Notes: I haven't read the books in forever. My copy of GoF is at my parents' house an ocean away, so I'm working mainly with memory and the HP Lexicon. I apologize in advance for any canonical errors unrelated to the AU nature of the fic. That having been said, I'm enjoying writing this story so far and I hope you'll enjoy reading it. Corrections, suggestions, and constructive criticism are very welcome. Onward!
The Kids Don't Stand a Chance
"I don't understand why you have to go," Narcissa Malfoy sniffed in disdain as she rolled up the letter from the Directrice, eyeing it in much the same manner she would eye a particularly nasty breed of slug. "You're not of age; you're ineligible to compete. It's a waste of time."
"I'm covering the tournament for the school paper," her son Draco explained patiently, suppressing a flicker of annoyance. "Madame Maxime says so right there, in her note. There's a slip attached, by the way. You have to sign it."
The parchment unfurled once more in Narcissa's elegant, swanlike hands, filling the drawing room of the Malfoys' Loire Valley chateau with the ghostly sweet scent of crushed rose petals. "It seems a terrible bother, that's all," she huffed.
Draco sighed. Narcissa had switched to English, something she only did when she was feeling perturbed. "It's really not," he replied in his mother's native tongue. "Madame Maxime spoke with my professors. They will be owling me schoolwork every day. I won't fall behind."
"I'm paying for you to attend Beauxbatons, not take a- a correspondence course!"
Draco leaned back in his chair, studying Narcissa across the tea-laden table through hooded eyes. With her white-blonde hair and pale skin, she looked washed out in the golden sunlight spilling through the wide windows, translucent, almost, but not fragile. Far from it. Her slender frame was tense like steel, coiled with the determination and protectiveness that came so naturally to women who raised a child on their own.
"Father won't be there, you know," Draco told her at last. "Even if he found out I was in Scotland, I doubt he'd come all that way to see me."
"Oh, mon trésor, it's not that." Narcissa shook her head even as the way the corners of her mouth softened betrayed the statement for the half-truth that it was. "You will be gone so long. Almost nine months. No more of these weekend visits… I couldn't possibly bear it."
"I'll write," Draco promised- in French, to show her that he was sincere. "Once a week, if you like."
Narcissa cracked a smile. "Twice a week."
Sabine Gaillard ran out to meet Draco as the green family carriage, drawn by two jet-black Arabian horses and emblazoned with the silver Malfoy dragons, dropped him off at the school gates.
"Well?" she demanded. "Is La Belle Dame sans Merci letting you go, or what?"
In answer, Draco held up the slip of parchment bearing his mother's calligraphic signature, a pleased smirk on his face.
"Yes!" The junior photographer for La Plume punched a fist in the air. "British girls, here we come!"
"We'll be there on official business," Draco reminded her mildly, dismissing the chauffeur with a wave of his hand. The carriage rolled away and Draco began walking up the path leading to the palace, Sabine falling into step beside him.
"It's always business with you," she complained. "Don't you see how marvelous this is? Our classmates are going to be so jealous. Well, except for the Quidditch team, they'll murder you in cold blood-"
"Thanks," said Draco, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I wasn't looking forward to telling them before, but I am now."
Sabine patted his arm. "I shall avenge your gruesome Bludgery death. Don't worry."
It was late afternoon on a Sunday. Draco found himself looking at Beauxbatons Palace through new eyes, as he always did whenever he came back from the light-strewn banks of the Loire River. The main building loomed over the paved walkways and the carefully-trimmed hedges, its dramatic Baroque lines softened by hues of pale gold and powdery blue. A delicate breeze skirted in from the Mediterranean as students soaked up the remaining hours of the weekend, either lying sprawled out on the verdant grass or chatting with friends by the marble fountains that burbled with sprays of turquoise water. Behind the palace stretched the lines of olive trees, their leaves flashing silvery green in the red-gold sunset, and clusters of lemon groves that filled the dusky air with their tart fragrance.
Draco inhaled deeply. It wasn't a bad place to spend eight years of his life in. Not bad at all, even though home for him would always be the Loire.
He knew that it was a different story for his mother. Narcissa had been missing England ever since she crossed the Channel at the height of the First Wizarding War. She never discussed in detail why she left; all Draco could gather from her vague retellings was that she'd been determined to keep him as far away from his father as possible. Lucius Malfoy was apparently a rather unsavory character.
