Title: The Business of Saving Souls Part 1/3
Pairing(s): Harry/Draco (implied Ron/Hermione)
Summary: Draco’s world is filled with ghosts, and not all of them are so easily banished.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Word Count: 26,168
Author's Notes: Woah. Thingy here turned into a beast. Many thanks to Wikipedia for being a wonderful resource for all things ghostly and flower-symbolism-related in this story. Naadi, I tried to get most of your request in. Enjoy!
The Business of Saving Souls
“Tell me about your business. How is that shaping up?”
Draco frowned across the room, across his crossed legs, across the small redwood coffee table. “You already know everything about it, may I remind you?”
She graced him with an amused half-smile. “It’s been some time since we’ve spoken of it. I’d like to hear what’s been going on.”
Draco sat back, smirking, and adopted a slight simper. “Well, then. I’ve a business of my own. A steady one, and legitimate, as long as people keep dying without bothering to move the fuck— I’m sorry. Without bothering to move on to the next realm.”
“One thing I’ve always wondered: do you actually believe there is a ‘next realm?’”
Draco snorted. “I could care less either way. I’m twenty-five years old. Not planning on dropping down dead anytime soon.”
She studied him. Some days he really hated the way she did that. Today it didn’t catch his ire, particularly. “And how have you been handling the home visits? Anyone you know lately?”
Draco shrugged. “Everyone seems to know me. Never seen them before, but hells, that’s about as valid as a set of dress robes on a Flobberworm, isn’t it?”
She smiled. Tilted her chin. “Are you still Polyjuicing?”
He picked up his water glass. Set it down again. “Went without the other day. First appointment. I swear, I thought the woman’s eyes were going to pop right out of her undersized little skull. But I was just too damn tired to Polyjuice first thing.”
She nodded. “And how did she feel about it afterward?”
“I’ve no bloody idea, and I don’t particularly care how she felt. Her attic is blessedly spirit-free, regardless.”
“I imagine that calmed her.”
“I didn’t ask.” Draco raised an eyebrow when she didn’t answer. “What? Now you want me to inquire as to how they all feel?”
She took a sip of her own water, face annoyingly peaceful. “How did it feel to you, then? To be in your own skin?”
“Like bloody vengeance.” Draco smirked. “Serves them right, you know. They all want the service, without the black mark. As if the world revolved around them.”
“Do you think you’ll try it again?”
“I already have. You know, it was quite empowering.” He relaxed back into the couch cushions with a sigh. “The look on that woman’s face was more than enough to whet my taste for it. And she couldn’t say a damned word about that sour fig she’d swallowed, not if she wanted her quaint little house cleared out.”
She nodded. “You enjoy feeling powerful, Draco, that’s no secret.”
“I like to put them in their places. Bloody imbeciles.”
“So,” she said, settling back into her own chair. “You did it again? That’s excellent, you know.”
“Well, I’m only running out of Polyjuice is all,” he answered. She nodded encouragingly. He looked down. “I don’t know. Some days I want to. Others… I just can’t…”
He stopped. She hmmed thoughtfully.
“How are your funds?”
“Booming.” Draco picked up his water and took a sip. “I send Magdalena out three times a week now. She’s grown quite good at it. Brings in more than a few Galleons. I don’t send her to the real bigwigs, mind you, but soon. She’s ready.”
“And who are the real bigwigs?”
Draco shrugged. “Haven’t had all that many lately. It comes in waves. I think the ghosts have some sort of warped schedule.” He resisted the urge to get up and walk. “But I did have an interesting visit yesterday.”
* * *
The door opened, and so did Potter’s mouth. “Malfoy.”
“Potter.” Draco raised his eyebrows, wondering if he needed to step back to avoid the door breaking his nose. Potter blinked owlishly at him from behind his spectacles. And after a moment, stepped aside.
Draco inclined his head and entered the darkened foyer. He heard the door groan shut behind him. Old place; he could smell the musk as if it were taking up residence in his nostrils. Once he was a safe distance inside, he turned, straightening his shoulders, and found Potter staring at him. His eyes were deep forest green in the muted light.
“What?” Draco said at last. “You didn’t know I owned the company?”
Potter raised one hand aimlessly and let it drop. Shoved it into his jeans pocket. “No, I… I knew.” He shrugged, and his other hand found its way into his other pocket. “Just didn’t think you would be the one who showed up.”
It was the slightest of curls to the word ‘you’ that sparked Draco’s irritation.
“Naturally, a customer of your caliber warrants the best we have to offer,” he said, and watched Potter’s eyes narrow at the not-quite-concealed snide lilt to his words.
The foyer itself was begging him to shift his weight. Draco cleared his throat instead. “Well. If that’s all settled. I believe you contacted us for a reason?”
“Right.” Potter livened into action, stepping past Draco almost too quickly for him to react. “It’s… Here. This way.”
Draco turned again and followed Potter down an equally dark hallway that spilled into a long but narrow sitting room. With a dusty desk. A faded couch. And a feeling of lifelessness. Draco stopped short. What was this, the spare room? Or didn’t Potter ever use it?
“Do you just pass through from time to time?” he said aloud, eyeing the worn track through the dusty floor. Potter turned.
“I live upstairs mostly,” was all he said.
This wasn’t Grimmauld. No wonder he hadn’t known who he would meet at the front door. Draco followed Potter again, out of the derelict sitting room and into a shorter hallway. A stairwell ahead; Potter climbed up with one hand gracing the banister. Draco placed his fingers more carefully, and the wood jumped beneath his hand.
