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Always Something

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One

Pollux Timothy Granger Malfoy came coughing and fuming out of the Floo in The Malfoy Institute for Magical Memory Intervention. His sister came crashing behind him, her face green with firelight and then grey with soot, like Paul knew his own must be.

He beat his dusty clothes with his hands. “Dammit Castora, give me a second to clear the hearth before you knock me over coming through yourself.”

His mother heard his coarse language, but instead of scolding him, she turned on his father. “Do you hear yourself, Malfoy? Do you hear your own filthy mouth talking through that sweet boy?”

Paul was sixteen years old, home from Hogwarts for Easter break, and far more than old enough to bristle at being called a sweet boy. He and Castora were hearing their mother’s voice from beyond the ceiling-high bookcase that divided the library section from the laboratory section of the institute’s large main room, but they couldn’t see her. They couldn’t see their father either but knew he must be there for their mother to scold, though she had already left off doing that and was now giggling, nearly squealing, still hidden behind the bookcase-- her laugh doubtless more of the work of their father’s filthy mouth.

Paul faked a loud retch. “For the love of Salazar. We are leaving.”

“No, you’re not,” Draco Malfoy called, coming into view around the end of the bookcase. “Come through.”

“Dad!” Castora chirped, hopping forward to meet him.

Draco caught her, smoothing the frizzy hair on the crown of her head with his palm. “Cassie-cat has come along too, has she?”

Paul sneered. “Yes, always. Still a complete baby about being left home alone, even at her age.”

“Enough,” Hermione said. “Let’s have your worksheet, Paulie.”

He held the paper over her head. “Alright, but you’re not supposed to just fill it out for me, Mum.”

“I won’t,” she said, grabbing at her son’s homework all the same. The Ministry of Magic couldn’t be swollen with any more employees so Hogwarts had added mandatory career development and counseling to its program to try to diversify the dream jobs of their graduates. In Paul’s year, it meant job-shadowing an adult established in their field. In order to do that, he had to interact with adults who weren’t teachers. His Malfoy grandparents didn’t have jobs and the dentist Grangers -- well, that was no good. It meant he was forced to come here, to the strange but prestigious laboratory his parents founded just before he was born to research the effects of magic on memory -- something inspired by a mishap with his Muggle grandparents during the war, and his parents’ tabloid love story, and who cares…

It’s true that they did indeed do important work for wizarding society, the flashiest bit of which was when they restored Guilderoy Lockhart’s memory. Unfortunately, it got him writing again. "Manglings of Memories" did, of course, go on at length about Paul’s parents’ work. Paul himself even makes an appearance in the book, on page 94, as a pudgy baby in a play-yard in a corner of his parents’ first, much smaller laboratory. Everyone’s read it. Everyone has Lockhart's phrase “cherubic cheeks” come into their minds, and sometimes, out of their mouths when they meet Pollux Malfoy.

His mother was about to accio his worksheet anyway so he gave up tussling with her, relinquishing his homework, groaning and turning his back to all of them. “This is so embarrassing.”

Hermione felt her neck. Had Draco left a mark just now?

It wasn’t what Paul meant. “No one else from school is reporting on their parents’ careers for this assignment. They’ve all got other adults they can use, so they don’t look quite so pathetic tagging along with mummie and daddy.”

“Oi,” Draco said. “Your mother is a war hero -- golden trio, Gryffindor princess, brightest witch of -- “

“Ages ago,” Paul finished.

Hermione held a hand against Draco’s chest to stop him as he exaggerated preparing to take a step forward.

“Enough, I said,” she interjected. “Honestly, Paul, mind your father. Obviously, since we’re both our parents’ only children we couldn’t get you any cool aunts or uncles, but that’s hardly anyone’s fault.”

“What about friends?” Paul pressed. “Mum, you’re always talking about friends from old times. And we go to those huge parties full of Dad’s people every Christmas at the Manor. But where are your actual friends right now? Harry Potter this, Harry Potter that, but does he ever come ‘round?”

