Chapter 9 : The chill of the Dark side
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Not for the first time Draco questioned why he had done it. Emstilla was now dependant on that one night – it had changed her whole perception of the future. She was reassured now that everything would be alright, that the pair of them would get along just fine. How very wrong she was.
Draco felt as if that day had been a dream, or a simple illusion. It wouldn’t have been so bad then – he could have shoved his thoughts aside and scolded himself for such a vast imagination. Reality did not allow such a simple seclusion. To his dismay, the incident had been very real. He could still recall the taste of her mouth, like violets, or the feel of her smooth icy white skin beneath his hands, or the strange, foreign pleasure that had consumed him and left him desiring more. And so it had happened. And here he stood now, facing the bitter consequences.
His love for Hermione had never been quenched, had never dimmed, had never lingered questioningly in his mind as a debatable emotion. It still ran strong through his veins, and that was the horror of it – the guilt it brought him for his savage sins.
“Draco, you alright? You’ve been staring in the mirror for the past twenty minutes,” Blaise recalled him back to the warmth of the room, where the others had discovered the use of Blue Flame, which warmed their chilled fingers and eventually the rest of the area if kept to a full degree. “I don’t think you’ve lost something.” He moved closer and turned Draco around, peering at him closely. “Nope, not even an eyebrow hair.” He squinted and his expression grew curious. “Having second thoughts about the Mudblood?”
“How many times have I told you not to call her that,” he replied wearily, shoving Blaise aside so that he fell on one of the four-poster draped beds, laughing gently. Blaise sat up and observed him with a grin. “And no, I’m not. I just . . . oh, it doesn’t matter. Did you have a good Christmas?”
He asked the question, not really caring for the drawl of descriptive lexis that Blaise spouted enthusiastically. The conversation distracted the others from enquiring as to his strange mood, and he found himself sitting exhaustedly on the edge of his bed, head in hands, skull aching. He and the others had returned from their Christmas holiday earlier this evening, and now outside the snow continued to flow in its persistent manner, coating the world in dreary bleakness. Even the moon had refused to be aroused by the prodding of the darkness tonight; it remained unseen behind its duvet of clouds.
The last days at home had been a nightmarish affair. It was impossible to form words, to convey his feeling and doubts towards what had happened between himself and Emstilla. Before he had returned, Draco had promised himself that he would explain to his parents about everything – his love for Hermione, his refusal for marry his betrothed. Now he had fallen into Emstilla’s snare of lustful beauty and entrapped himself. There was no way around it – no way to wriggle out of this disastrous situation.
Shy smiles had passed, bashful, knowing glances, and suddenly Draco was imprisoned in his confusion. It’s your own fault, he told himself disdainfully. You led her on, you encouraged her – and now look what you’ve done!
“Chocolate frog?” Crabbe offered rather generously for a swelled pot-bellied Slytherin, but Draco waved him away impatiently.
He was dreading tomorrow. He would have to face her – Hermione. He couldn’t bare to keep her uninformed, to lead her on, to lie, to swindle . . . Or would she see straight through him? Would she read the guilt inflamed within his silvered eyes and hate him for what she found there? Nausea and self-hatred swayed in his stomach before rising to his heart as a burning rage.
Draco glanced up and looked around at his friends enviously. They were so cheerful to be back at last at Hogwarts, reunited with one another, bubbling with fervent energy and tales of their favourite presents or amusing event at family dinners. He longed to be like them. Of course, in the future, due to their Pureblood lines, they would be found wives among fine families, given training in the Dark Arts in preparation for Lord Voldemort, but they had been allowed their childhood first, to enjoy and luxuriate themselves in their frivolous liberty. Draco’s had been robbed from him, the moment he was born. He had been forced into the civilities of adult affairs early on; tutored from an early age, spending his time in acquisition of numbers, spells and lettering. Manners were impaled at him throughout his life; he had not been given fairy-tales of light-hearted romances and heroic adventures, but ones that were deep and meaningful, always with an allegory that his rank was better than those with tainted blood.
Draco had once thought himself special and better than others due to his vast knowledge and the scent of coin that engulfed his body and drew eyes always towards the features of his lavishly displayed wealth.
Now he just felt unlucky.
He lay back on the bed, still fully dressed but not caring. He soon became drowsy with the crushing force of his own troubles, the irritating buzzing as his thoughts encircled his head demanding the same answers and conclusions that all amounted to nothing and rooted off to another problem. He slept, then awoke to the noise of his friends bidding one another goodnight and vanquishing the warmth of the Blue Flame. He slept fitfully, awoke, then slept again. By morning he was drenched in his own hate and drained.
