He felt it before anything. A sharp, painful throb, coincident with his heartbeat, reverberated through his skull making him wish he was unconscious—or better yet, dead. When Draco opened his eyes, he let out a string of curses. His room was Charmed to shut out all light, yet somehow, a tiny sliver was peeking around one of his windows, and the thin line of sunshine seemed to stab straight into his brain.
He shut his eyes again and cast about desperately for a Sober-Up potion. He typically kept a ready supply in his nightstand drawer and, to his relief, found that he hadn’t yet depleted it. He’d need to stock up soon, however, and he tried to make a mental note to stop at the Apothecary to replenish a few ingredients.
Uncorking the vial, he tossed the potion back, wincing as the horrible-tasting stuff slid down his throat. Within five minutes, he felt better, though he knew that he’d had too much to drink the night before to be cured with a single dose. But at least it was manageable now.
With a heavy sigh, Draco sat up, blinking sleepily and glancing around his room. It was the same room he’d grown up in, and the one to which he’d retreated when he and Astoria gave up any pretense of marital felicity some seven years before. She slept across the Manor in her own suite of rooms, and what she did there, he didn’t care to know. All he knew was that she hadn’t broken the Fidelity Clause in their marriage arrangement. The line of infidelity was well-stated and explained in the marriage contract, and anything up to that line was not considered cheating. He wouldn’t have cared if she had, but he knew that she had wanted the Marriage Bonus of ten thousand Galleons if she was faithful for ten years. They’d passed that mark in February, just two months prior, and in a way, she was free to do whatever she wished.
He snorted. What utter shite.
His whole life was utter shite.
His father, banished from England, had taken his mother and moved to France, leaving Draco in charge of the company at home. He’d been slowly dying inside every day since, doomed to a miserable existence, a job he hated, a loveless marriage, and almost nothing worth getting out of bed for.
As if his body was used to this train of thought, Draco’s gaze now fell on the wall opposite his bed. It was covered nearly floor to ceiling with framed photos of the one good thing in his life: Scorpius. He grinned automatically, his eyes coming to rest on the most recent addition, a photo of he and Scorpius fishing only the month before. He had every intention of covering every square inch of the walls with pictures of his son. Scorpius was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and Draco had no intention of missing a single moment of his life.
Briefly, he wondered where his son was, but then he remembered that his mother had come for a visit—a month ago. She’d taken to helping Scorpius get ready for school in the morning, and like every morning since her arrival, Draco was very grateful for her presence. Astoria had long ago stopped being a mother to Scorpius in every way except the title. Before Narcissa’s visit, Scorpius had developed the habit of waking Draco up and talking nonstop until he stepped through the Floo to his school. While Draco treasured many of those moments with only Scorpius, on mornings like this one, he appreciated the solitude.
However, it couldn’t last all day, and he had a few important things to take care of. First and foremost, it was Astoria’s birthday. He couldn’t have cared less, but Scorpius, who loved his mother despite her distance, had been working on a plan to do something special for her for a week. Draco had forgotten a vital piece of the surprise—a birthday card Scorpius had spent hours creating—at his office the day before, and needed to stop in to retrieve it. There was also an important board meeting that afternoon, so he could go a bit early and prepare for that. Scorpius was staying home from school for the day to complete a few last minute tasks necessary for his surprise; they’d cleared it with his teachers beforehand.
Draco rubbed the back of his neck and yawned. He was less than two months from turning thirty-one, and if he thought about it too much, he’d fall into a well of despair—again. Twice over the last seven years, he’d needed help from his friends to get out of terrible mental states. He’d never considered the most drastic option, but he’d spent months wallowing in the muck of the mess that was his life.
He had only himself to blame. Well, his parents and the bloody awful marriage contract they’d concocted with Astoria’s parents, too. They’d been so desperate to marry him off to someone of ‘better standing’ in the wizarding world that the engagement had been hurried and the wedding slapped together before anyone had time to breathe or reconsider. He’d gone along with it because he had never expected anything else. His parents had grown to love each other, so he’d assumed it would be the same with him and Astoria.
There was only one other incident in his life where he’d been more wrong, the evidence of which was forever burned into his skin.
Draco forced himself to get up and ready for the day. Another Sober-Up potion was in order, then he showered and dressed before heading down to the dining room. Scorpius was at the table, his mostly eaten bowl of oatmeal beside him. He was intently focused on a piece of parchment, upon which he was applying liberal use of ink.
“Morning, Buddy.” Draco ruffled his son’s hair as he passed him on the way to the side table.
Scorpius barely noticed him as he continued with his writing.
Narcissa breezed into the room as Draco perused the offering on the buffet. “Morning, Darling.” She resumed her seat beside Scorpius, the newspaper already open and her croissant half-eaten. “I was just speaking with the cook about dinner tonight.”
“Already taken care of,” Draco muttered under his breath as he took a sip of coffee.
Narcissa didn’t even look at him. “What’s that?”
“Morning, Mother.” He quickly filled his plate and sat on the other side of his son. “What are you drawing?”
Scorpius didn’t answer right away; he was lost in a world of his own making, the quill flying over the page. Draco glanced at it and saw that the page contained mainly a diagram, with a few notes scattered around it.
Draco looked at his mother, who smiled fondly. “He’s so like you were at this age.”
“Except that he’s imagining forts and castles in the woods outside. I was focused on what I was going to try and wheedle out of you and father.” He gave her a pointed look.
Narcissa tutted and returned to the paper.
Finally, Scorpius set down his quill and sat back to admire his work. “Dad, there’s something I want to show you.”
“Yeah? All right, sure. Your drawing?” Draco took another sip of tea.
His son blinked at him, then shook his head. “No. This is for something else. For school.” Scorpius’s gray eyes, shining with excitement, looked so much like Draco’s once had. “I found this really amazing spot on the way to the creek yesterday. I think it would be perfect for a tree fort. Miss Granger showed us these things called pulleys. You use ropes and buckets and things, and you can lift heavy things from the ground all the way up to the fort! It’s going to be great. I can haul my rock collection up!”
