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Of Lesser Things

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[ Wiltshire, England - 1996 ] 


 

“Son, I know what I ask of you is difficult, but–” 

“But what, Mother?” His fists clench tightly at his sides. “You would have me side with the damned Mudbloods!” 

Narcissa’s eyes narrow at his harsh tone, but after a few moments of sustained silence her features soften. “I would have you do whatever it takes to ensure your survival.” 

“Completing my mission will safeguard my life, and yours as well!” 

“But at what cost, Draco? Your soul?” She shakes her head and a short, brittle laugh escapes her lungs. “That’s not something I’m willing to wager.” 

“But I am.” 

“You’re only sixteen. You don’t know what it is you’re asking for.” Her face hardens and her voice bites like steel. “Or what they’re really asking of you.” 

“But–” Draco begins and then stops, startled quiet by the sharp thud of Narcissa's fist on polished mahogany. 

“But nothing! Look me in the eye and tell me that you can honestly kill an innocent man. Tell me that you can stain your hands red with the blood of countless Muggles, regardless of their inferiority, and it won’t fill you with remorse. Tell me that this path will not tear you apart like your father, piece by piece, until you are more monster than man. Can you do that?” She takes in a deep, shuddering breath. And then another. And another. Her hands tremble, but she hides them on her lap under the table and continues softly. “They have lied to us, Draco, about so many things. Yes, your father died during the mission to retrieve that damn prophecy, but it was not by Sirius Black’s wand. After… after the battle was over, Bellatrix assassinated him for his failure by order of the Dark Lord.” 

“No.” His tone is flat, unbelieving. “That can’t be true.” 

“It is, and your mission has been given to you precisely because they think that you will fail.” 

“How can you know this?” The syllables hiss sharply through his grit teeth. “How can you possibly know all this?” 

Her smile is weak, just a slight curve at the corner of her lips. “It’s not just our side that has spies.” 

“You’ve been in contact with an Order spy?” Draco asks, incredulous and running panicked hands through his hair. “Merlin, we’re blood traitors. We’re fucking blood traitors.” He hears her laugh, low and derisive, and it unnerves him even more. “Have you gone mad?” 

Narcissa doesn’t answer his question. Instead she looks him in the eye. “The Dark Lord is a half-blood leading an army of pure-blood supremacists. The whole world has gone mad.” 

Draco rests his elbows on the table and buries his head in his hands. For several minutes, it’s all he can do to keep his lungs working, breathing in and out, in and out. A few more minutes pass while his brain sorts through the all information she’s burdened him with. There are choices, many choices he could make, and he can see them each as clearly as the dark brand against his pale skin. It should be harder to do, making this decision, but in the end it’s not difficult at all. There’s only one path he can take because she’s right. He doesn’t have it in him. This is a fact that he has known since his second year at Hogwarts. 

As a boy, he had cruelly mocked those of lesser blood, had verbalized his relish over the prospect of their deaths. But when the reality of it came crashing home, when the first death the Chamber claimed was a shrewd little Slytherin named Darcy, he had felt the guilt curl deep within his gut. Draco had liked her. Finding out that she was a Mudblood hadn’t changed that, much to his surprise. But he had walled up that emotion, choosing to blindly follow the path his father set before him.

Only now that his father is gone and what lies at the end of that path is clear does he admit to himself that he can’t take that next step. Whether that makes him a coward or something else entirely, he doesn’t know. 

“What do you want me to do, Mother?” 

“I’ve made arrangements with the Order for your protection. You will return to school and from there, Professor McGonagall will send you somewhere safe.” 

“What about you? The Dark Lord will kill you if he–” 

“You needn’t worry about me. I know how to play the part well.” She cuts him off and this time her smile is confident. “They won’t kill me anyway. They need our gold to fund this war and they won’t get a single galleon without a Malfoy to access the vault.” 

“Mother,” he pleads. “I won’t leave without you.” 

“Yes, you will. You will because you must.” She reaches over and grasps his hand. Desperation has her fingers digging painfully into his flesh, but he does not pull away. “We will be the snakes in the grass, Draco, hiding and waiting until our quarry thinks the threat has passed. When they have forgotten about our poison and our fangs, when they have been lulled into false security, only then shall we strike at their heels. We will wait for just the right opportunity. Until then, I want you to live your life as fully as you can and decide for yourself what it is you believe in.” 

