his was written for Sage (everythursday), for the 3keys Community All Hallows Eve Fic Exchange.
Request Details Name and Group Username: Uh, lol. Sage/everythursday...you decide which one I should go with. Group Username is, I suppose, TheWrongInsideU?
Ships: D/Hr, B/D/Hr
Reading Ratings: PG-13 to NC-17 ('Cause I'm a hornball, baby)
What do you want in your fic?: Snark, a manipulating situation, toe-socks, a 'trip' (in any way you want to take that)
One specific All Hallow's Eve item that MUST be included!: A haunted house
What don't you want in your fic?: Rape, incest, character death, too much angst
Name and Group Username: Uh, lol. Sage/everythursday...you decide which one I should go with. Group Username is, I suppose, TheWrongInsideU?
Jonathan's horse, 'Mirabilia'. – The etymology of the word is Latin, and it loosely translates as 'miracle'.
October 30th 1806
It was storming outside. The wizard entered the Manor shortly before midnight. Locks were not an obstacle. Neither was the elderly butler who was awakened by the distressful cries from the dying horse in the stables. The wizard disposed of the old man quickly, stepping over his stooped, arthritic body as it lay across the front doorstep. He then proceeded to the servants' quarters at the back of the house.
First, the housekeeper. The older woman, her frilly, sleeping cap slightly askew, died in her sleep and was not afforded a glimpse of her killer. The younger maid had awakened, however, and her eyes were wide with terror when the wizard cast the Killing Curse. They both fell back into their beds, looking no different than when he had found them.
A large, green-eyed cat bounded into wizard's path once the he had shut the door to the servants' room. The animal obviously knew what he was about that evening and snarled at him in challenge.
Pity. He was terribly fond of cats. And so was Samhain, the Dark One for whom All Hallow's Eve had been named. The wizard was an ardent patron of Samhain, and his devotion had been rewarded with the heightening of his powers during that sacred time, each year.
He knew which room was hers. She was would pick the bedroom that opened to the rising sun and to the gardens that were so wild they bordered on being unfashionable. He knew this because she was a creature of summer and growing things. He loved that about her.
The wizard entered the bedroom. He did not require a charm to guarantee silence now, for this final and important act. Everyone else in the house was already dead. There would be no thwarting him. No rescue.
She lay asleep in the bed, his beautiful girl who had run away into the arms of another. The man who had stolen her from him was holding her as if she were a treat too soon to be taken away. The young couple was wrapped around each other, legs and arms entwined and her long, flaxen hair an insubstantial, but luxurious blanket covering them.
The wizard's jealousy and rage grew and grew until it filled the room with an invisible, groaning darkness that seemed to push the walls outwards. The husband's eyes snapped open. He was a man of action. The wizard knew that the man was not a pampered, soft, dandy, who started at shadows. If it was to be a fair fight for the girl's affections, the husband would win.
But it was not going to be a fair fight.
A flash of lightning illuminated the wizard's wand, his robes, and the otherworldly hatred in his eyes. The husband pushed his wife behind him just as the Killing Curse was spoken.
His beloved awakened, but she did not scream, beg or bargain. That was what he admired about her - more courage than most men he knew. She held the hand of her dead husband and then silently challenged the wizard to do the same to her.
It was past midnight now. All Hallow's Eve. The wizard's powers were keener than ever.
He had wondered what impact his love for the girl would have on Avada Kedavra. Would it even work? Would it be just the same?
The wizard's questions were answered in full when he finally lifted his wand and killed the girl.
She still died, the same as all the others, but the flash of green was the most brilliant the wizard had ever seen. It seemed to grow and burst through the walls, diffusing through the rest of the house.
He left the place exactly as it was, save for one item. The beautiful gold and diamond ring her husband had given her caught the wizard's eye. It represented all that had gone wrong in his failed courtship of the highborn, Muggle girl.
The wizard gently pried the ring from his beloved's pale hand, to serve as a reminder.
Blaise was trying very hard not to murder his boss, but heaven help him, it was a difficult task.
