Draco's whole body hurts.
Pain thrums through the muscles of his arms, bound and stretched wide, prickles across his skin, burns with every shallow breath he takes. He's broken at least a rib. Maybe more. Or maybe they're just bruised. He can't tell any longer. The pain coils and swells inside of him, but he tries to compartmentalise it, to shut it off in his mind, to block it into its own small mental box. He manages for one blessed moment of relief, and then it's back again, like the blow of a fist against his sternum.
Or perhaps it is a fist.
Reality's taken on a fluidity that Draco can't describe. He's been blinded by a vision charm; he can't see more than an inch or two in front of him. Everything else is a dark haze, a shadowland spreading out around him. He's not certain how long he's been here. Hours. Days. Weeks.
The pain comes again, hard and fast, taking away Draco's breath, making him cry out with the agony of it all.
He thinks he's standing, but then the charm shifts again, and he feels the bite of a chair edge beneath his thighs. He wonders if he's caught in a temporal loop, reliving the same set of moments over and over and over again. His jaw aches; he spits, and he tastes blood, rusty and thick against his tongue.
A whisper comes from beyond the darkness, soft and sibilant, and for a moment Draco thinks it's him again, walking through the halls of the Manor, that wretched serpent slithering by his side. And then Draco's on his feet, but his legs won't hold him up, and he's falling, striking the cold, stone floor with his knees, so hard that his entire body jolts, the pain twisting up inside of him again. Somehow his arms are free now, and he catches himself on his palms, breathing hard, his hair falling dirty and limp in his face. The stones are cold beneath his skin, and he sees a glimpse of his knuckles in the darkness, split open and caked with dried blood and dirt.
"He's strong." It's a woman's voice, just past the shadows, and Draco can hear the faintest trace of a British accent behind the flatness of her tone.
"Told you." The other voice he recognises. Mike Wilkinson, newly minted Director of Magical Security for MACUSA. "Fuck if I know how he's resisting us. We used these same techniques on high-level insurgents, and those bastards cracked in a few days."
So it's been longer than that, Draco thinks. He spits blood onto the floor, trying not to wretch as he does. He tries to tell himself he's been through worse, but he hasn't. Not even the Dark Lord was this sadistic. He tenses as he feels the pain start to roll through him again; the tightness of his muscles makes it worse, and Draco tries to relax into the shudders of agony.
The woman moves closer; Draco sees the toes of her rose leather heels push through the shadows. She's still hidden by the charm, but Draco can smell her perfume, soft and light and floral. Expensive, Draco thinks. Definitely expensive. "How long can you keep him here?"
"As long as you want." Wilkinson's voice is nearby. Draco wonders if he could reach out and touch him, pull him from the thick darkness roiling around Draco's battered body. "Indefinitely, as long as I keep him off American soil."
"I'm not sure that will be necessary," the woman murmurs, and a long, pale hand extends from the shadows, fingernails polished a soft pink. Her skin's soft and warm when she touches Draco's cheek; he jerks his head back, oddly repulsed. Her shoes strike softly against the flagstones as she moves around him. Draco refuses to watch her, refuses to let her think he has any interest in her at all. She sighs, then steps back into the shadows. "I'll speak with my father," she says. "In the meantime…" She trails off, but not because she's uncertain. Draco doesn't even have to push out with his mind to realise that. This isn't a woman who hesitates.
Wilkinson chuckles. "Don't worry. I'll keep that mind of his occupied."
And that's precisely what Draco's afraid of.
"Try not to break him too badly," the woman says, her voice dry and a bit sharp. "He does have some use to us, after all." And then she's walking away, her steps quick taps against the stone floor before they fade; Draco can hear the quiet thud of a door closing behind her. The room is silent for a long moment, the only sound the quiet rasp of Draco's ragged breath. His arms ache; they wobble beneath him, and Draco barely catches himself again before he crumples forward, his nose missing the stones by an inch, if that.
Broad fingers twist through Draco's hair from behind, jerking his head up, pulling him backwards onto his knees, the sharp pain bringing tears to Draco's eyes. They seep out even as Draco tries to blink them away, tries not to show any weakness. But he's tired, and he feels stretched thin, his skin burning beneath the thumb that presses against his forehead.
Wilkinson's face drifts out of the shadows, broad and square-jawed, almost as if it's not attached to his body. Draco blinks again, attempts to focus, but his vision's playing tricks with him. For a moment, he thinks he sees something move in the shadows. "Hello, my little Legilimens," Wilkinson says, his smile cold, cruel. He looks down on Draco for a moment, studying him, before his gaze flicks back behind Draco's shoulder. "Let him go."
The fingers pull away; Draco's body sags forward. Two of them then, he thinks. Maybe more. He breathes in, smelling the stink of himself, sweat and blood and Circe knows what other filth; the expansion of his lungs sends pain shooting through his side. Wilkinson squats beside him, still half in shadows, and Draco hears a soft rustle in the darkness, one that makes his entire body shudder. Wilkinson whispers something, a careful, slow rumbling hiss from between his teeth, and Draco tries to scramble backwards, but a pair of legs stop him, a booted foot pushes him towards Wilkinson.
A snake slithers through the shadows, long and sinuous, as thick as Draco's bicep and glistening green, black markings curling across its scales. It raises its head, looks at Draco, its tongue flicking out from beneath its blunt nose. Draco's heart thuds against his chest.
Wilkinson smoothes a fingertip along the snake's head. It tilts up, bumping against his knuckle at the caress. "Meet Lamia. She's lovely, isn't she?"
Draco's jaw twitches. He can barely breathe; his gaze is fixed on the snake in front of him. "If you like that sort of thing." His voice is a raw croak.
Lamia hisses, darting at Draco, and he jerks back. Wilkinson just laughs. "I'd be careful, if I were you," he says. "She doesn't particularly care for your family as it is." When Draco looks up at him, Wilkinson gives him a half-smile. "She had a mother, you see. Went by the name of Nagini." Draco flinches, and Wilkinson's smile widens. "I thought you'd remember that name." He stands back up, reaching into his pocket as he moves back into the shadows. The snake stays where she is, glittering black eyes watching Draco. A moment later there's the scratch of a match, then the flare of a flame. Wilkinson's face is illuminated as he lights a fag that dangles from his mouth. Smoke curls from the end, disappears into the darkness. He blows a stream of it towards Draco. "I've had her for a while, you know. She was a gift from a friend, I suppose you'd call him." He circles to Draco's side; Lamia follows him, and Draco gets a glimpse of her length. She's nearly as big as her mother had been.
"The Dark Lord." Draco manages to push himself up to his knees. He can taste blood again in the back of his throat, mixed with bile. It's all he can do not to retch.
"Not directly." Wilkinson's behind Draco now; Draco can hear the other man move back, out of the way, can smell the acrid stench of his fag. Another sibilant murmur, and Lamia shifts closer. "I was seventeen when she was given to me. Just out of Ilvermorny. The son of an old school friend of my mother's came back from a sabbatical in Albania--did I mention she was British? Perhaps I didn't." His fingers brush across the top of Draco's head. "Quirinus and I'd seen each other from time to time over the years, but he was different this time. Less of a pansy, which isn't saying much. But the things we'd talk about…" Wilkinson bends down, his breath warm against Draco's ear. "Some of it made sense." His chuckle is low. "He left me Lamia before he went back to Britain. She adores me, don't you, beautiful?" He flicks his fag towards Draco's cheek; the end gleams orange in the dark, and Draco flinches as bits of burning ash land against his skin.
The snake hisses again; Draco feels the lash of her tail against his ankle. He tries not to shudder, but he knows Wilkinson catches it. "Why should I care?" Draco manages to say. His jaw still hurts, and he thinks a tooth is loose. They must have hit him at some point. He can't remember.
"Because she'll do anything for me," Wilkinson says, and the snap of his fingers echoes in the silent room.
And then Lamia's wrapping herself around Draco before he can stop her, her scales warm and rough against Draco's bare skin, and he wants to scream, wants to push her away, to wriggle free.
He can't move.
Lamia's weight is tight and heavy against Draco's chest, and she constricts herself, squeezing just enough for Draco's ribs to crack, for pain to spark through him again, hot and bright and almost overwhelming. Panic starts to bubble up deep inside Draco, a sharp fear that he can't beat down, the memories of Nagini and the way she'd attacked at the Dark Lord's command slipping out, beating down Draco's compartmentalised mental defences.
Draco draws in a ragged breath. Harry, he thinks. Remember I love you. Lamia's tongue flicks against his cheek; he closes his eyes, waits for the strike.
It doesn't come.
"You think I'm going to kill you?" Wilkinson laughs in Draco's ear, and then he's standing, moving in front of Draco again. He takes another drag off his cigarette then drops it to the floor, grinding it into the flagstones with his heel as he unbuttons his sleeves, rolls them up his forearms. "Boy, we're only just beginning to play."
The force of the blow to Draco’s cheek nearly bowls him over. Only the tight coils of the snake around Draco keeps him upright. Another strike of Wilkinson’s fist and Draco hears his jaw crunch. Another and Draco’s nose crumples.
Pain explodes through his head; blood spews from his nostrils, dripping down onto the shimmering snake scales, Gryffindor red against Slytherin green.
Shadows swirl around them, cold and thick against Draco’s bloodied face, and he can feel them press into his mind, pushing through the cracks, worrying their way into the depths of his consciousness.
He stills. Tries to breathe against the serpentine constriction around his chest, the raw crimson-tinted agony of it. Draco knows he can do this, knows that Burke and Durant have both trained him for this moment. He closes his eyes, grits his teeth. Forces the shadows from his mind, one excruciating tendril at a time until his thoughts shine clear again.
Wilkinson swears in frustration. “You fucking shit—“
And his fist swings into Draco’s jaw again. Knocks it loose with an awful crunch.
Draco spits in Wilkinson's face, saliva and blood spattering across Wilkinson's cheek. A white-hot anger surges through him, almost dizzying in its glory. He struggles against Lamia's coils, fighting her even as she squeezes tighter, and for a moment, he thinks he's going to escape, going to be free.
And then the Cruciatus hits him from behind, slamming into the nape of his neck, shuddering down his spine.
Lamia's head rears back as the Cruciatus sparks across her scales, her mouth wide in a silent scream. She whips around, and the last thing Draco sees is the venom dripping from her fangs, Wilkinson's face a white blur behind her.
The shadows twist around Draco, dark and heavy and full of misery, yet offering a silent release.
Draco can't help himself. He lets the shadows take him, envelop him, his mind still, silent, a cold refuge in the waves of pain crashing over him.
Harry, he thinks, and it becomes a mantra, steady and solid, the one hope that Draco can cling to in the darkness.
Harry is his constant. His beacon. His reason for living. For fighting. For drawing one more breath after another. He sees him in the shadows, feels him, knows that Harry fills his heart, his mind.
And as his body arches against the serpent's coils, every cell a burning agony, Draco's heart beats in rhythm to Harry's name, over and over and over again.
"Harry," he chokes out, and he pushes back against the shadows, against Wilkinson, against the snake.
Draco will never give in. Not whilst Harry is still waiting for him.
She rubs her temple, her fingers dipping beneath the edge of the ancient scrap of scarf holding her curls back. It's one her mother had given her back before she even went to Hogwarts, a length of red and turquoise Kitenge cloth, the remnant of an old dress that Hermione's grandmother had brought to London as a teenager when she and her own mother had left Dar es Salaam to join her father as he finished his D.Phil. at Oxford. The fabric's faded and a bit tattered now, but Hermione wouldn't ever throw it away. Not for the world. Her grandmother'd passed away two years after Hermione had started Hogwarts; she'd been so proud of Hermione for her magical skills, always eager at holidays for Hermione to tell her what she'd learned. Hermione can't bear to give up this one connection to her grandmother. Not after everything else she's lost in recent years.
"Everything all right, love?" Ron sets the last dinner dish down to dry on a tea towel spread out over the counter. He walks over, rests his hand on Hermione's shoulder; his palm is warm against the bare skin at the edge of her tank top. He traces a small circle against her shoulder blade with his thumb. The quiet intimacy of the touch relaxes Hermione, and she leans back in her chair, resting her head against his hip. Ron leans down and kisses the top of her head. "It's just you've been staring at those same papers for a half-hour now."
"MACUSA's still blocking me," she says after a moment. "Every diplomatic channel I've tried dries up the moment they find out I'm looking for Malfoy." She bites her lip. "I can't find him, Ron. Alma Espinoza says she's not seeing a record of him in the Oudepoort inmate listings, so they've probably put him in one of the extrajudicial camps, the ones they're using for interrogating terrorist suspects." She looks up at Ron, sees the frown of worry that furrows his brow. "If I ask about that, it's suddenly classified, and I'm shunted off to someone else."
Ron pulls out the chair next to her and sits, heavily. His face is set, solemn, and Hermione knows what he's thinking before he says, "It's been two weeks." He hesitates and adds, "More than, really."
Hermione looks down at the spread of papers. She runs a finger along the edge of one file jacket, thickly warded, the red eyes only tape sparking at her touch. "I know." It's the first of September now, and half the Ministry had been out this morning, taking their children to King's Cross. Hermione wonders if she and Ron will ever make that trek with them. They've been talking more and more about having kids lately; Hermione's gone off her contraceptive potions, even if they're still using Muggle condoms for now. She thinks she might be ready to be a mom, despite how scared she still finds herself at the thought of being responsible for another human being. But there's no one else in this world she'd rather raise a child with than Ron. With him beside her, she thinks she might actually make a decent parent one day. She wonders what it would be like to wave goodbye to her son or daughter as the Express pulls out, headed for Scotland, wonders if her parents had been apprehensive the first time she'd left home.
