"I think you're getting better at this," Hermione said, and then winced when Draco shot her an annoyed look. It was true, though. He didn't look as if the uncomfortable Apparition were putting him in imminent danger of tossing his cookies. No, instead he merely looked absolutely furious upon arriving in a place that looked suspiciously familiar.

"Oh, bugger," Hermione muttered, wondering if they were now reliving her past. She recognized the stately rooms of Malfoy Manor—this nightmare could very easily be either her's or Draco's. They weren't in the room in which Bellatrix had tortured her, though, so it stood to reason that—

"I'm going to kill you," Draco spat. "Has anyone told you that in the last five minutes? No? I am going to kill you!" But instead of lunging toward the aged former headmaster, Draco merely stood stock still, bristling with rage.

"I'll help," Lucius said grimly, and Severus moved to stand closer to his godson. It was a remarkable wall of solidarity, especially from Slytherins who seldom displayed their loyalty, and Hermione had the impression that both Severus and Lucius were well aware of what they were about to witness.

"Watching the Boy Who Just Wouldn't Die nearly kill my son wasn't enough? You go too far," Lucius hissed, his hair crackling and marring his usually impeccable appearance. Before she had time to form a question, however, her attention was drawn by a crowd of wizards in robes and masks sweeping into the room.

She wasn't sure that it was possible for temperature in the room to drop with the influx of people (shouldn't it have raised the temperature?) but the chill that seeped through her was real enough that she tucked her arms around herself and hunched forward as if to make herself smaller.

"They can't hurt you," Draco said, and Hermione wasn't sure if he was saying it for her benefit or for his. "They're not real. Not anymore."

She nodded shakily, mesmerized by the sight of the group of men in their identity-concealing masks. "Cowards," she thought desperately, trying to convince herself that she wasn't horribly unsettled by the reminder of what she had fought so hard to rid the Wizarding world of not so long ago. "Cowards hide behind masks," she repeated aloud, her voice shaky, and then bit her lip, conscious of the fact that each of the three men beside her had donned that particular mask, two of them for years.

"Or those forced into bravery and sacrifice," she amended, knowing that her words were true in differing ways for each of the three. She relaxed slightly at the realization. After all, though some of the Death Eaters were undoubtedly evil, how many others of them had joined out of desperation or a sense of obligation, and regretted it? How many of them were just regular wizards who had made poor choices?

Or was she merely making excuses for the Death Eaters in order to quell her own fears?

"Do not be deceived, Miss Granger," Lucius said. "Even those of us who joined against our will were dangerous. Ruthless, cold-hearted, and unforgiving. There is no excuse, no justification."

Mr Malfoy's words were a dash of cold water in an already frigid room, but both Professor Snape and Draco stepped closer to her, flanking her.

"He is correct," Severus said. "Fear and guilt can compel a person to commit atrocities they would never consider otherwise. But the fact remains that we are quite safe. They will not harm you, Miss Granger."

"Severus is quite correct," Dumbledore interjected cheerfully. "And if you'll focus your attention on the scene at hand…"

Hermione turned a narrow-eyed glare on her former headmaster, anger boiling over at being manipulated into watching what would no doubt end up being a horrific scene. Really, how could a meeting of Death Eaters be anything but horrific? And though they'd only seen wizards in masks and robes, if it was a meeting of Death Eaters, didn't it stand to reason that Voldemort would arrive shortly? Another involuntary shiver wracked her body and, without thinking, she reached out, snagging the sleeve of the robe of the one wizard who had not moved to stand beside her.

Years of breeding coming to the fore, Lucius immediately acquiesced to her insistent tug and joined their huddle, towering protectively over all three of them. Though he did not deign to speak, his presence was reassuring, as was Severus' solid bulk behind her, and Draco's hand on the small of her back.

It was bloody unfair. She'd fought the war. They all had. And now they were reliving it. What was Dumbledore playing at? What good could possibly come of opening old wounds and reminding them of the horrors they'd worked so hard to overcome? The Wizarding world was moving on, albeit sluggishly and with many setbacks along the way. Why take them back? Why remind them?

Her mind skittered over the similarities to the Dickens tale. Every scene the spectres had shown to Scrooge had served a purpose. For the life of her, though, she could not think what she was supposed to be seeing. If they were following the story, should they not be learning something from their past? Was the path that they were on so horrific that it would lead to terrible events in the future?

She frowned, trying to work it out. No matter how she added it up, the numbers didn't reach a reasonable sum. From what she had gleaned from the memories shown to Lucius, Severus, and Draco, they were on the right path now. They'd overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to be where they were today—rebuilding the future of the world, living in peace with those around them.

