Chapter 18: The Deceiving Silence

Disclaimer: The copyright to Harry Potter characters belong to J. K. Rowling. Any other characters are purely work of fiction and any resemblance is co-incidental. No money or profit is being earned from this writing.

A/N: Thanks to everyone for comments, bookmarks, kudos and votes on the last chapter. Please let them keep coming.

I know it’s been a while since I last updated this story. I’m not going to show any excuses for the delay because I really couldn’t help it. TPA is a complex story and with three different exams haunting me all the time, I’m just going to thank people for the patience they have had with me, from the bottom of my heart.

Acknowledgements: The images used in this chapter are copyright to their respective owners.

The painting of ‘Notre Dame’ and ‘Grand Canal of Venice’ is done by renowned British watercolour artist David Harmer, who also happens to have done the drawing of ‘Two White Rabbits’ for TPA too. He has a wonderful blog at www.offtoafineart.com and his other diverse set of works can be found on davidharmerwatercolour.co.uk.

Monsieur Monette’s interview was actually given by Monsieur David Harmer. The words are his.

And last but not the least, the man who is behind all the French dialogues. That’s Monsieur Joseph Renaud of Word Reference dot com where he is a professional translator but has very kindly helped me with everything France and French. Cheers, Monsieur.

Warning: The Poisoned Apple is a story for mentally mature adults. There are and will be materials in it which requires thorough knowledge of human body, mind and relationships. Reader’s discretion is required.

Chapter 18: The Deceiving Silence

Some said silence was acceptance; some said silence was the calm before the storm. Audré said silence was deceiving. One had no means to understand what was behind a silence until it was broken.

Close to midnight on Tuesday, the Westminster Bridge was deserted. The two centuries old bridge was one of those iconic landmarks that appeared on anything associated with London: red double decker buses, red phone booths, the London Eye, and Westminster Palace. During day it was a busy and bustling place, with tourists standing around to enjoy an unparalleled view of Thames and take photos of the various impressive sights. At night the bridge was quieter, but the view, more stunning and colourful. The bridge was painted in green and glowed like a gigantic stone snake linking two banks of Thames. On the West stood the Palace of Westminster with its world famous clock tower, the Big Ben, both emanating a proud golden hue. On the East was propped the London Eye, a giant Ferris Wheel; usually lighted by electric blue colour it stood against all old and aristocratic buildings, as a monument of a more modern London.

Tonight it was raining in London but the mood was different. There was scent of an approaching storm in the air. Grey clouds were swirling overhead, slow and centripetal. They rumbled occasionally, as though warning everyone to stay at home and not venture, hither and thither.

Rain was pouring in a slanting line, making almost sixty degrees before hitting surface of centuries old, cobble-stone and concrete bridge. The wet surface was illuminated by reflections of lights from surrounding buildings: golden from the Palace and Big Ben and blue from the London Eye. What a surreal mixture it looked, as though a thousand shattered, coloured glass pieces have been laid down to form a path. As the curtain of rain thickened a bit, a lone figure materialized on the bridge. It stood still for a second, as though trying to balance on the rain-washed surface. Then it started walking.

Audré simply wanted to forget the last few weeks of her life, most of all the last few hours she had spent at the Malfoy Manor. Aside from the horror that was associated with its very existence, air smelled of the dead there, and silence pressed on from all sides as though one was stuck in eternity while trying to apparate. She just wanted those to be erased from her damned memory, permanently. For nothing had Morpheus ran away from that doom of a place that the Malfoys called their home.

Rain washed over Audré’s elegant figure and in less than a minute, she was completely soaked. But ignoring it, she continued walking on the deserted bridge.

It was one of those very rare occasions where Audré found herself too overwhelmed to think properly. That usually never happened. As a person, she was quick-witted and smart. When that was combined with observation power as good as hers, and an extensive experience on human nature, there could be no doubts about the correctness of her analysis. Seldom has she been proven wrong.

And tonight was one of those seldom occasions. She has been proven wrong.

Audré stopped, took a deep breath, turned right and grabbed the bridge railing. She was facing the river now. Even on a rainy night, Thames looked magnificent. Its dark water rippled and ran like an endless stream. One of its banks featured a golden hued palace and with its clock tower and the other featured a neo-architecture, blue-lit, mega orb: the London Eye. She stared at them and at the water where the gold met the blue, for a very long time.

It was unbelievable! Draco was a rapist, a real rapist, not that there were any fake rapists in the world, and he has assaulted a classmate when he was eighteen! Audré didn’t know which part of that truth was hunting her the most.

It was one thing to assume a horrific occurrence and it was another to hear it from the offender’s own lips. Audré had been having a peculiar feeling right after Fleur refused to tell her about Jean. But rape? That she, honestly, hadn’t considered. In her naivety, she had taken Draco as a person different from his esteemed father. Audré had no doubts that Lucius could rape. In fact he’d do it only for the pleasure of it, without a single moment’s hesitation. He was a sadist and acquired pleasure from dominating and demeaning people. And if the witch was a Muggleborn, then it was even more pleasurable because it would justify the rape. As though for a Muggleborn witch, rape was nothing but the next great honour.

But Draco? External appearances aside, he didn’t seem to like his father much. In fact, he seemed to harbour a silent resentment for his mistreated. Why would then he follow his father’s path? Only because he was angry? If someone could rape in a fit of rage, there was no knowing what he could do next.

Audré, Audré, Audré….

Audré called her inner peace and strength. Cool. Take breath. Relax. She hasn’t come here to drench in rain and catch a cold. No. She has come here for some open air, oxygen, peace and quiet. With what has happened at Malfoy Manor, the mere thought of returning to Rosings was making her go sick. That spacious hotel suite might be good for a pleasant stay on a rainy night like this, but right now, it felt too small, and too congested of a place to be. Before going there, she needed to breathe and calm her inner turmoil. Most importantly, she needed a place where she wouldn’t be aunt Audré. That role was beginning to feel suffocating now.

Audré closed her eyes. Thames went out and Adrian’s face swum into view. He didn’t look happy at all. He looked sad, and demented, almost as Rhodope did. No. She couldn’t make the same mistake twice. Draco couldn’t be trusted. He was, first and foremost, a Malfoy, and considering the virtue of that poisonous blood, nothing was unexpected of him. Nothing. He could rape, he could kill. Forget Adrian, no child in the world should suffer the curse of a father like Draco Malfoy.

The next face that appeared before Audré’s mind was Jean’s. Draco, like all rapists, was unrepentant and ridiculously obsessed with blaming the crime on the survivor. But Audré knew what it took a woman so treated to bear a baby of violence. She must have gone through hell, to have that baby. Now she had no idea that a terrible danger was following her and Adrian.

It took Audré a solid ten minutes to cleanse her mind of every dark thought and guilt and regain her confidence. No, it still wasn’t over. No big damage was done. Adrian was still out of Draco’s reach. That meant there was still hope. All she needed to do now was to play at that hope. Hope, what a beautiful and frightening word was it! H – O – P – E. A very simple spelling. Before tonight, she has entertained herself by watching people live out their miserable lives on these four letters. Now, she, too, has joined that race.

Audré opened her eyes and watched the Thames flow. She has seen another river like this: Seine. That lifeline of Paris had thirty seven bridges built over it, connecting its two banks. Audré felt that she, too, was acting like a bridge now, connecting Draco to Adrian. What would happen if that bridge suddenly collapsed? Or worse led Draco to a completely different place?

A smile appeared on Audré’s lips. It wasn’t one of those sickly sweet smiles she gave to warn people or the fake ones she put on to hide her true emotions. No. It was an honest smile, one that appeared when she was amused. Oh poor nephew! Did he know what a dangerous bridge he has chosen to cross his way to Adrian? Probably not. He was busy deluding himself, thinking he was won her sympathy with his great sad story about the Dark Mark and Dark Lord. And that Wizard’s Oath? He had taken it with a valour very uncommon to the name of the Slytherins, thinking she’d be on his side if he could portray himself as a victim of the situation. Did he think he could fool her so easily?

The Oath has served only one purpose. Audré has tested the extent of her control over Draco after a series of deliberate humiliation to make him confess. Now that it’s been tested, all she has to do was to play her part well.

When a new day arrived Audré didn’t know. She realized it when the clock on the Big Ben started issuing strikes. One. Two. Three. Four. Its sound was grave, deep and sleepy, like the slow murmuring of a grandfather trying to put his grandkid to sleep. Audré listened to it, intently. How she missed her grandfather! He was one of the wisest counsels she had ever come across.

It was half past midnight when Audré returned to Rosings. Her foot prints didn’t leave a muddy mark on the sparkling marble lobby; they were clean. Her robes were dry and she looked so composed and serene, as though she has just enjoyed a nice dinner with a special someone. The hotel reception desk had two charmingly smiling witches even at this hour, to welcome their esteemed guests. They noticed her enter.

Audré walked to the reception desk and smiled, this time preferring a polite one.

“Good morning Madame Malfoy.” One of the pretty witches greeted her. She was dressed in exquisite crimson robes trimmed with white fur and an ornate ‘R’ stitched over left side of her bosom. “How may I help you?” She enquired pleasantly.

Audré thought the witch would do well a Muggle Santa Clause model. “Good morning.” She greeted back. It always marveled her how the English used something so remotely distant as morning to greet people past midnight. The French used Bonsoir, which meant Good Evening. “I’d like to request for an early morning Portkey to Paris.” She stated.

“One moment please.” The witch retrieved a Portkey Requisition Form and while continuing smiling charmingly, dipped a quill in inkpot. Audré waited patiently, letting the witch work. These forms were immediately sent to the Ministry of Magic, on behalf of the hotel, to arrange for an International Portkey. “At which hour Madame?” She asked Audré as she reached halfway down the requisition form.

“The earlier the better.” Audré replied, not giving a specific time. “And also please have Mr. Draco Malfoy notified. He was a guest in your hotel. You’ll find his address in your entry book.”

“Mr. Malfoy,” the witch’s smile waned just a bit, “is still our guest. He hasn’t checked out yet.” She said curtly and finished her paper work, “Please sign here, Madame.” She pushed the form to her and tapped at the bottom of the page.

Audré took the quill and signed on the allotted area. She returned the form to the witch, who folded it neatly and after sealing it, had it sent through the Floo fireplace roaring behind her.

“Your request will be processed by the Ministry, Madame Malfoy, at the earliest convenience.” The witch returned to the desk and informed Audré, “And we’ll have your nephew notified. There is one problem, though. A low pressure has developed in English Channel. That’s why you see all this raining at midnight. If the forecast is telling us right, a storm will hit the English and French coast by midday tomorrow. We are very sorry but it’s possible that we wouldn’t be able to provide you with a Portkey before afternoon, or until the Ministry gives us a clearance signal.”

“That’s completely fine.” Audré assured the witch. Like Muggle aircrafts, Portkeys didn’t take off during storm, she knew that. “Bonne nuit.”

“Bonne nuit.” The witched bade a polite good night and Audré returned to her room, feeling light and pleasant. Perhaps it had something to do with the long day, the trip to Hogwarts and the horrific revelations later at Malfoy Manor, she was feeling tired now. She might even succeed in falling asleep, if she tried. Slowly and deep in thought, Audré changed into her night clothes, climbed into the queen bed and blew off the candles. Her room plunged into a pleasant darkness.

Audré closed her eyes and tried to remember all the lullabies her mother used to sing to her. There were several, but her favourite one was the Czech Muggle one, the one that said a mother would rock her precious baby to sleep. Like a good little girl, Audré hummed it for a while and against the gentle drumming of raindrops pitting and patting on the windows, fell asleep.

•••••

Draco woke abruptly.

What the hell was hammering on his head? It was aching so badly!

Draco winced and rubbed his forehead. He wasn’t fully healed but was released on the assurances that he’d follow St. Waltrude’s Healers’ advices: avoid stress and take his potions regularly. But he hasn’t followed any. For last few days his only thought had been Adrian.

Draco blinked thrice, and let his eyes slowly adjusted to the dark surroundings.

Where the hell was he? And why was it so dark? Except for a silvery glow on his left and the dark outlines of furniture, he couldn’t see a thing.

Draco focused his eyes on what he was staring at. It was a painted ceiling. They had painted ceilings at manor, the Malfoy Manor. His eyes next moved to a chandelier. It was a grand one, only he didn’t like what it was made of. Human ribs. The candle stubs has long been extinguished but silvery wisps of smoke still hung in the air, like a light mist. He has seen that chandelier before. Where?

Then, like a bag full of bricks it hit Draco on his already aching head. How could he forget it? He was at Malfoy Manor! He was here to watch some memories that his aunt Audré had procured earlier, from that bitch of a useless beauty called Fleur Delacour.

Draco sat up and took several deep breaths. He moved his neck from side to side. In addition to his head, it, too, was aching from sleeping in an odd position on a couch.

There was a flash of lightning. Seeping in through the mullioned windows it illuminated the library. The sound of thunder followed a millisecond later. It crushed and shook the Manor like a mini earthquake. Windows rattled. The rib chandelier swayed overhead. Wind was howling relentlessly, like a mad dog. Except its haunting sound the Manor was too quiet to be considered a home. It felt dead. What was the time? Why was he so disoriented?

Draco did one last round of neck exercises and scanned the library for the family grandfather clock. Yes, it was there, beside the Portrait of Vlad the Impaler. Draco was told that one of his ancestors had married a beautiful countess from that Romanian family. He couldn’t quite remember his name, but remembered it well that the Romanian lady had brought the Malfoys an exquisite dowry and this six centuries old grandfather clock was one of them. The clock dial was made of pure gold and the hands were encrusted with diamonds. But the real wonder was in the pendulum. Its bob was made of a pigeon’s egg’s size of emerald. It was the only time piece of such grandeur in entire Britain. Now it was his property and through him, Adrian’s.

Draco’s eyes fixed themselves on the moving arms of the grandfather clock. It was quarter past three in the morning. That means he had slept for almost three hours now. However, he had no recollections of falling asleep. Maybe he was too tired, or too stressed, or both.

Shifting his gaze to the silvery glow before, Draco spotted the Pensieve. That French tramp, Fleur and that clueless idiot, Weasley’s memories were still swirling inside. For a split second he considered rewatching them, to see if he could find a clue as to where Adrian lived in France. But that would mean watching that Mudblood whine about her rape and pregnancy. How these cheap whores could make issue of slightest of things! Pathetic!

Something lay beside the Pensieve. A rectangular something. Draco retrieved his wand and lit the tip, using a nonverbal Lumos. The rectangular something turned out to be a letter.

Draco reached out and picked up the envelope. It was from Rosings and was addressed to him. Wondering what it could be, he tore the side of the envelope, roughly. An official looking letter came slipping out. He unfolded it and read it in wandlight.

To, Mr. D. Malfoy, of Malfoy Manor, of Wiltshire, an elegant feminine writing said,

Dear sir,

We, at Rosings Hotel, Piccadilly Square, London, were requested to provide a Portkey by Madame Audré Chombrun Malfoy, to Paris. As per the Ministry guideline, we have proceeded with the request, and a Portkey would be ready for you at earliest time tomorrow. However, this letter is to notify you that a low pressure has developed in English Channel. It has brought heavy showers, thunderstorms and flooding, across entire England and northwestern France. We believe you are aware of the International Regulation for Safe Magical Travelling, that International Portkeys don’t take off in extreme weather conditions. We deeply regret the unfortunate situation and promise to keep you informed about any new developments.

Draco reached this far and crumped the letter into a tight ball, not caring to read who had written it. Must be some first class stupid. International Portkeys didn’t take off during storm! Draco snorted. As though he cared! If Portkey wasn’t available, he’d take a broom ride to France.  If that wasn’t possible, he’d take a Thestral. If that too wasn’t available, he’d hire a private plane and go to France. But he’d go to France. There was no way he’d waste another moment in England.

Draco aimed the crumpled letter at the closest fireplace and released it like a catapult. It landed there, neatly, among the ashes. He then conjured a goblet of water and rummaged his pockets for the portable potion kit. Having found it, he mixed a drop of the Headache Relieving Potion with water and downed it in go. He burped and waited five seconds for the drug to start its effect.

Draco sat back and closed his eyes. While the drug would do its work, he’d think. Memories from Brussels flashed before his eyes: when Adrian first appeared for the Drawing Competition, he looked so handsome in that suit…when Draco sneaked into his room and watched him run around, his son was of perfect health and loved playing with water… then at the poolside, when he was learning swimming, the boy was a wonder… and back in his room, how cleverly he solved the puzzles, just like his father did. Adrian. Adrian. Adrian. Draco whispered the name, again and again. Adrian. His son. His son. Draco Malfoy’s only living, brilliant, talented, clever, playful, full of life and healthy son.

But he is a Halfblood!’ A nasty voice spoke inside Draco’s head and punctured the tender moment of Draco’s glorious fatherhood, ‘He can’t be a Malfoy!

‘Shut the fuck up and get lost!’ Draco gritted his teeth. This bloody voice! It just wouldn’t let him be in peace! Whenever he was happy, whenever he was feeling good about something, it would speak up, like a vengeful prompter determined to ruin a nice play. If it was anyone else but him, they’d have thought that they have lost their minds and consulted a Healer. But Draco knew better. That image of his father in the hotel room and this voice, they were just echoes of his insecurities. He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t going mad either.

After what felt like ten minutes, Draco felt that his headache was gone. And so was the voice. He was himself again, both inside his head and outside. Draco sat straight, cleaned up the Pensieve, bottled the memories, and put it back on its place. He put the memories there, too. There was no point taking them to France. If his mother, somehow, watched them, he would be in deep trouble. Narcissa might be a loving mother but Draco wasn’t particularly interested in sharing this piece of his past with her.

By half past three, he was done clearing up his work space. He was usually a messy guy and never cared to clean up after him. He had servants to do that for him. Then he stood up, walked to one of the rattling windows and looked out.

Outside was as good as hell. Wind was singing an agonizing song. Trees were swaying wildly, like one of crazy witches from Weird Sisters. Their trunks twisted and turned like a Whomping Willow writhing in pain. Draco watched them for a long minute before remembering something his aunt had told him tonight.

Nicholas Malfoy had planted a yew tree, somewhere in the Malfoy Manor estate. It was used as a sacrificial pit for virgin women who were raped first.

Draco didn’t know whether he should laugh at the ridiculous allegation or attempt to curse aunt Audré for it. The latter was not an option, because he’d need her to find Adrian. He could do the former, but now he was in a too sour of a mood to laugh. So he did none.

Draco focused on the storm instead. It really was a terrible one. He doubted if he could stay mounted on a broom for more than five minutes, let alone make a thousand miles long journey. Thestrals. His mind jumped to those skeletal horses next. Dumbledore’s death has done him one great favour. He could see Thestrals now. How very lucky! Malfoy Manor was once home to all kind of fascinating, exotic and rare animals. Thestrals, Minotaurs, Kneazles, even Pegasus. His Grandfather, Abraxas Malfoy was an ardent collector of them. Those animals still existed, only they lived in the vast forest wetland on the north of the Malfoy Manor. Draco hasn’t been there for a very long time and going to look for a Thestral, in a forest, on a stormy night as this, didn’t seem like a pretty good idea.  It sounded like something Potter would do.

Draco rubbed his eyes. That left him with one last option. He’d have to hire a private aircraft. If it were old times, when his father was feared and respected in the Ministry, arranging an aircraft was just a matter of seconds. Those days might be over but the name Malfoy still commanded some respect. Draco would use that to see if he could hire a private aircraft. But for that he needed the morning to come. He couldn’t do anything at this hour.

Draco left the window side and decided to return to his own bedchamber. He swept one last glance over the library. It was full of family heirlooms and unforeseen treasures. One day, one day his son and he’d be here. He’d show what a grand manor Adrian belonged to, what a great family he came from. And that Mudblood? She could rot in the mud that she came from.

Draco left the library and started for the upper floor. The library was on the first floor, and the bedchambers were on the second. He covered the corridor and took the staircase. It brought him up on another spacious corridor, identical as the one below.

Draco stood there for a long second, trying to decide which direction to go. If it was his own bedchamber, obviously he should take the one on his right, the corridor that led through the East Wing. But he was in two minds about it now. What would he do returning to his own room? There was no one there. It was empty, as his heart was.

Draco, not knowing why he was doing it, took the corridor that led to the opposite side. He was going to his Uncle Morpheus’s room. Something about it has stirred his curiosity.

