6 September 1998 - Full Moon
Stepping off of the train, Draco looks around, expecting someone to meet him, to escort him up to Hogwarts. Instead, the platform is eerily empty, save for a single lamppost that is lit. There is no boat waiting to take him across the lake to the school. There is no carriage waiting to take him up the road through Hogsmeade.
Instead, it is oddly silent, the only sound coming from the cold night wind gusting through the trees.
He waits, for what he does not know, perhaps a burst of inspiration, or for someone, anyone. He can’t Apparate closer to the school, since he doesn’t have an Apparition license, and he can’t fly, having not been given one in the trunk that the ministry kindly packed for him. The only option left to him is to walk.
And so, ten minutes after the train had arrived at the station, he begins to do just that.
His trunk, he levitates, with everything still packed safely inside. Everything he owns, for as long as the Ministry is searching Malfoy Manor and his numerous vaults, is in this trunk.
He tries not to think about that as he begins the dark walk, but it’s impossible not to. That’s all he has done, for over four months. Think. Think while sitting in absolute solitude.
And then, the Wizengamot had pulled him from his cell and acquitted him. That had been two days earlier, and now, as Draco walks, he can finally think it through.
Acquitted. It doesn’t mean he’s innocent. Innocent implied they recognized that he had done nothing wrong… and Draco has to agree with them. He had made a thousand mistakes along the way, and yet - was there ever another choice? Was there ever another path for him?
But guilty… was Draco guilty of being a Death Eater? He had feared them, hidden from them, been marked as one of them, yes, but he had also been tortured by them. Death Eaters killed and attacked and tortured and destroyed, and what had Draco done?
You’re the reason Dumbledore is dead , he reminds himself.
And that is enough for him. Because of his direct actions, a wizard had died. He may have not been the one to cast the spell, but he was the one that brought them all there.
Acquitted. Neither innocent nor guilty. There was simply no way to prove either way.
I could have shown them the truth , he thinks, remembering the threats, the promises really, of what would happen to his mother if he had failed.
But they didn’t ask for evidence. There wasn’t even a trial. Draco was simply dragged from his cell and placed before the court to hear his sentencing. Acquittal. Probation. A tracker.
After going through what felt like a whirlwind of emotion, from anger and rage to sadness to begging to depression to acceptance of his lack of a future… to hear that he would be allowed his freedom…
Except, it comes at a cost. A cost he is now paying, as he walks alone in the darkness, towards Hogwarts. A cost that, now as he stands, looking towards the castle, illuminated in the distance by the glow of the full moon, feels far too high.
A year at Hogwarts, to complete his final studies. Two years of a Mastery. Two years at the Ministry. And then, he would be a free Wizard.
But at what cost?
Because, within Hogwarts, he knows he’s not safe. Hogwarts is where students had been tortured and attacked by Death Eaters. Where classmates had been killed. Where Crabbe… Where the war and all of the loss and death finally ended.
And just outside of Hogwarts? The village of Hogsmeade, where he’s currently walking. He stops at that thought, a chill running down his spine. While the Headmistress promised that he would be safe at Hogwarts, his past actions forgotten by request of the Ministry… there was no promise made by the village.
What will they do to him, when they see him? It’s late, yes, but not so late that the pub would be empty. It would be impossible for him to slip through the village entirely unseen… particularly after his face had been on the front cover of the paper, detailing the terms of his release.
They’re going to bloody hex me , he realizes, suddenly frozen in fear.
For a brief moment, he considers turning around and taking the path through the Forbidden Forest. Somehow, that feels less dangerous. At least whatever is in the forest, he can possibly outrun, or at least stun.
But a person? The tracker placed on him would surely alert the ministry, and then…
There’s no obvious answer.
He hesitates, turning to look back in the direction where he had come from. Far off, he can just barely make out the glow of the lantern on the platform. And then, further on, is simply darkness.
Hogsmeade Village. At least it’s fully lit, and if he moves quickly enough, he will be in sight of the school within twenty minutes. He just has to hurry.
