DRACO: PHOENIX RISING
Chapter One - Draco
Draco stood at the edge of the pond in the gathering twilight, staring impassively at the dark water. How easy it would be. How tempting to walk into the brackish depths, to stride unthinkingly onward as the water rose past knees, hips, and chest. To walk until the liquid death closed over his head and filled nose and lungs and finally choked the last life-sustaining breath from his body and with it the excess of emotion that had plagued Draco for the past few weeks. It was a satisfying image.
It was not fear of death that stayed his footsteps. He had recently come to acknowledge that there were, indeed, worse things than death. Rather, it was the thought of actually stepping forward into the stagnant pond. The thick mud would suck at his black boots; the green slime near the edge would cling to his white shirt and waterlogged reeds would catch on his legs…
His face, expressionless until that moment, twitched briefly as his lip curled into a pale shadow of his usual sneer of disgust.
Draco Malfoy. Saved by fastidiousness.
A small sound behind him betrayed the presence of one of his watchers. Any suicide attempt would likely be foiled by the minion, anyway. Draco was never quite out of sight or earshot of at least one of them. The lack of trust in Voldemort's band of merry men was appalling.
Draco's dismal shot at humor was buried by another onslaught of despair. The events he had set in motion had grown into a tidal wave of horror he could never have imagined. If only he had taken the time to foresee the consequences of his actions… He simply hadn't thought beyond his mission. What would he have done differently? In truth, he'd never really expected to succeed.
"If you wish to save your father's life, you will find a way to kill Dumbledore," Voldemort had ordered. Well, Draco had certainly found a way. A ludicrous plan that should never have worked—would never have worked but for Snape's timely (untimely?) arrival.
Draco, Draco, you are not a killer. The words still rang in his mind. The words of a dying man, one whose wisdom Draco had never acknowledged. The words beset him for days as he sought to either deny or accept them.
Draco's features were once more still as carved marble, giving no hint as to the torment of his thoughts.
The truth will set you free. Hah. The truth will bind you in iron chains and drag you to the depths of hell. The truth was agony. Draco's eyes glittered. He had become quite the philosopher, recently. All the pesky ideals he hadn't spared a moment's consideration for in the past seventeen years had come to haunt him like a host of demons. Draco's foundations had been shaken to the core by a few simple words, a burst of green light, and an avalanche of events that followed.
Draco's watchdog coughed lightly behind him—a signal of the man's desire to escape the growing chill and return to Malfoy Manor to partake of the food and drink that had once belonged to Draco's family.
You can rot out here with me, Draco thought bitterly. His mind returned, for the thousandth time, to events after the fateful evening on the Hogwarts tower.
Dumbledore's words, Snape's killing curse, the frantic race for the front gates—and Potter, of course—why hadn't he been there to save his mentor? He'd always played the hero before. Draco had expected to confront his little nemesis and although there had been fighting in the room below the tower, it had been too little, too late. Harry's race after Snape and Draco had been fruitless, although Draco later had time to ponder how Potter had known to pursue Snape. Two brooms on the tower, and Dumbledore so weak he could barely stand. Where was Potter? Had he gone for help? He would have passed Draco on his way down the steps. It made no sense. Draco pushed the mystery aside. Potter must have been below. But the two brooms disturbed Draco.
They had escaped with only one casualty. Without the Death Eaters, Draco and Snape would never have left the tower alive, which had likely been Voldemort's plan all along. Draco thought it very likely that the Dark Lord had never expected Draco to succeed in his plot. It had been intended as a distraction and nothing more. A little mission ending in Draco's death at the hand of Dumbledore, an act that would have brought a cartload of guilt to the old wizard and a severe case of punishing grief to Lucius and Narcissa. No matter how the scene played out, it was win win win for old Voldemort.
