03 February 2016

Significant Digits, Bonus: Draco






Significant Digits, Bonus: Draco


Pursuant to an agreement, I grant and confirm to Armand Malfoi the Vale of Haxburn Downs, with the Manor of Haxburn, and the Chapel of Haxburn, &c of the gift of Osmundus Æþelindus, Earl of Haxburn.  I commend it to the Use of the selfsame Armand Malfoi with all good thanks for his Service for he has ever been a True Friend and Loyal Servant of my House, and I know it shall ever be So, and I do charge Armand Malfoi with the good maintenance and safekeep of the Treasury of the South West with all my Trust.

Grant of Lord-Enchanter Assurence de Chute, two years before his untimely death



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Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire, England
February 12th, 1997
A year ago

“Put the samovar on,” Draco said, gesturing at the tapered silver device and glancing at Gregory.  Three domovoi were visiting that evening, and they tended to be particular about such niceties.  It was probably part of their unrelenting feelings of inferiority towards the British, as though Merlin’s heirs were to blame for their position on top of the Confederation or their legacy of powerful magic.  The Russians always wanted to be treated with every little courtesy, and bristled at any perceived slight.

Not that Draco would have it any other way.  It was an easy lever to use, and required nothing of him but a bit of forethought.  Everyone should be so pliable.

Gregory Goyle obliged, twisting one of the handles of the samovar.  The device was an elegant piece, with two stylized dragon’s heads protruding from the top.  It began to heat itself with a quiet hiss.  “What’s the plan?”

“You bring them in, and then go and tag their brooms.  The Thunderer has been spreading gold around, looking for ways to co-opt the Honourable.  I want to know who’s been helpful enough to be the point person for his emissaries,” said Draco.  “Once you’ve done that -- and check out their people, see if there’s any opportunities there -- then you’ll join us and play the heavy.”

Draco paused, then spoke to the air, curtly.  “Dobby.”

Barely a breath passed before the elf appeared, stepping out from behind a curtain.  It was rude to apparate into the middle of a room, of course… proper house elf etiquette required a furtive entrance.  The bedraggled little creature’s bony face was pained with anxiety.  “Master?”

“Pack for a journey.  Mother and I, both.  Cold weather.  Riding, formal blacks, formal greens, and lounging,” Draco commanded.  “I’ll want to be ready to go by the time my meeting tonight is concluded.”  He turned away, gesturing dismissively.

“Yes, Master,” said Dobby, eyes wide.  He gently stepped back behind the curtain.

“Will Carrow be here for the meeting?” Gregory asked, looking uncomfortable.

“Yes,” said Draco, giving Gregory a direct and cold look.  What of it?, his face said.

“Fine,” said Gregory.  Nothing more.  He busied himself with arranging the furniture appropriately.  He removed the two light wooden chairs from the room, levitating them out and replacing them with heavier armchairs.  There were five of these: two set in close pairs and one separate, near the fire.  Draco would take the single chair, of course, and allow the visitors to choose their own seats.

How the Russians arranged themselves would be valuable information.  If two sat and one stood nearby, it would show that they were choosing solidarity in some respect -- usually indicating nervousness or conscious opposition.  If all three sat immediately, it would show comfort and ease, suggesting Draco could easily advance the relationship by taking the domovoi into his confidence that very evening.  If there was hesitation, the process and order in which they sat could be observed: who was the leader, who deferred to others, and so on.

Poor little domovoi, coming to Malfoy Manor.

They were necessary for the future, though -- not just entertainment.  Draco had a significant power base in Britain and many admirers abroad -- the international subscriptions to Unbreakable Honour were almost equal to the domestic numbers -- but he’d never be a credible player on the world stage until he had some firmer connections with some of the globe’s more reliable leaders.  Voters were all well and good, but if you wanted iron in the glove, you needed some of the better sort on your side.  You needed some tyrants.

There was a creak in the hallway outside, and Draco froze.  Gregory snatched his wand up, his face hard.

“It’s I,” came the smooth voice of Amycus Carrow, “your Uncle Amycus.”

“Come,” said Draco.

The door opened, and Amycus Carrow entered.  Tall and gaunt, the spymaster of the Honourable and old ally of the Malfoys was wearing black robes with shiny buttons, fastened tight up to his chin.  The dark shadow of some scraggly whiskers were visible on his upper lip, and his hair was clipped very short.

“Draco, my boy,” said Carrow.  “So good to see you.”  His eyes flickered over the length of Draco’s body, the way they always did -- a possessive and lingering look.  “Nacreous liver,” he murmured, bizarrely and almost inaudibly.  He seemed almost hungry.

“Hullo, Mr. Carrow,” said Gregory, just a touch too loudly.  He put a smile on his face as a shield.

Carrow started slightly, as though he hadn’t realized Gregory was there, and swiveled his head to glance at the other man.  “Gregory,” he said in acknowledgment.

