I do not own, or receive any benefit, from the Harry Potter properties.

Mosaic: Chapter 1: Skip-Trace

By Larry Huss

Wednesday, Nov 11, 1981

Lucius Malfoy contemplated his last few years as he dragged a cut-throat razor over his cheeks. 'Thank God that's over!' he thought as he rinsed the blade, and then scooped up some warm water and did the same to his face and neck. He reached his hand out to his personal House-Elf, who placed the warmed towel in it, and dried himself. He could have had the Elf shave him, but people that became so dependent on the creatures often also became a little weird, giving them livery and calling them pet names. Far better to keep a decent distance between the races, and not become a slave to your own servants. In any case it was hard to truly trust the mind of one of them. House-Elves were essential both quite mad, and almost invulnerable. Tell them to correct a minor mistake, and they went and punished themselves by driving forks in their eyes (not that they wouldn't heal!). They were no more capable of real pain or injury than an animated cartoon. Lord, how he used to laugh at those mutilations, flayings, and incinerations he had seen so often as a child on the Muggle Tele-viewer Father had rigged up at the edge of the property, where it could work!

Cologne on and properly dressed, he went to breakfast, and then to the Library, where the past two week's worth of newspapers were stacked up neatly. House-Elves were good for things like that at least. Narcissa had gone back up to the Nursery, to supervise the nanny and coo over little Draco. Their one and only hostage to fortune, unless some generous donations to St. Mungo's would be able to help them find a way to correct the damage that bungling Midwife had done at his birth. Lucius had wanted Narcissa to go to one of the premier Muggle hospitals for her delivery, with a goodly supply of useful potions available in case of need, of course. His contacts in that world allowed him to know where they had advanced beyond current Wizardly capability. But Narcissa was a Black, andthey would always remain stuck at least two centuries in the past, no matter what the situation.

A breech-delivery shouldn't have caused so much damage to the mother… shouldn't have. Later he had hunted the bitch down in her twee cottage in the Forest of Dean, and killed her slowly. It didn't help Narcissa any, though. And the organs of generation were too intrinsically magical to respond well to the current state of the art in magical healing. Spilt milk, spilt tears, spilt blood. No reason now to cry about it now.

Lucius ruffled through the pile to his favorite issue; he'd have it saved in an album for the future. At least two hundred and fifty column-inches on Voldemort's death, the tragic scene at the Potter Home, and all the twaddle about the child. An enterprising reporter had managed to get through the Auror applied wards and get into the place, taking pictures herself, as well as stealing one off the mantelpiece of the happy little trio: Mother, Father, and Child. The art department at the Prophet had thoughtfully added a little lightning-bolt shaped scar to the Boy's forehead, in accordance with old Dumbledore's description. Irritating arse!

What spell had Voldemort used to ensnare them all, all the mighty Pure Blood Wizards and Witches? Lucius remembered being willing to risk anything for the man. True, the Cause was good, pure and clean… at least at first. But as the years went on it began to generate poisoned fruits, and all those brave Knights had turned to slaughtering Death Eaters; Lucius didn't exempt himself from succumbing. Certainly once he had allowed himself to commit the first observed atrocity normal blackmail gave Voldemort a hold on him. But all of themsliding so easily into being such obedient puppets? Lucius made a note on the pad he had on the lamp-table next to his chair: "research spells for resistance, mental control." He hadn't been Imperiused, but so many of his actions, his willing abasements, suggested that something had been done to him.

Odd; while the information on when the Potter internment would take place was in its normal location in the paper, there was no information on where the child would be placed. Dumbledore was quoted as saying it was being taken care of, but what standing did he have in all of this? It was a family matter, or else something for the Ministry to decide. If there was a dispute the Wizengamot would take it up, but otherwise… what was Dumbledore in all this? Not even the vaguest mention of the terms of the will was there, not even when it would be read. Odd, odd indeed. Have to ask old Crabby to look into that. More notes went down onto the pad: "Potter child settlement? Will, will, who's got the will?"

Ruffling through the next day's paper Lucius came across the Black story. Fancy little Sirius being the agent inside! He'd always played at being such a dedicated rebel against his family, masterful how he have been gotten to after his sorting, the Hat would have caught him otherwise and kept him from being a Gryff. Gotten to… Lucius picked up his quill and underlined his first note. Then added: "Avoid Black trial panel." Cissy was so very soft on family; it would never do to sentence one of her cousins to Azkaban if he could help it. Especially since the bloke had actually been in the same mess as Lucius had been; all in all a joke too cruel to join in.

