A rather nondescript Crested Owl swooped down on the girl known to all the world as Elizabeth Havisham on the third Friday of September. She removed the scroll with one hand and offered the bird a bit bacon with the other. Once it had left, she opened the letter, expecting to add it to one of the request piles. However, the note read:
The cough is worsening, he's becoming delirious. He now believes that purity should be legally coupled with muggle witches. I thought you ought know, lest his stupidity should effect you.
Your faithful servant,
If she had not been in the Great Hall, Elizabeth's jaw would have dropped and her eyes would have popped. As it was, her eyebrows shot up and she read it through again. Then filed it under 'Information' before dashing off a reply.
How long until he commits suicide?
This she gave to a house elf, after having sealed it from every possible form of tampering, to take to the Owlery.
What to do? How best to counter-act Fudge's latest scheme?
Elizabeth resigned herself to the fact that this newest development from the Ministry took precedence and so banished her papers to the inner recesses of her impenetrable desk.
'If this is, as it seems,an attempt to reduce the number of squibs and flipper-children, then it's going to be enforced on purebloods, not mudbloods.
'This could be fun!' another part of her thought, maliciously. 'We could just sit back and watch them squawk.
'I think I need to see a shrink, I seem to be developing schizophrenia.
'We're just different aspects of you and you've always acknowledged that.
'Oh, stop being so defensive,' she thought-snapped in exasperation that she was getting no nearer her goal. 'If this is going to hurt the purebloods the worst... Who has enough influence left to talk to Fudge, so I don't have to?' She was about to make a list, when a shadow fell across her.
"It seems that these past few years I have been harbouring illusions. And you humoured them. You led me on..." The drawl came with a warm, playful smile and probably a half a dozen strings.
"Who am I, for God's sake, that I should be kind?" she quoted back, also smiling. "Was there something you were wanting, Master Malfoy?"
"I was wondering if madame would permit me to escort her to class." Before Elizabeth could answer, they were surrounded by a mob of potential escorts. That thought made her crack up and most of the crowd joined her, even though they did not know why she was laughing.
"Ah, Stebbins," she said, picking a fourth year Ravenclaw, whose first lesson was Potions and whose petition had arrived during the summer holidays. "Tell me, how is your uncle?"
"Not very well, lady. He is as well as can be expected."
"You can tell me the details on the way to Arithmancy." There was a collective groan, but Draco merely nodded and headed for Care of Magical Creatures.
"Well, I..." spluttered Stebbins.
"I'm sure I could find someone else, if you are unwilling or unable." The crowd, which had dissipated slightly, was suddenly back in full, clamouring force. The boy quickly weighed his rock and hard places: Snape or his father, his uncle, his elder brother, his paternal grandfather...
"Of course, I'd be delighted to assist. May I take your bag?" he asked; so as not to endure three days of Madame Pompfrey's tongue clicking and attempts to heal him, which is what happened to the last poor sod who took her bag without permission.
"Thank you," she said, charming her bag to be double its actual weight; the 15-year-old lifted it without complaint.
'He must be desperate.
'Oh, yeah!' Her thoughts had now taken on a gleeful tone.
"So. I have only heard sketchy reports of your uncle's plight," she lied as they made their way into the Entrance Hall. "Why does he need my help?"
"It's his wife, ma'am, she died. And now, her brother's claiming that it were my uncle what killed her. And so, he's wanting her dowry back. So, me pa were wondering if ya'd pu' in a word wi' the Minister." As she opened her mouth to speak, he stopped jogging, which was the only way he could keep up, and pulled a small box out of his pocket, which he passed to her. "'E also said ta give ya this'en." Inside, was not the necklace she had expected, but a signet ring. The golden tiger's-eye and the silver setting were both engraved with tendrils and flames aplenty. In the centre, the stone held her initials and, beneath the ornate 'EG', it bore the motto 'Through faith, all things are possible' in Latin. She put it on the fourth finger of her right hand. The boy obviously took this to mean she would acquiesce, as he fell on his knees before her and grabbed both her hands.
"Thank you. Oh, thank you so much, lady," he said, pitifully. She removed her hands and bag from him and sneered.
"Does your father really think I have nothing better to do? Tell him that I tend to prefer prepositions that benefits the many and not only one, small family. Also, tell him to send someone who can actually speak!" She was about to leave, when a sudden evil thought came to her and she turned to the boy with a wicked grin on features.
