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The Phantom of Us

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Draco was, in simple terms, unfazed by anything life decided to throw at him—such had been his transition into adulthood.

He sometimes thought, during the vast periods of idleness that came with his unemployed condition, that going through childhood bathed in luxury, followed closely by Voldemort breathing down his adolescent neck, and barely escaping prison afterwards, had instilled in him a sense of resilience. However, Draco knew better.

His calmness at the face of adversity wasn't due to any of the aforementioned reasons. More so, not even the months after the Trials (which he spent barely making ends meet, lounging at the cliff of malnourishment) had made his skin any thicker. Malfoys were an unmovable force, after all.

No, it wasn't a reasonable motive in any shape of form. Draco would snicker at his mind's unintentional jab, were he any less dignified. As it was, he merely looked at his room's walls, waiting for one of them to appear.

Them, as in the beings with no reasonable motive, and often lacking shape or form.

As in, poltergeists.

Like clockwork, Draco heard a somewhat muffled, but still loud boom from somewhere in the lower floors, but that was no breaking news. It had been, after all, eight years of not only booms, but also bangs and AAAAAAAHs (from the most dramatic ghosts of the household), and one ought to get used to it eventually. Draco certainly had.

"Circe," he mutters to himself. "It better not have been one of my cauldrons."

Ruining his Potions works and supplies was—and that was a fact that both Draco and the ghosts were aware of—perhaps the only thing that could get under the wizard's skin. Although not usually willing to admit weaknesses, he could hardly be blamed for his care and caution regarding the one thing that guaranteed his survival.

Sure, one could argue that he had enough money from his heritage—not his father's (for that was so insignificant Draco wondered why the Ministry even bothered), but his late grandpa's, unrelated to Lucius and therefore out of the Wizengamot's reach. However, despite the sum being enough to feed him and provide for basic needs such as water and hygiene, since Draco strictly refused to sell Malfoy Manor (and the gigantic house's maintenance costs were way beyond his tight budget—it wasn't called a "Manor" for nothing, after all), the money was practically useless.

He knew it was somewhat foolish, but when the Wizengamot established his father's five year sentence in Azkaban, and his own year of home confinement—during those twelve months when he couldn't as much as step outside the heavy oak doors, stone walls became his comfort and even the ghosts, his companions. He just could not let go of the blasted old house.

Draco pondered for a second if he should or not go to the source of the noise, but decided against it. No matter how annoying the Manor's apparitions were, he was still a Malfoy (though, like Lucifer, fallen out of grace), and not even the most mischievous poltergeists intended to harm him permanently. And, without his Potions little business (mail orders, mail shippings, quite a few owls going in and out) death by starvation would be his destiny for sure.

However, as the Muggle said it, better safe than sorry, so Draco raised himself from his lovely bed (not so lovely considering the worn down sheets, once silky and a ethereal shade of silver), migraine be damned, and went towards the cellar, where his Potions Lab was located. His stomach was as sickly and disgusting as the dark shade of grey-meets-moss–green of his bed dressing, but such were the downsides of poverty, he supposed. That and the fact that if the deceased Malfoys saw fit to spill his cauldrons' contents, he would be hunting down the Manor's rats or going to bed on an empty stomach in a few days, until he could brew other antidotes to sell. That is, if they hadn't ruined his supplies as well.

"Merlin forbid,” he cringed as he reached the cellar’s doors. He looked at both sides of the corridor, and, finding it inconspicuous enough, lit his wand with a muttered Lumos.

Going down the stairs, Draco was reminded of a time in which that basement-like space made him feel trapped, frightened, close to a panic attack—memories of elfs, of Loony, of wandmakers, and of Harry bloody Potter still fresh on his war-scarred mind. However, as the years drew by and one of the few consolations he had in life consisted in brewing potions down there, the place now filled him with this funny sort of warmth in the pit of his stomach, and the itching impulse to create something.

When he reached the floor, he cast a Lumos Maxima with a flick-back-flick of his wand, and, not noticing that he wasn’t alone, Draco called out loudly, “Is there anyone in here?”

He walked forward slowly, looking around his shadow-filled sanctuary. “Hello? Rosamund, is that—”

A long-suffering groan stopped him in his tracks. That didn’t sound like Rose at all. “Would you mind dimming that a bit? How utterly unthoughtful.”

