Author's notes: Spoilers through Deathly Hallows. Historical notes on Malfoy Manor based on back-story in A. J. Hall's Lust over Pendle. This piece originated as a character-arc document for Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation (Hermione/Neville/Draco, POV Hermione, in preparation as of November 2009).
Disclaimer: I'm not J.K. Rowling; I'm only visiting her universe for nonprofit fun and edification. (No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended).
Draco remembers the first time he met the barrier between him and the outside world. He was five years old. There was blue water sparkling on the other side of the terrace of his Tante's villa off the Normandy coast. The water was just within reach, and he ran toward it.
He hit the glass, bounced off, and burst into tears because it hurt.
The adults sitting on the terrace laughed, Father and the old woman he was told to call Tante although she was not in fact his father's sister. His mother scooped him up in her warm embrace and sat him on her lap and wiped away the tears and explained to him how there were transparent things that were nonetheless very, very hard. She told him that it was there to keep him from pitching into the water, which however seductively it might glitter in the summer sun, was nonetheless cold and deep.
Later, as a storm from the English Channel darkened the sky and lashed the glass, he understood a little better. He put his palms against the glass and felt a cool, neutral surface, while lightning split the sky and curtains of rain flattened themselves on the other side of the glass. He could feel the clear strong barrier between him and the naked elements.
There were the Right Sort and the Other Sort. The Right Sort were on his side of the glass. He never saw the Other Sort at home, of course, but only when he was permitted to accompany Father to Diagon Alley or the Ministry. If he was a good boy, which meant being quiet and not interrupting the adults to whom Father spoke, he would be rewarded later with the explanations of which ones were which sort, and why.
He still remembers the ones with red hair, whom he'd almost made the mistake of approaching when his father had his back turned. There was a boy about his own age—six years old—who was cuddling a Puffskein and talking to it as it chirruped back to him, five taller boys in a stair-step progression of flaming red manes, and a little girl who was looking longingly at the toy brooms in the window of the Quidditch shop. They were all wearing peculiar clothes, leggings made of dusty blue fabric and shirts that looked like the silk tunic he wore under his robes, except that they were made of something much coarser and were cropped short, ending above the hips instead of mid-thigh. He wondered at first if this ginger tribe were foreigners, until he edged a little closer and, to his surprise, heard English voices.
The two smallest, the boy and his sister, were looking at him, and he looked back and smiled. He really wanted to pet the Puffskein and was about to ask Father for permission when he was pulled back sharply. He managed an apologetic little wave to the red-haired brother and sister, before Father's cloak snapped against his legs and he had to trot to keep up with the long impatient stride.
To his chagrin, he learned that he had been within a heartbeat of accepting social overtures from the Wrong Sort. Not merely the Other Sort, but the Wrong Sort. Arthur Weasley's children. Father explained that Arthur Weasley was a very bad man who wanted to prevent witches and wizards from defending themselves against Muggles.
Muggles were not only on the other side of the glass, but outside the walls. Nonetheless they entered his nightmares, so that he woke up trembling, hiding from the horrifying creatures that looked like human beings until they flourished their torches and their iron chains and their instruments of torture. He doesn't remember when he first heard the story of the burning of the Manor, but now he thinks of it every time he's out in the garden. There's a line of foundation stones, the outline of a wall that the new Manor doesn't follow, and under the moss they're black from the burning. That's what Father told him. It's Family history, and he has to understand it in order to live up to his duties as the Heir.
"That's why we keep to ourselves," Mother said. "We keep inside the walls, and they don't even know we're here." Mother's people have a house in London that the Muggles can't see, even though it sits in plain sight between Number 11 and Number 13 on Grimmauld Place. It's shut up since Great-Aunt Walburga died. He can't help a twinge of contempt at creatures too stupid to see something that's right there.
At Hogwarts, he learns that the glass is permeable. He can reach through it to poke at the Other Sort and the Wrong Sort, but it stops them poking back. That's one of the amusements at school, poking the Other Sort and listening to them squeal. You poke them, and they squeal, and sometimes the little ones cry, and it's very amusing. It's even funnier when they get up on their hind legs and try to strike back. They never reach him, of course, because Crabbe and Goyle get there first.
Though really it's more fun getting at them with words. He likes watching Ron Weasley's face turn as red as his hair, when he says "Your mum's fat" or "You live in a pigsty" or "Your dad is a loser." Father explained that Arthur Weasley is poor, which is no more than a blood traitor deserves, and has too many children.