Snape's actions had given Snake Face quite the boost. The former Potions Master was now in high favor. Voldemort was in such high spirits he hadn't even killed Draco for failing his mission, apparently since the outcome had been satisfying. Azkaban Prison was now empty since the revolt of the dementors, who now roamed the countryside willy-nilly sucking the life force from any witch or wizard not strong enough to fend them off. Perforce, Lucius had been released and had gladly turned over Malfoy Manor to Voldemort and his henchmen. It was the least he could do, after all. The Ministry had searched Draco's home thoroughly after Lucius's escape from Azkaban, but Voldemort's band had been hiding elsewhere until the Ministry cleared out. Occasional watchers still dropped by, but they were easily overtaken by Voldemort, who now had several sets of Imperiused eyes in the Ministry.
The days following Dumbledore's death were chaotic. Apparating to a ramshackle, drafty house; delivering the news to Voldemort; the Death Eaters celebrating long into the night; and the continuation of Draco's torment—an endless barrage of questions from Voldemort. Draco shuddered at the memory of the repulsive snakelike eyes burning across the table from him…
Too tired and sickened for subterfuge, he recounted the events at Hogwarts. The Room of Requirement, the Vanishing Cabinet, and the flight through the halls. Finally, he detailed the events on the tower, although he left out much of his conversation with Dumbledore and tried to block it from his own consciousness.
Draco, Draco, you are not a killer.
Voldemort's subhuman face cracked into a cold grin when Draco finished. Draco expected that to be the end of it. He half-expected a muttered Avada Kedavra and goodbye, Draco. What he didn't anticipate were Voldemort's next words as the evil wizard sat back in his chair and steepled long, bone-white fingers before him.
"Now, Draco," he hissed in a rasping voice that conjured images of dark creatures scurrying over rotting corpses, "Tell me everything you know about Harry Potter and his friends. Every single detail, no matter how small and insignificant."
As he racked his brain, Draco was surprised at how little he knew. The three Gryffindors had afflicted Draco for six long years and he barely knew a thing about them.
"Harry Potter lives in London during the summer. It's rumored he hates his Muggle relatives. He never goes home during breaks or holidays. His family never sends letters or packages." It was strange, but until he uttered the words, Draco had never considered how horribly lonely it would be to have such a family. Draco's mother regularly sent letters and packages with sweets and trinkets. Even his father wrote on occasion. Draco continued, "Sometimes he stays with the Weasleys—they took him to the Quidditch World Cup. He plays Seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team." Draco scowled at the memory and forced the words out. "He flies well."
Voldemort's slit of a mouth ricked slightly.
"Better than you, eh?"
Draco's face flamed. "Better than me," he spat. He took a deep breath and plunged onward. "He flies well, but he's none too sharp. He constantly sticks his nose where it doesn't belong, but he wouldn't get anywhere without Granger, his little Mudblood girlfriend."
"Tell me about her."
Draco's jaw clenched at the memory of Hermione Granger. He remembered her audacity—punching him like a common Muggle instead of using her wand. That had been unexpected.
"She's Muggle-born. Lives with both Muggle parents when she's not four feet from Potter's side. I don't know where. She's very smart and very competent. Without her, I doubt Potter could find his way out from under a robe. She always has her head in a book and has likely been through every tome in the library twice over. She's excellent at Potions and can perform most spells on her first try. Snape hates her as much as I do, although I'm not sure why. She also spends a lot of time at the Weasley's. I used to think she was Harry's girlfriend, but I've never seen any sign of romantic attachment between the three of them. Granger often fights with Ron Weasley—the other member of their little trio—and they have gone days without speaking to each other."
Voldemort said nothing, so Draco moved on to Ron. "Weasley is the oddball of the group. He's dirt poor and has to resent Potter because of that. It's rumored that Potter has a vault full of gold at Gringott's that he never uses because he doesn't want his little weasel friend to feel bad." Draco sneered briefly. "Although it hasn't stopped him from acquiring the best brooms available for Quidditch. Weasley would likely fail all his classes but for Granger. I'm sure he hates her sometimes for being smarter than him, and better at everything. Except flying. Granger is appalling on a broom. It seems to be the only thing she can't do. Weasley, of course, lives in a place called The Burrow—aptly named since they live there like a pack of rabbits. Too many of them to account for, nearly. The father works at the Ministry of Magic in one of the Muggle-loving departments."
