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In the deep, suffocating darkness of the woods – the kind of darkness from which shadows originate and sinister things linger – there was a large circle of hooded figures. They stood in a clearing bathed in harsh moon light, though the opaque black of their robes seemed to swallow its luminosity, utterly silent save for the occasional shrieks emitted from the center of their group. At their feet a woman screamed and writhed against invisible restraints, eyes wide and unnaturally pale, the tendons of her hands flexing and convulsing in sync with her rapidly flickering pupils – one with experience in torture would know that such were the effects of the Cruciani Obitus curse – while the figures watched, unperturbed. Some even looked bored.

The largest figure, who wore no robes, mask, or semblance of disguise, emerged from his perch in the shadows like a snake. He was tall and daunting in presence, with eyes the color of blood and pallid skin that stretched across his skeletal form like translucent gauze. As he approached the circle, there was a visible change in each of the robed members, a stiffening of the spin or flexing of fingers, that told quite clearly that this creature – 'man' being far too human a word to describe him – was their leader. He examined the group with faint amusement.

" Lovely to see you all,"

His voice was just as chilling – if not more so – than his appearance.

" She's getting rather dull, wouldn't you say?"

He looked down at the twitching woman with disinterest. Her name had been – yes, had; she was going to die soon – Martha Waters; a boring name for a boring muggle. She worked at a small office and, though she despised doing so, often took the night shift so she could afford to send her young daughter to a decent school. Unfortunately for Mrs. Waters, said office had been within convenient distinct of the hooded figures' most recent meeting and thusly found herself kidnapped and promptly tortured. Voldemort mentally chided her for not bothering to lock the doors of her office building; why, anyone could just pop right in! She really should have been more careful, especially at night. In fact, one should always be most cautious at night.

But, it was too late for her. And thanks to her negligence he'd been provided with some brief amusement. He smirked absently.

However, her screams were becoming tiresome.

" Mulciber? If you will,"

The man in question nodded obligingly and stepped forward, wand trained at the woman. "The usual or something more interesting, my lord?"

He considered the proposition but decided that it would be best if she just died already. The torturing fun had already occurred and to prolong it would mean wasting his precious time; something he didn't intend to do for a muggle.

" Kill. Her."

The screaming abruptly died.

There, now. That was better. The Dark Lord's mind cleared and he glanced around at the masked faces of his followers – the Death Eaters, he called them. They bore such a name because to join, one had to – figuratively – eat death; in other words, ingest the concept, immerse oneself, and with it become one and the same.

Death had to become a part of you; an unshakable absolution in your mind and heart. A promise, a pledge, to do whatever to whomever in order to obtain the perfect existence. (Such an existence being one without muggles, of course)

As the Dark Lord scanned the group, his eyes landed on a particular pair of nervously flickering grey pupils. He found himself smirking. Yes, this was the Malfoy child. It had been some time since he'd seen the boy – the last time being about six months ago – and from then he'd grown taller and lankier, his hair a bit longer, but otherwise remained the same. He could still detect the fear and nervousness radiating from the boy as clearly as the first time they'd met. Initially he'd disregarded Lucius's brat as useless; just another pampered child that held no importance to him. In fact, he couldn't even use the child as a threat over his father as it seemed that the man hardly cared about his existence either.

But, for once, the Dark Lord had been wrong. It turned out that Lucius did care for the boy greatly and had only been putting up a front of indifference to protect him. How precious. Once this was realized, the Dark Lord immediately came up with the perfect way to use the boy as punishment for Lucius's failure at the Ministry. Just killing him would be too quick; too dull. He wanted the suffering to be as drawn out and painful as possible; he wanted Lucius to feel utterly helpless in stopping the eventual destruction of his son. A suicide mission was simply the only solution.

And, why was he willing to put one of his most loyal followers through such torture? Well, because Lucius had failed him. And the Dark Lord was not one to accept failures.

Time to play. "Hello, Draco,"

Mmm. The Dark Lord watched with relish as fear and panic clouded the boy's pale eyes, giving him the appearance of being ill or fevered.

"My lord," Draco replied steadily. His eyes were downcast in submission – as was expected – but his voice remained surprisingly strong.


" How are you liking the meeting thus far, Draco? It's been some time since the last…"

He circled him slowly, his reptilian voice suffocating the space between them and making Draco cringe. "Pity that you didn't get a turn with the muggle, though. I'll make sure to allow it next time."

The boy nodded stiffly, but made no response. It was evident from the worried kneading of his lip and slight tremor in his hands that he was deathly afraid, but was trying quite fiercely to hide it. The Dark Lord smiled. There was something rich about his fear – something delicious and all-encompassing – that made his mouth water. The boy practically reeked of broken spirit, dwindling hope, and the festering scraps of a pure soul gone rotten. And, unfortunately for Draco, that just made interacting with him all the more enticing.

" Draco, I trust that you understand the importance of your loyalty?"

Lucius's head snapped up and, had it been anyone else daring to question his kin's loyalty, he would've hexed them on the spot for possessing even an ounce of doubt. The Malfoys were impeccable creatures. Of course Draco was bloody loyal; every Malfoy was and always would be as far as Lucius was concerned.

However, Lucius remained silent and did not interject passionately, for obvious reasons.

Draco kept his gaze fixated on the muddy – blood covered – ground, but responded immediately and with conviction that surpassed even his own expectations. "Yes, of course, My Lord. My loyalty forever lies in the cause." No doubt, no room for doubt. His words were crisp and self-assured, and if one had paid attention to only his tone, he could've just as easily been reciting facts from a textbook. (Both were irrefutable)

The Dark Lord practically emanated manic glee.

" Well, I have an opportunity for you to prove yourself, young Malfoy. I'm sure you're familiar with vanishing cabinets?"

"Since when do you read muggle things?" Blaise asked in mild disgust, holding the leather-bound book in question by two reluctant fingers. "And don't bother denying it, because I found it in your chest,"

Draco glanced up from the Potions homework he'd been intently working on, a look of annoyance marring his features. "Milling through my possessions again, Zabini? If I didn't know better, I'd say you were looking for a souvenir. How about I ease your troubles and write out an autograph for you right here? Shall I address it to "My biggest fan", or is something else preferable?" Draco smirked in satisfaction at the scowl he received and returned his attention back to his studies.

"You didn't answer my question."

"Excellent observation, Blaise," replied Draco, absently.

The other boy sighed in irritation and sank into the adjacent chair, deciding to take a look at the book himself, convinced that there had to be a good reason for Draco to posses it.

Minutes of silence passed in which Blaise flipped through the tome feeling more confusion with each turned page, while Draco remained fixated on the ingredients to Draught of Living Death. Finally, the dark haired boy looked up from the book, completely bemused.

"Out of all the bloody muggle books you could have, you're reading the Bible?"

Draco clenched his jaw and paused in his writing only for a moment, though the small gesture was enough to display his obvious irritation at being interrupted. He shot his housemate a look that clearly said do not disturb me again before bending his head once more and returning to his workBlaise ignored it.

"Why on earth are you bothering with this?"

Finally, Draco set his quill down pointedly and glared across the room at him. "Zabini, I know you couldn't care less if your scores equate those of a troll, but I, on the other hand, happen to value the quality of my work rather dearly and would much appreciate silence."