Draco has his own grudges against Ron Weasley, independent of his father's animus against Ron's father. Having his own grudges makes him feel grown-up; they're his personal bricks in the wall that separates the House of Malfoy from the Hovel of Weasley. Ron is best mates with the famous Harry Potter, and Father has never let him hear the end of his failure to cultivate Potter, though Draco has wondered what the fuss is about, because Potter is actually a scruffy-looking nobody with ugly glasses.
Except that Potter whips him soundly at Quidditch, starting with his totally unfair appointment to the Gryffindor house team in first year, and ending… well, there was no end to it.
The other grudge against Ron Weasley he can't really say aloud. No one has ever explained how many children "too many" is, but Draco has wondered why he himself doesn't have brothers or sisters. He asked his mother once. She didn't answer, and that was the only time he ever saw tears in her eyes. He never asked again. His mother treats him like something precious, so he tells himself that the Weasleys must have been trying to do it right and never quite got there, in spite of seven attempts.
But in second year, he doesn't admit just how jealous he feels when he sees Percy Weasley talking to little Ginny over at the Gryffindor table. The look on Percy's face reminds him of the expression of tender worry on his mother's face when he's feeling sick or unhappy. For the briefest of moments, he wishes he had an older brother who looked at him like that. It would make him feel a little less homesick.
There's the other side of the glass, and then there's outside the walls. There's the unfairness of being beaten at Quidditch by scruffy Potter. Then there's the Mudblood.
His father shames him about it in front of the shopkeeper in Borgin & Burkes. A girl of no wizarding family whatsoever, and she's taken first marks in all of his classes. If he doesn't do better than that, he'll be good for nothing but a thief and plunderer--someone else's minion, not the Heir of the House of Malfoy. He hangs his head so his father won't see his tears.
Her parents are the first actual Muggles he's ever seen. They're standing with Arthur Weasley in Diagon Alley, wearing the same sort of peculiar clothes that the Weasley children affect. The father has the same brown hair as the daughter, a wildly curling mane, and the same strong bone structure. He wears round metal-rimmed glasses. No wonder she was Sorted into Gryffindor; her father looks like a lion--a swotty lion. And her mother looks like a sphinx. Her hair is the color of black coffee, thick and glossy; it's as straight as Cho Chang's and cut just like Pansy's, in a sharp-edged bob. Her glance is penetrating; when their eyes meet by chance, Draco is sure she can see straight through his eyes into the thoughts behind them. Except that she's just a dirty Muggle, he would suspect that she's a Legilimens.
He stares at the Mudblood's parents and tries to let contempt override fear, because these are the animals who burned his family alive in their own house eighty years before the Statute of Secrecy.
The glass thins when the Mudblood is around. She's so ignorant that she doesn't even know what "Mudblood" means, and still she beats him at all the classes, except for Potions. That's only fair, because it's for his Head of House to look out for him.
Once in third year, the glass breaks altogether. She reaches through the barrier as if it weren't there, and strikes him. He can still taste the blood. It was only a slap, he thought when it was coming at him, but it snapped his head to one side and the backswing had knuckles in it. It shocked him because usually he could depend on her restraining Potter and Weasley, and here she was hitting him. Like an animal. Like a bloody Muggle.
When he sees her sitting in the stands at the Quidditch pitch and warming herself with bluebell flames, he shivers and thinks of torches and the line of charred stones in the garden at home.
In his fifth year, the glass begins to crack. He doesn't know it at the time. When he looks back, he thinks it must have started when Aunt Bella and Uncle Rodolphus arrived.
Bella treated him like a grownup. She told the best stories he'd ever heard, and there was something in her voice, when she talked about the Dark Lord, that played subsonic melodies on his bones and made the hairs lift on the back of his neck, like the air before a storm. "Power," she said. "There's no good or evil, only power." His father was under the protection of the Dark Lord and so was Bella and so was he. She told him that Power was on their side of the glass, a terrible storm whose lightning would only ever strike the unrighteous Muggle-lovers and the Mudbloods.
She looks years older than his mother—that's the mark of her martyrdom in Azkaban—but that voice, that voice is eternally young, and it's all he can do to resist telling her that he wants to marry her when he grows up. He knows perfectly well she's married to Uncle Rodolphus, except he forgets it when she's telling him the stories nobody else will tell him.
"Just our little secret," she said, and then she told him what she and Rodolphus and Barty Crouch, rest his soul, did to Frank and Alice Longbottom.
"It's great fun with a couple,"she said. "You do it to one of them and let the other one watch."She laughed that thrilling laugh that makes his bones vibrate. "It was worth Azkaban, what we did," she says. "We may as well have fed them to the Dementors. They're in the locked ward at St. Mungo's."
