They’d barely reached the common area when Ethan Jugson snarled “Why’d you goand do that, Malfoy?”
Professor Slughorn had escorted them himself, chattering merrily aboutstudents’ parents, aunts, and uncles. But when they arrived at the solid oakendoor that formed the entrance to the Dungeons he’d said his goodnight andtottered off, leaving the students to themselves.
Draco faced Ethan, and as he did Gregory quietly interposed himself betweenthem. Not exactly between them; off to Draco’s left. Normally Vincent would beat his right. Ethan wasn’t as tall as his older brother Robert, but stillstood almost a foot taller than Draco, gray robes with black and green trim,black hair matted down as though just recently washed, hard stubble on hischeeks. His eyes never wavered off Draco and the rest of the crowd moved outfrom between them, watching.
“I know this will surprise you, Jugson.” Draco saw Robert Jugson, who’dreturned for his final year, next to Ethan. He didn’t see their sister Sara,he glanced around. “But not everything is about me. I understand yourconfusion, though,” he added with a smirk. He spotted Sara directly to hisleft, casually lounging against a pillar near the fireplace. Harry stood rightbehind her, talking to fellow ex-Ravenclaw Padma Patil.
“What do you mean by that?” said Ethan.
“That wasn’t for me. No great plan. I did that for Crabbe. He felt well, notmiserable but not happy. After last year, I shouldn’t have to tell you whathe’s gone through.” Draco slowly turned as he was speaking, to take in thecrowd and to let them see him. Daphne met his gaze, but Tracy Davis had hereyes downcast. Draco saw guilt and anger and rage and regret in equalmeasures. “I shouldn’t have to tell any of you. I should have seen all of youat funerals.”
Colin Creevy let out a gasp, then tried to make himself invisible by pressingup against the stone wall, hiding in greenish reflections of waves.
“Hate me all you want,” Draco continued, “but everybody knows I would haveattended your father’s funeral whether my father was killed or not. Itwouldn’t have helped you.” Draco had finished his slow circle and again stoodfacing Ethan.
“It didn’t help, Ethan, that I was there?” Ethan stood in front of him,motionless. Even in the dim light of the Slytherin commons room, awash inblues and greens, Draco could see Ethan flush. Robert glowered menacingly nextto him.
Draco looked to Gregory. “Did it help, Gregory?” Gregory shook his head no,his jaw muscles clenched tight. “Theodore? Michael?” He looked at the otherkids.
Robert spoke tightly, with control. “So you went to the funerals for what,Malfoy?”
“I might have been wrong. It didn’t help, but it would have hurt more if youfelt shunned. Seeing people, being together when you feel most alone, that’swhen you need it the most. It is not about me. It is about Us. This House.”The Carrow sisters whispered amongst themselves. Draco ignored them.
“And the Sorting wasn’t about me. I saw an out for Vincent and nudged him toHufflepuff.” Hestia sniggered at that and started to say something.
“Longbottom showed up at the funerals for the fathers of everyone in my year’sarmies.” Draco said, whirling on her to keep the initiative, the floor. Hedare not let this turn into a debate. “He didn’t have to.” Draco took a deepbreath. “Anyway, if you think that was some gambit then figure it out. I leftmyself with one less friend in a House full of _apparent _enemies, so it mustbe a particularly subtle move.”
Throughout all of this Harry Potter had managed to keep silent, Dracorealized. There were some heads nodding yes, mostly murmuring, but one headslowly shook no. Blaise Zabini stepped forward. “I don’t believe you, Malfoy.”
“I imagine you’ll struggle manfully on,” sneered Draco. “Hopefully you’llprovide a better reason than just envy.”
“I will during our Duel.” The murmurs stopped. Gregory eyed Blaise, thenDraco. Pansy Parkinson giggled quietly behind him.
“Not to be a spoilsport,” Harry started but the crowd shushed him.
“It’s … traditional Harry.” Draco said.
Draco considered the implications of a Slytherin Duel and blanched inside. Hedidn’t know why Zabini challenged him. That disturbed him. He hadn’t writtenoff Blaise yet as an enemy; Zabini felt too important to write off. Zabiniobviously considered Draco an obstacle, perhaps he’d seen his chance here. WasDraco a target of opportunity, or had this been planned? Nobody could haveplanned what happened at the opening feast, but it was a legitimate excuse.Draco tried to judge Blaise’s confidence. He seemed happy, even smug. Ofcourse, Draco looked supremely confident, did they have the same tutors?
Gregory’s hand made a subtle chopping motion, waving back and forth.
