My Mother Told Me Life Was Like A Box Of Weevils
By Kissaki and Libertine
"We are very fine," Harry admitted reluctantly, to hotel’s mirror.
"We - um. I suppose you’re right," Remus agreed, adjusting the lapels of his jacket. "Gosh. I wonder how much all this cost Lucius. Fancy clothes, fancy hotel, fancy room..."
"I wonder if I can live up to what he wants from me," Harry murmured.
"I wonder if I shouldn’t have picked the grey tie, as opposed to the black," said Remus.
"I wonder if I really am going to be the son he never had. It’s an awfully big responsibility. Not that I haven’t already had awfully big responsibilities."
"I wonder if I should wear the collar up or down," said Remus.
Harry gave Remus a look, angling his gaze across the room via the mirror. "Can you stop that?" he asked. "You’re sounding like Draco."
"I haven’t had new clothes for - quite a long time, really," Remus mused. "Never had the money or the time for it. Makes me feel like -" he paused, flushing.
"You were going to say, 'A new man', weren’t you?" said Harry.
"Maybe." Remus had the decency to look away, dithering with the cuffs of his sleeves. It did make him feel different, though, Remus had to admit - if only in the privacy of his own mind. He looked - respectable, in this new attire; rather than looking like a tramp in his usual road-worn leathers and jeans.
Was it really this easy to gain another’s respect, simply by looking the part? He rolled his shoulders experimentally, watching the material crease and realign itself to the profile of his body.
"Give over," Harry muttered. "It’s not as if you’ve been given a new lease on life, or anything. They’re just clothes."
"They’re from the Wizardean collection," Remus reminded him.
"That’s not the bloody point, sir."
"I’m not sure," said Remus, thoughtfully, "but I think it - has made a difference. If you know what I mean. I’ve become -"
"- Lupin, the wonder dog."
Both Harry and Remus turned. Severus, lanky and smirking, was standing in the doorway.
"You must be a supreme idiot to believe that people will consider you any differently now from how they did before, wolfboy," Severus sniped. "The fact is that no matter how you look at it, you’re still a wolf in a man’s clothing…"
Harry, piqued, couldn’t help himself. He’d thought Remus' quiet and bashful affair with the mirror had been quite sweet, in its own way. It was a side of his erstwhile professor he’d never been privileged to witness before. And the insult seemed especially smarting following the... unwitting confessions Remus had made during his dreams...
"Look! A Death Eater!" Harry made a wild gesture toward some point in the corridor behind the man. At that, Severus’ pale features paled even further. With a quick look over his shoulder, he dashed away and out of sight.
"That wasn’t very nice," said Remus, after a heavily pregnant pause.
"He’s not very nice," said Harry, tensely. "How the hell did he get here, anyway? I thought he was still too afraid of 'repercussions' to leave the manor."
"Lucius said something about 'business'."
"Oh, business. Well, you know what that means." Harry gave Remus a side-ways glance.
"Er, no. No, I don’t," Remus admitted. "I mean, technically I do. But not, ah, specifically."
"Bugger," said Harry. "I’d figured you did."
"No. Probably dealing with one of Lucius' clients, I suppose. Same hotel and all. Makes sense."
"Hope he wasn’t next door," Harry grinned, suddenly.
"Well, he might have heard you moaning in your sleep last night..."
Harry chewed his lower lip. "Nothing, sir. Nothing at all."
"I - Harry -"
Remus' statement - completely confused - was
so comical Harry had to cover his mouth with his hand to stifle a snigger.
"’Scuse me," he
spluttered, and jogged towards the en suite, closing the door firmly behind him.
"Harry?" Remus tried, but was drowned out by Harry’s laughter. He sighed, quietly, and began to readjust his jacket again. For some reason it didn’t look right any more, though - because above and within the smoothly tailored clothing was Remus Lupin.. dog-boy to his so-called companions. Severus’ comment had cut him deeply, Remus realised; his reflection was tainted with the man’s cynicism.
It was only Severus, Remus thought, with twinge of annoyance. He’s never paid anyone a compliment in his life. The man was just jealous.
Jealous of a werewolf.
Well, stranger things had happened.
Caught in the act of re-arranging his tie, Remus turned toward the still open door, expecting to see Severus. But it was an unnamed lackey who stood there, looking slightly flustered but nonetheless willing, tapping an index finger against a gaudy gold wristwatch.
"Are you two ready?" he said. "Got a memo to inform you to meet your limo out the front in five minutes. A.M. meeting. You set?"
"Anger management," replied the other man, in a husky, conspiratorial whisper. Briefly, his face grew grim; but he brightened up a second later. "All systems go, sir?" he chirped, affecting a passable American accent. "Where’s Potty?"
Remus glanced at the en suite door. Inside, inaudible to human ears, but easily caught by a werewolf’s primed senses, Harry was moaning to himself, mid-giggle fit: "Oh, Severus. Severus. Sev.."
Remus blushed. "He’s in the loo. I think - ah, he might be a while."
The next few days could only be construed as a complete disaster.
Both Harry and Remus were chagrined to find that Severus was also in New York in order to widen the customer base for some ‘secret product’ that the Malfoys were working on. Well, more specifically, Severus was working on it at the behest of the Malfoys. Remus was particularly flustered to find that Severus was staying in the suite adjacent to theirs.