"This will kill Harry if you can't get him out." Ron's voice is soft, quiet in the warmth of their kitchen. He's not accusatory, just stating a fact, Hermione knows, but she still feels a flinch of guilt. He catches her hand as she looks away. "It's not you, love."
Hermione nods, but her throat is tight and raw. She curls her fingers through Ron's thicker ones, his golden freckles such a contrast to her brown skin. He's been her rock for so long; she doesn't know what she'd do without him. Maybe it's not quite the same for Harry and Malfoy, but Hermione thinks it might be. They've always been a matched set, the two of them, whether they hated or loved each other. They'd always done it so fiercely, so completely. Hermione doesn't believe in soulmates, not really, but she can't help but think there must be something that had drawn Harry to Malfoy, like the proverbial moth to a flame. Something deep and primal and old in its own way. The same sort of magic that kept her grounded to Ron, however hard they've had to work at times to stay tethered together.
"I have to do something," Hermione says after a moment, and she shifts in her chair, moves closer to lean against the solidity of Ron, breathing in the familiar scent of him. His other hand smoothes her hair back, his knuckles brush her cheek. It's a simple gesture, but comforting, the way only Ron can do. She wonders what it would be like if he was kept from her the way Malfoy's being kept from Harry, wonders how mental she'd go, what she'd do to find him. "Harry's not doing well."
Ron sighs. "I know." He worries his lip between his teeth. "Ever since I brought him that soup Monday, he's stopped answering when I ring him up. Floo or mobile. I tried to go by Grimmauld after work today, but Kreacher wouldn't let me through the hearth. The whole fucking place reeked of firewhisky."
And that's what Hermione's been afraid of. Harry hasn't been at the Ministry for the past two days. Or at least Hermione hasn't seen him. Not since Gawain Robards ordered him to stay out of the diplomatic negotiations for Malfoy's release. The same bloody negotiations that Hermione keeps being stonewalled on. She pulls away from Ron, reluctantly. She doesn't want to admit to him that the last time she and Harry had spoken, on Wednesday before he'd stormed out of Kingsley's office, she'd lost her temper, told Harry he needed to pull his head out of his arse, that Gawain was right, Harry was about to bugger every bloody thing up, that if he wasn't sodding careful he might cause Malfoy to be hurt, or worse yet, killed, and was that really what he wanted?
Harry's face had gone grey; he'd just looked at her as if Hermione had gutted him, and before she could apologise, could tell him she hadn't meant any of that, Harry had turned on his heel and walked away, not bothering to look back when she called after him.
But Hermione knows she hadn't been entirely wrong. There's nothing that Harry can do to help Malfoy. The Ministry's forbidden him to leave England, lest he do anything stupid and diplomatically disastrous--Kingsley knows Harry too damned well not to put a tracker on him that will activate when he crosses a border, even one as close as Wales or Scotland. Hermione'd suggested it, for all of Seven-Four-Alpha, although that's another thing she won't admit to Ron. But Kingsley had asked her opinion on their flight risk, and Hermione had answered truthfully. Besides, MACUSA has a warrant out for Harry's arrest if he steps in the country again. For all of them, really: Zabini and Parkinson and Whitaker and, especially, Jake. Hermione feels for him too, if she's honest. He's seeking asylum in Britain, as Tom Graves is as well, and Hermione can't imagine Kingsley won't approve it. But still, Jake's lost his country, his home, his friends, all in one fell swoop.
And Lestrange is still out there, hiding away somewhere with Death's cup in hand. Saul Croaker's furious about that; Hermione's never seen his face go so apoplectically purple as when Harry'd told them what they'd lost, what Rodolphus Lestrange had taken from them. She'd thought Saul and Harry would come to blows over that, particularly when Harry was more interested in demanding they go back for Malfoy.
Hermione rubs her palms over her face. She hasn't been sleeping well recently; she's too worried to rest, and she startles awake halfway through the night, her mind unable to settle. Last night she'd sat in bed for nearly an hour, watching Ron sleep, his face pale in the moonlight, half-wishing he'd wake up too and hold her until her heart stopped racing.
"I don't know what else to do," Hermione says after a moment. She looks over at Ron. "If Wilkinson has Malfoy hidden away, I don't know how we can find him. Not even Martine or Alma can track him down in the system, and they've confidential access." Her stomach twists, and she tries to breathe out, tries not to imagine what might happen to Harry if they fail, if Malfoy doesn't come back to him.
Ron knows what she's thinking. "We'll be here for Harry," he says after a moment. He pulls at the stretched-out collar of his Wicked Sisters t-shirt, the one he'd bought after the war the first time he and Hermione and Harry had gone out to a concert together. They all have one, bought together at the merch stand in a half-pissed state of gleeful revelry, but Ron's worn his nearly to shreds. "Whether or not he thinks he needs us."
There's a tinge of hurt in his voice, and Hermione knows it's hard for him when Harry pushes them away. It always has been; there's a part of Ron that's certain one day Harry's going to think Ron's useless, that Harry's going to walk away. It's ridiculous, of course. Harry needs Ron more than anyone else except Malfoy, in Hermione's opinion. They're brothers beneath the skin. Nothing's going to change that.
"He'll be all right," Hermione says. She has to believe that. The idea that Harry wouldn't be is anathema to her. Harry loses his way sometimes, but he's always found it again, always landed on his feet. But deep down inside of her, she can't help but wonder if he will this time. If losing Malfoy might be the one thing that unmoors Harry, that pushes him past his point of self-control. She hasn't told Ron yet, but Harry's magic is more erratic than it has been before. Furious at being blocked from looking for Malfoy, he'd set a panel of velvet drapes on fire in Kingsley's office; only Gawain's quick wandwork had quenched the flames before they spread too badly. Still, the alarm had gone off and the Ministry had been evacuated. A story's been spread about some sort of faulty magical sconce gone wonky, but Hermione's worried the truth will come out. She knows that wasn't the first time in the past fortnight something like that had happened, even if Harry's team is trying to hide that fact. The last thing they need is for Griselda Marchbanks to discover that. She's already making a meal of Malfoy's arrest, trying to frame the narrative to fit her own agenda.
Terrifyingly, it's working. Support for the Death Eater Registration Act is rising; Hermione's heard whispers from the solicitors that a draft of it will go before the Wizengamot for a vote soon. Her only hope is that it gets beaten down by saner heads, but Hermione's never had a great deal of confidence in British wizarding politics. Its idiocy is surpassed only that of the Muggle government in some ways.
Ron reaches out again, his palm out. Hermione lays her hand in his; his fingers curl around hers, squeezing gently. "We'll make Harry listen to us." His smile is lukewarm. "If we shout through the Floo long enough, maybe we'll annoy him into dropping the wards."
Hermione wishes that were true. But they've both dealt with a stubborn, furious Harry before. If he thinks he knows what's right, there's no arguing with him, not until he comes to his senses. She just hopes that happens before he does something stupidly, utterly reckless and rash.
The sort of thing only a Gryffindor in love would think a good idea.
She bites her lip, worry welling up in her once more, then she glances over at Ron. Speaking of recklessly Gryffindor ideas, she thinks, then she says, "Feel like breaking a law?"
Ron's thick eyebrows go up. "Depends. Is it fun?"
"Not at all." Hermione reaches out, picks up a file jacket. A touch of her finger on the side and the wards fall open; she pulls out a sheaf of papers and hands them Ron. "Just a spot of light classified reading for a Friday night." Her mouth tugs up on one side. "I could use the extra eyes, just in case I'm missing something." Not to mention Ron's strategic brain. Sometimes she thinks he would have made a brilliant barrister if memorising the legal code during Auror training hadn't bored him senseless.
"I suppose I can try." Ron looks at the papers, a bit dubious, but, to his credit, he takes them, shuffling through the stack. "Exactly how much trouble would I get into for reading these? Are we talking solitary in Azkaban level?"
Hermione picks up another file. "Probably worse," she admits, knowing full well that's not a deterrent for her husband. "More like Saul hanging you from your testicles in a locked room down in Mysteries."
"Sweet." Ron leans back in his chair, papers in hand. "Always knew that old bastard was a kinky sod."
"You're incorrigible," Hermione says with a shake of her head, but the tightness in her heart's easing a tad. They'll figure this out somehow, bring Malfoy home to Harry. They have to, she thinks, bending her head back over the stack of files once more.
If only for Harry's sake.
She's worried constantly. About Draco and wherever the hell he is, about Althea, still being held in hospital with her injuries, about Blaise and his determined, grim silence whenever Pansy brings up his father, about the guv and the bottle Pansy knows he's hiding in the bottom drawer of his desk, the one she's certain he takes a deep swig from whenever he starts to get shaky, whenever his temper sets yet another stack of files on fire.
And here, for a few moments at least on a Friday evening, just before the sun begins to set, she can murmur the prayers her mother had taught her as soon as she was out of baby babble, and she can feel a breath of calmness go through her, a chance to believe that somehow things might be set right again.
It's a powerful hope, she's found.
The knock echoes again, louder this time, and Pansy takes a long sip of the wine before sighing and walking towards the door, the round globe of her glass cupped between her fingers. The red wine sloshes up the sides, rich and deep. She's opened up a good bottle of kosher tonight--none of that awful cheap wine, the kind that's too sweet to bear. Pansy has every bloody intention of getting sauced before she tumbles into bed. It's the only way she'll be able to sleep.
When she opens the door, she blinks in surprise. Camilla Hirsch Parkinson herself is standing there, in a trim, sleeveless black dress that shows her toned arms off to best effect, her short, black-brown curls swept to one side over her forehead.
"Mother," Pansy says, almost automatically. "I wasn't expecting you."
And why should she be? Her mother's never spent a Shabbat evening away from home, not without the whole family beside her.
Camilla looks a bit awkward, once more surprising Pansy. She's never really seen her mother on her back foot. Camilla's always done the right thing, said the right thing. It feels odd to see the look of uncertainty that crosses her mother's face as she says, "Might I come in, Pansy?"
Pansy has no other choice than to step back, let her mother into her flat. Camilla's gaze immediately goes to the silver candlesticks set on Pansy's chimneypiece, the squat white candles burning brightly in them, their fat flames flickering, reflected in the glass of the surrounding picture frames.
"Gut Shabbos," Camilla says, leaning in to kiss Pansy's cheek. Pansy murmurs the greeting back, half in surprise, half in bemusement as she closes the door behind her mother. She takes another sip of her wine, then follows her mother to the sofa, sitting gingerly on the opposite side. She turns her glass between her fingers, waiting quietly as her mother smoothes the hem of her dress down over her knees. Always the proper lady, Pansy thinks, with just a little bitterness.
They sit in silence for a long moment, then Camilla says, "I'm glad you're using your candlesticks." She hesitates, before adding, "Your grandmother would be proud."
She probably would, Pansy thinks. The candlesticks had been her grandmother's for decades; Pansy can remember helping her sister polish them each Friday afternoon before setting them out on the table to be lit before Shabbos dinner. They'd been the one thing from her grandparents' house she'd insisted on keeping, even if she'd had to fight Daisy for them.
The thought of Daisy makes Pansy's heart ache. Draco's gone, Daisy's gone. Pansy doesn't know how much more worry she can pile on herself for the people she loves.
And now her mother's here, sat in the middle of Pansy's untidy flat, a satchel half-full of yet-to-be-washed clothes from Thibodaux perched on the ottoman where she'd dropped it a fortnight ago, boxes of file jackets still tucked in the corner of the sitting room, a stack of them set out on the coffee table. Pansy thinks about sweeping them away, hiding them from her mother's sharp eye, but she hasn't the energy to care, if she's honest.
Camilla folds her hands in her lap. She looks uncomfortable, and Pansy wonders if she's a terrible daughter for being pleased about that. Still, she'll be damned if she won't make her mother work for this, whatever this conversation is that Camilla obviously both does and doesn't want to have with Pansy.
Pansy drains her glass of wine, then reaches for the bottle she's left beside the stack of files and pours another. Her mother just watches her, and Pansy waits for the reprimand, the sharp reminder that Pansy neither needs the alcohol, nor the calories.
But Camilla stays silent, and that worries Pansy. She studies her mother over the rim of her glass. Camilla's face is pale; she's barely wearing any makeup. Only a touch of powder and a bit of pink lippie. And there are strands of silver threaded through her temples--not many, but enough to surprise Pansy. Her mother's always been careful about her appearance, vain enough to hide any signs of aging.
And Camilla looks tired, with faint smudges of shadows beneath her dark brown eyes. She sweeps long, elegant fingers across her dress, smoothing out non-existent wrinkles, straightening the hem, and it's only then that Pansy realises her mother's hand is ringless. Camilla catches Pansy's look, and she stills, the fingers of her other hand brushing lightly across the pale circle where her wedding ring had rested for over thirty years.
"I suppose," Camilla says slowly, her gaze sliding away from Pansy's, "that's what I've come to say."
Pansy lowers her glass of wine, an odd emptiness starting to seep through her. "You've left Daddy." This isn't what she's wanted. Not now. Not when the rest of her world's been upended, when Draco isn't here to help her through this. And a flare of anger twists up then sharp and fierce, and Pansy's not certain if it's meant for Draco who'd been so stupidly foolish as to sacrifice himself for the guv or for her mother who's putting yet one more thing on Pansy, one more crack in the once perfect facade of their family.
Her mother doesn't answer for a moment, and then she sighs, soft and unhappy. "I had to."
It's not as if Pansy doesn't understand. She's never known how her mother puts up with Terry Parkinson. As much as Pansy loves her father, she's not unaware of his issues. Terry loves wine, women, and work more than anything else, and his wife and daughters had all too often fallen by the wayside. He loves them. They all know that. But sometimes, Pansy thinks, love might not be enough.