Hermione and Draco’s eyes met, and they looked almost sad enough to make Paul feel almost sorry. Hermione spoke. “Married life is busy, and complicated. Friends drift out of each other’s daily lives. Their lives fill up with their own families. Even under the very best of circumstances, they lose touch over time and over,” she looked away from her husband, “over choices. But,” she brightened, “your father is from a very old family. Every wizard you know must be related to your father somehow.”

“No, they’re not,” Paul and Draco said, in unison.

Cassie and Hermione laughed. Draco was smirking too, knowing nothing subdued Paul like these moments where he could not deny he was, in many ways, very much like the father he worked to distance himself from at every turn. He took Paul’s worksheet from Hermione, skimming the instructions.

“Look it doesn’t have to be me or your mother. Everyone else is gone for the day but if you come back tomorrow, early, we can pair you up with someone who works here who isn’t us and you can tail them. How’s that?”

“They wouldn’t mind?”

“Doesn’t matter. If I ask them to show you around for the morning, they’ll do it. Will that do for you, Master Pollux? Can that be the end of your complaining for today?”

Paul accepted the compromise but he rejected his parents’ offer to side-along apparate him home, the entire family joining hands like cut-out paper dolls. Instead, he left through the door, into the hallway of the building, the door transfigured to look like nothing more than a locked utility closet behind him. He stepped into the street, weaving through crowds of people making their way home from work in the cool misty evening. His hair soaked up the tiny water droplets suspended in the air, making it heavier and darker than usual, clinging to the sides of his pale, angular face -- the cherubic cheeks long gone. The water etched black lines through the remaining Floo soot dusted over his nose and cheeks. He raised a hand to wipe it out of his eyes.

It’s not unusual for a boy Paul’s age to believe his family is a monstrosity, but he was convinced that there was something truly odd about their household. People talked to him about his mother as if she was special, but then when she finally appeared, aside from some staring, no one seemed to treat her like she was special.

And Cassie was certainly nothing special. She was fine as a sister but as a witch she was a skittish wreck. Sure being almost fourteen is hard for everyone but… He had his suspicions. He reckoned they all did -- suspicions that the girl might be a squib. Imagine it. A Malfoy, a Black, and Hermione Granger’s daughter on top of everything -- a squib. She was invited to Hogwarts at age eleven but Paul had to wonder if maybe that was just out of respect for her name and family ties. Whenever she could, Cassie left her wand at home, or in her dorm. That way she could pass herself off as forgetful, scatterbrained instead of risking being exposed as -- something worse. That’s how it seemed to him.

As for his father, everything he’d ever read about his father was scandalous: Death Eater, acquitted but tried as a war criminal, mental patient, homewrecker. Up close, none of it seemed right, not even to Paul. He’d never talked about it with his parents themselves, but he had access to all sorts of records now that he was in school and he’d read everything he could find about his family’s recent history. It made him feel like he was crazy, like a stranger in his own life. His family was like a puzzle that he knew from experience as a complete picture-- a rather beautiful picture, if he allowed himself to be honest. But every time he examined its pieces disassembled, the picture he knew no longer seemed possible.

Paul believed there were far more than enough reasons for anyone to dislike his father, but the ones alleged in old newspapers and books weren’t among them. If anyone asked, he’d say his father wasn’t a dangerous latent evil genius but a sappy prat who needed to give the brightest witch of her advancing age more space. Not that Paul had ever heard her complain but -- seriously. The way they carried on was a disgrace.

It was as if the two of them lived on a tiny island, all by themselves and were happy to stay that way, engaging with their fame as they chose, sending out their research, performing their miraculous healings in St. Mungo’s Janus Thickey Ward, undoing what had been dismissed as permanent memory damage before withdrawing into their small world to go back to work. Maybe they never really got over what happened to them in the war, what put them in the same psychiatric ward where they took up together in the first place, the place where no one could touch either of them except each other. And maybe they didn’t realize how it was for Cassie and Paul to be trapped on that island with them, or maybe they just didn’t care.

At least, Paul thought as he turned into their Kensington flat, the old man still paid for everything.

