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14 July 2012 @ 01:00 pm
Fic: The Consolations of a Summer's Day, part three  
Part two




Surely it must be lunch, Draco thought. Not that he was hungry after two and a half breakfasts, but he wouldn’t mind a quick sit-down. Potter had dragged him across what seemed to be the length and breadth of Great Britain (including Lancashire, which, really), in search of Jugson, a former Death Eater with family connections to the Parkinsons, who Draco vaguely recalled as one of the men his father had known back when Draco had been a boy.

‘He was caught trying to break out of Azkaban with your father,’ Potter had said, ‘but gave evidence in return for no additional sentence. He was released a few years ago, nursing a strong grudge against the Ministry and a sense of self-righteous anger.’

Which had sounded like a perfect candidate to Draco, only the man hadn’t been at the address Potter had for him, nor had he been at his mother’s – though she had suggested they go and try that nice young witch he’d been seeing, and now here they were in Cardigan, Merlin help them, and that nice young witch had them bailed up on her doorstep and was asking what they wanted with Hephaestus and who had sent them to her.

And Draco had been all for Stunning her where she stood, but Potter had been genial and explained they needed to eliminate Hephaestus from their enquiries, and if he had a few minutes to answer a few questions, he was sure that would clear everything up, at which point the man himself had emerged from the shadows of the cottage’s interior and declared that everything would be fine, and could Maeve see her way fit to making them a pot of tea?

He led them, somewhat stiffly, into a small but pleasantly furnished sitting room and moved a stack of books from the coffee table.

‘Please, sit down,’ he said, which Draco did in a flash, but Potter stayed standing and wary.

Jugson, a tall and broad man who now looked quite familiar, nodded at Draco. ‘You’re Lucius’s boy, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. Draco. We met a few times at the Manor, and you were at my father’s fortieth birthday party.’

‘That’s right,’ Jugson smiled at the memory. It had been a splendid party. ‘How’s your father?’

‘Still deluded,’ Draco answered with a sigh.

Unexpectedly, Jugson burst out laughing. Potter took the opportunity to step in.

‘Mr Jugson, I’m Harry Potter from the Auror Office.’

‘I know who you are,’ Jugson said, with an ironical smile.

Potter went on, ‘I’m investigating a crime that took place on June 22nd, that’s Thursday of last week. Your name has come up as a contact of the family and I’m just wanting to have a quick chat to see if there’s anything you can add to our understanding of the case.’

‘Of course,’ said Jugson. ‘But can you ask quickly? I’d rather keep Maeve out of things if we can.’

‘Because she’s unaware of your past?’ Potter asked, leadingly.

Jugson laughed again. ‘Hardly. She’s there on the nights I wake up screaming. How would I explain that without years of Dementors? No, she gets angry when people only see me as a criminal and a Death Eater.’

‘And you?’

He looked at Potter evenly. ‘I know I was both.’

This seemed to be the right answer, as Potter nodded and sat down.

Jugson wasn’t what Draco had been expecting. He’d rather been hoping for a wild-eyed lunatic who would leap from the door, wand drawn, be struck down by a combination of hexes delivered in courageous and timely fashion by him and Potter, rave that they all deserved to die and be dragged off by an apologetic Auror corps who would offer Draco their regard and thanks at the same time as saying there was no one who could put anything past Potter.

And here he was, well-brushed and with eyes that were maybe a little more haunted than was ideal, but which also held a degree of self-mocking humour that boded well for sanity.

‘Last Thursday?’ Jugson asked. ‘I’m not sure what time I woke up, but it would have been before eight. Normal breakfast things, sorry, no idea what I ate, I can check with Maeve if it’s important. I was into town and at work by nine-thirty, I’m working in the forge as an apprentice blacksmith – Muggle job, I know, but it’s hard to get work if you’ve been in Azkaban, and there’s a fine line between the Muggle world and magic in a smithy and Mr Davis – he’s my boss there – didn’t care about my age when he saw what I can lift and how long I can hammer for. He can vouch for me. I should be there today, but I pulled my back yesterday and he told me to take a day’s rest.

‘Half an hour for lunch, which was sandwiches with the other apprentices – Dylan and Tim – and then back in the smithy till four, then clean-up till five. Maeve met me in town because we eat out on Thursdays, it was early, so we went for a walk and then had a drink before dinner at the White Hart Inn, you can ask Debra there, she’ll remember us, we’re regulars. We took our time, but it was still fairly early when we left, before nine at any rate. So we walked home because it was a nice night, and were here for the rest of the evening.’

‘A former Death Eater working for a Muggle?’ Potter asked.

‘Apparently, Voldemort was full of crap,’ Jugson said, with a sly wink to Draco.

Dammit. He found himself liking Jugson, which meant he was either an appalling judge of character, or that Jugson was innocent. Of course, history allowed that it could well be the former, Draco consoled himself.

‘You know the Parkinson family …’ Potter said.

‘They’re cousins of mine,’ Jugson replied. ‘Has something happened?’

‘Have you heard from them in the last week?’

‘No, not in years. Second-Cousin Marjorie cut me out of the family after I was sent to Azkaban. She forbade them from even speaking to my Mother.’ And the flash of anger that crossed his face at that reminded Draco of what this man had been years ago. Compelling and strong – and a little frightening.

‘And do you take any of the Wizarding papers?’

‘Do you?’

Potter shook his head. ‘I read them at work when I have to, and rely on other people to let me know anything important. I read the Muggle papers for the weather.’

Jugson smiled, the first smile he had directed at Potter. ‘Well then, we have something in common.’ But it was followed by a frown. ‘What’s happened?’

‘Pansy Parkinson’s been murdered,’ Potter told him.

‘Little Pansy? But she’s a child! Who? How …?’ Jugson’s voice wound down as he realised the reason for their visit. ‘You thought I might have …’

‘You had to be ruled out,’ Potter said, raising a hand peaceably.