“I know what Father believed in.” He uses his free hand to gently tip her chin his direction, studying her face. She’s a Slytherin after all, and a rather cunning one. He doesn’t want her to hide her answer to his question in cleverly constructed words. “What do you believe in?” 

She looks away from him then, turning her gaze to the portrait of her late husband that hangs above the mantle. When she finally responds, she looks so lost that it physically pains him, his throat aching with unreleased emotion. “I don’t know anymore.” 

Draco simply nods his head. 

It’s the most honest thing she’s ever said to him. 

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[ Phoenix, Arizona - 2005 ]  


 

The clouds have been building, scattered groupings of voluminous white in a sea of cerulean. The fluffy masses are stained a deep charcoal underneath, heavy with seasonal moisture, but they have yet to release any of that burden and disperse. He is glad for it, knowing what their presence will add to the fast approaching display. The sun hangs low to the west, a conflagration of burnished bronze, and its fading light hits the vapors at just the right slant, causing a chain reaction to be put into motion. 

Draco’s cell phone vibrates, turning his attention from away from the sky, and the blond shifts awkwardly so that he can retrieve it from the front pocket of his jeans. After a brief look at the incoming message - D, better be on your fuckin way. Beer tastes like piss - he tosses it next to him on the seat. The technology might be more convenient than an owl, but he sure as hell isn’t going bother sending a reply. Let others use it to keep him informed. That doesn’t mean he has return the favor, that he has lower himself to do everything as the Muggles do just because he’s living in their world. A wizard’s got to draw the line somewhere. 

“How much longer?” Draco gruffly asks the man behind the wheel, not bothering to hide his impatience. 

“In this traffic”– the driver gestures to the road, voice thick with a foreign accent –“at least ten minutes.” 

“I told you to take McClintock instead of Rural.” 

“Sorry, Señor. It’s only pre-season and neither of our quarterbacks look too promising.” The man shrugs. “Shouldn’t be this busy.” 

Running his hands through his hair, Draco sighs. There’s not much for it. His only hope is that his friend is entertained well enough to stay put. He turns his gaze back towards the passenger-side window. 

The view should be terribly unimpressive. The landscape is painted in the muted hues of sand and olive green cacti, and the modern architecture, with its low-rising concrete and severe angles, attempts to break the monotony of the skyline while never quite succeeding. But the dazzling desert sunset overrides all that. It’s a wonder that never fails to fascinate him, how the pinks and oranges burn against the fading blue so intensely. For a few fleeting minutes, the earth creates a masterpiece. Despite all his travels, and the fact that nearly everywhere around the globe is witness to the exact same daily event, the wizard has yet to witness anything else quite like it. In this harsh place, he has had to learn to find the little bits of beauty, of magic, wherever he can find them. So he watches it every day, the descent of the sun past the horizon, and lets the colours wash over him as he thinks of home. 

The cab pulls to a stop just as the last bit of pink disappears, the colour yielding to the coming darkness of night. Passing a few worn bills over the seat, he exits the vehicle. The fee is too much all things considered, but he doesn’t have the time to quibble over something so frivolous. Besides, Ramone did put up with his reticence better than most people do, quickly taking the hint and leaving Draco to his silence. The wizard supposes that not being forced to participate in banal chit chat is worth something. 

The outside air is hot and heavy in his lungs, a sensation that no matter the number of years he has spent here he knows he will never grow accustomed to. It’s August and the hundred-plus degree heat of summer – stupid Americans and their bloody Fahrenheit – has combined with the humidity of the monsoon season to sweltering effect. By the time he’s reached the entrance of his destination, which is no more than a couple dozen paces from where he was dropped off, there is a light sheen of perspiration on his skin. Opening the door lets out a flood of cool air and he takes a deep breath, happy for the more temperate climate. 

After showing his I.D. – he stills gets carded everywhere, even at the ripe, old age of twenty-five – and paying the cover charge, Draco weaves his way through the club. He passes the dingy booths and scantily clad women, doubling as both eye-candy and waitresses, without a second glance. This particular establishment is new to him, but it’s familiar all the same. The guttural beat of too-loud music, the smoke obscured lighting and the scent of cheap alcohol are common themes in a dive like this, as are the women selling glimpses of their bodies in the name of entertainment. Rather than take in the sights like the rest of the many men are doing, his grey eyes search for a recognizable face. He finds who he’s looking for at a table directly in front of the stage, which is little more than a raised platform with a pole in the middle of it, framed by some faux velvet draperies. 

