Draco couldn't breathe, his jaw was locked tight together and a faint shiver ran the length of his body. He snapped his bedroom door closed behind him and fell back against the mahogany, closing his eyes and trying to temper his racing heart.
He was out of time and out of options.
He'd known, of course he'd known, that he would be in this position sooner or later. He'd hoped that maybe he would be granted a stay of execution and remain unseen by the Dark Lord. Unfortunately, like with a lot of things in his life, his hope was in vain.
It had been a year of Death Eaters coming and going as if Malfoy Manor were King's Cross Station. The Dark Lord's presence seeping into the air and casting terrifying shadows on the walls. Before the nightmare at the ministry he'd been relatively unnoticed, his parents had managed to keep him out of the Dark Lord's sight and off his radar until his father had been arrested.
His father was to rot away in Azkaban until the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters staged another breakout and his mother had more important matters to deal with than keeping Draco out of sight. She had her hands full with running the Manor, keeping the Dark Lord comfortable, not to mention the birth of his sister only six weeks ago.
Elladora Celeste Malfoy was unplanned to say the least and that was all the information Draco ever wanted on the matter. She was here now and with a healthy pair of lungs that required a strong silencing charm on any room she inhabited. It meant that his mother, who had been stressed before her arrival, was now drawn out to the last. Draco helped as much as he could with her but neither of them were able to escape the noticeable absence of Lucius Malfoy.
Lucius' absence and Ella's arrival had forced Draco into the forefront of his family, acting as both spokesman and messenger for his mother. And the Dark Lord had noticed. It was this that had led to the Dark Lord announcing he wanted an audience with him, Draco had done his duty and met with him in his father's appropriated study.
With little build up the Dark Lord had announced that Draco would have the great honour of joining his ranks; as a Death Eater. He'd told him of his plan, for which Draco would play an important role, a role in which he could prove himself and gain the favour of the Dark Lord himself. A role in which he would be both murderer and traitor.
He had felt himself begin to tremble before the Dark Lord had even finished, the colour was gone from an already washed out face and he had to grit his teeth to stop them from chattering. The plan was so out of his reach that he couldn't begin to comprehend it, he had been mean before, cruel even, but never someone so irreparably evil. As the Dark Lord divulged his plans Draco had felt his heart crumbling, his commitment to his family's cause right along with it.
He was a coward. He could not be the man Father wanted him to be and he knew in his heart he could not do what the Dark Lord was offering. He would never be able to have the Dark Mark tattooed on his skin, he felt nauseous even thinking of it, it had seemed to far away when it had only been etched into his father's skin. Now, at the idea of being so completely controlled by another person he knew he could never willingly go through with it.
In a numb shock he had said all the right things in response, he had promised to be a faithful servant and to see the Dark Lord's plans out to the end or die trying. It had felt so emotionless, his body seemed to be in a strange transit from health to hysteria and he just had to make it long enough to retreat to his room.
He had all but raced out when the Dark Lord had dismissed him, scarpered from the study and up the stairs all the way back to his room where he had closed and secured the door behind him.
Draco slid to the floor and rested his head on his knees, foggy and panicked he tried firstly to regain a normal breathing rhythm. He counted with his breaths like he was shown when he was little and let himself settle into a state of meditative peace. He just needed enough clarity in order to figure out his next step; whatever that was.
The way he figured he had three obvious options: 1. He stayed here and agreed to the mark, the plan and everything to do with the Dark Lord, wherever it led him and his family. 2. He refused the mark and simply hoped he lived to tell the tale. 3. He ran away and obliterated any hope of coming out of this thing with his family intact.
He scrunched his eyes closed and counted his breaths. None of those options sounded particularly good for his well-being, not to mention the effect on his family. His family who he'd probably not see again no matter which path he took, his hope at seeing his own family still standing at the end was fracturing with each breath in and out.
Draco feared he'd never see his father again. It would be a while yet before they could manage a break out and what would happen in that time? He would never succeed with the Dark Lord's plan; it was a fool's errand and busy work. Draco was sure no one believed that he could do it, he would only fail and be punished for it... maybe his mother and Ella as well.
