Marcel choked on his coffee.
"Did you say Nicolas Flamel?" He wheezed, mopping at the hot drink now liberally coating his chest.
Harry raised an eyebrow, and ate a grape. "I did, yes. Do you know him?"
"Not personally, the man's a recluse, but how can you not know who he is? He's famous!"
Marcel's incredulity was written all over his face, and Harry was hard pressed not to snort a laugh. He knew perfectly well who Flamel was, even without the letter in his hand. Draco's gaping expression just added to his hilarity.
"Is he a singer or something? Oh! Didn't he do a duet with Celestina Warbeck or something last year? I think I remember you singing it incessantly."
He watched as Marcel spluttered, his face turning all sorts of interesting colours as he tried to figure out which part of that statement to correct first. After a few moments, even Harry's usual mask couldn't take the pressure and cracked. He burst out laughing, clutching his sides as he giggled, tears streaming down his flushed cheeks.
"I'm sorry, but that was too easy!" He gasped.
Alex and Sergei chuckled into their respective coffee's, while Connor giggled.
Marcel and Draco flushed, busying themselves with the remains of their breakfasts.
"So what was that letter really about?" Alex asked, setting down his cutlery.
Harry smirked, and handed it over, returning to his breakfast.
Alex's eyebrows shot up as he read. "He wants to hire the Boss?"
Humming lightly, Harry nodded. "It seems he needs an item recovered. Sergei, I'm assigning you to meet with him and bring the details back for Vahan to review."
The Russian nodded, eyes glinting with curiosity about why Harry was speaking so freely in front of Draco.
The blond boy frowned. Even he had overheard talk about Vahan amongst his peers, and while he knew that Harry had some unsavoury connections that were best not discussed in polite company - or at all - he hadn't realised it was the shadowy figure that had everyone all atwitter.
Harry watched Draco realising just who Harry 'worked' for and sat back calmly, sipping his coffee.
"Um," Draco coughed slightly. "Did you want to call my father over? You have business to discuss with him, right?"
Harry's lips twitched. "Mm. Why don't you go and Floo him? He can join us for breakfast if he hasn't already eaten."
The men watched the shaken boy walking to the fireplace in the receiving room.
Waiting until he was out of earshot, Alex turned to Harry. "Are you sure that was wise?"
Harry shrugged. "He would have found out eventually. I'd rather it was before Hogwarts since some of my plans involve him. With his father obviously working with Vahan, I'm hoping that will resolve some of his reservations. Worse case I can always remind him that he's already practically working for our employer, himself. He did help punish his kidnapper after all." Allowing a small smirk to flit across his face, Harry sighed happily. He did so like it when people fell neatly where he wanted them.
They ate in silence, waiting for Lucius and Draco to rejoin them.
A few moments later, the blond duet entered the room, the elder nodding politely.
"Good morning, Harry, and happy birthday. Draco mentioned you had something to discuss with me?"
"Several things, actually," Harry murmured, dabbing at his lips with a napkin. "Please, help yourself to some breakfast. We can talk while we eat, if you have no objections."
Lucius nodded his thanks and sat gracefully, deftly serving himself from the platters on the table.
"I'll address the simplest issue first. Draco is now aware of just who I work for." Harry paused as Lucius faltered slightly. "Our employer has suggested that I take Draco on as my second while at Hogwarts; as his father, are you agreeable to this?"
Lucius swallowed heavily and lowered his cutlery onto the plate, his eyes flicking from Harry to Draco and back again. He was well aware that he was only being asked as a formality, though he was immensely grateful for Vahan's well known policy for never forcing children to work for him, and taking a very dim view of people who did.
"Is this something I may discuss with my son in private?"
Harry leaned back in his chair, sipping at his coffee to hide his smirk.
"Certainly, though you should finish your breakfast first."
He turned to Connor. "How have your piano lessons been going? Is the teacher satisfactory?"
Connor nodded eagerly, his hair flopping around on his head. "Mr Jinsen is awesome! He's really strict, but the lessons are really fun, and he say's I'm doing really well for a beginner! He said that it's clear that I've been practicing really hard, and I have been! I've been practicing for an hour every day, even though Mr Jinsen says that half an hour is enough. I'd practice more if I could, but I don't want my other studies to suffer." He paused and took a deep breath, his face slightly red from having blurted everything out on one lungful. "Can I have ice cream?"
"Yes." Harry blinked innocently as Connors eyes widened. "After dinner tonight."
Connor deflated, his bottom lip jutting out. "That was just mean."