Absolutely inspiring, the sarcasm drips inside his head. 

Of course, there’s no act going on at the moment, so Draco has very little material by which to judge the true quality of the entertainment. Maybe he’s drawing conclusions a bit prematurely. Not that it matters much to him, though. While his companion has a penchant for the exotic arts, now evidenced by the pleased smirk on his face and the busty redhead rubbing her ass over his lap, the blond has no more than a passing interest in such things. These displays are little more than a cock tease and he’s familiar enough with his hand as it is. No need to add fuel to the fire when there’s no one at home to warm his bed. 

“Enjoying yourself, Zabini?” 

“You’ve got shit timing, you know that?” Blaise folds a twenty dollar bill over the string at the dancer’s hip and lightly smacks her backside, dismissing her. Draco raises an eyebrow and cocks his head towards the large sign posted on the wall. “Come off it, Malfoy. I barely touched her. Besides”– the man shifts his eyes to the bar where that same redhead coyly waves his direction –“Candace doesn’t mind.” 

“Still refusing to follow the rules, I see.” Draco scoffs, but there is no malice in the sentiment. “What’s Daphne think about that, I wonder?” 

“Not much,” Blaise replies with a frown. “She went to Salem to live with her sister. Had enough of me, apparently.” 

“Blaise, I’m–” 

“Save the pity party for someone who actually needs it.” He interrupts Draco's attempt at compassion, sliding an envelope across the table. “Here’s your damn letter. Arrived by owl two days ago. Your mother’s fine, by the way.” 

“You’ve seen her?” 

“No. Sorry, man.” Blaise sighs, leaning back into his chair. He takes a swig from his mostly empty bottle and grimaces. “But my contact did. Says she’s one hell of an actress.” 

“Yeah.” Draco fingers the letter in front of him. It’s plain, nondescript manila, but he can feel the warmth of magic, of her magic, under his skin. “Thanks. You could have just sent it by Muggle post like usual.” 

“And miss all this?” Blaise sweeps his arms in a wide, grand gesture and smirks. It doesn’t last long, though, his face soon taking on a more serious note. “You should come back with me. We both know Sedona’s no Hogsmeade, but we’ve got a community there - our own kind.” 

“We’ve been over this before, Zabini.” 

“Fine, then just think about how much money you’d save me. Between the postage I spend forwarding your letters and the cost of petrol for these visits, I’m turning into a fucking pauper.” 

Before Draco can answer, the music shifts from blaring beats to some moody understated piece, halting any further conversation. The manager, a lanky man with greasy hair, moves to center stage with a wireless microphone. 

“The Desert Moon Gentleman’s Club is proud to present...” He drawls out the words, slowly building in volume. “The Lioness!” 

The room plunges into near darkness. The dim red light from the emergency exit sign gives off just enough illumination so that Draco can see the silhouettes of men approaching the stage eagerly. The music drops off, a dramatic syncopation, and in that small space of time he can hear the patter of heavy drops falling on the roof. The storm has finally begun in earnest after the tease of an afternoon sprinkling and he knows the parched land will be glad for it. Rain is a precious commodity here. 

Overhead spotlights turn on, bathing the platform in light. There’s a warmth to the glow, an undertone of gold or amber, which Draco finds himself appreciating. Perhaps the show will exceed his decidedly low expectations. The curtains slowly open and he leans forward, resting his forearms on the tops of his thighs. A slight figure glides through the parted velvet, stopping once she reaches the center of the platform, and Draco finds himself wondering who in the hell would bother to call her a lioness. She looks entirely too… proper

The woman twirls a cane, not much unlike the one his father used to carry, and then plants the end sharply on the floor in front of her. She braces her weight on it, bending forward in such a way that highlights the fullness of her breasts. Then she slowly parades around the pivot point it has created. 

If she had been a man, Draco would have described her appearance as dapper. 

Her fitted vest, dark cloth with pinstripes, contrasts beautifully against her starched white button-up. There is a crimson tie at her throat, solid satin simplicity done up with an expert hand, and a fedora rests upon her head, hiding the hair that he assumes is tucked inside. Her heels are high and sharp, but still maintain a conservative edge in their closed-toe detailing. It is only the exaggerated hemline of her pleated skirt, a perfect match to her vest, and her thigh-high stockings that call to the woman’s occupation. 

