Thoughts of Pudding 2012

Chapter 27: Building Rome

Thoughts of Pudding by Brian64.

Chapter 27: Building Rome.

Saturday 29th June, 1996.

Harry maintained his eye contact with Draco as he considered the request. It did seem to be a fair trade after all, and the ferret did have a point. Shouldn't he be willing to look after the Black family members if he was their Lord?

"I told you, Malfoy, the answer is no. Potter won't be making any such vow to you, or to your mother. Tell him, Potter!" Moody ordered.

On the other hand, this was Malfoy, and he wasn't to be trusted. Besides, what was a Lord actually responsible for? Where was the–

His thoughts were interrupted again by Moody. "Potter, don't tell me you're actually considering it? I won't let you–"

"Why don't you shut up and let me think! And just for the record, you have no authority over me. I'm emancipated, remember?"

"This isn't the time for this, Potter!" Moody said, almost growling his response.

"You're damn right it isn't! This is the time for Black family matters to be decided, and since you aren't a Black you have no say in it!" Harry said angrily, and then caught himself before he said anything else. He calmed himself down before continuing. "Look, I do appreciate your help in looking out for me, I really do, but you don't get to order me around and tell me what you will or won't let me do. I had enough of that from Dumbledore, and I don't need anyone taking his place."

Moody narrowed his eyes and Harry could tell he wasn't going to let it go. He decided to get in first and try to reason with him.

"Weren't you the one who wanted me to think things through in order to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting emotionally? So why don't you let me do that then? Let me at least make a decision before you complain about it."

Moody's expression turned hard and he half-folded his arms. His wand started tapping his left shoulder as he stared at Harry.

Feeling he was in the right, Harry stared back comfortably until Moody gave a small nod and returned to glaring at Draco. His wand still tapping his shoulder as though reminding everyone he would have no hesitation using it.

Harry took a moment to steady his breathing down and repeat his mantra. He realised his outburst at Moody, while necessary, was probably not the way Lord Black was expected to behave. Well, there wasn't much he could do about that now. Or was there?

He inclined his head slightly to Narcissa. "My apologies for my outburst, I'm sure it was inappropriate. It did, however, remind me of a good point," he said, and then turned to her son. "While Moody isn't a Black, The fact is, neither are you, Draco. Actually, even if I accept your vow, both you and your mother would still be Malfoys first and Blacks second. Am I right?"

He waited for their acknowledgement, and looked between the two of them to see who would answer.

Eventually Narcissa responded for her son, and gave him a glare for not doing so himself. "In substance, that is correct. Our first loyalties are currently to the Malfoy family."

Harry nodded. "Then I'm sure you'll understand why I have no intention of making any vows to assist either of you while your first loyalty is to my enemy. We can review your expectations of me once your first loyalty is to the Black family, but I won't be making any vows about it."

"Then I won't be taking your vow either, Potter," Draco said, sneering at Harry.

Harry smirked back. "That's not really my problem, is it, Malfoy? It was your mother that wanted you restored as a Black, not me. You can burn in Hell for all I care. My responsibility is to Blacks, not Malfoys."

"Milord, please reconsider!" Narcissa asked, seeing her chance at saving Draco slipping through her fingers.

"I'm sorry. It isn't up to me. If your son changes his mind, you know how to contact me. Mrs Tonks, thank you for your hospitality, but I think we'll be leaving now."

"Wait, please," Narcissa asked again, and then turned to her son. "Draco, make the vow!"

"But you'll–"

"Make the vow!"

Draco stared at her for a moment before nodding in defeat. His mother rushed over in relief and embraced him, kissing his temple, before looking over expectantly at Harry, who in turn looked over at Moody.

Moody grudgingly nodded his approval, and then gave a significant look at Tonks.

She looked back at him blankly for a second or two before she realised what he wanted. "Right, sorry… was off in my own little world for a minute there." She drew her wand and moved to a better position so she could keep an eye on everything.

Moody approached the boys once Tonks was on guard. "Right you two. Sleeves up a bit, if you please, and grasp hands." He waited until they'd complied, then placed the tip of his wand where their hands were joined. He nodded to Harry.

"Will you, Draco, vow to not willingly accept the Dark Mark of the wizard known as Voldemort, or willingly join his group commonly known as Death Eaters?" Harry asked.

"I will," Draco said clearly.

As he spoke, a thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from Moody's wand and wound its way around their linked hands like a red-hot wire.