He picked up today's paper and slowly and carefully read it. Yes! Buried in a back page was Bagnold's list of those cleared of accusations of criminality; the Malfoy name buried deeply in the middle of it. Now that was the best 250,000 Galleon investment he had ever made! Though adding that sum in to the constant contributions he had been so unprotesting in making to Voldemort's war-chest had left the Malfoy cash reserves, always larger in myth than reality, more than a touch low. Another note: "Money, where's more money?"

Wednesday the next

'Odd,' thought Lucius Malfoy as sat down after breakfast for his reading of the early edition of The Daily Prophet. There had been no mention of when Sirius Black would be brought up for trial (and inevitable sentencing), nor had Malfoy himself received any documents to attend a session with that accused. Now back in Society's good graces, Lucius knew that he should have gotten one. He'd have ducked out of it, of course. Still very odd; after all, justice delayed is justice denied. The Lestranges had been tried and sentenced (with gruesome and detailed boasting about their deeds), while Lucius had practiced staying hidden in the back of the chamber, ready to bolt if there had seemed that anything they would say would cause the case against him to re-open. Crouch Jr. had been tried… in fact a fair selection of the craziest and poorest of the old bunch had been swiftly sent off to enjoy the cold comforts of Azkaban. But Sirius Black's name had never been mentioned at any of the brief hearings.

Odder still was that at the end of the story there was a tabulation of the convicted and their sentences. Black's name was there, all right. Life without hope of release. For that to be printed in the day's paper Black should have been brought in for one of the sessions that Lucius knew he had attended, sessions that Black certainly hadn't been mentioned. Aside from it being a shame that Black hadn't been given the Kiss of Death from the Dementors, something else felt wrong about this. If Black had died, Cissy should have gotten something useful from the estate (as the Black Family was getting quite thin on the ground), which would be very helpful in avoiding having to sell some income producing properties to deal with their slight… cash flow problem.

Lucius supposed that he must jaunt down to the Ministry this morning and check things out. If there were irregularities in the trial, and he pointed it out, he might be able to get a family-rate loan from Black. If not, he could start sniffing around to see if there was anyone there who could help make that "Life without hope of release" sentence for Black into one a good deal shorter than the three or four years life expectancy that Azkaban supplied in its rougher sections. Lucius needed money now, or at the worst within the next two months. Justice (or Mercy, one way or the other) would be served! And it had better be pretty damn quickly if it was going to help the Malfoy family.

Crabbe had come up blank on the Potter will and Potter boy front. While he was in Town, Lucius decided he would use some of his less prestigious contacts and resolve those questions also. There was no reason not to have more than one iron on the fire.

Wednesday, Nov 25, 1981

"So, if I may be candid, and act as one family member talking to another, with all directness and honesty; unless you agree to my terms you will rot in here for the rest of your undoubtedly short life. There is no one who will answer your pleas or letters of supplication. Not the least because you aren't allowed to get any messages to the outside world.

"Your few surviving friends are scattered, broken. Ah, I see from your face you haven't heard about the Longbottoms. Any that remain are of too little influence to do you a bit of good, even if they thought you innocent. Which they do not. If you believe that Albus Dumbledore will save you; well, I've been to a number of sessions of the Wizengamot, and not heard a word from its Chief in that regard. So, agree or spend the rest of your life here."

Black shook his shaggy head and gave an embarrassed whimper of a laugh. Sad to think that this little interview with Malfoy was the best time he'd had in the last few weeks. The courtesies of Azkaban; when one of the rare visitors was admitted to see an inmate the Dementors were kept away from those corridors of the pile. For the first time in weeks Sirius Black didn't feel as if sharp toothed little vermin were trying to burrow their way under his skin. The package from Cousin Cissy wasn't half bad, either. Black didn't mind that he had been told that a much larger one, filled with food, drink, and candy had already been delivered to Bellatrix Lestrange; it was only right that sisters look after each other.

"What about Harry; James and Lily's kid?" Black asked.

"Rather mysteriously dropped out of sight, actually. Unless Dumbledore is lying and the coffins of the Potter family contain three, rather than two. I have a trustworthy Muggle attempting to find him."