Still, his hand tightens on his wand, enjoying the familiar feeling of magic flowing through it. It’s one of the only things he has that was his before the war, returned to him after his Acquittal. It feels good, to have an extension of himself in hand, and he whispers a Protego , hoping that it will be enough to stop any of the villagers that attack him.
He makes it to the edge of the village before panic starts to set in. After months of being in a cell, it feels so strange to have such a wide-open path before him, but now, it’s almost too much. He reminds himself, standing there, that this is a future that, up until two days ago, he had not believed he would ever have.
When he had stepped into the courtroom, he had already accepted that his future was destroyed. He had accepted that his fate was already sealed. That he, a boy that had been marked just after his sixteenth birthday, would spend the rest of his life imprisoned. That he would never again know warmth, would always feel hunger, and would go mad from the solitude.
This… the path before him… He has no choice in it. He must return to Hogwarts. He must walk through this village. He must accept things as they come. It’s a future he didn’t know he had. He just has to keep moving.
Swallowing down his fears, Draco begins to walk along the outskirts of the village. The houses are all dark for the night, but the lanterns glow along the street up ahead. It’s more than he had had on the path approaching the village, but he had feared lighting a Lumos , as though it would give away his position.
There’s no hiding once he enters the village.
Swallowing down his fears, he reminds himself of what he had finally decided, while sitting in chains, receiving his final sentence.
Accepting, but wary. Grateful, but apathetic. Exhausted, but at peace.
So long as he is wary, he can accept the path before him. So long as he doesn’t show too much emotion, he can feel gratitude. And the exhaustion, when it overwhelms him… he simply has to remind himself that the current path he is on, it might lead to peace.
He reaches the edge of the village, and he knows that he must continue up the path towards Hogwarts, but he considers walking around. It would take longer, but it would likely be safer.
No. No. He must continue on. Accepting, so long as he is wary.
He continues walking up the path towards Hogsmeade, his wand held tight in his hand, just in case any of the villagers see him and decide to attack.
And then, he hears the first scream.
Without thought, he’s already taking two steps backward, his wand held aloft, a silent cast of Protego surrounding him. His eyes dart around, seeking out the dark shadows. There’s no flash of lights, no flash of spells, and there are no sounds of casting of spells being thrown, of bodies being tossed about - not even the sounds of doors flying open, people flooding the streets in panic and terror.
A second scream comes, and he turns towards it, seeking it out. Once he actually knows exactly where the scream is coming from, he’ll run in the opposite direction.
Wherever the screams are, that’s exactly where he doesn’t want to be.
His eyes dart towards the woods, lingering along the edge of the village, and then there’s a third scream. It’s soul-piercing, ringing in his ears, never-ending. It’s familiar, in a way that chills every bone in his body. The sound cuts through him, echoing, a haunting harmony that nearly causes him to double over in terror.
It’s the sound of someone being tortured. The sound of someone being ripped apart. It’s the sound of someone begging for their life, or for mercy, or for it to just end. It’s a sound he’s heard over and over again, a sound that he’ll never escape, a sound that will follow him even in death.
It ends just as suddenly as it began. Once more, it’s silent. Absolutely silent.
Draco does not move, his eyes still darting around, looking for the swirl of a cloak, the movement of wizards between houses, even just a single sign of life… but there’s nothing.
He can still feel the prickles on his skin, his ears still ring, and his heart is still pounding. What he heard… they were screams of agony. Surely someone else had to have heard it. He is only a few paces away from the village itself. Someone else had to have heard it. There was simply no other way.
But as he looks around, it clicks, that he truly is the only one that heard anything. That ringing in his ear, the prickles on his skin, his pounding heart in chest… he’s the only one. And, with a sense of horror, he realizes that this is it. The madness that plagued his Aunt Bella, the torture of sitting in solitary for months, the quietness that attacks you when you least expect it…
He had felt comfort while in solitary. Solitary doesn’t attack you. It’s quiet, yes, but it can’t kill you. It doesn’t hex. It doesn’t curse. In solitary, it’s only you and your thoughts. And your thoughts… they can’t kill you.