Draco forced himself to shrug out of yesterday’s clothing, feeling as if his head had just touched the pillow and time had deliberately fast-forwarded itself just to spite him. He walked around the room, feeling the insistent gnawing chill drive forward and prickle his naked body. Picking up fresh pressed uniform and sponging his flesh with arctic water just to punish himself for foolishness, he dressed hurriedly and waited for the others to accompany him down to breakfast.
He couldn’t face Hermione today. He just couldn’t.
“Mate, you look exhausted,” Blaise clamped him heavily on the shoulder. “Get some coffee down you.”
Draco nodded gratefully and took the mug Blaise handed him, sitting down carefully, placing himself between his golden-haired friend and the immense shifting weight of Goyle. He drained the coffee greedily; licking at the last streams that trickled down the side of the cup and over his waiting lips. He chewed insistently on the dregs, feeling the grittyness slide between his teeth, then poured himself another. He couldn’t eat. The toast looked too dry for his arid mouth, the cereal to soggy he feared it would drown him, the bacon so sizzled in fatty rind he thought it would sicken him. So instead he bolted down his next mug of coffee, and was calmer with slower sips on the following one. The sensation of the hot drink running freely through his body and into his empty stomach satisfied him as the liquid swam and lingered there. He felt the caffeine spear his intelligence, urge his limbs to awaken, brighten his eyes to alertness.
And there was Hermione. It seemed like years since he had last set eyes on her, yet he cast them away again, as if it were one year too short. He couldn’t converse with her, couldn’t allow her to look into his eyes, couldn’t allow her to read the lie that cried out in agony for forgiveness . . .
Her light-hearted step across the room sent the guilt burning again. The way she assumed everything would be the same, would be perfect, set anger to his veins, pulsating until he gripped his coffee cup with steely determination, his mouth set in a grim distasteful line.
“Draco, we’d better go,” Blaise nudged him. “Lessons start in less than half-an-hour. I thought maybe you’d . . . want to . . . you know, brush your hair before we went.”
Absently Draco’s hand reached towards his hair and patted it dreamily. Horror suddenly stabbed at him and he turned to Blaise with alarm widening his eyes. “I didn’t brush it! Blaise, how could you not remind you, how could you be so stupid . . .” He trailed off. His hair stuck up unevenly at the back, the front overhanging his eyes uncomfortably, and he hadn’t even noticed! What a state he looked! Even his tie was dressed up in an informal, sluggish effort. He tugged at it with irritated frustration. Well, there goes the pristine portrayal of Draco Malfoy, he thought grimly. Now love’s driven me to yet another flaw.
He was beginning to loathe love. It tripped him up at every possibility, threw him off-balance at every corner, confused his emotions and just about murdered his cool perseverance.
And tonight would be the hardest challenge of all.
Tonight the Death Eaters would be waiting for his attendance.
He hoped desperately Lord Voldemort’s reputation for reading minds was exaggerated one. He was sure the Dark Lord wouldn’t be impressed with his key figure falling for the warming emotion of love that pointed straight in the direction of a pretty little Mudblood. He was sure Voldemort wouldn’t like it at all.
* * *
The darkness came down over the castle and the Forbidden Forest beyond that twisted together in a knot of trees, malicious in ways that cannot be told. The Great Lake shimmered in the shroud of shadow that cascaded over it, caressing it and engorging it in a hunger of blackness. The lush green of the grass and the dappled grey stone of the building were hidden in the thickness of the heavy starless night. Ivy from one of Professor Sprout’s gardens climbed the walls with icy stealth, leaves trembling in the bitterness of the wind’s breath, rising up to the windows of towers in a form that could only be magical, encircling the arched windows in a tight choking grip and squeezing them.
Draco’s breath clouded the air and he heard rather than saw the snow that he trudged beneath his feet. His scanty clothing was designed for inside the castle rather than out, and the grip of the cold seized him with merciless hands, shaking out the warmth inside him down to the last droplet of blood. He felt naked and vulnerable to the clutch of the night, and for his own fragility he both honoured and respected the darkness that rested about him. Clouds moved overhead silently and unseen in the opaque blackness; the moon had surrendered its reign to the winter that so forcefully drove its light away. Not a star was given its freedom tonight. Draco’s lack of hope faded with the shrug of the last star as shadow consumed it.
The snow seemed to grow thicker as he approached the forest, and the warmth of his breath faded until it was nothing, just an unseen vapour as cold as the atmosphere that he drew in and out. Numbness fingered and prickled his flesh like cruel needles, robbing him of feeling. He refused to let his fear overcome him.