But he didn't seem so bad to Draco. Although he had yet to lay eyes on the man, sizeable allowances were deposited in his and Narcissa's bank accounts every month, more than enough for the upkeep of the house, the gardens, and the stables, more than enough for them to buy every little thing they desired. Despite Narcissa's hatred for her husband, she still subscribed to the pure-blood need to keep up appearances. As far as the French wizarding community was concerned, Lucius was simply a busy man who had to manage his vast properties in Great Britain, leaving him little time to visit his wife and son.
And Draco was very much like his mother; no one at school knew the true state of his parents' marriage. Not even Sabine, who was his closest friend.
They encountered a group of third-year girls on their way into the palace. Draco stepped aside to let them pass. A few batted their lashes at him, leaving a trail of giggles and whispers in their wake.
"The Malfoy charm strikes again," Sabine crowed, her jade green eyes bemused. "Tell me, is it terribly difficult, being so good-looking?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Draco said coolly.
"No?" Sabine twirled a strand of curly auburn hair around her finger. "Maybe the girls at Hogwarts will."
"I don't have time for that."
"Make time," she advised him in a pragmatic tone of voice. "The morons here are already starting to think you're gay because you hang out with me so much. Pfft. As if we're all in one club or something."
"You mean there's no Beauxbatons Underage Homosexuals Alliance?"
Sabine stopped short, blinking. "You must be really happy about this upcoming trip," she said slowly. "I could almost swear you made an actual joke just now."
Later that evening, Draco was no longer in the mood for jokes.
He was standing in the middle of the fourth-year common room, his back to the smoldering fireplace, trying not to flinch under the combined weight of his teammates' angry glares.
"Let me get this straight," growled Chaser, captain, and all-around Quidditch fanatic Noel Favre. "We have a real chance to win the Cup this term because the seventh and eighth years will be at the Triwizard Tournament, but you're going with them?"
"Well…" Draco cleared his throat. "Yes."
"You're not even of age! You can't compete!"
No wonder Noel and Narcissa got along so well. "It's for the school paper. I said that already."
"So you think La Plume is more important than Quidditch?" The captain looked apoplectic. Was that an actual vein ticking on his forehead? Draco resisted the urge to squint to get a clearer view.
"Not at all," he carefully replied, "but most of the staff is old enough to put their names in the Goblet. It's less of a hassle if the person assigned to write the story has no chance of being selected."
It wasn't a total lie. However, the real reason Draco was covering the tournament was that it would be the biggest, most important piece of the year, and editor-in-chief Jacqueline Sarkozy would entrust it to no one else but him.
"You're the best writer on the staff," she'd said. "Well, second to me, of course, but I might get picked. So it's all yours."
But he'd be damned if he told Noel that.
"We need you, Malfoy," declared Chantal Abati, the Keeper, crossing her arms. "We can't play without a Seeker."
"D'Arras is a perfectly capable alternate-"
"D'Arras couldn't catch the Snitch if it jumped into his hands covered in Flobberworm mucus!" snapped Gaspard Moreau, one half of the Beaters. This statement was followed by firm nods and dark mutters of agreement from the rest of the team.
"I truly apologize," Draco said, making sure to keep his tone flat. If he sounded like he meant it, they'd know he was faking. "The Directrice would not take kindly to a last-minute change of plans. There's nothing I can do."
"You're a filthy traitor!" Noel shouted, causing everyone else in the room to jump. He stormed up the stairs to the boys' wing, leaving Draco and the rest of the team to look at one another, dumbfounded.
Chantal exhaled into the silence. "Well, that seemed a bit... much."
Draco opened his mouth to echo her sentiments, but thought better of it. Instead, he bid them good night and headed up the stairs as well, hoping that Noel wasn't lying in wait to clobber him with a spare Beater's bat. That would be such a bourgeois way to die.
Hermione Granger was having the dream again.
They were stringing her up, they were suspending her rag-doll body in the air, she was floating helpless and paralyzed over an ocean of masked figures and forest fires.
"Mudblood," they chanted in an awful chorus of sneering voices, "dirty blood, foul creature, you are not worthy, you do not deserve-"
The owl came, Hermione tried to tell them, tried to plead with them. It flew in through the window and dropped my letter in Mum's cereal. My Hogwarts letter. I went to Diagon Alley and my wand chose me. I'm a witch, I'm magic just like you, I belong-
But she couldn't push the words past the knot in her throat. She couldn't see Harry or Ron anywhere. She was alone, she couldn't breathe, she was going to die, with the Dark Mark curled up in the sky like a planet and the maniacal laughter of the Death Eaters roaring in her ears…
This is a dream, she told herself firmly. This happened to someone else. You were there, you saw it, but it didn't happen to you. The Dark Mark can never be as big as a planet and you, Hermione Jean Granger, will never beg for mercy from the Death Eaters. You will wake up now. Wake up!
