His grandmother had wanted a granddaughter. At least, this was the explanation his mother had given him for the rag doll that had been his companion for most of his childhood. She was a present from a hopeful relative before his birth. He hadn't questioned the story, not when he'd first asked, not now; he'd simply accepted her presence when he was young enough to care and relegated her to his mother's boxes of memorabilia when he'd grown old enough to be conscious of the fact that other boys didn't play with dolls. She'd been an odd memory through his career at Hogwarts, something that would come wistfully to mind as he drifted off to sleep, forgotten about by the morning.
Then, one day, while searching through the attic for an old box of family records, he'd found her again.
He could never quite tell why he'd pulled her out of the box, sat her on a bureau so that she watched the rest of his search with her black button eyes, then picked her up and carried her back to his room, but he had and he certainly never regretted it. From an old cast off toy, she became a source of nostalgia, something to be held and smiled at. He would carefully straighten the blue and white checks of her dress, muss the pale yarn of her hair, and remember a time when he could play without worry, without consequence. It seemed such a long time ago, before school, before the winding black snake that traced itself around his wrist, writhing out of the mouth of the skull. It was a safe time, a peaceful time.
It was a past time, something that seemed to be all the more apparent as he sat on the couch in his father's study, watching the fire light rim the edge of Dolly's face as she dangled forlornly from his father's fingers. Hard, grey eyes watching him in a manner that let him know he was in trouble, but he couldn't quite figure out what he'd done wrong.
"Yes father?" He flicked his own eyes up to his father's face, trying guess at the thoughts running through the older man's head.
"Do you have any idea how much time you spend with this doll?" The words were calmly spoken, but the sharp jerk that brought Dolly up to chest level belied that calm.
Draco winced slightly, but his reply was equally placid. "No." His eyes moved back to Dolly. Her head lolled forward as if she were being strangled by her weight hanging from her collar. Part of him wanted to cry out -- Stop it! You're hurting her! -- but he kept his lips firmly shut.
"At least an hour at a time, twice a day, sometimes as many as three hours." It was hard to believe his father's eyes could get any narrower without closing, but they did. His lips formed a hard, frustrated line. "Draco, you are a Death Eater. You haven't time for sentimentality."
"It's not sentimentality." Draco's chin notched up in defense of his wounded pride, his nostrils flaring slightly. "It just helps me relax."
"You can't afford to relax!" Lucius Malfoy snapped at his son, his free hand clenching sporadically. "If you relax, you'll miss important information; you'll be taken by surprise when the Aurors arrive; you won't see the hand reaching for the wand until it's too late." The fingers on Dolly shifted from one hand to two, from her collar to a firm grip on her body and one arm. "I will not..."
A sharp wrench and tug pulled the doll's arm free, thread snapping, stuffing leaking from the wound. A quick jerk and the separated arm went flying into the fire. It caught like kindling, the stuffing more flammable than the rest, igniting the arm from the inside out.
Draco watched, eyes wide and vacant, a small voice in the back of his mind screaming hysterically for his father to stop.
"...see my son..."
Another wrench and the remaining arm followed the first.
The head took a bit more effort, enough that Lucius voice strained from its typical, smooth purr to a low growl.
Once the head was gone, the legs were next, the first one leaving the body with the same ease the arms had.
"...a doll." When the second leg ripped free, Lucius tossed both it and the body into the fire with the rest.
The flames had already made quick work of the arms and head, the button eyes falling out of the crumpled, charcoal fabric of Dolly's dying face. Draco stared numbly into those eyes, the surrounding flames, not really seeing what was there as much as a long parade of memories, all of them featuring the little pile of ash forming in front of him. He might have sat there all day, if his father's voice, once again calm and cool to the point of coldness, drew him back to the room.
"Do you understand me?"
