Draco and Hermione quietly chewed on their eggs and toast, occasionally nodding or making a polite remark while Jean prattled on about Christmas dinner. Luckily, Jean seemed to share Hermione’s single-minded focus when a large project was at hand, and failed to notice her daughter’s dour mood. Draco tried to appear as interested as possible as she reviewed their plan of attack, hoping it would mask the fact that she might as well have been speaking to him in Mermish.
They were interrupted when Roger came in, his cheeks and nose flushed from the cold. He had shed his coat and boots, but moisture still clung to his pants. He must have been wearing a cap of some sort, as his short hair was frizzier and more unkempt than usual. He wished Hermione and Draco a happy Christmas and began brewing himself a cup of espresso.
“Roger, dear, are you—”
“I’m not done yet,” he said, anticipating his wife’s inquiry. “Just needed a quick pick me up. I’ve only finished clearing the path to the front door.”
“Oh,” said Jean, deflated. “How much longer do you think it’ll take?”
“An hour, maybe more. The snow is quite deep and wet, and I’m going slow. Don’t want to throw out my back.”
Jean frowned. “I’m glad you’re being careful, but it’s too bad that it’s so much work. I was hoping to get the tart in the oven at noon.”
“I’ll do my best. It shouldn’t be too bad of a drive once they get on the road. I just need to unbury the driveway first.”
“You know, this cranberry tart is far too much trouble,” Hermione piped in. “I think we should just—”
“It’s no trouble at all,” said Jean. “The recipe is quite straightforward. Besides, I just realized I forgot the garlic this morning, and the parsnips will be bland without it. And we’re running low on flour, too.” Hermione sank bank in her seat, sulking.
“It’s too bad we don’t have a snowblower. Or something else to make it go more quickly.” Jean took a sip of coffee, glancing furtively at Draco over her mug.
Hermione eyed her mother sharply. “Draco would be happy to help, of course, but he doesn’t have any clothes that are appropriate for being out in the snow. And there’s only one shovel.”
Roger looked up. “Actually, we have two. And I have plenty of extra winter clothes he could borrow.” He paused. “That is— if Draco wants to help. No pressure, of course. One doesn’t exactly expect to spend one’s holiday getaway shoveling snow.”
Draco could feel Jean’s anxious yet hopeful gaze burning a hole into the side of his face. Great.
He cleared his throat. “Um— I’d be happy to help, Mr. Granger.”
“You’re quite sure?” said Roger, with thinly-veiled enthusiasm.
“Of course. It would be nice to get some exercise." The truth was that the last way he wanted to get exercise was through a tedious Muggle chore that required him to be cold, wet, and miserable, and that could have been solved with a flick of his wand.
“Oh, Draco, that’s so kind of you to offer!” said Jean. “I just got Roger a new pair of snow boots, and his old ones should fit you perfectly—”
Draco tried to school his grimace into a smile. Hermione mouthed a silent apology to him.
The things he did for love.
Ten minutes later, Draco and Roger stood outside and surveyed the driveway together, each with a shovel in their hands. Roger hadn’t been joking when he said the snow was deep. It looked like nearly a foot had accumulated on the ground.
It wasn’t snowing at the moment, but it was still bitingly cold. Thankfully, Roger’s snow gear kept him fairly warm and seemed to fit well enough. His snow pants were a bit short, but Jean had tucked them into his boots, which had solved the problem.
Roger stomped through the shin-deep snow to get to the other side of the driveway. “I’ll start on this side. You can start over there.” His voice was distorted by the strange contraption he wore around his face and neck, and which he had insisted Draco wear, too. “Face mufflers,” he had called them.
Draco nodded, and they both began to shovel.
Draco considered himself fairly fit for his age. Although winter wasn’t a good time for swimming or Quidditch— his preferred methods of exercise— he had taken up running, and he still did many of the strength exercises he had learned during his Quidditch days.
Shoveling snow, however, was back-breaking work. The snow was heavy and wet, as Roger had warned, and the muscles in his shoulders, arms, and back were quickly humming and burning from the intensity of it.