"Hurry along to potions and when Professor Snape reads you the riot act, just say 'Yes, Miss Havisham, let me carry on'. Now, go!" He scampered away at a pleasing speed. It would take him fifteen minutes to get down to the dungeons, he had left her on the sixth floor. She walked three doors down and went in with two minutes to the bell.
Later, when she went down for Herbology, she noticed with a smile that Ravenclaw had lost 120 points.
At lunch, her homework long since finished, she pulled out writing materials and compiled a list.
'What are the problems with each? And what bargaining power do I have with each', she scrawled at the bottom of the page.
'May's well start at the bottom.'
Howard Zabini – no chance
'He doesn't want anything to do with me since the Battle. He even had Blaise transferred to Durmstrang, so as to have nothing to do with me.
'Honestly, I'm surprised he's still in the country.'
"Watch ya doing?" asked Theodore, coming up behind her.
"Just some business, darling." He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.
"So, how come my father's name is down there?"
"I've told you before, I don't mix business and pleasure. So, which do you want to be?" She turned to face him and stood up, his arms still encircling her and kissed him, lightly, on the mouth. Sorrow flooded through her, when she felt neither the steam jet nor the burrowing she had come to associate with kisses. Elizabeth looked up at the staff table, but he was ignoring her. She turned her attention back to the boy in her arms.
"...definitely." She nodded absently, having only caught the very end of his answer, and sat down to get back to her list, which did not go down too well with Theo. "Liza," he moaned, causing his girlfriend to flinch, but she still ignored his plea for attention.
Percy Weasley – too much of a stickler
"We don't get that much free time, so could you possibly not ignore me." She sighed, laid down her quill and rounded on him.
"As you aptly pointed out, I don't have a lot of free time and so I use it to keep my affairs in order. You'll have to do this once you become the head of your family. If you have a problem with the way I use my time, then take yourself out of the equation," she snapped, annoyed at being interrupted.
"Fine! I shall!" he returned hotly and walked away, purposefully slowly.
"Don't let the door hit you on the way out, we don't want your thick head to dent it!" she called after him in a sing-song voice, so all the hall could hear. He turned a shocked countenance upon her.
"You really don't care, do you?" he asked in an astonished whisper that could still be heard by all in the deathly silence that followed her words.
"No, you were always only the rebound guy. I thought you knew that," she said simply. "Now... have you finished making a scene? Some of us have work to be getting on with," she said, her nose already once again buried in the list. He walked out of the hall, sympathy flowing out to him. People were horrified to see how cold and callous she was. There were a lot of rumours about what she had done during both the war and the final battle and those that had been long since disregarded, due to being thought inhumane, were now the main topic of conversation.
Arthur Weasley – not enough clout; he would be ignored
'He'll probably be too upset once he finds out about his son.
'I doubt that, actually. Igelbert was pleased I chose his son, because then he could claim allegiance to me, not the other way round. And now, that Theo and I are no longer an item, due to his actions, his father will be looking for some other way to keep me happy.
'It sounds like he's the best choice, unless you think Lucius would be better?
'No. Lucius is a more... high profile Death Eater.
'Reformed DeathEater.' She snorted, quietly, to herself.
'He's as reformed as I am!' She reviewed her list yet again.
Lucius Malfoy – to obvious
Arthur Weasley – not enough clout; he would be ignored
Percy Weasley – too much of a stickler
Howard Zabini – no chance
What are the problems with each? And what bargaining power do I have with each
She dashed off a letter to Igelbert, explaining what he was going to do for her and telling him about Theo.
Elizabeth then wrote a letter warning Lucius. She did this, firstly, to rub his nose in the fact that her spies were better and, secondly, because he had always been her unofficial partner-in-crime and, as such, he deserved to know. She sealed both with her new ring.
Elizabeth put the problem of Fudge and marriage out of her mind until dinner. Just as she was about to fill her plate, her papers already laid out, two owls descended on her. She removed the scrolls but offered neither of them any food, signalling that they should leave immediately. There was a letter from her contact at the Ministry and Lucius. She opened the one with the answer to her question, first:
At the present rate of deterioration, I would say, three weeks before it turns terminal.
