From his vantage point behind the tapestry in his father's study, Draco safely watched the Death Eaters sweeping through the room trying to find him. In the chaos surrounding his father's betrayal, there was little risk they would find him. Their stomping and yelling gave him ample time to duck into the hidden nooks of the house until they'd gone again. The secret passages that honeycombed the estate were known only to the Malfoy bloodline, and now he was the only Malfoy left in the manor.
Once the room was clear, he stepped out from behind the tapestry and quietly crossed to his father's desk, opening drawers and rifling through the paperwork. In one of the first drawers was a devil's sack and a handful of loose galleons, and he marveled at his good fortune. He dropped all the coins into the sack and not a sound came from within as they disappeared into the dark void. If he managed to escape, these coins would be his only resource until he could safely get to the family vaults, and that might not be for several weeks.
Beneath a stack of old receipts he found what he was really looking for, a worn leather-bound journal. No fancy embossing or gold lettering stood out on the front but the mystic symbol on the front keeping the cover sealed told him it was his father's private diary. He slipped it into the devil's sack and stood out, heading toward the bookshelf when he heard the doorknob turn. He raised his wand towards the door, already muttering a curse.
He sighed in relief when he saw Severus, the professor's own wand held at the ready. "I didn't know you were still here," he whispered, lowering his wand.
"Not by choice," Severus whispered, closing the door behind himself. "I cannot apparate out and all the other corridors are blocked off. I was lucky to get here undetected."
Draco nodded once. That would make his task harder, but not impossible. "There's still one way out they don't know about." He turned to the bookshelf behind the desk and pushed a row of ledgers out of the way, revealing a runic character. He leaned close and whispered "othala," and without a sound the bookshelf and the wall behind it became transparent. A lumos charm gave them a clear view of the rough rocky walls and stone floor that angled down into darkness.
"This chamber's the biggest family secret," he said, walking in. He paused to make sure Severus was following before sealing the entrance. "There's an old fireplace and it's only connected to some cottage in the countryside. I don't know where."
"I can hazard a guess," Severus said dryly.
Draco smiled but didn't comment. Now was not the time for teasing. "You were there when the yelling started. Do you know how many Death Eaters went with my father?"
"A good number of them," Severus said. "Perhaps a third. The Parkinsons, Goyle for certain. I didn't get a good look at who took the portkey, I only saw how many remained."
"Some of the Hogwarts parents, then?" Draco wondered how far the tunnel went. He'd never been inside before and he could barely imagine his father hurrying down such a dank space.
"Most of the Death Eaters with children are gone," Severus said. "Lucius better round up the youngsters quickly or else it'll just be a repeat of last time. Blackmail and hostages so the dark lord doesn't have to waste energy with imperio curses."
"It won't happen. I've already told Pansy to gather all the students she could trust and escape. I was supposed to go with them, but..." he exhaled and looked down. "Father needs me here."
"To do what?" Severus asked. He put his hand on Draco's shoulder and half turned him. "What can you do against the dark lord?"
"Deprive him of the manor, for one. And there's a book down here father said he mustn't get his hands on. I'm to take it to Hogwarts myself." Draco couldn't help a puff of pride in his father's trust in him.
"'Book'?" Severus echoed. "Wait, what do you mean 'deprive him of the manor'? Lucius couldn't have told you to--"
"--burn it to the ground." Draco nodded once and started walking again. The tunnel soon opened into a small chamber with shelves chiseled out of the stone walls. The fireplace was only a round hearth barely large enough for a grown man to stoop inside. Draco scanned the walls. A few oddly shaped glass bottles and jars labeled in forgotten languages dotted the shelves and he quickly spotted the book under a mass of cobwebs. Without bothering to clear them away, he simply grabbed it and shoved it into his sack.
"That should be floo powder in there," he said, nodding at the only jar not covered in cobwebs.
"What about you?" Severus asked, already grabbing a handful of powder. "Even if you do destroy the manor, you can't fly out of here. I know you saw them break your broom."
"Spotted me behind the painting, did you? You always were good at finding my hiding spots." Draco bent and picked up something from the floor. "Father told me about this once, but I admit I never thought I'd get to see it, let alone fly on it."