"And will you, Draco, vow to not knowingly support Voldemort or anyone you know or suspect to be one of his followers or sympathisers in any way?

"I will," Draco repeated again, with only slightly less confidence as he realised he was actually making the vow.

Moody's wand spat out another flame which linked with the first.

"And finally, will you, Draco, vow to not betray any members of the Black family, including the current Lord Black; Harry Potter?"

"I will," Draco said, resignedly, his voice little more than a whisper.

A third flame leapt from Moody's wand and twisted with the others, binding itself thickly around the clasped hands like a fiery snake.

Moody raised his wand slowly, as though surprised that Draco had actually gone through with it after all.

The two teenagers looked at their hands for a moment after the glow faded, and then each released the other's hand as though they'd been holding a snake.

"Milord Black?" Narcissa asked, reminding Harry of his own agreement.

Harry nodded. "I, Harry James Potter, Lord Black, declare here and now that I accept Draco Malfoy into the Black family as the son of Narcissa Malfoy, formerly Narcissa Black."

At the brief flash of magic, Narcissa embraced her son again.

"Right, that's done. Time to go, Potter, we need to be getting back. Thank you, Mrs Tonks. Goodbye, all." Moody hustled the group together, and then activated the Portkey while Harry was still smirking at Draco's embarrassment from the mothering he was receiving.

~o~

As they arrived back at Näshultasjön, Moody gestured for Harry to follow him. "We need to talk," he said brusquely, leading them off a short distance so they had some privacy.

"Right, listen up, as I'm not planning to say this again."

Harry nodded and readied his response to Moody's likely tirade.

"You were right, and I was wrong."

"What? I mean… uh, right. Thanks for saying so," Harry replied, not expecting to hear that admission at all.

"Now, I'll see what I can do about giving you a little more rope to play with, but if I see you about to hang yourself with it, then I'm going to interfere, and I'm not going to be arguing about it at the time."

"Fair enough, but I'm sure you understand I'm not always going to agree with you about where that rope is."

"You'll just have to trust me on that."

"Why?"

"Why? Because I didn't last as an Auror this long without learning a thing or two, that's why!"

Harry thought about what he wanted to say, but decided it would probably sound too arrogant. Oh to hell with it, he eventually decided.

"Tell me, Moody, how old were you when you first fought a troll? I was eleven. What about slaying a thousand year old basilisk? I killed my first one at twelve with a sword. Here's an easy one – how many Dementors can your Patronus scare off? My stag took care of over a hundred when I was thirteen. Have you outflown a Hungarian Horntail yet? I did that at fourteen, as well as rescuing two hostages from the black lake during the second task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Oh yeah, I also won that tournament while I was fourteen and competing against three over-seventeen year olds. Should we talk about how many times I've faced Voldemort and his Death Eaters?"

"Alright, alright, you've made your point," Moody said, then conjured a couple of chairs for them to sit down on.

"I actually did know about all of that, but it's easy to forget about it when you spend most of your time taking the back seat to everyone else and getting embarrassed about every little thing. You're Harry Potter! You don't need to wear a badge for people to know that, but if you start acting more like it, then you'll get more of that respect you're looking for."

"I am trying," Harry replied.

"And if you keep working at it like you did with the Malfoys, then you'll get there," Moody said, clapping him on the shoulder.

Harry thought about something else he'd been curious about, and decided now was as good a time to raise it as any. Making sure his wand was in his hand, he asked the question he'd been wondering for a while.

"Okay, Mad-Eye, since we're having this nice little heart-to-heart chat, maybe you can explain something I haven't worked out yet. Why did you ignore my requests to drop the subject and tell everyone about my cupboard after we left Privet Drive?"

"Did that topic make you uncomfortable?" Moody asked.

"Do I really need to answer that? I should think that would be obvious!"

"Exactly!" Moody answered, slapping his knee in emphasis. "Now imagine you and your friends are in a fight with some Death Eaters. All of a sudden one of them, maybe Bellatrix, starts taunting you about growing up in your cupboard. Is that the best time for you and your friends to deal with that little titbit of information do you think?

"Or would it be better to get it out in the open in a less dangerous environment, hmm? Secrets can cost lives, Potter. I think you know that better than anyone, especially given what happened because Albus didn't think you needed to know some things."

Harry nodded his understanding. "Yeah, alright, I get it now. I still think you could have found a better way of doing it though."

