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Chapter 23 : After the Fall
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The entire night had been some kind of tragic nightmare.
Dumbledore was dead.
Had Draco tried to tell her? Had he left subtle hints along the way? She tried to recall their conversations… how he thought of death all the time and of a dark future without hope. But her head was too fuzzy in her attempts to recall details, the lack of sleep and the emotional toll of the night fast catching up with her.
She wanted to collapse to the bed and sleep, but she dare not. She could sleep on the train. Right now, it was time to pack her things, knowing school was over… canceled. It was time to go home and she wasn’t sure if she was ever coming back.
Looking around the room, she noticed the place was empty except for her things and it was altogether too quiet. She was the last to pack, while others already had their trunks on the train and gathered for one final breakfast. But she doubted if anyone was actually eating. The thought of food repulsed her.
Her normal end of school-year routine had always been a precise, well organized event. She would begin by pulling out her personal effects from the walk-in closet and carefully place them on the bed. Clothing, shoes, book bags, school supplies, and various other things would be categorized and sorted before placing them in their designated spot inside her trunk. It all had to fit just so.
But this time was different. The task seemed so mundane… so unimportant. She went through the motions though, just trying to get through it. Her clothing fell to the bed quite a bit messier than her usual tidy standards. She would magically toss a few things to the trash bin and the things she wanted to keep were slowly accumulating in one very unorganized heaping pile.
Hermione found it difficult to stay on task, her mind wandering in and out of the recent past and finally settling on what Harry had vaguely described that morning.
She had stood high in the Astronomy Tower where it all happened and watched the sunrise with Harry and Ron as it cast a glorious pink and yellow hue to the vast sky over Hogwarts.
Hearing Fawkes, the phoenix, cry out and watching how the scarlet bird circled overhead seeming to be in search of its master was heartbreaking, but beautiful. Even Harry had commented on the beauty of Hogwarts that morning.
It seemed so opposite from the darkness and chaos of the night before.
Harry had explained Dumbledore’s final moments with quiet reverence, but he was never one for the details that she craved.
Malfoy had confessed to assisting Death Eaters into the castle, using the Vanishing Cabinet. Bellatrix Lestrange had shrieked at Draco, ordering him to kill, but then Snape showed up and finished it.
Listening intently, Hermione wrapped her arms around her midsection holding herself tight in fear of completely falling apart. Her mind was flooded with questions. Did Draco say anything? Did he seem remorseful or hateful? What else happened? She ached for details that Harry wasn’t giving, but in asking for them she feared revealing too much and adding suspicion. There could only be one question, she figured. One would not be too much.
Her heart was in her throat when she finally asked what weighed on her like she was trying to hold up the Astronomy Tower all by herself, with failing strength. It was the one answer she had to know.
“Do you think he could've done it? Draco?"
Not my Draco. Not my Draco, please. Her conscience begged.
When Harry didn’t hesitate to say, “No,” she had to turn away and look into the vast space of air stretched out before her and remember how to breathe normally.
Inhale. Exhale. Don’t fall apart.
Harry’s answer was supposed to bring some kind of great relief to her mind, but for some unknown reason, it hadn’t consoled her much. She didn’t want to believe Draco could be an assassin, but she didn’t want to believe he could be a Death Eater either. But oh, how reality was a cruel, relentless thing. She didn’t know what to think as an unwelcomed uncertainty sunk deep into her heart.
As Harry moved to another scenic spot within the Tower to watch Fawkes, she followed noticing how Ron had grown very quiet and was eyeing her carefully. She was thankful that he didn’t voice any negative opinion of Draco. He didn’t even place blame like she thought he would. Much to her surprise, Ron remained silent on the matter entirely.
As conversation moved to a fake locket and a new mystery to solve, she hid her heart well, giving nothing away… even though she was standing in the very spot where Draco spoke of wolves and rabbits on a white snowy evening just a few months ago.
While mindlessly back on task in her room, rummaging through the top shelf of the rather dark closet thinking of wolves… rabbits, her mind was jolted to the present as her fingers ran across Delilah’s Black Book of Poems, the book that Draco incredibly had given to her at Christmas. The one book she still hadn't read all the way through.
Picking it up from its hiding place, she ran her palm over the precious heirloom and instantly she heard his voice echoing to her soul…
“The interesting thing about wolves,” Draco had explained. “Is that they could kill every last one of those rabbits if they wanted. But they don’t,” she recalled him saying. And then she remembered… “They only kill when they have to… to survive.”
Her eyes grew wide as the memory choked her, stealing her breath. His words pressed down on her heart so much that her body gave out, losing the ability to hold itself up. Slowly she sunk to the floor, sliding down the wall until she was lying on the hard-wood floor, her temple finding its resting place on the face of the book.
Was he trying to tell her back then? Was he trying to tell her that he had to kill in order to survive? Surely he was.
Without the strength to stop the memories of Draco from flowing, she closed her eyes and suddenly his lips were on hers and their bodies moving together on a small bed surrounded by curtains of white sheets hovering around them, giving them their own private, intimate space.