"Tell her that the past year has been mutually beneficial. You've gained a lot from the relationship. But with a confirmed union, you can see better and brighter things in your respective futures."
Draco Malfoy was having problems sitting down. It was the new office chairs, Blaise realised, feeling a little contrite. They were a modern leather and stainless steel design of Blaise's own choosing, that rested fashionably low to the ground. Not ideal for sitting in, if you happened to be carrying around a lame, right leg. Malfoy managed though, after a minute. The damaged leg was propped up on the coffee table and Blaise thoughtfully ignored the obvious signs of strain and white pain on Draco's face. His injured leg was taboo. You mentioned it at your own peril.
'Peril', incidentally, was Blaise's nickname for the cane that Draco used to walk with. His friend was deathly quick to swing the thing at offending individuals. More than one staff member at the office had learned that the hard way.
"I'm planning to propose, you twat, not launch a company merger. Can't you get your head out of business for one second?"
Blaise's pity dissolved in a fizzle of annoyance. "I work fourteen hours a day for you, you tyrant. Business is what I know."
Draco waved a dismissive hand. "Just show me the bloody brochure."
Blaise handed it to him and watched as Draco studied the advert. Studied it and then stared up at his old school friend and new business partner with a bland look.
"We have to…drive there?"
He might as well have said, 'give Hagrid a sponge bath'.
"In a car, yes."
"I don't know how to drive, Zabini," Draco pointed out.
Blaise's imagination was having the most splendid time. Draco, Last of the Malfoys, the product of ten generations of careful breeding and rampant snobbery, seated in the driver's seat of some dingy, dusty sedan. With a big, red, 'L' stuck on the rear. He would scowl at the hapless, bespectacled, balding, driving instructor, who would of course be immune to both slander and bribery. "You failed to stop at a stop sign," the man would say, to which a sneering Draco would respond with, "Cruciatus."
"How lucky for you, then, that Granger drives very well," Blaise said, when he had quit smiling from his daydream. He had no idea if she drove well or not, but he thought it a fair guess seeing as she was good at most things.
"I am not sitting in a sodding car for four hours."
"That's good, because it's a very scenic, two hour drive at the most."
Malfoy honestly didn't have anything to complain about. He had asked for a holiday and Blaise had delivered, organising every detail right down to the rental car. Muggle celebrities paid top dollar for these types of novelty holidays in old country manors, Draco was told. The car wasn't the problem. They were simply skirting around the fact that Draco could not fly a broom any more. Sometimes Blaise thought that that knowledge hurt him more than the actual maiming of his leg.
Proud people always had a lot farther to fall. So far, in fact, that some didn't make it back up.
Five years since Potter's death and people still pulled their children away whenever Draco approached. He still received death threats every week. If a Diagon Alley merchant refused to serve him, Draco would simply tell you that he didn't really care because he was used to it. The angry, indignant fire in his eyes had burnt down to a few smouldering embers that would spark to life only in the presence of the one thing that recommended Draco to living – Hermione Granger.
Saying that it was an unusual pairing was an understatement.
Suffice to say that certain persons known to both parties had been so stunned to receive news of the relationship that they had instantly suspected foul play. Accordingly, Granger had eventually consented to being examined for any trace of a love potion and the drinking water at the Ministry had been sent to a lab for analysis.
Blaise thought falling in love was about as practical as a third arse cheek, but then he hadn't been the one to go through what Draco had. The Zabinis were merchants, not crusaders and had wisely remained neutral during the war.
Like Switzerland, Blaise liked to say, only better dressed.
Suffering changed a person. The proof was sitting calmly, albeit uncomfortably, in a chair in front of him.
Draco may have lost his title and his entire inheritance, but he was still indecently well off thanks to a few clever investments made following a four year sentence in Azkaban. Blaise had been hired to manage these investments and made his own tidy profit.
It was a splendid arrangement.
Blaise watched as Draco picked an imaginary piece of lint from his chocolate-coloured trousers while muttering something about the trip.
