No man is an island.
"Someone is trying to kill you."
Draco Malfoy looked up from the financial section of the Daily Prophet at the person who had dared to interrupt his attempt at a peaceful lunch. He had come to this dour café at the dead end of Knockturn Alley, despite its inferior food and decidedly grubby atmosphere, in hopes of having a quiet meal alone. He did not want to talk to anyone, he did not want to be talked to, and the only reason he had not Apparated home was his house-elf, Nibblet, who had threatened to put bugs in his soup if he set foot in the Manor before four o'clock. She was under the impression that Draco needed to get out more, and not even swatting her with a rolled-up magazine could deter her from saying so, often and at length. Draco did not want to listen to Nibblet today, as his arm hurt from too much swatting, and he was not entirely certain that she was kidding about the bugs. He had just wanted to have lunch, preferably death-threat-free.
The man who had interrupted his quiet, his solitude, and his freedom from death threats had also sat down on the other side of the greasy table. He wore a threadbare jumper that was short in the sleeves, and no cloak despite the deep, lingering sigh of winter in the air. If not for his hair, Draco would have thought him a total stranger.
As it was, Draco asked, "Weasley, what are you doing here?"
"Warning you," Ron Weasley said. They had not seen each other for some years, and it was Draco's opinion that Weasley had not weathered them well. His trademark ginger hair was shaggy and fell nearly to his collar, and he looked thinner than usualDraco would even go so far as to call him scrawny. But these details were not nearly so unusual as Weasley's eyes, which were boring unblinkingly into Draco's with an intensity normally seen only in powerful warlocks and the criminally insane. "Someone is trying to kill you," Weasley repeated, monotone.
"I see," Draco said, looking back to his paper. "And who is this would-be assassin?"
"I don't know."
Draco peered over the top edge of the paper. Weasley was still looking at him. It was rather remarkable the paper hadn't started to smolder yet. "You don't know who it is?"
"Then how do you know that I'm in danger of being killed?"
"I'm a Seer."
Draco put the paper down very slowly and carefully. Yes, indeed, those eyes were an earmark of the criminally insane. "Weasley," he said, "have you been drinking?"
Weasley shook his head vigorously, but homed in on Draco's face again. He had yet to blink. "I don't drink," he said earnestly. "I can't drink, I'm a Seer. You're going to die."
"Yes, you've said that," Draco said. "Would you please quit staring at me?"
Weasley looked about for a moment, as if he was mildly surprised to find himself in his present surroundings. "I just wanted to warn you," he mumbled.
"A kind gesture which has touched me deeply, I assure you."
Weasley suddenly scowled, an expression Draco found far more familiar than the googly eyes. "This isn't about kindness," he snapped. "It's not even about you. I don't even like you." He folded his arms and looked away moodily.
Draco had come to the café for food, and he had never particularly enjoyed dinner theater, but this statement piqued his curiosity. He sighed and folded his newspaper onto the table. "I assure you, Weasley, the feeling is mutual, but that does raise the question of why you bothered to bother me, doesn't it?"
"I had to," Weasley mumbled. "I had to, all right? I couldn't just watch this time."
"Watch someone die," Weasley said. "When I knew first. So now I've told you and if you die anyway it isn't my fault."
Draco considered this carefully. It was, in some ways, a sentiment with which he could genuinely sympathize; too many witches and wizards of their generation were seeing thestrals these days. On the other hand, the circumstances made it difficult for him to take Weasley seriously. Not that he ever had. "Nevertheless," he said, "I'm touched. Now will you please leave me in peace?"
Weasley cocked his head at that, looking rather like a dog that has heard a far-off whistle. "You don't believe me," he said.
"I cannot say that I do."
"Why don't you believe me?"
Draco picked up the paper again. "Because I think you are insane."
Weasley snorted and fell silent. Draco went back to the article he had been reading, which was attempting to argue that allowing foreigners to buy up all of Wizarding Britain's industries was somehow good for the economy, only without actually using those words in that order. He gave up on that idiot after another paragraph and went on to a more promising article concerning changes in flying carpet regulations, and when he finished that one he peered over the edge of the paper to see where the hell the waitress with his food was.
Weasley was still staring at him.
"Stop that," Draco said.
He sighed. "You are a grown man, Weasley, and you know perfectly well what you're doing."
"I'm warning you, you git."
Draco rustled the paper at Weasley, in the vain hope that what worked on flies might work on larger pests. It didn't. "Yes, well, consider me warned. You've done it. Congratulations. Now go away."