"Just answer my question and I'll gladly shut up!"

Draco stared at the leather-bound book embossed with what he'd initially thought was gold plus-sign (though, after reading it he realized it was a cross) and felt weary. Explaining his possession of the book would be extremely difficult, as he himself wasn't even certain why he had it.

Actually, that was a lie. Draco knew why he had it. He knew very well why he'd gone out of his way to get his hands on the item, and why he made sure to carefully read each line before bed every night. He thought it might give him hope. Yes, it was a silly wish, a stupid one to be sure, but it was a desire nonetheless and Draco had always been ambitious enough to chase his desires.

He figured – he hoped – that by reading a book that claimed to have all the answers he would once again feel…alive. Because at the moment he felt like a lifeless husk dragging himself from one meaningless chore to the next, irritated with wearisome activities but relishing them all the same, as it meant prolonging the terrible task that awaited him at the end of each day.

("Well, I have an opportunity for you to prove yourself, young Malfoy. I'm sure you're familiar with vanishing cabinets?")

He'd always loved to fix things as a child – mostly by magic, but occasionally by hand – because he secretly loved his own ability to heal and renew. Even if it was something as bland and inanimate as a shattered window, he would relish the feeling that arose when he spoke the perfect spell and made everything better. It was therapeutic; it was calming. So wasn't it utterly, completely, disgustingly ironic that years later he would be forced to fix something on the biggest scale yet, only for malicious purposes rather than curative ones? It was funny in a way that made him forget to laugh.

To make matters worse, he couldn't tell anyone what he was doing; not his friends – he'd began to question the weight behind that word lately – nor his professors, though it wasn't as if he would have readily approached either, anyway. He had always been quite independent, as was to be expected from a mildly neglected only child, and often thrived in silence and solitude. However, this year was different. With the burden of a secret task constantly looming over him, he found himself wishing that he had some kind of confidant. No one special, really. Just someone – one person at least – that he could talk to without being judged mercilessly, or even worse, rejected by. He always thought such sentiments were stupid and useless, but had lately begun to see the error of that logic. As much as it utterly pained him to admit, people needed friends. And, being that Draco Malfoy was a person, he needed friends.

But that wasn't going to happen. Sure, he had Blaise, who was funny enough and intelligent, but Draco knew if his housemate ever caught wind of his budding doubts about 'the cause', their friendship – if you could even call it that – would disintegrate in seconds. Everyone in his life was an enemy, an acquaintance, or some unknown blot of unimportance. He had no friends; no one he could really trust.

So, he turned to whatever pathetic outlets he could in hopes of finding some form of reprieve. He briefly considered becoming a drunk – which was slightly funny, if you knew the logical and thorough manner in which he pondered such a thing – but came to the conclusion that pickling his organs would do nothing but hinder him even further by slowing down his precious mental processing. Then, he tried to drown himself in hordes of meaningless flings with a hefty slice of the castle's female populace, but found that unsatisfying as well. Nothing had been working, so he decided to finally look to the last possible resort; muggle remedies. When the thought initially occurred to him as he lay on his back facing the blank ceiling of his bedroom, he chuckled humorlessly to himself at the irony of it all. He, of all people, was turning to muggles for assistance. For Merlin's sake, if this wasn't a testimony to his desperation then nothing was.

Surprisingly, the muggle world had rather ordinary methods for dealing with distress, namely books. He'd wandered around muggle London one evening – without Lucius's knowledge of course – rifling through every book shop he could find, in search of a strange but widely sought tome called, "The Bible". Supposedly it held the answers to existence, one's purpose, as well as their origins and endings. He read somewhere that people turned to it when life was getting particularly awful and since he fit that description perfectly, decided it wouldn't hurt to give it a look.

Every night since then he read each line with careful attentiveness, making sure not to miss a single word. In truth, it didn't help all that much – just confused him with its strange stories and people – but simply having it was something of a comfort.

But, of course, he couldn't tell Blaise this.

Draco sighed impatiently and pushed out his chair, rising to his full height with a dour expression. "I nicked it from some first year the other day, alright? It's probably one of his books from muggle studies," He feigned a look of boredom, as if the topic was so menial that is was hardly worth the response he'd given. Blaise regarded him with suspicion, but the look eventually softened into lingering doubt.

"And you still have it because…?"

"Because it amuses me to think of some stupid eleven year old Hufflepuff stumbling over himself to explain the absence of his schoolbook, without letting everyone know that he got it stolen right out of his hands," Draco drawled, expression uninterested and mind clearly elsewhere. "Now, if you don't mind, Zabini, I'll just take that back," He reached out and swiped the book from Blaise. "I will also be taking myself somewhere that you are not, in hopes of actually writing a full sentence without interruption, as that is clearly not going to happen here,"

Blaise rolled his eyes, but the look of distrust he'd been giving Draco throughout the entire exchange disappeared. "Fine, fine. You and your bloody essays. I'll be seeing you, then." He flopped onto the couch and stretched himself out like a spoiled cat, "And don't bother trying to arrange plans with me later, Draco," He yawned, "As I'll be right here taking the longest, most luxurious nap of my life,"

Draco snorted. "Well, I suppose I'll survive for one day without your blessed company," He carefully pushed the book deep into his bag. "Be seeing you," He muttered in departure, striding towards the portrait hole with a perfect mask of nonchalance, trembling hands clenched into fists.

Draco closed his eyes and focused as hard as he could not to scream right along with the poor bloke at the end of his wand. Behind the deafening rush of blood in his ears, he could hear the others cackling with pleasure, the Dark Lord's deep chuckle of approval occasionally adding another layer to the many sounds assaulting his senses. His hands were viciously shaking and it took every ounce of control not to drop his wand.

"Hmm. I now find the Cruciatus dull. Let us move on to another spell, yes? Go on, Draco. Impress us with your knowledge of torture," The words fell silkily from his lips and seemed to crawl all over Draco's skin, leaving goose flesh and a deep chill in their wake.

With practiced efficiency, he pushed aside his emotions and thoughts and sifted deep into his memory where he stored the dark spells. Most of them he'd only ever heard or seen performed; his own experience did not exceed the few Unforgivables they'd discussed in Defense Against the Dark Arts. That was why he'd shoved the others – the much, much darker curses – as far as possible into his subconscious; he didn't want to acknowledge the fact that one day he himself would be forced to use them.

"C-Cruci… Cruciani Obitus!" He shouted abruptly, eyes clamped shut, in the same manner one would use for ripping an adhesive bandage from a tender wound.

There was the deafening sound of dark magic ripping through the air and hitting soft flesh, then the man screaming. Loudly.

His keening was wild and unrestrained, ripping itself from his throat and stabbing into the air like daggers, his limbs jerking unnaturally about while his blue eyes rolled milky-white into the back of his skull. Foaming saliva mixed with blood dribbled from the side of his mouth in pinkish red rivulets. For a moment his pupils returned to their original position and fixated on Draco with what appeared to be the last of the man's strength. His mouth moved soundlessly but persistently, as if he were trying to form a sentence of vital importance.

"P...Pl…Ple-" He coughed and the wet grass beside his mouth splattered with blood. "Please" He wheezed out at last, and it couldn't have been more clear what he meant by that word.

