Oath Breaker by Goblin Cat KC
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Burning, he was burning and he couldn't move, swathed in chains as fire raced up the long stake behind his back and slowly engulfed him. His skin blistered and blackened as he screamed. Why was it so dark? Had they blindfolded him? Or maybe they'd gouged out his eyes. The crowd murmured around him, marveling at the spectacle a burning wizard made, both afraid and jeering as they piled on wood and hay. "Witch!" they screamed. "Demon!" And greater than the pain of his body burning to cinders was Draco's deep hatred at the muggles, no, mongrels that had done this to him.

His eyes opened as he started awake. For a moment he still thought he might be burning, but it was only his sore muscles and the scorching blanket covering him. He breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes. He hadn't had that dream in months but it always came back as vivid as ever. Probably just triggered by the blanket's heat charm, he thought. He started to move his right hand to throw it off but stopped when an agonizing spasm tore through his palm and fingers. Wincing, he set it back down and used his left hand to push back the blanket. Someone had stripped off his robes, leaving little for his dignity, but the warm air felt comfortable enough.

The familiar smell of medicinal potions in Pomfrey's hospital wing, once faintly disgusting, now seemed like a blessing. He sat up, leaning on his left arm. His shoulders ached and his legs throbbed and his back felt frozen stiff, but everything felt much better than when he had passed out. His right hand was bandaged and he could curl his fingers slightly. How long had he slept? The windows were still dark so it couldn't have been more than a few hours. Snow piled up on the windowsill as more came down. If Voldemort meant to bury them all under ice, he was doing a good job of it, but Draco didn't care. His home was destroyed, his parents and friends all scattered, and he probably had a high price on his head now, but at least he was out of the blizzard.

A sudden thought made him panic. If his robes were gone, where were the books? He glanced wildly around but saw nothing on the table beside him. No robes, no devil's sack, no broom.

"No, no, no," he breathed, feeling chills colder than the wind outside. He'd flown across the country through a snowstorm and against two Death Eaters, escaping from the dark lord himself, but not five minutes in Hogwarts and he'd lost everything. He sat straight, gathering his strength to try to get out of bed.

"Where do you think you're going?" Pomfrey cried from the doorway. He looked up and, despite her scowl, he sighed in relief. Draped across her arm were his robes.

"The books," he said, refusing to lie down until he knew. "You found them? They were in a small sack, you might have missed them."

"If you mean that dark little bag of tricks," she said, "yes, it's in my office, along with your besom."

"Besom?" he asked, confused until he recognized the word from conversations with the portrait of his great great great grandmother Morgana. "The broom?"

"If you can call it a broom," Pomfrey said, setting down her tray of potions and dropping his clothes on the table before she sat down beside him. "I can't imagine how you managed to fly all the way here on that thing. Now get back under that cover."

"It's burning hot," he said and made no move to comply.

"No, you're still freezing," she said, but she tapped her wand against the cloth anyway. Immediately the blanket cooled to a bearable temperature and he grudgingly lay down again. "I may have been a bit too emphatic with the warmth charm, though. Is that better?"

He nodded. He had several questions -- had Severus arrived safely? did they know where his parents were? had Pansy sent an owl? -- but he didn't know exactly how much she knew and he couldn't afford to let any information slip. There was one question he could ask, though, as he watched her gently push the blanket back and hold his hand, pulling back the hasty bandages she'd wrapped around it to examine the damage.

"Do you think I'll ever use that hand again?"

Pomfrey hesitated, then picked up a purple bottle from her tray and tapped it into a small pestle. She tapped out several black stones from another bottle and ground them into powder, mixed it all together and turned back to him.

"I don't know," she said quietly. "The wound's had time to take, and the damage...what happened?"

"Impaled it on an incense burner about two days ago." He did not mention the dark magic going wild at the time and watched as she took off the last bandage. "It stopped hurting for awhile."

She nodded once. "The snow probably numbed all the pain out of you."