It took every ounce of parenting skills Draco possessed not to point out that they had magic, which could easily help move the rocks and anything else Scorpius might want moved. But the light in his son’s eyes, the joy, the anticipation, were too much, and Draco merely smiled.
“I can’t wait to see it.” His son couldn’t use magic, so really, there was no harm in him setting up some system to aid in the rearranging of his treasures. “What did you call them? Pulleys?”
Scorpius nodded excitedly, then pulled out a blank piece of parchment. “I’ll show you.” He quickly sketched out a picture of what he wanted to do. Draco smiled as he watched the drawing of a seven-year-old emerge on the paper showing a tree, a flat platform some ten feet up, and some circles and lines to represent the mechanism. “See, I’m up here.” Scorpius pointed to the platform. “And I pull the rope like this.” He pointed to one side of the paper. “The rope slides over this pulley here.” He indicated to a large circular object at the edge of the platform. “And when I pull, it raises the bucket, here. It’s supposed to make it easier than trying to pull with only a rope. Miss Granger told us all about it yesterday.”
“Did she?” Draco made as though to examine the drawing closer. “Well, I look forward to hearing more about it.”
“So you’ll help me, Dada?” Scorpius looked at him with such eager anticipation that Draco couldn’t possibly say no.
“I’d love to, Son. I’m not sure where to find these pulley things, though.” Perhaps he’d have to ask Miss Granger about them. The thought of speaking to Hermione, one of the teachers at his son’s school, didn’t fill him with dread as it had in the beginning; in fact, it had quite the opposite effect, which was alarming. This had been happening with increasing frequency over the last year or so, though he refused to pay attention to the way his heart skipped when he saw her, or the way his palms went sweaty when he was forced to speak to her. So, really, it was dread after all, but for a very different reason.
Scorpius rolled up his drawing, held it out, and Draco sealed it without a word. It was an automatic gesture, one that had happened between them dozens of times. “I want to show you the spot this morning. Can I, Dada? Please? After breakfast?”
Narcissa cleared her throat. “Remember it’s your mother’s birthday, Scorpius.”
Draco met his son’s anxious gaze. “We’ve got time for a little walk, Mother. It’s something of a tradition. Scorpius has a plan for Astoria, but it’s for tonight at dinner. I’ve got the entire morning off, and I intend to spend it with my son.”
Scorpius beamed, then quickly hopped off his chair. “Great. I’ll go get my things.” He ran from the room without waiting for a reply.
“What’s all this about pulleys?” Narcissa arched an eyebrow. “Sounds Muggle to me.”
Draco bit back a retort that might have bordered on rude. “Mother, you know the school he attends teaches the students about the Muggle world.”
Narcissa sighed. “Yes, though I don’t see why you insist on putting him there. You got on just fine without learning about… about pulleys and ropes and such contraptions.”
“I hardly think we should hold my childhood up as some paragon of excellent rearing.” He gave her a pointed look. “We both know you and Father raised me to be a prejudiced little shit.”
“Draco!” Narcissa affected a shocked expression. “Such language.”
“You care more about the words I say than the substance of what I said.” Draco shook his head. He’d had this conversation with his mother more times than he liked to consider. “Astoria and I believe it’s in his best interest to be exposed to the Muggle world. It will help him to avoid making the same mistakes this family has been making for generations.”
Narcissa tutted. “Astoria. Where is she, anyway?”
Draco shrugged. “Don’t know, don’t much care.”
“That’s your wife you’re speaking of, you know.”
Draco stood and took one last bite of his croissant. “In name only, mother. We’ll see you soon.” He waved goodbye and strode from the dining room, and as he made his way through the large house, Scorpius came thundering down the grand staircase. Draco nearly laughed at seeing his son.
Scorpius had put on a backpack, stuffed to bursting with who knew what. In one hand he had a bucket, and in the other, a long length of rope. “Ready, Dada?”
“Quite ready. Lead the way.”
Without a word, Scorpius handed him the bucket and slid his free hand into Draco’s. There was something infinitely precious about the feel of his son’s hand in his, the simple act of a child who loved and trusted without reserve. He never failed to be amazed by it.
Once they were outside, Scorpius started to describe, in detail, the place where they were headed. Draco let him talk for about ten minutes before he had to interrupt.
“Score, stop for just a moment.”
They both stopped walking and Draco turned to face his son. “I left the card you made your mum at my office. You worked on it yesterday when you joined me after school and we both forgot it. I’m going to pick it up this afternoon when I go into the office for my meeting.”
Scorpius nodded once. “All right, Dada. Just don’t forget.”
“I won’t. And I’ll be home in time for dinner. Is your Grand’Mere helping you with your mother’s treat?”
“Yes. Miss Granger said it was fun to bake biscuits, and Grand’Mere promised she wouldn’t take over.” Scorpius pointed to a spot in front of them. They were halfway through the cleared portion of the estate, headed toward the woods. “We go in right there.”
“Lead the way.” Draco grinned as Scorpius resumed his detailed description of his plans for the tree fort—which had yet to be built, though Draco had no intention of denying his son this small pleasure. He’d have the fort set up in no time, and then he’d only have to procure whatever items were required for the pulley business. He’d probably need to ask Miss Granger where he should look for pulleys and… whatever else he’d need.
They walked a good five minutes into the woods before Scorpius paused, glancing to either side with an adorably thoughtful expression. After a moment, he pointed to their right. “See that big tree with the three trunks that split off from one near the ground? That’s the tree.” Without waiting for a response, he set off for the tree.
Draco chuckled and followed behind, wishing he had remembered to change out of his dragon-hide shoes before their traipse through the woods. He’d known they’d be visiting the creek but thought these shoes would be adequate. It turned out they were rubbing his ankles, so he cast a quick Cushioning Charm to minimize the damage. Scorpius started talking as soon as he joined him, showing Draco exactly where every board would go, every screw.
