"Dracoooo! Draco! Get in here, get in here!"
A fluffy blond head appeared in the doorway, and the dumpy woman smirked at him, her entire face crinkling and molding until she strongly resembled a toad. "There is a customer in need of your assistance."
"Of course, madam," he murmured, ducking his head and shuffling toward her. She waited until he was near her and slapped him across the back of the head. Hard.
He stumbled and fell to his knees, the chains around his wrists and ankles clanking together violently.
"Stop making all that racket, boy!" she sneered, giving him a boot with one of her massive feet. He winced and clamored to his feet, bowing briefly.
"Yes, madam," he repeated, moving away from her quickly. He approached the customer, whose back was turned away from him, and bowed. "How may I be of assistance on this night?" he asked softly.
The customer turned and Draco immediately recognized one of the regular visitors. "Draco! How nice to see you again. I'll have the usual room, I think."
Draco bowed again. "Of course, Master Aldanas. Right this way, please."
Draco showed the suave man to one of the more secluded rooms, bowing him into the familiar space and turning to leave. "Your lady will be here within moments, sir."
"Ah, Draco?" Aldanas piped up smoothly. "Just a moment, please."
Draco froze in the doorway. "Yes, Master Aldanas?"
"I think I'm in the mood for something a little different tonight, Draco."
Slowly, as though every muscle in his young body ached with the action, he turned. "How so, Master Aldanas?" he asked as he turned, and suddenly the visitor was before him.
"I think I'm in the mood for… a blonde, Draco."
Draco's breath left him as fear flooded him. "Is that so, Master Aldanas? I believe I can manage that. If you can wait just a moment…"
The door slammed closed in Draco's face as he tentatively began to move toward it. He gasped and drew away, but that only put him closer to Aldanas.
Draco tensed as he felt a hand clasp his shoulder.
"I think, Draco, that I'm in the mood for you."
"I… I'm s… sorry, s.. sir, but that's j…j… ust not p… p… p… ossible. I have a duty to… to man the front desk… and I just c…"
"You, Draco, have a duty to please the customers, don't you?"
"But… this isn't part of my…"
"How about I call Madam Drowry in here, and she can decide what your job entails? Or did you forget, Draco, that you're a lowly slave here?"
"P…p…please, Master Aldanas, I'm… I'm a…"
"Let me guess, sweet Draco. You're a virgin?"
Tears began to course down his pale cheeks, and he nodded. "Yes, Master…"
"I think I like the way that sounds, Draco," Aldanas cut in. "I think you should say that more often. Much more often."
"Wh… what's that, sir?"
"Yes, master," Aldanas replied coldly.
Draco shuddered, and his composure, though cracked before, shattered completely. "No, please, Aldanas, please! I don't… I don't want to… please, Master Aldanas, I'll do anything, anything but that!"
"No, Draco, my sweet, you'll do this."
The voice of Madam Drowry split his ears, from directly outside the door.
"Madam!" he bellowed. "Madam Drowry. In here, Madam!"
The door crashed open, sending Draco spilling into Aldanas's arms. "Draco, what is taking you so long?"
"Madam, Master Aldanas is…"
"I have decided, Madam Drowry, that I would like to change my menu, for the night, at least. I have requested that Draco stand in the place of my regular lady, and he seems to harbor some belief that you will save him from this fate. Now, Madam Drowry, if you would please correct him in his thinking and be on your way..?"
Drowry squinted at the terrified Draco, pondering the situation closely. "The fee will be double, Aldanas. He is a virgin, a better…"
"No! Please, Madam Drowry!" Draco shrieked, his voice choked with tears. "I'm not…"
"Shut up, Draco!" Drowry snapped. "Now, Aldanas, the fee..?"
"Of course, Drowry, I would be pleased to pay the extra. Draco here is a rare gem indeed."
"If you say so," she murmured, and ducked out of the doorway to Draco's screams.
"No, Madam Drowry, please! You know this isn't my sentence, you know this isn't part of my punishment! Please!" he continued to beg after the closed door, his words broken by sobs.
Aldanas curled his long fingers over Draco's mouth, silencing his objections. "That will be enough, Draco," he hissed, his voice deathly cold.
Draco's sobs continued as Aldanas wrapped his free arm around Draco's waist and began to pull him toward the tiny bed.
"Please, Aldanas, please!"
"Shush, Draco, it's not all that bad."
"Draco, really, now, child. Is this any way for a Death Eater to behave?"
