Summary: Draco had choices to make.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Spoilers and/or Warnings: through DH.
Title, Author and URL of original story: The Prince and the Lamb by lyras
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
When the Dark Lord took over, it was supposed to make things easier for the purebloods, especially those on his side. Especially the Malfoys. It was supposed to be the Muggles and the Mudbloods learning their place, which was completely outside the wizarding world, or at best, as the slaves of their betters. It was supposed to be an end to the fear and the hiding, with the purebloods -- especially the Malfoys -- taking their rightful places as the rulers of society. It was supposed to mean Potter, humiliated and degraded, learning to recognise his own place, at the feet of the Dark Lord. And the Malfoys.
Instead, the Malfoys who had worked for this cause for so long were one step away from disgrace. Lucius failed, and was sent to Azkaban, causing the Dark Lord great inconvenience, though not quite as much as that diary episode. Draco failed, and as punishment his screams rang out through the halls of his family home, screams from a Cruciatus curse used on him when he was supposed to be the one using it.
Narcissa alone hadn't failed, but, Draco thought, that might have been only because the Dark Lord had never tasked her with anything more strenuous than housing him. As if that wasn't strenuous enough.
But no! Draco shook his head, trying to dispel his almost treasonous thoughts. He had chosen this life himself. He had been offered other choices, and chose this.
He chose to watch his father humiliated as the Dark Lord took his wand and taunted him in front of the other Death Eaters. He chose to watch his mother be reminded of the Mudblood-loving sister she had been denying existed for longer than Draco himself had been alive. He chose to listen to the Dark Lord's barbed words and be constantly reminded that, contrary to his dreams of glory, he was sitting at that table not as a loyal follower in triumph, but as a terrified follower with no where else to turn and now no choice but to sit there and listen and hope the Dark Lord was in a magnanimous mood.
Draco looked at Snape, sitting so calmly at the Dark Lord's side, his hands hidden in his lap. But Snape did not acknowledge him, and Draco swallowed and turned away.
Words echoed in his mind -- his own voice, asking, What do we do now?, and Snape's replying, We try to keep you alive.
Snape had seemed as if he'd cared, then. Running away from Hogwarts, from the Astronomy Tower, and from the body of one of the greatest wizards ever known, Snape had seemed like he'd cared about Draco, and all Draco had wanted was for Snape to tell him what to do.
But it was Draco's choice, and he'd made it, and now Snape was as cold as if that conversation had never happened, and he'd never cared at all.
When the Dark Lord took over the Ministry, things did not suddenly become better.
Draco, when he was younger, had always had this picture in his mind of what the wizarding world under the Dark Lord would look like. For one thing, the Dark Lord had never looked like a snake. He would have been handsome, charismatic -- how Draco's father had long described him.
Cheers would have rung out through Britain's wizarding population, with all the proper wizards -- meaning purebloods and maybe a few virtuous half-bloods, like Snape -- exulting in their new freedom, triumphant about the restoration of wizarding ideals that the Dark Lord had long espoused. Wizards would walk the streets in proper robes, doing magic whenever they pleased, no longer hindered by the need for secrecy.
And the Malfoys would be at the Dark Lord's right hand, his trusted aides, with nearly as much power and prestige as the Dark Lord himself.
Instead, Draco noticed as August ripened, magic was still kept secret. Some wizards were jubilant at the new state of affairs, but many seemed to have drawn into themselves, walking hunched over as if afraid to garner attention, wearing drab colours, with pinched, nervous looks on their faces. Draco walked through Diagon Alley, school shopping for the last time, and couldn't help but be struck by the atmosphere of fear.
Once, he would have gloried in that fear, knowing it for proper respect. But now, he found, it only infected him. Instead of dawdling and enjoying the Alley as he normally would, his pace hurried until he had nearly finished his shopping in half the time it usually took him. When he took the time to think about it, though, he wasn't sure why he was moving so quickly. It wasn't like home was a place of safety for him to return to.
His feet took him to his last stop, the apothecary, but on his way in, someone bumped into him on her way out.
"Watch where you're going," he snarled, not even sure who it was except that the person was slightly shorter than him and probably another student. Someone safe to snarl at.
The person raised her head and blinked. "Sorry," she whispered, then pushed past him.
For some reason, Draco turned to watch her go. He remembered her now -- not her name, but that she was a Mudblood in Hufflepuff. She probably wouldn't have heard the news about the new regime, immersed in the Muggle world for the summer. She must have caught the atmosphere in the Alley, but she was still here, doing her shopping. She couldn't have realised it wasn't safe to return to school.
