Harry Potter and the Secret Link Part 24
Draco was in a state of mind-numbing panic. Panic wasn't something that a Malfoy should ever display in public; his father had told him that often enough. It was a sign of weakness and uncertainty -and 'weak' and 'uncertain' were two things a Malfoy definitely was not.
But he had some pretty good reasons for feeling panicked, especially to the degree to which he honestly thought he'd have nightmares. For one, a man he had known had just been killed. For another, the person who killed Jansen was his friend. And lastly, that same friend had the same object he used to kill his father's friend pressed ever-so-lightly against his very own temple.
Draco Malfoy wasn't only in a state of panic. He was held within the very grasp of gut-wrenching fright, silently begging his stubborn sire to just back down for once. It was never okay to piss off the teenager who didn't have a problem with killing people. Especially when it was his bloody life on the line!
"Jansen?" McNair said in shock, staring down at the lifeless corpse in shock. "Bloody hell -he's just killed Jansen!"
Duo... smiled. "Further proof that a vague disclaimer is nobody's friend."
"I can see that," Lucius Malfoy said evenly, his slate grey eyes never leaving his son. "Though I find myself doubting a Gryffindor would go to such extremes as killing his own friend."
Oh, HELL. "If I were in your position, Dad, I'd be thinking the very same thing," Draco said nervously, careful not to make any sudden movement to make that thing explode from the end again. "But Duo's not quite like other Gryffindors, and he's remarkably Slytherin when he needs to be. Don't test him." Or I'm DEAD. Dead, dead, DEAD. As in, not living. No longer alive. Not moving, not breathing, lifeless...
Draco needed to stop his own internal monologue. He really was working himself into a state of frenzy.
"That's probably the nicest thing you could say about me, Dragon Boy," Duo said in a tone that sounded like he was teasing, but Draco doubted the American had lost that edge in his eyes.
Draco could see the gears working behind his father's flat eyes. Finally, the elder Malfoy said quietly, "And how can we come to agreeable terms that will spare my son, yet satisfy my master, Mr. Maxwell?"
"I don't really care about satisfying your master, man," Duo said casually. "It goes my way, or no way at all for you. See, you could refuse to let us go, and then I would be forced to kill your son. Then I'd be left without a hostage, and I'd still be in this mess, but you'd be short a son. See how this works? You take away my freedom, I take away your son. It's an even trade."
"Perhaps," Lucius said evenly, "but the Dark Lord is not a kind master, Mr. Maxwell. If I simply let you go before he had his audience with you, he would kill my son as punishment. Both of your options lead to my son's death, and I would like to prevent that."
"Ah," Duo said wisely, "but your son would be coming with me. In that, I would be silently agreeing to protect him. And I don't honestly think the Dark Lord would kill you in your son's place because that's just not a smart move on his part. If one starts killing his men for every slight infraction, eventually, one's army starts to dwindle."
Lucius was quiet for a moment that seemed like hours. McNair seemed to have faded into the background, but Draco didn't doubt that Duo had his attention divided between the Death Eaters evenly.
Oddly enough, Draco's father chuckled. "I wouldn't have believed the similarities. You are so very much like her, you know."
"Who?" Duo said reluctantly after a moment clearly indicated that his question was exactly what Lucius wanted.
The elder Malfoy smiled. "Angelica Proud. Your mother."
Draco was hard pressed to control his start. Angelica Proud... he vaguely recognized the name. The Proud line was almost as old, if not older, than both the Black and the Malfoy lines. Most of the family had relocated to America not long after the country was discovered, but lack of proper marriage potential caused the family's numbers to dwindle. He'd always been led to assume the Proud line had died out, as many of the pureblood lines had over time.
"I knew her," Lucius went on, "and found her to be a remarkable young woman, Mr. Maxwell. She showed such promise in joining our most noble cause until she disappeared so suddenly."
Duo snorted. "Is this the part where you tell me I'm your illegitimate love child? 'Duo, I am your father', right? I have to tell you, man, that's been so overdone already."
Lucius smirked. "Of course not, Mr. Maxwell. I am and always have been a happily married man."