“I want it built the Muggle way. With beams and supports and a drill.” He looked up at his father. “You can do all of that, right?”
Draco looked up into the tree. It was massive; the three trunks were easily as big around as a Quaffle. He was sure it was sturdy enough, but he didn’t know anything about building something the Muggle way. “Tell you what, let’s talk to Miss Granger and find out exactly what’s involved.”
Scorpius nodded. “We can talk to her tomorrow.”
“That sounds fine, Son.” Draco paused. “Or I could put something up right now.”
Scorpius scrunched up his nose. “Thanks, Dada. But I’d rather wait and speak with Miss Granger. But there’s something else I want to show you. Come on!” He grabbed Draco’s hand and started pulling him through the woods.
Draco could only laugh and allow himself to be led farther in. Another five minutes brought them to the spot by the creek they frequented. It had a wide area with rocks, a deeper area for swimming, and a cleared beach on the bank that was perfect for resting. Scorpius ran to the edge and pulled off his socks and shoes, then splashed straight into the water. The pure delight and determination on his face made Draco’s heart swell.
They came to the creek every year on Astoria’s birthday, so this part of the routine was easy. He Conjured a blanket and spread it on the ground, just far enough from the water’s edge to stay dry. Then he sat down and watched his son, who spent a few minutes splashing before he started building a dam of rocks. Draco remained on the blanket, and after a little while longer, Transfigured a pillow out of a rock and laid down. He rested his hands on his chest and closed his eyes, enjoying the sounds of the creek and the rocks Scorpius was moving around clunking together.
He might have dozed off. “Yes, son?”
“Can I ask you something?”
Draco chuckled. “Of course.”
“What was your favorite year in school?”
The question was so surprising that Draco turned to look at his son. Scorpius was very focused on one section of his dam, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Why do you ask?”
“Miss Granger said her favorite year was her fourth, so I wondered about you, since you went to school with her. She’s so wonderful. I can’t imagine liking any school year more than this one because she’s one of my teachers. My favorite teacher.”
Draco looked back up at the trees overhead. “Did she say why that was her favorite year?”
“It was lots of fun, she said.” Scorpius paused while he placed a particularly difficult rock. “She got a little sad, though. She said the end of the year was upsetting and stopped talking about it. But before that, it was her favorite.”
Draco knew that at the end of fourth year, the Dark Lord returned and killed Cedric Diggory, which was undoubtedly the sad thing she’d remembered. Until then, however, it would have been all about the Triwizard Tournament for her, and she’d been courted by Krum, which Draco hadn’t forgotten.
But for Draco, that year had been the start of increased tensions at home, though he hadn't understood what was happening until much later. His father had started acting strangely over the summer, short with his family and increasingly anxious. That growing tension had been obvious throughout the year, even though Draco hadn’t seen his parents at all. He’d picked it up through things his mother said—and things she didn’t.
“Third year,” he said finally. “It was the last year I was truly carefree in school. I had fun with my friends, played Quidditch, and was generally happy.”
He subconsciously rubbed his forearm where the Dark Mark still marred his skin.
“Did you have fun in fourth year? I know you weren’t friends with Miss Granger, but you had your own friends, right?”
“Yes, I definitely had fun that year. There was a ball on Christmas Day, and—”
“Did you go with Mummy?” Scorpius’s eyes were bright.
Draco chuckled. “No, I didn’t know your mother then.”
That answer seemed to satisfy Scorpius and they were quiet again for a while longer.
Draco was in a very good mood when he arrived. He’d dressed in his favorite suit—a light gray ensemble paired with a crisp white shirt and black tie. He’d even taken a bit of care with his hair, though he didn’t know why. To the casual observer, it might appear as though he’d dressed up for his wife’s birthday. But Draco knew the only reason she was joining them for dinner was because of Scorpius.
He carried his suit jacket separately; he wouldn’t need it until later that afternoon, and he didn’t want anything to happen to it. When the lift dinged, he hopped off and smiled at Mildred, the ancient witch who greeted people and directed them throughout the Malfoy Industries various offices and floors.
“Afternoon,” he said brightly, grabbing the pile of mail off her desk that was intended for him.
Mildred scrambled up as he breezed past, hurrying to follow him. “Oh, Mr. Malfoy, wait just a moment.”
He held up a finger. “I’m not officially here yet, Mildred. I merely forgot something for my son. I’ll grab it, then sit in my office reviewing the quarterly numbers before this afternoon.”
As he neared his office door, Mildred became more insistent. “Please, Mr. Malfoy, I wish you would wait and—”
But Draco’s thoughts were elsewhere; he disregarded her pleading and opened the door, his focus on sifting through the pieces of mail in his hands. He’d taken two steps into his office when a sound distracted him, and he looked up to see his wife bent over his desk, her skirt hiked up, and Theodore Nott slamming into her with his trousers around his ankles. One hand was fisted in her hair, and as he yanked her head back, she let out a keening wail, her eyes fluttering as Theo emptied himself.
Draco could barely hear over a roaring sound in his ears, but when Theo released Astoria’s hair, she fell limp onto the desk. He felt completely numb and couldn’t produce a single, coherent thought. He cleared his throat, and both Astoria and Theo looked up at him. Astoria’s eyes widened and she hurriedly stood, adjusting her clothing.
“Draco!” she cried, her cheeks burning.
Theo met Draco’s gaze with a defiant one of his own as he tucked himself away and righted his trousers.
Somehow, Draco’s body moved toward his desk without him consciously deciding to. “Don’t mind me. I left something in one of my drawers that I need to get for Scorpius.” Theo didn’t move, despite the fact that he was behind Draco’s desk. Astoria’s mouth kept opening and closing without any sound coming out.
Draco reached for the middle drawer on the right side, pulled out a bright pink envelope, then shut the drawer. He headed for the door, his ears still ringing. Halfway there, he pivoted to address Astoria, careful not to meet her eyes. “Don’t forget you’re expected for dinner tonight. Your son has a surprise for you.” Then he looked at Theo, who was still staring at him as though daring him to say something, challenge him—anything. But Draco could only shake his head. “No need to follow me out.”