Draco opened his mouth to shout after her, to warn her, but closed it and turned back to the door without saying anything. It didn't matter whether or not he warned her. She would find out by September first anyway.
School was nowhere near the same.
Well, some of it was. Probably nothing could change Professor McGonagall, except by making her stricter, and Professor Flitwick was only slightly more excitable.
Hagrid, the stupid oaf, was always visibly angry, though at least some among the teachers had the sense to keep him quiet. Otherwise, the rest of the teachers went on teaching. They, too, seemed more nervous than before, but their behaviour was always professional, as if determined not to display any weaknesses.
But school was still forever different, because instead of the great chair at the head table being occupied by Professor Dumbledore, Snape sat there. The first time Draco saw Snape in that seat, at the Sorting ceremony, Snape had had an oddly shuttered look on his face. After the Sorting, however, that look never reappeared. Snape sat as calmly in the headmaster's chair as he had at the Dark Lord's right hand, as if those seats were his by right and it was no big deal to claim them.
Still, Draco remembered what Snape had said to him, after taking over what had been Draco's task and doing it so much better than Draco ever managed -- after killing the man in whose chair he now sat.
I have served two masters since before you were born...
Sometimes, Draco thought he imagined that conversation. Draco knew, of course, that Snape had been a double agent, spying on Dumbledore for the Dark Lord and occasionally granting the old fool bits of information to keep him busy.
He served two masters. Himself, yes, as any true Slytherin would, but Draco was a Slytherin too. He understood nuances that would escape a Gryffindor.
If Snape had only ever served the Dark Lord, then Dumbledore could not have been his master, because it was under the Dark Lord's order that Snape enter Dumbledore's employ and serve as spy in the ranks of the Light. Snape would have paid lip service to Dumbledore, but ultimately, his true master would have been the Dark Lord.
Had Snape implied that his service to Dumbledore had been as true as his service to the Dark Lord? Draco wasn't sure. Certainly, he had suggested that Draco and his mother throw themselves to the mercy of the Order of the Phoenix, and could he have even suggested that had his allegiances been purely to the Dark Lord?
But Draco had not been able to leave his family, even just his father, behind. And so he and Snape had returned to the Dark Lord, been punished and rewarded respectively, and went on with their lives. Snape became the Dark Lord's most trusted follower, was appointed headmaster of Hogwarts, and never showed any sign of dissatisfaction in the path that Draco had chosen for both of them.
In fact, he never showed any sign at all that the conversation had even happened, that he had ever offered Draco a choice.
Sometimes, Draco thought he simply imagined it, though something in him knew he hadn't. But he still wasn't sure what to think of that conversation, and tried to forget about it.
In the conversation-that-maybe-happened, Snape had warned him that if he returned to the Dark Lord, he would be forced to commit murder. He may have failed when it came to Dumbledore, but he knew that the Dark Lord would not permit more failure.
When Draco had gotten that next assignment, an easy one for the younger members, a simple raid on a Muggle village, he'd dreaded it. Yaxley went with them, to oversee things, and to make sure, Draco knew, that this time he managed to kill.
But before they'd left, Draco had felt sick with dread. Could he kill someone? Could he really? Could he look into a person's eyes, listen to someone's voice, and forget that he was snuffing out a human life? Of course, they were only Muggles...but they looked so human, sounded so human. Could he look at another human being and deliberately kill that person?
More to the point, could he ever look at a person he was about to kill without remembering wise, kind blue eyes, and a gentle voice trying to persuade him not to do it, not because the person didn't want to die, but because they didn't want Draco to become a murderer?
Draco found out that yes, he could. The Muggles screamed and cried and fainted, and whenever Draco's eyes tried to see Dumbledore, the image dissipated before it could fully form, and all that was left in front of him were Muggles, bleating like sheep and howling like dogs. He slaughtered them.
Killing became easier, and torturing, too, but it was only Muggles. He was still afraid of failure, but managed to keep going anyway.
Now Amycus Carrow stood in front of him and demanded he turn his wand against another student. Another wizard. Another pureblood. Given the student he was supposed to be punishing, it should have been easy.
Except Neville Longbottom no longer acted like the Muggle he had seemed the previous years. He didn't scream, didn't cry, didn't plead, didn't run away.
"Longbottom has been very disrespectful," Carrow said with relish. "Malfoy, teach him some respect."
But Longbottom was no longer the pale pudgy boy it was so fun to torment. He stood there stoically, as if he didn't even care that he was about to get tortured. Tortured by the same curse that drove his parents mad, even.
