Draco fingered the small pouch of money in his pocket. When he was fifteen, it would have been a fortune: enough to keep him in Honeyduke’s sweets and favours from his housemates for weeks. Now he doubted if it would get him as close to England as Paris.
Over the last few years Draco had grown out of the habit of using wizarding money. The Galleons felt unwieldy in his pocket, taking twice the space that an equal value of Egyptian pounds would have done.
There were no such things as forgery detectors charmed into Muggle money, a fact that had paid Draco dividends during his time as an antique collector, wheeler and dealer. Muggles certainly didn’t mind being paid in unmarked gold bars, so long as they were 'genuine.' If the sources were far enough away that Draco had to Apparate to get there, he’d use leprechaun gold and a good disguise. If they were local he’d use Transfigured gold. Occasionally he gave real change. That was rare.
The fact remained that Draco had very little realisable cash. Ordinarily he would have travelled by magic alone. What with the news from his anonymous correspondent, however, England’s overseas Apparition points would be heavily guarded, unauthorised Portkeys would be slammed down on with anvil-like force and, for Draco, taking the long-distance Floo Network was out of the question. He no longer had contacts with a friendly fire. He supposed he could take his chances on an unspecified fire, but his luck being what it was he’d most likely end up in the main reception of the Ministry of Magic -- or, even better, Auror headquarters.
That left Muggle transport. The prospect turned Draco cold with terror, but his monetary predicament was an Artic blizzard by comparison.
He wished he hadn’t thought of Honeyduke’s. He was hungry now and his food Transfiguration was below par. Besides, no matter how skilled the practitioner at physical details, Draco always found that Transfigured food retained the taste of whatever it had been Transfigured from. Hungry or not, he had no great desire to dine upon cardboard. As for conjuring food out of 'thin air,' that was NEWT standard magic and Draco didn’t have his NEWTs.
A moment later, the ship parted company with the dock and, soon afterwards, Draco parted company with his breakfast. Seasickness was something he had encountered before, with Achilles on his yacht. At least this time he knew he wasn’t going to die, although he still felt like he was.
Oh well, he thought, trying to distract himself from the abject misery of emptying his stomach repeatedly over the rail of a second-rate, Muggle, cattle-cart excuse for a ship. At least that solves the food problem.
Had he been in Madrid before? Draco couldn’t quite remember. All cities seemed to have a core in common, where the rubbish was piled high, civilisation made its mark in the form of poorly spelled graffiti, and the dregs of humanity eked out a miserable existence.
As Draco whiled away the hours walking and pretending that it was a substitute for eating, the sky darkened. Now, after a while in a cinema that possessed an unlocked side door, Draco emerged to find that it had rained.
His eyes were dazzled by the combination of shadow and glowing images, all of people smoking a lot and gabbling incomprehensibly. Draco had toyed with the idea of spending the night there, but the ushers had torches and the person in the seat next to him had started stroking his leg without offering to pay, which Draco took as an ill omen.
The streets were greasy with puddles and sporting the just-painted look of wet gravel. Within minutes there were colourless streaks climbing the legs of Draco’s cheap, white canvas trousers. The splashes soon darkened to reveal their true colours, those of engrained mud.
Without thinking, Draco’s hand had crept to his pocket again, his fingers brushing his too-light money pouch. The newspaper clipping was in there as well, but Draco didn’t want to take it out. The rain or the humidity would surely smudge it and, as it was his only copy, Draco couldn’t risk that. He only wished he knew the date of its publication.
He must have been here before, he decided, as his feet led him without faltering to what had to be the hooker’s district. He passed one or two loitering women, clawing at cigarettes and arrayed in fake leather, tottering heels and cloying perfume. One called out to him, but Draco didn’t understand the Spanish.
Another jerked her head at her companion, a knowing look in her eye that took in Draco’s walk and his hair, although what she could tell from that Draco couldn’t imagine. He’d let the darkening glamours fade in the cinema, but the rain had done for any fancy coiffure at which he might have been aiming. On the other hand, the woman looked older than him, so she probably had years of street experience behind her. Some things came by instinct after a while.
They were the cheap whores, though -- the ones for cash-straitened bank clerks and off-duty taxi drivers. The best the streets had to offer would be found along the brightly lit strip that Draco was now pausing to survey from the corner. These would be wearing fake designer minis, although with an equal lack of style.
Yet another one catcalled him as he started down the strip. This time he turned to her.