____________________________________________

“It’s not fair,” Draco said as he pulled a sleeping t-shirt down over his head. The “old man” was actually in his late-thirties, old enough to control his temper most of the time, but still young enough to want to rant about what wasn’t fair. “I have never done anything but try my hardest to spoil him. But the way that kid speaks to me, it will be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life if he grows up without me ever raising a wand to him.”

Hermione stood at the mirror, twisting her hair into a braid she could sleep on. She sighed. “Yes, it is awful the way he goes at you. But my dad says anger and aggression are fairly normal responses to all the testosterone Paul is full of right now. It’s no excuse and we have to keep correcting him, but it helps us be understanding. We had the war as an outlet for anger in our generation. But since Paul has no Harry Potter to chase around the bathroom flinging curses at until one of them nearly bleeds to death, he has to take it out on his perfectly lovely father instead.”

She didn’t tell Draco that her father had laughed it off when she mentioned the new tension at home, saying it would be good for both Paul and Draco in the long run. What she did tell him was, “It won’t last forever. And when it’s over, and he’s all grown up, our Paul will still be there, beneath it all. We just need to hold onto him until then.”

“Normal?” Draco raved, one hand rubbing at the scar on his chest through his shirt. “Do you remember me at Paul’s age? I can still hear myself. ‘Yes, father. Yes, father.’”

“My darling, that was not normal.”

“No, it was positively sinister. But at least it was civil.”

She was getting into bed, beckoning him to join her. He fell hard onto the mattress, onto his stomach, turning his head to face her. “Our sweet baby boy,” he moaned. “The one made with so much love all the magic I could muster couldn’t stop him from coming to life.”

That was one way to describe a faulty contraception charm. She laughed softly, lying beside him, laying one hand against his cheek. “He’ll be back. I promise. And wouldn’t it be worse if he felt nothing for you?”

“Would it?”

“Sure. That’s the one thing we can say for our history that no one can argue with: we’ve always felt something for each other.”

The idea seemed to make him feel worse. He groaned, rolled onto his side, hooked an arm around her waist, and pulled her close, his face in her neck again. She strained and laughed but he went on working his mouth against her skin, from her shoulder to her ear, knowing that in a few seconds, as long as she didn’t ask him to stop, something would burn through the tickling sensation and she would press into it, open up to it, letting him as close to her as he needed to be, as he always, always wanted to be. No one tells young people that being with someone gets better with time, that nervous systems adapt to what touches them, perfecting and maximizing connections and reactions, until nothing is easier or better than what has been decades in the making. Seventeen years into marriage, the Granger-Malfoys knew it.

Later, as Hermione slept, Draco lay awake open-eyed in the darkness. The boy was right. Their family’s world was small. It had everything Draco himself wanted in it, but he did worry about the rest of them sometimes, holding this worry in tension with his powerful, natural greediness to keep all of them all to himself.

_________________________________________

Markham Tavishston would have rather stayed home. He woke up feeling off, tired and a bit sick. But he'd already responded to the owl Malfoy had sent the night before, agreeing to spend the morning with that son who gave them so much trouble, tinkering with the broken-down equipment, seeing if any of it could be salvaged. It was a rare moment to step up and shine for the old, harmless technologist whose name was listed as a co-author on every paper the institute had ever published, though no one who worked with him would be able to name a single, stellar contribution he’d made. He was a rather lacklustre exemplar as a researcher, but his safety record was immaculate and he was a model of team effort and getting along, Mr. esprit de corps -- exactly what Paul needed. On any other day, Tavishton would have been happy with the honor. Today it was a burden he would bear as graciously as he could.

The boy didn’t seem at all keen to be at the institute today either. He asked few questions and seemed more intent on getting all the blanks filled on a long sheet of parchment the school had sent him with than on actually learning anything about the junk equipment stashed at the back of his parents’ lab.

“So what kind of job would you like to have someday?” Tavishton asked Paul. “I take it you’re not interested in continuing the family’s line of work.”

Paul scoffed. “Working here? No, of course not.”