Jugson nodded, breathing roughly. ‘Can you tell Gerald and Margaret how … how sorry I was to hear …’

‘I will,’ Potter promised. ‘Can you suggest anyone who may have held a grudge against Pansy?’

‘She’s just a child? Who holds a grudge against a child?’ Jugson muttered, clearly distressed.

Maeve returned at the moment, carrying a tray of tea apparatus. She glanced at Jugson, then glared at Draco and Potter.

‘It’s all right, darling,’ Jugson said, reaching out an arm to pat her leg as she put the tray down. ‘I’ve just had some bad news about a family member. These young men are on the case. We’re fine.’

Maeve left everyone to pour their own and sat on the arm of Jugson’s chair. ‘If it’s not your mother, then I don’t see why we’re meant to care about your family,’ she said, more than a little tartly.

‘Mother’s fine. It’s young Pansy. She’s been killed.’

‘That’s awful.’ Maeve put her arm around his shoulders and kissed the side of his head gently.

‘The poor little lamb with her big eyes and her silly little nose. She was always checking my pockets for sweets whenever I visited.’ He shook his head. ‘I can’t think of anyone who’d wish her ill, though you should talk to Second-Cousin Marjorie, she knows every piece of gossip and every dubious connection in the family.’

‘Do you have an address for her?’ Potter asked, pouring a full cup of tea for Jugson and adding sugar to it, then pouring a half cup each for himself and Draco.

‘Hyacinth Cottage, Bucket Street, Binley Woods,’ Jugson answered promptly, then downed his tea in two swallows. ‘It’s seared into my memory from boyhood visits – I promised myself that if I ever had children, I’d never force them to visit that old biddy.’

‘No more you will,’ Maeve agreed. ‘If we have little ones they have a lovely grandma, and some very nice relatives on my side. No need to involve the horrors we don’t care for.’

Jugson smiled up at her. Potter looked at Draco across the lip of his teacup, but Draco wasn’t sure he understood all the meaning in the look.

‘Well, thank you very much for your assistance with our enquiries,’ Potter said, putting down his cup. ‘We should chase down that lead before the day gets away from us.’

Jugson frowned. ‘Don’t you want to check with Maeve and Mr Davis?’

Potter shrugged. ‘I don’t think we need to. We can always Veritaserum them later if it turns out we should have doubted you, but at the moment, I’m happy to take you at your word, and thank you for the suggestion.’

Jugson rose stiffly to his feet as Potter stood. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

‘Thank you,’ Potter replied, and took his outstretched hand. An understanding of some kind passed between the two of them, but Draco managed not to roll his eyes at the sight of yet another perfectly rational person falling for Potter’s earnestness.

Maeve showed them to the door, and unexpectedly hugged them both. ‘Good luck!’ she said. ‘I’m sorry I was so rude, it’s just that he’s had a hard time convincing people he’s changed.’

‘He has,’ Potter assured her. ‘Tell them to ask me if they doubt it.’

Maeve hugged him a second time before shutting the door behind them.

‘So,’ Draco said. ‘Not him?’

‘You heard him, he still thinks Pansy’s a little girl. He hasn’t seen her since she was, and he’s forgotten that time’s gone by for everyone else while he was in Azkaban.’

Draco nodded. ‘I remember him when I was little. He used to come by the Manor, back when Dad was playing at being Lord Influential. Then, when Voldemort came back … Anyway. I quite liked this version of him.’

‘Last time I saw him he tried to kill me, so I prefer this one, too.’

Draco was just a little too slow at schooling his expression.

‘You like him more now, don’t you?’ Potter asked.

‘Just a bit.’

Potter grinned, so Draco assumed he wasn’t deeply hurt.

‘Right,’ Draco said. ‘You’re off to see Pansy’s hideous Aunt Marjorie. Which means I’m back to put my feet up in your tent and hope your homicidal house-elf doesn’t visit.’

‘You’re what?’ Potter began, and Draco could almost see the cogs turn as his brain stepped its way through the thought process. ‘Of course, she knows you, and even though I’m an Auror and theoretically have you in custody, she’d call in more to be on the safe side. But I was going to disguise you and pass you off as someone from the office!’ Potter finished triumphantly.

‘Brilliant,’ Draco muttered. ‘No wonder you’re such a successful Auror.’

‘Shut up. And put your bunny pendant back on.’

They both took out their pendants and dropped them over their heads. That was the problem with a good Concealment Charm: it could work too well. Even though it was only meant to hide them from people they didn’t want to notice them, the Charm was able to slip them out of the memories of everyone else, too. It had kicked into gear twice in the middle of their morning interviews, leaving a couple of lovely old witches extremely surprised to find themselves mid-discussion with two nice young men. Potter had insisted they take them off before entering each house after that, rather than leave people thinking their minds were slipping.

‘Now, come here,’ Potter said, taking out his wand.

‘Why? What are you going to do?’

‘Don’t panic. I’m going to change your hair colour and change the shape of your nose a bit. That should be enough. You already look less like yourself in my clothes.’

Draco wasn’t sure about the sound of this. ‘But they’ll go back the way they were, right?’

‘Absolutely,’ Potter said, touching his wand to Draco’s hair, eyebrows and nose in turn. ‘I should be able to change them back, and in the worst case, the spell wears off in three or four hours.’

Draco’s hands flew to his nose, which had broadened and turned up a little at the end – it didn’t hurt, as such, but it felt very odd. Then his eyes turned up to see his fringe …

‘You complete and utter bastard …’

Potter’s grin may have been the slightest bit malicious. ‘I’m planning to introduce you as Barny Weasley,’ he explained.

‘That’s no reason to make me a ginger!’ Draco grumbled. ‘I know we don’t like each other, Potter, but there are limits, and we’re meant to be working together.’

‘I usually work with gingers,’ Potter replied, annoyingly unflapped.