"Was it the other women?" she asks, her voice soft.
Camilla brushes a stray curl from her cheek, tucks it behind an ear. "They didn't help the situation." She looks away, and Pansy can see the faint lines around her mother's eyes, her mouth. Camilla's in her late fifties, but even with the whispers of age starting to show, she's still a beautiful woman. "I could have looked past them," she says finally. "I always have before."
"Then what made this time different?" Pansy has to know. She's never seen her mother like this before. The composed perfection of Camilla Hirsch Parkinson is just an illusion, and that realisation is bittersweet to Pansy. There's something unsettling about realising her mother has feet of clay.
Her mother doesn't answer at first. Instead she stands, walks over to the hearth. She studies the candlesticks, running a finger along the engraved silver, tracing the curve of the vines twining up around their length. "Lighting these with Mother was always my favourite part of Shabbos," she says, and she looks back at Pansy. "And when I had you and Daisy, I was thrilled to teach you the same prayers she'd taught me." Her eyes are soft, more gentle than Pansy's seen them in years. "I'm glad you're still saying them."
"It seemed a good idea," Pansy says. "What with everything that's been going on lately."
Camilla nods. "I'm sorry about Draco."
Pansy's throat tightens. She takes another sip of her wine. "I don't want to talk about it." Her voice comes out harsher than she intends, but her mother doesn't flinch.
"You should," Camilla says, her voice soft in the silence in of the room. "I know you must blame yourself--"
"Mother," Pansy says sharply, and Camilla falls silent. Pansy knows her mother means well, and if Pansy's honest, Camilla's not wrong. She does blame herself. If she hadn't been so focused on Althea, perhaps she would have been able to stop Draco from being so bloody, idiotically stupid. And now he's Merlin only knows where with the Americans, and Pansy doesn't even want to think about what they might be doing to him. She can't. They've already lost Potter to drink lately. Pansy can't follow him down that path, as much as she might want to. She has to take care of the others, as best she can. Draco would want her to, even if none of them save Althea seems to notice or appreciate it.
Pansy's hand shakes as she lifts the glass of wine again, blinks back the well of hot tears that threatens to overwhelm her. This is all too much, she thinks. This summer of her life falling apart. The wine is sour against her tongue, and she swallows it, her stomach turning. Pansy's been wondering recently, had she known where she'd be now, would she still have accepted the assignment with Seven-Four-Alpha back in May?
To be honest, she doesn't know. Perhaps none of them should have. Perhaps everything they've done has been cursed. They've all lost something in the course of this case; all their familial secrets have been ripped apart, laid bare. Pansy had thought she'd lost her innocence during the wizarding war of her childhood. Now, however, she realises how much more has been stripped away.
She exhales, looks over at her mother. "I'd rather talk about why you've decided to do this now."
Camilla turns away from the hearth, walks back to the sofa. She sits carefully, perched on the edge of the cushion, her fingers twisted together, her knees pressed primly to one side. "The thing is," she says finally, and then she hesitates, draws in a slow, uneven breath. "I could have overlooked so many things your father has done." Her laugh is bitter, soft. "I have for so long, after all." She looks down at her hands, almost as if she doesn't recognise them, Pansy thinks, and perhaps she doesn't, not without her rings. "But that narish mamzer put my girls in danger this time." Camilla glances up at Pansy, and there's a tightly contained fury glinting in her eyes that takes Pansy aback. "First Daisy, and now you. I don't care what game he's playing. I don't care what utter cock up he's trying to fix--" And her mother's language makes Pansy blink in surprise as much as her anger. "I won't have you hurt. Either of you, really, but you're the one I worry about the most."
Pansy just looks at her mother. "I don't understand," she starts to say, but Camilla just shakes her head.
"You've always said I was harder on you than Daisy," her mother says. She glances away, rubs her thumb across the finger she would have worn her ring on, almost as if she's expecting it to be there. "And I was, I suppose." Camilla bites her lip, and the glance she gives Pansy is hesitant. Pansy doesn't know what to do with that. This isn't Camilla she's familiar with. "But perhaps it's because I've always seen far more of myself in you, my little Rahel." She reaches out, touches Pansy's cheek. "I never wanted you to make my mistakes." Her knuckles brush across Pansy's skin, featherlight; her eyes shine bright with tears that, with a slow blink, spill over, dampening her cheeks. "Your sister, ah, she'll do what she wants, and probably land on her feet, the same as your father, but you and I, maideleh, we're different. We feel too much, and we shut ourselves away in order not to, yes?"
And Pansy can't argue. Not really. "So you left Daddy because of me and Daisy."
Camilla snorts and purses her mouth. She wipes a thumb beneath her eyes, smearing the wetness away. Her chin goes up, almost defiantly, and Pansy lets out a soft huff of relief at the familiarity of her mother's disdain. "I left your father because he's a complete putz, is why. He's put his money over our safety, bringing those sorts into our house again after I told him last time I wouldn't stand for it any longer. But he always has to play the game, Terry does. Act as if he's bigger than all the others, and where does it get him, I ask you?"
"Dancing around Azkaban, I'd say," Pansy murmurs into her wineglass, but Camilla's not listening.
Her mother throws up her hands in disgust. "Hobnobbing with those wretches again, certain that he's smarter than them and paying no mind to what I say or think." Her bottom lip trembles; she turns away, takes an uneasy breath. "And now he's bollocksed everything up, hasn't he? I'd say it's losing his hair that's made him this thick, but it's more that your father's always been a bit of an idiot when it comes to this sort of thing." She looks over at Pansy. "I can't do it any longer, love. I can't pretend. About the women or the just this side of legal business dealings." Her shoulders slump. "Even if Michal Goldstein's pitying me at shul now." Her mouth twists bitterly. "What an awful yachneh."
Pansy bites back a wild laugh. Her mother will always be in a pitched battle with Tony's, it seems. She turns her glass between her fingers, watching the wine slosh up the sides, and then she holds it out to her mother. "I think you need this more than I do."
For a moment she thinks Camilla's going to refuse it, but her mother reaches out, takes the glass from her. Their fingers brush against each other; Camilla's are cold and a bit trembling.
"You can't go back to Norfolk tonight," Pansy says, but her mother's already shaking her head.
"I'm not staying at the house." Camilla lifts the glass to her mouth and takes a sip. She doesn't look at Pansy. "I couldn't, and your father wouldn't leave. You know how stubborn he can be." She licks the remnants of the wine from the curve of her lip as she lowers the glass, rests it against her thigh. "I have a key to Daisy's old London flat. I'm there for now."
"Oh," Pansy says. She studies her mother, the curve of her cheek, the set of her jaw. This is serious, she realises, and her stomach twists at the thought that her parents' marriage might actually end over this. She doesn't know what to think, not really. Her parents have always been a constant in her life, her mother's calm acceptance of her father's foibles something that Pansy never thought would change. But if Camilla left her beloved house behind, if she's willing to let the shul know she's walking away from her husband, then Pansy's not sure her mother will forgive her father this misstep. She lays her hand over Camilla's, leaning across the sofa to curl her fingers around her mother's. "Still," Pansy says, trying to keep her voice light. "You'll stay here with me? I might like a bit of Shabbos company." She never thought she'd say that, never thought she'd want her mother here beside her like this, but she needs Camilla right now, needs to have the comfort of her mother to help keep away the grief and worry that keeps rising up in her. Everything's upside down with Draco gone, with Althea still in hospital, with the guv drinking his way to the bottom of a bottle every day, with Blaise so distant and silent, lost in his own anger and fear and misery.
Camilla hesitates for the briefest moment. Disappointed, Pansy starts to pull her hand back, but her mother grips it, tightly. She glances over at Pansy, and Pansy can see the deep weariness etched in Camilla's face. "Thank you," Camilla says, her voice quiet. "If you'll have me, I'd like that."
Pansy nods and sinks back against the cushions of the sofa, her mother shifting closer to her, their fingers still curled together.
The candles burn brightly on the chimneypiece, faint flickers of hope in the silent shadows that surround them both.
It's been good to wake up beside Jake every morning. And now Blaise's half-used to sharing his bed for the full night, to turning in his sleep to drape himself across the comforting solidity of Jake's body. And when he comes home from work, Jake's there to hand him a bottle of beer and dinner. Blaise doesn't feel as lonely as he had before earlier in the summer when Draco had been so caught up in the guv and Blaise had been at loose ends most nights. But sometimes the old uneasy scratch starts again, that feeling he's had in other relationships of being trapped, that panic that comes when he thinks of settling down.
Somehow Jake seems to know, seems to understand. He'd been the one who'd pushed Blaise out the door tonight, told him to go find a place where he could breathe. Blaise hadn't known where else to go other than the pub, if he's honest. Pansy's no use; she's been spending most of her time outside of work in St Mungo's or looking after Althea's dad. The guv's not an option either; it's not even the drinking that bothers Blaise, if he's honest. Or the bursts of anger. He understands all of that; Blaise thinks that if it were him in Potter's shoes, he'd have either crawled into a bottle and sealed the damned thing shut or imploded the entire fucking Ministry around them all. Maybe both. But Blaise can't bear the pain etched into Potter's face now. It brings up his own grief about Draco, his own worries about what's happening to his best friend, his own realisation of his uselessness when it comes to doing anything about any of this. And Blaise has already sat on Millie's sofa twice this past week; he can't bear to put her and Hannah through dealing with him again. Greg's out of town for the weekend, and Blaise thinks he might deck Theo if he had to put up with the bastard's political pontificating tonight, so he'd had no other choice than to sit himself down here with an eighteen-year Glenfiddich.
He twists the glass between his fingers. The remnants of whisky gleam golden in the warm light from the lamp hanging over his table. It's taken Blaise a good hour to get down to the last bits; he's reluctant to down another swallow. To be honest, he's not certain he's ready to go back to the flat yet.
Blaise closes his eyes, leans his head back against the plaster wall. The pub's not posh, but it's tidy and serviceable on a busy Friday night, and the barkeep has a good stock of whiskies on the upper shelves. Blaise wonders if he could sleep here, but he knows that's ridiculous. Last call will come soon enough, and he'll be out on the street again, walking back up to his flat. To Jake.
Something warm and pleasant flutters in Blaise's belly at that thought. He knows most of this is just nerves. They haven't talked much about what this is between them, he and Jake. Blaise knows he should, knows that he's going to have to admit to Jake that the Veela in Blaise has chosen him for his mate. But that's a conversation Blaise can't have right now. Not with everything the way it's been for the past two and a half weeks. Blaise still needs his secrets, still needs to come to terms with what he'd discovered about himself, about his father back in Thibodaux. But Blaise feels too raw right now to think about all of that. So instead he just breathes, tries to empty his mind, tries to just be, here in the pub with the sounds of Muggle conversation and laughter drifting around him.
Until, at least, he hears another sigh, a familiar one that makes his eyes open, makes him sit up in his wooden chair, the uneven legs wobbling ever so slightly as he does.
"Hello, Blaise," his mother says, and he can't believe she's standing in front of him, here of all places, looking perfectly put together in her tailored red dress, her hair dark curls shorter than he's ever seen them.
"You cut your hair" is all Blaise can say, and his mother's vain enough to touch her curls, a pleased look on her face.
"I needed a change." Olivia pulls out the chair opposite Blaise. "May I?"
Blaise just shrugs. His mother will do what she wants to do, he knows that. He studies her as she sits. Beneath the polished Olivia Zabini facade he knows so well, he can see the strain in her face, the dark circles she's tried, a bit haphazardly, to hide. He and his mother haven't spoken since before Blaise went to Thibodaux, since the night he'd admitted to his mother Jake was his mate. It's not as if Blaise hasn't tried. The first week back in London, he'd firecalled every place he thought she'd be staying, rang up every mobile number he had for her. She'd never answered. To be honest, Blaise has no idea where his mother's been, and there's part of him that doesn't give a damn.
He swallows the last of his whisky as his mother sits. "How'd you find me?"
Olivia's dark gaze is fixed on his face. "Mr Durant kindly told me where he thought you might be when I firecalled your flat." She's silent for a moment, studying Blaise, and he looks away, his jaw tight. He grips his glass tightly in his hand, his thumb pressing hard enough against the rim to leave a faint dent in his skin. He pulls it away, watches his thumb fill out again. His mother sighs. "So he's staying with you now, I see. You've told him?"
"Not yet," Blaise says, and he glances at his mother, almost bitterly. "He doesn't have any place else to go."
"Darling, one always has someplace else to go if one wishes." Olivia doesn't look away from him, as much as Blaise wishes she might. She folds her arms across her chest. "You can't keep this from him forever, you know. He'll realise it eventually." Her face softens, if only a bit. "It's best if it comes from you."
Blaise sets his glass down onto the worn surface of the table, battered by generations of pub-goers. Someone's scratched cock into the wood at his left elbow in the grand British comedic tradition. Yobs, Blaise thinks, and then he sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. He feels a tension headache coming on. "Mother, I haven't the spirit for one of our discussions tonight," he says. "It's been a long day and a longer fortnight, and frankly, work's been quite the devil. I'm tired, and I just want a bloody hour to myself without being harangued by you, as much as I might enjoy it some evenings."
Olivia sits forward, a frown scoring her forehead for the briefest of moments before it smoothes out. "Watch your tongue." She eyes the table warily before she rests her elbows on it. "You're the one who's been trying to reach me."
"Until I bloody well realised you were avoiding me!" Blaise's voice rises; a couple a table or two away glances over at them. Blaise tries to calm himself; he breathes out, looks away from his mother.
