The grass underneath still feels like winter. It's limp and dry, too weak yet to weather a full season and the sheep that will be grazing here all summer. Wisps of cloud move across a sky that is the colour of withered cornflowers. On the horizon, the translucent round of the moon trails behind.
He is back. His body feels younger than he ever was. The smell of fire lingers in the threadbare cloth of his robes. It's been seven years since he has last worn them. His hair is long, thick with the scent of smoke. The tangled strands tickle the skin on his neck, something he has not felt for such a long time. He lifts his hand, rubs at the soot that clings to his fingers.
His last memory of this world are Lucius' bright grey eyes. Even when Lucius led him right into the blazing circle of fire, he had still trusted his brother-in-law. Trusted him, for he was family, and family had mattered most in his life, seven years ago. Family. Blood. Toujours Pur. The ash on his tongue tastes sweet, like powdered sugar.
Yet he was returned, to the very same spot on the foot of Silbury Hill. Rodolphus Lestrange gets up, smoothes the cloth with his hand, the soft pale hand of a man much younger than he feels. In his mind he measures the years and wonders what all has happened while he was gone. His gaze searches for the line of elms, veiled still within the morning mist. There lies the road. This is the way to London.
Early April 2009
It greatly amused Draco Malfoy that Gringotts Bank should stand across from the entrance into Knockturn Alley, almost as if a taint of the Dark could not be avoided when dealing with gold and Galleons. There was a reason, after all, why hoards and vaults were best protected by dragons. The star constellation Draco naturally had become the emblem of the new Malfoy Bank. Outlined in diamonds, it graced the black marbled façade of the new building opposite Gringotts, right at the corner of Knockturn and Diagon.
Out of the tall window of his office, Draco could see Gringotts' bronze doors all locked up, no goblin standing guard, no customers entering or leaving. He leaned back in his chair, making the expensive brown leather creak.
The wizard on the other side of Draco's desk raised his head quickly. He flashed him a wide smile, then returned to signing the documents. In the frosty light that fell in through the windows, the young man's black hair shimmered almost blue. With his pale complexion and a hidden fire gleaming in those brown eyes, Benoit Rosier certainly was one of the most handsome men Draco had seen come out of Hogwarts in a long time.
He sighed softly. At lunch yesterday, Pansy had reminded him again to not mix business with pleasure, and Draco had resisted for as long as the negotiations continued. It had not been an easy feat to get one of the oldest and richest French wizarding families to entrust their fortunes and estates to the management of Malfoy Bank.
But now that the young heir – thankfully queer down to the splayed finger holding the purple-plumed quill – was finalising the deal, Draco let himself indulge in pleasant fantasies. Business was like sex. Or rather, good business meant great sex. And those scratches of a golden tipped quill on parchment and that pretty face underneath a mass of black hair – that, Draco Malfoy thought, definitely spelled a phenomenal fuck once their business was concluded.
He shifted in his chair again to give his bulging erection more room. Again the creak of the leather interrupted the quiet, as Benoit Rosier was perusing the last of the parchments. His head shot up again, eyes clear and wide open, a hesitant smile on those full lips. The chairman of Malfoy Bank had a reputation for selecting his lovers randomly, after no pattern or proclivities that the Prophet or even Witch Weekly could detect. His reputation suited Draco fine, no need to become predictable in the public's eye. He'd fuck anyone with a prick – no matter age, looks or blood. But this young man was one of his more cherished fantasies come true: old, pure-blood, straight out of Hogwarts, with all the brash superiority of the young. A Gryffindor, too, which made this seduction a special treat. And not quite as sure of himself as he would like to be, if Draco read that vague smile correctly. A bit shy, perhaps? Or had Benoit never been with an older lover?
The young man signed the last document with a determined flourish, moving so eagerly that droplets of ink splattered over the parchment and onto the dark mahogany of the desk. With a quick swipe of the sleeve of his robes he tried to wipe it off, but managed only to enlarge the smear.
"Oh, merde. I am sorry, Sir," the young Rosier said with admirable calm. "If those spots cannot be removed, I'll buy you another desk."
So full of that Gryffindor arrogance but still, a flicker of fear lit up in Benoit's eyes when he looked over to Draco who hadn't reacted at all to the mishap. Fear or rather, embarrassment, judging from the faint reddish spots that appeared on his cheeks. Draco let his gaze move over the muscled body of the young man, openly admiring what he saw. For a moment he imagined Benoit in red Quidditch gear, then met his eyes, searching for a subtle response to his unspoken invitation. Benoit nervously licked his lips, clearly interested now, but unsure whether he should take things that far. Shy, yes. Slightly intimidated. Draco felt himself get hot at the thought of fucking this boy for real, taking him beyond those schoolboy fumbles in the Hogwarts locker rooms. For all his adult life, others had reacted instantly to Draco's arousal, and he could see it now, too, in the young man's face – his eyes glazed over, his lips went soft, his breathing sped up ever so slightly. It was all the response Draco needed to continue with his plan.
"That won't be necessary," he said, taking his wand from the folds of his robes. With a muttered "Evanesco," he Vanished the spilled ink. Then he pushed his chair back and stood up.
Benoit imitated his moves and got up slowly. He mechanically held out his hand to bid the chairman of Malfoy Bank good-bye.
"Before we shake hands on our new partnership," Draco said with a small, suggestive smile, "perhaps you would like to wash those ink stains off your hand, Monsieur Rosier?"
"I don't kiss," Benoit gasped, his fingers gliding down the oak panelling, leaving sweaty prints on the wall separating the spacious stalls in the men's loo of Malfoy Bank. Draco had him pinned face-forward against the wall with his left cheek pushed into the dark wood. He was bucking viciously into Draco's fist, his prick bone-hard and slippery from precome and spit. The red of his lips was glowing in the dim light, tempting Draco. He wanted to lick at them and bite, to see if he could turn them even redder.