As usual, Draco was forced to admire the performance of Mad-Eye Moody.  It wasn’t simply the perfection of the acting, although that was so masterful that not even Amycus Carrow’s nieces suspected the subterfuge (it helped that they were never permitted to spend much time with him, or to ever be alone with him: the uneasy parent’s usual precaution against an “acrohandula”).  No, the true magnificence of the performance was that Draco knew -- he knew -- that Moody was putting on this perfect imitation of Carrow at the same time as he played the part of Draco’s spymaster while also watching out for Harry Potter’s interests and remaining constantly vigilant of immediate threats.  It was the virtuoso exhibition of a masterful fanatic.

“Was your excursion useful, Amycus?” Draco asked.

Moody -- no, it was impossible to think of him as anything other than Amycus Carrow -- Carrow pursed his lips.  “Yes… I think so.  You are the only one who can credibly promise such gifts to the Thai.  They won’t step out ahead of China, for fear of being left alone in the cold, but they will drag their feet as much as they may.  The Ten Thousand are never quick on the stick, but I don’t believe we need to worry about them joining the ranks of our enemies, any time soon.”

The dragons’ heads on top of the samovar opened their mouths, hissing twin streams of steam.  Their eyes glowed a dull red.

Draco walked to one of the room’s tall windows, and stood there for a moment, looking out at the night.  He could see one of the towers of The Declaration of Intent, and it was a sharp reminder of the importance of the stewardship of assets.

“We will give them nothing they can use -- ideas of promise, but no application.  Dead ends,” said Draco.  “A taste of power, but nothing to tip our hand or upset the balance in the Ten Thousand.”

“They aren’t fools, my boy,” said Carrow.  “They won’t be so easily misled.  If a bitch will bear no pups, you don’t just cut its throat… you also give your elf a lesson with the knife.”

Draco thought of Dobby, and smirked.  “If an elf is left so poorly trained, then there’s no one to blame but yourself.”  He reversed Carrow's metaphor, making it more to his liking:  “We will throw a treat to our foreign friends.  The Thais, the Russians, those Americans… old allies and new, they’ll learn the potential power of joining us.  We have people within the Tower and in the Department of Mysteries to assist.”

“Such as Umbridge won’t get you what we need,” said Carrow, stroking his chin.

“Stolen secrets won’t be the sole bait.  There will also be simple advancements harvested from the Muggles.  There is remarkable power in these techniques… power that will astonish even you, Amycus,” said Draco, turning to the side and regarding Carrow again.  “The principles of Mendel can reshape the flesh of beasts in a fashion more safe and more stable than even the feats of the fabled sarkamancers of the Eleusinian Mysteries.  You think it is an accident that Loony Lovegood is meddling with Devil’s Snare?  The methods behind her madness are a coin for us, too.”  He snapped his fingers.  “And we will also buy trust with deceit.  Already and at this very moment, I am acting to set up a rival to the Honourable -- a rival that will conspicuously fail, and in the process cost our erstwhile allies any investment they might make.”

“Your lovely mother... she's off selecting your chosen fools,” said Amycus, nodding slowly.

“Taking a meeting -- she is considerably enthused about the project.  I believe it amuses her to hand-craft a rival.  Traps made of people are an elegant thing.”

“I would have been able to assist in this, had I known ahead of time, my boy.”  Carrow folded his hands in front of himself, tilting his head slightly to the side.  His right eye twitched.  “A mistake.”

Draco’s expression became cold, and his eyes narrowed.

Carrow stared back, unblinking.

There was a long pause.  Then Draco drew a breath, and spoke with cold care.  “You presume too much, Carrow.”

Gregory stood up a little straighter, and squared his shoulders; a subtle and appreciated signal.

Draco turned to face Carrow, and brought his palms together in front of himself.  He drew them apart across his chest, and as they parted, his father’s cane appeared in the gap, growing as Draco spread his hands, until the Lord Malfoy could grasp the snake-headed silver handle and bring the other end down to the floorboards with a sharp crack.  

Draco raised his voice, beginning loudly, all thunder and lightning  “I am Draco Malfoy, and I… I...

His voice trailed off.  Draco lowered his gaze.  He fell silent.  He let his shoulders slump slightly, as though the wind had been taken from his sails.  He stood like that, and held it.  Waited.

“Lord Malfoy?” asked Gregory, hesitantly.

“No,” said Draco.

Gregory drew a sharp breath.

Draco raised his eyes again, glancing at Gregory.  “No,” he said again.  “This is too important.  It is too important for grandstanding.”

Then he met Carrow’s eyes with a steady gaze, and his voice was quiet.  “No speeches, no grandeur, no orders.  I tell you here tonight, Amycus Carrow, that this is the sticking point for a hundred generations of wizardkind.  If we fail, then the world will be a darker and sadder place.”  Draco thought of a silver light he’d once seen… a pure glow that had overturned so many lies with its very existence, filling him with such an argent awe that it changed his world in a heartbeat.  He imagined that light gone forever, and let that sorrow fill his voice.  “If we fail -- if we let one trick slip by or fall short by an ounce of wit, then our world will become a Muggle-made thing of immortal monsters.  We are confronting an existential threat: a looming power that might not only end us, but end everything we hold dear.”