Surely that was a good thing?

And if it were not a good thing, if the decisions they were currently making really were leading to a catastrophic future… Well, she could hardly counsel them to make poor decisions instead! What was she to do? Urge them to renew their prejudice and genocide?

No. In good conscience, she couldn't. They'd made good decisions, and she couldn't see her way to recommending that they do anything but stay on their current path.

So be it.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she took a deep breath and boldly studied the group of Death Eaters congregated in the room. Lucius, Severus, and Draco were right. They couldn't harm her, couldn't harm any of them. And she'd be damned if she let this memory, no matter what it was, no matter what misguided purpose it was intended to serve, upset any of the former Death Eaters currently attempting to alleviate her fears.

Back straight, head held high, she moved to stand directly between her fellow travellers and the Death Eaters.

She might be the only Muggleborn in the room, but they, she suspected, were the ones in need of protection.

"I do not want to see this," Lucius said, his right hand clutching at his left forearm. "Not again. I—"

"It will be fine, Father," Draco said quietly, his voice filled with conviction. "It is what it is. We cannot change the past, and I am tired of fearing it."

Lucius opened his mouth as if to argue but then snapped it closed, huffing in frustration. There was a flurry of activity at the entrance to the room, and Hermione shivered as the temperature dropped once again. In a flurry of darkness, Lord Voldemort swept into the room.

"Very good. All present and accounted for," he hissed.

Hermione stared at him, refusing to be intimidated. It wasn't the first time she'd seen him—she had, after all, had quite a good view of him during the Final Battle. But it was somehow different, more personal, seeing him interact with the Death Eaters.

"The old fool refuses to relinquish the school to me," he continued. "I require Hogwarts to be under my control, and he knows this. By delaying it, he only places himself and his precious students in greater peril."

The Death Eaters made quiet noises of agreement, though Hermione had the suspicion that this was a practiced response, rather than an expression of actual support for his plan.

"I fear that I will be forced to use a student to bring my plan to fruition," Voldemort continued, trying to sound as if the idea pained him. It was a terrible attempt that fooled no one, and Hermione wondered why he even bothered trying. Did he actually have a conscience that he was attempting to appease? It seemed unlikely. Perhaps it merely fit with the image he chose to portray.

"My Lord, surely I can be of use to you?"

Hermione whipped to face the speaker. She'd known that Severus was a Death Eater, of course. But to see him in the mask, and to hear him offer his help… No matter the fact that she knew where his true loyalties lay, it was still disconcerting.

"I am afraid not," Voldemort said, and she wondered if he were now practicing his sympathetic voice. "If all goes to plan you will be the next Headmaster of Hogwarts, and that role will not be enhanced by an accusation of murder."

"Murder, my Lord? I understood you thought to charge a student with finding a way to allow Death Eaters access to the school…" Lucius' voice trailed off, as if he realized speaking had not been in his best interest.

"You are quite right, Lucius. We should not speak of murder just yet," Voldemort agreed. "I do think, however, that your idea of a student paving the way for my loyal servants to enter Hogwarts is quite ingenious. I assume that you have your son in mind for the task? Wonderful! Call him in, won't you?"

"My Lord," Lucius stammered. "I—he is not yet a Death Eater," he finished.

"A problem most easily remedied." Voldemort waved his bony hand impatiently. "Well, Lucius? Call the boy! Or should I send Bellatrix for him?"

"I'll fetch him myself," Lucius said, and hurried from the room. Hermione glanced back at the others, wondering if they were intended to follow him, but before she could voice her question Dumbledore waved his arm and the room shimmered briefly. Without needing to touch his robes, Hermione found they had been transported to an opulent bedroom.

"You have been summoned," Lucius was saying to Draco, who was scrambling to his feet, obviously having been lounging on his bed.

"Summoned?" Draco questioned, swallowing hard. "But—"

"We have very little time," Lucius snapped. "He has summoned you, and you must come immediately." He paused. "And you must prepare yourself."

Draco's pale complexion whitened even further. "Father?"

Lucius closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose. "I do not know his complete plan," he said, "but…" He pushed up the sleeve of his robe, revealing a dark, writhing tattoo."This," he said, repeating  the words that his mother had said to him so many years ago, "whatever else it may be, is a mark of love and sacrifice in the Malfoy family. It is a mark of putting the good of the family above all else, and it is something to be proud of, even as we hold it close to our hearts and share it with no others."

Draco backed away in horror. "No," he whispered. "No!" he repeated, his voice vibrating with a mixture of terror and anger.