"No kiss, you say?" he whispered into Benoit's ear, making him squirm and clench his hands into fists, striving desperately for some semblance of control. Draco tightened his grip on the other man's hard-on, and he squeezed it with vicious force until Benoit stopped moving. Breathing fast, he seemed exhausted and horny at the same time. Fully resigned, fully submitting to his touch, he was leaning back against Draco, waiting for whatever was about to be done to him.
Draco freed his own erection from the confines of his trousers. He did so unhurriedly, pushing the buttons through their holes and unlacing the silken fastenings of his wizarding attire with care. The Rosier boy, he'd noted, was wearing Muggle clothes underneath his robes. One of the new Cavalli suits, was his guess from his own visits to Savile Row. A childish delight, no doubt, still Draco couldn't help but anticipate shooting his spunk all over the expensive cloth. But that was for later. First he'd make this arrogant prick beg for the kiss that he didn't want to share, like this was sex for money, and he had the right to refuse such intimacies. No, Draco was no punter, and Benoit no whore. They were here because they both wanted it. There had been no doubt in Benoit's advances the moment they'd entered the loo and shed their robes. Now they would go all the way, fuck – and kiss.
Draco spread the firm buttocks before him and pressed the length of his erection into the cleft. He felt more than heard the groan as Benoit pushed backwards to feel more of that intimate touch. Deep in his stomach, Draco sensed a flicker of the hot need that sometimes came over him when he'd gone too long without the potion. It had been three weeks, a couple of days more, perhaps. But it was not yet serious, not yet anything that could overpower him and make him lose control like those times when... No, he'd enjoy this fuck at his own leisurely pace. And he would kiss those red lips and have them glisten with his own spit when he was ready for it.
He kept moving his erection between the round cheeks of Benoit's arse, rubbing over his hole, but not penetrating him. Instead Draco started to stroke his dick again. Once they re-established a rhythm, he moved his other hand into the tangles of Benoit's hair, pulled harder and harder, until the man moaned with pleasure. Then Draco shoved three fingers between those full lips, leaving Benoit no time to resist.
"Suck them," he whispered. He'd seen the effect that his voice, gone hoarse and low with desire, had on other people. It was part of his natural Allure, an erotic charge that entered his words once his body was aroused. He could feel it himself, a guttural vibration in his throat that made him moan senselessly, made him come faster and harder, even when tossing off by himself. It was something he remembered as an overpowering, shameful need to scream, insanely, full of lust, from the time before he had used the potion. This now was subdued, controlled, his to use to make this boy scream and beg. And he did use this voice, said things like "suck them hard" and "yes, that's it" and "let me feel your tongue." Benoit was sucking Draco's fingers eagerly like they were dick, and he hadn't had a good fuck in months. Which may just be the case, considering how rock-hard and aroused he was.
Draco abruptly withdrew his fingers that were slick with spit. He moved his mouth even closer to Benoit's face and murmured, "And now you kiss me." Benoit had no power to resist the Allure; his head fell back on Draco's shoulder as if by instinct. He was searching frantically for Draco's mouth, moving his lips along Draco's chin and cheek. Those lips, so very soft and shiny wet – Draco just had to capture them and lick at them with the tip of his tongue. Benoit twisted his head desperately at the awkward angle, trying to get more of Draco's tongue and suck at it, like he'd been sucking at Draco's fingers before. Draco pushed in deeper, and Benoit moaned around his tongue while fucking Draco's fist. His hips started jerking fast and uncontrolled. Soon he was so far gone that he lost his hold on Draco's tongue, but kept close to his mouth. A deep groan tore from his throat and his body arched backward against Draco, tense with the need for release.
Draco smiled as he took his hand away from Benoit's prick, making him fuck the air for a couple of thrusts. The young man moaned, "No, no, don't stop, don't stop, don't ...“ as he tried to finish himself off with his own hand.
But Draco would have none of that. He brought one arm around Benoit's waist, trapping his right arm, and slammed him fully into the door. The stalls shook from the impact, and Benoit brought his left down onto the door with a frustrated bang.
"Easy, easy," Draco whispered. Benoit's body shuddered violently against him. Before the stalls stopped vibrating, Draco had his own cock slick with the spit on his fingers and pushing against Benoit's hole.
"Fuck me," the young man groaned out, "putain, fuck me already!" He twisted his head in an angle that had to be painful, searching in blind need for Draco's mouth.
And Draco caught those opened, full, red lips between his teeth and bit down hard. He had the young Rosier where he wanted him. Time to finish business.
Draco threw the paper towels – ingenious Muggle inventions – onto Katerina's desk, and she Vanished them in an instant. Good girl. He had left Benoit Rosier slumped against the door of the stall, spunk running down his thighs, dripping onto his bespoke trousers. His own spunk, too. Let it not be said that Draco Malfoy was not returning the favours he was receiving in such abundance.
Illustration by Raitala.
It had been a good fuck, an enormously satisfying fuck even, after he'd waited so long. Still, something had been missing. It had been missing ever since he'd started to take the potion. A certain edge, the overwhelming high, the sheer need. He missed it, but he couldn't risk it. Salazar, he'd been in too much trouble before. The chairman of Malfoy Bank just couldn't make the Prophet's headlines on a weekly basis with his exploits in the seedier parts of wizarding London. A couple of years ago he had been in the news for weeks, after his tryst with the Marchbanks heir and his son, who – Draco insisted – he hadn't known had been only sixteen at the time. Mother had called in the Bank's Board of Directors and removed him temporarily from office. The potion had been his last resort. But damn Granger and the way she made him beg for it. And damn Father! Draco would never forgive him for dying on them, leaving him with ... with this and never having told him a single word about it.
