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That which you recognize from the books belongs to JK Rowling.

By the time Draco awoke the next morning, the visit from his aunt and her shadowy companions had taken on an indistinct, almost surreal quality in his mind. He found that his chambers were exactly as he remembered them before going to bed. The elves had laid out his neatly pressed clothes. There was no sign of trouble as he made his way down to the dining room. Old Moody was standing in the entryway and grunted something unintelligible at Draco as he passed. The sun was streaming through the windows and the day seemed unremarkable in every way. Draco began to seriously question whether he had dreamt the whole thing.

Then he saw the Daily Prophet. The elves had laid it out in front of his father’s seat at the head of the table, as they always did. The fact that he wouldn’t be there to read it didn’t seem to occur to them. Emblazoned across the top of the page, in enormous type, were the words, “MUGGLE HOSPITAL ATTACKED”. Draco felt a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he picked up the paper and studied the image of flames pouring from the windows of a large building. Muggle firemen were dousing the fire with water and there were people running everywhere. Beneath the photo, the caption declared, “Followers of You-Know-Who Suspected”.

Draco dropped the paper onto the table and closed his eyes. He tried to imagine what his father might say. The victims of the attack were muggles, which normally wouldn’t have bothered him. Muggles did far worse things to one another all the time. They were base, violent creatures and according to his father that was part of the reason why wizards needed to seize power in both worlds. But something didn’t sit well about the idea of attacking a hospital. Even his father would have called it... he struggled for the right word. Uncivilized.

A house elf appeared with a pop as Draco sat down at the table. “Mistress is not feeling well. She has asked for her breakfast in her chambers,” the elf croaked nervously as it placed Draco’s plate and goblet in front of him. Draco nodded dismissively and shooed the elf away. He wasn’t in the mood for company and he honestly wasn’t feeling hungry. His eyes kept flicking back to the paper lying in front of his father’s empty seat. Had the Dark Lord’s followers really gone to such lengths just so his aunt could visit?

His thoughts were interrupted by a piercing cackle that almost stopped his heart. His skin crawled as he turned to see the hauntingly mad eyes that regarded him from the doorway. She noticed the newspaper lying on the table and let out another terrible, ear-splitting laugh. “Oh, look, darling, we’re famous!”

His aunt swept across the room and pulled him into a hug, once again pressing the side of his head awkwardly into her chest. He flinched involuntarily, then cursed himself for his lack of control as she pushed him to arms length, staring at him quizzically. A wicked smile broke out across her taut lips and she pulled his face back into her cleavage. “Don’t worry, my dear little Draco. You’ll get to play with us soon enough!”

She released him and almost sprang away, glaring at him with greedy eyes. Then she grabbed his fork and shoved a large bite of his breakfast into her mouth. “Sho wut to oo fink?” she asked, not bothering to cover her mouth.

Draco’s mind was reeling. How had she managed to return, in broad daylight no less? He imagined Moody’s dead body lying in the Great Room and was surprised to discover that it troubled him a great deal. He gave his aunt a weak smile and mumbled, “Pardon?”

She took the goblet from in front of him and downed half of his juice. “I said, what do you think?” He stared back at her blankly. Her eager smile fell just a bit, and he felt a flash of panic. “About what we discussed last night, of course,” she prompted.

“Oh, that!” Draco fumbled, trying to decide what she wanted to hear. “I, um, well of course I want to help the Dark Lord.”

His aunt squealed with fiendish delight and tossed the half-full goblet aside. “Of course you do, darling!” she cried, lifting his chin with her fingers and beaming at him. Draco cringed, certain that she was about to crush his face into her breasts again, but she merely ruffled his hair and fixed him with another probing stare.

“And what about the mission we discussed? What about that?”

In spite of his best efforts, Draco was sure that his confusion had made its way onto his face. His aunt was still giving him the same eager smile, and his mind raced. He couldn’t recall anything about a mission, even when he was eavesdropping from the top of the stairs. Finally, he shook his head in defeat. Perhaps she would be slightly less angry with him for failing to pay attention than if he lied to her. “I was, uh, very tired last night. I’m afraid I forgot what the mission was.”

Her smile vanished, replaced by a look of severe reproach. “Draco, darling, this simply won’t do. The Dark Lord demands nothing short of perfection, and he does not forgive.” She trailed her fingers slowly across his collarbone before jamming them under his chin again, forcing him to meet her stare. “Now I want you to think very hard, dear. What do you recall about the mission we discussed?”

