I regain conscious slowly, drawing my cloak around me as I rise to my feet. Where am I? I scan the area, looking for something, anything, recognizable, but find none. I am in London, of that I am certain. But how far am I from Diagon Alley? What am I doing here?
I take stock of the situation, trying not to let panic set in. I concentrate for a moment and realize that while I am not hurt, I am disoriented. When I left the Manor it was morning, but clearly, it is now evening. Have I been unconscious? My next thought is more dire. IDRACO!/I The Dark Lord is surely at the Manor now, and Draco was due to arrive there hours ago. He cannot have Draco! The thought reverberates through my skull as I quickly look for a discreet Apparition point.
Not Draco! Not Draco! Not Draco! The chant echoes with each foot hitting the stones as I race up the path to my front door. I falter as I near the entrance. The flowers that had been planted this past spring are no longer there. Perhaps the Dark Lord has removed them, taking some dislike to the plants. Did the Dark One perhaps recognize the small flowering plants as something more than pansies? No, no, I murmur aloud, attempting to reassure myself, we'd been careful enough to intersperse the common flowers with the delicate Chinese variety. Not even that Hufflepuff woman, Sprout, would have been able to discern the two species. While one is harmless, the other is exceedingly poisonous to snakes.I Still, best be cautious.
I enter the house silently, wondering why a house-elf has yet to appear, but thankful just the same that I remain undetected. If the Dark Lord is in residence, I will find out soon enough; if not, well then, I am most fortunate, for now. In any case, I am not ready to draw attention to my return. Again, I am disoriented; nothing looks as it did when I left this morning on my errand. My errand! I quickly pat my pockets, searching for my package, my reason for leaving in the first place. I am relieved when I cannot find it. I must have accomplished that which I set out to do and was returning home when it happened. But why was I in that part of London? I cannot let myself dwell on distracting questions; I must find Draco.
I cross the foyer and make my way towards the staircase that will take me to my private quarters when I hear laughter and people talking. What the fuck is going on? Something is terribly wrong. Following the noise, I approach the double doors to the dining room, dreading what lies on the other side, but knowing I have to do everything possible to save my son.
As I draw closer, a junior house-elf, one I do not recognize, appears.
"Is Master intending to join the dinner party before dressing?" the house-elf asks, his tone boarding on rude.
I peer down at the creature, wondering if this one of those horrid 'free elves.'
"I am not your Master," I retort, for I know every person and creature in residence at the Manor.
"Indeed not, Mister Lucius," the ugly elf replies, "I is still owned by Mistress Malfoy." Before I can punish the insolent bugger for the smirk on its distorted features, the doors open, and Narcissa slips into the hall.
"Don't tell me you've changed your mind and have decided to join us after all?" she asks, her voice screeching in his ears. From the tone in her voice, it would appear she wasn't expecting me to acquiesce. We must've argued over this at some point. Whom has she invited to dinner? Not Death Eaters, the only time they are invited to dinner is when the Dark Lord is in residence, and then, refusing is not an option.
Draco. Draco must still be safe. Narcissa is not that good of an actress; she would not be hosting a dinner party if something horrible happened. I do not know why I hesitate to confide in her all that has happened. We have always been on reasonable terms, but instinct dictates that I remain silent for the time being, and I've lived thus far by obeying its wishes.
"Certainly not." I skillfully disguise my unease behind a sneer. "I've already declined, and I see no reason," peering over her shoulder and nodding to the people gathered in the room behind her, "to change my mind at this late date."
I turn gracefully as if to walk away, but pause and spit out over my shoulder, "Please make my excuses to our guests."
Her face grows cold. "There aren't any excuses for your insufferable behavior." She turns and quickly re-enters the dining room. Casting a slight amplification spell, I listen as she calmly states that while I was able to return home from Ireland sooner than expected, I was suffering from a bit of Apparition sickness and thought it best to have a bit of rest.
Ireland? Why the hell did she think I'd gone to Ireland? And Apparition sickness? Bite my ass, bitch, I think disgustedly. I've never had Apparition sickness a day in my life, as she well knows.
