Summary: The Dark Mark should have been solution to all of his problems, should have been his reward and his acceptance and his glory. But now it was nothing more than a testament to his shame and his failure and his loss.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Title, Author and URL of original story: They Did What? by snorkackcatcher.
"... I think something a little more ... unobtrusive is necessary. Something that will also solve the communication problem that I have referred to.
I think the most suitable solution is a tattoo." -- They Did What? by snorkackcatcher
"Today you become a man, Draco. A true Malfoy."
His father was never wrong. That was the truth of the matter. And Draco would do this because he was a man. He would do this because he was a Malfoy.
This is true courage, he thought, staring into the blazing red eyes of the Dark Lord, feeling the muscles of his arm tremble as the wand drew closer. He hadn't failed, not really, because he was here, where he belonged. His father stood behind him, a hand on his shoulder as Draco knelt with his head tilted up, breath frozen as he waited, waited.
This was his reward. For the times his faith had been tested, for the moments his father had looked down on him in disappointment and shame, for the years that he had been considered only a boy, a cowardly boy with no destiny to speak of. Here was true greatness, and it was waiting for him.
He ground his teeth in his impatience. Only fear masked as respect kept him from barking at Voldemort. His destiny could wait no longer. It was his, his by right, by name, by blood. He would have it or die.
The wand touched the bare flesh of his forearm and bright, brilliant, burning pain sizzled from his fingertips to his gut to his head. And Draco thought, just for an instant, that it would be his destiny to die, after all.
Long moments ticked by and it wasn't until silence fell that he realised he had been screaming. The pain settled into a cold, throbbing ache that pulled him from his knees to the ground. And as he curled into a tight, foetal ball beneath a black sky (a boy, still a boy, as he always had been and would be for years to come), there was only one thought running through his head.
His reward hurt like hell.
There was blood everywhere. It decorated the walls, the floor, the furniture. It seeped into the stone and beneath his feet. And nobody blinked an eye.
Magic was cleaner than this. They were cleaner than this. Not barbarians like those filthy Muggles with their filthy Muggle weapons. There were prettier ways to kill and maim and torture, and Draco had learned many of them. But there was nothing pretty about this. Too much gore, and Draco felt the bile rise in his throat.
Bring them to me and I will show you death, Draco. It is your final test.
Life was all about death for the Dark Lord. Ending it, prolonging it, cheating it. He called them Death Eaters because they devoured death, dissected it, breathed it, lived it. But for Draco the name had simply been a name. Until he had become it. He had feared death for too long, as children often do. The death of a destiny he didn't have, the death of his father's love, his own death at the hands of Voldemort. But it was nothing compared to this, the reality of it, the ugliness and finality of it. They had toyed with it, twisted it and molded it into something it should never have been.
And Draco, who had lived, sheltered and worshipped within the walls of Hogwarts, whose only experience with violence had been passionate power-plays that called for humiliation and not death, whose only glimpse of it until now had been a still body, a pale face and blank eyes, could not fathom the morbid fascination with which Voldemort watched the blood dripping from the walls.
He turned sharply, his stomach in his throat, his feet ready to flee before his mind even considered doing so, and collided into the dark shape that was hovering behind him.
"This is your final test, boy," Lucius said, and Draco flinched. Boy. Not a man. Not yet.
His father stared pointedly at the tattoo decorating his arm, and his son heard what was never said.
No excuses now. No room for failure. You fail this and you fail me.
Draco swallowed, nodded grimly, and turned back to the gruesome sight before him.
Not a man. Not yet. But he would be.
"We do not run. We. Do. Not. Run!"
But Draco wanted to run. More than anything he wanted to run. This was more than blood, more than death. This was screaming and horror and terror, growing and twisting around him as he stumbled in his robes, his mask the only barrier between him and the dying.
He felt the lump forming in the back of his throat, the tears burning his eyes as words and concepts he had once been unfamiliar with spun through his thoughts. Slaughter and massacre and genocide and annihilation. Words only meant for books and school and pointless moral debates, sparking to life before his eyes. There was no room left for fear or hate or anger or faith or destiny or even death. Death was less than this, would always be less than this, never as strong as the fear of it or the desire for it. Death was not dying. Death was not this terrible agony eating into you, bleeding into you, dragging you into hell. No, never this. Here there was no peace to be had.
He fought, for the first time in his life. He fought tooth-and-nail to dig himself out of the chaos. In the distance he saw nothing but hills, empty and seemingly-silent, and he warred against every instinct that compelled him to flee.
No excuses now. No room for failure. You fail this and you fail me.
But what would it take to succeed? Death? Silence? Peace? Was that what it took to be a man? The ability to demand all three when he willed it?
He had passed the tests. Had stared the dead and the dying in the face. Had flinched only once, turned away only once. And he had walked tall with his father's pride holding him up, his honour and his bravery resting on his shoulders.
