Stefano had his ‘own place.’ This turned out to be a basement apartment in an insalubrious quarter, where washing lines strung from window to window obscured the sky. Stefano also had another job to go to -- one of several, as Draco was to discover, all of them transient and apparently of little interest to the Muggle Tax Department. He showed Draco the bathroom and the refrigerator, well stocked with beer and mouldy cheese, then he was gone. Draco told Stefano that his name was Andrew; he gave no surname and Stefano did not offer one of his own.
Draco kicked off his shoes -- a gift from Achilles and the last remnants of his last life -- and rubbed his heels. He still wasn’t certain how he’d come to participate in this situation, but he was here now. For a bachelor’s apartment, it was quite neat -- if exceptionally tacky. Each doorway had strings of plastic beads in place of doors. For a sofa there was an ancient mattress festooned with brightly coloured and tattered cushions. Draco lay back on the mattress to engage in a staring competition with the naked light bulb, which was painted red.
There were a few books on a poorly erected shelf -- for show purposes only, as Draco realised on inspection. None of them had their spines broken and the pages smelled newly-minted. Draco had no idea what was so special about them, but books were books. He felt a brief, sharp longing for his library at Malfoy Manor and the small one he’d assembled, and been forced to abandon, in Cairo.
The book he’d chosen, On the Road, was a poor substitute, but it was a better companion than nothing. There were some pornographic magazines as well, but Draco’s tastes didn’t run to buxom blonde women so he let them alone.
It occurred to him that the books were almost all in English and that Stefano’s grasp on the language was stronger than was to be expected, but he didn’t wonder about it for very long. Stefano later told him that his mother was an Englishwoman who had fallen for the son of a rich Spanish merchant, with whom she’d conducted a torrid affair, then fled the wrath of his family. Draco didn’t believe a word of it, but Stefano did have eyes that were more hazel than brown and his English was good enough that Draco didn’t have to resort to using Spanish. He allowed Stefano his lie. He knew too well how valuable they were.
Draco was halfway through the book, had raided the refrigerator twice and made an inspection of the lavatorial facilities -- clean but worn, the towels bald -- when Stefano returned. A bulging plastic bag was slung from one wrist and he was shoving his keys into his back pocket with his other hand.
“Hey, Andrew,” said Stefano, sounding pleased.
“Stefano.” Draco tilted his head but did not raise his eyes from his book. “So you come home to find your house ransacked, your belongings vanished and ‘Ha, ha, sucker’ written on your living room wall with yellow spray paint.”
“You have a good imagination.” Stefano dumped his purchases on the round Formica table. It played host to three empty wine bottles, an overflowing ashtray and a pile of unpaired socks. Draco had been visited by an urge to put them together during his sojourn on the mattress, but realised all too well how odd that would look. “I’m a better judge of character than that.”
“Oh, really?” Draco stifled a laugh.
“And I have a very good taste in boyfriends,” added Stefano, with a large helping of youthful arrogance. Draco should have hit him for his presumption, but that would mean abandoning the comfortable dip in the mattress that had taken him the best part of two hours to wriggle out.
“I got Chinese, wine and a DVD.” Stefano pulled the items from his bag with the air of a conjurer displaying a rabbit and a hat for inspection. “I hope you like the Fast and the Furious -- the English section in the video shop is pretty thin on the ground.”
Draco shrugged, the better not to show his ignorance. The fast and furious what? He had owned a television in Cairo, for the look of the thing, but had never got around to figuring out how to work it. Magic didn’t help, nor did kicking. After that Draco was too bored to bother.
Draco didn’t put aside his book as Stefano doled out pungent-smelling noodles on to what were very obviously his mother’s flower-patterned plates, and poured two glasses of wine, one into a brandy glass. He placed them on the floor near Draco’s bare feet and crawled on to the mattress beside him. Draco had time to appreciate the looseness of Stefano's shirt, due to the four undone buttons, before he was leaning on the wall beside him and stretching out his long legs to flex his toes.
“That feels good,” he sighed, with unalloyed contentment. “I look forward to this every day.”
“What, taking your shoes off?” asked Draco. Stefano elbowed his side.
“No, sitting down, d'uh.” He seemed to think that Draco’s question had been a lead-in one, for he continued, “I wash up in one of the posh hotels in town. They can’t keep staff so they pay well, but man.” He pointed his toes like a ballerina. His feet were narrow, laced with veins, as brown as the rest of him. Draco looked back to his book.