Very old. Perhaps as old as the Manor.
He pursed his lips. Not that he’d ever see that place again.
There were quite a few stairs. Draco could feel the air growing denser as he went. At first he thought it the heat, trapped into a closed house because of the rain outside. When it began to tingle over his throat and neck, he changed his mind.
Harry turned again at the top of the stairs and gestured toward a closed door at the end of another murky-looking hallway. “It’s in the attic.”
Like hell it is, Draco thought. He eyed the door. And then the air trickled like chilled water, and Draco blinked.
“Just in the attic?”
Potter glanced at the door, then up over his head as if he could see through the ceiling into the space above. “I’ve never seen it down here.”
“You’ve seen it?”
Just a nod. The air trickled again more vibrantly. Draco felt the distinct presence of female…and then gone. The thing above him, though…
“You’ve more than one here, Potter.” Draco withdrew his wand, half expecting Potter to go for his in retaliation, but the man just stood there, staring up at the ceiling, not looking the least bit surprised. Draco whispered a soft spell and felt not two, not three, but four separate tremors. Two were much more antagonistic than the others. Something shifted violently down through the air toward him, and Draco stared up at the ceiling as well. “That’s a Doppelgänger upstairs.”
For the sake of Merlin’s children, he hoped Potter hadn’t been fool enough to go up there. Potter lowered his eyes at last to look at Draco. His jaw tightened. “I think I can figure out what a Doppelgänger feels like, Malfoy.”
“Good. Then you’ll know better than to go after that one first.” Draco sneered and flourished his wand, and a thin sheaf of papers rolled out of the air. “Sign these.”
Just as quickly, Harry magicked a worn-looking quill out of the air and grabbed the papers. Instead of signing, however, he peered at the printed ink, flipping messily through the pages. “I fully absolve the above parties of all— What in Godric’s name is this?”
“My insurance,” Draco snapped, snatching the papers from him and putting them back into some sort of order. “So you don’t decide to come after me if anything in your precious home is blasted beyond all repair during the cleansing process.”
Harry’s stare was stony and ripply at the same time, much like the energy of the entities around them. He reached out and took the papers back with a firm tug. Plucked the quill out of the air. Signed something scraggly and careless on the bottom line of each page.
Draco opted to find the female presence first. A simple lost ghost, probably uncertain even of where she was. Or far too certain, and needing only a little shove to go elsewhere. But five minutes into his perusal of the upstairs rooms, Potter was still with him.
Draco hunkered down next to an ancient and moth-bitten credenza and shot him an acidic glare. The other man was hunkered down right beside him. “Did you want something, Potter?”
The other man grinned at him, but it most decidedly was not meant to reach his eyes. Potter crossed his arms. “Just protecting my investment, Malfoy.”
Draco sneered. “Well, then. You have grown smarter.”
Potter just sneered back.
* * *
“It’s all there,” Draco said offhandedly, already feeling the little office like an ill-fitting skin.
Granger glowered at him over the top of the statements she held in her pristine little hands. Her eyes dropped back to the papers coolly, lips pursed into a tiny, irritated pucker. Draco smirked, feeling nothing but satisfaction over the fact that she was as annoyed as he. He cocked his head. “And I haven’t tampered with any of the numbers.”
She sniffed to herself and kept reading. “Well. Everything seems to be in order.”
“Perhaps you’d like to visit the offices and make absolutely certain I haven’t turned them into a Death Eater halfway house,” he said caustically.
To her credit, Granger smirked back at him. “I hardly think that’s necessary. You haven’t the standing in that group to manage such an endeavor.”
Draco tamped down hard on the urge to hex her perfect desk into disarray. He folded his itching fingers into his robes and forced a scathing smile in her direction. “Thank you ever so much for reminding me, Granger. I’ll be sure to count myself out of the reunion.”
She let out an exasperated huff and flicked her wand, sending the statements hovering and then folding themselves into the burgeoning file on her desktop. “Really, Malfoy. You needn’t be such an arse.”
“Simply returning the gesture. I was brought up not to overlook the generosity of others, if you’ll remember.”
Her irises could have set fire to every piece of paper in the room. She folded her hands deliberately on top of his file and looked right at him. Either her jaw was ticking or it was just wishful thinking. “Are you still attending sessions with your appointed therapist?”
For a second, he was very tempted to say no. “Why, yes, I am. Delightful way to spend an afternoon a week. You ought to try it sometime. It might loosen up that horrendous knot in your shoulders.”
“Your business seems to be flourishing,” she said, ignoring his statement. Draco frowned.
“I’m so sorry that it irks you.”
She sighed. “It doesn’t irk me, Malfoy. For Godric’s sake. I’m simply updating your file with all relevant data. What are your plans for the next six months?”
He smiled tartly. “I plan to savour my last half a year of your so watchful care before my probationary periods finally end. And then I have plans to continue on with the business as I have been doing for the last two years.”
She was scowling at him. “Malfoy, it wasn’t my choice how long your probation lasts. Do you think I’d really ask to be saddled with you anymore than you’d request to be weighed down with me?”
“No,” he allowed grudgingly. “But you needn’t take it personally. Your Ministry members are the ones who decided on my terms of service in the first place. It’s not as if I chose to make my living off of disembodied, curse-twisted souls. And it’s not my fault that I was good at it, either. You’ve only yourselves to blame for my business.”
