Chapter 14 : Lucius Malfoy: Last Man Standing
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Lucius Malfoy: Last Man Standing
We stand in Hogsmeade watching the parade of evacuated Slytherins, both of us in a panic of eagerness as we count the heads, peer under the cloaks, and then, with growing anxiety, consult one another and then look again. We repeat these actions. And then we repeat them again, until all the students are counted, and recounted, and the evidence of our eyes cannot be avoided. Draco is not with them. Not among the Slytherins, not among the other students, not there at all. Devastation descends. My blood turns cold, and a vulture in my stomach begins to gnaw away at my insides. From that moment, I can think of nothing but my son; I can concentrate on nothing else; and my mind works unceasingly on the same question: where is he? What has happened to him? Is he dead? Is he alive?
During the carnage they called the Battle of Hogwarts, I am not allowed in the castle. I have no wand, so I cannot fight. And, as warriors go, I am in something less than top condition. A few weeks ago, the Dark Lord was in a hellish rage upon learning that Potter had escaped from the Manor only seconds ahead of his arrival. It descended in a paroxysm of violence upon Bellatrix and myself. His curse struck my eye, and I discovered afterward that it was leaking blood and vitreous fluid. Since I was forbidden to leave the house, and therefore had no access to a Healer, I expect I will lose it. All in all, I am a calamity. I made the mistake of looking into a mirror before I left. My skin is so pale as to be nearly gray; it matches the torn soiled linen of my robes. My cheeks and eye-sockets have hollowed, and I am gaunter than I have ever been in my life. My left eye is swollen closed. I must resemble a wraith among all the jubilant, boisterous Death Eaters.
Now we are marching toward Hogwarts castle behind the Dark Lord, behind Hagrid as he carries the body of Harry Potter. I do not care about Potter. I do not care that my eye throbs; or that my muscles and bones, and my entire body down to the soles of my feet, all ache. All I can think about, all I care about, is finding my son. We march four abreast. Veteran Death Eaters and new recruits, students and giants, all advancing. The smell of sweat and blood permeates the air. As we are walking well behind the Dark Lord, my wife takes my arm and pulls me so that her lips are close to my ear. “He’s alive in the castle,” she whispers and releases me at once. I look toward her involuntarily, amazed; but she is already looking straight ahead, ignoring me, as she marches on in her pale blue robes and hood, a ghost gliding among the black-garbed death eaters.
I keep myself quiet, but my heart is racing. Alive? How would she know, unless . . . I try to see to the front of the column, up to where Harry Potter’s remains are being carried, but it is impossible. I am suddenly terrified for her. If she lied to the Dark Lord, the consequences for her will be unspeakable. I strain my ears for some sign of a commotion, but there is none.
I march along, trying to keep myself as expressionless as Narcissa. I cannot banish Draco from my mind. I see him lying injured, without help, in some deserted corridor. My anxiety to get into the castle is overwhelming.
As we approach, it becomes evident that some of the people inside, people sentimentally attached to Potter, are now able to see the body in Hagrid’s arms. I am starting to hear screams and cries. Taking great care not to draw anyone’s attention, I scan the group of students and teachers and Order members and others who are beginning to gather outside a doorway. Logically, there is no reason for Draco to be among them, and yet I cannot help looking and hoping to see that platinum hair.
No one pays me the slightest attention. I have long since been relegated to the ranks of the wandless. There was a time, many years ago, when I was the Dark Lord’s second in command. But now – now, I am nothing more than pathetic joke. There is nothing about me in my current state to make anyone pay me an iota’s worth of attention. That would have outraged me once; but right now, my obscurity is a cloak of safety.
Meanwhile, we have halted. With a florid demand for silence, the Dark Lord draws to himself the attention of everyone. He fails, initially, to keep it and is reduced to silencing his audience with magic. In the old days, a multitude of witches and wizards, utterly spellbound, would have packed a field to hear him. Strange how time changes things!
The Dark Lord, having amplified his voice, announces to the crowd that the Potter boy is dead, killed as he ran away trying to save himself.
This statement causes a palpable response among the Death Eaters. I can see Dolohov and Rabastan Lestrange secretly share a look, as though they don’t quite believe their ears. I feel around me a sense of disquietude in response to the Dark Lord’s lie.
