is.' Draco smiled sweetly. 'You should ask your mum that question. I'm sure she knows who the gentleman is. Maybe. If she wasn't too drunk at the time. And the goat had left.' He shut the door before Moody could react.
Moody stared at the door, flabbergasted. Then he laughed, utterly amused. 'Merlin!' He rubbed his scarred cheek, surprised to find a tear of laughter there.
Kingsley sat down in the chair that Draco had used. 'You're beginning to like him?'
'Wouldn't stretch it that far. He needs a guiding hand and I'm...' Moody realised that he wasn't really certain what he was doing, other than keeping an eye on Malfoy, trying to talk some sense into him. In between the teasing. 'I'm trying to make him understand that the world has changed, I think. And that he can, too.'
'By offending his family and bullying him? Yes, well done.' Kingsley laughed loudly. 'I must admit that you get as good as you give.' He took a sandwich from the tray. 'He likes you.'
'Oh, because you and Abraxas are never on each others' throats like that.' Moody couldn't keep the envy out of his voice entirely. 'And now that we're on that topic, where is that going?'
'Nowhere. Yet.' Kingsley took a bite of the sandwich before Moody could manage to stop him.
'I haven't checked for poison,' he growled. He knew he was being silly, but old habits were hard to break.
'I think you need to relax a bit. There is no one to kiss if I'm dead,' Kingsley said and chewed for a while before he continued. 'Testing the waters, I believe. Getting to know him.'
'But you're serious?' Moody knew already that he wouldn't like the answer. It wasn't as if he wanted Kingsley for himself, but he didn't want Abraxas to have him, either.
Kingsley paused. 'I haven't really decided. I think I am. He is. Says I keep him from dying of boredom.' Kingsley smiled his wide, brilliant smile. 'We're not in love or anything, if that's what you ask. But again, there's potential. He keeps me from slipping into the comfortable suit of the sleazy politician.'
'Oh, thanks, I saw precisely who you were slipping into earlier. Could have closed the door, you know. Before you stuck your tongue into Abraxas's throat.'
'One of the things I love about you, Moody, is that you are always so concerned about being polite and discreet.' Kingsley shook his head. 'You were spying on us?' Kingsley didn't seem worried and took another bite of the sandwich.
'No!.' Moody felt a bit... affronted. 'You should know me better than that.' Moody pointed at the magical eye. Kingsley knew precisely what it could do. He also knew very well that Moody had a very strict ethical code when it came to its use. He was not a voyeur.
'Sorry. Of course you didn't. And before you ask, there has only been kissing. Still not your business, but you'd ask anyway.'
'Yeah, I might.' It was work-related, being curious. 'Are we done discussing your love-life? Because I'd like to know when we're going back to Drear. We're waiting for Snape to return tomorrow, of course. If we can get a confirmation that it really is Tony Perks we found—or not—we'd know whether to continue the search there or if we need to go on to the two locations you suggested.' If it was Tony Perks, it would give Mrs Perks closure, precisely what Moody had hoped for. There was no chance of finding them alive, but finding them at all was an improvement. They should probably search the island anyway; if the body they'd found wasn't Mr Perks, someone else had lost their life there. Moody found it highly unlikely that the body wasn't Anthony Perks. The broom, the location, the circumstances... Snape's time-determining potion would merely be a confirmation what they already had deducted from the evidence.
'If Snape returns the day after tomorrow, he'll probably need three days to test what he's already made and to brew the improved version of the potion.' Kingsley paused and poured himself a cup of tea. 'Do you want to investigate the places we discussed, or should we just enjoy a few days of peace and quiet? The chances are that it really is Perks we've found, if you ask me.' Kingsley took a sip of the tea and winced. 'Uh, hot!' He put the cup down and looked at Moody. 'I'd prefer to have the potion with us so we can test on the spot; I am not that eager to have more encounters with those Quintapeds if I can avoid it.'
Moody nodded. He agreed. He wasn't particularly fond of the nightmares that the incident with Quintapeds had evoked and Moody was sure that they'd return with force when he went back. Malfoy, too, had bad dreams still, not that it bothered Moody much. 'The potion will save us work too, if we can do that, test what we find on location. Not that I like to sit idly and wait, but I suppose it is all the holiday we're going to get.' Moody wasn't really interested in wasting time. But Kingsley... he hadn't had a holiday for ages. They could wait a few days and still get the result they were looking for. Three days of boredom, letting Kingsley enjoy his budding relationship with Abraxas Malfoy... that was all right. He owed his friend that much.
Turning yet another page in Kennilworthy Whisp's Quidditch Through the Ages, Moody yawned. He liked Quidditch. The book, however, with its meticulous accord of who did what with a bat and a Snitch in the Stone Age, was blessedly boring. Refusing to go to bed until he was properly tired, Moody sat in a deep chair in front of the fireplace. One of the benefits of having a bedroom the size of the entire floor of his terraced London house. Wagtail had curled up in his lap, occasionally waking up and turning so that Moody could pet him on whatever place Wagtail wanted. 'Lazy dog,' Moody said affectionately. He really should get a dog. 'What do you say, should we go to bed?' Unsurprisingly, Wagtail didn't reply. Moody got up, folding the blanket he'd used. He'd already changed into his nightshirt, his teeth were brushed and he was ready for yet another attempt to get a few hours of light sleep, disturbed by random nightmares. 'Come on,' he said, waiting for Wagtail to jump onto the bed. Moody found his wand, then considered whether three different wards were to overdo safety a wee bit. He knew he had a slight tendency to be paranoid—some might disagree on the "slight"—and he tried to keep it under control. The war was over after all.
'Moody?' There was a soft knocking on the door. 'Moody, are you asleep?'
What was it now? 'Yes. Go away!'
'No, you're not.' Draco opened the door, eyeing Moody's nightshirt. 'You're not even in bed.'
'Astute observation, Malfoy. What is it?' Draco, too, was wearing a nightshirt. He was clutching a pillow. Moody's brain made the connection. 'No! Absolutely no!'
'I can't sleep. I'm so tired.' Draco had perfected the art of sounding pathetic. Moody didn't know whether it was his various hints about Draco's mental age that had made a minor impact, but Draco might have realised that he was falling into the behavioural pattern of a child. 'I heard Kingsley talk with my grandfather. Is it true that we're going back to Drear as soon as Severus is back?' Draco hugged the pillow hard. He wasn't comfortable.
'Yes. That's what Aurors do, Draco, investigate. Even though it's dangerous.'
'I'm not an Auror. I'm...' That moment it felt as if Draco's many masks slipped off, peeled away. 'I'm scared, Moody. I don't want to go back. I know something horrible is going to happen. I tried to sleep, but...'
Something terrible had already happened: Moody realised he felt truly sorry for Malfoy, despite all his wrongdoings and his stupid Pure-blood prejudice and his arrogant, infuriating behaviour. Somehow Moody understood that Draco had tried. He still did. All the time he tried. So much had depended on Draco, so many demands from his father, from Lord Voldemort, from Snape. So much was still expected of him. It was no wonder that the boy was messed up. Moody patted Draco's shoulder clumsily for comfort. 'Go to bed. Just relax. Take Wagtail with you. You'll fall asleep in no time.'
'Moody?' Draco's grey eyes were wide and innocent.
'No. And drop the act. What?'
'Moody?' Draco stepped closer and pulled Moody's sleeve. 'You know... when you were sleeping next to-'
'No. Under no circumstances!'
'Please? Just tonight. So I can fall sleep. I'll feel better tomorrow! I promise.'
'Do I have a label on my forehead that says "idiot", Malfoy?' Moody knew he should refuse. He knew he should send Draco off to bed, let him deal with his nightmares and his fears by himself. Moody couldn't do that for him. He sighed. 'One night. There.' He pointed at the far side of the huge bed. 'And stay there.'
Of course Draco didn't obey. Moody was secretly annoyed that he couldn't possibly berate Malfoy for what he did in his sleep. After eight hours of wonderful, dreamless sleep Moody woke up. This time it was Wagtail who was lying on his left arm whereas Malfoy lay curled up against his side, fast asleep.
Merlin, this had to stop!
9. Desires and Death Eaters
It didn't stop. The next evening when Draco once more was at his doorstep, Moody's protests had decimated themselves miraculously. He'd merely called Draco a spoilt brat and let him in, despite all common sense. When Moody woke up after yet another night of deep, relaxing sleep, he wasn't certain he cared any longer. They'd both fallen asleep almost instantly, all three of them to be exact, although Wagtail surely had no problems sleeping. His sleep was usually only disturbed by the occasional naps he took.
Moody was beginning to think that this holiday-idea of Kingsley's wasn't entirely without merit. Having time to sleep in could be seen as sensible and good for one's health. Especially if one had warded the bedroom properly so one didn't have to suffer unexpected attacks at six in the morning.
Not that he'd have noticed, for the clock was past ten already and the sun was shining merrily outside. Not that Moody really noticed that, either, for Draco had insisted that the curtains were pulled. Moody had made an exception, to some degree accepting Draco's argument that no Dark Wizard in their right mind cared to hover outside the second floor of a desolate castle at night just to hex him. Dark Wizards would, according to Draco, be at their manor houses, enjoying a drink before bedtime, not faffing about to hex people at inappropriate hours. As Dark Wizards' bedtime habits went, Moody reluctantly had to bow to Malfoy's expertise on the matter.
Beside him, Draco was still asleep. Without thinking he reached out, as if to pet Draco in the same way he petted Wagtail. He stopped himself. Instead he studied Draco's relaxed face. Malfoy was pretty when he didn't frown or look arrogant or dissatisfied, which he did most of his awake hours. It had been almost two weeks since they had fetched Malfoy in Azkaban and in those two weeks, Moody had to admit, Draco had changed. Not much, but he had. He was still a petty, childish little arsehole. Only there were glimpses of another Draco, a more honest, mature man, a young man who could be brave if he had to. Moody wondered if he'd be like Abraxas when he got older. Infinitely better than ending up like Lucius. With the right support, and in the right environment, Draco Malfoy would grow up to be tolerable.
Sighing, Moody wondered why Draco sought out his company. There had to be other reasons than his immense charm and beauty. It could be that it was just more comfortable for Draco to sleep next to another person; it could be that he was looking for the father figure he'd been missing since Lucius was broken by Voldemort. It was obvious that Malfoy needed protection, warmth and safety after his ordeal in Azkaban. Although Moody still found it more than fair that Draco had been put there in the first place, he was beginning to find it reasonably fair that they'd dragged him out. Before he, too, was broken entirely.
Although they should dislike each other, two former enemies, Moody was still wondering what had happened since Malfoy trusted him enough to wish to sleep next to him. Moody, in turn, found that it would be unwise to refuse this trust. Draco had showed that the trust wasn't for show: he'd earned the right to Moody's consideration by his brave intervention at the Isle of Drear. A good night's sleep was in that regard a small payment for Wagtail's life. For his own.
Awkwardly, Moody put his arm around Malfoy's thin shoulder, offering what little comfort he had to give. He wondered whether it would be wise to sleep yet another hour or two. Perhaps not. It wouldn't do that Abraxas and Kingsley found out that Draco and he had been sharing a bed. It would elicit questions that Moody wasn't certain that he could answer.
'Moody?' Draco stirred and cuddled up against Moody's chest. 'Don't get up, you're so warm.'
'I'm not your personal radiator, Malfoy. And it's July.'
'I've been freezing for two years. I like it warm. What's a radiator?'
'A Muggle device which keeps rooms warm.'
'I like Muggles. They invent useful things. Can I have radiators at the Manor?'
'No, you don't. And you probably can.'
'If I actually knew any Muggles...'
There was a tapping on the door. 'Damn,' Moody said, looking for his eye. 'You'd not want to-'
Before Moody managed to get his magical eye to react, Mr Bruce opened the door carefully, peeking around the door frame. 'Sirs?'
'Oh, get in here. Close the door,' Moody growled. 'And if you breathe a word to anyone-'
'I thought you said that one needed to be nice to house-elves,' Draco interrupted cheekily. He was grinning.
Mr Bruce wasn't fazed. He was balancing a tray with one hand and closed the door with the other. 'Sirs' breakfast.' He put the tray down on the bed. There was two of everything, except for croissants. There was a mountain of those.
'Moody was trying to say that it would be awfully nice of you not to mention to anyone that I was in here and not in the other bedroom. Could you do that for us, please?'
Moody raised an eyebrow. If nothing else, Draco was a fast learner. 'And none of that Master said I couldn't tell this or that-nonsense. Please, Mr Bruce.' Abraxas would probably hear about it anyway at some point, so perhaps he needed to work on a proper excuse. 'And you,' he told Draco, 'need to go back to your room before breakfast, young man. What do you think your grandfather would say if he found out that you slept here?'
'Good work, Auror Moody. Or something in that direction. You know him, it could be anything from pass me the broccoli, please to I demand satisfaction; meet me at dawn, bring wands.' Draco took a croissant.
Moody pushed Wagtail away from the tray. The dog had his eyes on his teacup. Teacups seemed to be Wagtail's preferred snack.
'Although he's too busy with Kingsley to actually bother with anything that isn't directly related to Minister Shacklebolt's firm arse. We could probably have a party in here with four of the Abraxans and he still wouldn't notice. Not his business where I sleep, either,' Draco argued.
'But it is mine. As long as you insist on being in my bed.' Moody took pity in Wagtail who was looking pathetic with one paw raised, begging. Moody gave him one of the croissants. 'You'll be in your own bed before breakfast tomorrow. No more of this silly business. It's like playing happy family, what with you and the dog.'
'Yeah, isn't it great?' Draco looked smug.
That was the problem. It was great. No, it was grand. And it really shouldn't feel like that.
It was almost lunchtime when Moody returned from a walk down the coast. His new leg was better than the old one; he found it easier to walk properly. Wagtail, who couldn't care less about the number of limbs that Moody possessed as long as he got his walk, was bouncing happily around, digging and sniffing at anything he found remotely interesting. Moody had needed the exercise, too. He needed air. He needed to think.
Draco Malfoy had wormed his way into his life. Somehow there was this faint echo of what Abraxas and Kingsley had and yet it was nothing like it. Draco was infuriating, but he was an interesting challenge, all the time making Moody question his own opinions, his habits, his life. It was disturbing because the entire relationship, if one could call it that, had a slight flavour of change and reconciliation. It was obvious that his opinions and his occasional scoldings had an effect on Draco, just as Draco had managed to make him think about his own rather firm beliefs on life, laws and Death Eaters. Draco had even managed to make him change his mind: one of those rare occurrences which wasn't worth holding one's breath for.
None of that was problematic as such. The ability to adapt and be open-minded was a necessary trait for an Auror, any Auror, Alastor Moody included. Moody's problem was that he was getting oddly fond of a young man whose behaviour and opinions he should detest. Draco Malfoy was a former Death Eater who'd changed his allegiance at the most opportune moment, just like his equally opportunistic parents. Moody couldn't think of anything worse than this cowardly turning towards those with power. A Malfoy trademark. Only none of it really mattered and it should. There were other stumbling blocks: Draco had his own way of driving him mad. Draco was fickle, annoying, as constant the English weather. And all the time Draco kept him on his toes. All five of them. Moody began to understand what Kingsley found so challenging and interesting with Abraxas. Draco was the same, yet without the experience and the refinement. It would come with age.
Moody had no idea what to make of their relation. All he knew was that Draco sought him out for safety and protection and that he didn't mind. If he had to admit it, didn't mind wasn't the right term to use. He liked it.
Perhaps he should get that dog. And fast.
Walking over the drawbridge, the hard thumping of Moody's staff and leg might have alerted Draco, for he was waiting in the courtyard, strangely excited. 'Come on. Grandfather has something for you. Kingsley has already got his.'
Moody could think of one or two things that Kingsley got from Abraxas that he had little interest in. 'And what might that be?'
'Not a spoilsport. Not going to tell.' Draco sported an annoyingly smug grin. He scampered off in the direction of the stables.
Trying to keep up with him, Moody limped across the cobbled courtyard with Wagtail running back and forth between them, barking and bouncing. Draco politely held the door to the stables open. He shut the door behind them as Moody went inside. He breathed in. He liked horses. He liked the spicy, sweet scent of hay. A small herd of horses was standing with their heads over the half-wall, trying to get to the carrots that Abraxas was holding.
'Auror Moody.' Abraxas acknowledged his presence with a gracious nod.
'What are those?' Moody regarded the horses with interest. They were much smaller than the Abraxans, the size of a Muggle horse, perhaps sixteen hands or so. Abraxans seemed to come only in a variety of palomino colours, from pale eggshell to dark bronze. These horses were black and chestnut, spotted or grey or dappled in a wide array of colours.
'By-products.' Abraxas offered a carrot to a beautiful flaxen colt with golden eyes. 'Cross-bred.'
'I told you,' Draco said, reaching out to rub one of the horses on the neck. 'My many-times-great grandfather bred horses for Muggle warriors hundreds of years ago. They were originally Spanish horses crossed with Abraxans. We still keep the line. A few of them come out like this, with wings. It has to happen once in a while, since it's in their blood. Not that often, though. Grandfather is careful with the genetics.'
'I've noticed.' Moody didn't understand this obsession with breeding, whether it was horses or humans. The animals, however, were beautiful, sturdy horses who carried themselves proudly. Moody could understand why one would like to keep a herd of them. They were pretty to look at.
'Not of much use these days,' Abraxas said, 'but they are a part of the Malfoy heritage. The winged ones are much sought after, especially by French witches and wizards. Of course I could breed more of them, but that is not the purpose of the line. So they stay very rare.'
'And expensive,' Draco added. 'When did you last sell one, Grandfather?'
'It is distasteful to speak of such matters, Draco.' Abraxas correction was kind. 'We are not... nouveau riche. Remember your manners.' He sighed. 'Those were the times... witches and wizards at the courts, the Malfoy horses at the tournaments. In battle.'
'Yes, Grandfather.' Draco accepted the correction gracefully. Moody had no problems recognising the small pout and the flash of anger in his eyes. Draco was getting better at it, being an adult. Two weeks ago, he'd thrown a temper tantrum.
'You're hoping for yet another crusade? For the sake of your horses?' Moody laughed. Abraxas was... incredible.
Abraxas, too, laughed. 'No, Moody. The reason that I am out here, a few inches from falling off Scotland, is that I do not appreciate war. Any war.' Abraxas handed Moody some of the carrots. 'I am a gentleman of leisure and I insist on the luxury of doing things that do not make sense to anyone but me.' He pointed at a smoky black gelding, large and heavy set. The shiny black wings had a bluish tint to them. 'That one. I used to ride him often. He's brave, easy to get along with, handsome. That'd be my choice for you, since you're not that experienced and he is. But pick anyone you like,' Abraxas added generously. 'Unless you'd rather have one of the Abraxans; they're a bit difficult to get into the loo, though. Draco mentioned that you'd probably try to put it there if I didn't agree to let him stay here. You'd have to go and visit him, obviously, and I'd be less bored with a slight influx of intelligent company.'
'So not entirely an offer out of the goodness of your heart?'
'Of course not. Kingsley already accepted his gift. He'll have to come back to go for a ride once in a while. You, Auror, despite your attitude, is quite entertaining, too, although for different reasons.' Abraxas's eyes slid to Draco. 'I'm not the only one who thinks that having you here is tolerable. And we cannot disappoint the young, can we?'
'Easily,' Moody growled, a bit defensive, despite the underhanded compliment. Did he really have to admit that he was changing his mind on the Malfoys? 'The young-' He looked pointedly at Draco '-are far too used to getting what they want.'
'Are they?' Abraxas's face was expressionless.
Moody wondered how much Abraxas knew. Whether he knew where, exactly, Draco stayed some of the day and all of the night. Wisely, Moody changed the subject. 'So, that one?' He looked at the horse. It had the colour of a late and foggy winter night. It was a nice horse, not that Moody had much experience in the matter. If he didn't have to worry about where to put it, he could accept the gift. If Kingsley had accepted his, Moody could do the same without feeling as if he did something he shouldn't do. Most important of all, this wasn't Abraxas trying to buy himself a political favour. Instead, Moody thought, it was a strange and sometimes lonely man who didn't mind company occasionally, going riding with his guests. The horses were merely a guarantee that Kingsley and he would return to the castle. 'Seems I got the pony I wanted for Christmas anyway,' he said to Draco. A smile was pulling at his scars.