“They aren’t my Ministry members,” Granger muttered. She shook her head dismissively and picked up his file, shunting it quickly into a drawer and slamming it shut with a loud bang. She lifted her wand and magicked a glass of pumpkin juice out of thin air, then raised one eyebrow at him questioningly and indicated her beverage. Draco said nothing, and she shrugged and took a long sip. “I understand you saw Harry this week.”
“Brilliant deductive work, Granger.” Draco smiled at her, narrowing his eyes. “And exactly where did you get that information?”
The look she turned on him was even less controlled than usual. “Frankly, I’m surprised you even bothered with the pleasantries. If you wanted so badly to contact him, you could have arranged for it somewhere other than his private home.”
“Again with the scapegoating.” Draco could feel his teeth clenching. “It’s not as if I Flooed the Royal Saviour and begged him to bless me with work, Granger. He contacted my office.”
She looked as if she were about to burst out with something, but he saw her tuck it back in behind her cold expression. Her lips pursed and he heard her inhale. Exhale. “Well. Don’t expect him to get you out of any trouble. He’s got his own life, and contrary to popular belief, he’s not just a ‘royal saviour.’ He’s a person.”
Draco raised his eyebrows and smirked. “Merlin. You’re certainly touchy today. I’ve no despicable designs on your bloody Boy Wonder. As long as he’s civil, I will be. You needn’t get so bent out of shape about it.”
“If I’m bent out of shape, it’s only because you are here,” she snapped. She stood with a jerk and walked to the doorway, pulling the door open. Draco rose, just as annoyed, and gathered his cloak.
“Six months, Granger. Then I’m out of your sordid little Mudblood life. And gladly.”
“Have a lovely evening, Malfoy,” she returned with a too-sweet smile.
* * *
“So that’s that.” Draco shut his eyes and rolled his head on his neck. Back and forth, back and forth. “I’ve given up on it. Paperwork’s too bloody complicated, and they’ll never give any of it back to me anyway. Spiteful bastards. Probably all auctioned off by now.”
She nodded, a resigned twist to her lips. “The cabinet’s not exactly the best way to memorialise your family’s name, is it?”
Draco snorted. “Believe me, it’s enough. I’m quite happy I got it.”
She frowned vaguely. “You haven’t been sampling from it, have you?”
“Salazar, no. I don’t just ignore your medical advice, you know. Bloody cabinet just… makes me feel powerful, I suppose.”
Draco shrugged and readjusted his position on the couch. “It just does.” Her gaze did not waver, and Draco rolled his eyes. “Oh, you know. It’s all right there. I could get it if I wanted. But I don’t. I could drink it all. But I don’t. It feels good to sneer at it every morning. He would have liked that.”
Draco grinned. “Well. It’s his bloody liquor going to waste in there, isn’t it?”
“That sounds as if it satisfies you.” She raised her eyebrows expectantly at him when he met her gaze. Gestured. “To slight him. After the fact.”
“Serves him right, I say.” Draco frowned down at his hands. “His fault I’m such an easily recognisable target. All people have to do is look for… well, him.”
“You’ve nothing of your mother in you?”
Draco sighed, exasperated. “Of course I have. But that doesn’t exactly make me any less reviled, does it?”
She sent him a calm smile. “Some people won’t see your father when they look at you. And some people will just see through it.”
“Not in this lifetime.”
She didn’t answer immediately.
* * *
The candle’s flame flickered, and the movement was echoed by the whistle of wind beyond dusty, weathered walls. The very air trembled, and then shot toward Draco from the far end of the tidy little bedroom, scattering trinkets and scraps of parchment as it came, rattling the giant, empty chest harrowingly over the floor.
Draco raised his wand and shot off a wordless Pacificio without even looking up, and the shapeless, invisible mass thunked to a stop. Draco frowned into the darkness, and then covered a yawn with the back of one hand and set about coaxing the candle’s flame brighter again. It pierced pearly light into the shadows. The massive chest shook fitfully.
Draco sighed. “Oh, do shut up.”
Another jolt from the chest. They were getting weaker, but there were still ten levels of banishment to go through yet. Eventually the Ekimmu would wear down into nothingness and simply fade out. Until then, however…
“So what were you anyway, some astonishingly unlucky Death Eater?” Draco sprinkled funereal herbs in a small, gradual circle a few fingers-width from the standing candle. The herbs caught fire, flaring into glowing blue light, and the chest jumped as if the flames were burning it. A grinding growl filled the room, flooding up from the floorboards. Draco slapped a hand down onto the floor and the growl cut off. “Shut it. You’re already in his house. Bet you were hoping for some sort of vengeance on him. Unless of course you were just some stupid, maligned fan who couldn’t get enough.”
The chest shivered and the herbs continued to lick merrily around the circle until the base of the candle gleamed blue. Draco waved the scent around with one hand. “That girl in the hallway was definitely a fan. Probably wrote love notes to the great Boy Who Lived in her little fairy-pink diary. You know, she wasn’t half as melodramatic as you are. Could probably have given her Potter’s autograph and sent her on her way quite merrily, now that I think about it.”
The floorboards rippled irately, and Draco shot a hand out to grab the candle, splashing hot wax on his thumb. “Fuck! Fucking— You can just go suck on a Bundimun’s excretory vessel. You’re nine wards away from nonexistence, I’ll have you know.”
Bloody Death Eaters. He could still feel them, even within the tortured spiritual entities so many of them had become. It made all the sense in the world that the great and pompous Voldemort would leave behind more problems post-mortem than he’d managed to cause in his entire lifetime. But it could have been worse: it could have been a Gast inhabiting Potter’s spare bedroom. If that had been the case, Potter would be in St. Mungo’s fighting for his life, and probably taking half of his neighborhood with him, Unplottable spells or no.