It made Draco angry. How could Longbottom -- Longbottom! -- have gotten like this? So much a damn Gryffindor. He was so strong, and Draco felt so weak, and he hated it.
"Respect, huh?" Draco drawled. "I don't know, Professor. He's got a pretty thick head. The other teachers could tell you how hard it is for him to learn anything."
But Longbottom didn't react to that, not even a blush. Carrow laughed. "Then I suspect he'll need more than one lesson, don't you think, Malfoy?"
"Yes, Professor." Draco grinned, and knew his eyes lit up with glee. His favourite victim, punishment sanctioned by the teachers -- this was what the Dark Lord's world was supposed to be like.
He raised his wand, pointed it at the boy who stood too straight and proud, too much like Potter. "Crucio!" Draco hissed, and Longbottom dropped to the floor.
He screamed. He screamed and twitched and rolled around, his limps flopping like landed fish. Draco held his wand steady, Carrow grinned and clapped, and Longbottom screamed.
Somehow, though, it wasn't as satisfying as it should have been. He was like every other victim of the Cruciatus Curse -- there was no special Longbottom quality to the screams, the twitches, the flopping. Draco looked, but couldn't find anything. The other boy was just in pain.
Draco lifted the curse, and though Carrow looked disappointed, Draco did not feel the same. Instead, he felt empty, and more so because he knew he shouldn't. He should be proud, exultant, heady in his power, but disappointed that the curse was over. He wasn't. He was empty -- of everything except the omnipresent fear. Was it enough? How much more would he be called upon to do?
Longbottom lay on the floor for a few minutes, taking in great, gulping breaths. Then, slowly, bracing himself against the wall, he stood. His limbs were still shaking, and he had to lean against the wall for another minute, but finally he straightened.
Longbottom continued to stand straight, just looking at Draco. In his eyes, Draco could see barely a trace of the boy who used to practically tremble at the sight of him. He -- he wasn't a victim anymore. Draco could cause him pain, but he could shrug it off and go on his way.
He was strong. Draco might be able to break him, like his parents were broken, but where was the triumph in that? Anyone could be broken that way. What was so special about doing it to Longbottom? Of course, he wouldn't defy Draco anymore, wouldn't defy the Dark Lord, but he'd never come around to seeing that this was the proper way of things now. That purebloods were meant to rule and he could have been a part of that. He would never realise that he was wrong.
Draco hated him, and, for the first time, envied him. He could see no trace of fear in the Gryffindor's eyes, and though Draco sneered, inside, he was shaken.
Longbottom wasn't afraid. Longbottom, who used to be scared of his own shadow -- now that he had so much he should fear, he wasn't afraid.
And Draco was afraid all the time.
"Dismissed, Longbottom," Carrow said, his voice laden with a strange mix of glee and disappointment. After a few more moments of staring at Draco, Longbottom left, with a curt nod to Carrow. Carrow still seemed disappointed, but then he brightened. "Come, Malfoy," he said. "We have more detentions to oversee."
Draco let Carrow lead him away, and refused to look back at Longbottom and wonder what might have been had he not chosen the Dark Lord.
It was Christmas hols, and he was back home, and hated it.
He was back with his parents, and that was a good thing, but it was the only good thing. I only wanted to do it for my parents, he remembered telling Snape, as if in a dream.
His parents were with him, but they were afraid too. His mother was at her coldest, as if determined to rise above her circumstances, and his father was almost her opposite, so eager to do whatever he could to get them back into the Dark Lord's good graces.
And Aunt Bellatrix was there. Draco feared Aunt Bellatrix more than anyone except the Dark Lord. Bellatrix was obsessive, cruel, insane, and strong, as apt to turn on her family as to defend them.
"Poor little lamb," she crooned, one day when she found him standing by the fire in the Ministry library -- called so because it was the library the Ministry was allowed to see. "Service to our Lord not quite what you were expecting?"
"Aunt Bellatrix," he said, turning to face her, his heart beating faster. "What do you mean?"
She laughed. "Attitude, Draco," she sang. "I smell your fear, sharp and tangy. Are you afraid of your Aunt Bellatrix? Your only aunt?"
I have another aunt, he thought, but suppressed the thought, because he didn't, she'd been disowned long ago, her name taboo. "Of course not, Aunt," he lied. "It's just...an adjustment. I was just worrying about what's left of the Order of the Phoenix. And Potter's still out there."
