Caution wasn't always high on Voldemort's agenda, but when it came to finding who the Order were secretly holding prisoner, he was happy to take things slow and steady. He'd trusted Lucius to handle everything and bring him into things when he had solid and useful information to share with him. Since Lucius was the thorough type, he'd wanted to check and double check his information before sharing it with The Dark Lord, so it was mid-November before Lucius requested a meeting with The Dark Lord to discuss what he and the Lestrange brothers had discovered.
The meeting was held at Bellatrix and Rodolphus's house, and it was a private meeting with only a select few people present. Lucius, Rodolphus and Rabastan were all present to present their findings to Voldemort, and Voldemort himself had requested the presence of Bellatrix and Severus. Lucius had quietly spoken to Severus about the mystery prisoner, but it had been the first he'd heard of it, and even though his own investigations concluded that the group Mundungus suspected of being involved with the prisoner were hiding something, he'd found no leads to help them. Although he was fully prepared to admit he could envision Dumbledore taking a prisoner and only informing a select few members of the Order.
"I hope we have answers, Lucius," Voldemort said as the group gathered around Bellatrix's large dining room table.
"Not to the identity of the prisoner," Lucius replied regretfully. "But using the tracking spells Fletcher slipped to the members of the Order, we've found a remote area in Wales where the group visit. The area has no solid connection with the Order, and Severus has confirmed it's not the location of any Order safe house."
"I've never even heard anyone mention Wales before," Severus supplied. "Wherever they're going, I don't know where it is."
"And everyone with the tracking spell have been to this place?" Voldemort asked, looking at the map reference Lucius had given him in Wales.
"Actually no," Lucius confessed. "The Potter boy and his Weasley friend haven't been near there."
"Although to be fair, Ron's spent a lot of the last few weeks at home," Severus added. "He's still walking with a limp following his run-in with Draco."
"But everyone else has been to Wales?" Voldemort checked.
"Yes, and when they go they tend to stay anywhere between two to five days," Lucius said. "There's always a crossover as well. Whoever is there doesn't leave before someone comes to relieve them. There's been a constant presence since we've started the surveillance, or at least since everyone was slipped the potion as Fletcher had to do that in stages and take advantage of who was around at the time. But since they've all been dosed, there's always someone there."
"Is there always just one person?" Voldemort asked.
"Not always," Rodolphus answered. "The Weasley woman is always there on her own, but the other three are often there in pairs."
"What do we do?" Bellatrix asked Voldemort. "Do we risk an attack on this place?"
"Yes, I want to know who they're holding and why," Voldemort said with a firm nod of his head. "But before we do, do we have any idea what sort of place we're talking about?"
"All the records I can pull up on the area say it's pretty sparsely populated," Lucius answered. "The only buildings in that area are holiday cottages and small homes. We're certainly not talking anywhere heavily fortified."
"Even so, I don't want to take any chances," Voldemort said. "Rodolphus, Rabastan, I want the pair of you to get yourselves down to Wales and find this mysterious property. Whatever you do, don't be seen and don't make any attempt to try and breach the property. I just want to know what exactly we're dealing with."
"How long do we have?" Rabastan asked, knowing that Voldemort often set time limits on his Death Eaters to make sure they didn't slack off and did as she asked for them.
"There's no rush, but I don't want you to take forever either," Voldemort replied. "I'm going to be busy for the next few days anyway. Lucius, I take it Draco is back home?"
For the last three weeks Draco had been away dealing with a special task for The Dark Lord. No-one but the two of them knew what had been going on, and Lucius hadn't even known where his son had been. All he knew was that Draco had been out of the country, and he didn't seem to be staying at any Malfoy property. Narcissa had been worried sick about him and what he could be doing, but they'd had no way to contact him. Fortunately he'd returned home the previous day unhurt, although he'd retreated to his own wing of the manor and neither of them had seen him since. Even though months had passed since Hermione's death he was still cold and distant and with each passing month, Lucius was losing faith in ever getting his son back.
"He returned home yesterday," Lucius said to Voldemort.
"Good, tell him I'll be round to see him this evening. I have something else for him to do."
Lucius nodded as Voldemort issued a final few instructions and the meeting broke up. Rabastan and Rodolphus both rushed off to prepare to head to Wales, while Lucius asked Severus if he wanted to pop back to the manor for a drink. Even though he should have been getting back to school, Severus accepted the offer and he accompanied his friend back to Malfoy Manor.
The two wizards found Narcissa sitting in the living room, staring into space. It was clear the last few months had been affecting her, and although she was still beautiful, Severus could see a weariness about her he'd never witnessed before. Even her welcoming smile seemed forced and he could see the unshed tears swimming in her crystal blue eyes.
"How are things, Severus?" Narcissa asked politely as the two wizards settled down to talk to her.
"Everything's just fine," Severus replied. "How are things here?"
"Still the same," Narcissa answered with a sigh, knowing that Severus was asking about Draco. "It's like I've lost my son. He's still here and walking about, but the Draco I know and love has shrivelled and died. He's so cold these days."
