Chapter 14 : Surreal
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“Astoria, I couldn’t just leave work for another family party,” Draco said, fighting to keep his voice even. He was so exhausted that he could have fallen asleep standing. There were dark circles under his eyes that made his face look sunk in, and his skin was paler than normal. It had been weeks since he had had a decent night’s sleep, and on top of it all, he hated having to deal with this every single time that he couldn’t make one of Astoria’s events.
Now looking offended, Astoria roughly grabbed her coat from the back of the nearest couch. “It wasn’t just any party, Draco. It was my parent’s forty-fifth wedding anniversary! Not only were his colleagues there, but the top donors for his charity as well! Do you know how humiliating it was for me to show up without my fiancé? I think people are beginning to question if we’re really engaged!” She made her way across the parlor, putting in her earrings as she walked. Draco followed closely behind.
“Look, I said I was sorry—“
“And stopped by this morning with a sweet note attached to a bouquet of roses, like you always do! It’s just not good enough!” Now she was facing him, her hands firmly on her hips.
Draco threw his hands in the air. His stress levels were rising at an alarming rate, and his heart was pumping rapidly. “Oh, well Astoria, why don’t you tell me what is good enough, hmm? For the two and a half years that we’ve been dating, I’ve given you everything. I’ve treated you like nothing less than a queen and this is how I am repaid? Frankly, you’re on the verge of becoming unbearable.”
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that,” Astoria warned, shoving a finger in Draco’s face.
“Or what? You’ll find someone else? Tell me Astoria, who got you those ruby earrings that you’ve been wearing for the past month?” Draco’s eyes narrowed. The cracking that seemed to echo through the room originated from his tightly clenched fists.
Careful to not let her expression falter, Astoria let her hand fall to her side and took a step back. She firmly held her ground as Draco towered over her. “You did, for our two year anniversary.”
“Are you sure it was me? Or was it the man I saw you feeding ice cream to at Florean Fortescue’s a few weeks ago?” he accused. He watched as fear flashed across her face for just a moment before her jaw clenched.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Astoria said, slipping her arms through the sleeves of her coat and tying the waist. The volume of confidence in her voice had lowered noticeably, and her eyes looked as if they were watering.
Draco wanted to ask her why she had done it, why she strung him along like some blind idiot. He wanted to know what she thought would happen once they got married, or even why she said yes to him in the first place. He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake the answers out of her, but instead he knew that whatever she said, she would just lie again. His trust and his heart were broken, and he could no longer stand the sight of her. It made him sick.
Astoria watched as he began walking towards the fireplace, a solemn expression on his face. “Where are you going?” she asked, tears threatening to fall.
“I’m going to work. When I come home I don’t want to see you there. Don’t stop by, don’t even write because I’ll just burn it.” Draco grabbed a fistful of floo powder and stepped into the tall fireplace, his knuckles white from squeezing so hard. “I’m done with you.”
Green flames roared out of the fireplace, and Astoria was left sitting on her couch, a shocked expression on her face.
Draco slouched in his chair, a pile of his work lying before him. Thanks to the fight with Astoria this morning he wasn’t able to think straight, and the sleep deprivation made the words on the paper swim and his head pound. He let himself simmer in his own thoughts in the sanctuary that was the empty staff room.
He was a fool to think that being on his own, getting a modest job, and trying to marry into a well-respected pureblood family would be enough to give him a normal life. He could become head of the Auror department and marry the Minister’s daughter, but the dirty looks and snide remarks would never cease. Every double take and whisper he caused by merely walking down the street produced a guilty twist of his stomach. This was never the dark turn he wanted his life to take, and it was all because of decisions that were made for him when he was too young to understand and too scared to fight back.
And why in the bloody hell couldn’t he fall asleep?
The opening of the staff room door pulled Draco from his thoughts and caused him to sit upright very quickly. He made a quick grab for the files in front of him; just in case his new boss walked in, but when he caught sight of the bright red locks of Ronald Weasley he slumped back in his chair.
“Morning, Weasley,” Draco sighed, rubbing his face tiredly.
“Malfoy,” Ron grunted, barely acknowledging him. He opened the cupboard to grab a coffee mug, but then hesitated to close it after he grabbed one mug for himself. Never turning around he asked, “Want some coffee?”