Or so he had thought. Now, as he stands there on the edge of the village, he realizes that one’s thoughts can kill them if they go mad.
Closing his eyes, Draco tries to calm his heart, his free hand resting over it, pressing down. If he can slow his heart, he can slow his breathing, and then press forward, towards the school. Perhaps he will request a Mindhealer. Surely no one would object to that.
He opens his eyes as his head tilts back, looking up at the stars. They’re practically glowing, and he takes comfort in the constellations, a sight he had not enjoyed for many months, even before the end of the war. The sky… it brings him comfort. It is familiar. A subject he has studied for many years. It’s a piece of normalcy in a world that no longer makes sense.
His eyes find the moon, big and bright, and he stares at it for far too long, simply letting his heart slow back to a normal pace as he continues to breathe in and out.
The scream that cuts through the silence surrounds him, envelopes him. There is no denying that sound, that scream, that terror, that agony. He’s heard the sound before. He knows it. He just can’t quite place it, exactly.
He needs to know if he's mad, or if there's something there, and despite his better judgement, he runs, clutching his wand, towards the screams. He waves a protection spell over himself, pressing one hand onto the wall, ready to lob himself over it, towards the screams. There’s a lone building ahead, and he can practically see the walls shaking from the screams, except - as his body goes over the fence, the screaming ends.
Ends. Completely. It has not died out, nor was it a final cry. It simply ends. Ends as though it is cut off. Muted. Silenced.
He freezes, his body having just hit the ground, and he waits for something. Looking back over his shoulder towards the low stone wall that surrounds the entirety of Hogsmeade, he suddenly flings himself back over - and is met with the screams once more.
Why would… why would someone silence the screams within the town? Why would… Something about this, it doesn’t make sense.
Draco climbs back over the wall a final time, standing within the edge of Hogsmeade, and he looks towards the other houses. It’s no wonder they don’t hear the screams - they’re silenced.
And now that he stands within the silence, he finally recognizes where he is, what building it is that is shaking from the screams. The Shrieking Shack.
Awkwardly, he speaks aloud.
He can hear his own voice, which confuses him further. A proximity silencing spell? Why would someone only go so far as to silence the village? Why not silence the place that it’s coming from? This is like a ward… something specialized, that has to be triggered under special circumstances. It’s an impressive bit of magic, but it doesn’t make sense.
He thinks about looking at the warding, but something tells him not to approach the shack. He can almost see the bit of spellwork around it, likely with runes mixed in… Something about the shack is haunted. And as much as he wants to study it, to look at it all… self-preservation tells him it’s time to move on.
Whatever is happening in that shack… well, there’s no way in, as far as he can tell. Likely, the only person that can do anything about it is the very person he’s on his way to see. He’ll just… have to tell the Headmistress about this, once he reaches Hogwarts.
He knows better, and yet still, he approaches the shack all the same. There are runes and wardings, and as he touches it… he’s allowed in. That’s surprising.
And then the screaming resumes.
He’s frozen in terror as he hears them, so much louder now. The screams echo as though flesh and bone are being torn apart, muscle is being ripped, and he can feel the torture. Someone in the Shack is dying… or thinks they are. Draco had never believed the Shack was actually haunted, but now… now he understands the rumors. Whatever is happening within the abandoned building…
Death. Death is the only appropriate word for what is happening here. The screams of death.
It takes everything in him for him to turn his back to the screaming, and step out of the wards. He had half expected that he would be trapped within them, but once he’s free, he quickly returns to where his trunk is still hovering, waiting for him. He doesn’t step outside of the village and instead reaches his hand towards the trunk and summons it.
As he turns and makes his way towards the school, he no longer fears villagers stepping out and attacking him. In truth, he’s not even afraid of what he will find at the school. As he quickly moves along the path through Hogsmeade, and further on up towards the school, it’s the sound of those screams that follow him.
It’s the sound of screams that still ring in his ear as he reaches the front gate, where safety is not… but, whatever is within Hogwarts? It’s better than what’s in that Shack.