Draco kept silent, aware that a chorus of Reasons Why I Hate Potter would only be shrugged off, or worse, laughed off. He was starting to miss old Potter, it had been so easy to get a rise out of him. But that had been years ago, and Potter had grown up, and become an Auror, and also been sort of dead for a bit in the interim, and that had to change a person. The bastard.

Pansy would laugh herself sick when he … no she wouldn’t.

‘Malfoy? Malfoy, are you still with us?’

Potter was staring at him, eyes very large in those ridiculous glasses.

Draco blinked. ‘I’m fine.’

‘No you’re not. You were miles away and your face was all screwed up, and if you tell me that was because the thought of red hair was mortally wounding to you, I might forget myself and hex you after all.’

‘I forgot,’ Draco admitted. ‘I forgot Pansy was …’

‘Oh.’ And all the mocking was gone from Potter’s face now. ‘That happens. It’s normal. It’s good in a way, means we keep them with us after they’re gone.’

‘But then you have to remember they’re not here,’ Draco said quietly.

Potter nodded. ‘I think about it this way: we only hurt if we lose someone who was really special, but then, we had that person in our lives, they chose to spend time with us, and we carry their influences with us forever, so, along with the hurt, we can remember everything that was good and amazing.’

‘And gone.’

‘Yeah, but …’ Potter looked thoughtful. ‘But not gone at the same time. Because look at the effect Pansy’s having. You and I have spent five straight hours in each other’s company and there hasn’t been more than a hint of potential homicide. That’s her, still with us.’

‘I really, really hate it when you’re right,’ Draco said, managing a weak smile.

Potter patted him on the shoulder, and Draco wanted to mind it, but didn’t.

‘Come on,’ Potter said. ‘Aunt Marjorie. And remember, you’re a Weasley, so keep quiet about how much you hate me at the moment.’

Binley Woods was a newish village in an unexciting part of the Midlands. Most of the houses seemed to have been built in the last hundred years, and the gardens even more recently, with sharp-angled hedges a local speciality. Bucket Street was at the edge of the village, and Hyacinth Cottage down a spur of unpaved road, with trees shielding it from casual eyes and anti-Muggle spells protecting it from charity collectors.

Potter led them straight to the front door, which was opened before they had a chance to knock by a large witch wearing a slug-grey robe with wispy fur trim at every edge.

‘What do you want?’ she demanded imperiously, and Draco would have been happy to stammer an apology and leave right then and there, because quite aside from the whole suspect in Pansy’s murder thing, there was the spilled cup of tea incident of 1992, the caught nicking cooking sherry contretemps of 1994 and the Pansy, I Don’t Ever Want To See You With That Boy Again ultimatum of 1996.

But Potter flashed a card from his pocket and said, ‘Senior Auror Harry Potter, Probationary Auror Barny Weasley, we need to ask you some questions surrounding the death of Pansy Parkinson.’

Which, astonishingly, worked.

‘It’s about time you arrived, I’ve been expecting you since last Thursday. I can’t believe it’s taken you this long to talk to the only member of the family with any sense. I suppose that Gerald and Margaret have been taking up all your time with stories about that Malfoy boy. Not that I doubt for a moment that he’s guilty, nasty little piece of work, but if you think he had the intelligence to commit a successful crime without assistance, then you are seriously over-estimating him.’

‘May we come in?’ Potter asked.

Aunt Marjorie looked for a moment as though she thought the doorstep was perfectly good enough for the likes of them, but relented and allowed them past, shooing them towards the back of the house and the third-best sitting room.

‘I might have thought that the Aurors would have sent someone less youthful,’ she sniffed. ‘But I suppose they’re taken in by your celebrity. In my day it was merit, not headlines, that saw promotion, but things have changed now.’

‘Yes they have,’ Potter said, perching on the edge of an overstuffed sofa that contained three beady-eyed Kneazles, all looking on him as an interloper.

Draco had played this game before, so he took the piano stool up against the wall, well out of swiping range.

‘Now,’ Aunt Marjorie began. ‘As you know, Pansy was always a troublesome child …’

‘If you don’t mind,’ Potter interrupted, ‘I have a few questions I’d like to ask.’

And clearly Aunt Marjorie did mind, but she also shut up. There were, Draco reflected, a few upsides to working with Potter.

‘Where were you on the afternoon of Thursday, June 22nd, between the hours of four and five?’

Draco reassessed. There were more than a few upsides to working with Potter. The opportunity to see Pansy’s Aunt Marjorie sputter and redden and swallow all the terms of abuse that started to form on her lips as she remembered that she was talking to the Deputy Chief Auror despite the fact that he was clearly an appalling little tit was something that would probably never come again, so he took the time to enjoy it and be appropriately grateful.

Finally she composed herself enough to reply. ‘I was at my monthly Willing Witches meeting. We were discussing ways of dealing with the curse of schoolchildren in Diagon Alley during the holidays. If their parents can’t control the little …’

‘Yes, quite,’ Potter interrupted. ‘And I am sure that you will be able to supply the names of some of the other attendants so that we can verify this?’

‘Young man, I refuse to be …’

‘Purely a matter of form,’ Potter interrupted again. ‘We’ve had to do this for everyone. Obviously there’s no question of seeing you as a suspect, but we need to dot the i’s, cross the t’s, as it were.’

Aunt Marjorie appeared a little mollified. ‘Well, in that case. Augusta Longbottom was there, although she was tremendously unsupportive, and …’

‘Mrs Longbottom will do,’ Potter interrupted yet again. ‘She’s known to be absolutely reliable. When was the last time you saw Pansy?’

‘Augusta is … Oh … Oh, not for ages,’ Aunt Marjorie started to say, and Draco looked up sharply, because he knew for a fact that was a lie, but then she paused. ‘No, I’m forgetting myself. She was here the week before she died. Tuesday, perhaps? No, Wednesday. Yes, the same day Peter Brown, poor Lavender’s father, was here. She just appeared at the door, wanted some sort of favour. She came in and took a cup of tea, but she could see I had company, so she left again soon after.’