Her hand settles over his. He thinks about pulling away, but there's something gentle in the way she touches him, the way her fingers curl over his. Blaise stills, his throat raw and hot and tight. "I needed some time," Olivia says. She smoothes a thumb over Blaise's wrist, one crimson nail scraping lightly across his skin. "There are things you don't know--"
"Oh, I think I do." Blaise can't keep the bitterness out of his voice. He sits back, his fingers sliding from his mother's. "It's why you didn't want me to go to Thibodaux, why you were so upset when you found out about me and Jake--"
"Blaise," his mother says, but he ignores her.
"I know it all, Mother." Blaise presses his fingertips to his forehead. It's throbbing now, and his whole body feels tight, stretched. "So you can stop it with all the stupid lies you've told me about my father over the years. Starting with the fact that he left you pregnant and alone. You weren't, were you? Because I remember a man." Blaise's voice catches in the back of his throat. "I remember you crying over him, as he lay in front of a hearth--" He breaks off, trying to push back the hurt and fury that's welling up. He flattens his hands on the table, looks down at them. They're shaking, he realises, and that surprises him a bit. He flexes his fingers, tries to stop the trembling. He can't.
His mother's silent for a long moment, and then she sighs. "I've lied a great deal about your father over the years, yes." She doesn't look at him. "And I was worried that you'd find out how he died. Of course I was." Her gaze flicks up towards Blaise's face. "I'm a mother, Blaise. Whatever you might think of me, I've always tried to protect you. To take care of you as best I could." Before he can protest she holds up a hand. "Perhaps I haven't always done it the right way or the proper way. But I love you, and you are everything to me, Blaise Augustus." She draws in a slow breath. "You were named after your father's grandfather, you know. Augusto Zabini. Christopher adored him, and the moment we knew you were going to be a boy, he insisted on giving you his name."
Blaise just looks at her, his heart thudding softly. "I don't know anything about his family," he says after a moment. "I can't find anything out either. I've looked." His mouth twists. "Did you pay someone to redact that as well? Robards already told me his Auror files were edited because of you."
Olivia flinches. "I'm not that powerful, Blaise, whatever you might think." She rubs a thumb over a divot in the table that Blaise thinks might have been left by a stray dart from on one of the dartboards across the pub. "Your father's family hadn't been in London long; he and his father immigrated from Rome with Augusto when Christopher was quite small. That's all your father ever told me. He didn't care for his father, never spoke of him if he could help it."
"What about his mother?" Blaise asks, his curiosity piqued as much as he'd hate to admit it to Olivia.
"She was never mentioned." Olivia shrugs. "I don't know if Christopher even knew her." She looks over at Blaise, her face weary. "I don't know anything more, other than Augusto had died by the time I met Christopher. Your grandfather...I only knew his name was Raphael. Christopher intimated he'd gone back to Rome, but I never really knew if that was true." She bites her lip, looks down at her hands. "Your father was a very good liar at times."
And he married in his weight class with that, Blaise thinks, but he knows better than to voice it aloud. There's a certain amount of insubordination Olivia will tolerate, but that would cross a line, even for Blaise. He turns his empty glass between his hands, the slick sides cool against his palms. "I saw how he died," Blaise says after a long moment. He can't look at his mother; his throat tightens. "In Thibodaux." He doesn't bother to explain; his mother doesn't ask. She twists her hands together instead, waiting. Blaise sighs. "You said you didn't know what hex killed him. But you did, didn't you?" His voice trembles, if only a bit. "You knew Jasper Durant threw a Resurrection Stone at him, and he caught it. You knew it killed him--"
"I did." Olivia's voice is terrible, soft and even, and Blaise's head jerks up, his gaze meets hers. His mother watches him, her face grim but determined. "I knew everything, because my father brought Christopher to me when it happened and told me everything they'd done. How they'd tried to create a Resurrection Stone, like bloody damned fools, and had failed--but not so much that my husband wasn't lying at my feet, the very life bleeding out of him the moment my father's stasis spell was lifted." She presses her lips together, looks away. Blaise is surprised to see a dampness beneath her eyes, then a tear rolling down her perfect cheek. He's only seen his mother cry once, when his stepfather Andy died.
Blaise sits silently, giving his mother the moment she needs, and then Olivia takes a ragged breath, brushes the tear away, and looks at him.
"I tried to save him." Olivia straightens her shoulders. "I did everything I could. I went into the deepest Enochian spells our family grimoire has, and nothing worked. So I did the only thing I could, God help me." Her voice catches again, and she bites her lip, worrying it between her teeth.
"What?" The word comes out raw and painful, torn from Blaise's throat. He doesn't know if he wants her to answer, doesn't know if this is something he needs to understand.
His mother breathes out, closes her eyes for a moment. "There's a spell. It's one my father told me never to touch. But I could do it with the Resurrection Stone, even if it wasn't a complete Hallow. All I needed was a bit of Soul Grass, and I'd been studying it in my potionbrewing, so there was a dried hank of it on hand."
"Mother." Blaise looks at her, something deep and horrible seeping through him. "Mother, you didn't--"
"I knew he couldn't stay in the stasis spell forever," Olivia says, and she's close to tears again, Blaise can tell. "But I couldn't lose him. I needed time, and his soul was starting to fade, Blaise. I knew it was." She draws in a breath. It's more of a sob. "I had everything I needed, and I asked your father. I told him what I wanted to do, and he said yes--" She breaks off, presses her knuckles against her mouth. She closes her eyes, and Blaise sees her shoulders relax as she breathes out again. "Your grandfather took the blame. He claimed he'd done the spell because he knew you needed me. And, coward that I was, I let him."
Blaise sits there, unable to move, unable to think. "You," he starts to say and then he looks away, overcome by all of this. He rubs his hands over his face, presses his fingers against his temples. The throb in his head is starting again. "You turned my father into a Dementor."
Olivia's silent, her head bent.
"Tell me," Blaise says sharply, and she looks up at him. "No more lies. I need you to say it, Mother."
"I did." The words are a barest whisper. Olivia swallows; her face is grey. "I've been carrying it with me all these years. I thought I could save him. I thought we could find a way to stop the spell, that we could bring him back completely, but I wasn't good enough. I couldn't do it." She closes her eyes again; tears are seeping from the corners.
Blaise can't feel anything. Anger. Pity. Fury. He's numb, oddly, calmly so, but he's also aware, as if from a distance, that breathing hurts, that his chest feels tight and painful. He looks at his mother, and he thinks perhaps he might hate her. Just a bit. Just for a moment.
"Where is he?" he rasps out. "Did you put him in Azkaban--"
"No." Olivia's eyes fly open; she shakes her head fiercely. "I would never. Your grandfather smuggled him out of London. He took him to Crete."
"And you let him take the blame." Blaise wants another whisky. Needs one. He pushes his glass away. "You lied. And you left my father alone all these years--"
Olivia leans forward. "I didn't have a choice." Her eyes are bright, hot.
"You had every choice," Blaise says, his voice rising again. He ignores the couple who stares at them. "You've never understood that, have you, Mother? You always have a choice. You could have let him die, instead of forcing him into a half-life because you weren't ready to let him go--"
"Christopher agreed," his mother says.
"Because he loved you." Blaise grips the edge of the table. He's angry now, and he's tired of this, tired of his mother's lies, of her defences. "He would have said anything for you and you know it. And you couldn't let him go because it was all about you, and then you spent the next twenty-odd years lying to me about it all, letting me think he was someone who had just walked away from both of us. He loved us, Mother, and you…" Blaise trails off, his rage giving way to grief. His breath is unsteady, his heart hurts. "I just wanted to know my father, and you kept that from me all my life."
Olivia reaches out for him. "Blaise," she says, but he pushes her hand away.
"Don't." Blaise stands up. "I can't right now. I need…" He doesn't know what he needs. "Give me some time," Blaise says, his head bent. "I can't talk to you for now. Please."
Olivia's quiet for a moment, and then she nods. "I love you," she murmurs. "I know you might not think it right now, but I do."
"I know you think you do." Blaise steps away from the table. He lets his hand rest on her shoulder for the briefest of moments. "I'll ring you later."
He leaves her at the table; he doesn't look back. He can't.
Blaise walks through the streets of London almost as if he's on autopilot. He doesn't know where his feet are taking him, doesn't know where he's going. He passes pubs and restaurants, all filled with laughing people, the throngs spilling out onto the street, but he barely notices them. His mind is swirling, twisting in on itself, around and around until Blaise is certain he's half-mad with it all.
And then he stops in front of an old, worn-down house not far from Charing Cross Road, only a few streets away from the Leaky. Blaise has only been here a few times over the years, and always with Draco. He stares up at the bright blue door, the weatherbeaten white of the painted window sills peeling. He doesn't know why he's here, what made him come to this address.
Draco, he thinks, a bit wildly. Maybe Draco's leading him. It's ridiculous. Blaise knows that. But he finds himself climbing the crumbling steps, lifting the heavy brass doorknocker. It falls against the wood with a loud thud; Blaise raises it again and lets it slide from his fingers.
When the door opens with a rough creak, Blaise just looks up and asks, simply, "Can we talk?"
Bertie Aubrey stares back at him in surprise. "What are you doing here, lad?" he asks, and his gaze slides past Blaise to the empty road behind him.
"It's just me." Blaise wonders if he should ring Jake, if he should tell him where he is. His mobile's still in his pocket. But he doesn't. He can't. He just looks at Bertie, hoping he won't be turned away. "I just…" He stops, and he doesn't know what to say. He swallows, his hands pushed deep into his pockets. "Please?" He looks up at Bertie. "It's about my dad."
Bertie inhales sharply. "Right." He hesitates, then nods, holding the door open wider. He's in pyjama bottoms and a half-buttoned shirt; Blaise can see a bit of grey hair on his chest. His hair is rumpled, as if Blaise had caught him napping. "Come on then," he says, with one last, quick glance towards the pavement. "I'll put the kettle on the hob."
"I'd rather have whisky." Blaise steps into the shadowed hallway. A lamp burns bright from a room to his right, warm and cosy. "If you don't mind."
"Fuck if you don't look like you need it." Bertie eyes him for a moment. "I've a glass you might try." He starts off down the hall, then looks back behind him. "Well, hop to it, lad. It won't drink itself, after all."
Blaise closes the door behind him and breathes out, uncertain and unsteady. Whatever Bertie tells him, it'll be all right, Blaise thinks. But he has to know. Has to hear from someone who'd been an Auror with Christopher Zabini. Who'd known him, who'd kept his secrets, whatever they might have been.
He follows Bertie down the hall, suddenly feeling as if the world might be coming rightside up again.
For the moment at least.
Althea presses a thin hand to the back of her head gingerly. It's strange to feel the lack of her usual thick braids; they'd shaved part of her head when she'd been brought in. Her hair's short now, and it'd given her a start the first time she'd seen it in the mirror Pansy had handed her. Pansy'd done what she could to trim it up, but it's still shaggy and awful, Althea thinks, although it does make her cheekbones look sharper and higher.
Really, she's lucky to be alive, Althea thinks, as her fingers skid hesitantly across the bandage still covering the part of her skull that had caved in when it'd struck the edge of the shelves in the Robichau crypt. The Healers had worked hard to stitch her back together the past fortnight, and Althea's grateful for that, but she's also bored and restless now that she's feeling better. The last thing she wants is to be confined to the ward, allowed only to go for a shuffling walk with one of the mediwitches by her side just in case anything happens. Which it all too often does, to Althea's dismay. Her balance isn't what it once was, and, even though she's been trying to hide them as best she can, the tremors in her hand haven't stopped yet.
At least for now she's dressed--well, as much as she ever is in St Mungo's--and fully ready to be up after another morning nap, thanks to the drowsiness the potions tend to induce. Alice, the night mediwitch, had woken her at half six, just before she'd gone off shift, and helped Althea into a pair of joggers and an old, soft Ravenclaw Quidditch shirt Pansy had brought over from Althea's flat a few days ago. An hour later, she'd been able to keep down a small breakfast--Merlin, she's so grateful to be off of the soft food diet they've had her on. She'd even managed a piece of buttered toast today, and it had tasted like bloody ambrosia after the mush she's endured. Now she's just been dozing about, trying to gather her strength for the day. And honestly, there's not much reason to be awake--it's not as though she's allowed anywhere near work. Mickelson, her favourite of her Healers, had bluntly vetoed that yesterday when Althea'd asked about going back to the Ministry. He's refusing to give estimates right now for when she can return--and none of the other Healers will undermine him, she's found. She sighs and frowns up at the white plaster ceiling above her. The desire to know what's happened in the two weeks she's been out is being to prickle like an itch under her skin. No one will tell her anything when they stop by to visit--not even Pansy. Although Althea's fairly certain she smelled whisky on the guv's breath the other day. Not that she can blame him, the poor bastard. The one thing she does know is that Malfoy didn't come back with them. Zabini had let that slip when he and Durant had brought the hyacinth, along with a giant bag of grapes the Healers hadn't let her touch.
"Up now, are you, pet?" Her father's sitting in the chair by the window, leafing through the morning's Prophet. No one else is in ward; the other beds are all empty. They have been the entire time Althea's been here, as far as she knows. She's not certain why, although she supposes it has something to do with the fact that they've tucked her away in a ward usually reserved for Unspeakables. Alice had told her that during one of their late night conversations.
"Have been for a bit," Althea says, even though she's really just been dozing. She yawns, though, partially to fight back the potions' sleepiness and partially for show. She shifts on the bed, her body sore. She wants to be up and running again, doing some sparring in the Auror training centre before coming into work. "Why did you sleep in the chair again?"
Her father's eyes are bright, and he lowers his paper, smiling at her. "Didn't want to be too much of a nuisance. Pansy's been a gracious host, letting me kip in her spare room and use her shower, but I don't want to take advantage by staying too many nights in a row."
