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[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
The entire story can now be found in a single section here on AO3

Recipient: [personal profile] leela_cat
Author & Artist: ???
Title: Fantastic Beasts and How to Tame Them: a Guide For the Seasoned Auror
Rating: NC-17
Main Characters: Moody, Kingsley, Draco, Snape, Abraxas. For further pairings information (spoiler) highlight to view: *Moody/Draco, Kingsley/Abraxas, Severus/Lucius, mentioned Moody/Kingsley*
Word Count: 78,800
Medium: Pastels on Ingres
Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *Minor character death - and you have to trust me on this one!*.
Summary: The summer holiday is approaching and Alastor Moody has a plan: he is going to investigate a cold case he has never forgotten. He is joined on his quest by a bored Minister for Magic, a Snape who will rather be in Azkaban and a Death Eater who can't sleep at night. Together they attempt to solve the case that has haunted Moody for a decade. Together they face immense dangers as they land on the Unplottable Isle of Drear. To solve the case, the group of determined wizards must learn to cooperate, solving the riddle of the mysterious disappearances. Moody, however, finds more than just the answer to that. Much more.
Author's/Artist's Notes: For [personal profile] leela_cat who wanted plot, dialogue and inventive uses of magic. Dear Leela, I hope you enjoy this romantic suspense drama; I think I managed to fulfil at least a few of your wishes on the way. I have enjoyed many of your stories, so it was a great pleasure to write and draw something for you. Thanks to my wonderful and helpful beta, G, for her never-wavering support. Without her, I could't have accomplished this. Also thanks to [personal profile] bethbethbeth for patience, encouragement and a bit of hand-holding. Thanks, Beth, you are great! <3 The full text of the 1542 Witchcraft Act can be found here.

Click here to read Part 2

1. The Road to Norway

'Honestly, Moody,' Kingsley Shacklebolt was standing in the door, an eyebrow raised, 'didn't your holiday start yesterday? Shouldn't you be at home, doing something spectacularly interesting?'

'Sod off, Shacklebolt. You know very well that it did.' Moody glared at Kingsley with his good eye while the magical one was scanning the hallway outside his office, mostly to ascertain that nobody else was on their way to bother him with their holiday cheer. 'I'm working. I assume you are familiar with the concept?

'I've thought of it. You know, on one of the rare days when I actually went home before nine. What is it you are doing?'

Kingsley stepped into the office. Moody pushed the file in front of him away. Clearly Kingsley was a man with a mission and not one Alastor condoned. He'd bloody work when he saw fit. He'd been busy trying to create a decent structure for the training of the new Aurors and had had little time to think of the case. The case.

'Trying to find some time when people won't disturb me, like during the holidays.' Moody sighed. Obviously Kingsley wouldn't go away before he had explained himself. He could of course hex the idiot, but it would cause even more commotion. 'I'm working on a case. My last. Before I retired the first time, that is. Don't like the fact that it was never solved.'

'Death Eaters? No, that was before Voldemort returned, yes?'

'It was assumed that Dark Wizards could be involved which is why I got the case in the first place. She just disappeared, she and her father, one day to the next. You'd have heard of her. Sally-Anne Perks. But Death Eaters? 'Don't know about that, laddie.'

'Don't you "laddie" me. I'm too old for that.' Kingsley shook his head, then frowned, as if he was thinking. 'I'm not sure. Ravenclaw girl, a first-year?'

'That's the one. Left for the summer with her father; he picked her up at Hogwarts and nobody has seen them since. Traced 'em to Mey at the tip of Scotland. Her mum was devastated.' Moody rubbed his face, avoiding the part where half of his nose should have been. 'We had Death Eaters on the loose, yes, but it was before Voldemort revealed himself. No matter how much I detest the lot, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt. Although it would be just like them, hexing somebody in the back, the cowards. It is unfortunately rather difficult to abduct other witches and wizards when one is sitting in a cell in Azkaban, or I'd have them-'

'You think it's unfortunate that they can't hex anyone from Azkaban?' Kingsley laughed, a deep, booming laughter. 'You're priceless!'

'Mark my words, Kingsley! You are becoming too careless. Hand any of the Death Eaters out there a wand, and we'll see new and inventive long distance curse-work,' Moody growled, knowing that he, too, perhaps should be a tad less vigilant these days. Moody leant back in the deep chair. The dry old leather creaked loudly. He fixed both eyes on Kingsley. 'And if I were you, which I, thank Salazar and all his horrible little minions, am not, I'd be careful not to let that hero of yours, Snape, get away with taking his wand into Azkaban. Last thing I heard is that his visits to the place are increasing. He's up to something.'

'Snape? Don't you think he'd had war enough as it is? The reports say that he's merely visiting Malfoy—the older Malfoy. He's not in a shape to present any danger.'

'Not yet, no. And go away, Shacklebolt. Unless you are going to help me with this.' Moody had had it with all the hero-worshipping and Kingsley's humanitarian ways. Everybody knew that Snape was ambiguous at best and his friend was just about as reliable as a rabid tiger. 'I'm trying to work here.' Moody pulled one of thick folders marked Perks, Sally-Anne, MCF 2389-0099 closer and sent Kingsley a look that indicated that there were other folders to go through. It took only a minute for Kingsley to get that he was unwanted unless he decided to be useful. Not as slow as he used to be, the lad.

Moody didn't look up as Kingsley remembered how to be an Auror and began reading through one of the other files.

It took several hours before Moody had examined the entire pile of files. He knew every word, every picture, every testimony. Every time he opened those files he hoped that he'd overlooked something, just a comma, a line of thought, an idea he hadn't pursued. Nine years, and still this one case kept him up at night. There had been so many deaths, so many losses, but it was still Sally-Anne's mother's anguished cries he heard in his nightmares. The battles were straining, the fights and the wounds painful, the losses many. But no one had been like this devastated, broken woman who'd lost both husband and child to the unknown. It would have been easier, had Death Eaters taken them and killed them. It had been final, the end. Nothing like this, this horrible, relentless waiting and passing of time. Moody didn't like children much, but he disliked that there had been no clean cut, no cruel reality even more. He wanted to solve this riddle, or it would haunt him to his end of days, and surely beyond. There was no way that Moody would find himself to be haunted in the afterlife by a snivelling girl and her father. There were limits.

Outside, darkness had fallen. The enchanted windows mirrored only Moody's office, a blurry image of the large desk and of the bookshelves lining the walls. Moody yawned and stretched. 'I was thinking,' he said, breaking the silence for the first time for hours, 'that a drink and dinner at the Leaky wouldn't be too bad right now.'

'Your treat.'

'Don't push it, laddie. The Head of Aurors does not in any way earn what the Minister for Magic earns, so again, your treat.'

'Perhaps I should just have you fired? Then I'll be happy to treat you.' Kingsley's grin was sharp and white.

'Do! Please! I'll live happily ever after, not having to deal with you and all your new ideas. Vacations and what not.'

'You'll just waste away without me.' Kingsley snorted. 'And as much as I hate to admit it, I assume I have to keep you here to ensure some sense-' Kingsley stopped. 'Well, sense might not be the right word. Order. Someone to ensure that the Auror Headquarters are in order. '

'Hah, I think not. And if you are so keen on order, why all this holiday nonsense?'

'To make certain that you have time to work on old cases, obviously.' Kingsley got up and grabbed his leather coat. 'Are you coming, or do I have to get drunk all by myself?'

'Thought you'd never ask.'

The Leaky Cauldron was half-empty, or half-full, depending on point of view. Dinner had been nice and the Firewhisky even better.

'So, what are your plans for the holidays?' Moody poured some more Firewhisky for Kingsley who, if one had to be honest, and Moody usually was, was getting rather pissed. 'Spending time with the fish?'

'Not likely.' Kingsley's speech was rather slurred. 'I have plans, I'll have you know.' He reached for the glass and threw down the drink. 'At least I have someone at home. Fish.'

'Ouch, that hurt. Because I don't have any fish. Unless a tin of sardines counts?' Moody's voice was knife-edge sarcastic. Mostly because Kingsley's stab hit a sore spot. 'I'm too old for that shit. And who'd have me, the way I look? Not exactly the model Minister, like you. You've got no excuse.' Moody knew that Kingsley was extraordinarily picky and valued his time alone. It wasn't for the lack of willing witches and wizards, that much was certain. But he still wondered why Kingsley hadn't settled down.

'Because I like my aquarium?' Kingsley burped discreetly and hogged the bottle. 'And who'd want me, the way I'm never at home, putting the good of the wizarding world above all else?'

'Not me, for one. I like my lovers to be more... '


'I'd have said "blind", but whatever suits you.' Moody laughed, refusing to let through the slight bitterness of his involuntary solitude. He and Kingsley would have been priceless. They would have driven each other insane in the long run and more insanity was not precisely what Moody needed. As much as he loved the man as a friend and a colleague, a relationship between them didn't work. Kingsley was too independent. Moody was the protective type and liked his lovers to appreciate that side of him. It had taken them exactly five weeks to sort that one out fifteen years ago. It had been one long discussion about work. Sex had merely been an afterthought. They were simply to similar to be lovers, both strong and independent and hard-working. There had been too little of the passion and dependence that Moody wanted in his life. He knew that Kingsley had been a bit more invested in their relationship than he; it still made him wistful that he hadn't been able to love Kingsley the way he deserved it. He'd hurt Kingsley then. But instead of having a relationship that was barely acceptable, they had developed a friendship that neither war, nor peace had managed to break. It was better than having a spouse anyway, to have a friend like Kingsley. That way they would never be over. It was stable. Kingsley was stable. Robust. Except when it came to drinking.

'You've had enough of that,' Moody growled and snatched the Firewhisky back, partly to ensure that nobody managed to hex or poison the bottle. 'Think of the fish. I assume you'll spend the entire day tomorrow looking at their little fins flailing. You can't do that with a headache.'

'Oh, shut it.' Kingsley crossed his arms and glared at Moody. 'Just because you've got things to do...'

'And so would you had you not forced half the Ministry on holiday. Odd Muggle idea.'

'I couldn't very well violate my own decree.' Kingsley looked annoyed. 'People have been working hard. They deserve time off. Most of them actually do have families to spend time with.'

'So had Mrs Perks. And speaking of something to do, so would you if you'd care to jo-'

'I could-' Kingsley interrupted, 'come with you. To investigate.' He rubbed his forehead, as if he was trying to think a bit clearly through the haze of spirit. 'I still have four weeks. The fish become boring after four hours. That leaves me three weeks, six days and twenty hours of immense boredom. I'm certain my neighbour is willing to feed the fantails while I'm gone.'

Moody made a smile that made his crooked mouth pull uncomfortably at the scars that criss-crossed his face. 'Took you long enough to come to that conclusion.' He poured the remains of the bottle into his glass. 'And no, you can't have more. We're going to see Mrs Perks at half ten tomorrow and you, my friend, is going to look like an Auror. Without a hangover.' Moody blessed his galvanised intestines. Not that he was prone to drinking; people found him mad enough as it was, but his size and the many treatments for injuries he'd gone through since he first entered the Ministry's law enforcement left him rather unaffected by alcohol, probably some kind of cumulative effect. Kingsley, on the other hand, had the size, but not the stamina. 

It wasn't the first time Moody helped Kingsley to reach the small flat he kept in Diagon Alley so that he didn't have to go back to the house he owned in Huddersfield, except during the weekends. Thank Merlin for small favours.

Moody even remembered to feed the fish before he left.

It was a few minutes to half ten when Moody stepped out of thin air next to a low hedge that surrounded a small farm house garden. A Crup and a litter of young puppies were playing on the neatly cut lawn. The adult Crup turned around and barked loudly as Kingsley appeared more or less on top of one of the small ones.

'Not sure of your aim this lovely morning?' Moody growled as he scanned the surroundings. His blue eye was searching the backyard as Moody directed his normal eye at Kingsley. 'Why didn't you take a potion, you idiot? As far as I can see you're aiming more or less at a Splinching, the way you carry on. Have you forgotten everything I taught you?'

'I have. Taken a potion, that is. And guess who showed me the coordinates for the Apparition yesterday, Alastor Moody.' Kingsley sent Moody a pointed glare before he picked up the puppy he'd almost stepped on. It was unharmed, for it stuck its tongue out and attempted to shove it up Kingsley's nose. It was wagging its forked tail eagerly. 'I haven't forgotten anything. And you-' he told the tiny Crup, '-will stop that immediately!'
Moody always thought the Crup had an uncanny resemblance to a Jack Russell terrier that his uncle once owned, but the wizarding Crup was nothing like a terrier, and not just because of the forked tail. The wizarding world's favourite dog breed had a strong and ferocious antipathy towards Muggles. Moody picked up one of the puppies too, a friendly little fellow with a brown patch over one eye. 'Like me, are you? With that eye,' he said, scratching the puppy behind the ear before he carefully returned it to its brothers and sisters. 

Kingsley put down the puppy he was holding, too, petting the adult dog which was bouncing to get his attention.

'It was hers, Minister Shacklebolt. The dog. Sally's. His name is Wagtail. After the Weird Sisters' singer.' A stately witch stood in the door to the low-ceilinged farm house. She watched the two men anxiously. 'Are there any news, Moody? Since you-' The witch suddenly looked as if she was going to cry. 'They are dead, aren't they? That is why you're here... with the Minister?' Her mouth became a thin line of sorrow and loss. 'If they're dead, just tell me!'

Moody had performed that particular task too many times, telling family that one of their loved ones hadn't made it. The next step was to go inside, make tea and listen to crying, questions and disbelief. He sighed, grateful that it wouldn't be today. 'No. No news, other than yet another attempt to find out what happened.' He stepped closer, putting a hand on Mrs Perks's arm. 'Maybe a cuppa, if you don't mind?'

With each their steaming mug of tea, Kingsley and Moody sat down at the large kitchen table. The table was ancient yet sturdy and looked as if it had been there since the house was built. It was a very nice kitchen. It would have been even nicer with a family seated on the bench along the wall. Now there were just two Aurors and a mother without her child, a wife without her husband. It was a very sad kitchen, too.

'I'm not letting go of this case,' Moody said, determined. 'It is simply not that simple. No one disappears like your husband and Sally-Anne. No magic traces, no inappropriate use of underage magic, no rumours of Death Eater activities, no apparent reason. None of you are Muggle-born, so that should rule out even the most fervent of Pure-blood supporters. Unless we are dealing with a wizard gone mad.' Moody made a grimace. That theory would certainly be interesting to pursue: he could think of a few who'd probably think that he himself had disposed of the girl and her father. But even he was not that kind of mad. He was just a bit paranoid and what was wrong with that? Didn't mean that he was wrong, he had enemies enough to last him a very long lifetime. Being vigilant kept one alive.

'I know, Moody. I'm grateful for all you've done.' Mrs Perks turned the mug in her hands, looking wistfully into the tea, as if she could see some kind of revelation there. 'Why now? And why have you brought our Minister? To be frank, it scared the stuffing out of me at first. I really thought that... You know...' She shrugged, shoulders still tense.

'I was an Auror once. I'm not here as the Minister for Magic.' Kingsley looked at the woman in front of him, a woman who'd once been beautiful but whose grief had wiped most of the beauty away. Her blond hair had a tinge of grey, even though she didn't seem to be much older than forty. 'I, like Moody, have decided to use my holiday to do a bit of investigation. We have worked together for years. I doubt that Moody has overlooked anything, but a new angle, a different look might help.' Kingsley reached out, squeezing Mrs Perks's hand for comfort. 'I know you have done this a hundred times by now, but could you, please, tell me what happened when Sally-Anne and your husband disappeared? It's important to me. The Auror accounts do tell, but not everything.'

The small dog approached the table and sat down next to Mrs Perks. Moody reached down and stroked Wagtail's head distractedly. He'd heard the story enough times to know it by heart, but Kingsley hadn't. It was important, just as Kingsley said, that he heard the words himself: the intonation, the importance of some events as experienced by the woman who were caught in the evil snare of her never-ending loss. Moody realised that Mrs Perks was looking at him. He nodded slightly. 'Please?'

Mrs Perks closed her eyes, as if recalling the day was still very painful. It probably was. 'He left on the day before the end of term. He wanted to take Sally to Norway, we have relatives there. He took off on his broom; he'd taken Sally's also.' Mrs Perks opened her eyes and they were heartbreakingly sad. She sighed and frowned. 'Anthony, Tony—my husband—he was looking forward to it, to spending time with Sally. They were to visit my brother in Austrheim. He and Geir get along swimmingly, and Geir has a daughter same age as Sally. The girls, too, are such good friends.'

'They never got there,' Kingsley said. 'Austrheim?'

'No. Obviously.' Mrs Perks took a sip of her tea. 'They met up at Hogwarts. Nothing strange, nothing suspicious. Tony talked with Professor Flitwick before they took off. He was very satisfied with Sally's progress. Praised her ability in Charms. Nothing unusual at all. Madam Hooch, too, was content; she had nothing to criticise. She said that Sally would be fine, crossing the North Sea to Norway with Tony. He's good on a broom. Really good.' She frowned. 'That's the odd thing about this: there is nothing unusual at all. Even the weather. Fine day. And we didn't fight before he left, never did, to be honest. It really was a fine day. He wasn't ill, or distraught or anything but his usual self. Sally too, or so they say, she was just excited about a long holiday spent with her father and uncle.' She looked up at Moody. 'You traced them to Caithness. To Mey. And after that, nothing. Just... vanished.'

'Yeah. One of ours, a Squib who works at the grounds at Castle Mey saw them there on the day they left Hogwarts. Our enquiries in both Muggle and wizarding towns on that part of Caithness led to absolutely nothing. We assume they wanted to see the castle, perhaps take a break before they went over Shetland and Orkney to go north.' That was the strange thing about this riddle. Everything had been so normal. Unless somebody was lying, there was no indication of any conflicts. Moody had no reason to believe so. Mrs Perks had volunteered to take Veritaserum; but Moody had been confident that she had nothing to do with her husband's sudden disappearance. Not least because she had thirty witnesses with whom she'd been speaking at the time when her family mysteriously dematerialised. She'd been at a meeting at the local gardening society most of the day.

'What kind of broom?' Kingsley's eyebrows book-ended two deep wrinkles on the bridge of his nose. 'Both brooms. Year, state, materials.'

Moody's one eye widened. This was exactly why it had been such a good idea to bring Kingsley Shacklebolt. Oh, they'd asked that question, all right, about the brooms. They had asked it to be able to identify them if they were found, but Moody's very qualified guess was that this was not where Kingsley was going. The man appreciated a good broom and rode them better than most. Kingsley, Moody was certain, had half a love-affair with the 1996 World Cup Firebolt he had purchased for an insane amount of Galleons a few years ago, not to speak of how fondly he spoke of his notoriously unreliable Twigger 90. Moody knew exactly where Kingsley was going, and he could have hit himself hard for not having seen that angle.

'Oh.' Mrs Perks looked surprised. 'It's been nine years, Minister. I remember the brands, but I'm not sure about the details.' She pursed her mouth, thinking. 'I have pictures. If that helps?'

'Definitely. If it's not too much for you.' Kingsley smiled, that kind, reassuring smile that always made wizarding folk and Muggles alike trust him. Moody sometimes wished he'd had that talent. Although scaring the crap out of people worked too. He sent Kingsley an appreciative nod. Brilliant mind, the lad.

It took a few minutes before Mrs Perks returned with the pictures. She handed them to Kingsley. 'That's the year before-' She didn't finish the sentence, but sat down, scratching Wagtail behind the ear as the animal appeared from under the table where it had been asleep. Moody leant over the table to be able to see the photographs while his magical eye was busy keeping the area around the house under surveillance. The first picture showed a young, slender girl with a distinct resemblance to her mother. The girl was very pretty: blond and slender. Her smile was of that sunny, happy variety that lit up the surroundings. Like her mother would have been, had fate not been so cruel to her. The girl on the picture was holding a broomstick.

'Comet Two Seventy,' Moody said. Even he recognised the well-known racing broom brand. 'Some broom for a girl of twelve.'

'Not the worst pick of the lot,' Kingsley contradicted. 'Relatively fast, but easy to handle, and light. A 1988 model, if I'm not mistaken.' Kingsley lined out a form with both hands. 'The wedge-shape of the handle, that's 1988. Good quality, despite its age. See there, it has been fitted with new tail twigs. Hawthorn, I think. Haven't seen that before; good choice. Apart from that, we both know quite a few small girls who handle their brooms in ways that make you and me look like we know bugger all about flying.' Kingsley tapped at the picture. 'Not the best broom for a long distance flight, though.'  He put the photo down and looked at the picture of Anthony Perks.

'A Swiftstick. Do you know how old it was, Mrs Perks? When it was serviced last?' There was a tinge of worry in Kingsley's voice.

'No... I-' Mrs Perks face was tense and hard as if she was trying not to cry. 'He took good care of it. Had regular service. At least once a year. He loved that broom. Beech, I think. Very light.'

Kingsley nodded, his expression under firm control now, Moody could see how Kingsley had put on a mask of professionalism. 'That is most helpful. I'm sorry if looking at the pictures upset you, but it was necessary. It could be important.'

Moody knew. Without asking, he knew already what had gone wrong and why they hadn't found any remains. If Kingsley couldn't keep neutral, keep calm, then there was certainly reason to worry. Mr Perks and his daughter were probably lost in the North Sea and the sea had eaten up the brooms and their bodies, and that was all the explanation they'd ever have. On brooms that were not strong enough for the heavy North Sea winds, they'd flown into death's embrace. So many unnecessary losses. If only they'd kept vigilant. If only they had assessed the risks properly before crossing. If only he'd seen it, seen what Kingsley had seen. It might have solved the riddle years earlier. Moody sighed deeply, and the sound made the dog jump and bark. 'Good boy,' Moody said and patted Wagtail on the head. 'Constant vigilance. Good.'

'Did you keep Sally's room?' Kingsley said quietly. 'And may I take a look at it?'

'No.' Mrs Perks's voice was hard. 'I mean, yes, you could take a look, but I didn't keep it.' She rubbed her eye, maybe wiping a tear away. 'I hope. Every day I hope that they'll come back, but I am not naive, Minister Shacklebolt.' This time there was no hiding of the tears. Mrs Perks pulled up an handkerchief from her pocket. She blew her nose and dried her eyes. 'And if she came back now, she wouldn't be my little girl any longer. She'd be a woman. Her things are in the attic. Moody knows where. I... I can't-'

Moody did. He'd looked at her things so many times that he felt as if he was a part of the girl's childhood. He knew her preference in teddy bears. He knew that Sally-Anne Perks preferred to sleep with a Muggle plush tiger. He knew that she'd preferred blue to pink and green to yellow. He knew that she was a talented girl when it came to potions, too. 'We'll manage.' Moody stood, politely ignoring Mrs Perks's distraught expression. 'I know the way.'

The boxes of toys and clothes stood in a corner. They were rather dusty. 'She hasn't touched them for a while. That's good. Won't be so hard for her, then.' Moody shook his head, as if the denial of facts could erase the tragedy. 'It was our theory. That they'd crashed. Only it seemed so unlikely. Good flyers, good brooms in good shape.' Moody huffed. 'I hadn't thought of the brands. That it mattered which kind of broom as long as Perks was handling it well.' Moody didn't waste time on berating himself this error. It didn't change anything but the fact that they would have found the bodies. 'So, tell me.'

Running a finger through the dust of one of the boxes, Kingsley, too, sighed. 'It's horrible. Poor woman. It's much worse, somehow, than the casualties of war.' He blew the dust off his fingers. 'The Swiftstick. It's a good broom, but it has one fatal construction error: it's is slow when it comes to a quick ascent. It sometimes loses power entirely and simply drops. If they flew at a low altitude and Perks miscalculated the height of the waves there is no way he could get away fast enough. And with a girl of twelve? No, Moody. The sea got them, I'm more or less sure of it. It's either that, or they've crashed somewhere on land, lost their wands and-' Kingsley scratched his cheek. 'We have to investigate, of course. That bloody broom. A racing broom that can neither accelerate, nor ascend? It had to happen.'

