Chapter 3 : No Way Out
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“I will not submit to this harassment!” Draco’s eyes flashed with outrage as he crossed his arms over his chest and turned his nose toward the ceiling. “You already know very well what you’re going to find. The only time I’m ever out of your sight is when I go to the toilet and I’m sure you’ve ransacked the plumbing as thoroughly as every other part of this house. This is just another pointless invasion of my privacy!”
The dark-haired young Auror looked completely unfazed and even a bit amused by his tirade. “You know the rules, Malfoy. Besides, we have no idea what you get up to when you’re locked in the loo.” He shot Draco a mocking grin. “I have my suspicions, of course.”
“Filthy barbarian,” Draco snarled, glaring into the flinty eyes that mocked him.
“This is not open to negotiation,” the Auror replied crisply. “If you don’t comply, I’ll be forced to stun you.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
The Auror slowly closed the gap separating them, drawing himself to his full height. Draco found his upturned chin pressed against the front of the man’s robes. He could feel the tip of the Auror’s wand pressing against the side of his neck.
“My mentor was killed trying to recapture the Death Eaters who broke out of Azkaban. I heard that it was your uncle Rodolphus who cast the curse. Don’t presume to know what I would dare to do to you if you gave me a reason.”
For a long moment, Draco couldn’t tear his eyes away. He had been hated often in his life. Every time Potter or one of the Weasleys laid eyes on him, he could see their resentment and jealousy. This was different. The dark-haired man reminded him of a creature that had been wounded. And wounded creatures were unpredictable. Dangerous. His father had told him as much. He could almost see the Auror’s professional detachment melting away before his eyes, revealing something primal and sinister. Draco felt a chill run down his spine.
He let out an exasperated sigh that didn’t sound at all convincing and took a step back. Turning away and reaching into his robes, he pulled out his wand and held it just out of the Auror’s reach. The man growled under his breath as he took a quick half-step forward and snatched the wand out of Draco’s hand. It made Draco feel ever so slightly better. Two could play at this game of petty torments and indignities.
“Prior Incantato.” The Auror waved his wand through a series of circular motions, and the recent spells cast by Draco’s wand emerged in a series of ghostly after-images. They revealed a series of unlocking charms, each one more powerful and complex than the one before it. The Auror gave him a triumphant look. “Using magic outside of school, are we? So tell me, which of our security measures have you been trying to circumvent.”
Draco allowed a surly grimace to cross his face. It truly was a frustrating state of affairs, being a prisoner in his own home. “Oh, alright!” he snapped, throwing his hands into the air. “I was trying to open the liquor cabinet in Father’s study.” The Auror’s expression went from smug satisfaction to sour disappointment. Apparently performing underage magic in a failed attempt to steal alcohol was not on the list of offenses that merited a swift trip to Azkaban.
“You watch yourself, cheeky little git. There’s not an Auror in the department who wouldn’t be thrilled to be the one to land your skinny arse next to your father.”
Draco rolled his eyes. The Auror’s breach of decorum left him feeling as though he had regained the upper hand. “So you keep saying,” he drawled airily, watching the red splotches slowly fade from the other man’s neck. “But I’m still here.”
“So am I,” the Auror snarled.
“Care to make a wager on who’ll be leaving first?” Draco sneered. He enjoyed the way the dark-haired man’s eyes twitched with irritation. “Say, maybe a hundred galleons?” He paused half a beat, just long enough to be sure that the amount had registered. “I can spot you the odd ninety or so until next Friday. I’m sure you’re good for it.”
The Auror glared bitterly at him for a few seconds, then his expression gradually twisted back into a cruel sneer. He stepped forward and clapped his hand on Draco’s shoulder so hard that it almost made his knees buckle. “Enjoy your gold while you can, Malfoy. Because you’re right; sooner or later, we will be leaving. And when we do, he’ll be coming to pay you a visit. Make sure you save at least one of those galleons to pay the ferryman.”
The dark-haired man snorted and returned Draco’s wand, jabbing him in the ribs with the handle. Then he walked away, chuckling mirthlessly to himself. As soon as he rounded the corner and disappeared from view, Draco’s mother seemed to appear from nowhere. She wrapped her slender hands around his elbow and yanked him into a nearby alcove.
“Stop it!” she hissed. Her eyes continued to flicker up and down the hallway.
“Stop what?” he replied softly, knowing full well what she meant. In the two weeks he had been home, he had already fallen into the habit of whispering. He felt annoyed with himself. Why should he be cowering in fear when he had done nothing wrong?
“For heaven’s sake, Draco, use your head!” Her whisper was almost pleading. He was past the point of wondering what had happened to the proud, confident woman he remembered. He barely knew his mother anymore. When she wasn’t fretting over everything he did and every word he said, she seemed to spend all of her time locked away in her private quarters. The dark circles under her eyes had grown so pronounced that no beauty spell could conceal them, and her high cheekbones cast deep shadows on the pallid recesses of her face.