How was it that she was longing to make love to him one moment then rejecting him the next?
How could he have that thing on his arm?
Her heart twisted inside her chest. He knew what was to happen that night and still he hadn’t said anything. The thought angered her. Perhaps if she had said yes to him, the night would’ve turned out differently. Perhaps Dumbledore would still be…
No! She couldn’t allow her mind to follow that path. That plot had to have been planned long ago.
And now, after everything... did she still love him? Knowing what she knew now, did it change her feelings for him?
Her emotions ran from love to fury and back again in a whirlwind. But she was just too emotionally and physically exhausted to think about it anymore and soon her heart settled down and what remained was a deep worry for him… and yes, love. Because right now, he was no longer living amongst peers and rivals at Hogwarts. He was with Death Eaters and most likely the Darkest of Lords…living in complete and utter Darkness.
“Oh, Draco. Why did this have to happen? What happened to you last night, Love?” she asked in a breath marred by a choked sob. “What happened to you?”
And as a few tears found their way to the pretty lettering on the book, Hermione could not help but to close her eyes and succumb to sleep, wondering where he was. Was he safe? Was he alright? Was he…?
As soon as Draco and his fellow Death Eaters Apparated out of the Forbidden Forest and set foot on Malfoy grounds, Draco doubled over, dry heaves convulsing through his body, greatly weakening him.
His mother practically ran to him with Lucius not far behind, eager with worry to learn of what happened. Did he do it? Did Draco succeed at his task?
Bellatrix nearly stopped in her tracks at the worry and dread in her sister’s eyes.
“Dumbledore is dead, but Snape did it. Your son is officially as cowardly as his father,” Bellatrix snorted.
Narcissa ignored the snide comment from her sister.
“Draco, are you alright, son,” she asked in a near whisper, placing a caring hand on his shoulder, but she didn’t expect him to practically bite her. For the fear and anguish that twisted his stomach to knots had morphed and molded into an intense anger at the entire situation as soon as he saw his father.
“Get away from me,” he warned lowly, making it known that her touch was unwelcome. She was taken aback by his venomous conduct toward her.
“He’s dead?” Lucius had to be sure, as if Bellatrix’s words were not heard correctly. He stood close, demanding confirmation. “Dumbledore… he really is dead?”
“That’s all you care about, isn’t it?” Draco raged as he gathered his anger for strength and stood. “That’s all you bloody care about!” He took three quick steps and grabbed hold of his father by the lapel of his dark aristocratic robes, his grey eyes furious and teeth clenched. “I hate you. Do you understand? From this day on… I will hate you for what you have put me through.” His voice became a low raspy whisper then. "And I will never forgive you."
Draco abruptly shoved him away and directed his attention to Snape who was watching intently.
“And you…” Draco glared. “How dare you. I had him. And now I have to face the Dark Lord and convince him that I didn't fail.”
Snape said nothing, knowing he did it to save him… save him from a lifetime of guilt and self-loathing much deeper than he already felt. Save him from a darkness that would eat him from the inside out until the last of Draco’s days. Spare the boy and save a soul from having blood on his hands for the rest of eternity.
“I hate all of you,” Draco announced as he turned to walk into the manor and meet his doom.
“Draco,” his mother called out sternly, as if she didn’t approve of his words of hatred and disrespect.
But he whipped around to her and got close so that only she could hear. His lips curled in anger toward one of the few people he thought he could trust with nearly anything. But like he told Hermione, he trusted no one fully, not even his mother.
“Why didn’t you tell me three house elves were dead?”
She looked at him rather startled that he knew. How could he have possibly found out while living at Hogwarts?
“You could’ve told me at break. Why? You didn’t think they should matter to me?”
“I… I didn’t want to upset you.”
“So lie to me, Mother! That makes me feel so much better!” he lashed out, tapping at his chest. Everyone heard, but they didn’t know what it was about. She hadn't lied to him directly, but it was certainly a lie of omission.
He turned yet again, storming through the manor's magical gate on a mission. He dreaded the mission, but not as much as killing the Headmaster. He had to tell Voldemort what happened before he heard it from someone else. He had to take a stand and put a mad spin on reality.
Of course he was terrified and didn’t want to do the deed. He couldn’t do it, really. He had failed. But in order to survive, he would have to come across as thoroughly furious to have been robbed of the task… or die for blatantly failing.
All followed into the manor after Draco, wondering what in the world was going to happen and hoping that Voldemort would be so thrilled with the news of Dumbledore’s death that he would be lenient in Draco’s punishment for not doing it himself.
Be strong or die… and tell him absolutely truthful statements. Draco demanded of himself just before he threw open a set of double doors to the parlor where he knew Voldemort would be sitting with some sort of self-righteous sick look on his face.
Voldemort's Legilimency skill was exceptional. Draco knew he would have to tell the truth, just maybe not all of it. Twist it a bit. Think, but not too much. Just do it.