"You have no choice," Lucius informed him, his tone grim. "Come, before he sends Bellatrix in search of us."

Draco shuddered at the mention of his aunt. "Why? Why does he want me now? I'm not of age," he asked, even as he took a hesitant step toward the door.

Lucius pressed his lips together. "The Dark Lord will explain what is required of you."

Draco swallowed hard.

"It will not be easy."

He nodded.

"But you must do as he asks," Lucius said, taking on a desperate tone. "You must accomplish what he sets for you to do, no matter how… unpleasant. Now, come," he said, rubbing a forearm that Hermione guessed was tingling. "We try his patience."

Draco nodded, following his father from the room.

Another flick of Dumbledore's arm, and they were back in the original room.

"If the old bat has been making us touch his robes for no good reason," Severus began, but stopped abruptly when he observed his godson kneeling before the Dark Lord, looking terribly young and pale.

"Merlin," he muttered. "It is worse the second time around."

"Only because you know the consequences," Dumbledore supplied cheerfully. "When this occurred the first time, it was nameless dread you were experiencing, I should think. Fear of the unknown, of an uncertain future. Now that you know what came of this…"

Severus glared at him. "Yes. I'd figured that out for myself, thank you very much."

"Just trying to be of use," Dumbledore claimed, holding up both hands before him. His robes shifted with the movement, and Hermione tracked the length of chains still wrapped about him. Was one of the links a Death Eater mask? she wondered, squinting. The hollow eyes of the mask stared back at her, unblinking.

The ceremony, such as it was, was mercifully short, with Voldemort speaking only a few words, and those in Parseltongue. The moment when Draco staggered, his face contorted in pain, seemed to last significantly longer, though in reality she supposed it was less than a minute that his body tensed, quaking with the pain of the foreign mark being branded onto his body. Perhaps being branded even onto his soul, she thought, suspecting that the agony he experienced was not merely physical.

When Draco was commanded to rise, he did so, wobbling only slightly.

"You are a credit to your family," Voldemort hissed. "Not all can stand after taking the Mark. Your parents, I am sure, are proud of you."

It was strange wording, Hermione thought. For surely only Lucius was present? It had been proven that Narcissa, whatever else she had done, had never taken the Mark herself. And then she saw what she had previously missed. Two figures emerged from the shadows, one confident and cruel, the other cowed and cringing.

Narcissa and Bellatrix Black.

Narcissa, however, straightened immediately when she saw her son. "Draco," she breathed, and stepped toward him, only to be pulled back by her sister with a firm tug of her hair. Draco lurched toward her, only to be restrained when Voldemort pointed one long, bony finger at him, forcing him to remain where he was.

"See that you carry out my instructions," the Dark Lord hissed. "It would be a shame for such a… loving family to be ruined." He pointed again, and this time Draco was flung fifteen feet across the room, where he landed in a heap at his mother's feet. He rose quickly, and very correctly offered his arm to Narcissa. She grasped it, but only after glancing down at the mark prominently displayed by his rolled sleeve.

Hermione had always considered Narcissa Malfoy to be beautiful. Pale and cold, perhaps, but undeniably beautiful. Watching her expression now, though, Hermione knew that she would never see her as anything other than utterly breath-taking.

The flash of fire in her eyes, the brief hint of colour in her cheeks. Oh, she hid it well, Hermione thought. Voldemort had already turned his back to the Malfoy family and was imparting more of his rhetoric to his loyal followers. There was likely a Death Eater or two still watching them, but Narcissa covered her flash of spirit so quickly that she doubted any of them would have even registered what they were seeing.

Draco, the Draco beside her, knew, though.

She felt it in the way his body stiffened and in the way he lifted his chin.

The Draco in the memory knew it as well.

"Mother," he whispered, and Hermione thought she'd never heard so much emotion imbued in a single word. Pain. Regret. Terror. Love.

"We're done here," Lucius said roughly and turned to Dumbledore, his eyes blazing with a fire entirely different than his late wife's. "Do you hear me, old man? We're done here."

Dumbledore dragged his eyes away from the scene before them. "Yes," he said, sounding a little sad himself. "Yes, I believe we are." Shaking off his melancholy with a shrug of his shoulders, he held out his arms for them to grasp. Smiling brightly, he said, "I can't wait to see where we go next! After all," he said, winking in Hermione's direction. "I hear there's no place like home."

And just as Hermione had been certain that their last trip was going to be into Draco's past, she knew without a doubt that it was her own memories that were about to be exploited next.



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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. They are used without permission and not for profit.

Thanks, as always, to The Above and Beyond Team of Miss M and Miss B.

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