Harry Potter hunched over the cauldron with a definite pout to his pink lips. His tongue flitted out to moisten those lips, and the three females watching his every move sighed dreamily. He was one of the most stunning wizards they knew, and he had no idea.
"Hold still," he murmured as one fanned herself dramatically to show their mutual attraction toward the raven haired boy, and instantly he was obeyed. They smirked but watched intently as Harry held a squishy substance over the cauldron, watching as he measured the precise moment and amount of the liquid he squeezed from the spleen of something, they didn't care to remember what… or was that liver?
The door swept open and the most terrifying creature they'd ever seen strode into the room. The three females gasped and flew from the stools they were perched on to cower behind Harry, who remained utterly calm, dripping precise amounts into the bubbling liquid below.
The newcomer strode toward them, a scowl on his otherwise handsome face, his eyes fixed on the spleen in Harry's hand.
One of the trio of blondes tapped Harry's arm tentatively, motioning toward the man. "What's he doing…"
"Quiet," Harry reminded them calmly, watching as another timed drop from the spleen plopped into the very center of the cauldron.
The second blonde, bolder and quick to anger, not to mention a bit less enthralled, though still sufficiently so, with Harry, slapped Harry's arm and opened her mouth to chide him for being rude.
The next drop from the spleen was an instant earlier than it should have been and was thrown off center.
"Son of a bitch!" Harry hissed, and shoved the three women to the ground with a sweep of his arm. The boldest cried out in objection and instantly began to push herself upright again.
A resounding blast echoed through the tiny room and the two men were covered from hair to waist in the now gooey potion. Harry blinked hard and spat a bit away from his lips, while the other man shook his long hair to prevent it from dripping obnoxiously onto his shoulders.
The trio of women, who had been spared sufficiently by being on the floor, stared in open-mouthed horror as the two men stood in shocked silence, staring around.
The bold blonde, whose name Harry was unsure of, though he remembered an M being attached to it, stood slowly, helping her fellow females to their feet.
"Quiet," Harry murmured, but the damage was done.
"If you even think of opening those falsely red lips to apologize for this mess, I will personally curse you to oblivion. Did you not see fit to read the rules for these types of lessons? Our workers are not here for you to fawn over, they are here to make you potions, and on occasion, allow you to watch the process. How dare you make a mockery of us and our practice by using it to look your fill at our Potter… and why are you still here?" the murky man hissed, his anger a palpable weight in the air. "Get the bloody hell out of my store!"
The three blondes scampered to the door, skirting around him as they would a cave full of writhing snakes, not knowing how close to the truth that idea had a tendency to be.
Harry watched them go, an amused glint in his eyes, until they were halfway down the block with no chance of wanting to return.
His eyes left the fleeing females to alight on the man across the cauldron from him.
"I told you it would be safer to put your name on the sign, that way they know what they're walking into," he chided, and the other figure threw up his hands to wave away the annoyingly redundant reminder.
"Yes, yes, Potter, but for some reason 'Snape's Secret of Potions' just doesn't have the right sound to it… I'd probably be raided three times a week by the Ministry, thinking I had some secretive potion." he flicked his wand at himself, his lips spilling out a few words to rid himself of the goo, then wrinkled his nose and politely did the same for Harry.
"I still say we rename the store entirely," Harry reminded him gently.
Severus curled a lip at him. "Yes, I know. That's why I don't want to," he murmured, turning on his heel and striding toward his office.
Harry laughed, knowing that Snape had only turned away to hide a teasing smile. "Sure, old man, that's what you say, I think you're just scared of change…"
"Clean up your mess, Potter," Severus snarled, and there was no laughter in his voice, though it seemed that the youth heard it loud and clear.
Harry trotted after Severus, chuckling. "I didn't do it!" Harry whined, and Severus snorted.
"Well I sure as bloody hell didn't, either, so flip the sign so your fan club will leave you alone long enough, and clean it up."
Harry laughed. "Yea, yea, whatever."
He turned from the office with a false pout and tugged his wand from the compartment he kept it in when he was working. He waved it effortlessly, his mind only partly on the task, and flicked the sign over from its current position of 'Public Potions In Progress', though instead of flipping it to 'Closed', as Severus had suggested, he counted on the idea that he could hurry with the cleanup, and so the sign outside read 'Associates Standing By.'
He bustled off to flick his wand adamantly at some of the more stubborn spots, murmuring a steady stream of spells under his breath to make the process easier.
The little charm on the door tittered musically, and in strode a couple, hands clasped nervously together.
Harry looked up from what he was doing smilingly, yet the instant he spotted the flaming red hair atop the head of the man who entered, he turned on his heel, striding toward his office, his mouth set in a grim line.
