A Task to Perform
A grand but lonely home stood silently on the outskirts of Nettleton, Wiltshire. Throughout Britain, all traces of the moon and stars were gone from the night sky, leaving only the bleak darkness to blanket the area, from horizon to horizon.
Draco sat in his room in Malfoy Manor, staring at the wall and thinking about as little as possible. He couldn't bear to remember what he had just experienced. He told his mind to push it back, as he had done many times before, but his technique had begun to fail him. The thought of looking into the Dark Lord's eyes, and seeing the intense hatred that dwelt there, made him sick to his stomach with terror.
The speaker's voice chilled him thoroughly. It was as if a Dementor had just torn every last ounce of strength out of him. He felt his knees shaking under him as he stood in silence before the man who had addressed him, the wizard responsible for hundreds of deaths, who did not know a drop of regret. Draco wondered with an overwhelming pang of horror if he would be the next to go.
The Dark Lord raised his wand, aiming it at Draco's face, and the boy was sure he was about to torture him, but nothing happened. Draco watched him, unable to speak, or even think clearly.
"Your father has failed me, Draco, and one failure is one too many for my servants," hissed the Dark Lord. "I am sure that Lucius, having made you into what you are now, has passed onto you a number of his own faults."
Draco took a quick, yet steady breath, working hard to suppress a wave of outrage at these words. For a fleeting instant, he longed to protest, to argue that, no, Lucius had had no part in his upbringing, that Draco had raised himself, and that he'd done a better job of it than his father ever had. But he knew better. The Dark Lord was not one to be argued with. Draco knew that he would not have given a second thought to killing him then and there, should he wish to.
Seemingly ignorant of his visitor's indignation, the Dark Lord continued. "However, I am willing to let you prove your worth to me." Draco resisted the compulsion to glance upward in confusion. "I have a task for you to perform, Draco. If you succeed, you will be rewarded beyond your dreams. However, should you fail, as your dear father has, you will watch your entire family perish at my hand."
Draco's thoughts immediately painted a grim picture in his mind, the sight of his mother lying, broken and lifeless, in the mud. He had no time to react, however, for at the very next moment, the dark wizard grabbed his new slave by the arm and whispered his first command.
Draco shuddered visibly. Completing such a mission would be unthinkable, but it would mean keeping his mother alive. Draco almost surprised himself; he didn't even flinch when the Dark Lord pressed the tip of his wand roughly into Draco's arm, and announced shrilly, "Morsmordre…"
Draco looked down at his left arm, where the Dark Mark now dwelt. It burned even now, and he surmised grimly that it would for the rest of his life. But more than the physical pain it gave him, it burned him inside to know that this Mark was now his only future. Swallowing hard, he let his eyes wander to his night table, where his diary lay waiting for him.
I won't be needing that anymore, he thought miserably. This was a secret even a journal couldn't be trusted with. And yet, he longed for the solace it gave him, just to write away his sorrows.
Then, quite unexpectedly, he heard someone knocking at his closed door. He didn't say anything; he was in no mood for company, not even that of his mother. His Aunt Bellatrix was the only other soul in the house, having invited herself to stay with her sister and nephew, but Draco knew it couldn't have been her at the door; she never thought to knock and wait. Yet soon, there came more knocking, and it was obvious that his mother would not take 'no' for an answer.
"What is it?" he groaned. It was neither his intention to be rude nor his priority to be polite.
Narcissa tried the door, relieved to find it unlocked. She knew her son would not want to be disturbed after what had happened. But she, too, had heard his task, and as impossible as they both knew it was, she wanted desperately to be there for him, as she had always done. "Draco?" she called tentatively. When he gave no sign he had heard her, she studied his face for any sign of what he was feeling, and found it almost immediately. She rushed over to him, eyes wide with worry, and took his hands in hers. "I'm so sorry…" she cried, letting the tears fall to the bleach-white carpet.
Finally, he fixed his eyes on hers, now trembling at the thought of what he would have to do. "I can't… This is… There's no way…" he stammered hopelessly.
"Shh, Draco," she whispered. She had been struggling all night to think of some way to help him, to keep him safe from harm. But the Dark Lord had demanded secrecy, and she knew she couldn't help him herself while he was at Hogwarts. There had to be another possibility, some better way for her to keep her son safe while his task remained incomplete… but what?
Just then, she gasped, placing a thin, pale hand over her mouth. Swimming in hope – or was it purely desperation? – she knew she had found the answer.