Despite the pleasant enough words, the tone was anything but. The person who’d spoken was standing behind his workbench, squinting at the little ball of light floating next to Draco, and moving up and down in the air as she rocked a lump of fabric in her arms.

He dimmed the light, although he felt tempted to not do so just to spite her.

“Winnifred,” Draco greeted cheerfully. The ghost frowned at him, her long hair fluttering faster with her annoyance. “What are you doing down here? Odd place to take a baby for a flight, is it not? What with all the mold, and smelly potions, and total darkness…”

He’d been turning on a circle, examining the mostly empty cellar and naming its flaws (he ignored the bit of ectoplasm he could see on the far wall), and when he turned back to her, he saw the baby being held a bit more protectively, though it remained peaceful in his mom’s arms.

Win snorted humourlessly, unamused as always. “Oh, the you-are-dead-and-I-am-not jokes. Never quite lose their comical quality, do they?”

Draco risked a brief look at the cauldrons to see if they were in a perfect state, then looked back at Win immediately. She didn’t take so kindly to being ignored, and, as of now, he didn’t feel like getting walked over by an icy ghost.

There were few sensations as unpleasant as that.

He inclined his head in feigned confusion, scowling as if engaging in deep thought. “No jokes I make ever lose their comical quality, Win. Get on with the program.”

With a long sigh, she walked—glided—forward, going through Draco’s worktable and coming to a stop in front of the wizard. “If you must know why I’m here, it is because of you.”

Oh, she just made it too easy.

Draco laughed, scratching his nape awkwardly. “You know, Winnifred, you are a very lovely ghost-lady, but I’m afraid I—”

“Oh dear heavens,” she interrupted. “Not again with the homosexual jokes.”

Considering himself way too sober to start teasing her about what she called indecency and pointless genitalia gibberish, Draco focused on what she’d said earlier.

“What about me?”

“What about you, what?” she talked back life a bratty child. It was always so easy to rile her up.

Draco decided, mercifully, to permit her dwelling in her Victorian notions of decorum for now, though he ached to say something improper.

“Why did you come here for me?” he asked instead, perfectly pleasant. Her frown smoothed a bit.

“Oh.” Winnifred thought, nursing her child like she always did when she was a bit nervous. “I came here to take care of your potions. Make sure the poltergeists wouldn’t ruin them, that is. I may be deceased, but I haven’t forgotten what you went through three years ago, you know.”

He recoiled, as if burned, masking a choked sound around a cough. Draco walked towards his workbench, examining the four cauldrons on top of it, but mind far, far away; three years back precisely. Just as his mother had left him, alone, ostracized and unable to find even the simplest of jobs. Unable to make enough money to even feed himself.

Win had been with him, not much practical help, but still a presence that kept him from jumping the cliff of insanity.

Draco cleared his throat, oddly touched.

“I—” He cleared his throat once more and tried again, with more confidence but without looking at her. “I appreciate it, Winnifred.”

When he finally turned around, he could swear that her pearl-white cheeks had been tainted a darker shade of grey, but ghosts didn’t blush, did they?

“Oh, stop it,” Win groaned, sounding embarrassed and looking at her baby fixedly. “I’m no bloody Hufflepuff, you sap.”

He snorted, rolling his eyes. Slytherins will be Slytherins.

“I apologize, then.”

Finding it was time to go upstairs, he bid his farewells, but, before he could go much further than the second step of the stairs, Win called out, “Draco.”

He frowned in confusion.

“Yes?”

The ghost, all tall limbs and elegant posture, even on a simple wool dress and flowy, messy hair, was an overall imposing figure. She looked at him authoritatively.

“You’re going to check on the damage the poltergeists made, are you not?”

It wasn’t much of a question.

“No, I am not.” He braced himself for a discussion, and, as usual, leaving before it was even properly started.

“You should. You know you are the Lord of the Manor, and, not less important, a Malfoy. It is your duty to—”

Her voice was cut off as he closed the cellar door. Surprisingly, she didn’t glide through it, but he figured it must be because she was right. And because she knew she was right, and that Draco would follow her advice. Her order.