Candles in brackets sprang to life as Draco passed them. They illuminated his path, but faintly. Draco noticed that the darkness was more solid here, than the rest of the Malfoy Manor. It also felt colder. In a minute, he reached Morpheus Malfoy’s old room. The door was closed. It looked as though no one has dared to venture here, after Audré had left.

Draco ignited the tip of his wand and wrenched open the knob. It creaked a little but didn’t protest. Waiting a second, he threw open the door and held the wand before him, in defense, as though expecting an invisible enemy to come out and attack him.

Nothing happened. No one came out, visible or invisible. Draco stared at the dimly lit room for a long moment before making up his mind. There was nothing here, except the eerie silence that’s been trapped for decades.

Lowering the wand, he stepped into the never seen, never been room. A chandelier sprang into life and flooded the place with a warm light. Draco looked up at the ceiling. This was a chandelier? No sparkling crystals, no decorative works, no nothing. Just a few candle stubs, that’s all. It hung from the ceiling like a dead sprig of tree. Even the chandelier at Filch’s office should be grander, it that squib had any.

Draco looked down and focused at the room in general. It was very very bare: a four poster bed with no hangings, and a writing desk with a chair. No dark green wallpaper on the wall. No book shelves. No cloak cupboard. Even the only window had no curtain. Was the place originally like this? Or did his grandparents tore the place of its last remaining memory of their forsaken son? Draco didn’t know.

In such a lusterless and vacant room, which Draco could do away with as an unused store room, the only thing out of place was a large portrait of a noblewoman: his great-grandmother, Rhodope Malfoy. Draco remembered his last time here. Aunt Audré had been sitting before the portrait and looking up at it, transfixed. He had gone to her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. She had looked up and asked him to book her a room at Rosings.

Draco walked to the portrait and stood before it. Unlike their last time, the occupant of the portrait was present there. She looked down at him and he looked up at her.

No one spoke for a long minute.

“What did you tell her?” Draco broke the silence, finally, curious to know what had driven Aunt Audré to be so strange that night, “You never talk. You are the Silent Lady. Then what did you tell her that night that she left?”

Rhodope Malfoy didn’t answer. As though doing justice to her name, she remained silent. The only visible change that appeared on her face was a faint smile.

Draco definitely had no patience for nonsense and even less so when it was a portrait of someone who had set up the lives of his ancestors. A part of him wanted to get rid of the portrait, once and for all. But another part of him, the part that was Slytherin, warned him against such an act. No, Draco, no. That’d be so foolish! Especially when he could use this portrait to get to something, or in this case, to someone.

Draco gave her great-grandmother a charming smile, almost identical to the one she has given him. Then he reached forward, grabbed the sides of the gilded frame and brought the painting down from its place on the wall. It was heavy and to his immense delight, he heard a squeak when the frame hit the floor with a loud thud.

“What are you doing?” Rhodope must be shocked at the sudden turn of events and chosen to break her eternal silence, but Draco didn’t care. He was finally happy to get rid of the troublesome portrait.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Rhodope was screaming now, “WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME?”

Draco paid her no heed and carried the heavy portrait to the bed. He laid it there, conjured some thick brown parchment and started wrapping the portrait with it.

“NO! NO! NOT TO HIM! NOT TO HIM! PLEASE! I’LL DO ANYTHING! ANYTHING!” Rhodope was hysterical. She was banging on the sides of the portrait, like a terrified and trapped bird that thought it would be fed to a cat. Draco ignored the vile woman. She could scream as she wanted. Draco would have his mean, by hook or by crook.

Rhodope Malfoy’s helpless screams echoed across Morpheus Malfoy’s empty bedchamber. “NO! PLEASE DRACO, I’M YOUR GREAT-GRANDMOTHER! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!” she implored him. Draco was working with vicious diligence, wrapping the painting very well to muffle its cries when her words reminded of him another woman’s screaming.

‘NO, MALFOY! NO! I’M YOUR CLASSMATE! DON’T DO THIS TO ME!’

Draco stopped working, stood back and stared vacantly at the half-wrapped portrait. Rhodope was still screaming, its shrill sound piercing three layers of thick brown paper and reaching his eardrums very well. But it was not her screaming that was bothering him. It was the other woman’s screaming. He knew who she was.

Draco left the portrait on the bed and went to the window. Suddenly, he has lost every bit of appetite in punishing that rebellious portrait. It just didn’t seem appealing anymore. He clapped once and heard a loud cracking sound. One of the house elves has arrived to do his bidding.

“Master?” He heard a high-pitched voice, waiting for his order. Draco’s back was already turned to the room, and he was not particularly interested to see which of the wretched elves it was. So he didn’t turn.

“Have that damned thing gift-wrapped properly and delivered to my aunt.” Draco gave his order in minimum words.

“As master wishes.” The voice spoke and after a minute’s silence, Draco heard another loud crack. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the bed was empty. Rhodope and her carrier elf, both were gone.

Draco turned to face the room. Without the portrait, it felt like a grave. That annoying scream inside his head has turned down a lot. In fact, it was almost gone.

‘Draco!’ Draco rebuked himself and called for his inner calm, ‘You are not responsible for what happened to her. She is a Mudblood! She tried to kill your mother! She had to be punished. You did what you had to do. Is that clear?’

Draco nodded, agreeing with his inner self. He was not responsible for anything. Granger was responsible for what happened to her. She was the one who has brought it. He had not lusted over her, or stalked her, or kidnapped her to rape her and get pleasure. Mudbloods like her should be punished properly and shown their real place in the Wizarding society.

Draco left his uncle’s old room. On his way out, he didn’t care to close the door.

Some things were better left forgotten.

•••••

Audré woke up, so fresh that she felt reborn. There was nothing like a good night’s sleep.

She lay in the bed, for a long time, like a little girl would on a cold, rainy day: wrapping her comforter and dreaming about sweet fairy tales. The table clock on the nightstand said it was five minutes past five o’ clock in the morning but in outside, there was no hint of an approaching dawn.

Mercifully, the sleep has depoisoned her head. She wasn’t angry on Draco anymore. With what he has done to himself, she could only have one feeling for him: pity. It wasn’t sympathy, as Draco had wanted her to have for him and be on his side. It was pure pity, pity for a stubborn child who has done such wrong that couldn’t be undone and was now refusing to acknowledge it. Did Draco know what has he done to himself?

Audré was sure that like all but one Malfoys, Draco, too has never paid much heed to his inner self. In fact, she seriously doubted the presence of an inner self, a conscience, a second entity that’d stop him from going on the wrong track. He was a Malfoy. They weren’t as poised as a being human should be. They were animals in extravagant clothing.

Not having much to pack or look forward to, Audré left bed late. She went to the large window and drew back the curtains. The windowpanes were foggy. It was obscuring her view. She wiped clean a little patch and peeped out.

Indeed, it was a storm as a storm should be. The curtain of rain was thick and street below was deserted. There were no pedestrians. Even Muggle taxis and cars were so infrequent that it didn’t seem like a busy London square.

Audré stood and watched the storm. Somehow, her mind flew to Paris, to Adrian. Was it storming there too? What was her little grandson doing now? Maybe he was eating breakfast. Maybe, he was sleeping late today, like she had. Would it be strange to say that she was missing him? Wasn’t it a wonder that he has blown life in her already extinguished soul?

Audré sighed and left the window side. After she returned home, she’d sit down and have a serious conversation with Julian about his future plans. Was he even willing to have a wife and family or not? Most of his friends were married. Some were likely to be parents too.

Audré got prepared for the day, expecting Draco to come barging in, any moment, furious about the Portkey delay. By the time she was done, tea was served and with it, the morning’s newspaper.

Today’s Daily Prophet, Audré scanned it idly as she sat back and took a small sip from her cup, was featuring a very interesting twelve column headline:

MLE Head criticizes press

Defends DEATH EATER Son-in-Law

Underneath was a moving photo of what looked like a Ministry press conference. Audré frowned and scrutinized it.

Five Aurors were sitting in a row. The photo was black and white, so Audré couldn’t perceive the colour of their uniforms. In the middle, sat an elderly man, maybe her age, or probably bit older. His lips were moving silently, meaning that he was the one talking to the press. On his right sat a man who Audré knew too well to miss. Harry Potter. The man with round-rimmed glasses and messy black hair, was silent and had an unfocused gaze, as though lost in thoughts. Not for much unknown reasons, the camera was focused more on Potter, than on the elderly man beside him.

Audré read the caption. It said:

Harry Potter maintains silence as his boss defends Draco Malfoy.

It wasn’t always that newspaper headlines could stir Audré’s curiosity. This morning seemed one of those rare occasions. Wondering what was taking Draco so long to come breaking in, complaining like an angry child, she decided to proceed with the news.

It was a long one, spinning almost three columns of the front page and covering almost half of the page 2. The reporter seemed single-mindedly focused to allot most of his writing on how Harry Potter sat, which direction he looked at, how many times he scratched his nose and how he reacted to his boss’s words, every time. As for his boss, a man named Ebenezer Greengrass, who was holding the press conference to inform the press that most of Lord Voldemort’s known followers have been tried and executed and that there was no imminent threat, Audré wasn’t surprised to read that he was asked about the Malfoys. He replied to it with utmost dignity, saying he didn’t know their current whereabouts. The press then pressed him about Draco, enquiring if he has fled Britain, and was planning to raise a Dark Army and return home to defeat the Ministry. To that question, Mr. Greengrass only said, he knew his son-in-law well and that he did not make the same mistake twice.

Audré finished reading the report and threw the newspaper aside. If there was an award on yellow-journalism, the Daily Prophet should be its proud receiver. She has seen many vile newspapers but there was none like this one.

Audré finished her tea and poured herself another cup. Now that the topic of the Greengrass’s has been brought up she wondered how she’d deal with Narcissa. Her sister-in-law was waiting like a hawk for them to return to France, to learn, in depth, about Adrian, especially about his mother. Although Audré has kept her adequately informed of their trip and earned her trust, she wondered what Narcissa would do if she ever learned the truth about her son. Draco didn’t seem particularly interested to let this piece of information reach Narcissa’s delicate ears. Why? What did he fear? Punishment? Retribution? Or penalty? Would Narcissa ask him to marry Jean, to give the Malfoy heir legitimacy?

Clock ticked on. Audré finished her second cup of tea and placed the empty vessel on the table. The situation was pretty sensitive, something Draco was failing to perceive. All he was seeing was Adrian. But there was so much more to this problem.

For a split second, Audré wondered what she would have done if it was Julian and not Draco. The mere thought was unnerving. And even more so, if a child was involved in it. There was no mother in the world who would want their sons to be rapists, but it was also true that different people reacted differently. Most would stand up for their sons, and blame the crime on the survivors; a few would take the opposite side and stand up for the tortured woman. This was the world, this was the reality. In theory, women were supposed to be each other’s friends and confidants, but in reality they were each other’s biggest contenders.

Audré sighed and picked up The Prophet again. The only thing interesting about that trash-talking report was Mr. Greengrass. She had met his wife, last night, when she visited the Malfoy Manor graveyard. Like the Manor, it, too, was one of those very few places that she had never wanted to set her foot. But the little trip has come as a big experience.

Audré kept staring at the photo and was soon lost in thoughts:

The graveyard, Audré noticed as soon as she stepped in, was more silent than the graves it contained. She lit her wand and tried to listen to the eerie silence. No, nothing. There was no sound; even crickets seemed to have abandoned the place in an unknown fear; there were no rickets, to give her a haunting company. Audré knew where Draco was headed to: the Manor library, where they kept the valuable dark staff. She was fine with it. She’d give him a head start with the memories and catch up with him when he wasn’t expecting her at all.

Holding the wand high, to penetrate the dense and pressing darkness as much as possible, Audré started walking down the leaf-strewn path. It wound before her like a thin, dirty ribbon, bordered by trees whose heads and branches she didn’t know where reached. Hither and thither, interspersed between trees, were tombstones. They seem to be the only things that were not dark and black. Under the soft glow of the yellow half moon, Audré read a few familiar names.

Lucius Malfoy…

Abraxas Malfoy…

Medusa Malfoy…

Audré crossed them, not sparing a second glance, and continued walking. The one she was looking for must be close, if they had buried her here, and not in Genoa. She walked for another minute, taking care to not stumble on the stray roots and break her neck to become one of the new inhabitants of this graveyard. She found it after a minute’s walk. It was relatively easy to find.

Audré turned right and stood before the tombstone. While all the other tombstones on her way here were made of bright white marble, this was made of pearly white ones. What an irony! Audré didn’t know what else to call it. Pearly white marble for the daughter of a pearl trader, for Rhodope Malfoy, whose portrait features pearls, the forgotten Malfoy bride who stopped deaths of innocents with her death.

Audré glanced at her damned and dead mother-in-law’s tomb. With a pointed tip like an impaler, Medusa Malfoy’s tombstone was threatening to punish even the Gods. It was strange. Audré was haunted by the ghost of the past that concerned this woman, Medusa, but tonight, as she stood before Rhodope’s grave, she hardly felt anything. No frights, no nervous twitching, no nothing. Was it because the dead could do nothing from their graves?

Audré returned her gaze to the point of interest: Rhodope’s grave. Even in the darkness, she could see that it looked pretty neglected, the ones that she had passed on her way to it, looked well taken care of. Only the pearly marbles seemed timeless, timeless like the innocence of the woman who was sleeping under it, for an eternity.

Audré conjured a candle, lit it and sat down before the tomb. She has sat before graves many times before: her mother’s, her father’s, her husband’s. But did she ever feel the way she felt now? No.

Out of all women who were ever blessed to be a Malfoy bride, including herself, Audré felt for Rhodope the most. It was strange how most women associated happiness with wealth, expensive clothes, jewelries and an aristocratic husband’s surname. Mrs. Malfoy? An impressive surname and introduction indeed. Madame Malfoy? How charming did it sound to the ears!

Audré was from a wealthy family. All her life she has asked just one question. Exactly how much money did a human being need to live? One million? Ten million? A Hundred million? What about peace of mind? What about pursuing one’s dreams? What about freedom to choose the good over the evil? Didn’t they matter at all? Or were they all valueless before money?

Audré sighed sadly. Rhodope’s story was a true testimony that wealth and a possessive husband wasn’t everything. She was the living and now dead example of how a silk and satin clad lady could live a more miserable life than a peasant woman in rags. But justice wasn’t all too cruel! It was true that Rhodope’s dreams were once crushed and strangled to death. But now they have found their way into the capable, little and the most unexpected of hands. Adrian.

How long Audré had sat there, before Rhodope’s grave, silent and sad, she didn’t know. It was the voice of a woman who broke her musings.

“Who are you?”

For a split second Audré thought that the question was coming from the grave; Rhodope had greeted her in the similar fashion back at Morpheus’s old room. But that wasn’t possible. Graves didn’t talk, she shook her head and tried to reason herself. Then the question came again, this time, louder.

“Who are you?”

Audré turned her head and looked over her left shoulder. The outline of a woman in black came into view. By the looks of it, she was Audré’s age, but with a slightly haughty features and strawberry blonde hair which were only beginning to grey. The tip of her wand was alight too, only they seemed threatening to Audré.

“Who are you?” She enquired for the third time, her tone now louder than ever and shrilly demanding, “What are you doing here?”

“I am…” Audré stood up slowly and confidently, making it clear that the stranger was not intimidating her in manner, “…a family friend to the Malfoys. And you might be…”

“Family friend? What kind of family friend?” the lady didn’t care to answer Audré’s question and demanded like an ox who had been whipped.

“My grandfather and Draco’s great-grandmother, Rhodope, were brother and sister.” Audré didn’t know why but she felt this way it was better, “I came all the way from Genoa, to visit her grave.”

“Oh!” the woman suddenly seemed to have lost all her interest in Audré, so disappointed was her tone. She lowered her wand, although it was still alight, “I am…” she erected her spine in a dignified manner that reminded Audré strongly of an illiterate man asked to stand straight to take the first photograph of his life, “Draco’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Cassiopeia Greengrass.”

“Piacere di conoscerla, Signora.” Audré greeted in superb Italian and offered Mrs. Greengrass a hand. It was such a pleasant surprise. She was wishing to learn more about the Greengrasses. And look at the irony of it! Out all places in this world, they have chosen to run into each other in a graveyard? Interesting!

“Sorry?” Mrs. Greengrass shook hands with Audré, looking confused and cold.

“It means, ‘pleased to meet you, Madame.’ in Italian.” Audré explained.

“Oh yes. Same here.” Mrs. Greengrass said indifferently, “So, tell me, is Narcissa in Italy?” she almost demanded.

Audré had to admit that she was astonished. Didn’t the Greengrasses know their co-in-law’s current whereabouts? Even more interesting! As far as she knew Narcissa and Mrs. Greengrass were friends, though the latter’s husband was not a follower of Lord Voldemort. Then how come she didn’t know that Narcissa was in France?

“She was in Italy.” Audré replied calmly, using a past tense, “For two weeks. We met in Venice. I told her that I wanted to visit Mamy Rhodope’s grave. So she sent me here, with her son.”

“I see!” Mrs. Greengrass’s expression hardened, “Killed my innocent daughter and now she’s off for a world tour! Bloody bitch!”

“Excuse me!” Audré stared.

“Tell you what, if you have a daughter,” Mrs. Greengrass’s tongue was venomous than a forked snake’s, “keep her out the Malfoy’s reach. They’ll kill her if they thought she was useless.”

“Kill her?” Audré didn’t have to act this time to show her shock.

“Yes, kill her!” Mrs. Greengrass declared so forcefully that it almost threw Audré back, “This Narcissa, don’t go after her looks and sweet words! She is pure evil, like her husband was.”

Audré agreed with Mrs. Greengrass, but only on the last part of the statement. Lucius was pure evil, she knew that but she wouldn’t say the same about Narcissa.

“We married off our daughter, Astoria, to this family.” Mrs. Greengrass continued, chewing every word as though they were all a piece of the damned Narcissa, “She was very young, just seventeen. From the beginning, I wasn’t in favour of this marriage, nor was my husband. He is the Head of the Magical Law Enforcement now, you must have heard of him, Ebenezer Greengrass is his name. But Narcissa persuaded us like a leech after blood, told me that she was looking for a bride with proper Wizarding pride. Daphne, my older daughter, was Draco’s classmate, but she was already engaged. So she asked for Astoria’s hand. She said she’d look after her, that Astoria’d be well taken care of inside the family. She told me a sad story about her mother-in-law, Medusa or whatever her cursed name was, and how she was abused by her. We were friends! Her story touched me. I became sympathetic and out of goodness of my heart, accepted her proposal. That was the biggest mistake of my life!” She cried bitterly and took a deep breath.

Clouds, Audré heard, were letting out low rumbles. It might rain soon. But nothing was heavier than the words that were being pelted at her by Mrs. Greengrass.

“She killed her!” Cassiopeia cried in agony, “Narcissa killed my daughter, my sweet little Astoria! Why? Because she couldn’t give them a healthy heir! As though my daughter was a breeding machine!”

“But…but…” Audré found her throat quite dry from the horrifying revelations, “…Draco mourns her death. I have seen it! How could he let his mother kill her?”

“Draco doesn’t know the filthy secrets of Narcissa’s incestuous family.” Mrs. Greengrass spat, looking cross and sullen, “It’s a shame! The way they married!”

“What do you mean?” Audré didn’t know why this woman was trying to poison her against the Malfoys, particularly against Narcissa.

“Don’t ask me. Ask her.” Mrs. Greengrass seemed to have overcome her emotion as suddenly as it had come. She looked cold and arrogant once again. “Anyways, Madame, signora, whatever you are, tell Narcissa, that her karma would never let her rest in peace. No matter where she hides, she’d have to pay for her crime!”

Mrs. Greengrass left as abruptly as she had come. Audré stood there, transfixed, until she remembered that she had to confront Draco about Adrian and Jean.

The sound of a thunder crashing brought Audré back to reality. Its strong resonance rattled the windows. She shook her head and focused her gaze: the photo of Mr. Greengrass talking to the press came into view. Now that she came to think about it, there were so many broken ends, so many inconsistencies in the manner Astoria and her sons have died that it seemed almost a crime that one could ignore them and go on to live their lives normally. Besides, Cassiopeia’s words about Narcissa’s incestuous family have shaken her. Incest and incestuous: these words were not baby’s toy to throw around so boldly, so wildly. One must have adequate knowledge on the matter before accusing someone of it. Otherwise they were simply ignorant and idiots.

Someone knocked on the door and broke her musings for the second time. Draco, at last. Audré placed The Prophet on the table before, facing the front page down.