"What it is now?" Blaise asked.
"If I suggest a trip, she's going to know I'm intending to do something…out of the ordinary. I don't even remember her birthday."
"Aren't you the catch of the season," Blaise remarked dryly. "Not my problem what you tell her. Lie to her. Say it's a research trip."
"What kind of dark arts defence research would involve staying at a country manor for a week?"
"Make something up. You're good at that." Neutral he may be, but never let it be said that Blaise was not a Slytherin, through and through.
Draco was quiet for a long while. "Mulberry House, eh? Sounds like one of those places they send Muggle old people to when they start wetting their beds. Why isn't there a picture, Zabini?"
Blaise held on to his patience. "You want a picture, I'll give you one. Rolling, green hills, ponds, a lake with a boat house, ten bedrooms, stables, miles and miles of kitchen bench to facilitate late night, ice-cream binges and-or sex, and an staff that will look after your every need. I'll have you know I spent two weeks looking for suitable accommodation for you. That place comes with the highest recommendations. It's the most private thing I could find on short notice. No pesky reporters hounding you. Honestly, I know you pay me well, but I can't fathom why I put up with all this ungratefulness."
Draco might have leered, or smiled. Only he didn't do these things anymore. His wit, however, was very much intact. "Because of your mad lust for me, of course."
Blaise responded with a smile, slow and sleet-melting. "As I recall, that lust has been satisfied."
Miraculously, after all he had been through, even after Azkaban, Draco still had it in him to blush. "That was a very long time ago," he said, softly.
To lighten the mood, Blaise added. "Yes. I was off my face at that party. It was a toss up between you or Parkinson. Thank goodness I worked out what my intense fascination with Quabble's 'Men of Quidditch Calender' was all about. Pansy would have traumatised me for life."
Draco pushed himself off the chair with the aid of his brass-handled cane, and got to his feet. He put the brochure into the pocket of the soft, caramel-coloured jacket he was wearing. "What am I doing, Zabini? I'm the most reviled man in Wizarding Britain. Of course she's going to say no."
"Severus Snape is the most reviled man in Wizarding Britain," Blaise corrected. "You're number two, but only because you're better looking."
"Thank you. I feel so much better now."
"Have you picked out a ring?" Blaise steered the conversation back to the purpose of the trip. "Or do I have to do that as well?"
"I'm not completely inept," Draco snapped. "He pulled out a small, white leather box from his pocket and flicked it open.
Blaise whistled low. The ring was obviously an antique. That made sense. Draco was not one for sleek minimalism. It was a gold band, with a large, cushion cut, yellow diamond that seemed to tell you stories the longer you looked at it.
"Nice, Malfoy. Very, very nice. Where did you get it?"
"I'm still welcomed at a few places."
Draco did not look overly thrilled with his selection and so Blaise was gentler when he next spoke. "You need to stop worrying so much about disappointing her. I think it's fair to say she's seen you at your worse. And then some."
"I don't think I need advice from someone who's only long lasting relationship was the thirty minutes he spent with the towel boy at the Cheeky Cherub."
That wrung a laugh out of Blaise. "Touché. You know, you could have done much worse than Granger. Your Azkaban interrogator might have been Longbottom. It would be a wild and woody love. Lots of nature hikes. You'll have allergies, but you'll endure them for your sweet Nevvie. I imagine you'd have to propose to him with a rare potted plant of some sort. You'd exchange trowels instead of rings in a greenhouse wedding overseen by Professor Sprout who will, of course, be godmother to all your green-thumbed brats. You'll have three children, Hibiscus, Valerian and Duckweed Longbottom."
Draco could only stare at him. "You know I can pay to have you killed?"
Blaise thumped him on the back good-naturedly as he walked his employer to the door. "As if you would," he scoffed. "Why pay for something you can probably do all by yourself?"
It was their routine.
The grandfather clock at the bottom of the curving, twin-branched staircase announced the arrival of Twelve Ante Meridiam to all the inhabitants of the house, of which there were five.
