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The sound of a door opening and adult voices reached the small boy, crouched at the second landing. He had been waiting for this moment. It would be the final touch on a pretty good birthday.

Draco's bare feet pattered on the polished wood of the floor as he hurried back to the night nursery. He clambered into bed, and lay down, pulling the silk coverlet up to his chin. This was one of his favourite times of day, when the nursery governess and nursemaid retreated to their own quarters so that the mistress would not have to endure any unnecessary glimpses of her servants. Which meant that the child was at liberty to creep to the landing, and sit there, in delicious anticipation of the moment when he would have his mother all to himself. He knew which story he would ask her to read tonight; the familiar tale of Death tracking down the three brothers, finding them one by one... it was a story that thrilled the six-year-old, sending just the slightest shiver of terror through him. It made the snug safety of his bed seem all the more comforting.

He listened for the sound of footsteps that would herald his mother's approach. But when he heard it, it sounded wrong. The footfalls were slower, heavier than they should have been. Draco swallowed, his eyes widening slightly, wondering what he'd done wrong. Because his father only came to visit him at bedtime when he was in trouble.

He slid a little further under the covers, and waited, trembling slightly. Not that his father beat him often. And when he did, he always took him out to the stables, where Draco's screams wouldn't be heard by his mother. Besides, he couldn't remember having done anything that bad today. But even a scolding was devastating to the little boy, desperate as he was for his father's approval. He wanted so much to please him, but always, at some point in the lecture, he would inevitably dissolve into tears, and the disgust in his father's eyes was more than he could bear.

A shadow fell across the open doorway, and Draco clenched his fists under the covers. His birthday would be ruined now.

Lucius Malfoy paused in the doorway, his cold grey gaze glancing around the child's bedroom, taking in the pale furnishings, the toys and books scattered on the window seat. The drapes were still open, letting in the mild air of a June evening, and their gentle swaying seemed to emphasize the softness of the room. Lucius frowned slightly. His son was six now, and it was high time he started to grow up a little.

Wordlessly he walked into the room, and drew an armchair closer to the bed. He noticed that the broomstick that had been Draco's main birthday present was propped up beside the bed, close enough that the boy could stretch out and touch its silky-smooth handle. A real broom, not a toy, though still spelled so that he could not fly too high or too far. It seemed that Draco appreciated the significance of the gift. Lucius nodded slightly; this was promising. The sight of his son clutching a battered teddy bear had always galled him. That the toy was over on the window seat, and the broom had pride of place was a good sign.

Lucius sat down in the armchair, and regarded his son silently for a moment. Draco seemed ill-at-ease, lying rigidly under the covers, his pale grey eyes huge as he watched his father apprehensively. This was not necessarily a bad thing; a little fear was useful in a father-son relationship. Though Lucius would prefer respect without overt fear, that would have indicated that Draco understood and appreciated the reason that his father was so strict with him.

There was no denying that Narcisssa coddled the child. Understandable, perhaps, Draco was her first child - and, it appeared that he was to be her only child. A pity. A daughter would have given her something to spoil and pamper, leaving Draco to his father's discipline. Not to mention that a girl would have been extremely useful, there were any number of eldest sons she could have been promised to, the betrothal cementing the relationship between two powerful families. Lucius was aware that he had at least two illegitimate daughters by women whose names he had forgotten; of course, he could not acknowledge them. It was regrettable, but it simply wasn't done, no matter how useful they might have been.

Even a second boy would have diverted some of her attention away from Draco. Though that could have caused other complications...

Lucius had been much the same age as Draco when he had realized that as the younger son, he took second place to his brother, Thanatos. The favour that his older brother had enjoyed had always puzzled him. Finally he had overheard his parents talking, and had understood that Thanatos would inherit everything, the money, the power, the magnificent Manor house, while Lucius would be expected to stay in the background, marrying the daughter of some useful pureblood connection, his only role to improve his brother's situation.
He had enjoyed the sympathy and pampering that had come his way after Thanatos's tragic accident. Lucius had managed to produce a most convincing fit of hysterics when he was found standing a short distance from the huge oak tree that had crushed his brother to death. It was assumed that having taken his mother's wand, Thanatos had tried to perform a spell and brought the tree down on himself. Lucius was the only witness. There had been no-one to dispute the facts, to reveal that it was the younger boy who had taken the wand, and directed a blast of power at the oak tree in just the right place to cause it to fall in Thanatos's direction, and then scrambled through the branches to shove the wand into the dead boy's hand.
Once the funeral was over, Lucius had taken his brother's place in the spotlight, receiving lessons from his father in forms of magic that would be excluded from his formal education. That was how it had always been in the Malfoy family. The head of the family taught the heir personally, ensuring that he absorbed the knowledge and skills that befitted his privileged position.