Draco’s chest felt like it was going to collapse. His heart was hammering against his ribs and abject panic gripped his mind. What was she talking about? He couldn’t remember anything about any mission. He tried desperately to keep the terror out of his voice. “I... I... Could you just give me a little hint?”

His aunt’s eyes flashed with rage. Her fingers fell away from his chin, but they were quickly replaced by the tip of a wand. “The Cruciatus Curse. Do you know it?” He nodded dumbly, feeling her wand dig into his skin with each small bob of his head. “Then I’m sure you know that only the Dark Lord himself is able to perform it with greater skill than your Auntie Bellatrix. This is important, Draco! I want you to tell me everything about your mission, in perfect detail, or I will show you just how we deal with Death Eaters who don’t pay attention.”

Draco opened his mouth, but all that came out was a pathetic sounding wheeze. His aunt suddenly leaned closer to him, hissing and baring her filthy teeth in a devilish grin. Draco let out an involuntary yelp. He felt a sudden warmth spreading from the crotch of his pants. The wand dug a fraction deeper into his neck.

“That’s enough, Nymphadora!”

Both of their heads jerked involuntarily toward the door, where old Moody had suddenly appeared. To Draco’s surprise, his aunt’s hair turned a violent shade of red. “Don’t. Call. Me. THAT!” she roared. But it wasn’t her voice. It took Draco only a moment to place it, and he suddenly felt more stupid than he had ever felt in his life.

“Start acting like an Auror instead of an angry child holding a grudge. Then I’ll call you whatever you want,” Moody snapped back.

Draco watched as his Aunt Bellatrix’s features slowly melted away, leaving only his cousin in her place. Her hair was a plain, mousy brown and the outfit she’d been wearing hung loosely over her smaller frame. She sniffed the air for a moment, then looked down at Draco’s lap. As she pulled her wand away from his throat, she let out a mirthless chuckle. “She’s nothing, you know? Compared to him. Try not to shit yourself, Draco. You’ll embarrass the family.”

The young Auror turned and strolled out of the room, giving her superior an angry glare as she passed. Moody stalked toward him. His wooden leg thumped heavily on the stone floor until he came to a stop next to Draco’s chair. “So she was here last night.” It was a statement, not a question. Draco saw no point in denying the obvious. He stared at the gilded stem of his spoon and nodded his head slowly.

“And she didn’t mention any sort of mission.” Again, he stated it like a simple fact. Draco shook his head. The room was silent for a long moment. “Listen, Malfoy. I don’t like you. You’re an arrogant, cowardly, loud-mouthed little weasel. But I’m gonna give you a piece of advice. Take it or don’t, I really don’t care.” Draco looked up at the old man, meeting his good eye for the first time. “There’s a shift change coming up at ten o’clock. I have a good idea that Benson’s gonna be late, seeing as how he was running around all night, trying to chase down your aunt’s associates.” Moody fixed him with both eyes. Draco felt like the man was staring straight through him. “Grab all the gold you can, take your mother and just go. Get as far away as you can.”

When Moody finished speaking, he turned and started to stalk out of the room. Almost without thinking about it, Draco asked, “What about my father?”

“What about him?” Moody snarled, not even bothering to turn around. “He’s the reason you’re in this mess. Cut your losses, kid.” Then he hobbled out into the Great Room and Draco was alone again.

Staring at the uneaten remains of his breakfast, Draco had never felt so hopeless and confused. Part of him wanted to do exactly what the old Auror said. To take what he could carry and leave this miserable life behind. Another part of him couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his father to rot away in prison or worse. The biggest part of him simply wanted to find a dry pair of pants without anyone seeing him. He realized that he desperately needed to talk to his mother, to find out what she was thinking. He stood up and took the newspaper from the table, then headed for the stairs, trying to look casual as he held it in front of his waist.

His mother’s chambers were cool and dark. All of the curtains were drawn against the morning sun. As Draco wandered across the small anteroom, he saw the past several editions of the Daily Prophet spread out on his mother’s chaise lounge and coffee table. Each seemed to be turned to an article on the recent surge in violence attributed to the Death Eaters. An ink pot and quill sat on the corner of the coffee table, along with a stack of his mother’s stationary. She had clearly been busy.

Draco paused for a moment, thinking back to their argument the day before. He remembered being furious at his mother, feeling hurt and betrayed by her actions. It seemed like days had passed. He was terrified of his aunt; he could admit that to himself. Was the Dark Lord really so much worse? How could such a terrible person possibly amass as many followers as the Dark Lord was supposed to have?