That settled it. Draco didn’t know why Gregory opposed dueling; but even if hewas wrong Draco wouldn’t gain by going against his advice. Gregory didn’t haveFather’s training, but his own education had helped make Draco better.
“I decline” Draco said firmly and saw Gregory relax. Now to salvage thesituation.
“You are up to something, Malfoy” sneered Blaise. “And if it was just to helpVincent, if it was just that, I could forgive you. But you’ve been skulkingaround, you and Potter who is suddenly in Slytherin, and that can’t be good.”
The crowd let out their breath. Someone in the back made chicken clucks.“Blaise, you seem a touch too eager. You’ve probably been preparing for thisall summer. And I don’t have much dirt on you.” He hoped the crowd caughthis implication. Draco turned to leave for his room.
“What about me, Malfoy?” said Ethan Jugson. Draco turned back. “I wasn’t goingto challenge you, never considered it until just now. But I’m curious. Ichallenge you.”
Draco glanced at Gregory, who did the closest he could to a shrug withoutmoving.
“Fine,” he said. “I won’t fall for his ambush, but I accept. Seeing as how thequestion arose we’ll limit it to Summer?”
Ethan considered for a bit. “Summer in general, but plots affecting Slytherin…” he paused, thinking. “The full year.”
“Agreed. Start in ten minutes?” Ethan nodded. Draco glanced around the room,considering. “As challenged, I say no seconds apart from enforcing the rules.Sorry Gregory.”
“That’s OK” replied Gregory, relaxed.
Everyone burst into motion, grabbing the chairs lining the room’s edge. Othersbrought chairs in. Harry started towards Draco, but Gregory intercepted him.
“You can’t talk to him now” said Gregory. “Rules.” Draco left to go to hisroom, his lazy walk showing a serenity he didn’t feel. Harry watched him gothen turned to the assembled crowd.
“What are the rules, anyway?” Draco heard Harry say, as he walked out.
Draco walked into his room and pulled out his journal. _What do you know aboutthe Jugsons? _He wrote quickly, then he slammed the book shut, not waiting forthe answer. Draco closed his eyes, took a deep breath, held it, held it, heldit and then let it out slowly.
Draco kept breathing slowly and reviewed lessons in his head. He’d had manytutors, of course, but Father had always, always provided the closing lecture,had tied things together, reviewing the exact same lesson multiple times, eachtime going into more detail as Draco could understand more levels. And thefirst lesson, well the first formal lesson anyway, had occurred on Draco’sfifth birthday.
There had been cake and ice cream, a lovely vanilla that even a five year oldcould enjoy without any flashy ornamentation or gaudy syrups. But as the dayproceeded that had been it. Draco kept waiting for more, for his due, and bymidafternoon he’d started sulking, even going so far as to kick Dobby, who wascleaning the hallway when Draco stomped to his room screaming that it was hisbirthday. Draco flinched at the memory.
Father had opened the door, frowning. Draco wanted to tell him to go away, butdidn’t. Even now he remembered his tiny rage at the world, at Father. Itshould amuse him now, at such a distance, but he felt it while he rememberedit, past rage mixed with present shame.
“Draco, why are you upset?” Father asked, calmly. He stood in the doorway(Father never leaned, not that Draco could remember) and looked at Draco, whorolled off his stomach and sat up on the bed.
“It’s … it’s my birthday, and I didn’t get any presents.” Draco wiped away atear and looked up at Father. “I’m supposed to get presents.”
Father had nodded solemnly. “Yes, indeed. On your Birthday you get presents,and you haven’t gotten any yet.” He paused, then said quietly. “What presentdo you want?”
“You know! I’ve been talking about the children’s Nimbus. They are safe to flyfrom age four! And now I’m five!” A crushing argument that brooked nochallenge.
Lucius Malfoy nodded “Indeed. And how does kicking my elf get you a Nimbus?”
Draco started to talk, then stopped. Then words poured out of him, words ofdesperation and pleading tripping over his tongue and past his lips in a madrush to get his present. Lucius held up a hand.
“It didn’t help you. You know this, my son.” His voice was gentle. “You werejust mad. You lashed out at Dobby because you were mad. You knew what youwanted, but what you did doesn’t help you get what you want. What would havehelped?”
Draco thought about it. “I could have asked you about my present. Or tried tofind where you hid it.”
Lucius nodded. “You could have even asked Dobby. House elves know everythingabout the house.”
“Dobby could have told me?” Draco had stopped sniffling by this point.