It seemed as if the investigation would be a journey with a very unhappy end. Of course they were dead, there was little doubt, but the question of why they had died had never been answered. Kingsley's hypothesis was the best Moody had heard. 'So this time we go up there to look for less than bodies. And if what you suggest is right, we need to look at the Muggle newspapers and hospitals. Accounts on findings of human remains. If the sea has left anything, that is.'

'At least we can calculate a bit. The average speed in that weather and on those brooms.' Kingsley leant against the boxes. He sneezed as a cloud of dust rose. 'It's not going to be anywhere near precise, but at least it might give us a slight hint on where to start searching. They could have ended up on the shores of Orkney or Shetland, for that matter. It'll be guesswork. Both their route and definitely also if we find any remains. How ironic, Kingsley mused, 'that a choice of transportation that seemed so much more safe than international Apparition turned out to be their downfall.'

At Moody's feet, Wagtail let out a sad whine. He pressed its nose to the boxes, sniffling and whimpering.

'How did that dog get up here?' Moody looked down at the animal. 'He's not allowed, he gets depressed and just about as cheery as if he'd had an encounter with a bunch of Dementors.' Moody bent down and picked Wagtail up. 'Little idiot,' he told it. Wagtail squirmed and licked Moody's cheek. 'You miss her still, right?' Turning to Kingsley, Moody said, 'they're fiercely loyal. Unfortunately they hate Muggles with a similar ferocity. Perfect watchdog for the Pure-blood family.'

'But they're nice dogs. And the family is not Pure-blood.' Kingsley opened a box and rummaged around in it. He held up a hair brush which made Wagtail whine even louder.

'Shhh,' Moody stroked Wagtail's back. 'Technically they're not dogs, just look like 'em. But yes. As long as they're taught not to attack Muggles, or worse, eat them. They eat anything. Scavengers.'

'Interesting creatures. Keen noses?' Kingsley raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Moody was getting where he was going. 'You want to bring Wagtail? You think he could be of any use? It has been a very long time since his owner disappeared.'

'He was sniffing at the boxes and the brush, wasn't he? Can't hurt to have another nose with us.'

Moody laughed loudly, despite the bleakness of it all. The irony was too funny to ignore. 'Seeing I am bringing but a half? I assume you're right. Perhaps that loyalty of theirs really count for something—something useful. It'll save us some work if he really is bound to Sally so tightly. Poor thing. Maybe it'll do him good.'

'If he can help us determine whether any remains of brooms or bones are what or who we look for it'll do a hell of a lot more good than that.' Kingsley held up the brush. 'Let's bring this too. Can help as a reminder for Wagtail.'

Moody couldn't agree more. 'Let's go ask, then. Maybe Mrs Perks will understand and let us take him with us.'

2. Of Brooms and Bastards

'What do you think?' Kingsley pointed at the large map on Moody's desk. 'Would they go via Shetland or turn east after Orkney? He followed a line with a finger from Orkney to Fair Isle. 'North or east here?'

Moody looked at the map thoughtfully. 'With the girl? Orkney to Fair Isle to Shetland. Make a break there, and then directly to Bergen, inland to Austrheim. Mr Perks did not, apart from his poor choice in brooms, seem like a man who'd take any risks.'

'Apart from his choice in brooms, no.' Kingsley grabbed a piece of paper from one of the heavy bookcases. He wrote something on it with a Muggle pen.

Moody leant in to look at the numbers. 'Math was never my strong side. Explain that to me, I have enough to do as it is.'

Kingsley huffed. 'You used to be a brilliant navigator yourself. You're just lazy.'

'There's that. Now, what does it mean? Do your neat little numbers bring us any closer to finding them?'

'Bastard,' Kingsley mumbled affectionately. 'If we calculate distance, wind, endurance and take into consideration the condition of brooms and riders, I think there are two areas that need our immediate attention. Here,' Kingsley pointed at the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland, 'and here.' The other location was a north-eastern Orkney island. 'At Orkney it's of course the wind and the waves that are problematic.'

'And the mainland?' Moody agreed with Kingsley's first argument. He'd flown to Azkaban times enough to have experienced the strong winds and the huge waves of the North Sea. For an inexperienced rider they were frightening. But the tip of Scotland?

'They took a break there, at Mey, then disappeared. Which means that they were tired already, they'd flown from Hogwarts. They were probably not prepared for the weather—at least not physically. Even on a good day, the coastal winds are strong. The change could have brought the Swiftstick to its limit. Assuming that Perks had it serviced recently, a sudden push could have harmed it so that the more forceful winds would have torn it apart.'

'Remind me that I have to go buy a new broom before we leave.' Moody's trusty Cleansweep Thirteen suddenly seemed unreliable and old although Moody's constant vigilance also included his broom. He had flown it to Azkaban many times, but if they were going to brave the North Sea for four weeks, perhaps it was time for a change. Moody's idea of vigilance when it came to brooms was that safe was much, much better than sorry. And sorry he'd be. His Gringotts vault would probably be a bit on the empty side since he needed a quality broom. 'Which one will you take?' he asked, knowing that Kingsley surely would bring something like the latest Firebolt with custom spells and double cushioning charms.

'Your Cleansweep is perfect for the occasion. Just make sure to have it looked over before we leave.' Kingsley smiled as if he'd read Moody's mind. Chances were that he had. 'And I'll ride my Oakshaft 79.'

'An Oakshaft 79? Didn't know they still made them. It's a broom more than twenty years old? Is that a good ide-'

'Eighteen-seventy-nine. Hundred and twenty years and a bit. It's the best long-distance broom ever made. First Atlantic crossing was made on one. Very stable. Made to resist high winds.'

'What kind of flowers do you want for your funeral?' Moody snorted. 'Over the North Sea on something that can be labelled as antique at best, junk at worst?' Had Kingsley gone mad?

'I'll swap it for two sparkling new 2002 Firebolts and,' Kingsley hesitated, 'five thousand Galleons. And that's what I'd let my best mate have it for. Could probably get twice the amount on the open market.'

'That good, eh?' Moody raised his eyebrows. Not even if it had a handle inlaid with gold and precious stones. 'And they say that I'm mad...' Moody pointed at the dog which was sleeping in a cardboard box in under the desk. 'If your broom is so brilliant, you will be carrying that little monster. That way I can crash my broom without worrying about bringing it back alive. Your broom is obviously more safe than Gringotts.'

Moody sat back in his desk chair. He let the magical eye survey the maps, thus remembering every detail of them. He closed his one eye, trying to concentrate. Kingsley's theories sounded well-founded. Rarely had Kingsley miscalculated anything and Moody could find no faults in his arguments. They had four weeks to make a serious attempt if they stuck to the two areas that Kingsley had pointed out. It could be done. For the first time in years, Moody knew that the investigation was moving forward and not pulled backwards with the passing of time. Now, if they found a place to stay in the area, somewhere that was not a Muggle hotel... that way they wouldn't have to spend time hiding whatever magical items they brought.

'Do we know anyone in that area?' Moody asked without opening his eye. 'Someone we can trust enough to let us use their property as our base?'

'At Orkney or Caithness? I'm not sure. Could ask Weasley.'

'Your secretary?' Moody nodded and opened his eye. 'He's running the Ministry for you while you're on holiday and you expect him to be a walking register too?' Percy Weasley probably read ministry decrees for a bit of light reading, so Moody wouldn't be surprised if he knew the whereabouts of any wizard alive. Moody liked a thorough man. Weasley was, if nothing else, thorough. Although some might call it "anal". Moody didn't mind that either. He understood stubborn persistence.

'I'll send him a inter-departmental memo.' Kingsley scribbled a few words on one of the approved sheets. It folded itself and shot off in the shape of a small aeroplane.

They didn't have to wait very long. Moody expected efficiency and Weasley certainly was efficient. Moody watched as Kingsley unfolded the reply.


'Oh?' Moody frowned. 'Does that mean that we have to find a dingy Muggle motel and Obliviate the entire staff every day for four weeks?' Not that Moody hadn't tried that before, but he'd much prefer to stay in a wizarding settlement; it made everything easier. Keeping alert in Muggle surroundings was straining. Also they wouldn't have to deal with Wagtail's obvious hatred of Muggles. Not that he wasn't obedient, but even to Muggles a snarling Jack Russell terrier was an annoyance. Besides, it would be more than inconvenient if the omnivorous creature ate a Muggle car. Or a Muggle.

'No. It means that we're going to Azkaban.'

'Aha. It's in that direction, Caithness, but... any explanation to why, because I can just as well tell you that I'm not staying there, if that's your plan.' Not in a million years would Moody stay in a place where his small tinge of paranoia would be substantially more than just a tinge. He was willing to admit that he was a bit on edge in the company of the witches and wizards he'd managed to get a lifetime's worth of draughty, icy, damp and boring accommodation. The witches and wizards would probably be on the edge too, even without the Dementors.

'Not quite.' Kingsley looked serious. 'We're going to see our old friend Lucius Malfoy.'

'Malfoy? Are you totally bonkers, man? Why? He's stark raving, or close.'

'Because, my friend, he might be the only man who knows how to find his father's unplottable manor on Dunnet Head.' Kingsley waved the memo from Weasley in front of him. 'Percy says it's in Caithness, just as far from this,' Kingsley pointed at the map, on the exact spot where he'd suggested that Sally-Anne Perks and her father had disappeared, 'as you can throw a Hippogriff.

'Abraxas Malfoy? But no one has heard from him for years! Not since-'

'Not since he left the Wiltshire manor to the lovely Lucius and he, too, disappeared from the wizarding world, no.' Kingsley smiled. It was a smile without any softness in it. 'During the summer when Sally-Anne and her father disappeared.'

It was the smiling sneer of a predator on the prowl.

'This doesn't look much like Azkaban, does it? It's the last time I let you Side-Along me.' Moody held on to Wagtail with one arm and his staff with the other. He looked at the dilapidated houses, the empty street. The rain was pouring, adding a dreary mood to the already so tired expression of the area. The houses across the street had boards instead of windows. They stared at the visitors with dead eyes. Moody's let his magical eye spin around. 'Not the best of places, this. No wonder that the man is such a mess.' He nodded in the direction of a narrow passageway. 'Why are we going to see Snape? Won't do us much good, not with his attitude.'

Kingsley pulled his travel cloak closer as if the cold rain was bothering him. Manchester in July certainly wasn't welcoming. 'We can't much blame him for it, can we? We were not exactly on friendly terms with him, any of us.'

'You're right. Spying doesn't endear you much to any of the involved parties. I wonder why Lucius still hangs on to him.'

'Probably the only friend Malfoy has left. Even the wife doesn't visit him any longer. She has other priorities now, if what one hears is true.' Kingsley looked uncomfortable. He rarely gossiped.

Moody stopped outside a remarkably ugly terraced house in poor condition. 'You'd have thought that Snape had used some of all those Galleons he earned for his books on a bit of refurbishment.' Moody knocked on the door, avoiding the spots where the painting peeled off in faded, brown flakes.

'You really aren't a man for second chances, Moody,' Kingsley said accusingly. 'Give Snape a break. I know he's a anti-Muggle by heart—no doubt of that, seeing whose company he prefers—but he did fight for our cause.'

'Aye, and I'm a Grindylow. Snape fought for his own cause, the way I see it. You and your third chances, Kingsley. You'll regret trusting him.' Moody turned to look at Kingsley, rolling both his eyes to show his annoyance. Snape was notoriously unstable, but a formidable enemy, still. Moody understood the need to keep Snape on their side, for as much as Snape belonged to any side but his own. 'I'll trust him just as I'd trust a hungry Hungarian Horntail not to eat me for breakfast.'

'And I'll trust that you have the courtesy to state your errand and then bugger off as soon as humanly possible,' a velvet voice said. 'What do you want?' Snape had opened the door and stood, glaring at them with cold eyes from the top of the short stairs that led to his home.

Kingsley stepped forward, not without reason suspecting Moody to deliver a less than diplomatic reply. 'Hello, Severus.' Kingsley made no attempt to step inside. 'We need to ask you a favour.'

'Oh, what a surprise. Nobody ever asks me any favours.' Snape snorted and looked even more sour. 'What is it this time and in how many ways will I be maimed or killed before we're done? Do tell!' Snape rubbed over the scars on his neck. His thin mouth contracted in a dissatisfied grimace. 'I'm so excited I can hardly breathe.'

'Which of course saves us the trouble in the long run, so keep up the good work,' Moody mumbled. He knew he was being unfair. Snape hadn't made any attempts to take power, nor had he done anything since the war but to live peacefully in that dump of his, write a few books on the war and—most suspiciously—visit Lucius Malfoy. In Moody's experience a Death Eater was always a Death Eater. Snape as well, despite his work for the Order. Moody didn't think Snape's sympathies had changed that much: they still lay with those who, like the Malfoys, preferred the closed wizarding community. Those who saw Voldemort's minions as the only aspect of that party were mistaken. The supporters of a society without Muggle-borns had not disappeared although Voldemort had. Wagtail was looking at Snape curiously, despite its position, tugged under Moody's left arm. Its small body vibrated with a growl that was almost inaudible. Clever creature.

'Sweet. And don't bring that animal in if it's leaky.' Snape turned around, not extending any further invitation. He left the door wide open. Since it was possibly the only invitation they'd get, Moody hobbled up the stairs, his wooden leg clattering against the granite. He followed Snape into a small living room. It was slightly dusty, but the bookshelves and the furniture were of good quality and the wallpaper as well as the paint on the doors were new. It was a surprisingly cosy and welcoming room. Merry flames were dancing in the fireplace. A deep, comfortable chair and a small table stood in a corner. A pile of books and a mug indicated that Snape had been sitting there, reading.

Kingsley followed and yet again he took the lead. 'Thank you, Severus. We appreciate it.'

'I doubt it.' Snape stood with his back turned, looking out the window. 'Let's be frank, Shacklebolt. This time appreciation is not enough. You wouldn't be here, the Minister for Magic and his lame lapdog, if it wasn't important. I have a price. If you won't agree to it, you can find your help elsewhere.' He turned around. 'I don't care what it is, but I do care that you'll both owe me for whatever it is you want me to do.'

'So you are bargaining, even before you know what you're bargaining for?' Moody stared at Snape. The man was priceless, now that they were speaking of price. 'You are rather arrogant in your self-appreciation.'

'Feel free to find somebody else, Moody. I don't care. My price is that you both owe me a favour. When I ask for it. And I will not participate in anything that violates wizarding law.'

'At least you've learnt that. Wise.' Moody turned to Kingsley. 'Right. We can do without him. Not a problem. Just let me have half an hour with Lucius and he'll tell us everything we need to know.'

'No!' Snape stepped forward. 'Is that what you want me to do? To torture Lucius again? As if he wasn't tortured enough by Lord Voldemort! And you-' Snape had an expression of ferocious rage, his eyes shooting lightnings at Moody. '-you'll ruin him even more?' His right hand seemed, by its own volition, to seek for a wand.

'No one will torture anybody anywhere. Calm down.' Kingsley stepped between Moody and Snape. Kingsley's large body effectively blocked Moody from Snape's view. 'Please, Severus. Name your favours and we'll strike a deal. I promise you that there will be no torture. Of any kind.' Kingsley spoke slowly and deeply, almost as if he was trying to make a nervous animal relax. 'I know you're used to secrets, but I suggest we are a bit more straightforward.' Kingsley put a hand on Snape's shoulder. 'You see, Moody and I are working on an old case, unrelated to any Death Eater business. Sally-Anne Perks, you remember her?' he asked conversationally.

Moody had to bite his tongue. The case had nothing to do with Snape, but damned be it if the fool wasn't volunteering information to the enemy!

'And that goes for you, too, Moody,' Kingsley said. 'The war is over. Breathe. It's not state secrets, this.'

It amused Snape. One of his eyebrows moved upwards and his mouth twitched as if he was suppressing a smile. 'All right. And yes, I remember her. He,' Snape pointed at Moody, 'went to investigate. Not exactly the Auror he'd like to be, for he found nothing.'

A look from Kingsley was enough warning to make Moody study the book-lined walls and ignore Snape. The man was extraordinarily childish. Moody could easily overlook that. He wasn't prone to letting himself be goaded, but Snape was good, really good. Moody leant heavily against his staff, watching Kingsley's impersonation of The Good Auror. Strange how easily they fell into the roles they once had without noticing. Snape might be clever, but Kingsley Shacklebolt was just that much better. His calm confidence worked wonders, even on ambiguous war heroes.

'We're trying to solve the case, still,' said Kingsley softly, ignoring Snape's arrogance. 'Sally-Anne had a mother. She's a widow who longs for her lost-'

'Oh, come off it.' Snape sighed, irritated. 'Yes, yes, yes, I'll help. Stop trying to make me feel guilty. Won't work. At least that's one thing I had nothing to do with.'

Kingsley was quick on the uptake. 'Your price?'

'Lucius. Separate chambers, not a cell. Books, clothes, access to his Gringotts account. A fireplace and a separate bath. His own furniture. An owl. In a few years a thorough assessment of his illness and a neutral evaluation leading to a possible early release. He's not well and Azkaban makes it worse.' Snape was unapologetic in his outrageous demands. 'As for me, I want unrestricted access. It may keep him sane.'

'Why don't you say what you really want?' growled Moody. 'I mean, why be modest?'

'Take it or leave it. I'm not asking you to let him out, at least not right away. I know, too, what he has done.' Snape looked coldly at Moody who couldn't care less. If they were having a glaring contest, he'd win anyway.

'Some favour.' Kingsley looked less calm. He heaved a sigh. 'Moody?'

'Not likely. I'm against it.'

Snape laughed bitterly. 'Against it? You, who'd rather be crippled than to kill? I can tell you, Alastor Moody, that Lucius will die in there, under these conditions. He's a broken man and if nothing is done you could just as well have cast the Killing Curse at him right away and saved him the suffering. Have a healer look at him, and they'll confirm it. He was ill when you put him there, Voldemort's doing. It took you, Shacklebolt, half a year to convince the Wizengamot that letting the Dementors stay inside Azkaban's walls was inhuman torture. Those months didn't exactly make him better.'

'Slippery bastards, Malfoys.' Moody snorted. 'And we have Potter working to get the son out, arguing that he was under pressure. Not much stamina, the family. Wimpy lot, aren't they?' Moody detested the Malfoys intensely. Turncoats, traitors, utterly useless fools. And they were supposed to be the crown of the wizarding world? Moody would rather wear a pile of turds on his head.

'Funny how you understand so well the mother of a disappeared girl and not the father who was threatened by Voldemort, his son on the line.' Snape's voice expressed nothing but loathing. 'The Dark Lord would have killed Draco at the first sign of resistance from any of them. And Draco knew very well that his parents were kept hostages in their own house, thus forcing him to obey.' Snape's mouth had turned into a thin, angry line again.

'Should have thought of that before they let him in, shouldn't they?' Moody had no respect for people who betrayed their principles. But Snape had hit his only soft spot. He actually did understand the situation. The Malfoys' only heir had been at stake. How straining it must have been not to know whether their son was dead or alive. It still didn't excuse their support for Voldemort. Moody sneered. 'I can agree to better conditions and the visits. But Malfoy stays where he is.' Moody's electric blue eye swirled angrily and stopped suddenly, staring at Snape. 'And no wands inside Azkaban. Not yours, not his.'

'Gentlemen, please.' Kingsley held up his hands. 'Severus, we need you for this if we're to proceed with the case. What we'd like you to do is to help us speak to Lucius, to Mr Malfoy. We need him to reveal the whereabouts of his father. Abraxas Malfoy's manor in Scotland is made unplottable and we wish to speak with the man. Also, we'd like to draw upon your abilities as a former Potions master and Dark Arts specialist if needed. We might request that you go to Scotland with us as well.'

Moody listened, surprised. So Snape's price was high, but Kingsley was as cunning as any Slytherin. He certainly managed to get value for his Galleons.

'They're not speaking. Haven't done for years. Can't guarantee anything.' Snape crossed his arms. 'Our agreement is valid, no matter the outcome.'

'You work for us the next four weeks and Lucius will have a comfortable, separate chambers and as many healers as his vault allows him. The release is negotiable five years from now if you agree to further assistance as we see fit. And at a potential release, Lucius will donate a new special wing to St Mungo's, dedicated to those damaged by the war. If—and I underline that it is only a weak possibility—he is released, he'll be under parole. For the rest of his life. He'll be your responsibility and only released in your care. Deal?'

Snape obviously shared Moody's assessment of Kingsley's ability to negotiate. He stared at Kingsley with a surprised expression. 'A grave example of a mis-sorting. Hufflepuff, my arse.' He nodded. 'I agree.'

'You're awfully free with Malfoy's Galleons,' Moody said. 'What makes you think that he agrees?'

'He will.' Snape didn't offer any elaboration. 'Draw up the agreement.'

3. Agreements in Azkaban

Moody breathed in deeply and managed the last few steps on the steep stairs that led to the top floor of Azkaban's northern tower. He still felt a bit queasy from the Apparition. Two long-distance travels in an hour was a bit much, even for him. Behind him Snape was dragging the trunk that he'd brought: he'd insisted on getting Malfoy warm robes and a decent bed until better living conditions were provided. Handy charm, that, the one Snape had cast on the large canopy bed and the clothes to make them fit into the small trunk. Self-extracting when pulled out of the trunk. Would have been a great spell to know when he'd spent ten months in his own sodding suitcase with no bed, thanks to Barty Jr. And practical if one, like Snape, was not allowed a wand in Azkaban.

'Malfoy? Visitors.' The guard unlocked a heavy oak door and left them. The hinges creaked loudly as the door swung open, the sound echoing between the stone walls. Even on a summer day, Azkaban was cold and damp and disgusting. Centuries of dirt smelt worse than in the winter. Everything was mouldy. There was a grimy, green growth in the corners.

'I thought you wanted Azkaban turned into a decent prison,' Moody murmured, putting a hand on Kingsley's shoulder. He looked at the window in the cell's far wall. Now it had glass in it where there were just gaping holes and bars before. The Dementors were nowhere to bee seen. 'Improvements, indeed.' The trunk incident had left him a bit apprehensive when it came to being locked up. There was still room, a lot of it, for improvements in Azkaban.

'If it was up to me alone...' Kingsley's eyes were sad. 'Getting the Dementors out was my first priority. I'm working on it.'

Snape ignored them and stepped into the cell. Moody didn't follow. The cell was too small to contain four wizards comfortably. Also, the cell stank, like the rest of the place.  Lucius Malfoy, or what was left of him, was standing close to the window, staring at the sky through the rusty iron bars. His prison uniform was unwashed and his hair was a tangled, dirty mess.

'The sky is so blue today. I saw seagulls. They haven't been here.' The voice was the same arrogant drawl, but the words came insecurely.

'They won't come again, love,' Snape said and put an arm around Malfoy's waist. 'It has been years since they were banished from the island.'

'Mm, you said that. Or maybe I dreamt it?' Malfoy cocked his head and turned to lean against Snape. 'You're absolutely certain?'

'I am. You need not worry.' Snape closed his arms around Malfoy. The embrace was more intimate than what would be expected between friends and Moody suddenly understood the reason for Snape's demands. He wanted to ask, but Malfoy's weak vulnerability made an impact on Moody, despite his hatred for Death Eaters in general and for the Malfoys in particular. He could wait. However, there was no doubt that Snape had told the truth as far as Moody could judge: Malfoy was definitely not well, he was close to breaking, not that it would bother Moody much. It might bother Kingsley, though, and a depressed Kingsley was not something Moody cared to deal with. He hated to admit it, but they had made the right decision regarding Malfoy's accommodation. Moody wanted the bastards in prison until they were carried out in a coffin, but he preferred revenge to be taken out on people who were sane enough to sense the impact of justice. Dark wizards had to pay for their crimes, but Malfoy was not in the possession of a full vault. 

Without being accused of any appreciation of Azkaban's smelly grime, Snape did not let go of Malfoy. 'Minister Shacklebolt and Head Auror Moody are here,' he said, and turned Malfoy around with a gentle care that Moody had never seen Snape use before. 'They have agreed to let you have a better room in this shitty hotel. With a bath, too.'

The old Lucius Malfoy hadn't disappeared entirely. The silver eyes suddenly came alive. 'And the price?'

