For the Slytherins their last few months of school seemed to drag over as they were weighed down with concern over Draco. They'd all tried writing to their friend to see if he was okay, but not one of them got a response from Draco. All they had to reassure them he was still alive was the bits of information Professor Snape could pass their way. Not that Snape was in a position to be telling them much, but he kept assuring them that Draco was alive.
Even with Snape's reassurances the Slytherins couldn't really believe Draco was okay until they saw him with their own eyes. Fortunately the end of year finally arrived and not only were they free to see Draco, but they were free from Hogwarts completely. On the train ride back home the group made plans to visit Draco, and even though everyone was keen to see him, they decided it would be best not to all visit at once. After much discussion it was decided that Blaise and Theo would visit Draco first, and they could then fill their friends in on how the blond wizard was doing before they also tried to see him.
Blaise and Theo had decided they would visit Draco the day after they arrived home, so on the morning they met up at Theo's house to discuss how to approach their friend. In private the two wizards had been talking and they'd both agreed that in order to help Draco they would do whatever it took, even if it meant joining him as a Death Eater.
"You don't have to do this, Theo," Blaise said as they prepared to floo to Malfoy Manor and visit their friend. While he personally had no connections to the dark, his knew Theo's father was a former supporter of The Dark Lord and had so far remained neutral in the war. However, Theo joining the Death Eaters would likely change all that.
"I do," Theo said firmly. "Draco is my friend, and I need to be there for him. I really hope we don't have to do it, but if we have to, I'll take the mark for my friend."
"Let's hope these last few months have given him time to come to his senses," Blaise said hopefully. "Maybe things won't be as bad as we've been fearing."
Suspecting that Blaise's optimism was misplaced, the boys grabbed some floo powder and travelled to their best friend's childhood home. The pair emerged in a room designed for visitors arriving at the manor via floo, and immediately an elf appeared and welcomed them. Being regular visitors to the manor, Blaise and Theo greeted the elf by name and asked if Draco was around. The elf didn't seem too sure, but he rushed off to find Lucius instead. A few minutes later, Lucius strolled into the room and greeted his son's friends with a tense smile.
"I take it things are no better with Draco," Blaise said with a sigh as he took in Lucius's demeanour.
"They're just the same," Lucius confirmed. "Nothing seems to get through to him. He's locked in his own private world of grief, and nothing his mother or I say reaches him. Maybe you two will have more luck."
"We'll certainly try," Blaise replied. "Is he in?"
"In his private wing," Lucius answered. "Although he's set up wards so he knows when people enter his wing of the manor, so don't be too surprised if he takes off before you reach him. If that happens, I suggest waiting around for him. He always comes back eventually."
"What sort of physical state is he in?" Theo asked. "Has he seen any fighting?"
"Not yet, but it's only a matter of time," Lucius replied with a long, drawn out sigh. "He's done a couple of small jobs for The Dark Lord, but now Potter is out of school I know things are going to move along. Draco will see his first battle sooner rather than later. I just hope he survives it."
"Don't we all," Blaise muttered as he and Theo headed off to see if they could find Draco.
When they entered Draco's wing of the manor they had no idea if their friend had left or not when he knew they were coming, so they headed to the library where they knew he spent most of his time when he was home. Finding no sign of Draco in the library, they checked his bedroom and then every other room in the wing.
"Dammit he's gone," Theo cursed as they returned to the library not having found Draco.
"So we wait," Blaise said, settling down on a chair beside the unlit fire.
Theo also settled himself down and the two wizards prepared themselves for a long wait for their elusive friend. However, they'd only been in the manor a little over an hour when the door to the library flew open and an annoyed looking Draco marched in, demanding to know what they were doing. Both Blaise and Theo ignored Draco's grouchiness and really looked at their friend, easily seeing the haunted look in his eyes and the grief hidden behind a mask of anger.
"Hello to you too, Draco," Blaise greeted cheerily. "I take it you haven't missed us."
"I haven't had time," Draco muttered as he slid into an empty chair and summoned three glasses of firewhisky.
"You've been busy then," Theo remarked, wondering just what Draco had been up to since they'd last seen him.
"Not really," Draco replied with a shrug.
"You don't have to lie to us, Draco," Blaise said. "We know everything. We know you were with Granger before she died, and we know you went to The Dark Lord looking for a way out."
"Father has been busy gossiping," Draco drawled.
"He wasn't gossiping, he was concerned," Theo said. "We're all concerned, Draco. We understand you loved Granger, but you still have so much to live for."
"You understand nothing," Draco spat, genuine anger flaring up in his grey eyes. "I didn't just lose the love of my life when Hermione died, I lost my entire future. Without her, I have no life."