"Maybe, but then again I'm a grumpy old bastard, and I don't have the patience to pussyfoot around. If I see a problem, I solve it. That's my style. If I waited around trying to find the perfect opportunity for something, it might be too late. The 'curse first and apologise later' approach might not win many friends, but it does help keep you alive."

Harry gave him a small smile. "Well, you might want to work on that approach of yours, 'cause I see the 'curse first' part all the time, but you seem to forget all about the 'apologise later' part. Well, mostly."

"Just as well you have your wand in hand, Potter," Moody replied, before becoming a little more serious. "Are we good now?"

"Yeah, we're good."

"Good," Moody said, giving Harry a firm handshake. "You did well today, lad. Keep at it. Now go talk to your girlfriends before they come looking for me to hex."

Damn it! Harry thought as he was unable to prevent his blush from rising.

Moody just laughed as they walked back to the camp.

~o~

Hermione had been having a generally rotten morning. Yesterday evening was definitely rotten as well, and thinking back on it, most of the rest of yesterday wasn't that great either apart from a few highlights with Harry.

"Come on, Hermione, let's go for a walk," her mother suggested, interrupting her daughter's brooding.

She nodded, and followed her mother as she led the way to the banks of the lake, where they could admire the scenery as they strolled. Hermione was a little surprised as her mother took her hand.

They saw a boat in the distance with white smoke coming from a single exhaust pipe in the middle of the roof. A garland of pennants met the pipe from both the bow and stern making the boat look almost festive.

"That must be the Gerda," Hermione said. "Vanir told us about it when we met him for lunch."

"Yes, I remember you telling us about it. We should find out where to board it so that we can take a cruise on the lake."

"I think it might be 'Esskil Stoona', or at least, that's what it sounded like. I remember Vanir saying something about them fixing it up recently, but I suppose that doesn't mean it actually docks there," Hermione offered, feeling a little more dejected. She now realised she should have paid more attention to Vanir when he talked about it, and asked more questions to clarify these things. Especially since he'd recommended they take a trip on it.

"Not to worry, we can pick up some maps and travel brochures next time we're out, or perhaps Harry can ask Vanir next time he sees him to get those spell casting memories."

Hermione just nodded her reply.

Emma just observed her daughter for a moment, before asking her to create a park bench for them to sit down on. She waited until they were both seated, and then put an arm around the girl's waist as they looked across the lake, watching the Gerda as it slowly shrank into the distance.

"Sweetie, it's not hard to work out that you don't seem very happy at the moment, and your dad and I were wondering if we ought to do something about it. He thought we should just hold you down and tickle you like we did when you were younger, but I suggested you might prefer to talk first."

Hermione couldn't help but smile at the remembered tickling from when she was a child. It was hard to stay annoyed and irritable when you were laughing so hard and your parents were laughing along with you. She must have spent too long thinking about it, as she felt a couple of fingers start to wiggle suggestively against her side as though in preparation for an attack.

"It's just… I don't know. I just feel so stupid lately," she confessed.

Emma sighed as her suspicions were confirmed. "Hermione, you're not stupid. You're highly intelligent and you know it. The thing is though, because you are so smart, you tend to rely too much on your books and cleverness to help you, and ignore your feelings, like–"

"Like friendship and bravery," she said, interrupting, then got lost in her thoughts as she remembered when she'd recited those same words to Harry.

"And love," her mother concluded. "It's good to see you remember what we told you all those years ago, when you were having trouble getting along at school."

When Hermione didn't reply, she decided to prompt a response. "Alright, have you given any thought to why you are feeling stupid, or are you just wallowing in your stupidity?" she asked in a teasing tone.

Hermione just shook her head and Emma started to feel a little exasperated. "Honestly, Hermione, I thought we taught you better than that? If you have a problem, you look at it from all sides, and if you need help with it, then you ask for it. Nobody can be expected to know all the answers, not even you."

Hermione just nodded unhappily. She knew all this of course, but there seemed to be a great chasm between knowing something and doing it lately.

When it became clear that Hermione wasn't going to respond, Emma decided to go to the heart of the matter. "Do you remember when we talked a few days ago about Harry with your dad and Luna? The thing is, at the time you weren't showing many signs of the stress we were worried about. But now, it seems that with your focus on Harry, we don't think you've really spent much time dealing with what you went through yourself. Would you agree?"

Hermione gave a small shrug before nodding.

"I think, and your dad agrees with me, that your problem is that you're trying to deal with the emotional confusion around this relationship triangle you're in with Harry, while you still haven't properly resolved your feelings over what happened at your school. You've always had very high expectations of yourself – and it's not a bad thing to set your sights high – but it does sometimes make it harder to ask for help, doesn't it?"

