Chapter 19 : Chapter 18 - Shaman's Way
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Draco leaned heavily on his shovel handle and pried up yet another stone from the ruddy earth. This was, by his count, his seventh week in the encampment with the men and boys and his third straight week working on this particular clearing. His task was rather straightforward; he was to clear the field of large stones, presumably to make it suitable as a pasture for one of the herds of animals. Knowing the reason for the work didn't help to break the monotony of the task, or diminish the harshness of the hard labor beneath the tropical sun.
He had cleared another field, but it had been much smaller, and much less populated by rock. He had begun to suspect that the earlier field had been cleared at least once before. He did not understand why this work could not be done magically. The answer to that question, as he had pondered it seemed to be that it could. So, he had rephrased the question in his mind; why did he have to do this work manually? The answer to that question was proving much more elusive.
After about a month of these manual tasks Draco had gathered the courage to ask the Shaman if he was a prisoner. The Shaman, had chuckled at the question and asked him; "If I told you that you were free to leave at any time, where would you go?" Draco did not even know where he was, so he couldn't really imagine how to leave. He had not learned how to Apparate properly on his own, and even if he had it would do him no good, as he could not likely Apparate far enough to reach the edge of the jungle. That is, even if he had known a direction to begin.
The Shaman had watched him thinking, and then after a minute had said, "I am not your jailer, Dracho. I am a teacher."
"When then, will I begin to learn?" Draco had responded sharply.
"There are things to be learned in every moment, of every task," The Shaman had responded calmly, "When you begin to learn them, is up to you. Only you will determine when each new lesson begins."
Draco had turned away in complete frustration, returning eventually to his task. His anger at that encounter had remained for days.
In truth, the labor, though monotonous and tiring had become much easier to bear, what were most troubling were his dreams. Every night he had dreams of his life, memories of his past. For the first several weeks he had seen these dreams as his longing to return to the life he knew, to the comforts of his home in England, and the excesses of his family's social and economic standing. Gradually, the focus of his thoughts had turned, and now he saw each memory as a glaring example of a life dependent on a situation that no longer existed for him.
Draco knew for certain that he no longer believed in the goals of the Dark Lord, in fact he saw the man, if he could in truth be called that, as an evil tyrant who must be defeated. This realization was causing him to look carefully at his life, and consider it in comparison to other people he knew to be widely admired in the Wizarding world back in England. Not the people he had always looked to as examples; his father, his Aunt Bellatrix, but people he had never before considered worthy of note, people like Albus Dumbledore, the faculty at Hogwarts, and even, though it pained him to admit it, Harry Potter.
Many of these people would have described him as a spoiled, selfish, self centered, brat, and he would have always until now shrugged away such descriptions as the petty jealousies of lesser people. But, the Dark Lord too had called him these things, and drove home the point with torture and unspeakable horror. And, Voldemort had branded his face with what he called the mark of a coward. Even though he now considered the Dark Lord his worst enemy, Voldemort had managed to drive home a lesson that Draco had never before considered, and had always been taught otherwise. Some part of him knew now that there was truth in these descriptions and facing these truths was a difficult realization. He did not want to be that person anymore, but, how did one change oneself? How did one become something other than what they were raised to be? He was frustrated by this thinking, some part of him deep inside raged against it.
His father had always driven into him that he belonged to the highest class of Wizard and therefore he was entitled to expect people to serve him. And, people had served him, just as they had served his father, but Draco was not unintelligent, he had observed many times that his father expected and received the service of others, but always it was minimal, always it was the least that could be gotten away with, and always his father met it with complaint, disdain and anger.
Draco jabbed the shovel blade into the ground to pry up another stone, and as he did so the realization hit him suddenly as though he had jabbed the blade into his own mind and pried up a buried truth. His father was all the things he -Draco- had been accused of. Lucius Malfoy was every bit the spoiled, selfish, self centered brat that people said he was, and Draco had to admit that he had been his father's son. The difference was only that Lucius was older; he commanded the wealth of the Malfoy family. He expected to be served and he was, but only because people feared him, and what he could and would do to them. Nobody liked his father, in fact, they hated him, and even his closest business associates clearly didn't trust him. Small wonder Lucius had sided with the Dark Lord. Voldemort offered the promise of superiority imposed by power and force. The only way that Lucius had ever known it. But the truth was that it didn't really exist. If it was imposed it couldn't be real.
Draco pulled up the stone and rolled it aside. His mind was racing. His entire life, everything he had been taught was false. It was so obvious it was funny.
