Disclaimer/Plea for Mercy- I don't own Harry Potter. There. I said it. Glad I got that off my chest. If any of the very nice people from the People Who Actually Own Harry Potter Society/JKR happen to drop in on this page (one can only hope...), let it be know that I stated this fact. There. Let's move on, shall we?
The young witch who worked as a Healer at St. Mungo's exited the ward, softly closing the door behind her. Aroused by the sudden noise in the otherwise silent hall, the young man who had been sitting outside the door jumped up. As with all the visitors in the hospital, he was dressed in Muggle clothing- a black sweatshirt and worn, too-large jeans that made him look no different than any other drug-dealing teenage vagrant roaming the London streets outside of St. Mungo's walls. And yet, there was something different about this one. The witch couldn't put her finger on it, but she thought it was something about his eyes, the look of pain, of an understanding of the world that was too old for his fifteen years.
He looked at the Healer, those strange eyes asking his question for him. No words were necessary.
She shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"Can I see him?" he asked, his eyes lowered. He fought hard to keep his voice level, she could tell, but despite his best efforts, it broke at the end.
The Healer nodded. "Of course. But I would hurry. I don't think he has much time."
"Thanks," he said simply, and walked into the ward. The witch closed the door behind him. Not even once did it cross her mind to eavesdrop; perhaps that was why she'd been given charge of this particular ward.
The ward in question was small; its only furnishings were three beds lined up along the wall and a small Christmas tree, its lights twinkling in a friendly manner. But that was the only drop of comfort within this room. Everything else was cold, unwelcoming, and various shades of gray, laden down with the impenetrable aura of death. This feeling was so thick, so palpable, that the young man thought that if he merely reached out, he could touch it.
Nonetheless, he crossed the room over to the far bed, where an old man lay, his eyes closed. The two men looked a lot alike, from the tall, thin build of their bodies to their silvery-blonde hair that even the elder's advanced age had not managed to turn grey. But the old man looked tired, resigned, and his wearied face, which could have been handsome in his day, was now horribly disfigured with great raw red patches, as though half his face had been burned away. The younger man knelt by the bed and laid a hand gently on his arm.
"Grandfather?" he asked quietly, tentatively. "It's me... It's Draco."
Abraxas Malfoy opened his eyes, and found he was looking up at the anxious face of his only grandson. "I knew you'd come..." he said, his voice hoarse from disuse. "I knew you'd be here for this..."
"Did you think I was just going to leave you alone?" Draco asked, attempting a smile. "Of course I came."
"True," Abraxas snorted. "You couldn't stay away while I was divvying up my will."
"Don't talk like that!" Draco said sharply. "You know why I'm here."
"Yes," Abraxas said sagely. "I do know why you're here."
"How do you feel?" Draco asked, steering off the subject.
"How do you think I feel?" Abraxas snapped, a hint of his old sarcastic, quick-tempered self surfacing again. "You ever had dragon pox, boy?"
"Would I be asking if I had?" Draco replied, grinning.
"Lucky kid..." Abraxas muttered. "You can't even try to understand what this feels like. Don't even bother asking."
"Well, excuse me..." Draco muttered, but he was smiling. He was used to this, and he knew that once his grandfather got off on this train of thought, there was no stopping him.
He was right.
"Feels like half my head's on fire, and it doesn't stop there. The pain goes all the way down to my toes, and it hurts like you can't understand. Merlin, I'm getting too old for this..." he muttered, with every intention of going on forever.
"Don't worry about it. It's going to be fine, and you know it. Don't get yourself so worked up," Draco said, a cross between a smile and sadness in his words.
"Who says I'm worried?" Abraxas snapped.
Draco did not reply. He merely raised one eyebrow, and that was enough.
Abraxas groaned. "You know me too well, boy. Sometimes I wonder..." The old man was broken off in the middle of his musing by an intense fit of coughing. He was jolted bolt upright as deep hacking coughs racked his thin body. Drained of all energy, he would have collapsed then and there had Draco not caught him and laid him gently back down on the bed.
"You're a good lad, Draco," Abraxas murmured, and his voice was weaker than ever. "We both know I haven't got much time, so I want you to listen and listen good, all right? This is what you need to understand. When I'm gone, so is your last defense. Don't look at me like that, boy, don't try to pretend you don't understand. Don't make his excuses. Your mother, sweet girl though she is, she hasn't got the strength to stand up to him. When I'm dead, Lucius can have his way with you, and there'll be no one to stop him. You know what he'll do, you know what he wants. But you can fight him, boy, you can fight him!"