I look toward the castle. Eventually, I will have to inch my way into the entrance. But do I dare do that now? Not yet; too soon.
I turn my attention to the crowd of defenders – the survivors of the earlier battle. I know some of those people; I cannot avoid recognizing them. Thirty yards from me, the Granger Mudblood and the Weasley boy stand weeping with their arms around each other. They lean in toward one another – and I am struck with an image of Narcissa and I standing together – the same gesture, the same expression, the same posture, the same support – if only we dared! I looked away. McGonagall is a mask of grief; her voice, a manifestation of sheerest misery. My old teacher, now my son’s – good God, where is Draco? Is he truly still alive? Narcissa’s information, whatever the source, was it a lie? McGonagall’s grief makes me bitter: Would she mourn for Draco the way she did for Potter?
A memory came upon me suddenly: I have Apparated outside the yew hedge and am walking along the drive toward the Manor when Draco, no more than three and wearing an enormous straw hat, appears from behind a tree and runs up to me, shouting, “Dad! Daddy!” I pick him up and carry him, and he immediately begins explaining that the peacock had spread its feathers twice in one day. He has to let go of me to illustrate by making a two-handed gesture of a spreading fan. And, he tells me, he needs a broomstick; not wants, needs. I ask him why, and he give a dozen reasons. But mostly he scolds me for going away and demands that I stay at home with him from now on. I carry him into the house and sit in a chair, holding him in my lap, listening to him. Soon after, our old house elf, who had been my nanny and is now Draco’s, comes to dress him for dinner. “The little one loves his daddy, Mr. Lucius,” she had said, leading him out.
I shake away the memory and continue to examine the growing crowd, willing myself to see through and behind them – anywhere, any hint. What about Gregory Goyle? Or the Crabbe boy? I wasn’t sure whether their absence was a good sign or bad. I told myself it was good – if Goyle and Crabbe were missing, Draco must not be alone. The three of them were nearly inseparable.
And I see the red hair and profile of Arthur Weasley. We never got along, Arthur and I, not since my second year at Hogwarts, which was when Arthur Weasley became a sanctimonious prick of a Gryffindor prefect. I believe he took points from Slytherin every time he saw me in the hallway. Even back then, Weasley seemed to have the goal of ruining my life.
The Muggle Protection Act always sounded like an innocuous bit of legislation, as though it prevented wizards from hunting Muggles out of season. In reality, it authorized the search, without warrant or any legal protection whatsoever, of the home of any person whom the authorities suspected of harboring evidence of crimes against Muggles or Mudbloods. If they found evidence to support a prosecution for murder, the suspect was subject to prosecution regardless of however many years had elapsed. Many people, myself included, were living with secrets that linked them to crimes committed during the First Wizarding Wars. I was forced to dispose of several compromising objects; others, I secreted away in hidden compartments under multiple enchantments – and held my breath. But there was one particular item that was unusually problematic, and, at the same time, that posed a special temptation.
Years before, the Dark Lord had entrusted an enchanted diary to me with the instruction that I hide it away in safekeeping until he should ask for its return. And so I had, for more than ten years. When Weasley passed his Act, the diary slowly became something of an obsession to me. I was constantly apprehensive lest it be discovered, despite my precautions, during a Ministry search; if this ever happened, the diary could not possibly be explained away. The situation became so dire that my better judgment abandoned me. After all, the Dark Lord had been gone for more than ten years.
When I reflected on it later, I could only conclude that I would never have done what I did, but for that combination of circumstances – overwhelming fear of exposure, an irrational anger at Weasley and a desire for revenge against him, a shameful loss of faith that the Dark Lord would ever return, and – I had to admit – overweening pride leading me to believe that I might act on behalf of the Dark Lord. And so, I had slipped the Dark Lord’s old diary to Arthur’s daughter, Ginny. The result had been a disaster for many people, particularly myself, although the extent of the disaster did not become obvious for some time.
Not that any of it matters.
There is a commotion up front. I hear some boy – good heavens, it’s that Longbottom boy – challenging the Dark Lord. Surprising courage, indeed. But no good will come.
We are suddenly quiet. I am far enough back that I must strain to see. There is Longbottom. The Dark Lord is immobilizing him with a body-bind curse. There was an impulse in the group at the castle as if they would storm the Dark Lord. At that instant, I feel a twitching in the Mark on my arm, and all the Death Eaters around me immediately raise their wands toward the Hogwarts defenders. I, of course, have no wand to raise; I merely stand and watch.