She opened her eyes.
It was pitch-black, and for several frightening moments her heart rate sped up as the hazy and disoriented part of her began to believe that she really was dead. But she lay still, willing herself to calm down, and soon her vision adjusted to the darkness and she was able to make out the vague shapes of beds and desks and the silhouettes of her sleeping roommates in the faint moonlight.
Hermione sighed in relief. She was no longer at the campsite between the wood and the moor, where the riot had broken out. She was safe within the walls of Hogwarts, and the burning hatred could not touch her here.
Well, most of it, at least. Perhaps encouraged by what occurred after the World Cup final, the Slytherins had grown bolder this year. Their insults were sharper, their pranks meaner. Just last week, during Charms class, Pansy Parkinson had called Hermione "Mudblood" within earshot of Professor Flitwick. It didn't matter that the old wizard had been too preoccupied with correcting Neville Longbottom's technique to hear; just the fact that Parkinson hadn't bothered with the subtle brand of nastiness that her House was famous for meant that something in the air was changing, and Hermione didn't like it one bit.
Because of the distinct possibility that she might once more fall into the dream, she wasn't eager to go back to sleep. She reached for her wand, cast a quick, muted Lumos, and tiptoed out of the dormitory with her copy of Miranda Goshawk's The Standard Book of Spells Grade 4, careful not to disturb a snoring Parvati Patil and a sleep-talking Lavender Brown.
The staircase creaked gently under Hermione's feet as she made her way down to the Gryffindor common room. She'd intended to celebrate her exciting new career as an insomniac by getting some studying done by the fire, but she was pleasantly surprised by the low rumble of dear and familiar voices.
"What are you two doing awake?" she asked Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, who were sitting on the couch and staring at the flames in the hearth as they talked.
"Hullo," said Ron, casting an affable look her way, a look that quickly faded once he caught sight of the textbook in her hands. "Hermione, you can't be serious. It's one in the morning!"
"I couldn't sleep," Hermione replied. "Budge up, will you?"
The boys dutifully moved farther apart, giving her enough space to squeeze in between them. It was cold, so she burrowed into Harry's shoulder and stuck her toes under Ron's thigh.
"Ah," she pronounced in tones of utter contentment, the leftover uneasiness from the bad dream beginning to dissipate in the presence of those she loved best. "I could live like this."
"Your hair's in my mouth," Harry pointed out half-heartedly, sounding more or less resigned to his fate. He proceeded to fill her in. "We were talking about the World Cup riot, going over possible suspects, stuff like that."
"I suspect the usual people," said Hermione. "Macnair the Axe Murderer, for one."
"Everyone in Slytherin's parents," Ron supplied.
"Lucius Malfoy," said Harry. "He had to have participated."
"Participated?" Ron echoed with a snort. "He was probably the bloody ringleader."
Hermione was inclined to agree. There had been no love lost between the odious ex-Governor and the trio ever since the diary incident in second year, a state of affairs which had definitely not been improved by last term's This-Beast-Snapped-At-Me-Macnair-Get-Your-Axe fiasco.
"Do you know," Ron continued, rubbing his chin, "that he has a son?"
"Who?" Harry asked, taken aback. "Lucius?"
"Lucius Malfoy has offspring?" Hermione was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea. "Who on earth would-"
"Hermione, please!" yelled Ron, clapping his hands over his ears. "I don't need to imagine that! It's true, though. Heard Mum and Dad talking one time. He's got a wife and son in France."
"That's the most disturbing news I've ever received," Harry reflected. "I mean, a pint-sized Lucius running around. That's terrible. And, well…"
"Gross," Ron and Hermione finished in tandem, with identical shudders.
"I feel sorry for the boy, though," said Hermione. "It must be awful, having a man like that for a father."
Ron snorted. "Bet you a hundred Galleons Lucius Junior's a chip off the old block."
"I wonder what he looks like," Hermione mused.
"Blond and pale," Ron answered without hesitation. "All the Malfoys burst into flames in direct sunlight. They're old-school pure-blood, see. Cousins marrying cousins, snobby as hell. Haven't got a drop of Muggle in them."
"No wonder Voldemort liked Lucius so much," Harry said tightly.
Hermione gazed into the fireplace, the flickering flames reminding her of her dream. For a moment she entertained the fantasy of coming from a family like the Malfoys, of never having her place in the wizarding world questioned. And then she remembered Lucius' cold, cruel eyes, and she decided she was better off. Not even all the blood purity in the world could make up for being related to such a- a tosser.
To Be Continued