The mattress shifted and a moment later, a glass of wine was forced into his hand. Draco took hold of it in order to save it from spilling on the open pages, but he didn’t intend on drinking much of it.
“Do you always get wine?” he asked with a frown. After all, the refrigerator held an off-licenses’ stock of Heineken.
“Nah, only when I’m bringing someone to bed,” laughed Stefano. He stretched his arms up gracelessly so that his shirt hem rose several tantalising inches. Draco cocked an eyebrow and took a sip of the very rough vintage. The cheapest on the shelf, most likely, although he could hardly fault a seventeen-year-old for his lack of taste buds.
Seventeen. Little more than a child. The realisation sunk in like a weight into unforeseen quicksand. Draco felt disgusted with himself.
Then Stefano’s hand crept on to Draco’s knee and, when Draco turned his face to confront him, Stefano was smirking. There was absolutely nothing else that the cheeky smile and smug tilt of brow could be called.
Perhaps it changed something when the child was willing. Draco had a feeling that the something was his conscience, but Stefano’s fingers -- sliding one translucent plastic button out of its hole after another -- were a fair exchange for it anyway.
Draco laid his wine glass on the floor with more care than it deserved. He guided Stefano on to his back and butterfly-kissed the place where a thick vein throbbed in his throat. It was no trouble to fit his body against the places that were best calculated to wipe the confident look from Stefano’s face. He found hot flesh and trailed his fingers over it, to the accompaniment of Stefano's gasps.
As Draco arched like a bow and looked down at Stefano’s fluttering eyelashes and the amazed O of his mouth, he idly wondered if it was first time that someone had laid a serious hand on him.
He was only seventeen, after all.
Draco felt a twinge of guilt at being his corrupter, but it was soon swamped by a heady miasma of more demanding feelings. He didn’t think the man who’d absolved him of his own virginity had even known he was doing it, much less cared.
In the end, Draco never found out what the fast and furious thing was that Stefano had brought home, and the noodles were greasy when cold. Such were the wages of sin.
Draco took to working the streets during the nights Stefano cleaned the all-night café. Stefano only did it three nights a week, yet Draco brought in enough on those nights to pay for a month’s rent. This he did not do; but after the first week Stefano didn’t need to go grocery shopping again, because Draco did it. Culinary skills had not been a priority on the curriculum of Hogwarts, but in the places he’d ventured after his accelerated leave-taking they had been vital. Draco and Stefano dined finely upon baked beans on toast, spaghetti, shepherd’s pie and beef stew for the length of Draco’s stay.
Draco took care to shower and wash his clothes as the sun burnt the sky red each time. If Stefano thought it odd that Draco’s skin was always scrubbed raw and his sleep faked on his arrival, he didn’t mention it. Draco decided that he was romantic enough to imagine it wasn’t happening, or young enough to think it romantic.
“Why aren’t you in school?” he asked on the second day. They hadn’t made it to the bedroom, so they were trussed up in a holey sheet on the mattress and supported by the scratchy silk cushions, which bore new tears.
“I dropped out,” said Stefano. His back arched so that muscles rippled across his skin, like fantastic creatures wrestling under a blanket. Draco prodded him down, refusing to be distracted.
“Why not? There was nothing for me there. So I left home.”
“Left, ran or was pushed?” Draco reached up to tug on Stefano’s glossy hair and bring him closer. He didn’t mind morning breath; on the contrary, he found morning-afters to be the most enjoyable time, perhaps because the consciousness of the night’s events was still half-dormant.
“Just left.” Stefano bat his hand away but squirmed deeper under the sheet all the same. “Damn, I have to be at work soon. I’m hungry.”
He made to move, but Draco kicked him down and reached for his wand instead. “Alohomora!” he instructed the refrigerator. After experimentation he had found that the Sticking Charm on the door -- ‘magnets,’ as Achilles called them -- were as good as a lock. “Accio, er, beer. Don’t you have any food?” he complained, stretching out a hand to catch the two bumping bottles by the necks.
“In the cupboard,” said Stefano. He took a bottle from Draco and cracked off the lid without looking fazed in the slightest. Draco was the one who was surprised -- at Stefano's apparent knowledge of and disinterest in magical shortcuts. Then again, he’d probably grown used to it from his brother.