‘Did she say what the favour was?’

‘No details – just something about an old samovar. Her parents were fighting over it, which is ridiculous because Margaret has no claim to it whatsoever, it came from my great-grandfather and by rights it should have been mine, but Gerald was always father’s favourite. She was as polite as one could hope for, but she made her excuses and left quickly enough.’

Potter took a notebook from his pocket and began to write in it. ‘I see. That’s very helpful. Now, can you think of anyone who might have borne a grudge against Pansy?’

‘Well, of course, there’s the Malfoy boy, who was always getting her into trouble. I’ll never forget the time I found him holding her up so she could reach my top shelves and swipe the cooking sherry. Nasty piece of work, just like his father. And of course that mother of his …’

‘Saved my life and was pivotally instrumental in the defeat of Voldemort,’ Potter declared evenly. ‘I’m looking for other suspects as we have reasons to believe that Malfoy was not the only visitor to Pansy’s rooms that afternoon. She seems to have allowed someone else through the Floo, we were wondering if perhaps there are any family members with less upstanding reputations than the rest of the Parkinsons?’

‘Only very distant relatives, of course,’ Aunt Marjorie said quickly. ‘Not actual Parkinsons, as such. There was one who,’ she lowered her voice and leaned in towards Potter, ‘went away for several years. He’d be worth looking at. Nasty piece of work.’

‘We’ve spoken with Hephaestus Jugson, you’ll be pleased to learn that he seems on the path to genuine reformation and has all the marks of becoming a successful member of society once more.’

Aunt Marjorie’s face announced that she was anything but pleased. ‘How marvellous to see the system working as it ought.’

‘Anyone else?’ Potter urged.

‘Surely one black sheep in the family is enough, Auror Potter. We Parkinsons pride ourselves on being moral, upstanding citizens.’

‘Naturally.’ Potter flicked through the notebook’s pages until he found what he was looking for. ‘So that brings me to ask whether any other members of the family have received any unwanted attentions in recent years?’

At this, Aunt Marjorie’s expression perked up. ‘You think that it could be a vendetta?’ she asked.

Potter shook his head slowly. ‘We prefer not to use terms like vendetta, Miss Parkinson. But we have had a few cases in which members of a particular family were targeted for various reasons.’

Aunt Marjorie looked quite bright for a moment, but it faded as she thought. ‘Nothing, really,’ she admitted. ‘Not the immediate family at any rate. At least, not for a long time. Young Fredegund Bede, she had the most terrible trouble after the War, all those people calling her a Snatcher, but it was all a mistake, she was always a good girl, quite my favourite niece, well, she takes after my side of the family, doesn’t she?’

‘Pansy didn’t have a cousin Fredegund,’ Draco said, forgetting himself.

Aunt Marjorie had clearly forgotten he was there, because she jumped, then snapped to cover her surprise. ‘I think I would know my own family better than you, young man.’

Potter’s expression remained calm. ‘Probationary Auror Weasley has been studying the paperwork, Miss Parkinson. This cousin Fredegund isn’t mentioned.’

Somewhat mollified, Aunt Marjorie leaned over towards them both. Potter made the mistake of edging backwards and was rewarded by several Kneazle claws to the behind. Draco was impressed when he kept silent.

‘It’s quite the scandal,’ she confessed. ‘Our brother Mortimer’s first marriage was to a good German girl, but the family never liked her. When they separated, she returned to Germany with their young daughter. He’s been an appalling father ever since, only concerned with his second wife and their children. I think I’m probably the only member of the family who stayed in touch. Fredegund used to stay here during some holidays when she was at Hogwarts.’

‘She went to Hogwarts?’ Potter asked, genuinely making notes this time.

‘For the first two years, then she transferred to Durmstrang because she was unimpressed with the politics of the teaching staff. This would all have been long before your time, of course, back in the Eighties. She moved back over here in the late Nineties, for a good job with the Ministry.’ Aunt Marjorie coughed slightly to elide mention of the department. ‘Then when the War ended, she went back home rather than deal with the changed … political situation.’

‘So she’d have been working with Dolores Umbridge,’ Potter said matter-of-factly.

‘Yes. Say what you like, Auror Potter, but there is a difference between us and the Muggleborn.’

‘They work harder at school,’ Draco said, aware that he would never again have the chance to correct Aunt Marjorie with impunity. ‘And they have a more complicated time discussing homework with their parents. I think that’s about it.’

He was rewarded with a prize glare. ‘Barny Weasley, you said.’ Aunt Marjorie pronounced the name as though discussing biological waste. ‘I’ll have to apologise to Augusta Longbottom, I told her she must have heard wrongly at that wedding, but apparently I have lost track of Weasleys. Hardly a surprise, there’s so many of you.’

‘Dozens,’ said Draco cheerfully. ‘All pureblooded. Makes you think, doesn’t it? And then there’s Hermione Weasley, married into the family, as Muggleborn as they come, and the finest legal mind in the country. You never can tell.’

Aunt Marjorie’s expression made it very clear that she could tell quite well as far as he was concerned, but for the sake of Potter’s moving quill, she kept quiet. Potter himself was looking at Draco with frank amusement, and Draco confessed, he was feeling more than a little amused himself.

He could even admit that Pansy would have laughed at that, and feel pleased at the thought.

Potter was speaking again. ‘And there’s no one else you can think of who might be able to shed any light on Pansy’s murder.’

‘No. I always told Gerald that if he didn’t step in and make that girl …’

‘Thank you for your time, Miss Parkinson. We can see our own way out.’

And Potter just stood up and left, collecting Draco as he went and ignoring the outraged mutterings of Aunt Marjorie.