Mildred was by the door, and she followed him after he exited through it.
“Oh, Mr. Malfoy, I’m so—”
“You knew they were in there?” he asked quietly.
“Well, I did. Yes, Sir, but I had no idea what they were doing!” She wrung her hands. “What do you need me to do, Mr. Malfoy?”
Draco gave her the best smile he could manage. “I’d like for you to do nothing, Mildred. Just… carry on. I’ll take care of this… this situation… later.”
“Of course, Mr. Malfoy. If you say so, Sir.”
“I do.” He nodded once. “I think I’ll just step out until the board meeting.”
Mildred gave him a half-smile, standing behind her desk as though she had no idea what to do with herself.
Draco boarded the lift once more, his suit jacket in hand and completely forgotten. He didn’t know what to do with himself either; everything felt numb. It was as though his brain was stuck, frozen in the moment when he registered what his eyes were telling him. Everything shut down, and he could only move on auto-pilot.
When the lift dinged, announcing his arrival in the lobby of the building, he stepped off in a daze.
“Excuse me, Mr. Malfoy.”
He blinked, his brain finally kicking into gear as his eyes focused on Samuel G. Pennyfeather standing before him. “What?”
Pennyfeather motioned behind Draco. “You’re, well, blocking the way, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco spun around to see what he was blocking only to find himself just outside the door of the lift. The doors were attempting to shut but his presence made that impossible. He turned back and saw that there was a small crowd of people around Pennyfeather, muttering to each other and giving him strange looks.
He snapped into action. “My apologies. My mind is quite elsewhere at the moment. Forgive me.” He then stepped aside to allow the group to board the lift. Ignoring the whispers that followed, he went down a corridor and stopped, leaning against the wall. His arms gave out and he dropped the carefully pressed suit jacket, as well as the card he’d collected for Scorpius. Then he slid down the wall, his legs sliding out in front of him. After a moment, he drew his knees up and rested his arms on them.
What in the blazes had just happened?
He’d walked in on Theodore Nott—an important shareholder in Malfoy Industries and one of his best friends—shagging his wife, who was bent over his desk as though they did it all the time. They hadn’t, of course; the intricate and complex Fidelity Charms were infallible, but there was no telling how long they’d been doing… other things.
Out of the two of them, he was probably more shocked by Theo. Draco had trusted him implicitly. They’d had similar upbringings, though Theo’s father hadn’t gotten quite as involved with the Dark Lord as Draco’s had. As a result, Theo’s father, though bearing the Mark, hadn’t failed an important assignment at the Ministry of Magic, hadn’t been sent to Azkaban and then forced to watch as his son was given an impossible task designed to destroy his whole family.
After the war, they’d formed a fast, solid friendship—or so Draco had thought.
And maybe it was still like that. Perhaps Theo had simply fallen in love with Astoria, and they’d waited until she’d secured her ten-year bonus before crossing the final line.
But Theo’s expression toward Draco had been… odd. He didn’t appear at all contrite or ashamed or even surprised that Draco had caught them in the act. It also struck him as bizarre that they’d been in his office, using his desk for their tryst. It felt personal, which he couldn’t understand.
As for Astoria, he felt only emptiness. There was no grief, no sadness, certainly no heartache. He had never loved her, though his affections for her had been warm once, right after the birth of Scorpius. After a few months, he’d realized that what he’d been feeling was only extreme gratitude toward her for giving him the most precious gift imaginable.
His relationship—or lack thereof—with Astoria was one of the reasons he’d spent the last five years feeling as though his life was a complete failure, and wondering if he would spend the rest of his days dreading every sunrise.
Scorpius was the only thing that kept him going, and he was the best thing in Draco’s world.
Now that he’d found Astoria cheating, he wasn’t sure what to do. Divorce wasn’t unheard of in the wizarding world, but it was extremely frowned upon in the upper echelons of pureblood society. Scorpius loved his mother, but he’d never had parents who genuinely liked each other, much less loved each other. As sad as it was, Draco didn’t think Scorpius would be too affected—at first, anyway. If he and Astoria divorced, Scorpius’s life wouldn’t be dramatically altered. Astoria would simply cease to call the Manor her home; she would probably still see Scorpius almost as much as she currently did. It would only be later, when Scorpius saw his mother or father with someone else and truly in love, that he might wonder about his parents’ relationship.
But Draco would never lie to his son, and he deeply regretted not providing a truly loving home for him. For as many faults as they had, Draco’s parents had always loved each other; he had never doubted that. And they’d always put family before anything, though their understanding of that idea had been skewed at times.
Scorpius was secure in his father’s love, and Draco felt sure that he knew his mother loved him as well. Draco and Astoria had always been there for him, side by side when need be, presenting a united front. In reality, however, they could have been very good friends for all the affection or interest they showed one another. Or, friends, anyway. Maybe just acquaintances.
Draco groaned and dropped his head onto his arms. He should have split from Astoria years ago. At least then, Scorpius would have seen something honest, and who knows? Maybe they’d both have found someone they truly loved by now and been able to show their son not only what love really looks like, but also that ‘family’ can mean lots of things. After all, hadn’t Narcissa, Scorpius’s grandmother, been more of a mother to him than Astoria? But at the same time, Astoria had always been there for Scorpius, loved him in her own way, cherished him more than anyone, much as Draco did. Their relationship was different than his with his son; it was less demonstrative, less constant, but it was there nonetheless.
He’d get a divorce. He had to. There was no way he could go forward in his life now that he’d seen… that. He’d had enough of putting his own happiness aside, and he wanted to be free to explore whatever might come his way.
The alarm on Draco’s watch went off and he jumped. He chuckled lightly to himself as he turned it off. He had fifteen minutes before his meeting began, and he needed to get ready and put this matter out of mind for a while. It would be difficult, perhaps, to sit at the table with Theo, but he harbored the man no ill will. If he wanted Astoria, then it wouldn’t be long before he could have her.