Please. Just kill me already.

He had to. Draco had to give the man this small, small request because he knew his own soul would split into two if he didn't. It was truly the least he could do.

So he did.

"Avada Kedavra," he whispered beneath the din.

And according to scholars that had extensively studied the curse, it shouldn't have worked. He had no undying hatred in his heart when he spoke it, so it should have just fizzled from the tip of his wand like a damp firework. It shouldn't have worked because he didn't scream it to the heavens, or relish the way the spell rolled from his tongue; there was no passionate spite or bloodlust to fuel the curse.

And yet, it did work, because of his devastatingly genuine desire for the man to die. Up until that moment he'd never felt something as strong as what had passed though him when those dark blue eyes met his and begged for peace. Not peace in life, of course, because that was almost too much to ask for. But peace in death. And once he was dead and the crowd fell utterly silent in shock, Draco examined his slack face and thought it did look decisively at peace. Which, in the smallest possible way, made him feel better. At least he was out and above it all, now.

"Hm. That was a bit short-lived, don't you think, Draco? He could've lasted for at least another ten minutes. Not comfortably, of course, but survived nonetheless" A murmur of chuckles spread throughout the crowd, "Next time I trust you'll wait for my permission before casting the death curse," He leveled Draco with an even gaze that made it quite apparent that he knew why Draco had killed the man, and this was his first and only warning not to do it again.

Draco didn't dare hold his gaze and quickly averted his eyes to the corpse, as there seemed to be no where else that was safe to look.

"Now, Yaxley, tell me of the latest development with ourfriends at the Order?"

Draco gratefully took the dismissal in silence and sunk back into the circle of hooded figures, intending to be as unnoticeable and insignificant as a shadow for the rest of the night. The meeting progressed and his goal was thankfully met as no one paid him any attention while they went through debriefings of each personal task of each Death Eater. When the last mission had been spoken of and accounted for, he felt a small glimmer of relief because it meant the meeting was nearly over. Just a bit longer and he'd be back at Hogwarts, buried underneath his luxurious green duvet, surrounded by wonderfully alive people sleeping in blissful, ignorant peace.

" Meeting adjourned. You may all leave…except for you, Draco. I'd like a word,"

His heart nearly stopped. "Yes, my Lord," He caught his father's eye, mentally begging him to stay because he didn't want to be completely alone with the Dark Lord, but Lucius pretended not to have seen his pleading stare and disapparated away with a telling look of guilt marring his features. Draco's heart sank even further.

He approached the Dark Lord with deliberate, concentrated steps, because if he tried to do anything but focus on the precise motion of right foot left foot right foot left foot he'd fall prey to the sickening terror boiling in his gut and run like a hunted animal.

"Hello, Draco. I trust your progress is acceptable?" He asked evenly, his tone allowing no deductions to be made as to what he was feeling.

Draco garnered control of every nerve, impulse, synapse, fiber, and cell in his body and looked up to meet the Dark Lord's gaze. With a steely mind and no trace of guilt, dishonesty, or hesitation, he replied, "Yes, of course, My Lord. The Vanishing Cabinet is coming along according to the schedule. I'll have it finished at the necessary time," He didn't even dare to blink.

The Dark Lord stared back at him for what felt like a lifetime but was, in reality, probably mere seconds. Even still, the time spent until his scrutiny was enough to make Draco feel as if the fiber of his very being was chipping away – flaying, one could call it – while his soul writhed in agony at the sight of such depths of destruction and evil. He could physically feel his thoughts and memories being probed, as if an actual hand were reaching into his brain and swirling its fingers around in search of something. With the remaining consciousness he had, he focused desperately on keeping certain doors of his mind closed shut, or better yet, hidden entirely. He had been practicing for some time on doing this, as he'd known that the Dark Lord was bound to do a "check up" on him eventually. To make sure He didn't suspect Draco was guarding certain things, he kept every other aspect of his mind wide open and painfully vulnerable. Despite the sheer agony of it all, he continued to stare and still did not blink.

His eyes are the color of blood. He thought fleetingly.

Then, the Dark Lord straightened and the intensity of his gaze lessened considerably, though he didn't take his eyes from Draco. "Excellent. I knew I could trust this task to you, young Malfoy. When it is done, you shall truly succeed in proving yourself,"

Draco felt ready to pass out with exhaustion, as he typically did when performing such large amounts of Occlumency. "Thank you, My Lord," He managed, still somehow maintaining his convincingly strong voice.

"Oh, and before you go, Draco? That man," He gestured lazily to the seeping corpse in the grass. "His name was Richard Brook. He had two young children named Veronica and Stacy and a wife named Emeline, who was pregnant. He worked as a banker and had a penance for trains when he was a young boy. His last thoughts as he died were of his despair over how his family would manage without him."

Draco just stared, speechless, his mind blank.

"He was also thirty-five. His birthday is next Tuesday," He smirked as if nothing had been said and made an airy gesture of dismissal. "That will be all, Draco. Continue with your progress."

And with an all-too unceremonious pop the Dark Lord was gone. Numbly, Draco pulled his wand from his pocket and disapparated as well.

His name was Richard…

He curled into himself in an attempt to crush the pain inside of him until it was no more than a squashed memory. Everything ached. He fiercely bit into his pillow to keep from screaming, but ended up practically biting through his lip in the process. He wouldn't have even noticed, except for the bright red, flower-shaped bloodstain that immediately formed where his lips were. His mouth tasted metallic and smelled all too familiar, so he spat on the floor and scrubbed his tongue clean with a sheet.

Two children…pregnant Emeline…

He felt restless. Like a bottle of pop shaken up. Like a rocket about to tear itself apart from its engines not being separated far enough from the platform. Like a bomb waiting to go off.

His name was Richard Brook… two children…wife…banker

He bit all of his nails until there was nothing but stubs and tugged his hair so hard a few silky strands were ripped loose. Draco didn't close his eyes because he knew what he would see on the backs of his eyelids was much worse than the blank wall currently before him. With a soft, stilted sob he pulled his knees to his chest like a small child.

He wished he could turn off his thoughts, just shut them all out, because the ramifications of tonight would not stop screaming inside his head. He knew how everything would play out; he could see it all as clear as day. And that was what the Dark Lord wanted, wasn't it? It wasn't enough that Draco killed and tortured for him, no, he wanted Draco's victims to haunt him. He wanted to deny Draco the small, slight privilege of just pushing aside their nameless faces and trying to forget. He made sure he knew their names, their lives, their families; he made sure Draco knew exactly who he had killed.

And now he was going to go mad because of it.

Richard Brook will not go home after work. At first, his wife will write it off; maybe he's just working late. Time will tick tick tick and they'll have dinner without him because it's getting late, and while she washes the dishes afterwards she'll constantly glance up from the sink out the window at the empty driveway thinking any minute now he'll be pulling in. Then his daughters – those two little bright eyed creatures – will complain to Mum that they want to stay up until Daddy gets home, so she'll hide her worried expression and smile and say 'fine' and the three of them will sit at the kitchen table and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Little Veronica will rub her drooping eyes and sleepily ask where Daddy is. Stacy is already asleep in her chair. Mummy has no answers.