The Sorting Hat is now placed on Longbottom’s head. There is a gasp in the crowd as, suddenly, the hat bursts into flames. Longbottom stands on fire, as I stand watching, unable to look away, until - - what is that? What is happening?
Longbottom, no longer frozen, pulls a sword from the hat and beheads the abomination Nagini.
Chaos is descending like an avalanche. The Dark Lord’s screech of loss rends my ears.
And then invasion: Centaurs. The whiz of their arrows precedes their onslaught, their pounding galloping hooves bearing down upon us. And giants, giants all over, tramping about, fighting with one another, utterly disregarding the wizards; we have to stay out of their way or be trampled. I feel a shadow above me; I look up; I see the air full of creatures – thestrals and hippogryphs. In the incredible noise and disorder of war, I must get Narcissa out of there. I grab her hand, feeling the surge of adrenaline, and we run with the others toward the castle, away from the Centaurs’ arrows. She drops my hand and soon disappears; the crush at the entrance is a tidal wave sweeping us along inside.
I try to negotiate my way through the crush, but it is difficult. I scream, I bellow Draco’s name. The entrance hall rapidly empties into the Great Hall, carrying me with it.
Once inside the Great Hall, I discover that the crowd is, surprisingly, not quite so dense. Individuals are battling, dueling one another; some on the floor, others, standing on tables. I rush through them, pushing some out of the way, a gray ghost in the gray twilight, as I make my search. Again, I feel the rising panic, the terror that Draco will not be here. I have trained my eyes – my eye – to search not only for Draco but also for Goyle and Crabbe. The bad eye is leaking; I wipe it on my robe.
There are tables, draperies, every sort of obstruction to the line of sight. I look everywhere, always calling for Draco, and occasionally for Vincent or Gregory.
Schoolchildren are fighting Death Eaters, some of whom are older and more experienced than I am myself. I do not care. But even as I rush throughout the crowd, avoiding the combatants and their myriad spells, certain observations penetrate my single-minded focus. I pass by; I see wizards falling in combat; I pay little attention; and I do not notice what side wins or loses. But after a time, it sinks in that the fallen are overwhelmingly the Dark Lord’s people, the Death Eaters; and those standing are overwhelming the defenders: Hogwarts students, Order members, and others who stand against the Dark Lord.
I nearly trip over a body. When I looked down, I recognize Yaxley lying across the floor, stunned stone-cold. A few seconds later, I slip and go all the way to the floor, bracing myself with my hands on a slick sticky liquid that turns out to be the blood of Walden MacNair. He is bleeding from the head, unconscious, perhaps dead. MacNair was a disgusting, cruel, petty little man in life; now he had his blood all over my hands. I wipe them on his robes, then hurry on.
After falling over MacNair, I get the idea of climbing onto a table for a better view. This makes me vulnerable; but I hold up my empty hands, showing that I am not a threat, and look around. No sign of Draco or of his friends. But as I stand looking to the west, there is Greyback fighting with the Weasley and Longbottom boys and then – down he goes. Continuing to survey the room, I see Arthur and one of his older sons dueling the Minister. It seemed that the minute I recognize this group, Thicknesse joins Greyback.
In back of me, I hear a high, squeaky voice intone, “Avada Kedavra.” At the first syllable, I wheel toward the voice. As I turn, simultaneously, I hear a scream, Dolohov’s final scream before little Flitwick’s curse silences him permanently.
I continue looking around, and there I find the Dark Lord. And right beyond him, my dear sister-in-law.
The Dark Lord is dueling Shacklebolt, and McGonagall, and, incongruously, Slughorn in his pajamas. From the look on her face, it seems clear McGonagall and the others are dueling to kill; but, regardless, they are not able to bring him down.
Fifty yards away, my sister-in-law, the terror of the Dark Lord’s forces, is dueling three schoolgirls.
I step down, having seen nothing of Draco from the table, and resume my search on foot. I take off at a run. Of course, between the uncertain light, the crowd, the need to be alert for flying curses, and coping with one working eye, it is difficult to see where you are going. Missteps are easy; I have already gone down once. This time, I have gone scarcely twelve paces when I catch my foot under the extended leg of a fallen man and pitch forward, landing prone over his lower legs. It is a hard fall. It knocks the wind completely out of me. I hit my head – not enough to knock myself out, but enough to hurt. I have to lie where I have fallen for a few seconds before I can get up.