And Ella, what about her? She was a tiny, innocent thing. Nothing had hurt or damaged her yet but seeing her in this place, surrounded by these people and Draco realised it was only a matter of time. Could he follow the plan and try and succeed, for her?
Even if he was willing, Draco knew he was not capable. He was a coward. He did not have the strength to actually kill someone. Childish pranks and meaningless nasty words were about all he was good for.
And that left running away as he knew his second option was not viable; there was no refusing the Dark Lord.
Where would he go? Back to Hogwarts and Dumbledore? They would never accept him as one of their own; he would be dried of information and let go to try not to drown. Into the muggle world? He would be found immediately and killed for deserting. He would have to survive where grown wizards had failed and he would have to do all of it knowing he was leaving his mother and sister behind for he knew in his heart his mother would never leave her home.
In all of his confusion only one path seemed doable. He would think about the consequences later but for now any hope of survival lay with Professor Dumbledore; he could not kill anyone and so the only solution was to shift his allegiance to the other side and hope for a better outcome than he was promised here.
Draco knew what he was going to do but he still couldn't move, frozen in place with thoughts of Ella and his mother.
The door handle behind him rattled and he flinched not expecting any visitors.
"Draco? Let me in, we have things to discuss".
Draco sighed softly in relief and lifted his head, once again his mother seemed to know what he needed more than he did. He needed to see her desperately and here she was.
Narcissa Malfoy swept in harried and anxious, her pale face pinched and her mouth turned down in a frown. She carried Ella close to her chest, fast asleep in her arms and a satchel over her shoulder. She stepped inside Draco's room, closed the door behind her and pulled out her wand.
Draco watched silently as she muttered spell after spell, he caught only a few words but it was enough to know she was protecting every inch of the room as best she could. From intruders to eavesdropper, they would be safe.
"Draco, sweetheart, we don't have much time," Narcissa said, smiling softly and brushing her fingertips over his cheek. "The Dark Lord has asked the impossible of you and now you have to leave".
"You know?" Draco whispered, his mother nodded.
"I told him you would be proud to serve him, to fill the place Lucius has left and that it would be my greatest pleasure to watch you succeed," Narcissa said, her eyes focused and intense.
"I can't do it, Mother, I thought maybe I could- to protect you and Ella- but I can't," Draco said, his voice trembling.
"I didn't think so, my love, no grown man has ever done what he's asking of you- he hasn't done what he's asking of you," Narcissa gave him a firm look, "this place is no longer safe and I won't have you here a second longer than necessary".
"To school?" Draco asked quietly, the unspoken question of 'to Dumbledore' thick in the air.
"Yes, to school," Narcissa confirmed, her voice not cracking or hesitating, "it is the only safe haven for you now".
"How? How do I even get there?" Draco asked, his voice thick with oncoming panic, "what if they don't believe me? What if they think I'm a spy? They'll never trust me".
"I have a way to get you to a safe house and in contact with him," Narcissa continued, "and you'll have a reason for them to believe you".
Narcissa looked at him carefully, studying the new lines on his faces and the deep bruising under his eyes. She reached out a hand and swept his hair back once more to tuck it gently behind his ear.
"You'll have Ella with you".
Draco stopped, frozen in disbelief.
"Mother, no. She has to stay with you," Draco replied quickly, his brain still trying to catch up, "I can't look after her, I have no idea how".
"You'll do just fine because you have too," Narcissa said softly but with resonance, "if you are no longer safe here than neither is she, I won't put another child of mine in the path of danger. And whether we believe in him or not the Dark Lord is dangerous, he will not be careful of her life and so I will have her with someone who is".
"I don't know what to do," Draco whispered, his eyes set on Ella's sleeping face. He knew that his mother was right, he hadn't even considered taking Ella away but his mother was determined and if he was being completely honest with himself he would feel a lot better with at least one of them in his immediate space. He felt a little stronger knowing he was getting Ella out of danger.
"Come with us," Draco whispered, knowing her answer before she even said the words.
Narcissa smiled softly at him and said, "no, I cannot abandon this place. Even filled as it is, it is my duty to care for my home- your Father's home- in his absence. and besides, There must always be a Malfoy here who calls this place home, if I leave, the protections surrounding this place will dismantle".
