It was a messy little business. Apparently, they were sending over a Ministry official to clean it up, but Malfoy was loath to let one of those people into this house. Some House Elf-loving idiot who would moan and weep over the “poor dead thing”, immediately blaming its master for the death and sending him to Azkaban for abuse. Yes, that sounded about right.
He would somehow have to get rid of this official, keep them out of his way while also keeping them out of his wife’s sight. Astoria would not like to hear of this dead House Elf. Of all the wives his mother could have picked....
Bother that. Better check the so-called scene of the crime.
The kitchens of Malfoy Manor were impressive in size, all polished black and chrome, the very best cauldrons and stoves in place, a large ice box taking up one corner – those Muggles were good for something, after all. Draco remembered seeing these counters lined by dozens of house elves, chopping and mixing and stirring and preparing. There were only a half-dozen kitchen elves these days, and one of them was dead.
More than mere annoyance. His inheritance was only crumbling further into nothingness.
The body was there, covered with a kitchen towel conveniently stained with tomato – he knew enough what blood looked like. Only the feet were sticking out. It was a grotesque mockery of death.
He didn’t dare lift the towel. Leave that to the Ministry slave.
But he did check the remainder of the kitchen, making sure that nothing seemed out of place or untoward. The knives were all in their slots, the fires were out, and the cauldrons were neatly stacked in one corner. Nothing that could have caused this death. Nothing at all that he could see.
When he left the kitchen, he locked the door behind him. For what reason, he himself was not sure, but it seemed like the wise thing to do. Something to impress the Ministry enough that they would, in the future, leave him quite alone.
Now to work on the study, clean up all the little things that might have been taken for dissent, the recurrence of his old pureblooded ways. He dug through piles of parchments, towers of financial scrolls, and the drawer full of dried up ink bottles and broken quills. There were a few items, mostly harmless, but that, if interpreted a particular way, could mean Azkaban, or at he very least a hearing at the Wizengamot. He hesitated over them before placing them in a hollow book and returning to his desk, becoming more abstracted by the moment.
“Dad? What is it?”
Scorpius had stopped outside the door to his father’s study, blue eyes curious.
Malfoy waved a negligent hand. “Business matters, Scorpius. The state of the economy is not promising at the moment.” He bit off the words that appeared next in his mind: all because of that stupid Potter. One didn’t say those things anymore.
There was disquiet in Scorpius’s face, but after a moment he shrugged.
“Sorry ‘bout that.”
A glace at the clock, still another hour to go. “Off to Quidditch, then?”
“Yeah, Pucey’s got a new broom, going to let us all try it out.”
Still more parchments to glance through. Any that should not be seen? Have to make sure that everything is secure and clean. Yes, very clean.
Scorpius was waiting for an answer. Malfoy’s voice rang out sharper than he had intended.
“Why are you still here? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
The lack of reaction should have bothered Malfoy; Scorpius didn’t even blink.
“I’ll be back for dinner, Dad.” And he was gone.
Malfoy stopped, parchment in hand, looking out the window to where he’d see his son on his way out. Astoria told him all the time to be nicer, one of those good encouraging dads, but that was beyond him. The so-called encouragement he had received still left its scars. He still heard the Dark Lord’s high-pitched voice in his nightmares, ever commanding.
He closed his eyes, missing Scorpius pass by. The flashes of green light behind his eyelids brought back the same helplessness, the same fear, reminding him why he shouldn’t hate Potter. If not for that damned Potter, he’d be dead. Or worse, as his mother was kind enough to remind him.
Annoyance at Potter was enough to make the terror subside. He set aside another parchment, just a bill for robes. Scorpius growing too fast, Astoria always wanting the newest fashion, they’d make him go broke. Things hadn’t been the same since Father–
The gong resounded through the house, an intrusion somewhat welcome, even if the reason for it was not. The Ministry official must have arrived. Just bloody wonderful.
He remained by the window, waiting for another of his elves to fetch the official to him. That would set the scene, putting whoever-it-was in their place without him having to say a single word. By keeping his back to the door, he could retain that lord-of-the-manor styling that his father had so easily mastered. It was something he’d never been given the time to master himself.
Footsteps in the hall, the high squeaky voice of the house elf, chattering away with that... whose voice was that, anyway? And who in their right mind would speak to a house elf as though the creature was an equal?
His stomach twinged in anticipation – should have skipped luncheon – at once recognizing and denying the identity of that voice.
No. No. Anyone but her.
He turned as the door opened, curiosity getting the better of him. The house elf kept to the shadows, bowing as the Ministry official entered, marked disapproval on her face. Yes, the same face, with only the slightest changes that came with age. Hair still that impossible mess, the complete opposite of his wife’s well-charmed mane. Hermione Granger. He should have known she would be the one to come for such a thing as this.
Once the door had closed behind the house elf, she took the reigns.
“The Ministry is curious as to the death of one of your house elves, Mal– Mr. Malfoy.” The word “mister” came packaged with a large helping of scorn.
He put his hands in his pockets, attempting to appear unperturbed.
“I was aware of that. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, would you, Granger?”
A slight pucker of the eyebrows revealed her anger, even as she kept her voice level. “You will please address me with respect, Mr. Malfoy, as I do to you. With your cooperation, I can complete my investigation as soon as possible.”
They stared at one another, assessing, trying to poke into the mind of the other to find a desired answer. Finding nothing he wanted, Draco looked down at her robes. Fine quality, but not the best, just good enough. The Weasleys were no longer in need of funds as they once had been, so it seemed that her economy was based entirely on choice. She did not need the best.
And why would she need it? After all, she was one of the fabled Golden Trio, saviours of the magical world, the ones who had spared him, saved his family.
He owed them everything.