"Why does *he* get his own room while we have to share?" Remus complained.
Harry rolled his eyes, "I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason." He added with a sly grin, "Unless, of course, you *want* me to trade places with him. I’m sure we can manage a switch if you’d like."
"No no…I mean, no, that’s not necessary. I’m sure things are better this way…yes, much better this way." Remus said hastily.
Every night they returned to their room only to find small ‘gifts’ that Severus had left for Remus to find. It had started out with a simple can of flea and tick powder but had increasingly become a bit more…rude.
During the one day that they all had lunch together, Severus made a quip to the waiter that Remus needed wooded utensils due to an allergic reaction to anything containing silver. Remus was seething. It was all Harry could do to hold Remus back from stabbing Snape in the ear with a teaspoon.
Severus also took great pleasure in telling them that *he* didn’t have to take a muggle plane to get to New York.
"And why not?" Harry demanded.
"That’s hardly fair, " Remus added.
Snape just smiled and said in his smooth voice, "It was part of my contract of employment. I would not take muggle means of transportation if a portkey could do the job. That’s the advantage of being able to brew the Draught of Living Death, you know."
Remus muttered to Harry, "Do you think he can possibly say that one more time. I don’t think we got it the first few hundred times."
Later that night, Remus turned his bed sheets down to discover a slew of garlic cloves under his pillow. "What’s he getting at anyway? Garlic is for vampires!" Remus said, exasperated.
Harry smothered a giggle and could swear that he heard snickering from outside the door in the hallway.
The pranks continued. The next morning after the garlic incident, Remus discovered a prescription bottle of heartworm pills from a veterinarian. Harry nearly choked while he was brushing his teeth, but refrained from laughing at seeing Remus’ thunderous statement.
Poor Remus, Harry thought as they left their room. Remus stopped suddenly, his hands clenching into fists. Harry saw that Remus was staring fixedly at the floor. On closer inspection, he saw that it was a box of dog biscuits with a red bow on top. The rest of the day went downhill from there.
Harry, as much as he hated to admit, found
this rather funny and cute in its own disturbing way. Remus was very easy
to rile, and Severus
seemed to enjoy pushing the necessary buttons. In fact, Harry couldn’t remember ever seeing the Potions Master so happy since the times when Snape used to take away points from Gryffindor. He shook his head as a very bewildered room service attendant delivered a plastic chewing bone to Remus.
After an exhausting few days of attending the anger management seminar and being the object of Snape’s jokes, they were ready to return home.
After much nagging on Harry’s part, Severus reluctantly agreed to share his portkey.
"I just need to do one more thing and then we can go." Severus said before heading out the door.
After about thirty minutes, Severus walked back in the door with a small bag.
"Where’d you go off to?" Harry asked.
"Oh, I went down to the book store and then I had to stop at the Ministry’s field office. I had to get the portkey," Severus replied.
"Why’d you go to the bookstore?" Remus asked.
"I. Had. To. Get. The. Portkey." Severus enunciated, as if lecturing a particularly dense child. "You get the object, then you nip over to the office and they’ll put the portkey charm on it. I decided to use a book this time."
"What book was that?" Harry asked, curious.
Severus smiled as he pulled out Stephen King’s "Cycle of the Werewolf".
As soon as the three landed on the east lawn of Malfoy Manor, Severus quickly made his way to his private laboratory after spotting a few Death Eaters in spotted robes trimming the hedges.
"That was abrupt," Remus observed, holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the afternoon sun.
Harry muttered, "I think Severus may have a slight complex about Death Eaters in general."
Remus watched Severus quickly glide (since Severus would never be seen in a full run) through the garden before disappearing around the corner. "I don’t see what he’s worried about. Death Eaters are not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer. All you need to do is look at their robes to see that."
Harry scratched his head, "Yeah, I noticed that. What’s the deal with that anyway?"
Remus snorted, "Apparently, the one on laundry duty last week managed to put bleach in the wash with a bunch of darks."
"Mother’s probably irritated about that." Harry said as they made their way up the steps leading to the house.
Remus leaned over conspiratorially, "I overheard her bemoaning the fate of her favorite corset to Hermione. You’re right about that Harry, she was not happy. She chained that unfortunate man to an ouchie chair and forced him to listen to Rod Stewart’s greatest hits."
Harry winced and was about to make a comment when they were met by a house-elf at the doorway bearing a summons to Lucius’ office.
They each exhaled a breath and made their way into the Manor.
Lucius leaned back in his chair, fingers on his remaining hand tapping a staccato on the desktop, "So what do you have for me?"
Harry snuck a quick glance at Remus, who was sitting in the corner with arms folded, scowling. Harry marveled at the change in his former professor. Thomas did a real number with him. Without the gray hair, Lupin could pass for mid-thirties. Harry shook his head and took a deep breath. "I have a copy of the Anger Chart for both of us that we were supposed to complete each day." He leaned forward in his chair over the desk to hand Lucius a small binder from his satchel.
Lucius frowned slightly as he looked over the report, flipping the pages with efficiency. "What does this sharp increase here mean?" he asked, pointing to one of the charts.