"Sometimes…" Hermione said softly. She hadn't taken the time to step back and look at things, but she could understand what her mother was talking about of course.

Emma gave her a squeeze in encouragement, and felt her daughter's arms wrap around her own waist.

"Where would you like to start?"

~o~

As Harry and Moody walked back into camp, Tonks spotted them and approached them. She started complaining to Moody almost as soon as they were in sight. "Oi! What's the big idea stealing my masseur? Go find your own!" With that, she grabbed Harry's arm and started dragging him off. "Come on, you've got a neck to rub!"

"Your neck? I thought you got hit in your chest? I could take care of that for you I suppose… have you got some cream or potion you want me to rub in?"

Tonks stopped dead in her tracks, which caused Harry to stop as well as she still had a grip on his arm. Moody started laughing his head off as he'd still been within earshot.

Tonks turned around and looked at Harry, before she stepped a little closer and almost purred at him. "Now that sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon. Let's go!"

Harry backed away in alarm, eyes wide. "I was joking, Tonks! You're always teasing me, so I thought I'd try… I was just kidding! I'm sorry!"

Tonks held her expression for just a second before she joined Moody in laughter. "Oh, the look on your face!"

She grabbed Harry's arm again and started dragging him off again. "Come on, the Essence of Dittany is in my room–"

This time it was Harry that stopped short, causing Tonks to stop. She turned and laughed at him some more. "I'm kidding! Look, you did pretty well, but you gave up too quickly. You should have come back with something like, oh, I dunno… how about; 'only an afternoon, Tonks? Surely a chest like yours deserves the whole weekend?' See what I mean?"

Harry thought for a moment before replying. "I dunno, Tonks. It seems to me we've already lost most of Saturday if we're going to spend the whole weekend on it."

"That's the spirit! Just wait until you see how big I can grow my nip–"

"Stop! Please, I give up!" Harry pleaded.

Tonks just laughed a little more, before pulling him along. "No worries, you did pretty well for your first attempt, little brother." She made a point of obviously looking down. "Or maybe I should say 'younger brother' instead?"

Harry just shook his head. "How do you come up with that stuff so easily?"

"Practice, Harry. Lots of practice. One of the downsides of being a confident, and fairly good-looking woman, is that you attract a lot of attention. Once you add in the little bonus that you can morph yourself into anyone… Well, suddenly you're every bloke's wet dream walking. So, you get really good at fighting all those tossers that don't take the hint to bog off. Then later you realise that with a bit of work you can avoid having to fight at all by using flirty jibes instead. It doesn't challenge the blokes as much you see? Still, you quickly learn to do it in a way that doesn't encourage them. The trick is to reject their advances without rejecting them, if you see what I mean."

"Not really, but I'll take your word for it."

"Well, you really do have to learn this stuff, I'm afraid.

"Why?"

"Listen, Harry. All joking aside for a moment, you do need to learn how to deal with situations involving the opposite sex. If you go back to Hogwarts with just that bit of confidence you showed today, you're going to have half the witches after you. If you're not interested in taking up their offers, or even if you are, then you need to know how to talk to them. There'll be a lot less hurt feelings and embarrassment that way, but that doesn't mean you won't still have to protect your virtue with your wand. Trust me, I know."

Tonks read Harry's suddenly dark expression easily and bumped shoulders with him. "It's okay, you don't have to go thrash anyone. I told you I was really good at fighting, and after I threatened a couple with some fairly permanent life changes, they got the message loud and clear. Your problem is going to be harder though, because witches can be real bitches, and they will make it their life's work to mess you up if you don't take them seriously."

"You're kidding me!"

"Maybe a little, but it'd still be best to assume that behind every pretty face is a psycho-stalker just waiting to break loose. And, Harry; the prettier they are, the more psycho they can get 'cause they're more used to getting what they want."

"Tell me you're joking."

"I've already asked and answered that one, haven't I? Look, denial isn't going to get you anywhere, and I'm sorry if I've spoiled the mood a little, but I'm actually quite serious about this. Girls are going to be interested in you, whether you've already got one or two on your arm or not. Some of them will give up if they see you're already taken, but there are also going to be others that will see it as a challenge and won't wait for you to break up with your current girl. You can avoid trouble if you're prepared and have some idea of how to deal with it."

"Alright, I get it. That's why you said you're going to work on that whole teasing and embarrassment thing with me."