A few minutes in, he realized that Roger had stopped shoveling and was staring at him. He hesitated for a moment, and then shuffled over.
“The key is to bend your knees, not your back, and lift with your leg muscles. Like so.” Roger demonstrated several times with slow, measured motions. Draco tried to copy him.
“Better,” he said. “But try pivoting your whole body when you dump the snow. You want to avoid twisting your back.”
After several more tries and corrections, Roger was finally satisfied with his technique. “Perfect. That will help you avoid strains or injuries.”
“Thank you,” Draco said, haltingly adjusting his grip on the shovel. He wondered if proper snow shoveling was common knowledge among Muggles. As if he needed another reason for Hermione’s parents to think him strange.
Roger seemed to intuit his thoughts. “I grew up in Birmingham. Are you familiar with the area?” Draco shook his head.
“Ah.” Roger pulled down his muffler and leaned on his shovel. “There’s a harsh winter every few years. When I was growing up, we would shovel the snow all the way down the street. They weren’t as diligent back then about coming to clear it.”
For a few moments, there was silence, apart from the sounds of them drawing labored breaths.
“Hermione told us a bit about your family,” he said. “I expect you never needed to learn. Trust me, I wish I didn’t, either.”
There was something distinctly paternal in his crooked smile, even though Draco was sure his own father had never smiled at him like that.
“Thanks, Mr. Granger. We did have... help, when it came to things like this. But it’s good to learn.”
Roger clapped him on the back. “Anytime. My father taught me how to shovel snow. I’m sure yours taught you how to do other things.”
“Not really.” The bitter words had escaped him without a second thought. He quickly looked away, his cheeks burning. “He wasn’t very hands on. When it came to things like this.”
Draco surveyed the quiet, snow-covered street, praying Roger would go back to shoveling and leave him to his mortification in peace. But he didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“I’m not sure if Hermione told you, but she has no aunts or uncles on my side,” he said at last. “I’m an only child. My mum died when I was 9. Lung cancer.”
“Thank you,” said Roger. “The funny thing is that my mum never smoked a day in her life. My dad was the smoker. I always considered it one of life’s greatest ironies that he outlived her.”
Draco shifted uncomfortably, at a loss for words.
“My dad raised me after she passed. He was an electrician. Never went to uni. Most people didn’t back then. But he still hated himself for it, so he pushed me to excel at school. No friends, no sports, no distractions.”
Roger nodded. “Terribly so. Rebelling wasn’t fashionable back then, so I did as I was told.”
I know the feeling, Draco wanted to say. Instead he said nothing.
“My last year of secondary school, I won a scholarship to King’s College. You’d think my dad would be proud, but he told me he was disappointed it wasn’t Oxford.” Roger shook his head, his mouth in a grim line.
“Things changed when I went away to school. I could barely stand him. We fought every time we spoke. He didn’t come to my graduation because we were in a row. He was angry because I had told him I planned to become a dentist. Not prestigious enough, he said.”
The bitterness in his tone felt deeply familiar. Draco stared at him, wondering how much more he would share.
“We finally patched things up after my first year of dental school. But he was a right bastard to Jean when they met. He called her the ‘death of my ambition,’ the old cad. I think it was then that I knew, beyond all doubt, that he had the worst judgment out of anyone I’d ever met.”
“A fair point,” said Draco. Roger chuckled, and Draco smirked in spite of himself. Fathers often had terrible taste when it came to their sons’ partners, it seemed.
“When we got engaged, I sent him a letter to let him know. I didn’t take his calls for months. Then one day I got a ring from the police station in Birmingham telling me he had passed. It was a heart attack. They found him quickly, at least. His boss called it in. It was the first day of work my dad had missed in 25 years.”
Draco was silent. After a minute or two, Roger appeared to snap out of his reverie.
“I don’t know much about you and your father, but I know what it’s like to have a complicated relationship with a parent who’s gone. It gets easier, in time.”