Well, seven in total, if you wanted to be pedantic about it.
Lady Sandhurst would make her graceful way to the front parlour, known more affectionately as the rose parlour, for it was completely done in dusky pinks and creams so thick as to be three dimensional. She arrived, as she did every evening, at precisely three minutes past midnight and was pleased to see that Stebbins had already wheeled in a little cart bearing Esther's grandmother's fine, bone china tea service. There was no tea in the teapot and the elegant trays were devoid of cakes or biscuits, but Esther liked to declare that it was the thought that counted.
Stebbins had been with them for a very long time, having served as Esther's family butler for two full generations. He had already been an old man when Esther was born. His eyesight was bad, his hearing was worse and he doddered. But only just. Still, Esther would have sooner replaced him as she would her beloved husband, Jonathan.
Who was late. Again. Esther sighed. She wouldn't have changed a hair on the man's head, but his tardiness really was legendary.
Stebbins set a dainty tea cup and saucer on the gilded, parlour table and regarded the mistress he loved like a daughter. Lord Sandhurst was always late. Stebbins had never encountered a man with the ability to fill his day quite like the young Earl.
"Shall I fetch him for you, madam?" Stebbins asked politely.
"No need," Esther smiled, her violet eyes going unfocussed for a moment. "He comes now."
True enough, the parlour doors swung open with a flourish and a young man, no more than twenty-five, and certainly less than thirty, strode into the room. He was dressed in riding clothes and carried something out of the outdoors about his person. There was no light in the parlour, but he didn't need it to locate his wife and go to her. His light blue eyes were alight with love and the tiniest bit of mischief.
"Jonathan," she breathed, rising to her feet in a flutter of peach silk.
There was no longer a need for propriety at the House. There hadn't been for a very long time. And so Lord Sandhurst settled his pretty wife in his lap and put his face in her golden curls.
"Evening, Stebbins," came the slightly muffled greeting.
"Good evening, my lord." Stebbins bowed before making a discreet exit, leaving the couple to their privacy. He had been eager to have a word with Mrs. Badgerly, the housekeeper, about Ruth. The maid had taken a maggot to her head about changing the routine of her duties. A well-run estate depended on routine. Mrs. B would soon sort the girl out.
"Any luck?" Esther asked her husband. This also, was routine. Their search for Esther's engagement ring was never-ending.
"No," Jonathan replied. They were sad, but not for very long. Tomorrow was a new day and that meant new possibilities.
"Did you visit with Mirabilia this evening?" she asked, eyeing the bits of wet grass that still clung to his shiny Hessians.
The mischievous glint in his eyes became more pronounced. "I did. Are you jealous?"
"That horse hates me," she said, with a bit of a sniff.
Esther's long-standing disagreement with Jonathan's beautiful mount was a constant source of amusement to him. "She's partial to men," Jonathan informed, thinking what fun it was to tease his wife.
"She's partial to you."
"That's because I am the best of men," Lord Sandhurst answered cheerfully.
His loyal wife nodded. "Indeed you are."
Jonathan's eyes softened. "Have I told you I love you?"
"Not since yesterday, no."
"I love you, Esther."
"I know you do, but it is always good to hear."
"What you play for me tonight?" Jonathan asked. He indulgently tugged on the white ribbon that was wound through Esther's hair.
She looked surprised at the request, but this soon turned to pleasure. "Of course. What would you like to hear?"
Jonathan closed his eyes as he pondered his favourites. He felt something stirring that evening. Something was blowing their way. It would be All Hallow's Eve again in a few days and perhaps that explained why he had been so restless that only a diverting ride around the small estate had managed to calm his nerves.
He realised his wife was giving him a look of concern. He put her at ease immediately.
"Mozart, my love. You know which one."
Esther smiled. She went to the pianoforte, her fingers hovering over the keys for a moment. And then she brought them down into the first movement of Concerto N. 23, in all its melancholy elegance.
It was piece she had not played in over a century.
"Do you hear that?"