"Mr Malfoy?" Katerina called after him from her desk.
Draco shot his secretary a withering glance. She knew better than to address him when he was in that kind of mood. And what was it with the wizarding world that everybody wore glasses these days as if it had become smart and fashionable, Potter-style?
"Your glasses," he said, stepping back towards the desk and pointing a finger at the gold-framed spectacles. "There are spells for that, you know."
Katerina removed the glasses, dangled them from her fingers for a moment, then proceeded to clean them with one of those Muggle paper towels that she seemed to pull from the air. With a glint in her eyes she said, "You liked them when you hired me, Sir."
"Now, did –" Draco noted the fireplace behind Katerina's desk. The faintly green shimmer of the ash indicated that someone had recently come through. "Don't tell me I have a visitor? You didn't let anyone in my office, did you?"
Katerina shook her head. Draco had never seen her move, but the glasses were back on her nose. "No, Sir. Of course not." She tapped a finger on the stack of parchment slips on her desk. "There has been a Floo-call from the Department of Mysteries."
"Granger? Granger called? And she used the Floo? Salazar, why can't that woman use an owl like every everybody else?"
He and Granger met once a month. But never since that very first time had Granger contacted him. For the last four years it had always been Draco who sent the owls and waited for long hours, sometimes even an entire day for the answer with arrangements for their next meeting. Granger never let him forget that she had been doing him a favour when she enlisted him for her prestigious "Love Project."
Draco remembered well that first time down in the sublevels of the Ministry of Magic. He'd felt a certain sense of privilege at first. Only Unspeakables were allowed into the Department of Mysteries, but finally those handleless black doors had opened for him. He'd seen Potter at once, sitting on one of the chairs lined up in the bare corridor the young Unspeakable had led Draco to. Of course, Granger would bring her old buddies into any high-profile Ministry project of which she was the director. Mudblood favouritism, Draco thought, but never said a word. One thing he had learned during his apprenticeship at the Société Générale was to keep his mouth shut. But he couldn't, for the life of him, pass Potter without making some disparaging remark.
He approached the Golden Boy, and Potter looked up, that bloody guileless look in his eyes, and his mouth widening into a smile, a smile, as if he was actually happy to see Draco Malfoy, of all people. Potter raised one arm and said, "Hi", almost shyly.
And that's when Draco had felt it for the first time. He wanted him, wanted Harry fucking Potter. He wanted to dig his fingers into that messy black hair, wanted to kiss those plump lips and touch his too-lanky, too-knobbly body all over. Merlin, for a second he even fantasised about letting Potter fuck him, right there in the shabby Ministry corridor.
He had nodded curtly, mumbled, "Good day" and stalked by Potter, grateful for his robes that were hiding a hard-on of phenomenal proportions. Draco had kept to the loo until it was time for his appointment.
Granger had been all business when he'd entered her office. "Thank you for coming in, Malfoy," she said. No titles, minimal courtesy. Fine, it suited Draco just fine.
Red files were stacked high on Granger's battered desk. Draco had imagined some more imaginative interior design, a heart-shaped room perhaps, or at least a couple of pink hearts on the walls. This was, after all, the heart of the rumoured new scientific programme of the Department of Mysteries, dedicated to the study of "Magical Laws of Affection, Attraction, Predilection and Partiality", called MLAAPP for short, or simply the Love Project. But Granger's office looked like any other office Draco had seen in the Ministry, no different but for the windows, which were charmed, for whatever reason, to show Mount Augustus rising above a stretch of Australian desert.
There were more of the straight-backed chairs, and Draco selected the one that looked most comfortable. In the loo, the irritating prickling sensation had flamed up on his back, and if it got any worse, Draco at least wanted a chair he could safely lean back against. "Yes, I've come. But why is Potter here?"
At this, Granger finally looked at him. The red robes looked good on her, he had to admit. Of course it helped that she'd finally got a haircut that deserved the name.
Draco waved towards the corridor. "I ran into him out there. He's waiting, in case you've forgotten." And who was he, some bloody secretary?
"Oh." Granger turned back to her precious folders. "He's waiting for his appointment. Malfoy – Potter." She ticked off their names on a roll of parchment that ended somewhere underneath her desk. "The Department made the appointments in alphabetical order."
"In alph..." Something was not right here. Granger sounded much too overly casual for this to be mere coincidence. But what was the Mudblood playing at? "Granger, I'm –"
"It's Granger-Krum, actually." With the tip of her quill she tapped on a brass nameplate on her table.
Right. The Wedding That Brought Wizarding Europe Together. How could he have forgotten this piece of spectacular news?
"I'm not blind, Granger-Krum," Draco bit out. "I passed one of the Parvati sisters coming down here, the one who's taken to penning romances. That makes her a virtual expert on love, surely. I bet she was here for an appointment, too. So, it's Parvati – Malfoy – Potter. Forgot your alphabet? Or can you only spell in Ancient Runes these days?"
"No need to get nasty, Malfoy." Granger threw down the quill in what looked like exasperation. "Harry's been waiting around for you. He wanted to see you. Don't tell me you didn't talk while I made you wait?"
Potter wanted to see him? "Yeah, sure, we talked." Greeting each other in a bare corridor was talking, wasn't it? "And what do you mean, you made me wait? Granger, you called me here and I came because, as an upstanding member of wizarding society, I'm always ready to offer the Ministry my assistance. But don't test my patience. I have a bank to run, a bank where your husband's family happen to have their new vaults. What do you want from me?"