“Thank you, sir.” Draco was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry about your dad.”
Roger nodded. Though a different color, his eyes were just as piercing as his daughter’s. He leaned forward as if to clap Draco on the back, but seemed to think the better of it.
He turned and slowly shuffled back to his side of the driveway. After a moment, both men began shoveling snow as though nothing had passed between them.
Three years and two months ago
“Explain it to me one more time, Lucius,” said Narcissa.
They were in one of the Manor’s smaller sitting rooms. The space was rarely used, but it was tucked away from more trafficked areas and perfect for a clandestine meeting. The crackling fire and close quarters failed to dispel the sense of chilly gloom in the air. For beyond the room and its myriad wards, the Manor was crawling with Death Eaters. The grounds outside were littered with pale bones, a grisly reminder of the transfigured corpses that had been too damaged for Nagini to eat.
Lucius sighed and reached for his brandy. His lazy, well-bred movements couldn’t hide the fact that he had recently been tortured. “It’s simple. Yaxley happened to discover the wards placed on Rufus Scrimgeour’s home. I happened to learn that there’s a changing of his guards tonight. He’ll be vulnerable. I can get to him, Narcissa.”
He drained his glass, his hand slightly trembling. “The Dark Lord has wanted Scrimgeour for a long time. If I capture him, things will be different for us.”
“But surely delivering the information to him will be enough?” Narcissa's expression was pinched. “You needn’t risk getting hurt or captured— or worse yet, failure, and then having to face the Dark Lord.”
“There’s no time. Bellatrix said he’s on a mission in Austria of great importance. He’ll kill me if I summon him.”
“But if you just asked for help—”
“I can’t risk anyone else coming with me. It has to be our family— the credit must go to us. Besides, if it hadn’t been for the imbeciles who accompanied me to the Ministry two years ago, we might not be in this position.”
Draco’s jaw tensed as his father got up to pour himself another drink. He had a distinctly disheveled look about him, like a man that was unraveling at the seams. His face was pale and haggard, his hair tousled and unkempt. His eyes were perpetually bloodshot these days. Whether from the lack of sleep or alcohol, Draco couldn’t say.
He sat back down on the sofa less than gracefully, a full glass of brandy in his hand. Draco felt sick just looking at him. And beneath it, rage.
“I’m not going with you.”
Lucius looked up at him with faint surprise. His eyes turned cold as he studied him. “I don’t recall asking.”
“Certainly not,” Narcissa sniffed. “It’s far too dangerous—”
“Spare me, Mother. I’m not a child anymore.” She glanced at him, shocked, but he ignored her. “You saw to that before I was even of age, didn’t you, Father?” He nodded at the Dark Mark on his arm.
Lucius paled, but quickly recovered. “If you have something to say, Draco—”
“I do, in fact. I’m not going with you because this plan is one of the worst ideas you’ve had.”
His mother gasped. “Draco!”
In all of his 18 years, Draco had never spoken to his father like this. But last week he had killed a girl, and he had been full of rage ever since. Blinding, searing rage, licking just beneath the surface of his skin.
Lucius opened his mouth furiously, but Draco wasn't done. “Still trying to earn back your place in the ranks of a madman, are you?”
He sneered at their stunned expressions before plunging on. “I’m sick of tiptoeing around it, so let’s not mince words, Father. You sold your soul to a half-blooded devil. A liar. You know as well as I do that he doesn’t give a damn about blood. If he did, half of the bodies out there wouldn’t be pure-bloods. He used you up and spit you out and you begged him for it, groveling at his boots. And now we all have to suffer for it.”
A vein was pulsing in his father’s temple as he stared back at him.
“A better man would admit that he was wrong,” said Draco, balling his fists. “Or at least keep his head down. Instead, here you are, trying to pull off a miracle maneuver that’s just as likely to get to you killed as it is to win back his favor.”
He stood up abruptly, his upper lip curling so high it trembled. “This plan is just as pathetic as you are. You disgust me.”