"Arthur," Voldemort hissed. "Yes, I remember the blood-traitor and his shrewish little wife, Molly. Tell me about their children."
"Well, Bill Weasley works at Gringott's—I only know that because Theo spotted him there before school started. Charlie works in Romania with dragons—common knowledge since the Tri-Wizard Tournament last year. The Weasley clan visited him there once when they scraped up some extra cash. It was in the Daily Prophet."
Voldemort nodded impatiently
"Percy is a sycophant at the Ministry of Magic. None of the Weasleys seem to like him much. The twins—Fred and George—spend all of their time at their joke shop in Diagon Alley. The youngest is Ginny. She's Harry Potter's new girlfriend, if the gossip is correct."
Voldemort's slit eyes narrowed at that. Draco felt gleeful malice emanating from the wizard and felt a distinct sense of foreboding.
"That's all I know," Draco finished hoarsely. He was suddenly ice cold.
"You may go, Draco," Voldemort said softly. His glittering eyes let Draco know he was lucky to walk out at all. Snape entered as Draco went out, but the former Potions Master spared him barely a glance. The door shut and Draco sagged against the jamb, dizzy and nauseous. His hands shook.
Though he did not intend to eavesdrop, Draco could hear clearly as Voldemort questioned Snape, who knew more, oh so much more, than Draco would have dreamed.
Hermione Granger lived in Caerphilly off St. Christopher's Drive. Her parents worked at a small clinic near the mall. She had three Muggle friends that lived within walking distance of her house and she spent quite a lot of time with them during the summer, visiting the mall and wandering about Caerphilly Castle. Her parents generally took several weeks of vacation during the summer and when Hermione did not accompany them, she stayed at the Burrow with the Weasleys.
Harry Potter lived at Number 4 Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey, which Voldemort apparently already knew. While there, he was also untouchable unless he was out wandering the neighborhood, as shown by the dementor attack the previous year. Members of the Order of the Phoenix guarded him almost constantly and would be doing so for a certainty after Dumbledore's death.
The Weasleys were hosting a wedding for Bill and Fleur Delacour in the late summer and the entire Order would be in attendance, as well as Harry Potter and friends. However, since the Order knew that Snape knew about the wedding (and would disclose it to Voldemort), they would likely revise both time and location. They would not, however, be smart enough to cancel the happy occasion and it was simply too perfect not to plan some sort of attack. Snape already had a few ideas that he would share with the Dark Lord when the occasion approached.
They discussed plans for raiding the headquarters of the Order, even though it was still protected by Dumbledore's wretched Fidelius Charm, which meant that although Snape could get there, he could not divulge its location. They discussed a number of methods for circumventing the charm.
Voldemort was cackling happily by the end of his conversation with Snape. Draco quietly left to find a bed, where he would sink into fitful sleep full of dark dreams.
Draco sighed and turned away from the dark pond as the minion approached. Who was it this time? Not Fenrir Greyback, thank God, since he always looked at Draco as though he were a tasty midnight snack. Greyback was easily the foulest creature Draco had ever known. He lived only to inflict pain, kill, and eat.
It was Goyle, father of his friend Gregory. He looked remarkably like his son; huge and dim. He currently wore a hangdog expression common to most of the Death Eaters when they were not in the presence of Voldemort.
"Why you standing out here all alone, Draco?" Goyle asked.
"Sorry, I get a bit bored with adult conversation," Draco replied, cultivating his image of non-threatening youth.
"Yeah, too bad Gregory can't be here. His mum took him to a safe place where the Ministry can't get hold of him."
Draco nodded and kept his expression passive, although rage flared briefly behind his eyes. All of the wives and children had been hidden away, safe from Ministry officials, and—though unspoken—safe from Voldemort. All but Draco and Narcissa. They were both kept close at hand in order to keep Lucius in line. It sickened Draco to see his strong, proud father grovel before the Dark Lord. They all did it, though. Voldemort got a kick out of using the Cruciatus Curse at random moments.
Without further conversation, Draco marched resolutely back to Malfoy Manor.