‘That was a bit brilliant,’ Draco confessed as they walked back onto the road outside. ‘The way you handled her has retroactively improved a great many childhood visits.’

‘That was extremely unpleasant,’ Potter corrected him. ‘I always feel the need to shower after spending time with someone like that.’

‘Ha!’ Draco snorted, then shook his head to dispel any suggestion he might be disagreeing. ‘Pansy used to spray us with rosewater whenever we came back from a visit. I’d make her pay me in chocolate frogs to go with her when we were little.’

‘I could do with either now,’ Potter admitted. ‘Maybe both.’

‘There’s chocolate back at the tent,’ Draco said.

‘Good idea. Let’s go.’

There was chocolate, and tea, and quite a good pie as it turned out. Draco wouldn’t have believed he could be hungry again, but after several days of not eating a great deal, his appetite seemed to have returned.

‘So, this cousin Fredegund,’ he said around a mouthful of pie. ‘How do we find her?’

Potter shrugged. ‘I’m not sure she’s worth chasing, Malfoy. If you’ve never heard of her, then maybe Pansy never did, either.’

‘We can’t be sure of that. And she’s the only lead we have.’

Potter shook his head gently. ‘We have others, Luna and Kreacher are tracking some of them down now. This could be a dead end, but just in case, is there anyone she would have talked to about Fredegund if she didn’t talk to you?’

‘Milly, probably,’ Draco mused. There had always been some things Pansy had kept secret from him, even if she told him most of them later. Tall, taciturn Milly had been her girly confidante of choice, a choice rewarded with loyalty and some good advice over the years. And Milly had yelled at Potter for him, bless her grumpy heart. By Owl, because there were some things not worth coming up to London for …

‘Can we trust Bulstrode about you? Or should you stay as Barny Weasley?’

‘We can trust her, but I should keep the carrot top in case she has visitors.’

‘OK. In that case, let’s talk to her now and see if she has any Fredegund details before your hair changes back, and if not, I’m going to see if Luna’s had any luck and get onto Kreacher to see how he’s going with the Floo details.’

Draco swallowed the last of his pie and tea and wiped his face hastily. ‘Should I clear the dishes?’ he asked, aware that he was a guest.

Potter gave him a strange look.

‘I am trying to be polite,’ Draco said. ‘We’re up to nearly six hours without a major fight or near-death incident, and that’s mostly down to good manners on both sides.’

Potter smiled. ‘I think we can crack seven without needing to do any dishes, don’t you?’

And, curse his face, Draco smiled back.

Getting to Milly’s was easy enough. Draco Side-along Apparated Potter to Milly’s South Downs cottage. From inside he could hear the clack of her looms operating, while two fat cats lazed in the sunny patch by the doorway.

The gravel path crunched loudly underfoot, and so it was no surprise when Millicent opened the door before they could reach it.

‘Potter,’ she said. ‘And friend. Did you get my letter? He’s not here if you’re looking for him.’

‘Are you alone?’ Potter asked.

‘Except for the cats,’ Millicent replied.

‘Then I am here,’ Draco said.

She looked at him, then looked more closely. Then she threw back her head and laughed. Milly had always had a good laugh.

‘Oh, I’m sorry Draco, but you look like … well, you know what you look like. Tell me it’s only temporary!’

‘Potter promises it is. Can we come in?’

‘Of course.’

She sat them down around the kitchen table, which smelled of fresh bread and caramel. Milly’s cottage was always cosy. Since taking up weaving after school she had devoted all the larger rooms to her looms and the whir of shuttles, shake of heddles and smack of beaters from her works in progress formed a constant background murmur to the house.

‘Just a couple of twills on today, they’ll see to themselves. Cup of tea?’

‘No thanks,’ said Draco. ‘We’ve just had some.’

‘So,’ she said to Potter. ‘You got my letter.’

‘I did. And as you can see, I agree. Malfoy is many things, but he’s not a murderer.’

‘Well, if it had been you …’ Milly said, in the interests of strict accuracy.

Draco winced.

‘I nearly killed him once, you know,’ Potter said. ‘At school, it was an accident, but still.’

‘I remember. He used to whip his shirt off to show the scars at the slightest provocation.’

‘There were scars?’ Potter turned to him.

Draco wondered if it was too late to go back to the Estonians. ‘We all had scars by the end of the war, Potter. You’re not that special.’

‘They were very faint,’ Milly confided. ‘We used to pretend we could see them to make him feel better, and he does look pleasant without a shirt.’

‘Milly!’

She ignored him. ‘So, I’m assuming you’re here because you want something. Hiding? You’re obviously on the lam. I can’t believe you’ve managed to corrupt Potter, Draco. Well done!’

‘I haven’t corrupted him, I’m helping with the case,’ Draco said, starting to regret coming here. The thing about Millicent was that she was very honest in her own bluff way. Very, very honest …

‘I accidentally kidnapped him,’ Potter said. ‘It was all a bit of a mix-up, but if we can solve Pansy’s murder quickly, I think it will all be fine. That’s why we’re here, we’re hoping you can help us with a lead.’

‘Of course.’

‘Fredegund Bede. Half-English, half-German, and apparently a cousin of Pansy’s. Have you ever heard of her?’

Millicent started to shake her head, then stopped. ‘Hang on, Bede? Freddy Bede? She was a Snatcher during the war. She tried to take little Dennis Creevey from Kings Cross Station when we were waiting to board the train in Seventh Year. I wasn’t having that. Snot-nosed little Gryffindor, but you don’t pick on the young ones. Save it for people your own age, I say.

‘We got into a big shouting match after I sent the Creeveys off home, but she wasn’t so bad, really. Didn’t mind that they left, just didn’t want them getting on the train. Had no idea she was related to Pansy, though. Pansy was there and she didn’t know her from a bar of soap. She teased me for having made a conquest, but I think Freddy just wanted someone to talk to for a bit. I saw her again in Hogsmeade, and once not long after the war, said she was headed back to Germany and that things here had been more confusing than she was expecting.’

