Draco panicked as they all made a motion to rise from their seats.
“Wait!” Draco piped, looking between all of them.
He could hear heavy sighs and displeased grunts, hoping that they could leave and carry on with whatever business that had been called from.
Bellatrix shot Draco a warning look and Narcissa stiffened beside him, knowing that she was desperate to leave Voldemort’s presence.
“We can’t do it now.” Draco objected.
Voldemort gave him a blank look, his expression impossible to read. “Why ever not, boy?”
“Won’t they expect that?” Draco asked quickly, his mind reeling for a plan, but it only seemed to come together when he formed words. His mouth had more of an idea of where to take him than his mind did.
“Elaborate.” Voldemort commanded him, grabbing to stop his robes from moving with his movement from the grand chair.
“Well,” Draco trailed off nervously, aware of all the eyes on him. Fenrir let out a low, threatening growl that seemed to reverberate through the mahogany table. “I was just questioned by her, don’t you think she’d be on her guard? I told her not to investigate further. I’m sure she’s looking for me now, expecting an attack or something.”
“When would you propose to do it then, boy?” Fenrir growled, his deep voice rumbling in the still hall. Draco couldn’t tear his eyes away from the hungry look that was growing within his beady black eyes.
“Just not now.” Draco turned back to Voldemort, “Any day but today. She’ll be on the lookout. Plus, I would assume we have to study her movements.”
There was a wave of cackles that came from the hooded figures. He frowned in confusion, feeling as if he had missed the punch line for an inside joke he was supposed to know.
Voldemort gave him a lopsided smirk, “We already know, Draco. We keep a close watch on anyone involved with the Ministry. Together, we can tell you who wakes up when, what time they leave their dingy, little flat, what they do when they arrive at work, when they leave, and anything else before they make their way back to their sorry excuses for lives and fifthly bred families. People are not that interesting, Draco. They’re pathetic.”
Draco took a shallow intake of breath, deeply unnerved by the fact that they knew such intimate details about Ministry officials. Draco couldn’t help but wonder if he was bluffing.
“When you have a little more…experience, we will be sure to send you out on a few stalkings.”
Draco took a step back to see Nagini slither up Voldemort’s body, wrapping herself around his shoulders and extended hand, “You see, Draco. You have to learn to be like Nagini: she never strikes without knowing every move of her prey. She studies and studies, until she knows what its strengths and weakness. So that when she does, it never sees it coming.”
Voldemort gave a soft laugh as Nagini slithered close to his face, sticking her barbed tongue out, as if in a gesture of affection.
“Or,” he continued, “she makes it suffer slowly, making the animal wish it had never poked its head in places where it shouldn’t have in the first place.”
Voldemort bore into Draco’s eyes, his metaphor clear. Draco nodded.
“You seem to be running the show.” Voldemort insisted testily. “When do you propose that we should strike, Master Malfoy?”
Another round of chuckles filled the room. Draco was too frightened in his presence to be angry with his mocking tone.
“Give me three days.” He told him clearly, making sure to use an even tone with just enough submission and self-assurance.
Voldemort seemed to ponder over this for a moment, making another round of glances to his other Death Eaters.
Finally, his eyes turned back to him, “We do it Monday night. You have until then.”
Draco nodded, ending the conversation. He couldn’t help but stare as Voldemort muttered something to Nagini, making the large serpent slither off his shoulders, leading the way out the door, causing the others to squeal and make theatrical sidesteps to miss the serpent.
“Monday, Draco.” He hissed once more as he cleared the room, making the others who had not yet exited stop and bow before him.
It didn’t take long for the room to empty, leaving the three of them alone.
Draco felt a cold hand grip his neck firmly, “What was that about?”
He tried to turn to Bellatrix stiffly, jerking out of her grip, “I need time.”
“For what, you insolent boy?” Her heavily lidded eyes widened, making her gaunt features mask her face in even more malice.
“I need to think.” Draco told her, “I’m assuming that I’m the one to do it?”
“Not alone, Draco. Never alone.” She mused, reaching for the smoothness of his cheek. Her mood swings never ceased to catch him off guard, “I couldn’t let my nephew kill someone without me being there to congratulate him!”
Draco shrugged off her touch, utterly disgusted with her.
“Draco.” She pouted mockingly, “No need to be so sore about it.”
“Time to leave.” Draco dismissed, glaring down at her.
Bellatrix raised an eyebrow in suspicion, but did not retort with a snarky remark.
“Fine.” She shrugged carelessly, walking out of the dining room.
When Draco had heard the sound of the fire, announcing her departure, he looked to his mother, who stared at him worriedly, an expression that was becoming her usual look.
“What are you doing, son?” She asked softly.
Draco shook his head, “I’ll figure something out. But I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
Draco dragged his feet out of the room, startled by the darkness that had quickly consumed the house. Had their meeting gone on that long? It must have, for the lamps in the walls were glowing, illuminating the shadows that had settled within the Manor. Draco walked back into the parlor, the moonlight glowing on the white marble of the fireplace and illuminating a thick strip of carpet.