Harry looked uncomfortable. "That was when Professor Lupin tried to throw the flip chart out the window." Lucius turned to Remus with a raised eyebrow as Harry continued, "The training instructor informed us at the beginning of the class that we were to map out our own progress and the number of situations where we applied alternative behavior. So when Professor Lupin ‘lost it’, so to speak, she took his chart away from him and updated it herself."
Remus looked unapologetic. "Well, it was time
for lunch and she wouldn’t let us order Chinese. Said she couldn’t eat
starch since she’s on
something called the Sugar Buster diet. Not that it would help her anyway. That combined with her repetition of that stupid word ‘synergy’ just set me off. Damn Americans." Harry made a choking sound as Remus frowned at him, "What?"
Harry laughed. "Professor, you’re starting to sound like Draco. Next thing, you’ll be ordering house-elves around and dressing them up as Barbie dolls for your own amusement. Either that or you’ll demand to go to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner."
Remus pinched his fingers along the bridge of his nose, as if to hold off a migraine. "That’s rich coming from you, Mr. Film Star. You were taking advantage of those muggles. The women in that class were moonstruck over your newly excavated model looks. You never had to do *your* anger homework." He sent Harry a glare, "One swing of that hair of yours and they were vacant drooling sheep."
Harry waved in an offhand gesture. "Why waste your energy on trivials? As it says in the Slytherin Code, if you can get others to do the boring stuff, why do it yourself?" At seeing Remus’ disapproval, Harry added, "Go on! Tell me you didn’t think about it when that man from Brazil offered to ‘role-play an escalating situation’ winking at you with his trousers unzipped all the while. If memory serves me well, he even offered to let you lead. When those women offered to help me, how could I be so ungallant as to refuse their hospitality?" Harry shrugged, glancing a Lucius, who nodded in agreement.
Remus snorted derisively, "Well, for one reason, you don’t swing that way."
Harry scrunched up his face, "Neither do you, apparently. I think Professor Snape might take issue with the fact that he is a major player in your nighttime fantasies. I’ll never share a room with you ever again!"
"Look, it wasn’t my idea to room with you! It was your dear old dad’s idea!" Remus hissed, throwing a scowl at Lucius.
Lucius twisted his face into a sneer, "Still with Severus, are you? That has to be some sort of world record, Lupin. Don’t tell me you’ve never managed to ‘hit that’ so to speak. Such a Gryffindor. In order to impress our dear Severus, you need to get some…" Lucius snapped his fingers, as if trying to find the right word.
Harry interjected, "Balls?"
Lucius was shaking his head, "No, although he needs those too. But that’s not the word I’m looking for.."
"Common sense? Brains? Underarm deodorant? Deviousness?" Harry asked, earning looks that threatened serious physical harm from Remus.
Lucius slapped his hand on the desk, "Yes…that’s the one. You were devious back at Hogwarts when you ran with the bullies. What happened to that underhanded kid you used to be?"
Remus snorted and deliberately ignored the change of topic. He refused to talk about his long-standing…crush? No…obsession? No, that wasn’t it either…it was just…well, *just*. It wasn’t something he could actually define, it simply *was*. "Hmmm…well, anyway, back to the anger control thing. It was all a bunch of nonsense. I mean, all those people there. Do they really *care* if they get along with the lady in the next cubicle? And all that stuff about diversity. Who cares? I don’t care if the guy next to me can’t eat pork any more than I care about that woman across the aisle having to dance naked on the full moon. It doesn’t affect me in any way. Why do we have to be so nice to begin with? I wish I could just say ‘piss off’ to the lot of them." He finished with a hiss.
Harry snickered, "You DID say piss off to the lot of them. It was entertaining to watch."
Lucius smiled slightly, "A positive result, I think. You do seem to be recovering from your ‘I’m a werewolf who is persecuted by society’ affliction. And it’s about time. If it were *me*, I would have taken advantage of the intimidation factor long ago. I think I could’ve achieved great things if I would’ve been able to say ‘You’d look much nicer with a side of potatoes’ with complete impunity. Well, better late than never, Lupin. And don’t let the ‘where-do-you-keep-your-flea-collar’ remarks get to you."
Remus muttered, "Malfoy, in my entire history of existing, the only person who ever had a flea collar remark was you. In case you forgot."
Lucius hummed while inspecting his nails.
Sirius Black was in a sour mood. His plans of bringing down the Malfoys were falling short of his expectations. After Lucius cornered him a few days earlier, life for Sirius took an alarming turn for the worse. After having to disrobe in the hallway in front of the infuriating man, he had thought things couldn’t be worse.
Sirius silently thanked all of the gods above that Lucius didn’t recognize him from their years at Hogwarts. As soon as he was down to his bare minimum, Lucius led him into his private library where he was given a French maid apron, hat and high heels. Lucius had then ordered Sirius to clean the library and dust all the bookshelves.
If that was not enough cause to curl up in a fetal ball and rot away in a corner somewhere, Lucius also made small sounds of appreciation whenever he would bend over to dust the lower shelves of the bookcase. Afterwards, for reasons Sirius didn’t understand, Lucius seemed to have developed an attachment to him. It was the only reason why he was assigned to take care of all the odds and ends for Lucius while his fellow ‘comrades’ (who, at the moment, were bitching because they were having to ‘work for the man’) were directed to Veela Dungeon Duty. Sirius shivered at the thought.