Granger looked at him for a moment, then she moved her hand as if to push back her hair. She dropped it halfway as she remembered that she'd got rid of those bushy curls. "Harry participates in the project," she said, returning to Draco's earlier question, "because his life was saved by a very potent form of love magic. We want to find out what spell Lily Potter used to save her child's life. And then there's the magic that kept Harry safe under the roof of a blood relative until he came of age. Not much love was lost between them, but still the magic protected him. You can surely see how he's a very valuable candidate for the project."
Draco sighed. Obviously Granger was gearing up to tell him all about her cherished little project, and in typical Granger-fashion she was starting with the Golden Boy. She was not telling him anything new. Not even Draco, who'd avoided Rita Skeeter's Potter biography like the plague, had been spared the daily excerpts in the Prophet. He crossed his legs, smoothed his robes, feigning utter boredom. What he really wanted was to rub his itching back against the chair.
But Granger kept staring at him as if she was expecting a response. When none came, she picked up the quill again. "All right, Malfoy, I see you are more interested in why we would want you as a candidate for the project."
"Indeed." Draco leaned back and suppressed a sigh of relief. "In your owl you mentioned the Malfoy heritage. But I can't imagine that this is about pure-blood magic. If I'm informed correctly, you doubt it even exists." Best to pretend he didn't know at all. If the negotiations were going where Draco wanted them to go, he would need all the leverage he could get.
A small smile appeared on Granger's lips. Draco recognised it now for what it was: not the arrogance he had once taken it for, but the expectant thrill of a debate she was certain to win. "No magic is exclusive to the so-called pure-bloods, Malfoy. You know that. Pure-bloods had access to secret magical knowledge, access that had been denied to all other witches and wizards for centuries. All that supposed magical superiority is based on that advantage alone. There's nothing special about their blood." She moved her chin slightly forward, like she'd always done in school.
But if Granger expected him to argue, he was about to disappoint her. Draco inclined his head, a small shrug of his shoulders. It was all the concession she was going to get. "Your little treatise is begging the question, Granger: if it's not my blood status, then why am I here?"
"Oh no, it is your blood we're interested in." She did not look at him, instead she reached for a folder on top of the stacks. Even from his side of the desk Draco could make out his name on the cover.
So they knew, damn them. But how much? And from where did they get such information? Before Draco could think of how to respond, Granger spoke, again in that overly casual voice. "Do you sometimes feel a strong sensation in your upper back, Malfoy? And I mean strong, not a mere itch. More like pain, I am told."
Shit. Draco couldn't help but squirm in his seat, straightening his shoulders and rearranging his robes, so they fell more loosely down his back.
"Your fingers," Granger continued, her head still bend over the opened folder with Draco's name on it, "do they bleed sometimes, for no reason at all?"
Draco snatched his hands away from his lap, hid them within the sleeves of his robes. He couldn't help it, even though he knew there was not a trace of dried blood underneath his nails. He'd been to the manicurist this morning to make sure of it. How did they know such things? "Granger –"
"And this?" She took a handful of newspaper clippings from the folder and pushed them towards him.
Draco recognised them instantly. His mother's collection at the board meeting had been equally impressive. On top of the pile was the article of Marchbanks' testimony before the Wizengamot, his son at his side. In the picture Simon looked even younger than sixteen, all innocence in his simple Hogwarts robes. He turned towards Draco, and the movement made his tangled dark hair fall shyly into his face. Damn the boy.
Granger was staring at him, and he shoved the clippings back at her. "I was acquitted of all those charges," he said. His tone sounded defensive even to his own ears.
"I'm aware of that. But I also know that the Wizengamot's decision would have been quite different, if Simon's father hadn't been part of your little orgy. They were protecting the reputation of the Marchbanks family as much as yours. You were lucky to get off so easily, Malfoy."
"Orgy!" He managed to roll his eyes. It helped to remember what a bad lay Marchbanks had been. The older Marchbanks. With Simon, it had been a quick blowjob, nothing more. "Merlin, Granger, I didn't know the boy was under-age. I was interested in his father. And if you actually read all those articles, you'd know bloody well that I don't make it a habit seducing sixteen year-olds."
"I read all those articles, and to me they confirm the one thing I've been looking for. Your libido, Malfoy. Could it be that you don't always have it under control? Your prick has got you into quite a bit trouble, now hasn't it?" She didn't even have the decency to blush, rather she watched him with curious interest, twirling the quill between her fingers and clearly enjoying what she was doing.
The one thing I've been looking for. "What I do in my bedroom is nobody's business but my own," he said. "If you and the Department think you can satisfy your voyeu..."
"We're not interested in your private life, Malfoy."
Good. Because under no circumstances would he discuss his sex life with a bunch of stuck-up Unspeakables. He'd rather go for the Temporary Impotency Spells his Mother had suggested. "So..." Draco found himself searching for words to say what he'd never shared with a stranger.
Thankfully, Granger made it easy for him. "It's your Veela heritage that is making you a valuable candidate for the MLAAPP," she said. No smug smile, no judgemental looks. She knew. And she wanted him for her precious little project. Wanted him badly. Draco just found the leverage he'd been looking for. The question was, could she give him what he needed?
He cleared his throat, deliberately. Give her the impression that he was hesitant about being involved in the project, Veela heritage or not. "There must be more suitable candidates than me," he finally said. "There is Veela blood in many of the old families. And how did you find out about it, anyway?" He hadn't meant to let on that the revelation fazed him, but his cheeks burned and anger coiled in his stomach. Damn, he just didn't have Father's bleeding self-control. How the fuck had they found out about it?
"Veela Register." Granger pushed another piece of parchment towards him.