It had taken the Ministry’s Aurors a full five months after the war’s end to determine why normally harmless entities— shades, wisps— could now injure, torment, and even kill the living. And the entities that had been dangerous to begin with now induced shivers in the bravest of souls.
All because Voldemort and his merry opposition couldn’t leave well enough alone, not when it came to magic. Bigger spells. Better spells. Give the dead a chance to fight again for the cause.
For fuck’s sake.
“Thank the gods I’m not one of the poor sods who have to handle the new Inferi,” Draco muttered, picking out a perfectly cut piece of Zephyr Root and nicking the tip off with his fingernail. He tossed it into the candle’s flame. The root tip skittered away just short of the fire, as if flicked by unseen fingers, and Draco fought the urge to pummel his fists into the chest until the wooden braces snapped. “You couldn’t even get into the right bedroom, you sorry shite. This is Potter’s spare room. Spare. Like you.”
The chest gave a heave and the candle guttered. The blue-lit herbs flared into stark brightness and then snuffed out. For a tantalising moment, Draco thought the candle would hold, thought he might be here for a bit longer, thought he might cut at least one more banishment spell off the list—
The candle toppled onto its side, dousing its flame. The room fell into dim light, and Draco heard a tiny, desperate wheezing before the Ekimmu fled back into the nether.
He sighed. Rubbed his head. “Damn it.” He’d have to call it back. He hadn’t the time for this.
The heavy tread of footsteps echoed in the hallway, and then the door at the far end of the room swung wide. Draco looked up to see Potter’s messy black hair and thin-framed spectacles. He had a rich brown woolen coat slung half on and a pair of gloves in one hand. “Well. You’ve certainly been a while.”
Draco just looked at him. Potter’s mouth slipped toward amusement.
“Going out,” the man said simply. He shrugged. “I’ve nothing in the refrigerator. You coming?”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “Am I?”
This time it was definitely the beginnings of a smile on Potter’s lips. “Come on, Malfoy. Even you have to eat sometime.”
Draco got to his feet unhurriedly, brushing dust from his trousers and straightening the fall of his shirt. “Still protecting your investment?” A twitch to his collar, a single touch to his hair.
Potter smirked in a decidedly sarcastic fashion. “Just trying to keep you from wasting away and dying in my guest bedroom.”
“Why, thank you so much for offering to pay, Potter,” Draco simpered with a smile. “Very kind. You know, suddenly I’ve a craving for lobster.”
“If you find some, tell me, will you?” Potter said blandly and left the doorway. “You’ll want your coat. It’s drizzling.”
The entire way down the dark, dampening streets, Draco considered turning around, going back to Potter’s ramshackle mansion, and back even further to his own flat. It wasn’t Potter’s straight face or hunched shoulders, nor was it his steady stare at the watery store lights ahead.
Not as though Draco wasn’t using the exact same avoidance tactic. He just wasn’t in the mood for Wizarding fare and all its ponderous social baggage. Not with Potter, not with anyone.
The heavy rain-swollen door to which Potter led him, however, had no tingle of magic, and lay at the end of a narrow, bent alleyway just off of Shaftesbury, under an old-fashioned lamppost. Muggle, and meant to look like gas flame. The door groaned as it swung outward, and the pub inside was tiny and cramped, half filled with cheerful people. Harry wound his way right up to the surprisingly polished bar and lifted one finger, which seemed to garner a pint of reddish ale.
“Bangers, please. Double order.” Potter pocketed his gloves as he spoke.
The woman nodded. “And for your friend?”
Draco looked askance at Harry and then squinted at the woman. Her hair was an untidy bundle of sandy strands above a thin, tanned face. “Curry,” Draco said at last. “Make sure your rice is white.
Her eyebrow flickered upward. She nodded again. “And to drink?”
Draco frowned at her. She stared flatly right back at him, then shrugged and slapped a tumbler filled with water down on the bar. “Holding your tab, Harry, till you’ve had enough,” she smirked, wiggling her eyebrows. Potter grinned back, raised his pint glass, and turned. Gestured.
“Tables in the back.”
Draco just looked at Potter, and finally the other man rolled his eyes and headed for the nearest of the tables in question, leaving Draco to follow in his wake in a more refined fashion. Potter flung his coat over one of the chairs, sprawled into another one, and was halfway through his pint before Draco even sat down.
Draco gave the fine amber colour of Potter’s ale thorough scrutiny. The whole place smelled as if it had been hosed down in beer or ale or cider or whatever it was these Muggles tended to slop over the edges of their glasses onto the tables and floors. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad smell, he allowed— to himself, where Potter couldn’t get his inevitable two sickles in. Just… ever-present.
Harry cleared his throat loudly and Draco looked up. The other man was staring at him, a pointedly nonplussed look on his face. “What, Malfoys don’t drink?”
Draco affected the most patronising expression he could. It wasn’t hard; he used it so often. “So many other methods of self-depreciation in existence, Potter. I simply haven’t time enough in my schedule for one so commonplace.”
Harry nodded and took a heavy swig of his ale. “Still better than everyone else, are you, Malfoy?”
“Naturally,” Draco answered flatly.
Potter eyed him over the top of his pint glass. For a long second, the only thing Draco could hear was the murmuring and laughter of the other pub patrons. Then Potter clunked his foamy tumbler down on the table top and leaned back, cocking one hand behind his head, elbow high in the air. “You know, I can’t really imagine my life without you being so self-righteous.”