'Not one you'll have to pay. Except for a bit of help with locating your father's unplottable manor and a substantial donation to St Mungo's in a few years. Substantial, regarded by their standards. You won't even notice.'

'So you are paying for me. Again?' Lucius straightened up. 'You struck a bargain without consulting with me?' He shot Moody a look. 'I assume you got the better end of it, Severus?'

'A flat for you in here. Your vault opened. Access to clothes, books, everything you can buy. Healers at your leisure.'

Lucius frowned. 'And for you?'

'Access. To you. When I want it.'

'That is not what I asked. What is the price you will be paying for this? For me?'

Snape looked away. 'It's nothing. Four weeks of my life and my assistance with a few potions and such if they need it. No matter what, your conditions will be improved.'

'You were always better at war than at-' Lucius cut himself off. 'You're a fool. I can't let you do this, Severus. I am not speaking to them. I haven't seen my bloody father for almost ten years, thank Salazar, and I prefer to keep it that way. I have no idea where he's hiding.'

Severus Snape was not the only fool present. Moody realised that Malfoy was actually able to, well, love. He loved his son and he had loved his wife, too. And strangely enough Malfoy undoubtedly loved the ugly, thin man who, in turn, had loved Lily Potter so strongly that he'd upended the wizarding world for it. What a strange pair. Despite nothing had been said or revealed, Moody read the little signs. A minimal caress. The way a mere glance seemed to communicate everything. The readiness with which they were both willing to give something up for the other. Had Moody not detested the couple so much, it would have been touching. They were lovers, Snape and Malfoy, Moody was absolutely sure of it.

A door slammed somewhere in the tower and a cold draught blew through the cell.

'No!' Lucius' frightened cry sounded unnaturally loud. He clung to Snape. 'Not them!'

'Shhh, Lucius. It was just the wind. I told you, the Dementors won't come here.' Severus gave up pretending and kissed Lucius' dirty cheek. 'They can't. Need I remind you of the barrier that keeps them off the island?'

The sudden scare and the ingrained fear of the Dementors was too much for Malfoy. Moody shook his head as his eyes met Kingsley's. Snape was trying to comfort his lover, to no avail. Malfoy was ill, and more ill than Snape had let know. There would be no interview, no pressure, not until healers had treated the man. If they tried, it would be torture, mental torture of the worst kind, Moody had to admit. Whether good healers would make a difference... that would be up to St Mungo's now. Moody, despite the lack of result, did not intend to break the agreement they'd made with Snape. He had no intentions of turning into a torturer, either. Malfoy would get his flat and his healers.

'If you'll please wait for me. Outside.' Snape guided Lucius to sit on the bed. 'I'll help him get into some of the warm robes I brought. Unpack the bed. He's better when he's warm. I'll try to ask, but in this state he doesn't even remember his own name unless I tell him.' Snape's angry attitude had disappeared and one of immense sadness had replaced it. 'I'll stand by my promise to you, I just need to-'

'We understand, Severus.' Kingsley said quietly as he squeezed Snape's arm briefly. 'It doesn't change anything. Voldemort's inhumanity did not make his enemies inhuman. Lucius will have what he needs.' Kingsley turned, signalling to Moody that they were leaving.

'Yes. He will.' Snape, too, spoke quietly. 'Everything but his health and his freedom.'

'Right. So what do we now?' Moody sighed and leant against the cold stones in the small corridor. It had not been entirely pleasant to be confronted with the ruins of the formerly so proud Lucius Malfoy. It was hard not to feel a modicum of empathy. The depression that permeated Azkaban was getting to Moody, too. 'Except for going back and make a renewed attempt to reform and refurbish all of Azkaban?' Rubbing his brow, Moody knew he had to reconsider his hatred for Lucius Malfoy. He'd seen a different side of him, one that could not be discarded so easily. There was a human inside. A broken, ruined human, but a human nevertheless. The ethics that had always helped Moody fight for fairness, the ethics that had always told him to catch his enemy and bring them to trial were built upon the idea that all humans had the right to a fair treatment. That was why Moody had supported Kingsley from the moment he'd met the man, all the way until Kingsley had been offered the power he held now. Kingsley had never been wrong, arguing for fairness and humane treatment. Soft, yes, but never wrong. That Moody himself had lost limbs in the name of fairness and duty instead of just killing his opponents didn't count as "soft" in Moody's opinion. Bringing justice to the world was an important duty to him. Unjust revenge and unlawful killings had never been something that he approved of, however. Besides, it robbed him of the pleasure of seeing his opponent brought before the Wizengamot.

It was true, though, that Moody reserved a particularly deep disgust for the Malfoy family. Perhaps it was time to lay to rest some of the old hatred?

Kingsley had needed a moment of quiet contemplation too, for it took a while before he replied. 'Yes, what do we do now?' He fiddled with the golden hoop, thoughtfully. 'We do have another option. And now I berate myself for not having thought of it before.' Kingsley smiled. 'To be honest, I should berate you for not having thought of it, really, for you've been complaining about Potter's attempt to free Draco Malfoy for weeks. I do agree with him, with Harry. It is time. Malfoy has been in here long enough to satisfy the more vengeful members of our society. He did try to get out Voldemort's clutch after all.'

'Oh, surely he did.' Moody produced something that was meant to be a smile. ' But I like the way you think. Let Snape pick up the pieces of father and we'll go pull apart the son? I like it, Kingsley. It's a bit suspicious, though, Potter's interest in Malfoy's case. Anything between him and Draco Malfoy, you reckon? I mean, Lucius and Snape, they...'

'Hardly. The last thing I heard, yesterday, in fact, was that Harry was on his way on a four weeks' holiday to India. With Neville.'

'Ah. But they are just friends.'

'Moody, really!' Kingsley grabbed a handful of Moody's cloak and pulled him across the corridor to the stairs. 'Let's go bother Draco Malfoy. He might be willing to talk to us if we can guarantee that his release will happen a bit earlier than planned like, for instance, in an hour.'

Wobbling down the stairs with Kingsley following him, Moody did not turn around. 'You mean we're taking the little shit with us? To Caithness?'

'He'd want to visit his grandfather, don't you think? After spending the better part of two years in Azkaban, he must surely miss his family.'

'God, you're a ruthless arse when you want to be,' Moody growled. 'And I assume you expect me to refrain from killing the boy at some point during the next month?'

Kingsley's laughter boomed loudly in between the round wall of the tower. 'That would be clever. Unless you're so enamoured with Azkaban's interior that you'd rather reside in here than in your comfortable house in the foreseeable future.'

'Don't like the neighbours. He'll live. Perhaps. Could be an accident.' Moody didn't look forward to spending time with yet another Malfoy. He'd had it with the father long time ago. The son...He wasn't much better, a spoiled little brat who probably employed house-elves only to wipe his bony arse, or he would, had he not been incarcerated. Merlin, how he disliked the arrogant little turd. A coward of the worst sort, a bullying, simpering idiot. Hopefully the North Sea would rise up and swallow... Moody stopped that line of thought quicker than a Hippogriff gulped down a weasel. Sometimes his dislike of Death Eaters actually went too far. He'd not wish Sally-Anne's fate on anybody, not even Draco Malfoy.

It would be something of an exercise to bring the younger Malfoy with them: an exercise in patience and tolerance and it was needed. Moody was running out of it, the patience. Much to his displeasure he was feeling sorry for the Malfoys for the first time in his life and he wanted to get out of Azkaban before he turned irreversibly into a damned humanitarian. He had Kingsley covering that. Moody just wanted to be the usual grumpy old badger, not someone who'd help any buggering Death Eaters with anything, especially not anything that made their lives any easier to bear.

They went through the grand hall which had once been the glorious location of glorious feasts. The marble floor was grey with dirt. The black and white tiles were visible still and rotting tapestry still hung on to the ceiling's massive beams many feet above them. The state of the ancient castle was bordering disrepair.

They found the prison governor in the a small office that might have been a servant's room centuries ago. The old wizard stood as Kingsley stepped inside.

'Minister.' The wizard hurried to stand. He bowed.

'I'll be brief. These,' Kingsley held out a scroll, 'are my orders regarding Lucius Malfoy and Mr Snape. I expect them to be executed at once. As in now. We'd like to take Draco Malfoy with us; he is to be released on parole in a few weeks anyway, and I'd personally like to assess his ability to fit into our society before I agree to his final release.'

The governor looked pale. 'It's highly irregular, Minister. I can't-'

'You can. He will be my responsibility, mine and Head Auror Moody's.' Kingsley smiled. It was the smile that told Moody that Kingsley was tired of being contradicted, tired of bureaucracy, that he was fed up with talking and needed doing. 'Hopefully you are not suggesting that Head Auror Moody and I are not qualified to handle a prisoner such as Draco Malfoy?'

'I'll get him right away.' The governor realised what he'd implied. He winced, then walked out the office, fidgeting, almost dropping the scroll in his attempt to deal with the embarrassment.

'You didn't even have to threaten him. Good job.' Moody sat down in the governor's chair. His leg was beginning to hurt. 'Haven't lost your touch.' Moody let his magical eye follow the governor as he hastened to fetch Malfoy. 'The man needs a good scare. This place is rubbish. People here need to learn a few cleaning spells that even I know, and I'm not one for household chores. I think I saw a dead rat in that hall.'

'There were at least three. Although I'm in doubt whether the third was dead or just dying.'

'We shouldn't have left Wagtail with the guard at the Apparition point. He'd have made merry with it and its family.'

'Bloodthirsty today, Moody?'

'Not particularly, only when it comes to rats and Malfoys, which in my book is one and the same thing.'

They could hear steps in the corridor and they both looked up. 'Shut up now.' Kingsley looked serious. 'We can't afford to alienate this one. We need Abraxas Malfoy's cooperation. Especially we need it if he turns out to be involved in Sally-Anne's disappearance. Draco is the only one who can lead us to him.'

Moody rolled both eyes, the blue one swirled wildly and stuck, looking through the back of his head. He had to rub it to get it back in place. He sat back, arms crossed, determined not to say anything at all. Kingsley could do all the work if he wanted it that way.

The governor returned. The old man looked confused and stressed. 'Draco Malfoy, sir.' He pointed over his shoulder into the corridor. 'I'll go and find someone who can do the structural work on Lucius Malfoy's cell. I'll get a healer, too.' He stepped aside to let Malfoy in. They could hear him mumble angrily about modern methods and the world coming to an end as he went to execute Kingsley's orders.

'Remind me that I need to find a decent witch or wizard to take over this place as soon as we're back,' Kingsley told Moody who, true to his rather childish brooding, refused to reply. It didn't change the fact that Moody found it to be a very good idea. It was not a good idea, however, to air the suggestion in front of Malfoy.

'He'll learn soon enough,' Kingsley said. He was very good at guessing Moody's thoughts. 'If he cooperates.'

'Who cooperates?' Draco Malfoy looked puzzled. 'What did I do wrong now? Can't be much left, short of killing someone.' Malfoy managed to sound arrogant, despite being dirty, malnourished and clad in something that needed to go into the rubbish.

'If you cooperate.' Kingsley pointed at a rickety chair that leant against the wall for support. 'If you're brave, you can sit there.'

'Brave? Malfoy raised an eyebrow. 'I've been here for half a ear with Dementors making the place really cosy and warm for us, you know, with kisses and everything. I don't care about being brave any longer. In fact, it's so nice in here that bravery is the last thing I think of. It's just that relaxing.'

'Snape visited you much?' Moody growled. Draco's sarcasm was Snape-flavoured. 'Didn't know you knew the word, by the way. Brave.' Moody snorted, looking up at the tall, thin wizard in front of him. 'And bloody sit down before my eye gets stuck again.'

'I know the word "arsehole", if that helps any?' Malfoy spat, managing a venomous glare that worked despite his pathetic appearance. 'Or "psychopath" if you like that better. I understand that it is a Muggle word and since you're so fond of them, Muggles-'

'Shut up, both of you. And you, Malfoy, sit!' Kingsley raised his voice. Very unusual, he rarely needed to do so. 'I will not tolerate any of this childishness. From any of you. It stops this instant. If you persist, I'll go home, use four weeks on feeding fish and reading and neither of you will have what you want most. Is that perfectly clear to both of you?'

Moody knew he'd let his temper run away with him. Malfoy managed to push all Moody's buttons by his mere presence. All the wrong ones. He nodded. He'd stepped over the line, but still he found his mouth forming words he had had no intention of speaking out loud. 'He started-'

'Did not!' Malfoy straightened up, making the chair groan dangerously. He stank of prison. 'You've merely decided that I'm-'

'Auror Moody and Prisoner Malfoy, I have warned you once! As I always give people the benefit of the doubt and a second chance, I'll ignore your outburst. There will be no third chances.' This time Kingsley didn't raise his voice. It turned into a low, threatening whisper instead. 'Cease immediately or I'll Transfigure you into rats and set the dog on you.' Kingsley put his hands on the desk, looming over them both. Kingsley could be very intimidating when he wanted to.

Moody recognised the expression. There would be no more violation of Kingsley's orders. Despite having been Kingsley's superior for years, the situation was reversed now, and not because Kingsley happened to be the Minister for Magic: Kingsley simply exuded confidence and power that couldn't be ignored or matched. He'd had it with Moody, and shutting up, exactly as Moody had decided to do before Malfoy arrived, was the best solution to the problem. He needed Kingsley to go with him to Caithness and no matter how little he wished to admit it, he needed Draco Malfoy to go too. Unless they left the track that had pointed them in the direction of Abraxas Malfoy.

'You have exactly ten minutes to learn to love each other,' Kingsley said, his voice soft, slinky velvet. 'Or I will hex you both into something unpleasant.'

Malfoy had to pick up his jaw from the floor. Kingsley was not Fudge or any of the other weak minions the Malfoys had been used to dealing with. 'I understand. That part. About being... nice to, erm, Head Auror Moody.' He balanced precariously on the edge of the wobbly chair. His face contradicted his words; there was an expression of disgust that indicated that the suggestion not in any way suited him. 'The other part? If anyone would be as kind as to explain to me what this is all about?'

4. Nightfall over the North Sea

They were ready to take off. The evening was closing in on them; the sky had a tinge of that weak rose colour that announced the coming of the night. They would have to hurry if they were going to make it to Dunnet Head before it was too dark to navigate. With Snape and Malfoy on tow, there wasn't room for any chance accidents. At a top speed of sixty miles per hour with a good tailwind, Kingsley's ancient Oakshaft would slow them down, so they'd have to hurry. It would take them at least an hour and a half before they were over Orkney, and they had miles to go after that. With some luck, they'd be at their destination at nightfall, providing that Malfoy guided them in the right direction.

The unspoken threat that Malfoy would soon be reacquainting himself with his lovely room at Azkaban, did he not cooperate, was surely enough to guarantee that he'd do his best to assist them. Moody had seen the immense relief in Draco's eyes when he realised that he could leave the place and never come back unless he wanted to visit his father in his new and improved suite. It had done the boy good to see that his father was taken care of. One look at Draco when Snape told him that his father would be in good hands certainly showed that even Pure-blood bastards were able to love. It spoke in favour of the boy. Moody hoped these revelations wouldn't occur regularly. He'd have to be careful not to have a pinch of empathy for Draco Malfoy as well. Feeling sorry for his idiot of a father had stretched Moody's humanitarian side to the breaking point. 

Malfoy did, however, look infinitely better clean and in one of Kingsley's transformed robes. In fact he looked so nice that Moody had a hard time recognising him as he'd returned from a much needed shower. Somebody had chopped off half of his hair with a wand and combed the rest. The short pony tail made Draco Malfoy look so like his father at that age that Moody for a moment thought that Snape had smuggled a wand into Azkaban and de-aged Lucius to get him out in some sneaky way. That was the trouble with the male Malfoys: they were evil personified—in a very nice package. Moody wasn't denying his appreciation of male beauty. The dark brown robe suited Malfoy a bit too well. Moody wrinkled his nose, the remains of it, as it were. He'd have to have his eyesight controlled and checked at Mungo's when they returned. To be on the safe side. That was the side Moody liked best. 

'I'm going to ride with you?' Malfoy asked apprehensively and eyed Moody's standard broom. 'I don't have one any longer, a broom. And why aren't we Apparating?'

There was no way in hell that Moody would have Malfoy on his broom. Letting the boy ride with Snape would not be clever, either. The only solution was to let Kingsley take him. His broom was also the stronger. 'You can ride with Kingsley. I'm taking Wagtail,' Moody said, managing to be polite. Strangely enough Wagtail hadn't been as hostile to Malfoy as he'd been to Snape. The dog might not be as clever as Moody originally thought. 'And we're not Apparating because we've already made two long-distance travels today. Wouldn't want to Splinch the dog by mistake.' Moody put his wand in his wand pocket and grabbed his broom. Using it for balance, he shrank his staff and put it next to the wand.

Signalling to Malfoy to mount, Kingsley was ready to take off. Snape too, had prepared. He'd left his lover in the care of the healer whose urgency had been aided by a substantial amount of Malfoy Galleons. Snape looked solemn, but determined as he sat on his broom, hovering a few feet off the ground. He was in charge of their luggage and Moody found it quite reassuring for the safety of it that Snape was not riding an ancient relic but a sparkling new Firebolt 2002. At least one of them was in possession of a broom that had a reputation for being fast, reliable and handling like a hawk.

Kingsley held his broom steady as Malfoy mounted. 'Ready?' Severus, you first, I'll ride behind you, that way I can get a bit more speed out of this one. He patted the Oakshaft's thick, polished handle. 'Moody?'

'Ready.' He checked the makeshift sling that he'd made out of his second cloak. Wagtail had curled up in it, half asleep already. The dog would be safe and warm, hidden under Moody's heavy, black travelling cloak.

The sea was raging and the wind howled and bit at them at their ascent. Away from Azkaban's protective walls, the summer was far from friendly. He northern wind that had brought the Vikings to the shores of Orkney now brought a with it a whiff of ice and snow; a cold that not even July could erase. They turned their brooms south and rode the storm for a while until it was time to turn east inland. Snape's Firebolt took the side wind steady: it danced and fell back on course; Kingsley's Oakshaft was steady like a rock; with Draco riding with him, the broom was heavy and stable. Moody decided that he truly needed a new broom, no matter Kingsley's appreciation of the one he had, for compared to the Firebolt and the Oakshaft, his Cleansweep was abysmal. He fought to keep up and every time the wind decided to pull at him, the broom got out of course. He was cold and stiff. His hands felt like lumps of ice and the cushioning charm needed replacement.

Chased by the night, they didn't have a moment to spare, but Snape fell back. 'All right there, Moody?' he shouted. 'Keeping up?'

Moody nodded and waved Snape ahead. He'd rather have this over with as soon as possible. He hoped that Malfoy knew exactly where they were going, for Moody wanted a bath and a bed, even if he had to beg Abraxas Malfoy on his bleeding knees (or knee, if one were to be precise) to take him in. His broom dove and a wave broke under him, sending a spray of salt-smelling drops over his water-proof travel cloak. The sea was deep and black under him and he forced the Cleansweep up, he had no intentions of being pulled under by yet another wave.

It felt like years before they could see Orkney. The farms at Deerness lay as little shining spots spread over the easternmost island. A bit further in, Kirkness's streetlights were lit, outlining the town. The summer night was warm, now that they were flying over land. So tired that he was about to fall of his broom, Moody got a bit of second air. It was a relief not to fight the wind and the waves. His hands thawed a bit too. Wagtail sensed the change, woke up, yawned, turned around in his pouch and went back to sleep. Moody envied the dog. It was a brief reprieve, though. Soon they reached the coast and the wind became salt-tinged and rough. The darkness was barking at their backs, but they'd make it. They'd make it.

'10 miles to go!' Malfoy's cry was torn into pieces. 'Turn left a bit and look for the lighthouse!'

They could see the rotating lights from afar. 'Dunnet! Down there! My grandfather's house is just to the left!' Moody could not distinguish any house from the dark, storm-shaped landscape. The sea beneath them roared at the rocks which in turn gnashed at the sea with its sharp, stony teeth. The old lighthouse pointed accusingly at the unruly sea, sending its warnings over the darkening waters. 'There, on the cliffs!'

Still, there was nothing to see but sea and cliffs. Snape lowered the speed. He too, was looking for something that wasn't there. Moody suspected that Abraxas Malfoy had been generous with the concealment spells. There were Muggles in the area, although it wasn't exactly overrun by anyone. Moody looked again. The contours of a gigantic cliff appeared in front of them, rising steeply, suddenly, in front of them. They pulled the brooms upwards as not to collide with the wall of stone. From above, they could see the shape of the cliff shift.

Moody manoeuvred his broom closer to Kingsley's. 'I thought you said it was a manor house?' he told Malfoy. 'That's not a manor, that's a bleedin' castle!'

High on the storm-beaten cliff, a proud castle perched, almost like a bird of prey, a stone eagle, ready to take flight, spreading its wings over the sea. It wasn't a pretty castle, nor was it a castle for princes and kings. It was a castle for war, old and scarred by wind and battles. It was a castle old enough to have stood against the Vikings who had once raided the north. It was a castle of clan chiefs, a stronghold against the sea and the enemy.

'So? Can't expect my grandfather to live like a beggar, can you?' Not even hours of straining flight had taken the arrogance out of the Malfoy family's youngest member.

Moody pulled his broom to the left, circling the castle. There would be a lot of begging involved to live in such a place unless one had a very, very large vault at Gringotts. The towers rose towards the dark sky, threatening silhouettes against the pale moon. A banner was waving from one of the towers. It had a coat of arms emblazoned. Green silk, a winged golden horse prancing. The colours were barely visible in the waning light. Moody returned to Kingsley's side. He held his broom back to get closer to Malfoy. 'The banner?'

'Vert, Abraxan d'or rampant,' Malfoy's words were almost inaudible in the strong wind and Moody reached over to get a hold on Malfoy's cloak. 'A golden, prancing Abraxan on green,' Draco explained. 'We brought it with us when our family came over with William from Normandy. In 1066. The castle has been our property since Alexander I of Scotland awarded it to my many-times-great grandfather Robert for his services. That was in 1115. It's called Dùnaid Castle.'

It baffled Moody that the Malfoys had actually been in close contact with Muggles a thousand years ago. He wondered what had made them such a biased family, apart from Salazar Slytherin's attempt of convincing the wizarding world that it needed to segregate itself from the rest of the universe. Somehow he knew the most probable answer already. It had been what had hit them all, Pure-bloods and Muggle-borns alike: the Witchcraft Act. Oh, he knew. He knew how the Muggle king had forbidden all witches and wizards to use Invovacons or cojuracons of Sprites witchecraftes enchauntementes or sorceries to thentent to fynde money or treasure, or to waste, consume or destroy any persone in his bodie membres, indeed. 1542 had been an annus horribilis for the English wizarding world, and the Malfoy family had five-hundred years of wizarding history to explain—or to cover up. Casting the simplest spell was now a capital offence and the wizarding population had gone into hiding. It was impossible to Obliviate the entire country. Besides, Henry VIII had not been a tolerant king. Moody knew little of English Muggle history, but it occurred to him that Alexander I of Scotland had been a very pious king, too, and not one, like Arthur Pendragon, in need of a wizard at court. 'What kind of services?'

'Our banner.' Draco pointed at the tower. 'The Malfoys have been known to breed the best destriers in Normandy, so that is what my great grandfather Robert did. Provided warhorses for battle. Spanish horses mixed with Abraxans. Those, he kept hidden from Muggle eyes, of course. We keep the line intact, though. I'm sure my grandfather will show you some of them if you want. He's very proud of his Abraxans.'

Malfoy leant forward to speak with Kingsley. Moody could hear a bit. They all needed to hold on to Malfoy to go through the wards.

'I don't know if I'm still allowed,' Malfoy said as Snape and Moody had taken their positions on each side of Kingsley's broom. 'I was... before. Grandfather... he won't let my father in, but I was here five years ago. Not since then. Grandfather does not like... Death Eaters. He got a bit odd when Grandma died, Father says.'