“What does it matter?” he spat. “If they could have tossed us into Azkaban, they would have done it already, mother!” She shot him a forbidding look, but he ignored it. “These Ministry thugs invaded our home and ransacked every inch of it. They made off with who knows how many priceless family treasures. They’re nothing but common thieves and soon enough they’ll be gone!”
His mother’s look suddenly turned so desperate and beseeching that his next round of vitriol caught in his throat. Feelings he couldn’t reconcile gripped his brain, paralyzing him. She looked so broken and weak. Part of him wanted to pull her into a hug, to repay her for every bruise and scrape she had soothed in his life. Another part felt repulsed, unable to believe that the matriarch of his family, a daughter of the ancient House of Black, had been reduced to such a state. A tiny voice in his brain, one that was easily dismissed, wondered how dire their circumstances truly were to upset her so. In the end, he merely stared at her and waited.
“Please, darling, listen to me. We are in mortal danger. You need to stop antagonizing the Aurors. Circumstances may soon require us to rethink who we consider friends and enemies.”
Draco stared at his mother, trying to make sense of what she was telling him. The treatment he had received before leaving school had shaken his confidence in many people he once considered friends, but the obnoxious Auror who had just threatened his life certainly wasn’t going to be getting an invitation to dinner anytime soon. His father had always been the one to broker the family’s political alliances, and now his mother was on her own. An idea gradually settled into his mind, and it was so unpalatable that it made his stomach turn. “Mother,” he said quietly, “what have you done?”
Her voice fell so low that he was reading her lips more than listening. “I have been making... inquiries. Trying to secure our safety. But there’s simply no way to know who has taken which side. Even among the Aurors.”
Draco blinked his eyes several times, making sure that his senses were not deceiving him. The balance between his feelings of pity and scorn was shifting rapidly. She stared back at him, imploring him to understand. “Draco, don’t fight me. Not now. Not when everything is at stake. I’m only doing what I must.”
The venomous bile rose in Draco’s throat. If the woman huddled in front of him had been anyone else, he was certain he would have spat in her face. “Father is rotting in Azkaban for trying to uphold our family’s ideals and now you’re bargaining with our enemies?” He could feel his fists shaking. The look in his mother’s eyes was stricken. All of the color had drained from her face. “How could you?”
“Draco, you must try to understand!” Her voice did not waver, but it was plain that his words stung. “I love your father dearly, but he has left us in a horrible position.”
“You mean worse than being in prison?” Draco retorted, his grey eyes blazing.
His mother took another steadying breath, simply absorbing his barbs. She lowered her voice to the barest whisper. “The Dark Lord does not tolerate failure, Draco. Your father knew this.” Fresh pain filled her dark eyes. She looked away before speaking again. “And now he is going to exact a terrible price.”
“So? We have plenty of gold,” Draco replied. He had no idea how his mother could be so upset. Certainly the Dark Lord had his price, like any other man. Anything was possible if you put enough gold in the correct hands. His father had proven that over and over again.
His mother fixed him with a pitying look, and laid her hand on his arm. In spite of his anger, he couldn’t bring himself to shrug off her touch. “The Dark Lord cares nothing for gold, Draco. Power is his currency. And that power comes from fear. He will not pass on the opportunity to make an example of us.”
Draco struggled to understand her fears, his anger momentarily forgotten. His father had been one of the Dark Lord’s earliest and most loyal supporters. Every letter had made that much clear. His family had provided gold and sanctuary and political influence to the Death Eaters since the time of the Dark Lord’s first rise to power. “If he doesn’t want our gold, what could he possibly take from us? The manor?”
She shook her head slowly. Tears welled up in her eyes and for the first time since his grandmother’s death, Draco watched as they spilled down her pale face. She took both of his hands in hers and pulled him close, pressing her cheek against his. Her voice was barely audible, even from a fraction of an inch away.
Draco awoke from a dead sleep, roused by the sound of loud voices. It took him several moments to shake off the cobwebs and find his wand on the nightstand beside his bed. He lay still, listening carefully. Among the petty, tedious rules the Aurors had imposed was a strict ten o’clock curfew. Lighting his wand, he confirmed what his eyelids were already telling him. The clock on the wall read two thirty in the morning. He supposed that the Aurors were now granting tours of the Manor to curious Ministry officials who wanted to experience the opulence of the Death Eaters’ homes.
Suddenly he heard a loud bang, followed by a piercing cackle. He sat bolt upright in bed, clutching his wand tightly. Several possibilities came to him as he slipped out from under the covers and pulled on his robe. It was possible that the Aurors had gotten drunk and decided to trash the house. Maybe the Manor was being attacked by mudbloods seeking revenge. He even allowed himself to indulge the idea that the Dark Lord had freed his followers from Azkaban and his father was driving the Aurors from their home. It was the most appealing alternative, even if it was also the least likely.
He tentatively laid his fingers on the ornate handle of his chamber door and discovered that the locking charm the Aurors placed upon it each night had been broken. Easing the door open, it dawned on him that his captors were either very occupied or dead. Draco slowly made his way to the grand staircase and crouched behind the balcony wall. The voices were coming closer, and he recognized his mother’s among them.
