He doesn't look at her. And she says nothing. But there is the tiniest shift in her position that he senses from the corner of his eye: her lips part, her shoulders sink downward, even the burn of her gaze seems to dull. He doubts anyone notices. It is as though she has wilted.
But his attention is focused entirely on Theodore, who is looking at him in a new light. "I'm impressed," he admits. "I really thought you lost it a bit, Malfoy. You know, you could have been a valuable part of this business," he says, almost regretfully.
"I'm not very good at following rules," Draco shrugs. Theodore nods thoughtfully.
"I suppose not. You know, if I was prudent, I'd just have you killed now."
A tiny acceleration of the pulse. "If you were prudent, you'd take the deal I'm offering you. If you were an idiot, you'd have me killed, and then let the Aurors come sniffing around when I don't report back to them," Draco replies.
"So you are smarter than you look," Nott sneers, but then falls silent. He seems not to know what to do now that he does not have the upper hand, and there is something caged about his expression that Draco doesn't like, something like an animal, cornered and desperate. He jumps in.
"It's up to you, Nott. Do you really think Rose Zeller is going to go to the Ministry? A scared little girl? Because the way I see it, you're going to have to take a chance either way. And I'm offering you much better odds, because I can tell you right now, I'll have no problems whatsoever turning you in. I only sent them over to the warehouse first so you would know I'm serious."
There is silence once more and this time it seems thin, like the air itself is beginning to drain out of the room, but Draco knows this is just him and he has to get out of here one way or the other. It's the tension of it combined with the horribly familiar setting and the thin-as-ice surface he was skating on beginning to build darkness up behind his temples. He blinks and rubs his eyes, trying to make the phantom spatters of blood on his vision disappear.
Theodore Nott is whispering to someone behind him and Draco realizes quickly how far he has stepped, because Nott looks nervous, and the other man is speaking fast and gesturing. And still there is a void to his right side, a hollow place where he does not allow his eyes to stray. But he feels blood grow thin and cold when Nott looks up again and he is not looking forward, but over toward that space, nodding, and the other man is whispering to the muscle that guards her, and she is moving forward.
He barely has time to be eternally grateful that she will not meet his eyes when one of the guards swings his hand and the back of it comes colliding into the side of her face with a sickeningly sharp sound. Her lungs betray her with an involuntary gasp, a small moan that sounds to his ears like rain hitting still water.
He barely glances at her. His face is blank and he is frozen, rooted immobile to the spot, silent.
"Well," Theodore says after a moment. "I suppose you've convinced me. You'll have to give us some time to get the deeds back in your name, of course," he says flatly.
"By all means," Draco replies, shrugging. "I'll be waiting for your owl."
He turns and leaves the room without a second glance.
Rain again. Perhaps it will continue to fall, determined to wash the city clean, not realizing that its sins are stained in blood and sweat and tears on the sidewalks. There will be no fresh, untainted beginnings here. He knows that as well as he knows anything but he still waits here, on the chair near the open window where the curtains flutter in the cold breeze of the downpour, swirls of cool afternoon mixed with strains of her perfume. He can't remember how long he's been here. His head is still echoing with the twisted fantasy that played out the night before in the house of demons. But the rain helps.
He doesn't turn around when he hears the soft click of the door swinging open. And she says nothing, though she must see him. Instead he hears the sound of her heels on the tile and then, after a second, the soft movement of bare feet. The rustle of a coat being hung up. The sound of tea kettle being placed on the stove. And then the sound of the door to the veranda opening and the soft sighs of the rain, louder now, gently lamenting the state of the world.
He gets up and follows her out. She's standing beneath an overhang, her eyes on the cascade of rain a few feet in front of her. She must be freezing with no shoes and no coat on but she doesn't shiver and she doesn't look at him.
"They'll kill you, you know that, right?" she asks him after a minute, her voice clear and melodic and simple.
"I don't think so," he answers, shaking his head.
"Oh?" she asks him, turning to him sharply, her eyes flashing in the gloom. "You think they'll just let you play them for fools and walk away? You think they care about some deal they made with you for a bloody house and some debt?"
"No," he admits, his forehead creased, staring at her. "I think they won't be in any position to kill me, as the Aurors arrived at the manor about an hour after I left."
She is silent then, a storm in and of herself, beginning to blossom into dark clouds of anger and, perhaps he is imagining it or maybe he just wants to see it, hurt. "You were lying?" she asks him, raising an eyebrow.
"No," he denies, stepping closer to her. "I was bluffing."
He can see her considering it and his stomach is contorted with sick desperation, for her to understand. "About everything?" she asks after a moment, and surely the soft and almost inaudible hitch in her voice is just another whisper of rain.
"Yes," he admits. "The Aurors were coming before I even set foot in that party. I tipped Potter off but I gave him the wrong time. I had to get there first, so I could make sure- I mean, God, Pansy, did you really believe it?" he blurts out, his hands taking ahold of her shoulders and turning her to face him properly, her gaze hungry on his face. "I just needed them to let you go before the Aurors got there. And the only way they were going to do that was if I didn't care. You know that, right? Christ, I was trying to keep you out of prison," he says, his jaw tight.