Tightening her grip on his wrist, she tapped her mixed powder onto his wound and then held him still as he hissed and tried to wrench out of her grip. The powder felt like bee stings for several seconds before dying down to dull taps. He moaned and turned his face toward the pillow. Still holding him, she touched his shoulder and leaned closer, speaking softly.

"Draco, I'm sorry I have to ask, but...the bruises around your legs. Did someone do that to you?"

"Bruises?" he frowned in confusion but quickly realized what she meant. "No, no one did that." He glanced at the door to her office, hoping he might see anything that belonged to him. "That's from the broom, I mean, the besom. It doesn't have any cushioning charm on it."

Pomfrey turned pale and stared at him. "Merlin, I knew it was old, but...you flew on a glorified tree branch without any charms at all?"

Draco shrugged, about to answer when they heard the door open rather violently. Pomfrey stood up as if expecting an attack and Draco reached for his wand, cursing when he remembered he didn't have it. Snape walked into the hospital wing at a quick pace, wand drawn.

"Ask for sanctuary right now," he ordered Draco, sparing no time for an explanation.

"I...request sanctuary at Hogwarts School," Draco answered, glancing at Pomfrey but she looked as lost as he did. "Severus, what--"

A second later three men walked in. Draco didn't recognize two of them, but even if Cornelius Fudge had not led them, their stern faces and the way they held themselves, easy with authority and staring at him as if he wore a Death Eater's robes, told him they were from the Ministry. They strode in, wands drawn, bearing down on Draco but they were forced to stop when Pomfrey and Snape both stepped in front of him.

Fudge glared at all three of them. "That boy is a wanted criminal. Step aside."

"You have no authority--" Snape started.

"I may not be minister anymore," Fudge spat, "but I still have the current minister's official recognition in this. That boy is under arrest."

"Arrest for what?" Pomfrey asked. "He hasn't done anything wrong."

"'Hasn't done'--" Fudge sputtered. "He's killed two wizards with dark spells in the middle of a muggle town. His broom is illegal, he has in his possession dark artifacts and he's in league with You-Know-Who. And he--"

"And he has formally requested sanctuary at this school," Snape said over him. "You know the old laws as well as I do."

The former minister turned so red that Draco thought he might burst into flames. "Sanctuary only applies during open war--"

"War is already upon us."

They all looked up as the headmaster walked in, looking at once haggard but rejuvenated, as if he was a battle-worn general who had just received very good news. Draco scowled as he noticed that Dumbledore wasn't alone. Harry Potter walked slightly behind him at his right hand and glared back in return.

"Whether you want to admit it or not," Dumbledore continued, staring at Fudge calmly. "War has been declared by Voldemort. Battles already rage across the country, although you try to hide them as personal attacks, much like your accusations against young Malfoy. His family has given us an unexpected advantage, at great personal cost to themselves I might add. I am happy to offer him sanctuary from his enemies."

"This will never hold up," Fudge said. "The boy's been up to his father's old tricks and the Wizengamot--"

"--has more pressing matters," Snape interrupted again, "than examining a student who was merely late to term and arrived on an antique broom made well before the ministry even existed."

Fudge paused, and for a moment Draco thought that was it. And then the former minister stared at the headmaster with a gleam in his eye. "You know as well as I do what he is. What all blooded Malfoys are. You cannot deny his prowess with dark magic. If you give him sanctuary, you will be harboring a viper amongst innocents."

"Yes," Dumbledore said, "I know exactly what he is. And I know that he has sheathed his fangs, so to speak, for as long as he has attended Hogwarts. I assume that will continue to be the case?"

Draco looked away before Dumbledore met his eyes. No matter that his family had thrown their lot in with the old wizard and that he was reduced to begging safe shelter from him, his father had told him several times never to look at Dumbledore straight in the eye. The dark lord was a legilimens and every Death Eater knew that the headmaster was as well. Draco had no intention of suffering the mental anguish of his memories being ripped out again. He nodded once, and they all seemed to take that for an answer.

"Excellent," Dumbledore said, looking back at Fudge. "Now, as you have no proof of your accusations and sanctuary has been given, I trust you know the way out?"