"That's not true," Blaise argued. "You're surrounded by people who love you. I won't try and understand the pain you're going through in losing someone you loved, because I can't understand it as I've never been through it. But I can promise you that you're not alone."
"No-one else matters," Draco muttered.
"What about Granger? She clearly mattered to you, so why are you doing this to her?" Theo asked.
"I'm not doing anything to her, she's dead," Draco snarled.
"I know," Theo said softly. "But do you really think she would want this for you? If she loved you the way you clearly loved her, she wouldn't want this. If she was here, she would say the same thing."
"If she was here none of this would be happening," Draco said with a bitter laugh as he drowned the last of his glass of firewhisky and slammed the empty glass on the table in front of him. "And don't you dare tell me what Hermione would have wanted, because you didn't know her."
"We didn't, and we're sorry we never got that chance," Blaise said. "But we do know you, Draco, and we know this isn't you. You've let the grief take over and you're not thinking straight."
"I'm thinking just fine," Draco said as he jumped to his feet. "Now if you don't mind, I'd like you to leave. And don't bother coming back because I don't want visitors."
"Tough, because we're not abandoning you," Blaise said with a shrug. "In fact, we'll soon be joining you."
"Joining me?" Draco frowned.
"As Death Eaters," Theo supplied. "We're going to ask to join you. We'll soon be at your side all the time."
"No," Draco snarled. "You can't do that."
"It's our lives and we can do what we want, Draco," Blaise said serenely.
"Fine, mess your lives up, see if I care," Draco sneered. "But don't say I didn't warn you. The Dark Lord won't win you know. Potter and the Order will defeat him, and if you're in his ranks you'll either be killed or sent to Azkaban for the rest of your lives."
"The same holds true for you, Draco," Theo said quietly. "You've joined what you clearly think is a losing cause."
"The difference is I won't be around by the end of the war," Draco retorted. "If Father told you everything, then you know I didn't sign up for this. This wasn't the result I wanted, but I can still use it to fulfil my aims."
"We won't let you kill yourself, Draco," Blaise vowed.
"You can't stop me," Draco replied with a shrug.
"Watch us," Theo warned as he rose to his feet and gave Draco a challenging glare. "Although deep down I don't think you even want to die."
"You know nothing about what I want," Draco snorted.
"I know if you truly wanted to die, you would have done so already," Theo said quietly, hoping that what he was about to say wouldn't push Draco over the edge. "Granger's been dead for months. If you wanted to join her you could have already done so. You have a wand don't you, and I'm sure you know the killing curse."
Draco glared angrily at Theo, his hands curling up into fists. Blaise jumped to his feet, ready to get in-between his two friends, but Draco just shook his head and turned away.
"Go away," he whispered quietly, before striding from the room without looking back.
"Bloody hell," Theo gasped, collapsing back into his chair. "I can't believe I just said that. What if I've messed up, Blaise? What if Draco now kills himself?"
"He won't," Blaise said confidently. "You didn't say anything that wouldn't have already occurred to him. He might not care if he lives or dies, but he's not totally suicidal."
"You hope," Theo muttered.
"I know," Blaise replied. "Don't beat yourself up Theo. Draco will be fine. It's buried deep, but he still cares about other people."
"How do you figure that?" Theo snorted. "Draco can often be self-centred, but even by his standards, he was pretty closed off just there. From what I saw he's only interested in himself."
"No, he was also trying to protect us," Blaise said. "He doesn't want us joining the Death Eaters, not because he doesn't want us around, but because of what could happen at the end of the war. He's trying to protect us, Theo."
Theo nodded, accepting that Blaise might have a point. "So does that mean we're not joining up?"
"Not yet," Blaise said. "Draco's right about the trouble we could be in at the end of the war. Let's give Draco some time and see what happens. We'll join up if we have to, but hopefully it might not come to that. I don't believe we've truly lost Draco yet. Somewhere buried inside all his anger and grief, is still the same guy we've always known. We've just got to help him find himself again, and show him that there's more to live for than Hermione Granger."
Draco had hoped for some dangerous Death Eater action rather quickly, but he was sorely disappointed. His very first task had him accompanying his aunt to Gringotts, where she'd given him a silver cup so he could follow out Voldemort's orders. Just as Voldemort asked, Draco took to the cup to a foreign country, he chose France, and hid it. Draco had hidden the cup in a cave on a beach he used to play on as a child, which was located not far from where the Malfoys had a villa. He was certain that unless anyone knew it was there, the cup wouldn't be found.