I’m forty-three. These days, I feel ten years older. Prison and the Dark Lord’s ill graces. So, not being as robust as I once was, it takes me a moment to recover.
After several seconds – or a minute, who knows – I start to push myself up. It is then that I realize my hand is resting on something other than the floor – something thin, something rounded and tapered. When my fingers recognize it, I feel my jaw drop a little.
I look at the man on the floor. For the first time, I realize it is my old colleague Rookwood. He has been Stunned and, like MacNair, he is bleeding from the head. I put my hand on the artery at his neck but feel no pulse. I see no sign of life, no breath.
The Dark Lord had tortured Rookwood two years ago over the Prophesy. The Dark Lord likes to play hard with his toy soldiers, never considering that doing so may cause them to break when he sends them into battle. Rookwood, under the Cruciatus curse, had convulsed so badly that he repeatedly struck his head against the wall, causing a concussion and making his brain swell. Stupify should have left him temporarily unconscious, no more. Instead, he had been so weakened by the Dark Lord’s punishment practices that a stunning spell at the wrong angle was as deadly as Avada Kedavra.
And now, I have Rookwood’s wand.
I pick it up, resting for a moment on my knees. To be holding a wand after nearly a year – it feel so wonderful as to be momentarily distracting. The sensation of my hand closing around a wand, even a wand which is not my own, is like homecoming.
And the very moment my fingers close around the handle, I feel it. In the Mark. Only a twinge, but impossible to mistake. It made me suck in my breath.
Of course; what could I expect? The Mark is an umbilicus, connecting the legions to the master. And now that my hand holds a wand, I have become an armed wizard, a warrior of the Dark Lord. As I had vowed.
I look over at Bellatrix, more than a match for three young girls. But when I look around, I see no other Death Eater fighting for the Dark Lord. It appears that she is the only one remaining.
Take up the wand, now, Lucius. Take up the wand and defend me.
Oh, God. A jolt. Not painful but urgent.
But, of course, I must defend the Dark Lord. I must defend him. I must! Anything else, anything, it can wait. It must wait.
Everything you have ever lost will be restored to you a thousandfold. All I have to do, right now, is to take up Rookwood’s wand and fight for the Dark Lord.
But, no. I do not intend to fight. I do not intend for either side. I must find my son.
The pain is immediate, so sharp and piercing that I cry out.
You made an oath. Have you forgotten?
Dear God, dear Merlin. The oath. It was nothing I could ever forget. I was eighteen years old, too young and far too naive to comprehend where my actions might lead me.
A memory takes me. Instantaneous, and yet it seems to cut through the years.
I am being led into an unfamiliar grove, which is utterly black on this moonless June night. I am terrified. At the same time, I have a tremendous yearning to prove myself worthy. The stars in the sky are masked by trees; the darkness is near total. My knees rest on the dirt as I kneel before the Lord Voldemort. Butterflies of apprehension flutter in my stomach. He states the oath. The oath binds me corpore menteque animaque, per aeternitatem. I repeat these words. I know my Latin perfectly well, and I know that I have just bound myself to him body, mind and soul, for eternity. I quiver as I say the words, but I say them. Backing out is not something I have ever even considered. A masked Death Eater standing behind me seizes my arm and twists it so that the forearm is bared. It hurts, and I suppress the urge to yelp. That transitory pain is nothing. It is no preparation for what follows. I cannot see the Dark Lord touch his wand to my arm, but I feel the spell burning into it, maiming and re-sculpting the skin and muscle down to the bone, deforming it into the brand of the Dark Lord. My eyes water; I barely restrain myself from crying out. I am almost at the point of begging him to withdraw the spell, when it stops of its own accord. And the pain is replaced by joy as I am pulled to my feet. I suddenly realize the sky is visible after all. Euphoria, triumph, acceptance, as I stand beneath a black velvet sky bejeweled with stars, illuminated by weirdly flickering torches, as I listen to the applause of twenty Death Eaters standing around me in a circle.
