A long sigh escaped him as he leaned back in his chair, put his feet up on his desk and closed his eyes, momentarily giving in to the fatigue created by the tension in the Auror Office. He was beyond weary, almost bordering on exhaustion, but something kept him here. He felt completely discouraged and was beginning to doubt his ability to head this investigation, yet deep down he knew there was still hope…
Then guilt flooded his very being and he began second-guessing himself. Had he acted quickly enough after the distress alert came in? Had his Aurors missed any important clues when he’d finally sent them to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters four hours after the train had left the station? Had he and the others in the conference room who were reviewing the witnesses’ statements missed something important? Were the Aurors doing all they could to protect those involved? Apparently not.
So much was going wrong with this case, just because one crazy and dangerous woman wanted revenge for something that had happened nearly twenty years ago. The thing was, the prime suspect was making it bloody hard to close the case once and for all because she was such a slippery character. Three months ago, Harry had been so completely certain his raid would succeed in capturing the Matron that he’d gone on the mission himself. That had been such a grave mistake. The murders and the deliberate maiming of an innocent teenager that followed could have been prevented. True, the capture of one of the Matron’s pseudo-accomplices had given them the breakthrough they needed, but still, what had they accomplished with the information they’d gleaned from him and the two other suspects? Absolutely nothing! It had taken a tip from a civilian to find the location of the Matron’s next hideout and again, just when the Aurors were certain they would capture her, she slipped through their fingers only to hurt the informant’s family.
When will it all end? Ron wondered, not for the first time since he’d taken on the responsibility of heading the investigation.
He knew he had to tell Harry about the Scorpius Malfoy kidnapping, because he knew this was no coincidence; there were just too many fingers pointing to fact that the Matron was trying to impress upon Draco and the Aurors that she meant to hurt anyone who stood in the way of her goal and wouldn’t come quietly when and if the law ever caught up with her and her associates.
Ron opened his eyes and glanced at the clock. It was early, but he knew it wouldn’t be too hard to track down Harry at The Groves. He would tell his friend and then go home to Hermione and a few hours’ rest as Deputy Director Robards had suggested to him an hour ago.
A few minutes later, he stuck his head into Robards’ office. The Deputy Head Auror looked up from a parchment he was scanning, his ever-present cup of coffee poised halfway to his mouth. He raised an eyebrow at Ron’s intrusion. “Didn’t I tell you to go home an hour ago?” he asked.
Ron nodded tiredly. “Yeah, you did… erm, I’m leaving now to make a report to Harry and then go home for a few hours,” Ron said. “If you can’t find me at The Groves, send the message to Weasel’s Keep.”
“All right,” Robards agreed. “I’ll let you know if anything comes in. When will you be back?”
“Noon,” Ron replied, and receiving an approving nod, left the Auror Office for the Atrium.
He found Harry in the dining room of The Groves having an early breakfast with Brian Nelson. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but Ron knew that eventually, Brian would learn of the kidnapping. Ron decided the boy might as well know the details rather than read speculation and misquotes from certain factions still in the employ of The Daily Prophet.
“Hey there, Ron! What brings you out here so early?” Harry asked, sounding happily surprised. He gestured to the empty chair opposite Brian. “Sit down, sit down. You look like you could use a good meal.”
Ron sat down gratefully, greeting Brian as he did so. A waitress brought a plate identical to Harry and Brian’s meals: sausages, fried eggs, toast, and fried tomatoes. Ron eagerly tucked into his meal and the three ate in silence for a time before Harry said apprehensively, “You didn’t come all the way out here just to have breakfast with us, did you?”
Ron put down his fork and scrubbed a hand wearily over his face. “No, Harry, I didn’t,” he admitted. He sighed loudly before saying, “Blimey, there’s no good way to say this… Harry, Brian, yesterday afternoon, Scorpius Malfoy was kidnapped via Portkey from the Hogwarts Express.”
Brian’s fork clattered to the table. “How… how is that possible?” he asked, sounding shocked. “I’ve always thought the Express was safe.”