Draco began to chuckle. He jabbed the shovel blade back into the earth and there was a sickening wrenching sound as it impacted a stone. He felt an instant of anger. He pulled the blade up and examined it. The tip of the blade was bent and flattened at nearly a ninety-degree angle. He felt anger building inside him as he stared at the shovel. But instead of rage bursting forth, his lips curled up and he let loose a huge laugh. He dropped the shovel and took a few steps away, leaning finally on his own knees as he bent over in laughter. He could not stop laughing.
Memories of his childish anger began to bubble up inside of him, all the times he had lashed out, called people harsh names, or cast about insults. It was all absurd, and suddenly comically immature. As the memories bombarded him he felt remorse for the first time, actual sorrow at his behavior, he wanted to cry, but it all continued to burst out of him as laughter.
He had always wanted to be liked and admired, but he had learned only to inspire dislike. Those who did seem to admire him, Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy Parkinson, and a host of other Slytherins; they only did so because they had been raised the same way, and their fathers were beholden to his father. It was all an absurd web of monetary power, and it was all an illusion. He felt pity for them and in a sense for himself, but he could not stop laughing.
Draco fell to the ground on his hands and knees, laughing. He was laughing so hard that tears began to stream from his eyes. He felt the swirling memories in his head begin to run together, along with every act of pettiness, every time he had mistreated someone just because he could, all of it serving no purpose but to support his own illusion of reality.
He realized slowly that his tears of laughter were turning into tears of sorrow and regret. He wanted to be rid of it all and he felt it move from his head lurching into his stomach. He sobbed heavily and vomited as if to expel all of the memories.
As he did so the ground beneath him began to rumble and shake. As he retched up violently a lifetime of memories and misdeeds, the ground itself did the same with the stones he was there to clear, they burst up from the earth like the memories he was so eager to expel.
When he was done, and there was nothing left in his stomach to be expelled he felt a relief he had never known he rolled over laying on the uneven ground resting his head on a large stone that had just slipped itself from the ground's grasp. He chuckled again, suddenly realizing how hungry he was, but there was something else there too, something new to him something he had not before experienced, not even in the midst of his torture at the hands of the Dark Lord. It was the sense that he had done many very wrong things with his life. It was, he thought, guilt.
Draco knew now, he had much to atone for.
At the edge of the field, in the cover of the trees, the Shaman stood watching. He smiled, and turned away.
Draco spent the rest of the afternoon hefting stones onto a makeshift wooden sled and pulling them to the edge of the field where he piled them together. It was backbreaking labor, but it was going very fast, especially now that the stones sat atop the ground, wrested from the grip of the earth by some magical effect of his emotional outburst. He smiled to think that he had actually, finally done it by magic.
By the time the sun had disappeared behind the hills, leaving the field cast in long shadow, Draco had completed clearing the stones. He looked out over the field with intense satisfaction, something that felt new and strange to him. He gathered his broken shovel and his leather bag and headed up the path toward the encampment, and his little solitary shelter. When he arrived he leaned the shovel against a post in the ground and hung the bag on a peg at the top of the post.
He stood and watched the main camp building for a short while. As always he could see the glint of fires from within and hear what sounded like the boisterous din of conversation. It reminded him for a moment of the Hogwarts great hall during mealtime, even though he could not understand a word of the foreign language. For a moment he felt himself longing to join in that merriment.
He was exhausted, as he had been at the end of every day for seven weeks, but this night felt somehow different. Gone was any hint of resentment, anger or fear. He was oddly content. He turned and entered his small shelter. He lay down on his grass matt and fell quickly into a deep sleep. That night, he had no dreams of his life that had been.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Severus Snape hurried down the long corridor of the old castle toward the throne room. He slipped in through the heavy oak doors, into what was a crowd of murmuring Death-Eaters. The room was a mixture of tension and exhilaration. Those Death-Eaters who had completed their night's tasks were eager to report their accomplishments to the Dark Lord. Others, who had not been so successful, were understandably wary.
Snape was indifferent, as he had been given no task and therefore had no anticipation of having to report anything. He had spent much of the night in the potions laboratory tending to the many cauldrons in various stages of preparation. The Dark Lord demanded a large stock of potions be kept on hand for many various uses, and for the use of his Death-Eaters, so Snape was kept very busy most of the time simply tending that very rudimentary task. It was not as glorious a function as he might have liked, but it kept him occupied and in the Dark Lord's good graces, and so he saw to it diligently.
