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Chapter 44: The Elves
It was a bold thing to do, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as he thought. Why not take advantage of a situation that was so easily manipulated?
The secrecy nearly suffocated him; there was seldom little he did not share with Narcissa, even though his feelings and thoughts on any given situation were often cryptic and rather unemotional. They had learned to lean on each other for so long, it was hard to look at her and not express his concerns or fears of what he had done. He swore to himself he couldn’t tell her, however much it was killing him not to. If she found out, she would never let him leave her sight again.
His was trapped in the secrets he kept.
It hadn’t taken long for the dankness and seclusion of 12 Grimmauld Place to start to mess with his mind. The house was rather haunting, every corner was dark and it made him jump whenever he heard a creak or moan of the old building. He was rather too anxious to sleep, instead, he’d lay awake half-expecting for something to jump out of the closest or slither underneath the bed. He knew the house hadn’t been inhabited by people lately, but that didn’t give him any ease of mind at the possible creatures that could’ve wormed their way in unnoticed.
Not only was the house starting to take a toll on him mentally, but he was starting to degrade just as fast physically. He heavily relied on his mother to bring food from her outings, because she was the only one of them that was allowed out without any one suspecting her. Many had assumed that Draco had run away with the Death Eaters and was now in hiding with the clan. Narcissa, although avoided when she did go out, enjoyed the luxury that Draco was forbidden to indulge in.
Because they had relied on the House Elves for cooking for so long, Narcissa seldom brought anything but packaged foods, so rich in their sugary contents, it often made Draco sick. She was still too paranoid to go back to the Manor, so any food that the Elves could have prepared in advanced was not brought over. Of course, Draco was forbidden to go, because he was all that Narcissa had left and she wouldn’t lose her one connection to what little, sane family she had.
The darkness of the house, with its closed curtains and poor lighting, was depriving Draco’s skin of any sunlight that would’ve been acquired on the school grounds or any other outings otherwise. He was shocked at the stark whiteness of his face when he pulled at his thin cheeks while examining himself in the bathroom, not realizing what little sunlight he got maintained his usual pale complexion.
Dark bags were forming under his eyes from lack of sleep. He couldn’t find rest in the day or night, despite his exhaustion and his body was starting to reflect the dire conditions of his safe house.
His muscles ached and he was too sore and weak to move around excessively. Plus, there wasn’t much to do except homework, which he relentlessly threw himself into to prevent boredom, for he was sure it would be his death.
The waiting killed him. But what he was waiting for, he didn’t know. Newspapers weren’t delivered to the house, because no one knew it existed. What little information he was able to get came from Narcissa, who was seldom offered any due to no one having the desire to talk to her. Of course, there were always those in Knockturn Alley, but even she was sensible enough to not go down there alone.
Despite her limitations, Narcissa was often out, as she couldn’t stand the creepiness of the house. Draco, although mad at his own situation, couldn’t blame her. If the situation were reversed, he knew he wouldn’t stay here longer than necessary either. Narcissa knew Draco relied on her to gather information of the outside world. He had only been there a matter of weeks, but he felt nothing even remotely resembling a human.
Draco often found himself sitting in a chair, propped up against the window, cane in hand that had been scrounged from an abandoned room. Just when he had thought Bellatrix’s spell had finally let loose of him, the after affects slowly found his way to his muscles once more. His gait had never quite returned to normal and pained him greater on some days. He felt like a limp, a lame, a loser. His injuries had aged him beyond his years and he felt that he was more than halfway to dying.
So, he sat there, for hours on end, staring at the same scene out of the back window. The house was in a particularly dreary place in England, so naturally, it was usually grey and wet from the never-ending rain. The scene he so intently studied never changed, nor did the house or his circumstances.
His heart was utterly broken, from too many things that he could no longer put into words. Maybe that was part of the reason his mother had taken longer and longer excursions everyday: she couldn’t stand to look at the product of her mistakes. Maybe she was beginning to regret marrying a man who was so lost to the darkness. Even though no one could have ever predicted a son’s life becoming so unraveled, perhaps she felt too guilty to be around him.
Kreacher, although quite alarming at first, had turned out to be his greatest companion. At first, he grumbled about Mudbloods and improper breeding and usually stuck to his little hole underneath the staircase, where he kept a collection of dingy socks, a broken picture-less frame, and some torn rags. But Kreacher had never wavered in his admiration and poorly executed excitement at having a pair of Blacks in the household.
For once, Draco was glad he hadn’t said anything offensive to the House Elf, as the old Elf sat beside him. Draco looked sideways to the Elf, who was just as lost in his thoughts, whatever they may be. Kreacher looked to Draco over his long, bowed nose for a moment and then returned his attention back to the damp scene.