“Usually, it is, Brian,” Ron said, glancing at Harry who was nodding in agreement. “However, sometimes the people who go to the platform prior to the train’s departure don’t have the best of intentions and they coerce unsuspecting children into delivering messages they shouldn’t.”
“Is that what happened?” Harry asked.
“As far as I know, yes,” Ron replied and he gave his friends an abbreviated report of the investigation so far.
When he was done, Brian said, “As much as I don’t like Scorpius, I really hope he doesn’t become one of those people’s experiments.” He patted the large wheel of his chair. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
“None of us do,” Harry agreed as Brian’s therapist, Melissa, strode up to the table.
“Good morning, Brian! Why the long face?” she asked.
“We were discussing the Malfoy kidnapping,” Ron informed her as both Brian and Harry hastily finished their meals.
“I just read about that in the paper,” Melissa said quietly. “Horrible thing to do to a young person. I hope the people who did it get caught soon.” She eyed Brian carefully. “You all right?”
Brian sighed and scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, I am. It just makes me so angry those people keep hurting innocent people,” he said fervently.
Harry laid a hand on Brian’s wrist, making the young wizard look at him. “Brian, the police are doing all they can to find Scorpius. Investigations like this take time, just like missing person searches take time when the rescue workers don’t know where to look,” he said. He caught Ron’s eye, giving him a sympathetic glance. Ron was grateful that Harry understood.
“Yeah, I know,” Brian said as he pushed his chair away from the table. “I still don’t have to be happy about how long it’s taking.” Ron couldn’t have agreed more. “See you at lunch, Mr Potter.”
Both Ron and Harry bade him good-bye. Then Harry asked, “Is there someone with Draco and Asteria?”
“Terry was there yesterday for about an hour, but he said they wanted to be alone,” replied Ron. “There’s no one with them now that I know of.”
“Not even Narcissa?” Harry asked, frowning.
“No. Terry didn’t see anyone except a couple of house-elves,” Ron replied.
Harry’s expression became resolute. “I’m going to contact Ginny and see if she’ll take me to see Draco. No one should have to wait out something like this alone,” he said.
Ron couldn’t agree more. “That’s a good idea, Harry,” he said. He tried to suppress a yawn, but failed miserably.
“You going back on duty soon?” Harry asked.
“I told Robards I’d be back at noon,” Ron said, yawning again.
“Then go home,” Harry ordered with a smile.
Ron stood. “I will, Harry. I’ll walk you as far as the Transportation Room.”
Harry nodded and the two left the dining room.
“Ginny! Are you home still?” Harry’s voice carried to her across their bedroom.
Ginny walked out of their en-suite fastening a belt around her waist. “Harry? What on earth are you doing calling me at this hour?” she asked, coming to stand in front of the grate. “Aren’t you supposed to be getting ready for Silvia?”
“You look great, sweetheart,” Harry said with that endearingly lopsided smile she adored.
“Thanks,” she replied as she crouched before the fire. Her next thought was voiced aloud, “What do you want? You only give me that look when you want something.”
Harry chuckled. “You know me too well, Ginny.” His remark made her smirk. “Erm… what I want is for you to take the day off and drive me to Malfoy Manor.”
Ginny’s eyebrows shot towards her hairline. “Why? Oh!” she sputtered, remembering the broadcast on WWN this morning about the kidnapping. “Do you think they’ll let us in?”
“It’s worth a try,” Harry said. “Ron said Terry was with them the first hour or so, but no one is waiting with them now, not even Narcissa. I really don’t think they should be alone.”
Ginny nodded. “I agree. Give me a few minutes to call in a few favours and get someone else to interview Puddlemere’s head coach.” She stood up, but thought of something else so she knelt again. “Would it be a good idea to pack an overnight bag?”
“Wouldn’t hurt,” Harry replied. “I’m not expecting the Malfoys to invite us to stay, but I don’t think your parents would mind putting us up if we arrived on their doorstep late in the evening. I’ll wait here while you make your arrangements.”
“Thanks, dear,” Ginny said and left her bedroom with a pop!