“No. But they are simple; you may have tricked him into revealing where I hidit. The point is that you’ve kicked Dobby, which didn’t help you; and you’vethrown a tantrum which hurts you. How can I give you a present when you shoutand rage? You would be as spoiled as a child in a play, and you know whathappens to spoiled children.”
As he remembered the scene Draco realized, not for the first time, that heactually had been spoiled fairly rotten, but there had been limits. He’dgotten no birthday present that day although a Nimbus mysteriously appeared asa gift several weeks later, for no reason that Draco could remember.
“Still,” Father had said, “even though you made mistakes at least you knewwhat you wanted.” And then he closed the door to let Draco cry in privacy.
Draco took a deep breath. He’d been forced into this duel. His instinct, whichDraco trusted because it was instinct forged in childhood playground bullying,told him that declining a second duel would leave him alone and vulnerable forthe rest of the year. He’d cultivated an air of mystery, acting suspiciously,and while Slytherins could respect that they would turn on him if they felthis actions were against them.
Ethan Jugson didn’t matter. Even Blaise Zabini didn’t matter, right now.
What are my goals for this duel? Worry about achieving them later.
Draco thought about it. He wanted to preserve his secrets. Dominance over therest of Slytherin, at least over those young enough to sway. To crush Ethan socompletely that nobody would casually threaten him again. He wanted people toconsider him cleverer, deeper, than he was actually capable of.
I need to be cleverer. He filed that away for the future. Later, after theduel, he’d review what happened and his mistakes. Perhaps he’d even review itwith Potter, as a sign of friendship. Draco pushed that thought away, itwasn’t an immediate problem.
What is my primary goal, right now? Draco figured he had five minutes toconsider that. Tactics be damned, I need to know my strategy.
Draco Malfoy took a deep breath, held it, and let it out slowly.
Ethan stood next to the small table, placed carefully in the center of theroom. The normal chess board had been set aside, leaning against thefireplace. Other games and quills lined other tables shoved back against thewalls to make space for more chairs. First years sat on or (in the cases ofsmaller ones) crouched under those table. Even Potter didn’t rate a chair. ToEthan’s left the taller Robert Jugson loomed over the table. Draco calmlywalked over to the empty high-backed chair opposite Ethan. The table stoodempty except for one crystal flask perfectly centered.
Draco sat down as soon as he got to the table and, while Ethan still stood,Draco reached over and pulled out the flask’s stopper. He dipped his indexfinger in, stuck out his tongue and let one viscous drop of Veritaserum fall,making sure that those nearby could see it. Draco pushed the flask backtowards Ethan.
The first drop tasted of winter and almonds, a taste Muggles might callspear-a-mint for lack of a better word, and Draco felt a chill run down hisarms. Ethan carefully placed one drop on his tongue, surprise on his face.Robert took the stopper and put it back into the flask.
“The second drop burns, and it reminds me of mandrake but it’s still cold. Youdidn’t accidentally swallow too much, did you?” Draco said pleasantly.
“You don’t have to worry about me, Malfoy” Ethan said.
“But I do worry for you! Hm, I guess it hasn’t taken affect yet.” It was anobvious joke, but some younger students still laughed. Draco needed more timeto think, so he closed his eyes. Otherwise he’d spend too much time trying toread the room and that was a distraction, now. He’d figure out the impactlater. It would be much less efficient, but he’d have more time.
After a few minutes, the chill in his arms suddenly ignited and raced back uppast his shoulders and into his face. Draco opened his eyes and the room tookon a clarity, a sharpness like the opposite of a dream, and he could see thelines of the walls, the firmness of the table. Shadows which danced and wouldnormally conjure up daydreams of monsters and images appeared as nothing morethan tricks of light and darkness, lies the light played.
Draco nodded and waited for the first question. Ethan ran a hand through hishair, which didn’t change its appearance at all. Draco wondered how he’d spenthis time before the duel. Worrying?
“I don’t suppose any of what you said before was a lie?” Ethan asked.
“It was true. Well, since you wasted a question, I may as well. Did anyone putyou up to this?”
“Of course not. That’s insulting.” Ethan had the bottle of Veritaserum andidly pushed it back and forth between his hands. Draco didn’t think that itwas a gambit, just a nervous gesture. He didn’t know Ethan well. Robert, hisolder brother, was a thug and Draco had expected him to be the boy’s prefect,but maybe his outburst last year had cost him. In a duel, Robert was out ofDraco’s league and probably even aware of it. But Ethan, unknown fifth yearEthan. Draco wasn’t sure.