A sudden gleam shone in Abraxas' eyes at these words, and his voice was filled with a sudden passion. "I've shielded you from your father all these years, Draco, and I haven't asked anything in return. But now I'm running out of time, and I need to. I need you to promise me something, all right?"
Draco nodded without a moment's hesitation.
"When I'm gone, look after Narcissa, all right? Make sure nothing happens to her. She's a good girl, and you know it, but she's fallen in with scum like my son, and I'm worried for her. I need you to take care of her."
"Of course. Of course I will," Draco said, again without pause.
"But that's not all," Abraxas cut in. "I need you to look after yourself."
Draco managed a smile. "I'm a Slytherin, grandfather. That's what we do."
"But you don't, Draco," Abraxas said softly. "You don't nearly enough." He raised one wasted hand from the bed and brushed it across Draco's cheek, along the length of a dark bruise, exactly the size and shape of a grown man's fist. "I need you to promise me!"
"I promise," Draco said quietly, and he took his grandfather's hand. Meeting his eye, he said again, "I promise."
Abraxas sighed and closed his eyes. "You're a good boy, Draco. Stay with me, it won't be long now."
Draco did not have to be told twice. It was probable he didn't have to be told once. He sat there next to his grandfather, not moving, not speaking, just there. By his only being there, the sick man began to hope. Not for his life; it was too late for that. But for the future, the future that he could not see, yet somehow which he knew would work out for his grandson.
Minutes passed, minutes that seemed to last days in themselves. Abraxas' breathing became ragged and heavy, as though each individual breath cost him dearly, and his hand that Draco had not given up became increasingly cold.
For the last time, Abraxas opened his eyes.
He prepared to speak, but found words were an effort, and he took his grandson's hand in a white-knuckled grip. He took one last deep, shuddering breath, but with remarkable calm, he whispered one word:
And that was all. His eyes gently slid shut, and his hand went limp in Draco's. It was over.
Draco did not move. He stared at his grandfather, still kept his hand. His expression was blank, empty. He didn't look up as the Healer sat down next to him.
"There's nothing you can do for him now, son," she said quietly. "He's gone."
Draco did not reply to this. Perhaps he thought if he spoke, his composure would shatter. He was proud; he could not reply. A Malfoy could not break down. Malfoys were strong.
"I'm sure he'll be missed," the Healer continued. "He was a good man."
Draco looked up. "Yes," he said quietly. "Yes, he was." He stood up, laying Abraxas' hand on the bed. He said nothing to the Healer, merely stood up and swept out of the room, never looking back.
It was as though he had stepped out into another world. He saw the massive Christmas trees in the halls, heard Celestinia Warbeck's crackling voice singing "God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs" over a speaker, proof that in some other life this might have been Christmas Day, and yet they were strangely distant and surreal. He walked quickly, head down, wanting nothing more than to simply drop off the face of the earth.
Memories came thick and fast now, unbidden, thoughts that he desperately wished would stay hidden...
He saw himself, when he was six years old, and he heard his father's cold voice saying to him, "Do not hide, Draco. This is your destiny. Embrace it," as he showed him the Dark Mark. He remembered this, remembered his grandfather taking him away...
He remembered that very morning, Lucius' sneering face over the Daily Prophet... "You're not going to see that old man again, are you, Draco? He's as good as dead anyway. We'll be better off without him. Just forget about him." And he remembered how he had walked out... He would pay for that, he knew, but had that only been this morning? It felt like years ago...
Draco was stopped dead as a hand drove into his chest, and a sarcastic voice met his ears. "Look who I've found, Ron. What're you doing here, Malfoy? Dropped in on one of your father's victims, have you? Come to have a nice gloat over some half-blood's deathbed?" Harry Potter's voice asked, his eyes sparkling with dark humor.
Draco didn't know what happened then. Something inside him snapped; and before he knew what was happening Potter was flat on his back, sporting a nosebleed courtesy of Draco's fist. "Something to go with your scar," he said scathingly. "Don't talk about what you don't understand. Move, Weasley." And he was off, shoving Weasley out of the way as he swept out the back door.
Only when he was alone behind the building did the Malfoy pride finally allow him to give in and cry. Everything was going to change now, he knew. But he also knew he would remember his promise to his grandfather.
He would remember...
A/N- Well, there you are. What do you think? Horrible? Decent? Have a strange urge to eat a tuna fish sandwich? Let me know! Review! Don't make me beg...