Kreacher wasn’t one for words, unless they were insults, but he often joined Draco in the early mornings, pulling a chair with great effort beside him. He would hop up, his little, stubby legs flailing in the air as he tried to hoist himself up. Draco would watch for a few moments before he decided to grab the Elf by his pillowcase tunic and hoist him up.
“Thank you, Master Malfoy.” Kreacher huffed gruffly, straightening his grease-stained outfit.
It was an extremely rare understanding between Human and House Elf, in which case neither party minded. Draco realized he didn’t own the Elf, not that he had the desire or energy to do so. Plus, Draco knew, if he did, he might break the fragile understanding they had of one another. He figured Kreacher had been so out of practice for caring for humans, that it had slipped the somewhat delusional Elf that the way they were sitting, beside each other as equal’s, would’ve been nothing short of a scandal.
But it hadn’t taken Draco long to throw all pure-blood practices to the wind. He was utterly alone now and he would take whatever companionship he could get.
He heard movement in the kitchen, perhaps the shuffling of Narcissa returning from her trip. Kreacher snapped himself away just in time, knowing that Narcissa would’ve had a cow had she seen them sitting together so casually. She suspected something as she pushed the door open, catching a flicker of something that was no longer there.
She turned to Draco, trying to muster a smile. Sitting beside him, she put a gloved hand on his leg, giving him a gentle shake.
“Are you feeling all right?” She asked quietly, knowing very well that he was not, but not quite sure of how else to start a conversation.
Draco took a deep breath, almost causing him pain as he pushed the breath out. “I need to get out of here.”
“I know, love.” Narcissa grimaced at him, “I’m just worried about you leaving; they’ll throw you in Azkaban if they get a hold of you.”
She was right, and the idea of the prison, although in thought didn’t seem much different from this one, was terrifying. So, in the end, he confined himself to doing nothing at all, so he could sap himself of energy to convince himself otherwise.
“I just want to go home.” Draco sighed, sitting up, the chair creaking under his weight. “Just for a few hours. I don’t see why we couldn’t; Stella and Keely have put every charm they know on the house.”
Narcissa sighed raggedly, looking away from him and out the window. “If something happened to you…”
“It won’t, though.” Draco reassured her. “If anything seems wrong at all, I’ll come back. I think I just need to lie down, in my own bed.”
Narcissa looked back to her son, who couldn’t deny that he needed sleep. It hurt to look at him; he looked just as Lucius did several months before he died.
“Will you come with me?” Draco asked her.
Narcissa shook her head quickly, “I’d rather not.”
“Why? You can go out into public just fine.” Draco frowned at her.
“That’s different.” Narcissa argued quietly, “That house….it just contains so much…darkness.”
Draco rose, bending painfully to kiss her on the cheek, accepting his cane she offered him.
“It’s bothering you badly today, isn’t it?” Narcissa asked weakly.
“It’s always bothering me.” Draco told her, huffing out shallow breaths as his aching muscles burned with movement they’d been deprived of for several hours.
He turned to her.
“Be careful.” She pleaded, her blue eyes alight with worry.
He nodded once, then ducked out of the room.
Everything seemed in order and quiet, but he had come to the conclusion that quietness hadn’t been a good thing, it had always been a crescendo for something bad to happen.
“Stella.” He called immeaditely, not waiting for anything else to happen.
As usual, the double doors opened, and the House Elf was revealed once she had rounded the couch.
He was relieved to see her uninjured and still alive, to be quite frank. It appeared as though the feeling was mutual.
“Master!” Stella sighed, clasping her hands together in excitement, “We have missed you so!”
Draco couldn’t help but crack a half-grin, making his way towards the double doors to the Entrance Hall as Stella followed him, quickly finishing a report on the happenings of the Manor.
“How do you stay busy?” He asked her, looking around at the spotless Manor. It seemed even more so when he really looked at it. They truly had nothing to do when Draco and Narcissa weren’t around.
Stella looked around nervously, wringing her hands, “There is always something to do, Master Malfoy.”
He could tell she had answered how she was supposed to, but he was tired of everyone following rules, acting in their places and doing what they should.
“You and the others take a break.” He told her, “I don’t know when we’ll be back, so if you ever wanted any breaks, now would be the time.”
Stella gave him a confounded look.
“We’d never know.” Draco tried to grin at her.
Stella nodded and glumped hard.
“It’s a joke, Stella!” He chortled at her, sitting down on the marble steps. “C’mon, how long have you known me?”
He winced as he lowered himself onto the staircase, Stella stepping closer to him to take the cane and rest it up against the banister.
“Sit down a minute.” He told her.