Draco watches as she tosses the cane aside and begins to work the buttons of her vest. She peels it from her body with deliberate sensuality, dropping it behind her, and starts in on her tie. Her nimble fingers pull at it, but rather than removing it, they just loosen the knot and lift it out of the confines of her collar. The music changes again and the clacking of her heels matches the new uptempo as she struts towards the front, ripping her shirt open as she goes. Buttons fly and the pale fabric is flung to the crowd, revealing the gold lace of her bra. 

The woman moves to the pole, dancing smoothly around it. Her gyrations gradually become more lewd, grinding against it in a crude approximation of the act of sex, and it riles the masculine crowd. The ambient sound shifts again, this time to something dark and sultry, and she begins to unwrap her skirt. This process is painfully dragged out, but the reveal – the sheer gold panties that barely cover her pert ass – is worth it. Groans and catcalls rumble through the club as she bends over. Then she rises with her back still to the crowd, looks over her shoulder, and tips her hat. 

But the show isn’t over. The woman marches to the end of the stage and lithely hops over the edge. Her gaze settles on Draco and he straightens in his seat, chest tight with anticipation. Stalking towards him, her eyes glint dangerously and her lips curve into a predatory smirk. With surprising speed, she places one of her heels on the cushioned edge of his chair, right between his legs. He is hard-pressed to stifle the gulp lodged in his throat, caught between lust and the relief that she has not damaged anything important to him. Lust wins out when her hands begin to trail up her body, squeezing over her tits, to finally grip the brim of her fedora. She throws the offending object to the bartender, who catches it without difficulty, and an abundant mane of curly brown hair falls freely over her shoulders. 

Merlin, Draco thinks, I was so fucking wrong. 

The tie is loosened further and she roughly pulls it over her head. Her legs shift as she moves to straddle him. The weight of her body on his lap has him hardening underneath her and she gasps lightly. Brown eyes widen and lock onto his steely ones. Draco stills at the intensity of it. Merlin, he just wants to grab her by the back of the head and–

That damn smirk returns to her face and now he is torn between attraction and loathing. No one has ever elicited this strong of a reaction from him before and he’s not sure how he should feel about it. But then she leans into him, placing the red loop over his head and pulling the knot tight against his throat, and his higher cognitive functions cease. Draco raises his hips to meet her hers when she grinds lightly over him, instinct taking over his reason. As the sensation overwhelms him, he grabs her thighs to steady himself – the pads of his fingers on her warm flesh, his bare skin on hers – and a piercing crack resounds through the air. The electricity falters, once again cloaking the room in darkness. The storm has worsened and strikes of lightning are crashing all around the city outside. 

Her breath comes in soft pants next to his ear. “Did you feel that?” 

Draco is startled silent for a moment. The way the words roll off her tongue is so familiar that he finds himself clinging to her even more tightly. He is vaguely aware that she repeats her question, but he can’t get his mouth to form the words of his response. Finally, he hears her huff in exasperation and she pushes herself off of him. The lights flicker back on as she walks away. 

“Fuck,” Draco swears under his breath as Blaise laughs. 

His hand would definitely be getting a workout tonight. 

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{ oOo }

Draco rests on his sofa and twirls the unopened letter in his hands, the coordinated flicks of fingers and thumbs over the envelope creating a soothing rhythm. It’s just past midnight, early by most twenty-something’s standards for a Friday, but he doesn’t mind. Gone are the days when he felt the need to be the center of attention, when he would strive to be something more than he was and his only aim was to wield great power. 

When what he wanted most of all was to be everyone’s favorite.

Now Draco enjoys the tranquility of his modest apartment, so far removed from the chaos of the wizarding world, and the solitude of his own thoughts. Looking around his living space, he is hard pressed to find any remnants of his former life, and really, it doesn’t bother him at all. He prefers it that way, as a matter of fact. Hell, he’s even come to appreciate Muggles and their backwards way of doing things. 

The wizard likes this life, so much more than he had ever thought possible. There is a freedom here, without the weight of societal expectations and politics resting heavy on his young shoulders, which he never knew could exist. The shape of his world now is one entirely of his own creation and he’s not sure he could ever willingly give it up. But still, he misses his mother. 