“Come in.” She bade calmly.

The door opened but in marched not her nephew but a hotel staff, carrying what looked like a very heavy brown paper wrapped package.

“Good Morrr…ning, Madaa…me.” The man greeted Audré with difficulty, trying to balance the heavy package. He placed it on the sofa across her and let out a breath of relief, “This came in from Malfoy Manor, around four o’ clock this morning.” He showed her the package. We thought you might be asleep at that time and didn’t deliver it immediately.”

“Merci. That’s very thoughtful.” Audré thanked the man and handed him half a crown écu, equivalent to twelve British galleons, as a tip. The man left, looking very pleased.

Audré eyed the package before leaving her seat. Malfoy Manor? Four o’ clock in the morning? There was no doubt as to who the eccentric sender could be. Draco. But why four o’ clock?

Audré stood before the propped package for a while and wondered what it would be. If she knew Malfoy Manor, which she did, she shouldn’t be touching any part of this until Draco explained to her, exactly, what his motive was. But…

Audré’s stream of thoughts broke when a sound reached her ears. It was like a very badly tuned radio: faint and indistinct. She strained her ears. Was it a woman’s voice?

“GE…T…ME…OUT….”

Audré didn’t let the sentence to complete. Not caring to use her wand, she tore open the brown parchment wrappings with bare hands and revealed whatever was inside.

“HELP! HELP! GET ME OUT OF HERE! PLEASE!”

Audré’s jaw dropped when she saw a wild looking Rhodope Malfoy was shaking the frame of her portrait as though they were prison bars. She was crying and screaming, her hair askew, her cheeks tear-stricken and her pearl necklace loosened and dangling around her neck like a hanging rope. She looked positively terrified.

“I CAN’T BREATHE! I CAN’T BREATHE! GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE!” She cried, not noticing that the wrappings have been torn already.

“Mamy?” Audré sat before the portrait, not knowing what to do to calm the distressed dead lady. Was this the idea of a fun for Draco? Imprisoning a long dead woman as though she was a beast in a cage? Audré was usually a cool woman and but this mistreatment sent hot blood to her brain. How dare Draco? How – dare – he?

“DON’T GIVE ME TO HIM! DON’T GIVE ME TO HIM! HE’LL RAPE ME! HE’LL RAPE ME!” Rhodope was still screaming. Her plea was so alive that one might think it was a real woman, not a portrait.

“Mamy, Mamy!” Audré called her, “Nonna!” She grabbed the sides of the portrait and shook it hard, trying to capture Rhodope’s attention, “Nonna, look it’s me! Audré!”

“Nonna!” It was the Italian word for Mamy (Grandma) that finally reached Rhodope’s ears. She looked around wildly, as though expecting someone to appear inside her portrait, “Audré!” she let out a cry, finally noticing her, “Is that you?”

“Yes, Nonna, it’s me!” Audré replied calmly, but she could feel blood pounding in her ears. If this was how Draco treated his great-grandmother, there was no doubt in her mind as to how he could have treated Jean Granger. It was a miracle that he didn’t killed her after the rape.

“Audré! Audré…” Rhodope dissolved in tears, looking like a timid little girl who had lost her mother in a crowd and has just been returned to her. Audré was sure if she was alive, she’d have crushed in her arms and sobbed hard, “Draco…Draco…he…” she couldn’t finish.

“Nonna!” Audré was on the verge of avenging Draco for what he has done to Rhodope, “Nonna, cool down! Cool down, dear!”

“He’s mad! He’s a co…mple…te mad! Just like my…husband w…as!” Rhodope continued crying, “Stay away…from him…Audré…stay away from…him…”

“Okay, Nonna! Okay! I’ll! I’ll stay away from him!” Audré assured her. She felt so helpless! This woman might be a portrait but she had been through a nightmare, trapped inside those brown parchment wrappings and the uncertainly that she was going to be handed to Actaeus. If only she could give her some water? But that’d spoil the painting and she’d be gone, forever. “Nonna, listen, listen to me. I want to help you. I want to make you feel better. Is there any way I can do that?”

Rhodope exhaled deeply and hiccupped, her bloodshot eyes finally finding Audré’s cool blue ones, “Just don’t hand me to him.” She almost pleaded.

“I won’t.” Audré stated solemnly. “Anything else?”

“Stay away from Draco.” Rhodope didn’t seem much concerned about her wellbeing and repeated her earlier warning.

“Staying away from him is not possible, Nonna.” Audré told her the truth, “A lot is on line. But I promise to be careful.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. Audré tried to assure Rhodope that she was not a damsel in distress and nor was she like that, ever.

A minute later, Rhodope sighed and wiped her tears, “You called me Nonna. I liked it.” She said, smiling wearily, “No one ever called me that. Not even Morpheus.”

“What did he call you then?” Audré asked conversationally, trying to divert Rhodope’s mind to some pleasant topic.

“Mamy.” Rhodope replied simply, “In fact, he was the only one who ever used that word for me. He was the only one who cared.”

“That’s nice.” Audré realized that the only way to normalize Rhodope was to let her keep talking about things and people she loved, “But I think Nonna is better. It sounds like an old Italian woman who is very cute and can cook the most delicious dishes in the world.”

Rhodope laughed and Audré noticed that she was starting to appear almost like her original portrait self. That meant her trick was working well.

“My Nonna, my father’s mother, could make wonderful pignoli cookies.” She reminisced, “You know pignoli?”

“I don’t know.” Audré confessed.

“Pine nuts!” Rhodope looked positively delighted and with that, her pearl necklace was mended, “Pignoli cookies are pine nut cokkies. My Nonna was from Sicily. Pignoli cookies are traditional there. She’d make them for us, especially for me, because I was her favourite. She was a wise woman; saw what Actaeus really was.” Her smile faltered, “She even tried to stop my marriage but couldn’t.” She finished with a hollow sigh.

There was a long silence during which no one spoke. Audré sat on the floor before the portrait and waited for Rhodope to break it.

“Do you know why he did this?” She asked, looking thoughtful.

“I can guess.” Audré replied truthfully, understanding who she meant by ‘he’, “He wants to impress me.”

“Impress you?” Rhodope repeated, her tone was slightly incredulous.

Audré understood what Rhodope was implying to: she was none other than Morpheus Malfoy’s wife. For a split second, she wondered if she should explain it to her.

“He must be in great need of you to do that.” Rhodope remarked quietly after a while, “I’m the first portrait to leave Malfoy Manor since its establishment. Actaeus used to say, ‘It’s a one way journey. You could go in but couldn’t leave.’.”

“In that case, we must thank Draco, Nonna.” Audré said pleasantly, trying to make best of the situation, “He is has broken a long tended family traditions.”

“He doesn’t care about them much.” Rhodope said carelessly, “At least not to the point his father did. But I can tell you two things, Audré. First, whatever he is after, is not going to be as easy a prey as I was. You are standing on his way.”

I am the way.” Audré said simply. She had to admit Rhodope was a pretty intelligent portrait. She must have been so when she was alive.

“And second, it’s a boy.” Rhodope’s next words threw Audré off guard. It was not a query, it was a statement.

“How do you know?” She asked her, marveled.

“If you knew the Malfoys as well as I do,” Rhodope sighed, “you’d know that this type of desperation and madness can be associated with one thing: a male heir. There is nothing, nothing they wouldn’t do to have their bloodline unbroken. I’ll tell you in details, Audré, but not today.” She yawned, “I’m feeling tired now. I am happy, but tired.”

“Take some rest, Nonna.” Audré said kindly. She removed the rest of the brown parchment wrappings, and had the heavy portrait levitated and carried to her bed chamber, where she propped it on a couch. Rhodope nodded and with a nice smile, disappeared.

Audré stared at the empty canvas.

Now she was eagerly waiting for Draco to appear.

•••••

Half of the Wednesday morning was over but at Gringotts Hermione hasn’t gone through half of the day’s work. A small pile of objects lay on her work table. They needed her final evaluation, but Hermione stood by the window, beyond which, it rained.

Since last night an unknown fear has gripped her heart. Those two cracks, that appeared on the mirror and the windowpane, mysteriously, has started it. Fearful, she has spent half the night sleepless and sitting by Adrian as he slept peacefully. Around the morning, she had dozed off and woke up after a horrific dream about Draco Malfoy.

It felt as though she has been, by some connection, returned to the old prison of nightmare she had tried so desperately to escape from. Hermione didn’t know that a fear like this could exist, that could incapacitate one as active and strong as her; a fear like Devil’s Snare; the more she tried to get rid of it, the more its tentacles tightened over her heart.

Hermione was a logical person. Fear was a logical feeling but associating everyone and everything to it, wasn’t logical at all. That was hysteria; that was phobia. And it was disturbing her because she had no mental peace and couldn’t concentrate on her works, which in turn was becoming frustrating.

It was raining in Paris. Sun was hidden behind a thick layer of grey clouds. The day was so gloomy that on midday, it looked like early dawn. Hermione had thought that the bad days of her life were finally over. She and Adrian, both, were going to be happy. But now it felt as though it was all a delusion. Soon all her happiness would be engulfed by clouds as dark as today’s.

Hermione didn’t like to ponder on one thing for very long. It simply burned her energy. This couldn’t go on indefinitely. She needed to face her fears, or at least reason them. She took a deep decisive breath, went to her work table and forced herself to focus on all the curse broken objects.

Lunch hour came and went. As always Claudia, the intern, came and left, reproaching Hermione for her lack of attention to herself. She ignored it and continued working on the curse broken objects. A gold skull. A diamond tiara. A chalice studded with rubies. A small ornamented two-edged knife. A set of silver spoons and forks. A pair of sapphire encrusted hand gloves. A gold locket encasing a lock of golden hair. One by one she checked them all, strengthened the protective charms where they were inadequate and placed her Final Seal of Evaluation on them. Now the goblins would return these to their respective owners.

Hermione cleared the work surface and returned to her office. Lab work was over, at least for today. But there was still days to come: tomorrow, day after tomorrow, the day after that and on and on and on. Was she going to go on like this? Suppressing her unknown fear and dragging on with her work? Would that be good for her? Curse Breaking wasn’t her profession any more. It has become her passion. She was getting better at it, day by day.

On her office desk, Hermione found a memo addressed to her. She picked it up and recognized the writing as Alexis’s. Wondering what it was she opened it immediately and read:

Jean, sorry to disturb you. Please don’t take it personally, but I’m taking Adrian to his Paedi-Healer’s appointment today. He’ll attend Monsieur Monette’s class after that and we hope to return home by four o’ clock.

Hope you are not having a hard day, Alexis.

It was then that Hermione remembered she has completely forgotten her son’s monthly appointment with their child physician. To a mother’s relief, Adrian has always been a very healthy boy; he hardly ever caught cold or been ill for even a day. But to be extra careful, Hermione took him for a monthly check up on the third Wednesdays. Adrian also liked his physician. Paedi-Healer Madame Evangelia Papadouris was a motherly witch. She was friendly and was a great admirer of Adrian’s drawings. Most children liked her.

Hermione quickly checked the time. It was past three o’ clock in the afternoon. The appointment was usually scheduled at one o’ clock. She has missed it, she has forgotten all about it. Alexis usually returned home for a hasty lunch and seeing that she hasn’t turned up, must have taken up the responsibility to take Adrian for his check up.

Hermione slumped on her seat and buried her face in her hands, the memo still clutched there.  Oh Merlin! Oh Merlin! In all these years, this has never happened with her! No matter how busy she was, how stressed she was, she never forgot her son’s monthly appointment. Ever! Hermione Granger was never forgetful. What was wrong with her?

Hermione started sobbing. She didn’t mind Alexis taking Adrian for the checkup; that he could do, freely. But she? She felt like a failed mother. She felt like a woman who was desperately clutching to her past, and becoming more and more hysteric about it. Today she has forgotten her son’s monthly appointment. Tomorrow she’d forget his birthday. Day after tomorrow she’d make a terrible mistake and someone would die from an incompletely removed cursed object! She was going to fail! She was going to fail in everything! Her life! Her son! Her career! Everything!

It was always the thought of failing that gave Hermione a strange strength. No! She wasn’t going to fail! She was not going to fail! She has never failed. She has fought! She has fought! She would fight again. She would fight for her son. She would fight for their happy future. She wouldn’t let this illogical fear take away what’s her most precious, what was her most hard earned!

Hermione wiped her tears, blew her nose and stood up. She would reach the root of what was causing this.

Geccemp, the Head Goblin, was at his office when Hermione appeared there, half an hour later. She was carrying a box and wanted his opinion on the content.

“Bonjour, sir.” Hermione knocked on the door and peeped in.

Geccemp was in his work shop, carving something with great concentration. To Hermione’s greeting he only nodded, asking her to enter.

Hermione slipped in, closed the heavy ornate door behind her and walked straight to her boss’s work shop.

“I thought you have left, Jean.” Geccemp said and picked up a pair of tweezers. He was working on an egg shaped salt dispenser, only it was studded with minuscule pearls and diamonds.

“Left?” Hermione repeated, astonished.

“Why?” Geccemp picked up a mustard size pink pearl and held it before his beady black eyes, scrutinizing it, “Isn’t today the third Wednesday of August?”

Hermione stared. Even her boss remembered Adrian’s appointment and she has forgotten it? What a shame!

“Well…I…” She fumbled for a feasible explanation. It felt like trying to lie before Professor Snape, because she knew he knew she knew it.

“If you are busy sir, I’ll come later.” She said, trying to side track the topic.

“You are disturbed, Jean.” Geccemp said solemnly, throwing her off guard, “Sit. I’m almost done for today.” He motioned her to his desk.

Hermione did as she was told. It would be tremendously rude if she left now. Besides, trying to trick a goblin with lies about herself was a vain attempt. Goblins, themselves, were masters of trickery.

“So….” Geccemp wrapped up his work and after washing his hands, came to sit behind his desk, “…what’s it?”

Hermione didn’t know where to begin. Jacob Jordeans? Her nightmares? Draco Malfoy? Or…

“Sir,” She placed the box she had brought with her, “can you please tell me what this is?”

Silent, Geccemp pulled the box towards him. He opened it and had a glance inside, “Aureus.” He said and closed the lid.

“My…uhhh…” Hermione bit her lip. She had no doubts on Geccemp’s abilities to differentiate different types of gold. Only, now that it’s been twice confirmed she was having difficulty articulating her real concern, “Adrian won that in a Drawing Competition.” She motioned at the box calmly.

One of Geccemp’s bushy and shrp eyebrows shot up. “Your son won this in a Drawing competition?”

Hermione nodded, not feeling like explaining the whole thing.

“Strange…” Frowning, Geccemp opened the box again and took out of one of the three shining gold bars. This time he examined it for full five minutes. Hermione held her breath.

“Roman gold. British bars.” He said at last, “Look here, Jean.” He drew her attention to the writing on the bar. There was a five digit number followed by a strange runic symbol that Hermione couldn’t recognize. “In goblin tongue, that stands for lion. You know hieroglyphics?”

Hermione nodded. For her Curse Breaking career, she has learned that ancient Egyptian language. In fact, she was better at it than Bill.

“Wizards!” Geccemp sighed contemptuously, “They take credit for all of our works. They say hieroglyphics is their invention. No, Madame, that credit does to us. We, goblins, invented the hieroglyphics.” He held up a proud, long finger, “We did it to protect the treasure hidden in those pyramids. But thousands of years later, wizards broke the code and robbed those sacred graves. Now they claim it was their invention all along.” He curled his black lips in distaste, “So tell me now, Jean, how we write lion in hieroglyphics?”

“Just draw a reclining sphinx.” Hermione replied calmly, not going into the ever raging goblin-wizard ownership battle, “That’s the ideogram for a lion.”

“Excellent!” Geccemp cheered, his beady black eyes lighting up, “Every goblin run mint has its own national symbol. British mints use lion. French mints, that means we, use bumblebee. Italian mints use wolf. Canadian mints use reindeer. Egyptian mints use eagle. Japanese mints uses pheasant. The list goes on and on. This symbol you see here,” he pushed the bar to Hermione for her to examine, “means lion and lion stands for British mint. After wizards code broke our language we modified it. This one you see here is a hierogoblics lion.” He tapped on the symbol.

If it were a different scenario Hermione would have immensely enjoyed what she has learned today. Geccemp was not a miser when it came to teaching. She might even have asked for a reference book, to study in depth, all about mints and their symbols. But for now, that was a conversation for another time.

“You want to track it.” Geccemp broke the silence and finished her unspoken agony.

Hermione nodded again. “But the Head Goblin at Belgian Gringotts said that isn’t possible.” She said ruefully.

“Really?” Geccemp’s other bushy eyebrow went up, as though he was half astonished and half displeased, “Technically, he’s right. Golds change so many hands that it almost impossible to trace their course. But…” he paused, “Aureus isn’t your everyday normal gold. It’s special, passed from a father to his firstborn…”

“You mean you can help trace it, sir?” Hermione didn’t let Geccemp finish the rest of that horrific sentence.

“Of course, I can.” Geccemp nodded solemnly, “You see this five digit number? That’s the bar’s identification number and it’s unique. Like finger prints, no two gold bars made by goblin mints have the same number. If they have, understand that it’s a fake gold bar. There are criminal gangs who melt gold bars, carve a fake number on it and increase the number using Gemenio. But they get caught while trying to pass it because at Gringotts, we record serial numbers of every gold bars that enter or leave our our vaults.” He said with a very satisfied smirk, “So, what I’ll do here is I’ll send this number to every Gringotts in the world and ask them to run it against their records, to see where it came from.”

“But that’s a lot of trouble!” Hermione wasn’t expecting that the procedure was such a hassle, “Leave it, sir.”

“Of course not.” Geccemp waved her objection aside, “You have stirred my curiosity, Jean. I never knew that something as sensitive as Aureus could be used as prize money. Now I have to know how that happened. There is no purer gold than Aureus. Are wizards after our ancient knowledge of refining gold? Are they trying to steal it?” He tapped on the pointed chin thoughtfully, as his cunning eyes blazed up.

Hermione had thought talking to Geccemp would relieve her. Now she felt worse, not for her wizard brother kind, but for her son. She left the box in her boss’s possession and returned to her office.

Hermione closed the office door and stood leaning against it for a very long time. It was still raining outside. She wanted to return home and spend the entire evening with Adrian, to make up for missing the appointment. But something was nagging her. It wouldn’t go until she went out and had it checked.

As it always was the case, whenever Hermione needed an answer she went to library. France’s National Library, Bibliothèque nationale de France, had a vast wing run by the Ministry of Magic, for the French Wizarding population. It was situated in Rue de Richelieu. If she left office now, she might get a few hours to work before the library closed at eight o’ clock.

Once upon a time Rue de Richelieu was called the Bond Street of Paris. It housed some of Paris’s finest hotels, hosiers, clock-makers, and jewelers. Then came the era of Baron Haussmann; he demolished most of the narrow streets and redefined Paris with grand boulevards. Nowadays, the street struggled to maintain its former glory. There were buildings on either side of the street. They were made of stone and still very lofty. On one of those was housed Bibliothèque de Sorcellerie de France, The Wizarding Library of France.

The Magical Wing of National Library of France was directly connected to Ministry of Magic and Gringotts. Five minutes past five o’ clock in the evening, Hermione stepped out of a Floo fireplace and dusted her robes. Maybe because it has been a rainy day since morning, there were not many visitors. The reader’s room was mostly empty except for two old wizards. One of them was examining a scroll. The other was holding up a map against light and scanning it with narrowed eyes.

Hermione started straight to the chief librarian’s office. She was well known here. The library assistants knew her, the cataloguer knew her. She received a monthly newsletter from them, informing her about the new arrival of books and reading materials.

Hermione always had a queer feeling when she stood before the Chief Librarian’s office door. It brought bitter memories back: that incident when was four monthes pregnant. She could never forget it. It still haunted her. Still.

Hermione took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Times have changed, Hermione, times have changed. You are not a nobody anymore. No one could victimize her again. No one could take her as a frail woman and take advantage of it. No, they couldn’t.

Solemnly, Hermione held up a hand to knock. But the door swung open before her knuckles could touch the polished mahogany.

“Why care to knock Madame Curse Breaker?” The chief librarian, Monsieur Calepeen, cried. He was a short man with beady black, cunning eyes and pointed ears. Although Hermione never enquired it lest it looked rude, she suspected he had goblin blood in his veins.

“I have told you Madame Jean, you can come in any time!” Monsieur Calepeen widened the gap and ushered her in.