And wait.

And maybe around midnight, long after both have fallen into sweet dreams and been carried off to bed, she'll really start to worry. The fear will gnaw at her like a starving rat. But she won't call the police to report a missing person just yet; that would mean acknowledging that he is indeed in danger. She's too afraid to do that. She isn't that desperate; not yet.

And wait.

In the morning the driveway will still be empty. She'll call his parents, his mates, his colleagues, his old neighbors, his childhood baby sitter, his ex girlfriends, and no one will have seen him. Veronica and Stacy will ask questions that Mummy still can't answer.

And wait.

The police will not help her because he is a grown man that can find his way home if he so desires. She'll yell obscenities at them through the phone and then slide down the wall in tears seconds later with the dial tone still buzzing into her ear.

And wait.

Days later, the News will be full of a big story on some poor bloke found mangled almost beyond recognition in the woods. At least a couple days dead, a forensic scientist will say into the camera. Even mangled, she recognizes him. She'll stare at the screen in horror, her hand moving to cover her silent scream, her entire body shaking.

Her other hand will unconsciously rest on her swollen stomach, tears leaking from her shuttered eyes.

Her husband is dead.

Draco's eyes shot wide open as he broke from his trance, one thought standing stark against the others. "I killed Richard Brook. I did that." He whispered into his cupped hands. The meaning of the words hit him like a ton of bricks.

Something shifted in him then, something indescribable. If he knew for sure whether one could feel their soul breaking, then he would readily chalk it up to that. He suddenly felt so tired, so utterly exhausted, that to even recognize such a sensation in the form of thought was taxing. He didn't deserve rest, he knew he didn't, but his eyelids would no longer stay open and he felt himself becoming boneless and weak.

I'm a murderer.

And with that he closed his eyes and fell mercy to the nightmares.

As Draco carefully steadied his aimed wand, he made the mistake of peering into the girl's wide, calf-like eyes. His heart skipped a beat in his chest; he'd never seen fear as potent as that which stirred in her dark brown eyes. She was pretty and quite young – maybe eighteen – with creamy skin and curly dark hair and pinkish lips that all gave her the appearance being a sweet, porcelain doll. Even her clothing radiated innocence.

"Draco?" The Dark Lord called, lazily, "What was the spell, the one that burns the victims from within, called? I can't seem to remember," He smirked and something dark shone in his eyes.

"I-Intus Combustio, My Lord," He replied, quietly.

" Don't tell me, Draco; Show me."

So, he does what he is told and watches, sickened, as her pretty, flawless skin is flayed from the internal fire he has kindled. He closes his eyes and tries not to inhale the smell of burning flesh.

She doesn't stop screaming until the flames mercifully claim her heart, but he thinks at some point she asked him, "Why?" with those big, fathomless eyes boring into his soul and picking it apart.

Why, indeed.

Samantha Watson, nineteen years old, freelance painter and coffee barista. Her parents died last year so she'd been raising her twelve year old brother, Max, on her own. She had a dog named Casper.

Needless to say, Draco does not sleep that night.

"C'mon mate, it isn't even that cold! You look like a bloody marshmallow in all that gear!" Blaise laughed and playfully punched Draco's shoulder as they walked down the snowy roads of Hogsmeade, but thanks to "all that gear" he hardly felt the blow. Maybe if things had been different he would've smirked in response and punched him back, something snarky and clever falling from his lips as he did. Maybe he would've joined Blaise and Theo in their usual game of commenting on the pretty girls and mocking the stupid blokes as they walked. If things were different he might've smiled, laughed even.

"Mm," He muttered, noncommittally, glancing away from his friends without the slightest pretense of interest.

Because things weren't different. Things were the way they bloody were and Draco was not wearing a large coat because of the cold, he was wearing it because he was hiding a fucking cursed necklace wrapped up in three layers of cloth right above his heart. It felt warm, not like the gentle comfort of a fireplace, but like the sick, wet heat of a pulsating, deeply infected wound. It was extremely hot to the touch and its heat was only lessened by the many sheets he'd wrapped it in.

"Something wrong, Malfoy?" Theo asked, peering at him with a curious expression. Internally, Draco decided that he didn't blame his housemate for his confusion; he was acting rather uncharacteristically. However, he couldn't care one sodding bit less because with all of the things happening to him, maintaining social ties was the last thing on his mind.

"Yeah, I'm fine," He glanced around distractedly, eyes peeled for Potter and the rest of his meddling lot. He didn't know for sure what Potter's motives were, but he was certain he'd seen the lighting scarred git staring at him from across the room, indiscreetly following him through corridors, and purposefully bumping him in the hallways seemingly in hopes that Draco would drop something incriminating. It was bloody annoying and, in truth, the last thing he needed at the moment. Obviously Harry Potter, the all powerful hero, thought he was up to the something and intended to stop it, despite not knowing anything of the situation or the stakes that were at risk. How typical of Potter to see only in terms of black and white, good and evil.

Thankfully the coast seemed to be clear and he felt his shoulders relax. He had something very important to accomplish and he certainly didn't need Potter to step in and muck it up.

Blaise seemed to have said something that he thought deserved either an interested look or comment, because he was staring at Draco rather expectantly. Draco blinked and realized he'd successfully tuned out the entire ten or so minutes of conversation that had transpired. It was almost impressive.

"Well, what do you say to that?" Blaise asked, exasperated, when Draco made no move to respond.

"It's fine," He answered automatically. It probably was fine; Blaise most likely just arranged a plan for the lot of them and if he couldn't make it – or just didn't want to, which was far more likely – he could just feign illness or say he was busy with homework.

Blaise, however, did not look appeased. He glanced at Theo as if to say I told you so and shook his head. "See, Theo? He's either gone mad or become selectively deaf,"

"What are you talking about?" Draco asked, confused.

Theo glanced at Blaise to see if he'd respond, but his dark-haired housemate had his head bent and eyes focused resolutely at the ground, an expression of anger and displeasure marring his features. Theo sighed and looked back at Draco.

"He asked you if you thought Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors ought to be integrated into Slytherin, and if Mcgonagall should replace Snape as our head of house. He did it to prove you weren't listening," He finished unnecessarily.

Oh. Well, he supposed that explained Blaise's annoyance.

"Yeah. Sorry," He finally said, insincerely. There might've been a time when he would've immediately set upon the task of coaxing Blaise out of his sulk – it was important to maintain allies, or friends as common people referred to them, after all – but at the moment he simply didn't have the time. He had, as they say, much bigger fish to fry.

Theo started saying something then, his lips moving and eyes animated, but Draco, for the life of him, couldn't be arsed to care. With a final shift of his jacket to ensure the necklace was secure, he turned on his heel and headed towards the three broomsticks without so much as a goodbye. In the rapidly increasing distance between them, he could hear Theo's faint protest and something resigned from Blaise that sounded rather like Oh just let him go.

Yes, Draco thought to himself, just let me go.

The necklace – prior to the curse – was beautiful, with its glittering rubies and fine silver links. As Draco carefully handed it off to a glassy-eyed Rosmerta though, he thought that he'd never seen something so hideous.