"Err… yeah, right, that's the reason. Mm-hmm… Oh, relax! I'm joshing! Now come on, I need to show you what a naked woman looks like so that– hey, come back! I was just kidding! Sort of…"

~o~

"You have to hide me, Remus! That woman is insane."

"I assume you mean Tonks? What is she trying to do this time?"

"She's got this mad idea that she needs to, err... 'flush the blush' out of me. Says she can't have the Chosen One 'going gaga over some ta-ta's' or something like that, so she wants me to see her naked, and not just her own form, but in a whole bunch of morphs as well so I can compare sizes and shapes and stuff."

"And you really want me to hide you from that? Are you quite sure you're a teenaged boy?"

"I don't have to time to kid around. You have to help me."

"Well, I would like to help you, Harry; certainly I would, if it wasn't for very two good reasons. First, I'm feeling quite out of sorts with the full moon due tomorrow, and for the second… well, to be perfectly honest I think she's just playing with you. You know, just trying to cheer you up. Why don't you call her bluff?"

"And what if she isn't bluffing?"

"In that case, just do what I'd do. Sit back and enjoy the show!"

"I can't believe I actually thought you might help. You're a real disappointment to me, Moony!"

"Well, I have to say the feeling is mutual, Harry… unless of course you decide to share the experience using your Pensieve? Purely for educational purposes, you understand. I can use them to quiz you on your 'advanced biology lessons'."

"That's never going to hap… pen. I've just had a brilliant idea. Thanks, Moony."

~o~

"Gotcha!"

"How can you run so fast, Tonks?" Harry asked, trying to catch his breath. He'd made it half way across the meadow before she'd brought him down with a rugby tackle.

"I have a wicked metabolism – didn't I already tell you that the other night? Anyway, what's it to be, Harry? Are you going to come quietly, or kicking and screaming... oh wait, that's probably not the best phrasing under the circumstances, is it? So, are you giving up now?"

"Yeah, I give up, Tonks," Harry said, sitting up and brushing some dirt off his elbows. "Just one thing though. You do remember I have a Pensieve now, right?"

"And your point is… oh, wait… you wouldn't! Would you?"

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, as he stood and offered her a hand up.

"Right then, hmm, you know, I think I hear the dinner bell chiming, so I'll let you off this time."

She took his hand and let him help her up, before she started off back to the camp. "Come on, Three, let's eat! I'm starving after all that running around, and since it's your fault, don't be surprised if I nick your dessert!"

~o~

With dinner consumed, the teens sat waiting to see what lesson they could expect this evening. To their delight, Minerva began to speak.

"Becoming an Animagus requires the witch or wizard to be able to cast a form of wandless self-transfiguration. There are three main hurdles to overcome. Firstly; the wandless casting. Secondly; the self-transfiguration, and lastly; one needs to know what animal they will be able to become, as it isn't something that may be chosen.

"Mister Potter, can you tell us why wandless casting is considered difficult, and also why it shouldn't be?"

Harry was about to respond with an 'I don't know' before realising he should at least try to answer the question. He was surprised to find that the answer seemed fairly simple once he thought about it. "Would it be because everyone is used to using a wand from the time they are eleven? But they should be able to do it, because they were doing accidental magic before then, and that's a kind of wandless magic, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's it exactly. I'd give you five points for that answer, Potter, if we were at Hogwarts. Now, Miss Lovegood, perhaps you can explain why self-transfiguration can be a hurdle?"

"Yes, Professor. I think it would be because people aren't used to transfiguring themselves, only other things. Perhaps they get worried that they might not be able to change themselves back properly to the way they used to be, and that fear makes it hard for them to concentrate on the transfiguration."

"Quite correct, and that would also have been worth five points. Miss Granger, the last hurdle, if you please."

Hermione frowned. How was she supposed to know the answer when there weren't any books at Hogwarts on– Oh, honestly! "The Ministry tries to discourage people from performing the Animagus transformation, and without ready access to books or training, it makes it extremely difficult for anyone to learn the method of how to identify what their animal form is. However, presumably once the method is known, the process may be readily completed by those with the correct disposition."

"And another five points for that well-reasoned response. Let us begin with the last issue shall we? Remus, could you tell us how your friends were able to resolve the issue of identifying their animal forms, please?"

"Sirius had a book in his library which explained one of the methods."

"I see. And which method did it discuss?

"The vision quest."

"Really? Given the level of concentration Pettigrew displayed in class, I would have wagered that it was the revealing potion he used."