Wizard Descendants of the Silbury Hill Covey it read, then listed names of the old Wiltshire wizarding families, almost all of them, as much as Draco could ascertain with only a short glance. The Malfoy line started with one Armand Malfoy in the eleventh century and ended with Draco Abraxas Malfoy.
"My father registered me with the Ministry?" His voice was hollow with shock, and he knew instantly that he was giving too much away. But Draco was too startled to see his family's secret revealed like this. Salazar-from-the-fen, he himself hadn't known about this until he turned twenty-one, the Veela coming of age.
But Granger didn't seem to notice how upset he was, or else she didn't care. She simply shook her head and said, "It's self-registering. Your name appeared in the Register the moment you were born. This is just a copy, of course. If you're interested I can show you the real manuscript. It's considered one of the Department's most ancient mysteries. The Register has been entrusted to the Ministry by the Order of the Veela itself. It's safeguarded by a Secret Keeper's Charm. I can only show it to you because your name is on it."
Draco nodded, dumbfounded. What the fuck was the Order of the Veela? And still, all of this didn't explain ... "Granger, why me? Look," he pointed to a name on the register page. "Francis Blackman. He's a wizard. I had no idea he has Veela blood, too. But there he is, in your Veela Register. Why not him? I'm sure he's more than happy to help you out." Married to a Mudblood, too, Draco thought but did not say aloud. But surely that made Blackman an even more suitable candidate for the Love Project. The keeper of the New Inn in Winterbourne Monkton had married for love, presumably.
"He's found his mate," Granger stated.
"Francis Blackman is married, Malfoy. He's with his true mate. All that infamous Veela Allure, the Veela's legendary power of seduction and attraction, it's solely directed towards his wife. And don't tell me you're not aware that you've got it, Malfoy. It was all over you when you came into my office just now." Granger's voice had gone quiet at her last words, and finally – a blush. Blooming on Granger's cheeks and spreading rapidly all the way down her throat. With deep and (he knew) petty satisfaction Draco noted that the crimson on Granger's cheeks clashed horribly with the vermillion of the shawl she had draped over her dark Unspeakable robes.
"So?" He leaned forward, trying hard not to grin.
"You're unmated. And obviously," she tapped on the paper clippings again, rather annoyed, it seemed to Draco, "the Veela streak runs strong in you. God, Malfoy, you're sleeping around like the best of them ..."
"Envious, Granger?" Really, he couldn't help it.
"Shut it, Malfoy. Must I remind you that my husband is Victor Krum? Let me assure you that he's very good with a broom," she said with much more sexual innuendo Draco had given her credit for. Her eyes sparkled mischievously, and for a moment he got an inkling of what Krum saw in her.
Draco nodded, still grinning. "Point taken. But still – so what?" he repeated.
"So we want to find out more about the Veela powers of seduction. Veela are not magical. But then, how do they do it? How do you do it? Is it something in your blood? How does it influence your magic? Does it even? Is it pheromones? Some form of telepathy? That's the kind of things we're interested in." She'd spoken fast, as if these were routine questions reiterated whenever she had to argue for the inclusion of Veela into the Love Project.
"You do want my blood." Draco found himself chuckling. It was too good to be true.
"Just samples. A few physical exams. Interviews mostly. Nothing very personal and all information will be anonymised. You can refuse to answer questions you don't like. Within limits. This has to work for both sides. We do want results."
The cards were on the table then: Granger knew about the troubles he had managed to get himself into. He knew that she needed him for her precious project. Whether Granger was aware of the fact that he was suspended as chairman of Malfoy Bank was unclear. And Draco had no clue about how important the study of Veela Allure was to Granger. But he knew how things worked within the Ministry. If he suspected correctly, the Galleons of the Department of Magical Creatures were behind it. Even Unspeakables had to procure funding. Now all depended on...
"What is in it for me, Granger?" he asked with all the calm he could muster. "You don't expect me to agree to all this for a pat on the back, surely?"
Cat's in the cream, Draco couldn't help thinking when he saw Granger's smug smile. She thought she had an ace up her vermillion sleeve, obviously. With a smooth movement, she opened one of the side drawers of her desk and brought out a small bottle.
"This," she said and placed the bottle on top of Draco's file.
The liquid inside looked translucent and colourless as water. Like Veritaserum. Or gin. Not many potions looked like this. Venenum Suffoco Alae, it read on the parchment attached to the dark glass. And yes, this was what Draco had been hoping for.
Weeks of research had made him familiar with the potion, but he'd found no way to acquire it or brew it himself. Its origins were obscure, to say the least. The one ingredient that all the many potion books of the Manor's Library were certain of was the hair of a Veela. Of a full Veela. One of the rarest potion ingredients of the wizarding world, passed down from one generation of Veela to the next, it fell under Class A Non-Tradable Goods. One would think some Dark trader had specialised in Veela hair, but if someone did, Draco had not been able to locate him or her. People in Knockturn Alley, who usually didn't think twice at the threat of Ministry sanctions, would hardly speak to Draco once they understood what he wanted. One seasoned trader had taken him to the side and whispered, "You don't want to be messin' with the Veela, boy. Ever heard of Shimmerburg? No? Then see it stays that way."
Yet there it had been, eight fluid ounces of the fabled Veela Suppressant Potion, standing on a Ministry desk, within the reach of his hand.
No side-effects, Granger had said, and she had been right. They had made their deal four years ago. Since then Draco came in once a month for exams and interviews, Granger provided him with his monthly dose of potion. No more embarrassing sex scandals involving the Malfoy name, no more of that overpowering need that made him lose all control. No more of that thrill of seduction and conquest, either; he'd resigned himself to the occasional fucks in darkrooms and loos. And Montague, who was more than willing to share his bed whenever Draco wanted him.