'Yours sincerely', had someone been passing at the time or had he been rumbled? That was a question she badly needed answering. So, she wrote a letter to her other Ministry contact:
I have had two letters from Mark Warner, today. He says, he is sick with a cough. Could you check in on him, please? Just make sure that he is not professionally compromised.
Elizabeth then turned her attention to Lucius' letter, which had evidently been written at his desk, in complete security:
My darling Elizabeth,
It really has been too long since we saw each other last. I quite agree that it would have been unwise for you to come here, while you were under surveillance. But, perhaps now, we could persuade you to join us for dinner.
As for the news you wrote to me about, I am delighted to inform you that I received a letter from the Ministry at the same time as I received yours. I presume you have already taken steps to prevent or, at the very least, avoid this latest madness of Fudge's.
I have one or two books on marriage law and contracts, which you are welcome to review on your next visit.
Elizabeth smiled fondly, it really had been too long since they had last seen each other. She would take him up on that invitation when next she was able. She chuckled at the sarcastic stress with which he would have pronounced that 'delighted'. She set about her reply with that fond smile still brightening her face.
I am so glad that you, unlike Zabini, have not deserted me. Fear not, I am not about to bore you with a rant about his disloyalty.
However, I think your son has been a tad remiss in his reports; I am also taking my final year presently. So, unfortunately, I can not come to dinner at the drop of an invitation. I would, however, dearly love to see you and Narcissa soon. Maybe I could come to lunch next Hogsmeade weekend, only if that's convenient, of course.
Your delight warms my heart! I did send Igelbert Nott a letter at the same time as I sent yours, but I have yet to get a reply.
Yours in bad faith,
She idly wondered, as she wandered back to the common room after dinner, how Lucius would classify her signing off. Did he even know the term 'in-joke'? Her musings were cut off by Malfoy's voice, Draco that is.
"I know, Pansy, but my father tells me that there is a new law coming in which means we can't. I'm really sorry." After a moment's hesitation, someone burst into noisy tears and ran away towards the Slytherin dorms.
"You know, I was actually hoping to get some sleep tonight," she said, stepping out of the shadows behind him, causing Draco to jump.
"You could always sleep in my bed," he said, mischievously.
"I'll hold you to that, if Evelyn and Syreena haven't managed to quiet her by ten. Oh, and before I forget, congratulations." He smiled and held out his arm, which she took.
"I really ought to thank you," he whispered, his mouth to her ear.
'He's going to be wonderfully like Lucius, but without some of his worse traits, due to Narcissa's influence.'
"I merely informed an old friend about something I wanted his help with," she said, her eyes demurely cast to the floor.
"Oh, so it was you who told him. Dad didn't actually say, but the hints that he dropped did suggest it was you."
"So then, what are you so grateful for, if you don't mean helping you escape from that girl's clutches?" She was thoroughly enjoying the gentle, warm breeze that was blowing against her ear.
"Thank you, for giving the gossip mill so much to speculate about that they'll probably ignore me and Pansy." This caused Elizabeth to laugh, which started him off. At this point, they reached the blank bit of wall that disguised the entrance to Slytherin house.
"I remember, after the Yule Ball, I'd had rather too much alcohol and I must've tried at least three different stretches of wall before I got the right one."
"Ah, yes, that fateful night." – the wall melted and they could hear Pansy's sobbing – "It was the night She first thought I returned her infatuation and it's all your fault." He led her by the hand into the expansive common room.
"How is it my fault that you asked Her, after I'd turned you down?"
"You could've not turned me down, in the first place," he said, somewhat sulkily, and pulled her down beside him, onto the sofa.
"In hindsight, do you really think that would've been a good idea? I mean, He did castrate the three that I danced with and who were fetching me drinks. I wouldn't have put it past Marvolo to have killed my date."
"True," he sighed. "Why did you say 'Marvolo' and not 'Voldemort'?" he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Because it was Marvolo the jealous lover, who attacked those boys, not Voldemort the monster." She always pronounced his anagram in the French manner and flinched whenever someone added the hard 't' sound on the end.
"It's sad that, more than a year after his demise, He still dominates our conversations," Draco said in a world-weary tone.
"At least you'll be able to rid yourself of him in the long-run, I never will. He taught me everything – how to think, how to kiss, how to breathe, everything. Whatever I do, it always leads me back to Him." Tears were shaking her voice and so Draco pulled her in close to him, she laid her head on his shoulder.