"So, what? Old Voldie wants to meet me in hopes of recruiting me?" Duo said with another derisive snort. "Look, Malfoy the Older, you can tell your master this for me: Duo Maxwell bows to no one. I don't believe in your cause, and people who justify killing others simply on the basis of purity of blood makes me physically ill. Sorry, but no."
"On the contrary, Mr. Maxwell," Lucius said calmly, "my master simply wishes for a moment of your time. Should you wish to leave after you've spoken, no one will stand in your way."
"I find that hard to believe," Duo replied wearily.
"I swear on my honor as a wizard. My Lord merely wishes to speak to you and, if you choose to leave after that, you will not be hindered in any way."
"Right," Duo said. "Draco, how good is this swearing on the honor of wizardry bit?"
Thank you, merciful Fates! "As far as oaths go, it's a pretty good one," Draco replied stiffly. "If he goes back on it, he'll be forced to obey you until you deem the debt fulfilled, and his honor is restored. As far as I'm aware, a Malfoy's never sworn anything before."
"Right," Duo said again. "Fine. Whatever. I'll meet with Voldie. We'll chat over a nice cuppa tea. Two conditions: I remain armed, and none of you get within a yard of either myself or Draco. Comprende?"
"Of course," Lucius said smoothly, bowing his head slightly in agreement. Slowly the muggle device lowered to the ground, and Draco could finally slump in utter relief.
"You right bastard," he muttered indignantly. "You were going to make my head explode!"
"Hey, you're still breathing, aren't you?" Duo said. "Relax, Dragon Boy. I got this."
Considering the fact that Duo had just agreed to a conference with perhaps the most feared individual known to wizardkind, Draco sincerely doubted that.
His father and his father's fellow Death Eater stayed true to the agreement, cautious in their proximity to both Duo and Draco. They were led down one of Malfoy Manor's vast hallways, coming to a door leading to Lucius' personal office. Draco didn't doubt the Dark Lord had taken that as his temporary space, and he also suspected that Lucius was very congenial when his master welcomed himself into a room that Draco didn't see unless he was in serious trouble.
Draco stifled the urge to shiver and glanced at Duo from the corner of his eye. The American Gryffindor seemed ridiculously at ease, but from the way he held that muggle weapon -poised to raise, finger hovering near the trigger- Draco didn't doubt that the boy was totally prepared for any potential threatening move.
The Malfoy heir couldn't help but to think no one could truly be prepared to come face to face with the Dark Lord himself, just to tell that same Dark Lord to sod off and still expect to leave with a smile on his face... unless that guy was the Boy Who Lived. And Draco doubted Harry ever "left" with anything resembling a smile on his face.
Draco stiffened when the ornate heavy oak door opened to reveal a rather desolate, empty husk of a man with watery eyes and thinning hair. He felt more than saw Duo respond in the same manner, but Draco had a suspicious feeling that Duo's reaction had more to do with the strange glint of the man's hand; in all appearance, it was made of metal.
"Wormtail," the elder Malfoy drawled condescendingly, smirking. "I've brought Mr. Maxwell for our Lord's audience."
Wormtail. Where had he heard that before? The strange name struck an odd chord in Draco, but he couldn't honestly say where he had heard it. It could have been a passing mention from his father, but Lucius rarely talked of Death Eater business while Draco was present. And such a bleak figure would be far below his mother's notice. Maybe from Harry...
That bloody map! Wormtail was one of the four extremely odd names from that wicked map that Draco was almost convinced Harry didn't deserve. But Harry had said his father and his father's friends had made it...
Wormtail was a Death Eater? Another friend of the famous James Potter -a turncoat from the Light? Potter would be so pissed when he found out! And if Harry had already found out... well, Draco was sorry he missed it. The sheer look of genuine betrayal and indignity would have been... Actually, if Draco were going to be honest with himself, the sight of Harry's face crumpled like that probably would have turned his stomach. That didn't make sense, though; Draco was supposed to enjoy Harry's misery, not... feel sorry for him!
"Look alive, Dragon Boy," Duo whispered, snapping Draco from his pensive thoughts. The man called Wormtail had stepped away from the threshold, allowing Lucius and McNair to enter. Draco inhaled sharply, attempting to shove such troubling thoughts into the back of his mind for further ranting later, when it was safer to think about such things without the threat of falling dead to a well-aimed Killing Curse. Thinking about Harry in any other way than utter disgust would be liable to get him dead at this very delicate point, and Draco Malfoy very much liked the land of the living.