Draco stood and brushed off the seat of his trousers. Then he picked up the suit jacket, grimacing at the wrinkles. No matter; Mildred could work wonders with her wand at getting stains and wrinkles out of clothes. He supposed it was why his father had hired her, as he couldn’t be bothered to do anything for himself.
The thought made Draco pause, realizing that he, too, had simply relied on the witch to sort him out. He resolved to ask her to teach him the spells—but not today.
He picked up the card Scorpius had made and smiled at it. He’d used yellow paper—Astoria’s favorite color—and drawn a big, friendly sun in one corner. Then he’d drawn some rudimentary flowers—tulips, her favorite—growing out of a line of green grass. He’d then asked Draco to charm the sun to ‘shine’ and the flowers to ‘dance.’ Inside, the card read: “Mummy, you’re my sunshine,” and had a large, red heart drawn on the entire left side.
He made his way back to the lift and pressed the call button. He hummed as he waited for it, then he hummed while it carried him back up to the suite of offices that housed Malfoy Industries. When the doors opened, everything looked the same as it had only an hour earlier, but he felt different. Lighter. He’d been in a good mood before, but this time he merely felt peace. He’d made a decision about his future that would, he hoped, lead to something positive.
That had to be better than the mire he’d been in for far too long.
“Good afternoon again, Mildred. Is my office clear now?” He smiled serenely at Mildred, who looked as though she might strain a blood vessel.
The old witch blanched and stood as though to prevent him from going in there again. But instead of moving, she stayed behind her desk, wringing her hands. “Oh, Mr. Malfoy, yes. It’s… they’re gone. But Sir—”
“Let me know when everyone arrives, would you?” He held out the jacket with an apologetic shrug. “It was fine when I arrived earlier. I’m afraid I rather rumpled it a bit just now.”
Mildred took the jacket without a word and began silently casting the Charm to press the wrinkles from the garment. When Draco started for his office, she called him back. “Sir, please, this will only take a moment.”
“I’d like you to teach me this Charm, Mildred.” Draco motioned toward the jacket. “I was thinking just now, and I think I’m capable of getting my own wrinkles out.”
“Of course, Sir, anything you say.”
She held out the now wrinkle-free jacket, and Draco took it from her. As he slid his arms through, he again made to go to his office—he was down to only seven minutes before the meeting was due to begin—but Mildred called his name once more.
“Mr. Malfoy, Sir, everyone’s here already. They’re in the conference room.”
He frowned slightly. “They’re all here? Even Simmons?” Herbert Simmons was never less than ten minutes late to anything.
Mildred began to wring her hands again. “Even Simmons, Sir. They’ve been here at least twenty minutes. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Draco’s confidence faltered but he didn’t let it show. “Ah, I’ve probably missed a memo about a time change. No matter, thank you, Mildred.”
She seemed extremely anxious, but Draco concluded it was because of what had happened earlier. She’d been with her boss when he discovered his wife in flagrante delicto—on his desk, no less. She was probably expecting him to be angry or lash out, and she would be the most likely target, considering she was the only one who knew about the indiscretion outside of the two participants and himself. But Draco wasn’t feeling the least bit vindictive, even toward Astoria and Theo. It had simply been a shock to see them like that, right at the moment of release. It had been a very long time since he’d seen Astoria in such a state, as their sexual encounters had been primarily for the purpose of conception--once that had been achieved, there was no need for more. Besides, Astoria had always wanted the lights off—only a handful of times had she even wanted him to touch her.
The conference room was down another hall, and he hummed as he made his way there. Through the glass wall, he could see everyone present, the chair at the head of the table—his chair—empty.
When he opened the door, the room fell silent.
“Good afternoon! I apologize for my tardiness. I didn’t get the message that the meeting had been moved up.” He unbuttoned the jacket he’d just finished buttoning only moments before and started for his chair.
Theo stood up and held out a hand. “Draco, wait a moment.”
It was strange meeting Theo’s gaze now. The last time he had done so, the other man had been almost daring him with his eyes to make a scene, to shout, to fight him—something. Now his expression was entirely blank.
“What’s going on, Theo?” Draco glanced around at the other members of the board only to find that no one would look him in the eye.
Theo motioned to Fletcher McGivinns, Draco’s Chief Financial Officer. McGivinns fumbled with some papers on the table in front of him before he, too, stood up. “M-Mr. Malfoy. Um, yes. Well…” He stopped speaking and looked extremely uncomfortable.
“What is it, Fletcher?” Draco tried not to sound too worried, despite a growing feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach.
Fletcher looked at some of the other wizards and witches at the table; his lips moved but no sound came out. Theo cleared this throat, and Fletcher winced. “Yes. Right. Mr. Malfoy. The, uh, board has made a decision, and I’m afraid that you, uh, have been… voted out.”
Draco stared at him. Fletcher was very pointedly avoiding his gaze. “I’m sorry. I’ve been voted out? Of what?”
“This company.” Theo squared his shoulders and crossed his arms over his chest. Draco thought it was meant to be intimidating, but after seeing him with his pants down earlier, the effect was more comical than anything.
“This company? This company? You mean Malfoy Industries?” Draco sneered at Theo.
Theo shrugged. “So we’ll change the name. But you’re finished here, Draco.”
Draco saw Theo’s hand flex and knew he was itching to draw his wand. As much as Draco wanted to hex him to within an inch of his life, he suspected that was exactly what Theo was expecting. His mind was spinning with this second blow of the day. Draco clenched his jaw and glanced around the table. Still nobody would look at him, and he concluded that Theo had orchestrated the whole thing. Was Astoria involved as well? When he had walked in on them he’d thought it had been purely coincidental, but now he wondered if it might have been an indication of much, much more than just an affair.