So much for not drawing attention to myself, Sirius thought petulantly. This really sets my plans back by a considerable degree. Sirius gritted his teeth and forced himself not to react to Lucius’ taunts, believing that Harry was under some kind of curse to actually want to stay with the Malfoys. Sirius vowed that he would *not* leave Harry to the mercy of that whole *blond* family full of boundless depravity. (Sirius was, by nature, a very melodramatic fellow).
Sirius now knew that the Ministry could not be counted on to bring justice. When he had stumbled onto Hermione Granger during one of her ‘sessions’ with none other than Fudge himself, he realized that the Malfoys were much more insidious creatures than anyone could possibly fathom. He couldn’t begin to guess what sorts of Dark Arts had been used to transform Hermione Granger, cleverest witch in Hogwarts history, to the Malfoys dominatrix of choice.
There were definite Dark Art Happenings taking place within the manor. Sirius knew that he had to bide his time before making his move. He would find a way to bring that entire family down, come hell or high water.
Well, as soon as he was finished serving dinner.
Sirius, at present dressed in a traditional butler’s uniform, was forced to serve roast chicken and potatoes. He rolled his eyes after serving Draco a fifth helping. Dinner at Malfoy Manor was a bit of a lark. It would’ve been a good subject for a scientific study. Everyone that resided at Malfoy Manor was beautiful. Lucius and Narcissa, the embodiment of golden perfection. Ron Weasley, handsome in that very rugged masculine way. Remus always understated charm personified. Snape, the slimy git, was quite gorgeous in the wicked sense. Hermione Granger, very sexy and quite innocent looking despite herself. Harry, all grown up and achingly beautiful. Even Draco, his girth aside, was pretty.
It was a very odd collection of people; all of who had very dominant personalities which usually resulted in furious arguments erupting with little or no warning at all. The most violent and bitter conflicts seemed to be between Remus and Snape. Sirius wondered if Remus still harbored the same feeling for Snape that he had when they were all schoolmates. Sirius shook his head as he refilled Draco’s wine goblet.
Remus pushed away from the table and stood abruptly, "Pardon me. I’m not feeling well…I think I’ll head up to my room." He curled his hands up into fists and practiced counting backward from 10,000. In square roots. The entire table stared in silence. Well, as close to stares as you could get.
The only person remotely gaping was Ron, whose eyebrows had risen alarmingly at the sudden violent move from Remus. The others looked upon Remus with practiced nonchalance. Severus was smug, having met his daily quota of Remus-baiting. Remus took a deep breath, ‘just let me go just let me go just let me go’ he prayed silently.
"Nonsense," Narcissa said, frowning as she waved her hand dismissively. "You’ll do no such thing. Sit down and finish your dinner, Lupin." Her tone, one of an adult scolding a wayward child, left no room for compromise. Both she and Lucius were looking upon Remus with identical forbidding expressions.
Lucius coughed discreetly, smoothing his napkin on his lap. "Deviousness," he said, causing Harry to snort and earning a grimace from Remus. The rest looked on in polite confusion.
Remus sighed in resignation as he sat back down. He would have to pick his battles. The rest of his dinner companions went back to their own conversations, glancing in his direction every now and then. He cast a venomous look at Severus who was quietly snickering in the seat next to him. "What is it Lupin? Can’t take a joke? You’re too uptight for your own good. Don’t sit too stiffly, wouldn’t want to leave imprints on the chair."
Remus speared his roast chicken with his fork. "Snape, if I hear one more ‘How many werewolves does it take to change a light bulb’ joke, I may strangle you with my own hands."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Well, I thought you might welcome a reason to lay your hands on me." Severus smirked, "Besides, I’ve run out of ‘light bulb’ jokes but I’ve got plenty of ‘werewolf in a blender’ jokes if you’d like to hear them."
"Severus, so help me…" Lupin said, gritting his teeth and giving his potato a vicious stab.
"Ok…no blender jokes. I promise," said Severus, his hands raised in a placating gesture. They both turned their attentions back to eating dinner. After about a minute of silence, Severus turned to Remus, who was lifting a goblet of wine to his lips, and said with relish, "Right then. A Christian, a Midget and a Werewolf walk into a pub…"
The goblet shattered from the pressure of Remus’ grip.
After dinner, Harry was summoned into the Big Library. Even though Lucius had long given him the new secret phrase, (it was now ‘He’s a god in an alcove’; Lucius was reliving the early eighties) Harry didn’t feel the need to start practicing the dark arts just yet. However, he didn’t pass up the opportunity to let it slip to Draco about having to catch up on some ‘research’ in the very library that Draco had never been allowed in.
After saying the new pass-phrase, the door opened revealing Lucius leaning back in one of the chairs in front of the roaring fireplace, eyes closed in complete contentedness. A death eater was standing beside him with a tray. Lucius was obviously using the poor man as a table. Harry took a closer look at the unfortunate man, he seemed awfully familiar but Harry was unable to place him.
Lucius lazily opened his eyes and gestured for Harry to be seated in the chair opposite. "So, tell me…did you learn anything else while you were in America? Apart from Lupin’s wet dream fantasies."
Harry considered, "It seemed that Americans
do a lot of unnecessary work. Most of what I saw pointed to extreme anal-retentiveness
micro-management. I suppose the two main things I learned were not to fly off the handle and to delegate the most boring tasks if I could get away with it."