“Funny,” Draco volleyed, taking a careless sip from his water glass. “You’ve managed rather spectacularly for the past few years.”
Potter shrugged. He tapped on the table top with two long fingers, and Draco found himself caught by the movement and its strange cadence. He glared at Potter, and the other man gave him an exasperated look. “What?”
“Whatever happened to your moldy old heirloom of a mansion?” Draco asked.
Potter looked confused, and Draco sighed. “You had another one before. Another one of mine, actually.”
“Oh.” Potter picked up his pint and held it up for the approaching bartender, who replaced it with a practiced snatch and a smile before departing once more. Draco turned his attention from her retreat and was vaguely surprised to see a somewhat disturbed frown marring Potter’s scarred brow. The other man pondered the new pint with dark eyes.
Shrugged. “Couldn’t stay there.”
It was actually something Draco knew a little about, all things considered. Mansions were horribly good at containing haunts of all sorts. Draco wondered abruptly if ghosts had managed to find their way into the attics and passages of his mother’s old family house as well as Potter’s new home, and if so… which ones.
He nodded, straightening his shoulders and crossing one leg over the other with care. “So you just found an older, dirtier one, then. My congratulations.”
Potter snorted. “Maybe I like mold,” he said crisply.
“Maybe you like being stingy with your vaults,” Draco corrected smoothly. Potter glared at him, pointing one finger.
“Remember who’s paying for your food, Malfoy.”
Draco smiled sweetly. “Remember who is ridding your delightful home of infesting ghouls.”
“I have not got a ghoul.” Their food arrived, was plunked down with a certain matter-of-factness, and startled Draco with its rich smell. He poked at his curry and rice with a tarnished fork, then took a hesitant bite.
And another one.
“Good?” Potter had an annoyingly knowing smirk on his face.
“Adequate,” Draco retorted. One thing at a time. He forced his shoulders to relax out of their instinctive hunch. Stretched his legs under the table again and dared to take stock of his surroundings.
Four old men with ruddy cheeks in the far corner, two just-recently-legal girls chattering animatedly on barstools, a young couple spoon-feeding each other some sort of tart just beside the door. For once, no one looked his way.
Draco turned back to his rice and ate stiffly. But not as stiffly as usual.
“Come here often?” he asked Potter casually.
Potter shrugged, but there was a fond light in his eyes. “Often enough.”
He should have suspected, he realised two bites and a third pint later. It wasn’t all that difficult a jump to make; the Draco of fifth year would have been all over it. But for some reason it had not occurred to him until now that Harry Potter might enjoy spending time with Wizards even less than he himself did.
* * *
The woman held the sack of Galleons in one clenched fist. Draco took it from her without watching her face, and slid the pouch into the folds of his coat. “Your patronage is much appreciated, Ms Cadwell. If you have need of our services again, please do not hesitate to contact us.”
She nodded stiffly, then nearly snatched at the door, pulling it open and stepping out of the way. Her chin was lifted high, shoulders straight. Draco swept his coat over his own shoulders and passed over the threshold, practically feeling the cream-and-sky-blue interior of the house’s foyer falling away. He could also sense her eyes on him, hooded and boring into his back.
The door clicked shut behind him with an oppressiveness that settled over his skin like a shroud. The gloomy sky lowered, turning the tree leaves vibrant and icy-green. Leftover rain dripped unsteadily from soaking branches and twigs.
Draco felt the heaviness slide over him. As if it had been waiting in the shadows of the trees for him to venture outside again. He looked around slowly, half expecting to see it in corporeal form this time. A breeze curled through the branches overhead, slinking among the leaves.
He just wanted to sleep.
Draco’s feet carried him the length of a block before halting. He sat slowly, down on the curb, bending his legs. The wet pavement looked strange beyond the hem of his coat. Draco hunched there, frozen, hands hovering just above his thighs for an interminable moment before he reached into his coat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
He got one to his lips and lit it with a flick of his fingers, then took it from his mouth and stared at it. “Fuck,” he muttered, and shut his eyes.
It was one indulgence he still allowed himself.
The smoke filled his lungs and rushed out on a breath, rising into the chilly air in evanescent wisps. But he couldn’t feel it. Couldn’t taste it. The sense of satisfaction eluded him. Then again, it had done so for a long time.
Draco drew on the cigarette and then let his arm fall, let it dangle. He watched the ash drop off the end to cloud the small puddles in the street.
* * *
Her golden eyes were troubled at their edges, depthless in the middle. They flicked over him with an ominous awareness. “Draco, would you call your thoughts suicidal?”
Draco shrugged. “Everyone considers it.”
She deliberated for a moment. “I would agree with you: Almost everyone ponders the implications at some point. But few actually consider the action itself.”
Draco looked out the window, resting his chin in his hand. “Give a person enough time alone with himself…” He exhaled. Shook his head. “Some days the company gets old.”
He could feel her penetrating gaze. He didn’t want to face it. The lack of anger, of irritation there, always saddened him in the last deep place he had left. It was too close to the look on his own face in the mirror.
But she stirred eventually, straightening the couch’s throw pillow and linking her fingers over her crossed legs. “Does your work still make you happy, Draco?”
He frowned vaguely. Outside the clouds rolled overhead, grey and thick. “Yes,” he said after a moment.
“I’d like you to tell me why.”
He looked at her. “Again?”
“I believe it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time.”