"You were in love with him, it will just take you a bit longer for Him to fade. But I will always be here for you and so will my parents and the Notts, even Theo, once he gets over this little upset."
"Draco," she said, raising her head and looked at him solemnly. "Promise you'll never leave me; wherever I go and whatever I do in the future."
"I would follow you through the gates of Hades and Azkaban," he swore. Draco then leaned down and kissed her full on the mouth. To her surprise, she didn't miss the jet of steam and his button nose was just as good at burrowing.
" HER!" came the glass-shattering shriek from the door leading to the girls' dorms. "You dumped me for THAT!"
"Tell me, Pansy, did your mother never teach you to respect your elders and, especially, your betters?" Elizabeth drawled, after having detached her mouth from Draco's. "Claranne, you're neglecting your charge." The girl nodded and bundled Pansy off to bed.
"You know, this is going to alter my reputation something chronic. People will stop thinking me inhumane and think I merely wanted you instead."
"You're not inhumane," he laughed. She automatically stiffened and pulled away, glaring at him.
The girl he had been kissing was gone and in her place was the woman that Voldemort had loved. She was beautiful and cruel, there was no remorse nor mercy in her. This version of Elizabeth scared him and every other Death Eater, even Bellatrix. He was now sat with the woman who had impressed the Dark Lord so much that he had initiated her at 15 and she had gone straight to his Inner Circle.
"Are you sure about that, boy?!" she spat in a low hiss, a sneer distorting her usually lovely face.
"Elizabeth..." he started tentatively. She just looked down her nose at him as though he were something slimy on the sole of her shoe.
Draco and his parents had once speculated as to what it would be like if she were the dark lord they were kow-towing to. They had resolved to never let that happen as that would see them joining forces with the twerps, because she could be ten times more ruthless than Riddle and she was always a hundred times smarter.
"Elizabeth, I'm sorry, I was wrong. I was, however, merely under the mistaken impression that your inhumane streak had gone with our lord, Voldemort." She then collapsed into his arms, crying.
"You see what I mean? I can't even joke about the gossip mill without Him effecting me." Draco kissed the top of her head, tenderly, and put his arms around her tightly. "What should I do?"
"I don't know, darling. But Severus probably would." The small frame in his arms stopped shaking with sobs as she froze.
"So would your dad," she said, sounding rather false. "I'll ask him when we go for lunch next Hogsmede weekend," she continued before he could argue.
"What do you mean, going for lunch?"
"Lucius gave me an open invitation to dinner, in his reply about the madness of Minister Fudge. I take it, you didn't tell him I was here as a student?" Elizabeth was now leaning back against him, rather than being curled up on his lap.
"How else would you be here?" Draco asked, his brow furrowing in confusion.
"You mean he didn't tell you?"
" Tell me what?" Suddenly, he realised he was acting like neither a Slytherin nor a Malfoy and changed tact. "Oh, you mean That. What is theee, um... status of that... situation?" Elizabeth laughed at him and then kissed him deeply.
"I'm not that gullible, but you will make your father and your ancestors proud one day."
They spent the rest of the evening cuddling, kissing and doing homework. At eleven, Elizabeth went down to her dorm, however, without even opening the door, she could hear Pansy wailing. She went back to the common room and wrapped her arms around Draco's waist from behind.
"I suggest you go get a blanket, cushion and pyjamas; she's still making an absolute racket."
"You're going to make me sleep on the couch?" he said in a hurt tone, he was giving her a wonderfully heart-wrenching puppy-dog look.
"I don't trust you not to do something."
"And what of my dorm-mates, they are decidedly less trust-worthy than I am."
"Maybe I would be better on the couch. But, be a dear, and lend me bedding; I don't really fancy a nocturnal trip to the Hospital Wing due to Pansy having attempted to hex me."
"Firstly," – he kissed her – "you would see her coming a mile off. And, secondly," – another kiss – "I would never forgive myself, if I let a lady sleep on a couch, when there is perfectly good bed at our disposal." He wrapped his arm around her waist. "Come on, we'll be nigh on useless tomorrow, if we don't get to sleep."
"So long as we do," she said, darkly.
"My word as a gentleman," he assured her, pulling her closer. She relaxed into him and they went to his dorm.
He lent her a pair of black pyjamas, he then pulled on emerald green ones. The pair clambered into his green-draped four-poster and cuddled up.