Chapter 2 : Avalon
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Author's Note My sincerest apologies for taking forever to update, but life has been insane lately. Though it's finally summer, life is not slowing down, so updates will still be few and far between, I'm afraid. Hopefully this will placate you for awhile :)
Love, stuff, and cupcakes,
There was a sickly sweet stench in the air; of lilies, for the dead, and of poppies, for those left behind. Draco Malfoy hated the scent of such flowers and in the years to come would ban them from his family’s manor, but before he could make such a demand, he had to survive these weeks. He severely doubted he would, and so went about his temporary job with great frustration.
The Malfoys, eager to keep the victors happy and solidify their standing in the postwar social pyramid, set up an agency to recover all those wizards and witches who had gone missing in the Dark period. Draco hated his work with great passion: his insides were resigned to a constant state of sick turmoil. More often than not, his pursuit would end up fruitless, the subject of his halfhearted hunt long dead and gone. Rarely were the bodies recovered and given a decent funeral. The Crabbe family took it upon themselves to cremate the mutilated cadavers as they had for their son, their Vincent. Draco no longer mourned for his childhood crony, nor did he mourn the others who had Passed Away. They were dead, and there was nothing left to be done about it.
Business had been slow that day, as it had been for several days now. The final battle had been over for months, and the chill of December came and went without the usual bustle of students from all the Isles. Restoration of Hogwarts was still underway, and very few parents felt safe in sending away their bratty, terrified offspring. Thus the streets of Hogsmeade were considerably quieter than they would have been even one year ago. Christmas shoppers still flitted around here and there, but the nature of Draco’s work removed him from the surrounding festivities, somber as they were. Few people now needed to find missing relatives, or had resigned themselves by now to the prospect of surviving Yuletide without them. The few stragglers who stumbled into Draco’s barren office sought out loved ones who had disappeared recently–for, as he knew all too well, not all of His supporters had given up quite as smoothly as he had.
Draco’s makeshift desk, a large thing hauled from the wreckage of the great castle not too far away, was pitted with holes and dents and very close to collapse. It was very empty as well, for its new owner did not deign to use it, except as he did now, to support his lunch. A paltry meal, monotonous in its normalcy, he took a large swig of stale pumpkin juice and tucked in with no small reluctance to his sandwich.
As he finished his meager meal, a morose little bell above the door jingled. The proprietor shoved the remains of his lunch into the wastebasket on the far side of the office and stood, straightening his robes. Draco Malfoy, private detective of sorts, had changed a surprising amount in the past months. He had grown gaunt from the sickness of his soul, and his eyes sunk deeper into their sockets. No longer was he the pride and joy of his society–now he was politely tolerated at best, hostilely shunned at worse, and doomed to the peripherals of the dazed, newborn world.
He cast his dark eyes to the waiting room outside of his office and wondered if he would recognize the potential client, which he desperately did not want to do. For a moment, it seemed his fears were allayed, as the figure of the visitor was sheathed in a royal blue traveling cloak and the visage hidden under the shadow of the hood. Feeling the tiniest bit better, he ventured forward to greet the new arrival. The figure then pushed the hood back, and Draco bit back a gasp.
Her sable hair was longer than it had been when he last saw her; and her eyes seemed even darker and brighter than before; and in her vivacity there was now a tinge of strange desperation, a sense of slow decay in her world-weary smile. Draco could barely bring himself to return the gesture.
“Hullo, Draco,” said Daphne Greengrass, her voice much stronger and angrier than her expression may have led one to conclude. “How are you?”
Daphne bit her lower lip, more in silent fury than abashed anxiety.
“I s’pose you want to come in,” he said listlessly, recovering himself. “Make yourself at home.” Draco, every bit the gentleman, led her to the office and bade her sit down. She did so without argument, and as he made his way to the other side of the desk, she began tapping her foot against the leg of her chair impatiently. She didn’t stop when he began to speak. “So… welcome back.” Even he was unsure of whether this was a simple statement or confused inquiry.