Snape skirted the side wall making his way toward the right side enclosed wooden seating gallery. His position of favor with the Dark Lord afforded him the front corner seat nearest the throne, opposite Bellatrix Lestrange who occupied its mirror in the left gallery.
Since leaving England and having experienced greater success in Eastern Europe, the Dark Lord had begun to impose far more ceremony to his appearances. Because the ranks of the Death-Eaters had grown so rapidly, part of this was necessary just to maintain an authoritative structure. But certainly, as Snape well understood, much of it was just Voldemort establishing himself as "Lord" Voldemort, and succumbing to his own ego.
Snape arrived at his seat amid stares and the usual grumblings and empty flattering comments from postulants to the inner circle. He was surprised to find a folded scrap of parchment left on his seat. He snatched it up as he sat and guardedly unfolded it, reading the note.
We seek escape from the Dark Lord's grasp. Rumor has it that you may be willing and able to help us. Go to the Postern gate at noon if you are willing to help.
Snape slipped the note into his robe pocket, and prepared his hood and Death's head mask for the Dark Lord's entrance.
Thankfully the proceedings had only lasted a couple of hours. All the reports throughout Eastern Europe were much the same. Most of the magical governments had bowed quite willingly to Voldemort's demands and the programs of sorting by blood worthiness were proceeding quickly.
Snape was not naive enough to believe that there wasn't far greater resistance than was being reported, and he knew that Voldemort knew the same, but no one was fool enough to report this to the Dark Lord, and he was likewise content to let these local henchmen deal with their local problems for as long as they were able.
Snape heard nothing of any particular interest until finally Rodolphus Lestrange stood to deliver his report on the events in England of the previous evening. There had been several planned attacks on magical locations, including shops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. There had also been attacks on Muggle locations which Rodolphus reported as going just as planned. This piqued Snape's curiosity, but there was no way for him to inquire as to specifics. If the Dark Lord intended to inform him further he would do so in his own time.
When the proceedings concluded, Snape was quick to exit the throne room without being drawn into conversation. Mentally calculating his options he proceeded to the Dark Lord's private chambers. He rapped purposefully on the door, aware that an interruption so soon after the proceedings might not be particularly welcome, but Snape no longer possessed the excuse of distance and other duties to prevent him from reporting quickly to the Dark Lord. He knocked again.
"Enter," came the Dark Lord's command.
Snape pushed the door open and stepped into the room. Voldemort was sitting at a table looking over a number of documents. He looked up as Snape entered the room. "Ah Severus," he greeted idly, acknowledging Snape's presence. He turned back to the document he had been reading. He set it down carelessly.
"Bureaucrats," he said with a distinct air of distaste. "No matter how governments change, they will ever be present." He pushed the pile of parchment away from him. "And the paperwork they feel compelled to produce never ceases." He eyed Snape intently. "Perhaps I should enlist you in deciphering all of this?" he said.
Snape bowed his head in acknowledgement. "I would be pleased to serve however my Lord sees fit," he said.
Voldemort seemed just short of chuckling at Snape's response. "I presume you have a purpose for this visit?" he asked.
"Yes, Lord," Snape said as he hesitantly approached. He reached into his robe pocket and slowly drew out the note. "I found this," he gestured with his hand to draw attention to the slip of parchment, "set on my seat, before this morning's proceedings." He set the parchment on the table within Voldemort's reach and backed away a few steps.
Voldemort snatched up the note and read it. He chuckled darkly. "So," he stood, picking up his wand and turning to Snape, "we have treachery in our midst." His expression turned hard and angry. "Have you any idea who this is from?"
"None, my Lord," Snape answered slowly and truthfully.
"Or why it would come to you?" Voldemort spat, eyeing Snape with a hint of suspicion.
"Because of my past association with Dumbledore, perhaps" Snape offered.
"Yes," Voldemort said almost to himself, "yes, of course." The Dark Lord paced back and forth quickly, his wand wagging carelessly in his slender fingers. "This cannot go unpunished, Severus," he stopped again facing Snape. "You will go to the Postern Gate. You will do whatever you need to reveal where this note comes from. And, when you discover its origin, you will alert me." The Dark Lord looked excited and gleeful. Having made his decision, he handed the note back to Snape.
Snape pocketed the note, bowed his head low and answered, "yes, my Lord," he quickly turned and exited the room.
Less than an hour later, Snape arrived at the Postern gate. It was almost exactly noon. The gate had been unused for years and was quite rusted shut. He stood beneath the arch and waited. After a few minutes a young girl appeared on the other side. She said nothing, but pushed her small hand through the grate and handed him another slip of parchment. She then hurried away out of sight.