Severus looked down at Draco's hand. In stark contrast to his white, uncalloused hands was a bent and gnarled stick with several thin twigs bound around the end. It didn't look like a broom as much as it did a dried branch.
"What on earth?" He gently took it from Draco's hands and examined it. Dried leather straps bound several birch twigs onto an ash handle, but as dead as it looked, it was warm to the touch and felt so heavy that it might have been newly hewn. "This is old magic," he whispered, handing it back. "There's no way of knowing how wild it is. I wouldn't try that unless my life depended on it."
"And mine does, I'm afraid," Draco answered, but he didn't look afraid at all. His eyes gleamed at the thought of trying out not only a family heirloom but a piece of wild magic so old that there was no chance of ministry regulations limiting its potential power. "It should obey me. I am a Malfoy, after all."
"You must be, you're all stubborn and reckless," Severus said. He sighed and his face softened for an instant. "You're sure you won't follow after me?"
"Wish I could but once I start the fire this room will be buried under tons of slag and scraps of broken charms. I'll have no other escape but to fly out. Once I'm far enough away, I'll try to find a place to floo to Diagon Alley."
Both of them knew how likely that was, but neither said anything.
Severus crept into the hearth. "I'll expect you in a few days, then. With any luck, I'll have word from Lucius before you arrive." Without waiting for an answer, he flung the powder down and clearly called out "Malfoy cottage, Serpentia." In a flash of green flame, he was gone.
Draco breathed out and paused for a moment. The thought of going back upstairs amongst the enemy terrified him and having a friend at hand had kept the fear away for awhile. He hefted his new ancient broom and sighed at how dead it looked, like all the energy had gone out of it. No doubt its maker, his distant ancestor, had created it out of green wood but now...did enough of its previous magic linger within it to let him fly?
Stuffing his small bag into his robes, he turned and carried the broom back up the tunnel, listening at the bookshelf for a few moments before unsealing the entrance and walking out. As he closed it up again, a tiny hand tugged on his sleeve and he jumped back with a shriek, banging his hip against the desk's edge. The frightened squeak that followed told him it was only his house elf and he glared down at her, scaring her back a few feet.
"Damn it, Filly..." he growled.
"Filly's so sorry, Master Draco," she said, wringing her hands. "But Master said for Filly to come and tells him when she's done warning all the portraits to get out, and Filly's done."
It was no use kicking her, he decided, when she'd finished everything he could've kicked her to hurry her for. Instead he crossed over to the tapestry and climbed into the dark passageway, but he hesitated, glancing over his shoulder at her. Traditionally elves were expected to go down with their house, but it seemed like such a waste when his father could simply rebuild and take them all on again without the nuisance of looking for new ones. "Filly, I'm about to burn the house down--no, don't you dare scream or I'll curse you, I swear--you're not going to die, stupid thing." He waited until she got her tears under control before starting again. "Listen, get the other elves out. You mustn't go to another house, you still belong to us and you must keep our secrets."
"Oh yes, Master Draco," Filly said, nodding quickly. "Filly is keeping all the secrets. Filly is a good house elf, she is."
"Now listen carefully, you'll have to find my mother. I don't know where she went, don't bother asking me. The Naples estate, maybe, or the Paris apartments. Find her and stay with her."
"What if Filly can't find the mistress?" she asked.
"Then..." Draco ran a hand through his hair. He hadn't had time to put it back properly and it kept falling in his eyes. "I don't know. Go to the forest if you have to. Just don't get caught or I swear I'll make you wish you'd burned up instead." He ignored her grateful blubbering and pulled the tapestry back into place, then crept down the passage, using his wand for light.
There was no chance he'd lose his way in the dark. He remembered running through the manor walls as a child, popping in and out of shadowy nooks and startling everyone in the house. His father tolerated it since Draco was memorizing the labyrinth of passages when it was easy for his small body to fit around the jutting bricks and corners, rather than later when a wrong turn would mean several wasted minutes and added bruises from tight turns. His mother allowed his exploring, but she hated how he ended up ripping his robes and covering himself with dust and tiny spiders.
A memory struck him, and he smiled as he slid sideways down a narrow pass between the kitchen and dining room. He'd stumbled over a ghoul hiding behind these walls and nearly fell victim to its jaws, barreling out into the parlor with its claws snagged in his robe and the house elves screaming in surprise as they tried to blast it off of him while his mother raged at all the grime he'd spread over her fine carpets.