That explained Abraxas' sudden disappearance from the wizarding world. There had been rumours, some of which Draco Malfoy had circulated, but no one had known why Abraxas Malfoy had left Malfoy Manor to his son and simply vanished from the English wizarding society. Some said that Abraxas had died. As an Auror, Moody had known that the rumours of Abraxas's death had been vastly exaggerated, mostly since the man had been spotted in France, Norway and Bulgaria since then. If Abraxas had refused to take his Pure-blood prejudice to the extreme, thus separating himself from the families in the Pure-blood inner circle, the farthest corner of Scotland would not be the worst place to go. Anyway, Moody never understood this odd obsession with blood and lineage. But here, hovering over a castle that had its roots so deep into Scottish soil, so deep into wizarding history, he could to some extent see why some might appreciate it so much. Lineage could not, however, be allowed to become an excuse for oppression of other human beings, not as long as Moody had a say in it. He wasn't a bloody socialist, like Kingsley, but he believed in equality as something that applied to all members of society, not just to the ones who happened to own castles and manors. 

'So? Are we staying up here, or are you doing what we pulled you out of Azkaban to do?' Moody growled. 'It's wicked cold up here.' A gust of cold air from the sea underlined Moody's argument.

'Oh, I'm so enjoying it,' Malfoy sneered. 'It's just, you know, warmer in this freezing wind than in my cell, so let me bask in the warmth.' The sarcasm was thick. 'Let me do my job, Auror Moody, I'm not interested in being cold and have a broken leg because the wards threw me off the broom.' Draco pointed at the left tower. It had a platform on top. 'Let's go down. If we can get to through to the tower, we can take the brooms into the courtyard from there.'

Kingsley sent Moody a look of warning. 'Better keep up that constant vigilance now.'

'I'm a good boy,' Moody growled. 'I'm not going to push him off. Not today. I'm too tired to dig a grave.'

Lowering his broom, Kingsley took them down. There were a few seconds of tension before they reached the weather-beaten platform. The tower looked like something that had survived a broadside from a battleship's batteries several times over.  It was a relief to be able to get off the broom. Moody leant heavily upon the Cleansweep. His legs were shaking. It had been a very straining day and his physique wasn't what it once were, the missing body parts not taken into consideration.

'If I may use your broom?' Draco turned to Snape. 'It's probably safer that I come knocking on his door alone.' He looked at Moody. 'No, actually, it's not. If... if Auror Moody would-'

There was such deep insecurity in those words. Moody understood why. If his hypothesis was right, Abraxas Malfoy might not welcome his grandson with open arms. It was commonly known by now that Draco Malfoy had a tacky tattoo, similar to that of his father and his lovely Death Eater friends. If Draco was accompanied by one of the most famous Dark Wizard hunters in the wizarding world, however, it might ensure Abraxas's cooperation. At least it would save Draco from being on the unpleasant end of a hex.

Moody sighed and mounted his broom again. 'Get on.'

With his wand in one hand, ready to deflect any stray spells, Moody managed to get them safely to the ground. He heard Malfoy let out a relieved sigh. 'Yeah, yeah,' Moody said. 'Now go talk to your grandfather. I'll cover your, er, retreat, if necessary.' Moody stuck his wand up the sleeve. There was no reason to appear threatening. Things might accelerate soon enough.

Malfoy took a step towards the huge portal that seemed to be the main entrance, then turned. 'I don't... I...' Malfoy's mouth was tense. 'Thank you.' For an instant, the hard, cold expression disappeared. 'Thanks, Moody.'

That was surprising. Honesty and gratitude from a Malfoy? 'It's all right. On you go.' Moody watched as Malfoy walked up the stairs. Perhaps there really was a human being inside that arrogant little beast? Moody pulled out his staff and returned it to size.

A house-elf opened the heavy doors even before Malfoy had reached the top. Moody stepped forward, into the circle of light from the hall, dragging his wooden leg a bit. He held the Cleansweep ready.

'Sir is not home. Draco Malfoy must go away. Draco Malfoy cannot come into the house. Master says so.'

'Oh, nonsense.' Moody had had it. 'You, elf.' Moody whipped out his wand. 'This is a Ministry investigation, and we wish to see Mr Malfoy. Instantly. And you can tell Master that Draco Malfoy is assisting the Aurors and the Minister for Magic in our search, so there will be no more of this idiocy.' So much for diplomacy. Moody didn't look forward to spending four weeks in a Muggle hotel, but he was impatient, exhausted and really not in the mood for anything but a glass of brandy and a bed. 'Now, elf!'

Kingsley and Snape came flying down, preventing the pending confrontation. Kingsley stumbled as he got off the broom, the only sign of exhaustion he showed. 'Whoa, Moody. Careful, my friend. I'm not interested in sleeping in a barn tonight.'

Kingsley looked up at the house-elf who seemed quite determined to guard the entrance to the house. 'Where is your master, elf? We'd like a word. It is as Head Auror Moody so eloquently put it, Ministry business. The young Mister Malfoy is here because we have asked him to help us. Our apologies for bringing him here, if it doesn't suit your master, but it was necessary.'

The house-elf who'd been standing with its thin arms crossed over the impeccably ironed and cleaned tea cosy it was wearing said nothing. It just pointed across the courtyard. 'Master.'

A tall man in riding breeches and with a heavy oilskin cloak over one arm was standing in the door to something that might be a stable. The scent of hay and horses spread and made Snape sneeze. 'Allergic,' he said and rubbed his nose.

Ignoring the intruders, the man smoothed the long blond hair with a hand that showed that he'd been mucking out the stables. It was far from clean. He casually pulled off a long straw that had entangled itself in the hair.  'What's all this commotion about? Mr Bruce?'

'Sirs is Aurors and Minister,' the house-elf said. 'Is wanting to see Master with Master's grand-, with Mr Malfoy. Sirs wants to take him inside. Sirs says that he is investigates!'

'The Minister? Oh, yes. Shacklebolt. And Mr Snape, I see.' Abraxas Malfoy wasn't in a hurry. He walked slowly over the paved courtyard. 'Moody.' He acknowledged Moody's presence with a curt nod. 'Is it true? What Mr Bruce is saying? About... Draco?' Abraxas's face was finely chiseled, as arrogant as his son's. He did nothing to hide his displeasure. 'I am not used to uninvited visitors, so I assume that you have a very good explanation for this, Shacklebolt. Minister.'

Kingsley didn't even care to react to Abraxas's thinly veiled rudeness. Kingsley, too, took a few steps forward, standing a bit too close to Abraxas, on purpose violating his personal space. 'I'm not in the habit of visiting other people without a valid cause, Abraxas Malfoy.' Kingsley didn't offer any elaboration.

Abraxas was forced to look up. He didn't budge, either. 'Then state it. There is a reason that I live here, on the edge of the world and I can guarantee you that it is not because I cherish the influx of unwanted guests or wizarding politics.'

'I apologise for the lack of warning, but it was necessary. We are investigating a case.'

'And it was necessary to bring... that?' Abraxas made a minuscule nod in Draco's direction. 'I am not a lover of Muggle-borns, Minister, very far from, but I abhor Tom Riddle and his minions even more.' Abraxas's mouth became a narrow line of utter disgust. 'These people who so stupidly chanced every Pure-blood line alive in their foolish attempt to take over a world which is no longer truly ours... Now the Blacks and the Lestrange families are bereft of any direct male heirs. With Rodolphus and Rabastan wasting away in Azkaban there will be none. My son, that impotent fool, has left only that weak and useless boy you have brought. Such a waste.' Abraxas snorted derisively. 'Must you?'

Behind Moody Draco made a strange, strangled sound. Moody could feel something clutching at his travel cloak. He reached back, only to find Draco's hand there, tense and shaking. Moody suddenly pitied Draco. So many expectations, no matter where he turned. Moody patted the thin hand briefly. 'Easy,' he whispered, giving the advise he should have taken himself. 'Let Kingsley handle it. It'll be all right.' Draco had been so proud of his grandfather. It had been clear from how he'd described him. It had to be hurtful to be dismissed in such a way by someone he'd looked up to and admired. That was the price that Draco Malfoy had to pay for his thoughtless association with Lord Voldemort. Moody told himself not to care. It didn't work. He turned around. 'Kingsley will manage. Don't worry. Just keep calm.'

'I must.' Kingsley didn't raise his voice, if anything he became more quiet, more of a threat. 'Neither Draco Malfoy, nor Mr Snape are Death Eaters any longer. I assume you have kept up with the events after the war?'

Abraxas nodded and took half a step back. 'Mr Snape, yes. True to the cause. He,' Abraxas pointed at Snape, 'had the brain to realise that someone like that... upstart, Riddle, had nothing to do in our society. He is welcome in my house. But the runt there... No.'

'Am I to repeat myself?' Kingsley sighed deeply and took a step forward. 'I assume you heard me? Draco Malfoy is no longer a Death Eater and the Ministry has accepted that Draco acted under duress, both in regards to his initiation as a Death Eater and to his actions during the war. With this unhealthy obsession with blood and heirs, the threat of being killed violently or having one's parents suffer a violent death surely counts as duress? Even for you? Draco has been freed; he has paid his dues to the society we both share, even if it seems more like you have cancelled your membership. Is that so, Abraxas Malfoy, that you have decided not to be a part of our world, or will you assist your Minister when asked to?'

'You are a bit forward, man.' Abraxas pursed his lips. 'You're not like that other minister, the one who had my son's hand up his arse every time he spoke. Fudge. What an idiot. I think I like you better.'

'At least I can guarantee that no one has ever had their hand in my arse,' Kingsley said, keeping his expression entirely serious. 'And if I had allowed anyone the pleasure, I'd have made sure he was good enough with it to render me unable to speak at all. Moan, perhaps, but not speak.'

There was a very, very long pause. Then Abraxas Malfoy roared with laughter. 'Minister, really!' He patted Kingsley on the shoulder, as if he'd been a horse. 'You're right. Although a bit on the edge of it, I still am a part of the wizarding world. I'll help, since you put it that way. Abraxas shot Draco a glare. But he-'

'You haven't even put wards up to keep him out. Come on, Mr Malfoy. He's your grandchild.'

'There is a reason they made you minister, isn't there? A bit too clever, methinks.' Abraxas hesitated. 'Inside. I suppose you'd all like a bed for the night? It's late.' Abraxas turned around. 'You too, boy. We'll sort things out in the morning.'

'See?' Moody whispered to Draco Malfoy. 'It's going to be fine. You're a Malfoy after all.'

Moody realised that he actually didn't know whether that was a good thing, or a bad.

5. Bodies, Basements and Broom Cupboards 

Yawning and stretching in the grand bed, Moody had slept surprisingly well. He lay, staring up into the canopy of a bed that had probably had generations of Pure-bloods sleeping in it. There were things to be said about those. Both the beds and Pure-bloods. The beds, to begin with, were scrumptious. The mattress had the exact right spring and the duvet was large and light. Moody suspected that it was stuffed with Abraxan feathers; he had rarely touched anything that soft. What a pity it would be if they had to arrest Abraxas Malfoy for the murder of Sally-Anne Perks and her father. Moody certainly wouldn't mind a few more nights in that particular bed. At the foot end of the bed, Wagtail had curled up; the lazy cur didn't as much as open an eye. Used to sleeping in. What a watch dog.

Reaching for his wand that he'd put within reach on the bedside table, Moody sat up to take down the extensive array of wards he'd cast on the thick oak door and on the windows before going to sleep. He disliked much the idea of being killed in his sleep, so he'd been a bit free with them, the spells. As the last ward fell, there was a knocking on the door. Wagtail, half awake, sniffed and growled at the door.

Moody raised his wand. If he was going to be attacked, lying in bed, he'd at least put up a fight. 'Enter!'

'Sir's breakfast. Is sir going to eat here?' Mr Bruce the house-elf was balancing a large tray on one hand. 'Sir Minister said to say that sir Minister has tasted the food and that sir Minister is well and not sick so other sir must eat.'

'How nice of your employer not to try to poison me,' Moody growled. 'Give it here. Has anyone touched it since the Minister touched it?'

'No, sir, only Mr Bruce.'

Moody took the tray. He sniffed the food suspiciously, then put the tray down on the bed. He probed at it with the wand, using a spell to determine whether the food or the coffee contained anything harmful. He didn't hope so, for the freshly baked croissants and the fresh fruit was just about what he wanted right now, that, and the black coffee.

'Does Mr Bruce have another name?' Moody poured a cup of the delightfully smelling coffee. 'Doesn't house-elves usually have names like Betty or Pippi or Toddy?' Not that Moody had much experience with house-elves. It was a bit beyond his reach. When he had a house like this, which would be never, he'd rectify that problem.

'Sir? Mr Bruce is Mr Bruce. Has been for two thousand years. Long before Malfoy sirs comes to Dùnaid, there is a Bruce here. First Malfoy sir offered first Bruce clothes but Mr Bruce knew that sir has offered by accident and taught first Malfoy sir to be good sir. The first Mr Malfoy sir called that Bruce Mr Bruce and we are now Mr Bruce because of first Master's kindness. Mr Bruce almost never have to iron his hands!'

Moody shook his head. None of the house-elf's babbling made any sense. All he got out of it was that the castle's house-elves were a bit more dim-witted than house-elves in general. 'Mr Bruce, then.'

'Sir is most kind.'

The house-elf disappeared. Moody wondered if there were more and if they were all called Mr Bruce. Judging from the size of the place there probably were more. Strong magic or not, one house-elf couldn't possibly manage the entire castle. He made a mental note of the fact that they'd have to search the place at some point. They would surely find a few Dark artefacts in a place like this, so even if Sally-Anne's case wasn't solved, it would be worth it. Moody still had wet dreams about the items and books they'd found at Malfoy Manor. He had to admit, though, that Abraxas Malfoy, for a potential murderer, didn't seem as caught up in the Dark Arts as his son and grandson. Mostly Abraxas Malfoy seemed to be caught up in a pile of horse manure, and he had looked the that way too, in riding breeches and with half a bale of straw in his hair. On the other hand, the man could be barking mad and have several victims buried in the basement. Moody almost felt elated by the thought.

Leaving the thoughts of Abraxas as their main suspect, Moody took a tiny bite of the croissant. It tasted of butter. He took another bite and hoped that he wouldn't get killed by whatever sort of unfortunate ingredients it might contain. Then again, if Kingsley was still alive, then Moody was willing to take the chance for the croissant was delicious. Moody looked at the bread basket as he finished the first piece. Wagtail managed to drag himself closer, staring intently at the bread. The dog seemed to regard bread as more important than guarding. There were three croissants left. Moody gave Wagtail one and took another for himself. He poured a second cup of coffee and scratched Wagtail behind the ear. He could get used to this.

Voices echoed through the grand hall. The hall stretched upwards into a canopied ceiling, the walls decorated with tapestries and paintings. Moody stopped for a moment to admire at a painting of two Abraxans flying over a loch. The painting was in full size and very impressive. He couldn't remember having seen anything like it. The flying palomino-coloured horses were beautiful. He was pulled out of the admiration. The sounds from downstairs indicated that their host was quite annoyed with Kingsley.

'You are suggesting that I should have anything to do with their disappearance?'

'I don't suggest anything, Mr Malfoy. I am doing my job, following any possible lead to solve this case.'

'I thought your job was to be the Minister for Magic.' Abraxas Malfoy's voice had the same slow drawl as his son's, but there was none of the arrogance. That had been replaced with anger.

Moody hesitated. At the top of the stairs he looked over the bannister. He could see nothing but a few plate armours and a large table with a gigantic vase placed in the middle of the hall. If Kingsley was trying to get information out of Malfoy, it wasn't going too well. The question was whether Moody's presence would be helpful or just make things worse.

'My good man!' Malfoy sounded deeply offended. 'I let you into my house, entirely against my will and only out of the goodness of my heart and out of pity for my misled and, to say it mildly, malnourished grandson. Out of respect for you as the Minister for Magic. There is little left of that now, I have to inform you, Minister Shacklebolt.'

Moody took a few steps. He didn't care whether Kingsley and Malfoy found out that he was listening to their conversation, if one could call it that. Their skirmish was more adequate. Only Abraxas Malfoy wasn't done.

'To think that you lured your way in under false pretences.' There was a loud bang and the sound of something breaking. Either someone had dropped a plate or thrown it.

Kingsley didn't reply to the tirade right away, a sure sign that Kingsley was annoyed.

'To the rescue, then,' Moody growled. He didn't much feel like a hero and if Kingsley's famed talent for diplomacy wasn't enough, there was probably little he could do. The pleasant sensation of being full, clean and well-rested was replaced by one of annoyance. They couldn't afford to alienate Abraxas Malfoy. Partly because there was a chance—or a risk—depending on how one looked at it, that Malfoy was actually innocent and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Moody wasn't in the habit of judging people unfairly, not even the Malfoy family, although it was very, very tempting. If Abraxas carried on like this, Moody was willing to make an exception. However, if Abraxas had nothing to do with Sally-Anne's disappearance, his help would be convenient. No, they had to keep up appearances when it came to the Malfoy patriarch.

Moody grabbed the bannister with one gnarled hand and used his staff to support himself as he hobbled down the stone stairs to the hall. He groaned. He was still sore where the fitting of his wooden leg had rubbed against the thin skin of his inner thigh. He was careful not to put all his weight on the leg. Sometimes long-distance flights had its disadvantages and Moody agreed with himself that he'd experienced most of them since yesterday. He felt uncomfortable without his wand and stopped to make certain it was close at hand in his open wand pocket. There might be need for a hex or two. Carefully he peeked into the dining room, covered by the door in case there were any stray curses floating around.

'You went to live here, when? Wasn't that the summer holiday after Draco's first year? The same summer when Miss Perks and her father disappeared? The same day, in fact, according to your house-elf.' Kingsley's voice had taken that soft, cold tone that always worked so well when he questioned potential perpetrators. 'Were were you that day, Abraxas? Mr Bruce has a rather selective memory when it comes to that exact date. A very convenient loss of memory that happened the moment the elf realised that you'd made it cover for you.'

'I do not remember having allowed you the use of my first name. That's what comes from allowing members of the working class in places where they do not belong.' Abraxas's aristocratic face contracted into a grimace of utter disgust. 'How on earth did you manage to convince anyone that you'd be a good choice as Minister, Kingsley ?'

'So I'm fine as long as I don't threaten you ? Yes, now we recognise the true Pure-blood again. Always demanding privileges.'

'I am demanding nothing but common courtesy, Kingsley. I do simply not appreciate this underhanded way of doing things.'

'That, from a Malfoy?' Kingsley sounded as if he didn't believe a word.

Moody couldn't agree more. A straightforward Malfoy? As rare as snow in Sahara. Moody took a deep breath. He could muse upon Abraxas Malfoy's personality later.

'Whoa!' Moody stepped into the dining room and put his staff down hard enough to make a dent in one of the marble tiles. 'Hold your horses, both of you!' It was a distinctly strange situation. Usually it was Kingsley who had to calm Moody down; he'd saved Moody several times from making the mistake Kingsley was now making. 'Kingsley, stop.' Moody's glared at Kingsley with a look that told him that he didn't care one Knut whether Kingsley was the Minister for Magic or not. 'Sit, lad! Over there.' He pointed at the chair farthest away from Malfoy. It was intolerable that he had to stab his partner in the back like this, but if their investigation had any salvageable pieces, Moody had to pick them up by himself. 'And you, sir,' he told Abraxas. 'Please, put that plate down! No! On the table!'

Leaning his staff against a chair, Moody pulled out another. He'd placed himself strategically at the middle of the long mahogany dining table. Luckily the coffee pot had evaded Malfoy's casual handling of the chinaware. He could do with another cup. 'Could you both please sit down and count to...' Moody realised that "ten" would be far from enough. '-whatever it takes to get out of kindergarten. And then, please, tell me it is a curse, for I have rarely seen two adult men behave so stupidly.' Moody poured coffee for himself. He didn't care to ask neither Kingsley, nor Malfoy whether they wanted any. He put his wand next to the plate, pointedly making an unspoken threat out of the action. He'd use spells if necessary.

Kingsley sat down in the chair at the end of the table. He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. 'I might have gone a bit too far. My apologies, Mr Malfoy.'

Moody looked at Malfoy at the other end. The man looked as if he was in pain. 'I am not used to being contradicted. By anyone. I might have overreacted. And my comment on class was entirely unfounded.'

'Is that an apology, Malfoy? Because if you want it to be, I think you need to work on it a bit.' Moody looked at Malfoy with his good eye while the magical eye turned to see what Kingsley was doing.

Malfoy huffed. 'I suppose it is. Apologies, Minister.' He pushed the remains of a plate away from where he sat and summoned a coffee cup. 'While I understand why you are here, I would have liked it to be less of a surprise that you are actually accusing me for whatever crime it is that you are investigating, Head Auror Moody. I assume you are able to see that?'

The magical eye flashed blue as it whipped around and looked at Malfoy. 'I am. We usually do not begin our investigation in this manner. However, questioning you is merely routine: we cannot in good conscience ignore the task.' Moody was lying, of course. It was not routine, it was necessary because Malfoy was the only one close to a suspect they'd ever found. 'If you'd please be patient and answer our questions. I assure you that it is merely to exclude you from our list of-'

'Your list of suspects. It must be a very long list. Mr Bruce. The other house-elves. Me. I am not exactly dim, Auror Moody.' Abraxas turned his head and looked at Kingsley. 'I left Wiltshire and England as not to deal with this kind of constant conflict and suspicion. My son... he'd have pulled us all into Voldemort's web. I am a peaceful man, Minister Shacklebolt. As long as I am left unprovoked. By Tom Riddle, or by you.'

'I most certainly hope there is no comparison.' Kingsley sounded strangled. He leaned forward and put his hands on the table. 'And I did not provoke you.'

'Ah, you did, and there isn't.' Malfoy's mouth dragged upwards at the corners, as if he was hiding a smile. 'You are better looking, but not as ruthless. You have a lot to learn. Hufflepuff, weren't you?' Malfoy's questioning eyebrow described a perfect arc over one grey eye. 'Kingsley.'

Moody couldn't stop himself from laughing out loud. 'You've been quite bored out here, haven't you?'

'A bit. But he's amusing to toy with,' Malfoy admitted and looked like a cat who'd caught a fat mouse. 'May I keep him?'

Kingsley managed to keep quiet. He just shook his head and sighed.

'I don't think that was a yes,' Moody said. 'So, if you're done trying to kill each other,' he smirked, remembering what Kingsley had told him in regards to Draco yesterday, 'you have ten minutes to learn to love each other, so we can get on with the investigation. And if you,' Moody pointed at Abraxas, 'have anything to hide, it'd be easier if you just told us. We'll find out anyway.'

'It'll just be more fun to let you find it yourselves, wouldn't it? For me, that is. How long do you plan to stay?'

'Mr Malfoy.' Kingsley seemed to have found his voice again. 'You really do not want to do that.'

'Oh, but I do. Four weeks, you said?' Abraxas looked at Moody, 'I might be a tad bored, yes. I could let you into the dungeons. To see if you can sort out the bodies down there. There are a few.'

'What?' Kingsley stood. 'You admit-'

'I admit nothing. They were left there... around 1200, if you ask me, but it'd still be interesting to see what you'd get out of it, had I not told you.'

'Mr Malfoy, you do not regard it distasteful to have unburied bodies in your basement?' Kingsley looked as if he was going to be sick.

'Not particularly. They're Muggles, I think. And they are, to be precise, skeletons. And while we're at it, could we go back to "Abraxas"? If we're to love each other, we have to work on it, and "Mr Malfoy" sounds so impersonal.'

'You're just doing this because I made that comment about Fudge's arse, aren't you? Do you really have skeletons in your basement?' Kingsley sat down again, desperately trying to catch Moody's good eye.

Moody ignored him deliberately. That should teach him. He'd made the bed, now he could lie in it, what with all his talk about loving and good relationships with Malfoys.

Abraxas wasn't discouraged in any way 'No,' he said. 'I am doing it because you made that comment about your arse, and I do have skeletons in the basement, if not in the cupboard where yours seem to be hidden. Together with a few other things. I'll show you mine if you show me yours.' Malfoy's mouth formed an arrogant, knowing smile.

'And I'll show myself out,' Moody said and stood. 'Perhaps a few hours in the not-so-pleasant company of Mr Snape will make me appreciate this odd form of... whatever it is, but interrogation is not it. Let me know when you're done so I can do my work as nobody else seems to be willing to participate.'