It took only a quarter hour to cancel her appointments and find her friend Amy. The other Quidditch reporter gladly took on the opportunity to converse with Oliver Wood in the Puddlemere front offices. Finally, Ginny was ready and she quickly called Harry back.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can, Harry. This will be the first time I’ve tried flying the van any distance longer than a couple of miles,” she confessed. She couldn’t help smiling as she added, “Keep your fingers crossed George’s illegal Invisibility Booster works better than the one on the Anglia. I can only imagine the nest of Doxies we would stir up if it failed.”
Harry smiled at her. “I will. Come find me in the PT Room. I’ll be packed and ready to go, but I still want to get a few minutes in on the leg machines.”
Grateful that her husband was taking so well to his strengthening exercise routine, she bid him good-bye. Then, grabbing her bags and a short driving cape, she locked up the house and headed for the garage.
The flight to the lane leading to The Burrow went without incident and she made good time, although her landing was a bit wobbly because of the unevenness of the snow-covered ground. The van stayed upright, however, and in another ten minutes she was pulling up to the portico of The Groves.
Harry greeted her when she walked through the front doors. “I finished faster than I thought I would,” he said. “Healer Stilwell and Silvia have given me a list of exercises to do while I’m away.” He patted his bag, grinning widely. “I even have my skateboard, so I’ll have to promise Asteria that I won’t try to ride down her banisters.”
“I see you’ve been watching some of the extreme sport programs from America on the telly,” Ginny chuckled. “She’ll be relieved. Let me sign you out and we can be on our way,” she added.
“I signed myself out,” Harry smirked, “so let’s go.”
He seemed almost eager to be going, so she picked up his bag and followed him out to the van where he quickly secured his chair and they settled in for the hour’s drive to Malfoy Manor.
When the kitchen fireplace at Weasel’s Keep flared green and disgorged her husband, Hermione put down her teacup, briefly closed her eyes, and breathed a silent sigh of relief. He looked tired and a little bit startled to see her.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Ron,” she said, going to him and pulling him into a hug. “How long are you home for?”
“I go back at a quarter to twelve,” Ron mumbled. He yawned hugely. “I’m going straight to bed. Don’t bother with breakfast or lunch because I ate with Harry and Brian at The Groves.”
Hermione smiled. “Good. Ginny called to tell me she’s flying the van to Ottery St Catchpole to pick up Harry. They’re going over to Malfoy Manor to be with Draco and Asteria. I’m glad you told him,” she said as they trudged up the stairs to their bedroom.
“No one should be alone like that,” Ron said. They entered their bedroom and Hermione flicked her wand at the heavy drapes to close them as her husband continued, “You didn’t have to come up with me.”
“No one should be alone at a time like this,” Hermione said softly. She stepped over to where Ron was standing and began unbuttoning his shirt. “I’ve taken the day off. I could use the rest, too. I’ve been worried about you.”
Ron grabbed her wrists and guided her arms around his neck. “No one should be alone… ever,” he said. “What did I ever do to be lucky enough to have you for my wife?”
Hermione stood up on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “You asked,” she said simply. “Now let’s get some rest.”
They lay down together and Hermione snuggled against her husband’s side. A moment later, the room was filled with the soft, familiar snores she’d grown to think of as music. Before she closed her own eyes, she set her wand to wake them at half-past eleven. Then, with a contented sigh, she, too, succumbed to sleep.
For the second time in two days, the Intruder Alert enchantment on the front gates announced someone’s arrival at Malfoy Manor. However, instead of chiming softly as it had when Auror Boot had brought the news of Scorpius’ kidnapping, the charm sounded like a gong through the silent house. It signalled the presence of something very large or a large number of people gathered at the gates. The sound reverberated through the rooms and corridors, making its occupants wonder what was waiting for them at the gate. Had the press caught wind of the kidnapping and come en-mass expecting a news conference? Draco wanted none of it and wished people would just leave him and Asteria alone.