His smile faded. All those fine carpets would soon be ashes, his father's extensive library and his mother's collection of rare herbs and potions would be smoking cinders. If only they'd had more time before his father had stolen so many of the dark lord's followers, revealing themselves as traitors as they grabbed his father's cane and portkeyed somewhere far away. From her bedroom, his mother had heard the raving Voldemort and somehow vanished before anyone could capture her, certain that her son would find his own way out.
When the wall widened enough that he could walk straight again, Draco stopped and gently pushed the hidden door aside, peering out from behind a tapestry. He didn't hear anyone but it was best to be cautious. A single censer burned in the center of the hall, the faint gold glow doing nothing to break the gloom. No one stood inside the long hall so he crept out, careful not to knock his broom against the wall.
Windows ran from ceiling to floor, taking up an entire wall with an unimpeded view of the rose garden. Blank portraits lined the other three walls. He walked softly across the marble floor to the center of the ancestral hall, unsettled by the silence. Not that this forebears ever shouted or cursed -- his mother often remarked on how well mannered the Malfoy family portraits behaved, and while he never got a straight answer out of her, Draco suspected the portraits of his Black ancestors were not so quiet -- but the hall had always echoed with the murmured conversations of past generations. Without their voices, the house seemed even emptier, like a corpse in need of burial.
He glanced through the windows for a moment. A sliver of moon behind the clouds showed him the silhouettes of the remaining Death Eaters scouring the grounds, for his father's followers perhaps. More likely for house elves to interrogate, he reasoned. He stared back down at the censer. Looking more like a large dish on a stand than a torch, it provided a night light for the portraits and enough of a glow for the elves to work by. Only he and his father knew that it also served as the focus of several wards throughout the manor, including protective seals, entrapment charms and a final solution to an invading enemy.
This last charm did not require his wand, only his flesh and blood. He put his wand away and shifted both the broom and bag to his left hand, holding his right hand high over the flame. In a whisper he began chanting words he didn't understand, only memorized under his father's tutelage, speaking in a language that the family had long forgotten but still lived by. As he spoke, the flame turned from red to white, burning hotter and higher so that the flames licked his hand. He flinched and chanted faster.
Whatever incense his mother put inside the censor burned up instantly but even without fuel the flames grew stronger and smoke billowed out from the dish. He choked and coughed as smoke crept down his throat and stung his eyes. Long minutes passed and his heart raced in pain and dread that someone would notice the strange light in the hall. He came to the end of the chant but hesitated, afraid of the agony that would come from the last step.
The door behind him slammed open and he looked over his shoulder. His breath hitched and he froze. The dark lord himself stood facing him, his angry face twisting into a cruel sneer.
"Young Malfoy..." Voldemort hissed. "Your family has caused me a lot of trouble today."
Draco couldn't move. He'd never stood before the dark lord without his father's confident presence or his mother's arrogant poise to shield him. Even when bowing to Voldemort, his parents radiated an air of subterfuge that Draco had discovered was imperceptible to nearly everyone but himself, the dark lord included.
"Don't bother trying to fly away," Voldemort said, eyeing the broom. "The manor is mine. There is no escape for you."
As Voldemort stepped closer, eyes boring into Draco's, recent memories echoed between them. Draco again hid within the walls listening to his father address the Death Eaters in what was supposed to be a status report on the ministry but instead turned into their desperate gambit to escape. He felt his surprise and panic being savored and realized that he wasn't really remembering any of it, that Voldemort was instead pulling it out of his mind. An earlier memory was stolen, himself speaking with his mother who sat beside him on his bed touching his hair and telling him he was strong enough to take care of himself if he had to. Again it wasn't what Voldemort wanted and another memory appeared, this time in his father's study as Lucius explained their upcoming bid for freedom and the role he must play in it.
"There it is," Voldemort hissed. "This is what I want. Show me, little Malfoy. Where did you father go?"
Draco winced but there was no way to hide. Snape's lessons in occulomancy were useless when he was too scared to think straight. Voldemort heard his father's reassurances, heard him outline how he would steal away as many loyal knights as he could.
"Knights?" Voldemort repeated. "Knights...of Walpurgis..."
