“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”
Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1
Failure. It rang in Draco Malfoy’s ears, coursed through his veins. It shook his hands as he gripped his wand, running and running.
Had it really happened? Had he really just watched Dumbledore’s lifeless body fall out of the astronomy tower window? It had all gone to plan and yet it hadn’t at all.
“Let me help you.”
Failure. His wand hand shaking, tears collecting in his eyes.
“I don’t need your help!”
“I was chosen for this!”
Snape crusading in and taking over. Saving his life and taking another’s.
Bellatrix, The Carrows, and Greyback celebrated, leaving a wake of destruction in their path. Hogwarts has never been a place he called home, but it had always been a place where he felt safe. Now he felt nothing but despair as he took in the new state of Hogwarts. What once was warm was now a dull, cold grey.
Their party continued outside, fleeing the scene. Draco swallowed, bile rising in his throat as the thought about Dumbledore’s broken body lying somewhere on the grounds. They would find him soon, they would all know.
Then he saw it. The bloody Dark Mark in the sky above the Astronomy Tower. He had caused this. He had allowed this to happen, and he hadn’t even been successful at it. Every doubt that Draco ever had spilled to the surface, choking him. Draco was frozen in place, when Snape spoke.
“Apparate Draco. Disappear and don’t come back.” Snape pulled at his arm. Bellatrix was too busy burning things to the ground and shattering windows to notice them. Her raven curls bounced in the orange light as she shrieked with delight.
The heat was stifling even in the night, and the fire only made the heat thicker. Bellatrix had set the oaf’s house alight. Somewhere behind them, he could hear Potter’s frantic shouts.
“He’ll kill you, Draco. That was always the plan.” Snape said, redirecting his attention. His dark eyes burned into Draco’s, willing him to listen. Willing him to run. It was all too much, sensory overload. Draco couldn’t even catch his breath.
“You can’t go home, and you can’t come back here.” Was it just him, or was Snape’s voice echoing?
Failure. Failure. Failure.
He couldn’t do the one task The Dark Lord assigned him. All he had ever wanted, the glory the greatness, restoring honor to the Malfoy name, it had all been right there within his reach. And he hadn’t had the spine to do it.
“Draco.” Snape snapped, and for the first time he truly saw his mentor. Truly grasped the meaning behind his words.
“You have to go. Stay in hiding, change your name, live a new life. But stay gone. Draco Malfoy is dead.” He noticed the way Snape winced as he said it, caught the dread in his eyes.
“Must never know. It is the only way he won’t come looking for you.”
“No! I won’t do it.”
Draco jumped when a large peal of shrieking laughter from Bellatrix broke through their conversation.
“Then you’ll never live. You defied the Dark Lord, Draco.” Snape grabbed his shoulders. “He’ll hunt for you. Make an example of you.”
The choice weighed on Draco’s heart heavily, and not for the first time, he realized that he had no other options.
But no! Draco would be The Dark Lord’s puppet no longer. Malfoy was once a proud name, for proud people. It would be that way again. No longer would Draco Malfoy be a coward.
“Let him.” Draco said, jutting his sharp chin defiantly. He watched his favorite professor’s face fall, and then he apparated.
When he was a boy, Draco’s mother would sweep he and his father away for weekends in Paris. They had a summer home there, and Draco had always preferred its warmth to the coldness of Malfoy Manor.
The lawns were expansive and always an unnaturally lush green. The large window allowed afternoon light to spill in golden waves over the heavy stones. The smell of Narcissa’s roses fragranced the entirety of the estate.
His family was happy there. The cruelness of his father would subside, and his mother’s scowl would soften. They could almost be a family there, away from the expectations and stress of being the last of the Malfoy name.
It was the first place the Death Eaters would check once The Dark Lord put the price on his head. Draco knew this as he crouched in the giant well-maintained shrubs. He yearned to stay there in this fantasy house and pretend that everything was fine and he hadn’t just lost everything but the clothes on his back. But he couldn’t.
Quick as lightning, Draco casted a protego charm and ran to the giant doors. He had little time to waste before they arrived. The victory of Dumbledore’s death would not satiate The Dark Lord for long; it would only pique his blood lust.
Never once had Draco prepared to run. He had dreamt of it several times in the last few months. Dreamt of just disappearing into nothing and starting over, but he was a Malfoy. He had been scared shitless, depressed and anxious, but even so his pride had never let him consider running as an option. His father had dampened the name, and Draco was determined not to bring it to further ruin.
And then he had done exactly that. Shame hit him hard as he scrambled through the mansion to his bedroom. There would be clothes there, things for him to take. There was money in the safe, hopefully. He’d have no access to Gringotts now.
In a flurry of hurried movements and charms Draco packed. Clothing flew from his closet and dressers onto his bed. How would he be able to carry as much as he needed with him? He racked his brain until he remembered a snippet of something he’d read once. Perhaps it was for Charms class, or maybe it was some personal reading that had caused him to stumble upon the undetectable extension charm. Regardless, the spell would do the trick.