Weasley rolled his eyes. "Dunno why I bothered," he muttered. "S'not like anyone's gonna miss you."
"Just my shareholders," Draco said, turning his face back to the newspaper.
"No," Weasley said, "not even them."
Draco looked up and asked, "Are you accusing my business partners of harboring ill will toward me?" But Weasley wasn't looking at him anymore, finally; Weasley was looking at something halfway between he nose and the tabletop, and his brows were knit, and he was blinking fiercely as if he had something in his eyes. He didn't seem to hear a word Draco was saying. "Er. Weasley?"
"They don't give a damn," Weasley suddenly blurted though not too loudly, for which Draco was thankful, because even though he'd come to the café of his own free will he didn't necessarily want to be seen there. "It's all about the gold. Your estate reverts to Tonks upon your death, she doesn't care about broomsticks, she'll sell all the stock and use the gold for a holiday with Remus. The shareholders will form a, a thingy, where the partners have most of the shares and B...Br...Ble...Blank, Blanky, a German bloke is gonna be at the head. It's good for business."
The most recent investor in Draco's company was in fact an Austrian named Blankenship, but he was not alarmed by Weasley's pronouncement. Much. Their names had been in the papers, after allpresumably Weasley was no so far gone he couldn't read the papers. "Is that so?" Draco asked mildly.
"The Ministry will take the house, though," Weasley carried on. "They'll strip it to the foundations looking for evidence against your father. The portraits will go to a museum, or Hogwarts. They won't find the door in the drawing room, but they'll send everything you own through the Department of Mysteries for testing before they donate it to the poor fund at St. Mungo's. The house-elf...they'll try to move the elf. Hermione will try. But she won't want to leave the graveyard... everyone else in Britain will be toasting you, but she'll want to stay with you...because she's the only one who will show up to mourn..."
Draco felt like someone had trickled a bit of tea down the back of his neck, a shocking sort of hot-cold feeling. "What," he asked very carefully, "do you know about my house-elf?"
Weasley stopped blinking, and his head snapped up. He glanced around, suddenly confused again. "What?"
"This is not the time to play games," Draco growled. "Explain yourself."
Weasley shook his head like a wet dog. "Told you," he said. "I'm a Seer."
"Bollocks," Draco said, and while Weasley hadn't been too terribly loud, that exclamation had been; several people turned around and looked at him with varying degrees of disapproval, except for one fellow at the bar who appeared to toast him. He lowered his voice and added, "I don't believe in prophecy, unless you count the self-fulfilling kind."
"Well, this isn't a prophecy, is it?" Weasley said. "Or there'd be no point in trying to stop it."
Now it was Draco shaking his had. "I don't believe in any of it," he snapped. "It's rubbish. And I don't know how you know anything about my affairs, let along my house-elf, or why you chose me of all people, and today of all days"
"I told you," Weasley said, "I had to warn you"
"Oh, yes, it's a very effective warning, isn't it?" Draco snorted. "Someone is going to kill me. Can you tell me who, then? How? Where and when?'
Weasley's face actually fell; he was beginning to fidget. "It, er, it doesn't work like that, Malfoy"
"I thought not," Draco said. The waitress with his meal had finally appeared; he waved her off and gathered up his cloak and newspaper. If Weasley was the sort of riff-raff this restaurant allowed into the dining area, he was not going to encourage them by actually paying for anything. "Terribly sorry that your bizarre little joke has fallen flat, Weasley...oh, wait, actually, I'm not, seeing as it was at my expense."
Weasley sighed. "Knew you wouldn't believe it," he muttered.
"Then why in Merlin's name did you bother?" Draco asked.
Weasley shrugged, and looked up at him with a perfectly normal facial expression for the first time. It was the very look of grief, and Draco felt hot and cold again. "I wanted to warn you," he said again. "So it couldn't be my fault."
Draco walked away. He was careful to bump into the waitress as he passed, not hard enough to cause her to spill the tray, but to get her attention: look, you stupid wench, if you let madmen harass your customers they're all going to walk out just like me. He ignored the fellow at the bar who, having toasted him, apparently wanted to shake hands; he ignored the disgruntled glare of the waitress; he ignored the urge to look backwards, just in case Weasley was laughing at him, or just in case he wasn't. Draco took deep breaths instead, and did not even bother to step into the street before he Disapparated.
