Chapter 4 : SCENE FOUR
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Big news from the Prophet today, for once. Local elections were disrupted by a handful of riots in the evening. Started out as a few protests, some arguments back and forth, general disruption, but spread pretty quickly. From the pictures in the papers it looks bad. All of London was in Diagon Alley, it seems, screaming at one another, breaking windows, and then some rumor spread that there were men in masks coming down the street and of course people panicked, trampled all over one another trying to get out.
The strange thing is that no one can figure out what started it, or where the rumor came from. Some people are starting to say it was orchestrated. It makes sense, the Dynasty would love to disrupt elections, but that's a bold move. If it was them, they're celebrating in Knockturn Alley now: the Ministry is in a complete shambles trying to clean up, arrest anyone they can, and everyone in the city is screaming about compensation and a stronger Auror force. Waste of time, if you ask me. If they knew how many Aurors spend their time in the Club drinking brandy with the Alley girls or playing cards, they might say something different. I may drop by to have a look around myself tomorrow night, for curiousity's sake. I have a few things to look into for a new client anyway. And I told Pansy a month ago I owed her a drink, if she doesn't get to collect soon she might get bored and send some other poor schmuck to drag it out of me.
The man lying on the ground is young, four or five years younger than Draco himself. In death, he carries no burdens, but something about his face suggests that even in life he was little more than a kid, doing his very best to act hard in a hard world. Draco can't be sure, but he'd bet a handsome amount that he's found Kevin Whitby.
Another man might be moved by the sight, might be angered at the loss of young and promising life. Draco stands with his hands in his pockets and a blank expression. He's no stranger to death, death and he have been respectful aquaintances since one night when Draco was sixteen and somebody burned a mark into his arm. And he has no illusions of grand tragedy. A young man is dead here and hardly anyone will notice. Maybe his parents, his close friends, but the world will not miss the man Kevin Whitby will never grow up to be. It's the anonymity of it, the sheer pointlessness of it that bothers Draco, bothers the hell out of him. But he's got a job to do and no room now for sentimental mistakes.
He crouches beside the body. It's cold and stiff. Whitby didn't die in the past few hours, he's been gone for a day at least, if not two. No sign that he died of anything messy, but Draco didn't think there would be. The Dynasty likes to keep their hands clean. But he's laying at an awkward angle, one arm half bent under his torso, his feet tucked beneath the table. It's a strange way for someone to fall. And the thin layer of dust on the floor around him looks smudged, disturbed. Whitby didn't die here. He was placed here by someone, levitated, probably, on purpose.
So what does that mean? Who dumps a body in their own workshop and then leaves, without turning out the lights? It doesn't make sense, unless someone else put the body here and left it for Coal to find. It would explain the lights, the positioning of the body behind the table. Someone wanted to scare the daylights out of Coal, but why? And who was it?
It's distasteful but it has to be done. He gingerly searches the dead man's pockets, trying to touch him as little as possible. He tugs on a sleeve and the body moves slightly. It reminds Draco of the way they used to twitch on the ground when he stood over them with his wand outstretched, pushing the curse out, trying not to vomit. But he doesn't have time to think of that now. Most of the time, he's able to push thoughts of the war away, but sometimes they intrude, slithering back in like a snake around locked doors. Now he concentrates, staring at a patch of dusty concrete until his mind is clear, as his Aunt Bellatrix taught him a long time ago.
There's a dead man on this floor and somebody knows why. He won't be alone for long, not if they wanted Coal to find the body. Whitby's pockets are full of junk: a few coins, a spare quill. There's a small fold of parchment in his pocket. Draco unfolds it. It looks like a stack of scraps, things he jotted down, a few names and numbers in that same familiar but still meaningless arrangement. Draco slips the stack into his pocket and stands up. Coal hasn't found the body yet, of that he's sure. A man doesn't find a body in his workshop and leave it sitting there. No, this little surprise is still waiting. But once he sees the dead man Coal's sure to clam. Nothing more efficient at sealing a man's mouth than a corpse on the ground.
No, Draco has his own ideas. As long as Coal doesn't know Whitby is dead Draco has one up on him and he intends to keep it that way. He waves his wand over the body, and it begins to rise, floating into the air like a sick marionette puppet. Draco lowers Whitby into a crate and with another flick of his wand he seals it. There's nothing else to be learned here. He turns and walks back to the door, his macabre luggage floating along behind him. He waves his wand and the crate vanishes. He'll keep it in his office until he finds something else to do with it. In the meantime, he'll follow it there. He has thinking to do on this one and he's seen quite enough for the day.
He apparates to the outside of the building and ducks inside quickly to avoid the rain that's pouring down in fat, heavy drops like righteous tears from the sky. He stops on the ground floor to check the mail. Nothing, nothing, and a card from his mother. The world could be splitting beneath her feet and she'd still be sending thank you notes and planning dinner parties. She still behaves with all of the regal dignity and discipline that she did when she ruled over Malfoy Manor.
He takes the stairs up the the fifth floor where his flat and office await, accessed through the same tiny hall. When he steps out of the stairs, coat already half off, he finds another surprise waiting and can't decide if it's good news or not.