"Snape, you have customers," Harry said, his powerful voice carrying to the back office.
The redhead lunged forward and snatched at Harry's wrist, refusing to let go even when Harry flicked his wrist in irritation.
"Let go of me!" Harry snarled, yet the redhead held fast.
"We need to talk," he replied calmly.
Severus strode into the room, his eyes narrowed. "Unhand my charge, boy, or…"
"Or what, you'll curse me?" the redhead snapped. "I got over it the first time, I'll do it again."
"Or I'll kill your sniveling ass," Severus snarled, his voice deepening dangerously, and suddenly the redhead knew he spoke the truth. His grip fell lax and Harry was able to jerk his wrist away.
"Get out of my store," he demanded, and the redhead seemed to shrink before their eyes.
"Ron," the woman whimpered, and tugged on the redhead's wrist.
Harry took in the curly brown hair, much tamer then it ever was when they went to school, and curled his lip. "Hello Hermione, still as snobbish as ever?"
"You cowardly bastard," she hissed, taking a step forward. "Hiding behind your darkness here." She motioned toward Severus as though he were a dog, not a true part of the conversation.
"I hide behind nothing, 'mione," he spat. "I especially don't hide behind supposed ignorance."
"You presume to call me a coward?" she scoffed. "I have never hidden behind my name quite as adamantly as you, Harry Potter."
He strode toward her until his body was nearly flush with hers, so close that a slight breeze would press them together.
"And where were you, Hermione Granger, when they were killing Dumbledore?"
She took a startled step backward, the horror on her face so strong, and the fumbling step so pronounced a passerby would think he'd stricken her.
"How dare you!" she hissed, her voice shrill.
Ron stepped between Harry and Hermione. "Leave her out of this, Harry."
"She made herself a part of this," Harry retorted. "The day she stormed into my goddamned compartment."
Ron's face fell, the anger leaking out of him instantly, replaced by grief for memories tainted and dreams left unfulfilled.
"Don't try to make our years at Hogwarts out to be a big mistake, Harry," he murmured, and his voice was pleading and endlessly sad.
"They were a mistake!" he exploded. "Everything in my life is a mistake! I left you in charge while I went to save the others, I trusted you to be fair! Your supposed ignorance cost dozens their lives! And where are they now, Ron, where did they vanish to? What kind of hell are they in? Did you even listen to their pleas, Ron? Did you hear them say they were under a spell? Did you hear them plead for their lives? Did you hear the children screaming, Ron? Or did you just recline in your comfy office and dish out orders?"
"You know that's a lie!" Ron huffed. "I never gave those orders, I never told anyone to move yet! They moved without my orders, nobody listened to me. You think I don't regret that day every day of my life, Harry? You think the idea doesn't haunt me? Do you think I don't hate that day more than I hate anything else in the world?"
"Not more than you hate me," Harry pointed out harshly.
Ron gaped open-mouthed. "I don't hate you," he declared, shocked at the idea.
Harry cocked a dark eyebrow. "I find that hard to believe," he spat, and Hermione stepped forward.
"Harry, that's why we came today. We… we wanted to invite you over… we're… it's…"
Ron patted her hand comfortably. "We're having a baby, Harry, and we want you to be there when we announce it to the others."
Harry glared at him coldly, schooling his features so that they never left his stoic façade to abandon him to the shock he felt jolting through his bloodstream. They were inviting him over to announce their baby? Why?
He voiced the question.
"We… well, Harry, mate, you have always been… well, always were, my best friend, both of our best friends. We want you to be his godfather."
"It's a boy."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "You have no right to ask that of me," he snarled, and turned away sharply. "Find those people, find the prisoners, the guards, all of them. I was responsible for them, and I set you in charge, and you failed me. Find the missing ones, and then we'll talk."
"I never gave the order, Harry. Please, mate, you have to believe me! Listen to me, Harry. You were my best friend, I would have died before I hurt you!"
"The only way I will ever believe that is if you find my men!" Harry exploded. "People looked to me to protect them, all of them, and now they're gone! I have no idea where five dozen men went, half of them being guards, the Order's best women! Tell me how I'm supposed to live with myself with that kind of responsibility on me!"
Ron let the ensuing silence stretch, his breathing ragged and eyes hurt. "But what if I can't find them?" he whimpered.
Harry turned sad eyes to him. "Then you'll never see me again."
Ron lowered his eyes, nodding. "I know."
"I'm sorry I ever put you in that position, Ron," Harry offered, and again, Ron nodded.