"She wouldn't mind, you know that." A warmth spreads through Althea's chest at the thought of Pansy's care of her father. "She's said you can stay as often as you like." Pansy's made that much clear every time she's come by, which has been almost every day. Althea's gaze slides towards the ward doors. She wonders if Pansy'll stop by today.
"She has," Mitchell agrees. "But the poor lass needs some time for herself as well. She's been awfully good to us, and I'm sure she's got other worries of her own too."
Althea wonders what her father's picked up on. Malfoy, she suspects. Pansy won't talk about that; the few times Althea's asked, Pansy's face has just gone still and brittle before she's smiled that thin, sharp smile that doesn't reach her eyes, patted Althea's arm and told her Granger had everything under control on that end. Rubbish, Althea thinks. Even with her mind working more sluggishly than usual, she knows damned well what Malfoy being caught by MACUSA will mean. Oudepoort at the least. Possibly worse, if they want to get information from him. Althea's stomach twists. Funny to think that she would be so worried about Malfoy of all people. A few months ago she would have laughed at the idea, would have said he deserved this. Now everything's changed. Malfoy's her friend, in his own prickly way, and she wants him back, safe and sound.
And she's been part of Seven-Four-Alpha long enough to know that Pansy's more fragile than she acts, and the more brusque and matter-of-fact she is, the more fear she's hiding. Whatever's going on is worrying her a hell of a lot; Althea can feel that even if Pansy's not talking about any of it. No need for her to be a Legilimens to know that. Pansy radiates her anxiety, whether or not she thinks she does. It just makes Althea more anxious to be done with the Healers and back to the incident room. She wants to help her team, wants to figure out what their next steps should be.
Besides, Althea's caught glimpses of the headlines on the Prophets her father's been reading. Marchbanks and Hawkworth are moving forward with the Registry, and the Prophet's come out swinging against Shacklebolt's government. None of that's good, she knows, and here she is, hidden away in the depths of St Mungo's, unable to do a bloody damned thing to help any of them.
To help Pansy.
Althea also knows she owes Pansy a hell of a lot for her swift action when they'd arrived back through the portal, landing in the middle of the Department of Mysteries. The Healers have said that Althea's recovered as well as she has because Pansy managed to get her directly into the Unspeakable ward from Saul Croaker's office. Althea doesn't remember much of it--if she tries, she can recall a little after the horrors of Thibodaux, a temperature shift, maybe Pansy yelling at Croaker, but she was barely conscious then. And that was before the medical coma they put her in to stop the damage from the intracranial bleeding.
Mitchell clears his throat, and Althea glances over at him. He's watching her, a speculative look on his face. "She's a good lass, you know." At Althea's frown, he clarifies. "Pansy. Besides, she cares for you. You could do worse."
Althea shakes her head, regretting it immediately when she feels a sharp pain throb through her skull. Her hand flies up to massage her neck, although she's having trouble with her grip. Sometimes her fingers seem to have a mind of their own. She lets her hand slide away. "It's not like that, Dad. She has someone already."
"Does she, now?" Mitchell's keenness, which Althea had missed so during his bouts of drinking, is unnerving now that it's focused on her personal life. "I'm not sure you're right."
"Yes, I am." Althea smoothes the blanket across her knees. "I've already told you about Tony."
"Well, then." There's a rustle of papers as Mitchell turns a page in the Prophet, pretending to be absorbed. "He's certainly not in the picture right now, is he?"
Oh, for Circe's sake, Althea thinks, a bit more irritable than she'd like to admit. She hates it when her father does this, tries to turn his investigative skills on her. And yet, there's a part of her that's missed this, that remembers this as part of her adolescence, her father's pointed probing into things Althea'd rather keep private.
"Could you close the blinds?" Althea asks. "I think I have a headache starting." It's not that bad yet, but she desperately wants to change the subject. Still, just in case the discomfort blossoms into something more painful, she pushes the button next to her bed for a dose of the potions levitating from a bag beside the bed, her hand shaking as she tries to complete the task. It doesn't work. Althea takes a deep breath, focuses, and tries again. This time she is successful, sending the bright purple liquid through the plastic tube into the knobbly back of her trembling hand. She sinks back against the pillows with a sigh of relief.
"As milady commands." Her father sets the paper aside, then stands up and lowers the blind--manual, thank goodness, and not spell-based. It had required special permissions from Saul Croaker himself to allow her father at St Mungos. Althea suspects Pansy'd had a hand in that too.
The ward door opens, and Cyrus, the mediwizard who checks Althea's potions comes in. "Morning, lovely," he says, his voice a bit too cheery for Althea's liking. He has another bag in his hand, this one filled with an almost opaque blue potion. Althea hates this one; even taken intravenously it somehow leaves a metallic taste in the back of her mouth. "Saw you just knocked back a bit more of your pain mix." His gaze flicks towards Mitchell settling the blinds. "Getting a bit of a headache, are we?"
"Maybe the start of one," Althea lies. She watches as Cyrus sets a levitation charm on the bag, then picks up one of the free tubes draped over the top of the other bag and attaches it. A flick of his wand and the new potion starts dripping through, running its way to Althea's taped-up hand.
Cyrus gives her a long look. "Can't have that today, given that you've a visitor signing in with the ward sister."
Althea sits up, a bit too eagerly. "Who?" Anyone at this point would be lovely; Althea loves her father, but there's only so many times he can read her bits and pieces he considers appropriate from the Prophet before she wants to crawl out of bed and run for the door.
"Who do you think?" Cyrus gives her a small smile. "Short, dark-haired, likes to come by at all hours of the day regardless of visitor's hours?"
Althea's heart leaps. That can only be one person, she thinks. Just the one she's been hoping to see.
And sure enough, Pansy comes in alongside one of the other mediwitches, a bustle of colour and energy. She's wearing pink today, a close-fitting cardigan that looks to be cashmere over a grey sheath dress. Her small, elegant feet are in strappy sandals, and Althea supposes she's enjoying the last bits of summer. "Hello! How are my favourite Whitakers today?" Her voice is pitched low, and a thrill surges through Althea when she hears it. Althea scolds herself inwardly. She's got to get this pash under control.
"Told you," Cyrus murmurs, and he gives Althea's shoulder a gentle squeeze before stepping back.
"We're only better for your presence," Mitchell says courteously, and he smiles as Pansy's laugh echoes in the quiet ward.
"Morning." Althea wishes she could laugh as well, but, if she's honest, Pansy leaves her tongue-tied more often than not lately, and it's not the head injury. "Shouldn't you be at the office?"
Pansy pauses, a frown on her face as she studies Althea, her brow furrowed. Her gaze flicks towards Mitchell, and he shrugs ever so slightly. "But, remember? It's Saturday, darling," Pansy says, her voice gentle, then she gives Althea a warm smile, that still has a bit of a wanness to it. "I'm free as a lark!" There's something she's not saying; Althea can hear it in the depths of her voice. But she knows better than to push. If Pansy wants to talk about it, she will.
"She's all yours, Anna," Cyrus says to the mediwitch. "Just took a pain potion, and I've started her on a mixture forty-five for this morning. Mickelson wants to have her on a three-twenty-one by this evening when he does rounds."
Anna nods and notes that down on the pad of parchment she's carrying. Her quill is a bright turquoise with purple dots along the shaft, and when she's done scrawling her note, she tucks it up in her twist of ginger curls. "Right then. Let me at you, Thea. Let's test some of those reflexes today, shall we, love?" She steps in to fuss over Althea.
Pansy and Mitchell move over to the side, the two of their heads bent together. Her father's holding the Prophet in one hand, folded to a specific page, and asking Pansy something in a low voice that Althea can't quite hear. She thinks it's about the Death Eater Registry, but she's not sure. They haven't been talking with her about anything serious yet, and it's beginning to drive her bloody mental. Conversations tire her out after a while, true, but it's not like she's lost the whole of her ability to think.
"Does it hurt when you close your eyes?" Anna asks. She takes out her wand and shines a light in the corner of Althea's vision for the briefest moment, leaning in to study Althea's reaction.
"Not particularly." Althea's head is settling, thanks to the potion. "In fact, it feels a bit better."
"Well, let's see if we can keep you on just one dose of pain potion for a bit, yeah?" Anna smiles at her. "You're looking well to me right now, but I'll check on you in a little bit, and make sure that it's not worse. Ring the bell if anything else happens before your next dose--Cyrus will be back in two hours."
Althea nods her head, wincing only slightly. Still, Anna catches it and gives her a long look. "I'm fine," Althea says. "Just sudden movements, you know?"
"No dancing about the ward for you then," Anna says with a wink, and as she bustles out of the door, Althea settles back against her cushions. The iron bands around her head are easing. Pansy and Mitchell come back to the bedside and sit, her dad in the chair and Pansy at the foot of the bed.
"So what were the two of you talking about?" Althea eyes them both in turn.
"Pansy's been explaining things about the today's paper to me," Mitchell says, thumping the sheets of the Prophet for emphasis. "It is a damn interesting read, although I've the sense that the bloody Daily Mail is more scrupulous about its reporting." His eyes narrow. "And that's saying something."
Althea's all too aware of her father's opinion of the Mail; at best, he considers it a blight to proper journalistic integrity. When he's tied a few on, he calls it a rag not worthy for a rat to shit on. Among other far more scatalogical things.
Pansy snorts. "The Mail's far less gossipy, honestly." She glances over at Althea. "I've been trying to explain Rita Skeeter and her journo ethics to your father."
"Ethics, my arse," Mitchell murmurs, giving the Prophet a good, annoyed shake.
Althea looks between them. "So you wouldn't have been talking about Marchbanks and the legislation Shacklebolt is trying to block?" She gets the words out slowly. "Or maybe the guv. Or Malfoy." She stops, not able to go on past the pained expression on Pansy's face. Whatever's happened since she's been in hospital, it's very bad indeed. Althea sighs and looks away. She pleats her blanket between her fingertips. "I know Malfoy didn't come back with us," she says softly. She meets Pansy's gaze. "Zabini told me that much."
"He wasn't supposed to," Pansy says, but she doesn't look away.
Mitchell reaches over and touches Althea's hand. "We have talked a bit about all of that. I haven't heard the whole story yet about your team, though. Pansy's been waiting until you were better."
Pansy's face is grim, pale. Still, Althea presses on. "I'm better now," she says, doing her best to keep her voice even. "Can you please tell me?" She reaches out her other hand, trembling ever so faintly, and Pansy clasps it for a moment, her fingers warm and firm around Althea's, then she lets go. Althea knows both her father and Pansy are aware of her tremors; neither of them say anything about them. Pansy just brushes her knuckles against the back of Althea's hand, a featherlight touch before she draws away, sits in the chair beside Althea's bed. Mitchell steps away, his arms folded across his chest. He nods at Pansy.
"All right. Fine." Pansy sighs then looks over at Althea and away again. She takes a breath, her shoulder set. "You're right. Draco didn't come back with us. He pushed the guv through the portal instead." She stops, her gaze sliding back to Althea. "Do you remember the portal?"
"Vaguely." Althea closes her eyes for a moment. A wash of cold and fear goes over her; she can almost remember something blue surrounding her, the steady beat of someone's heart against her ear. And pain. So much pain. She has the strength for this, she tells herself. Her eyes flutter open; she looks at Pansy, who's watching her in return, her teeth biting down on her lip. "Where's he now?" She knows the answer to this. There's only one place that he can be, if he didn't come through with the rest of the team.
Pansy presses her fist to her mouth and exhales, a bit unevenly. "We're not sure." Her voice is a bit thin, a bit reedy. "Granger and half the Ministry have been trying to locate him and bring him home on diplomatic grounds, but the new MACUSA brass have him hidden away." Her hand drops; her lips are a thin line. "No one will admit to that, of course. He's just not in their system."
Althea's stomach is a bit queasy. It's about what she expected, to be honest. And none of it good, although she does have faith in Malfoy's ability to survive almost anything. She hopes it's not as grim as Pansy fears, that he's safe somewhere. "And the guv?" She's half-afraid to ask. "I assume he's not taking that well."
"Oh, for the most part he's locked himself away in Grimmauld with an ocean of whisky and very little else except that ill-tempered house elf of his." Pansy's perfectly groomed eyebrows draw together. "Granger says he's barely even speaking to her or Weasley, much less any of us. Most days he comes to work, but usually to shout at Robards and Shacklebolt for not doing anything. To be honest, they're trying. I think it's worse for the guv because his hands are tied. He can't do anything, you know? If he tries to go back--if any of us do--they'll arrest us on sight, and Shacklebolt's forbidden us to even think about trying." Pansy pauses, looks over at Althea. "He's put us on a tight leash. The Unspeakables are tracking our wand signatures and magical traces. They'll know if we leave the country."
Althea's breath catches. "They almost never do that."
Pansy's smile is faint. "They almost never have to deal with an angry Harry Potter, do they?" she asks quietly. "I think that's the worst of it for the guv. He's had his wings clipped, and he doesn't know what to do now." She shakes her head. "None of us do."
That's the hell of it, isn't it, Althea thinks. God only knows what MACUSA's doing with Malfoy, and it's the not knowing that's the worst. "He must be half out of his mind," she murmurs.
"Every so often he comes out of his office, checks on us, sees how we're doing, but Merlin, he looks like shit when he does." Pansy rubs her hand over her face and sits back. She looks tired, Althea thinks. "And then there's the little matter of him randomly setting things on fire again." She crosses her arms, sighs again. "It's worse when he's been drinking. And I know he's keeping a bottle of firewhisky in his desk drawer. I haven't said anything about it. Yet."
"He'll be trying to drink away the pain." Mitchell's voice is thoughtful, and Althea glances over at him. Her father looks sad; he shakes his head. "I know what that's like. I'd be happy to talk to him if you think it would help."