"Hello, angel," he says to her, as she stands up from the bench where she sat waiting. She smiles: he's pleased her with the sarcastic nickname that he gave her years ago. Her coat is still rain-speckled so she hasn't been waiting long. He steps forward to the door and unlocks it. Once in a while, when he's annoyed with her, he'll bring her into his office and make her sit with a desk between the two of them until she learns to play nicely. Now though he lets her into the flat, locking the door behind him. She hasn't raised his temper yet and besides, it's a bad idea to let Pansy catch you with a corpse in your office.
She follows behind him and when he pauses to take off his coat properly she slides it from his shoulders for him and hangs it up on the coatrack behind her as though she's welcoming him into her own home.
"I'll light a fire," he offers when she takes off her own coat and reveals the thin red fabric she's wearing beneath. She's shivering already; his walls are thin and the cold outside creeps in like they weren't there.
"I guess I didn't dress for the weather," she admits, tilting her head and looking down modestly.
He laughs. "Yes, you're delicate," he says dryly. "If that storm were colder than you we'd all have frozen in our beds."
She smiles again, with a little twist of her head as though agreeing with him, and sits down on the sofa. It's one of the few pieces of furniture in the sparse room. He doesn't have much interest in interior decorating and the flat is small enough without elaborate furniture. There are few personal effects, just a picture on the table in a plain frame of his mother and father on their wedding day. He doesn't keep very many mementos and leaving them scattered about the place makes him feel cluttered.
He lights the fire and fixes them both a drink. He knows what she likes. She hates the taste of alcohol but she drinks it because, as she once said, "a little burn feels good, every once in a while."
"Did you find your lost pet?" she asks when he's sat down. She has her legs curled beneath her and her shoes sitting carelessly on the floor. He's forgotten how different it is to have her here, rather than seeing her in full costume at the Club. She's still full of more twists than a Gringott's cart but she's comfortable here, not quite so sharp. It's this Pansy that he sees a little in Rose's picture, the Pansy that might have turned out a little more innocent if things had gone a little differently. On the three occasions where she's told him, once casually, once resentfully and once playfully, that she loves him, it's always been this Pansy who said the words.
"Not yet," he replies, shrugging. "It's starting to seem like I ought to be looking fast, though."
"Poor girl," she says, and it sounds as though she might be sincere. He supposes she can afford to be generous.
"I don't suppose you've come with any useful information," he points out, raising an eyebrow at her. Any time he looks at her his gaze falls somewhere else, not because he's avoiding her eyes but because he tries to read her like a map: here a slender wrist holds onto the too-large glass he's handed her.
"Yeah, I did, as a matter of fact," she says, and now he's paying attention. "But maybe I'll keep it to myself. Don't rush into business, darling, I'll think you're in a hurry to be rid of me," she evades, and something's not quite right about her hurt expression. Sure, it's silly as ever, but she seems to be trying too hard.
"Maybe I am," he says, taking a drink. "God knows I'm tired and I've had enough riddles for one day." He makes to stand up, but she catches his hand and stays him, though she must know it's a bluff.
"Alright," she says, pulling him back down. He sits once more, facing her with an expectant frown. "Yes, I've got words for you about your little business. Whitby's back," she says matter-of-factly.
Draco's thrown by the statement. He knows Whitby's not back, in fact, Whitby's closer than she could possibly know. So why does she want him to think that he is? She's got some ace in her sleeve and he won't get to see it until he gets to the end of her puzzle so he plays along, leaning back into the arm of the sofa. She's got a hidden motivation and he doesn't trust it.
"Really? Well how about that. I suppose I'll just have to stop by the Club tomorrow and have words with him," he says, quirking his eyebrow at her.
She's biting her lip and it's brilliant, reluctant and charming, hypnotizing like a snake handler's song but he knows he's the snake in this story and he isn't going to buy what she's selling. "You could let me do it," she suggests, tilting her head at him. "Why would he talk to you? He doesn't know you from Adam."
"Oh, and you think you can play Eve, do you?" he says with a slight laugh. He sits up and leans forward, observing her closely with his hands on his knees. "Now there's a problem with that idea and I'd have thought it was obvious. I can't let you talk to him because I don't trust you, as you well know, and for good reason. So why don't you tell me why you want me to stay away from the Club?"
She sets her drink down with emphasis and stands up, seeming restless, her hands twined together in front of her as she walks away from him. He stands up too, draining his drink, and leans against the back of the sofa while he watches her. Turning around, she seems to give up and comes back to him like a remorseful seraphim, perching on the arm of the sofa and waiting while he turns and stands in front of her, his hands in his pockets, waiting.
"Just this once, Draco. I know you don't trust me but will you listen to me? Stay out of it. I'll ask him anything you need, but don't come back, you'll only dig yourself in deeper," she suggests, and when he looks amused, she slides from the arm of the sofa and stands a few inches away from him, her hand touching the side of his neck warmly. "They'll be after you, Draco, they'll do anything to stop you from looking any further into this. Rose is fine. She doesn't need your help. But I do. Please, if you won't save your own skin, do it for mine."