Lucius said, "Practical advice. It’s the cornerstone of getting ahead in this world. So, do you think that you can control your…erm…mood swings? Having Draco moved to the Veela’s dungeon is not an option, I may add."
Harry took a deep breath and exhaled, "I think that I’m making some progress there. I can’t say that I’ll be completely calm from now on, but I will definitely endeavor to do better. I won’t embarrass you in front of our clients…but I can’t promise that I won’t get angry if I’m alone."
Lucius looked into his wine glass with a thoughtful statement, "It’s as much as I can hope for at this point. Although," he glanced sideways at Harry with an unreadable statement, "you may not be so…tempestuous before long."
Harry fiddled in his seat, not quite managing to achieve complete composure regardless of how many workshops Lucius sent him to. "Sir?"
"Nothing. Just thinking out loud. Well, moving on…as you know, I’m expanding our investments thanks to your efforts. We own roughly half of the gay establishments in the Knockturn Alley area. I want you to buy out the Blue Oyster bar. That’s the meeting that you’re going to tomorrow. The present owner may be a bit greedy, but try not to let the price get *too* expensive. Just be wary of leather men who like to tango."
Harry snorted, "Don’t worry. I’ve never stepped foot inside an Arthur Murray studio and I certainly don’t intend to."
Lucius sipped his wine while studying the crackling flames in the fireplace. Harry lapsed into silence, this time comfortable in Lucius’ presence. Without looking away from the fire, Lucius said, "I took the liberty of hiring your assistant. I think you’ll find him agreeable."
Harry was surprised, "He?"
A slight smiled played across the older man’s face. "Yes. I believe you know him. Seamus Finnegan. I noticed that you came back from your shopping expedition in considerably higher spirits. You forgot to be angsty that night if I remember correctly."
Harry stared, then brightened considerably. "Seamus? Really?" At seeing Lucius nod, Harry pursed his lips in thought, "Well, it’s kind of like having your own band of minstrels. Seamus is very much like a traveling circus. Things are never boring when he’s around, that’s for certain. You’ll never hear him say something like ‘did you ever get the feeling that there’s a party around somewhere but you don’t know where it is?’ "
Lucius set his glass down on the tray. "Well, in case you didn’t realize it, you were able to accomplish more in three hours than you did the entire week. I think this young man is just what you need to straighten your life out."
Harry privately agreed. Perhaps things were starting to look better. "He did seem rather well-organized. I imagine you’d have to be in his line of business. By the way, how *did* you get him? He had a pretty good career as a image consultant not to mention a wardrobe that Draco would kill for."
Lucius gave Harry and enigmatic look, "I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse."
After sending a very happy Harry away for the night, Lucius dragged a very reluctant Sirius into the bedroom. Sirius silently cursed the day he planned this ridiculous scheme. Giving up any plans at being surreptitious, Sirius turned and tried to run for it, but was seized by the collar by Lucius’ bionic arm.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But it was an opportunity not to be missed. Lucius seemed to be unarmed, and Sirius had his wand in his pocket, and Lucius would hardly expect a sudden magical attack from a man he thought was member of his grim-faced fan squad. Sirius’ superior position was motivation enough to move in for the kill - well, there was that and the fact that Lucius’ deadpan crudities were making Sirius' brain ache.
"You can’t play your mind games with me," Sirius challenged, "The game is up, Malfoy. It’s about time you got your just desserts." And with those brave words spoken, Sirius broke the spell of his enchanted disguise, and in a puff of smoke transformed from a pale faced sycophant into a wild haired motorbike riding anti-hero, wand raised furiously in one hand like some balance-wielding temperance…
Lucius coughed, and pointed.
"...crap," said Sirius.
There followed a subtle pause during which Sirius looked at everything but Lucius, and Lucius looked at nothing but Sirius. Then Sirius looked at nothing but himself, while Lucius whistled under his breath in that decidedly self-satisfied way which had so infuriated Sirius during their school years together.
"My old school nemesis," Lucius drawled finally,
delicately pressing his fingertips together. "I see you’re still
as predictable as always.
Camouflaging yourself in order to get inside our manor, and then revealing your true identity in a flash of glory." He paused. "Flash being the operative word here…" he murmured, dryly, as an afterthought.
"Shut up," Sirius hissed. He was trying very hard to maintain eye contact now, whilst attempting to swivel his body from the waist down in the opposite direction.
"Don’t be so…discouraged. There is a lesson to be learnt from this episode, Master Black," said Lucius, cheerily. "Namely: if you decide to charm both your features and your clothing in order to appear unrecognisable, it will do you well to remember that upon the dispersion of said spell, both the assumed features and clothing will vanish..."
"Malfoy – just..."
"I don’t think I have to tell you that unless you manage to come up with a very good explanation, Master Black, or at least a suitable apology, your life will cease to be worth living."
"Oh, really? And what do you plan to do? Practice of the Dark Arts is banned, and Fudge is around here somewhere - he won’t be able to ignore any dark spell if it’s cast practically in front of his nose."
"You would be very surprised exactly what Cornelius can be convinced to ignore," said Lucius, calmly. "But, rest assured, I’ve no intent to waste my magics on you."
"So what exactly are you threatening me with, eh?" Sirius smirked.