Blinking, Draco looked up at the man who had raised him, into silver eyes that were older versions of his own. He wanted to be angry, to yell and scream at the senseless injustice of having his doll -- a harmless habit, really -- taken from him. He wanted to throw a temper tantrum as he had when he was five. However, looking into those eyes, past the flat mirrors that baffled anyone who hadn't made a study of the elder Malfoy's moods, far enough to see the concern and fear in them, he couldn't summon up anything more than a low sadness and bitter regret. "Yes, Father. I understand."
Somewhere, the children were screaming. Draco pushed the sound to the back of his mind, trying not to be distracted by its annoying shrillness. The children weren't his concern. His concern was the parents -- a duty already dealt with and lying crumpled in a corner of the kitchen and living room -- and the papers.
It had been stupid of the family, really, to take the papers in the first place, Draco thought. Didn't they know that if you stole something, the original owner would come after it? This was especially true of papers proving that three of the Ministry's top officials were Death Eaters.
The problem was finding the damn papers! They'd checked the study, the master bedroom, the lounge. Nothing. Now Draco was sifting through boxes at one end of the sprawling attic while Thomas Knott searched the other. Dust settled over everything, thick as powdered sugar on Crabbe's pancakes in the morning, flying up in clouds to clog Draco's nose and throat, sting his eyes, blind him. It resettled so quickly and randomly that his freshly made tracks were already half obliterated. If the family had hidden the papers up here a matter of days ago, even if they'd done it yesterday! there would be no way to tell.
There was an uneven board in the floor. Draco found it with his toe and, swearing loudly, he crashed into a nearby trunk, toppling it. On impact, its latch sprang open, spilling its contents onto the floor.
Tom's voice came from the other end of the attic. "You alright, Malfoy?"
"Yes." Draco coughed, then added with a sneer. "Whoever put this fire trap together did a shoddy job."
There was a snort of agreeing laughter, then silence settled back over the room like the dust. Draco turned to examine the contents of the trunk he'd knocked over. He scoffed at the old baby clothes, years out of date, and shoved them roughly out of the way. The stuffed bears were given much the same treatment, as was the small wooden horse with its frayed pulling and rusted wheels.
Then he uncovered her.
She lay on her back in the dust, looking up at him with little blue bead eyes. Her black curls fanned around her face and her arms, topped in little, gingham puffs, reached out like a child begging to be picked up. Almost as if in a trance, he reached over and obeyed, hands closing around her waist, fingers automatically smoothing the near-permanent creases in her dress. She stared back at him with those scratched little eyes, her expression tense and solemn, calling to him...
"I found them!"
The jubilant cry broke through Draco's reverie, pulling him back to the here and now quite rudely. He looked to the other end of the attic. "You're certain?"
"Yes! They're all here. Let's get back to the Master."
Draco nodded, absently tucking the doll away in his robes, and Disapparated.
The peculiar thing about the Death Eater's victims, Draco soon discovered, was that they all owned at least one doll. Children slept with soft, cuddly companions clutched in chubby little arms; mothers tucked them away in boxes and curios. In one house -- Lavender Brown's, surprisingly; he'd never given her that much credit for taste -- he discovered porcelain dolls. Lady dolls, baby dolls, rag dolls, raggedy dolls -- everything except those horrid, plastic, Muggle fashion dolls -- they all found their way into Draco's hands and from there to a small, secret room in the Manor's dungeons that had once been used for the housing of certain Dark Arts items now found under the drawing room floor. When his father was gone and his mother busy, the youngest Malfoy would sneak down and sit with one or two of them in his arms, looking around at his collection, breathing in the stillness, almost content. Almost. There was one thing missing. He tried to ignore it, to pretend that somewhere amid the golden blondes and nut browns, cherry reds, carrot reds and sooty blacks, there was at least one doll with silver blonde hair.
She was hiding. Draco's lips turned up at the corners at the thought. The stupid little carrot topped blood traitor actually thought she could run from him? Oh no, there was too much to repay for that.
There was seventh year, when she'd sent a bludger into his shoulder just as he stretched to grab the snitch...