"This isn't over," Fudge said, but he slipped his wand back into his robes anyway. As soon as the Ministry officials had left, heads held high as they tried to salvage their pride, Snape turned and faced Draco.

"I am relieved to see that you arrived safely."

Draco sat up despite Pomfrey's clucking that he should rest. "Has there been any word?"

Snape shook his head. "Nothing. But it's only been two days. It may be several weeks before we hear anything."

True, he thought, but not knowing stung. Draco glanced at the other three. "How much do they know?" he asked.

"I've told them everything," Snape said.

Draco stared at him with wide eyes. "Everything? Even you and my--?"

"Everything important," Snape amended, glaring at him. "And I'll explain it all after you've had more rest."

"I can't sleep," Draco said, sitting a little straighter. "Too tired. Maybe in another hour or so..."

"In that case," Dumbledore said, stepping up to the foot of the bed. "I have a favor to ask of you."

"And what," Draco asked, looking up only at the headmaster's robes, "could you want from me?"

"The reason why you are so studiously avoiding my eyes," the headmaster said. "Mr. Malfoy, you have my congratulations on the wonderful trick your family has played on the dark lord. It is the first good news I have heard in months and gives our side a much needed glimmer of hope. However, we all know what a risk I am taking by sheltering you, and I do not merely mean the Ministry's disapproval. I need to know that I can trust you."

"No one in their right mind trusts a dark wizard," Draco muttered, uncomfortable with the idea that the wizard considered him to be on their side. "You'll never trust me."

"Then it's true," Harry said, taking a step forward and staring at Draco like something out of one of Hagrid's classes. "Dobby was right about you. He said you were all dark wizards."

"Yes, that little sneak wouldn't care about keeping secrets anymore," Draco hissed. "Ungrateful little wretch--"

"If I may continue," Dumbledore interrupted, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder to quiet him. "I do not know all the facts surrounding your father's release from Azkaban and your escape from the dark lord. With the world itself at stake, I cannot afford to take the risk that this is some elaborate trap. I can only guess as to your father's motives and his plans, and as Professor Snape is fond of telling me, a Gryffindor cannot hope to understand the machinations of a Slytherin."

The hospital bed seemed uncomfortable again and the large room felt tiny and stifling. Voldemort's raking of his mind left deep wounds that refused to soothe and another legilimens in his mind made Draco wonder if he wouldn't be able to keep his mind intact, if every memory wouldn't spill out for the other wizard to examine at his leisure. If staying at Hogwarts meant giving over control like that, he'd take his chances with the snowstorm again.

"It shouldn't take long," Dumbledore said gently. "And I give you my word of honor that I will not stray from any memory you do not offer to me."

If only it was that simple, Draco thought. If only he could simply escape to some other refuge, but the storm outside was so fierce and he had no other place to hide both from the Death Eaters and the Ministry. "Will it hurt very much?" he asked.

"It won't hurt at all."

"You're lying," Draco snapped, keeping his gaze locked on Dumbledore's robes. "I've already had my mind torn into once, thank you, I have no intention of a repeat performance."

"Torn?" Pomfrey asked, beating everyone else to the question. She sat down beside him and began mixing up another potion. "When? Does it still hurt? I should've thought to check..."

"The dark lord can look inside minds, too," Draco muttered, "only he wasn't kind enough to ask permission first. He...it was..." He cursed himself for breaking off but the memory still burned as clearly as when it happened.

To his surprise, Snape put a hand on his shoulder. Draco looked at it to make sure it belonged to the potions master and then looked up at him. In all the years he'd known him, Severus was loathe to show weakness in front of anyone except Lucius.

"The headmaster is not the dark lord," Snape said in a whisper. "It will not hurt. And if anything I taught you actually stuck in that lazy head of yours, you will easily keep any private thoughts to yourself."

Draco hesitated, looking between Severus and Dumbledore before nodding once. Taking a deep breath, he wordlessly met Dumbledore's eyes. Immediately memories flashed through his head, not haphazardly as before but in a steady flow that took him back farther and farther, beyond the escape and before the Malfoys put their plan into action, all the way back to the moment Draco set foot in Azkaban.