That day when Draco had left Granger's office, Potter had still been waiting around in the corridor. Waiting for him, presumably. Potter had stood and this time Draco had greeted him first. They'd talked for perhaps five minutes on their way up to the Atrium, meaningless chit-chat about their respective careers. It had been pleasant enough. The potion had felt warm in Draco's stomach, and while he'd admired the way the light sparkled in Potter's eyes, there had been none of that irresistible urge to ravish him right on the spot. He no longer wanted Potter, which had been a ludicrous idea to begin with. Potter was straight, about to get married, about to become an Auror and make all his high-flying dreams come true.
Three months later the Prophet had announced the Golden Boy's downfall and revealed the fact that Harry Potter had repeatedly failed to pass one of the crucial tests required for entry into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
But at that point, Draco had long been over whatever had passed between them in the corridor. Barely noticed by the wizarding world, the Muggle stock market had crashed and with it, Gringotts had gone down. Draco had been busy, opening vaults at Malfoy Bank for customers like the Rosiers ...
He shook his head, trying to clear it of the memories. Granger – Granger had called. Draco looked to Katerina who was waving at him with a slip of parchment.
"Actually," she said calm and all business, as if her boss had not been staring blank-eyed into the fireplace for the last minutes, "it was not Mrs Granger-Krum who called from the Ministry. It was a Floo-call by the secretary of the new head of the Department of Mysteries. Mr Black?" She gave him a questioning glance.
Draco nodded. "Yes, Black. What's with him?" For days, the Prophet had been attacking the Minister of Magic about the appointment of a member of the Black family as Head of such an important department. A wizard who had been with the Unspeakables for only two years. Marius Black. Draco had never heard of him, and neither had Mother. A bit of a mystery man, Draco supposed. But what could this new Department Head want from him? "What's the message, Katerina?"
"Apparently," Katerina said, reading from the parchment even though she surely knew the message by heart, "Mrs Granger-Krum has been removed from the Love Project. Mr Black has made the project his number one priority. He is sending his greetings to his cousin..." She looked up. "That would be you, Sir."
"Yes, I got that. What does he want?"
"An appointment at the Department of Mysteries. Monday morning, nine o'clock sharp. It's about your participation in the project, Mr Black's secretary said." She shrugged and Vanished the parchment with a flick of her wand. "I am sorry, Sir, but I couldn't find out more from her. Very close-lipped witch."
With a very bossy boss, apparently. Mother had told him that there had been a squib once in the family with the name of Marius Black. The Ministry was full of idiots, but somehow Draco doubted a squib could infiltrate the Department of Mysteries. A niggling sense of premonition filled his mind. This new "cousin" of his spelled trouble.
Draco told Katerina to get his coat, scarf and gloves. It was freezing outside. Not the ideal weather for a stroll down Knockturn Alley but he needed classified information before he went into a Monday morning meeting with the new Head of Mysteries. The traders might have been too scared to get the Veela potion for him, but for all their aura of mystery, no one in Knockturn feared the Unspeakables. And Ministry secrets were always to be had for a handful of Galleons or an informed pointer or two as to which Muggle stocks to buy or auction off.
It was one of those clear nights in early April, the air filled with all the promise of spring, but still freezing cold. Harry Potter had been hiding in the branches of a street-side poplar tree for nearly three hours. Not a soul had come stumbling down Little Compton Street, not even a sole drunken wizard. Harry wondered whether wizards were not drinking anymore in Soho.
He was not actually out to watch for drunks. He was here because up in the flat on the fifth storey of the Edwardian townhouse opposite the poplar, Pansy and Adam Bagnold had pitched their marital tents. Heir to one of the richest "new blood" wizarding families, Adam had married Pansy Parkinson, much to the chagrin of his parents. Pansy had grown into feminine curves and a pair of tits that appealed very much to the straight fraction of marriageable wizards. She was working as a freelance journalist for Witches' Weekly, she was pure-blood, supposedly. But really, nobody had ever checked on just how pure the Parkinsons really were, and Harry would not start digging into that pail of worms. His job was with Pansy Bagnold née Parkinson and whoever shared her bed these days. His client, the venerable Horatio Bagnold, married to the former Minister for Magic, Millicent Bagnold, and father of Pansy's husband, had been very clear about what he wanted: a name, pictures, irrefutable evidence. The words divorce trial had been mentioned. But Harry had not yet come up with any kind of evidence, irrefutable or not.
The moon threw a blurry sliver of silver onto the wet pavement. Not an ideal night for observation. But this was the weekend when Adam was away, hunting in the countryside. If Pansy had an affair, then Harry would get his pictures tonight. Even a name, perhaps. There were six windows on the fifth storey, arranged in groups of three. The windows to the right were ablaze with the shine of, it seemed, hundreds of candles. Parlour, drawing room, then a fainter light that had to belong to a smaller bedroom or study of some kind. On the left there was a balcony leading off from what Harry suspected to be the master bedroom. All of those rooms were lying in the dark.
He shifted on the broom and thought of pouring himself a cup of tea. In his bag he'd stowed away the tools of his trade, all shrunken and spelled light by a Levitation Charm: camera, two sets of Extendable Ears, battered Muggle thermos, enchanted switchblade, various emergency potions. And his Invisibility Cloak. In the beginning of his career – if one could call it that, and Ginny certainly hadn't considered sleuthing any kind of career she wanted a future husband of hers to pursue – in the beginning Harry had wondered whether it was right to use one of the legendary Deathly Hallows for spying on other people's secrets. Somehow it had felt as if now that Voldemort was gone, the Cloak belonged into a tomb like the Elder Wand. But the Cloak, together with the Marauders' Map, was all his father had left to him. And over time Harry had come to think that perhaps his father – Marauder that he'd been – would not have minded so much that Harry used his gift to make a living as one of the Pinkerton detectives of the wizarding world.