Pansy reaches over, touches Mitchell's arm lightly. "Thank you. It might eventually, but I'm not sure he's there yet. As far as I can tell, Potter's not letting anyone in. Not even his best friends, much less his team."
"Yeah." Mitchell wipes a hand over his face. "It's tough to lose someone. He needs to be angry. But that won't bring them back." He looks over the window, takes a deep breath, and Althea knows he's thinking of her mother. Of everything they've both lost thanks to Aldric sodding Yaxley.
Althea's head is hurting. She closes her eyes. It's all too much, she thinks. She's no idea how much more any of them can bear.
"We've tired you out," Pansy says softly. "Shall I ring for the mediwitch?"
"No," Althea says, her voice a murmur. "Just let me rest for a moment." She reaches out again, takes Pansy's hand. "Stay?"
Pansy's fingers curl around hers. "As long as you need me to."
Althea barely notices when she dozes off to the soft sounds of her father and Pansy whispering, this time about the crossword puzzle. But Pansy's hand is still warm against Althea's, her thumb tracing small circles against Althea's knuckles.
And, heartsore, worried, Althea drifts back into sleep.
They'd argued--not for the first time these past two weeks--Blaise furious this time with Jake for sending his mother to the pub. And Jake knows that had been a risky move, but Olivia Zabini had looked so drawn and so tired that he hadn't been able to lie to her. They'd needed to talk, mother and son, he'd thought, and he suspects from Blaise's anger that he'd been right, even if it hadn't gone well.
Not that Jake knows what it was about. Or where the hell Blaise went afterwards. Blaise wouldn't tell him, and Jake didn't press the matter. He knows Blaise is worried about Malfoy. They all are. Hell, Harry's been looking like a goddamn corpse every time Jake sees him, which hasn't been a hell of a lot lately. Harry's been keeping out of everyone's way these past few days, and that worries Jake even more. The few times he's tried to go over to Grimmauld, he's been rebuffed, either by Kreacher or Harry himself. Still, Jake had managed to leave a curry the last time, sitting on the hearth in its takeaway box, and he hopes Harry managed to get at least a little bit down him. Jake suspects Harry's been drinking most of his meals rather than eating them, judging by how his clothes are hanging off him while, at the same time, his face is bloated from too much whisky.
They're boxing them all in, Jake thinks. All of Seven-Four-Alpha. He knows why. Robards and Croaker are worried they're going to go rogue, try to find Malfoy and break him out. And they're not wrong. Given half a chance, the whole fucking team would.
And Jake would be by their side, the MACUSA warrant for his arrest be damned.
He crosses the road against the light, jogging over the asphalt just before a black taxi whizzes by with a blare of its horn. There's a fair amount of traffic for a Saturday afternoon, but he supposes that's London for you. Jake wonders if Blaise is awake yet. He'd left him curled up in bed, with a glass of water and some paracetamol from Boots on the nightstand. After they'd argued in the wee hours of the morning, Blaise had pressed Jake against the bedroom door and kissed him, rough and angry, and Jake hadn't cared so much about the sour whiff of whisky on Blaise's breath, not when Blaise had reached for Jake's joggers and pushed them down, his hand finding Jake's prick, already half-hard. Jake had let Blaise fuck him, hard and fast, because he'd known that's what Blaise needed right then, to bury himself in someone, to forget whatever it was that he'd tried to drink out of himself.
Afterwards, Jake had wrapped his body around Blaise's and held him, stroking Blaise's shaking back until Blaise finally gave in to sleep. Jake had been up for a hell of a while later, long enough to get the text just before dawn summoning here to Grosvenor Square.
The trees are leafy and green, a shadowed canopy across the grassy park, surrounded on three sides by tall, red brick Georgian terraces. On the fourth sits the white stone and glass facade of the U.S. embassy, a hulking building at Number 24 that takes up most of the west end of the square itself. Jake sees it through the branches as he walks down the narrow paved path crossing from one side of the park to the other, and a faint frisson of fear goes through him. There are Aurors in there, he knows. Hell, he'd once been stationed inside that building for three months, back before he'd gone to Luxembourg and met Harry. Jake doesn't think MACUSA will snatch him from London, not given his current protected status by the British magical government, but better safe than sorry. He shifts his coffee from one hand to the other, making sure he can reach his wand quickly if he needs to. He's not an idiot; he'd wondered if this was a set-up the moment the text had come through. But he's mostly certain it's not.
Then again, maybe Jake's just a damn fool.
He walks up to a bench, sits down. "Hello, Tom," he says, taking a sip of his lukewarm coffee, and the man at the end of the bench folds his copy of the Telegraph and sets it aside, looking over at Jake with a grim smile.
"Jake." Tom Graves is as casual as Jake has ever seen him, dark hair perfectly combed back, dressed in a green polo and khakis, looking quintessentially American. He stands out like a sore thumb here, Jake thinks, but he suspects Graves takes pleasure in that fact. He always was a contrary son of a bitch. "Glad you came."
"You were a little insistent." Jake leans against the wooden-slatted back of the bench, his knees spread wide. He's in jeans and an untucked button-down, the sleeves rolled up nearly to his elbows. It's warm for the start of September, but a faint breeze ruffles the tree branches above them. He looks over at Graves. "How's London treating you and Mel?"
Graves shrugs. "Shacklebolt's been decent. Fast-tracked our request for asylum, so our paperwork just came through yesterday. Also made certain we could get Philip into Hogwarts this year, since Ilvermorny wasn't an option. Mel could have kept him home with her, but we wanted the kids to keep up with their studies."
"The girls?" Jake asks, more out of politeness than anything. "They're not old enough for Hogwarts, are they?"
"Primary school." Graves picks up the paper again, folds it in his hands. It's a nervous habit of his, Jake knows, one that he only indulges when he's distracted. "A No-Maj one for now. Mel wants to make sure they've a good grounding in math and science before they start magical training." He looks over at Jake. "You? I'm guessing the Ministry wants to keep you safe."
Jake shrugs. "Mostly wants to keep me out of Aldric Yaxley's hands, so I guess that's about the same." He turns his coffee cup in his hands, watches a mother walk through the park with her two young sons, one of whom keeps scampering off to chase a rabbit that scampers beneath one of the low hedges that line the street. "I'm good for now." He doesn't mention his worries about money or a job. Graves had told him the danger he was putting himself in before he'd gone to Thibodaux. Jake's lost everything because he chose to.
Still, Graves gives him a sharp look. "If Saul Croaker doesn't bring you on as an Unspeakable, he's a damn idiot."
"Maybe he is." Jake lifts his coffee cup, grimaces as he takes another sip. The Brits are superior in tea, he thinks, but not coffee. He glances at Graves. "But I'm pretty sure you didn't bring me here to ask me how I am." They've never been close enough for that level of concern. If Tom Graves wants to meet, then he wants something specific from Jake, and Jake sure as fuck wants to know what that is.
He sits silently, waiting.
Graves looks out over the park, towards the windows of the embassy, glittering in the early afternoon sunlight. "Did you know," he says after a moment, "that there has been an American diplomatic presence in this square since 1785? John Adams was the first one here. Had a house just down past this park on Brook Street. It's been the beating heart of America in London--Maj and No-Maj--ever since." He glances over at Jake. "Seemed fitting that I ask you to come here today."
Jake rests his coffee between his thighs. He doesn't know what to say. Traffic rumbles behind them, going up Grosvenor Street. He wonders if Blaise has rolled out of bed yet, if he's curious where Jake is. If he even cares this morning. Jake sighs and looks at Graves. "What do you want from me, Tom?"
"We have to do something," Graves says, his voice low, urgent. He turns towards Jake, his arm resting on the back of the bench, his face set, almost bleak. "Aldric Yaxley has to be stopped."
"The Ministry's trying--" Jake starts to say but Graves is already shaking his head.
"They'll go diplomatic routes," Graves says. "They have to. What I'm asking you is something entirely different." He shifts closer, bends his head to Jake's. "We have to bring Samuel Quahog's government down."
Jake stills, breathes out. "Tom, you're asking--"
"I know what I'm asking." The look Graves gives him is sober. "But, like our forefathers said, sometimes 'in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…'" He trails off, the words of the Declaration of Independence hanging between them. "Aldric Yaxley is going to destroy our country, Jake. And then I'm pretty damn certain he's going to try to destroy this one. Bend them both to his will. To whatever mad vision of tyranny he ascribes to. He already owns our government. If you don't think he has people in play here too…" Graves holds up his hands. "We have to stop him."
"How?" Just having this conversation is crazy. Jake knows that. But he also knows that Graves isn't wrong. Aldric Yaxley can't be allowed to continue. And neither can Quahog. Not now that the cup is gone, not now that Rodolphus Lestrange has the ability to create Hallows, to control Death himself.
Jake failed in what he was supposed to do. He walked right into Lestrange's trap, played his hand all goddamn wrong. And now not only is he paying for that, but Seven-Four-Alpha is as well.
And then there's Malfoy. Jake knows Wilkinson wouldn't have taken him to Oudepoort. Not yet. He's offshore somewhere. Maybe Gitmo. Maybe one of the other camps. They'll keep him for as long as they want; Wilkinson will invoke homeland security to make certain of that. And they'll torture him. Try to break his mind, to bend his will to theirs, to destroy him until he's a fragile shell of the man he once was.
He wouldn't have been there to be caught if it weren't for Jake. And Jake damn well knows he owes it to Malfoy to do anything, everything he can to get him home again. Back to his friends. Back to his family. Back to Harry.
Graves looks away, his gaze drifting towards the embassy. "I haven't quite figured the hows out yet," he says. "But I know if anyone can bring down MACUSA, it's you and me, kid." He glances back at Jake, his mouth quirking up on one side. "So what do you say? Feel up for a bit of treason?"
"They'll kill us if we're caught." Jake gives him an even look. "You've got Mel and the kids to worry about--"
"Mel's behind this a hundred percent." Graves shrugs, rubs his palm over his chin. It's stubbled, almost as if he hasn't used a shaving charm today. It's not like him, Jake thinks, and he wonders how difficult these past few weeks have been for Graves and his family, leaving behind everything they had in New York, overnight. Jake hadn't expected it of him. Not really. "We've talked about it, the two of us. She's on board."
"Even if it works," Jake says slowly, "we've no guarantee we'll be able to go home. You could end up exiled--"
Graves just watches him. "London's a nice enough city," he says. "Not as great as New York, sure, and the pizza sucks, but I wouldn't say the kids will suffer." He pauses, looks out across the park, then adds, "Except for the pizza bit. Goddamn, I'm going to miss Di Fara's pies."
Jake breathes out. He leans forward, his elbows on his knees, studying the ground. There's a smashed acorn beneath his shoe; he moves his foot, grinds the fragments into the soil with his heel. "Jesus," he murmurs. "This is a big ask, Tom."
"Treason usually is." Graves' voice is steady, calm. He's thought about this, Jake realises. "But it's our duty." He rests a hand on Jake's back. It's warm. Almost comforting. "You love MACUSA, probably as much as I do. But the part of it we loved? It's disappearing. Aldric Yaxley and those jackasses he's mobilised are destroying it. They have been for years, I'd say, and if we don't want it gone forever…" Graves moves his hand, holds it palm up, before snapping his fingers. "Mel and I can't do this alone."
Jake nods. He doesn't know what else to do.
Graves stands up. "Think about it. If you're in, you know how to text me." He touches Jake's shoulder. "Some moments call for strong men, Jake Durant. I think you're one of them."
And then he's walking away, stopping only to throw the Telegraph in the nearest trash bin. Jake watches him, his thoughts in turmoil. He doesn't know if he's brave enough to do this. He doesn't know if he wants to. He's already given up so much. His family. His brother.
Maybe even his lover.
Jake exhales, his shoulders tight, aching.
His phone vibrates in his pocket. He digs it out, opens it up without looking at the number. "Durant," he says.
"You left me alone." Blaise sounds petulant. Sleepy.
Jake leans back against the bench. "I thought you needed to rest, and I wanted a walk." He hesitates at the lie, then says, "Are you all right?"
There's a long silence.
"Blaise." Jake wants him to talk, wants Blaise to tell him what's happened. What's upset him.
"Just come home," Blaise says after a moment, and his voice cracks over the phone line. "I need you."
That's all Jake needs to hear. "Five minutes," he promises, and when Blaise hangs up, Jake closes his phone slowly.
He sits quietly, his gaze fixed on the embassy in front of him, his heart thudding in his chest, thinking about what Tom Graves said. But Jake knows what he's going to do. What he has to do.
A flip of his phone open, and he's texting, his thumb moving over the number pad quickly. I'm in. He hesitates, closes his eyes.
Jake hits send.
He catches a glimpse of the stars and stripes unfurling in the breeze, red and white and blue through the bright green tree leaves. He'd fought for that flag with the Hit Wizards. He touches his bicep, his fingers skimming the cotton of his shirt, just over the faded tattoo that's still there, the winged horse with the lightning bolt in its mouth, Atlanta 157 just beneath it. He'd had friends who'd died for their country, and now Jake was going to bring it down. To destroy it.
Not because he wants to, but because he has no other choice.
"I'm sorry," Jake whispers, his voice cracking as he does, and to whom, he's not certain. But he stands, his gaze still fixed on the flag. "I'm so goddamn sorry."
He turns around and walks away.
And so Harry drinks.
He hadn't meant to. Not at first. He'd tried everything he could the days after their return. He'd screamed; he'd shouted; he'd shown up at the fucking MACUSA embassy. He'd even firecalled everyone in Luxembourg he could think of.