It was midnight and Draco could not sleep. With wide, swollen-pink eyes, he wrapped himself in his robes and slunk out of bed. Soundlessly, he exited the common room and headed down the hallway like a ghost.

He wandered around the darkened castle grounds, before settling on the shore of the Black lake. The surface of the water glinted under the moon like obsidian.

He dragged his fingers through the wet mud that bordered the lake, caring very little that dirt was sullying the neat, white crescents of each nail bed. It was strangely relieving to disregard things like appearance, beauty, and the task of keeping his pureblooded hands as clean and pristine as humanly possible.

They were covered in mud and it felt grand.

He laid back onto the wet grass, the untucked back of his uniform shirt damp with cold water, and tried to think of nothing more than the freckled night sky above him. Draco knew quite a bit about constellations – as he should, considering that every Malfoy was named after one – but found the information more burdensome than comforting. It was yet another reminder of how special and unique each Malfoy considered themselves, as if, just like the stars, they were placed within the sight of common folk to be admired, honored, and looked upon with esteem. They were creatures of clean bloodlines that possessed perfect, porcelain faces carved with elegant features and cold, glittering eyes that fell more or less along the grayscale. They were daunting untouchables looking down at the rest of the world as if perched in the curve of the crescent moon, glaring at the mere mortals below with disdain.

Funnily enough, if you'd asked Draco a few months ago, he would've said the same. Probably hexed you for daring to question something so obvious too.

He closed his eyes and found that familiar sick feeling lurch through him. Why couldn't he just rewind to a year ago? If not to continue living as he had in ignorance, then perhaps to warn his stupid, unbelievably foolish past-self of what was to come. Anything was better than his current situation.

For the span of a second he felt an unfamiliar urge to just – end it. Take a few steps forward and slip inside the cool water. Forget to breath, forget to care.


He knew how it would happen: he'd be hesitant at first, arms bracing his body up, finger tightly gripping into the wet dirt. Then he'd inch forwards, down the shore, the cold water eventually seeping through the entire seat of his trousers, then both pants legs, until he would eventually be submerged up to his waist. He'd focus on something else, maybe the ingredients to a potion assignment due the next day, to distract his mind from his steady forward motion into deeper waters. When the water was up to his neck, Adams apple bobbing nervously underneath the lake's black depths, there would be a single moment of trepidation. He'd ask himself if this is what he really wanted. And once he remembered every single agonized soul that he twisted in his hands and destroyed, he'd know the answer. He'd toss one last glance at the moon – if you're going to die, might as well have your last sight be something nice, right – before sinking down into the dark water for an eternity's rest.

He swallowed hard and opened his eyes. No, no he wasn't going to do that. Admittedly it would be simple enough to just take the coward's way out, but his body refused to let him. It was that stupid, insistent will to live that kept him from drowning or stepping from a balcony or turning a weapon on himself. It was weak to admit so, but he did not want to die, he did not want to feel pain – any more than he already had, of course. It was as simple as this: he did not want his life to end at the mere age of sixteen.

Because that was rather young, wasn't it? Lately he'd kept forgetting how short his life had actually been. Just sixteen years. Five thousand eight hundred-something days. And yet it has felt like a bloody lifetime.

Days later, he found himself sitting in the deserted common room, absently running his fingers over the keys without actually pressing any. His mind was buzzing, a fine tremor shaking his shoulders. He clenched his hands into fists and closed his eyes, attempting to will away the dark images flickering behind his eyelids.

Pansy sauntered over to him and her fingers danced along the collar of his shirt, flirtatiously brushing the exposed skin of his neck. She purred. He winced.

"Don't, Parkinson." He said harshly, jerking his shoulder out of reach and turning back to the piano. He was in no mood for her games.

"Aw, Drakey," She began; jutting out her heavily-glossed bottom lip in what he assumed she thought was a playful pout. In reality, she looked like a pink-mouthed goldfish. Ignoring his blatant rejection, she flounced onto the bench beside him and turned her body so that her legs were lying across his. "I know you've missed me," She whispered, her mouth inches from his ear. He could hear the wetness of her lips as she parted them to speak. "It's been so long since…" She trailed off and snaked her hands up his right leg, slowly crawling up his knee –

"Stop." He hissed between clenched teeth, his hand catching her small wrist in a vise grip. Her flirtatious expression instantly melted to fright as she stared into his harsh, steel-grey eyes; twin pools of dark, haunted, unfathomable emptiness.

Little does she know she's staring into the eyes of a killer, he thought, numbly.

Pansy's eyes were blue – blue like water and other healing things – but her lips were red. Red as in blood; red as in death. For a breathtaking moment he was transported back to that dark circle of hooded figures with the girl that twisted on the ground like a snake uncoiling from its shed skin – except she wasn't shedding hers for the sake of molting – and the way her voice cut straight through the cold air, the loud laughter, possibly his soul.

(If screams truly could slice and sever, then his soul would be in ribbons)

And the blood – dear Merlin the blood – that licked over the toes of his boots and left black puddles in the grass once the body went still and was transfigured into something ordinary like a leaf; like a bone.

Afterwards, his hands were covered with the stuff. The faint smell of it still stabbed into the air unexpectedly, causing him to continuously glance down at his hands in full expectation that they would be filmed over with dried blood. Sometimes rust colored, other times bright, wet red like a wide-open mouth caught mid-scream.

If possible, his heart shuddered.

"D-Draco? You're hurting me," She squeaked, eyes wide and afraid, bringing him back to the present. He immediately released her when he realized he had nearly been crushing her wrist in his clenched hand.

"S-sorry, Pansy…" His shaking voice tapered off as that horrific metallic smell permeated the air once more and he found himself compulsively checking his hands. Nothing; just pallid skin and the familiar checkmark shaped scar at the base of his thumb. No blood.

But he could still smell it.

He began breathing raggedly through his nose, air seeming to leave him just as quickly as he sucked it into his lungs. The room suddenly felt smaller and cramped like a cage, the walls closing in and the ceiling pressing down on the top of his head like an inescapable weight.

"Draco?" She whispered. It was obvious from her expression that she was concerned and afraid, completely caught off guard by his sudden shift in demeanor. She was most likely wondering what happened to cool, aloof Draco Malfoy to turn him into some erratic, unstable slip of a boy who'd practically crushed her hand in the midst of a panic attack moments ago. She had long since left his side, but reached out tentatively over the empty space between them, her fingers carefully grazing his shoulder with the intention of comforting rather than seducing this time.

He closed his eyes and felt an abrupt wave of nausea overwhelm him. He couldn't deal with this right now; not her, not this situation, not himself.

"I have to go, Pansy," Draco said in a low, trembling voice. He rose from the bench as smoothly as possible, still managing to knock both knees on the underside of the piano, before sprinting haphazardly from the common room like a mad man.

He faintly heard his name being called, but found it rather easy to ignore behind the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. His pulse exploded at each wrist, and he could already tell his pallor was sickly and pale just from the experimental glance he took when passing by a reflective surface. He didn't stop running down the deserted corridor until he reached the loo. Once he pushed his way inside – which was an impressive feat, considering how incredibly weak he felt – he immediately crumbled to the floor in a heap of dry sobs and quivering limbs.