His father broke. He leapt to his feet with a roar, hurtling his glass across the room. Narcissa threw herself between them as it shattered.
“Lucius, no!” she pleaded, clutching at his robes.
A year or two ago, the unbridled rage in his father's eyes would have petrified Draco cold. Now it merely stoked his own violent, white-hot fury. He clenched his jaw as it clamored for release, silently daring his father to make the first move.
“Don’t,” said Narcissa.
Lucius' eyes flickered to meet her. He stared at her for a few moments and then seemed to relax. She lessened her hold.
“Draco, I’m appalled at you.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Get out.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’m leaving now,” said Lucius, tearing himself from her grip. “I’ll see you tonight.” He gave Draco a furious look before sweeping from the room.
Narcissa remained where she was for a full minute. Draco said nothing. He had no intention of apologizing to her. She was complicit in this, too.
She walked stiffly to the door, still not facing him. She paused at the threshold. “He’s doing this for you too. He knows, Draco. About her. We both do.”
He waited until the sounds of her footsteps had faded before collapsing on the sofa, cradling his head in his hands.
A month ago, a Snatcher had captured a stray Mudblood and had brought her to the Manor. After determining the girl had possessed no valuable information, Voldemort had bidden them to lock her in the dungeon. She was to be a gift for Fenrir Greyback, who was on a mission in France.
When they had first dragged her in, she had been unconscious in the Snatcher’s arms. “I remember seeing this one in Hogsmeade back in the day,” he had leered. “Quite fit, too.”
Draco had only been able to make out a slender body of medium height and long, curly brown hair. For one terrible moment, he had thought it was Hermione Granger. His stomach had seized at the thought— a reaction he was still trying to untangle. But it hadn’t been her.
When Bellatrix had rolled her over on the floor of the drawing room with her heeled black boot, the face of the girl had been quite different. Her eyes had been smaller and narrower-set than Granger’s, and her nose longer and thinner. But he had recognized it all the same.
Penelope Clearwater. She had been four years above him at Hogwarts, and if he recalled correctly, she had dated one of the Weasleys, too.
With the Dark Lord’s permission, his bloodthirsty aunt had “borrowed” Greyback’s “new toy” almost nightly to keep herself entertained. The first few nights, Draco had locked himself in his room when his aunt had gotten started on her, trying not to retch each time her screams had penetrated his silencing charms. His mother and father had looked ill, too, each time he’d seen them witness it. As biased as they were against Muggle-borns, they favored segregation and expulsion over torture and murder.
He wasn’t sure what had made him go down to see her, that first night. Perhaps it had been guilt, or curiosity. Maybe seeing her face had simply reminded him of a happier, more innocent time. Whatever it was, he had found himself in the dungeons about a week after she had first arrived.
He had been hoping she would be asleep, but she had scuttled to the corner of her cell when he had arrived, eyeing him with equal parts terror and suspicion. She had shivered violently as he had stared at her. He had suddenly realized how cold it was. So he had conjured a blanket.
He had frozen as soon as he’d done it. If he gave it to her, it could get him tortured, or worse. But she had stared at it like there was nothing she’d wanted more. And so he had dropped it through the bars of her cell.
“Make sure you hide that in the morning,” he had said. “There’s a loose stone in the back right corner.” He had felt her eyes follow him as he left.
The next night, he had brought her a pain relief potion. “It’ll disappear in an hour, so drink it before then,” he had told her.
The third night, he had brought her another pain relief potion, and a copy of the Daily Prophet. When it had reappeared in his room the next morning, he had seen the unmistakable sign of her tears on the casualties page.
And so it had continued. He had tried not to think about the fact that he was risking his life to be kind to a Mudblood. He had no idea why he was doing it.
“Will you help me escape?” she had asked him one night, as he had dropped off her nightly potion. He had startled at the sound of her voice. He hadn’t heard it in years. He had been a young schoolboy back then, and she a powerful older Prefect.
“I can’t.There are so many of them here and they’re always watching us. They’ll kill me if I do.” His face had burned with shame.