Most of the Death Eaters were lounging around the dining room table. Antonin Dolohov leaned back in his chair; his booted feet were propped on the mahogany tabletop. Draco glared at him, but said nothing. Dolohov grinned as Draco took a seat on the other side of the table. Lucius was not so complacent when he stalked in moments later.
"This table has been in my family for generations, Antonin. Go home and treat your own belongings like trash, if you will."
Dolohov removed his feet after a pause just long enough to be insolent. Draco's mother and Bellatrix LeStrange followed Lucius, trailed by Bella's husband and brother-in-law. Narcissa sat next to Draco and her hand squeezed his shoulder affectionately as she passed behind his chair.
"Hello, Draco, dear," Bellatrix greeted as she sat on his other side. Draco smiled briefly and looked at her askance. She had been in Azkaban Prison nearly Draco's entire life. A mad light shone in her eyes and she seemed to contain a restless energy. Rodolphus, her dead-eyed husband, sat beside her. He always acted as though Draco did not exist, which was better than having those dead-fish eyes actually looking at him. Uncle Rod was quite the guy. Crazy aunt, freaky uncle. Great family you have there, mum. Three house-elves appeared and began to serve the meal.
Draco looked dispassionately at the rest of the Death Eaters as Lucius sat at the head of the table. To the right of his father sat Derek Crabbe and Gerald Goyle. Dolohov was next to Goyle. Then there were the Loon Twins: Alecto and Amycus Carrow. They had never been imprisoned in Azkaban, apparently, but were unhinged all the same. Then Titus Mulciber, who was just as vicious as Bellatrix, but in a quieter fashion. Next sat Nott and McNair, regular visitors to the Malfoy household.
Opposite his father lounged the one they called Lars. He was a huge blond brute of a man. Strangely, he wore an infectious smile most of the time. He drank like an Irish sailor. Across from McNair sat Rookwood, Martin Jugson, and Albert Avery. Draco only knew them by sight. His mother sat next to Avery, then Draco, Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan LeStrange. Nearly all present and accounted for. Except for Fenrir Greyback, Wormtail, Travers, Yaxley, and Snape. And Voldemort, of course, though he never ate with the Death Eaters. Draco wondered if he ate at all. There was also a huge pack of underlings hand-picked by the Death Eaters that patrolled the grounds and ran errands.
Wormtail strode into the room when they had nearly finished eating, halting all limited conversations. He scooped up a joint of fowl from the tabletop and ripped off a chunk.
"The Dark Lord has a mission," he said. Bits of food dribbled from his lips. He sauntered around the table and leaned over Draco, who recoiled in disgust. Wormtail snatched up Draco's nearly untouched wine goblet. He took a loud gulp and slopped some of the contents on Draco's shoulder in the process. He slammed the goblet down with a sigh of pleasure and gripped Draco's same shoulder with his silvered hand.
"You get to go, my boy. Hopefully you'll do better than your last mission."
Narcissa leaped to her feet, knocking her chair backward.
"No!" she cried. "He's just—" She silenced herself at Draco's cold expression and then continued more quietly. "He's barely of age. Send someone else."
"The Dark Lord commands it," Wormtail said gleefully and squeezed. Draco gave no sign of pain, though agony lanced through his shoulder from the metal grip.
"None of their sons are in harm's way!" Narcissa yelled and gestured at the other Death Eaters. "Why Draco?"
"Now, now, Narcissa, the Dark Lord likes Draco. He has faith in him, he does." Wormtail's grip thankfully loosened. "Besides, he won't be going alone. Crabbe, Goyle, Mulciber, Jugson, and Avery will go with him. He'll be safe enough."
"What's the mission?" Narcissa asked tightly.
"Just a little jaunt to Caerphilly to kill a couple of Muggles. Easy job."
Bellatrix laughed. "Calm down, Narcissa. It'll be fun for Draco. Get him out of this dreary house for awhile."
"Draco is not a killer," Narcissa said so quietly that they barely heard her. The words jolted Draco—an unexpected echo of Dumbledore.
Bella snorted. "They're just Muggles. And he's got to learn. Let him grow up, Cissy."