It was all crumbling to dust around him. His body felt heavy. Sickness rumbled in his gut. He felt the sobs catching his chest, stealing his breath, and he fought to clear his head. That was all he needed. A moment of silence, a moment of clarity, more time to think, less time to feel. He wanted to run and rest and wake up a man.
His legs were moving before he had even finished the thought. He heard shouting behind him, amidst the screams, but he ignored them.
He ran faster, arms pumping wildly, and the oily blackness of the Dark Mark blurred before his eyes.
He ran to the only person who would allow him to rest. Whether he deserved it or not, she would give it to him if he asked. And the compassion he had hated in her once (and still did, for reasons that were changing) would save him, if only for the night.
He knew where to find her. They all did. The Golden Trio were watched, day-in, day-out. One mistake was all they were waiting for; a weakness in their security, a predictability in their routine. Anything that could be used, manipulated, exploited or destroyed to bring them to heel. Even Draco himself had been sent to watch over them a time or two; another test, he figured. Know thy enemy.
And he did. He knew that Hermione Granger very rarely left her house after dark anymore, not since Death-Eater attacks had increased ten-fold in the last five months. He knew that despite the desperate pleading from both Harry and Ron for her to move in with the Weasleys, or into Grimmauld Place, she refused to leave her home behind. He knew she walked to work at the Ministry every day because she didn't like to fly. And he knew she walked back home, near dusk, with a resolute look on her face, as if determined to be unafraid of wandering the streets alone.
It was a predictability that they had tried to take advantage of on several occasions, with little success. She knew the danger of her routine and took the necessary precautions, seemingly unwilling to give up that small element of normalcy in her life.
He came crashing into that normalcy on two shaky feet, fists pounding at her door, body trembling and eyes streaming. The door was flung open and a wand thrust into his face before he even had a chance to call her name.
She took one long look at his face, at his mask, before her eyes fell to his arm resting against her doorframe, to the black stain that stood out, sharp and livid against his pale skin.
"Oh, Draco. What did you do?" she whispered.
What I had to, he wanted to say, but found it was perhaps not the truth anymore, if it ever had been. He scrambled for something to say, anything that she wouldn't recognise as a lie, but nothing came. There was only the silence he had been chasing all night. It vibrated around him, pounded in his head until he realised that no, no, it was his heart that was pounding, not the silence, filling his ears with the sound of rushing blood. His whole body seemed to be throbbing along with it, growing hotter and hotter as if his blood was boiling. And then it stopped, just like that, like a fever breaking, and everything went cold.
His vision turned black before he even hit the deck.
He woke up cold and wet. It was raining, he noticed, when his eyes fluttered open, but that hadn't stopped Granger from dumping a pan of cold water on him.
"I'm not inviting you into my home, Malfoy," she said, pan dangling from her right hand as she stared down at him. "I'm not that stupid."
"Please," he whispered hoarsely, closing his eyes against the pleading tone in his voice. A man didn't beg, did he? "I have nowhere else to go."
"What about your father? Your... friends?" Her lip curled against the word and he would have flinched had he had it in him to do so. As it was, her distaste barely registered. But her question sparked a different train of thought that made something ache inside of him.
What about his friends? Where were they? Had he even had them to begin with? His fellow Death Eaters were not friends, not really, more a twisted kind of family that he had worked so hard to be a part of. And now he was so close to losing it all. Had probably lost it the moment he ran.
But Draco was sure that he had never been as tired, as exhausted, as he was right now. He didn't know whether to scream or cry or sleep. He wanted to hurt something and he wanted to stop hurting, and neither was happening.
"Granger, please. I won't--I'm not--" He swallowed against the dryness in his throat. "Knock me out, take my wand, tie me up, anything, but I need--I need--"
I need to know there's more than this.
More than death. More than dying. More than being afraid. More than being just a boy, a boy who was beginning to see that maybe his father wasn't right all the time. Or maybe he was and this was all there was, all there would ever be. But that thought made him hurt in a way that made it hard for him to breathe, so he left it alone, let it drift away as his eyes drifted closed again.
There was a moment of silence and Draco could practically hear the wheels turning in her head as he stood over him.
And then, "I take you into my home, Draco, and there'll be no leaving unless I say so. No one in, no one out. My wards are beyond you and your people."
"Not my people," he said softly. Not my people. My family. And that's worse. His Dark Mark seemed to flare to life in response and he curled his fingers into a fist, willing it away.
She answered him with a sharp Stupefy, unnecessary considering he barely had the strength to move even if he wanted to, and floated him through the front door. He felt her wards squeezing around him, fighting against his presence, but then they snapped closed behind him, trapping him in. No more running. Not now. He had made a decision he wasn't sure he was in the right mind to make.
But exhaustion was pulling at him, stronger than ever, and as she settled him on her couch and pulled a blanket over him, he couldn't help but think that it was one of the best decisions he had ever made.
He burned. His arm was on fire, the Dark Mark trying to pull him to its Master. But Hermione's wards were an unexpected match for the dark magic and a war was being waged beneath his skin. It pulled him from his exhausted slumber and he jerked violently, body arching up from the couch, fingers clawing at the tattoo as screams burbled in his throat.