'Horsa. That's his name.' Draco stepped closer to Moody, diverting his attention for a moment with a hand on his arm. 'His brother, over there, is called Hengist. That's the one I chose. They're both of the H-line. Haizum's their sire, so Halcyon is their grandsire.'
Moody offered a carrot to Horsa who appeared very interested in the remaining vegetables. The horse tried to do a bit of self-service and nibbled at the carrots until Moody gave in and let the horse have another. He rubbed the animal on the nose. Draco's choice was quite modest. He'd have thought that he'd would have taken the most impressive of the Abraxans.
'I thought that we could...' Draco's pale skin took a slightly rose tone. 'I could teach you, if you want? Riding. Flying.'
'Are you being decent again?' Moody asked, ignoring Abraxas's presence. 'Careful, lad. One day it becomes a habit.' Draco's hand was burning hot on his arm.
'Of course not.' Draco smiled. 'It wouldn't be fair to you, leaving you without anything to complain about.'
'Oh, that won't happen, I assure you. If nothing else, there is always your appalling wand-safety to criticise.' Moody raised an eyebrow at Draco's wand, sticking up from a pocket in the robe. 'Where did you get that, by the way, didn't you use one of your grandfather's wands?' Moody held up a hand. 'No, wait. I know. Special order from London.'
'Special order from Bulgaria.' Draco raised an eyebrow too. 'For various reasons, Mr Ollivander is reluctant to receive our patronage. So will you?' Draco removed his hand. 'Go riding with me.'
'You won't take no for an answer, I suppose?'
'Not really.' Draco shrugged. 'It'll be fun. And when you've learnt, we won't have to-' He paused. '-you won't have to bother with long-distance travel by broom again. The horses are much more comfortable for that kind of travelling.'
It all sounded very nice. Too nice. It didn't make it any better that Abraxas looked like he appreciated what Draco was doing. Moody gave up. Draco Malfoy was beyond hopeless. 'May I see your hands?'
'Give 'em here.'
Draco held out his hands. 'What are you playing at, Moody?'
Moody grabbed Draco's right hand. It was thin and warm, but Draco was trembling slightly. 'Nothing. I just wondered which of your little fingers you have me wrapped around.' Somehow Moody found it a little hard to breathe. A shiver went through him. Maybe he was getting a cold? Reluctantly, he let go, only to realise that he hadn't wanted to.
Perhaps he was running a fever, too?
The next day, Snape returned. It was a calmer, happier Snape, one that even managed a smile. He'd arrived with a larger assortment of books and potions and had almost immediately retreated into the potions laboratory. They didn't see him for a few hours, and it was very clear that their interference was unwanted. Snape had sent for his lunch, then for tea.
After dinner Snape was still working. Moody found a particularly interesting volume on vanishing spells and potions in the library and went back to his room to study it. As usual, Wagtail had a problem. He ran upstairs with Moody, then decided to run back downstairs to find Draco, that was at least what Moody thought. When he for the third time let Wagtail out, he growled an annoyed, 'Then bring the boy with you, stupid dog!' When Draco showed up he didn't knock and Moody didn't complain. He didn't care to get up from the bed, either, showing with a nod that Draco could join him.
Curling up with Wagtail at the end of the bed it took barely half an hour for Draco to worm closer so he could lie with his head resting on Moody's good leg as if it was the most natural thing in the world. He, too, was reading. Distractedly, Moody reached out and stroked Draco's hair. He hadn't even noticed, not until he threaded his fingers through it. Draco merely sighed, content.
The sea was calm. For once, the harsh northern wind had turned into a summer breeze. Under the open window, slow waves rolled upon the shore, a slow, constant rhythm. The large poster bed felt like a small, pleasant island. Moody couldn't remember when he'd last felt this relaxed, except in the morning, when he woke up with Draco next to him and Wagtail lying somewhere in the bed as well. He knew he needed to think about what he was doing. What they were doing. At some point, he had to face... it, this strange nest of satisfied needs they'd been creating for themselves. Moody paused. Draco reached up to touch his hand, urging him without words to continue. In the same casual way that Moody had touched Draco's hair, his fingers suddenly were entangled with Draco's: a small, bony hand disappearing into Moody's much larger fist. There was this shivering energy again, a tiny stream of magic flashing between their hands.
Moody realised that instant that he surely wasn't running a fever. Not that kind of fever, at least.
'I need to see Snape,' Moody said and freed himself. 'I'll come back later.' It was too much. He needed a break, something else to do. Before it went too far.
'It's your bedroom,' Draco said. 'Could have figured that out by myself.'
It was midnight before Moody returned. Draco was asleep, Wagtail in his arms. The dog opened one eye when Moody entered, only to do the sensible thing and go back to sleep. Quietly Moody bathed and went to bed. He knew he should make Draco leave. Waking him up, asking him to leave would be cruel, so he didn't. He turned his back on Draco and Wagtail. Sleep didn't come as easily as he'd hoped, neither did he sleep as long as he'd wanted. Morning came far too soon.
The sun was bright and clear. Long fingers of light were clutching at the curtains, making it impossible to ignore the early summer morning. Moody was lying on his back, one arm around Draco's shoulder. Draco's hand lay limply on Moody's chest. One of Draco's legs was thrown over Moody's good one. Also, Moody had a problem. A large one. It was as if his body was awakening. He'd been busy with the war and later, when Kingsley pulled him out of recovery, there had been little time to worry much about that sort of needs. It was easier to ignore them anyway, since there was little chance that they'd be satisfied.
He got up from the bed without waking Draco. He was getting good at that. He didn't want Draco to think that his safe retreat was threatened in a way that neither of them had foreseen. Realising that one had been sleeping next to a scarred, middle-aged Auror with a morning glory the size of the Big Ben might be a bit disturbing for a young man. Moody grabbed his clothes and went into the bathroom. A look at Draco before he locked the door assured him that he was still asleep.
Moody tossed off harshly under the shower, thinking only of how Kingsley looked when he came. It took up the room for images that he'd not want to entertain. He moaned as he imagined Kingsley's lips and tongue on his cock, forgetting for a moment that he wasn't alone. The release was quick. He finished showering and hurried to dress. He was trying to overlook the fact that he should have cast a silencing charm, but he didn't like them. It wouldn't be possible to hear attackers trying to sneak up to him. Well, nothing to remedy that now; Obliviating Draco would be a bit on the excessive side. Hopefully, he wasn't yet awake.
It wasn't Moody's lucky day. Not only was Draco awake, he managed to blush and look complacent at the same time. If Draco's fidgeting was a clear indicator, Moody hadn't been as quiet as he thought he had.
'Erm- hello.' Draco did indeed blush.
So much for hiding it. 'It has been some time.' Moody didn't volunteer further information. There wasn't much more to say. 'I'm getting used to it, abstinence. Since you're staying here, I suggest you do too.'
Draco looked searchingly at Moody. 'What? To not having any? Azkaban is the den of sin, I'll have you know.' Draco looked extraordinarily displeased by the mere thought of the prison.
'Not very likely.' Moody sighed and sat down on the bed. 'As I understand it, there is no contact between the prisoners.'
Draco ignored Moody's comment. 'Why? I mean, why haven't you, if you don't mind me asking?' He turned, facing Moody, cuddling up next to him with the duvet around his shoulders and Wagtail in his lap.
'I do mind. But look at me, lad. And then tell me that I'm the stuff dreams are made of. People have eyes.' Moody never got used to the ravaged face that appeared in the mirror, neither had he truly accepted the loss of his eye and leg; he'd coped, which was not the same. He'd been good looking once. Not handsome, but decent. That time was long gone and it still pained him occasionally, although he really didn't care what other people thought of him.
'Oh... I...' Draco looked puzzled. 'I hadn't thought of that. I... sort of don't really notice. The scars, if that's what you mean.' He licked his lips before he continued, this time hesitating as if he was wondering if he'd said too much. He went on: 'They're battle scars. Honour. Shows that you're brave and strong. A hero. Surely women like that?' He raised his hand, reaching out to touch the violent scar that ran down Moody's cheek, then regretted it. He rubbed his left arm instead. 'Not like this one.' He put his hand back in his lap.
The fact that Malfoy had wanted to touch his scars was very surprising. 'Women might.' Moody snorted. Was he truly sitting here, discussing with Draco Malfoy his lack of anything that resembled a love life? 'That's not the problem, though.'
'Women are not a problem?' A realisation hit Draco. Oh,' he said again. 'Oh! That is... You are... Oh. I didn't think that you...'
Draco did not look disgusted. On the contrary. He looked a bit flushed and pleased as he sat there with the pretty lips parted and surprise shining in his grey eyes. It was a kissable mouth, Moody thought, before his conscious mind registered the utter inappropriateness of the idea. Merlin! He had to get out immediately, as not to think that thought to its very disturbing end. Draco Malfoy kissable? He had to make certain he hadn't been hit with a spell. Perhaps he'd suddenly been transported into an alternate universe where such things happened?
Then Moody realised that he'd been looking into Draco's eyes the whole time, staring at the handsome young man breathlessly. A similar baffled and breathless look had settled onto Draco's face.
'Bugger,' Moody growled. For the first time in decades, Auror Alastor Moody had no clue on what to do. All he knew was that this was a battle he couldn't fight. So he decided to do the safest thing he could think of—before he gave in and kissed Draco Malfoy senseless and ruined everything:
Moody avoided Draco for the remains of the day. Luckily he had things to do. He needed to speak to Kingsley; they both needed to plan the investigation they were carrying out. He decided to go and see Snape, hoping there was something he could do that could keep him away from Draco as long as possible. To be honest, his vigilance had let him down. He'd guarded everything, always alert and perceptive. Doors, windows, houses. Hexes and charms and spells. Everything he'd done so he could keep himself and others safe.
Only one thing he'd forgotten to guard, for in his infinite stupidity it hadn't occurred to him that it was under fire.
He knew he had been lying to himself. He should have seen it coming, known where it would go when he let Draco into his bed. He had pretended it was care for the young man. It was, but from the moment he'd woken up and found Draco in his arms, he'd been lying to himself. He had been so occupied with Kingsley, afraid of losing his best friend. He had admittedly been a bit jealous, but now he understood it wasn't because of Kingsley's relationship with Abraxas. Moody didn't want Kingsley, he wanted a relationship. He didn't want to be alone for the rest of his life. So very stealthyly, covered by the fact that Moody's attention had been elsewhere, Draco Malfoy had made his way into Moody's life. He had sought comfort and warmth and Moody had given it to him willingly.
It did not, however, mean that Draco wanted more than that; on the contrary. Why would anyone want Alastor Moody with his paranoia and his ruined, ravaged body?
Moody decided to deal with the Malfoy problem later. Instead he went through the castle's long corridors to find Kingsley. If they progressed as they'd planned, they were to return to Isle of Drear tomorrow. A meeting with Snape was first on the list of things that Moody had to do. Dealing with his unexpected feelings for Draco had to wait.
He turned around a corner almost running directly into the man he'd been looking for.
'Oi! Where are you going, Moody? I was looking for you. On your way to Snape?'
Moody confirmed Kingsley's assumption. 'Yeah. He was rather pleased with the progress he made on the potion yesterday. He's still fiddling with the Jobberknoll.'
'And the skull?'
'Still decreasing the time margin.' Moody managed a grin. 'Snape's certain the remains belong to Anthony Perks. He has determined that the person in question died during the summer 1992. Mostly he wants to impress us with his potion-making skills, I think. A right perfectionist he is, Snape.' Moody snorted. 'When he's done, he will probably be able to detect the moment of death to within a few seconds of the event.'
'Handy potion, that. I suppose the Magical Law Enforcement is buying?'
'I'll make sure the Ministry is in on this. Could save us a lot of work on troublesome cases. I'm glad we, erm, asked him to go with us.'
'Coerced, you mean.' Moody began walking towards Snape's laboratory. 'Nevertheless, he seems... content that he bought Lucius more freedom with this. He seemed happier when he returned. Couldn't have been pleasant, watching the man he loves go to pieces in Azkaban.'
Sighing, Kingsley nodded. 'I agree. I knew it was bad there, even without the Dementors. It is going to be my first priority when we get back. New governor, better conditions. You wouldn't let a dog live like that.'
Moody's laughter almost sounded like Wagtail's barking. 'I don't think they'd mind, living like dogs, compared to how it looks now out there. Wagtail sleeps in my bed and eats my breakfast. Delicious croissants, by the way.'
'You big softie, you,' Kingsley joked. 'You are quite fond of that Crup.'
'I think I need a dog,' Moody admitted. 'As long as nobody complains that I'm bringing it to work.'
Kingsley held up his hands. 'It's your Aurors. Your rules. I'm not going to micro-manage the Ministry on the accounts of a puppy. It can't possibly be as messy as those sodding owls.' He changed back to the subject they were discussing: 'I am glad that we did what we did for Lucius. I am not really that fond of Death Eaters, but I'm less fond of torture. And if I have to admit it, I don't think that Lucius really wanted Voldemort to take over, he was simply in too deep when he realised that his son's life was at stake. There was no turning back.'
Moody stopped below a huge painting of a group of people in 17th century clothing. They were all tall and pale and blond, indistinguishable from any Malfoys that Moody had ever met. 'Far from being an apologist for Death Eaters, I suppose you are right. He might have supported Voldemort fully at some point, but I agree that he regretted his involvement. In the eleventh hour. And even if he had been a true supporter, we are not uncivilised and shouldn't be when it comes to punishment. Justice, punishment, redemption. Not justice, torture, death. That is not a society I'd support.'
'I know. You were always righteous.'
Righteous indeed. Righteous enough to have fallen in love with a Death Eaters' brat, a young man who had come to him for protection and safety. More like depraved. 'So were you. You didn't like the sight of Malfoy in that cell, either.'
'No.' Kingsley started walking again, then stopped. 'Are you all right, Moody?'
Apart from trying to overcome the the realisation of his attraction to a Malfoy, to a confirmed, convicted Death Eater? 'I'm... fine.'
Kingsley looked at Moody searchingly. 'You don't look well.'
'Don't you worry, laddie, I'm fine,' Moody growled. Kingsley was very perceptive. 'It's nothing.'
'Tell me when you feel like it, yeah?'
Far too perceptive.
Snape put down the ladle and sighed. Was it entirely impossible for the Minister and his friend to be a bit considerate? He was in the middle of the creation of a potion that would revolutionise the investigation of murder, amongst other crimes. And all Shacklebolt and his sidekick worried about was whether Moody could take his puppy to work with him? He opened the door to the hall. 'I understand that you have a Ministry to run. Please go and do it elsewhere. My mind can hardly wrap itself around the importance of such tasks as to decide the exact location of household pets during working hours.' Snape didn't close the door. He glared at the two men who clearly had better things to do than to worry about the importance of science and silence. 'Well?'
'Snape.' Moody nodded, looking serious and grim as always.
'Hello, Severus. We're sorry to disturb you. We're going to take a small trip to Drear tomorrow, that is if your potion is finished?'
Severus nodded curtly. 'What did I tell you, Shacklebolt? It would be ready today, yes? So what do you think? If you are able to fetch your brain from the floor below your navel.' Severus still found it extraordinarily disturbing that the Minister for Magic was drooling over the man who was his lover's father. Thank Salazar he had decided not to tell Lucius about it; if he continued to improve in the hands of the young, progressive Healer who had agreed to treat Lucius, he'd be able to process such disturbing information soon. Not yet, though. Not yet. Severus glared at the Minister. He, in turn was standing, leaning calmly against the door frame, arms crossed over his chest. He didn't take the bait.
The Minister smiled. 'Your help is invaluable to us. I am sorry we are keeping you from taking care of Lucius. Of course we do not want to put any pressure on you. It was merely an enquiry.'
'The sooner you are done, the sooner we can get back to Drear,' Moody added gruffly. 'I assume the Age Determining potion is done by now?' He sent the bronze cauldron an appreciative glance. 'Sodding good idea, that.'
Severus wasn't sure he was ready to be cooperative. 'The sooner I've paid for my lover's sanity and health, you mean?' He huffed angrily. Although the tiny, but comfortable flat that some Magical structural designer had put up instead of the icy cell had improved Lucius's mood considerably, he wasn't well. 'The Healer said he suffers from the trauma of having been held hostage for almost two years,' Severus said coldly. 'And then from having the experience reinforced in Azkaban.'
'It must be very straining.' Shacklebolt's calm, deep voice had this soothing tone. 'For the both of you. I am sorry I haven't been able to make the Wizengamot understand the urgency of improving the prison.'
'Don't patronise me,' Severus sneered. 'Just because you're shagging my lover's father, you are not my father also.' Severus turned around, ignoring the two intruders. 'He was a right arsehole, too. Muggle bastard.'
There were steps in the corridor. 'Oh, here you are.' Abraxas stepped into the laboratory. 'And I am not shagging anyone, dearest Severus. Not that it is any of your business, but I am certain that you are more than adequately intelligent to know that it is impolite to throw around such assumptions.'
'Hurrah. Another idiot.' Severus made a face that no one saw; he was facing the desk, trying to concentrate on his potions. 'Let's have a party in here while we're at it.' He turned around and glared at Abraxas. 'As I recall it you have made it your business to meddle in our affairs, Lucius's and mine. Does that mean that you are going to stop now? Oh, joy!' Severus closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of the pleasant day and night he'd spent with Lucius. They'd made love for the first time in ages. Lucius had been able to hold a conversation and he'd reacted less violently upon the triggers that usually sent him into an almost catatonic state. He had to restrain himself from hexing these people. He had to. For Lucius's sake. Shacklebolt and Mad-Eye Moody were crucial. If Lucius ever got out of Azkaban it would be because of them. They'd pulled Draco out, just because it suited them.
Severus prepared himself mentally. He could play the part; he could be accommodating and pleasant. The sooner they were done with the socialising, the sooner he could get back to his potions. 'All right. If you insist.' Severus pointed at the bronze cauldron. 'It's as finished as it will be, unless I use a few more months to refine it.' He took a scroll from the desk. 'If you compare this shade of purple here,' he pointed at a colour chart, 'with the results from the tests on the skull, here, you'll see that the person the skull belonged to died in the last few days of June or in the first few days of July 1992. Perhaps with a better quality of parchment I can get closer, but unless anybody else as reckless as Anthony Perks was seen over Drear at the time, it is probably safe to say that it is Perks.'
'It is not a hundred percent, but it's good enough. Drear isn't exactly overrun by tourists or people getting lost over the North Sea,' Moody said. 'But damned impressive nevertheless.'
Moody should know; after all he'd been useful, using a full day in the laboratory, helping out.
'And the Pacifying potion? If we dare use it.' Moody looked apprehensive.
'We wouldn't want to kill the creatures. If it was that easy, we could just ride in, kill the lot and go explore.' Abraxas shook his head. 'If Severus says it's safe, I trust him.'
'How benevolent of you,' Severus murmured. 'Of course it's safe. It's a mild sedative, nothing else. I have tested it on myself; I had an undisturbed nap that lasted around an hour. The Quintapeds are about our size, at least according to Scamander.' Severus pointed at the second edition of Scamander's exhaustive, revised work on Fantastic Beasts. 'I found that volume at the Manor; the Ministry wasn't exactly cooperative, but the middle Weasley is unusually open to suggestions when Shacklebolt's name is mentioned.' Severus pushed a thin file over the desk. 'This is the account of the examinations Magical Beings made on the isle twenty years ago. I have taken everything in here into consideration. It's safe.' Although the information on the Quintapeds was sparse, there were one or two titbits of information that made Severus consider that there was more work to be done with those beasts. The legend behind their creation was interesting enough, for a start. 'I'm working on a few other things that might be useful,' he volunteered. 'I'll let you know if they look promising.'
Kingsley sent him a properly interested look. 'Thank you, Severus, it is really-'
'Isn't it? Incredible how extortion works well in such matters.'
'So we're ready to go tomorrow?' Moody interrupted. He looked a bit pale.