It had been the best night of my life. In retrospect, I came to realize that what I really wanted that night had nothing to do with the Dark Lord or the Death Eaters. I was a wealthy child who had, at seventeen, become a legal adult. At eighteen, I was a very wealthy man on the verge of marriage, having just become engaged. But I had no line of demarcation between my life as a wealthy schoolboy and my life as an adult. My father was still lord of the manor. I had no passion to lead me to a career, and I had no financial reason to work. I was about to graduate from Hogwarts. I felt myself in a kind of limbo. But one thing seemed abundantly certain: to become a knight of Lord Voldemort was to pass a rite of passage out of childhood, to become an adult before all the world. I became an adult, and I acquired a purpose.
That night of my initiation was followed by some of the best years of my life.
We sweep into a house, breaking the charms and Apparating. There are four of us, myself as squad leader. I cannot be more than twenty or twenty-one. But I remember this one. The householder is some blood-traitor – I don’t recall his name – he suddenly realizes we four are standing in the dark in his bedroom. And one second later, he realizes who we are. At that moment you can smell his fear in the air. In the dim illumination of the wandlight, you see him tremble and quake. It makes me pull myself a little straighter as I feed off the traitor’s fear of us, of these nightmare apparitions, these shock troops of Lord Voldemort. It is intoxicating, this power over pain and mortality.
I remember well: I wanted to pound the air, call to the heavens, that I was Lucius Malfoy, I was the Dark Lord’s disciple, I was a lieutenant of the coming regime, I was the prince of the earth. I walked an inch above the ground in those days.
But those days are past, long past.
And yet, as dawn’s advent lightens the twilight, I stand holding Rookwood’s wand, in full realization that those times could return, and my place in them could return. Of course, I will never be twenty again, but no matter. Once again, I will wield that power, experience that rare sense of another wizard’s abject fear of one’s own power. All the others seem to have fallen. Beside Bellatrix, I seem to be the last man standing. And somehow I always knew; I knew luck would come back to me. This is surely it. For years, wizards and witches showed me respect to my face, while joking about me behind his back; my greatest source of power and fear lay in the size of my account at Gringott’s. No more. From this day forth, I shall be a wizard to be reckoned with.
All I must do – there, between myself and the Dark Lord: a Hogwart’s student, then a centaur, then a tall wizard who looks to be an Order member. Not one of them is looking at me. So, looking one to the other – simple. Smite them all with curses, one two three, and move to the Dark Lord’s side, and fight beside him. The Mark on my arm felt warm, almost as if encouraging me.
Forget them now. They will be restored to you, if you only pick up the wand and aid me.
Wait, what is wrong with me? I entered this Hall intending to search for Draco. I cannot afford distraction.
What was I thinking a moment ago? It is so easy to picture Narcissa hit by a stray curse. She is wandless like myself. She, having given hers to Draco to take back to school with him. So she is defenseless in this room full of amateur duelists. And my son: I picture Draco, hidden away in a distant corner of the castle, wounded and forgotten, bleeding out until he is past help.
All of a sudden, there is a woman shouting to everyone to get out of her way, so she can engage Bellatrix. The voice draws my attention immediately. I know it, even though I have seen very little of Molly Weasley since she and Arthur left school. They had both been four years ahead of me. She was formidable as a girl and I don’t suppose she’s changed. Back in school, she was one girl I would not have chosen to cross. . .
The pain in my arm makes me stagger, and I nearly drop the wand. A sudden memory seizes me.
The Dark Lord was always partial to the Cruciatus, and he was always fond of chastising his disciples, but somehow he never turned this predilection against me.
Until the evening of the Rebirthing, shortly after the escape of Harry Potter, when he requested his diary.
“Tell me again, Lucius, what became of my diary.”
On my belly, face to the dirt. “It was destroyed, my Lord.”
And by whom was it destroyed, Lucius?”
“As I understood it, my Lord, by Harry Potter.”
A shriek, like the shriek of a banshee. It runs through my marrow like a cold wind, making me shiver to the core. And then the curse. I never heard it. My legs feet as though each muscle is independently in spasm. I feet as though I am being pulled apart. I bend and contort, crying out. I try to escape to a physical position of comfort, but it is impossible. The pain will stop for a moment, allowing an instant’s recovery; but then it increases, taking a different form, a screeching agony in my chest that radiates down into my gut, making me think that something inside must surely have ruptured. With the pain is the anguish that I will never see Draco, never see Narcissa again, because my liver and my intestines are breaking apart, and I am bleeding inside. Surely, it pleases the Dark Lord to torture me to death. I hear myself begging, pleading.