...sixth year when she'd insulted him, his father, his mother, the whole family, in front of the entire school and he'd been punished for retaliating with a curse...
...fifth year, the Bat Bogey curse...
Oh yes, so many little favors to return!
Behind him, the Burrow burned, the other rabbits having fled like this one or died like their parents or missing, off at the Ministry working so diligently to keep the world safe while their family -- six of nine -- died under their noses.
Draco moved silently through the pathetically empty countryside. Beyond the occasional tree and bush, there was no shelter. Nothing to hide him. Nothing to hide her. The only danger was the little bitch tossing a curse at him when he approached. He should have called for back up before he went after her, but he'd been too eager to kill her himself.
Off to his right, a twig snapped, bringing his head around, his eyes refocusing on the empty patch of orchard before him. His ears strained. A small, scuffling sound brought his lips curling up further in a feral smile. The cat had gone to tree.
She would expect him to come from the South, where he stood, or more East, the direction of her burning home. Instead, he crept around to the North West, his ears peeled for any sound of his prey leaving her shelter to run further. It was difficult to pinpoint the tree she was huddled in, standing on the ground, peering up through the leaves and branches, but he finally spotted the worn flannel of her night gown. Two trees to the left, one row up. A sense of victory spiked through him, combined with the thrill of the chase and he smiled savagely as he crept within range.
"Avada Kedavra!" The words spilled from his lips, tasting of triumph and vengeance and a dozen other sweet, savory feelings. His quarry had just enough time to turn, eyes wide, before the green wind swept past, withering the branches around her, lifting her hair in a chaotic whirl and toppling her to the ground like a shirt blown free from the line.
The flushed excitement of the chase slowly ebbed from his body, leaving him calm, collected. Completely detached, he walked over to her body and stared down. Was this the same girl who'd been such a thorn in his side? She looked so harmless now, her nightgown rumpled, arms akimbo, brown eyes staring blankly off into the distance. If she were porcelain and glass, she could have been one of his dolls -- a powerless little effigy sitting on a shelf.
After a moment's thought, he reached down and lifted her into his arms.
In the distance, Draco could still see the Manor, shut off by Ministry wards. The Aurors never burned like the Death Eaters sometimes did. It would destroy the evidence. He wondered what they were doing with his mother's body. Was it still lying in the middle of the hall where he'd last seen it? Had they put a little slip of parchment next to it, labeling it "exhibit N"? Had they buried her, moving her to the family crypt or a shallow, unmarked grave wherever they could find room?
He ground his teeth at the thought, turning back into the well hidden cave system that had served as the family's emergency retreat for time out of mind. In the days of the witch hunts, the stones had held food to last for months, stores of potion ingredients and remedies. Now it held the valuable Dark Arts items they'd spent the past several months shuttling out from the Manor, rare tomes, medicines, and, in a little, out of the way series of alcoves in the back of the system, Draco's precious collection.
Now he took a jar of thick salve and some bandages and walked into one of the designated sleeping chambers. The stones echoed the harsh, pained sound of his father's breathing, amplifying it until it seemed it would leak out through the cracks and bring the Aurors down on them. He carefully pulled back the covers.
"I'm going to change the bandages now, so don't move."
Lucius had been watching his son ever since he entered the room, now he nodded. "I will be still."
"Good." Without a word further, Draco un-wrapped the bandages, listening to the strained hisses when they caught on clots of blood, dried ointment, and the thick, viscous fluid oozing from the gash in his father's side. Carefully he smeared new ointment on the wound and re-bandaged it. "There." He reached up and smoothed back a few strands of loose, blond hair, the same silvery color of his own, from the flushed, fevered skin beneath them. "You'll be better in no time."
Lucius smiled and closed his eyes, but said nothing.
"I hope you rot, Potter!" Draco's curses bounced off the surrounding rock face as two men, both about twice his bulk, man handled the bound, swearing, struggling Death Eater out of the cave. "I hope you catch a rare, incurable disease and die in a pool of your own spit!"