"Potter," she hissed, sounding almost as snakelike as the Dark Lord. "You're worried about Potter, Draco? He is nothing! A scared little boy, running and hiding. Just a little scared rabbit. When our Lord is ready, he will find Potter and kill him. Rabbits die so easily of fear."
Draco swirled his tongue in his mouth until it was no longer so dry. "Yes, Aunt," he said. "Of course. I'm being foolish to worry. Now if you'll excuse me, I have coursework to finish."
He left quickly, trying not to seem like he was running away. Any aunt would be better than Bellatrix, even a Mudblood-lover.
School was as terrifying as being home, in its own way. Bellatrix wasn't there, but the Carrows were, and though Draco would never have believed it possible if he hadn't seen it, the Carrows were just as sadistic as his crazy aunt.
They were like Umbridge, only worse, assigning detentions for things like rebellious breathing. Like with Umbridge, Draco helped enforce the rules, but unlike with Umbridge, he was expected to cause real pain, real damage.
It would have been all right, if everyone they caught were properly afraid. But they weren't. So many of them were Potter's old ragtag gang, and they were like Longbottom: they would not be cowed, and they would not be defeated. Not even by so much pain that even Draco thought it unreasonable.
Even Crabbe and Goyle were unmanageable. Goyle was better, because he still followed Draco's orders without question, but Crabbe, though just as stupid as before, had got it in his head that he didn't need Draco anymore. Crabbe and Goyle were both taking to enforcing the Carrows' disciplinary measures with relish, but Draco could hold Goyle back, at least a little. Crabbe was increasingly less willing to listen to him, and it felt like, if even Crabbe was breaking away from his posse, the world was succumbing to chaos.
Snape was the worst, though, and not because he was particularly sadistic, because he wasn't. He showed more pleasure taunting Potter in Potions than he did watching or even using the Cruciatus Curse, or any of the other curses authorised for punishments.
Snape was just...nothing. All last year he had tried to help Draco, and now there was nothing. Like Draco was beneath his notice, as long as he was doing his duties of going to classes and taking care of detentions.
Had he ever suggested that he and Draco carve out their own path, answering to no master but themselves? Not the Dark Lord, not the Order of the Phoenix, but a third way?
"The third option is to take our own path. As I have done for many years, serving sometimes one master, sometimes another, but always myself."
"You -- you mean you were helping Dumbledore?" Draco was incredulous. "But you killed him!"
"I have served two masters since before you were born," Snape replied. "Make no mistake, this is not an easy choice. It is not the easy choice. This time, we would be serving not two masters, but no one. Think about what that may mean."
The words repeated themselves to him constantly. If Draco had chosen differently, what would have happened? Snape had offered him Dumbledore's followers, but they were nothing; to them, he would have been a Death Eater, and offered no mercy -- even had he wanted it from the measly, pathetic Light. Draco had chosen the Dark Lord, but if he had picked a different path...
But there was no use wondering. He had chosen; now he would have to deal with it.
When Draco went home for Easter holiday, the manor was quiet. The Dark Lord was out of the country, and Bellatrix pined after him. She oversaw his affairs, but spent more time giving orders to the other Death Eaters and the Snatchers than paying attention to Draco. He felt like he finally had a moment to breathe.
Then Fenrir Greyback showed up with Harry Potter, and Draco was afraid as he had never been afraid before.
If it was truly Potter, the Malfoys' fortunes would surely rise, and perhaps then, with his position more secure, Draco could relax a bit. But if it wasn't Potter...if it wasn't Potter, and the Dark Lord came anticipating Potter and finding a nobody, then the Malfoys would likely never recover.
Not to mention Potter's known ability to get himself out of all the tight spots and scrapes he got himself into. If it really was Potter, and he actually managed to get away...
Draco had spent the past several months at school finding the limits of his classmates' endurance for pain, but he didn't know his own. He didn't want to find out.
Draco looked in the face of the man who might be Potter, and didn't know what to answer. Maybe-Potter's face was swollen, pink and shiny, his features distorted. The glasses were right, and the hair was the right colour, even if it was longer, but Draco couldn't see the eyes. He didn't really want to.
"Well, Draco?" his father asked, with an excitement Draco had never heard before. "Is it? Is it Harry Potter?"
"I can't -- I can't be sure," Draco said. He shifted away from Greyback, and away from Maybe-Potter as well. He knew his already pale skin was practically white. It could be Potter under a Stinging Jinx -- the fact that he wouldn't look directly at Draco, or speak even to proclaim his innocence, lent credence to the idea that it was Potter. The face might have been off, but Draco would have recognised the eyes or the voice.