‘Do you know if she and Pansy had any contact later?’ Potter asked.

‘Not that Pansy ever told me about,’ Millicent replied. ‘I mean, she didn’t tell me everything, but she knew I knew Freddy, so I think she would have mentioned that.’

‘And Freddy herself, what was your impression of her?’

Milly thought for a moment. Draco sympathised. It was very hard to explain the losing philosophies to the winning side, even all these years later.

‘She thought she was working for a legitimate government aim,’ Milly said. ‘She was as considerate and compassionate as she could be about it, while still doing her job well. She wasn’t a fanatic, nor was she violent, just methodical. You wouldn’t have liked her,’ she told Potter, ‘but I did.’

‘And have you seen her again since then?’

‘No. Hadn’t even thought of her in years. Are you sure about her being Pansy’s cousin? Pans was usually very good about family.’

‘There was a divorce …’

‘Oh, Pansy’s Uncle Mortimer. She always said there was some scandal there. She never really bothered to look into the facts, just decided he must have had a dalliance with a Muggle or a Goblin from the way the rest of her family wouldn’t talk about it.’

‘No, just a German, apparently,’ Draco said.

‘Ooh, nearly as bad from Aunt Marjorie’s point of view.’

‘Actually, she was quite in favour of Fredegund, we’ve just come from there.’

‘Poor things! Sure you don’t need a cuppa?’

Draco smiled. Millicent had terrorised the house-elves back at school with her demands for constant hot beverages, and nothing had changed.

‘So you don’t think that Fredegund would be a person of interest in our enquiry,’ Potter pressed.

Milly shook her head. ‘I just can’t see any reason. If she was angry with the family, why take it out on Pansy? She’d have been more likely to try to enlist Pans as a help to get her back in with her father or with the other Parkinsons. Pansy was a champion when it came to keeping on good terms with most of her relations.’

Potter nodded, and Draco wished he had a cup of tea after all so that he would have had something to stare at.

‘We’ve been at this all day, and we’re nowhere,’ he complained.

‘We’re not nowhere,’ Potter corrected him. ‘We’ve ruled a lot of things out, we have several lines of investigation still underway, and we just need more information. We’ve already established that it can’t have been you, so even if we fail on every other lead, we’ve succeeded on the most important one.’

Draco blinked.

‘Oh Potter,’ Milly said, reaching over and ruffling his hair. ‘You’re so predictably perfect.’

Draco couldn’t help himself, he buried his face in his arms and howled with laughter.

Milly and Potter were sensible enough to let him be for a few minutes. Milly even made a cup of tea and put it down in front of him. They made small talk, Potter asking Milly what led her to take up weaving, Milly asking Potter whether he was enjoying Aurordom as much as he had expected. Both expressed genuine interest in each other’s work and actually seemed to be getting on.

If Pansy could see what her death had brought about, she’d probably demand someone kill her again. Draco forced himself to stop laughing, even though everything was absurd and clearly hysteria was the appropriate response.

‘Do you want to stop here for a bit, Draco?’ Milly asked when he looked up. ‘Take a nap? You look done-in. An hour’s sleep will do you the world of good. ’

Draco shook his head. ‘No, it’s all right. We have a tent. Potter and I are camping.’

Milly grinned. ‘Well, we know you are, but it’s news about Potter.’

‘Milly!’

‘You were the one always making unsubstantiated claims about him and Ron Weasley while we were at school …’

Milly!’

Potter, thank Merlin, laughed. ‘Ron? Not a chance. Hermione would have killed me. Though Charlie Weasley …’

‘Everyone gets a free pass if it’s Charlie Weasley,’ Milly agreed.

‘I wish someone would murder me …’ Draco muttered.

‘We should get going,’ Potter said. ‘Thanks for your help, Millicent. Do you think you could find a contact for Fredegund in case we need it?’

‘I’ll send a few Owls,’ Milly promised. ‘And I won’t mention either of you in them.’

Draco kissed her cheek. ‘Thanks, Milly, you’re a dear.’

‘Come back if you need to, I was serious about hiding you. You keep him safe, Harry Potter, or I’ll come after you.’

‘I’ll keep him safe,’ Potter promised. ‘It was good to see you, Millicent. You look well.’

‘I am well. You should come back and take a look at some of my fabrics. Might make you something a bit nicer than those dreadful Muggly things you wear. And I bake on weekends.’

Potter grinned. ‘I will. I’ll bring the wine.’

‘Good lad.’

She saw them to the door, and waved as they Disapparated.

Back in the forest, the tent was still mercifully tatty and cramped and Draco did not have to deal with any mental challenges beyond tolerating the scratch of Potter’s quill as he wrote up his notes. There was even some chocolate left.

He watched Potter as he wrote. Clearly Granger had been giving him lessons as he seemed to be literate enough these days. Draco could have sworn he was half-Troll back at school. Now he was like a Crup on a scent: focussed and determined. Draco could admire his tenacity, now they were on the same side for a change.

Draco ignored the quiet voice that pointed out it wasn’t as much of a change as all that.

After a few minutes, Potter put his quill down. ‘Right. Until we hear back from Kreacher and Luna, I think that’s all up to date.’

‘You seem more confident than I feel,’ Draco muttered.

‘It’s because I’m used to the way investigations unfold. We actually have some concrete information on this case, and leads for more data. It means that even though it all looks like a disconnected mess at the moment, there’s every chance that a pattern will emerge soon, and once it does, we’ll have our culprit.’

‘And until then?’

Potter checked his watch. ‘It’s just gone three o’clock. Kreacher won’t have heard back from the Floo Regulation Panel yet – they’ll get everything to him at four so that if I need to ask any questions in reply I won’t be able to get back to them before they all leave at quarter past, I’ve played their game before. Luna might be back with news on the knife, but I think we should give her an extra half hour to be sure. Unless you have any suggestions, sitting around waiting is probably the best bet.’