Draco smirked and let his eyes close. He thought through the darkness, the tempting stillness. “I made it,” he murmured. “I built it, I maintain it. It’s… mine.”
“Something you can be proud of?”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t necessarily use that term.”
She let out a pensive exhalation. He could almost see the frown on her features, the conscious selection of words. “How have you been managing lately? Are you still Polyjuicing?”
“I went without all last week.” He pondered, and she remained silent and waiting. Draco rubbed his fingertips over the fabric of his trousers. Up and down, up and down. “Last night I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to… deal with all of it.”
“With the looks on their faces. The thoughts they don’t ever speak.” He shook his head and pursed his lips, determined to stop the mangled flood.
“Have you spoken to your Healer about the side-effects of the Polyjuice, Draco?”
“Listlessness. Fatigue. He’s just going to tell me what I already know.” When she didn’t respond, he finally looked at her, managing a weak smile. “I know. Alright? I haven’t forgotten. I’m trying, I really am.”
She smiled back gently. “Stopping is only going to help you. Keep reminding yourself.”
“Tell the rest of the world that.” Draco lowered his chin, blinking twice. “Hells. It’s not even addictive.”
“I know,” she said solemnly. “I know.”
* * *
Potter’s ghosts proved to be stubborn enough in death to keep Draco’s Mondays and Thursdays eventful and his stomach… rather full. And Potter’s choice of venue was as eclectic as the spirits that romped through his dusty corridors, save in one respect: they were all Muggle.
“How is it you’ve developed such a wide range of tastes, Potter?” Draco said, pausing in mid-bite. Pasta with some funny green sauce. So plebeian, but actually quite tasty when Draco wasn’t feeling terribly belligerent. It had a savoury tang that wasn’t like much else he’d had. Certainly like nothing in Wizarding cuisine. Good riddance to that. He dabbed at his mouth with his napkin. “I don’t remember you being so open-minded about what you shoved in your face.”
Potter glared at him, slathering a generous amount of butter on the slice of bread he held. “Don’t take it out on me because you’ve never tasted pesto before. Who’s closed-minded now?”
Draco huffed, forking up another bite of noodles. “It’s not through lack of trying,” he simpered sweetly. Potter rolled his eyes.
Then pointed at him, brow furrowing. “Did you cut yourself?”
Draco reached up instinctively and touched his neck, just below his ear. He felt himself flush and dropped his hand. “It’s nothing, Potter. Your wraith got a bit too excitable today is all.”
“I have a wraith?”
Draco clunked his fork down on the table and frowned at the other man. “Oh, for Salazar’s sake, Potter, don’t you ever listen? I only told you about it three days ago. Surely even you can concentrate long enough to retain information pertaining to your own survival.”
Potter let that pass with a sigh. “Wraiths don’t usually stay in one place. I didn’t even know it was up there. Should be sucking the life out of all the other spirits, shouldn’t it?”
Draco blinked. It was rare to come across clients who knew anything substantive about his trade, let alone specific information about a certain type of entity. He hesitated, then nodded. “You should be so lucky. Alas, it’s not that type of wraith. Thanks to your dearly departed adversary, we’ve more than one sort of wraith to deal with nowadays.”
Potter looked up at him. “What have I got, then?”
“A poisonous one. Literally. It burned a hole right through your attic’s back stairway. And I’ve no idea why it’s not wandering around your whole house. Hells, I’ve no idea why you aren’t dead already, considering the things that have taken up residence in your home.” Draco shook his head disdainfully and took a forkful of sautéed corn.
Potter shrugged. “Always something.”
Draco looked at him askance. “You’re a little too calm about this.”
“Why, Draco Malfoy. Are you worried about me?” Potter said loftily, a teasing grin on his face.
Draco fixed him with a glare. “That was my professional opinion, Potter. You know, I think that girl was protecting you inadvertently, just by being a pure spirit. Either that or the Ekimmu really didn’t like the Doppelgänger. That creature’s a real puissance. Scared the wraith right down on my head today.”
Potter looked fairly intrigued. “Could this be because of the little fresh water fountain I’ve got in my bathroom?”
Again, Draco felt surprise. He didn’t exactly like the feeling, and narrowed his eyes at his companion. “Very probably, Potter. Any reason you didn’t feel it necessary to tell me?”
Potter’s face took on a lazily puzzled look. “No reason in particular. I didn’t think it made that much of a difference.”
Telling Harry Potter he could have been dead and rotting as early as three weeks ago seemed to be an exercise in futility. Draco twisted pasta onto his fork and took a bite. Swallowed. “Potter? Next time, you might leave life-impacting decisions concerning nether-entities to the experts.”
“Why I called you, isn’t it?” Potter returned glibly. “And you’re certainly living up to your good reputation.”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “I haven’t got any reputation of that sort.”
Potter chewed silently for a moment. “Maybe not everyone has bad things to say about your company,” he said eventually, playing with his pint glass.
Draco hmphed, unconvinced. He was fairly sure he’d get Potter’s reasoning out of him at some point. It didn’t really matter anyway. Reputation or no, Draco knew he was one of the best in his profession. Who gave a fuck what everyone else said? They always ended up hiring him when they couldn’t handle their ectoplasmic messes any longer.
“Besides,” Potter said, his tone more cheerful again, “you know your spirits. You saw right past the Doppelgänger. I’d no idea I had an Ekimmu. And now my mirrors don’t keep breaking.”
Mirrors breaking, and now the Doppelgänger, masking the other spirits. “You know quite a bit for a layman,” Draco said archly.