I am breathing hard, as though the torture ceased only moments ago. The intensity skews my memory. Has it truly just stopped?
The Dark Lord is speaking to me. Is this memory? The room feels oddly dark, and I feel slightly dizzy with a sense of disorientation. I feel as though my self is not the same as it was a moment ago. I turn toward the Dark Lord, and he is engaged in his duel, exactly as before. Yet, even as he duels, his voice speaks in my mind, as though the snake in the Mark were sending his words through my veins. But now the voice, that before had been enticing, reassuring of my heart’s desires, has turned high and cold and replete with contempt. I hear his voice, and I am utterly debased, despicable as a cockroach.
You broke like a porcelain teacup, like the brittle rich boy that you are. Would you like to know why I stopped, finally? It was not because you’d served your punishment. It was disgust that stopped me – outrage that a soldier in my ranks – a man, at that –
was so pathetically weak he could not tolerate a fair punishment. Who cried for his wife, and I had barely begin. I would have thought you were a four year old child, instead of a grown man. It so disgusted me, I had to stop. Your sister in law, Bellatrix, takes her punishment without complaint. And gets up again and does her duty. I hardly need state that she’s twice the man you are. Or will ever be. Even that little Mudblood girl they tortured at the Manor showed more fortitude than you ever did – wandless, indeed! To redeem your shame, you should be rushing forward to aid me.
A year in Azkaban, and the sense impotence is thorough and utter. Word seeped in, and I learned of Draco’s situation. I could infer for myself that it was in retaliation for my own failure. That my son had taken it upon himself to bail me out with his own flesh and sanity and life and future. To be tucked away in an oubliette of a cell, as dependent on others as a child or a caged animal. I was more desperate for information than for food, but none came. And then, when they finally let me out, it was over. All that remained to be done was to tell me what happened in my absence.
My home was no long my home. My refuge, my privacy, had been stripped away, and my childhood dwelling, the home of my family for centuries, had been commandeered. We sat and watched that snake devour human beings on our dining table and dared not look away. It haunted my dreams that one day the serpent would unhinge its jaws to swallow someone I loved. At night I could not make love to Narcissa. There was too much terror in the air. Instead, we clung to each other like frightened children. And, I confess with embarrassment, some nights, approaching sleep, my mind escaped so completely that it took me to other, safer times in my life. And, in my half-dreams, I would forget that I was not a very small boy clinging to his mother. Absurd, no? But the mind does what it can to keep us sane. I would waken in the middle of the night, and it would seem to me that if the Dark Lord took Narcissa from me, the grief would kill me. But then thinking of Draco, I would recall that I had not the option even to die.
But why does it seem now, at this time, that the Dark Lord has seized control of me, or of a part of me? I have borne the Mark for nearly twenty-five years, and I don’t recall anything like this.
Dinner at the Lestranges. “. . . is always strange,” was my little joke. Narcissa assured me it stopped being funny after the fiftieth time I said it.
But here we are. Dinner has been served. It was perfectly fine, but that does not stop Bellatrix from pretending the veal was overcooked in order to give herself an excuse to Crucio the chef. She spends most of the meal trying to convince Narcissa that a few glasses of wine will be good for the baby, even though Cissa, in her seventh month, is abstaining. I keep hoping the stress of pregnancy will cause my wife to snap and curse her sister – if not Crucio, Silencio would be welcome – but I am disappointed.
It’s been a jolly evening all around. The Seldens are also dining with us; and on the way to the bathroom, I observe Rodolphus with his hand on John Selden’s leg. I suppose I should feel sorry for Bellatrix. But I don’t.
The worst part of the evening is the after-dinner conversation. It’s very much like being back in Slytherin House, listening to a bunch of infatuated Sixth and Seventh Years. Bellatrix sits admiring and fondling her Mark, looking like a newly engaged girl wondering at the many facets of her ring. She proceeds to hold forth on her favorite subject. I admire the Dark Lord, also. But I try not to make a fool of myself. Bellatrix has no such reservations; and listening to her carry on is difficult to stomach.