Less like a prison and more like a madhouse, shrieks and moans echoed through the stone corridors and disappeared into the walls. Draco kept his head high but also kept the hood of his cloak low, concealing his face. In one hand he carried a large bundle tied with a string, and in his other he held his wand. The cloak clasped in front so it would not open easily and no one could see his hands, but no one expected any trouble when he had an official release notice for his father. All he had to do was present it to the guards and they let him pass with only a jeer at his shamed family name.

The shadows and screams did not bother him. He'd lived in shadows all his life, watching his father coax complex magic out of dark artifacts and assisting Snape like an apprentice, working with ingredients long forbidden by the ministry. Screams, his father had taught him, were nothing to be frightened of but were rather warnings of potential danger. And the danger here was the guards.

Two followed behind him at a healthy distance, drawn to a newcomer who was not yet beaten down by the gloom like everyone else, inmate and guard alike. Even the guards on secluded Azkaban must have heard the rumors about his family, and the youngest in a family of suspected dark wizards would make for a tempting target. Draco could not defend himself from attack and expect to be believed by the wizarding community, and now he wished that his mother had accompanied him. His only reassurance was that they would not attack someone who wasn't a prisoner. He swallowed once reflexively and forced himself not to turn around, even though he could feel them close by.

Up several steep staircases, down long halls that had no windows, he finally stopped at the last cell on that floor. Out of the corner of his eye he watched the guards stop at the staircase, well out of hearing range, so he turned back to the cell. The faint light in the hall did not reach into the cell, leaving it entirely dark. He dreaded looking inside and seeing what his father had become, so instead he steeled himself and stood at the bars, staring straight ahead at the guards.

"Father," he said, pressing the release notice against the lock. The parchment's charm sizzled against the lock and the cell clicked open. "I have secured your release. It's time to go home."

No answer, but he heard movement from inside the cell. He brought the bundle out from under his cloak and held it out. A moment later he felt it being pulled weakly from his hands and heard the paper being torn. Clothes were the only outside articles allowed in, but Draco brought not only his father's robes but his wand and a handful of potions as well.

Several cleaning charms were cast first. Draco listened as his father whispered charms he never would have guessed that someone as refined as Lucius Malfoy would know. Used by peasants and travelers to keep clean when no water was to be found, they were both uncomfortable and useless to modern wizards who never went far without an inn or public house nearby.

Glass vials shattered on the floor and dissolved, removing any evidence of his concentrated restorative elixirs. Instead of merely using the mandrake for an ingredient, he'd torn out its ethereal essence, the wisp of life that should have returned to nature after its death. Ripping out the essence of a plant and further warping its nature by adding his own blood as a kind of booster bordered on necromancy and, if discovered, could earn him steep fines, social stigma and even his own cell.

Finally Lucius came into the light. Leaning more on his cane than he used to, he took several unsteady steps as he reaccustomed himself to walking. His robes hung off him, showing just how much weight he had lost, and his hair, though now clean, was limp.

"How long?" he whispered, pulling his hood over his head and shadowing his face.

"Nearly six months," Draco said, keeping his voice businesslike. "Fighting's broken out, just skirmishes for now as each side gathers its forces. The ministry refuses to admit that it's war but lines have obviously been drawn and the sides seem even."

"I see." Lucius followed at his side for a few steps, his feet dragging slightly on the floor. His breath came out in rasps and he stared at the floor. He seemed like he might drop at any moment and Draco frowned when he saw the guards laughing between themselves at his father's state. To see him brought so low...

"Lucius," Draco snapped, using the same tone that his parents did whenever they rebuked him, "you are a Malfoy. Act like one."

Lucius froze as if slapped. He stared at his son with narrowing eyes and his grip tightened on his cane. He'd never struck his son with it, indeed he'd never struck him at all, but now he was sorely temped. Such arrogance! To hear his name spoken so coldly by his own son, and after so long under such circumstances. In his anger he did not reply but straightened as they walked, still a little shaky but managing to hold his head high as they passed by the guards.