“You are very kind, Monsieur.” Hermione courtesied. They walked to the librarian’s desk and he drew her a seat. “Merci.” Hermione accepted it with a polite smile.

“I assume it’s something very urgent.” Monsieur Calepeen returned to his seat behind the desk and went straight to business. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have come here in this weather.” He indicated at the storm that raged outside.

Hermione has come to know the Chief Librarian for four years now, since she joined Gringotts and she hasn’t met a man more knowledgeable on books and references. “Yes, it’s urgent.” She cleared her throat, “Can you tell me where I can find some information on Madame Chombrun…”she paused, “…Malfoy?”

“Madame Chombrun Malfoy?” Monsieur Calepeen repeated, frowning, as though trying to grasp something, “Ooohhh! You mean Madame Audré Chombrun Malfoy?”

“Yes, that’s her.” Hermione nodded calmly. Her heartbeat was starting to quicken.

“Of course, I can!” Monsieur Calepeen declared happily, “There is an entire floor dedicated to ‘Who’s Who’. We have catalogued every notable wizards and witch of the time. Nicolas Flamel, Nostradamus, Albus Dumbledore, Grindelwald, Lord Vol…” He stopped abruptly and gave a sweet smile, revealing his very sharp and white teeth, “We’ve been doing that for almost five centuries, since this library was established.”

“That’s great!” Hermione said appreciatively and waited. Monsieur Calepeen rang a bell; the door opened and in marched a library assistant. “Bring Madame Chombrun Malfoy’s ‘Who’s Who’ volume.” He bade sharply and sat back. The assistant nodded and left.

“You will not say no to some tea, would you?” Monsieur Calepeen was back on his charming manners. He left his seat and went to the fireplace where a copper kettle hang above low flame, “So, Madame Jean, what’s it this time? Something confidential?”

Hermione shook her head. “No. Monsieur Geccemp gave me a ring to Curse Break. He said it belongs to someone called Madame Audré Chombrun Malfoy. I thought I should know a bit about her before proceeding with her ring. In my job, every detail matters.”

“Of course, of course! Very professional!” Monsieur Calepeen beamed, and poured them each a cup of tea, “Geccemp and I grew up together. I know him very well. He has a knack for choosing the best person in the field. Mark my words, Madame Jean,” the chief librarian settled on his seat, “one day you are going to be a legend, and we will have a ‘Who’s Who’ volume on you.”

Hermione cleared her throat. To have a ‘Who’s Who’ volume upon her name would definitely be a great honour, but that was not her goal. She worked hard every day God made; it gave her a sense of fulfillment and pleasure of overcoming challenges.

They drank tea and by the time it was over, the assistant returned carrying a tome.

“Here you are!” Monsieur Calepeen motioned the assistant to hand it to Hermione, “Madame Audré Chombrun Malfoy.”

Hermione thanked the assistant, accepted the tome and placed it carefully on the desk. It wasn’t very thick, or very heavy. Did that mean there wasn’t much on Audré Chombrun Malfoy?

The office has become silent. Monsieur Calepeen was sensible enough to not disturb her. He didn’t speak a word and watched her as she worked.

Hermione opened the tome. The first two pages were blank. The third page had photograph of a young woman. It was a semi-profile view, as though she was looking away from the camera. Hermione assessed in this photo the lady couldn’t be older than twenty-five. Was this Audré Chombrun Malfoy?

audre profile newspaper

“It’s very hard to find a decent photo of Madame Chombrun Malfoy.” Monsieur Calepeen interjected quietly, sounding slightly annoyed, “She avoids Press. The Press also doesn’t like her much.”

Hermione stared at the photo. Where has she seen that face? She has, of course, he has. She has seen those eyes, and that mild smile! She has seen it somewhere before? Where? Where? Brussels?

Confused, Hermione turned to the next page. This one had a concise biography on Madame Chombrun Malfoy. It wasn’t much. She was born under Pisces, on 25th February, 1955. She was the only daughter of René Chombrun, who was a celebrated lawyer and Josée Laval, an herbalist and potioneer. When Madame Audré was ten her mother died from a potion accident. Later she attended Beauxbatons and was one of the few witches of her time to study Law at Sorbonne. At age twenty one, Madame Audré married Morpheus Malfoy, the eldest son of Abraxas and Medusa Malfoy. As a consequence, the Malfoys disowned their son. Morpheus and Audré joined the French Judicial Services, he as a junior judge and she as a lawyer. They also had two children, a son by the name of Julian, who was born on 1978 and a daughter, named Lillian, born in 1981. After her husband’s death in 1994, Madame Audré resigned from her successful career as the first female Attorney General of Wizengamot and went on an early retirement. She currently lives with her children in her father’s château in Courpalay.

Hermione read the entire brief article five times in a row. Something was ringing a bell. Something seemed familiar.  What was it? A name? A date? What was it?

She checked the rest of the tome. It was full of newspaper cuttings on Madame Audré. Monsieur Calepeen was right. The Press indeed didn’t like her at all. Most of the news on her had a tone of sarcasm about them, as though nothing was or could be good about this lawyer who has never lost a case in her life, as though they were not her wins but a conspiracy by her judge husband who had the sentences delivered on her side. Reading them, Hermione was strongly reminded of Rita Skeeter.

“There is a very interesting article on page fifteen, Madame.” Monsieur Calepeen suggested politely. He seemed to enjoy seeing her reading the ‘Who’s Who’.

Hermione turned to page fifteen. This page featured just one paper cutting. The headline read:

 ‘Virgin’ goes well only with Olive Oil.

Hermione stared, not knowing how to react to such a peculiar statement. Did Madame Audré say that? She quickly went through the news that followed.

The news was on a hearing at Wizengamot. A council was called there, around ten years ago, to discuss the legitimacy an ancient law which dictated that witches must be virgins before marriage. Half of the council, who were all pureblood wizards, argued for keeping the law. They said it would ensure pureblood witches to remain virtuous. Madame Audré, however, stood up against it. She reasoned that fornication wasn’t entirely a woman’s act. It took two people to commit it: a man and a woman. But the existing law didn’t stop men from committing fornication, which meant it was insufficient and witches were in imminent danger. Therefore the law must be strengthened to ensure both men and women remained virtuous. She ended her argument saying that good upbringing, true love and loyalty could make people good life partners. Otherwise, the word ‘virgin’ would end up only on the bottles of olive oil.

Hermione read the report twice. The Headline suggested Madame Audré was making a feminist remark and the contents said she was merely suggesting what might happen if a one sided law persisted. She checked the rest of the pages and learned that two weeks after the hearing, the Fornication Prevention Law was repelled on the grounds that it was too outdated. Needless to say, the pureblood wizards of the council were outraged at the decision.

Hermione closed the tome. She didn’t believe in astrology but born under Pisces, this Madame Audré was definitely a deep water fish. Everything she did, every word she spoke had a hidden meaning. And she definitely knew how to reach her means.

Hermione had thought the trip to the library would shed some light into the matter; now she was in even more darkness. It was fifteen minutes to eight o’clock. The library would close soon. She, too, needed to return home. Adrian must be waiting for her.

Hermione felt a pang of guilt. Today she has been a horrible mother. First she has forgotten his monthly appointment. Then she has made him wait more than his unfair share, researching on Madame Audré. All because of her fear…all because of her fear for the Malfoys.

Hermione thanked Monsieur Calepeen and apparated back to home. After the day’s heavy raining, a light drizzle was what remained of it. The yard was muddy. In a quick run, Hermione covered the distance to the main door. The moment she opened it and stepped in, the clock started striking issues. It was eight o’ clock.

Hermione didn’t waste a second in the lobby and started for her quarters. Adrian would be there, and since she has been very late, he would be in a damn bad mood; in fact, he had rights to be so. Hermione reached the foot of the staircase and ran up. She was going to have a tough time managing him. What would she do? What would she do? Hermione reached the first landing. Okay, she’d apologize to Adrian and promise that she wouldn’t late again. No, that wouldn’t be enough; she’d take him out tomorrow. No, that wouldn’t be enough either. She’d…ummmm….she’d ask him what he’d like for a present. No, she’d…

Hermione almost jogged into her quarter and to her immense surprise found it empty. There was no Adrian, sitting on the reading table and drawing, his face turned away from her.

“Adrian?” Hermione’s heart missed a beat, thinking about that mysterious crack, “Mama’s home, little rabbit!” She declared in a hollow voice.

No one replied. Where was Adrian? Haven’t they returned home? But Alexis had said that they’d be at home by four and now it was eight. Panic stricken, Hermione checked the bathroom. It, too, was empty. But…but Adrian always spent this hour in their quarter. He liked to draw in quiet.

Hysterical, Hermione ran downstairs. Where was Adrian? Where was Adrian? And why didn’t the Delacours inform her? Oh, yes, the fault was entirely her. She went to library after work. But…they could have sent her a Patronus! Did something happen to…

Hermione couldn’t think anymore. She almost jumped down the last three steps of the stairs and the moment her feet touched the floor, a tender sweet voice reached her ears.

It was Adrian and he was singing. The song was coming from kitchen.

For five solid seconds, Hermione stood frozen on the spot. Then as relief slowly started spreading through her over frayed nerves, she felt her right hand has clutched over her heart and her body has slumped down on the bottom stair. Oh God! Oh Merlin! Adrian was home! He was in the kitchen! Nothing has happened to him!

For a long minute Hermione couldn’t move; she felt emotionally drained, unable to feel anything, even fear. Tired and retired, she sat on the bottom stair, and focused on the pleasant racket that came drifting out of kitchen. Adrian wasn’t just good at drawing; he was very spontaneous at singing and could make up one in a short notice. They were melodious too. Today he was singing something she has recited many many times: the famous English rhyme, ‘Mary had a little lamb’, only here, there was no Mary with a lamb.

Adrian was singing:

Adrian avait un ciré! (Adrian had a yellow raincoat!)

Ciré jaune, ciré jaune! (Yellow Raincoat! Yellow Raincoat!)

Adrian avait un ciré! (Adrian has a yellow raincoat!)

Qu’Alexis lui avait acheté! (Uncle Alexis has bought it for him!)

Even in her current mental state, Hermione couldn’t hold back a laugh. She started laughing and laughed, until she was breathless. The sound must have reached the kitchen because a moment later, Adrian came running out.

“MAMA! YOU CAME!” He declared happily and before Hermione could even stand up, jumped directly into her arms.

“Yes, Mama’s love, Mama came!” Hermione pulled him into a tight embrace and whispered. As though the little boy has brought a divine charm with him, all of her despairs were gone the moment she was in his little, comforting arms. They hugged each other, huddled on the stairs until both were convinced that the other existed. Then the little one broke the tender silence.

“You are late!” He tightened the embrace.

Hermione didn’t utter a single word in argument. She only hugged Adrian, making it speak on her behalf, to tell him that she was sorry. No one spoke for a long time. Their hugs told them how much they have missed each other.

“So Mama’s one and only love,” Hermione cooed, “how was the day? Did you go to Madame Papadouris?”

“I did.” Adrian released her and sat on her lap, none caring much to be comfortable as long as they were with each other, “Uncle Alexis took me.”

“That’s great!” It was then that Hermione noticed Adrian was wearing a yellow raincoat, inside home, “What is this Mama’s love?” She asked him fondly.

“It’s my new ciré jaune!” Adrian piped happily, stood up and spun on the spot to give her a three sixty degree view, “Uncle Alexis bought it!”

“Really?” Hermione feigned great astonishement, “That’s so nice of him. But you already have a raincoat, don’t you? That blue one Mama bought you.”

“I do!” Adrian nodded, “But Madame Papadouris said I am taller now! Three inches!” He held up three proud fingers in the air, “So that one is short for me!” He said matter-of-factly, “Three inches!”

“Oh!” Hermione rounded her lips, and noticed that Adrian was wearing a pair of matching yellow galoshes. “Did uncle Alexis buy those, too?” she asked him, pointing at the shoes with her chin.

Adrian grinned and nodded. Hermione shook her head. In yellow raincoat and yellow galoshes, Adrian was looking cuter than a yellow ducking. “Come on my little yellow rabbit!” She offered him a hand, “Help your weak, old Mama on her feet!”

“YOU ARE NOT OLD!” Adrian, as expected, protested violently, grabbed Hermione’s hand and pulled her with all his might. She, intentionally, didn’t budge. “Come on, help Mama!” She teased him, “You are a man!”

“I’m…trying…” Adrian’s face was red now but he wouldn’t resign so easily. He pulled her and she continued not budging in. They played tug of war for another two minutes. Then Hermione stood up and feigned it was all Adrian’s doing. “Well done, Mama’s love!” She kissed him on cheeks, “Now, let’s go and see what Mamy has for dinner.”

“Okay!” Adrian ran back into the kitchen, still in his yellow raincoat and galoshes. Taking her work robes off, Hermione followed him.

The Delacours were already gathered in the kitchen. Sitting in his window side couch, Gustave was repairing his father’s old clock and humming merrily. From her seat at the table, Apolline was giving him exasperated looks and knitting a pair of little yellow gloves, not doubt for Adrian. Gabrielle was seated beside her mother. She had a mason jar aquarium set on the table; inside two baby Grindylows were fighting over a piece of sea algae. Gabrielle was watching them with great interest. Alexis was deeply immersed in a book titled, ‘Eyewitness to History.’

“I’m home.” Hermione announced.

“About time, Jean! I was beginning to worry.” Gustave checked the clock which showed it was past midnight. Alexis looked up from his book and gave her a smile. She returned it and made a mental note to thank him for Adrian later. Gabrielle looked up from her aquarium and Apolline scanned Hermione from top to bottom.

“You look thin, Jean.” She said disapprovingly, “Skipped the lunch, I reckon?”

“Mother,” Hermione gave her a sweet, apologetic smile, “One doesn’t lose weight for skipping lunch.”

“Most people don’t but you do.” Apolline said dismissively and wrapped up her knitting. Hermione thought better to not argue with her.  She proceeded to help her set the table for dinner when Apolline held up a hand, “No, Jean.” She said solemnly, “Gabrielle and your father will do that.”

Gabrielle left her seat but her father didn’t move a muscle. “Apolline, honey! I’m repairing…” he couldn’t finish. His wife cut in.

“You have been repairing that for last thirty one years.” She said calmly but sternly, “And I have been telling you and telling you: That clock is dead! Let it go! Let it die in peace! Give it to Louvre! Throw it in Seine! Whatever you do just let it rest in peace! But no, you won’t!”

Gabrielle and Hermione exchanged looks. This was another entertaining part of Delacour household, watching Monsieur and Madame Delacour bicker over petty things. Usually, if weather and Madame Delacour’s mood were good, her husband would receive two reprimands daily for losing his new hat, trimming his beard too short and not taking enough care of his bald patch. And if Monsieur Delacour could survive those reprimands, which he very happily did, there was bickering over colour choice of his new red polka dots trousers, the fourth coffee mug he has smashed that week and last but not the least, Gustave Delacour’s late father’s alarm clock which, in Hermione’s opinion, was a clock equivalent of Errol.

“Edmound, hm?” Hermione stifled a laugh and pointed at the baby Grindylows.

“He thinks they are cute.” Gabrielle nodded and smoothed the table cloth. She too was having a hard time keeping her face straight as her parents bickered in the background.

“But…Apolline…love…” Gustave was looking like Neville trying to convince Professor McGonagall that he wouldn’t lose the Portrait passwords next time, “I’m almost done… I promise! It’ll work well from now.”

“And what do you think?” Hermione kept talking and under its guise, started setting the dinner table with Gabrielle.

“I think I like them.” Gabrielle replied, and handed Hermione the plates. “But he’s right. These ones do look funny.”

“Wait till Fleur hears that.” Hermione commented pointedly. She stole a glance at Apolline. Like the baby Grindylows, one of whom was now trying to bite the other’s head off, she too looked closer to do the same with Gustave’s old clock.

“No Monsieur! It’ll not!” The angry half Veela said icily, “And that alarm? It’s worse than a Sneakoscope! Last night it went up and cracked two window panes. Even my maman’s old mirror got shattered! What’ll you say about that?”

Hermione has just started laying the plates when she froze.

“No, it didn’t!” Gustave was clutching the old alarm clock close to his heart, as though fearing it would grow wings and fly away, “Adrian? Come to Papy!”

“Don’t even think about that!” Apolline snatched Adrian and stood before him like a shield, “He’s on my side!” She looked back and gave the little boy a charming smile, “Aren’t you, Mamy’s love?”

“I am!” Adrian looked undecided.

“But Adrian, you are a man!” Gustave cried, “You should be on a man’s side.”

“I’m on your side too.” Adrian looked from his grandma to his grandpa, trying to decide what to do, “Okay, Mamy, forgive great Papy’s clock. For me! Please!” He took her hand and implored.

Apolline became completely normal in a blink, “Anything for my little Adrian!” She picked him up and kissed on his forehead.

“Papy, promise Mamy.” Adrian received the kiss with dignity and turned to his grandpa, “Your clock will not disturb her. Okay?”

“Okay, okay, I promise!” Gustave held his right hand up in surrender, the left one still secured over the rescued alarm clock, “If my clock disturbs you again, Apolline, honey, I’ll give it a grand funeral and bury it in the garden. Okay, ma petite vénus (my little venus)?”

“Who’s vénus, Mamy?” Adrian asked, his innocent grey eyes round. Apolline turned a deep shade of crimson, set Adrian down and went to the oven, muttering loudly on demerits of marrying a senseless man.

If it were another occasion, Hermione would have resented that the funny bickering was over so early. Today, however, she did not. She laid the rest of the plates and mentally slapped herself for making a mountain of a mole hill. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew about Monsieur Gustave’s defective clock and its alarm that could wake the dead. She should have checked about it before going on a wild goose’s chase. It felt so foolish! She has wasted an entire day on the Malfoys and that too for nothing!

Dinner went well. Today Apolline has made a new dish. Tartiflette. It was a type of casserole made with potato, bacons, crème fraîche and a special cheese called Reblechon. Needless to say Apolline’s cooking was superb (which Gustave kept praising in loud and received critical looks from the cook) and the dish itself was an interesting change of taste. So everyone in the table ate more than they usually did and by the time dinner was almost over, Apolline announced that had her father-in-law, the late Joseph Delacour, not been a very good man, she’d not have much cared about his broken old clock.

Hermione ate in silence. Adrian sat beside her and finished his piece of casserole and salads, happily. He was still in his yellow raincoat and galoshes. For dessert they were served Crème brûlée.

“Oh Jean, I forgot,” Alexis spoke for the first time since Hermione returned home, “Monsieur Monette has an exhibition going on. In Opera House. He said he is featuring one of Adrian’s paintings there.”

“WOW!” Hermione’s spoon fell on her Crème brûlée and crashed the hard caramel layer on top, but she didn’t care, “Why didn’t you tell Mama that?” She beamed and asked Adrian.

“Because he didn’t know.” Alexis replied on Adrian’s stead, “I was keeping it as a post-dinner surprise. To say before everyone and you.”

“That’s great!” Gabrielle grinned.

“That’s like a real man!” Gustave said pompously.

“Wait till I tell everyone! My Adrian’s work is up for exhibition with Monsieur Monette.” Apolline was tearful.

“What’s exhi…sion…Mama?” Adrian asked Hermione, not understanding what the happy uproar was about.

“It’s not exhision Mama’s love.” Hermione ruffled Adrian’s silvery blond curls affectionately, “It’s ex-hee-bee-tion. Okay?” She correction his pronunciation, “An Exhibition is where artists like Monsieur Monette show their work to people. Now your work has been put to show, too.”

“But I am not Monsieur Monette!” Adrian supplied.

“It doesn’t matter, Mamy’s love.” Apolline wiped her tear and said kindly, “If Monsieur Monette thinks your work can be shown, it definitely can be shown.”

“Okay.” Adrian still looked confused but didn’t protest.

Hermione picked up the spoon and returned to her Crème brûlée. “I have an idea. How about we all go to the exhibition?” She suggested, shoving a spoonful of dessert in her mouth, “Tomorrow?”

“Of course we will!” Gustave slammed on the table and earned a cold stare from his wife.

“Maman, I’ll ask Edmound?” Gabrielle implored her mother.

“And I’ll ask Eva?” Hermione winked teasingly at Gabrielle.

“And I’ll ask Jean.” Alexis interjected with the most solemn demeanor.

Everyone laughed, Hermione looked away and another two minutes of hubbub later, it was settled that tomorrow she and Alexis would finish their works early and return home. Then they’d all go to Monsieur Monetter’s painting exhibition.