At Black's incredulous look Malfoy smirked. "No one does finer work in metal than a Goblin, venomous little beasts though they are. I don't deny that Muggles have their uses, and that we should use them. The trouble with all those Liberals and Reformers is… not the discussion we should be having now. Young Potter has disappeared from the Wizarding world of Great Britain. He is either dead, transported far away, disguised, or hidden.

"If he's dead, no one can do much for him. I seriously doubt that the man last known to have his hands on the child, Dumbledore, would let him get to where he couldn't keep a close eye on him. Disguises are all fine enough, but a thorough one can be very expensive of time and magic over the long term, so Dumbledore, or a close ally, would have to be in constant attendance. After all, the child is a mere infant, and as such prone to bursts of accidental magic that could disrupt any magical disguise.

"Hidden, or hidden and disguised, is the way to bet if you think he's alive. Either with great amounts of detectible magic disguising him if he is in the Magical world, or else Muggle-disguised, and in the Muggle world. I could be wrong, and do have some friends looking for him in various Magical corners and nooks, but currently I pin my hopes on someone being too clever by half.

"And after all, back to the main reason for my coming to this detestable place, Black. It's only half of something you'll never get to use otherwise in any case." Lucius gave himself a mental pat on the back; he'd almost called the man Sirius. Given his hot temper that would have probably set him off in some sort of time wasting rant.

For a moment Malfoy watched Black wolf down some of Cadbury's products in a most disrespectful and gluttonous manner. Then, at Black's gesture, he gave him quill and parchment. The prisoner feverishly wrote some corrections to the terms, and then told Malfoy to have a proper document drawn up by a professional, and to get back for the signing as quickly as he could.

After getting a guard to get him out of the cell, and escort him to the one Bella was in, Lucius glanced at Black's emendations to the agreement. Interesting, even generous in a way. In some parts a reversal of what Lucius had proposed, but still… it would serve.

After letting him into Bella's cell, the warder gave him the key to unlock her bindings, and made sure he passed it out, un-copied, before he left them alone. Lucius understood completely the man's reasons. Bella look horrible, and horrifying. She'd got her back to a cell wall, and looked at him with a suspicious and feral expression. Lucius went to the package that had been deposited there earlier, opened it, and took a box of cherry cordial truffles out. He advanced toward her, holding it out like a man offering a steak to a hungry lion.

"Hello Bella; Narcissa remembered how much you always liked these."

Tuesday, Dec 8, 1981

The offices of Robert Strongen were clean, tastefully furnished in the most modern office style, and conducive to the exchanges of confidences. When Lucius Malfoy dealt with Muggles he saw no reason to risk his results by dealing with any but the best, and these tended to be those who could afford a workplace that didn't make their clients want to destroy their garments and take a sterilizing bath after a meeting.

Robert Strongen was somewhat out of place in his own office. Though well enough dressed, his face, hair, and posture were those of a weary and defeated man, one who you would work hard at not to notice. That way you could avoid having to deal with the thought that you, too, might end up a failure. He made a pretty penny from his despondent looks, and the way people would be excessively cooperative just to get his sad mug out of their sight. His ability as an investigator supplied the rest of the reasons for his success.

For clients of Mr. Malfoy's standing, Strongen handled the cases himself, and did the reports.

"As you expected, the Potter leads faded out pretty quickly. The Evans string was viable though. The grandparents are dead, but we were able to trace a sister to Little Whinging, married name Petunia Dursley. We've checked newspapers, Registry, and neighbors back in her old home, and then both traced her by her husband's job, and when she started appearing in the auto and telephone registries as being in her new town. Her prints match those on file for Petunia Dursley nee Evans.

"Her new neighbors confirm that she had a kid a bit over a year ago, and recently started to show up now and then with another that looks nothing like her first one. About the same age, or a little younger. Don't call the sprout by name, though. Usually just "freak" or something like that. Not a proper motherly attitude, though it's not my part to criticize.

"Someone who just moved in…" Strongen flipped through some pages on a wire-bound notebook, "Mrs. Arabella Figg; referred to the new boy as Harry. Why she should know, and not the people Dursley hobnobbed with, is a bit unclear. I was posing as someone who was interested in moving into the area, and didn't want too much racket from children. Cat lady type, though with the oddest looking cats.