"Wouldn't that be for the better?" Draco asked.
His mother shook her head, "this way the two of you will get a head start, if we all leave then the Dark Lord will know immediately".
"Oh..." Draco whispered. He knew in what she wasn't saying that she still felt she was in the right place. She knew enough to know that Draco nor Ella would never have a future here but she still needed to be on this side, whether because she was waiting for her husband to return or because of a long life of ingrained beliefs, Draco didn't know.
"Come now, we have things to do in very little time, take your sister and I'll pack," Narcissa said. She bowed her head and kissed her daughter softly on the forehead before very gently passing the infant over to Draco.
She felt heavier than before, her weight settling in his arms and in his heart. He was her protector from now on and he would have to get his shit together in order for her to be safe.
"How do I get out?" Draco asked. A wall was forming in his head, strong and sturdy enough to block out anything emotional for the time it took for them to escape.
"You can walk out," Narcissa said, "you are a Malfoy so you won't set off any alarms and if we time it right, no one will see you".
"I just walk out?" Draco asked, incredulous.
"You'd be surprised at what you can do when you don't involve magic," Narcissa said, "it is such and intricate part of all of our lives that no one ever thinks to do anything without it".
"Alright then," Draco said, trying to focus, "and where do we go? You mentioned a safe house?"
"You'll need to get there without magic, you still have the trace on you and any wrong move will have you either in front of the Wizangamot or the Dark Lord himself".
"I understand... but I don't know anything about muggles," Draco said tensely.
"Good thing I've done a little research..." Narcissa said with a grimace and outlined in great detail exactly what Draco had to do.
Narcissa Malfoy never said specifically where they were headed but she promised with a strained voice and an aching heart that if they reached their destination they would be safe. And far away from here.
Narcissa had left Ella with him an hour ago, she was sound asleep and wrapped in blankets, dressed for travel in the cool morning. It was 3am and the Manor was at its quietest, Narcissa said that it would be the safest time for them to leave.
He had only his own rucksack and Ella's satchel, his mother had informed him to drop both at once at the sign of any danger. He had enough clothes for maybe a week, Ella had more, but if they were going anywhere uncivilised they would be woefully unprepared.
Draco marked the time, took in a deep breath, and stood up from his chair. He went to the big bay windows and opened them up, the bags went out first and then he turned and picked up Ella from her place on his bed, cuddling her to his chest and wrapping the straps of her carrier over his shoulder so he could use both his hands if he needed too.
His wand in his pocket, he climbed up onto the windowsill and glanced back at his room. The four poster bed and green quilt, his Nimbus 2001 leaning in a corner, his schoolbooks and robes and the portrait of his family- back before Ella. It had been his home, his sanctuary. Maybe one day he would get to return.
Draco dropped gracefully from the window and straightened up, the rucksack and satchel slung over his shoulders and he pulled his wand from his pocket to hold it at the ready. With everything he needed he tread softly away from the Manor and up the long driveway without looking back.
His heart hammered the whole way but nothing out of the ordinary happened. He walked through the magical border to the property and kept going without making a noise. It was a long stretch of road and it took him the better part of an hour to walk it but when he reached the little muggle town he only sighed softly and went looking for the muggle communication device.
Draco eyed the 'telephone' warily but with Ella starting to fuss he picked up the receiver and dialled the number his mother made him remember.
"Hello," Draco said loud and slow, "I - need - a - cab!"
"Loud where you are, is it? Right now, you need a cab? Where are ye' and where're ya headed?" a voice replied down the line.
Draco jumped but steeled his nerves. This was no different than a firecall, he tried to tell himself.
"I'm in Wiltshire... I need to go to London," Draco said, lowering his voice and firming his tone.
"That's a long way, son, running from someone?" The man laughed uproariously, Draco narrowed his eyes and waited for him to be silent.
"I have the money," was all he replied.
"'Course, but for a trip like that we'll need it upfront," the man replied.
"Fine," Draco said.
"I'll send a cab to ye' now, where are ye'?"
"I'm out the front of a place called Roly's Fudge Pantry-"
"Ah, I know the place! Someone will be with you soon," the man said, finishing up just as Draco remembered the most important part.