Draco, who was laying his head on the table, twisted his face a bit. This must have been a dream that he was having while he had fallen asleep in the staff room. Otherwise, he must have misheard because surely nothing left Ron’s mouth but sarcastic comments and insults. He questioned in return, “I beg your pardon?”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Do you want some coffee?” he asked again, but more slowly. “Quick, before I change my mind.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” Draco answered, a bit baffled at what had just transpired. He blinked hard, hoping that might wake him up, but nothing happened.
Not a minute later, a steaming mug of black coffee was set down in front of him, and the man who brewed it had sat right across from Draco with his own small pile of case files and mug. Draco looked cautiously at the coffee, swirling it around a bit before taking a sip.
“Not to your liking?” Ron observed the disappointed look on Draco’s face and it made him want to roll his eyes. He took a sip of the coffee himself, and found nothing wrong with it. It was just the usual staff room coffee.
“Not bad. I’ve just had better,” Draco said, pushing the mug to the side. “What’s the occasion? I would think Hell had to freeze over before you extended a kind hand to me.”
“Who knows, maybe it has. Oh, almost forgot the whole reason I came in here,” Ron said, taking one last gulp of his coffee before throwing a folder in front of Draco.
“What’s this?” Draco asked.
“Harry asked me to bring it to you. He wants you to verify his work before he sends it to the head. Something about the case you guys worked on at the beginning of the month.” Although he had just sat down moments ago, Ron picked up his pile of work and made his way for the door. “Wants you to return it to him when you’re done.”
“How am I supposed to bring it to him?” Draco asked, opening the file to scan the contents.
“Are you trying to be funny?” Ron quipped, clearly annoyed. “Look at it and walk it over to him at his desk.”
“No, I’m not trying to be funny,” Draco sneered, standing up and straightening his pile of folders. “He got assigned to a protective study case three weeks ago and was supposed to be on twenty-four hour surveillance.”
“Well he mustn’t have gotten the memo, because I’m looking straight at him right now,” Ron said, motioning in the general direction of the other side of the Auror office.
The possibility that this was a dream was beginning to seem a lot more logical to Draco as the conversation carried on. Even though it was against department regulation to talk about confidential cases, he knew that Harry would have said something to Ron and Hermione, especially after it had been this long.
Draco stood up, left his work on the table, and rushed through the door after Ron to make a beeline for Harry’s cubicle. Sure enough, there he was, chatting away with another one of their colleagues.
“Potter?” Draco asked after the conversation had finished and the coworker walked away. “What are you doing at the office?”
Harry looked at him skeptically. “Well, I work here,” he replied slowly, narrowing his eyes questioningly.
“But you’re supposed to be working the Anaxandra Synder case.”
“I have no idea which one that is. Did it just come in this morning?” Harry pulled a new folder from his pile of cases and opened it, reading the notes another Auror had left behind on the cover.
The inner workings of Draco’s mind were becoming hectic and frazzled. His lack of rest was really beginning to make him question his sanity. First, there was the weirdly pleasant situation with Ron in the staff room, and now this.
“Okay, so you’re telling me, truthfully, that you don’t remember the protective custody case that you were assigned to three weeks ago.” Draco blinked hard again. He was certain that this wasn’t real.
“Draco, are you feeling well?” Harry asked, setting down his reading material.
The roots of the old Draco were beginning to show as he could feel his face forming a scowl. “Look, I’m fine! I think it’s you who isn’t well. You and bloody Weasley—“
“Draco,” Harry interjected firmly, “I was never assigned to a protective custody case. Maybe you’re mistaking me for someone else or you’re imagining things. Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m overworked and very tired. I hope you understand.”
‘What is happening?’ Draco urgently thought to himself.
Maybe Draco really wasn’t feeling well. He felt his forehead for any sign of a fever, but if anything he was a bit cool. There had to be some sort of explanation for what was going on, because he knew for a fact that he wasn’t losing his mind. Or was that a thing people who go mental say to themselves before they actually go mental? Merlin, Draco just wanted to go to bed.
In search of answers, he began to tiredly walk through the maze of cubicles, through squadrons of interdepartmental memos, and down a flight of stairs. Before he had time to let his eyes properly adjust to the plaque above the large metal door, Draco recognized that he had followed his feet to the Archives.