But MACUSA held firm in its refusal to confirm that it held Draco. Which can only mean they have him in one of those prisons they aren't supposed to have, the ones that the ICW has censored them for, even if the fucking bastards won't move against Quahog and his government. That's exactly what Aldric Yaxley wants; Harry's sure of that.
The nightmares came first, before the whisky. Dreams of Draco being hurt, beaten, his body pushed to its limits. And for what fucking reason? Even Harry knows they won't break him. If Voldemort hadn't, Yaxley won't be able to. Besides, torture never gets proper information. There's been study after study done on those lines, from Muggles and wizards alike. So whatever MACUSA or Yaxley or whomever is doing to Draco, it's because the sick fuckers like it, Harry thinks.
On the second night of nightmares, Harry'd taken a dose of dreamless sleep. He'd still woken up, screaming, his whole body shaking with an imagined pain.
He'd opened up the bottle of firewhisky the fourth night, trying to drink himself into not dreaming. It'd worked, and one nightcap had turned into twenty. Now Harry drinks because he can't bear the memory of the dreams and their pain, can't bear the silence of Grimmauld, can't bear its emptiness, its coldness, its shadowed grief that only weighs more heavily on Harry, suffocating him in his own anguish. And now he wakes up and he drinks because he's overwhelmed by the thought of facing another day helpless, unable to push through the diplomatic lies and bureaucratic red tape that are keeping Draco hidden away Merlin only knows where. He keeps a bottle hidden in his office, locked in the bottom drawer of his desk because he has to calm himself after meetings, numb the anger that's building up until it lashes out, setting whatever's in its path aflame.
At first, it was all rage. Harry'd nearly set several senior officials' offices ablaze--Croaker's and Gawain's--before he lost it in Kingsley's office and caused an evacuation of the building. He hasn't been able to control his magic since, and if he's honest, he's not really trying. He's enjoying frightening them, making them afraid of him. He knows it's foolish. Draco would shout at him if he were here with him and then take Harry to bed and fuck him until Harry was limp, sated, the anger settling, easing with his body's release. And Harry would lie there afterwards, wrapped around Draco, the fight going out of him.
Harry has to get Draco back.
It's harder and harder to control himself now. He can feel it surging in his blood, and when he's alone, he takes off his shirt, and stares down at the ink that twists across his arm, the words that still churn across his skin in Latin and Greek, French and German and other languages Harry doesn't recognise, words of power and protection, ancient words that thrum through Harry, coil around his magic, make it stronger, more powerful than it's ever been before.
Harry's terrified by the way they make him feel. By the fact that with a snap of his fingers, still half-pissed and barely focussed, he can Summon a bottle from across the room, wandless. He hardly uses it now; for the past two days his wand's lain untouched, half-rolled beneath one of the sofas in the library where he'd kicked it. Harry's magic roils and wells up inside of him, and he drinks again to keep it pushed down, to hide it, to keep others from noticing how strong he is. Not even Hermione's seen the marks on his arm; Harry can't tell her. Won't tell her. He keeps his sleeves rolled down, the cuffs tightly buttoned, and he knows now how Draco felt before, how afraid he'd been of the others seeing his Mark, judging him for it.
The ink burns sometimes, hot and sharp, like a thousand tiny needles pressing into his flesh, forcing Harry to remember it's there, just beneath his skin. He wonders if it's a warning, reminding him of a promise he never intended to make, a responsibility Harry never wanted to take on.
A failure Harry had allowed to happen.
He drinks more to ease the pain, and he stays silent, telling no one about the magic that's seeping from him, that's becoming harder and harder to control as it's bottled up inside of him, angry and wild, setting Harry aflame from the inside until he picks the bottle up again to quench it as best he can. And still the magic rears up sometimes, colliding with the magic of the house itself. Glasses have exploded when Harry touches them, the shards slicing open Harry's fingers. Mirrors shattered, books thrown from the bookcases to the floor. The magic had sent Kreacher flying across the room once when Harry had walked past, nearly concussing the elderly elf. Harry orders Kreacher to stay away now, to leave Harry alone in whatever room he's in. And Harry's stopped letting his friends come by to see him, worried that he'll hurt them without thinking if he's upset. The only thing he knows to do is to keep himself apart from the others, to protect them from himself the only way possible. Work's almost impossible; Harry holes himself up in his office, leaves the moment he feels the magic start to shift once more, the moment the whisky stops keeping it at bay.
Harry knows Gawain will probably discipline him formally soon, and he could care less. He'll just drink more after he's dismissed.
And still nothing takes the pain away. Not completely. It dampens it, keeps it in check, but Harry's still in agony, still lost, adrift. He keeps expecting Draco to walk through the door, to Floo, to firecall. Harry hears Draco whisper to him in his sleep, sees him just outside of his peripheral vision, expects him over his shoulder at any moment. Every morning Harry wakes up alone in their bed, cradling Draco's pillow to him, his face wet with tears, his heart aching. Empty.
He has to accept that Draco probably isn't coming home. Not soon, anyway. Harry doesn't think the Americans will kill him, but then again, they've done worse. To them, Draco's just a Death Eater, a liability, an expendable pawn in a long, long chain of cruelty. At best, they'll hide him away, keep him locked up for as long as they want. Everyone knows what can happen in a power struggle, and there's no reason for MACUSA to save Draco. Not if it means going against Aldric Yaxley. Alma and Martine are helping as they can from inside MACUSA, but there's only so much they can do without putting themselves in danger. The last time Martine had rung Jake up, there'd been the obvious click of a wiretap charm on the line. Wilkinson's doing most likely, and that's cut off any contact with the few allies they might have at MACUSA. And if even Hermione can't figure out where Draco's gone, no one else on the British side is going to be any help at getting him back. Not Croaker, not Gawain, not Kingsley.
Not even Harry.
And the shit of it is, Draco means everything to Harry. Harry can't think properly without him, can't order his life. He knows it's mental; he knows he should probably be committed to the Thickey Ward at this point, but he has to keep trying to function. To pretend he can do something. To keep getting up and going in to rage, even if it's futile.
But Draco's not here. And if he's not coming home, if the Ministry leaves him lingering in some illegal American prison camp, Harry's going to burn down all of goddamned magical London and then some.
Harry's stomach growls, but he just takes another swig of his watery firewhisky. He doesn't care about food. All it does is take space in his belly better filled by Ogden's.
There's a scampering in the wall behind Harry's head. Probably a fucking Doxy. Grimmauld's gone to shit; it looks worse than when Sirius had just come back. The house is gloomy, mopey even. There are layers of dust and grime on every possible surface, the windows are streaked with dirt, and even the unused rooms look unkempt. Kreacher's doing his best, trying to fight back the magical decay; Harry can hear him whinging in the hallway even now as he mops down the landing. Still, the stairs are creaky and filthy, the hot water's cold and the cold water's hot, there's some odd smell in the library Harry doesn't want to investigate, and the Floo keeps sparking for no reason at all.
It's pretty much how Harry feels too. He's oddly touched that the house is unhappy. At least they can wallow together.
Harry pushes himself up into a sitting position, his back aching. He looks down at his half-empty glass. Perhaps he should eat something, not because it'll keep him from passing out--which is the only way he sleeps now--but because he'll be more functional in the morning if he's at least some food in him. Harry looks around for something edible within easy reach. Kreacher's been leaving sandwiches and crisps in some of the rooms in the hopes that Harry will eat them. Not that Harry does, of course, which means there's nothing now. Kreacher must have given up on that.
Ah, well. Comfort is overrated, Harry thinks, and he lifts his glass to his mouth again. Besides, it's Saturday. No need to be functional until fucking Monday at the earliest.
There's a rattle in the Floo, and Harry eyes it unhappily, hoping the wards hold. Last time, it was Ron, coming to make sure Harry kept down the bowl of chicken soup he'd brought over whilst warning Harry about not taking any potions when he's drinking. Not that Harry would. He's mental, but he's not that desperate. Not yet at least. And when Ron had started chiding Harry about going to see his Mind Healer again, Harry'd just put the spoon back in the bowl and, as politely as he could, pushed Ron back into the Floo, slamming the wards shut behind him. No one else has come through since.
Harry knows he should firecall Freddie, but he's barely been able to get himself to work, much less anything else. And he's not able to leave England, so there's that. Hard to go to Paris for a Mind Healing session if you can't pop across the Channel without the whole of the Auror force coming after you. It's a good excuse, Harry thinks.
Of course, Ron's right. Harry's absolutely avoiding his feelings, but damn it, they're his to avoid. Besides, he's coping with losing his Draco, and, all things considered, Harry thinks he has every sodding right to be dysfunctional right now.
Nothing he's lost in his life was ever like this.
Everything has always been like this.
There's a heavy rap at the front door, loud and booming in the silence of the house. Harry hears Kreacher's gruff tones and then nothing more. Harry knows that Kreacher's been turning most everyone away, and he's oddly grateful to the crotchety old elf. His sneaky attempts to get food into Harry has been a lost cause, but Harry does appreciate the effort. He reaches for the bottle of Ogden's on the floor and pours another finger of whisky before settling back into the corner of the sofa. Fuck it. He might as well sleep here.
A cleaning spell zings up the staircase, slamming the library doors open, pulling the curtains back to let the last little bits of evening sunlight fill the room. Harry pauses, his glass halfway to his mouth. The library actually brightens up, which means the house is cooperating too. Harry sets his glass down on the sidetable with a frown. There's a light tread on the front stair. Harry turns on the sofa, waiting to see who's idiot enough to brave the Gryffindor lion's den now. Perhaps Parkinson, or even Zabini. The house doesn't give a shit about impressing Harry's friends.
The last person Harry expects to appear in his library is Narcissa Malfoy. She stands tall and elegant in the entrance, wearing a tailored black dress and a light cloak that she slides off her shoulders, draping it over her arm as she looks around the room, taking in the dust mites dancing in the air and the griminess of the window panes. Her hair is pulled back in a loose chignon at her neck, and she looks so much like her son that Harry's heart rips open with a grief that nearly doubles him over, his arms wrapped around one of the cushions Draco had conjured for the sofa just days before they'd left for Thibodaux.
"Oh, dear," Narcissa says mildly, setting her cloak on the seat of a needlepoint chair. "This is far worse than I thought."
She raises a wand, and with one quick sweep of it through the air, the library is clean, papers sorted into neat piles, and books back on the shelves. Her nose wrinkles and after another flick of her wand, the room smells almost like the ocean, a clean salt smell wafting across the space. "Not optimal," Narcissa says. "But better." She walks over to the sofa, and, after a quick zap of the cushions tossed across the tufted leather raises and vanishes a cloud of dust, she sits down next to Harry. "Hello, my dear." She reaches out, smoothes Harry's hair back from his forehead. "You look terrible."
Looking at her face, Harry is reminded that she's just lost her husband and had her son disappear in one month. Her blue eyes are bright and determined, her pointed chin firm. "Mrs Malfoy," he manages to get out, and then something deep inside of him crumples, gives way, and the tears Harry's been keeping back for days overflow, spilling down his cheeks, hot and angry.
And then Narcissa's pulling him against her, holding Harry close as she strokes his back, lets him cry against the soft cotton of her black dress. Harry hates himself for his weakness, but there's something about Narcissa's gentle touch, her soft murmurs in his ear, the faint scent of lilies on her skin. His sobs are loud and raspy in his ear, uncontrollable, and Harry tries so hard to keep them back.
"Don't, darling," Narcissa whispers. "Let it all go."
In the safety of her arms, Harry does. He lets himself fall apart, lets himself feel the grief he's been holding back, lets it rise up over the anger and the fear, lets the storm of anguish roll over him until he's spent and exhausted, lying against Narcissa Malfoy's breast, her fingers smoothing through his thick hair. This is what it's like to have a mother, Harry realises, to have someone there who will hold you through moments like this, who will let you feel feelings that are otherwise too terrifying to face. He draws in a ragged, uneven breath, the steady rhythm of Narcissa's heartbeat comforting, calming him. She brushes a soft kiss across the top of his head, and Harry closes his eyes, a calmness settling over him, if only for a moment.
And then Narcissa touches his cheek, ever so gently. "Harry, I'm sorry." Her voice is soft, barely a whisper; her breath is warm and sweet against his skin.
Harry almost laughs. He's silent, and then he sighs. "Why should you be sorry? I'm so sorry that he's-- That I--" He can't get the words out. They stick in his throat like toffee.
Narcissa's hand settles on Harry's back. "That what? That you brought Draco on a mission, that he was an Unspeakable, that he's been captured by a bad sort?"
All of those, yes, Harry wants to say. "That I couldn't protect him," he whispers finally. He squeezes his eyes shut, tries to keep back the burn of more tears. He draws in a slow, uneven breath, his lungs aching at the effort.
"Rubbish." Narcissa's voice is unsentimental. Flat even. Harry pulls away from her, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes. She watches him, her face calm. "Draco never needed you to protect him. He's perfectly capable of doing do himself. My son chose to put himself on a dangerous mission because, like you, he believed in it. He's good at what he does, Harry. He wouldn't have made Sergeant if he hadn't been. And he has always been proud that he was an Auror. Proud also that he became an Unspeakable. This is his career. His decision. Not yours. I'm terribly afraid you've nothing for which to be apologetic."
Harry blinks at her, his eyes scratchy and hot, his repetitive self-pity narrative grinding to a halt. "But I could have stopped him. I should have!" He's replayed that moment in his mind, Draco running towards him, shouting at him, asking Harry if he loved him. Harry should have grabbed Draco, should have used the force of Draco's shove to pull them both through the portal before it closed. He thinks it would have worked, no matter what Hermione says about the physics of it being impossible without severing Draco's legs. His throat aches. "I should have," he says, his voice catching. He wants to believe it so bloody badly, wants to believe that this wasn't some random twist of fate, that if only Harry could have been quicker, cleverer, something, Draco would be sat beside him right now. They would have been planning their life together. He wouldn't be here, drinking alone.