“You no espanol,” she informed him, grinning. Her teeth were fading to yellow at the edges, like those of a skull. “You want here.” She waved him on, gesturing to an alley opposite them. Her nails were fearsome concoctions the colour of blood.
“Thank you,” said Draco, eliciting a giggle from the girl.
He could feel her eyes on him as he crossed the street, careful to keep his shoulders back and to not pay too much attention to the oncoming traffic. Imagining that the cars would stop for him had always been a good way to goad himself into what was to come. So much of life was like a losing game -- what was the harm in extending the charade, if it helped him?
He turned back once. As he suspected, the hooker had gathered some of her girlfriends and all of them were watching him. His friend raised one hand and Draco noticed that her nails matched her red, star-spangled dress. Draco tilted his head to her and made his way into the alley.
Here, the buildings loomed so much that the sky was almost invisible. The pavements were already dry. That was as much as Draco took in before his attention was diverted by the alley’s inhabitants. Most kept to doorways and lampposts, but some, like Draco intended to, were just trawling for trade. If they were pimps about, Draco couldn’t see them. At the same time, Draco found himself chewing a thumbnail out of anxiety. He didn’t want to be here too long. Street wars were nasty events.
Ducking into an archway, he shot off a rapid-fire series of spells. They removed the dirt from his trousers and did the best they could with his hard features by reddening his mouth, darkening his eyelashes, and shadowing his cheekbones. As an afterthought, he added in a Bewitching Charm. Short-term Dark Magic, which could land him in hot water if it were detected. Draco had the feeling that he wasn’t the only wizard selling his body tonight, though. He never had been before. It would be like every other place: the Aurors, like the police, contented themselves with periodic swoops and availed of the indigenous services on their downtime.
It worked, too. Draco only made it as far as the end of the alley when a man materialised out of the shadows. Draco was glad it was a man. Women were hard work and there was a reason he was gay, after all.
“I can tell you’re not from these parts,” the man said, in accented but otherwise flawless English.
“That’s right.” Draco spoke in English to save the man the trouble of trying French on him. People often assumed that he was French, although Draco had no idea why. The only pale French people he’d ever met -- and they had been few in number -- were either red-heads or foreigners.
“I do so like meeting people from other cultures,” murmured the man, plucking at the sleeve of his jacket. It shimmered under his fingers. “Particularly those of like mind to myself.”
Draco studied him from beneath his lashes, a technique that had taken months to perfect. The man was short, rather plump and spoke without nervousness -- a regular, then, but on the hunt for fresh blood. He reminded Draco a little of a beardless Achilles. The fleeting resemblance stung Draco. He supposed he should have expected the pain, but he hadn’t. He had never been very good at dealing with it, either.
“Really?” he remembered to reply. He was out of practice, but he seemed to be doing all right. Perhaps this man liked his prey silent.
“Yes.” The sibilance turned into a smile, one side of the mouth only. Draco would have liked to kiss it, but that was out of the question. One did not kiss whores, because one did not know where their mouths had been last. Not that some didn’t pay for the privilege all the same.
“I like star-gazing,” said Draco. It was a line that would have worked better had there been any stars to see, but it was just an elaborate ruse anyway. He could have said 'cow-tipping' for all the difference it made. It, too, was an after-dark activity. “I like to take people to look at the stars with me. Do you --?”
“I quite adore it,” said the man, drawing Draco closer by the elbow. Draco had to remind himself to let him; he was too used to rejecting Achilles’ advances. Too used to nurse-maiding an adulterer. “Is it an expensive pastime?”
“It depends,” drawled Draco. On whether he wanted to earn his aeroplane fare in one night or sleep at all. “On whether you have a car to get there.”
The man’s fingers lay on his elbow -- ringless, hairless, bearing a great resemblance to chipolatas with fingernails. “I have a car.”
Draco came awake with ease, one of his few talents. He shook his hair out of his eyes, smoothening it down in a quick movement. Moving with speed, but no haste, he slid out of the crumpled sheets and reached for his articles of clothing. The contents of his pockets he had stored underneath the mattress when his companion had gone to wash up in the hotel bathroom the night before.
The very first time, Draco had left his wallet on the bedside table, with his wages inside. He’d awakened the next morning to find both gone and an irate housekeeper hammering on his door, demanding that he vacate the room immediately. It hadn’t been terribly difficult to make up the deficit -- not with the advantages of magic and acute desperation on his side -- but after that Draco didn't intend to be the victim ever again.