'The vials there, bring them and this.' Severus pulled three smaller scrolls. 'It's a simplified colour chart. You take a small sample of the item you want to test, place it on this scroll. Sprinkle a few drops of potion on it and compare the colour with that of the chart. Saves the trouble of bringing anything here that isn't beneficial for your investigation.'
'Damned good work.' Even Shacklebolt sounded excited. 'If you don't mind, Severus, the Ministry will purchase the exclusive rights to that potion. If you are willing to brew it for us, of course.'
Severus smirked. 'There is a price.'
'Isn't there always?' Kingsley laughed his booming laughter. 'I promise to look at Lucius's case personally. I assume that is what you want?'
'I'm so pleased we understand each other,' Severus said, only half-way sarcastically. He grabbed another, larger vial. It was gleaming in the same calming blue and green colours as the sea on a sunny day. 'Two drops on a piece of meat. One drop if it's a smaller Quintaped. Don't overdo it. Gives you... half an hour at worst, an hour at best. See if you can test it on one before you decide to get down off your high horses. I am, after all, not a Quintaped.'
'You could go with us, Severus.' Kingsley took the vial and studied it. 'Do a bit of research there.'
'I'm allergic to horses. No thanks. And I am not going there on a broom.' It was Severus' allergy that had made Lucius put a damper on his interest in horses. Abraxas had been livid when he realised that Lucius had rid himself of the first class Abraxan stallion that he had given him for his birthday. He'd been even more livid to realise exactly why Lucius had sold it. Severus felt a tiny bit guilty. He liked horses, but he wasn't fond of the allergy.
'Oh, I didn't know. Do you want us to get a Thestral for you? I am sure Hagrid wouldn't mind lending us one.'
'No. I prefer not to end up as a meal for those beasts.' He rubbed the scars on his neck. 'Bitten once is enough.'
Kingsley nodded. 'I can understand that. So... we have everything? We know that the body we found is Anthony Perks; the tests and the fact that we found remains of his broom more or less proves it. Indicates it, to be precise. And we have no signs of Sally-Anne, except for her broom. No signs of her wand or her clothes. We might need to look for bones; we don't know whether the Quintapeds eat everything, do we?'
'I would have seen leftovers from their charming meals if that was the case,' Abraxas argued. 'No, they don't leave anything. And I doubt that many human take-away dinners come their way.'
'You don't even know what take-away is,' Severus sneered. 'Stop trying to be clever.'
'Yes, thank you, gentlemen.' Moody stepped forward. 'Tomorrow I'll investigate the ruins of that house. I suppose I can do that without getting myself killed. Unless the beasts have keys and have decided to live there.' He pointed at Abraxas. You and Kingsley will hold the fort, you'll need to stay outside and keep any attacking monsters at bay. There is little chance that Sally-Anne made it to the house, but we need to look for anything she might have left there if she actually managed. When that is done, we'll start to search the isle from the spot where Abraxas found Sally-Anne's broom. If we can manage to buy ourselves a bit of time with the Pacifying potion, we should be able to get some work done.
'And Draco rides with you. You might need someone who can get Halcyon off the roof in a jiffy,' Abraxas said. 'You are not trained enough to go on your own. It's too risky.'
Moody looked even more grumpy. 'All right.'
'Are you done ?' Severus asked. 'Please leave. All of you.' He'd had it with the planning. They could go do that somewhere else. He had work that needed his attention.
'Anything you need help with?' Moody asked, strangely polite. Shacklebolt and Abraxas were leaving together. Severus didn't want to know what plans they had.
Severus raised an eyebrow. Funny how Moody had decided that his laboratory was the place to be. He'd been busy enough with Draco, which in itself was good; it kept Draco away from him. Since the time when Draco had refused Severus's help they hadn't exactly been close. Severus could tolerate a lot from people, Salazar knew he had. But the ungrateful little sod had... Severus shook his head and directed his attention to Moody. 'Yes. Chop up the stewed lacewing flies, then crush, not smash them.'
The good thing about Mad-Eye Moody was that the man was able to shut up and work.
Moody returned late. It was a relief for him that his bedroom was empty. He had no idea where Draco had gone. He needed the break from being with him. He needed to sit alone, think things through. He'd been running away from the entire situation, from his feelings, from his responsibility, from the decision he had to make.
It needed consideration, the strange relationship they had built in such short time. He had thought that he could handle the budding friendship between a seasoned Auror and a young Death Eater. He had thought that he was able to help where everybody else had withdrawn or, like Draco's father, had been unable to. Abraxas was all right, but he wasn't the steady, calm role-model that Draco needed. He had thought that he could handle it when he realised that Draco was more than just an immature fool. He'd thought he could handle it when he started to appreciate the bravery and the banter and the blessed sleep in the bed they had shared so innocently. He had pretended not to see where things were going. He had made himself blind to the fact that he had gone and fallen in love with the most inappropriate person on the globe, Voldemort exempted. To think that he'd berated Kingsley his attraction to Abraxas. Moody sighed deeply, feeling sad and lonely. There was Fate for you, in all her unpleasant glory. There was nothing in his relationship with Draco Malfoy that made sense. Except it did, despite the differences.
On the bottom line, none of those arguments mattered. Draco did not see him as anything but a pillar to lean on. Moody would see to it that it stayed that way. It would only lead to embarrassment and humiliation if Draco found out that Moody saw him as more than a redeemed prisoner who needed a helping hand. There would be no more sleeping together, no more teasing.
Moody flopped down on the bed. Draco's nightshirt lay on a chair in the far left corner of the room and the book he'd been reading lay on the chest of drawers. His hairbrush was thrown casually on the bedside table. Wagtail was as usual snoring, half-way buried underneath the duvet.
He crossed his arms under his head. He needed to stand by his decision. He'd forgotten who he was, who Draco was. Hell, half of his scars were the results of run-ins with Draco's family. His aunt had killed his friends, broken their minds. He'd neglected his responsibility as a high-ranking Auror, as any Auror for that matter. Draco... Malfoy—he needed to think of Draco as a Malfoy, that would make it easier—had not even been properly released from Azkaban. He'd thought that he was helping a young man stand on his own two feet and instead he'd had his one remaining foot swept off the ground by a boy who could be his son. Moody rubbed his stubbly chin angrily. Oh, it was easy to see now, how he'd fallen so deeply. Malfoy's charm. His arrogant cheekiness. His sweetness when he wanted something. His obvious intelligence. His bravery.
'Good Lord, I'm doomed,' Moody said aloud, making Wagtail look at him with his head cocked, ears up. 'Yeah, you like him, too. I know.'
He could not let anyone know how he felt. He could not let Malfoy see that look in his eyes again, a look of more than just care and kindness. Malfoy would be appalled, Moody told himself, if Malfoy knew what he wanted. Moody conveniently ignored that Malfoy had said the exact opposite: he'd appreciated the way Moody looked. It was easily forgotten. Of course Malfoy had no idea what he was saying. No one with eyes would find Moody attractive. Malfoy was merely looking for someone to latch onto until he was able to go back to the Manor and continue his way of living. A lifestyle that did not in any way include scruffy and scarred old Aurors.
It was half twelve when the knocking came. Moody closed his eyes, trying to collect himself and any strength he possessed. He could not let Malfoy in; it would lead to disaster. There was no way Moody could endure another night with Malfoy's slender body pressed against his own. He wanted what he could not get, and it stopped now.
He got up and managed to reach the door before Malfoy burst into the room, as usual ignoring Moody's right to privacy.
Malfoy looked insecure and apprehensive. 'Moody, may-'
'Draco, please. You cannot. I can't...' Moody shook his head. 'It is not appropriate for you to sleep in here. Go back to your room,' he said gruffly, leaving no doubt that he meant what he said. 'Good night.' He attempted to close the door, but Malfoy put a hand on it.
'Why? Did I do something wrong? Moody... I can't sleep without you!' There was a note of desperation in Malfoy's voice.
'No, you did not do anything wrong. I did. I shouldn't have let you in in the first place. It is not suitable for a prisoner to sleep together with those who sent him to prison, neither is it appropriate for the Malfoy heir to-' Moody stopped. What was there to say? If you insist, get in here, and I'll tell you that I want you, that I need you so much a can't think? 'Go back to your own bed, Draco. I cannot and will not let you in again. I'm sorry. Good night,' Moody said, not trying to explain his decision again. This time he shut the door firmly, hurrying back to the bed as not to be tempted to open the door and ask Malfoy to come back. Malfoy didn't repeat the attempt to enter.
Moody put up a few extra wards, but it still took a very long time before he finally fell asleep.
As usual, Kingsley and Abraxas had been spending the hour before bedtime in the library, discussing books, magic and politics. And kissing. There had been kissing too. Kingsley felt a bit like a teenage boy. He'd like more, but Abraxas was the old-fashioned type and Kingsley accepted that. It didn't do much for his ability to keep a clear mind, but on the other hand he hadn't done anything he might regret later. Neither of them had. Kingsley had the distinct notion that when the offer came, it would be because Abraxas had made up his mind about their relationship. Even Pure-bloods had standards. On the other hand, it was easier that way. If Abraxas offered and Kingsley accepted that would be it. A strange confirmation of their intentions.
It wasn't as if they hadn't spoken of them. Of the future and of the problems their status might create. Abraxas wasn't and had never been a Death Eater but he was the father of one and the Malfoy name was closely connected to Voldemort's reign. They'd have to deal with that problem if they decided to go on and let their flirting and kissing become more than just that. It was entertaining and very flattering to be courted by a man like Abraxas. Handsome, refined, cultured, rich. And not least, he wasn't impressed by Kingsley at all. He simply treated Kingsley as his equal and no one had done that before. The few witches and wizards he'd gone out with since Moody broke up with him had all been so very... awe-struck. Moody, on the other hand had treated him like a young man who needed protection and Kingsley had no use for that. It had been painful to realise that they weren't made for each other.
Abraxas, though, needed nothing, for he had everything. And still he was interested. He had nothing to prove.
Kingsley was caught up so deeply in his thoughts that he hadn't realised that Abraxas was standing in front of him.
It's time.' Abraxas held out his hand. 'Tomorrow we're going into battle.'
'Time for?' Kingsley cocked his head. Then the Knut dropped. 'Are you trying to seduce me by indicating that my chances of having sex with one of the most gorgeous men in Scotland are minimised drastically by tomorrow evening?' He smiled, a sarcastic smile. 'Or is it another time you are talking about?'
Abraxas rolled his eyes. 'You are such a romantic, Minister. I was merely being... sensitive and refined. But if you like brash better, I am willing to oblige.'
'I didn't know you even knew the word.' Kingsley was suddenly restless. The way Abraxas looked at him was disconcerting. Cat and mouse. The tables could be turned at any point. It excited him. Abraxas was arousing and he knew it. He knew precisely what he did. He'd teased and kissed and touched for more than two weeks, always withdrawing at the right time. They were doing this right, but right there and then, Kingsley wanted to do it wrong. He'd held back. He understood the reason for their common reluctance. He understood that they both had to be careful. Not that Kingsley's career meant more to him than love, but he saw no reason to sacrifice it for something that wasn't. Not yet.
Except Abraxas was asking him to, right there and then, to take the step that he didn't know if he was ready to take.
Now, when he looked at Abraxas, at his elegance and his exquisite face, he knew that he'd moved from attraction to something more. He was falling in love with the most inappropriate man on earth and he wanted more than just kisses and teasing. He'd let Abraxas lead the way, enjoying not to be the one who had to make the decision. Kingsley stretched out his long legs and looked up at Abraxas. He sent him a burning look. 'Surprise me?' He took Abraxas's hand and got up.
Abraxas didn't step back. Instead he pulled Kingsley closer, sliding his arm around his waist. 'Brash, then.' He leant in, ghosting his lips over Kingsley's cheek. Abraxas was tall, but not as tall as Kingsley. 'Upstairs. I can't wait to have you naked.' Abraxas ran a hand down Kingsley's chest, his nails sliding over a nipple, a fingertip caught on the golden hoop that Kingsley wore. 'Mmm, interesting.'
Kingsley hissed at the sensation. 'Do we need stairs?' His impatience was growing.
'Not if it'll get you out of that shirt a full minute earlier,' Abraxas moaned and pinched the nipple lightly. Abraxas's magical abilities apparently included precise Apparition. He took them upstairs, landing within an inch from his bed, managing to flick his wand at the candles, too. He was working at Kingsley's shirt even before they'd regained their balance. He pulled it open with little regard for the piece of clothing. 'Salazar, yes.' Abraxas's expression was one of undisputed appreciation. 'Oh, yes.' He spread his fingers and brushed them over Kingsley's broad chest, pushing the shirt off his shoulders. 'How the hell could anyone resist this?'
Trying to regain a modicum of control, Kingsley buried his hand in Abraxas's lush hair. It was heavy and silken. Kingsley had fantasised about it, feeling it slide over his body. He groaned as Abraxas did something wicked with his nipple. 'Bed?' Kingsley was impatient.
'Off!' Abraxas managed to undress and kiss Kingsley several times in the process. They pulled off their clothes, not caring about being seductive or trying to look good. Not that Abraxas needed it, trying to look good. The mere sight of his slender but still muscular body had Kingsley's desire flaring hotly. Abraxas certainly wasn't sitting idly, watching the house-elves work in the stables. Reaching back, Kingsley managed to hit the bed. He ended up on his back with Abraxas on top of him which in itself was brilliant. Abraxas wasn't shy. He closed his hand around Kingsley's erection, pressing it against his own, smaller cock. 'Fuck, you're hung like a stallion! This isn't going to fit.'
The crude words contrasted Abraxas usual refined manner in a way that Kingsley found quite arousing. Kingsley groaned and dragged Abraxas down to kiss him. Abraxas's hair felt like a whisper on his skin. 'It doesn't have to,' Kingsley said when he could breathe again. 'Lie back and enjoy.' Using his strength to flip them over, Abraxas landed on his back, moaning, 'Salazar, yes!' Kingsley straddled him. Abraxas's cock was damp and ready, leaving drops of precome on Kingsley's stomach. It was only then he realised that he'd let Abraxas have what he'd never offered to anybody before. Even in bed, Kingsley's need to be on top of things had influence. Only with Abraxas there was this sense of equality. It had been what had attracted Kingsley in the first place, and it didn't exactly turn him off now. On the contrary. He wanted Abraxas now, any connection between their bodies that ensured their combined pleasure.
'A spell, I can't...' Kingsley was desperate. His usual calm had disappeared and been replaced by lust. 'It has been a bit since I-'
Abraxas murmured a few words and Kingsley felt a wet and slick sensation spreading inside him. Something cold and slimy trickled down his thigh. 'Uh.'
'Sorry.' Abraxas reached over the side of the bed and grabbed a piece of clothing. 'Here.' He laughed, breaking the awkward moment. 'Yeah. It has been some time. Should probably work on that spell at some point.'
'Yes, please.' Kingsley, too, laughed and used the garment to clean up a bit. 'Now, should we go on with the celibacy, or are you interested in getting laid properly and with less oil?' Kingsley rubbed his own cock which had flagged slightly. 'Maybe this is the time I tell you that I haven't actually done this before?'
Abraxas's eyes widened. 'At all? No?'
'Of course I have. I haven't been on this end of it, though.'
'Ah.' Abraxas looked extraordinarily smug. Abraxas's erection bobbed and he slid his finely chiselled fingers over it, stroking it languidly as he looked up at Kingsley who positioned himself over Abraxas's cock. 'Don't let me interrupt you.' He sent Kingsley a look so hot that it could have turned December into May. He moaned softly. 'Ride me.'
Evidently Abraxas had some experience with that particular exercise. Kingsley sank down on Abraxas's length, slowly getting used to the pressure and the slight pain that went with it. It felt good. Then Abraxas moved. There were things to be said about what all that excessive horse-riding did to a man. It was as if Abraxas was able to control every little move of his hips, directing their pleasure with the angling of his hips, the shallow, sharp thrusts, the way he made his cock hit the spot inside Kingsley that made him dizzy and almost unable to hold back.
It wasn't that Abraxas was good at what he did. What did it for Kingsley was that Abraxas gave him what he needed. He wasn't careful or considerate. He drove Kingsley to the point of breaking, offered him an edge to stand on; the narrow spot between the abyss and the firm ground. He'd been in love with Moody once, but this was what he needed: someone who'd be his equal in all aspects of life and love. Someone who made the ground under his feet shake.
Abraxas's grey eyes were firmly set on Kingsley when he thrust in deep and moaned the words that sent Kingsley over the edge. 'So, Minister,' Abraxas groaned, on the verge of coming. 'How is it, giving in? Finally sleeping with the enemy?'
Kingsley's reply was intelligible. The orgasm, on the other hand, was blindingly good.
There it was again, the noise. Moody stirred and turned in his bed, reaching out for Draco. All he got was a pillow and a growl from Wagtail. He sat up in the dark, wondering why he'd woken up. Unless he'd forgotten entirely, he hadn't had any nightmares and none of his wards were set off. The moon shone brightly outside and no Death Eaters had abandoned their comfortable mansions to try and get their way with the second floor windows.
The thumping sound continued. Moody lit a candle. He took his eye and popped it in place, wanting to be able to localise the source of the sound. The eye rotated, focussing as best it could in the dark and through walls of stone. No one outside the door. Draco's room was too far away, and it was too dark in there for Moody to see anything but a faint light, perhaps from from the fireplace. The eye made a 180 degree turn towards Kingsley's room.
Moody had to take a deep breath. The thick wall distorted his view. He could, however, see enough. More than enough. His first thought was that Kingsley had grown into a very sexy man and Abraxas clearly seemed to think the same. As Abraxas had his dick buried deep in Kingsley's arse, Moody forced his eye to look away. It whipped back immediately.
'Oh, no you don't,' Moody growled and tried to make the eye behave, to no avail. He hurried to take it out, but that didn't help—on the contrary, since the eye didn't have to use power to see through the back of Moody's head. He got an even better view of Kingsley's aroused face and his erect cock and of Abraxas's naked chest. That was it: Moody was not going to spy on his best friend, not even with the weak excuse that his eye didn't work properly. If his mind and his magical eye had decided to form this unholy alliance, he was not going to sit idly and watch. The least he could to was to remove the eye far enough to make it impossible to watch any... physical contact between Kingsley and his lover.
His new leg had sensed his urgency for it had already placed itself next to the bed. Moody put it on, then grabbed a dressing gown and threw it over his nightshirt. He could sit in the library until... until he could go back without needing to blast the sodding eye into pieces. Moody had no intentions of watching his former lover have sex with Abraxas Malfoy.
He put back the eye and took down the wards quietly. He slipped into the corridor. He walked slowly as not to wake up Draco or Snape with the sound of his wooden leg against the tiles. Walking past Malfoy's door he heard a whimpering. He closed his eyes, desperate. He wanted to let Malfoy back in; he wanted to care for him and make sure he'd never wake up again choking on fear and nightmares. He paused outside the door, listening.
Malfoy moaned again, loudly. 'Alastor... Oh, please... '
Moody startled by hearing his first name. Draco had never used it before; strange that he should do so in his dreams.
'Alastor... God... so good, harder.'
Perhaps it wasn't exactly a nightmare Draco was having. Moody forgot to breathe.
'Yes, oh, pleasepleaseplease!'
Draco's cries became louder and Moody, even trying to deceive himself, could no longer be in doubt of what Draco was doing. Draco was awake and also Moody wasn't in doubt that Draco was-
'Alastor! Fuck me!'
Neither could he be in doubt of what Draco wanted.
'Please! I want you so badly! I need you. I'm in... Oh, Alastor, please!'
Or what he felt.
Draco was on the verge of coming, for his moans turned into wordless, erratic sighs. Moody hastily Disapparated into the library, despite the danger of it. He hadn't wanted to spy on Kingsley, and he had definitely no intentions of standing outside Draco's bedroom door and listen to him masturbate, not even for the intense pleasure it was to be the target of Draco's desires. He lit the fireplace and hurried to pour himself a drink. Merlin, he needed it. Those few minutes in the corridor had certainly been a revelation: two minutes that changed every decision he'd taken, dissolved every oath he'd sworn not to let Draco come close to him again.