“Fletcher? Was this his idea?” Draco asked through gritted teeth, pointing at Theo. When the CFO resumed his seat and acted very busy with his papers, Draco moved down the table. “Carter? What about you? Will you tell me what in Merlin’s name is going on here? No? Dimitrov? Anderson? Anybody?”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” said Theo smugly. “We’ve important company business to discuss, and the information is privileged.”
In that moment, Draco saw red.
He forgot about his wand and wanted nothing more than to slam his fist into Theo’s jaw and wipe the superior smirk off his face. Clenching his fists, he made as though he would jump over the table to get at his former friend.
Theo’s confidence wavered as he took a step back. But he and Draco were on opposite sides of the table, and Draco had finally given Theo the reason he needed to make a move.
“Security!” Theo called with glee.
Before Draco could blink, two large, brutish wizards entered the room behind him. He went for his wand, but the men were faster. One of them wrenched his arm up behind his back, forcing him to drop his wand. The other picked it up and pocketed it, then took Draco by the other arm and the two of them hauled him out of the room.
“This isn’t over, Nott!”
Theo grinned and gave him a small wave.
The security detail led him out of the room and all the way to the lift. One of them pressed the call button as they stood there, keeping Draco’s arm pinned painfully behind him. When the doors opened, they pushed him inside. Draco felt the tell-tale sensation of the wards recognizing him, then resetting as he crossed the barrier of the lift. He couldn’t have exited if he’d tried, and even though he desperately wanted to—wanted to run back into the conference room and confront Theo—he didn’t. Instead, he adjusted his robes and glared at the men. They retreated and Draco’s eyes fell on Mildred. She had a sad, horrified expression on her face.
“Goodbye, Mr. Malfoy! I do so hope your day improves!”
When the doors opened and he stepped out, he didn’t pause. No, his stride was purposeful as he went to the Apparating center of the wizarding building, and from there he went straight to the Leaky Cauldron. He hadn’t had a drink all day, and he was well overdue considering everything that had happened.
How could it have started so well? Was it possible that it had been only that morning that he and Scorpius had planned to build a tree fort together? Using a drill, of all things?
Three hours and an untold number of drinks later, Draco’s watch alarm went off. He scowled at it as he realized it meant he only had ten minutes to get home because Astoria’s birthday dinner was due to commence in fifteen. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do less than seeing his wife just now, but there was no way he would disappoint his son. Besides, he had Scorpius’s card, and he would not fail to deliver that.
When he stood up from the bar, he stumbled, and Tom handed him a little pouch of Floo powder. “No Apparating for you.”
Draco took the bag with a grimace and lurched to the large fireplace. He threw in the powder, but when the green flames sprung up, he couldn’t think of what to say. After standing there, swaying on the spot for at least two minutes, someone nudged him. Draco blinked, remembering himself. “Malfoy Manor!”
He was sick into a potted plant as soon as he stepped out of the fireplace at home, but at least he’d made it. Narcissa found him like that, bent low over the large, wide ceramic pot, expecting more to follow and not having the wherewithal to make himself move.
Narcissa rushed to his side. “Oh! Draco! Are you all right?”
“Fine, Mother. Just a bit… a bit sloshed, I think.”
Narcissa frowned. “Draco! I’m astonished at you! We’re all waiting!” She hauled him to his feet and looked into his eyes. He couldn’t focus on her, so he simply waited for whatever she was going to say. But something she saw softened her expression, and she pursed her lips. “Go. Take a Sober-Up. I know you’ve a stash in your nightstand. And for goodness sake, change your clothes. You smell like a liquor store. I’ll have Kippy see to it that you don’t pass out on the stairs.” She released him and bustled from the room.
Draco sighed, and before he was finished exhaling, Kippy, the only house-elf who remained in their service, appeared. He scowled and started toward his room. About five minutes into the long journey from the fireplace to his suite, he was thankful for the elf’s presence. She’d kept him from tripping and falling, then retrieved a vial from his drawer, uncorked it, and forced it into his hand.
Draco scowled at the vial but downed it anyway. Thirty seconds later, reality hit him like a Bludger to the head, and it was only the thought of Scorpius downstairs that propelled him forward. Rather than change, he cast a few freshening spells on his clothes, redid his tie, ran his fingers through his hair so that at least it looked deliberately messy, then gave himself a pep talk that he hoped would get him through what felt like an impossible dinner.
When he finally felt like he wasn’t going to implode, Draco headed down to the dining room. He had Scorpius’s card in hand, though he had to keep reminding himself not to destroy it every time he had the urge to clench his fists.
He heard Astoria’s laughter as he neared the room, and it grated on his nerves. He shoved that down, plastered on a smile that he intended for his son only, and crossed the threshold.
“Daddy!” Scorpius leapt from his chair and threw his arms around Draco’s middle.
It was exactly what he needed. Draco hugged him back, unwilling to let him go until Scorpius finally said, “Um, Dad?”
Draco chuckled and released him, feeling like he could breathe properly for the first time in a long while. “Sorry about that, Buddy.” Then he knelt down, using Scorpius as a shield so that he could give the birthday card to his son.
Scorpius’s eyes lit up and he immediately spun around. “Happy Birthday, Mum!” He darted back across the room, holding the card out in front of him.
Draco watched Scorpius until he’d reached Astoria, then finally looked at his wife. She was watching him closely, and he saw fear and apprehension in her eyes.
Let her sweat a little.
He took a deep breath and followed Scorpius’s steps until he reached Astoria. “Happy Birthday.” He smiled, but it was tight and came nowhere near his eyes.
“Draco.” Her voice was breathy, trembling.
He could only incline his head, the forced, robotic smile still on his face. If she wanted more from him, she didn’t make any indication. He then walked around the table to sit beside Scorpius. It had been a difficult choice: should he sit beside her—close to her but not able to really see her—or across from her where she couldn’t be in his personal space, but he could still incidentally glance her way now and then. But his decision was easy, since even standing beside her made him anxious.
“Let’s sing!” cried Scorpius, clapping his hands once. “Grand’Mere?”