Draco had just thrown open the doors to the old house (after a bit of shoulder butting to get the hinges working again). Once it was done, he stepped in front of Hermione before she could walk inside. It was rude, but it was instinct. She was used to this and gave a small sigh, not of frustration, but of resignation.
There was a lot of that going on between them.
The fact was that they were in an unfamiliar place and people still hated him. That kind of knowledge tended to make a person a touch paranoid. Shadows and the unknown just meant more places for angry people to spring out at them from. And there were so very many angry people. Even after five years. He may have been crippled, but Draco was more than capable with a wand in his hand.
Presently, Hermione stood on her toes and tried to peek over his shoulder. It was dark, but there was enough moonlight coming in through the doorway, illuminating the highly polished black and white marbled floor and a round, central table bearing an enormous vase of flowers. A three-tiered chandelier swung lightly directly above. The breeze outside blew crunchy, dried leaves past the threshold, and into the foyer.
"Hear what?" she asked. The question seemed to travel down the length and breadth of the empty house.
Draco frowned as he took a limping step to the door and wheeled their trunk into the house. "Don't worry. It's nothing."
That wasn't true. He had heard music. He was sure of it.
Esther and Jonathan were outside the front parlour, watching as the young couple carried their things into the foyer. Or at least, they were trying to. The light-haired young man, who was walking with the aid of a stick, had tilted a trunk on its attached wheels, only to be stopped by the young lady.
She pressed a hand against his arm and tried to take over the task. He would not let her. She frowned at him.
Esther might have swooned if she had retained the ability. She wasn't the fainting type, but nothing else made a dramatic statement quite like a good swoon. Instead, she held a hand to her mouth and gasped.
"I…I don't believe it. Visitors!"
Jonathan was gawking at the young woman's indecently snug trousers and Esther resisted the urge to swat at him with her fan.
"We haven't had visitors since…"
"Jonathan, my darling, we've never had visitors."
"They see the house?" he pondered, incredulously.
She nodded, her ringleted hair bobbing prettily. "Evidently."
The couple looked to be a few years older than Esther and perhaps the same age as Jonathan. They were obviously English, that was clear enough. However, this was where the similarities ended. The bickering had ceased and the man had relinquished the piece of luggage to his young lady.
With a resigned sigh, he stood by as she took over the task of bringing their additional two bags through the door and started up the steps. He looked surly and made no move to assist.
"He must be a Peer." Jonathan made that remark as he watched Draco fold his arms and watch Hermione struggle up the stairs with the two smaller pieces of luggage. "He has that look about him. Perhaps she is a maid?"
"She is no maid," Esther surmised. The pretty, dark-haired girl did not look the sort to receive orders. Indeed, she seemed to be the one giving them. One of the bags had not been fastened securely, and it split open at the top. A smaller, quilted bag tumbled out and over the banister.
"There goes Great Aunt Millie's vase…"
"I say! Be careful!" Jonathan started forward up the steps to Hermione the same time Draco dropped his cane and lunged to steady the vase. Jonathan ended up walking right through him.
Draco stopped, started and stared down at himself. He replaced the vase on its pedestal and then visibly shivered. For a split second, it felt like he had just been dunked into a vat of ice.
Hermione was looking down at him from the top of the staircase. "Draco, are you alright?"
He replied that he was.
"Odd name, that," Jonathan muttered. Esther elbowed him for his rudeness.
They both watched the young man's unusual grey gaze follow his lady up the stairs. He kept right on staring, even after she had disappeared from the steps and her footsteps could no longer be heard.
The look of longing on his face was as old as Eve.
"Oh, dear," said Esther. She turned to her husband, who had no trouble recognising the purposeful look in her eyes. "There can only be one purpose for their being here, Jonathan. I fear we have quite a bit of work to do."
Her husband wrapped his arms around her. His amazement was profound. "Can it really be? After all this time, do you suppose we shall finally lift this damnable curse?"
Jonathan loved Esther for a thousand different reasons. One of these reasons was her ability to be eternally optimistic. Even in death.
"We shall certainly do our best!"