He leaned back against the door and angled his face towards the dripping ceiling. "H-help me," He whispered, his voice slightly muffled because he had bitten down on his knuckle to keep from screaming. "Someone, I don't give a fuck who, just help me,"

"I can help you,"

His breath abruptly hitched and his body stilled. He hadn't expected a response. The open, utterly shattered expression he'd worn seconds previous disappeared, his typical mask of indifference taking its place with practiced efficiency. He shakily stood and reached into his pocket for his wand.

"Who's there?" He demanded, trying with all his might not to let the fear show in his voice.

"Just me. Just little old Myrtle, the annoying dead girl that no one seems to like…"

His brow furrowed. Dead girl? "Show yourself," said Draco, warily, as he slowly turned in a circle with his wand aimed in the presumed direction of the speaker.

"Oh! You're rather handsome aren't you?" The overly saccharine voice tittered in appreciation. "Fair hair, fair eyes; oh, yes, you are divine," Another disembodied giggle echoed off the dingy walls and made him cringe. He despised being in the dark about things so the fact that he hadn't slightest idea who was speaking frustrated him

"Reveal yourself!" He barked, molten eyes glowing with irritation.

"Oh, no need to get so snappy, my lovely Adonis," the voice grew louder as she continued to speak, and before he knew it she was right before him, her pale blue nose a mere breath from his.

"Boo!" She whispered, dissolving into a fit of high-pitched laughter when he inevitably started and jerked backwards, alarmed. He scrambled away from her on the floor with wide eyes. She was a small slip of a girl – perhaps in third or fourth year – with large owl-like eyes hiding behind equally sizable spectacles and long black pigtails that gave her the strange appearance of being much younger. She was deathly pale, and although at the moment she was giggling hysterically, there was a certain hunch in her shoulders and dullness to her eyes that suggested 'happy' was not her typical state. If anything, she looked downright miserable.

Oh, and judging by the fact that her feet were three inches from the ground, she was also a ghost.

"I've given you a fright, have I? Mm don't bother answering, I know I have," She shot him a self-satisfied smile. "I'm Myrtle, love," She tittered once more before floating closer to him, her fingers brushing down the side of his face, a look of longing abruptly replacing her jovial one. "So lovely," She stopped her exploration when he visibly cringed, "How does my touch feel?" She asked softly, absently, as she ran a transparent finger down the bridge of his nose. He shuddered.

"Cold and unpleasant," Answered Draco, flatly, and this seemed to snap her out of her daze.

With a sudden burst of anger she wound up her arm and slapped him across the face, which obviously didn't have the desired effect as the most discomfort he felt was a slight, fleeting chill. "Cold? I'm cold? Well at least I have an excuse. I'm dead," She turned her back to him and crossed her arms like a petulant child, sniffing indignantly, "You on the other hand are cold because your soul has frozen over," she announced, her tone giving no indication that she was aware of how astute she was being. "You've done bad things, haven't you? You've been naughty…"

She let her voice trail off into disapproving silence. The faucet dripped. The drains creaked. Draco dug red crescents into his palm.

"You've got that look about you," She continued, turning back to face him, "Your eyes are – well, they're dull. Empty. They ought to be a nice silvery grey, but instead they remind me of stones," She floated closer and out of pride he refused to back away, despite his great desire to do so. He clenched his jaw as she reached out a hand once again and touched his face, her expression an odd juxtaposition of fascination, disapproval, and longing. 'Such a pretty boy, but such an ugly heart…" Her thumb lingered on his pursed mouth, eyes sharp with intrigue, and he felt oddly vulnerable under her scrutiny. He sucked his lip back into his mouth after a few long moments of unease, and she huffed in dissatisfaction, retracting her hand.

"I'm sure if I were alive, I would hate you," She said matter-of-factly, clearly deciding to move on from her exploration of his features. "Because I know you'd either be cruel to me or my existence would not be worth your notice. You are rather selfish and conceited; did you know that? Though I'm not sure I can blame you, considering the face you have," She tittered and ignored his unamused expression. When he said nothing in return, she backed away from him and floated up to the ceiling, watching contemplatively from above. "I think I'll help you,"

He stared at her with hard eyes. "Do not help me. I don't care for whatever type of assistance you plan on offering, though I'm sure it won't be of any great value considering your current…state." He finished lamely, gesturing wordlessly as her transparent form, "I don't need your help, dead girl," He spat, scowling for good measure.

"You asked for someone to help you," She reminded him. He hated that she was right.

"I didn't actually expect a response. I didn't mean it. I don't want or need your bloody help,"

She stopped smiling and the mirth drained from her form along with it. Her tone grew heavier, weighted down with a solemnity and gravity he would not have expected from such a seemingly silly girl. "Oh, but that's where you're wrong; you do need my help. Because you know what I can cure that no one else can or will?"

She waited a beat to thicken the suspension. "Loneliness,"

She allowed the word to echo in the dingy bathroom for a moment, to let it bounce off the walls and sink into his brain to be mulled over. "I know you're lonely; I am too. That's how I can sense it. You've done bad things – very bad things – but I can see a small bit of light still left in you and I think I can help keep it there," Hope shone unabashedly in her dark eyes, her high voice filled with promise and sincerity. He remained quiet and stony-expressioned, and she took that as a sign to continue. "M-mind you, like you said, I can't do much for your actual predicament, but I can be here for you…"

Be here for me? I don't deserve anyone. I kill people, didn't you know? I suppose then it's only fitting that my only willing companion is already dead. Not much damage left to do to a ghost.

He closed his eyes and silently clenched his jaw and fists, images of open-mouthed screams and red, wet grass splashing across his mind's eye. The Dark Lord's voice slithered into one ear and out the other like a snake, poisoning his thoughts and shattering mental peace along the way. He couldn't hear anything at that moment save for the pleading, utterly quiet last word of that dark haired muggle with blue eyes, "Please," and the sickening flash of green that followed.

"… I can listen. I can be your company. I can be your friend – "

Myrtle's voice flooded back in and he remembered where he was. In a dingy old loo with a ghost who had seen him crying like a sod and thought him pathetic enough to try and 'fix'. She didn't understand. No one understood.

"STOP!" He roared suddenly, shattering his previously silent disposition like glass. His voice trembled with a barely concealed sob, rage and utter devastation lacing his tone, "Don't say those things to me! I don't need a friend, I don't need a bloody savior, and I don't need you! You're just some stupid fucking dead girl that no one cares about, whose only reprieve from haunting deserted toilets like a miserable wench is offering a helping hand to poor, pathetic souls like myself so she can take her mind off of her own pointless, bothersome, worthless existence," He was practically foaming at the mouth, grey eyes wild and out of focus like an animal's. He grabbed his tie intending to loosen it, but due to an unexpected burst of strength, ended up ripping it from his neck entirely. Unperturbed, he tossed it to the floor and refused to take his eyes from her quivering, terrified form in the corner of the ceiling.