"I suspect it's the only way he can cope with his loss," Severus said quietly. He knew a bit about losing the love of his life, but as hard as it had been for him to lose Lily, he knew it must be ten times worse for Draco since Hermione had actually loved him back and they'd been a real couple.
"That's just the thing, he's not coping," Narcissa insisted. "He's refusing to deal with losing Hermione, and it's dragged him into the darkness. Hell, it's dragged all of us into the darkness. If this was what he truly wanted, I wouldn't complain, but we all know this isn't what he wants."
"Do you still think he wants to die?" Severus asked.
"I don't know," Narcissa confessed. "I hope not, but I just don't know since he refuses to talk to us."
"Every day that passes without him being killed, I hope makes him realise just what he has to live for," Lucius said. "I keep telling myself that if he really wanted to die, he would have done so by now. Going into battles, he's just reckless, and it's a miracle he hasn't already been killed."
"I think he's lucky he hasn't been around just lately. Potter's seriously gunning for him after what happened with Weasley." Severus said. With Draco busy doing secret tasks for Voldemort, he hadn't been present at a battle since the attack on The Burrow when he'd seriously injured Ron.
"But the boy's okay, isn't he?" Narcissa checked.
"He's alive and he can walk," Severus replied. "But he's got a limp that won't even leave him."
"Given the state Draco's been in, he should think himself lucky he's just walked away with a limp," Lucius said with a snort.
Severus nodded his agreement as he changed the subject away from Draco. He knew his friends were suffering along with their son, and he himself was worried sick about Draco, but dwelling on it wasn't getting them anywhere. Until Draco was finally ready to open up to them, all they could do was wait and be there for him when he was ready to accept their love and support.
Hermione's image swam in Draco's head as he screwed his eyes shut and relentlessly thrust into the nameless witch he'd picked up at a nearby bar. It was only the second time since Hermione died that he'd been with someone else, and as with the first time, there was no emotions involved. It was sex, plain and simple, and all he was doing was scratching an itch that he couldn't quite satisfy on his own. The witch he was with could have been anyone for all he cared, he just needed to be with someone.
When he came, Draco whispered Hermione's name, and it was his girlfriend's image burned into his mind as his body shook with pleasure. The second he started to regain his senses, he de-tangled himself from the witch he'd picked up in the bar. He then made his excuses as to why they couldn't carry on their evening, before leaving her in the alley where they'd just had sex and returning home.
The first thing Draco did upon returning home was have a hot shower, and it wasn't until he'd stepped out of the shower and was getting dressed that he realised he wasn't alone in his wing of the manor. Hastily shoving the rest of his clothes on, he headed off to confront whoever had intruded on his privacy yet again. However, he was rather stunned to find Voldemort casually flicking through his books when he entered the library.
"I don't think there's any need for that, Draco," Voldemort said with a chuckle, eyeing in the wand Draco had clutched in his hand.
"Sorry My Lord, I had no idea you were here," Draco said as he slipped his wand into his pocket.
"Your father mentioned he couldn't pass the message on as you weren't here when he got back earlier," Voldemort replied with a casual shrug of his shoulder. "Still, I decided to wait. I'm eager to hear how the rest of your trip went."
Draco had just returned from Brazil, where he'd spent weeks tracking down a family heirloom from a pureblood family with connections to Salazar Slytherin. Once he'd tracked down the necklace, Voldemort had showed up and taken it from him for a couple of days. He'd then returned the necklace and ordered him to hide it as he'd earlier done with the cup and the brooch.
"The necklace is secure," Draco assured The Dark Lord. He'd hidden the piece of jewellery in an old sock and then placed it behind a loose wall panel of the hotel room he'd been staying in, before fixing the panel so only his magic could loosen it again.
"Excellent work," Voldemort said with a pleased nod. "And now I've got another task for you. Again I want you to track down another family heirloom, this time in India."
"Tell me the name of the family and I'll get going," Draco said. He would rather be fighting, but for the last few weeks The Dark Lord had kept him off the front lines and he knew arguing would only lead to him being tortured. Voldemort knew what he wanted, and Draco knew that he wouldn't give it to him, he might hurt him, but he would never kill him.
"Sharma," Voldemort supplied. "I'll give you all the information I have on the family, and on the item I want you to obtain. Leave when you're ready, and send for me when you have the item in your possession."
"Yes My Lord," Draco replied as Voldemort rose to leave.
When Voldemort was gone, Draco sorted himself a glass of firewhisky and settled himself down to think. Finally his curiosity was beginning to rise and he thought about the three items he'd hidden for Voldemort. He still didn't know what they meant, or why they were important, but he was now starting to get curious about what he'd been doing. Summoning some parchment, he jotted down descriptions of the three items he'd hidden for Voldemort, and where he'd hidden them. He then slipped the parchment into a book and slotted it onto one of the bookshelves. He wasn't sure why he'd done what he just had, but something told him it might just prove useful. After all, maybe if he could work out what he was doing, he would have some ammunition on Voldemort and he could goad The Dark Lord into doing what he'd wanted all along – kill him and end the unbearable pain he was living with.