Hermione returned to her quarter after dinner, feeling happy and light. Adrian was too excited to go to sleep. Tomorrow he’d get to see lots of great paintings. He was also very reluctant to take off his yellow raincoat and galoshes. He went go to bed, wearing them. It was only when he fell in deep sleep, which was about five minutes in bed, that Hermione managed to take them off.

She tucked the sleeping boy and kissed him on the forehead. Adrian mumbled something about his new ciré jaune and hugged his side pillow. Hermione watched him for a very long time and fell asleep. She didn’t care to check whether the cracks still existed or not.

•••••

Draco watched as the wrought iron gates of his aunt’s Château slowly parted. The car, driven by a uniformed ministry chauffer and carrying them, waited for it to fully open. It started moving as soon as the gap was wide enough to admit the royal blue 1955 luxury station wagon, Renault Manoir.

Draco didn’t know his aunt owned a car. They owned one, of course. It was a 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom II, and like everything the Malfoys owned, was the world’s most expensive car.  His father had bought it for his grandfather Abraxas when he became too old and debilitated to not able to apparate. It was also used for taking Draco to Kings Cross on the start of term and bring him back to their manor during the holidays; Narcissa sometimes visited her rich friends in the car, excusing that apparition and Floo would ruin her new expensive robes. His aunt’s car, however, was a gift from her grandfather on the occasion of her birth.

It’d been a very long day. Draco had started it with a visit to Gringotts and sending one of their goblins, Gobtok, to arrange for a private jet to France. Gobtok had good connections in the Goblin Liaison Office at the Ministry. Draco was sure he’d arrange for a private jet in snap of a finger. But he couldn’t. The storm was pretty strong and no pilot was ready to take off in this condition, no matter how fat the payment was. So around midday, after knocking every private jet owner and even considering putting them under Imperius and dismissing the idea, Draco had returned to Rosings, defeated and downcast.

He had lunch with Audré, who didn’t seem much happy about the way Rhodope Malfoy was delivered to her, but Draco didn’t care. He appeared solemn, polite and apologetic, all of which were genuinely fake display of emotions. Then he took a nap and woke up when Audré shook him to say that the storm was almost over and their International Portkey has arrived. Taking that, they had arrived at Paris just an hour ago. Julian had received them at the Portkey Portal.

Draco took a deep breath of relief. Finally, he was in France. Like Malfoy Manor, Château de la Granger-Bléneau, had wrought iron gates and a driveway that led to the main building. What it didn’t have was high hedges full of hidden snakes. As the car approached the Château was came closer. Now he could see two ladies were standing before it. One was his cousin, Lillian and the other was Narcissa.

Draco cleared his throat. Merlin knew how his mother was going interrogate him about Adrian, especially about the boy’s mother. Julian was sitting in the front seat, beside the chauffer. He and Audré were talking about things in general. Draco stole at glance at Audré. She sensed it and looked at him. Draco drew her attention to Narcissa. Audré followed the direction of his gaze, saw Narcissa and looked back a Draco. She was smiling pleasantly.

“Don’t worry, nephew.” She said, “My mother has taught me to take good care of our guests.”

Draco didn’t know what that meant or what she meant. But he couldn’t ask her to elaborate. Julian was still in the car. He felt trapped. Hopefully, his aunt would keep her promise and not tell his mother anything. In fact, what was there to tell? Whatever has happened has happened. It was over. There was no point on arguing over it. Audré was a wise woman. She surely understood that.

The car came to a halt before one of the two giant fountains. The doors opened themselves and Audré wasn’t fully out when Lillian came running like a little girl and engulfed her into a tight embrace, “Maman! You’re home!”

“I am.” Audré hugged her back, “And I have brought chocolates fer yeh.”

“Fer…yeh?” Lillian released her mother and repeated, “What’s that?”

“It means, ‘for you’.” Audré explained, “I learnt it from a man who makes magnificent rock cakes.”

“Rock cakes?” Lillian’s confusion only increased.

“Yes, rock cakes.” Audré nodded, “I even have the recipe, in case you want to try them for your husband.”

“Husband?” Lillian cried, looking bewildered now.

“Yes, dear.” Audré replied serenely, “I have found just the man for you. He is a dragon trainer.”

“Dragon trainer?” Lillian spluttered, “Maman, something is definitely wrong with you.” She checked Audré’s temperature, looking dead worried, “Come in, come in.” she wrapped an arm around Audré’s and steered her to their Château, “You need a complete check-up. Zilek will fetch Healer Cloutier.”

Draco watched the entire interaction from the car, not caring to get out. Julian was already out and he was laughing silently, watching his sister fuss over his mother. “Cousin,” He bent down and looked at him, “Aren’t you coming out?”

Draco didn’t care to reply. He stepped out, straightened up and smoothed his black suit. His mother’s voice was pretty near now. She’d be here in a moment.

“Where is my son?” Narcissa asked as though Draco was a five year old looking for a diaper, “Draco!” She came and engulfed him into a tight embrace, “My baby!”

Baby! Draco hid a sigh. Thankfully, Julian didn’t laugh this time. He left them alone and followed his mother and sister. The chauffer drove off the car to its shed.

“So…” Narcissa released Draco after two solid minutes of solid hugging, “…how have you…” she stopped mid-sentence and stared at him.

“What’s it?” Draco asked, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.

“What’s wrong with you, Draco, my baby?” Narcissa cooed and smoothed Draco’s hair, “You look so ill! And…” She stood back and scanned him from head to foot, “you have definitely gotten thinner.”

“Mother,” Draco decided to take the matter in his hands before it was too late, “I’m fine.”

“But you…” Narcissa would be Molly Weasley before she believed in that statement.

“I just didn’t sleep last night.” Draco elaborated solemnly, “We were supposed to catch the early morning Portkey.”

Narcissa opened her mouth to protest and closed it, presumably deciding not to press the matter. “It’s alright. You eat well and sleep tight tonight. We’ll talk tomorrow.” She wrapped an arm over Draco’s shoulders and kissed on his temple, “I am so happy my son is finally home.”

Draco played a good son and didn’t upset his mother. Tomorrow they’d talk? He hid a snort. If he knew his mother well, she wouldn’t wait till tomorrow. She’d interrogate Audré tonight and see what she could learn about Adrian’s mother.

Inside the Château, it was almost uproar now. Audré was in her parlour, lying on a couch, three elves were howling and crying as though she was dead, Lillian was sitting somber faced and a Healer, whom Draco hasn’t seen before, was checking his aunt’s pulse. Julian was standing by his mother and watching everything with an amused look.

“Her pulse is fine.” The Healer declared and put the hand down, “Lillian, ma cheri, why did you call me?” He asked, “Madame Audré is fine.”

“She was talking about marrying me off to a dragon trainer.” Lillian replied miserably, “And teaching me how to bake rock cakes for him.”

The Healer laughed heartily, “Really Madame?” He turned to his patient who lay solemnly on a couch, “Wedding in the family? When are we getting invitations?”

“As soon as I fix Julian’s bride.” Audré replied and sat up, “Honestly, Healer, I need to see some new faces in this Château.”

“I am seeing some new faces in this Château.” The Healer looked curiously at Draco and his mother.

“They are my uncle Lucius’s family.” Julian replied promptly, “My aunt, Narcissa Malfoy, and my cousin, Draco.” He motioned at them respectively.

“I see.” The smile on the Healer’s face vanished. “Well, Madame,” He stood up and gathered all his belongings, “I eagerly await two wedding invitations.” He bowed and left. Draco watched as Julian escorted him out of the parlour. Not that it mattered, but that stranger’s cold greetings weren’t lost on him.

The rest of the evening went well, considering how bad the real situation was. Audré, now completely in her element, handed out the presents she has brought for her children. Lillian received a generous pile of best Belgian chocolates and Julian received Rhodope Malfoy’s painting.

“What’s this?” He asked, examining the heavy rectangular object that was very elegantly wrapped in silk.

“That’s my Nonna.” Audré replied, “Your father’s grandmother, Rhodope Malfoy.”

That declaration followed a few surprised cries, an astounded Narcissa and a solemn Draco, who hardly cared. He was glad his aunt has been sufficiently bribed and impressed.

Sensing what it was, Julian quickly unwrapped the portrait. A beautiful lady with magnificent pearl necklace was revealed. She was tearful and smiling.

“Morpheus’s son!” Rhodope cried, a lone stream of tear rolling down her cheek, as she looked from Julian to Lillian, “And daughter! I never thought I’d live to see them.”

Draco had a strong urge to correct her and say that she wasn’t alive anymore. But that would ruin the entire purpose of getting rid of that bloody portrait. He watched as his cousins and the long dead Rhodope had a tearful reunion. After it was over, for which Draco was thankful, her portrait was transferred to his uncle’s study where she’d now reside.

“Your son was a very generous host, Narcissa.” Audré attested to her sister-in-law, “He arranged a nice dinner in my honour, looked after my comfort and made my stay at Malfoy Manor a memorable one. And before I left he gave me Nonna’s portrait, saying she’d feel better with us. I certainly can’t ask for more.”

Draco’s mouth would have fallen open had it not for the fact that his mother, beaming like a well-polished copper kettle, brought him closer and kissed on his temple for the second time that evening. Narcissa Malfoy’s bouts of affection were pretty childish. Draco bore with it, simpering like that rose in one of those Ministry leaflets on ‘Mudbloods and the dangers they pose to a peaceful pureblood society’.

“Thank you, cousin!” Julian came and gave Draco a hearty hug.

“Yes, cousin,” Lillian agreed, maintaining a good distance between them, “Thank you.”

“My son can be very charming when he wants to.” Narcissa stated proudly, red from its excessive dose.

Draco didn’t counter her. He has finally understood what Audré had meant by taking care of her guests. She was not going to do anything that’d upset Narcissa. That was great.

Dinner followed soon. It was already past eleven o’clock so they didn’t waste more time in talking. Draco didn’t feel hungry but to keep his mother satiated, he ate as much as he could. Strangely, no one asked him about Adrian, not even his cousins. Draco understood what was keeping them: He. He was the reason they weren’t enquiring about Adrian openly.

“Good night everyone!” He set the spoons down after the soup, casserole and salad, preparing to leave.

“Why?” Narcissa cried in alarm, “We still have dessert left, Draco, dear, your favourite honey and walnut Panna cotta.”

Like most Italian dishes, Panna cottas were indeed Draco’s favourite and when it had honey and walnut with cream, there was no saying ‘no’. But tonight he had more pressing matters than the delicacy of honey and walnut Panna cotta.

“I am tired, mother.” He yawned to make it look more authentic, “Mind if I eat it tomorrow?”

“Oh no!” Narcissa smiled sweetly. She proceeded to leave her chair, evidently to escort Draco to his bedroom when he held up a hand.

“Mother, I am twenty four, a widower and father of three dead sons.” He said solemnly, “You don’t have to put me to sleep. Please!”

The dining table went very quiet. The young Chombrun Malfoys exchanged apprehensive looks and Audré sat back, supporting her chin on her right hand, and gave Draco a peculiar look. It had a mixture of reproach and thoughtfulness.

Narcissa slumped on her seat and looked away.  Draco left the dining room without a backward glance. He passed the door but instead of going to his own room, he hid behind the door and eavesdropped. Now would the real conversation ensue, he knew.

“It’s alright, Narcissa.” First came Audré’s voice, “Here, take this handkerchief.”

There was sound of someone sobbing, which definitely was Narcissa. Then she blew her nose in the handkerchief.

“Draco…” Narcissa sniffed and hiccupped, “…he is not like that…he was never like that…I raised him…I am his mother…I know him…he is just so stressed these days…he didn’t sleep last night…he has got so thin…” she started sobbing again, “….it must be that woman…that hooker…I don’t know what spell she cast on my son and managed to have that boy…but I’ll find it…I will definitely find it… I am Narcissa Malfoy!”

“Narcissa, calm down, dearest, come down!” Audré said kindly, “I think there should be a limit to the self-righteousness one chooses to display. Who told you that Adrian’s mother is a hooker?”

“She must be.” Narcissa sounded astonished that Audré contradicted her view, “Why do you think Draco isn’t breathing a word about her? Why he is hiding, protecting them? Why didn’t he bring them with him? Because he couldn’t! That bitch must have cast some deadly spell on him!”

“Now, now, Narcissa, don’t be so severe on your son’s poor soul.” Audré said gently, “It’s not a crime to keep secrets. I have mine and I am sure you have yours too.”

“I don’t have any secrets!” Narcissa retorted, “You tell me if you know who that woman is?”

Draco held his breath.

“She is English, isn’t she?” Narcissa pressed, sensing she has hit the right spot, “That’s why you went to England, didn’t you? To know more about her?”

“That’s not a question, Narcissa, so I see no point in answering it.” Audré finally replied, “The point is that I am hundred percent confident that Adrian’s mother is a noblewoman and by nobility I don’t necessarily mean blood status. I will not go into the details of baby making, Narcissa, that’s neither civil nor relevant to discuss here. All I can say is that she had no obligation to keep Adrian. But she kept the baby, had him and is now raising him very well. Adrian is a fine little gentleman. You should be grateful to this little boy exists. Otherwise your only son was done for.”

Narcissa exhaled heavily. For a long minute no one spoke.

“Narcissa,” Audré sounded as though was done achieving her mean, “I never saw you as my contender in the race for Malfoy Manor’s Mistress’s crown. You have your own home and I have mine. I always regarded you as a separate personality from your husband. You have a special place of respect in my heart. I implore you to not break that image.”

Clever move! Draco was definitely impressed at how his aunt has steered the conversation out of danger point.

“I am just a mother who is worried for her son, Audré.” Came Narcissa’s worried voice, “I didn’t mean to disrespect Adrian’s mother. But now that you have confirmed me that she is a noblewoman I feel I was right in thinking that Malfoys could never settle for anything lesser than that, even if it’s just for once. Anyone else would be way below their dignity. She must be a pureblood and had secretly fancied my son. So when they…er…copulated she took it as an opportunity to have a baby of her own and didn’t take necessary precautions.”

Draco’s ears went pink. Was that what his mother thought about him? That girls secretly fancied him? Yes, they did but mostly they fancied him because he was a Malfoy and could buy them expensive presents. Even as a one night stand, he was a more expensive partner than all the other males in Hogwarts put together, including Potter. He kept listening, wondering what else his mother thought about him.

“That reminds me, Audré,” Narcissa continued, “what is Adrian’s mother’s name? She must be a Slytherin and one of our Sacred Twenty Eight.”

“Yes, maman, what’s her name?” This time Lillian spoke.

Draco felt his heartbeat quicken. Would his aunt tell his mother that…

“I consider it a personal insult upon my honour to disclose things that are not my concern.” Audré’s reply broke Draco’s musings, “Adrian and his mother are Draco’s private matters. Only he is entitled to answer your questions, Narcissa.”

“But…” Narcissa sounded shocked, “…I am his mother!” She recovered it quickly and supplied reasonably, “I have the rights to know the name of the woman who gave me a pureblood grandson!”

“Of course you have.” Audré was as cool and firm as an iceberg, “I am not denying that. You are at full liberty to exercise that right over your son, Narcissa.”

“But he is not telling me anything!” Narcissa cried helplessly.

“He will.” Audré said patiently, “But for that you have to give him some time. He is an adult man! He was a husband! He was a father! He still would have been those, if his family were alive! I understand you are worried, dear sister-in-law, but we must keep in mind that Draco is not a child anymore. We can’t press him about the things he doesn’t want to talk about. That’s both uncivil and insensible.”

“Would you have said that if Draco were your son?” Narcissa sounded like a wounded tigress, “Or Julian had sired a son without your knowledge?”

Draco could feel that the temperature in the dining room has suddenly dropped several degrees. Shit! That was a bad move! Why did mother attacked aunt Audré? What if she told her everything now?

“My knowledge?” Audré repeated, her voice now ice, “So that’s what bothering you. Draco had a son without your knowledge, right?”

“Yes, it is bothering me!” Narcissa flared up, “As it should bother any sensible mother!”

“I am sorry Narcissa but I don’t quite agree with you on this matter.” Audré said firmly, “You see, I have a very different idea about sensibility. But I will not waste your precious time discussing what I think or feel. You asked me what I would have done if Draco was my son, or Julian would have sired a son without my knowledge. I will answer that question, part by part.” She paused.

Merlin! Draco waited eagerly for the rest of it to follow.

“First part, what I would have done if Draco were my son?” Audré resumed, “I would have asked him to go and apologize to Adrian’s mother. Fornication is not just a woman’s act. It involves a man and he is the main factor here, he is the one who starts it. So, my son, Draco, would have admitted that he has done wrong and like a good lad, gone to the woman, the mother of his son and apologized and done everything in his power to put it all back to normal.”

Shit! Draco cursed under his breath.

“Second part, if I had learnt that Julian has sired a son without my knowledge,” Audré continued, “I would ask him only one thing: why isn’t he bringing them home?” she paused, “What are you so afraid of? That Draco didn’t tell you about Adrian’s mother? He didn’t know. You know that, we all know that. Or that the boy was conceived before marriage and isn’t a legitimate heir to the Malfoys? Which one is it? Tell me Narcissa. Clarify.”

Draco waited for his mother to reply.

“Draco used to tell me everything. Nowadays he doesn’t.” Narcissa’s voice was quiet and sad, “I feel like I am losing my son.”

“And you think Adrian’s mother is responsible for that?” Audré voiced the unspoken part.

Narcissa didn’t reply but Draco was sure she must have nodded.

“That woman doesn’t even know that Draco found them in Brussels, so be careful when you blame someone.” Audré said, sighing deeply, “You want to know why Draco doesn’t say anything? Because there is nothing to say. He found his son and lost him. We chased them to England and found out that they live here, in Paris. He would have said that you tomorrow, because he needs our help to find that boy. But you were getting impatient, you were getting insecured.”

Draco slumped against the wall, relieved. Merlin! Who made this wonderfully clever woman named Audré Chombrun Malfoy? Who made her?

“If you continue to poke a hole that doesn’t budge, Narcissa, it will only get worse. It’ll burst.” Audré was saying, “Draco is not in a good state. We know that. We have to be patient and gentle with him, which you are being, I can see that. But there is no point in blaming his condition on Adrian’s mother, or calling her a hooker, or spellbinder, or any other nasty name. Those are not going to work because she remains Adrian’s mother.” She reasoned, “Besides, Draco is only concerned about his son. He is a widower and his love and loyalty lies with his dead wife, Astoria.  He is not remotely interested in Adrian’s mother.”

“He isn’t?” It was not clear whether Narcissa was happy or sad to hear that.

“No.” Audré assured her, “I told you, Narcissa, I can’t tell you things that are other people’s private matter. All I can say is that Adrian’s mother is not a hooker. She is a noblewoman. Despite what happened between Draco and her, she has raised Adrian very well. But that was past and this is present and in the present time none of them, Draco or Adrian’s mother, are interested in each other. So trying to throw them together and cook a romantic broth would all go in vain. They have only one interest in common: Adrian. Their son.”

Draco suddenly felt a great rush of affection and gratitude for his aunt. This witch was awesome! Bless the day she married his uncle!

“You said they live in Paris.” It was Julian who spoke, “Do you know where?”

“No.” Audré replied.

“Who told you she lives in Paris?” Narcissa asked. She was still stuck in ‘she’ and not using ‘they’.

“One of her acquaintance.” Audré replied.

Draco knew Fleur hasn’t mentioned any places in her memory but by this statement he became sure that he and Audré were thinking along the same line. The Delacours live in Paris.

“Why here?” Narcissa enquired, “I don’t know any Slytherins had close ties in France.”

“Does that mean you are not a Slytherin?” Audré enquired, “Or that we are not close ties?”

“No, it’s neither.” Narcissa sounded aghast, “Slytherin witch, pureblood, becomes pregnant before marriage and keeps the baby, comes to France to raise him, doesn’t tell the baby’s father… all these doesn’t sound…you know…normal for our House. We are a House of uplifting traditions… values… morals… preserving the purity. That’s what we are, Slytherins! And we have done that against every odd, every unreasonable prejudice! That profile matches either a Gryffindor Mud…Muggleborn or a Hufflepuff retard.”

Draco cursed under his breath again. Why was his mother so analytic! Why couldn’t she just believe what aunt Audré was telling her to believe?

“Do you have any clues to find out where they could live?” Julian’s Auror brain seemed stuck to the real problem.

“No.” Audré replied. Draco knew it was a lie. She had one clue. The Delacours. She could use that to track Adrian. Why wasn’t she saying it?