"Without getting a proper set of footprints I can't guarantee the identity of the child. If you want to do this indirectly I could put a word in the ear of someone from Child Services, who could get up the Dursleys' noses proper. They would have to provide positive ID to the government, but since you mentioned doing this with a light touch I've held off until you give the OK. Here's a photo of the kids in the yard; the light-haired one is Dudley Dursley, three confirms on that. The dark haired one is either 'Freak', last name unknown. Or, it's most likely your Harry Potter."

Malfoy handed over the check for £10,000 (Galleons 2,000) and accepted the manila folder with all the information Strongen had gathered, and all the photos. From previous experience, the investigator knew that when he dealt with Mr. Malfoy no copies were to be left behind when the final check was passed over. It was a slightly unusual way to work, but when a client pays a premium rate you tend to give him some extra consideration. This case would enable Strongen to engage in his favorite pastime for some time; the hunting of blonds in their early twenties. Which accounted for why there was no Mrs. Strongen; even if he had married one of his early catches, by now she would only be a blonde in her early forties, and so an entirely different creature from those he was interested in.

If it wasn't such a un-Malfoy sort of thing to do, Lucius would have been whistling as he went down to the Ministry for his latest trip to Azkaban. He stopped only to pick up three packages Narcissa had ordered from Fortnum and Mason. One package for Black, one for Bella, and one heavy on the wine for the guards, to bribe them to let Bella out of her chains long enough each day to eat something from the one she had received. Little touches and remembrances like these were part of the reason that Narcissa was such an asset for his political career.

His business at Azkaban was quickly concluded. Black had carefully read the document; evidently some of his famous impetuous nature had been cured by even his short stay in that outlier of hell. He had signed, a small smile flitting over his face, and the only awkwardness had been when he had inquired about the child. Lucius had answered honestly (if incompletely) that none of his friends' diligent searching in Magical Britain had turned up any lead, or any indication that Potter had officially left the country.

It was too bad poisoning Black was so risky, but it would have been too easy to prove that the death was un-natural, and that would have held the estate up for who knows how long. This document in Malfoy's pocket was more sure, and potentially more valuable. He would explain it all to Cissy when he got home. For now, he had to endure the ordeal that was Bellatrix.

Later that evening

Narcissa Malfoy, all silver and ivory in a deep blue dress, gently played with the smiling child sitting in her lap. He gurgled contentedly.

"So, my darling; Sirius has signed an agreement to adopt Draco as his heir, resign as head of the House of Black, and agree to our adopting Draco back? All the entailed properties become Draco's, with us getting trusteeship during his childhood, as well as a good lump of money. All Sirius gets is the rest of the money, some minor properties, help on clearing up some custody question, and a Boon later in life?"

"Well, my dear, "Lucius replied, "He also gets his day in court. I have no idea what he expects will come of it but a trip back to the Island, but he insisted. And since he is your family, I really felt that he was entitled to that last request. At a proper trial there is a very good chance of the Kiss for him, but after all, that would be a mercy. You're lucky you're too psychically sensitive to stand getting that near the Dementors. After two trips there, even with them being herded out of the way, I can assure you that I damn well wish I was able to beg off."

Narcissa was well content. Draco wasn't being fidgety, Lucius and she had done something for the Family, Draco would eventually be able to redeem the Black family reputation, and much of their money troubles would be taken care of. Now to put her little darling to bed, conduct those dreary Occlumency exercises Lucius had been insisting on lately, and then on to the fun part of the evening!

Thursday, Jan 7, 1982

Lucius Malfoy left the court chamber shaking his head. Black had actually been innocent! Some Pettifog (a younger denizen of Hogwarts that he had barely noticed when Lucius had been there himself) had been their man on the inside. And Lucius had thought that he had been in on the know! Well, the document Black had signed back in Azkaban was undoubtedly legal, and the fifteen year leases he had let out on the entailed properties on Draco's behalf had more than handled the cash flow problem for the present.

Thinking of it calmly, the stink he had had to make to get Black his trial now made him a well known advocate for justice. Black's acquittal actually should make Lucius' own getting off from prosecution look far better; it might well put those (accurate) bribery rumors to rest. What was that expression? Ah, doing well by doing good. There was still a bit of a problem to face, though.

