The Sign of the Asp
Summary: The final days are abbreviated and few for Draco Malfoy, Death Eater.
Notes: Originally written sometime around the release of HBP. I'm allowing it a ressurection and a rewriting, and I like it far better this way.
The Sign of the Asp
It's rounding the grim and shaded hour of four when Draco finally wrenches open his bed hangings – causing Goyle to snort in his sleep and Ted Nott to bolt upright at the rough clang and ruffle of thick damask. Nott doesn't sleep these days. Suspicion and worry make difficult bedfellows. Goyle will slumber through the world's end, dreaming of last night's pudding.
Nott says nothing, and after a moment, he draws the covers to his chin and settles into ignorance. Lies flat and stiff as a foretelling of those future certainties that come to claim them, one by one.
Draco can still see the shine of his eyes in the dark, watching.
The stone floor's abysmally cold. He kicks his slippers out of the way and pads over the chilled sandstone of the dungeon proper.
What little dominance he musters over the chill that seeps into skin is fleeting. He's certain he's never paid attention to this sensation before; this ache in the bones of his feet.
He walks in circles, unable and unwilling to leave the dormitory; taking it in, trying to remember feeling this alive and this cold.
Nott watches him the entire time.
Everywhere, clocks are ticking. Each snap and chime sounding the rapidly approaching end of term.
Before him, his potion bubbles – the perfect golden hue sending up sparks each time a thick little bubble bursts. It's exceptional, but slightly less so than Granger's. He can see hers out of the corner of his eye as it shoots confounded fireworks into the Gryffindor's corner of the laboratory. They stand apart in a halo of brightness. He feels their eyes, watching where the shadows play long and soft into the corners making skeletons of their expressions.
Snape fails to nod at the bubbling cauldron; a lack of sentiment betraying nothing more or less than Draco would expect. Snape never praises or condemns; he only observes and sometimes retreats to that far off place that turns his eyes from coal to soot. He regards Draco now with a stern sort of acceptance that doesn't equal understanding. Concern works ruts into the lines around the mouth and eyes, leaving permanent impressions that will follow him to his ends.
Draco remains impassive.
Another bubble bursts in his potion; his wand snaps to life, vibrating against the desk – signalling the precise moment when the cauldron should be removed from the flame.
Draco raises his chin; a silent challenge. His wand continues to rattle across the work table. He returns the Potion Master's stare as the viscous liquid before him spoils and thickens like tar.
The clocks keep ticking.
In a rage, barrelling down to the Slytherin changing rooms, Draco snaps his Nimbus 2001 clean in half – chucking the pieces against the weather-beaten broomshed and leaving the enchanted wood to rot.
He's suffered his last defeat at Gryffindor hands.
Not for the first time, Draco vows that the culmination of their dance macabre will reach its ends sooner than not. Extracting his wand from his Quidditch robes, he locks the changing room door behind him with a force that splinters the latch – barring entry to his teammates.
In the sweaty stench and steam of the lockers, Draco paces the tiled floor, each breath burning its course in his lungs as he tears the robes from his shoulders and throws the shroud into a corner.
Chest heaving, he stares down at the mark on his forearm, and as fast as his fury came, the sentiment is replaced with something else.
It struggles to distill a purpose from a few lines of magical ink.
It doesn't wipe away the glimpse of bushy, mouse-brown hair blowing into a frenzy as she races onto the Quidditch pitch; the beat of her robes billowing behind her as she runs straight past him to fling herself onto Weasley where he lies in a crumple.
Draco's momentary satisfaction is overshadowed by the sound her her crying, carried back to him on the wind.
Bored and languishing over dinner, Draco pushes Pansy out of the way so he can get a better seat to survey proceedings.
Nott has been glaring at the Gryffindors through his fringe for the duration of their meal, pushing the peas around on his plate with one hand, the other out of sight. Zabini's wand sparks occasionally beneath the table. He wears a similar expression.
They are brothers in arms, he thinks. It's as if he can feel their frustration through the mark. It begs for release.
Granger, the Weasel (bandaged, now), and Scarhead haven't the faintest idea when twin curses race between the leaning, stretching, slobbering students and blast apart their pitcher of pumpkin juice.
She sees him now, Draco realizes. He's the only one left she could possibly blame.
The Great Hall is a noisy gulf between them, and safe amongst his people, Draco smirks and raises his glass for one last toast to House rivalry.
The whisper of fabric, the brush of cloth – his fingers make delicate traceries over the paper-wrapped surface as he slides the package from beneath his four-poster bed and unfastens the charmed string that holds the parcel together.
Crabbe makes appreciative noises from atop his bed, while Pansy clings to his arm, working ruts into the wool of his sweater with her claws.
Draco is schools his features into placid interest as the wrapping falls away. When he picks up the mask for the first time, Pansy squeals her delight, while Nott, Zabini, Crabbe, and Goyle applaud.
None have yet received their robes.
Draco is always the first.
It feels nothing like the day he received his Hogwarts letter. That was expected. A given. A birthright. He'd imagined that this would be similar, but all Draco can think as he holds the mask out before his face, is that he's about to secret away all the things he hates about himself for the protection of a cause that isn't his.
He'll keep all of it trapped under a piece of metal with two eyeholes and a slit for the nose, close to his skin.
She catches him in the third floor corridor, pressing him backwards into a wall with her wand trained into the soft, pale flesh of his throat.
Draco merely stares, reassuring the girl that she will be the very first to die at his hands.
It doesn't faze the Gryffindor in the slightest, however. Rather, he sees for the first time that there is a wellspring in the corner of her eyes.
He doesn't understand, so he tries to hold her in this place long enough to tear it from her. Tries to pull it from her skin and from her mouth and from that strange place at the bottom of his gut that pulls and twists each time she passes him by and that feels so constantly empty that he can't. He can't. He can't. He -
She leaves him with only one word before she sweeps from his grasp and out of sight.
He tells Granger not to beg, but Draco doesn't know if the words leave his mouth or if they live only inside his head where they can echo.
Dawn breaks early, though no sunlight filters into the common room below the lake. The Slytherins are restless, self-satisfied and waiting for Draco to rise from his seat in front of the hearth.
He can't see Zabini's smirk under that mask. Nott paces the length of the room, occasionally blasting things to rubble when his hem tangles and he trips. The shadows under his eyes are two dark moons that smear down his cheeks.
Crabbe and Goyle are hunched over a table in the corner, torturing a spider with subdued variations of the Unforgivable Curses. Pansy adjusts her robes for the seventh time. Only Daphne and Tracey are absent, one watching the corridor to the dungeons, the other verifying their coast is clear on the main floor.
Draco turns the mask over in his hands, its surface cool to the touch and, at that very moment, he feels the mark on his arm sear painfully.
Nott barks is surprise. Draco grits his teeth.
It's time to go, but no one leaves the common room. They are waiting for him to lead the charge, show them his back as if it were a worthwhile target.
He wishes he had his broom. He wishes he could see the sky one last time.
He stands, and raises his wand as the Common Room door opens. His forgotten masks trails his shaking grip with hollow eyes as he takes his first tentative steps into the corridor, and turns, uttering the words that earn him two lacerations and several pints of blood.
He doesn't make it out of the corridor, but he can hear their footsteps retreating, and Draco thinks he can hear her coming to save him like so many times before, when she's saved Weasley and Potter.