‘Is that what you do in the Auror Office?’

‘Unless there’s paperwork to catch up on. Which there usually is.’

Draco sat back in his chair and wished he had thought to borrow a book from Milly. ‘Do you like Auroring?’ he asked, since talking about the weather was obviously ridiculous.

‘I do, as it happens. Most of the time I deal with cases that are nice and straightforward: complete bastard endangers innocents, I stop them.’

‘So same old thing, then?’ Draco asked mildly.

Potter smiled and nodded. ‘What about you? You’ve been fairly quiet since school.’

Draco shrugged. ‘Keeping my head down. Out of necessity, not choice. Not many job opportunities for a Malfoy at the moment. I’ve been studying a bit, doing some Potions research. I was going to write to Longbottom and ask him about growing some of the more unusual herbs …’

‘You should.’

Draco managed not to roll his eyes. ‘It’s not quite as easy as that, though, is it, Potter? Even assuming he’s happy to look past everything that happened during the War, my Aunt tortured his parents into insanity.’

Potter caught Draco’s gaze and held it. ‘She killed my Godfather, who was my only chance of a remotely normal home life. She tortured my best friend, tried to kill my ex-girlfriend, and I’ve lost track of the number of times she tried to kill me. I still talk to you.’

Draco shrugged again. ‘You’re weirdly forgiving. And anyway, it’s been years.’

‘So’s Neville,’ Potter replied. ‘And that’s not my fault, you’re never around.’

‘I didn’t think I’d be particularly welcome.’

Draco looked away. ‘And I also thought that lack of welcome would have been perfectly reasonable. You forget the fact that I am capable of feeling shame, and that I do feel it. And that it’s easier to circumscribe my life down to a small circle that doesn’t remind me of my many failings.’

Potter didn’t move, but after a moment he said, ‘You wouldn’t have been turned away. I’d have made sure of that. It was my one real success, reconciliation for those who sought it. Because if we’d made distinctions, it would have been just like the Muggle-born Registration Commission. And we couldn’t be like that.’

Draco ran his hands through his hair. ‘That’s all very well for you, but perhaps I wanted to be turned away, perhaps I didn’t deserve to be forgiven.’

‘And what about now?’

Potter’s voice was so even and reasonable. Draco could see why he was such a success as an Auror, it was a voice you wanted to explain things to, so it could see why you had thought inking a Dark Mark on your wrist was a brilliant piece of political commentary. But of course, that was all in the past, now.

‘Pansy’s dead, that changes everything. I’d work with anyone who could help me find her killer.’

Draco looked up. Potter was smiling at him.

‘So you can work with Neville after we sort this,’ he said.

Draco gave up. ‘I’ll write to him,’ he promised.

Potter’s smile broadened. ‘Excellent.’

They sat in peace for a few minutes.

‘So,’ said Draco.

‘So,’ agreed Potter.

‘Did you really fancy Charlie Weasley?’ And Draco had been trying not to say that since they left Millicent’s, which just went to show that one should never relax one’s guard, not even for an instant.

Potter laughed. ‘Doesn’t everyone?’

Draco smiled. ‘So it’s a theoretical fancy.’

Potter looked down and smiled.

‘It’s not a theoretical fancy? Potter, you’re seriously disrupting all my cherished and long-held opinions of you.’

Potter shrugged. ‘It was after Ginny dumped me for Viktor. Charlie came over to cheer me up. There was alcohol involved.’

‘Ah, so you were just drunk and it wasn’t anything serious?’

‘Not that time, no.’

‘Not that ti… Potter!’ And Draco realised that he was sitting there with his mouth open, but it was necessary, because if he tried to coordinate the effort required to lift his jaw, it wouldn’t leave him with enough willpower to stop his brain exploding.

Potter leaned over and pushed Draco’s jaw up into place.

‘It isn’t that unbelievable,’ he said. ‘I’m reasonably nice looking, allegedly the saviour of the Wizarding world, and Charlie’s quite easy, which he’ll tell you himself.’

‘You’re Potter,’ Draco exclaimed. ‘Pansy’s little cousin Arabella has a poster of you on her wall – several, actually, because Pans and I would draw moustaches on them – you’re meant to marry a nice girl and turn out perfect children, be running the Auror Department by the time you’re thirty and be Minister for Magic by the time you’re forty-five.’

He took a deep breath and went on before Potter could interrupt him. ‘Also, sleeping with your ex-girlfriend’s brother is just perverse!’

‘Charlie’s very attractive,’ Potter said, mildly. ‘And we didn’t sleep …’

‘Shut up!’

‘I’ve taken your mind off your problems.’

‘You’ve taken my mind off any desire to engage with reality.’

‘Marvellous. You sit there in a cloud of denial and I’ll shut my eyes for a few minutes. It’s been a long day.’

Infuriatingly, Potter leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes.

Draco lasted a minute. ‘Do you make a habit of it?’ he asked.

‘Have you seen the other Weasley boys?’ Potter replied without opening his eyes. ‘I mean, Bill’s very handsome, but he’s devoted to his wife …’

‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’

Potter didn’t open his eyes, but he did smile.

Draco shook his head. There was no reason, really, why he should feel … miffed? Did anyone over the age of twelve feel miffed? Whatever the adult equivalent of miffed was, he had no excuse for it. It’s not as though he and Potter were friends.

Just that, yesterday, when Potter had asked and Draco had told the truth, that had been a moment. And if Potter had said something in that moment, then that would have been a connection, a point of similarity. And now it turned out that there had been that point all along, except that in Potter’s mind, it apparently didn’t matter in the slightest.

Bloody typical.

And he was napping.

‘Are we off to Luna’s?’ Draco asked.

‘Another ten minutes or so.’