“Then how do you plan to find them?” Lillian asked her mother, “Paris is a huge city.”

“I know.” Audré said, sounding thoughtful, “I have a theory that might come handy.”

“What?” everyone asked in unison. Even Draco would have, had he not been hiding behind the dining room door and eavesdropping.

“I got the idea from Narcissa.” Audré said vaguely, as though still lost in thought.

“Me?” Narcissa sounded taken aback.

“Yes.” Audré affirmed, “You had said Draco drew very well and you had a drawing master for him.”

“Yes, I had but how’s that…” Narcissa sounded confused.

“I got it! I got it!” Julian and Lillian both cried separately and in unison, “Maman thinks Adrian is receiving private lessons!”

“Looks like my children have been eating enough cod liver oil.” Audré sounded happy, “It improves mental performance.”

Cod liver oil or not Draco now knew that his plans haven’t failed at all. Audré Chombrun Malfoy was a walking mine of cod liver oil. Anyone living with her would be graced with her amazing intelligence.

“You want to track the teacher and then you want to track the pupil!” Julian slammed so loudly on the table that plates and goblets clinked, “Brilliant, Maman! Brilliant!”

Draco too felt the same, only he couldn’t go out and express it.

“Okay, okay,” Audré called for peace, “Now don’t go on and tell that to Draco right now. He is very tired and must be asleep. We will start from tomorrow. We will catalogue all the famous Wizarding painters, go to them and ask if they have a pupil named Adrian. It’s not going to be an easy job but we must be patient. Is that clear?”

“Yes, brigadier!” Julian cheered.

Draco was feeling so delighted that half of him wanted to dance and the other half wanted to give his aunt the entire Malfoy Manor, his biggest and only property. But that would mean he wouldn’t leave anything for Adrian and besides, aunt Audré wasn’t interested in Malfoy Manor, that much he could surely tell.

“Speaking of painters,” It was Narcissa again, after a long space of silence, “Remember I wrote you Julian took us to opera?”

“I do.” Audré replied.

“I saw a poster there. About an exhibition.” Narcissa sounded thoughtful this time, “It was a huge one, from floor to ceiling and you know how high the ceiling of Paris Opera House is. It said that some famous painter….” She paused as though trying to remember the name.

“Aunt is talking about Monsieur Oscar Monette.” Lillian supplied, “He is having an exhibition in Opera House.”

“Monsieur Monette?” Audré asked. Someone must have nodded because her next words were, “Interesting!”

“What’s interesting?” Narcissa asked, sounding as though she has hit a jackpot, “Do you think he is one that gives Adrian private lessons?”

“Monette…” Audré’s voice seemed lost, “…had once drawn a huge painting of white lilies on white background…”

Fantastic! Fantastic! Draco didn’t need saying anymore. He danced quietly on the spot and threw several happy fists in the air. Aunt Audré was a boss! She was the boss! She was…

“We’ll start with Monette.” Audré said thoughtfully, “But if I know this man well, which I do, he is well known for not liking purebloods. He never sells them his paintings.”

“What an utter nonsense!” Narcissa was greatly annoyed and so was Draco, “Will he talk to us?”

“That, my dear, remains to be seen.” Audré replied mysteriously.

•••••

Alexis could always tell when Hermione was troubled. It didn’t require much expertise, to be frank. One just had to know where to look.

Hermione’s brown eyes were beautiful and innocent as her soul and synced perfectly with her mood. When she was angry, which wasn’t much often, there was a blaze, a fire in them; when she was happy, which mercifully was more frequent than she smiled, her eyes had the warmth and appeal of melted rich, dark chocolate; and when she was worried, which she, to Alexis’s immense dismay, always hid, her eyes had a lost and vacant look about themselves. One look at them and Alexis could tell on which direction Hermione’s mood was going.

There was another parameter. Hermione was a renowned lover of books, so renowned that even bookworms would go shy before her. And when she saw a family member reading a new book and didn’t ask or even care to enquire about it, a feat that has happened last night, it meant something was definitely wrong.

Alexis would have been happy if that was the end of his analysis but sadly it wasn’t. It has never happened that Hermione forgot her son’s monthly checkup. Remembering it was almost like a ritual; no matter how busy she was Hermione would always appear on time to take Adrian to Madame Papadouris. And on their way back to home, she would buy him a little present, even if it was a toothbrush, to reward and encourage him to attend the next visit. But that didn’t happen yesterday. Hermione has forgotten something that she has never forgotten.

Now there was no doubt in his mind that Hermione was deeply troubled and the way she was keeping her lips sealed pointed straight at one man: Draco Malfoy.

Be it a thought or broth Alexis didn’t like to overcook it. What would work out, would work out, as it had this afternoon.

In the ministry, interdepartmental meetings were scheduled for Monday. Thursdays were for meetings with ambassadors who mostly came for negotiating trade deals or deliver messages on behalf of their Ministers. This morning, as per Alexis’s knowledge, Minister Guizot had meetings with the ambassadors of Republic of Seychelles, Norway and Georgia. After that he had a luncheon in the honour of visiting Minister for Magic of Portugal. His day’s work would end after signing a bilateral agreement with the Portuguese government on allowing more Portuguese students to Beauxbatons.

Everything had gone well. The agreement was signed, the Ministers shook hands, gave a short speech of farewell and parted. Alexis was preparing to leave for home, to accompany Hermione and Adrian to Monsieur Monette’s exhibition when he received a memo. It was from the Minister and he has called an urgent meeting. The Advisor Panel, the Undersecretaries and top officials from the Department of Law Enforcement were asked to be present.

Alexis was never tired of working but today he frowned at the memo, feeling immensely annoyed. They didn’t have any more meetings today. He was with the Minister all the time and not for once did he mention a meeting. Why now? Why call it at the eleventh hour? Sighing deeply and wondering if he’d have to sacrifice the fine day he was going to spent with his fiancée and to-be son, Alexis went to the Ministry Conference Hall.

Everyone was already present there. Philippe Merle, the Senior Undersecretary, looked as clueless as Alexis. The Advisors sat and kept stealing glances at Singer Sergeant and his second-in-command, Julian Chombrun Malfoy.  Minister Guizot sat at the head of the long conference table.

Alexis has worked so long in the Ministry to sense and foresee the fate of a meeting from its mood. Guizot looked uncharacteristically tense; there was no speck of an earlier amiable smile on his features. MLE head, Sergeant was more stony faced than the famous Notre Dame gargoyles. His Second-in-Command, Julian, was silent. Except Merle, who was drumming lightly on the table, everyone was equally serious and curious.

“Yesterday, Julian sent me a confidential report.” Guizot started as soon as Alexis took his seat on his left, “It’s my thirty five years in this Ministry and I have never seen anything like that.” He paused gravely.

As it should happen in such situations, everyone’s, including Alexis’s gaze shifted to Julian. The man was still silent and staring determinedly at his hands, which lay folded before him, on the table.

“Why?” Merle returned his gaze on Guizot and asked.

Silent, Guizot pushed a file to him. Merle’s fingers stopped drumming.

The file had deep crimson cover. Alexis knew that under section 5B clause number 16 of the Minister for Magic’s Code of Secrecy, any document inside a red file was for the Minister’s eyes only. Any break of the law was an offense punishable up to ten years in prison.

“See for yourself.” Guizot urged, seeing that Merle didn’t even dare touch the file.

Merle looked at the Advisors; they, too, looked perplexed. Next he looked at Alexis for support.

Alexis nodded solemnly.

Merle exhaled deeply and after adjusting his pince-nez pulled the file to him with trembling fingers. He opened it and read what was on the report. As his eyes roved down the paper his face became from a shade of rich red to sick pale.

Alexis wondered what it was all about and why he didn’t perceive anything until now. He has been working in the Ministry for so long to know the Minister from up close very well. Guizot was famous for his openness, frankness and honesty. He wasn’t someone who’d have something on their minds and something else on their lips.

“O Nostradamus!” Merle cried and almost thrust the file back to Guizot, as though happy to get rid of the damn thing. He sat back, wiped sweats glistening on grey brows and conjured a fan to cool himself. By this time the tension at the table was palpable. Guizot must have sensed it because he passed the red file to Alexis next. Alexis read it and passed it to the Advisors. They read it and were about to pass it to Sergeant when the Guizot spoke.

“They already know.” His voice was graver than ever.

Alexis was marveled by the Minister’s mental strength. How someone could read that report and appear perfectly normal before ambassadors, guests and the press, was beyond him.

“Is it…is it true?” One of the Advisors squeaked.

Alexis’s mind was spinning. He tried to remember if he has ever read or heard or even imagined that something like this could exist. The report Julian has submitted to Guizot was that of a wand core analysis. The MLE Department had their own experts on wand analysis and they have given that report after stripping down a wand that was sent to them a few days ago. The wand was procured by Aurors when they were keeping a close watch on illegal wand traders. Initially it was thought that the wands were fake. Later, it was revealed that the wands were manufactured in a way to use them to cast the Three Unforgivables: the Cruciatus, Imperius, and Avada Kedavra.   

“Here it is.” In response to the Advisor’s query, Sergeant placed a wand box on the table and pushed it to him, “Don’t worry. We have de-charmed it.” He assured when all three Advisors leapt to their feet, ready to run, as though the box held a ticking bomb.

“Fine…fine…we see it’s true.” Another Advisor squeaked defensively. He looked close to passing out.

Seeing that no one was interested to see the contents of the box Alexis reached out and brought it to him. His fingers were almost trembling when he opened it and peeped in. Inside was laid a very battered wand. The sides were chipped off, revealing the wood and half a handle was missing. It didn’t look like something that was by description, so lethal.

“Is it…” Guizot peeped in and seemed perplexed by the wand. Merle squeezed his head beside Guizot’s. The Advisors came closer and bent over the small group.

“It looks…” They muttered confusedly.

“…strange.” Merle suggested pensively.

Alexis thought they were all using wrong words. The wand didn’t look strange. It looked…

“Excuse me everyone!” It was Julian whose voice broke Alexis’s musings. “Please sit down. We’ll shortly return to the issue of ‘looks’. But before that I request someone to volunteer.”

“Volunteer?” Guizot repeated incredulously.

“Yes, I request someone to hold that wand firmly.” Julian affirmed.

“No way!” The Advisors backed away immediately.

“What the hell is this?” Merle demanded angrily, “First call an urgent meeting. Then give us a horrific report to read; then ask us to hold a cursed wand…”

“I’ll hold it!” Alexis declared above the hubbub, seeing that there was no other way to proceed, “I’ll hold it.” he said more solemnly when everyone became quiet.

“Fine then.” Julian cleared his throat, as though not liking the volunteer but deciding to proceed anyway, “Please pick up the wand and hold it.”

Alexis did as he was told. The others held their breaths.

“What do you feel, monsieur?” Julian asked Alexis, “Do you feel any difference between this wand and the wand you use?”

“Obviously he feels a difference.” Merle said angrily, “It’s not his wand.”

“Philippe!” Guizot held up a hand to quieten the agitated man.

“I feel…” Alexis concentrated on the wand he was holding. It was hard to believe that it was an actual wand, not a dead piece of twig.

“It feels dead.” He spoke the best word that fitted this wand.   

A haunting silence welcomed his statement.

“Everyone, please sit down.” Sergeant boomed and startled them, “Like uncle, like nephew, Delacour. Good job!”

Alexis nodded and returned the wand to its box. Sergeant Summoned it and stowed it inside his robe.

“I know it sounds strange, but Delacour is right. That wand is dead.” Sergeant confirmed, “This one you see is almost a hundred years old and taken from a grave.”

“Grave?” One of the Advisor’s blinked in astonishment, “I didn’t know people hold funerals for their wands.”

“Not funeral, Monsieur.” Julian spoke this time, sounding borderline amused, “Tell me what we do with a wand when its owner dies?”

“We bury i…” Merle replied spontaneously and stopped midsentence, his eyes round, “…we bury it with the owner.”

“Exactly.” Julian nodded in agreement, “We bury it with the owner.”

“You mean…that…that…” Merle looked nauseated at the idea, “…that thing was taken from a dead man’s grave?”

Both Sergeant and Julian nodded this time.

“But why?” Guizot cried, dumbfounded.

“Patience Minister.” Julian held up a solemn hand, “I’ll explain that in a minute. But before that we will return to the topic of this wand being dead. I believe you know I have a younger sister, Monsieur, and she studies wand lore?”

Guizot nodded and so did others who knew Morpheus and Audré Malfoy’s children.

“We never talk about work at home but sometimes I consult her.” Julian was telling them, “Yesterday after our analysts sent me that report,” he pointed at the red file, “I asked her if wands can die. She said they can.”

“You talk as though wands are alive.” Merle said, looking troubled.

“Well my sister says they are.” Julian replied patiently, “She said wands choose the wizard, the wizard doesn’t choose them. It’s a famous myth in wandlore.”

The Advisors and Merle exchanged puzzled looks. Guizot, on the other hand, looked interested.

“I remember Wandmaker Curtius telling me that when I went to buy my wand from him.” He examined his wand with a tender expression, “Wands choose the wizard.” He nodded absent-mindedly, “Your sister is smart, Julian. What else did she say?”

“She said that wands can sense power and choose their allegiance.” Julian replied, “And when someone dies, their wands either die or change allegiance. Lillian used a special term for it. Widow Wand.”

“Widow Wand?” Everyone except Merle repeated in unison.

“Why widow?” Merle enquired.

“Because… I don’t know how to explain this…” Julian spent a second in thinking, “Lillian had used very beautiful terms to explain it but the gist is, wands are like women. They choose their partners for life. And when that partner dies they either die, meaning they decide to not bond with anyone ever, or they take a new partner, meaning they change allegiance.”

“I see.” Merle looked half-impressed and half-skeptic.

Alexis noted a hint of resentment in Julian’s features. Was he thinking about his mother, Madame Audré, who had withdrawn herself from almost everything that was life after she became a widow?

“Lillian said it is easy win a Widow Wand’s allegiance than a virgin wand’s.” Julian was saying, “Again it’s like a virgin lady who is waiting for her partner…”

“Is there is something called a married wand?” Merle interrupted, forgetting what they were in the middle of a very important discussion.

Julian shook his head, “In wandlore a wand that has chosen somebody is called a Wedded Wand.” 

“How peculiar!” An Advisor remarked and others nodded in agreement.

“So the wand we procured is a Widow Wand.” Julian returned to the main topic, “It was taken from someone’s grave. Because it has no master and is dead, it was easy for these criminals to imbibe these dark staff into the wand.”

“Are they killing people or robbing graves?” Merle cheeped.

“It can be both.” Sergeant replied gravely, “We are still not sure.”

“But why do that?” Guizot asked, looking dead worried, “What is their plan with these wands?”

No one replied. Guizot’s questions have echoed their worst fears: the rise of another Dark Lord in Europe, only this time in France.

But Alexis’s mind was elsewhere. He was sure he had heard or read of a case where someone had broken open a tomb and robbed a wand. Where had he heard it? From whom?

“We’ll have another meeting as soon as there is any progress.” Guizot was almost at the end of the meeting, “Julian will keep me notified. And Alexis,” the Minister turned to him, “…will try to trace where the money is coming from.”

Alexis nodded, understanding where he’d have to go for that. Gringotts. And it was at that moment he remembered what Hermione had once told them.

The meeting ended. Alexis checked the time. It was twenty minutes past three o’clock. Monsieur Monette’s exhibition was big. If he left now he might be able to be with Hermione and Adrian in the exhibition. But another idea has come up and it was more important to have that done.

“Monsieur?” Guizot was about to leave the Conference Hall when Alexis ran to him.

“Yes?” Guizot stopped on track and turned to him.

“Monsieur,” Alexis stole a glance at Julian, who was on his way out, accompanied by Sergeant and the Advisors, “Monsieur, I wanted to have a word in private.”

“Okay.” Guizot didn’t miss the man Alexis glanced at but nevertheless nodded and left. Alexis followed him silently.

Back at his office, Guizot took the seat behind his desk and motioned him to sit.

“Merci.” Alexis thanked Guizot and sat. For a while, they remained silent, as he tried to feel the Minister out.

“Monsieur, I hope you remember, my sister.” Alexis decided to keep Hermione out of this and took a different approach.

“Fleur?” A momentary ray of confusion appeared on Guizot’s features, “Of course I do!” He snorted as though suggesting otherwise was foolish, “We had awarded her a medal! Brave witch! Brave and beautiful witch!”

“Fleur’s husband was also present at the ceremony.” Alexis supplied calmly.

“Yes, Bill,” Guizot’s features became empathetic, “He fought a werewolf alone.”

Alexis nodded. 

“Brave chap!” Guizot praised Bill genuinely, “Brave chap!”

“You know Monsieur,” Alexis decided to speed it up a bit, “Today, when Monsieur Julian was telling us about Widow Wands, he reminded me of Bill. Bill had, once, told me that Lord Voldemort had broken into their Headmaster’s tomb and robbed his wand.” He paused deliberately to see the Minister’s reaction.

“Lord Vold…emort!” Guizot turned paler than ghosts as though Voldemort himself has appeared suddenly, “Why?”

“He was under the impression that he needed a more powerful wand than he already had, to defeat Potter.” Alexis replied simply, “He had Ollivander kidnapped and through him learned that Albus Dumbledore’s wand was the most powerful wand in the world.”

“Was it?” Guizot’s fearfully dilated pupils were fixed on Alexis.

“We don’t know.” Alexis shook his head, “Bill never told me. But his guess is that Potter won against Lord Voldemort because his wand didn’t betray him.”

“How did Bill know that?” Guizot frowned.

“Dumbledore’s Army succeeded in recovering Ollivander from his prison.” Alexis lied flatly, not bringing Hermione’s painful memory in it, “He was brought to Bill and Fleur’s place. That’s when it was all came out.”

“I see.” Guizot said absent-mindedly. Seeing that his words have had a better effect than he had expected, Alexis moved onto the next topic.

“Monsieur before I proceed, I want to make it very clear that there is no personal issue involved here.” He said as truthfully as he could, “I just want my country to stay safe.”

“I know, Alexis, I know” Guizot assured him solemnly, “You family has sacrificed so much for France. We will never forget your uncle, Auror Jourdain.”

“Merci Monsieur,” Alexis smiled, “Bill’s family, the Weasleys, know the British Malfoys very well.” He began solemnly, “Lucius Malfoy, as I have already told you, was Lord Voldemort’s active supporter. His sister-in-law, Bellatrix Lestrange was his right hand person. Bill reckons Draco and his mother might well be Death Eaters too. It’s not proven but it’s quite possible.”

Guizot leaned forward, silent but listening intently.

“Monsieur, I think there is a connection between these wands and the British Malfoy’s sudden wish to visit France.” Alexis supplied reasonably, “The timing is very significant. It all started after Draco came here. Lord Voldemort had used their home as his base. So chances are he might know how Lord Voldemort broke into Professor Dumbledore’s grave and took his wand.”

“You think that Julian is behind this?” Guizot asked sharply.

“No,” Alexis shook his head. He knew Guizot trusted his inner circle and they, too, were worthy of it. “I don’t think Monsieur Julian or any member of his family would actively or knowingly support the Death Eaters. But the British Malfoys have a reputation for using influential people to as their shields. After the Second Wizarding War, Lucius Malfoy was sentenced to Azkaban but he escaped it by having his son marry the MLE Head’s daughter. What if they are doing the same here, only this time it is Monsieur Julian’s family?”

Guizot looked troubled but Alexis was pleased to see that he didn’t protest.

“What is your plan?” He asked after a while, rubbing his eyes wearily, “You do have a plan?”

“If you allow, I’d like to have someone set on Draco Malfoy, to track him round the clock.” Alexis proposed solemnly, his voice and heart beats steady, “I’m not saying that he is definitely behind this. He could be innocent and this visit could really be a family one.” He tried to sound neutral and indifferent, “But we should first rule out that he is not misusing his cousin’s high position.”

“Fine.” Guizot sighed in acceptance, “I have no objection. One thing, though. Don’t involve the MLE spies in this. It’ll be humiliating for Julian to learn that we suspect his cousin.”

“Don’t worry Monsieur,” Alexis assured Guizot, “I have a better name in mind.”

“Who?” Guizot frowned.

“She in charge of your personal protection.” Alexis replied pleasantly.

“Inéz?” Guizot smiled for the first time since that meeting and that too, approvingly, “Oh yeah, clever and calm, she’d be the best pick for that.”