Stella was visibly torn. He was sure she was just as surprised at his kind demenour as he was. It was the closet thing to interaction, besides Kreacher, who didn’t count as he hardly ever said anything, and his mother, who did nothing but worry, that he had had in weeks. He tried to shove the frustration down of her cowardice, but he was quickly reminded that he had partaken in her conditioned terror of him.
Very cautiously, Stella slowly lowered herself onto the lowest stair, rising halfway once she had touched the marble, as if the stair was hot. She never took her eyes off of him, her big blue orbs searching for an outburst or change of heart she was sure was quickly coming.
“So, nothing at all then?” Draco asked her.
“No, sir. Stella and Keely have been looking and watching and nothing has happened.”
“It must be pretty boring.” Draco told her.
“Well, there isn’t no one to cook for anymore, sir.” Stella told him.
“I’m hoping we can come back soon.” He told her, trying to reassure himself more than her.
“Me too, sir.” Stella voiced quietly, looking up at him. Draco could feel his lips pulling into a real smile as he started to hoist himself up.
“Tell you what,” Draco started, “I’m going to lie down, why don’t you start making lunch in a while. Make enough that I can take back to mother. Turns out she doesn’t know how to cook.”
He could’ve sworn a smile flickered over Stella’s face, but she quickly suppressed it as she nodded obediently and bounded off to the kitchens, eager to finally have something to do.
With immense effort, Draco reached the top of his staris, trying to maintain balance as he legs started to give out at the sight of his bed.
It was hard to not let out a loud groan in relief once his body hit the goose down mattress and comforter, sucking him into their fluffiness. All he could remember was hitting the pillow and he was gone.
“Sir, sir, please, wake up!”
Draco struggled to stir and open his eyes. Squinting, he saw the small form of Stella close to his face, Keely not far behind her, looking more nervous than he had ever seen him.
“What?” Draco asked groggily, forcing himself to sit up. He felt immensely better, but he knew if he laid back down again, he could easily be out for a few more hours.
“Please, sir, get up!” Stella hissed desperately, taking a step back to grab his cane, urgently shoving it in his hands.
“What’s wrong?” Draco repeated, taking his cane and sliding off of the bed.
“There’s something you need to see, please, hurry!” Stella said, tugging on his hand as he tried to steady himself.
Knowing that she wouldn’t answer anymore of his questions, Draco had no choice but to force his stiff body out of the doorway. When he had reached the landing, he stumbled as Keely and Stella pushed past him, bounding down the stairs and towards the large front door.
The pair looked nervsouly from the door back to Draco, who was steadily coming down the stairs.
“Master Malfoy, please.” Stella pleaded, her voice dropping considerably in volume.
Draco frowned at her as she pointed to one of the long window panes that framed each side of the door. Nothing seemed wrong. He could see the sun hitting the fields, the edge of the lake beyond that, he even saw a flash of white as one of the peacocks ran across the yard.
Draco eyed Stella wearily as he looked from her to the window. His cane clicked dully on the marble as he got close to the window pane, so close that he could feel the coolness of the glass.
He started long and hard, wondering what had sent the elves into a panic.
He nearly stumbled back as he sent out a panicked yell at the black figure that passed before his vision, stopping dead to look him right in the eye.
He covered his mouth, trying to stifle his growing panic. He looked back to the two elves.
“You said she couldn’t get in!” Draco panicked.
“She can’t, sir!” Stella assured him quickly, making motions to lower his voice, “But that doesn’t mean she can’t hear us.”
Draco looked back into his aunt, a deadly glare plasterd onto her pale face. She was looking right at him through the window, like she knew he was there.
“Is this the first time she’s been here?” Draco asked.
Stella hestated, “Keely and Stella thought that maybe they had seen her once or twice before, sneaking around the Manor, but we couldn’t be sure.”
“She’s probably trying to find out where the Manor is.” Draco informed, tearing his eyes away from Bellatrix, finding her stare too intense to take.
“You’re sure this will hold?” Draco asked again.
“She cannot break it.” Stella reminded him. He was glad for the confidence in her voice despite the terror of the situation.
“And I thought that maybe she had given up.” Draco sighed, rubbing the back of his head.
“People like Missus Black do not often give up, sir.” Stella voiced quietly.
He looked to her, wishing she wouldn’t have made the statement that wasn’t anything but the truth.
Draco sighed heavily, taking a seat at the bench near one of the stands with the vases. He hunched over, already feeling tired and old, his back aching, unable to let him sit comfortably.
Attempting to sigh, Draco coughed violently as he choked and sputtered, wheezing and hacking. His eyes watered as he wiped at them hurriedly. Stella shoved a hankerchief into his hands, which he gladly accepted to wipe the spit from his mouth. Something from Grimmauld Place had settled into his system, that much was clear. He wondered how much longer he could stay in that house without needing to go to St. Mungo’s, or dying first.