Try as he might, Lucius had not been able to find #4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging. Or any of its inhabitants. He finally appreciated what Muggles had to put up when they ran into an area filled with Muggle-aversion charms. While he had always seemed to just end up turned around the wrong way on the street, Crabbe and Goyle had trouble staying in the same neighborhood. They kept on wandering further and further away from the area of the search until they nearly reached the town limits. Lucius put it down to the advancement he had made in his Occlumency training. The disciplined mind was a great protection. Or it could have been that of the three only Malfoy was truly indifferent to the boy's fate; the others were still resentful of how the Great Campaign had gone, and the boy's part in that. Lucius had never found a way to break it to them that Voldemort had made too many promises to too many people, and that when he had taken over, the people he was most likely to think expendable were those who had already proven they were capable of fighting hard and dirty to get what they wanted. The clock-punchers and the by-the-rules types were easy to rule over, once you got to make the rules. It was the revolutionaries who really believed in the cause who were potential rivals and opposition.

'Oh dear, here comes Black now,' Malfoy thought to himself. 'I just have to let him know, roughly, where the little sprog is, not that I've been trying to get him for myself, or why.'

"Black! Good to see those old fogies saw reason. You've got to come to Narcissa's celebratory dinner; she's having it for you Sunday night. Everyone important will be there; you can party with your friends, and snub your enemies. And there are certain files that I feel that I have to, in all good conscience, turn over to you."

"Ah, Lucius, old classmate, I wouldn't think of missing it, especially if Cissy still makes those canapés herself. She does? Yes, I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Black's smile had been too broad, his heartiness too pronounced. It was likely that the forthcoming little family party (with others) would be one for the ages. Lucius wasn't certain whether it was going to be better to hire a dozen off-duty Aurors to provide security and keep a lid on things…

… Or would it be worthwhile to sell the publication rights for the story to come to the highest bidder.

Sunday, Jan 10, 1982

As the last of their dinner guests used the Floo to get home before the witching hour struck, Lucius Malfoy idly wondered how many of the half-sozzled ones would end up in strange and unusual destinations. There were rumors, unverified but perennial, that sometimes fireplaces, officially disconnected, were accessible to the drunk and magically powerful. How else to explain the Father Christmas so many Muggles claimed to have seen late of a Yuletide night? Alas, those Malfoy wished to be stranded in furthest No-Where were those who rationed their strong drink. Still, the party had been every bit as amusing as he had hoped.

Black had raked that bluenose Crouch over the coals for not caring whether he sent the innocent to Azkaban, so long as he fulfilled his quota of victims. That had led to a fine screaming match, and the only thing that could have improved it would have been for Black to have brought up the Death Eater son. Too bad Cousin Sirius retained a bit too much decency to rub the salt into that wound!

But the sweetest part of the entertainment had been Black leading Dumbledore, once the leader of a little band of vigilantes, item by item and piece by piece, over why he had abandoned one of his own, without even the decency of an investigation, or even just making sure that a fair trial had been held.

Each of Dumbledore's responses had been weak, and the grandfatherly voice and assurance had quickly disappeared as the after-dinner drinks were knocked back. Black, getting more intoxicated by the moment, had pressed harder and harder. Dumbledore, embarrassed and ashamed of his failures and his evasions of his duties, gave replies in an increasingly weaker voice, and with a pitiful lack of firmness. He expected to be forgiven; but even just visiting Azkaban Lucius knew that anyone who allowed you to go there when he could have legally stopped the proceedings had done something unforgivable by merely human mercy.

The ultimate delight was when Black had cornered the old man, and demanded… as young Potter's Godfather, and an executor of the Potter's will… to have access to the child. Also to be told by the Head of the Wizengamot why the will, a copy held by the Headmaster of Hogwarts, had not had a date for its reading posted. At that Dumbledore had ran to the fireplace, grabbed far too much Floo Powder, and fled the scene without another word but "Hogwarts Headmaster's study." By the time Black had gotten himself pointed in the right direction, and had his feet unentangled, Dumbledore had turned off the connection at his end. Resulting in Black's light singeing, to the general merriment. Even he was laughing at that now, after two more Firewhiskies.

Interesting though, the bit about Dumbledore having a copy of the Potter will, and not having it given even a preliminary reading after two months. Mister Leader of the Light was evidently hiding something, besides (it seemed) the boy. And he was soon going to be to be pinned like a butterfly to a card, unless he picked his game up.