"...of Walpurgis," Draco whispered with him, unable to stop himself. His hand began to burn in earnest but he couldn't think to move it. "Serve..."
"They serve me," Voldemort growled, digging painfully into the memory until Draco thought he might shed tears of blood. "They're mine now, and nothing any of you do can stop that."
But his father's face, scheming and haughty and kind, whispered something different and Draco focused on that, whispering his words with him and steadying himself until he could think to move again.
"Knights of Walpurgis serve no one."
Draco slapped his hand down into the censer, impaling himself on the spike in the center normally used to hold large candles and sealing the spell with his blood. As he screamed in pain, the windows all exploded out into the night and flames shot up along the floor and walls, engulfing Voldemort and creating a wall of fire between them. The dark lord screamed and flailed in surprise, drawing his wand but unable to see through the flames and smoke to aim a curse.
As he yanked his hand free, Draco thought only of flight and the broom instantly responded, taking to the air as he straddled it one-handed. No friendly cushioning charm greeted him. He sat square on the rough bark and hard edges as it picked him up off the floor and carried him through a window. Flashes of light whizzed by him as Death Eaters fired off curses but either the explosion had rattled their aim or he had remarkable luck in avoiding them. With a burst of speed more suited to chasing a snitch, he soared over the garden and into the sky towards the town nearby.
Once he was flying over the town with a mile or so between him and manor, he slowed down and glanced over his shoulder to look for pursuers. He saw nothing except his home burning like a great pyre on the hill, vaguely reminiscent of sunset. Draco wondered if Voldemort would send his followers into the flames to search for the book he'd stolen and how many Death Eaters would burn to death before he accepted its loss. He still held his devil's sack in his left hand and now stuffed it into his robes, hoping it would fit. Then a wave of nausea and pain overwhelmed him and he turned back to his injury. Without Voldemort in front of him to scare the pain out of him, it throbbed relentlessly.
Doubled over his broom, he tried not to throw up as he wrapped the end of his robe around his mutilated hand. Blood soaked through the cloth and dripped onto the broom, and Draco was sure that he'd broken a bone or two. The downside to dark magic, he decided, was having to use his own blood instead of someone else's. His feet dragged along a rooftop and he guided the broom higher up before they crashed into a chimney. Only a few street lamps lit the corners but now several lights came on in the houses below. Muggles came out in their pajamas and looked up towards the hill.
He couldn't risk being seen and urged the broom higher. More responsive than his nimbus, it soared into the sky faster than he was used to and nearly dropped him as it went almost vertical into the clouds. Draco grabbed the handle as hard as he could and clung tight until it evened out again, but one look down and he kept his grip. Far below, the town became a grid with tiny lights dotting the surface, and the land spread out in all directions for miles. A few small clouds floated beneath him and he shivered. He'd never flown this high before, let alone on a broom of unknown charms.
He shivered again. He didn't have a scarf or gloves or clothes specially charmed against the cold and the air up here felt like ice. Something brushed his face and he gaped as snowflakes blew over him. There were only a few flurries around him but when he stopped his broom and turned around, he gasped. Thick black clouds coalesced over his burning home, spiraling like a vortex where storm mixed with smoke. As the storm grew in strength, the clouds pushed outwards, bringing stinging gales and snowflakes as large as saucers.
Hesitating for a moment, he watched the manor's upper stories break in the middle and collapse in on themselves. As the storm covered the village and the snow became a blizzard, he turned and flew north as fast as he could without falling off. This broom didn't have any charms to keep him secure. He had to hold on for himself as the winds buffeted him and ice struck his back.
Throughout the night, he didn't dare stop to search for a friendly wizarding house or tavern that could provide a floo straight to Diagon Alley. All the families this far out were either hidden by strong charms or held allegiance to the dark lord, and any public house almost certainly held hostile spies and agents. He didn't stop to sleep, although the thought of resting on cold earth felt more inviting with each passing hour. With the storm constantly pressing at his back, he had to satisfy himself with lying forward on the broom handle, his mangled hand pressed against his side while the other cramped as he hung on. Over towns and cities he had to stay high enough to pass for a large owl, but over the empty fields and hills he could afford to swoop low where the air was relatively warmer. Often he flew lower and lower, drowsing until he woke up skimming the grass and pulled himself up a few feet. He didn't have to wake up to avoid bushes or trees, however. Although lacking in several amenities, the broom easily navigated through forests. When passing through at high speed, Draco found it easier to simply close his eyes and try to regain some strength while the broom carried him through the night.