Their house-elf, Mabel, appeared in the library where Draco and Asteria had taken refuge. Auror Boot had told them that, most likely, the kidnappers would send an owl with a ransom note within the first twenty-four hours rather than sending a messenger. It was now eighteen hours since the Portkey had activated, and as the minutes ticked by on the grandfather clock in the corner of the library, Draco and Asteria clung together.
“Master, there is an enormous metal box on wheels at the gate,” the house-elf squeaked. “Is yous wanting to let it in?”
Draco sighed. “Is anyone inside it?” he asked, suspecting that someone had borrowed a Muggle vehicle of some sort to smuggle in more than one reporter.
“Yes, Master!” the elf answered breathlessly. “It spoke when Mabel asked what it was doing here!”
“Did the people inside tell you who they were?” Draco asked with not a little trepidation.
Mabel’s eyes grew even wider than they usually were. “It’s Harry Potter, sir!” she squeaked in awe. “And, and Mrs Potter, too.”
Draco exchanged questioning glances with Asteria. What are the Potters doing here? he asked her silently. His wife lifted her shoulders in an elegant shrug and seemed to relax a little. Draco turned back to Mabel. “Very well. Please open the gates. The Potters can leave their machine in the drive in front of the house,” he directed, wondering why on earth they were using a Muggle vehicle… unless…
Ten minutes later, the front doors were opened wide to admit Harry and Ginny Potter. Draco and Asteria had discretely watched the van’s progress up the drive from the library window. They had seen Ginny Potter driving and were curious as to why she was driving and not Harry. Then they had watched in fascination as the side door opened and Harry had ridden the lift down to the snow-covered, gravelled drive. It was the first time Asteria had seen Harry in his wheelchair and she had shed a few silent tears when her friend’s husband had struggled to push himself up the front steps without help. Now she stood tightly grasping Draco by the hand, her face free of the signs of her recent weeping. Draco couldn’t help but be more than a little proud of her ability to pull herself together at moment’s notice.
Draco watched with interest as Harry balanced his chair perfectly on the two back wheels and rolled forward over the last step and into the entrance hall. He also noticed the many curious looks on the faces of the portraits hanging on the walls. He was certain the news of Harry’s wheelchair would race like wildfire through the house at the first possible notice and that later his great grandfather Malfoy would interrogate him on the reason for letting such an unsavoury Muggle device inside the Manor. Sighing quietly, he decided he’d deal with the portrait later.
The two couples were now facing each other in silent contemplation. Draco, aware that he was staring, cleared his throat nervously and averted his eyes to a point just over Ginny Potter’s shoulder. “Cold, isn’t it?” he asked politely.
Ginny answered, “Yes, it is, but I’m glad it isn’t snowing.”
Asteria asked, “The roads were clear, then?”
“Yes, they were, but there still were a few slippery patches,” Ginny replied.
The awkward silence descended on the four of them again and Draco found he was trying to look everywhere but at Harry’s chair. Asteria squeezed his hand and he looked over to see a single tear rolling down her cheek. As Draco reached up to put an arm around his wife’s shoulders, Harry spoke.
“Draco, when Ron told me about Scorpius’ kidnapping, Ginny and I came as soon as we could.” Draco turned as Harry asked, “How are you holding up, my friend?”
The question was so sincere that Draco answered truthfully before he thought to fall back on the in-grained “stiff upper lip” mannerism he’d been brought up to exhibit at times such as this. “I… just barely,” he said, allowing all the fear he felt into his voice. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Harry rolled forward and offered his hand to Draco. As they shook, Harry said, “Ginny and I are here as long as you want company.”
Relief swept through Draco as he watched his wife and Ginny embrace and then hold each other at arm’s length, talking quietly. “It has been hard, not knowing,” he admitted.
Asteria chose that moment to ask, “Sweetheart, are we going to stand here in the hall all afternoon?”
Draco shook his head. “I suppose not, but I’m not sure where we should go,” he admitted. He turned to the Potters. “We keep most of the rooms down here closed up.”
“We understand,” Harry said with a glance at the closed doors to the drawing room.