Tuesday, March 2, 1982

Lucius Malfoy, Lord Malfoy, looked out the bow window of his study down onto a small brick-enclosed garden, where Draco Malfoy, Lord Black, toddled around under the careful eye of his nanny. Now that the last of the Death Eater trials were over there was little else of excitement in the Wizarding World, at least in the opinion of Lord Malfoy. Little had changed in the last few months, and little more was known in regard to the puzzles Malfoy had set himself.

It was true that even Crabbe and Goyle were becoming more capable of analytic thought about their last few years of obsession. But, except for his own studies of Occlumency, Malfoy had found nothing new that would preserve his unfettered will if some other would-be Dark Lord discovered Voldemort's mind-control tricks. Currently Lucius was going through the library he had shipped over from Draco's official seat, 12 Grimmauld Place, to see if the notorious Black Library had anything that was useful. There were many interesting spells, and not a few recipes for unique poisons in the books he had looked at so far, but nothing that seemed to deal with his problem.

It was encouraging, even heartwarming if you were inclined that way that way, that Sirius Black had lived up to all of his obligations in their contract promptly, setting an example that the greatest findable living hero of British Wizardry had still failed to follow. In fact, Dumbledore seemed to be abusing his offices and authority, and lying like a rug, with the speed and energy of a far younger, more obviously guilty man. Why Dumbledore was hiding what inevitably had to come out was puzzling to Lucius. The motion was coming up at the Wizengamot to unseal the will, and there were increasingly less respectful requests from Bagnold to produce the boy, and determine where he should be fostered, the Potter family being otherwise extinct. If Black was right about the Godfather bit, and no other arrangements were made in the will, he would get the child. From many a slightly barbed conversation with the man Lucius knew he was still of the Light, as they liked to term themselves with typical modesty. So why was Dumbledore not courting the man? All he had to do was actually fulfill the legal obligations that were soon to be forced on him.

Well, thanks to the rescue of the Malfoy family finances, Lucius would be informed of what was happening with the child sooner than most. Now that he could afford it he had had Strongen assign a semi-permanent watcher over the Dursleys of Privet Drive, and their little 'freak,' too. Ah, Muggles! What would he do without them? The pictures they had recently sent him of the woman, Figg, had included one of her odd "cats." A Kneazle! Figg must be Dumbledore's agent in place, and a Squib or Muggle in on the existence of magic. Lucius had never wanted to be an Auror, and now he was accumulating evidence for what could be the biggest case since the fall of Voldemort. The only thing was… when should he use it, and for what advantage?

Currently there were several of the Malfoy House-elves clearing out Grimmauld Place; it was an absolute disaster, dowdy and half-unkempt, much like its former, neglectful, mistress. On the first day the title had passed over Lucius had gone there and essentially disposed of her on the spot. While her opinions on Blood Purity were quite acceptable, she was so disagreeable in general that the only way the house could be brought up to snuff was to remove her immediately. With her went her loyal, if grotty, House-Elf. His own Elves had had to chase it off; it had been trying to lurk about and make off with some of the household artifacts. Lucius had to actually stay at the place for several hours guarding it until a professional had managed to get some time free to re-set the House Wards. Walburga's clothing and personal effects had been sent to the cottage that Narcissa had insisted he allow her to use, rent-free. Of all the family portraits, hers was the only one he hadn't had cleaned and set back on their walls. Hers had been the guest of honor at a little bonfire in the back garden, even if a section of the entranceway wall had needed to be repaired afterwards.

Friday, August 13, 1982

Uncomfortable in his formal robes (cooling charms had never been his forte), Lucius Malfoy saw Albus Dumbledore finally go down in defeat. From his high chair he had accepted the Wizengamot's vote, and set the next Friday for the reading of the Potter will. He had agreed that Sirius Black should be the guardian of Harry Potter unless the will, or other legal lines of responsibility, forbade it. In acknowledgment of his tardiness in dealing with his responsibilities, he had begged the indulgence of the assembled body for an old and overworked man, and fined himself G 5,000, to be added to the Hogwarts Scholarship Fund for Impoverished Students. His only excuse for keeping the child sequestered, he said, was the remaining number of former insurgents still wishing the child harm. Goyle had the good grace to look embarrassed, and muttered how much postage he had wasted on cursed Postal deliveries that were never completed.