"Wait! I'll need something with a baby seat," Draco said quickly.
"No problem, son, cab'll be there in a few, sit tight," the man replied, "have a nice day!"
Draco only had to wait 12 heart-pounding minutes for the cab to show up, the muggle woman driving offered him a confused but friendly smile and helped him get both himself and Ella situated in the back of the cab.
"Heard we're going to London, any place in particular?" she asked as she accepted the money Draco offered and peeled away from the sidewalk.
"King's Cross," Draco answered. She tried to engage him with more questions, asking about Ella and what he was doing in London, Draco only answered when he had to and finally silence fell between them and he was free to stare out the window.
Little more than two hours later and he was standing at a 'bus stop'. Ella had awoken half an hour before but now they were out of the cab and standing stationary, her face was pinching. Draco paced. He walked back and forth down the concrete stretch and waited, hoping Ella would settle and that Death Eaters wouldn't jump out from behind the bushes.
His mother had said that if everything went smoothly he should be at his destination before they even realised he was gone. His pulse was starting to rise with the sun, before it could get too out of control his bus rolled up.
An hour later and he was standing on another sidewalk. He knew by now his mother would be up and screaming that Ella was gone, that Draco's bed was empty. Hopefully her ploy worked and that the idea of Draco, uncertain and afraid, had stolen away his little sister and run for it, was believable.
He stared at the little cottage house with narrowed eyes. Was this really the safe place his mother had meant? This dinky little cottage with hedges and a rather tiny flowerbed seemed to be suited for the help rather than a safe haven for himself and his sister.
There was nothing for it though, he would have to knock on the door and give the owner his mothers letter. He'd promised her and he wouldn't go back on his word. Hefting Ella up so she sat more comfortably and squaring his shoulders he stepped up to the main gate and went to push it open.
A pulse ran from his fingertips through his whole body and he jerked back, blinking and wary. There was a magical ward around the property and a very strong one at that. He wasn't waiting for more than thirty seconds before a woman stalked out of the front door, robe over her nightdress and slippers on her feet. She was glaring intensely at Draco.
Draco, however, was quite quickly losing whatever grip on reality he had left. For a quick second, it was his Aunt Bellatrix and then she came into focus. She had lighter hair, kinder eyes and lines that must have come from laughing. But she was most definitely a Black.
"Aunt Andromeda?" Draco questioned.
Andromeda stopped and looked at him properly, Draco saw the moment she figured it out, her body froze and her eyes narrowed and anxiety flooded her features.
"What's happened? Where's Narcissa?" she asked abruptly, stepping forward but not making any indication she was going to let him onto the property.
"She's still at home," Draco said, meeting her eyes, "she gave me this to give to you".
He held out the letter but Andromeda shook her head, "put it in the mailbox".
When Andromeda had the letter in her hand a few moments later she opened it and read it carefully, ignoring Draco entirely. Draco watched her face as she read it, watched her mouth turn down and and the colour fade, but it must have been believable because soon enough the letter was placed back in the envelope and slipped into the pocket of her robe.
"Left arm out," she ordered.
Draco glared but did as he was told, he pulled up the sleeve and showed her his clean white skin. No Dark Mark. She nodded and her eyes finally studied him properly, setting down on the bundle in his arms.
"You'd best come in then," she said and pulled out her wand.
Draco stepped through the wards and followed her into the house. He could feel Ella moving and he braced her in his arms and held her tight to his chest. She'd been so good this whole trip, sleeping on and off for hours and waking only to be fed and to blink blearily at Draco before going back to sleep.
As they crossed the threshold of the little home Draco was hit with warmth and a smell of bacon, his stomach grumbled reminding him he hadn't eaten in hours. He followed his Aunt into what must be the kitchen where a middle aged man sat at the table, he looked up and frowned at Draco.
"One of your lot?" he asked Andromeda, she just nodded and gestured for Draco to take a seat. He was too tired to argue so he just did as he was told.
"Blimey, Dromeda, is that a baby?" the man gasped, going to stand and scraping his chair on the ground.
"Her name's Ella," Draco replied coldly.