Malfoy Manor was in pristine condition, something Draco prided himself on immensely. Or to be perfectly accurate, he prided himself on Nibblet, whose services he had acquired despite the new regulations on elf ownership put into place by that despicable Mudblood. It was Nibblet who in turn prided herself on maintaining the estate from top to bottom, with not a single room sealed or left to fall to dust. Draco kept the entire house as his parents had kept it before him, open and prepared for whatever and whoever may come.
Not that anyoneor anything, at thatever did. Not since his grudging acquittal. Even his partners and shareholders were reluctant to visit him at home, and he made no effort to encourage them otherwise. In the first few months after the end of the war and his subsequent trial, the walls of the manor had been his refuge from the public eye, not to mention one clumsy attempt on his life. He had come to enjoy his isolation. A wizard's home was his castle, after all, and wasn't the whole point of having a castle to keep visitors and other annoyances out?
He Apparated into the usual spot in the gardens and went into the kitchenshe never bothered with the formal dining room these days, not until he got around to replacing the chairs with some that were actually padded. Nibblet appeared, as usual, from no specific location and with a bit of unidentifiable smut on the hem of her tea towel. "Master is not supposing to be home!" she squeaked at him indignantly. "Master was telling Nibblet he would eat outside today!"
"Master changed his mind," he said, and tossed her his cloak to dispose of. It briefly covered her entire body before disappearing with a snap. "I suppose you neglected to prepare me a lunch?"
"Nibblet was knowing Master would be back," she grumbled, and a salad of spring greens with sliced steak over the top materialized on the counter at Draco's elbow. There was no sign of bugs. "But Master will not be able to finish his lunch properly at this hour! Oh, Master, what is he doing to himself?"
Draco prodded the saladbleu cheese vinaigretteand then pushed it away. "I've changed my mind," he declared. "I'm not hungry."
Nibblet made a sound like a hot kettle. "Master will be eating his lunch!" she declared. "Master is too thin by half!"
Draco ignored this, and instead regarded the fuming elf carefully. Bleu cheese vinaigrette. "Nibblet," he asked, "you went to the market for this personally, didn't you?"
Nibblet's ears went flat against her skull, and her shrillness had a definite quaver in it. "If Nibblet did go to market, it was for Master's own good!" she protested. "Master does not eat enough! Nibblet would be making all Master's favorites"
Draco gestured sharply to cut her off and crouched to more-or-less eye level. "Nibblet, what did I tell you about leaving the grounds?"
Nibblet's chin wavered stubbornly for a moment. "Master is telling me not to," she finally admitted.
"Exactly," Draco snapped. "Did anyone see you buy the cheese? Or anything else?"
"N-n-no, Master!" Nibblet said, and started to hiccup. "Nibblet washic!was goodhic! Nibblet was not letting anyone see her! Not a Muggle orhic! Hic!"
Draco stood and patted her vaguely on the head. "Very well. Go, er, go flog yourself of something."
"Nibblet will burn up all her fingers and toeses!" she shrieked.
After Nibblet had fled the kitchen, Draco prodded the salad again, and forced himself to eat a bit. Nibblet would be inconsolable anyway for having been caught disobeying him, there was no point in pushing her to the brink of breakdown by leaving a perfectly good meal to waste. And he did like bleu cheese vinaigrette.
And at least now he had an explanationNibblet must've been seen around one of the Muggle shops, no matter what precautions she may have taken. Someone must've reported an unaffiliated house-elf to the Ministry, perhaps with just enough evidence to suggest that she was in his service but not enough to mobilize the Office of House-Elf Services. But seeing as that Granger bitch was in charge of the office now, Weasley certainly would've been in a position to know what she knew, even if she couldn't legally act. There was no need to invoke the Sight to explain Weasley's foreknowledge; it was mere gossip. Nothing to worry about at all.
Besides, nobody was trying to kill him. Aside from one would-be vigilante who had broken his own neck trying to scale the manor walls with a bottle of poison some years ago, there had never been a credible threat on Draco's life. He had plenty of enemies, of coursehalf the broomstick industry, to begin with, and a third of the inmates in Azkaban. But none of the former would venture upon murder and none of the latter were capable of harming him now. There was nothing to worry about. He was perfectly safe.
Draco glanced at the clock and clapped his hands. "Nibblet, my cloak!" he shouted. He also had a bit more of the salad. His afternoon was booked solid with meetings, and he was more worried about broomwrights and goblins than about Ronald Weasley's ramblings. They probably didn't mean anything anyway, and Draco would not make a fool of himself leaping at shadows because of them. He had his pride, his business, and the Manor; nothing else truly mattered.
Certainly not Ron Weasley.