He stumbled upstairs. When he found the door handle, he twisted it slowly, feeling his way onto the bed, where the silk pillowcases and feather blankets greeted him.
Vanilla flooded his nose and he turned towards the pillows to sniff deeper. He looked to the far wall, noticing the odd placement of the bed across from the window.
He was in Ashley’s room.
Draco kicked off his shoes, glad for his tired mistake as he pulled the covers over him, burying his face into the silk that had locked in her scent.
“Thank you.” His muffled thanks reached his ears, grateful that something had contained a piece of her, reassuring him that he wasn’t crazy and that he had not been leading a life only of Death Eater meetings and plotting deaths, the week of gatherings seemed to blur the past seven months he had been at school.
He listened to the gentle breeze outside, the rustling of the branches and the slow pitter-patter of rain that started to fall. He looked out the window, the night sky filling his room with shadow and darkness.
His chest started to constrict painfully as his mind wandered where his heart didn’t want to go. Ashley slipped easily into his thoughts, as easily as her hand slipped in his when they strolled the grounds. He clenched his hand tightly, as if holding on to the imaginary feeling of her cool skin.
What would she think of him now? He was two months from turning eighteen and yet his first murder had already been dictated to him. He could just imagine her face, not even a week out of Hogwarts and he was falling into the darkness quickly.
He shifted in her bed, hoping that the movement would release the ache that seemed to have permanently settled within his muscles. But with each deep breath of vanilla he inhaled, the deeper and more concrete the ache seemed to get. He scratched at his chest, as if he could rub the pain away. A bulge ran along his arms underneath his shirt and Draco reached in to find her ring dangling on his silver chain.
Turning on his back, he pulled the chain out of his clothing, holding the ring up to his eyes. It was far too dark to tell the color, but he wondered all the same. Was she doing okay without him? Or was she falling at the seams, just like he was?
It doesn’t matter, Draco told himself, I’m here now. There’s nothing I can do.
Reality hit him squarely in the chest, making him sputter for breath as wetness pricked his eyes.
There is literally nothing I can do, he told himself, over and over again, the words racking his brain and echoing through his head.
There was no way she would want to be with him now. Being a low key Death Eater was one thing, Ashley had told him she could handle that, for Narcissa had done it and she was able to be with Lucius. But his first death had already been planned and he was sure that there was more where that came from. He couldn’t allow himself to selfishly seek her out, he couldn’t rob her of a normal life like that; he loved her too much.
Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
He felt an aching in his chest that rose to his throat, tightening uncomfortably. Before he could realize it, tears started to stream from his lifeless eyes, wetting the soft silk beneath him.
He laid there in his agony, hating her, loving her, and fearing for her, knowing that he had failed her in the surest of ways.
He thought that he had fallen asleep, but when he opened his eyes, he figured he had been caught between the stage of sleep and awareness, feeling just as exhausted as when he had laid down. He turned his head, wiping away the dried tears, to peer out the window. The black sky didn’t look any different from when he first entered. Wrapping the blankets around him tighter, his mind immediately started to worry and stress.
What was he going to do? There had to be something.
Help always comes to those who ask for it.
Draco turned on his back, wondering why words of Dumbledore had echoed in his mind.
“I need help.” He said aloud, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Draco waited, wondering if there was going to be some ray of hope, someone to burst through his room and rescue him. But there was no light to guide his way and the large Manor remained deadly silent.
Draco huffed tiredly, knowing that perhaps help didn’t come for bad people like him. Who or what would help a Death Eater?
Draco turned restlessly away from the door, and stared at a rectangular object on top of a small dresser. He knew it had been a picture by the way the dark figures in the middle of the frame were moving.
Frowning, he scooted over and reached for the picture, nearly falling off the bed as he strained to extend his arm. Sitting up, he squinted at the people in the frame, knowing that it had to be another picture Ashley had left behind.
It was still too dark to make out its entirety, but he could clearly make out four figures standing next to each other. He didn’t need light to know it was Ashley and the trio.
And then it hit him like a Bludger in the stomach.
Draco’s breath caught in his throat, and his heart started to beat faster. Hippogriffs started to thunder wildly in his stomach.
“There’s a way.” He breathed, finding himself kissing the portrait in thanks. He clutched it tightly to his chest as if he would lose his exit to this whole mess should he let go.
He tried to let himself relax and go to sleep, for he knew tomorrow he would be fighting a hard battle. He was going to commit the unthinkable for a Death Eater and the more he thought about it, the more he was torn between relief and fear.
“But I will see you again.” He told the picture, not sure which one was the Gryffindor who had stolen his heart.
He clutched the picture tightly to him, rolling over and finally falling asleep, believing wholeheartedly for the first time that there was hope.