He sighed and started the long, tortuous path of finding out what sort of damage had been done.

 

***

 

It took, in retrospect, not only too long to find out what mess the poltergeists had made, but it also took way too much out of his previously unshakable calm. After all, Draco figured that the Manor’s spirits had nothing on a deep-running hatred for the Ministry.

As he searched room after room, and examined space after space, the barrenness of most of his house hit him hard. Draco was taken back eight years, just after the end of the war and the beginning of the Trials. He now thought of it as The Purge, a dramatic enough name; his very own Riddikulus not to his greatest fear, but rather to his greatest trauma.

The Minister’s agents had come, Aurors and employees from Dark Objects alike, and took Draco’s relics, and his sculptures, and his family’s jewelry, and even the odd portrait. They wanted to dispose the Malfoy family of not only its possessions, but also the glory that came from money and Sacred Twenty-Eight status. The money—taken “for proper public usage”; and the status—there wasn’t much left after they arrested the Lord of the Manor, was there?

Draco allowed himself, just for a second, the fantasy of killing them all. He closed his eyes and imagined peeling their skin from their muscles, crushing their bones under his teeth like a commoner would do a chicken’s, ripping their eyeballs out of their sockets and serving them as fondue appetizers—

Let me read it!” someone screamed, and Draco blinked his eyes open, slightly dazed. “Just because—doesn’t mean…” He couldn’t quite make out the words.

YES IT DOES!” a second voice howled in response. Things seemed to be escalating.

Draco closed the room he was in quickly—one of his mother’s morning rooms, now with only a worn rug and a battered armchair—and walked quickly in the direction he assumed that the voices came from. He turned on a corner, his purposeful steps clicking on the marble floor and echoing in the stone walls, and he was in a hurry. If his guess was correct, the voices belonged to Rosamund and Pontificus, the former a lovely little girl with a temper from hell, and the latter, a poltergeist with a mean streak and a tendency towards violence. He couldn’t harm Rose, a ghost, but Merlin’s beard, that didn’t stop him from trying.

The Manor was the one which usually suffered, though.

As Draco went down a small, hidden set of side-stairs, and crossed yet another hall (the Manor was really unfairly big, with corridors that sprouted seemingly out of nowhere; the hardships of an ancient wizarding home) he came to a stop just outside the door to the entrance hall, and the soft Spanish song he could hear, but just so, made him certain that that was the right place.

He sighed. He should’ve checked the major rooms first.

Malfoy Manor’s entrance hall was a large space, illuminated by the massive chandelier on the distant ceiling, and with no sunlight whatsoever. In fact, the disgusting and unwashed (for as long as Draco could remember, really) velvet curtains blocked out any natural light that might’ve filled the room otherwise. There was also an imposing staircase in the direct line of the front door, splitting in two where the family portrait sat.

As he looked at his father’s sneer, and his mother’s severe yet elegant demeanor, Draco was instantly reminded of why he hadn’t gone there in nearly two years. His childhood self smiled at him, a strange expression on a face carved for scowling.

Draco’s real life, adult version was most definitely scowling.

“What,” he started, coolly but strict, looking around at the mess, “is going on in here?”

The floor was not dirty. No, dust and sand was “dirty”. The floor was filthy. It had debris, rubble, glass shatters and even the occasional stick of wood. The table that used to sit in the middle of the hall, with a sculpture or a flower vase on top (though lately it only had a piece of fabric thrown in haphazardly), was knocked down sideways and two of its legs were missing.

However, the most troubling part was that the mess wasn’t the worst in the general scenario.

"Took you long enough,” Winnifred commented snidely.

“Not all of us can fly through walls,” was his contemptuous response. The ghost was standing next to the staircase, posture regal, looking down at all the others—Draco included—with a certain air of superiority.

Draco focused on the ghosts, all of them hovering a few inches above the mess they made on his floor and looking a bit calmer than he expected. There was certainly no shouting; though, while Filomena, Sir Richard and Win remained quite placid, Rosamund and Pontificus were staring daggers at each other.

As far as he could see, there were only five spirits, Win included, and four of which were ghosts. There were a few more entities in the Manor, Draco knew, but he wasn’t surprised only those had come out to play.

He’d learnt in the past few years that ghosts could be quite the introverts.