Draco folded his arms around his chest for extra comfort, wriggling his body closer to his soul, trying to rip out the clutching of terror that refused to repent. He listened with bated breath, and heard only the sounds of small creatures rustling in the undergrowth, of the wind whispering past the trees, of the creaking wood that swayed to its rhythm as if driven along in a dance, of the poetic, melodic crunch of thick sheeted snow that lay helpless to the driving prints of his boots.
He couldn’t understand where he was supposed to be going, and why they had decided to come so close to Hogwarts. The daring of it was both unnerving as exciting. Pride soared through his chest when he realised the cunning of his own people, then strongly reminded himself that this group was nothing to do with him, that he had no part in it save that his father demanded it.
He had managed successfully to avoid Hermione today. He didn’t know if she was hurt about it, or had even noticed his deliberance, but right at this moment he decided he didn’t care. His fears and concerns rested elsewhere; Voldemort’s power and enmity raced to the top of his list tonight.
Draco halted before a tree and eyed it scathingly. He could not see a thing; not a glimpse of light relieved him. So he placed cautious hands forwards, feeling the roughness of the bark scratch and itch beneath his smooth palms, testing how the tree climbed and ascended towards the canopy tops of its roof. He walked around it, careful not to trip on a straying root. Eventually he stood on tip-toe, as high as he could, and found the first branch just out of reach.
Draco listened, making sure he was safe, and then jumped, reaching at the same time for the over-hanging branch. On the second time he caught it, and found it was quite sturdy. He tested its weight, arms hanging gorilla-like, fingers clutched deep into the flesh of the bark to keep himself from falling. He swung up his legs with a sudden lurch that required all of his strength, then hauled himself upwards until he stood unsteadily on the branch, hands searching for the next one.
The process went on like this for sometime, until Draco began to worry about the amount of time that had passed. He stopped, leaned against the trunk gasping and breathless, wearied from the long, testing climb. He found he was high enough now to study the whole of the forest within eye-sight before him.
He dug into his robe pocket, frozen fingers searching around its depth for his wand. He seized it with trembling hands, pulling it out with a firm grip and pointing it forward, demanding in a rusty voice, “Lumos.”
The light blinded him at first, so that he had to raise one hand before his blinking eyes to shield them and the other lowering his wand, meaning he depended entirely on his legs for grip and balance. He swayed slightly, before seizing the tree again with sharp fingernails that were ripped and torn away by the roughness of the bark.
Eventually, squinting, Draco raised his eyes to the light that shrank away the darkness, allowing him to have a little vision and discover where exactly he was.
Then the night seemed to crumble to the intense insistence of the brightness, the grey-shadowed face sliding back to reveal the view beyond. The stars slid from the heavy weight of the clouds, glimpsing and winking through beneath veils, bold and fiery and silver.
Trees ended lower than the branch he stood on, reaching up with breaking bones of branches that reached jealously in gluttony for height and competition. A white fox sank away from the yellow beam of light that directed itself down on him, his eyes glazed and disapproving, body wraith-like in its cream, eerie colouring. Draco looked forward, using a spell to extend his sight, and saw a few cloaked figures distanced far away. Relief pounded within his heart when he realised he would find them after all, but concern for his slowness swallowed the brief glimpse of solace rapidly and he found himself dispelling the light and scrambling untidily back down the trunk of the tree.
By the time he hit solid ground again his hands were scorched and ripped and bleeding, the bark having torn away the tender flesh that it found there as if in rebuke for youth and unsteadiness.
Draco found his path easy to follow now, having learned it not with language but with sight, and reciting it over and over as he stepped over root, bracken and underbrush.
When at last he joined them their impatience was clear to sense and he found himself stumbling over apologies and bowing courteously to the Dark Lord himself.
“Let us not waste our time with punishments and unnecessary words,” Lord Voldemort scolded them, quenching the emotion on Draco’s face so that he displayed himself as a callous sheet of flesh. “Instead, I will get to the point. I called our meeting this month as close to Hogwarts as is possible, to establish how our daring and cunning has grown. We will not show cowardice and shrink in the face of the enemy.” He pointed towards the direction in which they knew the grey overshadowing castle would be glaring down upon them, but could not see it in such a blackness and distance.
He was a nightmare, stiff-frozen as he stood. There was as much beauty in his stance as there was grotesque. A veil of mystery seemed to overhang him like a cloak of secrets. Draco was drawn to that veil, longing to know what Voldemort hid behind the impression he wished to convey. Did thoughts tick like a black, throbbing ebony clock within him? Did he feel at all? Were emotions such as love, passion, warmth, spite, jealously, hatred, any of these – were they known to him, or was he so intent on his one path to glory that he neglecting to note all else around him? Draco wondered this as he gazed upon this terrible spectre. His robes flowed from him, draping and tumbling to the ground in a ripple of luxurious deep velvet. His eyes were like a brazier fire as they burned through the hood of black velvet, or like panes of tinted scarlet blood, producing such a wild and chilling look that only a few bold Death Eaters were courageous enough to be caught there in that piecing stare.