Abraxas got up. 'If you'd just give us half an hour to work out our, let's say, indifferences. After that I'll be happy to assist you.' Abraxas casually let his fingers slide through his long hair. 'No, that's a lie. I won't be happy, but I'll still do it. Come back here at twelve. Bring truth serum. I do not appreciate being the main suspect in a murder case. It might disturb my ability to enjoy lunch. Mr Bruce has the key to the dungeons. You may use it when you like. There are of course a few interesting things hidden down there, but I leave it to you to figure out where they are. Can't help you with everything, can I?'

'Lumos maximus!' Moody flicked his wand. The light from the floor above lit up the bottom of the old stone staircase with a weak light. The basement smelt surprisingly clean, as if somebody regularly took care of it. Moody whipped his magical eye around to see through the walls, but it was impossible. They were either too thick or the rooms too dark. He couldn't see a thing.

'Move. I'm not going to stand here all day, watching your back.' Snape was in his usual merry mood. 'I'd rather we did this today, but if you have other plans, let me know.'

'Yes, because rushing into a basement belonging to a De-, to a Pure-blood wizard connected to known Death Eaters, that is such a brilliant idea. One of your best.' Moody turned around. 'Constant vigilance, Snape. I thought you'd learnt by now.'

'Yeah, yeah. I'm over the vigilant part, if you haven't noticed.'

Moody somehow understood. Being a spy pretending to be a spy for the other side had to be a bit straining and one would probably need to relax after such an ordeal. Moody knew he could learn from that. There weren't Death Eaters lurking to kill him behind every door. Only behind some of them. 'At least show a bit of alert attention, then,' he growled. 'Unless you know precisely what's in this sodding dungeon. That Abraxas... he likes to take the Mickey out of us.'

Snape laughed. 'There's a reason why Lucius and he never got along well.'

Moody stepped forward with care and scanned the dark corridor before he looked over his shoulder. It was a rare occasion that Snape volunteered any personal information. 'He seems quite odd, Abraxas.'

'He was very strict, though.' Snape pulled out his wand and cast another scanning spell. 'And he has humour. Something that one cannot say about Lucius, despite his other qualities.'

Lucius had qualities? Moody had never thought of Lucius Malfoy as a person containing any positive aspects whatsoever. 'A clash of personalities, then?'

'Yes. Abraxas was always more interested in breeding than in politics.'

'And yet he has only one son?'

'Horse-breeding. He's not the only Malfoy who was forced to marry, despite-' Snape cut himself off, probably realising that he'd said too much.

Stopping at a closed door with a heavy iron lock on it, Moody turned to look at Snape. 'Like Lucius?' He wondered exactly how long Snape and that horrid person had been together.

Snape's face was neutral. 'Like Lucius.' His expression betrayed nothing. 'I was twenty-two and the Dark Lord had just killed Lily. Abraxas insisted on finding a wife for Lucius. Lucius knew he had to marry. We were best friends, Lucius and I. It was cold comfort at first,' Snape said quietly. 'That is what you wanted to know, isn't it?'

Moody fiddled with the lock. It opened easily; a simple Alohomora did the job. 'I was curious, I admit. Do you-'

'I do. After twenty years, two wars and Merlin knows how many betrayals from both sides? Yes. I certainly do. Satisfied?'

Holding up a hand to stop Snape from stepping closer, Moody pushed the door open as he covered himself by leaning against the stone wall. 'It's none of my business.'

'You're damned right about that. But you saw him. Saw that... he and I...' Snape peeked around the wall into the open room, lighting it up with a flick of his wand. 'Empty.'

Moody nodded and moved on to the next door. It unlocked as easily as the first. The room contained the same. Nothing. 'Do you think he's hiding anything in those rooms? Behind the walls, or under the floors?' The room was neatly cleaned, there was no mould or dust anywhere. 'And Abraxas? Does he know? He treated you quite kindly.'

'Seeing that I helped save the wizarding world from the Dark Lord, that is what could be expected, even from him.' Snape crossed the corridor and unlocked yet another empty and impeccably cleaned room. 'How many house-elves does that man have? Don't they have anything proper to do?'

'Except for cleaning the basement? Doesn't look like it.' Moody locked the room again and went further down to the next door. In the dim light from his wand he had to use both eyes to turn the padlock in an angle so that he could open it without ruining it. 'So, does he? Know?'

'Since before Narcissa. He wasn't pleased. Said that it was better to forget and think of an heir and the family.' Snape leant against the door frame, waiting for Moody to open the door. 'Never accepted it, but he stopped trying to make us stop when Narcissa got pregnant. Never sat well with him, despite. She, on the other hand, knew all along. Accepted it. A very tolerant woman. Lucius loves her, though, in his own odd way.'

Moody's magical eye turned to look at Snape. 'Sounds as if he knew what he was talking about, Abraxas. About marriages of duty.'

'Not too posh to keep double-standards.' Snape's voice was bitter. 'I suppose I should thank him for having suffered marriage, despite his... inclination.'

'Runs in the family, eh?' Moody was... not shocked, that was not how he'd describe it, but he appreciated the insight. It was strange though, that men who were less than interested in the women they'd married would be so obsessed with their family line. One could consider it an explanation, though, for the lack of Pure-blood heirs and the way those single heirs were cherished and pampered. Again stepping aside, Moody opened the third door, pushing it open with the tip of his wand. It creaked and swung into the darkness.

'What's that smell?' Snape's nose wrinkled.

'Urgh.' Moody stepped back. 'Let me guess, no house-elves in here?'

Snape flicked his wand. 'Shall we find out?'

'Yeah.' Moody raised his wand and stepped into the room, ready to counter any traps.

'Fuck!' Snape cried out. 'Bloody hell!'

Moody cast an Engorgement charm on Snape's light charm. A clear light filled the room, bright as sunlight.

'Clever wand-waving. So they really do teach you something useful in that Auror school of yours?' Snape was rubbing his knee. He'd hit it on the stone sarcophagus that stood to one side. The lid had moved. The opening let out a smell of something very dead.

Moody was just about to take a deep breath, but stopped himself in time. He held the sleeve of his robe over his nose. The room was much larger than the others. Several stone coffins were placed around the walls. A crucifix hung between two tiny openings which allowed almost no light into the cellar. They could see the courtyard. The small chapel was in the same impeccable state as the rest had been, except for the smell of decay. 'This is what I hate about being an Auror,' Moody mumbled into the robe. 'Bodies.' He feared what he would find. It was helping little that they wouldn't need to look far to find the murderer if this was where Sally-Anne's body was hidden.

Pushing the lid further off with his boot, Snape looked into the sarcophagus. 'That wasn't put here last week. My best guess is last millennium. During one of the Crusades.'

Grimacing, Moody looked at the remains. ''Hm. That's a surcote, right? The body was clad in armour. What had once been a piece of fabric lay threadbare on the chest of the rusty chain mail. 'If I'm not mistaken, it has a cross on it, yeah?'

'A Muggle crusader.' Snape pushed the lid back on. 'Incredible how they can still stink so much. Want to check the others?

'Not really. Let's do it.'

Five crusaders later, they were no closer to finding Sally-Anne Perks, but Moody was ready to sick up. It wasn't´even particularly comforting to know that a house-elf would mop it up immediately. 'At least he warned us that he kept bodies in the basement.' Moody pushed the lid on the last sarcophagus back in place. 'Can't say that he was lying.'

The sound of steps on the stairs rang through the dark dungeon. 'Moody? Severus?' There was a pause. 'Helga's handbag, what's that godawful smell?' Outside, Kingsley gagged. 'Rosa potentum!' A heavy scent of roses spread in the cellar. 'Did you find anything?' Kingsley stood in the door opening.

'As Malfoy said: around 1200.' Moody lowered his wand and the spell that had helped lighting the room faded. 'The bodies.'

'Don't know whether I'm disappointed or relieved.' Kingsley pointed at the coffins. 'At least they are buried, sort of, and not just lying around. Strange place to keep a mausoleum.' He held his wand up to create a bit more light.

'It probably made sense at that time. Abraxas isn't a person who'd use it for anything but to preserve the Malfoy history. Whatever that history might be,' Snape added knowingly.

'Malfoy wants to see you, Severus. He asked for you.' Kingsley shook his head. 'And I'm decimated to be at his beck and call as a messenger. What is it with that man?'

'I could ask you the same,' Moody murmured and hoped that Snape would bugger off so he could ask Kingsley that particular question. 'Should we go and look at the next room? I could do without the roses—they're giving me a headache. Not as bad as the sickly smell of rotten corpses. It's more nausea- than headache-inducing, though.'

Snape went upstairs to have a talk with his father-in-law, although Snape probably wouldn't call him that. Moody shut the door to the mausoleum and cast a charm on it to prevent the sickly stench to spread in the cellar.

Moody moved to the next closed and warded door. If the basement stretched under the entire castle it would be a very long day.

'Are you going to help with this?' Prodding at the lock with his wand, Moody examined the door. The door was different from the few others they had unlocked. It had more locks and a padlock. Putting his hand on the wood, the door hummed with spells. Moody could sense something dark behind it, a curse or a hex. Even the door frame and the walls were reinforced with spell-work; an intricate net of spells, some benevolent, others felt malicious and disgusting.

Kingsley, too, sensed them. He used his wand to trace the net. 'I can detect a repelling charm. I think that's the one which makes us feel so uncomfortable.'

'And here I thought I felt uncomfortable because my superior is acting like a ten year old school boy and I've just inhaled the smell of thousand year old dead corpses.' Moody let go of the lock. 'Are you going to explain that to me?'

'The corpses? Yes, they are usually dead. If you didn't notice.' Kingsley sidestepped the question. 'Otherwise they'd been zombies, and then we'd be in trouble.'

'Kingsley Shacklebolt!' Growling, Moody took a step forward with his wand raised.

'All right! He got to me. Abraxas. I think maybe I'm becoming a bit too used to, let's say... the wielding of power. To people being so sodding subservient. He couldn't care less that I'm the Minister for Magic and he's about as polite as an angry werewolf. I think I needed that. He's everything I hate, and yet...'

'He's a Malfoy. '

'That too. But he's... I've never...' Kingsley lacked words. Not something that happened very often. 'It's more the fact that he so easily pulled me out of the part I play. I was suddenly Kingsley and not the Minister for Magic. I might have forgotten who's most important to me; Kingsley or the Minister for Magic. That I'm me and not public property of the wizarding world. I have no intention of becoming yet another Fudge. Or a Scrimgeour, bless him, poor sod. Malfoy gave me a reminder that I'm human and that I only hold power as a token in return for being trustworthy and fair. And to be fair, our intentions were to use Abraxas and his grandson.'

Moody thought about it for a moment. 'You can't allow yourself to slip in front of a man like that. He's dangerous.'

Kingsley laughed, almost bitterly. 'Slip? Just because I'm handsome, intelligent, powerful, charming, confident, perfect in general and on top of that without any known flaws, I can't have an occasional pause from the pedestal? Come on, Moody! We both know I'm not super-human as some might believe. Only close. You, of all people, should know.'

'Yeah, I suppose you've got a point.' Moody nodded. He knew that Kingsley was right. Everybody expected the Minister for Magic to be the image of perfection. The wizarding world's citizens tended to forget that their leader was a human being. Therein lay the allure, Moody guessed. Malfoy's allure. Abraxas Malfoy was rich, handsome and intelligent, in any way matching what Kingsley had. And he, Abraxas, hadn't bought it, Kingsley's assumed perfection. He'd treated Kingsley like an equal, not like a semi-divine being. 'So, he didn't bow to your omnipotence and he stood his ground when you tried to bully him into confessing?' Moody leant heavily against the wall, trying to take some of the weight off his bad leg. 'Fantastic interrogation technique, by the way,' Moody added sarcastically. 'Not something we're going to pursue in the future, right? And what does it mean, all that shit with you and Malfoy?'

Kingsley groaned. The questioning wasn't to his liking. He squeezed his eyes shot, looking embarrassed. 'Does it have to mean anything?' He paused. 'You're not going to believe me, are you?' Heaving a sigh, he continued explaining. 'It means that Malfoy is probably the most intriguing, enigmatic and infuriating person I've met in ages.' Kingsley fell silent. He turned around, once more giving the locks a go. Unsuccessful, he stopped. 'It means that I'm going to leave the investigation, anything that includes Abraxas, to you.'

Moody smiled. He knew Kingsley so well, currently better than Kingsley knew himself. 'Just to be on the safe side?'

'Just to be on the safe side. We both appreciate that one.'

'And if he's our man? A murderer? He is a Pure-blood. Wouldn't exactly come as a surprise.' Moody cocked his head and looked searchingly at Kingsley with both eyes.

'Then... nothing.' Kingsley's expression revealed nothing, either. 'Then we'll bring him in, he'll be put on trial and convicted. Gets to spend the rest of his life in Azkaban.'



'You're attracted to him, aren't you?'



'Shut up!'

Knowing when to pursue a topic, Moody wisely began casting an array of spells and charms at the unruly locks. None of them worked, but a few rattled the mechanism. He managed to keep silent only for so long. 'That plate-throwing thing this morning... childish. Expensive.' He left the attempt to unlock the door once more. 'And the bickering from the moment you sat foot in his courtyard?' Moody straightened up. 'He's flirting with you. Shamelessly.'

'By throwing plates at me? You really want to do this by yourself, don't you?' Kingsley rolled his eyes.

'He's a Malfoy, Kingsley. You're the Minister for Magic. "Inappropriate" barely covers it.'

'Another word from you and I'll make you eat your bleeding wand.'

'Snape says that he's gay. Abraxas. You need to be careful, Kingsley.'

Kingsley made a choking sound. 'Do you want salt and vinegar with that wand or do you take it au naturel ?'

'Shutting up now.'

'Good man.'

Ten minutes and fifty spells later, Moody was ready to blast in the door. 'Either he's taking the piss out on us again, or he's really hiding something interesting in there. Do we have Galleons enough to facilitate a repair?' That door is going to die,' Moody growled, his annoyance shared equally between Malfoy and the oak door. He raised his wand.

A house-elf popped out of thin air. 'Sirs cannot ruin door! Sirs is making a mess! Sirs is not allowed to go in, that is Master's private room!'

Kingsley looked at the elf. 'And you are?' Turning to Moody, he asked, 'that is not Mr Bruce, is it? I can't tell the difference.'

'No. Another tea cosy.' The elf was wearing a tea cosy embroidered with the Malfoy coat of arms for a skirt and a tartan tea towel around its neck.

'Mr Stewart.' The house-elf looked quite self-important. 'Mr Stewart is cellar-elf.'

Ah, the elf with the cleaning obsession, then. Moody looked down at it. 'And would Mr Stewart be as kind as to open this door? Otherwise Mr Stewart will have a very busy day cleaning up the mess after we've torn the wall down. We wouldn't like that. Mr Stewart's cellar is very neat and clean. The cleanest cellar we have ever seen, isn't that so, Kingsley?'

Kingsley bent down to be face to face with the elf. 'Oh, yes. It is extremely neat. I wish we had house-elves as competent in the Ministry. It would make our work so much easier if everything was this neat and orderly. Mr Malfoy must be very happy to have such good elves to help with the castle.'

The elf sniffled and dried his long nose with a pristine little handkerchief. 'Sirs are very kind to say so.' The critter got a strange, calculating look in it eyes. 'Mr Malfoy says that I must not let sirs in. Iron hands, Mr Malfoy says.' Mr Stewart sneezed and blew his nose. 'Mr Malfoy says I cannot tell nice sirs that the spell to open the door is Inobscurus Portus. Clean the stables, Mr Malfoy says, if Mr Stewart tells. With toothbrush.'

'There, there.' Kingsley patted the elf's bony hand. 'Then don't tell us and everything will be fine. We promise not to make a mess or take down any walls.'

'Sirs are very kind to Mr Stewart!'

Moody hurried to try out the spell. He'd never heard of it before, so it was surely something Malfoy had come up with by himself, which, if Moody had to say so, made him even more scary. It was complicated spell-work, he knew that when he realised how the advanced net of repelling spells, locking spells and mood spells vanished at the tap of his wand. He wasn't just the eccentric loner with too many Galleons to spend. Malfoy knew what he'd been doing down here.

Kingsley agreed, for he placed himself with his back against the wall on one side of the door. 'Ready?' Kingsley shot a spell at the door to push it open. Nothing happened except that a soft, yellow light lit up the room and the adjourning corridor. 'What the-'

Moody peeked around the door frame. 'It's either a trap, or we can sit down at the fireplace and have a drink. Okay, so it's before lunch, but still.' With the utmost care Moody stepped into the room. He moved his wand to detect any dangers. 'I think it's safe.'

'You think ?' Kingsley laughed. 'Ten years ago, you'd have Malfoy swear an oath upon the heads of his children, guaranteeing our safety, before you'd said that.'

'Not as mad as I once was, you mean? I think peace and the lack of Death Eaters do that to you. Less stress, less paranoia.' Moody stood still, letting his magical eye slide over the book cases and the cupboards that lined the walls. There was a workbench in one corner and shelves with various potions and herbs on them. A few old chairs and a sofa were placed in front of a fireplace. 'Books on magic, none of which we haven't seen before, and a bloody desk for broom-polishing. And I kid you not. One of the vials says Fleetwood's High-Finish Handle Polish!' Moody walked over to the desk. A set of silver Tail-Twig Clippers were mounted on the wall. It had the Malfoy coat of arms engraved on it. 'I didn't take Malfoy for a broomstick enthusiast.'

'Broomsticks?' Kingsley looked curious. 'Hm.' He looked at the shelves. 'Looks as if he knows what he's doing.'

The house-elf had followed them. 'Sirs cannot touch! Sirs mustn't makes dirty Masters things. Master likes flying things. Brooms and large horses with wings and aeroplanes. The house-elf nodded. Flying things.'

'Aeroplanes?' Abraxas was a certainly eccentric if the elf actually was talking about the Muggle invention. 'What's behind that door?' Moody supported himself against the back of the threadbare sofa. The door had a sign on it that read "Broom Cupboard".

'No, no, no! Sirs cannot go in there!' The house-elf looked livid! 'Nobody is allowed in Master's room. Mr Stewart does not know spell. Mr Stewart does not have key. Master says that Mr Stewart cannot has. Cannot knows!' Mr Stewart placed himself in front of a narrow door between two book cases. 'Master says so!'

Kingsley put a hand on Mr Stewart's shoulder. 'Please go and fetch us a cuppa. I won't go in there until someone else has opened the door for me.'

'If sir says so.' The elf was appeased. It disappeared.

'Clever Kingsley.' Moody approved. The house-elves had little rights. It was important not to put them in a situation where their masters, in this case the lovely Abraxas, would punish them unfairly or excessively. They had rights now, the house-elves, but if they weren't interested in using them, there was little the Ministry could do to prevent such punishment. 'I suppose that leaves me to be the one who opens the chamber?' Moody regretted that he hadn't brought his staff with him. He growled at the wooden leg as it pinched him. 'Damned thing,' he sneered and leant against the door. It had a small padlock on it. Moody casually sighed, 'Alohamora', expecting yet another hour fighting a stupid door. The padlock smoothly opened. 'What in Merlin's name? There we go.'

'Traps? Hexes?'

'None.' If there were, Moody couldn't detect them or see them. He tried, but as with the other rooms, darkness was impenetrable. 'Either he's more clever than we thought, or he told the house-elves a lie so they won't go in there and clean.'

Moody took a deep breath. He hoped it wasn't a trap. Malfoy was a bit too entrepreneurial with his spells for Moody's taste.

Kingsley, too, readied himself. 'So, open for me,' Kingsley said and grinned. 'Can't disappoint Mr Stewart.'

Moody kicked the door open with his wooden leg. 'After you, Minister.'

'Oooh! Merlin's beard, is that a 1936? Blimey, it is a 1936 Oakshaft! The best model they ever made!' Kingsley sounded elated and Moody hurried after him into the room. 'And that. That's a Nimbus prototype!' Kingsley's eyes shone in the candle light. Christmas certainly came early this year. He turned, his robe swirling around his body. 'And here... Moody...' Kingsley's voice was filled with awe. 'These are Medieval brooms. Hand-crafted, Medieval brooms... Good Lord!'

Brooms were mounted on the walls. Small brooms, old brooms, new brooms. Cheap brooms and priceless brooms. Abraxas was quite the collector. Moody sighed. This was fate as its evil worst, for with this discovery there was no doubt that Abraxas Malfoy would be the perfect man for Kingsley. Kingsley even liked him. There were a few drawbacks, as for instance the incompatibility of political views and the Death Eater family but nothing that couldn't be worked around after the scandal had died down.

The realisation hit Kingsley, too, although Moody suspected that Kingsley knew already. 'Oh, bugger!'

Moody didn't say anything. It wasn't his decision, but they both knew that Kingsley had to pull out of the investigation entirely. Before anyone could question his motives. Especially since there was something fishy about Abraxas. As long as there was the slightest risk that Malfoy was caught up in the case, Kingsley had to go somewhere else. Moody pretended to have found something interesting in the other end of the small room to allow Kingsley a moment of solitary contemplation. A few lesser brooms were placed in a dark corner. One of them was a Comet Two Seventy, the same broom as the one Sally-Anne had when she disappeared. Moody weighed it in his hand. It was light and had a good balance. He examined the broom. If Sally-Anne's had been in a similar condition, it wouldn't have crashed because of poor maintenance. Moody looked at the perfect tail twigs. 'Kingsley?'


'Did any of the Comet Two Seventys have hawthorn tail twigs? Out of the box?' Moody felt that odd, electric feeling he always felt when he was on the right track.

'No. The only one I've ever seen was on that picture of-' Kingsley stopped. 'Moody?'

'Yeah.' Moody looked at Kingsley with deep regret painted on his face. 'I'm sorry, lad.'

In his hand he held the broom that had once belonged to Sally-Anne Perks.

6. Reluctant Relations

The desolate hills were rough and naked. A few crippled trees held on to what little soil the landscape of rocks and wind offered. The land and the sea were empty, vast spaces. Not even the summer made the coast welcoming in the slightest. A small footpath led between rocks and hills to the shore; a shore which differed from the rest of the land only because it was closer to the sea that pounded relentlessly against the foundation of stone.

It was so easy to lose one's foothold here. Kingsley knew that was what he'd done, lost his footing. He had walked on rocky ground and he had lost balance in a way that he had never thought possible. He sat down in a sunny spot out of the wind. Leaning against the sun-baked cliffs, he stared blindly at the sea.

He'd been like that before, a rock in a sea of raging waves. Always calm, confident, collected. He stood against Voldemort. He survived a war.

And yet, here he was, on the edge of the world, no longer the same calm man as he was before. Twenty four hours and one haughty, arrogant, intolerable murderer later, Kingsley Shacklebolt was in deeper waters than he'd ever been before in his life. Nobody had infuriated him way that Abraxas had. Infuriated and intrigued. Like quicksilver, Kingsley thought. Beautiful, unpredictable, slippery. Dangerous. Poisonous.

Kingsley pulled off a handful of grass, distractedly tearing the leaves apart into little bits that scattered with the wind. His fingers smelt spicy and green when he finally realised was he was doing. He closed his eyes, but it did him little good: it was too easy to recall Abraxas's handsome, strong features, the shining hair, the charming crow's feet that were the only signs of his age. Then there was his lean and wiry body and the long legs clad in tight breeches. Thinking of Malfoy like that certainly wasn't a good idea. Abraxas Malfoy was as guilty as could be and not a man that Kingsley should have any form of opinion on, other than the opinion an Auror and Minister for Magic would have of a criminal.

It was as Moody had said: the connection was inappropriate at best, impossible at worst. And worst it had certainly turned out to be. It had been impossible from the moment they met, the Pure-blood elitist and the socialist Minister.

But Kingsley had seen the attraction in Abraxas's eyes, felt its faint echo in his own heart. Magnetism. Repelling, pulling. It was the promise of passion and it was exciting, but it had merely been a moment's attraction, nothing more. Forgettable. He had to forget.

Only it had been fifteen years since Kingsley had suffered Moody's rejection and he hadn't since met a man as intensely interesting as Alastor Moody.