He told her he was at school with Neville Longbottom.
Bella laughed. "Ah, the little podge," she said. "Rodolphus and Barty wanted to shut him up for good, but I though it would do him good to scream a bit first. It certainly did me good." She shivered lasciviously, and Draco felt as if she'd stroked silk across the secret parts of his soul.
She didn't say in so many words, but he understood immediately that you were a virgin until you'd cast Cruciatus. She did tell him that the Unforgivable Curses are only unforgivable if you get caught.
The time in Azkaban only made her devotion to the Dark Lord burn the brighter, she told him, and she saw the same flame in him.
Back at school, Draco repeats the bit about the locked ward at St. Mungo's to Longbottom, and then boggles when the podgy nobody lunges at him. Potter and Weasley dig in their heels, one on each of Longbottom's arms and struggling madly. Draco hears cloth ripping—the sleeve of Longbottom's robe, where he's momentarily pulled free of Weasley's grip—but what transfixes him is the gleam of murder in the other boy's eyes—round like a wolf's and showing the whites—and his bared teeth. He had never thought of Neville Longbottom having teeth, and now he swears they're fangs. And those clawed fingers closing on empty air but so plainly lusting after his throat--
He steps back, terrified, as if fat little Neville Longbottom had in fact turned into a werewolf.
Sixth and seventh year run together in one blurred nightmare, livid with lightning. The glass blows inward in a thousand razor shards. The storm has broken over his head and he's not protected, nor is his mother or father. The Dark Lord, whom he'd imagined as a taller and more fearsome version of his father, is inhuman. Draco was never afraid of snakes before, but now he even flinches when he sees the silver ones on his favorite dress robes.
He watches the lightning strike closer and closer to home.
He learns that he can't cast the Killing Curse, even with his prey disarmed and dying. He's still haunted by Dumbledore's grandfatherly smile and the weak old voice gently telling him he's not a murderer. Bella tells him the same thing, but her tone is rather different.
He gets his wishes, a banquet of them. Plate after plate of everything he thought he wanted, until he wants to vomit.
The summer before seventh year, two months after his seventeenth birthday, he casts Cruciatus successfully for the first time. Repeatedly. When Thorfinn Rowle and Antonin Dolohov fail to capture Potter in Muggle London, Draco is hauled to the front of the room to punish them. Bella's eyes gleam with pride as the screams echo off the walls. Contrary to her promises, though, he doesn't feel anything like sexual pleasure. He's keenly aware of just how he did it—turned his abject fear into hatred, what he realizes he's been doing all along—and he's wondering just how much he can stand before he goes mad.
The Death Eaters all stare at him now, with their eyes narrowed. If something happens to his father or his mother or Bella, he knows just what they'll be doing to him.
Seventh year, he gets his fondest wish, a year without Potter and Weasley and Granger, and it's a season in hell.
Seventh year, they commence to teach Dark Arts at Hogwarts, so he no longer has occasion to complain about not being permitted to go to Durmstrang. Not that he'd really wanted to, after Viktor Krum took him aside in fourth year and explained to him just what they did and didn't teach there—Necromancy and the Unforgivables but only in theory—and just what would happen to Draco's face and, perhaps, to more precious parts, if he ever again said anything in praise of Grindelwald.
Seventh year, he can't get the smell of shit and blood and vomit off his clothes. The screams of the younger children are not the music that his Aunt Bella promised. Crabbe and Goyle laugh at him the once that he bolts out of Amycus Carrow's Dark Arts class, races for the loo to be sick, and doesn't make it.
On Easter holidays, he huddles in three layers of robes and he's still cold, as if drenched to the skin. The stench follows him home too, as Fenrir Greyback, reeking of blood and sweat and something obscenely musky, praises Draco's lovely fair skin, to say how claws would go through it like a razor through silk. He doesn't need to be told to keep close to his mother. She feels like his only safety, now that his father is a cowering shadow.
His fondest fantasy comes true, and it's dust and ashes. How many times has he daydreamed the torture and humiliation of his three enemies, especially the Mudblood? By the time that the fates—in the person of a clutch of Snatchers—hand him his bound prey, he doesn't want it. He's pretty sure that the dirty creature with the swollen face is actually Potter with his face jinxed, but he doesn't want to look close enough to judge. He doesn't want to look at the others either, because he'll be blamed if he gets it wrong and he's not sure he wants to get it right. For the first time in his life, he mumbles. It isn't faked. His tongue feels thick in his mouth, and it's sticking to his palate.