Alexis settled everything with the second-in-command of Elite Guards and left office late, knowing well that he has missed taking Hermione and Adrian out, but somehow he felt he has made up for that. Finally, he would have Draco Malfoy tracked.

•••••

There was not a patient bone in Draco’s Malfoy body. Yet, he waited for Thursday morning with whatever dregs of aforementioned virtue he could muster.

It was difficult to fully coin what he felt. Anticipation could be the closest term, but it, somehow fell short to convey how his sleep was taken away, his appetite was extinguished and every tangible and intangible thoughts from his mind was erased. It was agonizing! And frustrating! Half the night Draco pondered over what Audré had meant by ‘that remains to be seen’ and the other half in pacing and thinking about Adrian. He hardly looked at the bed, let alone sleep and when tired, sat on a couch and started reading what he had collected on Adrian in his diary.

He read everything almost fifty times and around dawn, not knowing how, drifted into an uneasy slumber.

Needless to say he dreamt Adrian. Any father would, when all his heart and soul was invested in his little boy. Just as it happened in reality, in his dreams too, Adrian was running and playing with water or sitting in a corner and drawing patiently or making sweet rhymes and solving clever puzzles and Draco was watching him, simply watching him from a distance, marveled and mesmerized. And when Adrian made a poem on him he thought it was the most fantastic poem in the world.

Adrian was reciting, happily:

Papa, papa, papa!

I love my papa!

I don’t love that mama!

I loooooove my papa!

Draco’s heart burst from a tender rush of affection. Adrian loved him! He actually loved him! Oh Merlin, this was the best day of his life! The best day!

Tearful, Draco ran to Adrian, to hold him close to his hearts, give him everything he had and tell him that he, too, loved him with every fiber of his being. He was just a foot from Adrian when he bumped against something. It was hard and invisible! Perplexed and rubbing his throbbing forehead, Draco retreated and examined the damn thing. It was a strong glass wall and look at the nerve of it; it was separating them, a father from his son! Outraged, Draco whipped out his wand and lashed at the glass with an angry spell.  It shattered but the moment he stepped on the other side, Adrian looked at him and vanished. Draco stood there, alone and foolish, staring blankly at the spot the boy had been just a moment ago.

“NOOOOOOOOO….” Draco screamed in fury and stomped his feet. His entire being was writhing in pain. He has lost Adrian, yet again! “No! Don’t go! Don’t leave father!” He called at Adrian, “Come back! COME BACK!”

But Adrian didn’t reappear. He seemed gone forever. Draco called him for a while and then sat down where the boy had been, and started crying.

“Adrian….nnn…” He sobbed like a little boy who has lost his mother in a crowd, “…come back to papa…come back to…fattth…her… com…mmme back to mee….”

How long he cried, Draco neither knew, nor did he care. He just knew that his son was gone, his son was taken away and it was all that Granger’s fault! It was all Granger’s fault! That Mudblood! That Mudblood has run away with his son, his heir. Thief! Bloody effing baby thief!

In his anger, Draco imagined every horrible mean he could use to punish that Mudblood, when they meet next time. It seemed that her last punishment wasn’t enough. There were some whores who actually took pleasure from rape and that Mudblood was definitely one of those abominable creatures.  But Draco wasn’t fool. He knew perfectly well to deal with these gutter worms.  

Draco imagined that Mudblood and ripped her from limb to limb!

Draco imagined that Mudblood and gave her an insane dose of Cruciatus!

Draco imagined that Mudblood and gauzed her eyes out, the eyes that have dared to look at his son!

Eyes still closed he continued clawing at that Mudblood until a woman’s voice truly woke him up.

“Draco? What’s it? What’s it, son?”

As though a mummy has been reincarnated, Draco opened his eyes. Narcissa came into view. She was leaning over him. She looked pale as ghost, and panicked.

“Draco! Dearest!” Her voice trembled from fright and helplessness, “What’s it, baby?” She wiped his sweaty face on her clean and fragrant handkerchief.

Draco’s eyes moved to the person standing next to his mother. It was Audré, his aunt.  Compared to a very pale Narcissa, she looked opposite. Her demeanor was calm and confident.

“Here, nephew. Drink this tonic.” She offered him an opaque liquid in a tiny glass goblet.

Draco didn’t move a muscle and returned his gaze at his mother. She looked closed to fainting. Her fearful blue eyes were silently pleading to him.

“It’s a Nerve Tonic, cousin.” A sweet voice tried to assure him and shirting his gaze, Draco located the owner. It was Lillian, peeping from behind Audré. Judging by her nightclothes and tussled long braid, she must have been asleep before coming here.

There was something in Lillian’s frightful features that struck a chord in his heart: Audré’s horrific claim that he’d assault his cousin in rampant rage. He’d never do that, firstly because he was not a rapist and secondly, because he was not an angry bull as his aunt liked so much to portray him as.

Determined to prove Audré wrong, Draco sat up and accepted the goblet. He finished the contents in one go and smacked his lips. It was dead bitter. He closed his eyes and lied on the couch for a long while, silent and breathing deeply, trying to cleanse his mind of that awful dream. Adrian couldn’t run away like that! He just couldn’t! Draco was his father! He had rights to see him, be with him and exercise every power he had over him.

“Audré…” He heard his mother whisper to his aunt, as though trying to assess that she didn’t mistook poison for tonic.

“Don’t worry…” Audré assured her, “He’s just taking rest.”

Draco took a deep breath to assure his mother that he was alive. He had to admit that his aunt’s tonic really worked. Not a minute has passed and he was feeling better.

“Mother…” He opened his eyes and looked at Narcissa, “Mother,” He sat up and took her cold and trembling hands in his, “I’m sorry for last night.”

Narcissa burst into tears and hid her face in the handkerchief. “Is it…really you, Dra…co?” She sobbed and leaned on to his touch, “Is that…really m…y son?”

“Of course, it’s me.” Draco gave her a gentle hug and smoothed her hair. She looked so broken and weak, “It’s me, mother. Your son. Your Draco.”

“I don’t…know…” Narcissa shook her head in protest and sniffed, “I d…don’t know! I can’t fi…nd my Draco in you! My Draco was gentle wi…th his mm….other. My Draco was respe…ctful. My Draco nev…er kept a ssss……ecret from me.”

Draco hid a sigh. After all, Narcissa Malfoy was Narcissa Malfoy. She was his mother and a Malfoy and they both knew how very lethal unsatisfied curiosity was.

“Mother,” Draco stroked her back as she cried her heart out on his shoulder, “Mother, please listen to me…just listen…”

“Who is she?” Narcissa asked stubbornly, “Who is she, Draco?”

“Does it matter?” Draco asked back defensively.

“Don’t argue with your mother!” Narcissa straightened up and demanded, her eyes bloodshot from all the crying, “Tell me! Who is this woman? Who – Is – She?”

Draco took solemn breath and decided to tackle the problem differently, “Astoria.” He replied calmly.

“Astoria?” Narcissa stared.

“Yes,” Draco erected his spine dignifiedly, “The only she in my life is, was and will be Astoria Selene Malfoy, my lawful life partner.  She is my love. She is my sons’ mother. I never cheated on her, before or after our marriage.”

“But Adrian…” Narcissa looked puzzled.

“Adrian is my son.” Draco stated firmly, “I didn’t know that he existed but now that it’s settled, I am ready to take his full responsibility. His mother is none of my concern.”

“But how did this…” Narcissa stopped midsentence and cleared her throat in discomfort.

“Mother, please…” Draco decided to sidetrack the most vital issue, “It’s so insulting to ask that! Feels like I am a debaucher.”

“Don’t lash out on me!” Narcissa stood on her own defense, “You didn’t cheat! You didn’t debauch! How did this happen then? How did this boy came into being?”

“It was an accident!” Draco bellowed, the thin line of his patience now broken, “It was an accident! Okay? How do accidents happen? Huh? How do accidents happen?”

No one replied. Only Narcissa’s heavy breathing could be heard.

“I have been telling you and telling you! I – DON’T – KNOW!” Draco decided to nip this topic in the bud, “I – DIDN’T – KNOW! Maybe someone drugged me because I can’t recall it! But for Adrian, only for his sake, his wellbeing, his safety, I’m not pressing any charges against his mother. I love Adrian. He’s my son. He’s my blood. I do not want him to hate me, or take me as his mother’s enemy. But that doesn’t mean I’m interested in her.”

Narcissa stared at him for a long minute. Draco wondered what else was she scheming. Mother or not he was not going to put up with this nonsense for long. There is a limit to everything.

Narcissa looked up at Audré. The two ladies communicated in silence and then the latter nodded.

“Fine.” Narcissa sighed, looking displeased, “Now get up and get ready. We are going out. Your aunt reckons she knows where to find Adrian.”

Maybe because he already knew about Monette it didn’t immediately occur to Draco to enquire about it, and when it did, all the three ladies have left. He sat, feeling sour and wondering how to avoid taking his mother with them. If she went, he wouldn’t be able to talk freely with his aunt. Finally, after pondering over the matter and failing to find a solution he sighed and left it to his fate.

Draco got ready real quick and went down to the dining room. His mother and aunt were already there, halfway through their breakfasts, but Lillian wasn’t. Draco decided to not enquire about it and do his reputation more tarnishing.

He took a seat and poured a coffee. He wasn’t particularly hungry and now, with the added tension of having his mother accompany them, whatever was left of it, was gone.

Draco took a sip from coffee and stole a glance at Narcissa. She hasn’t spoken once since he appeared at the table. Her neatly plucked eyebrows were crowded near the root of her dainty nose. Draco knew this sign very well. Narcissa Malfoy was thinking and thinking very hard, because it was unusual that they’d be at the same table and she’d not notice that he wasn’t eating anything at all.

“I think we should start with the Opera House. Monette is having an exhibition there.” Audré finally broke the suspicious silence, “I’ll take Draco. Narcissa will follow us. She has already been there.”

“Oh no! I won’t be going with you, Audré.” Narcissa wiped her mouth on a napkin, “I’m going to Gringotts.”

“Gringotts?” Draco couldn’t believe his dumb luck. He had been wondering where to send for a random errand and here she was, leaving them on her own free will!

“Yes. Gringotts.” Narcissa produced a letter and showed it to him. Draco recognized the seal on the envelope, as well as the writing underneath which said: Gringotts, la Banque des Sorciers.

“Apparently, my son has withdrawn some very valuable family gold.” Narcissa put the letter back in her purse, a hint of displeasure in her tone, “And now these chary goblins want me to go and endorse them.”

“Valuable gold?” Draco’s mind reeled over the events of last few weeks, and he remembered the ones he had taken out before leaving for Brussels because they had left in short notice and he didn’t have time to bring gold from their British vault, “Endorse? Why should we endorse our gold? I didn’t steal them. It’s ours!”

“I don’t know.” Narcissa shrugged and stood up, “Anyways, good luck.” She smirked and left.

Draco watched her retreating form, perplexed. Was he imagining it or did she look as though she’d not have him accompany her to Gringotts? What was going on? One moment she was adamant to go with them and one moment she was happy to let them go. Draco had been to Gringotts many times and he knew no one endorsed their gold, or at least Malfoys never did.

“That was a good ploy, wasn’t it?” He heard Audré say as soon as Narcissa was gone, “Now she’s off to Gringotts and we are off to see Monette.”

“W…wwhat?” As though he has been slapped hard on face by an imaginary force, Draco whipped back to his aunt and blinked, “You mean…you mean…you…did that…” he pointed a trembling finger at the chair Narcissa was seating and asked.

“Now, now, Draco, don’t feign such innocence.” Audré didn’t seem remotely affected by what she has done, “You have already seen me doing things far worse. That reporter, Celia? Hope you still remember her.” She finished her coffee and dusted off her hands with a casual air.

“But….” Draco was still unsure how to react, “Celia is a witch and this is about a pack of goblins… you can’t fool a goblin…everything will come out when mother shows them that fake letter…they’ll tell her they didn’t send it!”

“Easy, nephew, easy.” Audré held up a calm hand in the air and smiled, “You think I didn’t consider that before I sent Narcissa that letter?”

“How then…” the last thing Draco wanted was his mother to think that he sent her that letter.

“Quite easy, you know.” Audré smiled serenely, “I usually don’t throw away envelopes and when it’s from Gringotts, then never. I knew what Narcissa is so curious about. I just used that as a tool. Endorsing gold is just an excuse. She’s off to Gringotts to meet Adrian’s mother.”

“Who?” Draco leapt to his feet so abruptly that his chair fell back.

“Adrian’s mother.” Audré chimed.

“Wait a minute…” like a bolt of lightning everything dawned on him and Draco’s senseless fear was slowly replaced by sensible reasoning and a cruel pleasure, “You sent mother a letter and told her that I withdrew some valuable gold. Now she has to endorse them before they can be passed to their new owner.”

“And she asked me about that gold and I told her that all about that Drawing Competition prize money.” Audré added the missing bit, “See dearest, that’s how we play chess.”

“Mother…” Draco shook his head and sighed, “She’ll never learn to give people some privacy. Never.” He straightened his chair and slumped on it, “Leeched on me when I went for my start of term shopping, like I was some baby. I was sixteen then and thanks to Dark Lord, was already carrying a Dark Mark.”

No one spoke. Draco remained silent and decided to spend the moments relishing this cruel pleasure to see his mother getting tricked.

“How very loyal!” Audré spoke after a while, sounding pensive, “First you assault a woman because she allegedly tried to kill your mother, and then you feel happy that your mother got tricked because she had tried to meet that same woman behind your back.”

“It’s not that….” Draco stammered, wondering how to explain this, “Don’t get me wrong. I love mother, I trust mother. I am loyal to her.” he emphasized, “I just can’t take it when she nags and she nags a lot. It’s so irritating!”

“I beg to differ on that.” Audré was giving Draco a probing stare, “Nagging is irritating but eavesdropping is more irritating than nagging.”

“Eavesdropping?” Draco’s sixth sense kicked off, “Who eavesdropped?” He smiled cautiously.

“You are such a horrible actor, nephew.” Audré conjured a hand mirror and dabbed a napkin over her mouth as though cleaning a crumb, “You dare to fool me with such poor skills?”

Draco didn’t dare protest.

“I know you heard us talking last night.” Audré continued talking and checking her reflection, “Your footfalls didn’t reach the staircase after you supposedly left. It stopped right outside the door, in fact, behind it. You hid there and listened to us. Didn’t you?”

“So what if I did? That’s not a crime.” Caught red-handed Draco tried to defend himself boldly. How did this woman know so much? And why? Couldn’t she know a bit less? “I was trying to know what mother was up to.” He supplied reasonably.

“As is Narcissa now.” Audré turned the mirror to Draco to show him his reflection. “And look who complains?”

Draco digested the taunt. Audré was unbeatable in argument, that he should have remembered.

“Sorry.” He apologized and made a mental note to muffle his footfalls next time he decided to eavesdrop.

“Don’t bother.” Audré stood up and smoothed her robe, “I know, it’s not true.” She stated and started for the same door behind which he had hid last night. Draco, too, stood up and followed her out. Together they left the Château and walked side by side to the Apparition Point, upon reaching where Audré offered him her right arm.

“So we are…” Draco took it and prepared for a side-along apparition, “going to that Bloodtraitor’s exhibition?”

“Bloodtraitor?” Audré’s dangerously calm tone told Draco that he has crossed the line.

“Sorry, aunt. Old habit, you know. They are hard to let go.” Draco managed a polite smile and surrendered. Everything was worth finding Adrian.

“Indeed.” Audré snorted, “I reckon even bird droppings carry more weight than your sorrys.” She said and turned on the spot. A familiar suffocating sensation later, when it was safe to breathe again, Draco opened his eyes.

By the word Opera, the first thing that appeared before Draco’s mind’s eyes was that of Fat Lady. Thankfully they didn’t have such moronic arrangements for the Slytherin dorms or Draco was sure he would have strangled that stupid Fat Lady if she ever tried to shatter glasses using her ugly piercing voice, which she did everywhere except the dungeons where there was no portraits.

But that was beside the point. They were not going to see an opera. Draco had been expecting to appear directly into an exhibition where some Bloodtraitor Monsieur Monette would be tricked by his aunt in divulging everything he knew about Adrian. After that they’d go and find Adrian.

But even that was beside the point. That Bloodtraitor could wait a while because nothing could be compared to the visual feast he was experiencing now. This was an opera? Merlin!

They were standing on a foyer and using a plain ‘grand’ was understatement to describe it. Draco’s gaze lingered on the ceiling which was domed, and had wonderfully intricate patterns and cherubs with the most beautiful decoration on earth. And those adorned columns that supported the ceiling? Has he ever seen anything remotely close to these? Draco couldn’t recall one. The lighting? Dramatic! The balconies that hung from the upper floors? Wonderful. The statues? Exquisite. And as though that was not enough to make a visitor entranced at first sight, a grand staircase lay before him.

“Welcome to Palais Garnier, nephew. We simply call it Opéra,” Audré declared pleasantly, as though enjoying his awe, “That’s the Grand Staircase: Le Grand Escalier de Charles Garnier.” She seemed to have noted his point of interest, which wasn’t hard since he was staring unblinkingly at it, “It’s a monument within the monument. When Hitler toured Paris in 1940, after the German invasion, his first stop was this Opéra House. His close allies said he was so fascinated by it, that he was planning to build one in Berlin.”

“Who is Hitler?” Draco asked vaguely, staring mystifyingly at the Grand Staircase. From finest quality white marbles to the many fluorine, onyxes and jaspers that accented it, each feature of the staircase was more opulent and stunning than the last. They had a Ball Room at Manor and it was, as per most reluctant and envious pureblood families, the finest in entire Britain. Draco had been so proud of it until now when he realized that the manor Ball Room was nothing compared to this Muggle opera house which seemed to have attracted a funny named German.

“Why do I forget that Malfoys never take Muggle Studies?”Audré’s sigh was deep and resonant, “Hitler was the Muggle Voldemort.”

“Muggle Vol…” Like a bad bout of cough that broke a pleasant dream, Draco was whipped back to reality, his mouth now sour, “Muggles had a Dark Lord?”

“Who said you can’t be a Dark Lord if you don’t have a wand?” Audré asked back, “Do you know more people died in the hands of these wandless Dark Lords than those with wands?”

Draco didn’t care to ponder on the topic, but somehow it sounded as though Audré was implying that Muggles were always the worst kind, even as Dark Lords, which itself was a satisfying notion. As Audré started for the Grand Staircase, he silently followed her. Now that the initial trance was broken, he started noticing the surroundings. The first thing that pleased him was that no stupid fat lady was practicing shattering a goblet here and second, even for a Muggle opera house, there was no Muggle in the vicinity. The foyer and the grand marble staircase were packed with people in robes of all designs and colours and witches hats of every imaginable fashion. Some were sitting on the steps and conversing idly. Some were taking pictures. A group of teenagers in Beauxbatons students were being given lecture on the palace’s many features.

“It might astonish you Draco,” Audré said, following Draco’s frown at the students, “but every national property on French soil is ours as much it’s the Muggles’.  This Opera, for instance, is open for public, mostly Muggle, but on specific days, it is open only for us. We can come to enjoy a play, as these people have. We can host exhibitions, as Monette is. Or we can just come for a tour, like those students are.”

Draco was privately impressed by the French Ministry of Magic’s thoughtfulness and their care for the Wizarding citizens. Would the British learn from it? Considering that that Potty and Weasel were now in charge of the Ministry, chances were next to zero.

“Did uncle tell you how we had to get on board Hogwarts Express?” He asked Audré. They have come up on the first landing from where two flights of stairs were leading off to left and right.

“You mean platform nine and three-quarters?” Audré took the stairs on the left and nodded, “Yes. But I reckon he deliberately forgot to mention that a lot of purebloods hated sharing Kings Cross with Muggles.”

“You know?” Draco was taken aback, “Of course you know. Everyone knows! Hogwarts and its ways are a total laughing stock.” He said resentfully, “I still remember that look of horror Durmstrang pupils had given us when they learned how we go to school. One almost puked. French or not, your Ministry at least doesn’t tell you to use a Muggle train station, like it is some kind of bloody public toilet!” He muttered darkly.

They came up on the first floor where a spacious corridor was bordered on one side by ornate balustrades overlooking the Grand Staircase and a large opening, flanked by high Corinthian columns, in a wall on the other side, leading into what must be the actual exhibition. Audré crossed distance briskly, Draco followed her and they entered a circular room.