Lucius withdrew his wand from an inner pocket of his robe, and patted it squarely against his palm. Within a few moments, a small camera fluttered up the hall, sped on small, metallic wings. It hung over Lucius' head, like a persistent witches familiar, awaiting a command.
"Do wave and smile, Master Black," said Lucius.
Sirius, not quite quick enough on the uptake, did so. The camera flashed, Lucius looked particularly smug, and Sirius groaned.
"If you don’t speak pretty, Master Black," said Lucius, scratching the base of his jaw with the tip of his wand, "I shall be forced to sell that picture to the Witches Weekly."
"Actually, I probably will, no matter what you say," Lucius admitted, in an unexpected burst of honesty. "Still..."
"Forget it, then," Sirius snapped. "Send your fucking picture, and much good it will do you. I came here for answers and I’m not leaving until I get them."
"In that case, you’ll need questions," said
Lucius, a solitary eyebrow raised. With a snap of his fingers the
flying camera was dismissed,
shooting on its silver wings away from the duo - and presumably on to the Witches Weekly photography department. Sirius grimaced inwardly; but there was nothing he could do about it that didn’t involve racing down the corridor with both hands preserving his modesty - and that could result in a photograph infinitely worse than the original.
He stood his ground, then, and persevered: "What the hell are you doing with the Death Eaters? Do you think you’re going to get away with this? Why did you kill Voldemort? Are you going to try to take over the world?"
At first Lucius seemed slightly offput by the question; as if he couldn’t quite work out what it was that Sirius was referring to. Raising one hand in front of him, a gesture to halt Sirius’ questioning, he ducked his other hand into his pocket, replaced his wand, and removed from the robe’s depths a small metal box, quite flat, which set itself easily into the palm of his hand.
Sirius leant closer, unsure exactly of what this object might be. A bomb, perhaps? Hardly - Sirius couldn’t imagine Lucius would be much of the mercenary, kamikaze type. But the Malfoys had a long history of madness, didn’t they? He took a reflexive step backwards, just in case…
The lid of the object flipped open. Lucius, with the slightest frown on his face, pulled what looked to be a tiny plastic pen from a holster in the side, and began to doodle on the inner surface of the object.
"Saturday: Laundry duty," said Lucius, peering into the LCD screen, before Sirius could comment. "Sunday through to Friday: Mowing the lawns - a rather extensive undertaking. Saturday, and the rest of the week - well, it appears that my wife has chosen to roster them for different household tasks, none of which, so it seems, have anything to do with taking over the world. Though, I admit, cleaning Harry’s bedroom is quite a mammoth undertaking…of course, after that, there’s nothing really settled. We try not to plan our domestic activities more than two weeks ahead, you understand."
He tilted his head to one side, tearing his gaze from the palm pilot. "I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more, Master Black," Lucius said, in that polite tone of voice that he never failed to assume in the presence of those socially below him (i.e., everyone).
"Eh?" said Sirius.
"That was my wife’s agenda for the Death Eaters, to be completely honest," said Lucius. "Let me just check what I plan to be doing over the next fortnight. Ahh.. I see. Hm. That is interesting. My first scheduled activity for the rest of the day, I mean."
"Oh? What is it?" Sirius said.
"Removing a naked and idiotic intruder who asks stupid questions from my premises," said Lucius.
"Does it really say that?"
"No, Master Black."
"Didn’t think so."
"Get the fuck out of my house," said Lucius, in the sweetest of voices. "Otherwise I shall remove you myself."
"Don’t be a fool, Malfo -oy -oy -oy -"
Lucius had made a point of charming the entire manor to compress and contract according to his wishes. With the simplest pinch of his wand through the fabric of his jacket, and a breath of a command, the ground beneath Sirius' feet vanished...
"Oy -oy -oy -oy.."
Standing on the edge of the hole, Lucius gazed downwards, until quite satisfied that Sirius hadn’t managed to catch onto any outward pointing pieces of furniture on his way down through the three-floor drop. With another wand-pinch, the floors returned, and Lucius smiled, faintly.
"Another rule to be added to the lists of the evil overlord," he told the paintings which lined the walls. "Never, ever count to three."
In the basement dungeon, Sirius groaned.
"What was that?" Hermione asked.
Narcissa raised her head slightly, peering through the glass vial she held towards the door, where the noise had come from. "Something heavy and meaty landing," she said. "Why?"
"Shouldn’t we check what it was? Could have been a person."
"Could have been," Narcissa agreed, swilling the vials contents to the rim. After a protracted pause, she continued, on a different topic: "May I ask what’s wrong with your boyfriend?" A thin index indicated Viktor, who stood gamely by Hermione’s side. It was the first time Narcissa could recall seeing Viktor dressed.
"He has a sore throat," said Hermione. "Lost his voice, you see."
Viktor coughed, miserably.
"There’s a shame," said Narcissa. "I
was hoping to continue my conversation with him from yesterday. We’d
a long discussion about the
possibility of world peace, and he brought up some very interesting points. And spoke at length about a new cure for that Muggle disease, cancer. And you should really hear him speak on the subject of politics.."
Hermione gave Viktor a sideways look.
"I have to admit that in my entire life, I’ve never met such an eloquent young man," Narcissa said. "Aside from my husband, of course. And such a sexy accent, too." Viktor coughed again, wrinkled his nose in a statement of deep-seated pain, and departed. The two women watched him go, pityingly.