It's his mother who gets it right, because the Mudblood's picture has appeared in the Daily Prophet. His father seconds her, sounding desperate.
Then come the screams. Granger is screaming as Bella casts Cruciatus on her, and Weasley is bellowing her name so loudly from the cellar that he can hear it through the floorboards. When the chandelier plummets to the floor, he hears his own shriek as he takes a face full of broken glass. And, once it's clear that the captives have escaped, his father is screaming as first the Dark Lord and then Bella tortures him.
He hadn't realized he was in love with his aunt until it's over. He knows he must have been falling out of love for a while, but the last of it fades as she casts Cruciatus and watches, with the predator's smile that once thrilled him to the core, as his father thrashes in agony against the marble fireplace.
The rest of it runs together in his nightmares. Now the storm is at its height, a blur of lightning and broken glass; he's trapped in the screaming wall of a hurricane of razors. In his memory, it's fragmentary: a flash of Crabbe's gloating face as he says, "Your dad is finished," the roar of flame, the strain in his shoulders as he hauls Goyle's unconscious body up a mountain of shifting debris to escape the Fiendfyre, one terrace of junk to the next, mountaineering in the thousand-year subconscious of Hogwarts.
They're doomed, of course, but he is not going to think about that. He has Goyle to think about. He climbs higher, the way you do an assignment or lift one foot after another to climb a flight of stairs. He's cursing the whole time, of course, cursing Crabbe and his fate and the fire that's going to eat all of them. He remembers the burning of the Manor, and wonders how long they suffered before life was finally extinguished. Some of them died inside the house and others were dragged out to die on pyres, that's the story he remembers. Well, at least he'll be in the tradition as the House of Malfoy comes to its fiery end.
He knows it's not going to be glorious, because there is no glorious way to die screaming. He's reached the top of the mountain that's going to be his funeral pyre and there's nowhere left to go. He has no broom, no wand, nothing to separate him from the lower animals. He's going to die like a fucking Muggle. Goyle at least has the blessing of unconsciousness; he'll be dead before his nervous system wakes up enough to register what's being done to it. Granger did him an inadvertent favor with that Stunning jinx. At least he doesn't have to watch his friend die in agony.
He's already screaming and the flames haven't reached him yet, when the rescuing hand is extended to him—in vain. Months later, it still flashes through his mind over and over again, his hand slipping through Potter's, bone against bone under slipping layers of sweat, because of course he's too heavy holding on to Goyle, much too heavy for Potter to lift him to safety, even two-handed. He and Goyle are a unit now, yoked together. It's not that he won't let go; he can't.
Then there are hands on his, grappling with his, unhooking them from Goyle's clothes. It's Granger, momentarily touching to earth on the mountain of junk. She's prying his fingers loose from Goyle, one at a time, with the icy patience of a surgeon. "We'll take care of him," she shouts over the roar of the flame. Then somehow she's underneath Goyle, crouching and then lifting him on her back and hip for Weasley to haul onto the broom. No wand's in evidence; the maneuver is pure physics—low Muggle cunning.
He's still not sure how they managed it, the two of them on one broom and a dead weight between them.
He's hiding his face in Potter's bony shoulder, arms locked around his waist, and they're screaming toward the exit when suddenly they turn around and plunge back into the heart of the flames. If he lives to a hundred and fifty, he will never forget the horrible somersault his insides did, as the broom tore toward the wall of flame and Potter scooped something from the top of a spire of trash before turning around again.
The Dark Lord is dead. The storm of battle is over, and the sun is coming up over the Great Hall. He hears the defenders of the castle marching back and forth, their booted feet crunching on broken glass. Longbottom, clumsy as ever, clatters through and drops the Sword of Gryffindor on the table with a resounding thunk, and then tucks into a vulgarly noisy breakfast. Granger and Weasley thump him on the shoulder in congratulation, Weasley saying, "Hey Nev, you got the snake! Great bloody beast it was, too!" Potter and Lovegood talk nonsense about Blibbering Humdingers, while Headmistress McGonagall supervises the collection of the corpses. He hears her dour Scottish voice calling the roll of the dead.
He's still clinging to the wreckage, clasping the rescuing hand. It isn't Potter's hand but his mother's. Someone's mouth is moving against the back of his neck murmuring an incoherent litany; tears, not his, are running down the side of his face. He has never seen his father cry, and he doesn't see it now, but it's his father's voice against his neck, choked with tears.
Then the rest of his life begins, and there is no glass standing between him and the naked elements.