It had been years since Draco had been in the drawing room. He couldn’t bring himself to open the doors to that room, much less venture inside, because it was the room where, all those years ago, he had been forced to identify Harry, Ron and Hermione so that his deranged aunt could call Voldemort back to the Manor—amongst other things. After the war, Draco had had the room sealed, and no one had gone inside for more than five years. When he’d married Asteria she’d taken it upon herself to keep that part of the house from falling apart. To this day, only his wife and mother ever entered and then, only four times a year to perform cleaning charms because they had to.
Draco looked pleadingly at his wife. “I can’t open the drawing room, Asteria. You know how I feel about that room.”
Asteria nodded and looked at the Potters. “We could go to the library upstairs, but we don’t have a lift…” she began, looking apologetically at Harry.
Harry and Ginny seemed to understand. “Asteria, I can shrink Harry’s chair and then levitate him up the stairs to the bench on the first floor landing,” Ginny offered. “Will that solve your problem?”
Asteria looked relieved as she nodded and whispered, “Sorry” as Harry rolled over to the staircase and slid out of his chair and onto the third stair using the board Draco had seen him use during his visit to The Groves. Ginny quickly miniaturized Harry’s chair and within moments the four were entering the warmth of the library.
“This seems like old times,” Harry said as they took seats in front of the fireplace. He held up a small, familiar case; his travelling chess set. “Care for a game while we wait?”
Draco couldn’t help smiling. “I accept your challenge,” he said. They quickly set up the board as Asteria and Ginny poured the tea, which Mabel had brought in at her mistress’ request.
“Does Narcissa know?” Harry asked, causing Draco to look at him in surprise.
“No. We haven’t told her,” he said, shaking his head. “She wasn’t well when she visited Christmas Day and left the next morning. Asteria wants to know more before we tell her; the more facts the better. She becomes distraught so easily these days,” he added sadly. He moved a pawn.
“You’ll have to tell her sometime,” Harry said. “She does have a right to know.”
“I know. Maybe once we hear from the kidnappers we’ll tell her.”
“You haven't heard anything from the kidnappers?” Harry asked as Draco moved his pawn to counter Harry’s second move.
“Nothing. Auror Boot said we should expect some sort of contact during the first twenty-four hours, though,” Draco replied. He glanced over at his wife. “I’m worried about Asteria,” he admitted. “She seems to be taking the waiting better than she was now that she has Ginny to confide in.”
Harry sighed. “The waiting and wondering and worrying are always hard to take. Ginny thought someone to talk to would help Asteria with the uncertainty. I know it can’t be any easier on you.” He moved his rook.
Draco sighed. “Scorpius has a good head on his shoulders, Harry. He’s learned every lesson in defensive magic I’ve taught him and seems to think clearly in stressful situations,” he began confidently, but couldn’t keep the worry out of his voice as he added, “I just worry what will happen if they torture him.”
Harry’s eyes flicked his direction and held his gaze, but he remained silent as if waiting for further explanation.
“My son has never experienced the Cruciatus Curse, Harry,” Draco explained in a low voice, which he hoped would not carry to Asteria. The subject always upset her and now that she had calmed down, he didn’t want to sadden her again. “By the time I was his age, I’d had it turned on me at regular intervals for minor or perceived infractions by several members of my family. Auntie Bellatrix was particularly fond of that curse and used it often when I didn’t progress fast enough during her Occlumency lessons,” he finished with a sneer, just to his disdain for his crazy aunt.
“I can imagine,” Harry murmured. “You’re worried what the curse, or something similar, will do to your son mentally?”
Draco nodded. He couldn’t answer.
“I can understand your concern. The Aurors will move as quickly as they can to find Scorpius,” Harry said. He paused as if waging an internal debate. Then, he said, “I suspect that where we find him, we’ll find other evidence as well. Ron does, too. We must have faith that as deranged as the lead suspect is, she won’t hurt your son more than she already has by kidnapping him… unless—” He stopped, leaving his sentence unfinished.
“Unless what?” asked Draco suspiciously.