“Filomena,” he called out. The Spanish ghost interrupted the lullaby she was singing—he had no idea what it meant, just that it sounded as bubbly and happy as her—to stare at him.

Sí, señor Malfoy?

He looked at her, really looked at her, and the disheveled curly hair, the ruffled, bloodied nightgown, the expectant expression and the mirthful eyes; it all filled him with pity and an odd sense of nostalgia.

“Get out of here,” he ordered, with enough bite to it to not be questioned. Win was the only one who understood, her gaze meeting his with just as much sorrow.

Filomena glided away, untroubled, singing softly under her breath, and she left Draco’s line of sight when she crossed through the left wall. He sighed and ran his hand through his locks, troubled.

“Art thou feeling nausea, Mr. Malfoy, sir?” a sweet voice asked. He raised his head to meet Rose’s translucent stare, mere inches away from his face.

"No, Rosamund, thank you.”

Bloody hell. He’d been trying to go one ghost to the next, in order to intimidate the guilty one into confessing, but now all that he managed was to make himself look weak in front of his family.

He gave up fancy psychology techniques. Muggles knew nothing about the psyche of poltergeists, after all.

Simple sometimes was better.

“You, all of you, leave, please,” Draco requested. Winnifred backed him up instantly, saying, “Go go, children, time for dinner, or no desert for you,” morbid as always.

“Not you, Pontificus,” she interrupted the boy, frowning. He’d been trying to sneak away unnoticed. Apparently, not on her watch. “You stay. Draco wants to have a chat.”

The rest of them left, silent except from Sir Richard (“I am a man and a Knight; I demand to partake in the—” “Shut up, Richard.”) and the mocking laughter Rosamund was making no effort whatsoever in muffling.

Pontificus is getting grounded, lalala la, Pontificus is—

Muffliato,” Draco cast wandlessly. The entrance hall was made eerily quiet again, but Pontificus ruined it by rumbling under his breath.

“Did you say something, Pontificus?”

The little boy growled, a impressive sound on a surprisingly deep voice, but, in his twelve-year-old body, he merely looked like an angry kitten.

I said,” he started, furious. Though, if asked, the boy himself wouldn’t know what was he so upset about, “that I did what was correct as the heir. I protected the household.”

He spoke so easily, so confident in his heritage (despite the brief flash of uncertainty Draco caught, not more than a split second), that he couldn’t help but sympathize. Had he gone through the same situation—Malfoy firstborn, raised to have the world, but then never showing signs of magic, none at all, and then his eleventh birthday, come and gone, receiving no letters.

How would Draco, a little lord since he left Narcissa’s womb, deal with being born a squib?

“Okay,” he agreed slowly, carefully, “but how is ruining our possessions a way of protecting the Manor?”

Pontificus snorted, completely back to his bratty self now that he knew for certain that Draco wouldn’t contradict his claims of heritage. He looked at the older wizard like he was utterly daft.

“I scared them off.” His tone was cruel, but, for once, it didn’t seem that the rage was directed at Draco. “All the dirty scumbags that once came here and took our things. I yelled and I screamed, and when they kicked the door open, I threw the table’s legs at them.”

Oh. That certainly explained why the piece of furniture was as mauled as it was.

Then he registered another piece of information.

“The Ministry, you mean?” He felt sickly, slightly nauseous. Damn Rose and her jinxes. “Wai—What?

They hadn’t been there since The Purge. Not when his father finished his sentence in Azkaban, not when his mother went missing, not when he was so deep into poverty he sent a letter begging for them to send money, a couple of galleons, a handful of sickles, a bag of food, anything.

He nearly asked why Pontificus hadn’t killed the Ministry agent, but stopped himself in time. Not a good example, he reminded himself, don’t let the bastards break you, be mindful of the innocent.

Draco said gruffly, “What—” he cleared his throat, voice a tad too deep. “What did the person want?”

Pontificus smiled, though he tried halfheartedly to contain it. He must’ve reached the conclusion that he wasn’t getting punished today.

“He said he wanted to talk to you. Rosamund offered to fetch you—and see!, she’s the one who should get grounded, the little—” Get to the point, boy. “Okay, okay, and I said no. I said nonono, Mr. Malfoy will not, and you can go suck—”

At Draco’s loud noise, Pontificus cut himself off, but he still looked utterly smug. Too smug for his own good.

