Narcissa Malfoy was a proud woman. Or, at least, she used to be.
Born into the ancient and noble house of Black, the blood that flowed through her veins was among the purest in existence, and she was married to a man of equally high calibre. The combined fortunes of the Black and Malfoy families meant that they were one of the wealthiest wizarding couples in all of Britain. They were pinnacle of the social elite, ingratiated into all the most important circles while remaining superior to all those with whom they associated.
In addition, Narcissa was well aware that her appearance reflected her genetic perfection; she had unblemished pale skin, blue eyes, blonde hair and fine-boned features. She was the envy of many a witch and was not afraid to flaunt her beauty in her own dignified and poised manner.
On a normal day, Narcissa’s very presence commanded respect.
Today was not a normal day.
She stood in the shadows, doing her utmost to escape notice as the platform filled with more and more parents anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Hogwarts Express. The atmosphere was not the same as it had been in previous years. Usually, the imminent return of the boarding school students for the summer holidays evoked a mixture of joyful anticipation and half-hearted dread.
This level of desperation to see the children home safely had only been witnessed during one other period in history – the 1970s, when the Dark Lord had first risen to power. Now he had returned and the adults crowded onto this magically hidden platform at King’s Cross Station were terrified. Some of them paced, others held the hands of their partners in a white-knuckled grip, others simply stared at the as-of-yet vacant rail road tracks. All of them were frantic, wanting nothing more at this moment than to be reunited with their children and to whisk them off to the relative protection of their homes.
One might think that Narcissa, outspoken advocate of blood purity as she had always been and wife of a Death Eater as she had recently been revealed to be, would be less frightened than the rest of the parents. After all, it was well known that the Dark Lord favoured purebloods. Logic dictated that it was the Muggle-borns and half-bloods that had the most to worry about.
But Narcissa knew better. Yes, if the Dark Lord had his way those groups would be hunted eventually. But it was far more dangerous to be a follower of the Dark Lord who had fallen out of favour; worse, to be one who had failed him.
Never in all her darkest nightmares had Narcissa ever imagined that her husband would fall into that category. Lucius was always so careful to please and appease his master. He had been one of the most favoured Death Eaters, practically the Dark Lord’s right hand man. But fate had turned against him the night that he was assigned the task of retrieving the Prophecy from Potter at the Department of Mysteries.
At the time, it had seemed almost laughably easy. The Boy-Who-Lived was famous, true, but the fact remained that he was only fifteen years old. He and his little friends posed no real threat to Death Eaters who had trained and practiced in the Dark Arts for longer than the Potter brat had even lived.
Narcissa had felt no fear when her husband left on his mission. But he never came home that night and the next morning the newspapers were flooded with news of happenings at the Ministry of Magic. Foremost was the announcement that had shaken the wizarding world – He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned. Narcissa had already known that much; the Dark Lord had risen a year ago, but the idiotic politicians and reporters had failed to notice. That had suited the Dark Lord just fine for the time being and so her reaction to the news was instead fear of how he would respond.
But the worst was yet to come. She had continued reading and each revelation was like a blow to her stomach. Dumbledore had been there, he had fought the Dark Lord and the Dark Lord had fled. The Order of the Phoenix had somehow received warning about the attack and had come to Potter’s rescue. The Boy-Who-Lived still lived and the Daily Prophet assured the population that You-Know-Who had not managed to accomplish what he had set out to do. The details of the matter were classified for the average reader, but Narcissa knew it must mean that the Prophecy had not been retrieved. Lucius had failed.
Against her will, she found her eyes dragged onward, reading more, and then the final blow was delivered. A number of Death Eaters had been captured and were now imprisoned in Azkaban. Their names were listed.
Lucius Malfoy was among them.
At that moment, seeing his name printed in simple, stark, black words on white parchment, her world came crashing down around her ears. Life as she had known it was over.
And so it was that now she hid alone in the shadows, awaiting the arrival of her son with a feeling bordering very close to panic.
She had found to her surprise that she didn’t care about her lost social standing. She didn’t care that now, far from being respected, she was scorned and hated by most of the wizarding population. She didn’t care about the owls that had bombarded the Malfoy mansion, carrying letters and Howlers filled with insulting and hateful and abusive words.
Instead, she found herself realising that she only really cared about two things in her world – Lucius and Draco.
Her insides twisted with worry for her husband. He faced imprisonment in the hands of people who, in their fear, were liable to lash out at him. He faced a cold dark cell with no one but Dementors for company. And if he did manage to escape, he faced the wrath of the most powerful Dark wizard of the age. All the worse was the knowledge that there was nothing she could do to help him.