Narcissa laughed, the sound reminiscent of bells in Draco’s mind. She agreed to join Scorpius, and the two of them launched into a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ that made Draco smile. Before Scorpius was born, Draco couldn’t remember ever seeing his mother do anything silly, much less sing a song. As a grandmother, Narcissa was quite malleable; she would do almost anything Scorpius asked of her. So far, his whims were mostly of the adventurous nature, nothing dangerous.
Draco didn’t join in on the song. He simply couldn’t force himself to regard her with anything approaching kindness, not so soon after his discovery.
Astoria clapped when the song concluded and kissed Scorpius on the cheek. “Thank you, darling.”
“Shall we begin?” Narcissa clapped her hands once and food—all of Astoria’s favorite dishes—appeared on the table.
Draco was more reserved than usual; he couldn’t force himself to pretend that nothing had happened. Narcissa kept casting him strange looks, but he refused to give anything away over dinner. Thankfully, since Astoria was the focus of dinner, nobody asked Draco about his day. He’d have to tell his mother what had happened at work and about Astoria, but that could all wait. Even though this was Astoria’s birthday, his main concern was Scorpius. Narcissa must have picked up on the odd tension between her son and his wife because she went out of her way to make conversation and generally keep the atmosphere light and cheerful.
Scorpius talked almost nonstop about his tree fort, and Astoria, to her credit, seemed genuinely interested.
Draco ate sparingly; he wasn’t terribly hungry, but he knew that after a diet of only alcohol for the past few hours, he should get some sustenance into his body. After all, he had a long night of drinking ahead and he needed to be prepared.
The instant Astoria set her fork down, indicating she was finished, Scorpius jumped up. “Daddy, can we give it to her now?”
Draco chuckled, noting that both he and his mother were still eating. But Narcissa quickly set her fork down as well, so Draco nodded. “Do you need any help?”
“No.” Scorpius looked to Narcissa. “Grand’Mere will help me.” He reached for her hand and Narcissa stood, dabbing her lips with her napkin as she did.
“We’ll be right back.”
Draco’s blood froze at the realization that he was about to be left alone with Astoria. He desperately wanted to flee—follow his son, insist that his mother allow him the task of assisting—but he couldn’t seem to move.
“Draco,” Astoria began.
He sprang out of his seat to get away from her; even sitting across the table was too close when they were alone.
She stood as well, her expression desperate. “Please, will you listen to me?”
Draco scoffed and began pacing. “I fail to see what needs to be said.”
“I... I’m so sorry you saw that.” It seemed she wanted to say more, but she faltered under his cold stare.
“Not sorry it happened though,” he bit out angrily. She hadn’t hurt him, but he still felt slighted in the worst way. She had carried on an affair, allowing it to culminate at his place of work, right out in the open where anybody could have discovered it. They could have been found by people far worse for their respective images than himself: a reporter, disgruntled employee out for extortion, even their son. Scorpius had come to Draco’s office only the day before.
“What, do you suddenly care, or something?” She stood tall. “I thought we were long past that sort of thing, Draco.”
He scowled. “Yes, Astoria, I do care. I care that you two were shagging in the middle of the afternoon, at my place of business, in my office, on my bloody desk!” By the time he finished, he was shouting. “Did you care nothing for our family’s image? For the business? For your son?”
“We didn’t mean to. We were in there to talk, but then things... got a bit out of hand. But Theo assured me it would be safe! He cast Silencing Charms and warded the door so no one could enter!”
“Except it was my bloody office! He couldn’t very well keep me out with some flimsy wards!”
“You weren’t supposed to be there!”
Draco slammed his fist down on the table. Astoria flinched. He was about to say more but he heard footsteps—his mother’s heels—so he took a step back, his eyes flashing. “This isn’t aren’t finished.”
Narcissa and Scorpius returned them, bearing a tray of biscuits. Upon first glance, there appeared to be a large assortment. After a closer look, Draco saw that they were merely all decorated differently. There were cookies in the shapes of magical creatures, flowers, magical plants, as well as some that were distinctly muggle, including a football done in black and white to look just like the real thing. Vaguely, Draco realized Hermione must have sent Scorpius some of her cookie cutters.
Astoria clapped her hands together and beamed at Scorpius. “They’re lovely, darling! Did you make them?”
“Grand’Mere helped. A little.” He shrugged but it was clear he was proud of himself.
Draco met his mother’s eyes and saw her wink before turning to gaze adoringly upon her grandson.
“It looks like you worked very hard on these.” Draco picked up a Snitch to take a closer look. “This looks nearly like the real thing! I don’t know how I could possibly eat it. The metal might crack my teeth.”
Scorpius laughed. “I made that one especially for you, Dada. Go on, try it!”
Draco didn’t need to be told twice. He took a bite off one of the wings, delighted at how delicious it tasted. “Mm, this is great, Score.”
He smiled widely, then turned to his mother. “The rest are for you.”
Draco scowled as Astoria swept her hands down her robes. He knew she was thinking of her figure, it had been the most important thing to her throughout her pregnancy. After giving birth to Scorpius, she’d been single-minded in working to get her body to its pre-pregnancy state. Draco could only guess at her thoughts about being gifted a plate with over a dozen delicious, iced biscuits.
She managed a smile, however, and chose the smallest one on the platter: a flower. After a miniscule bite, she smiled at Scorpius. “It’s delicious, dear. Thank you.”
Scorpius’s smile faltered. “Oh, Mum, may Grand’Mere have one?”
“Of course!” Astoria replied eagerly.
Even though Narcissa had clearly noticed that he and Astoria were even more chilly than they had been, she didn’t say anything. It wasn’t long before Scorpius was yawning, and Draco realized it was nearly his bedtime. Draco told him to say goodnight to his mother and grandmother, then took him upstairs to put him to bed.
When Scorpius was completely ready, he snuggled under the covers and got comfortable. Draco sat on top of the bedspread, his back propped against the headboard.