“Will you kill me, then?” she had asked quietly.
He had stared at her, horrified.
“I know what Greyback does to girls before he mauls them,” she had said, her voice cracking. “God knows how long he’ll keep me alive.” She had brushed away her tears impatiently. “I know what’s coming, and you’d be doing me a favor. Please.”
“I can’t,” Draco had choked. He had run up the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him and had vomited up the contents of his dinner as soon as he had reached his room.
She had said nothing the next night, or any of the nights afterward, except to quietly thank him. But every time he had looked at her, Draco had thought about what she’d asked. And he had known she had been thinking about the same thing.
He had started to brainstorm ways he might be able to help her escape. There had still been a few more weeks before Greyback would return, and if he could create a distraction of some kind when Bellatrix was torturing her, it might work. He had been thinking about this very topic when his mother had knocked on his bedroom door one evening.
“The Dark Lord has requested you,” she had said, trying to keep her voice even.
He had paled when he had seen Penelope in the drawing room. She had a black eye and several gashes down her throat and collarbone— enough to make her bleed profusely, but not enough to bleed out.
The Dark Lord had fixed his gaze on him through the slits of his eyes. “Ah, Draco,” he had said. “Good. I happened to arrive for a visit when your aunt was having a chat with this Mudblood. The little filth tore out a section of her hair.” Bellatrix had taken the opportunity to bare her teeth at Penelope.
“She ought to be punished, shouldn’t she? Your aunt told me you were schoolmates, so who better to deliver it than you.” His lips had curved into a cruel smile.
“Yes, my Lord,” Draco had said, aware that he was being tested. He had looked at Penelope, and she him, and he had instantly realized what she was trying to accomplish by attacking his aunt.
“Please," her earlier plea had rang through his head. It had echoed then in her eyes, too. He had known what she had wanted from him.
“Avada Kedavra,” he had whispered, and she had crumpled.
Bellatrix had let out an astonished cry. The Dark Lord had turned to him, his initial surprise turning into a cold fury, before savagely penetrating his mind. But Draco had been prepared. He had let him see what he had wanted him to see. He had learned Occlumency from the most brutal teacher, after all.
Mudblood whore. Bitch. Thief.
After a minute or so, Voldemort had pulled out. He had seemed to reappraise him. “Well done, Draco. We won’t mention this to Greyback.” His aunt’s shock had morphed into amused pleasure, and she had let out a gleeful cackle. Voldemort had given him a lipless smile and had left the room, Bellatrix trailing at his heels. His mother had grimly stepped forward and had transfigured Penelope's body into a slender pale bone.
“Toss it outside once you’ve collected yourself,” she had ordered. “I’ll make you a tonic.”
Even though he’d done exactly what Penelope had wanted him to do, Draco had cried himself to sleep that night, after he had buried her. He hadn’t given her a tombstone, but he had dug her a spot beneath one of his favorite trees on the grounds of the Manor. He hadn’t cried because he’d loved her. He had barely known her. He had cried because they might have been friends, once, in another life.
Later that evening, Draco’s Dark Mark burned with a vengeance. The summon felt angrier than usual. And he knew then that his father had failed.
He headed down to the drawing room in a daze. His mother was there, her face paler and more anxious than usual.
“Draco, what—" She startled at the violent peals of thunder outside. They both moved to the window.
There was a growing blackness in the sky. Billows of smoke began hurtling from the dense cloud, each materializing in a hooded figure standing just outside the gates. The Death Eaters staying at the Manor briskly crossed the grounds to meet their companions, dressed in full regalia.
Voldemort arrived last, his ghastly pale head unmistakable amidst the sea of black hoods. Above him, a body writhed in the air. Lucius’ blonde hair hung suspended, but his robes were crushed against his body. He was wrapped in a nest of living black ropes that slid about his limbs.
Narcissa gasped. "Oh, God." Draco wrapped his arm around her shoulders, supporting her. The movement was automatic. He still couldn’t form a coherent thought.