For now their reputation served them as they walked side by side, the former prisoner seemingly unaffected by his confinement, an amazing feat even without dementors flying around the fortress. The guards backed up and let them by. Throughout the prison, the occasional mumbling of the guards died away as two dark wizards walked among them, finally coming out into the moonlight.

Their private carriage waited at the entrance. Two black horses calmly stood as Draco opened the carriage door for his father. Once Lucius was settled, Draco walked beside the horses and whispered in their ears to take them home, then quickly joined his father and shut the door as they began to move, jostling them a little as it rolled across the rocky ground. A few seconds later the wheels left the ground and the horses pulled them through the air, their hooves still clopping as if they tread on the earth but the carriage itself stopped tilting one way or the other, riding smoothly on the wind.

Several seconds passed. Lucius stared out the window at the ocean as if watching the sea serpent following beneath them, but Draco knew his father well enough. He pushed his hood back and stared at him, wishing he would say something. As the silence grew unbearable, he blurted out "forgive me, father, please forgive me. I just couldn't stand those monsters staring at us, laughing. I wouldn't presume...I mean...you know I'd never dare--"

Draco's mouth snapped shut as his father sighed and slowly turned to look at him. Although his father had never hit him, he sometimes wished he would. Lucius' anger and disappointment were a thousand times worse than any blow could have been. Draco could often sweet talk anyone into getting his way, a skill put to great use these last few months, but for some reason he could only stammer under his father's look.

"Why are you here instead of advancing our cause?" Lucius asked, his voice neutral. "You have not sworn loyalty to the dark lord?"

"No," Draco said, considering his words. "I have not yet been asked. Mother deals with the Death Eaters. So far they occasionally use our manor but they have no use for me until I come of age."

"I see." Lucius nodded once to himself and looked back out the window.

"No you don't," Draco whispered. He stared at the carriage floor and forced himself to continue, not looking at his father for fear that he would lose his nerve. "I'm not joining them. Ever. Not after this, not after what they've done to us."

"Draco--"

"Mother stands with me in this. So does the rest of the family, the ones in the portraits, I mean. I know you've served the dark lord faithfully, father, but--"

"Draco!" Lucius snapped. "The Malfoys belong at his right hand, you know that. It's only because we served him that we are still alive."

"Serving him saved us once, but it will only destroy us now," Draco said. "I will not serve him."

"How dare you cross me," Lucius whispered. "If I thought you truly meant this, I would beat some sense back into you."

"But I do mean it--"

"Enough!" Lucius hissed, slamming his cane against the seat so hard that Draco winced. "Enough of these tests! Have I not proved my loyalty already?" He stared at Draco in a mix of betrayal and exhaustion. "Must even my own son try to trap me in treason?"

"'Test'?" Draco echoed, and it occurred to him that his father had kept him so sheltered from the machinations of the inner circle that he didn't know much of what went on in Voldemort's purview, the ways in which Voldemort determined their loyalty. "No, father, this...this isn't some test. If the dark lord finds out, it will only be because you tell him."

"I have not lived this long by being naive," Lucius said with narrowed eyes. "That my own son turns against me would not be all that farfetched."

"I haven't turned against you," Draco said. "You're the one who always told me 'family before all else'. I'm a Malfoy, not a Death Eater."

Lucius stared at him for several seconds, his gaze losing its anger and slowly turning suspicious. "Let me see your arms," he said at last.

Draco unclasped his robe and pushed his sleeves up, revealing unmarked skin. When his father reached forward and pushed his loose collar aside, Draco held still, tilting his head slightly to show him clearly that he had no marks on his shoulders or back. And then Lucius roughly grabbed him and dragged him forward, holding him with both arms. His grip was weak but Draco returned his embrace, closing his eyes. His father had only held him once before. This was nothing short of miraculous.

"I was so afraid for you," Lucius whispered. "I was so sure you'd suffer for my failure."

At first Draco didn't answer. He didn't want to let go. But as nothing was said, Lucius realized what his son's silence meant and drew back, staring at him. "What is it?"