After that, the day's labors held little excitement for Malfoy; just a bunch of actual business that had to be done, no matter the unseasonable temperature, or his own ineptitude with cooling charms. He could have asked Goyle, sitting in as his guest, for some help. But that wasn't the Malfoy way.

When the day's work was finally done he was quick off his seat, and was heading toward a bar he knew that served the real Lowenbrau Triumphator, when the most eccentric and irritating of his House-Elves, Dobby, scampered across a floor it should have had no business being on, and handed him a note from the Elf in charge of the ongoing clean-up of Grimmauld Place. While grime and tarnish had been banished some time ago in the house, Lucius was not going to have Draco wandering about in it until every possible trap and hidden danger had been either disarmed, or at least warded off. The note itself was simple enough.

"Found Nasty Nasty Nasty where filthy Kreacher was. Please come Master"

A three-Nasty warning. Whatever it was had the potential to be unpleasant in the greatest degree. He'd have to look into it directly. There went his quiet afternoon with Goyle, sipping a brew and listening to Bulgaria versus Flanders on the Wizarding Wireless. Why did it always have to happen to him?

Evidently it happened to him because of the sheer malignity of the Universe, for when he stepped into the Floo Network Center to head off to deal with his crisis, a young man from the branch of the Owl Post Office that dealt with forwarding material to and from the Muggle world came over and offered him a sealed note. Lucius was pleased, of course, that the fellow recognized him immediately, but the large red "Urgent" stamped on the envelope was hardly likely to be a notice that he had won a lottery. A small tip to the young courier, and Lucius retreated to a private corner to read what was inside.

It was a report from Strongen, time stamped within the last three hours.

"1-Dursley's acting odd, impromptu party.

2-Cat woman gone, also cats.

3-Primary objective not currently visible."

Something was afoot, perhaps the negligent Strongen and all his staff needed to feel what a bit of traditional Muggle-baiting felt like.

"No, no, not so fast Lucius, The report would have gotten to me sooner, if I hadn't been in Session for the last few hours. This almost feels like it was a set-up. Black was there, and grinning like a fool (only natural in his case) at Dumbledore's surrender. Dumbledore was up on the chair, in plain view. At least I was also; otherwise it might have gotten awkward. Have to go there though." Malfoy always liked talking to himself; he felt that talking to someone intelligent always helped you reach the best decisions.

In one sense his quick trip to Little Whinging was a success. He was finally able to see 4 Privet Drive, if a bit vaguely. Its inhabitants never swam into his vision, but he really hadn't expected them to, either. He went over to the house that Figg had lived in, and no search by either mundane or magical means provided any clue on where the residents had gone. There wasn't even the least lingering scent of Kneazle urine from any of the floor boards.

He would have liked to call in the Aurors, but a lack of a clearly defined crime was a bit of a difficulty. He could show them the Muggle photographs of a child, and claim it was Harry Potter, and have to explain why he had been a leading light in the effort to have Dumbledore come clean when he had known all along where the child was. That one could go either way, and Lucius knew that he was still a bit too close to the events of Halloween last to be safely known as being that sneaky and that cunning. A quick visit to Strongen's office confirmed that Figg had been in place that morning, and that no moving vans or the like had been in the neighborhood that day. Malfoy told the man to keep up the observation of the area for another two weeks, and then to make a final report if the boy didn't turn up.

Then it was off to see what catastrophe was waiting for him at Grimmauld Place.

Monday, August 16, 1982

Minerva McGonagall was glad that Albus had finally accepted her evaluation of the Dursleys. Better late than never, her grandmother had always said, and now Harry would be getting proper care and attention. It was a shame that the boy would have to be raised Abroad until he was old enough to come to Hogwarts, but considering how Malfoy had been sniffing around back in England it was really the only safe way to do things. It was also a shame that poor Sirius would be denied his chance to raise Harry, but there were limits to the protection Albus could give the boy if he lived in the public eye.

At least Albus' international contacts had given him a chance to know the characters of many of the prominent foreign Witches and Wizards. Minerva had spent most of her Summer Holidays with the family that had agreed to raise Harry, quietly evaluating them. She was sure that this time Albus had made no mistake in his selection. Harry would flourish and do very well with the Delacour family.