Power is his currency. And that power is based on fear. His mother’s words came back to him, and he pondered them as he turned toward the doors that led to her bedroom. His father certainly liked people to be afraid of him. He had always told Draco that people who feared you also respected you. But the fear his father inspired was different. Fear of losing your job or your spot on some Ministry committee was a far cry from the type of fear Draco felt toward his aunt.

He rapped softly on his mother’s bedroom door, then waited for a reply. After a minute or so, he tried again. “Mother, I know you’re in there,” he called out, testing the doorknob and finding it locked. After a moment, there was a soft click and the doors swung slowly open. Draco stepped inside and allowed his eyes to adjust. Her bedroom was even darker than the anteroom, lit by only a single oil lamp that flickered precariously along the far wall. Eventually, he was able to make out a quivering lump underneath the blankets on her bed.

“Mother, are you alright?” he asked tentatively, walking to her bedside.

A soft sob reached his ears, followed by another.

“Mother, what’s wrong?”

“He’s dead. I tried to reach out to him. To ask him for help. And now he’s dead.” Her voice sounded weary. Draco wondered how long she had been crying.

“Who’s dead, mother? Has something happened to father?”

The shape under the blankets gradually changed, becoming longer and more slender. “I should have known. I should have realized that they would find out.” His mother’s voice fell to a whisper. “I killed him as surely as if I’d cast the curse myself.”

“Mother, who?” Draco was beginning to feel frantic. If anything had happened to his father, he wasn’t sure he could ever forgive her.

“Uncle Augustus,” she answered before sobs began to shake her again.

Draco lowered himself onto the edge of her bed, trying to make sense of what she was telling him. His Great Uncle Augustus was a Rosier, a Slytherin and he was married to a pureblood daughter of the Selwyn family. Why the Dark Lord would allow the death of such a man was beyond his comprehension. “Mother, he was one of us. Are you sure?”

His mother slowly pulled herself to a sitting position, wrapping her arms around her knees. He could barely make out her swollen, red eyes in the pale lamplight. “Draco, the only us that means anything now is you and me. We can’t trust anybody else.”

“But why would the Dark Lord want your uncle dead? He was a pureblood.”

She looked away from him, toward a dark corner of the room. Her voice became wistful. “He was my favorite uncle when I was a little girl. Never harsh with us, always understanding. When Dromie ran away with the mudblood, he tried to calm everyone down. He said that she just needed some time to come to her senses. In the end, of course, they didn’t listen to him.” His mother turned her gaze back to him. “Bella had to respect his opinion. He was our elder, after all. But she never forgave him for it.” He could see the shiver run through her. “She was so angry with Dromie. Angrier than mother and father, even.”

Silence filled the room for a long moment. Draco struggled to reconcile his feelings. The idea of taking pity on a blood traitor was contrary to everything his father had taught him. But so many things didn’t make sense anymore. He needed time to figure it all out. And if Moody was to be believed, their time was running short.

“Mother, I think we should leave,” he said quietly. “Moody told me that the Auror who is relieving him at ten o’clock will be late. If we hurry, we can be ready to go as soon as the old bat and his awful little pet freak are gone.”

She stared at him, and he saw something different in her eyes. Hope? Pride? Whatever it was, it quickly faded and the gloom returned to her face. “Where would we go, Draco? Whose doorstep would we throw ourselves upon, seeking their pity? Those who are not aware of the Dark Lord’s anger would spit in our faces. And those who are would summon him immediately in the hope that they might be spared his wrath.”

“We could travel far away,” Draco insisted. “We could even hide among the muggles if we had to.”

His mother simply laughed, but it was mirthless, cold and empty. “We know nothing of their world. We would be lucky to survive a day.”

Draco stood up with a jerk and began to pace. “Well anything has to be better than sitting here, waiting to be killed. Come, mother! At least we’ll have a chance.”

He could hear the sheets of her bed rustling as he stared at the wall. Her slender fingers slipped over his shoulders and she coaxed him to turn and face her. His mother was dressed in a simple nightgown and her hair hung limply around her gaunt cheeks. Without her makeup, the dark circles that framed her tormented eyes stood out, even in the scant lamplight. She stared at him for a moment and then pulled him to her. His hands involuntarily rose to her sides. He felt as though he needed comfort her, even in the depths of his own despair. He could feel her ribs through the thin fabric and he realized that she weighed next to nothing.