He scrabbled about under the mattress. It was a difficult business given the other man’s weight, which made a crater-like dip in the bed. Once Draco had located his things, he tucked his wand up his sleeve and stuffed the euro notes in his pocket. He’d counted them the night before, as the man doled them out. He doubted the man had realised this, for Draco had taken pains to keep his expression one of vacant helplessness. Draco knew the exact price of a ticket to London, however, and he had no objection to taking a first-class seat.
He slipped out of the room with the aid of a Disillusionment Charm. The man might have liked his money’s worth, paying till morning as he had, but Draco had seen in the dawn on his stomach and that would do. The dull ache beneath his eyes might have been tiredness or the beginnings of heartache, but neither emotion held any attraction for Draco. There was no need to indulge in them.
He bought himself a roll and coffee in an all-night café. The pink halogen light was broken in three places; no doubt some wit had spotted the potential to make a swearword out of the name, but the joke was lost on Draco. The interior was a wasteland of crumbs and sticky tabletops, leached of all colour. Even the waitress’ blonde hair was more snow than honey.
When he visited the men’s room, graffitti was scrawled all over the urinals. Draco couldn’t make head nor tail of it, but he could guess at the general contents. He caught his wand before it fell into the grubby trough, instead stowing it into his back pocket.
He wondered what provoked people to leave behind such a careless biography of themselves. He wouldn’t like it if the only mark he’d made in the world were on the porcelain of a grotty pissoir. Then again, that decision had already been made for him; perhaps this was yet another of his subconscious' attempts to make the best of things. If he were given full control of the reins of his own life, would he prefer to pass away with nothing but a Draco Malfoy woz ere to denote his existence? It was easier not to know.
A cheery whistle made him start and fasten his trousers with flying fingers. A swishing sound announced the arrival of the janitor, drawing extravagant circles on the floor with his mop. He winked at Draco as Draco moved past him to the sinks to wash his hands. Draco watched him in the mirror. The earphones jammed into the boy’s ears emitted a tinny jangle and kept him fully occupied, unaware of Draco’s admiring eyes.
The boy was a boy -- his hands and ears were too big for him. All the same, there was no disguising the fact that he was lovely. Inheritance played a large part, of course, in the dusky tones of his skin and hair, but all the genetics in the world couldn’t bring huge eyes and a too-generous mouth into pleasing alignment. That was down to pure luck.
The boy’s shoulders stiffened as he turned to the sinks. Draco whipped his gaze away just in time. Now was not the time to be eyeing up anyone, not when he had his cash. It was sinking low to be stirred by a toilet-cleaner in any case.
All the same, as Draco sauntered back to his cooling coffee, he couldn’t help but be thankful that the boy’s pretty face had replaced that of his most recent lover. Overweight men might look dapper when camouflaged by tailored suits and costly pomades, but when bare and dripping with sweat their appearance told another story.
Draco fiddled with the packaging of an unappetising biscuit and pondered his next steps. He could hail a taxi to take him to the airport, catch an aeroplane to London, and then … what? He wasn’t sure. Or, he could rest a night, catch up on the sleep for which the two hours’ catnap had not compensated and think out his plan a little more. Even better, he could get one.
To buy himself time, he ordered another coffee. It tasted like burnt toast cinders. Once, he wouldn’t have drunk anything that hadn’t come from the finest Moroccan growers. Once, he'd been such a little fool.
“Leche?” asked the ivory-haired waitress.
Draco shook his head, and covered his cup for good measure. She moved on, to mop at a nearby table in a desultory manner. She had a very ample behind, as Draco had plenty of chance to discover. Whether by accident or design, she kept it in his direct line of vision for the next five minutes and Draco was held captive by a sort of horrified fascination.
All at once, he recalled Vincent’s after-dark descriptions of his assignations with Millicent.
Not so much the details, which were hazy in any case and which Draco had blocked from his memory, possibly out of self-defence. No, it was more the half-remembered feeling of a sultry Hogwarts night, hot enough to warm even the dungeons.
Gregory, lying on his side like a small mountain made of blankets, making valiant efforts to keep his sleepy eyes open out of loyalty to his friend. Theo, sitting up in bed with his arms wrapped around his skinny knees, drinking in every word but often breaking the monologue with vociferous objections. Theo was the sort of boy who knew, even if he didn’t necessarily ever get a chance to do.
Blaise, lying on his back and feigning disinterest, but not one so deep as to warrant closing his curtains to bar the sound of Vincent’s descriptions. Not that he closed his curtains very often in any case, exhibitionist that he was. Draco could remember keeping one eye on him, to see if he showed any reaction to Vincent’s more detailed exploits as much to sneak glances at his half-exposed torso.