A gray sun rose the next morning. Blocked by the blizzard, its glare just made it more painful to look up, especially when the snowfall had not only caught up but surpassed him. His breath misted and he drew his arms and legs in close as he shivered. Without a charm to keep him on the broom at high speeds, he couldn't outrun the snow and settled instead for detours through the trees, where the branches helped keep the snow off him. He no longer cared if muggles saw him and over towns he barely skirted the rooftops. He'd long lost track of where he was flying and simply flew north, hoping to spot something familiar as he neared the school. At least his hand no longer hurt, numbed and lifeless at his side.
The long miles and cold were so numbing that he didn't notice he was being attacked until a second spell narrowly missed his head, striking a car and cracking it down the middle. He sat straight up and looked around, trying to figure out where he was and what was happening. Some time during the morning he'd flown into a town and hadn't even noticed. Snow covered everything, burying the residents in several feet and turning everything a painful white while more snow kept coming down. His broom jerked to the right and a spell from behind missed again, hitting a mailbox that burst into flames.
Wasting no time trying to see who was behind him, Draco put on a burst of speed and flew low to the ground, sending up billows of fresh snow behind him as a screen. He turned left, diving between fences and around a house where he nearly crashed into a pair of bins. Trying to avoid them, he jerked up too fast and went tumbling over the house, crashing in the backyard and sinking nearly entirely into the snow.
Whirling onto his back, he whipped his wand into the air with his left hand, aiming at the roof and breathing hard, expecting a Death Eater to pop up any moment.
Long minutes passed. When nothing happened, he sighed and lowered his hand and fell backward. The falling snow was soft and warm against his skin, and the town was so quiet that he could have fallen asleep. He glanced at the windows of the muggle house. The curtains were drawn and ice completely covered the glass. No one inside knew there was a fight going on outside.
"Idiots, the lot of them," Draco mumbled, gathering his broom again. Patting his robe once to make sure that his sack was still secure, he straddled the broom and kicked back into the air. Exhausted but alert, he slowly flew along the side of the house and scanned the street before taking off again.
He'd never traveled alone in a muggle city before and he was not impressed with what he saw. One blizzard and everyone stayed shut up in their homes, virtual prisoners of the weather. No brooms, no apparating, no floo network, not even heating charms, and he'd heard rumors that on extremely cold days their water froze solid and destroyed the very pipes that delivered it to their homes. Pathetic and inferior, all of them, he thought, which made it all the more galling that wizards were forced to hide from these creatures.
Now that he knew someone was hunting him, he soon spotted two Death Eaters flying slowly down the street and staring into trees and behind fences. Draco flew behind a large parked van and stared over the top, carefully aiming his wand at the biggest wizard. His tired eyes crossed and he shook his head to clear it, focusing all his hate and rage on the closest Death Eater. Little hexes like boils would not be enough and the dark spells he knew were tiring under the best conditions.
"Crepara," he said, and a pale gray light shot out of his wand, crackling through the air. At the sound of his voice the victim turned, but too late. The hex struck him dead on his face, and his frenzied screams filled the air as his skin dried and his muscles desiccated. He toppled sideways into the snow thrashing his dusty limbs so much that his arm snapped off like a twig and a deep crack ran down the middle of his body, nearly breaking him in half.
Even as the Death Eater fell off his broom, Draco turned around and flew down the street. A second later the van he'd hidden behind exploded as the second Death Eater abandoned her comrade and gave chase.
As his broom wobbled, Draco struggled to hold both the handle and his wand in one hand. The houses began to blur into each other the faster he pushed himself. At such high speeds he nearly spilled with every turn. Another spell missed him by several inches, exploding harmlessly in the snow. He glanced over his shoulder and spotted a flurry of black robes fairly close and getting closer. In a few minutes the Death Eater would catch up enough to stop missing.
When he noticed a large intersection in the road they were following, he broke right so fast and so low that he sent up a huge burst of snow behind him. Using it as a split-second veil, he cast a light spell so that his pursuer could see its glow and follow it.