And then there was Draco. He was growing into such a handsome young man, looking a little more like his father every time she saw him. He was similar to Lucius in other ways, too. His confidence, his pride, his belief in pureblood superiority.
More than anything, she feared for him. She knew what was coming. She knew that it was only a matter of time before Draco would join the ranks of the Death Eaters, although whether it would be he or the Dark Lord who suggested it first she did not know. Draco seemed almost eager to receive the Mark, but Narcissa suspected it was more out of a desire to please his father than anything else.
But there was something that Draco would not realise. The Dark Lord was not a forgiving man. With Lucius in Azkaban, he could not exact his revenge on the follower who had failed him in person. So he would devise another method. And it would involve Draco.
The sound of an approaching train startled Narcissa out of her thoughts. Her head jerked up and she joined the other parents in waiting with bated breath as the Hogwarts Express slowly pulled into the station.
Everyone else would be relieved to see their sons and daughters. Not Narcissa. She seemed to recognise something that the rest of them failed to see – Hogwarts was safer. With Dumbledore as Headmaster, while the students were at school they were protected from harm. The Dark Lord would not admit it, but the old fool was the one wizard that he feared. He would not dare to attack Hogwarts castle when Dumbledore was still there to defend it.
It was now, with the children back for the summer holidays, that they were the most vulnerable.
Narcissa didn’t want Draco to come home.
She was usually a proud woman, but not this day. This day, she would have begged Dumbledore to let Draco stay at school for the holidays if she had not known what the answer would inevitably be.
Even so, as she watched the students begin their haphazard tumble out of the train and chaotic rush to greet their families, she began to realise that she was willing to do anything to protect her son. Maybe Draco couldn’t stay at Hogwarts. But there was still a chance that Dumbledore would be willing and able to help him through some other means, if she found the right way to ask. It was well known that behind those merrily twinkling eyes of his, there dwelled in him a dragon that would emerge at even the hint of a threat towards his students. Surely, even the son of a known Death Eater would be granted sanctuary if the need was dire enough.
A part of her couldn’t even believe what she was contemplating. Going to Dumbledore would mean betraying the Dark Lord. He would be even more furious than he was now and he would not be the only one. The Death Eaters would come after them. It was possible that even Lucius would be horrified by the decision she was about to make.
But she had to trust that Lucius would understand. She knew that her husband loved Draco as much as she did, even if he did not often like to show it. If it were a choice between serving the Dark Lord and saving Draco’s life, she hoped that Lucius would choose their son. Even if he would not, Lucius wasn’t here. Narcissa was. And it was her decision now to make.
She saw the Potter boy exit the train and noticed for the first time the group of Aurors and Order members that had come to meet him. She shrank back further into the shadows but found herself watching the group keenly. She thought that she should feel hatred for that boy; he had, after all, been the one responsible for her husband’s capture and imprisonment. At the moment, however, all she could think about was how it was a miracle that Potter was still alive.
Potter had grown up in a Muggle home. He didn’t stay at Hogwarts during the summer, or even with a wizarding family, but returned at the end of each year to that same Muggle house. And he was still alive. Harry Potter. The boy who, more than anyone else in the world, the Dark Lord longed to kill. Was always trying to kill. Would never stop trying to kill.
He was still alive.
Narcissa felt hope blossom within her. If Dumbledore could protect Harry Potter, who was at the top of the Dark Lord’s hit list, he could almost definitely protect Draco.
She made her decision. She had always wondered about Snape’s loyalty, never quite able to decide whether he was the Dark Lord’s or Dumbledore’s. She only knew two things for certain: he was the only person she knew who could go to Dumbledore on her behalf who had at least half a chance of convincing him, and he cared about Draco. Like Lucius, his affection was difficult to see because he was reluctant to ever let it show. But she knew.
She had to hope that affection would be enough and that Snape had been Dumbledore’s agent all along. If he was truly loyal to the Dark Lord, her life would be forfeit. But if she didn’t do something, Draco’s life would be forfeit. In the end, it wasn’t really a choice.
Eventually the crowd began to dissipate as each family hurried home and still Draco had not emerged from the train. Narcissa hadn’t thought that it was possible, but her concern hitched up another notch. Where was he? Surely nothing could have happened to him yet-
She caught sight of a flash of blonde hair exactly the same shade as her own when a figure toppled out onto the platform. Ignoring the fact that there were still people around to throw dark glares at her as she abandoned her place in the shadows, Narsissa ran toward her son.
“Draco?” she called as she approached.
The figure on the ground shifted in response, but she slowed as it came into closer view. It did not look like a person. It looked more like a... slug. A slug that had been hit by a powerful Engorgement charm and then a weak transfiguration spell cast by a wizard with barely more skill than a Squib who was trying to turn it into a human but only succeeded in giving it slug-like arms and legs. And then someone had stuffed it into a Hogwarts uniform bearing a small, Slytherin crest on the pocket.