"Ted, this is Draco and Ella... Narcissa's children," Andromeda filled in, "it seems they've found themselves in quite a bit of trouble".
"Is your sister OK?" Ted asked, looking to his wife and watching her carefully. Andromeda nodded.
"As OK as she's always been, I believe," she said, "not in immediate danger".
"I thought she only had a boy?" Ted asked, talking as if Draco weren't in the room.
"She did," Draco said tersely, "until she had a daughter. Seeing as my mother hasn't spoken to her sister since she betrayed her family and married a muggle. I assume Ella's birth notice was lost-"
"First rule of the house, nephew mine," Andromeda interrupted sternly and her tone so like his mothers Draco snapped his attention to her at once. "You will respect Ted and myself as much as you would your own parents, any blood purity shite and you'll be back on the street. Understand?"
Draco narrowed his eyes and stayed silent. He could argue and get turned out... or he could agree, for now.
"Fine," Draco huffed.
"If Ted and I are risking ourselves and our home to give you protection the least you can do is offer a little respect," Andromeda continued and Draco felt a flush crawling up his neck. "You are safe here for now but I need to go and inform Dumbledore- there's tea in the kettle and no house elves to get it for you".
With that his Aunt strode out of the kitchen and into another room, after a minute he heard muted chatter coming from her direction.
Draco was merely looking at the tea forlornly. He needed a cup, desperately, but the effort it would require to do it wasn't quite worth it. He sighed and slumped in his chair, jostling Ella and waking her up.
"Cup of tea, Draco? Spot of breakfast?" Ted asked. Draco looked up and saw Ted standing by the kettle, waving a mug at him.
"I'm perfectly capable of getting my own tea," Draco answered sharply as he got heavily to his feet. Ella weighed so much more after he'd been sitting down.
"Sit down, son, I'll get it. You look as if you've been ten rounds with a hippogriff," Ted waved him off as Draco barely contained a snarl. Was the muggle mocking him or was it a turn of phrase? Draco was too tired to try and puzzle it out.
As Ted made tea, Draco gathered Ella out of her carrier now that she was awake. He slipped the carrier off his body and dropped it to the floor next to his bags. One handed he tried to rifle through one of them to get Ella's bottle out but he struggled enough that he started to curse at the bag.
"Drink your tea, Draco, I'll get Ella her bottle," a voice said from beside him. He jumped but it was only his Aunt, she was still studying him intently and glancing between him and Ella.
Andromeda crossed her arms and gave him a look.
"We say thank you in this house when someone offers to do something for us," she said.
"I'll do it myself," Draco muttered darkly and went back for the bag.
"Fine," Andromeda echoed in the same tone. Draco felt rage flaring up his body until a soft laugh broke the tension.
"Ah, he reminds me of you, Dromeda! This should be fun," Ted said and got a withering look from both his wife and Draco. "Both of you sit down, Draco drink your tea and Dromeda, you're breakfast is getting cold. I'll get Ella her bottle".
And with that Ted went to work, he placed a mug in front of Draco that read 'I'm a fun-gi' and had a little illustration of a mushroom underneath it. Draco sneered but sipped his tea anyway. The only noise in the kitchen was of Ted moving around and readying Ella's bottle.
"How did you get here anyway?" Andromeda asked after the silence had gone from awkward to truly unpleasant.
"A cab, are you joking? Narcissa's son, a Malfoy, took a muggle cab?"
"And a muggle bus," Draco informed her snidely, "they both smelt and took far too long".
"I suppose you would have apparated? Oh wait, you can't and even if you could you would have been found immediately," Andromeda replied with a quick smile.
"I could have taken a broom," Draco shot back.
"Oh yes, a broom would have been the perfect way to get Ella ill".
"You wanted to alert the Floo network? I can go tell them now if you're so desperate for the ministry to know exactly where you are".
Draco swallowed, the ministry was still filled with Death Eaters and the Dark Lord's followers. He would be caught very quickly if they knew his whereabouts. Draco kept a stony silence.
"This was the only way to get you out safely and keep your mother guiltless," Andromeda said, her voice a little kinder.
"Quite right, Andromeda," said a soft voice from the doorway.
Albus Dumbledore had arrived.