"He didn’t say anything else?” the wizard insisted. “Anything that might indicate what business he might have with me?”

Before you scared him off with table legs. Draco was feeling proud. It was no slaughter, and no fondues were eaten, but it would have to suffice.

Pontificus' expression was just that side of guilty.

“Pontificus…” Draco drawled, tone a warning. The boy huffed.

Okay, okay, they left a letter.”

Draco extended his hand, waiting. The poltergeist boy grumbled and pouted, but terminally took an official-looking envelope out of his pristine children’s robes.

“Now go find something useful to do.”

Pontificus left, still cursing under his breath—Draco might’ve caught a dirty word or two—but the wizard was too focused on the letter to take much notice. It was long, quality paper: the kind of parchment he hadn’t written in in years (though he sometimes received orders in similar quality paper). There was also no mistaking the Ministry’s emblem.

Blood running cold, he made his way upstairs to read the letter in the privacy of his bedroom.

 

Dear Mr. Malfoy,

We have written this letter in case you refused to see our designed agent, and to make a business proposition we are sure you will find most agreeable. Whilst we acknowledge a past with a few minor personal grudges, the case we offer is—

 

“Minor personal grudges?” Winnifred asked incredulously from somewhere behind him. “They took all—”

“Shut up, I’m reading,” Draco hissed.

 

—the case we offer is intellectually challenging, an its reward, very generous.

Celestina Warbeck, the Singing Sorceress, 89, died two weeks prior from potion poisoning, as you are most likely already aware, from the repercussion it had on wizarding society. However—

 

“Oh, dear,” she said, steeping closer to Draco’s sitting position next to his writing desk, and her cold, ghostly proximity raised unpleasant goosebumps on his skin. “They seem to think you have a social life! How foolish, those officers. I wonder how they even got the necessary NEWTs for the job.”

He decided to not honour her with a response.

 

However, we have consulted most of London’s respectable potion brewers (and a few non-respectable ones convicted in Azkaban), and none of them were able to discover which was the venom used, neither from examining the deceased witch nor from the peculiar effects it had on her body.

 

“That doesn’t sound seedy at—”

“Winnifred, I will BANISH YOU FROM THE WORLD OF THE LIVING, I swear.”

He turned around to face her, furious and on edge because of the letter, and her lips twitched, as if fighting a pout. She held her baby closer.

“Are you quite finished yet?”

At her murmured, “Yes,” he spat, “Great,” and picked up the letter once again.

 

But, since you have made a name for yourself after the War in Potion-brewing, but specially on antidotes, we have decided to come to you for assistance. We offer, naturally, four hundred galleons, and, considering your recent absence from high society circles (“No shit, Sherlock.”), we are also able to grant you an interview with the Daily Prophet to provide you social insertion, should you request it.

And last, but not least, we—

 

“There’s an awful lot of ‘we’s,” Draco commented absentmindedly, mostly to himself.

Winnifred answered, as if she’d been addressed.

“The fucking nerve on them,” she hissed, and Draco would have been worried about her child, had the baby not already been dead, with how fast she was nursing it, tiny tendrils of ghostly fog being released. “The fucking pricks. They would’ve let you starve to death, an—”

“Don’t you think I know?!,” interrupted Draco, more exasperated than annoyed. He understood the feeling, and respected it. It was the same indignation he felt when he thought about one of his spirit friends, and some of their inhuman murders.

But Draco had no use for sympathy. Never had, and hopefully never would.

“I’m the one who had to go through it, you know,” he still reminded her, and her face morphed into a mask of embarrassment. She always felt ashamed that Draco’s difficult moments were of the living, and the living only. Some sort of misguided survivor’s guilt.

She sighed, and her anxious baby-fidgeting ceased. She just looked sad. “So, that’s it? You’re taking the offer, like nothing happened at all?”

Draco looked down at the still unfinished letter, and weighed his options.

He drew in a long breath, and raised his wand.

Incendio.”

The flames licked at the fancy parchment until there were nothing but ordinary, non-posh, non-Ministry ashes. Draco observed, rapt, with a morbid sort of satisfaction.