Until now.

Fate was a cruel bitch if Kingsley were to say so. Now that he thought of it, he understood Alastor a bit better now. Passion, he'd told Kingsley, I need passion. No matter how much Kingsley denied it then, they were two friends, trying to figure out whether friendship was enough to bind them together as lovers. It hadn't been. Only now Kingsley truly understood why. He had been in love with Alastor, but there had been none of this unsettling, electrifying sensation that churned in his stomach by the slightest thought of Abraxas Malfoy.

At least he'd learnt a lesson. Now he knew how passion felt.

Slowly he got up from the damp grass and went up the path from the coast to the castle. Above it the Malfoy banner waved in the wind. Kingsley wondered who was going to take over the Abraxan farm. Draco, perhaps. He wondered whether Moody had already taken Abraxas to the Ministry holding cells. He, too, should go. The Wizengamot would have to be assembled; the case against Abraxas Malfoy was of the utmost urgency.

Kingsley realised that he was being rash. Moody had probably not even finished his interrogation of Abraxas. Instead of going back to the house, he changed direction and went towards the building he assumed held the Abraxans. Kingsley wasn't very skilful when it came to beasts of the winged variety. He was much more experienced with those who had the Malfoy name to them. He would like to see for himself what it was with those creatures that had kept Abraxas Malfoy in self-imposed exile for the better part of a decade.     

As the clock struck twelve, Moody took a deep breath before he opened the doors to the dining room. He had to be calm. It had taken him years to find a vital clue in this ice-cold case. But now it was there, the end, and it did not feel like the triumph it should have been. Kingsley's disappointed expression had been all he needed to take away the pleasure of finally getting somewhere. Sad... it was truly sad. Despite his eccentric ways and his political opinions, Malfoy, Moody had to admit, was pretty decent, Pure-blood elitist or not. The man understood the rules of democracy, so it was strange that Malfoy had taken matters in his own hand and killed the girl and her father. It was nothing but a small pebble, but something was grating.

The house-elf had removed any signs of the morning's slight accident with the tableware. Abraxas was sitting at the end of the dining table, reading the Daily Prophet. He put it down as Moody entered. 'I've taken the liberty of ordering tea. Surely Veritaserum will go down better with a drop of Earl Grey?' Raising his eyebrows questioningly at the sight of Moody carrying a broom, Abraxas took the paper, unfolded it and pushed it over the table. 'Mr Bruce does not appreciate brooms on the table. If you'd please?'

Malfoy didn't question why he'd brought the Comet. So Malfoy expected that he'd be arrested for the murder of Sally-Anne Perks and her father? Moody put the broom down on the newspaper. Underneath it a picture of playing children and a headline that said "Summer in Wizarding Brixton" filled most of the page. Maybe the journalists were on holiday too. Tomorrow the headlines would be much more interesting. 'Where have you hidden them?' Moody asked. Abraxas had been rather straightforward. It saved time. 'Not in the basement, clearly?'

'Hidden what? Would you be as kind to express yourself a bit more precisely?'

'The bodies. Sally-Anne Perks and her father.'

'Are we going there again? I told you, or that lovely Minister of yours, rather, that I had nothing to do with their disappearance. I'll repeat it, if you were too dim to understand it the first time, which I doubt. Mad-Eye Moody is after all legendary, although it seems to be that you're about to repeat the mistake that Kingsley made earlier.'

'And what mistake would that be?' Moody's magical eye moved quickly around to secure the perimeter. Malfoy had servants who might come to his aid if he attempted an escape.

'The mistake of thinking I did something I did not without the slightest sliver of proof.'

'And you call this, what?' Moody pointed with his wand at the broom. 'Sally-Anne's broom hidden in your cellar behind an intricate net of locks. I'd call it a sliver of proof all right. Bit more than a sliver, to be exact.'

'Salazar! Are Aurors all so extremely dim-witted, or is it just you?' Abraxas sighed impatiently. 'On with it man. I have no idea who the broom belonged to. I... found it lying around.'

'Yeah, I'm sure you did. Lying,' Moody sneered. 'So. Are we going to do it quickly or do I need to hear your pathetic excuses and tall tales before you confess?'

'I confess nothing. I found the broom, or I think that's the one.' Abraxas calmly poured himself a cuppa. 'So, the Veritaserum, man. What are you waiting for?'

'Oh, no. Snape is presently here and we both know that a good Potions master can procure an anti-dote for the truth serum. That is not how we play, Malfoy.'

'Whenever you want to change your mind, let me know. It's so entertaining not to have any bloody idea what's going on in one's own house. But do carry on.' Malfoy studied the gigantic chandelier hanging from one of the thick beams, ignoring Moody.

Reaching into his pocket, Moody pulled out a Ministry-authorised PortaPensieve. The small bowl grew until it was the size of a medium-sized bucket. Tapping it with his wand, Moody waited until the Pensieve had filled itself with a clear silvery-liquid. 'Your memory of the incident, please. It's either that or Azkaban.'

'Our family residence, it seems. Azkaban.' Malfoy's voice was flat. 'I hear my son isn't well. That is why I spoke with Severus. News about Lucius. Despite his foolishness and his inclination to follow those stronger than himself, he is my son. At least I think so. His mother swore that he was. I have doubts at times.'

Moody's patience had left and had no intention of returning. 'Mr Malfoy, if it is true, and you have nothing to do with Sally-Anne's death, please, cooperate. If not for your own sake, then for Ki-' Moody shut his mouth hard. 'You wouldn't like to abandon your horses for long, would you?'

'You are right, Auror Moody.' Abraxas sighed, then smiled. The smile was almost honest. 'I wouldn't want to leave when there are so many interesting things to do here.' He smirked. 'Your superior, for instance. If I may?' Abraxas reached for his wand, slowly, as not to appear threatening. He concentrated, then pulled a thin silver thread from his head, carefully guiding the memory into the Pensieve. 'There. It's brief, but it confirms what I've said all the time. I do not know anything about Miss Perks or her father.'

'You are not entirely normal, are you?' Moody couldn't keep his mouth shut. Malfoy certainly was one of a kind. Apart from all the other members of the family, but none of those were anything like Abraxas.

'Isn't it just annoying, when you think of it, that your abilities as an investigator turn out to be nothing but sheer dumb luck,' Malfoy said acerbically 'And no, I'm not.' Abraxas was unapologetic. 'Normal, thank Salazar. And go ahead. I'm not going to hex you when you have your head buried in that.' He pointed at the PortaPensieve.

With his magical eye firmly set on Abraxas, Moody plunged into the memory.

'Drink, Haizum,' Abraxas told the flying horse. 'It isn't single malt, but it'll have to do until we get back.' Haizum's bronze wings were folded in neatly as the Abraxan stepped into the pond carefully. As it bent down to drink, Abraxas looked around, almost as if he was expecting company. He looked anxious. Haizum took yet another step into the water which, at its deepest barely reached the horse's hocks.

Seated high up on the gigantic Abraxan's back, Malfoy looked extraordinarily alert for someone out for a casual ride, or flight, rather. Moody concentrated on the surroundings. There was nothing unusual to see: an over-grown garden and a house that looked more like a ruin than a proper house.

The horse raised its head, water dripping from the muzzle. 'See anything?' Abraxas asked affectionately. Perhaps we should get into the air?'

Haizum took a step towards the brink on the other side of the pond, an action that brought the front part of the large beast all across the pond. 'What is it?' Malfoy looked around once more as if to make certain he was alone, still. The horse kicked with a hoof in the ground.

'A broom?' Abraxas swung his leg over Haizum's neck and slid down carefully to the ground. 'Odd.' He picked up the broom from the mud. 'Odd, indeed.' He turned to Haizum. 'Let's go find out what this is about, shall we?' The horse knelt down one one leg, allowing Abraxas to mount easier. He patted the animal on the neck. 'Up.'

Moody watched as the Abraxan and its rider soared into the sky. They followed the coastline of what looked like a small island for some time. There was no doubt that Abraxas Malfoy was looking for the witch or wizard who had left the broom.

'Return.' Abraxas rode the winged horse into a steep dive towards the sea. 'Back to Dùnaid.'

The last of the memory showed that Abraxas carried the Comet down to the broom closet in the cellar.

Moody nearly chocked on the memory as he moved his head from the Pensieve. Although the memory had confirmed Abraxas's words, it did not answer all questions. Moody had them ready before he was able to see Abraxas clearly with his good eye. 'Where is this? Why didn't you report the findings?'

Abraxas looked less than satisfied. 'Oh, I thought you said something like, Yes, Mr Malfoy, we're so sorry that we accused you of this terrible and vile crime, which we now know that you did not commit. We are willing to admit that the Malfoys are able to tell the truth, please, accept our sincerest apologies, but I must have heard you wrong.' Abraxas pulled his tea cup closer and studied the content for a moment. 'They don't teach you to apologise for mistakes in that little Auror farm of yours?'

'Maybe in that alternative reality you are living in, Malfoy. You know, the one where the Malfoys are the rulers of the known universe. You haven't exactly been cooperating, have you?'

Abraxas just shrugged. 'Why would I? I am not the one who came barging in here, like a band of... ' He looked annoyed, a common occurrence in Malfoys.

Tired of Malfoy's beating around the bush, Moody left any potential polite attempts to get answers to his questions. By now, Moody had a certain appreciation for Malfoy's tactics: detours. He did not want to let Abraxas out on a mental limb again. 'Location, Mr Malfoy. Where is this island?'

'I assume it will take all afternoon and still end with you, threatening me with a quick trip to see Azkaban from inside? If I refuse to tell you?'

'Damned right you are. Location?'

'Hypothetically, you're not perchance-'

'Location!' Moody roared and slammed a hand down on the dining table. The china rattled.

'All right! I have other things to do than sit here all day listening to you trying to sweet-talk me into confessing this or that. Isle of Drear.'

'The Isle of What ?' Moody frowned and his eye whipped around wildly for no apparent reason than his anger. 'What the bloody hell were you thinking? What business did you have at a place which is made Unplottable by the Ministry? There is a reason that Regulation of Magical Creatures hid the island in the first place!' Moody was stunned. Not since the latest attempt to investigate the island and the deadly dangerous creatures that lived there had any witch or wizard been allowed on the premises. That was more than twenty years ago. 'Quintapeds are some of the most dangerous creatures in the wizarding world. Abraxas Malfoy, tell me that you did not remove one of the beasts from that isle.' Moody was angry, truly angry. Wizarding law seemed to apply to the Malfoys as guidelines at best, something to be ignored entirely at their worst. It pissed off Moody even more that Abraxas didn't seem to care one Knut about his outburst.

'Are you done?' Abraxas sipped his cup of tea with an expression of extreme boredom on his handsome face. 'Then it wouldn't be too much to expect from the head of Aurors that we speak as civilised wizards, would it?'

Moody counted to ten, then to twenty. It didn't help. 'Explain,' he demanded. Given the fact that his next words would be a very unpleasant hex of choice, he found it more than sensible to say nothing.

'I thought I just did. I found the broom at the Isle of Drear, I have nothing to do with Miss Perks's disappearance and I am tired of this. Is there anything in that explanation that you do not understand, Head Auror Moody?'

'Before I kill you personally, I would simply love to know what you were doing on that island,' Moody said with a low and sugared tone of voice. 'I am sorely tempted to throw you in Azkaban for your lack of cooperation, Malfoy.' Moody smiled sweetly. 'You have ten seconds. Or I will send you there to realise that there are worse things in life than to admit having violated a Ministry decree. And it would probably teach you, too, that Aurors in general do take it lightly to be toyed with. By anyone.'

'I'll make certain to keep that in mind in my future communication with Minister Shacklebolt,' Abraxas pushed his chair back and got up. 'Unfortunately I do not have time to talk to you any longer, Auror, for my horses need feeding.'

'Oh no, you don't!' Moody whipped his wand and sent the chair pushing at Abraxas's legs, forcing him to sit again. 'When you've explained what you were doing at Drear!' Keeping the wand out, half-way threatening, Moody glared at Abraxas.

'I use the Quintapeds for battle practice. It's so hard to find good help these days, and one must upkeep the old traditions. The beasts are rather effective opponents. One's lance work needs to be on par with the demands of-'

'Lance work? And they say that I'm mad!' The magical eye almost popped out of its socket. 'We're not in the Middle Ages, man.'

'And such a pity it is. I have a reputation to uphold; I breed the best Abraxans and Abraxan crosses in the world. Their ability to work in the battlefield is unquestionably what keeps them so healthy. The Spaniards use bull fighting; I use the Quintaped instead of the Quintain.'

Moody stared blankly at Abraxas. 'Whatever the hell a Quintain is, you're out of line. The Quintapeds are human, Malfoy.'

'Some say. No one has ever proved it. The Ministry's attempt to Untransfigure the beasts into their alleged human shape was a spectacular failure, especially since the creatures did not cooperate.' Abraxas sighed. 'And a Quintain is an instrument used in lance work. A shield on a rotating arm with a sand bag at the other end. It hits the riders over the head if they miss the shield. A quite annoying device. Useful, though.' 

'And the Hairy MacBoons... the Quintapeds... are more fun to use? You're barbaric. No matter if legend is true and the Quintapeds truly are the descendants of the Transfigured MacBoon family, you are using innocent creatures for-'

'Flesh-eating, human-devouiring, clubfooted, five-legged innocent creatures, mind.' Abraxas seemed more interested in finding split ends in his hair than in Moody's empathy for the Quintapeds. 'It's for practical reasons, too. No Muggle can find the Isle of Drear and I can fly my Abraxans without fear of getting spotted. I do not want to cast concealment charms on my stock every day. It ruins their skin. The Abraxans'—not mine. And by the way, I don't kill them, the Quintapeds. Merely play with them.'

'You do that a lot.' It wasn't a question. 'Play with people. The world is merely created to function as a toy for you?'

'More or less.' Abraxas didn't even have the decency to pretend otherwise. 'Although I can be very serious when I wish to, though. I've mentioned before one gets a bit bored up here. I think the MacBoons are too, for they seem to find it rather exciting when we fly there. I should take you and that nice young Minister of yours.'

'I am not going to participate in your bout of animal cruelty,' growled Moody. 'You must be out of your mind.'

'Coming from someone who condones the use of dragons in the Triwizard tournament, the use of mermaids and Grindylows for the same reason? Not to speak of the Goblins—they're notoriously cruel. Oh, I heard about their torture of watch dragons. Or what about the Crup you brought? Doesn't wizarding law require their tail to be removed so that they look like some kind of Muggle dog? Barbarian habit! So don't accuse me of animal cruelty!' Abraxas actually looked offended on behalf of the creatures in question. 'And as I said, I do not hurt them in any way, I merely play with them. I don't amputate their limbs, a fact that you, if any, should be able to appreciate. I do not hex them or take their eggs. I don't think they lay eggs, in fact. Have never seen any offspring. Maybe they eat them?' Abraxas shrugged but the smirk on his face told Moody that he had yet another triumph up the sleeve. 'I assume that is an adequate explanation, Auror?'

Moody merely nodded, using all his willpower to ignore the insulting comment on his missing leg. 'Unfortunately.'

'Now, now. Not so vengeful. I will make it up to you. I suggest we take the Abraxans out for a little... survey of the area tomorrow. If you believe that the broom I found really is Miss Perks's, then you must be bursting with a need to explore. What better and safer way is there? Going on a broom certainly isn't worth a try. You'd have the beasts on you in a minute, and they will eat you. Abraxans are bred to fight and intimidate. Beats a broom any time.'

Moody felt as if Abraxas had gobbled him up already. He certainly wanted to—no, needed to—explore the Isle of Drear and if half of what Abraxas said was true, it would be dangerous business. Going on one of the huge horses with a man who knew the isle like his own pocket would decimate the risks considerably and if there was anything that Moody appreciated it was decimated risks. Merlin's beard, Abraxas was annoyingly cunning. Still, he wasn't as dangerous as the other beasts they had to encounter, the human-eating MacBoons.

'An offer you cannot resist, hm?' The arrogance was absolutely staggering.

'Fuck you, Malfoy,' Moody sneered and got up, aggressively hammering his staff into the marble floor. 'Fuck you.'

'Ah, no, thanks, although I am sure you'd be fascinating in bed. I have other plans in that regard. And be in the stable at nine tomorrow,' Malfoy shouted as Moody slammed the door to the living room so hard that he could hear the chandelier rattle. Moody could hear Abraxas's laughter as he managed the stairs to his room as fast as the damned leg allowed him.

The stables were surprisingly nice and light. The structure was altered magically, Kingsley realised; the advanced spell-work in the basement made it plausible that the work was done by Abraxas, too. It had been necessary. Although the castle's ceilings were high enough for a half-giant, there wasn't room for the huge horses. Almost twice the size of a Muggle horse and with a wingspan of almost thirty feet, space was needed.

Kingsley walked down the neatly swept aisle. The building looked empty. There were no loose-boxes, only what looked like a large indoor barn on one side, strewn with sawdust. There was a long row of feeders on the wall. A giant gate on the far wall was open, leaving it to the Abraxans whether they wanted to stay inside or not. The stable smelt of hay and mash and of the single malt that the Abraxans preferred to drink. It was a pleasant place, at least seen from Kingsley's point of view; he had no idea whether it was suitable for the beasts.

Outside the sky darkened and a gust made the hay and sawdust whirl. One of the animals came flying through the gate in a flurry of wings and wind.

'Oh!' There was little else to say for the horse was magnificent, there was no other word to describe it. Kingsley had never seen an Abraxan, except in wizarding photographs. Those pictures had been as close to reality as a toy cat was to a tiger. The animal was truly spectacular. The dark palomino was glowing in a deep bronze. The wings, tipped with silver shone in cold red and golden. The long mane and tail were pale white. Kingsley had never seen anything as beautiful and proud in his entire life.

The Abraxan made a snorting sound as it folded its wings. It raised its head, studying Kingsley closely. There was an odd intelligence in the dark golden eyes. The horse snorted again and stepped closer. Kingsley tried to recall what he'd learnt about the beasts, but apart from their strange drinking habits, all he could remember was that they needed forceful handling. A bit like their owner. Sighing deeply, still ambivalent and sad about the result of the investigation, Kingsley stepped back. The horse cocked its head and took a step forward. Despite his height, Kingsley felt small when the gigantic horse looked down at him. He froze, then forced himself to relax. He wasn't made of hay, so the beast probably didn't care to eat him. He had ridden Thestrals. They were carnivores and still none of them had tried to take a bite. He'd be safe.

A muzzle the size of his own head descended from above. The horse breathed out, a warm stream of hay-scented air. It snorted again and Kingsley realised that it was sniffing him. The muzzle was silken-soft as the horse examined his bald head, then his ear. The muzzle was surprisingly agile. The Abraxan nibbled at Kingsley's golden hoop and it made him laugh. Funny that such a big animal should possess such tenderness. He reached up to touch the horse's neck. The coat was short and hard and slick, a contrast to the incredible softness of the muzzle. Tryingly, Kingsley scratched it, his hand disappearing in the waterfall of a white mane. The horse craned its neck, making little movements with its muzzle. Kingsley smiled; if this was forceful handling, he was good at it. 'You like that, don't you?' he asked the animal. Of course he didn't expect a reply.

'Yes. He does. He's quite cuddly, the old boy.'

Kingsley turned around so quick that it made the Abraxan startle.

'Calm, man. Do not scare my horses.' Abraxas's drawling voice, on the other hand, had a calming effect on the Abraxan. It hummed, a dark, but welcoming sound. 'Yes, good boy,' he told the horse. 'Good boy.' He stroked it affectionately. 'I see you've met Halcyon. He's the backbone of my bloodline. He's retired now, has only a few mares this year. Got him for a welcoming home present from my father when I left Hogwarts. It's quite an honour that he cares to speak with you.'

Flabbergasted, Kingsley was unable to react for a second. He reached for his wand, then relaxed. 'Trying to escape justice, Malfoy?' Kingsley scrutinised Abraxas. He didn't look much like a criminal on the run. 'I didn't take you for a coward. Shouldn't you be on your way to the Ministry with Moody?' Kingsley knew he probably should Petrify Malfoy and wait for Moody to collect him. Hidden under his robe he clenched his wand hard.

Abraxas smiled, an annoyingly superior smile. 'Not today, no.' The smile widened and he stepped closer. 'Today I have other plans.'

Kingsley realised that his retreat was hindered by a large bale of straw. Unsure of Abraxas intentions, not to speak of why he was here at all, he readied himself for a fight. 'And those plans are?'

'I am going to take you for a ride,' Abraxas said and took yet another step forward, close enough to touch. He placed a hand on Kingsley's chest, something that made Kingsley gasp in surprise and sudden need. 'I have the distinct notion that you wouldn't mind a good, hard ride.'

Kingsley managed to get a grip on himself and on his raging emotions. He didn't even dare to think the thought of a ride with Abraxas to an end. 'Are you nuts? You should be in prison for murder by now, not running around like-'

'Come on, Minister Shacklebolt. It'll be fun.'

'Fun?' Kingsley managed to control himself. He straightened up, looming threateningly over Malfoy. 'I have to arrest you, and-'

'And you don't want to do it, but your pure Hufflepuff heart tells you to because it will be for the good of the wizarding world and all that?' Abraxas looked up at Kingsley, not intimidated at all.

Exasperated and desperate Kingsley grabbed Abraxas' arm. 'You know that already, so do not mock me.' He made a grimace. 'Abraxas, I have to.'

'And if we... hypothetically... imagined that I wasn't a murderer, then what?' Abraxas shook his arm to get it out of Kingsley's grip. 'Then what, Kingsley?'

'Then I'd be willing to-' Kingsley shut his mouth. There was no reason to hand Abraxas Malfoy more power than he already had. 'Nothing.'

'Nothing? Liar. But let that rest now. You may take Halcyon, he'll carry you safely; he likes you. You're not dead, so he likes you. I'll take Haizum, he's Halcyon's son.' Abraxas turned his back to Kingsley and whistled. Looking over his shoulder at Kingsley, he made a smirk that Kingsley had seen before. It was the look that every Malfoy he'd ever met used when they were entirely satisfied with themselves. 'And relax. Cleared of all charges. You didn't think your faithful knight would let me run free if I had murdered that girl, did you? He is quite fierce, old Moody. I like him. We share a certain... preference for not fitting into that lovely normal box that some people seem to favour.'

Another, smaller, Abraxan landed in the paddock. Kingsley just watched the horse, feeling utterly confused. No one had ever been able to drag him into this kind of emotional Knightbus ride before. His trademark calm was not only rattled, it was downright tilting. 'And you planned to tell me that, when?' Kingsley said, his throat tense with anger. 'What are you playing at, Malfoy?'

'I am not playing. I am very, very serious,' Abraxas said. He turned around to face Kingsley, stepping so close that he could smell Abraxas's aftershave, a scent that smelt a bit like the stable; hay and fresh air and spices. 'Auror Moody flipped through my memories. I had nothing to do with the girl or her father or what happened to them. The hands you thought were bound so tightly suddenly seem to be untied.' Abraxas licked his lips. There was a light of desire in his steel grey eyes. 'So, Minister Shacklebolt... are you going to ride with me so we can get that murky brain of yours aired out a bit?' Abraxas pursed his mouth and sent Kingsley a look that could only be seen as seductive. 'You see, it pains me to see a young Minister for Magic being so confused about what he wants.'

It was really hard for Kingsley not to whip out his wand and hex Abraxas Malfoy right there and then.

It seemed that he had met his match. In more ways than one.

Kneeling down with some difficulty, Moody looked under the bed. 'Wagtail?' The Crup seemed to have disappeared. Waving his wand, Moody attempted to summon the dog with a gentle Accio, only Wagtail was out of the spell's range. He didn't dare use a more forceful spell; he did not want to harm the small dog. He got up, groaning as the wooden leg pinched him. He sat down on the bed, the mattress dipping under his weight. He felt old and worn out, tired of being toyed with by Abraxas Malfoy, physically tired of having travelled and explored and investigated to a degree where his body was warning him that he was pushing its limits. Glad that their investigation had brought them a step forward with the discovery of Sally-Anne's broom and Malfoy's memories, Moody wasn't sure whether he liked the fact that Malfoy was innocent.