Blinded by snow, the Death Eater chased it blindly right into a wall, speed crumpling her body into the bricks. She fell into the snow and lay moaning with bones jutting out from her legs and arms, her back bent at an unnatural angle. Miraculously her wand remained intact in her shaking right hand and she tried to turn it towards herself.
Beside the wall, holding his lumos spell out at arm's length, Draco watched her feeble struggle to heal herself. He laughed once. Even if she could get the wand pointing right, her jaw was shattered and jammed up into her throat, choking her with blood and bone. Draco slowly flew close, hovering over her, and leaned forward so he could see into her eyes. Wracked with pain, his enemy was still sane enough to show fear as he pointed his wand at her face.
"Hemoragia," he whispered.
A reddish black spell struck her, and a fountain of blood gushed out of her eyes and mouth and skin as every last drop tore itself from her body, leaving her a mass of blood and tissue much like a squashed gourd.
Draco exhaled and lay along his broom. Tempted to steal hers, he decided not to chance any anti-theft jinxes she'd laid up on it and turned his own back to the sky. He patted his robes just to reassure himself that his sack was still safe before taking another breath and pushing forward.
No more wizards pursued him, only the blizzard and his own exhaustion. He wondered how Voldemort could keep up such strong weather and how far the storm extended. The entire landscape was white like a funeral shroud. Even the long stretches of coast he occasionally flew over looked icy. As the sun set, only a spark behind thick clouds, he began to despair. Thinking he could reach Hogwarts by broom in this weather was insane, that he could do it in a day or two was even madder. He could no longer feel his mangled hand and wondered if Pomfrey could do anything for it anymore.
As night closed in, he held his wand close and cast another lumos spell simply so he wouldn't have to fly in the dark. In the small circle of light snowflakes fell in and out of sight. He couldn't tell if he was still flying north or not and now just hoped not to fly so far over the ocean that he'd lose all sense of direction.
Brown feathers appeared in the light for a moment and vanished. He gasped and turned his wand to the left. A large barn owl flew beside him so close that if he veered at all he'd bump into it. Desperate, he gazed down to her folded legs and saw not only a message bound to her foot but a small burn in her side. Battle wounds, he thought.
"You're an auror's owl," he guessed. The owl looked at him for a moment before looking forward again. "So you must be headed towards Hogwarts." Or if not, he knew he could follow her and probably find safe haven wherever she landed.
He didn't know how long they flew together, the owl lazily drafting just behind his shoulder. He was glad for the company. An hour passed, maybe two, both of them using his lumos spell to orient themselves though he was sure she could see better.
When he saw the orange lights of Hogwarts in the distance, he was too tired to whoop for joy. He simply angled his broom down, staying well above the treetops of what he knew now was the forbidden forest. The owl disappeared as she flew out of the light and he came down on the snow covered familiar grounds where he often walked after classes. Hagrid's little hovel looked like a bump in the snowdrifts. Draco leaned back and swung his leg over the broom, dropping to his feet. A second later he collapsed sideways in the snow, his legs too numb to hold him.
Sounds of laughter and clinking cutlery echoed down to him as he lay in the shadows outside of the warm glow of the windows. He stared at his body as if betrayed and felt hot tears prickling at his eyes. No, it wasn't fair! To get this far and not be able to make it last few feet to the school, it just wasn't fair! He reached up and grabbed the floating broom, but the rough wood was slick with ice and he slipped, falling back in the snow. His mangled hand, comfortably numb through most flight, now started to throb painfully. Draco groaned and relaxed, closing his eyes and telling himself that he was simply resting, gathering his strength for another try.
"Hello? Is someone there?"
Draco's eyes opened. That horrible voice was about as welcome as a Death Eater. Go away, he thought, I'd rather die than be rescued by you. But the crunching snow grew louder as Harry Potter ran towards him, unable to make out the gleaming white hair amongst all the snow until he stopped and knelt next to him.
"Malfoy," he gasped, looking over him and wincing when he saw the other boy's hand. Then he spotted the ancient broom floating beside them and looked back at Draco. "What the hell happened to you? Where've you been?"
If he'd had any strength left, Draco would have laughed and insulted him for being so stupid. Instead he relaxed again, his face turning to the soft snow as he passed out.