Snape glanced at the parchment. Written there was the name of a tavern, Gheară de Dragon. Snape recognized the name of the place, though he had never been. He knew it to be remotely located on the other side of the village a few hundred meters into the forest along the main road. He tucked the parchment into his robe pocket and pulled out his wand, leveling it at the heavy, rusted, gate latch. "Alohomora," he said decisively. The latch popped open and the gate, protesting, creaked slowly open.
Snape, slipped through the gate, on to the village road, taking a few hurried steps to put him beyond the reach of the castle wards. There was a hollow imploding "pop" and he was gone.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Draco woke before the sun. Without his dreams nagging at his mind he actually felt better rested than he had since his mother's death. The thought hit him like a new realization, as if he had not been previously aware. He felt tears trail down his cheeks and realized that they were for her.
He had been taught not to cry, that it was a sign of weakness, but somehow these tears felt right and he did not try to hold them back. Memories flooded his mind, of his mother, and he felt as though he was seeing them for the first time. Her grace, her beauty, her concern, and her kindness, all suddenly realized in a new light, his mother had loved him. Unlike his father she had never dictated what he should be or not be. She had made attempts to correct him, but always with kindness. He had been taught by his father to ignore her, a lesson he had absorbed like so many others, but now he knew completely that his father's lessons had all been wrong. He knew that he truly had loved his mother. And now she was gone, and he could only weep for her.
It was truly for her that he wept, the loss of her hurt deeply, but he did not cry for his loss, he cried for her. She had been a beautiful woman, born in to one of the proudest, most prejudicial of pure-blood families, forced into an arranged marriage, made a Death-eater at her husband's command and cast in to a role she would not have chosen for herself.
Draco felt that he had been a disappointment to her, even though she had never said it, how could it be otherwise. But even till the last she had loved him. He was suddenly thankful that the Shaman had provided a means for him to save her, for unless it had been an illusion he had been able to do just that. That was who he wanted to be now. A man that would do what was right, not a boy cowering at the forces around him. He continued to weep for her, believing that she was now in a better place, and free of her earthly bonds. He would miss her, every day of the rest of his life.
There was movement on the path from the main building and Draco looked up to see the Shaman approaching. He got up from his grass matt and stepped out to receive his new task, he had after all, finished clearing the field.
The Shaman strode up to his small shelter and stopped at the post. He looked down at the bent blade of the shovel and Draco thought that he saw a hint of a smile cross his lips.
Draco stepped before him, suddenly aware of what a mess he was, his hands and feet seemed permanently covered in dirt, his hair, which had grown longer than he had ever worn it before was matted to his head with mud and his unshaven face he imagined was a scruffy mess that would have embarrassed him under other circumstances. "I am ready for my next task," Draco said, with no hint of resentment.
"Are you?" the Shaman questioned.
"Yes, Sir," Draco said without hesitation.
The Shaman seemed to be examining him closely. "Tell me Dracho," the shaman began, "What have you learned so far in your time here?"
Draco reflected on this for a moment. "I have learned that there is nothing dishonorable about labor without magic, that it can strengthen my body and calm my mind."
"And," the Shaman prompted.
Draco, was unsure what the Shaman wanted to hear. He groped for more conclusions. "And," he continued somewhat hesitantly, "I have learned that my dreams can help me to examine my life."
"Ah, and have you drawn any conclusions about your life?" the Shaman asked intently.
Draco met the man's eyes, they were dark and shadowed in the dim of early morning, but he thought that what he found there was calm, genuine compassion. "Yes," he started confidently, "I have concluded that I can no longer be the person I have been, that I have to choose another path, and learn another way."
"And are you ready to put aside your habits of scorn, prejudice, anger and the idea that there is anything about you that is in any way any better than any other?"
The Shaman's gaze upon him seemed to deepen and Draco knew that only the truth would do.
"I am ready to try, Sir," Draco said.
There was a long pause. "Very good, Dracho, I am glad to hear it. Trying is where it begins, but do not try without focusing on less than triumph. I have looked into you and know the life you have led. It is a web of falsehoods, built upon illusions of birthright. You were born a magical being, but this gift does not make you more than human." There was another pause. "I believe you are ready for your next challenge, but I warn you, while your tasks will change, they will become no less a demanding. If you can find joy in the challenge, you will surely succeed."
Draco nodded silently.