“Unless she thinks you’re still helping the Aurors in some way,” Harry finished in nearly a whisper.
Draco sighed as he moved another pawn. “I’m not sure that makes me feel any better, but I have to keep faith, as you say, that we’ll get him back.” He stood up, walked to the fireplace and even though it didn’t need one, he put another log on the fire, all to cover up the traitorous tear that had escaped his left eye.
The whisper of tyres rolling towards him signalled that Harry had joined him. “Draco,” Harry said quietly, “it’s all right to be scared and to let others see that you’re scared. It was a hard lesson for me to learn, but it’s easier in the long run to let others know how you feel.”
Draco turned towards Harry. “How… how do you do it? Survive in that thing?” he asked bleakly, knowing that what he was really asking was how he was to survive if his son was hurt or killed by the kidnappers.
Harry seemed to understand. “Honestly?” he asked. Draco nodded. “One day at a time and sometimes only hour by hour. It’s hard at first because of the anger and other negative emotions. Doing something physical without magic helps a little, but sometimes the urge to hit something is just too strong and I have to be careful not to hurt someone. Eventually, the intensity lessens, but it’s always there and never really goes away.”
Draco closed his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“I am, too,” Harry murmured back.
As if by mutual unspoken agreement, they went back to the chess board and played in silence, finishing the first game and starting a second. Draco had forgotten just how good a player Harry had become over the years; either that or they were just evenly matched. No matter, though, because concentrating on the game meant he didn’t have to think about how much his son’s disappearance hurt and worried him. The afternoon became early evening, the light in the library changing with the coming of night; the familiarity of the game soothed Draco’s raw nerves as did the quiet murmurs from the two witches sitting across the room from the chess board. When they were nearly finished with their third game, Mabel came in to announce dinner.
“Finish up after dinner?” Draco asked Harry as they walked to the sitting room where a small table for four had been set up.
“Absolutely,” Harry smiled, “can’t let you beat me two games to one, can I?”
Draco chuckled. He was about to answer when a flash of something white or tan flitting from window to window against the darkening sky outside caught his attention. He wondered if it was the expected owl.
Asteria pulled him aside once they were in the sitting room. “Did you see that?” she asked, her voice tense and frightened-sounding. “I think it’s an owl.”
Draco nodded. “I did, but I think we need to stay in one place for it to find us, darling,” he said. “If it is an owl it will find us eventually. The house isn’t that big.”
Asteria sighed and walked to her place at the table. Draco followed her and soon the four of them were enjoying the simple but delicious meal. They were nearly finished when the tell-tale tapping of an owl at a window interrupted them. Asteria’s fingers wrapped around Draco’s hand briefly in a vice-like grip and he noticed Harry and Ginny exchanging looks as well. Slowly, he stood up and went to the window. A light-coloured eagle owl was sitting on the windowsill, a scroll of parchment tied to its leg.
Draco opened the window. The owl stayed on its side of the sill and offered its leg to him. As soon as he’d taken the parchment, the bird took wing, flapping with powerful wing-strokes that took it rapidly across the snow-covered garden and up over the wood surrounding the property. Draco stood watching the bird, not wanting to read what was written on the message.
“Let me check it for spells, Draco,” Harry’s voice came from behind him.
Draco closed the window and then handed the parchment roll to Harry who waved his wand over it several times.
“It’s clean,” Harry said, handing it back. “Hold it by the edges as you open it. There might be fingerprints on the parchment we can use to identify the suspect.”
Draco lowered the parchment and began unrolling it. When it was nearly open, Harry tapped it with his wand and the parchment glowed magenta for a moment. “Damn!” he swore. “The writer wore gloves and used a Muggle biro, so there’s nothing to trace.”
“Very clever,” Draco murmured, feeling deflated. He’d been hoping there would be something on the parchment that would be a clue of some sort.
“What does it say, Draco?” Asteria asked. The fear was back in her voice.