And now it was Draco's turn.

“I trust you enjoyed your birthday?” Lucius said, noting the slight relaxation of his son's body at his tone.

Draco nodded. “Yes, Father. Thank you for the broom.”

Lucius inclined his head slightly. “Yes, well the broom is really your mother's gift. I have something else in mind. Tomorrow I shall take you to Ollivanders, and buy you your first wand.”

Draco shot up into a sitting position, his eyes wide, but this time in wonder. "A - wand? A real one? My very own wand?”

Lucius nodded. “You will learn to use it properly, mind. I shall instruct you myself. And if I find you using it inappropriately, I shall take it away until you are older. Do you understand?”

Draco nodded vigorously. “Yes, father. I'll do exactly what you say.”

“Good. It's time you started learning what it means to be a Malfoy. This family occupies a very important position in wizarding society. As my heir, you will one day carry on the traditions that were established centuries ago.” Lucius looked at the boy speculatively. How much did he grasp? “Draco, do you know the most important fact about our family?”

Draco felt a little clutch of anxiety. He desperately wanted to give the right answer. A little hesitantly, he said, “We - we're Purebloods?”

Lucius smiled, and Draco felt a wave of relief. “Exactly. For over a thousand years, there has never been so much as a drop of non-magical blood in our family. There are few families about whom that can be said. Do you know what a mudblood is, Draco?”

The boy nodded, eager to show his knowledge. “It's a wizard whose parents are muggles.” He shuddered slightly; the disgust with which his parents spoke of such people had already made a big impression on Draco. “I'd hate to be a mudblood.”

Lucius nodded approvingly. His son had already absorbed that vital fact. He should learn quickly, once his lessons began.

“You see, Draco, Mudbloods are not true wizards. Yes, they have magic, though generally of an inferior quality. But it was an accident, they should not have been born that way.” He paused, seeking a way to make such an important concept clear to his son. “Do you remember the puppy last year?”

Draco nodded, shuddering. His father's crup had produced a litter of puppies, and one had been - horrible. His father had explained to him that sometimes something went wrong before an animal was born, and it didn't grow properly. One of the servants had taken the pathetic little corpse away to bury, and although Draco had soon been distracted by the fun of playing with the healthy puppies, he hadn't forgotten that frightening sight.

“It that - is that what Mudbloods are?” he asked, his eyes huge.

“In a way,” Lucius replied. “They should not have been born with magic of any kind. They are Muggles who happen to have a weak imitation of real magic. The only true magic is the kind that exists in families such as ours. It is the only kind that has any true worth. Be thankful that you were born into such an ancient magical family.”

His eyes fixed on his father, Draco nodded energetically. He felt a swell of pride; not just at being a pureblood, but at the way his father was talking to him, as if he was a proper wizard, not just a little boy who made too many mistakes.

Lucius smiled at the boy, glad that he seemed to understand what a privilege it was to be a Malfoy. He wondered for a moment whether to go on, to talk about half-bloods and squibs and blood traitors. But then Draco stifled a yawn, and Lucius decided to wait. His son would understand better when he was alert and well-rested.

“Well, Draco, it is time for you to go to sleep. Tomorrow you and I will go to Ollivanders together,” he promised. He got up, but as he turned towards the door, Draco said, “Father...?”

Lucius looked back to see Draco holding out a well-worn book. “Father - would you... would you read me a story?” Lucius hesitated. He usually left such matters to his wife. But the expression in his son's eyes stirred some unfamiliar emotion deep within. For a brief moment, he understood Narcissa's almost slavish devotion to the child. He reached out and took the book, glancing at the page it was opened to.

“Perhaps, just this once...” he said, and as he sat down again, he was rewarded with the six-year-old's smile.

Draco snuggled down under his blankets, his eyes fixed on his father's face, as Lucius began, “ ' There were once three brothers who were travelling along a lonely winding road at twilight night.


THE END

EvilOrangeBunny 01:42, May 14, 2011 (UTC)

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