Communication between them is problematic, but they deal with it as best they can. Though Narcissa no longer resides at the Manor, which now serves as Voldemort’s headquarters, she is still subject to his surveillance. Her fireplace remains disconnected from the Floo Network and anti-Apparition wards are regularly maintained around the whole of her property under the claim that these measures are for her own protection. Death Eaters come and go as they please, always unannounced. They use these ‘social visits’ as a means to search her home, trying to find some small piece of damning evidence against her. Because of this, Draco cannot even reply to her letters. He just can’t take that chance. 

Through it all, Narcissa somehow manages to regularly send him letters. Draco has one for nearly every month they’ve been apart. They arrive in heavily warded, plain envelopes, and the paper his mother writes on is interlaced with multiple types of Encryption and Confusion spells that only his genetic code can nullify. She tends to write about the mundane aspects of magical life, like the new gardening spell she learned from Witch Weekly or how Dobby fretted over her when she had a cold, but not always. Sometimes the details of the war creep into the ink of her quill; it is rare, yet it happens nonetheless. Regardless of the content, he cherishes each word. It’s a risk, even with the Order using their growing network to help her smuggle the letters out, and he refuses to take that lightly, even when the reminders of home make his heart crumble under their weight. 

Draco stills the movement of his hands and picks up the wand on the nearby ottoman. It’s not his own – his Hawthorn remains packed and unused; the Death Eater controlled Ministry has a trace on it and he can’t afford to reveal his location – but it does what he needs it to. Draco sends his magic through the wood and causes it to prick the tip of his finger. Red slowly oozes from the tiny wound, coalescing into a large drop that he smears across the back of the envelope. The blood sinks into the fibers of the paper and disappears, revealing a jade-coloured seal. 

“Familiae vincet semper,” Draco whispers as he presses his thumb into the wax. 

The old blood-based magic that protects the correspondence recognizes him and the seal breaks, releasing the parchment within. He unfolds the paper with shaking hands and the words written in his mother’s elegant script slowly rise to the surface. 

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Dearest Draco,  

I hope this finds you safe and well. I have to admit, I long to hear from you directly. It’s a selfish wish, especially under the circumstances, so I try hard to be thankful for the scraps of information my contact is able to gather about your life.  

There are very few developments here on the war front. The Order has not been able to locate a single horcrux since Dumbledore’s death last year. I send them every scrap of information that comes my way, but that is precious little these days. The crazy widow Malfoy holed up in her French chateau, broken by her husband’s death and son’s defection, receives very few visits from Death Eaters or their compatriots anymore. The Dark Lord is finally satisfied that I am no threat and leaves me and Dobby be.  

Potter continues to be brave and selfless, as is his way, but without someone to guide those qualities, he is unable to make any real difference. We have always known that Potter’s main contribution would be to the final battle. But until the Dark Lord is mortal again, the end will have to wait. In the interim, the death toll rises and, again, I find myself glad that you are not here.  

Do you remember what I told you, Draco, all those years ago? We have hidden ourselves well, you and I. We have lain still in the grass and have finally been forgotten. But we still have our fangs and I feel that before the end comes, we will have some small part to play.  

I know now what I believe in.  

I love you and I miss you terribly, but I would gladly make the same choice over again knowing that you are far from all these troubles. I know I say that every time I write. Forgive me, Son. It just never ceases to be true.  

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The letter flutters to the carpeted floor, making no sound when it lands. 

He’s been lying to himself. Deep inside Draco knows that he would Apparate home in a second if only his mother would ask, damn the consequences. He’s spent the past eight and a half years making the best of a bad situation, learning to fit into a world where he doesn’t belong. And he’s done it, done it well. It’s changed him, reshaped the way he views everything, and he’s grateful for that. The prejudiced little git that he was when his mother sent him here is gone.

(Though to be fair, he’s still a complete ass most of the time; even living among Muggles couldn’t change his personality).

But much of it has been a farce, him merely acting like he enjoys it here more than he really does. He’s kept up the act for so long that even he’s been starting to buy into it... until now. Her words bring with them a hope that he hasn’t had for a very long time. With his face buried in the palms of his hands, Draco cries himself to sleep. 

Merlin, he prays as he drifts off, just bring me home.

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