Harry grinned. "You need to learn to be more specific, that's all. You asked if you could have it, you never said anything about when. And either way, you know that you aren't allowed ice cream before lunchtime."
Connor continued pouting, though he cheered up slightly when his favourite house elf, Swit, discretely slipped some chilled pineapple and mint salad onto his plate, whisking away the heavier English fare he'd been picking at.
Harry pretended he didn't notice.
"Sergei, I'll give you the details for your assigned task later, I'd like you present for the meeting this morning. Please notify the standard list of people that their presence is required."
"Full meeting?" Sergei asked, downing the last of his coffee.
"Yes, scheduled for nine thirty. I'm estimating it will take about an hour and a half. Alex, can you please gather all the relevant reports and review them?"
Alex nodded and both mercenaries stood, departing to attend to their tasks.
"Connor, if you're finished, you can go practice now."
The boy nodded and stood, exiting with a cheerful wave and a skip in his step.
Harry stood, absently smoothing down his jacket.
"I'll leave you two to talk. Once you've decided, please come to my study."
Draco watched him leave, eyes wide.
"Draco," Lucius began delicately. "Do you understand what he is asking of you?"
The blond boy shook his head slightly, forcing himself to focus on the conversation. "I think so? He wants me to work with him, right?"
"For," Lucius clarified.
Draco looked confused.
"He wants you to work for him, not with him."
Frowning, Draco nibbled some toast. "But he works with you, right? Does he not want the same sort of thing from me?"
Lucius shook his head slightly. "We have a different type of arrangement than what he is offering you. He and I have a business arrangement that is mutually beneficial. However, he is offering to employ you fully as his second in command; at least as far as business at Hogwarts is concerned."
"What would you recommend, Father?" Draco looked up at him, grey eyes wide.
The blond patriarch sighed. "The choice must be yours, but I want you to understand exactly what you would be agreeing to if you make that decision. Your very life will belong to him, and you will never be able to leave his side. Your every effort will be for his benefit, and failure will not be overlooked. I will not be able to protect you from the consequences of your actions. You will need to stand on your own merit, and not rely on me or our family name."
"And if I refused him?"
"You would not be harmed. In this instance, your age is a benefit; Vahan has a reputation for not forcing children to work for him. That said, you would never be trusted, and it's almost a certainty that Harry would reduce contact with you to the bare minimum."
Draco took some time to think that over.
"He's been preparing me for this, hasn't he,' he whispered.
Lucius winced. "I believe so. I also believe that encouraging you to assist him punish your attacker was to both test you, and give him something that could be applied as leverage should it be needed. You must understand, Draco, that if you choose to accept the offer, you will be required to do many things like that, and worse. You will almost certainly be asked to kill for him. Possibly even die for him. Is that something you're willing to accept?"
"You work with him; I know you said it's a different type of relationship, but how do you find him as an ally? Is he worth the risk? Would it be like people say serving the Dark Lord was like?"
"As you say, my situation is different. But based on my investigations, I would say that there are some similarities with the Dark Lord's reign. Absolute loyalty will be demanded, and any deviation from that will be punished with a painful death. You will never be able to leave, and you must follow your orders to the absolute best of your ability. But you will be treated much better than the Dark Lord's followers ever were. Vahan is known for taking care of his people, it's a large part of why he commands such passionate devotion. To the best of my understanding, Harry is Vahan's personal representative, and is the highest ranking in the organisation bar Vahan himself. He is not to be underestimated, and it would not be wise to try to manipulate him if you want to live. If you serve, you serve faithfully."
Draco nodded, looking slightly chagrined at being so transparent. He realised that Harry must be considerably more dangerous that he'd thought, if even his father feared crossing him. He shivered slightly at the thought of what he might have to do in the service of such a person, but the idea of being cast aside by the boy he considered his best friend filled his stomach with such dread that he nearly vomited what little breakfast he'd eaten. He just had one remaining question.
"You always told me that a Malfoy bows to no one. Would you be angry if I said yes? Would that be bowing to someone?"
Lucius sighed heavily, the uncharacteristically expressive action causing Draco's eyes to widen comically.
"No, son, I wouldn't be angry. I've suspected something like this was coming. As for bowing, there is no shame in serving a worthy master to the best of your ability. The Dark Lord took from us, raping our name and reputation and forcing us to grovel. He was not half the man he claimed to be. One such as Vahan will let us serve with dignity. While being the leader is by far the more preferable option for a member of our family, it is not the only option. Just know that whatever you decide, you will always be my son, and I will support you in any way I can."