Draco had hoped his first successful task would lead to him seeing some action, but all Voldemort did was thank him for his service. A few weeks later he then summoned Draco to him once more and gave him an old fashioned brooch to hide somewhere different to the cup. Fulfilling orders, Draco had taken the brooch to Ireland and hidden it in a false book in a house that belonged to a distant Black relative. What the two items meant to Voldemort, and why he wanted them hidden was a mystery to Draco, but it was a mystery that didn't intrigue him at all. All he wanted was to fight and to end the pain he was in.
When Draco's friends paid him a visit upon leaving Hogwarts, he was momentarily swayed by Theo's words, and he'd spent the rest of the day wondering if he was in fact ready to die. However, the thought of living without Hermione was too painful, and even though he knew he would never have the courage to take his own life, he wouldn't be upset if his life was ended by someone else. The truth was, live or die, Draco didn't really care, all he truly wanted was for the pain he was in to end.
Finally, a little over a week after Blaise and Theo's visit, Draco was summoned to Voldemort and handed a silver mask and a set of Death Eater robes. Voldemort announced he was attacking a small wizarding village on the south coast, and he wanted Draco to be part of the attack. Hoping that things were finally looking up, Draco pulled on the robes and mask and he headed off with the other Death Eaters.
Draco had never really been in a proper fight before, but when he arrived at the small village Voldemort wanted attacking, he let his mind go blank and he just did what came naturally when Voldemort launched the attack. Not caring about what curses flew out of his wand, Draco cast spell after spell as he waited for the destruction the Death Eaters were causing to bring forth the Order. Within a few minutes the villagers were fighting, but quickly enough reinforcements arrived and Draco found himself in the midst of a proper fight.
For the first time since Hermione had died, Draco felt alive as he threw curses and hexes in abandon, not caring who they hit or what damage they caused. He also wasn't worried about himself and he didn't dodge any curse that came his way. As a result he lost his mask early on the battle and his hood fell down, revealing his identity to the enemy. Draco hoped it would make him more of a target and he certainly wasn't disappointed when even more curses flew in his direction.
The first curse to do any damage to Draco cut open his left shoulder, and even with blood running from his arm, Draco continued to fight. The only spell he didn't cast was the killing curse, but he was still causing plenty of damage to the opposition with the curses he was using. The deep cut on his shoulder were joined by smaller cuts on his leg, arm and torso, but nothing was so serious that he had to stop fighting.
By the time the battle had been going an hour, Draco was rather battered and bruised, but he was still on his feet. It was then that he spotted Potter and Weasley, and he smirked when the pair got their eyes on him. Throwing curses in their direction, he waited for their retaliation and he grinned when a blot of blue light left Harry's wand and came flying in his direction. The second the spell hit him, Draco was blasted backwards and as he lay on the ground, his right ankle throbbing painfully as a piece of bone stuck through his pale skin, he waited for a further attack that never came. Slowly pulling himself to a sitting position, he searched for his former school mates, but saw no sign of them in the diminishing chaos. Either they thought they'd killed him, or else they figured he wasn't worth bothering with.
Growling in frustration, Draco dragged himself to his feet. However, the second he put any weight on his ankle he fell back down, spotting the bone protruding from it for the first time. Cursing at the fact he was just in pain, and nowhere near death, Draco looked around to see that other Death Eaters were leaving the scene. Raising his own wand, Draco vanished with a pop and landed in his bedroom.
The apparition had not done his ankle any good and without thinking Draco let out a loud howl of pain as he collapsed on the floor in his bedroom. The cry brought one of the elves to his room, and upon seeing the state of him, the elf rushed off for Narcissa. When Narcissa entered his room she cried out at the state of her only son, and although Draco said he didn't need her, she refused to leave.
"I can't believe you've done this," Narcissa said tightly as she used all her magical expertise to fix Draco's broken ankle.
"These injurers aren't self-inflicted," Draco snorted.
"No, they're from you not caring what happens to you," Narcissa retorted sharply. "Honestly Draco, you're not the only one affected by this. Do you not care what you're doing to me? Do you not care how heart-breaking it is for me to see you in so much pain?"
"My intention was never to hurt you," Draco replied honestly, feeling guilty for the first time as he thought about what his parents were going through.
"But you're not going to stop, are you?" Narcissa whispered, blinking back the tears that were pooling in her eyes.
"I can't," Draco replied as he hobbled towards the bathroom to clean himself up. "I'm sorry mother, but I won't make any effort to save myself. If I live, I live, but if I die then so be it."
Aware that his words had reduced his mother to tears, Draco stumbled into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. He then set about cleaning himself up the best he could, all the time thinking about his next battle. Losing his mask in battle was a good strategy and he knew it would make him a target. He'd been lucky today that no-one had cast the killing curse his way, but his luck wouldn't hold and if he continued to fight without a mask he was sure that sooner or later one of the Order would take him out.