It was hot. Draco didn't remember to have lived an equally hot summer but perhaps last year's. The difference was that last year his father had magicked the rooms of Malfoy manor cool. This year his father wasn't there to make the family's life comfortable. He was in Azkaban, thanks to bloody Harry Potter.
Draco wished he was allowed to do magic himself. Of course he knew various spells which were apt to solve the current temperature problem.
His mother was of no help. The woman was clearly worried more than Draco himself but it was beyond his understanding why she was so unaware of everyday needs like room temperature. So his father had failed to carry out the Dark Lord's plan but this was not his mother's fault, was it?
Devoid of any possibility to change the rooms to an agreeable state – stupid house elves never understood what wizards needed to feel comfortable – Draco had fled to the manor's park. Now he sat, lazily leant against a willow's trunk, and enjoyed the little coolness the tree's shadow provided.
He scowled when a small figure in a cleaning rag approached him.
The elf cowered at the harsh tone of his voice like it could be expected from a creature not worthy to breathe the same air as he.
"Muddy is most aggrieved to disturb master's leisure. Muddy has been ordered to deliver a message from master's mother." The elf cowered again and hung its ears as if expecting to be punished for intruding.
Draco waited a short moment before he snarled: "The message, elf!"
"Mistress Narcissa says master is to come to her parlour immediately. It's urgent."
"Tell her I'm on my way," Draco ordered without getting up.
The elf flinched. "Muddy was told to make sure master came at once," it piped.
"How dare you!" Draco was up in a second. Getting up and kicking the elf was the same smooth movement. The blow sent the small creature flying. It wailed, but stopped as soon as it landed in a crumpled heap on the lawn. Silently the elf got up. "Thank you for noticing Muddy, Master Draco. Muddy is very grateful that master reminded her of her place."
Draco didn't grace the despicable creature with an answer. Now that he had left the shadow of his tree, he could as well answer his mother's summons. With long strides he set out for the house. On his way he mused whether he should change into something more formal than the light robe he was wearing. He decided against it. For one it was his mother he was to meet and though she had educated him to believe that a true aristocrat was never to be caught in casual clothing, he assumed she'd appreciate his quick answer to the urgency of her call.
When he reached the side entrance, which would lead him to his private library, he was overtaken by the elf and for a moment he wondered how the creature had managed to keep up with his pace although it was limping.
The elf opened the door for him with a bow. Draco shook his head. There was no pride in elves.
"Muddy is to tell master to wear this." The elf pointed at the armchair by the fireplace.
One of Draco's finest robes was laid out there and a large bowl of water, a towel and his unicorn hair brush were prepared for him on the table he normally used for his teacup when he was reading late.
"She wants me to wear this when I meet her?" Draco could hardly believe it. "Hang on; she's not alone, is she?"
The elf shuddered. "No, master. The mistress is entertaining guests at the parlour."
Draco swore. "Why didn't you tell before? I'd have hurried." He pulled off his robe and washed quickly. "Who?"
"Muddy is not to tell," squeaked the elf and handed Draco the towel.
Draco wiped his face and dropped the towel to the floor from where it was picked up by the elf. Quickly he slid into the greyish blue robes. It felt weird to wear them in broad daylight. Until then those robes had been reserved for formal occasions in the evening. Draco smiled when he remembered the last time he had worn them; a dinner party at the Ministry in honour of the Romanian minister for magic.
He brushed his hair and set out for his mother's parlour.
He heard his mother's voice just when he was about to knock.
"Would you like more tea?"
Draco smiled. His mother prided in being the perfect hostess. Only, why did her voice sound shaky? He listened to find out who the mysterious guest was, but all he heard was the clatter of cups on saucers. Disappointed Draco lifted his arm again, but froze when he heard another voice.
"You do realize, Narcissa, that Lucius´ incompetence can't go unpunished."
Draco hadn't heard this voice before; nevertheless he had no doubt whose it was. The speaker was used to order and rule. He spoke exactly the way his father did when he addressed his inferiors. The way Draco had been practicing on mudbloods and blood-traitors for five years; the only means to make those people's presence useful.
"Yes, my Lord."
Draco hadn't been aware his mother could sound so humble.