Draco turned his attention to what was written on the parchment. “‘My Dear Mr Malfoy’,” he read aloud, “‘by now you should have learned of your son’s kidnapping. At the moment, he is alive.’” In the background, he vaguely heard Asteria’s relieved sob, but chose to ignore it as he finished reading the ransom note. “‘If you want to see your son alive, you will desist from helping the Aurors and leave the amount of 50,000 Galleons as per further instruction at a specified drop-off location. You have been warned.’” He looked up at the others. “It isn’t signed,” he said, letting the parchment fall from his hand.
“Didn’t think it would be,” Harry murmured.
Draco felt a chair gently bump the back of his knees and he gratefully sank into it. “Oh Merlin,” he breathed, looking up at Harry. “I don’t have fifty thousand Galleons. What am I to do?”
Harry reached over and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Leave it to me and the Auror Office. Now that we know what they want, we can construct a plan of action.” He glanced over to where their wives sat huddled together on a sofa. “Will Asteria be all right?”
Draco nodded grimly. “I think so. Having the two of you here with us makes a big difference,” he said. He picked up the parchment and handed it to Harry. “Here, you’ll probably need this.”
Harry immediately contacted Ron. Since he couldn’t kneel for very long without his legs giving out, he sent him a Patronus message asking him to call him at the Malfoys.
“What’s up, mate?” Ron asked, his head suspended magically in the green flames of the sitting room fireplace.
“The ransom note arrived. I scanned it for dark magic and Portkeys before Draco opened it and it’s clean, no dark magic. I made a copy, so you can have the original for the files,” Harry said. “Also, the writer wore gloves and used a Muggle biro, so there’s nothing for the forensics blokes to analyse.”
“I’m sorry, Harry,” Ron said. “I know you were probably hoping the note would hold a clue or two. If the writer had used a dicta-quill, forensics might have been able to pinpoint the area where the quill had been purchased.” Harry nodded gravely in agreement as Ron asked, “How are the Malfoys holding up?”
“All right, but they’re very worried,” Harry replied. “Ransom’s high, so Draco’s worrying about finances. Ginny’s with Asteria trying to calm her down. We’ll be fine. I’ll let you know if we get anything else.”
“Right-o. Thanks, Harry,” Ron said. “We’ll get on this right away.” He opened his mouth to accept the parchment and withdrew from the flames as soon as Harry placed it in his teeth.
“So now we wait some more,” Harry heard Draco mumble behind him.
“That’s all we can do at the moment,” Harry said glumly. He turned his chair to face Draco. “You want Ginny and me to stay a bit longer or do you and Asteria need the privacy?”
“I’d like them to stay the night, Draco,” Asteria said from her seat on the sofa.
“Will you?” he asked, looking first at Ginny and then Harry.
Asteria addressed Ginny and Harry together, looking hopeful. “We have plenty of room, so it won’t be an inconvenience,” she said.
Harry caught Ginny’s gaze. He’d been hoping they could drive back to The Burrow mostly because he was in the habit of rising very early to start his exercises, but one look at his wife and he knew they would stay. “We’ll stay,” he said, and was surprised when Draco looked relieved.
Asteria stood up. “I know our home doesn’t have all the amenities for Harry’s safety, but I’ve been considering adding them to one of the bedrooms,” she said, looking pointedly at Draco. “Narcissa isn’t getting any younger and installing the right equipment might make it easier for her when she stays with us.”
Draco looked troubled for a moment and then nodded almost imperceptibly. “Which suite were you thinking of, dear?” he asked.
“The yellow one across from ours, if that’s all right with you,” Asteria replied.
Asteria looked at Ginny. “Come show me what Harry will need,” she said, suddenly all business. “And do you have bags in your van?”
Ginny stood as well. “I can get those later, Asteria,” she said as she followed Draco’s wife out of the sitting room.
When the two women had gone, Draco turned to Harry. “I don’t know about you, but I could use a Firewhisky. Will you have one with me?” he asked.
Harry smiled at his friend. “Just a small one, please. I’m taking everything in moderation these days,” he said, thinking of the wine he’d already drunk with dinner. He’d only had one glass, but Healer Stilwell had cautioned him that imbibing too much would interfere with some of his potions.