"You shouldn’t rub it in," said Hermione, reprovingly.
"Why ever not? I find it very amusing."
"He’d talk if he could. It’s just that there are some - um, literary constraints."
Hermione looked shiftily towards the ceiling. "It’s probably best we don’t talk about it," she said.
"It’s all a bit 'Breakfast of Champions'."
"Fair enough," said Narcissa, who didn’t pick up on the Muggle reference, and didn’t particularly care to question it. Clasping the vial to her chest protectively, she scooped a small spoon of a blue, salty precipitate into it, followed by a drop or two of a yellow liquid. Further swirling and tapping coerced the vial’s contents to change from transparency to a pale pink.
"There. I think that’s done it," she said. "This is quite a handy little potion, my dear; and fairly potent, too. But necessary, I’m sure, in - ah, my line of work. When dealing with the.. more reticent of business associates.." She sniffed the vial, and nodded approvingly. "Unadulterated, this potion will transform you into your true love’s most desired sexual object. The perfect man or woman.. or in some cases, horse. However, if you add a portion of a slave’s blood to the mix, you’ll become theirs." She slipped the potion into a test tube rack, wiping her hands down on the front of her apron.
"Isn’t that bordering on the Dark Arts?" Hermione queried.
"You’ll find, dear, that everything borders on the Dark Arts, when you think about it. Isn’t magic itself about changing the perceptions of another - whether it be by illusion, transfiguration, or the simple display of power. Mind games, Miss Granger." Narcissa smiled, in the fashion of a teacher admiring the sudden scholarly epiphany of a dull-witted student. "Now - what exactly was it you came here to talk to me about?"
"The Death Eaters," said Hermione, simply.
It was true, though recently Hermione had found herself manufacturing just about any excuse to gain Narcissa’s audience. Since her dominatrix encounter with the woman, she’d begun to view Narcissa as a role model of sorts - not precisely from a moral standpoint, but more as an example of how a woman could gain and wield phenomenal power.
The balance of the Malfoy household, Hermione had swiftly noticed, wasn’t maintained by an uncontested patriarch. A motion from Narcissa, or a well-phrased interjection could completely change Lucius' attitude to a particular issue.
The Death Eaters were a worry, though. While Hermione could ignore many of the underhand dealings which went on, unchecked, within the manor - indeed, she played a part in many of them - she could justify them in terms of the system: the Ministry itself was corrupt, and the only way to function under its rule was to become corrupt in turn. Quite a logical approach to take, really; or so she felt.
But she couldn’t turn a blind eye to the dark-clothed Voldemort supporters who now ran willy nilly through the corridors, immersed in their domestic tasks. There was something decidedly eerie about having an ex-enemy ruffle through your corsets and ask if they needed to be hand washed.
She couldn’t believe that with their leader vanquished, the Death Eaters would stoop to such ridiculous undertakings. It was a far cry from their days of terrorising the wizard populace. And, furthermore, Hermione doubted the Malfoys ability to control the Death Eaters.
Even if the Malfoys had honest designs in mind for the group, Narcissa and Lucius couldn’t possibly stop the Death Eaters if they were to suddenly decide that vacuuming the manor did not constitute job satisfaction, and broke out to pillage the nearby villages.
"What about them?" Narcissa asked. Her fingers were still wrapped up in the cotton of her apron, her head bowed in concentration. "They didn’t wash whites with blacks again, did they? I do know a good spell for removing dye, if that’s the case.."
"No. No." Hermione shook her head emphatically. "Look, Mrs. Malfoy - I’d just like to know exactly what you’re going to do with them. I can’t believe you’d want to keep them locked up in here, doing menial tasks like the damn house elves. Don’t you -"
"What you want to know, I believe," said Narcissa "is whether or not Lucius and I have a sinister motive for keeping them here."
"Right," said Hermione.
"I suppose in many ways, we do," said Narcissa, thoughtfully. "If one can consider self-protection sinister. We are threatened on quite a regular basis, Miss Granger; we receive countless death threats each week, for various, ah, acts we’ve committed over the past years. To have a horde of vile and callous minions at our disposal will hopefully put any mercenaries and would-be assassins off. I can’t see anyone managing to force their way into the manor with a hundred or so Death Eaters hanging around. Can you?"
"Surely there’s more to it than that."
"Well, there’s the laundry."
"I mean -"
"I know what you mean. And to be honest, I can’t give you a straight answer on the matter. Who knows what tomorrow might bring? But for now, you can be rest assured we have no desire for world domination. Except, of course, through business affairs. Which reminds me - did you manage to get a hearing for the Parkinson case?"
A girlish smile spread across Hermione’s face. "It wasn’t difficult," she said. "Cornelius can’t say no to me."
"From what I’ve heard, very few people can," said Narcissa.
"I think it has something to do with the boiling oil," said Hermione.
"Or the cattle prod," said Narcissa.
"That too," Hermione admitted. "Zzzzpt.. not guilty." She made an expressive motion with her hand.
"Very good, dear," said Narcissa. "Shall we go play now, do you think?"
"If you want to.."
"Of course I do." Narcissa unstrapped her apron, and linked her arm into Hermione’s.
"Shouldn’t we lock up?" Hermione asked. "Just in case one of the elves, or the Death Eaters venture into your laboratory?"