Her eyes drop as though she's ashamed and she turns her head to the side, the picture of despair. In the light from the fire he can see what she's showing him: the dark shadow of a bruise beneath her left eye, tracing her cheekbone. He raises his hand and brushes it with his thumb, clearing away the fine powder of makeup that she's worn over it.
"And they did this to you, did they?" he asks, anger coloring his words with dark baritone. She nods silently, her eyes closed.
His hand moves from her cheek to her chin and he cups it, turning her face back to his forcefully, though he's careful not to hurt her. Her eyes open and she stares at him in surprise.
"Are you quite finished, angel? Is that the end of your sad little story, meant to make me angry and gather you up like a broken china doll and promise anything you ask? Well good, because I've got a story of my own for you. Kevin Whitby isn't back because Whitby is dead. I've just come from the workshop where I found his body. So I suppose if I agreed, you were going to go back to the Club and return with some wonderful happy ending to feed me, about how Rose is fine, she's gone skipping back to her parents like a good girl. So why don't you tell me why you really want me to back off, Pansy, because, while it was a nice touch, that little mark on you, if the bosses were laying hands on you you'd be a different color, or dead."
There's resentment burning in her eyes now, beneath the single swoop of dark brown hair that's fallen into her face. He releases her and she shakes it away, defiant.
"Alright, you're very clever," she says, pulling her wand from the bag she's left on the sofa and tracing the bruise on her cheek with the tip. It vanishes instantly.
"It wasn't your best work," he says bitingly. "Which makes me something's rattled you. So why don't you try the truth and see how far you get with that?"
Her face is still defiant but she's not ashamed, she simply hates getting caught. "Fine," she agrees, sitting back down on the arm of the sofa. There's something exhilarating about her anger and he watches her now because it's difficult to look away. "I meant what I said. They're on your back. Someone at the University tipped them off. You've really fallen into it on this one, Draco. There's a lot of people with a lot of money and that's a lot of incentive to make sure that you don't go digging up something you're not meant to."
"Oh yeah? And what's the operation that I'm not meant to dig up?"
"As though they'd tell me," she says, raising an eyebrow. "All I know is they know I know you and they sent me to try and discourage you from furthering your advances."
"There you go with that truth thing again," he says, crossing the room to her swiftly. "Now don't tell me you don't know because I'd be seriously surprised if there was anything you weren't aware of that happens in that Club. Now maybe what you meant is they don't know you know and that's just fine with me but you're not doing yourself any favors, love."
She's silent for a minute, her blue eyes shining darkly like the moon on water, before she shakes her head. "I don't know any details," she says firmly. "All I know is they're running something out of the University. Some kind of recruitment but they're gathering gold on it too. That's why they've hired all of these fools from the bottom of the barrel."
"Anything to do with Leon 'Low? 'Blocks'?" he asks her, watching her closely.
"Yes, that's it," she says, leaning her head to the side with her eyes on him, so that her hair spills off of one shoulder and reveals a pale expanse of her neck. "Blocks. That's what they're selling to the students."
He remembers the strange substance, like potion ingredients, that he found at the workshop. Blocks- a term for the tiny boxes it was sold in. And the new craze among the students, the mind-addling drug that no one can trace. The blank stares. It all fits.
"So the Dynasty is pushing mind benders on the students, getting them addicted, recruiting them young," he says aloud as he works it out in his head. "It's a pretty good plan except that they're running two operations simultaneously. They want in on the Ministry, they have elections coming up. Can't risk anybody tying one of their cookie cuttter politicians to the deals. You're right, Pansy, this is a bit more than I was expecting," he admits, raising an eyebrow at her.
"So why don't you back off? You'll only get yourself in trouble. And Draco..." she says, then she hesitates, and this time it seems genuine. "They know we've been tied in the past. They're not feeling very generous toward me at the moment and they want me to reign you in. If you don't pull back it's falling on me."
He looks at her with all of her intoxicating darkness and he knows what she means and furthermore, if she gets pulled under because of this, it's his doing. He always knew they'd get him for something. Well, now he's dragged Pansy into it, and she's sitting pretty in the snake's den as long as he keeps digging. He puts a hand on her waist.
"You've really got a talent for hooking bad men, don't you?" he asks, and the corners of her lips twitch into a smile.
"That's why you love me, isn't it?" she asks, her eyes smouldering beneath her eyelashes.
"Who says I do?" he challenges, and he pulls her closer and she presses her lips to his, and he can taste the whiskey on them and it's sweeter than he's ever tasted it and more bitter than he could imagine. He pulls away and she's quiet, beautiful in her stillness.
"Let me worry about the bosses," he says, while her fingers press warmly into where his pulse beats in his neck. "You can tell them you spoke to me. Tell them I don't know anything, that I'm still looking for Kevin. You're already dancing on thin ice and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. Don't go back to your place. When you leave the Club let someone walk you until you've Apparated, someone you trust. You can stay in a hotel but don't tell anyone where. I'll try and keep you out of it but I can't make promises, alright?"
"I'm a big girl," she assures him, looking haughty. "I can walk the wire for a few days. And what are you going to do?"
"Rattle the cages and see what comes crawling out at me," he says, with a confident smirk.
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