“Understandable,” Draco said. He summoned his house-elf and requested that she bring four glasses, a bottle of Firewhisky and a small bottle of red current rum. “For the ladies,” he said with a smirk. “Asteria only drinks on occasion and then only a tiny bit of Rum. I hope Ginny won’t mind.”
Harry smiled back at his friend. “She won’t mind one bit,” he said.
The yellow suite was beautiful at first glance; the pale yellow walls and darker yellow fabrics were bright and airy and inviting against the dark mahogany of the old-fashioned furnishings. However, when Ginny looked closer, she noticed the thread-bare carpet, the moth holes in the curtains and the worn patches on the white-painted mouldings where many hands seemed to have brushed the wood of the door frames and windowsills over the years. Only the antique dresser, bedside tables and bed frame glistened in the light from the oil lamps. The other furniture (a small settee, two armchairs, a low table and a writing desk which were grouped at the other end of the room) all showed signs of wear.
“What a lovely room!” she exclaimed. Then she frowned. “Are you sure you want to change things in here? Anything we put on the walls has to be affixed with a Permanent Sticking Charm so it won’t come loose.”
“Yes, I’m sure. This is Narcissa’s room. Some years ago she insisted we add an en-suite bathroom, so it’s already been changed once,” Asteria replied as she lit a fire in the hearth to take the chill from the room. “Draco and I consider it hers because she’s requested this room the last five times she’s come to stay with us. You know she has her own little house closer to Andromeda’s, don’t you?” Ginny nodded and Asteria continued, “The other bedrooms give her nightmares, so she won’t sleep in them. Draco and I sleep in his boyhood bedroom across the corridor and don’t use the master suite. It’s been closed up as long as the drawing room has. After the war, Narcissa refused to sleep there when Lucius went to prison because Voldemort had commandeered the suite for his own. When he didn’t sleep here at the house, Bellatrix used it.”
“I’m sorry,” Ginny murmured.
“Don’t be,” Asteria said with a sigh. “It’s ancient history that’s not very nice. Ginny, I love my husband enough to understand that even though we own this mansion, it will never be restored to what it was when he was a boy because of what happened here during the war. He can’t bear to open up rooms that hold so many ghosts and bad memories.” She stopped talking long enough to run a hand over the bed coverings and Ginny could tell she was lost in thought. Finally, Asteria shook herself and said, “Now tell me, what height should the bed be for Harry to get into it safely? Any changes we make will benefit Narcissa’s rheumatism.”
Ginny told her and between the two of them and their wands, they slowly transformed the room into one Harry could safely use: they lowered the bed, added a seat and grab bars in the bath and more bars around the WC.
When they were done, Asteria drew Ginny into a hug. “Thank you for letting me do this, Ginny. It’s given me something to take my mind off of Scorpius for a little while,” she sniffed.
“I’m glad I could help,” Ginny said as they parted. “Would you like us to put a silencing charm on the door in the morning? Harry gets up with the sun to do his physiotherapy before breakfast and I don’t want to bother you.”
Asteria shook her head. “I’m not sure Draco and I will get much sleep tonight. We have a lot to talk about regarding the ransom and last night I only dozed between fits of weeping. I’m not sure tonight will be much better.”
“Come get me up if you need to talk,” Ginny said as they doused the lamps and walked back to the sitting room.
They found Harry and Draco deep in conversation, each with a small glass of Firewhisky in their hands. Ginny tried hard not to look at Harry when Asteria offered her a glass of red current rum for she knew they’d both break out into giggles; she much preferred what the men were drinking. However, in deference to Asteria, she accepted a dainty glass of the rum and went to sit next to her husband.
A/N: Just a quick note to say thank you to my pre-beta team of Jedi34, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple, Rosina Ferguson and RSS. They’re always willing to let me know what is needed to make this story its best. My other thank you goes to Aggiebell, my beta. She found lots of places to put commas where I decided I hadn’t needed them this time round! Thanks for that!