"And I hope one of the Dementors decides you need a kiss, you son of a bitch!" Ron Weasley shot back. He blinked as a hand landed against his chest, and looked over at his best friend who stood shaking his head.
"Don't Ron." Harry half sighed. "You know it won't do any good. Just let it go." He could understand his friend's anger; both parent's dead, the twins, Bill in St. Mungo's permanent care ward, Ginny missing, presumed dead. The wounds were still raw, his friend still grieving. Oh yes, he understood far too well. But he knew from experience that there was more satisfaction to be had knowing that your enemies had been punished, standing by the grave site and saying "We got the bastards" than in screaming empty threats and curses. "Come on, let's just get everything catalogued and go home."
Face pale, lips pressed, Ron nodded and turned to the nearest stack of books and started sorting. Titles, authors, year of publication, the little message saying "To my son on his tenth birthday", vials, cases, bags -- everything in the entire, sprawling, labyrinthine cavern had to be inventoried and set aside as evidence. Alone the task would have been enough to make someone throw their hands up in despair. Even with half a dozen other Aurors about, poking into corners and crannies, it was fairly daunting. Rolling up his sleeves, Harry started in next to Ron.
Two hours later, they sat down to take a break. "You know," Harry said, looking at the several scroll inventory, "I knew the Malfoys lived and breathed Dark Arts, but I never would have guessed they had this much crap! How many books of curses does a Dark Wizard need?"
"Should've asked the squirt before they hauled him off." Tonks chuckled, flopping down next to him. Her hair was an uncharacteristically dust brown. Harry suspected it was so that the large amount of dust they'd stirred up moving stuff wouldn't show.
Harry smirked wryly. "We'll make sure Kingsley adds that to the list of questions to ask at the trial." Looking around absently, he frowned a little as he realized that the older Aurors, who had been with them at the beginning of the raid, was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Harry couldn't remember seeing him for quite some time. "Say, where is Kingsley anyway?"
"Probably out making sure Malfoy gets sent to the right cell. You know, the nice dank, dripping one we keep for ultimate scum?" Ron yawned, then coughed as the temporary, miniature vacuum of his mouth filled with dust.
Tonks shook her head. "He said he was going to wander back and see how much farther the system went."
"What?" Green eyes wide, Harry sprang to his feet. "Is he crazy? We don't know what's back there!"
"Calm down, Harry!" Ron stared up at his friend as if he were foaming at the mouth. "He's been an Aurors longer than we have! He can handle any booby traps Malfoy set up."
"And Lucius Malfoy?" Harry snapped over his shoulder. "What if he's back there? He wouldn't take all of us together, but one of us on our own?"
"If he is back there, I hope he's dead." Tonks snarled. Nonetheless, both she and Ron stood and hurried after the Boy who Lived. In truth, none of them had truly considered the elder Malfoy to be a threat, under the circumstances. It had been several months since he'd last been seen and, as with so many others, was presumed dead. Still, just because you didn't see the snake, that didn't mean it wasn't there.
The three of them moved rapidly through the natural stone passages, lit by the sickly blue glow of witch fire torches. Every once in awhile they'd stop and call Kingsley's name, and every time he didn't respond, the tension mounted that much higher. Finally, when they'd increased their speed to a near run -- difficult in the twisting, rocky passages -- a familiar voice hailed them from around the next bend.
"I'm here! You guys might want to come and look at this!"
Despite the summons, the three concerned Aurors instantly slowed their pace and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Curious, they walked onward, wondering what the other man had possibly found. Just past the bend, the corridor opened up into a large cavern. The cavern was obviously natural but, more evidently than any other part of the system, had been tampered with by magic. The entire expanse was lit in the same, eerie, bluebell light as the passage outside, and in that glow Harry saw eyes -- dozens of them -- staring at him from every angle. "What the hell?"
For a moment, all was silence. It was Tonks that gasped the answer, one word. "Dolls."
Ron pulled back towards the door a little. "That's just creepy."