The office hadn't changed much from the last time he'd had the displeasure of being invited inside for some major offense to the Malfoy name; coincidently, the last lecture Draco had suffered in this room was at the end of his fourth year, and it was because of bloody Harry and Draco's tendency to go off at the mouth that got him there in the first place. His father's desk sat at the far end, large and imposing and made of oak that was almost stained black. The only light provided by the room came from the large ornate fireplace, where a heartily lit fire cast foreboding shadows across the sharp, angular surface of the side table that sat precariously near a high-backed leather chair that was facing away from the door; across from this chair were two others that faced it.
Draco stiffened when he saw a large snake of indeterminable species peer around the chair to look at those standing at the threshold of the doorway, followed by a bone white hand that stroked the snake's head in an almost comforting manner.
The almost threatening hissing did not come from the snake.
"That's a big freaking snake," Duo noted casually. "Nagini, is it?"
Draco gawked at the braided American. What the hell was he talking about? With a glance at his father, he realized the elder Malfoy looked just as surprised as Draco felt. Then again, the Malfoy heir thought, Duo Maxwell would be the one who thought memorizing the name of the Dark Lord's most treasured pet would be important.
The hand stroking the snake's head stilled, and there was a sudden chuckle from the man (Draco shuddered to think that he was in the same room with a man accredited to so much in the way of panic and havoc in the wizarding world) hidden from sight. "Of course," came the amiable reply, though Draco doubted his words were simply confirming Duo's inquiry.
"Come, Mr. Duo Maxwell. We have much to discuss," Voldemort said casually, not at all sounding like the sinister monster he was made out to be. In fact, Voldemort sounded rather likeable, which made a lot of sense in retrospect. Draco supposed Voldemort wouldn't have so much of a following if he were in a permanent cranky mood.
Draco could hardly believe he just used the word 'cranky' in reference to the Dark Lord Voldemort, but...
"Yes," Duo said as he bravely went further into the room, nudging Draco sharply as he passed and prompting the reluctant Malfoy heir to follow. "Let's chat."
Draco guarded himself cautiously as he rounded the chair, hardly braving a peek as Duo welcomed himself to one of the empty chairs that faced Voldemort. Draco stiffly sat himself in the other, perched to bolt the second it looked as if there was going to be any trouble before he finally looked.
If this was the visage that muggles saw before the life left their eyes, Draco thought he should pity them; Voldemort looked every bit the monster he was made out to be, as if the dark magic he so freely cast had actually gone as far as to physically change him. White, smooth skin, red eyes that sported slitted pupils, and the lack of a nose gave the Dark Lord the impression of a Nagi, a half-human half-snake creature of myth that hadn't been seen in the wizarding world for well over a hundred years.
Voldemort spared Draco a more-than-cursory glance that Draco was hard-pressed to shiver at, feeling more than a little violated by those imposing red eyes before the Dark Lord's attention focused primarily on Duo, and Draco felt as if he could breathe again. "You three may leave," Voldemort said for the benefit of the three elders in the room. Draco looked toward his father, seeing that the man didn't like this idea at all, but none made any argument as they filed out of the room.
They were alone. Spirits...
"So. Duo Maxwell. We finally meet. Or should I call you Keary?"
"I won't answer to it, so you might as well call me Duo," the American said swiftly; for once, the joker's façade didn't encompass Duo's being, much like when the American held Draco as a hostage before his very father only moments ago. However, even then Duo had held on to at least some part of his laughing mask, but now there was no sign of it. "Cut to the chase, Voldemort. What do you want from me?"
Voldemort's soothing hand on his snake's head stilled again, and the man (could someone who looked as Voldemort did truly be called a man still?) looked earnestly bemused at Duo's inquiry. "Want?" he said softly. "Must I want something from you other than to meet you, Duo Maxwell?"
"People like you want one of two things from me," Duo said. "For me to fight for them, or to kill me. Lucius assured me that the latter won't be happening tonight, so I can only assume you want me to join your cause, and I'll tell you right now that it's not happening. You might as well let us leave now."