She shook her head in flustered bemusement and continued forward. She was fairly certain, despite his appearance, that the figure was Draco. That hair was very distinctive and the uniform was specifically tailored as no one but a Malfoy could afford to have done. Last year, too, Draco had arrived home looking less than normal – hit, apparently, by a number of spells from different people as he had tried to simply have a cordial conversation with the Potter boy.
She suspected that something similar had happened this time. She felt a flash of anger banish her fear for a moment; she wished that the Dark Lord would curse the ones who had hurt her son like this into oblivion. The heated emotion faded, though, and she accepted that school children would often do stupid things. With the knowledge that Draco’s father was a Death Eater, the students had probably worried that he would try to harm them or the Potter boy and acted instinctively. She was still annoyed, but she could understand their desire to protect themselves and each other.
Wrinkling her nose ever so slightly, Narcissa knelt down beside her son. She pulled out her wand and performed a complicated series of spells to counteract what had been done to him. Gradually the slug came to resemble Draco’s usual appearance more and more, and finally he was back to normal.
Narcissa smiled down fondly at her handsome child and then pulled the expression back behind her mask.
“What happened this time, Draco?” she asked, standing and removing the dust from her robes with a simple flick of her wand.
Draco coughed, blinked blearily up at her and then bolted upright. “Mother!” His eyes searched around them wildly, likely looking for his assailants. “They attacked me!”
Narcissa had gathered that much. “And who exactly are ‘they’, Draco?”
The boy’s face creased into an angry scowl. “Bloody Potter and his stupid fan club!” His voice dropped to a growl. “I swear, if I ever get him alone he’s going to pay for this. And for what he did to Father!”
Internally Narcissa smiled at the passion she heard in Draco’s voice and the fierce loyalty behind it. Out loud, however, she admonished him with a quiet but firm, “Hush, Draco. This is neither the time nor the place to be heard ranting against the Boy-Who-Lived.”
Draco muttered darkly to himself but obediently said nothing more about Potter as they collected his trunk, made their way to one of the fireplaces which lined the platform and Flooed home to Malfoy Manor.
Absently, Narcissa wondered how Draco would react to her decision and resolved not to tell him until it was confirmed one way or the other what his fate would be. She couldn’t afford to let him choose for himself because she knew what he would do and she knew that it would get him killed. He would just have to accept that she knew what was best for him. She was his mother, after all.
As the car turned into Privet Drive, Harry felt the depression that had been pushing in at his emotions ever since the disaster at the Ministry finally settle over him like a heavy suffocating blanket. The presence of his friends had managed to keep it at bay for a while, but now it was the summer holidays. Ron and Hermione weren’t here. They couldn’t be, and truth be told Harry wouldn’t want them to be anyway. They were much happier at home with their families.
The thought didn’t even spark in him the brief flash of envy that it usually did. He couldn’t muster enough emotion for it. He was simply resigned. He didn’t have a family. He didn’t have a home. Hogwarts came close, but even it was hardly a place of sanctuary for him anymore. The universe seemed determined to strip that haven from him. It said a lot that Harry still wanted to go back there, even when it often presented him with possessed teachers, basilisks, disguised Death Eaters, evil toads in pink and annual life-threatening situations.
But it was better than here.
Nonetheless, here was where Harry had to stay and he was resigned to it now. Dumbledore had at long last explained; it was summer holidays with the Dursleys or death at the hands of Lord Voldemort. Perhaps this defensive measure was simply delaying the inevitable, since ‘neither could live while the other survived’ and Voldemort was by far the more experienced murderer. Harry wasn’t sure he wouldn’t prefer the final confrontation to staying here for the weeks that were required of him but he didn’t have a choice in the matter. The simple fact was that the wizarding world couldn’t afford to lose him right now. He was the only hope they had, the only person who stood half a chance of defeating Voldemort.
He couldn’t die yet. It would be such a relief, to give up the struggle and the fight, to surrender, to just let Voldemort win, succumb to the dark and join Sirius and his parents behind the veil. But he couldn’t. He had to put the needs of everyone above himself.
He could survive this. He had to. Everyone was relying on him.
“Out,” Uncle Vernon said tersely.
Harry hadn’t even noticed that they had pulled into the driveway of Number Four.
He shook his head slightly in an ineffective attempt to clear his thoughts and climbed slowly from the car. His uncle gestured curtly; Harry obediently moved to drag his trunk out of the boot. It was awkward and heavy but he knew better than to ask for any help, so he soldiered on until he finally managed to move it into the house.
“Cupboard,” Uncle Vernon snapped. “The stick, too.”