Narcissa retrieved her chair and sank into it. Her face was paste-white and she looked accusingly at Lucius, who was expressionless. His father said nothing. Draco had noticed the growing chasm between his parents—another thing he could lay at Voldemort's feet.
"Who are the Muggles?" Draco asked, even though he already knew.
"Their name is Granger," Wormtail said and laughed heartily.
Draco gratefully entered his room and shut the door. His headache had grown to epic proportion and his shoulder ached from Pettigrew's grasp. Draco had solitude for maybe thirty minutes, thanks to his rigid policy of taking nightly baths. The water was already in the tub, steaming hot and lightly scented. After his bath, the door would be unceremoniously kicked open and one of the minions would sprawl on the cot that had been set up near the door, in order to guard Draco while he slept. To keep him prisoner.
His brows drew down over silver eyes for only a moment before he walked decisively to his writing desk and picked up a quill. He scrawled a hurried message, sanded it, folded it, and tucked it into a pocket.
"Cully!" he called softly. With a small pop, the house-elf appeared at Draco's side.
"Yes, Master?" the creature whined as it bowed nearly to the floor.
"Get into the bath and pretend to be me until I tell you otherwise," he ordered. Cully looked dubiously at the water, but climbed in obediently, wincing at the heat of the liquid. Draco liked his baths hot. Cully splashed a bit, pretending to wash. Draco nodded, satisfied, and stepped into the wardrobe to lessen the noise of Disapparating.
He appeared in the middle of St. Christopher's Drive in Caerphilly. It was extremely dangerous to Apparate blind—he could have ended up in a tree or half-jammed into a Muggle automobile. Thankfully, the street was nearly deserted and he hurried to the sidewalk. His luck held as he spotted an old woman walking her ratlike dog. Draco conjured a small bouquet of flowers.
"Excuse me, Madam," he said politely. "Can you tell me which house belongs to the Grangers? I've only been here once and I'm afraid I've quite lost my way."
The old woman sized him up carefully while her little dog sniffed at Draco's pant leg. He repressed the urge to kick the animal into the street. The crone finally cackled.
"Well, aren't you the handsome one? Didn't think the Granger's little bookworm daughter had it in her to snag a catch like you."
Draco's polite smile was becoming strained. The old woman pointed.
"Right there, laddie. The house with the wisteria arbor. I don't think they're home, though."
"That's fine. Hermione told me to wait if she wasn't there." The name sounded odd on Draco's lips. He had always thought of her as "Granger."
He strode to the house and threw the flowers behind a bush. After making sure the old woman was out of sight, he cast Alohomora on the door and went inside. As the old woman had suspected, the place was empty. Draco ignored the neat kitchen and living room and made his way up the stairs. On the next level, the first door he opened revealed what was obviously Hermione's room.
Draco paused to look around curiously. There were books everywhere, of course. Three huge bookshelves had been crowded into the room, but the tomes overflowed onto desk, end table, and even the floor. Unmoving posters lined the walls and above the bed was a tasteful painting of a Highland landscape. Her bedding was dark lavender without ruffles and the furnishings were solid oak. But for the books, everything was neatly organized. Unwillingly, Draco found little to fault with the room.
A tiny pop from below startled him and a voice called, "Who's there? Show yourself!"
Draco smiled slightly. Leave it to Granger to have come up with some sort of warning spell. Triggered by the use of magic? Or merely the presence of a wizard? Draco placed his note on the desk and Disapparated as Hermione Granger pounded up the stairs.
He appeared back in his wardrobe and climbed out with a quick glance at his mantle clock. Barely twenty minutes had passed.
"You may depart. Do not speak of this to anyone, ever," he said to Cully, who groveled appropriately and vanished. Draco tore his clothing off, dunked his head in the cooling tub, and wrapped himself in a dressing gown minutes before the door was yanked open by Nott.
"'Night, Draco," Nott grunted as he settled onto the cot. Draco climbed into his own feather bed and thought about his trip to Caerphilly. He still wasn't sure why he'd done it, but it felt good to take control of his life, even if only for a short time. He was tired of being Voldemort's puppet. Too bad it was Granger he'd had to help out, though…