"But anyone could come in and mess with -"
"It wouldn’t take very long to put this all away -"
"That’s not the point, dear."
"I’ll do it myself, if you -"
Narcissa upturned her eyes to the ceiling, in the same manner that Hermione had done not so long before. With a terse smile, she leant in to whisper demonstratively to her dominatrix companion. Hermione’s eyes widened slightly.
"I see," she said, presently.
"Breakfast of bloody Champions. And we don’t get any say in this? It doesn’t seem particularly fair. What happened to free will?"
Narcissa pinched Hermione’s upper arm, sharply.
"Sorry," Hermione mumbled.
"So we leave everything lying out here, in the open, and just leave..?"
"Are you coming, Hermione?" Narcissa said, loudly. It wasn’t a question, and Hermione swallowed the rest of her complaints. Not the time and the place for dispute, she felt, despite her rising annoyance. But the next Mary Sue she ran into in the dungeons.. well, it wouldn’t be pretty, Hermione was certain.
Clenching her teeth, then, against any further protests that might prove detrimental to the plot, Hermione allowed herself to be led.
The following morning, predictability kicked in.
Sirius, who’d been lying in a pile of silent agony on the remains of a blow-up ouchie chair all night, (which had fortunately broken his fall from the second floor), had watched their feet patter in synchrony from the room, bleary-eyed. It hurt to move; he’d slept fitfully, scared to move in case someone or something came to see what had become of him.
But the dungeon laboratory had remained empty, and now, certain no one was going to check how he was doing, Sirius attempted to move - and discovered that while his ribs were somewhat bruised, none were broken. His arms and legs were still in working condition, too: Lucius evidently hadn’t wanted to kill him.
Grunting, he hauled himself to his feet. He’d overheard parts of the women’s conversation the previous afternoon, keening to words such as Dark Arts and Death Eaters. His fall only made him more determined to bring the Malfoys to justice, or at least to court, and from the discussion he’d listened to he was quite certain they deserved it.
Playing mind-games, twisting the Ministry’s elders to their bidding.. it revolted him, to the very pit of his being. He’d been incarcerated unfairly, and to think of others getting away with the real crimes they’d committed rankled him.
Dragging himself past the array of test tubes, Sirius noticed the pink potion Narcissa had been in the middle of mixing when he’d dropped' in. She’d said it had something to do with the Dark Arts, didn’t she? This, then, would be incontestable proof of the Malfoys continued association with all things evil. With a lopsided grin, Sirius closed the vial with a stopper, and tucked it into his..
He’d forgotten he was still naked. In the absence of any other viable piece of clothing, he pulled on Narcissa’s apron (feeling exceedingly grateful that no one else had to see him in this pitiful condition), tucked the vial into the top pocket, and began to see about making his escape.
Today was supposed to be a Ron day - Ron had begun marking his Draco-relations time in on his calendar. But the sky was so clear, and Sally was so insistent.. and Ron was so desperately in need of a good excuse.. that both he and his dragon friend had ended up on the very edge of the manor grounds, by the lake.
/Well, he’d only scare the fish,/ Sally smirked.
"Yeah? Look who’s talking."
/I’m just a big softy, me./ Concluding a deep yawn which rumbled the waters' surface, Sally sprawled her fifty foot blue length along the edge of the lake, extending one shimmering wing - which eclipsed the sun for a brief few seconds, casting a shadow over the entire area.
"Tough on the outside, soft on the inside, right?" Ron said, dryly. Swinging himself nimbly onto the crook of one of her elbows, he lazed back against the glittering scales, and closed his eyes.
"Uhuh. If you say so."
/Come on. Draco deserved to have his bum warmed the other day. You can’t deny that. He was literally begging for it./
/Spoilt little brat. That’s bad parenting all over, that is. A bit of tough love will do him the world of good./
Sally shifted - a ripple of muscle gently nudged Ron’s head. /You don’t really care, do you, Ronny?/ she said, in a quieter tone.
"Kinda. But you can’t go back and change it." Ron wriggled backwards, folding his hands behind his head. "I think I must be going mad, you know," he said, after an extended pause. "Mad from bloody decent sex deprivation. Even some of the Death Eater birds are looking pretty fine."
/So go out and get laid?/ the dragon suggested, bluntly.
"Can’t be arsed. Well, it isn’t that, really. Just - I figure now that I don’t just want a woman with the look, right? I mean, some of the women who try to chat me up - I don’t reckon they could find their own arses with both hands, if you get me. Maybe I’m growing old and mature, or something. But I’d like to date someone with a bloody brain."
/There’s Draco,/ Sally teased.
"There’s castration too," said Ron, mildly, "but I don’t see it as being a viable option, like."
/I could do it for you cheap,/ said Sally. /I’d sharpen my talons especially for the occasion. A quick nip and tuck, dragon style. In my pillaging days I used to do a lot of plain disembowelment. Castration would probably be much the same, just a bit lower./
/Mm. Not that I, er, ever had an pillaging days. Or ever really disemboweled anyone./
/Big old softy, me./
Ron laughed. "And that’s why I love you, right," he chuckled, digging in his pockets in search of a cigarette.
The dragon watched him, fondly. /Yes, Ronny,/ she said. /That’s why you love me./
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