"Yeah, that's right," He spat out, disgusted (though whether it was with her or himself he wasn't sure). "Stay up there in your little corner and don't come one inch closer to me. I'm evil, remember? I have an ugly soul, don't you recall?" His tone quickly took a note of hysteria, "I'm the boy that hurts people and tortures them and scares little girl ghosts and almost kills a classmate and fixes what oughtn't be fixed and does His bidding – because one must always do his bidding – and keeps on killing despite the blood, and you know some think blood is only red but I've seen it in every shade from scarlet to pitch black like tar," His breath came out in gasps, his chest heaving erratically. He wasn't even sure what he was saying any longer because he felt outside of himself. That tended to happen whenever he entered this panicked, unguarded state; he went into something of a trance. If one had been close enough to peer at his face, the uncharacteristically blank, fevered look in his eyes would have been telltale enough. He might as well have been poor terrified Myrtle up there on the ceiling, watching helplessly from above as Draco A. Malfoy unspooled like a crazed ball of yarn.

"No one is safe, never really safe, because see I used to think I was safe from hurt and pain and fear because I'm a Malfoy and Malfoys are nothing if not untouchable, but that isn't true now is it? Lucius handed me right over on a silver platter for the Dark Lord and he wasted no time in sullying my arm with his black tattoo and let me tell you, it burned worse than anything in my life. In fact I don't think I'll ever feel a burn as painful as that except for when I'm in Hell-"

He stopped his stream of speech, abruptly. His hysterical, distraught expression melted away and he looked up at her with a genuinely concerned and confused expression as his thin hand scrabbled to find purchase in his uniform shirt, clutching at his chest right above his heart.

"Ouch," he said softly, perplexed. "My…my heart. Can hearts hurt, Myrtle?" The ghost stared down at him with both fear and confusion. Hadn't he been utterly hysterical just moments ago? Now, he resembled an upset child that had scraped his knee and was asking his mum why it stung and why such a thing had happened to him.

She thought that if her heart still beat it would've ached for him.

"Don't you see?" She whispered softly, carefully floating towards him. "This is why you need someone; you're losing your mind. The burden is too much. And now I know, but I'll never tell a soul, Draco Malfoy. I just want to help you, please allow me to,"

He stared at her with no expression, until gradually consciousness trickled back to him and a certain clarity and awareness returned to his eyes. He looked around the room, down at his hands, to the shredded tie, and the dripping faucets, before returning to her face. With the sudden appearance of one that carried the entire earth on his shoulders, he simply said,


And turned to walk away, his hands shoved purposefully into his pockets to mask their trembling. "I'm much too far gone," He added under his breath, though he doubted she heard him.

Which was, in truth, a shame because he had never meant anything more sincerely.

In the shadowed Room of Requirement, alone amidst the clutter and darkness, Draco closed his eyes and chewed his bottom lip with fervor, breaking the skin and spilling blood. In his entire life he'd never felt so empty – so utterly heartless – and he found himself wishing desperately for oblivion. If sleep would just…just swallow him whole and turn the voices in his head to white noise, he'd be forever grateful. His breathing grew erratic and he immediately acted upon the impulse to rake his nails down the curve of his palm. More blood. It painted scarlet rivulets down the whiteness of his wrists, before disappearing into his black sleeves.

He thought, vaguely, that the stark red against the alabaster of his skin almost looked beautiful. It was rich and alluring; it made his head spin and his mind fuzz over in awe – though that could have been due to the blood loss.

He stood up and paced; this usually helped him think. Except…except his mind felt like a sporadic mess of images, memories, sharp angles, and fuzzy thoughts that slipped through his fingers as soon as they occurred to him, so focusing was nearly impossible. His chest heaved with each laborious breath. Am I going to die? The thought fluttered through his mind like a white butterfly – white, because he was sick of black, and all other colors carried too much association – and he pondered it serenely. An eerie calm settled over him as he leaned against the cabinet and slid down into a sitting position. Am I going to die? Yes. Hopefully. Because he'd read the Bible, remember? He knew what happened to people after their bodies decayed and the world forgot them in its endless revolutions.

They moved onto an afterlife.

With a strangled laugh, he asked the empty room if it thought he'd be heading north or south, as far as afterlives went. Maybe the big guy upstairs would pity him and dole out a second chance; or – and Draco found this more likely – he'd just die and get buried, and the worms would make a lovely meal of him.

He traced his fingers around the intricate carvings on the cabinet's door, absently wondering if its creator ever fathomed that it would be used for such malicious purposes. Probably not. People rarely liked to recognize evil, or the potential for evil, until it was staring them directly in the face; 'Twas the bliss and curse of human nature.

Speaking of which; am I evil?

Mm. That was a rather tricky one.

He dropped his head into his hands and tried to sigh - he only intended to release a small bit of what was festering within – but ended up sobbing and dry-heaving and keening like an animal the minute his mouth opened. He drew his knees closer to himself and clutched them like a child desperately holding onto a security blanket. When had he become like this? Since when had his mind turned from a steely, impregnable fortress to a spool of yarn frantically unraveling down a staircase?

Draco bit the inside of his mouth until everything tasted metallic, before throwing his legs out of their bent position and sprawling across the floor. He stared at the ceiling and decided he felt like a ragdoll or a corpse; though, he couldn't say for sure as he'd never been either. (But that was subject to change in the latter's case)

Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered that his school bag was still with him in the room, including all of his essays and notebooks. He wasn't sure why this was an important thing to have remembered, but went through the motions of pulling papers and quills from his bag anyway, deciding that his unconscious mind must have something worthwhile in store. Once a large sheet of parchment and array of ink pots sat before him, he immediately understood and picked up a quill.

Dearest Headmaster-

There are two things you must know to preface your reading: One: I am going to kill you. And two: you will never see this letter.

He continued writing without pause, sometimes pushing the quill into the parchment so violently that the nib snapped off and he had to grab a new one. Other times, he pressed the tip lightly into the surface of the letter, allowing the ink to pool into a large black stain; he wanted this to read as if it were swiped directly from his thoughts and since he felt his mind was rather ink-blotted and jumbled, the letter ought to be as well.

Please don't think I'm evil, because I am not. I just decided that as I wrote, actually. If I were evil, then I wouldn't be going mad with guilt, now would I? I'm sorry that I'm going to kill you, Dumbledore. I never liked you, nor will I ever, but I know that you don't deserve to die; you're kind and wise and good and that sort of person never deserves to die.

But they do anyway, don't they?

I wish I didn't have to do this, but, see, I don't have a choice. He'll kill me and my family as slowly and painfully as possible if I refuse. I've seen his curses; I know what he's capable of. The Order has yet to even touch upon the vast array of Unforgivables he has hidden up his sleeves.

Cruciani Obitus- The Slow Death. Flays you from within until you die of pain.

Totus Praestrictus- Turns your internal organs to ice without showing any exterior change. You die when the spell freezes your heart.

Debilitatio- Gradually disintegrates muscle mass. Or instantly; whichever he feels in the mood for.

And that is not even the tip of the iceberg. Do you now see why I can't tell you anything? Why I can't tell anyone? I'm going mad, sir. I'm going utterly and completely mad.

When this is over and done, and you're dead by my hand, I hope the Dark Lord kills me. Because if he doesn't, I swear to you, I will do it myself.

What's the use of living when you've sold your soul?

He bit back a fresh wave of tears so as not to wet the parchment and signed his name with an ironic flourish; never had the useless curls and twists of calligraphy felt less appropriate.


Draco A. Malfoy

Draco dropped the quill as abruptly as he'd picked it up and turned to stare at the cabinet; a heavy sense of dread stirred within.