“Did you know what these,” she lovingly indicates her Mark, “can do?” She pauses for effect, batting her eyelashes, as if the Dark Lord were actually there to see her. “The Dark Lord designed this one particular spell, so that, the fewer the warriors, the stronger the summons. Isn’t that brilliant?”
“The fewer the warriors ?” I wonder. “You mean, if most of us are killed or disabled or disarmed, the summons becomes particularly strong?” She nods. “What does that mean, exactly?”
She stares at me. “It’s for the Dark Lord to know what that means. The Dark Lord maintains his own counsel. You know that. I feel honored that the Dark Lord confided in me as much as he did.”
“Do you know what this unusually strong summons feels like?”
“I don’t need to. I will always be at the Dark Lord’s side.”
“Does he touch the Mark to for this summoning?”
“How would I know?” She smiles lovingly at her Mark, and would no doubt have kissed it had she been alone. “I know the need is communicated through the Dark Lord’s Mark. I know the Dark Lord is a genius.”
“Did you know,” asks Narcissa dryly, “that you’ve mentioned the Dark Lord five hundred, sixty-seven times since we arrived. I’ve kept count.”
“What if an armed warrior disregards it?”
“Oh, he won’t. He can’t. The Mark will make it too painful, too intense. It’s genius. It’s all a way of making sure that the Dark Lord survives any crisis.”
“He told you that?”
She smiles proudly, looking us both in the eye. “Yes.”
I haven’t given a thought to that conversation, or that awful dinner party, in eighteen years. It was two months before Draco was born.
Is that Bellatrix’s laugh? Oh, no. It cannot be. Molly took her.
And now, the Dark Lord is a monster in his wrath. His fury is a thing of terror, a force of nature.
Dear God, I can’t breathe. There is an invisible python was wrapped around my chest, pulling its coils tighter, constricting, holding me so that I cannot draw breath. With every attempt, it draws its coils tighter, and tighter. I’m feel that I’m turning blue, that my heart is about to burst . . .
Suddenly, it stops. I gasp for breath.
And I see him. The Potter boy. So – so, he must have been alive after all. Narcissa must have lied to –
Your wife is dead. Forget her. Pain, radiating from my Mark through my arm to my head. I bear it, somehow. But I can hear myself breathing, raggedly.
Now the Dark Lord and Potter are moving toward each other, their attention appears to be completely fixed on one another. I manage, with difficulty, to tear my own gaze away and look around the room a final time. This time – a miracle! My eyes catch a glint of daylight falling on a pale head. It is up against a wall, nearly hidden by drapery. I slowly move toward it.
As I begin to move, the pain in my arm flares like a supernova. Turn. Kill the boy. Kill Potter.
The pain stops me in my tracks. I am now bent double over a table, using my wand-hand to hold myself up. My left arm is being eaten-through with acid. I can’t bring myself to look at it. I know there is no flesh there. I can feel the wind against the screaming nerves of my exposed bones. The snake lodged in the Mark has eaten away the flesh, eaten it down to the down to the bone.
Dear Merlin. Am I truly the last man standing? The last soldier, the last Death Eater.
I push myself up to standing, turn toward Draco, and begin to move toward him. I must go to him.
But why? I suddenly ask, making myself freeze. And I think to myself, isn’t he better off without you? Aren’t you a useless, utterly useless, utter failure to everything you’ve ever touched. You couldn’t protect him then, I told myself. What makes you think you can now?
Utter failure, correct. I would have thought you would at least be able to retrieve a glass ornament from a teenaged boy without some absurd mistake. After all, you are an expert on brittle things that break, inasmuch as you are one yourself. But no, you utterly failed in that as in everything.
So prove me wrong. Prove yourself worthy to be Draco’s father. Kill the Potter boy.
Suddenly, the dizziness and disorientation come upon me again. Kill the Potter boy. Kill Potter? This is wrong. It makes no sense. The Dark Lord had never asked anyone to kill the boy. He had always demanded that the boy be left for him. He had always forbidden any of his followers to kill the boy. My arm is on fire, my equilibrium is off, I cannot think, and I feel as though I have walked into a dark fog.
But I can see Draco. He is slightly closer than he was. I can just reach him.
The Dark Lord, taunting Potter, speaks disparagingly of love.