Harry’s head swivelled around to look at him in surprise, a protest forming on his lips. It swiftly died, however, when he saw the expression on his uncle’s face.
His spirits sank lower. He had known that it was a bad idea letting his welcoming committee at the station confront the large man. He had even tried to dissuade them, but he hadn’t tried hard enough. He should have. They had just made things worse.
Harry’s shoulders hunched ever so slightly and he lugged the trunk over to the cupboard under the stairs. He supposed he should be grateful that it was only his school things, and not Harry himself, that would be confined to the tiny space. Although it was possible that it would be safer in there.
Harry tried to take his time without being obvious about it, but all too soon the trunk and wand were stowed, the cupboard door was locked shut and he was forced to turn and face his uncle.
The vein on his forehead was pulsing dangerously.
“How dare you,” Uncle Vernon growled. “How dare you complain to other people about how you are treated here! How dare you enlist some of those freaks to threaten me! HOW DARE YOU!”
Harry didn’t try to duck away from the meaty fist that flew towards his face. It would only enrage his uncle further and somehow he just couldn’t muster the energy to try anyway.
Glasses shattered. Blood spouted from his nose. Pain blossomed in his cheek. His head snapped sideways but he remained standing. And he didn’t make a sound.
What was this, really, in comparison with Voldemort? Or the Cruciatus curse? It was nothing. Training, perhaps. Teaching him endurance, so the next time he faced torture at the hand of a wizard he would be better able to withstand it.
He bore it silently.
Uncle Vernon snarled and punched him again, this time in the gut. A year fed on Hogwarts food had provided Harry with a bit more cushioning there, so it didn’t hurt as much as it used to. He grunted but he didn’t crumple.
Apparently his uncle wasn’t happy with the way this discipline session was going because he swung a heavy leg and knocked Harry’s feet out from under him.
He hit the ground hard.
It wasn’t too different from the Leg-Locker curse, Harry decided. Of course, without the pillows that had always been present during the DA training sessions, his head cracked against the floor and his breath whooshed from his lungs. Still, if Voldemort were ever to use the curse on him there would be no more pillows than there were now. It was decent preparation.
Vernon kicked him in the ribs. “Worthless scum!” he spat. “Befouling my house with your freakishness, your abnormality! You are bloody lucky that we kept you, that we still keep you, after all the damage you have done to our family! And you have the NERVE to go running to those freaks with nasty tales about us? You DESERVE this, boy! And don’t you ever for a moment think otherwise!”
His uncle was right, Harry acknowledged as he felt a bone crack under the continued onslaught. He did deserve this. Vernon was the only person who seemed to realise who Harry really was – The-Boy-Who-Lived-to-Bring-Death-and-Destruction-to-Everyone-Around-Him. The death of his parents, Cedric, Sirius. The injuries of those who had followed him to the Ministry. The very return of Voldemort. No one in the wizarding world seemed inclined to place the blame where it belonged – squarely on Harry’s shoulders. But deep down Harry knew that he should be punished for destroying so many lives, harming so many people.
So he didn’t try to defend himself.
It would be pointless anyway. He had tried, once, emboldened by his escape from Voldemort and a dozen of his followers that night in the graveyard. Uncle Vernon and his belt had seemed petty and stupid in comparison and Harry had decided he’d had enough. He chose to fight.
He lost. Without magic, he had been nothing more than a scrawny fourteen-year-old kid facing up against a whale of a man. He had been foolish to even attempt it. He learned his lesson that day. And again, and again, in the days and weeks that had followed.
But now he didn’t even want to resist. He wanted this. He wanted to be punished. He wanted to feel the pain being bludgeoned into his body. It was well deserved. And it helped, in a small way, to ease some of the agony that was rending his heart in two.
Harry hadn’t noticed the moment when the blows ceased. He wondered, briefly, whether his uncle would continue if he simply decided to disobey and remain where he was. Maybe he would kill him. That wouldn’t be so bad. He could see Sirius again...
But no. Against his will, he found himself climbing to his feet. He wasn’t allowed to die yet. People depended on him.
He wobbled unsteadily, waves of pain crashing over him as his body protested the movement.
The form of Uncle Vernon towering over him was a dark blur with his glasses gone and his eyes swollen, but it didn’t really bother him. The beefy man wasn’t exactly a sight for sore eyes anyway.
“Bedroom,” Vernon snapped. “Now. No food. Tomorrow, I expect you to mow the lawn, weed the flowerbed, paint the fence, do the laundry and clean the house. If it isn’t finished by the time I come home from work, you’ll be sorry.”
Harry nodded, ignoring the headache that pounded all the harder as he did.
He would follow the instructions. Not doing so wasn’t worth it. This was how life was. He just had to accept that.