That night marked the resolution of the most significant challenge in recruiting Snape, a pivotal accomplishment for Skyler that had lingered as a pressing concern.

As for the ongoing investigations conducted by Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic, Skyler remained largely indifferent.

In the contemporary European magical world, Skyler was aware of the absence of an official Divination master, excluding Professor Trelawney, who concealed her true abilities and maintained the façade of a charlatan within Hogwarts.

Setting aside the question of whether Professor Trelawney’s peculiar conduct would be discovered, even if she were approached for divination, it wouldn’t pose a problem.

Having formed an alliance between them, Professor Trelawney, considering Skyler’s demonstrated capabilities, would likely make astute decisions. She would understand the necessity of concealing Skyler’s actions, and could even provide misleading guidance to those seeking her divination services.

Concerning the Aurors, there was no cause for alarm. The entire disappearance had occurred at the lake’s bottom, leaving no discernible traces. While the mermaid population might have dwindled, Skyler doubted that the typically aloof wizards would pay much attention to such changes.

Moreover, language barriers suggested they might not even inquire with the mermaids.

Even if they were to discover any leads, Skyler was confident that Robards would handle the situation appropriately once they identified clues pointing towards him.

As for the other Auror, the solution was evident—a well-executed Obliviate Charm would effortlessly resolve all issues.

Originally, Skyler had intended to muster his forces, summon all allies, and devise a plan to confront the Shadow Dragon lurking in Hogsmeade Village following the second competition event. However, the disappearance of students disrupted this entire plan.

Given the delicate circumstances, Skyler preferred to avoid introducing unfamiliar faces to Hogsmeade, fearing potential repercussions.

Revealing their hidden strengths, exposing strategic advantages, and risking others reporting the disappearances could prove detrimental. Despite concerns for Meredith’s safety, he reluctantly postponed the operation.

With the exception of Miss Bathory, skilled in stealth and monitoring the Shadow Dragon, all other allies received instructions to remain in place and steer clear of Hogsmeade.

Setting aside this matter for now, Skyler had numerous pending issues requiring resolution.

After pondering for a moment, considering it was already night, he decided to address the most immediate concern.

He adjusted his robes, exited the room, and rapped on Draco’s dormitory door.

It took a good five minutes before Draco cautiously opened the door, hastily barricading it with his entire frame, signaling no intention of welcoming Skyler inside.

Draco’s upper body was bare, showcasing robust muscles, while his lower half sported only a pair of boxer briefs adorned with the Malfoy family crest.

A certain region in the middle protruded slightly, giving the impression that the black dragon on the underpants was ready to unleash its ferocity. Skyler suddenly had an ominous premonition—this couldn’t be the worst timing, could it?

As expected, Draco glanced at Skyler, let out a discreet sigh, and said, “It’s Skyler.”

Behind the door, Skyler heard a muted voice. “Yes, brother…”

After a moment, Draco widened the door, revealing Pansy standing behind him. Her face resembled a ripe apple, flushed with redness, and her hair still carried traces of dampness.

It appeared that the perspiration hadn’t entirely dissipated. Her clothes were loose and stretched, unmistakably indicating they had just been hastily donned.

“Ah, I’m terribly sorry. Perhaps I should return later!” Skyler felt thoroughly embarrassed and turned to make a swift exit.

“Ah! No need, Skyler!” Pansy intercepted Skyler, “I need to get back to the room anyway. You two brothers can have a good chat!”

With that, Pansy lowered her head, shielding her surroundings with her hands, and briskly maneuvered past Skyler, swiftly returning to her dormitory.

Draco shook his head, then opened the door and gestured to Skyler, saying, “Come in!”

Entering Draco’s room, Skyler calmly and swiftly surveyed it with his Illuminating Insight. The wand was haphazardly slotted into the pocket of the wizard’s robe, hanging on a classic coat rack. The sheets and linens were somewhat disheveled and appeared slightly damp.

A spell was cast at the door—nothing extraordinary, just the kind that would alert the room’s owner if someone tried to sneak in unnoticed.

However, Skyler’s attention was drawn to the small table beside the bed.

On the table sat a standing mirror frame, roughly three feet in diameter. The entire mirror emitted a faint aura that left Skyler feeling uneasy—it was the unmistakable aura of dark magic!

At that moment, Draco quietly shut the door, his hand on the doorknob making a subtle, unfamiliar gesture. The doorknob clicked, indicating a locking mechanism Skyler was unfamiliar with, causing his pupils to involuntarily contract.

Despite this, Sherling maintained a seemingly oblivious expression, wearing a half-smile as he spoke, “Draco, I apologize if I’ve interrupted something important.”

Draco nonchalantly responded, “It’s nothing, I’m only spending my free time with a woman.”

Skyler raised an eyebrow, his demeanor turning colder. He wanted to voice his thoughts but, after a moment of hesitation, decided to swallow his words. Instead, he coldly stated, “You summoned me here; now, tell me what’s going on.”

Draco observed Skyler’s indifferent expression and couldn’t help but smile. “Skyler, ever since you shared the tale of the Dark Lord’s return over the summer, our perspectives on the future of our family have differed. I’ve sensed a weakening in our bond as brothers…”

Draco continued, “I didn’t bring you here with any ulterior motive. I simply wanted to converse with you. The reason I locked the door and employed ‘Imperturbable Charm’ was to ensure our privacy. Just some time alone… wouldn’t you agree, Spungy?”

Spungy, a nickname from their childhood, was a playful term Skyler used for Draco, who, in turn, called Skyler “Smart.”