"Oh, please. The hell you could have." Narcissa smiles, thinly, the half-curve of her lips so very like Draco's. Between that and the unexpectedness of her swearing, Harry's rather unnerved. She looks at him and sighs. "Draco is as stubborn as you. That's why you're so well matched." She touches Harry's hand. "And I know my son. Possibly better than you do," she says, a tinge of amusement behind the pain in her voice. "And from what I understand, he did what he did because he wanted you safe. He loves you, Harry. In a way I've never seen Draco love anyone else. My son has always been careful with his affections, unwilling to put his heart on the line. Until you, until this summer."
Harry can barely breathe. "I love him," he manages to get out. "I can't imagine going on without him."
"You will." Narcissa's fingers curl around Harry's. She looks down at their joined hands. "As best you can." He knows she's thinking about her husband, knows that the shiver of grief that crosses her face is for not only her son but Lucius as well. "It won't be easy, but you'll stand on your own two feet, with none of this relying on firewhisky any longer." She gives him a sharp look. "Draco would be most displeased if he knew about that."
"I know." Harry nods slowly, uncertain. He's more than a bit drunk, but Narcissa Malfoy is trying to make him feel better, and that's something Harry never thought would happen in his life. "But it's just that I can't do anything." Harry's throat is tight, almost as if he can't breathe with the panic that's still rising up in him now that his grief is receding. "I don't know where he is."
Narcissa smoothes Harry's fringe back from his face. "Yes." Her eyes are sad, the lines around her mouth deep with worry. "It looks very bad right now. But I do believe he's alive, Harry. Draco wouldn't have the audacity to die on either of us at the moment, I can assure you that."
Harry wishes he had her certainty. He closes his eyes for a moment, feels the soft warmth of her touch on his skin. He tries to breathe, tries to push against the constriction in his chest. "He was going to move in here, you know," Harry says finally. His heart hurts so badly. "We'd talked about it. We were going to tell everyone, to be official about all of…' His eyes flutter open. He looks around the library, takes in the small little touches of Draco that are still there. The cushions. The way a stack of old books are arranged on one corner of the mantel. The silver vase on the sideboard that Draco had insisted Kreacher fill with flowers from the garden, now empty. "All of this."
"I will admit to having my reservations about the two of you at first." Narcissa's studying him, a tendril of her pale blonde hair brushing her cheek. "But the two of you are good for each other, and I'm happy for you both, that you found one another." She tilts her head, sighs softly. "You're mine as well now, Harry. I hope you know that. My son chose you, and that's all I need to know. I'm here whenever you need me."
"Thank you," Harry manages to say. He lays his hand over Narcissa's. "That goes both ways, you know."
Narcissa squeezes his fingers quickly, then eyes him. "Well. I must say Draco would never forgive me if I let you sink into this sort of squalour. I can't let him return to you like this." She hesitates, then lifts her chin. "And if he's not coming back, well, he'd haunt us both for this sort of untidy maudlinity, wouldn't he?" She tries to smile, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. Harry knows, whatever she might say, she's as worried about Draco's safety as he is. "Besides, we'll need to get back at those American bastards who took him. So either way, there's no time to waste." She stands, runs her hands over her skirt to smooth out the wrinkles Harry'd left in the cotton. "Now up with you! I've had my elves make dinner--Kreacher's warming it right now, and I won't hear of you not eating it, do I make myself clear?"
All Harry can do is nod.
"Good." Narcissa pulls a small phial from her pocket, pressing into Harry's hand. It's a sobering potion, and he glances up at her in surprise. She gives him an even look in return. "You don't think Kreacher's told me exactly what's going on in this house? Darling, I'm a Black, and I'm Draco's mother. Both Kreacher and I have indulged your drinking long enough. Take this, go take a shower, and join me in the dining room in half an hour. Properly dressed, please."
With her hand under his elbow, Harry stands. As he does, his sleeve rides up, revealing the edges of the ink on his forearm. Narcissa stills, looking at it. "Oh," she says, and her gaze flicks over to Harry.
Harry pulls his cuff down. "It's nothing." He tries to turn away, but Narcissa catches his elbow.
"It's a charm, Harry." Her face is worried. "And not a pleasant one from what I can tell."
Harry doesn't know what to say, so he just looks at her.
Narcissa's silent for a moment, and then she shakes her head. "We'll talk about over dinner. Sober yourself up first."
And Harry doesn't argue. He takes the potion with Narcissa watching, handing her back the empty phial. The potion is stronger than anything he's ever taken; it kicks in almost immediately, making him gasp and cough, the force of it bending him over. For a moment he thinks he might sick up, and then his stomach settles a little. He inhales, his head clearing. It's almost as if his magic knows Narcissa, almost as if it responds to her in a way it could never to anyone else, except Draco.
"Better?" Narcissa asks, and Harry nods again, still too queasy to object. "To the bath then."
As Harry goes up the staircase, he can hear Narcissa on the landing, ordering Kreacher about and casting spells.
Really, Harry knows he should resent the intrusion, but he doesn't. In fact, he's profoundly grateful. For the first time in two weeks, Harry feels grounded.The raging beast of his anger and fear recedes, and he makes his way up the stairs to get ready for dinner. He thinks Draco might just be proud of him, if he were here.
Harry just wishes he was.
Draco sputters and chokes, his body jerking in its bonds. Just before his mind starts to fuzz, he feels himself being pulled upright again, and he's coughing, his throat raw and aching. He can hear the guards moving around him, hear their murmurs. There are at least two of them, Draco's certain of that. Maybe more.
His stomach rumbles. He doesn't know how long it's been since he's eaten. They'd given him something the night before he thinks. Time tends to curve around him here. It'd been bread soaked in milk, soggy and vile, but it'd been food and he'd choked it down, still surrounded by the shadows in his cell.
No one's told him what they want from him through any of this. Draco thinks they're enjoying his torment. He remembers from Auror training that this sort of prisoner mistreatment never works, not the way proponents think it should. They're not breaking his will here, no matter what they've tried; Draco's more determined to resist than ever, just to infuriate the wankers. He won't give them the satisfaction of seeing him fall apart, whatever they may try to do to him. All he has to do is close his eyes, think of Harry standing in the hallway of Grimmauld Place, remember their life together. It calms him, centres him, gives him the strength to carry on. Draco can lose himself in that quiet place, wrap himself in memories of Harry, treasured gems that he pulls from compartments in his mind, holds open in his palms, watching them play out. They fill him with warmth, with happiness. With peace.
Harry will help him survive this. He already has.
The hood's pulled off Draco's head. It scratches his cheek, the wet burlap coarse against his skin. Draco blinks against the gloom of his cell, the deep shadows that hide its corners. It's a large room; he's figured that out by pacing the walls, trailing his hand along the rough brickwork. Each corner takes him a hundred and twenty steps, and on the farther wall the door's halfway from one corner to the next, its broad length slick and smooth against his fingertips. There's no knob, no way of opening it from the inside of the room.
"Give him space," a woman's voice says. Draco's heard it before, earlier. He turns his head, his vision blurred. He blinks, and it clears a bit. He thinks he sees her, a pale face in the dimness.
The shadows fall back; Draco can feel the guards hands on him, loosening the leather straps binding him to the board. When he's free, he takes a step forward, then his knees give out, and he falls to the floor. He's breathing hard, his lungs burning with each expansion. He hears the soft tap of heels against the floor's flagstones, and then he catches a faint whiff of perfume again, light and floral. The woman squats beside him; Draco looks up at her, takes in her sky blue suit, the long, pale curve of her calf. Her hair is brown, greying at the temples, and she wears it twisted back at her nape. She looks remarkably like Althea, Draco thinks, except her eyes are a deep blue. They're extraordinary, really, like the velvet of the sky on a summer night, and Draco's caught by them, looking into their depths before he can stop himself.
"You know who I am," the woman says with a faint smile.
Draco shakes his head. He can feel her amusement, and he pushes just a little bit with his mind, trying to pull more from her.
"I'd rather you not." She turns her head, breaking Draco's tenuous connection. "That's rather rude, Mr Malfoy."
"Unspeakable Malfoy," Draco manages to say. His voice sounds raw, raspy.
The woman inclines her head ever so slightly. "My apologies." She studies him out of the corner of her eye. "You know my father," she says. "And my son." Her laugh is soft, warmer than Draco expects. "You've met them both, I believe, at one time or another."
Draco's head hurts. He looks at her, almost uncertainly, before he understands. "Astrid Harkaway."
"Or Yaxley, whichever you prefer." Astrid's smile is tight and cool. "I am in the process of separating from my current husband, after all." She clicks her tongue lightly. "Armand wasn't as supportive of Les as I'd have wanted him to be, but I suppose it's more difficult for a certain type of man to be a father figure to a child not his own."
"Sounds like a twat," Draco says. His lips hurt; the scabs over them break, and he can taste blood.
Astrid looks pleased. "My thoughts exactly. Although perhaps I might have worded it less vulgarly." She watches him, and Draco's struck by how much Yaxley Althea must have in her through her mother. The way Astrid's eyeing him reminds him so much of the Whitaker he'd known before she joined Seven-Four-Alpha: wary and with a certain amount of disdain. "I understand Roddy's explained Les's connection to your family."
"As a bastard? Yes." Draco expects Astrid to bristle, but she doesn't. Instead she shrugs.
"The kings of England had bastard sons who went on to rule the country in their own ways," Astrid says, her voice even. "I expect the same from my son. I named him after his father, you know. Lestrange Harkaway, but neither Father or Armand would let me be so blatant publicly about his parentage." She looks a bit miffed. "Particularly given the troubles in Britain at the time. So I settled for Les, and when he was old enough, I told him the truth."
Draco can only imagine how well that went down. "Let him know that his shit of a sperm donor was locked up in prison, did you? Seems like blood runs true in that regard."
Astrid just laughs. "Charming, aren't you, Unspeakable?" She leans forward, her face mere inches from his. Draco wonders if he has the strength to fight her, if he could take her down, get past the guards, make his way out of wherever the hell they've hidden him away. "My son's proud of his father," she says quietly. "Unlike others I could name who caused their own father's death."
And that stabs Draco deeper than any physical wound she could have given him. He looks away, his mouth tightening.
"You fascinate me, you know." Astrid looks at him, her face curious. "They haven't broken you with anything they've done for the past fortnight."
Draco glances back at her in surprise. "Fortnight?" Has it been that long? His stomach twists; Harry will be frantic, Draco knows. Unease rolls through him, his anxiety welling up at the thought of Harry trying to find him, being unable to. That tight band of panic constricts his chest again for the first time since he's been here. He doesn't care about himself, about what he's going through. He's worried about Harry. The Gryffindor prat must be beside himself; Draco only hopes he hasn't done anything terribly idiotic yet, hopes that Granger and Pansy can keep Harry calm, keep him focussed.
Astrid's mouth twitches to one side. "You wouldn't know, of course. Not with the charms they've placed around you. They're meant to disorient, to keep you unsettled. Rather effective, I'd say." Her gaze is cool as it sweeps across him. "But yes, a fortnight, and you're still resisting. I knew you were strong, but this mental fortitude of yours is beyond anything I've seen before. Very impressive, and something my father's most interested in when it comes to you."
"Like I give a fucking shit what your father thinks." Draco lets his belligerence spill out. It covers the way his heart's pounding, the fear that's rising up along with the bile in his belly when he thinks of Harry now.
"But you should." Astrid touches his jaw, turning his head into the faint bit of light. Draco winces. "Poor thing. They have been cruel to you here, haven't they? Mr Wilkinson is a bit of a sadist, I'm afraid."
Draco jerks away; the rush of pain that twists through his head takes his breath. He tries to hide it, but he knows she sees. "I'm fine."
Astrid's groomed eyebrows go up. "Liar." Another wave of amusement rolls off her, tweaking the edges of Draco's mind. "You're a talented neuromancer, you know. One of the best I've encountered, and with such little training. You could be of great use to us, and my father's very willing to reward his tools." Her knuckles graze his cheek; her eyes gleam with a fervency that Draco hasn't seen in years. It terrifies him if he's honest. "After all, it's not as if your family hasn't believed in our cause before. Nor are you without blood on your hands, little dragon."
"I've paid for that," Draco says, his voice low. "I won't--"
"You will." Astrid's fingers catch his chin, her nails digging into the soft flesh of his throat as she pushes his head back. The pain throbs; Draco grits his teeth, trying to resist. "One day." She lets his jaw go.
Draco nearly falls backwards, catching himself on one arm, his wrist wrenching painfully behind him. "Fuck you," he says, and he doesn't give a damn what she might think.
Astrid stands. She glances over at the guards, lurking in the shadows. "I want him ready for transport," she says, and there's a coldness to her voice that wasn't there before. She looks back down at Draco, and she smiles, thin and tight. "I understand MACUSA plans to host you for quite some time, Unspeakable Malfoy. Perhaps you'll be more comfortable in Oudepoort than here." She steps backwards, the shadows swirling around her again. "Consider it my gift to you. A welcoming, if you will."
Hands reach for Draco, grabbing him, pulling him to his feet. He hangs, almost limply between the two guards, as an Incarcerous wraps around him, holding him tighter than Wilkinson's Lamia had days ago--weeks ago--Draco doesn't know.
A heavy grimness settles over him. He's alive, at least, and if he's in Oudepoort he can get a message to Harry. Somehow. He'll pay whatever it requires. Draco just needs Harry to know he's here. He's alive. He'll survive whatever comes his way as long as he knows his Harry's safe.
Draco can only hope he is.