"Wait here, I will send another for you." The Shaman took the leather bag from the peg and picked up the broken shovel. "You will not need this any longer," he said. He shook his staff at it and it transformed back in to the stick it had once been. He handed it to Draco. He turned and walked away along the path to the main building.
Draco examined the stick in his hands. It was about a half meter long, mostly straight and ended in a heavy burl, where it had once been part of a tree. The opposite end was broken and worn. He peeled back some of the grey bark to reveal a brilliantly orange wood beneath. It was about three centimeters thick and felt good in his hands. He decided to keep it, as a reminder of his labors. He set it inside his small shelter on the grass mat.
He had made his decision. All that he had been, he would leave in that cleared field, and he would become something better. For now he would do what he was asked and learn what was taught. He would try this the Shaman's way, even though he was uncertain of what that way was exactly. Anything he became from this point on would surely be better than what he was.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Snape appeared on the road, outside the village, near the forest. Without knowing an exact location he dared not Apparate further. He proceeded up the road, the cobblestones giving way to the worn earth at the forest's edge. After a hundred meters or so he could see the tavern in the distance. It was an ancient structure of stone, timbers and plaster, and looked, like so much of the Wizarding world, like it existed in another time. The surrounding forest cast a grayness about it that made it seem bathed in evening, even under the noontime sun.
Snape approached warily, his senses on alert. A couple of women exited the building as he approached. They were quiet, pulling their robe hoods over their heads and offering no greeting as they passed him on the road. A large sign hung from a wrought iron bracket over the door. It pictured an elaborate, stylized carving of a Romanian Longhorn, and the name of the establishment, Gheară de Dragon. Snape paused at the heavy doorway, then, pulling it open, stepped cautiously inside.
He stood for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dim room. The active conversations seemed to pause momentarily at his entrance, and he thought that he detected a muffled gasp or two at his presence, but the sounds of conversations and the clinking of utensils quickly resumed. He approached the bar and ordered a tankard of ale from the large hairy barman, before spying an open booth and moving to sit down. He sipped his drink and waited, noting that several people seemed to be finishing hurriedly and departing the tavern. He was glad of this. A weary looking, though otherwise attractive, barmaid came to the table and asked if he would like anything to eat. He declined, gesturing to his drink, and she half smiled at him as she turned away.
After several long minutes and fully half of his ale, three men got up from a long table near the front and approached his booth. Snape counted seven still at the table, some of them eyeing him suspiciously. The eldest looking of the three men greeted him and asked if they could sit.
Snape gestured to the seats. "If you will forgive me," he said, "my Romanian is quite horrid, do you speak English?"
The older man nodded, "my English is surely no better than your Romanian," he said in a thickly accented, haggard, voice.
"You are the one who sent the note?" Snape asked calmly.
"Not I, no," The man said, "that was my son," he gestured to the man across from him seated next to Snape.
Snape looked at the man next to him and thought that he had seen him at the castle, though they had never spoken.
"These are dark times, and this new ruler in the castle, this man whose name shall not be spoken, who pulls upon the strings of governments, he is no greater than any despot who has ever claimed an unearned throne," the older man said.
"These are dangerous, traitorous words you speak," Snape spoke calmly, "I should be very careful to whom you express such thoughts."
"True enough, but you have come, so you can only have one of two purposes." The elder man began. "If you have come to help as we have asked, than my words can be of no surprise to you, and may even echo the truth of your own heart. Or, you are here to expose us, in which case the truth, remains the truth, and it does not change our desire to escape from tyranny." He paused and looked closely at Snape. "So, tell me is there any hope of escape?"
Snape took a draw from his ale. "In the long term, I know of only one hope, but it resides in the life of boy back in England and will be of no help to you here, and now."
The old man frowned. "And in the short term?"
"If you can travel through the mountains to Latveria, you may escape the Dark Lord's wrath, but I cannot help you, my hands are tied."
"This is all you can offer?" The younger man next to him spat. He got up from the booth and drew his wand leveling it at Snape. "Then we are already betrayed," he shouted. With his wand pointed at Snape he backed away, the others got up from the booth and hurried back to the table where the rest of the company were hurriedly gathering their things and making for the door.
Snape flicked his wand beneath the table placing a sealing charm on the room. The front door closed and locked. There were several "pops" from attempted Apparition, but the Tavern was obviously warded against it as no one disappeared.
Others in the room, seeing and hearing the conflict were also rising hurriedly to try to leave. The Barman, and Barmaid had disappeared somewhere into the back of the building.