The Death Eaters seamlessly passed through the iron gates as though they were as decorative as the barrier at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. The Manor’s gates had only admitted Malfoys by blood or marriage for centuries, but Voldemort had found a way to penetrate the ancient wards to allow anyone with a Dark Mark.
They swept down the path to the Manor in ominous rows of two by two, with Voldemort and Lucius bringing up the rear. Nagini had been hunting on the grounds, and she slithered up to meet them.
“Draco,” said Narcissa faintly, when the last of them had disappeared from view. “Listen to me. Do whatever the Dark Lord commands. Your father knew the risks. Don’t— don’t do anything stupid. Your father—”
She broke off, and they spun around to face the first of the Death Eaters piling into the drawing room. They formed a circular formation and began relieving themselves of their hoods and masks. Crabbe. Pettigrew. Macnair. Dolohov. Yaxley. Selwyn. Rowle. Bellatrix. Rodolphus. Dolohov. Snape. None of them looked at Draco or his mother.
Voldemort entered last with Nagini and Lucius, his eyes alight with malice. The circle parted to accommodate them. He banished Lucius’ bindings and dropped him at the center of the room. Narcissa shuddered when he fell. Draco squeezed her wrist tightly in warning.
Lucius got to his knees, trembling violently. His head remained bowed as he prostrated himself at Voldemort’s feet. “My Lord—”
“Silence,” Voldemort hissed. Nagini puffed up for emphasis as she circled them. Lucius flinched.
“My friends," he said. "I called you here because Lucius elected to attack Rufus Scrimgeour at his home tonight. Unassisted. He believed he could capture him by himself, you see. He expected to be rewarded for it.” He delivered the last line with a sneer. There were a few jeers from the circle.
“He failed. An unsurprising habit of his, though I confess I find this failure particularly disappointing. Scrimgeour will likely move underground, and it may be months before he reemerges. I had planned our takeover of the Ministry to happen much sooner. Isn’t that right, Thicknesse?”
“Yes, my Lord,” Pius Thickness chanted, his eyes glazed.
Voldemort gave him a bemused smile before his gaze flickered back to Lucius. His eyes grew murderous.
“Not only did Lucius attack without permission and fail, but he had the audacity to come find me afterward and beg for mercy. He asked me to kill him there at Nurmengard, away from his wife and son.” He paused for effect. Several Death Eaters scoffed. Lucius’ head fell even lower to the ground.
“I was disinclined to grant his request,” said Voldemort, looking down at him malevolently. “My army has little room for failure and none for insubordination. Did he act alone, I wonder? Or is the rest of his tree as rotten as he is?”
Voldemort’s snake-like eyes darted to Draco. In a flash, he brutally bore into his mind. Draco staggered from the force of it, releasing his mother’s wrist. Her stifled cry grounded him amidst the violent swarming in his head. He summoned every ounce of his mental strength to show Voldemort fragments of their earlier conversation.
“But surely delivering the information to him will be enough? You needn’t risk getting hurt or captured, or worse yet, failure—”
“if you just asked for help—"
—one of the worst ideas you’ve had.”
“This plan is just as pathetic as you are. You disgust me.”
His father leapt to his feet with a roar, hurtling his glass across the room.
He tore himself from his wife’s grip. “I’ll see you tonight.”
Draco gasped when Voldemort finally relented, nearly collapsing from the pain. His mother started towards him, but he quickly jerked his head.
Voldemort appraised him for a minute. “I see you aren’t as foolish as your father. You may be a worthy follower yet, Draco. But it remains to be seen.”
“Thank you, my Lord," he rasped. His eyes darted to his father. He was watching their exchange, terrified.
Voldemort followed his line of sight and Lucius instantly dropped his head back down. He stared at him for a few moments, lip curling, before swiveling back to Draco.
The command washed over Draco like a thousand knives. He froze. He wasn't sure for how long.
Voldemort cocked his head. “Shall I repeat myself? Or do you require additional encouragement?” He turned his gaze lazily to Narcissa. She drew in a sharp breath.