“Albus Dumbledore is dead,” Draco announced with hateful spite dripping. “Except Snape took it upon himself to rob me of my task and finish it himself.”
Even Voldemort couldn’t hide his shock at Draco’s bold manner or the announcement.
“Severus… killed the old man?” Voldemort questioned, brought immediately to his feet. His eyes moving as if the news was incredible. He refocused, eyeing them all carefully and mulling the end result in his head. He knew Draco would fail. But Snape actually did the deed? Dumbledore was actually deceased? Gone? The thorn in his side... forever silenced? Did he really care who did it as long as it was done?
“I finally had him cornered,” Draco continued. “I let in Death Eaters to assist if I needed them… which I didn’t. And then Snape comes along and tells me to stop. I had no idea what he was planning. I didn’t know if he wanted to try to get some final piece of information from him or what he wanted. Dumbledore begs him for help, then Snape Avadas him, blasting him off the Astronomy Tower... his body falling to the ground below. I assure you... the man is dead.”
Snape and Bellatrix exchanged glances, thinking the same thing. They both knew what Draco was doing. His well-practiced Slytherin self-preservation was kicking into high gear… protecting him from the wrath of the Dark Lord. The kid was smart. Very smart, indeed. And his statements were technically all true. They considered Draco's move exceptionally cunning and nothing short of pure brilliance.
If Draco wasn’t her sister’s son, Bellatrix would’ve ignored his little synopsis of what happened and would’ve exposed him for what he was… a scared little puppy, unwilling and stressed to the brink. And then of course, there was the Unbreakable Vow that Snape had actually fulfilled.
Snape finally stepped in.
“If we would’ve given the old man anymore time, he would’ve Disapparated. It was time to get it over with and start your plans, my Lord. I will not… apologize,” Snape replied with his usual stoic flatness.
Voldemort eyed them carefully, not seeing any untruth to their claims, but still he wanted confirmation from someone who held no bias in the situation.
“Greyback," he called out to the Werewolf, his head cocked to one side in curiosity. “You were there. What say you?”
“It is as they say. The young Malfoy had him cornered in the Tower before we got there. But then Snape showed up, telling us to stop. I wasn’t sure what to make of it either… then Snape drew his wand and it was over.”
All were waiting for Voldemort’s reaction with collective apprehension. Would there be punishment for Draco?
Voldemort blinked a few times and then finally spoke with a sinister, evil smile, “Well then… tonight… we shall celebrate. Ha, ha. Ha, ha! The enemy of all Death Eaters is DEAD!" He shouted, as nothing else mattered to him. "Ha, ha!” He continued his evil laughter, well pleased at the news.
Bellatrix joined with her evil cackling.
Greyback growled, "Yeah!"
A triumphant smile crept over Lucius's face.
Narcissa relaxed as if she was finally able to breathe again, becoming elated that Draco would not see punishment.
Even Snape's shoulders seem to fall, but only slightly.
Draco was a statue with no emotion whatsoever. His mind wasn't ready to relax. It was not possible in the presence of someone so dangerous.
“Whiskey and wine for everyone!” Narcissa shouted above them.
And so the sick celebration began and Death Eaters were called to the manor to join them. And they would come. They wouldn't miss it.
Welcoming the distraction, Draco immediately stepped to the nearest alcohol cabinet and began dispensing the inebriating liquid into goblets and glasses.
But where were the house elves to do this? His mind raced. Were any of them still alive?
As soon as he was able, Draco slipped away unnoticed and went immediately to the house elves’ quarters.
“Skippen!” he shouted as he frantically searched.
“In here, Master,” Skippen answered with an eerie calm.
Draco followed the sound of his elf’s voice and found him with all the other elves attending to one that looked deathly ill. It was Trinket.
“What’s wrong with her, Skippen?”
“Trinket’s lost the will to live, Master. Pickett, Starkin, and Lolly are dead, sir. And living so long with ‘You Know Who’ and now with the news of Dumbledore, Trinket’s taken a turn for the worse. She is dying, sir.”
Draco had been informed of the deaths of the three elves by none other than Starlet, the house elf at Hogwarts only an hour or so earlier. She told a tale of how they refused to take orders from the Dark Lord and were killed.
He noticed Monty, Lucius’s personal elf standing silent in a corner, the elf Draco never really trusted.
“Monty, Father requires more alcohol. Bring up more Fire Whiskey, wine, and whatever else we might have that will appease him. There will be many more coming. Keep them filled. Do this now,” he commanded.
The elf Apparated immediately to the cellar.
“Trinket.” He bent to the floor to speak with her as she lay on a lowly cot.
“Is it you, Master Draco?” she asked weakly.
“Yes. I am here.”
“So happy to see you… before Trinket is no more.”
Draco is about to lose another house elf. Where will he go to finally be alone so that he can grieve the night's events?
Love to all,
P.S. 59,700 Reads! 287 have Favorited! I cannot thank you enough for your excitement for my story in your precious reviews and for your continued readership.
*Quote Credit: “Do you think he could've done it? Draco?" - J.K. Rowling from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
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