Potter’s face reddened. He hunched back over the table and picked at his broccoli. “I’ve… just done a bit of research.”
Draco chewed his food and nodded slowly. “Well. You’re the only one, then.”
Potter scoffed and finished off his pint, then signalled the waiter for another. “Face it, Malfoy, you’re fairly good at this job. I wanted someone who was good at this. You wouldn’t call a plumber who couldn’t fix your sink, would you?”
“Plumber?” Draco repeated, eyebrow raised.
Potter shook his head dismissively. “Never mind.” The waiter brought him another beer and he drank a third of it in one swallow. “I’m just saying you’re underappreciated. And no, I don’t mind saying it. Bloody stupid to call in an amateur just because the alternative gets your shirt in a twist.”
“My, my, Potter. I think there might have been a compliment in there somewhere. Under all the dubiousness, I expect.”
“Well,” his companion said, swirling his pint glass. “At least I have the pleasure of knowing that my spirit exterminator is better looking than all of theirs.”
Draco slowly put down his fork. Took a good, hard look at Potter. “Potter, you’re drunk.”
Potter quirked an eyebrow at him. “Maybe I am,” he offered loftily. But the look in his eyes when he leaned back in his chair was sharper than his words let on.
* * *
Draco threw down his gloves with a smack upon the dark marble countertop and smoothed a hand over his hair, drawing a deep breath. “My vaults seem to have been frozen again,” he said icily. “Would you mind terribly reinstating my credit accessibility before I’m forced into selling my business?”
The goblin blinked coolly at him from the other side of the counter. Always so unfazed, the goblins. Draco longed for that sort of demeanor, one he didn’t have to coax into existence on a day-to-day basis. “The Ministry has ordered all outside access by involved parties restricted for the time being. A routine audit of funds, Mr Malfoy.”
Draco felt his jaw tighten. He looked away from the goblin to get his bearings. An older man waiting at the next window was staring at him, an insolent scowl on his wrinkled face. Draco sneered back, glad of the outlet, and turned the other direction, only to find a pair of small girls tugging on their mother’s robes and peering his way. The taller of the two cupped her hand around her mouth, whispering breathy sounds into her mother’s bent ear. The younger girl stared at Draco with frank, curious eyes and one thumb in her mouth.
The mother looked up at him and her face hardened. She shushed her older daughter and turned back to the goblin assisting her.
Draco pursed his lips. He looked back at his own goblin, suddenly weary. “For how long this time?”
The goblin’s glittering gaze softened in some inexplicable way. “I do not know for certain, Mr Malfoy.”
Draco shut his eyes. When he opened them again, the goblin was still watching him. “I would appreciate a visit to my second vault,” he said quietly. “Holdings for Spiritus, Incorporated, owner Draco Ignatius Malfoy, three-two-three-eight-eight.”
The goblin nodded once and gathered his various keys. Draco followed him into the vault shaft, looking nowhere but straight ahead into the darkness.
* * *
She was watching him with wary eyes. “You missed our last session, Draco. Is everything alright?”
Draco scowled. “My apologies. I was detailing a voluntary termination agreement for Magdalena.”
She frowned and sat forward. “I’d thought she was doing well.”
He’d been annoyed by it all week. It felt too tiresome to get worked up again now. Draco sat back with a sigh. “She is the most promising entity banisher I have seen since the war.”
His therapist waited silently and Draco spit it out, feeling the words prick across his tongue in angry little volts. “Her family couldn’t give a flying fuck about that when they learned who she’s been employed by for the past year.”
“So.” He cleared his throat. Uncrossed and re-crossed his legs. “I am, once again, without an assistant. The Ministry must be soiling themselves with glee.”
“The Ministry forced her resignation?”
“Oh, no. I doubt I could find a way to pin it on their sorry hides. But they have frozen my account credit again. Early last week.”
She nodded. “How does that make you feel?”
“Exhausted. Can we talk about something else?”
His therapist’s brows pinched in a faint frown. But she inclined her head and folded her hands together. “What have the highlights of your week been, then?”
Draco smirked faintly. “The answer to that should certainly indicate how dire my circumstances have become.”
She smiled encouragingly.
“It’s Potter,” Draco said, and snorted to himself. “The arse seems to know every Muggle pub in the city. His liver’s probably ready to throw in the towel.”
“Do you two go drinking often?”
“He does. I’ve… well.” He gestured with one hand and she nodded. “But he can certainly hold his liquor. Either that or he’s secretly diluting it somehow.”
“I can see you enjoy the time with him.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “It’s pitiful. Or… it should be.” He gritted his teeth, shaking free of the inward spiral. Too far. Too deep. “At least Potter doesn’t treat me like the scourge of the entire earth. His reasons for disliking me are of a completely different sort.”
Her eyebrows lifted again slightly. “It doesn’t sound as if he dislikes you.”
“Look. I’m just sick of every ignorant piece of shite staring at me as if I’m about to infect them with ultimate evil. They don’t even know—” He stopped. And then his decision fell over the side into speech anyway. He would most likely regret it. “They weren’t there.”
Her eyes were open and deep. “It’s maddening, isn’t it?”
He looked away. “They’re only here now at all because of what… what we did. At least Potter gets it.”
She adjusted her hands into a modest clasp. “I understand it’s the anniversary of Pansy Parkinson’s death.”
Draco nodded curtly. “Well, she certainly timed it well enough. It’s Memorial Week already.” He tilted his head and pressed fingers to his eyes. “I went… to see her. Yesterday.”
“Yes. I went two days ago.”