Draco’s legs propelled him forward. He wasn’t sure why. Perhaps he was stalling.
Time seemed to move impossibly slow with each drag of his feet. Every heartbeat reverberated violently in his head. Lucius watched him approach, his eyes darting between him and Narcissa. His expression was utterly wretched.
Draco looked down at his ruined father and dimly wondered if he was going to faint. He thought he might have pulled his wand out, but he couldn't be sure. His limbs were heavy and leaden, like they belonged to someone else.
They locked eyes, and a razor sliced through the numbness. His chest heaved.
He had to, but he couldn’t. It was one thing with Penelope. Not his father. Not like this. No. God, no—
His father gave him a nearly imperceptible nod, encouraging him. “Draco—” he choked.
There was a flash of green light, and Lucius crumpled to the ground.
The room spun beneath his feet as Draco stared down at his father, blood roaring in his ears. Somewhere in the distance, he registered the sound of his mother letting out a ragged sob. But his arm was still sagging besides him, his wand held loosely in his hand. Surely he hadn’t moved to kill his father— he couldn’t have. Had he? Had he dreamt it all?
He was startled by a crashing noise somewhere to his left. He swiveled around to find Voldemort choking Snape.
“I don’t recall asking for your interference, Severus." Nagini slithered vindictively at his feet. "Crucio!"
The rest of the room remained silent as Snape fell to the ground, jerking and sputtering. Voldemort loomed above him, teeth bared as he brandished his wand. Clarity struck through the fog in Draco’s head like lightning.
He hadn’t killed his father. Snape had.
Snape pushed himself to his knees when it finally ceased, wheezing. “Forgive me, my Lord."
Voldemort's eyes were narrowed into slits. “Explain yourself.”
“It was the Unbreakable Vow. It compelled me to assist Draco when he hesitated. I would never deliberately interfere with your orders, my Lord. It appears Bellatrix and I were not specific enough in clarifying that I should only assist him with the task you had given him two years ago. The Vow must have taken on a more general form.”
Snape didn't flinch when Voldemort dove into his mind, his eyes steady and unblinking. Draco shuddered.
Voldemort relinquished his attack in a matter of seconds. He whipped around to find Bellatrix. She quickly bowed her head, cowed and visibly terrified. Guilt seemed to radiate off her in waves. She must not have realized that Snape was lying, although Draco was almost certain he was.
“Very well,” said Voldemort, narrowing his eyes. He turned back to Snape. “In the future, Severus, excuse yourself when I deliver Draco an order. I intended him to carry this one out himself.”
“Yes, my Lord. It won’t happen again, I assure you.”
Voldemort considered him for a few more moments before addressing the rest of his Death Eaters. “We’re finished here. You may go. Bellatrix, Yaxley— to the dining room. We need to reconsider our plans at the Ministry.”
The Death Eaters filed out of the room, assiduously avoiding eye contact with the two remaining Malfoys.
Nagini reared up her head as Voldemort prepared to leave, communicating to him in a series of insistent hisses. His reply must have not been to her liking, because she slithered out of the room angrily, knocking over a chair as she left.
“I’ll allow you to bury him,” he said, fixing his cold gaze on Draco and Narcisssa. “A gesture of goodwill to the new head of the Malfoy house. Don’t disappoint me, Draco.”
His mother crossed the room as soon as they were gone. She stood over her husband’s body, white as a sheet. “We’ll have to bury him quickly. I’ll have Tinsley fetch some wood I can fashion into a coffin. It’s not ideal, but it’ll have to do.”
Draco watched her numbly. She was in shock, he thought. He probably was too. But the adrenaline coursing through his veins was quickly giving way to a cold sense of horror and dread.
“We’ll have to order the headstone later. There’s a good place in Surrey I can commission.” She drew in a rattling breath. “You did well, Draco. What matters is that you aren’t hurt.”
He moved besides her to stare down at his father. He could feel it— the wave of grief cresting beneath his skin. He was about to drown in it.
She looked up at him. “You aren’t hurt, are you?”