Draco looked at his father silently, weighing his words. He knew the horror stories of what had happened to his father under the Dark Lord; cautionary tales told quietly as evidence to support the family teachings. He understood that for his father to approve of serving the shadowy underworld figure was no small thing. He took a deep breath, and prepared to step away from his father's shadow for the first time.
"I'll do it," he stated firmly.
Harry sipped at a glass of water, placing it down on the table next to him before turning the page of his book. His eyes flicked to the clock, noting that his meeting had been finished for a good twenty minutes now. The other attendees had come and gone through the floo, preventing anyone outside the room seeing who they were.
He glanced over at the chairs where Sergei and Alex sat, playing cards while they waited for Harry to summon the Malfoys in from the hallway in which he had left them to languish since the meeting began.
"How long are you going to make them wait, Sir?" Alex asked quietly, laying down a card and picking up another from the pile.
Harry hummed lightly, taking another sip of water.
"Who knows? Probably not much longer. Though I think I'll call Draco in first; that should rile old Lucius up nicely." He turned back to his book, idly wishing it was something more interesting and less fictional.
Sergei chuckled. "Setting rank?"
Harry smirked. "No, just feel like fucking with him a bit. I doubt the peacock has to wait very often; it'll do him some good."
The older men grinned, returning to their game, and quiet returned to the room, broken only by small scuffing noises from the cards and the occasional page turning.
Another ten minutes, and Harry lost patience with his book. He really didn't understand the appeal of fiction; it seemed like a waste of time to him when there were many more productive things to read.
"Alright, bring Draco in," he ordered, putting the book aside with barely concealed relief.
Alex stood and went to the door, ushering in the pale and lightly trembling boy, guiding him to the seat next to Harry. They'd deliberately chosen a sitting room off to the side of the conference room in which they'd held the meeting, in the hope that the more casual setting might help Draco feel more at ease.
Harry raised an eyebrow at Draco's almost grey skin tone, and rolled his eyes.
"Jinky," he called, quietly requesting some tea for them all. He nodded at the elf's silent question about lacing the other boy's drink with a Calming Draft.
After they were all settled and sipping - and Draco didn't look on the verge of hyperventilating anymore - Harry cleared his throat.
"Alright, Draco, I have a few jobs for you to begin with, and we need a plan for Hogwarts. Before we go any further, though, I'll be needing a vow from you."
Draco looked at the serious expression on Harry's face, and turned to see it mimicked with a suitably menacing undertone on the two mercenaries. Throat suddenly dry, he took a gulp of his tea.
An hour after Draco had been called in, Lucius exited the room after his own meeting to find his son waiting for him. He'd been kept waiting nearly all morning, and his temper was shorter than he knew was safe given his current location.
"Tell me," he purred, his cane tapping sharply on the marble floor as he strode down the hall to the exit. "Did you and your new employer enjoy making me wait pointlessly in the hall? One would almost think it a deliberate move to irritate me." He studied his son from the corner of his eye, and noted the conflicted look on the boy's face.
Draco frowned and chewed his lip. It was true that Harry had kept Lucius waiting after finishing with Draco, but he wasn't sure how much freedom he had to give information to his father beyond what was ordered. He didn't want to trigger the loyalty vow, but even beyond that, it didn't feel right to pass information to someone unauthorized. His father had always taught him that confidentiality in business was sacrosanct. That said, this was his father, the man that he had always relied on, who guided and advised him every day of his life.
Clearing his throat, Draco opened his mouth, studiously avoiding looking at his father. "I…" He licked his lips nervously. "I don't think Harry would be happy if I talked about our meeting?"
He flinched slightly when the man next to him stopped in the middle of the hallway.
Lucius looked at his son, studying him carefully. The boy was pale and delicate, his gangly frame evidence of the willowy grace he would inherit from his mother when he grew into his limbs, but otherwise he was a perfect clone of Lucius himself. It was obvious that Draco was serious about the decision he'd made, and was trying to act accordingly. He felt a mix of pride and grief as he realised that for all that he was only eleven years old, the child he had held and comforted and played with not even two days ago was already striking out to become his own man. Reaching out, he rested a hand on the boy's narrow shoulder, squeezing gently.
"I'm proud of you, son."
Authors Note: Welcome to the first sequel to Vahan, as promised! I know many of you thought I'd run away and joined the circus rather than finish this, but it turns out that Carnies are creepy, so I came back.
So there I was, lying in bed pretending to be asleep, when suddenly, a small English boy with a lightning bolt scar and a puma pressed a semi-automatic pistol against my forehead and told me it was time to start writing again. Naturally, I immediately reached for the laptop and started typing furiously; I wasn't going to argue, he doesn't take rejection well…