A/N – Thank you to all of the people who have read and supported this story since it first began two years ago.
Disclaimer – I don't own HP. I don't own Draco. Don't sue.
Once, there was a man who walked/was sent away.
Once, there was a woman who did not/could not call him back.
Once, there was a ten thousand galleon bribe that made all things possible…
A politician is a man who understands that nothing is unthinkable, or unforgivable: nothing, except openly saying so.
It had started out as an ordinary day. Cornelius Fudge, in the naively optimistic belief that the press had no idea of his more unsavoury dealings, had left for work unaware of the storm about to break over his head.
However, he was quickly disillusioned.
"Minister Fudge!" the protestors and journalists converged upon him as soon as he stepped out of his car, thrusting magical recording devices in his face and shouting out question after question. "Is it true?"
"Is it true that you've authorized the recall of Draco Malfoy?"
"One of the opposition's backbenchers has accused you of receiving ten thousand galleons from Mr. Malfoy during your election campaign…"
"Is there any connection between the receipt of the money and Mr. Malfoy's recall?"
His press secretary, young Perry Wetherby – a very eager, very useful young man – shouted out to the ravening crowd, trying to calm them down. "No comment! The Minister will not be making a statement now on the Ministry steps, ladies and gentlemen! Wait your turn!"
"Wait until you've written him an empty, pretty speech, Weasley!" one journalist shouted, and was immediately joined by others, hissing and booing and demanding an immediate statement. Happily, just as it looked set to turn nasty, a squad of Aurors came in response to Wetherby's summons, pushing the crowd back and flanking him as they hurried him up into the doors of the Ministry building.
When they finally reached the sanctum of his inner office, he staggered around behind his desk and collapsed into his chair with a sigh of relief. Then, as he tried ineffectually to calm down, patting the breast pocket of his robes for his heart potion, he noticed something quite strange – the Aurors had closed the doors behind them.
Moody leaned against the door, his arms crossed forbiddingly, but whether it was to keep others out or to keep Fudge himself in, he couldn't tell.
"Really, Alastor," he said, laughing nervously, voice shaking a little. "There's no need to be quite so zealous…"
"So is it true?" That was Moody's second in command, young Longbottom. "Minister?" he sneered.
"Well, really, I say, this is quite, quite outrageous," he sputtered, desperately casting his mind about for a way out.
"No. I think it's a very reasonable question, Fudge," Moody growled, sauntering forwards to lean threateningly over the desk, deliberately looming over him. "Did you take Malfoy's money?"
Eye to eye with Moody's rolling, flashing optical enhancement, Fudge leaned back in his seat and swallowed. "There's nothing wrong with…" he began, trailing off, wilting before Moody's best, most withering glare. "Valid campaign contribution," he managed to get out. "Highly respected pureblood family. Perfectly innocuous."
Longbottom snorted. "Right. This is Malfoy we're talking about now, Minister. Draco Malfoy, who killed his father, and who only a year ago killed thirty Aurors –"
Fudge mumbled something under his breath about misunderstandings, water under the bridge, and youthful indiscretions. "Anyway," he said dolefully, as if he fully entered into Moody's feelings on the matter, "it's far too late now." Somewhere, somehow, there had been a leak and the press had found out, and they would roast him alive.
"You've already recalled him?"
"Yesterday," he mourned, mopping his brow. "It was specified in our agreement…"
Moody and Longbottom swore. For a moment – a very swift moment – Fudge thought he saw a flicker of laughter in the younger man's eyes, but of course that couldn't be right. Moody, still growling, yanked open the door and stormed out, his second in command following him, slamming the door on the way out.
Fudge slumped down, completely defeated, in his chair, trying to calm his desperately palpitating heart.
Neville followed Moody out of the Minister's room in silence, waiting until they'd got to the cafeteria in the Auror Department before speaking.
"So," he said finally, "do you think it was Malfoy who tipped off the press?"
"No doubt." Moody grinned fiercely. "He hates Fudge with a passion. And he always was a cunning bastard."
"But Ginny seems happy enough with him." Tonks' last report had been amazingly informative. Neville still couldn't quite believe that fierce Ginny Weasley had finally given in enough to offer her old lover a second chance. For so long, she'd refused to even utter or listen to his name –
"As long as she stays that way."
"I don't think he'll allow anything to ruin it for him this time around." Frowning, Neville remembered the grim determination on Malfoy's face as he sacrificed everything to protect Ginny. "After all the trouble he went through to get her back…"
"He's a Malfoy, isn't he? Convoluted plans come naturally." However, even Moody, it seemed, was capable of admiring brilliance, as long as it wasn't aimed at genocide or overthrowing the government. Perhaps a very minor – miniscule – part of the grizzled old Auror was still a little romantic, even now, and he thought fondly on the man who would do so much for love.
"If he fucks up this time," Moody said with exquisite simplicity, "I'll kill him myself."
Six months later
Once, long, untold centuries ago, a powerful wizard carved an estate out of the wilderness and claimed it for himself and all his descendents, even unto the end of time.
Eighteen years ago, give or take, the Death Eaters had razed Malfoy Manor and everything upon it to the ground. The Ministry had completed the job, stripping the estate of the last of its remaining assets, destroying a fortune and a legacy built up over more than a thousand years.
Draco had not been back since the very first burning, when he'd been eighteen years old. Then, the fresh destruction had been shocking in its deliberate thoroughness, and in his mind it remained that way, forever ruined, blackened and smoking –
Now, saplings and creeping ivy had reclaimed the tumbled, broken stones of Malfoy Manor, and new shoots and green grass grew thick on the salted fields and covered the heaped graves. There were ghosts and echoes on the wind, memories of those who had gone before – but this time, he did not flee from them.
This time, he would be worthy of the burden of their trust and expectations…
"So," his wife murmured into his ear, "this is the famous Malfoy estate." Her arms slipped around him and she hugged him, resting her chin on his shoulder. It robbed her words of any malicious overtones –
"Yes," he said simply. "For what it's worth."
"Is this why you accepted the cartel's money?"
He shrugged, and she felt his muscles tense and lock. "There didn't seem to be a good reason not to."
He snorted. "Thanks very much, Gin." But his hands came to rest, covering hers, squeezing them slightly. "I can tell you I won't be making that mistake again."
"You won't be able to buy yourself a pardon next time."
"My dear Ginevra," he said, almost amused by her fierce certainty. "Don't you know that enough money and at least the appearance ofcontrition can buy anything? The Malfoy have been buying themselves out of trouble and back into respectability for centuries. As long as there are greedy, gullible fools willing to swallow our promises…"
She growled, low and deep in her throat. "There will not be a next time, Draco Malfoy; I will personally make sure of it. There will be no more misunderstandings, no more politics, and no more games –"
He smiled. She could feel him smile.
"We will be far too busy," she stated as firmly as she could.
In the distance Kelly and Burke stood huddled together, combing their fingers through the soil and dirt, getting a feel for the land and its capabilities, after near two decades of neglect. Higgins was prowling around the ruined manor, jotting down notes and stroking his chin meditatively.
Her arms firmly embracing him, as though she thought she could restrain him, his fierce Auror-wife was busily thinking of ways to keep him on the straight and narrow. He wondered what ruthless, devious plots and plans she had in mind –
All she had to do was smile at him, tell him that she loved him, and he would do anything she asked. And he would kill himself before he admitted it.
Yes, there would be work enough for them all.
"Yes, dear," he said meekly.