“No more so than your question. As if I’d be stupid enough to accept aSlytherin duel right after making a bald-faced lie.”
“It could have been a double bluff” said Robert, quietly.
“This isn’t a play, Jugson.” Draco snapped. Father used the line often enough;it felt good to be on the giving end and Draco saw the barb hit home. Healmost sighed, then caught himself. Focus on your goal. “I apologize. Thatwas uncalled for, but you know the rules. Next question?”
Ethan tilted his head towards Blaise. “Why didn’t you accept his challenge,why mine?”
“Because you’re doing this fair, to discover my secrets. I think Blaise knowsa secret and his challenge was just an excuse. You just wanted to know. That’sthe difference.” Draco paused. “Are you plotting to kill or assault me?”
“No! Why would you think that?” Ethan looked confused.
“I saw how you looked after Crabbe sorted.” Draco paused. “I assume your lastquestion was rhetorical, so it’s still your turn.”
“Do you think you’ll be attacked?” Ethan had stopped playing with the bottle,and had put his hands underneath the table.
“Yes. With Father dead I’m much more exposed than last year, and I haveenemies. And now with Crabbe gone I can’t expect Goyle to stop every attack,sorry Gregory, but we both know it.” Draco drummed his fingers slightlyacross, then tilted his head.
“Did you know your father was a Death Eater before he died?”
“I … I didn’t have proof. But yeah, some of his comments, some of his bragsonly really made sense. I knew.” Robert moved away from the table. Questionswere supposed to go quickly, but Draco didn’t push things, and he knew thathe’d use the time more effectively. As he waited Draco saw a look of dawningcomprehension on Ethan’s face.
“Why are you going easy on me, Malfoy?”
“What makes you think I’m doing that?” Draco shot back.
“Answer or concede.”
“I don’t have a problem with you, Ethan. Or your family. It does me no good todrag a secret out of you and make an enemy.”
“How do you intend to win the duel?” asked Ethan, turns forgotten.
Draco shrugged. “I don’t. I don’t … OK, I care about losing.” He surrendered awan smile. “Stupid Veritaserum, but losing isn’t important compared to thegood of Slytherin. To save it, because it’s in danger.”
Blaise Zabini, forgotten and sparked with a growing rage, said “This isn’t aduel, it’s a love fest!” Half of the room (but only half, Draco noted) shoutedhim down. Robert, now back against the wall, looked thoughtful. Draco saw thenods, the glances. “You’re just doing this for your own gain!” Blaisecontinued.
Draco pushed back his chair and stood up to full height. “I could tell youthings, Zabini. You felt snubbed by Quirrell so you dig stuff up on me insteadof seeking real power, like I did. I have more important things than internalintrigues of our House. Anyway, I don’t have to answer your questions. I’m notdueling you.” He sat back down and faced Ethan.
“That wasn’t a denial, Malfoy” said Zabini. Draco ignored him.
“Ethan, do you hate your father? For going out that night or joining up in thefirst place?”
There was no hesitation. “Of course. But you already knew that. You feel thesame way about your Father.” Draco nodded, smiling on the inside.
Draco didn’t trust divination, practically nobody did, but he saw the future.Blaise stood furiously by the table, impotent and unable to ask the questionleft hanging, that the room was dying to ask.
Draco couldn’t tell people about last year, all the things he’d done. Evenunder a drop of Veritaserum admitting it would be too dangerous, too risky. Itwould be bragging – an eleven year old being set up as Minister of Magic – hecould hear Professor Quirrell’s first rule in his head when he’d consideredthe idea. Even revealing his Patronus felt premature.
Everything had resolved, if not perfectly then well enough. He hadn’tembarrassed Ethan or any of the Jugsons, not much. Just enough to showrespect, he thought. Blaise was an enemy but no worse than before. Draco hadstated under Veritaserum that he felt the House was in danger and he wastrying to save it. That was the important point. He’d given enough proof toassuage any doubts. His secrets remained hidden.
Any minute Ethan Jugson would ask about some confidence – or some plot - andDraco would quickly concede and leave having achieved all his goals. The smallloss of face would be more than compensated by giving those who wanted totrust confidence. Draco wondered what Harry Potter thought of this, would herecognize Draco’s victory … Just like in a play … Draco frowned as Ethanspoke.
“So tell me, Malfoy, do you fancy Granger?”
Update - It has been pointed out (correctly) that Veritaserum use is illegal,a minor detail I missed, so I have changed Draco’s protest to be moreaccurate.
< Prev Next >