“Oh, my darling,” she whispered mournfully. “We’ve failed you terribly.”

Draco was beginning to feel desperate. His eyes scanned her bedroom, looking for her dressing gown. If he could convince her to get dressed, perhaps one of the elves could apparate them to a safe place. The stupid little creatures didn’t seem to be affected by the wards the Ministry had placed around the manor.

“It’s going to be alright, mother,” Draco replied, trying to sound braver than he actually felt. “I’ll get us out of here. I’m not going to let the Dark Lord or anybody else kill us without a fight.”

His mother pushed him slightly away and stared into his eyes. She looked so weary. Draco was worried that she might collapse. “The Dark Lord isn’t like that, Draco. Merely killing us wouldn’t set a strong enough example. He’ll want to show that not even the Malfoys are allowed to disappoint him. The price will be much higher.”

Draco couldn’t help himself. He nearly knocked her down as he flung his arms into the air. “Dammit, mother, stop talking to me like I’m ten! What is he going to do to me?

He immediately felt sorry for his outburst and he expected her to be angry with him. Instead, Draco saw only the deepest sorrow in her dark eyes.

“He’s going to claim you for his own,” she replied softly as fresh tears filled her weary eyes. “You’ll be made his servant; branded with his mark.” She looked away, as though she couldn’t bear to meet his gaze. “After that, I don’t know.”

Draco turned away from his mother and she returned to her bed. He recalled the first time that he saw his father’s Dark Mark. On the morning of his father’s thirtieth birthday, Young Draco had slipped away from the nanny and burst into his parents’ private quarters, hoping to surprise his father with a card he had made. In spite of being half-dressed, his father had indulged young Draco’s misbehavior, accepting the card and ruffling his hair affectionately.

The dull, blackened shape on his father’s left arm immediately caught young Draco’s attention. But as soon as he asked about it, his father became angry, chasing him out of the bedroom. Draco was banished to his bedroom for the rest of the day. The guests at the birthday celebration were told that he had come down with dragon pox. He learned the following day that his father had sacked his nanny on the spot. The implications were obvious, even to a four-year-old boy.

In spite of the punishment, Draco remembered the mark on his father’s arm in a reverent sort of way. Secrets were powerful things, and his father seemed to have no greater secret than the dark, blurry scar that marred the skin below his left elbow. When the Dark Lord finally returned, his father made a great show of taking Draco into his private study and showing him how the mark had once again become vivid and distinct. He promised Draco that he, too, would have one when the time was right. Standing in his parents’ darkened bedchamber, watching his mother pick at the hem of her nightgown and try not to cry, Draco had never felt further removed from the four-year-old boy who used to smudge his forearm with soot from the fireplace and then pull his sleeve down, carefully guarding his cherished secret from the prying eyes of the world.

He pulled his sleeve back and stared at the inside of his left arm in the dim lamplight, imagining how the skull and snake would look on his pale skin. “Does it hurt?” he suddenly blurted out. His mother gave him a quizzical stare. “When he brands you with the mark, I mean.”

His mother rocked slowly back and forth on the edge of her bed. “Your father denied it, of course. He always did try to put on a brave face for me.” A small smile played across her lips, then faded away. “Your aunt called the pain ‘exquisite’.”

Without thinking about it, Draco’s hand moved to cover the exposed skin of his arm. His aunt was completely mental. All of them were. Anyone who chose to give their life to the Dark Lord had to be stark, raving mad. And now he was going to be one of them. He felt his free hand shaking. Terror gripped his mind and for one terrible moment he felt his control slipping away. His knees bent slightly as his body prepared to break into a sprint. He would grab the Nimbus 2001 sitting on the shelf in his closet and keep flying until the lot of them were far, far away. Draco was so caught up in panic that he didn’t hear his mother’s approach. Her fingers touched his arm and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

“It’s alright, darling,” she whispered, pulling him into a hug and smoothing his hair. “It’s alright to be frightened. Get it all out of your system now. You have to be prepared when you meet him.”

“What does he want from me, Mother?” Draco could feel his voice shaking. He felt tiny and vulnerable. “What should I do?”

He felt his mother shaking gently and she tightened her arms around him. “Do whatever you must, Draco. Just promise me that you’ll live.”

He's coming. Soon...

Huge thanks to my wonderful beta reader, sophie_hatter. If you haven't checked out her story, Evolution (M), what are you waiting on?

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