Don't do this.

But I must! You should know that; you're me, remember?

The fact that you're talking to yourself should be proof enough that you need to stop.

I know I need to stop…but that doesn't mean I can. Damn it I just explained why I can't in that bloody letter, okay? The circumstances haven't changed in the past five minutes.

Right. Well then I suggest you begin; you've wasted enough time as it is.

With shaking hands he removed a heavy tome from his pack and carefully drew his wand. The thick, age-yellowed pages were caked with dust and spider-webbed with small rips, the handwriting slanted, sharp, and imposing.

His heart – if one could even use such a delicate word to describe the shriveled coal in the pit of his chest – felt heavy as he slowly began to recite ancient mending spells, the words dribbling from his lips like syrupy blood, splashing on the floor and at his feet in thick pools.

After what seemed like a lifetime, he tucked the tome away, shut the heavy doors of the cabinet, and reloaded his school bag with unsettling calmness. When his fingers brushed against the letter, he paused, considering where he should put it. To throw it away felt too much like symbolically dismissing the ideas he'd written down – the only solid proof of his guilt and suffering – and that simply wouldn't do. However, he couldn't exactly hang it above his bed post like a plaque. With slow, precise motions he folded the letter sharply into fourths and placed it between the pages of his Bible. It was unlikely Blaise or anyone else would come across it again, as he would more careful this time around and make sure to store it in the secret hollowed compartment of his school trunk, rather than carelessly tossing it on his desk for all to see.

He rose from his crouched position on the floor, slung his bag over his shoulder, straightened his robes, and prepared to reenter civilization, his infamous aloof expression already sliding into place.

The Forbidden Forest, although rumored to be filled with dangerous creatures, was actually quite serene once you got to the very center. Draco pushed back a few branches and stepped into the Forest's clearing.

He pulled his scarf tighter around his neck, less for warmth and more for the constricting, painful feeling it provided. He needed the sensation just to keep himself anchored to his body and not a lost soul careening through the forest like a Cornish pixie released into the wild. He felt unsteady and strange, like a ghost that'd hijacked some poor sod's body and was slowly adjusting to the oddities of the human form. Right foot before left foot. Splay open palm, clench fingers, make a fist, push thumb over knuckles and listen to the joints crack.

He glanced up at the crisscross of dark branches obscuring his view of the sky and wondered how it'd feel to soar above it all, just fly overhead with no worries or burdens, watching the ant-sized people below live through their mundane, ant-sized lives, weighted down with merely a detached acknowledgment of their struggles. That would be grand. That would be marvelous.

He eyed a bird as it flew overhead with envy.

He was about to turn around and go back to the castle, when he heard a soft rustle somewhere behind him. There was no pressing need to return, so he decided to walk over to the bush and investigate. Tangled amidst the branches was a small bluebird with its wings caught in the spiked branches of the bramble bush. Without thinking twice, he lifted the small creature and cradled it within his cupped palms. He was so careful not to hurt it that his hands trembled with effort.

"It's okay, you're okay," he murmured. Absently, he stroked his thumb over its rapidly moving chest, surprised by how soft it was.

He crouched down and brushed aside a few leaves to make space for the bird, before laying it down gently onto the soil. "Don't worry, don't worry,"

He aimed his wand and whispered, "Brackium Emendo," and looked on in awe as its heather-blue wings bent back into proper form and its erratic breathing slowed. "You're okay, now, see? You're going to be okay,"

The little bird hopped up and waddled around the forest floor for a bit, before spreading its wings and heading skyward. Draco tipped his head back and watched its ascent.

He wasn't sure what to call the feeling that was bundling in his chest, but it felt disturbingly close to contentment. He glanced down at his hands: these palms healed something rather than hurt it, for once.

"I saw you heal that bird," He didn't jump at her voice, because somehow he'd been expecting it. She always wandered the woods, regardless of the warnings and rumors; he'd often seen her petting the Thestrals that wandered through the northern part of the forest. He pocketed his wand and turned to face her.

"Luna," He said evenly in acknowledgement.

"You healed it and released it into the sky, even though it would have been easier to walk by and ignore it. Someone cruel might have enjoyed the sight. Someone careless wouldn't have noticed," She continued, her soft, musical voice floating through the space between them like lazy curls of fog. "But you fixed it. You like to fix things, don't you?"

He didn't bother standing up or meeting her languid gaze to communicate his affirmation, because he was certain she already knew the answer. She moved unhurriedly towards him, coiling a few strands of pale hair around her equally pale fingers, blue eyes roaming the scenery with dreamy appreciation.

"You've seen for yourself that even the seemingly worst situations can be mended, correct?" She nodded to herself, "Yes, so surely you must know…" she paused and quietly gauged his expression. "You must know that you can be mended as well."

He looked up at her, wan and pale. He didn't notice that his nails were clinging into the dirt or that wetness had started to form in his eyes. "I've done some pretty bad things, Lovegood" His voice broke, strained and tight against the growing lump in his throat. "I think I'm past the point of return," he tried to chuckle bitterly but it came out all twisted and wrong, and it was easily the most pathetic noise he'd ever made.

"You're just like that bird, Draco. Right now you're a bit banged up but soon you'll take to the sky once more, good as new," She seemed convinced of this, despite his wary expression.

"You don't know me," he said, tiredly. He raked his hands through his hair in resignation. "You don't know what I've done or what I'm about to do,"

"I do. And I know you'll make the right choice; look, you made the right choice just a moment ago. Think of this as practice for when the real decision must be made," She smiled absently and turned to go. "Think of those hands, Draco. They have power to hurt and to heal; you decide which,"

Then she disappeared in the thick of the forest, her small blonde head nonexistent in the swathe of dark branches and tall trees. Draco stared at where she had been for a long time, her words rolling around in his mind like marbles.

After a while, he stood and brushed the soil from his uniform. Draco began walking, hands now flexing automatically in his pockets, no particular destination in mind. He examined the new plant life poking its way through the soil, their bright yellow faces peering up at the sun, leaves outstretched to the heavens as if they were cupped hands waiting to cradle something precious. He closed his eyes and listened to the stillness of everything, the motionless wind and soundless creatures, and marveled that the earth could be so still, so silent, despite the fact that it was teeming endlessly with life. He crouched down and dug a hand into the dark soil, cool to the touch and wet with recent rainfall. With a long breath he inhaled the rich, intoxicating scent and allowed the rest of the world to fall away – his worries, his fears, and his past – and just focused on that moment right then.

It was strangely liberating.

And as he let the black dirt spill from his palms, he realized that Luna had been right: his hands did hold power. He had the power to damage, to kill, to pull screams from broken throats, and steal the breath from crushed lungs. He had the power to destroy.

But, he also had the ability to restore. He had the ability to pluck a dying bird from a bush and steady its heart, mend its wings, reorganize its feathers and return it to the sky. He had the ability to heal.

Draco took a deep breath, rose from the ground, and felt a new lightness fill his chest. Luna was right: he was going to make a good choice, because he was tired of having broken wings and a fragile heart. He was tired of blood and pain and death. He was just tired.

It was about time Draco Malfoy healed himself and returned to the sky.