It could be, if he had to admit it, that he was a little bit jealous. Not that he wanted Kingsley, that time was long gone, but the way that Kingsley looked at Abraxas... Moody knew that he would never have anyone looking at him with that tension and desire ever again, not with his ravaged body and his ruined face. But he knew where this was going, with Kingsley. It would have been better if Malfoy had been guilty and sent to Azkaban. Now, when Abraxas and Kingsley were both free to do as they liked? It could only move in one direction: towards disaster.

Moody sighed deeply. He wanted Kingsley to be happy. Hopefully they'd just shag like mad, then realise the improbability of a relationship between the two and everything would go back to normal. If not, Moody would be there. He'd have Kingsley's back through a scandal, exactly as he'd had his back during their Auror days, during the war. The Minister for Magic was strong and loved enough by the people to be standing, even after... Even after Abraxas. Nevertheless, the obvious attraction between the wizarding world's most powerful man and an infamous Pure-blood wizard was an unexpected and unwanted complication of a case that was complicated enough as it was.

Another deep sigh escaped Moody. His leg was annoying him. He pulled up his robe and loosened the straps carefully. He leant the wooden leg against the bed. His skin was red and chafed. He waved his wand to conjure a salve. He rubbed it in, hissing at the sensation of the cold lotion. He waited a bit until the red marks had disappeared, his skin healing nicely. It wasn't that he wanted to put the leg back on; he'd much rather lie on the soft, comfortable bed and think: about Malfoy's memory, about the island, and not least, about the Minister's folly. And not least he wanted to think about how to use the information he'd discovered to move the case forwards.

He had to find Wagtail first, though, if nothing else, then because he liked having the small dog around him. Moody never had a dog before, but he liked it, the close contact with the small beast. He should get one. If he could bring it with him to the office on work days, of course. He'd like that, to have a Wagtail of his own. Vigilant little critters too. A very nice trait, in Moody's opinion. And the dog didn't care one bit about scars and missing limbs. There was a lot to be said, now that Moody thought of it, about having a dog.

Moody strapped his leg back on and got up from the bed. Perhaps Mr Bruce had seen the animal? Moody wasn't well versed in the use of house-elves, but he assumed that it was probably enough to just call their name to summon one. 'Mr Bruce?'

Mr Bruce popped out of thin air. 'Sir called?'

Ah, so that was how it worked. Nice to know, in the highly unlikely event that he got one himself. 'The Crup, Wagtail? Have you seen him? He was supposed to be here, in my room.'

Nodding eagerly, Mr Bruce said, 'Young sir has taken Mr Wagtail. He pointed at the window. It had a nice view of the coastline. 'Young Master Malfoy sir is down there.' Mr Bruce looked around, as if he wanted to be certain that no one was listening. 'Master Malfoy is distraught, sir. Sirs... sir and old Mr Malfoy sir is speaking and young Master Malfoy is...' Mr Bruce put a hand over his mouth. 'Mr Bruce mustn't tell.'

Apart from figuring out the house-elves' dialect, a bit different from the one's he'd met at Hogwarts, Moody thought he was getting the hang of it, asking the elves questions. 'Of course not. Young Malfoy went to the beach with the dog because he was sad? He was listening to me talking to his grandfather?'

Mr Bruce nodded again. 'Mr Bruce cannot tell sir that Master Malfoy was crying. Young Master Malfoy said so.'

'That's all fine. Mr Bruce is a very considerate house-elf. Please, don't tell me anything, then.' Moody summoned his travelling cloak. The wind was strong, so it would probably be cold, despite the summer sun. Moody slung the cloak over his shoulders and grabbed his staff. 'I'll go and find Master Draco. Make sure he's all right.'

'Sir is very nice sir!' Mr Bruce sniffled and disappeared.

A bit unsettling, with all the popping in and out, in Moody's opinion. 

 As Moody went down the path in the direction that Mr Bruce had pointed him, two Abraxans appeared high up on the sky. Moody looked up, following the animals as they flew east. Each Abraxan carried a rider on its back. The sight made Moody smile. Abraxas said that he went for what he wanted. He hadn't been lying. If Moody hadn't found it so hard to find any positive traits in the witches and wizards who had supported Pure-blood supremacy and ultimately Voldemort, he'd have liked Malfoy. Certainly nobody forced Abraxas Malfoy to do anything he didn't want to do. To be fair, Malfoy had made a decision not to support Voldemort at all, even distancing himself from his only son. Pondering upon that fact, Moody realised that he'd have liked someone like Abraxas on their side. A bit too autonomous to Moody's liking, but much better than the sheep that had been sitting at home, doing nothing while they let a seventeen year old boy fight their battle for them. At least Abraxas had taken a stand and expressed his displeasure. He wondered why Abraxas had given up the Wiltshire manor and not just kicked Lucius out. Perhaps there was some kind of Pure-blood insider rule? Wouldn't surprise him.

A bit further down, close to the steep drop below the castle, Moody spotted a lonely figure, huddled against a few low rocks, as if the small wall of stones could protect him from the sea and the harsh northern wind. There was no sign of Wagtail. A flock of seagulls hovered on the upwind, their dissonant cries grating at the cliffs, drowned out by the noise from the waves below. The air tasted of salt. Draco Malfoy looked very small and very vulnerable, there on the edge between the land and the ocean.

Not exactly prone to feeling sorry for his former enemies, Moody had to admit that he felt a little bit sorry for Malfoy. He'd just been released from prison and the only one who seemed to care was Potter and he, too, had taken the advantage of the Ministry holiday, so nobody actually bothered with the little shit. His grandfather didn't care much about him, his father couldn't and his mother was, as rumour had it, in the process of creating a new and better life for herself, which just showed that the woman was in possession of her faculties. Narcissa Malfoy didn't know, of course, that her son was out of Azkaban. Even Snape who had pampered the boy for years, seemed to have withdrawn. Didn't sit well with Snape, Moody thought, that Draco had refused the help Snape had offered him, but instead insisted on being a big, bad Death Eater all by himself. With little success. Quite the failure, Draco Malfoy.

Moody hobbled across the stony ground. He realised that Malfoy was only wearing the thin robe that Kingsley had lent him when they dragged Malfoy out of Azkaban without warning. One should think the lad's grandfather have had the sense to give the boy decent clothes. What did Abraxas expect? That Draco had carried with him from Azkaban a range of trunks stuffed with the latest fashion from Twilfit and Tattings? Moody decided that he needed a word with Abraxas about that. Not the least because he thought it would annoy him to be reminded of the fact that he was neglecting his only grandson. The prospect was promising, it would be a pleasure to direct attention to the shortcomings of the older Malfoy.

'Malfoy? Malfoy?' Moody's voice was silenced by the wind, almost as if it tried to press the words back into his throat. 'Malfoy!' he tried again, louder.

Malfoy looked up, almost shyly. His face was tear-streaked and a bit puffy. It was a relief to know that the Malfoy beauty did not survive a good weeping. He was holding Wagtail in his arms. The dog looked annoyingly comfortable. 'Can't you just leave me alone,' Malfoy sneered, the sneer ruined entirely by the sobbing. 'Or are you going to arrest me, too?'

Looking at the shivering mess that was Draco Malfoy, Moody reacted before he could think. 'You're cold,' he said gruffly, stating the obvious. He pulled off his travelling cloak and wrapped it around Malfoy's bony shoulders. Malfoy was far too thin. 'You shouldn't be out here in a robe like that.'

'What do you care?' Malfoy snapped. 'All you want is to throw me back into that awful place together with my father and grandfather.'

'Now that you mention it, yeah.' Moody sat down on the rock that Malfoy was leaning against. 'There are a few problems, doing exactly that. Kingsley has seen to it that you're not going back to the gaol, although it pleases me to no end that you're on parole more or less indefinitely. Your grandfather, on the other hand... the last time I saw him he was in the process of luring Kingsley towards the highlands on one of those overgrown posh ponies of his.'

'With the Minister?' Malfoy looked up, surprised. 'But... you told him that he'd-' He stopped crying.

'Didn't your mum teach you not to listen to other people's conversations?' Moody wondered for a moment whether his magical eye needed service if Malfoy truly had been lurking somewhere during the interrogation of Abraxas. 'Yes, with the Minister. Your grandfather is no longer a suspect, Malfoy. I know it must feel strange, but there is actually one of you lot who hasn't done anything wrong.'

'But you said that we're all... you... we...' Draco started sobbing again, making it impossible to understand what he was saying. 'My grandfather...'

'Shhh,' Moody said in a tone that was supposed to sound calming. 'It can't be that bad. You're not going back, and you have Potter vouching for you, change of heart and all that.'

'I can't do anything right,' wailed Draco. 'My grandfather hates me and Severus hardly speaks to me any longer. And... and my father, he's... every time he sees me he looks as if he thinks the Dark Lord is here and wants to kill me!' A few large sobs shook Draco's thin body.

'Malfoy? Malfoy, stop!' Moody had some experience in comforting people, but not people like Draco Malfoy. 'Listen to me! You're being unreasonably pathetic right now. You are not twelve, are you?' Moody didn't wait for a reply. At least the sobbing wasn't getting worse and the stream of tears hadn't turned into a flood. Quite promising, since Malfoy was a spoiled little brat and not used to being contradicted. 'You're out of Azkaban, your father is getting treatment, your grandfather has not been arrested, so stop your bloody whining,' Moody growled.

Draco looked up at him with wide, scared eyes and Moody understood that he might have been a tad too harsh. 'And your grandfather will come around. Be patient. Didn't I tell you it will be all right?' Moody patted Draco on the shoulder clumsily. His gnarled hands were not made for comfort. 'Don't you trust me?'

'Y-yes.' Draco winced. 'I do.' He was clutching the handkerchief in one hand. He wiped his nose with it.

That was surprising. Moody had never thought that Draco Malfoy would trust anyone, not after, well, after Voldemort's abuse. 'Then stop crying and grow up,' Moody said, offering the only comfort he could think of. 'You'll realise that things become easier when you don't behave like you're twelve all the time.' He softened, keeping his hand on Draco's shoulder. 'You need to learn to stand on your own two legs. At least you still have both of them. A pity not to use them.'

'Why are you so nice to me?' Malfoy blew his nose. It was red. 'You hate me!'

Moody removed his hand. 'That's a pretty big word to use, Malfoy. You're a right berk, yeah, but hate? No. I think you mistake justice for hatred. You do understand why you were spending some time in Azkaban, yes?' Malfoy looked as if he was going to burst into tears again. Maybe a bit of practice, comforting crying Pure-blood wizards should be a part of the curriculum for new Aurors? 'Malfoy, you do realise that had you not been sitting in that cell for a reasonable amount of time, somebody would have taken a hex to your back for revenge? No vigilance would have helped you. A sense of fairness and punishment... it... ' Moody snorted, annoyed. 'Kingsley does that so much better, the diplomatic explanations.' He threw his hands in the air and aimed for the abbreviated version. 'Okay, you're out, and that's fine, sort of. You had a change of heart, I can accept that, even if it happened a bit late. Seventeen years late. But you won't make that mistake again, running around, flashing your hatred for Muggles. Since you've had your redemption holiday in Azkaban, no one will probably try to kill you now, especially if you shut your big gob about Muggles and Muggle-borns, what with Potter being your knight in shining armour and all.'

Draco laughed in between sobs. 'Moody, that is not very comforting, you know.' He turned, trying to get up. He dumped Wagtail who started to run around eagerly in circles, perhaps hoping for a longer walk. 'I did have time to think. In Azkaban.'

'And yet the first thing you did was to accuse me of Muggle favouritism.' Moody too got up with some difficulty. He groaned. His leg hurt like hell. 'You should look to your grandfather. I do not like him much, and I do not like his opinions. But he recognises that violence and war is not the way, not for anyone. He's a right bastard when it comes to Muggles, but at least he's a polite bastard. He's unfortunately entitled to his opinions as long as he doesn't violate any laws or hurt people.' Hurt people I care about, Moody could just as well have said. 'Learn from him, that way you'll be able to cherish the fact that I will not be the lucky lad to put you back into your cell. Not for the lack of want, that is.'

Draco had collected himself enough to be snide. 'Forget what I said about being nice. You're a git!'

'Thanks. Because you are such a darling yourself. And come on, let's get you back and into something more suitable than Kingsley's old robes, shall we?'

'Yes. Please.' Draco switched to his decent side once more. 'It was really nice of Minister Shacklebolt to lend me one.'

'You've got that right,' Moody said. 'Perhaps there is hope for you, still.'

7. Reseach and Reinforcements

The following day was as windy and cold as yesterday. Moody had slept brilliantly; usually he woke up several times during the night. He blamed the amount of physical strain. The bed was wonderful and Moody found it increasingly tempting to sleep in, something he hadn't done in years. It was hard to be vigilant while sleeping well into the day.

Dressed and ready, Moody braced himself and opened the door to the dining room. The large doors swung open with a loud creaking, making the wizards present look up from their breakfast. There certainly had been a change. Kingsley and Abraxas were sitting next to each other instead of, as yesterday, opposing each other. Abraxas was seated at the end of the table, Kingsley on his right hand. They looked friendly. A bit too friendly, in Moody's opinion. A investigative look at Kingsley's relaxed face earned him a frown. Moody knew Kingsley well enough to know that he wouldn't get an answer to the question he couldn't ask, not without appearing the jealous and meddling old fart that he was. He hurried to sit down at the chair he'd used yesterday, the neutral zone at the middle of the long dining table. Snape was sitting at the other end, near the door, entirely ignoring the others. He had his nose buried in what appeared to be this morning's issue of the Daily Prophet. He had a huge mug of coffee in front of him. Not the early bird, Snape.

Draco was lounging at a chair opposite Moody's spot. He was wearing a brand new robe in pale blue and silver. The loose sleeves were lined with silk and a thinner robe underneath it had very narrow, longer sleeves which graced Draco's knuckles. He was wearing several silver rings, which he showed off as he played with a wand that he definitely hadn't brought with him from Azkaban. One of his grandfather's wands, perhaps. A heavy cloak was slung over the back of the chair. It had a collar of something furry and probably very expensive. Perhaps it was Mr Bruce who had cut Draco's hair again. The short braid looked neat. Moody had to admit the boy looked good—for a Malfoy. 'I see your grandfather took my advice not to let you die from something terrible, like a cold.'

'Hardly.' Draco looked Arctic and arrogant. 'I am his grandson, am I not? He had these sent from London yesternight. By special order from Madam Malkin's.'

'Don't push it, Draco.' Abraxas's cold eyes graced Draco with an icy look. 'Surely Madam Malkin is willing to let me return everything you haven't yet used.'

'You were a twit before, and you're a twit now, those fancy robes don't make any difference,' Moody growled, glaring at Draco. The boy was incredible. He turned to Abraxas. 'Couldn't you have ordered him a new personality while you were at it? The one he has is rubbish.'

'At least I only have one.' Draco looked like a kicked puppy, small and vulnerable, but with bared teeth, ready to bite.

Okay, he deserved that. Draco was at least trying to behave, in between all the haughty posturing. 'That was uncalled for.' Moody couldn't stop himself. 'I'm sorry. It can probably be mended, that personality of yours. With a good spanking once in a while.' Moody sent Draco a look that was an exact copy of the haughty expression he seemed to favour.

'Moody!' Kingsley's low voice had regained its calm force. It was the Minister for Magic speaking. 'Those ten minutes I gave you and Malfoy are long gone. Work on it, man.'

Surprisingly it was Abraxas who had the sense to stop the bickering. 'I have asked Mr Bruce to pack food and drink for us. We're leaving in an hour. You, Kingsley, will ride with me, Draco, if you'd take Auror Moody, please.'

'But I-'

'But you are the one who has experience with my Abraxans in combat, yes? I do not assume that you would actually like Auror Moody come to any harm, now that he and the Minister for Magic has been so very helpful to you?' Abraxas looked like a man who would not tolerate any resistance. 'You are able to do a bit of lance-work and Halcyon knows you well. End of discussion.'

Draco looked meek. 'Yes, Grandfather.'

'And my presence is purely ornamental, I assume?' Snape put down his paper. His mouth was a thin, discontent line. 'Is there any apparent reason that I am here and not at home? Or better, visiting Azkaban to assure that my lover is getting the treatment I bought him?' Snape folded the paper and placed it neatly next to his plate. 'Fine, if you want me to read, drink Abraxas's good coffee and relax. Waste my time; you have paid for it.'

'Severus, it would be very kind of you if you would stay. As long as we haven't explored the isle, there is no knowing when we will need your expertise.' Kingsley spoke quietly. 'It's a matter of a few days. I understand that you care about Lucius; as soon as we have started the preliminary investigation of the site, I am certain that we all will understand that you would like to go to Azkaban to assure that Lucius is well.'

The politician hadn't lost his touch. Moody admired Kingsley's way of turning things his way without rubbing his opponent the wrong way. As intimidating as Kingsley could be if crossed, he mastered to the fullest the ability to argue with the Snapes of the wizarding world. And win. Admirable trait.

'My potions laboratory is on the second floor. Ask Mr Bruce to open it for you. You're welcome to use if it you like. I have rather a lot of rare ingredients in store. Feel free to take what you need.' Abraxas knew how to sweeten the offer.

'If you say so,' Snape just huffed and took his mug. 'I suppose I can tolerate the situation yet another day. For Lucius's sake.'

Moody and Kingsley walked together towards the hall. Standing on the granite stairs leading into the courtyard, Moody wasn't able to hold back the question that he had wanted to ask all morning. It wasn't his business. He felt possessive nevertheless. 'Did you?' Moody would rather know now.

'Did what?' Kingsley arranged his cloak and fastened with a pin. The pin had a dragon's head in one end. It hissed at Moody. Wagtail, who was tucked under Moody's arm gave a short bark. It made the dragon head stop. It looked offended.

There really wasn't any polite way to ask. 'With Abraxas. Have sex?'

Kingsley's brown eyes were quite capable of looking very cold. 'If you'd expressed the same interest for my needs fifteen years ago you wouldn't have to ask. Then I'd been in your bed this morning.'

Breathing in, as if the punch had hit physically where it was meant to hit, Moody met Kingsley's eyes. He knew he was being punished for his untimely interference. 'You're right. But I still care about you. You're my best friend, Kingsley. I bloody care!' Moody wanted to tell Kingsley how much he'd wanted it to work between them, but time had passed and it was in the past.

'It isn't the first time I've had an affair. You never behaved like that before.' Kingsley paused. 'Why is this different? Apart from that I don't really have an affair because it is utterly impossible?'

Moody took one step down, carefully leaning against his staff. 'Because it's the first time it feels as if you're serious.' Moody walked the last few steps down. He turned around and sighed. 'I could say that I'm a bit jealous but you know that I'd be lying. I'm worried.'

'Jealous, now? Really?' Kingsley sounded amused. 'No. The answer is no. I didn't have sex with him. Of course not. There is nothing to be jealous about. We went for a ride. Abraxas is a very... cultured man. It was a pleasure.'

'And I'm not, just tell me,' Moody half-way joked. 'Not that sophisticated, eh?' He put Wagtail down and the dog ran off, possibly to find something interesting to eat. Horse manure seemed to have an almost magnetic attraction to dogs.

'Ah, you're a gem, Alastor. And you aren't that uneducated. A diamond in the rough, yes, but you're pretending half of the time.'

Laughing, Moody brushed a hand over the scar that ran from his his temple through the eyebrow and down his cheek. 'And the cutter made a grave error. Diamond, indeed!' For a moment he considered what would have happened had Kingsley and he met now instead of fifteen years ago. Kingsley had been handsome then, but he's become so much more. Moody abandoned the thought. It would never work. The thought of it did, but in reality, things were different. Not least because Kingsley had other priorities now, which basically was what annoyed Moody to no end. He'd been Kingsley's mentor, his lover, his friend, his comrade in arms. He couldn't continue to feel this kind of... ownership. It had been what had pulled them apart. Moody was a protector, Kingsley wasn't one who needed protection. The same thing would happen all over again.

Abraxas was checking his horse's harness. Draco was waiting at the drawbridge, as if he didn't think his grandfather wanted him near. The Abraxan had several big leather bags and a pair of heavy stakes attached to its back. 'Lances?' Moody reluctantly moved into the reach of the animal.

'You wouldn't want to go to Drear without them. Halcyon is perfectly able to keep the Quintapeds at a distance, but it earns them a few kicks. Or he just steps on them. Lances are safer. For all of us.'

'Why not brooms?' Moody found it complicated and excessive to take the horses. 'Faster, smaller. No excessive weaponry needed.'

'Easier to break. You'd not want to come too close to a Quintaped on a broom. You'd be dead in a minute and eaten in five. If you fall off an Abraxan he'll defend you with his life. I am not teaching my stallions to fight for the fun of it, Auror. As I told you before, the blood-line, its health, depends on my ability to choose the right animals for breeding. Testing them in combat, or in a similar environment, like the Isle of Drear... It is crucial to preserve a breed which is thousands of years old. Those which don't make it, those which can't work properly... they're sold or, well, eaten. Taste quite well. That Muggle scientist, Darwin, he knew what he was talking about. Adaptation to the environment.' Abraxas tightened the girdle on his horse and pulled the lances to see if they were tied to it properly.

'Sounds cruel to me.' Moody stroked the horse on the flank. 'You don't feel connected to them?'

'I do.' Abraxas smiled, an honest smile. 'Now, this old boy here, Halcyon. There isn't the amount of Galleons in the world that would let me part from him. Ever.' Abraxas nodded in the direction of the smaller Abraxan. 'His son there. Same deal. Not for sale, not for giving away, not for anything but to stay here until the day they die.' Abraxas crossed his arms and looked at Moody. 'I am a selfish person. But for him,' he stroked Halcyon on the neck, 'for his son, and for a few of the mares down in the meadows, I'd give anything. Anything I own. My life. As would they. It's a two way street, loyalty. Sometimes, Auror, I include people in that small, very exclusive circle.' Abraxas's eyes flickered for an instant. Moody knew where he was looking.

He nodded. It was as if Abraxas had seen through Moody's defences, seen his reluctance, his slight jealousy. 'I see.'

'I think you do, Alastor Moody, I think you do.' Abraxas rubbed the horse on the neck affectionately and went to check his own. Kingsley was standing next to the animal, smiling.
Abraxas had offered Moody a tiny bit of honesty, a small insight in what lay behind the façade of arrogant superiority and occasional sarcastic jests. God help him, he was beginning to like Malfoy. As long as it didn't become a habit. Glaring at Draco, who finally had cared to move, Moody was sure that it was a habit he wouldn't fall into that easily.

'Help me up,' Draco insisted. 'You do not expect me to be able to climb; I'm weak and malnourished.'

'And rude too, growled Moody. 'Say "please, Head Auror Moody". If you can. If not, I guess I'll just have to learn to fly the horse alone. Leaning by doing.' Draco was incredible. Moody wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, however. They had dragged him out of Azkaban, he was, precisely as he said, malnourished and weak. One thing he wasn't, though, was stupid. Moody had heard enough about Draco Malfoy to know that. Yesterday it had worked well to ask Malfoy to act like an adult. A bit rough on the edges, that plea, but it had worked. Firm and determined. That worked. 'How was it, Malfoy. You are not twelve. You have learnt to ask nicely, I'm sure.' Moody put a hand on Draco's shoulder, letting it weigh heavily on the bony frame. He squeezed, none too gently. 'Once more. And politely this time, lad.'

'Please, Head Auror Moody.' Huffing, Draco managed to look precisely as offended as a Hippogriff who'd just been told that it could do with a bath and a toothbrush.

'That's more like it!' 

The Abraxan whinnied and kicked the ground impatiently. 'No,' Draco said calmly. 'Stop that.'

Halcyon turned his head and snapped at Malfoy.

'Oi!' Draco straightened up and took a few steps towards the horse, almost stepping into it. 'Hold it, boy.' Draco let his hands slide over the saddle and girdle. 'Ah.' He pulled out a handful of mane that had stuck under the leather. 'He doesn't behave like that without reason,' Draco said. 'He's a clever old goat.'