Remus grinned at her. "It was. Prongs had to go looking for the recipe after he couldn't get anywhere. Money talks after all, especially in Knockturn Alley. Knowing what we do now, I can't help but wish he'd saved his Galleons."

Minerva nodded sadly in agreement, before remembering she was conducting a lesson. "You will probably be surprised to learn that there are in fact several methods of becoming an Animagus. To identify one's animal form, one can meditate to try and find the animal inside. This is usually referred to as a vision quest, or dream quest. Some have found it useful to burn incense or use a sweat lodge as the Native Americans do, but there are some significant risks with something like that, especially if care isn't taken.

"The second method we just mentioned is to take an Animagus Revealer potion. This potion is intended to skip the hard work, and bring you straight to the vision where you can identify your animal. The downside is that several of the ingredients required are hard to find and therefore quite expensive. There are also reports that some people have an allergic reaction to the potion, or that it simply doesn't work for them."

"Which method will we be using?" Harry asked. "I can pay for the ingredients for everyone if we use the potion."

"A generous offer, but we'll be using a third method. It was invented by someone who reportedly didn't have any success with either of the other methods, but being a misanthropic individual, was desperate to become an Animagus. The benefit to this third method is that not only do you learn which animal you may become; you are also transformed into it. This makes the other steps much easier, since you only need replicate what your body has already done before."

"So why doesn't everyone use this method then?" Harry asked.

"Because very few know of it. Fortunately for you three, I am one of those people. The process involves forming a connection to your animal side, by becoming more in tune with the natural world. When you reach the appropriate meditative state, you will find yourself drawn to things; a leaf, or a stone perhaps. Once you've collected a good number of these tokens, usually about a dozen, then they are used in a potion, which, as I mentioned before, transforms you into your animal the first time.

"Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin. Start by closing your eyes…"

~o~

Narcissa looked over at the clock again, and decided there was no point putting things off any longer. She stood up in preparation to leave, and was wrapped in a hug by her older sister.

"You don't have to do this, Cissy. Dumbledore would hide you, and so would Harry Potter. You could take Draco and hide."

"Like Karkaroff did? I heard they've tracked him down to somewhere in the north of Britain. If they haven't killed him already then it's only a matter of time. Besides, what sort of life would it be for Draco, always on the run, always hiding and looking over his shoulder? This way, perhaps he'll still be able to have a real life. I must try, Andi."

Before Andromeda could respond, Draco spoke up. "I would prefer that you stayed, mother, and that we both went into hiding. The Dark Lord will probably kill me anyway when he finds out that I cannot take his Mark."

"You cannot take it willingly, Draco, but you can be forced to take it. Did you not see the escape clause that Harry gave you? Think, Draco! You cannot take the mark willingly, but you can take it unwillingly without breaking your vow. Before this is all over, I think you will find you owe Lord Black your life."

Draco's expression became thoughtful for a moment, before he stepped forward and embraced his mother. "I would still prefer that you stayed, but since you seem determined to go, I would like you to promise me that you'll come back."

She hugged her son tightly and wiped her eyes before pulling back and smiling at him. "Goodbye, Draco. Mind your Aunt Andromeda. She has guardianship over you now. And be civil to your Uncle, especially in his own house. And… look after yourself. Goodbye, Andi, Ted. Thank you for looking after my son. I hope… I mean, I'll try to…" Frustrated and upset, Narcissa turned on the spot and apparated back to Malfoy Manor.

She barely had time to regain her composure before one of the House-Elves announced a visitor.

It wasn't long before her guest strode into the sitting room, and Narcissa stood to greet her. "Good evening, Bella. You're looking well. Can I get you some tea, or would you prefer something stronger?"

"Not tonight, I've got my orders. Where's Draco? He was supposed to be ready for me to escort to the Dark Lord."

"That won't be possible, Bella. Draco's not here."

"Not here?" Bella shouted. "Are you insane? Do you have any idea what the Dark Lord will do to you?"

"I will go with you to explain the problem to the Dark Lord, and to apologise for the disruption to his plans."

"This is foolish, Narcissa. You're not only throwing your own life away, you're signing a death sentence for Draco as well. At least the other way he had a chance. Is he really not here?"

As Narcissa shook her head, Bella swore, then grabbed her sister's arm and activated a Portkey.

~o~

Author's Note: Yes, that is a nod to Vox Corporis by MissAnnThropic. Find it & read it if you enjoy good character-driven fanfiction.

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