Still beneath the table, Snape exposed his left arm and touched his wand tip to the Dark Mark. He sighed heavily.
At once he heard the familiar popping displacement of air that was the arrival of the Dark Lord, the power of the dark mark easily overriding the Tavern's wards. As Voldemort arrived in a swirl of darkness and fury, there were several futile, shouted spells that bounced around the room, easily deflected by the Dark Lord who cackled with sadistic laughter.
People were ducking behind the tables and chairs, and some behind the bar as the exchange of wand fire continued. Bits of furniture erupted all around the room as spells bounced furiously destroying many of the tables and chairs. The mirrors behind the bar shattered and Voldemort sent the shards cascading at his attackers, striking with sickening thuds into upturned tables being now used as shields. Several people were caught in the volley and fell wailing and bleeding to the floor.
Snape casually cast his own shield charm as the Dark Lord furiously cast destructive spells, blowing out most of the windows and knocking his attackers to the ground. Finally, Voldemort yelled "Petrificus Totalus," and everyone visible in the room froze.
As the dust settled Snape could hear the moans of the wounded on the floor and behind the bar. The smell of fear permeated the air.
The Dark Lord turned to where Snape still sat in his booth, his wand in one hand the other covering his drink. "Severus, my servant," Voldemort said with pleasure, "You have done well."
Snape nodded, "Yes, my Lord," he said with a hint of defeat in his voice, as he raised his mug to finish his ale.
Voldemort began casually circling the room. "First," he proclaimed, "those who would dare raise their wands against me; they shall know ultimate defeat." He hatefully cast "Avada Kadvra," upon each who had a raised and pointed wand. Twelve bodies fell dead against the floor boards.
"And, who are the traitors, Severus?" he gestured to the remaining statuesque figures.
Snape pointed to the group nearest the door, four of which had already fallen before the Dark Lord. "These, my Lord," Snape identified them, with no alternative to do otherwise.
Voldemort approached the group, and carefully removed their wands, snapping them each in turn and dropping them to the floor as he spoke. "So, you wish to escape me?" he chuckled darkly. "Many have had this same thought I warrant, but few have been fool enough to declare it." He paused, snapping the last two wands. "What price I wonder should I exact for your treachery?"
At that moment a woman at the far end of the bar attempted to flee into what must have been the kitchen, Voldemort yelled "Avada Kadavra," and the woman fell dead in the doorway.
"I dislike interruptions," he said coolly. Abject horror glared in the eyes of the petrified group. He turned to the bar and pointing his wand yelled "Flammæ devorantis," a jet of fire leaped from his wand and the bar erupted into flames. There were screams from behind as the flames consumed the whole space and the wall and ceiling caught fire. The whole room began to fill with thick black smoke as it billowed across the beamed ceiling and poured out the destroyed windows.
Voldemort turned back to the group of six and cried, "Crucio," at once they were released from the petrifaction and fell writhing to the ground.
Voldemort flashed his wand again and deep slashes tore across the faces and chests of the six on the ground, blood flowing freely.
"This is the worst sort of treachery," he spoke to the few still petrified, figures in the room, "Wizards, turning against me." There was a long pause, the six still writhing, and screaming on the floor. "This is a sad day, but, one that shall leave a lasting memory in those few of you who remain," he released the petrified figures, who ducked to the floor beneath the smoke, but remained still. "Spread well the cost of such treachery to any you hear whisper of dissent," He commanded.
Voldemort turned and kneeled low next to the old man who was convulsing in pain. He whispered, "You wished to escape me. I will grant your wish. I will banish you to a place
from which none has ever returned." Voldemort stood and stepped back a few steps away from the small group. He thrust out his wand and yelled "Recesserimus a me!"
A massive arc of violet energy burst forth from the Dark Lord's wand like a flash of lightning striking where the six figures lay. They were momentarily engulfed in dark flame and nothing remained, leaving only a dark circle burnt into the floor and rising wisps of acrid smoke.
Voldemort blasted the door from its hinged, and casually strode around the charred floorboards exiting the building. Snape rose quickly from his seat and followed. In their wake the few survivors scurried from the burning building and fled off in multiple directions.
The building erupted with fire behind them, massive plumes of billowing smoke rising in to the sky as the thatched roof disappeared in flames. Without turning to look, Voldemort pointed his wand at the swirling black and whispered "Morsmordre," the smoke formed itself into the dark mark.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Draco, waited as instructed, but it was not long before he saw a boy bound out of the main building followed by what looked like a monkey hot on his heels.