‘Should we pack the tent up before we go? We’re staying there tonight, aren’t we?’

‘I should think so. We can if you like. You could do the dishes if you’re bored.’

Draco flung himself back in his chair and set to out-napping Potter.

He was more successful than he intended, because what felt like an instant later, Potter was pushing his feet off the table and telling him to wake up, it was time to go. The dishes had been done, the tent was clean, even down to the spider being evicted, and the books from Malfoy Manor were in a neat pile that Potter was shrinking to add to the load in his bag.

‘I let you have an extra quarter hour,’ Potter was saying. ‘You looked as though you needed it. But that should be enough to keep you going until tonight.’

‘Are we off to Luna’s?’ Draco asked, still a bit befuddled.

‘As soon as you get up.’

Draco stood up and checked that his wand was still in his pocket. Since that was all he had, he was ready to go.

‘Outside,’ Potter said, leading the way.

Dismantling the tent took even less time than erecting it had. Draco picked it up and handed it to Potter, happy to do his part of the workload.

Potter stowed it and looked around to check that no trace of them remained. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Bunny pendant on?’

‘Yes.’

Potter took his arm. ‘Let’s go, then.’

There was no lag, Apparating alongside Potter. Usually Draco felt stretched as he travelled, but with Potter it was fast and direct. They appeared at the same point outside Luna’s house as the last time, and there she was again, sitting on the doorstep, with no red scarf in sight. And there in front of her was Veigo Tamm and his friend from the Estonian Aurors.

He didn’t think, just grabbed Potter’s shoulder and pulled them out of there. He stumbled on landing, and would have fallen if Potter hadn’t steadied him.

Potter looked up at the hazel trees surrounding them.

‘Malfoy, if this is Belarus, we’re going to have words.’

****************************

Part four
 
 
 
AutumnHearti_autumnheart on July 14th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Love that last line! And am also enjoying your portrayal of Millicent and others. I have some suspicions about the perpetrator of the A-plot, and look forward to finding out if my guess was correct. Onward (and thakyou for posting the whole thing!)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 14th, 2012 02:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I've read your later comment, and I remember thinking that by here, keen-eyed readers would have a very good idea of the culprit. You never disappoint!

And of course I had to post the whole lot, *I* would smack me if I had another WiP on the go ;-)
Loyaulte Me Lie: rock starshocolate on July 14th, 2012 12:16 pm (UTC)
‘You complete and utter bastard …’

Potter’s grin may have been the slightest bit malicious. ‘I’m planning to introduce you as Barny Weasley,’ he explained.


HUrrah!

The opportunity to see Pansy’s Aunt Marjorie sputter and redden and swallow all the terms of abuse that started to form on her lips as she remembered that she was talking to the Deputy Chief Auror despite the fact that he was clearly an appalling little tit was something that would probably never come again, so he took the time to enjoy it and be appropriately grateful.

Awesome.

‘They work harder at school,’ Draco said, aware that he would never again have the chance to correct Aunt Marjorie with impunity. ‘And they have a more complicated time discussing homework with their parents. I think that’s about it.’

Bless!

‘There were scars?’ Potter turned to him.

Draco wondered if it was too late to go back to the Estonians. ‘We all had scars by the end of the war, Potter. You’re not that special.’


Oh!

‘Oh Potter,’ Milly said, reaching over and ruffling his hair. ‘You’re so predictably perfect.’

*cannot stop laughing*

‘You were the one always making unsubstantiated claims about him and Ron Weasley while we were at school …’

You spoil me!

Potter, thank Merlin, laughed. ‘Ron? Not a chance. Hermione would have killed me. Though Charlie Weasley …’


I never know what everyone sees in Charlie...

‘It isn’t that unbelievable,’ he said. ‘I’m reasonably nice looking, allegedly the saviour of the Wizarding world, and Charlie’s quite easy, which he’ll tell you himself.’

Again with the Charlie!

It’s been a long day.

I seriously doubt that this is a quote from How to Succeed in Business, but blimey, I'm hearing it in Dan's voice!



blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 14th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
I like to imagine that in the timeline after this story, Harry and Draco often hide behind the sofa in a bid to convince Milly and Luna they are not home when the two girls – whose first coffee date consists mostly of 'Oh, isn't he!' and 'YES! That's what *I* thought!' and ends with firm friendship – come to visit.

As to Charlie …

Ron is obviously brilliant. But he is so completely and totally meant to be with Hermione in my head that I just cannot see him with anyone else. In fact, the one time I tried to write crap Ron as a pressie for a friend, I couldn't get beyond a thousand words or so. And you know my love for a 30K fic …

SO, Charlie. Charlie the cheeky but loyal, the clever but not entirely serious, the sketched character – so open to almost any interpretation, and, most importantly, the muscly, tattooed, leather-clad one, who reminds me so cheerily of the leather boys I knew in my youth. Perfect!

And I really need to at least read How to Succeed in Business …
being_herebeing_here on July 14th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
BINLEY WOODS! You put Marjorie in my city! And in the suburb my hateful boss lives in which means I saw her as Marjorie! This fic is making my day!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 14th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
PSYCHIC LINK! :-)
suttonwriter: albussuttonwriter on July 14th, 2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
I didn't see this in the original fest, but I'd bet it'd be recognizable. You do such great character interaction, especially for OC like Aunt Marjorie. Plus, there's always some bit with Charlie being the village bicycle of the wizarding world. :)

My gut says there's been some important clues here, put in subtly. I'm looking forward to seeing how they develop (along with how Harry and Draco get out of the Estonian mess they're probably going to be in at the start of the next section).
blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 17th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
He wear dragonhide boots! He's advertising!

Thank you, you know how to warm my heart!
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on July 16th, 2012 11:20 am (UTC)
*flaps hands* *charges onward*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on July 17th, 2012 01:50 pm (UTC)
HEE! I do love a good vigorous reading!