Suddenly unsure of whether or not I am experiencing some hideous dream, I make my way to my study. I enter the room, locking the door behind me. I immediately reach for the crystal decanter and pour a very large Scotch. Swallowing a mouthful, eager for the burn, I turn and stride towards my desk. Surely there will be some clue there. I throw myself into the butter-soft leather chair, closing my eyes for a moment, reviewing all that I've learned since coming to in the alley. I swivel in my chair and reach for the top drawer of my desk, hoping to find something of value when my eyes rest on a photo of my son. Standing next to a young woman of whom I've no recollection. My first thought is that he looks happy. Older. Older? I grab the frame to take a closer look. He is older, by four or five years if I am judging correctly, although right now I'm not certain of anything. He is a bit taller, broader in the shoulder and narrow in the hip; his hair is slightly darker than the last time I saw him. When was the last time I saw my son? Is this a recent photo?
I look around wildly: new photos sit on the mantle above the fireplace, a new rug lay in front of the double doors that let to the low balcony overlooking the west gardens. I dig into my breast pocket for my father's pocket watch that is always on my person; it is gone. Probably stolen. My rising rage does not replace my discomfort however; I've more questions than answers. The chill creeping in from the glass doors ignites the fireplace, and immediately the heat radiates and casts an orange glow that should be soothing, but isn't.
I throw myself onto the couch facing the fire and Accio my drink. I do not know if Draco is in immediate danger. That the Dark Lord did not carry out his original plan does not mean that he has been defeated. I do not know if the war is still raging or if the bastard has fallen. Has he gone back into hiding? The calendar on my desk tells me it is now October, but does not supply the year. Could I have been hit with an Obliviate? It would explain much. Who would curse me, and to what purpose it would serve? I vow to Floo Severus at Hogwarts at the earliest opportunity. He is my dearest friend and closest confidant. Perhaps he will have answers for me.
I do not like the unknown; I've made it my mission to gather as much information as possible. Information is power, and with power comes safety. I must formulate a plan. Now that my initial fear for Draco's safety has eased, I will need to locate him and ascertain the status of the war and where my old friends are. That Aurors are not banging down my door and are not confiscating my possessions means I have not lost the war yet; but I will need answers. Soon. For now, there is one person in this Manor whom I can confide in.
"Gobbert," I call out. Immediately, my most faithful manservant appears, but instead of wearing his usual attire, an immaculately clean tea towel, he is wearing what looks like, dear god, a horse rug. He also appears to be haggard and drawn, which means Narcissa has been punishing him. Which means I have been gone from the Manor for longer than a week. I need answers. NOW!
Before I can begin my questioning, Gobbert raises his glassy yellow eyes and croaks, "Thank you for calling, Master."
I rub my face with my hand. I can't ask Gobby anything in his current condition.
"Gobbert, you look abominable. Burn that hideous bit of filth you're wearing." Immediately, the fire flares in the fireplace, and Gobbert is now attired in his usual pristine towel.
"I'd like the final guest list, Gobbert." I intone, and he nods solemnly. It is understood that he is not provided with such information, only those elves that serve Narcissa has access, but for a House-elf, Gobbert is quite ingenious. He disappears and immediately returns holding a sheaf of papers in his filthy hand.
Taking pity on the creature, I say, "I'm tired this evening, but before I retire, I would like a bath. Clean it for me. When you're done, return to your quarters. I'll inform you when to prepare my bath." I would never utter 'Thank-you," but I let my eyes rest on Gobby's big yellow globes and offer him a small smile, instead. While the bleach and water he will undoubtedly use will burn his parchment-thin skin, I suspect it will also kill the fleas and ticks that have been burrowing there.
The house-elf's fat tears threaten to fall, but squaring his shoulders, he offers a dignified bow and disappears once more.
I scan the guest list in my hands, hoping for some clues, but I see no names I recognize. I lift my gaze from the list to the portrait of my father above the fireplace. He sleeps, as he has done since the day he discovered my allegiance was no longer to the Dark One. A thought burns, my journals! I leap to my feet and stride over to the portrait. Dropping the wards, I swing open the portrait to reveal a small wall safe. The safe itself is never locked, since the wards only respond to my non-verbal, numeric code. Reaching into the small chamber, I discover my journals are gone, replaced with a bit of parchment. Shutting the safe and swinging the portrait back into place, I look down and read a name. Hermione Granger.
What the FUCK is going on?
The doorknob clicks as someone tries to open the door and finds it locked.
"Lucius," Narcissa strident voice penetrates the room. "I'd like a word with you."
I rub my forehead, trying vainly to ease the throbbing. This is going to be difficult.