"I know," she confirms, and he lets go of her. She is watching him with that storm building in her eyes, her hands twisting themselves into his collar as though it will keep him there, and he shakes his head at her.
"I'm sorry," she breathes, and he can't look in her eyes anymore, but stares above her head into the rain. "I just-"
It is he who snapped first, who breaks through the soft layer of shushing wind and rain with his voice raised and sharp. "You're sorry?" he repeats, snapping his eyes back to hers. "Do you know what I risked? That if they didn't kill me, there was a good chance I'd go to prison, too?" his hands are at her waist now, pulling her sharply closer to him, her eyes locked to his. "Yes, Pansy, you knew. You knew the whole time and you played me like a goddamned violin." She is backing away from him now, into the path of the rain, and the water is sending dark current of curls into her eyes and running down her eyelashes. She is a goddess in the rain, half water herself, ever changing and never still, conveniently filling whatever void was left for her and impossible to hold onto for long. "Why did you do it, Pans? Why play that fucking game?"
He had taken hours to figure it out. Hours of waiting for her had given him the answer.
"They said they would kill you," she says, raising her voice through the water that spills over her lips. "If I hadn't done it, they would have, Draco."
"Convenient, isn't it, that you're such a good liar," he snarls, not caring about the freezing wind that is now quickly soaking him through. "So you volunteer to play kidnap victim and what- hope that I figure it out in time? Or were you hoping I wouldn't? That I'd go on thinking you were some poor victim and forgive you for everything?"
"They just wanted Rose back," she shakes her head, her palms flat against his chest now, her gaze searching his for any sign of calm. "Once you got her back, they would have let it all go."
"Well bully for them I had no way of getting her back even if I wanted to," he says sharply. "No, Pansy, this wasn't about me or Rose. This was about you taking control. Telling yourself you were doing me a favor so you could prove I'd do it for you, risk everything for you, and then maybe you could feel better about loving me. Maybe you could feel more secure. Because Pansy Parkinson never risks anything for anyone, no, you never take a goddamned chance do you, never trust anyone but yourself and perfect odds," he growls, and maybe she is crying, maybe that is why the rain on her cheeks is warm when he kisses her but it doesn't matter now, not when it mixes with the cold storm and falls to the ground the same way. He is unforgiving and she desperate and his kiss is cold and harsh.
"Enough," he gasps, pulling back from her, back into the dry shadow of the overhang above. She remains standing in the rain, her eyes staring after him. "I can't play hero for you anymore, Pans," he tells her, his eyes narrowed and jaw tight and his hands clenched into fists in his pockets. She says nothing, her hair hanging in wet, dark tendrils across her neck, a siren risen from the depths of the sea and here only as long as the storm could sustain her.
She does not come after him when he leaves. He resents himself for the bitter disappointment of it.
He rests his elbows on the scarred desk in front of him, flipping halfheartedly through his case notes. It gives him no satisfaction that he has put a serious dent into the operations of the Dynasty. No, they'll be back, and now they'll want blood. But they'll have to be careful how they do it and he knows he can stay one step ahead. Besides, he doesn't run away from death anymore. He dances with the devil, a quickstep, a waltz, and one of these days he will slip and never again recover. Maybe some deep and haunted part of him is hoping for it. A rest for the weary. He's weary of the game, of trying to prove to himself that he's not a demon like the rest of them, of outrunning his own past.
But it goes on. And somewhere, someone will put his skills to good use. Maybe he did accomplish something good, rescuing Rose from the clutches of the Dynasty. Maybe he should do work like this more often. Someone innocent was saved and that has to mean something for the balance of his soul, right?
He does not think of her. Or rather, he spends much of his time thinking about not thinking of her. He's heard some rumors, of course. But rumors never seemed to capture the fleeting essence of Pansy very well.
He remains in this tiny flat, despite the availability of the manor. His mother has moved back there and is beginning to rebuild some of the torn and crumpled parts of her once regal life. Even the roses are blooming again, under her guidance. But he knows he won't be returning. He doesn't mind it here, though it gets bloody freezing at night and the streets are filthy. He feels more at home here among the forgotten trash of the city.
A knock on the door of the office. Maybe this time will kill him, maybe it will damn him or save him or wake him up. Something to do, anyway. He rises and opens it and in steps a young woman with flowing golden waves of hair and a smile. She comes from money, he can tell instantly. This might mean trouble. He invites her to sit down.
"I was hoping you could help me with a bit of a mystery I have on my hands," she said, demure and sweet.
"If I can be of service, I will," he replies, gesturing for her to continue. "Draco Malfoy," he introduces himself, taking her smaller hand in his own and shaking it briefly. Her skin is warm and fragile.
"Astoria," she replies, the name like the sweet sound of wind chimes. "Astoria Greengrass."
If you have reached this point, thank you. For sticking with this story until the bittersweet end. I would also like to thank AquariaJasmyne, my dear friend, for her dedication to this story, because without her it would still be gathering dust on the archives somewhere around Scene Five.
If you enjoyed this story, please check out the sequel coming soon, titled InBloom. Featuring scandal, murder, love, lust, and of course, your favorite bad good guy, Draco Malfoy, as well as a cast of characters some old some new.