"I see," Voldemort said lightly, seemingly not affected by Duo's announcement that there would be no chance in hell the Gryffindor would join Voldemort's Death Eaters. "A firm stance you're taking on this, I suppose."
"I don't kill people for causes I don't believe in," Duo said solemnly. "There are more important things in this world than the purity of blood and power. Your cause is a worthless one to me."
Draco wanted to kick Duo. Badly. Was the idiot trying to get himself killed, and Draco by proxy? Because dying wasn't really on Draco's list of things to do presently. Maybe at a nice old age of 100, when his good looks had faded in time and there was really nothing more to live for. Certainly not today, when he was still beautiful and in his prime.
"Our opinions on that differ greatly," Voldemort said cooly, red eyes narrowing on the Gryffindor thoughtfully. "You are much like your mother, in that respect. She didn't think much of my goals, either."
"But I'm sure you have some redeemable qualities, since she stuck around long enough for you to actually get to know her," Duo said flatly.
Voldemort smiled humorlessly. "Yes, I suppose. Dear Angelica Proud... One thing that we have in common is that both of our mothers died in childbirth, Duo Maxwell, and neither of us seem to have cared much of it. She named you well," the Dark Lord remarked thoughtfully.
Draco couldn't help but to think this was actually leading somewhere. No matter how personable the Dark Lord seemed to be, he didn't strike Draco the type to make way for idle chitchat.
Duo didn't smile or smirk or try to make light of it; instead, the American Gryffindor's expression became unreadable. "I named me well. Duo Maxwell is my name; not Keary."
"The name given to you is such a strong name," Voldemort said. "Unique. Uncommon. What is the reason you cleave so preciously to the moniker you've given yourself, I wonder?"
"Duo is for the first friend I ever had," Duo said evenly. "Solo died of the plague that swept through L2 years ago, and he took better care of me than anyone. Maxwell is in honor of the first family I ever had. I suppose you've never heard of the Maxwell Church Massacre." Duo lifted his chin defiantly, his normally vibrant eyes dull with the pain of distant memory. "I'm the only survivor. If there's something I learned soon enough, Voldemort, it's that those who care about me will eventually die. They call me the God of Death for a reason."
God of Death? God of Death? How come this was the first Draco had heard of it? Who went around calling himself the God of Death, anyway?
"The God of Death," Voldemort mused aloud, his hand going back to placating his snake. "Interesting how you've taken on the very moniker of the ever-prevalent being I've spent a lot of my time avoiding."
"And I've embraced the fact that it'll eventually happen, whether I want it to or not," Duo said with conviction. "Further proving that we have very little in common."
"Yes, I see that," Voldemort said, actually sounding very disappointed about it. "How differently things would have turned out, Duo Maxwell... Though I must admit that I had thought this would be a possibility."
"Than why even try?"
The Dark Lord shrugged casually. "There's always a promising chance that things turn out as I hope in the end. There seemed to have been no harm in trying."
"Right. No harm. Just so you know, I shot one of your Death Eaters," Duo said casually, standing from his seat. "Though, to be fair, I did warn him not to move."
"I suspected as much when Jansen wasn't present," Voldemort said with a casual twist of his wrist. "Bloody fool could never follow orders well."
"So that's it?" Duo said skeptically. "I get to walk out of here without having to worry about an attack?"
"Lucius' vow was made on my decision, Duo Maxwell," Voldemort said calmly. "I cannot go back on that vow. You are free to leave, as promised."
"Great," Duo said with a grin. "Well, no offense, but let's hope we never have to meet again. C'mon, Dragon Boy, let's book it."
Draco could hardly believe it. They were leaving Voldemort after Duo told him to sod off. And they were alive. Draco was never one to put his faith in the gods, but a deity somewhere saw fit to smile down on the Malfoy heir for once, and he wasn't about to curse a higher being for his sudden run of good luck.
He was almost out of the chair before Voldemort's voice aborted his move. "I'm afraid you've been misled, Duo. You are allowed to leave. I have further need of young Draco."
Damn the gods to the very pits of hell and beyond!
Duo narrowed his eyes dangerously at the Dark Lord, and Draco was relieved to see the Gryffindor wasn't budging. "I'm not leaving without Draco."
"You'll have to," Voldemort said evenly, "because Draco isn't leaving."