“Accio food,” produced some bread, only a little stale, and honey. Stefano had woken early enough to have a choice between breakfast and Draco, so he chose both. It took Draco the rest of the day to wash the honey out of his hair, the mattress and the floor.
Bit by bit Stefano revealed more about his brother, who now worked for the French Ministry of Magic. Draco privately resolved to absent himself with all due speed if the brother took it into his head to pay Stefano a visit. Stefano always spoke of his brother in slightly mocking tones, but Draco put that down to his age. Of his mother Stefano said little, only that she moved around a lot. Draco didn’t know if this were a euphemism for divorce or being on the run or just itchy feet, but as a fellow wanderer he didn’t care to probe.
Stefano was peculiarly incurious about Draco’s own past. He deduced from Draco’s accent that he’d gone to Hogwarts, which his brother had mentioned once or twice. However, Draco felt sure that if he’d said his parents had chosen to send him to Durmstrang, or teach him at home, or send him to a school in the sky, Stefano would have bought it and, what’s more, not cared much either way. Which suited Draco just fine.
It was a placid existence such as Draco had not enjoyed since his very earliest days in Cairo, before he met Achilles. Stefano, for all his youth, seemed set to continue in the same manner forever. For a while Draco almost came to believe that he would do likewise: learn to speak Spanish as well as Stefano, apply for a real job in a café or hotel where they weren’t too picky about references and background -- start to build a life.
Then two events brought things to a head, and reminded Draco of the utter foolishness of such ideas.
The Spanish summer was just beginning, with sweltering days and promises of rancid heat to come. Draco was folding laundry, not so much out of a great desire for tidy clothing as a complete lack of anything else to do. He had read all of Stefano’s books, much to their owner's bemusement, and there was no point in joining a library or visiting a bookshop until he learned Spanish properly.
That was how he later recalled that day. The use, in his own mind, of the word ‘until.’ The unsubstantiated thought that, this time, he would be allowed to stay.
He carried the fresh-smelling towels -- replaced by his good self -- to the tiny room that served as both wardrobe and broom closet. Draco had taken to wearing a combination of Stefano’s old jeans and a couple of cheap t-shirts. His white canvas shirt and trousers -- a trade for his turban and the ruby that turned out to be an excellent fake -- were bundled at the back of the shelf. Draco took them down to make room for the towels, intending to try them on or throw them out. Then the newspaper article fell out of the trouser pocket and landed at his toes.
It was a quicker drop, this time, than when it had fallen out of its parchment one month and one week before. It was now folded and much heavier, or so it seemed when Draco stooped to retrieve it from a floor that seemed very far away.
He sat on the floor to unfold it -- not that he needed to, really. The images and words were engraved in his mind. It was the work of moments to brush away all the debris that had since obscured them -- Stefano’s laugh, the smell of cooking that engulfed the whole flat, and the habit, whoever it belonged to, of entwining their toes as they lounged in front of one of Stefano’s terrible action films.
There was the main picture, but that one hurt to look at. More interesting were the insets of Granger and the Weasel, toting their respective clans, looking teary-eyed and soppy with joy. Or with constipation, it was hard to tell. Draco had always assumed, in the way he assumed that there would be a disgusting smell after Vincent ate prunes, that those two would end up married to each other. Given their respective vindictive streaks, however, he was not surprised that they had moved on to spread their own personal vendettas over a larger group of people.
Draco counted the children. Five for Granger, three of whom had inherited her crazy shock of hair. The years had done nothing to improve that. Only two for the Weasel, but the paper did say 'recently married,' so his wedding had most likely only been in the last six months. Draco did not recognise their spouses, although he’d hazarded a guess at first sight that they were random Gryffindors. As Harry's companions-at-arms they were famous enough to be captioned as 'Hermione and Ron, the Boy Who Lived’s closest friends, and their families.' So no clues there -- not that he gave a damn.
Both of them gave interviews in the main body of the paper. For Hermione’s reaction to the joyful event, turn to page three. It sounded like she was going to give an account of the birth of her latest child, which was squealing incessantly in her arms. To read Ron’s account of their childhood adventures, turn to page eight. Defeating the Dark Lord on a regular basis deserved a more grandiose title than 'adventures,' but then again the Prophet had always preferred to couch the dirtier news in genteel terms.