Draco summoned the black rucksack in the back of his large closet. No longer his closet, he reminded himself. He had lost his rights to call this place a home. There was a sting of tears in his eyes that he blinked back. Draco didn’t have time for crying.
He threw clothes in at random, letting the thought that he could always transfigure them comfort him. Normally, Draco was a meticulous packer, now he was just hoping for the best. Shoes, socks, underwear, toiletries, everything went into the bag. What else would he need?
Draco did a quick sweep around the room, and his eyes caught a nearly imperceptible movement. It was a photograph of his family. Draco was young, maybe 13, when it was taken. Just a boy, with no idea of what was to come. Picture Draco raised his chin haughtily and smirked at the camera, content with all the dealings of the world.
A lump formed in Draco’s throat as he gazed at his parents. Narcissa Malfoy stood tall and proud, elegant as ever in her emerald dress with her arm linked through her husbands. She smiled ever so slightly at the camera, but her eyes betrayed the depth of her happiness. Lucius was puffed like a peacock, preening with his silver-blond hair tied back. Every so often Picture Lucius’s eyes would dart over his family, as if to make sure they were still there.
With shaking hands, Draco tore the picture from its place on the mirror. He had haphazardly stuck it there so long ago. He was more sentimental than he liked to admit, and leaving this photograph behind would be like leaving his family all over again. He simply couldn’t do it.
Draco went to his large oak shelves and picked out a few books. It was stupid really, taking books that one would read for pleasure at a time like this, but he had the room in his pack and he didn’t want to leave them behind. He paid little attention to the titles on their spines as he sent them flying into the bag. It was only the book on his nightstand that he paid attention too.
It was a copy of Hamlet, and his favorite book. He let his fingers trace over the inscription in the front from his mother, but he couldn’t bring himself to read it. Not now, not after everything.
Draco stuck the photograph into the front of the book, and then packed it away. He had to move on to the safe.
The safe was in his father’s personal study. Draco had only been allowed in here once, when he was a boy. It had seemed huge and regal to him then. Now it was an empty reminder of everything the Malfoy’s had lost.
The portraits of his relatives on the wall blinked at him with interest. His father’s portrait questioned him.
“Draco?” He asked.
Draco paid it no mind as he went to the safe. It was charmed to blend into the walls, unless a Malfoy was there. The safe wavered into focus, and it opened at Draco’s touch.
Piles of gold coins and jewelry flashed at him. He left the jewelry, it would give him away to try and sell it on the streets. He swept pile after pile of coins into his pack, until the safe was bare.
“Why, Draco?” His father’s portrait asked him.
He knew the question was aimed at his stealing, but Draco couldn’t help but read into it further. Why couldn’t he have done it? Why did he bring such shame to their family? Why was he running like a coward?
“I’ve ruined us.” He said, honestly. Draco turned to the portrait, and met the stern gaze of his father.
“And now you run like a coward?” His father snarled. Anger and fear rose in Draco, as it so often did when his father was around. Poisonous words stung his lips, and he wanted horribly to yell at Lucius. To remind him who started this, but his father had beaten respect into him early in his childhood.
“I have no choice.” He said, shoulders slumping.
“There’s always a choice, Draco.” Lucius said. “What do we do to our enemies?”
Draco’s heart pounded as he remembered what his father was referencing.
It had been here in this very room, so long ago. The only day he had been allowed in his father’s study. Lucius had called on him to discuss another failure.
“Did you manage to befriend the Potter boy like I asked, Draco?” Lucius had drawled, cape swishing behind him.
“No, father. He’d much prefer to spend his time with bloodtraitors and mudbloods.” Draco had spit. The wound of rejection was still fresh, and still something young Draco considered pout worthy.
Lucius had smacked him then, hard. Hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
“You have failed us, Draco. And what if he is to be the next Dark Lord, and we are out of his favor?” Lucius’s cold eyes had pierced into Draco’s.
“He isn’t father! He’s no Dark Lord. He’s....noble?” Draco had tried to make it sound like an insult.
Lucius smacked him again, but started pacing.
“We are rivals, Father. I hate him!”
Lucius thought on this for a moment.
“Draco, if it is as you say, then there is no hope for this boy.”
“None!” Draco had cried.
“Then that makes him an enemy. Do you know what Malfoy’s do to their enemies?” He asked, arching a brow.
“What?” Draco had asked wide-eyed.
“We destroy them.”
A clamor of voices outside, broke Draco’s memory.
“You know what you have to do.” The portrait of Lucius said.
“I do.” Draco replied.
“Check the rooms, see if he’s still here!” He heard Dolohov snarl. “The Dark Lord wants him alive.”
Dolohov was too close, and he could hear the others storming the home.
“I must go, Father.” Draco said, and with a final glance around the study, Draco apparated.
For once, he knew the answer. There was a choice, a way for him to reclaim all that he had lost. He had to kill Lord Voldemort.