He didn't hear Granger approach. She slipped into his line of vision, wand already moving to rest against the Mark. He saw her lips move but heard nothing. And then the pain disappeared, leaving behind a dull echo in his bones. A sob escaped him before he could swallow it.
"A little trick we learned from Snape," she said softly, her wand resting by her side. He stared at her from beneath heavy lids.
Yeah. Didn't do him a whole lot of good, did it? He's still dead.
His mouth wanted to form the words, to spit them in her face just to see it fall. He wanted to make her hurt, just to see if he still could. But he had lost that privilege -- and yes, he had considered it his privilege, maybe even his right, to cause her pain once upon a time -- the moment the first please had escaped his lips. And how far he had fallen, to be begging at Hermione Granger's feet like a dog.
That was when he knew, really knew, that everything had changed. It was the first time he had ever bitten his tongue in front of a Muggle, and it made his stomach roll. Merlin, he missed Hogwarts. He missed the days when inflicting pain called for a sharp tongue and not a Cruciatus curse, when the name Draco Malfoy invoked awe and fear simply because of who he was, who they knew he was going to become one day. Becoming it had been easy. Being it... was not.
But there was no going back now. He had stared death in the face and death had stared back. And that trite little sentiment tripped through his head like it meant everything in the world.
The truth of the matter was that Draco Malfoy had stared reality -- his reality, the one he had fought to be a part of for so long -- in the face and had not liked what looked back. He was not brave enough, had never been brave enough, to accept it as his. And there was no other reality waiting for him, not one that he could fathom or imagine or hope for. Because how could there ever be more than this?
And then, just to prove him wrong, just to prove that there were two sides to every damn coin, Harry Potter popped into existence and rammed his wand into Draco's face.
Draco found some things never changed. He was still fairly capable of spitting out Potter's name with the same degree of malice and mockery he had used at Hogwarts, and the thought cheered him.
But he had to give Potter his due. He did a fair job of spitting Draco's right back at him, except he couldn't quite hold the questioning tone in his voice.
"Potter. A pleasure as always."
The smooth formality of his voice was new. Too many nights spent listening to to the sibilant tones of the Dark Lord had had its effect. As a Malfoy and a Death Eater he had learned what it was to speak with diplomancy. Acting upon it, however, was a different matter entirely.
Harry's green eyes, no longer covered by glasses, narrowed in his direction. "What are you doing here, Draco?"
More than anything he wanted to sneer and snipe at the Golden Boy as he would have done years before. But then he caught his own reflection in the mirror hanging above the fireplace, saw a boy staring back at him, pale and trembling and no longer brave, and his anger vanished in a way it never had before. In Hogwarts his rage had ridden him hard, relentless and consuming. His temper had been short and everlasting. And exhausting.
Draco was tired of feeling exhausted.
"I... need your help," he said quietly, and the words settled heavy on his chest. There was no relief in his confession. He wasn't even sure it was the truth. Because if it was the truth, then that meant he was in trouble. And he definitely wasn't ready to figure that out yet.
Harry blinked at him. He looked confused for a split-second, then shocked, and then, finally, suspicious.
"Are you taking the piss?"
"No," said Draco, shaking his head, his gaze catching sight of his arm, now an angry, swollen red as if the Dark Mark had been burned into his skin. But it had burned much deeper than that, he knew. It should have been the solution to all of his problems, should have been his reward and his acceptance and his glory. But now it was nothing more than a testament to his shame and his failure and his loss. A constant reminder, no matter how far he ran. Or who he ran to.
After a long moment, Harry finally nodded and lowered his wand. "Okay, Draco. I'm choosing to believe you on this, though Merlin knows why I should. But this doesn't mean I trust you, that any of us trust you. You can't come in here wearing that--" he indicated the Dark Mark with a nod of his head "--and expect us to give you the benefit of the doubt."
"And this isn't Hogwarts. Nobody's gonna be doing you any favours. Your daddy isn't here to protect you. Neither is Snape."
"I know, Potter, okay?" Draco hissed. "I don't need reminding."
"Tough. You're going to get reminded of it every day."
Like he hadn't already. No, this definitely wasn't Hogwarts and his father wouldn't be going out of his way to protect him this time. He had betrayed the Malfoy name and that wasn't something that was easily forgiven.
But could he do this? Leave it all behind because he had made one bad decision in the heat of the moment? If he were to return home now, would his father see him on the street? Or would Voldemort see him dead first?
He looked down at his arm again. Would he one day regret his decisions the way Snape had? Would he end up the same as his mentor, dead at the hands of the Dark Lord?
He shuddered at the thought. It was a distinct possibility, whichever choice he made.
He realised then that he had never stopped being afraid. Not really. Maybe he really had believed it was his destiny to die, just not here, on this side of the war, fighting for a cause that wasn't his own. But if had learned anything in the last few years it was that death was not the worst his world had to offer.
Here, at least, there was a small chance at peace.