There was little enough text on the neatly-cut snippet Draco had been sent. The back sported a large advertisement for Mrs Skower’s Magical Hair Removal Tonic, an innovation in its own time! What dominated the page, and what Draco was sure he’d been meant to see most of, was Harry Potter’s face, blinking and sleepy-looking. Not that he had any right to look tired; he’d been asleep for eight years.
HARRY POTTER WAKES! Today, the Daily Prophet is thrilled to announce that Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, the Defeater of You-Know-Who and holder of an Order of Merlin, First Class, has finally and miraculously awakened from his eight-year-long coma. As everyone knows, this magically-induced coma was brought about by the extreme drain on our hero from his battle with the evillest wizard of our time …
There were quotes, endless quotes, after that. Arthur and Molly Weasley -- 'Harry’s substitute parents' -- were 'overcome with joy.' The Minister for Magic was 'tremendously pleased.' Hermione was 'ecstatic' -- of course, she would have to use a posher word than everyone else -- and Ron was 'bloody delighted.' No one asked the opinion of a Death Eater -- none of whom, if any besides Draco still lived, were very likely to be feeling any of these wonderful emotions.
Once Draco had been sure that his Dark Mark would never burn again, he’d gone to a backstreet tattoo artist to have it done over. It was now an equally ugly and obscure Chinese character that meant 'Destiny.' That, at least, was what he’d told Achilles, along with the fact that he’d been young and drunk at the time. It was also what he’d told Stefano, along with the fact that a former boyfriend now languishing in a Phillipino gaol sported a matching one. It was even part-way true. The Dark Mark had meant a very certain destiny, but not the nice, bright, PG-rated one people generally meant when they used the word.
Potter still looked so disgustingly young. He was twenty-five, of an age with Draco, but Draco felt far older than that. Not old; just older. Even Granger and Weasel looked more mature, although in Weasley’s case it was probably a sham. Potter’s ageing had stopped at seventeen. That had to mean that despite the passing of eight years, he was still seventeen where it counted.
Draco glanced at the wall clock, a cheap piece of trash with a hash plant holding the hands fast and which glowed in the dark in a most obnoxious manner. It was half-past two in the afternoon. Stefano’s shift finished at four, but it might be seven or eight by the time he returned. Draco gathered that he spent the intervening time in a pool hall with his friends. He had, half-heartedly, invited Draco to one or two of these gatherings, but Draco had refused with an equal lack of interest. He got the feeling that Stefano’s friends didn’t know that he had a boyfriend and didn’t care to be in the fall-out radius of that particular piece of information.
So that gave him hours. He didn’t have much to pack. He had money, a little more than when he’d arrived but not much. The majority of his weekly earnings had gone towards food. He began to gather up his clothes, pulling some socks from the empty curtain rail where he’d hung them to dry.
It was then that he spotted Achilles in the street. He was talking to a tall, slim man who couldn’t be anything but Stefano’s brother, the resemblance was so acute. Stefano’s brother was shaking his head and looking puzzled, while Achilles was waving his hands in the air. His mouth dry from forgetting to close it, Draco watched. Achilles used his hands just so when he was describing something -- or someone.
He shrank back when Stefano’s brother looked at the window, and groped for his wand. In a moment, he had placed a Disillusionment Charm on himself and opened the window a little. There was no need for an amplifying spell, not that Draco knew any -- the sound of voices carried almost too well. The row of the middle-aged couple upstairs and the screams of their multiple offspring mingled with the conversation being carried out between Achilles and Stefano’s brother. Draco had to strain to pick it out from amongst the other noises.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been of more help,” Stefano’s brother was saying. “I’m only making a flying visit, I’m afraid.”
“It was only an outside chance,” replied Achilles. “I was beginning to despair of anyone around here knowing any English word that didn’t have four letters in it.”
“Ah, well, I learned English and French at Beau -- at my school,” said Stefano’s brother. “Have you tried the, ah, police?”
“No-oo,” said Achilles. “Felix wouldn’t have wanted that. He’s quite a private person and he left for a reason. I just want to find him.”
Draco could tell from Stefano’s brother’s expression that he was beginning to tire of this exchange; he was fingering the inside of his suit pocket. Draco could easily imagine that he was flicking his nails, something Stefano also had a tendency to do when he was bored.
“I wish you luck in your search,” said Stefano’s brother, “and perhaps Felix will turn up of his own accord.”
“Perhaps.” Achilles' tone was dull.