He slid a hand down his scarred face. There was the scar that Rosier had made, taking a chunk of his nose. There was the one Crabbe had caused, there the long gash that the older Lestrange had managed. No, his face was not handsome. He didn't understand what Draco Malfoy saw there. Of course it could be Draco's fantasies. Perhaps he'd rather stab himself with a broken wand than actually touch someone as ravaged as Alastor Moody.
Then again, he knew that it wasn't just a perverse fantasy. Draco had looked at him for a moment as if he'd been the second coming of Christ. He'd looked at him with desire and need. He knew, for he had looked at Draco in the exact same way. Moody was no longer in doubt that Draco did not see him merely as a purveyor of protection.
Moody downed the Firewhisky and poured himself another. Tomorrow he'd have to make it clear to Draco that he'd regretted his decision of cancelling their sleeping arrangement. Tomorrow, when they'd been to that dratted island and back, he'd have to do the right thing and tell Draco what he felt. Maybe, in time, Draco would come to accept him. Maybe in time there was hope for more than just sleeping—even if Draco's nightly confession was merely the result of a young man's fantasies.
At the third Firewhisky he attempted to tell himself that he was being ridiculous. Of course Draco didn't care for anyone who wasn't a Pure-blood princess, and Moody certainly was as far from that as one could possibly be.
At the fourth, he gave up. He was surely destined to live his life alone. Kingsley and he had been discussing dangerous beasts for two weeks, and Moody began to feel like one of them. Mad as a hatter, ugly as sin... oh, he'd be a nice beast for Beauty to show off to his friends. He didn't want to deal with the hydra that was the Malfoy family, either. It was impossible.
At the fifth, he realised he was getting drunk. Highly unusual. He put down the bottle and the glass and sat down on the Chesterfield instead. There was a nice blanket placed over the armrest. Moody unfolded it and decided that it would be a very good idea to go to sleep. He needed to be clear-minded. Right now, his most important task was to keep his magical eye far away from any Malfoy doing things Moody really, really didn't want to know about.
Thanks to the Firewhisky and the sound of the soft-crackling fireplace, he was lulled to sleep quite fast. He even forgot to set the wards.
10. Draco, Dread and Disasters
The effects of the Firewhisky were gone when Moody woke up. As usual, alcohol didn't have much of an impact on him. His head was clear and after a good cup of coffee he felt fine—or as fine as he possibly could, now that he was awake and able to face the world. He decided that he had to reconcile with Draco. They had a straining and dangerous task in front of them. Moody knew better than most that distress or pain could be the factor that decided the outcome of a battle: it could be the tiny margin between life or death.
He had to reassure Draco that he wanted to take care of him. It was clear that Malfoy did not appreciate being alone. Moody had to calm his own fears, too: he wanted to make certain that what he'd seen and heard yesterday wasn't a figment of his imagination. They both needed to go to the Isle of Drear with their minds at ease. What would or could happen after... that remained to be seen. What he could give Draco now was the promise that he'd protect him, guide him. Perhaps let Draco understand that he acknowledged that there could be more. If Draco wanted it.
He dressed and ate a quick breakfast in his room. Mr Bruce showed up to clean, but Moody threw the house-elf out, ordering it to leave the room alone. He wasn't in the mood for talking to anyone, not before he'd spoken with Draco. He could hear the others pottering about, making ready to leave. Moody Transfigured a pillow into a lined bag for Wagtail to sit in. Wagtail ran down the stairs, barking eagerly, excited that they were going for a walk. In the courtyard Abraxas and Kingsley were readying the Abraxans. Draco was standing next to Halcyon. Kingsley was busy with Haizum. Moody was supposed to ride with Draco, he knew already. This time he didn't mind at all. On the contrary.
He watched Draco handle the impressive horse. He studied Draco as if he saw him for the first time. It wasn't too far off. He'd made himself blind. Now he wanted to see, wanted to recognise the budding feelings, the desire he felt.
But Moody didn't like Draco's expression. He looked lost and forlorn, like the day they pulled him out of Azkaban. There was an aura of grey sadness around him. Having used far too much time thinking about what to do about Malfoy, Moody tried to focus on the task at hand. It wouldn't be easy, sitting behind Draco, touching him, knowing that the boy had been thinking of him. The nightly discovery, however, had certainly been fodder for Moody's thoughts. It was, Moody decided, impossible to leave Draco alone and expect him to refrain from doing something stupid. There was a very good reason that he had been released under parole. He needed to be kept under surveillance. Constantly. Draco Malfoy was a misbehaving, manipulative, rash and spontaneous little brat. He needed to learn what was good for him and especially what wasn't. Otherwise he'd keep Moody up at night indefinitely, worrying which kind of unfortunate incidents he would cause next.
Bracing himself, Moody went to greet Halcyon. He nodded curtly at Draco. 'Malfoy,' he said gruffly. 'A word before we take off. I have come to a decision regarding your release and probation. I might have been a bit hasty yesterday.'
Draco said nothing, just looked at him with large rain-cloud eyes, as if he was to burst into tears at any second.
'It would be irresponsible to leave you to your own devices.' Moody snorted. 'Leaving you to take care of yourself will only mean that you are going to get into trouble sooner or later. Possibly when you are able to meet up with all those horrible friends of yours. The ones with the tasteless tattoos.'
'What did I do now?' Draco sounded confused and offended. 'I did what you told me to and went to bed, although I'd much rather sleep in your room. And there is no way I'm going to have anything to do with those... I haven't-'
'Shut up. I'm not done.' Moody poked Draco in the chest with a finger. 'I have decided to supervise your case personally. Of course I cannot babysit you all day, but you will be under my care when I am not at work. And at night. You will probably be more inclined to mess up your life if you don't sleep properly. Can't expect you to be able to think clearly if you're tired.'
'Really?' Draco's sad face lit up in a rare, honest smile. 'You'd do that?'
'Don't get too excited, laddie. It's for the sake of the wizarding world. Mere vigilance. To keep an eye on you.' Moody almost believed in it himself. It was safer for Malfoy and for anyone who'd try to lure him from the narrow path of redemption that Malfoy had taken. Or at least looked at. It was a sacrifice, of course, to use so much time to take care of one damned Death Eater, but he'd do it. He was after all the head of the Dark Wizard hunters. Who could possibly be more qualified?
'So I can sleep with you tonight, I- I mean, in your bed?' Draco looked a bit flustered which pleased Moody to no end. 'Every night? Even when you're... when we are going... Am I going to stay with you? I can? I don't have to go back to the Manor? I don't want to go back!' Despite the babbling, it sounded as if Draco didn't find it unreasonably hard to be confined to wherever Moody saw fit. Draco sighed, obviously relieved that he didn't have to return to the house that Voldemort had desecrated. 'Thanks, Moody.'
Moody growled something unintelligible. 'You may just as well call me Alastor. I understand,' Moody then said, looking searchingly at Draco, 'that you prefer a more... intimate way of addressing me at times.' A fine way to say that he'd heard Draco masturbate, calling out his name repeatedly.
The hint didn't go unnoticed. 'Er-' Draco blushed furiously. 'Thank you, er- Alastor. I, erm-' He raised a hand, as if to touch Moody.
'Yes, yes.' Moody turned to Halcyon. He was fighting an urge to touch Draco, too. He was painfully aware that Kingsley and Abraxas were at the other side of the courtyard, getting ready to leave. 'Get on the horse. We don't have time for that,' he said, a bit more brusque than he'd planned. He offered Draco a leg up, but was disturbed before he got on the horse himself.
Abraxas was crossing the courtyard. 'Moody.' Abraxas looked refreshed and, Moody hated to admit, as if he was glowing. Incredible what a proper lay could do to one's skin.
'Slept well?' Moody asked gruffly. 'Perhaps moving the bed an inch or two from the wall before tonight would let the rest of us have a good night's sleep.'
Abraxas coughed lightly. 'But of course.' He sent Moody a boyish grin. 'My own bed is better anyway. Should probably suggest that tonight.'
A couple of feet above, Draco sounded as if he was choking. 'Grandfather, really!'
'As soon as we get to Drear, Kingsley and I will take a quick overview. We have plenty of prepared meat; we'll try to get to as many of the Quintapeds as possible.'
Moody nodded. 'And we'll try to get into that ruin if it looks as if the Quintapeds are elsewhere.'
'If you get in from the roof, you have half an hour. Halcyon can manage to hover for some time, but it is straining for him if he isn't flying properly. He's not a Muggle helicopter. If he lands on top of it the house, I fear it might come down. Up to you, see how it looks. If it's safe, send him down on the ground. He can handle himself.'
'I'll send my Patronus if we get in trouble. But Wagtail is pretty good at keeping watch.'
'And we have meat and Pacifying potion, too,' Draco added. 'And the Time Determiner.'
'Good. We'll fly west. The ruin's to the north-east. We start at the cliffs.' Abraxas patted Moody on the shoulder. 'Take good care of my grandson, Moody.'
I will,' Moody said. Perhaps Abraxas wouldn't be as chipper if he knew how much, precisely, he wanted to take care of Draco. 'I will.'
As Abraxas returned to Kingsley, Moody got into the saddle. This time he didn't try to avoid close contact, not that it was really possible. The saddle was meant for two, but it still barely wide enough for a smaller rider and someone Moody's size. He secured the bag that Wagtail sat in, then wrapped his arms around Draco.
'Ready, Alastor ?' Draco looked over his shoulder. He smiled. Next to them, Haizum took off, the golden wings taking the riders high into the sky in a few seconds.
Halcyon had them into the air in a few strides. The powerful horse caught up with Haizum just before Abraxas turned towards west. The bronze palomino quickly became a speck on the horizon as the Abraxan sped up.
'I'm cold.' Draco shivered. Despite the warm summer sun, the speed cooled them down. He turned his head. 'Could you...'
Merlin, yes! Moody had been thinking of holding Draco in his arms constantly since he realised that Draco was thinking about him as more than just a friend. Moody wanted more than holding on to Draco for the sake of safety. Of course he would hold him to keep him warm. It was a start. Moody pulled his large travel cloak open, careful not to expose Wagtail to the harsh wind. Oddly expectant, he embraced Draco, closing the cloak around the both of them. Draco's hand was cold as it found Moody's between the folds of the thick wool the cloak was lined with. Moody entangled his fingers with Draco's. He sighed deeply, content. He stroked Draco's hand with his thumb, slow, tentative caresses.
Draco shifted. He leant back against Moody's chest. 'If I promise you that I'll listen to your advice and be a nice redeemed prisoner, will you promise me one thing, Alastor?' He tilted his head, trying to avoid the wind ripping his words to pieces. He didn't wait for Moody's reply. 'That you never, ever, again treat me like an unwanted puppy and dump me like you did. I've been treated like dirt and told what to do by others for four years, and I do not appreciate it.' Draco turned around as best he could. 'You could have told me, you know. Instead of panicking.'
There was no need to ask what it was that Moody should have told. 'I'm sorry,' he said, giving one of his rare apologies. 'I promise.' Strange how Draco suddenly appeared so mature, while he had been acting like an idiot because of his insecurities. Sometimes tables turned in very strange ways.
Draco leant back again. His hand fluttered, turning, caressing Moody's hand. Moody tightened his embrace. For the first time he was holding Draco close as a lover, not as someone he was taking care of. 'Good!' Draco squirmed a little, making a purring sound that Moody more felt than heard, then settled with his head on Moody's chest. 'I'm a little bit in love with you, Alastor Moody,' Draco said quietly into the wind. The words were almost inaudible. 'If that's all right with you?'
There, flying between the clear blue sky and the wild sea, astride the most fantastic beast, Moody couldn't think of anything that was more all right with him. He couldn't think of a place he'd rather be, than here, with Draco in his arms, so close to heaven. A feeling of deep happiness soared inside him. 'Yeah,' he said gruffly, his voice strangely thick and hoarse. 'I can live with that.'
The short distance to the Isle of Drear was soon made. The small island appeared under them, cliffs and trees growing bigger as Halcyon dove towards the ruin. It had once been a grand house, a nice mansion on the top of a hill. Now it stood, roof-less and with broken windows and rotting doors, on the verge of giving into the years of decay that had torn at it. They circled the ruin a few times, trying to determine whether there were any Quintapeds lurking.
'When we get off the horse, have your wand ready. Never for a second let go of it. Constant vigilance, Draco.' Moody wasn't that worried. As long as they kept their attention on the surroundings, they could easily get away from the Quintapeds. 'We need to search the top floor, find out if the 'peds can get up. After that, we secure the house. Could be that they have found a way in.' A look at the house made it unlikely that they hadn't.
'Yes. Wands and vigilance. And we have Wagtail.' Draco turned. 'I wish we didn't have to do this.'
'I understand. But it's my job, Draco. It's what I do.'
For once Draco didn't come up with a cheeky comment. That, more than anything, told Moody that Draco was nervous. Clever thinking. The monsters were extremely dangerous. Large, fast and man-eating. Couldn't get much worse. They'd be fine as long as they were careful.
Turning his attention to Halcyon, Draco managed to find a spot on the collapsed roof where the Abraxan could hover without colliding with it. 'Careful,' Draco said as Moody got down. 'The wings are rather fragile.' Avoiding the moving wings, Moody made it to the floor, or what was left of it. The old oak planks had withstood the exposure to the wind and the rain well, but there were still large holes during which they could see the lower floors. Moody's magical eye swirled madly.
'Hold it, lad.' Moody held up a hand, as if to stop Draco from joining him. 'Let me check this out first.'
The floor was easily surveyed. It had been an attic once. Only a big pile of rotting wood and pieces of iron indicated that the place had been inhabited. The roof had caved in. Moody lit his wand, examining the debris. A bit further down a few upright wooden bars denoted the existence of a staircase. Moody walked carefully over the floor, using his staff to test each plank before he stepped on it. He was looking down at a set of rickety and narrow steps. He sent a spell at it, testing its strength. It creaked, but held. If they were careful they could use it. 'Clear. You can come down now,' Moody shouted. He didn't care whether he alerted any Quintapeds, on the contrary. Rather have them out in the open. If they were attacked they'd have to flee rather than use hexes, and Moody wanted as much time as possible to do that. The floor below was silent, however.
He waved Draco closer. 'It's empty as far as I can see.' He made poked at the first step with his staff. 'Cover me if you can.' Moody looked around, made a quick scan of the surroundings. As far as his magical eye could see, the house was empty.
'No.' Draco's hand on his arm was firm. 'I'll go first. If anything happens, I'm faster up those stairs.' His hand stayed.
'Draco...' Moody knew this wasn't the time or the place, but for a few seconds he let go. He pulled Draco into an embrace. 'You're being brave again.' He pushed a stray lock off Draco's face. 'I'm the Auror. I know what I'm doing.'
Draco's face softened for a second. 'And I'm half your size and twice as fast. I'll take Wagtail with me, he'll spot them before I do.' Then Draco raised up on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to Moody's scarred cheek. 'I'm not twelve.'
'No, thank goodness!' Moody's heart made a strange somersault. He touched the spot that Draco had kissed. Unfortunately Draco's argument made sense. 'Careful, then. Wand at the ready.' He put down the bag and let Wagtail out. The small dog had been quiet, another indication that the house might be abandoned by men and monsters alike.
The stairs creaked, but Draco made it to the bottom without any problems. There was a flash as he cast a lightening spell. 'It's okay. No one here. Come down.
The floor was indeed abandoned. The doors to some of the rooms were still closed. Judging from the amount of bird droppings and cobwebs, nobody had been inside since the house was originally abandoned. No one except for rats and mice and all sorts of bugs. It didn't look as if the monsters had been inside. They opened and closed doors, finding only old beds with linen eaten by the critters which lived there. Wagtail was excited, eagerly awaiting permission to go and hunt some of the fat mice. 'No,' Moody told him and picked him up, carrying him on one arm. He had his wand-arm free, ready to encounter any larger beasts.
'Downstairs?' Draco pulled a fat spider out of his hair. 'Urgh, they're big.' The black spider scampered off to hide under a pile of dusty wood that might once have been a chair.
'I like those better than their cousins out there.' Moody studied a window that lacked glass entirely. A vine covered most of it. 'No sign of Kingsley or your grandfather yet. They're probably feeding 'peds on the other side of the island by now. Let's find a way to get downstairs that won't kill us.' The main staircase was done for. They went back to a room where they'd seen a stone stairwell that still had proper stairs. It had steps. At least some. They managed to get to the ground floor despite the state of the stairs.
'Quickly now,' Moody said. 'You take the left, I go right. There's a greater risk down here, perhaps they're not fond of stairs, the Quintapeds. Too many legs.'
'I feel entirely outside the norm now,' Draco said and grinned. 'Two legs are just so out of fashion these days.'
'Brat,' Moody growled, almost tenderly. It was rather a nice feeling that Draco didn't care to be so damned considerate about his missing limbs. 'Go! Shoo! Away!' Moody went left and opened the doors to the first room. It had once been a library. Parchment and pages were strewn over the floor, turning into dust when Moody stepped on them. There were still books left on the dusty, old shelves. He looked at the titles; old tomes all. Moody didn't see anything recent. Judging from the books, the house had been abandoned for more than a hundred years. Moody recalled the legend of the Quintapeds. Perhaps there was more to it than just legend? Perhaps the MacBoon family had lived here until their enemies, the McCliverts, had Transfigured the entire clan for revenge? Of course the MacBoons had their revenge. Turned into monsters, they had eaten every remaining human on the isle, thus eradicating the McCliverts from the face of the earth. Despite the strange and spooky ruin, Moody still found the story unlikely. Although legends often had an element of truth in them, he had to admit.
Moody returned to the hall where the main stairs had collapsed. He'd found no signs of Sally-Anne, no clothes, no wand, no bones. She hadn't made it to the house. Seeing the state it was in, it wouldn't have helped her for long, either. Without water or food, she'd have had to go outside—outside where the monsters were waiting for a snack.
There were more rooms. Draco was in the other end of the house; Moody could hear Wagtail's eager whining. A dusty dining room was next. The furniture had survived: sturdy oak benches and a long, heavy table. Somewhere in the house a heavy door squealed.
'Wagtail! No! Crap! Moody! Hurry!' Draco sounded as if he was panicking. Wagtail was barking like mad, as if he was in a fit of rage. 'Wagt-'
'Draco!' Moody ran as well as he could into the hall. He stopped, his wand raised. He looked at the front door. It was open. 'Draco?'
'Draco? Draco!' Moody could feel the panic rising. 'Draco!'
He took a step closer to the open door. He knew already what he might come to see. He braced himself.
He raised his wand. A floorboard creaked as he moved. The warm summer wind was gentle, but the view wasn't. Moody's heart beat wildly. Two Quintapeds were standing on the top of the stone steps that led to the front door. A herd of larger Quintapeds were crawling towards the house. Wagtail stood on the bottom of the stairs with his back to the two monsters. His teeth were bared in a ferocious sneer. He growled angrily at the herd of gigantic spider-like creatures that closed in on them, then made a leap as if to attack them.
'No!' Moody felt his life fall apart in that moment. Draco... He got a grip of himself. He knew how to do this. He'd been the one standing with friends and colleagues dead around him. He knew how to stand. Experience kicked in, and so did Moody. He hit the door with a spell, slamming it shut and locking it. He couldn't go out there on his one leg. He'd be dead instantly. He wished he'd brought a broom, but if wishes came true so easily, Draco wouldn't-
Again he cut himself off from any emotions. He almost flew up the stairs to the attic. Perhaps he could save Wagtail if he hurried. 'Halcyon?' If only the horse would help him. The Abraxan might have sensed his distress, for it kept still, hovering as low as it could while Moody mounted. 'Please, help me now!' He remembered what Draco had said, that the horse was used to be controlled by the rider's weight. Moody tried to keep calm. He moved a bit to the left while he pressed with his legs as well as he could, urging Halcyon forward.
It worked! As Halcyon hovered over the roof, Moody sent out his Patronus to Kingsley. The silver shape had changed. It had taken the form of a winged horse. There was no time to dwell on that fact. He turned Halcyon towards the front of the house. 'Hurry! Please, hurry!'