He shook his head.  “So no threats and no foolishness.  If you don’t have the mettle to hold to your place and do your part, even when it harms your pride, well -- go, and may your chains sit lightly upon you.”  He raised his cane -- a mere symbol and a powerless prop, but wasn’t persuasion the mightiest thing of all? -- and he pointed it at Carrow.  “But if you have honour, and you’re with us… then you are with us, and you will heed your place.”

Apophasis.

Before he’d even finished speaking, Carrow had fallen to one knee.  “I can offer nothing but my apology and my fealty, Lord Malfoy.”

Gregory looked as satisfied as the kneazle that caught the cracklebit.  He crossed his arms, and a smile lurked at the corner of his mouth.  He looked a foot taller.  He looked like faith fulfilled.  

“Master,” said Dobby, emerging from behind a different curtain.  “Your visitors are here.”

“Let them in,” said Draco, without taking his gaze off of Carrow.  Dobby disappeared back behind the curtain once more.  Draco lowered his cane.  “Goyle, go meet them.”

Goyle left, his face revealing barely-disguised triumph.  The story of this moment would travel.  Draco smiled.

Carrow and Draco were alone.  There was only the quiet hiss of steam, rising dangerously from twin dragon heads, to keep them company.

“Bah,” said Carrow, rising off of his knee and standing up again.  He snatched out his wand and as he waggled it, almost too fast to follow, the warm crackle of wards settled on around them.  Privacy screens, above and beyond the ones that already layered the Manor.

Draco didn’t say anything -- didn’t rub it in.  There was no need.

“Try that again, Malfoy,” he said, glowering, “and you will get a rather different reaction.  Goyle will be spreading the story of how you lost an ear, instead.”

Draco watched him coolly.  “And damage everything we’ve been building?  You have more discipline than that.”

“Maybe.  But also too much discipline to be afraid to upset the applecart, if need be,” replied Carrow.

“Before you do, be quite certain it’s worth it.  One only gets one chance at ruining plans like these.”

“Plans like these?  Your mother is setting up some small circle of idiots to take a fall, sucking some Cappadocian money with them as they go, eh?  Helping build up the Honourable to draw in all the enemy?” said Carrow.  He stabbed a finger at Draco.  “Or is it a cover for your own efforts to set up an independent base of power?”

“I’m not above a fall-back plan, Mad-eye,” said Draco, “because I am not an idiot.  If something happens to Harry, or he goes too far, or anything else… well, I don’t intend to wager everything on one game of pitch-and-toss.  But my fall-back lies in the Honourable: they are my ‘independent’ base of power, if need be, not some momentary troop of patsies.  That is why the Honourable are loyal to me, personally.  Harry knows that.  You know that.  And you both understand it, too, I think.”  He fixed Carrow with a harsh look.  “Don’t pretend to purity.  I know you have your own private plans.”

Not that he knew, really, but there could not be a safer assumption.

“There’s a difference between preparation and betrayal,” said Carrow, in a most un-Carrow-like growl.  “Which are you at, I wonder?”

Continue to wonder,” pronounced Draco, curtly.

“Aye,” said Carrow, slowly.  “Well.  You may believe you can bludger Potter in the back, if you get the opportunity.  And maybe you’re right.  He’s clever, but soft.  He trusts you.  But I don’t.”  Carrow gave Draco a hard stare, and his very face was a reminder of his capacity for subterfuge.  “But be careful thinking you can play a deeper game than me, boy.  Many have tried... and gotten no deeper than six feet.”

“Lord Draco Malfoy,” said Gregory, opening the door across the room, “of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Malfoy, Britain’s last and best defender of the honour of wizardkind and the fate of magic.”

Draco turned to regard the door, cane in hand, and his face slid into a courteous smile of welcome.  Three men with hard faces but indifferent grooming stepped into the room ahead of Gregory.  They had the weighty air of importance.  One of them wore a brooch of emeralds-and-alicorn, while another openly carried an old wand of the Slavic style, two feet long and bladed.  They all wore the red woollen cloaks of Russian domovoi: the decision-makers of one of the great peoples in the wizarding world, no less magisterial than the Wizengamot.  These were men who had held lives in their hands, who had scrutinized their subjects down to the curve of their soul, who had begun and ended wars as they saw fit.

Now they were come to Malfoy Manor.

Carrow and Goyle walked over to stand beside Draco.  Draco’s smile broadened.

“Please, gentlemen,” he said.  “Sit wherever you like.”



4 comments:

  1. The 'previous' button on this page is broken and links to not-the-previous-chapter.

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  2. Wouldn't February 1997 be two years prior to the events of the story, not one year?

    ReplyDelete