Draco felt a pang of sympathy, which shot through his trepidation like blood in water. Achilles must miss him. It was still frightening that he had followed him -- no, more that he had traced him this far, to the very street in which Draco was staying. Draco hadn’t taken great care with disguise, the best one being none at all. Then again pursuit had always been a shadowy menace, not a person. That this had now changed was all the stronger proof that he needed to escape.
Achilles walked away, his head bowed and his trousers dusty. Draco had to swallow several times, clutching his socks to his chest in an effort to compose himself. He didn’t notice Stefano’s brother leaping up the stone steps to the door, which opened on to the common hall and was unlocked most of the time. Draco's first encounter with him was when he opened the door to his knock, expecting to find Stefano there complaining of his forgotten keys. Draco took small consolation in the fact that Stefano’s brother was as astonished to see Draco as Draco was to see him.
“Er, hallo,” said Stefano’s brother. “I was looking for Stefano Aribas? Has he moved away --?”
“No, he’s out.” Draco licked his papery lips. “At work,” he added, in case there should be any doubt.
“Good to know he’s not sponging off the system, at least,” muttered Stefano’s brother. He recollected himself and flushed a little. “My apologies, I … may I come in for a while? I only have a very little time away from my work, and I would like to wait for Stefano.”
Draco waved him towards the table without a word. It was moderately cleaner than when Draco had first encountered it, but it suffered from a lack of proper washing and no amount of cleaning would remove the cigarette burns. Stefano’s brother brushed a finger over them, frowning.
He didn’t reveal his connexion to Stefano while Draco offered him a drink, which he accepted. It was early in the day to begin drinking, but Draco intended to use up the expensive bourbon he had purchased now that he had no alternative but to delay his departure for few hours. He pushed a glass across the table to his visitor and raised his own to his lips.
“My apologies,” the other man said, after staring into his glass as if it were an object of ineffable mystery. “I never gave you my name. I’m Alexandre Aribas. Stefano’s older brother. And --?” He let the word hang on the air with his hand, which he had outstretched in an officious manner that did not suit his surroundings.
Draco, for his part, leaned back and ignored it. “Andrew’s my name. And I figured that you were related -- you’re very alike.”
“We are?” Alexandre sounded surprised. Then again, he didn’t have an outsider’s objectivity, and of course for all Draco knew he mightn’t have seen his brother in a long time.
Alexandre jerked his hand back across the table, seeming uncertain what to do with it next. He compromised by wrapping his fingers around the stem of his glass -- the only glasses Stefano owned were brandy and wine ones -- although he did not take a sip.
“Yes,” said Draco, enjoying the other man’s discomfiture. He did not go so far as to point out the only real difference between them: that Stefano was pretty, but Alexandre handsome. Governments and bureaucracies tended to be ultra-conservative places and he could offend Alexandre more than necessary by such an observation. And release secrets not his own.
Or not, as it happened. “Tell me, Andrew, are you and my brother roommates? Is that why you’re here?”
“We live together, yes,” agreed Draco. He tipped his glass to let the heat of the liquid trickle on to his tongue.
“Roommates?” pressed Alexandre.
“Well,” drawled Draco, “there is only one bedroom. But you’re technically correct.”
Alexandre compressed his lips. It looked to Draco as if he were biting the insides of them.
“He’s a bit young to have that sort of roommate,” said Alexandre, after a lengthy pause, which Draco was almost fearing would turn out to be an everlasting one.
“Really, why? How old is he?” asked Draco, ruffling his hair.
Alexandre looked outraged, but Draco disarmed him with a smirk. “Look, Alexandre, seventeen is young, I’ll agree. But if he were a wizard he’d have been of age for months -- and besides, he seduced me.”
Alexandre gaped at him. His slicked-back hair was beginning to spring into curls around his hairline, something Stefano’s didn’t do. Their mouths probably tasted different as well. Oh, there were plenty of dissimilarities between them, Draco was sure.
Draco pulled his wand out of his jeans and flicked it at the refrigerator, almost lazily. “Accio ice,” he called. “Duck,” he advised Alexandre, who obeyed with no hint of anything but autopilot response in his face.
“It’s very hot,” observed Draco, sliding an ice cube along his brow, over his cheek and down to his collar-bones as it melted between his fingers.
“Thank you for the show,” said Alexandre, in a tight little voice. “I don’t suppose your -- intentions towards my brother are honourable, are they?”