"Unfortunately Lucius is beyond my reach at the moment."
"There's no place beyond my Lord's reach if he decided to extend his arm. . ."
Draco smiled. Dear aunt Bellatrix, so devoted to her master.
"Right you are, Bellatrix. But I do not. Let Lucius rot at Azkaban. It will teach him modesty. There are better ways to punish a man."
Draco's heart missed a beat.
"I will gladly accept any punishment my Lord sees apt."
Draco swallowed hard. Not his mother.
"Your words suit you well, Narcissa. Surely you will see that taking away you would not be severe enough a punishment for Lucius´ failure. He made months of preparation futile. He gave our return away to the public and thus united our enemies. Do you see that taking away his wife will not do, Narcissa?"
"I see that my Lord's wisdom is far beyond mine."
"So, Narcissa, do you see what the only punishment fitting Lucius´ crime is?"
There was a long silence.
"Your eyes betray that you know. Say it, Narcissa. What is the fitting punishment for Lucius?"
Draco heard his mother sob.
"Don't overexert my patience, Narcissa."
"Have mercy, Lord!"
"Mercy has to be earned, which it was not. I'm waiting."
There was a short pause.
"I didn't hear that properly, Narcissa. What did you say?" The Dark Lord's voice was full of malice. Draco shuddered. When his mother spoke again, Draco thought his legs wouldn't carry his weight any longer.
"His heir, my Lord. The worst punishment for Lucius is the loss of his heir."
"You're right, Narcissa. The end of his bloodline is the only punishment fit for your husband's stupidity."
Draco had to hold on the doorpost and fight down tears. So this was it. His father's master asked his, Draco's, life for the mistakes of his father and all he could do was willingly walk to his fate. Aunt Bellatrix was right. There was no place beyond this man's reach. There was no point in running away. All he could gain was putting his mother's life at risk.
"My Lord, may I speak?"
Draco listened again when his aunt spoke.
"Do speak, Bellatrix."
"The boy attends Hogwarts, my Lord. He may be useful."
"He's in Harry Potter's year."
"You mean he could give us Potter? Brilliant, Bellatrix, but you forget Potter is mine to finish. We could send the young Malfoy after Dumbledore. It may be amusing."
"Dumbledore!" Draco heard his mother gasp. He leaned heavily against the doorpost. Dumbledore. What were the odds for a sixteen years old to kill Albus Dumbledore? Draco closed his eyes. He was going to die. Not today, but he was going to die. His aunt had bought him some time, but there was no doubt that killing Dumbledore was a deadly task – and not for the headmaster. Surely the Dark Lord liked the scenario. Draco's father would spend weeks, maybe months, in fear for his only son and in the end lose him nevertheless.
Draco started when the Dark Lord spoke again.
"Now, finally, let's meet the subject of our conversation. Come in, young Malfoy!"
Draco straightened and entered. The Dark Lord sat in his father's armchair. His red eyes scrutinized Draco and seemed to bore into his very soul. Draco suppressed a shudder.
His mother knelt before the man and for a brief moment Draco felt reminded of a cowering house elf. Aunt Bellatrix sat on his father's foot stool; her eyes didn't leave the Dark Lord for a second.
The Dark Lord got up from the chair using Bellatrix´ shoulder as a prop.
"Ah, the young Malfoy." He cupped Draco's cheek in his palm and caressed his cheekbone with his thumb. Draco forced himself to not flinch. Voldemort smiled; there was no warmth in the gesture.
"What a beautiful, innocent boy, Narcissa," he turned to the woman.
In a sudden movement he faced Draco again. The smile had vanished from his face and his hand dug into the hair on Draco's neck. Forcefully he drew back the boy's head.
"You'll never again eavesdrop on me!"
"You heard what task you are to be given."
"Don't fail me, young Malfoy!"
"I won't, my Lord!"
"You recognize the advance of trust I grant you."
"Thank you, my Lord," Draco panted. "I will earn your mercy."
The smile returned on Voldemort's snakelike face. He turned and settled back on the armchair. He gestured to the floor beside Draco's mother.
"Kneel, young Malfoy. Kneel and extend your left arm."
END OF THE STORY.