The tea was bitter and hot. Just as Harry screwed the top back onto the thermos, a figure was approaching number four, Little Compton Street. A man, broad-shouldered and tall, dressed in ankle-length robes. A perfect fit for the description of Pansy's paramour that Mr Bagnold had given Harry. The man stepped onto the marble steps leading up to the entrance. Immediately golden light spilled from the stone arc. A complicated Lumos, was Harry's guess, charmed so that a hidden lantern alighted when wizard or witch came close to the door. The man's hair was a dark brown, framing his face in short waves. Harry quickly dropped the thermos into the bag and took out the camera. The man turned the very moment when Harry took the first picture. He was looking up and down the street, perhaps to check if someone was watching him enter the house.
Through the camera's lens Harry recognised him instantly. Montague looked older, of course, but he was easily identifiable in the light. Ever since he had returned from the Vanishing Cabinet something was wrong with his face. It looked as if one side no longer fit the other. A purplish scar ran up his left cheek, another seemed to cleave his chin in half, but it was more than that. Perhaps the cheekbones no longer aligned, or perhaps Montague's chin had been smashed and awkwardly mended. Harry took more pictures, just in case. But he doubted very much that Montague was Pansy's secret lover. The man was commonly known to frequent the gay clubs over at Old Compton and Greek Street.
Also, Montague was living with Malfoy, was his lover, for all that the Prophet was telling these days. Never mind all the other men Malfoy was going out with. It was not as if Harry cared. But he knew that Malfoy was still close to Pansy – from his research, he told himself, every good sleuth needed to do research. But he had known this long before Horatio Bagnold ever set foot into Harry's dingy detective agency.
Montague had been living in Malfoy Manor for the last three years. Three years and five months, to be precise. And it was not as if Harry was counting the days. But he remembered with startling clarity the moment when he'd opened the Prophet one morning, the bold headline staring at him from the society page, and the picture of a smiling Draco Malfoy with his arm around the shoulders of Prospero Montague, looking uncertainly into the camera. Harry had never known Montague's first name. At Hogwarts he'd always been just Montague, to everyone, even to the lot from Slytherin House. Prospero. Harry hated the thought that Malfoy would shape a P with those perfect pink lips, but not say his name, not say Potter. Obsessed? Not Harry Potter, surely. Least of all with Draco Malfoy, ex-Death Eater-scum-turned-most-ruthless-banker-of-the-wizarding world.
Down on street-level, the heavy entrance door opened, and Montague disappeared into the house. Harry crossed the street and flew closer on his broom. In this post-Voldemort world, spelled windows had become a rarity for wizarding flats, reserved for the underground levels of the Ministry for Magic and Muggle-only areas. Certainly nobody would spell their windows shut in Little Compton Street. Behind the curtains a long-haired shadow stepped in front of the middle window to the right. The woman had to be Pansy. Harry had observed her entering the house two hours ago. The shadow moved away, then was joined by a second, taller one. Harry took a picture, but the shadows barely touched. A soft acknowledgment of each other's presence, nothing like the lover's kiss or passionate embrace his client hoped for.
Harry meant to put the camera back into his bag – Montague was not the evidence needed for a divorce trial – when something bright flickered to his left. He quickly steered the broom closer to the balcony. The bedroom lay in utter darkness, as much as Harry strained to discover the shimmer of candle-light or the flash of a Lumos. Still, he had seen something, and three years as a private detective had taught him to trust his instincts. He got out his Invisibility Cloak, draped it over himself and the broom. Carefully he flew over the balcony's cast-iron railing, then landed behind one of the stone pillars and dismounted. Invisible he stepped towards the balcony doors and pressed his face against the glass. With the light of the street lamps and the sickle-thin shine of the moon, it was still brighter outside than inside the room. Harry saw nothing but pitch-black dark.
Five storeys below, the heavy entrance door creaked loudly, and Montague returned to the street. A short visit then. He pulled up his hood and went quickly towards Greek Street. From the looks of it he was heading for Wombwell's Circus, the closest wizarding tavern connected to the Floo network.
Harry thought about taking a last picture of Montague. But there was no need. He felt like a stalke,r now that Montague was leaving, as if he had glimpsed into the private lives of those Slytherin friends without need, but only to satisfy his curiosity about all things related to Malfoy. He touched the inside pocket of his jacket that held the wrinkled parchment from Wand Intelligence, the licensing agency for private wizarding investigators. He was doing his job, he reminded himself. And as embarrassing and nasty as this job might be, Horatio Bagnold wanted results, and Harry was going to get them. He needed the money. Rent was due the second of the month. And Mrs Jades, thrilled as she was to have the Boy Who Lived live in her house, was no bank, as she said whenever Mister Potter was late with his payments, an event which occurred ever other month or so. The riches stored in the Potter vault had been heavily diminished during the recession, and few of all those many golden Galleons had survived the collapse of Gringotts. Harry had put number twelve, Grimmauld Place on the market a couple of years ago. An unnamed buyer had paid him more than the going rate, but still much less than the Noble and Most Ancient Home of the Black family would have realised ten years ago.
Montague was just about to disappear in Wombwell's when a noise came from the dark bedroom. One of the balcony doors opened and Harry lunged behind the pillar. A man stepped out, a dark shadow against the faint light reaching up from the streetlamp below. His body was naked but for a loose pair of trousers. Harry ducked further against the wall and tried to keep his breathing slow and quiet. The man was not more than five feet away from him. Until this moment Harry had not truly believed Horatio Bagnold's suspicions, had thought them unfounded slander, fabricated to get rid of a daughter-in-law unbefitting the Bagnolds' position in wizarding society. But here was proof: a tall man with closely cropped hair, broad-chested, young, too, by the looks of it. And a very fine arse, Harry couldn't help but notice when the man moved forward. His back looked as if sculpted from slate, darkly gleaming muscle and bone covered with smooth skin. The man put his arms on the railing and leaned against it to watch the street or the sky. He seemed perfectly relaxed, like the flat was his own and he'd just stepped out for a moment.