As the boy approached Draco became quite delighted to see that it was Chunt’ea. This was the first face he had seen in seven weeks, apart from the Shaman, that he recognized. Chunt’ea's monkey companion arrived just before him and clamored up Draco's leg and arm to perch neatly on his shoulder. Chunt’ea was laughing as he stepped close. Pémpé remembers you. He has asked me where you were. This made Draco laugh as well as he pulled at the monkey's tail which kept trying to curl around his neck.
"How long have you been here?" Draco asked, "I have not seen you. But then, I have really not seen anyone but the Shaman."
"I have been here for three weeks. I was going to go back for the next celebration, but now I have accepted an important task and I will be staying." Chunt’ea said matter-of-factly.
"Oh, speaking of tasks, I guess you are supposed to give me my next one?" Draco asked as he struggled to pull Pémpé down from atop his head.
"You are my task, and I am yours, Dracho," Chunt’ea said proudly, "I am to teach you my language, and many other things that you must know if you are to become a man among the people."
Draco smiled, "Oh, is that all," he chided happily, "well in that case, how do we begin?"
Draco had learned to speak French, German, and Spanish as a child, as his mother insisted it would help in international business when he was older. The last time he had used any of it was during his fourth year when students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had been at Hogwarts, but he imagined that learning another language would not be too difficult.
"We begin first, by getting you to clean up," Chunt’ea teased, pointing at the dirt on his feet and arms. "Here, this is for you." He handed Draco the familiar leather bag which he had been carrying. "Follow me." Chunt’ea turned and started up the path toward the main building.
Draco followed him as he opened the leather bag and looked inside it curiously. Rather than the usual sparse bits of food the bag contained what appeared to be a large cake of soap, and several other objects including a small mirror and a straight razor. Draco closed the bag smiling, and followed Chunt’ea past the main building and down another path. After a few minutes walk they emerged at the edge of a wide stream. There was a small waterfall that emptied in to a clear pool.
"This is where we come to bathe," Chunt’ea announced, "and it is about time you became familiar with it." Chunt’ea reached in to his own bag and drew out a cake of soap. He untied his loincloth and waded in to the pool. Immediately he began scrubbing at himself.
Draco looked down at his arms and legs and excitedly retrieved the soap from his bag, he waded in to the pool up to his waist and then removed his loincloth. It was as crusted with dirt as he was so he gave it a good scrubbing with the soap and wrung it out as best he could before wading to the stream edge and spreading it out across a warm flat stone. He returned to the deeper water and began scrubbing his torso.
It felt really good to finally be washing away all the dirt. After scrubbing himself for a short while he waded under the waterfall and began to wash his hair, getting it lathered up and rinsing it clean. He had barely been aware of how long it had gotten. He could feel it on his shoulders as he rinsed it. When he got to really scrubbing his face he was suddenly aware that there was more than whiskers there, in the nearly two months since he had arrived he had not shaved once, and it seemed he had the beginnings of a beard. Once he felt sufficiently clean we waded back to the shore and searched through his leather bag. Chunt’ea had finished his bath, but was playing some game with Pémpé and seemed in no rush to hurry him up.
Draco dumped out the bag and quickly found the mirror and straight razor. Upon closer inspection the razor was made of bone rather than metal, but appeared to be plenty sharp to do the job. Draco found a deep edge of the pool where he could prop up the mirror on some stones while still standing in waist deep water. Gazing at himself in the mirror he was impressed with the amount of beard that had grown. It was a bit spotty on his cheeks but he felt he had grown a respectable moustache. He lathered up his face and started scraping at his cheeks. He had only used a razor a few times, preferring to use grooming charms for this particular task, but he managed fairly well. On a whim he decided to leave his moustache and a goatee, as he felt it made him look a bit older, and he thought he could do with a change of appearance. When he was done he took a last dip in the pool and got himself well rinsed.
Draco immerged finally feeling wonderfully refreshed, he was happy to discover the sun and warm stone had nearly dried his loincloth, as he secured the lone garment in place. As a last touch he snipped a bit of the extra length from his waist tie with the razor and used the strip of leather to tie his hair back off his face. He examined himself in the mirror and was well pleased. This was not the Draco he remembered. The longer hair tied back, the goatee, and the darker skin made him look a different person all together, and this pleased him, as he felt like a different person. He could have done without the still visible faded yellow X across his face, but here it seemed to have no meaning, and it did seem to be fading away.