"What the hell is this?" Duo demanded boldly, his hand very near where he had stored his weapon. "I thought a wizard's vow was your bond!"
"Don't impugn my honor, Duo," Voldemort said softly, sounding very much like the Dark Lord he was made out to be. "You are allowed to leave. Draco Malfoy was never part of that pact."
"Fuck that," Duo said hotly, seemingly not even caring that he was saying that to Voldemort, the man who cast deadly curses for lesser offenses. "What do you want with Draco?"
"I don't think that's any of your business, nor do I believe you are striking the proper tone considering your situation," Voldemort said warningly.
"There is no way I'm leaving Draco to your tender mercies, Voldemort. He's my friend. I have a right to know exactly what you have in store for him."
The stubborn glare clashed with Voldemort's ire, and the room was suddenly tense with a lot of intimidating power that radiated between the two wizards. Draco was speechlessly staring at Duo, the detachment he had so desperately cleaved to in the beginning falling away once he realized that Duo wasn't going to leave without him, Dark Lord be damned. The Malfoy heir doubted that his own father would go as far as to protect him from someone like the Dark Lord, much less any of his friends since childhood. But Duo, the American Gryffindor that had somehow wormed his way into Draco's favor, the same Gryffindor who teased him and mocked most of what Draco stood by, who had only befriended him for a scant few months, was standing by Draco. Wouldn't leave Draco in the face of a messy death.
Damn. Draco suddenly realized he probably needed a lot more friends like Duo. Even if they held devices against his temple that caused people's heads to explode.
"I could tell you what I intend for young Draco," Voldemort said finally, raising an eyebrow cooly, "but you wouldn't like it. In fact, Duo Maxwell, I'm pretty sure you would attempt to stop me, and that wouldn't do."
"So you aren't just going to recruit him," Duo said accusingly, and suddenly the gun was in his hand again. The braided boy didn't raise it to Voldemort, however; the gun was left dangling at his side. "What do you want with Draco?"
Voldemort smiled, and it wasn't a very pleasant sight at all. "Very well. Since things did not work out with you, Duo, I plan to make Draco Malfoy my... avatar, if you will."
"Avatar... you mean heir," Duo said, surprise laced in his voice. "You weren't trying to recruit me... you were trying to name me your heir?"
"I am not getting any younger," Voldemort said passively. "Someone needs to continue on leading my Death Eaters."
"Why me?" Duo demanded. "I've lived the first sixteen years of my life as a muggle, the very kind of person you despise. You couldn't have liked my mother that much, especially when you said I'm just like her. Why do you want me?"
The snake's head lifted and hissed almost inaudibly, bringing another smile to Voldemort's lips as he casually stroked the reptile's head. Duo's reaction was very different; the braided boy stiffened, as if he'd completely forgotten about the snake until that moment.
"Since when," Duo said softly, "did snakes learn how to talk?"
Draco felt the very breath freeze in his lungs as he stared at Duo. Oh, spirits... Spirits, did this mean what he thought it did?
"Duo," Draco croaked, silent until this very moment, "the snake... didn't say anything."
Voldemort chuckled. "Haven't you ever seen a snake before, Duo? Have you not, in all of your life, come across one of these creatures?"
"There aren't any snakes on L2," Duo said tersely before swinging a glance toward Draco. "And what do you mean, the snake didn't say anything? It called me an insolent hatchling. Those are fighting words."
"It seems you are a Parselmouth, Duo," Voldemort said, dark amusement shining in his red eyes. "The ability to speak and understand snakes. Salazar Slytherin himself had this ability, and it's been passed down through his lineage. A talent you've inherited from your... father, no doubt."
"Oh, spirits..." Draco said weakly. It did mean what he thought it did. The map... He remembered making out Duo's first name, and a little of the middle, but his last name was such a blur...
Duo looked to have reached the same sickening conclusion, judging by his pale complexion and the sudden tremor of the gun in his hand. "My mother... of course. She stuck around, even if she didn't agree with your cause... And you haven't killed me. The Ministry's secrecy, the teachers' caution. Why the wandmaker was so interested in my last name..."
"Riddle," Draco muttered dazedly. "Keary Guthrie Riddle."
And Voldemort smiled.
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