Harry had to agree. It felt like he was on trial, being judged by a jury of tiny, lifeless faces, all staring at him as they deliberated his fate. "What are they doing here?"
"I don't know." Kingsley replied with a grimace. "I'd guess Malfoy was collecting them or maybe his Mother did. This," One dark hand gestured to the surrounding collection, "isn't the creepy part though."
"It gets worse?" Ron sounded like he was going to be sick.
Kingsley nodded silently and started threading his way through the display. Harry followed him, still staring around as he walked. There were dolls on stalagmites, shelves, little stools that had literally been raised out of the bedrock. There were soft dolls, hard dolls, both genders, antique dolls, dolls that were obviously brand new. He couldn't begin to imagine Draco Malfoy, the bane of his school aged existence, one of the most feared of all of the Death Eaters, collecting dolls. That was, perhaps, the most disturbing part about the whole thing.
"Here." Kingsley stopped in front of a life sized porcelain doll. "She look familiar?"
Harry felt his stomach turn over. "That's sick." Staring at him with a vacant expression was a perfect replica of Ginny Weasley. Behind him, he heard a low growl from Ron and Tonks' gentle murmur of "easy."
"Why on earth would he make a replica of someone he hated?" Harry frowned, eyeing the doll with a great deal of distaste and trying to quell the sudden urge to ignore his own good advice, stalk out of the cave, find Malfoy and give him a good telling off for being a sick bastard.
"That's the thing," Kingsley said, his face a solemn mask. "I'm not sure it's a replica."
Green eyes blinked owlishly behind Harry's glasses. He, Ron, and Tonks all turned to look at the grim faced black man with similar looks of mixed horror and revulsion. Timidly, Harry put out a hand and touched the doll's cheek. Hard. Cold. Definitely porcelain and not dead flesh...however, Draco Malfoy had gotten good grades in Transfiguration. "Kingsley? Help me with this?"
"I'll help." Ron cut off whatever answer the older Aurors was going to give. "She...she's my sister."
Harry nodded and swallowed the urge to correct the tense. Gripping the doll by the arm to make sure it stayed upright, he counted to three, Ron's voice in perfect time with his. On three, a flash of light lit the room...and the doll, apparently, did nothing. Beneath Harry's hand, however, the cold, porcelain of the arm shifted, warmed, softened, real flesh forming under his grip. An odd panic gripped him. He couldn't straighten his fingers, couldn't let the dead girl fall to the ground, even though without the rigidity her body had formerly had, she sank to the ground in a heap.
Turning, Harry looked at the others. Ron looked torn between puking, crying, and rushing out to find Malfoy and rip his throat out. Tonks looked ill. Only Kingsley looked unaffected, his face a cold mask. Harry new better.
"I wonder who else we're going to find in here?" Tonks looked around her as if she expected to be attacked by the spirits of the dead. "Only one way to find out." Harry sighed, lowering Ginny to the floor. "Come on."
They divided the room into quarters, each searching one. The search was disturbing enough, not knowing who they were going to find, but it was made even worse not knowing where they were going to find them. The bodies were shoved in corners, holding other, more mundane dolls in their hands and laps. Neville Longbottom, Hannah Abbott, Lisa Turpin, Susan Bones, a long list of "missing, presumed dead" slowly, agonizingly shifted to "found, murdered." Harry was severely wishing he hadn't eaten lunch by the time Tonks called them all over to her quadrant.
"Hey guys, c'mere!" Her voice echoed through the cavern. "Here's something that'll warm your hearts."
There was a vicious undertone to her voice that made Harry curious and frightened at the same time. With a slightly dragging step he worked his way over to her, past the pile of porcelain corpses piling up in the middle of the cavern. When he finally stopped next to her, she gave him a wry, grimacing smile. "At least the bastard wasn't above getting his own." She gestured toward a niche in the wall.
Harry turned and looked.
Lucius Malfoy looked back at him, his white blond hair perfectly in place, his silver glass eyes unblinking.