“Not in the least.” Draco was pleased that Alexandre caught on so fast. “In fact, I was going to leave him, but then you arrived.”
“Leave him? Why?” Alexandre’s voice carried a cadence of genuine distress. Draco doubted he was extraordinarily eager to remain in Draco’s company, so it had to have sprung from genuine concern for his brother.
“I have to go to England,” said Draco. “Today.”
He wondered if Alexandre recognised him, but thought it doubtful. He was three years older than his brother, making him twelve at the time of the Dark Lord’s fall. The French Ministry was snobbish to the point of coldness in any case and refused to have anything to do with the British Ministry. Newspaper reports on the British ructions had also been kept to a minimum. Draco knew because he’d happened to be in France at the time. The news of the Dark Lord’s defeat and Potter’s subsequent illness had probably been splashed all over the Daily Prophet, but the Le Monde Magique had not followed suit.
“Were you going to tell Stefano?”
“Yes -- well, probably.” Draco pulled at his lip. “If I saw him before I left, certainly.”
“You cold bastard,” spat Alexandre. He looked as if he wanted to hit Draco. Draco knew the expression well, he was so used to inducing it in the faces of others.
“On the contrary, a clean break is exactly what he needs,” Draco corrected him mildly. “I’m almost certain that his dalliance with me is experimentation, nothing more. He strikes me as someone who covets acceptance too much ever to really embrace the, shall we say, ‘alternative lifestyle.’”
“You can say it,” said Alexandre, but he did sound hopeful. “So you think --?”
“Give him a few years, then settle him down with a nice senorita.” Draco licked his fingers free of melting ice. There was a slightly metallic taste to the water, which Draco blamed on the steel ice-tray. Stefano’s, from a time before Draco -- a time in which his taste ran to ice-cubes in the shape of naked breasts. “In fact, convince him to go to one of the Muggle Universities -- he’s reasonably bright.”
“University?” repeated Alexandre in a scornful voice. “How on earth would he get into one of those?”
“Well, I’m sure there’s some way around it,” said Draco with a shrug. “I know he didn’t finish school, but he’s sure to have sat an exam --”
“I don’t think a handful of EMOs will help him there,” interrupted Alexandre. “It’s not exactly recognised as a European qualification, is it?”
“EMO? I thought they did a Baccalaureate, or something?”
Alexandre stared at him, pity warring with contempt for control of his facial features. “EMO stands for Examens Magiques Ordinaires,” he said. “It’s the standard-level set of exams in Beauxbatons. And Stefano did do quite well because he is, as you put it, ‘reasonably bright,’ but he got himself expelled before they started. They only let him take them on sufferance.” Alexandre studied Draco. “He never told you, did he? You know, most Muggles, even the ones related to wizards, tend towards a lot more excitement at even simple spells. You didn’t think to question his disillusionment?”
“No,” snapped Draco. “I’m not a psychologist, I’m just a --” he almost said prostitute, but that wouldn’t do at all “-- someone he picked up in a café, for God’s sake!”
“Yes, he liked to do that at school too.” Alexandre nodded. “Made friends with the most hopeless cases, the ones who weren’t ever going to make it to EMS -- Supérieurs-- the ones who experimented with dangerous potions or cut classes.” He seemed to realise that the comparison to the present company was not the most flattering one, and coughed.
“So, what did he get expelled for?” asked Draco, a small part of his brain aflame with curiosity. Stefano had been a beautiful, but closed book to Draco up until now. He had to admit that knowing Stefano was a wizard -- albeit a failed one -- made Draco more interested in him than he had been in Stefano, the Muggle.
Alexandre pursed his lips. “Well, I shouldn’t tell you, he should have -- but I don’t know anyway. I’d been working at the Ministry for a year and they didn’t release details. Stefano wouldn’t say and of course Mère is a lost cause.”
“Oh,” said Draco. It was all too much for him; there was so much he didn’t know, hadn’t asked -- hadn’t been told. It was the same as it had been with Achilles -- how long had it taken for the truth of his marriage to come out? And Draco had lived in Cairo for four years, three of those knowing Achilles.
He rose from the table and picked up his socks from beside the bottle of bourbon. Stepping across Alexandre’s feet, he opened the closet and began pulling down his meagre stock of clothing.
“Why don’t you use magic?” asked Alexandre. “Is that frowned upon in Hogwarts?”