Clumsily he hovered in front of the house, above the stairs. Wagtail was too far away for him to reach. He tried a spell, but missed as Wagtail turned, angrily cornering the two Quintapeds, separating them from the herd. They were smaller than the rest of the bunch, pony-sized, pale spider-creatures. The herd of Quintapeds were coming closer. Wagtail turned again, howling from anger. Then the brave little dog attacked. The first Quintaped didn't survive. Wagtail was impressive in his anger. It tore off the legs of the monster, then turned to the next. Moody tried to summon the dog with a spell, but Wagtail moved so fast that it was impossible to get a decent aim. His Accio wasn't strong enough to lift the dog, he needed to concentrate.
He looked to the sky, and there Haizum came racing towards them. Moody sent a hex towards the closest Quintaped. If he could only stall them until he could get on the ground. A gigantic Quintaped moved in, its club-footed legs whirling. Wagtail jumped out of its reach, only to be too close to another.
The blow fell straight and true. Wagtail didn't see it coming. The small dog fell limply to the ground and moved no further.
The world went black. Moody turned Halcyon, sending him directly into the herd of monsters. The gigantic stallion attacked. This was what it was made for. In the middle of the pain and the rage, Moody appreciated how Abraxas had turned the horse into a killing machine, relentless, strong and brave. A Quintaped flew through the air, squashed by a hard kick. Another lost two legs and scrabbled along the foundation of the house, only to hide under the shrubbery.
'Halcyon, to me!' Abraxas's commanding voice made the horse stop and it leaped into the air, flying towards Haizum. Moody held on, not caring about what happened, trying to forget that he had stepped across the moral border he had set for himself: he had killed in anger. He desperately fought the deep black anger and the deep sadness that had overtaken his mind. He could do this. It was what he did, telling people that their loved ones had gone.
Below them, the monsters were scrabbling to reach the Abraxans, to no avail. Abraxas emptied the bag of meat he'd brought and the monsters fought to get each their share. Moody thought it felt like eternity before the Quintapeds began wobbling about, finally to flop down into a pile of hairy legs.
Moody put on a mask, the one he wore to keep people at bay.
'Moody, what happened,' Kingsley shouted as Abraxas eased Haizum closer.
Abraxas didn't have to ask. One look at Moody's face and he knew. He paled. 'My grandson.' He closed his eyes, his face contracted. A tear formed and rolled down his cheek. 'Down, Haizum,' he demanded in a broken, cold voice.
Halcyon followed. Moody couldn't do anything, he just sat there, empty, as the horse touched the ground.
'Moody?' Kingsley sounded heartbroken. Even through the calmness of his voice, Moody could hear it.
'He was checking the bottom of the house with Wagtail.' Moody coughed to get his voice under control. 'The Quintapeds were trying to get inside and Wagtail attacked them. Draco... he...' Moody felt the tears burning. He held them at bay. 'He was gone ten seconds later. No traces. No hope. No... Oh, God.' He took a deep breath. 'Wagtail attacked the herd. He wasn't quick enough.' Moody looked at the brave little dog who lay where he'd fallen, forever silent.
Only then did the tears come.
Kingsley took them back. The Abraxans seemed to understand what had happened. They obeyed willingly. Nobody said a word. Abraxas was crying, hiding in his cloak. Moody felt as if he for any reason opened his mouth all his sorrow would come out, he would have to let go of the scream of pain he was holding in.
He had experienced the happiest moment of his life and the worst, all in the short span of an hour. Sixty minutes of happiness was all he had left. In his arms he cradled Wagtail's body, still warm to the touch. He had everything, for an instant held in his hand all he ever wanted. The promise of love. Friendship. Happiness. Now it was all gone.
Moody had lost so much in his life and every time he'd got back up, shaken his imaginary fur and continued, a limb or an eye shorter. This time... he did not know how to go on. He did not know if he would be able to shake off the events and the loss. This was different. He didn't think he would ever feel whole again.
Snape was waiting for them in the courtyard. One look at their grim faces and he knew. 'Draco?'
Kingsley nodded. 'I'm sorry, Severus.'
'What did you imbeciles do to cause that?' Snape's voice was as cold as December. 'How can I possibly tell Lucius? It will kill him too.' For a second his hard, cold face crumbled into an expression of deep pain. 'What happened?'
'Let's get Moody and Abraxas inside. I have to take care of the horses.'
'I'm not doing it, I can say as much.' Snape's voice revealed no emotions. He stepped a bit closer. 'Abraxas, please?' Snape led Abraxas towards the house while Moody stood in the courtyard, looking at the sky. He'd been flying up there with Draco. Now he didn't think he would ever find pleasure in flying again.
Finally he was able to move. He carried Wagtail inside. Mr Bruce was running around, desperate. 'Sir... Young sir! And sir's dog. Oh, is unhappy day.' The house-elf pulled Moody with him. Moody did not have any resistance left; he wanted to be alone, to mourn. He could not fall apart here, showing emotions that told others that Draco meant more to him than merely a prisoner in need of guidance.
'Here, sir. Sir musts put dog here.' Mr Bruce had found a small table and covered it with silk and pillows.
Moody placed Wagtail on the plush cushions. He stroked the soft fur, trying not to let the bloody creature be the cause of his breakdown. 'We'll bury him later.' Moody turned away. He was at a loss of what to do, where to go, how to get through. He stood in the great hall, looking at the paintings, Malfoys and Abraxans. A thousand years of history. Now the thread to the past had been cut. There would be no more Malfoys. When Snape returned, Moody hadn't moved; he stared blindly at the huge painting of two Abraxans and their riders.
'Moody?' Snape paused. 'Moody?'
Moody pulled himself out of the pleasant place he'd been to; a place without emotions. 'Yes.'
'You need a drink. A bottle. So do I.' He paused, the black eyes oddly glazed over. 'I want to know what happened.'
'I don't know if I can-'
'You can. He is my... He is my lover's son, Moody. I've known him since he was born. Despite everything, I...' Snape's face revealed little emotion. 'If I can, so can you. Now. I need to know exactly what happened.' Snape had clearly decided to leave any courtesy behind. Perhaps his way of showing pain and distress. 'Was he eaten? Did you see him die? Any traces whatsoever?'
Moody straightened up. He looked at Snape with a grim expression. He did not want to relive this. 'None.'
'Ah.' Snape's face changed suddenly. 'You will tell me everything. Anything you can remember. Every detail, no matter how insignificant. No!' He held up a hand as if to prevent Moody from refusing. 'The library. Moody, please?'
That did it. Snape did not ask politely. Snape demanded or bullied. If Snape pleased, it was important. Moody's training helped him again. There had been no delaying of reports, no matter the battle, no matter the number of deaths. 'Right.'
They sat down near the fireplace, a bottle of Firewhisky on the table in front of them. Snape summoned a quill and a scroll, ready to take notes. 'Forget anything except the moment he disappeared. What happened, where was he, what happened right after you realised he was gone?'
'I was in another room. I went to check on the front door. It was closed and I went back to investigate. Draco and... ' Moody took a deep breath, controlling himself. 'I heard the front door open. Then Wagtail was barking like mad, Draco yelled at me for help, then at Wagtail. He was cut off. I was there... five seconds later. Not a sign of him.' Moody sank. This was harder than he thought. 'Two Quintapeds were trying to get through the door. I think we encountered one of them the first time we were there. Small. The other was lanky.' Moody made a grimace. 'Perhaps they were hungry.'
'Perhaps.' Snape scribbled something on the scroll. 'They were right outside the door? You didn't go through it? Where was the dog?'
Moody tried to remember. It had happened so fast. 'I didn't go through. I kicked the door shut and bolted it with a spell. Went in and out through the roof.' He rubbed his face, then paused and took a swig of the bottle, not caring whether it was filled with poison or not. 'Wagtail was on the stairs outside. A herd of those monsters were approaching and he was going berserk. He attacked them and-'
'So, he had his back to the other Quintapeds?' Snape interrupted, not looking up from the scroll. He was drawing something that Moody couldn't see.
Moody pursed his lips. 'Yes. Now that you mention it. He had. Wagtail. Odd.' Moody scratched his head. 'Oh, you mean...' Moody gaped. 'It can't be!'
'Think again, Auror. And this time, try to use that marvellous brain of yours.'
Moody's heart started beating again, wildly, as if it had been numb and still since the moment Draco was taken. 'You found something in those documents from the Ministry?'
'I told you I was brewing up something else.'
'So Wagtail was not attacking those two Quintapeds. He was defending them.'
'See, you are not entirely lost. Good to know that your brain hasn't stopped working.'
'Snape,' Moody said, feeling life and emtions and hope pouring back into his body. 'I could kiss you right now!'
'Try, and all your worries will be over.'
'Is this... is this... should I tell Abraxas?'
'I can't stand all that whimpering. Yes. Yes. I am sure. Oh, and come to the lab. I need someone to do all the boring stuff,' Snape shouted as Moody hurried out the door.
Moody ran. He'd grown wings; wings which could take him anywhere.
There was a chance.
No. In fact there were more.
There were two.
11. From Hell to Heaven
They buried Wagtail at sunset. Mrs Bruce had made a small coffin for him, lined with silk. They carried him to the cliffs near the sea, to the spot he had liked best. Abraxas cut a niche in the rocks with his wand. He sealed the small burial chamber neatly with a spell.
'Large bravery and loyalty sometimes come in small packages,' Kingsley said and nothing more needed to be said.
Moody rubbed his eyes. He was going to miss the small dog. It had wormed its way into his heart. Wagtail had showed precisely how loyal a Crup could be. He had given his life for a beloved friend he had never forgotten.
Snape stood behind them. Moody wondered why he, too, had gone. His face must have expressed that question, for Snape turned and walked beside Moody as the went back to the castle.
'If one truly loves... ten years is nothing.'
'It is for a dog.' Crups tended to live longer than Muggle dogs, but ten years was still a long time. Then again, Snape knew what he was talking about. Lily and Lucius. The faithful family dog, Snape.
'And yet he never forgot.'
Moody heaved a sigh, feeling the sting of the loss. 'He didn't.'
Snape had decided to be human. 'I'm sorry. You seemed... attached to the animal.' He looked concerned. 'We should get back to the laboratory. It's going to take time. The potion.'
Moody had all the time in the world. He'd sworn he'd solve this case, and he would. If it was the last thing he ever did. 'Nothing better to do,' he said. 'Not until we have found a way to get Draco back.'
They worked all night. They didn't speak much. Snape pushed ingredients over the desk and demanded them stirred or cut into size. Moody obeyed. He was tired, but it didn't matter. Snape's eyes were red-rimmed. He, too, seemed determined to work as fast as possible. The laboratory smelt of the spicy scent of Knotgrass and the minty scent of Fluxweed. Snape was crushing a bit of Bicorn Horn in a mortar.
A question had been on the tip of Moody's tongue for a while. He didn't think Snape would appreciate any snooping into his private affairs, only Moody wanted to know. 'Draco,' he said. 'Were you close? I understand-'
'You understand nothing.' Snape seemed to have cut off any further enquiries. Snape continued to fiddle with the powdered Bicorn Horn. 'I became a murderer for him. He would not let me help.' Snape closed his eyes and his knife stilled. 'His immature arrogance cost me more than I was willing to pay, and yet I paid. Because Narcissa asked me to; I owed her, for what she did for Lucius and me, accepting that we....' He put the knife down, turning to look at Moody. 'I assume that you are clever enough to understand why I am reluctant to... let our relationship return to what it was before. Vigilance, I think you call it. Constantly.'
Moody had seen by far enough of Draco's "immature arrogance" to last him a lifetime. 'He can be... All right, he's horrid. There is no other word for it. And that behaviour in the middle of a war?' Moody scratched his hair. 'As close to betrayal as could be without stepping over the line?'
'Yes.' There was no need to elaborate.
'He's growing up. He has changed.' Moody realised that he was apologising for a former Death Eater and shut his mouth before more rubbish came out of it. It didn't make it less true, though, that Draco had begun a transformation that might turn him into a decent person.
'Let's get on with this, Auror. And then we'll discuss whether there is a chance of any growth. The potion might not work and we have lost him.'
There was that. Moody felt his hope crumble. He refused to let it die. He had to trust Snape's abilities as a potions maker. If they did this right, there was a chance.
They worked for a while in silence. The clock on the wall passed midnight, then five, then six and seven. When the clock struck eight, Kingsley knocked on the door, opening it ajar. 'May I come in?' Without waiting for a yes, he opened the door. 'Anything I can do? Breakfast?'
'Seeing all you need to do is to ask Mr Bruce to fetch it, it really isn't that much of a help,' Moody growled before Snape probably would have said something similar. 'But yes, please.'
Snape nodded his accept. 'Where's Abraxas?'
'He didn't sleep too well. No wonder. He's on his way. If there is anything he can do, Severus... He needs to do something and not just wait.'
'All right. I suppose I can find something for him.'
Abraxas showed up a little later. He looked exhausted and worn, almost shabby. There was little left of the otherwise so handsome and correct man. Kingsley put an arm around Abraxas's shoulder, so obvious in his need to protect and support Malfoy that it made Moody smile, despite the seriousness of the situation. He couldn't imagine being in Abraxas's place. Kingsley and he... they were too alike. How ironic that they'd both fallen for each their version of the famous Malfoy beast.
Snape pushed a bowl towards Moody. 'Pre-stewed Lacewing Flies. I don't expect them to work as well as something I've prepared myself. I bought them in Diagon Alley because I thought they might be useful. It saves us three weeks to wait for them. Instead we can make the potion in a day. They're worth a try. Now I just need to figure out how to condensate the potion and turn it into a fixed shape, a gel, perhaps. I'd like to have it wrapped in meat. Might be easier to get the 'peds to take it.'
'What is it that you are brewing?' Kingsley asked. 'Potions was never my strong side, but it looks suspiciously like Polyjuice. How can Polyjuice Potion possibly be at any help?'
'It can't.' Snape looked as if he was very aware how superior his intelligence was, compared to, well, everyone else's. 'It merely gives us the chance to find out if my theory about the MacBoons is right.'
Abraxas looked more worried than ever. 'Then, how...'
'You would like to be able to actually speak to Draco again, yes?' Snape didn't show any compassion. 'Without him trying to eat you?'
'There is that.' Abraxas nodded. 'I'd prefer not to be eaten. And then?'
'Then I'm going to provide him with Polyjuice Potion long enough for us to find a counter-spell.'
'So... you don't know how to...' Abraxas's usual flashy and confident self had taken a holiday.
'The files, Abraxas.' Snape grabbed the files that Percy Weasley had found in the Ministry. 'Legend says that the MacBoons were Transfigured. The Beast Division wasn't able to catch one when they tried, so nobody actually knows what happened to the family. Beast Division could just have asked Abraxas to assist them; evidently they did not. No matter: that which has been Transfigured can be turned back.'
'You insist that Draco was Transfigured, then? Not... devoured?'
'Abraxas?' Snape sounded extraordinarily tired. 'Get us some coffee if that blasted house-elf is too busy to do it. Take Shacklebolt with you. Go to Draco's room and find some of his hair. Shouldn't be difficult. There is a brush somewhere, I believe?' He eyed Abraxas's lush hair. 'And don't get it mixed up with yours.'
'I'll get Mr Bruce.'
The two men disappeared and Moody went back to preparing whatever Snape sent his way. Moody's thoughts revolved around Draco constantly. He went over the events again and again. No matter how he turned it, Snape had to be right. 'What I don't understand,' he finally said, 'is how the Transfiguration happened. There hasn't been a MacBoon alive on the island for centuries, at least not according to the Ministry files. And since they ate their enemies, there are no McCliverts alive, either. 'Could it be that the curse is embedded in the house?'
'The MacBoons were notoriously inept at magic. The files confirm that part of the legend. It could be anything.' Snape paused. 'If the McCliverts were just a bit better and the MacBoons couldn't trace the spell, it might be that they were able to hex the house without the MacBoons noticing it.'
Moody shredded some Boomslang skin. 'Then it's either the door or the outside stairs. The only place we didn't go, both Draco and I, without disappearing.' He frowned. 'But Wagtail did. He went through the front door.'
'Aimed only at humans, perhaps? You want to test it?' Snape's mouth curled at the corners, as if he found the idea amusing. 'Could get you a few more legs to pull.'
'If it wasn't because you are brewing the potion that might get us Draco back, I'd have hexed you into something terrible.'
Snape was about to make a snappy comeback when Kingsley and Abraxas returned. Abraxas looked, if possible, even more tired and sad. 'No hair. Mr Bruce cleaned the room this morning and Draco's hairbrush is gone. Nothing to find, not even on the pillows.' Abraxas's hand on the desk was shaking. 'Is there anything we can do?'
'I don't know.' Snape, too, looked worried. 'I have never tried to counter a Transfiguration with Polyjuice, Abraxas.' He pinched the bridge of his nose. 'I'm not sure it will work. If it is as we think, and Draco is turned into one of those creatures, I don't even know whether we get a Draco who is basically a cannibal with a Quintaped's mind or one who has returned to his normal self. I've added Jobberknoll brain to restore the memory of his former self and shape. It's not even Polyjuice proper. With a hair from somebody else... No.'
Moody, too, stood there, anxious, feeling the slight hope they'd had turn into dust. Then it hit him. He took a deep breath. This was not going to be the time of his life. 'I think I can find some of Draco's hair for you.'
Abraxas looked at him, the hope once more ignited. 'Yes?'
'I think Draco might have left his hairbrush...' Moody braced himself. 'He left his hairbrush in my room. We've been sleeping together for a week and a half.'
Flabbergasted, Abraxas stared at him. Kingsley blinked. The room was silent, the only sound was a bubbling cauldron. Moody coughed slightly. This was a bit more embarrassing than he'd thought.
The silence was broken. Snape was laughing. Loudly. 'Oh you...' He laughed again. 'Of course there was an explanation for all that eager participation. So the upstanding Head of Aurors found himself a boytoy? Didn't think you had it in you, Mad-eye.'
'Not like that, Snape,' Moody growled. 'Sleeping. Not having mad and noisy sex like-' Moody shut his mouth.
'Look at me,' Snape demanded in a commanding tone.
Moody looked up before he could think. He should have expected it, of course, the attempt at Legilimency. Snape cared deeply about Draco even though he tried to hide it. Moody shut Snape's probe out instantly. 'Try that again, lad, and you'll regret it sorely,' Moody snarled, glaring at Snape. 'You may be a great Legilimens, just not the only one here. If you don't want to know by personal experience what a trained Auror might drag out of your brain against your will, I'd be careful if I were you.' Moody's left hand was closed tightly around his wand. 'Ask if there is something you want to know. I might tell you. A fair warning: don't try to steal unless you want all your own little secrets revealed.'
'I,' Abraxas interrupted, 'would like to know.' His voice had taken that drawling, arrogant tone that characterised any male Malfoy that Moody had met.
Moody just raised an eyebrow. Abraxas had the right. He was family. Moody forgot that instant that Snape was too.
'What are your intentions, Auror? I find it strange that someone of your... standing would let someone like my grandson come to his bed. What do you want with him? He's been used enough, don't you think? You cannot possibly mean that you're going to... do that in public. Recognise that you are-' Abraxas searched for the word. 'Attached.'
'Why wouldn't I? Keeping secrets that do not need to be secret is only to allow one's enemies the upper hand.' His intentions? Moody hadn't thought beyond taking Draco home to make a decent wizard out of him; a redeemed Death Eater. Moody looked directly at Abraxas. They had shared the pain of losing Draco, Abraxas openly, Moody in silence. Abraxas deserved the truth. Moody couldn't hide for Abraxas how he felt. He relaxed and loosened the grip on his wand. 'I'm in love with him,' he admitted, making it very real and not just a distant and impossible dream.
'And he...' Abraxas hesitated. 'He's been out of Azkaban for three weeks, barely. What does he want? Is he even in a position to know what he wants? Does he feel-'
'I know. It might merely be a whim of his, I'm aware of that. He's vulnerable, and I don't want to take advantage of that. As for what he wants... ' Moody made a small, strained smile. 'I cannot speak for him. Although he said that you'd either ask me to pass the broccoli or challenge me to a duel at dawn when you found out. So which is it?'