For that, he hated them. Not because of their Muggle-loving philosophies or because Granger was a dirty mudblood. Those things didn’t matter anymore. No, it was for their pious modesty, possessing the potential to own the world and taking none of it.
Yes, her proposal was satisfactory. The sooner she could leave, the better.
“Then have at it, Mrs. Weasley.” He made sure to drag out her name with a certain mocking tone. “Whatever it is you wish to ask me, ask.”
Draco conjured a chair for her, then sat in his own, leaning back in a most precarious position, fingers templed. She hesitated before sitting, as though such a passive position would show weakness. When she did, she removed a quill and parchment from her satchel, facing him again with a firmly set jaw. She was harder than he remembered; there was less of the brainy snob and more of the hard-hearted bitch.
Ha! As unlike his wife as was possible. He was becoming more appreciative of Astoria’s womanly softness by the minute.
“What was the elf’s name?”
For a moment, he was unsure if the elf actually had a name.
“You would have to ask the head elf that.”
She looked up sharply. “You don’t even know all their names? They are your employees.”
There was so much astonishment in her voice he thought – no, hoped – she would explode.
“They are kitchen elves, Granger.” It was far easier to call her by that name. He’d never understood why she married a lump like Weasley. “They’re not meant to be known by their masters.”
Her hand rapidly moved across the parchment. Probably scribbling as many insults as she could come up with.
“I suppose you wouldn’t know how long he or she had been working for you?”
Draco shrugged. “Astoria would know. She purchased most of them.”
Purchased. What a word. She would, of course, despise him for using it. Right on schedule, she bristled, the quill poking a hole through the parchment as she furiously dotted an i.
“Do you keep no record of your employees?”
He silently applauded her for maintaining a level voice. The way she was looking now, she should be screaming at the top of her lungs.
This was too much fun.
“Of house elves? Are you mad, Granger? As I said, my wife will know for certain, or you could always ask one of the other house elves.” He paused, smiling. “You seem to build quite a rapport with the creatures.”
Scream in one.
She took in a breath.
Her face turned the perfect shade of Gryffindor scarlet.
“Rapport? They are living beings like yourself, Malfoy. And the way you treat them, I’m not surprised that one died on you. The poor elf probably died from neglect and loneliness! How you ever got the permit to employ them–”
Yes, that was how low the magical world had fallen. Permits for house elves. All because of this persistent and infuriating witch. But he hadn’t made her lose her temper all the way quite yet. She had not called him names or whipped out her wand. Or, worse, smacked him as she had back in third year. Now that figured among some of the worst moments of his life, second only to his days with... under... His power.
“Malfoy? What in Merlin’s name is going on? You look like–”
Seen a ghost? Not far from the truth.
“Nothing.” He sat forward, placing his folded hands on the desk. “Continue, Granger.” His voice sounded too breathless. Damn memories. “You did, I believe, say that the sooner we finished this... interview, the sooner you could finish the investigation.”
She was watching him with a different look in her eyes now. That curiosity he remembered, a hunger of the mind, seeking all that was unknown.
“Was there more you wanted to know, Granger?” His voice tightened. He wanted her gone. That last thing he needed was that curiosity digging through the skeletons in his closet.
She was still looking at him, unwilling to let him dictate this discussion.
“Why is it that you’re unable to control your emotions, Malfoy? Feeling guilty, perhaps?”
Yes, but for a different reason than she suspected. Something he would never tell her.
“For what? Not keeping better records of my... employees. That was your term, I think.”
Had he come this far in life to sit here in a verbal duel with an old enemy? He would never think of her as a rival. Mudbloods like her–
No. Must not use that word anymore. Even in his head. Better to discard it entirely rather than suffer further persecution by the Ministry. They watched him, he knew it. All the time, lurking about the corners of his existence, waiting for him to slip up, just as his father before him. He was not unlike his father, but he was not a replica of Lucius Malfoy, Salazar rest his wasted soul.
“Perhaps for having killed it.”
Draco’s eyes rose to meet hers. He was conscious of his surprise and did nothing to hide it. That she would actually think–
“I can assure you, Granger, that I don’t go around killing the things I’ve paid for.”
Said like a true Malfoy.
She did not lower her gaze as Astoria always did. She met him equally, perhaps even from above; she was, after all, morally superior.
They glared at one another over his desk as though making up for all the years they’d forgotten the other’s existence. The clock ticked past one minute, then two, and was rounding out the third when she turned to look at the room. It was the first time she had observed the surroundings, having before only focussed on his fair form. What she noticed was beyond him, but it seemed to assist her in making a decision.
“When will your wife be returning, Malfoy?”
He blinked. Not the question he’d been expecting.
A light frown appeared on her face, then vanished.
“That will have to do, I suppose. In the meantime, I will need to see the house elf.”
Finally, she was ending this ridiculous interrogation. Draco pushed a button under his desk, avoiding all eye contact. Pokey opened the door some moments later, clutching his stiffening hands, eyes wide.
“You called Pokey, Master?”
Hermione was now bristling again. The house elf’s voice sounded more pathetic than usual.
Draco leaned back in his chair once again.
“Show our guest” – he enjoyed saying that word with a certain relish – “the kitchens.”
Placing quill and parchment back in her satchel, Hermione rose and moved to follow Pokey from the room. She did not once look back at Draco.
“And Pokey.” The house elf froze at the sound of his master’s voice. Draco felt gratified at the clutching of Hermione’s hands into fists. “Kindly answer all of Mrs. Weasley’s questions. I’m sure she’ll have quite a few.”
With that barb, he motioned them to leave.
The door shut with a sharp click and Draco let out a long-held breath.
She would only be back for Astoria. Not for him. He was safe.
Hermione Granger, wife of that dunderhead Weasley, would leave, and he would hopefully not see her for another decade or so.
Preferably, never again.
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