Draco wouldn’t have been surprised if he were a phantom; the grim reaper walked out from the grave, with the markings of death upon him still. Indeed, his words and presence were a disease to the rest of the world, who suffered from his ideas and ambitions that spread out quicker than plague to terrorise the people.
“The last battle,” Voldemort began, his voice as chilling as the snow that lay content beneath their feet, “will soon be upon us. Another few years or so and I shall be the only source of power within this world.” His eyes swivelled amongst them, appalling a shudder to echo within them all. “And tonight I plan to begin the plot that we will climb, one step at a time, towards success.”
He stepped forwards, and as he did so, the moon came out, casting a glow so deathly upon them all that Draco fought not to be sick. The papery skin that covered Voldemort’s bones shivered palely as they twitched beneath his sleeves. His slit nostrils were slightly visible behind the veil of black that contrasted with the scarlet blood of his eyes. Draco swallowed hard and forced himself to stand still, to show no signs of fear. But he had begun to sweat, a cold, nervous perspiration that broke out on his forehead in trembling silver beads and flowed down his temple and dripped off his chin. He forced himself to look straight ahead at nothing as the moon drank the colour out of the scene, leaving everything plastered in grey, black and white, the colours of corpses that rattled him astoundingly. The mark on his wrist began to itch with sudden discomfort and his stomach burned with distaste. He longed to be far away from here, tucked up inside the warmth ad security of his bed, dreaming sweet images of Hermione and the scent of her hair.
Voldemort’s eyes suddenly splayed on him with a sudden interest, and hurriedly he pushed the thoughts away with the sharpness and discretion of a blade, aware of the Oculemency taking place and refusing to give Hermione away.
“I have no plans as such just yet, only that I plan to kill Dumbledore, as he is the last of the guardians – the only one that blocks my way to Harry Potter.”
Draco’s attention was aroused with sudden interest. Potter had guardians? Then if so, who were they? Black was sure to be one – his father had explained to him the full extent of that situation: the way Sirius Black was mistakenly accused of betraying his friends James and Lily Potter to Voldemort. The lies still hadn’t been cleared up yet, and now that Black was dead, Draco saw little point in any truth being revealed. He smiled at the thought of Pettigrew so easily getting away with it.
Surely James and Lily would have been guardians, for they were Potter’s parents, but why did he have guardians in the first place? To be protected from Voldemort, he supposed, but he wondered as to the power of that magic that shielded Potter so that even Voldemort could not get to him. He knew the Dark Lord sought to break that boundary. He feared how, and hoped desperately that he would not be involved.
“Draco,” Voldemort produced his name like poison, the word so unexpected that it made his squirm inside. What did Voldemort want with him? He reflected his father saying that he could be the “eyes within Hogwarts.” He hoped he would not have to put them to use. Whatever would Hermione say? He could picture the disgust on her face when she discovered Lord Voldemort’s advantage. Would she leave him? If the Dark Lord instructed him to do something, would he do it? Once again he suffocated these worries, knowing that Voldemort was aware of his rushing cascade of thoughts.
“My lord?” He enquired softly, moving to stand directly before He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and sink to one knee in an honouring bow.
“I wish for you to bring me a special gift . . . to prove your loyalty to me. If you succeed you shall be greatly rewarded.” Draco’s heart sank with dread. “Bring me Potter. I shall give you two weeks, and then on the next full moon, bring him here. I have chosen my location for the last battle, but first I shall deal with this hideous prophecy and claim Potter’s blood and power as my own.” Rough, skeletal fingers touched Draco’s chin and tilted his face up to look him in the eye. “You have doubts.”
Draco thought to remain calm; his words seemed swallowed by his fear, but he battled to regain control of himself. “Only in myself, my lord.”
Voldemort smiled. “I may not trust you just yet, but I do trust that you have the ability to embrace this task with careful consideration to get the job done.” He waved Draco away with a careless hand, so that he quickly, if not gracefully, scrambled to his feet and hurried to close the circle.
The rest of the night passed in a dream. Draco was aware of the others discussing plans and preparations for the final battle, but he barely listened to any of it. He was preoccupied with what he must do. Would he do it? How? What if Hermione found out? Would she demand that her love for him should be stronger than his fear of Voldemort? Would she make him choose between them? His heart despaired in uneasy sickness.
He pushed the anguish away and started to weave a web of strategy about his mind. He was the spider, and somehow he had to make a trap so transparent that Potter would fly right into it.
He chewed his lip.
Two weeks from now, Harry Potter would be dead.
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