“You must leave, right away!” she insisted in a pleading tone. “If the Aurors find you here-”
Another woman’s voice cut her off, dismissing her concerns with ear-splitting laughter. “Darling, I assure you, we have given the Aurors plenty to keep them occupied tonight.”
His mother was not persuaded. “But they will be back! And they’ll search every inch of the house. Please, take your friends and go!”
“Cissy, my dear, we haven’t seen one another in fifteen years and you act as though you can’t get me out of your house quickly enough.” The voice became playful, but Draco could hear a menacing edge lurking just below the surface. “Doesn’t my baby sister love me anymore?”
“Of course I love you, Bella,” his mother replied. She sounded sincere, but her voice was no less nervous. “But I have to think of my son. His father is already in prison and the Ministry has all but accused him of being a Death Eater...”
“Accused him of being a Death Eater?” Another howling cackle filled the cavernous room. Draco felt his insides clench. There was something unnatural about the woman’s laughter. Almost inhuman. “How terrible, darling! What sort of child grows up to be a Death Eater?”
For the first time, Draco heard other voices, chuckling quietly alongside the woman’s shrieks of amusement. He began to fear for his mother’s safety. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet and beseeching. “Bella, he’s too young. He doesn’t even know what the words mean.”
“It’s time he was learning, don’t you think?” The other woman’s voice turned serious. “Cissy, our master is furious about Potter’s escape! We have to prove our commitment to the cause, or others will assume our rightful place at his side!”
“But why does it have to be my son? He’s sixteen years old. What could he possibly offer the Dark Lord?”
“Draco is the last male heir to the House of Black. Our family has proudly served the master since the beginning. It’s his birthright! The Dark Lord will help him become the great wizard he is destined to be!”
“But what if he doesn’t want that?” his mother persisted. “What if he simply wants to return to school and complete his education?”
“Why don’t we ask him?” Draco realized that he was pressing his body against the low wall with all of his might as the grating voice called out to him. “Draco, darling, come give your Auntie Bella a kiss. I know you’re hiding up there.”
Draco slowly stood and looked down into the Great Room. He recognized his aunt from a picture that his mother kept in the sitting room. She was grinning madly in the picture, clutching his tiny form to her chest while he sobbed in terror and stretched his arms frantically toward the spot where his mother must have been standing just outside of the camera’s field of view. She had changed a great deal, however. Long streaks of grey ran through her wild, curly, black hair. Her skin was deathly pale and her face was drawn and gaunt. Her emaciated body seemed to struggle to hold up her tight, corseted dress.
As he made his way down the stairs, he couldn’t stop looking at her eyes. They burned with a frightening, intense madness. He found that he couldn’t look away, even though the sight of her blackened, rotting teeth repulsed him. When he finally reached ground level, she swept him from head to toe with an approving gaze. “Oh, Cissy, don’t you think he has Father’s cheekbones? Such a handsome young man! Our master will be so pleased!”
His aunt closed the distance between them and pulled him into a fierce embrace. Draco’s ears turned red as her cleavage pressed against his neck and he could feel the sharp bone of her hip digging into his abdomen. She lowered her face and whispered into his ear. “You are ready, aren’t you, darling?” After a long, awkward moment, it dawned on him that she wasn’t planning to let him go until she got an answer. Possibly not even then if it wasn’t the one she wanted to hear.
“I, um... yes,” he finally replied.
She seized his shoulders and thrust him away from her chest, holding his body at arms length and laughing her terrible, demented laugh again. “Oh, such a wonderful boy! Do you hear that Cissy? Father would be so proud!”
Draco’s eyes flickered rapidly back and forth among the room’s occupants. His mother looked as though she might burst into tears or vomit, possibly both. His aunt beamed at him in a way that made him want to turn and run for his life. The two large, swarthy-looking wizards who accompanied his aunt stared at him with thinly-veiled contempt in their eyes, but they were plainly too frightened of her to act on it. Suddenly his mother spun on her heel and stormed off toward her personal chambers with her face buried in her hands.
Aunt Bella watched her go, then turned back to him. He could see traces of hurt in her eyes, and they made him fear her even more. His father’s warning about wounded animals once again came to mind.
“Well, my darling, back to bed!” she directed, as though she had suddenly realized the time. She leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek. It took every last ounce of Draco’s self-control not to pull away. She seemed to notice him staring toward his mother’s chambers and sighed melodramatically. “Don’t worry, my dear. I’ll speak with her. She’ll soon realize what a wonderful choice you’ve made. Now, off with you. A growing boy needs his sleep!”
Draco could hear her speaking to her two companions in shrill whispers as he forced himself to trudge back up the stairs. All he wanted to do was run to his mother’s chambers and crawl under her blankets, the way that he used to during thunderstorms when he was a child. Whether he needed it or not, sleeping felt like it was out of the question.
So she's finally made her appearance, the craziest Death Eater of them all! What did you think of her? Please take a moment and let me know.
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