Returning the where he had dumped the bag Draco found that there was a knife and scabbard there along with the necklace he had been given on the night of celebration. Upon closer examination he found that a stone bead had been added that was in the shape of a fish, hanging from its tail. To his surprise the small stone that the Shaman had given him the night his mother died was also there having had a hole created on its narrow edge so that it could be strung as a bead. He quickly put this around his neck and tied the knife belt around his waist.
Chunt’ea asked if he was finished, and not waiting for the obvious answer got up from his spot and started toward the path back to the encampment. As they went Chunt’ea pointed out various plants and talked about their uses, some could be eaten, and others had medicinal uses. Draco did his best to commit this all to his memory as they walked. When they reached the main building Chunt’ea turned up the steps, but Draco hesitated.
Chunt’ea turned back to him. "It is alright Dracho, you will live in here with us now," he said.
Draco smiled and followed the boy up the steps. The main building was a large circular structure with rough wooden sides and a grass roof, once inside Draco realized that the center was open and that the whole structure was built around a center platform of natural rock. There seemed to be three separate rings of space. In the middle was a large central fire pit hewn from the rock itself. Surrounding this center area was a circle of space filled with tables, benches and what looked like various tools and utensils for doing everything from cooking to weaving. There was a lot of activity there at the moment as it appeared several men and boys were involved in preparing breakfast. The outer perimeter was divided in to four sections of living space. To the left as they entered was the area where the youngest boys lived, it was to this area that Chunt’ea brought Draco first. Here there were no walls just a series of posts that held numerous hammocks strung to the outer wall. There was a walkway between posts and a second inner ring of hammocks. Draco counted a full thirty hammocks in this section, many occupied at present by still sleeping boys. Chunt’ea brought him to the two last hammocks in the section and pointed at the one in the last space before a dividing wall.
"That one is yours," Chunt’ea said.
Draco sat into the hammock and swung his legs up stretching out. "Nice," he said. "This should be more comfortable than my grass mat."
Chunt’ea explained that in this section the youngest boys all lived together, those that were eleven to thirteen flood rains. In the next section beyond the dividing wall lived those boys who were fourteen, and in the third section those who were fifteen, and preparing for the rites of manhood. In the last section lived the men who were there as guides and teachers.
"You are an exception Dracho, you will live here in this section until the Shaman says you can move to the next. Usually we move only by age, but as you are already old enough to take the manhood rites, you will move according to how quickly you learn," Chunt’ea said. "You will be here with me only as long as you need to be."
"Dracho," Chunt’ea sounded suddenly serious, "it is part of my task to teach you our language. The charm which allows us to understand one another now will wear off sometime today and after that you will have to learn, it will require patience from both of us."
Draco nodded his understanding.
"I want you to learn quickly, you must keep your eyes and ears open and learn much from example. Everyone will help you."
Draco nodded again, smiling.
"Good," Chunt’ea said with a grin, "Now, shall we see about getting some breakfast?"
The smells of cooking food had been causing Draco's stomach to rumble since he had entered the building, so he readily agreed.
Chunt’ea wound his way through many of the hammocks rousing the sleeping boys, who seemed to wake eagerly. Draco followed him to the center of the building where fresh cooked food was laid out on large banana leaves. A line was beginning to form and Draco stepped in behind Chunt’ea. He helped himself to a flat wooden plate and in turn served himself the largest breakfast he had enjoyed in many weeks. He sat with Chunt’ea near the central fire pit and enjoyed his meal, asking many questions of the younger boy, with frequent interruptions and introductions. Everyone it seemed wanted to meet him, and everyone seemed very friendly and enthusiastic. Everywhere around him it seemed was constant laughter and conversation, and it seemed a huge amount of friendly teasing going back and forth between the groups of boys.
Finally, when the meal was done and he was returning his plate to a large woven basket he caught a glimpse of the Shaman sitting with the other men across the fire pit. The Shaman looked up at him and smiled. Draco smiled and nodded back.
This is going to be an adventure, Draco thought, his heart feeling light for the first time in... well, in a very long while.
Chunt’ea pulled at his arm, "Come Dracho, we have clean up duty." Chunt’ea reached for a handle on one side of the woven basket containing the used plates and utensils, and motioned for Draco to take the other. Together they carried the large basket out of the main building to an outside table that was set up with several large basins of water for doing the washing.
After digging holes and clearing fields, he could hardly squawk at scrubbing a few dishes. Especially when everyone involved seem to consider it more fun than work.
Yes... This was going to be an adventure!
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