Moody suddenly felt uncomfortable so close to the large horse. It wasn't as if he hadn't ridden a Hippogriff or a horse, or a dragon, for that matter, but the Abraxans were fierce, bred for combat as Abraxas had explained and he was actually in over his head with this. Draco, on the other hand, had known these powerful animals most of his life and it was evident that he handled them with confidence. It made Moody realise that Malfoy probably wasn't a coward in all aspects of life. Moody recalled Hagrid telling him him how Malfoy had treated that Hippogriff they'd saved from the Ministry's executioner, Buckbeak. Draco had appeared determined and dominant. Not really the way to treat a Hippogriff, but the Abraxans clearly liked a handler who knew his worth and didn't back off. It was strange with the family, the Malfoys. If one got close to them, they seemed to have hidden qualities, aspects that moved them a bit closer to being acceptable. Barely acceptable. As long as they kept their Pure-blood rubbish to themselves, that was.

Cocking his head, assessing Draco critically, Moody didn't try to be diplomatic. 'If you used that attitude a bit more, you'd actually be tolerable company. One could almost be led to believe that you are a real adult and not merely twelve.'

'Thank you,' Draco replied sweetly. 'I cannot possibly say how much your advice and appreciation mean to me.'

Moody wondered briefly whether Abraxas would hex him if he actually hit Draco.  'You have been with Snape for too long.' Whether that was a good thing or a bad had yet to be determined. Trying to stay unprovoked, Moody changed the subject. 'What about that pony? Are we going to stand here and chat, or are we going to ride?' Moody didn't look forward to it. He felt comfortable on his broom, but this large and unpredictable animal... Not so much. Moody whistled; Wagtail came running with his mouth full of something Moody didn't care to know the origin of.

Draco ignored them, fiddling with the horse's harness instead. 'Give me a leg up.'

Moody raised his eyebrows. 'A what?'

Draco faced the Abraxan with a hand on the saddle. He looked over his shoulder at Moody. He lifted his left lower leg. 'Put a hand under my knee and one on the ankle. At the count of three, push my leg straight upward.'

'Ah.' Moody did what he was told. Draco's leg felt thin and fragile in his rough hands. Above him, Draco slid into the saddle as easily as if he'd ridden a horse every day of his life, which was probably more or less what he had, minus the time in Azkaban and at Hogwarts. 'And how, pray, do I get up there?' Moody, being a tall man, couldn't even look over the back of the Abraxan but was more or less eye to eye with the horse's shoulder.

'Not my problem,' snapped Draco. 'Perhaps, if you try, "please, Mr Malfoy," I might help you.' The location five feet above Moody's head didn't do much to make Draco less arrogant or superior.

'Or I could try "help me or I'll turn you into a toad, Mr Malfoy," and see if that's more efficient.'

'And how, pray, am I supposed to help you, if all I can do is to quack at you? I thought Aurors were supposed to be the wizarding world's elite, you know, extraordinarily bright. Did they make an exception in your case, Auror Moody?' Draco's taunting wasn't entirely malicious. 'I'm sure they did. Out of mercy.'

'Far from being a stickler for detail, ducks quack. Your grasp of biology is a bit wonky, yes?' Moody smirked. 'Ducks are those small birds with feathers on them.'

'Oh, a bit like your brain? Except a duck is larger, smarter and has fewer feathers?'

'Ten minutes. And they were over two days ago, Alastor Moody!' Kingsley's voice boomed across the courtyard. 'Today, gentlemen. Mount the damned horse and let's get going. One would think that the two of you find it more entertaining to bicker at each other than to actually get the case moving!'

'Look who's talking!' said Moody and glared at Kingsley who looked far too comfortable, sitting behind Abraxas with his arms around him.

'That, coming from you?' said Draco, at the exact same time, looking from Kingsley to Abraxas.

The Moody and Draco looked at each other. Moody couldn't stop himself from grinning. 'Kettle.'

'Black,' Draco said and for the first time since they'd dragged him out from the gaol, he smiled, openly, honestly. 'And that's no lie.' He fumbled with a strap and lowered a stirrup far enough down for Moody to place his foot in. 'You put your foot there. The strap is charmed, works a bit like a lift. Just wait until you're in the proper position, then slide yourself into the saddle.'

'And you couldn't have used that, why?' Moody fumbled with the stirrup. He stopped and caught Draco's eyes. He looked amused. He grabbed Wagtail and held him so Draco could reach.

'I wouldn't have had the pleasure of letting you service me, would I?' Draco put Wagtail under his cloak. The small dog managed to push his head out at the collar.

'Oh, I'll service you all right,' Moody growled. 'Just you wait until I get up there, laddie.'

'Promises, promises.' Draco stuck his tongue out. 'Has it ever occurred to you, Auror Moody, that you are quite entertaining to tease?'

With some difficulty Moody managed to get his wooden leg over the saddle. He slid onto the back of the Abraxan. The saddle pushed him forward, in close contact with Malfoy. It was tight and uncomfortable. He couldn't avoid contact. 'If that tongue of yours ran any faster, you could rip it out and use it for racing,' Moody said. 'And if your grandfather did the same, think of all the fun we could have, what with a bit of betting and you and Abraxas, all silent.'

'You'd be bored within an hour, Auror.' Draco shifted and moved forward a bit. 'Put your arms around me. Try to follow my movements. Leaning too much to one side during turns disturbs Halcyon's balance. My grandfather has taught them to react to weight distribution. He does not believe in force when it comes to training the Abraxans.'

Taking a deep breath, Moody did what he was told. There were several reasons why he did not look forward to the flight. One of them was a bit more embarrassing than the rest. It had been a very long time since Moody had last held another man in his arms. He hoped that his dislike of Malfoy and the general awkwardness of the situation would be enough to ward off any unwanted reactions, but sometimes dislike was not enough to conquer an instinctive physical response. Maybe a spell could work? Moody reluctantly wrapped his arms around Draco's waist. Even through the heavy cloak, it was obvious that Malfoy was too thin. 'Some say that forceful handling is necessary... to break them in?' Moody said, trying to divert himself as he adjusted to sit more comfortably. Unfortunately it also brought him closer to Malfoy. 'Madame Maxine-'

'Some say. I don't. Madame Maxine has the subtlety of an Erumpent when it comes to handling Abraxans. The woman has no refinement whatsoever. One would think she has never heard of reinforcement and animal behavioural psychology!' Draco sounded almost offended. 'Force never did anyone any good in horse training,' he huffed. 'Giants, pfft.' Draco shifted in the saddle, something that might have been a sign, for Halcyon started walking. Draco patted at the lances that were tied to the harness below. 'How do you think a knight would fare in battle, depending on his horse and its abilities entirely for survival? How do you think he'd do if the animal didn't understand and trust him? He'd be dead, Moody. Instantly. A scared horse; worse, a horse scared of its handler... it doesn't work. Trust... that's what's important. That's what it's all about. Being firm, but not breaking anything. Trust, least of all.'

'I see.' Abraxans had size and intelligence. Fighting them to break them did not make sense, not the way Malfoy explained it. 'Like in people.'

Draco froze, then relaxed. 'As with people.' He sent Moody a look. 'And I hope you trust me right now. Hold on tight!'

Moody didn't manage a reply before Halcyon's gigantic wings unfolded and the horse cantered a few strides before it took off, rising towards the sun on white wings, reflecting the golden morning. The large horse moved languidly, the enormous muscles stretching and contracting as it climbed the sky and cut, fast as a swordblade through the wind, towards north.

'Merlin,' Moody gasped, unable to breathe. He was used to speed. The powerful old stallion wasn't merely faster than a good broom. It was much faster; it was fantastic. Moody had never felt like that, this symbiosis between wizard and animal. A broom was a broom. Dead. But the Abraxans, so beautiful and strong, chose to work with their riders. Moody could sense a slight shift from Draco and the instant reaction from the horse. It was almost as if Draco had grown wings and was braving the blue sky by himself. This constant but silent conversation held a magic of its own. Moody couldn't stop himself from being impressed. The arrogant little brat had a side that he'd hidden well. Halcyon would not trust someone who'd break that trust, not if what Malfoy had said was true. Draco reached back and pulled off the tie that had held his braid together. He traded his fingers through it, letting the wind play with it. The blond hair was the same colour as Halcyon's long mane. Draco turned a bit, looking at Moody, the hair whipping around his face. He looked happy.

'Freedom,' Draco said and Moody knew exactly what he meant.

It was a short flight. Abraxas led the way. As the small island finally became visible, Moody found it easy to understand that it had been so difficult to discover. The Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had done a very good job. Not only had they made the Isle of Drear Unplottable, but the entire island seemed to be shrouded in a Disillusionment charm. It made sense. The beasts on Drear were highly dangerous; Orkney and Shetland were close; the area had quite the Muggle traffic between the Scottish mainland and the islands to the north. That neither Moody, nor any of the Aurors who had worked on the case had realised that there was an island hidden spoke volumes of the wizards and witches who'd hidden the isle from the public eye. Clearly a talented lot. One thing that Moody could deduce from all this hiding was that Tony Perks and his daughter had not planned to visit the small piece of land. It had been a good idea to hide the island from wizards and Muggles alike. There was no way that Tony Perks and Sally-Anne could have stumbled upon it except by accident. 

Abraxas fell back and signalled to Draco that they should circle over the isle. Abraxas had done that countless times before. He'd just never thought to look for a stranded girl and her father, so Moody wasn't surprised that he hadn't found any more traces. The cliffs and the small forest that spread on the southern side of the isle would hide any remains. And in case that was not enough, the Quintapeds would have seen to the rest. Pulling out a set of Omnioculars from his pocket, Moody scanned the area. His magical eye did not like the enhancement and rotated, trying to find focus by itself.

To the Northwest, huge cliffs rose. To the South, the forest spread on the lowlands, protected from the harsh wind from the North. The eastern part of the island looked much like the Scottish north-eastern coast: wind-crippled and bare. In the middle of the isle, on a hill, Moody spotted something that looked like the house he had seen in Abraxas's memory. He tapped Draco on the shoulder. 'Can you get further down? There!' Moody pointed at the shape on then hill, an overgrown skeleton of rotting wood and crumbling stone.

Draco nodded and turned Halcyon into a steep dive that made Moody gasp and hold on tighter to him. 'Shit,' he breathed. That horse was incredible.

It was a house, the remains of one. It lay dead and bare-boned, the black, broken rafters jutting out like a ribcage on a rotting corpse. The roof was more or less gone. No one had lived there for centuries. Moody tried to look through the layers of dirt and stone, but at that distance, his magical eye wasn't precise enough. There was no signs of any living being, except for large flocks of birds which fluttered nervously from the undergrowth as they passed over the trees at a low altitude.

With Abraxas and Kingsley in the front they flew further north. As they passed across a small spring, Abraxas pointed at it and Moody recognised it as the place where Abraxas had found Sally-Anne's broom. 'Let's go down here, if it's safe.' Safe was of course relative in the situation. They'd have to be extremely careful as not to end up as fodder for the Quintapeds. Moody's magical eye flashed bright blue and swirled erratically to survey the area. Everything was quiet. That could change, of course.

Draco said nothing, just wrinkled his nose or blinked with an eye or whatever invisible sign he used to communicate with the Abraxan. Moody was still a little impressed with the way the useless little twit actually turned out to be both useful and not as much as a whiny coward as he'd thought. Halcyon's large wings worked as he softly touched the ground. The stallion clearly was aware of the danger, for he immediately looked around, his ears moving. He was the image of constant vigilance and Moody appreciated it.

Draco unstrapped the blunt lances. 'Have your wand ready, but let me get to them first if possible. These, if used right, make less damage than a spell.'

Moody thought Malfoy might be right. In a pressed situation instinct could overrule the determination to use only defensive spells. 'I'll try to remember that.' Moody had no wish to lose more limbs, and since the Quintapeds had five legs, better one of theirs than one of his.

Abraxas landed next to them and made his preparations as Kingsley got off the horse. Kingsley had his wand at the ready. He still behaved like an Auror.

'Here, let me help.' Draco showed his nice side. Maybe he was only an annoying shit when he wasn't in danger? Moody waited until Draco had arranged the stirrup. With some difficulty he managed to get down from the huge horse. 'Careful.' Draco leant forward, handing Wagtail to Moody. 'Wouldn't want to lose him.'

'As long as I get the dog back alive, everything is fine?' Moody laughed. It sounded like a bark. 'Aye, I'll do that.'

'You too.' Draco's face was neutral. 'Be careful.'

Abraxas turned Haizum around. 'Secure that area, Draco,' he demanded. 'Kingsley, Moody, just concentrate on your work. We've got your backs. We don't have much time before the 'peds are here to see what is happening, so on with it.'

Trust. Moody looked at Kingsley asking silently the question he couldn't speak aloud. Kingsley nodded. All right. So their lives depended on the vigilance of two Malfoys, two overgrown ponies and a dog the size of a cat. Things certainly had deteriorated. 'So,' Moody said. 'Those rocks over there?' The cliffs looked as if a giant had ripped them apart and tried to assemble them once more. There were rifts and ravines enough to hide an army. 'It's a place to start.'

They concentrated on the deep rifts and half-hidden nooks. The years would have erased any trace of Sally-Anne or her father, exposed to the weather as the island was. Wagtail was sniffing around, caught up in all the new and interesting scents. It was difficult for Moody to climb over the cliffs; his leg wasn't made for this kind of work. He pushed at a rock that half-covered the entrance to what appeared to be a small cave. It didn't budge. He flicked his wand, moving the stone a bit. Behind him, one of the Abraxans moved around, its wings sending a cold breeze down Moody's neck. Wagtail was standing, one paw pulled up, hesitating.

He cast a Lumos into the cave. 'Kingsley, I think you'd want to look at this.' Moody looked at the remains that were scattered on the dirt floor. 'What the hell are those?'

Kingsley looked over his shoulder. 'A body? No...' He stepped past Moody and knelt in the opening, poking at the bones. 'It's an exoskeleton. A shell.'

'It looks like a spider.' Moody didn't like it. 'A big, fat, hairy spider. Are those...'

'Yeah. I think so.' Kingsley counted. 'Five legs. Yep.'

'Oh, cock.' The exoskeleton was huge. 'We better hurry.'

'Indeed.' Kingsley sent Moody a look that showed how little Kingsley appreciated the situation.

Moody moved on to look for anything that could help their investigation. A small ridge of rocks seemed like a promising place to continue. Behind it there was a small strip of more even cliffs, then a steep fall to the sea. Wagtail was running up and down, occasionally disappearing behind this rock or another. There was no sign of any Quintapeds. Abraxas and Kingsley kept close to each other. Moody watched Draco for a while. Malfoy looked like a small bird of prey, his head turning, alert, on guard, waiting for the hunt. Moody let out a quiet sigh. He hadn't thought it possible, but Malfoy was trustworthy. He knew what he was doing, and so, thank Merlin, did his arse of a grandfather.

Wagtail gave a warning bark. The small dog jumped up from behind a rock, strangely excited. It snorted, then tried to push its head down in a pile of stones. It gave another short bark.

'What is it, Wagtail?' Moody hobbled across the uneven ground. He looked around for the Quintapeds. Nothing, just the Abraxans hovering a few feet up to allow their riders a better view of the area. He looked down the ridge. No movement anywhere.

Whining, Wagtail started digging, pebbles and dirt flying.

'Oi! Kingsley!' Moody dragged himself to the top of the rock, using the staff to push himself up. 'Could you move these.' Moody pointed at the rocks that Wagtail had been digging by.

'These, yeah?' Kingsley cast a spell on the rocks at the top, carefully moving them as not to destroy any evidence. Wagtail got even more excited.

'Wagtail, stop.' Moody knelt down and put a hand on the dog's back. 'Not now, boy. Later.' There was nothing to see but dirt and a few insects, disturbed by the sunlight. Wagtail tried to push his nose under one of the remaining rocks. 'Could you move this one, please?' Moody used his wand to separate dirt and pebbles from whatever could lie there. Nothing. Moving by wand the top layer, Moody tried to poke at the dirt with his wand. In a corner under a rock it suddenly went through.

'Got something here.'

Kneeling next to Moody, Kingsley slowly pulled loose the rock with a more forceful spell. 'Help me out here. It's heavy. Won't want to squash Wagtail.' Moody added his spell to Kingsley's and they managed to remove the rock.

Moody breathed out loudly. 'It's going to take all day, if we're to rearrange the whole island.'

'We don't have all day.' Kingsley knew, too, that it was a question of time before the beasts would attack. He removed some of the dirt around the hole, enough to be able to put a hand in it. 'It's hollow.'

They dug the hole bigger, big enough for Kingsley to be able to look into it. 'I'm not really... If I don't have a head when I get up, I assume we found the Quintapeds.'

Moody laughed. I don't think they're small enough to get in that hole,' he said. 'But we'll know that for certain in a minute.'

'Oh, thanks for the support,' Kingsley said and used his wand to light up the small cranny. He wormed as much as he could of his upper body into the hole. He sat up again, rapidly. 'Wait.' He pushed his arm in, as if he knew precisely where to reach and what to reach for.

'This.' Kingsley sighed. 'Too big to be Sally-Anne's.'

'Her father.'

'Yeah, I think so.'

Kingsley put the fleshless, crushed skull down on the rock they were kneeling on. He looked at it with an expression of defeat. 'We knew that there was no chance of finding them alive.'

'I know.' Moody felt very sad. One thing was to know that chances were slim, if nonexistent, another was to find the proof. It was, however, what he'd been looking for since the day he started the investigation. It was just very hard to feel any sense of triumph or victory. 'We have to do a few tests back at the castle. There are human-eating beasts loose on the island after all. Could be more unfortunate victims.'

Wagtail, too, looked depressed. Kingsley went back into the hole, examining it closer this time. 'A full body, a lot of broken bones and the remains of a broom.' Kingsley pulled out a bit of wood that still had the distinct shape of a broomstick handle. 'I think he might have crashed. It's hard to see, but the broom has lost its tail, so I guess my theory on the Swiftstick might not have been far off.' Kingsley nodded in the direction of the sea, only a few hundred feet away. 'He lost altitude and might have seen the island, aimed for it. So he tried to land, but the broom malfunctioned and he crashed into the rocks. Happened too fast for him to get his wand. Since the 'peds haven't taken the body, he might have crawled in here to die or to protect himself from the Quintapeds.'

'Yeah.' Moody agreed. As usual Kingsley was concise and clear. He shadowed with a hand over his eye. 'And Sally's broom where in that direction. They came flying in from the eastern side, the broom crashed, Sally continued, stopped as she realised that her father was down, she landed at the brook, then came running back to her father.'

'Who was, by then, already dead. Seeing that there isn't a bone in that body which isn't broken. The skull too. No. He couldn't have survived.'

And neither had, they both knew, Sally-Anne. Twelve years old, in shock, alone on an island filled with monsters, with her dead father lying on the ground? All they had to do now was to find her remains. If the Quintapeds had left any.

Wagtail began barking again. Moody looked up, alert, while Kingsley wrapped the skull and the piece of wood into separate bags. The two Abraxans circled them, both Malfoys concentrating on the surroundings. Moody tapped Kingsley on the shoulder. 'Up.' His eye swirled, discovering nothing. Wagtail barked again and ran down the ridge, then back up.

Kingsley made a curt nod. 'See anything?'

'No.' Moody's eyes followed Wagtail. 'Look at the dog.'

Kingsley looked up at Abraxas. 'Any danger?'

Abraxas didn't look down but kept his eyes on the area behind them. 'No. But I'd be careful. If Wagtail is-'

'Grandfather!' Draco's shrill voice alerted them. 'Quickly!'

They turned. From the steep cliffs that fell to the sea five large, spider-like monsters came charging.

'Moody, the dog!' Draco turned Halcyon towards the Quintapeds, the lance ready.

Moody pushed Kingsley towards Abraxas. 'On you go, lad!' They had to get off the ground and fast. There was no time for dawdling.

'Need help?' Kingsley hesitated, his eyes set on their attackers.

'On the horse. Now! Before both of us get killed. Haven't you learnt anything! Go!' Moody turned with his wand in one hand and his staff in the other, ready to face the monsters. He didn't wait to see if Kingsley was obeying orders; Moody knew he would.

Kingsley was fast for Draco and Abraxas charged almost immediately, the Abraxans' heavy hooves thundering across the ground. Moody hobbled down from the pile of rocks he was standing at. The Malfoys circled Moody and attacked the two closest Quintaped. Abraxas expertly used the lance to turn one of creatures over. It laid on its back, five legs waving in the air. It had difficulties turning. Draco was not as good. He managed to push the Quintaped away, delaying its attack. The monster returned the favour by breaking the lance with a violent blow with one of its clubfooted legs.

Wagtail was barking frantically at the Quintapeds. The smaller of them was separated from the others and ran back and forth, seemingly unsure of what to do with the dog. 'Wagtail! Here!' Moody cried, almost desperate. He could not go back without the dog. He simply couldn't! Deftly Abraxas overturned yet another Quintaped while Draco circled the group to chase away the smaller one. Moody's relief was great when he saw that Kingsley was safely in the saddle behind Abraxas. Moody's eye turned. This was getting a bit hairy. He tried to let his magical eye keep up with the smallest Quintaped, just to be on the safe side.

Moody stepped between Wagtail and the remaining two monsters. Haizum and Abraxas managed to tip yet another five-legged spider over the edge of the cliffs while Draco's attempt to turn over the last one cost him his second lance. 'Retreating,' he cried to alert Abraxas. He turned the great horse around, cantering quickly back towards Moody. Moody scooped up Wagtail who was still growling angrily at the Quintapeds.

It was that one second's divided attention that cost Moody his leg.

He realised his mistake even before the Quintaped lounged at him, trying to move away. Too late. The Quintaped was over him, slashing as him with whirling legs. He aimed with his wand, but the hex missed. Wagtail was running in between the legs of the monster, barking like mad. It diverted the beast's attack long enough for Moody to get up, only to realise that his wooden leg was broken.

Halcyon came charging, full speed. Draco stopped the horse and jumped from its back, the wand blazing hexes at the attacker. 'Get up, hurry!' he shouted, running towards the Quintaped which had decided that Wagtail could be a nice appetizer. 'No!' Draco cried and blasted a rock just in front of the beast. 'Wagtail!'

Moody found the magical stirrup hanging from the saddle. It was difficult since he had only half a leg to stand on, but he managed to get a hold of the strap. Halcyon sensed his distress. It bent one leg to make it easier for him to get up. With a relieved sigh he pulled himself onto the horse.

'To me! Halcyon, to me!' Draco sprinted towards the Abraxan with Wagtail in his arms.

Moody didn't dare use his wand to send Wagtail floating into the air. He needed both hands to help Draco into the saddle, for Halcyon was already on his wings, ready to be airborne. Moody reached down and grabbed Wagtail by the scruff of the neck. Draco was standing in the stirrup, clinging to the saddle as Halcyon's large wings quickly took them up above the island. On the ground, Haizum, too, took a few quick strides and shot into the air.

They were safe.

'Bloody hell. So much for vigilance, I think my eye is wonky,' Moody growled and helped Draco properly into the saddle. 'That could have gone terribly wrong.' Draco didn't reply. Moody could feel his breathing against his own chest, uneven and rash. He leant forward a bit. 'You all right?'

'Yes. No.' Draco turned a bit, enough for Moody to realise that he had tears in his eyes. 'I was so scared down there. So scared... And you're hurt?'

A good thing that Halcyon knew where to go, for Malfoy was losing it. 'Draco, calm down. It's over. You were very, very brave. And I'm not hurt, it's just the leg. The wooden leg.' Moody tightened his grip around Draco, offering what little comfort he could. 'You saved my life, or at least a few of the Quintapeds' lives. I might have killed some of them to get away. Wagtail's life too.' Moody stopped himself from saying something snide about Malfoys and bravery. It was not the time, seeing that he and Wagtail would have been monster food by now, had it not been for Draco's intervention. Moody had never deliberately killed a foe in combat. He wanted his enemies alive at any cost and he had the scars to prove it. He was glad it hadn't gone that far, making himself a murderer.

Abraxas caught up with them, nodding at Moody with appreciation. Then he turned to look at Draco and he was no longer cold and distant.

He was looking at Draco with an expression of unrestrained pride.

Click here to read Part 2

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