“I wonder if I should just give up.” Draco thought aloud, looking out the window once more for Bellatrix, who was no where in sight. Was she wondering around the building? Or had she simply given up, waiting to give it another shot a different day?
“She’s never going to stop looking for me.” Draco announced, wiping his mouth once more.
Stella came up to the edge of his seat, close enough for comfort, but careful not to make physical contact with him. Draco had no choice but to look in her blue eyes.
“Would Missus had given up on you, sir?” She asked quietly.
Draco knew she meant Ashley and it panged his heart to hear her spoken about.
“You do, sir.” Stella urged kindly, “And you knew that Missus wouldn’t have.”
Draco stared at her blankly. How would they have known anything about love? They were seldom let out of the Manor and they were purchased from a young age. He looked to Stella and then Keely. It all made sense…
“Are you…?” Draco furrowed his eyebrows.
“Even House Elves know what love is, sir.” Stella gave him the smallest smile.
“I didn’t know, didn’t think…” Draco stumbled, the idea of House Elves doing anything but serving their Masters seemed very odd. He never gave thought that they too, seek the emotion’s comfort and the security it can offer. How could he have been so blind? The pair was almost always together and now it made sense….
“Lunch is ready, sir.” Keely offered, filling the silence.
Draco felt too panicked to go eat, not sure if Bellatrix was still lurking around. Eating lunch seemed too casual, but the loud growl from his stomach gave a defiant objection.
“She cannot get in, sir.” Stella reminded him, “Even if she did, we and the others would protect you, Master.”
Draco wasn’t sure where all of this sudden heartfelt emotion was coming from, especially from them and he wasn’t quite sure what he had done to deserve it. Surely he had treated them badly enough that they could hardly stand to be around him.
There was a scratching in his throat from an onslaught of emotions, but the question of why burned in his mind.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Draco asked them.
“You are our Master, sir.” Stella started. “We knew you were kinder than Master Lucius. We know that you are now free of your chains.”
Draco couldn’t help but stare at them. This was the most confounding conversation he had had in weeks. He would never understand, why they continued to embrace him with kindess and undying loyalty, but he was glad for it and silently made a pact with himself that he would do whatever to maintain it. It looked to be a very lonely life indeed and he would take whatever friends he could get.
“Come, Master.” Stella bowed to him, leading him and Keely towards the kitchen.
The smell of the potato soup was intoxicating, and made Draco’s head swim with anticipation.
“Careful, sir.” Keely’s gruff voice instructed, putting his little hands on the back of Draco’s coat to steady him into a chair.
He plopped down into a seat, staring at the large, steaming bowl, with chunks of large potato swimming in a thick, creamy sauce. Sprigs of chives and onions decorated the bowl.
“You’re favorite, sir.” Stella bowed to him, watching him in antipication for his approval.
“It is.” Draco breathed, a shaking hand picked up his spoon with excitement. The bowl made a large clatter in objection as the metal of the spoon shook against it. He scooped the biggest spoonful he could manage and shoved it into his mouth, should it disappear if it wasn’t fast enough.
Luckily, in his haste, the soup did not burn him. It was the perfect temperature: hot, but not enough to scald him. The thick cream slithered down his throat and into his empty belly, instantly stirring up more hunger pains now that it was being fed actual food.
In a dark moment of humility, he realized how grateful he was, for something as simple as soup. He hadn’t eaten anything properly in weeks and not having the luxury of something he thought nothing about turned the simple dish into liquid gold for him. He knew, that even a few months prior, it would’ve been nothing but a bowl of chowder, made by the House Elves who always did his cooking. But right then, it was his lifeline.
An onslaught of emotion overcame him, pricking his eyes with tears. He wasn’t sure what had enticed it: probably the loneliness, the desperation and the fear of his situation, that someone who had thought himself so above others was finally forced to making company with those who had raised him all his life. He had never felt so embarrassed at his narcissism, but never so grateful for their steadfast forgivness.
“Are you alright, sir?” Stella inclined her head towards him, her big eyes blue with worry.
“Just a little hot.” Draco lied, giving her a weak smile.
Keely made a dash for the back of the kitchens before Draco stopped him.
“Please, its perfect.” Draco thanked.
Keely looked slightly confused, throwing a look to Stella who looked to Draco.
“We will be in the kitchens, sir.” Stella bowed, shuffling towards the double doors. Keely followed suit, slipping in between the large swinging doors.
Draco ate hungrily, glad for the fact that there was a big pot in the kitchens full of the stuff that he could gladly indulge in.
There the Slytherin sat, alone in his gratitude.