The Archives were where the department kept a copy of every case on file. No matter how insignificant or old the case may have been, it could be found here. There was one drawer situated in the center of the back wall that had a blank metal label.
In the very middle of the room stood a podium with tiny metal squares imbedded into it. There was one long metal plate at the very top that stretched horizontally, and twenty smaller metal plates, about a quarter of an inch measured diagonally, that lay underneath it in a neat row.
Draco took his finger and placed it at the very left edge of the long metal plate and slid his index finger across until the words ‘CASE NAME/NUMBER’ were centered. Draco did the same with the first smaller metal plate, but instead did a top to bottom motion. First he scrolled through numbers, then letters, until the letter ‘S’ appeared. He continued until the tiny engraved letters spelled out ‘SYNDER’. Pressing the top metal plate into the podium like a button, the label on the drawer began scrolling through names at a rapid speed. But, after a few moments, the label remained blank again.
He scrolled over the top plate again until it said ‘DATE SUBMITTED’. Ten of the smaller plates disappeared, and Draco entered ’17-09-2001’. The labels began scrolling again and soon the drawer was settled on the letter ‘A’. He opened the drawer to find three files, but none with Anaxandra’s name in them. Closing the drawer again, he scrolled the metal label until it landed on the letter ‘S’. He opened it again, but this time found it empty.
Resting his head in his hands once more, Draco heaved a heavy sigh. He felt as if his eyes wouldn’t open again. “What is going on?” he asked himself, before the door to the Archives opened behind him.
“Malfoy,” the sharp, deep voice of Gram Ellison, new head Auror, called to him.
“Yes, sir?” Draco responded, bringing his head up and turning to face him. The man was very tall—almost five or six inches taller than Draco. With his broad shoulders and wide stance, he looked, for lack of a better word, sturdy. He had the presence to command a room, and as soon as he came into his visual field, Draco’s back straightened a bit out of either fear or respect, he couldn’t determine.
“We’ve got an anonymous tip of a possible illegal animal trafficking situation in Knockturn Alley. I want you to go scout it out for any suspicious activity,” he demanded. He looked Draco up and down quickly before commenting disapprovingly, “Do you need to get yourself together first?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Draco said quickly, trying to smooth his rather chaotic hair. “Who am I partnered with?”
“No one, you’ll be tackling this one alone.” Gram’s tone was firm, like this was his final decision. “You should know your way around there pretty well already, anyways.”
Draco’s brow furrowed and he asked, “But sir, what if it gets out of hand?”
“I doubt it will,” he sighed, clearly bored of this conversation. “Anonymous tips are normally just paranoid citizens, but it’s our job to make sure that’s all it is. Good day Mr. Malfoy. I hope to see your report on my desk the first thing tomorrow.” And without another word, Gram turned on his heel and walked off.
Knockturn Alley was empty. Really empty. There were no homeless wizards wandering the streets aimlessly begging for money, no peddlers trying to sell Draco flesh-eating slug repellant or worthless “dark artifacts.” There was hardly even a wind that blew through the streets. He walked down the main roads, looking down every alley and side street, but they were all the same—empty.
“Some anonymous tip,” Draco snorted, shoving his hands deep in his pockets to keep his hands warm. The air was incredibly frigid, and it bit at Draco’s face fiercely.
All of a sudden, he could hear the sound of footsteps pounding on the cobblestone road behind him. Someone was running. Quickly, he clung to the shadows of an alleyway and waited. The footsteps could be heard growing closer and closer, and soon he could hear two sets heavy breathing. Someone was being chased.
“Leave me alone!” Draco could hear a masculine voice cry. “I don’t know anything!”
The response was silence, and soon two blurs of both black and blue had run past the alleyway. In hopes of catching up to them, Draco drew his wand and stepped out of his hiding spot when he felt a force at his back.
He toppled over from both surprise and lack of sleep, and hit his head hard on the cobblestone street. His vision went black and white for a moment, and then, with a fluttering of his eyelids before unconsciousness consumed him, he felt someone turn him over.
‘This must be a dream,’ Draco thought to himself as the last image he saw before he gave in to the darkness was the face of Anaxandra Synder.
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