In the background, through his fear and uncertainty, Draco heard his father say, "Draco, come here, look properly. What do you think?"
Draco looked closer, because his father would know if he didn't. The eyes looked about right, but Scarhead's famous scar was as distorted as the rest of his face. It could have been a lightning bolt, or it could have been a scar for getting whacked with a broom.
But it could have been a lightning bolt, and the hair and eyes were right. It probably was Potter, caught at last. Still, Draco felt no relief. What good would catching Potter do? He was only Draco's age -- how much damage could he really do to the Dark Lord, anyway? He was a symbol of hope for the Light to rally around, but the Dark Lord probably liked that, anyway. As long as there was opposition, as long as there was a war to fight, the ordinary people wouldn't question the wartime conditions. The Dark Lord could indulge his love of torture and control with the excuse that it was necessary because of the war.
Potter under torture would probably just be Longbottom again, screaming in pain during but full of fight again afterwards. And then Potter dead would be nothing at all. Once upon a time, Draco would have loved to see Potter reduced to nothing at all, but that was before he realised that Potter really was nothing, in the scheme of things. The Dark Lord was everything, and Potter was nothing, and what did it really matter if he was killed or ran free?
Draco was getting sick of death. "I don't know," he said, and walked away to join his mother at the fireplace, standing with his shoulders hunched and practically proclaiming that he couldn't help.
The conversation went on, first Granger and then Weasley were identified, and Bellatrix came in, and Potter established more decisively than Draco could, but Draco felt torn between ill and numb, like he was alternatively going to throw up or that he wasn't there at all.
How could his father be so eager? Didn't he realise that, Potter or no Potter, their doom was at hand here? The Malfoys would never regain their former glory. If the news were good, Bellatrix would claim all the credit and the Malfoys would get scraps. If the news were bad, Bellatrix would shove all the blame onto them.
All his life, Draco had wanted to win -- at whatever he could. Every time he lost to Potter, his rage grew, and renewed his desire to win, once and for all, against the Boy Who Lived. But now he knew, there was no winning here. There was losing badly, and losing not quite as badly. Probably the best option would be Potter captured, safe until the Dark Lord arrived, but somehow Draco knew it wasn't going to be so easy.
He'd been so naïve, a year ago. He'd thought that once Dumbledore was dead, everything would be all right again. Snape had brought him back to reality. Now Draco's father was falling into the same trap, but Draco couldn't be Snape to him. His father would never listen, and there were so few choices left, anyway, and so much out of their control.
Still, a few hours later, when the Dark Lord arrived to find Potter and his cohorts gone, as well as the prisoners in the cellar, and Draco and Bellatrix with their wands stolen, Draco regretted the choice he had made what seemed so long ago.
The Malfoys might have been all together, but their voices mingling in shared screams of pain was no comfort at all.
Potter and the Dark Lord circled, and Draco watched, sandwiched in between his parents.
It hadn't been Draco's first battle, but he'd known it would be his last. Whether he lived or died, it didn't matter -- he was done.
Potter had saved him. In the Room of Hidden Things, Potter had saved him, though it would have been safer for Potter to leave him to die.
Death Eaters had almost killed him. His own side. Weasley had saved him and punched him, which was embarrassing, but the yelled insult had made it clear. Weasley didn't understand -- he had too many ties to the Death Eaters to betray them, even for the people who saved his life. Two too many ties.
But his ties stood around him now, and he was clutching them as tightly as they were clutching him.
It didn't matter anymore, who won and who lost. If the Dark Lord won, the Malfoys would leave Britain, find someway to live together without the fear. If Potter won, they might be able to stay, but they might leave anyway.
Had Snape regretted, this last year, the choice that Draco made for both of them? If Draco understood Potter correctly now, Snape had been on Dumbledore's side the entire time, and for the past year had been so deeply undercover that only he had known which side he was on.
But it didn't matter if Snape regretted it. He was dead now, and past regrets.
Draco had regretted his decision so many times over the past year, but now he felt past regrets as well. His family was with him. All the choices he'd made had been for them, because where his parents went, he would go with them, in Darkness or in Light.
Potter and the Dark Lord circled, and talked, and revealed that Draco was the true master of the Elder Wand, of all things, but Draco didn't care. Once he would have loved to be the master of the Elder Wand, but he'd grown up since then.
Lucius and Narcissa were both there with him. The three of them were the Malfoys. They had survived. That was all that mattered.