Draco clenched his jaw shut. But he could feel the words coming up anyway. The tremble.
* * *
The sky rolled blue and puffy white above, clouds skidding overhead in the wind. Draco could hear the steady pop of Apparition fading behind him. His black shoes sank into lush grass as he walked. Up ahead, a solemn group of older witches chatted quietly together, their similar black hair, olive skin, and linked arms indicating family of some sort.
The ruins of the ancient abbey stood proudly against the cobalt sky and ivory clouds, and the green grass looked rich and soft in the sunlight, broken by rows and groupings of modest white stones and memorials. It was crowded; wizards and witches milled slowly among the headstones and statues. Draco passed over the charmed border and the sounds of continuous Apparition went silent. He heard gentle murmurs, easy laughter, and warm greetings around him.
It wasn’t until he passed a huddled group of people his age that the whispering began. He recognised them vaguely; from his class in Hogwarts, or the year before. Ravenclaws, two of them, and three Hufflepuffs. One girl from Gryffindor. They stared at him from beneath lowered eyebrows and snatched secrets from each other. Draco tightened his jaw and went past them, past the stones bedecked with glowing roses and strings of daisies, past the frozen statues of lost comrades.
There was no one near the small cluster of headstones in the east corner of the plot. Draco walked toward it, watching the grass pass under his feet. Hands buried in his pockets. The ends of his scarf whipped up and settled again. He crossed the almost-unnoticeable space separating the group of graves and the rest of the cemetery, and came to a stop in front of a smooth white headstone with bevelled edges.
Pansy Elisabeth Parkinson
1980 – 2000
A small bouquet of baby’s breath and dark pink roses lay at the stone’s base.
Draco frowned at it, puzzled. He glanced up, to the other barren stones in the little plot. Severus Snape. Linus Vaisey. Cyril Warrington and Tracey Davis, side by side. Others with names Draco only knew in passing. None of them had flowers under their headstones.
None of them ever did.
Perhaps one of Pansy’s sisters? But the whole family had moved to America after the war— bullied out of the country after the war, his mind supplied— and it was unlikely that one of them was here. They hadn’t come in the years before.
Draco looked around. There were many people scattered about the cemetery, some faces he knew. Nearly twenty former Hogwarts students gathered about the large statue of Albus Dumbledore and his phoenix in the center of the gardens, several with dark eyes and twisted mouths flashing his way. Remus Lupin, looking as careworn as ever, walking contentedly in the southeast end, where Draco knew the carefully tended memorial to Sirius Black lay. And Harry Potter, a dark coat wrapped around his tall frame, collar turned high to guard his throat from the wind. His black, messy hair tossed in the draughts, spectacles gleaming. His face looked vaguely troubled and he was staring straight at Draco.
Draco turned away, for once glad of the unforgiving solitude of the Slytherin plots.
He stared at the bouquet, its petals moving gently with the breeze, for another moment, and then focussed on the headstone.
“Good morning, Panse,” he said softly. “How are you this fine day?”
The grass whispered around the base of the stone. Draco smiled half-heartedly and looked up at the sky. “It is a rather nice day. I’d wish you a happy anniversary but I’m afraid I haven’t the stomach for jokes right now.”
He squinted down at the grave. “I miss you. There. You’ve gotten it out of me yet again.” Draco shrugged fitfully, shifting his feet. “As always, I don’t especially miss everything. For example, that horror of a dress you insisted on wearing to the Yule Ball, or the bloody Valentine deluge every February. But I do miss the expression on your face when you gave me those Valentine’s, and when you wore that dress.”
He sighed again and fidgeted with his cloak hem. “Been a lousy year, Pansy. You’re lucky you’re down there and not… up here. Sometimes I just wish that I could—” He shut his eyes and swallowed. “Sorry. Today’s not the day for that. We’re supposed to be celebrating life. Your sacrifice so that we could all go on living.”
The sun parted the clouds briefly, making the minerals in the headstone sparkle gold and silver. Draco blinked, holding the thing lodged in his throat at bay. “Wish some of you were here. I visit Vincent at St. Mungo’s, but he’s… He doesn’t talk much. They won’t let me in to see anyone in Azkaban. Just as well. Nott would probably spit on me anyway.”
He stared at Pansy’s headstone silently, and the clouds shunted the sunlight in and out, turning the stone dark, then light, then dark again. The deep pink of the roses grew richer in the changing light. “Who gave you flowers, Panse?” he murmured.
“It was Ron,” said a low voice behind him.
Draco turned and saw Harry Potter, face pinked around the cheeks, eyes trained on the small bouquet at Draco’s feet.
Harry nodded. He stepped up beside Draco, hands shoved into the pockets of his coat. “She saved his life once. He remembers.”
Draco didn’t know how to respond. The roses looked so fragile, their colour vibrant amongst the white buds of baby’s breath. He remained in the grip of thoughts too raw to speak aloud, and then exhaled. Opened his coat and plucked one of the delicate ivory roses from within. Dew still lingered on the petals, protected by the charms he’d cast. Draco crouched and placed the long-stemmed rose in the grass alongside the bouquet.
He stepped to the right and laid the other rose at the base of Severus’ tombstone. But there was nothing he wanted to say there.
Draco straightened, pulling his coat tight around himself. “I hate Memorial Week,” he muttered.
Harry nodded, eyes a heavy green behind his glasses. As green as the rose’s leaves. “You want to go for a drink?”
Draco nodded, and followed Harry through the throngs of people out of the cemetery.