She gave a wry grimace. “What, has anyone missed me? I thought that you’d all forgotten.”
Draco wondered at how she had gained this sort of initiative on her sojourn, if that was all it was. “I’ve–we’ve–we’ve wondered.” We’ve been kept up at night, wondering.
“I expect we weren’t the last to disappear.” Daphne gestured offhandedly at the office, the building, the banner proclaiming the business’ intent, the wastebasket. “I would assume that this is a very profitable venture, is it?”
Draco was loath to discuss his sickening job. Also, he did not want to admit how very profitable a venture this was in the first place. He was certain that if he talked about the agency and its work, then talk would turn, as it almost had moments ago, to Daphne’s whereabouts for the past year and a half. Draco was entirely capable of telling Daphne that no one had come to look for her, but he did not want to. The anger in her posture intimidated him ever so slightly–he, who had faced more horrible things and turned his face away in shame, was intimidated by a girl.
“Can I help you, then, Daphne?”
The tapping stopped. Instead she drummed her fingers on the material of her cloak. The soft sound, the barely-there sensation that there was some disturbance in the air, was no better.
He assumed that meant a yes.
“I want to find my sister,” she said.
Draco’s brow furrowed. Now that his assumption had been proven correct, he really did not want to do the job required of him. Very few of his jobs involved old friends or acquaintances, for those families long since realized that there was a very low chance of finding anything about their loved ones, but those few assignments were all the harder. There was no inordinate amount of sentimentality, but the ghost of what had been never failed to linger, unwanted and restricting. Draco felt it descending over him like a second skin.
“Weren’t you with her all this time?” he inquired at last.
“No.” Daphne seemed to shift in her seat, and the tapping of her foot resumed, as stridently as it had stopped. “I… no.”
“… I was in Prague.”
He refrained from asking where Prague was. Some old world Eastern European city, no doubt. Thinking about it, he wondered if the old world was any better than this new world, which was too young to be considered a real place where a civilization could thrive. Its inhabitants hardly made it through the night without waking with cold sweat dripping languidly down their backs, without having nightmares they couldn’t remember come the dawn. Draco was all too familiar with these afflictions, as well as others. Running away didn’t seem as odd now.
And yet… he couldn’t shuck off that second skin, which had seeped into his thought process and made his voice monotone, mechanical. As if this assignment had as little to do with him as the last. “What were you doing in Prague?”
Yes, hiding was the word. But Draco was not the confrontational type, and if his father was not breathing down his neck about salvaging the family name until such a time as he, Draco, was fit to take up the mantle of honor and responsibility, he would never ask Daphne to tell him anything about her time in the old world. But his father was breathing down his neck about it–unpleasantly warm breath, rank with bitter enmity and obsequious hatred for those in power–and so, he was forced to say:
“I can’t help you if you lie to me, Daphne.”
Those bright angry-weary eyes flared like meteors, and were as quick to dim. “Of course you can. The point is that I can’t find her, and you can.”
“You haven’t been in contact with her?”
“I was hiding.”
“Of course. Prior to Prague, then. Where were you, before you went into… hiding.” He tried not to put undue stress on the last word, but it happened despite himself. Oh, he was going to wrestle the information from Daphne one way or another, but the second skin was more a layer of ice, and he (surely) had better things to do than interrogate the girl who had only just reemerged from her self-imposed exile.
“Good. Where in Wales?”
Daphne shrugged. The cloth rippled down from her shoulders and played strange tricks of light on Draco’s strained, throbbing eyes. “I never… he never told us where. It was Wales, though. I know that.” At his torturously slow blink, she added, with an air of regret, “My father, I mean. You remember my father.”
He struggled to come up with any sort of evidence to support her assertion. Mr. Greengrass, Mr. Greengrass… a vague silhouette outlined in smoke from the Hogwarts Express… a deep, rolling chortle at the scathing comments his father made about some blood traitor or other (their names all ran like mud through his mind)... his mother’s distasteful pronouncement, The man has gone mad…
“Oh, yes, yes. Good man, your father. You were saying.”