During their younger years, they engaged in various childish fantasy games, enjoying a happiness that now seemed a bit naive in retrospect. However, since the age of nine, the use of these nicknames had faded away as they both matured.

Skyler’s lips twitched, and he shot Draco an eye roll. Yet, beneath the outward composure, his wrists within the sleeves clenched, and the veins on the backs of his hands pulsed visibly.

Exerting effort to maintain his composure, Skyler sighed, “Draco, even if we have differences, it doesn’t have to come to this point… The words you spoke at the opening ceremony were hurtful, and I won’t dwell on the matter of prestige, as it’s trivial. However, your subsequent actions, provoking Hagrid with Blaise, luring out Granger, and almost instigating another inter-house conflict—do you dare claim that your target isn’t me?”

Draco’s gaze darkened as Skyler addressed him by his first name instead of the usual nickname “Pig shit.” He retorted, “Even I make mistakes from time to time! …Smart guy, do you still remember the magical incident you caused at the age of 4?”

Skyler nodded, somewhat incredulous.

Quietly, Draco continued, “Born on the same year, same month, and the same day, yet our destinies took vastly different paths. You triggered a magical incident at the age of 4, while I had to wait until I was 8 to finally succeed. Since then, even though no one explicitly stated it, I knew deep down that everyone in the family thought you were superior, more talented, and better than me.”

Frowning, Skyler objected, “How can you say that? Your parents love you just as much-“

“Huh!” Draco cut him off with a cold snort, raising his head, red light flickering in his eyes.

“You don’t need to say more,” Draco’s voice turned abruptly cold. “I acknowledge and appreciate the kindness our parents showed me, but -“

“Is that love?” His voice trembled. “You’ve effortlessly learned everything since elementary school—English, French, German, Latin. So many languages seem like your natural instinct. Mathematics and history, you grasp them at a glance, never needing a second review. It’s as if it’s imprinted in your brain, and you never worry about forgetting… The way our parents look at you, it’s such an expectant gaze! What about me?”

“The way they look at me means nothing! Is it sympathy? Pity? Anyway—”

“I have never seen even a trace of hope in their eyes meant for me!”

“You said—” Draco’s voice gradually faded, becoming strained. “They love me and treat me well, but I don’t think so… I feel that their love for me is just a kind of psychological compensation, and their kindness to me is more of a form of indulgence! Such doting!”

“Obviously—” Draco’s dark energy began to faintly manifest through his skin. “Obviously, I am the brother! Why can I never get their praise?”

Hearing more and more about Draco’s ramble finally made Skyler realize the reason for his abrupt change in personality. The influence of foreign magic on his body, amplified by the deep resentment he harbors toward Skyler made him fully turn into a total stranger…

“Draco!” Skyler shouted coldly, “Calm down!”

“Hahahahahahahahahahahaha—” Draco laughed, but his laughter was cold and laden with a chilling air. “Why am I not calm? I am very calm.” He spread his hands and continued, “I am calm and sober. The one who is not sober is you! It is you who are unwilling to admit it, and it is you who are unwilling to face the truth I stated… Since I was a child, I have always lived in your shadow! No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can only, desperately catch up with you… Everyone will only regard me as the weaker brother! Someone that could never dream of catching up to you!”

Skyler took a step back in disbelief. He took a deep breath and said in a deep voice, “Draco, whether you believe it or not, in my heart, you will always be my brother. I will always… I don’t know, I really don’t know, it turns out… you have endured so much pressure because of me… I… I…”

Skyler thought for a while and found himself in a speechless predicament. He could only sigh. Taking another breath, he said, “I don’t want this either…”

“Hahaha—cough, cough,” Draco broke out in laughter, his eyes even welled up with tears from laughter. “Stupid brother… do you know that I know you are not the material for hegemony at all? Your character has a fatal weakness—”

“You attach too much importance to feelings! The road to hegemony is cruel, and there is no room for personal feelings—” Draco’s eyes shimmered with a dazzling light, the corners of his mouth gradually raised, “This is true for women, and so it is for friends, even family members and families are no exception… These are just meaningless shackles… Only by letting go of these can you move forward.”

Skyler’s eyes became very complicated. Yes, he didn’t know if he could really give up the feelings around him; his pursuit of strength and ambition would indeed be much easier without their presence. Throughout the ages, those who achieve great things are often ruthless and relentless.

“Draco… So, the brotherhood we have had for so many years… is all fake?” Skyler said with some difficulty.

Draco shook his head, with incomprehensible disappointment in his eyes. “You still can’t understand what I mean…”

“Our brotherhood, our family’s affection, are all real…” His voice became colder, “It’s precisely because it’s real that I have to cut it off with my own hands. Skyler, you will never understand my desire to become stronger… I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of living in the shadows where no one can see you anymore…”

“Hehe,” Draco smiled coldly, “I want to surpass you, and I want to prove to everyone that I am better than you! In order to achieve this goal, I can give up all the bonds around me. These so-called bonds will only make me confused. Strong thoughts and cherished feelings will only make me weaker, do you understand? Only by cutting off all these can one become truly strong!”

A flash of understanding passed through Skyler’s eyes, and the tight fists in his sleeves gradually loosened, a confident smile appearing on his face.

“Is this what you really wanted to say to me when you specially called me here?” Skyler’s slightly narrowed eyes revealed an indestructible confidence. “I have to say, it’s really enlightening! I didn’t expect these words to come out of your mouth, Draco… or should I say -“

“My third-generation ancestor, Lord Armand?”

 

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Published On: March 5, 2024

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