He met her eyes. “Mother,” he said.
Her carefully controlled features contorted a few times before the wave finally claimed her. She wailed loudly into his robes as he held her. They sank onto the floor together, weeping, shaking and clutching at Lucius’ body as though it might bring him back.
Draco dug furiously at the snow. He took care to not strain his back, but he moved more quickly and lifted more snow at a time. The dull humming in his muscles increased to a sharper burn, and the handle of the shovel ground against his palms as he bore the heavier weight. The seizing and aching only made him push himself harder. The pain helped him focus. It helped him forget.
He hadn’t thought about Penelope in ages. He hoped that she was at peace, wherever she was. He hoped that she forgave him.
As for his father— he couldn’t think about him right now. He buried him in his mind as he unburied the snow.
“Wow!” Roger gave him an approving nod from across the driveway. “You’ve really got the hang of it, haven’t you? You’re putting me to shame!”
They finished less than 10 minutes later, thanks in large part to Draco’s increased efforts. After scraping the snow off the rental car, Roger typed a code in a small black box affixed next to the garage door. It opened with a groan and they headed inside, their boots squeaking with moisture. They set their shovels by the door.
“After you,” said Roger, gesturing to the door.
Draco didn’t move.
“Did you ever come to peace with it?" he found himself asking. "Being on poor terms with him when he died?”
Roger glanced at him, but he continued to stare straight ahead.
“I did,” he said at last. “But it took years. I didn’t forgive myself until I became a father.”
Draco turned to look at him. "Why?" He knew he sounded desperate, but couldn’t find it in himself to care.
Roger considered for a moment. “It was only then that I was certain he had forgiven me. “
“I see," said Draco. But he didn’t see at all. He didn’t dare to presume his own father had forgiven him for the terrible things he had said.
He would give anything to be able to tell him that he was sorry. For letting him go. For being so cruel. He’d tell him that although he’d die angry at him, he’d die loving him, too. He blinked rapidly, fighting down the bitter disappointment in his throat.
Roger studied him, his gaze as searching as ever. “There’s nothing Hermione could do to stop me from loving her. Forgiving your child for whatever they do or don’t do to you— it’s a given.”
Draco nodded and looked away, swallowing thickly.
“You’ll see when you have children of your own one day. And you’ll be damned before you make the same mistakes.”
Children of his own.
Although Draco found the notion of fatherhood more than mildly terrifying, there was something about the thought of having children with Hermione that cut through his grief like a hot knife.
Their children would not experience the same pain and trauma they had. They would make sure of it. They’d smother them in love and protection and comfort and everything good they had to give. They’d be half-bloods, but there’d be nothing dirty about them. They’d soothe the wounds and mistakes in his family line as surely as loving Hermione had healed him.
He hoped they would buck the Malfoy family tradition and look different than he did. To remind them that they weren’t their father, just like he wasn’t his. Unfortunately, he was convinced that one of his more primeval ancestors had enchanted the family’s genes to ensure that they were dominant, at least when it came to physical appearance. But with any luck, Draco thought, their children would at least have her eyes.
Thanks to a different spell from another one of his more primeval ancestors (or perhaps the same one), they were guaranteed to have a son as their firstborn. But maybe they’d have a daughter one day, too. After all, Hermione had said she wanted more than one.
“So they’ll never be lonely,” she'd said. “Like you or I were growing up.” Draco had agreed with her at the time. But whether they ended up having one child or an entire Quidditch team, he’d be damned if any of his children were ever lonely.
He’d like the name Penelope for a girl, he thought. They could always give her a constellation for her middle name.
His cheeks burned at the sudden realization that Roger was still watching him, waiting for his reply. He cleared his throat. “Thanks, Mr. Granger. I appreciate… everything.”
“Thank you for helping me shovel,” said Roger, clapping his shoulder. “Now let’s get you out of these wet clothes so you and Hermione can go to the store.”
As he stepped inside and shucked off his boots, it occurred to Draco that he quite liked his future father-in-law.