Draco refused to look up, instead burying his face in his father's shirt. "I don't know. Mother says the dark lord is furious and wants to punish our family, but she doesn't know how he means to do it yet."

Neither of them spoke for several minutes. Lucius briefly considered spiriting his wife and son away but that was as impossible now as when he'd first thought of it, when the dark lord reappeared. There was no safe place, no possible refuge for dark wizards. "There's no escape," he said softly. "Not for us."

"Yes, there is," Draco said, sitting up slightly. "There's a way. It's not easy, and it'll be damn hard hiding it from him, but we can do it."

Slowly he sketched out a rough plan involving portkeys and subterfuge. He named the Death Eaters who seemed most willing to escape and explained how he'd organized the older students into their own tight group, ready to sneak the children away at a moment's notice. He told him that Severus had promised safe haven at Hogwarts if they needed it while offering his own help. When he finished, he looked back at his father, willing to throw it all away if it did not meet his approval.

"Clever indeed," Lucius said, obviously thinking it over. "This was your mother's idea?"

"No," Draco said. "It's mine."

"It's overly simplistic and borders on madness," Lucius said, so lost in thought that he didn't notice his son's crestfallen expression, "but vaguely inspired. It might actually work, if we can keep the dark lord from finding out. The sooner done, the better." As he spoke, he released his son and gently pushed him back.

"I've been looking for a place we could hide everyone," Draco said. He reluctantly withdrew and sat on the opposite seat. "So far I haven't found anything suitable."

"We will have to create a place," Lucius said. "That will take time and considerable effort, however. I'm not strong enough to help yet."

His previous exhaustion showed clearly in the moonlight and Draco again felt a stab of guilt. "Father...I am sorry for what I said in there. I didn't mean to snap or--"

Lucius gave a wan smile. "Guards be damned, I nearly smashed your head in for that. But it wasn't the disrespect that angered me so much as..." he sighed. "Being told to act like a Malfoy...I felt like a child in front of my father again. Damned galling feeling."

"You annoyed your father?" Draco asked.

"Not nearly as much as my son does," Lucius said.

They rode in silence for the rest of the way. When his father fell asleep, Draco kept vigilant, minding that the horses didn't run off course and that no one was stalking behind them on brooms. He hadn't liked dropping so much information on his father right after getting him out of Azkaban, but better that he knew of their planned treason now than believing he still had to serve Voldemort.

When they arrived at the Manor, the carriage coming to rest at the door as the sun rose, Narcissa stepped out and took Lucius' arm, helping him inside while Draco ordered the house elves to tend the horses, put away the carriage and above all else, let no one know that the master of the house had returned. He didn't follow his parents, leaving his mother to take care of his father while he returned to his bedroom.

The house elves had been busy in his absence, cleaning up the mess of papers and quills that littered his desk and somehow getting out the ink he'd accidentally upturned on the carpet. Looking at that desk no longer filled him with disgust now that his father was free. For the past several months he had worked to call in every favor, use every dirty secret he knew, to work his own magic with ministry officials and secure his father's pardon. Amelia Bones' assassination at the hands of the Death Eaters made manipulating the Wizengamot easier but with his father imprisoned, he'd had to establish his own presence as just as threatening and malevolent as his father's, until Draco Malfoy was every bit as feared as Lucius Malfoy.

Perhaps worse. Lucius, cautious to keep his intimidation secret, used subtle threats so as to avoid detection. Draco became a blonde demon, letting rumors of bribery, corruption and incompetence slip through the ministry until everyone was so frightened of an inquiry that his merest insinuation sent them into a tailspin of compliance. A few officials were impossible to manipulate. Coercing Arthur Weasley would have been useless in terms of his influence but limitless in personal satisfaction. However, everyone already knew about his lax behavior regarding magically altered muggle items so charges of incompetence didn't affect him as much as others. In every way, that family was useless to him and it only infuriated him when he thought about it.