Draco had expected more grandeur to follow but this room had nothing as such. It was vast and circular but simple. No dramatic lighting, no extravagant staircase, no frescoed ceiling. The only beauty was coming from the paintings that were put on display in many of the planned niches. Visitors were gathered before them.

Draco had come for Monette but somehow he forgot it as soon as he noticed the nearest painting. It was on a bevy of swans swimming idly on a lake. Draco has seen many paintings, he was fairly good on it himself, but he hasn’t seen any painting where water could look so real!

With Monette’s touch it felt as though real swans were swimming on real water. It looked like a landscape from Malfoy Manor where they had a stream and snowy white swans swimming in it.

Lost, Draco moved to the next painting. On this one, several elephants were sniffing in the air. It was funny at first sight but on careful scrutiny revealed the artist’s deep observation skill. Draco read the caption. It said: Elephants sniffing for rain.

Draco smirked. He walked around the hall, and examined with care every piece of art Monette has put on display. A few familiar places have been drawn too. Florence…. Mediterranean…. the Grand Canal of Venice. This one captured Draco’s attention the most. Astoria was very fond of Venice. She would have loved to be presented this painting by her beloved husband, if she were alive. She had such great tastes!

venice

Draco stifled a sigh and checked the label. It was already marked as ‘sold’. Some stupid must have bought it before him. What did non-Malfoys understand of Venice? Nothing. They must have bought this wonderful painting to show and impress people, as did riffraff like Weasleys when they landed in Egypt. Draco was adamant. This painting must be his, it must be in his possession. Could he talk to Monette and have that order cancelled and the painting sold to him?

It was then that Draco remembered the purpose of his visit. He was here for Adrian, not to buy paintings. But Bloodtraitor or not, he had admit, that Monette knew drawing, he knew his medium, and he knew to manipulate it and most importantly, knew what not to draw.

Leaving the paintings for a while, he looked around for Audré. After a minute’s careful scanning of the crowd, most of whom were as bedazzled as he had been moments ago, he found her in the far end of the hall, standing.

Draco walked to her. The Hall consisted of a central circular room and two adjoining rectangular rooms. The paintings were all on display in the circular room, and the rectangular rooms were, by the looks of it, for artist’s retreat and the press. As he left the main exhibition area Draco noticed that the crowd started getting thin, and upon reaching his aunt, he saw that she was standing at a distance from what appeared to be an interview underway.

So this was Monette? Draco scanned the man who was talking to the reporters. Honestly, didn’t know what he had been expecting. Maybe his image of Bloodtraitors was always associated with the likes of Weasleys because it was disappointing to see that Monette was a tall and lean man with salt and pepper hair and well-tailored expensive robes. He looked focused, something that wasn’t quite frequent among artists. Artists usually had an unkempt look about them. Anyways, he didn’t like him at all, maybe because Monette had an air of no nonsense about him, or that the sharpness of his blue eyes seemed to scan everything it was bestowed upon or the annoying fact that he was smiling not so politely or that he was standing more proudly than a man like him should.

“Monsieur Monette! Monsieur Monette!” A short witch was jumping up and down in her place and trying to attract the artist’s attention, “Monsieur Monette, our readers want to know why you suddenly chose watercolour as a medium? What’s so fascinating about it?”

“First of all, I didn’t choose to paint in watercolour suddenly.” Monette said solemnly, “Those who know my work know that I’ve been doing it for last twenty years. Now, to your original question, Madame, why I chose this medium?” He paused and pondered, “I think I like the immediacy of watercolour. There is nothing better than watercolour for portraying water. It’s very obvious. Waterscapes of all types lift off with watercolour. I have painted leaves on a river bed and they looked real! I couldn’t imagine getting that effect with any other medium. But watercolour is a temperamental mistress.” He warned jokingly and everyone laughed, “Just when you think you mastered the media, something happens that reminds you that there are still things to learn. Even with magic, some mistakes in watercolour are hard to rectify, and even impossible. You have to start anew.”

“You said it’s hard to draw in watercolour. So what would be your advice for aspiring artists?” Another reporter, a dignified looking wizard asked this time.

“Umm…” Monette smiled, “Well, drawing skills are essential. One must study the merits of the pigments they use. Some are transparent and some are opaque. They need to know which are which. Likewise they must study colour mixing. They can start with basics, for example the simple colour wheel would be good for beginners….umm…” he frowned, “Choosing good brushes or at least the best one can afford and using the good quality watercolour paper. I use cold pressed papers. It makes less mess of bathroom because you won’t need to presoak and stretch which is a real bore.”

Everyone laughed again.

“Enough for today!” Monette held up hands, “I’d like to be excused now.”

“One last question, Monsieur, one last question….” The short witch was still jumping up and down to see over the shoulders of her tall colleagues. She was at the back of the circle.

“Let the lady in…” Monette asked the wizards and they parted to allow her to come forward, “Just one last question, okay?”

The witch nodded, “Monsieur, where did you inherit art from? Was anyone in your family a natural artist?”

Was it Draco’s illusion or Monette’s features really became grave? “As far as I know,” he said solemnly, “no one in my family was an artist. I’m my mother’s only child.”

Draco couldn’t help but note that Monette used ‘mother’ instead of ‘parents’ in that answer. It sounded pretty odd to his ears.

“However,” Monette’s smile was back, “Your question reminds me of my little pupil. He’s just five and half and he has already won a very prestigious drawing competition. I’m sure he has art in his blood.”

Draco thought his heart would explode from the combined effect of excess pride and excess joy. He knew who that boy was. Monette was talking about Adrian.  Aunt Audré was right! Monette was giving Adrian private lessons. They have knocked the right person!

He heard someone clearing throat loudly and following the sound, Draco found his aunt. She was giving him a look that could only have one meaning: let me handle the situation.

Draco was glad to obey and it wasn’t too often that that happened. He backed away and went to the nearest painting, which was another simply enchanting one, portraying the same painting with leaves floating on water that Monette had talked about a minute ago. It looked so real that he didn’t have to feign that he was absorbed in it while his aunt took care of the artist.

Chère Madame Audré… (My dear Madame Audré…)” Draco focused his gaze on the glass covering the painting and saw on its clear and smooth surface a good reflection of what was happening behind him. Monette has gotten rid of the reporters and interviewers, walked to his aunt and greeted her in the most welcoming fashion that was thought to be impossible for him, “J’espère vous trouver en forme…. (I hope I find you well…)” He took her hands and brought them courteously to his lips.

Draco blinked rapidly, thrice. He had no idea that his aunt and Monette knew each other so well. He watched as Audré and Monette exchanged greetings with the latter enquiring about her children and the former doing the same about his mother and grandmother.

Laissez-moi vous présenter à mon neveu… (Let me introduce you to my nephew…)” Draco was wondering why Audré hadn’t breathed a word about her knowing Monette personally last night at dinner when the word ‘neveu’ broke his streams of thought, “Draco!” He heard her elegant voice call him.

As though it was already planned between them, Draco didn’t respond and feigned as though he was absorbed in the painting he was standing before. Audré called him three times and on the fourth count, he turned, looking slightly perplexed.

“Aunt?” He looked around at everyone but Audré, who he knew was standing just seven feet away from him, on the left. Slowly he shifted his gaze to left, located her and gave her the most innocent and confused look that his treacherous features could conjure at that moment.

“Draco, dearest,” Audré’s smile was patient and sympathetic, as well as with a little touch of praise and pride for him, “Come here. Let me introduce you to the artist.”

Draco erected his spine, something he has learnt from his father who did it quite often to look dignified and taller. He walked to Audré and Monette, his heart beating like a drum in low hum and his features as solemn as carelessly drifting clouds.

“My nephew. Draco.” Audré placed a light hand on his shoulder and introduced him to Monette with a charming smile, “Draco Malfoy.”

“Enchanté.” Draco wasn’t entirely pleased to meet Monette but he offered to shake hands with him, nonetheless.

Monette neither greeted back and nor did he shake hands with Draco. His sharp and penetrating deep blue eyes were fixed on him, straight, as though he has forgotten to blink. Draco returned it with an equally solemn and calm gaze of his own and was about withdrew his unaccepted hand when Monette took and shook it. For an artist, his fingers were thin and long but his grip was very firm.

“Nice to meet you, Monsieur Malfoy.” Monette said with a smile. His eyes still fixed on him unblinkingly, “I don’t know where but I feel like I have seen you before.”

Draco felt like he has chased a very tricky Snitch and was inches away from to catching it when he had to let it go because it wouldn’t win him the match. He knew what Monette was meaning. He was referring to Adrian who looked, Draco’s heart would always swell in pride, like a miniature Draco Malfoy, except those little curls, which annoyingly made his son more adorable that he was when he was as a boy.

“Most Malfoys inherit their trademark features.” Audré’s casual smile could never make one suspicious of what’s really behind it, “Grey eyes and platinum blonde hair.”

“It’s not that…” Monette shook his head slowly and finally shifted his gaze, “So…where is the rest of his family?” He scanned the crowd and asked Audré.

“Draco’s mother couldn’t come.” Audré didn’t sound remotely affected, “She was planning to accompany us but a letter came from Gringotts and she had to go there instead. And Draco’s father is no more.”

“I’m sorry.” Monette turned to Draco, deadpan, “Your children…”

“I’m a widower.” Draco didn’t let him complete the sentence and stated solemnly. The earlier he cleared up any buds of suspicion, the better because he didn’t know what Monette knew about Adrian’s father and judging by the way that Mudblood has ran away with Adrian, repeatedly, there was no way she’d portray him graciously to the artist.

“I’m very very sorry.” Monette’s features showed true kindness this time, as well as a generous amount of shock. His eyes roved down Draco’s black attire and his smile broadened, “I hope you will not begrudge my curiosity. It’s just that you remind of someone who’s very close to my heart. He is a pupil of mine. His name is Adrian.”

“I see…” was all that Draco could manage to speak. His heart that had been beating like a low rumble was racing now. Monette had remarkable observation power! He has linked Draco to Adrian on their first meeting!

“Is he the same pupil you said won a competition?” Trust Audré to make use of every tiny bit of opportunity to get to what she wanted, “That five and half years old fellow?”

“The very same.” Monette nodded pleasantly, “Marvelous talent! I have never seen anyone draw like that in his age! He has art in his blood!”

Draco was sure he disliked Monette but he wasn’t sure how long he could keep disliking him. The rate at which the artist was praising his son and so openly and unboundly, Draco feared that he might end up liking him.

“I have never heard of such talent. Are you sure he’s five and a half?” Audré asked Monette casually, “Maybe he is older than his parents claim him as.”

Monette snorted as though greatly amused, “Trusts lawyers to always dig up an issue to argue on.” He steered Audré and Draco back to the exhibition, “Adrian is five and a half, Madame Audré. There is no doubt about that. He is a child prodigy. Michelangelo was also a child prodigy.”

Draco might not have taken Muggle Studies but he knew who Monette was talking about. He has seen Michelangelo’s works in many Italian cities, notably, Bologna, Florence and Rome. Even for a Muggle his work was marvelous.

“Michelangelo’s mother died when he was only six.” Monette was telling Audré and she too was listening aptly, “After her death the boy was sent to live with a nanny and her husband. That man happened to be a stonecutter in a marble quarry. There Michelangelo gained his love for marble. When he grew a bit older, his father sent him to Florence for studying. But the young artist showed no interest in schooling. He began copying paintings from church. At the age of thirteen, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Ghirlandaio. Ghirlandaio was a master fresco painter and the owner of the largest workshop in Florence at that period. You can easily imagine what a great honour it was to become his apprentice! The next year, Michelangelo’s father persuaded Ghirlandaio to pay his son as a full time artist, which was rare for someone who was fourteen. What would you say now? That Michelangelo wasn’t fourteen years old at all?” He directed the question to Audré.

Draco couldn’t get where the discussion was heading to. It was pleasant to learn that his son was being compared to Michelangelo, but it was equally confusing and frustrating to see they were not any closer to finding him.

“All I can say is that in Michelangelo’s time, people were less crime prone.” Audré replied diplomatically, “I’m not saying your pupil’s parents are lying about their son’s age. I’m just saying that generally speaking, these days people lie a lot and for no reason at all. Maybe if I could see the boy in person I could see if your claims are right.” She shrugged.

Audré was great! Draco suppressed an urge to give her a hug. Now he understood her. She was playing with Monette’s pride on Adrian and trying to use it on her favour. That’s called manipulation. Oh, what would he have done without her?

“Really?” Monette laughed, “Fine, I’ll…” he looked at Draco and stopped midsentence, “…I’ll show you one of his paintings. He finished it very recently.” He said vaguely and steered them back to the exhibition.

Draco followed Monette, wondering what caused him to stop suddenly and sound so thoughtful afterwards. Was he planning for Audré to meet Adrian? Did he cancel it? If so, why? Was he suspecting them, suspecting him to be more precise?

Maybe because Draco was half immersed in his thoughts and half frightful about getting caught that he didn’t notice where Monette was leading them to and when he did, he discovered himself before a painting that he didn’t check last time.

Even before Monette could attest who the artist was, Draco understood it. He knew those strokes of paintbrush, he knew that subtle colour choice, and he knew who could draw with such care and sincerity. Adrian. Only Adrian could draw like that.

The painting was very simple. A little boy was playing with some pigeons on the backdrop of what looked like a Muggle cathedral.

notredame

“Notre Dame…” Audré said pleasantly, “…de Paris.” She looked at Monette, who himself was examining the painting with an awed expression, “I am taking my words back, Monette. It doesn’t matter how old your little pupil is. He is got to be extremely talented to dare to draw Notre Dame.”

“He likes Notre Dame and most importantly, those pigeons.” Monette said fondly, “He goes there often. They live nearby.”

Draco’s heart was now beating somewhere close to his throat. Adrian lived somewhere around this cathedral called Notre Dame! ‘Come on, Monette, tell us where he lives!’ He urged the artist silently.

“How do you know?” Audré stole a warning glance at Draco and cautioned him to not set up the game, “Have you been to his home?”

“Oh yes,” Monette nodded, still looking bemusedly at the painting, “Last Sunday his family invited me to attend an Apéro to celebrate his winning the competition. Wonderful people! Wonderful family! So gracious! Madame Delacour sent her personal elf to take me to their home.”

With extreme difficulty Draco controlled himself from swearing in public. Shit! Shit! Shit! Why send an elf? Now there was no way Monette could tell them where exactly Adrian lived!

“That’s so nice of them!” Audré glared at Draco and smiled sweetly at Monette, “Enough talking Monette. Now give me a personal tour of your exhibition.”

As Monette nodded and steered Audré to the rest of his paintings, Draco deliberately fell back. He was here to find out Adrian’s address and when that couldn’t be done, the exhibition didn’t matter anymore. He left the hall and came out on the corridor. It hung over the Grand Staircase like a balcony. Draco walked slowly to a quiet corner and stood there. Monette was a last hope. That was gone now. How on Earth was he going to find Adrian?

•••••

Gringotts, France, was headed by Geccemp and apart from being amiable, he was freakishly clever. So, when around ten o’ clock on Thursday morning one of his staff knocked on his office door and entered with an elegantly dressed witch to introduce her as Madame Narcissa Malfoy, he took every precaution to have his Chief Curse Breaker not visit him until further notice.

“Make sure no one disturbs Madame Narcissa when she is in my office.” He instructed the accompanying goblin sternly, “Not even the staffs.” He said pointedly and the goblin nodded and left.

“Please, take a seat, Madame.” Geccemp didn’t leave his seat but took care to show enough graciousness. His last encounter with her son was still fresh in his mind. “I believe it’s your first time in French Gringotts.” He said, smiling.

“It is.” Madame Narcissa said curtly. Her pointed nose was slightly wrinkled as she looked down it at the seat she was being offered and after a long minute’s scrutiny, took it with an air of delicacy, as though she feared the chair would collapse any moment.

“Please be comfortable, Madame.” Geccemp said politely, although he knew perfectly well, judging by his ill-mannered her son, that she wouldn’t do so. Madame Malfoy sat and as though in enemy territory, started scanning everything in his office. “That chair is perfectly safe to occupy.” He drew her attention.

Madame Narcissa didn’t respond. Observation done, she looked somewhat satisfied and relaxed. Geccemp was wondering what it was all about when she retrieved a letter from her purse and pushed it towards him.

“I received this this morning,” She said coldly, as though talking to Geccemp was hurting her dignity a lot, “I want to know what this all about.”

Geccemp perched his pinch-nez and examined the letter. It was from his bank, at least the envelope and the parchment suggested so, but the writing wasn’t a goblin’s. The Goblins wrote in more slanting and pointed fashion, and this writing was a witch’s. The contents were even more surprising. It was directly addressed to Madame Narcissa Malfoy and was asking her to come to Gringotts to endorse some gold which were ‘valuable’.

Maybe it was because Geccemp had been reading the letter longer than Madame Narcissa’s likings, because she cleared her throat loudly and drew his attention. Geccemp’s sharp wit decided to not make a scene here, before this sensitive client of theirs’, for she would definitely misinterpret it as unprofessionalism.

“Well,” Geccemp looked up from the letter and his eyes, “Madame, what exactly do you want to know?” He asked her while formulating a plan in his head.

“I want to know who the new owner is.” Madame Narcissa stated firmly, her blue eyes fixed on Geccemp’s features unblinkingly, “I want to meet her.” she demanded.

“But Madame this letter doesn’t state anything about a witch.” Geccemp supplied reasonably. He also took care to show his astonishment in his features.

“I know it’s a woman.” Madame Narcissa didn’t look like a witch who’d easily reconcile, “That gold was taken out by my son, who didn’t understand their value at that time. He used them for prize money…”

“Prize money?” Geccemp’s eyes immediately fell on the gold bars Jean had asked him to trace their origin of and his sixth sense kicked off.

“…in a Drawing Competition.” Madame Narcissa almost chewed out the last words, “My sister-in-law, Audré, has informed me that a boy won that competition and his mother is the person I am looking for.”

“I see…” Geccemp supplied with as much polite smile as he could conjure at this moment. Did that mean that Jean was…

“Madame, I understand that it’s your noble desire to see that the Malfoy family gold was passed to a decent person.” He didn’t let the thought to complete itself and continued, “But I can’t help you in this matter. At Gringotts, we only safe keep the gold. It’s not our job to trace the owner.”

“But you traced me,” Madame Narcissa’s cold blue eyes were ablaze, “You can trace her too.”

“In that case Madame, you’d need to come with a court order.” Geccemp didn’t go into the details that his bank didn’t trace her at all, “It must have a detailed account that the said person has or is misusing your family gold and you wish to have her apprehended and brought to justice. Without a court order I can’t run a trace on our vault owners. That’s the Wizarding law. I can’t break it.”

His words had their intended effect on the arrogant Madame Narcissa because she stared at him for a long moment, as though trying to burn him on that spot. Geccemp returned it with an equally professionally cool stare of his.

“Fine,” Madame Narcissa lifted her chin and stood up, “In that case, I’ll not endorse the gold. They will not be passed to her.”

“As the Madame wishes.” Geccemp returned the letter to her. Madame Narcissa took it, shoved it in her purse and left, ignoring his polite farewell.

Geccemp sat still for a very long time. As a boss, he has never shown untoward curiosity to his employees’ private lives. He knew Jean had a little son, whose father’s identity was a mystery to all. She has never told him anything about him and he, too, has never felt like probing her about it. Jean was the best staff Geccemp had. She was talented, hardworking and very serious about her work and has broken every convention regarding the role of women in Gringotts. She has taken Curse Breaking to a new height, given it a new scientific base. Geccemp had deep respect for Jean. He’d never want to upset or lose her.

Geccemp tried to place the facts he had on table. Jean had a son and the boy’s father was unknown. She had intense fear for the Malfoys, especially Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy withdrew some gold and used it for prize money. The gold found its way to Jean’s son. Jean was looking for ways to trace the gold and the gold’s previous owner, Narcissa Malfoy was looking to do the same.

What did that mean?

Geccemp didn’t like to knit a web on insufficient evidence but this was different. This felt strangely ominous. And there was one person who could help him now.

Audré Chombrun Malfoy.

Geccemp dipped his quill and started composing a letter to Madame Audré. When it was done, he called Greepak and asked him to bring the Malfoy Vault account book. If the gold Jean had asked him to trace were indeed withdrawn from there, there would be a record. As the final measure, he decided to meet Jean’s little son. Adrian.

Ragnuk forbid, because the mere thought sent a chill down Geccemp’s spine, that there could be any connection between that innocent boy and that bigot, Draco Malfoy.