'I don't see any broccoli here.' Abraxas's face was neutral.
'What time tomorrow, then?' Moody didn't believe that Abraxas would go that far; then again, he was eccentric.
'I suppose I should get up at dawn. I'd have, though, to leave my bed and this prime specimen,' Abraxas paused to touch Kingsley, 'from my collection of Ministers, high-ranking bureaucrats and war-heroes. No, Head Auror Moody, I am not going to ruin my power base. You fit into it very nicely.' Abraxas's eyes narrowed. 'But hurt him and I'll reconsider that decision.'
'I am trying to help him.' Moody didn't feel offended. Abraxas was joking, although surely there was a grain of truth in his words. 'To protect him.'
'And that went so well.' Snape sounded annoyed. 'Which is why we're here, working. If you're done with all that soppy nonsense, let's get on with it, shall we?' Snape obviously wasn't much for romance.
'Moody,' Abraxas said. 'Remind me that I should let you see some of the letters that dear Severus sent to Lucius when they were younger. He was here often during the summers, visiting my father while he was still alive. Interesting read, if you like metaphorical descriptions of how much in love he was, that is. A bit saccharine. Soppy, in fact. I think Lucius left them on purpose where I would find them, just to annoy me. There are still some left hidden in Lucius's old bedroom. Incredible imagination, not surprisingly, that Snape.'
Snape suddenly became very busy with the potion. He was blushing.
'Interesting reaction.' Moody hid a smile. Then he remembered something important: Kingsley and he had brought Sally-Anne's hairbrush with them since Wagtail had reacted so strongly to the scent of it. A brush of luck, so to speak. 'We have a bit of Sally-Anne's hair too,' he said. 'Maybe it is worth a try?'
They were up at dawn anyway. Moody had slept badly, all the time waking up and reaching for Draco or Wagtail. He'd never felt more lonely in his life, not even during the months he spent in his own damned trunk. The small taste of love and family that he had had made him long for more. He knew that he might never get it, not if Snape's experimental potion didn't work. There wasn't room for mistakes, even if they managed to bring Draco back to his human shape. The tiny handful of blond hair wouldn't last them long. There was no guarantee that the Transfigured Draco's hair would work as replacement.
It was raining when they turned the Abraxans east over the Isle of Drear. Kingsley and Abraxas was leading, as usual together on Haizum's strong back. Halcyon was kind enough to follow, ignoring Moody's less than adequate riding abilities. Next to Moody Snape was sneezing loudly, despite the fact that he insisted he had taken a potion against the allergy he suffered from. No wonder that Lucius had lost his interest in the Abraxans when his lover couldn't get near them. At the rear, the two cross-bred winged horses that belonged to Moody and Draco were struggling to keep up with the Abraxans. Faster and more agile, Horsa and Hengist didn't have the endurance that the Abraxans had. Abraxas insisted that they brought them anyway; since they were going into the house again, the smaller horses were easier to handle on the rooftop.
If they were lucky, they would also need extra horses on the way back from the island.
The house was quiet. There were no Quintapeds in sight. 'Send Halcyon down on the ground when you're certain it's safe to enter the house,' Abraxas shouted. Hengist and Horsa will wait for you if you have to get out fast. They'll follow Halcyon, so don't try to do anything. They'll do fine.'
'Easy for you to say,' Snape muttered and sneezed again.
Abraxas leaned forward and released a large package the size of a pig. It landed in what had once been the front garden of the manor. Little pieces of meat spilled out. 'Perhaps this will stop them before they try to get into the house.'
'Of course it will.' Snape blew his nose before he continued. 'It has soaked in Pacifying Potion. Could we get off these animals now?' Snape, despite his allergy, patted the Abraxan, a calm, friendly mare, on the neck. 'I don't mind them, but... '
'Yes. Let's get on with this. Good luck,' Abraxas said, turning Haizum towards the cliffs where they'd seen the small Quintaped for the first time. Moody raised his hand for goodbye. He hoped that Draco would be there, too, somewhere on the island. Alive.
Halcyon manoeuvred carefully between the beams and broken wood of the roof. The mare seemed to understand the general idea. She hovered with the large pearl-white wings flapping slowly as Snape slid off the horse. Moody was getting used to the exercise and wasn't particularly bothered by his leg. Damned good leg, that. Snape murmured a spell that Moody recognised as a cleaning spell. He was probably trying to get rid of the horse hair.
It was easier to get downstairs this time, since Moody knew where to be particularly careful. He didn't need to warn Snape. He moved with a cat-like grace, each move measured out as precisely as the ingredients for the potions they'd made. There were no doors or windows left in the attic so they went down a floor.
Snape raised his wand and tested the frame of the closest window. 'Urgh. It simply hums from magic.' He waved his wand again. 'Yeah, there's a spell embedded. It feels like a Transfiguration. A variety, at least. Try it,' he encouraged.
Scanning the wood with his wand, Moody agreed. It was an old spell, a bit frayed but sound enough. 'Impressive spell-work,' he said, appreciating work well done, if not the results of such a spell. 'Stand back. Confringo!' Moody blasted the frame into pieces. The wood splintered with a creaking sound and turned to dust. He poked at it with the wand. 'I think that did it.'
Snape stepped closer and sneezed. The dust spread. 'Nothing.' Snape made a wry smile. 'Or we'd have been Quintapeds both by now.' He brushed off some dust that had settled on his robes. 'We should probably leave one or two.'
'The Department of Mysteries will thank us,' Moody said, slightly sarcastic. 'But I think we should. We might need to do more research.'
'I hope not.' Snape patted a pocket in his robes where he, like Moody, carried two different sets of condensed Polyjuice: small cubes with a bit of meat wrapped around them. 'This is going to work. I'm confident.'
They continued to defuse the spell that was inlaid in the frames. All the windows on the first and second floor contained the Transfiguration spell. Snape paused, looking out the window they'd just blown into pieces. 'That must have been some enmity... between the two families, I mean. I admire a man who can hold a grudge, but this is a bit over the top.'
'A bit of vigilance would have helped them. If the MacBoons were so terrible at magic they probably didn't know what hit them before they were all turned into 'peds.' The entire story made Moody feel queasy. How anyone could have enemies and then be so careless as to let them close to the house was beyond him.
Snape laughed bitterly. 'Yes, because neither of us would have made that mistake, because we are so good at the Dark Arts and defensives spells—and yet we did.'
'There's that.' Moody felt guilty. He didn't need Snape to point it out. 'Anyway, the McCliverts really hadn't considered the implications of their spell. Couldn't have taken long before the MacBoons had eaten them all.'
They went to the ground floor. It was untouched since Moody had left it, the front door still held shut and locked by the spell Moody had used. They split up and took down one dusty, broken window after the other plus a few doors to the garden and a kitchen door. It was impossible to enter or leave the house without turning into a monster. Moody had seen many nasty spells, but this took the prize because of the pure evil of it. The wizards who had put it up probably hadn't been certain it would work, so they'd smothered the house in their spell. An unfair way to fight.
Moody was keeping an eye on the front garden. Halcyon was getting restless and changed between hovering around the roof and standing on the ground, watching the surroundings. It had taken perhaps half an hour before the Quintapeds had showed up last time. Time was running out if Kingsley and Abraxas hadn't fed the herd some of the Pacifying Potion. Moody went to find Snape.
'I'm done. I think we need to be very careful now; it can't be long before the Quintapeds realise that we're up here.
Snape agreed. 'If they're as perceptive as you say, and as fast, I think I'd rather be on that roof soon.' He pointed at two windows next to the front door. 'These are still functioning. I've sealed them so nobody can get through by mistake. The door too. We can take them if we need them for research; if not, the Department of Mysteries can fetch them if they want them.
'Let's get up, then.' Moody was a little impressed by Snape's thorough work. If Moody needed to choose someone to cover his back, Snape would be high up on that list.
They made their way to the attic. The two smaller winged horses were quiet. Hengist had found a safe spot to stand on. Horsa was hovering over a tree, interested in what Halcyon was doing.
Snape sneezed. 'Damned. Not again. Couldn't the man have bred dragons instead?'
Moody was staring at the horizon. 'They're returning. Let's get on the horses.' The bronze palomino was flying fast towards the house. It circled the sky, a couple of times taking a steep dive towards the ground. As the Abraxan came closer, they could see Abraxas working with a lance. 'I think he has the herd with him.' They both hurried to their horses. Halcyon cried out: a sharp warning, unlike any cry that Moody had ever heard. A battle cry.
'Get up and hold on. I think we're in for a ride,' Moody shouted as he put his good foot in the stirrup. He swung himself into the saddle. He was grateful for the small amount of training he'd had. He'd be able to stay on the horse, at least. He watched Snape who was clearly less comfortable. 'Just get a good grip on the saddle and let Hengist do the rest,' he said, doing the exact same thing as Horsa took off.
The short rest on the roof had done Horsa and Hengist well. The two horses shot like arrows towards the sky. The wind pressed tears from Moody's eyes. He looked over his shoulder, his long hair whipped around his face. Snape looked even more pale than he usually did, but he hung on. Below them, Halcyon's large wings moved in slow, powerful movements as the horse surveyed the ground. Compared to the comfortable and steady Abraxan Moody's black horse was like riding a sensitive and incredibly fast racing broom.
As they got closer to Abraxas and Kingsley they saw that Abraxas indeed was trying to keep at bay a herd of Quintapeds. The large spider-like creatures seemed slower than last time Moody had seen them. They moved almost sluggishly, not really in the mood to fight or attack. They were trampling each other, as if they weren't really in control of their movements. A few had already fallen, one with its legs into the air, a few others in a pile of tangled hairy legs. Somehow Abraxas communicated with Halcyon, for the big stallion dove into the herd, separating two smaller Quintapeds from the rest.
'Moody!' Abraxas waved Moody closer. They hovered next to each other, as close as they could get without colliding. 'Are those the small ones you saw?'
To Moody they all looked the same. Reddish-brown fur, five legs, club-footed. Not much variety in that. Compared to the rest, however, the two Quintapeds that Abraxas had found were smaller. One was malnourished and thin. 'Those were the only small ones?' he shouted.
'A few medium-sized. Those were the smallest we could find. They kept to themselves, too. A bit confused, I think. Could be them.'
'Worth a try.' It could go wrong, of course, and they'd end up with a Draco-shaped monster in for a human meal if one of the wrong Quintapeds ate the Polyjuice cube.
Abraxas turned Haizum and used the blunted lance to push a couple of the most resistant and perky 'peds back in the pile of half-asleep monsters.
'Five minutes, and they'll all be asleep. We need to feed the small ones their medicine now, before they are unable to do anything but snore!' Snape pointed at the two small Quintapeds.
'I tried to keep them off the meat with the Pacifying Potion,' Abraxas said. 'Can't say if I managed, though.'
'How long will it take before the Polyjuice works?' Moody found the package with the small cubes of hardened Polyjuice. He tried to keep on the horse without holding on.
'A minute or two, although with the new recipe, we can't be certain. We need to get down there, Moody.'
Moody did what Abraxas had taught him. He leant forward, thus telling the horse to get on the ground. Snape, still sneezing occasionally, did the same. They landed on the far side of their targets. The two small 'peds were waving their legs. Moody didn't know whether they were trying to communicate. 'That one last.' He pointed at the skinny Quintaped. He had his wand ready. The creatures didn't show any aggression, though. They merely scrabbled around, restlessly.
'A bit selfish, are we?' Snape raised an eyebrow. 'Of course. Better her than him if anything goes wrong.' He unpacked one of the cubes they had made and threw the meat-wrapped tit-bit in front of the 'ped. It gobbled it up without hesitation.
'Of course not!' Moody was appalled, mostly because there was a grain of truth in Snape's assessment. 'Get a cloak,' Moody demanded. 'If this works, we can't have the poor girl stark naked on the ground. She'll be confused enough as it is!'
The Quintaped stopped. It convulsed, its long legs jerking and kicking. Then it was as if a wave rolled over it, changing its brown fur into white skin. A few seconds later, a slender girl the age of ten or twelve was lying on the ground, her blue eyes blinking against the sun. She looked stunned and afraid.
'Quick.' Moody waved Snape ahead. 'I have her at wand-point.' Snape could handle one little cannibalistic spider, but better safe than sorry. If they were lucky, the potion had worked and Sally-Anne would have her shape and voice back, at least until they had no more Polyjuice left.
The girl turned on all fours. Snape hesitated. She looked up. 'Pro- Professor Snape?' She made a sound as if she was sobbing. 'Professor Snape! You found me!' Then she was up, throwing her arms around Snape. He looked quite uncomfortable.
'It worked. Obviously. As I knew it would.' He wrapped the cloak around the girl, trying to get out of the embrace. It didn't work. 'Sally-Anne? You are Sally-Anne, right?' Snape asked, awkwardly comforting the girl.
'Yes! How long have I been... I was one of those!' She pointed at the herd. 'And then he came, a few days ago. The boy. Did you find my father?'
Snape looked up. Moody met his eyes. Snape nodded his accept and went on, attempting to answer Sally-Anne's confused questioning.
Moody fumbled with the Polyjuice Potion. His hands were shaking. Oh, Merlin. 'Draco?' He threw the small cube in front of the Quintaped, almost unable to breathe. Please, let it work, he whispered, squeezing his wand so hard that he made it creak dangerously. Oh, please!
He'd had solved the case that had filled so many years of his professional life and it felt very good. Only there was something that was more important than work and duty. Much more important. He stepped closer to the Quintaped, careful not to be within reach as it went into the spasms of the change.
Finally Draco lay panting on the ground. Moody held back, his wand ready. he wanted to be certain that it wasn't merely a Quintaped in human shape. 'Draco?'
'Oh, that hurt!' Draco managed to get up on his knees, sitting back. 'Moody?' He tried to stand, but couldn't.
Moody was with him instantly, kneeling next to him. He put his cloak around Draco's thin shoulders before he pulled him into his arms. He looked into Draco's eyes, looking at the face he'd thought he'd never see again. 'Draco...' There was so much pain and longing in that single word.
'You came for me,' Draco whispered hoarsely. 'You came for me... Oh, Alastor... '
Then there was no holding back. It didn't matter that there were other people there. Hell, it didn't matter that they had a herd of sleepy Quintapeds next to them. Moody sighed, then leant in, pressing his lips to Draco's. Draco responded instantly. It was a wet and open and greedy kiss, warm and a little bit clumsy. Draco pressed his thin frame against Moody's hardened, battle-worn body, clinging to him as if he'd never let go. With Draco's slender arms around his neck, Moody let Draco have what he wanted. It was a long and delightful kiss, the best Moody had ever had. He surely didn't want to let go of Draco, either.
It only stopped when Kingsly coughed politely. 'You only have half an hour before the nice little 'peds wake up, Moody. And an hour before you'll be snogging one of them, when the Polyjuice runs out. Let's get back and work on those spells, shall we?'
Draco gasped. 'Salazar, I'm sorry, Alastor. I didn't mean...'
'They know. All of them.' Moody got up, wincing at his leg. 'And your grandfather did not challenge me to a duel.'
'Don't feel too confident,' Abraxas snapped. 'Get on a horse and let's get off this island.'
'What's with the Polyjuice?' Draco asked. 'You mean we're... Polyjuiced Quintapeds now?'
Moody helped Draco to mount Halcyon. There was time to explain when they flew back. Sally-Anne was still clinging to "Professor Snape". Moody didn't find it strange; he was the only one of them she knew. 'You'll tell her?' he asked Snape. 'Everything?'
Snape nodded. He wasn't used to being the only steady rock in any young girl's life, that much was clear. 'Yes.'
'Gently,' Moody said. 'She might be twenty one, but her mental age might not have changed much. '
'I'm not a monster, Auror. I am capable of compassion, I'll have you know.' Snape snorted, offended.
Moody wasn't in doubt. He'd seen how gentle Snape had been with Lucius, how worried and caring. 'I know.'
Draco took the news surprisingly well. When they pulled up the horses over the castle's courtyard, he had stopped crying. 'You and Severus have been working together and you came to find us. I trust you, Alastor. You'll find something that can undo this. Promise me.'
'I don't need to,' Moody said as he helped Draco get off the horse. 'I promised you that you could come live with me, and I am surely not going to have a Quintaped ravaging my nice house. I just had the kitchen refurbished. I have to find a cure for you, since I won't have you messing it up.'
'There's also the slight downside,' Draco said, in a better mood, 'that one's mind is rather fuzzy inside those creatures. I might eat you.'
'If you promise just to nibble, that's all right,' Moody said and winked. 'I have scars enough as it is. You can nibble all you like, though.'
Draco smiled. 'Are you flirting with me in a time of deep peril, Auror?' He didn't seem to mind.
'I think so.' Moody laughed. 'It is quite awkward.'
'Thank God. I thought you'd be appalled and didn't want-'
It was impossible to speak and kiss at the same time. Draco was no more a monster than Moody. Moody knew how it was, being shunned for how one looked. He would never do that to Draco. They'd find a cure, a spell, a hex. Anything that helped. Until then, he could live with a bit of temporary furriness.
They sent Sally-Anne and Draco off to bathe and dress. Mr Bruce popped in and out all the time, wringing his hands, all excited by the news. 'Mrs Bruce is takes young Miss Perks to her room. Professor Snape sir is comes too,' Mr Bruce demanded, too eager to be as polite as he usually were. 'Miss Perks is distraught. Professor Snape sir must comes.'
Abraxas calmed the house-elf down. 'You may tell Miss Perks that the Minister for Magic will come and speak to her. Kindly let Mrs Bruce explain that Professor Snape is going to do a few tests so that Miss Perks does not turn into a Quintaped again.' Abraxas turned to Kingsley. 'We should go take care of the girl. It must be very distressing for her to learn about her father's dead.'
Kingsley rubbed his bald head. 'Not to speak of the fact that she's lost almost ten years.' He looked down at Mr Bruce. 'Did she mention Wagtail?'
'Miss Perks was crying, Mrs Bruce said.'
'That's all right.' Kingsley tried to calm down the hand-wringing Mr Bruce. 'Perhaps you and Mr Stewart the Cellar-elf could prepare rooms in the dungeons, or anywhere safe for Draco and Sally-Anne?' he asked.
Kingsley turned to Abraxas, stroking his arm, a small caress, but very intimate. 'We can't keep them in human form all the time. We'll run out of Polyjuice too soon.'
'I know.' Abraxas's eyes flickered to Moody. 'They need another dose in,' he looked at his watch, 'fifteen minutes.'
Snape reached into his pocket. He turned a small flask in his hand. 'This one is for Sally-Anne. One small mouthful. We need to stretch what we have as long as possible.' He gave the flask to Kingsley. He found another. 'Mr Bruce, if you will deliver this one to Draco before you go to the dungeons?'
Mr Bruce grabbed the bottle and went off, clearly more at ease, now that he had something sensible to do.
'To the laboratory, then.' Snape turned. 'Come.'
A house-elf had already been there since a tray with fresh sandwiches and tea was waiting for them. The laboratory smelt slightly of jasmine. Pouring a cup for himself, ignoring the fact that it was probably poisoned, Moody groaned as he burnt his fingers on the hot tea. He blew at them. He sat down on a stool. 'You had planned an improved potion?'
Snape was cooling his tea by stirring it with a spoon. 'The Jobberknoll. Delightful mix of brain and feathers. Still better than fur and five legs.'
'I've considered whether a variety of the Animagus Transfiguration spell might work. It transforms both ways, to and from animal form. I don't believe that a common Untransfiguration is enough, although we need to attempt that.' Moody reached out for a piece of paper and a pen.
'Either that or... ' Snape hesitated. 'Perhaps we should get a Floo call through to Minerva? She lives in this area anyway, so-'
Abraxas didn't look particularly enthused. 'If we don't find a solution right away. At least we can try to return them to natural form by that spell. If it doesn't work, we'll get the woman.'
'It's far-fetched, but if Draco and Sally-Anne change their names, the Transfiguration, when we're talking Cross-Species Transfiguration, might work better.' Snape took a sip of his tea and sighed. 'It's fourth-year Transfiguration curriculum. Might work. Simple, but it might work.'