He stripped off his robes as he made his way to the attached bathroom, stepping over the tile floor towards the sunken bathtub. Filly had already drawn his bath, so he carefully stepped down into the hot water, wincing slightly as he sat down, the water coming to his throat. Unlike the baths at Hogwarts, every tub in the Manor had symbols carved into the sides. Bathing was not merely for washing or relaxation. For the Malfoy family, bathing involved purification of whatever amount of dark magic still clung to them. If he didn't dispel it, it would interfere with spells, attract dark creatures and eventually eat at their soul.

Clasping his hands together, he took a deep breath and began chanting in a whisper. The spell rhymed but only to make it easier for him to remember. A minute passed, then two. Then he leaned backwards, submerging himself entirely before coming up again. He quickly turned, wiping the water from his eyes, and spotted his shadow lingering on the water's surface. It floated for a few seconds and then dissipated.

That done, he sighed and leaned back. One of the perks of dark magic was an excuse to take a long hot bath every day. Later he would contact Pansy and bring her up to date, but there was no rush to do anything just yet. The Death Eaters would not return to the manor for several weeks, busy with assassinations and destruction across the country, and the dark lord was off as usual, coordinating everything from his own secret hideaway. For now, Draco could afford to rest.

It was only much later, three weeks after his father's return and convalescence, that Draco learned about the history of the Knights of Walpurgis, the role he would play in their escape and what he must be prepared to do. Severus proved invaluable in the planning and seemed to never leave the manor, and indeed his father--

Draco shook his head. No, that was off-limits, a family matter that didn't concern the war. He shook his head again to clear it and looked up. Dumbledore stood before him with a broad smile.

"It seems I underestimated you," the headmaster said. "Sometimes the brazenness of youth can find means that years of experience consider impossible. Again, my congratulations. It is most deserved."

Congratulations for being better schemers than the dark lord? Maybe from a Slytherin he could accept it. From a Gryffindor, it was nothing more than a backhanded compliment. Draco just nodded uncomfortably and looked up at Severus. "How long was that?"

"A few minutes," Snape said. "Now, since that is finished, you will get some sleep. I will bring something more appropriate for your hand than that weak snake oil--" he ignored Pomfrey's indignant snort "--and tomorrow, ah, excuse me, later today we will get you settled."

"Wait," Draco said, refusing to lay down just yet, "the books, they're safe?"

"You mean your devil's sack?" Snape asked. "Yes, quite safe. I'll take them with me for safekeeping until you wake."

That was as far as he was willing to tolerate Draco's stubbornness, and they all left him as he settled back under the blanket. Draco laughed derisively when he heard Dumbledore's voice fading away, explaining to Potter what devil sacks and dark books were. For all his pretended goodness, the headmaster certainly knew enough about dark magic, and for all of Potter's success against Voldemort, he was woefully ignorant about wizarding culture.

Pomfrey blew out the candles and quietly closed the door, leaving the hospital wing nearly pitch black. Scant moonlight shone through the windows and the wind howled while hard snowflakes hit the glass like tapping skeleton fingers. He pulled the blanket higher and turned his face toward the pillow. Despite his father's exasperation, his mother's gentle assurances and Snape's derision, Draco had never shaken his fear of the night. A stupid thing for a dark wizard to be afraid of, but it wasn't the dark that he feared. Working in shadows was second nature, and he preferred a hand of glory to a common lumos spell. No, it was what lurked within the shadows that scared him. He curled up and told himself it was only because he was cold. The room felt icy and he would have called out to Madam Pomfrey, but he felt ridiculous when he'd complained before about being too hot. He tried to relax and ignore the creeping chill.

When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed of hurrying through a snowstorm with his robes clutched around his throat. Stumbling through deep drifts, he constantly looked over his shoulder and hoped to make it through the forest and onto the main road before the muggle mob caught up to him. In the blizzard, made black by the thick clouds across the moon, he spotted their torches like fireflies not too far away. His wand was broken, snapped in his struggle to escape, and the cold was starting to fade as he grew tired. As they came closer, he threw aside the robes and ran as fast as he could. Like a deer before hunters, he gave up caution and plunged through the snow, desperate to get away from those rabid, hateful, filthy animals baying for his blood.

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