“Are you ready to continue our story?” Scorpius had come home with a book Miss Granger had recommended and Draco, despite himself, was enjoying the story very much.
“In a minute. Dad, can I ask you something?”
Draco smiled. “Of course, son.” He was perfectly content now that he was away from Astoria and likely wouldn’t see her again that night. He was in no hurry to leave his son’s side.
“Do you think Mum liked her birthday?”
An image of her from earlier, eyes shut and lips parted in ecstasy, flashed through his mind. He just managed to keep himself from scowling. “I do. Why do you ask?”
“She never seems all that interested in what I’m talking about.” Scorpius shrugged. “Like my tree fort.”
Draco frowned. “I thought she was glad to hear what you had to say.” He had decided a long time ago never to disparage Astoria in front of Scorpius, to pretend as though everything was fine between them. He wondered briefly if this would be confusing when it came time to begin divorce proceedings, but he’d have to cross that bridge when he came to it.
“It’s never like you, though. You really listen. I can’t explain it.” He snuggled further under the covers, resting his head against Draco’s arm.
“I’m always here for you, Scorpius.” Draco bent down and kissed the top of his son’s head. “I love you.”
“Will you read now, Daddy?”
Draco smiled and opened the book. “Chapter twelve.”
He poured two fingers and went to the chair by the fire, ready to begin a night of wallowing. Tomorrow he would figure things out, find out where he stood financially, consider all of his options. Tonight—tonight was for forgetting.
Just as he sat down, before he’d even settled himself into the chair, someone knocked on his door. Assuming it was his mother who’d come to ask what was wrong, Draco called, “Come in,” hoping to send her away with a promise to talk in the morning.
He was shocked when Astoria walked in, her steps hesitant.
Draco was instantly alert, his entire body reacting to her presence in his personal sanctuary. He scowled and stood, tossing back the unfinished drink.
“Draco, I need you to hear me.”
He went back to the sideboard and set his glass down on the surface harder than he intended to. “Did you help him?” With determined movements, he poured himself another drink.
“What? Help who?”
Draco whirled around, his lip curled in revulsion. “Don’t play stupid with me, Astoria. Were you and Theo working together? Did you help him undermine me with the board? How long have you been—” He held up a hand, turning his head away from her as he gathered himself. “Never mind. I’m not doing this tonight.”
“I’m serious.” He threw back the second drink, set the glass back down, and went to the coat rack to retrieve his cloak. “This isn’t happening tonight.” He threw the cloak around his shoulders and walked past her to the door in three long strides. With one last glance, he saw that she wasn’t going to try and stop him again, so he continued through the door, walking determinedly toward the main fireplace.
If Astoria insisted on invading his private space, then he’d simply go somewhere else. He could get a drink—or four—lots of places, and the Leaky Cauldron would suit his needs just fine.
When he asked for another drink, Tom frowned and told him he should wait or order something to eat. Draco wasn’t much in the mood for such logic, so he paid his tab and headed into Diagon Alley. He’d find that seedy pub in Knockturn that wouldn’t turn him down, even though it was filthy and he generally avoided the area. It wasn’t a good practice to be seen in such a disreputable area of town, but needs must be met, and he needed another drink.
As soon as he stepped through the portal, however, a light flashed in his eyes.
“Mr. Malfoy! What do you have to say about the reports that Theodore Nott has taken over Malfoy Industries?”
Draco scowled as another flash went off. He realized it was a camera, and that someone had heard about what had happened. “What report?”
Another voice, this one female, shouted, “It was in the Evening Prophet! Front page, headline news!”
More flashes bombarded his senses, sending slices of pain through his alcohol-clouded brain.
“Care to comment on the rumors that he’s been working with someone behind the scenes?”
Draco gritted his teeth and tried to get away from what appeared to be a small crowd of reporters. It would be huge news, with far-reaching ramifications, that Malfoy Industries had fallen under some kind of takeover, and no doubt these reporters were trying to get a statement from him. It felt like they were surrounding him. He held his arms up as though to ward them off as he pushed through the small crowd, who were still clicking away and shooting questions at him.
If he’d been sober at all, he might have wondered why a crowd of reporters had been there waiting for him, but all he could think was that he needed to get away.
Once he made his way through the barrier of people, he stumbled down the alley. To his dismay, a few of the reporters were following him, still calling out questions.
Draco started trying the doors of the various shops. If he could get inside somewhere, he’d be safe. But of course, nothing was open at this late hour. It was nearly midnight, after all. He tripped and fell once, and the reports gained in him. Vaguely, he considered what the headline in tomorrow’s Prophet might read:
Disgraced and ousted Malfoy heir passes out drunk in an alley, pictures on pages 4-7.
Just when he’d almost given up, a door knob turned. He hadn’t been expecting it, so he’d thrown his full weight against the door. Subsequently, when it gave way, he stumbled into the room, where he promptly tripped on something and fell.
He put out his hands to brace himself, but to his surprise, he landed on a large pile of pillows with a loud thoomp.
The door clicked shut behind him, and Draco listened with bated breath as the crowd that had been following him came near. He saw their shadows through curtained windows, watched them pause and look around, then continue on their way. He let out a breath of deep relief, then turned over onto his back and gasped in surprise.
The room he’d entered was full of a hazy, purple fog, which twisted and danced in the air. Streams of light from candles played with the fog, making him feel like he was underwater. There was a heady scent as well, now that he thought about it, though he couldn’t place it. At best, it reminded him of Trelawney’s tower room at Hogwarts.
Then, startling him, a misty voice spoke. “Welcome, Mr. Malfoy. You’re right on time.”
Before he could properly register what was happening, he saw a shape moving above him and then something like sparkling crystals fell down onto his face. He wanted to wave them away, but he was suddenly so tired. His body felt... heavy, his protests unimportant.
It was nice here, and quiet, and he could just...
“Don’t you dare call Hagrid pathetic you foul—you evil—”
His head whipped around from the force of the blow, and his mind distantly registered that none other than Hermione Granger had just slapped him.