Job or not, there was no denying that Harry liked what he saw. Liked it very much. He had always appreciated girls, their melodious voices, the feeling of long soft hair between his fingers. But never had his body reacted instantly to girls like it did now, to the well-shaped, masculine body of a stranger. It was one of Harry's character traits that had not sat well with the mind testers of the Auror Division. Harry – or rather Hermione – had suspected he was gay ever since that crazy sixth year at Hogwarts. Anything more than snogging and holding hands with Ginny had felt wrong, somehow. He could admit that to himself now. And he'd acknowledged years ago those dreams of blond hair falling into shadowed eyes, of slender, pale limbs, of rough, determined touch and the feel of hard cock against his groin. The bodies in his wanking fantasies were blurry, but definitely male. Then there'd been this one dream, of Malfoy standing before the picture of Barnabas the Barmy up on the seventh floor at Hogwarts. Harry still recalled Malfoy's head falling back against that group of trolls in pink ballet tutus, his vicious eyes closed for once, his thin lips opened slightly. Harry remembered vividly what had never happened, what he'd never felt, heard or tasted – Malfoy tugging at his hair, Malfoy whispering his name, Malfoy's spunk on his tongue...
So Harry was gay. And so what if it was Malfoy whom he'd been obsessing over for all those years? Sometimes Harry would take home a bloke, making it a point to not look for the blond and slender type. It felt good, it gave his body the relief it needed. Sometimes it was hot, but none of them were Malfoy. The mind testers from the Auror Division had called it a pubescent fixation. Shacklebolt had handed their report to Harry on the day he told him that he was not cut out to be an Auror. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement would not accept recruits, no matter how famous, who were obsessed – perversely, sexually obsessed – with former Death Eaters.
Staring at the muscled back in front of him, Harry almost missed Pansy stepping out of the bedroom. She had cast a Lumos inside and its light spilled out onto the balcony. Harry withdrew even deeper into the shadows. As quietly as he could he positioned the camera before him. For this was what he had been looking for: irrefutable evidence. Pansy stepped towards the man and put her arms around his waist. He leaned back against her with a quiet laugh. The low throaty sound seemed vaguely familiar. The profile of the man's sharp, straight nose was outlined against the light of the moon. Ah ... could it truly be him? Harry held the camera up and took a picture, then another one, a third. There was not nearly enough light, but he was taking his chances. A few enhancing charms could do wonders to under-exposed photographs.
"Watching the stars?" Pansy whispered into the hair of her lover.
The man turned, grabbed her by the hips and drew her close. Harry took another picture. He was certain now of the identity of the man, there was no mistaking that handsome face. Zabini. Once Prince Charming of Slytherin House, now celebrated host of a new wireless celebrity show. Harry was surprised Blaise Zabini would go for a married woman, for Pansy, who was many things but not exactly beautiful. For a second Harry wondered whether those intimate touches didn't mean what he thought they did. Slytherins were oddly physical that way. But then Zabini leaned down and kissed Pansy, slow and tender, and no, this was no ploy to get at the Bagnolds' money, this was the amour fou Bagnold Senior had been hoping for. And it was just like Harry, really, to know a word like this and recognise true love when he saw it.
"I rather watch you," Zabini said when they came up for air. He made no effort to speak quietly, and the sound of his voice startled Harry out of his thoughts. He quickly took a series of picture, catching Pansy's pleased smile and Zabini brushing a strand of hair from her face.
Somehow the camera made all of this seem less like spying, and more like a job. A legitimate job, Harry reminded himself, as he watched Pansy draw Zabini inside the bedroom again. Adultery was still considered a crime in the wizarding world, especially within the pure-blood circles. And private investigators investigated crime. It was their job.
Still, as Harry took one picture after the other, of Zabini pulling the robes off Pansy's shoulders and exposing her breasts, of Pansy untying the lacings of his trousers and stroking his erection, he couldn't help feeling that he had no business here. He stopped taking pictures then; this was as irrefutable as evidence got. But as much as Harry wished that his conscience, modesty, or even plain common sense had made him stop, he knew better than that. There was no denying his dick that had shown interest ever since he'd watched Zabini in the moonlight. And something gathered in his chest, a feeling that left him gasping for breath.
These were Malfoy's friends. The thought kept going around in his head as he watched, mesmerised. Pansy was stroking Zabini's swollen cock and his dark-skinned belly, her breasts touching his chest. Zabini's trousers hung low below his arse, perfectly shaped like an ebony heart. His hands seemed to be all over Pansy's body, tugging and tearing at her robes, until they became undone. Something about the contrast of those bodies – dark and pale, slender and full-figured – made Harry stare and stare, unable to look away, unable to move.
He only turned away when they stumbled towards the bed, and Pansy extinguished the light with a snap of her fingers. Harry stared at the camera in his hands and for a crazy second he wanted to toss it over the railing, see it shattered in a thousand pieces on the pavement. He would never do it. The camera had been Colin's, and he'd rather die than destroy it. But he couldn't destroy something else, either. Not after he'd seen them together like this. Harry Potter, private investigator, had done quite a few things in his life he was not proud of, but he knew a right thing when he saw it. He had the name, he had the pictures, he had the evidence needed to ruin all of Pansy's chances to come out of a divorce unscathed. But Horatio Bagnold would never hear about any of this. Not if Harry could help it.