“What then?”

“Dunno. My friend Gris is set to inherit an owl feed company. They raise them too. Owls everywhere. It’s a mess but cool in its way.”

“Owls are good for people who like to keep late hours,” Tavishton observed.

“Yeah, there’s that. Or there’s being a healer. Taking the nonsense Mum and Dad come up with and actually DOING something with it.”

“In a hospital?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Not interested in being an Auror, are you? Most kids go through an Auror phase, especially boys.”

Paul laughed. “You know Malfoys better than that by now, don’t you Mr. Tavishton? Not really the law and order types.”

Tavishton laughed heartily. “Spoken like your father’s son, to be sure.”

For once, Paul was not enraged at the comparison.

Tavishton’s laugh had broken apart into a cough, hacking louder, until he bent over, one hand on a tabletop to steady himself.

Paul took him by the arm. “Are you alright, Mr. Tavishton?”

He was nodding, no longer coughing, but he seemed unable to catch his breath. His back straightened as his postured snapped abruptly upright, his complexion deepening from pink to purple.

“Mum!” Paul called out. “Come quickly, he’s not well.”

Hermione had been hovering nearby and quickly appeared at Paul’s side. “Markham?” she said. “Are you quite all right?”

Markham Tavishton pulled his hand out of Paul’s hold and grabbed at his own shoulder, as if trying to protect himself from a great weight pressing down on his chest.

“Draco!” Hermione called. “Draco, I’m taking Markham to St. Mungo’s. I think he’s having a heart attack.”

Paul gasped. “What? He was fine just a second ago.”

“Paulie, help me get him over to the Floo. He can’t apparate when his body is unstable like this. Hang on, Markham. Breathe.”

The rest of the staff were gathering as Paul reached for Markham Tavishton’s arm to help lead him toward the Floo. His timing was bad. He took Tavishton’s arm just as a new paroxysm seized him, and in shock and pain, he thrashed in Paul’s direction, as if the boy’s touch had been the source of crushing agony. Paul was thrown against the worktable, scrabbling to hold himself up, his own arms thrashing against the apparatus they had been working on before Tavishton’s attack. He jarred the machine strongly enough to connect one of its circuits, and for an instant it sparked to life. Red and green beams of light pulsed from its lenses, blazing to a blinding crescendo before going dark again.

For a moment, everyone’s eyes were too dazzled to see. As their sight came back, Paul looked about the workshop to see all of the institute staff standing in the entrance. Tavishton was quiet, lying on the floor labouring to breathe. And beside him lay Paul’s mother. Draco was pushing through their employees, calling her name.

He dropped to his knees beside her, pulling her to sit against him as the employees explained what they’d seen. The ones who weren’t explaining were hauling Tavishton toward the Floo.

“Which machine was it?” Draco was interrupting. “Paul, which machine?”

He pointed to the hunk of metal and crystal still hot and smoking on the worktable. Never able to keep his emotions off his face, Draco’s expression was one of panic. “No,” he said. He gathered Hermione’s face in his hands. Her skin was warm but her eyes were closed, the muscles of her neck loose, her head lolling against him. “No, Hermione, no. Please...”

“Is she okay? Dad! Is she okay?”

He remembered his son. “She’s not hurt. She is unconscious and -- it won’t last too long -- probably.”

Paul heard what his father hadn’t said. “But is she okay?”

Draco pressed her face against his shoulder. “I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and -- I’m sorry, Paul, I don’t know.”

He was talking to the staff again, ordering them to close the workshop to everyone. It was vital that no one touch anything. “Paul, I’m taking your mother to the hospital. Go home and take care of Cassie.”

Draco was standing up, lifting Hermione off the floor as he rose.

Paul stepped close enough to bear some of the weight of his mother’s body. “Bring me. You might need me,” he said. “I saw the whole thing happen -- “

“I do need you, Pollux. I need you at home.”

“She’s not just yours -- “

Draco took a step backward, into a space clear enough for disapparation, his voice even but his eyes frantic with terror. “Go home.”