Blaise was the one Draco had always courted, who took the place Harry Potter might have been supposed to fill had events gone another way. Then again, Harry Potter would have been a galumphing idiot no matter what. He wasn’t anything like Blaise, whom Pansy had branded a 'dragon-charmer' in a fit of pique. It was not a complimentary epithet but had turned out to be a very apt one all the same, because Draco was not exempt.
Blaise had never shown any interest in Pansy -- who was the richest, if not the prettiest, of the Slytherin girls. He purposely left her to Draco and had once informed him of the fact. All the same, there were nights when Blaise never made it back to the dormitory, nights that made Draco burn with jealousy and fuelled him through his fumblings with Pansy. The fumblings had evolved into little more than that, much as Pansy would have preferred otherwise. One advantage of Draco’s brush with the Dark Lord in sixth year was that it least provided an excuse for a dead libido.
“Sorry to bother you,” said a voice that broke into his reveries. At a most opportune moment, thought Draco; he had no interest in reliving the rest of his and Blaise’s ignominious history.
“I was wondering -- well, could I sit down?”
“Of course,” said Draco with vague courtesy. He blinked back the ghosts of memory that clung to his eyelids.
The stranger scraped back the chair opposite and slung his legs over it. Draco realised with a slight tremor that it was the janitor. Who was grinning at him, showing teeth that were bright against the darkness of his face and a little crooked.
“We’re not really supposed to chat up ‘patrons --’” he wrinkled his nose as if to show exactly what he thought of the calibre of the café’s clientele “-- but my shift ends in five minutes, so I thought what the hell?”
“Quite.” Draco, still rather rattled, realised a minute too late what he was agreeing to. “What -- hang on, chat up?”
“Yeah, is that the right word?” The boy frowned, drawing together two brows as fine as ashes. Draco speculated that his chest was marred by large birthmarks, to make up for his face, and soon wished that he hadn’t. He was fired by a desire to check.
“It’s the right word, but whether it’s the right meaning I’m not so sure,” murmured Draco, at last surmounting the obstacle presented by the intricate biscuit packaging and ripping it open. Broken biscuit crumbs sprayed on to every available surface, providing a welcome distraction.
The boy smiled again, trapping a morsel of biscuit with a damp finger. “Do you drink beer?”
“Not at six in the morning, no, I don’t,” said Draco. He mouthed the rim of his coffee mug. He’d noticed earlier that it had not been washed with any great degree of assiduity, so he set it down, but not before spotting that the top buttons on the shirt the boy wore under his plastic apron were open. They hadn’t been before. There wasn’t any sign of scarring on the tempting skin thus revealed, either.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Stefano,” the boy replied, leaning his elbows on the table.
“Well, Stefano,” Draco took the time to enjoy the way the name rolled off his tongue, “what’s to say I’m not the sort of person who takes advantage of stupid young boys like yourself, luring them away and forcing them to do unspeakable things?”
Far from looking chastened, Stefano grinned. “It depends on what sort of unspeakable things you had in mind.”
Draco rolled his eyes. He’d been cockier than that, once; it did not make it any easier to take. “You’re, what? Eighteen?”
“Seventeen,” was the quick reply. Draco felt a bit feeble. The same age as -- he shook his head, as if that would dislodge thoughts as well as it would seawater.
“And what’s more, I know,” added Stefano. He nodded at Draco’s lap with a significant expression. Draco felt his colour rise, but he was almost certain that Stefano hadn’t seen Draco studying him in the bathroom mirror.
“What do you mean, you know?” he snapped. “And please, I don’t want a list of your school marks, thank you very --”
“I know you’re a -- you know.” Stefano twirled his hand in front of his pursed lips. “Magician, is that the word?”
Space compressed itself into a ball around Draco’s head. “Wizard,” he corrected, his voice a contorted wheeze.
“Yeah, that.” Stefano smiled, unaware of Draco’s high discomfort. “My brother, he got a letter to go to a school in France. Eh, I know a wand when I see one, anyway.”
“Sounds right.” Stefano jumped up. “I have to sign out -- wait here?”
It was barely a question, but Draco found himself saying, “Okay,” all the same. Of course, he could have got up and walked out of the door, down the street and away. So it came as a surprise to him that he was still sitting there, crushing biscuit crumbs to fine powder, when Stefano came back.
Then, he took in what Stefano’s long legs looked like in indigo jeans.
Draco had to get back to England soon. But a day, or several, wouldn’t make that much difference. It wasn’t like anyone was expecting him, after all.