Daphne seemed amused by his brushing off of the matter. “Yes, well, he took us out of school, you know, to Wales. There was a house he knew out there. Manor, I suppose. He never told us where we were, you see, because he was scared that we’d leave, and bring Him down on the others.”
Another memory was struggling to resurface in the mud and grime of Draco’s memory, so his attention to Daphne’s explanation wandered as he watched with bated breath the recollection emerge. In the meantime, she was saying, “But I… I knew neither of us could stand it, stand being there in the middle of nowhere with him. But she would never leave; she was too young… so I did. I left, but… I can’t find her.”
Didn’t I tell you, Draco? The man was mad.
“Here. Here’s all of it, everything I have.”
The sound of jingling coins awoke him from his detached, horrified stupor. Blinking the image of the pale cadaver with an ashen wand protruding from the chest cavity away, he tried to replace it with the moneybag Daphne withdrew from her robes. It was not as sizable as the Malfoy in Draco might have hoped. Now there was even less of an incentive to take the job, for the pay wasn’t up to his normal standards.
He shoved the pouch back across the desk. It seemed to be made of burlap, or something as rough and coarse. It didn’t suit this Daphne, with the lightning eyes and satin cloak. “Take it. I don’t want it.”
Perhaps the statement surprised her, for she did not take back the money immediately. When she realized that this was not a joke, that her childhood acquaintance was almost completely serious, her hand, blessed with calloused, sinuous fingers, snaked out from the sleeve of her cloak to snatch it back. “That’s very generous of you.”
“Not at all.”
Daphne almost smiled before pushing her chair out and smoothing her cloak. The color was too bright, Draco decided. Her hair looked frail, her skin pale with abandoned sunlight, and beneath the deep hood, the luster in her eyes became like two great sinkholes in her face.
“Don’t mention it. Really, don’t. Do you have a place to stay?” He remembered with uncomfortable precision having seen the old Greengrass manse not very long ago. The ruins were in too prominent a part of wizarding England to be sufficiently ignored. An undying testament to the scars left on nature and society.
“Not yet, but I’m sure the Leaky Cauldron has a spare room.”
Draco stood as well, and ever the conflicted gentleman, led her to the door. His shoes fell with hollow, heavy sounds, and when compared to her fleet footsteps, he felt incredibly uncouth. Unworthy of whatever blessings he had ever had. Surely this life was no blessing.
“Thanks again, Draco,” said she. “I really do appreciate it.”
“Not at all,” he repeated. “But…”
She looked up at the open-ended sentence.
“There’s one thing that’s bothering me about this, though.”
“Is there?” Her lithe hand was on the doorknob, and her foot tapping on the worn wooden floors. The sound made for a sort of metronome to which he matched his tone and speed of voice.
“Yeah. You’re still lying to me.”
Daphne’s eyes glittered with an uncanny light, fury overpowering anger or amusement, and she took his hand in hers. He wondered for a split second if she could feel his real skin, his raw and charred skin, underneath the layer of chill and decorum that had settled upon him for the past six months.
“I’m sorry. Really I am, Draco, but I… I can’t. But you will find her, won’t you?”
There was no truth that was not his, at least in part. The macabre fragrances of lilies and poppies from the street beyond were stronger than air to him, and the tears of bereaved relatives became his rain. He had grown up quickly, Draco Malfoy. Holding Daphne’s hand in his, and rubbing it to give her some sense of warmth, however warped, he reflected on the trouble he was indubitably facing. Finding the long-abandoned sister of a client whose recent past was so traumatic that she couldn’t face it. Trouble. He didn’t even remember what the other Greengrass girl looked like.
“Won’t you, Draco?”
His eyes were downcast and his tongue still when he showed her out the door.
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