“Well, we weren’t allowed to use magic outside of school, if that’s what you mean,” said Draco, and took it from Alexandre’s smug expression that such was not the case in France. “But no, I think I’ve just lived around Muggles for too long.”
“Why, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I do mind, I’m afraid,” said Draco, giving up and shouting, “Accio Andrew’s things!”
Of course it did not work; the wand did not recognise any Andrew in the vicinity. Lest it try to summon possessions from an Andrew in the next street or city, Draco quickly added a non-verbal “Accio Draco’s things,” and they began to pile up at his feet. In a very short time, everything he owned was there, and he conjured a simple bag into which to stuff them.
“Have you had a fight? Is that why you’re leaving?” Alexandre had at last deigned to taste his bourbon, with at least as much apprehension as if the glass had been brimful of undiluted cyanide.
“Nah,” said Draco, preoccupied. He couldn’t quite remember where he’d put the newspaper clipping. “It’s time to leave, that’s all.”
“You don’t strike me as the type to be a Seer,” remarked Alexandre. “Have you got any legitimate reason why you’re abandoning my brother like this?”
Draco stared him out of countenance. “I have things I need to do.”
“And they take precedence over Stefano’s heart, do they?”
“Well, yes, actually.” To make it sound a bit more impressive, as well as truthful, Draco added, “It’s a matter of life or death.”
“Yours or someone else’s?” asked Alexandre, spitting out sarcasm with his tiny mouthful of alcohol.
“Both, in fact.” Draco's voice was crisp.
“He’ll want to come.”
“Then I had better leave now.”
“Too late.” Stefano stepped out from the shadows of the miniscule hallway. His face was ashen, but he otherwise seemed composed. “Andrew, I see you’ve met my brother. Alexandre has, as usual, made himself quite at home.” Draco decided he had to be using sarcasm there. Alexandre looked about as comfortable as a goldfish in a piranha tank. It was probably due to the suit; Draco knew they sat badly after years of robes.
“How long have you been there?” demanded Alexandre.
Draco did not waste his breath with petty questions; he knew that the only answer Alexandre would get would be devoid of information, because is some ways Stefano was a perfect match for Draco. Instead he picked up his bag and slung it over one shoulder.
“Long enough,” replied Stefano, confirming Draco’s assumptions.
“I expected you to be home,” said Alexandre. “I’m sorry for imposing --”
“Oh, do stop being such a god awful prig,” interrupted Draco, surprising himself. “Look, Stefano --”
“I quit my job,” announced Stefano. “I’d like to know what you have to do with Harry Potter, please.”
“What do you mean?” asked Draco, at the same time as Alexandre repeated, “Harry Potter?” in highly startled tones.
Stefano waved the newspaper clipping in Draco’s face. “You told me that you hadn’t been back to England in years. Eight years, in fact. So why do you have a piece of an English newspaper? Because this sure as hell isn't mine, Andrew.”
Draco hoisted his bag into a more comfortable position and adopted a nonchalant expression. “Somebody sent it to me.”
“I don’t know!” shouted Draco. Did Stefano want to know how few people would have been able to contact him? And how few of those would have good intentions towards him? Draco didn’t much care if he did; Stefano was not going to get that information out of him.
Stefano dropped his arms, looking them as if astonished to see that they belonged to him at all. “I think you need to tell me some things.”
“No, you first. Why’d you get expelled from Beauxbatons?”
“Okay, I'll stop,” said Stefano, changing tack with a speed that would have made a champion show-jumper jealous. “But I am coming with you.”
“And so am I,” added Alexandre. Both Draco and Stefano turned to stare at him incredulously. Alexandre coughed again. He was starting to sound like a victim of consumption. “I can swing a bit more time off work. I want to see you, little brother. And keep an eye on you. For all we know, Andrew could be a dangerous criminal.”
Draco almost laughed at the guess. His mind jumped from thought to thought -- the main ones being how a Ministry official and an innocent-looking stranger could be of use to him. When he got home.
“Far be it from me to stop you,” he said. “But I have to travel Muggle.”
Alexandre began to object, but Stefano was clearly too delighted with Draco’s unexpected acquiescence to counter him. He kissed Draco on the mouth and went to pack.
Alexandre, looking faintly disgusted, said, “I don’t trust you.”
Draco almost asked him if he was a Gryffindor. “That’s all right,” he said. “If I were you, I wouldn’t trust me either.”