'So... Beetles into buttons, guinea pigs into guinea fowl, is that it?' Moody recalled something in that direction. 'Similar in name or appearance. It's a thought.' He wrote the suggestions down. He liked having things on file; sometimes he caught a relation between information that he'd otherwise not seen. 'Malfoy to MacBoon, or the other way around... it's perhaps close enough to work.'
'At least it's not very time-consuming. We can try that if none of the Transfiguration charms won't work.' Snape agreed.
'Another kettle of fish, but... Episkey ?' Moody scratched his chin thoughtfully. 'Nothing is really broken, but in combination with the other spells?'
'Good thinking, Moody.' Snape looked appreciative. 'Maybe together with Reducio ? Now, I know it's supposed to shrink things back to normal size, but the origin of the spell-'
'Is French. Reducer. To bring back to the source.' Abraxas's eyes narrowed. 'Combined? As the last resort. Perhaps with a Reparo instead. Although that is surely too simple.'
They discussed the possibilities and Snape's advanced version of Polyjuice spiced with the memory-enhancing Jobberknoll brain. There were possibilities enough, it was merely difficult to select the right direction since they didn't know the old spell that had been used. Basically they weren't even sure whether proper Transfiguration was involved at all. It was just the branch of magic that seemed most logical. It was a place to start.
They stopped only when Kingsley brought back Sally-Anne.
'I've explained to Sally-Anne what we've been doing, how we went to look for her and what happened to her father.' Kingsley pulled out a chair for Sally-Anne. 'It is more or less as we thought: Anthony Perks's broom malfunctioned.' Kingsley was kind enough not to mention Mr Perks's death. 'Sally found the house as she tried to get help. She lost her wand.' Kingsley put a hand on her shoulder. 'We understand if this is confusing for you, but is there anything you remember, except for the accident?'
Sally-Anne shook her head. She looked thin and fragile, Moody thought; he needed to remember that she was no longer a girl, but a young woman underneath the Polyjuice appearance. Despite the nine years on the isle, her body would have developed. Her mind... that was another question.
'I remember that I suddenly wasn't a girl. It's all like a dream, you know, when you know you're dreaming, but can't wake up? And I had this craving for meat all the time. I liked biscuits better before.'
Moody turned on the stool and leant forward. 'Kingsley has explained to you who I am?'
'Yes.' Sally-Anne smiled, then stood and held out her hand. 'Thank you for looking for me, Auror Moody.' She lowered her voice. 'He also said that the boy you... That was Draco Malfoy! I went to class with him. He was a right git.'
'He isn't any longer.' Moody couldn't suppress a smile. 'I thought so too, once, that he was a right idiot.' He patted Sally-Anne's hand. 'Now that I think of it, he still is a bit of a git at times.' Moody's expression changed into a more serious one. 'You know that your human form isn't constant? That we need to do a few experiments? So that we can get you back to normal.'
'Kingsley explained it.' Sally-Anne straightened up. She looked like a little girl who tried to be brave. 'I miss my mother. Kingsley said it was best not to tell her yet... if... if you couldn't...'
'You know Professor Snape, right?'
'Yes.' Sally-Anne dried her eyes.
'He's the best Potions Master and Dark Arts specialist there is. Kingsley and I aren't bad, either. Abraxas knows a lot about beasts. It might take time, but we'll get both you and Draco back to your natural shape.'
'But I'll have to turn into a spider? So you can see if the spells work?' Sally-Anne, for obvious reasons, didn't sound enthused about the prospect.
'Yes, unfortunately. But you are a brave and strong girl, otherwise you wouldn't have survived. We'll help you all we can. We'll make some nice and secure rooms in the basement. We don't want to be eaten, and I'm sure you wouldn't want to eat any of us by accident.'
Sally-Anne thought about it for a moment. 'No. But I wouldn't mind roast for dinner.' There was this glimpse in her eyes that told she was serious, but not entirely. 'And some books. Not to eat, though. But to read.'
Snape laughed. 'There's Ravenclaw for you. What a waste.' He looked at the clock. 'There is ten minutes left of your last dose. Would you like to go ahead and do some tests right away, or would you rather wait? It will be helpful if we can go ahead. We could ask Draco if he wants to go first if you'd rather wait and see what we're doing.'
Sally-Anne had reached some maturity in the nine years that had passed. 'No. He's not used to be a spider. I'm used to it. As long as you turn me back.'
'Brave girl. Well done.' Snape showed a hitherto supportive style. 'Well, Miss Perks, would you like to accompany the Minister and me to the dungeons, then? Let's see if Mr Bruce has made us a nice place to do some testing. I think our first task is to find out whether Quintapeds like biscuits as well as they like meat.' Snape took a few steps towards the door. 'Are you coming, gentlemen?'
Moody stared at Snape. If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn that a chameleon had been involved in the creation of Severus Snape. 'Did he just show pedagogical ability?' Moody whispered to Kingsley.
'I think so.' Kingsley, too, was flabbergasted. 'Highly disturbing.'
Abraxas put a hand on Moody's shoulder, stopping him. 'I think that three able wizards are more than enough to do the preliminary tests. Perhaps you could go and see how our other little monster is doing. Two hours, Moody.' Abraxas leant in. 'He needs you,' he whispered. 'If this goes wrong there is little time before we run out of Polyjuice. Use it well.'
Abraxas was right, Their time was running out and any brief moments of happiness they could have together might be all there was left when the spells and the potion ran out. Use it well. He would.
They went down the narrow path to the coast. 'I'm going to miss him,' Draco said. His eyes had that sad rain cloud-grey tinge.
'He was a brave little warrior,' Moody said. He, too, missed Wagtail. It wasn't his dog, it would never be, but still they had bonded. Wagtail had taken a liking to Draco also. 'Maybe he knew... before we did,' Moody said. 'That this was going to happen. Us.' Moody squeezed Draco's hand lightly. 'He never chose between us. Perceptive and vigilant he was.'
'He saved me.' Draco looked at the small grave. 'If it hadn't been for him, I'd still be crawling around on the Isle of Drear, enjoying my new leggy friends. I don't even have flowers to give him.'
Moody was oddly touched by the gesture. 'He'd probably rather have had a teacup. I think he liked the crunching. Not picky about food, that one.'
Draco bent down and took a small rock. He waved his wand over it, Transfiguring into a small cup. 'This will have to do.' He put the cup down on the stone under which Wagtail was buried. 'I'd like to stay here for a little,' Draco said. 'I don't want to go back yet.' He looked at the watch he was carrying. Abraxas's pocket watch, Moody thought. It had the initials A. M. engraved on the backside. 'I have the potion with me; we can stay,' he said, sounding hopeful.
Moody found a nice place out of the chilly wind's reach. He sat down, not entirely elegantly, leaning against a sun-warm rock. Draco curled up next to him like he'd done at night. This time it was different, though. This time Moody didn't need to pretend. This time he could caress Draco, enjoy mutual attraction for the first time in years. He still didn't understand that someone who'd once been as fickle and superficial as Draco Malfoy was able to see beyond the scars and the ruined eye and the missing leg.
Draco snuggled closer, caressing Moody's chest. 'Alastor?'
'Are you in lo-'
'Yes.' No reason to hide it. He was not one for grand declarations, though. Although he expected Malfoy to be demanding and greedy in that area as well.
'Good.' Draco moved a little, sliding his arm around Moody's neck. 'I think it's this one, by the way,' he said and held up his left little finger. 'But I could be wrong.'
'What do you want?' Oh, he was wrapped around Draco's little finger, all right.
'This,' Draco said and kissed him.
That instant Moody didn't care one Knut if a contingent of Death Eaters and half a dozen Dementors had been hovering above them. He didn't care where his wand was and whether he might hex off half a buttock by accident. All he cared about was to kiss Draco senseless, to make him breathless and wanting for more. The slick heat of Draco's mouth was alluring. Moody, too, became breathless, his body's awakening happening fast. Draco was busy touching everywhere he could reach: Moody's muscular upper arms, his broad shoulders, his waist that still showed little sign of too much office work and too little work in the field.
Draco's body was porcelain in his hands, pale and fragile and thin. Draco was surprisingly tough, though, as he pulled Moody with him to lie down. 'Show me how strong you are,' Draco whispered against Moody's mouth. 'I like that you're so powerful.' Draco's budding erection was rubbing against Moody's thigh. This was getting out of hand. 'I want you on top of me,' Draco demanded in a tone that didn't leave room for protests. 'God, I have longed for this!'
Moody flipped them over, Draco landing on his back in the soft grass. 'Oh, yes.' Draco moaned shamelessly, his eyes closed in pleasure. 'Please... Oh, please, Alastor!'
No further encouragement was needed. Moody kissed Draco again, hard and demanding. Leaning on one arm, he pushed a hand between them, fumbling with robes and buttons until he finally held them both in his large hand. Draco made a needy sound and moved his hips, one leg thrown over Moody's good one. The silken-soft skin felt perfect in Moody's palm. He thrust against Draco, slowly at first, then faster, more violently, using the force that Draco wanted so badly.
He didn't last long. One look at Draco's face, contracted in pleasure as his orgasm overtook him, was enough. Moody groaned at the sensation of Draco's semen, splashing over his hand, making it easier to thrust against Draco's warm skin. He moaned a dark, 'Oh, Draco,' and came too, too early and too violent; he forgot everything except for Draco's willing body under his own.
It took a little before he was able to breathe and think. 'Damned,' Moody sighed. 'That was...' He breathed out, a long, satisfied sigh.
'Mmm, me too,' Draco murmured sleepily. 'Do we have to get back? I'd rather stay here.'
Moody didn't answer. He didn't want to get back, either. He turned over on his back, wrapping his arms around Draco. He mumbled a spell to clean them up a bit before he pulled the cloak over their half-naked bodies. He fumbled for the flask. 'You should drink a little Polyjuice. Your hair has a tinge of red.' Moody's hand drew circles on Draco's skin; calming, soft caresses. No, he certainly didn't want to go back.
They lay like that for a while, silent both. It was as if the warmth between them was enough, their touches and kisses spoke for themselves. Above them the clouds moved. It was a small island in time that Moody knew he'd remember for the rest of his life. As he lay there, a bit uncomfortable on the hard ground, he knew precisely why it would never have worked with Kingsley. This, what he had with Draco... it was different. The tension, the little power games, the teasing, even their conflicting opinions created an electric field, a place where peace was shattered by tension, tension by care and care by this intense pleasure. Kingsley and he would have bored each other into insanity in the long run. If Draco drove Moody insane—more insane, some might argue—it wouldn't be because of boredom. Draco was exciting. As a man who'd lived his life on the edge, Moody was, he had to admit, addicted to exitement, to danger. The few years of forced retirement had been the most boring period of his life. Stupid Ministry, thinking he couldn't do his job, just because he lost a leg. It had been a bad time. Even his paranoia had flared wildly since it had little else to do. He'd never want for excitement in his life again with Draco Malfoy as his lover.
If they managed to cure Draco, that was.
'We need to get back,' Moody said. 'Twenty minutes, and you'll be less pleasant to cuddle with, love.'
'You're just jealous because I'll have considerably more legs than you,' Draco said and got up, smiling. The smile didn't reach his eyes.
They returned to the castle reluctantly. There was ten minutes to spare when they walked down the neatly swept stairs to the basement. They could hear Kingsley's booming voice coming from the depths of the vast dungeon. Just before they reached the rooms Mr Bruce had prepared for the Quintapeds, Moody put a hand on Draco's shoulder, turning him around. 'So little time,' he said, aware that the anxiety he felt was audible. He pressed Draco against the cold stones, kissing him harshly, possessively. Draco responded eagerly, as if he drew from Moody's power. Moody groaned at the wild abandon that Draco put in their kiss. He withdrew before they'd have to use a bit more Polyjuice. He nuzzled Draco's hair. He smelt of sea and sky and grass. He had a few leaves entangled in the braid. 'A bit revealing,' Moody whispered and pulled off the grass. 'Kingsley will know that-'
'And?' Draco said proudly. 'He's not exactly being discreet, shagging my grandfather and all.' He paused. 'You are not ashamed of me?'
Moody shook his head. 'Hardly. But I'm perhaps a bit more private than Kingsley.'
'What, you think they'd believe we're just holding hands?'
Moody looked at Draco. He looked exactly as someone who'd had marvellous sex. 'No. I think that's what Abraxas hopes we've been doing.'
'Hah. He can forget about that. Dirty old man.'
'And that makes me, what?' Moody said, shaking his head. 'Come on, we better get you into safety.'
'It makes you a dirty old man, too. But you're my dirty old man, so that is of course different.'
Draco made an expression so arrogant and haughty that Moody couldn't stop himself from laughing. 'I don't know why I decided to put up with you, horrible brat!'
'Because I'm nubile, rich and with a bad-boy reputation?'
'One could be led to believe that, yeah. But mostly because you're cute when you're asleep. And, importantly, quiet.' Moody rapped Draco on the forehead. 'Now, off with you. I don't trust people who suddenly sprout hairy legs.' It was reassuring to know that the Quintapeds, at least the recently Transfigured ones had some form of human memory, although a bit on the hazy side. What Moody didn't trust, though, was Sally-Anne's and Draco's ability to suppress the Quintapeds' craving for human flesh. At wand-point or behind a solid barrier, that was the way to approach them.
They found Kingsley, Snape and Abraxas standing outside in the corridor. Sally-Anne was there, too, listening to Snape explaining something to her.
'Any luck?' Moody asked and leant against the wall. He had strained his leg a bit much. Next time he'd insist on having Draco on a proper bed.
Kingsley looked at Moody once. 'No, but it seems that you got lucky.' He winked. 'You should probably comb your hair.'
Had it been anybody else than Kingsley who had directed attention to Moody's love life, they'd found themselves in the unfortunate end of his wand. 'Thank you for pointing that out. Should I make posters? Perhaps an announcement in the Prophet?'
Abraxas didn't say anything, but he didn't look entirely displeased, either.
Moody turned and looked at Draco who, in turn, looked triumphant, as if it suited him well that the consummation of their relationship was made half-way public. 'We better get you into-' Moody looked questioning at Snape.
Snape opened a door. It had a small opening with bars in the upper half. 'In here. There's a mattress and blankets. You may want to get rid of your clothes as not to ruin them.' He closed the door behind Draco. It creaked and fell shut with a reassuring, heavy clunk.
They stepped away from the door to leave Draco a bit of privacy during the change. Moody searched the serious faces. 'Nothing worked?'
'No.' Kingsley fiddled with his golden earring. 'We managed to get the fur to retract, but that's it so far. The only thing more pathetic than being a Hairy MacBoon is to be a bald MacBoon.'
There were some unpleasant grunts and groans from Draco's cell. Moody walked over to the door and took a quick peak through the small opening. 'It's all right. If that's the right expression. He has changed.' Moody turned around. 'What's the plan?'
'There are a few combinations we haven't tried.' Abraxas was worried and tried not to show it. He fumbled with the files he was holding. 'The next step, if this fails, will be to get a hold of Professor McGonagall. And to send Mr Weasley an application for an official change of surnames.' Abraxas pressed two fingers against the bridge of his nose. 'It feels as if we're approaching this from the wrong angle. It feels wrong. It's too advanced.'
Snape opened the door to the cell. 'Careful now.' He raised his wand. 'Draco, if you understand me, tap twice on the floor.'
Moody was relieved when the Quintaped did so. They still needed to remain vigilant.
'We'll begin the tests now,' Snape explained. 'Three taps for us to stop. If it feels unpleasant.' He waved Kingsley closer. 'Take over, Shacklebolt. Close the door or push him back with a spell if he loses control or tries to get out.' Snape lowered his wand. 'Why is that, Abraxas? It's fairly advanced magic, Transfigurations. High level.'
'Because neither the McCliverts, nor the MacBoons were famed for their intelligence or their magical abilities. To be brief and little polite, they were a bunch of baboons with wands.' Abraxas held up the file. 'You read the reports and the legends, too, Severus. I know that Transfiguration isn't that easy, so they couldn't have been entirely without talent, though. I don't really think that they used their time on refining spells, however. Those two families did little but quarrel. Unrefined, brutal, cruel, yes. But advanced? Not in any known interpretation of the word.'
Sally-Anne had been listening. She pulled at Snape's robes. 'Professor McGonagall taught us that it is very difficult to Untransfigure a Transfigured item.'
'Professor McGonagall was right about that,' Snape said. 'Especially since none of our attempts with standard spells worked.'
Sally-Anne looked at the Quintaped. She pursed her mouth, as if she was thinking hard about something. 'Professor Flitwick taught us that if we did something wrong with a charm we could reverse it.' She waved her hand as if she was holding an imaginary wand. 'Finite Incantatem!' Determined, she held out her hand. 'Give me your wand, please.'
Snape couldn't hide a smile. 'It might be a bit more difficult than that,' he argued. 'And careful with the wand. It's probably more powerful than the wand that you're used to.'
Before Moody could manage to stop Sally-Anne and give her a thorough lecture on safety and the proper way to handle a wand, especially wands that belonged to ambiguous Dark Arts specialists. She swished and flicked neatly, a precise movement that would have made Professor Flitwick proud of his student.
'Like that. Professor Flitwick told us.' She looked at Snape, expectantly. 'Now you!'
'Er-' Snape looked uncomfortable. He probably wasn't used to being commanded by a small girl. When one looked at it from Sally-Anne's angle Snape was probably less scary than the monsters on the Isle of Drear.
'All right. It can't exactly hurt.' He pointed the wand at Draco. 'Finite Incantatem!'
There was a flash of lightning. Moody feared what he would see as the smoke disappeared.
'Holy Hippogriff! What the hell was that?' Draco stood naked, clutching a blanket to cover his bits. 'I would tap three times, but it seems I've lost a few legs.'
'That,' Snape said, sounding less sarcastic and controlled than he usually did, 'was four of the wizarding world's strongest wizards being taken down a peg by a twelve year old girl! I must say...' He scratched his chin. 'Has anyone seen my pride? I think I've lost it. Hold on.' Snape turned his wand to Sally-Anne. 'Perhaps a blanket for Miss Perks... before...'
Kingsley hurried to find one. It was one thing to have a twelve year old naked Sally-Anne, but underneath the spells her body had developed into a woman of twenty one. A blanket would be good. Although her mind still had a decade to catch up with, Sally-Anne might feel uncomfortable with her development. The good thing was that her mind clearly wasn't damaged, that much was certain.
Snape flicked his wand. Another flash, and the young Sally-Anne had turned into a woman. She was very pretty. Perhaps that was how her grieving mother might have looked when she was twenty-one. Sally-Anne was tall and pale and slender. She could even have been a Malfoy with her fair hair and the pale skin. The Norwegian ancestry was rather obvious.
Moody was stunned. It was so simple that none of them had seen it. Mean, crude and inept, the McCliverts had managed a very effcient spell by pure luck, but they hadn't been able to make it advanced, therefore the counter-spell wasn't, either. It hadn't been a Transfiguration, not really. It has been the attempt at making one, and the result had been horrible. The Department of Mysteries would be in over their heads with that one. It was distorted, mangled magic, revenge magic created by people only remotely more clever than the rocks they lived upon.
He shook himself out of the paralysis. Rushing into the cell, Moody helped Draco wrap the blanket around himself. 'That, I think, was the sign that we're going home soon,' Moody said. 'Our investigation of the Sally-Anne Perks case ends here.'
'That was quite a ride,' Kingsley said. He was sitting comfortably in the deep armchair in the corner of Moody's bedroom. He had a glass of Firewhisky in one hand. 'In more ways than one.'
Moody finished packing. He watched a line of clothing, books and a few bottles of Abraxas's best Elf-made wine disappear into a small bag. Moody charmed it considerably smaller and dumped it into one of the deep pockets of his worn travelling cloak. 'You can't complain about your holiday being boring, though.' Moody took a last look at the room he'd been using for three weeks. 'Although you can still manage. You can look at your fish for almost a week before you have to be all serious again.' Moody grinned. 'Aren't you excited?'
Kingsley just smiled. 'I'm not going to look at any fish. When we've accompanied Miss Perks to her mother's house, I'm going back here. To be with my lover.'