I break into a run and rush, stride after stride, across the room to where Draco is partly leaning, partly lying, against the curtain. Oblivious to any pain or voice, I go down on one knee to where I can take him in my arms. His hair smells singed, his face is burned and blackened. “I’m here,” I whisper.”
“Dad,” he says. I hold him, pressing his head against my chest, overwhelmed with relief. I cannot not ignore the pain of the Mark, as it is constant and awful. But I bear it. “Where’s mum?” he asks.
“Coming,” I tell him, as we turn to watch the duel unfolding before us.
Now the Dark Lord reminds Potter that he, the Lord Voldemort, brought about he death of Albus Dumbledore. But, to the amazement of every listener, Potter refutes him: “No, you did not.”
We listen, tense and rapt, my arm around him. A second later there are rapid quiet footsteps, and Narcissa nearly slides into us. She hugs Draco as though she will never release him and kisses him silently. Her tears and Draco’s are falling freely, but I do not have the luxury. We scrunch down together and watch, our arms intermingled and our heads close.
Pathetic despicable faithless coward. Do your duty. Kill the Potter boy.
The pain has lost its acuity and focus. I believe I know the reason: the Dark Lord’s attention is fixed so completely on the Potter boy that there is nothing left to direct at anyone or anything else – there is only a preexisting, floating spell that does not require his current attention or intent. Particularly with my family around me, I feel I can bear it. But the oddest, most interesting thing is the plea that I kill the Potter boy. It is unthinkable that the Dark Lord should request, let alone require, help for such a task. The inescapable conclusion would seem to be that the Lord Voldemort, greatest of wizards, has some lingering question in his mind as to whether he is up to the task.
But the Dark Lord’s anger, his terrible rage, is present a hundredfold, barely held in check, subject to bursting forth at any second. It may be that the Potter boy does not know his peril. But the two of them continue to circle; the Dark Lord continues to hold back.
The Dark Lord’s rage is an inferno, destroying everything in its path. If young Potter does not take him, he will come after my family and me. I feel it. I feel it and I will myself not to fear it. I will not collapse before him. This time, I will not. I feel the warm humanity of Draco and Narcissa beside me, and I am determined.
And suddenly, they are talking about the Dark Lord’s wand. His great preoccupation. He tortured Ollivander for information about that wand in my home.
Harry Potter is speaking, and as he speaks, I hear and feel Draco turn, concentrating his attention.
“The Elder Wand recognized a new master before Dumbledore died, someone who had never even laid a hand on it.”
I felt my son tense. I myself understand what is coming, because Draco has told me the full story of what happened the night Dumbledore was killed.
“The true master of the Elder Wand was Draco Malfoy.”
Draco gave a gasp. I shift my position slightly, so that my body hides Draco. The Dark Lord is speaking again.
“. . . and after I have killed you, I can attend to Draco Malfoy . . .”
I turn and look at Draco and Narcissa. I quickly kiss them both. Then I disengage myself from them and turn, so I am facing toward the Dark Lord. No sudden movements. I am slow and subtle, nothing to notice. Slowly, slowly I am on my feet. The Dark Lord is still circling. The Mark on my arm burns, but it is a dull sensation. I take Rookwood’s wand – again, very slowly, no one noticing. After all, I am no one, simply Draco’s father, who has no intention of failing to protect his son this time. So I quietly, within the shadows, move the wand into en garde, keeping it masked. And I load the curse, feeling the intention flow into me, into an antechamber of my mind from which it could be released in the space of a thought. All of the horrors, the torture, anguish, humiliation, and loss that his monstrosity has visited on my family give weight and focus to my curse.
And now, I will stand here quietly and wait to see what happens.
Even with one eye, it is possible to aim. You just have to be very careful.
If, by some miracle, the Potter boy prevails, I will do nothing, merely return to my family.
But if the Potter boy should fall, then – my curse will hit the Dark Lord so quickly that onlookers will call the duel a draw.
1. The lines set out in italics and bold type are quoted directly from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36.
2. I am very much indebted to Morgana67, who was kind enough to beta this chapter, for her many helpful suggestions and her encouragement.
3. Kudos, gratitude and a virtual bouquet to the very talented NevillesSoulmate, who created the wonderful graphic.
4. I am grateful to be a part of this fantastic project, and to participate with so many gifted authors.
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