'To Abraxas.' Moody frowned. 'I take it you have decided it is worth the scandal?'
'I take it that you understand that it will be such a delightful diversion when the Prophet finds out that former Death Eater Draco Malfoy is moving in with the Head of Aurors?' Kingsley's eyes were shining mirthfully. 'They're going to eat you alive. And him too, your lover.'
'Do I sense a smidgen of amusement on my behalf?' Moody knew that the teasing was probably the destruction of the last tiny threads that bound them together as former lovers who still cared a little bit too much for each other. When those threads broke, they'd still be friends, happy with each their man.
'Of course.' Kingsley took a drink of the Firewhisky. 'I am happy, though, to see you so... content.' Kingsley got up, placing the glass on the table next to the chair. 'You'll have fun with the Prophet's journalists, I suppose? They are going to frequent St. Mungo's for weeks, trying to get through your wards.'
'Yeah, me too. Happy that you are happy.' He was. He wanted Kingsley to have everything he hadn't been able to give him. 'It would never have worked out, Kingsley. You and me.'
Kingsley knew what he meant. Of course he did, they had been friends for more than fifteen years. 'I know. Can't blame a man for wishing.'
'I suppose not.' Moody patted Kingsley on the shoulder. 'I'm too busy with my tame Death Eater to worry about that, laddie.'
Kingsley laughed softly. 'I have what I want now. There's a bit of taming to do with a Malfoy, yes, but I'm fine with that. That and the scandal and the political implications.' Kingsley looked a bit worried for a second. 'We both got what we needed, I suppose.'
'At last,' Moody said. He'd waited fifteen years for someone to overwrite the memories of the few weeks he'd had with Kingsley. It had happened, and the feeling was bittersweet. He hadn't loved Kingsley as a lover, but he loved him as a friend. He always would. Moody squeezed Kingsley's shoulder, as if to express that notion. 'I do love you, you know,' he said, uncharacteristically open about his feelings.
Kingsley just smiled and nodded. They understood each other so well.
It was time to leave. It was a little sad. Moody was about to open the door when Mr Bruce popped out of thin air.
'Sirs is leaving.' Mr Bruce had with him a tiny house-elf who wore something that looked like a toddler's t-shirt. It was bright orange and had a picture of a bear on it.
'Sirs are. Thank you for your help, Mr Bruce.'
'Sir is very kind.' Mr Bruce pulled the small house-elf closer. 'This is Mr Bruce. He has taken clothes from Master.'
Moody looked at the skinny little creature. It was about half the size of the other Mr Bruce. 'Another Bruce?'
'Is Mr Bruce's third son. Is no proper house-elf. Is taken clothes and wants salary. Sir will do Mr Bruce a favour if sir will take him.'
The tiny house-elf nodded. 'Is one Galleon a year. Mr Bruce will take good care of sir and young sir.'
Moody stared at the pair disbelievingly. He looked from the older Mr Bruce to the younger. 'Oh, that's precious.' Moody pointed accusingly at Mr Bruce the older. 'You talked Abraxas into this? And then you forced your own son to take clothes because you knew I wouldn't take him otherwise, is that so?'
Mr Bruce didn't say anything. Moody realised that house-elves were perfectly able to blush. Mr Bruce was looking down, appearing very interested in his own feet. 'Mr Bruce can iron his hands, if sir wants it? Master said that Mr Bruce could not let young master be without his own house-elf. It is not fitting for a Malfoy, Master said. To be in a household without a house-elf.'
'No ironing. And we'll take him in. Provided he will accept a standard house-keeper's salary,' Moody said sternly. 'And Sunday off to do... what house-elves do when they have the day off.'
The young Mr Bruce nodded eagerly. 'Please, sir!'
Moody gave up. Abraxas was incredible. 'Go find your master, then. He probably needs help packing all those fancy robes his grandfather bought for him.' Mingling with Pure-bloods was a tad surreal for a man as down to earth as Alastor Moody. He would never get used to all the fuss with house-elves and castles and manor houses.
'Moving up in society?' Kingsley said, a wide grin on this face. 'Your own house-elf? It might work wonders for your standing.'
'The only thing that makes wonders for my standing is this.' Moody grabbed his trusty staff. 'And you forgot I also have my own pony now.' Moody waved Kingsley to the side with a mock expression of arrogance. 'Make way for the elite,' he said, sounding very stuck-up and snooty. 'I don't have time to spend with a mere Minister for Magic.'
'Well, you are going to spend the day with me, unless you don't want to accompany Miss Perks on her journey home. Kingsley swatted Moody on the shoulder. 'Also, my pony is bigger than yours.'
'There is that. And I should know. I've been riding it a couple of times,' Moody retorted and walked out the door.
It was a brief goodbye. Moody stood in the courtyard, leaning against his staff, watching the young Mr Bruce mollycoddle the young Master Malfoy when Snape walked down the stairs, holding a broom and a trunk. He looked less sour, one might even suggest that Snape looked a bit chipper.
'Off to Azkaban, are we?' Moody nodded at the Firebolt. 'That's a nice broom you've got there. Didn't think you cared to use it.'
'I don't know where you are going, but I most certainly am.' Snape's eyes flickered to Draco. 'To make certain that all my demands are carried out. I suppose you'd want him to have a father, still?' Snape snorted and waved his wand at the trunk. 'You better take good care of him, or I'll personally make your life a living hell.'
'Thanks, Snape, but my life was a living hell for a couple of days, so if it's all right with you, I prefer it as it is now,' Moody growled, not really putting much effort into it. 'Give my regards to Lucius. And don't you worry, I'll take care of Draco all right.' Moody paused. Then he added solemnly, 'Even if he chooses not to be with-'
'Oh, no!' Snape looked decidedly amused. 'You're stuck with him. Just the way he looks at you... Then again, maybe he should have his eyes checked?'
'It might run in the family,' Moody said with a sarcastic smile. 'One would suspect that Lucius could benefit from a pair of glasses, too. Now, when you think of it, the only Malfoy who's got himself a decent looking man is him.' Moody pointed at Abraxas.
'Touché. I guess you're right.' Snape watched Kingsley for a few seconds. 'The Minister isn't half bad, a bit on the flamboyant side, though. And his head isn't right. Abraxas is intolerable.'
'Not fond of your father-in-law?'
Moody smiled sweetly. 'I know the feeling.'
Kingsley joined them. Snape was right. Kingsley looked dashing in a new travelling cloak. A gift from Abraxas, probably. Moody felt cheated. He'd rather have had a cloak. Much easier to maintain than a house-elf.
'Severus.' Kingsley held out his hand. Snape hesitated a moment before he took it. 'Thank you for your help. Let me know if there is anything Lucius needs; I'll do what I can. I trust that you are able to convince the governor that it would be a particularly bad idea not to implement the changes I ordered?'
'It would be my pleasure to remind him,' Snape said gleefully. 'Are you going to keep your promise and replace him?'
'As soon as I'm back at the Ministry. I have made it more difficult for us; there will be witches and wizards who insist that I am in league with the Malfoys and they would be right. They will be wrong, however, if they think it matters when it comes to my political decisions.' Kingsley looked serious. 'Before your Slytherin side takes over, Severus, I'll make it abundantly clear that I am not even thinking of releasing Lucius from Azkaban before time enough has passed for his incarceration to look like a proper punishment.'
Snape's eyes narrowed. 'Understood. As long as he is kept under tolerable conditions.'
'That was what we agreed upon. I do not condone torture.'
Snape nodded, then went across the courtyard to say goodbye to Draco.
Moody and Kingsley watched Snape. When he stopped being sour and unpleasant, it was clear that Snape cared deeply for the Malfoys in his life. 'He really is in love with the man, isn't he?' Moody looked at Kingsley. 'They're strangely addictive, the bastards.' Moody suspected that Snape suffered from the same need to protect his lover that he did.
'Yeah. It is still a riddle to me, though. I've rarely met a more unpleasant and arrogant person. Could be that he, too, has a softer side.'
Moody couldn't hear what Snape and Draco were talking about, but both men turned and looked at him, so it wasn't entirely wrong to assume that Snape was giving Draco a bit of fatherly advice in regards to his relationship with Head Auror Alastor Moody.
Abraxas joined them. 'Of course we are waiting for the ladies. Miss Perks seems to have a problem wearing anything but fur and five legs.'
Moody was just about to open his mouth and say something less than nice about jokes on having five legs and a craving for meat when Abraxas cut him off.
'Mr Bruce is changing some of my own robes for her. I offered her some of Draco's but it seems as if she's stuck in the mindset of an twelve year old girl—you know, very stubborn and with a distinct preference for blue and no frills. She complained that Draco's robes were, and I quote, girly. They all looked at Draco who was wearing a pale green set of robes, elaborately embroidered with silver and dark green. Moody coughed lightly.
'They are appropriate for a young man of his standing,' Abraxas insisted. 'If he was a seasoned Auror, it would be different. They, it seems, can wear anything.' Abraxas gave Moody a once-over that indicated that Moody's trusty travelling cloak had seen better days. 'Take care of him, Alastor. And come back here and visit me, both of you.'
Luckily Sally-Anne made her appearance before Moody managed to ask Abraxas less than politely whether he thought he had lost it entirely. It was the general idea of the arrangement: that he'd take good care of Draco. Very good care.
Blue suited Sally-Anne. Moody wondered how it must feel to have lost nine years and then step out in the wizarding world with the body of a young woman. Her body didn't suit her, though. She moved clumsily, as if she hadn't yet managed to control the longer legs and arms. She was carrying in one hand the Oakshaft that Kingsley had admired in the basement. 'Mr Malfoy gave it to me,' she said. 'He said it is the most reliable broom Galleons can buy.'
'The girl needs a decent and reliable broomstick,' Abraxas said, as if giving away a ten thousand Galleon Oakshaft was nothing to him. It probably wasn't.
'Depending on how many Galleons one has,' Kingsley said, not telling Sally-Anne how many Firebolts she could get in exchange for the sturdy vintage broom. 'If you don't mind, we'll Apparate. It's a bit far on a broom.'
Moody realised that Kingsley was being considerate. Of course Sally-Anne's first time on a broom shouldn't be a long-distance flight, not after her ordeal and the loss of her father. His line of thought was interrupted by the young Mr Bruce. The house-elf was pulling at his cloak insistently. 'Yes, Mr Bruce?'
'Mr Bruce will go to Master's home and clean,' the house-elf announced. 'Masters must be home for dinner,' he demanded and disappeared.
Moody didn't know whether to laugh or to despair. His life would never be the same. It would be a tough change, suddenly being saddled with a lover and a house-elf. It also looked very much like the family he had wanted. Perhaps he could learn to live with it. In time.
Draco was done speaking with Snape. He looked relatively happy. Couldn't have been too bad, then, what the two men were whispering about. Moody checked the bag that Wagtail had been sitting in before he realised what he was doing. It stung that the brave little dog hadn't survived. He pushed away the thought. They had solved the case, they had found Sally-Anne and her father. That, in itself, was worth a celebration.
Snape raised a hand for goodbye.
'Tell my father I'll visit him in a few days,' Draco said, following Snape with his eyes as he made himself ready to Disapparate. 'When he's getting used to the thought of...'
'Of you, being with me.' Moody took Draco's hand. It was still as thin and cold as the first time Draco had put his hand in Moody's. Now it was lying in his, steady and calm. 'Are you ready? Side-Along?' Draco wasn't fit to Apparate by himself, not yet. Moody had fiddled a bit with the coordinates; he'd prefer that Kingsley didn't trample any puppies like he'd done when they last visited Sally-Anne's mother. Kingsley needed to work on his precision.
'Please.' Draco put his arms around Moody's neck which provided Moody with an opportunity to nuzzle Draco's hair. Draco smelt of soap and some kind of after-shave, a pleasant discreet scent of forest and rain. Sally-Anne held on to Kingsley. 'Ready?'
They stepped out of thin air three feet from the gate. The garden and the farm house were quiet. A blackbird was busy telling other blackbirds to sod off. Bees were humming in the lavender and the litter of small puppies that had greeted them last time were sleeping, cuddled up with a bigger Crup under a garden chair.
'It hasn't changed at all,' Sally-Anne whispered as if not to disturb the deep afternoon calm that enveloped the place. It was as if the house lay there, waiting for something to happen. 'It's the same.'
Moody put a hand on her arm. 'You and your mum have changed. It is probably a good thing that the house hasn't.'
'What if she doesn't recognise me?' Sally-Anne sounded anxious. 'I... I don't recognise me.'
'Listen, love. Your mum have thought about you every day since you disappeared. Had you come back with five legs, she'd still love you.' Moody knew that Mrs Perks would be so very happy that her daughter had been found. 'Don't you worry.' Moody pushed open the gate. The Crups woke up, the adult immediately barking and growling at the intruders. The puppies jumped around, not sure what to do. One of the bravest ran up to Moody and growled at him. He had seen that one before. It had a brown patch over one eye. He couldn't stop himself from laughing. The tiny dog reminded him of Wagtail. 'Grow up, lad, and I might be a little bit scared,' he told the Crup. He bent down and picked up the puppy. 'Yes, you're cute,' he said and scratched it behind one ear. The Crup tried to lick the remains of Moody's nose. 'I don't think so,' he said sternly. 'I'd like to keep the rest of it.'
He handed the puppy to Draco, then said to Kingsley,' If you wait here... I think I should go and prepare Miss Perks's mother for a bit of a shock.'
Moody followed the garden path around the house to the kitchen door. The commotion had alerted Mrs Perks and before he reached the house, she was standing in the doorway. 'Moody... I didn't expect you back before-' She frowned. 'Did you find something, since you...' Moody could almost feel the tension emanating from her. She tried to breathe calmly. 'I don't know if I really wanted you to find anything. It's-'
'Why don't you sit,' Moody suggested. 'It's not all bad.'
Mrs Perks's head snapped up. 'But some of it is?'
'Yes. It is.'
Mrs Perks turned around and went inside the house, into the large and cosy kitchen where Moody and Kingsley had sat the last time they were here. Mrs Perks pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. Moody sat down next to her. He hated this part, telling relatives that they had lost their family.
'The bad news first, please.' Mrs Perks looked if possibly even more haunted. 'You haven't brought Wagtail with you?'
'That's the first part, then.' Moody could feel the loss still and he had to pause before he continued. 'He was extremely brave. We lost him at the Isle of Drear, in a battle against a herd of Quintapeds. Before that he saved my life. Draco Malfoy's life too. He died trying to tell us something very important, you see.'
Mrs Perks's mouth shivered. 'He was the last connection I had to Sally-Anne,' she said quietly, a tear running down her cheek. 'He was such a good dog.'
'I know. He stayed with me all the time and I became rather attached to him. I miss him too. I'm very sorry we weren't fast enough to save him. It was my fault.'
'Where is he... why were you on that island?' Mrs Perks looked very confused. 'And that awful Malfoy boy... Isn't he supposed to be in Azkaban?'
Moody stroked Mrs Perks's shaking hand, trying to comfort her. 'We buried Wagtail at Castle Dùnaid. He has a grave there now. Draco... we took Mr Malfoy with us because he agreed to assist us. He has been released in my care. He actually did save Wagtail once. Before the fight that cost him his life. Mr Malfoy, too, was fond of him. We both regret that we lost him.'
'Oh...' Mrs Perks dried her eyes and collected herself. 'Is there more?'
Moody couldn't see any reason for delaying the inevitable. 'Your husband is dead. We found his body at the Isle of Drear. His broom malfunctioned. As far as we could determine, he was killed almost instantly from a blow he received to the head.'
Mrs Perks started sobbing. Moody reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. He handed it to her, not trying to say anything. There really wasn't anything to say.
It took a while before the tears stopped. 'I'm... I'm sorry, Moody. I knew already, it's just that the confirmation... Thank you.'
Moody stood. He found a kettle and put on some water for tea. He deliberately worked with his back to Mrs Perks, leaving her room to breathe. When the tea was done, he put a cup in front of Mrs Perks. He poured. 'I'm sorry.'
'Don't be. It's better to know. To move on.' Mrs Perks's eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. She looked up at him as if she wanted him to sit.
'A moment. I have Kingsley with me, and he has something you might want to see.' Moody went to the front door, waving at Kingsley to enter.
Kingsley and the litter of puppies went into the kitchen. 'Mrs Perks.' Kingsley nodded politely. He sent Moody a look, as if to say that he understood that Moody had broken the bad news to her. 'I'm sorry for your loss.' Kingsley sent Moody a questioning look. 'Should I tell?'
'We do have some good news, though,' Moody said.
'Very good news,' Kingsley agreed.
Mrs Perks looked from Moody to Kingsley and back again. 'I hardly dare ask...'
'You don't have to.' Kingsley stepped aside and Sally-Anne walked into the kitchen she had left ten years ago. 'She's doesn't remember much from the years that went by.'
Mrs Perks frowned and stared at the unknown young woman standing in her kitchen. She sat in silence as the seconds passed by, trying to digest the miracle. 'Sally-Anne? My child? My little girl? Oh... You found her! Moody, you found her!' Mrs Perks's eyes filled with tears, but this time they were tears of joy. Slowly she got up, all the time staring at her daugther.
'Mum... Mum!' Sally-Anne threw herself at her mother, crying. Mrs Perks embraced her daughter, stroking her hair, kissing her cheeks, looking at the daughter that she had thought lost forever, smiling through her tears.
Moody quietly pulled Kingsley with him out of the kitchen and into the garden. Draco was sitting in one of the garden chairs, the cheeky little Crup still on his arm. 'Women,' Moody growled, rubbing his eye that suddenly felt as if he had got a hair in it.
'Old softie,' Kingsley said and swatted Moody on the shoulder. His eyes, too, were suspiciously glazed over.
'Yeah. Can't be a big, bad Auror all the time.' Moody didn't even care to deny it. 'I like happy endings.' It hadn't been a wasted summer, but it had been a strange one. His life has changed so much in only a few weeks and the future... it looked bright and exciting. He had put to rest the one case that had haunted him for years. Next summer he could go on a real holiday instead, maybe visit Abraxas again together with Draco. 'Oh, Draco,' Moody sighed. It was too late to regret it, his attachment to an infamous criminal.
'What did I do now?' Draco got up. 'I haven't done anything.'
'Nothing. Yet. But I'm certain you'd like to,' Moody teased. He put his arm around Draco's waist. 'It's time to leave.'
Kingsley closed his travelling cloak. 'I'll be back in a week.'
Before they managed to Apparate, Mrs Perks came outside. 'You're leaving? Oh, Moody, and you Minister, thank you for all you have done for us.' She stared at Draco. The Death Eater Draco Malfoy was obviously not forgotten by those who had suffered the war. Moody's arm around Draco's waist didn't stay unnoticed. 'And Mr Malfoy, too,' she sad a bit tensely. 'If there is anything I can do, anything you want...'
'It's our job,' Moody said, touched by Mrs Perks heartfelt gratitude. 'We're Aurors. This is what we do. It's nothing.'
'It is! Surely there is something...' Mrs Perks insisted. 'Anything!'
Draco coughed lightly. Moody turned and looked at him. Draco held out his hand. The chipper little Crup, barely a handful, was sitting there, looking at Moody with an expression so alike Wagtail's that they had to be related in some way. Moody raised an eyebrow. 'A dog?' Well, he had thought of getting one, but that was before he got a Draco. Then again, a Crup would be ten times easier to handle.
He turned to Mrs Perks. 'Are the puppies for sale?'
'No,' she said, smiling. 'They are Wagtail's last litter and we'll keep them all. Except for that one.'
'You mean...' Draco looked anxious.
'I mean that he has already chosen his owner himself,' Mrs Perks said and stroked the tiny puppy on the head. 'I'll be happy to-' she looked from Moody to Draco, '-to let you and Auror Moody have him. There are times when we witches and wizards have to realise that we are not always the masters and mistresses of beasts.'
'That, Mrs Perks,' Moody said,'is very true. But a man needs a challenge once in a while.' Moody looked at Draco, his beautiful, untamed Draco.
Oh, yes, he'd certainly got the challenge he wanted. Taming Draco, Moody had no doubt, would last a lifetime and that was perfectly all right with him.
Perfectly all right.